Chapter Twenty Two

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     It felt like hours before she heard the others return. Maddie perched on the side of the bed, hands clasped tightly in her lap, her eyes fixed on the door. Every few minutes she could feel her attention drifting toward the other side of the room – the stains on the wall and carpet all but called her name. She resisted the repeated urge to look, conjuring up instead images of another door, that one locked against her rather than in her favor. She gritted her teeth and seethed.

     She didn’t really believe she was in danger; if Caleb had intended to kill her, she figured he’d have done it while she was still asleep. He was posturing, as teenaged boys were wont to do. Still, she hated him for scaring her, and for the dislike that had rolled off of him in waves.

     Without me, he’d have been left behind. Ungrateful ass.

     Her eyes started to wander again, and she snapped them back. Don’t think about it, she ordered. Don’t think about her. Her hands twitched, feeling a ghost of the bat against her palms.

     There was a thump on the other side of the door, followed by loud, brittle laughter. Maddie groaned. She knew that laugh – years of hearing it echoing down the hallway and through thin bedroom walls had taught her to gauge in an instant how pleasant the next few hours were going to be.

     Wherever Vinnie and her sister had gone, alcohol had clearly been on the menu.

     More high-pitched giggling drifted through the door, along with the low murmur of what sounded like an argument. She was about to get up and see what was happening when there was a quiet knock.

     “It’s me,” Vinnie called.

     Maddie thumbed the lock and let him in, glaring at Caleb over his shoulder. The kid stared back defiantly, a beer clenched in his fist. No sign of Jessie, though clattering in the kitchen was a good indication of what she was up to.

     “You’re letting him drink?” Maddie asked. When Vinnie raised an eyebrow in response, she blushed. “He’s not…he’s too young,” she said, feeling instantly lame.

     Vinnie pushed the door shut. “You want to report me for corrupting a minor?”

     “Ha ha. Very funny.”

     “His friend zombie’d out in front of him. I think he deserves a few drinks.”

     His tone was gentle, but Maddie still looked away, feeling like she’d been slapped. She found herself staring at the spot she’d tried so hard to avoid, her stomach churning again at the sight of the stained floor. I didn’t do anything wrong. No matter how many times she repeated it to herself, it failed to make her feel any better.

     “Where did you take her?” she finally asked. Part of her cringed, both dreading and wanting to hear.

     He waited a few moments before answering. “You, ah…you don’t need to know.”

     She pulled her attention away from the rug. “Did you do it alone?”

     “No.” He glanced at the door. “Your sister helped me.”

     “Ah.” Maddie paused. “And now she’s drunk.”

     He sat down heavily, his expression sad. “I shouldn’t have made her. She cried a lot. But the body was too heavy for me to move it alone. The kid couldn’t do it.” He stared off into space, seeming not to notice when she sat beside him. “She shouldn’t have been heavy. She was small. I’ve moved bigger guys, guys weighted down with gear. I should have been able to do it alone.” He shrugged. “But I couldn’t, so I made her help. And now she’s drunk.”

     Maddie took his hand, gently stroking across the back of it. “I’m surprised she made it this long,” she said, keeping her tone light. “Where did you go?”

     “Mini mart, couple streets over. I had to give the guy a twenty to lift the gate and let us in. There’s been looting.”

     “Where are the cops?”

     He shot her a surprised look, then laughed. “You’ve missed a lot, Sleeping Beauty.”

     “So tell me.”

     He seemed about to, then shook his head. “It can wait.” Getting to his feet, he pulled her up too; before she could react she found herself wrapped in a hug. “I’m glad you’re awake,” he whispered. The now-familiar chill raced down her spine, and she hugged him back.

     After a few moments he pulled away; she let her arms drop to her sides, feeling suddenly awkward. I wonder how much beer there is, she thought. She hoped the answer was “a lot”; if she was going to deal with her drunk sister and drunk Caleb, she needed something to take the edge off.

     As if reading her thoughts, Vinnie grinned. “Let’s get you something to eat,” he said. “You can’t drink on an empty stomach.”

     “Are you hoping to get me drunk?” Maddie teased.

     The look he gave her left her feeling as exposed as she had in the kitchen earlier. She remembered what Caleb had told her.

     “You don’t have to look at me like that,” she blurted, crossing her arms.

     “Like what?”

     “Like you want to see me naked.” She took a step back. “You had your show already, when I was sleeping.”

     He stared at her, dumbfounded, until realization dawned. “I checked you for scratches,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t look at anything. Unconscious chicks aren’t really my thing.” When she had no response, he huffed, impatient. “I was making sure you weren’t hurt. Are you really going to be pissed about it?”

     She chewed her lip. “I guess not.”

     He stepped into the space she’s created between them, leaning down until his mouth was inches from hers. “The next time I see you naked,” he said, his voice a low growl, “It’ll be because you invited me to. Okay?”

     Swallowing hard, she nodded.

     “Good.” Pulling away, he opened the door. “Now…let’s eat.”

  1. Thea Landen says:

    INVITE HIM. Forget the food, forget the sister, INVITE HIM.


    Patience is not my strong suit….

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