Playing With Fire

Chapter Thirteen

Harlow

I was fuming. There was really no other way to describe how furious I was at that idiot Merle Dixon. I think part of it, though, was me being mad at myself. I had let him get under my skin. I had pretty much just showed him how easy it was for him to piss me off and make me feel uncomfortable. I grimaced, remembering his ice blue eyes drifting up and down my half-naked body. Pig. Next time he tried to pull something like that I was just going to seriously hit him. I was small, but I grew up with two older brothers. I knew how to land a punch that would make his teeth rattle in his idiotic skull. I pulled open one of the dresser drawers and dug through the contents, on the search for clean clothes.

I didn’t start to feel calm again until I was dressed in a pair of old jeans and a tee-shirt, standing in front of the mirror as I pulled my hair back into a low ponytail. It was weird having a mirror in my room. I had spent months on the run avoiding looking at my reflection as much as possible. I’d avoid the mirrors on my truck, avoid my reflection in windows…I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have recognized myself either way, though. Weeks without a shower and clean clothes probably tended to make a person pretty unrecognizable. Now that I cared all that much about what I looked like now. However, since other people were going to be seeing me on a daily basis, it was probably okay to at least try and look like a decent human being.

I stepped back from the mirror, sucking in a breath of air before slowly letting it out. I tried to push all of my irritation at Dixon out with it. As if I didn’t dislike him enough, he had to go and try to make things worse. Sometimes I almost wished I would have left him for dead in that bathtub. It would have been so much easier to do and then I could have been on my way. I could’ve been in my truck right now, on my own and driving to wherever the hell I wanted.

Still, though…deep down I knew I didn’t have it in me to leave someone to die. Even if they were a complete and utter jackass. Even now, knowing what Merle was like, I still knew I wouldn’t have left him there. Because that’s what happens when you’re me and like to save everybody. I shook my head, turning away from the mirror to grab my jacket from the bed. Outside the window the sun was almost completely below the horizon which meant it was time for me to head to watch duty.

I had taken a few of the night watch shifts in the past couple of weeks. Most people were glad to give their shifts to me, as night watch was hated by pretty much everyone. I didn’t mind it, though. As long as I was paired with someone who wasn’t completely awful, it was fine. Most of the time we would pass the night in silence, and I would be left alone to my thoughts. Plus nothing had ever happened on any of my shifts. Sometimes a stray walkers got too close to the wall and had to be put down, but other than that it was pretty calm. Almost peaceful.

I let myself out of my room, turning the key in the lock before sliding it into my back pocket. I hovered for a minute in the hall as I zipped up my jacket and adjusted the straps of my backpack on my shoulders. I was headed back down the hall in seconds. Just in time for the bathroom door to open and Merle to step out, a towel around his waist and his naked chest gleaming in the dim hallway light.

It was barely half a second I paused, caught off guard by his sudden presence. I tried hard, but I couldn’t stop my eyes from sweeping across his naked upper torso. Then, I was averting my eyes to the floor and hurriedly side stepping around him. I fought the urge to run to the staircase and run from the building altogether.

“See anythin’ you like, princess?” I heard him call after my retreating back, the amusement in his tone clear as day.

I turned over my shoulder to see that all too familiar smirk on his lips before I flipped him my middle finger and headed down the stairs. I could feel the heat on my face as I stepped out into the night. God damn it. It was almost unfair how he could do absolutely nothing and make me flustered as hell. It should be a Woodbury rule to always have to be covered completely at all times instead of walking around and distracting everyone all the time. I felt the irritation and annoyance began to seep through me again and fought back against it. I didn’t want to give Dixon the power to make me so angry and uncomfortable and annoyed. Anyways, I was out here now and away from him. I took another deep breath and kept walking.

Most of the sidewalks were empty now as it grew darker and closer to the town’s curfew. People would be getting settled into their own apartments now. It was a weird thought. I was so used to being on the run, not sure if I’d have a place to stay. It was strange that these people all had an actual home. Outside the wall, things were so monumentally different. I wondered if everyone had forgotten that or if they had just forced themselves to forget what a nightmare life was outside of Woodbury. It made me uneasy a little. I felt my fingers automatically slide down to the gun holstered on my hip. It was the one I had taken from Merle, but I didn’t give a damn. It made me feel better to have it.

