Chapter Twenty

Posted: January 26, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     She remembered the roar that had filled her apartment when Vinnie had shot Mr. Webber, and the pops from the pharmacy; she knew, even in her inexperience, that gun shots were anything but quiet. Eyes scrunched tight, Maddie braced herself for a loud bang.

     She was rewarded with an impotent click.

     Her eyes flew open. The gun remained in her hand, cold and silent. On the bed, Summer struggled to her feet and took a step, seemingly unaware in her mindless state that walking across a mattress wasn’t quite the same as traversing the floor. Her foot tangled in the sheets and she went down again, slavering with rage.

     “You have to cock it!” Jessie screamed from the doorway. “Cock it!”

     Maddie fumbled at the back on the gun, searching for the lever she thought should be there. She’d seen westerns, she had, she knew how to cock a gun. But to her dismay, there was no lever. The gun slipped in her hands, slick with sweat, and she moaned in frustration.

     “It’s a slide!” Vinnie made to release Caleb, to come and help. As soon as the grip around his body loosened the kid redoubled his efforts to reach Maddie, screaming incoherently, not even aware of what his friend in the bed had become. Vinnie hauled the kid back again. “Slide it! Slide it to cock it!”

     “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.” Maddie heard herself sobbing, her breath coming out in panicked gasps. Her fingers slipped over the body of the gun, not able to get a grip and slide anything, never mind that there wasn’t anything to slide. What the hell is he talking about?

     Summer lurched down the length of the bed, reaching the end and tumbling over onto the floor, arms outstretched. There was a crack as she hit the carpet; when she rose again, Maddie saw that her left arm dangled at an impossible angle, the bone poking through near the elbow. Summer paid it no mind – she shuffled forward, toward Maddie, eyes empty and wild.

     Maddie moved backward, still clutching the useless gun. She pulled the trigger again, twice more, each time hearing only the quiet click of nothing.

     “The safety!” Vinnie sounded suddenly furious, though whether it was with her or himself she didn’t know. “The safety’s on! Push the button!”

     Oh, fuck this. Fed up with buttons and slides and levers that weren’t there, Maddie brought her hand back and hurled the gun at Summer. It hit the girl in the cheek, just below her right eye; blood poured down her face. It was a blow that would have given anyone pause, but she kept coming.

     Maddie’s retreat was halted as she backed up against something hard. The dresser. Turning quickly, she scanned the top, searching for anything she could use to fend the girl off. Her eyes skipped over the few small items clustered neatly toward the front; over the framed photo of Vinnie in uniform, surrounded by other similarly dressed men; over the box of useless bullets he’d pulled out when he’d retrieved the gun. They landed on a set of hooks, screwed into the wall just above the dresser top, cradling what was clearly a prized possession.

     Batter up.

     When she whirled back around, bat in hand, Summer was closer than she’d expected. Screaming with fear, she swung out; the bat connected with Summer’s shoulder, knocking the girl back a few steps. Maddie swung again, hitting her mark this time – the thud of the wood as it rapped against Summer’s skull was sick and satisfying.

     She never knew, after, how many times she hit the girl. After the first blow she left herself, went to a quiet place where there was no screaming; no one snapped and snarled like a rabid dog with only half a head; her ears weren’t filled with the sound of her own sobbing laughter as her arms moved up and down, up and down, hoeing a row of horror she’d remember clearly only in her dreams.

     When she came back, the room was still. She perched on the end of the bed, bat still in hand, the blonde wood streaked and stained with blood. Staring at it, she wondered how much was on the rest of her. Her face felt sticky and hot.

     There was whispering behind her, and the sound of running water in the other room. Caleb said something, a plea she couldn’t quite hear, before Vinnie ordered him out.

     You’re next, she thought, hands tightening on the bat. She liked the feel of it in her grip, the heft it had. Fool me once, kiddo.

     But she found that all of her energy was gone; whatever reserves she’d been able to access to deal with Summer were empty. Her anger at Caleb was a weak thing, tired – she couldn’t muster up more.

     “Madelyn?” A hand fell on her shoulder and she flinched, half-raising the bat. “It’s all right. You’re fine now.”

     Vinnie sat beside her, his weight shifting the mattress, and she found herself leaning against him. The warmth of his body set off a sudden round of shivering; the bat trembled in her hands.

