Fly Away Page 16


“I’m forty-six—I’ll lead with that, although I don’t like to. Unfortunately, you can get my entire life story off of Wikipedia, so there’s no point in my lying. I have a degree in journalism from the UW. I worked my way up the network news ranks and became famous. I started a successful talk show, The Girlfriend Hour. Work has been my life, but … a few months ago, I learned that my best friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I walked away from my career to be with her. Apparently this is an unforgivable breach and I am now a cautionary tale instead of a shining star. I have never been married and have no children and my only living relative—my mother—calls herself Cloud. That pretty much sums her up.”

“You didn’t say anything about love,” he says quietly.

“No. I didn’t.”

“Never?”

“Once,” I say. Then, more softly. “Maybe. It was a lifetime ago.”

“And…”

“I picked my career.”

“Hmmm.”

“Hmmm, what?”

“This is just a first for me, that’s all.”

“A first. How?”

“Your story is sadder than mine.”

I don’t like the way he’s looking at me, as if I am somehow vulnerable. I toss back the rest of my martini and get to my feet. Whatever he is going to say next, I don’t want to hear. “Thanks for the dating matrix,” I say. “’Bye, Dr. Granola.”

“Desmond,” I hear him say, but I am already moving away from him, heading for the door.

At home, I take two Ambien, and crawl into bed.

* * *

I don’t like what I’m hearing. Xanax. Ambien, Kate says, interrupting my story.

That’s the thing about your best friend. She knows you. Inside and out, down to the studs, as they say. Even worse, you see your own life through her eyes. It has always been true: Kate’s is the voice in my head. My Jiminy Cricket.

“Yeah,” I say. “I made a few mistakes. The worst wasn’t the meds, though.”

What was the worst?

I whisper her daughter’s name.

September 3, 2010

8:10 A.M.

Time slowed to a crawl in hospitals. Johnny sat in the uncomfortable chair, tucked in close to Tully’s bed.

He pulled the cell phone out of his pocket and stared down at it. Finally he pulled up his contact list and called Margie and Bud. They lived in Arizona now, near Margie’s widowed sister, Georgia.

Margie answered on the third ring, sounding a little out of breath. “Johnny!” she said, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “How good to hear from you.”

“Hey, Margie.”

There was a pause, then: “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Tully. She’s been in a car accident. I don’t have all the details, but she’s here in Sacred Heart.” He paused. “It’s bad, Margie. She’s in a coma—”

“We’ll be on the next flight out. I’ll send Bud straight to Bainbridge to be with the boys when they get home from school.”

“Thanks, Margie. Do you know how to reach her mother?”

“No worries. I’ll get ahold of Dorothy. Does Marah know yet?”

He sighed at the very thought of calling his daughter. “Not yet. Honestly, I have no idea if I’ll be able to get ahold of her. Or if she’ll care.”

“Call her,” Margie said gently.

Johnny said goodbye and disconnected the call. He closed his eyes for a moment, readying himself. The edge his daughter lived in these days was narrow; a whisper could push her off.

Beside him, a machine beeped steadily, reminding him with every chirp that it was keeping Tully alive, breathing for her, giving her a chance.

A chance that Dr. Bevan reported was not good.

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He didn’t need the doctor’s report to know that. He could see how gray she was, how broken and fragile.

Reluctantly, he pulled up his contact list again and made another call.

Marah.

Eight

September 3, 2010

10:17 A.M.

The Dark Magick Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, prided itself on an ambience created by dim lighting, burning incense, and black curtains. Used books were crowded together on dusty shelves; there were sections devoted to subjects like spiritual healing, Wiccan practices, pagan rituals, and meditation. There was no doubt to even the most casual observer that this was a store that wanted to be spooky and spiritual at the same time. The only problem was shoplifters. In the muddy lighting and smoke-filled air, it was tough to keep track of the merchandise. Too much of it left in pockets and backpacks.

Marah Ryan had told her boss this on several occasions, but the woman refused to be bothered with worldly concerns.

So Marah let it go. It wasn’t as if she really cared, anyway. This was just another stupid job in a long line of stupid jobs she’d had in the two years since she graduated from high school. The only good thing about it was that no one hassled her for the way she looked. Oh, and usually the hours were good. But this week was inventory, so Marah had had to come in super early, which blew as far as she was concerned, especially because she just counted items that never sold anyway. Most stores took inventory after work. Not the Dark Magick. Here, they did inventory in the predawn hours. Why? Marah had no fricking clue.

Now, as she stood in the Voodoo section, counting and recording black skull candles, she toyed with the idea of quitting this dead-end job, but the idea of looking for work again, of moving on, depressed her.

Then again, everything depressed her. She wasn’t supposed to look to the future; she was supposed to accept the present. That was what the shrink had told her years ago, the shark-eyed woman in a plaid suit who’d lied to Marah about almost everything. Dr. Harriet Bloom.

