The cake has vanished, leaving behind only crumbs. Ignacio Suarez is saying goodbye to the last remaining relatives, who are finally shuffling out the door. Hilda and Bobby took off about twenty minutes ago after kisses, hugs and a bouquet toss that resulted in Amanda knocking down five people to catch it. The DJ, clearly ready to be on his way, is playing worse and worse music.
So Daniel and Betty are alone on the dance floor, swaying to "Everything I Do, I Do It For You."
"I thought they declared this song cruel and unusual punishment. Like, the Geneva Convention added a rule about it or something," Daniel says.
"He's going to keep going back in time." Betty gives the DJ a sympathetic glance as Daniel half-spins her out, then brings her back into his arms. "Next we'll probably be dancing to Air Supply. We really ought to stop after this."
"Do you want to stop?" The question suddenly seems to ask a lot more than Daniel meant to say – or maybe it's exactly what he meant to say. He's not sure. Today's realizations are as confusing as they are wonderful, and he's not quite ready to decide what to do about them yet. Quickly he covers himself. "Do you have – someplace to be? A phone call to make?"
"Nope." That brilliant smile spreads across her face. "Okay. One more song. Then we really have to let this guy leave."
Justin, glowing with happiness, has his tawny blazer slung over one shoulder as he heads for the door. "Seriously, you two. Get a room." Daniel thinks he's blushing, but Betty hasn't caught it – she just sticks a tongue out at her departing nephew.
"I'm so happy for him," she murmurs, resting her head on Daniel's shoulder. He brings his arm further up her back in the hopes it will keep her there longer.
"You mean, the thing with Austin? Seems like a nice kid."
"Well, yeah, Austin, but just the fact that he came out to us. Finally."
"Wait. Justin wasn't out already?"
Betty swats his arm. "No. And don't let on that we already knew, okay? I mean, of course we knew. But still, telling everybody – dancing with Austin like that – it took courage."
Before, Daniel had been thinking that probably he should take it slow, think things through, spend a little more time with Betty and see what developed. But now he looks down at the woman in his arms and asks himself if he's going to let himself be outclassed by a 16-year-old kid. Okay, an extremely brave 16-year-old kid, but still.
The DJ fades Bryan Adams into Vanilla Ice. As "Ice Ice Baby" rings through the reception hall, Betty and Daniel both stop dancing and start laughing. "You win!" Betty calls to the DJ, who grins in victory.
"C'mon," Daniel says, taking her hand. "Let's grab a drink."
She looks surprised at the invitation, but not displeased. "Sure. That sounds like fun." As she peers around Daniel's shoulder, she calls, "Papi? Daniel and I are headed out. Are you okay here?"
"Fine," Ignacio says, though he looks a bit harried as he walks toward them. "The party-supply guys were supposed to be here to pick this stuff up by now. Don't know what's keeping them. And I don't want to pay an extra night's rent on a disco ball, you know?" He sighs. "You kids have fun."
They stroll out into the East Village – a corner of Manhattan Daniel visits rarely. The Suarezes must come here even less often, but as Hilda had said, when you gotta reserve a wedding hall less than six months in advance, you take what you can get. Although Daniel has always heard that this area was gentrifying fast, it looks a little rough to him; some garbage cans have been turned over, and a store window across the street was broken at some point this afternoon. He puts his arm around Betty's shoulder and pulls her closer. "Let's grab a taxi, okay? I don't like the look of this neighborhood."
"Please. Just because they practically mop the sidewalks in front of your place doesn't mean everywhere else is the Third World." Betty glances downward. "I might take you up on that taxi, though. These heels aren't the best for walking."
Despite the early evening darkness, Daniel can see an angry stripe across her ankle, near the strap. "I shouldn't have kept you dancing so long."
"I didn't notice while we were dancing."
Betty ducks her head a bit as she says it, and Daniel feels a tremendous leap within his chest. But he's momentarily distracted when he sees a block of lights farther down 11th Street flicker and go out.
Huh. Block-wide blackouts aren't totally uncommon in New York, but they usually lead to traffic chaos. Seeing it also, and no doubt drawing the same conclusion, Betty groans.
"We'll never get a cab now. We'd better walk. Hang on a sec, okay?" She sits on the nearest stoop to adjust the strap of her shoe. "This might help."
Daniel sits beside her. To his happy surprise, she leans against his shoulder as she fiddles with the strap; this is as good a reason as any to put his arm around her again.
Betty laughs. "We're being awfully flirty tonight."
Potential meaning overload! Is she saying that because she likes it? Or is it a bad sign, like, she thinks them flirting is so absurd that it would have to be a joke? Daniel tries to stay cool. "Yeah, we are."
"Maybe it's something about weddings." Shoe forgotten, she sits a little straighter, but he doesn't remove his arm. "Champagne and romance and – you know, all that."
"Hey." Daniel rubs his thumb against the bare skin of her shoulder. "I am your date, after all."
"Only because we both kind of failed at our last relationship attempts." Betty removes the clip from her hair and breathes out in relief; thick, dark curls tumble down onto her shoulders.
When did she learn how to do a blowout? Daniel wants to find whoever taught her and give that person a Maserati. Because it turns out that Betty's hair is amazing.
He tries to remain on-topic. "Trista wasn't exactly a relationship yet. Luckily for my brain cells."
That's a joke, but Betty doesn't laugh. "I'm sorry – I was kind of mean about her. Maybe Trista wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box, but when I met her she seemed genuinely nice."
"She is." At first it seems like they should get off the subject of Trista as quickly as possible, but then Daniel thinks better of that. "Why were you so anti-Trista, anyway? If you felt she was basically okay."
"I told you. She made you dumb." But there's a tiny bit of hesitation in Betty's voice – like she's asking herself, for the first time, whether his relationship with Trista bothered her for any other reason. She shakes it off and throws it back at him, but playfully. "And why were you so anti-Henry? I know we had our share of drama – and then some – but it's not like he was some crazy abusive stalker ex or anything."
This is it. Daniel takes a deep breath. "I told myself I was just protecting you. But tonight, at the reception, I realized – I acted that way about Henry because I was jealous."
She blinks, as if she doesn't trust what she just heard. He plows on.
"I didn't want you to bring him to the wedding. I wanted to be your date. I wanted to be with you."
