Read 28 Summers: The gripping, emotional page turner of summer 2020 by 'the Queen of the Summer Novel' (People) Online
Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Except for right now. Because right now, Mallory knows Cooper is taking the fool’s path. He’s letting Krystel ruin their weekend. If Kitty knew that Cooper had declined to join a celebration that was being thrown in his honor, she would be dismayed. Nothing irks their mother more than bad manners.
Mallory turns around. Leland and Fray are nowhere to be seen, and she’ll never find them in this crowd. Jake is right behind her and suddenly his hand lands on her hip, then lifts. Mallory isn’t sure what to do. Should she turn around and raise her face to his, or is that too obvious? She decides to act natural. She dances like no one is watching.
Everything is still okay. After last call, the lights come up and the crowd spills out of the bar onto Dave Street.
“Are you all right to drive home?” Jake asks.
She’s fine. She had two Coronas and half of a third, but she’s sweated most of it out.
When they reach the Blazer, they find Fray sitting in the back seat polishing off a beer.
“Where’s Leland?” Mallory asks. She has known Frazier so long that she can tell just by the set of his jaw that something is wrong.
“What?” Mallory says. “Where did she go? Did you two have a fight?”
“She bumped into a group of people she knew from New York,” he says. “They invited her to go to a bar downtown and she said yes. She didn’t want to stay here, it was too crowded, they don’t have chardonnay or whatever she drinks now.”
No chardonnay at the Chicken Box. That’s kind of the point.
“Didn’t they invite you?” Mallory asks.
“They did, reluctantly, but these weren’t our type of people, Mal. These were New York people, Bret Easton Ellis people.”
“Ah,” Mallory says. “Okay. Well, she’s a big girl. She’ll find her way home.”
Everything is still okay, sort of. Mallory drives safely back to the cottage. She hopes that Leland has the phone number with her, otherwise…well, big girl or not, she’s going to have a difficult time finding the cottage on the no-name road.
Mallory pulls into the driveway; Frazier jumps out while the car is still moving and storms into the house. By the time Mallory and Jake get inside, Frazier has the bottle of Jim Beam by the neck.
“She’s not here,” he says. “I’m going for a walk.” He leaves; the screen door bangs shut behind him. Mallory watches Fray drop onto the beach and head right. The darkness swallows him up.
“He probably shouldn’t be by himself,” Mallory says. “I’ll get Coop.”
“I can go after him,” Jake says.
“No, let’s get Coop,” Mallory says. “He’s known Fray forever, he’ll talk some sense into him.”
(Later, she’ll hate herself for not letting Jake go after Frazier. But in that moment, all she wants is to be alone with Jake.)
Cooper’s bedroom is dark; the door is open a crack. Mallory pokes her head in. “Coop?”
No answer. Mallory turns on the light. The room is empty.
Empty? Mallory notices his duffel bag is gone and then sees the note on his pillow.
Sorry, Mal, I took the last ferry back. It’s not worth doing this to Krystel. She threatened to call off the wedding if I didn’t come home.
Jake steps out of the bathroom. “Something wrong?”
Mallory shows him the note.
It’s not worth doing this to Krystel.
It’s not worth doing this to
They aren’t doing
to Krystel! They’re enjoying a weekend at the beach. Krystel threatened to
call off the wedding
if Cooper didn’t go home? Krystel is holding Cooper at emotional
“I don’t know Krystel,” Mallory says to Jake. “And now I don’t want to.”
“I’ve met her.” Jake sighs. “I don’t normally comment on other people’s relationships, but…
“It probably won’t last,” Jake says. “She’s very pretty—blond hair, dark eyes, amazing body…but that’s all there is. Once you get past the shiny wrapping paper and the fancy bow, the box is empty.”
“Ouch,” Mallory says. “Should I…what should I do?”
Jake sweeps Mallory’s hair out of her eyes. “Kiss me,” he says.
It’s rapture—Jake’s mouth, his lips, his tongue, his face, his arms. He falls back onto the sofa and pulls Mallory on top of him. She stretches out each kiss like it’s taffy. But there’s something else tugging at her. What is it?
“Wait,” Mallory says, surfacing. She blinks, looks around the room. “We have to check on Fray.”
