Linda, however, withdrew her hand quickly from Imogene’s and appeared ill at ease. Carson noticed and came to stand by Blake’s mother’s side with a commendable loyalty. Carson had a natural beauty that needed no adornment. She was a vision in a long ivory silk gown that flowed from one shoulder over her body like water over rocks. She wore no jewelry save for her engagement ring and appeared all the more lovely for her simplicity. Few women could carry off a gown like that, Mamaw thought with pride.
“Linda is a primary-school teacher on John’s Island, where they live,” Carson informed Imogene, prodding a conversation.
“How interesting your job must be, guiding all those young minds,” Imogene said.
Linda took heart at the comment and launched into a monologue on the importance of children maintaining handwriting skills.
While Imogene listened with a practiced smile, Mamaw stepped away and got a glass of water. Her throat was parched, more from nerves than speaking. She was anxious for act 2 of the play. Glancing at her watch, she saw that it was nearly seven o’clock. The cocktail hour was coming to an end, and as yet, Atticus had not arrived. From across the room she caught Harper’s sharp, desperate gaze. She stood by the fireplace and discreetly lifted her hands as if to say, What should we do?
Mamaw froze in indecision.
Harper came to her side, eyes wide with concern, and leaned close to her ear. “Mamaw, I really have to start serving dinner. The meat will go dry.”
Mamaw wrung her hands. Where are you, Atticus? She’d thought of little else but his visit in the past few days. She’d dug out Parker’s old photo album and studied photograph after photograph, her fingertips lovingly caressing his face as she searched for any resemblance to Atticus. It was silly of her, she knew, but by having Atticus in her life she felt she was being given a second chance. To be a better mother—or grandmother. Her heart knew a surge of worry that Atticus had decided not to come to the party after all. And more, that he’d decided not to make further contact with the Muir family. Please, God, let him come. Mamaw glanced at the door, willing the bell to ring.
And at just that moment, it did.
From the moment Atticus entered the room, it seemed as though a spotlight shone on him. Everyone in the room paused in his or her conversation to look toward the door. Mamaw’s hand rose to her throat as she took in the young man in his well-cut navy suit, a crisp white shirt, and navy tie, worn with every bit as much style and panache as Taylor and the other young men in the room showed. Mamaw felt a rush of pride at his poise and polish. This was her grandson.
“You’re here!” Harper exclaimed after opening the door, then reached up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.
Atticus greeted Harper with a warm smile and said something Mamaw couldn’t hear. He handed Harper a bouquet of yellow roses. Taking them in her hands, she ushered him into the room.
While Harper put the flowers on the side table, Atticus adjusted his cuffs, turning his head at a slight angle to let his eyes glance discreetly at the people in the room. Mamaw caught her breath. This was a typical movement of Parker’s. Atticus caught her eye, and his smile at seeing her lit up his blue eyes and transformed his face from merely handsome to astonishing.
“Atticus!” she exclaimed, rushing forward to greet him. Her gaze devoured him hungrily. “I’ve been waiting for you. How handsome you look.” She took his hand and held it tightly for a moment. Then, looking into his blue eyes, she said with meaning, “We’re all so happy you’re here.”
He stood beaming at her, their secret sizzling between them. “I’m sorry I was delayed.”
“You’re here now, that’s all that matters.” They hugged and Mamaw inhaled the subtle scent of sandalwood and felt the creamy cashmere wool of his jacket. “Come, let me introduce you around.”
“Mamaw,” Harper cut in, almost breathless with happiness. She placed her hand on Atticus’s sleeve. “Please, allow me.”
“Of course,” Mamaw replied. She caught the warmth in Harper’s expression and was delighted at her and Atticus’s rapport. Mamaw released his hand and clasped hers together, enjoying the view from the sidelines.
Carson came rushing forward with long strides, her silk gown sweeping the floor. Atticus smiled broadly, glad to see her again.
“Rev! There you are! At last. I was worried I’d have to chase after you again.” Carson leaned forward and kissed Atticus on the cheek. “Come on over here. I want to introduce you to Blake.” Grasping Atticus’s hand, she turned and looked over the room, chewing her lip. “Where did that man go?” she said with a hint of frustration. “Hold on one minute. I’ll go get him.”
Carson released Atticus’s hand and went in search of her missing fiancé. Atticus chuckled at her nickname for him. It touched a soft spot for the friendliness implied. Beside him, Harper raised her hand, signaling someone. He didn’t stand alone long. Taylor came forward to vigorously shake Atticus’s hand. Taylor was a big man, as big as Kwame and with as stern a face and as powerful a grip. Atticus wondered what sport he’d played in college.
“This is my Taylor,” Harper said, introducing them.
Taylor smiled and his eyes warmed, revealing that the big guy also had a big heart. “So you’re Atticus,” he said, seemingly eager to be friendly. “I was right glad to hear the news.”
“News?” Atticus was taken aback. He darted a look to Mamaw laced with suspicion that she had told them their secret.
Mamaw discreetly shook her head, indicating she had not told anyone of his identity.
“That you’re marrying us,” Taylor explained.
“Oh. Yes,” Atticus said, catching himself. “Hey, man, it’s my pleasure.”
Carson came hurrying back, Blake in tow. Blake stepped forward with his hand extended. Both men were about the same height, though Blake was more slender in frame. They shook hands firmly.
“Carson’s told me that she’s found a great new friend,” Blake said. “A confidant.”
“Did she? Well, then, I guess I am,” Atticus replied good-naturedly. “I hope I’ll be your friend, too.”
“Let’s see how you feel about me after those pre-wedding chats,” Blake joked.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be easy on you. You’re the one who works with dolphins, aren’t you?”