Til Death Do Us Part
"Time to go! Everyone get over here for one last group shot!"
Iko waved at them from the balcony. Cress, who had already been dressed and ready to go for the last half hour, gave a deep sigh and got to her feet. She wobbled on her strappy heels and nearly slammed into Cinder, who wasn't doing too well on her heels either, though they were at least two inches shorter than Cress's.
"I don't see the need for another photo," Cinder said. She pulled down on the short, slinky dress Iko had made her wear as she took precarious steps onto the balcony. "We've already taken about a hundred."
"And we'll take at least a hundred more before the night is over," Iko said, already throwing an arm around Winter's shoulders. "It's New Year's Eve in Las Vegas. This is going to be the best night of our existence."
Scarlet, who had gotten to choose her own dress, lined up on the other side of Iko. Her low-cut black dress made her chest look fabulous. Cress glanced down at her own barely-there chest, feeling just a little envious. Like Scarlet, she had also chosen her own dress, and just this time, she'd picked a plunging neckline that cinched above her belly button. It was the most scandalous thing she'd ever worn, but they were in Las Vegas and she would never see anyone she met tonight again.
At least, that was what she hoped. It would be just her luck to randomly run into one of her students' parents tonight. She was nearly 300 miles away from home but the thought had occurred to her already twice. A lot of people went to Las Vegas for New Year's.
"Cress! Get in the picture."
Cress slid under Cinder's arm. She was shorter than Cinder by far and it almost felt like Cinder was using her body as support to stay upright. They'd all had a few shots already, but Cress was pretty sure it was Cinder's heels impeding her balance. While walking was more difficult, Cress could at least stand in hers.
"Smile!" Iko said.
With photos finished, they all shuffled out of the hotel room and found the limo that Winter had booked for them. It had been her idea for this trip, but with the cheap airline tickets and the prospect of the five of them having an amazing girls vacation, no one had been able to turn her down. The five of them had been friends since their junior year of college and it had been several years since they'd been able to travel together. Cress had been most more excited about the idea of going to a Celine Dion's show or one of the many performances. But after looking at all the prices for New Year's shows, they'd decided to just go dancing.
"So, I have a surprise," Winter said. She drew her shoulders up excitedly.
Cinder turned down the volume of the music in the back of the limo and regarded her cousin. "Can the surprise include not dancing?"
She had been the only one of the five who had not been in favor of dancing.
"Oh, stop it!" Iko said. She threw one of her many blue braids over her shoulder. "You look fantastic in that dress."
"That has nothing to do with me dancing," Cinder said into her champagne flute.
"It's kind of about not dancing," Winter said. "Since we weren't 100% sure what we wanted to do, well…an alternative option for the evening has turned up — free of charge!"
Everyone waited expectantly.
"Jacin got us surprise tickets to a VIP lounge. It's perfect because we can still dance and anyone who wants to sit it out"—she gave Cinder a pointed look—"can relax and still have a good time. Drinks are discounted there as well, so…it'll be fun!"
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. "How did he do that? None of the places were taking reservations when we tried calling. They said you had to go in person."
"Well," Winter said, beaming, "it just so happens that Jacin is here in Vegas too!"
"Wait…" Scarlet frowned. "What?"
"This was going to be a girls vacation," Cinder said with a groan. "No boys allowed."
"Except for the ones we're going to hook up with," Iko said. She raised her glass and Scarlet clinked it with a laugh.
"We're not hooking up with anyone, remember?" Cress said. "No boys allowed."
Cinder nodded. "Girls vacation."
"I'll tell you where the boys are allowed," Iko said. "And Cress, why are you wearing that dress if you don't want to meet anyone?"
Cress raised her head indignantly. "I wore this dress because it makes me feel more confident. Everything else I had in my suitcase made me look like a school teacher."
"Guys like naughty school teachers," Scarlet said.
"Come on," Cress whined. "Don't leave me all alone all night."
"It's only part of the night," Iko said with a snicker.
Cress gave Cinder a pleading look. "Will you at least stick with me?"
"Hey, Cress," Scarlet said. "We're going to stick with you, sweetie. It's just that we're also looking forward to meeting other people and maybe having a fling—"
"—or two—" Iko said.
"—while we're out here," Scarlet finished. "You should keep yourself open to possibilities. Maybe you'll meet your dream man tonight."
"My dream man is going to want a long-lasting relationship," Cress said with a huff. "He'll be into epic romances, not one-night stands."
"Way to be judgy, Cress." Iko downed the rest of her champagne glass.
"I'm not being judgy! I'm just nervous you guys are all going to leave me alone." She turned to Winter. "If Jacin is here, does that mean you're heading off with him too?"
Everyone in the limo booed.
"No, of course not!" Winter said. "Jacin's here purely coincidentally."
"Sure," Cinder said under her breath.
"He's here with his friends. They wanted to go to Vegas for the New Year too, so why shouldn't we meet up with them for a little bit?"
"Oh my word," Scarlet said. "You knew he was coming all along. That's why you planned this trip, isn't it? So you could have your midnight kiss with him?"
