Firefly Lane Page 59


By the time Kate returned to the party, the band had begun to play.

"Crazy for You."

The song always made her smile. At the entrance to the ballroom, she paused, looking around. The dinner tables were emptying out. Lines were forming again at the bar. She saw Marah in the corner, talking to a remarkably skinny girl in a dress that was smaller than a handkerchief.

"Perfect."

Tamping down a flare of irritation, she kept moving. That was when she caught a flash of emerald-green silk and the world seemed to drop away from her.

Tully was on the dance floor, hanging all over Johnny. He held her with an easy familiarity, as if they'd spent a lifetime together. Although they should have been dancing, they were just standing there, a still pair amid the colorful swirl of the other dancers. Tully was looking up at him as if she'd just asked him to take her to bed.

Kate couldn't draw a breath. For a terrible moment, she thought she might be sick.

You were always his second choice.

She knew that; making peace with it over the years was not the same as changing it.

The song ended and Johnny stepped back from Tully. Turning, he saw Kate. Through the jeweled array of gowns, their gazes met. There, in front of anyone who might be watching, she started to cry. Embarrassed, she walked out of the ballroom.

Okay, she ran.

Downstairs, at the elevators, she pushed the button impatiently. "Come on . . . come on . . ." She didn't want anyone to see her crying.

The bell rang and the door opened. She stepped inside, backing up against the wall, and crossed her arms. It took long seconds of impatient waiting to realize she'd forgotten to press a button.

The doors were about to close when a hand pushed through.

"Go away," she said to her husband.

"We were dancing."

"Ha!" Kate pressed the button for their floor, then wiped her eyes.

He stepped inside. "You're being ridiculous."

The elevator whisked them to their floor; doors opened. She walked away from him. "Fuck you," she yelled behind her, finding her key and opening her door. She went into the room, slammed the door shut behind her.

Then she waited.

And waited.

Maybe he went to Tully—

No.

She didn't really believe that. Her husband might carry a torch for Tully, but he was an honorable man, and Tully was her best friend.

That was what she'd somehow forgotten in her jealous snit.

She opened the door, saw him sitting in the hallway, one leg stretched out, his bow tie hanging slack around his throat. "You're still here."

"You have our key. I hope you're going to apologize."

She went to him, knelt beside him. "I'm sorry."

"I can't believe you'd think—"

"I don't."

She took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Dance with me," she said, hating the tiny emphasis she put on me.

"There's no music."

She put her arms around his neck and started to sway her hips, slowly moving closer toward him until his back was to the wall and she was pressing against him.

She unzipped her dress, let it fall to the floor.

Johnny glanced down the hallway. "Katie!" He opened her purse, got the key, and opened the door. They hurried into their room and fell onto the sofa, kissing with a passion that felt both familiar and new.

"I love you," he said, moving his hand down toward her panties. "Try not to forget it, okay?"

She was too breathless to answer, so she nodded and unzipped his pants, shoving the fabric aside. She vowed to herself that she wouldn't let her insecurities run rampant again, wouldn't forget his love.

Two weeks later, Tully stood at the window of her enormous office, staring out. She'd known for ages that something was missing in her life. She'd hoped that moving back to Seattle and starting her own show would somehow fill that empty place inside of her, but she hadn't been so lucky. Now she was simply more famous, endlessly wealthy, and still vaguely dissatisfied.

As always when she was unhappy, she turned to her career for the fix. It had taken her a while to come up with the answer, a course of action that would challenge and fulfill her, but in the end, she'd figured it out.

"You're insane," Johnny said, pacing in front of the window that looked out over Elliott Bay. "Format is king in television. You know that. Our ratings are second only to Oprah, and last year you were nominated for an Emmy. Companies can't line up fast enough to provide giveaways and promos to our audience. These are indicators of success."

"I know," she said, distracted for a moment by her own reflection. In the window glass, she looked thin and worn out. "But I'm not a rule-follower, you know that. I need to shake things up a bit. Mix it around. A live show would do that."

"Why do you need to do this? What more do you want?"

That was the $64,000 question. Why was it that she never had enough? And how could she possibly make Johnny, of all people, understand?

Kate would understand, even if she disagreed, but her best friend was too busy lately to talk much. Maybe that was part of what was wrong. She felt . . . disconnected from Kate. Their lives were on such different paths these days. They'd hardly spoken since the anniversary party. "You're going to have to trust me on this, Johnny."

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"It could turn all Jerry Springer in an instant, and our credibility would be shot to hell." He moved in toward her, frowning slightly. "Talk to me, Tul."

"You couldn't understand," she said, giving him the only truth she knew.

"Try me."

"I need to make a mark."

"Twenty million viewers watch you every day; what's that, nothing?"

"You have Katie and the kids."

