Read "The Angel of Fremont Street" first, or this won't make a lick of sense! Then read this.
Her friends have learned to leave her alone on this day, this anniversary, when she makes a sort of pilgrimage to her point of origin. She walks where her progenitor walked. She stands where she stood. She looks out at the empty lot, out toward where she went, and feels hollow - like the girl was ripped out of her, and not the other way around.
But this year, Hal's suddenly blocking her. He stands on the corner, right beneath the street light, pack slung over one shoulder and a grin on his face, and he reaches a hand out to her. Come with me, he says.
She shakes her head. No. It's - today is -
I know what today is.
I have to do this.
No, he says, voice and eyes soft. You don't. And I have something to show you.
She studies him. Her most constant friend, before and after they were discarded.
She takes his hand, and he grins.
They set off walking, Hal keeping a brisk pace, Elizabeth stealing looks over at him. What is this that you have to show me?
He grins and tousles her hair. That is one of my finer qualities. And here we are.
She looks up, looks around, and gasps.
They are surrounded by enormous neon signs, a riot of color and shapes, diamonds and high-heeled shoes, all jumbled around. Hal's right. These are discards. This is the old Las Vegas. This is Binion's Horseshoe and the Golden Nugget, the Silver Slipper and the Cheesecake Revue. Elizabeth's been living in the ghost of Fremont Street, but this is even older - mobster old.
These are ghosts she's never met.
Behind her, Hal has set down his pack and pulled out a bottle of wine, two cups. Say hello, he says.
She walks up to the Silver Slipper, touches one old bulb. Hello, she whispers.
And to her surprise and delight, it answers. They all answer.
It starts as a stirring of light in that one bulb, and spreads, hundreds of will o' wisps kindling hundreds of lights, color suffusing the air - and then the music rises behind it, and she can almost hear the laughter of the gamblers of so many years ago.
Hal takes her hand and asks, his voice unusually serious, Angel of Fremont Street - may I have this dance? The light plays in his dark eyes, and for the first time, she wonders why her progenitor was not in love with his - wonders how she could not have been in love with his. And she moves into his arms as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and perhaps it is. They waltz, and he holds her close, and he whispers, I know what day this is. Do you? This is the day you began to exist, Elizabeth. This should not be a day of mourning for you. This day gave you life.
She closes her eyes, resting her head on his shoulder, and remembers. Not the event that threw her into this world, but all of the things she's done since, and all of the discards she's come to know. You send them to me, she says, half to herself. You send them to find the Angel of Fremont Street. I'm not an angel, Hal.
She feels him smile. Maybe this is how angels are made.
He pulls back just a little, and she looks up at him, a question in her eyes. Happy birthday, he says, and he kisses her - and they may just be discards, shed bits of soul and hope and fear, but this kiss feels real. Everything feels real. Hal waltzing her in the Neon Boneyard. This being her birthday.
She'd asked Venus once if she thought there was life after death, and Venus just shrugged, and said I don't know if there's life after death, baby. But maybe there's love after death. And maybe there is.