Rick stepped out onto the porch of the Greene's farmhouse holding a huge mug filled with coffee. The morning mist that hung over the surrounding pastures was evaporating as the sun climbed higher in the sky. The air was already getting hot and sticky.
Rick sat on the front steps and sipped his coffee. A small smile played about on his lips. A good cup of coffee was one of life's little pleasures. It was something he had taken for granted for years. Now as he sipped the lukewarm brew, pale tan in color as he just couldn't help himself when Maggie offered him the pitcher of fresh cream, his appreciation for the beverage reached a new level. He had poured a lot of cream into his coffee and Maggie had raised her eyebrows and smiled, jokingly asking him if he he'd like some coffee and sugar to go in his cream. He looked down at the lower pasture where the four dairy cows had assembled after their morning trek into the barn for milking and he raised his mug to them and called out, "Thanks, girls."
"You're crazy, Dad," Carl's voice giggled behind him.
"Not crazy," Rick turned to Carl and patted the step next to him, inviting Carl to sit down,"just appreciative."
Carl sat down next to his dad. He held a huge blueberry muffin wrapped in a napkin in one hand and a tall glass of milk in the other. He took a sip of his milk, and then chugged down half a glass of it. He wiped the milk mustache from his upper lip with his sleeve then raised his glass towards the lower pasture and called out, "Thanks, girls, good job!" Rick leaned towards him and bumped shoulders with him.
"So Dad…" Carl began with his mouth full of muffin.
"Don't talk with your mouth full." Rick reminded him.
Carl swallowed and drank some more milk to wash the large piece of muffin down. "So Dad…" he repeated, "I heard Shane and Daryl arguing last night. They sounded pretty mad."
Carl had spent the night with Glenn and T-Dog. It had been a blast with the culmination of the evening being a no holds barred pillow fight which ended abruptly when T-Dog had swung a pillow at Glenn and lost his balance, crashing into the tent wall and collapsing the tent on top of all of them. They had all laughed and giggled as they untangled themselves from the tent, then out came the duct tape and twenty minutes later the tent was up again. Carl loved hanging out with Glenn and T-Dog. They were a lot of fun and it made him feel so grown up.
The three of them were all tired after the pillow-fight-tent-collapse incident and as he lay in his sleeping bag in the dark, Carl heard angry voices drifting down from the little knoll where Daryl had relocated a little over a week before. Carl could make out Shane's voice and Daryl's, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. He sat up in his sleeping bag and cocked his head, trying to make out the words.
"Let it be," T-Dog's voice said to him in the dark. Carl started to protest, but T-Dog shushed him, "It's none of our business."
"But what if someone gets hurt?" Carl asked. He was worried.
T-Dog chuckled. "Daryl and Shane can take care of themselves probably better than anyone in this group. Don't worry about them. Probably just blowing off steam."
Carl pondered this for a moment then said, "Daryl and Shane have both been really grumpy lately."
"They've probably both got SBU." Glenn observed.
T-Dog burst out laughing at this.
"What's SBU?" Carl asked.
Glenn rolled onto his side to face Carl and propped himself up on one of his elbows.
In the darkness, Carl could see Glenn's outline against the wall of the tent. "Have you ever heard of a female affliction called PMS?" Glenn asked him.
"Yeah," said Carl. "I can always tell when Mom is getting ready to have her period because she gets really cranky."
"Well," Glenn explained, "SBU is the male version of PMS."
"Oh," Carl said, still confused. "What does SBU stand for?"
T-Dog laughed a hearty laugh "Yeah, Glenn, what does SBU stand for?"
"You'll have to ask your dad," Glenn told Carl.
"Awww, gee, you can tell me. I don't want to ask my dad."
Glenn rolled over, away from Carl and repeated. "Ask your Dad, I'm sure he'd be happy to explain it to you."
Carl remembered this and turned to his father. "Dad?" he asked, "What's SBU?"
Rick had just taken a mouthful of coffee and he choked on it and coughed, spraying it out of his mouth and nose. "What? Who said anything about SBU?"
"I heard Daryl and Shane arguing last night and T-Dog and Glenn said that they probably are grumpy because they have SBU." explained Carl.
Rick grinned. "Is that so? Well, I suppose that could be a valid theory..."
"Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad," Carl moaned, "stop goofing around and just tell me!"
