After what felt like months of insistent blistering heat and drought, it finally rained. He was on the tractor, making another round when he felt something cool plop on his shoulder. He thought a bird shit on him. Fucking perfect. That would just add to the shitty summer he was experiencing. But then another drop, this one on his knee leaving a perfectly round wet circle on his jeans. Soon the drops multiplied, soaking his sleeveless t-shirt.
He decided to call it a day. More out of celebration that it was actually raining than anything else. There were plenty of other things he could be doing on this dilapidated old farm. It hadn’t rained in weeks making it a good day to cut out a couple hours early.
He steered the tractor back to the barn, parking it in its usual spot and just stood outside in the middle of the rumbling storm – face turned up to the cool rain. The heat had been so intense, it penetrated his skin. Burned him to a crisp, peeling off the top few layers within the first few days of May. Now in mid-July, his skin was tough as leather and just as tanned. He wouldn’t be surprised if his face sizzled and steamed with each droplet.
Merle came out of the barn, stating the obvious. “It’s raining.”
Daryl spared his brother a glance and then made his way to the house. He kicked off his boots at the back door, unbuttoned his soaked shirt and peeled it off. Tossing it into the washer that was set up in the mudroom.
He went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Nothing in there but half a dozen eggs in a bowl and a half gallon of milk that was well past its expiration date. His stomach rumbled. He couldn’t remember the last time he had an actual meal.
Pulling on a clean sleeveless flannel over his shoulders, and putting his boots back on, outside, he found Merle in the barn at the workbench tinkering with something or another. That was Merle – always tinkering. Never quite doing anything.
“Let’s go to town. Grab some dinner.”
Merle tossed a screwdriver onto the cluttered bench and said,” Don’t have to ask me twice.”
They ended up at the bar. Where else are they going to go? Though Daryl had tried his best to make friends with the people in town, to ease the tension most people had for the Dixon name, Merle hadn’t. That meant Merle wasn’t welcome in many places.
By the time they made it there the rain had, unfortunately, stopped and his forehead was already beaded with sweat even though both windows in the cab of the truck were open. There wasn’t so much as a puddle to show for the thirty-minute shower. The dry earth had sucked up every ounce of water. It was like getting kicked in the gut. Keeping the farm afloat in a drought. Combined with gas prices, seed prices, and feed prices being through the roof it made him almost want to throw in the towel. Almost.
It was his granddaddy’s property, his farm. His own daddy did very little to contribute unless you call making and drinking moonshine contributing. Ever since Daryl was knee-high to a grasshopper he was out there helping his grandfather. His earliest (as well as his best) memories were working alongside William Dixon Sr.
By the time he was fifteen he was running the farm by himself because his grandpa died the year before. He wasn’t going to let it go to the revenue man like his father and Merle would have. He quit school and did everything within his power to keep the farm afloat. Each year as he got older and more tired, it got more difficult.
Apparently, everyone had the same idea as him: the bar parking lot was packed. Great. He wasn’t the only one in this podunk town with financial problems. Not the only one praying for rain. Mix that with alcohol and the exhaustive summer heat and it’d make for a perfect storm of short tempers.
Against his better judgment, he found a parking spot in the last lane of the gravel lot. Killed the engine and took one look at Merle. “No trouble tonight. Okay? I just don’t have the energy to save your ass.”
“What fun is that?” He barked out a laugh. Daryl continued to stare at him until he relented.
“Okay, okay, baby brother. I’ll be an angel. Promise.”
He suppressed a smile as he got out of the truck. “One day you’ll pay for all the lies you tell.”
Inside the music was loud and the crowd was even louder for four o’clock on a Friday. It’ll only get rowdier and busier as the night goes on so Daryl found his usual spot at the end of the bar and planned on staying there. If there was someone that wanted to talk to him, they’d find him.
Merle, however, was the social butterfly of the two and was already off and running. He’d either be out back with some random woman or he’d be kicked out for fighting by dark.
The bartender, Andrea, a woman he’d known his whole life like everyone else here, leaned in talking loudly above the crowd. “Hey, Daryl. Ain’t seen you in a long time.”
He raised his eyebrows in response. “Yeah. Well ya’ know how it is.”
She worked long hours on the night shift for little pay, she definitely knows how it is. “That’s for damn sure. What can I get you?”
He placed his order; steak, potatoes, and slaw. This wasn’t no fancy joint but they served a whole menu. Andrea jotted down his order and placed a frosty bottle of Bud on a napkin in front of him. “Be about fifteen. They’re running behind.”
He nodded. What else was new? On slow days they ran behind too.
He watched the screen on the wall above the bar. Some sort of soccer game was playing. He didn’t follow soccer. Or any sports. It gave him something to do while waiting for his food. When he grew tired of skinny people kicking around a ball he spun around on the barstool and watched the crowd for a while. Elbow on the bar, beer in hand.
Merle already had a woman hanging off his side. Daryl had forgotten the name of long ago if he ever knew it. She was way too pretty for Merle. But then again, most women were. For some strange reason, they liked his brother. Maybe it was his ability to talk (more like bullshit) with anyone and he could put on the charm when he wanted to.
