I yanked the room door open and made my way to the elevator, inputting and then calling the new number.
“Please pick up,” I whispered. The elevator opened, revealing a crowd of young women, probably just a little older than me. They were giggling and slurring their words, half of them discussing their night, the others deciding if they should go to bed or just stay up so they wouldn’t miss their flight home.
“Pick up, damnit,” I said after the first ring. Three rings later, voicemail chimed in.
You’ve reached Trent. You know what to do.
“Ugh,” I huffed, letting my hand fall to my thigh. The door opened, and I walked with purpose to the Bellagio shops.
After searching through too fancy, too trashy, too much lace, too many beads, and too . . . much of everything, I finally found it: the dress I would wear when I became Mrs. Maddox. It was white, of course, and tea length. Fairly plain, really, except for the sheer bateau neckline and a white satin ribbon that tied around the waist. I stood in the mirror, letting my eyes study each line and detail. It was beautiful, and I felt beautiful in it. In just a couple of hours, I would be standing next to Travis Maddox, watching his eyes take in every curve of the fabric.
I walked along the wall, scanning the numerous veils. After trying on the fourth, I placed it back into its cubby, flustered. A veil was too proper. Too innocent. Another display caught my eye, and I walked toward it, letting my fingers run over the different beads, pearls, stones, and metals of various hairpins. They were less delicate, and more . . . me. There were so many on the table, but I kept coming back to one in particular. It had a small, silver comb, and the rest of it was just dozens of different-size rhinestones that somehow formed a butterfly. Without knowing why, I held it in my hand, sure it was perfect.
The shoes were in the back of the store. They didn’t have a huge selection, but luckily I wasn’t super picky and chose the first pair of silver strappy heels I saw. Two straps went over my toes, and two more around my ankle, with a group of pearls to camouflage the belt. Thankfully they had size six in stock, and I was on to the last thing on my list: jewelry.
I chose a simple but elegant pair of pearl earrings. At the top, where they fastened to my ear, was a small cubic zirconia, just flashy enough for a special occasion, and a matching necklace. Never in my life had I wanted to stand out. Apparently even my wedding wouldn’t change that for me.
I thought about the first time I stood in front of Travis. He was sweaty, shirtless, and panting, and I was covered in Marek Young’s blood. That was just six months ago, and now we’re getting married. And I’m nineteen. I’m only nineteen.
What the fuck am I doing?
I stood at the register, watching the receipt being printed out for the dress, shoes, hairpin, and jewelry, trying not to hyperventilate.
The redhead behind the counter tore off the receipt and handed it to me with a smile. “It’s a gorgeous dress. Nice choice.”
“Thank you,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I smiled back or not. Suddenly dazed, I walked away, holding the bag against my chest.
After a quick stop into the jewelry store for a black titanium wedding ring for Travis, I glanced at my phone and then tossed it back into my purse. I was making good time.
When I walked into the casino, my purse began to vibrate. I placed the bag between my legs and reached for it. After two rings, my searching fingers grew desperate, clawing and shoving everything to the side to get to the phone in time.
“Hello?” I screeched. “Trent?”
“Abby? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I breathed as I sat on the floor against the side of the closest slot machine. “We’re fine. How are you?”
“I’ve been sitting with Cami. She’s pretty upset about the fire. She lost some of her regulars.”
“Oh, God, Trent. I’m so sorry. I can’t believe it. It doesn’t seem real,” I said, my throat feeling tight. “There were so many. Their parents probably don’t even know, yet.” I held my hand to my face.
“Yeah.” He sighed, sounding tired. “It’s like a war zone down there. What’s that noise? Are you in an arcade?” He sounded disgusted, as if he already knew the answer, and he couldn’t believe we were that insensitive. “What?” I said. “God, no. We . . . we hopped on a flight to Vegas.”
“What?” he said, incensed. Or maybe just confused, I couldn’t be sure. He was excitable.
I cringed at the disapproval in his voice, knowing it was just the beginning. I had an objective. I had to set my feelings aside as best I could until I achieved what I came for. “Just listen. It’s important. I don’t have a lot of time, and I need your help.”
“Okay. With what?”
“Don’t talk. Just listen. Promise?”
“Abby, stop playin’. Just fucking tell me.”
“There were a lot of people at the fight last night. A lot of people died. Someone has got to go to prison for it.”
“You thinkin’ it’s gonna be Travis?”
“Him and Adam, yeah. Maybe John Savage, and anyone else they think coordinated it. Thank God Shepley wasn’t in town.”
“What do we do?”
“I asked Travis to marry me.”
“Uh . . . okay. How the hell is that going to help him?”
“We’re in Vegas. Maybe if we can prove we were off getting married a few hours later, even if a few dozen drunken frat boys testify that he was at the fight, it will sound just crazy enough to create reasonable doubt.”
“Abby.” He sighed.
A sob caught in my throat. “Don’t say it. If you don’t think it’ll work, just don’t tell me, okay? It was all I could think of, and if he finds out why I’m doing this, he won’t do it.”
