“ Addy .”
Her parents catch her on the way out. It’s just past dusk, and she can’t sit around any longer. She needs to see him. “Yeah?” she says, wheeling around to face her mom and dad.
“You can’t go out in public like that,” her mother says with a voice like steel.
Addison reaches up to tuck a lock of blinding white hair behind her ear. “Actually, I can,” she says. “Watch me.” She’s never been this rebellious before and it feels great , like a big gulp of fresh air after being stuck in a stuffy room.
“Addison, you’re on very thin ice,” her father says. And he looks like he means it. She glares at the two of them before grabbing a Mighty Shrimp ball cap from the hook near the door and cramming it on her head.
“Goodbye,” she says. She doesn’t slam the door when she leaves— she’s better than that.
The zombie containment area is on the other side of Seabrook from the Zombietown wall. It’s supposed to reduce the risk of zombies breaking their friends out. It isn’t a far jog for Addison, and she appreciates the chance to clear her head. When the containment center finally looms up in front of her, it’s starting to get dark.
Addison circles around the corner of the slate building, slinking close to the wall to keep from being seen. She may be human, but she’s still not allowed to be here. She paces past a couple empty cell blocks before she finally spies one with movement behind the bars.
“Hey!” Addison drops to her knees and scoots closer to the iron bars. “Zed?”
He turns around to face her and her heart breaks a little. He looks so lost. His normally smooth skin is mottled with bulging veins and dry, cracked patches. The circles beneath his eyes are huge; he looks like he’s drowning in them. He looked okay leaving the football field, but sitting here without his Z-band he must have slipped back into unstable territory. When he spots her, he lunges toward the bars before he can even think about it.
And immediately, he looks like he regrets it. Because of course she must be horrified, now that she sees him for who he really is. Now that she sees him without a functioning Z-band, surely she hates him.
Except that Addison doesn’t even flinch. She stays there, kneeling and looking down at him through the grate. His hands come up to grip the bars and she puts her hands over his, just like when they were under the bleachers. “Hey,” she says again, softer. “I’m here.”
He grunts something unintelligible and ducks his head. Addison rubs her hands up and down over his; he feels cold. “ Zodzig ,” he says. It looks like it takes him an enormous strain to even speak. It must be easier for him to speak in native Zombie than in English right now.
“ Zodzig , what’s that again? That’s… oh,” Addison says, remembering. “You’re sorry?” Zed nods. “You have nothing to apologize for,” she says earnestly. He shakes his head, still looking down. “Hey, look at me.” He does. “You have nothing to apologize for. What they did was wrong.” She bends her head down so she can press a kiss to the back of his left hand. “Um, I heard they’re updating the Z-bands. So they won’t get corrupted like before. You’ll be back to your old self again in no time.”
Zed reaches his hand up, grasping and clawing, and very gently brushes her bangs out of her face.
“Oh, right,” she says, reaching up and touching her hair. She takes off the ball cap so she can show it off. “I’m done hiding.”
“ Garb gar zadarb ,” he says, still playing with her hair.
“That’s… shoot, hold on,” she says, pulling out her phone. “I’ve got an app.” She opens up her translation app and plugs in what he just said. “You’re proud of me?”
“ Za .”
What is she even supposed to say to that? All she did was take off a wig; Zed risked his life just to make his friends’ lives a little easier. He risked his life just to take her on a date. What do you say to a guy who would do that much?
“I brought you some food,” she says, opening up her backpack. “Figured you’d be starving. I kind of just grabbed whatever we had in the fridge.” She pulls out a plastic container of shrimp cocktail. “Here,” she says, sticking one of the prawns through the bars to him. “If you want, you can pretend it’s Bucky.”
Zed actually laughs, low and stilted, and then he peels the legs off the shrimp and swallows it whole like a dolphin. “ Zanke .”
She turns so she’s sitting with her back against the wall, her hand still linked with Zed’s. They can both see the stars from here, glittering and popping into life way up in the inky sky.
“Things are going to be different,” she promises.
Zed nods. “ Zundrey .”
“No, not someday, now ,” she says, voice burning like a spirit stick. “Things are going to be different now , because we’re going to make them be different.” He mumbles something that she doesn’t understand, but she gets the gist. He wants to believe her, but he can’t. “They want the zombies out of school,” she admits. She’s heard what her mother and the principal were discussing. “But I won’t let that happen. And me and Bree, and Bucky too, eventually, he’ll come around. We’re going to fight for you guys.”
She thinks about where she found him before they took him away, how he was physically holding himself back from attacking Bucky. He’s no monster. None of them are.
“So just… just hold my hand,” she says, and he does. He is. “And remember, that… that I’m not giving you up. I’m fighting for you, and for us, and I’m not scared anymore.” Zed smiles and his lips look so dry and cracked, so Addison passes him a tube of her coconut chapstick. It’s not as good as a Z-band, but it might make him a little more comfortable. It might make him feel more like himself again.
Pretty soon, a guard will probably come marching around the corner and Addison will have to run. But for now, it’s enough. Just the two of them watching the stars come out. It’s enough.