Chapter Sixteen

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

     The line into the pharmacy stretched a block and a half down the street. As they approached the crowd, Maddie was conscious of the fact that she and Vinnie were the only people not wearing masks. Uneasy, she gripped his hand harder.

     “Excuse me,” she said, tapping the person in front of her gently on the shoulder. “Is this the line to get in?”

     The man turned, looking her up and down before responding. “No. For the vaccine clinic.”

     “Oh. So we can go around?”

     “If you don’t want the vaccine.” His tone of voice made it clear what he thought of that decision.

     “We don’t,” Vinnie said curtly, tugging her forward. They made their way to the entrance, pushing through the crush at the front. Maddie pressed herself against him, regretting already her insistence that she accompany him.

     Once inside he handed her a basket and jerked his head in the direction of the medicine aisle. “This way.”

     “You don’t think we should get shots?” Maddie asked, hurrying to keep up with him as he strode across the store. “The news said-”

     “I know what they said.” He turned and eyed the long line for the clinic, which appeared to be staffed solely by two harried nurses. “Waiting would take forever. Besides,” he said, lowering his voice, “They don’t have an endless supply. Most of these people are wasting their time.”

     Maddie looked at those waiting, her gaze lingering on the families with children in their group. Their faces were all obscured by the masks, but she could feel their desperation.

     “They’re not going to be happy when the shots run out,” she said.

     “Which is why we need to get in and out of here fast. We don’t want to be here when that happens.”

     Maddie shuddered at the warning in his tone. She tried to imagine what she’d do, if she had a child for whom she wanted the vaccine and they told her it was gone. It’ll turn ugly, she thought.

     “Let’s make this quick then,” she said. Settling the basket handles in the crook of her elbow, she surveyed the shelves. “What are we here for?”

     “Tylenol, Advil, any kind of pain killer. Are you allergic to anything?” She shook her head. “Good. Band-Aids, gauze, tape. I have a lot of stuff at my place, but it can’t hurt to have more.”

     Loading a few things into her basket, she glanced at him. “How much of this would you say you have?”

     He shrugged. “A couple cases, I guess.”

     She blinked, surprised. “Why?”

     “You never know when you might need it.”

     “Uh-huh.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you one of those people, you know, with the canned food in the basement and stuff?”

     “A prepper?” He laughed. “I guess so.”

     “Aren’t those guys…”

     “Crazy?” He laughed again when she blushed. “Maybe. Although it doesn’t seem so crazy now, does it?”

     Maddie looked away. “No. I guess not.”

     “Fill your basket,” he ordered. “I’m gonna go see what their batteries look like.”

     She nodded and got to work. Bypassing the name brand items, she chose giant bottles of generic meds, adding a dozen of each to her basket. After a moment of hesitation, she grabbed boxes of cold medicine and threw them in too; not every cold was the flu, after all, and who knew what they’d need. She was considering whether to take some cough drops when she was startled by a sneeze.

     “Bless you,” she said automatically, before recoiling from the woman beside her.

     “I’m not sick,” the other woman quickly assured her. She wiped her nose and gave Maddie a rueful smile. “Allergies. They always flare up in the fall.”

     “Oh.” Maddie’s knees weakened with relief. “I’m not sick either,” she said defensively, noticing as the woman glanced into her basket. “Just….stocking up.”

     The woman nodded. “I get it.” She hefted her own basket, filled to the brim with boxes of allergy medication. “Better safe than sorry.”

     Maddie was about to respond when the woman sneezed again. When she rifled her pockets for a clean tissue and came up empty-handed, Maddie opened her purse. “Hold on, I might have something-”

     “Hey!” Both women turned to find that a large man had stepped out of the vaccine line. “Hey, are you sick?”

     The woman shook her head. “No, no, it’s just aller-”

     “You shouldn’t be here if you’re sick,” someone else in line said. “You’re supposed to stay home.”

     “I’m not, I just have-”

     “There are children here.” The first man took another step toward them, his fists clenched at his sides. “You want to get these kids sick?”

     “Stay away from my baby!” A woman a few places back in line placed a protective hand on the child strapped to her chest. “My baby can’t get sick!”

     “Your baby should be at home,” someone shouted. “Leave the vaccine for those of us who need it!”

     The mother whirled around, her voice high-pitched and indignant. “Who said that? My baby needs the vaccine!”

     “We gotta go to work! You can stay home with your baby! Some of us have no choice but to be out!”

     As the mother continued shrieking about her baby’s God-given right to a vaccine, the first man continued to advance down the aisle. “You don’t even have a mask on,” he said, his voice trembling with rage. “Are you trying to kill everyone?”

     “I’m not sick!” the woman protested, looking around wildly. “I have allergies! I have- Hey! Hey! Get off of me!”

     The man, having finally reached them, grabbed hold of the woman’s arm. Over her protests, he started to drag her toward the front of the store.

     “Hey man, let her go!” Maddie came forward, only to find herself shoved back into the shelves. Boxes and bottles rained down around her. The push seemed to ignite something in the watching crowd; several more people surged forward, grabbing onto the woman and shoving her toward the exit.

     “I have allergies!” the woman screamed. “I’m not sick! I’m not sick!”

     “Leave her alone!” Maddie made to move toward the woman again, although to what aim she couldn’t say – so many people had hold of her now that there was no way to stop her from being ousted from the store. As she walked toward them, however, she felt a tug, and realized that someone had grabbed her hair.

     Maddie reacted instantly, bringing her arm up and around as she turned, forgetting that she still held the full basket in her hand. As the plastic connected with the side of her attacker’s head she felt a sharp pain in her scalp; the guy stumbled back with a hunk of her hair in his fist.

