Heartfelt applause and comments of congratulations were renewed, though most of them already knew this news.
“Finally . . .” Harper glanced again at Taylor, who stood beside her, chest out and beaming. He slipped his arm around her shoulders. “Taylor and I will be celebrating another release this fall.” She paused, then blurted out in a high-pitched voice, “We’re having a baby!”
Mamaw’s hand flew to her mouth to squelch her gasp of surprise. Immediately she turned to Imogene to catch her reaction and found her gaping back at her in utter shock. Clearly neither of them had been told. Both of them were relieved by that knowledge. Immediately both women’s expressions shifted to reveal their unabashed joy. They hurried to each other and clinked their glasses.
“Well, we are double blessed!” Mamaw exclaimed.
“You have no idea. The family line continues! There were days I wasn’t sure. Oh, Marietta, this certainly is a celebration!”
The two women embraced, then Imogene scurried to Harper’s side. Mamaw stepped back into the corner to enjoy a moment of peace and watch as the spirit of the evening shot skyward at the happy news. The evening would progress as it should, she was old enough to know. The women would cluck like hens endlessly about weddings and babies. The men about sports, mutual funds, and fishing as though no mention of a baby had been made. And the children . . . She watched as Nate and Miller withdrew to the sofa, both with electronic games in hand. She shook her head, amused. Typical, she thought.
Amid the clinking of glasses, the sound of Michael Bublé crooning in the background, the rise and fall of laughter, Mamaw slowly brought her champagne glass to her lips and thought to herself how comforting it was to see life carry on. Tasting the golden sweetness, she could not have imagined a happier ending to this evening’s play.
She felt oddly smug to be free from any entanglements of house and hearth. Even babies. She wasn’t married or a mother yet. She was still free to skip out of the house at will.
Carson rose at dawn the following morning and rushed outdoors before Harper could snag her sleeve and involve her in more wedding plans. And before anyone discovered that she was meeting Atticus to go paddleboarding.
The lowcountry was blessed with an upcoming string of exceptionally warm days—a gift to the residents after the cold spell. She slipped into her wet suit; the neoprene was cold against her skin. The air might be warmer, but the water in the Cove would be frigid.
She tiptoed through the house, shushing Thor’s inquiry of a low, gruff bark. She silently closed the door and checked out the cottage. Mamaw was an early riser, too. But thankfully there was no sign of her this morning. The sun had risen but only just. Overhead the sky was a robin’s-egg blue streaked with pink-tinted cirrus clouds. Her heart quickened as she scampered down the front stairs. This was her favorite time of the day, when everything was fresh, new, full of possibilities. She scurried across the gravel to the garage. The old sliding door was rotting in spots, and chipped paint flaked like dandruff when she moved it. The door rattled noisily along the rusting metal frame. Mamaw would have to replace the door soon, Carson thought, pushing with all her might. Then, pausing to catch her breath, she realized that such things as broken garage doors were no longer Mamaw’s concern. They were Harper’s.
She felt oddly smug to be free from any entanglements of house and hearth. Even babies. She wasn’t married or a mother yet. She was still free to skip out of the house at will. Grabbing hold of her board and hoisting it in her arms, she thought again how she loved being young and relatively carefree.
The sound of a car on gravel sent her running out from the garage. She saw a large gray Silverado Z71 pulling into the driveway. With its fender flares, nerf bars, and chrome trim, she thought of how Blake would love a pickup like that. Who knew the dishy Rev was a country boy at heart?
The truck door swung open and Carson hurried to the pickup. She didn’t want him to go to the front door and wake up the house. “Morning, Rev!” she called in a stage whisper.
“Morning,” he whispered back. Atticus climbed from the truck and pulled out a bag of gear from the back. He was wearing a full wet suit with a wet-suit jacket and sandals. Wet suits clung to the body, and she had to admit the Rev looked in damn good shape. She, too, wore a sleeveless wet suit with a jacket, her long hair pulled back in a thick braid. She was accustomed to men giving her body a double take.
“Why are we whispering?”
“We don’t want to wake everyone up. Did you bring a board?” She looked into the back of the truck.
“No, should I have? I don’t have a board here. My stuff’s in Atlanta.”
“No problem. I have two.” She turned and led the way. “Follow me to the garage. The board’s probably dusty, but who cares, right? We’re going in the water.”
Atticus did as he was told. The garage was a hazard, chock-full of stuff. It took a bit of time to get both boards out from behind the clutter. They were wedged behind a golf cart and gardening equipment.
“This place needs a good cleaning out. God knows where my kiteboard stuff is,” she said, looking around the dimly lit space. Lines of sunlight flowed in through cracks in the wood. “It’s my first trip on the water since I’ve been home. Careful there!” She pointed to the floor where a stone planter blocked his path.
In the driveway they dusted off the dirt and spiderwebs from the long boards, one blue, the other green, then Atticus hoisted the green one up to his shoulder and followed Carson along a stone path that wound its way past azaleas and jasmine blooming, fragrant in the morning mist to the back of the house. As they rounded the house and emerged from behind an imposing bottlebrush shrub, Atticus came to an abrupt stop. He was unprepared for the power and beauty of the Cove. The sun was higher in the sky now, casting fingers of pearly-pink color farther across the whole sky.
The back of the house was even more impressive than the front. Clearly, he thought, the builder of this house loved the water, then remembered some talk of the Muir family’s coming from a long line of sea captains. The back porch stretched across the width of the house, wider at the left where a black-and-white awning shielded a circle of large black wicker chairs. The property sloped to a second tier, where a second deck surrounded a swimming pool. Below this tier, wooden steps led the way through a well-maintained flower garden to the dock.