TWO WEEKS LATER
“Come on! Punch the gas!” Hellen barks from behind the truck.
“I am!” I shout back, pressing my foot to the floor.
Winter crept in like a muddy dog in a clean house, silent and devastating. Right now the truck is stuck in the mud. We are still in Georgia, a few miles away from the ruins of the prison. Ellen and Sam are behind the truck, rocking the vehicle to get out of the sloshy mud the snow created a few days ago. We have to be careful, not a car shop in sight with the bare tires on the slick roads.
My eyes dart around for any eaters, lurking in the winter shadows for any meat. Luckily, the cold slows them down, freezing what ever little heat they had. It helps with the stink of death afterwards, since decompisition slows down as well when things get cold.
The truck decides it’s time to move on as it lurches forward suddenly, the two others almost loosing balance and falling face first into the cold mud. I put the car in park as they brush off the dirt from their hands, then they both stop.
“Y’all okay?” I hear a famliar voice say.
“Fine,” Hel replies coldly, as cold as the air around us.
“Have you seen a girl around her age with brown hair and blue eyes?” he asks, gestering to Sam.
“What’s it to you?” Sam pipes up.
“What’s her name.” he asks.
“Charlotte.” she confesses after looking at her mom for permission to say so.
I turn around, surprised to hear his voice.
“Daryl?” I say once I get out of the truck.
ONE WEEK AGO
I laugh, “Come on Gen! Don’t be scared!”
Wes and Grace are beside me, watching Gen balance on a fallen tree truck over a few feet of solid ice. We checked so it was safe if one of us fell.
“No! I don’t want any bruises today!” she shouts back at us.
“You’re gonna get bruises anyway tonight!” Wes jeers, nudging me hard with his elbow as we both turn red from embarrassment.
“Shut up.” I grumble, my eyes trained on my beautiful girlfriend.
She mutters something under her breath and plants a foot on one end of the wide tree trunk. We all watch in anticipation as she inches her way towards us.
Her breath clouds in front of her as she exhales, along with our breath as well. As she reaches our end, I move so I can catch her by the waist and lift her down.
“Yay!” Grace cheers as Gen’s feet land solid on the ground.
My hands linger on Gen’s waist as we both look at each other and smile.
“We should hear back to base.” I say when my ears pick up distant howling and moans.
Wild packs of animals, when the shit hit the fan, their system of life crumbled as well. So, just like walkers, they prey on human flesh for energy and survival. We can kill them off easy, eat and skin their fur off as well, but when the animals hunt in packs, it can be difficult and we can’t afford any injuries right now, not ever.
“I wonder what supper with be tonight.” Grace wonders out loud as we all walk through the woods on the path Michonne created for us.
“I hope it isn’t left overs.” I respond, intertwining my hand with Gen’s mittened one.
“When are you ever right?” Gen jokes, giving my hand a squeeze.
“You’re almost as bad as Wes.” I mutter before I kiss her hard.
“Come on love birds!” Grace calls from ahead when we broke apart.
“We are!” I call back to her, tugging on Gen’s hand.
We follow Wes and Grace into the three story house, not a mansion, but very close. The owners must have been away on a holiday, because it was left untouched by the apocalypse. When you walk into the house itself, you find yourself in front of a grand staircase with a partially intact chandeiler. Four doors, two on either side, flank the grand staircase.
The two on the right is the dinning room and kitchen, and the two on the left is the living room and sun room/patio. Upstairs on the second floor are seven big bedrooms and five bathrooms. On the last level, the third level, is the master bedroom and bathroom, then the office that was across the hall.
Dad has the master with Judith. I have a bedroom, Gen’s bedroom is right beside mine. Wes’s is across from me and Grace is across from Gen. The others are settled in the west wing while us kids have the east. The basement has an arsenal and a few shelves of MRE’s.
On the back patio is a path that leads to the little group of sheds. Four small ordinary sheds that house lots of canned food. The best thing about the house is the fireplace in almost every room. We always keep them lit 24/7. Most of us are on wood duty. We all take turns chopping wood, getting water, watching judy, and hunting.
Daryl always hunts with either Michonne, Glenn, or Beth. I think he and beth like each other, but don’t want to admit it just yet. He seems distant, like he was when we were at Hershel’s farm, looking for Sophia. Now he is looking for his daughter. I mean, I would too if I had a daughter. As much as this leaves a sour taste in my mouth and I don’t like to think about it, Charlotte is probably gone with the winter wind. Not dead, just gone. That night we eat rabbit, squirrel, and canned green beans. Beth feeds judy her formula.
“We need to talk after supper,” I hear Daryl mumble to dad.
I hear dad mumble back an okay. Later, in my bed, I bring Gen closer for warmth, kissing her head before I fell asleep.
“Rick, I’m leaving the group.” Daryl says after Rick closes the door to the office, Judith in the bedroom finally asleep with a clean diaper on.
“What?” he says.
