Firefly Lane Page 58


"Like what?"

"Like the anniversary party for Dad's show."

"You mean it?" Marah had been begging for this opportunity for weeks. Kate had repeatedly said she was too young.

"We could go shopping together, get our hair done, get beautiful dresses—"

"I love you," Marah said, hugging her.

She held on to her daughter, reveling in the moment.

"Can I tell Emily?"

Before Kate had even said, "Sure," Marah was reaching for the phone, punching in numbers. As she headed for the door and closed it behind her, she heard Marah said, "Em, you won't believe this. Guess where I'm going on Saturday—"

Kate closed the door and went to her own room, thinking about how quickly things changed with kids. One minute you were an old Eskimo woman, floating away from everyone, forgotten; the next you were climbing Mount Rainier, stabbing your flag in the snow. The changes could leave you dizzy sometimes, and the only way to survive was to enjoy the good moments and not dwell too much on the bad.

"You're smiling," Johnny said when she entered the room. He was sitting up in bed, wearing the drugstore reading glasses he'd grudgingly purchased.

"Is that so remarkable?"

"Frankly, yes."

She laughed. "I guess it is. Marah and I had a bad week. She got invited to an overnight party with boys—I still can't believe it—and I told her she couldn't go."

"So why the smile?"

"I invited her to the anniversary party. We'll make a girl's day out of it. Shopping, manicures, haircuts, the works. We'll need to get a suite at the hotel, or get a rollaway."

"I'll be the luckiest guy in the room," he said.

Kate smiled at him, feeling hopeful for the first time in longer than she could remember. She and Marah would have a perfect mother-daughter evening. Maybe it would finally tear down that wall between them.

Tully should have been on top of the world. Tonight was the anniversary party for her show. Dozens of people had been working for months to make it the event of the year in Seattle. Not only were the locals expected to attend, but the RSVPs indicated a celebrity-studded night. In short, everyone who was anyone would be here, and they were coming to honor her, to applaud her phenomenal success.

She glanced around the glittery, traditional ballroom of the Olympic Hotel. Actually, she thought it was called something else these days—chains kept acquiring and selling the property—but to Seattleites, it was and would always be the Olympic.

The room was full of her peers, her colleagues, her partners, many of her A-list celebrity guests, and a few of her key employees. Everyone she saw raised a glass in celebration. They all loved her.

And not one of them really knew her.

There it was. Edna had been unable to come, and Grant hadn't even returned her phone call. The latest tabloid she'd read claimed he was marrying some starlet, and although the news shouldn't bother Tully, it did. It made her feel old and lonely, especially tonight. How was it that she'd reached this age alone? Without a special person with whom she could share her life?

A waiter passed by her and she tapped his shoulder, snagging a second glass of champagne from his tray. "Thanks," she said, flashing the Tallulah Hart smile, looking around the ballroom for the Ryans. They still weren't here. She was drifting in a sea of acquaintances.

She downed the champagne and went in search of another drink. The day of beauty with her daughter was everything Kate had hoped it would be. For the first time in ages, they didn't fight. Marah even listened to Kate's opinions on things. After they'd chosen their gowns—a one-shouldered black silk gown for Kate and a beautiful pink chiffon strapless one for Marah—they checked into the Gene Juarez day spa, where they got manicures and pedicures, haircuts, and their makeup done.

Now they were in Marah's bedroom in the suite at the Olympic. Crowded into the bathroom, they stood side by side, studying themselves in the mirror.

Kate knew she'd never forget the sight of them so close together: the tall, gangly daughter with the exquisite face, smiling so broadly her eyes tilted up, with her skinny arm around Kate's bare shoulder.

"We totally rock," Marah said.

Kate smiled. "Totally."

Marah kissed her cheek impulsively, said, "Thanks, Mom," and grabbed her beaded evening bag from the bed on her way to the door. "Here I come, Daddy," she said, opening it, stepping into the sitting room.

"Marah," she heard him say, whistling. "You're gorgeous."

Kate followed her daughter into the room. She knew she wasn't as shapely as she'd once been, or quite as pretty, but in this dress, with Johnny's diamond-heart necklace at her throat, she felt beautiful, and when she saw the way her husband smiled, she felt sexy, too.

"Wow," he said, coming toward her. Leaning close, he kissed her. "You look hot, Mrs. Ryan."

"You, too, Mr. Ryan."

Laughing, the three of them left the room and went down to the ballroom, where hundreds of people were already celebrating.

"Look, Mom," Marah whispered, sidling close. "It's Brad and Jennifer. And there's Christina. Wow. I can't wait to call Emily."

Johnny took Kate's hand and led her through the crowd to the bar, where he got two drinks and a Coke for Marah.

Then they eased back and stood there, sipping their drinks and surveying the crowd.

