Hello, Summer

On Sale May 5, 2020

List Price: $28.99

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rear view mirror years ago. Now, after ten years of blood, sweat, and tears, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position at a New York City newspaper. That is, until she discovers at her own going away party that her new job is suddenly gone, disappearing overnight along with her hopes and dreams of a bright future in a big city.

Dread in her heart and a sinking feeling in her gut, Conley ends up in the last place she ever wanted to be: The Beacon, now reluctantly run by her brother Garret whose own dreams of being a lawyer were put on hold with the death of their father. Covering a sleepy beach town with church news and the local funeral home director dictating the day’s obituaries to her over the phone isn’t exactly every reporter’s dream, and to make matters worse, she and her brother see eye to eye on almost nothing. Matters come to a head after Conley witnesses a car accident that ends in the death of a local politician – a beloved war hero with a secret shady history whose death may not be exactly what it seems.

“I hate these things,” Conley Hawkins said, gazing toward the newsroom’s glass-encased conference room, where the rest of the staff was gathering. “Stale sheet cake, lukewarm champagne, and tepid farewells. It’s such a farce. At least a third of the people in that room don’t even like me. I’ve said goodbye to the people I care about. Can’t we just leave it at that?”

She’d almost succeeded in making a clean break, only feet away from the elevator, when Butch caught her trying to sneak out. “You can’t skip your own going-away party,” he’d said. “Everybody’s waiting.  You’ll look like an ingrate if you try to duck out.”

Before she could argue, he’d deftly taken the cardboard box she’d just finished packing and placed it on her desktop.

Her former desk in the fourth-floor newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, her home away from home for the past four years. “It’s actually more like two-thirds of the people in the room who detest you,” Butch pointed out, steering her toward the conference room. “Nothing personal. Call it professional jealousy. Well, except for Rattigan. Nothing professional about his feelings, right?”

Butch Culpepper wasn’t just some dude who’d sat at the desk right next to hers for the past three years. He was her social conscience and self- appointed office husband and, therefore, privy to most of her secrets.

She winced at the mention of Kevin Rattigan. “Don’t.” He raised an eyebrow. “Too soon?”

“I really didn’t think he’d take it so personally,” she protested. “We weren’t even all that serious.”

“You were living together,” Butch pointed out. “Most women I know would call that serious.”

“It was only for six weeks, and I only let him move in because he couldn’t afford a two-bedroom after his roommate got transferred to Miami.”

By now, they were standing right outside the open doorway of the conference room, and Roger Sistrunk, her assignment editor, was waving her inside.

“Hawkins! Get your ass in here! You might not have anything better to do, but some of us still have a paper to get out today.”

“Oh God,” she mumbled.

And then the champagne corks were popping, and she was being presented with the signed caricature from the paper’s political cartoon- ist, and Roger was making a well-meaning speech about  how  much she’d be missed, using a rolled-up copy of the Metro section as a make-shift megaphone.

“Attention! Attention, please,” he called. “Okay, well, somehow, our esteemed colleague Conley Hawkins managed to scam these pinheads in D.C. into offering her a job making twice as much money for half as much work,” Sistrunk began. His bald head gleamed under the fluorescent lights.

Light laughter and a few catcalls. She smiled weakly, and despite herself, her eyes sought out Kevin, who was standing, stony-faced, in a far corner of the room. His wheat-colored bangs flopped over his glasses, and her fingers itched to push the hair back, clean the smudges from the glasses, and whisper a smutty joke in his ear, just to watch the bright pink flush spread over his pale freckled face. He caught her staring and quickly looked away.

Butch pressed a paper cup into her hand, and she drained the champagne in two gulps.

She didn’t catch the rest of what Roger was saying. Tiana Baggett approached and flung an arm over her shoulder and leaned her head against Conley’s. “Gonna miss you, girlfriend,” she said, sniffling loudly. “I can’t believe you’re really gonna go and leave me behind. Who’s gonna watch scary slasher movies with me now? Who’s gonna rewrite my ledes?”

Aside from Butch, Tiana, the Metro section’s police beat reporter, was her best friend on staff.

“Come on, Tia. Don’t do this to me,” Conley begged. “Look, you know as soon as I hear about an opening up there, I’ll put your name in the hat.”

Tiana sniffed again, extended her arm, and attempted to take a selfie with her smartphone. “Aw, damn,” she said, shaking it. “I’ve got no juice. Gimme your phone.”

Conley pulled her phone from her pocket, extended her arm, and clicked off three quick frames. As she was shoving it back in the pocket of her jeans, she heard the distinctive bicycle bell ringtone alerting her   to an incoming text message.

Tiana looked down. “Who’s the text from? Kevin?” She looked hopefully across the room. She was the one who’d set them up and who’d accused Conley, more than once, of being heartless since the breakup.

