Chapter Five

Posted: September 29, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     At her mother’s insistence, Maddie spent what should have been her wedding night alone in her childhood bedroom.

     She’d tried to argue. After Jack and Chrissy had been hauled off to the hospital and Holly had fled the scene, slapped face burning, the police had descended; three hours of questioning later, Grace had snatched Maddie’s keys and hustled her into the family car, ignoring her protests.

     “It’s a three hour drive back to the city,” Grace had pointed out. “You’re exhausted, upset and in no shape to drive.”

     “Jessie is going back,” Maddie had whined.

     “Jessie has someone else driving her. You think I’d let her drive herself anywhere today?”

     She’d started to pout, until she’d noticed that, despite Grace’s even tone, her hands were shaking. The woman had kept it together during the interminable interviews, the arrival of the coroner’s van and removal of the photographer’s body, and the curious questions from the guests who’d stuck around to find out what had happened. Maddie had feared that any further pushing would send her mother straight off the edge and into a breakdown.

     The officers who’d arrived to assess the scene hadn’t been thrilled with what they’d found, and they’d treated the remaining witnesses like criminals until it had been determined, to Grace’s immense relief, that Vinnie had acted in self-defense. When asked what could possibly have caused the photographer to act the way he had after being resuscitated, they’d put forward what Maddie was calling The Drug Theory. It was what she’d obsessed over during the drive to her parents’ house, and what she was obsessing over now, slumped in her old desk chair, letting her mother’s desperate chatter fade like white noise into the background.

     Officer Drugs had claimed that LSD or something like it was to blame. “There was a case down in Miami last year,” he’d explained. “Just like this one. Guy ate another guy’s face.”

     “Are you serious?” Maddie had been appalled.

     The officer had shrugged. “They only ever found weed in him, but lots of people still think it was some kind of super drug. Who knows what they have on the street these days, you know?”

     “Yeah, but…” Maddie had trailed off, uncertain. “He didn’t seem high.”

     “You said yourself that he seemed sicker than he’d said he was, right?” At Maddie’s nod, the officer had clapped his hands. “See? Drugs. Probably worked on him different, ‘cause he had a cold, and fu- messed him up. Guarantee they’ll find something when they do tests.” He’d finally stopped and looked at Maddie, sudden compassion on his face. “You couldn’t have known he was high. People walk around high all the time and nobody notices.”

     Maddie considered again how reassuring that was – anybody could be walking around, strung out on whatever the photographer had been on, waiting to eat a stranger’s face. She shuddered, wanting to move away from that thought before she became a paranoid mess, and forced herself to pay attention to her mother.

     “Everything is clean,” Grace was saying. “I just washed the sheets, you know, I wash them every week, and the pillows are brand new.”

     “You wash the sheets every week?” Maddie stared at her mother in disbelief. “I haven’t slept here in months, Mom.”

     “Oh, well, I know. I know that. But sheets get dusty, you know. You should always have fresh sheets.”

     “Oh….kay.”

     “Why don’t you take a nice bath, and I’ll get some sweats for you to wear? You should change. You don’t want- you shouldn’t sleep in those clothes. You should change.”

     Maddie didn’t want to take a bath, or change. She wanted to crawl into bed – her own bed, preferably, but this one would do – crawl in, cocoon, and cry herself to sleep. Maybe, when she woke up, she would recognize her life again.

     “Mom-”

     “There are clean towels, and some soap, and I think there’s a hair brush. There should be, I can get you one, I’ll grab mine while you’re in. And a drink! I’ll make tea. Something gentle, so you can slee-”

     “Mom!”

     Grace flinched, and Maddie realized that she’d yelled a little too loudly. She was instantly ashamed. She’s trying, she chastised herself. None of this is her fault.

     “I think I’ll just take a shower,” she said, her tone gentler.

     Grace nodded. “I’ll make the tea.” She turned to go, then hesitated, hand on the door jam. When she brought her gaze up to meet Maddie’s, there were tears in her eyes.

     “Mommy.” Maddie went to her, allowing herself to be wrapped in a hug so tight she feared her ribs might crack.

     “I’m so glad it wasn’t you.” Grace pulled back to look at Maddie’s face, brushing a strand of hair away from her daughter’s cheek. “That’s terrible, I know. It’s terrible. But I just- the CPR. I’m glad it wasn’t you.”

     Maddie looked away, not able to bear the terrible sadness and shame in her mother’s eyes. She merely nodded, staring at the floor, until Grace finally released her and left her alone.

