Firefly Lane Page 63

"This is exciting," Kate said, sitting in front of the giant mirror. The makeup artist—a woman named Dora—immediately went to work on Kate's face.

Marah sat in the chair beside her. Another makeup artist went to work on her.

Kate stared into the mirror. In no time, a stranger emerged beside her: the woman Marah would someday become. In her daughter's made-up face, she saw the future, recognized a truth that had until now been hidden from her beneath the pretty gauze of childhood. Soon Marah would be dating, and then driving, and then going off to college.

"I love you, Munchkin," she said, purposely using the nickname that had gone out of fashion with Winnie-the-Pooh lunch boxes and Tickle Me Elmo. "Remember when we used to dance to those old Linda Ronstadt songs?"

Marah looked at her. For a second—just that—they were Mommy and Munchkin again, and though it didn't last, couldn't last in the hurricane of the teen years, it filled Kate with hope that after today they'd come together again, be as inseparable as they'd once been.

Marah looked poised to say something, then she smiled instead. "I remember."

Kate wanted to hug her daughter, but that would never have the desired effect. Physical contact, she had learned, was the surest way to put distance between them.

"Kathleen and Marah Ryan?"

She twisted around in her chair, saw a young, pretty woman with a clipboard standing behind her. "We're ready for you."

Kate reached out for Marah, who was excited enough to take her hand. They followed the woman up to the greenroom, where they were put to wait.

"There's water in that fridge, and feel free to eat anything in that basket," the woman said. Then she handed Kate a lapel microphone and the corresponding pack that attached to her waistband. "Tallulah said you'd know how to work this?"

"It's been a while, but I think I can still manage. I'll show Marah. Thanks."

"Great. I'll come and get you when it's time. As you know, we're live today, but don't let that worry you. Just be yourself."

And then she was gone.

This was really happening. It meant so much to her, this chance to reconnect with her daughter.

An instant later there was a knock on the door.

"We're ready for you, Kathleen," the woman said. "Marah, stay here. We'll come for you in a minute."

Kate headed for the door.

"Mom!" Marah said sharply, as if she'd just remembered something important. "I need to tell you something."

Kate looked back, smiling. "Don't worry, honey. We'll be great." Then she followed the woman down the busy corridor. Through the walls she could hear applause, even a smattering of laughter.

At the edge of the stage, the woman paused. "When you hear your name, you'll walk out."

Breathe.

Suck in your stomach. Stand up straight.

She heard Tully say, "And now I'd like you all to meet my good friend Kathleen Ryan . . ."

Kate stumbled around the corner and found herself standing beneath the bright glare of the stage lights. It was so disorienting that it took her a second to process her surroundings.

There was Tully, standing center stage, smiling at her.

Behind her was Dr. Tillman, the psychiatrist who specialized in family counseling.

Tully swept over to her side, took her arm. Beneath the swell of applause, she said, "We're live, Katie, so just roll with it."

Kate glanced over at the screen behind them. There was a huge image of two women shouting at each other. Then she looked at the audience.

Johnny and her parents were in the front row.

Tully faced them. "Today we're talking about overprotective mothers and the teenage daughters who hate them. Our goal is to get a dialogue going, to break up the logjam of communication that comes with adolescence and get these two talking again."

Kate actually felt the blood drain from her face. "What?"

Behind her, Dr. Tillman moved from his place in the shadows to a chair onstage. "Some mothers, especially the controlling, domineering type, actually damage their children's fragile psyches without ever really seeing what they're doing. Children can be like flowers, trying to blossom in too small a space. They need to break out, make their own mistakes. We don't help them by wrapping them in rules and rigid expectations and pretending that we can keep them safe."

The full impact of what was happening hit Kate.

They were calling her a bad mother, on national television, with her family right here.

She wrenched her arm away from Tully. "What are you doing?"

"You need help," Tully said, sounding reasonable and just a little sad. "You and Marah both do. I'm scared for you. So is your husband. He begged me to help. Marah wants to confront you about it, but she's afraid."

Marah walked onstage, smiling brightly at the audience.

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Kate felt the start of tears, and the vulnerability fueled her anger. "I can't believe you'd do this to me."

Dr. Tillman came forward. "Come on, Kathleen, Tully is being your friend here. You're crushing your daughter's tender spirit. Tully just wants you to address your parenting style—"

"She's going to help me be a better mother?" She turned to Tully. "You?" Then she looked at the audience. "You're taking advice from a woman who doesn't know the first thing about love or family or the hard choices women have to make. The only person Tully Hart ever loved is herself."

"Katie," Tully said in a low, warning voice. "We're live."

