Playing With Fire

Chapter Fifteen

Merle

There was nothin’ I really hated more than feelin’ like I was somebody’s bitch. Takin’ orders and doin’ what I was told weren’t thing I liked. Wasn’t really all that good at ‘em either. Which was why I felt like I was always remindin’ myself to behave now even though I was feelin’ tired of bein’ the gov’ner’s bitch. Hadn’t even gotten inside my buildin’ yet before Milton was suddenly runnin’ to catch up with me, tellin’ me the gov’ner needed me on the night watch. Again. Of course there wasn’t much I could do but agree.

I didn’t give myself a whole lot of time to feel sorry ‘bout it, though, instead stretchin’ out on the bed in my room and passin’ out for the day. When I woke up again, I could tell the sun was about to set by the shadows on the walls. I let out a sigh, placin’ my hands behind my head, not yet wantin’ to get up.

‘Another day gone by and another day I was no closer to findin’ Daryl.’ I thought to myself, grittin’ my teeth. He was out there somewhere, with that misfit group of his. I wondered if he was lookin’ for me, or if he had given up. Or if he had even tried at all. I squeezed my eyes shut tight. Ain’t no good to be thinkin’ up thoughts that just did nothin’ but make me even more mad. I reminded myself that the minute I had proved myself and was in the gov’ner’s good graces was the minute I could be outside these walls with a search group lookin’ for my baby brother.

I forced myself into a sittin’ position with a grunt, swingin’ my legs over the side of the bed. Was no time at all before I was dressed and headin’ out towards the watch post on the wall. It was dark and quiet once again, as everyone abided by the set curfew in Woodbury. So many rules and nobody thought twice about followin’ ‘em. Another thing I had never been any good at. Explained why I had spent so much time in and out of jail.

I had a good feelin’ Harlow was gonna be at the top of the watch post before I even started climbing the ladder. It made sense that two of us would be the ones stuck guarding the wall. We were the strangers of the town after all. Suppose no one trusted us to do much of anything else. I climbed up, grippin’ rung after rung’ tightly with the only hand I had. I was just a little outta breath when I finished the climb. Still wasn’t enough to make me wish I woulda thought twice before cuttin’ my damn hand off.

Harlow had her back to me, her dark hair twisted into one, long braid that hung down the middle of her back. She looked over her shoulder at me and narrowed her eyes but didn’t say a word. I let out a chuckle, not surprised. I wasn’t exactly gettin’ any closer to bein’ in the woman’s good graces. Every time she looked my way I got the feelin’ she was wishin’ she had just left me for dead. Couldn’t blame her, but I still was a far off way from admittin’ any sort of thanks for savin’ my life. By far off I meant probably never.

“Evenin, princess.” I said, breakin’ the silence between us. I sank down into the empty chair next to her, proppin’ my feet up on the wall. My gun rested in my lap, never far from my reach as always. She grunted in response, but didn’t say a word. “Bet you’re feelin’ pretty damn lucky to be spendin’ a whole ‘nother night with Merle…although I can think of better ways we could be spendin’ a whole night.” The corners of my mouth perked up in an easy smirk. Even in the darkness, I could see her nostrils flare a little and her eyes narrow into slits. Still not a word, though. I angled myself in my chair so I was facin’ her. I was at least expectin’ some sort of response…an insult or a slap in the face. Didn’t seem like her to just sit quietly. What was the fun in gettin’ her all flustered and riled up if she didn’t even play along? “Alright, sugar, what’s wrong? And don’t tell me nothin’ ‘cause it’s pretty damn clear there’s somethin’ goin’ on.”

She rolled her eyes, shakin’ her head. I kept my mouth shut, but my eyes never left her pretty face. Finally, she crumbled, lettin’ out a heavy sigh. “This town…I don’t think it’s what it seems.”

I let out a snort. “Is anything ever what it seems?” I shot back.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Sometimes. I just have a bad feeling about this place now.” She bit her lower lip, lookin’ agitated.

“What the hell happened that brought all this on, huh?” I asked curiously, watchin’ as she let out a big, heavy sigh and dropped down into the empty chair next to me, shiny gun in between her hands.

“That man I saw in the clinic today, the one the Governor asked me to check on…he had a gunshot wound to the leg. Said he did it himself by accident, but there’s no god damn way he could have. The angle’s all wrong for anything self-inflicted. Impossible almost.” She said, her voice just barely above a whisper. I had to lean in closer to hear her. “And when I called him out on it, he shut up fast. Wouldn’t say another word…it was weird. It just…it all seems wrong now.” She finished slowly. She cocked her head to the side and shot me a glance. “You don’t get that feeling about this place? Or the Governor?”

I felt her hard gaze on me even after I forced myself to look away, leanin’ back in the chair. I let out a breath of air through my pursed lips, shakin’ my head. “A man who calls himself the ‘Gov’nor’ in control of a small town like this…you can bet yer’ ass there’s some power hungry corrupt shit goin’ on here. Ain’t none of my business, though, and it sure as hell ain’t none of yers’ to go snoopin’ around tryin’ to figure it all out.” I warned her. “I’ve seen this type of shit too many times to know it ain’t worth tryin’ to get involved in. All I wanna do is find my brother and git’ the hell outta here. You should worry ‘bout doin’ the same.”

