28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People) (5 page)

BOOK: 28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People)
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“What do you think?” he said. “Should I quit and apply at Long John Silver’s?”

“Woo-hoo!” Mallory cried. “You sounded terrific! You’re going to be a very rich and successful subway performer.”

“Aw,” Jake said. “Thank you, that’s sweet.” He cleared his throat. “Hey, did you call to talk to Coop?”

“Coop?” she said.

  

Mallory doesn’t know if Jake remembers the content of their repartee or even that they
had
a repartee—it was so long ago, over five years. As she leads the boys to the car, she thinks it might have been better if Jake had turned out to be not her type because then she could just be her normal self instead of being sick with infatuation.

The boys
love
the car! Cooper whistles and calls shotgun; Fray and Jake climb in the back, and Mallory cranks up the radio.

Fray says, “Should we swing by the package store? I have money.”

“For once,” Coop says.

“I have two cases of beer at the house,” Mallory says. “And a fresh fifth of Jim Beam. I know my audience.”

“I love you, Mal,” Fray says.

“Hey,” Jake says, smacking Frazier’s shoulder. “She’s mine.”

“She’s mine”?
Mallory thinks.
Is it going to be this easy?

She wants to believe that. Everything this summer has been charmed except for the fact that she hasn’t fallen in love. Could that be next? Could that be
now?

When they get to the house, Mallory shows them their rooms—Cooper says he’ll stay in a room with Jake so that Fray can have a room to himself. (He gives Mallory a wink, meaning
Leland
.) The boys change into their board shorts and run down the slope of the beach into the ocean. Mallory watches them from the porch for a minute. Jake has strong, sculpted shoulders; he’s a powerful swimmer. He dives under a breaking wave, then surfaces and whips his wet hair out of his face. He notices Mallory checking him out, and he grins.

Complete goner,
she thinks, and she heads inside to fix some snacks.

  

Seven hours later, Mallory and Jake will be standing alone together in the cold sand and Mallory will scream until her throat is on fire and Jake will tell her to call 911 and Mallory will flash back to the moment she stood on the porch grinning as she admired Jake’s shoulders and she will wonder how everything went so horribly wrong. She will suspect it’s her fault.

  

Mallory puts out Brie, water crackers, and a little dish of chutney. She’s channeling her mother, who believes that life begins with hors d’oeuvres. Mallory has been chilling the beer all day in a galvanized tub that her aunt and uncle used as a footbath. She sets up the Jim Beam, a trio of cold Cokes, a bucket of clean ice. The boys come up from the beach. When Cooper sees the cutting board loaded with cheese and crackers, he gives Mallory a look.

“Against all odds, you’ve turned into Kitty.”

Mallory shrugs as Jake and Fray dig in. No one has ever been unhappy about seeing hors d’oeuvres.

Mallory is tempted to put on some Cat Stevens but she doesn’t want to be obvious—and what if Jake doesn’t remember? She puts on R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”

Fray pours himself a Beam and Coke. “And I feel fine,” he says.

During the golden hour, the sun’s rays hit the front porch in a way that feels sacred. Mallory is two beers in; she’s being careful because she has to drive to the airport to get Leland. Mallory has set the harvest table for four people but she leaves room for a fifth. She has prepared burger patties; she has shucked corn, sliced tomatoes. She cuts the last bloom off her sole hydrangea bush by the pond-side door and sticks it in a mason jar for a centerpiece. The boys take showers.
Make them quick,
Mallory has warned them. This fall, she’s going to hire someone to build an outdoor shower off the side of the house. Every time she gets home from work or comes up off the beach, all she wants is to shower outside—sun or stars and moon above, pond stage right, ocean stage left.

Jake walks into the great room in just a towel. “This place is a slice of heaven.”

Cooper is sprawled across the green tweed sofa. “I should have been nicer to Aunt Greta.”

Yes, you should have,
Mallory thinks, but she doesn’t want to quarrel.

Jake looks at Mallory’s CDs. He says, “I’ll DJ.” Next thing Mallory knows, Cat Stevens is playing—“Hard Headed Woman.”

“Hey!” she says.

“This is our song,” Jake says. “Remember?”

Fray steps out of the bedroom, also wearing only a towel. “What is this crap?” he asks, waving his drink at the stereo. “It’s terrible.” Then he snaps his fingers. “I forgot, Mal, I brought you something.” He disappears into the bedroom and emerges holding a large wrapped gift that he hands to Mallory. “Housewarming present. Thank you for having me.”

