Firefly Lane Page 14


"Tully!"

Before she could respond, her old friends surrounded her, pulled her away from Kate. She went to the keg first and let one of the boys give her a plastic cup full of foamy gold Rainier beer. She stared down at it, jolted by the memory that came with it: Pat, pushing her to the ground . . .

She looked around for Kate, but couldn't see her friend in the crowd.

Then everyone began chanting her name. "Tu-lly. Tu-lly."

No one was going to hurt her. Not here; tomorrow, maybe, when the authorities caught up with her, but not now. She chugged the beer and held the cup out for another, yelling out Kate's name as she did.

Kate appeared instantly, as if she'd been just out of view, waiting to be called for.

Tully shoved the beer toward her. "Here."

Kate shook her head. It was a slight there-and-gone motion, but Tully saw it and felt ashamed that she'd offered the beer, and then angry that her friend was so innocent. Tully had never been innocent; not that she could remember anyway.

"Ka-tie, Ka-tie," Tully yelled, getting the crowd to chant with her. "Come on, Katie," she said quietly. "We're best friends, aren't we?"

Kate glanced nervously at the crowd around her.

Tully felt that shame again and the jealousy. She could stop this right now, protect Katie—

Kate took the beer and chugged it.

More than half of it spilled down her chin and onto her halter top, making the shimmery fabric cling to her breasts, but she didn't seem to notice.

Then the music changed. ABBA's "Dancing Queen" blared through the speakers. You can dance, you can j-ive . . .

"I love this song," Kate said.

Tully grabbed Kate's hand and dragged her over to where the kids were dancing. There, Tully let loose and fell into the music and the movement.

By the time the music changed and slowed down, she was breathing hard and laughing easily.

But it was Kate who was the more changed. Maybe it was the one beer, or the pulsing beat of the music; Tully wasn't sure. All she knew was that Kate looked gorgeous, with her blond hair shining in the light from an overhead fixture and her pale, delicate face flushed with exertion.

When Neal Stewart came up to them and asked Kate to dance, Kate was the only one surprised. She turned to Tully. "Neal wants to dance with me," she yelled during a lull in the song. "He must be drunk." Putting her hands in the air, she danced away with Neal, leaving Tully standing alone in the crowd.

Kate pressed her cheek against Neal's soft T-shirt.

It felt so good, the way he had his arms around her, his hands just above her butt. She felt his hips moving against hers. It made her heartbeat speed up, made her breathing quicken. A new feeling overtook her; it was a kind of breathless anticipation. She wanted . . . what?

"Kate?"

She heard the hesitant way he said her name and it struck her suddenly: Did he feel all these things, too?

Slowly, she looked up.

Neal smiled down at her; he was only a little unsteady on his feet. "You're beautiful," he said, and then he kissed her, right there in the middle of the dance floor. Kate drew in a sharp breath and stiffened in his arms. It was so unexpected that she didn't know what she was supposed to do.

His tongue slid into her mouth, forcing her lips to open a little.

"Wow," he said softly when he finally drew back.

Wow what? Wow, you're a spaz? or Wow, what a kiss!

Behind her, someone yelled, "Cops!"

In an instant, Neal was gone and Tully was beside her again, taking her hand. They made their lurching, desperate way out of the house, up the hill and through the scrub brush, and back down to the trees. By the time they got to the car, Kate was terrified and her stomach was in open revolt. "I'm gonna puke."

"No, you aren't." Tully yanked open the passenger door and shoved Kate inside. "We are not gonna get busted."

Tully ran around the front of the car and opened her door. Sliding into the driver's seat, she stabbed the key into the ignition, yanked the gearshift into reverse, and stomped on the gas. They rocketed backward and slammed into something hard. Kate flew forward like a rag doll, cracking her forehead on the dashboard and then slumping back into her seat. Dazed, she opened her eyes, tried to focus.

Tully was beside her, rolling down the driver's-side window.

There, in the darkness, was good old Officer Dan, the man who'd driven Tully away from Snohomish three years ago. "I knew you Firefly Lane girls would be a pain in my ass."

"Fuck," Tully said.

"Nice language, Tallulah. Now, will you please step out of the car?" He bent down, looked at Kate. "You, too, Kate Mularkey. The party's over."

The first thing that happened at the police station was the girls were separated.

"Someone will come talk to you," Officer Dan said, guiding Tully into a room at the end of the hall.

A gunmetal-gray desk and two chairs sat forlornly beneath a bright hanging lightbulb. The walls were a gross green color and the floor was plain bumpy cement. There was a sad, faded stink to the place, a combination of sweat and piss, and old spilled coffee.

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The entire left wall was a mirror.

All it took was one episode of Starsky and Hutch to know that it was really a window.

She wondered if the social worker was on the other side of it yet, shaking her head in disappointment, saying, That fine family won't want her now, or the lawyer, who wouldn't know what to say.

Or the Mularkeys.

