Walking out of the shopping center, I saw a pair of black Converse in the window. I went in, asked for my size, tried them on, and smiled. “I’ll take them,” I said to the woman helping me. She smiled with a look in her eyes that would have turned me on just six months ago. A woman looking at me that way usually meant any attempts I made to get in her pants had just been made a thousand times easier. That look meant: take me home.

“Great choice,” she said in a smooth, flirtatious voice. Her dark hair was long, thick, and shiny. Probably half of her five feet. She was a sophisticated, Asian beauty, wrapped in a tight dress and sky-high heels. Her eyes were sharp, calculating. She was exactly the kind of challenge my old self would have happily taken on. “Are you staying in Vegas long?”

“Just a few days.”

“Is this your first time here?”


“Oh. I was going to offer to show you around.”

“I’m getting married in these shoes in a couple of hours.”

My response snuffed out the desire in her eyes, and she smiled pleasantly, but she’d clearly lost interest. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” I said, taking my receipt and bag with the shoe box inside.

I left, feeling much better about myself than I would have had I been here on a guys’ trip and leading her back to my hotel room. I didn’t know about love back then. It was fanfuckingtastic to go home to Abby every night, and see the welcoming, loving look in her eyes. Nothing was better than coming up with new ways to make her fall in love with me all over again. I lived for that shit now, and it was way more satisfying.

Within an hour of leaving the Bellagio, I had picked up a suit and a gold band for Abby, and was right back where I started: in our hotel room. I sat on the end of the bed and grabbed the remote, clicking on the power to the TV before bending over to untie my sneakers. A familiar scene lit up the screen. It was Keaton, quartered off with yellow tape, and still smoking. The brick around the windows were charred, and the ground surrounding was saturated with water.

The reporter was interviewing a tearful girl, describing how her roommate had never returned to the dorm, and she was still waiting to hear if she was among the dead. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I covered my face with my hands and rested my elbows on my knees. My body shook as I mourned my friends and all the people I didn’t know who’d lost their lives, as I apologized over and over for being the reason why they were there, and being too much of a fucking bastard for choosing Abby over turning myself in. When I couldn’t cry anymore, I retreated to the shower, standing under the steaming water until I got back into the frame of mind Abby needed me to be in.

She didn’t want to see me until just before the wedding, so I got my shit straight in my head, got dressed, slapped on some cologne, tied my new kicks, and headed out. Before letting the door close, I took one long, last look at the room. The next time I came through this door, I’d be Abby’s husband. That was the only thing that made the guilt bearable. My heart began to pound. The rest of my life was just hours away.

The elevator opened, and I followed the loudly patterned carpet through the casino. The suit made me feel like a million bucks, and people were staring, wondering where the fine-looking asshole sporting Converse was off to. When I was about halfway through the casino, I noticed a woman sitting on the floor with shopping bags, crying into her cell phone. I stopped dead in my tracks. It was Abby.

Instinctively, I stepped to the side, partially hiding myself at the end of a row of slot machines. With the music, the beeping, and the chatter, I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but my blood ran cold. Why was she crying? Who was she crying to? Didn’t she want to marry me? Should I confront her? Should I just wait it out and hope to God she doesn’t call it off?

Abby picked herself off the floor, struggling with her bags. Everything in me wanted to run to her and help, but I was afraid. I was fucking terrified that if I approached her in that moment, she might tell me the truth, and I was afraid to hear it. The selfish bastard in me took over, and I let her walk away.

Once she was out of sight, I sat on an empty slot machine stool and pulled the pack of cigarettes out of my inside pocket. Flicking the lighter, the end of my cigarette sizzled before it glowed red while I pulled in a long drag of smoke. What was I going to do if Abby changed her mind? Could we come back from something like that? Regardless of the answer, I was going to have to figure out a way. Even if she couldn’t go through with the wedding, I couldn’t lose her.

I sat there for a long time, smoking, slipping dollar bills into the slot machine while a waitress brought me free drinks. After four, I waved her away. Getting drunk before the wedding wouldn’t solve a damn thing. Maybe that’s why Abby was having second thoughts. Loving her wasn’t enough. I needed to grow the fuck up, get a real job, quit drinking, fighting, and control my goddamn anger. I sat alone in the casino, silently vowing that I would make all of those changes, and they would start right then.

My phone chimed. Just an hour was left before the wedding. I texted Abby, worried how she might respond.

I miss u


I smiled at the phone display, seeing the text was from Travis. I clicked a response, knowing that words couldn’t convey what I was feeling.

I miss u too

T-minus one hour. U ready yet?

Not yet. U?

Hells yes. I look ducking amazing. When u c me u will want 2 marry me 4 sure.


Fucking* goddamn auto correct. Pic?

No! It’s bad luck!

Ur lucky 13. You have good luck.

Ur marrying me. So clearly u don’t. And don’t call me that.

Love u baby.

