Firefly Lane Page 19


She made her way across campus in record time. It was easy. This late in the quarter people were busy studying for finals. At the door to KVTS, she paused, steeling herself as if for battle, and then went inside.

She found Tully exactly where Mom had predicted: hunched in front of a monitor, logging the raw footage and interviews. At Kate's entrance, she looked up.

"Well, well," Tully said, standing up. "If it isn't the head of the Moral Majority."

"I'm sorry," Kate said.

Tully's face crumpled at that, as if she'd been holding her breath in and suddenly let it go. "You were a real bitch."

"I shouldn't have said all that. It's just . . . we've never held back from each other."

"So that was our mistake." Tully swallowed, tried to smile. Failed.

"I wouldn't hurt you for the world. You're my best friend. I'm sorry."

"Swear it won't happen again. No guy will ever come between us."

"I swear." Kate meant it with every fiber of her being. If she had to staple her tongue down, she'd do it. Their friendship was more important than any relationship. Guys would come and go; girlfriends were forever. They knew that. "Now it's your turn."

"What do you mean?"

"Swear you won't bail on me again without talking. These last three days really sucked."

"I swear it."

Tully wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but somehow this sleeping with her professor had graduated into a full-blown affair. No pun intended. Perhaps Kate had been right and it had begun as a kind of career move for her; she no longer remembered. All she knew was that in his arms she felt content, and that was a new emotion for her.

And, of course, he was her mentor. In their time together he'd taught her things it would have taken her years to discover by herself.

More importantly, he'd shown her what making love was. His bed had become her port; his arms her life ring. When she kissed him and let him touch her with an unimaginable intimacy, she forgot that she didn't believe in love. Her first time, back in those dark Snohomish woods, faded from her memory a little more each day, until one day she discovered that she no longer carried it around inside of her. It would always be a part of her, a scar on her soul, but like all scars, it faded in time from a bright and burning red to a slim, silvery line that could only sometimes be seen.

But even with all that, with all that he'd shown and given her, it was beginning not to be enough. By fall semester of her senior year, she was growing impatient with the rarefied world of college. CNN had changed the face of broadcasting. Out in the real world, things were happening, things that mattered. John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his New York apartment; a guy named Hinckley had shot President Reagan in a pathetic attempt to impress Jodie Foster; Sandra Day O'Conner had become the first female Supreme Court justice; and Diana Spencer had married Prince Charles in a ceremony so fairy-tale perfect that every girl in America believed in love and happy endings for the entire summer. Kate talked about the wedding so often and in such detail you'd think she'd been invited.

All of it was headline news, made during Tully's life, and yet because she was in school, it was before her time. Oh, sure, she wrote the articles for the school paper and sometimes even got to read a few sentences here and there on air, but it was all make-believe, warm-up exercises for a game she wasn't yet allowed to play.

She yearned to swim in the real waters of local or national news. She'd grown even more tired of sorority dances and frat parties and that most archaic of all rituals—the candle passings. Why all those sorority girls wanted to get engaged was beyond her. Didn't they know what was going on in the world, didn't they see the possibilities?

She'd done everything UW had to offer, taken every broadcast and print journalism class that mattered, and learned what she could from a year's worth of interning at the public affairs station. It was time now to jump into the dog-eat-dog world of TV news. She wanted to surge into the crowd of reporters and elbow her way to the front.

"You're not ready," Chad said, sighing. It was the third time he'd said it in as many minutes.

"You're wrong," she said, leaning toward the mirror above his dresser, applying one more coat of mascara. In the glam early eighties, you couldn't wear too much makeup or have too big a hairdo. "You've made me ready and we both know it. You got me to change my hair to this boring Jane Pauley bob. Every suit I own is black and my shoes look like a suburban housewife's." She put the mascara brush back in the holder and slowly turned around, studying the Lee press-on nails she'd applied this morning. "What more do I need?"

He sat up in bed. From this distance he looked either saddened by their discussion or tired; she wasn't sure which. "You know the answer to that question," he said softly.

She dug through her purse for another color of lipstick. "I'm sick of college. I need to get into the real world."

"You're not ready, Tully. A reporter needs to exhibit a perfect mix of objectivity and compassion. You're too objective, too cold."

This was the one criticism that bugged her. She'd spent years not feeling things. Now she was suddenly supposed to be both compassionate and objective at the same time. Empathetic but professional. She couldn't quite pull it off and she and Chad both knew it. "I'm not talking about the networks yet. It's just one interview for a part-time job until graduation." She walked over to the bed. In her black suit and white blouse, she was the picture of conservative chic. She'd even tamed the sexiness of her shoulder-length hair by pulling it back into a banana clip. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, she pushed a long lock of hair away from his eyes. "You're just not ready for me to go out into the world."

