Firefly Lane Page 41


"None taken. And we're not all that way, Katie."

"He wouldn't want them to know."

"Are you kidding? He's a journalist. He'd certainly advocate giving his colleagues—or at least one colleague—his story."

"You think he wants the world to know that he might be blind or brain-damaged? How could he get work again? No way. This story stays contained until I know how he is."

"They said he might be brain-damaged?"

"They took off a piece of his skull. What do you think?" Kate shuddered. "The world has no business looking under his bandages."

"It's news, Kate," Tully said softly. "If you gave me an exclusive, I could protect you."

"If it weren't for the damn news, he wouldn't be fighting for his life right now."

"I'm not the only one who believes in it."

It was a direct reminder of the thing Johnny and Tully shared, that bond which had always excluded Kate. She wanted to make a smart-ass remark, but she was too tired. She hadn't slept well in weeks and every muscle and sinew in her body ached.

Tully covered Kate's hand with her own. "Let me handle the media for you. Just me. That way you don't even have to think about it."

Kate smiled for the first time in probably twenty-four hours. "What would I do without you, Tully?"

"Are you kidding me? Three days I wait for your call and when you do bother to call, it's to say you need more time?"

Tully leaned closer to the pay phone, trying to squeeze a small bit of privacy out of a very public place. "The family isn't ready to go public yet, Maury. The doctors are respecting their wishes. Surely you can understand that."

"Understand it? Who gives a shit if I understand it? This is world news, Tully, not some damn sorority gossip circle. CNN has reported that he has a head injury—"

"That's officially unconfirmed."

"Damn it, Tully. You're putting me in a hell of a spot. The higher-ups are pissed off. There was talk this morning of pulling you off the story. Dick wants to send—"

"I'll get you something."

"Get me the story today and I'll move you into the news nook next week."

Tully thought for a moment she'd imagined the promise. "You mean it?"

"You have twenty-four hours, Tully. At the end of that time you can be a hero or a zero. It's up to you."

Tully heard him slam the phone down. Through the glass windows of the empty lobby, she could see the reporters clustered along the sidewalk. For three days they'd been waiting for official word on Johnny's condition. In the meantime, they'd reported the known facts—the events that led up to the bombing, the field reports of his injuries, and his backstory in Central America. Additionally, they'd used this to springboard on to other tangentially related general stories, things like the danger to journalists covering wars, the specific challenges of Desert Storm, and the myriad types of injuries that commonly accompany bombings.

She stood there, wondering how in the hell she was going to do this. Everything needed to be done exactly right so that both Maury and Kate got what they wanted. It was up to Tully to make it all happen, and if she did this one thing well, it might change her future. She'd die before she'd let Edna down, and like Edna had said, Tully could do her job and still protect Kate. She'd have to break the story, but how she did it was what mattered.

Carefully. Tactfully. No mention of brain damage or potential blindness. That way everyone got what they wanted.

The news nook.

All her life she'd dreamed of that job, imagined it as the start of everything. She couldn't let go of the opportunity to have it. Surely Kate would understand the importance of that.

Of course.

Smiling, she went in search of her cameraman. They'd start with some establishing shots—background, hospital interior and exterior, that sort of thing. They'd hide the camera as much as they needed to. Fortunately, everyone who mattered knew that Kate had given Tully full access to visit Johnny.

She went to the front door and stepped out into the cold gray afternoon. Her cameraman was standing off to the side, away from the group of reporters. At her signal, he hid his camera under his quilted goose-down coat and headed toward her.

Kate sat in Dr. Schmidt's office, listening. "So the swelling isn't going down," she said, trying not to twist her sweaty hands together. She was so tired, it was a struggle simply to keep her eyes open.

"Not as quickly as we would wish. If soon there is not some improvement I am thinking we will go to surgery again."

She nodded.

"Do not worry yet, Mrs. Ryan. Your husband is very strong. We can see that he is fighting hard."

"How can you tell?"

"Why, because he is still alive. A weaker man would not be here now."

She tried to take strength from that, to truly believe it, but hope was becoming difficult to hold on to. Each passing day had sanded her down, weakened the walls of her denial; in places, fear called itself truth and poked through.

Dr. Schmidt stood. "I must to see a patient now. I will walk with you part of the way back to Mr. Ryan's room."

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She nodded and fell into step beside him. For a moment, with him beside her talking in his soft, authoritative voice, she felt a longing for her father.

"Well, this is where I must turn a different way," Dr. Schmidt said, pointing down the hallway toward the radiology department.

Kate nodded. She would have mumbled a simple goodbye, but she didn't trust her voice, and the last thing she wanted to do was to show her weakness.

She stood in the hallway, watching him walk away from her. Near the end of the corridor, he merged into the white-clad sea of bodies and disappeared.

