Read 28 Summers Online

Authors: Elin Hilderbrand

28 Summers (12 page)

BOOK: 28 Summers
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“Properly,” Kitty would call from the other room if she heard the plates landing in the dishwasher at too brisk a pace for them to have been thoroughly rinsed. “Do them properly.”

Mallory had learned to tune out her mother; the endless stream of whatever was coming from Kitty’s mouth became an unintelligible
Wah-wah-wah,
like the teachers in the
Peanuts
TV specials.

Senior was a man of few words unless the topic was traffic on 83 or the Orioles. He was frugal—the heat in their house on Deepdene Road was turned on and set to sixty-seven degrees on December 15 and not a day before; it was turned off on March 15 and not a day later. “If you’re cold, put on a sweater,” he would say. And Senior’s political views were pulled right out of the Eisenhower administration—for starters, his attitude about his very own sister, Greta.

But as exasperating as Kitty and Senior could be, they fell within the parameters of “normal parents” for twentieth-century America. They would never have kept Mallory or Cooper from an experience that could expand their horizons. Mallory tries to understand why the elder Freeholds would not want Jeremiah to go to Boston on a supervised trip with his peers, children he has known his entire life.

“Is it a matter of money?” Mallory asks. The trip fee, she knows, is a hundred and ten dollars per student, but the kids have been selling candy bars all winter to fund-raise, and some of that money is earmarked for families in need. Mallory could put in a word with Dr. Major.

“No,” Jeremiah says. “It’s a matter of principle. They see the mainland as needlessly complicated.” He shakes his head. “I love this island. But as soon as I have enough money saved, I’m leaving. I’m going to North Africa.”

Mallory brings up Jeremiah the next day at the faculty meeting. She’s hoping someone—Apple or even Dr. Major—will offer to call the Freeholds and persuade them to let Jeremiah go on the trip. But Dr. Major, who is normally very progressive and involved, shuts Mallory down. “There is no persuasion powerful enough when it comes to that family,” he says. “Let it be.”

Apple follows up with her later, in the hallway. “And don’t you go knocking on their door, Mal, please. I know you—you feel for the kid, he’s a little different, he doesn’t have many friends, you want to save him, but do not get involved. He’ll be fine. You want to feel sympathy for someone, feel sympathy for me—I’ll be confiscating cigarettes and trying to prevent teenage pregnancy for seventy-two hours.”

The seniors leave early Monday morning and are due back on the late ferry Wednesday night. The school is eerily quiet without them. Mallory teaches two seniors-only classes, so her days are baggy with time. On Monday, she catches up on her end-of-the-year progress reports. Tuesday, it rains and she holes up in her room and reads the new Anne Tyler novel. Wednesday dawns sunny and warm. It’s a terrific day to play hooky. What’s to stop Mallory from calling in sick or taking a personal day and getting some sun on her front porch? A sense of responsibility, that’s what. When she gets to school, she realizes her sophomores have a field trip to Jetties Beach, leaving Mallory with even more free time.

Mallory walks past the library and sees Jeremiah sitting at a table alone, his journal open in front of him. Her heart lurches. She can’t let him just sit there.

“Want to go get some lunch?” she asks him. “My treat?”

“In the cafeteria?” he asks. Mallory notices his steel lunchbox with the domed lid, the kind construction workers used to carry. She knows that Mrs. Freehold packs Jeremiah a lunch each and every day; he doesn’t even buy milk.

“No, let’s go on an adventure,” Mallory says impulsively. Jeremiah is a senior and therefore has off-property lunch privileges, though she doubts he’s exercised them even once this year. Which is all the more reason for him to go today. The rest of his class is watching street theater outside Faneuil Hall or farting in the elevators on their way to the Top of the Hub in the Prudential Center, so what harm will it do if Jeremiah goes to the beach? Or…“Maybe you can show me someplace I’ve never been?” Mallory has lived on Nantucket just shy of two years and there are still whole swaths of the island she hasn’t explored.

Jeremiah cocks his head. She can tell he’s wondering if she’s serious.

“Come on,” she says. “My car is out front.”

Jeremiah says he wants to show her Gibbs Pond, which is in the middle of the island, because that’s where his father first taught him to fish. Mallory’s interest is piqued because she knows from reading the kids’ journals that Gibbs Pond is where most of the high-school parties are held.

“We have fifty minutes,” Mallory says. “Can we get there and back in fifty minutes?”

