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Tully felt an unexpected pinch of nostalgia for their youth. They'd spent most of one summer here, taking their separate, lonely lives and braiding them into a rope of friendship. She lay down beside Kate, scooting close enough that their shoulders were touching. After the last few days, she needed to know that her best friend was finally beside her. She positioned her transistor radio nearby and turned up the volume.

"Hell Week with Bugs was even worse than usual," Kate said. "I did talk Sean into eating a slug, though. It was worth the week's allowance I lost." She giggled. "You should have seen his face when I started laughing. Aunt Georgia tried to talk to me about birth control. Can you believe it? She said I should—"

"Do you even know how lucky you are?" The words were out before Tully could stop them, spilling like jelly beans from a machine.

Kate shifted her weight and turned, until she was lying sideways in the grass, looking at Tully. "You usually want to hear everything about the camping trip."

"Yeah, well. I've had a bad week."

"Did you get fired?"

"That's your idea of a bad week? I want your perfect life, just for a day."

Kate drew back, frowning. "You sound pissed at me."

"Not at you." Tully sighed. "You're my best friend."

"So, who are you mad at?"

"Cloud. Gran. God. Take your pick." She took a deep breath and said, "Gran died while you were gone."

"Oh, Tully."

And there it was, what Tully had been waiting for all week. Someone who loved her and was truly sorry for her. Tears stung her eyes; before she knew it, she was crying. Big, gulping sobs that wracked her body and made it impossible to breathe, and all the while, Kate held her, letting her cry, saying nothing.

When there were no tears left inside, Tully smiled shakily. "Thanks for not saying you felt sorry for me."

"I am, though."

"I know." Tully lay back against the log and stared up at the night sky. She wanted to admit that she was scared and that as alone as she'd sometimes felt in life, she knew now what real loneliness was, but she couldn't say the words, not even to Kate. Thoughts—even fears—were airy things, formless until you made them solid with your voice, and once given that weight, they could crush you.

Kate waited a moment, then said, "So what will happen?"

Tully wiped her eyes and reached into her pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. Lighting one up, she took a drag and coughed. It had been years since she'd smoked. "I have to go into foster care. It's only for a while, though. When I'm eighteen I can live alone."

"You're not going to live with strangers," Kate said fiercely. "I'll find Cloud and make her do the right thing."

Tully didn't bother answering. She loved her friend for saying it, but they lived in two different worlds, she and Kate. In Tully's world, moms weren't there to help you out. What mattered was making your own way.

What mattered was not caring.

And the best way not to care was to surround yourself with noise and people. She'd learned that lesson a long time ago. She didn't have long here in Snohomish. In no time at all, the authorities would find her and drag her back to her lovely new family, full of displaced teens and the people paid to house them. "We should go to that party tomorrow night. The one you wrote about in your last letter."

"At Karen's house? The summer's-end bash-o-rama?"


Kate frowned. "My folks would have a cow if they found out I went to a kegger."

"We'll tell them you're staying at my house across the street. Your mom will believe Cloud is back for a day."

"If I get caught—"

"You won't." Tully saw how worried her friend was, and she knew she should stop this plan right now. It was reckless, maybe even dangerous. But she couldn't stop the train. If she didn't do something drastic, she'd sink into the gooey darkness of her own fears. She'd think about the mother who'd so often and so repeatedly abandoned her, and the strangers with whom she'd soon live, and the grandmother who was gone. "We won't get caught. I promise." She turned to Kate. "You trust me, don't you?"

"Sure," Kate said slowly.

"Great. Then we're going to the party."

"Kids! Breakfast is ready."

Kate was the first one to sit down.

Mom had just put a plate of pancakes down on the table when there was a knock at the door.

Kate jumped up. "I'll get it." She ran for the door and yanked it open, feigning surprise. "Mom, look. It's Tully. Gosh, I haven't seen you in forever."

Mom stood near the table, wearing her zip-up, floor-length red velour robe and pink fuzzy slippers. "Hey, Tully, it's good to see you again. We missed you on the camping trip this year, but I know how important your job is."

Tully lurched forward. Looking up, she started to say something, but no sound came out of her mouth. She just stood there, staring at Kate's mom.

"What is it?" her mother said, moving toward Tully. "What's going on?"

"My gran died," Tully said softly.

"Oh, honey . . ." Mom pulled Tully into a fierce hug, holding her for a long time. Finally, Mom drew back, put an arm around Tully, and led her to the sofa in the living room.

"Turn off the griddle, Katie," Mom said without even looking back.

Kate turned off the griddle and then followed them to the living room. She hung back, standing in the curl of the archway that separated the two rooms. Neither of them seemed to care that she was there.

"Did we miss the funeral?" Mom asked gently, holding Tully's hand.

Tully nodded. "Everyone said they were sorry. I officially hate those words now."

