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  • Amanda Aksel

Love & Las Vegas (The Man Test | Chapter One)

Updated: May 8



The truth will set you free. And yet, people have a tendency to keep secrets from those they love. As a therapist, I observed this occurrence regularly. Even now. My patient had spent the last forty-five minutes attempting honest communication with her husband. But I can tell by the way she averts her eyes, she’s been holding back. She’s hiding behind her tactful words. And just when I thought we were getting nowhere, she parted her lips.

“I need more passion in our sex life!” She blurted the words like they’d been trapped inside her for years. Her husband flinched. “There’s no spontaneity with us. You’re always asking me, ‘do you want to have sex?’ I want you to stop asking and just do it! I want you to pick me up and throw me on the bed. You know, just really give it to me. How come you never pick me up?”

He shrugged. “You’re too heavy.”

I shot him an incredulous look, unintentionally of course. She did the same.

“I’m not too heavy. You’re not strong enough!”

Their insults ensued, each nastier and more spiteful than the last. Every second increased their volume and pace and quickly spiraled out of control. I grabbed the whistle from around my neck and blew hard. Their heads whipped in my direction.

“Time out,” I said calmly. “Let’s not criticize each other.” They turned spitefully from one another and each rolled their eyes like spoiled children. I looked to the husband. “I understand this can be difficult to hear, but your wife is trying to be open with you about her needs. How do you feel about her suggestions?”

“I’m not into what she is into. Is that so wrong?” He offered, and his chin drifted down.

Her eyes fixed on him. “It’s not wrong, but we always do it your way. I’m just asking for you to do it my way sometimes.”

He remained silent, so I leaned in. “You love Abby, right?”

“Of course.” He lifted his head.

“Does she make you happy?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“You want her to be happy too, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Then consider having an open mind. Who knows, you two may discover something you really enjoy.” He gazed into his wife’s eyes and took her hand. Fifteen minutes later, they left my office with smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes. Progress not perfection.

My father used to say, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” The only thing I could ever stand for completely was love. I’m not talking about the butterflies, can’t eat, can’t sleep kind of love, but the morning breath, movie night in, grow old together love. My affinity for love can be traced back to my childhood obsession with happily ever after fairy tales and witnessing the deep love between my parents and even my grandparents. It gave me a sense of believing, of knowing that there was a great love out there just for me. Not just me, but I believed this to be true for everyone. Standing up for real love gave me a purpose and a passion for my profession. It was my mission to remind couples of the heartfelt reasons they got together and to help them stay together. I won’t be so bold as to say I’m a relationship expert, but I’ve helped absent men become present husbands, set wandering eyes straight, and fueled fire back into sexless marriages.

I glanced at the clock. Time to collect my things and head home to finish packing for a weekend-long bachelorette party in Vegas for my dear friend, Rachel. Diana, our office assistant, sat at the front desk typing with only her index fingers. For the most part she was a wonderful assistant, except for one thing; she had a way of making short, simple answers unnecessarily long and drawn out. Not overly informative or longwinded, she just spoke too slowly, which was fine if you had an hour to kill. I didn’t have minutes to spare.

“Diana?” I tried to look rushed as I approached.

“Oh, hellooo, Marin . . . how are you?” she said sweetly as she stood with her fingertips touching near her chest, a classic move that always preempted long conversations. I needed to be quick.

“Great, thanks. I wanted to remind you that I’m leaving for a long weekend and will be back Tuesday. If you need me, call my cell, okay?”

She smiled, but it quickly faded into her conversational entrapment look again.

“Oh, okay . . . You have a message. Would you like me to read it to you?”

“No, that’s okay. Can you email it to me?”

“Oh, um . . . yes. I guess I can do that. Okay.”

I thanked her before rushing out of the office and around the corner to the elevator, which was as slow as Diana’s speech. Its open doors seemed to wait patiently while my least favorite associate, Andy, gabbed on his phone inside.

