Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
“On and off,” Jake says. “There’s been a lot of off, actually.”
“But you’re together now?” Mallory asks. The light is fading. There’s only a single votive candle on the table, but even so, Jake sees the question in her eyes, which are green tonight. He prefers them green.
Mallory cuts her burger in half in a way that seems aggressive. “Will you marry her?”
“I can’t believe you haven’t asked her already,” Cooper says.
Jake has reached a crossroads. He isn’t sure what to disclose under these circumstances. Should he spill his guts as though Mallory has no stake in the answer? There’s a way in which they’re both playacting for Cooper and for each other. “We went to Paris last month,” he says. “She demanded a proposal and I told her I wasn’t ready.”
“Ouch!” Cooper says.
Mallory throws her brother an exasperated look. “At least
not rushing into anything.”
“Hey,” Cooper says. “You’re supposed to treat me with kid gloves.”
Jake looks down at his burger, then up at Mallory. “What about you, Mal? Have you ever been in love?”
“Coop, may I have the ketchup, please?” Mallory says.
“Answer the man’s question first,” Cooper says.
“Just please pass the ketchup.”
“Come on, Mal. We’re having a heart-to-heart here. Have you ever been in love? And Mr. Peebles doesn’t count.”
“Who’s Mr. Peebles?” Jake asks, already hating Mr. Peebles and hoping he’s long dead.
“Her ninth-grade English teacher,” Cooper says. “Mal was in love with him. It was well documented in the diary that I stole from her room and read to my friends—”
“Thereby scarring me for life,” Mallory says.
“But that doesn’t count because Mr. Peebles was married and very devoted to his wife.”
“All the more reason to love him,” Mallory declares. “Plus, he introduced me to J. D. Salinger. That year, I dressed up as Franny Glass for Halloween, remember? I wore a white nightgown and carried a chicken sandwich and the only person who got it was Mr. Peebles.”
“You’re trying to change the subject,” Jake says.
“Yeah,” Cooper says. “Just tell the truth for the sake of honest, good-faith conversation. Have you ever been in love?”
“Yes,” Mallory says.
“Yes?” Cooper says. He sounds surprised. Jake is holding his breath.
“Yes,” Mallory says again. “I’m in love right now, as a matter of fact. So…would you please hand me the ketchup? My burger is getting cold.”
She’s in love with me, Jake thinks. Or she’s in love with the owner of the board shorts. It’s agony not knowing. He’ll ask her when they’re alone.
No, he won’t. Why ruin the weekend?
At ten o’clock, they pile into the Blazer to go to the Chicken Box. Cooper sits shotgun, Jake is in the rear, mesmerized by the back of Mallory’s neck, her earlobe, the tiny silver hoop.
“Your first time to the Chicken Box!” Mallory says to Coop.
“I should have known Krystel was bad news when she told me to come home last year,” Cooper says.
“We’re not talking about Krystel,” Mallory says.
“We’re talking about Alison!” Jake says.
“Who’s Alison?” Mallory asks.
“The stewardess whose number I got today,” Cooper says. “She’s meeting us at the bar.”
Jake isn’t sure the flight attendant will show up, but there’s a woman waiting out front when they arrive, and that woman is indeed Alison from USAir.
“Cooper!” she says. “Hey!”
Cooper pulls Jake and Mallory aside. “Don’t be pissed, but if this goes well, and I’m going to make sure it does, then I probably won’t be back tonight. Or maybe tomorrow either, who knows.”
Will he and Mallory be that lucky? Jake wonders. “Mal and I will be fine,” he says. “We’re old friends.”
“Mal?” Cooper says. “Is it okay with you? I need this.”
Mallory swats her brother away. “Go have fun. Don’t worry about us. Just be a gentleman, please.”
As Cooper and Alison disappear into the bar, Jake thinks about lobsters and stargazing tomorrow night, Great Point on Sunday, then home to play music and talk about books and maybe shower together in the mansion before they order Chinese food and watch an old movie. Maybe the networks play
Same Time, Next Year
the same time every year, to be clever.
Mallory is about to follow Cooper inside, but Jake grabs her hand. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
She bounces on her toes. “He sure was easy to get rid of.”
“I noticed the board shorts hanging in the outdoor shower, and I want to make sure there won’t be some guy in there waiting to kick the shit out of me.”
“Ah,” she says. “Those belong to JD.”
“The rescue officer, from last year.”
Jake was afraid of that.
