Firefly Lane Page 10


"You were worried about me?" Kate burst out laughing. Tully was just about to ask her what was so funny when she sobered and said, "No more lies, right?"

"Absolutely."

"We'll be best friends forever," Kate said earnestly. "Okay?"

"You mean you'll always be there for me?"

"Always," Kate answered. "No matter what."

Tully felt an emotion open up inside her like some exotic flower. She could practically smell its honeyed scent in the air. For the first time in her life, she felt totally safe with someone. "Forever," she promised. "No matter what."

Kate would always remember the summer after eighth grade as one of the best times of her life. Every weekday, she rushed through her morning chores without complaint and babysat her brother until three o'clock, when her mom came home from running errands and volunteering on the 4-H council. After that, Kate was free. Weekends were, for the most part, her own.

She and Tully rode their bikes all over the valley and spent hours inner-tubing down the Pilchuck River. In the late afternoons, they stretched out on tiny towels, wearing neon-colored crocheted bikinis, their skin slick with a mixture of baby oil and iodine, listening to Top 40 music on the transistor radio they never left behind. They talked about everything: fashion, music, boys, the war and what was still going on over there, what it would be like to be a reporting duo, movies. Nothing was off-limits; no question couldn't be volleyed over the net. Now it was late August and they were in Kate's bedroom, packing makeup for their trip to the fair. As usual, Kate had to change clothes and put on makeup after she left the house. If she wanted to look cool, anyway. Her mom still thought she was too young for everything. "You got your tube top?" Tully asked.

"Got it."

Grinning at their own brilliant plan, they headed downstairs, where Dad was sitting on the sofa, watching television.

"We're going to the fair now," Kate said, thankful that her mother wasn't here. Mom would notice the bag that was too big for the county fair. Her X-ray vision would probably see through the macramé exterior to the clothes, shoes, and makeup within.

"Be careful, you two," he said without looking up.

It was what he always said now, ever since girls had started disappearing in Seattle. The news was calling the killer "Ted" these days because some girl at Lake Sammamish State Park had actually gotten away and given a description and his first name to the police. Girls all across the state were terrified. You couldn't see a yellow VW bug without worrying that it was Ted's car.

"We'll be super careful," Tully said, smiling. She loved it when Kate's parents worried about them.

Kate crossed the room to kiss her dad goodbye. He curled an arm around her and handed her a ten-dollar bill. "Have fun."

"Thanks, Daddy."

She and Tully headed down the driveway, swinging their bags beside them.

"Do you think Kenny Markson will be at the fair?" Kate asked.

"You worry too much about boys."

Kate bumped her friend, hip to hip. "He has a crush on you."

"Big whoop. I'm taller."

Suddenly Tully stopped.

"Jeez, Tully, be a spaz, why don'tcha? I almost fell over—"

"Oh, no," Tully whispered.

"What's the matter?"

Then she noticed the police car parked in Tully's driveway.

Tully grabbed Kate's hand and practically dragged her down the driveway, across the street, and to the front door, which stood open.

A policeman was waiting for them in the living room.

When he saw them, his fleshy face pleated into clownlike folds. "Hello, girls. I'm Officer Dan Myers."

"What did she do this time?" Tully asked.

"There was a spotted owl protest up by Lake Quinault that got out of hand yesterday. Your mother and several others staged a sit-in that cost Weyerhaeuser a full day's work. Worse, someone dropped a cigarette in the woods." He paused. "They just got the fire under control."

"Let me guess: she's going to jail."

"Her lawyer is seeking voluntary treatment for drug addiction. If she's lucky, she'll be in the hospital for a while. If not . . ." He let the sentence trail off.

"Has someone called my grandmother?"

The officer nodded. "She's expecting you. Do you need help packing?"

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Kate didn't understand what was happening. She turned to her friend. "Tully?"

There was a terrible blankness in Tully's brown eyes, and Kate knew that this was big, whatever it was. "I have to go back to my grandma's," Tully said, then she walked past Kate and went into her bedroom.

Kate ran after her. "You can't go!"

Tully pulled a suitcase out of the closet and flipped it open. "I don't have any choice."

"I'll make your mother come back. I'll tell her—"

Tully paused in her packing and looked at Kate. "You can't fix this," she said softly, sounding like a grown-up, tired and broken. For the first time, Kate understood the stories about Tully's loser mom. They'd laughed about Cloud, made jokes about her drug use and her fashion sense and her various stories, but it wasn't funny. And Tully had known this would happen.

"Promise me," Tully said, her voice cracking, "that we'll always be best friends."

"Always," was all Kate could say.

Tully finished packing and locked up her suitcase. Saying nothing, she headed back to the living room. On the radio "American Pie" was playing, and Kate wondered if she'd ever be able to listen to that song again without remembering this moment. The day the music died. She followed Tully out to the driveway. There, they clung to each other until Officer Dan gently pulled Tully away.

