The parents of Hadas and Bat Hen had at first flatly denied permission. But Nili promised they would take taxis instead of buses, and so the parents relented.
At 4:10 p.m. Monday, the girls were crossing the street outside Dizengoff Center, a teen hangout. As usual, Nili, the headstrong one, was striding a good 10 feet ahead.
When the suicide bomber detonated himself, the blast drove Nili to the ground. And when she lifted herself to look for her friends, what she saw was a scene from the pages of Hadas' diary.
It required dental records and tests on matted locks of hair to identify the mangled remains of the three girls, who were among 13 Israelis killed in the blast. After being hospitalized overnight for a leg injury and hearing loss, Nili was released in time to attend her best friends' funerals.
In Israel, teenagers tend to grow up quickly, and often suddenly. One day, they are as carefree and awkward as any American adolescent, and the next, they have sad, knowing adult eyes.
The victims from Tel Mond are not only three girls who died before experiencing a boyfriend's first kiss. They also include the friends they left behind: One inconsolable survivor haunted by memories of carnage and crushing guilt. And dozens of 15- and 16-year-olds who are undergoing grief counseling after a national tragedy hit home in a cruelly personal way.
``They're at an age when they think they're going to live forever,'' said Ora Chayun, director of Tel Mond's community center, where the teens have gathered to console one another. ``Suddenly, they're confronting mortality.''
Tel Mond, a town of 5,300 about 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv, is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else. For teenagers, it can be boring. Hadas and Bat Hen were on a teen committee that tried to open a rock cafe and publish a monthly newsletter reviewing neaby events for young people.
Friends describe Hadas as an effervescent, open girl in the throes of her first big crush. Eitan Tzur, 16, asked her a month ago to be his girlfriend, but she had been putting off her answer. Only last Sunday, she told Eitan she would have a surprise for him after she returned from Tel Aviv. Bat Hen confided in him that Hadas had decided to be his girlfriend.
Bat Hen, 15, was the quiet one. She wrote poetry, often about love and separated lovers, although she had never had a boyfriend. But she met a boy named Yoni on a youth-club field trip last month. She liked him, and hoped to see him again.
Dana was the youngest in the group. She was just 14 and stood less than 5 feet. Some of her peers teased her for her petite stature, which only made her close girlfriends feel protective. She, too, was going through a painfully self-conscious stage of adolescence. ``Nobody loves me,'' she often told the others, even though they all did.
And then there was Nili, constantly in motion.
``Nili walks to her own rhythm,'' said Tami Edri, a close friend who has visited her since the explosion. ``She was always walking in front of everyone, always out ahead and looking behind to see if we were catching up with her.''
The outing to Tel Aviv was Nili's idea. Monday was Bat Hen's birthday under the Hebrew calendar, and she wanted to buy a new party dress. It also was the eve of Purim, when young people don costumes and masks. They had made plans to spend Sunday night with Nili's grandmother, then visit the mall Monday.
The girls were eager for fun. Hadas in particular had been disturbed over the string of bombings. She had taken to wearing a garland of flowers in her long, blond hair to signify mourning. In her diary, she noted every attack.
Tel Aviv was a natural place to escape sadness. It calls itself the city that never stops, not even for the Sabbath. Many residents consider it their national duty to keep working and playing even in trying times, as if to prove by example that Israel can be a normal place where people know how to live as well as grieve.
When the parents of Hadas and Bat Hen balked, Nili begged them to grant permission.
``Please let them go with me,'' she told them. ``Don't worry. We won't get on a bus. We'll take a cab.''
They left on Sunday afternoon, just the four of them after failing to persuade more friends to join them. They brushed aside every urging not to go, confident that any danger was on public buses, which they intended to avoid.
``I'm afraid of buses these days,'' said Yossi Horesh, a schoolmate who declined to accompany them. ``I had a feeling we shouldn't play with destiny.''
Even from Tel Aviv, they called friends and implored them to come. They said they had spent Monday morning sharing their dreams for the future - Hadas of Eitan, Bat Hen of Yoni, and Dana of growing tall - and they intended to put on their Purim outfits and parade around Dizengoff Center.
Hadas wore a mask of the sun. Dana was dressed as a bride. Bat Hen was all in pink, and Nili was costumed as an American Indian.
They died near a Benetton store.
After the explosion, friends of the girls called one another, frantically trying to find out what had happened. Eitan Tzur accompanied Hadas' father, searching hospitals where the injured were treated.
``We were optimistic when we heard Nili was only wounded,'' said Michail Kelen, a classmate. ``Even when we didn't hear from them, we believed they were only wandering around in shock.''
Around midnight, the mayor called everyone whose child was a classmate of the girls. They were summoned to a meeting room. Psychologists stood on hand.
``I'm sorry to say this,'' he said four times before forcing himself to give the news. ``Hadas, Bat Hen and Dana are no longer with us.''
And in a way, neither is the Nili they once knew.
Released from the hospital Tuesday morning, she went directly to visit the parents of each of her dead girlfriends. She has told friends that she apologized to each set of parents. Though they do not blame her, she blames herself.
Still limping from her leg injury, Nili cried out to her friends as she stood over the graves where they were buried side by side.
``I didn't know that this would happen,'' she moaned as she laid a white flower over Dana's grave. ``I'm sorry, Dana. I'm sorry that it happened. Bat Hen and Hadas are with you, and they will take care of you. You will be together. You left me here. I'm sorry, Dana. I'm so sorry.''
Moving to the open graves where Hadas' and Bat Hen's bodies lay, she collapsed and wept.
``It cannot be,'' she screamed. ``I crossed the road just before them and suddenly, I couldn't find them. Why didn't I make them cross the road together with me? I could have saved them.''
Several youths said some teenagers in Tel Mond have been holding seances to try to contact the spirits of their friends. One girl said she has not attended because she fears the spirits are angry that she did not persuade them to stay home.
At the community center, counselors hold nightly sessions to help youngsters talk through their grief.
``The kids don't want to go home at night,'' said director Chayun. ``I hear them on the phone arguing with their parents, who want them at home. But they aren't sleeping, and they aren't eating.''
On Thursday evening, 25 teenagers pulled plastic chairs into a circle while a counselor prodded them to talk about their feelings.
``We have to get beyond our grief,'' she said. ``It's normal to cry. But while crying, know there is life to go back to. We are all broken. It won't pass tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Let's not forget them, but we have to go forward.''
Like flowers opening on film shot in rapid sequence, the teenagers seemed to be maturing to meet the situation. One youth fetched glasses of water for two girls who were crying. Several draped their arms over the shoulders of the friend sitting near in gentle gestures of comfort.
``I feel guilt,'' said Eitan, the pony-tailed boyfriend of Hadas, breaking into deep sobs. ``I should have said stronger, `Don't go.' I just couldn't persuade her not to go.''
Michail Kelen, a 15-year-old who used to sleep overnight at Dana's house, said the sessions helped. ``I can't talk about it with my parents,'' she said. ``They don't understand.''
Before she turned away with tears falling, she added: ``I want to say to everybody who reads this: `Understand that we loved them. That everybody loved them. And never in our lives will we forget them.' ''