Firefly Lane Page 67


Across the black and turbulent Sound, the phone rang.

And rang.

When the answering machine clicked on, she tried to marshal her need into something as small and ordinary as words. "Hey, Tul. It's me, Kate. I can't believe you haven't called to apologize to me—"

Thunder echoed across the sky; lightning flashed in staccato bursts. She heard a click. "Tully? Are you listening to this? Tully?"

There was no answer.

Kate sighed and went on. "I need you, Tully. Call me on my cell."

Suddenly the power went out, taking the phone connection with it. A busy signal bleated in her ear.

Kate tried not to take it as a sign. Instead, she went back inside and lit a candle in the living room. Then, on this day of her surgery, she did one special thing for each member of her family, a little reminder that she was here. For William she found the DVD of Monsters, Inc. that he'd misplaced. For Lucas she put together a sack full of his favorite snacks for the waiting room. She charged Marah's cell phone and put it by her bed, knowing how adrift her daughter would feel today if she couldn't call her friends. Finally, she found every set of keys in the house, tagged them, and set them on the counter for Johnny. He lost them almost daily.

When she couldn't think of anything else to do for her family, she went to the window and watched the storm die. Slowly, the dewy world lightened. Charcoal clouds turned to a gorgeous pearlized pink. Seattle looked shiny and new, huddled as it was beneath the rising sun.

A few hours later, her family began to gather around her. The whole time they were together, having breakfast and packing their things into the car, she found herself glancing at the phone, expecting it to ring.

Six weeks later, when they'd taken both her breasts and poured poison into her blood and irradiated her flesh until it looked raw and burned, she was still waiting for Tully to call.

On January second, Tully came home to a cold, empty apartment.

"Story of my life," she said bitterly, tipping the doorman, who carried her bulky designer suitcases into the bedroom.

When he left, she stood there, uncertain of what to do. It was nine o'clock on a Monday night, and most people were home with their families. Tomorrow, she'd go back to work and be able to lose herself in the daily routine of the empire she'd created. In no time at all she'd let go of the images that haunted her during the holidays, had even followed her to the ends of the earth last month. Literally. She'd spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's in the frozen south, huddled around their heat source, singing songs and drinking wine. To the naked eye, and the ever-present camera, it had looked like a good time.

But too often when she'd crawled into her down sleeping bag, wearing her hat and mittens, and tried to sleep, she heard the old songs banging around in her head, making her cry. More than once she'd wakened with ice on her cheeks.

She tossed her purse on the sofa and glanced at the clock, noticing that the red numbers were flashing 5:55. The power must have gone out while she was gone.

She poured herself a glass of wine, got out a piece of paper and a pen, then sat down at her desk. The numbers on the answering machine were flashing, too.

"Great." Now she'd have no idea who had tried to call her after the outage. She hit the replay button and began the slow, arduous task of going through her messages. Halfway through, she made a note to speak to her assistant about voice mail.

She was barely paying attention when Kate's voice roused her.

"Hey, Tul. It's me. Kate."

Tully sat up sharply and hit the rewind button.

"Hey, Tul. It's me. Kate. I can't believe you haven't called to apologize to me."

A loud Click. Then: "Tully? Are you listening to this? Tully?" and then another click followed by a loud busy signal. Kate had hung up.

That was all there was. It was over. There were no more messages on the machine.

Tully felt a disappointment so sharp it actually made her flinch. She played and replayed the message until all she could hear was the accusation in Kate's voice.

That wasn't the Kate she remembered, the girl who'd promised all those years ago to be friends forever. That girl would never have called to taunt Tully like this, to berate her and then hang up.

I can't believe you haven't called to apologize to me.

Tully stood up, trying to distance herself from this voice that had invaded her home, tricked her into hoping. She hit the erase all button and backed away.

"I can't believe you haven't called me," she said to her empty apartment, trying not to notice how thick her voice sounded.

She went to her purse and burrowed through the mess inside for her cell phone. Finding it, she scrolled through her huge contact list for a name she'd added only a few months ago, and hit send.

When Thomas answered, she tried to sound flirty and light, but it was hard to pretend; a weight seemed to be sitting on her chest, making it hard to breathe. "Hey, Tom I just got back from the icy beyond. What are you doing tonight? Nothing? That's great. How about getting together?"

It was pathetic how desperate she suddenly felt. But she couldn't be alone tonight, couldn't even sleep in her own apartment.

"I'll meet you at Kells. Say, nine-thirty?"

Before he even said, "It's a date," she was on her way.

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Two thousand six saw The Girlfriend Hour rise even higher in the ratings. Week after week, month after month, Tully created magic with her selection of guests and her rapport with the audience. She had definitely reached the top of her game and seized control of the board. No longer did she let herself think about what she didn't have in her life. Just as she'd done at six and ten and fourteen, she boxed all that negative stuff up and put it in the shadow box.

