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Authors: Elin Hilderbrand

28 Summers (13 page)

BOOK: 28 Summers
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“Let you go?” Dr. Major says. “I’m not giving up on my most promising teacher. Are you kidding me?”

Mallory keeps her job, but the incident with Jeremiah Freehold casts a pall over her summer. It feels like everywhere Mallory goes, people are avoiding her, whispering about her. She lives in mortal fear of bumping into Jeremiah or his parents; she wishes she knew what they drove so she could scan the parking lot at the Stop and Shop before venturing inside.

She decided earlier in the spring that she would not return to work at the Summer House pool; she wanted to enjoy a real teacher’s summer off. But a week into vacation, this feels like an unwise choice. Apple is away—she took a job as head counselor at a camp for disadvantaged girls in North Carolina—and without her friend, Mallory finds herself feeling lonely.

She wants to call Jake but she can’t. When they parted the last time, they agreed they would call for only four reasons: engagement, marriage, pregnancy, or death.

How will I know if you’re coming back next year?
Mallory asked.

I’m coming back every year,
Jake said.
No matter what.

Mallory accepted that answer, but a year is a long time and a lot can happen. Last summer, Jake had the convenient excuse of Cooper to bring him back up to Nantucket. But what about this year? What is he going to tell Ursula?

Maybe he and Ursula broke up, she thinks. It’s not impossible.

Mallory is desperate for company. She calls Cooper and invites him to come for the weekend.

“The rest of my summer is booked,” Cooper says. “Alison and I are in Vegas this weekend, then we have tickets to see Mary Chapin Carpenter at Wolf Trap the next weekend with Jake and Ursula, then we’re going to Denver, then to Nashville.”

“Ah,” Mallory says. It feels like she’s been hit in the forehead with a poison dart. Jake and Ursula have
not
broken up. They’re a couple, doing couple things with other couples. “So, you and Alison…I guess it’s more than just a rebound?”

“Definitely more than a rebound, Mal,” Coop says in his overly patient old-soul voice. “Why would you even suggest that?”

Oh, I don’t know,
Mallory thinks.
Maybe because you started up with Alison less than a month after your wife left?
“I’m happy for you,” Mallory says. “Have fun.”

She plays “Everybody Hurts” umpteen times in a row one night and drinks a bottle of wine by herself. This is a low point. The lowest, she hopes. The next day, she calls Leland, but the phone at Leland’s apartment has been disconnected. What? Has Leland moved? Tracking Leland down requires a phone call home to Kitty, who can get Leland’s new number from Geri Gladstone. A call with Kitty is never a simple thing; Mallory limits her communications with her parents to once every two weeks. It’s always the same; her mother talks about tennis, what’s happening at the country club, and her perennials bed, which is (apparently) the envy of Deepdene Road. Then she’ll ask about Mallory’s love life. Kitty didn’t approve of JD (no surprise there) and so she was relieved to hear about the breakup, but her pestering has grown tiresome. (“There
are
wealthy men on Nantucket, Mallory, out on those big yachts. You might meet one if you ever got out of your cutoffs and put on a dress.”) Kitty will then ask when Mallory plans to leave Nantucket and “rejoin civilization.”

On this call, as on every call, Mallory says, “I’m here for the foreseeable future, Mom.”

To which Kitty replies, “Oh, darling.” Heavy sigh. “Your father wants to say hello.”

“Leland’s number, Mom!” Mallory calls out as a reminder.

But it’s Senior who responds. “She’s already on her way over to Geri’s. She’ll be gone an hour, so thank you. The Orioles are playing.”

Turns out, Leland has moved from Eighty-Second Street to Greenwich Village.

“Apparently her block is quite gentrified,” Kitty says.

Mallory rolls her eyes. Kitty’s idea of New York City is frozen in 1978; she thinks everyone who lives in the Village looks like Sid and Nancy. “It’s all gentrified now, Mom.”

“Well,” Kitty says. “I’m surprised you didn’t know Leland moved.”

