Lauren sat beside me on the plane, fiddling with my iPhone. “I don’t understand how your taste in music can be so bad. We’ve been friends for years. Have I taught you nothing?”
“To not drink tequila.”
She rolled her eyes.
Above our heads the seatbelt sign flashed on. A polite voice advised us to return our seats to the upright position as we’d be landing in a few minutes. I swallowed the dregs of my shitty plane coffee with a wince. Fact was, no amount of caffeine could help me today. Quality didn’t even come into it.
“I am deadly serious,” I said. “I’m also never setting foot in Nevada ever again so long as I live.”
“Now there’s an overreaction.”
“Not even a little, lady.”
Lauren had stumbled back to the motel a bare two hours before our flight was due to leave. I’d spent the time re-packing my small bag over and over in an attempt to get my life back into some semblance of order. It was good to see Lauren smiling, though getting to the airport in time had been a race. Apparently she and the cute waiter she’d met would be keeping in touch. Lauren had always been great with guys, while I was more closely related to your standard garden-variety wallflower. My plan to get laid in Vegas had been a deliberate attempt to get out of that rut. So much for that idea.
Lauren was studying economics and she was gorgeous, inside and out. I was more kind of unwieldy. It was why I made a habit of walking everywhere I could in Portland and trying not to sample the contents of the cake display case at the café where I worked. It kept me manageable, waist-wise. Though my Mom still saw fit to give me lectures on the subject because God forbid I dare put sugar in my coffee. My thighs would no doubt explode or something.
Lauren had three older brothers and knew what to say to guys. Nothing intimidated her. The girl oozed charm. I had one older brother but we no longer interacted outside of major family holidays. Not since he moved out of home four years back leaving only a note. Nathan had a temper and a gift for getting into trouble. He’d been the bad boy in high school, always getting into fights and skipping classes. Though blaming my lack of success with guys on my non-existent relationship with my brother was wrong. I could own my deficiencies with the opposite sex. Mostly.
“Listen to this.” Lauren plugged my earphones into her phone and the whine of electric guitars exploded inside my skull. The pain was exquisite. My headache roared back to sudden, horrific life. Nothing remained of my brain but bloody red mush. Of this I was certain.
I ripped out the earphones. “Don’t. Please.”
“But that’s Stage Dive.”
“And they’re lovely. But, you know, another time maybe.”
“I worry about you sometimes. I just want you to know that.”
“There is nothing wrong with country music played softly.”
Lauren snorted and fluffed up her short dark hair. “There is nothing right with country music played at any volume. So what did you get up to last night? Apart from spending quality time heaving?”
“Actually, that about sums it up.” The less said the better. How could I ever explain? Still, guilt slid through me and I squirmed in my seat. The tattoo throbbed in protest.
I hadn’t told Lauren about my grand having-good-sex plan for the night. She’d have wanted to help. Honestly, sex didn’t strike me as the sort of thing you should have help with. Apart from what was required from the sexual partner in question, of course. Lauren’s assistance would have involved foisting me on every hottie in the room with promises of my immediate leg-open availability.
I loved Lauren and her loyalty was above question, but she didn’t have a subtle bone in her body. She’d punched a girl in the nose in fifth grade for teasing me about my weight and we’d been friends ever since. With Lauren, you always knew exactly where you stood. Something I appreciated the bulk of the time, just not when discretion was called for.
Happily, my sore stomach survived the bumpy landing. Soon as those wheels hit the tarmac I let out a sigh of relief. I was back in my hometown. Beautiful Oregon, lovely Portland, never again would I stray. With mountains in the distance and trees in the city, she was a singular delight. To limit myself to the one city for life might indeed be going overboard. But it was great to be home. I had an all-important internship starting next week that my father had pulled strings to get for me. There were also next semester’s classes to start planning for.
Everything would be fine. I’d learned my lesson. Normally, I didn’t go past three drinks. Three drinks were good. Three got me happy without tripping me face first into disaster. Never again would I cross the line. I was back to being the good old organized, boring me. Adventures were not cool and I was done with them.
We stood and grabbed our bags out of the overhead lockers. Everyone pushed forward in a rush to disembark. The hostesses gave us practiced smiles as we tramped up the aisle and out into the connecting tunnel. Next came security and then we poured out into the baggage claim. Fortunately, we only had carry-on, so no delays there. I couldn’t wait to get home.
I heard shouting up ahead. Lights were flashing. Someone famous must have been on the plane. People ahead of us turned and stared. I looked back too but saw no familiar faces.
“What’s going on?” Lauren asked, scanning the crowd.
“I don’t know,” I said, standing on tippy-toe, getting excited by all the commotion.
Then I heard it, my name being called out over and over. Lauren’s mouth pursed in surprise. Mine fell open.
“When’s the baby due?”
“Evelyn, is David with you?”
“Will there be another wedding?”
“When will you be moving to LA?”
“Is David coming to meet your parents?”
“Evelyn, is this the end for Stage Dive?”
“Is it true that you got tattoos of each other’s name?”
“How long have you and David been seeing each other?”
“What do you say to accusations that you’ve broken up the band?”
My name and his, over and over, mixed into a barrage of endless questions. All of which merged into chaos. A wall of noise I could barely comprehend. I stood gaping in disbelief as flashlights blinded me and people pressed in. My heart hammered. I’d never been great with crowds and there was no escape that I could see.
