“Not many, I’m afraid,” Kate replied. “You’re limited to our samples, and of those you’ll have to select something that needs minimal alterations. We’re slammed going into peak wedding season. This is Charleston, you know. The number one destination-wedding spot in the country.” Kate sighed with compassion as she checked her appointment book. “I’m going to try and squeeze your alterations in. Though, thank heavens, we’ve already allowed time for your other dress in the calendar, Harper, so that’s something.”
“Just grab me a white dress that fits,” Carson said. “Or rather, an off-white dress.” She winked at Harper.
“Don’t pay her any mind,” Harper said. “Though, with her figure, she really could wear any dress and she’d look gorgeous. Can you show us what we have to choose from?”
Kate guided them to the sample racks. “I’ve seen a lot of wedding dresses on a lot of brides, and one thing I’ve learned is that the right dress can transform a bride from beautiful to extraordinary. It has a lot to do with the bride feeling good about herself in the dress.” She turned to Harper. “You don’t want to settle on any dress just because you have to. Tell me a little about your sense of style.”
Carson piped up, “She’s all high style. Never showy or ostentatious but always in good taste.”
Atticus spoke up. “Something elegant and understated. Only the best-quality materials.”
Harper turned to look at Atticus, wonder etched on her face.
Carson crossed her arms. “I didn’t know you brought Mr. Frigging Dior to our fitting.”
Atticus lifted his brows and shrugged.
Carson flashed him a wide grin of approval. “Okay then.” She cocked her head in challenge. “What do you see for me, fashion king?”
Atticus heard the challenge and didn’t back down. He put his hand on his chin and studied Carson. She was wearing a cream-colored dress featuring a mix of lace and cotton with a full sweep skirt and dramatic hi-lo hem. On her feet were calf-high cowboy boots. He thought of the sheath of white silk she’d worn at the engagement party that revealed her long, incredibly fit body. Only a woman confident of her looks could wear such a bold choice.
“A vintage look,” he told her with authority. “Not frilly but avant-garde. You know what you like and don’t care if anyone else likes it.” He looked into her eyes and saw the sudden vulnerability. Atticus had a flash of intuitive insight. “The dress has to hold memories,” he said more softly. “One that reminds you of someone very dear to you.” He took a breath as he felt the connection. “Family.”
Carson blinked slowly, almost like one coming out from a trance. “Yes,” she said softly. “That’s it exactly.”
There followed a moment’s silence.
Then Kate put her hands on her slim hips and said to Atticus, “Hey, are you looking for a second job?”
Atticus laughed with the others and shook his head, feeling a bit sheepish for having spoken at such length. “Sorry.” He ducked his head and backed up. “I’ll shut up now.”
Kate said, “Let me go back and see what I can find in stock.” She held up her hands as she headed to the stockroom. “Lord God in heaven, let there be something there. Y’all help yourself to some champagne. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
The three of them strolled to the table where champagne and bottled water were on ice. They all automatically reached for the water, laughing as they realized their common choice.
“So, how do you do that?” Carson asked, unscrewing the top of her water bottle. “I felt like you reached into my brain, sorted through the mess, and pulled out what you were looking for.”
Atticus only smiled and drank from his water bottle, then wagged his brows. “It’s Spidey sense.”
Carson released a short laugh, but it wasn’t dismissive.
“Ladies!” Kate was waving the two women back into the fitting room. She had several gowns in her arms.
While the brides were in the fitting room, Atticus took a moment to stroll through the racks in the main room. With so many different dresses, so many different styles, no wonder a young woman’s head spun at the prospect of choosing only one.
He flashed back to the time his father had taken him to Tyrone’s tailor. It was a favorite memory, one of the few good moments Atticus had had with his father. Atticus had turned eighteen and Tyrone had explained to him that this was a rite of passage. Inside the small men’s shop in Buckhead, Atlanta, the air was thick with the scents of cedar and wool. Heavy wooden racks along the walls were filled with men’s suits in different fabrics, sizes, colors. Atticus had been what his father called a flashy dresser. Brand names were de rigueur for everything—clothes, shoes, watches, sunglasses, even the logo on Atticus’s ball cap. On this day, however, his father wanted to show him the quiet power of a bespoke suit.
Tyrone was welcomed into the shop with a handshake. When Atticus was introduced to Mr. Sydney Ball, he could tell that the old man with the wizened face, white hair, and eagle eyes was already mentally taking his measure. Mr. Ball led them through the shop and opened the door to a back room. They entered a walnut-paneled dressing room—old-school with crystal decanters filled with amber liquid and a single tall mirror hanging from an elaborate brass frame. Atticus undressed, then stood on the small platform as instructed, feeling nervous and exposed in his boxers. Mr. Ball came up to him and, without a word, held his hand up to Atticus’s mouth.
Atticus startled and looked into the old man’s eyes. There was no question there. He saw respect in those rheumy eyes. Respect for his craft.
Atticus promptly spit out his gum.
His father then offered him a crystal glass filled with a small amount of bourbon.
It was a coming of age, he’d realized years later. He learned that day to respect the beauty of skill and talent. A month later, Atticus received the most beautiful suit he had ever owned or would, likely, ever own again.
“This suit,” his father explained, “is your transition article of clothing. It will take you from boyhood to manhood.” When Atticus had put it on, his father had looked at him with pride. “This is your ceremonial honor. You are a man now. Equipped to go into battle.”
Remembering that day now as he stood peering at the racks upon racks of delicately spun silk and tulle, Atticus understood the importance and value of a wedding gown. For a bride, her wedding dress was the transition article of clothing that took her from girlhood to womanhood. It had to be right. It had to reveal to all that she was a woman of value, worthy of respect. It had to give her the confidence to lift her chin high as she walked down the aisle to commit herself to her life’s companion.