Daryl wasn’t the same. He didn’t have charm or charisma or whatever the hell else it was that Merle had. He was quiet and grumpy and tired the majority of the time.
“Here ya go, darlin’.”
He turned toward the heavenly voice and there she was. Beth Greene. She slid his plate in front of him on the bar top and smiled. As usual, he was dumbstruck. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. And that was no exaggeration.
Blonde hair, kind blue eyes. Long legs and… he forced himself to stop there. Going any further made him feel perv-ish.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
She wrapped her hand with long dainty fingers around his bicep. Squeezed once. “Let me know if you need anything else.” He nodded and couldn’t help himself as he watched her walk away.
On nights Beth worked her boyfriend wasn’t ever too far off. Daryl spun his head to the left and sure enough, there was Jimmy, four stools off staring him down.
He picked up his beer and gave Jimmy a small nod, taking a drink, knowing it would piss him off. He wasn’t afraid of Jimmy’s scrawny ass. He only felt bad for Beth for having to put up with the douchebag.
She didn’t deserve to be treated the way he treated her. Daryl had never seen a bad side to her and he’d known her since she was ten. ‘Course he was eighteen at that time and didn’t pay her much attention. She was Shawn’s little sister. The baby of the Greene family that lived down the road from his farm.
She didn’t catch his eye for many years. Once she did though, he never wanted to look away. She was a bleeding heart. Taking in every stray. Nursing them back to health and then finding a new home for them. Many times she tried pawning off a scraggly mutt on him.
She loved her family immensely and still took good care of her ailing mother. She was supposed to go off to college to become a Veterinarian. As far as he could piece together that was around the time she met Jimmy and he put a cobosh on that dream.
Daryl saw it. Saw the way Jimmy treated her. Saw the bruises she tried unsuccessfully to cover with makeup and long sleeves. The last time he messed her up so badly, she hid away in their trailer for a week before she showed her face around town again.
It might be old-fashioned, an outdated way of thinking, but she had no one to protect her, no one to help her. It’s a good thing her daddy was long ago buried because it would kill him to see his daughter in the situation she was in. Although, if he was alive maybe she wouldn’t be with Jimmy at all.
Shawn moved away a long time ago and was clueless as to what was really happening in his sister’s life. Daryl thought of telling him in one of their few and far-between calls or texts. He didn’t really think it was his place. He felt helpless to help Beth and that’s one of the things he hated most… feeling helpless.
Beth came back around to make sure his food was good, got him another beer when Andrea was busy though he didn’t ask her to. “How’s your Mama?” He asked her as she popped the top on his beer.
“Oh, she’s hanging in there.” She looked away sadly before focusing her eyes back on him. “She’s a tough one.”
She smiled resolutely and he tried to smile back – he was a bit out of practice. He lightly touched his knuckles to her flattened hand on the bar. “That she is,” he agreed.
Jimmy noticed and Daryl noticed him noticing. He didn’t care. He wasn’t going to let this guy, this nobody, dictate who he spoke to. But he should have cared. He should have backed off because it only made trouble for Beth.
Daryl was finished with his food, had three beers and was waiting around to see if Merle was catching a ride home with him tonight when he stepped outside for a smoke. The tall lights of the parking lot domed the bar in the hazy night air. It was still and humid. No sign of a breeze and no sign of rain. He brought a cigarette up to his lips, lighting it. The mumble of patrons and music vibrated through the walls and a small headache began to nag between his temples. He considered leaving Merle to find his own way home.
Around the corner of the building, a voice broke through the din. Nights like this voices carried. There was nothing to stop them. No wind or rain, no barrier.
“Jimmy, I gotta get back to work.”
It was Beth. Daryl’s shoulders sloped with regret. He thought about returning to his spot at the bar. This wasn’t his concern and yet he couldn’t make himself move.
“So you can flirt some more?” Jimmy yelled through gritted teeth.
“No, so I can get paid and we can make rent!”
He smiled at that. Good girl, don’t take his shit. Then she quickly backpedaled. “Jimmy, you’re drunk why don’t you go on home and go to bed?” She suggested sweetly. “Andrea will drop me off on her way home.”
“Ohhh, you’d love that wouldn’t ya?”
Daryl concentrated on the cigarette. The smoke filling his lungs with that slight kick of nicotine, the momentarily release of tension. Watching the smoke fan into the night sky. Not your circus, not your fuckin’ monkeys, Merle would say if he were there with him.
That became his mantra.
“I just need to finish my shift,” Beth placated uselessly.
Not my circus, not my monkeys. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Not my circus, not my monkeys. He said it to himself three times before he heard the sharp thwack of a slap.
Not my circus… fuck it.
Before he thought, he acted. Rounding the corner in time to see Beth cradling her cheek and Jimmy shoving her against the brick wall, his hand wrapped around her throat.
He cleared his throat and Jimmy dropped his hand. Beth spun to face Daryl, her mouth open and he knew, he knew, she was two seconds away from defending that piece of shit.
Daryl flung the cigarette to the ground and crushed it under his boot. Tilting his chin he exhaled smoke into the air above him, then he pinpointed Jimmy with his stare.
“Touch her again, Jimmy and I’ll break your fuckin’ neck.”