Yet in all fairness, he’d never before been in a situation like this. First, they weren’t parishioners. Second, they weren’t even Southern Baptists. And third, how could he ask for honesty from them when he was living a lie, or omission—whatever he chose to call it.
He didn’t know if he could continue the charade much longer. The dishonesty of the arrangement with Mamaw tainted everything he did or said with his sisters. And even if he wanted to tell them the truth, the question was, how could he? How could he drop the news that he was their brother after having spent the past weeks denying them that knowledge?
His cell phone rang. He reached for it.
A light, nervous laugh. “Yes, it’s me.”
His heart warmed for this particular sister, close to his age, tenderhearted. Of his three sisters, she seemed the most fragile. He readily understood Taylor’s inclination to be her knight in shining armor.
“What’s going on?”
“I really need to talk to you. In person. Do you have time?”
“Is it urgent?”
“Yes,” she said in a soft voice.
He heard the anxiety in her voice as though she’d shouted the word. “I’m working now. Can I swing by in two hours?”
“Thanks.” Her relief was audible. “I’ll make tea. See you then.”
He hung up the phone and started back at his sermon. Then the front doorbell rang. Who could that be? he wondered, pushing back his chair and rising. He crossed the tiled floor and swung open the door.
Carson stood at the door carrying two Starbucks coffees. “Surprise.”
“Come in,” he said, glad to see her, but curious what she’d come for. Other than Dora, no one in the family had come by his condo yet.
“Nice place,” she said, looking around. Like him, she was drawn immediately to the view. “I always love the view of the Cove until I see the view of the ocean. I go back and forth. But this is pretty up here. How long do you have it for?”
“I go back to Atlanta. At least until I get my permanent location. In the meantime, I’m working at a few local parishes, helping where I can.”
“While you do your research.”
“What?” he asked, uncomprehending.
“While you do your research. That’s what you said you were in Charleston to do.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said quickly, remembering what he’d told them the day he’d arrived. “Of course.”
“What are you working on now?” She walked toward the table filled with papers, several of them balled up in the trash.
“My sermon for Sunday.”
She studied him a moment. “Do you ever get nervous up there? With all those people listening to you, hoping to be inspired. I’d think it would be daunting.”
Atticus shook his head. “Maybe before I speak I get a little nervous. Not stage fright exactly. More that I hope that my message is received. That I find the right words. Once I begin to preach and feel the spirit of the Lord, I just let her rip.”
She nodded, lips pinched, and looked out the window to the ocean.
“So, what’s up, Carson? Want to talk about anything in particular?”
“You must be so bored of hearing my problems by now.”
He laughed. “What? No way. They’re mesmerizing.”
“Very funny. Seriously, we Muirs are really keeping you on your toes.”
“It’s par for the course with weddings,” Atticus said, hoping to reassure her. “Brides and grooms always end up having more questions than they thought. You wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t. So sit down and let’s drink that coffee. It smells great. Then you can tell me what’s on your mind.”
Carson sat at the table and pried open the lid of her coffee. Atticus sat across from her and took a sip of the hot brew. He felt the caffeine flowing through his veins, waking him up a bit after his struggles with his sermon.
“So, I had some news.”
“Bad. I didn’t get the job at the aquarium. But I did get the job in California. So now I have to decide if I’m going to stay here and find a job and marry Blake. Or”—she stretched out the word—“I take the film job and break off my engagement.”
“You’ve been bouncing back and forth on this issue since I met you.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been bouncing around pretty much my whole life.”
“Why do you think that is?”
She looked at him as if he were stupid to ask. “My father.”
“Parker?” Atticus was keenly interested in learning about their father. “How is he responsible?”
Carson snorted derisively. “I’m sorry, I just have a hard time hearing the name Parker Muir with the word responsible. He was anything but.”
Atticus didn’t respond. He picked up his cup and took a long sip, allowing Carson time to continue.
She looked at her cup for a minute. “Parker—my father—struggled with his alcoholism all his adult life. Unfortunately, it fell to me to care for him rather than the other way around. I was only eight when we moved to California. It was a pretty ghastly childhood. I spent a lot of nights going out to bars looking for him so I could bring him home. I cleaned the house, bought the groceries. Money was always tight. I used to take some out of his wallet while he was sleeping just to have money to buy us food. He made some money on his writing. God knows he tried hard. And there was always that monthly check from Papa Edward. But he couldn’t manage to pay his bills. So”—she brought the cup to her lips—“we moved from place to place a lot.” She drank her coffee.
Atticus was stunned. He hadn’t thought it could’ve been so bad for her. “Your grandmother let you live like that without interfering?”
“She didn’t know. I only told her the truth about it all after Parker died.”
Atticus didn’t want to criticize, but he thought her grandparents were neglectful not to have kept better tabs on their grandchild. And that Carson was tragically loyal to a father who didn’t deserve it.
Carson sat silently staring out the large porch window. He often found himself staring out at the sea. It was calming, like pressing a delete button in your brain.