Fly Away Page 3


“I am not ready for this conversation,” he’d said, hating his weakness. He’d seen the disappointment in her gaze.

“I need Tully,” she’d said then, surprising him. His wife and Tully Hart had been best friends for most of their lives—until a fight had torn them apart. They hadn’t spoken for the past two years, and in those years, Kate had faced cancer. Johnny couldn’t forgive Tully, not for the fight itself (which had, of course, been Tully’s fault), or for her absence when Kate needed her most.

“No. After what she did to you?” he’d said bitterly.

Kate had rolled slightly toward him; he could see how much it hurt her to do so. “I need Tully,” she’d said again, softer this time. “She’s been my best friend since eighth grade.”

“I know, but—”

“You have to forgive her, Johnny. If I can, you can.”

“It’s not that easy. She hurt you.”

“And I hurt her. Best friends fight. They lose sight of what matters.” She had sighed. “Believe me, I know what matters now, and I need her.”

“What makes you think she’ll come if you call? It’s been a long time.”

Kate had smiled through her pain. “She’ll come.” She’d touched his face, made him look at her. “You need to take care of her … after.”

“Don’t say that,” he’d whispered.

“She’s not as strong as she pretends to be. You know that. Promise me.”

Johnny closed his eyes. He’d worked so hard in the past few years to move past grief and fashion a new life for his family. He didn’t want to remember that terrible year; but how could he not—especially now?

TullyandKate. They’d been best friends for almost thirty years, and if not for Tully, Johnny wouldn’t have met the love of his life.

From the moment Tully had walked into his run-down office, Johnny had been mesmerized by her. She’d been twenty years old and full of passion and fire. She’d talked herself into a job at the small TV station he’d run then. He’d thought he’d fallen in love with her, but it wasn’t love; it was something else. He’d fallen under her spell. She had been more alive and brighter than anyone he’d ever met. Standing beside her had been like being in sunlight after months of shadow-dwelling. He’d known instantly that she would be famous.

When she’d introduced him to her best friend, Kate Mularkey, who’d seemed paler and quieter, a bit of flotsam riding the crest of Tully’s wave, he’d barely noticed. It wasn’t until years later, when Katie dared to kiss him, that Johnny saw his future in a woman’s eyes. He remembered the first time they’d made love. They’d been young—him thirty, her twenty-five—but only she had been naïve. Is it always like that? she’d asked him quietly.

Love had come to him like that, long before he’d been ready. No, he’d said, unable even then to lie to her. It’s not.

After he and Kate had married, they’d watched Tully’s meteoric rise in journalism from afar, but no matter how separate Kate’s life became from Tully’s, the two women stayed closer than sisters. They’d talked on the phone almost daily and Tully had come to their home for most holidays. When she’d given up on the networks and New York and returned to Seattle to create her own daytime talk show, Tully had begged Johnny to produce the TV show. Those had been good years. Successful years. Until cancer and Kate’s death had torn everything apart.

He couldn’t help remembering now. He closed his eyes and leaned back. He knew when it had begun to unravel.

At Kate’s funeral, almost four years ago. October of 2006. They’d been in the first row of St. Cecilia’s Church, sitting bunched together …

stiff and bleak-eyed, acutely aware of why they were here. They’d been in this church many times over the years, for Midnight Mass at Christmas and for Easter services, but it was different now. Instead of golden, glittery decorations, there were white lilies everywhere. The air in the church was cloyingly sweet.

Johnny sat Marine-straight, his shoulders back. He was supposed to be strong now for his children, their children, her children. It was a promise he’d made to her as she lay dying, but it was already hard to keep. Inside, he was dry as sand. Sixteen-year-old Marah sat equally rigid beside him, her hands folded in her lap. She hadn’t looked at him in hours, maybe in days. He knew he should bridge that divide, force her to connect, but when he looked at her, he lost his nerve. Their combined grief was as deep and dark as the sea. So he sat with his eyes burning, thinking, Don’t cry. Be strong.

He made the mistake of glancing to his left, where a large easel held a poster of Kate. In the picture, she was a young mother, standing on the beach in front of their Bainbridge Island house, her hair windblown, her smile as bright as a beacon in the night, her arms flung wide to welcome the three children running toward her. She had asked him to find that picture for her, one night when they lay in bed together, with their arms around each other. He’d heard the question and knew what it meant. Not yet, he’d murmured into her ear, stroking her bald head.

She hadn’t asked him again.

Of course she hadn’t. Even at the end, she’d been the stronger one, protecting all of them with her optimism.

How many words had she hoarded in her heart so that he wouldn’t be wounded by her fear? How alone had she felt?

God. She had been gone for only two days.

Two days and already he wanted a do-over. He wanted to hold her again, and say, Tell me, baby, what are you afraid of?