"People don't know what to say, that's all."

"My favorite part was the ever popular 'she's in a better place.' As if dead is better than being with me."

"And your mom?"

"Let's just say she doesn't call herself Cloud for nothing. She came and went." Tully glanced at Kate and added quickly, "But she's here for now. We're staying across the street."

"Of course she is," Mom said. "She knows you need her."

"Can I spend the night there tonight, Mom?" Kate asked; her heart was beating so hard and fast, she was sure her mom could hear it. She tried to look completely trustworthy, but since she was lying, she expected her mother to see through it.

Mom didn't even look at Kate. "Of course. You girls need to be together. And you remember this, Tully Hart: You're the next Jessica Savitch. You will survive this. I promise."

"You really think so?" Tully asked.

"I know so. You have a rare gift, Tully. And you can be certain that your gran is in Heaven watching out for you."

Kate felt a sudden urge to butt in, to step forward and ask her mother if she believed she could change the world. She even went so far as to move forward and open her mouth, but before she could form the question, she heard Tully say,

"I'll make you proud, Mrs. M. I promise I will."

Kate paused. She had no idea how she could make her mother proud; she wasn't like Tully. Kate had no rare gift.

The thing was, though, her own mother should think she did and should point it out. Instead, her mother—like everyone else—was caught in the gravitational pull of Tully's sun.

"We're both going to be reporters," Kate said, more harshly than she intended. At their startled looks, she felt like an idiot. "Come on," she said, forcing a smile this time. "We should eat before everything is ruined."

The party was a bad idea. Taunting-Carrie-at-the-prom bad.

Tully knew it but couldn't turn back. In the days since Gran's funeral and Cloud's encore abandonment, her grief had been slowly replaced by anger. It darted through her blood like a predator, puffing her up with emotions that couldn't be tamped down or contained. She knew she was being reckless, but she couldn't change her course. If she slowed down, even for a moment, her fear would catch up with her and the plan was in motion now. They were in her mother's old bedroom, supposedly getting ready.

"Ohmigod," Kate said in an awed voice. "You gotta read this."

Tully marched over to the poorly decoupaged water bed, grabbed the paperback novel out of Kate's hands, and threw it across the room. "I can't believe you brought a book."

"Hey!" Kate tried to sit up; waves rolled around her. "Wulfgar was tying her to the end of the bed. I have to find out—"

"We're going to a party, Kate. Enough with the romance novels. And just for the record, tying a woman to a bed is S-I-C-K."

"Yeah," Kate said slowly, frowning. "I know, but—"

"No buts. Get dressed."

"Okay, okay." She shuffled over to the pile of clothes Tully had laid out for her earlier—a pair of Jordache jeans and a clingy bronze halter top. "My mom would die if she knew I was going out in this."

Tully didn't respond. Truthfully she wished she hadn't heard. Mrs. M. was the last person she wanted to think about right now. She focused instead on getting dressed: jeans, pink tube top, and navy platform lace-up sandals. Bending over, she brushed her hair for maximum Farrah volume, then sprayed it with enough Aqua Net to stop a bug in flight. When she was sure she looked perfect, she turned to Kate. "Are you—"

Kate was dressed for the party and back on the bed reading again.

"You are so pathetic."

Kate rolled onto her back and smiled. "It's romantic, Tully. I'm not kidding."

Tully grabbed the book again. She wasn't sure why, but this really pissed her off. Maybe it was Kate's glossy idealism; how could she see Tully's life and still believe in fairy-tale endings? "Let's go."

Without waiting to see if Kate was following, Tully went out to the garage and opened the doors and then slid into the cracked black driver's seat of her grandmother's Queen Victoria, ignoring the way the stuffing poked into her back. She slammed the door shut.

"You have her car?" Kate said, opening the passenger door and poking her head in.

"Technically it's my car now."

Kate slid onto the seat and closed the door.

Tully popped a Kiss tape into the eight-track player and cranked up the volume. Then she put the car in reverse and eased her foot onto the gas.

They sang at the top of their lungs all the way to Karen Abner's house, where at least five cars were already parked. Several of them were tucked into the trees and out of sight. When someone's parents left town, word spread fast; parties sprouted like mushrooms.

Inside, it was a smoke-fest. The sweet smell of pot and incense was almost overpowering. The music was so loud it hurt Tully's ears. She grabbed Kate's hand and led her down the stairs to the rec room in the basement.

The huge room had fake-wood-paneled walls and lime-green indoor-outdoor carpeting. In the center was a cone fireplace surrounded by an orange half-moon-shaped sofa and several brown beanbag chairs. Over to the left, some boys were playing foosball and screaming at every turn of the handle. Kids were dancing wildly, singing to the music. A couple of boys were on the sofa, getting high, and a girl was over by the door, shotgunning a beer beneath a huge painting of a Spanish matador.