Carol in the garden became their little joke. The first time he passed her in it on his way back from watch, she told him she was only there to scare away the rabbits eating the lettuce. The second time, after he'd gotten her some mocked-up fencing for that garden bed, she said evening was the best time to water, the sun burnt off the moisture. The third, she was tying up the tomatoes and cucumbers knocked over in a rain.
"Carol, admit it," he said, the fourth time, as she set out little ashtrays of liquid around the creeping vines. "You just like hanging out in the damn garden at night."
She smiled to herself. Like she was expecting this, him stopping to talk to her, help her out. He liked the gardens as much as she did, but he never did anything with them. At least not during the day.
He moved his crossbow to his back and steadied a wooden stake for a tomato plant. She walked around him, setting out another ashtray full of brown liquid.
"That beer?" he asked, sniffing.
"Shh," she said. "It kills slugs."
"What the hell you want to kill slugs for?"
"They eat plants," she said.
"Everything eats plants," he said.
"They come out at night," she said. "When it's cooler."
"Sounds like someone else I know," he said.
"I wonder why you think giving me shit is a good idea," she said, standing up and brushing her hands on her jeans. "When you know that I've got a stash of beer."
"Still beer. You want some, you better act nice." He followed her down the little path where they kept the garden tools, the hoes and shovels. The ones nobody used to take out walkers along the fence. Herschel didn't want walker blood getting into the food they ate. There was a bucket of water beside it and she lifted out a long-neck of Budweiser. It was dripping. Not cold, but cool.
"Fuck me running," he muttered. He grinned at her.
"Maggie got them for me, on a run," she said. "There were only a couple bottles not smashed. She found it outside a looted store. Go on, open it."
He looked around. Like he felt guilty.
"Daryl, there wasn't enough to share, anyway," she said. "Maggie knew I was just gonna use it for the slugs."
He flipped the top off with one of his knives and took a swig.
"How come this is the first I ever heard of slugs in Georgia? Lived here all my life."
She shrugged, smiled. "Maybe you'd have to be paying attention to quiet things at night, Daryl. Not just be out raising hell like I'm sure you were."
He didn't deny it, but he held out the bottle to share. "Come on," he said, when she refused.
She took a drink, handed it back. "That's nice," she said. "I never really liked beer."
"You don't like beer," he said. "You drink it."
She sat down on the tool chest and it creaked. She sighed. He drank, watched her. She seemed less uptight, less concerned, here in the garden. Every night he'd seen her, she'd been busy working. But not with anyone else's problems. Just her own self. Because she was always doing for other people. It made him feel a little bad, really; he got to be out on his own a lot. Nobody asked him to wash up little kids or make meals or do laundry.
They passed the bottle back and forth and finally she yawned.
"Going to bed," she said. "See you in the morning."
He was disappointed; his beer was still half-full and it was a fine night to sit up and look at the stars. But he just nodded, watched her go. "Thanks for the beer," he called after her.
The next night, he didn't have watch but he still went out to the garden. He didn't see her at first, and almost left, and then he sensed movement by the corn stalks. She was sitting in the dirt, looking at the moon. He found himself creeping behind her, being a little shit boy he hadn't been in years.
"Hey, slug-killer," he said, right in her ear.
She jumped and rushed him, then dropped her knife.
"You!" she shouted. Exhaled. She didn't sound thrilled to be interrupted as she put the knife back on her belt. He hung around, hovering over her, feeling dumb.
"Didn't mean to scare you."
"Yes, you did."
"No beer tonight?"
"Yeah, but it's not cold."
"Other one wasn't, either."
"You're welcome to it," she said. "You're a working man like any other, right?"
"Naw," he said. He sat down beside her, set down his crossbow. They sat in the quiet for a while. Nothing but the wind banging the fence and crickets. Faint sounds from up in the main house of the prison. There was always someone moving in their world, on either side of the fence.
"Nothing to fix tonight, huh?" he asked.
"No," she said. "I weeded the watermelon patch. And put in some new beans. The kids planted them. Just like in school. Remember that?"
