Home > The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story(7)

The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story(7)
Author: Elin Hilderbrand

“Sorry,” Coop says. “Riding around with my little sister and her best friend isn’t my idea of a good time. It’s babysitting.”

At the end of October, Coop starts dating a girl named Alana Bratton who goes to Bryn Mawr. Alana is beautiful, she’s a senior, and when she snaps her fingers, Coop does her bidding. The person who is left out is Fray; his buddy has ditched him for a girl.

At the beginning of November, Mallory gets the flu. Leland is under strict orders from her parents, Geri and Steve, as well as from the Blessings, to stay away from the Blessing house until the contagious period is over. Leland’s parents are leaving for the weekend on a leaf-peeping trip through the horse country of Virginia and Leland thinks how unfair it is that she will now have the house to herself but nobody to enjoy the freedom with.

It’s as she’s watching Coop pull out of the driveway from her bedroom window—he’s probably off to pick up Alana—that Leland gets the idea to call Fray.

“Mal is sick and my parents are away,” Leland says. “Want to come over and use the hot tub? My dad has a fridge full of beer in the garage.”

Fray says, “Won’t he notice if some is missing?”

“No,” Leland says. “I drink it all the time. We just have to be careful with the cans. I normally ditch them in the dumpster behind Eddie’s.” This is a complete lie. Leland has never drunk her father’s beer, she can’t stand the taste, and she has no idea if Steve Gladstone will notice cans missing, though there are at least two cases in the fridge, so she kind of doubts it.

“Cool,” Fray says. “I’ll be over in a little while.”

Leland races up to her room to pick an outfit and curl her hair. She puts the Police album Ghost in the Machine on her turntable and dances around. He’s coming! Fray is coming!

“A little while” ends up being two hours later, nine o’clock, late enough that Leland has already spiraled through self-doubt and convinced herself that Fray won’t show. She’s wearing her red bikini under her Jordache jeans and a velour top, she has cracked open one of her father’s beers—she pulled six out of the back; when you open the fridge, you don’t even notice any missing—and she has poured a bag of Utz chips into a bowl and opened a container of onion dip because her mother, Geri, says people always appreciate a snack. The hot tub is bubbling like a witch’s cauldron under the cover and it’s this that Leland suspects might get her in trouble—the oil bill, her father is energy-conscious—but why even have the hot tub if they can’t use it?

When the knock finally comes, Leland’s heart leaps. She has finished one beer and feels as light and floaty as a spirit in the material world.

“Hey,” she says when she opens the door. Fray looks so fine—he has on a gray hooded sweatshirt under his Calvert Hall lacrosse jersey and jeans and his high-top sneakers are, as ever, untied. He’s holding a pair of swim trunks.

“Hey, Lee,” he says. They lock eyes and Leland wonders why it has taken them so long to shed the Blessings and acknowledge what has been true for a while now: They are meant to be together.

 

 

When Leland looks back on that night, it seems almost painfully romantic in a nostalgic 1980s way. They each crack a beer, Fray changes into his trunks in the powder room, he helps Leland lift the top off the hot tub. They climb in, sitting on the same bench but not touching. Leland has the stereo in the rec room cranked to 98 Rock and the back sliding door is open so they can hear strains of “Radio Ga Ga” and “When Doves Cry.” They tap their cans of Natty Boh together and drink.

They start kissing during “We Belong,” by Pat Benatar. It happens naturally, like a magnet is drawing them together. It isn’t Leland’s first kiss or even her first tongue kiss—that was Jay Pitcock after the eighth grade dance back in May—but this is different. Fray is skilled with his tongue, he tastes like beer, he knows to put a hand on the back of her neck and pull her toward him.

When they finally break apart, Leland is dizzy, dazzled.

“I’ll grab more beers,” Fray says. He hoists himself out of the tub and Leland watches him leave wet footprints on the rec room floor. When he disappears from view, she gets a crazy idea, then talks herself out of it, then decides to just go for it. Tonight is the night her life changes.

She takes off her bikini top.

Fray reappears, holding a six-pack by the plastic rings. Leland raises her bare breasts above the water line. Her nipples are instantly hard.

“Whoa,” Fray says. He leaves the beer to the side and starts kissing Leland again. One of his hands finds her nipple and he rubs it back and forth, a feeling so exquisite that Leland feels like she’s going to dissolve. Then he lowers his mouth to her nipple and gently sucks. She can see his erection poking up in his trunks. She wants to touch it but doesn’t, because her mother has given her all kinds of instructions about what can happen if you lead a boy along too far. She will hold Fray at second base tonight. Second base with Frazier Dooley. It’s so crazy, Leland can hardly believe it.

 

 

A few weeks after Leland and Fray start dating, Coop and Fray are invited to a high school party thrown by a friend of Alana Bratton’s whose parents are away. It will be mostly Bryn Mawr girls and Calvert Hall boys—Leland and Mallory go to Garrison Forest, so they won’t know anyone—but Leland wheedles them an invite anyway. Once they get to the house—a mansion on Roland Park Drive—Coop and Fray disappear to do beer bongs, leaving Leland and Mallory to fend for themselves in the kitchen. The good news is that Alana spots them and takes them under her beautiful blond wing. She gets the girls glasses of real champagne, Moët et Chandon, that someone has lifted from the wine fridge.

“I’ll introduce you around,” Alana says.

“I should probably go find Fray,” Leland says.

Alana laughs. “Let him come find you.”

Which is exactly what happens an hour later. Leland and Mallory are in the library playing a drinking game called Three-Man with two Calvert Hall seniors. One of them, a kid named Penn Porter, drapes his arm over Leland’s shoulders just as Fray walks in.

“Get your hands off her, Porter,” Fray says.

Leland jumps to her feet. “We weren’t doing anything,” she says. She’s so drunk her words are slurred, and Mallory is slumped over on the green velvet sofa, eyes at half-mast. Fray storms out of the library. Leland wants to chase after him but she can’t leave Mallory drunk and alone with two senior boys; that’s how date rape happens.

She appeals to Penn Porter. “Can you help me get her to her feet? She’s Cooper Blessing’s sister.”

Penn rolls his eyes but obliges. He and Leland ease Mallory up. “Are you dating Frazier Dooley? That guy has issues. Seems to me you can do better.”

Leland leads Mallory through the house. She finds Fray in the kitchen, swilling from a bottle of Jim Beam.

“We’re ready to go,” Leland says.

“Great,” Fray says, his eyes flashing with what Leland understands then are his “issues”—rage, jealousy, alcohol. “Ask your buddy Penn to get you home.”

“Fray,” Leland says. “We weren’t doing anything.”

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