Harper felt this criticism stab at her heart. Her smile fell and she looked to Mamaw, expecting support.
“It’s lovely, dear. You are a beautiful bride,” Mamaw said sincerely.
Harper heard hesitation. “But . . .”
“Well, I don’t know, dear. The dress feels so . . . naïve. Is that the right word? A young bride looks sweet in a cloud of white silk and tulle. But according to Emily Post, a bride in her thirties or older might do well to choose a creamy or off-white color. As would, perhaps, a woman who is already sharing a home with her intended.” Mamaw paused, then said delicately, “And is in a family way.”
Harper felt the color drain from her cheeks.
“Mamaw!” Dora exclaimed, breathless with shock. “What era are you living in? Women wear all colors these days. White, cream, pink, blue, even black. And by the way, Harper’s only twenty-nine.”
“I’m aware of that,” Mamaw said, clearly ruffled. She lifted her chin. “I’m only telling you what I was raised to believe. What others might very well think.”
“I can’t believe you just said that, Mamaw,” Carson said hotly, reproach ringing in her voice. “You just shot a volley over all our bows. We’re all sleeping with our intendeds, as you put it. Does that mean none of us can wear white? And by the way, so are you! Only he’s not even your intended.”
Mamaw’s mouth slipped open in shock. “What?”
Granny James, who had remained remarkably silent so far, swung around to stare at Mamaw with more amusement than surprise.
“I saw you having breakfast with Girard,” Carson said. “In your robe. On his porch. And your bed wasn’t slept in. I know. I checked.”
Dora chuckled and wagged her brows. “My, my, my. Look who’s calling the kettle black.”
Mamaw’s cheeks flamed and she clenched her hands together. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you with any impropriety, Carson.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mamaw,” Carson said, frustrated. “No one’s offended by what you’re doing with Girard, but by what you just said. Words can be hurtful.” She looked pointedly at Harper.
Harper stood quietly on the stage, appearing a lost waif in all the fabric.
Mamaw’s face fell with remorse. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean . . . Don’t pay me no mind. I’m just an old fuddy-duddy. Truly, Harper dear, it wasn’t meant to hurt you.”
An awkward silence followed until Lauren tried to take back control of the appointment. “Choosing a bride gown is always an emotional event. Let’s try to remember that Harper is the bride and what matters is what she wants. And, yes, brides wear every color today. The only question of white today is simply a matter of how well it looks against the skin of the bride. And I think the dress is beautiful on Harper.”
“Granny James?” Harper called out, trying to keep up a positive façade despite the lackluster overall reaction of the group thus far. “I haven’t heard your opinion.”
All heads turned to the woman sitting at the end of the line of chairs.
Granny James had maintained a stoic silence during the outbursts. Too silent. Her face was solemn. “If you love the dress, then that’s all that matters.”
Harper felt a surge of gratitude. It was short-lived.
“However”—Carson swung her head and looked over her knee to stare at Granny James with a glare of warning. It went unnoticed—“it is a beach wedding. That dress, while lovely, is clearly more formal. Are you sure it’s in theme with the wedding? I’m not sure that it is. But”—she waved her fingers delicately in the air—“it’s entirely up to you, of course.”
The room fell again into silence. Tears filled Harper’s eyes and she lowered her head, defeated. No one liked the dress, save Dora. And bless her heart, Dora would love any dress Harper put on.
“Perhaps if I jack her up,” Lauren said, forcing cheer into her voice. “Put on a veil, add some jewelry. You’ll get the full effect.”
“No,” Harper said. “Thank you. I don’t feel up to it. I’d like to take it off now, please.”
Lauren cast a sad glance tinged with disapproval at the entourage. “Of course.” She lent her hand to Harper and helped her off the platform.
After Harper left, the room went deathly silent.
Eventually Granny James said, “Tell me, Marietta, what edition of Emily Post was it that said a bride had to be a virgin to wear white? The one published in the 1920s?” Granny James shook her head disbelievingly. “Debrett’s is quite clear on the subject. A bride can wear any color she chooses, and these days she does.”
“Oh, don’t be a hypocrite,” Mamaw shot back. “You know as well as I do that no matter what the book says to the young people today, people of our generation will be thinking about the old rules. We have to face that Harper will be visibly pregnant on her wedding day. I just wanted her to choose a dress that was more . . .”
“Concealing?” asked Carson with pique.
“I was going to say appropriate, but, yes, concealing works even better.”
“What do we care what anyone else thinks?” Carson responded. “All I know is that she’s feeling badly right now.”
“Perhaps I should go talk to her?” Mamaw asked softly.
“I think it’s best to let her be for a few minutes,” Granny James said, concern for Harper in her tone. “She’ll feel better once she gets that dress off.” She sighed. “I have to agree with you on one point. There’s no possible way they can adjust that cut to fit her when she’s five months along.”
“You might’ve all thought of that before y’all started baying like hunting dogs,” Dora said reproachfully. “The end would’ve been the same. She’d have figured out she needed a new dress all on her own. But, no, you had to tear that dress to shreds first.”
No one spoke, the silence hanging heavy over the room.
Lauren came back out a few moments later and asked brightly, “Carson, you’re the next bride, is that right?” The woman was trying to be positive, but the buoyancy of the day had clearly popped like a balloon. “Have you tried on dresses before?”
“Yes,” Carson said without enthusiasm. “A few.”