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The Deal

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The day after my dad returned from being “dead”, I was coming out of the forest with one of the few people in our survivors camp that I didn’t find myself screaming with annoyance at daily. Him, my little brother, and sometimes my stepmom. It was a weird day for all of us-not just the part about daddy returning or even the part about me being on a hunting trip-nah, the entire fucking world was upside down.

Here’s How the World Went to Shit by Jessica Grimes

My dad, Rick Grimes met my runaway mother in high school. During what would be the first of many “act before you think” moments, mommy dearest was knocked up with lil ole me. Now, I’m more than certain that if abortions had been easily obtained at that time, I’d have been on the receiving end of that early death. Dad wouldn’t hear of it. He and my grandma and granddaddy bribed the use of the womb in which I grew to birthing maturity in and once I pooped out into existence? That womb and the holy unprepared and unmaternal genetic markers that created me ran the fuck away. Her parents weren’t any more accepting of my appearance than she was, so my 16 year old Dad became both of my parents. Strange isn’t it? That a teenage boy had more maternal instincts than the chick I grew inside of.

Dad didn’t go far for college, but my grandparents wanted him to have a regular experience, so he commuted, then he visited a lot. First it was every weekend, then every single Sunday. Since he was still a teenager, it made sense, plus he never stopped being available for me. If I was sick, he was there. If I had a preschool concert, there he was in the front row. My dad is my hero, and he will be forever. When he met Lori in college, he made it plain who I was and how important I was to him. She took it in stride, and while I never called her “mom”, she became a good one. I was the practice she needed for when my baby brother was born when I was six years old. Carl made us a foursome, and we reveled in our family. Every single activity that first me, then Carl participated in, our parents were right there, front row. In fact, when I wanted to go to summer camp Lori and Dad tried to convince me otherwise. It was the one place they couldn’t visit daily. Luckily I won that round, because it would come in handy later.

By the time the shit started hitting the fan around the world, I was a freshman at Agnes Scott. While sitting in my creative writing class, I felt the coldest chill I ever had. My grandma would have called it “someone walking across my grave”. I left the class and walked over to the administration building. I told the secretary that I had to request some time off, and as I was handed the forms, my cell phone rang. Lori told me that Dad had been shot, he’d need surgery, and he was unconscious. I knew before she’d called that something bad had happened.

That’s why, when the world truly went to shit days later, I had a hard time believing Shane when he told us that Dad was dead. If my dad had died, I would know, but how do you convince your stepmother that you’d FEEL it? I also knew that my dad would be pissed if I didn’t follow Lori and keep Carl in my sights. Besides, everyone knew that any relationship I’d had with Shane had gone sour after I graduated, no one knew WHY, they just knew it did. Telling Lori, when she was clearly distressed about the reports of people being bitten and going crazy that I didn’t believe a word coming out of his monstrous head wouldn’t be taken seriously.

When I looked at Carl, I knew what I had to do. Keeping my baby brother safe, that was all my dad would want me to worry about, well keeping myself safe as well, of course. Sadly, my dad couldn’t imagine that keeping Carl safe, meant that I had to witness Lori fall under the spell of Shane.

It’s why, once we’d found the others and made the camp on the outskirts of the city beside the clearest quarry pool I’d ever seen, I had to find better sleeping arrangements. While Carl sleeps like the dead, I hear every bump and groan. Ignoring Shane and Lori banging beside or God-forbid inside the tent would be impossible. That’s how I came to know the Dixon brothers.

Merle wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea. Daryl, however, wasn’t nearly as horrifying. Once he learned of my proficiency with a bow, he was more than happy to show me how to help him hunt. He even started teaching me how to track. Of course, they both laughed themselves silly when Daryl attempted to show me how to use his crossbow and I gave myself a black eye. It was the two of them who realized that I’d started sleeping under the stars in my sleeping bag, because I was too selfless to ask Glenn to find me my own tent on one of his runs. Since they had their own spot away from the others with two tents, they offered me a spot inside one of them. A choice had to be made, and it wasn’t difficult, I started bunking with Daryl. I had a feeling if I chose Merle, he might get grabby hands inside that tent of his, and it might sour my friendship with Daryl if I crushed his brother’s balls.

Soon my days grew into a routine. I’d wake up in Daryl’s tent, we’d decide if it was a hunting day or foraging day, I’d drop off our laundry to the lady-folk, then go off to do whatever the chore was for that day, eat, bed, rinse, and repeat. It was an added bonus that Shane hated that I got out of the “lady” chores of laundry and dinner prep.

I’d keep my eye on Carl, feeling powerless at the hero worship I could see growing in him over Shane. I tried to teach him archery, but guns were more interesting to him. Shane carried a gun after all. I watched as Shane worked to take my dad’s place, and I wanted to vomit.

