Firefly Lane Page 56


The house was quiet, empty downstairs. As she made her way through the living room, she picked up several toy dinosaurs that lay scattered in front of the TV.

Upstairs, she turned the doorknob quietly, opening the door to the boys' room, expecting to see them sleeping. What she saw was a tent of sheets on William's bed, and the telltale light from a flashlight glowing through the red and blue Star Wars images.

"I know two little boys who are supposed to be asleep."

Giggles erupted from the makeshift tent.

Lucas was the first to emerge. With his spiky black hair and gap-toothed grin, he looked like Peter Pan being caught by Wendy. "Hi, Mommy."

"Lucas," William hissed from inside, "pretend you're sleeping."

Kate went to the bed and gently pulled the sheets back.

William stared up at her, flashlight in one hand, gray plastic T. rex in the other. "Oops," he said, then laughed.

Kate opened her arms. "Give Mommy a hug."

They launched themselves at her, enthusiastic as always. She held them tightly, smelling the sweet, familiar baby shampoo scent of their hair. "Do you guys need another bedtime story?"

"Read us about Max, Mommy," Lucas said.

Kate reached for the book and settled in her usual position—seated against the headboard, legs stretched out, with a boy tucked on either side of her. Then she opened Where the Wild Things Are and began to read. Max was halfway through his adventure when they fell asleep.

She tucked William in, kissed his cheek, and carried Lucas to his bed. "'Night, Mommy," he murmured as she put him down.

"'Night." She turned off the flashlight and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Across the hall, Marah's door was shut; a slice of light ran beneath it.

She paused, wanting to go in, but it would just start another fight. Nothing Kate said or did was right anymore, and in the weeks since the modeling fiasco, it had grown even more tense. Instead, she knocked on the door, said, "Lights out, Marah," and waited for her daughter to comply.

Then she walked down the hall and went into her own room.

Johnny was already in bed, reading. At her entrance, he glanced up. "You look exhausted."

"Marah," was all she said. All she had to say.

"I think it's more than that."

"What do you mean?"

Taking off his glasses, he set them on the nightstand and began gathering up the papers spread out around him. Without looking up, he said, "Tully tells me you're still mad at her."

Kate could tell by his voice and the studious way he avoided looking at her that he'd wanted to mention this for a while. Men, she thought. You had to be an anthropologist, studying clues to know what they were thinking. "She's the one who hasn't called."

"But you're the one who is mad."

Kate couldn't deny that. "Not crazy-mad or pissed off, just irritated. That crap she pulled with Marah's modeling . . . she could at least have admitted she was wrong."

"Tully, apologize?"

Kate couldn't help smiling. "I know. I know. But how come I always have to be the one to let things go? How come I always have to make the first call?"

"You just do."

It was true; always had been. Friendships were like marriages in that way. Routines and patterns were poured early and hardened like cement.

Kate went into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, and climbed into bed with him.

He turned off the bedside lamp and rolled over to face her. Moonlight shone through the window and illuminated his profile. He held his arm out, waiting for her to snuggle up to him. She felt a surge of love for him that was surprisingly sharp, given their years together. He knew her so well, and there was a cashmere comfort in that; it wrapped around and warmed her.

No wonder Tully had so many sharp angles and harsh edges; she'd never let herself be softened by love, wrapped up in it. Without kids or a husband or a mother's love, she'd grown selfish. And so, yet again, Kate would let go of her anger without an apology. She shouldn't have let it simmer so long anyway. It was remarkable how quickly time passed. Sometimes it felt as if they'd just had the blowup. What mattered now was not the words, spoken or withheld, but rather the years of friendship.

"Thanks," she whispered. Tomorrow she'd call Tully and invite her over to dinner. Like always, that would put an end to their fight. They'd move effortlessly back onto the road of their friendship.

"For what?"

She kissed him gently, touched his cheek. Of all the views she loved, this man's face was her favorite. "Everything."

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On a gray, drizzly morning in mid-November, Kate turned her car into the middle school parking lot and joined the snakelike line of SUVs and minivans. In the stop-and-go traffic, she glanced to her right.

Marah sat slouched in the passenger seat, looking surly. Her expression and her mood had been dark ever since the blowup over the modeling class in New York.

Before, Kate now saw, there had been bricks between her and her daughter. Lately there was a wall.

Usually it fell to Kate to smooth over any of the rough patches in the road their family traveled. She was the peacemaker, the referee, and the mediator, but nothing she said had worked. Marah had stayed angry for weeks now and it was taking a toll on Kate. She wasn't sleeping well. It pissed her off, too, these silent treatments, because she knew Marah was manipulating her, trying to break Kate down.

"Are you excited about the banquet?" she forced herself to ask. At least it was something to say. The whole eighth grade was excited about the winter banquet, as they should be. The parents—including Kate—had expended a huge amount of effort to create a magical night for the kids.