With a sigh, she headed back to Johnny's room. If she was lucky, Tully was there now. Just her friend's presence was a huge help. Honestly, Kate didn't know how she would have made it through the past days without Tully. They'd played cards and told stories and even sang a few old songs together, hoping Johnny would want to wake up to tell them to be quiet. Last night, Tully had found an old episode of The Partridge Family broadcast in German. She'd cracked Kate up with her own made-up dialogue that had David Cassidy hot for his TV sister. The nurses had even come in to tell them to be quiet.

Kate turned a corner and saw a tall, long-haired man in a puffy blue coat and ragged jeans standing at the door to Johnny's room. A black video camera rested on his shoulder. He was shooting now; she could tell by the red light on the camera.

She ran down the hall, grabbed the man's puffy coat sleeve, and spun him around. "What in the hell are you doing?" She shoved him so hard he stumbled back, almost fell. It felt good, so good she wished she'd punched him in the face. "Scavenger," she hissed, switching off the camera with one stab of her finger.

That was when she saw Tully. Her best friend stood at the end of Johnny's bed, dressed in a red V-neck sweater and black pants, her hair and makeup camera-ready, holding a microphone.

"Oh, my God," Kate whispered.

"It's not what you think."

"You're not reporting on Johnny's condition?"

"I am, you know I am, but I was going to talk to you about it. Explain everything. I came up to ask you—"

"With a cameraman," Kate said, stepping back.

Tully ran over to her, pleading. "My boss called. They're going to fire me if I don't get this story. I knew you'd understand if I just told you the truth. You know the news and how much this means to me, but I would never do anything to hurt you or Johnny."

"How dare you! You're supposed to be my friend."

"I am your friend." Tully's voice took on an edge of panic. The look in her eyes was so unfamiliar it took Kate a moment to recognize it: fear. "I shouldn't have started filming, I admit it, but I didn't think you'd mind. Johnny sure as hell wouldn't. He's a newsman, like me. Like you used to be. He knows that the story—"

Kate slapped Tully across the face as hard as she could. "He's not your story. He's my husband." On that last word, Kate's voice broke. "Get out. Get away." When Tully didn't move, Kate screamed, "Now. Get the hell out of this room. It's family only."

Beside Johnny's bed, an alarm blared.

White-clad nurses streamed into the room, pushed Kate and Tully aside. They transferred him to a gurney and wheeled him out of the room.

Kate stood there, staring at the empty sheets of his bed.

"Katie—"

"Get out," she said dully.

Tully grabbed her sleeve. "Come on, Katie. We're best friends forever. No matter what. Remember? You need me now."

"You are hardly the kind of friend I need." She wrenched free and ran out of the room.

It wasn't until she was on the second floor, alone in the women's bathroom, staring at the green metal door of the stall, that she cried.

Hours later, Kate sat alone in the family waiting room. At times throughout the day there had been others in here, groups of huddled, glassy-eyed people waiting for news of their loved ones. Now, however, the volunteer at the desk had gone home and the room was empty.

Never before had time crawled so slowly. She had nothing to do, no way to trick her mind into thinking about something else. She tried to flip through the magazines, but none were in English and the pictures didn't hold her attention. Even a phone call home hadn't helped. Without Tully here to buoy her, she felt herself sinking into despair.

"Mrs. Ryan?"

Kate got quickly to her feet. "Hello, Doctor. How did the surgery go?"

"He is most well. There was extensive bleeding in his brain, which we think accounts for the continued swelling. We have now stopped it. Perhaps this will give us reason for new hope, yes? Shall I walk you back to his room?"

It was enough that he was still alive.

"Thank you."

As they passed the nurses' station, he said, "Do you wish me to page your friend, Tallulah? Certainly you don't desire to be alone now."

"I don't want to be alone now, that's true," Kate said. "But Tallulah is no longer welcome here."

"Ah. Well. You must keep believing that he will wake up. I have seen many so-called miracles in my years here. Often, I think faith has its part to play."

"I'm afraid to get my hopes up," she said quietly.

He paused at the closed door of Johnny's room and looked down at her. "I did not say that faith was easy; merely that it was necessary. And you are here, are you not, by his side? This takes its own kind of courage, yes?" He patted her shoulder and left her standing by the door.

She wasn't sure how long she stood there, alone in the stark white hospital; in time, though, she went inside and sat down. In a quiet, halting voice, she closed her eyes and talked to him. About what, she couldn't have said. All she knew was that a voice could offer light in a dark place, and light could lead you out.

The next thing she knew, it was morning. Sunlight glowed through the exterior window, illuminating the beige linoleum floor tiles and gray-white walls.

She unfolded from the chair and stood beside the bed, feeling stiff and sore. "Hey, handsome," she murmured, leaning down to kiss Johnny's cheek. The bandages on his eyes had been removed; she could see now how bruised and swollen his left eye was. "No more bleeding in the brain allowed, okay? When you need attention just try the old-fashioned ways, like getting mad or kissing me."

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