Firefly Lane Page 46


In her early thirties, it had been easy to keep up the schedule. Back then, she'd been able to work long hours, sleep all afternoon, party all night, and wake up looking and feeling great. But she was approaching forty now, and she was beginning to feel tired, a little old to be running from one job to the next, and in heels, no less. More and more often when she came home from work, she curled up on her sofa and called Kate or Mrs. M. or Edna. Being seen—and photographed—at the It new club or at some red carpet premiere had lost its appeal. Rather, she found herself longing to be with people who really knew her, really cared.

Edna repeatedly told her that this was the deal she'd made; the life she got in exchange for all the success. But what good was success, Tully had asked over drinks last week, if there was no one to share it with you?

Edna had simply shaken her head and said, "That's why they call it sacrifice. You can't have it all."

But what if that was exactly what you wanted: everything?

At the CBS building, she waited for her driver to open her door, then stepped out into the still-black, summer morning. She could already feel heat rising from the street; today would be a scorcher. Somewhere nearby she could hear the thunk-wheeze of a garbage truck loading up.

She hurried to the front door and went inside, nodding to the doorman as she walked to the elevator. Upstairs, at her makeup desk, her savior was already waiting. Dressed in a too-tight red T-shirt that showed off his bulging muscles and form-fitting black leather pants, Tank put one hand on his hip and shook his head. "Someone looks like shit this morning."

"You're being too hard on yourself," Tully said, easing into the chair. She'd hired Tank about five years ago to do her hair and makeup. It was a choice she regretted almost daily.

He pulled the Hermès scarf off her head and removed the dark glasses. "You know I love you, honey, but you gotta quit burning the candle at both ends. And you're getting too thin again."

"Shut up and paint."

As usual, he started on her hair. While he worked, he talked. Sometimes one or the other of them would confide in the other; it was the nature of the business they were in. Time spent together created an intimacy that didn't quite spill over into friendship. A very New York type of relationship. Today, however, Tully kept their conversation light and impersonal. She didn't want to reveal to him that she felt out of sorts. He'd jump on in and tell her how to fix her life.

By five o'clock, she looked ten years younger. "You're a genius," she said, sliding out of the chair.

"If you don't change your ways, missy, you're going to need a surgeon, not a makeup genius."

"Thanks." She flashed him a camera-ready smile and walked away before he could say anything else.

On-set, she stared into the camera and smiled again. Here, in this fake world, she was perfect. She talked easily, laughed at her guests' and co-anchors' jokes, and made everyone who saw her think she could be their friend. She knew that no one in America knew how she really felt right now. No one imagined that Tallulah Hart could possibly want more than she had.

Shopping with the twins and Marah was a headache-inducing event. By the time Kate finished her last stops at Safeway, the library, the drugstore, and the fabric store, she was exhausted, and it wasn't even three o'clock. All the way home the boys cried and Marah sulked. At ten, her daughter had decided that she was too big to sit in the backseat of the car with the babies, and threw a fit now on every excursion. The plan, clearly, was to wear Kate down.

"Stop arguing with me, Marah," she said for at least the dozenth time since they'd left the grocery store.

"I'm not arguing. I'm explaining. Emily gets to sit in the front seat and so does Rachel. You're the only mom who won't—"

Kate pulled into the garage and hit the brakes just hard enough to send the grocery bags flying forward. It was worth it, since it shut Marah up. "Help me carry stuff in."

Marah grabbed a single bag and went inside.

Before Kate could reprimand her, Johnny came into the garage and got a load. Kate and the boys followed him into the house.

As usual, the TV was on, too loud for Kate's taste, and turned to CNN.

"I'll put the boys down for their nap," Johnny said when all the bags were on the counter. "Then I have good news for you."

Kate tossed him a tired smile. "I could use some. Thanks."

Thirty minutes later, he came back downstairs. Kate was at the dining room table, spreading out the fabric for the last few ballet costumes she had to make. Nine down; three to go.

"I'm an idiot," she said, more to herself than to him. "Next time they ask for volunteers, I am not going to raise my hand."

He came up behind her, pulled her to her feet, and turned her to face him. "You say that every time."

"Like I said: I'm an idiot. So what's my good news? You're making dinner?"

"Tully called."

"That's my good news? She calls every Saturday."

"She's coming to Marah's recital, and she wants to throw her goddaughter a little surprise party."

She pulled out of his arms.

"You're not smiling," he said, frowning.

Kate was surprised at the flare of anger she felt. "Dance is the only thing Marah and I do together. I was going to have a party for her here."

"Oh."

She could tell her husband wanted to say more, but he was too smart to do it. He knew this wasn't his call.

Finally Kate sighed. She was being selfish and they both knew it. Marah idolized her godmother and would love a surprise party. "What time will she be here?"

