মুখ্য 28 Summers
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17 July 2020 (00:06)
Contents About the Author Also by Elin Hilderbrand Title Page Copyright Dedication Prologue: Fifties Summer #28: 2020 Part One: Twenties Summer #1: 1993 Summer #2: 1994 Summer #3: 1995 Summer #4: 1996 Summer #5: 1997 Summer #6: 1998 Summer #7: 1999 Summer #8: 2000 Part Two: Thirties Summer #9: 2001 Summer #10: 2002 Summer #11: 2003 Summer #12: 2004 Summer #13: 2005 Summer #14: 2006 Summer #15: 2007 Summer #16: 2008 Summer #17: 2009 Summer #18: 2010 Part Three: Forties Summer #19: 2011 Summer #20: 2012 Summer #21: 2013 Summer #22: 2014 Summer #23: 2015 Summer #24: 2016 Summer #25: 2017 Summer #26: 2018 Summer #27: 2019 Summer #28: 2020 Acknowledgments About the Author Elin Hilderbrand first discovered the magic of Nantucket in July 1993. Her list of favorite things includes barre class, writing at the beach, cooking for her three nearly grown kids, and singing “Home Sweet Home” at the Club Car piano bar. 28 Summers is her twenty-fifth novel. Also by Elin Hilderbrand The Beach Club Nantucket Nights Summer People The Blue Bistro The Love Season Barefoot A Summer Affair The Castaways The Island Silver Girl Summerland Beautiful Day The Matchmaker Winter Street The Rumor Winter Stroll Here’s to Us Winter Storms The Identicals Winter Solstice The Perfect Couple Winter in Paradise Summer of ’69 What Happens in Paradise 28 SUMMERS Elin Hilderbrand www.hodder.co.uk First published in the USA in 2020 by Little, Brown and Company A division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. First published in Great Britain in 2020 by Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company Copyright © Elin Hilderbrand 2020 The right of Elin Hilderbrand to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior writte; n permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely Coincidental. A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library eBook ISBN 978 1 529 37479 7 Hodder & Stoughton Ltd Carmelite House 50 Victoria Embankment London EC4Y 0DZ www.hodder.co.uk In memory of Dorothea Benton Frank (1951–2019) I love you, Dottie. And I miss you. Prologue Fifties Summer #28: 2020 What are we talking about in 2020? Kobe Bryant, Covid-19, social distancing, Zoom, TikTok, Navarro cheerleading, and… The presidential election. A country divided. Opinions on both sides. It’s everywhere: on the news, on the late-night shows, in the papers, online, online, online, in cocktail-party conversations, on college campuses, in airports, in line at Starbucks, around the bar at Margaritaville, at the gym (the guy who uses the treadmill at six a.m. sets TV number four to Fox News; the woman who comes in at seven a.m. immediately switches it to MSNBC). Kids stop speaking to parents over it; couples divorce; neighbors feud; consumers boycott; employees quit. Some feel fortunate to be alive at such an exciting time; they turn up the volume, become junkies. Others are sick of it; they press the mute button, they disengage. If one more person asks if they’re registered to vote… Turns out, there’s a story this year that no one has heard yet. It’s a story that started twenty-eight summers earlier and that only now—in the summer of 2020, on an island thirty miles off the coast—is coming to an end. The end. Under the circumstances, this feels like the only place to start. Mallory Blessing tells her son, Link: There’s an envelope in the third drawer of the desk. On the left. The one that sticks. They all stick, Link thinks. His mother’s cottage sits on a strip of land between ocean and pond; that’s the good news. The bad news is…humidity. This is a home where doors don’t close properly and towels never dry and if you open a bag of chips, you better eat them all in one sitting because they’ll be stale within the hour. Link struggles with the drawer. He has to lift it up and wiggle it side to side in order to get it open. He sees the envelope alone in the drawer. Written on the front: Please call. Link is confused. This isn’t what he expected. What he expected was his mother’s will or a sappy letter filled with sage advice or instructions for her memorial service. Link opens the envelope. Inside is one thin strip of paper. No name, just a number. What am I supposed to do with this? he wonders. Please call. Okay, Link thinks. But who will answer? And what is Link supposed to say? He would ask his mother, but her eyes are closed. She has fallen back to sleep. Link walks out the back door of the cottage and along the sandy road that runs beside Miacomet Pond. It’s June on Nantucket—sunny and sixty-seven degrees, so the nights and early mornings are still chilly, although the irises are blooming among the reeds and there’s a pair of swans on the flat blue mirror of the pond. Swans mate for life, Link thinks. This has always made them seem morally superior to other birds, although somewhere he read that swans cheat. He hopes that was an internet hoax. Like most kids who were born and raised on this island, he’s guilty of taking the scenery for granted. Link has also been guilty of taking his mother for granted, and now she’s dying at the age of fifty-one. The melanoma has metastasized to her brain; she’s blind in one eye. Her hospice care will start in the morning. Link broke down crying when Dr. Symon talked to him, then again when he called Nantucket Hospice. The RN case manager, Sabina, had a soothing manner. She encouraged Link to be present in each moment with his mother “through her transition.” This was in response to Link confessing that he didn’t know what he was going to do without her. “I’m only nineteen,” he said. “Worry about later, later,” Sabina said. “Your job now is to be with your mother. Let her feel your love. She’ll take it with her where she’s going.” Link punches the number on the strip of paper into his phone. It’s an unfamiliar area code—notably not 206, Seattle, where his father lives. He can’t imagine who this is. Link’s grandparents are dead, and his uncle Cooper lives in DC. Coop and his wife, Amy, are splitting; it’s his uncle’s fifth divorce. Last week, when Mallory still had moments of clarity and humor, she said, Coop gets married and divorced the way most people eat Triscuits. Coop has offered to come up when it gets to be too much for Link to handle alone. This will be soon, maybe even tomorrow. Does his mother have any other friends off-island? She stopped speaking to Leland when Link was in high school. She’s dead to me. Maybe this is Leland’s new number. That would make sense; they should make peace before the end. But a man answers the phone. “Jake McCloud,” he says. It takes Link a second to process this. Jake McCloud? He hangs up. He’s so startled that he laughs, then glances at the back door of their cottage. Is this a joke? His mother has a sense of humor, certainly, but she’s witty, not prone to pranks. Asking Link to call Jake McCloud on her deathbed just isn’t something Mallory would do. There must be an explanation. Link checks the number on the piece of paper against the number in his phone, then he looks up the area code, 574. It’s Indiana—Mishawaka, Elkhart, South Bend. South Bend! Link cackles. He sounds crazy. What is going on here? Just then, his phone rings. It’s the 574 number, calling back. Link is tempted to let the call go to voicemail. There has been a tremendous mistake. In all of his interviews, Jake McCloud seems like an extremely decent guy. Link could just explain the situation: His mother is dying and somehow Jake McCloud’s number ended up in his mother’s desk drawer. “Hello?” Link