Never in my
life have I seen a bridesmaid dressed as a showgirl. Until
I turn and look at myself in the mirror.
Gibbons.” I tug my rhinestone-encrusted push-up bra a tad
higher. “I cannot believe you’re making us wear this to
Vegas, baby.” Sally Anne lifts her double chin and glowers
at me. “Roll with it.”
bridesmaid Shanelle is attempting to pry her thong out of
the nether regions into which it has largely disappeared.
“I haven’t flashed this much skin since I gave birth. Are
you sure you don’t want, I don’t know, a classier look?”
little late for that now, don’t you think? I’m getting
hitched in fifteen minutes.” Sally Anne’s inch-long red
fingernails flip a coppery curl behind her ear. “Besides,
if I wanted classy, would I be getting married on the
I glance at one another. Perhaps a more rhetorical question
has never been posed.
problem, anyhow?” Sally Anne smooths her sequin-studded
sateen. “You two prance around onstage wearing nothing more
than a few inches of Lycra.”
what beauty queens do. “But that’s in the name of pageant
competition,” I remind her.
“This is in
the name of wedded bliss,” Sally Anne shoots back. “Which I
am due for, big time.”
myself, I’ve enjoyed wedded bliss for seventeen years now,
half my life. Safe to say I married young. But I can
understand what Sally Anne’s driving at.
“I’m 54 years
old!” By now she’s shouting. “I’m a bride for the very
first time!” She throws her arms wide. “I want a big fat
shindig that nobody will ever forget!”
straps on a spangled choker and hands me its evil twin.
“Well, if you have to wait that long, I guess you can do
whatever the hell you please.”
“You got that
right, sister. Now let’s get this show on the road. I
don’t want to give Frank time to think twice.” Sally Anne
points across the bridal dressing lounge at two rather
frothy items calling our names. “Put on your headdresses
and let’s skedaddle.”
the hair? Lovely. A small veil? A nice touch. But
Shanelle and I are called upon to sport two feet of ostrich
plumes atop a spangled crown.
sidles closer. “How many ostriches gave their lives for
of them.” I settle it on my head. “It doesn’t sit nearly
as well as my tiara.”
Yes, I am the
proud owner of a tiara. From when I, Happy Pennington,
representing the Great State of Ohio, won the title of Ms.
America in the nation’s foremost beauty pageant for married
women. I’ve just begun my reign and so far it’s everything
I ever dreamed it would be. I didn’t win in quite the usual
way but we don’t have time to get into that now.
Walker, otherwise known as Ms. Mississippi, roomed with me
on Oahu during the pageant. Now she’s one of my best
not so much. Because she’s the founder of Crowning Glory
Pageant Shoppe here in Las Vegas, the largest full-service
pageant-wear purveyor west of the Mississippi, I’ve known
her for years. And once you help somebody dodge a murder
rap—another aspect of the long story to which I referred
earlier—I guess they feel closer to you than they did
By the way,
she asked me to stand up for her just last week, which is
why Shanelle and I are only now getting wind of what we’re
required to wear. Sally Anne knew our sizes from Crowning
Glory’s database, not that those are so hard to guess for
our ilk. Shanelle and I may illustrate that we beauty
queens come in a variety of colors—me a pale-skinned
brunette and Shanelle more a darkish toffee—but take any two
of us and you’ll find that we’re pretty much all the same
size: skinny and tall.
thing,” Sally Anne says behind me. I turn to see her
holding out two, shall we say, unique bouquets.
“Are those …
spray painted, Sally Anne?”
“You bet they
are. I got the brainstorm to spray gold metallic paint on
white roses. You’ve never seen anything like ‘em, I bet.”
It is safe to
say that I have not.
I do one last check in the mirror as Sally Anne sashays out
of the room. We are also sporting white gloves that extend
above the elbow and are ornamented by rhinestone bracelets.
“Is nothing real here?” Shanelle mutters.
this romance is real,” I whisper back. “I get the
impression Sally Anne didn’t know Frank very long before he
popped the question.” And given what she told us, she
probably said yes before Frank got all four words of the
proposal out of his mouth.
straightens her choker. “Too bad you didn’t bulldoze Sally
Anne into letting Trixie be a bridesmaid, too.”
have.” Trixie Barnett is our other best friend from the
pageant. She’s from North Carolina and is the reigning Ms.
