Ragina Cooper spent the past eight years building a resume in the Baltimore City Police Department: four years on patrol in the Northeastern District. A year on the domestic violence squad. Three years as a department spokeswoman.
When she was named director of the department's public affairs division recently, it was one of the proudest moments of her life. But she didn't attend the ceremony where her promotion was announced.
Instead, she was on a plane to Hawaii for another of life's momentous events: her wedding.
With ocean waves lapping in the background and the scent of exotic flowers in the air, Ragina and fellow city police officer Louis Averella Jr. married May 26 on Diamond Head Beach just outside Honolulu.
A year or so ago, Ragina would have said that getting a promotion was more likely than getting married. Not that Louis isn't a great guy or that the couple wasn't deeply in love.
But one thing everyone knew about the 36-year-old Louis -- and he was the first to admit it -- was that he wasn't the marrying kind.
Although he had been in serious relationships in the past, before he met Ragina, Louis had always put his work above everything else.
Ragina and Louis met in 1991 at the Baltimore City Police Department's Northeastern District station.
Louis was a patrol officer who had been assigned to the station since he joined the city force in 1986. Growing up in Highlandtown, he went from Patterson High School to the U.S. Army. He served as a military policeman before being honorably discharged and returning to Baltimore.
Ragina, fresh out of Towson University and the police academy, was a policewoman in training. She'd come to her law-enforcement career in a roundabout way, after she had married and had a son, and without the initial support of family and friends from the Elkton and Joppatowne neighborhoods where she spent her youth.
They all had a tough time picturing pretty Ragina fighting crime on the city streets.
In 1994, Ragina and Louis were assigned to the same squad. In November 1995, after Ragina had been separated from her husband for more than three years, she and Louis decided to go out on a date.
Ragina "was a lot sweeter than I originally thought," says Louis. "All I really saw of her or knew of her [before that] was in the course of the job."
Ragina and Louis' social life usually did not revolve around their work. Instead, they often took trips to the Maryland Science Center and nearby amusement parks -- family affairs that pleased Ragina's son Donald and Louis' son Zachary.
As happy as they all were, there was still that problem with commitment.
Louis says his reluctance had nothing to do with Ragina. And though she was leery about a man who loved her but refused to marry, Ragina says she knew she could trust Louis after he told her, "I don't know what the future holds for us. Only the Lord knows what the future will bring. But I can tell you this: You'll never be sorry."
So she let the matter of marriage drop.
But Louis' words had struck a chord in his own heart. And on Dec. 7 last year, he found himself in the kitchen of their home presenting Ragina with a cake for her 35th birthday. There in frosting was the question he never thought he'd ask:
"Will you grow old with me?"