“I need to find my girl. She is the only family I have left and my only kid. Remember how she said we should go down to florida? Tracked her footprints a while back.Found a map at this cottage in the woods. She circled Macon. I figrured it would be better if I went alone. I’m not coming back.” Daryl explains.
Rick turns away, looking out the window.
“Is it about my boy?” Rick asks in the swelling silence.
Daryl mumbles a yes.
“If Charlie some how got her marbles back, think of how she would react to seeing Carl with the new girl. She might run off ’gain, this time untraceable.” Daryl says to Rick.
Rick sighs and goes over to Daryl, “When are you leaving?”
Daryl can’t look into his friend’s eyes, “Early morning. S’ nobody gets teary eyed ’ver me.”
Rick nods and leaves the office, going over to the bedroom.
Daryl wakes rick up a few hours later, geared up. It’s almost dawn, a light grey colors the sky. They both sneak downstairs. Rick spins daryl around and hugs him tight. Daryl returns the hug and they say goodbye. Daryl leaves quietly into the forest, heading away from the sun and the house.
What was Daryl doing here?
“Hey Charlie,” he grumbles.
“You’re Charlie?” he asks.
I nod, “And you’re my dad?”
He nods back. I run into his open arms. He hugs me back.
“I never thought I would find you.” he murmurs.
I gasp as the memory sucker punches me in the stomach.
“D-dad?” I stutter out in surprise.
He nods and flashes a half grin, not exposing his soft side to these new strangers. We all get in the truck, dad and I in the back seat while Hel and Sam are in the front.
“How did you find me?” I ask in a low voice, so that the two women wouldn’t eavesdrop on our conversation.
“You left a map at the cottage. Took me a while to find y’all. How are you?” he asks.
“I’m good. Are we going back to base? How’s Carl?” I ask back nervously.
“No, we aren’t going back to base,” he says.
“Stop the truck!” I yell to hel.
“And why the hell are we not going to base?” I ask.
The girls are standing outside.
“Cause. They moved and things happened. You wouldn’t like it.” he says, sharp and to the point.
“But what about Wes and Grace? My friends? Maggie, Beth, Glenn, Rick, and Judith? Do they not matter anymore?” I accuse.
“Don’t you say that!” Daryl snarls venomously.
I stay quiet for a few minutes.
“What about Carl?” I ask.
He shakes his head.
“You wouldn’t want to stay there. I don’t want you hurt." he explains.
“I won’t get hurt, I promise.” I say to him, brushing my fingers against his arm.
He grumbles something under his breath that I don’t understand.
The girls get back in the car, this time Sam in the back with me while Daryl drives to the new base.
A FEW DAYS LATER
We aren’t in Georgia anymore and thankfully the truck didn’t break down. We are now near Washington D.C. He leaves the car and we walk the short minutes to the base. Rick opens the door and almost tackles dad in a hug.
“I’m glad you’re back. And with new members I see. Hi Charlotte.” Rick greets.
I wave and walk in. It’s beautiful.
“CHARLOTTE!” I hear someone yell.
“GRACE!” I shout back, running to her at the end of the hallway.
We hug each other tight.
“Where’s Wes?” I ask.
I feel arms around my waist. I’m being spun around. When the person stops, I see the electric blue eyes of Wes. We hug each other tight.
The couple leads me into the kitchen. I hug everyone else.
“What’s all the noise about?” I hear someone say.
I turn around to the new voice. A girl with blonde hair and blue eyes hold judith on her hip.
“Hi. I’m Charlotte.” I say, holding out a hand to her.
She grasps my hand in a firm friendly grip.
“I’m Gena, call me Gen.” she says.
I nod and we let go of each others hands. Judith reaches out to me. I hold her and smile.
“Hello darling.” I coo, pecking her forehead.
She tugs on my hair. I go to give her back to Gen, but she fusses and I move away. I lean against the counter top as we all catch up. I give Judith to Rick and head to the bathroom. I spot the familiar hat in the hallway.
“Carl?” I ask, my heart beating wild in my chest.
“Charlotte?” he says in surprise.
I run and hug him tight.
“I’m so glad I found you.” I murmur in his neck, holding him tight.
His arms stay by his side. I break away.
“Hey, what’s wrong? If it’s about the slap I’m fi-” I say.
He cuts me off by gently shoving me away. He walks off. I go to the bathroom confused as hell. I go back to the kitchen where everyone else is at. Then I see it. Carl and Gen kiss and hold hands. I stop in the doorway. Everyone looks at me. They all probably expect me to cry, but I’m not letting that happen.
I force a fake smile and walk over to Hel and Sam.
“So, what’s for dinner?” I ask, my chest feeling tight.
“Canned food and some meat from hunting today.” Glenn announces.
“Well let’s eat, I’m starving.” I pipe up.
The others agree and we all make our way in a line to the food with plates. Now I understand why Daryl didn’t want me to come back.