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Even in a room like this, Tully stood out in a flowing silk gown the color of Burmese emeralds. She sailed toward them, waving, her gown rippling behind her. "You guys look fabulous," she gushed, laughing.

Kate couldn't help noticing that Tully appeared a little unsteady on her feet already. "Are you okay?"

"Couldn't be better. Johnny, we need to say a few things onstage after dinner. Then we'll go to the dance floor to get the ball rolling?"

"Don't you have a date?" Johnny asked.

Tully's smile faltered. "Marah can be my date for the evening. You don't mind if I borrow her, do you, Katie?"

"Well—"

"Why should she care?" Marah said, gazing at Tully in adoration. "She sees me every day."

Tully leaned close to Marah. "Ashton is here. Do you want to meet him?"

Marah practically swooned. "Are you kidding?"

Kate watched them walk away, hand in hand, heads cocked together like a pair of cheerleaders talking about the captain of the football team.

After that, the night lost some of its luster for Kate. Sipping her champagne, she followed her husband around the room, smiling when she was supposed to, laughing when it seemed appropriate, saying, "I'm an at-home mom," when asked, and watching how those few words—a sentence that made her so proud—could kill a conversation.

All the while, she watched Tully pretend that Marah was her daughter, introducing her to one celebrity after another, letting her have sips of her champagne.

When it was finally time for dinner, Kate took her place at the head table, with Johnny on one side of her and the president of Syndiworld on the other. Tully held court all through the meal. There was no other way to describe it. She was lively, animated, funny; every person seated around her—especially Marah—seemed awestruck.

Kate tried not to let any of it get to her. A few times she even tried to get her daughter's attention, but it was impossible to compete with Tully.

Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore. She made an excuse to Johnny and headed for the bathroom. In line, every woman there seemed to be talking about Tully, remarking on how gorgeous she looked.

"And did you see the girl she's with—"

"I think it's her daughter."

"No wonder they look so close."

"I wish my daughter treated me like that."

"So do I," Kate murmured too quietly to be heard. She stared at herself in the mirror, seeing a woman who'd done her best to look beautiful for her husband and daughter, only to fade into the wallpaper beside her best friend. She knew it was ridiculous to feel so hurt and excluded. It wasn't her night, after all. Still . . . she'd had such high hopes.

That was her mistake.

She'd pinned her happiness to a teenage girl's chest. Idiot. The realization made her almost smile. She certainly knew better than that. Feeling better, more in control of her silly emotions, she headed back to the party.

CHAPTER THIRTY

Tully shouldn't have drunk so much. She stood on the stage, holding Johnny's hand to keep herself steady. "Thank you all," she said, flashing her smile to the crowd. "The Girlfriend Hour is so successful because of you." She lifted a glass to everyone, and they answered with applause. It occurred to her in a burst that her sentence hadn't been quite right, had maybe made no sense, but since she couldn't remember what she'd said, it was hard to tell.

She turned to Johnny, put her arm around him. "It's our turn to dance."

The band started up; they were playing a slow song. Tully took his hand and led him out to the dance floor. She was still laughing when she recognized the song: "Crazy for You."

Touch me once and you'll know it's true.

It was the song he and Kate had first danced to at their wedding.

Tully tilted her head and looked up at him; suddenly she was remembering what she shouldn't remember: the last time she'd danced in his arms. The song had been "Didn't We Almost Have it All?" and when the dance was over, he'd kissed her. If she'd chosen differently back then, reached for love instead of fame, maybe he would have loved her, given her Marah and a home.

In the pale golden light from the old-fashioned chandelier, he looked as handsome as she'd ever seen him. He had the kind of dark Irish looks that only improved with age. Somehow the way he looked at her, so seriously, reminded her of the old days, when he'd been just a little broken by life, and she'd made him laugh for that one romantic night.

"You always were a good dancer," she said, and as she said it, she felt a little flare of caution go up. She was drunk; she needed to draw away, but it felt so good to be in a man's arms, and it wasn't like anything would happen.

He twirled her easily around and pulled her close again.

The crowd clapped in approval.

"I shouldn't have had so much champagne. I can't follow your lead."

"Following has never been your strong suit."

And with those few words, she remembered all of it again, the details. Memories came crashing through the walls she'd built to contain them. She stopped and looked up at him. "What happened to us?"

"Was there ever an 'us,' Tully, really?" he asked quietly. The way he said it, so easily, so quickly, made her wonder if he'd been wanting to ask the question for years. She couldn't tell if his smile was rueful or indulgent; all she knew was that they were no longer dancing, but he hadn't let her go.

"I wouldn't let there be."

"Kate thinks I never got over you."

Tully knew that, had always known it. Without ever actually talking about their shared past with Johnny, she and Kate had tucked it away in the name of friendship. There in the dark was where it should remain, but as always with Tully, booze and loneliness weakened her, and so, despite her best intentions, she found herself asking, "Did you?"

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