"You mean – you don't mean – how long have you – ?" Her voice trails off as he reaches up to stroke her hair.
For a moment, Daniel wonders if he's rushing this, if he should have wined and dined her for a few weeks to win her over, but he can't turn back. He doesn't want to. He weaves his fingers deeper in her hair, making it unmistakably a romantic caress.
"Daniel." Betty says it almost as if she's chastising him – the way she does when she wants him to be serious. But he's never been more serious.
Heart thumping, he slides his hand around to cradle the curve of her face in his palm. Betty looks more astonished than anything else, but she doesn't pull away.
So he leans closer, lips parted –
-when, across the street, someone screams.
They jerk apart, as if they've been caught making out under the bleachers at a junior high dance. Daniel's equal parts irritated and chagrined when he sees a disheveled woman, apparently drunk, stumbling toward them. As Betty hurriedly smoothes her hair, he asks, trying to keep his voice even, "Can we help you?"
The disheveled woman cocks her head, and the part of Daniel's mind that has, against its will, been paying attention to editing a fashion magazine for the past four years registers that her dress is from the Versace line for spring. This is an awfully rich drunk disheveled woman wandering around the streets screaming at random. Her skin seems strangely gray, too.
"Um, Daniel?" Betty whispers. She points toward the corner, where another woman is running away like hell; that had to be the actual screamer. So what happened to her, and why is this drunk still shuffling closer?
Time to be firm and take charge of the situation. That's a manly kind of thing to do, right? Might actually score some points with Betty to make up for the enormous point loss involved in kiss interruptus. "I think it's time for you to head back home, or to the party, or wherever it is you came from."
"Brains!" The woman thrusts her arm toward them, which is just violent enough to be alarming, but not nearly as alarming as when her arm just falls off holy shit HER ARM IS FALLING OFF and she DOES NOT CARE because she ISN'T HUMAN.
Betty screams so loudly that Daniel can hear it over his own scream. There's no telling which of them leaps up first, but within a fraction of a second they're both skittering away from the newly one-armed lady. For her part, she no longer seems interested in them; instead, she keeps excitedly rasping, "Fifteen pounds! Fifteen pounds!"
And then they're running, and Daniel's fairly sure he's doing pinwheel arms. When Betty stumbles, he remembers the thing with her shoe, so he grabs her hand to keep towing her along. They bound up the front steps of the reception hall, and the door swings open to admit them a split second before they would slam into it. Together they spill into the foyer just in time to see Ignacio swing the door soundly shut behind them.
As Daniel tries to catch his breath, which he apparently left half a block back, Betty yelps, "What was that?"
"Zombies," say Marc, Amanda, Justin, Austin, Hilda and Bobby, in unison, from their huddle in the center of the dance floor.
Daniel and Betty stare at the group, and although he'd like to ask how they all got back there, a much more pressing question demands his full attention: "….zombies?"
"They're all over the freakin' city!" Hilda cries from her place within Bobby's arms. "We couldn't even get to the Radisson. There's burning cars in the streets and windows broken outta all the stores."
"Zombies?" Daniel repeats.
"It's epic chaos out there." Amanda says. "Tell them, wee gay elves."
This apparently means Justin and Austin. "You would not even believe what they did to the MaxMara boutique," Justin says. "But they left the Forever 21 totally alone. It's as if they're deliberately destroying the best stuff in the city. Is even Pinkberry safe?"
"Zombies usually retain the priorities they had in life," Ignacio says.
Betty and Daniel look at each other, then at Ignacio. Betty's apparently still lost for words, and all Daniel can manage is another, "….zombies?"
Marc sighs. "You can repeat that question as many times as you want, and the answer won't change. Believe me, I tried."
"Dad, how do you know about zombies?" Betty lets go of Daniel's hand to walk back toward her father. "Is this from a horror movie you saw or something? Do they have, I don't know, horror telenovelas?"
Ignacio shakes his head. "Back in Mexico, I once had to fight an uprising. That's where I learned the arts of zombie hunting."
"But – but – " Betty sputters, "You said you were a cook in Mexico!"
"It's not either/or, mija. The zombie hunting thing was sort of a part-time gig."
"You know about this?" Daniel isn't sure what he's feeling right now, but besides panic and the urge to laugh uncontrollably, he's starting to sense a faint glimmer of hope. "You know how to defeat the, wow, it's really hard to say this. The zombies?"
Ignacio shrugs. "Mostly you just need baseball bats and superior numbers. But this uprising – it's enormous. If they're shutting down New York City, there must be thousands of 'em. Never heard of anything like it."
Folding her arms, Betty says, "But you had heard of, and fought, zombies, and you just never bothered to mention it?"
"Like you would've believed me?" Ignacio shoots back. "No kids ever believe their dad could possibly have once been cool. And zombie hunting is definitely cool."
"Mega-cool. So cool it's hot." Amanda gives Ignacio a searching look. "So, that Elena lady, is she your girlfriend or are you, like, available for some silver fox action?"
"I have to throw up now," Betty says. Daniel pats her shoulder.
Excitedly, Austin holds up his iPhone. "I'm picking up a broadcast! Most of New York's shut down, but one channel is getting through!"
As the group huddles around the iPhone, Bobby frowns. "You're telling me the only news source we have for Manhattan's zombie apocalypse is Fashion TV?"
"Shhh!" Justin says. "Suzuki's getting started!"
Daniel peers over Austin's shoulder as the screen goes white, then reveals Suzuki St. Pierre, slightly frazzled but still on the job. "Someone's taking 'distressed fashion' to a whole new level in New York City this weekend! Zombie hordes are crowding the most exclusive venues in the city, creating devastation, death and serious waits for a table at the best restaurants across Manhattan. Nobody knows what to make of the undead fad, but if you see someone approaching you with ripped jeans and unstyled hair, do not, we repeat, do NOT assume they're only reading the wrong style blogs! If they bite you, you'll be joining the horde, and you can kiss your neatly cuffed formal shorts goodbye!"
"Don't get bitten," Daniel mutters. "Check."
Suzuki continues, "It looks as though the zombies of New York are chiefly interested in premium coffee, luxury real estate, high-end fashion, and brains – and not necessarily in that order! Known hording spots across the city so far include all Starbucks, all Magnolia Bakeries, and that really good low-calorie halal cart on Sixth and 43rd. So if you're in the city and considering a coffee run, maybe think Dunkin' Donuts! Coming up next: What this means for swimwear."
