For months, Dorothy had prayed for this. She’d knelt at her daughter’s bedside every evening. It was uncomfortable, painful on her aging joints, but she was pretty sure that the pain was part of the price. So she knelt and she prayed, night after night, as autumn darkened into winter and then brightened again into spring. She prayed while her vegetables put down their roots and gathered the strength to grow; she prayed while the apples budded on her trees and began to ripen. Her prayer was always the same: Please, God, let her wake up.
In all that time, through the journey of her desperate words, she’d never allowed herself to really think about this moment. She’d been afraid to imagine an answer to her prayers, as if her need could jinx it.
That was what she’d told herself, anyway. Now she saw that it was another in the long string of lies she’d told herself over the years. She hadn’t dared to imagine this moment because it terrified her.
What if Tully woke up and wanted nothing to do with her?
It was certainly a likely scenario. Dorothy had been a terrible parent for so long, and now, when she’d finally learned to be better, finally dared to let herself tumble into motherhood, it was not real. Not for Tully, anyway, who had slept through the whole thing.
“You’re humming again,” Margie said gently.
Dorothy pressed her lips together. “Nervous habit.”
Margie reached over and held Dorothy’s hand. It still surprised her sometimes, the easy intimacy she’d found with Margie; it surprised her, too, how much it could mean to simply be touched by another human being who understood you. “I’m afraid,” she said.
“Of course you are. You’re a mother. Fear is the job description.”
Dorothy turned to look at Margie. “What do I know about motherhood?”
“You’re a fast learner.”
“What if she doesn’t want anything to do with me when she wakes up? I don’t know how to go back to who I was without her. I can’t just walk up to her bed and say hi.”
Margie’s smile was sad, as tired as the look in her eyes. “She always wanted something to do with you, Dorothy. I remember the first time she asked me what was wrong with her, why you didn’t love her. It broke my heart, honest to God. I told her that sometimes life didn’t work out the way you expected, but that you never gave up hope. She was seventeen then. Your mother had just died and she was afraid of where she would live. We took her in, gave her a place to live. That very first night, when she was in bed in Katie’s room, I sat down beside her and told her good night. She looked up at me and said, ‘She’ll miss me someday,’ and I said, ‘How could she not?’ and Tully said—so quietly I almost couldn’t hear: ‘I’ll wait.’ And she did, Dorothy. She waited for you in a thousand different ways.”
Dorothy wished she were the kind of woman who could believe a thing like that.
* * *
Time passed for Tully in blurry images and nonsensical vignettes—a white car, a woman in pink saying something about feeling better now, a moving bed, a TV tucked up in the corner of a white room, voices that were a distant drone. Now there was only one voice. Sounds came at her, breaking apart, forming … words.
She blinked slowly and opened her eyes. There was a man standing beside her. A man in a white coat. She couldn’t really focus on him; the light in here was so dim. She missed light. What did that mean? And she was cold.
“I’m Dr. Bevan. You’re in Sacred Heart Hospital. You got here about five days ago. Do you remember?”
She frowned, trying to think. She felt as if she’d been in darkness for hours, years, lifetimes. She couldn’t remember anything. Just something about a light … the sound of running water … the smell of green spring grass.
She tried to wet her lips—they felt painfully dry—and her throat was fricking on FIRE. “Wha…”
“You were in a car accident and sustained a serious head trauma. Your left arm was broken in three places, as was your left ankle—though that was a clean, simple break. Both bones healed nicely.”
“No, Tully, don’t try to move.”
Had she been trying to move? “How … long?” She didn’t even know what she was asking, and by the time he said something—she had no idea what—she was closing her eyes again. She would just sleep for a minute …
* * *
She heard something. Felt something. She wasn’t alone. She took a deep breath, released it slowly, and opened her eyes.
Johnny. He was here, beside her. Behind him stood Margie and Marah and … Cloud? What was her mother doing here?
“You’re back,” Johnny said quietly, his voice uneven. “We thought we’d lost you.”
She tried to find her voice, but even with her best effort, her words came out garbled. She couldn’t think clearly.
He touched her face. “We’re here. All of us.”
She worked hard to focus, desperate suddenly to tell him something. “Johnny … I…”
What did that mean? Saw who?
“Don’t worry, Tul,” he said. “We have time now.”
She closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep. Sometime later, she thought she heard voices—Johnny and some other man. Words drifted toward her—remarkable recovery, brain activity normal, give her time—but none of it meant anything to her so she let it go.
