Chapter Thirty-Six

Posted: December 21, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
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Day Twenty-Two

     Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

     Maddie wasn’t sure where she’d first heard the idiom that filled her head, drowning out everything else. Perhaps from her mother; it sounded like the kind of pithy advice Grace was fond of giving, guilt-laden bullshit masquerading as wisdom. Wherever it had come from, it plagued her now, playing on repeat as she tried in vain to sleep, to eat, to keep watch when her turn came and pretend she was fine when forced to sit with the others.

     Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

     Clad in jeans and a stranger’s stolen t-shirt, she sat on the stairs and cradled her aching head. The foyer’s tile floor was cold beneath her bare feet; the hard wood of the riser had long ago caused her ass to grow numb. Gloom permeated the house; what little light had managed to penetrate the shadowy interior when they’d first arrived was gone now, blocked by the heavy clouds that blanketed the sky.

     Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

     Outside, the rain fell.

     The storm had been raging for three days. The wind came and went, sometimes howling, sometimes dropping away to nothing, but the rain was a constant torrent. It pounded the roof, filling every moment of the days and nights with a perpetual tap-tap-tap that Maddie feared would drive her insane. It coursed down the windows, obscuring the view; a few hours of peering through the blurred panes inevitably left her with a headache, pain she nursed until her time at the helm came again. Her eyes felt permanently strained, every blink filled with grit and ground glass. The inability to sleep wasn’t helping.

     Massaging her temples, she tried to remember why she’d thought a storm would help them, what had made her think Mother Nature would be on their side. She’d forgotten, when sending out her savage prayer, that they were alone now; whatever damage the storm wreaked on the city, there would be no one to come and clean it up, to rescue them, to help restore order and repair what was broken.

     Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

     The pole had fallen on the second day, weakened after hours of battering winds. It had crashed through the roof of the house across the street, smashing through shingles and wood like a knife through butter. They’d watched from the window, anxious to see if anyone emerged from the shattered wreck, but no one had. Maddie had pushed for someone to go and check, to make sure no one was stuck inside and hurt; Vinnie had disagreed strenuously. The river that coursed down what had once been the road had put an end to the argument before it gained any real traction – crossing the street with any semblance of safety was impossible. If there were people inside, they were on their own.

     The power remained out, and with it, the water and heat. They filled buckets with rainwater to keep the toilet operational, and washed their hands in a separate container of ice-cold water. Maddie considered the unglamorous reality of the end of the world, and wished she could punch everyone in Hollywood right in the face.

     Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

     Maddie was repentant.

     This was the state in which Hannah found her.

     The older woman paused at the foot of the stairs, stymied in her ascent by Maddie’s obvious misery. Maddie kept her eyes fixed firmly on the floor, hoping that if she ignored the woman she would go away; she wasn’t in the mood to discuss her problems, and she suspected Hannah would find them trivial anyway. Hell, she knew she was being ridiculous, an acknowledgement that did nothing to stop the flow of her thoughts.

     For a moment it seemed as though another of her prayers would be answered, as the other woman finally moved past her and up the stairs. Maddie breathed a sigh of relief – which hitched in her chest when Hannah stopped, turned and came back down, settling on the step behind her.

     “What’s the matter, dear?”

     “Nothing,” Maddie mumbled. “It doesn’t matter.”

     “It’s clearly not nothing,” Hannah insisted. “You’ve been sitting here for hours. Moping. It’s annoying.” When Maddie remained silent, the other woman huffed. “Spill it.”

     Maddie told her.

     Hannah laughed, though not for the reason Maddie had expected. “Where on earth did you hear that?”

     “I don’t know. My mom, I think. Why?”

     The older woman chuckled again. “’Marry in haste, repent at leisure.’ That’s the saying. She taught it to you wrong.”

     Maddie rolled her eyes. Hearing the corrected phrase confirmed Grace as the source; her mother was constantly re-working phrases and stories to better fit her agenda, which usually involved trying to get her recalcitrant daughters to fall in line. Maddie and her sister had spent years believing that Cain and Abel had had a falling out over a toy they were supposed to share.

     “Why are you worrying about something like that, anyway?” Hannah asked, reaching out to squeeze Maddie’s knee. “You didn’t cause any of this.”

     Maddie slumped. Her head down, she gestured helplessly toward the front door, and the water rushing down the tempered-glass windows on either side. “I prayed for rain.”

     “Oh.” Hannah was quiet for a moment. “I see. I thought….well, never mind.” She withdrew her hand. “That’s stupid.”

     She stood before Maddie could respond, resuming her trek up the stairs without a second glance. Maddie dropped her head back into her hands; she knew exactly which “sin” the older woman expected her to show remorse over, and it wasn’t one she was prepared to take responsibility for. Yet. The kid could still make a miraculous recovery. Maddie wasn’t entirely convinced he wasn’t faking his limited mobility so that the others would continue to wait on him.

     Before she could slide much further into another funk, the sound of her name caught her attention.

     “-ated him, you know? I think she was just jealous.”

     Jessie’s voice carried through the doorway between the foyer and the living room; Maddie couldn’t see her, but she could easily picture her sister, sprawled on the sofa, yammering at Vinnie while the poor man tried to do his duty and run out the clock on his turn at the window.