He didn't; he shook his head. School for him had been an unending hell of bullshit. He was often tired and sometimes hungry at school. Teased and knocked around, too, unless Merle was around to step in. Sometimes he was. Nothing but pure relief when he turned 16 and dropped out.
"It's late," he said. "You should hit your rack."
"Why aren't you, then?"
She shrugged. "Like a little open space. Like how everything out here smells. Smells good for once. See this?" She held her a hand, full of crushed leaves. It smelled instantly like gum, the mint kind he and Merle'd stolen from the corner store all the time.
"Spearmint," she said, putting it near his nose. "We didn't even need to plant it; it grows wild. Used to take over my backyard, wind its way into the patio brick. Drove Ed nuts."
He nodded. He was always curious about her old life. Even if it did mean reminders of what she'd lost.
"I used to crush it up and put in sweet tea," she said. "God, I miss sweet tea."
"Me, too," he said, automatically. "Was a woman who ran the tow shop I worked at. Always made sweet tea. Goddamn, she was a bitch. But that tea? That tea had everyone stepping to like I don't know what."
She laughed. "Think of the ice cubes, too. Melting all over the side of the glass."
"Mmm. My momma used to make a peach syrup, in the summers. Pour that in the tea. Only did that for special, though."
"That sounds good. Peaches. Would take a long while to grow peach trees in here, probably."
"Dunno," he said. "Might be worth it, though." He leaned back on his palms, looked up at the sky, the big moon. Then at her, beside him, smelling like mint. Peaceful.
"Herschel has a book all about it," she said. "I should look. Maybe…"
But she stopped talking because he took her hand. The one with the mint in it. He took it and he brought it to his face. He didn't know if he wanted to kiss it or smell the mint. So he did both. And then she dropped the mint between them and touched his face, her hand soft over his stubble. That's when he kissed her, the first time, the wind moving through the garden, so cool. It seemed to last days and weeks, them kissing. Her hand curled into the collar of his shirt and she pulled back like she wanted to say something.
He didn't want to talk. He knew that made him a dick, but he just wanted this to be what it was. Quiet. His mouth went down her neck slowly, his stubble scraping along. When she made a deep sighing sound and gripped around his waist, he knew, with relief, that that was it for talking. Just like he wanted. Though she was the only one he liked talking to, mostly. But he didn't want talking now; he knew it'd break the spell. Remind him of who he was and what they lived in. And now he just wanted to touch her, be next to her, breathe in all that mint that reminded of him something sweet, stolen. Just touching.
Which was what they did, all night in the garden. All night they tangled together, kissing and touching in the dirt. Not speaking.
Just before dawn, he heard Glenn come down for his watch to relieve Rick and as they heard him come down the trail, Carol and he both looked at each other, a little embarrassed, covered in dirt. He had a leaf in his hair, which she picked out. He smiled, nodded. She pulled her shirt down a bit and turned, and he swatted her on the ass as she rushed up to the main prison gate.
They watered the garden together every night after that. Sometimes they'd walk the fenceline, and he'd take out random walkers with the spikes left around the perimeter. It wasn't romantic, but they talked about things. Complained. She was tired. He was tired. One night they talked about all the things they missed. They both missed television and fast food and driving with the windows down and going to the movies. She missed baths and shopping for groceries. He missed watching football and going to bars.
"Not bar fights, though," he said. "Get enough of that shit."
She reached for his hand and he took it. They did that now, though he still felt weird about it. He turned back to the garden. He didn't want to touch her and take out walkers. She got him a bucket of water and he washed his hands. Took off his jacket, stripped down to his t-shirt. Ran his wet hands through his hair.
He sat down in the dirt beside the ground cherries and said, "Come here."
She looked around, nervous. As if someone could see them.
