Playing With Fire

Chapter Eleven


It wasn’t until the next day that I was finally bein’ set loose. Doc had insisted on keepin’ me hostage there another night, but there was no way in hell that was happenin’. I’d been fussed over enough to last about five dozen lifetimes. Pretty soon, I’d go soft and wouldn’t be able to do a god damn thing by myself anymore.

“Be careful with that arm, Mr. Dixon. You’ve spent more time being unconscious than awake, which means you’re not exactly used to that hand not being there.” The doc warned, same no nonsense black woman that’d been lookin’ after me the day before. She stood a bit away, near the door, and watched while I shrugged on my shirt. She’d been careful not to offer me any help. Think she knew by now that I was the type of man who needed to prove I could do things on my own. One handed especially.

“I’ll be just fine, doc. Ain’t nothin’ I could do with that hand that I can’ do with this one.” I said, buttonin’ up the shirt. Wasn’t so hard. Hell, I was willin’ to bet there were things I could do one handed even better than somebody with two.

“I’m just saying take it easy for a little while. When you’re ready, come on out here and I’ll find someone to show you around, okay?” She said, givin’ me a slight nod. I grunted in response and she turned and left me alone.

I finished gettin’ my shirt all the way on finally and stood up from the edge of the bed, walkin’ over towards the window. After the governor had left the day before, curiosity had gotten the better of me and I got myself over to the window as soon as I could. He hadn’t been lyin’ when he said this was a real live town we were in. The window looked right down into the center of town where there were more people than I’d seen in quite some time. Walkin’ around, gardenin’, shoppin’. Hell, it was almost like this place had been untouched by what was happenin’ on the outside although I knew that wasn’t true.

Today there weren’t as many people out, which probably had a little to do with the rain slantin’ sidewise against the window. A soft knock comin’ from behind me and distracted me.

I turned to look over my shoulder and froze. She hovered in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest. Tight jeans deliciously huggin’ every curve and her dark hair pulled back, away from that pretty face. Exactly the way I remembered her lookin’ that day in Atlanta. I was wonderin’ now how the hell I had somehow convinced myself she hadn’t been there durin’ the few days I was in and out of awakness. Now that I was here, lookin’ at her in my right state of my mind, I was rememberin’ bit and pieces. Her hand pressed gently to my forehead feelin’ for a fever, her arm cradlin’ my head as she pressed a water bottle to my mouth and forced me to drink. This woman, a complete stranger, had seen me at my weakest. It set me on edge. Merle Dixon was a lot of things, but weak wasn’t one of ‘em.

“What took you so long, princess? Ain’t you been worried ‘bout me?” I asked her, cuttin’ through the silence that had built up between us.

She took an awkward step further into the room. “They just told me you were awake. I’ve been checking on you everyday.” A stray strand of hair had escaped from her ponytail and watched as she impatiently brushed it away.

“Well...ain’t that sweet.” I drawled slowly. “Harlow, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “And you’re Merle...I’m glad you’re better. I wasn’t sure you were gonna pull through. You were in pretty rough shape.”

Even from the other side of the room, I could see the concern in those gray eyes of hers. It wasn’t a look I was used to seein’. It ignited a tiny spark of annoyance somewhere deep inside me. That look almost made me feel like I was some sort of god damn puppy that needed to be taken care of. I wasn’t no pup. I let out a pent up sigh, strollin’ over to the bed to grab my jacket.

“Yeah, well, I’m doin’ just fine now, princess. You can go on back to doin’ whatever it is you do. Now if you’ll excuse me, sugar, I got shit to do.” I made to brush past her, but her hand suddenly shot out and gripped my shoulder. Damn, for a tiny little thing she sure did have one hell of an arm. I perked an eyebrow out her, shruggin’ off her hand.

“That’s it? That’s seriously all I get after saving your life?” She asked, soundin’ like she was in total disbelief.

One of my mouth curled up in a smirk. “Why? Did you need somethin’ else? ‘Cause I can think of one other way I might be willin’ to repay ya.”

I watched as her eyes narrowed and her mouth set into a thin, hard line. “I guess I was wrong to save your ass then. You really don’t have any redeeming qualities, do you? You’re nothing but an arrogant, ungrateful jackass!” She was seethin’. I could almost feel the rage rollin’ right off of her, all of it directed at me.

“Listen, princess. I woulda been just fine out there on my own. I’m a god damn Dixon. I would have built up my strength after a while and been alright. All you did was help speed up the process a tiny, lil’ bit.” I said, holdin’ her angry gaze. For a good second there, I could have sworn the girl was gonna hit me. I watched her fist clench as she took a small step closer to me until we were almost nose to nose. Although I was a good head and half taller than her.

“Go to hell.” She hissed. I felt both her hands on my chest before she gave me a small shove and whirled around, headed right out the door. I watched her go. That girl actually had the balls to push me. Not that it really mattered, as it had been like the wind tryin’ to move a mountain, but still. She had balls to put her hands on me. Lucky for her, I don’t hit women.

Plus, I probably deserved it. I usually did. And those last three words she said, well I had heard those about a thousand times in my life and they didn’t do nothin’ to phase me. This girl had come in here expectin’ some sort of thank you from Merle Dixon. It wasn’t her fault that I wasn’t the type of man to get all wishy washy ‘bout things like that. The fact that I had let her off the hook, told her she didn’t need to worry about me anymore, that should’ve been thanks enough. Now she could get as far away from me as she wanted. No need for her to hang around a man who ain’t worth the time and effort of tryin’ to play nice with. Regardless of whether she had or hadn’t saved my ass.