     “But anyway, we broke up when he quit drinking because hello. Like I was going to date some AA loser.” Jessie took a breath. “What about you? What kind of girls do you date?”

     Maddie stared intently, waiting to hear what Vinnie would say. He must have felt her gaze; his eyes darted in her direction, shutter-speed quick, before skipping away. He cleared his throat. “I, uh…I don’t date.”

     Jessie laughed. Maddie flinched, at the volume of her sister’s asinine giggling and the confirmation of exactly what she’d feared – she’d grown attached to a guy who made it a habit not to form attachments.

     Perfect. Fucking. Perfect.

     She stood, wincing as feeling returned to areas of her body that had grown cold and numb after sitting for so long. Forgetting all the rules they’d established about keeping things quiet inside, so as not to attract the unwanted attention of any passing dead, she stomped her way up the stairs and into the bedroom, where she threw herself down on the bed. The bed she’d slept in alone since that first night, always careful to stay out of the room when Vinnie was in it; she knew, even if her body and heart didn’t, that continuing down that path was a terrible idea.

     She hadn’t expected him to follow her – his time on watch wasn’t up for another few hours – but he did anyway. Even with her eyes closed, she was aware of him in the doorway, where he stood, watching her.

     “What’s wrong with you?” he finally asked.

     “Forget it,” she snapped.

     “Nope.” He entered a few steps, stopping at the foot of the bed. “Are you mad?”

     She laughed, a high, hysterical laugh, utterly without humor. “Oh no. Of course not. Why would I be mad?”

     “I don’t know. But you are.”

     “I’m not,” she argued, embarrassed at how petulant she sounded but unable to stop herself. “I’ve just realized what a bad idea it was to sleep with you.”

     It was Vinnie’s turn to laugh. “Oh really? Was it bad for you?”

     She blushed. “That’s not what I meant.”

     “Then what do you mean?”

     Exasperated, she rolled over and opened her eyes. “Do you meet anyone that you don’t fuck?”

     He raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t fuck your sister.”


     “Well I didn’t.” He sat on the edge of the bed, hands settled on his knees. “Why do you care who I’ve slept with?” He paused. “It’s not like I was engaged.”

     She sat up, gasping. “That’s not fair.”

     “No?” His jaw twitched as he clenched it. “You don’t hear me asking questions about your past, Madeline. Because I don’t give a shit.”

     “That is the problem.” She drew her knees up to her chest, putting more space between them. “My past is gone; there’s no one left to think about. He’s dead. Whoever you’ve dated is out there, right now. In this. And you don’t ‘give a shit’.”

     Silence stretched between them until finally, he sighed. “Yes. They are. They were nice girls – well, most of them were – and I hope they’re okay. But unless you’re suggesting that we caravan around the city, picking up every woman I’ve fucked and cramming her into the backseat with you, I don’t know what the hell you want me to do.”

     She thought about it. “I want you to care.”

     Whatever response he may have had to that, Maddie never heard it. The bedroom door flew open and Jessie bustled in, her face flushed with panic and fear.

     “Vinnie! You need to come down. There’s a problem.”

     Vinnie, his eyes locked on Maddie’s, tried to wave her off. “In a minute.”

     “No. Now.” Jessie grabbed his arm. “Someone’s at the door.”

     Vinnie turned on her so quickly, she yelped and took a step back. “Who is it?” he asked urgently. “One of the neighbors?”

     Jessie shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” She hesitated, biting her lip. “I don’t….I don’t think he’s okay.”

     “Show me.”

     They followed her back down the stairs, careful now to keep their steps as quiet as possible. Vinnie took up position at the door’s peephole, peering through to see who had come to visit.

     And peering.

     And peering.

     Minutes passed, with Vinnie standing stock-still in front of the door, before Maddie finally reached out and touched his shoulder. “What is it?” she whispered. He didn’t answer. Instead he stepped back, giving her access to the door; he continued retreating, until his heels hit the stairs and he sat. Hard.

     Heart in her throat, Maddie moved to look for herself.

     She’d expected to see the visitor’s face looming close to the door; part of her cringed in anticipation, caught once again in the fear that whoever was on the other side could see her too. She held her breath, remembering the way her neighbor had heard her through her apartment door and clawed his way inside, though it quickly became apparent that that wasn’t a problem in this situation. Yet.

     The man stood at the foot of the porch steps. He swayed on his feet, his head down, rainwater streaming from his hair and what remained of his clothes. For a moment she thought he was the same man from the other night, the one she’d mistaken for drunk. Then she realized that no, this man had two arms, where the other had had only one. And the reason for his sway was obvious, once she glanced down.

     The prosthesis that hinged from his left knee was in pieces. How it was able to continue supporting his weight when he shifted to that leg was a mystery, one she quickly realized she had no time to contemplate.

     The sound of muffled cries caused her to turn. Vinnie sat, face in his hands, and sobbed. She stared at him, shocked, until it hit her. She knew who the man outside was.

     Shawn, it seemed, had come home.

  1. mxcoot says:

    What a comeback! On the edge of my seat once again.

  2. deltajuliet74 says:


    For the chapter, not for poor Maddie.

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