"I’ll be in my office if you need me. Don’t buy her a car or a horse while she’s here."
"How about something small?"
"Normally I’d say fine, but with you small could be a diamond."
"I was thinking of a Girlfriend Hour tote bag."
Tully smiled up at him. "You’re my producer. You have to say I’m perfect."
He stared down at her. "The whole world thinks you’re perfect."
A lot of years were suddenly between them, conversations and moments and opportunities she’d walked away from. At least that was what she was thinking about; she no longer knew him well enough to read his expressions. Even though they worked together every day, they were always surrounded by people and focused on work. On the weekends, when she went to his house, he was Katie’s husband, and Tully kept her distance.
He didn’t move, didn’t smile.
Tully smiled and backed away, hoping her smile looked real. "Come on, Marah, let’s go play mother/daughter. I have Lindsay Lohan in the green room. You can ask her how she got started."
On a bright Wednesday in the first full week of September, Kate stood on the sidewalk outside of Ordway Elementary School. The parking lot, which only moments before had been clogged with buses pulling up to the curb and cars—mostly SUVs and minivans—inching through the carpool lane, was now empty and quiet. The bell had rung and fallen silent; the principal had gone back inside the squat, low-roofed brick building to start his day. Directly overhead, two flags flapped in the early autumn breeze.
"Are you still crying?" Tully tried to sound reassuring, but her voice was too honest for that. There was the merest hint of laughter behind the words.
"Bite me, and I mean that in the nicest possible way."
"Come on, I’m taking you home."
"But . . ." Kate glanced at the window at the far end of the school. "One of them might need me."
"They’re going into kindergarten, not open-heart surgery, and you’ve got things to do."
Kate sighed, wiping her eyes. "I know it’s stupid."
Tully squeezed her hand. "It’s not stupid. I remember my first day of school. I was so jealous of the kids who had moms that cried."
"I really appreciate you being here for me today. I know how hard it is for you to leave the studio."
"My producer gave me the day off," she said with a smile. "I think he has the hots for my best friend."
Together, they walked down the tree-lined sidewalk to their parking spot. Kate climbed into the driver’s seat of her new blue SUV and started up the engine.
Tully immediately leaned forward in her own seat and popped a CD into the stereo. Rick Springfield’s voice blared through the speakers, singing "Jessie’s Girl."
Kate laughed. By the time they’d driven out of the school lot, stopped at the coffee stand drive-through for their lattes, and arrived back home, she definitely felt better.
In her messy, toy-strewn living room, she collapsed into Johnny’s favorite overstuffed chair and put her feet up on the ottoman. "What now, fearless leader? Are we going shopping?"
"In the ridiculous three hours we have, not likely. You should have put them in the all-day program."
Kate had heard it before. "I’m well aware of your opinion on that. I happen to like my kids around me."
"Actually, I have a better plan, anyway." Tully flopped down on the sofa. "We’re going to talk about your writing."
Kate almost dropped her latte. "M-my writing?"
"You always said you were going to start writing again when the boys were in school."
"Give me some time, will you? They just started. Let’s talk about the show instead. Johnny tells me that—"
"I can see through your feeble tactics. You think I’ll forget everything else if you talk about me."
"It’s usually true."
"Touché. So, what will you write about?"
Kate felt exposed suddenly. "It’s an old dream, Tully."
"Well, you’re getting old, so it’s perfect."
"Has anyone ever told you that you’re a coldhearted bitch?"
"Only the men who date me. Come on, Katie. Talk to me. I see how tired you are all the time. I know you need something more in your life."
This was the last thing that Kate would have expected; that Tully, as on top of the world as she was, would notice her depression. At the realization, the fight went out of her. In truth, she was exhausted lately by the pretense, anyway. "It’s more than just that. I feel . . . lost. What I have should be enough, but somehow it isn’t. And Marah is wearing me down. Everything I do is wrong. I love her so much and she treats me like last year’s shoes."
"It’s the age."
"That excuse is wearing a little thin. Maybe I should let her take the modeling class she’s so jazzed about. I just hate to think of her in a world like that."
"P.S.: We’re talking about you, here," Tully said. "Look, Katie, I don’t know what you’re going through, but I know about wanting more. Sometimes you have to fight for the thing that will complete you."
"Says the woman who has to borrow my family when she needs one."
Tully smiled. "We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?"
For the first time in what felt like forever, Kate laughed. "We always have been. I’ll tell you what: I’ll think about writing if you think about falling in love."
Tully looked at her. "Maybe it would be easier to think about spending the day on the beach." She paused. "I haven’t heard from Grant since I moved out here."
"I know," Kate said. "I’m sorry. But I don’t think he was the one for you. If you two had been right for each other you’d have fallen in love."
