Home > The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story(9)

The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story(9)
Author: Elin Hilderbrand

“My favorite was Valentina,” Fray says. “She was a sweet woman.”

“Sweet,” Coop says. “But using me to escape an arranged marriage.”

“Did she go back to Ecuador?” Jake asks.

“Oh, yes,” Cooper says. “I’m not sure if she ended up with Pablo. That was the guy her parents wanted her to marry. I haven’t heard from her in nearly twenty-five years.” He stabs a piece of steak with his fork. “It seems surreal that I could have stood at the altar at Roland Park Presbyterian and taken a lifelong vow to stay with someone and then that person and I split a few months later and I never see or hear from her again.”

Leland digs into her twice-baked potato. “I hate to say this but I can’t even remember who wife number four was. Did I meet her?”

“Tamela,” Coop says. “Poli sci professor at Georgetown. She had three teenagers that took up a lot of her time and energy. One was gender transitioning. Her first husband was killed in a highway crash, the kids were devastated, and they resented me. We eloped in Antigua. That was romantic, but then it was back to reality, and reality was challenging.”

“How long did that one last?” Jake asks. He can’t remember much about Tamela either. He does remember Coop eloping, because Ursula had been relieved to be spared another wedding, and Jake had felt robbed of a chance to see Mallory.

“Two and a half years,” Cooper says. “The irony is that I’m still in touch with the kids. They love me now.”

“Amy was nice,” Jake says. He met Amy at a Johns Hopkins alumni event in DC. She had kind brown eyes and a way of tilting her head to let you know she was really listening to you.

“That was the problem,” Coop says. “Amy was nice, sweet, accommodating, eager to please. There was no mystery, no intrigue, no edge.”

“And that’s what you’re attracted to?” Leland asks. “You fall in love with the edge? The crazy parts, the dangerous parts?”

“I’m not sure,” Coop says, draining his wine. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Coop,” Leland says. “I mean, this group isn’t exactly filled with spokespeople for successful relationships.”

Jake frowns at his plate. It’s true that he and Ursula are divorced—but that they stayed married for so long feels like a success. However, he would say his most successful relationship was the one he had with Mallory. He’s probably deluding himself.

“I notice nobody chose Krystel as his or her favorite,” Fray says.

Coop groans. “Krystel.” He whistles. “In some sense, Krystel is the reason we’re all here. Thirty years ago, when we did this the first time, Krystel called and demanded I come home.”

Oh yes, Jake remembers it well. He’s always wanted to send Krystel a thank-you card. It was because of Krystel that he and Mallory got together.

Cooper says, “I wonder how life would have been different if I’d just ignored Krystel when she called. What if I stayed and went to the Chicken Box like I was supposed to? Maybe she would have called off the wedding, and maybe without making that first mistake, I could have avoided the others as well.” Coop leans in toward the candlelight; his face, now weathered with age and experience, glows a pinkish-orange. “If I’d stayed on the island on this night thirty years ago, so much would have been different.”

Jake nods slowly. He can’t bear to imagine things unfolding any differently than they had. “It’s probably safe to assume things worked out the way they were supposed to.”

“Amen,” Fray says.

“Well, I’m not sure about you guys,” Coop says, standing up and tossing his napkin on his plate, “but I’m not missing out on the Chicken Box tonight.”

 

 

The Chicken Box looks exactly the same: the concrete floor is sticky with beer and there’s a crush of people at the bar. The only difference between now and the first time Jake set foot in the place in 1993 is that now, every single person is holding a cell phone. The band is on stage singing “Just the Two of Us,” by Grover Washington, Jr., a song so old it’s new again, apparently, and up front there’s a group of people dancing and taking videos of themselves dancing.

Leland and Fray opted to stay home, so it’s just Jake and Coop on this nostalgic adventure. They’re by far the oldest people here. They are gray-haired geezers, and Jake trains himself to keep his eyes off the scantily clad girls his daughter’s age.

“I’m going up front to dance,” Coop says.

“Have fun,” Jake says. “I’ll be at the bar.” He chooses the less populated side, over by the pool tables, where there’s a bit of breathing room. It takes so long for the bartender to notice him that when she finally does, Jake orders four Coronas, two for him and two for Coop. Cooper, however, is nowhere to be seen and Jake doesn’t want to try moving four beers through this crowd, so he stays put and starts drinking.

A female voice says, “I’ll give you twenty bucks for one of those.”

Jake turns. There’s a woman in a white T-shirt and cut-off jean shorts with a long blond braid standing next to him. She’s in her forties somewhere, maybe even her late forties, though he’d be too afraid to hazard a guess.

“Have one,” he says. “Please, my treat.”

“You’re my hero,” she says. She takes one of the cold bottles and rolls it across her forehead. “It’s my girlfriend’s birthday and she dragged me here. It’s fun to dance but it’s hard to not feel completely geriatric.”

“Tell me about it,” he says. He offers his hand. “I’m Jake.”

She has a nice, firm shake. “Brooke Schuster,” she says. “You look familiar to me for some reason. Have we met before?”

Jake stares at the lime wedge choking the neck of his bottle. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure?” she says. “Because I swear…”

“I’m Jake McCloud,” he says, and when that doesn’t clear up the confusion on her face, he adds, “My ex-wife, Ursula de Gournsey—”

Brooke snaps her fingers. “Yes! That’s where I know you from.” She takes a sip of her beer. “Well, if it makes a difference, I voted for her and I was sorry to see her lose.”

“Everything in life works out as it should,” Jake says.

“Spoken like a man who wants to change the subject,” Brooke says. “And I can’t blame you. What are you doing here at the Box?”

“Ah,” Jake says. “Reliving the past with a buddy of mine from college.” He takes another quick look at Brooke. She’s pretty, he decides, and the cut-off shorts are giving him strong Mallory vibes. He checks her left hand—she’s wearing a lot of silver but nothing that looks like an engagement ring or wedding band. So here it is, finally—an opportunity to have a conversation with a grown woman in real life. He can practically hear Bess urging him along: Come on, Dad, you have to get back out there! But dating, or even chatting up someone, feels like so much effort—getting to know someone from scratch, starting all over with personal histories, figuring out what makes someone else tick—he’s not sure he’s up for it.

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