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From the top of the Stratosphere Hotel, Las Vegas looked like a starry night, as if someone had flipped the world onto its back. Zack Palmer leaned against the railing, looked at the billion neon bulbs below, and thought that riding the Big Shot in the dark would be like blasting off for the moon.
He glanced over as Quaid's hand slid down the railing to wrap around his--it was unusually clammy and shaking. Zack let Quaid hold his hand, but he didn't think it would be for long. People would make remarks and he was no in mood for a confrontation tonight.
"I don't think I can do this," Quaid said, looking up as the ride shot into the night and the next load of passengers screamed.
"Of course you can. It's just a thrill ride. It's not even the scariest ride in Vegas."
"That's really not helping, Zack." Quaid winced and shivered a little as the vehicle roared up its track, passengers shouting with laughter and artificial terror.
The other members of the wedding party were in line ahead of them: the other two Brannigan brothers, Peyton and Riley; the bride, Isabel, tucked under Peyton's arm; the bride's sister and the sister's husband; the bride's best friend; cousins from both sides of the family, friends from college or the bride and groom's current jobs. The older generation had declined to join them; Zack had no doubt they were back in the Bellagio casino, playing slots and downing martinis.
After supper at the vast buffet at the Aladdin, Riley had the idea to walk to the Stratosphere to go on the rides and look at the view. It would be a symbolic gesture, he said, to start the marriage with something that seemed terrifying but actually wasn't. Everyonehad exclaimed over the idea except Quaid, but he wasn't given to exclaiming over things anyway.
"You'll be fine." Zack let go of his hand. "You always are."
Quaid chuckled dryly and his body relaxed until another vehicle shot up the tower and into the sky. Riley glanced back at them, his expression concerned, but when he caught Zack's eye he smiled and turned again to talk to Isabel.
"Oh, God," Zack murmured when he saw one of Isabel's cousins working his way down the line to join them. Jeremy was nineteen and newly out, and had latched himself onto Zack and Quaid as his role models and new best friends.
"Be nice. He's just young," Quaid whispered back and smiled at the younger man. "Hey, Jeremy."
"I'm so excited," Jeremy said, bouncing on his toes with eagerness. "Aren't you excited, Quaid?"
"He's scared," Zack said. "Big old baby."
Quaid glanced at him, his brows furrowing. "Roller coasters aren't my favorite thing."
"It'll be fun," Jeremy coaxed Quaid and touched his arm. "I'll sit with you. Do you want me to sit with you?"
"Thanks, but I'll sit with Zack," Quaid said.
Jeremy pouted a moment. "Okay. Can I stand in line with you? Maybe we'll be in the same row!"
"Of course you can," Quaid said and gave Zack a warning look when Zack rolled his eyes. Jeremy beamed and his shoulders got a little straighter as he waited with them.
It wasn't much longer before they reached the front of the line, and Zack was glad: that kept short the time he had to listen to Jeremy babble. The younger members of their group jumped into their seats, squealing with excitement. Riley climbed in beside one of Isabel's girlfriends, a vivacious girl with chestnut hair who'd been flirting with him since they'd first met earlier that day. Peyton and Isabel took the next row behind him and Jeremy got into the next seat, nearly bouncing with excitement. Zack got into the seat beside Jeremy and looked up expectantly at Quaid, who stood frowning on the edge of the platform.
"Quaid, come on," Zack said.
Quaid looked out at the dark night and then shook his head. "I can't."
"You're holding it up for everyone."
"Come on, Quaid!" Jeremy said, bouncing up out of his seat. "You can sit between Zack and me!"
"Sit down," Zack told him and Jeremy sat again, deflated.
"It's only a ride, Quaid," Peyton added.
"I can't. I can't. I'm sorry. I'll see you all back at the hotel." Quaid turned quickly, bumping into the next people waiting, and started easing past them to get out of the loading station.
"Quaid!" Zack called to his lover again, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice. Quaid never caused scenes; it was one of his better qualities, that he was so calm and collected. Utterly grounded, that was his Quaid. "Quaid, get back here!"
Quaid was already on the stairs and did not look back.
"I'll go talk to him," Jeremy said, throwing off the safety harness, and he hurried after Quaid.
Zack moved down to take Jeremy's abandoned seat and more riders filled in the rest of the row. The wedding party had gone uncomfortably quiet, and Zack tried to smile. "I don't know what's up with him," he said, and thanked the attendant as she checked his safety belt.
The car jerked into motion and Zack closed his eyes. He didn't shout or laugh once during the ride: instead, he kept his eyes closed and turned his face into the rushing wind.
After a monorail ride back to the Bellagio, the wedding party went their various ways: the casino, one of the bars, their rooms, the shops. Zack joined Riley and Peyton for a beer, but he hoped Quaid had returned while they out and was waiting for him in their room so he went up as soon as that drink was done.
Quaid was not in their room. Zack lay down on the bed to wait for him, then got up again and opened the curtains to look down at the city. It was past midnight and the streets below were still choked with people. He wondered if Quaid was out there, or in a bar somewhere, or in a movie theater, or a strip club, or someone else's hotel room.
He wondered if he should be in someone else's hotel room himself.
Zack lay down on the bed again and clicked on the TV. He bunched up a pillow under his head and flipped through the channels for a while: local news, old movies, instructions on how to play blackjack--nothing to keep him on the channel long.
Finally he heard familiar voices in the hall and muted the television when he heard the keycard in the lock. It was Quaid, of course, looking rumpled and tired. Zack fidgeted with the remote as Quaid sat on the bed and untied his sneakers. "Where have you been?"
"Walking around. Watched the fountains for a while, walked through the botanical gardens." Quaid put his shoes in the suitcase, open on a luggage rack in the closet.
"With Jeremy," Zack said.