WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS
in the anthology
NAMES I CALL MY SISTER
by Berta Platas
Release date: May 2007
What Stays In Vegas, a novella about Anita and Susu, two sisters searching for the happiness each is certain the other one has. Susu runs away to Las Vegas with a younger man, abandoning her family, and Anita is going to have to forget her own sudden unemployment, chase down her crazy older sister, and get rid of the evidence before her brother in law shows up. She didn’t count on the younger guy’s hot older brother, determined to help her. Or is he?
“Honey. Tony, you need to let go. Believe me, I know how hard that is.” I tried to keep my tone even, when what I wanted to do was scream.
“No. No.” The little words came out in a whimper.
I peeled my smelly two-year-old nephew from my leg and sat him on the foyer floor. His heavy diaper squelched. It was obvious that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. I wasn’t cut out for much except being a flight attendant, my dream job since high school. And after seven years, that dream was over.
That was why I was in the doorway of my sister’s Atlanta McMansion, wondering why my toddler nephew had answered the door.
The whimpering escalated into an impressive scream. All I’d done was ask where his mommy was. Apparently, the whereabouts of his mother, my older sister, was a traumatic thing for little Antonio. I understood how he felt.
I needed Susu, too. I needed her solid good sense. Her cooking. Her hugs. And there was a good chance that she’d turn me away, and then I’d be out of options.
I could always sit on the foyer floor and wail with Anthony. It looked kind of therapeutic, actually.
“He needs his diaper changed.” His sister Heidi was standing in the doorway, looking disgusted.
I’d always wondered why my sister had ended up naming her daughter Heidi. I hoped it was a literary connection. It sure wasn’t out of longing for some alpine homeland. We were both born in Miami, Cuban-Americans a generation away from any homeland-pining, and my brother-in-law Carl was from Boston, of Irish and German stock.
Heidi wore front-pleated orange and pink plaid pants and a polo shirt that matched nothing I’d ever seen. The fashion wrongness of it made me cringe.
I held my arms out to Heidi, needing a hug, even if it was from a supercilious six-year-old. Say that fast six times. “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
“I don’t think so. Tony’s diaper leaked on your shoe and it stinks.” She backed away silently and vanished down the hall.
I examined the unspeakable smear on the top of my suede Moschinos. No screams, no cries of anguish from me, even though these were the only shoes left to me except for a pair of ratty sneakers that I’d found in my grandfather’s tackle box. I was totally beyond hysteria.
“Heidi, come back here,” I yelled. “Where’s your mom?”
A door slammed in answer.
Great. I followed the echo. I’d never visited my sister in Alpharetta, one of Atlanta’s affluent northern suburbs. The house was huge, thousands of square feet of airy, soaring spaces on a lot that barely extended past the footprint of the house. The kind of place you got if you were married to a successful stockbroker.
A huge golden retriever galloped past me towards the front door. I listened for Antonio’s scream, but heard only giggles. No rescue needed, thank goodness. I’m not good with dogs. Or toddlers.
It didn’t narrow my job search, since I wasn’t looking for childcare or vet tech opportunities. I put those jobs right up there with stripping on the list of careers I wasn’t cut out for. There were plenty of jobs that didn’t involve children, pets, or pole dancing.
I walked through the house, side-stepping toys and pizza boxes. Susana must be totally depressed. She was normally such a neat freak. I hated to add my woes to hers, but she was the only person I could turn to.
Our mother had died when I was in high school, and dad was in Europe with wife number five. That left only Susu to comfort me, and I needed it by the pitcher, not the glass.
“Susu? Baby, it’s me. I need a teensy favor.” No answer. I pushed open the door to the master suite.
Her bedroom was enormous. A pillared bed dramatically draped in gauzy curtains was plunked in the middle of a sea of eggplant-colored carpet. It was unmade, with mounds of bedclothes in the middle. Was she there? I inched towards the bed, then took a big breath, unaware that I’d been holding it. Empty. She wasn’t huddled under blankets, feeling sorry for herself, sleeping away her depression.
It was so boring to deal with the drunk and depressed. My last roommate had been a drinker, and it made her choice of bedmates my morning surprise.
Who would I see while I made coffee? An executive? A dirty-jeaned cowboy? My female boss?
That last one had probably gotten me on the short list for the first round of layoffs at the airline. I’d been a flight attendant for three years, ever since I’d left college out of deep loathing for higher math, and my pay had risen steadily during that time.
My plan had been to work, travel and have fun. Then I’d retire and travel and have more fun. That agenda was trashed two months ago, when the airline’s finances had tanked and I was out of a job. Since then I’d lived on my severance pay and my credit cards, and I’d looked for a job I could do. I couldn’t type, didn’t know a computer from an ATM and didn’t have a college degree.
What I had was great legs and maxed out credit cards. Despite my distaste for math, I could also do currency conversions in my head, which gave me hope that I could snag a job at the Atlanta airport’s international concourse, just until the airlines started hiring again.
“Susu? Are you in here?” A toilet flushed and I scooted back out the door, pretending I’d just stuck my head in. The bathroom door flung open, and my brother-in-law Carl stepped out.
I stared, unable to speak. Carl was in white socks and tighty whities and nothing else. And those tighties were stuffed. Someone needed to invent support undergarments for men who were blessed by nature. I’d had no idea.
“Anita, what are you doing here?”
“I came to visit. Where’s Susu?”
“She should have been home two hours ago. Don’t you ever pay your phone bills? I couldn’t reach you at home or on your cell.” He stood there, his johnson curled like a big snake in his undies. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, so I stared at my feet, and the smear Antonio had left on my shoe.