Mallory nearly has to pick herself up off the floor. Has Frazier Dooley grown
up?
“Thank you,” she says. “That’s so thoughtful. But you didn’t have to. You’re family, you know that.”

He shrugs. “Open it.”

It’s a French press and a pound of coffee from Vermont. “Wow,” Mallory says. “It’s almost like you knew I’ve been living with that dinosaur.” She points to the Mr. Coffee machine on the counter; it was here back in 1978 when Mallory first visited the cottage.

“Stop making the rest of us look bad,” Jake says to Fray.

“Sorry,” he says. “It comes naturally.”

Mallory tears her attention off Jake for a second so that she can take fresh stock of Frazier. He has been Cooper’s best friend since forever; when Mallory said he was family, she meant it. Frazier lived with his grandparents around the corner from the Blessings, on Edgevale Road. Like the Blessings and the Gladstones, Frazier’s grandparents belonged to the country club. His mother, Sloane, would sporadically appear—she was a professional disco dancer (she was also a cocaine addict—Mallory had learned this from eavesdropping on her parents). Frazier’s father was never even
referred
to, and now that Mallory is older, she suspects that Sloane didn’t know who the father was. Walt and Inga, Fray’s grandparents, were lovely people; Walt served as president of the board of trustees at the country club, and Inga did the flowers each week for Roland Park Presbyterian. Despite this, Fray had always been troubled. He was smart but didn’t apply himself. He was a good athlete but a poor sport—he yelled at the refs in basketball, started fistfights on the lacrosse field. He got into UVM on a partial scholarship and intended to walk on to the lacrosse team, but he tore his ACL during tryouts, and that was that. His freshman-year grades were so bad that Walt and Inga made him earn the money he would have gotten from his scholarship, so he got a job as a barista at a coffee shop in downtown Burlington. After he graduated, he stayed on to manage the place. Mallory knows that he’d suggested improvements—an expanded menu, proper coffeehouse evenings with local musicians. Mallory feels proud of him for getting out of Baltimore and for becoming the kind of person who thought to bring a hostess gift without his grandparents’ prodding.

Mallory pulls Coop aside. “When the coals turn gray and ashy, throw the burgers on,” she says. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

  

Leland is standing in front of the airport terminal wearing a red gingham sundress that clashes with her bangs, which she has dyed neon pink. She squeals when she sees the Blazer; it’s a proper
jalopy,
she proclaims. She leans her head back against the seat and looks up at the night sky. “The air here is delicious. I needed to get out of the city.”

“I hope you’re hungry,” Mallory says. “The boys are grilling burgers. They should be ready when we get back.”

“Fray’s there?” Leland asks.

“Fray’s there.”

“He doesn’t know I’m coming?”

“Nope,” Mallory says. Is this cruel or funny? Mallory isn’t sure. She has a sickening vision of Fray losing his temper when he sees Leland and feeling so tricked, so
betrayed,
that he smashes the French press against the wall.

  

When Mallory and Leland walk into the cottage, Cooper has just pulled the burgers off the grill. Jake is manning the stereo, and Fray has his head in the fridge.

“Look who
I
found!” Mallory says, ushering Leland forward.

“Leland!” Cooper says. “Hey, sweetie, love the hair! How are you? Welcome, welcome!”

Mallory holds her breath as she watches Frazier take in the sight of Leland Gladstone, there on Nantucket, there in the living room.

“Lee?” he says. He seems dazed—but it’s a happy daze, not an angry daze.

“Hey, Fray,” she says.

  

It’s fine, it’s fine. They set a place for Leland, and Mallory pulls out a bottle of Russian River chardonnay. Her hands are shaking and when she gives Leland the glass, she sees that Leland’s hands are shaking too. But no matter, they’re all grown-ups now, sitting down to dinner at the narrow harvest table that Aunt Greta always said was meant to inspire conversation. They raise their drinks and toast the next chapter for Cooper. He’s getting married. When they clink one another’s glasses, Mallory notices that Leland’s and Fray’s arms cross, which Kitty always claimed was bad luck.

“No crossing!” Mallory says, but nobody hears her.

Lenny Kravitz is on the stereo, “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”

  

After dinner, things are still okay. Leland wants to change before they go out. Frazier goes into the bathroom holding a razor—seeing Leland has clearly inspired him to shave that thing off his lip—and Cooper picks up the phone and takes it into his bedroom. Mallory washes the dishes; Jake offers to dry.

Jake says, “I feel like I’m out of the loop.”

“Leland and Fray were an item in high school.”

“Ah,” Jake says.

