Marah shook the memory free and approached the bed. The room was sleek and boxy and filled with machines that plunked and whooshed and beeped. But all she saw was Tully.
Her godmother looked … ruined—crushed, almost—pierced by needles and hooked up to machines. Her face was bruised and cut and bandaged in places; her nose looked broken. Without hair, she looked small and vulnerable, and the tube going into her head was terrifying.
It’s my job to love you.
Marah drew in a sharp, ragged breath. She was responsible for this; she knew it. Her betrayal of Tully had to be part of why her godmother was here, fighting for life.
“What’s wrong with me?”
She’d never voiced this query before, not when she’d started smoking pot or sleeping with Pax, not when she’d cut her hair with a razor or pierced her eyebrow with a safety pin or when she’d gotten a small Celtic cross tattooed on the back of her wrist, not when she’d run away with Pax and lived on food they found in Dumpsters. Not even when she sold the story to Star magazine.
But she asked it now. She’d betrayed her godmother and run away from her family and ruined everything, broken the only hearts that mattered. Something must be wrong with her.
But what? Why had she turned her back so completely on everyone who loved her? And worse, why had she chosen to do that terrible, unforgivable thing to Tully?
“I know you’ll never forgive me,” she said, wishing now, for the first time, that she knew how to forgive herself.
* * *
I waken in a darkness so complete I wonder if I have been buried alive. Or maybe I am dead.
I wonder if a lot of people came to my funeral.
Oh, for God’s sake.
“Katie?” This time, I think I make a sound. It is her name, but it’s enough.
Close your eyes.
“They are closed. It’s dark. Where am I? Can you—”
Shhh. Relax. I need you to listen.
“I’m listening. Can you get us out of here?”
Focus. Listen. You can hear her.
There is a break in her voice when she says her.
“… up. Sorry … Please…”
“Marah.” When I say her name, lights come on. I see that I am in the hospital room again. Have I always been here? Is this the only here for me? Around me are walls of glass, through which I see other, similar rooms beyond. Inside here, there is a bed surrounded by machines that are hooked up to my broken body: tubes and electrodes and casts and bandages.
Marah is sitting beside that other me.
My goddaughter is in soft focus, her face is blurred a little. Her hair is cotton-candy-pink, razor-cut, and unattractive as hell, a little roosterlike the way she’s gelled it, and she has on more makeup than Alice Cooper in his heyday. A big black coat makes her look like a kid playing dress-up for Halloween.
She is saying my name and trying not to cry. I love this girl, and her sadness scalds my soul. She needs me to wake up. I can tell. I will open my eyes and smile at her and tell her it is okay.
I concentrate hard, say, “Marah, don’t cry.”
My body just lies there, inert, breathing through a tube, eyes swollen and shut.
“How can I help her?” I ask Kate.
You’d have to wake up.
“… Tully … I’m so sorry … for what I did.”
The light in this room flickers. Kate pulls away from me and floats around the bed to stand by her daughter.
Marah looks small and dark next to the glowing image of her mother. Kate whispers: Feel me, baby girl.
Marah gasps and looks up. “M-mom?”
All of the air seems to go out of the room. There is an exquisite second in which I can see that Marah believes.
Then she slumps forward in defeat. “When will I learn? You’re gone.”
“Can it be undone?” I ask Kate quietly. It scares me to ask, and the silence between my question and her answer feels like an eternity. At last, Kate looks away from her daughter and at me.
Can what be undone?
I indicate the woman in the bed—the other me. “Can I wake up?”
You tell me. What happened?
“I tried to help Marah, but … really. When have I ever been the person you want beside you in a foxhole?”
Always, Tul. You were the only one who didn’t know that. She looks down at Marah again, and sighs quietly, sadly.
Had I even thought about Marah last night? I can’t remember. I can’t remember anything about what happened to me, and when I try, some dark truth presses in and I push it away. “I’m afraid to remember what happened.”
I know, but it’s time. Talk to me. Remember.
I take a deep breath and scroll through memories. Where to pick up the story? I think about the months after her death, and all the changes that happened. The Ryans moved to Los Angeles and we lost touch in the way that happens with distance and grief. By early 2007, everything had changed. Oh, I still saw Margie. I had lunch with her once a month. She always said she looked forward to her days in the city, but I saw the sadness in her eyes, and the way her hands had begun to tremble, and so I wasn’t surprised when she told me that she and Bud were moving to Arizona. When they were gone, I tried like hell to get my life back on track. I applied for every broadcasting job I could find. I started with the top ten markets and worked my way down. But every single road came to a dead end. I was either overqualified or underqualified; some stations didn’t want to piss off the networks by hiring me. Some had heard I was a diva. The reasons didn’t really matter: the result was the same. I was unemployable. That’s how I came to be back where I started.
