Firefly Lane Page 20


He walked her back through the office. "Hey, Mutt, this is our new intern, Tully Hart."

"Cool," Mutt said, not looking up from the camera equipment in his lap.

At the door, Mr. Ryan paused and looked at her. "I hope you intend to take this job seriously, Ms. Hart. Or this is an experiment that will have a shorter shelf life than milk."

"You can count on me, Mr. Ryan."

"Call me Johnny. I'll see you Friday. Say eight A.M.?"

"I'll be here."

She played and replayed the encounter over and over in her head as she walked briskly down the street to the bus stop and caught a ride.

She'd actually made her own internship. Someday, when Phil Donahue interviewed her, she'll tell this story to show her gutsy determination.

Yes, Phil. It was a bold move, but you know broadcasting. It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I was a girl with ambition.

But she'd tell Katie first. Nothing was quite perfect until she shared it with Kate.

This was the start of their dream.

The cherry trees in the Quad marked the passing of time better than any calendar. Pink and full of blossoms in the spring; lush and green in the warm, quiet days of summer; gloriously hued for the start of school; and now, bare on this November day in 1981.

For Kate, life was moving much too quickly. She was light-years away from the shy, quiet girl she'd been on arrival. In her years at UW, she'd learned to direct Rush Week skits, to organize and plan a dance for three hundred people, to chug a glass of beer and shoot a raw oyster, to work the room at a frat party and be comfortable around people she didn't know, to write edgy news stories with a hook and a splash, and to film that same story even if she was moving while it happened. Her journalism professors had graded her highly and told her repeatedly that she had a gift.

The problem, it seemed, was her heart. Unlike Tully, who could barrel forward and ask any question, Kate found it hard to intrude on people's grief. More and more often lately, she held back on her own stories and edited Tully's instead.

She didn't have what it took to be a network news producer or a first-rate reporter. Every day, as she sat in her broadcast and communications classes, she was lying to herself.

She dreamed lately of other things, of going on to law school so that she could fight the injustices she reported on, or writing novels that made people see the world in a better, more positive light . . . or—and this was the most hidden dream of all—falling in love. But how could she tell Tully these things?

Tully, who had taken her hand all those years ago when no one else would, who'd spun the gossamer dream of their lives as partners in TV news. How could she tell her best friend that she no longer shared their dream?

It should be easy to say. They'd been girls all those years ago when they'd chosen to embark on their tandem life. In the years between then and now, the world had changed so much. The war in Vietnam had been lost, Nixon had resigned, Mount St. Helens had blown up, and cocaine had become the Chex mix for a new generation of partygoers. The U.S. hockey team had pulled off a miracle win at the Olympics and a B-rate actor was president. Dreams could hardly remain static in such uncertain times.

She simply had to stand up to Tully, for once, and tell her the truth, say, Those are your dreams, Tully, and I'm proud of you, but I'm not fourteen anymore and I can't follow you forever.

"Maybe today," she said aloud, dragging her backpack along beside her as she walked through the gray, foggy campus.

If only she really had a dream of her own, something to replace the twin-TV news stars. Tully might accept that; Kate's vague, I don't know, wouldn't hold much water with Tropical Storm Tully.

On the edge of campus, she merged into the stream of kids and crossed the street, smiling and waving at friends as she passed them. At the sorority house, she went right to the living room, where girls sat packed like hot dogs on the sofas and chairs and on every patch of the celery-green carpet.

She tossed her backpack to the floor and found a spot on the floor between Charlotte and Mary Kay. "Has it started?"

About thirty people shushed her as the General Hospital theme music started. Laura's face filled the screen. She looked beautiful and dewy-eyed in a gorgeous white headdress. A collective sigh went around the room.

Then Luke appeared in his gray morning suit, smiling at his bride-to-be.

Just then, the sorority door banged open. "Kate!" Tully yelled, walking into the room.

"Ssshhh," everyone said at once.

Tully squatted behind Kate. "We need to talk."

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"Shh. Luke and Laura are getting married. You can tell me about your interview—you got it: congratulations—when it's over. Now be quiet."

"But—"

"Shhh."

Tully sank to her knees, mumbling, "How can you all be so gaga over some skinny white guy with a bad perm? And he's a rapist. I think—"

"SHHH."

Tully sighed dramatically and crossed her arms.

As soon as it was over and the music started up again, she popped to her feet. "Come on, Katie. We need to talk." She grabbed Kate's hand and led her away from the publicness of the TV room, through the halls, and down a flight of stairs to the sorority's dirty little secret: the smoking lounge. It was a tiny room, tucked behind the kitchen, with two love seats, a coffee table littered with full ashtrays, and air so thick and blue it hurt your eyes, even when no one was in the room. It was the place for after-party gossip and late-night laughter.

Kate hated it down here. The habit that had seemed so cool and defiant at thirteen was gross and stupid now. "So, tell me everything. You got the internship, right?"

Tully grinned. "I did. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Some weekends. We're on our way, Katie. I'll nail this job and by the time we graduate, I'll talk them into hiring you. We'll be a team, just like we always said."

