Firefly Lane Page 42


She kept talking until she ran out of things to say. Finally she turned on the television that hung in the corner. It came on with a thunk and a buzz and showed a grainy black and white picture. "The machine you love so much," she said bitterly, reaching down for his hand. Taking his dry, slack fingers in hers, she held on to him. Leaning down, she kissed his cheek and lingered there. Though he smelled of hospitals and disinfectants and medicines, if she tried hard enough, believed strongly enough, she could smell the familiar essence of him. "The TV is on. You're big news."

No response.

Idly she flipped through the channels, looking for something in English.

Tully's face filled the screen.

She was standing in front of the hospital with her microphone held up to her mouth. Captions along the bottom of the screen translated her words: "For days the world has wondered and worried about John Patrick Ryan, the TV news producer who was seriously injured when a bomb exploded near the Al-Rashid Hotel. Although funeral services were held yesterday for the reporter, Arthur Gulder, who was with him, the Ryan family and the German hospital remained unavailable to journalists. And how can we blame them? This is a time of deep personal tragedy for the Ryan family. John—Johnny to his friends—suffered a serious head trauma in the explosion. A complicated medical procedure was performed on him at an army hospital near Baghdad. Specialists tell me that without this life-saving surgery on site, Mr. Ryan would not have survived."

The picture on screen changed. Now Tully was standing beside Johnny's bed. He lay motionless on the white sheets, his head and eyes bandaged. Though the camera lingered on Johnny for only an instant before returning to Tully's face, the image of him was hard to forget.

"Mr. Ryan's prognosis is uncertain. The specialists with whom I spoke said it is a waiting game to see if the swelling in his brain recedes. If it does, he has an excellent chance of survival. If not . . ." Her voice trailed off as she moved around to the end of the bed. There, she looked directly into the camera. "Everything about this case is uncertain right now, except this: This is a story of heroes, both in the war zone and at home. John Ryan wanted to bring this story to the American people, and I know him well enough to say that he knew the risks he was taking and wouldn't have made another choice. And while he was covering the war, his wife, Kathleen, was at home with their one-year-old daughter, believing that what her husband was doing was important. Like any soldier's wife, it was her sacrifice as much as his that made it possible for John Ryan to do his job." The picture cut back to Tully on the hospital steps. "This is Tallulah Hart, reporting from Germany. And may I say, Bryant, that our prayers are certainly with the Ryan family today."

Kate stared at the television long after the segment had ended. "She made us look like heroes," she said to the empty room. "Even me."

She felt a flutter-soft movement against her palm. It was so gentle that at first she almost didn't notice. Frowning, she glanced down.

Johnny slowly opened his eyes.

"Johnny?" she whispered, half afraid that she was making this up, that the stress had finally cracked her. "Can you see me?"

He squeezed her hand. It was barely a squeeze, really; normally it wouldn't even qualify as a touch, but now it made her laugh and cry at the same time.

"Can you see me?" she asked again, leaning close. "Close your eyes once if you can see me."

Slowly, he closed his eyes.

She kissed his cheek, his forehead, his cracked, dry lips. "Do you know where you are?" she finally asked, pulling back, hitting the nurses' button.

She could see the confusion in his eyes and it scared her. "How about me? Do you know who I am?"

He stared up at her, swallowed hard. Slowly, he opened his mouth and said, "My . . . Katie."

"Yes," she said, bursting into tears. "I'm your Katie."

The next seventy-two hours were a whirlwind of meetings, procedures, tests, and medication adjustments. Kate accompanied Johnny to consultations with ophthalmologists, psychiatrists, physical therapists, speech and occupational therapists, and, of course, Dr. Schmidt. Everyone, it seemed, had to sign off on Johnny's recovery before she could move him to a rehabilitation center near home.

"He is lucky to have you," Dr. Schmidt said at the conclusion of their meeting.

Kate smiled. "I'm lucky to have him."

"Yes. Now I suggest you go to the cafeteria and have some lunch. You have lost too much weight this week."

"Really?"

"Certainly. Now go. I will return your husband to his room when the tests are finished."

Kate rose. "Thank you, Dr. Schmidt. For everything."

He made an it's-nothing gesture with his hand. "This is my job."

Smiling, she headed for the door. She was nearly there when he called her name again. She turned. "Yes?"

"There are not many reporters left, but is it acceptable to report on your husband's condition? We would very much like them to leave."

"I'll think about it."

"Excellent."

Kate left his office and went to the elevator at the end of the hall.

The cafeteria was mostly empty on this late Thursday afternoon. There were a few groups of employees gathered around the rectangular tables and a few families ordering food. It was easy to tell which group was which. The employees were laughing and talking while they ate; the patients' families were quiet and still, staring down at their food and looking up at the clock every few minutes.

Kate made her way through the tables to the window. Outside, the sky was a dark, steely gray; any moment it would start to rain or snow.