Time heals all wounds.

It will get better.

Give yourself permission to grieve.

Whatever you feel is okay.

Horseshit piled upon horseshit. It did no good to look away from the pain in your soul. Quite the opposite was true.

Examination was the only solace. Instead of looking away from heartache, you needed to crawl inside of it, wear it like a warm coat on a cold day. There was peace in loss, beauty in death, freedom in regret. She had learned that the hard way.

She finished counting the skull candles and left her tally sheet in the bookcase. She was pretty sure she’d forget where it was, but who cared? It was time for her break. Well, she was early, but rules like that didn’t matter around here.

“I’m going to lunch, Star,” she called out.

From somewhere, she heard, “All right. Tell the coven I said hello.”

Marah rolled her eyes. No matter how often she told her boss that she wasn’t a witch and that her friends weren’t a coven, Starla never believed her. “What-ever,” she said, and walked through the shadowy bookstore to the cash register, where she retrieved her phone from the drawerful of junk. One of the few enforced store rules was no cell phones at work. Starla said that nothing broke a buying spell like a chirping phone.

Marah grabbed her phone and walked out of the store. As the door opened, a cat’s screech sounded—the store’s version of a welcome bell. Ignoring it, she stepped out into the light. Literally.

A text notice blipped on her phone. She looked down at it. Her dad had called four times in the last two hours.

Marah shoved her phone in her back pocket and started walking.

It was a gorgeous September day in downtown Portland. Sunlight bathed this historic section of the city, made the squatty brick buildings look well kept. She tucked her chin in close. She’d learned a long time ago not to make eye contact with “normal” people when she walked. They dismissed kids like her in a sour glance. There weren’t really “normal” people anyway. Most were like her on the inside, fruit slowly going bad.

As she walked toward her apartment, the view degenerated around her. Only a few blocks in, the city became uglier, darker. Garbage collected in gutters and posters for lost kids were hammered onto wooden poles and taped in dirty windows. In the park across the street, homeless teens slept beneath trees, in faded sleeping bags, their dogs beside them. In this part of town, you couldn’t go five feet without a homeless kid begging you for money.

Not that they asked her.

“Hey, Marah,” some kid in all black said. He was sitting in a doorway, smoking a cigarette, feeding M&M’s to a scrawny Doberman.

“Hey, Adam.” She went a few more blocks and paused, glancing left to right.

No one was watching her. She stepped up the concrete riser and went into the Light of God Mission.

The quiet was unnerving, given the number of people in the place. Marah kept her gaze down, moved through the maze of check-in, and went into the main space.

Homeless people sat together on long benches, their arms coiled protectively around the yellow plastic food trays in front of them. There were rows and rows of people seated at Formica tables, dressed in layers, even on this nice day. Knit caps, most sporting holes, covered dirty hair.

There were more young people in here than usual. Must be the economy. Marah felt sorry for them. At twenty, she already knew about carrying everything you owned into a gas station bathroom because, even as little as it was, it was all you had.

She got into the slow-moving line, listening idly to the shuffle of feet around her.

The breakfast they served her was a watery oatmeal, with a piece of dry toast. As tasteless as it was, it filled her up and she was grateful for it. Her roommates hated it when she came here. Paxton called it takin’ from The Man—but she was hungry. Sometimes you had to choose between food and rent; especially lately. She took her empty bowl and spoon to the window, where she set it in the gray rubber bin that was already overflowing with dirty bowls and spoons—no knives—and cups.

She hurried out of the mission and turned onto the street. Climbing the hill slowly, she went to the sagging old brick building with the cracked windows and lopsided stoop. Dirty sheets hung as drapes in several of the windows.

Home.

Marah picked her way around an overflowing garbage can and past a motley-looking cat. Inside, it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the gloom. The bulb in the hallway’s light fixture had gone out two months ago and no one had the money to replace it. The so-called super couldn’t care less.

She climbed four flights of stairs. On the front door of the apartment, half of an eviction notice hung from a rusty nail. She ripped the rest of it away and tossed it to the floor, and then opened the door. The small studio apartment, with its sloping, water-damaged floors and putty-colored walls, was thick with smoke and smelled of marijuana and clove cigarettes. Her roommates sat in mismatched chairs and on the floor, most of them sprawled comfortably. Leif was strumming his guitar in a half-assed, high kind of way, and dreadlocked Sabrina was smoking dope from a bong. The boy who called himself Mouse was asleep on a mound of sleeping bags. Paxton sat in the La-Z-Boy chair she’d rescued from the trash near her work.

As usual, he was dressed all in black—skinny jeans, unlaced antique-looking boots, and a ripped Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. The pallor of his skin was emphasized by shoulder-length blue-streaked black hair and whiskey-colored eyes.

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