“Hold the elevator!” I hurried forward, clutching my oversized purse to my side. He glanced at me, still talking on his phone, but did nothing as the doors began to close. I managed to wedge my body between the doors at the last second. As I squeezed in, I tumbled to the ground. My poor shoe, lodged between the steel teeth, completely detached from my foot. The elevator began to move. I pushed my hair out of my face and rescued my Ralph Lauren pump.

Andy hung up. “You all right?”

“I’m fine, no thanks to you,” I said, catching my breath.

“Sorry,” he said, not taking his eyes from his phone. I gave him a sour look, and held up my beloved navy pump, after noticing a decent scratch on the heel.

“Look what you made me do.”

“Me? I’m not the one who made a mad dash into a closing elevator.”

“It wouldn’t have closed if you’d held it open,” I said through clenched teeth as I continued to put myself back together.

For the few years I had known Andy, there had always been a rift between us. Something about his east coast arrogance made me defensive. Andy was a cynic and some of his ideas about human relationships were appalling.

The shoe eaters reopened as we arrived on the first floor. Andy stepped out.

“Run faster next time.” A sarcastic grin spread across his face before he walked away with his usual haughty stride.

Once I made it outside of the building, with both shoes on my feet, I breathed in the warm San Francisco air. I was looking forward to the long weekend escape with my friends. Barely beginning my six-block commute home, my cell phone rang. I reached into my purse touching everything except my phone. The call was moments from going to voicemail. Gotcha! And just in time.

“Hey, it’s me,” said my best friend, Telly, a divorce lawyer who lived and worked in the city. I’d met her in passing after her client became my patient. Needless to say the client didn’t need her services after I was through with her and her husband.

“You excited about Vegas?” I asked.

“Yeah, after the day I’ve had, I’m most definitely ready for Sin City.”

“What happened?”

“Ugh, it’s Grayson. He’s being such a whiny bitch.” Grayson was her lover, one who mistakenly started saying things like love and marriage—two red flags to Telly. “I’m like ‘what do you want from me, kids and a white picket fence?’ I don’t think so dude. Get yourself a wife and give me some ass.” She cackled.

I laughed too. “Is that what you said to him?”

“Yeah, right. He’d probably start crying. I just told him that it is what it is. I never gave him any reason to believe it would be more. I didn’t lead him on, and if he can’t handle it then I’m sorry.”

“At least you were honest.” I shrugged, poor Grayson.

“That’s right! I am honest. He’s the one who said he could handle it. Now he says he has to think about it. Pfff! No, I’m done.”

“I guess another one bites the dust,” I said.

“You know I don’t sugar coat anything.” It was true. Telly was brutally honest, and never neglected to put in her two cents, especially when it was unsolicited. Some called her coarse, but I appreciated that about her. I could always count on her to tell me the truth.

Five increasingly steep blocks later, I arrived at my building and climbed the stoop. Mine was the first apartment on the right, number 102. True to San Francisco real estate standards, it was “cozy.” I loved everything about it from the dark stained hardwood floors to the close proximity to work and the park. But what I loved most about coming home was coming home to someone, my fiancé Chad.

Since we were only months away from getting married, we decided it was time to share our living space. Mounds of Chad’s half-empty moving boxes blocked my path as I made my way through the living room.

“Hey, Babe!” he said, smiling from the kitchen as he fed vegetables into a juicer. Yum. Chad’s toned, personal-trainer body that is, not the veggie juice.

“Hey.” I ran to him with open arms. He held me tight and kissed the top of my head, making a sweet muffled kissing sound.

“Are you all packed?”

“No, I still have more to do, and I don’t have much time.”

Chad sat with me while I crammed more outfits into my already overstuffed suitcase, his eyes gazing at me as if he had to have me. I wanted him too. I struggled to lift it from the bed.

“Let me do that.” Chad moved it to the floor.

“Thank you. It’s gonna be nice having a man around the house.”

“Well, now there’s more room on the bed.” His eyes set on mine a moment before he grabbed me and kissed my neck. With his body pressed tightly against mine, he laid me on the bed. Our lips were locked and I wedged my hands between us to undo his belt.

