“That’s me.” Blake took a sip from his drink.
“The weirdest thing happened to me the other day. I was standing by the inlet, Breach Inlet I think it’s called, just looking out, when this dolphin came closer to the shore. It stopped right in front of me. Is that normal?”
“It depends,” Blake said. “The water’s turbulent there and it makes for great fishing for the dolphins. It could’ve been after one.”
“I don’t know if this one was. I swear it seemed to look me right in the eye. And I gotta be honest with you, it was a pretty powerful moment.”
Carson stepped closer. “How big was the dolphin?”
Atticus shrugged. “I don’t know anything about dolphins, but average I’d guess. There was something unusual, though. This one had all these scars along its body.”
Carson gasped. “Delphine.” She looked to Blake and they shared a long meaningful glance.
“You know that dolphin?” Atticus asked.
“Yes,” Carson said.
“Did the dolphin stay close or move on?” Blake asked, more interested now.
“It moved on. Really, the whole thing probably lasted only a minute, but I’ll never forget it.”
“That’s good,” Blake replied. “It’s only a problem if they stay and beg for food.”
“Nope, no begging.”
Blake was called by his mother from across the room. He excused himself. Soon after, Taylor and Harper went off to do some host duty. Atticus was left standing alone with Carson.
She looked over her shoulder as though scoping out the whereabouts of Blake, then leaned closer and said almost in a conspiratorial whisper, “Do you know how to paddleboard?”
The question surprised Atticus. “Uh, yeah, I can manage a board.”
“Good. Come by tomorrow morning. At dawn. We’ll go paddleboarding. There’s something I want you to see.”
The invitation seemed entirely innocent, but looking into her eyes, he saw them dancing as though she were up to mischief.
Carson spotted Blake waving her over. “You can let me know later,” she said, and hurried across the room to join Blake with his parents.
Atticus felt uncomfortable with the seemingly clandestine invitation. Sometimes women formed attachments to their minister, especially after a personal conversation. It was always wrong, but in this case with his sister, it was egregiously wrong.
Mamaw stepped up beside him. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Do go with Carson. You’ll have a wonderful time. No one knows these waters better than Carson. I’m so pleased to see you getting along.”
“I like her enormously. But”—he hesitated—“the way she was looking over her shoulder, it seemed she was making sure that Blake didn’t know about the invitation.”
Understanding flashed in Mamaw’s eyes. “She doesn’t want Blake to know because she wants to check on Delphine. Your story about the scars prompted this, I’m sure.”
“You mean the dolphin?”
“Yes.” Mamaw noticed Carson returning. “Ask her to tell you the story,” Mamaw hastily added, then walked away.
Carson returned, anxiously awaiting his answer. “So? Can you make it?”
Atticus smiled. “Absolutely. I’m in.”
“Good.” Carson leaned closer to give him the specifics of what he’d need to bring.
While they were speaking, Harper clapped her small hands together for attention. She licked her lips, then spread out her hands. “If you look on the cocktail table, you’ll see Taylor brought out a tray of champagne flutes. Would you all please take one? We have a toast . . . or rather a few toasts we’d like to make.”
Amid murmurs of pleasure the guests collected their glasses. In an amusing, and expected, conundrum, Miller reached for a glass only to be thwarted by his mother. He scowled and went off to retrieve another glass of sweet tea.
Taylor approached and handed a glass of champagne to Atticus.
Atticus took the wineglass without comment.
Carson came back to his side carrying two tall glasses. “Here, Atticus, I’ve brought you a sweet tea.”
Atticus took the drink and sent a quiet Thank you her way. He discreetly set the wineglass on the table beside him.
“Everyone!” Harper called out. She clanged the side of her glass with a spoon, corralling the attention. Again, the room quieted and everyone looked at her expectantly. She appeared radiant.
“Taylor and I want to thank you all for coming tonight and joining us in celebrating our engagement, and the engagement of Carson and Blake. Our weddings are around the corner now, and this is the first of many celebrations to come.”
There was a chorus of “Hear hear.”
“I look around the room and I see our growing family, and it fills my heart with great joy. First, a toast to family!”
“To family!” the group echoed, and glasses were raised.
Mamaw quickly glanced at Atticus, delighted with the toast that included him. He kept his gaze straightforward, and she wondered if the toast made him feel uncomfortable, or if he was privately pleased.
“I’d like to introduce to you a very special guest. The Reverend Atticus Green.” Harper turned to indicate his presence at her right. “Atticus is a dear family friend of Mamaw’s. And now ours as well. So it’s all the more special that he has agreed to officiate at our weddings.”
A host of muffled expressions of surprise followed. Mamaw scrutinized the reactions carefully. Imogene had a stiff smile on her lips and one brow raised, but she appeared more annoyed that she had not been consulted on the decision. Beside her, the McClellans appeared pleased with the announcement. One more item checked off the to-do list. David Legare rocked on his heels impassively. In contrast, his wife Linda’s face was flushed and her lips tightened. Mamaw’s eyes narrowed. She preempted any disagreeable comments by stepping forward.
“I’m so very delighted,” she said loudly, adding to the toast, “to have someone so dear to my heart marry my darling girls.” She raised her glass as her gaze swept the room, resting longer on Linda Legare. Mamaw turned to her grandson. “Thank you, Atticus.”
Atticus returned a gracious bow of acknowledgment.
A buzz of renewed talking commenced.
Harper clinked her glass once more. “I’m not quite finished!” When the room quieted again, she smiled. “I told you we had a few toasts tonight.” She took a breath, composing herself. “This has been and will continue to be such an amazing year. Epic. Of course, as we all know, in only a few months Taylor and I”—she looked at her fiancé—“and Carson and Blake”—she lifted her glass in their direction—“will celebrate our marriages. Then, come October, we’ll pop more champagne to celebrate the release of my first book.”