"Whatever," Marah said, looking out the window, obviously searching for friends in the crowd of kids outside the school. "You're not going to chaperone, are you?"

Kate refused to be wounded by the remark. She told herself it was normal; she'd been telling herself that a lot lately. "I'm the decorations chairman. You know that. I'm hardly going to work on this event for two months and then not see our work."

"So you'll be there," Marah said dully.

"Dad and I both will. But you'll still have fun."

"Whatever."

Kate came to the drop-off lane and stopped. "The Mularkey family school bus is here," she said. Behind her, the boys giggled at the familiar joke.

"That is so totally lame," Marah said, rolling her eyes.

Kate turned to her daughter. "'Bye, honey. Have a nice day. Good luck on your social studies test."

"'Bye," Marah said, slamming the door.

Kate sighed and glanced in the rearview mirror. The twins were playing together in the backseat, making their plastic dinosaurs fight. "Girls," she whispered under her breath, wondering why it was that adolescent girls simply had to be mean to their mothers. Clearly it was normal behavior; she'd spent enough time with her friends and peers to know that. So normal it was probably part of evolution. Maybe the species needed girls who thought they were grown up at thirteen for some bizarre, hidden reason.

A few minutes later she dropped the boys off at school (kissed them both goodbye—in public) and began her own day. First off was a stop at Bainbridge Bakers, where she got a latte, then she dropped off some books at the library and headed down to Safeway. By ten-thirty, she was home again, standing in her kitchen, putting the groceries away.

Just as she was closing the fridge door, she heard the familiar Girlfriend Hour theme music coming from the TV in the living room, and she followed it. She rarely watched the show all the way through—how could she, with her busy schedule?—but she always turned it on so she knew what the episodes were about. Both Johnny and Tully sometimes quizzed her.

Kate hitched her leg over the end of the sofa and sat down.

On-screen, the theme music died down and Tully walked onto the cozy, we're-just-a-couple-of-girls-hanging-out-in-your-family-room set. As usual, she looked beautiful. Last year she'd decided to let her hair grow out into a sleek shoulder-length bob, and she'd returned to her natural reddish-brown color. The sophisticated girl-next-door cut and color only emphasized her high cheekbones and chocolaty eyes. A few well-placed shots of collagen had given her perfect lips, which she coated in just a hint of gloss but almost no color.

"Welcome back to The Girlfriend Hour," she was saying now, trying to be heard over the din of applause. Kate knew that people sometimes stood in line for six hours to be in the studio audience, and why not? The Hour, as it was called by fans and media alike now, was fun and breezy and occasionally even inspiring. No one ever quite knew what Tully would say or do next. It was part of what kept people tuning in, and Johnny made sure that everything ran like a well-oiled machine. True to her word, Tully had made them all rich, and Johnny, in turn, always made Tully look good.

Tully sat onstage, in the cream-colored chair that was hers. The pale color made her look more vibrant, larger than life. She leaned forward to talk intimately with both the audience and the camera.

Kate was instantly hooked. While she watched Tully reveal her makeup and hair secrets to the rest of America, Kate paid bills and dusted the Levolor blinds and folded laundry. After the show, she clicked off the television and sat down again to work on her Christmas list. She was so engrossed in this project, it took her a moment to realize her phone was ringing. She glanced around, saw the cordless phone on the floor under a pile of Legos, and answered it. "Hello?"

"Kate, is this you?"

"Yes."

"Thank goodness. It's Ellen, from Woodward. I'm calling because Marah isn't in her fourth-period class. If you forgot to sign her out, that's—"

"I didn't forget," Kate said, realizing how sharp she sounded. "Sorry, Ellen. Marah is supposed to be in class. Let me guess: Emily Allen and Sharyl Burton are absent, too."

"Oh, boy," Ellen said. "Do you know where they are?"

"I have a pretty good idea. When I find them I'll call you. Thanks, Ellen."

"Sorry, Kate."

She hung up the phone and glanced at the clock: 12:42.

It didn't take an advanced degree to figure out where the girls were. Today was Thursday, the day the new movies opened at the Pavillion. Coincidentally, that new teen queen—Kate couldn't remember her name—had a new movie out.

Kate grabbed her purse and headed out, pulling into the Pavillion lot at just before one. Trying not to be royally pissed took some real effort, and by the time she'd spoken to the manager, walked through the darkened theaters, found the girls, and herded them back into the lobby, she was losing the battle.

But her anger was nothing compared to her daughter's.

"I can't believe you did that," Marah said when they reached the parking lot.

Kate ignored the tone and said tightly, "I told you you could see the Saturday matinee with your friends."

"If my room was clean."

Kate didn't bother to answer. "Come on, girls. Out to the car. They're waiting for you at school."

The girls climbed quietly into the backseat, murmuring how sorry they were.

"I'm not sorry," Marah said, slamming her door and yanking her seat belt into place. "We only missed dumb old algebra."

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