"This is bizarre." Ignacio shakes his head. "The zombie behavior is different from anything else I've ever seen."
Amanda shrugs. "Sounds to me like their priorities are in the right place."
"Mandy, I love you, but I hereby declare you not in charge of our survival tactics." Marc leans past her toward Ignacio. "What are we supposed to do? Just hide out here?"
"Shut UP." Justin gives him a shove. "We can't stay here. There's a Starbucks on the corner."
"There's a Starbucks on every corner of every block in this entire town!" Marc takes a deep breath. "Oh, for my childhood inhaler."
Ignacio begins to pace across the dance floor, where the still-neglected disco ball is scattering diamond-light around the room. "We need a safe, secure location. Someplace without windows, and doors we can lock from the inside."
Betty, Marc and Amanda each say, simultaneously, "The sex room!"
Daniel stares. Everyone else in the room does too. Hilda is the first one who can manage to speak. "If you guys think there's any way you're gonna get out of explaining that one, you are so wrong."
Holding up her hands, Betty says, "It's not what you think. It's a secret sex dungeon –"
"That's pretty much what we thought," Justin says in a small voice.
"—a secret sex dungeon inside MODE, just next to the Closet. Fey Summers set it up years ago for, uh –"
"For her affair with my father," Daniel concludes, sparing Betty the need to do it herself. It's not pleasant to think about, but he can't get over this: "Wait, there's a secret sex dungeon in MODE and nobody told me?"
"We never told you?" Amanda looks stupefied. "Weird. Because it seems like you'd know about it if anyone did. What with being both the editor and a total horndog."
"Leave out the part where you three explain how you know about this," Ignacio says. "If it's as secure as you say, then that's where we should hide out. Now, how do we reach the Meade Publications building?"
"That's 40 blocks uptown," Betty protests. "There's no way we can walk there safely. And where are we going to find a car that will fit all nine of us?"
Hilda raises her hand. "Got that one covered."
Five minutes later, Hilda and Bobby's stretch limo careers through the streets of Manhattan, trailing crape paper streamers, tin cans on strings and several Mylar balloons. From his place behind the wheel, Bobby can't stop laughing. "Dude! This is just like Grand Theft Auto!"
"Stop laughing and floor it, would you?" Hilda, next to him, scrambles to fasten his seat belt around her new husband, then turns to her own. "This is freaking me out."
"It's nervous laughter, baby." But Bobby barrels through some trash cans abandoned in the middle of the street like a guy who seriously enjoys Grand Theft Auto.
In the back of the limo are long leather sofas that provide seating for up to six passengers, and seven passengers. So Daniel is sitting on the red shag-carpeted floor in the center, feeling more than a little stupid, but mostly he's trying to wrap his mind around the whole zombie thing. So is everyone else in the car – except Ignacio and Betty.
"I still can't believe there was this whole part of your life you never told us about, Dad." Betty's arms are folded in a way Daniel has learned to interpret as extremely annoyed; do not aggravate; get own lunch; maybe soothe with Funyuns from the eighth-floor vending machine. "You were a zombie hunter. That is a really huge secret to keep!"
"Parents don't tell their children everything." Ignacio leans toward her. "Betty, come on. Would you have believed me?"
She just hugs herself tighter. "That's not the point. The point is that if people – people you're really close to and you care about – if there's something massively important they're keeping secret, they should tell you. Because if they don't, then you have to rethink everything that's happened over the past few days or weeks or months, and you don't even know what to believe anymore."
Daniel begins to suspect this isn't entirely about Ignacio's zombie hunting. He opens his mouth to speak, thinks better of it and turns to the limo's minibar to see if maybe it contains Funyuns. It doesn't.
"Hey, are those chocolate turtles?" Amanda reaches past him to grab a box of candies. "Give it here."
"Just because we're having an emergency doesn't mean you can forget calories," Marc says, smacking her hand. "Think of your hips!"
Amanda just smacks back. "You know I eat in times of crisis, and the bigger the crisis, the hungrier I get. So I'm starving."
"Oh, crap." Hilda suddenly sits bolt upright in her seat, one hand to the bodice of her wedding gown. "We got zombies, dead ahead."
Sure enough, the street in front of them is crowded with tattered zombies, all of whom are shuffling toward the limo as Bobby hits the brakes. It looks like several dozen people all decided to go zombie and gather on this street at once.
"What do I do?" Bobby says. "Do I run 'em down or go around? Ignacio?"
Ignacio shakes his head. "Depends. Sometimes zombies are dead, in which case, you can't exactly make things worse. But sometimes they're just – you know, gahhhh."
"Gahhh?" Panic is not improving Betty's temper. "You have this whole zombie-hunter past and the best explanation you can come up with is gahhh?"
"Gahhh!" yells Bobby, as zombies launch themselves onto the car.
"Lock the doors!" Hilda says, though they'd done that already.
"Dad, come on," Betty says, more urgently. "Are they dead or not dead? If they're not dead – if there's a chance those people could get better – we have to do things differently."
Marc adds, "And if they are dead, can we just run them down already?"
"I can't tell without getting closer," Ignacio says. "And thanks but no thanks. Not until I get a baseball bat."
Then there's a scrabbling overhead, and Daniel feels a leap of fear before he reminds himself that the zombies can't get through the roof of the car –
-and looks up, then thinks, Oh, it's a sunroof.
The glass shatters. Everyone screams, especially Daniel, who is directly beneath the sunroof window. Shards of glass shower down, and powerful hands seize his arms and neck. Before he can even grab anything to hang on to, the zombies are towing him up and out of the car. He rolls off the limo, falls to the pavement and tries to run, but they're already on him, dragging him down.
As Daniel tumbles backward, the terror spikes to a point he's never known before, where everything sort of turns surreal. It's like he's watching what's happening to him instead of experiencing it, and every detail unfolds in slow-motion: the slam of the asphalt against his back, the grayish-blue flesh of the zombies now looming above, the Pucci scarf one of the zombies has around her neck.
"Daniel!" Betty cries. He glances over his shoulder to see that she's halfway out of the limo door in an attempt to come after him, with only Ignacio and Justin's hands holding her back.