I shook my head and went out the door, into the tiny front room where the doc was seated behind a wooden desk hovered over some papers. She glanced up when she heard me come in and raised her eyebrows.

“You pissed that girl off pretty good.” She commented.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah, well, she should learn not to take things so personally.”

“I’ll be sure to tell her that.” The doc said with a dry chuckle, rollin’ her eyes.

“I’m ready to see this so called town of yours now.” I said, ignoring her last comment.

“Well, Harlow was supposed to be the one to show you around and take you to your new living quarters, but seeing as how you ran her off I’m going to have to find someone else to do it. So sit tight.”

“Seein’ as how I got nowhere else to go, I ain’t in any hurry.” I said, leanin’ back against the white-washed wall.

She didn’t answer, instead disappearin’ into another room where I could just barely hear her talkin’ on a walkie to someone else. No doubt explain’ how I had run off that Harlow chick. I scowled a little. Jesus, everyone was so damn sensitive. That girl probably thought of herself as some god damn lil’ hero.

“Milton is on his way over. He’ll take you to your living quarters.” The doc said as she came back into the room.

“Who the hell is Milton?” I asked.

She smiled wryly. “He’s the town scientist. But mostly, he’s the governor’s errand boy. He doesn’t seem to grasp that, though.”

I sneered. “Sounds like a pansy.”

She looked up from her desk, where she was shufflin’ the papers into a pile and shot me a look. “You best not go running him off too. I’m not spending the rest of the day tracking down people to help you find your way around town.”

I opened my mouth to answer, but before I could even get a word out, the front door to the buildin’ creeped open. A shrimpy lookin’ guy with round glasses and neat lookin’ button up shirt walked in, lookin’ mighty nervous.

“You must be Mr. Dixon.” He said in a small voice, eyein’ me apprehensively.

“It’s Merle.” I said gruffly. “You gonna get the tail out from in between your damn legs and show me outta here or what?”

I watched as he swallowed hard before nodding. “Yes, sir. Just this way.” He pushed open the front door and waiting for me to go through.

I glanced behind at the doc, givin’ her a curt nod before steppin’ out and gettin’ my first real look at Woodbury. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, but the streets were still pretty empty. Shops lined the narrow street, signs displayin’ a bank, a grocery store, a library...I was impressed they had all managed to build somethin’ so close to the old world. It was almost easy to forget there were biters outside those walls. Which sooner or later would probably led to this place’s downfall. You forget what the world’s really like and let your guard down only for it to turn around bite you in the ass.

“Nice little set up ya’ll got here.” I commented as he led me down the damp sidewalk towards the outskirts of the town.

“Thank you. It’s been a process, but we’re very happy with the results so far. We have electricity and running water. Woodbury is salvation for many people who had it rough outside the walls.” Milton explained, his stiff voice drifting over his shoulder.

“Lifestyle of the luxurious.” I sneered. Milton shot me a look over his shoulder but didn’t make any sort of reply. A place like this seemed too damn good to be true. Didn’t feel like the sort of place I’d fit in. I’d do my time, though, and as soon as I found Daryl I’d be long gone. Was only a matter of time.

“This is your building. We think it used to serve as some sort of office space, but did our best to renovate the rooms into livable spaces. Three other people live here and there’s one community bathroom on the second floor.” He explained, pullin’ open the door to the weathered, brick buildin’. “I hope that won’t be a problem.” Milton said, lookin’ a little anxious.

I let out a snort. “I spent the last couple of months livin’ in a tent, usin’ nature as a bathroom. Ya git’ my drift?”

He nodded hurriedly. “I think I understand, yes. Alright, so up these stairs then.” Our footsteps echoed off the walls as we headed up the short flight of stairs. It had an old, musty smell with wooden floors and walls painted a fadin’ green color. The next floor up was just a long, narrow hall with a couple of wooden doors with brass knobs.

Milton pointed out the first door to my right. “This one here is the bathroom.” He explained. He walked a little further down the hall until we reached the dead end, where there was nothin’ but a bare wall. I watched as he pulled a key ring from his pocket and turned to the door closest to the dead end. “This will be your room. I’ll give you the key in just a second.” He fumbled for a second, but finally the lock tumbled and the door swung open. He hung back a little as I stepped inside.

It was a square little room, bare for the most part. A bed shoved up against one wall with a desk on the opposite side, a ricketly lookin’ wooden chair pulled up next to it. Next to the bed was a wide window that looked down into the street.

“I think this’ll do just fine.” I said, movin’ back to the door to take the key from Milton. Couldn’t even remember the last time I had a bed and suddenly I had an entire room.

“I’m glad to hear it.” He said, givin’ me a forced smile before droppin’ the key into my hand. “We have a dining hall that meals are served in also, which I can show you-“

Footsteps echoed off the walls and I leaned around Milton to see none other than the princess herself comin’ this way. I smirked, waitin’ for her to notice I was there. Didn’t take too long. She paused as she caught sight of Milton, her eyes slidin’ from him to me in a short second. The look on her face got stormy, her eyes narrowin’ into two dangerous lookin’ slits.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.” She hissed under her breath. She whirled around and jammed a key into the lock of her door.

“Looks like we’re gonna be neighbors, princess.” I taunted.

She finally shoved the door open and shot me another glare. “Fuck off.” She said in an icy voice before slammin’ the door behind her, rattlin’ the walls.

“Is there going to be a problem with you two?” Milton asked wearily.

I grinned, shakin’ my head. “Ain’t nothin’ I can handle. Don’t you worry ‘bout that.”

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