Fly Away Page 13


I lie back, feeling the grass prickling beneath my bare arms, smelling its sweet, familiar scent. Kate does the same. We are together again, both staring up at the same blue sky. How many times in our four years at the UW did we do exactly this? The light around us is magical, as clear and sparkly as champagne glimpsed in sunlight. In its glow I feel so peaceful. My pain is a distant memory here, especially with Kate beside me again.

What happened tonight? she asks, ripping a little of that peace away.

“I can’t remember.” It’s true, strangely. I can’t remember.

You can remember. You don’t want to.

“Maybe there’s a good reason for that.”

Maybe.

“Why are you here, Kate?”

You called for me, remember? I came because you need me. And to remind you.

“Of what?”

Memories are who we are, Tul. In the end, that’s all the luggage you take with you. Love and memories are what last. That’s why your life flashes before your eyes when you die—you’re picking the memories you want. It’s like packing.

“Love and memories? Then I am double-Oreo fucked. I don’t remember anything, and love—”

Listen.

A voice is speaking. “Will she be herself when she wakes up?”

“Hey,” I say. “That’s—”

Johnny. The way she says her husband’s name is full of love and pain.

“… if she wakes up is really the question…” A male voice.

Wait. They are talking about my death. And the chance of something worse—a brain-damaged life. An image flashes through my mind—me, confined to bed, held together by tubes, unable to think or speak or move.

I concentrate hard and I am in the hospital room again.

Johnny is standing by my bed, looking down at me. A stranger in blue scrubs is beside him.

“Is she a spiritual woman?” This from the stranger.

“No. I wouldn’t say so,” Johnny says tiredly. He sounds so sad I want to take his hand, even after all that has happened between us, or maybe because of it.

He sits down by the bed where my body is. “I’m sorry,” he says to the me that can’t hear.

I have waited so long to hear those words from him, but why? I can see now that he loves me. I can see it in his moist eyes, in his shaking hands, in the way he bows his head to pray. He doesn’t pray—I know him better than that; it is defeat, that lowering of his chin to his chest.

He will miss me, even after all of it.

And I will miss him.

“Fight, Tully.”

I want to answer him, to let him know that he has reached me, that I am here, but nothing works. “Open your eyes,” I say to my body. “Open your eyes. Tell him you’re sorry, too.”

And then he starts to sing in a cracked, croaking voice. “Just a small town girl…”

God, I love that man, Kate says.

He is halfway through the song when someone else walks into the room. A beefy man in a cheap brown sport coat and blue slacks. “I’m Detective Gates,” the man says.

I hear the words car accident and images flash through my mind—a rainy night, a concrete stanchion, my hands on the steering wheel. It almost becomes a memory. I can feel it coming together, meaning something, but before I can put it together, I am hit in the chest so hard I fall back against the wall. The pain is crushing, excruciating.

CODEBLUECALLDRBEVAN.

“Kate!” I scream, but she is gone.

The noises are thunderous now, echoing and banging and beeping. I can’t breathe. The pain in my chest is killing me.

ALLCLEAR.

I am thrown into the air like a kid’s rag doll, and up there, I burst into flames. When it’s over, I’m floating again, falling alongside the starlight.

Kate takes my hand in the darkness, and instead of falling, we are flying. We touch down, soft as a butterfly landing, in a pair of worn wooden chairs that face the beach. The world is dark but somehow electrically bright: white, white moon, endless stars, candles flickering in Mason jars from the branches of an old maple tree.

Her back deck. Kate’s.

Here, the pain is an echo, not the beat. Thank God for that.

I hear Kate breathing beside me. In each exhalation I smell lavender and something else, snow, maybe. Johnny fell apart, she says, reminding me of where we were before—talking about my life. I didn’t think he would.

“We all did.” That’s the sad, sorry truth of it. “You were the glue that held us together. Without you…”

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There is a long silence; in it, I wonder if she is remembering her life, her loves. How does it feel to know that people couldn’t handle living without you? How does it feel to know you were loved by so many people?

What happened to you after he moved to Los Angeles?

I sigh. “Can’t I just walk into the damned light and be done with all this?”

You yelled for me, remember? You said you needed me. I’m here. And this is why: you need to remember. This is it. So, talk.

I lean back in the chair, staring up at a votive candle burning within the rounded glass sides of the Mason jar. Rough twine holds the jar in place; an impossible breeze touches it every now and then, splashing light into the dark lower branches of the tree. “After you died, Johnny and the kids moved to Los Angeles. It happened fast, that moving. Your husband just up and decided he was going to Los Angeles, and the next thing I knew, he and the kids were gone. I remember saying goodbye in November of 2006, standing with your mom and dad in the driveway, waving goodbye. After that, I went home and crawled …

into bed. I know I need to go back to work, but I can’t do it. Honestly, the very idea is overwhelming. I can’t summon the strength to begin the process of starting my life over without a best friend. At that, loss weighs me down and I close my eyes. It’s okay to be depressed for a while, who wouldn’t be?