“I haven’t talked to Leland since the holidays,” Mallory confesses. The day after Christmas, Mallory and Leland had lunch in Baltimore at Louie’s Bookstore Café; Leland was leaving the next day to go back to New York. Their conversation was stilted because their lives were so different. Leland had been promoted to the features editor of
Bard and Scribe.
She boasted about her upcoming interview with Fiella Roget, the twenty-four-year-old Haitian woman whose novel
Shimmy Shimmy
was “all anyone in the city is talking about.” In turn, Mallory had bored Leland to tears by describing her life at the high school and how she hung out with JD while he played darts at the Muse.

Mallory feels guilty that she hasn’t called Leland before now, but the longer she waited, the more onerous catching up seemed. This will be good, though—calling for a concrete reason, to invite Leland for the weekend.

An unfamiliar female voice answers at Leland’s new number.
“Allô?”

“Hello?” Mallory says. “I’m looking for Leland Gladstone?”

“One moment, plisss,” the voice says.

There’s whispering. Or maybe Mallory is imagining that? She’s lying on her porch in the sun because that’s where she feels the safest, gazing at the ocean in her front yard.

I am lucky,
Mallory thinks.
I am blessed.

I am so, so lonely,
she thinks. She’s not sure what she’ll do if Leland turns her down.

“Hello?”

“Lee?” Mallory says.

“Mal?” Leland says. “Is that you?”

“Yes, hi, how are you? Kitty got your number from Geri, I didn’t realize you’d moved, and I was busy with the end of the school year, and anyway, I’d love for you to come visit this weekend, or next weekend…” Mallory is talking too fast. She’s nervous. She can’t imagine why—for years, she and Leland were as close as Siamese twins. But that’s the issue, she supposes. They were once so close that now it feels awkward to be not as close, though Mallory knows this is what happens when you grow up: paths diverge, people lose touch. Mallory didn’t know that Leland had moved. She doesn’t know who just answered the phone. Leland’s new roommate, presumably.

There’s a sigh from Leland—annoyed? regretful?

“I wish I could,” she says. “But I’m leaving tomorrow for Bread Loaf.”

“Bread Loaf,” Mallory says. It takes her a second to understand because at first she thinks
Sugarloaf,
which was where the Blessings and the Gladstones used to take their family ski trips. But Bread Loaf is something else, a writer thing.

“At Middlebury, in Vermont,” Leland says. “I’ll be there for three and a half weeks, so…”

“As a student?” Mallory asks. “Are you…writing a novel?”

“Me?” Leland says. “No!” She starts laughing and Mallory laughs right along with her, even though she feels miserable because Leland won’t be coming to Nantucket. Mallory wants to hang up but that, of course, would be rude and will make the chasm between them even wider and deeper. “I’m going with Fifi.”

“Fifi?” Mallory says.

“Fiella,” Leland says.

“Fiella Roget?” Mallory asks. Surely she’s missing something. Just last week, Fiella Roget appeared on the cover of the
New York Times Magazine
. She’s famous, a bona fide literary phenomenon.

“Yes, Fiella Roget,” Leland says, and in the background Mallory hears the same voice that answered the phone. Leland did the interview with Fiella and they became friends; is that it? They’re such good friends that she calls Fiella “Fifi”? They’re such good friends that Fifi answers Leland’s phone and has invited her to Bread Loaf for three weeks? “She agreed to teach last year, before the book came out and she became so in demand. She decided to honor the commitment.”

“Okay,” Mallory says. She wonders why she’s supposed to care about any of this. “And what will you do while she’s honoring the commitment?”

“Network, obviously,” Leland says, and Mallory relaxes because this, at least, is a Leland she recognizes. “The waiters and waitresses are the promising writers, you know, because they’re the ones on scholarship. Everyone else pays to go. So I thought I’d sit in on Fifi’s workshops, see if I can identify budding talent, and maybe get a scoop for the magazine.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Mallory says.

“Besides, I need to fend off her admirers,” Mallory says. “You do know they call it ‘Bed Loaf.’”

Fend off her admirers?
Mallory thinks. An outrageous notion enters her mind. “So…you moved to the Village, right?”

“Charles and Bleecker,” Leland says. “Fifi has the greatest apartment, and things moved so fast that…yeah, she asked me to move in with her in March.”

