IT'S MY PARTY, I CAN SPLURGE IF I WANT TO

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FROWNS ON PRETENTIOUS COMING--OUT PARTIES FOR LATINA GIRLS. BUT YOU ONLY TURN 15 ONCE.

Brandy has gone through the motions. She has cut the cake and performed the ritual discarding of her childhood by changing her flats to high heels and tossing away a symbolic childhood toy. But mostly she spends the evening in her honorary seat at the main table, flanked by people she is going to high school with--best friends Lisa Lopez and Carlos Rivera, the two people for whom all of her 14-year-old walls come down.

Above them are a crescent of balloons and a cloth-covered cardboard heart reading "BRANDY XV." As friends, they laugh at the same jokes, listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, go to the same parties and worry about each other constantly.

The last ritual to include the entire party was the traditional group dance that began to the band's hokey rendition of the march "Zacatecas." A deceptively elaborate series of winding turns, loops and maneuvers under the upraised arms of other couples, it ends in another series of slow dances in which every male earns a few steps with the quincea¤era, surrounded by a ring of people.

When all the partners are exhausted, Brandy is alone in the circle with J.J., her escort, and her parents join her and her brother on the dance floor to everyone's applause. Moments later, the others join in, but for a few glorious seconds, this was her family, center stage, the way she always imagined it.

"Happy birthday," the guy on the microphone is saying. "Happy birthday to Brandy.

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