Firefly Lane Page 1

Part One

THE SEVENTIES

CHAPTER ONE

They used to be called the Firefly Lane girls. That was a long time ago—more than three decades—but just now, as she lay in bed listening to a winter storm raging outside, it seemed like yesterday.

In the past week (unquestionably the worst seven days of her life), she'd lost the ability to distance herself from the memories. Too often lately in her dreams it was 1974; she was a teenager again, coming of age in the shadow of a lost war, riding her bike beside her best friend in a darkness so complete it was like being invisible. The place was relevant only as a reference point, but she remembered it in vivid detail: a meandering ribbon of asphalt bordered on either side by gullies of murky water and hillsides of shaggy grass. Before they met, that road seemed to go nowhere at all; it was just a country lane named after an insect no one had ever seen in this rugged blue and green corner of the world.

Then they saw it through each other's eyes. When they stood together on the rise of the hill, instead of towering trees and muddy potholes and distant snowy mountains, they saw all the places they would someday go. At night, they sneaked out of their neighboring houses and met on that road. On the banks of the Pilchuck River they smoked stolen cigarettes, cried to the lyrics of "Billy, Don't Be a Hero," and told each other everything, stitching their lives together until by summer's end no one knew where one girl ended and the other began. They became to everyone who knew them simply TullyandKate, and for more than thirty years that friendship was the bulkhead of their lives: strong, durable, solid. The music might have changed with the decades, but the promises made on Firefly Lane remained.

Best friends forever.

They'd believed it would last, that vow, that someday they'd be old women, sitting in their rocking chairs on a creaking deck, talking about the times of their lives, and laughing.

Now she knew better, of course. For more than a year she'd been telling herself it was okay, that she could go on without a best friend. Sometimes she even believed it.

Then she would hear the music. Their music. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." "Material Girl." "Bohemian Rhapsody." "Purple Rain." Yesterday, while she'd been shopping, a bad Muzak version of "You've Got a Friend" had made her cry, right there next to the radishes.

She eased the covers back and got out of bed, being careful not to waken the man sleeping beside her. For a moment she stood there, staring down at him in the shadowy darkness. Even in sleep, he wore a troubled expression.

She took the phone off its hook and left the bedroom, walking down the quiet hallway toward the deck. There, she stared out at the storm and gathered her courage. As she punched in the familiar numbers, she wondered what she would say to her once-best friend after all these silent months, how she would start. I've had a bad week . . . my life is falling apart . . . or simply: I need you.

Across the black and turbulent Sound, the phone rang.

CHAPTER TWO

For most of the country, 1970 was a year of upheaval and change, but in the house on Magnolia Drive, everything was orderly and quiet. Inside, ten-year-old Tully Hart sat on a cold wooden floor, building a Lincoln Log cabin for her Liddle Kiddles, who were asleep on tiny pink Kleenexes. If she were in her bedroom, she would have had a Jackson Five forty-five in her Close 'N Play, but in the living room, there wasn't even a radio.

Her grandma didn't like music much, or television or board games. Mostly—like now—Grandma sat in her rocking chair by the fireplace, doing needlepoint. She made hundreds of samplers, most of which quoted the Bible. At Christmastime she donated them to the church, where they were sold at fund-raisers.

And Grandpa . . . well, he couldn't help being quiet. Ever since his stroke, he just stayed in bed. Sometimes he rang his bell, and that was the only time Tully ever saw her grandma hurry. At the first tinkling of the bell, she'd smile and say, "Oh, my," and run for the hallway as fast as her slippered feet would take her.

Tully reached for her yellow-haired Troll. Humming very quietly, she made him dance with Calamity Kiddle to "Daydream Believer." Halfway through the song, there was a knock at the door.

It was such an unexpected sound that Tully paused in her playing and looked up. Except for Sundays, when Mr. and Mrs. Beattle showed up to take them to church, no one ever came to visit.

Gran put her needlework in the pink plastic bag by her chair and got up, crossing the room in that slow, shuffling way that had become normal in the last few years. When she opened the door, there was a long silence, then she said, "Oh, my."

Gran's voice sounded weird. Peering sideways, Tully saw a tall woman with long messy hair and a smile that wouldn't stay in place. She was one of the prettiest women Tully had ever seen: milky skin, a sharp, pointed nose and high cheekbones that slashed above her tiny chin, liquid brown eyes that opened and closed slowly.

"Thass not much of a greeting for your long-lost daughter." The lady pushed past Grandma and walked straight to Tully, then bent down. "Is this my little Tallulah Rose?"

Daughter? That meant—

"Mommy?" she whispered in awe, afraid to believe it. She'd waited so long for this, dreamed of it: her mommy coming back.

"Did you miss me?"

"Oh, yes," Tully said, trying not to laugh. But she was so happy.

Gran closed the door. "Why don't you come into the kitchen for a cup of coffee?"

"I didn't come back for coffee. I came for my daughter."

"You're broke," Grandma said tiredly.

Her mother looked irritated. "So what if I am?"