"Ain't nobody around, girl," he said. And slowly, she came to him, sat in his lap, just they way he'd liked, like they'd done all the other nights since the first one. They never had sex all those nights but they'd gotten close. He knew they were both adults, that Carol was no girl, but he'd been shy about sex. Partly because he felt like a pig and partly because he didn't want to be pushy at her, knowing she'd had enough of assholes like Ed telling her what-for. But he'd asked, the night before, if she wanted to, so he could get some condoms, then. And that's when she'd told him that all the women had them; that Maggie and Michonne looked for birth control, pills or condoms, both, whenever they made a run by pharmacies. How they all shared them, no judgment. The fear of bringing another life into this world, the fear of becoming slower and needier and weighted down with a pregnancy, was another they thing shared. All of them knew the kids they had to mind now were more than enough.
"I never wanted no kids," he'd said. "Not that I had women lining up for it or anything."
And she laughed, but he'd felt shitty. Because now it was so impossible, which made it seem like such a good thing. A wanted thing. A luxury. A kid of his own. A mother for it like Carol.
Last night, he'd noticed in all of that talk, she'd never said yes to anything.
Still, tonight he had condoms in his pocket. He could feel her hipbone pressed against them as they kissed. Soon he got her out of her shirt. Which made her strip off his, tickle his armpits, pull at the little bits of chest hair he had. She was silly, sometimes, and it knocked him out of being so serious about this stuff. He hadn't realized how starved for it he was. How long he'd lived without it, anyone touching him, him touching anyone.
After a while, she pulled him on top of her, but he wasn't having it.
"Don't want you lying there in the dirt," he said.
"Who cares, Daryl," she said, a little out of breath. Sounding so desperate his dick ached. He wanted to believe that she wanted him that bad. Just as bad as he wanted her. Still, he laid down his shirt for her. Him, he could roll in the mud, as far as he was concerned. But she deserved better. Even the small bits he could offer.
He laid over her and felt her hands at his belt, pulling the leather out from the loops. Unbuttoning his jeans. Reaching in, feeling around until she hit skin. Her hands fluttering over his hipbones, brushing through his hair around his dick. No underwear. He'd never worn it since he was kid. Sure wasn't going to start now.
"Mmm…" she said when her hand at last closed around his dick. He hoped this meant yes. The condoms in his pocket were burning a goddamn hole. But he let her jerk him off. It felt so fucking good. He kissed her the whole time, just because he couldn't look at her while it was happening. He was embarrassed that it felt so good; he was embarrassed to be who he was, with her. He knew she must like him. He knew that, and still he felt nervous. Stupid.
"Daryl?" she asked, her hand becoming still.
"Yeah?" He closed his eyes.
"Can you…I want to see you naked. I want to take everything off you. All of it. I want…"
He grinned like nothing else, then. Of all the things she could have said, that was the the exact thing he needed to hear.
"All right," he said, leaning back on his knees. "You, too," he said.
She smiled then, and kissed him on the cheek. Like she'd been asking for permission and worried he wouldn't give it. He couldn't believe her, sometimes.
Couldn't believe how easy she slipped off her boots and undid her pants, either. Dropped them right on the raspberry bush. Bare feet in the dirt, naked in the moonlight, her body like a white blade among the leaves and soil. Looking shy, but also happy. This was her garden, after all. The place she came to be alone. Be alone with him.
No other women had ever stripped for him like that, in the open air. And he'd never done that for anyone else, either. Feeling fearless, he unlaced his boots and stepped out of his jeans. Stood before her, his dick hanging out like a goddamn crank. He could feel the moonlight on his scarred back. He could feel her hands wrap around his hips, press him toward her, his dick up on her belly.
"You think anyone can see us?" she asked.
"Moon's out tonight," he said, kissing her.
"Spoken like a hunter."
"If you can be quiet, it don't matter," he said, lowering her to the ground, above their cast-off clothes.
"I'll try, Daryl," she said, as he kissed her breasts, ran his knuckles over her nipples. Sucked her belly button.
"Best not be a screamer, sweetheart," he said, his mouth trailing down to her thighs. "That'll bring everyone running."
