Fly Away Page 8

“I feel like crap,” she moaned as she slumped into the seat.

He sat down beside her. “Do you have any idea how much trouble a girl can get into in a situation like that? You could have been really hurt.”

“Go ahead and yell at me. I don’t care.” She turned to him. There was a sorrow in her eyes that broke his heart, a new understanding of grief and unfairness. The loss of her mother would mold her life now.

He was in the weeds here. He knew what she needed: reassurance. She needed him to lie to her, to say that she could still be happy with her mom gone. But it wasn’t true. No one would ever know Marah so well again, and they both knew it. He was a poor substitute.

“Whatever,” Marah said, getting to her feet. “Don’t worry, Dad. This won’t happen again.”

“Marah. I’m trying. Give me a—”

Ignoring him, she stomped back into the house. The door banged shut behind her.

He went back to his room, but there was no peace waiting for him in bed. He lay there, listening to the thwopping and clicking of the ceiling fan, trying to imagine life as it would be from tomorrow on.

He couldn’t.

Neither could he imagine going home, standing in Kate’s kitchen, sleeping on one side of the bed, waiting for her kiss to waken him every morning.

No way.

He needed a fresh start. They all did. It was the only way. And not a one-week vacation.

At seven A.M. Kauai time, he made a call. “Bill,” he said when his friend answered. “Are you still looking for an executive producer for Good Morning Los Angeles?”

September 3, 2010

6:21 A.M.

“Mr. Ryan?”

Johnny came back to the present. When he opened his eyes, bright lights surrounded him; the place smelled of disinfectant. He was sitting on a hard plastic chair in the hospital waiting area.

A man stood in front of him, wearing blue scrubs and a surgical cap. “I’m Dr. Reggie Bevan. Neurosurgeon. You’re Tallulah Hart’s family?”

“Yes,” he said, after a pause. “How is she?”

“She’s in critical condition. We’ve stabilized her enough for surgery, but—”

Code Blue, Trauma Nine blared through the hallway.

Johnny got to his feet. “Is that about her?”

“Yes,” the doctor said. “Stay here. I’ll be back.” Without waiting for a reply, Dr. Bevan turned and ran toward the elevators.

Five

Where am I?

Darkness.

I can’t open my eyes, or maybe I can open them and there’s nothing to see. Or maybe my eyes are ruined. Maybe I’m blind.

CLEAR.

Something hits me in the chest so hard I lose control of my body. I feel myself arch up and flop back down.

NOTHINGDRBEVAN.

There is a crush of pain, the kind I never even imagined, the kind that makes you want to give up, and then … nothing.

I am as still as a held breath; the darkness that cradles me is thick and quiet.

It takes no effort to open my eyes now. I am still in the dark, but it’s different. Liquid, and as black as water on the seafloor. When I try to move, it resists. I push and push until I am sitting up.

The dark lessens in stages, turns gray and gloomy, and a light appears, diffuse, almost like a distant sunrise. And then suddenly it is bright.

I am in a room of some kind. I’m up high, looking down.

Below me, I see a crowd of people moving feverishly, calling out words I can’t understand. There are machines in the room, and something red is spilling across the pale floor. The image is familiar; something I’ve seen before.

They are doctors and nurses. I am in a hospital room. They are trying to save someone’s life. They are clustered around a body on a gurney. A woman’s body. No. Wait.

My body.

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I am the broken, bleeding, naked body on the gurney. It is my blood dripping onto the floor. I can see my bruised, bleeding, cut-up face …

The weird thing is that I feel nothing. It is me, Tully Hart. I am the body bleeding out in this room, but this is me, too; I’m floating in the corner, above it all.

White coats crowd in around my body. They are yelling to each other—I can see how worried they are by how widely they open their mouths and how red their cheeks become and how deeply they frown. They drag other machines into the room, wheels whining on the bloody floor, leaving white tracks in the red.

Their voices make sounds that mean nothing to me, like the adults in a Charlie Brown TV special. Wa-WA-wa.

SHESCODING.

I should care, but I don’t. The drama down there is like a soap opera I’ve already seen. I turn suddenly and the walls are gone. In the distance, I see an effervescent, luminous light, and it beckons to me, warms me.

I think, Go, and as I think it, I am moving. I float into a world that is so sharp and clear it stings my eyes. Blue, blue sky, green, green grass, a snow-white flower falling from the cottony clouds. And light. Beautiful, incandescent light that is like nothing I’ve ever seen. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I feel at peace. As I move through the grass, a tree appears in front of me, a sapling at first, bending and knobby; it grows as I stand there, punching outward, widening until it takes up my entire field of vision. I wonder if I should go back, if this tree will grow over me, swallow me in its tangle of roots. As it grows, night falls around me.

When I look up, I see an array of stars. The Big Dipper. Orion’s Belt. The same constellations I once studied from my yard as a girl, back when the world didn’t seem big enough to hold all my dreams.

