Sunlight slices through the window of the hotel room, searing through Eliza’s closed eyelids and prematurely rousing her from sleep. She turns over in bed with a groan, pulling the covers over her head. Everything hurts — her throat, her head, her feet. She doesn’t think that she’s felt this poorly in a long time, but it’s not all that surprising given the events of the previous night. When she goes, she goes hard. No point partying if you’re not going to try to make it the highlight of your year, and if the company didn’t want their employees getting wild with the customers, they wouldn’t have sent them to a conference based in Vegas, of all places. Vegas is for business, sure, but it’s also for business, and Eliza’s been known to close some of her biggest deals while three shots deep.
That’s why she works in sales, after all. Gotta love the perks. Drinks ordered on a company credit card are stronger, tastier, and far more fun than any other drinks — that’s just straight facts.
Even tightly-laced, no-nonsense, secretly-a-good-time-when-he-wants-to-be Henry had managed to get in on the action.
She shoots up in bed, eyes wide.
Her memories of the previous night are hazy at best, but she definitely remembers convincing him to slip away with her, a final drink shared away from their colleagues and over a trashcan at a crowded bar full of shrieking bachelorette parties and newly-minted 21-year-olds, and a very, very short Elvis impersonator that definitely looked more like a sunburned Danny Devito than Elvis Presley. Not that she really cared at the time. She usually only has eyes for two people — one of them being herself — but that other monumentally important and eye-catching individual had been standing across from her and holding her hands and —
She raises her hand, catches sight of the gold glint of a cheap ring on her finger, and collapses back onto the pillows.
Okay. That happened.
Worry curdles her stomach. Henry has always been the sort of guy to take things slow, following all the steps in the manual and checking all the boxes, and technically, they’re not even dating yet. She’s mentioned it, a few times — scattered little tidbits into their conversations with the same intensity and frequency that her college roommate’s dreadful dog shed its fur— which is, to say, constantly — but despite being interested, he hasn’t gathered the nerve to ask her out yet. Careful people are masterful at procrastinating on the important things in their personal lives, and Henry is nothing if not fastidious, a word that she bets he even doesn’t think that she knows. Yet, here she is in Vegas, with a pounding headache and a ring on her finger, and Henry’s the one who put it there. She has no idea how he’ll react to something like this, even though it had definitely been at least 50% his idea.
Somewhere beneath the pile of sheets, her cellphone rings — bright and peppy and head-splitting.
It takes her a minute to find it, and she doesn’t even bother to check the caller ID before answering.
“Hello?” Her voice cracks, and she coughs once to clear the sleep from her throat before trying again. “Hello?”
“Eliza, did you just cough in my ear?”
It’s Henry. Eliza squeezes her eyes shut and pulls her legs up to her chest, bracing her elbow on her knee and her aching head on her free hand.
“No,” she replies, though it’s more statement than question. A beat passes before she takes it back. “I didn’t think about it. It’s not like you’re sitting here, is it? Am I late for a meeting? Oh my god, I am late, aren’t I? Knew I should’ve set an alarm.”
Though she knows that she should broach the subject of the ring on her finger and her memory of the previous night, she’s not bold enough. Personal conversations have never been her forte. She’s getting better at being vulnerable and showing a genuine interest in people — connecting with them through words and tone and expression — but this? She hasn’t had any lessons in this. She’s never walked into Henry’s office like ‘Hey do you mind giving me a quick lesson in the etiquette of having that first convo with a friend who you might’ve drunk married while on a business trip in Vegas?’ It’s always been less specific stuff, the sort of things that apply to everyday office life and stopping to appreciate all of the people whose lives intersect with hers.
“No! No, you’re not late. Actually, um…” he trails off, and Eliza thinks that she hears the whisper of a sigh against the receiver. “You wouldn’t also be wearing a wedding ring, would you?”
Her stomach sinks. She knew this was coming — it had to be coming, given the circumstances — but she wasn’t prepared to dig into it quite so quickly.
There’s a long pause on either side of a very hesitant reply. “…Yeah…”
“And you wouldn’t happen to remember Elton John, would you?”
