Firefly Lane Page 39


They were empty words, made worse by the fervor with which he spoke.

She couldn't help thinking of this morning, when she'd woken with the feeling that something would go wrong today. "I mean it, Johnny. If you die over there I'll hate you forever. I swear to God I will."

"You know you'll always love me."

The words, and the easy, victorious way he said them made her want to cry all over again. It wasn't until much later, after they'd had a romantic dinner in their room and made love and snuggled into each other's waiting arms, that she thought about what she'd said to him, the terrible, wrenching horror of her threat; the gauntlet she'd thrown down to God.

Tully eased off Grant's naked body and flopped onto the bed, still breathing hard. "Wow," she said, closing her eyes. "That was great."

"Indeed it was."

"I'm so glad you were in town this weekend. This was exactly what I needed."

"You and me both, my love."

She loved listening to his accent, feeling his naked body against hers. This was a moment to hang on to, to cling to, even, because as soon as he left her bed, she knew her unease would come back. She'd been battling it since her call to Kate. Nothing could disrupt her self-confidence or make her feel edgy like being mad at her best friend.

Grant sat up in bed.

She touched his back, thought about asking him to stay the night again, to put off his meeting, but that wasn't the kind of relationship they had. They were friends who met for sex and laughter for a few hours and then went their own ways.

Beside him, the bedside phone rang. He reached for it.

"Don't answer it. I don't want to talk to anyone."

"I gave the office this number." He picked up the phone and answered. "Hello? . . . Grant," he said. "And who are you? Oh, I see." He paused, frowning, then laughed. "I can do that." He held the phone to his naked chest and turned to Tully. "Your best friend forever says—and I quote—that you are to get your lily-white ass out of your bed and come to the damn phone. She says further that if you give her any shit on this of all days that she will beat you until you beg for mercy." He chuckled again. "She sounds serious."

"I'll take the call."

Grant handed her the phone and walked naked toward the bathroom. When he shut the door, Tully brought the phone to her ear and said, "Who is this?"

"Very funny."

"I had a best friend forever once, but she was a real bitch to me, so I figured—"

"Look, Tully, normally I'd grovel for an hour or so and spoon a bunch of humble pie down my throat, but I don't have time for the ritual today. I'm sorry. Your phone call came at a bad time and I was snotty. Okay?"

"What's wrong?"

"It's Johnny. He's going to Baghdad tomorrow."

Tully should have seen this coming. The whole station was buzzing over what was happening in the Middle East. Everyone at the station and around the world was trying to guess when President Bush was going to drop the first bomb. "A lot of journalists are going over there, Katie. He'll be fine."

"I'm scared, Tully. What if—"

"Don't," Tully said sharply. "Don't even think it. I'll follow him from the station. We get most of the news first. I'll watch for you."

"And you'll tell me the truth, no matter what?"

Tully sighed. Their familiar promise didn't sound as airy and hopeful as usual; suddenly it had a dark, ominous edge that she had to force herself to ignore. "No matter what, Katie. But you don't have to worry. This war won't last long. He'll be home before Marah takes her first step."

"I pray you're right."

"I'm always right. You know that."

Tully hung up the phone, listening to the sound of Grant turning on the shower. His humming, which usually made her smile, had no effect. For the first time in a long time she was afraid.

Johnny in Baghdad.

Kate received the first message from Johnny two days after he left. Until then, she'd walked around the house in a daze, never far from the new fax/phone they'd put on the kitchen counter. As she went about the business of her day—changing diapers, reading stories, watching Marah crawl from one potentially dangerous piece of furniture to the next—she thought: Okay, Johnny: let me know you're alive and well. He'd told her that phone calls could only be made with dire need (to which she'd argued that her need was dire, and why didn't that count?), but that faxes were not only possible but relatively easy.

And so she'd waited.

When the phone rang at four in the morning, she threw the blanket away and rolled off the sofa, stumbling toward the kitchen, waiting for the message to unfurl.

Before she'd read a word, she started to cry. Just seeing the bold scrawl of his handwriting made missing him almost unbearable.

Dear Katie:

It's crazy here. Flat-out insane. We don't know exactly what's happening—it's a waiting game right now. The journalists are all in the Al-Rashid Hotel in the middle of Baghdad and we've got unprecedented access to both sides. The coverage of this war will change everything. Tomorrow we're leaving the city for the first time. Don't worry, I'll be careful.

--- Read books free online at novel68.com ---


Gotta run. Kiss M for me.

Love U

J

After that, the faxes came about once a week. Not nearly often enough.

K—

The bombing started last night. Or should I say this morning? We had a bird's-eye view from the hotel and it was gut-wrenching and horrific and amazing. It was a gorgeous, starry night in Baghdad and the bombs turned this city into hell. An office tower exploded close to the hotel and the heat was like an oven.

Am being careful.

