Firefly Lane Page 22


Kate stood there, clutching her fake leather briefcase to her chest, wondering what she should do.

She had just decided to take off her jacket when Johnny appeared, looking both incredibly handsome and profoundly pissed off.

"Mutt! Carol!" he yelled, even though they were all standing right there. "That new company, Microsoft, is announcing something. I don't know what the hell it is. Mike is faxing the info. They want you to go to the company headquarters and see if you can talk to the boss. Bill Gates."

Tully surged forward. "Can I tag along?"

"Who cares? It's a bullshit story," Johnny said, then went back into his office and slammed the door.

The next few moments were a blur of chaotic movement. Carol, Tully, and Mutt gathered up their supplies and rushed out of the office.

Kate stood there after they left, in the now-quiet, vacant office, wondering what in the hell she was supposed to do.

Beside her, the phone rang.

She peeled out of her jacket, hung it over her chair back and sat down, then answered. "KCPO news. This is Kathleen. How may I help you?"

"Hey, honey, it's Mom and Dad. We just wanted to call and say have a great first day at work. We're so proud of you."

Kate was hardly surprised. Some things in life never changed; her family was one of them. She loved them for it. "Thanks, guys."

For the next few hours, she found it remarkably easy to fill her time. The phone rang almost constantly, and the in-box on her desk looked as if it hadn't been touched in years. The files were an absolute mess.

She became so engrossed in her work that the next time she looked at the clock it was one o'clock and she was starving.

Certainly she was allowed a lunch break? She got up from her desk and crossed the now-clean office. At Johnny's door, she paused, gathered her courage to knock, but before she could do it, she heard yelling from his side of the door. He was on the phone, arguing with someone.

It was better not to interrupt. She set the phone's answering machine on automatic pickup and ran downstairs to the deli. There, she bought herself half a ham and cheese sandwich. On impulse, she bought a cup of clam chowder and a BLT as well. A pair of Cokes finished her order. Bag in hand, she ran upstairs and switched the phones back on.

Then she went to Johnny's door again; silence came from the other side.

She knocked timidly.

"Come in."

She opened the door.

He sat at his desk, looking tired. His long hair was a mess, as if he'd been running his fingers through it constantly, shoving it back from his face. Dozens of newspapers covered his desk, so many that even the phone was hidden. "Mularkey," he said, sighing. "Shit. I forgot you started today."

Kate wanted to make a joke about it, but her voice wouldn't cooperate. She was so keenly aware of him, it was vaguely disturbing that he hadn't even known she was here.

"Come on in. What do you have there?"

"Lunch. I thought you might be hungry."

"You bought me lunch?"

"Was that wrong? I'm sorry, I—"

"Sit down." He pointed at the chair opposite his desk. "I appreciate it, really. I can't remember the last time I ate."

She moved to the desk, began unpacking their lunch. All the while she felt him watching her, those flame-blue eyes of his intently staring. It made her so nervous she almost spilled the chowder.

"Hot soup," he said, his voice low now, intimate. "So you're one of those."

She sat down, looking at him, unable not to. "One of those?"

"A caretaker." He picked up the spoon. "Let me guess: You grew up in a happy family. Two kids and a dog. No divorce."

She laughed. "Guilty. How about you?"

"No dog. Not so happy."

"Oh." She tried to think of something else to say. "Are you married?" popped out before she could stop it.

"Nope. Never. You?"

She smiled. "No."

"Good for you. This is a job that takes focus."

Kate felt like an imposter. Here she was, sitting across from her boss, trying to focus on saying something that would make him admire her, and she couldn't even make eye contact. It was crazy. He wasn't that good-looking. Something about him just hit her so damn hard she couldn't think straight. Finally she said, "You think they'll come up with a good story at Microsoft?"

"Israel invaded Lebanon yesterday. Did you know that? They've driven the Palestinians back to Beirut. That's the real story. And we're in the shit-ass office, dicking around with soft news." He sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm just having a bad day. And it's your first." He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "And you bought me soup. Tomorrow I'll play nice, I promise."

"Tully told me you used to be a war correspondent."

"Yeah."

"I guess you loved that, huh?"

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She saw something flash through his eyes then; her first instinct would have been to label it sadness, but how could she know? "It was insane."

"How come you quit?"

"You're too young to understand."

"I'm not that much younger than you. Try me."

He sighed. "Sometimes life kicks the shit out of you; that's all. It's like the Stones said: You can't always get what you want."

"The song says something about getting what you need instead."

He looked at her then, and for a split second, she knew she'd gotten his attention. "Did you find enough to keep yourself busy this morning?"

"The files were a mess. So was the in-box. And I organized and shelved all those tapes that were in the corner."

