28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People) (18 page)

BOOK: 28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People)
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Well, she
was
content—when she’d thought that she had landed a rich, eligible bachelor with time and money to lavish on her. She supposes now that it was no accident she got involved with Bayer directly after hearing Leland say all those unkind things about her. Leland was right; Mallory
is
suggestible. And she’s gullible. A more clever person would have realized she was being duped.

“This whole thing was a sham. I feel so…stupid. So used. I’m a nice person, Bayer! I’m a
good person.

(Bayer stubs out his cigarette. He considers Mallory. She looks beautiful tonight, but then, she always looks beautiful. She’s young, maybe too young to understand. She told him during their first meeting at the Summer House that she wondered if he was a serial killer. No, he’s not a serial killer, and honestly, he’s not even a garden-variety philanderer, though he’s aware it must appear otherwise to Mallory. He and Dee Dee agreed to spend the summer apart. The kids were at camp; it seemed like the right time.

Do what you want,
Dee Dee said.
But go elsewhere. I don’t want to hear about it.

Where Dee Dee is concerned, all is fair—though she’ll likely be hearing from Caroline Stengel in the morning, if not tonight. But Bayer admits to himself that all this probably hasn’t been fair to Mallory. He should have come right out and told her he was married. He’s curious why she never asked. This has made him wonder about her as well. There were times when he would have described her as not-there. Meaning somewhere else, with someone else.)

“You are a nice person and a good person, Mary Ann. Yes, you are. But even nice, good people aren’t perfect. Everybody has weaknesses. I suspect there’s a secret you’re keeping as well. Maybe even something big?”

Mallory feels like she’s in a hot-air balloon that’s about to crash into a cornfield. Either she’ll be killed in a fiery wreck or she’ll walk away unscathed.

The latter,
she thinks. It’s her choice and she chooses the latter.

And Bayer is right. She is keeping a secret. Something big.

“I’m in love,” she says.

He looks genuinely surprised. “With me?”

“No,” she says. “I’m in love with Jake McCloud.”

(
Ah,
he thinks. His instincts were correct.) “Is Jake McCloud the boyfriend who got married the day we met?”

“He’s the one who got married,” Mallory says. She hesitates and thinks,
How bizarre, how bizarre, that Bayer Burkhart is the person I finally tell.
“But he was never my boyfriend. He’s my…my Same Time Next Year. Like in that movie. He comes to Nantucket to see me every summer for one weekend, no matter what.”

Bayer nods. “Interesting arrangement.” (He can’t believe it, but he feels
jealous.
It’s something about Mallory’s expression. Jake McCloud is one lucky bastard. Frankly, Bayer would like to strangle him.) “That sounds nice.”

She shrugs. “It has its ups and downs.”

What are we talking about in 1998? Monica Lewinsky, the blue dress, Linda Tripp, Kenneth Starr, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; El Niño; Nagano; Linda McCartney; MMR vaccines; Mark McGwire; the Elliptical; Hurricane Mitch; Babbo; Phil Hartman; Windows 98; Viagra; Matthew Shepard;
There’s Something About Mary;
Jesse Ventura; “Chickity China, the Chinese chicken”; Eric, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny.

  

M
allory spends Thanksgiving with Apple and ten members of Apple’s family—her parents, her two brothers and two sisters, and their significant others—who are visiting Nantucket from all across the country. They reserve one of the private, tucked-away rooms at the Woodbox Inn, a place that feels like it’s been around since the original Thanksgiving. The Woodbox has low ceilings and creaky, wide-plank wood floors and a fireplace in every room. It’s the first Thanksgiving of Mallory’s life that feels relaxing. At home in Baltimore, Kitty frets if she can’t find the twelfth Tiffany dessert fork or if Senior doesn’t carve the turkey at the correct angle or if Cooper comes home drunk from the Gilman–Calvert Hall alumni touch-football game, which he always does.

This year, Mallory doesn’t even eat turkey. She orders the beef Wellington, because she can.

