Fly Away Page 32


Until 1974, when I moved into the house my grandparents bought as an investment. It was on a little street in the middle of nowhere. Did I know when I moved into a run-down house with my pothead mom that my world had just shifted? No. But from the moment I met Kathleen Scarlett Mularkey, I believed in myself because she believed in me.

Maybe you’re wondering why my memoir begins with my best friend. Maybe you’re speculating that I’m really a lesbian or just plain broken or that I don’t understand what a memoir is.

I’m starting here, at what seems to be the end, because my story is really about our friendship. Once—not long ago—I had a TV show. The Girlfriend Hour. I walked away from it when Katie was losing her battle with cancer.

Apparently, walking away from a TV show without warning is bad. I am now unemployable.

How could I have done it differently, though?

I took so much from Kate and gave too little back. That was my time to be there for her.

At first, when we lost her, I didn’t think I could go on. I was sure somehow that my heart would simply stop beating or my lungs would stop filling up with air.

People aren’t as helpful as you’d think, either. Oh, they’ll roll out the comfort mat when you’ve lost a spouse or a child or a parent, but a best friend is different. You’re supposed to get over that.

“Tully?”

I look up from my laptop. How long have I been working? “Yeah?” I say distractedly, reading over what I’ve done.

“I’m leaving for work now,” Marah says. She is dressed in all black and her makeup is a little heavy. She calls it a uniform for her new job as a barista in Pioneer Square.

I glance at my watch. “It’s seven-thirty.”

“I have the night shift. You know that.”

Do I? Has she told me this before? She only got this job a week ago. Should I have some kind of chart somewhere? That sounds like something a mother would do. She has been gone a lot lately, hanging out with her old high school friends.

“Take a cab home. You need money?”

She smiles. “I’m fine, thanks. How’s the book going?”

“Great. Thanks.”

She comes over and gives me a kiss. As soon as she leaves, I go back to work.

Sixteen

For the rest of the summer, I work seriously on my book. Unlike most memoirs, mine ignores my childhood and begins with my career. I start in the early days at KCPO, with Johnny and Kate, and then drift toward New York and the network. Recording the story of my ambition fuels me, reminds me that I can do anything I set my mind to. When I am not working, Marah and I act like best friends: going to movies and walking downtown and buying school supplies for the UW. She is doing so well that I have stopped worrying obsessively about her.

Until a sunny day in late August of 2008 changes everything.

On that afternoon, I am in the new King County Library, putting together a collection of the many magazine and newspaper articles written about me over the years.

I have planned on being here all day, but when I look up and see the sun shining through the expansive glass windows, I make a snap decision. Enough work for the day. I pack up my pages of notes and my laptop and I walk down the busy Seattle sidewalk toward Pioneer Square.

The Wicked Brew is a small, trendy place that seems loath to spend money on lighting. The interior smells like coffee mixed with incense and clove cigarettes. Kids sit huddled together at rickety tables, sipping coffee and talking quietly. The shop seems unconcerned with modern Seattle’s no-smoking laws. The walls are layered with concert flyers for bands I have never heard of. I am pretty sure I’m the only one not dressed in black.

The kid at the cash register is wearing skinny black jeans and a vintage velvet jacket over a black T-shirt. His earlobes are the size of quarters and hold black hoops within. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for Marah.”

“Huh?”

“Marah Ryan. She’s working today.”

“Dude, no one by that name works here.”

“What?”

“What?” he parrots back at me.

I speak slowly. “I’m looking for Marah Ryan. Tall girl, dark hair. Beautiful.”

“Definitely no one beautiful works here.”

“Are you new?”

“I’ve been here forever, dude, like, half a year. No one named Marah works here. You want a latte?”

Marah has been lying to me all summer.

I spin on my heel and march out of the dingy, little place. By the time I reach my condo, I am fuming mad. I fling open the door and call out for her.

No answer. I look at my watch. It’s 2:12 in the afternoon.

I go to her bedroom door, turn the knob, and go inside.

Marah is in bed with that boy, Paxton. Naked.

An ice-cold wave of pissed off overwhelms me and I shout at him to get off my goddaughter.

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Marah scrambles back, pulls a pillow over her naked breasts. “Tully—”

The boy just lies there, smiling at me as if I owe him something.

“In the living room,” I say. “Now. Dressed.”

I go to the living room to wait for them. Before they get there, I take a Xanax to calm my runaway nerves. I can’t stop pacing. I feel a panic attack forming. What will I tell Johnny?

Like a mama hen, Johnny. You can trust me.