Harlow slumped back in her chair, eyes turned towards what was on the other side of the wall. “I want to leave. Not sure I’m ready face what’s out there again, though.” She said so quietly that I almost missed it.

For just a half of a second, I got a glimpse under that hard shell she worked so hard to hide behind and wondered what the hell her story was. A woman out there all on her own…I was willin’ to bet my ass she hadn’t started out alone. “Don’t matter if yer’ ready or not…I’m tellin’ ya what’s out there ain’t no worse than what’s inside these walls. It’s just more clear out there who the monsters are.” I glanced over at her just in time to see her quirk an eyebrow.

“Pretty deep shit for a redneck to come up with.” She said, the corner of her mouth turnin’ up.

I rolled my eyes. “Ain’t as dumb as I look, sweetheart.” I reached inside my pocket and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. I slipped one in between my lips before offering the pack to Harlow.

“Thanks.” She muttered before takin’ one and diggin’ through her backpack until she pulled out an old, beat up lookin’ silver lighter. She lit the end of hers before offerin’ it to me. I leaned closer and she lit the end of the cigarette. I took a deep inhale before exhalin’ a puff of gray smoke into the night air. Sooner or later, I knew her dislike for me would start to show again, but right now it felt like we had come to some sort of temporary truce. Probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was an outsider to this place, like her. “So.” She finally said, turnin’ to face me. Her gray eyes flickered towards the stump of my arm before she took another drag off her cigarette. “You ever gonna tell me what really happened to your hand?”

I smirked, flickin’ some ash off the end of the cigarette. “Thought I already told ya’. It pissed me off.”

Harlow shot me a look. “Yeah and you’re full of shit. What’s the real story?”

“Alright, alright. Fine, woman, keep your panties on.” I chuckled. “Or ya’ can take ‘em off and we can get right to the point if that’s what yer’ really after.” I added, watching as she made a face that said clear enough how that was not what she was after at all.

“I promise not to shoot you for saying that if you just get to the damn story already.” She finally said, her eyes flashin’ dangerously.

I threw back my head, lettin’ out a raspy laugh. “You sure are one helluva spitfire, sugar. Alright, here’s the damn story. I’m gonna tell you the long version so don’t interrupt me until we get to the end.” I settled back in my chair, takin’ one last drag from the cigarette before flickin’ it over the edge of the wall. I told her how Daryl had dragged me to Atlanta to search for his little girlfriend, Charlie, how we had met the other group which eventually led to that fuckin’ god damn idiot officer and his sidekicks handcuffin’ me to a hot roof and leavin’ me to die. I wasn’t really used to doin’ so much sharin’ with someone, but felt sorta good to just get it all off my damn chest. Wasn’t until after I finished talkin’ and it was quiet for a few minutes that Harlow said anythin’ at all.

“Pretty shitty of them to just leave you there.” She finally said. “Although I think you’re leaving something out. Knowing you, I’m sure you said something to piss someone off.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Mighta let out a few racial slurs.” I admitted, givin’ her a small grin.

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I knew there was something you were leaving out. You’re a pretty tough son of a bitch, Dixon.”

“Just tryin’ to survive, that’s all.” I commented, taking another puff off the end of my cigarette. “So now that you now mine…what the hell is your story, princess?” I asked curiously. I watched as she clamped her jaw shut tight, flickin’ the rest of her cigarette over the side of the wall.

“Why do I have to have a story? Why can’t I just be someone trying to survive, same as you?” She finally countered, perking an eyebrow.

I chuckled. “Everybody’s got a story, sugar.”

“Yeah, but not all of ‘em are worth telling. I didn’t have to cut off my hand to get to this point.” She nodded at the stub of my arm.

“I’m just surprised you made it this far all own yer’ own. Not many people can say they were so lucky.” I admitted to her, eyein’ her from the corner of my eye.

“Luck had nothing to do with it.” She shot back. “I’m alone because there was no one around I trusted enough to watch my back. The only person I’ve ever trusted is my brother. He got deployed overseas before any of this shit even started. I have absolutely no fucking way of knowing whether he’s dead or alive. I’ll probably never see him again.” Her voice dropped slightly.

“My brother’s the only one I’ve ever trusted either. Which is why I need to be out there, lookin’ for his scrawny ass.” I ran my hand over my stubble before crossin’ my arm over my chest.

“If he’s half as tough as you are, he’s still alive out there.” She said softly.

I shot her a glance, surprised at the sudden gentleness in her tone. “I know he’s alive. Just gotta find him.” I answered.

“Maybe one of these days, I’ll find my brother too.” Harlow added after a long, quiet moment.

“Crazier shit has happened.” I grunted. I saw a quick, barely there smile tug at her lips before disappearing again.

“You couldn’t be more right about that.”



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