He laughed. It transformed his face, made him so handsome she drew in a sharp breath. "We've been trying to get Tully to do all that for months."

"I didn't mean—"

"Don't worry. You didn't get your friend in trouble. Believe me, I know what to expect from Tully."

"What's that?"

"Passion," he said simply, packing the empty sandwich wrapper into the Styrofoam soup cup.

Kate almost flinched at the way he said it, and she knew suddenly that she was in trouble. No matter how often she reminded herself that he was her boss, it didn't matter. In the end, what mattered was how she felt when she was near him.

Falling. There was no other word to describe it.

And yet, for the rest of the day, as she answered the phones and filed papers, she replayed in her head that last moment with him and the easy, straightforward way he'd answered her question about Tully: passion.

Mostly she remembered the way he'd smiled in admiration when he'd said it.

CHAPTER TWELVE

The summer after graduation came as close to Heaven as Tully could imagine. She and Kate found a cheap 1960s-style apartment in a great location—above the Pike Place Market. They brought in furniture from Gran's house and filled the kitchen with forty-year-old Revereware pots and Spode china. On the walls, they tacked up favorite posters and put pictures of themselves on all the end tables. Mrs. Mularkey had surprised them one day with bags of groceries and several silk plants, to give the place a homey feel, she said.

The neighborhood created their lifestyle. They were within walking distance of several bars—their favorites were the Athenian inside the Market, and the smoky old Virginia Inn on the corner. At six o'clock in the morning, amid the beeping of delivery trucks and the honking of horns, they walked across the street for lattes from Starbucks and bought croissants from La Panier, a French bakery.

As working single girls, they fell into an easy routine. Each morning they went out for breakfast, sat at ironwork tables on the sidewalk, and read the various papers that they collected. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer became their bibles. When they were done, they drove to the office, where every day they learned something new about the business of TV news, and after work, they changed into glittery big shoulder-padded tunics and peg-legged pants and went to one of the many downtown clubs. On any given night they could listen to punk rock, new wave, rock 'n' roll, or pop—whatever they felt like.

And since Tully didn't have to hide Chad's existence anymore, he often took both Katie and her out, and they had a blast.

It was everything she and Kate had dreamed of, all those years ago on the dark banks of the Pilchuck River, and Tully loved every minute of it.

Now they were pulling up to the office. All the way out of the car and into the building, they talked.

But the minute Tully opened the door, she knew something was up. Mutt was near the window, hurriedly packing up his camera gear. Johnny was in his office, yelling at someone on the phone.

"What's going on?" Tully asked, tossing her purse on Kate's neat-as-a-pin desk.

Mutt looked up. "There's a protest going on. It's our story."

"Where's Carol?"

"In the hospital. Labor."

This was Tully's chance. She went straight into Johnny's office, without even bothering to knock. "Let me go on air. I know you think I'm not ready, but I am. And who else is there?"

He hung up the phone and looked at her. "I already told the station you'd do the report. That's what all the yelling was about." He came around the desk and moved toward her. "Don't let me down, Tully."

Tully knew it was unprofessional, but she couldn't help herself: she hugged him. "You're the best. I'll make you proud. You'll see."

She was halfway to the door when he cleared his throat and said her name. She stopped, turned.

"Don't you want to read the background stuff? Or do you want to go in blind?"

Tully felt her cheeks heat up. "Whoops. I'll read it."

He handed her a sheath of slippery fax paper. "It's about some housewife in Yelm who channels ghosts. J. Z. Knight."

Tully frowned.

"Is that a problem?"

"No. I just . . . know someone who lives out there. That's all."

"Well, there won't be time for visiting friends. Now go. I want you back by two to edit."

Without Mutt and Tully, the office was quiet. It was only the second time all summer that Kate had been alone in the office with Johnny. A little unnerved by the silence—as well as by the sight of his open door and the knowledge that he was just on the other side of it—she tended to answer the phone too quickly and even sound a little breathless when she did it.

When Tully was here, there was the noise and commotion. She lived for TV news and no moment of it was beneath her contemplation. All day, every day, she badgered Johnny and Carol and Mutt with questions; she continually sought their collective advice on every topic.

Kate had lost track of the times she'd seen Mutt roll his eyes as Tully walked away from a conversation. Carol was even less accommodating; the lead reporter barely talked to Tully lately. Not that Tully seemed to care. What mattered to Tully was the news: first, last, and always.

Kate, on the other hand, cared about the people in the office more than she cared about the stories they followed. She had been befriended almost instantly by Carol, who often took her out to lunch to talk about her impending birth, and just as often called upon Kate to edit her copy or research stories. Mutt, too, had chosen Kate as his confidante. He spent long hours talking to her about his family problems and the woman who refused to marry him.

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