"Betty, get back in the car! Get out of here!" But they're on him now, and Daniel can't look at her any longer; he flings his arms over his face and tries to think of some good last words. At least something better than the first thing that's coming to mind, which is, Fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck.
One of the zombies croaks, "Tag Heuer."
There's a pause. Daniel dares to glance between his arms. The zombies have all refocused their attention – not on him, but on his $4,000 Tag Heuer wristwatch.
"Uhhhhnnhhh," another zombie rasps. "Knockoff."
"It's the real thing," Daniel says. With sweaty fingers he fumbles at the wristband. "They're – they're an advertiser at the magazine – uh, we get these comped – it's an advance model. Won't be available to the public until fall."
"Unnnnnhhhnnnh!" The zombies each smile excitedly, if you can call that facial expression a smile, and lunge toward the watch. Daniel gets it loose just in time and throws it as far as he can. All of the zombies shuffle after it, except one who swings his grayish hand at Daniel's throat.
"Don't you want the watch?" Daniel tries, pushing himself back on all fours like a crab.
Its gravelly voice says, "Armani."
"Oh! You want the necktie? Take it." Slipping the knot loose just enough to get it over his head, Daniel tosses the tie away too, and then he's zombie-free. He scrambles to his feet, ready to run but not sure where, to see that the limousine is still there, door still open, because Betty didn't budge. Daniel dashes back to her and half jumps, half gets towed back inside.
As Austin slams the door shut behind him, Bobby steps on the gas again and the limo burns rubber. Daniel gasps hard for breath, almost – but not quite – too freaked out to notice that Betty's still hanging onto his hand. "Jesus. That was – too close."
"Way scary," Amanda confirms. "I think I peed myself a little."
Marc wrinkles his nose. "Overshare."
Ignacio looks sternly at Daniel. "You have to strip."
He can't have heard that correctly. "Wait, what?"
"We have to make sure you weren't bitten," Ignacio says. "The bite has a numbing effect; you might not have felt it. But if you're changing into a zombie – Daniel, I'm sorry, but you can't stay with us."
"Dad!" Betty protests.
But Daniel can see his point. Still … "Just – strip? Right here?"
"Please," Marc scoffs. "Like this is the first time you've taken your clothes off in the back of a limousine."
Amanda grins. "I've seen him do it."
Betty gets a weird look on her face, and Daniel decides to get started before Amanda explains any further. So he kicks off the shoes, unbuckles the belt and starts tossing pieces of clothing off as quickly as he can. When he gets down to his purple silk boxers, he stops, and Ignacio gives him a little nod like, That'll do. "If they'd bitten you there, numbing effect or not, you would've noticed."
"Definitely," Daniel agrees.
"Check him all over, everyone," Ignacio says to the entire group in the limo. "Every inch. If you see a bite, you tell me. Sorry – I know this is, you know, weird."
Simultaneously, Betty, Marc, Amanda, Justin and Austin all say, in a rather dreamy tone of voice, "That's okay."
And then there are hands everywhere, lots of hands. Daniel is only interested in Betty's, which remain above his waist. She seems totally focused on checking him for zombie bites, though the stroking motions all over his body suggest that the rest of the group is more easily distracted.
"I don't see any flaws," Austin sighs. "I mean, bites. No bites anywhere."
Daniel slumps against the limo door in relief, although there's a strong breeze coming in through the shattered sunroof, and he's now almost naked, so it's a very chilly relief.
"MODE's only a couple of blocks ahead!" Hilda shouts. They perk up in newfound hope – all of them, that is, except Amanda, who starts going through the minibar again.
"We need to know this before we try to get inside the building." Ignacio leans closer to Daniel. "You got close to the zombies. You can tell us. Were they more blue-looking or yellow-looking?"
"They were mostly gray scary dead looking," Daniel says.
"Think, Daniel! More blue or more yellow?"
He closes his eyes, thinks of the scene on the street and shudders, but he has the answer. "More blue."
"Then these zombies are still alive." Ignacio shakes his head. "They could be saved if we figure out how. Good news for them, but it means we can't just destroy them to clear our way."
"Not gonna be an issue," Bobby says.
"Whaddaya mean?" Then Hilda screams as Bobby accelerates even faster. "Holy shit, hang on!"
Everyone shouts as the limo jumps the curb and rams through the front doors of the Meade Publications building. Bricks and plaster tumble from the walls, and the limousine only stops when it rams the reception desk. They're all thrown forward so hard it knocks the breath out of them, but that's as bad as it gets.
"Told ya!" Bobby crows triumphantly. "We're in!"
They run into the MODE offices just in time to hear Daniel's mom say, throatily, "I'm your mother." She and Tyler must have made it up, he figures.
Sure enough, when the whole party walks into that room, Claire, Tyler and (of all people) Wilhelmina are standing around looking awfully intense, and in Tyler's case pretty disheveled. But he's not a zombie. Not gray enough. And what is he holding?
"You've got a gun!" Amanda squeals, grabbing it from him and spinning around the room in glee, causing the entire roomful of people to duck and cover their heads. "God, you are SO SMART, because this thing is going to come in handy. Also, that was kind of hot. We're gonna try that later, but with a toy gun. And you'll be the one wearing boxers instead of Daniel. Okay?"
Ignacio gingerly holds up one hand. "Amanda, could you give me the gun? Please?"
As she does so, everyone stands again. Claire frowns. "Thank God you're here. But what in the world is going on? Daniel, why are you in your underwear? And Hilda – weren't you getting married today?"
Before Daniel can explain, Hilda flashes her ring and a grin. "Yeah, it was gorgeous." But her face falls as she adds, "Too bad the zombie apocalypse had to mess up my wedding night."
Claire, Wilhelmina and Tyler all stare at her. After a long moment, Claire says, "… zombies?"
"How did you not hear about this?" Justin says. "Hel-LO, there's not a single latte left in this city."
Wilhelmina sucks in a breath at that, but she too can only come up with, "… zombies?"
"I know it sounds crazy," Daniel says, "but it's really happening. The city's breaking down completely."
"We filmed the carnage," Austin says, holding up his iPhone to show them the footage he shot from the limousine. "There they are tearing up the Coach store."
