“Hey, Dad,” Wills said, jumping down the last three steps. Lucas was a second behind. They landed together hard enough to rattle the floorboards.
God, he loved these boys. And yet he’d let them down in a million tiny ways without Kate to guide him. Alone, he hadn’t been as good a parent as his sons—or Marah—deserved. He reached out to hold on to the entry table beside him. He had made so many mistakes in the years without Kate. How was it he saw his failings so clearly now?
Would they forgive him someday?
“Are you okay, Dad?” Lucas asked. Lucas, of course. Take care of Lucas … he won’t understand. He may miss me most of all …
Johnny nodded. “We’re going out to clean Dorothy’s house tomorrow and paint. Get ready for Tully to go home. I know how much you’ll want to help.”
“She and Mom liked blue,” Wills said. “That would be a good color for her room.”
Lucas took a step forward, looked up at Johnny. “It’s not your fault, Dad,” he said quietly. “Tully, I mean.”
Johnny reached out, touched Lucas’s cheek. “You’re so much like your mom,” he said.
“And Wills is like you,” Lucas said. The family myth; reiterated, passed along, repeated often. And true.
Johnny smiled. Maybe that’s how they would make it in the future, by keeping Kate alive in a thousand small ways while they moved on. He was ready, at last, to do that. Ironically, Tully’s accident had shown him what really mattered. “Where’s your sister?”
“Gee, Dad. Guess,” Wills said.
“In her room?”
“What does she do in there all the time?”
“She’s going through a hard time right now. Let’s cut her a little slack, okay, Conqueror?”
“Okay,” they said together.
He moved past them and went up the stairs. Although he paused at Marah’s closed door, he neither knocked nor said anything. He was trying like hell to give her space. Today, in the hospital, he’d seen how deep her pain ran, and he’d learned a good lesson in the past few years: Listening mattered as much as talking. When she was ready to talk, he would be the best version of himself. He wouldn’t fail her again.
He went into his room, tossed the pile of paperwork on his bed, and then took a long, hot shower. He was towel-drying his hair when there was a knock on his bedroom door.
He dressed quickly in jeans and a T-shirt and called out, “Come in.”
The door opened. Marah stood there, her hands clasped tightly together. He still got a little jolt of sadness every time he saw her. She was so thin and pale, a kind of grieving doppelgänger of the girl she used to be. “Can I talk to you?”
She glanced away. “Not in here.” Turning, she left his room and walked downstairs. In the mudroom, she grabbed one of the heavy sweaters from the hooks by the washing machine and put it on as she pushed through the door.
Out on the deck, she sat down in her mother’s favorite Adirondack chair. Above them, the sprawling branches of the maple tree were plush with autumn. Scarlet, tangerine, and lemon-yellow leaves lay scattered across the deck and were stuck here and there on the railing. How often had he and Katie sat out here at night, after the kids were in bed, with night at their feet and candles glowing in the air above them, listening to each other and the waves?
He shook the memory aside and sat down in the chair beside her. The old, weathered wood creaked as he settled into place.
“I sold a story to Star magazine,” she said quietly. “I told them Tully was a drug addict and an alcoholic. They paid me eight hundred and fifty dollars. It came out last week. I … saw it at Tully’s condo. She read it before she got in the car.”
Johnny took a deep breath and exhaled it. Then he did it again, thinking: Help me, Katie. When he was sure his voice would be even, he said, “That’s what you meant when you said this was your fault.”
She turned to him. The anguish in her eyes was heart-wrenching. “It is my fault.”
Johnny stared at his daughter, saw the pain in her eyes. “We fell apart without your mom,” he said. “And that’s on me. It hurt too much to be around Tully, so I walked away. Hell, I ran away. You aren’t the only one who hurt her.”
“That doesn’t help much,” she said miserably.
He said quietly, “I’ve thought about that day in your dorm room a thousand times. I was wrong to blow such a gasket. I would do anything to have a do-over and to tell you that I love you no matter what choice you make and that you can always count on me to love you.”
“I needed that,” she said, wiping her eyes.
“And I would tell Tully I’m sorry, too. I was wrong to blame her.”
Marah nodded but said nothing.
Johnny thought of all the mistakes he’d made with this girl, the times he’d walked away when he should have stayed; the times he’d remained silent when he should have spoken. All the wrong turns a single father makes when he’s in over his head. “Can you forgive me?”
She gazed at him steadily. “I love you, Dad,” she said.
“I love you, too, Munchkin.”
Marah’s smile was weak and a little sad. “What about Tully? She probably thinks—”
“What would you say to her right now?”
“I’d tell her how much I love her, but I won’t get a chance.”
“You’ll get a chance. You can tell her when she wakes up.”
“I have a little trouble believing in miracles these days.”
