Marietta continued to watch Imogene swim until at last the woman ran out of steam. With weary steps, Imogene climbed from the pool and reached for her towel. The temperature was only in the seventies on this beautiful first day of spring, but Harper had heated the pool to a toasty eighty-two degrees. All for Imogene—and it was costing Harper a fortune, Marietta thought with distaste.
She picked up a magazine and pretended to be reading as Imogene walked up the stairs to the upper deck. She strolled to the table. Marietta looked up with a welcoming smile. Imogene’s white hair with hints of auburn was slicked back from her face, and the large towel engulfed the woman like a blanket. In the stark morning light it shocked Marietta to see how tired and old Imogene appeared. She’d lost weight since her last visit. How could Marietta have missed that? And her usual spark of life, her bravado, seemed to have fled, leaving something of an empty shell behind. In a rush, all Marietta’s previous pique fled in the wake of compassion.
“Imogene, do sit down. I’ll get you a cup of hot tea to warm you.”
“No, thank you, I’ve brought water. But I will join you for a moment.”
Imogene collected her water and returned to the table, moving her chair to sit in the sunshine. She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun.
After a moment, Marietta wondered if she’d fallen asleep. “Imogene?”
Imogene brought her head up. “Yes?”
“Are you all right?”
Imogene released a short, tired laugh. “No.”
Marietta’s brows furrowed in concern. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Imogene released a long sigh and slowly shook her head. “I’ve made a muddle of things.”
“Why not tell me what’s bothering you? It helps to talk about it. Or so Lucille used to tell me.”
Imogene sighed. “I suggested Harper call her mother with the good news about the baby.”
Mamaw wanted to jerk Imogene’s tail. But she pursed her lips and looked at her hands, giving Imogene the chance to finish.
Imogene tightened the towel around her neck. “It didn’t go well.”
“How could you expect it would?” Mamaw asked with annoyance. Then in a softer tone: “What happened?”
“It was bloody awful. Georgiana suggested that Harper move to Greenfields Park.”
“Suggested? I bet it was stronger than that. That woman is as subtle as a Mack truck.”
“Well, I only heard Harper’s end, so I don’t know exactly what was said. But from what I could glean, Georgiana thought Harper more or less owed it to the family . . . to me . . . to take over Greenfields Park.”
“But she’s already bought Sea Breeze.” Mamaw felt a little panic stir.
“Georgiana, I’m sure, sees that as a rectifiable mistake. She pressed on the poor girl to think of the child’s welfare. They waffled and it went downhill from there, I’m afraid. She must’ve said something that really set Harper off, because she rallied and told her mother she wasn’t doing her duty, or something like that. She pretty much told her mother to sod off.”
Marietta nodded approvingly. “Good girl.”
“Then, when Harper asked if Georgiana was coming to the wedding, Georgiana replied that she was not.”
Marietta made a fluttering motion with her hand as though waving away a pesky fly. “Frankly, I would be surprised if she’d accepted.”
“All the same, Harper is hurt. She seems to have an infinite ability of being hurt by her mother.”
“And doesn’t Georgiana know it.” Mamaw was fit to be tied about that woman. She only wished she could have had five minutes on the phone with her.
“She can be difficult,” Imogene conceded, shifting the towel on her shoulders. Looking up, her face was grave. “But she is my daughter. And Harper’s mother. Regardless of what you and I think, I would like to try to help the two of them get past this argument. For Harper’s sake. She may not say it aloud, but of course she wants her mother at her wedding.”
Marietta was instantly contrite. “Of course, you’re right. Surely we can put our heads together and figure something out.”
Imogene sipped water from her bottle.
Mamaw watched her, going over in her mind what Imogene had said about Greenfields Park. “Does Harper have a responsibility to Greenfields Park?” Mamaw asked at last, unable to conceal her worry. “I thought that issue was put to bed when Harper bought Sea Breeze last fall.”
“Oh, blimey, no one has any responsibilities!” Granny James put her forehead in her palm. After a second she let her hand drop and faced Marietta. “I’ve done it all. Though I haven’t yet told Georgiana. You see, I’ve sold Greenfields Park.”
Marietta was stunned by the news. “Sold it?”
Imogene brought Marietta up-to-date on the sale of the estate, concluding with how she was, for the moment, homeless.
“But wherever will you live?”
Imogene smiled cagily. “I thought I’d move here for a while. Just until I find something suitable. I wouldn’t be here all the time, of course. I would visit Georgiana.”
“Good heavens, Imogene. Who do you think you’re fooling? No one can spend time with that woman. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.”
“Sadly, there is truth in what you say.” Imogene looked off. “But Georgiana is so busy, always running out to some luncheon or dinner, she’s never around anyway. We’d be like two ships passing in the night. It wouldn’t be for long. I’ll find my own place, perhaps on Sullivan’s Island. I want to travel, too. I’m free! For the first time in a very long while.” Imogene smiled and looked again at Marietta, lifting one shoulder. “As I said, Sea Breeze would just be a place to hang my hat. My base.” Imogene’s face sobered. “The last thing I want to be at this point in my life is a burden.”
Marietta understood this emotion so well. It had been her greatest worry with the sale of Sea Breeze.
“I confess, I want to be near my only granddaughter. And my new grandchild.” Imogene smiled at the thought of the upcoming baby. “Is that so wrong?”
“Of course not. We all feel the same way.”
Imogene nodded, accepting that.
Marietta leaned back in the large black wicker chair and considered all Imogene had told her. “Now it’s all becoming as clear as day,” Marietta said with a huff of incredulity. “That’s why you’re so upset about my living in the cottage. That sweet li’l space was to be your . . . your ‘base,’ as you put it.”