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  • It’s the same but different every December 31st: a raucous neighborhood backyard oyster roast followed by a solemn hush, a heated whoosh, of a monster bonfire on the beach. This year, 87 Christmas trees set alight just before midnight.

    The same families are here each time, expanding and contracting rhythmically - marriages, divorces, house guests and death all playing a part.

    “It’s too much. Another one gone, another one going..” Beth blurted out, bursting into tears. It was true. Her father and brother in law had died between the last two bonfires, and soon there would be another loss. There was no denying it.

    “Yes but there are new ones too…” I added lamely, trying to console her, my eyes scanning the crowd. The Huxleys were here for the first time from London and a lot of the teenagers now bring new flames in tow. You can judge age by wardrobe more than anything else now I realized – lines disappear, creases are filled. But only the truly young will wear sleeveless sequins outside in 50 degrees. The rest of us have adopted the middle-aged uniform of short, down sweaters or parkas with fur trimmed hoods.

    My eyes froze on Andy. Cancer eating him up rapidly from the inside, we all knew this would likely be his last New Year’s Eve. He lit up a cigarette, inhaled slowly, and stared into the flames, somehow looking oddly content.

    The fish were still running up in St. Augustine, tilefish specifically, and he’s a fisherman.

    “Better than lobster!” He insisted. “Heading out tomorrow, reeling ‘em in for my girl’s birthday.”

    Maya, his only child and Beth’s niece, would be 26 next week. A newly married and pretty redhead, prone to blushing and inordinately kind hearted. “Soft but strong,” I always think when I see her, taken by her always-watching eyes, the kind that those who are forced to grow up early often have. She'll finish up her Doctorate this spring, teaches yoga. Seems to have it all pretty well figured out.

    “It ain’t all good but it ain’t all bad either” he beamed. “I got a lot to be happy about, yes I do.”
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