"That's all you care about, isn't it? Your ratings. Well, I hope they keep you warm when you're old, because you won't have anything or anyone else. What the hell do you know about motherhood or love?" Kate stared at her, feeling sick enough that she thought she might throw up. "Your own mother didn't love you. And you'd sell your soul for fame. Hell, you just did." She turned back to the audience. "There's your icon, folks. A woman so fucking warm and caring that she's probably never told a single human being she loved them."

Kate wrenched off her microphone and power pack and threw them on the floor. As she stormed offstage, she snagged Marah's arm and pulled her along.

Backstage, Johnny rushed at her, took her in his arms, and held her tightly, but even his body heat couldn't reach her. Her parents and the boys ran up behind him, creating a circle around Kate and her daughter. "I'm sorry, honey," he said. "I didn't know . . ."

"I can't believe Tully would do that," Mom said. "She must have thought—"

"Don't," Kate said sharply, wiping her eyes. "I don't care what she thought or wanted or believed. Not anymore."

Tully ran out into the hallway, but Kate was gone.

She stood there too long, then turned and went back onstage, where she stared at a sea of unfamiliar faces. She tried to smile, she really did, but for once her cast-iron will failed her. She heard the quiet murmuring of the crowd; it was the sound of sympathy. Behind her, Dr. Tillman was talking, filling the void with words she could neither follow nor understand. She realized that he was keeping the show going since they were live.

"I just wanted to help her," she said to the audience, interrupting him. She sat down on the edge of the stage. "Did I do something wrong?"

Their applause was loud and went on and on, their approval as unconditional as their presence. It should have filled up the empty places in her, that had always been their role, but now the applause didn't help.

Somehow she made it through the rest of the broadcast.

Finally, though, she was as alone onstage as she felt. The audience had filed out and her employees had all left. None had had the courage to even speak to her on the way out. She knew they were angry at her for ambushing Johnny, too.

As if from a great distance, she heard footsteps. Someone was coming toward her.

Dully, she looked up.

Johnny stood there. "How could you do that to her? She trusted you. We trusted you."

"I was just trying to help her. You told me she was falling apart. Dr. Tillman told me that drastic situations call for drastic measures. He said suicide was—"

"I quit," he said.

"But . . . tell her to call me. I'll explain."

"I wouldn't count on hearing from her."

"What do you mean? We've been friends for thirty years."

Johnny gave her a look so cold she began to shake. "I think that ended today."

Pale morning light came through the windows, brightening the white-painted sills. Outside, seagulls cawed and dove through the air; the sound, combined with the waves slapping against the shore, meant that the ferry was chugging past their house.

Ordinarily, Kate loved these morning noises. Even though she'd lived on this beach for years now, she still loved to watch the ferries pass by, especially at night when they were lit like floating jewel boxes.

Today, though, she didn't even smile. She sat in bed, with a book open in her lap so that her husband would leave her alone. As she stared at the pages, the type blurred and danced like black dots on the creamy paper. Yesterday's fiasco kept playing in her mind, over and over. She saw it from a dozen angles. The title: Overprotective mothers and the teenage daughters who hate them.

Hate them.

Crushing your daughter's tender spirit . . .

And Dr. Tillman, coming toward her, saying she was a terrible parent; her mother in the front row, starting to cry; Johnny jumping from his seat, shouting something to a cameraman that Kate couldn't hear.

She still felt shell-shocked by all of it, numb. Beneath the numbness, though, was a raw and terrible anger that was unlike anything she'd felt before. She had so little experience with genuine anger that it scared her. She actually worried that if she started screaming, she'd never stop. So she kept the lid on her emotions and sat quietly.

She kept glancing at the phone, expecting Tully to call.

"I'll hang up," she said. And she would. She was actually looking forward to it. For all the years of the friendship, Tully had pulled shit like this (well, nothing really like this), and it had fallen to Kate to apologize, whether it was her fault or not. Tully never said she was sorry; she just waited for Kate to smooth things over.

Not this time.

This time Kate was so hurt and angry, she didn't care if they stayed friends or not. If they were to get back together, Tully was going to have to work for it.

I'll hang up a lot of times.

She sighed, wishing the thought made her feel better, but it didn't. She felt . . . broken by yesterday.

There was a knock at her door. It could be any member of her family. Last night they'd circled the wagons around her, treating her like a breakable princess, protecting her. Mom and Dad had spent the night; Kate thought her mom was on suicide watch, that was how overbearing she was. Dad kept patting her shoulder and saying how pretty she was, and the boys, who didn't know exactly what was wrong but sensed that it was big, hung on her constantly. Only Marah stood back from the drama, watching it all from a distance.

"Come in," Kate said, sitting up taller, trying to look more durable than she felt.

Marah walked into the room. Dressed for school in low-rise jeans, pink UGG boots, and a gray hoodie sweatshirt, she tried to smile, but it was a failure. "Grandma said I had to talk to you."

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