He didn't know much about going down on women, besides that he loved it. There was nothing else in the world that tasted like pussy and it always made him feel like he'd found gold or something, the first taste knocking into him how lucky he was. Though he'd gotten the shoulder tap most of the time. Probably because he was never sure if what he did made the woman feel any good. A few times he'd been with women that didn't mind him being greedy like that, him just being down there for the pure dirty fun of being down there. But that had been rare.
Carol clutched his hair. Ran her fingernails slowly against his scalp. Drew her knees up, opened them wider. Made little sounds that sounded like she was holding it in. Like she really was a screamer. He'd only been teasing about that, but it made his dick even harder, knowing she had to hold back. Made him press his face further into her, grip her hips. Made her even juicier for him. Like the peaches they'd talked about that first night.
She seemed on the verge of something, her body twisting and turning. She gripped his hair something fierce, like it was a handrail over the pit of hell. Trying so, so hard to be quiet. He didn't want to make her feel bad about holding back. He rubbed his hand over her belly, looked her in the eye.
"You ready?" he asked.
She nodded, her eyes bright, her cheeks flushed. She looked dazed, but she helpfully felt around the clothes, as if reaching for a condom.
"I got it," he said. "Just relax."
Once he tore open the packet, she reached up to his dick and helped unroll it on him, as if she couldn't wait, either.
"Is it on okay?" she asked, turning her head, squinting at him. Sounding concerned. "Haven't used one of those in years."
He laughed. Pressed up against her. "It's all fine," he said. And then, feeling her knees open, he just slowly pushed in, looking at her face to see if things were all right. When he was all the way in, her eyes closed and she sighed and he could have died happy. Sweat broke out all over him, in a kind of relief. Relief that there was more and that she was looking right at up him, and her face was so happy, her eyes so wide. Her fingertips pressed into his sides, one at a time.
"Good?" she asked. As if there was any question.
"Good," he said back, nodding into her neck and slowly pushing in and out. Trying not to be so greedy, like he'd been when he went down on her. Trying to be cool. Trying to think about how this might feel from her side of things, Old Ed probably being no great shakes in the sack. Not that Daryl was, either, but it had to have been a while since she'd been with anyone who gave a damn about how she felt, sex-wise, and he was determined not to disappoint her. If he had to think of the last ten teams who'd won the Superbowl, all the ingredients in a Long Island Iced Tea, every gun his daddy and grand-daddy had ever owned, well, then, he'd fucking do it.
He concentrated on the little things, beyond being inside her. He ran his hand down her chest, over her breasts. She pushed his hair out of his eyes. Though everything was going fairly slow, they were both sweating. Staring right at each other. He'd never done that before. He'd never been this sober or wide awake for sex. He'd never cared to see the woman's face before, but now he couldn't take his eyes off Carol's. Even if she kept tipping her head back, and closing her eyes. It was like watching the speedometer while driving; he needed to see her face in order to know how things were going – was it too fast, too slow? He sure had never solved the mystery of what made women come, but he figured lasting long was the main thing. Giving her enough time to get where she needed to go.
But as long as it went on, she never stopped gasping and gripping his ass and everything else. He wondered if he'd lost the ability to come now. He'd never had that happen but Merle said it sometimes did, if he was high on something; he said a man could go on too long and then not be able to finish. Which sounded like hell, so Daryl hadn't asked for more details. He thought maybe they should change positions. Maybe that would make her come better. Make him able to. He couldn't imagine not being able to come now; how would he ever look at her again?
"I want you on top," he said.
"Why?" she said.
"Because," he said. "I want to."
He laid back in the dirt, not caring if he was on top of their clothes, and reached for her hips, greedy again, with his dick popping out, covered in her juices in the breeze. Jesus Christ, sex outside was weird as hell. He'd done it outside, but he hardly thought next to a dumpster behind a bar or in the cab of his truck counted. That was nothing like this.
She climbed on him and he felt like a dumbass for a minute, for asking her to do this, but once she sunk down over him, he knew it was all worth it. Her knees gripped his hips and she started riding him. Slow, though. Slower than he'd gone on her. And goddamn if he didn't think he'd lose it, all the guns and booze and Superbowl champions all for not.
