Chapter Forty

Posted: July 19, 2015 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     When she returned to the bedroom, bag in hand, she found Vinnie in much the same condition he’d been in the night before: on the bed, shoulders slumped, staring at the wall. She sat gingerly, placing the bag between them, and waited for him to speak.

     “Thank you,” he said finally. He drew the bag against his side, cuddling it protectively. Maddie shuddered; she’d hated touching it, knowing where it had come from. She couldn’t quite believe she’d been able to get it off the body in the first place.

     The body. She frowned. I’m as bad as Jessie.

     “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I said that already, but…” She trailed off, not sure what else she could say. She wanted desperately to help in some way, to take away the dark cloud that seemed to hover over him.

     He turned to her, the sadness on his face replaced by an earnest look. She took his hand, thinking he was going to talk about Shawn. Instead, he said, “I’m sorry. Last night…it’s my fault. I wasn’t thinking. It was stupid. I was stupid.”

     Maddie felt heat spread across her cheeks. “I-”

     He leaned closer, squeezing her hand as she tried to pull it away. “It was a mistake,” he said, as though reassuring her. “It won’t happen again.”

     Maddie sat frozen, rooted in humiliation. She dropped her eyes, unable to keep meeting his gaze. Two for two, she thought bitterly. At least he’s being honest, before I find him pants-down in a closet. He wasn’t saying anything she hadn’t thought herself; she’d known, the night before, that it was a terrible idea. That didn’t take the sting from this rejection. She again tried to pull her hand away, and he wound his fingers in hers, not seeming to notice that she’d gone numb and slack in his grip. He was still talking, no doubt trying to assure her that they were still friends, he still cared about her – whatever bullshit men like him fed to women like her after they were finished. Maddie wasn’t listening. His voice was lost to her ear, drowned out by her own recriminating thoughts.

     Please. She closed her eyes. Please stop talking.

     After a few moments, she realized that he had. She opened her eyes again and saw that he was looking at her, expectant. Had he asked her something? What did he expect her to say? Thank you for your candor, I’m sorry we fucked too? She wanted to disappear, to get up and walk out, but he was still – still – holding tight to her hand.

     “Madelyn?” He wrinkled his brow in concern. “Are you?”

     Maddie swallowed past the dryness in her throat. “Am I what?”

     “On something.”

     She blinked, confused. What did he think Jessie had been smoking? “No. It was just cigarettes. I didn’t have one.”

     “What?” Now he did release her hand, to rake his own through his hair. It had grown out some, she noticed, since the first day they’d met. The clean military cut was looking rather shaggy; combined with the dark stubble taking over his face, it made him look rough, hotter than ever. Don’t think like that. About that. He doesn’t want you.

     “What?” she echoed.

     He huffed, impatient with her. “Birth control, Madelyn. Are you on something?”

     She stared at him, dazed, until it hit her. Oh god. Frantically, she ran over their last encounter in her head, searching for the memory she knew must be there – the moment, the pause, the rip of the foil. Oh no. Oh no. Oh shit.

     He saw the answer on her face. “Damn,” he said, sounding impossibly tired. He looked away. “I didn’t know you were…you know. Planning.”

     “Planning what?” Maddie asked, distracted. She counted in her head, trying to figure out how bad things could be. I had it right before the wedding. It might be okay.

     “Children,” Vinnie said. “A family.”

     Something about his tone yanked Maddie out of her numbers game. “I wasn’t.” She plucked at her pants, uncomfortable. “Jack didn’t want any. Not with me, anyway.”

     Vinnie’s jaw worked as he clenched his teeth. “But you’re not on anything.”

     Is he jealous? Maddie shook her head, irritated and amazed. Jesus. “I was,” she explained. “The pill. But I didn’t bring them with me. I was a little distracted.” She blushed. “And I didn’t think I needed them.”

     “I never do that.” He turned back to her, earnest again. “I swear to god. I’ve never.”

     Maddie nodded. “Me either,” she offered, and was relieved when the corner of his mouth twitched in a small smile. His intensity was starting to unnerve her. “We might be all right,” she said. “But I really don’t know.”