Kate took a deep breath. Do it. Tell her. "You shouldn't be worrying about me, Tully. This is your day, your start."

"Don't be ridiculous. You still want to be a team, don't you?" Tully paused, stared at Kate, who screwed up her courage and opened her mouth. Then Tully laughed. "Of course you do. I knew it. You were just messing with me. Very funny. I'll talk to Mr. Ryan—he's my new boss—just as soon as he can't live without me. Now I gotta run. Chad will want to hear about the interview, but I had to tell you first." Tully hugged her fiercely and left.

Kate stood there, in the small, ugly room that smelled of stale cigarettes, staring at the open door. "No," she said softly. "I don't want to do that."

There was no one listening.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Thanksgiving in the Mularkey household was always a spectacle. Aunt Georgia and Uncle Ralph drove over from eastern Washington, bringing enough food with them to feed an entire community. In years past, they'd had their four children with them, but now those kids were adults themselves and sometimes had other families to visit on the holiday. This year, Georgia and Ralph were alone, and looking a little dazed by their situation. Georgia had poured herself a drink before she even bothered saying hello to anyone in the house.

Kate sat on the threadbare arm of the cherry-red sofa that had been the centerpiece of this living room for as long as she could remember. Tully sat cross-legged on the floor at Mom's feet. It was her usual spot on holidays. Tully rarely liked to be too far from the woman she considered the perfect mother. Mom, in Dad's La-Z-Boy, was across from Georgia, who sat on the sofa.

It was the girlfriend hour—a family tradition. Georgia had devised it years ago—before there were any kids to care about, or so family legend had it. Every holiday, for one hour, while the men were watching football, the women gathered in the living room to have cocktails and catch up on the news. They all knew that soon enough there would be a Herculean amount of work to do in the kitchen, but for sixty minutes, no one cared.

This year, for the first time ever, Mom had poured glasses of white wine for Kate and Tully. It made Kate feel very grown up to sit here on the arm of the sofa, sipping her wine. Already the first Christmas album of the year was on the turntable. Elvis, naturally, singing about the little boy in the ghetto.

It was funny how an album, or even just a song, could remind you of so many moments in your life. Kate didn't think there had ever been any family event—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, the yearly camping trip—that had been Elvis-free. It just wasn't a Mularkey family moment without him. Mom and Georgia made sure of that. His death hadn't changed the tradition at all, but sometimes, if they drank enough, they'd hug each other and cry for the loss of him.

"You should see what I got to do this week," Tully said, rising to her knees in her excitement. Kate couldn't help noticing that she looked like a supplicant, waiting for Mom's blessing. "You know the Spokane rapist case? Well," she said dramatically, luring them in, "the guy they arrested? His mother hired someone to kill the judge and prosecutor. Can you believe it? And Johnny—that's my boss—he let me do a first draft of the copy. They even used a sentence I wrote. It was so cool. Next week he's letting me tag along to an interview with a guy who invented some new kind of computer."

"You're really on your way now, Tully," Mom said, smiling down at her.

"Not just me, Mrs. M.," Tully said. "It's going to work out with Kate, too. I'll get her an internship at the station; you'll see. I'm already starting to drop hints. Someday you'll see us both on TV. The first pair of female anchors on a network news show."

"Think of it, Margie," Georgia said dreamily.

"Anchors?" Kate said, straightening. "I thought we were going to be reporters."

Tully grinned. "With our ambition? Are you kidding? We're going straight to the top, Katie."

Kate had to say something now. This was spinning out of control, and honestly, today was a good time to come clean. A round of drinks had softened everyone. "I should tell you—"

"We'll be more famous than Jean Enersen, Mrs. M.," Tully said, laughing. "And definitely richer."

"Imagine being rich," Mom said.

Aunt Georgia patted Kate's thigh. "Everyone in the family is so proud of you, Katie. You'll make a name for all of us."

Kate sighed. Once again she'd lost her chance. Getting up, she walked across the room, past the corner where soon the Christmas tree would be placed, and stood at the window, looking out over the pasture. A blanket of glittery white coated the field, created sparkly mounds on the fence posts. Moonlight turned everything a beautiful frosty blue and white; with the black velvet sky, it looked like a greeting card. As a girl, she'd waited impatiently for this unexpected weather, prayed for it for months, and no wonder. Covered in snow, Firefly Lane looked like something out of a fairy tale. The kind of place where nothing could ever go wrong, where a girl should be able to simply tell her family that she'd changed her mind.

The last few months of their senior year were perfection. Although Tully spent more than twenty-five hours a week at the station where she was interning, and Kate spent an equal number of hours working at Starbucks, the new designer coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, they made sure to spend a lot of their weekend time together, playing pool and drinking beer at Goldies or listening to music at the Blue Moon Tavern. Tully spent a lot of her nights at Chad's, but Kate didn't say much about that. Truthfully, she was having too much fun dating to hassle Tully about her choices.

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