Authors: Meg Jackson
And stick around after the epilogue to read my standalone novella “Taken
by Bikers” for free!
Flip the page to start Part 1.
I can’t tell him. I can’t. He’ll kill me – or worse. Oh my God, what have
It was the summer after senior year of high school,
and I was 18. I loved riding with the top down, Aunt Annie’s pretzels, and my
grandma. I had four Miss. Teen Missoula ribbons. I had a cow named Betty, and a
flock of chickens that I just called “the girls”. I had a high school degree, a
Honda Civic, my two best friends, and we were headed to Las Vegas. It was a
thirteen hour trip, and between the three of us we could afford to drive
straight through the night, right into Sin City.
“I spy with my little eye something….boring,” Alicia
said, sarcasm dripping from her voice like a melting ice-cream cone.
“Um, is it a cow pasture?” I asked in a dopey voice.
“Try again,” Alicia replied, eyes out the window.
“Is it a horse pasture?” Becky suggested from the back
seat. I stifled a laugh, wanting to play along with the charade.
“Nope,” Alicia said, suppressing a smile herself.
“Well…is it a barn?” I suggested, feigning weariness.
“Oh, wait, no! I know! It’s a barn!” Becky blurted out
right after me, leaning forward in the backseat.
“Nope, you’re both wrong, it’s not a barn. It’s a
silo!” Alicia said, finally getting tired of the joke. This was one of our
millions of inside jokes and comedy routines: you really have to make your own
fun when you live in a rural area, even if you’re right outside of the
bustling, never-sleep city of Missoula, Montana. And, by the way, the
“bustling, never-sleep” part was a joke, too. Sin City was going to be our
first taste of a
city, and boy
were we hungry.
Of course, we weren’t planning anything too sinful.
Or, at least, not
Our parents had okayed the trip at the beginning of the year, had even pooled
their money to reserve us a nice hotel room as a graduation gift. Becky,
Alicia, and I have been best friends since third grade, so we tend to do
everything together, and we were such good kids that our parents really didn’t
have much to worry about.
But each of us
have our own agenda for going: Alicia wanted to smoke weed for the first
time. Becky wanted to gamble. I wanted to make out with a stranger. Those were
our ideas of sin: we’d all drank before, and at least kissed a boy, and
disobeyed our parents more times than they knew (thank goodness for that), but
overall we were pretty tame.
It’s going to sound cliché to you, it always does, but
we had a sort of idyllic time growing up. We were all cheerleaders, Becky ran
for class president every year (and usually won), I was in drama, Alicia was on
the newspaper. When we dated, it was usually good-looking jocks who were easy
to bring home to meet the parents. We went to the post-game bonfires, drank
beer out of red cups (never too much, though), and then went home to eat
popcorn and giggle over Cosmo articles.
Kind of sad, right? I mean, just the
of that. Not to say it wasn’t
some of the best times of my life: I will always remember how happy I was, how
much I felt like a part of my community, how willfully innocent I was. But
there’s something sad about it, too. Never really doing anything wrong your
whole life is…well, it kind of seems like you’re living half a life, doesn’t
I guess some of that comes from being a sheriff’s
daughter. I was always a touch more rebellious than Becky or Alicia, and I
think that’s why. I love my dad, don’t get me wrong, but I guess it makes me a
little more…curious, maybe that’s the word. Wanting to know what’s on the other
side of the curtain. I’ve always been interested in why criminals commit crime
– and why they continue to commit crime even after they’ve been caught. Always
seemed to me that something would have to feel pretty damn good to make it
worth risking your freedom and good name time and again.
Which is also why, incidentally, I was planning to go
into criminal psychology when I went to college in the fall. Becky and I were
both going to University of Montana, while Alicia would start out at Missoula
University of Technology: we were all staying home in order to save money and
avoid taking out loans, which made this trip to Las Vegas even more special for
us. We weren’t really getting the chance to have the whole going-away-to-school
experience, so we were trying to make up for it by having the best post-high
school summer we could.
Which meant that we had all taken part-time jobs that
would require minimal commitment and time spent at work, as opposed to the past
few summers when we all worked as much as we could to save up. This summer, we
were going to take it easy and backpack, camp, swim, and chill our way to
We’d picked Las Vegas out of some idea of tradition:
after all, where else should you go if you want to signify your transition from
childhood to (relative) adulthood? Of course, we weren’t quite adults yet, but
our fake IDs (the graduation presents we got ourselves) said otherwise!
As the landscape changed from mountain to flatland to
desert, I marveled at the alien nature of the landscape, wondering at how I’d
lived 18 years without ever really seeing so much of America. To tell the
truth, my family almost never left Montana, unless it was to hop over to
Wyoming, which is really just like bigger, emptier Montana.
We’d been on cruises and to the Caribbean, but only to
resorts, never getting the chance to really explore the landscape or culture.
It seemed like I was travelling for the first time ever: that I was being
reborn as a smarter, wiser, more worldly, more cultured, deeper individual. Why
did I think you could find enlightenment in the most notorious city in America?
Who knows: all I remember is feeling like this was going to change me forever,
that I would come back and entirely new and better person. I was right about
half of that, anyway.
