Sweet Sixteen

Your daughter turns 16 once, so youd better do it up right

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Miss Sweet 16, Abbrarose Link. She is 16, and she is beautiful," Rand says breathlessly, and we cheer.

There's just one beat too many of silence—it recalls someone's Sweet 16 pool party/seventh-grade dance—and then the music starts, our photographer taking pictures that will show Abbra, the queen all lit up in the light reflected from her dress, silhouetted against all of us, her court in our funereal formality.

It goes quickly, now: Abbra, her mom and her sister the giddy center of the dance floor for a few quick spins until they're whipped off the floor to dinner, marched in by a regiment of waiters.

"Sixteen is a big age, you know," says Luanne Sofka, who came to the party from Anaheim Hills with her husband and two sons; they've been friends of the family since the Links arrived from New York, "and parents want to treat them special."

"Plus," says Alexa Kries, Abbrarose's classmate, "they see it on TV."

Another classmate confides that for her 16th birthday, dad is taking the family to the Bahamas.

"When I was 16," Abbra's dad says to me, "I don't think I had a tie. I played baseball, and that was about it." Then he sits down to a very adult dinner with his slip of a 16-year-old daughter in her metallic gown, her long, dark hair pinned up on her head.

Although Wayne and Nina Link have waited a lifetime for this moment, Nina confesses she has planned a few moments after this one: like the one where Abbra goes off to college, taking with her the enlarged winter-formal portrait she sat for earlier this year (it now rests on an easel at the entrance to the Bellagio Room).

"I want her to remember this for the rest of her life," Nina says. Abbra says she will, and she is believable—if only because it will be so difficult to top what we are seeing now.

"It's like she's getting married to herself," says Callendar, my colleague from the Weekly. Good line, and as the evening proceeds, I realize it gets truer and truer—that Abbrarose is getting married to all sorts of things that the plan says she was born to be.

I watch the ritualistic games—"hot potato" being played with a piece of silverware and ending not unlike a Rotary Club meeting: "Turn to the person next to you. Now shake that person's hand and say, 'Congratulations! You've won the centerpiece.'" I see Abbra thank her parents and different groups of friends—her wrestling teammates, the shoppers ("my three gal pals"), the study buddies ("my super-brainiac friends")—and summon each of them to help her light thin tapers on a candelabra. There are 16 of these candles. Sixteen candles . . . get it?

There is a different song for each clique. When the smart kids file up, a few seconds of "All Star" by Smash Mouth comes over the PA. We are all stars now, planets in her orbit, and we move to the dance floor to watch a video montage on the TV overhead. It's Abbra: her baby pictures (just born, all dressed up, naked toddler), shots of her Halloween costumes from the '90s, her vacation snaps (on a Jet Ski, parasailing with dad) set to more music. We watch her grow, and "My Girl" by the Temptations segues into the Steve Miller Band doing "Abra-Ca-Dabra": "I feel magic when I touch your dress/Abra-abra cadabra/Abracadabra."

Rand is on the mic, and he is gurgling emotion as he soaks up these images and thinks of Abbrarose's future."We want to see 16 times four for her life!" he says, obviously not doing the math. Sixteen times four is only 64—but, yes, at times like these, you probably should think that it's the thought that counts. "So let's give her a big send-off!"

And as they start to dance again, I think of Abbra's father, whom I saw trying to do a head count earlier to figure out how many dinners they had added to the bill.

"Now they have everything," he'd said—the man who hadn't owned a tie when he was 16—but he didn't seem too sad about it; his hours of hard work had changed all that. And in less than six years, Wayne Link will be repeating the entire process for his younger daughter Karamia's Sweet 16—an event she is already planning and has decided will be themed after the Grammy Awards. "I know," Wayne Link said, resigned to his fate. "She's not going to let me forget it."

*   *   *

As a non-member of the immediate family, I am not allowed to forget it either. I don't talk to the Links for most of a week after the party, but then Nina calls and wants to know how I'm doing/how's the story going/how can she get copies of the pictures/can I go to lunch the next week. I can—go to lunch. But after Karamia's confirmation during a rustic weekend in Julian, complete with harrowing bus ride, Nina comes down with something. When she phones to cancel, she sounds vaguely nasal. "It was like being in jail," she says, describing a bucolic summer camp atmosphere with cabins. "They didn't even have bottled water."

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