Home > The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story

The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story
Author: Elin Hilderbrand

 

Cooper

 


In the summer of 2023, Cooper Blessing is fifty-six years old, and when he gets down on one knee on the sidewalk in front of the Red Star Bar & Grill in Fells Point, he’s momentarily concerned that he’ll need help getting back up. But he’ll worry about that in a minute.

“Stacey,” he says, prying the ring box open. The ring is a 1.75 karat ruby flanked by 1 karat oval diamonds, set in platinum. Cooper bought the ring at Market Street Diamonds, which was where he bought rings for wives numbers one and four, but those had been diamonds-only. The ruby is something new; it’s Stacey’s birthstone. “Will you marry me?”

Stacey Patterson’s eyes widen. The people who are gathered outside the Red Star—couples dining at the café tables, people in line for the bar, an older gentleman out walking his Pomeranian—turn to stare.

Stacey takes the ring box and snaps it shut. “Let’s go to the car,” she says, and she offers Cooper a hand.

 

 

They’re parked in the lot across Wolfe Street; the walk there is like an extended free-fall. Cooper and Stacey have had a wonderful evening. The Red Star has been “their” place for the past eight months: the hostesses, bartenders, and wait staff know them by name. They had drinks and dinner and they danced to the live band, Purple Porpoise, until they were sweaty and breathless, making Cooper feel like he was twenty-two again, a senior at Johns Hopkins out on a date with his Goucher girlfriend.

He’s wise enough to keep his mouth shut until they reach Stacey’s car, a sleek silver Audi A4. Stacey appreciates fine automobiles, one of the many things Cooper loves about her.

When they climb in, Stacey cranks the air-conditioning, which is a relief. The Baltimore night is hot, sticky, foul. “I’m not going to marry you, Cooper.”

“You’re not?” he says. He closes his eyes and tries to let the cool air soothe him. How did he misread this? At the risk of sounding sappy, he thought this would be his storybook ending.

Cooper first saw Stacey Patterson thirty-seven years earlier at a party in the basement of the Phi Gamma Delta house. It was early September, the first week of school. Cooper had the robust confidence of a sophomore and he was finally in a position to chat up the freshman women from Goucher (they had all ignored him the year before). He picked Stacey like he was cutting the prettiest bloom off a rosebush. Stacey had long, dark hair and she was wearing a yellow sundress. The other women in her cluster were in jean shorts, one in short overalls, reminding Cooper of his younger sister, Mallory, who intentionally “dressed to distress.” Cooper’s parents, Senior and Kitty, were formal people who believed in good grooming and first impressions. As enthusiastically as Mallory rejected these values, Cooper embraced them. He admired not only Stacey’s dress but her pearl earrings, her sandals, her French manicure. She was put together. Cooper walked right up to Stacey and offered his hand and a smile, thinking how delighted Kitty would be when Cooper brought this young woman home.

Cooper and Stacey had dated for three years, until Cooper graduated from Hopkins, moved to Washington, where he’d scored a prestigious job with the Brookings Institution, and decided that he had outgrown his college girlfriend. Stacey wasn’t quite as upset as Cooper thought she might be. Because she’d been dating Cooper since her freshman year, she hadn’t had the “full college experience,” she told him. The break-up would be good for them both, she said—what she meant, it turned out, was that she wanted to date other people, starting with the captain of the Hopkins lacrosse team.

Okay, fine, Cooper thought. Good for Stacey. He could meet women at any one of the trillion bars in Georgetown. The problem was that Cooper was back to being a freshman—a freshman at adult life—and the women that Cooper met at Clyde’s and the Tombs were clerking for this judge, interning for that senator, researching those initiatives at the NIH, and they intimidated him. More often than Cooper would have guessed, when he got home from the bars at night, he called Stacey.

Sometimes she answered, sometimes she didn’t.

Cooper and Stacey got back together, briefly, ten years later when Cooper was home in Baltimore for Christmas and Stacey, still single, was working as VP of marketing at the Baltimore Aquarium. That interlude fell between Cooper’s first and second marriages and although Stacey had been eager to get more serious, Cooper was hesitant (though why, he can’t recall) and he’d stopped calling.

Stacey, meanwhile, married one of the marine biologists at the aquarium and had two children—first a daughter, Amanda, and five years later, a son, Alec. Stacey and her family lived in Ellicott City, the kids went to parochial school, and husband and wife presumably commuted to work together. Cooper received a Christmas card every year, the tasteful kind with carefully curated photos—skiing in the Poconos, on the beach in Rehoboth—and he thought, Okay, fine. Good for Stacey.

This past Christmas, however, the card included only pictures of Stacey and the kids; the husband, Lars, wasn’t mentioned. A quick check of Facebook confirmed that Stacey was, once again, single.

At that point, Cooper had been divorced from Amy for nearly three years. He couldn’t call Stacey fast enough—and they had been together ever since. Nearly eight months.

They were happy, he thought. They joked all the time about how their relationship was the “best use of Facebook.” No one would ever forget your birthday again, but that didn’t hold a candle to reuniting with your old flame.

“You’ve been married five times,” Stacey says now. “And divorced five times. I love you, but you’re a bad bet, and although I have some unflattering qualities, stupidity isn’t one of them. The quickest way to put an end to this relationship is to get married.”

Coop opens the ring box. The ruby is the color of a bleeding heart.

“But I like being married,” Coop says.

“You don’t, though,” Stacey says. “You’ve failed at it. Five times, Coop. That isn’t normal.”

“Maybe the sixth time is the charm,” Cooper says. He’s trying for levity. Stacey has a great sense of humor, she’s fun, she’s smart and secure, she gets it—”it” being the world, life—in a way that none of his wives did, and Cooper wants to grow old with her. They can take Viking River Cruises, drive an RV across America, watch Jeopardy!, learn to play bridge.

Stacey starts the car. “There’s something wrong with you, Coop. And I was mistaken before. The quickest way to put an end to this relationship is to propose on the sidewalk like that.”

“That was impulsive, I’m sorry,” Coop says. “What if I start over privately, here and now. Please, Stacey, will you marry me?”

“No,” she says, as she feeds their parking stub into the greedy mouth of the machine at the exit. The barrier rises. “I’m sorry, but no.”

 

 

There’s something wrong with you, Coop. Stacey Patterson had the courage to state what no one else would. All his life, people have been telling Cooper he’s an “old soul.” He’s been here before, he was born with an…ease. An…understanding. Who was the first person to tell him this? His mother? A teacher? Geri Gladstone from across the street? Well, whoever it was did Cooper a great disservice. He’d always trusted his instincts—even after they turned out to be wrong again and again and again. (And again and again.)

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