“If they offer, yes.”
“I know.” She gave a short laugh. She took a sip of her drink, then after a minute said more seriously, “Thanks, Rev.”
“For helping me say yes. To the job, to Blake, to my future.”
Atticus thought he’d never been paid a better compliment. He reached out to slip his arm around her shoulders, feeling more than a minister to her or even just a friend. He felt like her brother.
“There you are,” Harper called from the doorway leading out of the kitchen. “The guys settled on a drink. They’re calling it the Firefly Cannonball. Has a ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“I like it.” Atticus grinned. “But I’ll stick to the straight ginger beer.”
“Atticus, glad I caught you.” Harper looked over her shoulder and let the screen door silently close behind her. She hurried over to where Carson and Atticus stood. “Listen,” she said in a low voice. “I need to ask you a huge favor.”
“Yeah?” Atticus’s voice rose slightly in anticipation.
“I told you about how bad the last session at the bridal salon was, right?”
Harper met Carson’s gaze and she nodded in agreement, egging Harper on. “So we were thinking, Carson and I, on going to the salon again, only this time without the entourage.”
“Okay,” Atticus said slowly, not liking where this was going.
“We want you to come, too.”
“Whoa, ladies.” Atticus back-stepped with one palm up. “You’ve got the wrong guy for this. I don’t know the first thing about wedding gowns.”
“You have good taste,” Carson pressed. Then snickered. “Present outfit excluded.”
“You think we didn’t notice your fine wool suits? And your shoes,” Harper added wryly.
Atticus was feeling cornered. “But why me? Ask Dora.”
Carson glanced at the door, then lowered her voice. “Dora likes all the dresses, bless her heart. You don’t have to know anything. You’ll be like the tiebreaker in a sports game. Thumbs-up or thumbs-down.”
Atticus almost had to laugh at the idea of him in a bridal salon with his half sisters, who didn’t know they were his half sisters, giving dress advice. His buddies would never let him live this down if they found out. “Ladies, I don’t know.”
“We need you there more for moral support than your fashion opinion. Right, Carson?” Harper looked pleadingly at her sister.
“Right.” Carson put her hands together like in a prayer. “Pretty please?”
Atticus closed his eyes. They got him.
I’m only ever truly happy when you’re here with me. And I want you here with me every day. Every night. Isn’t that love? Isn’t that the basis of a good marriage?
The following afternoon Imogene carried a bottle of the Firefly sweet tea vodka in one hand and held the railing with the other as she painstakingly made her way down the front stairs. She was a fool to have overdone things as she had in the garden. She’d needed to work out her frustration. But now her old, tired body was certainly giving her what for about it, and she needed something to take the edge off. Only one person could help her.
She walked across the gravel driveway and up the three short stairs to the cottage front door. She looked with distaste at the rusted pineapple knocker, which she tapped briskly. She would have to change that, she thought to herself as she let her gaze wander the porch. She spied the two rocking chairs and the small wood table. Those would do for what she had in mind, she told herself, then whipped her head around as the front door opened.
“Marietta!” she exclaimed with a broad smile.
“Goodness, Imogene, I didn’t expect you. What brings you here this afternoon?”
“Do you have iced tea? I seem to recall that’s a staple in your house.”
“As a matter of fact, I just made a batch.”
Imogene lifted the bottle of vodka. “Good!”
Marietta laughed, eyes sparkling. “Oh, yummy. ‘“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the spider to the fly.’?” Marietta stepped aside to allow Imogene space. Her eyes swept through the room, picking up details she’d forgotten. It was the same sweet place she remembered. Nothing had changed, she thought with contentment.
Marietta followed her into the living room, moving quickly to fluff up a pillow and pick up her used tea glass and lunch plate and carry them to the kitchen sink.
“You have cards, I presume?” Imogene asked.
“Of course.” Marietta opened the vodka, poured a liberal amount into the pitcher of tea, then gave the concoction a good stir. After putting ice into two tall glasses, she filled them with the spiked drink, then dropped a sprig of mint into each. She handed a glass to Imogene.
“To the weddings.” Marietta lifted her glass.
“To Sea Breeze.”
As they each sipped, Imogene noticed Marietta studying her circumspectly over the rim of her glass.
“Can we sit down?” Imogene asked.
“How about on the porch? There are two pretty rockers there.”
“Don’t forget the playing cards!”
Marietta led the way to the two rockers, picking up a deck of cards from the desk en route. Imogene groaned softly, again, as she lowered to the seat.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m a twit. I was working in the garden and may have been a bit overeager.” Once settled, Imogene took a long sip of her drink. “That’s better. For medicinal purposes, of course.”
Marietta took a long draw from her drink. “Of course. And there’s plenty more where that came from.” She set down her glass and skewered Imogene with her gaze. “Okay, old girl. What’s this all about? This isn’t my first rodeo with you.”
Imogene sat back and rocked her chair with her foot. “Oh, I just experienced my own personal O. Henry play.”
“Would you care to elaborate?”
“You recall ‘The Gift of the Magi,’ where the young couple each give up what’s most precious to them so they can buy a gift for their loved one?” Imogene paused, bringing the story to mind. “I believe it was her hair and his watch.”