“I’ve got a lead on a job here in Atlanta. Can I stay for a few days?”
“Stay as long as you want.” He walked over to his dresser, pulled out a pair of folded jeans and put them on. “What’s that on your shoe?”
“Tony, huh? Did you change him?” He caught the look on my face and rolled his eyes. “If you stay here, you have to help with the chores.” He started down the hall and I trotted after him.
“Aren’t you worried about Susu? Where did she go?”
Carl stopped and turned around. “Yoga.”
He laughed at the look on my face. “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.”
The dog started barking and Antonio squealed. The front door opened.
“How’s my precious poop machine? Both of you?”
I ran back downstairs, not anxious to be caught with my half-naked brother-in-law. “Su, I thought you’d run away.”
“Anita! You look fabulous, darling.” A thin, gorgeous redhead wearing my sister’s face threw her arms around me and squeezed me hard.
I pushed her away and stared her up and down. Where was the graying brown hair, the lush curves, the trio of chins? The denim jumper, white ankle socks and white Keds?
This woman was stunning. Susu had remade herself. She twirled. “What do you think?”
“Wow. I’m speechless, sis. What happened?”
“I woke up one morning and said, I’m thirty years old, forty pounds overweight and I’ll be damned if I look like this when I’m forty. So I started running, quit eating doughnuts and colored my hair.”
“Carl must have fallen in love all over again.”
Her grin faded. “He’s mostly confused. I’ve been doing yoga for five months, and my teacher wants me to teach some of the newbies. Carl’s freaked out.”
I tried not to look at the trash on the floor or the fluffy drifts of dog hair in the corners. “He feels threatened because his life’s changed.”
“Look at you, the psychologist now. They run an article in the in-flight magazine?”
Ouch. She’d always crack snide remarks about my intelligence, without actually coming out and saying that she thought I was dumb. This trip was getting less comforting by the minute.
She pulled my aromatic nephew off of her leg, which he’d been clutching as if it was a life raft. “Come on mi amor, time to change that awful diaper.”
She held him at arms length as she walked up the stairs. I followed. I still hadn’t told her I was staying here.
“So, could you use a little help around the house for a while?”
“Thinking of applying for the job?” She yanked the diaper off of Antonio, releasing an ungodly stench, and threw the whole thing onto a lidded bucket. It hit with a hefty thump, then slid slowly off. A little of its contents oozed onto the carpet.
I backed away.
The baby stood quietly while she wiped him down with scented baby wipes, leaving clean streaks on his brown-stuccoed backside.
I got queasy if I saw a dot of dried urine on the floor of an otherwise clean toilet. I could not do this mommy thing.
“I could help with some things,” I said cautiously.
“I got your phone message about the job. Sorry I didn’t call back.”
“I understand. You’re busy. But I’ve got an interview at the airport. If I get the job—”
“You want to stay here until you get back on your feet?”
I nodded. She’d always been quick.
“Stay as long as you want, querida. Rent-free. But I’ll need you to help with the chores. And the kids.”
The smell of the diaper bucket was intense. Either way I’d be in deep doo, but industrial-strength rubber gloves would solve one situation.
“No problem.” Relief made me light-headed. I wondered if I’d been holding my breath, waiting for her decision.
She was my big sister, and when our mom had died when I was nineteen, she’d taken on that role, too. Despite her young, new look, I depended on her to be the sensible one.
After the baby was clean, Susu showed me to the guest bedroom. With pink-striped sheets on a sleigh bed covered in a quilt with all different kinds of roses on it, set off by taupe walls, it looked like a photo spread from ‘Martha Stewart Magazine.’ “Your bathroom’s through that door.” She turned and left me alone.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the oval mirror over the old-fashioned dresser and stopped to fix my hair. It was dark brown, and the gold highlights I’d added before the job fiasco needed to be touched up. Otherwise, I looked the same. Green eyes, clear skin, wide mouth that I hated but guys loved.
My looks had gotten me my first job, and they’d probably help me get my next one. I lay down without unpacking. A nap would keep the stress circles away.
I woke up again when Susu stuck her head in the door. “Anita? I’m going to a birthday party for a friend of mine. Want to come along?”
“Tonight?” I glanced at my watch it was almost six. I’d slept three hours. “What about dinner for the kids?”
“Fed them already. I’m leaving in an hour if you want to join us.” She pulled the door closed.
Leaving at seven, on a weeknight? That was something I seldom did, especially if I had a flight early the next day. I shrugged and decided that aside from the spotted high heel, I should be okay in my pinstriped interview suit and floral silk camisole. It better be. I didn’t have anything else.
At seven, I grabbed my bag and ran downstairs. Carl was watching television in the den, a huge room with a floor to ceiling stacked stone fireplace and leather furniture covered in colorful pillows and throws.
He didn’t glance up as we passed. “See you later,” Susu called out. She turned to me. “He never pays attention.” She looked me up and down. “You’re all chic. This is sort of a casual place, but they get business types, so you won’t stick out too much.”
“Great.” I didn’t even own a pair of jeans any more, so it would be hard to dress down. I thought of all the clothes I’d lost when I got evicted. The curbside stack had been practically picked clean when I’d returned from an interview. I had the clothes I’d interviewed in, some underwear and my abuelo’s tackle box sneakers.
When we got back to the house I’d go shopping in Susu’s closet. She seemed to have gotten over her frumpy wardrobe and into decent clothes, and now that she’d lost weight, some of them would fit me. She wouldn’t mind.
We took off in the minivan, Susu dressed in a cute sundress and strappy sandals and me in an interview suit with baby shit on the toe of my shoe. My new life had gotten off to a fabulous start.