  

Skipping Thanksgiving means that Mallory
must
go home to Baltimore for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the Blessings normally go over to the Gladstones’ house to drink Steve Gladstone’s wassail and eat Geri’s famous hot crab dip, then they all dance in the living room to songs like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” On Christmas morning, Kitty will wonder just what Steve Gladstone puts in the wassail.

For the second year in a row, there will be no Christmas Eve frivolity at the Gladstone house. The year before, the Blessings had tried to take over the tradition but it felt stiff and forced and Geri had spent most of the evening crying on the couch. This year, Leland and Fifi have whisked Geri away to Jackson Hole to ski, leaving the Blessings to fend for themselves. Kitty suggests the party at the country club but that involves Santa and screaming children so both Mallory and Cooper veto it. They want to get pizza from Angelo’s and watch
The Year Without a Santa Claus.

“Sounds good to me,” Senior says, handing Cooper a hundred-dollar bill. “Christmas falls at the end of the year and so do taxes. I’ll be in my study. Let me know when the pizza is here.”

Kitty scowls, but only for a second. “Fine,” she says. “I have cooking to do anyway. We’re having a surprise guest tomorrow.”

  

“Who’s the surprise guest?” Mallory says. It’s now late—the pizza has been devoured (along with a bottle of Dom Pérignon that Mallory bought with Senior’s hundred—why not, it’s Christmas!), Heat Miser and Snow Miser have performed their soft-shoe, and Mallory and Coop are lying on the floor of the living room, the only light coming from the Christmas tree and the dying fire. It’s nice—but Mallory feels sad about their lost tradition. When Steve Gladstone started sleeping with Sloane Dooley, did he realize he was sabotaging not only his marriage but Christmas Eve for the family across the street?

“I have no idea,” Cooper says.

“Not a new girlfriend?”

“Nooooo,” he says. “I’m staying away from women for a while. Alison was fun, Nanette was fun but a hypochondriac, and Brooke was a card-carrying psycho. Like a Glenn Close–type psycho.”

“Let’s not forget Krystel,” Mallory says. “You
married
her!”

“I’m attracted to head cases,” Cooper says. “Alison was an anomaly. She was normal. We broke up because of the distance but also because I felt like there was something missing…and what was missing was the crazy.”

Mallory closes her eyes. She thinks about how, when she was growing up, Cooper was her superstar big brother, and in many ways she resented him for that. Now he’s her friend and life is so much better.

“I must have been a real jerk in my past lives,” Cooper says.

“Don’t worry, you’ll find someone,” Mallory says. “There are plenty of crazies out there.”

  

At five o’clock the next afternoon, right before Christmas dinner, the doorbell rings.

“Mallory,” Kitty calls out, “would you answer that, please?”

Mallory’s expectations are low. She suspects it’s going to be the new tennis instructor from the country club. Kitty has been talking about setting Mallory up with him.

Mallory opens the door to find a woman—plump, nervous smile, a long shiny curtain of silver hair, funky teal cat’s-eye glasses bedazzled with rhinestones.

“Mallory,” the woman says. “My God, look at you.”

Mallory blinks. The voice—she recognizes the voice. The hair, the glasses, that smile. She knows this woman, but who is it?

Then Mallory gasps. “Ruthie!” It’s Aunt Greta’s Ruthie, Dr. Ruth Harlowe.

Ruthie opens her arms and Mallory steps right into them. Tears leak from the corners of Mallory’s eyes, not only because she’s gobsmacked by seeing Ruthie but also because, along with the pile of sweaters and CDs, this is a gift from her parents. This is the best gift Mallory can imagine.

  

The Gladstones may have owned Christmas Eve, but Christmas dinner belongs to Kitty. The instant that Ruthie steps inside, a cork pops. There are champagne cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the library—clams casino and Kitty’s famous gooey Brie with pecans and sour-cherry chutney. Everyone greets Ruthie like she’s an esteemed personage, which she is, but also like she’s a complete stranger, which she is to everyone except Mallory.

