The auditorium’s back doors banged open. As one, the audience turned.
Tully stood there, looking like she’d just left the Grammys. Her short blond-streaked hair gave her a gamine kind of beauty that made her smile look even bigger. She wore a stunning forest-green silk dress that hung from one shoulder and nipped in at her still-small waist.
Whispers overtook the audience. Tallulah Hart . . . even prettier in person. . . . No one was listening to Miss Parker’s introduction.
"How does she stay looking so good?" Mom asked, leaning close.
"Plastic surgery and a battalion of makeup artists."
Mom laughed at that and squeezed her hand as if to remind Kate that she was just as pretty.
Waving at the Mularkeys, Tully walked to an empty aisle seat in the front row and sat down.
The house lights dimmed and Maggie Levine, dressed as the blue fairy, danced onstage. Her sister, Cleo, and the rest of the girls followed, pirouetting and prancing in what was supposed to be unison. The little ones watched the more experienced dancers intently, executing every movement a second too late.
The gawkiness only made it more magical. It was all Kate could do not to cry; then Johnny reached over Lucas and held her hand just as Marah twirled onstage. Halfway through her routine she saw Tully and stopped right in the middle of the stage, waving wildly.
Laughter rippled through the audience when Tully waved back.
When the performance was over, the applause was enthusiastic. The girls took several curtain calls, then giggled and ran for their families.
Marah headed straight for her godmother. She launched herself off the stage and landed in Tully’s arms. A crowd formed around them, people wanting autographs and introductions. All the while, Marah beamed with pride.
When the swarm dissipated, Tully headed for the family, hugging them each in turn. She slung an arm around Kate’s shoulder and used her other hand to hold on to Marah. "I have a surprise for my goddaughter," she said loudly.
Marah giggled and jumped up and down. "What is it?"
"You’ll see," Tully said, winking at Kate. In a pack, the family moved up the aisle and went outside.
There, parked at the curb, was a pink stretch limousine.
Kate turned to Tully. "Are you kidding me?"
"Isn’t it cool? You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find. Come on, get in, everyone." She opened the door and they all piled into the plush black interior. Tiny red and blue lights illuminated the ceiling.
Marah snuggled close to Tully, held her hand. "This is the best surprise ever," she said. "Did you think I was good?"
"You were perfect," Tully said.
They stayed in the car for the entire ferry ride; not once did Marah stop talking to Tully.
On the Seattle side, the car started up again and they were driven around the city as if they were tourists on vacation, then they pulled into a brightly lit porte cochere, where a hotel doorman came out to greet them. He opened the door and bent down. "And which of you lovely ladies is Marah Rose?"
Marah instantly raised her hand, giggling. "I am."
He pulled a single pink rose from behind his back and handed it to her.
Marah looked awestruck. "Wow."
"Say thank you, Marah," Kate said more sharply than she’d intended.
Marah threw her an irritated look. "Thank you."
Tully led them into the hotel. On the top floor, she opened the door to a gigantic suite where all kinds of kid-type play stations had been set up—bouncing rooms and virtual boxing and miniature bumper cars. All the girls from the recital were already there with their families. In the center of the room was a white-draped table. On it was a huge tiered pink cake adorned with tiny frosted ballerinas.
"Aunt Tully," Marah screamed, hugging her. "This is awesome. I love you."
"I love you, too, princess. Now go play with your friends."
Everyone stood there for a moment, stunned. Johnny recovered first. Carrying William, he sidled up to Tully. "This is not spoiling her?"
"I wanted to get a pony, but I thought that would be over the top."
Mom laughed. Dad shook his head. "Come on, Margie, Johnny," he finally said. "Let’s check out the bar."
When Kate and Tully were alone, Kate said, "You sure know how to make an entrance. Marah will be talking about this for years."
"Too much?" Tully asked.
"Perhaps just a bit."
Tully gave her a bright smile, but it wasn’t the real thing. Kate instantly recognized the pretense. "What’s wrong?"
Before Tully could answer, Marah came bouncing back, her little face shining with joy. "We all want a picture with you, Aunt Tully."
Kate stood there, watching her daughter practically swoon over her godmother. Although she hated to admit it, she felt a pinch of jealousy. This was supposed to have been their night; hers and Marah’s.
Tully sat in the limousine, with Marah’s head in her lap, stroking her goddaughter’s silky black hair.
Across from them, Kate slept against Johnny, who also had his eyes closed. A small boy lay tucked alongside each of them. They looked like the Hallmark version of family perfection.
The limousine turned onto the beach road.
Tully kissed Marah’s soft pink cheek. "We’re almost home, princess."
Marah blinked slowly awake. "I love you, Aunt Tully."
