Chapter Eighteen

Posted: January 12, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Vinnie’s apartment was not at all what Maddie had expected.

     Taking in the paraphernalia displayed on the walls and bookshelf, she turned to him, surprised. “You collect baseball stuff?”

     “You were expecting a military bunker?”

     “No.” When he raised an eyebrow, she blushed. “Okay, yeah.”

     He laughed. “I wasn’t always in the Army, you know. I played in high school. My dad used to take me to games.”

     “Mm.” Musing, Maddie walked around the small living room, peering at his possessions. There were a few team photos, an old trophy and two signed balls on a corner shelf, mixed in with books on the history of the sport and player autobiographies. “Have you read all of these?” she asked.

     “Surprised I can read?”

     Maddie drew back at the slight bitterness in his tone. Before she could reply, Caleb appeared in the doorway, Summer leaning heavily into his side. Vinnie went immediately to help.

     “Bring her in here,” he said, guiding them toward his bedroom. “She can lie down for a while.”

     Maddie watched them help the girl into the bed, brow knit with concern. Summer’s arm had continued to bleed on the drive over; the rate of the flow had slowed significantly, but she’d still soaked through another change of bandages before they’d made it across town. They’d had to resort to using the t-shirt she’d discarded the first time she’d been in the car, after the gauze from Jessie’s medicine cabinet had run out.

     Looking at the girl’s face, Maddie wondered how much blood she’d already lost. She seemed paler than she had earlier, the circles under her eyes so dark she looked as though she’d been sucker-punched. She should be at the hospital.

     After he was done re-wrapping her arm, Vinnie propped it on a pillow to elevate it. Her eyes closed as soon as the covers were pulled over her; within moments, she was asleep. Caleb moved to sit beside her, but Vinnie restrained him gently. “Let her rest,” he said, keeping his voice low. “We’ll check on her in a bit.”

     Clearly reluctant, Caleb nodded his head and allowed himself to be led back into the living room, where he collapsed into a chair. Maddie squeezed onto the small couch, giving her sister a shove to make her move over. Once Vinnie had taken his own seat, wheeling a computer chair over to be nearer to the group, she said what she assumed was on everyone’s mind.

     “Keeping her here is irresponsible. She’s going to bleed to death.”

     Caleb hitched in his breath, but said nothing. Vinnie merely stared, dark eyes boring into her. When the silence stretched on, she grew impatient. “Well?! We can’t just sit here and wait for her to die!”

     “He was right.” Caleb’s words were slow, his voice shaky. “We already know what’s going to happen. Nobody can help her.”

     “Don’t be ridiculous,” Maddie snapped.

     “You said it yourself.” Caleb looked at her, tears in his eyes. “You’ve seen people get bit like that. They died. Even with doctors, they died.”

     “Well, yes, but…” Maddie sputtered. “We can’t do nothing!”

     “We’re keeping her comfortable.” Vinnie’s voice was steady and flat; Maddie shuddered at the lack of emotion. “That’s the best we can do. Until it’s over.”

     “Wait,” Jessie said, leaning forward. “So you really think she’s gonna die?”

     Vinnie ignored her, turning instead toward Caleb. “Tell us about the subway.”

     Caleb groaned.

     “We know you were lying,” Maddie said. “What didn’t you want her to know?”

     “Did you find Drake?” Vinnie asked.

     “Dirk,” Caleb corrected. He ran a shaking hand across his face. “No. Although it was…hard to tell.”

     “Why?” Jessie asked. “Was it dark?”

     They waited, the three of them staring expectantly, until finally he relented. “Okay. Okay, fine. I lied.”

     “What did you see?”

     “I don’t know what I saw.” He stared into space, his eyes taking on a far-away look. “I didn’t go all the way down. Didn’t have to. I could see the platform from the steps. There were-” He swallowed hard. “Everybody down there was dead.”

     Jessie was horrified. “Did the cops shoot them?!”

     Caleb shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Some of them were wearing uniforms. I think they were cops.”

     “A riot,” Maddie said. “Like at the pharmacy.” She heard the gunshot in the crowd again, could easily imagine how people who were trying to leave, get to safety, could turn on the police.

     “How many?” Vinnie asked.

     “I don’t know. There were…parts.”

     “Parts?” Jessie frowned. “What does that mean?”

     “Body parts,” Vinnie clarified. Caleb waited a moment, then nodded.

     “What the hell happened down there?” Maddie whispered, overcome with horror. “Was it…was it the dogs? Summer said there were dogs.”

     “I didn’t see any dogs,” Caleb said. “Dead or alive. But maybe. Some of the bodies looked….eaten.”

     Maddie’s skin crawled. She glanced at Vinnie, whose face remained as impassive as ever, before reaching for her sister’s hand. “Dogs do that,” she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. “Eat corpses.”

     “I saw that on tv once,” Jessie said. “Gross. Those poor people.”

     When Caleb opened his mouth to speak again Maddie shook her head, just once, to stop him. He slumped back in his chair, his face tired and sad. It was easy to forget, with the piercings and the attitude, that he was so much younger than they. She felt bad for pushing him to talk.

     Visions of what he’d described crowded her thoughts, and she felt suddenly ill. Jumping up, she rushed into the bathroom, barely making it before she was violently sick. It had been a long while since she’d eaten; her throat and chest burned as she threw up, again and again, until finally her stomach stopped cramping.

