Firefly Lane Page 72


And then there was the pain. By late July, when the nights began to grow longer and had the sweet sultry taste of a ripe peach, she had nearly doubled her morphine dosage and no one cared. As her doctor said, "Addiction isn't your problem now."

She was a good enough actress that no one seemed to notice how weak she was becoming. Oh, they knew she had to use the wheelchair to get to the beach, and that she often fell asleep well before the nightly movie started, but in these days of summer, the household was in a constant state of flux. Tully had taken over Kate's daytime routine as best she could, which left Kate time to work on her journal. Sometimes, lately, she worried that she wouldn't have time to finish it, and the thought scared her.

The funny thing was that dying didn't. Not so much anymore. Oh, she still had panic attacks when she thought about The End, but even those were becoming less frequent. More and more often, she just thought: Let me rest.

She couldn't say that, though. Even to Tully, who'd listen to her for hours and hours. Whenever Kate brought up the future, Tully flinched and made a smart-ass comment.

Dying was a lonely business.

"Mom?" Marah said quietly, pushing the door open.

Kate forced herself to smile. "Hi, honey. I thought you were going over to Lytle Beach today with the gang."

"I was going to."

"What changed your mind?"

Marah stepped forward. For a moment, Kate was disoriented by the sight of her own daughter; she'd had a growth spurt again. At almost six feet, she was filling out, too, becoming a woman before Kate's eyes. "I need to do something."

"Okay. What is it?"

Marah turned around, looked down the hall, then back to Kate. "Could you come into the living room?"

Kate's desire to say no swelled, almost overtook her, but she said "Of course," and put on her robe, mittens, and knitted cap. Fighting nausea and exhaustion, she got slowly out of bed.

Marah took her by the arm and steadied her, becoming for a moment the mother; she led her into the living room, where, despite the heat of the day, a fire burned in the fireplace. Lucas and William, still in their jammies, sat together on the couch.

"Hi, Mommy," they said at once, flashing their gap-toothed grins.

Marah positioned Kate next to the boys, tucked her robe around her legs, and then sat down on the other side of her.

Kate smiled. "This is like those plays you used to stage when you were little."

Marah nodded and snuggled in close to her. When she looked at Kate, though, she wasn't smiling. "A long time ago," she said in an unsteady voice, "you gave me a special book."

"I gave you lots of books."

"You told me that someday I'd be sad and confused and I'd need it."

Kate wanted to pull away suddenly, distance herself, but she was held in place by her children. "Yes," was all she could say.

"For the last few weeks, I've tried to read it a bunch of times and I couldn't."

"It's okay—"

"And I figured out why. We all need it." She reached over to the end table and picked up the paperback copy of The Hobbit Kate had given her. It felt like a lifetime ago now, the day she'd given this favorite novel to her daughter, passed it on. A lifetime ago, and an instant.

"Yippee!" William said. "Marah's gonna read to us."

Lucas elbowed his brother. "Shut up."

Kate put an arm around her boys and stared at her daughter's earnest, beautiful face. "Okay."

Marah leaned back, settled in close to Kate, and opened the book. Her voice was only a little wobbly at the start, but as the story took hold, she found her strength again. "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit . . ."

August ended too quickly and melted into a lazy September. Kate tried to experience every moment of every day, but even with a positive outlook, there was no way to avoid the ugly truth: she was fading.

She clung to Johnny's arm and concentrated on her walking. One slippered foot in front of the other; keep breathing. She was so tired of being wheeled around in her chair, or carried like a child, but walking was more and more difficult. She had headaches, too; blistering ones that sometimes left her winded and unable to remember the people and things around her.

"Do you need your oxygen?" Johnny asked, bending close to her ear so the kids wouldn't hear.

"I sound like Lance Armstrong during the Tour de France." She tried to smile. "No, thanks."

He got her settled on the deck in her favorite chair and tucked the wool blanket around her. "Are you sure you'll be okay while we're gone?"

"Of course. Marah needs to get to rehearsal and the boys would hate to miss Little League. And Tully will be home any minute."

Johnny laughed. "I don't know. I can produce an entire documentary in the time it takes her to grocery-shop for one meal."

Kate smiled, too. "She is learning a lot of new skills."

After he left, the house behind her settled into an unfamiliar silence. She stared out at the glittering blue Sound and the tiara of a city on the opposite shore, remembering suddenly when she'd lived over there, near the Public Market; a young career girl with shoulder pads and cinch belts and slouch boots. That was when she first saw Johnny and tumbled into love. She still remembered so many of their moments—when he'd first kissed her and called her Katie and said he didn't want to hurt her.

Reaching into the bag at her side, she pulled out her journal and stared down at it, tracing the leather pattern on the cover. It was almost finished now. She'd written it all down, or as much as she could remember, and it had helped her as much as she'd hoped it would someday help her kids.

