Fly Away Page 60


She reslung her purse over her shoulder and closed the door behind her. The sharp, pungent smell of drying lavender filled her nostrils. She moved silently through the house. Everywhere she looked she saw evidence of the party she’d missed—the WELCOME HOME banner, the stack of brightly colored napkins on the counter, the wineglasses drying by the sink.

What a coward she was.

In the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of water from the sink and then leaned back against the counter, gulping the liquid as if she were dying of thirst. In front of her, the shadowy hallway unfurled. On one side was her bedroom door; on the other was Tully’s.

Coward, she thought again. Instead of going down the hallway, doing what needed to be done, she found herself drifting through the house, heading toward the back door, going out onto the deck.

She smelled cigarette smoke.

“You were waiting for me?” she said quietly.

Margie stood up. “Of course. I knew how hard this would be for you. But you’ve been hiding long enough.”

Dorothy felt her knees almost give out. She had never had a good friend in her life, not one of those women who would be there for you if you needed them. Until now. She reached out for the wooden chair beside her, held on to it.

There were three chairs out here. Dorothy had spent months restoring these wooden rockers that she’d found at the Goodwill. When she’d finished sanding and painting them—a wild array of colors—she’d painted names on the back. Dorothy. Tully. Kate.

At the time, it had seemed romantic and optimistic. As she held the paintbrush and smeared the bright colors along the rough wood, she’d imagined what Tully would say when she woke up. Now, though, all she saw was the presumption of her actions. What made her think that Tully would want to sit with her mother in the morning and have a cup of tea … or that it wouldn’t break her heart to sit next to a chair that was always empty, its seat waiting for a woman who would never return?

“Do you remember what I told you about motherhood?” Margie said in the darkness, exhaling smoke.

Dorothy eased around an empty basket and sat down in the chair with her name on it. Margie, she noticed, was sitting in Tully’s chair.

“You told me a lot of things,” Dorothy said, leaning back with a sigh.

“When you’re a mom, you learn about fear. You’re always afraid. Always. About everything from cupboard doors to kidnappers to weather. There is nothing that can’t hurt our kids, I swear.” She turned. “The irony is they need us to be strong.”

Dorothy swallowed hard.

“I was strong for my Katie,” Margie said.

Dorothy heard the way her friend’s voice broke on that, and without even thinking, she got up from her chair, crossed the small space between them, and pulled Margie up into her arms. She felt how thin the woman was, how she trembled at this touch, and Dorothy understood. Sometimes it hurt worse to be comforted than to be left alone.

“Johnny wants to scatter her ashes in the summer. I don’t know how to do it, but I know it’s time.”

Dorothy had no idea what to say, so she just held on.

When Margie drew back, her eyes were wet with tears. “You helped me get through it, you know that, right? In case I never told you. All those times you let me sit over here and smoke my cigarettes while you planted your seeds and pulled up your weeds.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You were there for me, Dorothy. Like you were there for Tully.” She wiped her eyes and tried to smile, then said quietly, “Go see your daughter.”

* * *

Tully woke from a deep sleep, disoriented. She sat up quickly—too quickly; dizziness made the unfamiliar room spin around her for just a moment.

“Tully, are you okay?”

She blinked slowly and remembered where she was. In her old bedroom, in the house on Firefly Lane. She turned on the bedside lamp.

Her mother sat in a chair against the wall. She got up awkwardly, clasping her hands together. She was wearing bag-lady clothes, white socks, and Birkenstock sandals. And the tattered remnant of that macaroni necklace Tully had made for her in Bible camp. All these years later, her mother had kept it.

“I … was worried,” her mother said. “Your first night here and all. I hope you don’t mind that I’m here.”

“Hey, Cloud,” Tully said quietly.

“I’m Dorothy now,” her mother said. She gave a hitching, apologetic smile and moved toward the bed. “I picked the name ‘Cloud’ at a commune in the early seventies. We were high all the time, and naked. A lot of bad ideas seemed good back then.” She looked down at Tully.

“I’m told you took care of me.”

“It was nothing.”

“A year of caring for a woman in a coma? That’s not nothing.”

Her mother reached into her pocket and pulled out a small token. It was goldish in color, and round, a little bigger than a quarter. A triangle was stamped onto the coin; on the left side of the triangle was the word sobriety in black, on the right side was the word anniversary. Inside the triangle was the Roman numeral X. “Remember that night you saw me in the hospital, back in ’05?”

Tully remembered every time she’d ever seen her mother. “Yes.”

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“That was rock bottom for me. A woman gets tired of being hit. I went into rehab not long after that. You paid for it, by the way, so thanks for that.”

“And you stayed sober?”

“Yes.”

Tully was afraid to believe in the unexpected hope that unfurled at her mother’s confession. And she was afraid not to. “That’s why you came to my condo and tried to help me.”

