Firefly Lane Page 25


They all knew it, but perhaps Johnny most of all. So, although the three of them didn't talk about the future, they felt its shadowy presence constantly, and somehow that made their time together sweeter and more intense. On the rare night when they weren't working on a story, Johnny, Tully, and Kate met at Goldies to play pool and drink beer. By the end of their second year together, they knew all there was to know about each other; at least, all that each was willing to share.

Except the stuff that truly mattered. Kate often thought it ironic that three people who searched through the rubble of life to find pebbles of truth could be so stubbornly blind about their own lives.

Tully had no idea that Johnny wanted her, and he was completely unaware that Kate wanted him.

So their weird, silent triangle went on, day after day, night after night. Tully always asked Kate why she didn't date. She longed to come clean, tell Tully the truth, but every time she started to confess, she backed out. How could she tell the truth about Johnny, after the crap she'd given Tully about Chad? Your boss, after all, was worse than your professor.

And besides, what did Tully know about unrequited love? Her friend would just start pushing Kate to ask Johnny out. What would Kate say then? I can't. He's in love with you. Deeper down, in a dark place she rarely acknowledged, there was another fear, one she only recognized in her dreams and nightmares. In the cold light of day, she didn't believe it, but at night, alone, she worried that if Tully found out about Kate's love, it might actually make Johnny more attractive to Tully. That was the thing about her best friend; it wasn't that she wanted what she couldn't have. It was that she wanted everything, and sooner or later, Tully got what she wanted. Kate couldn't risk it. Not having Johnny she could live with. Losing him to Tully would be unbearable.

So Kate kept her head down, her hands busy, and her dreams of love hidden away. She smiled easily when Mom or Dad or Tully teased her about her social life, joked that her standards were higher than some people she could name, an answer which was always good for a laugh.

She tried not to be alone with Johnny too much, either, just to stay on the safe side. Although she no longer fumbled things or got tongue-tied around him, she always sensed that he was quite perceptive, and that, given too many opportunities, he might sense that which she worked so hard to hide.

Her plan went pretty well, all things considered, until a cold November day in 1984 when Johnny called her into his office.

They were alone again, that day. Tully and Mutt were tracking down a Sasquatch sighting in the Olympic rain forest.

Kate smoothed her angora sweater and schooled her face into an impersonal smile as she went into his office and found him standing at the dirty window. "What is it, Johnny?"

He looked terrible. Haggard. "Remember when I told you about El Salvador?"

"Sure."

"Well, I still have friends down there. One of them, Father Ramón, is missing. His sister thinks they've taken him somewhere for torture, or that they've killed him. She wants me to come down and see if I can help."

"But it's dangerous—"

"Danger is my middle name." He smiled, but it was like a reflection on water, distorted and unreal.

"This isn't something to joke about. You could be killed. Or disappear like that journalist in Chile during the coup. He was never seen again."

"Believe me," he said, "I'm not joking. I've been there, remember? I know what it's like to be blindfolded and shot at." He turned his head. His eyes took on a vague, unfocused look, and she wondered what he was remembering. "I can't turn my back on the people who protected me down there. Could you turn away from Tully if she begged you for help?"

"I would help her, as you well know. Although I don't expect to see her in a war zone, unless you count the anniversary sale at Nordstrom."

"I knew you were my girl. So you'll keep this place running while I'm gone?"

"Me?"

"Like I said once, you're a responsible girl."

She couldn't help herself; she moved toward him, looked up. He was leaving, could be hurt down there, or worse. "Woman," she said.

He stared down at her, unsmiling. She felt the mere inches between them. It would take nothing, barely a movement to touch.

"Woman," he said.

Then he left her there, standing alone, surrounded by word ghosts; things she could have said.

When Johnny was gone, Kate learned how elastic time was, how it could stretch out until minutes felt like hours. All it would take was a phone call, though, an official saying he was sorry, to make it snap like a rubber band. Every time the phone rang, she tensed. By the end of the first day, she had a pounding headache.

She learned another lesson that first week, too. Life went on. The head honchos in Tacoma still called, and a producer was assigned to oversee the assignments the team was given, but in truth, the way it worked out, Kate began to take over some of the producing responsibilities. Mutt and Tully trusted her, and she knew how to make things work on the shoestring budget they'd been given. All that longing of hers had paid off; it seemed she'd watched Johnny closely enough that she knew how to do his job. She was a seamstress to his couturier, of course, but still, she was competent. By Thursday of the first week, the out-of-town producer had thrown up his hands, said he had better things to do than follow crazy people around all day, and returned to Tacoma.

On Friday, Kate produced her first segment. It was soft and unimportant—an update on former children's TV star Brakeman Bill—but still it was hers, and it hit the air.

What an adrenaline rush it had been to see her work on-screen, even if it was Tully's face and voice that everyone remembered. She'd called her parents and they drove down to watch the broadcast with Kate and Tully. Afterward, they'd toasted to "the dream" and agreed that it was that much closer to coming true.