Things moved so fast?

“Are you…” Mallory doesn’t even know how to ask the question. She’s afraid if she does, Leland will laugh or be angry. Leland is heterosexual—all those years with Fray, her hunt for the perfect square-jawed, lacrosse-playing Princeton-educated investment banker, Kip or whoever. “Are you
dating
Fiella Roget? Are you two
together?

“Dating, together, head over heels in love,” Leland says. “Can you believe it?”

Wow. No, really—wow!

That’s great, so happy for you, enjoy Bread Loaf, hopefully you and Fifi can come see me another time, Christmas Stroll or next summer!
When Mallory hangs up, she thinks:
I have to
call someone!
But who? Apple is away, Cooper is busy crisscrossing the country with Alison. Mallory could bike out to the Summer House and tell Isolde and Oliver, but they’ve never met Leland and they don’t read so they wouldn’t even know the name Fiella Roget. Mallory supposes she could call Kitty, but she’s not desperate enough for that. She wonders about the Gladstones. Do they know their daughter is now dating a successful female novelist? Do they find it as startling as Mallory does?

After a little while, the novelty of the news wears off, and by the time Mallory wakes up the next day, she feels only left out and lonely. Cooper has Alison, Leland has Fifi…and Jake has Ursula.

August drags on. Mallory’s days, which were so frenetic during the school year, gape with unfilled hours. She should go out to the bars at night—21 Federal, the Boarding House, the Club Car—and try to find someone of her own. But instead, she reads and writes lesson plans for the upcoming school year. She runs and lies in the sun. She buys Sarah Leah Chase’s
Nantucket Open-House Cookbook
and makes the baba ghanouj, roasting fresh eggplants from Bartlett’s Farm and fat cloves of garlic until they’re soft and golden brown. The result is so delicious, Mallory can’t scoop it into her mouth fast enough.

It’s a tiny victory.

Finally, the last week of August arrives. Mallory is both relieved and anxious. She has awakened at three a.m. the past five or six nights, imagining Jake arriving by pirate ship or hot-air balloon.

No matter what.

Does this mean the same thing to both of them:
No. Matter. What?

Mallory waits for the phone to ring. She waits for a telegram. How are those delivered? By hand? She lives on a road with no name. She peers out the back windows, searching for a lost telegram-delivery guy.

No matter what.

It’s Monday; Labor Day is a week away.

It’s Tuesday.

On Wednesday, finally, she goes to the post office to check her box. Jake has her address; this is where he mailed her the book last Christmas. When Mallory finds only the usual assortment of bills and back-to-school catalogs, her eyes burn with tears. As if that isn’t bad enough, she bumps into two people coming into the post office as she’s leaving, physically bumps into them, because her sight is blurred.

“Mal. How’s it going?”

Mallory looks up, blinks. “JD,” she says.

JD is with a woman. She’s older, but attractive, with long copper-colored hair, hair that is so beautiful, it nearly demands a compliment. Mallory knows this woman. It’s…

“Miss Blessing, hi,” the woman says. “I’m Tonya Sohn, Maggie’s mother.”

JD is dating Tonya Sohn, Maggie’s newly divorced mother. Mallory sits behind the wheel of the Blazer for a second, wondering if she should scream or laugh.

Laugh, she decides. She wants JD to be happy so he’ll leave her alone.

Mallory tosses her mail onto the passenger seat, and a plain white postcard flutters out of one of the catalogs to the floor. Mallory sees her name printed on the front. She snaps it up, flips it over.

It says:
I’m flying in on Friday the first at 4:45 p.m. If you’re not waiting at the airport, I’ll take a taxi to the cottage.

The postcard is unsigned, though obviously Mallory knows who it’s from.

She sits a second, wondering if she should cry or laugh from utter relief.

Laugh, she decides. She has so much to tell him!

What are we talking about in 1996? Leap year; Bob Dole;
Braveheart;
Chechnya; cloning; a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics; Princess Diana divorcing Prince Charles; Tickle Me Elmo; JonBenét Ramsey; Whitewater; Kofi Annan; Ask Jeeves; the Menendez brothers; Tupac Shakur; mad-cow disease; the Spice Girls; jihad; Dr. Ross and Nurse Hathaway; Alan Greenspan; “Show me the money, Jerry.”