     Once she was gone Maddie headed into the bathroom and stripped, keeping her eyes carefully away from the mirror over the sink. She didn’t want to see what she looked like; she wanted to hold on to the image of herself from that morning, the beautiful bride who’d existed for a single short hour, for just a few more minutes.

     Eyes closed, she stepped under the hot spray of the shower, turning the knob until she thought the temperature might scald her skin. As she reached for the soap, she felt something loosen in her chest and throat, a pressure that had built up over the course of the day and was at last being released.

     She worked the lather through her hair and lifted her face, allowing the water to wash over her, cleansing away the last traces of Mrs. Jack Cooper.

     Alone at last, she finally, finally allowed herself to cry.

****

     The next morning, over breakfast, she fought with her mother.

     “Daddy picked up your car,” Grace said, setting a cup of coffee and plate full of food on the table. Maddie looked at the food with revulsion, her stomach queasy and unsettled after a long night of little sleep; she pushed it away in favor of the coffee, ignoring Grace’s glare of disapproval.

     She took a moment to relish a hot sip of caffeine before speaking. “I should leave after breakfast,” she said. “I have a lot to do.”

     “Really?” Grace raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”

     “Washing sheets,” Maddie snapped.

     Grace rolled her eyes. “You should stay here for a few days. I don’t want you all alone in that apartment.”

     “I want to be alone.” Maddie reached out and grabbed the toast off her plate, shredding the crust into crumbs as she talked. “I need to think.”

     “You can think here.”

     “I want to sleep in my own bed, Mom. I want to get drunk, and cry, and throw away his shit. I can’t do that here.”

     Grace pursed her lips. “The hospital is here.”

     “I know.” Maddie sighed. “I talked to Chrissy’s mom last night, and she can’t have visitors for a few days; they need to protect her from infection.” She swallowed hard, picturing her friend’s mangled face. She pushed the image away before her stomach could revolt. “I’ll drive back down to see her when she’s ready.”

     “And Jack?”

     Maddie jerked her head up, surprised. “What about Jack?”

     Grace shifted under her daughter’s angry gaze. “He’s hurt too. You should see him.”

     “Please.” Maddie laughed. “He’s fine; nothing like what happened to Chrissy.” She attacked another piece of toast. “Besides, he probably already has company.”

     “I’m sure Marion would let you-”

     “I’m sure Marion would not,” Maddie said. “And you know I didn’t mean her.”

     “She’s your friend,” Grace ventured.

     “She is not!” Maddie exploded. “What is your problem? You did this yesterday, and it’s pissing me off. He fucked her. At our wedding. Stop defending them!”

     “I’m not defending anyone,” Grace insisted. “I’m just saying, people make mistakes, Madelyn.”

     “It wasn’t a mistake,” Maddie said, her voice bitter. “They’re in love. Holly said.”

     “No, you told me that she loves him. That doesn’t mean he feels the same way.” Grace hesitated, then continued. “Sometimes men, you know, they become vulnerable. They have a need, and girls like Holly-”

     “They have a need?” Maddie gaped, unable to believe what she was hearing. “Seriously? So this is my fault? I didn’t meet his needs?”

     “That’s not what I said!” Grace slammed her hand down on the table, causing Maddie to jump. “You don’t listen, Madelyn. You hear what you want to hear.”

     Maddie pushed her chair back, disgusted. “I don’t need this, Mom.” Heading into the kitchen, she rifled through the clutter on the counter before finding and grabbing her keys. “I’m going home. I’ll call you.”

     She stomped toward the door, seething and on the verge of angry tears. Her mother called out behind her, begging her to stop, to not make the trip home angry, but she kept on. She made sure to slam the door good and hard on her way out.

     Once in the car she paused, key in the ignition, and lean forward to rest her forehead on the steering wheel. The tears came again, hot as they spilled down her face, and she didn’t fight them.

     I gave him everything, she thought desperately. He was all I needed. What else did he want?

     She wasn’t going to find the answer while bawling in her parents’ driveway. Taking deep breaths, she waited for the wave of grief to ebb, then wiped her face and turned the key. With luck, she thought she’d be home before the next wave hit.

     As she reversed down the driveway she glanced up, and saw her mom, standing at the front door. Grace raised her hand, waving, a gesture Maddie refused to return.

     Driving away, Maddie had the sudden, inexplicable feeling that she should go back. She fought the urge to turn around, run inside and hug her mother tight, to promise that she’d stay.

     Stupid. I’ll call her later.

     Shaking off the odd feeling, she sighed, turned up the radio and started the long, lonely drive back to the city.

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Comments
  1. Thea says:

    Good to know my MIL isn’t the only one who regularly washes/changes sheets on beds no one sleeps in! I love all the little touches like that for your characters.

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