Marah walks in quickly, her hands clasped together, her mouth drawn into a frown. Her brown eyes are wide with worry. I see how much makeup she has on—heavy eyeliner, purplish black lipstick, pale foundation—and I know suddenly that she has been hiding this, too. There is no work uniform. She dresses like a goth when she goes out. She is wearing skinny black jeans and a black mesh top over a black cami. Paxton comes out beside her. He doesn’t move so much as glide forward in his tight black jeans and black Converse tennis shoes. His chest is skinny and bare, so white it’s almost blue. A scripty black tattoo unfurls from his collarbone to his throat.

“Y-you remember Pax,” Marah says.

“Sit down,” I snap.

Marah complies instantly.

Paxton moves closer to me. He really is beautiful up close. There is a sadness in his eyes, amid the defiance, and it is perversely seductive. Marah never had a chance with this kid. How did I not see that? Why did I romanticize it? It was my job to protect her and I failed.

“She’s eighteen,” he says, sitting down beside her.

So that’s how he wants to play it.

“And I love her,” he says quietly.

Marah gives him a look and I realize how deep this trouble runs. Love. I sit slowly, looking at them.

Love.

What in the hell am I supposed to say to that? One thing I know for sure. “I have to tell your dad.”

Marah gasps. Tears flood her eyes. “He’ll make me move back to L.A.”

“Tell him,” Paxton says, taking Marah’s hand. “He can’t do a thing. She’s an adult.”

“An adult with no money and no job,” I point out.

She pulls away from Paxton and comes toward me, kneeling in front of me. “You said my mom fell in love with Dad the first time she saw him.”

“Yes, but—”

“And you had an affair with your professor. When you were my age, and everyone thought it was wrong, but you loved him and it was real.”

I should not have told her so much. If I hadn’t been caught up in my book and seduced by you’re my best friend, I’m sure I wouldn’t have. “Yes, but—”

“I love him, Tully. You’re my best friend. You have to understand.”

I want to tell her she’s wrong, that she can’t love a boy who wears guyliner and tells her what she feels, but what do I know about love? All I can do is try to undo the damage, to protect her. But how?

“Don’t tell my dad. Please. It’s not a lie,” she adds. “Just don’t say anything unless he asks.”

It is a terrible and dangerous bargain I make. I know what will happen if Johnny finds out about this secret, and it will not bode well for me. But if I tell him, I will lose her; it’s that simple. Johnny will blame me and take her away and she will never forgive either one of us.

“Fine,” I say, and I know what I will do: I’ll keep Marah so busy for the next three weeks she won’t have time to see Paxton. Then she will start college and forget all about him. “But only if you promise not to lie to me anymore.”

Marah smiles in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, and I know why. She has been lying to me all this time.

What good is her promise?

* * *

In September, I am Marah’s shadow. I barely work on my book. I am determined to keep her away from Paxton. Making plans—and executing them—takes all my time. The only time we are apart is when we’re sleeping, and I check on her at least once every night and I make sure she knows it. Johnny and the boys move back into the house on Bainbridge Island. He calls three nights a week and asks how she is doing—every time I tell him she is doing well. He pretends not to be hurt that his daughter doesn’t visit and I pretend not to hear the hurt in his voice.

As my warden grip tightens, Marah pulls away from me. Our relationship begins to fray. I can see her chafing at the bit, straining to be free. She has decided I am not cool anymore, that I can’t be trusted, and she withholds conversation as a punishment.

I try to rise above all of it and show her that still I love her. In this cold war atmosphere, my anxiety begins to grow again. I go see a new doctor and get prescriptions. I lie and say I’ve never been on Xanax before. By September twenty-first, I am beside myself with guilt and worry, but I am holding on. I am trying my best to keep my promise to Kate.

When Johnny shows up, ready to take Marah off to college, there is a moment of stunned silence as we stare at each other. I feel sick at the trust he has placed in me and my failure.

“I’m ready,” Marah says at last, breaking the quiet, as she steps toward her dad. She is wearing artfully ripped black jeans, a black long-sleeved T-shirt, and about twenty silver bangles. Too much eyeliner and mascara accentuate her pallor and make her look tired. And scared. I am pretty sure she has powdered her face to look even more pale and gothlike.

I can see that Johnny is about to say the wrong thing—anything about her appearance is the wrong thing lately. Boy, do I know that.

I raise my voice to cover his. “Do you have everything you need?”

“I guess so,” she says. Her shoulders slump, and in a second she turns into a kid again, hesitant and uncertain. My heart goes out to her. Before Katie’s death, Marah was a bold, in-your-face-girl, and now she is someone else completely, vulnerable. Fragile.

“I should have picked a smaller school,” she says, glancing out the window at the sunlit day, chewing on her black fingernail.

“You’re ready,” Johnny says from across the room. “Your mom said you were born ready.”

Marah looks up sharply.

The moment feels charged. I feel Kate’s presence in the air we’re breathing, in the sunlight streaming through the window.

I know I am not alone in this feeling, either. In silence, we leave my condo and get into the car and drive north. I can almost hear Kate’s off-key humming along with the radio.

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