“Evenin’, sunshine!” A voice called from the top of the wall as I got closer. I craned my neck and squinted my eyes, trying to make out the figure in the dimming sunlight. It took me only half a second to recognize the face and I was pleased when a name to match popped up in my head. I carefully gripped the ladder in my hands and climbed to the top of the platform.

“I really hate when you call me that, Crowley.” I sighed when I finally made it to the top, wiping my hands on the back of my jeans.

Crowley gave me a small grin, the whiteness of his teeth standing out against his dark skin color. “One of these days you’ll have to get used to it. Ready for a long night?” He asked, crouching down to pack his things into a dirty, gray colored backpack.

I made a face. “Not really. Who’s with me tonight?” I asked curiously. I moved closer to the edge of the wall, peering out towards the debris littered road on the other side.

“Dunno…Was supposed to be Richardson but Governor pulled him to help out with something else. Not sure who he was replaced by.” I heard Crowley’s voice behind me.

I turned back around and let my backpack fall off my shoulders onto the platform with a soft ‘thud’. “Well, I hope it’s not someone who’s going to drive me insane.” I said.

“Wishful thinking right there. Wouldn’t wanna get stuck up here with your buddy Martinez.” Crowley snickered. I shot him a glare that shut him up, but a small smile still curved the corners of his mouth. It was common knowledge, I was sure, that Martinez was not on my list of favorite people. Probably had a lot to do with our first meeting. “Alright, well, I’m outta here. Whoever it is should be here soon. Hope you’re night doesn’t turn out too bad.” He offered before shouldering his backpack and disappearing down the ladder.

“Yeah, I hope so too.” I muttered, turning my back on the town to face the world outside the wall. Sometimes I wondered how I got by out there. Even just the small slice of road looked like a scene out of any apocalyptic horror movie I had ever seen...abandoned cars, bodies (all walkers), garbage, trees and plants that were growing wild over all over the sidewalk. It practically reeked of danger. My thoughts once again drifted to the idea that all that was separating us from it was this makeshift fence, crafted together with old school busses and sheet metal. Yet no one on this side seemed worried about how easy it would be for something outside to get in. No one seemed to even talk about the outside. It was like they had shut out the idea of anything outside Woodbury even existing anymore. It made me worry. These people put so much faith into this place that if it fell, well they’d be screwed.

It was full on night within a few minutes, the sun having disappeared completely. It would have been pitch black if not for the bright spot lights on either side of the watch platform and pretty soon all the lights in the town behind me would flicker and go out when curfew came. I had just gotten back to wondering who would be joining me tonight when I heard them coming. The platform swayed gently with their movements and I cast a glance over my shoulder to see who was climbing up.

I noticed the handless wrist before anything else as he pulled himself to the top of the platform and righted himself. I felt the irritation boiling inside me. This had to be a joke...of all the people they could have sent up here with me...

“What the hell are you doing here?” I spat at him, my tone like ice.

I watched as he cocked an eyebrow, a devilish smirk slowly pulling at the corners of his mouth. “This day just keeps gettin’ luckier and luckier. Looks like you and me got a long night ahead of us, sugar.” He said in his raspy voice.

I was fuming, my fingers curled into fists and my eyes narrowed dangerously. “I’m not staying up here all night with you.”

He shrugged his shoulders, brushing past me to the edge of the wall. “Don’t think ya’ got much of a choice. Governor ain’t gonna give a damn about what ya’ don’t like. Best not bother him with all your cryin’ and complainin’. Don’t think he’s even here to hear it, though, now that I think ‘bout it. Out on a supply run.”

I took in a deep breath, filling my lungs up before letting it out through my mouth. It didn’t make me feel any better. I could hardly stand being in his presence for a second, and now I was going to be stuck here for an entire night with him. I thought back to him blocking the doorway of the bathroom, that annoying grin on his face as he looked me up and down. I could feel my face getting hot with rage once again.

“You ain’t still mad, are ya’ sweetheart?” He drawled, as if he could read what was inside my head.

I glared at him. “Fuck you.” I hissed. I turned away from him.

“Well that ain’t very lady like.” He chortled, not in the least bit offended which only made me more pissed off. How was it so easy for him to get under my skin, but nothing I said or did ever got to him? I didn’t say anything, wondering how the hell I would make it through the night without killing him. It was going to be pretty damn hard. “I gotcha. Silent treatment, that’s what they call it right? Ain’t no matter to me whether you wanna talk or not. Ole’ Merle ain’t got no problem listenin’ to his own voice all night.”

