For days Tully focused on nothing else. She handled the details and took care of everything while the Ryans and the Mularkeys sat together on the beach, holding hands and occasionally remembering to talk.
Tully prepared herself for the day, as well, reminding herself that she was a professional; she could smile her way through anything.
But when the time came, and they actually pulled up in front of the church, she panicked. "I can’t do this," she said.
Johnny reached for her hand. She waited for comforting words, but he had none.
While they sat there in silence, with the kids in the backseat, all of them staring at the church, the Mularkeys pulled up beside them and parked.
It was time. Like a flock of black crows, they came together, hoping for strength in numbers. Holding hands, they walked past the throng of mourners and up the massive stone church steps and into the church.
"We’re in the left front row," Mrs. M. said, sidling close.
Tully looked down at Marah, who was crying quietly, and the sight broke her.
She wanted to comfort her goddaughter, tell her it would be okay, but they both knew better than that. "She loved you so much," she said, getting a strange and sudden glimpse of their future then. They’d be friends someday, she and Marah. In time, Tully would give her the journal and they’d share the stories of who her mother had been, and those stories would bind them together and bring Kate back for a few precious moments.
"Come on," Johnny said.
Tully couldn’t move. "You guys go up. I’m just going to stand here for a minute."
"Are you sure?"
Johnny squeezed her shoulder and then ushered the boys and Marah forward. Mr. and Mrs. M., Sean, Georgia, and the rest of the family followed; they all ducked into the front row and sat down.
Up front an organ began to play a slow, plodding version of "You and Me Against the World."
Tully didn’t want to be here for this. She didn’t want to listen to pathetic music that was designed to make you cry, or listen to the priest tell stories about the woman he’d known, who was only a shadow of the woman Tully knew. Most of all, she didn’t want to see the montage of pictures of Kate’s life splashed on a giant screen above her coffin.
Before she could even think about it, she turned and walked out.
Sweet, fresh air filled her lungs. She gulped it greedily, trying to calm down. Behind her, through the door, she heard the music change to "One Sweet Day."
She closed her eyes, leaning back against the door.
Startled, she opened her eyes and saw the funeral director standing on the bottom step. She’d met him once before, when she’d brought clothes for the burial and pictures for the montage. "Yes."
"Mrs. Ryan asked me to give you this." He held out a big black box.
"I don’t understand."
"She entrusted me with this box and asked me to give it to you on the day of her funeral. She said you’d be standing out front when it started."
Tully smiled at that, even though it hurt like hell. Of course Kate would know. "Thanks."
She took the box and walked down the steps and across the parking lot. Across the street, she sat down on an iron park bench.
There, she took a deep breath and opened the box. On top lay a letter. Kate’s bold, left-slanted handwriting was unmistakable.
I know you won’t be able to stand my f**king funeral. You’re not the star. I hope you at least had the photos of me airbrushed. There are so many things I should say to you, but in our lifetime we’ve said them all.
Take care of Johnny and the kids for me, okay? Teach the boys how to be gentlemen and Marah how to be strong. When they’re ready, give them my journal and tell them about me when they ask. The truth, too. I want them to know it all.
It’s going to be hard on you, now. That’s one of the things I regret the most. So, here’s what I have to say in my beyond-the-grave letter (very dramatic, don’t you think?):
I know you’ll be thinking that I left you, but it’s not true. All you have to do is remember Firefly Lane, and you’ll find me.
There will always be a TullyandKate.
It was signed:
She pressed the letter to her chest.
Then she looked down in the box again. There were three things left.
A Virginia Slims cigarette with a yellow sticky note on it that read, Smoke me.
An autographed picture of David Cassidy that said, Kiss me, and an iPod with headphones that said, Play me and dance.
Tully laughed through her tears and lit up the cigarette, taking a drag and coughing on the exhale. The smell of smoke immediately made her think of their nights on the banks of the Pilchuck River, lying against fallen logs, staring up at the Milky Way.
She closed her eyes, put her head back, and tilted her face to the cool autumn sun. A breeze touched her face and tangled in her hair, and with it, she thought: Katie.
Suddenly she felt her friend beside her, above her, all around her, inside her. She heard Kate in the whispering of the wind overhead and the skudding of the golden leaves across the pavement.
She opened her eyes, gasping at the certainty that she wasn’t alone.
"Hey, Katie," she whispered, then put on the headphones and hit play.
"Dancing Queen" blared out at her, sweeping her back in time.
Young and sweet, only seventeen.
She stood up, unsure of whether she was laughing or crying. All she really knew was that she wasn’t alone, that Kate wasn’t gone. They’d had more than three decades of good times and bad times and everything in between, and nothing could take that away. They had the music and the memories, and in those, they would always, always be together.
Best friends forever.
There, standing in the middle of the street, all by herself, she started to dance.