Las Vegas has a tendency, in pop culture, to rise from
nowhere like a phoenix from ashes. One moment you are staring out onto the
highway, into the desert haze, and the next moment you are seeing the
sparkling, green glimmer of Emerald City – except that instead of having horses
of a different color and helpful barbers, there are cocktails in every shade
under the sun and narrow-eyed dealers (of both cards and other less-savory past
I’m here to tell you that this isn’t just something
they talk about to make the place more romantic: that is really exactly what
it’s like to suddenly come upon Las Vegas after hours of driving under the
dark, desert sky. It just about hits you in the face, especially if you’re a
carful of 18-year-old farm girls from Missoula, Montana. We literally had to
stop the car, pull over to the side of the road, and get out to collect
“Damn,” said Becky, encapsulating all our reactions in
one perfect word. We giggled, but none of us dragged our eyes away from the
city skyline for a moment.
“I still don’t want to leave before doing what I came
here for!” Alicia cried as we lay next to the hotel’s pool, the midday sun
pounding down on us. We were sipping huge, elaborate Bloody Mary’s and feeling
very adult about it: we were also all making a very big deal of being hung
over, even though none of us had really gone overboard.
The hotel was even more stupendous and ridiculous than
we had expected. Our parents really did go all out: it was a New York-themed
hotel, with a roller coaster and a replica Statue of Liberty, as well as a
miniature Central Park and even a little model of Greenwich Village. The girls
and I joked that we were really getting to see
cities for the price of one!
It was our third morning in Las Vegas, and we still
had five luxurious days of lounging, gambling, drinking, and eating at the
all-inclusive buffet. Becky had managed to convince us to spend one night
outside the city, exploring the mountains that flocked the city, but the rest
of our days were full of a whole lot of nothing, which was exactly what we
wanted. After all, when you don’t have anything planned, you can really be up
“Umm…seriously, Alicia?” I asked, eyebrows cocked.
Okay, maybe Alicia DID go overboard,
thought to myself. She looked back at me, her green eyes puzzled.
“You so totally did. Last night. Don’t you remember?
On the roof?” Becky said, grinning from ear to ear. Alicia blushed bright red,
bringing her hand up to her mouth.
“Oh my God! You guys, I totally forgot! Oh my god! I
don’t even remember what it was like! Oh, well, you know, that doesn’t count,
then,” she said, taking a long sip of her drink and waving her hand in the air
“What? What do you mean it doesn’t count? You did it.
You totally smoked weed last night,” I said with a snicker.
“Well, did I seem like I got high? Was I acting
weird?” Alicia asked, looking somewhat embarrassed now that we were calling her
“No, actually. I remember pretty well – you didn’t
seem different at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure you went on a little rant to
those guys about how it must have been fake…” Becky said thoughtfully, looking
into her own drink as though it was a crystal ball telling her about the past.
“Oh, those guys…I nearly forgot all about them…”
Alicia said, sighing. Of the three of us, Alicia had the most experience with
guys, and she was also the most likely to ditch the rest of us for a date. We
loved her for it, though, because she never got bothered when we teased her
about her boy-crazy ways.
Becky, on the other hand, liked to have steady
boyfriends, and had dated two guys throughout all of high school: one in
freshman and sophomore year, one in junior and senior year. Scott, who was her
current boyfriend, would be going to Washington for college in the fall, and
they’d decided to break up right before summer vacation so that neither would
feel pressured into a long-distance relationship. That was a very Becky sort of
thing to do: play it safe. She was the one we all believed would get married
and have kids before the rest of us.
Me? I guess I was kind of a wild card. That’s a lie; I
was really more like a joker, because I wasn’t even in the game. I’d dated
guys, had a few boyfriends from time to time, but I wasn’t really about the
whole relationship thing. It seemed dumb to me, to date someone in high school
when you knew everyone was just going to wind up leaving sooner rather than
later. That wasn’t supposed to sound so depressing, it just seemed to be the
Besides, I wasn’t so much like other girls, who saw a
hot guy and got all flustered about it. I thought guys were cute, or handsome,
or whatever, but I wasn’t really the sort of girl who spent homeroom doodling
the class cutie’s name into her spiral-bound notebook, you know? The few times
I’d allowed a boy to go farther than just kissing, it wasn’t anything worth
writing home about, and I usually didn’t let them do it again. I wasn’t
prudish, more like selfish. If it wasn’t going to do anything for me, why
should I bother letting some guy paw at me?
So we all had our own missions, and they were pretty
clear-cut reflections of ourselves. Alicia, flighty and easily amused, looking
for a fun drug to experiment with just like she experimented with different
cute boys. Becky, always on the straight and narrow and never willing to take a
chance, wanted to take a risk and possibly lose it all. Me, I wanted to see
what all the fuss was about, and thought it would be a lot easier to enjoy
myself with someone that I knew I didn’t have to impress, or even ever see
As boys – and full-grown men – passed by the three of
us, we were all well aware of the looks they were giving us behind their
sunglasses. Some of them weren’t even trying to hide behind sunglasses, and
others actually drew attention to themselves by physically lifting their
sunglasses. I couldn’t blame any of them: we were three young, gorgeous,
healthy young women in bikinis. Plus, we were kind of like the Powerpuff Girls:
orderly, raven-haired Becky, feisty and carrot-topped Alicia, blonde,
I’d always thought of myself as kind of the middle
ground between Becky and Alicia. I was literally in the middle if we lined up
in height order, with Becky towering over both of us and Alicia only coming up
to my shoulders. Becky is thin as a rail, Alicia is voluptuous, and I’m
somewhere in between, with a healthy jiggle in my hips and belly and nice,
round breasts that are just enough to cup.
So, at any rate, you can imagine the reaction we
usually got when we went out together: something for everyone! Of course,
Alicia usually ended up with most of the attention, because she was flirty and
sharp-witted and was actually eager to talk to different guys, whereas Becky
always had a boyfriend and I never really cared.