* * *
Johnny was still there when she woke up again. So was Margie. They stood by her bedside, talking quietly, as she opened her eyes. It felt different, this waking; she knew it instantly.
Margie saw her open her eyes and she started to cry. “There you are.”
“Hey,” Tully croaked. It took concentration to find that simple word, to find herself in words. She said something—she didn’t know what, and she was pretty sure it didn’t make sense. She could tell that her speech was slow, a little slurry, but the way they smiled took all that away, made it meaningless.
Johnny moved closer. “We missed you.”
Margie came closer. “There’s my girl.”
“How long … here?” She knew there were more words that belonged in her question, but she couldn’t grab hold of them.
Margie looked at Johnny.
“You got here six days ago,” Johnny said evenly. He drew in a breath. “Your accident was on September third, 2010.”
Margie said, “Today is August twenty-seventh, 2011.”
“You were in a coma for almost a year,” Johnny said.
She closed her eyes, feeling a little flutter of panic. She couldn’t remember anything about a car accident or being in a coma, or—
Suddenly, it was there in the darkness with her, a beautiful singular memory. Two grown women on bikes, riding side by side, their arms outstretched and … starlight … Katie beside her saying, Who says you get to die?
It couldn’t be real. She’d imagined it. That had to be the answer.
“They had me on some big drugs, I guess, right?” Tully said, opening her eyes slowly.
“Yes,” Margie said. “To save your life.”
So that was it. In a drugged-out, half-dead state, she’d imagined her best friend. It was hardly a surprise.
“You have some physical and occupational therapy to do. Dr. Bevan has recommended an excellent therapist who will work with you. He doesn’t think it will be too long before you’re ready to live at home by yourself.”
“Home,” she said quietly, wondering exactly where that was.
* * *
In her dream, she was in an Adirondack chair by the beach and Katie was beside her. But it wasn’t the gray, pebbled shore of Bainbridge Island stretched out in front of them, nor was it the choppy blue waters of the bay.
Where are we? her dream self asked, and as she waited for an answer, light spilled across the turquoise water, illuminated everything until it was so bright Tully couldn’t see.
When someone hip-bumps you or tells you that it’s not all about you or when our music plays. Listen and you’ll hear me in all of it.
Tully woke with a start. She sat up so quickly her breath caught and the pain in her head intensified.
The memory of being in the light rushed at her, bowled her over. She’d been with Katie somewhere—over there—she’d held her hand, heard her say: I’ll always be with you. Whenever you hear our music or laugh so hard you cry, I’ll be there. When you close your eyes at night and remember, I’ll be there. Always.
It was real. Somehow. Impossibly.
It wasn’t drugs, or her brain injury, or wishful thinking. It was real.
The next day was an endless series of medical tests: Tully was poked and prodded and zapped and X-rayed. It surprised her—and everyone else—how quickly she was improving.
“Are you ready?” Johnny said when she’d finally been discharged.
“Where is everyone?”
“Preparing for your homecoming. It’s a pretty big deal. Are you ready?”
She sat in a wheelchair by the room’s only window, wearing a helmet in case of a fall. Her reflexes were a little impaired and no one wanted her landing on her head.
“Yeah.” She had trouble finding words sometimes, so she kept her answers simple.
“How many of them are out there?”
She frowned. “How many of what?”
She gave a sigh. “No fans for me.”
He crossed the room and came up beside her, turning her wheelchair toward the window. “Look more closely.”
She followed the direction of his glance. A crowd of people stood in the parking lot below, huddled beneath brightly colored umbrellas. There were at least three dozen of them. “I don’t see…” she began, and then she saw the signs.
WE ♥ U TULLY ♥!
GET WELL TULLY
UR GIRLFRIENDS NEVER GAVE UP!
“They’re for me?”
“Your recovery is big news. Fans and reporters started gathering as soon as word leaked.”
The crowd blurred before Tully’s eyes. At first she thought the rain had picked up. Then she realized she was remembering all that she’d gone through in the last few years and crying for this evidence that she hadn’t been forgotten after all.
“They love you, Tul. I hear Barbara Walters wants an interview.”
She didn’t even know what to say to that. It didn’t matter anyway; Johnny was on the move. He grabbed the chair’s rubberized handles and wheeled her out of the hospital room. She gave one last thoughtful look as she left.
In the lobby, he stopped and set the brake. “I won’t be long. I’ll just send your fans and the reporters on their way.”
He positioned her against the wall, with the lobby behind her, and went through the glass pneumatic doors.
On this late August afternoon, a light rain drizzled down even as the sun shone. This was what locals called sun breaks.