At that, she made a little sound of horror. How could she have been so stupid? The Mularkeys had liked her until tonight, and now she'd gone and thrown that all away, and for what? Because she'd been depressed by her mom's rejection? By now she ought to be used to that. When had it ever been any other way?

"I won't be stupid again," she said, looking right at the mirror. "If someone would give me another chance, I'd be good."

After that, she waited for someone to burst in for her, maybe holding handcuffs, but the minutes just ticked by in smelly silence. She moved the black plastic chair to one corner and sat down.

I knew better.

She closed her eyes, thinking the same thing over and over again. Along with that thought, running alongside it like some shadow forming in the twilight was its twin: Will you be a good friend to Katie?

"How could I be so stupid?" This time Tully didn't even glance at the mirror. There was no one behind there. Who would be looking at her anyway, the kid no one wanted?

Across the room, the doorknob twisted, turned.

Tully tensed. Her fingers bit into her thighs.

Be good, Tully. Agree with everything they say. Foster care is better than juvenile hall.

The door opened and Mrs. Mularkey walked into the room. In a washed-out floral dress and worn white Keds, she looked tired and poorly put together, as if she'd been wakened in the middle of the night and dressed in whatever she could find in the dark.

Which, of course, was exactly what had happened.

Mrs. Mularkey reached into her dress pocket for her cigarettes. Finding one, she lit up. Through the swirling smoke, she studied Tully. Sadness and disappointment emanated from her, as visible as the smoke.

Shame overwhelmed Tully. Here was one of the very few people who had ever believed in her, and she'd let Mrs. M. down. "How's Kate?"

Mrs. Mularkey exhaled smoke. "Bud took her home. I don't expect she'll leave the house again for a good long while."

"Oh." Tully squirmed uncomfortably. Her every blemish was on view, she was sure of it, from the lies she'd told to the secrets she'd kept to the tears she'd cried. Mrs. M. saw it all.

And she didn't like what she saw.

Tully could hardly blame her. "I know I let you down."

"Yes, you did." Mrs. Mularkey pulled a chair away from the table and sat down in front of Tully. "They want to send you to juvenile hall."

Tully looked down at her own hands, unable to stand the disappointment she saw on Mrs. M.'s face. "The foster family won't want me now."

"I understand your mother refused to take custody of you."

"Big surprise there." Tully heard the way her voice cracked on that. She knew it revealed how hurt she'd been, but there was no way to hide it. Not from Mrs. M.

"Katie thinks they can find another family for you to live with."

"Yeah, well, Katie lives in a different world than I do."

Mrs. Mularkey leaned back in her chair. Taking a drag on her cigarette, she exhaled smoke and said quietly, "She wants you to live with us."

Just hearing it was like a blow to the heart. She knew she'd spend a long time trying to forget it. "Yeah, right."

It was a moment before Mrs. Mularkey said, "A girl who lived in our house would have to do chores and follow the rules. Mr. Mularkey and I wouldn't stand for any funny business."

Tully looked up sharply. "What are you saying?" She couldn't even put this sudden hope into words.

"And there would definitely be no smoking."

Tully stared at her, feeling tears sting her eyes, but that pain was nothing compared to what was going on deep inside her. It felt suddenly as if she were about to fall. "Are you saying I can live with you?"

Mrs. M. leaned forward and touched Tully's jawline. "I know how hard your life has been up to now, Tully, and I can't stand for you to go back to that."

The falling turned into flying, and suddenly Tully was crying for all of it—Gran, the foster family, Cloud. Her relief was the biggest emotion she'd ever felt. With shaking hands, she pulled the crumpled, half-empty pack of cigarettes out of her purse and handed them over.

"Welcome to our family, Tully," Mrs. M. finally said into the silence, pulling Tully into her arms and letting her cry.

Through all the decades of Tully's life, she would remember that moment as the beginning of something new for her; the becoming of someone new. While she lived with the loud, crazy, loving Mularkey family, she found a whole new person inside her. She didn't keep secrets or tell lies or pretend that she was someone else, and never once did they act as if she were unwanted or not good enough. No matter where she went in her later years, or what she did or whom she was with, she would always remember this moment and those words: Welcome to our family, Tully. Always and forever, she would think of that senior year of high school, when she was inseparable from Kate and a part of the family, as the single best year of her life.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Girls! Quit lollygagging. We're going to hit traffic if we don't leave now."

In the creaky attic bedroom, Kate stood at the edge of her twin bed, staring down at the open suitcase that contained all of her prized belongings. A framed picture of her grandparents lay on top, wedged between her ribbon-wrapped packet of long-ago letters from Tully and a photo of her and Tully taken at graduation.

Although she'd been looking forward to this moment for months (she and Tully had spun endless late-night dreams, all of which began with the words when we're in college), now that it was here, she felt reluctant to leave home.

Over the course of their senior year in high school, they'd become a pair. TullyandKate. Everyone at school said their two names as one. When Tully became editor of the school paper, Kate was right beside her, helping her to edit the stories. She lived vicariously through her friend's achievements, rode the wave of her popularity, but all of that had taken place in a world she knew, in a place where she felt safe.

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