Carson swung her head to see Harper waving at her from the porch. She returned a quick wave, then turned back to Atticus. “Do you know what’s worse than a bridezilla?”
Atticus shook his head.
“A southern bridezilla.” She pushed open the door and climbed from the truck. On the ground, she stopped to look at him, her head tilted in thought. “I’m glad you’re marrying us. I feel so comfortable with you, like I could tell you anything. That’s rare, trust me.” She smiled again. “We must have been great friends in a former life. Bye, Atticus.”
He watched her leave the truck and mount the stairs easily. Once on the porch, she turned to offer a final quick wave, then disappeared behind the closing door of Sea Breeze.
“Jesus take the wheel.”
Atticus said the words of the country song like a prayer. He said it in times like this when he didn’t know what his next step should be. Where he should go. Atticus believed that when he prayed, he was heard. It was a child’s faith, one he held close when he was a boy in Atlanta, out in the Georgia woods, lost in the streets of the city, or tucked safe in his bed before falling asleep. He’d believed in a God that watched over him. Guardian angels. Good and evil.
When he was a teenager, however, he was too cool to believe in the fables of childhood. When he was a young buck, he relegated God to the backseat while he took the wheel of his destiny. Or so he’d thought.
Atticus crossed the northern tip of Sullivan’s Island and pulled off in a small parking area beside a bridge that led to another island. Isle of Palms, he thought. He didn’t know . . . didn’t care. He just had to stop the truck.
He parked the car in the lot slick with rain and staggered from the truck, taking deep gulps of the crisp air gusting from the sea. He walked to the edge of the lot to a small green space. Below, the dark, murky, turbulent water seemed to have no direction, swirling and whipping up whitecaps that crashed against the shoreline. Across the inlet, colorful houses sat back on the beach, one more large and beautiful than the next. The inlet opened up to the Atlantic Ocean. The breadth of it, gray and infinite, stretched out ahead of him.
“Lord, what do you want me to do?” he asked in abject humility. “Give me a sign. Something.”
Atticus lowered his head. He’d come here thinking he was in control of the situation. Such conceit. He should abide by his own advice that he’d given Carson. By the time he’d arrived at Sea Breeze he had his plans in place. Then, in the space of a moment, an old woman—his grandmother—had wrested control away. When would he learn humility? The final words of his pastor before he left were to “accept what comes and remain open.”
He paused and looked out at the restless water as a new thought took hold. Perhaps a power bigger than both Marietta or him had led them to this path? Marietta’s immediate recognition of him . . . the bond he felt with his sisters . . . the welcome that was more akin to a homecoming. Atticus tucked his cold hands under his arms. That possibility was as disquieting as it was reassuring. So much of his life sometimes felt mapped out since the accident. There was another word for it: preordained.
The wind gusted, rattling the icy palm fronds, clicking like bones. He shivered. It felt as if someone had walked over his grave.
He was living on borrowed time. That he was standing here, alive and well, was nothing short of a miracle. A second chance from God. He knew that. But with that knowledge came the daunting realization that he had a job to do in the remaining days he was granted. God wanted something from him, and his life’s effort was to figure out what that was. Intuitively he understood his task was to make life better—not for himself, but for others. He’d confessed this to his mother when he’d awakened from the coma in the hospital room.
“You have to earn your wings,” his mother had told him.
“I’m no angel,” he’d replied dismissively.
“What is an angel? We don’t know the form they take. We only know they are doing God’s bidding. You were my miracle.” She kissed his cheek. “And now, you have to find out what God is asking from you.”
“What, Lord?” he cried out now, feeling as helpless and alone as he’d ever felt. “Why did you lead me here?”
Seagulls huddled along the beach took flight at the sound, calling back their mocking laugh.
Atticus stared out at the gray sea churning before him and caught sight of a lone dolphin slicing through the waves with ease. He watched the dolphin’s dorsal fin rise then disappear, to rise again a short time later. The dolphin was swimming in from the sea toward the bridge and the calmer waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. He continued watching as the dolphin drew closer. Atticus walked down the grassy slope to the small patch of beach below. The dolphin reemerged nearer the shoreline, and rather than continue on, the dolphin lingered near the shoreline where he stood, swimming back and forth. What luck, he thought, to be here to witness this. It must be fishing in the turbulent waters.
But this dolphin wasn’t fishing. It wasn’t diving. It coasted along the shoreline, and he had the sense the dolphin was watching him with the same curiosity as he was it. Atticus could see the dolphin’s sleek gray skin glistening in the water. Stepping closer to the water and squinting, he saw long gray lines of scars crisscrossing its body. As the dolphin drew closer to the shoreline, it tilted its head. Atticus held his breath as he looked directly into its knowing eyes. Without question he knew he was looking into the eyes of a thinking, aware creature. And this dolphin was undoubtedly communicating with him.
The moment fled as quickly as the dolphin when it suddenly dipped beneath the water again. Atticus peered out at the sea, searching for the dorsal fin to reemerge. It did so, farther away by the bridge. Then it arched, dove, and he lost sight of it.
A short laugh escaped his lips. Was that his sign? The connection was powerful, to be sure. But what possible meaning could a dolphin have? Nothing for him. Yet, as Atticus turned and walked back to his truck, the feeling of tightness in his chest eased. Did it matter if it was a sign or not? He felt instinctively that Sullivan’s Island was where he was supposed to be. He had a mission here, not only to benefit himself, but someone else.
Was it Harper? Or Carson? Or even Marietta? He was supposed to find out. He felt sure of it. And what better way than by being the minister at the Muir weddings? Good ol’ Mamaw, he thought with a chuckle as he climbed into the truck. She’d come up with a pretty clever scheme. He’d have to be careful of that one. He could tell she was good at manipulating others to do her bidding. He fired the engine. Immediately the truck roared to life. Heat blasted from the vents, taking away his chill. Atticus rested his hands on the wheel and looked out a final time at the narrow inlet that separated the two islands.