Father Michael stepped up to the pulpit, and the congregation—already quiet—grew still.

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“I’m not surprised so many people are here to say goodbye to Kate. She was an important person to so many of us—”

Was.

“You won’t be surprised that she gave me strict orders for this service, and I don’t want to disappoint her. She wanted me to tell you all to hold on to each other. She wanted you to take your sorrow and transform it into the joy that remains with life. She wanted you to remember the sound of her laughter and the love she had for her family. She wanted you to live.” His voice broke. “That was Kathleen Mularkey Ryan. Even at the end, she was thinking of others.”

Marah groaned quietly.

Johnny reached for her hand. She startled at his touch and looked at him, and there it was, that unfathomable grief as she pulled away.

Music started up. It sounded far away at first, or maybe that was the roar of sound in his head. It took him a moment to recognize the song.

“Oh, no,” he said, feeling emotion rise with the music.

The song was “Crazy for You.”

The song they’d danced to at their wedding. He closed his eyes and felt her beside him, slipping into the circle of his arms as the music swept them away. Touch me once and you’ll know it’s true.

Lucas—sweet eight-year-old Lucas, who had begun to have nightmares again and sometimes had a meltdown when he couldn’t find the baby blanket he’d outgrown years ago—tugged on his sleeve. “Mommy said it was okay to cry, Daddy. She made me and Wills promise not to be afraid to cry.”

Johnny hadn’t even realized he was crying. He wiped his eyes and nodded curtly, whispering, “That’s right, little man,” but he couldn’t look at his son. Tears in those eyes would undo him. Instead, he stared straight ahead and zoned out. He turned Father’s words into small brittle things, stones thrown against a brick wall. They clattered and fell, and through it all, he focused on his breathing and tried not to remember his wife. That, he would do in solitude, at night, when there was no one around.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the service ended. He gathered his family close and they went downstairs for the reception. There, as he looked around, feeling both stunned and broken, he saw dozens of unfamiliar or barely familiar faces and it made him understand that Kate had pieces of her life he knew nothing about and it made her feel distant to him. In a way, that hurt even more. At the first possible moment, he herded his children out of the church basement.

The church’s parking lot was full of cars, but that wasn’t what he noticed.

Tully was in the parking lot, with her face tilted up toward the last of the day’s sunlight. She had her arms stretched wide and she was moving, swaying her hips, as if there were music somewhere.

Dancing. She was in the middle of the street, outside the church, dancing.

He said her name so harshly that Marah flinched beside him.

Tully turned, saw them coming toward the car. She tugged the buds out of her ears and moved toward him.

“How was it?” she asked quietly.

He felt a surge of rage and he grabbed hold of it. Anything was better than this bottomless grief. Of course Tully had put herself first. It hurt to go to Kate’s funeral, so Tully didn’t. She stood in the parking lot and danced. Danced.

Some best friend. Kate might be able to forgive Tully her selfishness; it wasn’t so easy for Johnny.

He turned to his family. “Get in the car, everyone.”

“Johnny—” Tully reached for him but he stepped aside. He couldn’t be touched now, not by anyone. “I couldn’t go in,” she said.

“Yeah. Who could?” he said bitterly. He knew instantly that it was a mistake to look at her. Kate’s absence was even more pronounced at Tully’s side. The two women had always been together, laughing, talking, breaking into bad renditions of disco songs.

TullyandKate. For more than thirty years they’d been best friends, and now, when he looked at Tully, it hurt too much to bear. She was the one who should have died. Kate was worth fifteen Tullys.

“People are coming to the house,” he said. “It’s what she wanted. I hope you can make it.”

He heard the sharpness of her indrawn breath and knew he’d hurt her.

“That’s not fair,” she said.

Ignoring that, ignoring her, he herded his family into the SUV and they drove home in an excruciating silence.

Pale late-afternoon sunlight shone down on the caramel-colored Craftsman-style house. The yard was a disaster, forgotten in the year of Katie’s cancer. He parked in the garage and led the way into the house, where the faint scent of illness lingered in the fabric of the drapes and the woolen strands of the carpet.

“What now, Dad?”

He knew without turning who would have asked this question. Lucas, the boy who’d cried at every goldfish’s death and drawn a picture for his dying mother every day; the boy who’d started to cry at school again and had sat quietly at his recent birthday party, unable to even smile as he opened his gifts. He felt everything so keenly, this boy. Especially Lucas, Kate had said on her last, terrible night. He won’t know how to miss me so much. Hold him.

Johnny turned.

Wills and Lucas stood there, standing so close their shoulders were touching. The eight-year-olds had on matching black pants and gray V-neck sweaters. Johnny had forgotten this morning to make either boy take a shower and their shaggy haircuts were unruly, smushed in places from sleep.

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