“No.” Conley shook her head. “He won’t even look me in the eye. It’s actually from my sister.”

“Grayson? The one you think can’t stand you?”

“I don’t think it, I know it. Wonder where she got my phone number?” The text had a link to a Bloomberg wire story.  She tapped the link and read the first paragraph.

Intelligentsia, the trailblazing online investigative news service, announced today that it will suspend publication immediately, citing the failure of a recent round of venture capital financing.

Conley stared down at the sentence, her brain and tongue temporarily frozen. Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead.

“What’s wrong? Did somebody die?” Conley handed her the phone.

“Jesus Hopscotching Christ,” Tiana muttered. “Is this your sister’s idea of a joke?”

“Grayson is incapable of joking,” Conley said. “She lacks a humor chromosome.”

“You think it’s true?” Tiana asked. “About Intelligentsia? I mean, if it were true, you would have heard something, right? Maybe it’s just a rumor.”

“Maybe.”

“You should call that guy, the editor, what’s his name?”

“Fred Ward.” She pulled up the list of recent callers, but there was nothing from Fred Ward, nor were there any calls with a D.C. prefix.

“Conley! You need to cut the damn cake!” called one of the sportswriters.

“Yeah,” another voice chimed in. “Let’s get this party started. I got a story to file.”

She looked up. So many faces watching hers. She swallowed hard, fighting back against a wave of nausea swelling up from her gut, the champagne sour in her mouth.

“Just do it,” Tia whispered.

Roger was holding out the pica pole, which was tied with a faded red ribbon. The pica pole was a quaint relic from another era, from the Marietta Street days, back when newspapers were physically laid out on drafting tables in the downtown composing room, instead of digitally designed in this gleaming smoked-glass box in a suburban office park.

Conley took the stiff aluminum ruler and made a horizontal slash through the gooey white frosting, then another vertical slash, dividing the cake into quadrants. She handed the pole back to her editor. “You do the rest,” she said, forcing a smile. “I can’t eat cake. I’m gluten-free.”

His dark eyes studied her. “Since when?”

“Give me a break,” she said quietly. “Something’s come up. Please?” “Okay, but see me before you take off. And I mean it.”

 

While the staff clustered around the table, helping themselves to slices of cake and more champagne, she walked down to the ladies’ room on the third floor. She locked herself into a stall and reread the story. Suspended publication. What did that mean?

She found Fred Ward’s name in her list of contacts and tapped his number.

The phone rang once before clicking over to his voice mail.  His deep, sonorous voice oozed from the phone like an amber stream of cane syrup. “This is Fred Ward, managing editor at Intelligentsia. I can’t come to the phone right now cuz I’m fixin’ to put the paper to bed. Leave me a message, and I’ll eventually get back to you.”

“Fred?” She tried not to sound too panicky. “Hey. It’s Conley Hawkins down in Atlanta.” She gave a shaky laugh. “I just saw the craziest item on the Bloomberg wire, saying you guys are shutting down. Call me, okay?”

She disconnected and waited five minutes. She walked slowly up the stairs to her now-stripped cubicle. The space, in the back row of the newsroom, facing a bank of windows looking out on the continually under-construction interstate, had been home for the past four and a half years. Now, though, her stuff—the books, clip files, the stained coffee mug, even the dozens of lanyards with laminated press credentials from events she’d covered over the years . . . in short, the detritus of a career—was all packed in cardboard cartons stacked in the back seat of her Subaru.

This day, the one she’d been anticipating since the thrilling email from Fred Ward—subject line: “When can you start?”—had finally arrived. Sarah Conley Hawkins was ready to leave The AJC and Atlanta in the rearview mirror. The question was, where would she be going?

“Hawkins?”

Roger sat down in Butch’s vacant chair. He frowned, his rubbery face arranged in jowly folds, speckled with the gray of his five-o’clock shadow. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.” She shrugged. “I suck at goodbyes. Guess I’m gonna miss all you assholes after all.”

“Try again.”

She sighed and showed him the text message from her sister.

He looked up, his wire-rimmed bifocals sliding to the end of his nose. “I take it this is the first you’ve heard?”

Conley nodded.

He reread the text message. “This is your sister who runs your family’s newspaper? Back in Florida? I take it the two of you have some issues?”

“We’ve got more issues than The New Yorker,” she said, sighing. “This is Grayson’s way of saying, ‘Nonny nonny boo boo.’”

“And you’ve called that character who hired you away? Fred Ward?” “The call went directly to voice mail.”

He swiveled around and typed his password into Butch’s computer. He found the Web browser, typed in “Intelligentsia,” and a moment later, he was shaking his head.

“According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s a done deal. Their lead investor was some hedge fund genius who decided new media was too risky.” He grimaced. “The publisher pulled the plug last night. Sixty-five people showed up for work in Bethesda this morning and found the place shuttered.”

