“But if we find out we have problems? What then? We simply break up?”
“No, not break up. Perhaps postpone the marriage? Give yourselves more time.”
“That’s what I’d suggested.”
“Carson, you say you’re worried about quitting your film job. Are you more worried about losing that particular job, or about not finding another? There’s a difference.”
Carson took a deep breath, and he could see she was seriously considering what he’d asked.
“That’s hitting the nail on the head,” Carson answered with finality. “I’m worried that I won’t find a job that’s as rewarding. That gives me validation.” She looked down at her hands, and her long dark hair fell over her face like a veil shielding her expression. Her voice emerged from behind, shaky and soft. “I know I come across as strong, but I’m not. I have a soft underbelly. The thought of floundering without a job, without a sense of purpose or of who I am and what I want out of life leaves me feeling lost and frightened. That leads to feeling angry and frustrated. And that leads to . . .”
She paused and blew out a plume of air, one that indicated a long story that she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell. She tucked her hair behind her ears and turned to look at him. “This is between us, right? Is this like a confessional? With a priest?”
Atticus chuckled and shrugged. “I suppose. But I don’t want to hear your sins.”
She laughed. “Thank God. We’d be here all night.”
Atticus liked her all the more for her openness. He’d always found that someone with a good sense of humor had a sharp brain as well.
“I’m afraid I’ll start drinking.”
Atticus snapped to attention. “What do you mean?”
“There’s a family curse. And I don’t mean the one that was placed on the head of our ancestor the pirate. Though, who knows, the disease may have its roots there. I’m an alcoholic. And so was my father.”
Atticus went very still. The news that Parker—Carson’s father . . . his father—carried the genes for alcoholism was not so much a shock as a brain-searing epiphany. There it was. The answer to the question that had dogged him since he tasted his first liquor.
Atticus closed his eyes tight and took a deep breath. He was an alcoholic. For so long he didn’t know why he’d had the disease. Neither his father nor his mother were alcoholics. Nor their parents. Genetics accounted for only about 50 percent of alcoholism; the other 50 percent was due to environmental factors or poor coping mechanisms. But he’d grown up in a strong home with lots of support. So he’d wondered, Why me? Now he knew. The taste of the revelation was bitter in his mouth. This was his gift from his biological father. Thanks, Dad.
He blinked and brought his attention back to Carson, who sat across from him studying his face, concerned.
“Sorry.” He brought himself back to the moment.
“I lost you for a minute.”
“Yeah.” He rubbed his eyes and then, dropping his guard, said, “I feel it’s only fair to be honest with you, too. I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
Carson stared back at him, then asked quietly, “How long have you been sober?”
“I haven’t had a drink in eight years.”
“Being a Baptist helps. We don’t drink.” Atticus cracked a grin. “Maybe you should consider converting? I can help you out with that.”
She smiled. “Maybe, but AA is working for me now. I’m going on eight months.”
He nodded, acknowledging it. “Does Blake support you?”
“One hundred percent.”
Atticus rested his hands on the steering wheel and looked out the windshield as he spoke. “So, let me see if I’ve got this right. You’re a recovering alcoholic with a fiancé who is supportive. But you’re afraid that if you quit working, you’ll lose your identity and fall apart, which, for you, would mean falling off the wagon and starting drinking.” He turned to face her. “Does that sound about right?”
She pulled her long dark hair up with both hands onto the top of her head in a loose pile, then, with a groan, she let her hair drop and faced him. “Yep. That sums it up,” she said flippantly. “You’re good at your job, you know that?”
He recognized that she was covering up her soft underbelly with humor. He respected her confidence too much to play along. He said seriously, “And you’re afraid because . . .”
Her face shifted and after a moment she said, “Because Blake deserves better than that. Come on, we both know this is a lifelong struggle. I see the life that we could have together if I stay sober, and it’s glorious. I get all rosy eyed about our future. But I know there’s a chance I’ll slip. A good chance. If I’m on the road, then I’m only hurting me. If I stay here and fall apart, I hurt Blake, too. And God help me, children down the line.” Her eyes were red around the edges and she looked away, as though trying to hide them.
He reached out to gently touch her shoulder. “And yet—as an alcoholic—you have to accept that a certain loss of control over drinking is inevitable. Carson, it’s simply not reasonable to believe that you can completely control your drinking. No matter where you are. And when a failure does occur, you can’t make that a measure of your self-worth.”
Carson asked with pain in her eyes, “Why make him go through that?”
“That’s for Blake to decide. You have to focus on yourself now. What will keep you strong and healthy, in mind and soul? What will help you stay sober? You can start by establishing a bottom line. That’s not a threat, mind you, but a position that supports and protects your self-esteem. A bottom-line position defines what you can accept and still feel good about the relationship, the other person . . . and most of all, yourself.”
“I don’t have a lot of time to figure that out.”
“You have all the time you need.”
Carson looked at Atticus’s business card in her hand. “I can call you?”
She looked at him. “And Blake?”
“Of course. We should talk about this again. Later, when we’re all together.”
She looked so anxious that he made himself smile. “You’ll be fine.” Looking up, he saw Harper standing on the front porch, looking out at them. “And you’d better go. Harper’s looking for you and she doesn’t look pleased.”