The door opened. “Here you are! Anything else? You look a little nervous. Have you eaten?”
“Nope. I haven’t had time.”
“Oh, we can’t have you passing out at the altar! I’ll bring you some cheese and crackers, and maybe a little fruit plate?”
“Uh, sure, thanks,” I said, still a little bewildered by Chantilly’s enthusiasm.
She backed out, shut the door, and I was alone again. My head fell back against the couch, my eyes picked out different shapes in the wall texture. I was grateful for anything that kept me from glancing down at my watch. Was she coming? I closed my eyes tight, refusing to go there. She loved me. I trusted her. She would be here. Goddammit, I wished my brothers were here. I was going to go out of my everlovin’ mind.
“Oh, don’t you look pretty,” the driver said as I slid into the backseat of the taxi.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling relieved to be out of the casino. “Graceland Chapel, please.”
“Did you want to start out the day married, or what?” the driver said, smiling back at me from the rearview mirror. She had short, gray hair, and her backside filled up all of the seat, and then some.
“It was just the quickest we could get it done.”
“You’re awfully young to be in such a hurry.”
“I know,” I said, watching Las Vegas pass by outside my window.
She clicked her tongue. “You look pretty nervous. If you’re having second thoughts, just let me know. I don’t mind turning around. It’s okay, honey.”
“I’m not nervous about getting married.”
“No, we love each other. I’m not nervous about that. I just want him to be okay.”
“You think he’s having second thoughts?”
“No,” I said, laughing once. I met her eyes in the mirror. “Are you married?”
“Once or twice,” she said, winking at me. “I got married in the same chapel that you are the first time around. But so did Bon Jovi.”
“You know Bon Jovi? Tommy used to work on the docks!” she sang, very much to my surprise.
“Yep! Heard of him,” I said, amused and grateful for the distraction.
“I just love him. Here! I have the CD.” She popped it in, and for the rest of the drive we listened to Jon’s greatest hits. “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Always,” “Bed of Roses”; “I’ll Be There for You” was just finishing up as we pulled over to the curb in front of the chapel.
I pulled out a fifty. “Keep the rest. Bon Jovi helped.”
She gave me back the change. “No tip, honey. You let me sing.”
I shut the door and waved to her as she left. Was Travis already here? I walked up to the chapel and opened the door. An older woman with big hair and too much lip gloss greeted me. “Abby?”
“Yes,” I said, fidgeting with my dress.
“You’re stunning. My name is Chantilly, and I’ll be one of your witnesses. Let me take your things. I’ll put them away, and they’ll be safe until you’re finished.”
“Thank you,” I said, watching her take away my purse. Something swished when she walked, though I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly. “Oh, wait! The . . .” I said, watching as she walked toward me holding out my purse. “Travis’s ring is in there. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes were barely slits when she smiled, making her fake lashes even more noticeable. “It’s fine, honey. Just breathe.”
“I don’t remember how,” I said, sliding his ring over my thumb.
“Here,” she said, holding out her hand. “Give me your ring and his. I’ll give them to each of you when it’s time. Elvis will be by shortly to take you down the aisle.”
I looked at her, blank faced. “Elvis.”
“As in The King?”
“Yes, I know who Elvis is, but . . .” My words trailed away as I pulled off my ring with a small tug, and placed it in her palm next to Travis’s ring.
Chantilly smiled. “You can use this room to freshen up. Travis is waiting, so Elvis will be knocking any minute. See you at the end of the aisle!”
She watched me as she shut the door. I turned, startled by my own reflection in the huge mirror behind me. It was bordered by large, round lights like one an actress might use before a Broadway show. I sat down at the vanity, staring at myself in the mirror. Is that what I was? An actress?
He was waiting. Travis is at the end of the aisle, waiting for me to join him so we can promise the rest of our lives to each other.
What if my plan doesn’t work? What if he goes to prison and this was all for nothing? What if they didn’t so much as sniff in Travis’s direction, and this was all pointless? I no longer had the excuse that I had gotten married, before I was even legal to drink, because I was saving him. Did I need an excuse if I loved him? Why did anyone get married? For love? We had that in spades. I was so sure of everything in the beginning. I used to be sure about a lot things. I didn’t feel sure now. About anything.
I thought about the look on Travis’s face if he found out the truth, and then I thought about what bailing would do to him. I never wanted him to hurt and I needed him as if he were a part of me. Of those two things I was sure.
Two knocks on the door nearly sent me into a panic attack. I turned, gripping the top of the chair back. It was white wire, swirls and curves formed a heart in the middle.
“Miss?” Elvis said in a deep, southern voice. “It’s time.”
“Oh,” I said quietly. I don’t know why. He couldn’t hear me.
“Abby? Your hunka hunka burnin’ love is ready for ya.”
