Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Mallory checks the car. Is Jake inside? No, it’s a driver. The screaming ratchets down one notch.
“Mallory?” Ursula says. “Hello. I’m Ursula de Gournsey.”
“Ursula?” Mallory says, still maintaining her cool. “Hello.”
“Do you mind if I come in?” Ursula says. “I was hoping we could talk.”
Now’s not a good time,
I’m having a psychotic episode.
This is it, then—the reckoning. Mallory has long wondered if this day would ever come or if that was the kind of thing that happened only in movies. It notably does
Same Time, Next Year
. George and Doris roll merrily along right into their old age—and their respective spouses, Helen and Harry, remain none the wiser.
“Of course,” Mallory says. She pushes the screen door open and Ursula de Gournsey steps inside. She’s wearing a blue chambray linen sheath with matching pumps (also now dusty). Her hair is long and thick and luxuriously dark. There are lines around her eyes and mouth that don’t show up on television. “Would you like some iced tea? And I made chicken salad this morning if you’d like a sandwich.”
“Iced tea would be lovely, thank you,” Ursula says.
It gives Mallory something to do. She pours iced tea into two of her brand-new tumblers—to cheer herself up, she went on a nice-things-I-couldn’t-have-while-Link-was-around spending spree—puts some pita chips into a bowl, and gets out her silken, luscious homemade baba ghanouj. The other thing she has done to boost her spirits is cook.
“Baba ghanouj,” she says to Ursula as she brings everything into the living room on a wicker tray. “The eggplants from Bartlett’s Farm are like nothing you’ve ever tasted.”
Ursula murmurs something. She won’t touch the food, Mallory knows, because she doesn’t eat. She doesn’t read fiction either, and yet she’s drawing one finger across the spines of the books that Jake has sent Mallory over the years, from
The English Patient
Does she know they’re from Jake? Then Ursula picks up one of the sand dollars on that shelf, and Mallory has to suppress the hysterical laugh that’s gathering at the back of her throat.
“Let’s sit,” Mallory says. She places the tray on the coffee table and settles into Big Hugs while Ursula perches on the edge of one of the club chairs.
Ursula de Gournsey is here. In the cottage. In that chair.
Mallory hands Ursula an iced tea garnished with a wheel of lemon and a wheel of lime side by side on the rim, a hundred percent Instagram-able.
Ursula doesn’t seem inclined to speak, so Mallory says, “I didn’t realize you were on Nantucket.”
“I have a fund-raising dinner tonight,” Ursula says. “Private.” She takes a tiny sip of tea. “I’m running for president.”
“Yes, I know,” Mallory says. “Your vote on Judge Cavendish—I was proud of you. Every woman in America was proud of you.”
Ursula’s perfectly shaped eyebrows shoot up; maybe she’s surprised at the compliment. “Well, the election is still a long way off,” she says. “Anything can happen. Issues arise unexpectedly. Parts of your past come up, incidents you thought were long forgotten—hell, things you don’t remember…or even know about. When you’re running for president of the United States”—she sets her tea down—“your life has to be transparent. A clean window.”
And you’ve come with the squeegee,
“You and Jake see each other?” Ursula says. “Every year?”
She’s asking Mallory rather than telling her. She seems uncertain, which Mallory didn’t expect. Ursula has a hunch but not proof, maybe? Jake hasn’t told her. Jake doesn’t know Ursula is here. This whole thing, Mallory understands suddenly, has very little to do with Jake.
“What makes you think that?” Mallory asks. The spot in her vision has quieted, but it’s still there, watchful.
Ursula smiles. “I guess if I’m being honest, I would say I’ve always had a suspicion. Since Cooper’s first wedding, when I saw the two of you dancing together.”
“During Coop’s second wedding, I saw you in the ladies’ room,” Mallory says. “You told me you were pregnant. And I got the feeling you were going to confess the baby wasn’t Jake’s.” It’s Mallory’s turn to use her tea as a prop. She takes a sip. And what the hell, she’s hungry; she drags a pita chip through the baba ghanouj. She’s not afraid of food.
“At Cooper’s third wedding, when I asked Cooper if he and Jake were planning on continuing their Nantucket weekends, it was quite obvious Cooper had no idea what I was talking about. Tish
had no idea. Which I found odd.”