“We’re dating,” Mallory says. “Casually.”
casually—because he showers at your house and leaves his clothes behind.”
“Well, we’re not engaged or planning to get engaged,” Mallory says. “And…he’s away this weekend, at my suggestion, mountain-biking with his buddies.” She grins. “So you’re safe.”
“We’re the only two people on earth,” Jake says.
“And this weekend is going to last forever,” Mallory says. “Let’s go dance.”
What are we talking about in 1995? The Oklahoma City bombing; Bosnia, Serbia; molten chocolate cake; the Macarena; Windows 95; Des’ree; the Unabomber; Yitzhak Rabin;
Selena; Bye, Felicia; Steve Young; Eight-Minute Abs; Yahoo!; Jerry Garcia; Frasier, Niles, Lilith, Daphne, and Roz;
The Bridges of Madison County;
O. J. Simpson found innocent by a jury of his peers.
hen we check in with our girl at the beginning of 1995, we are cheered to see how well things are going for her.
Mallory is now—after Mr. Falco’s retirement and four months of traveling to the Cape twice a week for her certification classes—a real teacher. She joined the union and attends faculty meetings; she overprepares the night before the principal, Dr. Major, comes to observe her class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she’s the cafeteria monitor, and she accepts bribes from the kids in the form of Cheetos and Hostess cupcakes. She stands over anyone with pizza and sings “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” until the student offers up the crispiest piece of pepperoni. At the end of each school day, Mallory swings by the guidance office to debrief with Apple; sometimes they gossip, sometimes they vent, sometimes they have constructive conversations about how to better reach the kids. On Friday afternoons, Mallory and Apple go to happy hour at the Pines. They order beers and mozzarella sticks and toast to another week survived as though they are living in a combat zone—life with 112 teenagers—and Apple will say, “Only twenty-seven [or “nineteen” or “twelve”] weeks until summer vacation.”
Mallory is almost embarrassed to admit it, but she doesn’t want the school year to end. She starts off each class by reading a poem and asking the kids to react to it. She chooses Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams, Audre Lorde, Linda Pastan, Eldridge Cleaver, Robert Bly, and everyone’s absolute favorite, Langston Hughes. Mallory photocopies short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Maxine Hong Kingston, John Updike. They discuss editorials in the
New York Times
. They read
The Member of the Wedding
by Carson McCullers, which only a few of the kids warm to, and then they read
The Handmaid’s Tale,
which is a crowd favorite. Dystopia, Mallory thinks. Teenagers love dystopia, the world as they know it falling apart at the seams. Her students keep journals in which they relate passages of what they’ve read to their own lives. They write short stories, sonnets, personal essays, persuasive essays, haiku (which they like because they’re short), and one research paper, mandated by the state, which makes the kids stressed and peevish, and the unit falls in the middle of March, when everyone on Nantucket hates everyone else anyway.
Mallory is popular because she’s young, because she’s “cool,” because she wears long blazers and leggings and friendship bracelets that the ninth-grade girls weave for her, because she’s friends with Apple (“Miss Davis”), who is also young and cool, because she talks to her students like they’re people, because she takes an interest in their lives. She knows who just started dating whom and who just broke up. She knows to pack an extra sandwich and invite Maggie Sohn, whose parents are divorcing, to spend lunch in her classroom so they can talk. She knows where the parties are, who goes, who doesn’t, who throws up, who hooks up. Some of this she gleans from reading the kids’ journals; some she overhears as they’re coming in and out of her classroom; some she hears from the kids who confide in her. Mallory locks it all in the vault, and opens the vault for Apple only—she never says a word to the principal, Dr. Major, to the parents, or even to JD.
And then, when it seems like things can’t get any better, they don’t. They get worse. Much worse.
Mallory was warned by Apple and the other teachers: Once the kids return from spring break, they’re impossible to control. And after the first seventy-degree day, forget about it.
Everyone gets it.
Over April break, Mallory and JD go to Vieques, a tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Mallory chooses it because it’s undiscovered, relatively undeveloped, and cheap. She books seven nights in a one-story beachfront motel in a tiny village called Esperanza. Their room is dim and the bedding iffy, but they aren’t picky. Mallory is cheered because the motel sits on a strip of white-sand beach on a turquoise bay. JD is cheered because the motel has a happening bar and restaurant out front.
