Delphine made a series of clicking noises and whistles. She splashed the water with her rostrum to show her displeasure. Carson couldn’t understand the language of the whistles. No human could. She only knew that dolphins were smart and excelled at communication. Underwater they released myriad vocalizations with meaning, such as a signature whistle for a newborn calf that was akin to a name. Throughout the waterway, the dolphins maintained family and community bonds through sound.
Yet, in her own humble way, Carson could understand the emotion of Delphine’s sounds. Her eh eh eh noises when she was happy; the clicks and guttural growls when she was not. And the whistles—high-pitched queries, short bursts of surprise, and now the plaintive calls of beckoning. Oh, yes, Carson heard and understood the heartbreak. Tears ran down her cheeks.
This was the moment of truth for Carson. There was no going back on the decisions she’d made today. She’d given her word that she would help Delphine remain wild. She’d also given her word to Blake that she would be his wife and settle here in the lowcountry. And, too, she’d promised herself that she would stay sober, true to herself. A lot of promises, she realized. These promises would be the foundation upon which she’d build her new life.
With her heart filled with lavender light, she walked toward Sea Breeze. Her footfalls reverberated on the dock with the force of her steps. She loved Delphine enough to keep walking away. Only when she reached the door of the house did Carson dare to turn and look back. Delphine was cloaked in the silvery shadows, but Carson could still hear the dolphin’s mournful whistles and clicks.
Inside the house, sounds of dinner preparations and conversation sang out from the kitchen. Carson remained standing at the door, listening, chilled to the bone, until, at last, the whistles stopped. A deep quiet descended in the purple sky.
Only then did Carson walk to the center of the porch and peer out over the water of the Cove. In the dim light she could barely make out the sight of a dolphin’s silvery dorsal fin far out in the purpling water. A single dolphin, swimming farther away down the creek toward home.
In another house on Sullivan’s Island, Mamaw stood at the window staring out at the moonlit Cove. Her long white gown appeared gauzy in the filtered light. One hand lay against the window glass, cool to the touch. Tonight, however, instead of being drawn to the water, her attention was on the opposite shore where the deep shadows appeared looming and unfathomable, like the thoughts running through her head.
“Marietta, you seem troubled.” Girard came up behind her to rest his hands on her shoulders. “Care to talk about it?”
She felt his hand, so strong and so comforting, and leaned back against him. He rested his chin on top of her head.
“It’s Imogene. We played cards today and you’ll never guess what the prize was.”
“I give up.”
“The cottage? Your cottage?”
“Yep.” She laughed lightly at the reality of how high the stakes had truly been.
“Save me from the suspense. Who won?”
She turned in his arms, slipping hers around Girard’s neck. “You had to ask? Me, of course.”
Girard chuckled and his gaze was admiring. “I never should have doubted you.”
Marietta dropped her hands to his chest, patting over his heart. She thought about Imogene’s face when she’d called out, Gin! The obvious defeat, and something more . . . a complete and utter sense of loss.
“I’m so fortunate to have you in my life. I’d be terribly lonely without you,” Marietta told him. “Poor Imogene. Despite her British stiff upper lip, she is suffering. It’s been very hard for her to put Jeffrey into the Memory Center. After fifty years of marriage, it feels to her like a divorce. Or even a death. Only she can’t mourn him, which leaves her with no closure whatsoever. It’s no wonder she wants to be near Harper now. She’s her only family.”
“Doesn’t she have a daughter in New York?”
“Georgiana?” Mamaw sniffed. “She’s a cold one. Imogene would find little comfort there. No, it’s Harper she needs. And now with the baby coming, it’s a lifeline.” Mamaw turned to look again out the window toward Sea Breeze. “Imogene is desperate to be in the cottage. It’s become a fixation in her mind. She can afford to move anywhere in the world, but all she can see is that small, insignificant cottage.”
“Not so insignificant in her mind.”
“No, you’re right about that. And there I am, roosting in it like a fat hen when it was Imogene who was the goose that laid the golden egg in the first place. Without her, we’d all be living somewhere else. Seems rather heartless of me not to let her move into the cottage. I could take the guest room in the main house. I should. After all, I spend most nights here anyway.”
“I have another idea.”
Mamaw looked up quickly.
“Why not move in here with me?”
“Move in? With you!” Mamaw held up one hand to her chest, genuinely aghast at Girard’s suggestion.
“Why not? We both know you don’t want to stay in the guest room at Sea Breeze. You said yourself you’d feel like a third wheel, always in the way. And I’m rattling around in this big old house by myself. Moving in together makes sense.”
“I suppose, when you put it in that light, it does.” But she was still caught off-balance.
Sensing her hesitation, Girard pressed on. “You do like it here, don’t you? It’s a rather nice house,” he said modestly of his impressive home, larger than Sea Breeze. “I know Sea Breeze will always have a special place in your heart. That this house won’t be the same. But you won’t be far. You can look out the window and there it is. You’ll still be close to Harper, Dora, and Carson.”
She reached up to place her palm against his cheek. “You are the dearest man.”
“But I don’t want you to do this if it makes you at all uncomfortable, Marietta. I wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed in front of your friends.”
Mamaw laughed and shook her head. “Hardly. They’d be terribly jealous.”
His lips twitched with amusement. Then his face grew still. “I have another idea. A proposal, if you will. I’m only ever truly happy when you’re here with me. And I want you here with me every day. Every night. Isn’t that love? Isn’t that the basis of a good marriage?” Girard took her hands. “Marietta, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”