Gina's birthday was the Twenty-ninth of December, but I was just too busy to attend her party that year. I figured she wanted to spend it with her new beau. They didn't seem to be cooling to each other any.
The next time I saw her was on New Years' Eve. The year had been indescribable.
The folks threw a huge bash and pulled out all the stops. There must've been thirty guests standing around in glittered hats, noisemakers at the ready when midnight finally hove into sight.
'Ten," the crowd shouted as the countdown began on the television. Daddy stood by with a bottle of champagne, ready to pop its cork.
Mary Jane pulled her date close and kissed her. She was a short, stacked read-head with perfect alabaster skin without blemish or freckle. It was a passionate kiss and lasted several seconds.
I took Topher's hand but we didn't kiss. We had taken our relationship to a new level—we slept together in the nude and were working at exploring each other's bodies—but it was peculiarly innocent. We never kissed.
Mr. Richter was there, hugging his wife. He'd told me, with a flicker in his eye, that he had news, but it should wait till after the New Year.
I looked at Tammy. She was the only one alone, except for Robbie, and looked infinitely sad. She watched all the couples with an air of resignation.
She would be losing me soon, and it showed on her face. I'd promise to write her, but that didn't lessen her apprehension. What would she do without her bestest friend?
And then there was Robbie. He was dog-tired, but grimly determined to bring in the New Year on two feet.
Gina and Sanjin were discretely holding hands, sitting together in a corner by the punch bowl. They looked happy, but Sanjin nonetheless glanced nervously at Mother.
Mother looked back at him, but didn't scowl. She moved over to Daddy and touched his elbow.
This was it, Heywoods—the end of the Bicentennial, and start of a brand new year; a whole new life for me. I squeezed Topher's hand.
"HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
The crowd buzzed with excitement, blowing their noisemakers and throwing confetti.
The cork sounded loudly, ricocheting off the ceiling and echoing back from the dining room. Champagne gushed from the bottle and Daddy poured everyone a glass.
"To 1977," Mr. Richter toasted, and we all drank.
"And to Dani, may it be hits year."
"Three cheers for Dani," Mother concluded.
"Hip! Hip! Hurrah!"
I don't take such paeans lightly. I could feel my cheeks turn pink.
"Speech," someone yelled, and I found myself alone at the center of an expectant crowd.
"I don't know what to say," I started timidly, wishing Topher was still holding my hand. "Thank you all. You've all done so much for me. And this is very special."
I paused, not sure if I could continue without crying.
"I want to say thank you Mom and Dad. For everything. You have always been there for me; I am truly blessed. Thank you Gina, and Robbie, and especially Topher. I am going to miss you all."
That was it—I burst into tears and was unable to continue. Mr. Richter took me aside.
"Great news, Dani; two things."
"I filed on your behalf for the upcoming class-action law suit against Martin Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Rarin..."
"Okay. What does that mean?"
"Closure, mostly, but it could mean money for research and possibly a big cash settlement with all its victims."
"I don't think I'm a victim, Mr. Richter. It's not like Mother took Thalidomide. I'm missing some organs, but I don't miss them."
"Sorry. And I just got word yesterday that a Judge Hoskins from North Dakota has endorsed your case to the Circuit Court of Appeals. It means we get to skip the appeals to Missouri."
"That's great, but why North Dakota?"
"It could have been any judge in the circuit, as long as he believes the case has merit. He won't hear it, of course. You'll be assigned a judge at random. I thought you might like to know."
"What about me being gone? What will happen with me out of country?"
"It won't come to trial for a bit yet. You may have to come back to testify, but I think we can just have you file affidavits. You're legal now."
That's right, I was. It felt so odd, being responsible for myself. Soon, I would be alone too.
"Congratulations," Mr. Richter said, and gave me a bear hug.
He left, and Topher came in and hugged me too.
I saw Robbie, watching us around the corner. He was really distraught at what he saw. He ran upstairs.
I followed him and knocked on his door.
"Robbie, are you okay?"
"No," he said through the door. "Go away."
Topher came up behind me. Hit knocked gently on the door.
"Robbie? Hey buddy, what gives?"
He opened the door.
"You're taking my sister away!"
"It's not like that, little guy. She's all grown up now. She needs her space."
"But why can't she have it here?"
"This is not where she belongs anymore. We all have to grow up sometime. I need you to be big and understanding. This is hard on her too."
He opened the door.
"It is? But she gets to go to camp and join the Peace Corps. I have to stay here."
"I'll write you, Robbie, I promise."
"No you won't. Nobody ever writes when they say they will."
"I will. I have my Grip now, and we can send tapes to each other. Would you like that?"
"Yes," he said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "That would be cool."
"I'll write every day, and send you a tape once a week. How does that sound?"
"Okay, I guess. What about Topher? Is he going with you?"
"No," I sighed. Of all the people I was leaving, I'd miss hir the most. "Hit's staying here."
"But you can come visit me," Topher promised him. "You can spend the night and we can stay up late, watching scary movies."
"Really? That would be cool."
"Yes," Topher answered him solemnly. "You can sleep over tonight, if you'd like."
"I would like that. I don't have nobody to talk to anymore."
"What about Gina?"
"She's okay, but all she wants to do is play kissy-face with Sanjin. She's no fun anymore. Can we go out for waffles in the morning?"
"I can go you one better," Topher said, hugging Robbie close, "I'll make you some of my famous French toast."
It was nice to see Robbie being a little kid again.
"Why's it famous?"
"Because it's so good. The King of France once stopped chasing a ship full of pirates, just to try my French toast."
"Wow! Did he eat it all up?"
"Of course, he even came back for seconds."
I could see they both were in good hands.