Firefly Lane Page 34


It felt like throwing diamonds into a river, praying to this God that had never listened to her. "Katie goes to church every Sunday," she reminded Him, just in case.

In the small green hospital room that overlooked the parking lot, Kate lay sleeping. Beside her Mrs. M. sat in a molded plastic chair reading a paperback novel. As always, she moved her lips as she read.

Tully came up beside her, touched her shoulder. "I brought you some coffee." She let her hand rest on Mrs. M.'s shoulder. It had been almost two hours since Kate lost the baby and although Johnny had been called, he was on assignment in Spokane, on the other side of the state.

"I guess it's a blessing it happened early," Tully said.

"Four months isn't early, Tully," Mrs. Mularkey said quietly. "And people who haven't had a miscarriage always say that. It was what Bud said to me. Twice." She looked up. "It never felt like much of a blessing to me. It felt like losing someone I loved. You know about that, don't you?"

"Thanks," she said, squeezing Mrs. Mularkey's shoulder, and then moving closer to the bed. "Now I know what not to say. I just wish I knew what would help."

Kate opened her eyes and saw them.

Mrs. Mularkey stood up, moved next to the bed, standing shoulder to shoulder with Tully.

"Hey," Kate whispered. "How long until Johnny—" At her husband's name, her voice cracked like an egg and she started to shake.

"Did someone say my name?"

Tully spun around.

He stood in the open doorway, carrying a bouquet of flowers that wilted slightly to the left. Everything about him looked disheveled—his unshaven face was a contrasting palette of pale skin and stubbly black beard, his hair was a long, tangled black mess, and his eyes bespoke a bone-deep exhaustion. His Levi's were torn and dirty, his khaki shirt had more wrinkles than an unmade bed. "I hired a private plane. It's going to be a hell of a Visa bill."

He tossed the flowers on a chair and went to his wife. "Hey, baby," he whispered. "I'm sorry it took me so long."

"It was a boy," Katie said, bursting into tears, clinging to him.

Tully heard Johnny start to cry with Kate.

Mrs. Mularkey came up beside her, slipped an arm around her waist.

"He loves her," Tully said slowly. The memory of her night with Johnny had somehow blinded her, trapped her like an insect in the sap of a forgotten time. She'd imagined that Kate was his second choice somehow, his Miss Runner-Up to love.

But this . . . this was no second choice.

Mrs. Mularkey pulled her away from the bed. "Of course he loves her. Come on, let's leave them alone."

They took their coffees and went out into the hallway, where Mr. M. was sitting on an uncomfortable chair. When he looked up, his eyes were bloodshot. "How is she?"

"Johnny's with her now," Mrs. M. said, touching his shoulder.

For the first time in years, Tully felt like an outsider in this family. "I should be with her."

"Don't you worry, Tully," Mrs. M. said, watching her closely. "She'll always need you."

"But things are different now."

"Of course they are. Katie's married. You girls are on separate paths, but you'll always be best friends."

Separate paths.

There it was; the thing she should have seen but somehow hadn't.

They took turns being with Kate during the next few days. On Thursday, it was Tully's time. She called in sick at work and spent the day with Kate. They played cards and watched television and talked. Most of the time, to be honest, Tully just listened. When it was her turn to answer, she tried to say the right thing, but she was pretty sure she failed more often than not. There was a sadness in her friend now, a graying around the edges that was so foreign Tully felt as if she'd stumbled upon some negative version of their friendship. Nothing she said was quite right.

Finally, around eight o'clock, Kate said, "I know you'll think I'm crazy, but I'm going to bed. Johnny will be home in an hour. You can go on home. Go have wild, crazy sex with that new guy, Ted."

"Todd. And I'm not exactly in a make-out mood. Then again . . ." Smiling, she helped Kate up the stairs and got her settled in bed. Then she looked down at her. "You don't know how much I want to say the right thing to make you feel better."

"You do. Thanks." Kate closed her eyes.

Tully stood there a moment longer, feeling uncharacteristically impotent. With a sigh, she went back downstairs and started on the dishes. She was drying the last glass when the door opened quietly, then clicked shut.

Johnny stood there, holding a bouquet of pink roses. With his newly cropped hair and stonewashed jeans and his white Adidas tennis shoes with the tongues hanging out, he looked about twenty years old. In all the years she'd known him, he'd never looked so sad and ruined.

"Hey," he said, putting the flowers on the coffee table.

"You look like you could use a drink."

"How about an IV drip?" He tried to smile. "She asleep?"

"Yeah." Tully grabbed a bottle of scotch from the counter and made him a stiff drink, then she poured herself a glass of wine and went to him.

"Let's sit on the dock," he said, taking the glass from her. "I don't want to wake her up."

Tully got her coat and followed him outside. They sat side by side on the dock, as if they were kids, hanging their legs out over the black waters of Lake Union.