says. “Hello, this is Jake McCloud. Someone from this number called me?” “Yes,” Link says, trying to sound professional. Who knows; maybe Link can use this weird misunderstanding to get an internship with Jake McCloud—or with Ursula de Gournsey! “Sorry about that, I think it was a mistake. My mother, Mallory Blessing—” “Mallory?” Jake McCloud says. “What is it? Is everything okay?” Link focuses on the swans gliding along, regal in their bearing, king and queen of the pond. “I’m sorry,” Link says. “This is Jake McCloud, right? The Jake McCloud, the one whose wife…” “Yes.” Link shakes his head. “Do you know my mother? Mallory Blessing? She’s an English teacher on Nantucket Island?” “Is everything okay?” Jake McCloud asks again. “There must be a reason you’re calling.” “There is a reason,” Link says. “She left me your number in an envelope and asked me to contact you.” Link pauses. “She’s dying.” “She…” “She has cancer, melanoma that metastasized to her brain. I’ve called hospice.” These words are painful to say, and Link can’t help but feel he’s throwing them away. Why would Jake McCloud care? There’s silence on the other end, and all Link can imagine is Jake McCloud realizing that he has taken a call meant for someone else and wondering how to gracefully extricate himself. “Please tell Mal…” Jake McCloud says. Mal? Link thinks. Does Jake McCloud, who has a better than decent chance of becoming the First Gentleman of the United States, somehow know Link’s mother? “Tell her…that I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Jake says. “Tell her to hold on.” He clears his throat. “Please. Tell her I’m coming.” Part One Twenties Summer #1: 1993 What are we talking about in 1993? Waco, Texas; the World Trade Center bombing; Arthur Ashe; R.E.M.; Lorena Bobbitt; Robert Redford, Woody Harrelson, and Demi Moore; NAFTA; River Phoenix; the EU; Got Milk?; NordicTrack; Rabin and Arafat; Monica Seles; Sleepless in Seattle; the World Wide Web; the Buffalo Bills losing the Super Bowl for the third straight time; Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer; Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love You.” When we first meet our girl Mallory Blessing (and make no mistake, Mallory is our girl; we’re with her here through the good, the bad, and the damn-near hopeless), she’s twenty-four years old, living on the Upper East Side of New York with her very best friend in the whole word, Leland Gladstone, whom she’s starting to despise a little more each day. They’re renting a fifth-floor walk-up in a building with a French restaurant on the ground level, and during the week, the line cooks give Leland the duck confit and lamb shank they have left over at the end of service. Leland never offers to share her culinary windfall with Mallory; she accepts it as her due because she found the apartment, she negotiated the lease, and she made seventeen visits to ABC Home for furniture. The only reason Mallory is living in New York at all is that Leland made an offhand comment (while drunk) that she might want a roommate, and Mallory was so desperate to get out of her parents’ house in Baltimore that she misconstrued this as a full-blown invitation. Mallory pays one-third of the rent (even that amount is so astronomical that Mallory’s parents are footing the bill), and in exchange, Mallory sleeps on a futon in a corner of the living room. Leland bought a faux-Chinese screen that Mallory can put up for privacy, though she rarely bothers. This sparks the first argument. Turns out, Leland bought the screen not so Mallory can have privacy but so Leland doesn’t have to see Mallory reading novels while all wrapped up in the hideous calico-print comforter from her childhood bedroom. It’s…unseemly, Leland says. How about some self-respect? The issue of the screen causes only minor friction compared to the issue of the job. Leland moved to New York to work in fashion—her dream was to “do creative” at Harper’s Bazaar—and when Leland told Mallory about an opening for an editorial assistant at Bard and Scribe, the hottest literary magazine in the city, Mallory immediately applied. The mere prospect of such a job transformed Mallory’s idea of what New York might be like for her. If she became an editorial assistant at Bard and Scribe, she would make new, artsy, bohemian friends and embark on a fascinating life. Little did Mallory know that Leland had already applied for the job herself. Leland was granted an interview, then a second interview, and then she was offered the job, which she snapped up while Mallory looked on, silently aghast and yet not at all surprised. If New York were a dress, it would fit Leland better, whereas Mallory would always be tugging and adjusting in an attempt to become more comfortable. Now, every morning, Leland heads to the Bard and Scribe office, which is housed in an airy loft in SoHo complete with a rooftop garden where they throw chic soirées for people like Carolyn Heilbrun, Ellen Gilchrist, Dorothy Allison. Mallory, meanwhile, works as a receptionist at a headhunting firm, a job she was offered because her own “career consultant” felt sorry for her. However, on May 16, 1993, Mallory receives the phone call that changes her life. It’s a Sunday, eleven thirty in the morning. Mallory went for a run in Central Park, then stopped for a coffee and a sesame bagel with scallion cream cheese, and she is ecstatic to come home and find the apartment empty. This happens only in small bites—on the rare occasion when Mallory gets home from work before Leland or leaves after her—and the sense of freedom is mind-altering. Mallory can pretend that she’s the lady of the manor instead of a 1990s-Manhattan version of Sara Crewe, living in the garret without coal for a fire. On the morning of May 16, Leland is at Elephant and Castle, having brunch with her new Bard and Scribe friends. She faux-generously extended an invitation to Mallory, knowing Mallory would decline because she couldn’t afford it. The phone rings, and before answering it, Mallory goes to the stereo to turn down “Everybody Hurts,” by R.E.M., which she has on repeat. It’s her favorite song that year, though she’s forbidden to play it when Leland is home because, for Leland, Michael Stipe’s keening is nails on a chalkboard. “Hello?” “Honey?” Mallory drops into one of the chic but uncomfortable café chairs that Leland purchased at ABC Home. It’s Mallory’s father. Realistically, it was only going to be one of a handful of people: her parents; her brother, Cooper; her ex-boyfriend Willis, who is teaching English on the island of Borneo (he calls Mallory on Sundays, when international rates are lowest, to brag about his exotic new life); or Leland, saying she forgot her ATM card and would Mallory please get on the subway and bring it to her? “Hi, Dad,” Mallory says, her voice barely concealing how underwhelmed she is. Even hearing Willis talk about Komodo dragons would have been better. “Honey?” her father says. He sounds so dejected that Mallory perks up in response. Mallory’s father, Cooper Blessing Sr.