Serious Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended
Slightly less serious disclaimer: Whilst I have been to the USA many times, including Vegas for the rodeo I do not claim to have an accurate knowledge of the rodeo and ranching world, unless compulsively reading cowboy themed romance counts as experience. Buckle up and hang on for the ride but do feel free to message me with any glaring issues!
"To Jacob and Bella." Fine crystal tinkled musically against each other, ten glasses meeting politely over a beautifully set table. Jacob got to his feet, tall, broad shouldered and impossibly handsome in his custom made tuxedo.
"To my beautiful fiancee," he said, bestowing her with a dazzling grin. "I can't wait to make you my wife three days from now." Bella blushed as nine sets of eyes fixed her with expectant gazes. She reached for her glass to join in the second toast but misjudged the distance to the glass and knocked it over. Jacob scowled. Rose, to her right, slapped her own napkin down over the puddle of champagne with one hand and swiftly refilled the glass with her other hand. She had known Bella long enough to be alert to the results of her clumsiness.
Charlie caught her eye across the table and smiled reassuringly. The tuxedo that had looked so smart at his wedding to Sue only a few months ago looked faded and out of place in the Michelin starred restaurant. With Jacob back safely in his seat Charlie surreptitiously pushed the champagne glass to one side and went back to his bottle of beer. Sue, fidgeting beside him, looked striking but uncomfortable in a red dress. Bella couldn't help but think that her side of the dinner table looked a little like the poor relations compared to the haute couture and custom tailoring on Jacob's side.
"Amuse bouche," announced a waiter, placing what appeared to be a piece of driftwood with two carefully arranged tiny food morsels on it in front of her. Charlie looked slightly terrified at the unknown course and kept an eye on Jacob's side of the table to make sure that he was using the right cutlery.
"That was awful," declared Rose as the hotel room door swung silently shut behind them.
"That," said Bella, "was an extremely expensive meal that Jacob very generously paid for." She sat her clutch bag down beside the huge flat screen television, kicked off her high heels and sat down on the plush upholstered sofa. Through floor to ceiling windows the Las Vegas strip spread out below them, a living, writhing ribbon of life in the dark desert.
"Still awful," said Rose, flopping down onto one of the two beds in their room. She pushed her body out into a starfish shape, giving Bella an unladylike flash of the scrap of red lace that was masquerading as underwear. "I don't understand why Jacob had to insist on the wedding being in Vegas in winter." She rolled over onto her side, propping her head up with her hand, her beautiful blonde curls cascading over her shoulders. She fixed Bella with her brown eyes. "I also don't understand why we have to have some awful joint bachelor party instead of letting your friends give you a proper send off."
"It's the done thing now," said Bella, defensively, "far more civilised than one of those awful bachelorette parties you see in Forks with costumes and badges and inflatable willies." In truth Bella agreed with Rose. Jacob and Billy had insisted on their wedding being in Vegas firstly to accommodate the extended Black family and their numerous business contacts and secondly so that Jacob could tie up some business at the same time. She had originally suggested that they get married beside the lake at the big house with a few acres of land that Charlie and Sue had bought near Forks just before they got married but her idea had been quickly dismissed.
"Earth to Bella," said Rose, waving her free hand. "For somebody who's getting married in a couple of days you're very quiet."
"Just a little overawed, I guess," replied Bella with a shrug.
"You don't have to marry him, you know," said Rose, somewhat matter of factly.
"I know," snapped Bella. "I'm doing it because I want to."
"He's the first guy you've ever been with," said Rose, softly.
"Rose!" exclaimed Bella, throwing a cushion at her friend. "Just because I haven't worked my way through the whole college football team doesn't mean I don't know what I want."
"Whatever," giggled Rose, throwing the cushion straight back at Bella. Bella fudged the catch and the cushion hit the sideboard, sending lipstick, hairspray and perfume flying. Rose laughed harder and Bella couldn't help but join in. Apart from Charlie, Rose was the only person in the world who didn't make her feel embarrassed about being so clumsy. The laughter petered out and they lapsed into companionable silence.
"Come on," said Rose, sitting up straight and swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "Let's go out."
"Out?" said Bella. "But it's late." Rose raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. "We've got spa treatments booked in for the morning."
"It's early," said Rose, pointing at the green numbers at the alarm clock that spelled out 2315 in jarring straight lines. "Besides," she added, winking at Bella, "half the reason to go to a spa is to get over a hangover."
"I don't know," said Bella, twisting the huge diamond engagement ring absent mindedly around her ring finger.
"Please," said Rose, her voice imploring. "I'm not getting to organise a proper bacherlorette party for you, at least let us have a couple of crazy hours of Vegas fun."
"I probably shouldn't…."
"Why not?" interrupted Rose. "Are you worried what Jacob will think?"
"No," retorted Bella, a little too quickly. Besides, he would be working until the bachelor and bachelorette dinner scheduled for the next evening.
"Nobody will know," said Rose, conspirationally, sensing that she was close to eroding the last of Bella's resolve.
