Saturday night, they put Emily in a dress and made her wear more make-up than she wanted. They even made her remove her black nail polish, though she refused to paint her nails pink. The one-inch heels and clutch felt like too much, but in a moment of weakness, she bought them to go together and thought that now she might as well get some use out of them. When she felt ready, they said she looked beautiful. Emily preferred not to believe them.
“No, it’s true. When I met you I remember thinking here is a roommate that could give me competition if she ever started dressing.” Emily imagined Jessica was being kind.
They walked to the Hive, a university party spot since the beginning of time. Just off campus, it sat in the once plush commercial neighborhood, which was not the best now, being full of alleys and old run-down warehouses. Still, a fast food place had opened up two doors down the main road, and a gas station with an all night mini-mart sat beyond that, so times were changing, again.
The boys promised to be there at six-thirty, and though the girls got ready in time, Jessica said it would not do to be less than fifteen minutes late. They walked slowly, and talked.
“Where is Amina?” Karyn wondered.
“She doesn’t date,” Maria answered. “Her family is very strict in that way.”
“That’s unnatural.” Jessica spoke to the wind
“So how was lunch?” Maria asked.
“Latasha is a nice person,” Emily responded, thinking that was a miracle given her home and upbringing and some of the things she mentioned suffering through as a child. “She is going to be a good sister.” Maria and Karyn looked at her so she explained. “Well, it is better than saying she is part of the club—the secret club.” Emily smiled at her own thought. No sorority wanted her, but she did not need them and never expected to join one. She had a sorority of her own now and the Greeks were not invited to hers, either. “Mostly I think Lisa wanted to tell us she is making some calls to some other women she knows. She said zombies tend to run in a crowd.”
Maria spoke up. “Julie said the pacemaker they inserted to animate the zombies worked like an artificial heart pump. They were all recently dead so not much decay, and the heart easily pumped that green liquid around their systems. That liquid is still defying analysis, by the way.”
“Not much synaptic activity,” Emily added. “The brain implants gave instructions and otherwise I suppose the dead people did not need much.”
Maria tapped Jessica on the shoulder. “That means not much brain activity.”
“I know that,” Jessica said, sharply.
“But why did they show up at the firing range?” Karyn wondered.
Silence followed, for a minute. Maria had heard some possible answers from Julie but she waited for Emily to speak. “Test case,” Emily began. “Some of the ROTC staff and soldiers shot them, but that did not stop them. Lisa figured someone was showing them off.”
“Like someone is making a product that someone else wants to buy,” Jessica said. They had long since learned that Jessica was majoring in business, not the most taxing major, but Jessica certainly knew something about buying and selling, or at least the buying part.
Emily nodded and shared a thought she had intended to keep to herself. “Lisa thinks they also wanted to go after me, like maybe that was part of the test.”
“Being around you is dangerous,” Karyn admitted. “But exciting.”
“I’m learning a lot more from you and Julie than from class,” Maria added her thought.
“You’re just so lucky,” Emily responded and the girls smiled
Carl and Tom waited by the door. Pierce and Owen held the table. Carl came in his dress uniform since it was the only fancy clothes he had. Tom and Owen dressed down, but the dress shirts were clean and they had on khakis in place of jeans. Pierce stood in a black suit, tie and all. Emily caught her breath when she saw him. She thought he looked like James Bond for sure. In fact, all of the women thought he looked dreamy, but to be fair, Pierce’s eyes got a little bigger when he saw Emily all cleaned up.
“Would you like me to order a bottle of wine?” Pierce asked, but Emily said no. Pierce and Carl were the only two who were technically old enough to drink. She imagined she and Pierce could get away with it, but Emily thought it best to stay un-juiced. She looked briefly at Owen and wondered again about the fraternity house, which happened just last Monday. She knew Karyn still had some red spots and a couple of scabs from that juicing.
“Best not,” she said.
They had dinner and talked plenty about school, but nothing about the murders and all of the mystery that swirled around them. They had a pleasant evening. When Emily and Pierce held hands under the table and did a little knee rubbing, Emily felt very comfortable. She could not do much more than smile. At one point, she felt she was surely having another moment of weakness, but that quickly got followed by the thought, who cares? She did not mind feeling a little weak with Pierce.
The music started at eight and the volume made it much harder to talk. The band, called The Undead, a hard rock band played extra loud. They sang about death and destruction a lot, but it had a steady beat so people could dance.
Pierce shouted to explain how Doctor Zimmer gave him a terribly hard time when he asked to borrow the car.
“Just like a dad,” Emily suggested.
