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FICTION

Vegas Baby

by Jessica Walker

We are pushing forty—far too old for this. But here we are in Vegas with sky-high heels and penis straws and a Miss America sash spangled: BACHELORETTE. We are seven—you, the blushing bride, me, your oldest, dearest friend, and five whose names I can’t remember, so I’m calling them the Katies. I live where you’re from and the Katies live where you live—Silicon Valley—and as soon as I see them willowing around the baggage claim I know the type—yoga-calm and smug-drunk on tech money and Kombucha. Not like us with our East Coast edge and our juvie record.

I’ll have you know, there was turbulence as my plane descended over these bare, brown mountains and I didn’t take Klonopin for your sake—I wanted to be clear-eyed and sober-ish. I made it with only a small gulp of tequila. Because I care! I try! Because I remember our conversation, the one where you invited me:

YOU: These other girls, I know them professionally, so I need you to be—

ME: Don’t even worry. I can be chill!

YOU: Just maybe light on the drinking, and the drug stuff, and the sex stuff, and the—

ME: You haven’t seen me in ages. I’m different. Different hair, different tits, different everything. I don’t even drink hard liquor anymore! Wine only! Good for your heart! Classy!

YOU: I’m sure you have good intentions. But sometimes you when you drink you lash—

ME: Best behavior, I swear on my life. I promise you now, I’ll only consume wine, only white zin—blush for the blushing bride, even though everybody knows it’s the trashy stuff.

YOU: They call it rosé now, actually. It’s made a comeback.

When I promise best behavior, I mean it, and so when the limo only seats six, I graciously bow out, get an Uber, go Off-Strip, get a quarter ounce of coke. (Sure, you’ll say you don’t want it at first, but deep-down, you’ll want it, you’ll thank me. Remember my twenty-third birthday? How we stopped the world for a gram?) And here I am checking in before all of you. Those Katies made the limo stop at two liquor stores, a Whole Foods, and a Bed Bath & Beyond. And I’m the difficult one!

You’re in the penthouse with the Katies, sleepover style. But I need my own room (let’s not lie, it’s Vegas, I’m newly single, I’m gonna get laid, am I not, am I not?) I come up with my bottle of champagne (blow safe in my purse, too early for that!) and I shake up the champers as soon as you open the door and the bubbles flow over you.

You finally look like the old you, the young you, laughing in the froth, not a care about your wet top, your wet hair, your smeared make-up. You whoop and I do, too, and we hug hard.

The Katies are drinking Kombucha, eating organic kale chips, and listening to coma-inducing house music from the TV speakers. And I know this is why I’m here. I grab a bottle of vodka, spike those bitches’ Kombucha, blast Bon Jovi on the stereo. You are pumping your fists, I am pumping my fists, even the Katies are pumping their fists! Bouncing and yelling and screaming to the music. All together. All for YOU! Until a Katie gets hungry.

A KATIE: Does this restaurant you picked have vegan options?

OTHER KATIE: Is the pasta gluten-free?

ANOTHER KATIE: I just had Italian. Can we do Asian?

The Katies stage a coup to redirect to a Thai-Peruvian fusion joint. But I know you like Italian because it reminds you of your grandma and I know you don’t like confrontation.

ME: Guys, the bride wants Italian. This trip is about her. Let’s make her happy, right?

Me! Savior and protector of your epicurean delight! The Katies concede and we all go where you want because you’re the bride and if I can behave myself, so can the Katies. After dinner, we go to a club called STROBE! and push our way to the front of the line, jump a barrier, and race into the VIP section. A couple Katies are lost along the way, casualties of a good time.

I find a group of guys from Jersey in town for an electronic music conference. They have a table, bottle service. I have blow. A deal is made and we sit—me, you, and two Katies. Of course you spot the blow as soon as I make the handoff to the alpha Jersey guy—you were always good at detecting under-the-table drug action. You hiss in my ear.

YOU: You brought cocaine? I can’t believe you! I expressly told you not to—

ME: It’s Vegas, baby! A little coke never hurt anyone. Except my birthday that time…

And you look at me with terror and hurt in your eyes. I guess now’s a bad time to bring that up, but when ever is? I drop the topic, hug you, and smile. Your face relaxes, you take your turn in the bathroom with the baggie and soon I’m on the dance floor with Alpha Jersey, you’re sitting in Muscle Jersey’s lap, and one of the Katies is holding hands with Sensitive Jersey.

I wake up in my own bed. Check. With my own purse. Check. With my cards and cash. Check. And my phone. Check. I scan my phone—no new messages, only an email from my divorce attorney (settlement soon! YAY!) and my ex (you’re in Vegas?! Couldn’t wait for the ink to dry?—DELETED) The blow is missing, which is a bit suspicious; I doubt we would have done that much, giving drugs away is not characteristic of me, so I hope it’s in your hands. There’s another email from my attorney (ex is mad about the Vegas trip, threatening to kill the deal. UGH, GROW UP ALREADY. MOVE ON!) No time for that! Today is cabana day and I have to meet you and the Katies at the pool.