—referred to by Mallory and her brother as simply “Senior”—is a CPA who owns four H&R Block franchises in greater Baltimore. As one might expect from such a man, his manner is reserved. He may be the only person in the history of the world born without emotions. But now his tone is heavy with something. Has someone died? Her mother? Her brother? No, she decides. If something had happened to her mother, her brother would have called. If something had happened to her brother, her mother would have called. Still, Mallory has a strange feeling. “Did someone die?” she asks. “Dad?” “Yes,” Senior says. “Your aunt Greta. Greta died on…Friday, apparently. I found out only an hour ago. Greta’s attorney called. I guess she left you something.” Do things like this happen in real life? Obviously they do. Mallory’s aunt Greta had had a massive coronary. She was at home in Cambridge on Friday evening making pasta puttanesca from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook with her “housemate,” Ruthie. (Housemate is Senior’s word, as though Greta and Ruthie were two Gen Xers on The Real World.) The detail about the puttanesca is one that Mallory supplies from her own imagination because she has visited Greta and Ruthie at the house in Cambridge for weekends often and knows that Friday evenings they cook at home, Saturdays are for museums followed by dinner out and sometimes the theater, and Sundays are for bagels and the Times, then Chinese food for dinner while watching an old movie on TV. Ruthie called the paramedics, but there was nothing they could do. Greta was gone. Ruthie arranged for Greta to be cremated and contacted their attorney, a woman named Eileen Beers. It was Eileen Beers who called Senior. Senior and Greta had been estranged for ten years, which was how long it had been since Uncle Bo passed and Aunt Greta moved in with a Radcliffe colleague, Dr. Ruth Harlowe, who was more than just a housemate. Eileen Beers informed Senior that Greta had bequeathed to Mallory the startling sum of a hundred thousand dollars and her cottage on Nantucket. Mallory starts to cry. Mallory alone in the family had maintained a relationship with Greta after Uncle Bo died. She wrote letters each month and secretly called every Christmas; she invited Greta to her college graduation over her parents’ objections; she had ridden four hours on the bus to spend those perfect weekends in Cambridge. “Is this real?” Mallory asks Senior. “Greta is dead? She left me money and the cottage? The money and the cottage are mine? Like, mine-mine?” Mallory doesn’t want to sound like she cares more about the money and the cottage than about her aunt’s passing. But she also can’t ignore what might be a life-changing reversal of fortune. “Yes,” Senior says. When Leland returns from brunch, she has a Bellini glow; her skin actually appears peachy beneath the asymmetrical bangs of her new haircut. It takes Leland a moment to process what Mallory is telling her: After Mallory gives proper notice to the headhunting firm, she’s moving out. She’s going to Nantucket. “I still don’t understand why you would leave the center of the civilized world to live on an island thirty miles off the coast,” Leland says. It’s now two weeks later, Sunday, May 30. Leland is treating Mallory to a bon voyage brunch at the Coconut Grill on Seventy-Seventh Street. They’re sitting at an outdoor table on the sidewalk in the broiling sun so that they can be properly observed by the boys with popped collars and Ray-Ban aviators who are on their way to J. G. Melon’s for burgers and Bloody Marys. One such specimen—in a mint-green Lacoste—lowers his shades an inch so he can check out Leland. He looks like the Preppy Killer. Leland sounds perplexed and also sad. The announcement of Mallory’s imminent departure promptly restored love and affection between the two friends. Over the past two weeks, Leland has been sweet. She not only tolerates the sight of Mallory’s messy bedding, she sits on the edge of the futon for long, gossipy conversations. And Mallory can absorb the changes taking place in her friend—the edgy haircut for starters, the leather jacket purchased for a whopping nine hundred dollars at Trash and Vaudeville, the switch from Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers to proper bottles of Russian River chardonnay—without feeling resentful or left behind. Mallory and Leland will miss each other. They’ve been friends since before memory, having grown up three houses apart on Deepdene Road in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore. Their childhood years had been idyllic: they biked to Eddie’s Market for jawbreakers; they listened to the Grease soundtrack on Leland’s turntable, stuffing their training bras with rolled-up socks and singing into hairbrushes; they sat in the Gladstones’ hot tub on snowy nights; they watched General Hospital after school in Leland’s rec room, playing hands of spit on the shag rug during commercials. They had been perfect angels until high school, when their shenanigans started. Leland’s father, Steve Gladstone, bought a convertible Saab when the girls were seniors. Leland had taken it without permission, swung over to Mallory’s house in the middle of the night, and thrown pebbles at Mallory’s bedroom window until Mallory agreed to go for a joyride. They’d put the top down and driven all the way to the Inner Harbor with the cassette player blasting Yaz’s Upstairs at Eric’s. They were caught, of course. When they arrived back to Deepdene Road, their hair blown crazy from the wind, all four of their parents were standing in the Gladstones’ driveway. We’re not angry, they said. (This must have been Steve Gladstone’s influence; he was the most lenient of the four.) We’re disappointed. Mallory had been grounded for two weeks, she remembers. Leland had been grounded too, but she got out of it after three days. “I need to try something different,” Mallory says now as she dunks a sweet potato fry into the maple dipping sauce. “Set out on my own.” Besides, the center of the civilized world is already a cauldron, and it’s not even June; the concrete is baking, the trash can on the corner stinks, and there’s no place less hospitable than the platform of the 6 train. Who wouldn’t want to be headed to Nantucket for the summer? Or for forever? Six weeks later when Mallory’s brother, Cooper, calls to say that he has proposed to Krystel Bethune, his girlfriend of three months, and they will be getting married at Christmas, Mallory is so intoxicated with her new island life that she forgets to be properly shocked. “That’s great!” Mallory says. “Aren’t you going to ask if I knocked her up?” Cooper says. “Did you knock her up?” “No,” Cooper says. “I’m just madly in love and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with Krystel, so I figure, why wait? Let’s get married as soon as we can. Within reason. I mean, I don’t want to elope. Senior and Kitty would kill me. As it is, they aren’t too happy.” “Right,” Mallory says. “How’d you two meet again?” “Krystel was my waitress,” Cooper says. “At the Old Ebbitt Grill.” “Nothing wrong with being a waitress,” Mallory says. Mallory is waitressing herself at the Summer House pool out in Sconset three days a week. “Did she go to college? Like, at all?” “She went to UMBC for a while,” Cooper says. That’s vague, Mallory thinks. A while meaning a few semesters or a few weeks? It doesn’t matter. Mallory won’t judge; they have their mother for that. Kitty Blessing is downright obsessed with education, breeding, social standing. “You’re getting married at Christmas,” Mallory says. This is a phenomenon she has never understood—Christmas is already so busy, frantic, and filled with angst; why make it worse?