Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Jake is through security at the Phoenix airport the next day when his boss, Starr Andrews, calls. Starr is seventy years old; she has been heading up the CFRF since its inception and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. She’s the best boss Jake could ask for, primarily because she gives him autonomy and lets him do his thing.
“I heard you talked about Jessica last night,” she says.
“I did,” Jake says. Another person Jake told about Jessica was Starr Andrews—at his initial interview, when he explained why he wanted the job. He’d also told Starr he would prefer to keep his personal history with the disease private. He wonders if Starr is calling to remind him of this.
“I’m proud of you,” Starr says. “You stepped out of your comfort zone. You opened up to strangers about something very personal. And you made a
of a lot of money. So here’s my question: Would you be willing to do it again?”
Jake speaks in Cleveland and Raleigh in May. He speaks in Minneapolis and Omaha in June. He speaks in La Jolla, Jackson Hole, and Easthampton in July.
Event-based donations to CFRF are up more than 30 percent.
Does Jake brag about this to Ursula? Yes, a little bit. She’s the superstar of the couple, no one is disputing that. But Jake has come a long way from watching Montel Williams in his boxer shorts.
Before Congress adjourns for the summer, Ursula and Vincent Stengel get their welfare-reform bill passed in the House
in the Senate, a tremendous coup. The bill is a brilliant one. It manages to empower single working mothers while also saving the government a hundred and sixty million dollars.
Ursula is riding high. She and Jake rent a house on Lake Michigan, and Ursula relaxes a little. They grill on the sand; they take Bess on the dune buggies and to the water park; they attend the blueberry festival in South Haven and eat ice cream at Sherman’s.
In the middle of August, Ursula gets a phone call from Vincent Stengel. He invites her and Jake to Newport over Labor Day weekend. There’s a potential donor, a
donor, who would write checks not only to Vincent but to Ursula as well. This guy—Bayer Burkhart is his name—liked what he saw with the welfare-reform bill. He sees potential for an emerging centrist position, a perfect cocktail of the Left and the Right that he wants to foster. He wants to have a conversation, or a series of conversations, over the course of the long weekend. And in addition to all this, he has a 110-foot yacht with three staterooms, a pool, a gym, and a movie theater.
“This could be big for me,” Ursula says. “Plus it seems like fun, right? A long weekend away? You like New England.”
Jake knows he should only be surprised this hasn’t happened earlier. “Sounds great,” he says, thinking,
Keep it light! Keep it light!
“But Labor Day weekend doesn’t work for me.”
“Tell the CFRF to find someone else to speak, Jake, please,” Ursula says. She gives him an imploring look. “I know you’re good at it and I’m proud of you. But take a pass this once, for me?”
She thinks his conflict is work. He has been going to Nantucket every year for thirteen years and Ursula never remembers. Jake knows he should be grateful it’s not on her emotional calendar. Could he get away with telling Ursula that it
a work thing? No—he’ll be caught. “It’s not work,” he says. “It’s my trip to Nantucket.”
“Nantucket?” Ursula says. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You can skip Nantucket, Jake, come on.”
“Sorry, darling,” Jake says. “Any other weekend works, just not that one.”
“We were the ones who were
Jake,” Ursula says. “With Vince, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I would eventually like to earn a seat. This guy Burkhart has
. I need to cultivate him.”
“No one is stopping you from cultivating him,” Jake says. “But I can’t go.”
“You’re being unreasonable,” Ursula says. “Why don’t you ask
to switch weekends?”
“I don’t want to ask Coop,” Jake says. “I want to go to Nantucket like I always do.”
“What if I call Coop?” Ursula says.
Jake takes a breath. Is she bluffing? “Go ahead,” Jake says. “Please be the one to explain that your political career takes precedence over a tradition that I’ve maintained for thirteen years. You show Coop just how compromise in a marriage works.”
“You going to Nantucket a different weekend
a compromise,” Ursula says. “What you’re offering is…nothing.”
“I’m sorry, Ursula,” Jake says. They lock eyes and he feels certain the truth is there, written on his face: there’s another woman.
“I hope you’re happy with yourself,” Ursula says. “Robbing me of this opportunity. Robbing me of the money that could launch me to certain victory.”
“It might be better if you went alone,” Jake says. “Maybe this Bayer Burkhart is single with a penchant for powerful women.”