“As interventions go, it was pretty lame. Just one old lady and a pissed-off daughter.” She smiled, a little crookedly. “You see life a lot more clearly when you’re sober. I took care of you to make up for all the times I didn’t take care of you.”

Her mother leaned forward, touching the macaroni necklace at her throat. There was a softness in her gaze that surprised Tully. “I know it was only a year. I don’t expect anything.”

“I heard your voice,” Tully said. She remembered it in pieces, moments. Darkness and light. This: I’m so proud of you. I never told you that, did I? The memory was like the soft, creamy center of an expensive chocolate. “You stood by my bed and told me a story, didn’t you?”

Her mother looked startled, and then a little sad. “I should have told it to you years ago.”

“You said you were proud of me.”

She reached out at last, touched Tully’s cheek with a mother’s tenderness. “How could I not be proud of you?”

Her mother’s eyes filled with tears. “I always loved you, Tully. It was my own life I was running from.” Slowly, she reached into the nightstand drawer and pulled out a photograph. “Maybe this will be our beginning.” She handed the picture to Tully.

Tully reached for the photograph that shimmied in her mother’s slim, shaking fingers.

It was square and small, about the size of a playing card, with white scalloped edges that were bent and mangled. The years had left a crackle-like patina on the black-and-white print.

It was a photograph of a man, a young man, sitting on a dirty porch step, with one booted foot pushed out to reveal a long leg. His hair was long and black and dirty, too. Splotches of sweat darkened the white T-shirt he wore; his cowboy boots had seen better days and his hands were dark with grime.

But his smile was wide and white and should have been too big for his angular face, but wasn’t, and it was tilted the slightest bit to one side. His eyes were as black as night and seemed to hold a thousand secrets. Beside him, on the porch step, a brown-haired baby lay sleeping in a baggy, grayed diaper. The man’s big hand lay possessively on the infant’s small, bare back.

“You and your father,” her mother said softly.

“My father? You said you didn’t know who—”

“I lied. I fell in love with him in high school.”

Tully looked back down at the picture. She ran her fingertip over it, studying every line and shadow, barely able to breathe. She had never seen even a hint of her own features in a relative’s face. But here was her dad, and she looked like him. “I have his smile.”

“Yes. And you laugh just like he did.”

Tully felt something deep inside of her click into place.

“He loved you,” her mother said. “And me, too.”

Tully heard the break in her mother’s voice. When she looked up, the tears in her mother’s voice matched her own.

“Rafael Benecio Montoya.”

Tully said the name reverently. “Rafael.”

“Rafe.”

Tully couldn’t hold on to the emotion swelling inside her heart. This changed everything, changed her. She had a father. A dad. And he loved her. “Can I—”

“Rafe died in Vietnam.”

Tully didn’t realize that she’d even constructed a dreamscape, but with that one word, she felt it fall to pieces around her. “Oh.”

“I’ll tell you all about him, though,” her mother said. “How he used to sing songs to you in Spanish and throw you into the air to hear you laugh. He picked your name because it was Choctaw and he said that made you a real American. That’s why I always called you Tallulah. To remember him.”

Tully looked up into her mother’s watery eyes and saw love and loss and heartache. And hope, too. The whole of their lives. “I’ve waited so long.”

Dorothy gently touched Tully’s cheek. “I know,” she said softly.

It was the touch Tully had waited for all of her life.

* * *

In her dreams, Tully is sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs on my deck. I am beside her, of course; we are as we used to be: young and laughing. Always talking. In the branches of that old maple tree, dressed now in the scarlet and gold of autumn, several Mason jars hang from lengths of twine; in them, votive candles burn brightly over our heads, casting drops of flickering light to the floor.

I know that sometimes, when Tully sits in her chair out here, she thinks about me. She remembers the two of us flying down Summer Hill on bikes, our arms outflung, both of us believing the world was impossibly big and bright.

Here, in her dreams, we will be friends forever, together. Growing old, wearing purple, and singing along to silly songs that mean nothing and everything. Here, there will be no cancer, no growing old, no lost chances, no arguments.

I’m always with you, I say to her in her sleep, and she knows it’s true.

I turn—barely a movement at all—just a sideways glance, and I am somewhere else, some when else. Inside my house on Bainbridge Island. My family is gathered together, laughing over some joke I can’t hear. Marah is home from college for winter break; she has made the kind of friend that lasts through a lifetime—and my father is healthy. Johnny has begun to smile again—soon he will find himself falling in love. He will fight it … and he will give in. And my boys—my beautiful sons—are becoming men before my very eyes. Wills still goes through life in fifth gear, loud and booming and defiant, while Lucas slips along behind, barely noticed in a crowd until you see his smile. But it is Lucas I hear at night, Lucas who talks to me in his sleep, afraid that he will forget me. The way I miss them all is sometimes unbearable. But they are going to be fine. I know it, and now they do, too.

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