Chapter Thirteen

Posted: December 1, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
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     Elbowing her way toward the bar, Maddie tried to think of a way to get her sister down, dressed and out of the building without making a huge scene. Judging by the way she was now grinding herself all over her tequila-dispenser, it wasn’t going to be an easy task.

     Easier than anything else you’ve dealt with today, she told herself. Drunk sister is nothing compared to crazed neighbor, or zombie-hunter chauffeur.

     Speaking of, she felt him at her back, pressing against her as they moved through the crowd. She could feel the weight of his hand on her hip; when they were jostled by a pair of dancers, it slipped under her shirt for a moment, searing her skin. She jumped, reaching back to move his hand; instead she found her own hand grabbed before she could touch him.

     “Hey, sweetheart!” The grabber tugged her forward and into his arms, twirling her away from Vinnie before she could speak. “You look like you like to dance.”

     Maddie forced a smile, not wanting a confrontation she didn’t feel capable of dealing with right now. “I’m here with someone!” she shouted.

     “I don’t see him,” the man said, friendly enough but with a slight edge to his tone. He slid her closer to him, wrapping both arms around her waist and jutting her up against his crotch.

     “He was right behind me,” Maddie said. She slid her hands up his arms and onto his chest, then pushed, trying to create space between them. He gripped her waist tighter, his pleasant smile contorting into a leer.

     “I’d like to see you from behind,” he said, leaning in to kiss her ear. She laughed before she could stop herself, startling him into drawing back. “You think that’s funny?” he asked.

     She shook her head. “No. Sorry. I really can’t dance, though. I have to find my date.”

     He opened his mouth to argue with her again, but before he could speak a large hand clamped down on his shoulder. Vinnie jerked him back, shoving him into the crowd.

     “Vinnie,” she said, placing a hand on his arm. He shook her off, ignoring her in favor of glaring at her new friend, who was turning an alarming shade of red as the people around them turned to see what was happening.

     “Hey man,” the guy protested, “No need to be an ass. We were just dancing.”

     “You always grab the women you want to dance with?” Vinnie asked, taking a step forward. Maddie looked at his stance, the jut of his chin, and knew he was going to hit the other guy, no matter what he said. Rolling her eyes, she wedged herself between them and used her body weight to push Vinnie back, away from the guy and into the space that had opened in the crush.

     “Let it be,” she told him. He glared at her; for a moment she thought he’d shove her aside and go back, but to her relief he relaxed and let himself be pushed further away, until the guy disappeared into the swirl of people dancing.

     “Are you okay?” he asked.

     “Seriously?” She shook her head, annoyed. “He was handsy. I could have handled it.”

     “He grabbed you.”

     “And?” She rolled her eyes again. “I’m used to it. I would have kicked him, eventually. It always works.” She looked toward the bar, where all signs of her sister had disappeared. “I’m more worried about getting Jessie out of here. The guy she’s with might not be as easy to kick.” Turning back to him, she saw that he was scanning the crowd, no doubt looking to start his fight again. “It’s not a big deal. What’s your problem?”

     He touched her wrist carefully and she looked away, not wanting to admit that it was not happy about being grabbed, nor with all the pushing. She was half-hoping Jessie had some good painkillers hidden in her bathroom, as she suspected ibuprofen wasn’t going to cut it when she tried to sleep tonight.

     “You’re not so great at defending yourself,” he said.

     She glared, hating his condescending tone. “Drunks in bars are different from crazy neighbors,” she snapped, yanking her hand away from his. “Let’s just find my sister and get the hell out of here, okay?”

     He nodded, and they resumed their push toward the bar. As they neared she noted again that Jessie wasn’t up on the bar top, and for a second she feared that the other woman had slipped out with her inked-up friend while they’d been fighting the testosterone wars. A glance down the line of stools, however, relieved that concern.

     “Um.” Cringing, she stepped toward the guy whose lap her sister was poured into and tapped him on the shoulder. “Sorry!” she shouted at him, leaning in so he could hear her over the music. “I need to borrow your friend!”

     Jessie looked up with bleary eyes, lipstick smeared across her mouth; for a second she didn’t seem to recognize Maddie, then her face lit up. “Mads!” She threw an arm out, losing her balance and threatening to topple to the floor. “Roy! This is my sister!”

     Maddie eyed the guy up again. “Roy? As in ‘Roy’s’?”

     “That’s me!” the guy said jovially. “And you’re Maddie, as in, ‘my sister Maddie is a bitch’!”

     Maddie gritted her teeth and smiled. “That’s me,” she agreed. Reaching out, she grabbed her sister’s arm, squeezing tighter than necessary. Jessie’s grin faltered, and a little of the haze left her eyes. “We have to go, Jess.”

