Firefly Lane Page 11


"Yes, Mr. Rorbach?"

"This is the ABC affiliate, for gosh sakes. We don't hire high school kids."

"But you have interns."

"From UW and other colleges. Our interns know their way around a TV station. Most of them have already worked on their campus broadcasts. I'm sorry, but you're just not ready."

"Oh."

They stared at each other.

"I've been at this job a long time, Ms. Hart, and I've rarely seen anyone as full of ambition as you." He patted the folder of her letters again. "I'll tell you what, you keep sending me your writing. I'll keep an eye out for you."

"So when I'm ready to be a reporter, you'll hire me?"

He laughed. "You just send me the articles. And get good grades and go to college, okay? Then we'll see."

Tully felt energized again. "I'll send you an update once a month. You'll hire me someday, Mr. Rorbach. You'll see."

"I wouldn't bet against you, Ms. Hart."

They talked for a few more moments, and then Mr. Rorbach showed her out of his office. On the way to the stairs, he stopped at the trophy case, where dozens of Emmys and other news awards glinted golden in the light.

"I'll win an Emmy someday," she said, touching the glass with her fingertips. She refused to let herself be wounded by this setback, and that was all it was: a setback.

"You know what, Tallulah Hart, I believe you. Now go off to high school and enjoy your senior year. Real life comes fast enough."

Outside, it looked like a postcard of Seattle; the kind of blue-skied, cloudless, picture-perfect day that lured out-of-towners into selling their homes in duller, less spectacular places and moving here. If only they knew how rare these days were. Like a rocket blaster, summer burned fast and bright in this part of the world and went out with equal speed.

Holding her grandfather's thick black briefcase against her chest, she walked up the street toward the bus stop. On an elevated track above her head, the monorail thundered past, making the ground quake.

All the way home, she told herself it was really an opportunity; now she'd be able to prove her worth in college and get an even better job.

But no matter how she tried to recast it, the sense of having failed wouldn't release its hold. When she got home she felt smaller somehow, her shoulders weighted down.

She unlocked the front door and went inside, tossing the briefcase on the kitchen table.

Gran was in the living room, sitting on the tattered old sofa, with her stockinged feet on the crushed velvet ottoman and an unfinished sampler in her lap. Asleep, she snored lightly.

At the sight of her grandmother, Tully had to force a smile. "Hey, Gran," she said softly, moving into the living room, bending down to touch her grandmother's knobby hand. She sat down beside her.

Gran came awake slowly. Behind the thick old-fashioned glasses, her confused gaze cleared. "How did it go?"

"The assistant news director thought I was too qualified, can you believe it? He said the position was a dead end for someone with my skills."

Gran squeezed her hand. "You're too young, huh?"

The tears she'd been holding back stung her eyes. Embarrassed, she brushed them away. "I know they'll offer me a job as soon as I get into college. You'll see. I'll make you proud."

Gran gave her the poor-Tully look. "I'm already proud. It's Dorothy's attention you want."

Tully leaned against her gran's slim shoulder and let herself be held. In a few moments, she knew this pain would fade again; like a sunburn, it would heal itself and leave her slightly more protected from the glare. "I've got you, Gran, so she doesn't matter."

Gran sighed tiredly. "Why don't you call your friend Katie now? But don't stay on too long. It's expensive."

Just the thought of that, talking to Kate, lifted Tully's spirits. With the long-distance charges what they were, they rarely got to call each other. "Thanks, Gran. I will."

The next week Tully got a job at the Queen Anne Bee, her neighborhood weekly newspaper. Her duties pretty much matched the measly per-hour wage they paid her, but she didn't care. She was in the business. She spent almost every waking hour of the summer of '77 in the small, cramped offices, soaking up every bit of knowledge she could. When she wasn't bird-dogging the reporters or making copies or delivering coffee, she was at home, playing gin rummy with Gran for matchsticks. Every Sunday night, like clockwork, she wrote to Kate and shared the minute details of her week.

Now she sat at her little-girl's desk in her bedroom and reread this week's eight-page letter, then signed it Best Friends Forever, Tully , and carefully folded it into thirds.

On her desk was the most recent postcard from Kate, who was away on the Mularkey family's yearly camping trip. Kate called it Hell Week with Bugs, but Tully was jealous of each perfect-sounding moment. She wished that she'd been able to go on the vacation with them; turning down the invitation had been one of the most difficult things she'd done. But between her all-important summer job and Gran's declining health, she'd had no real choice.

She glanced down at her friend's note, rereading the words she'd already memorized. Playing hearts at night and roasting marshmallows, swimming in the freezing lake . . .

She forced herself to look away. It didn't do any good in life to pine for what you couldn't have. Cloud had certainly taught her that lesson.

She put her own letter in an envelope, addressed it, then went downstairs to check on Gran, who was already asleep.

Alone, Tully watched her favorite Sunday night television programs—All in the Family, Alice, and Kojak—and then closed up the house and went to bed. Her last thought as she drifted lazily toward sleep was to wonder what the Mularkeys were doing.

