Firefly Lane Page 29


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

From the moment Tully took the new job, Kate found herself watching her friend's life from a distance. Month after month passed with them living separate lives, connected only by place. By the following summer's end, their tiny apartment, once the container of their lives, had become something of a way station. Tully spent twelve hours a day, seven days a week, working. When she wasn't technically at work, she was chasing down leads and following stories, trying like hell to do something—anything—that would put her in front of the camera.

Without Tully, Kate's life lost its shape, and like some overwashed sweater, no amount of positioning or folding could make it right again. Her mother told her repeatedly to snap out of her funk and start dating, have some fun, but how could she date when she had no interest in the guys who had interest in her?

Tully did not suffer from the same malaise. While she still cried about Chad when they were drinking late at night, she had no problem meeting guys and bringing them home. Kate had yet to see the same guy come out of Tully's bedroom twice. According to Tully, that was the plan. She had, or so she said, no intention of falling in love. In retrospect, of course, Tully came to believe that she'd loved Chad desperately, so much so that no other man could measure up. But not enough, as Kate repeatedly pointed out, to call him or move to Tennessee.

To be honest, Kate was growing tired of her friend's drunken reminiscences about the epic love she'd had for Chad.

Kate knew what love was, how it could turn you inside out and dry up your heart. An unreturned love was a bleak and terrible thing. All day long, every day, she moved like a lesser planet in Johnny's orbit, watching him, wanting him, aching for him in lonely silence.

After that long night spent together in the hospital waiting room, Kate had thought there might actually be some hope. She'd felt that a door had opened between them; they'd talked easily, and about important things. But whatever inroads had been made in the bright light of the waiting room had faded with the dawn. She'd never forget the look on his face when he learned that Tully would be fine. It was more than relief.

That was when he'd pulled away from her.

Now finally it was time for her to pull away from him. Time to leave her little girl fantasies in the sandbox along with other forgotten toys and move on. He didn't love her. Any dreams to the contrary were simply that.

It couldn't go on anymore. That was the decision she'd made at work today, while she stood in the doorway to his office, waiting for him to notice she was there.

As soon as her workday had ended, she'd gone to the newsstand in the Public Market and purchased all the local papers. While Tully was out bar-hopping with her guy du jour, or working late, Kate intended to rechart the course of her life.

Sitting at the kitchen table, with her half-eaten dinner still in cartons around her, she opened the Seattle Times and turned to the classified section. There, she saw several interesting choices. Reaching for a pen, she was about to circle one when the door behind her opened.

She turned around and saw Tully in the doorway; her friend wore her dating clothes—an artfully torn sweatshirt that exposed one bare shoulder, jeans tucked into slouchy ankle boots, and a big low-slung belt. Her hair had been puffed up around her face and pulled into a bright banana clip over her left ear. An ornate set of crucifixes hung from around her neck.

Of course she had a guy with her; she was draped all over him.

"Hey, Katie," she said in a slurred I've-already-had-three-margaritas voice. "Look who I ran into."

The guy stepped out from behind the door.

Johnny.

"Hey, Mularkey," he said, smiling. "Tully wants you to come dancing with us."

She closed the newspaper with exaggerated care. "No, thanks."

"Come on, Katie. It'll be like old times," Tully said. "The Three Musketeers."

"I don't think so."

Tully let go of Johnny's hand and half stumbled, half lunged toward her. "Please," she said. "I had a bad day today. I need you."

"Don't," Kate started, but Tully wasn't listening.

"We'll go to Kells."

"Come on, Mularkey," Johnny said, moving toward her. "It'll be fun."

The way he smiled made it impossible to say no, even though she knew it was a bad idea to join them.

"Okay," she said. "I'll get dressed."

She went into her bedroom and put on a sparkly blue dress with shoulder pads and a cinch belt. By the time she came back out of her room, Johnny had Tully pressed up against the wall, with her hands over her head and his hands covering hers, and was kissing her.

"I'm ready," Kate said dully.

Tully wiggled out from underneath Johnny and grinned at her. "Excellent. Let's rock 'n' roll."

Three abreast, their arms linked, they walked out of the apartment and down the empty cobblestone street. At Kells Irish Pub, they found a small empty table close to the dance floor.

The minute Johnny left to get them drinks, Kate looked across the table. "What are you doing with him?"

Tully laughed. "What can I say? We ran into each other after work and had a few drinks. One thing led to another, and . . ." She looked sharply at Kate. "Do you care if I sleep with him?"

There it was. The question that mattered. Kate had no doubt that if she bared her soul and told the truth, this horrible night would be over. Tully would shut Johnny down faster than a storm door in a tornado, and she wouldn't tell Johnny why.

But what good would come of that? Kate knew how Johnny felt about Tully, how he'd always felt. He wanted a woman with passion and fire; losing Tully wouldn't make him turn to Kate. And maybe it was time for drastic measures, finally. Kate's hope had endured so much, but this—him sleeping with Tully—would be the end of it.