—but again, she won’t judge. “Where will it be?” “In Baltimore,” Cooper says. “Krystel’s mother has no money and her father isn’t in the picture.” Mallory tries to imagine her mother’s reaction to this news. Kitty has lost the war but won a crucial battle. Krystel’s family is a disappointment, so there will be no dynasty-building. However, that means Kitty will have no competition in planning the wedding. She’ll insist on tasteful Christmas (white lights, burgundy velvet bows, Handel’s Messiah) rather than tacky Christmas (elves, candy canes, “Jingle Bells”). “I’m happy for you, Coop,” Mallory says. For what might be the first time in her life, she’s telling the truth about this. For all of her twenty-four years, Mallory has suffered from a chronic case of sibling envy. Cooper is the golden child to Mallory’s silver. He’s the chocolate chip cookie to her oatmeal-raisin, which people like, just never quite as much. “So now’s the part where I ask you a favor,” Cooper says. “Oh,” Mallory says. He wants a favor from her? This is new. Cooper is a policy wonk for the Brookings Institution, a think tank in DC. His job is important, prestigious even (though Mallory’s not going to pretend she understands what he actually does). What could he possibly need from her? “Anything for you, you know that.” “I’d like to have a bachelor…well, not a party per se, but a weekend. Nothing crazy, just me, Fray, obviously, and Jake McCloud.” Fray, obviously, Mallory thinks, and she rolls her eyes. And Jake McCloud, the mysterious Jake McCloud, Cooper’s big brother in his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta—Fiji—whom Mallory has never actually met. She’s had some intriguing phone conversations with him, however. “Oh yeah?” she says. “And I was thinking maybe I could do it there on Nantucket over Labor Day weekend?” He pauses. “If you don’t mind three guys crashing on the sofa…or the floor…wherever.” “I have two spare bedrooms,” Mallory says. “You do?” Cooper says. “So it’s, like, a real house? I always got the impression it was more like, I don’t know, a shack?” “It’s not a house-house but it’s better than a shack,” Mallory says. “You’ll see when you get here.” “So it’s okay, then?” Cooper says. “Labor Day weekend?” “Sure,” she says. Labor Day weekend, she thinks, is when Leland said she might come, but those plans are tentative at best. “Mi casa es su casa.” “Thanks, Mal!” Cooper says. He sounds excited and grateful, and after she hangs up, Mallory runs her hands over the worn-smooth boards of the deck and thinks about how good it feels to finally have something worth sharing. On the day this conversation takes place, our girl is so tan that her skin looks like polished wood, and her mousy-brown hair is getting lighter. From certain angles, it looks nearly blond. She has lost eight pounds—that’s a guesstimate; the cottage doesn’t have a bathroom scale—but she is definitely more fit thanks to the fact that her only form of transportation is a ten-speed bike that she found listed in the classifieds of the Inquirer and Mirror. Aunt Greta’s cottage is now Mallory’s cottage. Greta’s attorney, Eileen Beers, takes care of transferring the deed and changing the name on the tax bill and insurance. Signed, sealed, delivered. But something nags at Mallory, a question she wasn’t brave enough to ask Senior but she does ask Eileen. “Shouldn’t the cottage rightly go to Ruthie? They were”—she isn’t going to use the word housemates, but a more suitable term eludes her. Girlfriends? Lovers?—“partners.” “Ruthie got the Cambridge house,” Eileen says. “She prefers city life. And your aunt was very clear that she wanted you to have the Nantucket cottage. When she wrote the will, she said it was a magical place for you.” Magical. Mallory used to visit Nantucket during the summers when she was in grade school and then middle school—right up until Uncle Bo died. She’d felt awkward the first summer, she remembers, because Aunt Greta and Uncle Bo didn’t have children and, according to Mallory’s mother, wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to deal with one. “They were smart to ask for you and not your brother,” Kitty said. “All you do is read!” One entire side of Mallory’s suitcase that summer was packed with books—Nancy Drew, Louisa May Alcott, a contraband copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. In subsequent years, Mallory didn’t pack any books because she’d discovered that the length and breadth of one wall in the cottage’s great room was a library. In the summer, her aunt and uncle abandoned their work reading for pleasure reading. Over the course of six summers, Mallory was introduced to Judith Krantz, Herman Wouk, Danielle Steel, James Clavell, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and Erich Segal. Nothing was off-limits, nothing was deemed “too adult,” and nothing took precedence over reading; it was considered the holiest activity a person could engage in. Mallory loved her aunt and uncle’s cottage. The common area was one giant room with wood beams and chestnut-brown paneling. There was a dusty brick fireplace, a rock-hard green tweed sofa, two armchairs that swiveled, an ancient TV with rabbit-ear antennas, and a kidney-shaped writing desk under one of the pond-facing windows where Aunt Greta wrote postcards and letters to people back in Cambridge. A long narrow harvest table marked the boundary between the living room and the kitchen. The kitchen had vanilla-speckled Formica counters and fudge-brown appliances; a black lobster pot sat on the stove at all times. There was one bathroom, with tiny square tiles that sparkled like mica, and Mallory’s room had twin beds, one with a mattress that felt like a marble slab, where she kept her books, and one a little bit softer, where she slept. She sometimes ventured into the third bedroom, but that room had only one window, and it faced the side yard, whereas Mallory’s bedroom had two windows, one that faced the side yard and one that fronted the ocean. She fell asleep each night listening to the waves, and the breeze was so reliable that Mallory slept without a fan all summer. This island chooses people, Aunt Greta said. It chose Bo and me, and I think it’s chosen you as well. Mallory remembered feeling…ordained by that comment, as though she were being invited into an exclusive club. Yes, she thought. I’m a Nantucket person. She loved the sun, the beach, the waves of the south shore. Next stop, Portugal! Uncle Bo would cry out, hands raised over his head, as he charged into the ocean. She loved the pond, the swans, the red-winged blackbirds, the dragonflies, the reeds and cattails. She loved surf-casting and kayaking with her uncle and taking long beach walks with her aunt, who carried a stainless-steel kitchen bowl to hold the treasures they found—quahog shells, whelks, slippers and scallops, the occasional horseshoe carapace, pieces of satiny driftwood, interesting rocks, beach glass. As the days passed, they became more discerning, throwing away shells that were chipped and rocks that wouldn’t be as pretty once they dried. She loved the stormy days when the waves pummeled the shore and the screen door rattled in its frame. Uncle Bo would light a fire and Aunt Greta would make lobster stew. They played Parcheesi and read their books and listened to the classical station out of Boston on the transistor radio. There is still one photograph in the cottage of Aunt Greta and Uncle Bo together, and Mallory had studied it when she’d first moved in. It’s a picture of them on the beach in their woven plastic chairs, their hair wet and their feet sandy. After looking at it a few seconds, Mallory realized it was a picture she herself had taken with her uncle’s camera. Aunt Greta was wearing a red floral one-piece bathing suit with a tissue tucked into her bosom so her chest wouldn’t burn. Her dark hair, cut short like a man’s, was standing on end. She was beaming—and one could sense in her expression the carefree exuberance of summer. Uncle Bo was wearing sunglasses and had a