Fly Away Page 5


“Yeah. Sure we can,” Marah said with a sigh. Then: “Come on, boys, let’s get ready for bed.”

Johnny knew he should stay, comfort Marah, but he had no words.

Instead, he took the coward’s route and left the room, closing the door behind him.

He went downstairs, and ignoring everyone, pushed through the crowd. He grabbed his coat from the laundry room and went outside.

It was full-on night now, and there wasn’t a star in the sky. A thin layer of clouds obscured them. A cool breeze ruffled through the trees on his property line, made the skirtlike boughs dance.

In the tree limbs overhead, Mason jars hung from strands of ropy twine, their insides full of black stones and votive candles. How many nights had he and Kate sat out here beneath a tiara of candlelight, listening to the waves hitting their beach and talking about their dreams?

He grabbed the porch rail to steady himself.

“Hey.”

Her voice surprised and irritated him. He wanted to be alone.

“You left me dancing all by myself,” Tully said, coming up beside him. She had a blue wool blanket wrapped around her; its end dragged on the ground at her bare feet.

“It must be intermission,” he said, turning to her.

“What do you mean?”

He could smell tequila on her breath and wondered how drunk she was. “The Tully Hart center-of-attention show. It must be intermission.”

“Kate asked me to make tonight fun,” she said, drawing back. She was shaking.

“I can’t believe you didn’t come to her funeral,” he said. “It would have broken her heart.”

“She knew I wouldn’t come. She even—”

“And that makes it okay? Don’t you think Marah would have liked to see you in there? Or don’t you care about your goddaughter?”

Before she could answer—and what could she say?—he pushed away from her and went back inside, tossing his coat on the washing machine as he passed through the laundry room.

He knew he’d lashed out unfairly. In another time, in another world, he’d care enough to apologize. Kate would want him to, but right now he couldn’t manage the effort. It took everything he had inside just to keep standing. His wife had been gone for forty-eight hours and already he was a worse version of himself.

Three

That night, at four A.M., Johnny gave up on the idea of sleep. How had he thought it would be possible to find peace on the night of his wife’s funeral?

He pushed the comforter back and climbed out of bed. Rain hammered the shake roof, echoed through the house. At the fireplace in the bedroom, he touched the switch and after a thump-whiz of sound, blue and orange flames burst to life, skating along the fake log. The faint smell of gas floated to him. He lost a few minutes standing there, staring into the fire.

After that, he found himself drifting. It was the only word he could come up with to describe the wandering that took him from room to room. More than once, he found himself standing somewhere, staring at something with no clear memory of how he’d come to be there or why he’d begun that particular journey.

Somehow, he ended up back in his bedroom. Her water glass was still on the nightstand. So were her reading glasses and the mittens she’d worn to bed at the end, when she’d always been cold. As clear as the sound of his own breathing, he heard her say, You were the one for me, John Ryan. I loved you with every breath I took for two decades. It was what she’d said to him on her last night. They’d lain in bed together, with him holding her because she was too weak to hold on to him. He remembered burying his face in the crook of her neck, saying, Don’t leave me, Katie. Not yet.

Even then, as she lay dying, he had failed her.

He got dressed and went downstairs.

The living room was filled with watery gray light. Rain dropped from the eaves outside and softened the view. In the kitchen, he found the counter covered in carefully washed and dried dishes that had been placed on dish towels and a garbage can full of paper plates and brightly colored napkins. The refrigerator and freezer were both filled with foil-covered containers. His mother-in-law had done what needed to be done, while he had hidden outside in the dark, alone.

As he made a pot of coffee, he tried to imagine the new version of his life. All he saw were empty spaces at the dining room table, a car pool with the wrong driver, a breakfast made by the wrong hands.

Be a good dad. Help them deal with this.

He leaned against the counter, drinking coffee. As he poured the third cup, he felt an adrenaline spike of caffeine. His hands started to shake, so he got himself some orange juice instead.

Sugar on top of caffeine. What was next, tequila? He didn’t really make a decision to move. Rather, he just drifted away from the kitchen, where every square inch held a reminder of his wife—the lavender hand lotion she loved, the YOU ARE SPECIAL plate she pulled out at the smallest of their children’s achievements, the water pitcher she’d inherited from her grandmother and used on special occasions.

He felt someone touch his shoulder and he flinched.

Margie, his mother-in-law, stood beside him. She was dressed for the day in high-waisted jeans, tennis shoes, and a black turtleneck. She smiled tiredly.

Bud came up beside his wife. He looked ten years older than Margie. He had grown quieter in the past year, although none would have called him a chatty man before. He’d begun his goodbyes to Katie long before the rest of them had accepted the inevitable, and now that she was gone, he seemed to have lost his voice. Like his wife, he was dressed in his customary style—Wrangler jeans that accentuated both his thinning legs and straining paunch, a checked brown and white western shirt, and a big silver-buckled belt. His hair had checked out a long time ago, but he had enough growing in the arch of his brows to compensate.