As I was preparing for another hunting trip with Daryl, one alone as Merle had chosen to go on a run with the others, Shane cornered me. “Jessica,” he said through gritted teeth. “You know your daddy wouldn’t want you keeping company with the likes of-”

I rolled my eyes and stopped him in his bullshit authority role. “I wouldn’t know that, Shane, since my daddy isn’t here, is he?” I glared up at him and crossed my arms over my chest. “If my daddy were here, I think he’d more than likely want me to be the most productive person I could be. Of course, he’d be VERY interested in how productive you and his WIFE are being.” With a parting shot that I hoped would scorch the earth beneath him, “Just be happy I didn’t tell Dad about your interest in me before I left for school.” I turned and ran to meet Daryl.

No one had witnessed that tense conversation. No one ever did. Shane was quite careful about that, about who could witness the true douche baggery that he was capable of wielding. Lucky me, I thought, witness to every bit of it. After saying goodbye to both of our brothers, and me stopping to hug Lori and promise her I’d be careful, off we went into the glorious silence of the forest.

We’d gone about a mile in before Daryl broke the silence. “Ya alright?” We kept moving and his voice was low enough to not scare any game we might come across.

I snorted lightly and kept my eyes peeled for any tracks or signs of bigger game than squirrels or rabbits. “Great, why do you ask?” I could hear the sarcasm dripping from the words, but I wasn’t feeling up to being sociable after dealing with Shane.

Daryl stopped and I followed suit. The man could scent an animal before anyone, so I thought that’s why we were at a standstill. Looking around I realized there wasn’t anything, other than a fallen tree and a cluster of wildflowers. “Stand down,” he chuckled, taking note of my bow at shooting level with an arrow notched. “We’re far enough from camp that ya can tell me what’s got that stick up your ass.”

I rolled my eyes and lowered my bow. He sat on the tree trunk and patted the place beside him. I sat and considered what he wanted to know. “Maybe I’m just becoming a product of the times.” I shrugged, and thought that the words weren’t lies. This world would change us all.

Daryl shook his head. “Naw, ya only get this uptight after talkin’ to Shane.”

Shit, I kept forgetting how observant the Dixons could be, the one beside me the most of the two. “You know me that well, huh?” He nodded. I watched the bees flit from wildflower to wildflower. “He insinuated that my dad wouldn’t approve of my friendship with you and Merle.” I kept my eyes on the bees.

“Shit, girl, that’s what the whole camp thinks.” He saw, but didn’t fully understand.

“My dad?” I started, needed to tell SOMEONE. “Shane told Lori, Carl, and me that he’s dead. I don’t believe it.” I turned to face him and realized he’d been watching me the entire time. “My dad’s in a coma. When he was shot, I felt it. Not the pain, but I KNEW something bad had happened.” I groaned and ran my hand across my face. “I’d know, Daryl, I’d FEEL it if my dad died.” I felt a tear of frustration roll down my cheek. “We left because Shane convinced Lori. I left because I know Dad would be pissed if I didn’t stay with Carl. He’s trapped back there, completely at the mercy of those undead dickheads, all because of Shane.”

Daryl swiped my tear away with his thumb. “That’s not the only reason ya don’t like him though, is it?”

I shook my head. “Shane’s not the hero everyone wants him to be.” That was all I was willing to say. “We should check those traps you laid last time.” I stood up and brushed off my jeans. Wiping my face clear of the angst that I let out, I started off toward where we had been heading to begin with.

TWO DAYS LATER

“Damn it, Daryl.” I groaned quietly. “That deer is fucking gone.”

He glared back at me and pointed down at the tracks he was following, and had been for MILES. “It ain’t gone, Jess.” His words came out through gritted teeth.

Guess our honeymoon phase was over, I nearly giggled at the thought. The only thing stopping the laughter was a pissed off redneck with a loaded crossbow. “Tree line’s thinning,” I offered quietly. I saw him nod. I was certain we were nearly back at camp. I truly hoped that damn deer was waiting for us.

Daryl crossed into the open first, me being several feet behind him. From his tone, I could tell that sunshine and daisies didn’t await us. I heard fussing and kicking, then I was briefly blinded by the full sunlight as I crossed over from the trees to the clearing.

“It’s gotta be the brain. Don’t y’all know nothing?” He was griping. “Lost the damn deer to this piece of shit, Jess. Can ya believe that?”

I shook my head, trying to blink out the bright light and let my eyes readjust. Then I was engulfed in familiar strong arms and I gasped. “Dad?” I asked, pulling back to look up at him. “Daddy?” I launched myself back against his chest, feeling all of my pent up fear and guilt surrounding his fate go.

“Jessi.” He sighed into my hair. “Oh, baby girl, I got so worried when I got here yesterday and you weren’t here.” He pulled back to run his hands over my sweaty face. “Thank God.” He kissed my forehead. “Thank God you’re all OK.”