copy of James Michener’s Chesapeake opened across his hairy chest. They look happy in that picture, Mallory thought. And yet, if she wasn’t mistaken, this was taken the summer before Uncle Bo died, so a scant year before Aunt Greta got together with Ruthie and thereby fractured her relations with Mallory’s family. Mallory has of course wondered if her aunt was a lesbian all along and if her uncle was, perhaps, gay. Maybe theirs was a marriage of convenience or a marriage of deep, intense friendship, a meeting of minds if not bodies. Mallory doesn’t care. She misses her aunt and uncle, but she suspects some spiritual shreds of them remain here, because although Mallory was often lonely in New York, she has not felt lonely in Nantucket even once. Mallory works Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays as a lunch waitress at the Summer House pool. Her favorite coworker is a young African-American woman named Apple who also happens to be the guidance counselor at Nantucket High School. Mallory asks Apple if there are any openings at the high school for teachers or even substitute teachers. “I majored in English,” Mallory says. “You might get lucky,” Apple says. “Mr. Falco currently teaches honors and AP English but he just turned seventy and he’s deaf in one ear, so we’re thinking maybe he’ll retire? In which case, in September, I’ll put your résumé right in front of Dr. Major, our principal. We could use some new blood.” Mallory is grateful, though she doesn’t want to wish her summer away. The Summer House pool has jaw-dropping views of Sconset Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Guests can enjoy lunch on the chaises or sit at one of the patio tables under an umbrella. The food isn’t bad—Mallory steers people toward the burgers, the grilled chicken sandwiches, the salads topped with crab cakes—but most of Mallory’s business is drinks. The bar’s specialty is something called the Hokey Pokey, which has four kinds of liquor in it; the drink costs ten dollars and most people have two or more of them. Mallory makes nearly two hundred dollars a day in tips. She works with either Apple or a girl named Isolde, who is kind of a bitch but who knows her stuff. The bartender’s name is Oliver. He’s cute and has an Australian accent, making him a key contributor to the Summer House pool’s success. Oliver brings in the young ladies (“Ollie’s dollies,” Isolde calls them). And the crowd of young ladies at the bar lures in the men with money. It’s the best job Mallory has ever had. Working three days a week is enough because she has the nest egg from Aunt Greta tucked away in the bank. With a part-time job, Mallory still has time to read, to swim and sun, to explore the island on her bike, to go out with Apple after their shifts. Every night before Mallory falls asleep, she silently thanks her aunt Greta. What a gift. What an opportunity. Everybody hurts; she knows this. But not Mallory this summer. The last Friday in August, the phone rings late at night. Mallory lets the answering machine pick up—but when she hears Leland’s voice, she stumbles out of bed. She has barely talked to her friend all summer. Mallory sent her one letter early on describing her cottage, her new job, and her ongoing flirtation with Oliver the bartender. (This ended in an ill-advised one-night stand that Mallory’s mind now swerves around as though it’s emotional roadkill.) In response, Mallory received a long and descriptive letter about summer in the city—an Indigo Girls concert in Central Park; a work lunch at the Cupping Room in SoHo, where Leland was seated at a table next to Matt Dillon; the bounty at the Greenmarket in Union Square. Leland’s writing was so lush and powerful that Mallory saved the letter in case Leland became famous and the Smithsonian came calling. Mallory snatches up the phone in the dark. “Hello? Leland?” “Mal.” Hearing just this one syllable, Mallory can tell that Leland is drunk. Martinis at Chumley’s, perhaps, or maybe she joined the throngs at Isabella’s, where Jerry Seinfeld was known to hang out. God, Mallory doesn’t miss New York at all. “Hi,” Mallory says. “It’s late, you know. Everything okay?” There’s a part of Mallory that fears she will one day get a phone call that takes away her new life as swiftly as it was granted. “So, listen…,” Leland says. Listen comes out as “lishen.” “I called and booked my flights. I land Friday at eight p.m. and I’m sorry but I have to leave Sunday instead of Monday because my friend Harrison is having this rooftop thing—” “Wait, wait,” Mallory says. Her thoughts feel like a tangled skein of yarn. “Which Friday are we talking about?” “Next Friday,” Leland says. “Labor Day weekend. Like we planned.” Planned is an overstatement. What Mallory knows for sure is that when she and Leland hugged goodbye, Leland had said, “I hope to come visit you. Maybe Labor Day weekend?” To which Mallory said, “You’re welcome anytime, Lee. Obviously. You’re my best friend.” And then in the letter, Leland had closed with Labor Day is still on my radar! Certainly it has been on Mallory’s radar too, though it feels like Leland missed an intermediary step, the step where she called to make sure Labor Day weekend still worked for Mallory, at which point Mallory had intended to tell her that Cooper, Frazier Dooley, and Jake McCloud were coming for Cooper’s bachelor-party weekend and Leland should pick a different weekend. But that step was skipped too, which is a little irritating. They are no longer the little girls who ran indiscriminately between each other’s houses; they’re grown-ups. Leland has bought plane tickets. She lands Friday at eight. “I have something to tell you,” Mallory says. She isn’t sure how her news will be received. “Labor Day weekend, when you’re here…” “Yeah?” Leland says. “Cooper will also be here!” Mallory adds a handful of verbal confetti to the announcement to make it sound like a wonderful surprise: “I haven’t had a chance to write to you about this, but he’s getting married at Christmas to a waitress named Krystel.” Mallory pauses to let this sink in before she zaps Leland with the rest of it. “I know,” Leland says. “My mother told me.” “She did?” Mallory says, then she thinks, Of course she did. Kitty and Leland’s mother, Geri Gladstone, are best friends and play tennis together every single day from May through September at the country club. “Okay, good—so Coop asked if I could host a little bachelor weekend here over Labor Day and since I wasn’t a hundred percent sure you were coming, I said okay.” “Bachelor weekend?” Leland says. “Does that mean what I think it means?” “Yes,” Mallory says. “Fray is coming.” Mallory had thought that for Leland, the prospect of seeing Frazier Dooley would be twenty nails in the coffin as far as her visit was concerned, but all Mallory hears is heavy breathing followed by a string of slurred declarations in a tone that sounds like Leland is trying to convince Mallory—or maybe herself—of something. “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. “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. 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. “She left.” “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.” True, Mallory thinks. 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. “What?” Mallory shouts. 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 Krystel? They aren’t doing anything 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 gunpoint? “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…” “Say it.” “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 in?” Jake drops the clothes and strips down to his boxers. “You’re not.” 