Without words, they all walked back into the kitchen, where Johnny poured them each a cup of coffee.

“Coffee. Thank God,” Bud said gruffly, taking the cup in his work-gnarled hand.

They looked at each other.

“We need to take Sean to the airport in an hour, but after that we can come back here and help,” Margie said at last. “For as long as you need us.”

Johnny loved her for the offer. She was closer to him than his own mother had ever been, but he had to stand on his own now.

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The airport. That was the answer.

This wasn’t just another day, and as sure as he stood here, he couldn’t manage the pretense that it was. He couldn’t feed his kids and drive them to school and then go to work at the station, producing some cheesy entertainment or lifestyle segment that wouldn’t change anyone’s life.

“I’m getting us the hell out of here,” he said.

“Oh?” Margie said. “Where to?”

He said the first thing that came into his head. “Kauai.” Katie had loved it there. They’d always meant to take the kids.

Margie peered up at him through her new rimless eyeglasses.

“Runnin’ away doesn’t change a thing,” Bud said gruffly.

“I know that, Bud. But I’m drowning here. Everywhere I look…”

“Yeah,” his father-in-law said.

Margie touched Johnny’s arm. “What can we do to help?”

Now that Johnny had a plan—however imperfect and temporary—he felt better. “I’ll go get started on reservations. Don’t tell the kids. Let them sleep.”

“When will you leave?”

“Hopefully today.”

“You’d better call Tully and tell her. She’s planning to be back here at eleven.”

Johnny nodded, but Tully was the least of his concerns right now.

“Okay,” Margie said, clapping her hands. “I’ll clean out the fridge and move all the casseroles to the freezer in the garage.”

“I’ll stop the milk delivery and call the police,” Bud said. “Just so they know to watch the house.”

Johnny hadn’t thought of any of those things. Kate had always done all the prep work for their trips.

Margie patted his forearm. “Go make the reservations. We’ve got you covered.”

He thanked them both and then went into his office. Seated at the computer, it took him less than twenty minutes to make the reservations. By 6:50, he’d bought airline tickets and reserved a car and rented a house. All he had to do now was tell the kids.

He headed down the hallway. In the boys’ room, he went to the bunk beds and found both of his sons on the bottom bunk, tangled up like a pair of puppies.

He ruffled Lucas’s coarse brown hair. “Hey, Skywalker, wake up.”

“I wanna be Skywalker,” Wills murmured in his sleep.

Johnny smiled. “You’re the Conqueror, remember?”

“No one knows who William the Conqueror is,” Wills said, sitting up in his blue and red Spider-Man pajamas. “He needs a video game.”

Lucas sat up, looking blearily around. “Is it school time already?”

“We’re not going to school today,” Johnny said.

Wills frowned. “Cuz Mom’s dead?”

Johnny flinched. “I guess. We’re going to Hawaii. I’m going to teach my kids how to surf.”

“You don’t know how to surf,” Wills said, still frowning. Already he had become a skeptic.

“He does, too. Don’t you, Dad?” Lucas said, peering up through his long hair. Lucas, the believer.

“I will in a week,” Johnny said, and they cheered, bouncing up and down on the bed. “Brush your teeth and get dressed. I’ll be back to pack your suitcases in ten minutes.”

The boys jumped out of bed and raced to their bathroom, elbowing each other along the way. He walked slowly out of the room and down the hallway.

He knocked on his daughter’s door, and heard her exhausted, “What?”

He actually drew in a breath before he stepped into her room. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, talking his popular sixteen-year-old daughter into a vacation. Nothing mattered more to Marah than her friends. That would be especially true now.

She stood by her unmade bed, brushing her long, shiny black hair. Dressed for school in ridiculously low-rise, flare-legged jeans and a T-shirt that was toddler-sized, she looked ready to tour with Britney Spears. He pushed his irritation aside. This was no time for a fight about fashion.

“Hey,” he said, closing the door behind him.

“Hey,” she answered without looking at him. Her voice had that brittle sharpness that had become de rigueur since puberty. He sighed; even grief, it seemed, hadn’t softened his daughter. If anything, it had made her angrier.

She put down her hairbrush and faced him. He understood now why Kate had been wounded so often by the judgment in their daughter’s eyes. She had a way of cutting you with a glance.

“I’m sorry about last night,” he said.

“Whatever. I have soccer practice after school today. Can I take Mom’s car?”

He heard the way her voice broke on Mom’s. He sat down on the edge of her bed and waited for her to join him there. When she didn’t, he felt a wave of exhaustion. She was obviously fragile. They all were now—but Marah was like Tully. Neither of them knew how to show weakness. All Marah would let herself care about now was that he’d interrupted her routine, and God knew she spent more time getting ready for school than a monk devoted to morning prayers.

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