“Man, I’m starved,” Taylor said. “I need some real food. Let’s run back to Sullivan’s. We can eat in town, and they have water for the dogs. It’s civilized.”
“Aren’t we due at Sea Breeze at nine?” Blake asked.
“Look at him,” Taylor teased. “Tethered to the leash already.”
“Hey, you’re the marine. You understand taking orders,” Blake fired back.
Taylor laughed and held his palms up in surrender.
“I get my orders from higher up,” Atticus told them. “And that, gentlemen, is why I’m still single.” Grinning, he took off in a sprint in the direction of Sullivan’s Island. Looking over his shoulder, he called, “Last man there pays the bill.”
Atticus paid the bill. Not because he’d come in last, which he did, but because he was happy to pay. Happy to be part of the brotherhood. He’d been missing his buddies in Atlanta. As much as he enjoyed spending time with his sisters, he needed time with his boys. The banter, talk about sports, jokes, and just the general feeling of male camaraderie.
They ate breakfast sandwiches outdoors on the patio of Café Medley, their long legs stretched out under the small tables.
When their appetites were sated and conversation lagged, Blake rose to go. “I’ve got to bring Hobbs back home first, and then I’ve got a phone call coming in. Thanks for breakfast, Rev.”
Blake gave a whistle that had Hobbs scrambling to his feet. Atticus watched the handsome dog trot beside his master and thought to himself maybe he did need a dog after all.
Taylor rose from his chair. “Hold on, we’ll walk with you.”
“Yeah, notice he said walk, not run. My dogs are barking,” Atticus complained.
“We’ll come by for you again tomorrow. Keep in shape, man.” Blake checked his watch. “But I’ve literally got to run or I’ll miss my call. You know the way. See you there.” He took off at a trot.
Thor was already on his feet, erect, eyes glued to Taylor.
Atticus and Taylor walked at a comfortable pace past quaint shops in the lowcountry-style buildings, past the Sandpiper Gallery windows filled with local art, the park with the tennis courts, and the cherry-red fire station to where the neighborhood quieted to private homes hidden behind oaks, palms, and shrubs.
“You know Harper asked for a prenup,” Taylor said, turning his head to search Atticus’s face.
“Yeah, she told me.”
“It was a lot to swallow. I can’t lie. I talked to Granny James about it.”
Atticus hadn’t heard about this part. If he was a betting man, he’d bet on old Granny.
“She has her lawyers working on a prenup we can both live with.”
“Really?” Atticus was extraordinarily pleased. “That’s great, man.”
“We’ll see. But I’ll tell you this, Rev. You’re on duty to marry us. One way or the other. Damn the prenup.”
“You’re a good man, Taylor. I have high hopes for your marriage.”
“There’s still the problem of the house.”
He nodded. “I love the house. Who wouldn’t, right? But the house is solely in Harper’s name. Technically she’s the owner, it needed to be hers for the estate, blah blah blah. I get that. But between us men, you can see how I might feel like I’m a . . . What’s the word for a guy who’s kept by a woman?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Atticus stopped in the street. “Aw, come on, bro. No one thinks you’re a gigolo. They wouldn’t dare.”
Taylor stopped a few feet ahead, hands on his hips, and turned to face Atticus. “I don’t care about anyone else.” Taylor drew a huge breath. “It’s how I feel.”
Atticus walked toward Taylor and patted his back. They both started walking again. “Can’t argue with how you feel. So okay, then.” Atticus summed up what he knew. “You like the house but you feel like it’s Harper’s, is that it?”
“You know that’s not how Harper sees it. She sees the house as both of yours, together.”
“One thing you’ve got to understand about Harper.” The gravel crunched loudly underfoot. “She’s eager to please. Her mother would say jump and Harper would say how high. I don’t want Harper to feel like she has to make me happy at the expense of her own happiness. I’d leave Sea Breeze tomorrow. But it means too much to her.” Taylor walked a few steps. “So I’m going to stay. Harper says it’s our home, and I’m going to have to believe her, even if inside I’m not fully on board.”
“What would it take for you to make the house feel like yours?”
“Like, what could I do to it?”
“Yeah. If it’s your house, you can make it yours, right? You redid the kitchen already. That’s a start.”
Atticus could tell by Taylor’s expression that he had never before considered the situation in this light. He kept his gaze straight ahead while the muscles in his jaw worked. A few cars passed. A man walked by talking loudly on his cell phone.
Taylor’s green eyes were alive with an idea when he turned to look at Atticus. “Thanks, Rev.” He slapped his big palm on Atticus’s back with such enthusiasm he almost knocked him over. “I know just the thing.”
Atticus and Taylor showed up at Sea Breeze a couple of hours later, practically running into Blake on his way inside, looking just as disheveled as the other two despite his stop at home. Not until they reached the kitchen did Atticus realize they’d unwittingly walked into a party. The kitchen table was filled with alcohol bottles, and dozens of tiny sip cups and plastic glasses were filled with amber-colored drinks. Girard was looking over Mamaw’s shoulder, telling her something as she poured champagne into two flutes. Carson and Harper were bent over a notepad on the counter, glasses in hands, and Dora and Devlin were debating about the contents of their glasses. Toward the back of the room, a strange woman was shaking a mixer as if she were dancing the cha-cha.
Atticus thought how the three men had not stopped talking all morning—as they ran, as they devoured a hearty breakfast, and later as he and Taylor had walked back to Sea Breeze. This sight, however, silenced them all.