     Maddie slumped, her face resting against the cool tile of the tub, and waited for her bearings to return. She could hear the others talking quietly, the sound carrying through the thin door; she felt her face grow hot as she realized that they, in turn, could no doubt hear her. There’s no shame in getting sick, she told herself.

     Rising slowly, she was surprised by how shaky her hands and knees were. Gotta eat something. Her stomach rolled again at the thought of food, but she knew she’d have to choke something down soon. It was a miracle she didn’t have a migraine already.

     She bent over the sink, waiting for the water to run ice-cold before rinsing her mouth and splashing her face. When she straightened and looked at herself in the mirror, she couldn’t help but flinch. With her messy hair and red face, water dripping down her chin, she looked like shit. She was looking around for a towel and a hair brush when there was a tap on the door.

     “Everything okay?”

     Reluctantly, she opened it, wishing she’d thought to crack the window and let out some of the sick smell. Vinnie didn’t flinch, however; he scanned her face, eyes filled with concern.

     “I just need a towel,” she said, lowering her head to stare at the floor. “And a brush.”

     “Hold on.” He stepped into the bedroom, carefully and quietly opening the door, and re-emerged a moment later. “No linen closet. I keep these in there.”

     “Thanks.” She took the hand towel first, patting her face dry, then the hair brush he offered her. “This is a woman’s brush,” she said.

     “Yeah?” He leaned against the door jam, watching her fuss in the mirror. “How ‘bout that.”

     “Is it your mom’s?” she asked, glancing at him quickly. His answering smirk made her blush, at the transparency of the question and her desire to know the answer.

     “Sure,” he agreed. “It’s my mom’s.”

     Maddie refused to look at him again, staring at her reflection instead. Idiot. She ripped the brush through her hair, wincing hard when it yanked at a sore spot on the back of her head.

     “You’re hurt,” he said. “Did I…?”

     Oh my god. She surprised them both by laughing. “It’s not from you,” she told him. “Keep your ego in check. Some dick at the pharmacy pulled a chunk out. Still hurts.”

     “You didn’t tell me that.” He came to stand behind her, the size of the bathroom crowding him up against her body. Pressed between him and the lip of the sink, she shivered.

     “It’s fine,” she told him.

     “Let me see.” Before she could protest further he had his hands in her hair, parting the strands carefully until he found the spot; he probed it gently and she winced again. “Sorry,” he said. “Looks like you ripped it open a little bit with the brush. We should clean it out, at least.”

     “Oh…..okay.” She blinked, trying to think straight, a hard thing to do with his hands on her. When he leaned into her further so he could reach the washcloth in front of her, she caught her breath.

     That’s just his zipper, she told herself sternly.

     “This might hurt,” he warned her.

     When he pressed the hot cloth to her scalp, she yelped. “Ow! That stings!”

     “I told you it would hurt.” He stroked her hair with his free hand, dabbing carefully with the cloth in the other. “Just relax.”

     Tingles raced down her spine. Scrunching her eyes closed, she willed herself not to move until he was finished. He’s an ass, she reminded herself. A crazy, crazy ass. He leaned into her again. With a big zipper.

     “All done,” he said finally, tossing the rag into the tub. With quick movements, he fluffed her hair a bit, then stepped back. “Well, it’s a little wet, but you should be fine.” He met her eyes in the mirror. “Just don’t let anybody pull it for a few days.”

     She was spared the difficulty of coming up with a response by her sister, who huffed impatiently in the doorway. “Are you two done? Some people need to use the bathroom.”

     “Sorry, sweetheart,” Vinnie said, stepping around her to leave. “It’s all yours.”

     Maddie remained leaning against the sink for a moment, not sure she could trust her weakened legs. When she finally turned to go, she caught the look on Jessie’s face and flinched back.

     “You can play doctor with him all you want,” the other girl said, brushing past Maddie. “It’s not going to work.”

     Maddie rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Jessica, do we have to do this? Do you have any idea what’s happening out there?”

     “I get it,” Jessie said. “I think I get it better than you do.”

     “What’s that supposed to mean?” Maddie demanded.

     Reaching around her sister, Jessie pushed the door shut. “They told me,” she said. “They told me the truth.”

     Maddie closed her eyes. “And you believed them.”

     “Well, yeah. I don’t understand why you don’t.”

     “Because I’m not an idiot, Jess.” She shook her head. “Zombies? Really? I’d hoped even you were smarter than that.”

     Jessie’s eyes flashed, hurt and anger evident on her face. “I’m not stupid,” she hissed. “You think you’re so perfect, with your money and your fancy job and your snobby fiancé. Look how right you were about all of that.” Maddie blinked, stung, as her sister went on. “You were wrong then, and you’re wrong now. And if you expect me to help you when you get into trouble and finally figure this shit out?” Jessie stepped back, her face hard. “You’re wrong about that too.”

     “Jessie-”

     “Get out,” Jessie said. “So I can pee.”

     Shoulders slumped, Maddie realized she’d make no headway with her sister right now, and turned to go. Opening the door, she paused.

     “Jessie?”

     “What?”

     “This is exciting for you right now. Like a story. Zombie Apocalypse with the Handsome Soldier, whatever.” She looked at Jessie, hoping she was listening. “But when that girl dies? It’s going to be real. And you’d better hope that I’m the one who’s right.”

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