Lauren snapped out of it first.
She shoved her sunglasses onto my face and then grabbed my hand. With liberal use of her elbows, she dragged me through the mob. The world became a blur, care of her prescription lenses. I was lucky not to fall on my ass. We ran through the busy airport and out to a waiting taxi, jumping the queue. People started yelling. We ignored them.
The paparazzi were close behind.
The motherfucking paparazzi. It would have been surreal if it wasn’t so frantic and in my face.
Lauren pushed me into the back seat of the cab. I scrambled across then slumped down, doing my best to hide. Wishing I could disappear entirely.
“Go! Hurry!” she shouted at the driver.
The driver took her at her word. Our ride shot out of the place, sending us sliding across the cracked vinyl seating. My forehead bounced off the back of the (luckily padded) passenger seat. Lauren pulled my seatbelt over me and jammed it into the clasp. My hands didn’t seem to be working. Everything jumped and jittered.
“Talk to me,” she said.
“Ah …” No words came out. I pushed her sunglasses up on top of my head and stared into space. My ribs hurt and my heart still pounded so hard.
“Ev?” With a small smile Lauren patted my knee. “Did you somehow happen to get married while we were away?”
“I … yeah. I, uh, I did. I think.”
And then it just all blurted out of me. “God, Lauren. I screwed up so badly and I barely even remember any of it. I just woke up and he was there and then he was so pissed at me and I don’t even blame him. I didn’t know how to tell you. I was just going to pretend it never happened.”
“I don’t think that’s going to work now.”
“Okay. No big deal. So you’re married.” Lauren nodded, her face freakily calm. No anger, no blame. Meanwhile, I felt terrible I hadn’t confided in her. We shared everything.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I should have told you.”
“Yes, you should have. But never mind.” She straightened out her skirt like we were sitting down to tea. “So, who did you marry?”
“D-David. His name is David.”
“David Ferris, by any chance?”
The name sounded familiar. “Maybe?”
“Where we going?” asked the cab driver, never taking his eyes off the traffic. He wove in and out among the cars with supernatural speed. If I’d been up to feeling anything, I might have felt fear and more nausea. Blind terror, perhaps. But I had nothing.
“Ev?” Lauren turned in her seat, checking out the cars behind us. “We haven’t lost them. Where do you want to go?”
“Home,” I said, the first safe place to come to mind. “My parents’ place, I mean.”
“Good call. They’ve got a fence.” Without pausing for breath Lauren rattled off the address to the driver. She frowned and pushed the sunglasses back down over my face. “Keep them on.”
I gave a rough laugh as the world outside turned back into a smudge. “You really think it’ll help, now?”
“No,” she said, flicking back her long hair. “But people in these situations always wear sunglasses. Trust me.”
“You watch too much TV.” I closed my eyes. The sunglasses weren’t helping my hangover. Nor was the rest of it. All my own damn fault. “I’m sorry I didn’t say something. I didn’t mean to get married. I don’t even remember what happened exactly. This is such a …”
“That word works.”
Lauren sighed and rested her head on my shoulder. “You’re right. You really shouldn’t drink tequila ever again.”
“No,” I agreed.
“Do me a favor?” she asked.
“Don’t break up my favorite band.”
“Ohmygod.” I shoved the sunglasses back up, frowning hard enough to make my head throb. “Guitarist. He’s the guitarist. That’s where I know him from.”
“Yes. He’s the guitarist for Stage Dive. Well spotted.”
The David Ferris. He’d been on Lauren’s bedroom wall for years. Granted, he had to be the last person I’d expect to wake up to, on a bathroom floor or otherwise. But how the hell could I not have recognized him? “That’s how he could afford the ring.”
Shuffling further down in the seat, I fished the monster out of my jeans pocket and brushed off the lint and fluff. The diamond glittered accusingly in the bright light of day.
Lauren started shaking beside me, muffled laughter escaping her lips. “Mother of God, it’s huuuuge!”
“Fuck me. I think I’m about to pee myself,” she squeed, fanning her face and bouncing up and down on the car seat. “Look at it!”
“Lauren, stop. We can’t both be freaking out. That won’t work.”
“Right. Sorry.” She cleared her throat, visibly struggling to get herself back under control. “How much is that even worth?”
“I really don’t want to guess.”
“That. Is. Insane.”
We both stared at my bling in awed silence.
Suddenly Lauren started bopping up and down in her seat again like a kid riding a sugar high. “I know! Let’s sell it and go backpacking in Europe. Hell, we could probably circle the globe a couple of times on that sucker. Imagine it.”
“We can’t,” I said, as tempting as it sounded. “I’ve got to get it back to him somehow. I can’t keep this.”
“Pity.” She grinned. “So, congratulations. You’re married to a rock star.”
I tucked the ring back into my pocket. “Thanks. What the hell am I going to do?”
“I honestly don’t know.” She shook her head at me, her eyes full of wonder. “You’ve exceeded all of my expectations. I wanted you to let your hair down a little. Get a life and give mankind another chance. But this is a whole new level of crazy you’ve ascended to. Do you really have a tattoo?”
“Of his name?”
I sighed and nodded.
“Where, might I enquire?”
I shut my eyes tight. “My left butt cheek.”
Lauren lost it, laughing so hard that tears started streaming down her face.