Firefly Lane Page 51


What she needed was a producer who cared about her.

She looked at Johnny. "Come with me," she said, angling toward him. "Be my producer."

Kate sat up straighter. "What?"

"Please, Johnny," Tully pleaded. "I need you if this is going to happen. I wouldn't trust anyone else. It'll give you national exposure. I'll call your boss. Fred and I are friends from way back. And like you said, he'd kill for an exclusive on it."

Johnny looked at his wife. "Katie?"

Tully held her breath, waiting for her friend's answer.

"It's up to you, Johnny," Kate said at last, though she didn't look happy about it.

Johnny sat back. "I'll talk to Fred. Assuming he's on board, we'll get started tomorrow. I'll call Bob Davies to run the camera." He grinned. "It'll be nice to get out of the station for a few days, anyway."

Tully laughed. "That's great."

The screen door banged open; Marah rushed out into the yard. "Can I go with you, Daddy? There's no school tomorrow, and you said you wanted me to see you work sometime."

Tully took Marah's hand, pulled her goddaughter down into her lap. "That's a fantastic idea. That way you'll get to see what a great producer your dad is and your mom won't have to worry about you while she's volunteering at school."

Beside her, Kate groaned.

She turned to her best friend. "It's okay, isn't it, Katie? It's just a few days. And besides, it will show Marah how lucky she is to have you for a mom. I'll have her back in time for school on Monday. I promise."

Johnny stood up and flipped his cell phone open. Punching in numbers, he walked into the house. His voice started strong and trailed away as he went inside. "Fred? Johnny here. Sorry to bother you, but . . ."

"Kate?" Tully said, leaning close. "Tell me it's okay."

Her best friend's smile was slow in coming. "Sure, Tully. Take my whole family if you want."

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

You always get hurt by her," Kate said, hours later, when the lights of Seattle, shimmering between the black Sound and the starless sky, had begun to darken.

Tully sighed, staring at the foamy rope of water breaking along the shore. It was barely visible. Finishing her third margarita, she put the empty glass on the grass beside her. "I know."

Tully fell silent. In truth, her head was spinning and she was beginning to worry about this idea of hers.

"Why Johnny?" Kate finally asked. She sounded hesitant, as if perhaps she hadn't meant to say it out loud.

"He'll protect me. If I say cut, he'll cut. If I say throw it in the trash, he will."

"I don't think so."

"He will. For me. And d'you know why?"

"Why?"

"You." She lurched awkwardly to her feet, unwilling to analyze this decision anymore.

Kate was beside her in an instant, steadying her.

"What would I do without you, Katie?" Tully said, leaning against her best friend.

"We'll never have to find out. Come on, now, I'll help you to your room. You need some sleep."

Kate maneuvered her into the house and down the hall to the guest bedroom.

There, Tully fell into bed, staring blearily up at her best friend. Now, with the room tumbling around her, she realized how stupid an idea this documentary was, how firmly she'd planted herself in harm's way. She could be hurt . . . again. If only she had Kate's life; then Tully wouldn't have to take this risk.

"You're so lucky," she murmured, starting to fall asleep. "Johnny . . ." She meant to continue and the kids love you, but the words got tangled up in her head and before she could finish she was crying, and then she was asleep.

The next morning she woke with a blinding headache. It took her longer than usual to do her hair and makeup—and Johnny yelling at her to hurry didn't help—but finally she was ready to go.

Johnny pulled Kate into a hug and kissed her. "It shouldn't take more than two days," he said in a voice so quiet Tully knew she wasn't supposed to be able to hear. "We'll be back before you can miss us."

"It'll feel like longer," Kate said. "I already miss you."

"Come on, Mommy," Marah said sharply. "We need to go. Right, Aunt Tully?"

"Give your mom a kiss goodbye," Johnny said.

Marah dutifully went to Kate and kissed her. Kate held her daughter until she started to squirm, then let her go.

Tully felt a clutch of jealousy at their intimacy; they were such a beautiful family.

Johnny led Marah out to the car and began loading their suitcases into the back.

Tully looked at Kate. "You'll be here, right? In case I need to call?"

"I'm always here, Tully. That's why they call it being an at-home mom."

"Very funny." Tully glanced down at her stuff. On top was a pile of notes she'd taken in the most recent phone conversation with her lawyer. It was a list of the last addresses they had for Cloud. "Okay, then. I'm out of here." She grabbed her bag and went out to the car.

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When they reached the end of the driveway, she twisted around in her seat.

There was Kate, still standing at the front door, with two little boys hanging on to her, waving goodbye.

Their first stop, only two hours later, was at a mobile home park in Fall City. Cloud's last known address. But her mother had apparently moved out a week ago and no one yet had a forwarding address. The man they spoke to thought Cloud had moved to a campground in Issaquah.

For the next six hours they drove from place to place, following leads—Tully, Johnny, Marah, and a cameraman who called himself Fat Bob for good reason. At every stop, they filmed a segment of Tully talking to people at the various campgrounds and communes. Several people knew who Cloud was, but no one seemed to know where to find her. They went from Issaquah to Cle Elem to Ellensburg. Marah hung on Tully's every word.

