He rubbed his tired eyes. Beside him, a computer monitor revealed a frozen image, pixilated, of a ratty-looking street kid sitting beneath a crackling, on-and-off neon sign, smoking a cigarette down to the filter. Johnny hit the play key.
On-screen, Kevin—street name Frizz—started talking about his parents.
They don’t care, the kid said with a shrug.
What makes you so sure? Johnny asked in the voice-over.
The camera caught Frizz’s gaze—the raw pain and angry defiance in his eyes as he looked up. I’m here, aren’t I?
Johnny had watched this footage at least one hundred times. He’d talked to Frizz on several occasions and still didn’t know where the kid had grown up, where he belonged, or who was waiting up at night for him, peering into the darkness, worrying.
Johnny knew about a parent’s worry, about how a child could slip into the shadows and disappear. It was why he was here, working day and night on a documentary about street kids. Maybe if he looked hard enough, asked enough questions, he’d find her.
He stared at the image on-screen. Because of the rain, there hadn’t been many kids out on the street on the night he’d shot this footage. Still, whenever he saw a shape in the background, a silhouette that could be a young woman, he squinted and put on his glasses, peering harder at the picture, thinking: Marah?
But none of the girls he’d seen while making this documentary was his daughter. Marah had run away from home and disappeared. He didn’t even know if she was still in Seattle.
He turned off the lights in his upstairs office and walked down the dark, quiet hallway. To his left, dozens of family photographs, framed in black and matted in white, hung along the wall. Sometimes he stopped and followed the trail of these pictures—his family—and let them pull him back to a happier time. Sometimes he let himself stand in front of his wife’s picture and lose himself in the smile that had once illuminated his world.
Tonight, he kept moving.
He paused at his sons’ room and eased the door open. It was something he did now: check obsessively on his eleven-year-old twins. Once you’d learned how bad life could go, and how quickly, you tried to protect those who remained. They were there, asleep.
He released a breath, unaware that he’d drawn it in, and moved on to Marah’s closed door. There, he didn’t slow down. It hurt too much to look in her room, to see the place frozen in time—a little girl’s room—uninhabited, everything just as she’d left it.
He went into his own room and closed the door behind him. It was cluttered with clothes and papers and whatever books he’d started and stopped reading and intended to pick up again, when life slowed down.
Heading into the bathroom, he stripped off his shirt and tossed it into the hamper. In the bathroom mirror, he caught sight of himself. Some days when he saw himself, he thought, Not bad for fifty-five, and sometimes—like now—he thought, Really?
He looked … sad. It was in the eyes, mostly. His hair was longer than it should be, with fine strands of gray weaving through the black. He always forgot to get it cut. With a sigh, he turned on the shower and stepped in, letting the scalding-hot water pour over him, wash his thoughts away. When he got out, he felt better again, ready to take on the day. There was no point in trying to sleep. Not now. He towel-dried his hair and dressed in an old Nirvana T-shirt that he found on the floor of his closet and a pair of worn jeans. As he headed back into the hallway, the phone rang.
It was the landline.
He frowned. It was 2010. In this new age, only the rarest of calls came in on the old number.
Certainly people didn’t call at 5:03 in the morning. Only bad news came at this hour.
He lunged for the phone and answered. “Hello?”
“Is Kathleen Ryan there?”
Damned telemarketers. Didn’t they ever update their records?
“Kathleen Ryan passed away almost four years ago. You need to take her off your call list,” he said tightly, waiting for: Are you a decision maker in your household? In the silence that followed his question, he grew impatient. “Who is this?” he demanded.
“Officer Jerry Malone, Seattle police.”
Johnny frowned. “And you’re calling Kate?”
“There’s been an accident. The victim has Kathleen Ryan’s name in her wallet as an emergency contact.”
Johnny sat down on the edge of the bed. There was only one person in the world who would still have Katie’s name as an emergency contact. What in the hell had she done now? And who still had emergency contact numbers in their wallet? “It’s Tully Hart, right? Is it a DUI? Because if she’s—”
“I don’t have that information, sir. Ms. Hart is being taken to Sacred Heart right now.”
“How bad is it?”
“I can’t answer that, sir. You’ll need to speak to someone at Sacred Heart.”
Johnny hung up on the officer, got the hospital’s number from Google, and called. It took at least ten minutes of being transferred around before he found someone who could answer his questions.
“Mr. Ryan?” the woman said. “I understand you are Ms. Hart’s family?”
He flinched at the question. How long had it been since he’d even spoken to Tully?
A lie. He knew exactly how long it had been.
“Yes,” he answered. “What happened?”
“I don’t have all the details, sir. I just know she’s en route to us now.”