The sophisticated sound of Telly’s 7 Series BMW car horn beeped outside of my apartment.

“She’s here.” I lifted myself onto my elbows and pouted my lip. “I have to go.”

“Can she wait five minutes?” he asked.

“Five minutes?” I laughed. “We’ll finish this when I get back.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.” He gave me one last long kiss. I took a moment to stare into his sweet brown eyes, wanting to stay.

“I’ll miss you,” he said. “Don’t get into any trouble.”

“I won’t.” I smirked.

Telly popped the trunk, and Chad placed my bulging suitcase inside.

“Love you!” I said one last time before getting into the car.

“Love you too.”

I opened the passenger door to find Telly dressed in a short, skin tight, black DKNY dress with matching four-inch stilettos and big dark designer sunglasses. Already tall, her heels made her legs go on for miles. She was a stunning Latina goddess with amazing breasts. She was never in short supply of eager men and their compliments.

Telly was definitely the pretty one, the one who was asked out first at the bar, the one people stared at whenever we went to a party. Though I never begrudged her, I did wish I had been born with some of her physical genes. I was shorter and lacked her curves. We did share similar long locks, as I was fortunate enough to inherit my Chinese-born mother’s thick Asian hair. But it was wavy in all the wrong places, which I got from my American father. Not to say I was unhappy with my appearance, I was perfectly pretty with my big almond-shaped hazel eyes that reflected specs of green, brown, gold, red, and blue. The one unique physical feature I had over Telly.

We met up with the girls at the terminal bar, and from the looks of it, the bachelorette party had already started. Rachel, the bride-to-be, wore a hot pink sash that read Bachelorette and a plastic tiara with a white tulle veil.

Rachel was one of those girl next-door types, a schoolteacher in her mid-twenties with a sweet naivety about her. She probably still kept a stuffed teddy on her bed. Beyond her Sandra Dee good-girl image, there was also something elegant and enchanting about her. It was most easily seen in her eyes, big and beautiful with long thick lashes that gave the illusion she had the secret to perfect mascara.

“Marin, Telly, you’re here!” Rachel hugged us. “I want you to meet my bridesmaids. This is Denise, Jamie, and Sonia.” She pointed to each of the cute twenty-somethings.

“Hi!” the girls said in unison.

“Where’s Holly?” I asked Rachel as I looked around for her sister.

“She went to the bathroom. She’ll be right back.”

There was still a half-hour before boarding so I asked Telly to order a cocktail for me while I went to find Holly. In the ladies room, I found her leaning against the wall near the sinks reading a newspaper.

“Hey,” I said, stealing her attention.

She looked up at me beneath the brim of her khaki cap and smiled. “Marin, how are you?”

“Good, what are you doing in here reading?”

“I got caught up in this article, and it’s quieter here.”

“Are you excited about your sister’s bachelorette party?”

She scoffed. “Partying in Vegas with a bunch of drunken twenty-six-year-olds? No, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m excited.”

“Come on, everyone’s waiting for you,” I pulled her in, and we walked out to the terminal.

Holly was my oldest and dearest friend. I’ll never forget the first day of second grade in Mrs. Smith’s class when a little frizzy-haired girl came up to me at recess and asked if I wanted to help her pick up litter after school. I didn’t know what litter was, but I knew that I liked her right away.

As we grew into our early thirties her hair became less frizzy, but her passion for the environment increased. She worked for a company called EcoWorld and traveled the globe promoting eco-friendly initiatives.

We found the girls still sitting by the bar enjoying their cocktails. Telly handed me a Malibu Bay Breeze, a favorite of mine. Rachel’s bridesmaid Sonia gave us a run-down of the weekend’s events and it wasn’t long before we were on our ninety-minute flight to Vegas. The plane was packed and lively, everyone engaged in conversation and seeming to have a good time. When we landed at LAS, the pilot sang to the tune of Barney.

We love you. You love us.

We’re much faster than the bus.

We’ve got style and personality.

Marry one of us and you’ll fly free.

Everyone applauded and laughed. True story.