Ruthie is gracious in the face of what must be a very awkward situation. She still lives in “the house in Cambridge,” she says, though she’s in the Baltimore area over the holidays visiting her nephew, his wife, and their new baby.

Ruthie isn’t afraid to suck down a couple of champagne cocktails and neither is anyone in the Blessing family. Johnny Mathis sings “Sleigh Ride”; the fire crackles. Mallory tells Ruthie about her job at the high school on Nantucket and how the gift of that cottage has changed her life. “I can’t thank Aunt Greta,” Mallory says. “But now I can thank you.”

“Greta was so fond of you,” Ruthie says. “She thought of you as her own.”

Mallory is saved the embarrassment of crying by her mother, who calls everyone into the dining room.

  

Standing rib roast, Kitty’s incredible creamed spinach, homemade popovers with sweet butter—and for dessert, as always, there will be a sticky date pudding with warm toffee sauce and pillows of freshly whipped cream.

Senior says grace and then Kitty raises her glass of Ponzi pinot noir. “There’s something I’d like to say.”

Oh no,
Mallory thinks. All she can imagine is Kitty ruining the evening by trying to demonstrate how evolved she is now.
We know other lesbians
(by which she would mean Leland and Fifi)
and have found them quite agreeable.

Mallory locks eyes with Cooper. If she were close enough, she would squeeze his hand until Kitty finishes blurting out whatever cringe-worthy remarks she’s prepared.

Kitty says, “Ruthie, I want to thank you for sharing in Christmas dinner with our family. We owe you an apology for all the years we weren’t as accepting as we might have been. But now, in our advanced years, Senior and I have come to the realization that love is love.” Kitty hoists her wineglass higher. “And really, there’s no explaining it.”

“Hear, hear,” Coop says, and they all touch glasses without crossing.

Mallory watches her father take a sip of his wine and then fumble for the carving knife. She isn’t at all surprised that he let Kitty do the heavy lifting here, but neither is Mallory willing to let him off the hook.

“Is that how you feel, Dad?” she says. “Love is love and there’s no explaining it?”

Senior levels a direct gaze at Mallory. Her father’s face is so familiar to her, but in this moment she sees something new in his eyes. It’s as though tiny doors are opening to reveal…an actual person.

“Yes,” he says. “I do feel that way.” And then something even more extraordinary happens: her father smiles. “Thank you for coming, Ruthie. You’ve honored us with your presence. We don’t deserve your forgiveness but we are grateful for it.”

“Merry Christmas,” Ruthie says.

  

Cooper is more than ready to leave Baltimore the day after Christmas, but Mallory is staying until the twenty-seventh and she has begged him not to abandon her. Can he eke out one more day, please?

Sure.

“The Bellos are hosting a cookie exchange tonight,” Kitty says. “Why don’t you two come with me?”

“Absolutely not,” Mallory says.

“What’s the point of a cookie exchange
now?
” Cooper asks. “Christmas is over.”

“I think the answer to that is obvious,” Mallory says. “People want to pawn their stale cookies off on the unsuspecting.”

“Well, if you don’t have anything better to do,” Kitty says, “Regina and Bill and the rest of the neighborhood would love to see you.”

  

Coop’s rescue arrives when Jake McCloud calls the house to ask if Coop will meet him at PJ’s, their old Hopkins hangout, for beer and wings.

“You didn’t go to South Bend for Christmas?” Coop asks.

“Nah. Ursula’s mom came to DC. And those two are going to
The Nutcracker
tonight, so I’m flying solo.”

“Perfect,” Coop says. Ursula makes him nervous.

“And hey, invite your sister if she’s free,” Jake says.

“Oh, she’s free,” Coop says.

  

Cooper knocks on Mallory’s bedroom door. He can hear her playing “I’ve Done Everything for You,” by Rick Springfield, on her stereo and singing out,
“You’ve done nothing for me!”
at the refrain.

“Come in,” she says.