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! Fray!” Her voice sounds like something broken or ripped. “Frazier Dooley!” 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 swimming 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. Fray! she thinks. 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? she thinks. Or dead? 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. “Okay,” she says. No sooner does the white Cherokee pull away than there’s another knock on Mallory’s bedroom door. It’s Frazier. His blond hair is wet and combed and he smells okay, but he’s pale and his eyes are puffy. His duffel is slung over one slumped shoulder. “I’m catching the ten o’clock ferry,” he says. “Okay.” Mallory checks her bedside clock. “I’ll drive you. We should leave in twenty minutes.” “I’m going to walk,” Frazier says. “You can’t walk,” Mallory says. “It’s too far.” “I need to clear my head, Mal,” he says. “I’ll see you later, and thanks for having me and all that. You have a nice setup here. I’m happy for you.” “Fray.” “Mal, please.” Fine. If that’s the way he wants it, fine! Through her bedroom window, Mallory watches him head down the no-name road, which is still dusty from Leland’s departure. Mallory knew there was a chance the weekend would blow up this way, but even so, she feels stung: her brother and her best friend both failed her. When she steps into the great room, she smells browned butter and coffee. Jake has used her new French press. “I made omelets with the leftover tomatoes and the Brie,” Jake says. “Come eat.” Tears fill Mallory’s eyes as she sits at the table. “Are you leaving too?” she asks. “No,” Jake says. “If it’s okay with you, I think I’ll stay.” Summer #2: 1994 What are we talking about in 1994? O. J. Simpson, Al Cowlings, LAPD chasing a white Bronco down the 405, the bloody glove, Mark Fuhrman, Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian, Kato Kaelin, Judge Ito; Tonya Harding; Kurt Cobain; Lillehammer; Jackie Onassis; the World Series canceled; Newt Gingrich; the internet; Rwanda; the IRA; Pulp Fiction; Nelson Mandela; the Channel Tunnel; Ace of Base; Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Joey, and Phoebe; Richard Nixon; The Shawshank Redemption. Whether or not our boy Jake (and he is our boy, we’re with him here through the good, the bad, and the incredibly stressful) wants to admit it, his life has been changed by spending Labor Day weekend with Mallory. He would like the record to show that he went to Nantucket as a free and single man. A week before Jake headed to the island, he and Ursula had a category 5 breakup that destroyed everything in its path—Jake’s self-esteem, Ursula’s promises, both of their hearts. He hadn’t been looking for another romantic entanglement, not even an easy rebound. But by Saturday, after first Cooper, then Leland, then Frazier had left—bringing to mind the children’s song about the dog that chased the cat that chased the rat—he realized this was what he’d been hoping for since the moment he saw Mallory waiting on the dock of Straight Wharf. Mallory’s eyes, he’d noticed, were bluish green or greenish blue; they changed, like the color of the ocean. They were green when she stared at him across the harvest table with her empty breakfast plate in front of her. She had devoured every bit of her omelet, making little sandwich bites with her toast. Jake couldn’t believe how at ease he felt with her, almost as if she were his younger sister. Nope, Jake thought. Scratch that. His feelings were not brotherly. When he came around to clear Mallory’s plate, he saw a golden toast crumb on the pale pink skin of her upper lip. He brushed the crumb away with the pad of his thumb, gently, so gently, and then he kissed her and he experienced the most intense desire he had ever known. He wanted her so badly, it scared him. Go slowly, he’d thought. Jake had been with only a handful of women other than Ursula, most of them casual dates or one-night stands in college. He spent a long time kissing Mallory’s lips before he moved down to her throat and the tops of her shoulders. Her skin was salty, sweet, her mouth and tongue buttery. She made cooing noises and finally said, Please. I can’t stand it. This was how Jake felt as well; the want in him was building like a great wall of water against a dam, but he savored the nearly painful sensation of holding himself in check. Slowly, he moved his mouth over the innocent parts of her body. And then, finally, she cried out and led him by the hand to the bedroom. Somehow, he’d known that the experience would change his life, that he would never be the same again. Mallory’s eyes were still green when she propped herself up on her elbow after they’d made love. “Put your bathing suit on,” she said. “I want to show off my island.” They headed out the back door and down a nearly hidden sandy path that led through the reeds and tall grass to Miacomet Pond. On the shore was a two-person kayak painted Big Bird yellow that Mallory dragged out to knee-deep water. She held it steady as Jake climbed on—he wanted to appear confident, though he hadn’t been in a kayak since he was twelve years old, back when his sister was still healthy enough to spend the day on Lake Michigan. Mallory handed Jake his paddle and effortlessly hopped up front. Away they went, gliding over the mirror-flat surface of the water. Jake let Mallory set the pace for their paddling and he matched her strokes. She didn’t talk and although there were questions he wanted to ask her, he allowed himself to enjoy the silence. There was some birdsong, the music of their paddles dipping and skimming, and the occasional airplane overhead—people lucky enough to be arriving or, more likely, poor souls headed back to their real lives after an idyllic week or month or summer on Nantucket. Jake tried to absorb the natural beauty of the pond—what an escape from the Metro stations and throngs of monument-seeking tourists in DC—but he was distracted by the stalk of Mallory’s neck, the silky peach strings of her bikini top tied in lopsided bows, the faint tan lines on her back left by other bathing suits. Her hair was swept up in a topknot and the color was darker underneath, sun-bleached on the ends. He examined her earlobes, pierced twice on the left, a tiny silver hoop in the second hole. Suddenly, she leaned back, her paddle resting against her lap, her face to the sun, eyes closed beneath her Wayfarers. “You paddle,” she said. “I’m going to lie here like Cleopatra.” Yes, fine, he would paddle her for as long as she wanted. In twenty-four hours, she had become his queen. Mallory’s eyes were blue when she gazed into the lobster tank at Sousa’s fish market later that afternoon. She was wearing cutoff jeans and a gray Gettysburg College T-shirt over her bikini. Her hair was in a ponytail; little wisps of hair framed her face. She had freckles on her nose and cheeks from the sun that afternoon. There was a tiny gap between her two bottom front teeth. Had she ever had braces? Jake knew every single thing about Ursula—they had been together since the eighth grade—but Mallory was a whole new person, undiscovered. Jake would get to know her better than he knew Ursula, he decided then and there. He would pay attention. He would learn her. He would treasure her. He would make a study of her eye color, the tendrils of her hair, the shape of her tanned legs, and the gap between her teeth. When Mallory picked out two lobsters, her eyes misted up. The blue in her eyes then was sadness, maybe, or sympathy. “You’re going to have to cook those buggers by yourself,” Mallory said. “I don’t have the heart.” That night was their first date. Mallory melted two sticks of butter and quartered three lemons. She opened a bottle of champagne that had been in the cottage when she moved in, left by a long-ago houseguest of her aunt and uncle. They ate cross-legged out on the porch while the sun bathed them in a thick honeyed light. Once it was dark, they laid a blanket down in the sand and held hands, faces to the sky. Jake tried to identify the constellations and explain the corresponding mythology. Mallory corrected him. She told Jake that her aunt Greta had moved in with a woman after Mallory’s uncle died. This had scandalized everyone in the Blessing family except Mallory. How could it possibly matter if Aunt Greta chose to be with a man or a woman? Mallory said. Why wouldn’t everyone who cared about Greta just want her to be happy? Jake had responded by telling Mallory about Jessica. I had a twin sister, he said. Jessica. She died of cystic fibrosis when we were thirteen. That must have been so difficult for you, Mallory said. It was, Jake said. Survivor’s guilt and all that. Cystic fibrosis is genetic. Jessica inherited the genes and I didn’t. He swallowed. She never got angry or made me feel bad about it. She just sort of…accepted it as her albatross. I’ve never lost anyone close to me like that, Mallory said. I can’t imagine life without…Cooper. How do you ever recover from something like that? Well, the answer was that you didn’t recover. Losing Jessica was the central fact of Jake’s life, and yet he almost never talked about it. Everyone he grew up with in South Bend already knew, but once Jake got to Johns Hopkins, it became something like a secret. He remembered being at a fraternity event, beer and oysters, and mentioning his sister to Cooper without thinking. Cooper said, “I didn’t know you had a sister, man—how come you never told me?” Jake froze, unsure of what to say, then blurted out, “She’s dead.” It felt like the party stopped and everyone turned to stare at him; he was that uncomfortable. Cooper said, “Hey, man, I’m sorry.” Jake said, “Nah, man, it’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, it would never be fine, but Jake learned to keep Jessica out of casual conversation. He couldn’t believe he’d told Mallory about Jessica after knowing her for little more than twenty-four hours. But there was something about Mallory that made him feel safe. He could turn himself inside out and show her his wounds, and it would be okay. Sunday morning, Jake woke early and again made omelets, this time using sautéed onions and leftover lobster meat. Mallory wandered out of the bedroom wearing only Jake’s shirt from the night before. Her hair hung in her face, and one eye was still half shut. “You’re beautiful,” he said, then he nearly apologized because Ursula had found those very same words demeaning. Women are more than just objects to be looked at, she’d said. We’re people. You want to give me a compliment? Tell me I’m smart. Tell me I’m strong. “And also,” he said, “you’re smart and you seem very strong.” Mallory tilted her head and grinned. “You feeling okay?” she said. After breakfast, they climbed into the Blazer and Mallory drove down a long and winding road—the Polpis Road, she called it—to a gatehouse, where she hopped out of the car and let some air out of the tires using the point of her car key. Then they bounced over a slender crooked arm of sand where the landscape emptied—houses disappeared, trees disappeared, the road disappeared—until it was just beach, water, grassy dunes, and, in the distance, a white lighthouse with a black top hat. Mallory pulled into a private little “room” created by the natural curve of the dunes that she had discovered on another trip. Had she been with someone else there? He couldn’t help but wonder as they fell asleep in the sun. When Jake opened his eyes, Mallory was holding a metal mixing bowl. “Come on,” she said. “Treasure hunt.” They walked along the shore, eyes trained a few feet in front of them. Mallory showed him slipper shells, quahogs, and mermaid purses. She picked up a sand dollar. “Perfectly intact,” she said. She held it up to the sun so that Jake could see the faint star pattern. “You should take this back to Washington to remember me by.” “Do I need something to remember you by?” Jake asked. “I mean, I’m going to see you again, right?” He was half thinking that he might never leave Nantucket at all. “Sure,” she said, but her tone was too casual for his liking. They strolled all the way down to Great Point Light, collecting pieces of frosted beach glass, scallop shells, and driftwood until the bowl was filled, then they turned around. “Why can’t this work?” Jake asked. “We like each other.” “A lot,” Mallory said, and she squeezed his hand. “I haven’t been this happy with a guy in a long time. Maybe ever.” “Okay, so…” “So…you’re going back to Washington and I’m staying here.” “Couldn’t we figure something out?” he said. “You visit me, I visit you, we meet someplace in the middle—Connecticut, maybe, or New York City? We rack up massive long-distance bills.” Mallory shook her head. “I did the long-distance thing with my last boyfriend and it was agonizing,” she said. “Of course, he was in Borneo.” Jake laughed. “DC is closer than Borneo.” “The basic problem is the same,” Mallory said. “You have a job and a life in Washington and my life is here. I lived in New York for nearly two years and every single day I wished I were someplace else. I’m not doing that again.” She paused. “And in the spirit of full disclosure, the officer who was up at the house the other night asked me out.” Jealousy, strong and swift, caused Jake to stutter-step. “What did you tell him?” “I was vague,” Mallory said. “I said he should maybe call me next week.” Jake didn’t like this answer, nope, not one bit. “Can’t we just pretend that we’re the only two people in the world and that this weekend is going to last forever?” Mallory stopped in her tracks and turned to face him. The lighthouse floated over her right shoulder. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. “We’re the only two people in the world and this weekend is going to last forever.” “Are you humoring me?” he said. “Yes,” she said, and she grinned. Back at the cottage, Mallory took the first shower. Jake was studying the books on the shelves of the great room when the phone rang. Jake’s first instinct was to answer it. He liked answering other people’s phones. He used to answer Coop’s phone all the time—which was how he’d gotten to know Mallory in the first place. But of course he shouldn’t answer Mallory’s phone—what was he thinking? It might be Cooper apologizing for his exit, and how would Coop feel about Jake staying to shack up with his sister? Then again, what if this was that officer calling to ask Mallory on a date? Maybe Jake should scare the guy off. Mallory raced out of the bathroom, naked and dripping wet, to snatch up the phone before the machine picked up. Jake wondered if she, too, thought it might be the officer from the other night. Jake’s neck and shoulders tensed. His emotions were spiraling out of control. He was gobsmacked by this girl. “Hello?” Mallory said. “Yes, this is she. Oh, yes. Yes!” There was a pause, and Jake imagined the officer asking if she was free the following night. Would he see her tan lines; would he have a chance to appreciate the shallow dip in her lower back? Would he cook eggs for her? Would he wipe the crumbs from Mallory’s lips? “I’m so sorry to hear that,” Mallory