Despite her nerves, despite her fear, despite the uncertainty piling up in droves, Eliza can’t help but smile. “I think he was supposed to be Elvis.”
“Ah. That would make more sense, wouldn’t it?”
Eliza takes a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth — the way a meditation app once taught her — and asks the question she thinks that she would want to hear if she was standing in Henry’s shoes right now instead of being curled up in her bed and looking half an inch short of a truly apocalyptic disaster. “Are you okay?”
There’s a dreadfully long pause. It’s so long, in fact, that she starts to think that the call might have dropped, but a few long minutes later, Henry replies, “I think I am, actually.”
Eliza’s mouth drops open, and she’s extremely glad that he can’t see her face right now. “You sure?”
Henry — professional, dignified Henry — self-described as being okay after getting drunk married in Vegas.
Put that in your twitter bio.
“Yes. Are you okay?”
“If I’m being totally honest here, I thought Vegas elopements were for people named Lauren and Chad, and I never, in a million years, thought I would ever be in a Vegas chapel unless I was cheering on a pair of popular lifestyle bloggers who felt very secure in their bad decisions. I mean, think of the six Pinterest boards that have completely gone to waste. I didn’t even look cute.”
“You always look stunning, Eliza.”
“I mean, yeah, but wedding hot is a totally different hot from party hot. That’s like, Hotness 101.”
Eliza can feel the tension fall away. The world hasn’t ended. He’s not upset. They’re the same people they were yesterday, just with rings on their fingers and maybe a questionably legal document filed away somewhere, if the chapel they went to even bothers to complete that kind of paperwork. It doesn’t sound like the sort of thing her drunk self would’ve looked for when scrolling through a Buzzfeed list of the 27 Cheesiest Marriage Venues in Las Vegas (A List For When You Want What Happened In Vegas To Leave Vegas With You In An Appropriately Sized Carry On Roller Bag).
Talking to Henry is still easy, still comfortable, still makes her feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
“Hang on —” she says, finally processing the specifics of his words — “Did you just call me stunning?”
A few months ago, Henry might have doubled-back, might have tried to cover the slip with something else, but he’s gotten more and more comfortable with these things lately. Not every Freudian slip of the tongue is a mistake, and not every mistake is bad. Sometimes you just have to let go and get swept away by the current, and Eliza likes to think she’s a pretty good current, insofar as currents go. At the very least, she’s gotten rid of some of the rocks that used to turn her life into an extreme sports, whitewater rafting situation.
Nowadays, Eliza can even manage to be downright pleasant when she wants to be.
And she proves it with a warm and quiet, “I know you don’t usually care about these kind of things, but for what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty stunning, too.”
“Thank you, Eliza.”
Eliza leans back with a smile, spreading her legs out in front of her, and twirling a lock of hair around her finger. “You’re very welcome.” After a moment’s pause, she asks, “Is it weird to start dating after you get married?” Henry may never have gathered up enough nerve to ask her out, but there’s nothing stopping her from doing it. Eliza Dooley, newly married woman, out here chasing the things that she wants instead of waiting for them to happen to her.
“Married people go on dates all the time.”
“Then Henry Higgs, would you please go to the continental breakfast with me?”
“I would love that, Miss Eliza Dooley.”
She can hear the genuine joy in his words, it takes every ounce of her self-control to keep from squeeing and throwing the phone across the room.
A beat later, Henry adds, “Can we leave the wedding rings in our rooms, though? I really don’t want to explain this to the people we know.”
“Ooh, a secret marriage? Count me in. See you downstairs in twenty?”
“Doesn’t it take you longer than that to get ready?”
Eliza rolls her eyes. “Fine. Thirty.”
On the other end of the phone, Henry laughs, “I’ll see you in an hour, Eliza.”
“I won’t be late, I promise.”
“I’m counting on it.”
The call ends. Even though she’s pretty sure Henry’s going to tuck his ring into a pocket or a bedside table, Eliza undoes the clasp of the necklace that she forgot to take off before climbing into bed last night and slides her ring onto the chain.
Henry’s the best thing that ever happened to her, and she doesn’t want to lose it.