From somewhere far away, I hear the first tentative strains of music. Billy, don’t be a hero …

The song opens me up in a way that makes it hard to breathe. It made me cry at thirteen, this song. Then, I’d thought it was a tragic love story, I think. Now I know it is a tragic life story.

Don’t be a fool with your life.

A bicycle appears in front of me, an old-fashioned banana-seated girl’s bike with a white basket. It is leaning against a hedge of roses. I go to it and climb on, pedaling … where? I don’t know. A road appears beneath me, stretches as far as I can see. It is the middle of a starry night, and suddenly I am speeding downhill like a kid again, my hair is alive, whipping all around my face.

I know this place. Summer Hill. It is woven into my soul. Obviously I’m not really here. The real me is lying on a hospital bed, broken and bleeding. So I am imagining this, but I don’t care.

I throw my arms open and let my speed pick up, remembering the first time I did this. We were in the eighth grade, Kate and me, and we were on these bikes, on this hill, riding into the start of a friendship that is the only true love story of my life. I forced her, of course. Threw rocks at her bedroom window and woke her up in the middle of the night and begged her to sneak out with me.

Did I know how our whole lives would be changed with that one choice? No. But I knew my life needed changing. How could I not? My mother had perfected the art of leaving me and I had spent my entire childhood pretending truth was fiction. Only with Kate had I ever really been honest. My BFF. The only person who had ever loved me for me.

The day we became friends is one I will never forget. It makes sense to me that I remember it now. We were fourteen-year-old girls, both friendless and as different as salt and pepper. On that first night, I’d told my stoned mom—who’d started calling herself Cloud in the seventies—that I was going to a high school party and she’d told me to have fun.

In a dark stand of trees, a boy I barely knew raped me and left me to walk home alone. On the way, I saw Katie sitting on the top rail of her fence. She spoke to me as I walked past.

“I love it out here at night. The stars are so bright. Sometimes, if you stare up at the sky long enough, you’ll swear tiny white dots are falling all around you, like fireflies.” A retainer drew the s’s into a long lisp. “Maybe that’s how this street got its name. You probably think I’m a nerd for even saying that.… Hey, you don’t look good. And you reek like puke.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you okay? Really?”

To my horror, I started to cry.

That was the beginning. Our beginning. I told her my secret shame and she held out her hand and I clung to her. From that day on, we were inseparable. Through high school and college, and forever after that, no experience was real until I told Katie about it, no day was quite right if we didn’t talk. By the time we were eighteen, we were TullyandKate, the pair, impossible to separate. I was there at her wedding and at the birth of her babies, and when she tried to write a book, and I was there in 2006 when she took her last breath.

With my hands outstretched and the wind streaming through my hair and memories riding alongside me, I think: This is how I should die.

Die? Who says you get to die?

I would know that voice anywhere. I have missed it every single day for the last four years.

Kate.

I turn my head and see an impossible sight: Kate is on a bike beside me. The sight of her overwhelms me, and I think: Of course. This is my version of going into the light, and she has always been my light. For a brief, beautiful last second, we’re TullyandKate again.

“Katie,” I say in awe.

She gives me a smile that seems to sear through the years.

The next thing I know, we are sitting on the grassy, muddy bank of the Pilchuck River, just like we used to, back in the seventies. The air smells of rain and mud and deep green trees. A decaying, moss-furred log gives us something to rest against. The river’s gurgling song swirls around us.

Hey, Tul, she says.

At the sound of her voice, happiness unfolds within me, a beautiful white bird opening its wings. Light is everywhere, bathing us. In it, I feel that beautiful peace again, and it soothes me. I have been in pain for so long, and lonely for even longer.

I turn to Kate, drink in the sight of her. She is translucent almost, shimmery. When she moves, even just a little, I can see a hint of the grass beneath her. When she looks at me, I see both sadness and joy in her eyes and I wonder how those two emotions can exist in such perfect balance within her. She sighs and I get a scent of lavender.

The river bubbles and slaps around us, sends up its rich, fecund scent of both new growth and decay. It turns into music, our music; the wave tops form notes and rise up and I can hear that old Terry Jacks song, We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. How many nights had we hauled my little transistor radio down here and set it up and listened to our music while we talked? “Dancing Queen” … “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” … “Hotel California” … “Da Do Run Run.”

What happened? Kate asks quietly.

I know what she is asking. Why am I here—and in the hospital.

Talk to me, Tul.

God, how I have missed hearing her say that to me. I want to talk to my best friend, tell her how I screwed up. She always made everything okay. But the words don’t come to me. I can’t find them in my head; they dance away like fairies when I reach for them.

You don’t need words. Just close your eyes and remember.

I remember when it started to go wrong. The one day that was worse than all the rest, the one day that changed everything.

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