White Trash Zombie Apocalypse (White Trash Zombie #3) - Page 50

He barked out something close to a laugh, poked at one of the tidbits with a fork. “I guess you have a point. Let ’em get it out of their system.”

“Or we could keep the place kinda decent,” I said, grinning. “That’d be wild.”

“Now you’re talking crazy,” he said, closing the oven.

It had been six weeks since my conversation with Pietro, and two weeks since my dad and I moved into our new ever-so-slightly cosmetically damaged house. We’d scored a decent two bedroom prefabricated house with patched siding damage on the back. Sure, it wasn’t as solid as a house of standard construction, but it had been installed well and included a great additional front porch. Once I paid Pietro off—in a decade or so—and maybe got some extra money, we could replace that siding, but for now I didn’t give much of a crap. The damage was on the back, so the only people who’d see it were people who were welcome here and wouldn’t care.

And now here we were, throwing a frickin’ housewarming party. I checked that the beer keg for the non-zombies was tapped and that there were plenty of non-alcoholic beverages set out. The parasite considered alcohol a toxin and burned up brains to clear the body of it—a waste of brains without even a buzz to show for it.

My phone rang as I checked to see if we had any more big bowls. I dug it out of my pocket, peered at the caller ID. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway.

“Hello, Angel. It’s Ariston Nikas.”

“Hi, Dr. Nikas!” I said brightly. “How’s it going?” I’d only been back to the lab once in the past six weeks, but he’d let me help with the monthly examination of the heads and changing the medium in their vats. Totally gross, and I’d loved every second of it.

“Good. It’s going good,” he said. “I, ah, wanted to thank you for the invitation and let you know that I won’t be able to make it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied quite truthfully, “but I understand.”

“Yes, I don’t do well in crowds,” he said, “so best to see me in the lab. Have a lovely evening, and I’ll see you soon.”

“Sure thing, Dr. Nikas,” I said. I couldn’t help but smile. I really liked Dr. Nikas, and it warmed my silly little heart that he’d bothered to call.

Marcus called out from the door as I hung up. “Anyone home?”

“In the dining room!” I hollered back. My house had a dining room. How cool was that? Sure, the place would never be mistaken for one of Pietro’s houses, but I still enjoyed a nice twinge of pride.

Laden with grocery bags, Marcus entered the dining room. He’d shed the cast only a few days ago, finally able to let go of faking his broken leg which had now “healed.” That had been weeks of torture for the poor guy, and stuck on desk duty as an added torment.

“Evening, Mr. Crawford,” he said right before I draped my arms around his neck and gave him a very nice kiss. I heard my dad mutter something in response to Marcus’s greeting, but we both ignored him as Marcus kissed me right back. The last couple of weeks of living with Marcus had sorely tested the abilities of both men to remain civil, and all three of us were seriously glad when the house was ready.

I broke the kiss, then glanced back at my dad to see him poking at the hors d’oeuvres again. “Those are done, Dad,” I told him. “You’re not used to an oven that works.”

Smiling, Marcus set the bags on the table. “What do you need help with?”

If he thought I’d give him a polite “Oh don’t worry, I have it” he was sorely mistaken. I proceeded to weigh him down with a list of tasks, and then I did my best to keep my dad from burning the finger food.

People began to trickle in, and before I knew it we had an honest-to-god party going on. Among others, I’d invited everyone from the Coroner’s Office, as well as Detectives Roth and Abadie, since I worked with them on so many scenes. Ben Roth arrived with his boyfriend, Neil, a rugged blond with a carefree smile and a great sense of humor. And, to my utter shock, Mike Abadie showed up too, though he claimed he was only there to soak up my food and beer in payback for having to put up with me. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Allen Prejean didn’t stop by, for which I was more than a little relieved. My animosity with Abadie was entertaining. Not so much with Allen. Plus, while the thin “scar” on my thumb looked real enough at a casual glance, it wouldn’t hold up to any close inspection since it was little more than a temporary tattoo. Brian had helped me out with that. Apparently I wasn’t the first zombie who found it necessary to accessorize with a fake scar.

“Not bad,” Nick said to me after the party was in full swing. He took a sip of his beer and cast his gaze around the living room.

“Thanks,” I said. “I got a really good deal on the place.”

“You’re settling in all right?”