Tully’s heart closed like a fist around those words, and she felt a swell of almost painful emotion. She used to think that success was like gold, worth sifting through mud for, and that love would always be there, waiting somehow on the riverbanks for her when she was done panning. She couldn’t imagine now why she’d thought that, given her background. She ought to have recognized love’s scarcity early on. If success were gold, lying in rivers, love was a diamond, buried hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the earth and unrecognizable in its natural form. No wonder it touched her so deeply to hear those words from Marah. They’d been so rare in her life. "I love you, too, Marah Rose."
The limo pulled into the driveway, tires crunching on gravel, and parked. It took forever for the family to get out of the car, walk into the house. They all immediately headed upstairs.
Tully stood in the empty living room, unsure of what to do. The floorboards creaked. She’d tried to merge into the lane of their nighttime routine, but she kept getting in the way, so finally she gave up.
Kate came down the stairs at last, sighing tiredly, holding a pile of afghans in her arms. "Okay, Tully. What’s going on?"
"What do you mean?"
Kate grabbed her arm and led her through the toy-strewn house. At the kitchen, Kate paused just long enough to pour two glasses of white wine and then they went outside to the chairs positioned in the grass. The quiet gurgling noise of the waves took Tully back more than twenty years, to those nights they used to sneak out and sit by the river, talking about boys and sharing smokes.
Tully sat down in one of the weathered Adirondack chairs and spread the knitted blanket over her. After all these years and no doubt countless washings, it still smelled of Mrs. M.’s menthol cigarettes and perfume.
Kate drew up her blanketed knees and rested her chin on the bumpy summit, then looked at Tully. "Talk," she said.
"What should we talk about?"
"How long have we been best friends?"
"Since David Cassidy was groovy."
"And you think I can’t tell when something’s wrong?"
Tully sat back, sipping her wine. The truth was that she wanted to talk about this—it was, after all, part of the reason she’d flown all the way across the country—and yet, now that she was here with her best friend again, she didn’t know how to start. Worse than that, she felt like an idiot complaining about what was missing in her life. She had so much.
"I thought you were crazy to give up your career. For four years, every time I called you Marah was screaming in the background. I kept thinking I’d kill myself if that were my life, but you sounded frustrated and pissed off and amazingly happy. I could never quite get it."
"Someday you’ll know what it’s like."
"No, I won’t. I’m almost forty, Kate." She finally looked at Kate. "I guess I was the crazy one, wanting nothing but the career."
"It’s a hell of a career."
"Yeah. But sometimes . . . it’s not enough. I know that’s a greedy thing to say, but I’m tired of working eighteen hours a day and coming home to an empty house."
"You can change your life, you know. But you have to really want to."
"Thank you, Obi-Wan."
Kate stared out at the waves slapping the shore. "In the tabloids last week there was a sixty-year-old woman who gave birth."
Tully laughed. "You are such a bitch."
"I know. Now come on, poor little mega-rich girl, I’ll show you to your room."
"I’m going to be sorry I complained, aren’t I?"
They walked through the darkened house. At the guest bedroom door, Kate turned to her. "No more spoiling Marah, okay? She already thinks you hung the moon."
"Come on, Katie. I made more than two million dollars last year, what am I supposed to do with it all?"
"Give it to charity. Just no more pink limos, okay?"
"You are no fun whatsoever, you know that?"
It wasn’t until much later, when Tully lay on the bumpy, sagging mattress of the hide-a-bed, staring out the window at the Big Dipper, that she realized she hadn’t asked Kate about her own life.
Kate stared at the calendar that hung on the wall by her refrigerator. It seemed impossible to believe that time was passing so quickly, but the proof was right there in front of her. It was November of 2002, and the past fourteen months had changed the world. In September of last year terrorists had flown airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands. Another plane had been hijacked and ultimately crashed, leaving no survivors. Car and suicide bombers had become part of the nightly news; the search for weapons of mass destruction had begun. Words like Al-Qaeda and Taliban and Pakistan came up in every conversation, were repeated on every broadcast.
Fear changed everyone and everything, and yet, as always, life went on. Hour by hour, day by day, while politicians and military personnel were looking for bombs and terrorists, and while the Justice Department was tearing down Enron’s papery walls, families went on with their ordinary lives. Kate continued to run her errands and raise her children and love her husband. If she held on to all of them a little more tightly and kept them closer to home, everyone understood: the world wasn’t as safe as it had been before.
Now Thanksgiving was a week away and Christmas lurked just around the corner.
It was the holiday season, the time of year that turned women into card-carrying split personalities. Torn between the joy of the season and the amount of work that joy required, Kate often had trouble slowing down, remembering to savor the precious moments. There was baking to do—for the school parties, for the ballet bake sale, for donations at Helper House—and shopping, of course. As magical as Bainbridge Island was, when it came time to do serious gift-combing, one was reminded forcibly that this was a body of land surrounded by water. Thus, malls and department stores were far away. She felt like a mountain climber sometimes, setting out for a vertical ascent without oxygen; the summit was Nordstrom. When you had three kids, it took time to pick out their presents, and time was in short supply.