Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
There’s moonlight flooding through the window from the pond side, so when Jake’s finger runs across a rough spot on Mallory’s lower back, he squints at it in the ghostly light. A bite, a scrape? A spot of some sort, he sees. He reaches for his reading glasses and his phone and shines a light on it. An irregularly shaped black mark on her back. It looks nefarious, but is it? Jake snaps a picture of it. Is he overstepping his bounds?
Maybe—but in the morning, he’s going to show her the picture and insist that she get it checked out.
What are we talking about in 2017? What
we talking about? The New England Patriots over the Atlanta Falcons;
La La Land;
Floyd Mayweather Jr. over Conor McGregor; North Korea; Justin Verlander; Becky with the good hair; Charlottesville; Jeff Bezos; the Tappan Zee Bridge; the Paris Agreement; Steph Curry; avocado toast; CrossFit; Meryl Streep; the eclipse; the Las Vegas shootings; the Women’s March; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria; #metoo: Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Mario Batali, Louis C.K.; “I want something just like this.”
allory has melanoma. Skin cancer. The words are scary, but she refuses to panic. She has to maintain for Link.
He has grown six inches in the past year, he has his learner’s permit, and he’s been dating a girl named Nicole DaPra, and by
Mallory means that they are Siamese twins. She suspects they’re having sex so she buys a large box of condoms from Amazon (no point having someone see her doing so at the Stop and Shop and starting gossip) and puts them on his dresser while he’s lying in bed, watching some YouTube video on his phone.
He looks up, sees the box, and says, “I don’t need those, Mom. Nicole is on the pill.”
Suspicions confirmed, then. Mallory feels herself tearing up even though Link’s comfort in telling Mallory this indicates that she has done a good job parenting. They have an open line of communication on even the most sensitive of topics. It’s a beautiful thing, so why is Mallory crying?
She slips out of his room without his noticing and stands on the front porch where she can watch the ocean. The ocean has been her counsel for all these years, she realizes. The ocean has been her spouse.
She says to the ocean:
I’m crying because he’s growing up. He and Nicole—a girl I like very much, a girl I love, I couldn’t have picked a sweeter, smarter girl—are sleeping together, which means his childhood is over. I am not his best girl anymore and I never will be again.
Or maybe she’s wrong. Maybe a mother is always her son’s best girl. She can hope.
She tells Link about the spot and the diagnosis. She tells him not to worry; they caught it early. Her surgeon, Dr. McCoy, excises the spot and does a sentinel-lymph-node biopsy. The margins are clear; her lymph nodes come back clean. She has a medical oncologist, Dr. Symon, who orders thirty days of radiation at Cape Cod Hospital.
That will take care of it,
Dr. Symon says.
The devastating news is that Mallory can’t go back in the sun. She has to cover up; SPF 70 won’t do. She buys four beach umbrellas. She buys wide-brimmed hats, Jackie O. sunglasses. Her skin remains winter pale. She can swim if she wears a surf shirt but even so, she has to hurry back to the shade. The sun is a sniper, it’s the Grim Reaper, and yet she longs for it. She has lived a life free of vices except for Jake, white wine, and…the sun. The sun has been her drug of choice. She is now in rehab, headed for recovery.
Link and Nicole go to prom together. They are the best-dressed couple; Nicole wears pink satin, a gown that reminds Mallory of the bridesmaid dress she wore to Coop’s second wedding, the night she conceived Link, and Link wears pink seersucker pants and a navy blazer. Mallory takes ten thousand pictures. She stands with Nicole’s mother, Terri, who is a nutritionist at the hospital and a single mother like Mallory; they would probably be friends if Mallory had the energy to start a friendship from scratch.
She should call Apple and see if she can be lured away from Hugo and the boys to have dinner at Fifty-Six Union—martinis and truffle fries.
No, Apple is not good at last-minute plans. Mallory should have scheduled this last week, last month.
She misses Leland.
Maybe she’ll see if Terri wants to go to dinner. Would that be weird, the two of them out while their kids are at prom?
Terri turns to Mallory and says, “I have news.”
she nearly jokes. But that wouldn’t be funny.
“Nicole is spending next year abroad, in Ravenna, Italy.”
Mallory blinks. “She’s in high school.”
“This is the new thing,” Terri says. “Kids do immersion programs in high school. She’ll live with a family that has other kids—an older daughter, a younger son, a daughter Nicole’s age—and she’ll go to school there. September to June.”