She saw when understanding dawned. He gave her the poor-Tully look; no matter how far she ran or high she climbed, that look seemed somehow to follow her. "Oh."

"I need to try this, Johnny. Will you help me?"

"When have I ever let you down?"

"Only when you married my best friend."

He laughed and headed for the door. "One try, Tully. Then we assess. Fair enough?"

"Fair enough."

The deal stayed with her in the weeks that followed. She put her nose to the grindstone and worked like a maniac, giving up her ever-meager pretense of a social life.

Now, finally, the moment of truth had arrived, and she was worried. What if Johnny was right and her brilliant idea degenerated into melodrama?

There was a knock at her office door.

"Come in," she said.

Her assistant, Helen, a recent graduate of Stanford, poked her head in. "Dr. Tillman is here. He's in the green room. I put the McAdams family in the employee lunchroom and Christy is in Ted's office."

"Thanks, Helen," she said distractedly as the door closed.

She'd almost forgotten how this felt, the scary/exhilarating feeling that you might fail. The past years had given her such insulation. Now it was as if she were new again, starting out, trying something only she believed in.

She checked herself in the mirror one last time, pulled the white makeup protector away from her collar, and headed for the studio. Onstage she found Johnny doing about ten things at once, barking out orders.

"You ready?" he asked.

"Honestly? I don't know."

He walked over, talking into his headpiece as he neared. Pulling the mic away from his mouth, he said quietly to her alone, "You'll be great, you know. I trust you."

"Thanks. I needed to hear that."

"Just be yourself. Everyone loves you."

At his signal, the audience began streaming into the studio. Tully ducked backstage and waited for her cue. When the red lights lit up, she walked onstage.

As always, she stood there a moment, smiling, letting the strangers' applause wash through her, fill her to overflowing.

"Today we have a very special show for you. My guest, Dr. Wesley Tillman, is a noted psychiatrist who specializes in addiction recovery and family counseling . . ."

Behind her, a huge screen played a film clip of an overweight man with thinning hair. He was trying not to cry, and losing the battle. "My wife is a good woman, Tallulah. We've been married for twenty years and we have two beautiful children. The problem is . . ." He paused, wiping his eyes. "Booze. It used to be just cocktail hour with friends, but lately. . ."

The clip showed the disintegration of a family in sound and images.

When it ended, Tully turned back to the audience. She could see how moved they were by the piece. Several women already looked close to tears. "Mr. McAdams is like too many of us, living lives of quiet desperation because of a loved one's addiction. He swears that he's tried everything to convince his wife to go into treatment and quit drinking. Today, with Dr. Tillman's help, we're going to try something radical. Mrs. McAdams is backstage, alone, right now. She believes she's won a trip to the Bahamas and is here to collect it. In fact, though, her family—with Dr. Tillman's professional help—is going to confront her about her alcoholism. Our hope is that we can force her to see the truth and seek treatment."

There was a moment of silence in the audience.

Tully held her breath. Go along with me.

Then applause.

It was all Tully could do not to laugh. She glanced over at Johnny, who was standing in the shadows by Camera 1, giving her a boyish grin and a thumbs-up.

This would help her, fill her up. She would genuinely help this family and America would love her for it.

She stepped back to introduce her guests and from that moment on, the show moved forward like a runaway train. Everyone in the room climbed aboard and loved the ride; they clapped, they moaned, they cheered, they cried. Like an expert ringmaster, Tully controlled it all. She was in the zone; no doubt about it. This was as good as she'd ever been on TV.

Winter came all at once that November, settling over the island in a gray and rainy pall. Naked trees shivered in the cold, clung to their blackened, dying leaves as if to let go would mean defeat. Fog rose from the Sound, morning after morning, obscuring the view and changing ordinary noises into muffled, faraway echoes. Ferries honked as they came in and out of port, the sound a mournful dirge in the haze.

It should have provided the perfect setting in which to write a gothic thriller. At least that was what Kate told herself when she began, secretly, to write again.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as she remembered.

She reread what she'd just written, then sighed and hit the delete key, watching the letters blink out of existence one by one until she was left once more with a blank blue screen. She tried to come up with a better way to say it, but only more clichés came to her. The tiny white cursor mocked her, waited.

Finally, she pushed away from her desk and stood up. She was too tired to imagine worlds and people and dramatic events right now. It was time to make dinner anyway.

Lately it seemed that she was always exhausted, and yet, when she went to bed she rarely slept well.

She flicked off the light in Johnny's office, closed up her laptop, and went downstairs.

Johnny looked up from The New York Times. "eBay suck you in again?"

She laughed. "Of course. Were the boys good?"

He leaned forward, tousled their hair. "As long as I sing along with poor unfortunate souls, they're happy as clams."

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