“Tish,” Mallory says. “I can’t believe you remember her name.”
“Then I read the article in
” Ursula says. “And I called your brother again, only he was ready for me, or at least readier. He told me that, yes, he and Jake went to Nantucket every summer.”
Mallory’s breathing is so shallow, she feels like she’s playing a dead person on television.
Okay, maybe he’s lying, protecting his little sister.
You two had just lost your parents—”
“Please,” Mallory says, and she shakes her head.
…then, then, then.” Ursula spins first her watch and then a gold Cartier love bracelet around her wrist, and Mallory can’t help but imagine the birthday or Christmas when Jake gave it to her; Ursula’s joy, their kiss. “I have an adviser, a donor, a…friend of sorts named Bayer Burkhart. From Newport, Rhode Island. You know him.”
You know him
Bayer, of all people, is the one who told Ursula?
“I knew him a long time ago,” Mallory says. “In my twenties.”
Ursula nods. “He told me. He was quite taken by you, apparently, during a time when he and Dee Dee were having trouble. He said he considered divorcing her and marrying you.”
“Ha!” Mallory says. The spot in her vision twinkles; it seems to be laughing along. “That’s ridiculous. We were…it was…a summer romance. And he was married, but I didn’t know that until the night we broke up.”
“Which was also the night you told him you had a Same Time Next Year. Whose name was Jake McCloud.”
“That was all so long ago—”
“Bayer forgot about it,” Ursula says. “He met Jake at a donor party years ago and said he thought something rang a bell, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.” Ursula slaps her hands on her knees. “Then, a couple of years ago, he saw the two of you on the docks. Friday of Labor Day weekend.”
Mallory isn’t sure what to say, so she has another pita chip. Her crunching is very loud in her own ears.
“Bayer didn’t tell me then because—well, because I think it took him a while to put it all together. And also, I wasn’t running for president.”
Mallory realizes she doesn’t have to say a word. She hasn’t broken the law. Ursula isn’t the police. Mallory stands up. “I hope your dinner goes well. Thanks for stopping by.”
Mallory won’t look at her. She carries the tray back to the kitchen. “Did I tell you my son just left for college? He’s at the University of South Carolina. The house is so quiet without him.”
“Yes, I have a daughter at college as well. Bess. She’s a freshman at Johns Hopkins. As you must know.”
Yes, Mallory knows. “I’m from Baltimore,” Mallory says. “Cooper and I were raised there.” She puts the baba ghanouj back in the fridge without any covering. She is distracted by the pressing need to sweep Ursula out the door. Her driver is waiting. What must he think? What did she tell him? She probably said she was visiting an old friend. The cottage isn’t grand enough to belong to a major donor.
“I need you to stop seeing Jake,” Ursula says. “He can’t come this Labor Day or next Labor Day or—if I win—any of the Labor Days while I’m in office.”
Mallory’s reaction to this statement must give it all away. She recoils like this is a duel and Ursula has drawn first and shot Mallory between the eyes. Or like it’s a swordfight and Ursula has just plunged a saber through Mallory’s ribs. Jake won’t come in two weeks? He won’t come the following year? Or, if Ursula wins, for four—or eight—years? Mallory is fifty years old. She realizes she may be sixty before she feels Jake’s arms around her again.
“Why are you talking to
” Mallory asks, turning away. “Jake is your husband. If you don’t want him to come to Nantucket, tell him.”
“If I tell him that I know—” Ursula stops suddenly. When Mallory looks over, she sees Ursula’s head is bowed. “If I ask him not to come here, I’m afraid he’ll leave me.”
So keep things the way they are!
Mallory wants to say. She’s tempted to beg. Mallory has lost her parents and dropped her only child off at college. She’s alone here. Except for Jake three magical days per year, Mallory is alone.
“But…I can’t have the press or my opponent’s camp finding out about this. And trust me, Mallory, you don’t want that either. They’ll drag your name through the mud. You’ll be vilified. You’re a teacher, right? Pretty beloved, from what I understand.”
the first thing about me.”
“I do, though,” Ursula says. “You love Jake. I understand that better than anyone else. But please, it stops now. He’s my husband.”