Coop cracks the door open. Mallory is reading in her purple shag beanbag chair, the one the whole family calls Grover. “Intervention,” he says. “Rick Springfield? Grover? You’re regressing. So you’re going out with me tonight. We’re meeting Jake McCloud at PJ’s at eight.”

Mallory sits straight up. “What?”

“I got you out of the cookie exchange—you’re welcome. We’re meeting Jake.”

Mallory says, “Is this you inviting me because you feel sorry for me? Because I don’t want to infringe on your male bonding. Or…I mean, is Ursula going to be there?”

“Ursula has
The Nutcracker
with her mother. Jake is taking the train up by himself.”

“To meet you.”

“To meet
us,
” Coop says. “He asked for you specifically.”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “He did? He said ‘Bring Mallory’ without your prompting?”

“Yes. Can you stop being such a weirdo? I’m going to break the news to Kitty.”

  

At quarter to eight, Mallory enters the kitchen wearing jeans, a black turtleneck, and a pair of Chucks—that’s normal—but also the new silver hoops that she got for Christmas and makeup—mascara and lipstick.

Jewelry?
Coop thinks.
Makeup?

“You didn’t have to get all dolled up,” he says. “It’s just PJ’s.”

“Your sister looks lovely,” Kitty says. She has decided to forgo the cookie exchange as well. She and Senior are fixing leftover roast beef sandwiches to enjoy in front of the fire. Apparently, romance in the Blessing household isn’t dead. “You never know, your sister might meet a doctor tonight!”

  

PJ’s Pub is a dive bar beloved of all Johns Hopkins students, and Cooper Blessing and Jake McCloud are no exceptions. The bar is right across from the library and down the street from the Fiji house, so they used to go all the time—after studying, after chapter meetings, before and after lacrosse games. There were dollar imports on Wednesday nights and fifty-cent pizza slices on Sundays. Just saying these prices out loud makes Cooper feel a hundred years old, but the second he and Mallory descend the steps from street level and smell the old beer and cooking grease, Coop is twenty-one again.

Jake is sitting at their usual table next to the jukebox under the Stella Artois mirror where Jerry, the owner, writes the specials. When Jake sees them, he jumps to his feet.

“Oh, boy,” Mallory says.

The Hopkins kids are away on break, so the crowd is local and a little older. Jerry comes over to shake hands; he still remembers Coop and Jake by name even though they graduated nine and ten years earlier, respectively. They order one pitcher of beer, then another, and Mallory is keeping up, her face is
glowing,
and Coop understands; it does feel good to be out of the house. Mallory tells Jake the story about Ruthie showing up for Christmas dinner and Jake looks interested—though why would he care? Jake says that their Christmas was mellow. Ursula and her mother, Lynette, are still mourning the loss of Ursula’s father two and a half years earlier. Christmas isn’t the same without him and never will be.

“I’m happy to have some time away from them, honestly,” Jake says. “They don’t get along. Ursula had work to do yesterday—”

“On Christmas?” Mallory says.

“Sounds like Senior,” Coop says.

“And Lynette asked her to please put the work away and enjoy her family time.” Jake finishes off his beer. “You can imagine how that went over.”

“Well,” Mallory says. “I’ve about had it with family time myself.”

“Cheers to that,” Coop says.

  

Another pitcher, an order of wings, an order of mozzarella sticks. Coop gets up to take a leak and make a quick phone call. When he gets back, Mallory and Jake are leaning toward each other across the table, deep in conversation. Cooper remembers what a pain-in-the-ass little sister Mallory was when they were growing up, her and Leland always spying on Coop and Fray and his other friends and giggling and asking to tag along. Coop is psyched that Mallory has turned out to be such a cool person who can hang out with his friends like this.

“You got the book?” Coop hears Jake say.

“I did. I read it in two days. Thank you,” Mallory says.

“You know it’s a retelling of
Mrs. Dalloway
?” Jake says.

BOOK: 28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People)
5.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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