Firefly Lane Page 60


She couldn't help smiling at that. Little Mermaid was this week's favorite movie. That meant they watched it every day if they could.

The front door banged open and Marah was home, looking excited. "You'll never guess what happened to me today."

Johnny put down his paper. "What?"

"Christopher, Jenny, Josh, and I are going to the Tacoma Dome to see Nine Inch Nails. Can you believe it? Josh asked me."

Kate took a deep breath. She'd learned to react slowly with Marah.

"A concert, huh?" Johnny said. "Who are these kids? How old are they?"

"Josh and Chris are juniors. And don't worry, we'll wear our seat belts."

"When is the concert?" he asked.

"Tuesday."

"On a school night? You think you're going on a date, with a junior, to a concert, on a school night." Kate looked at Johnny. "That's wrong on so many levels."

"When does it start?" Johnny asked.

"Nine. We should be home by two o'clock."

Kate couldn't help herself: she laughed. She had no idea how her husband could stay so reasonable. "Should be home by two o'clock? You must be joking, Marah. You're fourteen years old."

"Jenny's fourteen and she gets to go. Daddy?" Marah turned to Johnny. "You have to let me go."

"You're too young," he said. "Sorry."

"I'm not too young. Everyone gets to do stuff like this except me."

Kate's heart went out to Marah. She remembered being in a hurry to grow up, how sharp that need could be in a girl. "I know you think we're too strict, Marah, but sometimes life—"

"Oh, please. Not another lame life-is speech." With a snort, she ran upstairs and slammed her bedroom door shut.

Kate felt a wave of exhaustion so profound she almost sat down. Instead, she looked at her husband. "I'm so glad I came downstairs."

Johnny smiled. It came easily, too. How was it that he could do the same battles with Marah that Kate did, but manage to come out unscathed? And loved? "Your timing with her is always impeccable." He stood up, kissed her. "I love you," he said simply.

She knew it was meant to be a Band-Aid, those words, and she appreciated it.

"I'll go make dinner and then try talking to her. Give her some time to cool down."

He sat back down, returned to his paper. "Call Jenny's mom and tell her she's an idiot."

"I'll leave that to you." She went into the kitchen and started dinner. For almost an hour, she lost herself in slicing vegetables for stir-fry, and making Marah's favorite teriyaki marinade. At six o'clock, she tossed the salad, put the biscuits in the oven, and set the table. Usually that was Marah's job, setting the table, but there was no point in asking for help tonight.

"Okay," she said, coming back into the living room, where Johnny was sprawled on the floor with his boys, building something out of Legos. "I'm going in."

Johnny looked up. "The Kevlar vest is in the coat closet."

In the comforting wake of his laughter, Kate went upstairs. At the closed door to her daughter's room, which sported a yellow KEEP OUT sign, she paused, steeling herself, then knocked.

There was no answer.

"Marah?" she said after a moment. "I know you're upset, but we need to talk about this."

She waited, knocked again, and opened the door.

In the jumble of clothes and books and movies, it took Kate a moment to process what she was seeing.

An empty room.

With an open window.

Just to be sure, she checked everywhere—in the closet, under the bed, behind the chair. She checked the bathroom, too, and the boys' room and even her own. By the time she'd searched the entire upstairs, her heart was pounding so fast she felt light-headed. At the top of the stairs, she held onto the banister for support. "She's gone," she said, hearing the crack in her voice.

Johnny looked up. "Huh?"

"She's gone. I think she climbed out her window and went down the trellis."

He was on his feet in a second. "Son of a bitch."

He ran outside. Kate followed.

They stood beneath her bedroom window, seeing where her weight had broken the white wooden trellis and ripped through the ivy. "Son of a bitch," Johnny said again. "We need to start calling everyone she knows."

Even on a cold night like this, Tully loved being on the deck of her condo. It was a big, stone-tiled space that had been designed to replicate an Italian villa's terrace. Big, leafy trees grew from terra-cotta planters, their branches strung with tiny white lights.

She went to the railing and stared out. From here, she could hear the bump and grind of the city far below and smell the salty air of the Sound. In the distance, beyond the expanse of gray water, she could see the forested outline of Bainbridge Island.

What were the Ryans doing tonight? she wondered. Were they gathered around that big old-fashioned trestle table of theirs, playing board games? Or maybe Marah and Kate were curled up on the couch together, talking about boys. Or maybe she and Johnny had stolen a moment together to kiss—

The phone rang in her apartment. It was just as well. Thinking about Kate's family only made Tully feel more lonely.

She went through the open pocket doors and closed them behind her, then answered the phone. "Hello?"

"Tully?" It was Johnny. His voice was tight, unfamiliar.

She was immediately worried. "What is it?"

"Marah ran away. We don't know when exactly, probably about an hour and fifteen minutes ago. Have you heard from her?"