"I always thought Katie and I would be on air together, an anchoring team, but I guess I was wrong," Tully had said. "She'll be the producer of my show someday instead. And when Barbara Walters interviews me, I'll say I couldn't have done it without her."

Kate had toasted when it was expected of her, smiling purposely and reliving every moment through Tully's chatter. She'd been proud of herself, truly she had, and she'd loved doing the piece and celebrating with her parents. It had been especially poignant when Mom took her aside and said, "I'm proud of you, Katie. You're on your way now. Aren't you glad you didn't give up?"

But all the while, a part of her was watching the clock, thinking how slowly time was moving.

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"You look terrible," Tully said the next day, dropping a stack of tapes on Kate's desk.

The clattering sound startled Kate. She realized she'd been staring at the clock again. "Yeah, well, your singing sucks."

Tully laughed at that. "Everyone has something they can't do." She put her palms on Kate's desk and leaned forward. "Chad and I are going to the Backstage tonight. Junior Cadillac is playing. You want to come?"

"Not tonight."

Tully eyed her. "What in the hell is wrong with you? You've been moping around for more than a week. I know you're not sleeping—I hear you up walking around in the middle of the night—and you won't go anywhere. It's like living with the Elephant Man."

Kate couldn't help glancing at Johnny's door and then up at her friend. Longing welled up inside her, sharp and strong; if only she could tell Tully the truth: that she'd accidentally fallen in love with Johnny and now she was worried about him. It would take such a load off of her. In ten years, this was the first thing she'd ever hidden from Tully and it physically hurt to conceal it.

But her feelings for Johnny were so fragile; she knew that Tropical Storm Tully would rain all over them, ruin them.

"I'm just tired," she said. "This producing is hard work. That's all."

"But you love it, don't you?"

"Sure. It's great. Now go on, meet Chad. I'll close up." After Tully left, Kate lingered in the dark, quiet office. The strange thing was, she liked being here; she felt close to him.

"You're an idiot," she said aloud. Truthfully, she said it to herself at least twice a day lately. She was acting like—felt like—a left-behind lover, but it was all in her imagination. At least she wasn't so far gone that she'd forgotten that.

She went home by herself. The bus dropped her off at the corner of Pike and Pine. Amid the colorful crowd of tourists and weirdos and hippies, she picked up some food for dinner. Back in her apartment, she curled up on the couch, ate her dinner out of white cardboard containers, and watched the nightly news. Afterward, she made some notes on story ideas, called her mom, then turned the channel to NBC for Dynasty and St. Elsewhere.

Halfway through the medical drama, the doorbell rang.

Frowning, she went to the door. "Who is it?"

"Johnny Ryan."

The jolt Kate felt almost knocked her off her feet. Relief. Joy. Fear. She experienced all three emotions in a heartbeat of time.

She glanced in the mirror hanging on the wall beside her and gasped. She looked like a fashion magazine "before" photo—limp hair, no makeup, eyebrows untrimmed.

He pounded on the door again.

She opened it.

He stood there, leaning heavily against the doorframe, wearing dirty Levi's and a torn BORN IN THE USA tour T-shirt. His hair was long and uncombed, and though he was tanned, his face looked worn, older. She could smell alcohol, too.

"Hey," he said, opening his fingers from along the doorframe in greeting. At the movement he lost his balance and almost fell.

Kate moved toward him. Holding him up, she guided him into the apartment, kicked the door shut, and led him to the sofa, where he half stumbled to a sit.

"I've been sitting over in the Athenian," he said, "trying to get up the nerve t' come over here." He glanced blearily around the place. "Where's Tully?"

"She's not here," Kate said, feeling a clutch in her heart.

"Oh."

She sat down beside him. "How did it go in El Salvador?"

When he turned to her, the look in his eyes was so devastating that she reached out, put her arm around him, and drew him close.

"He was dead," he said after a long silence. "Before I even got there, he was dead. But I had to find him . . ." He pulled a flask out of his back pocket and took a long drink. "Y' want some?"

She took a sip, felt it burn all the way down her throat and settle like a hot coal in the pit of her stomach.

"It's damned heartbreaking wha's going on. And not enough is getting on air. No one cares."

"You could go on assignment," she said, even though she hated the idea.

"I wish I could . . ." His voice faded away, then turned sharp. "Old news." He took another drink.

"Maybe you should slow down a little." She tried to take the flask from him. Instead, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her onto his lap. He touched her face with his other hand, caressing her cheek as if he were blind and trying to come up with an image of what she looked like.

"You're beautiful," he whispered.

"You're drunk."

"You're still beautiful." He slid one hand up her arm and the other down her throat until he was holding her in his arms. She knew he was going to kiss her, felt the knowledge in every nerve ending in her body, just as she knew she should stop him.

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