I rolled my eyes. “I just . . . need a minute.”
The other side of the door was quiet. “Everything okay?”
“Yes,” I said. “Just one minute, please.”
After a few more minutes, there was another knock on the door. “Abby?” It was Chantilly. “Can I come in, honey?”
“No. I’m sorry, but no. I’ll be okay. I just need a little more time, and I’ll be ready.”
After another five minutes, three knocks on the door caused beads of sweat to form along my hairline. These knocks were familiar. Stronger. More confident.
The door blew open. “She’s here! I just showed her to a dressing room to freshen up. Are you ready?”
“Yeah!” I said, jumping to my feet. I wiped my sweaty palms on my slacks and followed Chantilly out to the hallway, and into the lobby. I stopped.
“This way, honey,” Chantilly said, encouraging me toward the double doors that led into the chapel.
“Where is she?” I asked.
Chantilly pointed. “In there. As soon as she’s ready, we’ll get started. But, you have to be at the other end of the aisle, sugar.”
Her smile was sweet and patient. I imagined she dealt with all kinds of situations, from drunks to jitters. After one last look at the door to Abby’s room, I followed Chantilly down the aisle and she gave me the rundown on where to stand. While she was talking, a man with thick chops and an Elvis costume pushed open the door in grandiose fashion, curling his lips and humming “Blue Hawaii.”
“Man, I really like Vegas! You like Vegas?” he said, his Elvis impression spot-on.
I grinned. “Today I do.”
“Can’t ask for better than that! Has Ms. Chantilly told you everything you need to know to be a mister this mornin’?”
“Yeah. I think.”
He slapped my back. “No worries, fella, you’re gonna do just fine. I’ll go get your missus. Be back in a flash.”
Chantilly giggled. “Oh, that Elvis.” After a couple of minutes, Chantilly checked her watch, and then walked back down the aisle toward the double doors.
“This happens all the time,” the officiant assured me.
After another five minutes, Chantilly popped her head through the doors. “Travis? I think she’s a little . . . nervous. Do you want to try to talk to her?”
Fuck. “Yeah,” I said. The aisle seemed short before, but now it felt like a mile. I pushed through the doors, and raised my fist. I paused, took a breath, and then knocked a few times. “Pidge?”
After what felt like two eternities, Abby finally spoke, her voice on the other side of the door. “I’m here.” Even though she was only inches away, she sounded miles away, just like the morning after I brought those two girls home from the bar. Just the thought of that night made me feel a burning sickness in my gut. I didn’t even feel like the same person I was then.
“You okay, baby?” I asked.
“Yes. I just . . . I was rushed. I need a moment to breathe.”
She sounded anything but okay. I was determined to keep my head, to fight away the panic that used to cause me to do all kinds of stupid stuff. I needed to be the man Abby deserved. “You sure that’s all?”
She didn’t reply.
Chantilly cleared her throat and wrung her hands, clearly trying to think of something encouraging to say.
I needed to be on the other side of that door.
“Pidge . . .” I said, followed by a pause. What I would say next could change everything, but making everything all right for Abby trumped my own epically selfish needs. “I know you know I love you. What you may not know is that there is nothing I want more than to be your husband. But if you’re not ready, I’ll wait for you, Pigeon. I’m not going anywhere. I mean, yeah. I want this, but only if you do. I just . . . I need you to know that you can open this door and we can walk down the aisle, or we can get a taxi and go home. Either way, I love you.”
After another long pause, I knew it was time. I pulled an old, worn envelope from my inside jacket pocket, and held it with both hands. The faded pen looped around, and I followed the lines with my index finger. My mother had written the words To the future Mrs. Travis Maddox. My dad had given it to me when he thought things between Abby and me were getting serious. I’d only pulled this letter out once since then, wondering what she’d written inside, but never betraying the seal. Those words weren’t meant for me.
My hands were shaking. I had no clue what Mom had written, but I really needed her right now, and was hoping that this one time, she could somehow reach out from where she was and help me. I squatted down, sliding the envelope under the door.
Pidge. The word used to make my eyes roll. I didn’t know why he started calling me that in the first place, and I didn’t care. Now, Travis’s weird little nickname for me spoken in his deep, gritty voice made my entire body relax. I stood and walked over to the door, holding my palm to the wood. “I’m here.”
I could hear my breath; wheezing, slow, like I was sleeping. Every part of me was relaxed. His warm words fell slowly around me like a cozy blanket. It didn’t matter what happened after we got home, as long as I was Travis’s wife. It was then that I understood that whether I was doing this to help him or not, I was there to get married to the man who loved me more than any man loved any woman. And I loved him—enough for three lifetimes. In the Graceland Chapel, in this dress was almost exactly where I wanted to be. The only place better would be next to him at the end of the aisle.