"Fine!" said Bella, smiling despite her reservations. "Let's go!" She stood up and started trying to slip her feet back into the high heels.
"No you don't," said Rose, looking pointedly at Bella's expensive but bland dove grey dress. "Let's get into something more fun."
Ten minutes later they were changed and ready to go. They had both dressed in skinny jeans and high heels but Rose had teamed her low cut white bodysuit with a short black biker jacket while Bella was wearing a petrol blue trench coat over a deep purple sleeveless silk blouse.
"Much better," said Rose, nodding appreciatively. "Now, take off the engagement ring and put it in the safe."
"No!" said Bella, compulsively pulling her left hand closer to her body. "Why would I want to do that?"
"Because it's hanging off?" said Rose, in a tone of voice that implied Bella was stupid, one hand on her hip. "You didn't think that I meant…."
"No, no," said Bella, sliding off the ring and holding it in the palm of her right hand for a moment. Rose was right, she had lost so much weight in the run up to the wedding that the ten thousand dollar ring was in real danger of falling off. Better to leave it in the safe. She popped it into the dark space carefully, putting the weighty item on top of her passport before closing the door firmly and typing in the code to lock it.
Out on the strip the air was cool and dry. Despite the light pollution they could see the myriad of stars twinkling overhead. With unspoken agreement they walked out of the Bellagio and started heading South. Jacob and his family preferred to keep to the five star venues of Bellagio and Caesars Palace so they were unlikely to bump into somebody that they wouldn't want to see further South. To their right the Bellagio fountains pulsed in time to classical music. Bella had seen it dozens of times from their hotel room the last couple of days but there was something more immediate, more visceral about seeing it from ground level. Tourists in khakis and baseball caps posed for photographs with Minions and Star Wars characters. A man in a gold G-string and body paint was break dancing for quarters. A group of frat boys with lurid slushies in Eiffel Tower shaped plastic cups as long as their bodies didn't even bother to try to look cool as they gaped at the watery spectacle. This was Bella's first time in Las Vegas and to date it hadn't impressed her. The Bellagio was a beautiful hotel and the room where they were to have their civil ceremony was stunning, if a good bit larger than she was expecting, particularly as her own guest list barely stretched to thirty bodies however everything felt a little clinical to her, as if the place lacked soul. Yet now, out in the crowd on the pulsing, living street she suddenly felt a thrill of pleasure. She was part of the crowd, anonymous but taking part. She couldn't stop a grin from spreading across her face.
"There we go," said Rose, taking her hand in hers and squeezing it tight, "there's the Bella I know and love."
"I think I needed this," admitted Bella.
"Rose knows best," purred Rose. "Now," she said, rooting in her pocket, "I need to dance." She pulled out a five dollar bill and threw it into the little biscuit tin weighted down with quarters in front of the gold G-string man. "The robot?" He nodded, smiled, flicked a button to change the music and started moving his body like a robot. Rose immediately jumped in next to him, pulling her own moves, moves that Bella had seen many times before. The robot was Rose's party piece and she was almost as good a dancer as the gold G-string man. The frat boys started to take notice, clapping and cheering, throwing dollars and quarters into tin, almost doubling his cash haul in a few short minutes.
"You're good!" exclaimed the gold G-string man, apparently not bothered that the increasing crowd was down to the statuesque blonde and not his own moves.
"Thanks," said Rose, coming to a stop and straightening her body. "That's better," she said to Bella, "warmed up and ready to go now."
"Hey," said gold G-string man, "why don't you stay? I like having the company."
"Not tonight," said Rose, smiling, "I'm showing my friend Bella a good time."
"Have fun!" Gold g-string man pulled Rose into an impulsive hug. She hugged him back, to the jeers and catcalls of the frat boys, then extracted herself from his grasp and made her way back to Bella. "I'm here all night," he called, a little desperately, before turning his music to a new tune and resuming with his original dancing.
"Rose," said Bella, stifling a giggle, "you've got gold body paint all over your front." There was a little on her jacket. Bella rummaged in her bag and found a pack of tissues. Pulling one out she rubbed it across the leather. The gold paint came straight off. The remainder was on Rose's chest, in two round ovals on her breasts where they had mashed against gold G-string man in his impromptu hug. Bella pushed a single finger against one of the ovals. She scratched it then looked under her fingernail. A little had scraped off but the paint had sunk right into the thin stretchy cotton of the bodysuit. "Um," she said, with a grimace, "that's not coming off."
Rose looked down at her gold breasts, then at Bella. She looked at her gold breasts a second time and when she looked at Bella again there was a mischevious grin on her face.
"So what?" She shrugged her shoulders, pulling herself tall, thrusting her ample chest out the front of the leather biker jacket. "We're in Vegas and I'm already wearing gold accessories. I'll just make out I meant to look like this." She linked her arm through Bella's and started propelling her South down the strip again. Bella laughed, loud and clear. Rose looked down at her, clearly slightly shocked by the noise until she joined in too.
Even as she laughed the look of surprise in Rose's eyes struck a cruel blow. Was it really so rare that she laughed properly any more?