“Just like,” Pierce agreed when his phone went off. He had to turn to the side and stick a finger in his ear to hear. Emily opened her clutch and checked her own phone. It occurred to her that something might be happening and she would never hear it ring, but there had been no calls
“I’m sorry.” Pierce put his hand to her upper arm to get her attention. She reached for his other hand, held it, and smiled. She did not mind his touch one bit. “I’m sorry,” he repeated himself. “I have to go.”
“Emergency,” he said and stood. She stood with him as Tom and Jessica came laughing their way back from the dance floor. The others were still missing in action.
“Serious?” Emily asked.
“What?” Pierce seemed preoccupied for a second. Then he warmed to her, smiled, and touched her upper arm again. “No, nothing like that. It is just some department stuff that can’t wait until morning.” Pierce handed Tom a wad of money and turned toward the door. Emily followed and caught him before he went out.
“I’m not letting you go that easily,” she said and she put her arms around his waist for a hug. Pierce smiled again and slipped his arms behind her back. They pulled together, squeezed gently against one another and Emily tried some ESP. It worked. He kissed her and she held nothing back. She felt his heat rise and her heat began to radiate around the little entranceway. When they separated, Emily tasted her lips. He was not the best kisser in the world, like maybe he had not done it very much. He would improve. Her grin felt genuine enough.
“I have to go,” he said again and the two reluctantly let go. “I’ll call you.”
When Emily got back to the table, everyone stared at her. “He had something come up.” She grabbed her clutch. “I’ll be back, I need some air.”
“Do you want company?” Maria asked.
Emily shook her head. “I’ll be back,” she repeated and left before they asked any more questions.
Emily felt the urge to walk, and it was a strong urge. She started toward the fast food place but then she felt the need to get out of the light. She walked back in among the warehouse alleys where the night could surround her. She felt the fall chill in the air. Her short dress, though not Jessica short, felt a bit thin in the chill air, though it flattered her. Of course, the idea that a good-looking eighteen-year-old dressed like that might not be safe walking around back alleys in the dark never occurred to her. She kind of blanked out on her thoughts. She had too many feelings to sort through.
Emily only paused when her eye caught some activity up ahead. Lights glared outside a warehouse dock and men stood around, gabbing. A car, not running, but with the lights on parked beside the dock. The car lights pointed away from her toward an exit that emptied on to one of the back, residential roads. Emily stayed hidden by the dark, but she could see perfectly well what happened in the light.
Two men loaded a big box into the trunk of the car. Another two men stood up on the dock, and they had guns. No, Emily thought, they had rifles, and she knew they were military issue. The men stood in plain clothes, but after all that ROTC, she recognized the attitude of attention very well. But what would the military be doing putting something in a civilian car in the dark of night?
She saw something then that startled her. Doctor Zimmer climbed out of the car, and Pierce in his suit stepped out of the warehouse shadows. They talked quietly until the trunk lid slammed shut. Then they got in the car, started it up, and drove away, while the military went back into the warehouse and put out the lights.
Emily spun and headed back the way she came. She bit her finger and fought every tear duct she had. She did not know what they were doing, exactly, but it looked way beyond suspicious. She wanted to scream that it felt so unfair. Something inside her made her walk in that exact direction where she could see. That intuition that Lisa said she had to listen to betrayed her. She almost cursed and said again to herself that maybe she did not want to be elected.
Emily stopped suddenly. Two young men in front of her blocked her way. She judged them to be high school age, or just after high school, or dropouts, or drug dealers. She really did not care. They stood blocking her way. She shoved the first hard into the nearby dumpster. His head rang the metal when he hit. She grabbed the other by his shirt and belt and literally lifted him off the ground. She tossed him to crash into the first and started her rapid walking again without another thought.
On the street, she turned toward the Hive, but then turned toward the university across the street. She got halfway to her dorm before her phone rang. She pulled it out and did not want to answer it, but at the last she said, “Hello?” It was Jessica, but she did not let the girl get a word in. “I’m going back to the room. Have fun. See you later,” and she hung up. She did get back to the room and flopped on her bed before she finally let her tears flow.
By the time the others got back, Emily had already slipped under the covers and nearly fell asleep. By then she had convinced herself that it was not what it seemed. Zimmer taught bioengineering. Pierce had to go because Zimmer needed the car. The box was full of specimens, mutated carrots or something that had to be kept frozen to stay fresh. They just arrived from Washington or some such place for study. Maybe they came though Fort Dix. The army kept odd hours. The guards might just be army overkill. Emily grasped at straws, but at the moment, she needed that comfort, even if it was just a straw house likely to be blown down with the first wind.