     Jessie shook her head, pouting. “I’m having fun! Roy was about to let me see the back room.”

     “I bet he was.”

     Maddie adjusted her grip and yanked, pulling Jessie off of the stool; the girl stumbled a little, catching herself against the bar. When she straightened up, all of the friendliness was gone from her face. “I don’t want to leave. Go home, Madelyn.”

     “Jessica.” Vinnie stepped forward, shouldering Maddie out of the way. “There’s an emergency. With your mom. You have to come.”

     Maddie watched as her sister leaned in and ran a hand down Vinnie’s arm, the smile she directed at him warm and seductive. “Are you here to take me home, Sergeant?” When Vinnie returned the smile and winked, Maddie looked away.

     “Hey, wait a minute!” Roy protested, trying to rise from his stool.

     “Easy there,” Vinnie told him, pushing the guy back down. Despite his size, in his state Roy was no match for the taller man’s strength; Vinnie’s easy grip kept him in his seat. “It’s a family thing. Okay?”

     “She drank all my tequila!” Roy complained.

     “Last I saw, you weren’t stopping her,” Maddie told him.

     “Well, yeah, but she said…” Roy trailed off, perhaps realizing he didn’t want to discuss what the tequila trade-off was supposed to be with the sister and large friend of his would-be conquest.

     Reaching into his pocket, Vinnie pulled out a handful of cash and threw it on the bar. “Buy another bottle,” he said. Before Roy could respond they were gone, pushing their way back through the crowd toward the door. Maddie found herself trailing behind while Vinnie hugged her sister to his side, guiding her carefully across the room. Jessie stumbled and giggled, gripping his shirt.

     As they stepped outside, Maddie realized belatedly that they hadn’t thought to grab the rest of her sister’s clothes. Shrugging out of her sweater, she held it out. “Put this on,” she ordered.

     Jessie laughed. “I’m fine. It’s not even cold out.”

     “Someone will see you,” Maddie hissed.

     “Who?” Jessie asked.

     Looking around, Maddie noticed what she hadn’t on their walk down – the blocks between the bar and Jessie’s building were completely deserted. The few shops were closed, which made sense given the hour, but so was the bodega on the corner, and those places never closed. Roy’s appeared to be the only place open, as far as Maddie could see. There weren’t even any taxis on the road here.

     “Where the hell is everybody?”

     “Quarantine,” Jessie slurred.


     “What quarantine?” Vinnie stopped, turning her so that she faced him. When she didn’t answer he shook her slightly, jarring her. “What do you mean?”

     “Uh.” Jessie reached up, holding her head for a moment. “You know. The quarantine. Nobody in, nobody out.”

     “Nobody in or out of what?” Maddie asked.

     “The city,” Jessie said. “It was on the radio or something. S’why Roy gave out drinks.”

     “But we were listening to the radio,” Maddie said. “To the traffic reports. They would have said something.”

     “Not if it happened after we turned it off,” Vinnie interjected. “You got tired of hearing it. We switched to CDs.”

     Maddie looked at him, horrified. “We got quarantined while we were listening to Springsteen?!”

     “Ew,” Jessie said, giggling. “Did you pick that? He sucks.”

     “Shut up!” Maddie threw the sweater at her sister. “Put that on! And shut up!” She grabbed Vinnie’s hand, digging her nails into his palm. “Why would they do this? We have to get home!”

     “Oh yeah.” Jessie looked up from buttoning the sweater, her brow furrowed in exaggerated concentration. “What’s the emergency? Is Mom okay?”

     “I lied,” Vinnie told her. “She’s fine. But she wants you home.”

     “Chrissy,” Maddie said. She realized she’d have to say it. “Chrissy died.”

     “Oh.” Jessie reached out, enveloping Maddie in an awkward, boozy hug. “I’m sorry. That sucks.”

     “Yeah.” Maddie gave a bitter laugh. “Yeah, it does.” She looked over her sister’s shoulder, holding Vinnie’s gaze. “Now we’re stuck here?”

     He shook his head. “I don’t know. If this is from Roy, we don’t even know if it’s true. We’ll check the TV.”

     “Hey, yeah!” Jessie released her sister and beamed. “Maybe Roy was wrong! You can check while I shower. Come on.”

     She hurried down the sidewalk, suddenly perfectly stable despite her heels. Maddie marveled at her ability to deal with being drunk so easily; she knew if she’d just downed a bottle of tequila, and whatever else Jessie’d had to drink, she’d be unconscious.

     “We should tell Caleb,” she said. “Maybe he’ll come up with u-”

     She stopped, nearly tripping in her surprise.

     “What? What’s wrong?” Vinnie held her arm, concerned, then followed her gaze. “Oh son of a bitch.”

     Maddie stared, shocked. Caleb was gone.

     And so was the car.

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