Love u too. See u soon.


Of course. Aren’t you?

Only about ur cold feet.

Feet r toasty warm.

I wish I could explain to u how happy I am right now.

U don’t have to. I can relate.


I sat the phone on the bathroom counter and looked into the mirror, touching the end of the lip gloss wand to my bottom lip. After pinning one last piece of my hair back, I went over to the bed, where I’d laid the dress. It wasn’t what my ten-year-old self would have chosen, but it was beautiful, and what we were about to do was beautiful. Even why I was doing it was beautiful. I could think of much less noble reasons to get married. And, besides that, we loved each other. Was getting married this young so awful? People used to do this all the time.

I shook my head, trying to shake off the dozens of conflicting emotions swirling around my mind. Why go back and forth? This was happening, and we were in love. Crazy? Yes. Wrong? No.

I stepped into the dress and then pulled up the zipper, standing in front of the mirror. “Much better,” I said. In the store, as lovely as the dress was, without hair and makeup done, the dress didn’t look right. With my red lips and painted lashes, the look was complete.

I pinned the diamond butterfly into the base of the messy curls that made up my side bun, and slipped my feet into the new strappy pumps. Purse. Phone. Trav’s ring. The chapel would have everything else. The taxi was waiting.

Even though thousands of women were married in Las Vegas every year, it didn’t keep everyone from staring at me as I walked across the casino floor in my wedding dress. Some smiled, some just watched, but it all made me uncomfortable. When my father lost his last professional match after four in a row, and he announced publicly that it was my fault, I’d received enough attention to last two lifetimes. Because of a few words spoken in frustration, he’d created “Lucky Thirteen” and given me an unbelievable burden to bear. Even when my mother finally decided to leave Mick and we moved to Wichita three years later, starting over seemed impossible. I enjoyed two whole weeks of being an unknown before the first local reporter figured out who I was and approached me on the front lawn of my high school. All it took was one hateful girl a single hour of Friday Night Googling to figure out why anyone in the press cared enough to try to get a “Where Is She Now?” headline. The second half of my high school experience was ruined. Even with a mouthy, scrappy best friend.

When America and I left for college, I wanted to be invisible. Until the day I’d met Travis, I was enjoying my newfound anonymity immensely.

I looked down from the hundredth pair of eyes watching me intently, and I wondered if being with Travis would always make me feel conspicuous.


Dead or Alive


The limo door slammed hard behind me. “Oh, shit. Sorry. I’m nervous.”

The driver waved me away. “No problem. Twenty-two dollars, please. I’ll come back with the limo.”

The limo was new. White. Abby would like it. I handed him thirty. “So you’ll be right back here in an hour and a half, right?”

“Yes, sir! Never late!”

He drove away, and I turned around. The chapel was lit up, glowing against the early morning sky. It was maybe a half hour before sunrise. I smiled. Abby was going to love it.

The front door opened, and a couple came out. They were middle-aged, but he was in a tux, and she was in a huge wedding dress. A short woman in a light pink suit dress was waving them good-bye, and then she noticed me.


“Yes,” I said, buttoning my jacket.

“I could just eat you up! I hope your bride appreciates what a looker you are!”

“She’s prettier than me.”

The woman cackled. “I’m Chantilly. Pretty much run things around here.” She put her fists at her side, somewhere in the area of her hips. She was as wide as she was tall, and her eyes were nearly hidden under thick, fake lashes. “Come on in, sugar! Come in! Come in!” she said, rushing me inside.

The receptionist at the desk offered a smile and a small stack of paperwork. Yes, we want a DVD. Yes, we want flowers. Yes, we want Elvis. I checked all of the appropriate boxes, filled in our names and information, and then handed the paper back.

“Thank you, Mr. Maddox,” the receptionist said.

My hands were sweating. I couldn’t believe I was here.

Chantilly patted my arm, well, more like my wrist, because that’s the highest she could reach. “This way, honey. You can freshen up and wait for your bride in here. What was her name?”

“Uh . . . Abby . . .” I said, walking through the door Chantilly had opened. I looked around, noting the couch and mirror surrounded by a thousand huge lightbulbs. The wallpaper was busy but nice, and everything seemed clean and classy, just like Abby wanted.

“I’ll let you know when she arrives,” Chantilly said with a wink. “You need anything? A water?”

“Yes, that would be great,” I said, sitting down.

“Be right back,” she lilted as she backed out of the room and closed the door behind her. I could hear her humming down the hall.

I leaned back against the couch, trying to process what had just happened, and wondering if Chantilly had just chugged a 5-hour ENERGY, or if she was just naturally that chipper. Even though I was just sitting, my heart was pounding against my chest. This is why people had witnesses: to help them keep calm before the wedding. For the first time since we’d landed, I wished Shepley and my brothers were there with me. They would have been giving me all kinds of shit, helping to keep my mind off the fact that my stomach was begging to throw up.