After baggage claim and a cab ride, we made it to the MGM Grand Hotel. Telly, Holly, and I shared a large suite with a view of the Vegas strip, thanks to Telly’s frequent stays and reward status.

“I can’t believe my sister’s getting married,” Holly said while she examined her figure in the full-length mirror.

“You mean getting married before you?” Telly smirked as she carefully put the finishing touches on her mascara. I rolled my eyes and smiled at Telly’s reflection in the bathroom mirror we shared and imagined Holly had done the same.

“It’s not that, just that she’s so young. She’s my baby sister. She’ll have her own family soon,” Holly said.

“A family? You mean Rachel’s pregnant?” Telly leaned over the counter to finish her make-up, cleavage spilling from her iridescent gray dress.

“I didn’t say that!” Holly sounded mad. “All I’m saying is she’s growing up.”

I moved toward her. “I know what you mean.” Our reflections side by side in the sleek, black-framed wall mirror, my thoughts flashed back to when we were eight, the beginning of our awkward phase right before hitting puberty. We were so young then and Rachel was just a baby. Looking at Holly was the same as when we were kids, even though we’re much older and less awkward.

“Do you remember when Rachel said her first word?” I asked Holly.

Her face lit up. “Yeah, we were looking at my mom’s baby magazines when Rachel came over and pointed at the baby.”

“Then she said, ‘baby’ and you nodded and said, ‘yeah baby.’”

Holly smiled with a slight laugh. “It took us a minute to realize she said her first word.”

I put my arm around her. “I guess the baby’s all grown up.”

“Ugh, you sound like a bunch of old sentimental grandmas.” Telly grimaced. “Can we not talk about Rachel as a baby? She’s a grown woman and tonight she’s a Sin City bachelorette. I don’t want images of her innocence when a hot male stripper grinds on her later.”

“You ordered a stripper?” Holly sounded appalled to say the least.

Telly shook her head innocently and shrugged. “Maybe.”

“We gotta go, guys.” I ushered the girls to the door, while Holly ranted about why strippers are disgusting. After passing the casino downstairs, we made it inside the Tabu Lounge. We were led to a special bachelorette booth adorned with a confetti of martini glasses.

Rachel raised her glass, compelling our attention. “I want to say something,” she began. “I want to thank you all for coming all the way here to celebrate my last days as a single girl. It means the world to me.” Two of the twenty-somethings ahhed. “There are no other six ladies I would rather be with. I love you guys!” We raised our glasses and leaned in for a toast.

Telly wrapped her hands around her martini glass, clutching it like a warm cup of coffee, and bouncing in her seat with a grin. “Okay, who’s my crush for the night?” Her eyes wandered around the lounge, scoping out the men like a lioness on the hunt. I’d seen it many times before. She stopped, grinned, and sure enough stunned her first prey. He made his way over to us, which always made me uncomfortable because I knew what would come next. He was attractive, built like a football player. Eligible looking enough except his hair was spiked with a tad too much gel.

“Hey,” too-much-hair-gel-guy said to Telly, ignoring the rest of us.

“Hi,” she said.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

Telly curled her lip. “I already have a drink.” He raised his eyebrows in a sigh, almost admitting defeat, but tried again.

“You wanna dance?”

“I don’t know.” Telly paused and ran her eyes down his body. “Can you dance?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Telly raised an eyebrow. She walked toward the dance floor, hips moving to the beat with each step. He, of course, followed eagerly.

It wasn’t long before the seven of us were throwing back cocktails and shakin’ it on the dance floor. Denise created a list of dares for Rachel, like rub a bald guy’s head and ask random guys to take off their shirts for pictures. Rachel exhibited her low tolerance for alcohol as she crossed through each fulfilled dare on the list.

At one point she looked over at me. “You’re next.” She was right. My wedding was only four months away, and it wouldn’t be long before I was rubbing bald heads and asking for men’s shirts. She was the first of all the girls there to get married and, having known her since her diaper days, I was incredibly happy for her. We were both so lucky to have found great guys who wanted to spend their lives with us as much as we wanted to spend our lives with them.