You’re lounging in the cabana, the Katies are draped around you, bikini-ed, drinking green juice from penis straws. A Katie notices me, nudges another Katie, and everyone looks at me then averts their eyes. You bound over.

YOU: I can’t believe you’re even showing your face after last night!

ME: Why not?

YOU: Seriously, you don’t remember the shit you said after the club? In the casino?

ME: About what?

YOU: That! That thing the night of your birthday.

ME: How I got raped?

YOU: —

ME: Oh, that’s right. You don’t believe me.

YOU: I never know what to believe with you.

I consider apologizing. But I don’t feel sorry and I’m not even sure exactly what I’ve done—maybe there’s nothing to be sorry for, it wouldn’t be the first time we didn’t see eye to eye on the same set of facts. So I leave the pool. But this isn’t over. One day you’ll believe me. Till then, I’ll keep telling you:

It’s Friday. The last day I’m twenty-two. We are at our apartment, gonna party all day, right up to midnight, right up to twenty-three. We are doing blow and drinking Cold Duck and I announce that I never want the day to end. Forever twenty-two! you’re chanting, nostrils flaring, hair stringy, arms rag-doll loose and flinging around until you knock the Cold Duck all over the coke plate. One gram ruined in a single second—sticky and gloppy on the carpet. We call all the dealers we know—no luck. We call all our druggie friends, until we find a guy who knows a guy who might have something. We are too fucked up to drive so we give the guy our address and wait in the parking lot, panting, salivating like dogs. He pulls up in a big van with a nature scene painted on the side. He is tall, goony, acne-pocked, and can’t pronounce his Rs. He slides open the door, points to a tackle box on the floor of the van. There’s a baggie inside. You grab it and run off and the guy just stands there slack-jawed. Doesn’t even look angry over your grab-and-dash. I reach in my sock for the cash and that’s when he shoves me in the van and does what he does—he rapes me—then shoves me out and drives away. Never takes the cash. I stumble to the apartment and find you with a plate of coke.

YOU: Dude, this is some massively stepped-on shit. Mostly baby laxative and benzocaine.

ME: That guy just raped me.

YOU: Are you sure?

ME: Yeah. I’m sure.

YOU: You don’t look like anything happened. You sound normal.

ME: Yeah. I do?

YOU: You weren’t even out there that long.

ME: Yeah. I wasn’t?

YOU: He was kinda your type. You do like skinny drug dealers.

ME: Yeah. I do?

YOU: What do you want to do?

ME: I don’t know.

YOU: Have a drink? Take a shower maybe?

ME: Should I leave, like, the evidence? For like, the investigation?

YOU: We can’t go to the cops. We were doing a drug deal. We’d get arrested. Life as we know it would stop.

I have a drink and take a shower. You sit on the toilet doing the bad coke, chattering on.

YOU: It’s gonna be okay. We’ll deal with this tomorrow. No need to ruin your last day of twenty-two. We’ll go to the doctor, get you tested, get the morning-after pill. Tomorrow you’re twenty-three. That’s like an adult age. We’ll do the adult thing. Let’s be twenty-two as long as we can. Forever twenty-two! Forever twenty-two!

I chant along and feel better. I’m in the hotel lobby feeding a slot machine, wondering what time it is, what day it is, what year it is, why time is always such a mushy blob for me. Someone is talking to me. It’s Sensitive Jersey. His eyes are over-wet, over-bright. Mucous is pooling beneath his nostrils and now I know what happened to my coke.

SENSITIVE JERSEY: Hey, that was really cool of you, leaving all that blow with us. You left in such a hurry. We didn’t even get to thank you. We called you the fairy coke-mother—poof, here’s some coke, poof, you’re gone. Didn’t even get to say goodbye.

ME: Well, we can say goodbye now if you want.

Sensitive Jersey and I go to a bar, then to my room to do lines, then to my bed where we try to fuck for an hour, but Sensitive Jersey has whiskey-dick so I make him take a nap and I watch him sleeping. His skin is baby-smooth—not a line on his face and he sleeps like an innocent—open-mouthed, arms splayed over his cow-licked head. I wake him after a while and we fuck for real this time and I let him come inside me.

SENSITIVE JERSEY: That’s the first time anyone’s let me do that.

ME: How old are you?

SENSITIVE JERSEY: Twenty-one. How old are you?

ME: How old do you think?

SENSITIVE JERSEY: Thirty-five? But you act younger! You’re on the Pill? ‘Cause—

ME: Don’t worry. It’s all taken care of.

I cuddle Sensitive Jersey until he falls asleep and I wonder what you would say about all this—probably that I need to grow up, be responsible, take care of myself. I know we haven’t been as close since my wedding, when you joked to my ex—She’s your problem now—so you don’t know how I tried. I did therapy, joined a church and a book club, learned to cook, quit drinking. I got pregnant—on purpose!—and stayed pregnant for almost three months. After that, it all fell apart. I had everyone fooled for a while though, starring in the role of grown-up me. But here I am alone, in Vegas, strung out, bare-backing someone young enough to be my child who somehow seems more together than me.