On the beach, Mallory calls Frazier’s name and Jake jogs along the waterline. The waves slam the shore with uncharacteristic force, or maybe it just seems that way because it’s so late and so dark. There are some stars, but clouds cover the moon, and there are no other homes on this stretch of beach, no homes until Cisco, nearly a mile away. Mallory has never realized how isolated her cottage is.
Jake calls her; he’s picking something up. It’s Frazier’s clothes—jeans, the Nirvana shirt.
“Did he?” Mallory looks at the water. “Did he go
Jake drops the clothes and strips down to his boxers.
He charges into the water.
Mallory starts to shiver. The night has suddenly turned sinister. She thinks back to the moment they were all sitting around the dining table toasting Cooper. Everyone was comfortable, safe, together.
But then Leland and Fray had crossed arms. Bad luck, if you believed her mother.
Mallory keeps Jake in sight, his dark head, the sleek curve of his back when he dives into an oncoming wave. She scans the water to the right and the left. She screams down the beach, “Fray! Fray!
” Her voice sounds like something broken or ripped.
Jake staggers onto the beach, out of breath. “Leave his clothes where we found them,” he says. “Go call 911.”
Mallory tells the dispatcher that she lives in the cottage on Miacomet Pond and she has lost a friend in the water. An eternity—four and a half minutes—passes before she hears sirens, and another minute passes before she sees lights. One ambulance pulls up; it’s followed by a truck towing a trailer with an ATV. Jake leads the rescue team—one uniformed officer and two divers in wetsuits—down to Frazier’s clothes. The team members have lights; they have boards and rings and buoys.
One officer stays at the house. He’s beefy, with reddish hair and freckles. He’s…familiar-looking?
“I’m JD,” he says. “You were my server last week at the Summer House.”
“I was?” Mallory says. She’s too panicked to go back and search her memory.
“How long ago did he leave?” JD asks. He has a clipboard. He’s the information man.
“I’m not sure,” Mallory says. How long were she and Jake kissing? “Half an hour?”
“Had he been drinking?”
“Yes,” Mallory says. “Beer and…Jim Beam.”
“Why didn’t you try to stop him?”
“I didn’t know he was going swimming,” Mallory says. “He told us he was taking a walk. I thought he wanted to be alone.” She drops her face into her hands. Why did Fray go
in the middle of the night? Why did he drink so much? Why did Leland go to town with her friends from New York? She could have seen them Sunday when she got home for her friend Harrison’s rooftop thing or whatever. Why did Cooper leave? His best friends were here! The weekend was for him!
JD is looking at Mallory sympathetically, but she knows what he’s thinking: She shouldn’t have let Frazier wander off by himself. Whatever the consequences are, she deserves them. “I watched him leave. I should have gone after him.”
JD sighs. “I’ve seen situations like this go both ways.”
This doesn’t make her feel any better.
“Let’s start with his name and date of birth. Just tell me what you can.”
The divers search the water for ten minutes, fifteen, twenty. When Mallory is finished with JD, she goes down to the scene. JD has lent Mallory his jacket, but still, she’s freezing. Jake is in his wet boxers and T-shirt; they won’t let him go back in the water because the risk of losing him is too great.
“He’s not out there,” Jake says to Mallory. “They would have found him by now.”
“They have to keep looking,” Mallory says. To stop looking is to…what? Give up? Switch from a rescue mission to a recovery mission? It’s too heinous to even contemplate. If something bad has happened to Fray, Mallory will never forgive herself. She wants to blame Cooper or Leland, but she was the last person to see Fray. She watched him head into the dark mouth of the night holding the bottle of Jim Beam by the neck. She knew his volatile history, the shadow of tragedy that followed him everywhere because of the gaping hole where his parents should have been.
There’s shouting. The ATV is barreling down the beach toward them. They found Fray. Mallory hears the officer on the beach calling in the divers.
Alive. The officer on the ATV found Fray all the way down at Fat Ladies Beach, passed out in the sand. He was unresponsive at first, the officer said, but just as they were moving him onto the backboard, he came to and puked in the sand.
