“Oh, Imogene,” Marietta said with feeling.
She waved away the sympathy. “In the last two years, he deteriorated rapidly. You recall I couldn’t bring him here last summer. Nor the Hamptons before that. He loved going there. Loved the sea.” She smiled wistfully. “He would have liked it here, too. He’d have called the scenery primitive.” She laughed at Marietta’s expression. “Jeffrey was a terrible snob, you know. If it wasn’t British, it wasn’t up to snuff.” There was a small pause. “He was also fastidious about his personal habits. A spot on his cuff would drive him to distraction. So imagine the horror I felt for him when he dropped his pants in the middle of the front hall and relieved himself. He proceeded to remove the rest of his clothing and refused to put them on again. There was quite a struggle. He’d decided he liked being stark naked.” Imogene laughed, but there was sorrow in it. “I knew then that I’d reached the end of what I was able to provide. He needed more. He had to go to a Memory Center.”
Imogene adjusted her position in the chair, trying to find a comfortable spot. When settled, she folded her hands on the table and looked at them. “That place is his home now. The people who care for him are the ones who matter. They’re his family now. There’s no place for me there. I’m no longer important to him. He doesn’t even know me.” She brought her fingers to her cheek as though seeing the scene again. “Driving away that morning, leaving him there . . . it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” She looked up and her eyes were watery. “I’ve lost my purpose. My rudder. I feel adrift.”
Marietta rose to come to her side. She lay her hand on Imogene’s shoulder, felt the sharp bone beneath the towel. “Of course you were right to come here. To Sea Breeze. Not only to Harper. But to Taylor. And to me. In time, you will find your strength again, but until then you need the comfort of family and friends. We’re here for you, my dear friend. You belong here. With us. At Sea Breeze.”
Imogene was listening, her eyes wide and vulnerable.
Marietta smiled with encouragement. “After all, isn’t that what a wedding is all about? The gathering of family. The sharing of stories. The linking of arms. For better or for worse.”
Imogene choked back a teary laugh. “Till death do us part.”
“Let’s not go that far! It’s a bit too close to home. Come dear, let’s get dressed. The girls are expecting us to be at our best. We mustn’t disappoint. The wedding must go on!”
A young bride looks sweet in a cloud of white tulle. But a bride in her thirties or older would do well to choose a creamy or off-white color. As would, perhaps, a woman who is already sharing a home with her intended.
Dora, Carson, and Harper parked the car in the lot and walked along the crooked sidewalk on East Bay through the bustling crowd. Spring was in full flower and Charleston was a destination city for vacations. Tourists fled the snowy North and were hell-bent on wearing shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops, even in the city.
The Muir girls, however, wore dresses and heels. Harper even wore a hat. They were all in a festive mood, helped along by the champagne—and sparkling cider for Carson and Harper—that they’d consumed at SalonSalon hair salon, where they’d tried out hairstyles for the wedding. Feeling primped and pretty, they strolled down King Street, going from the hair salon to Studio R to pick up their printed thank-you notes, then straight on to Croghan’s jewelry store, one of the oldest jewelers in the city, to pick up the grooms’ rings.
Shopping in Charleston always meant a fun day. Boutiques, antiques stores, jewelers, great restaurants, cobbled streets oozing charm and history. Shopping for a wedding dress, however, makes the day stellar. And that’s just what the girls intended to do later that afternoon.
But first, they had reservations for lunch at Magnolias. Fresh flowers decorated the tables draped in thick white linen. As usual, the restaurant was filled with locals and visitors alike. The girls were seated swiftly, and a short time later Carson bit into her fried-green-tomato BLT. She closed her eyes and emitted a soft groan of pleasure.
“I’d forgotten how delicious this was,” she muttered while chewing. “Does anyone make a better fried green tomato?”
“Not exactly the diet of someone shopping for a wedding dress,” Harper said testily.
Carson picked up a chip and devoured it. “I don’t care about a dress half as much as I care how damn good this is.” She looked at Harper. “How’re your chicken livers?”
Harper looked at her plate, barely touched, and offered a quick but unenthusiastic smile. “Very good. I’m just not that hungry.”
“Oh, baby, do you have morning sickness?” asked Dora, eyes round with concern. Harper resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Dora had been clucking around her like a mother hen since she’d announced her pregnancy. Besides, she wasn’t feeling sick. More sad and confused by her argument with her mother earlier that morning. That and the prenup. The thought of asking Taylor for one hung over her like a thundercloud about to burst.
“Yes,” she lied. “I should have ordered something bland.” At that thought, suddenly the smell of the liver made her stomach turn for real.
“You just hold on a minute, sugar.” Dora raised her hand and signaled the waitress. “I’m sorry, but could you remove her plate, please, and bring us some toast with avocado and sea salt?”
“Oh, yes, of course.” The waitress picked up the offending plate with alacrity and nodded demurely, whisking it away and hurrying back to the kitchen.
Harper smiled weakly. “Thank you.”
“You should’ve ordered a crème brûlée while you were at it,” Carson said. “If you didn’t finish it, I’d help you out.”
“How can you eat like that and keep your figure?” Dora asked.
Carson shrugged. “High metabolism, I guess. And lots of exercise. It’s always the exercise. Sorry. No secrets there. By the way, are you still running?”
Dora looked slightly embarrassed. “I was until recently. I’m just starting work with Devlin’s company and I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m running around like a chicken without a head. On top of that, I’ve got Nate’s schedule to juggle. You’d think I’d be losing weight, nervous energy and all, but I’m not. I’m gaining. But,” she added with more pride, “Nate’s joining clubs at school and he has new friends! Oh, he’s doing so well. It warms the cockles of my heart to set up playdates.”