On the first full day, JD plants himself on a barstool and starts drinking Modelos; after lunch, he switches to margaritas. Mallory is indulgent at first—she knows that JD is used to all-inclusive resorts where the point is to drink as much as possible in order to get your money’s worth, but after two days, she loses patience and begins to worry about their bill, which they’ve agreed to split. Mallory wants to explore the island. She wants to snorkel; she wants to tour Mosquito Bay and see the bioluminescence; she wants to visit the plaza in Isabel Segunda. There’s a nearby island called Culebra that has a famous Chinese restaurant. Mallory wants to hire someone to take them over by boat.
Sure, sure, whatever you want, baby
. But getting him off his barstool is another matter. Mallory rents a mask and fins from the surf shop down the street and snorkels in the bay out front. She buys two tickets for the New Moon tour of Mosquito Bay, but JD is passed out cold at eight o’clock, so Mallory goes alone. It’s as she’s floating around and the water lights up around her—the dinoflagellates in the bay glow a brilliant blue when they come in contact with other creatures—that she finally acknowledges that she and JD just aren’t compatible.
They’ve been dating for eighteen months—though, as Mallory told Jake, it has been very casual. Or casual for Mallory, at least. JD is far more passionate about the relationship; he’s always asking for more. He likes Mallory to come watch him play darts at the Muse on Wednesday nights, which she does only when she doesn’t have too much grading. On Friday evenings after her standing happy-hour date with Apple, Mallory will join JD at the Anglers Club for their weekly appetizer party. This means clams casino and pigs in a blanket with a collection of longtime Nantucketers in the funky, weather-beaten clubhouse on Old South Wharf. JD invites Mallory to his parents’ house and introduces her as “my girl,” which makes her feel queasy. But it’s been nice, too, to have someone on the island day in and day out who cares about her. JD is in excellent physical condition but the sex is reminiscent of Mallory’s college years, with him humping and grunting in the dark; he’s intent on pleasing only himself. And JD is explosively jealous of every single man Mallory comes in contact with. He’s jealous of Dr. Major; he’s jealous of Mallory’s male students, especially the seniors.
Twice this past winter, JD mentioned
moving in together,
and the phrase nearly sent Mallory into shock.
Moving in together
can only mean JD moving into Mallory’s cottage—and no, sorry, that’s never going to happen. Mallory doesn’t even let JD do work around the cottage. Small jobs—fixing the bathroom fan, replacing the screen in the back door—Mallory has learned to do herself. Anything bigger—building the outdoor shower, having the cottage winterized, cleaning the chimney—she hires other people to do, and JD is jealous of all of them.
When Mallory gets back to the motel after the tour of Mosquito Bay and gazes upon JD snoring in bed, she decides to make a clean break once they’re back in Nantucket.
JD feels awful about missing the bioluminescence trip, so the next day, he arranges for a taxi to take them to Isabel Segunda. Once there, they wander the plaza holding hands and they stumble across a cute open-air bistro that is suffused with the heady scent of basil. Sure enough, the proprietress has just made pesto, which she tells them she’s going to drizzle over a tomato, peach, and fresh mozzarella salad. Yes, please, one for Mallory. JD orders the whole grilled fish. They sit at a table on the edge of a balcony overlooking the Caribbean. The proprietress fusses over them, calling them lovebirds, and two hours pass in such an enchanted way that Mallory wonders if she overreacted the night before.
JD pays for lunch and they wander out into the white-hot afternoon in a daze. They stroll a little more, poking into galleries and gift shops. JD wants to buy Mallory something, a souvenir that she can take home, and Mallory (tactlessly?) repeats her mother’s decree that anything one buys on vacation always looks like hell once you get it home. JD flinches. Has she ruined the mood? No, or at least not completely. He picks a red hibiscus blossom off a bush and tucks it behind Mallory’s ear. “Thank you for planning this trip,” he says. “I’m lucky to have you.”
They try to find a taxi back to Esperanza but have no luck. It’s hot, neither of them speaks much Spanish, and when they go back to the bistro to ask the proprietress for help, they find it shuttered, closed for the afternoon. JD starts to huff and puff. He prides himself on being a problem solver and doesn’t like feeling helpless. He flags down a white pickup and offers the driver twenty bucks to take them to Esperanza. The driver is a young, handsome Latino in a white polo. He smiles at Mallory—the flower in her hair—and accepts the money. Mallory and JD climb into the truck.
Problem solved! Mallory squeezes JD’s thigh. She leans back against the headrest and closes her eyes. The window is open but the air is hot and syrupy. She is bobbing along the edge of consciousness when suddenly she hears the driver speak.