said. “Yes, yes, of course I’d be willing. Oh my, thank you so much. Seven thirty. Okay, I’ll see you Tuesday.” She hung up and said, “The English teacher at the high school is at Mass General in Boston getting some tests done and he won’t be in for the first week of school, so they’ve asked me to cover for him.” The relief Jake felt made him light-headed. “That’s great!” he said. “That’s what you wanted, right?” “I wanted someone to retire,” Mallory said. “I didn’t want anyone to get sick.” Jake gathered Mallory up and kissed the top of her head. He was happy for her, but he didn’t want to think about Tuesday. “It’s Sunday night,” she said. “When my aunt was alive, that meant Chinese food and an old movie on TV.” They ordered from a place called Chin’s—egg rolls, wonton soup, spare ribs, moo shu pork, fried rice, Singapore noodles, beef with broccoli. “And dumplings!” Mallory cried into the phone. “Two orders! One steamed and one fried.” It was too much food, but that was part of the fun. Whenever Jake and Ursula ordered Chinese, Ursula ate only plain white rice and she refused to eat fortune cookies; she wouldn’t even read the fortunes. The fortune cookie, she claimed, was a cheap gimmick that diminished the complexity of Chinese culture. Jake watched Mallory dip one of her golden-brown dumplings into soy sauce, then deliver it deftly to her mouth with her chopsticks. She loaded a pancake with moo shu pork until it was dripping and messy and took a lusty bite. Jake was so stunned by the vision of a woman enjoying her food rather than battling it that he wondered if he might be falling in love with her. Mallory handed Jake a fortune cookie. He was about to inform her that the purpose of the fortune cookie was to dupe a gullible public and distort the wise sayings of Confucius, but before he could share Ursula’s skepticism, Mallory said, “Whatever it says, you have to add the words ‘between the sheets’ to the end.” Jake laughed. “Are you serious?” “My house, my rules,” Mallory said. Jake played along. “‘A fresh start will put you on your way’”—he paused—“between the sheets.” Mallory gazed at him. Her eyes were green tonight. “Damn. Was I right or what?” “Read yours,” he said, handing her a cookie. “‘Be careful or you could fall for some tricks today,’” she said, “between the sheets!” He gathered up both fortunes. He would take them home, he decided. Along with his sand dollar. Things to remember her by. They turned on the TV and found a movie that was just starting: Same Time, Next Year with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. It was about a couple who meet at a seaside hotel in 1951 and decide to return together on the same weekend every year, even though they’re both married to other people. “Now, that is something we could do,” Mallory said. She was lying between Jake’s legs on the couch, her head resting on his chest. “You could come back to Nantucket every Labor Day, no matter what happens. We could do all the stuff we did this weekend. Make it a tradition.” A year? he thought. He had to wait an entire year? On Monday, pregnant, pewter-colored clouds hung on the horizon, and when Jake stepped onto the porch, there was a chill in the air. It felt like an ending—not only of the weekend and the summer, but something bigger. Jake made omelets while Mallory pulled a Joyce Carol Oates novel off the shelf that she wanted him to read. “One thing I like about you,” she said, “is that you’re secure enough in your masculinity to read female novelists. Who are, in case you’re wondering, superior to male novelists.” She winked. “Between the sheets.” She was keeping things light, which made sense. She was excited about her substitute-teaching opportunity, and she got to stay here, in her beachfront cottage on Nantucket. The cottage had grown on Jake nearly as much as Mallory’s company. The wood paneling made it feel like the cabin of a boat and Jake liked that the cottage smelled like summer—a little salty, a little marshy, a little damp. He loved the single deep blue hydrangea blossom in the mason jar on the harvest table; he loved the table itself, how unusually long and narrow it was. He loved the wall of swollen paperback books and he loved the sound of crashing waves in the background. He imagined being back in Washington with the traffic and the sirens and thought of how his heart would ache when he thought about the sound of the ocean. The end of summer was the saddest time of year. Jake gave Mallory a long, deep kiss goodbye. “I’m happy the dog chased the cat that chased the rat.” “Excuse me?” “I’m happy it ended up being just you and me this weekend. And I’m coming back next year. Same time next year.” “No matter what?” Mallory said. “No matter what,” Jake said, and it did make leaving a little bit easier. It isn’t until the invitation to Cooper’s wedding arrives in the mail—on expensive ivory stock, printed in a script so fancy, it’s nearly unreadable—that Jake realizes he won’t have to wait a year to see Mallory. But there’s a complication that our boy had not foreseen. He and Ursula have decided to give their relationship one last try. “If we break up again,” Ursula says, “we break up for good.” Jake thought they already had broken up for good. In their last breakup, the one that took place before Jake left for Nantucket, they had been point-of-no-return honest. Ursula admitted that she valued her career above everything else. It was more important than her health (she’d lost twelve pounds since starting at the SEC and now looked severely malnourished—passing supermodel stage, heading for famine victim), more important than her family (her parents were back in South Bend; her father was an esteemed professor at the university, her mother a housewife, Ursula rarely visited them and she discouraged them from visiting her because it would require sightseeing trips to the Air and Space Museum and the National Archives), more important than her faith (at Notre Dame, Ursula had been vice president of the campus ministry, but now she didn’t go to Mass, not even on Christmas Eve or Easter. There simply wasn’t time). Finally, she said, her career was more important to her than Jake was. “Really?” he said. “Yes, really,” she said, leaving no room for interpretation. Jake had wanted to say something back that was equally cruel—but what? Jake had met Ursula in sixth grade at Jefferson Middle School. He knew her from his “smart kid” classes—pre-algebra, Spanish, accelerated English—and also because she was friends with his twin sister, Jessica. Ursula was the only one of Jess’s friends who remained steadfast once Jess’s health started to decline. When Jessica’s blood-oxygen level was too low for her to go to school, Ursula swung by with Jessica’s homework assignments, and she didn’t just drop and run, the way any other twelve-year-old would have. Ursula used to sit in Jess’s room, undeterred by the fact that Jess was hooked up to an oxygen tank, unfazed by the terrible coughing fits or the thick, gray mucus that Jess used to spit into a purple kidney-shaped basin, unbothered by their mother, Liz McCloud, who had taken a sabbatical from Rush Hospital in Chicago, where she was a gynecologist, so that she could care for Jess herself. Jess was happiest when Ursula was around. Jess called her Sully, a nickname that Ursula didn’t tolerate from anyone else. Jess liked to listen to music, so Ursula would put on Jess’s favorite record, which she had ordered from a TV commercial. It was a compilation of novelty hits—“The Monster Mash,” “Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” “The Purple People Eater”—and t