She'll be back
. Tears stung her eyes and leaked down her face as she sat there waiting, trying to be brave.
But her mommy never came back.
For years afterward, she tried to remember what had happened next, what she did, but all those people were like a cloud that obscured her memories. All she ever remembered was waking up on a dirty cement stoop along a street that was totally empty, seeing a policeman on horseback. From his perch high above her, he frowned down at her and said, "Hey, little one, are you all alone?"
"I am," was all she could say without crying.
He took her back to the house on Queen Anne Hill, where her grandma held her tightly and kissed her cheek and told her it wasn't her fault.
But Tully knew better. Somehow today she'd done something wrong, been bad. Next time her mommy came back, she'd try harder. She'd promise to be the president and she'd never, ever say she was sorry again.
Tully got a chart of the presidents of the United States and memorized every name in order. For months afterward, she told anyone who asked that she would be the first woman president; she even quit taking ballet classes. On her eleventh birthday, while Grandma lit the candles on her cake and sang a thin, watery version of "Happy Birthday," Tully glanced repeatedly at the door, thinking, This is it, but no one ever knocked and the phone didn't ring. Later, with the opened boxes of her gifts around her, she tried to keep smiling. In front of her, on the coffee table, was an empty scrapbook. As a present, it sort of sucked, but her grandma always gave her stuff like thisprojects to keep her busy and quiet.
"She didn't even call," Tully said, looking up.
Gran sighed tiredly. "Your mom has . . . problems, Tully. She's weak and confused. You've got to quit pretending things are different. What matters is that you're strong."
She'd heard this advice a bazillion times. "I know."
Gran sat down on the worn floral sofa beside Tully and pulled her onto her lap.
Tully loved it when Gran held her. She snuggled in close, rested her cheek on Gran's soft chest.
"I wish things were different with your mama, Tully, and that's the God's honest truth, but she's a lost soul. Has been for a long time."
"Is that why she doesn't love me?"
Gran looked down at her. The black horn-rimmed glasses magnified her pale gray eyes. "She loves you, in her way. That's why she keeps coming back."
"It doesn't feel like love."
"I don't think she even likes me."
"It's me she doesn't like. Something happened a long time ago and I didn't . . . Well, it doesn't matter now." Gran tightened her hold on Tully. "Someday she'll be sorry she missed these years with you. I'm certain of that."
"I could show her my scrapbook."
Gran didn't look at her. "That would be nice." After a long silence, she said, "Happy birthday, Tully," and kissed her forehead. "Now I'd best go sit with your grandfather. He's feeling poorly today."
After her grandmother left the room, Tully sat there, staring down at the blank first page of her new scrapbook. It would be the perfect thing to give her mother one day, to show her what she'd missed. But how would Tully fill it? She had a few photographs of herself, taken mostly by her friends' moms at parties and on field trips, but not many. Her gran's eyes weren't good enough for those tiny viewfinders. And she had only the one picture of her mom.
She picked up a pen and very carefully wrote the date in the upper right-hand corner; then she frowned. What else? Dear Mommy. Today was my eleventh birthday . . .
Excerpted from Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. Copyright © 2008 by Kristin Hannah. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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