Stars pepper the sky. The solemn swells of the orchestra fuse with the crowd’s low drone and the gentle slap of water against the boats. A breeze passes over the darkened river and stirs in the flaccid sails. I lace my fingers through Phoebe’s, and wait. A light flickers on the picnic table and levitates towards us. Althea cradles the sparkling cupcake, singing “happy birthday” in her breathy voice. She totters over the boat, holding the cake for Phoebe.
“Make a wish, girlfriend!”
Phoebe concentrates, and blows; the flame splutters out.
“Happy birthday, Phoebe.” Althea weaves on the dock’s edge. “I’m glad you’re with Ben, he’s good folk, deserves the best. And you’re the best too, girl, cuz you make him happy, keep him outta trouble. He’s one crazy guy, but good as gold as long as he takes his lith–”
“Shut up, Al.” The boat pitches when I stand. My hands draw into tight fists.
“Just shut the fuck up. You’re drunk.”
“Oh shit.” She covers her face, her giggles. “So sorry.”
A low whistle screams overhead. The sky erupts in orange, incandescent streamers shower into the river, fizzing into smoke. In the light-splattered night, Phoebe’s eyes glitter, questioning me.
“She’s toasted,” I say. Her fingers squeeze mine, seeking more, but I look away, into the shivering sky, and breathe, just breathe, until the only noise is my pulse thumping through my brain and all I see are smoky-white trails of spent fireworks echoing against my closed eyelids.