"What if I forgot something?"
Tully crossed the room and came up beside Kate. She closed the suitcase and clamped it shut. "You're ready."
"No. You're ready. You're always ready," Kate said, trying not to sound as afraid as she was. It occurred to her suddenly, sharply, how much she'd miss her parents and even her little brother.
Tully stared at her. "We're a team, aren't we? The Firefly Lane girls."
"We have been, but—"
"No buts. We're going to college together, we're pledging the same sorority, and we'll be hired by the same TV station. Period. That's it. We can do it."
Kate knew what was expected of her, by Tully and everyone else: she was supposed to be strong and courageous. If only she felt it more deeply. But since she didn't feel it, she did what she often did lately around Tully. She smiled and faked it. "You're right. Let's go."
The drive from Snohomish to downtown Seattle, which usually took about thirty-five minutes, seemed to pass in a blink. Kate barely spoke, couldn't seem to find her voice, even as Tully and her mom chattered on about the upcoming Rush Week at the sororities. Her mother, it seemed, was more excited about their college adventure than Kate was.
In the towering high-rise of Haggett Hall, they made their way through the loud, crowded corridors to a small, dingy dorm room on the tenth floor. Here was where they'd stay during Rush. When it was over, they'd move into their sorority.
"Well. This is it," Mr. Mularkey said.
Kate went to her parents and threw her arms around them, forming the famous Mularkey family hug.
Tully stood back, looking oddly left out.
"Geez, Tully, get over here," Mom called out.
Tully rushed forward and let them all embrace her.
For the next hour they unpacked and talked and took pictures. Then, finally, Dad said, "Well, Margie, it's time. We don't want to get caught in traffic." There was one last round of hugs.
Kate clung to her mom, battling tears.
"It's going to be okay," Mom said. "Trust in all the dreams you've made. You and Tully are going to become the best reporters this state has ever seen. Your dad and I are so proud of you."
Kate nodded and looked up at her mom through hot tears. "I love you, Mom."
Much too soon, it was over.
"We'll call every Sunday," Tully said behind them. "Right after you get home from church."
And then, suddenly, they were gone.
Tully flopped on the bed. "I wonder what Rush will be like. I bet every house will want us. How could they not?"
"They'll want you," Kate said softly, and for the first time in months she felt like the girl they'd called Kootie all those years ago, the girl in the Coke-bottle glasses and high-water Sears jeans. It didn't matter that she'd gotten contacts and lost her braces and learned how to put on makeup to enhance her features. The sorority girls would see through all that.
Tully sat up. "You know I won't join a sorority unless we're in it together, right?"
"That's not fair to you, though." Kate went to the bed and sat down beside her.
"Remember Firefly Lane?" Tully said, lowering her voice. Over the years those words had become a catchall phrase, a kind of shorthand for their memories. It was their way of saying that a friendship begun at fourteen, back when David Cassidy was groovy and a song could make you cry, would last forever.
"I haven't forgotten."
"But you don't get it," Tully said.
"When my mom dumped me, who was there for me? When my gran died, who held my hand and took me in?" She turned to Kate. "You. That's the answer. We're a team, Kate. Forever friends, no matter what. Okay?" She bumped Kate, made her smile.
"You always get your way."
Tully laughed. "Of course I do. It's one of my more endearing traits. Now let's figure out what we're going to wear for the first day . . ."
The University of Washington was everything Tully had hoped it would be and more. Spread out over several miles and comprised of hundreds of gothic buildings, it was a world unto itself. The size daunted Kate, but not Tully; she figured if she could triumph here, she could triumph anywhere. From the moment they moved into their sorority, she began preparing for a reporting job at the networks. In addition to taking the core classes in communications, she made time to read at least four newspapers a day and watch as many newscasts as possible. When her big break came, she was going to be ready.
It had taken her most of the first few weeks of school to get her bearings and figure out what Phase One of the academic plan should be. She'd met with her School of Communications advisor so often that he sometimes avoided her in the hall when he saw her coming, but she didn't care. When she had questions, she wanted answers.
The problem, once again, was her youth. She couldn't get into the upper-level broadcasting or journalism classes; no amount of cajoling or prodding could move the behemoth bureaucracy of this huge state school. She simply had to wait her turn.
Not something she was good at.
She leaned sideways and whispered to Kate, "Why is there a science requirement? I won't need geology to be a reporter."
Tully frowned and sat back in her chair. They were in Kane Hall, one of the biggest auditoriums on campus. From her chair in the nosebleed section, crammed in among almost five hundred other students, she could barely see the professor, who'd turned out not to be a professor at all, but rather his teaching assistant.
"We can buy lecture notes. Let's go. The newspaper office opens at ten."