She leaned back, her breasts bouncing more. Kept shaking, saying oh god. He grabbed her hips and pulled her down faster on him. Faster. Directing her how he wanted to go and then he felt it, maybe even before she did, which made him able to put his hand against her mouth in time to muffle it and then he just let go himself, too, saying her name.
He couldn't speak for a while. Carol was collapsed over him in a warm pretty heap. He never wanted to move again. He gently wrapped his arms around her, tightened them, so she wouldn't feel like she had to get up. She was breathing so hard he wondered for a minute if she was crying. He reached up to her face, to feel for tears and she looked at him and she smiled.
"Was gonna ask if you were okay," he said.
"More than okay."
"No. Bugs are driving me nuts, though."
"Gonna happen in the great outdoors."
"Don't want to think of where I'll be scratching tomorrow."
"I'll scratch it for you, if you want."
"Next time we should do this inside." He felt unsure about even bringing that up, even though he was holding her, naked, his dick still inside her. Which he probably she pull out, now that he thought of it. If he ever felt like moving again. She was perfect, all curled up on him.
"Hmm," she said. Paused. Which made him more tense. "I don't think so."
"I'd rather be out here. Inside? There's just too much to think about."
"Yeah. Too many people."
She stretched. Lifted herself up. Kissed him.
"I should probably go clean myself up," she said.
"Right," he said. She eased off him and just like that, instantly, he missed her. Wanted her back. Sat up and grabbed her arms, pulled her back to him, right into his messy lap, not caring about the condom and his dick and whatever else. Just kissed her so hard again, not wanting her to leave him. And she melted back into him and let it happen, her arms around his neck, until he calmed down.
"Sorry," he said. "Couldn't help myself."
"It's okay." She stood up, pulled him to his feet. Smiled at him. He swore, he could live off nothing but that, her smiling at him. Because he knew it didn't happen that often.
They walked over to the tool chest where the water buckets were and while she scooped water in her hands to wash herself, he peeled off the condom, pitched it toward the fence.
"What? Ain't nobody out there gonna care."
They looked up toward the prison and the tower, saw the faint lights.
"Can they see us?" she asked.
"Maybe in the tower."
"Oh, god!" She covered herself but he grabbed her and held her to him.
"Don't you worry," he said. "It don't fucking matter. Even if they could see you, you're beautiful."
She just squeezed him tighter, which made him feel better about saying it.
"Plus, it's Glenn up there. Doubt he'll see a damn thing."
"What if it were Rick?"
"I'd for sure see your naked ass, darling. And not just because I'm the best there is. Because I'd be motivated."
She laughed. "Nothing's gone to your head, I see."
"Just being honest."
They held onto each other some more. Her face in his sternum, their legs tangling up as they stood. The breeze felt good on his sweaty back.
"You know something, Daryl? That never happened before."
He was confused. "What you mean?"
"I mean, the end part. Not the…sex. But the end part; I've never had that. Not with someone else, I mean."
"Huh," he said. "Can't really say the same for myself."
She laughed, her mouth against his chest.
"Can't promise it'll happen again. Fuck if I know what I'm doing half the time I'm in that particular situation. Hasn't happened enough for me to say for sure."
She pinched him. "Oh, come on. Daryl."
"Why would you ever even say such thing?"
He shrugged, gripped her closer. "Don't want you to get your hopes up. Plus you've got me sort of on my heels here. So fucking out of it. I'll probably say anything you want me to."
She laughed. He loved that sound. Loved how it rumbled through his body from hers.
"Tempting," she said, her hand circling around a patch of his chest hair. "But if you don't want to say anything, that's fine with me."
He smiled. Sighed. Holding her under the stars, he watched a cloud briefly pass over the big moon, and he could think of so many things to say to her. But he figured he'd tell her them later. Tomorrow night, maybe. Right here again, under this same dark sky.