As they watch, they look shell-shocked, and Daniel thinks it has nothing to do with the innocent handbags lost in the melee. He gives them the only reassuring news he has: "Mr. Suarez knows something about this, and he says we need to hole up someplace safe, someplace secure – "
"The sex room," Claire and Wilhelmina say in unison.
Daniel sighs. "Dammit, did everyone know about that place but me?" Marc makes a mock-considering face, one finger to his cheek, then nods.
"I'm going to assume none of you is brave enough to pull a prank on me." Wilhelmina refluffs her curls. "So, fine. Either you've all gone insane at once – not impossible, but not likely – or this thing is actually happening. So what do we do? Just close ourselves in the sex room and hope for the best?"
"We need provisions," Ignacio says. "Whatever food or beverages you have in the office should go in this … special room. Cushions and blankets too, because it looks like we're spending the night." He clears his throat. "I assume there's a bed in there, but if it was built to accommodate this many people for … certain activities … I'm not lying down on that thing."
"I call a do-over on our honeymoon," Bobby says. Hilda gives him a sympathetic hug.
"Does the door lock?" Ignacio asks.
"It's a secret sex room!" Marc snaps. "What do you expect it to have, a revolving door? Of course it locks!"
"Don't be grouchy," Betty says, though not unkindly. Ignacio perks up a bit to hear his younger daughter defending him again. They trade wary smiles, and Daniel has to grin as well. Betty's an extremely forgiving person, as he's had reason to be very grateful for.
Marc breathes out so sharply he flutters the front of his pompadour. "Sorry, Mr. Suarez. I'm just a little tense what with the whole Troy thing and the zombies and all."
Tyler, half-slumped against the light table, says, "…zombies?"
"I know how you feel." For the first time, Daniel actually has real sympathy for his half-brother.
"It's going to be okay," Claire says, putting one arm around Tyler. "I think. I wouldn't actually know. But let's go with that, shall we? And Daniel, you never told me why you're in your underwear."
"Really, Daniel." Wilhelmina purses her lips. "Is there literally no occasion to which your first response is not to drop trou?"
"My suit has broken glass and … zombie cooties all over it," Daniel says. "I'll grab something from the Closet."
"Good plan," Ignacio says. "And Betty, get yourself some better shoes. No telling if we might have to run again."
"Can do. Shoes are the only things in the Closet that actually fit normal people," Betty says.
Claire says to Tyler, "Are you okay?"
"I'm totally sober," he says. "Funny how you hear about zombies on the rampage and the vodka in your bloodstream just seems to disappear."
"They should've tried that in rehab," Claire muses.
They break apart into teams – Amanda knows where all the food is hidden, and Marc insists that the sample fur throws from Prada will make wonderful blankets. People are hurrying back and forth in every direction, which is why Daniel almost doesn't notice the moment when he and Betty are left alone in the Closet. He's too busy wriggling into a cashmere V-neck. "Hey, you should look for the Tory Burch flats," he calls to her as he tries to get his arms into the right holes. "I'm pretty sure they've got a tangerine pair in for next week's shoot. Not exactly ideal running shoes, but they'd work better than your heels."
"Yeah?" His head emerges from the neck of the sweater.
Betty's standing there in the corner, hugging her lilac wrap around her, looking both very adorable and very nervous. "Is this a weird time to ask for a relationship clarification?"
"Oh! No, of course not." Then he thinks about what he just said. "Okay, yeah, it's a weird time. But it's not like the zombie apocalypse is going to stop being weird anytime soon. So we might as well, um, talk."
"Right. Of course!" She becomes overly chirpy, the way she does sometimes when she's feeling uneasy. "What happened before – or, I should say, nearly happened before, because nothing actually happened – was that just, you know, the wedding reception? Champagne and romance and all that?"
Daniel takes a deep breath. "No."
"Oh." The chirpiness fades, and now she's studying him with an expression he can't read.
But it's not dismayed, or grossed out, or anything obviously bad, so maybe that's a good thing? He steps a little closer. "I shouldn't have just – hit on you like that. I should've asked you out. Done it right."
When he says this, Daniel is hoping for some hint as to whether the answer to such an invitation would be positive or negative. But Betty's train of thought is on a different track. "Daniel, why didn't you ever tell me how you felt before tonight? So much of the past several months looks incredibly different to me now, and … it feels strange that you weren't being open with me."
"What looks different?"
She folds her arms. "The way you went after Matt when he was being rude to me? How awkward you got when you asked me if we kissed while you were on Level Seven? Why you felt threatened by my talking with Tyler?"
God, it's so obvious. Why did it only become obvious now? "I guess this has been going on longer than I realized. But I wasn't hiding anything from you, Betty. Until Hilda's speech at the wedding reception, I honestly didn't understand that –" He swallows hard. "That I've been falling for you."
Betty's eyes are wide as she hugs her wrap even more tightly. But then, with her usual, impeccably inconvenient timing, Amanda comes sashaying through the Closet with an enormous Virginia ham in her arms – maybe 30 pounds. When they stare at her, she just says, "What?" before strutting past them into the sex room.
Groaning in frustration, Betty leans against the wall of shoes. "I wish we were having this conversation somewhere private. Somewhere safe. Not here, and not during a zombie apocalypse."
"And while you were wearing pants."
Daniel realizes he's only got on a cashmere sweater and the purple boxers. "Oh, right."
Quickly he grabs some jeans from the nearby rack, but the few seconds it takes him to put them on shatter the moment, or so it seems. Betty's already putting on the Tory Burch flats. Maybe he ought to let it go for now, but he can't quite. "Betty?"
"Yeah?" She turns back to him, biting her lip.
"I know I don't deserve you," he says quietly. "But I'd like the chance to try."
Betty shakes her head a little, which looks like a no, but before Daniel's heart has time to plummet to the floor, the rest of the party comes in, arms heaped high with fake furs. "Do we need to collect towels?" Marc says. "They always say that in emergencies on TV. You need towels, hot water, string and scissors."
Wilhelmina punches his arm. "That's what you need when someone goes into labor, Marc. Thank God we don't have that to deal with."
"I've got signal!" Austin yelps from within the sex room, and everyone bustles in; Betty pulls the door shut behind them. Daniel can't help but stare: a huge four-poster bed. Mannequins in fetish wear. Warhol portraits of Fey Sommers on every wall. He really, really does not want to think about his dad in this place.