T
he year 1996 is uneventful for our boy.

So, he thinks, let’s skip to the good stuff.

On the Friday of Labor Day weekend, Mallory is waiting for Jake on the ferry dock. Her hair is longer and blonder; she’s wearing it in braids. She’s wearing her usual cutoff shorts. He would like to rip them off her. Contrary to their established protocol, which allows no displays of affection until they’re safely at home, he takes her face in his hands and lays a kiss on her that leaves them both breathless.

When she breaks away, she grins. A year is too long to live without that smile, he thinks. He wishes he’d brought a camera; he wants to take her picture.

While Mallory fixes the appetizers, Jake goes for a swim, then takes an outdoor shower. There are no men’s board shorts hanging up. That’s two years in a row, which is good news, although he doesn’t like thinking of Mallory alone.

Yes, he does. It’s completely unfair because Jake and Ursula are now living together—meaning that Jake is living in the same apartment that Ursula uses to take a shower and change her clothes before going back to work—but Jake prefers to think of Mallory spending her evenings lying by the fire with only Cat Stevens, a book, and the howling wind for company.

Jake walks into the cottage, towel wrapped around his lower half. Mallory hands him a cold Stella and a cracker slathered with smoked bluefish pâté from Straight Wharf Fish. It is one of the most delicious things Jake has ever tasted.

“If you like it so much,” Mallory says, “we can get you some to take home. It freezes.”

“Or it can be just one of those things I enjoy once a year,” he says.

“Like me,” she says, and she beams. “I’m going to shuck corn and you can play some music. Did I tell you I got a five-CD changer?”

Jake scoops her up and carries her to the bedroom.

“Again?” she shrieks.

Again, again, again; it’s their fourth Labor Day weekend together, and this year, for whatever reason, Jake can’t get enough of her. It would make Mallory uncomfortable, probably, if he told her how often he thinks of her the other 362 days of the year. Some days occasionally, some days frequently, some days constantly.

Once the corn is shucked and the tomatoes sliced and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, once the burgers are grilled and they each have a drink and are listening to Sheryl Crow and gazing at each other over the light of one votive candle—it’s romantic, Mallory claims, so romantic that Jake can’t see his food—she says, “So, how’s Ursula?”

“Fine,” Jake says. “I don’t know what happened, but she kind of gave up on the engagement talk.”

“She
did?
” Mallory says.

“No,” Jake admits. “But I bought myself some time by agreeing that we should move in together.”

“Oh,” Mallory says. She stops layering pickles on top of her burger and gives him a direct look. “Did you move into her place or did she move in with you?”

“We got a new place,” Jake says. “That was what she wanted. Fresh start, place of our own. We split the rent.”

“And you can just stay there once you get married,” Mallory says.

Every year, there comes a moment when he wonders if Mallory is going to kick him out. This year, that moment is now.

“I guess that’s the idea,” he says. He swigs some of his beer. He doesn’t like talking about Ursula, though he understands why it’s necessary for Mallory. She likes to do it on Friday night, get it out of the way, get caught up on Jake’s romantic life at home so that it isn’t looming over her head like a thundercloud.

Better to know than to wonder,
she says.

Jake isn’t sure he agrees.

“Where does she think you are?” Mallory asks.

“Nantucket,” he says.

“With Coop?”

“I’m not sure I specifically said ‘with Coop.’ I just told her I was coming up to Nantucket for the weekend because I barely got away this summer at all, and also, she thinks it’s a tradition now.”

“It
is
a tradition now,” Mallory says. And they both sit for a second, Jake fending off guilt because it’s obviously not the kind of tradition that Ursula is imagining. “Does she know it’s
my
cottage?”

“She’s never asked. I would guess if she was pressed, she would say it was your family’s cottage.”

“But she knows I exist, right?” Mallory says. “She remembers me from the wedding?”

“She might,” Jake says. “I mean, yes, she noticed us dancing at the wedding and she asked about you but she hasn’t mentioned you since then. She hasn’t mentioned you in connection with the cottage.”