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The next morning she woke at her usual time, six o'clock, and dressed for work. Sometimes, if she arrived early enough at the office, one of the reporters would let her help with the day's stories.

She hurried down the hall and tapped on the last door. Though she hated to wake her grandmother, it was the house rule. No leaving without a goodbye. "Gran?"

She tapped again and pushed the door open slowly, calling out, "Gran . . . I'm leaving for work."

Cool lavender shadows lay along the windowsills. The samplers that decorated the walls were boxes without form or substance in the gloom.

Gran lay in bed. Even from here, Tully could see the shape of her, the coil of her white hair, the ruffle of her nightdress . . . and the stillness of her chest.

"Gran?"

She moved forward, touched her grandmother's velvet, wrinkled cheek. The skin was cold as ice. No breath came from her slack lips.

Tully's whole world seemed to tilt, slide off its foundation. It took all her strength to stand there, staring down at her grandmother's lifeless face.

Her tears were slow in forming; it was as if each one were made of blood and too thick to pass through her tear ducts. Memories came at her like a kaleidoscope: Gran braiding her hair for her seventh birthday party, telling her that her mommy might show up if she prayed hard enough, and then years later admitting that sometimes God didn't answer a little girl's prayers, or a grown woman's, either; or playing cards last week, laughing as Tully swept up the discard pile—again—saying, "Tully, you don't have to have every card, all the time . . ."; or kissing her goodnight so gently.

She had no idea how long she stood there, but by the time she leaned over and kissed Gran's papery cheek, sunlight had eased through the sheer curtains, lighting the room. It surprised Tully, that brightness. Without Gran, it seemed this room should be dark.

"Come on, Tully," she said.

There were things she was supposed to do now; she knew that. She and Gran had talked about this, done things to prepare. Tully knew, though, that no words could have really prepared her for this.

She went over to Gran's nightstand, where a pretty rosewood box sat beneath the photo of Grandpa and alongside the battalion of medications.

She lifted the lid, feeling vaguely like a thief, but Gran expected this of her. When I go Home, Gran always said, I'll leave you something in the box Grandpa bought me.

Inside, laying atop the cluster of inexpensive jewelry that Tully could rarely remember her Grandmother wearing, was a folded piece of pink paper with Tully's name written on it.

Slowly, she reached out, took the letter, and opened it.

My dearest Tully—

I am so sorry. I know how afraid you are of being alone, of being left behind, but God has His plan for all of us. I would have stayed with you longer if I could have. Your grandfather and I will always be watching out for you from Heaven. You will never be alone if you believe in that.

You were the greatest joy of my life.

Love, Gran

Were.

Gran was gone.

Tully stood outside the church, watching the crowd of elderly people stream past her. A few of Gran's friends recognized her and came over to offer their condolences.

I'm so sorry dear . . .

. . . but she's in a better place . . .

. . . with her beloved Winston.

. . . wouldn't want you to cry.

She took as much of it as she could because she knew Gran would have wanted that, but by eleven o'clock, she was ready to scream. Didn't any of the well-wishers see, didn't they realize that Tully was a seventeen-year-old girl, dressed in black and all alone in the world?

If only Katie and the Mularkeys were here, but she had no idea how to reach them in Canada, and since they wouldn't be home for two days, she had to endure this alone. With them beside her, a pretend family, maybe she would have made it through the service.

Without them, she simply couldn't do it. Instead of sitting through the terrible, heart-wrenching memories of Gran, she got up in the middle of the funeral and walked out.

Outside, in the hot August sunlight, she could breathe again, even though the tears were always near to the surface, as was the pointless query, How could you leave me like this?

Surrounded by dusty old-model land yachts, she tried not to cry. Mostly, she tried not to remember, or to worry about what would happen to her.

Nearby, a twig snapped and Tully looked up. At first all she saw were the haphazardly parked cars.

Then she saw her.

Over by the property's edge, where a row of towering maple trees delineated the start of the city park, Cloud stood in the shade, smoking a long slim cigarette. Dressed in tattered corduroy bell-bottoms and a dirty peasant blouse, parenthesized by a wall of frizzy brown hair, she looked rail-thin.

Tully couldn't help the tiny leap of joy her heart took. Finally, she wasn't alone. Cloud might be a little nuts, but when the chips were down, she came back. Tully ran toward her, smiling. She would forgive her mother for all the missing years, all the abandonments. What mattered was that she was here now, when Tully needed her most. "Thank God you're here," she said, coming to a breathless stop. "You knew I'd need you."

Her mother lurched toward her, laughing when she almost fell. "You're a beautiful spirit, Tully. All you need is air and to be free."

Tully's stomach seemed to drop. "Not again," she said, pleading for help with her eyes. "Please . . ."

"Always." There was an edge to Cloud's voice now, a sharpness that belied the glassy look in her eyes.

"I'm your flesh and blood and I need you now. Otherwise I'll be alone." Tully knew she was whispering, but she couldn't seem to find any volume for her voice.

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