“Wow,” Mallory says. “That sounds…expanding. I didn’t realize this was happening.”
“She kept it under wraps in case she didn’t get accepted,” Terri says. “It’s very competitive.”
“Does Link know?” Mallory asks.
“Not yet,” Terri says. “She wants to enjoy prom. She thinks he’s going to be upset.”
“Oh,” Mallory says, thinking,
They’re sixteen and dating, not engaged.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Link is not fine. Link is a soggy mess. Nicole didn’t say a word to him about her plans to spend an entire school year in Italy, and Mallory has to admit, she’s impressed. She thought it was impossible for a modern teenager to keep a secret.
“She’s not leaving until September,” Mallory says. “That’s over three months away. Things may change between the two of you by then.”
“Yeah,” Link says. “I’ll love her more.”
It’s a rare night that he’s home alone. Normally, he and Nicole do all their studying together at either the cottage or Nicole’s house. But tonight, Nicole is at the information session for her program. Mallory made Link’s favorite meal—grilled Greek chicken and pasta with lemon-garlic cream sauce—but he just stares at it.
“Please eat,” Mallory says.
“I can’t,” Link says, and then tears drop down the cheeks of her big, strong, handsome son’s face. “I’m going to miss her so much.”
“Come here,” Mallory says. She abandons dinner and pulls him over to the new sofa, which is so fluffy and comforting, they call it Big Hugs. Mallory remembers all the times they sat on the old sofa, the sturdy, unforgiving green tweed, in front of the fire in the fall, winter, and early spring or in the summertime when all the doors and windows were thrown open and the cross breeze kept them from melting. They read, they watched TV, they talked; when Link was a baby, she nursed him on that sofa, and it was where he liked to sleep when he was home sick from school.
Mallory sighs. She’s a certified expert in the field of missing the person you love. She can’t let Link know this specifically, but maybe she can impart some wisdom. “I know you’re afraid that Nicole is going to meet a cute Italian boy or that she’s going to learn a language, see art, sit in magnificent churches, and eat incredible meals without you and the fact that she has had those experiences and you haven’t will put distance between you. She’s not only your girlfriend, she’s your best friend. You two have found the purest kind of romantic love, which is young love.” Mallory’s eyes blur with tears. What an emotional year it has been already, and here it is, getting worse. “It will hurt for a while, a few weeks or a month, but in the best-case scenario—and we can only hope for the best—the two of you will find a way of coping with the distance. Or…you’ll decide that the year might pass more easily if you break up. Nicole may want to be free to dive headfirst into her new Italian life, and if that happens, you need to let her go graciously. You have school and sports and me. I’ll be at your disposal if you want to vent your sadness or your anger or your frustration. I’ll also be the first one to understand if, with Nicole gone, you want to date Lauren or Elsa or Asha.”
“Ew,” Link says. “No.”
“You’re young,” Mallory says. “And the worst thing about being young is not being able to appreciate that you’re young because you aren’t old enough to know any better.”
“Mom,” Link says. “I’m going to marry Nicole. Mark my words. We are getting married as soon as we graduate from college.”
“That’s a solid plan,” Mallory says because she realizes these are the words he needs to hear right now. “But don’t wish your life away. What if you start by enjoying every second of your time with Nicole between now and the day she leaves? Be present. Don’t worry about the what-ifs.”
Link’s phone starts to buzz. It’s Nicole; she must be finished with her meeting. Link jumps to his feet.
“Okay, Mom, thanks.” He bends down to kiss Mallory, then answers the phone.
“Come on over,” he says. “My mom made dinner. Greek chicken. She said she thinks us getting married after college is a solid plan.”
At the end of July, Mallory realizes she’s going to have the same problem that she had during the summer of baseball: Link doesn’t want to go to Seattle. Not for the month, not even for a ten-day visit, which is what he’s done the past two years. He won’t go to Washington, DC, to see Coop; he won’t go anywhere. He wants to stay on Nantucket and work at Millie’s general store alongside Nicole until she leaves for Italy.
Mallory isn’t sure what to do about Jake. She can’t cancel his visit. If her cancer treatment taught her anything, it’s that life is too short.
Link might be old enough for Mallory to simply say,
Listen, I have a friend coming, a male friend, and I need privacy for the weekend. Can you hang out at Nicole’s house, maybe help get her packed?
But ugh. Ew. No.