“Of course he won’t. Abby, I know you’re afraid, but this is crazy. You can’t marry him to keep him out of trouble. This won’t work, anyway. You didn’t leave until after the fight. ”
“I said not to say that.”
“I’m sorry. He wouldn’t want you to do this, either. He would want you to marry him because you want to. If he ever found out, it’d break his heart.”
“Don’t be sorry, Trent. It’s going to work. At least it will give him a chance. It’s a chance, right? Better odds than he had.”
“I guess,” he said, sounding defeated.
I sighed and then nodded, covering my mouth with my free hand. Tears blurred my vision, making a kaleidoscope out of the casino floor. A chance was better than nothing.
“Congratulations,” he said.
“Congrats!” Cami said in the background. Her voice sounded tired and hoarse, even though I was sure she was sincere.
“Thank you. Keep me updated. Let me know if they come sniffing around the house, or if you hear anything about an investigation.”
“Will do . . . and it’s really fucking weird that our baby brother is the first to get married.”
I laughed once. “Get over it.”
“Fuck off. And, I love ya.”
“Love you, too, Trent.”
I held the phone in my lap with both hands, watching the people walking by stare at me. They were obviously wondering why I was sitting on the floor, but not enough to ask. I stood up, picked up my purse and bag, and inhaled a deep breath.
“Here comes the bride,” I said, taking my first steps.
I dried off, brushed my teeth, and slipped on a T-shirt and shorts, and then my Nikes. Ready. Damn, it was good to be a man. I couldn’t imagine having to blow-dry my hair for half an hour, and then burn it with whatever handheld metal hot iron I could find, and then spend fifteen to twenty minutes getting my makeup just right before finally getting dressed. Key. Wallet. Phone. Out the door. Abby had said there were shops downstairs, but she hinted strongly that we shouldn’t see each other until the wedding, so I headed for the Strip.
Even when in a hurry, if the Bellagio fountains are dancing to the music, it is un-American not to stop and stand in awe. I lit a cigarette and puffed on it, resting my arms on a large, concrete ledge that lined the viewing platform. Watching the water sway and spray to the music reminded me of the last time I was there, standing with Shepley while Abby efficiently kicked the asses of four or five poker veterans.
Shepley. Damn, I was so glad he wasn’t at that fight. If I’d have lost him, or if he’d lost America, I’m not sure Abby and I would have been here. A loss like that would change the whole dynamic of our friendships. Shepley couldn’t be around Abby and me without America, and America couldn’t be around us without Shepley. Abby couldn’t not be around America. If they hadn’t decided to stay with his parents over spring break, I could be suffering the loss of Shepley instead of preparing for our wedding. Thoughts of calling Uncle Jack and Aunt Deana with news of their only son’s death made a cold shiver crawl down my spine.
I shook the thought away as I remembered the moment before I called my dad’s phone, standing in front of Keaton, the smoke billowing out of the windows. Some of the firefighters were holding the hose to pour water inside, others were bringing out survivors. I remembered what it felt like: knowing that I was going to have to tell my dad that Trent was missing and probably dead. How my brother had run the wrong way in the confusion, and Abby and I were standing outside without him. Thoughts of what that would have done to my dad, to our entire family, made me feel sick to my stomach. Dad was the strongest man I knew, but he couldn’t take losing anyone else.
My dad and Jack ran our town when they were in high school. They were the first generation of badass Maddox brothers. In college towns, the locals either started fights or were picked on. Jim and Jack Maddox never experienced the latter, and even met and married the only two girls at their college that could handle them: Deana and Diane Hempfling. Yes, sisters, making Shepley and me double cousins. It was probably just as well that Jack and Deana stopped at one, with Mom having five unruly boys. Statistically, our family was due for a girl, and I’m not sure the world could handle a female Maddox. All the fight and anger, plus estrogen? Everyone would die.
When Shepley was born, Uncle Jack settled down. Shepley was a Maddox, but he had his mother’s temperament. Thomas, Tyler, Taylor, Trenton, and I all had short fuses like our dad, but Shepley was calm. We were the best of friends. He was a brother who lived in a different house. He pretty much was, but he looked more like Thomas than the rest of us. We all shared the same DNA.
The fountain died down and I walked away, seeing the sign for Crystals. If I could get in and out of there quick, maybe Abby would still be in the Bellagio shops and wouldn’t see me.
I picked up the pace, dodging the extremely drunk and tired tourists. One short escalator ride and a bridge later, I was inside the stories-tall shopping center. It had glass rectangles displaying colorful water tornados, high-end shops, and the same odd range of people. Families to strippers. Only in Vegas.
I popped in and out of one suit shop without any luck, and then walked until I hit a Tom Ford store. In ten minutes, I’d found and tried on the perfect gray suit but had trouble finding a tie. “Fuck it,” I said, taking the suit and a white button-up to the register. Who said a groom had to wear a tie?