The girls spread throughout the lounge, Holly was chatting with the bartender, Telly had moved on to bleached-blonde-surfer-guy, and Rachel was enjoying herself in the crowd on the dance floor. I made my way over. When I reached her, she stumbled and bumped into a dancing couple. I grabbed her to keep her upright.

“Are you okay?” I shouted over the booming music.

“Yeah, I think I need some air.” She looked like she was going to be sick. I led her into the hotel corridor.

“Do you need to go to the ladies room?” I brushed her hair away from her eyes.

“No, just air.”

I nodded.

We walked through the casino and outside to a nearby bench under the walkway escalator. Rachel took deep breaths as I lightly rubbed her back.

“You okay?” I asked again.

“I think so. I feel panicky all of the sudden.” She put her hand on her chest, her breathing became shallow.

I kneeled in front of her and looked onto her face. “Rachel, what’s going on?”

“I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Getting married. It’s such a huge thing, you know. It’s like . . . forever.”

“That’s the thing about marriage, honey,” I said with a smile.

“And I love David, I do. He’s great, but he has a past. And what if he hasn’t grown—”

“Rachel, listen.”

She held her breath.

“The past is the past. David’s a great guy, and he would not have asked you to marry him if he wasn’t ready to make that commitment, okay?”

“You’re right.” She nodded.

“It’s normal to get cold feet, and if you’re not ready, then it’s okay. You can postpone the wed—”

“No!” She jumped to her feet with conviction. “I’m marrying David.”

“Good,” I said and brushed her cheek. I stood up ready to head back inside when she grabbed my arm. Her concerned expression returned.

“I have to tell you something.” My heart jumped at the severity of her tone. Maybe she was pregnant.

“Okay.”

“This might sound crazy, but a month after we got engaged . . . ”

“Yes.” I took a deep breath.

“I lost my engagement ring in a parking lot.” I studied her left hand, which glistened with two carats worth of shiny diamonds. I held it up.

“I don’t follow,” I said.

“I got the ring back, thank God, but I didn’t tell anyone because of the superstition, you know?”

I shrugged. The only ring superstition I knew about involved wearing a used ring from a broken engagement.

“Lose your ring, lose your spouse,” she said as if it was as common as step on a crack and break your mother’s back. “That’s crazy, right?” She bit her lip. It did sound crazy, but as a therapist I did not encourage such terms.

“Of course not, but your ring isn’t lost. You got it back. I would call it no harm, no foul.”

“You’re right. I’m getting married, and it’s going to be great.”

“It’s going to be great.” I nodded and smiled. “Let’s go back inside.”

The next day at the casino we handed chips to the black jack dealers and spent the evening mesmerized by the latest performance of Cirque du Soleil. By Sunday morning we were in need of some R&R. Telly, Holly, and I spent our time at the pool, soaking in the sun and cooling off in the water. Rachel and her friends opted for massages and facials at the spa.

After an hour of sunning and reading a few articles in Psychology Today, I put my head back and closed my eyes. The sun felt good on my face, and I thought about all the fun I had the past couple of days. Then, I thought about Chad and how much fun I would’ve had if I’d been home helping him move into my apartment, our apartment. I missed him.

“Hey, guys?” I said turning to the girls who were resting on their lounge chairs next to mine. Their heads turned in unison. “I think I’m gonna fly home tonight and surprise Chad.”

“You’re leaving?” Telly asked.

“Yeah, I really miss him. He’s been working a lot, and I haven’t seen him much lately. Do you think Rachel will be upset?”

“No,” Holly said. “She’ll understand. I’m sure she’s itching to get back to David too.”

Before leaving for the airport, I found Rachel at the salon and said good-bye. She thanked me for coming and for our little pep talk the first night.

The flight was as quick as the one before, but it felt longer still. I was antsy to surprise Chad and finish what we started a few days ago. By the time I got to our apartment, I was almost giddy at the idea of surprising him. The doorknob turned easily as I carefully opened the door and dragged my suitcase behind me. The space was dark except for a hint of light spilling out from the bedroom.




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