He tries to sit on one of the oddly thronelike chairs, but there's something hard and uncomfortable on the seat. When Daniel lifts it up to see what it is, he can feel the blood drain from his face.
Amanda snatches the black-and-orange contraption from his hand. "Don't break my mommy's ball gag."
Don't think about where that's been -
"Shhhhhh!" Hilda says, as Austin holds up his iPhone for them all to see. People crowd around the duct-tape sofa while the Fashion TV logo appears.
"News flash!" Suzuki crows. "The cause of the zombie uprising has at last been determined! The culprit: a bad batch of Botox that's infecting the appearance-conscious from coast-to-coast. Why must it always be the beautiful who die young? But look on the bright side. At least if the undead are rampaging through the streets, they're well-dressed and wrinkle-free for a change. It's the most attractive zombie invasion ever!"
"Botox," Marc whispers, glancing at Wilhelmina as his face shifts into horror. "Oh, no. Willie – "
"Don't be ridiculous, Marc. I don't stoop to that cut-rate walk-in clinic stuff. My Botox comes exclusively from specially poisoned Peruvian cows. People who try to do it on the cheap?" Wilhelmina crosses her arms in front of her blazing blue dress. "Well, they get what they pay for."
Suzuki continues, "The hordes are concentrated where the stylish and beautiful gather. New York City? A war zone, particularly in shopping districts. The flyover states? Mostly fine! Los Angeles?" His expression becomes grave as he looks at the camera over the chunky black rims of his glasses. "Word has it the feds are considering nuking the San Andreas fault to send all of Southern California out to sea. Kinder, really."
Daniel thinks over the past few hours with new understanding. "That's why they were distracted by my watch and necktie. The zombies care as much about fashion as they do about … brains or murder or whatever else they usually think about."
Nodding, Betty adds, "And that first zombie we ran into – her arm fell off, but she just kept shouting, 'Fifteen pounds.' That was the weight she thought she'd lost!"
"Did anyone find any mustard?" Amanda asks through a mouthful of ham.
Nobody answers, because they're all paying attention to Suzuki St. Pierre. "How can you tell if the most stylish person in your life has become a zombie? Well, if they try to remove your brains, that's a hint! Other signs include ravenous hunger with a complete disregard for calorie count, and grayish skin that no concealer can disguise. If your fashionable friend is binging and blanching, don't reach for blush and a stun gun – reach for the door!"
Slowly, every other person in the room turns to stare at Amanda, who actually looks a little bluish. She keeps munching on the ham, oblivious.
"Stay tuned to Fashion TV, where we'll keep bringing you all the latest on the invasion: the mayhem, the murder, the clothes," Suzuki says. "But don't think we're going to stop reporting on the fashion world overall! For instance, we're about to spotlight MODE's upcoming New Designer Showcase! Word has it that the MODE offices are bursting at the seams with brand-new designer fashions, one-of-a-kind creations any self-respecting fashion maven would kill to get her hands on! Handbags! Belts! Perfumes! It's all right there!"
"Suzuki, shut up," Daniel says, holding his hands out toward the iPhone like that could stop him. "Please shut up!"
"You heard me: More designer swag than you could ever dream of!" Suzuki crows, as the screen fills with a stock photo of the Meade Publications building. "Right there at 51st and Park!"
The signal suddenly drops, and the lights in the building flicker. For a moment, everyone is silent. Then Marc whispers, "We're at fashionista zombie ground zero."
"Oh crap," Hilda says.
"Stay calm." Ignacio speaks in the low tone Daniel thinks of as his "you won't die of a hangover" voice. "Obviously we can't stay here. The zombies will be coming soon, if they aren't already. We'll have to leave Manhattan – to figure out someplace the fashionistas would never go."
Simultaneously, everybody else in the room says, "Jersey."
"No way am I going through the Lincoln Tunnel right now," Bobby says. "Didn't you guys read The Stand?"
"We can take the GWB," Betty says. "I know it's a long way to go, but the zombies will probably start to thin out above 125th Street."
"What about Amanda?" Tyler is leaning over her, as is Marc, but Amanda doesn't seem to much care. She just clutches her ham a little tighter. "Is she – you know – changing? Or is this just how she eats?"
"Both, I think." Ignacio steps a little closer to her. "Amanda? How are you feeling?"
"Really hungry. Also kind of itchy?" She wrinkles her nose.
"Tell me one thing," Ignacio says. "Are you taking antibiotics?"
"Yeah, my dentist gave me some," she confirms, then smiles. "Wow, are you psychic? Because psychic plus zombie hunting equals double hot."
"What do antibiotics have to do with it?" Betty asks.
"When the zombies are still alive, like they are this time, they've basically just got a bacterial infection. A really bad one. Obviously." Ignacio adds, "Since Amanda was taking antibiotics, she's fighting it off … more or less."
"Will she turn into a zombie?" Daniel says.
Ignacio thinks this over and then shrugs. "Maybe?"
"Maybe!" Wilhelmina doesn't seem amused. "I say we leave her here."
"No way," Tyler says fiercely, and Daniel realizes for the first time just how substantial this thing with Tyler and Amanda might be. Marc puts one arm around Amanda, clutching her to his side.
"There's no need to abandon her at this point," Ignacio says. "So far she's stable. As long as we can keep feeding her, she might be okay."
"See?" Marc says. "That's just like any other day. No problem!"
Claire cuts in, "So how do we get to the George Washington Bridge? I mean, literally. I've never been that far north in Manhattan before."
"First things first," Betty says, suddenly decisive. "The zombies are headed here for the swag, right? That means, well, we're probably going to have to fight our way out."
Daniel doesn't like the sound of this.
She starts counting points off on her fingers. "We search the offices. We grab anything that can be used as a weapon. We regroup here and then we get out. Mrs. Meade, help Dad figure out our best route from the building. Marc, don't let Amanda bite anybody. Okay?"
Ignacio beams. "Look at you, mija. You've really got it."
"What have I got?"
"You have a zombie hunter's instincts. They say it passes down, generation to generation. I knew someday one of my descendants would take up the fight. Seems like it's gonna be you."
"Me?" Betty looks around from person to person, including at Daniel, like one of them can correct him. "Why does it have to be me?"