"That’s what people like you think," Tully said quietly, and then brightened. "Come on, let’s make margaritas."
"Now you’re talking. I’ll get drunk on the first day of kindergarten, and in the morning, no less. Perfect."
The Ordway Halloween Carnival was only seven days away and Kate had foolishly volunteered to design and make the photograph staging area. Between shopping for supplies, painting the backdrops, and building the faux haunted house set, she was overwhelmed with work. Add to that driving responsibilities that came with getting Marah to her modeling class, and she was emotionally close to the edge most of the time.
But she was supposed to be writing her book. Johnny and Tully and Mom expected it of her. She expected it of herself. She’d been certain that once the boys started school she’d find the time.
Unfortunately, she’d forgotten the kindergarten timetable. Frankly, she’d barely dropped the boys off before it was time to pick them up, and Johnny, who’d always been so much help, now spent more waking hours at the studio than he did at home.
So Kate did what she’d always done: she kept moving, hoping no one would notice that she didn’t smile as easily as she used to, or sleep as well.
This morning at six o’clock, she kissed Johnny awake, then went down the hall to waken Marah. From that moment on, she was caught in the whirlpool of other people’s needs. She drove carpool and went shopping and met the decorating committee for an hour of hammer-and-nails-type work.
She got so caught up in the work she almost missed picking up the boys. Late, she ran for her SUV and sped across the island, pulling into the pickup lane as most of the cars were leaving. She honked at the boys and waved them over.
Her phone rang. "Hello?" she answered, reaching behind her to unlock the back door.
"Mom?" Marah said.
Marah laughed, but it was definitely contrived. "Nothing. I don’t want you to spaz out, but I’m scheduling a family meeting for seven o’clock tonight."
"A family meeting. Well, sort of. I don’t want Lucas or William there."
"Let me get this straight: you want to have a meeting with your dad and me at seven."
"What trouble are you in?"
"Way to believe the worst in me. I just want to talk."
A thirteen-year-old girl wanting to talk to her parents? Specifically, Marah wanting to talk to Kate? That was like a snowfall in July. "Okay," Kate said slowly. "You sure you’re not in trouble?"
"I’m sure. See you. ‘Bye."
Kate stared at the phone in her hand. "What’s going on?" she wondered aloud, but before an answer floated to the surface, the car door behind her opened, the boys climbed into the backseat, and Kate was tossed onto the surf of her everyday life.
There was shopping to do, and cooking, and at three she was back in the carpool lane, picking up Marah.
"You sure you don’t want to talk about something now?" she asked.
Marah sat slouched against the window in the passenger seat, with her long black hair covering most of her downcast face. As usual, she wore low-rise jeans, flip-flops (even though it was raining), a skimpy pink T-shirt, and a surly expression. The expression was the one accessory she never left home without.
"If I wanted to talk now I wouldn’t have scheduled a meeting. Sheesh. Get a clue, Mom."
Kate knew she shouldn’t let her daughter talk to her like that, and usually she didn’t, but today she didn’t feel like fighting, so she let it go.
At home, Kate went straight up to her bathroom, took two aspirin, and changed into her sweats. Ignoring her headache, she got the boys settled at the kitchen table with their sticker books and started dinner.
Before she knew it, it was six o’clock and Johnny opened the door. "Hey," he said, ushering Tully into the house. "Look who came home with me for the big meeting."
Kate looked up from the tacos she was making. "Hey, you two." She covered the saucepan and turned the stove’s heat down to low, then went out to meet them. "You don’t know what’s going on, do you?"
"Me? I hardly know anything," Tully said.
After that, the evening seemed alternately to drag and to fly. Kate watched her daughter all through dinner, trying to glean a hint about what was to come, but by the end of the meal she was no closer to an answer than she’d been this afternoon.
"Okay," Marah finally said at almost exactly seven o’clock when the dishes were done and the boys were upstairs watching a movie. She stood by the fireplace, looking both nervous and young. "Aunt Tully thought I should be—"
"Tully knows what this is about?" Kate asked.
"Uh. No," Marah said quickly. "Just in general, she thinks I shouldn’t throw stuff at you. I should be respectful and let you know how much something matters to me."
Kate glanced at Johnny, who rolled his eyes in response.
"So, here it is," Marah said, wringing her hands together. "There’s a conference in New York in November that I just have to go to. It’s where a bunch of agents and photographers come looking for models. Tully thinks Eileen Ford could definitely pick me. And my modeling class teacher invited me personally."
Kate sat there, too stunned to speak right away. New York. Tully thinks . . . Invited me personally. Which arrow should she pull out first?
"I assume this costs money," Johnny said.
"Oh. Right." Marah nodded. "Three thousand dollars, but it’s a bargain at that price. Everyone who is anyone will be there."