"Tully needs—"

"I think I can figure out what my daughter needs." Her mother seemed to be trying to stand straight, but it wasn't working. She was kind of wobbly and her eyes looked funny. She twirled a strand of long, wavy hair around her finger.

Gran moved toward them. "Raising a child is a big responsibility, Dorothy. Maybe if you moved in here for a while and got to know Tully you'd be ready . . ." She paused, then frowned and said quietly, "You're drunk."

Mommy giggled and winked at Tully.

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Tully winked back. Drunk wasn't so bad. Her grandpa used to drink lots before he got sick. Even Gran sometimes had a glass of wine.

"Iss my birthday, Mother, or have you forgotten?"

"Your birthday?" Tully shot to her feet. "Wait here," she said, then ran to her room. Her heart was racing as she dug through her vanity drawer, scattering her stuff everywhere, looking for the macaroni and bead necklace she'd made her mom at Bible school last year. Gran had frowned when she saw it, told her not to get her hopes up, but Tully hadn't been able to do that. Her hopes had been up for years. Shoving it in her pocket, she rushed back out, just in time to hear her mommy say,

"I'm not drunk, Mother, dear. I'm with my kid again for the first time in three years. Love is the ultimate high."

"Six years. She was four the last time you dropped her off here."

"That long ago?" Mommy said, looking confused.

"Move back home, Dorothy. I can help you."

"Like you did last time? No, thanks."

Last time? Mommy had come back before?

Gran sighed, then stiffened. "How long are you going to hold all that against me?"

"It's hardly the kind of thing that has an expiration date, is it? Come on, Tallulah." Her mom lurched toward the door.

Tully frowned. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Her mommy hadn't hugged her or kissed her or asked how she was. And everyone knew you were supposed to pack a suitcase to leave. She pointed at her bedroom door. "My stuff—"

"You don't need that materialistic shit, Tallulah."

"Huh?" Tully didn't understand.

Gran pulled her into a hug that smelled sweetly familiar, of talcum powder and hair spray. These were the only arms that had ever hugged Tully, this was the only person who'd ever made her feel safe, and suddenly she was afraid. "Gran?" she said pulling back. "What's happening?"

"You're coming with me," Mommy said, reaching out to the doorframe to steady herself.

Her grandmother clutched her by the shoulders, gave her a little shake. "You know our phone number and address, right? You call us if you get scared or something goes wrong." She was crying; seeing her strong, quiet grandmother cry scared and confused Tully. What was going on? What had she done wrong already?

"I'm sorry, Gran, I—"

Mommy swooped over and grabbed her by the shoulder, shaking her hard. "Don't ever say you're sorry. It makes you look pathetic. Come on." She took Tully's hand and pulled her toward the door.

Tully stumbled along behind her mother, out of the house and down the steps and across the street to a rusted VW bus that had plastic flower decals all over it and a giant yellow peace symbol painted on the side.

The door opened; thick gray smoke rolled out. Through the haze she saw three people in the van. A black man with a huge afro and a red headband was in the driver's seat. In the back was a woman in a fringed vest and striped pants, with a brown kerchief over her blond hair; beside her sat a man in bell-bottoms and a ratty T-shirt. Brown shag carpeting covered the van floor; a few pipes lay scattered about, mixed up with empty beer bottles, food wrappers, and eight-track tapes.

"This is my kid, Tallulah," Mom said.

Tully didn't say anything, but she hated to be called Tallulah. She'd tell her mommy that later, when they were alone.

"Far out," someone said.

"She looks just like you, Dot. It blows my mind."

"Get in," the driver said gruffly. "We're gonna be late."

The man in the dirty T-shirt reached for Tully, grabbed her around the waist, and swung her into the van, where she positioned herself carefully on her knees.

Mom climbed inside and slammed the door shut. Strange music pulsed through the van. All she could make out were a few words: some-thin' happenin' here . . . Smoke made everything look soft and vaguely out of focus.

Tully edged closer to the metal side to make room beside her, but Mom sat next to the lady in the kerchief. They immediately started talking about pigs and marches and a man named Kent. None of it made sense to Tully and the smoke was making her dizzy. When the man beside her lit up his pipe, she couldn't help the little sigh of disappointment that leaked from her mouth.

The man heard it and turned to her. Exhaling a cloud of gray smoke right into her face, he smiled. "Jus' go with the flow, li'l girl."

"Look at the way my mother has her dressed," Mommy said bitterly. "Like she's some little doll. How's she s'posed to be real if she can't get dirty?"

"Right on, Dot," the guy said, blowing smoke out of his mouth and leaning back.

Mommy looked at Tully for the first time; really looked at her. "You remember that, kiddo. Life isn't about cooking and cleaning and havin' babies. It's about bein' free. Doin' your own thing. You can be the fucking president of the United States if you want."

"We could use a new president, thass for sure," the driver said.

The woman in the headband patted Mom's thigh. "Thass tellin' it like it is. Pass me that bong, Tom." She giggled. "Hey, that's almost a rhyme."

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