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Even before we leave we’re hungover. My best friend Ani’s old French mother feeds us crème puffs and coffee with steamed milk. Out front, her older brother, Albert, revs the engine of his Z, impatient for us to get going on our road trip: five awesome days and nights in Daytona for spring break. Unbelievable! Our parents must be idiots. Instead of adults going along to supervise, Albert will be our only chaperone. Maybe my mother trusts him because he’s so European, all earnest and soft-spoken. Good-looking too, but he manicures his nails and carries a purse, for god’s sake.
The three hour drive takes forever. We finally arrive at the beach past dark. Bare-chested girls hang over balconies along the neon-lit strip. Wild guys in convertibles cruise up and down, honking their horns and screaming. Our hotel marquee flashes “Welc me t Dayt na.” Ani glances at me from the front seat and I catch myself biting a nail to the quick, an old habit I thought I’d broken.
a lone night heron’s
the sound of sirens
After a late night, sleeping past noon, the turquoise pool entices. Albert, tanning in his black Speedo, leaves us alone as long as the sun is out. But once it gets dark, he sticks to us like a shadow. Until we ditch him while he buys a round of pina coladas.
With fake i.d.’s, Ani and I hit every disco on the strip, all mirrored stars and strobe lights. Legs aching, we straggle back to the hotel in the wee hours, a few rowdy college guys in our wake. Their raucous skinny-dipping incites the hotel manager, who throws them out. Too gone to care, we crash. A few hours later, the slam of a door wakes us. Albert cussing in French. Damn, he’s taking us home.
on the sea breeze
a dolphin carcass
tug of the tide
A long silent drive back, then he dumps me at my house. I breeze in trailing sand and a suitcase. Several of my girlfriends, pale as wax statues, sit stiffly in our rarely-used front room. My mom appears, carrying sodas and looking haggard. No way she could’ve heard about Daytona this fast.
“What’s going on?” I ask. They stare back at me mutely.
“I think you better come upstairs,” my mother says, taking me by the arm into the hall.
“What? What is it? Is it Maw-maw? Is she okay?” I shake loose from her grasp.
“She’s fine. Look, sit down.” She points at the bottom step.
“No, tell me now,” I say, trying to keep my voice down.
“It’s your friend Debbie.”
“What about her? You hardly know her, you...”
“They were in an accident. Out at the lake. That big party, the night after you left for Daytona.”
“Yeah, so what. So...”
“Honey, none of the kids in the car were wearing seat belts. All five of them were killed instantly. They didn’t suffer.”
I pull away from her, stumble up the stairs, push open my bedroom door. She follows, my girlfriends trailing in her wake. White-faced, they stand like apparitions in the hall behind her.
“Honey, the funeral’s in an hour. They came by to take you. Thank God you came home early. You’ll need to change. Come on, now...”
after the third pair
she dresses me