“So, where are you guys from?”
Mallory opens her eyes. She is surprised by his perfect, unaccented English.
“Nantucket Island,” she says.
“Ever heard of it?” JD asks. “It’s an island in Massachusetts, off the coast of Cape Cod. South of Boston.”
“Yeah,” the driver says. “I spent a few summers on Nantucket growing up.”
JD laughs like the guy has told a joke. “Oh, really?” he says. “Were you a Fresh Air Fund kid?”
There is a moment of noxious silence during which Mallory wants to vaporize and float away through the open window.
“Sorry, man,” JD says. “I was only kidding.”
The driver reaches a stop sign and stomps on the brake harder than he needs to. “I can’t get you all the way to Esperanza. You’ll have to walk from here. Follow the road to the sea, then take a right.” He hands JD the twenty. “Here’s your money back.”
Later, nothing JD says will change Mallory’s mind. Their relationship is over, and all Mallory feels is an overwhelming sense of relief.
Mallory tries not to play favorites with her students but she has become very close with Maggie Sohn, who is struggling with her parents’ divorce, and she has a soft spot for one other student, Jeremiah Freehold. Jeremiah is a sweet, bright kid. His father is a scalloper, his mother a seamstress. They live in an antique home on lower Orange Street. Jeremiah is the oldest of five children. None of this is particularly remarkable. What is remarkable is that, at eighteen years old, Jeremiah has never been to the mainland. Mallory thinks of the Freehold family as a throwback to Nantucket in the 1800s. They’re Quaker; they live a quiet, sustainable island life. In his journal for class, Jeremiah keeps a list of things he’s never actually seen: a traffic light, a McDonald’s, an escalator, a shopping mall, a cineplex, an arcade, a river, a skyscraper, an amusement park.
Talk about sheltered,
Mallory thinks. But his life has a purity that she can’t help admiring.
Back in the fall, Mallory asked Jeremiah what his plans were for college. He told her he wasn’t going to college; he would become a scalloper like his father. Mallory asked how he felt about this. He was bright, an enthusiastic reader; it seemed a shame for him not to continue his education.
“I’ll be continuing my education on the water,” he said. “And when I want books, I’ll borrow them from the Atheneum.”
Right after spring break, Jeremiah starts stopping by Mallory’s classroom after school. He asks her to read his poetry. He asks her to recommend books. Mallory is enthralled with Michael Ondaatje’s novel
The English Patient,
which Jake had sent her at Christmas. The inscription:
Again, by a man. Again, good. XO, Jake
. Mallory isn’t willing to lend Jeremiah her own personal copy—it’s too precious with Jake’s handwriting inside—but she makes a special trip to Mitchell’s Book Corner and buys a copy for Jeremiah.
He reads it in two days, then comes by to discuss it with Mallory. Jeremiah is a tall, lanky kid with a high forehead and a pronounced Adam’s apple; Mallory thinks he looks like a young Abe Lincoln. Most days, he wears a flannel shirt, jeans, and sturdy boots. However, today he’s wearing a new shirt, white linen, and there’s a brightness to his eyes, a flush to his cheeks. He speaks so quickly about how much he loved the book that he trips over his words:
with their tinkling bottles of ointment, Kip the sapper, the North African desert, the Italian villa with holes blown through the walls.
Jeremiah has a crush on her, she thinks. Or maybe she’s just flattering herself.
The next few days, she shoos Jeremiah away after school, claiming she has meetings, a dentist appointment, she’s taking the Blazer in for a tune-up—and this works. Jeremiah stops coming by.
A couple of weeks later, however, he reappears. He’s visibly upset, hot-cheeked, perspiring. All the seniors are going on the annual three-day senior-class trip to Boston (Apple is a chaperone every year, and she hates it—a Best Western in Braintree with forty horny teenagers who think it’s party time—but the honorarium is too attractive to turn down), and Jeremiah’s parents aren’t letting him go.
“We had a family meeting and discussed it,” Jeremiah says. “I made my points and they made theirs but it came down to this: I live under their roof so they are in charge of me until I move out. And they don’t want me to go.”
“Oh,” Mallory says. “Wow.” She’s at a loss. She, like just about everyone else she knows, had wished for different parents growing up. Kitty would cook elaborate family dinners every single weeknight, and it was Mallory’s responsibility to do the dishes. Mallory’s tendency—every teenager’s tendency?—was to try to find shortcuts, but it was as if Kitty had second sight.