Rick wanted to tell Carl to go ask his mother, but then decided that this was a question best answered by him, so he explained it to Carl. Carl, once blessed with this information, blushed and giggled.
Carl had gone back inside to retrieve another muffin and Rick decided to head around the back of the house to see how the garden was looking. People were still eating breakfast and going about their morning routines and the sounds of lively conversation and laughter drifted out the kitchen window as he passed by it. He glanced up to the knoll where Daryl had exiled himself and did a double take. Daryl's tent was gone. The rope he'd strung between two trees to hang his laundry and his pelts on was gone. Merle's motorcycle was gone. Daryl was gone.
Rick did an about face and headed for the back door that opened into the kitchen. He tilted his coffee mug up to his lips and finished his coffee as he came through the door. Andrea, Maggie, Beth and Glen were sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, engaged in lively conversation. "Is Shane in here?" Rick asked.
The four people at the table all looked at each other and then at Rick, "No," Andrea answered, "I haven't seen him yet this morning. Is something wrong?"
"Yeah," Rick replied and Andrea thought that his voice sounded so tired. "Daryl's gone."
"What? Why?" stammered Glenn.
"He's gone?" Andrea looked concerned.
"All of his gear is gone," Rick explained. "His motorcycle's gone. I know he's been avoiding us and that he was really devastated by the whole Sophia situation, but I figured he just needed some time alone to sort through things and then he'd move back down here with us. Shane went up to see him last night and was arguing with him. I want to know if Daryl said anything to him about wanting to leave."
"I heard them arguing, too," Andrea said as she bit her lip and stared at her coffee mug.
"Who didn't?" replied Glenn. He took his baseball cap off and turned it over in his hands, studying it as he spoke. "I was afraid they'd bring in walkers, but it quieted down after a while. I heard Shane walk by our tent headed to his about twenty minutes after things had apparently settled down."
"Settled down?" Maggie asked and smiled at him, "I hear that things were pretty wild in your tent last night, too."
"Yes," Rick said giving Glenn an evil look, "that reminds me, Glenn. We need to have a discussion a bit later regarding the introduction of a certain acronym to my son."
Glenn looked up at Rick with wide eyes and said, "Wait, what?"
Rick smiled, raised his eyebrows and nodded at Glenn.
Glenn smiled back at him. Shit, he was in trouble now.
Rick hurried down the porch steps and headed to where all the tents but Daryl's were set up in a semi-circle around the RV. It was a convenient set up, and the arrangement insured that when the RV was driven into the center of the semi-circle of tents in the evening, whoever was on watch at night had a 360 degree view of all the tents.
Rick made his way over to Shane's tent. He guessed it was about 9am and he stood outside the entrance of the tent and called out to Shane. He got no answer. "Shane!" he said louder. He heard a muffled groan from inside the tent and the squeaking of a Shane's cot as he shifted himself in it. "Shane!" Rick said even louder, "I need to talk to you!"
"Mmmmph," came the reply from inside the tent.
"I need to talk to you now, Shane." Rick insisted.
Rick heard a muffled sigh, then Shane's tired sounding voice, "Fine, come in. But don't expect me to be getting up just yet. You know I like to sleep in on Saturdays."
Rick fumbled for the zipper on the door of the tent, unzipped it and let himself into Shane's tent.
Shane was on his cot, facing one of the walls of his tent. He had a thin sheet pulled up around his shoulders and Rick could see from the way it laid across him that he was in his underwear. It was hot and Rick was quite sure that everyone had slept in their underwear that previous night, or in nothing at all.
"Shane," Rick began quietly, "what the hell happened between you and Daryl last night?"
Shane sighed. "What did he tell you happened?" he mumbled.
"He didn't tell me anything. Now it's too late to ask him." Rick said. "You were the last person with him. I thought maybe you'd have an idea about what happened."
Shane's eye grew big as he stared at the tent wall in front of him. Holy shit, he'd killed the redneck? What the hell had happened? Had he had an aneurysm after Shane had left him alone? A heart attack? Did a walker get him? Had he turned? Was everyone else okay? His mind raced. Look at the bright side, he thought suddenly; problem solved. He didn't need to worry about Daryl running his big yap to Rick now, did he?