He sighed, touched her jawline with his knuckle. "It's true I prefer you in my bed to out of it."

"Admit it: I'm ready." She'd intended to sound sexy and grown-up, but the vulnerable tremble in her voice betrayed her. She needed his approval like she needed air or sunlight. She'd go without it, of course, but less confidently, and today she needed every scrap of confidence she could find.

"Ah, Tully," he said finally. "You were born ready."

Smiling triumphantly, she kissed him—hard—then got up and grabbed her vinyl briefcase. Inside it was a handful of résumés printed on heavy ivory stock; several business cards that read, Tallulah Hart, TV news reporter; and a videotape of a story she'd done on-air for KVTS.

"Break a leg," Chad said.

"I will." She caught the bus in front of the Kidd Valley hamburger stand. Even though she was a senior, she hadn't bothered with bringing her car to school. Parking was expensive and hard to find. Besides, the Mularkeys loved having her gran's old land yacht.

All the way through the U District and into the city, she thought about what she knew about the man she was going to meet. At twenty-six, he was already a well-respected former on-air reporter who'd won some big reporting award during a Central American conflict. Something—none of the articles said what—had brought him home, where he'd suddenly changed career tracks. Now he was a producer for the smaller office of one of the local stations. She had practiced endlessly what she would say.

It's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Ryan.

Yes, I have had an impressive amount of experience for a woman of my age.

I'm committed to being a first-rate journalist and hope, no, expect to—

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The bus came to a smoking, wheezing stop on the corner of First and Broad.

She hurried off the bus and down the steps. As she stood beneath the bus stop sign, consulting her notes, it started to rain, not hard enough to require an umbrella or a hood, but just enough to ruin her hair and poke her in the eyes. She ducked her head to protect her makeup and ran up the block to her destination.

The small concrete building with curtainless windows sat in the middle of the block with a parking lot beside it. Inside, she consulted the tenant board and found what she was looking for: KCPO—SUITE 201.

She perfected her posture, smiled professionally, and went up to Suite 201.

There, she opened the door and almost walked right into someone.

For a moment Tully was actually taken aback. The man standing in front of her was gorgeous—unruly black hair, electric-blue eyes, shadowy stubble of a beard. Not what she'd expected at all.

"Are you Tallulah Hart?"

She extended her hand. "I am. Are you Mr. Ryan?"

"I am." He shook her hand. "Come in." He led her through a small front room cluttered with papers and cameras and stacks of newspapers everywhere. A couple of open doors revealed other empty offices. Another guy stood in the corner, smoking a cigarette. He was huge, at least six-foot-five, with shaggy blond hair and clothes that looked as if he'd slept in them. A giant marijuana leaf decorated his T-shirt. At their entrance, he looked up.

"This is Tallulah Hart," Mr. Ryan said by way of introduction.

The big guy grunted. "She the one with the letters?"

"That's her." Mr. Ryan smiled at Tully. "He's Mutt. Our cameraman."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Mutt."

That made them both laugh and the sound of their laughter only cemented her anxiety that she was too young for this.

He led her into a corner office and pointed to a metal chair in front of a wooden desk. "Have a seat," he said, closing the door behind him.

He took a seat behind the desk and looked at her.

She sat up straight, trying to look older.

"So, you're the one who has been clogging my mail with tapes and résumés. I'm sure, with all your ambition, you've researched us. We're the Seattle team for KCPO in Tacoma. We don't have an internship program here."

"That what your letters said."

"I know. I wrote them." Leaning back in his chair, he wishboned his arms behind his head.

"Did you read my articles and watch my tapes?"

"Actually, that's why you're here. When I realized you weren't going to stop sending me audition tapes, I figured I might as well watch one."

"And?"

"And you'll be good one day. You've got that thing."

One day? Will be?

"But you're a long way from ready."

"That's why I want this internship."

"The nonexistent one, you mean."

"I'll work twenty to thirty hours a week for free, and I don't care if I get college credit or not. I'll write copy, fact-check, do research. Anything. How can you go wrong?"

"Anything?" He was looking at her intently now. "Will you make coffee and vacuum and clean the bathroom?"

"Who does all that now?"

"Mutt and me. And Carol, when she's not following a story."

"Then absolutely I will."

"So you'll do whatever it takes."

"I will."

He sat back, studying her closely. "You understand you'd be a grunt, and an unpaid one at that."

"I understand. I could work Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays."

Finally he said, "Okay, Tallulah Hart." He stood up. "Show me what you can do."

"I will." She smiled. "And it's Tully."

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