     He swiped a hand through his hair again, making the mess of it worse. “Isn’t there something you can take?”

     “Sure.” Maddie crossed her arms, hugging herself. “If we could get to a pharmacy.”

     He glanced at the bedroom window, where rain continued to stream down the pane. “Right.”

     She felt him withdraw, put cold distance between them, and squeezed herself tighter. You knew he was bad news, she scolded herself. Hot tears filled her eyes, and she blinked them back furiously, refusing to shed any in front of him. This is what you get. She clenched her jaw. Everything is fine. And if it’s not…I can handle it myself. She pictured her mother’s face, if she turned up single and pregnant, and felt a knot of ice form in her gut. She’ll think it’s Jack’s. Everyone will.

     While she sat in silence, picturing the potential misery ahead of her, Vinnie hauled Shawn’s bag into his lap and began rifling through the contents. Without glancing at her, he tossed a small stick into her lap. “Here.”

     Reluctantly, Maddie released her arms and picked it up. “What’s this?”

     “A charger.” He dug back into the bag. “If it has juice, it might charge your phone. You need-”

     She was off the bed in a flash, diving for her bag. Her phone had died not long after the storm had started; without power, there’d been no way to re-charge it. There was no guarantee that calling out would work – it hadn’t, not the last time she’d tried – but at least, with a full battery, she could check.

     It took her a minute to work out how to connect everything together, but after cursing and tangling with the phone’s charger pieces, she got it hooked up. When the phone’s screen lit up, indicating it was working, she cheered. “How long does it take?” she asked, staring at the screen, willing the bar to fill.

     “I don’t know. A few hours.” Vinnie tossed the bag aside, setting the laptop he’d found on the mattress beside him. “Depends on the batteries.”

     Maddie nodded, watching him as he powered up the computer. “There’s no internet,” she pointed out.

     The look he gave her was withering. “I know that. But there might be something else on here. I want to know where he went.” He peered at the laptop screen. “Fifteen percent,” he said, speaking more to himself than to her. “Should be enough.”

     Curiosity got the better of her, and she drifted back over, settling again on the bed to see what he’d find. He clicked through folders, clearly searching for something, though what she couldn’t begin to imagine.

     Whatever it was, he didn’t find it. The computer made a quiet snapping sound as the battery died, and the display switched to black. “Dammit!” Vinnie slammed the laptop shut in frustration, tossing it to the floor with a thud. He flopped onto his back in defeat.

     Carefully, Maddie lay beside him, staring at the ceiling in the dim light. “His family,” she said. “You said he would go find his family.”

     Vinnie sighed. “Yeah. But he wouldn’t just head for the barricades. I wouldn’t.” He slammed his fist down on the mattress. “He knew another way out. He had to.”

     “Yeah, but…” Maddie hesitated, not wanting to hurt him, then forged on. “If he did…it didn’t work.”

     He had no response to that. In the silence that followed, Maddie closed her eyes, once again wishing that she could sleep. After a few minutes, she felt his weight move against her; his arm slid around her shoulders, and she found herself pulled up against his side. Part of her wanted to move away from him – but he was so warm. Instead she let herself melt against him, listening to the sound of his breathing.

     She was beginning to drift off when he shifted again. She pressed a hand to his chest, stilling him. “You can stay,” she said quietly. “If you want to.”

     “Hannah needs to rest too,” he said. “And I thought you’d want to sleep alone.”

     “Why?”

     He cleared his throat. “You keep leaving. Once I’m asleep.”

     She pulled away and rose up, leaning on her elbow so she could see his face. “That bothers you?”

     “No.” He withdrew his arm and swung his feet off the bed, turning his back on her. “Why would it?”

     “Vinnie.” She reached for him, but he shrugged her off.

     “It’s fine. I’ll be downstairs.”

     He was gone before she could say anything else. Growling in frustration, she punched the pillow beside her, then wrapped her arms around it, seeking comfort. It was a pitiful substitute. She wanted desperately for him to come back, to hold her until she fell asleep and make her feel safe, and wasn’t sure who she hated more in that moment – him, or herself.

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