She lifted her gaze, praying her eyes were dry. "Come on, Tully, you know better than that."

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"Are you sure? Do you want—"

"No. But . . . he cares about you, you do know that, right? You could break his heart."

Tully laughed at that. "You Catholic girls worry about everyone, don't you?"

Before Kate could answer, Johnny returned to the table with two margaritas and a bottle of beer. Setting them down, he took Tully's hand and dragged her onto the floor. There, they melted into the crowd, where he took her into his arms and kissed her.

Kate reached for her drink. She had no idea what that kiss meant to Tully, but she knew what it meant to Johnny, and the knowledge seeped through her like some kind of poison.

For the next two hours, she sat with them, drinking heavily, pretending she was having fun. All the while something inside of her was slowly dying.

At some point during the endless, excruciating evening, Tully went to the bathroom and left Johnny and Kate alone. She tried to think of something to say to him, but frankly, she didn't dare make eye contact. With his damp, curling hair and flushed cheeks, he looked so damned sexy it made her chest ache.

"She's really something," he said. Behind him, the band finished their song and turned to their sheet music for inspiration. "I was starting to think it would never happen . . . her and me," he said, sipping his beer, gazing back toward the bathroom, as if he could draw her back by will alone.

"You should be careful," Kate said almost too quietly to be heard. She knew the words, and the warning, would reveal something of her heart, but she couldn't help herself. Johnny might wear the suit of a cynic at work, but at the hospital she'd learned the truth. Inside, where it mattered, he was an idealist. No one bruised as easily as a believer. She should know.

Johnny leaned toward her. "What was that, Mularkey?"

She shook her head. There was no way she could say it again, and besides, Tully was back.

Much later, when she lay in her lonely bedroom, listening to the sound of lovemaking coming from another room, she finally cried.

In the months since their party night at Kells Pub, Kate was not the only one to notice the change in Johnny. As autumn settled into the city and stripped it of color, the mood in the office became sullen and quiet. Mutt kept completely to himself, cleaning and rearranging his equipment, filing negatives in notebooks. Carol, who had been cajoled back to work after Tully's departure, stayed in her own office, with the door shut, barely saying a word to everyone, even when she got her coffee.

No one said a word about Johnny's appearance, but everyone saw that he seemed lately to be simply rolling out of bed and coming to work. His hair was too long and beginning to curl in all kinds of weird ways. He hadn't shaved in days; his beard grew in dark, shadowed patches on his hollowed cheeks, and his clothes often didn't match.

The first few times he'd come to work this way, they'd rallied around him like geese, clucking their worry. Quietly but firmly he'd shut the door to his office, saying he was fine. Mutt had mounted an offensive that began with an offer of pot and ended with, "Whatever, man. I'm here if you wanna talk."

Carol had tried in her own way to swim the invisible moat Johnny had ringed around himself; her attempts failed as utterly as Mutt's.

The only one who didn't try to reach Johnny was Kate, and she was the only one who knew what the problem was.

Tully.

Just that morning, as they'd been having breakfast, Tully had said, "Johnny keeps calling me. Should I go out with him again?"

Fortunately for Kate, it had turned out to be a rhetorical question.

Tully answered it herself. "No way. I want a relationship like I want a lethal injection. I thought he knew that."

Now Kate sat at her desk, supposedly filing their new insurance information.

She and Johnny were alone in the office for the first time in days. Carol and Mutt were out on assignment.

She got up slowly, walked to his closed office door. It made no sense for her to go to him; certainly if the tables were turned he wouldn't have gone to her, but he was hurting right now, and she couldn't stand that. After a long minute, she knocked.

"Come in."

She opened the door.

He was at his desk, hunched over, writing furiously on a yellow legal pad. Hair fell across his profile; he impatiently tucked it behind his ear and looked up at her. "Yeah, Mularkey?"

She went to the fridge in the corner of his office and got two Henry Weinhard's beers. Opening them, she handed one to him, then sat down on the edge of his cluttered desk. "You look like a man who is drowning," she said simply.

He took the beer. "It shows, huh?"

"It shows."

He glanced at the door. "Are we alone?"

"Mutt and Carol left about ten minutes ago."

Johnny took a long drink of his beer and leaned back in his chair. "She won't return my phone calls."

"I know."

"I don't get it. That night—our night together, I mean—I thought . . ."

"Do you want the truth?"

"I know the truth."

They sat there in silence for a long time, each sipping beer.

"It's fucking awful to want someone you can't have."

And with those few words, Kate knew: she had never had a chance with him. "Yeah, it is." She paused, looking down at him. It was time—past time, really—for her to let go of this dream and move on. "I'm sorry, Johnny," she finally said, getting up from the edge of his desk.

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