What he wanted to say was, Don’t we all? What he said was, “Your mom would hate to hear that. She would tell you that everything works out the way it’s supposed to and not to give up hope until you have to, and—”
“Certainly not then,” Marah said quietly, her voice an echo of his.
For a beautiful second, he felt Katie beside him. The leaves rustled overhead.
“I want to see Dr. Bloom again, if that’s okay.”
Johnny looked up briefly, saw a movement of the shadowy Mason jar. Thank you, Katie. “I’ll make an appointment.”
September 14, 2010
On the day before Tully was to be brought home, the Ryans and Mularkeys descended on the house on Firefly Lane like a professional cleaning crew. Dorothy had never seen people work so hard or get along so well.
The back bedroom—Tully’s at fourteen and now again at fifty—had been stripped down and scrubbed and painted a beautiful sky blue. The hospital bed had been delivered and set up to face the room’s only window. From her place in bed, Tully would be able to look through the open sash window, across the vegetable field, to her once-best-friend’s old house. The new bedding—picked out by Marah—was pretty white matelassé with a raised floral pattern, and the twin boys had chosen pictures to put on the dresser—there were at least a dozen of them, all told; pictures of Kate and Tully throughout their lives, of Tully holding a pink-faced infant, of Johnny and Tully accepting some award onstage. Dorothy wished she had a picture of herself and Tully to add to the collection, but there simply were none. In the middle of it all, a nurse showed up from the coma care company and talked to Dorothy for at least two hours about how to handle Tully’s daily care.
When everyone finally left, Dorothy walked from room to room, telling herself she could do this. She read through the nurse’s handouts and materials twice, making notes in the margins.
Twice, she’d almost gone for a drink, but in the end she’d made it through, and now she was in the hospital again, walking down the bright corridor toward her daughter’s room. Smiling at one of the floor nurses, she opened the door and went inside.
There was a man sitting by her daughter’s bed, reading. At Dorothy’s entrance, he looked up. She noticed several things about him at once: he was young, probably not more than forty-five, and there was an exotic, multicultural look to him. His hair was drawn back into a ponytail and she was pretty sure that beneath his white doctor’s coat would be worn, faded jeans and a T-shirt from some rock band. He wore the same plastic clogs that were her favorite.
“I’m sorry,” he said, rising, setting the book aside. She saw it was something called Shantaram. It was a thick book and he was halfway through it.
“Are you reading to her?”
He nodded, coming forward, extending his hand. “I’m Desmond Grant, an ER doc.”
“Dorothy. I’m her mother.”
“Well. I should be getting back to work.”
“You visit her often?”
“I try to come in either before or after my shifts. I see her a lot in the middle of the night.” He smiled. “I hear she’s going home today.”
“Yes. In about an hour.”
“It was nice to meet you.” He headed for the door.
He turned back. “Yes?”
“Seventeen Firefly Lane. In Snohomish. That’s where we’ll be. If you want to finish reading her that book.”
“Thanks, Dorothy. I’d like that.”
She watched him leave and then walked over to the bed. In the eleven days since the accident, Tully’s facial bruising had changed color, gone from a deep plum color to a rotten-banana brown. The dozens of tiny lacerations had scabbed over; only a few oozed yellow pus. Her full lips were cracked and dry.
Dorothy reached into her baggy smock pocket, pulling out a small jar of bee cream. Using the pad of her forefinger, she glazed the soft mixture across Tully’s slack lips. “That will make them feel better, I think. How did you sleep last night?
“Me? Not so good,” she went on, as if they were conversing. “I was nervous about your homecoming. I don’t want to let you down. You don’t think I will? I’m glad of that.”
She placed a hand on her daughter’s dry, bald scalp. “You’ll wake up when you’re ready. Healing takes time. Don’t I know that?”
Just as she finished the sentence, the door opened and Dr. Bevan and Johnny came into the room.
“There you are, Dorothy,” the doctor said, stepping aside to allow several nurses and two paramedics into the room.
She managed a smile. If it took all these people just to transport Tully, how in heaven did Dorothy think she could care for her alone?
“Breathe, Dorothy,” Johnny said, coming up beside her.
She gave him a grateful look.
After that, everything moved quickly. Tully was transported from the bed to a gurney, disconnected from the IV and machines, and wheeled away. At the front desk, Dorothy signed a bunch of paperwork, collected some discharge papers and care procedure brochures and a set of notes from Dr. Bevan. By the time she was in Johnny’s car, following the ambulance, she felt sick with worry.
On Columbia, they drove downhill—and there was the rough gray stanchion Tully had hit. Beneath it, on the pavement, a makeshift memorial had sprung up. Balloons and dying flowers and candles created a little shrine of sorts. A sign read WAKE UP, TULLY. Another read WE’RE PRAYING 4 U.