Kate didn't even glance at her, just kept scribbling notes on her paper.
Tully groaned and sat back, crossing her arms in disgust, waiting minute by minute for class to end. The second the bell rang, she shot to her feet. "Thank God. Let's go."
Kate finished with her notes and collected her pages, methodically organizing everything in her notebook.
"Are you making paper? Come on. I want to meet the editor."
Kate stood up and slung her backpack over one shoulder. "We are not going to get a job at the newspaper, Tully."
"Your mom told you not to be so negative, remember?"
They went downstairs, merging into the loud crowd of students.
Outside, the sun shone brightly on the brick-covered courtyard known as Red Square. Over by Suzzallo Library, a group of long-haired students were gathered beneath a CLEAN UP HANFORD sign.
"Quit complaining to my mom when you don't get your way," Kate said as they headed for the Quad. "We can't even get into journalism classes until we're juniors."
Tully stopped. "Are you really not going to come with me?"
Kate smiled and kept walking. "We aren't going to get the job."
"But you'll come with me, right? We're a team."
"Of course I'm coming."
"I knew it. You were just messing with me."
They kept talking as they walked through the Quad, where the cherry trees were lush and green, as was the grass. Dozens of students in brightly colored shorts and T-shirts played Frisbee and hacky sack.
At the newspaper office, Tully stopped. "I'll do the talking."
"I'm shocked, really."
Laughing, they went into the building, announced themselves to a shaggy-looking kid at the front desk, and were directed to the editor's office.
The entire meeting lasted less than ten minutes.
"Told you we were too young," Kate said as they walked back to the sorority.
"Bite me. Sometimes I think you don't even want to be a reporter with me."
"That's a complete lie: you hardly ever think."
Kate put an arm around her. "Come on, Barbara Walters, I'll walk you home."
Tully was so depressed over the meeting at the newspaper that Kate spent the rest of the day cajoling her into a good mood.
"Come on," she finally said, hours later, when they were back in their minuscule room in the sorority house. "Let's get ready. You want to look your best for the exchange."
"What do I care about a stupid exchange? Frat boys are hardly my ideal."
Kate struggled not to smile. Everything about Tully was big—she had such high highs and low lows. Their time at UW had only increased her tendencies. The funny thing was that while this huge crowded campus had somehow released Tully's extravagances, it had had an opposite and calming effect on Kate. She felt stronger every day here, more and more ready to become an adult. "You're such a drama queen. I'll let you do my makeup."
Tully looked up. "Really?"
"It's a time-limited offer. You better move your ass."
Tully jumped up, grabbed her hand, and dragged her down the hall to the bathroom, where dozens of girls were already showering and drying off and blowing their hair out.
They waited their turns, took their showers, and went back to the room. Thankfully, their other two roommates weren't there. The tiny space, filled mostly with dressers and desks and a set of bunk beds for the upperclassmen, barely gave the two of them room enough to turn around. Their own twin beds were in the large sleeping porch down the hall.
Tully spent almost an hour on their hair and makeup, then pulled out the fabric they'd bought for their togas—gold for Tully, silver for Kate—and created a pair of magical garments held in place by tight belts and rhinestone pins.
Kate studied her reflection when they were done. The sparkling silver fabric complemented her pale skin and golden hair and brought out the green in her eyes. After all the nerd years, she was still sometimes surprised that she could look good. "You're a genius," she said.
Tully twirled for inspection. "How do I look?"
The gold toga showed off her big boobs and tiny waist, and a riot of curled, teased, sprayed mahogany hair spilled down over her shoulder, à la Jane Fonda in Barbarella. Blue eye shadow and heavy liner made her look exotic.
"You look gorgeous," Kate said. "The guys'll be falling all over themselves."
"You care too much about love; must be all those romance novels you read. This is our night. Screw the boys."
"I don't want to screw them, but a date would be nice."
Tully grabbed Kate's arm and led her out into the hallway, which was crowded with laughing, talking girls in various stages of dress, running down the busy corridors with curling irons, hair dryers, and bedsheets.
Downstairs in the formal living room, one of the girls was teaching the others to Hustle.
Outside, Kate and Tully merged into the crowd walking down the street. There were people everywhere on this balmy late September night. Most of the fraternities were having an exchange. There were girls in costume, in ordinary clothes, in almost nothing at all, walking in sorority groups toward their various destinations.
The Phi Delt house was big and square, a fairly modern mixture of glass and metal and brick, that was set on a corner. Inside, the walls were worn, the furniture was broken and ripped and ugly, and the décor was prison-era 1950. Not that most of this could be seen through the crowd.
People were packed in like sardines, chugging beer from plastic cups and swaying to the music. "Shout!" blared through the speakers and everyone was singing along, jumping up in time to the music.