Spending her twenty-sixth birthday in Vegas had sounded like a great idea, Laura Nichols reminded herself as she stared at the row of slot machines across from her table. Three blue-haired women in shapeless baggy T-shirts sat in front of the machines, stabbing the Repeat Bet button over and over. It would have been a great idea if anyone had remembered it was her birthday.
“Laurie, you’re not wearing your tiara! You have to wear your tiara!” Her sister Rachel admonished her from the other end of the table. Rachel wore a rhinestone-studded crown atop her perfect, golden curls, and a satin sash across her chest read “Kiss the Bride.”
Laura picked up the cheap plastic tiara inscribed “Bridesmaid,” nestled it in her mouse-brown mane, and forced a smile. “Having a good time, Rach?”
“I’m having a fabulous time!” The bride-to-be held aloft a plastic martini glass full of some neon green concoction. The trio of other bridesmaids—all friends of Rachel’s whom she scarcely knew—raised their glasses also, some of the sticky neon drink slopping onto the table as they clumsily clinked a toast.
One of the slot machines went off—a wailing siren accompanied by flashing lights. All three of the blue-hairs started screaming. Laura squeezed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, fighting a stabbing pain in her head.
“Are you really a bride?” Two frat-boy types in polo shirts and khaki shorts stopped by the table and grinned at Rachel and her friends.
“Not yet, I’m not,” Rachel said. “The wedding’s next week.”
“But your sash says ‘Kiss the Bride,’” the shorter, and apparently dimmer, of the two said.
“It’s my bachelorette party,” Rachel said. “I’m collecting kisses.”
“How about kissing me?” the taller man said.
“Sure.” Rachel closed her eyes and puckered up.
Laura winced as the frat boy laid a sloppy kiss on her sister. How many of those drinks had Rachel had?
“Headache?” One of the bridesmaids, Molly or Millie or Maggie—something with an M—studied her. “Does your head hurt?” she asked.
Laura rubbed her temples. “Yeah. Those sweet drinks always give me a headache. And all the noise.” And being here in Vegas with her sister and her sister’s friends instead of home celebrating her own birthday.
“This’ll help.” Molly-Millie-Maggie took a bottle from her purse, shook out two pills, and passed them across to Laura. “You’ll feel better in no time.”
She stared at the tiny white pills. “I don’t know…”
“It’s just aspirin. One of those, you know, generics. They work great.” She passed Laura a fresh drink.
She shrugged. Generic aspirin had to be safe, right? If she was going to get through the rest of this night, she needed something. She popped the pills and swallowed them down with a sip of the vodka drink.
“Oh no!” A wail from the other end of the table threatened to drown out the clanging slots.
“What’s wrong?” Laura raised her voice to be heard.
“I broke a nail.” Rachel, stricken, held up the middle finger of her left hand to show the tip of one artificial nail hanging like a hinge.
“Nail glue will fix it,” one the bridesmaids said, precipitating a frantic search through everyone’s large designer bags. Laura watched as the four women emptied makeup, smart phones, iPods, prescription bottles, candy bars, and condoms onto the table. No nail glue.
“I’ve got some in my room,” Rachel said. “Laurie, hon, would you be a dear and run get it for me?” She slid a room card down the table.
“Rachel, the hotel is three blocks away.” Three blocks through Vegas Strip traffic.
“You can get the nail glue and meet us at Excalibur. We’ll head over there now.” Rachel rose, the others moving with her as if connected by strings. “We’ll wait for you there.” Then they were gone, tripping out of the bar in their strappy sandals, neon drinks in hand.
Laura stared at the room card. She was tempted to go back to her own room, crawl into bed, and not get out until the wedding next week. She wouldn’t say Rachel was a classic Bridezilla, but as the perfect little sister marrying the perfect man in the perfect storybook wedding, she was more than a little insufferable. And she’d had so much to drink tonight that tomorrow she wouldn’t even remember the nail glue.
But Laura would remember. She sighed. That was the trouble with having a conscience. As the older sister, she’d been looking after Rachel since she was born—no time to stop now. She pocketed the key and made her way out of the dim bar onto the circus of the Las Vegas strip on a Saturday night.