- A Beautiful Wedding
I went back in, trying to think of something to save us. Dusty sheets covered stored furniture that lined the walls, and the fire was using them as a pathway. A pathway straight to the room we were in.
I backed up a few steps, and then turned to face the kids behind me. Their eyes widened, and they retreated against the wall. Lainey was trying to climb up the cement blocks out of pure terror.
“Have you seen Abby Abernathy?” I said. They didn’t hear me. “Hey!” I yelled again. None of those kids acknowledged me. I walked up to Derek and screamed at him. “Hey!” He looked right through me at the fire, a horrified look on his face. I looked at the others. They didn’t see me, either.
Confused, I walked over to the wall, and jumped, trying to reach the window, and then I was kneeling on the ground outside, looking in. Derek, Todd, Lainey, Lindsey, and Emily were still inside. I tried to open the window, but it wouldn’t budge. I kept trying, anyway, hoping at any moment it would pop open and I could pull them out.
“Hold on!” I yelled. “Help!” I yelled again, hoping someone would hear.
The girls hugged, and Emily began to wail. “This is just a bad dream. This is just a bad dream. Wake up! Wake up!” she said over and over.
“Get one of the sheets, Lainey!” Derek said. “Roll it up and shove it under the door!”
Lainey scrambled to pull a sheet off a desk. Lindsey helped her, and then watched Lainey shove it desperately under the door. They both backed away, watching the door.
“We’re trapped,” Todd said to Derek.
Derek’s shoulders fell. Lainey walked over to him, and he touched her dirty cheeks with both hands. They stared into each other’s eyes. Thick, black smoke snaked under the door and seeped into the room.
Emily jumped for the window. “Lift me up, Todd! I want out! I want out of here!”
Todd watched her jump with a defeated expression on his face.
“Mommy!” Emily screamed. “Mommy help me!” Her eyes were trained on the window, but still she looked past me.
Lindsey reached out for Emily, but she wouldn’t be touched. “Sssh . . .” she said, trying to comfort her from where she stood. She covered her mouth with her hands and began to cough. She looked at Todd, tears streaming down her face. “We’re going to die.”
“I don’t want to die!” Emily screamed, still jumping.
As the smoke filled the room I punched the window, over and over. The adrenaline must have been unbelievable, because I couldn’t feel my hand hitting the glass, even though I was using every bit of strength I had. “Help me! Help!” I yelled, but no one came.
Smoke bumped and swirled against the window, and the coughs and crying silenced.
My eyes popped open, and I looked around. I was on the plane with Abby, my hands clenching the armrests, and every muscle in my body clenched.
“Travis? You’re sweating,” Abby said. She touched my cheek.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, quickly unbuckling my seat belt. I rushed to the back of the plane and jerked open the lavatory door, and then locked it behind me. Flipping up the sink lever, I splashed water on my face, and then stared into the mirror, watching the drops of water slide off my face and onto the counter.
They were there because of me. I knew Keaton wasn’t safe, and I knew too many people were in that basement, and I let it happen. I contributed to dozens of deaths, and now I was on a plane to Las Vegas. What the fuck was wrong with me?
I walked back to my seat and buckled in next to Abby.
She stared at me, noticing right away that something was wrong. “What?”
“It’s my fault.”
She shook her head, and kept her voice low. “No. Don’t do that.”
“I should have said no. I should have insisted on a safer place.”
“You didn’t know that was going to happen.” She glanced around, making sure no one was listening. “It’s awful. It’s horrific. But we couldn’t stop it. We can’t change it.”
“What if I get arrested, Abby? What if I go to jail?”
“Sssh,” she said, reminding me of the way Lindsey tried to comfort Emily in my dream. “It won’t happen,” she whispered. Her eyes were focused; resolute.
“Maybe it should.”
When the wheels of the airplane touched down on the runway of McCarran International Airport, Travis was finally relaxed and leaning on my shoulder. The bright lights of Las Vegas had been visible for the past ten minutes, signaling us like a beacon toward everything I hated—and everything I wanted.
Travis roused slowly, glancing out the window quickly before kissing the cusp of my shoulder. “We’re here?”
“Viva. I thought maybe you’d go back to sleep. It’s going to be a long day.”
“There’s no way I was going back to sleep after that dream,” he said, stretching. “I’m not sure I want to sleep again.”
My fingers squeezed his. I hated to see him so shaken. He wouldn’t talk about his dream, but it didn’t take much to figure out where he was while he was sleeping. I wondered if anyone that had escaped from Keaton would be able to close their eyes without seeing the smoke and the panicked faces. The plane arrived at the gate, the SEAT BELT light dinged, and the cabin lights came on, signaling everyone to stand up and dig for their carry-on luggage. Everyone was in a hurry, even though no one was getting out of there before the people seated ahead of them.