"No. I haven't. Why did she run away?" Before Johnny could answer, Tully's doorman buzzed her. "Just a second, Johnny. Hold on." She ran to the intercom, pressed it. "What is it, Edmond?"

"There's a Marah Ryan here to see you."

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"Send her up." Tully released the button. "She's here, Johnny."

"Thank God," he said. "She's there, honey. She's fine. We'll be right over, Tully. Don't let her leave."

"Don't worry." Tully hung up the phone and went to the door. As the penthouse unit, hers was the only door on this side of the building, so she opened it and stood there, trying to look surprised when Marah stepped out of the elevator.

"Hey, Aunt Tully, I'm sorry to come here so late."

"This isn't late. Come on in." She stood back, let Marah enter the condo first. As always, she was struck by her goddaughter's remarkable beauty. Like most girls her age, she was too thin, a jangle of points and hollows, but none of that mattered. She was the kind of girl who'd be called coltish until she was thirty; that was when she'd settle into her body like royalty.

Tully went to her. "What happened?"

Marah flopped onto the couch and sighed dramatically. "I got invited to a concert."

Tully sat beside her. "Uh-huh."

"At the Tacoma Dome."

"Uh-huh."

"On a school night." Marah gave her a sideways glance. "The boy who asked me is a junior."

"That's, what, sixteen, seventeen?"

"Seventeen."

Tully nodded. "I went to see Wings in the Kingdome when I was about your age. What's the trauma?"

"My parents think I'm too young."

"They said no?"

"How lame is that? Everyone gets to do stuff like this except me. My mom won't even let me drive with boys who have their license. She still picks me up from school every day."

"Well, sixteen-year-old boys are notoriously bad drivers, and sometimes it's not . . . safe to be alone with them." She thought about that night in the woods, all those years ago. "Your mom is just protecting you."

"But we'll be in a group."

"A group. That's different. Nothing can happen as long as you all stay together."

"I know. I think she's worried about their driving."

"Oh. Well, I could take you guys in a limo."

"You'd do that?"

"Sure. Solves all the problems. Chaperone. Driver. We'll have a blast. I'll make sure no one gets hurt."

Marah sighed. "It won't work."

"Why not?"

"Because my mom is a bitch and I hate her."

That caught Tully off guard, shocked her so much that she couldn't think of what to say. "Marah—"

"I mean it. She treats me as if I'm a child. She doesn't respect my privacy. She tries to pick my friends and tell me what I can do. No makeup, no thongs, no belly ring, no staying out after eleven, no tattoos. I can't wait to get away from her. Believe me, once I graduate, it's sayonara, Mom. I'm going straight to Hollywood to be a star like you."

That last bit flattered Tully so much she almost forgot what had preceded it. She had to force herself back on track. "You're not being fair to your mom. Girls your age are more vulnerable than you think. A long time ago, when I was your age and thought I was invincible, I—"

"You'd let me go to the concert if you were my mom."

"Yes, but—"

"I wish you were my mom."

Tully was surprised by how deeply she felt those words. They found a soft spot inside her. "You two will get past this, Marah. You'll see."

"No, we won't."

For the next hour Tully tried to crack through Marah's anger, but it was a durable shell, impossible to breach. She was stunned by how easily Marah claimed to hate Katie, afraid that these two would never repair their damaged relationship. If there was one thing Tully knew, it was how ruined you could be without a mother's love.

Finally, the intercom buzzed and Edmond's voice came through: "The Ryans, Ms. Hart."

"They know I'm here?" Marah said, popping to her feet.

"It couldn't have been hard to figure out," Tully said, going to the intercom. "Let them up, Edmond. Thanks."

"They're going to kill me," Marah said, pacing, wringing her hands, and all at once she was a child again, gangly and tall and gorgeous, but still a child, scared that she was going to be in trouble.

Johnny was the first to walk through the open door. "Damn it, Marah," he said, "you scared the hell out of us. We didn't know if you'd been kidnapped or run away—" He broke his sentence off, as if he were afraid to say more.

Kate came up behind him.

Tully was stunned at the sight of her friend. She looked tired and sick and smaller somehow, as if she'd just taken a beating.

"Katie?" Tully said, worried.

"Thanks, Tully," she answered, giving her a wan smile.

"Aunt Tully said she'd take us to the concert in her limo," Marah said. "And chaperone us."

"Your aunt is a moron," Johnny snapped. "Her wacko mother dropped her on her head. Now get your stuff. We're going home."

"But—"

"No buts, Marah," Kate said. "Get your things."

Marah put on a real show—sighing, stomping, uttering, whining. Then she gave Tully a fierce hug, whispered, "Thanks for trying," and left the condo with Johnny.

Tully waited for Kate to say something.

"Don't promise her things without asking us, okay?" was all Kate said; her voice was a monotone, not even angry. "It just makes it harder." She turned to leave.

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