Mamaw stilled her hand as a flood of disappointment washed over her. She liked Devlin a great deal and, more, counted on his humor to keep this particular party afloat. “But why? He didn’t come to our last dinner, either. Surely he’s not still annoyed with Granny James? I thought they’d buried the hatchet.”

“It’s not that. He likes Granny James and relishes the chance at another go-round with her. I think they both enjoy it. No”—Dora sighed—“it’s the engagements.”

“The engagements? I don’t understand.”

“My two sisters are getting married,” Dora said, stating the obvious. “Devlin wants to get married, too.” She looked at her hand, bare of any ring. “He proposed again.”

“Ah.” Mamaw was aware of the tension between the couple over marriage. “And you said . . . ?”

“That I wanted to wait.”

Mamaw held her tongue. She could sense that Dora needed to vent.

“I love him. We’ll get married someday. I’m . . . I’m just not ready. I only just got divorced. And I have all these bills. . . .”

“I understand, dear. But he’s the one that you have to help understand.”

“I’m trying.”

“Well, try a little harder. Now let’s finish this.” Mamaw gathered the blond hair in her hands and gently twisted it with the experience of a woman who’d worn her hair in this style for many years. She reached for a handful of pins and carefully set the twist in place. “There.” Mamaw eyed her work with satisfaction. “You look very pretty.”

Dora turned her head from left to right, admiring her reflection. “Much better. Thank you, Mamaw. For always being there.”

“That’s a grandmother’s job.” Mamaw studied Dora’s face. “But you need a bit of makeup before you’re done. Try some of my pink lipstick, dear. It will flatter your skin tone.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The headlights of a car shone briefly through the window.

Mamaw peered through the shutters. “Another guest. I’d better go in and help Harper and Carson. Come up when you’re ready. And don’t forget to use a bit of hair spray.”

Before she left, Mamaw paused at the door and caught Dora’s eye. “Weddings are a time of great joy. Families gather to celebrate. There’s lots of hugging and kissing. Laughter. Issues that lay dormant emerge again.”

Dora looked at Mamaw in the mirror with a worried expression.

“It’s all normal.” Mamaw smiled. “Men get caught up in the wedding whoopla, too. We women tend to forget that. They don’t talk much about it, pretend they don’t notice, but they do. They’re like little children—big ears that don’t miss a word. Bless his heart, Devlin is just getting caught up in the wedding bliss and wants to be part of it. You just need to reassure him that you love him and that your time will come. Tell him that this time round, you can have a great time without all the fuss and worry. Call it your dress rehearsal.”

“I’ll try.”

“Do more than try. Devlin’s a good man. Give him a call right this minute, hear?”

“Clair de Lune” sounded from the speakers as Mamaw entered the front door. She clasped her hands together and let her gaze take in the front room dressed up for a party. Canapés were artfully arranged on the coffee table beside bowls of Marcona almonds and shelled pistachios and a plate of cheeses, all displayed with sprigs of rosemary and parsley. She walked through the room, gazing at the paintings and furniture—Harper’s things. Her party. It was bittersweet.

Mamaw remembered the many parties she’d thrown over the past decades. Not so many in this house. Sea Breeze had always been a place of retreat for her and Edward. They’d hosted a few small dinners and cocktail parties, nothing grand. But in Charleston! Oh, her house on East Bay had such architectural charm. And the views . . . She used to decorate the house with seasonal flowers and holiday decor with the same doting care that a mother would a beloved child. She left no detail untouched and prided herself on knowing that an invitation to a Muir party was always accepted.

But goodness, she thought, that was all so many years ago. She was only too happy to pass on the torch to the younger generation. Planning parties took great effort and energy. She surveyed the room with an experienced eye. If this were her party, she would have lit a fire, perhaps lowered the lights, added a few candles, set out a few more napkins. She laughed at herself. But no matter. Everything looked lovely just the way things were. These days she was happy simply to be a guest and observe the goings-on through the rosy-colored glasses of experience.

The sound of voices and laughter rang out from the kitchen. Smiling, she followed the happy sounds, thinking to herself that no matter how one tried to lure guests into the living room, they always seemed to gravitate to the kitchen.

The kitchen was warm and festive, redolent with the scents of garlic and rosemary. Harper stood in a butcher’s apron at the wood table, her hair pulled back with a clasp, putting aluminum foil over the leg of lamb. Carson was bent at the waist peering at potatoes roasting in the oven. Mamaw had enjoyed watching Harper embrace cooking over the past year, especially southern recipes. All her latent domestic instincts were in full bloom.

Blake and Taylor were standing by the back door talking with beers in hand. Girard and Nate were inspecting a handheld electronic game. Mamaw paused at the door, soaking in the sight, thinking how these young couples were the family’s future. The house, the meal, the arrangements for the evening—all the tasks that had once been in her dominion—were now in the hands of her granddaughters. She could sit back and watch. Rather than its making her feel displaced or unhappy, she felt a surge of gratitude that she’d lived to see this natural evolution of a family unfold.

The doorbell rang. A moment later, Devlin appeared in the kitchen. Mamaw’s eyes widened in surprise. Dora stepped in behind him, a canapé in her hand and a smile glowing on her face. “Devlin!” Mamaw exclaimed. “You’re here!”

Devlin wrapped his arm around Dora’s shoulders. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Miss Marietta.” Then he looked over her head and shouted, “It’s party time, y’all! Carson, your in-laws-to-be have arrived.”

Chapter Twelve

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance