28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People) (4 page)

BOOK: 28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People)
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“It’ll be fine, it’ll have to be fine, it’s over, it was so long ago, he has another girlfriend now, Sheena or Sheba, but I heard they broke up, and I have dates every weekend, nobody special yet, but it’s only a matter of time, I’ve been picky because being with Fray, frankly, taught me how easy it is to settle into something second rate.” Leland stops, catches her breath. “Does he know I’m coming?”

“No,” Mallory says.

“Well, don’t tell him,” Leland says. “Let it be a surprise.”

  

Mallory recognizes a recipe for disaster when she sees one. Leland is coming for the weekend and so is Frazier Dooley, Leland’s high-school boyfriend, the one she went to the prom with, the one she lost her virginity to. They officially broke up when Fray went to college, but Mallory knows they never really broke up. For example, there was a high-school-reunion gathering at Bohager’s the year Mallory and Leland turned twenty-one. Fray had been in attendance and at the end of the night, Leland left with him.

Maybe Leland coming this weekend is a good thing? Maybe she and Fray will sleep together for old times’ sake and it will be the closure they both need?

This might be Pollyanna thinking. What’s more likely is that Leland coming will create unwanted drama for Coop during what’s supposed to be his carefree bachelor weekend. But what can Mallory do?

  

Cooper calls Mallory a few days later and Mallory thinks,
I have to tell him.
It can be a surprise,
maybe,
for Fray, but it
cannot
be a surprise for her brother.

Turns out, Coop has a surprise of his own. “Bachelor weekend isn’t happening,” he says.

“It’s not?” Mallory says. On the one hand, this is a relief. Apple has put Mallory’s name at the top of the substitute-teacher list at the high school, and she told Mallory she would likely be called on the very first day. But on the other hand, Mallory feels a piercing disappointment. “How come?”

“Krystel doesn’t want me to have a bachelor party,” Coop says. “She thinks they’re gross.”

“They are gross,” Mallory says. “Please tell Krystel this isn’t a bachelor party. This is a weekend with the guys. There won’t be strippers or beer bongs or sex-on-the-beach shots.” She pauses. “Will there?”

“Not now,” Cooper says glumly.

“Surely she’ll understand if it’s just you and two friends staying with your
sister?
” Mallory says. “Although, honestly, maybe it’s better if you do cancel because…Leland is also coming this weekend.”

“She
is?
” Cooper says. “You’re kidding, that’s
awesome!
Now we
have
to come. If we don’t, Fray will never forgive me.”

“It’s supposed to be a surprise for Fray, I guess,” Mallory says. She feels her spirits rising; her brother’s enthusiasm is unexpected. “At least that’s what Leland wants.”

Cooper chuckles. “That is so
great!
” he says. “Forget what I said before. We’re coming, and I’ll tell Krystel she’ll just have to deal with it. Fray, Jake, and I will be on the ferry that gets in at three o’clock on Friday afternoon.”

“I’ll be there,” Mallory says. “Bells on.”

  

A couple of positive consequences have come out of Mallory’s one-night stand with bartender Oliver. One, it ended a long romantic drought. Mallory hadn’t been with anyone since Willis left for Borneo the previous August. Two, Oliver put Mallory in touch with his buddy Scotty, who was trying to sell his 1977 convertible K5 Blazer before getting married and going to business school.

Early Friday afternoon, she goes to look at the Blazer, which is so
beachy
that Mallory falls in love with it immediately and doesn’t even blink when she realizes that it’s a standard and the gearshift is as long as her thighbone.
New tires,
Scotty says.
Indestructible
. He shows her how to take the top off and put it back on clean and tight, but it’s summer, so Mallory is going to keep the top off, off, off. Mallory hands Scotty three thousand dollars in cash and takes the title.

(Scotty, meanwhile, feels the same way about selling the Blazer that he did about putting his yellow Lab, Radar, to sleep. He loves the car; he’s selling it under duress. His fiancée, Lisa, thinks he should buy a “city car” for Wharton, a Jetta. He can’t even say the word
Jetta
without grimacing.
Part of growing up is letting go,
his parents told him back when they all hugged Radar for the last time. Scotty is comforted by the fact that the chick who’s buying the K5 is not only cute behind the wheel, but happy. He can’t remember the last time he saw a girl that happy.)

  

Mallory owns a convertible! A K5! It’s sleek black with a white racing stripe—Scotty spared no expense on the paint job—and any trepidation that Mallory feels about the upcoming weekend falls away. She turns up the radio and drives to the ferry.

  

She’s standing on Straight Wharf when the boys come off the boat. Her brother’s in a tomato-red polo, collar up, and Frazier, whose blond hair is longer and shaggier than Mallory has ever seen it, has something on his lip that Mallory realizes is a mustache. Behind them is a person Mallory knows is Jake McCloud. She has seen pictures of him. The one that comes to mind was taken at a fraternity formal, his head tipped back and his mouth open (laughing? singing?), but Mallory is unprepared for how seeing him in person affects her.

He’s…

Maybe he’s not classically handsome. Or maybe he is. Jake is tall, strapping, clean-cut. He has dark hair, dark brown eyes, so nothing too remarkable, except his face is put together properly, and when he smiles…
gah!
He has the smile of a cute little boy, the cutest little boy, except this infectious smile is on his classically handsome face, so, wow, yeah. Mallory is…she is…well, initially, she’s self-conscious. She should have done something with her hair. It’s gathered in a scrunchie on top of her head. She’s wearing Wayfarers and no makeup. She has on cutoffs and a white tank and a pair of tan suede flip-flops that show her chipped nail polish and her silver toe rings.

Why did she not give herself a pedicure? Or dress up? Her mother would be aghast.

“Hey, guys!” Mallory says. She hugs her brother, hugs Fray, and offers Jake her hand. “Mallory Blessing,” she says. “Nice to finally meet you in person.”

“It’s crazy, right?” Jake says. “That we’ve never met? I remember when Coop first showed me your picture. I said—”

“‘Coop, I have to tell you, man, I’m in love with your little sister,’” Coop supplies.

Mallory presses the soles of her flip-flops into the dock. He’s just teasing her. “Oh, really?” she deadpans. “You said that?”

  

The previous night before falling asleep, Mallory went through the conversations she’d had with Jake McCloud while Cooper was in college. Three separate times during Mallory’s freshman year at Gettysburg, she had called Coop at the Fiji house at Johns Hopkins and Jake McCloud answered.

The first time Mallory talked to Jake, he’d immediately started peppering her with questions about life at Gettysburg: What was her major? (English.) Did she like her roommate? (Indifferent.) Had she been to any parties? (Some, yes.) Did she have a boyfriend? (No.)

“That’s good,” Jake said. “Save yourself for me.”

Mallory had laughed. “Okay, I’ll do that. Will you please tell Coop I called?” She’d been so flustered that she hung up just as she heard Jake say, “You’re hanging up on me so soon?” She chastised herself and considered calling back, but in the end she had the good sense to return to reading Stephen Crane.

The second time she spoke to Jake was a few months later, close to Christmas break. It was a Saturday night and Mallory was studying for her American lit final. She decided to call Coop while she was waiting for her popcorn to pop in the microwave in the common area; she’d set the timer for two minutes and ten seconds. If the popcorn burned even a little, the smell lingered for days and everyone in the dorm dreamed up creative ways to retaliate against you.

“Good evening, Cooper Blessing’s room,” a voice said.

Mallory smiled; she knew it was Jake. Every time she called Coop, she halfway hoped (okay, all the way hoped) that Jake would answer again. Now he had. Mallory heard laughter and music in the background. A party? It
was
Saturday night.

“It’s Mallory,” she said. “Cooper’s sister. Is he…around?”

“Mallory!” Jake said. “It’s Jake!” His voice was so loud, it was like he was calling out to her across a canyon.

“Hey!” She thought,
Be witty!
Should she tell him she was babysitting her popcorn? Definitely not. She was
such
a nerd! “Is Coop around, Jake?”

“Nah,” Jake said. “I mean, yeah, he’s here somewhere, but it’s our Christmas cocktail party so he and Stacey are probably making out on the dance floor in the basement.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” Mallory said. “I’m studying for finals and I just needed a break.”

“Oh yeah?” Jake said. “What final?”

“Am lit,” Mallory said.

“That’s me right now,” Jake said. “I. Am. Lit.” He laughed. “That was bad, sorry. American literature?”

“Yeah,” Mallory said. “I don’t want to keep you from the party. I’ll call Coop tomorrow.”

“You’re not keeping me from anything,” Jake said. “My date drank a bottle of wine by herself while she was getting ready and she started puking at the pre-party and didn’t make it over here. Good news is I got to take off this damn tartan bow tie.”

This damn tartan bow tie.
He was talking as though she could see him lying back on Cooper’s bed with the top of his tuxedo shirt unbuttoned and a red and green MacGregor bow tie hanging around his neck. Jake must be cute, she thought. He sounded cute.

“Who are you reading in Am lit?” Jake asked.

“Um…” Mallory said. She couldn’t believe he wanted to know. She was just a freshman and hadn’t been invited to any Christmas cocktail parties, though if she
were
at one, even without a date, the last thing she’d want to talk about would be school—even worse, someone else’s school. “The usual? Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Crane, Twain, and automobiles…”

Jake laughed. “You’re funny!”

“Maybe just because you’re lit?” she said.

He laughed again and then she heard him take a gulp of something. “You know, I’ve had to take all these pre-med bio and chem classes, and it’s only this year that I’ve been able to take something for fun. So I’m in this English class called Art of the Novella, and it’s so great! We’re reading Jim Harrison and Tolstoy and Ethan Canin and Andre Dubus and Philip Roth…”

“Wow,” Mallory said. She didn’t admit that the only two writers she’d heard of were Tolstoy and Roth and she hadn’t read anything by either one.

“You know what I’m going to do the second I graduate? I’m going to start reading. I want to become a bookish person. I should have majored in English but my parents insisted on biology so I could get in all the pre-med requirements. My father’s a burn specialist and my mother’s a surgeon.”

“Are you going to med school, then?”

“Not next year, maybe not ever. It’s just…my parents were always working when I was growing up and I want a job where I can come home at night and spend time with my kids.”

He was thinking so far ahead that he seemed like a different category of person from Mallory. She was just trying to read the basic English literature canon (all white males, as her roommate, Bisma, had pointed out, a fact Mallory hadn’t even
noticed,
which was completely pathetic); she wasn’t in a position to think about a career, much less kids. “So what will you do?”

“Probably work for a lobbyist in Washington—one of the good guys, though. I’m one of the good guys, Mallory.”

“I can tell,” Mallory said, then she worried her tone was too earnest. Time to wrap it up, she thought. The microwave was beeping its reminder. “Well, have fun tonight. I’ll call Cooper back tomorrow.”

“I’ll tell him,” Jake said. “And hey, good talking to you. You saved my night.”

  

The third conversation was months later, at the tail end of the spring semester. Mallory had just hung up with her mother, who’d told her that Cooper had gotten an internship in DC and that he’d be renting a room in a house in Chevy Chase that summer. Mallory was calling to beg him to come home instead. Mallory couldn’t bear the thought of spending an entire summer alone with their parents and being the sole recipient of her mother’s irritating attention.

Jake picked up on the first ring. “Blessing residence.”

Mallory grinned. “Jake?” she said. It was now the end of freshman year and she had acquired some moxie. “It’s Mal.”


Mal
means ‘bad’ in French,” Jake said. “But you must be the good kind of bad.”

Mallory couldn’t believe that talking to someone she’d never met could feel so
seductive
. “How are you?” she said. “Are you…getting ready to graduate?”

“Yes, thank you for asking,” Jake said. “But I have zilch in the way of job offers, so I’m sitting on the end of your brother’s bed teaching myself Cat Stevens songs on the guitar so I can support myself as a subway performer.”

“I love Cat Stevens,” Mallory said.

“All the best people do,” Jake said.

“I have every album. My favorite is
Tea for the Tillerman
.” Mallory tried to tamp down her enthusiasm. She hadn’t thought her crush on Jake McCloud could get any worse, but now that she knew he liked Cat Stevens, she was a
complete goner.
“Put the phone down next to you and let me listen while you play.”

“Tell me if I’m any good,” Jake said. “And if the answer is no, please lie to spare my ego. Okay, something from
Tea for the Tillerman,
here we go.” He set the phone down and then she heard him strumming the first chords of “Hard Headed Woman.” He started to sing:
“I’m looking for a hard headed woman, one who will take me for myself…”

His voice was
great
. It had strength and it was on key and controlled. It was sexy. He sang to the bridge and then he picked up the phone.

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