“Yes,” Jeremiah says. He grabs his journal, his books, and his lunch with purpose, and for a moment, Mallory feels like
that
teacher—the one who thinks outside the box, the one who goes the extra mile, the one who saves a kid’s life, at least figuratively.

They head out the Milestone Road in the Blazer. The top is on but it’s warm enough for them to open the windows and let the sweet spring air rush in. Mallory turns up the radio. It’s “Crazy” by Aerosmith, and Jeremiah throws his head back and campily sings along.

“So you have a radio at home, then?” Mallory asks.

“Yes,” Jeremiah says. “And a TV.
Cable
TV.” He grins.

Jeremiah directs Mallory to turn left down a dirt road, and they wind through thick, scrubby woods. It was a pretty tough winter, lots of snow, rain, and wind, and the road is in bad shape with dramatic whoop-de-dos and rogue branches sticking out that etch Nantucket pinstripes along the sides of the Blazer. Mallory begins to wonder about the wisdom of this adventure. The road is one-lane—three-quarters of a lane, really—so there’s no possibility of turning around until they get to a clearing. “You’re sure this is the right road?” she says.

“Yes,” Jeremiah says. He’s got one elbow hanging out his open window and he’s so tall, his head nearly grazes the roof. “Just keep going and we’ll drive right into it.”

Mallory tries to relax. The adventure is in the journey. And she’d rather be here than in the cafeteria eating chicken potpie, right?

The woods start to thin out and there’s light ahead as though they’re coming out of a tunnel. A moment later, the landscape opens up and a large silvery-blue pond lies before them. There’s a formation of ducks paddling their way across the surface.

“It’s…it’s…” Mallory lives on a pond, Miacomet Pond, but Gibbs is different. It’s surrounded by open space and yet it’s hidden from the main roads; it’s like it’s been dropped in here, a secret. Mallory can’t believe she has been living on Nantucket this whole time without knowing this spot existed.

“My dad has a canoe,” Jeremiah says. “The first time he brought me out here, I was six or seven and we caught a bunch of yellow perch that we took home for dinner. The pond is named for John Gibbs. He was this Native American preacher who got into trouble with his tribe and came here to hide from them. The white settlers liked Gibbs’s preaching so much that
they
paid the penalty he owed—eleven pounds. It’s weird, right? This happened hundreds of years ago…but the pond is still here.” Jeremiah swallows. “My parents believe that this is our island, we’re its stewards, and this is our time to care for it, so why would we go anywhere else?”

Mallory drives closer to the pond’s edge, wishing she’d brought her camera. She turns off the engine and opens her door. She wants to see the pond up close; they’ve come all the way out here, they might as well. No one will notice if they’re five or ten minutes late getting back. Mallory doesn’t have another class until eighth period and Jeremiah is in independent study all day.

When Mallory puts one foot out of the car, she steps in mud. She not only steps in mud, she
sinks
in mud, all the way to the top of her shoe. Then she sees her front tire is mired in mud as well. “Uh-oh,” she says. Jeremiah is already out of the car, standing a few feet away; his boots are caked with mud. “Jeremiah, get back in, please. I want to make sure we aren’t stuck.”

She pulls her foot back in, starts the Blazer, and gently shifts it into reverse. When she hits the gas, the front wheels spin. Mud sprays everywhere.

“No,” Mallory says. She is such an
idiot!
She puts the car into four-wheel drive. That will do it, she thinks. This is, after all, a Blazer, the toughest of all off-road vehicles, or so she likes to believe.

Again, the wheels spin. Mud sprays everywhere; flecks hit Mallory’s face through her open window.

Jeremiah says, “You’d better stop. You’re digging in deeper. I’ll get out and push.”

Mallory tries not to panic. Everything is going to be fine. They will get the car unstuck. They will drive back down the horrible dirt road over the whoop-de-dos, and then they will be back on familiar turf, Milestone Road. They’ll get to school by the start of seventh period, at the latest. Mallory will wash the car by hand this weekend. She’ll buff out the pinstripes. She has never felt protective about this car anyway. It’s a road warrior. It’s supposed to take a beating.

Jeremiah crouches in front of the car and pushes. The water is at his ankles; his boots must be flooded. Mallory can see the tendons in his neck strain; his cheeks turn red, the veins in his forehead pop. Mallory steps on the gas, praying, praying,
Come on, baby, easy does it, here we go…

The wheels spin. They take a deeper bite of the muddy earth.