I heard Daryl stomping back toward camp, reassuring everyone that even without the deer we’d managed to get a dozen squirrels. He was shouting for Merle when I felt Dad tense up. “What’s wrong, Dad?” I asked, seeing guilt flash across his face. “Dad, did something happen to Merle?”

He sighed and pulled me along with the rest back to camp. The fallout came when they told Daryl. Dad’s decision to handcuff Merle to a roof, then T-Dog losing the key to the cuffs, leaving him behind with a horde running loose was barbaric even for Merle. Soon Daryl was demanding to be let to go find his brother, and my dad, T-Dog, and Glenn were planning a return trip.

Dad came to me to try to explain. He’d noticed my sleeping arrangements, and unlike Shane, he didn’t seem to give much of a damn. He was curious, clearly, but we had plenty more worries that were more demanding. Such as Merle’s condition.

“Dad,” I stopped him before he tried to give his reasoning. “ I know that you had a reason, I do. You need to understand that Daryl ONLY has Merle. While Merle can be TOO much for everyone else, Daryl needs him. Hell, the two of them adopted me while you were-” I stopped and gulped for air at the memory. “Promise me something?”

“Anything, baby girl.” He answered without hesitation.

“Keep him safe.” I saw his eyebrow raise. “Daryl, Dad, the others don’t see it, but he’s a good one.”

Hugging me again, he whispered his promise against my temple as he kissed me goodbye.

“Keep yourself safe, too, Dad. I just got you back.” I felt him chuckle as he released me.

“I’ll do my best, Jessi.” He smiled and we walked back to the truck where the others were waiting. Dad was kissing and assuring Lori and Carl about this dangerous new mission.

Daryl was pacing like a caged animal. “Hey.” I called to him, he glared down at me, but I took no offense. He was glaring at EVERYONE. “Don’t do anything stupid.” I forced him to stop moving by grabbing his hand. Startled by the contact, he stilled. “I mean it, Dixon. Come back safe. Find Merle, give him an ass chewing, and come back safe.” I was glaring up at him. He gave a curt nod and I felt my chest untighten. “Good. Glenn, T-Dog? Stay safe.” They smiled at me, but my hand was still holding Daryl’s. I gave it a squeeze then released him.

The truck had barely left when Shane confronted me by the Dixons’ tents. “You going to tell him?” He asked, hovering over me where I sat checking my arrows’ conditions. “About-”

“About you and Lori?” I asked, ignoring his oppressive presence. “Or about my graduation party?” I glanced up at him and was gratified to see him growing pale. “You and Lori can decide whether or not to tell him. As for the party? TBD.”

He stomped away and I hoped that would be the end of our cozy little chats for a while.

 

JUNE 2009~ JESSICA’S GRADUATION PARTY

I’d been so excited for the party to celebrate my graduation. Dad was beaming, telling anyone who’d listen about his Valedictorian daughter who got a full ride to college. Lori, who might not be the world’s greatest cook, was a damn fine party planner. And Carl was so excited to see me get my diploma, followed by an abundance of food and cake, plus he was telling everyone how much he was looking forward to visiting me at Agnes Scott. An ALL GIRL’S school he kept telling everyone, like I was going to magic school.

Yet, after the cake and presents, I had started to feel a little let down. It wasn’t my family, our house, or even the guests. I was just getting worried that maybe I’d peaked. Being at the top of the food chain in high school was one thing, but college? I’d never been the new girl before. I was feeling vulnerable and took myself inside to sit at the top of the stairway.

Shane, like a shark can scent blood in the water, picked up on my vulnerability. As the 18 year old daughter of his oldest friend, I should have been an obvious off limits choice. Yet, that night, he’d found me and decided to make a move.

“This is your party, sweetheart.” He had said, as he sat down beside me too close. His jean clad leg rubbing against my bare leg and knee where my dress didn’t cover. “You look insecure up here, that isn’t the Jessica Grimes I know.” His hand moved to cup my knee.

I shifted, trying to dislodge his hold, but he wasn’t taking the hint. “I’m fine.” I answered, thinking that rejoining the party was the best idea I could have. “I needed a break, I should be heading back.” His hand moved up to my neck from my knee.

“Why don’t you let me help you relax a little bit, Jessi.” My family called me Jessi, it felt dirty on his lips. He moved his head forward as he turned my face to his, and I was so shocked I couldn’t stop him. His mouth attacked mine and I moved my hands to push on his chest, trying to get him to release me. He laughed, the bastard, and breathed against my lips, “I like a little fight in a girl.” So I gave him one. Taking a hand away from his chest as his mouth attacked mine again, I punched him in the crotch. I felt him groan and yank away from me. “You little bitch.”

“Fucking pig,” I whispered, only just stopping myself from spitting the taste of him back at him. “I should tell Dad.” I saw him flinch through the pain of his battered manhood to the thought of my dad knowing. “And I will, but not tonight. Stay the fuck away from me, Shane!” I bit out, rushing down the stairs to find something to wash the vile taste of him from my mouth.