Conley stared out the window, past the construction cranes and high-rises. Traffic was already backed up on I-285. It was four o’clock. She’d planned to be on the road by now. Headed for D.C.

“Hawkins?” Sistrunk’s hand, surprisingly small and delicate for such a burly, bearlike man, rested gently on her forearm. “I’m sorry.” He pushed the glasses back up his nose. “You know I’d do anything for you. I fought like hell to try to match their offer, but the money’s just not there. You know what our budget’s like.”

She nodded. “And you’ve already hired my replacement.  I know that, Roger.”

“I could make some phone calls. Since you won the Polk Award, your name’s a commodity. Epstein’s at the LA Times now. He’s not a bad guy, and he owes me big-time. Charlene’s kicking ass in Miami, and she always liked you. I bet she could put in a good word.”

“Yeah,” Conley said, pushing herself up from the desk. She grabbed the last cardboard box. “That would be great, thanks.”

They both knew the reality. The world of print journalism was shrinking. Every newspaper in the country was cutting back, laying off reporters, tightening belts. Once-thriving major metro papers were either shutting down or going to digital only. Epstein was lucky to have a job in LA, and Charlene had gone from assistant managing editor at The AJC to beat reporter in Miami with zero say in new hires.

“What are your plans?” Roger asked. “You got a place to land while you figure things out?”

“Oh yeah,” she lied. “My lease isn’t up until the end of the month.”

“Good,” he said, relieved. “That’s good. I’ll walk you out, okay?”

“Not necessary. But could you do me a favor?”

“Anything.”

“Just, uh, keep the Intelligentsia thing to yourself, for now. I mean, people are gonna find out, but I’d just as soon not be the object of pity until I’m actually out of the building.”

“You got it.”

She was standing in front of the elevator when he hurried over. “Hey, uh, I almost forgot. HR sent me a memo reminding me that you’re supposed to turn in your ID badge.”

The lie rolled easily off her tongue. “I don’t have it, Roger. I think I packed it yesterday.”

“How’d you get in the building this morning?”

“Butch and I met for breakfast before work. He badged me in. I’ll mail it back to you. Okay?”

“Whatever.”

It looked as though he was going to hug her. Mercifully, the elevator doors slid open, and she hopped inside, punched the down button, and nodded goodbye.

She’d just merged onto I-85 southbound when her phone rang. She could see the caller ID screen. Butch. He’d keep calling until she answered.

“Sneaky bitch,” he said. “I thought we had a dinner date.”

“Roger found The Wall Street Journal story online. It’s all true. Sorry. I had to get out of there before word started to spread.”

“Where are you now?”

“Headed home.”

“I thought Kevin took over the Seventh Street lease. Isn’t that going to be awkward?”

“Not home to Midtown. Home, home.”

“You mean, like, Lickskillet, Florida?”

“It’s Silver Bay. Sweet Home, Florida.”

“Seriously? Is that really necessary?”

“Afraid so,” she said. “Where else could I go? Tiana’s place is the  size of a shoebox, and anyway, I’m allergic to her cats.”

“I have a perfectly nice sofa, no cats, and premium cable,” he said.

“You also have a brand-new boyfriend,” Conley said.

“So that’s it? You’re disappearing, just like that?”

“Strictly temporary. Roger promised to make some calls for me, and in the meantime, I’ll start sending out my résumé and clips. I’ll be fine, I promise.”

“I guess Florida is better than camping out in a van down by the river,” he said, sounding unconvinced.

“Lots better. I’ll stay with my grandmother. Her house is a God-honest mansion. She’s been begging me to come home for months now.”

“You’d better call me as soon as you get there,” he said. “What’s the name of that town again?”

“Silver Bay.”

He sniffed. “Never heard of it.”

Hello, Summer is another gem by the always wonderful Mary Kay Andrews.” —PopSugar 

Last night, I finished Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews. First, know that I read any word she writes and am a huge lover of her books. Hello, Summer is at a next level of fabulous. Yes it has the family house on the beach (why doesn’t my family have a beach house?) but it morphs into a political thriller all stemming from news reporting. Brilliantly done! Ten stars!—Andrea Peskind Katz, GreatThoughts.com

Andrews can be counted on for beach-worthy depictions of southern women with chutzpah and a talent for finding trouble with humor and romantic interest mixed in. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristy Woodson Harvey shouldn’t miss it.Booklist

Hello, Summer is a terrific read. All the characters from Conley through her feisty G’mama and her housekeeper, to the local gossip and the secretive local radio DJ, are fully fleshed people. The world of modern journalism, small town politics and relationships are brought to vibrant life by Mary Kay Andrews’ deft touch.”Authorlink