I close my eyes and remember it in detail. June of 2008, less than a week before Marah’s high school graduation and twenty months after the funeral, I …
am in the waiting room of KCPO, the small local TV station in Seattle where I first worked for Johnny, all those years ago.
The offices have moved—the station has grown—but it is still a little shabby and second-rate. Two years ago I would have considered local news beneath me.
I am not the woman I was before. I am like a leaf in the deep midwinter, curling up, turning black, becoming transparent and dry, afraid of a strong wind.
I am literally back where I began. I have begged for an interview with Fred Rorback, whom I’ve known for years. He is the station manager here now.
“Ms. Hart? Mr. Rorback will see you now.”
I get to my feet, smiling with more confidence than I feel.
Today I am starting over. This is what I tell myself as I walk into Fred’s office.
It is small and ugly, paneled in fake wood with a gunmetal-gray desk and two computers on the desk. Fred looks smaller than I remember, and—surprisingly—younger. When I first interviewed with him—in the summer before my senior year of high school—I thought he was older than dirt. I see now that he’s probably only twenty years older than I am. He is bald now, and smiling at me in a way I don’t like. There is sympathy in his eyes as he stands to greet me.
“Hi, Fred,” I say, shaking his hand. “It’s good of you to see me.”
“Of course,” he says, sitting back down. On his desk is a stack of paper. He points to it. “Do you know what those are?”
“The letters you wrote me in 1977. One hundred and twelve letters from a seventeen-year-old girl, asking for a job at the ABC affiliate station. I knew you’d be someone.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t given me that break in ’85.”
“You didn’t need me. You were destined for greatness. Everyone saw it. Whenever I saw you on the networks, I was proud.”
I feel a strange sadness at this. I never really thought about Fred after I left KLUE for New York. How hard would it have been to look back just once, instead of forward?
“I was sorry to hear about your show,” he says.
And there we are; facing why I am here. “I guess I screwed up,” I say quietly.
He stares at me, waiting.
“I need a job, Fred,” I say. “I’ll do anything.”
“I don’t have any anchor spots open, Tully, and even if I did, you wouldn’t be happy—”
“Anything,” I say again, fisting my hands. Shame burns my cheeks.
“I can’t pay—”
“Money isn’t my priority. I need a chance, Fred. I need to prove that I’m a team player.”
He smiles sadly. “You’ve never been a team player, Tully. That’s why you are a superstar. Do you remember how much notice you gave me when you got the network job in New York? None, that’s how much. You came to my office, thanked me for the opportunity, and said goodbye. This is the first time I’ve seen you since.”
I feel hopelessness well up. I refuse to let him see how deeply his words affect me, though. Pride is all I have left.
He leans forward, rests his elbows on his desk, and steeples his fingers. Through the vee, he stares at me. “I have a show.”
“It’s called Teen Beat with Kendra. It’s thirty minutes of nothing much, really. But Kendra’s a mover and shaker like you were. She’s a senior at Blanchet and her father owns the station, which is how she got a show for teens. Because of her school schedule, it tapes in the early morning.” He pauses. “Kendra needs a cohost, kind of a straight man to keep her from overemoting. Can you play second banana to a nobody on a fourth-rate show?”
I want to be grateful for this offer—and I am grateful, honestly—but I am also hurt and offended. I should say no. In the great reformation of my image quest, this will do almost nothing for me.
I should say no and wait for something more worthy of me.
But it has been so long. Being out of work, being nothing, is killing me. I can’t live this un-life anymore. And it can’t hurt to do a favor for this station’s owner.
And maybe I can mentor Kendra the way Edna Guber mentored me all those years ago.
“I’ll take it,” I say, and as I agree, I feel this huge weight sliding off my shoulders. A genuine smile tugs at my mouth. “Thank you, Fred.”
“You’re better than this, Tully.”
I sigh. “I used to think so, too, Fred. I guess that’s part of my problem. I’ll succeed here. You’ll see. Thank you.”
That night, I stay up late, surfing the Internet, finding out all that I can about my new cohost, Kendra Ladd. There is precious little. She is eighteen years old, a reasonably good athlete with stellar grades and a full-ride scholarship to the UW in the fall. She apparently came up with her show idea because kids are disenfranchised and confused these days. Her goal is to “bring teens together.” At least this was her answer in the Miss Seafair competition last year, in which she was first runner-up. A “disappointing finish,” apparently, which she wouldn’t let “derail” her.
At that, I roll my eyes and think: Listen to this, Katie. Hours later, when I go to bed, I am exhausted but I can’t sleep. The night sweats are so unbearable I get up at two and take a sleeping pill, which knocks me out; the next thing I know, my alarm is bleating.