"Don't make me shoot you. I'm running out of water."
Kate laughed. "Okay. Pour up, bartender."
"One more," Tully said right away.
Kate shrugged and drank up.
"Okay. Bathing suits. Put yours on. There's a robe in your bedroom."
As usual, Kate did as she was told.
"Where are we going?" she asked as they walked down the glossy slate floor of the lodge's main floor.
They came to the spa and followed the signs to the hot tub.
In a back corner, they came to a beautiful steaming pool surrounded by Northwest and Asian styled accents. The air smelled of lavender and roses. Lush green plants in ceramic and bronze pots made it almost feel as if you were outdoors.
They climbed down into the hot, bubbling water.
Kate immediately sighed and leaned back. "This is Heaven."
Tully stared at her best friend, seeing now, amid the softening curtain of steam, how tired she looked. "You look terrible," she said gently.
Kate opened her eyes slowly. Tully could see anger flash across her face, but as quickly as it flared, it died. "It's Marah. Sometimes when she looks at me, I actually see hate in her eyes. I can't tell you how much that hurts."
"She'll grow out of it."
"That's what everyone says, but I don't believe it. If there was just some way I could force her to talk to me, and to listen. We tried counseling, but she refused to participate."
"You can't make a kid open up. Only peer pressure can get them to do anything, right?"
"Oh, they'll open up. You just can't believe anything they say. According to Marah, I'm the only mother in the world who's so grossly overprotective."
Tully saw the deep unhappiness in her friend's eyes and although she tried to believe it was just ordinary motherhood stress, suddenly she was afraid. No wonder Johnny was so worried. Last year Tully had interviewed a young mother who was overwhelmed and depressed. A few months after the interview the woman had swallowed a bottle of pills. The very thought of that terrified her. She had to find a way to help Kate. "Maybe you should see someone."
"You mean a shrink?"
"I don't need to talk about my problems. I need to be more organized, that's all."
"Organization is hardly your problem. You don't have to go on every field trip or make costumes for every kid's play or cookies for every bake sale. And they can ride the damn bus to school."
"You sound like Johnny. I suppose now you're going to tell me that everything would be better if I did all this and wrote a book, too. Well, I tried. I've been trying." Kate's voice broke. Tears welled in her eyes. "Where's the tequila?"
"Excellent idea. We haven't been totally toasted in years."
"Like, fer sure." Kate laughed.
"We have massages in thirty minutes, though, so we'll have to wait a while."
"Massages." Kate looked at her. "Thanks, Tully. I needed this."
It wasn't enough by a long shot. Tully could see that now. Katie needed real help, not a few shots of tequila and a mud wrap, and she needed her best friend to find the answer. "If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?"
"Marah," she said softly. "I'd get her to talk to me again."
Like magic, Tully knew what to do. "Why don't you come on my show? You and Marah. We'll do a mother-daughter segment. Live would be best so she knows there's no editing. She'll see how much you love her and how lucky she is."
Hope took ten years off Kate's face. "You think it would work?"
"You know how badly Marah wants to be on TV. She'd never let herself look bad in front of the camera. She'd have to listen to you then."
That tired desperation finally left Kate's eyes. In its stead was a bright anticipation. "What would I do without you, Tully?"
Tully's smile felt too big for her face. She could help her friend through all this, maybe even save her life. Just like they promised all those years ago. "We'll never have to find out."
"Will your makeup people hide my wrinkles?"
Tully laughed. "Believe me, when they get done, you'll look younger than Marah."
Kate returned from the spa with a new attitude. The moment she walked into the house, Marah started in on her, complaining about some event she couldn't attend because of her curfew, but for once the words were arrows that found no target and clattered uselessly to the ground. Soon, Kate thought, smiling to herself, soon we'll find a way back to each other.
She put her clothes away, took a nice long bath, then gathered her boys into her arms for a story. They were just falling asleep when Johnny poked his head in.
"Shh," she said, closing the book. Kissing each little forehead, she tucked the boys into bed, then went to her husband.
"Did you guys have a good time?" Johnny said, pulling her into his arms.
"Great. Tully has a plan—"
Downstairs, the doorbell rang. Marah's voice followed: "I'll get it!"
Johnny and Kate frowned at each other. "It's Sunday night," Kate said. "She's not allowed to have kids over on a school night."
But when they got downstairs, they saw Mom and Dad in the living room, carrying suitcases.
"Mom?" Kate said. "What's going on?"
"Tully sent us over to watch the kids for a week. The car outside is going to take you two to the airport. Tully said to pack bathing suits and sunscreen. That's all you get to know."
"I can't leave work," Johnny said. "We've got Senator McCain on."