I sat, feigning patience, watching Travis stand to pull out our luggage. His T-shirt rose when he reached up, revealing his abs shifting and then contracting when he pulled down the bags.
“You got a dress in here?”
I shook my head. “I thought I’d find one here.”
He nodded once. “Yeah, I bet they have plenty to choose from. A better selection for a Vegas wedding than home.”
“My line of thinking exactly.”
Travis held out his hand and helped me take the two steps to the aisle. “You’ll look great no matter what you put on.”
I kissed his cheek and took my bag just as the line began to move. We followed the other passengers down the gateway and into the terminal.
“Déjà vu,” Travis whispered.
I felt the same. The slot machines sung their siren’s song and flashed brightly colored lights, falsely promising luck and big money. The last time Travis and I were here, it was easy to pick out the couples who were getting married, and I wondered if we were just as obvious.
Travis took my hand as we passed baggage claim, and then followed the sign marked TAXIS. The automatic doors parted and we walked into the desert night air. It was still stifling hot, and dry. I breathed in the heat, letting Las Vegas saturate every part of me.
Marrying Travis would be the hardest easiest thing I’d ever done. I needed to awaken the parts of me that were molded in the darkest corners of this city to make my plan work. If Travis thought that I was doing this for any reason other than just wanting to commit to him, he would never let me go through with it, and Travis was not exactly gullible, and worse, he knew me better than anyone else; he knew what I was capable of. If I pulled the wedding off, and kept Travis out of prison without him knowing why, it would be my best bluff yet.
Even though we’d bypassed the crowd waiting for baggage, there was a long line for taxis. I sighed. We should have been getting married by now. It was still dark, but it had been over five hours since the fire. We couldn’t afford more lines.
“Pidge?” Travis squeezed my hand. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head and smiling. “Why?”
“You seem . . . a little tense.”
I took stock of my body; how I was standing, my facial expression, anything that might tip him off. My shoulders were so tight they were hanging up around my ears, so I forced them to relax. “I’m just ready.”
“To get it over with?” he asked, his eyebrows pulling in infinitesimally. Had I not known better, I would have never caught it.
“Trav,” I said, wrapping my arms around his waist. “This was my idea, remember?”
“So was the last time we went to Vegas. You remember how that turned out?”
I laughed, and then I felt terrible. The vertical line his eyebrow formed when he pushed them together deepened. This was so important to him. How much he loved me was overwhelming most of the time, but tonight was different. “I’m in a hurry, yes. Aren’t you?”
“Yes, but something’s off.”
“You’re just nervous. Stop worrying.”
His face smoothed, and he hugged me. “Okay. If you say you’re okay, then I believe you.”
Fifteen long minutes later, and we were at the front of the line. A taxi pulled to the curb and stopped. Travis opened the door for me, and I ducked into the backseat and slid over, waiting for him to get in.
The cabdriver looked over his shoulder. “Short trip?”
Travis situated our single carry-on bag in front of him on the floorboard. “We travel light.”
“Bellagio, please,” I said calmly, keeping the urgency out of my voice.
With lyrics I didn’t understand, a cheery, circuslike melody hummed through the speakers as we drove from the airport to the strip. The lights were visible miles before we reached the hotel.
When we arrived at the Strip, I noticed a river of people trekking up and down the sides of the road. Even in the wee hours of the morning, the sidewalks were packed with bachelors, women pushing strollers with sleeping babies, people in costumes taking pictures for tips, and businessmen—apparently looking to unwind.
Travis put his arm around my shoulders. I leaned against him, trying not to look at my watch for the tenth time.
The taxi pulled into the circle drive of the Bellagio, and Travis leaned forward with bills to pay the driver. He then pulled out our roller carry-on, and waited for me. I scooted out, taking his hand and stepping out onto the concrete. As if it weren’t in the early AM, people were standing in the taxi line to go to a different casino, and others were returning, weaving and laughing after a long night of drinking.
Travis squeezed my hand. “We’re really here.”
“Yep!” I said, pulling him inside. The ceiling was distractingly ornate. Everybody in the lobby was standing around with their noses in the air.
“What are you—?” I said, turning to Travis. He was letting me pull him while he took in the ceiling.
“Look, Pidge! It’s . . . wow,” he said, in awe of the huge, multicolored flowers kissing the ceiling.
“Yep!” I said, tugging him to the front desk.
“Checking in,” I said. “And we need to schedule a wedding at a local chapel.”
“Which one?” the man asked.
“Any one. A nice one. A twenty-four-hour one.”
“We can arrange that. I’ll just get you checked in here, and then the concierge can help you with a wedding chapel, shows, anything you’d like.”
“Great,” I said, turning to Travis with a triumphant grin. He was still staring at the ceiling.