Mallory takes her foot off the gas.

Jeremiah says, “Do you have any boards we could put under the tires?”

She blinks. “Do I have any
boards?

It’s a Wednesday morning. There is no one else at Gibbs Pond—no cars, no people, nothing but birds and the cloudless sky above. They’ll have to go for help. What choice do they have? Mallory tries to decide if she should send Jeremiah out to find help or leave him here with the car. Well, it’s her car and he has longer legs. She sends him out to Milestone Road.

“Just flag down the first person you see and explain what happened,” she says. “We need someone to tow us out.”

Jeremiah heads out on his own while Mallory gets out of the car and assesses the situation. She’s stuck. Stuck! She sits on the hood with her face in her hands and tries not to cry. She only wanted to help—but what does Kitty always say? No good deed goes unpunished. Mallory hopes that Dr. Major will understand. He already knows that Mallory feels awful about Jeremiah being left behind, so naturally she would offer to do something nice for him. A little fresh air. It’s such a gorgeous day, and everyone gets spring fever. Even Mallory.

What our girl doesn’t predict (though the canny among us might) is that the person who drives Jeremiah back to the pond is none other than JD. He’s in the Nantucket Fire Department’s Suburban.

Mallory can’t
believe
this. This is…so awkward. Mallory wonders if maybe it’s no coincidence that JD was the first person Jeremiah was able to flag down. Mallory has noticed JD driving the Suburban on the roads between the school and her house pretty frequently since they broke up. She hadn’t considered that JD was following her or checking up on her…until now.

JD pulls up behind the Blazer and hops out. He’s in his black uniform. Mallory used to joke about how sexy he looked in that uniform, but now she finds him intimidating.

He inspects the front of the Blazer and lets out a low whistle. “You’re stuck, all right.”

Mallory yearns to keep things professional. “Do you have a tow rope?”

“I do,” JD says. “Mind telling me what you and young Mr. Freehold were doing out here at Gibbs by yourselves in the middle of the school day?”

Mallory stares at JD, her cheeks aflame. She will not let him poison this situation with his pathological jealousy.

But then again, how will she stop him?

“I told you, Miss Blessing and I were having an adventure,” Jeremiah says.

Mallory closes her eyes. She feels JD’s imagination moving as swiftly as a duck’s webbed feet beneath the calm surface of the pond.

“An adventure,” JD says. “How about that.”

When the seniors arrive back at school the next morning, Mallory learns that Christy Belk and, yes, Maggie Sohn sneaked out of their hotel room, crossed a highway to get to a liquor store, bought a bottle of Wild Turkey with Christy’s fake ID, smuggled it into the hotel, and shared it with their roommates, both of whom spent the early-morning hours puking their guts up.

This, however, is not the talk of the school. The talk of the school is Jeremiah Freehold and Miss Blessing caught alone out at Gibbs Pond.

Apple stops by to see Mallory between classes. “Please tell me it’s not true,” she says. “Please tell me you listened to my advice and left that boy alone.”

“How did you find out?” Mallory asks.

“How did I find
out?
” Apple says. “There’s been a lot of whispering, baby. A
lot
.”

Oh, for God’s sake!
Mallory thinks. People can’t possibly believe that anything
funny
was going on, can they? Mallory is stung, and worried, and crestfallen—not only because she and Jeremiah have become an object of curiosity (best-case scenario) or potential lascivious rumors (worst-case) but because in every class, she notices that her students avoid eye contact with her while simultaneously watching her every move. One of the boys slaps Jeremiah on the back.

At the end of the school day, Mallory is called down to Dr. Major’s office. She’d expected this, even welcomed it, because she wanted a chance to explain herself. But now, after talking to Apple, she figures she’s about to get fired. She wonders if Mr. and Mrs. Freehold will be there to complain about Mallory Blessing corrupting their son.

As soon as Dr. Major closes the door to his office, Mallory says, “I exercised horrible judgment, sir. I thought it would be okay to go for a ride during lunch. I felt so sorry for him. But I know how it looks and I understand why you have to let me go.” Only in the last few hours has it occurred to her how
bad
the situation might appear to others. She and Jeremiah went to Gibbs Pond alone. A female teacher and a male student. He is eighteen—but still. What were Leland’s words back in New York?
It’s unseemly. How about some self-respect?
Has Mallory learned
nothing
in the past two years? Has she not grown up at
all?
That’s what it feels like. She’s back at square one.

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