I nodded. “It’s weird. I mean, I lived in that other house my whole life. But this one’s pretty nice.”

“I guess after what you went through, having a place of your own again has to feel good.”

“It does,” I admitted. Through the back window I could see people sitting in lawn chairs, laughing and talking. It was still a bit of a holy crap for me to realize I actually had a lawn. Pietro had thrown in all new landscaping as a housewarming gift. Grass, bushes, trees, even a frickin’ gazebo. “I mean, Marcus and I are doing great now,” I continued, “but I’m still not ready to move in for real or anything. And besides, my dad still needed a place to live.”

A combined expression of disappointment and hope passed briefly over his face before being controlled and replaced with a typical Nick disinterested expression. “Sure. Great that your dad can have that now.”

Sometimes I could be a little slow on the uptake, but I was starting to figure out that Nick liked me. And while I liked him well enough as a friend, I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel anything more—even if I wasn’t already involved with Marcus. However, this was the first time I’d ever been in this position, and I didn’t have the faintest clue how to handle it.

“So, um, I rescheduled my GED,” I said, scrambling to neutral ground. “Two months from now. You still up for pounding knowledge into my skull?”

He gave a diffident shrug. “If you still need it, I can make myself available,” he said casually.

“Hell yeah, I still need it.” I smiled. “And I’m also gonna get tested to see if there’s a reason I’m so darn thick-headed.”

“That’s a good idea,” he said, then abruptly looked discomfited. “I didn’t mean that you’re thick-headed. It’s just good to find out about the possibility of dyslexia.”

I laughed softly. “I know. It’s cool.” I actually already knew the answer. I intended to get tested to make it official, but delving into my school records had uncovered preliminary screening suggesting dyslexia with further testing recommended—testing that my mother had flatly refused to pursue. There was even a note in the records about repeated inquiries to Mrs. Crawford that had been rebuffed. Had my mother known the hell I went through because of that? And if so, had she cared?

I doubted it. Made me all the more grateful to have people around me now who cared for real.

I gave Nick a smile. “GED, here I come.” Over his shoulder I saw more people come in. “Oh, there’s Dr. Leblanc…Good god, and the coroner. I’d better go say hi.” I gave Nick a hug. “Thanks for everything.”

He returned the hug, then released me with only a trace of reluctance. “No problem,” he said gruffly.

Smiling, I moved off and greeted the new arrivals, then found myself drawn into a bizarre conversation with Dr. Leblanc, Derrel, Dr. Duplessis, and Mike Abadie about the usefulness of the examination of stomach contents in solving murder cases. I finally excused myself to check on drinks, only to be surprised as all hell when I saw Pietro and Jane Pennington enter—followed by Brian in his black suit and looking every inch the personal security guard.

I gave Brian a smile and wave. He responded with a slight nod and then returned to checking out exits and possible threats and whatever the hell else someone in his position did.

“Pietro! Jane!” I said, grinning. “I didn’t think y’all would come. Thanks!”

“We almost didn’t,” Jane admitted after giving me a quick but warm hug of greeting. “My flight was delayed an hour, and we literally came straight from the airport.”

“I’m really glad you could make it,” I said fervently. I hadn’t spent much time with the woman, but she was already one of my favorite people. “It’s not a mansion,” I continued, gesturing around me, “but it’s definitely a step up from the old place.”

“It’s a nice house,” Pietro said with an approving smile. “And the landscaping turned out well.”

“Yes, thanks so much for that. I have a lawn! And an actual driveway!” Grinning, I looked to Jane. “Not even a year ago, the driveway was paved with crushed beer cans. I had quite the trashy look going on.”

She wrinkled her nose, chuckled. “Yes, I can see the appeal of pavement.”

I gave a mock shudder. “I’m almost respectable!”

“Angel, I’m sorry, but we can’t stay,” Pietro said. “Jane has a heavy schedule. However, we wanted to at least stop by.”

“That’s cool,” I said. “I appreciate that you came at all.”

We made our goodbyes, with Pietro surprising the hell out of me by giving me an honest-to-god hug and a kiss on the cheek before heading to the door with Jane.

Brian stepped up to me before they exited. “I’m with them, so I can’t stay, but I wanted to congratulate you on your new home.” He smiled, and I had the sense he was referring to more than just the physical house.

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