They were finishing a late night dinner in North Bend when Fred called with a report that Cloud's last monthly check had been cashed at a bank on Vashon Island.

"We could have been there in an hour," Johnny muttered.

"You think we'll find her?" Tully asked, pouring sugar into her coffee. It was the first time they'd been alone all day. Fat Bob was in the van and Marah had just gone to the restroom.

Johnny looked at her. "I think we can't make people love us."

"Including our parents?"

"Especially our parents."

She felt a hint of their old connection again. They'd had that in common, she recalled. Lonely childhoods. "What's it like, Johnny, being loved?"

"That's not the question you want to ask. You want to know what it's like to love someone." He gave her a grin that made him look like a kid again. "Besides yourself, I mean."

She leaned back. "I need new friends."

"I won't pull back, you know. You better be okay with that. You've got me on this story now. The camera will be there, seeing all of it. If you want to back out, this is the time."

"You can protect me."

"That's what I'm telling you, Tully. I won't. I'll follow the story. Like you did in Germany."

She understood what he was saying. Friendship ended when the story rolled; it was an axiom of journalism. "Just try to shoot me from the left. It's my good side."

Johnny smiled and paid the bill. "Go get Marah. If we hurry, we might be able to catch the last ferry."

In fact, they missed the last ferry and ended up sleeping in three rooms in a run-down hotel near the dock.

The next morning Tully woke with a pounding headache that no amount of aspirin could tame. Still, she got dressed and put on her makeup and ate breakfast at some greasy spoon diner that Fat Bob recommended. By nine in the morning they were on the ferry, headed to a berry-growing commune on Vashon Island.

Every step of the way, every mile driven, the camera was on Tully. As she interviewed the tellers at the bank where the last check was cashed and showed the old and creased picture of her mother—the only photo she had of her—she maintained her smile.

It wasn't until almost ten o'clock when they pulled up to the SUNSHINE FARMS sign that she began to lose her grip.

The commune was like others she'd seen: long, rolling acres covered in crops, shaggy-looking people dressed in the modern-day equivalent of sackcloth and ashes, rows of Sani-Cans. The main difference was the housing. Here, people lived in domed tents called yurts. There were at least thirty of them lining the river.

Johnny pulled into a parking stall and got out of the van. Fat Bob followed suit, sliding the van door open and then slamming it shut.

Marah said worriedly, "Are you okay, Aunt Tully?"

"Be quiet, Marah," Johnny said. "Move over here by Daddy."

Tully knew they were waiting for her; still she sat there. People waited for her all the time; it was one of the perks of celebrity.

"You can do this," she said to the scared-looking woman in the rearview mirror. She'd spent a lifetime shellacking her heart, creating this hard casing around it, and now she was purposely peeling it away, exposing her vulnerability. But what choice did she have? If she and her mother were ever going to have a chance, someone had to make the first move.

Cautiously, she opened the door and stepped out.

Fat Bob and his camera were right there.

Tully took a deep breath and smiled. "We're at the Sunshine Farms commune. We've been told that my mother has lived here for almost a week, although she hasn't yet sent this address to my attorney, so we don't know if she's planning to stay."

She walked up to the long row of tables, covered by cedar lean-tos, where tired-looking women sold their wares. Berries, jams, syrups, berry butters, and Holly Hobbie–type handicrafts.

No one seemed to care that a camera was coming their way. Or a celebrity.

"I'm Tallulah Hart, and I'm looking for this woman." She held out the picture.

Fat Bob moved to her left, stayed close. People had no idea how close cameras sometimes needed to be to capture nuances of emotion.

"Cloud," the woman said without smiling.

Tully's heart skipped a beat. "Yes."

"She's not at Sunshine anymore. Too much work for her. Last I heard she was out at the old Mulberry place. What has she done?"

"Nothing. She's my mother."

"She said she didn't have any kids."

Tully knew the camera caught her reaction to that, her flinch of pain. "That's hardly surprising. How do we get to the Mulberry place?"

As the woman gave directions, Tully felt a wave of anxiety. She walked away, went over by a fence to be alone. Johnny came up beside her, leaning close.

"Are you okay?" he asked softly enough that the camera couldn't pick up the question.

"I'm scared," she whispered, looking up at him.

"You'll be fine. She can't hurt you anymore. You're Tallulah Hart, remember?"

That was what she needed. Smiling, feeling stronger, she pulled back and broke free, looking at the camera. She didn't bother to wipe the tears from her eyes. "I guess I still want her to love me," she revealed quietly. "Let's go."

They climbed back into the van and drove out to the highway. On Mill Road they turned left and drove down a bumpy, rutted gravel road until an old beige mobile home came into view. It sat on blocks in a grassy field, surrounded by rusted, broken-down cars. A refrigerator lay on its side in the front yard; a threadbare, broken recliner beside it. Three ragged-looking pit bulls were chained to the fence. They went crazy when the van pulled into the yard, barking and snarling and jumping forward.

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