"Tully's your boss, isn't she?" Dad said. "I guess if she says you're taking a vacation, you're taking a vacation."
Kate and Johnny looked at each other. They'd never taken a vacation away from the kids.
"It might be nice," he said, smiling.
For the next hour, they ran through the house, packing, making lists, gathering telephone numbers. Then they kissed the kids—even Marah—thanked Mom and Dad, and went out to the waiting limousine.
"She doesn't do anything halfway," Johnny said, sliding into the plush, dark interior.
Kate snuggled beside him. "I feel more relaxed already and we're still in our driveway."
The car engine started, purred.
"Do you know where we're going?" Johnny asked the driver.
"The tickets are in the pocket across from you, sir."
Johnny reached for the envelope, opened it. "Kauai," he said.
It was where they'd gone on their honeymoon. Kate closed her eyes, picturing the swaying palm trees and pinkish sand of Anini Beach.
"No fair going to sleep," Johnny said.
"I'm not sleeping." She twisted around, draped herself across his lap. "Thanks for helping Tully to kidnap me."
"I've been worried about you."
"I've been worried about me, too. But I feel better now."
"How much better?"
She glanced at the open window that separated them from the driver. "Close the window and I'll show you."
"Are we talking sex?"
"We're talking sex," she said, unbuttoning his shirt. "But if you'd hit the damn button, we'd be doing more than talking."
He smiled slowly. "Oh, I'll hit it."
Kate and Johnny returned home, rested and refreshed, on the night before the big broadcast. The next morning, Kate woke up at five o'clock to go to the bathroom and found it impossible to go back to sleep.
The house was quiet and dark. She didn't bother turning on lights as she went from room to room, picking up toys and putting them away. She still couldn't quite believe today was going to happen. She'd waited so long, and prayed so hard, for a change in her relationship with Marah that she'd almost given up hope. Tully, and this program, had given it back to her. Even Johnny seemed optimistic. He'd done as Tully asked—or demanded, actually—and relinquished control over the segment. For this one broadcast, he was going to be simply an audience member, a father supporting his family.
In the bathroom, after she'd taken a shower and gotten dressed, Kate stared at herself in the mirror, trying not to notice the lines that had begun to collect in the corners of her eyes as she practiced what she would say. "That's right, Tully. I've given up my career to be an at-home mom. Frankly, I think it would have been easier to work."
The audience would laugh at that.
"I still want to be a writer someday, but it's so hard to balance work and motherhood. And Marah needs me more now than she did as a toddler. Everyone talks about the terrible twos, but in my house, it's the terrible teens. I miss the days when I could put her in a playpen and know that she was safe."
A murmur of agreement would certainly follow that remark.
She went downstairs, made breakfast for everyone, and set it out on the table. The boys were down the stairs in record time, clambering over each other in their quest for the perfect chair.
When Marah came downstairs, clearly excited for the taping, Kate couldn't contain her excitement.
This was going to work. She knew it.
"Stop grinning, Mom. You're creeping me out," Marah said, pouring milk into her oatmeal bowl and carrying it to the table.
"Leave your mom alone," Johnny said, walking past her. He paused behind Kate, squeezed her shoulders, and kissed the back of her neck. "You look gorgeous."
She turned and put her arms around him, gazing into his eyes. "I'm glad you're going to be my husband today and not her producer. I need you in the audience."
"Don't thank me. Tully pushed me completely on the outside. No one on-set is allowed to tell me anything or show me a script. Tully wants me to be surprised."
From that moment on, the day flew forward like the Millennium Falcon in hyperspace. It wasn't until they were on the ferry, crossing the bay, that she started to get nervous.
The audience would laugh at her, say she should have done more with her life, been more.
She'd look fat.
She was so caught up in her negative fantasies that when they parked she couldn't get out of the car. "I'm scared," she said to Johnny.
Marah rolled her eyes and walked away.
Johnny took her arm, unhooked her seat belt, and eased her out of the car.
"You'll be great," he said, leading her into the elevator. In the studio, there were people everywhere, running to and fro, yelling at one another. Johnny leaned close. "It's just like your old days in news, remember?"
She heard her name ring through the busy hallway and looked up. Tully, looking thin and gorgeous, was coming at her with open arms.
Tully pulled her into a fierce embrace, and Kate finally felt herself relaxing. This wasn't just a TV show; it was Tully's show. Her best friend would make sure Kate did well.
"I'm a little nervous," Kate confided.
"A little?" Marah said. "She's been acting like Rain Man."
Tully laughed at that and looped her arm through Kate's. "There's nothing to worry about. You're going to be great. Everyone is excited to have you and Marah on the show." She led them to the makeup room and left them there.