The electronic dance music conference starts today and the Strip is teeming with kids dressed like cartoons: boys in neon, girls in tutus with sparkle-tails and glitter-horns. They are way too happy, high on whatever their generation enjoys. I push past them on the way to the pharmacy. The first time I took the morning-after pill you had to get a prescription. Remember?

We wake up the next day, hungover, hungry, and pukey, and at first I don’t remember what happened, but then I see you looking at me funny kinda like you look at a baby—like you’re waiting on me to roll over, fall down, or cry. But I got nothing to say. So you make some phone calls in hushed tones—unprotected sex, you say, can’t afford abortion. And off we go to the clinic in your shuddering blue Camry. You go in with me, and the doctor asks about the bruises on my arms, and I say nothing, but you make some joke about us mud-wrestling and the doctor goes with it so I get my pill and instructions to come back in thirty days for STD testing.

I’m supposed to take the pill with food, so we go to McDonalds and order Happy Meals.

YOU: It’s her birthday! Can she get something for free?

CASHIER: How old are you?

ME: Twenty-two.

YOU: Yeah, she’s forever twenty-two!

The cashier slips an apple pie in my Happy Meal and we sit in the playground ball pit. While I’m eating, I want you to ask me about it—what happened, how I’m feeling—but you just talk smack about the people we always talk smack about. Before I eat my pie, you sing Happy Birthday and I pick up a ball and throw it at you as hard as I can and it hits you in the chest.

YOU: Hey! That hurt.

ME: I wanted it to.

The Vegas pharmacist looks right through me as she hands me the pill and tells me to take it with food, that I might get nauseous. Any questions? she asks. I have questions but not for her. This is when I need you—Miss Tell-Me-What-You-Think-Even-If-It-Hurts. So like—this is Vegas, right? Maybe I should take a chance. Toss this pill. Have a Vegas baby, or at least a shot at one. But that’s stupid, right? I don’t even know Sensitive Jersey’s name. I could do the single mom thing. Maybe that’s the answer, that’s how I’ll change. It seems kind of hopeful—a game of baby roulette, a little bundle of jackpot joy, a glittery new person, a shiny new me. I tuck the pill in my purse and step out onto the Strip, into the heat, into the Vegas-scape of kids pretending to be adults and adults pretending to be kids.

Back at the hotel, I am looking for a restaurant, a place to swallow the pill with champagne, sushi, and a cigarette, or a place to toss the pill and consume only water and vitamin-rich nourishment, the sort of things that give life. I hear laughter—like real, deep laughter—and I turn to see a bride in white with blue Converse, a groom in a tux with pink Converse. I check out the couple’s fingers. No rings yet.

I want to be a part of your wedding. I want to be a part of your life. I need you to know me. So when my therapist says you’re toxic, that our relationship is holding me back, that I don’t need your validation, I drop her ass, and I keep calling, reaching out, flying across a continent for you—my only witness. Even though you won’t say it, won’t say the word, won’t say rape. You are my witness and my judge and jury too. If I can’t make you believe me, who ever will?

I know going to your wedding is out of the question, I can’t even act appropriately for a Vegas bachelorette—is there a lower standard of behavior? But I want a wedding so I follow the Converse couple to a chapel on the hotel’s promenade. A woman in a bright blue dress is carrying the bride’s train. She keeps stepping on it and they are cackling like fools, their shrieks slicing through the slot machines’ burbles and pings and the piped-in feather-voice of that popular kid singer: Baby, baby, baby, oh! Baby, baby, baby, no! I guess the girl with the train is the maid of honor. Sister. Friend. Helper. Sharer of another woman’s burden or joy.

The chapel is a glassed-in room, and the glass is frosted with a floral design, so I have to peer through small clear patches to see what’s going on. The maid of honor is pouring champagne, then steps out of view. A teen girl tries to swipe a glass, and a hand swats her away. Everyone is wearing Converse. I look down at my feet. Sandals. The door opens.

MAID OF HONOR: Hey, do you belong in here?

ME: No. Just watching. I always wanted to witness a Vegas wedding.

MAID OF HONOR: Well, come on in! Be a part of it!

ME: You don’t know me.

MAID OF HONOR: And how will I ever if you don’t get in here?!

She is the over-friendly kind of drunk. I worry that the bride will mind, that she’s an unfriendly friend—a Katie that will judge me, a you that will doubt me, a me that will blow shit up. But I go inside. To feel close to you and far from you. To hold on to the pill and the possibility inside me a little longer than I know I should. To keep trying.

Jessica Walker
Jessica Walker’s short stories are published or forthcoming in Indiana Review, Booth, Bayou, Ninth Letter Online, and elsewhere. She is the winner of Bayou’s James Knudsen Prize for Short Fiction and an MFA candidate in Fiction at the University of Virginia. She recently received her first nomination for the Pushcart Prize.
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