Disappointment flooded Marietta’s features. “I swanny, she’s tried on every dress in the city!”
Atticus placed his palms together. “It wasn’t that Carson couldn’t find a dress. She couldn’t find a dress that was meaningful to her.” He glanced up to see if Marietta understood. Her blue eyes were bright. “Beneath Carson’s confident exterior lurks the heart of a frightened woman. I saw it in the way her hand trembled when she fingered the gowns in the salon. Heard it in the cavalier way she said she’d wear any old dress, as though it didn’t matter. Felt it when I’d looked into her eyes at the salon and realized she was holding on by her nails. Marietta, what is she so afraid of?”
“Commitment. Loss of independence,” Mamaw answered simply with a wave of her hand. She sighed, slumped deep into the chair’s cushions, and looked at her hands. “I realize now I turned a blind eye when she was young and living in Los Angeles with her father. Edward and I sent monthly checks, but it was all, shall we say, convenient for Edward and me to live in ignorance on the opposite coast.” A sparkle of hard-won wisdom flashed in her eyes. “I suspect . . . no, I know that’s why I’m trying to make amends now.” She stopped for a moment, lost in her thoughts. Then she brightened and said with more cheer, “Last summer, though, Carson made great strides. She faced her alcoholism and joined AA, she went back to work, and she became engaged to Blake.”
“Exactly. The wedding plans are going smoothly enough.” Marietta smiled. “The Legare Waring House is a well-oiled machine at events. Yet, I don’t see any of the excitement or joy one expects in a bride when planning a wedding.”
“Fear has a way of numbing a person.”
Marietta brought her hand to her cheek. “Yes, of course. I see that now.” She looked to Atticus. “What can we do to help her?”
Atticus told Marietta how, in a flash of insight at the salon, he’d understood that Carson, more than Harper, needed to wear something that had meaning to her. A dress filled with memories. One that would remind her of someone dear to her.
He moved forward on his seat and rubbed his palms together. Their eyes met. “I was wondering . . . hoping, really . . . Marietta, do you still have your wedding gown?”
Atticus knocked on Carson’s bedroom door.
Carson was lying on her side on her four-poster bed flipping through a magazine. Her shoes were off and her dress was high on her long thighs. A slim circle of light poured out from her bedside lamp. The large, airy room had broad windows dressed with plantation shutters. Seeing Atticus, she sat up quickly and pulled her skirt down over her knees.
“Sorry. I thought it was one of my sisters.”
“I didn’t mean to bother you, Carson, but I have a message. Your grandmother Marietta would like to see you. In the cottage.”
“Yes.” He smiled. “As she put it, lickety-split.”
Mamaw had telephoned Girard and headed him off, telling him she’d meet him at the house for dinner. She wanted some privacy with Carson.
She was atwitter. So much so she didn’t feel the shame she knew she ought to for being such a horrible grandmother not to have seen Carson’s dilemma from the beginning. She, who thought she knew her granddaughters so well. It took Atticus, a young man who had known them for such a short time, to identify the problem. Such a perspicacious man her grandson was, she thought with pride. And such a fool he had for a grandmother.
She approached the large box resting on her dining table with trepidation. The box hadn’t been opened since 1951. The box was made of acid-free cardboard and was completely enclosed in a natural muslin bag. Marietta fooled with the stiff metal clasp that bound it, cursing under her breath when she nearly broke a nail. It was careful work, and once the clasp was undone, it took some effort to drag the bag off the large box.
Catching her breath, she surveyed the box. To her dismay, it had yellowed over the years. Worried that her dress had met the same fate, she gripped both sides of the top and lifted it off the box. She sniffed cautiously, half expecting to smell the telltale scent of mildew or mold. To her relief, she did not. Inside, thick layers of acid-free tissue had not yellowed and still felt miraculously stiff. Encouraged, Marietta gingerly unfolded the first layer of tissue, feeling like a child opening a Christmas present that she hoped was what she wanted. She said a quick prayer that the dress was in good shape, for Carson’s sake. Then she lifted the gown from the box, just enough to peek. Her lips eased into a grin of relief.
A soft knock came at the door. She gently returned the bodice to the box, gathered the tissue paper over the gown once more, and hurried to answer the door. Carson stood at the entry, looking a bit tired and perhaps even a little annoyed with having been summoned.
“You wanted to see me?”
“I do. Come in.”
After closing the door, Mamaw clasped her own hands, barely able to contain her excitement. This had to be handled correctly. She didn’t want to pounce on the poor girl, thrust the dress at her, and risk Carson’s saying no.
“Would you care for some iced tea? I’ve made a fresh batch.”
“No, thank you. I think dinner is about to be served.” Carson glanced back at the door, as though ready to leave.
“Oh, they can wait. It’s curry. The longer it sets, the better.”
Carson looked around the room idly, clearly not in the mood for a chat. She glanced at the table where Atticus’s glass of iced tea sat beside a glass of rum and tonic.
“You had company?”
“Yes, Atticus stopped by for the briefest chat.”
“We talked wedding dresses.” Mamaw clasped her hands again so they wouldn’t shake. “He told me that you didn’t find anything you liked.”
Carson shook her head. “No. Harper did, though. It’s perfect for her.” In one fluid movement Carson slid down on the sofa and curled like a cat, her legs tucked under and her head resting on her hands along the back of the sofa. “Oh, Mamaw,” she said despondently, “I give up. I’ll never find a dress in time. Maybe I’m not meant to be a bride.”
“Nonsense. Finding a dress has nothing to do with whether you’re meant to be a bride.”