I let out a long breath, closing my eyes for just a second. Clearly ignoring him wasn’t going to be an option. I opened my eyes again and turned to look at him. He was still looking at me, that annoying smile on his stupid face. He was enjoying this, getting on my nerves. Didn’t take much for him to do that.

“Look, I don’t like you. I’m not even going to pretend to be nice to you because I don’t give a fuck. But if we’re going to be stuck up here all night, I’m going to have to ask you to leave me alone or I swear to God I won’t think twice about putting a bullet in your ass.” I threatened, my hands on my hips as I glared at him.

I watched as his eyebrows raised slowly, but other than that, he didn’t seem the least bit put off. Now that I thought about, a man like this was probably used to threats. Probably got them at least ten times a day from various people. That tended to happen when you were an arrogant, ungrateful asswipe.

He finally held up his hands, palms out in what I assumed was supposed to be a peaceful gesture. “Alright, princess. Don’t go gettin’ your precious lil’ panties in a twist. I won’t bother ya’ none.”

I pursed my lips, highly doubting this. I carefully scanned his expression, taking note of the amused look in his eyes before finally deciding I’d take it considering I didn’t really have another choice. I gave him a curt nod before once again looking away, over the wall. I could still feel his eyes on me as I tied my hair back into a loose ponytail, but ignored it. He could look all he wanted, I just didn’t want to hear his voice.

Not even a full minute later, Woodbury’s lights went dark as the power to the buildings was shut off for the night. The beams of the two searchlights on the walls stayed on, though, shining on the apocalyptic road on the other side of the wall. I drummed my fingers absentmindedly on my thigh, my other hand still gripping the strap of my gun. Merle was still quiet, which should have made me feel better but if anything it made me feel uneasy for some reason. His presence was hard to ignore as we lingered so close together in the semi-darkness, our eyes on the lookout for any signs of trouble.

I finally couldn’t take the antsy feeling building up inside me and crouched down to rummage through my backpack. I felt through the contents before my fingers finally found the familiar square, cardboard shape I was looking for. I stood back up with the cigarette pack in my hand and pulled out a smoke, sliding it between my lips and lighting the other end. I inhaled, letting the smoke fill my lungs before letting it out into night in a translucent, gray puff. I felt the edge leave my body, just a little bit. God damn, what would I do without cigarettes.

“That’s a bad habit ya’ got there, sweetheart.” I heard Merle murmur, his low voice just barely reaching my ears.

I shrugged my shoulders, taking another puff. “I’m more concerned about the fact that there are dead people trying to eat me than what a little nicotine’s gonna do.” I answered.

I watched his shoulders shake as he chuckled. “S’pose ya’ have a point.”

I was surprised a little...really, Merle was agreeing with me on something? That was a first. Wasn’t like him to not add some sort of backhanded comment or insult to everything he said. I didn’t say anything back, though and waited for things to get quiet again.

“Can’t remember the last time I had a smoke. Quit right after my momma died. Fell asleep smokin’ a cigarette and the whole damn house went up with her.” He commented. Not only did he sound nonchalant about the whole thing, but he was just offering up this personal detail from his life that I didn’t remember asking for. What the hell kind of a curveball was that?

I didn’t say anything or give any sort of sign that I had even heard him, but what he had just said was weighing pretty hard on me. I couldn’t think of a single reason why he would suddenly lay something that personal on me. I chewed on my lower lip, thinking. I flicked the end of the cigarette over the platform, watching as the ashes drifted to the ground. “My mom died of lung cancer when I was sixteen. Sweetest lady in the world, but a chain smoker till the end.” I suddenly heard myself saying. Merle shifted, turning to face me and for some reason I didn’t stop there. “I hated cigarettes after that...For years I hated them but then my dad died of cancer a few years ago. Wasn’t a smoker or anything. After that I just said fuck it. If you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die.” I said with another shrug before taking a long drag from the end of the cigarette.

“Fucked up sort of world we live in, ain’t it?” He finally said, his raspy voice low and quiet.

I nodded slowly. “Always has been.”

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other finally leaning up against the wall as it got quiet again. Merle didn’t say another word, and all I could hear was his breathing coming from next to me as I got wrapped up in my own thoughts and let them lead me somewhere else.



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