Chapter Seven

Posted: October 13, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

Day Five

     The apartment was a mess.

     After the first disastrous bender, which had resulted in a hangover so painful she’d spent eight hours on the cold bathroom floor, Maddie had realized her mistake: drinking on an empty stomach. With the fridge emptied of all perishables in preparation for their honeymoon, her options were limited – sustain herself on old pop-tarts, or pop down to the corner mini-mart.

     She chose the mini-mart, stocking up on canned spaghetti and beer before retreating back into her cave. The spaghetti she ate cold, spooning it directly out of the can while sobbing over shitty Lifetime movies. Her mother called; she ignored. Chrissy’s mother called; she listened, making sympathetic noises, trying hard to disguise that she was drunk for nearly every conversation.

     Jack did not call.

     When she was drinking, she found his silence awful, a testament to how little he cared for her. She downed beer after beer, looking to soothe the constant ache in her stomach, and tormented herself with thoughts of where he was, who he was with, what he was doing. She called his cell, going to voicemail each time, and left messages. In some, she screamed obscenities. In others, she wept.

     Sober, she was relieved that he hadn’t come home. She hadn’t showered since her mother’s house; she knew she must reek of stale sweat, hops and fake tomato sauce. She slept on the sofa, unable to face their bed despite the clean sheets; her nest was surrounded by used tissues and empty bottles.

     She was broken. Having him see that would have been the ultimate humiliation.

     Now, though, she knew the time for wallowing was done. Something told her this period of squalid indulgence had to end; she had to get up. Clean up.

     Besides, she was out of beer.

     Hauling herself off the sofa, she started clearing off the coffee table. Her head began to pound; she felt a sick sweat seep through her t-shirt, as her body protested all of the stupid moving around that was going on in lieu of alcohol consumption. She experienced a new pity for her sister, who had gone through the binge-purge cycle with her drinking so many times there could be a wing at the downtown rehab clinic named after her. Her current state paled in comparison to Jessie’s years-long love affair with vodka, but still. It sucked.

     She was debating laying back down when her mother called again.

     She hesitated, hand hovering over the phone. A few days had not been enough time to let go of the anger and hurt Grace had caused with her “advice”. On the other hand, if she didn’t talk to the woman soon she might find a SWAT team outside her door.

     Or worse yet, Grace herself.

     Maddie answered on the fifth ring.

     “Mom, I’m not in the mood-”

     “Madelyn! Oh thank god, I’ve been calling you for days!”

     “Yes, I know. I haven’t felt like talking.”

     “Yes, yes, I did catch on to that. And I would have left you alone dear, but…Marion called.”

     She felt her fist clench around the phone and forced herself to relax. “I don’t want to see Jack, Mom. Not yet.”

     There was a long pause on the other end; in the silence Maddie felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. “Mom?”

     “She didn’t call about Jack. It…oh Madelyn, I’m so sorry, but she called to tell me about Bill. He…he’s dead.”

     “What?!” Maddie struggled to make sense of her mother’s words. “Mom, that’s- what happened?”

     “We’re not sure yet. Marion said he went to the hospital, those scratches on his leg were infected, and before anybody knew what was happening he was sick enough for ICU. They tried antibiotics but I guess it was too far gone. He died this morning. Sepsis.”

     Maddie sat down heavily on the couch, her mind whirling. She’d known Bill since they were kids. It wasn’t possible that he was dead. His scratch hadn’t been that bad; they’d said he didn’t even need stitches, not like-

     The trickle of fear at the top of her spine turned into a waterfall. “Mommy, what about Chrissy? Bill had a scratch, but she…” The image of her friend’s face, torn and bleeding, filled her head. Her stomach turned. “I haven’t talked to her mom today. What about Chrissy?”

     “She’s still in the ICU, honey.” Another pause. “And so is Jack.”

     She was surprised. “I thought he would have gone home already.” Home to Holly. Home to his new life.

     “He was supposed to, but he’s very sick. Marion said it looks like he has the same infection. He’s been in the hospital the whole time, so they’re treating him, but they don’t know what it is. Whatever that photographer had, they haven’t figured it out yet.”

     This is what happens when you hire off of Craigslist. Marion’s words echoed in her head, and she had to fight the urge to laugh hysterically. If something happens to Jack, she’ll blame me forever.

     “Madelyn?” The worry in her mother’s voice snapped her back to the conversation.

     “I’m here.”

     “Well you should be here. I know what he did, sweetheart, and believe me, I hate him for it. You don’t think so, but I do. But you should see him. If anything happens…”

     “Yeah.” Maddie swallowed hard. “Yeah, I know.”

     “I can go with you,” her mother offered. “Or Jessie-”

     “No!” The last person she wanted with her for this was her sister. Her mother wasn’t right for it, either. In another life it would have been Holly she wanted with her; part of her still did.

     She’s probably already there.

     She clenched her jaw. She’d have to do this alone, and hope that all she had to deal with was Marion. If she had to see Holly weeping all over her former fiancé, they might have a new patient in the ICU.

     “I can do this,” she assured her mom, hoping her voice sounded surer than she felt. “Just call Marion and tell her I’ll be there in the morning, okay? It’s too late now to make visiting hours.”

     “Okay. Do you want to come spend the night here?”

     “No. No, it’s fine. I’m fine.” She heard her mother sigh and felt the instant slap of guilt. “But I’ll come over after I see him, okay?”

     “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow then. I love you, Madelyn.”

     “Love you too, Mom.”

     She hit End and sat back, staring blankly into space. Bill was gone, dead of an infection no one could identify. Jack and Chrissy were sick. What about Blake? She tried to remember if he’d been hurt. Pressing a hand to her head, she cursed herself for consigning the last few days to oblivion; her mind wasn’t working the way it should be.

     She lifted the phone to call Grace back, then let it drop undialed. She’d ask tomorrow; she couldn’t deal with any more right now.

     The tears came suddenly, sliding down her cheeks unchecked. She clutched a throw pillow to her chest and sobbed – for everything she’d lost, and everything she still stood to lose. For Bill, and Chrissy. For Jack. Even for Marion, who was wretched but still Jack’s mother, worried out of her mind.

     She even shed some tears for Holly. Not many, but some.

     Finally exhausted, she hauled herself into the bedroom, making sure to set her alarm before climbing gratefully into bed. As she pulled the covers up over her head and prayed for sleep, she realized that staying on the couch had afforded her a different kind of peace, separate from not smelling Jack’s cologne still embedded deep into the quilt.

     In the bed, she could hear her neighbor coughing through the wall.

  1. mxcoot says:

    Pretty short but still good.

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