Congeniality. “I miss her.”
“I do, too.”
Shanelle heaves a sigh. “We can’t keep putting it off,
girl. We best get out there.”
so.” I feel unbelievably naked. As the foremost
representative of the Ms. America pageant, I am called upon
to maintain a dignified appearance at all times. That’s no
easy trick in this getup but how can I not hew to the
bride’s wishes? The last time I was a bridesmaid I had to
wear yards of iridescent blue satin fashioned into huge
poufs. At the time I thought it was hideous but now I miss
all that fabric. “Do you think maybe Sally Anne forgot to
hire a photographer?”
she hears me from the hallway. “Fat chance. In fact, the
whole shebang is gonna be streamed live over the Web. There
are hidden cameras all over the chapel.”
I hope none of the cameras zero in on my thong. I wish
Sally Anne had popped for the fantail she reported having
considered. I force myself to step outside the dressing
room into a sort of holding area behind the chapel. We’re
not in a church, mind you. We’re in the Cosmos Hotel, one
of the big hotels on the Vegas Strip. And when I say big,
do I mean big. Of course, everything in Vegas is
humungous. They don’t do anything on a modest scale here.
peering into the chapel through a door left partly open. I
sidle next to her, righting my plumage as I walk.
Apparently these ostrich feathers do not care to point
heavenward even on approach to a chapel. “How many guests
so. Hey, I see your mom. It was nice of you to bring her
to Vegas. How’s she doing?”
about the divorce?”
really that surprising. They were married almost fifty
years. I asked Pop to come on this trip since he couldn’t
go to Oahu but he didn’t want to.” I don’t say why. It
bothers me, though since the divorce he has every right.
“Jason would’ve come but he couldn’t get off pit school this
weekend,” I add.
chuckles. “Your husband, the NASCAR stud. When he finishes
his training, he’s gonna get hired on some pit crew, girl.
I just feel it. You best prepare yourself.”
“I know. I’m
trying.” I had to push Jason into pit school, even though
he’s wanted to go forever, but now that he’s there he’s
really getting into it. I’m kind of taken aback by how
a senior now, right? How goes the whole applying-to-college
studying for the SATs. Which is why she’s not here this
weekend.” I don’t mention that Rachel has proposed a course
of action other than college next year. I cannot dwell on
that possibility or I’ll get too upset. Just so you know, I
was Rachel’s age when I got pregnant. I don’t let myself
think about that much, either, but when I do I understand my
mom a whole lot better. “What’s the latest with Lamar and
getting started on Shanelle’s husband and son when Sally
Anne appears behind us. “Follow me,” she instructs.
We wend our
way to the wide corridor outside the chapel’s entrance.
It’s teeming with the usual Vegas horde, people on their way
to or from the gigantic lobby-level casino, a midday show, a
restaurant, or the Olympic-size pool beyond a glass panel.
And before us, behind wide double doors, is the Forever
Yours chapel, which according to its signage offers
nuptial services of the quickie or planned variety.
all that’s in front of us.
her hands on her hips. “Whoa! Is that a Rolls Royce or is
that a Rolls Royce?”
seen one like it. Convertible. Mirrored exterior. Hot
pink leather interior. Uniformed chauffeur behind the
it’s a Rolls.” Sally Anne hoists herself atop the rear
bench seat. “This is Vegas, baby!” she chortles.
“Why does she
keep saying that?” I mutter to Shanelle. I attempt to
follow Sally Anne into the Rolls but she leans forward and
slaps my fishnet-stockinged leg.
crazy?” she demands. “You think I’m gonna make my entrance
with you two in the car? Nobody’ll give me so much as a
glance! You walk behind.”
Shanelle says. “The bridesmaids always go first up the
time, sister. I want all eyes on me.”
I gesture to
Shanelle to retreat. It is Sally Anne’s Big Day, after all.
We get into
position behind the Rolls. A middle-aged woman in a pastel
suit emerges from the chapel to huddle with Sally Anne. I’m
guessing she’s the wedding planner.