Even Cress couldn't deny that Winter looked like she was trying not to meet anyone's eyes.
"Can we please go to the VIP lounge just for the beginning?" she asked, turning to Cress and giving her a big smile. "I promise I'm not going to ditch anyone. We can hang out there a bit and those that want to dance can dance, and those that want to hang out and talk can talk! We were going to look for a club on the strip anyway. And if it's boring, we can leave. There will be good music and Jacin's friends and—"
"Jacin," the four of them chorused.
Winter's skin was dark enough that it covered up a blush, but she squirmed in her seat.
"All right, fine." Scarlet put her arm around Winter. "Truth be told, all of us were surprised that you agreed to come without him in the first place."
"But Winter's buying the first round of drinks," Cinder said.
"Did he say what club he's at?" Cress asked.
"The Lunar Palace," Winter said.
Iko squealed. "Ladies, I think our evening just got a whole lot more luxurious!"
The Lunar Palace was…not entirely a bad name.
Cress had seen a lot of impressive buildings and interesting statues in Vegas so far and the Lunar Palace didn't disappoint. There were levels to this club, and each one was decked out with a moon or star theme. There were thousands of hanging lights in shapes of the different phases of the moon on the level they were currently on and it looked like the most glamorous starry night Cress had ever seen. Strobe lights made everything a bit psychedelic — even the giant moon rocks that were carved out of ice around the floor. The floor was illuminated in pink, purple, and silver lights that came up in a fog to Cress's knees. Some people were wearing sexy alien costumes and other things that made Cress's eyes pop just a bit.
"And here we are," said the hostess, who had been very excited to find that Jacin's esteemed guests had finally arrived. Cress wondered where Jacin had suddenly come into so much money, but she supposed he might've had it all along. His father was a high-ranking official in the military and Jacin had quickly followed him overseas right after the ROTC college stint was over. He had been back in the U.S. for almost a year now. Cress had no idea how much money that sort of thing made and didn't feel comfortable asking.
The hostess pulled back the curtain to a private area on top of the fourth floor. Cress had expected a few guys, but there was ample space inside the VIP lounge for dancing and even a private bar for the forty-some partygoers who were already in there. Her stomach knotted. Dancing in a huge crowded room was one thing when everyone around you was drunk and your girls were right next to you. This scene felt like a rich kid's high school party...where everyone scrutinized your awkward dancing.
Winter spotted Jacin and squealed with delight. As she ran at her boyfriend, Cress moved between Cinder and Scarlet. The three of them walked together while Iko strutted across the lounge to where Winter was already kissing Jacin.
Every few steps, Cress worried that Cinder might fall over, especially since she kept tugging on her dress as though she could make it longer. Cress had acquired something of a rhythm in her own heels, luckily. And she thought they made her legs look good.
Iko stopped when she had almost reached the half circle of couches where Jacin's group was. "Hang on." She pulled the girls into a huddle. "No one mentioned that Jacin had a harem of hot guys at his disposal."
The girls wiggled around a bit until everyone could see the guys. Cress tried to make herself smaller as the guys very obviously noticed how the newly–arrived girls were very obviously checking them out. Jacin was the only one who didn't notice — but that was probably because Winter was still wrapped around him.
"Let's see," Iko continued. "I call dibs on the Asian guy. Just one look at him and I'm all hot and bothered already." She tilted her head at the guy who had shaggy, straight black hair that went just past his ears. He was very easy on the eyes, Cress had to admit.
"Are we already doing this?" Cinder said.
"What? You don't like him?"
"Iko, you can have whoever you want. I just didn't think you'd pick literally the first guy you saw."
"This room is full of guys, Cinder. And I want that one."
Cinder rolled her eyes. "Go for it."
"If we're stuck in this lounge for a while," Scarlet said, "then I must say, the guy who looks Middle Eastern is way hotter than the guy you picked, Iko."
"Luckily both of you have very different tastes in guys," Cinder said.
"Look at him," Scarlet said. "He's all big and rugged and muscular. And those striking green eyes!"
Cress did look at him and had to gulp. Compared to her 5'0" she guessed he was close to 6'5". And though he was indeed handsome, there was something almost scary about him. He reminded her of the type of fathers that would come into her classroom for parent-teacher conferences and get mad about the smallest things.
"Cress, you don't want anyone, right?" Iko said.
"Cinder, that leaves white guy #1 and white guy #2 for you."
Cress tried to see who she meant but they were blocked by Winter and Jacin.
"Hang on," Cinder said, crossing her arms. "I know that guy."
"#1 or #2?" Iko said.
"I can't believe he knows Jacin," she muttered. "Oh…but I guess his dad is military too, isn't he? Hmm."
"Cinder, which one?"
Cinder pulled them all closer. "Okay, you know how there are, like, girl pacts in movies?"
Scarlet and Iko shook their heads.
"Well, whatever," Cinder continued. She pointed. Cress craned her neck. "See that guy with the brown hair? Not the one with the wavy hair and the thick eyebrows. The other one. With the square jaw and whole dimple thing going on?"
"White guy #2," Iko supplied.
"Technically with Jacin, shouldn't he be #3?" said Scarlet.