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

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On the day of the recital Marah was so nervous and excited she could barely contain her emotions. As usual, the stress of it all turned her into a pint-sized diva given to jumbo-jet-sized tantrums. Now she stood by the dining room table, one hand on her hip, dressed in faded low-rise jeans and a pink top that read Baby One More Time in rhinestones. An inch of skin showed between the bottom of her shirt and the waistband of her jeans. "Where did you put my butterfly barrettes?"

Hunched over the sewing machine, Kate barely glanced up. "They're in your bathroom drawer. Top one. And you're not wearing that top out of the house."

Marah's mouth dropped open. "But it was a birthday present."

"Yeah, well, your Aunt Tully is an idiot."

"Everyone gets to dress like this."

"You're breaking my heart. Really. Now go change. I don't have time to argue with you."

Marah sighed dramatically and stormed back upstairs.

Kate shook her head. It wasn't just the recital. Everything with Marah lately was high drama. Her daughter was either giggling and happy or flat-out pissed. Whenever Mom saw her granddaughter she laughed, lit up a smoke, and said, "Oh, the teen years will be fun. You should start drinking before it's too late."

Kate bent closer to the machine, put her foot on the pedal, and went back to work.

As it turned out, that ended up being the last time she paused for almost two hours. Then, as soon as she'd finished the costumes for the dance recital, she rushed on to her other chores—finding hangers, packing the car, helping the boys brush their teeth, and breaking up fights. Thankfully Johnny took care of dinner and the dishes.

At six o'clock, she herded everyone to the car and helped the boys into their car seats, then took her own seat. "Have I forgotten anything?"

Johnny looked at her. "You have spaghetti sauce on your forehead."

She flipped down the visor and saw herself in the tiny rectangular mirror. Sure enough, she had a streak of red across her brow.

"I didn't take a shower," she said, horrified.

"I wondered about that," Johnny said.

She turned to him. "You knew?"

"When I told you it was five o'clock you bit my head off and told me to make dinner."

She groaned. In all the hoopla, she'd forgotten to get herself ready. She was still dressed in her oldest pair of jeans, a baggy UW sweatshirt, and scuffed Adidas. "I look like a bag lady."

"But one who went to college."

Ignoring him, she ran out of the car, hearing Marah shriek behind her, "Wear makeup, Mom!"

Kate dug through her drawers, found a pair of fairly new black stirrup pants and a thigh-length black and white V-neck sweater. Were stirrup pants still in style? She didn't know. Pulling her hair into a ponytail, she anchored it with a white scrunchie, then brushed her teeth and put on mascara and blush.

Outside, a horn honked.

She grabbed a pair of black silk ankle socks and a pair of suede flats and ran back to the car.

"We're going to be late," Marah whined. "Everyone else is probably already there."

"We're fine," Kate said, only slightly out of breath.

They drove through town and parked at the Island Auditorium. Inside, it was pandemonium: twelve girls between the ages of seven and eleven, their harried parents, dozens of rowdy, disinterested siblings, and Miss Parker, their seventy-year-old dance instructor, who demanded strict propriety at all times and somehow managed to corral this wild bunch without ever raising her voice. Kate carried the costumes into the dressing room, where she helped the girls get ready, bobby-pinned and ponytailed and sprayed their hair, and helped them put on a few touches of mascara and lip gloss.

When she was finished, she knelt down in front of her daughter. "You ready?"

"Did you bring the video camera?"

"Of course we did."

Marah grinned at that, showing off her crooked, oversized teeth. "I'm glad you're here, Mommy," she said.

And suddenly it was all worth it: the crazy deadline, the late nights sewing and ironing, the tired, bleeding fingers. She did it all for a split second of togetherness. "Me, too."

Marah hugged her. "I love you, Mommy."

Kate held her tightly, smelling the sweet, powdery scent of her. She thought in that moment how close they were to childhood's end and the start of puberty, and she held on too long. These moments were too rare already.

Marah pulled back, gave her another grin, and ran backstage with her friends. "'Bye!"

Kate got up slowly and went out to the auditorium, where Johnny sat in the third row, center, with a son on either side of him. She searched the seats around them, looking for Tully. "Is she here yet?"

"No. And she hasn't called, either. Maybe something came up." He grinned. "Like a date with George Clooney."

Smiling, Kate took her seat beside Lucas. All around her, parents and grandparents filed into their seats, bringing out their video cameras as soon as they sat down.

Kate's parents arrived right on time, taking their seats beside her. As always, Mom had the old black Kodak Instamatic dangling from her wrist. "I thought Tully was coming," she said.

"She said she was. I hope nothing happened." Kate held a seat for Tully for as long as she could and then finally let it go.

The lights flickered, and the audience fell silent. Miss Parker, dressed now in pink tights and a knee-length black ballet skirt and black leotard, walked out to center stage. She looked every inch the aging prima ballerina. "Hello, there," she said in her soft, querulous voice. "As you know, I'm—"

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