“They’ve always had a thing,” Mallory says. “A thing that refuses to die.”

“I can relate,” Jake says.

“Can you?” Mallory says. She’s seized by jealousy. Obviously, Jake is too terrific not to have a girlfriend, or many girlfriends. But she’d hoped she’d caught him on the in-between. “Where did you grow up? I don’t think you told me.”

“South Bend,” Jake says. “Indiana.”

She knows nothing about the place except that Notre Dame is there. “Are you still hung up on a girl from South Bend?”


Hung up
is too strong a phrase,” he says. “We just…I’m not sure. It’s been one of those things. Complicated.”

“What’s her name?” Mallory asks. She can’t believe she’s being so bold.

“Ursula,” he says. “Ursula de Gournsey.”

“She sounds like a supermodel,” Mallory says.

He laughs. “Yeah…no. She’s not. She’s…”

“Back in Indiana?” Mallory asks hopefully.

“In DC,” he says. “She graduated from Georgetown Law and now she’s an attorney with the SEC. She goes after insider trading and corporations who aren’t following the rules, that kind of thing. She got recruited right out of law school.”

“Slacker,” Mallory says. She grins at him, which is heroic of her because the night has turned into a puddle of mud at her feet. Jake has a complicated relationship with a legal eagle named Ursula de Gournsey. Mallory is a lunch waitress. Jake’s flirtation with her is a distraction for him, a game. She’s the little sister. He doesn’t take her seriously. She isn’t…substantial enough. She is a line drawing of a woman that has been only partially colored in.

Mallory grabs the bottle of Jim Beam—it’s nearly half gone already—and takes a swig, then she hands it to Jake and
he
takes a swig, and she says, “Let’s gather the troops. We’re going out.”

  

Everything is fine, everyone is game. Leland has changed into white jeans; Fray, now clean-shaven, has put on a Nirvana T-shirt, and they’re all piling into the Blazer when they hear the phone ringing inside.

“Let it go,” Mallory says to Cooper. “It’s probably Kitty making sure you arrived safely.”

“No, it’s…

Cooper races back inside, leaving the four of them to sit in the idling truck.

“The wife,” Fray says.

“Well, I’m taking shotgun, then,” Jake says, and he moves up next to Mallory.

They sit in silence waiting for Cooper to reappear. Then Mallory hears the faintest noise behind her and checks her rearview mirror to see Leland and Frazier making out.

Well,
this
is awkward,
she thinks. She closes her eyes and waits for them to stop, but of course they don’t and Mallory is afraid to look at Jake, but Cooper is taking so long that finally she says, “Will you check on him?”

“Yep,” Jake says. He seems grateful for a reason to escape the car. He runs into the cottage and Mallory turns up the radio. Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones.” She wishes for a blizzard or a plague of locusts—anything that will make Leland and Frazier stop.

Ursula de Gournsey. Working for the SEC in Washington, which is where Jake lives too. He ended up taking a job as a lobbyist for Big Pharma, a company called PharmX, he told them at dinner. They aren’t exactly the good guys, he said, but it was too much money to turn down and he gets to use his pre-med background.

Jake comes jogging back out. “Coop’s not coming.”

“What?” Mallory says.

“He said we should go without him.”

“But it’s
his
bachelor weekend,” Mallory says.

“Just go, Mal,” Fray says from the back seat. “The ball and chain is heavy and it is tight.”

  

The Chicken Box is jam-packed. This weekend is the last hurrah for every summer kid on the island. Mallory is proud of how grungy the Box is. It’s a real dive bar, with pool tables and a beer-sticky floor and live music every night, people of all ages waving Coronas in the air while belting out the lyrics to “I Want You to Want Me.”

Jake slips through the mob at the bar and emerges victorious with beers for everyone. He and Mallory get up close to the stage, and Mallory grabs the lead singer and requests “Ball and Chain” by Social Distortion. They launch right into the song, and while Mallory is happy about this—it’s a hilarious bust on Cooper—she’s also bummed that her brother isn’t here. People have always called Cooper an old soul. He radiates peace, wisdom, an effortlessness that says,
Yeah, I’ve been here before, I’ve got this, don’t worry about it.
When they were kids doing jigsaw puzzles, he knew where a piece went the instant he picked it up; when Kitty found a knot in the chain of a necklace, she would bring it to Cooper and he would methodically untangle it. Mallory, however, is a brand-new soul, squeaky clean, fresh out of the box, like a pair of penny loafers that needs, desperately, to be broken in. She has always had a difficult time seeing the big picture.

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