Kate couldn't even wave goodbye. She just stood there in the driveway, numb, with tears streaming down her cheeks, watching her best friend leave.

CHAPTER SIX

For the next three years, they wrote letters faithfully back and forth. It became more than a tradition and something of a lifeline. Every Sunday evening, Tully sat down at the white desk in her lavender and pink little-girl's room and spilled her thoughts and dreams and worries and frustrations onto a sheet of notebook paper. Sometimes she wrote about things that didn't matter—the Farrah Fawcett haircut she'd gotten that made her look foxy or the Gunny Sax dress she wore to the junior prom—but every now and then she went deeper and told Katie about the times she couldn't sleep or the way she dreamed of her mother coming back and saying she was proud of her. When her grandfather died, it was Kate to whom Tully turned. She hadn't cried for him until she got the phone call from her best friend that began with, "Oh, Tul, I'm so sorry." For the first time in her life, Tully didn't lie or embellish (well, not too much); she was mostly just herself, and that was good enough for Kate.

Now it was the summer of 1977. In a few short months they'd be seniors, ruling their separate schools.

And today was the day Tully had been working toward for months. Finally, she was going to actually step onto the road Mrs. Mularkey had shown her all those years ago.

The next Jean Enersen.

The words had become her mantra, a secret code that housed the enormity of her dream and made it sound possible. The seeds of it, planted so long ago in the kitchen of the Snohomish house, had sprouted wildly and sent roots deep into her heart. She hadn't realized how much she'd needed a dream, but it had transformed her, changed her from poor motherless and abandoned Tully to a girl poised to take on the world. The goal made her life story unimportant, gave her something to reach for, to hang on to. And it made Mrs. Mularkey proud; she knew that from their letters. She knew, too, that Kate shared this dream. They would be reporters together, tracking down stories and writing them up. A team.

She stood on the sidewalk, staring at the building in front of her, feeling like a bank robber staring at Fort Knox.

Surprisingly, the ABC affiliate, despite its clout and glory, was in a small building in the Denny Regrade section of town. There was no view to speak of, no impressive wall of windows or expensive art-filled lobby. Rather, there was an L-shaped desk, a pretty-enough receptionist, and a trio of mustard-yellow molded plastic lobby chairs.

Tully took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and went inside. At the receptionist's desk, she gave her name, and then took a seat along the wall. She made sure not to fidget or tap her feet during the long wait for her interview.

You never knew who was watching.

"Ms. Hart?" the receptionist finally said, looking up. "He'll see you now."

Tully gave her a poised, camera-ready smile and stood up. "Thank you." She followed the receptionist through the doors to another waiting area.

There, she came face to face with the man to whom she'd been writing weekly for almost a year.

"Hello, Mr. Rorbach." She shook his hand. "It's excellent to finally meet you."

He looked tired; older than she'd expected, too. There were only a handful of reddish gray hairs growing on his shiny head, and none of them were where they should be. The pale blue leisure suit he wore was decorated with white topstitching. "Come into my office, Miss Hart."

"Ms. Hart," she said. It was always better to start off on the right foot. Gloria Steinem said you'd never get respect if you didn't demand it.

Mr. Rorbach blinked at her. "Excuse me?"

"I'll answer to Ms. Hart, if you don't mind, which I'm sure you don't. How could anyone with a degree in English literature from Georgetown be resistant to change? I'm certain you're on the cutting edge of social consciousness. I can see it in your eyes. I like your glasses, by the way."

He stared at her, his mouth hanging open the slightest bit before he seemed to remember where he was. "Follow me, Ms. Hart." He led her down the bland white hallway to the last fake wood door on the left, which he opened.

His office was a small corner space, with a window that looked directly at the monorail's elevated cement track. The walls were completely bare.

Tully sat on the black fold-up chair positioned in front of his desk.

Mr. Rorbach took his seat and stared at her. "One hundred and twelve letters, Ms. Hart." He patted the thick manila file folder on his desk.

He'd saved all the letters she'd sent. That must mean something. She pulled her newest résumé out of the briefcase and set it on his desk. "As I'm sure you'll notice, the high school paper has repeatedly put my work on its front page. Additionally I've included an in-depth piece on the Guatemalan earthquake, an update on Karen Ann Quinlan, and a heart-wrenching look at Freddie Prinze's last days. They'll surely showcase my ability."

"You're seventeen years old."

"Yes."

"Next month you'll start your senior year of high school."

All those letters had worked. He knew everything about her. "Exactly. I think that's an interesting story angle, by the way. Going in to senior year; watching the class of '78. Maybe we could do monthly features about what really goes on behind the doors of a local high school. I'm sure your viewers—"

"Ms. Hart." He steepled his fingers and rested his chin on the tips, looking at her. She got the impression he was trying not to smile.

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