“We must. My mother died only recently, and I only just learned that Parker was my father. That’s a lot to take in. I need time to digest all this.”
Marietta appeared resigned. “I suppose it would be a lot for all of you to face. At least immediately.”
“Exactly. I’m still grieving my mother and have to reason why she never told me or sought you out. And . . . I hope you’ll respect that I may, in the end, choose to keep my distance.”
“I can’t promise that I’ll never let your sisters know.”
“I understand. I’m only asking you to wait.” He checked his watch. They seemed to have reached an impasse.
He was about to stand and leave when she turned sharply toward him, her face brightening. “I have an idea!”
He looked at her dubiously. “What’s that?”
“You said you’re a minister? What kind of minister are you?”
She pursed her lips in thought. “I’m an Episcopalian. Dora is, too. But Carson and Harper, the brides, aren’t members of any church as far as I can tell. I’m not sure about Harper. Being from England, she might be Anglican, but in any case I can tell you that neither girl has stepped foot in a church since she’s arrived.” Marietta sniffed, which gave away her opinion of that. “I think we can make this work,” she said with confidence.
“Make what work?” Atticus asked dubiously.
“What if I introduce you to the girls as an old family friend? We’ll have to come up with some history, but that shouldn’t be too hard. And”—her eyes brightened further—“as a friend, I asked you to officiate at the weddings.”
Atticus couldn’t speak for a moment. She looked at him with an expression of innocent delight when what she was asking him to do was to get involved in a lie.
“But it’s not true.”
“It’s not a lie if you actually are the minister at the weddings. You’ll be able to meet the girls and act as their counselor. It will involve talking to the girls, meeting their fiancés, spending time with them.” Marietta straightened her shoulders and said in utmost seriousness, “Reverend Green, I’m asking you to marry my granddaughters. Will you?”
“They’re not members of my church.” Atticus was grasping for an excuse.
“We both know you can get around that for special occasions.”
“I don’t know. . . . It would mean being involved in a lie.”
“Say yes to marrying them. Then it’s not a lie. It’s an omission.”
“Which is also a sin.”
“We are not deceiving them. We are simply withholding certain information. Temporarily.”
Atticus looked at her askance. “That’s the definition of a sin of omission.”
Marietta tossed her hands up in frustration. “Let’s not split hairs, Atticus,” she entreated. “Please don’t be obstinate. You forget how important it is to me to have you be a part of the weddings. You’re my grandson. And I’ve only just met you.”
He felt the emotion in her words and had to admit, he felt them, too.
Her voice quivering, she continued softly, “You see, I will need time to fully comprehend all this, too.” He thought she might cry, but she rallied, forcing a gallant smile. “Oh, but you’re here now.”
Marietta rose, came to his side, and sat beside him. “Dear boy, we must choose a course of action. You started the ball rolling by coming to Sea Breeze and knocking on my door. We cannot turn back from the truth now.” She took his hands. “We must be strong. Together. Either we tell the girls right now who you are and let the chips fall where they may—”
He shook his head. “No.”
“—or I introduce you as the minister who will preside over their weddings and we give all of you time to get to know each other first. Which will it be?”
Atticus released his hands and crossed his arms. This was one strong and determined woman, he thought. She reminded him of his mother. He knew that he could—maybe even should—get up and walk out and never see any of them again. She held no authority over him. And yet . . . remembering the warmth of her welcome, the longing in her eyes, his gut instinct was to go along with her plan, at least for the time being. She was his grandmother. That was the unarguable fact. Plus, he felt an odd alliance with this woman, this stranger who was his father’s mother. Did the ties of blood overcome his objections?
Atticus closed his eyes and prayed for guidance. He didn’t believe in doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Yet this didn’t feel like the wrong thing. Or at least, not a bad thing. In truth, he did want to meet his half sisters. Talk to them, get to know them. But he wasn’t ready to declare himself their brother. By agreeing to be their minister, he could get to know them slowly, give them—and himself—time to form opinions without the shock of their father’s infidelity and a surprise brother popping up. Not right before their weddings. When looking at the situation from this light, the plan felt more like a kindness.
“If I agree,” he said warily, “will you agree to wait until I say I am ready to tell them the truth about being their brother?”
Marietta’s eyes shone with the light of expectant victory. “I agree.”
Atticus stared at Marietta as a wry smile crossed his face. “I’m guessing you win a lot.”
“Me?” she asked innocently. “Why, Atticus, I’m just a li’l old lady.”
Soon everyone will be in wedding mode. Aka hysteria.
Mamaw? Are you here?”
Marietta’s and Atticus’s heads both swung toward the sound of the voice, then toward each other in silent agreement. Atticus felt his insides do a slight flip—he wasn’t sure if he was quite ready to play the role they’d only just created.
A moment later a woman strolled into the room, an enormous black dog at her heels. Atticus was alert and immediately sized up the dog—was it friendly or a guard dog? But he needn’t have worried. On catching sight of him in the living room, the woman immediately turned and gave the dog the order to stay. To his relief, the gargantuan animal dropped to the floor at the entrance—though not without a sorry whine—and put his head in his paws.