Growing up, fun-seekers flocked to my house. There was acreage to roam, outbuildings to hide out in, and parents who turned a blind eye to any non-life-threatening behavior. In the 90s, the argument, “Well, at least I know where my kid is and what he/she is doing,” still carried weight.
Me hosting the Senior Party — an all-nighter — was a no brainer. There wasn’t even a vote. Everyone brought booze, but there were rules. Keys go in Mom’s basket at the barn entrance. Nobody drives until morning. No exceptions.
Cindy and I shared the vanity in my bedroom, applying heavy eyeliner and spraying our hair higher than Heaven. She tapped my bracelet and gave it a spin. Sunlight reflected off the intricate design my father etched into the gold with painstaking care. “He’s so talented,” she sighed. “What a graduation present!”
“I love it, too,” I admitted. “See where he put his initials, DKL? He hides them somewhere in every piece. It’s like his signature, ya know?”
Cindy peered closer. Her eyes lit up when she saw the letters tangled in the vines and flowers. “Awesome!” She pressed her cherry-red lips together, then blurted, “So, tonight’s the night. I’m doing it with Jason.” A squawk flew out of her like a frightened bird.
“No!” My chin dropped.
“I’m eighteen and going to college in the Fall. I don’t want to be the only one!”
I blew out a long breath, buying time to come up with sage advice beyond my years. Instead, I said, “I know what you mean.”
We split a bottle of Boone’s Farm — Strawberry Hill, our favorite. As we stepped outside into the balmy evening air, she reached for my hand. Hers was shaking.
“Promise you’ll keep my secret. I don’t want everyone to know.”
“Of course,” I said, a little miffed she had to ask. “We’ve been best friends for, like, ever.”
“Like sisters,” she said, squeezing my fingers.
I grinned and said my next line, “Like, honest-to-God sisters.”
“The real deal,” she finished our well-worn routine.
We giggled and hugged.
I lost her in the throng of giddy graduates dancing to Backstreet Boys blaring on the boombox. The barn smelled like stored hay, wet dog, and Marlboros. The smoky haze heightened my buzz. I leaned into Lance taking a pull off his bottle of Jack Daniels.
“Easy there,” he said, laughing. “We’ve got all night.”
“I’m good,” I said, trying to focus on both his eyes at once.
“Well, your friend’s not. You might want to check on her.” His thumb jerked toward the gaping double-wide door.
She was easy to find in the dark. I followed the gut-wrenching gagging noises and shivered. Gross! “Hey, Cin, it’s me. You alright?” I crossed my fingers. Please don’t ask me to hold your hair.
She was bent over, gasping for air. “Na … naht really … ah need ta … go.”
“Home?” I pulled my head back. What happened to the party girl I knew and loved? “What’d ya do? Get into Buddy’s moonshine?”
“Well, no wonder!” I shook my head. Amateur mistake! Everyone knew Buddy had kin in Kentucky. His shine was no joke. “Stay here. I’ll get some help.”
I found Mom sprawled out on a lounge chair in the driveway, staring at the stars. “Cindy’s had too much to drink and needs a ride home.” I smelled a whiff of weed.
“Aw, poor thing! Ask your father. He’s inside.”
I sighed and glanced mournfully back at the barn. Aerosmith blared, “Walk This Way”. I didn’t want to miss anything.
Dad didn’t waste any time grabbing his keys and wrangling an unsteady Cindy into his truck. “Be back in a jiffy,” he said, waving out the window as they rolled past me.
I called her the next day. Her parents made vague excuses why she couldn’t come to the phone. I called again the day after that. And the next. When I showed up at their door the following week, no one answered, but cars were in the driveway and the TV was blaring.
She was shunning me.
My hurt feelings remained raw until I went to college. A new set of classes and boys distracted me enough to not tear up every time I thought of her. Time flew and wounds healed, just as everyone promised.
I married, divorced, and remarried before I saw Cindy again over two decades later. Her delicate, white skin against her black, fitted dress stood out in the crowded funeral home. Our eyes met as she weaved her way through the mourners.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her eyes watery. “I loved him, too.”
“Who didn’t?” I murmured, smirking. “He was the coolest dad ever.”
She reached for my hand. Hers was shaking. “Please keep my secret. I don’t want everyone to know.”
“We’ve been best friends for, like, ever,” I said. Automatic.
“Like sisters,” she whispered and stepped to the side. A young woman in her mid-twenties stood behind her, tall with emerald eyes like Cindy, fiery red hair like mine.
She had the best of us.
I gasped when I saw her bracelet casting golden reflections. I didn’t need to search for his initials. I turned to Cindy. “Honest-to-God sisters?”
She nodded. “The real deal.”