She went on. It was what she'd always done in her life when disappointment set in. She tucked her chin, squared her shoulders, and set a new goal for herself. This year, she was starting a magazine. Next year it would be a retreat for women. After that, who knew?

Now she sat in her newly decorated office in a corner of the building that didn't face Bainbridge Island, talking to her secretary on the phone. "Are you kidding me? He's canceling the show, forty minutes before we're scheduled to start taping? I have a studio full of people waiting to see him." She slammed the phone back onto the hook, then hit the intercom. "Get Ted in here."

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door and her producer walked into her office. His cheeks were pink from exertion and he was breathing hard. "You wanted to see me?"

"Jack just canceled."

"Now?" Ted glanced at his watch. "Son of a bitch. I hope you told him the next time he has a movie out he can pitch it on the radio."

Tully flipped open her calendar. "It's June first, right? Call Nordstrom and the Gene Juarez Spa. We'll do mothers' makeovers for summer. Give away a bunch of clothes and stuff. It'll suck, but it's better than nothing."

From the moment Ted left her office, the whole team was in high gear. People were tracking down new guests, calling the various spa and department store contacts, and keeping the studio audience entertained. The adrenaline was so high that everyone, including Tully, worked at supersonic speed, and the taping of the new segment began only one hour late. Judging by the audience's applause, it was a rousing success.

After the show, as always, Tully stayed around and talked with her fans. She posed for photographs and signed autographs and listened to one story after another about how she'd changed someone's life. It was her favorite hour of any day.

She had just returned to her office when her intercom buzzed. "Tallulah? There's a Kate Ryan on line one."

Tully's heart missed a beat; the hope she felt pissed her off. She stood at the corner of her huge desk and pushed the intercom button. "Ask her what she wants."

A moment later, her secretary was back on the line. "Ms. Ryan says you need to pick up the phone and find out for yourself."

"Tell her to go fuck herself." Tully wished she could take the words back as soon as she'd said them, but she didn't know how to bend now. During their long estrangement, she'd had to stay angry just to get by. Otherwise the loneliness would have been unbearable.

"Ms. Ryan says, and I quote: 'Tell that bitch to get her designer-clad ass out of her ridiculously expensive leather chair and come to the phone.' She also says that if you ignore her on this of all days she's selling those pictures of you with a bad perm to the tabloids."

Tully almost smiled. How could two sentences peel back so many years and blast through the sediment of so many bad choices?

She picked up the phone. "You're the bitch, and I'm pissed at you."

"Of course you are, you narcissist, and I'm not apologizing, but that doesn't matter anymore."

"It matters. You should have called long before—"

"I'm in the hospital, Tully. Sacred Heart. Fourth floor," Kate said. Then she hung up.

"Hurry up," Tully said to her driver for at least the fifth time in as many blocks.

When the car pulled up in front of the hospital, she got out and ran for the glass doors, pausing for a moment while the sensors engaged. The second she stepped inside, people swarmed around her. Usually she factored what she called fan maintenance into her schedule—thirty minutes at every location to meet and greet—but now she didn't have time. She pushed through the crowd and went to the front desk. "I'm here to see Kathleen Ryan."

The receptionist stared up at her in awe. "You're Tallulah Hart."

"Yes, I am. Kathleen Ryan's room, please."

The receptionist nodded. "Oh. Right." She glanced at her computer screen, entered a few keys, and said, "Four-ten East."

"Thanks." Tully headed for the elevators, but noticed that she was being followed. Her fans would nonchalantly enter the elevator with her. The brave ones would initiate conversation between floors. The weirdos might follow her out.

She took the stairs instead, thankful by the third flight that she attended daily aerobics classes and worked with a personal trainer. Still, she was out of breath when she reached the fourth floor.

Just down the hall, she found a small waiting area. The television was turned on to her show—a rerun from two years ago.

She knew the moment she stepped into the small room that it was Bad, this thing with Kate.

Johnny sat there, in an ugly blue love seat, with Lucas curled up beside him. With one son's head in his lap, Johnny was reading to the other.

Marah was in a chair beside William, with her eyes closed, listening to an iPod through tiny headphones. She moved to the beat of music only she could hear. The boys were so big; it was a painful reminder of how long Tully had been apart from them.

Beside Marah, Mrs. Mularkey sat, staring intently at her knitting. Sean was beside his mother, talking on his cell phone. Georgia and Ralph were watching TV in the corner.

By the looks of it, they'd been here a long time.

It took a huge act of will to step forward. "Hey, Johnny."

At the sound of her voice, they all looked up, but no one said anything and suddenly Tully remembered the last time they'd all been together.

"Kate called me," she explained.

Johnny eased out from under his sleeping son and stood up. There was only a beat of awkwardness, a clumsy pause, before he took her in his arms. She could tell by the ferocity of his embrace that it was more to comfort himself than her. She clung to him, trying not to be afraid. "Tell me," she said, more harshly than she intended, when he let go of her and stepped back.

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