The girls had packed for three days, not six, and a mad clothing swap was on. Maddie ended up with the strapless black dress that Erin had worn their first night. It was a bit shorter on Maddie, and instead of a silver belt she cinched a hot pink sash around the middle. She was tying it in front of the mirror when she realized something.
“Erin!” She snapped, spinning around. “What happened with Max last night?!”
Deanne laughed out loud and fell face first onto the bed. Erin looked skyward and put a hand to her face.
“Maddie, all I can tell you is there is an Erin-shaped indentation in the mattress of that room,” she said.
Erin was shaking her head. “Seriously. Waiting four days must have nearly killed him. Halfway through the night I almost offered to call him a hooker, I didn’t think I could take anymore. I practically had to crawl here this morning.”
“But it was…” Maddie began.
“I am ruined for all other men. Forever,” Erin said. “Even Joe Thornton.”
Cynthia leaned back from her plate. “I can’t keep eating and drinking like this. Otherwise I could stay in Vegas forever.” Kris took the invitation to steal a piece of chicken off her plate. The guys did not seem to suffer from overeating.
Sidney was running his foot up Maddie’s calf under the table. They were in a restaurant at the Bellagio, she couldn’t remember the name. Joe had met them outside, and seated himself next to Erin. She was a little antsy at first, but he was very charming. By the entrée course they were laughing and joking. Max sat to her other side, and a few times Erin unconsciously leaned into his shoulder. Max looked at Maddie and smiled. She remembered what he’d said in the golf cart, about wanting to find someone normal and fun.
“Ah, young love,” Sidney said softly, his breath tickling Maddie’s neck.
“Do we look like that?” she asked.
“Nah, we were never that subtle.”
“I can be subtle!” she shot back.
He leaned in closer, his voice lower. “Yesterday you wanted to lick the sweat off my body. I hope you’re not going back to subtle after that.”
They walked off their dinner with a lap around the casino. Kris, Max and Joe sat to play a few hands at poker. Jordan and Deanne went in search of gum. Sidney walked Maddie into the Petrossian Bar and took seats at the end of the oak bar. They each ordered a cocktail.
When the drinks arrived, Sidney paid. Maddie felt a little bad, she hadn’t paid for a thing since they’d met. Well, the boots, she allowed. But she remembered the look on Sidney’s face when he’d paid for her salon visit. Scared, and asking her not to make a big deal of it. She shook off the thought and raised her glass to him.
“Last night in Vegas,” Sidney said.
“The only thing we haven’t done is get arrested.”
“Not the only thing,” he replied.
A little nervous now, she let herself admit. He’d been making allusions to something all day. She thought he’d been a little rash when he’d asked her to the red carpet. Surely he wouldn’t be rash enough to do something completely insane. But there was a lot of ground between where they were and what Las Vegas might consider crazy. He didn’t say anything. She didn’t say anything. They sipped and wondered what was going on in the others’ head.
Geno came up into the bar. “We go now?” He waved them along as he turned away.
Sidney put a hand on Maddie’s arm before she could stand up.
“Maddie, thank you for this week,” he said.
She leaned in. “I’m not done yet, baby.”
Whoever Joe had called at Pure had done their job well. The bouncer waved them in past a long line of well-dressed party-going hopefully. They were shown to a large round booth, raised two steps and facing a packed bar. The dance floor was beside their area. The walls were white, lights were flashing and a mob of people surged around the club.
Every girl in the place was wearing less clothing than the last. A few wore bra tops and skirts, nothing else. Maddie saw how heads turned to follow the line of big, strapping guys being escorted to a VIP table. She felt the sharks start to circle. Sid looked back at her and smiled. Her heart melted a little bit – he was thinking of her, not any of the other women surrounding them.
Maddie slid into the booth and Joe climbed in next to her. He was on the end, so big and blond that he looked like a homing beacon for the countless women trolling the bar.
“So much for me and your cute friend, eh?” he said, leaning in to be heard. They both looked at Erin, across the booth. She was squished in next to Max, who had an arm around her back and was nuzzling her neck. “Guess I was a day too late.”
“Oh my God, Joe, if she heard you say that she’d die,” Maddie laughed.
“You can tell her later,” he smiled. “Now I suppose I’ll have to find someone to dance with in this mess.” He looked around. Maddie followed his eyes. It was a meat market for sure, a live-action music video set promising money and sex and surrender. It was intimidating.
“You guys surprise me,” she said. “You’re supposed to love this stuff. Fame, money, women throwing themselves at you. You’re like rock stars. And yet you all want to hang out with us and drink beers.”
“It gets old fast,” Joe said. “But hey, it’s Vegas! Let’s go with it.” He reached for the bottle setup in the middle of the table.
“Amen. And Joe, I’ll dance with you later.”
And dance they did. Everyone hit the floor, leaving cocktails behind. The dancers seemed to move as one, there were so many people crammed onto the floor. Go-go dancers on platforms shook their barely costumed bodies. People stood along the raised walkway, behind a glass railing, and watched the mass of motion.
Sidney and Maddie held on to each other tightly. More than once they’d each been blatantly hit on by someone who didn’t care they were tangled up together. Or who maybe wanted to join them. Maddie had gotten a couple of very nasty looks from other women, but she just kissed Sidney happily every time.
Each of the go-go dancers pulled a guy out of the crowd, and the closest one chose Geno. He climbed onto her platform, leaving at least ten very disappointed women behind. The dancer did most of the work, and Geno put on a pretty good show. At the end of the song, his dance floor harem was happy to have him back.
After a few songs, Sid and Maddie took a break. They passed Max and Erin dancing near the stairs – they were grinding slowly and to entirely the wrong beat, their heads pressed together. Sid raised his eyebrows at Maddie. They won’t last long down here, she knew.