"I feel strongly that it's not me," Justin says.
"Me neither." Hilda shakes her head before frowning and trying to rub a small stain off the skirt of her wedding gown.
"People! Stop bickering and start arming yourselves." Wilhelmina tosses her hair. "I for one am heading to Heinrich's summer collection. The rest of you, join me or die." She strides out toward the Closet, everyone else trailing behind.
Ignacio mutters, "I think she has some zombie hunter in her, too."
Within seconds, they're arming up. Justin and Austin have hot-pink Christian Louboutins on their hands, perhaps thinking to use the stiletto heels as stabbing weapons. Various chain belts are being tried out as weapons, and Hilda even manages to behead a mannequin.
"Mandy, when did you start using Botox?" Marc says as Tyler goes through the hat area. "You're only twenty-hmhmhumhum."
"I wanted to look pretty for the wedding." She stares contemplatively at her ham, then tears off another chunk of meat with her teeth. Daniel finds her pleasure in the exposed bone and gristle somewhat unnerving.
"Hey, somebody stashed some bike helmets in here." Tyler pulls a couple of them out. "We should put these on."
"How does that count as a weapon?" Marc snaps. "What are we supposed to do? Head-butt the zombies to death?"
Amanda leans forward, sniffing Marc's pompadour. "Mmmmm. Your head smells … so good all of a sudden."
Marc looks at Tyler with newfound respect. "I want the silver one."
Daniel, for his part, has grabbed one of Heinrich's "walking sticks," which are basically enormous ebony canes with large bouquets of cut-glass roses on the end. Beautiful to see, dangerous to hold, impossible to sell, and hopefully easy to use for shredding zombies. He doesn't particularly like the idea of shredding anybody, particularly since Mr. Suarez says the zombies are still alive, but he will if they come after Betty or anybody else in this group.
His romantic hopes for Betty already seem dashed; the meaning of her headshake appears clear enough. But Daniel finds himself imagining some heroic, manly Jerry Bruckheimer-style action scene where he rescues Betty. Maybe that would help? Couldn't hurt. But that would require Betty to be in trouble in the first place. That's no good. Instead he could rescue somebody else. A stranger, maybe, so it would be a totally selfless act. Plus manly. And heroic. Betty would have to be just a little bit impressed, wouldn't she?
"Tyler's got the right idea. Everyone take a hat," Ignacio orders, thrusting one at Daniel – the souvenir sombrero Betty brought him from Mexico. "The bike helmets are best, but there's not enough of those to go around, and any hat is one more layer the zombies have to chew through."
"I'm not worried about it." Hilda actually knocks on her hair. "There's enough Aqua Net on this 'do to hold off a nuclear blast."
"Okay, everybody but Hilda."
So much for looking impressive, Daniel thinks, but he knows good advice when he hears it, so he puts the sombrero on. Justin has somehow found a fez, and Austin has grabbed the last remaining MODE team softball hat for himself, dammit. Wilhelmina and his mother have chosen identical satin turbans and glare at each other.
Bobby looks forlorn beneath a frothy concoction of yellow feathers. "Nobody take a picture of me in this."
Betty, who's been digging around for more weapons, emerges in a Russian-style white fur winter cap and lights up when she sees Daniel's hat. "There it is! I was wondering what you did with it." Daniel isn't sure exactly what she expected him to do with a sombrero – wear it while washing dishes? – but before he can think of how to answer her, they hear a crash down the hall.
Everybody freezes. "They're here," Austin whispers.
Daniel says, "Should we grab some of the swag and distract them with it? Like I did when they pulled me out of the limo?"
Ignacio shakes his head, hoisting another of Heinrich's walking sticks. But it's Betty who says, "That worked great for one or two things. But a huge load of swag will just make them even more committed to following us, and slow us down. Our best bet is to leave it here."
"Good thinking," Wilhelmina says. "Now, any ideas about getting us out of this place?"
"Nothing to do but try," Ignacio says.
They all tiptoe together into the tubelike hallway, which is illuminated only by emergency lighting. Betty and Ignacio are in the lead, but Daniel stays right with her, stick at the ready, hoping that is at least manly if not exactly heroic.
"Almost to the elevators," Claire murmurs.
"We're not supposed to take elevators in emergencies," Betty says.
Marc raises an eyebrow. "Forget the fire rules, Jules. We're taking the express down."
But just as they get to the elevator bank, they hear the groans.
There they are: the zombie horde. A couple dozen of them at least, mostly in Chloe though Daniel sees some ruined Oscar de la Renta as well. They all growl louder upon seeing the group, and whether they're more excited about brains or their clothes would be hard to say.
"Brains!" the zombies shout in unison.
Okay, they're more excited about the brains.
"Oh, wait a second!" Betty says, and then takes off running down the hallway, just leaving them there. Daniel doesn't know if he's more chagrined that she did it or that he didn't follow her while he had the chance, because the zombies are shuffling closer now.
"Hey," Amanda says dreamily. "You guys seem really cool. I think I'm gonna hang with you." She wobbles forward, but Marc holds her back.
"Get ready to swing," Ignacio says to Daniel, and he lifts the walking stick higher –
"Did you know," Claire says, suddenly stepping forward to address the zombies, "that brains are mostly fatty tissue?"
The zombies stop. They glance at each other, clearly dismayed, then stare at Claire.
"Absolutely true." She clasps her hands in front of her, like she does when she's trying to look serious; Daniel loves her so much right now that he wants to hug her, but it's probably better to hang onto the stick. "They taught us about this in rehab, because they wanted us to understand that alcoholism damages the brain. By the way, did I mention that my younger son and I are both alcoholics? You wouldn't want ours."
In a nearby office – Betty's? – Daniel hears the sound of breaking glass. Is she okay? He wants to run and see, but the zombies have them surrounded.
"Very, very fatty tissue," Claire adds. "So you can only imagine what eating brains would do to your waistlines."
The fashionista zombies weigh this for a minute, but they don't seem to be able to focus for very long. "Brains!" they yell again, and here they come, and this isn't going to be pretty –
"I'm coming!" Betty yells, and Daniel can hear her footsteps as she runs back through the tube.