A few minutes
later she gives Shanelle and me the high sign. Apparently
all systems are go. The chapel’s double doors swing slowly
point I wouldn’t expect anything traditional out of this
wedding, but to my amazement I hear the opening strains of
Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” pipe from the music system. On a
more unconventional note, pink smoke billows from a fog
machine, providing rather a contrast with the dignity of the
processional music. Of course, neither the Rolls nor the
showgirl costumes are exactly elegant touches.
moves forward. Shanelle and I follow clutching our sprayed
rose bouquets. On both sides of the aisle guests stand and
crane their necks in our direction. Ahead at the altar I
spy the tuxedoed groom and best man.
Richter, Sally Anne’s intended, can best be described as
burly. He’s not the tallest of individuals, nor has he been
gifted with a full head of hair. Most of what remains has
faded from brown to gray. But I am happy to see that his
eyes positively glow as they fix on his bride.
man is his nephew Danny. He’s good-looking in a bad-boy
way. He sports stubble along his chiseled jaw line and
clearly puts in the hours in the gym. He has kind of a
cocky attitude, too, I can tell, even though he’s just
“Are my eyes
playing tricks,” Shanelle whispers, “or does the best man
have a black eye?”
stranger, though, is that by this point I am having trouble
seeing what’s ahead of me. The rose-colored smoke is doing
a bang-up job of filling the chapel.
Shanelle coughs. “Dang, I hope my asthma doesn’t act up.”
on with this smoke?” a man bellows from the east forty.
Soon all I
can see is the rear of the Rolls and Sally Anne’s hulking
outline up top. I note that Shanelle is no longer the only
person coughing. As we creep up the aisle, I hear hacking
from every quarter. An older woman stumbles past me making
for the exit, her hand over her mouth. It’s not my mom,
though I can hardly imagine she’s sitting still through
this. Then I hear a few popping sounds.
“Now the damn
Rolls is backfiring,” I manage to spit out. I’m close to
wheezing. Poor Sally Anne. She may have a hard edge but I
want her to be happy. I don’t think that’ll be the case if
her wedding guests get asphyxiated. I clutch Shanelle’s
arm. “Is it just me or are you feeling dizzy, too?”
“I’m way past
dizzy,” Shanelle gasps. “I can barely get air in my lungs.
I can’t take much more of this.”
out, Shanelle. If you can’t breathe, get out.”
She needs no
more encouragement to bolt. And she has lots of company.
This chapel is emptying faster than a beach after a shark
I’m trying to
decide whether I, as an official personage in this event,
should take action to prevent Sally Anne’s wedding guests
from suffocating when the bride herself rears up from the
music!” she yowls. “And stop the goddamn fog machine!”
—I think. Sally Anne’s taking charge. I’m surprised Frank
I toss aside
my bouquet and help Sally Anne eject herself from the Rolls,
no easy task given her heft, her bridal gown’s voluminous
sateen, and the fact that neither one of us can see more
than two inches in front of her face.
But lack of
visibility doesn’t prevent Sally Anne from stomping up the
aisle once she’s cleared the vehicle. “Where the hell is my
wedding consultant?” she hollers. “And what’s she using for
brains? We could all choke to death in here!”
I watch Frank
emerge from the fog, waving his arms in front of him as if
he’s cutting a swath through the stuff. He tries to calm
Sally Anne by taking hold of her arms but she’ll have none
promised perfection and this sure as shootin’ isn’t it!”
Sally Anne pushes past Frank to go further up the aisle.
I’m right behind her. I am her bridesmaid after all, and my
duty is to serve.
I would say
that the main goal has been achieved. Someone did turn off
the fog machine and the air is starting to clear. I
can—sort of—see again.
Sally Anne is
about to accost the reverend when she trips over something
on the carpet. I squint a few seconds and then realize that
a man—in fact, the best man—is sprawled there, face
“Just what I
need!” Sally Anne yells down at him. “What did you do last
night, Danny, go on a bender?”
Anne!” I grab her arm to pull her back. “Maybe he fainted
because he couldn’t breathe.”
I kneel down
and gently roll Danny over. It rapidly becomes clear that
he may not be breathing but it’s not because he fainted.
The bloodstain blooming on his chest is my first clue that
it wasn’t pink smoke that did in Danny Richter.