She opened to the page where she'd left off and began to write.

That's the funny thing about writing your life story. You start out trying to remember dates and times and names. You think it's about facts, your life; that what you'll look back on and remember are the successes and failures, the time line of your youth and middle age, but that isn't it at all.

Love. Family. Laughter. That's what I remember when it's all said and done. For so much of my life I thought I didn't do enough or want enough. I guess I can be forgiven my stupidity. I was young. I want my children to know how proud I am of them, and how proud I am of me. We were everything we needed—you and Daddy and I. I had everything I ever wanted.

Love.

That's what we remember.

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She closed the journal. There was nothing more to say.

Tully came home from the grocery store feeling triumphant. She put the bags on the counter, emptied them one by one, then opened a can of beer and went outside.

"That grocery store is a jungle, Kate. I guess I went down the up lane, or in the out lane, I don't know. You'd have thought I was Public Enemy Number One. I never heard so much honking."

"We at-home moms don't have long to shop."

"I don't know how you did it all. I'm exhausted by ten o'clock every morning."

Kate laughed. "Sit."

"If I roll over and play dead do I get a biscuit?"

Kate handed her her journal. "You get this. First."

Tully drew in a sharp breath. For all of the summer, she'd seen Kate writing on these pages, at first quickly and easily, and gradually more slowly. In the last few weeks, everything had been slow going for her.

She sat down slowly—slumped, actually—unable to say anything past the lump in her throat. She knew it would make her cry, but it would make her soar, too. Reaching out, she held Kate's hand and then opened the journal to the first page.

A sentence jumped out at her.

The first time I saw Tully Hart, I thought: Wow! Look at those boobs.

Tully laughed and kept reading. Page after page.

We're sneaking out?

Of course. Get your bike. And: I'll just shave your eyebrows to give them shape . . . oops . . . that's not good . . .

Your hair is coming out . . . maybe I should read the directions again . . .

Laughing, Tully turned to her. These words, these memories had, for a glorious moment, made everything normal. "How could you be friends with me?"

Kate smiled back. "How could I not?"

Tully felt like an imposter as she slipped into Kate and Johnny's bed. She knew it made sense, her being in this room, but on this night it felt more wrong than usual. Reading the journal had reminded Tully of everything she had with Kate; everything they were losing.

Finally, sometime after three, she fell into a fitful sleep. She dreamed of Firefly Lane, of two girls riding their bikes down Summer Hill at night. The wind smelled of freshly cut hay and the stars were bright.

Look, Katie, no hands.

But Kate wasn't there. Her empty bike clattered down the road, the white plastic streamers fluttering from the ends of the molded plastic grips.

Tully sat up, breathing hard.

Shaking, she got out of bed and put her robe on. Out in the hallway she passed dozens of mementos, photos of this life they'd shared for decades, and two closed bedroom doors. Behind them, the kids were asleep, probably suffering through similar dreams.

Downstairs, she made a cup of tea and went to the deck, where the cool dark air allowed her to breathe again.

"Bad dreams?"

Johnny's voice startled her. He was in one of the Adirondack chairs, looking up at her. In his eyes she saw the same sadness that filled every pore of her skin and cell of her body.

"Hey," she said, sitting in the chair beside his.

A cool breeze came off the Sound, whistling eerily above the familiar whooshing of the waves.

"I don't know how to do this," he said quietly.

"That's the same thing Katie said to me," she said, and just like that, the realization of how similar they were made Tully ache all over again. "It's quite a love story you two have."

He turned to her, and in the pale moonlight she saw the tense line of his jaw, the tightening around his eyes. He was holding it all in, trying so hard to be strong for all of them.

"You don't have to do it with me, you know," she said quietly.

"Do what?"

"Be strong."

The words seemed to release something in him. Tears shone in his eyes; he crumpled forward, saying nothing; silently his shoulders shook.

She reached out and took his hand, held it tightly while he cried.

"For twenty years, every time I turn around, you two are together."

Tully and Johnny both turned.

Kate stood in the open doorway behind them, bundled up in a huge terrycloth robe. Bald and impossibly thin, she looked like a child playing dress-up in her mother's clothes. She'd said things like this to both of them before; they all knew it, but this time she was smiling. She looked somehow both sad and peaceful.

"Katie," Johnny said, his voice raw, his eyes shining. "Don't . . ."

"I love you both," she said, not moving toward them. "You'll comfort each other . . . take care of each other and the kids . . . after I'm gone—"

"Don't," Tully said, starting to cry.

Johnny was on his feet. He gently picked his wife up and kissed her for a long, long time.

"Take her up to your bed, Johnny," Tully said, trying to smile now. "I'll sleep in the guest room."

Johnny carried her upstairs with so much care she couldn't help thinking that she was sick. He put her on her side of the bed. "Turn on the fire."

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