Mallory takes a bite of her burger, then butters an ear of corn. She seems put out by this statement, but why?

“It seems so unfair,” Mallory says. “I spend so much time being jealous of her and she doesn’t even know enough to be jealous of me.”

“Well,” Jake says, “if she knew how I felt about you, she’d be very jealous indeed. Does that make you feel better?”

“Yes,” Mallory says, and she blows him a kiss across the dark table.

Jake wakes up alone in the low, wide platform bed. The crisp white sheets have light blue piping; Mallory admitted that she splurged on them at the Lion’s Paw in honor of his visit. There’s a stripe of sunshine peeking through the wooden blinds (also new) that lands directly across Jake’s eyes. He inhales Mallory’s scent from her pillow and stretches.

Jake makes coffee in Mallory’s French press and takes a mug out onto the front porch. He watches the waves fold over themselves again and again and again. It’s hypnotic. There isn’t a soul on the beach in either direction. What’s to stop Jake from running into the ocean naked for the first swim of the day?

Nothing, he supposes. He does it.

As he’s bobbing around in the water, he sees Mallory, home from her run. No braids; her hair is in a ponytail. She pries off each sneaker with the toe of her other foot, peels off her socks, stops to drink some ice water, and bends over to touch her toes. She goes back into the cottage and he hears her voice. She must be calling his name. Is she worried? Does she think he left? No, surely she sees all his things still there.

A second later, she appears back out on the porch. She takes a bite of a peach, sees him swimming, waves.

He waves back.

She lifts her arms over her head and places her right foot alongside her left knee. It’s her yoga tree pose, the one she showed him last night and made him try. (He failed.) He sees her green vine tattoo standing out against the golden skin of her ankle. It feels like he has vines wrapped around his heart.

He’s in love with her, he thinks.

If they count the Fridays and the Mondays, then today is the start of their fourteenth day together, the end of their second week. Is that how long it takes to fall in love?

He swims in and Mallory hoots at his nakedness. She holds out a striped beach towel, which he wraps around his waist. He takes the peach out of her hand, sets it on the little outdoor table, and kisses her, long and deep. When they finally separate, Mallory grins at him. “Good
morning!
” she says.

“I’m…”—should he tell her? He wants to, but he’s afraid—“…crazy about you.”

“Or just crazy,” she says, and she kisses him again.

He cooks bacon and chops up onion and tomatoes for the omelets. He finds a wedge of Brie and holds the cheese up for Mallory to see. “Okay if I use this?”

“I’m crazy about you too,” she says.

“Is that a yes on the Brie?” he asks.

She shrugs. “Sure.”

Jake sets about beating the eggs and heating the butter in the pan. He turns to the stove and he hears her over by the stereo, the
click-click-click
of her looking for CDs. She has changed into a sunny yellow bikini and her cutoff shorts. They’re planning on kayaking on the pond and then provisioning for their lobster dinner, as usual. They skipped the Chicken Box last night. Mallory was disappointed by this, he knows, because the Box is part of the tradition. They almost had an argument about it. She accused him of being afraid of bumping into someone from Washington. While it’s true this always lurks in the back of his mind—how would he explain dancing and kissing Mallory if he saw one of Ursula’s coworkers?—the real reason he wanted to stay home was that he didn’t want to share Mallory. He wanted to play with her hair, trace her ribs, listen to her breathe. If that’s not the definition of love, he doesn’t know what is.

Jake folds the omelet over. He gives Mallory the one that is a little superior—with more gooey cheese and more golden-brown onions—and that’s another demonstration of his love. At home, he always takes the better portion because giving it to Ursula would be a waste.

They eat at the table, Mallory moaning over every bite, which drives him mad with desire, although she’s not doing it for effect. She is genuine, and that’s what he appreciates most about her. There is no artifice, no manipulation, no games. Every woman in Jake’s office is reading
The Rules,
which is, as far as Jake can tell, a guide to ignoring men in order to get them to pursue you. Jake happens to know this strategy works; it’s one reason why he’s still with Ursula.

