"So, Carol," Merle began, drawing out his words in a way that made her uncomfortable. She could feel his eyes on her, and combined with his humourless tone, it was unnerving. "How did you meet my baby brother?"
He sat at a folding chair, watching her barbecue the meat in her sweet little outfit.
She smiled at the question, lost in the memory. No, that smile was definitely not for him. It was all for Daryl.
"Well, actually, um, my car just kept breaking down. Once every few weeks, at least." She shook her head, still smiling, as her eyes lingered on the grill. "So I'd have to go pick it up at the shop all the time. And, um, Daryl was always there with my keys. Teasing me about it. And one day, I said to him, 'Maybe I'm just using it as an excuse to come down here and see you,' and he said, 'Well, maybe I don't mind so much then.'" She laughed quietly to herself, flipping the burgers. "Then the next time I was there, he said, 'I'm thinkin' maybe I wanna take you out for dinner, Miss Carol,' and so I told him, 'Well, maybe I wouldn't mind that so much'."
She cleared her throat and tried unsuccessfully to wipe the smile off her face, surprising herself with how much she'd rambled. Surely Merle didn't care about each and every detail of their meeting.
And Merle could have tossed his cookies right then and there. He rolled his eyes at the sappy story, thinking that his brother had turned into some pussy by sweet-talking women to get in their pants.
Only this one was clearly for more than just fucking, and he couldn't wrap his head around it no matter how hard he tried. She was beautiful. It was obvious. She was beautiful in a way that made her too good for the likes of the Dixon boys. She dressed like a lady, and she barely wore any shit on her face. She was soft-spoken. Delicate.
He watched her as she cooked, trying to imagine the two of them fucking. Wondering what she was like. If she was loud, or if she was quiet like she was now. If she liked it rough, or if she wanted it soft. How she liked to be touched. What kind of face she'd make when it all came crashing down.
And he couldn't for the life of him figure out what about her was so goddamn special that Daryl would move her ass into his house and fucking settle down with her. Or better yet, what the fuck was so special about Daryl that he'd bag a woman like this Carol Sinclair.
Carol glanced up at Merle then, her smile lingering as she finished her story. But when she saw the way he looked back at her with such disdain, she sobered immediately and cleared her throat once more before turning back to the meat.
"And when did all this happen?" he asked, his tone saturated with sarcasm.
"Um," she swallowed heavily and looked him right in the eye, her manner resigned. "About…a year and a half ago? Maybe?"
She didn't know Merle at all, but she knew right then that this information angered him, and deeply. There was something about the whole situation that had her nervous to answer any more of his questions, but there was nothing she could do. There was no one there to stop him from asking, and she certainly couldn't do it. No, she was far too polite, and he was much bigger than she was.
His stare was unwavering on her face. "An' how long you lived here, sugar?"
She held his gaze, almost as though she was waiting for him to make some sort of move. Though she had no idea what kind of move he'd be making. "I moved in eight months ago."
He nodded slowly, his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed as he glowered at her.
She snapped her attention back to the food and took the hamburgers off the grill swiftly as she realized she was dangerously close to overcooking them.
"He never told you about me," she muttered, concentrating on placing the meat on the plate.
He smirked at her discomfort and shook his head slowly, though she wasn't looking at him. "No, darlin', he didn't."
Carol took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, attempting not to take offense. She knew Daryl must have had his reasons for keeping her a secret from his brother, she did. The pang of hurt crept its way through and tugged at her sharply, regardless.
Before she needed to offer any sort of reply to Merle, she heard the front door shut, and she looked through the screen door sharply, Merle's eyes still on her, not affected by the newcomer at all.
"Carol?" She heard Daryl's voice call to her and spared a fleeting glance at Merle before rushing inside to greet him.
"There you are," he said sweetly as he toed off his shoes, only seeing her enter through the screen door out of the corner of his eye. "Smells fuckin' amazing, I'm starv—"he saw the look on her face, and he knew something wasn't right. "What's goin' on? What's wrong?"
He searched her face for any sign of what could have her so flustered as she quickly closed the distance between them, and held onto her by her biceps, her small hands squeezing his forearms in return.
"Daryl," she whispered. "We have company."
He automatically glanced around the small space and looked back at her with confusion when he saw no one.
"Out back," she explained, and he looked towards the screen door that led to their tiny backyard, trying to peer outside. "It's Merle," she told him, lowering her voice even more.
And Daryl's blue eyes snapped back to hers at the sound of his brother's name coming from her lips. He didn't want it there.
He didn't want Merle in his house, didn't want him anywhere near Carol.
Daryl let his hands slide down her arms as he dropped them to his sides, but took hold of her hand to pull her along as he took a step towards the screen door leading to the backyard.
Before he could make it any further, Merle sauntered inside, loosely holding the neck of his beer bottle as he eyed his little brother.
"Daryl!" he barked, making a clear effort to force some lightness into his tone, though his face was anything but. "Was just catching up with your little lady here," he motioned to Carol with the hand that held the bottle, running his tongue over his teeth as he eyed her.
Daryl's hand squeezed hers tighter.
"Didn't know you was gettin' out so soon," Daryl commented, speaking low and trying desperately to keep his anger at bay.
"Nah. You wouldn't, would ya? Stopped callin'. Stopped comin' by. I left you a message. A couple, actually. You too good for me now, baby brother?"
Daryl remembered those messages. He'd deleted them the second he'd heard Merle's voice on the other end.
Carol's heart began to race, not knowing how on earth this conversation would turn out. Not having a clue what type of man Merle was, except through what she'd been told. And what she'd been told had her thinking this would get very violent, very quickly.
She instinctively moved herself slightly behind Daryl and tightened her grip on his hand.
"'Course not, Merle. Just had a lot goin' on, is all."
Daryl did what he could to diffuse this for Carol's sake.
"We're about to eat supper now, though, so-" Daryl began.
And then Carol's heart practically burst. Daryl was going to kill her.
"Um," she interjected, stepping slightly forward once more. "I, um, invited Merle to eat with us." She gestured towards Merle with a forced smile and feigned composure, and couldn't tear her eyes away from Daryl's as he glared at her.
His eyes said everything he couldn't, not in front of Merle. And with her own, she tried telling him she was sorry.
"That's right, Darylina. Got yourself a guest for supper. And would ya look at that," he drawled, taking one last pull from his bottle. "My beer's empty."