"Shane," Rick said after Shane didn't respond to his question, "turn around and talk to me!" Rick leaned forward toward where his friend's head rested on his pillow. It was then that he notice that there were scrapes and small cuts and dirt on the back of Shane's head and neck.
"He was fine when I last saw him," Shane grumbled.
Rick leaned in closer to Shane and took him by the shoulder and Shane rolled onto his back and looked at Rick. Rick exhaled audibly and lowered his eyes for a moment. He put his elbows on his knees and rubbed his stubble covered chin with his both hands, and then he looked up at his friend. "Shane," he said quietly, "what the hell happened?"
To say Rick was shocked by Shane's appearance would be overstating things. Rick had seen Shane in worse shape, hell, he'd been in worse shape himself when some of the brawls they'd been called out to while they were on duty happened to escalate rather than disperse once the police arrived. Shane's nose was swollen (although he had reset it so it faced straight ahead where it belonged) and his right cheek and his chin were bruised. He had a multitude of small scratches and cuts on his face and his lower and upper lip were both split open.
Shane swung his legs over the side of the cot and sat wearing just his skivvies facing Rick. Rick noticed Shane had accumulated a nice collection of bruises. "You've gotta believe me Rick, he was fine the last time I saw him. He'd been drinking and we got into a bit of a disagreement, but he was fine when I left him."
"Did he mention anything about leaving?" Rick asked, his blue eyes meeting Shane's brown ones. Rick thought he saw a flash of confusion in Shane's eyes for just a second, and then it was gone.
Rick's last comment had been a revelation for Shane. Daryl wasn't dead, he'd left!
Shit, thought Shane, had he left a note for Rick? For anyone? Hell, could he even write? Did he leave a note exposing Shane's secrets and then just up and leave? Shane almost asked Rick if Daryl had left a note, and for a second his mind raced as he imagined Rick pulling a crumpled note written in black crayon out of his pocket and saying, "I've got it right here, let's read it together , shall we? Here we go (ahem) ' You guys suck and I hate y'all. I'm outta here. - Daryl P.S. Rick: Shane killed Otis, he's fuckin' your wife and the kid she's carryin' is his. Have a nice day.'
Shane bit his tongue at that last thought and for a second he thought he understood why Daryl had laughed the night before at what Shane had felt was a most inappropriate moment. "No," Shane said, truthfully. "He didn't mention a word about leaving."
Rick studied his friend. "Everyone in camp heard the two of you arguing. What did you go up there for? What did you say to him?"
Shane ran his hand over his closely shorn head and sighed. "I told him that he needed to pull his head out of his ass, to stop pouting and to start being part of the group again. I told him he needed to start keeping watch and helping us with wood and the haying and…"
"Are you serious?" Rick interrupted.
Shane stared at Rick with a perplexed look on his face and nodded, "Yeah, totally serious," he said.
Rick scoffed. "Do you know what Daryl did yesterday? While we were all still sleeping in our tents while the sun was coming up, he was out tracking a deer. He tracked it, killed it, gutted it, brought it back here by himself and then skinned and butchered it. Then he buried the parts that aren't edible. All in 90 degree plus heat. That was more than a full eight hours of hard work to feed all of us, and you want him to help with the wood and the haying? The way he pushes himself, I'm surprised some days that the man is still upright and walking around!"
Rick sighed again and reached over and put his hand on Shane's shoulder. "Hey man," he said, "I'm sorry. I know you were just trying to look out for all of us and I really do appreciate that. I just think you made the wrong call this time." Rick was quiet for a moment. He closed his eyes like he was in deep thought and then opened them and looked at Shane. Shane looked remorseful and was quiet. "So," Rick said, "if you came out of that fight looking like this, I don't think I even want to know what Daryl looks like today. Do you think he was in any shape to be riding a motorcycle?"
Shane looked up and looked Rick right in the eye. "I told you, Rick," he said, "He was fine when I last saw him."
Rick nodded and stood up. "We all need to sit down at lunch today and discuss this and figure out what we're going to do."
Shane looked confused. "Do?" he asked, "do about what?"
Rick turned to leave and said over his shoulder, "About finding Daryl and getting him back here."
Wheeeeee! I can't believe I've popped out three chapters in three days, but this is SO much FUN to write. Thanks for reviewing and I'm sorry if anyone was offended by the SBU reference (Sperm Back-Up for those out there not in the know..)