The rescue mission takes some time to reel in and pack up. Once the paramedic checks Fray’s vitals, asks him a few questions, and determines he doesn’t need a trip to the hospital, Jake helps Fray into the cottage. Mallory thanks JD and the beach officer and the ATV officer and the two divers a hundred times apiece. She pulls twenty dollars out of her shorts pocket and tries to press it into JD’s hands.
He laughs. “Keep it. This was your tax dollars at work.”
“Well, then, I’ll bake you some cookies and drop them at the station.”
“Cookies work,” JD says. He smiles at Mallory and she shuffles back through her mind to last week at the Summer House. Yes! This guy had come in with a white-haired gentleman, his father, who had engaged in some harmless flirting with Mallory and then left her a huge tip.
“I remember you,” Mallory says. “Your dad was terrific.”
“He told me I should ask you out,” JD says. “Are you here year-round or just the season?”
“Year-round,” Mallory says. “I’m hoping to be working at the high school this fall.”
“Cool,” Officer JD says. “Would you want to…or is that guy, or the other guy…I mean, do you have a boyfriend?”
“I don’t,” she says. “But…” She shakes her head. “I think I’ll need a few days before I can think straight. You have the number here. Maybe give me a call next week?”
“Yeah, I will, I’ll do that. Hey, I’m glad things turned out okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Mallory says. “Thank you, sorry, thank you.”
JD waves as he climbs into the cruiser. “That’s why we’re here.”
Mallory and Jake fall asleep in her bed on top of the covers and with their clothes on, but when Mallory wakes up, Jake’s arm is draped over her waist and his breath is warm on her neck. She opens her eyes, and before everything comes flooding back, she savors the weight of his arm, the steadiness of his breathing.
Is he her boyfriend?
No. But lying beside him feels incredible. She doesn’t want to move. She could die right here, she thinks, with no regrets.
When Fray rises, he drinks a quart of orange juice, then sets the empty carton on the table and says, “I’m going home.”
While Frazier is in the shower, Jake cracks eggs and drops slices of Portuguese bread in the toaster. Mallory looks out the window and sees a cloud of dust heading for the cottage. A boxy white Jeep Cherokee with a rainbow stripe of Great Point beach stickers across the bumper pulls up out front. Leland hops out and runs inside.
Mallory closes her eyes. She hopes Fray disobeys her “quick-shower” mandate; she doesn’t have the energy for a scene. She says to Jake, “Tell Leland to come into my room, please.”
A few moments later, Leland knocks on Mallory’s bedroom door. “Hey.”
Out the window, she sees the Cherokee is idling.
“They’re waiting for you?” Mallory says. Her voice is hoarse from all the screaming on the beach. “You’re not staying?”
“They’ve invited me sailing,” Leland says. “Kip’s friend’s dad has a huge yacht, I guess.”
“Who’s Kip?” Mallory asks. “You know what, never mind, I don’t care who Kip is. Just pack your stuff and leave before Fray gets out of the shower, okay?”
“I could come back tonight,” Leland says. “Or, I mean, these guys have a reservation at Straight Wharf at eight, so maybe you could join us?”
Mallory wonders if maybe the run-in with these New York friends wasn’t random. Maybe Leland had planned this. But either way, Mallory can’t compete with yachts and an impossible-to-get reservation at Straight Wharf. “I’m all set,” she says. “But please go now. Frazier is pissed off.”
“Fray needs to grow up,” Leland says. “He needs to move on.”
Mallory decides not to say anything to her about the events of the previous night. Leland quickly changes into a bikini and a cover-up, runs a brush through her chic haircut, fluffs her pink bangs. She turns to Mallory. “Are you angry?”
Yes, I’m angry!
Mallory thinks. Leland wanted to surprise Fray, and she thought nothing of making out with him in the back of the Blazer; that was all fine. But walking off with her new fancy friends was rude—and, Mallory has to admit, utterly typical of Leland. She plays with people’s feelings. Mallory wouldn’t put it past Leland to have dreamed up this whole scheme—lure Fray back in, then abandon him so that she could be the one who was finally walking away from their relationship, in complete control.
Mallory sighs. She dislikes arguing with anyone, especially Leland. “Disappointed,” Mallory says, and she lets half a smile slip. It’s their old joke from high school. Their parents.
Leland kisses Mallory on the cheek. “I’ll see you when you come back to the city.”
Mallory isn’t going back to the city, ever.