Love U

J

K—

Seventeen hours of bombing and still counting. There will be nothing left when it finally stops. Back to work.

K—

Sorry it's been so long since the last letter. The team is out so much on assignment that I can't get five seconds to myself. But I'm good. Tired. Hell, more than that. Exhausted. The first US female POW was captured last night and I have to say that it hit us all hard. I hope that someday I can tell you how it feels to see all this, but I can't think that way now, not if I want to sleep. Anyway, there's talk that the Iraqis are going to ignite oil wells in Kuwait and we're off to cover it. Kisses to Marah and more to you.

Kate stared down at the last fax she'd received. It was dated February 21, 1991, almost one week ago.

She sat in her living room, watching the war coverage on television. The last six weeks had been the longest, hardest days of her life. She was waiting, always waiting, for a phone call that said he was coming home, for a special report that heralded the end of the war. Now they were saying that the final allied assault should begin any day. A ground assault. That scared her as much as or more than anything else because she knew her Johnny. Somehow, he'd end up on a tank, directing a story that no one else could tell.

The waiting had worn her down to nothing. She'd lost fifteen pounds and hadn't had a good night's sleep since their night at the hotel.

She folded the latest fax in half and placed it on the small pile of others. Every day she told herself she wouldn't unfold them and reread his words; every day she returned to them.

Today she'd begun several chores and left all of them unfinished. Instead, she sat on the couch, watching television. She'd been here for more than two hours.

Marah stood by the coffee table, clutching its wooden edge in her pink, pudgy hands, swaying like a break-dancer and babbling in baby talk. Finally, she plopped down on her diaper-padded butt and immediately began to crawl away from the couch.

"Stay by Mommy," Kate said automatically. On TV, the oil wells were burning; the air above them was a thick cloud of black smoke.

Across the room, Marah found something. Kate could tell by the sudden quiet. She jumped up and went over to the chair by the fireplace.

Johnny's chair.

Don't think about that, she told herself. He'd be back any day to sit there again and read the paper after work.

She bent down and picked up her curious daughter, who looked up at her through huge, bright brown eyes and started to babble. Kate couldn't help smiling at how earnestly Marah was trying to communicate, and as always, her daughter's obvious joy lifted her spirits. "Hey, Munchkin what have you got there?" She carried her back toward the sofa, turning off the TV as she passed it. Enough was enough. She turned on the radio instead. It was tuned to an oldies channel, which always made her shake her head. To her mind the seventies weren't that distant. The Eagles were singing "Desperado."

Kate let the music take her back to an easier time. Holding her daughter close, she danced in the living room, singing along. Marah giggled and bounced in her arms, which made Kate laugh for the first time in days. She kissed her daughter's plump cheek, nuzzled her velvety neck, and tickled her until she screamed happily.

They were having so much fun Kate didn't register instantly that the phone was ringing. When she did hear it, she ran for the radio, turned it down, and answered.

"Mrs. John Ryan?" The connection was scratchy. Clearly long-distance. Only in dire need.

She froze, tightened her hold on Marah, who squirmed in her arms. "This is she."

"This is Lenny Golliher. I'm a friend of your husband's. I'm over here in Baghdad with him. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Ryan, there was a bombing yesterday . . ."

The maître d' showed Edna to her regular table, and Tully followed along behind, trying not to gape at all the power brokers and celebrities who were here today for lunch. Clearly 21 was one of the places to be seen in Manhattan. Edna stopped at nearly every table to say hi to someone and she introduced them all to Tully, saying, "Here's a girl you should keep your eye on."

By the time they took their seats, Tully felt as if she were floating. She couldn't wait to call Kate and tell her she'd met John Kennedy, Jr.

She knew the value of what had just happened. Edna had just given her the gift of recognition. "Why me?" she asked when their waiter left.

Edna lit up her cigarette and leaned back. Nodding at someone across the room, she seemed not to have heard the question. Tully was about to ask it again when Edna said quietly, "You remind me of me. That surprises you, I see."

"Flatters me."

"I'm from a little town in Oklahoma. When I got to New York—with a degree in journalism and a job in the secretarial pool—I discovered the ugly truth about this career. Practically everyone is Someone or related to Someone. A nobody has to work damn hard. I don't think I slept more than five hours at a time, had a family holiday, or had sex that meant something for almost a decade."

The waiter brought their food, set it down with an obsequious nod, and disappeared again. Smoking cigarette in hand, Edna began cutting her steak. "When I saw you, I thought, There's the girl I'll help. I don't know why except, like I said, you reminded me of me."

"My lucky day."

Edna nodded and went back to her food.

"Ms. Guber?" It was the maître d' again, carrying a phone. "There's an urgent call for you."

She took the phone, said, "Talk." Then she listened for a long time. "What're their names? How? Bomb?" She began taking notes. "Seattle reporter killed, producer wounded."

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