The answer was slim comfort, actually. In the day they'd officially been friends, Kate had learned one thing about Tully: she was a girl who made Plans.
And today's plan was to make Kate beautiful.
"Don't you trust me?"
There it was, the big question. It was like rolling a Yahtzee: once Tully said it, Kate lost the game. She had to trust her new friend. "Of course I do. It's just that I'm not allowed to wear makeup."
"Believe me, I'm such an expert your mom will never know. Come on."
Tully walked boldly through the drugstore, choosing eye shadow and blush colors that were "right" for Kate, and then—amazingly—she paid for everything. When Kate said something, Tully said airily, "We're friends, aren't we?"
On the way out of the store, Tully bumped her, shoulder to shoulder.
Kate giggled and bumped her back. They made their way through town and followed the river toward home. All the while, they talked about clothes and music and school. Finally, they turned off the old road and went down Tully's driveway.
"My gran would freak if she saw this place," Tully said, looking embarrassed. Rhodies the size of hot-air balloons covered the side of the house. "She owns this house, you know."
"Does she visit you?"
"Nah. It's easier to wait."
"My mom to forget about me again." Tully stepped over a mound of newspapers and around a trio of garbage cans, then opened the door. Inside, the smoke in the room was thick.
Tully's mom was in the living room, lying on the sofa, with her eyes half opened.
"H-hello, Mrs. Hart," Kate said. "I'm Kate from next door."
Mrs. Hart tried to sit up, but obviously she was too weak to manage it. "Hello, girl from nex' door."
Tully grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her through the living room and into her bedroom, then slammed the door shut. She immediately went to her stack of records, pulled out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and put it on the turntable. When the music started up, she tossed Kate a Tiger Beat and dragged a chair over to the vanity. "You ready?"
Kate's nervousness came swooping back. She knew she'd get in trouble for this, but how would she ever make friends or become popular if she didn't take a few risks? "I'm ready."
"Good. Sit down. We'll do your hair first. It needs some highlights. This is exactly what Maureen McCormick uses."
Kate looked at Tully in the mirror. "How do you know that?"
"I read it in last month's Teen magazine."
"I'm guessing she goes to professionals." Kate opened the Tiger Beat and tried to concentrate on the article ("Jack Wild's Dream Date—It Could Be You!").
"Take that back. I read the instructions twice."
"Is there any chance I'm going to end up bald?"
"Hardly any. Now be quiet. I'm reading the instructions again."
Tully separated Kate's hair into strips and began spraying Sun-In onto the pieces. It took almost an hour to get it done to her satisfaction. "You are going to look like Marcia Brady when I'm done."
"What's it like, being popular?" Kate hadn't meant to ask the question; it just slipped out.
"You'll see. But you'll stay my friend, won't you?"
Kate laughed at that. "Very funny. Hey, that sort of burns."
"Really? That can't be good. And some of your hair is falling out".
Kate managed not to make a face. If going bald was the price of being Tully's friend, she'd pay it.
Tully reached for the blow dryer and turned it on, blasting Kate's hair with heat.
"I got my period," Tully yelled. "So at least assface didn't knock me up."
Kate heard the bravado in her friend's voice and saw it in her eyes. "I prayed for you."
"You did?" Tully asked. "Wow. Thanks."
Kate didn't know what to say to that. To her, praying was like brushing your teeth before bed, just something you did.
Tully clicked off the dryer and smiled, but she looked worried again. Maybe it was the smell of burning hair. "Okay. Take a shower and rinse it out."
Kate did as she was told. A few minutes later, she got out of the shower, dried off, and got dressed again.
Tully immediately grabbed her hand and led her back to the chair. "Is your hair falling out?"
"Some is," she admitted.
"If you're bald, I'll shave my head. Promise." Tully combed and dried Kate's hair.
Kate couldn't look. She closed her eyes and let Tully's voice meld into the whine of the dryer.
"Open your eyes."
Kate looked up slowly. At this distance, she didn't need her glasses, but force of habit made her lean forward. The girl in the mirror had straight streaked blond hair, parted with precision and dried perfectly. For once it looked soft and pretty instead of thin and lank. The white highlights showed off her leaf-green eyes and the hint of pink on her lips. She looked almost pretty. "Wow," she said, too choked up with gratitude to say more.
"Wait till you see what mascara and blush can do," Tully said, "and concealer for those zits on your forehead."
"I'll always be your friend," Kate said, thinking she'd whispered the promise, but when Tully grinned, she knew she'd been heard.
"Good. Now let's go on the makeup. Have you seen my razor?"
"What do you need a razor for?"
"Your eyebrows, silly. Oh, there it is. Close your eyes."
Kate didn't think twice. "Okay."
Kate didn't even bother to hide her face when she came into the house. That was how confident she felt. For the first time ever, she knew she was beautiful.