Then Mallory thinks of Tuckernuck. She and Jake could sail over like they did back in whatever year and use Dr. Major’s house for the weekend. It will be tricky with the sun—there isn’t a single shade tree on all of Tuckernuck—but Mallory will be careful. She’ll be so careful, if only…please!
She sends Dr. Major an exploratory e-mail. He retired five years ago but Mallory sees him around the island—at the Stop and Shop, in line at the bank and post office—so this won’t come completely out of the blue.
Huge favor to ask…is there any way…Labor Day weekend…such joyful memories of the last time and after my parents’ death and my recent health scare…please let me know when you can.
The good news is Mallory doesn’t have to wait long for a response. The bad news is that Dr. Major tells Mallory that they sold the house the year before. It was just too expensive to keep up and no one ever used it.
Mallory’s spirits flag. She could always suggest that Jake stay on the
. They can take long sails during the day and Mallory can run into town for burgers on Friday night, lobsters on Saturday night, Chinese food on Sunday night. They can stream
Same Time, Next Year
on her laptop. It might be fun?
It won’t be fun. It’ll feel like they’re on the lam. It’ll feel shady and cheap and claustrophobic and second rate.
Mallory could throw money at the problem. She could get a room at an inn—no, an inn would be too small. A hotel. The Nantucket Hotel, the White Elephant, Cliffside. She’ll put the room in her name and Jake can slip in and out. But a hotel means staff—front desk, bellhops, chambermaids—and other guests. It’s too risky.
Could she rent a house, someone else’s house? That’s weird and seems extreme, but is it?
Nantucket is an island with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of homes for rent, and yet Mallory can’t find a home on the water available over Labor Day weekend except for a seven-bedroom out in Wauwinet that rents for twenty-five thousand dollars a week. Although, make no mistake, the house is the highest quality real estate porn imaginable, with jaw-dropping views across Polpis Harbor, a pool, a hot tub, a pool house with a wet bar and an exercise room, a tennis court, an outdoor kitchen and entertaining space, and a home theater.
The house is named Desdemona, which Mallory finds intriguing. Desdemona is the tragic heroine in
Othello kills her for adultery that she didn’t commit. It seems like an odd name for a summer mansion, and yet it’s the perfect name for a house Mallory would rent so that her son doesn’t meet her married lover.
Twenty-five thousand dollars. Before Kitty and Senior died, this wouldn’t even be an option. Now Mallory has the money—but can she in good conscience spend it on one weekend for a house that is so big, she and Jake won’t even set foot in half the rooms?
Definitely not. She can’t believe she’s even considering it. She’ll have him stay on the boat. They’ll sail to Chatham on Saturday, Cuttyhunk on Sunday. If it rains…well, she’s not sure what they’ll do if it rains. The
is miserable in the rain. It had better not rain.
Mallory revisits the idea of renting Desdemona. Other people take vacations; they go to the isle of Capri, they go on safari. Those trips must cost twenty-five thousand dollars, or nearly. Fray took Link and Anna and the baby and the baby’s nanny to the Four Seasons in Maui for ten days this past Christmas.
must have cost twenty-five grand. Of course, Fray is in a different category of wealthy from Mallory, but what does money even
if you can’t spend it on the things that make you happy?
Mallory and Jake don’t need seven bedrooms or a tennis court; they don’t need to watch
Same Time, Next Year
in a home theater. But they do need to be together in a safe, private environment and if it takes twenty-five thousand dollars to make sure this happens, then Mallory will do it.
What does Doris say in
Same Time, Next Year
I knew…that no matter what the price, I was willing to pay it.
Mallory picks up her phone and calls Grey Lady Real Estate.
“Good afternoon, this is Grey Lady, Jeremiah speaking, may I help you?”
“Hello,” she says, praying this isn’t who she thinks it is. “My name is Mallory Bless—”
“Oh, hey, Miss Blessing, it’s Jeremiah Freehold.”
Mallory would like to hang up. “Jeremiah, hey there. This is a surprise. Are you—”
“A licensed broker? Yes, I am, have been for years,” he says.
“That’s wonderful,” Mallory says. She knew that Jeremiah had supervised a historically sensitive renovation of his parents’ home on Orange Street and she maybe knew that he’d then gone into real estate, but she is nonetheless surprised—and dismayed—to have Jeremiah on the phone right now. Even all these years later, she still feels mortified about that ride out to Gibbs Pond.