“He’s happily married,” Ursula says. “To a woman named Dee Dee, whose father was the political mastermind behind Buddy…” Jake tunes her out. He doesn’t care how rich and connected these people are. “Anyway,” she finishes, “I won’t go alone.”
But you will,
And she does.
What are we talking about in 2007? The iPhone; Nancy Pelosi; Halo 3; Oprah’s school for girls in South Africa; Barry Bonds;
Paris Hilton; the Burj Dubai, Lindsay Lohan; Whoopi on
Gordon Brown; Virginia Tech; McLovin; acai bowls; Anna Nicole Smith; Don Imus; Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf; “If you ain’t got no money, take yo’ broke ass home.”
ooper is getting married again and this time, he’s doing it right. Tish—Letitia Morgan—comes from an old Philadelphia family. She grew up in Radnor on the Main Line, went to Agnes Irwin and then Vassar, where she majored in art history, and now serves as the director of the Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle. Cooper noticed Tish at the Metro stop—once, then twice. He decided that if their paths crossed again he would ask her out. He had to wait a long time, so long that he feared she’d taken a different job or maybe left DC altogether. But then, one Friday morning, there she was. She was carrying an armful of cut flowers wrapped in brown paper in addition to her leather bucket purse and a tray of something that appeared to be artichoke bruschetta. As she ascended the escalator at the Dupont Circle stop with Cooper in hot pursuit, something shifted in her balance, and when she stepped off the escalator, her purse overturned and everything in it dumped to the ground.
This was bad news for Tish (the station floor was filthy) but good news for Cooper, who was able to come to her rescue and help pick up everything—her wallet, her cell phone, pens, loose change, a packet of tissues, a trial-size bottle of skin lotion, a cherry ChapStick, her checkbook, a few loose shopping lists and receipts, and a flat disk that Cooper held in his hands probably a second or two longer than he should have because he was trying to figure out what it was.
“My birth control pills,” she said. “Thank you.” And, as Tish said later, Cooper looked so mortified that she had burst out laughing.
They’d been inseparable ever since.
The ceremony is held at St. David’s in Wayne, Pennsylvania, with a reception following at the General Warren Inne in Malvern. It’s Cooper’s third big wedding. He wanted something more intimate, but this is Tish’s first go-round and her parents are paying, so they have groomsmen and bridesmaids, a twelve-piece orchestra, Jordan almonds. There are one hundred and thirty people in attendance but only two dozen or so from Cooper’s side—his parents and sister, obviously, and Fray and his longtime girlfriend, Anna, and Jake and Ursula (who is running for senator, so Cooper figured Jake would come alone, but no, Ursula is here), plus a selection of people from Brookings including Brian Novak, who is now divorced and has asked Coop no fewer than three times if Mallory is still single.
Yes, Cooper said. He’s not sure Brian is good enough for Mallory. She deserves a prince, someone like Tish’s family friend Fred, though Fred lives in San Francisco and is therefore geographically undesirable.
Cooper’s favorite part of his previous two weddings was the cocktail hour that falls after pictures (which he suffers through) and before the whole rigmarole of dinner. His third is no exception. He has a cold gin and tonic and the guests are in the garden behind the inn, which is lush with flowers and shaded from the early August sun by stately two-hundred-year-old oaks. A server comes by with flaky triangles of spanakopita and lemony crab salad on cucumber coins, and Cooper wishes he could just stay in this moment forever instead of dealing with the tricky business of being
Cooper and Tish are talking to Ursula de Gournsey, and Cooper can tell Tish is a bit starstruck; Tish can’t believe Coop
UDG and that the superstar congresswoman is
attending their wedding!
Tish is telling Ursula about their honeymoon to the Italian Riviera—Capri, Sorrento, Positano—which, like the wedding, is being paid for by Tish’s parents. She and Cooper are leaving in a few weeks.
“At the end of August?” Ursula turns to Coop. “So does that mean you’re canceling on Jake this year?”
“Canceling…what?” Tish says. She smiles at Coop, waiting for an explanation.
Coop has no idea what Ursula is talking about. He and Jake do meet for the occasional beer at the Tombs, but only when Jake is in Washington. They have also subbed on each other’s company softball teams, though that was long ago.