"Betty, stay back!" he shouts. Time for heroic to go with the manly. He swings the walking stick at the nearest zombie, but it jumps back quicker than he'd realized they could. Then it grabs the broken-glass bouquets, ignoring the jagged glass that jabs through its hand, and swings the club back at Daniel. The blow hits him across the ribs and sends him sprawling.
Daniel stares up at the zombies, which are closing in fast. The others can't help. Nothing to do but hang onto his sombrero -
From just behind him, Betty yells, "Get away from Daniel!"
Everybody – human or zombie – turns to see Betty at the moment she pushes her neck through her old Guadalajara poncho to wear it once more.
The zombies all screech, a horrifying sound worse than fingernails on chalkboard. They slump to the ground, half-conscious, grimacing and writhing, completely unable to go on while looking at the poncho. Betty has defeated them without a single blow.
Marc whispers, "My God. The poncho is … zombie repellent. Pure genius."
"Thanks." Betty reaches down to take Daniel's hand, and for the first time in hours, she's grinning that beautiful smile. The emergency lighting overhead makes her white fur hat look like a halo.
He says the only thing he possibly can: "My hero."
It's all pretty simple after they get back to the limo. Betty sits atop the sunroof, poncho proudly flying, numbing the zombies as they pass. Soon they're leading an entire convoy of escapee vehicles as they drive over the GWB. In New Jersey, they huddle along with other frazzled survivors in a Citgo near West Orange.
"God, this is delicious." Amanda licks her fingers as she devours a drumstick from the metal bin of assorted fried chicken parts near the counter. She, like the rest of their frazzled group, is sitting on the floor of the Slusho aisle. "I mean, so good. Like sin, but crispier."
"Hey," Tyler says with a smile. "You look a lot less gray. I mean, you look pretty much normal."
"Did she fight off the zombie infection?" Marc asks Ignacio.
But it's Wilhelmina who answers; she's sitting on Marc's red jacket, which she commandeered as a barrier between her and the Citgo floor. "The remedy for overdoses of botulism toxin is usually derived from equine proteins." When everyone stares at her, she snaps, "When you do your own injections at home, you have to know these things! Anyway, I'd assume the fried chicken she's eating was partly treated with horse gelatin."
"Horse gelatin?" Amanda stares at the half-eaten drumstick, shrugs, and takes another bite.
"Do you think the police believed you about the poncho?" Betty asks her father.
Ignacio shrugs. "Hope so. We've told them how to beat the invasion; we just have to trust that they'll listen." He smiles proudly. "My brave zombie hunter."
As Betty disappears into her father's embrace, and Tyler cuddles Amanda, Daniel quietly picks himself up from the floor and walks toward one of the windows. Although he ditched the sombrero a while back, he feels like it's spiritually still in place. What a joke he's been throughout this entire disaster.
"Hey," Betty says as she comes to his side. "How are you?"
"Fine." Then he breathes out sharply. "Well, fine for a guy who nearly got eaten by zombies tonight. Twice. Thanks for saving my life, by the way. If it weren't for you, there wouldn't be anything left of me but the boxers."
"Why do you say it like that? Like you're – embarrassed?" Betty puts one hand on his arm. She, too, has long since abandoned her hat, but she's still wearing the poncho, which Daniel can no longer see as anything but fabulous. "Daniel, you don't have to be ashamed of getting attacked by zombies. It's not your fault or anything."
"And I'm not ashamed of getting rescued by a great hereditary zombie hunter." He manages to smile for her, but only for a second. "It's just – it's stupid, but I thought if I did something, I don't know, macho and awesome tonight – if I rescued somebody or, basically, did anything besides running and cowering – you know. Maybe you'd look at me differently." Surely she understands what he means by that. "Instead I just flailed around like Kermit the Frog introducing an act on the Muppet Show."
Betty stares at him in disbelief. No wonder: Somebody as focused and selfless as Betty probably thinks he's a fool for even thinking about the zombie apocalypse as a dating opportunity.
Then she says, "Daniel, do you remember what you said when the zombies pulled you out of the limousine?"
He doesn't. The only thing that's coming to mind is fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck, but he's almost positive he didn't say that out loud.
She steps closer. "You told me to get back in the car. You were about to get ripped apart by zombies, but you were still worried about me." This seems almost too obvious to be relevant, but Betty keeps going. "When we were running away from that first zombie and my shoe slipped, you caught my hand so I wouldn't fall behind. In the Closet, you figured out the only shoes there I could run in. And even when I was coming to rescue you at the elevators, you wanted me to stay back and be safe. The whole night, no matter how crazy things got, you were always looking out for me." She shakes her head again, just like she did in the Closet, but this time Daniel sees her smile. "That might not be macho, but … it is kind of awesome."
The turnaround of his luck is so sudden that Daniel hardly believes it. "So you're saying – you might – we might –?"
"This is still really new to me, Daniel. I never really thought about us, well, that way before. But now – " Betty tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear, almost coy. "Let's say I'm – open to persuasion."
She actually, finally believes in herself enough to make somebody work for it. Daniel is thrilled to see it, and even more thrilled to be that somebody. A bashful smile spreads across his face. "Well, then, would you come with me to the Diane von Furstenberg event next week?" He says the next more softly. "As my date?"
Her face lights up for an instant, only to be replaced by dismay. "The news said Diane von Furstenberg got eaten."
"Oh, right." Daniel considers. "Maybe a movie."
"That sounds wonderful." Betty kisses him quickly – no more than a touch, no longer than the pecks they've shared after exchanging Christmas presents – but Daniel decides their earlier clinch no longer counts as interruptus. This whole night is just one long, strange pause in a single kiss.
"Welcome back to Fashion TV! Of course, the zombie apocalypse is SO five minutes ago, but we're still counting down the survivors, the slain and the style-conscious throughout it all. Although Isaac Mizrahi is still reported to be on the loose in Chelsea, most major designers are now accounted for. The road to recovery is a rocky one, folks: Known cures include eating gas-station fried chicken, encasing the body in cheap synthetic fibers, prolonged exposure to a La-Z-Boy recliner, and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. But most of the zombie hordes are opting for the treatment, even if it's worse than the disease – at least, once they've lost enough body parts to fit into that size double zero! It's not only a safer world, but a thinner one, and that's news we can all be glad about. Stay with me, Suzuki St. Pierre, for more on the fashion hits and misses of the mayhem, right after this break!"