Somehow I lose two weeks. I mean, I don’t really lose them. I know where they are, and where I am. I am like some wounded animal in a darkened lair, nursing the thorn in my paw, unable to find anyone to pull it out. I call Marah every night at eleven o’clock. I know that she can’t sleep, either. I lie in my bed, listening to her complain about her father’s decision to move, and I tell her that it will be okay, but neither of us believes it. I promise to visit soon.

Finally, I can’t stand it anymore. I throw the covers off me and go through my condo, turning on lights and opening containers. Light fills the rooms, and in its glare I see myself for the first time: my hair is tangled and dirty, my eyes are glazed-looking, and my clothes are a wrinkled mess.

I look like my mother. I am ashamed and embarrassed that I have fallen so far and so fast.

It is time to recover.

There it is. My goal. I can’t just lie around missing my best friend and grieving for what is gone. I have to put all of this behind me and go on.

I know how to do that. I’ve been doing it all my life. I call my agent, make an appointment to see him. He is in Los Angeles: I will see my agent, get back to work, and surprise Johnny and the kids with a visit.

Yes. Perfect. A plan.

With an appointment made, I feel better. I take a shower and style my hair with care. I notice that I am gray at the roots.

When did that happen?

Frowning, I try to hide it by pulling my hair back into a ponytail. I apply makeup with a heavy hand. I’m going out into the world, after all, and there are cameras everywhere these days. I dress in the only thing that fits comfortably over my widening hips—a black knit pencil skirt, knee-length boots, and a black silk fitted blouse with an asymmetrical collar.

I do well—I mean, I call my travel agent and make reservations and get dressed, and all the while I am smiling, thinking, I can do this, of course I can—and then I open the door of my condo and I feel a flash of panic. My throat goes dry, my forehead prickles with sweat, my heartbeat speeds up.

I am afraid to leave my house.

I don’t know what in the hell is wrong with me, but I won’t stand for it. I take a deep breath and plunge forward. All the way to the elevator, and down to my car, and into the driver’s seat. I can feel my heart thudding in my chest.

I start the car and drive out into the busy, bustling Seattle street. A heavy rain is falling, clattering drops on my windshield, obscuring my view. Every single second, I want to turn back, but I don’t. I force myself to keep going, until I am on the plane, seated in first class.

“Martini,” I say to the flight attendant. The look on her face reminds me that it is not yet noon. Still, a drink is all I can think of to help get me through this embarrassing episode.

Softened by two martinis, I finally am able to lean back in my seat and close my eyes. I will be better once I am back to work. It has always been my salvation.

In Los Angeles, I see a driver, dressed in black, holding up a sign. HART. I hand him my small calfskin overnight bag and follow him out to a waiting Town Car. On the drive from LAX to Century City, the traffic is bumper-to-bumper. People on these freeways honk constantly, as if it will make a difference, and motorcycles zip dangerously between lanes.

I lean into the cushy seat and close my eyes, taking a moment to collect my thoughts and organize my ideas. Now that I am here, moving forward, taking my life back, I feel a little calmer. Or maybe it is the martinis. Either way, I am ready for my comeback.

The car pulls up to the imposing white building identified only by a discreet carved sign: CREATIVE ARTISTS AGENCY.

Inside, the building is an endless stretch of white marble and glass, like a giant icehouse, and equally as cold. Everyone is dressed well, in expensive suits. Beautiful women and gorgeous men move through what looks like a magazine shoot.

The girl at the front desk doesn’t recognize me. Not even when I say my name.

“Oh,” she says, her gaze disinterested. “Is Mr. Davison expecting you?”

“Yes,” I say, trying to maintain a smile.

“Take a seat, please.”

Honestly, I feel like putting this girl in her place, but I know I need to be careful in the hallowed halls of CAA, so I bite my tongue and take a seat in the modernly decorated waiting room.

Where I wait.

And wait.

At least twenty minutes after my scheduled appointment time, a young man in an Italian suit comes for me. Wordlessly, like a drone, he leads me up to the third floor and into a corner office.

My agent, George Davison, is seated behind a huge desk. He stands at my entrance. We hug, a little awkwardly, and I step back.

“Well. Well,” he says, indicating a chair for me.

I sit down. “You look good,” I say.

He glances at me. I see the way he notices my weight gain, and my ponytail doesn’t fool him. He sees the gray in my hair. I shift uncomfortably in my seat.

“Your call surprised me,” he says.

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“Six months. I left at least a dozen messages for you. None of which were returned.”

“You know what happened, George. I found out that my best friend had cancer. I wanted to be with her.”

“And now?”

“She died.” It’s the first time I’ve said it out loud.

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