“Coop and Jake go to Nantucket every Labor Day weekend,” Ursula says. “It’s guys only, which is something you’ll come to appreciate after a while. Jake is always the nicest right after he gets back from the island. And you two have been doing it for…what? Thirteen, fourteen years?”
Cooper has enough experience with relationships to just smile and nod.
“Huh!” Tish says. “I didn’t know anything about this!”
Nantucket every Labor Day weekend for thirteen or fourteen
Exit—he needs an exit!
Cooper chuckles. “We’ll talk about it later,” he tells his new wife. “Let’s get one more cocktail before we’re seated.”
Nantucket every Labor Day weekend for thirteen or fourteen years? Meaning since…1993? Yes, that was the first time they went to Nantucket, for his bachelor-party weekend, right after Mallory inherited the house. That was the year he married Krystel. Krystel, ugh—Cooper can’t think about it, and he shouldn’t think about it. Krystel was two wives and five serious girlfriends ago.
That first year, he’d left the same day he arrived, and then they’d returned the following year—was that on Labor Day weekend?—but other than that, Cooper had been to Nantucket only for his nephew’s first birthday. He feels guilty about not visiting more often but he’s been busy.
Why would Ursula think that Cooper and Jake have been going to Nantucket every Labor Day weekend for the past however many years? Obviously, that’s what Jake has told her. Is Jake up to something? Has he fabricated a long-running lie to his wife, the person whom some people hail as “the smartest woman in America”?
There must be another explanation, but Cooper won’t worry about it right now. It’s time to sit down to the Caesar salad. The General Warren Inne is famous for it, Tish says.
Cooper has all but forgotten the conversation with Ursula but the newly minted Letitia Morgan Blessing has not. She brings it up over the tenderloin with Bordelaise and sweet-corn risotto.
“You’re going to Nantucket over Labor Day weekend with Jake McCloud?” she says. “This is a thing you do? You might have thought to mention it. You do realize that’s only a couple days after we get back from Italy.” (Tish doesn’t want to quarrel during her wedding but Cooper has insisted on both of them being completely transparent in this relationship because he was so badly burned by his previous two wives—the first wife was a crack addict; the second was escaping an arranged marriage down in Uruguay. Tish can’t believe she is only now hearing about some bromance trip that Cooper takes every year. It’s weird, though, because Tish knows that Coop didn’t go to Nantucket last Labor Day weekend; they had spent that weekend in Bay Head, New Jersey, with her family. So what’s going on?)
“I don’t go to Nantucket with Jake every year,” Coop says. “I mean, I
but not in over a decade. I think Ursula is just mixed up.”
Tish thinks. Ursula de Gournsey doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who gets mixed up.)
Coop starts watching Jake. He’s sitting at table 4 with Ursula and Tish’s family friend Fred-from-San-Francisco and some friends of Tish’s from Vassar. Ursula is on her phone, texting, it looks like, which is vaguely insulting—but then again, she is running for the U.S. Senate, so she probably has urgent business, even on a Saturday evening in August. Jake rises from the table and heads to the bar where…Mallory is ordering a drink. The two of them talk; it looks like an intense conversation. Is it intense, or is Cooper just projecting? Jake and Mallory know each other; they’ve known each other since that first summer and knew
each other while Coop and Jake were in college. They’re friendly—so what?
Mallory gets her wine. She heads back to table 2, where Brian Novak is waiting with his arm draped over the back of her chair.
Cooper watches Jake’s eyes follow Mallory back to the table. Even once she’s sitting down, his gaze lingers. Cooper thinks:
Mallory and Jake?
Coop has a vision of the two of them slow-dancing at PJ’s however many years ago. That had been…a little strange, even unsettling, but the dance had ended and they’d returned to the table.
Every Labor Day weekend on Nantucket for the past thirteen years.
The next time Jake gets up—he’s heading toward the men’s room—Cooper follows him.
“Be quick,” Tish says. “It’s almost time for the toasts.”
Tish is very excited for the toasts—because who doesn’t like hearing other people say nice things about them?—though Cooper dreads the inevitable “Third time’s the charm” joke.
“Nature calls,” he says. As he follows Jake to the men’s room, Cooper realizes that Jake and Mallory would have been left on Nantucket
that first year because Fray had some crazy accident and Leland bailed, as Leland does. At the time he thought nothing of it. Then the second year, Cooper met Alison the flight attendant and ended up spending the entire weekend in her room at the Nantucket Inn, again leaving Jake and Mallory alone. He didn’t wonder about that then because…well, because he was in his twenties and woefully self-absorbed.