He looked at his watch. If he moved quickly, he could make the 5:20 ferry and be at the hospital in a little more than an hour. “I’ll be there as quickly as I can.”
He didn’t realize that he hadn’t said goodbye until the phone buzzed in his ear. He hung up and tossed the handset on the bed.
He grabbed his wallet and picked up the phone again. As he reached for a sweater, he dialed a number. It rang enough times to remind him that it was early in the morning.
“Corrin. I’m sorry to call you so early, but it’s an emergency. Can you pick up the boys and take them to school?”
“I need to go to Sacred Heart. There’s been an accident. I don’t want to leave the boys alone, but I don’t have time to bring them to you.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I owe you one.” Then he hurried down the hallway and pushed open the boys’ bedroom door. “Get dressed, boys. Now.”
They sat up slowly. “Huh?” Wills said.
“I’m leaving. Corrin is going to pick you up in fifteen minutes.”
“But nothing. You’re going to Tommy’s house. Corrin might need to pick you up from soccer practice, too. I don’t know when I’ll be home.”
“What’s wrong?” Lucas asked, his sleep-lined face drawing into a worried frown. They knew about emergencies, these boys, and routine comforted them. Lucas most of all. He was like his mother, a nurturer, a worrier.
“Nothing,” Johnny said tightly. “I need to get into the city.”
“He thinks we’re babies,” Wills said, pushing the covers back. “Let’s go, Skywalker.”
Johnny looked impatiently at his watch. It was 5:08. He needed to leave now to make the 5:20 boat.
Lucas got out of bed and approached him, looking up at Johnny through a mop of brown hair. “Is it Marah?”
Of course that would be their worry. How many times had they rushed to see their mom in the hospital? And God knew what trouble Marah was in these days. They all worried about her.
He forgot how wary they could sometimes be even now, almost four years later. Tragedy had marked them all. He was doing his best with the boys, but his best wasn’t really enough to compensate for their mother’s loss. “Marah’s fine. It’s Tully.”
“What’s wrong with Tully?” Lucas asked, looking scared.
They loved Tully so much. How many times in the last year had they begged to see her? How many times had Johnny made some excuse? Guilt flared at that.
“I don’t have all the details yet, but I’ll let you know what’s up as soon as I can,” Johnny promised. “Be ready for school when Corrin gets here, okay?”
“We’re not babies, Dad,” Wills said.
“You’ll call us after soccer?” Lucas asked.
He kissed them goodbye and grabbed his car keys off the entry table. He looked back at them one last time—two identical boys who needed haircuts, standing there in their boxer shorts and oversized T-shirts, frowning with worry. And then he went out to his car. They were eleven years old; they could be alone for ten minutes.
He got into his car, started the engine, and drove down to the ferry. On board, he stayed in his car, tapping his finger impatiently on the leather-covered steering wheel for the thirty-five-minute crossing.
At precisely 6:10, he pulled up into the hospital’s parking lot and parked in the artificial brightness thrown down by a streetlamp. Sunrise was still a half hour away, so the city was dark.
He entered the familiar hospital and strode up to the information desk.
“Tallulah Hart,” he said grimly. “I’m family.”
“I want an update on Tully’s condition, and I want it now.” He said it so harshly the woman bounced in her seat as if a slight current had charged through her body.
“Oh,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
He walked away from the reception desk and began pacing. God, he hated this place, with its all-too-familiar smells.
He sank into an uncomfortable plastic chair, tapping his foot nervously on the linoleum floor. Minutes ticked by; each one unraveled his control just a little.
In the past four years, he’d learned how to go on without his wife, the love of his life, but it had not been easy. He’d had to stop looking back. The memories simply hurt too much.
But how could he not look back here, of all places? They’d come to this hospital for surgery and chemotherapy and radiation; they’d spent hours together here, he and Kate, promising each other that cancer was no match for their love.
When they’d finally faced the truth, they’d been in a room, here. In 2006. He’d been lying with her, holding her, trying not to notice how thin she’d become in the year of her life’s fight. Beside the bed, Kate’s iPod had been playing Kelly Clarkson. Some people wait a lifetime … for a moment like this.
He remembered the look on Kate’s face. Pain had been a liquid fire in her body; she hurt everywhere. Her bones, her muscles, her skin. She took as much morph**e as she’d dared, but she’d wanted to be alert enough so that her kids wouldn’t be afraid. I want to go home, she’d said.
When he’d looked at her, all he’d been able to think was: She’s dying. The truth came at him hard, bringing tears to his eyes.
“My babies,” she’d said quietly and then laughed. “Well, they’re not babies anymore. They’re losing teeth. It’s a dollar, by the way. For the tooth fairy. And always take a picture. And Marah. Tell her I understand. I was mean to my mom at sixteen, too.”