     “Let me have that,” he said gently, reaching out.

     She tried to release her grip. “I can’t,” she said, surprised to hear her voice sound so hoarse.

     “That’s okay.” Moving carefully, he loosened her fingers from around the handle. When it was free, he set it aside and took her hand. “I’m going to clean you up. Okay?”

     She nodded, grateful, but when he brought the washcloth forward she recoiled. Seeing the look on her face, he quickly reassured her. “It’s clean.” After a moment of hesitation he tried again, and this time she allowed him to wipe her hands, then her face. She believed him that it was clean; nonetheless, her skin crawled. As he dabbed at her cheeks, she bit her lip to keep from screaming.

     “She should have a bath,” Jessie said, hovering still in the doorway. “It’s all over her.”

     “Later,” Vinnie said.

     “But….Vinnie, her hair.”

     “I said later,” he snapped. “She’s in shock.”

     “But-”

     “Go check on Caleb,” he said. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

     When she was gone, he knelt before Maddie. Her eyes drifted over his shoulder, to where Summer lay sprawled on the carpet; someone had thrown a sheet over her, white cotton blooming with red patches.

     Seeing the direction of her gaze, he gripped her chin, bringing her attention back to his face. “Don’t worry about that,” he said, voice soft and stern. “I’ll take care of it.” He waited for her to nod before continuing. “You need to lie down now. Okay? I’ll help you walk.”

     Maddie shook her head. “The bed,” she said.

     Vinnie raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”

     “Yes.” She fought the urge to collapse back, to writhe across the mattress the way Summer had, until her head was on the pillow. Wasn’t Summer, though. Not Summer at all. Squinting, she forced herself to focus. “I hate the floor.”

     “You can sleep on the couch,” he said.

     “No. The bed.”

     “Okay.” He sighed. “I have to change the sheets first. You want to go to the bathroom?”

     She shook her head again. It was a long walk to the bathroom; she wasn’t sure she’d make it. Why am I so tired? She thought she’d done something, something exhausting, but couldn’t remember. Her head swam.

     She blinked and he was standing in front of her, arms full of clean linens. Taking her hand, he tugged her to her feet. “Sit here,” he told her. He led her to the chair, one he’d dragged in from the living room; doing as she was told, she found herself staring out the bedroom door. She watched, detached, as Caleb sobbed on the sofa, Jessie standing over him. Useless. She glared at her sister, angry for reasons she couldn’t explain. She felt her nails biting into her palms.

     Vinnie worked quickly, stripping the bed and tossing everything on top of Summer’s body. He had the new sheets on the bed before she knew it. Helping her again to stand, he brought her to the bed.

     “You….” He hesitated, shifting uncomfortably. “You should change your clothes.”

     She looked down at herself. He was right; her blouse was destroyed, and her pants not much better. Numb, she plucked feebly at the buttons of her shirt, not able to make her fingers work.

     “You want me to get your sister?”

     “I can do it.”

     “I don’t think you can.” He frowned, thinking, then moved to shut the door. “We’ll do this fast. I won’t….I won’t look.”

     She stared at him. “Look at what?”

     “Never mind.”

     She let her hands fall away as he undid her buttons, first on her shirt and then on her jeans. The air in the room was cold; she felt her skin dimple as he pulled her top off, tossing it aside. Despite his promise his eyes fell to her breasts, then skittered away.

     “You’re blushing,” she said. She sat down so he could work her pants down and off her legs.

     “You’re cold,” he said. “Here.” He held a t-shirt out. “Raise your arms.”

     She did. He tugged the shirt down over her head, then helped ease her back onto the pillows. She sighed, relieved beyond measure to finally be lying down. Drawing the covers up, she burrowed.

     “I’ll come back soon,” he said.

     “Can you…” She peeked out from beneath the blankets. “Can you sit? For a minute?”

     “Uh…sure.” Climbing in awkwardly, he half-sat, half-lay beside her. After a moment he reached out, stroking her hair. Recalling what Jessie had said about her needing a shower, she wondered what his hands would look like after; before she could dwell on it the thought floated away, and she drifted, down, into sleep.

     Just before she was gone, she shifted. “Vinnie?” she asked, her voice soft and dreamy.

     “Yes?”

     She frowned. “I really hate baseball.”

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