Playing With Fire

Chapter Sixteen


The next night, I found myself wandering around Woodbury. There was only so much time I could spend shut up in my room before it started to drive me insane. It was so weird to have free time. Before Woodbury, all of my time had been used up just trying to figure out where I was going to sleep, what I was going to eat, and if I could make it another week living that way. Here, though, there was almost too much free time. When I wasn’t in the clinic or working on watch, I found myself antsy. Maybe I could have made friends, conversed with the other townspeople, but I didn’t like the idea of getting tied down to anyone in this place. Especially when I was so sure there was something more sinister going on behind the scenes.

I remembered the Governor telling me, proudly, that this place had a library. So I made it my intention to try and find it. Not only did it give me something to do, but I missed books. I was more than willing to admit that after the world decided to up and go to hell, I missed books and reading more than I missed conversation and people. So I was ready to see what sort of reading material Woodbury had to offer. I had little faith in the selection, but was hoping to find at least one worthy book to take with me. At least then, sitting in my room would be a little more bearable.

The building wasn’t too hard to find. It was all the way at the end of the street, opposite of the place I was staying in. A makeshift wooden sign hung on the faded red door that read ‘Woodbury Library’. I grasped the handle in my hand and the door swung open with a loud creaking sound. After it had swung shut behind me, I was met with the beautiful sound of silence. No one was here. I let out a sigh, content that I would be able to explore the room alone without someone badgering me with questions about what I liked to read and if I needed help. It appeared that the librarian position was still in need of being filled. Thank god for that.

Metal shelves filled the room in rows, books neatly placed on the shelves in what appeared no particular sort of category. I brushed my fingers over the bindings as I skimmed the titles while wondering around the room. A handful of the shelves were completely bare, but the few that were full looked promising. It was better than nothing, after all.

I tugged a paperback from the wall, smirking as I read the title. ‘The Outsiders’. I remembered reading it in the seventh grade. It was one of the first books that actually made me realize that reading didn’t always have to be so lame and boring. I turned it over in my hands. It was an old, battered copy. The edges were torn and the pages yellowed. Someone’s name was scrawled on the inside cover, though I could barely make out the letters in the faded ink. I tucked it under my arm and went back to browsing the shelves.

Out of nowhere, I hear the sound of a chair scraping back against the concrete floor. I froze, eyebrows knitting together in confusion. Whoever was in here was being pretty damn quiet this whole time. I walked towards the center of the aisle before peering cautiously around the corner. I was prepared to make a dash before being forced into conversation with a complete stranger. Instead, I was completely caught off guard when I caught sight of none other than Merle Dixon, a book in his hands. I don’t know why the scene was so damn funny to me but a grin spread across my face, ear to ear.

“Ya’ don’t gotta hide, sugar.” He suddenly drawled, his eyes flicking upwards to meet mine.

Still grinning, I stepped out from behind the shelf. “Not hiding, just observing. Didn’t know rednecks like yourself could read.” I taunted.

“How else is a man s’posed to pass the damn time in this place? Nothin’ ever happens here.” He answered, leaning back in his chair. He heavy boots were resting on top of an old, wooden table. I couldn’t bend my mind around the idea that Merle Dixon liked to read books. It seemed way out of character for the guy, like a fish out of water. If I were to imagine what Merle did in his spare time, it would have been something barbaric like carving knives out of sticks or looking at dirty magazines. Definitely not sitting quietly in the Woodbury library reading.

“Good point.” I said in response. I squinted my eyes, trying to read the title of the book from where I was standing. My eyebrows shot up. As if I wasn’t already shocked enough…”The bible? Really? You’re shut in here reading the bible?” I way saying before I could stop myself.

He smirked. “Ole Merle’s full of surprises, sweetheart.”

“Well you and Jesus don’t have much in common. Unless he was also a racist, redneck pig.” I shot back at him, pulling out the empty seat across from and sitting. It was ironic, really, that someone I despised so much could also be the only person I could stand being around for longer than five minutes.

He raised his eyebrows. “Sure do got some big balls for bein’ a woman.” I watched as he folded down the corner of the page he had been reading to mark his place before tossing it onto the table between us.

“I take that as a compliment.” I grabbed the bible and flipped open to the page he had been reading and skimmed the words with half-interest. I could feel his gaze on me the entire time. “Was never really religious to begin with. Even less now, after all this shit.” I sighed, snapping it shut.

“I ain’t religious neither. Just a way to bide time.” He drawled in his raspy voice. “What ya’ got there?” He nodded towards the book I had grabbed from one of the shelves just minutes earlier. I slid it across the table towards him and he snatched it up with one hand, letting out a deep chuckle when he saw the cover.

“S’pose I didn’t peg you for the romantic type anyways.” He said. “You seem more like a Ponyboy kinda girl.”

It was my turn to perk an eyebrow. “You’ve read it?” I asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of my tone.

“Course I have.” He grunted.

“You are full of surprises, Dixon.” I murmured, leaning back in my chair.

He gave me a huge grin. “Don’t I know it, princess.” He tossed the book back at me and I caught it with both hands. “Anyways, only gotta occupy myself for a lil’ longer. Gov’nor seems to think I’m ready to play with others now. Gonna send me out on a raid tomorrow.”

I leaned forward. “He’s letting you go outside the wall?” I asked.

He nodded. “Seems that way.”

“Fucking hell, I’d give just about anything to go out. Even for just an hour.” I admitted, heaving a heavy sigh.

“Why dontcha tag along then, huh sugar?” Merle said.

I let out a sarcastic laugh. “You really think the almighty Governor would let a woman come out on a raid with a buncha men?” I rolled my eyes. “Unlikely.”

Merle ignored my sarcasm. “Listen, sugar, you got medical experience and judging by that little ‘accident’ they had the other day, they gonna need a doctor on hand. I reckon with that, and that pretty face o’ yours…you could convince him to let ya’ come.”

I bit my lower lip, eyeing Merle quizzically. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of his helpfulness. There was really no reason for it. “And you wouldn’t complain about me being there?” I asked curiously.

He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Long as you stay outta my way, we won’t have a problem.”

I nodded. Fair enough. “I’ll go talk to him then.” I pushed back the chair as I stood up, grabbing my battered copy of the Outsiders from the table top. I caught sight of a familiar title on one of the shelves closest to the table and grabbed it, looking back at Merle. I showed him the copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. “Also, not all romance novels suck. This one’s not bad.” I tossed it at him before turning and heading back towards the front door. I felt his eyes on me until I had finally slipped outside into the muggy Georgia air.

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