“You must feel robbed to lose both parents so young.”

“I do. I never had the chance to share major milestones with them—my wedding, my children.” He looked at Dora and thought to himself how God had provided him with this second opportunity of a family. Surely this had to be part of his destiny. “Family is destiny,” he said. “You don’t get to choose your family. It’s a crapshoot of genetics. But you deal with what you get.”

“It’s an interesting way to look at it. My son, Nate, has Asperger’s syndrome. That’s genetics for you. I thought it was a curse when I first found out. I mean, no mother thinks she wants an autistic child. But now, I don’t think of Nate as autistic. He’s just Nate. I love him exactly for who he is. He’s not so big on sports, either.” Dora laughed. “His coordination isn’t so great. But he’s good at so many other things unique to him. So if Nate is my destiny, I’ll take it as a blessing.”

“Well said.” Atticus looked again out over the beach. The boys had abandoned their attempt to swim in the ocean. Mother Duck was shuffling her family back toward the beach path and home. Another day was done. Tonight was Harper’s party at Sea Breeze. He would meet the Muir family and extended members as well. He’d be welcomed into the fold. By going tonight he would be committing to be the Reverend Atticus Green, friend of Mamaw’s who had agreed to officiate the weddings. There would be no turning back.

Atticus breathed deep, stretched, then put his hands on his hips, feeling his decision settle. Inside he felt as calm as the horizon line that married the infinite sky to the sea.

“Well, Miss Dora”—he turned to the condominium and clapped his hands—“I’ll take it.”

A week had passed in the blink of an eye, thought Mamaw with no small amazement. Imogene had arrived and was settling in, though she made no secret of being displeased at not being in the cottage. Yet Mamaw couldn’t be upset about this. It seemed trivial compared to all that was going on in their lives. Their wedding planner, Ashley Rhodes, was calling frequently now, lining up appointments with florists, caterers, and more to confirm the myriad details for the wedding. During the busy days, however, always in the back of Mamaw’s mind was her grandson. She held his existence close to her heart. His was the face she thought of when she awoke, and the face that appeared in her dreams. Sometimes Atticus and Parker would become the same person, as happens in dreams.

She’d counted off the days, and at long last Harper’s party was tonight. The family would gather at Sea Breeze and he would appear, as promised. She always felt her blood race before a party. But this party! The thought of Atticus’s being welcomed into the bosom of his family made her feel quite giddy. Her hands were shaking.

A gentle rap on the front door of the cottage told Marietta that Girard had arrived for the dinner party. She still felt a flutter of butterflies whenever he was near. In the past year their friendship had grown to something far deeper, sweeter, than she could have imagined. Who knew that this late in her life she could discover love again? The kind of gushing girlish excitement she thought she was way past experiencing. She had lived her life with Plan A set in her mind. Now suddenly there was a Plan B and it took her breath away.

On her way to answer the door she paused to check her reflection in the mirror. She wore blue, this time a simple silk sheath with a cashmere sweater in the same color. Girard had once told her he liked her in blue because the color flattered her eyes. So she wore it often, for him.

Opening the door her heart skipped at seeing Girard, tanned and debonair in his dark suit and crisp white shirt, waiting at the door. The porch light highlighted the silver in his hair and the whiteness of his teeth as he smiled at seeing her.

“You look beautiful.”

“Thank you.” She brought her hand up to smooth her French twist.

His eyes gleaming, Girard leaned forward to kiss her.

Marietta caught the scent of his aftershave and closed her eyes.

The crunching of gravel alerted her to the arrival of a car. They both drew back and turned to see Dora’s car pull into the circular driveway. The silver Lexus was once Dora’s pride and joy when she’d purchased it after Nate was born. But that was a decade ago and now the car was dented, rusted, and running on a lick and a promise. The sound of car doors slamming sounded in the night followed by the crunch of gravel. Marietta peered in the dim light to see Dora and Nate approach. Dora looked harried. Her hair was disheveled, she was wearing old flats, and her arms were laden down with a large purse and a tray.

Girard rushed forward to relieve her of the tray. “Here, let me take this. Excuse me, ladies.” He nodded to Marietta. “I’ll bring this right to the kitchen.”

“You’re my knight in shining armor.” Dora sighed heavily. “Nate, you go on with Mr. Bellows, hear?”

“Yes’m.” Nate obediently followed the older man to the house.

Dora turned to Mamaw and said in her ear, “Mmm-mmm, that’s one fine man.”

“Yes”—Mamaw followed Girard with her eyes—“he is.”

Dora hoisted her bag. “Well, I’m a hot mess. Harper wanted me to make my mushroom canapés for the dinner. I made some spinach, too.” Dora rolled her eyes. “Said I had to get them here early. Mamaw, she actually said chop-chop! Carson calls her Bridezilla.” Dora made a face. “She kinda scares me.”

“I remember her saying the same about you once upon a time,” Mamaw replied with humor and a hint of reproach. “Harper’s just nervous because Granny James is here. She feels like she has to pass some sort of test. It’s all in her mind, of course, but you know what a perfectionist she is.”

“But we’re family.”

“You know that. I know that. But she has to go through this passage. It’s all quite normal for a young bride. Don’t you remember?”

Dora conceded with a sorry nod. “I suppose. But, Mamaw, I’m not talking about just dinner tonight. I’m busier than a moth in a mitten. Harper’s running me dry with the wedding, fetching this and that. And Carson is MIA most of the time. Being the only bridesmaid for two weddings sucks. Pardon my French.”

“Dora!” Mamaw laughed lightly in sympathy. “You’re a good girl.”

“Well, bad girls have more fun, I reckon. Anyway, I’m just complaining. Glad to do it, but look at me. I’m half-dressed. Can I use your bathroom? I just need to poof up my hair and put on my lips.” Dora grimaced. “Granny James is staying in my room.”

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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