Firefly Lane Page 21


The only problem in Kate's life—and it was a biggie—was her upcoming graduation. She was going to graduate next month with honors, with a degree in communications/broadcast journalism, and she still hadn't told anyone that it wasn't her dream job.

Now, though, she was going to come clean. She was in one of the third-floor phone rooms, folded up to fit, and she'd just dialed home.

Mom answered on the second ring. "Hello?"

"Hey, Mom."

"Katie! What a great surprise. I can't remember the last time you called in the middle of the week. You must be psychic: Dad and I just got home from the mall. You should see the dress I got for graduation. It's beautiful. Don't let anyone tell you JC Penney doesn't have great clothes."

"What does it look like?" Kate was stalling; with half an ear, she listened to her mom's description. Mom had just said something about shoulder pads and glitter when Kate jumped in. "I just applied for a job at Nordstrom, Mom. In the advertising department."

There was a noticeable pause on the other end, then the telltale sound of a cigarette being lit. "I thought you and Tully were going to be—"

"I know." Kate leaned back against the wall. "A reporting team. World-famous and rich."

"What's really going on, Kathleen?"

Kate tried to put her indecision into words. She just didn't know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She believed there had to be something special out there for her, a path that was hers alone and held happiness at its end, but where was the start of it? "I'm not like Tully," she finally said, admitting the truth she'd known for a long time. "I don't eat, sleep, and breathe the news. Sure, I'm good enough to get all A's and my profs love me because I'm never late with an assignment, but journalism—TV or print—is a jungle. I'll be eaten alive by people like Tully who'll do anything for a scoop. It's just not realistic to think I can make it."

"Realistic? Realistic is your dad and me trying to manage our expenses when they keep cutting his hours at the plant. Realistic is me being a smart woman who can't get a job at anything better than minimum wage because I have no education and all I've done is raise kids. Believe me, Katie, you don't want to be realistic at your age. There's plenty of time for that. Now you should dream big and reach high."

"I just want something different."

"What?"

"I wish I knew."

"Oh, Katie . . . I think you're afraid to reach for the brass ring. Don't be."

Before Katie could answer, there was a knock at the door. "I'm in here," she called out.

The door swung open to reveal Tully. "There you are. I've been looking everywhere. Who are you talking to?"

"Mom."

Tully yanked the phone from Kate and said, "Hey, Mrs. M. I'm kidnapping your daughter. We'll call back later. 'Bye." She hung up, then turned to Kate. "You're coming with me."

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see." Tully led her out of the house and down to the parking lot, where her new blue VW bug waited.

All the way into downtown Seattle, Kate asked where they were going and what was up until they pulled up in front of a small office building.

"This is where I work," Tully said when she turned off the engine. "I can't believe you've never been here before. Oh, well, you're here now."

Kate rolled her eyes. Now she knew what was happening: Tully wanted to show off some new triumph—a reel, a tape, a story she'd done that had actually been aired. As usual, Kate followed. "Look, Tully," she said as they made their way down the colorless hallway and into the small, cluttered space that was the Seattle office of KCPO-TV, "I need to tell you something."

Tully opened the door. "Sure. Later. That's Mutt, by the way." She pointed to a huge, long-haired, hunched-over guy standing by the open window, who was blowing his cigarette smoke outside.

"Hey," he said, barely lifting a single finger in greeting.

"Carol Mansour—she's the reporter—is at a city council meeting," Tully said, leading Kate toward a closed door.

As if Kate hadn't been hearing Carol Mansour stories forever.

Tully stopped at the door and knocked. When a male voice answered, Tully opened the door and pulled Kate inside. "Johnny? This is my friend Katie."

A man looked up from behind his desk. "You're Kate Mularkey, huh?"

He was, hands down, the best-looking man Kate had ever seen. He was older than they were, but not by much; maybe five or six years. His long black hair was thick and feathered back, with the barest hint of curl at the ends. Prominent cheekbones and a smallish chin could have made him look pretty, but there was nothing feminine about him. When he smiled at her, she drew in a sharp breath, feeling a jolt of pure physical attraction that was unlike anything she'd ever experience before.

And here she stood, dressed for work in her preppy Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, penny loafers, and red V-neck sweater. All of last night's curl had fallen out of her hair and she hadn't redone it this morning. She hadn't bothered with makeup, either.

She was going to kill Tully.

"I'll leave you two alone," Tully said, skipping out of the office, closing the door behind her.

"Please. Have a seat," he said indicating the empty chair across from his desk.

She sat down, perching nervously on the edge of the chair.

"Tully tells me you're a genius."

"Well, she is my best friend."

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"You're lucky. She's a special girl."

"Yes, sir, she is."

