Firefly Lane Page 24


Cloud's body swayed ever so slightly, as if there were music in the air that only she could hear. "TV is the opiate of the masses."

"Well, if there's anyone who'd know about drugs, it's you."

"Speaking of that, I'm kinda short this month. You got any cash?"

Tully dug in her purse, found the fifty-dollar bill she kept in her wallet for emergencies, and handed it to her mother. "Don't give it all to one dealer."

Cloud took a clumsy step forward and palmed the money.

Tully wished she'd never come here. She knew what to expect from her mother: nothing. Why couldn't she seem to remember that? "I'll send money for your next rehab, Cloud. Every family has its traditions, right?" On that, she turned and walked back to the van.

Mutt was waiting for her. Dropping his cigarette, he ground it out with his heel and grinned at her. "Mommy proud of her college girl?"

"Are you kidding?" Tully said, grinning brightly and wiping her eyes. "She cried like a baby."

When Tully and Mutt came back, the team clicked into high gear. The four of them crammed into the editing room and turned twenty-six minutes of tape into a sharp, impartial thirty-second story. Kate tried to keep her thoughts focused on the story, just the story, but lunch with Johnny had dulled her senses; or heightened them. She wasn't entirely sure which. All she really knew was that whatever schoolgirl crush she'd had on him before he asked her out to lunch had deepened into something else.

When they finished working, Johnny picked up the phone and called the Tacoma station manager. He talked for a few moments, then hung up and looked at Tully. "They'll air it tonight at ten unless something comes up."

Tully jumped up and clapped her hands. "We did it!"

Kate couldn't help feeling a stab of envy. Just once, she wanted Johnny to look at her the way he looked at Tully.

If only she were like her friend—confident and sexy and willing to make a grab at whatever—and whomever—she wanted. Then she might have a chance, but the thought of Johnny's rejection, of a blank-eyed, Huh? kept her standing in the shadows.

Tully's shadow, to be precise. As always, Kate was the backup singer who never stepped into the spotlight.

"Let's go celebrate," Tully said. "Dinner's on me."

"Count me out," Mutt said. "Darla's waiting for me."

"I can't do dinner, but how about drinks at nine?" Johnny said.

"We can do that," Tully said.

Kate knew she should say no. The last thing she wanted to do was sit at the table and watch Johnny watch Tully—but what choice did she have? She was the sidekick. Rhoda Morgenstern. And wherever Mary went, Rhoda had to follow, even if it hurt like hell.

Kate chose her clothes with care: a cap-sleeved white T-shirt, black vintage jacquard vest, and tight jeans tucked into scrunchy ankle boots. After curling her hair, she combed it carefully to one side and anchored it into a ponytail. She thought she looked pretty good until she went out into the living room and saw Tully standing there, dressed in a green jersey dress with a plunging neckline, padded shoulders, and a wide metallic belt, swaying to the music.

"Tully? You ready?"

Tully stopped dancing, flicked off the stereo, and linked arms with Kate. "Come on. We're so outta here."

Down on the street in front of their apartment, they found Johnny leaning against his black El Camino. In faded jeans and an old Aero-smith T-shirt, he looked totally sexy in a casual, rumpled kind of way.

"Where are we going?" Tully asked. She immediately linked her other arm with his.

"I've got a plan," Johnny said.

"I love a man with a plan," Tully said. "Don't you, Kate?"

The word love paired with his name hit a little close to home, so she didn't look at him when she said, "I do."

Three abreast, they walked down the cobblestone street of the empty market.

At the neon-lit sex shop on the corner, Johnny guided them to turn right.

Kate frowned. There was an invisible line, like the equator, that ran down Pike Street. To the south, it got ugly fast. This was where the tourists didn't go unless they were looking for drugs or hookers. The shops and businesses on both sides of the street were seedy-looking.

They walked past two adult bookstores and an X-rated theater where the Debbie Does Dallas sequel was playing on a double feature with Saturday Night Beaver.

"This is great," Tully said. "Kate and I never go down here."

Johnny came to a stop beside a ratty-looking wooden door that had obviously once been painted red. "Ready?" he said with a smile.

Tully nodded.

He opened the door. The music was earsplittingly loud.

A huge black man sat on a stool at the entrance. "ID, please," he said, turning on a flashlight to study their driver's licenses. "Go on."

Tully and Kate showed their IDs, then moved on ahead, down the dark narrow hallway that was covered with flyers and posters and bumper stickers.

The hallway opened into a long, rectangular room that was packed with people dressed in metal-enhanced black leather. Kate had never seen so many bizarre hairdos in one room. There were dozens of people with six-inch-long Mohawks gelled to sawblade perfection and dyed in rainbow colors.

Johnny led them through the dance floor, past a few wooden tables, to the bar, where a girl with magenta hair cut into spidery spikes and a safety pin in her cheek took their orders. At the end of the bar, suspended up in the corner, was a good-sized TV that was currently tuned to MTV. No one was paying the slightest attention to it.

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When the bartender returned, Johnny gave her a healthy tip and a bright smile, then led Kate and Tully to a table back in the corner, beneath the TV.