Her dad was in the living room, sitting in his La-Z-Boy. At Kate's entrance, he looked up. "Good Lord," he said, clanking his drink down on the French provincial end table. "Margie!"
Mom came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She wore her school-day uniform: striped rust and olive polyester blouse, brown corduroy bell-bottoms, and a wrinkled apron that read: A WOMAN'S PLACE IS IN THE HOUSE . . . AND THE SENATE. When she saw Kate, she stopped. Slowly, she untied her apron and tossed it on the table.
The sudden quiet brought Sean and the dog running into the room, tripping over each other. "Katie looks like a skunk," Sean said. "Pee-ew."
"Go wash your hands for dinner," Mom said sharply. "Now," she added when he didn't leave.
Sean grumbled and went upstairs.
"Did you give her permission to do that to her hair, Margie?" Dad said from the living room.
"I'll handle this, Bud," Mom said, frowning at Kate as she crossed the room. "The girl across the street do this to you?"
Kate nodded, trying to hold on to the memory of feeling pretty.
"Do you like it?"
"Well. Me, too, then. I remember when your Aunt Georgia dyed my hair red. Grandma Peet was livid." She smiled. "But you should have asked. You're still young, Kathleen, no matter what you girls want to be true. Now, what have you done to your eyebrows?"
"Tully shaved them. Just to give them shape."
Mom tried not to smile. "I see. Well, plucking is really the way to go. I should have taught you how already, but I thought you were too young." She looked around for her cigarettes. Finding them on the table, she flipped one out and lit up. "After dinner, I'll show you how. And I suppose a little lip gloss and mascara would be all right for school. I'll show you how to make it look more natural."
Kate hugged her mom. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Now get started on the cornbread. And Katie, I'm glad you made a friend, but no more breaking the rules, okay? That's how young girls get into trouble."
Kate couldn't help thinking of the high school party Tully had gone to. "Okay, Mom."
Within a week, Kate became cool by association. Kids raved over her new look and didn't turn away from her in the halls. Being a friend of Tully Hart's meant she was okay.
Even her parents noticed the difference. At dinner, Kate wasn't her usual quiet self. Instead, she couldn't shut up. Story after story spilled out of her. Who was dating whom, who won at tetherball, who got detention for wearing a MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR T-shirt to school, where Tully got her hair cut (in Seattle by a guy named Gene Juarez—how cool was that?), and what movie was playing at the drive-in this weekend. She was still talking about Tully after dinner, while she and Mom did the dishes.
"I can't wait for you to meet her. She's super cool. Everyone likes her, even the heads."
"Oh." Mom took the glass meatloaf pan from her and dried it. "I've . . . asked around about this girl, Katie. She tries to buy cigarettes from Alma at the drugstore."
"She's probably buying them for her mom."
Mom set the dry pan down on the speckled Formica counter. "Just do me a favor, Katie. You think for yourself around Tully Hart. I wouldn't want you to follow her into trouble."
Kate threw the crocheted dishrag in the soapy water. "I can't believe you. What about all your take-a-risk speeches? For years you tell me to make friends, and the second I find someone, you call her a slut."
"I hardly called her a—"
Kate stormed out of the kitchen. With each step she expected her mother to call her back and ground her, but silence followed her dramatic exit.
Upstairs, she went into her room and slammed the door for effect. Then she sat down on her bed and waited. When Mom came in she'd be sorry; for once Kate had been the strong one.
But Mom didn't show, and by ten o'clock, Kate was starting to feel sort of bad. Had she hurt her mom's feelings? She got up, paced the small room.
There was a knock at the door.
She raced over to the bed and climbed in, trying to look bored. "Yeah?"
The door opened slowly. Mom stood there, wearing the floor-length red velour robe they'd gotten her for Christmas last year. "May I come in?"
"Like I could stop you."
"You could," Mom said quietly. "May I come in?"
Kate shrugged, but scooted to the left to make room for her mom.
"You know, Katie, life is—"
Kate couldn't help groaning. Not another life-is speech.
Mom surprised her by laughing. "Okay, no more speeches. Maybe you're too old for that." She paused at the altar on the dresser. "You haven't made one of these since Georgia was in chemo. Who needs our prayers?"
"Tully's mom has cancer and she was ra—" She snapped her mouth shut, horrified by what she'd nearly revealed. For most of her life she'd told her mother everything; now she had a best friend, though, so she'd need to be careful.
Mom sat down on the bed beside Kate, just as they did after every fight. "Cancer? That's quite a load for a girl your age to carry."
"Tully seems cool with it."
"She seems cool with everything," Kate said, unable to keep the pride out of her voice.
"You wouldn't understand."
"I'm too old, huh?"
"I didn't say that."