Has Jake returned to Nantucket every year to…see
with her? That must be wrong. Jake has always been with Ursula. They have a child. Furthermore, Mallory has a child, Link, whose father is Fray.
development was bizarre enough. There is nothing going on with Jake and Mallory. Coop should go back and sit down. He should check that Fray’s best-man toast doesn’t make any references to Coop’s previous marriages.
But instead, Coop pushes into the men’s room.
Jake is at the sink, hands on either side of it, staring into the mirror. He looks…agitated.
“You okay, man?” Coop asks.
Jake straightens. “Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s just…a lot.”
“What’s a lot?” Cooper asks.
“My life,” Jake says. “I don’t expect you to understand and I’m not going to bore you with the particulars.”
“Speaking of particulars—” Cooper stops himself. He can’t ask Jake about it. But then again, he can’t
ask. “Does Mallory let you use her cottage on Labor Day weekend? Do you go every summer? Labor Day weekend?”
tell you that?” Jake asks.
“No,” Cooper says. “Ursula said something. You want to tell me what’s going on?”
He and Jake stare at each other. Cooper finds he’s shaking. Jake is Cooper’s
and has been ever since Cooper picked him as a big brother in the fraternity so long ago. And Jake’s relationship with Ursula has been a paragon for Cooper; it’s what he’s been looking for all these years and what he has finally found with Tish. He doesn’t want to hear that it’s fatally flawed.
“No,” Jake says. “I’m sorry, I don’t.”
Later, after the first dances and all the garter and bouquet nonsense—Mallory doesn’t catch the bouquet and Coop overhears Kitty scolding Mallory for not even trying—Cooper corners his sister at the bar. The band is playing “Rock Lobster,” and Tish and her bridesmaids are going nuts on the dance floor, so Coop has a minute.
“I want to bring Tish to Nantucket,” he says.
“You should,” Mallory says.
“What about Labor Day weekend?”
“Won’t you be in Italy?” she asks.
“We get back the twenty-eighth.”
“Don’t you have a job?” Mallory asks. Her voice is light. “You’re going on a two-week honeymoon, then you’re going to turn right around and come to Nantucket for the long weekend?”
Cooper shrugs. “Why not?”
have a job?” Mallory asks.
“Just answer the question, Mal,” Cooper says. “Can Tish and I come up to Nantucket for Labor Day weekend?”
Mallory takes a sip of her wine. Does she look guilty? Is she a homewrecker? A longtime serial homewrecker?
“Labor Day isn’t great for me,” she says.
“Really? How come?”
“Bunch of reasons,” she says. “I like to prep for my first week of school. And Link comes back from Fray’s on that Monday, so over the weekend I clean his room, wash his sheets, sort through his toys, that kind of thing. Any other weekend would work, though.”
“Sort through his
” Cooper says. “
the excuse you’re handing me?”
Mallory bumps him with her shoulder. “Wait until you have kids,” she says. “Hey, best wedding so far.”
A week before Thanksgiving Jake calls Cooper and asks if he wants to meet for a beer at the Tombs. Cooper wants to meet Jake very badly—because his marriage to Tish is over. The third time was
the charm; the third time was shorter than even the ill-fated first and second times. Cooper overheard Tish on the phone with her “family friend” Fred, who is
a family friend, it turns out, but an old boyfriend, and actually, not even an
boyfriend—when Cooper checked Tish’s cell phone, he found sixty-eight calls between the two over a ten-day span. Tish cried and begged for forgiveness when he confronted her. It was only an “emotional affair,” she said. She’d never slept with Fred. Well, okay, she’d slept with Fred once, but it wasn’t memorable. Actually, a handful of times. She had slept with Fred a bunch of times, but she wasn’t in love with him. She was in love with him but he lived in San Francisco. She was moving to San Francisco; she had accepted a position at the de Young Museum.
Yes, Cooper wants to have a beer with his old friend Jake McCloud, but Cooper has a nagging suspicion that Jake and Mallory have some kind of arrangement, and, sorry, Cooper won’t collude. He isn’t able to cut Mallory out of his life, she’s his
but he can put his friendship with Jake on ice.
“Sorry, man,” Cooper says. “I’m all jammed up.”