Even with the distortion of the glass, she could see how tired she looked, how spent.

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It was odd, but somehow it was harder to be alone with her relief than with her despair. Then, she'd wanted mostly to sit quietly and blank out her mind and try to imagine the best. Now she wanted to laugh with someone, to smile and raise a glass in celebration and say she'd known all along it would end like this.

No. Not someone.

Tully.

For all of Kate's life, Tully had been the first line of celebration, the party just waiting to happen. Her best friend would toast crossing the street safely if that was what Kate wanted.

Turning away from the window, she went over to the table and sat down.

"You look like you could use a drink."

Kate looked up. Tully stood there, dressed in crisp black jeans and a white boat-necked angora sweater. Although her hair and makeup were perfect, she looked tired. And nervous.

"You're still here?"

"You thought I'd leave you?" Tully tried to smile, but it wasn't the real thing. "I brought you a cup of tea."

Kate stared at the Styrofoam cup in Tully's hand. She knew it was her favorite—Earl Grey—doctored with just the right amount of sugar.

It was the only apology Tully knew how to make for what she'd done. If Kate accepted it, she knew that the episode would have to be forgotten—the betrayal and the slap would have to dissolve into nothing so they could step back onto the track that had connected their lives. No regrets, no grudges. They'd be TullyandKate again, or as close to that as grown women could be.

"The story was good," she said evenly.

Tully's eyes pleaded for forgiveness and understanding, but what she said was, "I'm getting the news nook for next week. It's a replacement gig, but it's a start."

Kate thought, So that's what you sold me out for, but knew she couldn't say it. Instead, she said, "Congratulations."

Tully held out the cup of tea. "Take it, Katie. Please."

Kate looked at her friend for a long time. She wanted the gift of words—I'm sorry—but knew they'd never come. Tully simply wasn't wired that way. Kate had never known exactly how it had happened, Tully's inability to apologize, but she suspected that it had something to do with Cloud. There was some bit of her best friend that had been damaged beyond repair as a child, and this, somehow, was the scar. Finally, she reached for the cup, saying, "Thanks."

Tully grinned and sat down beside her. Before she'd even scooted up to the table, she was talking.

Soon, Tully had Kate laughing. That was the thing about best friends. Like sisters and mothers, they could piss you off and make you cry and break your heart, but in the end, when the chips were down, they were there, making you laugh even in your darkest hours.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

As bad as that year was, Kate knew every moment that it could have been so much worse. The man she brought home from Germany bore only the merest resemblance to her husband in those first few months. His brain was slow in healing, and sometimes he lost patience with himself when a word outran him or an idea couldn't be latched on to. She spent endless hours with him in rehab, both working with him and his physical therapist and waiting in the lobby with Marah.

From the second they got home, Marah seemed to sense that something was wrong with Daddy, and no amount of cuddling could comfort her. More often than not, she woke screaming in the middle of the night and wouldn't fall silent until Kate brought her into bed with them (a practice which made Mom roll her eyes, light a smoke, and say, "You'll be sorry.")

When the holidays came around, Kate decorated extensively, hoping the sight of their treasured collectibles would somehow knit them all together again and make them the family they'd been before.

During the girlfriend hour, while she sipped her glass of wine and told Aunt Georgia and Mom that she was holding up well, she started to cry.

Mom took her hand. "It's okay, honey. Let it out."

But she was afraid to do that. "I'm fine," she said. "It's been a difficult year, that's all."

The doorbell rang.

Aunt Georgia got up. "That's probably Rick and Kelli."

It was Tully. Standing on the porch, wearing a winter-white three-quarter-length cashmere coat and matching pants, she looked drop-dead gorgeous. There were enough presents in her arms for three families. "Don't tell me you started girlfriend hour without me. If you did, you'll have to start it over."

"You said you had to go to Berlin," Kate said, wishing she'd dressed a little better and put on some makeup.

"And miss Christmas? Hardly." She set the presents down beneath the tree and pulled Kate into a hug.

Kate hadn't realized how much she'd missed her friend until right then.

Tully turned the quiet girlfriend hour into a party. At one o'clock, long after they were supposed to have put the turkey in the oven, Mom and Aunt Georgia and Tully were still dancing to ABBA and Elton John, singing at the top of their lungs.

Kate stood by the tree. The room seemed lit from within suddenly. How was it that Tully could be the life of any party so easily? Maybe it was because she didn't do any of the scut work—no cleaning or cooking or laundry for Tully.

Johnny came up to Kate. She noticed that he was barely limping. "Hey, you," he said.

"Hey."

All around them, people were talking and singing. Aunt Georgia was doing "The Time Warp" with Sean, his girlfriend, and Uncle Ralph. Mom and Dad were talking to Tully, who was swaying to the music with Marah in her arms.

Johnny reached down beneath the tree and found a small box, wrapped in silver and gold paper, with Scotch tape showing along the seams and a red foil bow that was too big. He handed it to her.

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