Kris and Cynthia were at the table, talking to Joe. She appeared to be telling a story and had both of the boys laughing hard. As they came up, Joe moved to stand.
“Can I dance with your girlfriend?” he asked Sidney, taking Maddie’s hand.
Sidney arched an eyebrow at Maddie. “Try to control yourself.”
Joe and Maddie passed Max and Erin on the way back to the floor, still oblivious of the music or people around them.
“Wow, I really should have been a day earlier,” Joe said.
The DJ scratched a record and “Poker Face” came on. Joe stepped into Maddie and started dancing. He moved well, and was very funny, singing along and miming Gaga’s crazy, face-blocking hand motions. Maddie laughed as she danced along.
“Is it true you’ve only known Sid for a few days?” Joe shouted over the music. Maddie nodded. “I thought you two were a couple?”
“The awards show was our first date,” she yelled back.
Joe shook his head and smiled down at her. “No wonder he likes you. You’re ballsy.”
Sidney wove through the crowd as the song was ending. He tapped Joe on the shoulder and cut in the old fashioned way. Joe gave Maddie a kiss on the cheek and disappeared.
Sid put his arms around Maddie’s waist. The beat changed and the sound of a slot machine came over the speakers. The crowd screamed as Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas” started to play.
Maddie pressed her body into Sidney. They danced, but it was more like swaying in time with the mob of people. Bass pumped through the floor, shaking the ground beneath their feet.
Shut up and put your money where your mouth is
That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas
Around them, the crowd was jumping and rocking. Sidney bobbed, holding Maddie tightly. She put her hands on his shoulders and moved her hips to the beat.
Get up and shake the glitter off your clothing
That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas
A loud pop sounded over the music, and a wave of glitter and silver balloons dropped from the ceiling. Flashing lights caught the flecks, throwing spots of color over the dancers. Everyone shouted and threw their hands up.
Maddie slid a hand behind Sid’s neck. Glitter rained down on them, catching in their hair and clothes. He smiled and she smiled, then she pressed a deep kiss to his lips.
“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered.
Holding hands and laughing, they rushed out into the warm night. The air was still and music carried from the bars and clubs into the street. They strolled along the wide sidewalk, Maddie pressed tight to Sidney with her arm inside his. She brushed glitter from his shirt.
Maddie knew this was their last night. And she knew it had been perfect. They weren’t even drunk. She wanted to be in the moment, remember every detail. She hoped Sid was thinking the same thing.
They crossed the street and walked in front of the Bellagio. Outside, stretching the length of the hotel, was the legendary Bellagio fountain. Hundreds of jets shot choreographed water shows into the air every half hour. Performances were set to a handful of different songs, so over a few days visitors may never see the same show twice.
The railing was starting to fill up. Sidney steered Maddie to the edge and put his arms around her from behind. The lights came on, signaling the start of the next show.
A single column of water rose into the air as Elton John’s “Your Song” began to play. Maddie gasped.
“This is my favorite one!” she whispered. Sidney pulled her in tighter and put his face into her hair. He swayed slightly back and forth with the music. The sound of the fountains firing water hundreds of feet into the hair accentuated the song’s piano. The cascades waved and danced.
When the song ended, Sidney held Maddie still. The crowed broke up and walked away. Soon, they were standing quite alone at the railing as people passed on the sidewalk.
Sidney moved next to her, against the fence, and faced her.
“Maddie,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “I told you I had one more thing up my sleeve. But I should have let you decide if you think it’s amazing.”
He looked into her eyes. “I am crazy about you. This week has been incredible. I don’t want it to end.” He paused. “I think if you were going to be scared away by who or what I am, it would have happened already. You have seen me famous and seen me completely anonymous. The fact that you’re still here after all that means more than I can say.”
Maddie stood stock still. She couldn’t guess what look was on her face. Anxiety? Fear? Excitement? She felt all those things and more. He was building up to something, but she didn’t want to guess what it might be. Her brain would not allow speculation.
“I don’t want to do too much, too fast, but I can’t let you walk away tomorrow without knowing this. I am falling in love with you. I would like the chance to continue falling in love with you.”
He opened his hand. A small, square, black velvet box rested in his palm. Blood rushed to Maddie’s head. The rich dark fabric seemed to suck all the light from their surroundings.
“I know it’s soon. I am not crazy. I’m not asking you to marry me. Not yet.”
The roar cleared slightly from her head. He’s not asking me to marry him. But he’s holding a box. Not YET? What does that mean?
Sidney lifted the lid on the box. Inside was a thin silver band. It was three narrow strands, wrapped over each other to give the slightest depth and texture to the ring. No diamond.
“Madeline Cartwright, will you not marry me? Will you be with me, unmarried, until someday when we are ready to be something more than unmarried?”
The tears in Maddie’s eyes caught the lights of the Las Vegas strip. She blinked them away to see Sidney’s face. His sparkling eyes held a look of hope, of nervousness and blind faith. He had the ring between two fingers, holding it out to her.
“Yes, Sidney. I will not marry you,” she nodded, a tear rolling down her cheek.
He smiled, a huge, relieved, thrilled smile. He took her right hand and slid the ring down over her fourth finger. He kissed the ring once it was on her, then pulled her in and kissed her. Maddie kissed him back hard, harder than she’d kissed anyone ever before. No one even noticed them. Just another happy couple – maybe they knew each other, maybe they didn’t – caught in the whirlwind of Las Vegas.
“Next time I’ll get you one for the other hand,” he whispered.
Maddie was staring down at her right hand. Sid was holding her left and talking on the phone.
“She said yes,” he shouted. “Okay. Bellagio, by the fountain. 5 minutes.” He snapped the phone shut.
“Up for one more unforgettable event?” he asked.
3 years ago