He laughed at that; it was a rich, contagious sound that made her smile, too. "Please, don't call me sir. It makes me think some old guy is behind me." He leaned forward. "So, Kate, what do you think?"

"About what?"

"The job."

"What job?"

He glanced at the door, said, "Hmmm, that's interesting," then looked at her again. "We have an opening for an office person. Carol used to do all of the phones and filing, but she's going to have a baby, so the cheap-ass station manager has finally kicked in for a little help."

"But Tully—"

"She wants to stay an intern. Says that thanks to her grandmother she doesn't need the money. Between you and me, she's not great at answering the phones anyway."

This was all coming at Kate too fast. Only an hour ago, she'd finally admitted that she didn't want to go into broadcasting, and now here she was being offered a job every kid in her department at UW would kill for.

"What's the pay?" she asked, stalling.

"Minimum wage, of course."

She did the math in her head. With tips, she made close to double that much at Starbucks.

"Come on," he said, smiling. "How can you turn me down? You can be a receptionist in an ugly office for next to no money. Isn't it every college grad's dream?"

She couldn't help laughing. "When you put it that way, how could I refuse?"

"It's a start in the glamorous world of TV news, right?"

His smile was like some kind of superpower that scrambled her thoughts. "Is it? Glamorous, I mean?"

He looked surprised by the question, and for the first time he really looked at her. His fake smile faded, and the look in his blue eyes turned hard, cynical. "Not in this office."

He got to her. She didn't know why, but it was powerful, this attraction she felt. Nothing like how she'd responded to college boys. It was another reason not to take the job.

Behind her, the door opened. Tully came through, practically bouncing. "Well, did you say yes?"

It was crazy to take a job because you were hot for the boss.

Then again, she was twenty-one years old and he was offering her a start in television.

She didn't look at Tully. If she did, Kate knew she'd feel as if she were selling out, following again, and for all the wrong reasons.

But how could she say no? Maybe in a real job she'd find that passion and brilliance she needed. The more she thought about it, the more possible it seemed. School wasn't the real world. Perhaps that was why the news business hadn't seized hold of her. Here, the stories would matter.

"Sure," she said at last. "I'll try it, Mr. Ryan."

"Call me Johnny." The smile he gave her was so unsettling she actually had to look away. She was sure somehow that he could see inside her or hear how fast he made her heart beat. "Okay, Johnny."

"All right," Tully said, clapping her hands together.

Kate couldn't help noticing how her friend instantly seized Johnny's full attention. He was sitting at his desk now, staring at Tully.

That was when Kate knew she'd made a mistake.

Kate stared at herself in the small oval mirror above the dresser. Her long, straight, highlighted hair was drawn back from her face and held in place by a black velvet headband. Pale blue eye shadow and two coats of green mascara accentuated the color of her eyes, and pink lip gloss and blush gave her skin some color.

"You'll learn to love the news," she said to her reflection. "And you're not just following Tully."

"Hurry up, Kate," Tully called out, knocking hard on the bedroom door. "You don't want to be late on your first day of work. I'll be down in the parking lot."

"Okay, so maybe you are following her." Grabbing her briefcase off the twin bed that was hers, she left her bedroom and headed downstairs.

In this last week of school, the hallways were crazy-busy with girls studying for finals, saying goodbye, and packing up their things. Kate wound through the melee and went out to the small parking lot behind the house, where Tully sat in her brand-new VW Bug, with the engine running.

The second Kate sat down and slammed the door shut, they were off. Prince's Purple Rain soundtrack blared from the tiny speakers. Tully had to yell over the music.

"This is so great, isn't it? Us finally going to work together."

Kate nodded. "It sure is." She had to admit she was excited. After all, she was a college graduate—or would be soon—and she'd found an excellent starter position in her major field. It didn't matter that Tully had gotten the job for her, or that she was essentially following her best friend. What mattered was doing this job to the best of her abilities and finding out if broadcast journalism was for her. "Tell me about our boss," she said, turning down the stereo.

"Johnny? He's totally good at what he does. Used to be a war correspondent. In El Salvador or Libya; who the hell knows? I hear he misses combat, but he's a great producer. You can learn a lot from him."

"Have you ever wanted to go out with him?"

Tully laughed. "Just because I slept with my prof doesn't mean every boss is fair game."

Kate was relieved by that; more so than she should be. She wanted to ask if Johnny was married—she'd wanted to ask the question for almost a week—but she couldn't quite form the words. They'd be too revealing.

"Here we are." Tully pulled up to the curb outside the building and parked. All the way up the stairs and down the hall, she talked about how great it was going to be to work together, but once they were in the small, cramped set of offices, she made a beeline for Mutt and huddled with him.

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