"That guy is trouble with a capital T." Cinder shook her head. "We should make a pact right now that no one hooks up with him."
"I mean, I can see the appeal," Iko said. "He's fine. But we're all spoken for."
They all turned to Cress. Her eyes widened. "I can't even see him from here! And no, I'm not going to hook up with him. I'm not going to hook up with anyone. In fact, I might as well go back to my room and go to bed early because all my friends are ditching me for guys that we just met." She snatched an antennae hat off the tray of a hostess who was walking by them. They had little sparkly moons on the end of them. She put them on her head with an eye roll. "Happy New Year to me."
"Don't worry," Cinder said. "You can sit with me while Iko and Scarlet flirt. I'm going to be avoiding them as much as possible considering Thorne is here."
"Yes, no need to be so dramatic, Cress," Scarlet said. "We're just being friendly. And look around—it's not so bad. All of us can hang out together. No one's going off on their own anytime soon. And we can go outside the VIP lounge anytime we want. So cheer up. It's the five of us together tonight." She glanced at Winter, who had finally broken apart from Jacin. "Or maybe just the four of us."
"Okay," Cress said. "Sorry. I just panicked a little. I don't want to spend my time talking to some guys when I could hang out with all of you."
"Of course, sweetie," Iko said, giving her a quick hug. "Now, let's go shake things up."
"And not hook up with Thorne," Cinder added.
Cress was now more than curious about this so-called Thorne. More importantly, she had rarely ever heard Cinder talk about a boy with such passion—passion of any kind, really—since she had known her. Cinder was also fairly mellow, so if he had done something to upset her, it must have been big.
The girls made their way over to the couches and greeted Jacin. He gave them all hugs as if they hadn't just seen him a few days ago at Winter's Christmas party.
"Guys, these are Winter's friends," he said. "Ladies, these some of my buddies, Kinney—"
The wavy-haired guy that no one wanted.
Scarlet's muscle man.
Jacin moved enough so Cress could finally get a better look at Thorne. And—
If those weren't the dreamiest blue eyes Cress had ever seen…
Those blue eyes swept over Cress for just a second before they landed and stayed on Cinder. Thorne burst into a dimpled grin. "Get out! Cinder?! What the hell are you doing here?"
He jumped to his feet and pulled a stunned Cinder into a bear hug. The skirt of her dress nearly rose over her butt and she was immediately tugging down on it and trying to wiggle out of Thorne's arms.
"Happy New Year," she said stiffly.
"Aces, you really know how to put a guy in a time warp. Come here for a sec," he said, dragging her by the hand. "I want you to meet my buddy Kai."
Apparently he wasn't that much trouble, because Cinder let him pull her down onto the couch, sandwiching her between him and the cute Asian guy. Iko took no time in rushing over there to claim the spot on the other side of him.
The big, muscular guy—Ze'ev—ambled over with two drinks. "Hi."
"Hi," said Cress shyly, but then she realized that he was addressing Scarlet, not her, who was standing right behind her. She took a step aside.
He offered Scarlet the second glass.
"I don't accept drinks from strangers," Scarlet said.
She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "But you can accompany me to the bar if you like."
His eyes crinkled as he smiled. He was much less scary that way.
"Want to come, Cress?" Scarlet asked.
She wanted to—desperately—if only not to be left alone while everyone chatted with the various guys. But she also didn't want to be a third wheel. And Ze'ev already seemed interested in Scarlet. Why wouldn't he be? Cress wasn't going to be the night's spoilsport. This was only supposed to be for a little while, and then they would all leave to go dancing out in the club—hopefully just the five of them.
"That's ok," Cress said. "Maybe grab me something?"
Scarlet nodded and took off with Ze'ev.
Cress stood in front of the half-circle of couches for a moment, inspecting her nails. She had gotten a French manicure that afternoon with the girls just for this night. They fit well with the moon theme.
She regarded the couches again. It was like her friends had said. They were all together here, even if everyone was already busy chatting up someone new. She mustered up her courage and took a seat next to the only guy who wasn't already occupied—the one named Kinney.
She had no plans to do anything but talk, of course, and there was no reason not to meet new people, even if that was the exact opposite of what she wanted to do. He seemed nice enough, and he truly wasn't terrible to look at either. Winter was right on the other side of the couch with Jacin if she needed anything.
"Hello," she said brightly, "I'm Cress."
The guy jerked his chin toward her in acknowledgement, then moved to sit next to Jacin. He started talking to him and Winter about something.
Which was exactly what Cress should have done in the first place.
She grabbed a shot glass from the middle of the table and downed it in one gulp.
Note: You can guess where this is going by the title and description alone, so I'll make this quick. It's inspired by the movie What Happens In Vegas and it will also combine some charity date auction elements as a tribute to Marissa Meyer's "To The Gentleman In The Back" (though that's no longer the main focus). It will be very tropey as that's sometimes the best part of fanfiction. Unlike my other fics, I promise mostly rom-com fluff and no CNLG-like twists. :) As always, if you enjoyed and want to have more, please remember to review/follow. Fic writing is a lonely business without you all. Happy New Year!