It was still and peaceful out here. A full moon hung in the sky, illuminating the rooflines and reflecting in various windows. The distant hum of cars on the bridge was syncopated by the water slapping against the pilings.

"How are you doing, really?" Tully asked.

"It's Katie I'm worried about."

"I know," she answered, "but I asked about you."

"I've been better." He sipped his drink.

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Tully leaned against him. "You're lucky," she said. "She loves you, and when a Mularkey falls in love, it's for life." The minute she said the words, she felt that strange sense of unraveling again. Of loneliness that was somehow just out of view, but moving toward her. For the first time, she wondered what her life could have been like if she'd been like Kate and chosen love. Would she then know how it felt to truly belong somewhere, with someone? She stared out across the water.

"What is it, Tully?"

"I guess I'm jealous of Kate and you."

"You don't want this life."

"What life do I want?"

He put an arm around her. "That's one thing you've always known. You want the networks."

"Does that make me shallow?"

He laughed. "I'm hardly the one to ask. I'll tell you what: I'll start making some calls. Sooner or later we'll find you a network job."

"You'd do that?"

"Of course. But you'll have to be patient. These things take time."

She twisted around and hugged him, whispering, "Thanks, Johnny." He knew her so well. Somehow he'd already known what she'd only just discovered: it was time for her to move on.

As tired as Kate was, she couldn't fall asleep. She lay in bed, staring up at the peaked ceiling, and waited for her husband.

It was in the very core of their relationship, this anxiety of hers. When things went bad, she remembered that she'd been his second choice, and no matter how often she told herself it wasn't true, there was a slim, shadowy version of herself that believed it, worried about it.

It was a destructive neurosis. Like water rising in the Pilchuck River, it eroded everything around it, sent big chunks of earth tumbling away.

Downstairs she heard a sound.

He was home.

"Thank God."

She eased painfully out of bed and went downstairs.

The lights were off. The fire was almost dead; only a faint orange glow remained. At first she thought she'd been wrong, that he wasn't home; then she noticed the shadows on the deck. Two people, sitting side by side, their shoulders touching. Moonlight revealed their shapes, turned them silver against the blackness of the water. She crossed the house quietly, opened the door, and stepped out into the night. A slight breeze ruffled her hair and nightgown.

Tully twisted around, hugged Johnny, whispered something in his ear. His response was muted by the sound of the water slapping the dock. He might have laughed; Kate couldn't be sure.

"You two having a party without me?" She heard the break in her voice and drew in a sharp breath to cover it. In her heart she knew that Johnny hadn't been turning to kiss Tully, but that shadow self of hers wasn't so sure. The ugly, toxic thought was smaller than a drop of blood, yet it poisoned the entire stream.

Johnny was at her side in an instant. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. When he drew back, she looked around for Tully, but they were alone on the deck.

For the first time in her life, she wished she loved him less. It was dangerous to feel this way; she was like a naked infant exposed to the elements. Fragile and infinitely afraid. He could ruin her someday. Of that she had no doubt.

Tully tried, as the months passed and a new year began, to remain patient and believe in the best, but by the end of May, she'd almost given up hope. Nineteen eighty-eight was not shaping up to be a good year for her. It was early now, on a hot spring day, and she was working hard to enjoy her spot as the replacement anchor. At the end of the broadcast, she headed back to her office.

She was just sitting down at her desk when she heard:

"Line two, Tully."

She picked up the phone, pushed the square white button for line two, which immediately lit up. "Tallulah Hart."

"Hello, Ms. Hart. Dick Emerson here. I'm the VP of programming for NBC in New York. I understand you're looking to move up to the networks."

Tully drew in a sharp breath. "I am."

"We have an opening on the early morning show for a general assignment reporter."

"Really?"

"I'll be seeing nearly fifty candidates next week. The competition will be fierce, Ms. Hart."

"So am I, Mr. Emerson."

"That's the kind of ambition I like to hear." She heard the ruffling of papers on a desk. "I'll have my secretary send you a ticket. She'll call to set you up with a place to stay in the city and the date of your interview. All that work for you?"

"Perfectly. Thank you, sir. You won't be disappointed in me."

"Good. I hate to waste my time." He paused. "And tell Johnny Ryan hi from me."

Tully hung up and dialed Kate and Johnny's number.

Kate answered immediately. "Hello?"

"I'm in love with your husband."

There was a half second's pause. "Oh, really?"

"He got me an interview at NBC."

"Next week, right?"

"You knew?"

Kate laughed. "Of course I knew. He's been working on it for a long time. And yours truly mailed out the tapes."

"With everything that's on your mind, you were still thinking about me?" Tully said, awed.

"You and me against the world, Tully. Some things never change."

"This time I really am going to light the world on fire," she said, laughing. "I finally have a fucking match."

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