He can’t love Mallory…because he loves Ursula, though that often feels less like love and more like succumbing to some kind of witchcraft. Jake and Ursula are connected in ten thousand ways: the shared memories, the inside jokes, the secret language, the references that only they understand. Ursula is a connection to his sister; she made Jess smile, made her laugh, made her feel like a normal eleven- or twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl the way no one else could. Jake’s emotions about these memories venture into territory that has no language. He can picture Ursula standing before Jessica’s coffin in her white vestments; her nobility in that moment is something Jake will never forget.

A life without Ursula is impossible to imagine. And yet, what Jake feels for Mallory isn’t merely infatuation. It’s something bigger.

They’re crazy about each other.
Crazy about
is where they are this year. They’ll leave it at that. For now.

The song changes to “Sunshine,” by World Party.
Sunshine, I just can’t get enough of you. Sometimes you just blow my mind.
Everything about the moment feels holy: the choice of song, the summer light flooding the room, the harmony of the flavors in the omelets, the deep periwinkle blue of the last hydrangea blooms of the summer, which Mallory placed in the mason jar as she always does. And Mallory herself, across the table, still glowing from her run.

Everything at this moment is so sublime that Jake thinks,
Freeze! I want to stay right here forever.

But of course, life doesn’t work that way. The waves fold over themselves again and again and again, and nothing can stop them.

On Sunday, it rains. It’s the first day of rain that Jake has experienced on Nantucket in four years. Mallory goes running anyway and when she comes home, she’s soaked through and her teeth are chattering. Jake wraps her up in a fluffy white bath towel and brings her a mug of the delicious coffee, light and sweet.

“Should I light a fire?” he asks. “Run you a bath?”

“I’m going to climb back into bed,” she says. “You coming?”

It’s raining too hard to drive to Great Point. They lie in bed and read—Mallory insisted he try something called
Bridget Jones’s Diary
(it’s not bad). When Jake has had enough of Bridget and Daniel and Mark (“It’s a reinterpretation of
Pride and Prejudice,
” Mallory says. “Right, I know that, obviously,” Jake says, though he hadn’t a clue), he throws the book down and spoons up against Mallory’s warm back, hooks his chin over her shoulder, breathes in the scent of her hair. When he met her, she smelled fruity, but now she smells herby, like clover and sage.

After they make love, Mallory suggests they head into town, to the Camera Shop, to rent the video of
Same Time, Next Year
. They can pick up the Chinese food on the way home.

Jake’s spirits are leaden. How have they already reached the Sunday-night Chinese food and movie stage? This weekend seems to have moved at double speed. They should have gone to the Chicken Box, maybe. If they’d jammed more activities in, would it have seemed longer?

Mallory misreads his hesitation. “I can go alone if you just want to stay here.”

“No!” he says. He doesn’t want to be without her for even half an hour.

They brazenly hold hands as they walk up the stairs to the Camera Shop. The front of the store is the developing center, and there are greeting cards and picture frames for sale, and as soon as they step inside, they bump into an older gentleman whose face lights up when he sees Mallory.

“Miss Blessing!” he says. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“Dr. Major,” Mallory says. She gives the gentleman a hug and Jake tries to read her face. Who is this? Is it her actual
doctor?
“This is my friend Jake McCloud. Jake, this is Dr. Major, the high-school principal.”

Handshake.
Hello, nice to meet you, do you live on the island? No, I’m just visiting. Oh, from where? Washington, DC. Wonderful, enjoy, I’d better be off, Mrs. Major is eagerly waiting at home, we’ll be watching
Braveheart
for the third time, I think she’s carrying a torch for Mel Gibson, take care, bye-bye, see you Tuesday, Mallory.

Mallory heads to the back room where Jake can see video boxes lined up on the shelves; he loiters in the front room, looking at disposable cameras. He feels a hand on his arm and turns to see Dr. Major, who bows his head and says in a low voice, “Mallory is a very special young woman and she’s one hell of a teacher.” (Dr. Major wants to add,
Treat her right, she deserves the best.
Dr. Major has always felt protective of Mallory and this guy should know what a treasure he has.) “You’re one lucky fella.”

BOOK: 28 Summers
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