Tully immediately lifted her margarita for a toast. "To us. We totally rocked today."

They clinked glasses and drank.

And drank.

By their third round, Tully was drunk. When the right song started—"Call Me," or "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," or "Do You Really Wanna Hurt Me?"—she was on her feet, dancing all by herself right next to the table.

Kate wished she could find that kind of ease in herself, but two drinks weren't enough to undo who she was. Instead, she sat there, watching Johnny watch Tully.

He didn't really look at Kate until Tully went to the bathroom. "She never slows down, does she?"

Kate tried then to think of a response that would steer the conversation away from her best friend, maybe even reveal her own passionate side, but who was she kidding? She had no passionate side. Tully was candy-apple-red silk; Kate was beige cotton. "Yeah."

Tully rushed back from the bathroom, skidded drunkenly into the bar. "Hey, it's ten o'clock. Can we change the channel on the TV? No one is watching it anyway."

"Whatever." The bartender, who looked like an extra from some apocalyptic war movie, climbed up on to a stepladder and changed the channel.

Tully moved toward the TV, looking like a penitent approaching the Pope.

Then her face filled the screen. "I'm Tallulah Hart in Yelm, Washington. This sleepy town was the site of protest today when followers of J. Z. Knight and the thirty-five-thousand-year-old spirit she calls Ramtha clashed with locals over the proposed building of a compound . . ."

When it was over, Tully turned to Kate, said, "Well?" in a quiet, nervous voice.

"You were totally bitchin'," Kate said, meaning it. "Excellent."

Tully threw her arms around Kate and held her tightly, then grabbed her hand. "Come on. I want to dance. You, too, Johnny. We can all dance together."

There were men dancing together, and women making out to the beat of the Sex Pistols. The girl beside Kate, wearing a black plastic miniskirt and combat boots with fishnet stockings, was dancing alone.

Tully was the first to start dancing, then Johnny, and finally Kate. At first she felt awkward—literally a third wheel—but by the end of the song, she'd softened. The alcohol was a lubricant, making her body more fluid somehow, and when the music changed and slowed down, she barely hesitated to step into Tully and Johnny's arms. The three of them moved together with a natural ease that was surprisingly sexy. Kate stared up at Johnny, who was gazing at Tully, and she couldn't help wishing just once he'd look at her that way.

"I'll never forget this night," Tully said to both of them.

He leaned down and kissed Tully. Kate was drunk enough that it took her a second to register what she was seeing. Then came the pain.

Tully pulled out of the kiss. "Bad Johnny." She laughed, pushing him away.

He moved his hand down Tully's back, tried to pull her close. "What's wrong with bad?"

Before Tully could answer, someone called out her name and she spun around.

Chad was pushing through the gyrating, slam-dancing crowd. With his long hair and ragged Springsteen T-shirt, he looked like a hard rock guy in a new wave world.

Tully ran for him. They kissed as if they were alone in the room, then Kate heard her friend say, "Take me to bed, old man."

Without a wave or a goodbye or a hello, they were gone. Kate stood there, still in Johnny's arms. He was staring at the door as if he expected Tully to return, to shout out April Fools and start dancing with them again.

"She won't be coming back," Kate said.

Johnny snapped out of it. Letting go of her, he went back to the table and ordered two drinks. In the silence that followed, she stared at him, thinking: Look at me.

"That was Chad Wiley," he said.

Kate nodded.

"No wonder . . ." He stared at the blank hallway on the other side of the dance floor.

"They've been together a long time." She studied his profile. For a crazy second, she thought about making a move, reaching for him. Maybe she could get him to forget about Tully or change his mind; maybe tonight she didn't care if she would be his second choice, or if it would be because of the booze. Love could grow from drunken passion, couldn't it? "You thought you and Tully might—"

He nodded before she could finish and said, "Come on, Mularkey. I'll walk you home."

All the way back to her apartment, she told herself it was for the best.

"Well, goodnight, Johnny," she said at her front door.

"Goodnight." He started for the elevator. Halfway there, he stopped and turned to her. "Mularkey?"

She paused, glanced back. "Yeah?"

"You were really good today. Did I tell you that? You're one of the most talented writers I've ever seen."

"Thanks."

Later, lying in her bed, staring into the darkness, she remembered his words, and how he'd looked when he'd said them.

In some small way, he'd noticed her today.

Maybe it wasn't as hopeless as she'd thought.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

From the moment Tully did her first on-air broadcast, everything changed. They became the fearsome foursome; Kate and Tully and Mutt and Johnny. For two years they were together constantly, huddled together in the office, working on stories, going from place to place like gypsies. The second story that Tully covered was about a snowy owl who'd taken up residence on a streetlamp in Capitol Hill. Next, she followed the gubernatorial campaign of Booth Gardner, and though she was one of dozens of reporters on the case, it seemed that Gardner often answered her questions first. By the time the first Microsoft millionaires began driving through downtown in their mint-new Ferraris, listening to geek music on supersized headphones, everyone at KCPO knew that Tully wouldn't last on the smallest local channel for long.

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