The Land of the Free

The national anthem plays again at Saratoga in 1983. There are fewer smiling faces in the crowd. This is no longer a carefree group of gathered friends.

These are people touched by tragedy.

Mr. T turns begins his annual greeting. “Welcome back to the party, everyone! And thanks for coming out this year.”

The words are the same, yet the inflection is subtly different. There are faces missing. Well-known ones.

And some of the familiar ones have changed. There’s a gold rhinestone medallion on a thick chain around Sorrento’s neck, gaudy, heavy, and utterly out of place with his black leather jacket and aviator sunglasses. But he’s never seen without it anymore.

Rain wears as much black as ever, including a short messy black wig entirely unlike the curly white ones he used to favor. The glitter around his eyes has been replaced with thick black streaks, but his lips are left plain. His expression is flat, his eyes holding none of the dancing, teasing amusement from years past.

Diego stands with Kim, their arms around each other. Perhaps something has happened there.

“I don’t know all of you nearly as well as I should,” Mr. T says, “but I hope to fix that before the end of the night.”

There’s a cheer, but smaller than last year. Subdued.

“Take care of each other,” Mr. T says, and takes a breath, giving the words new meaning. “And clean up after yourselves. I’m not your daddy; if you want that, talk to Steven.”

He looks at Steven, who takes a step away from the flagpole. “There’s going to be a memorial service at the fire pit tonight at midnight. We’ll be making luminaries for the deceased, and folks can say a few words. For Simon.” He swallows and glances down for a second. “And for Leon.” He nods at Mr. T, who steps up to join him.

“This is still a party,” he says. “So let’s have some fun!”

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