The bright spot encroaches a little farther into Mallory’s visual field. It’s white-hot, insistent. It is, she realizes, her
inserting itself into the conversation after all these many years.
Jake and Mallory’s relationship is unusual, whimsical, even, like a fairy tale. It has always seemed to exist outside of reality, or so Mallory chose to believe. They weren’t breaking any rules if there were no rules. They weren’t hurting anyone’s feelings if no one knew.
Now, Mallory has to make a decision. Own up to what she’s been doing and stop. Or deny what she’s been doing and continue.
The spot in her eye is as bright as a flare.
“Okay,” Mallory says.
“Okay, I’ll stop,” Mallory says. “I’ll stop.”
“You will?” Ursula says. She narrows her eyes. Her irises are so dark, they’re nearly black, two chips of obsidian.
“Yes. You have my word.”
“Ursula,” Mallory says. “You have my word.”
Ursula nods. “Thank you.” She inhales and seems to take in her surroundings for the first time, moving her eyes around the cottage. Does she approve? And why does Mallory care? She should feel nothing but disdain, or maybe hatred, toward this woman, her longtime rival, but she doesn’t, not quite. Ursula stands and clicks in her dusty stilettos over to the screen door, and Mallory feels almost sad that she’s leaving. In losing Jake, she loses Ursula too, her shadow opponent, the woman who has been hovering over Mallory’s shoulder, motivating her to be her best self. If Mallory were honest, she would admit that the competition with Ursula was inspiring to her.
At the door Ursula turns around. “You make him happy, you know.”
Tears, a flood of them, press—but Mallory won’t cry in front of Ursula.
“Yes,” Mallory says. “I know.”
Two weeks later, the text comes to Mallory’s phone:
She locks up the cottage—the day before, she went hunting for the keys and found them deep in the junk drawer—and heads to the hiding place she’s chosen, forty or fifty yards away, behind a dip in the dunes. It’s childish to play games like this, she knows, but this was the best option among a host of terrible ones. Jake can’t know that Ursula knows. This has to seem like it’s coming from Mallory. If Mallory calls him, she’ll end up confessing about Ursula’s visit. Mallory considered texting
Something came up, I have to cancel.
I’ve met someone, please don’t come.
But she can’t be cruel. And, selfishly, she wants to set eyes on him.
She doesn’t respond to his text and another text follows:
You there? Hello?
It’s amazing how seamlessly this relationship has worked on just a simple routine and trust. Nothing has ever trumped their time together—things almost had, several times, but they prevailed.
She waits. Will he come or will he sense something is wrong and abort? His radar must be on amber alert anyway, with Ursula running for president. His every move must be monitored.
A little while later, Mallory hears a car. She peers up over the dune to see a Jeep enveloped in the usual cloud of dust. He’s here. Mallory’s heart leaps exactly as it has for the past twenty-six years.
Except…Mallory gave her word. She knows Ursula was hesitant to trust her, probably figuring that a woman who’d slept with her husband for so long would have no problem lying to her face about stopping.
The car door slams and Mallory shudders. From her hiding spot, she sees Jake get out. She moans softly. Jake! She can tell just from the way he’s carrying himself that he’s agitated—confused, maybe even angry. He strides up to the pond-side door and tries to open it, but it’s locked. She hears him murmur something, and then he goes around the house. She can’t see him but she imagines him standing on the porch, checking out the beach in each direction. She hears the creak of the door to the outdoor shower and she breathes a sigh of relief; she had considered hiding in there.
“Mallory!” he yells.
She closes her eyes. His voice.
“Mallory! Where are you?” He’s shouting; he must not care who hears him. There’s a messy edge to his voice, not tears, exactly, but maybe some panic. Has something happened to her? Is she okay?
Mallory travels back to the first summer when they yelled for Fray on the beach. Mallory had been so terrified, she remembers, or as terrified as a twenty-four-year-old girl who had never had anything bad happen to her could be. She has often scared herself by imagining how awful it would have been if Fray had drowned. Without Fray, there would be no Link. Mallory wonders if she would have gotten married to someone else and had different children—presumably she would have. She and Jake wouldn’t have bonded, except in crushing guilt.