     “You hit me,” he said, dazed. “You hit me, you bitch.”

     “You pulled my hair out!” Backing away, Maddie wondered where the hell Vinnie was. How far away is the fucking battery section? “Don’t touch me,” she warned, brandishing her basket in front of her.

     The man made no move to approach her again; with a hand pressed to his head, he backed away as well. Behind him, Maddie saw that the line for the clinic had devolved into a shoving match, as people tried to get closer to the front and others tried to hold their spots. The allergy woman had disappeared.

     “We need to go.”

     Maddie jumped, surprised to find Vinnie had come up right behind her. “Where the hell were you?” she hissed.

     “Batteries.” He showed her his full basket and then grabbed her arm, pulling her toward the door. “Let’s go.”

     Maddie dug in her heels. “We need to pay for this stuff!”

     “Seriously?” Vinnie tightened his grip on her and yanked, nearly pulling her off her feet. “We’ll come back and pay later. Right now we need to go.”

     As they neared the door the crowd became impossibly dense, with people pushing and shoving; it wasn’t clear who was trying to get in and who was trying to escape the melee. Maddie saw that someone had become pinned up against the side of the door, unable to move due to the crush around them. Somewhere, a baby was crying, loud, piercing cries that seemed to egg the mob on in their madness.

     Suddenly, there was a loud pop. Maddie’s breath caught in her chest and she stumbled, falling out of Vinnie’s grip. The flow in the through the door abruptly reversed, and people began to scream and shove their way out. Another pop came, and the pharmacy filled with the acrid smell of smoke.

     Maddie’s vision grayed. Bodies pressed against her from all sides, squeezing the air out of her lungs. She stopped moving, sagging against those around her; try as she might, she couldn’t make her legs work. Am I shot? She didn’t think so, but someone had been – they were screaming, a high-pitched scream that vibrated in her head.

     “Maddie! Run!” Vinnie’s shout came back through the crowd that now separated them, jolting her. “RUN!”

     She tried. She struggled against the crowd, fighting her way through. Eventually they all but carried her through the door and out onto the sidewalk, where people were dispersing in all directions. Looking around, she failed to spot Vinnie.

     Run, she told herself. He’s fine. Run.

     She ran, the basket banging against her side as she took off down the block. The walk sign at the corner glowed orange but she ignored it, jogging across the intersection without a sideways glance. Three blocks later she wanted to slow down, to stop and catch her breath; her chest and sides were burning. Gritting her teeth, she kept going, until her sister’s building was within reach.

     Gasping, she leaned against the brick and bent over, afraid she was going to be sick. Every inhalation felt like fire. Should have used that gym membership.

     She had no idea how long she stood there, gasping for air; eventually the pain receded, and she felt confident that she wasn’t going to puke. She still had her hands on her knees and her head down when she heard Vinnie’s voice.

     “Madelyn!”

     Straightening up, she barely had time to register his arrival when he was on her. The wall scraped her back as he pushed her against it, his hands in her hair. She gave a muffled “Oh!” when his lips met hers; his tongue slipped in her mouth, hot and desperate with adrenaline and fear. When he finally pulled away, she gasped.

     “Are you okay?” he asked, cradling her face. “Are you hurt?”

     She shook her head. “No. Not hurt. You?”

     “No.” He seemed to suddenly realize what he was doing and stepped back, dropping his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

     She grabbed his shoulders, cutting him off. Rising on her toes, she kissed him again, hard. He tensed, his hands held out away from her, and she thought for an embarrassed moment that he wasn’t going to respond. Then his mouth opened under hers, and he pulled her up against him, crushing her.

     I haven’t kissed another man in 6 years, she thought. He tasted different than Jack ever had, like cigarettes and mint gum. His hands were in her hair again, tugging her head back with a measure of control that bordered on roughness. She felt herself throb.

     The sound of a horn startled both of them; they leapt apart, breathing heavily.

     “Is that…?” The horn blared again, the car careening down the street toward them. “Isn’t that your car?”

     Vinnie turned. “What the hell?” He watched the car’s approach for a moment before grabbing her arm. “Back up.”

     “What?”

     “Back up!” Moving quickly, he hauled her up against the side of the building, just as the front wheel bumped up over the curb and onto the sidewalk. The car came to a shuddering stop.

     Maddie noticed the girl in the passenger seat before Vinnie did. “We might have a problem,” she said. Caleb burst out of the driver’s side door and came hustling around the front of the car.

     “I know, I know, I took your car, man, but I had to, okay, I had to, she needed help, you have to help her, she-”

     “Shut up,” Vinnie growled, reaching out to grab the kid by his collar. “You came back? You come back here, after stealing my car?”

     Caleb put his hands up, shaking his head frantically. “I’m sorry, man, I’m sorry, okay? But she called, and she needs help. You have to help her!”

     Vinnie shoved him away before looking in the car window. “Who is she?”

     “A friend.” Caleb opened the door and helped the girl out. “She’s a friend, okay? You have to help her.” The girl stumbled, sagging against Caleb’s side. “You can help her, right?”

     Maddie looked her up and down. The first thing she noticed was that the girl’s shirt wasn’t, as she’d first thought, a red-and-white patterned blouse, but rather a white blouse that was now spattered with what could only be red blood.

     The second thing she noticed was the gaping bite wound on the girl’s forearm.

     “You can help her,” Caleb repeated, his eyes filled with tears. He looked at Vinnie. “You can. You can help her. Right?”

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Comments
  1. mxcoot says:

    Way to leave us hanging.

  2. Thea says:

    KILL HER. KILL HER WITH FIRE.

    (Okay, the rest of the chapter was *really* good, but still, KILL WITH FIRE)

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