In the Cunningham’s large family home, the intercom was the preferred method of communication. Their house possessed six bedrooms, with the master suite on the main floor and five bedrooms upstairs. Grace, Kate and Macy each had their own room, with another bedroom for guests and the fifth bedroom (once serving as the girls playroom) recently turned into a staging area for wedding accoutrement. While the intercom served to help the girls’ parents reach their daughters from their wing on the first floor, that wasn’t always their mother’s preferred mode of communication.
“Vivienne Grace!” Mama shouted from the kitchen. “Don’t make me come up there. We are going to be late and hit traffic!”
“I’m comin’!” she yelled back. “Lord have mercy!” she thought. ”What is with everyone this morning?”
Grace stomped down the flight of stairs. The winding marble steps curved in front of large bay windows pouring in sunlight. Outside, the expansive front porch with its white rockers swayed to-and-fro in the summer breeze. Green grass swept down the lawn to beds of azaleas, roses, daffodils, and hydrangea bushes. Magnolia trees with their bright white flowers lined the driveway leading up to the stone columns. Cunningham manor was hugged by vines of wisteria and morning glories. At this time in May, the summer heat had not yet begun to wilt the flora. Outside, Grace’s world was alive in greens, pinks, blues, purples, all yellows — all sparkling from dew in the morning sun.
“God made a pretty weekend for Macy to get married,” Grace thought to herself. “Too bad it’ll be hotter than Hades. And humid to boot!”
Atlanta’s skyline glittered in the summer haze. Skinny lines of cloudy wisps skimmed the tops of skyscrapers. Lines of tall pine trees shielded the Cunningham mansion from the busy roads of West Paces Ferry and Peachtree Street, all leading commuter traffic from highways into Buckhead’s financial center. Past the rows of pines and oaks further down the lane was the Georgia governor’s mansion: home to Macy’s future in laws and Grace’s soon-to-be-brother. They all lived in zip code 30305. To this day, it’s the most affluent area in the South.
This was the place where Grace grew up. Politicians, executives for Coca-Cola, Georgia Power, Delta and the like were her neighbors. Famous players for the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, and Hawks were scattered about her community. Randolph Cunningham moved his wife, Caroline, plus Macy and Kate here when they were little girls. Grace was only a baby and too young to remember the small house the family first had out in the suburbs. Her daddy started making a name for himself in the construction business during the housing boom of the early 1990s. Cunningham Construction was founded with some funding from his friend, Darius Longbaugh. Randy then built a mansion for his family in the posh Buckhead neighborhood, Tuxedo Place. All of the Cunningham girls graduated from Magnolia Academy, the premier private school of Atlanta. Although Randy could have afforded to send his girls to a private college, Macy and Kate took advantage of their good grades to keep the HOPE scholarship which granted them free tuition to the University of Georgial for four years. Grace would be the third Cunningham girl to go to UGA this fall. But August, and college, seemed like a lifetime away for Grace. The most pressing current event was getting Macy married.
She reached the bottom of the staircase and dropped Kate’s bags with a thud. Marble floors took over from the plush carpet of the upstairs bedrooms. Grace sauntered past the formal living room boasting luxurious silk couches and mahogany end tables. Her mother’s collection of Swarovski crystal accented the polished surfaces. An elegant dining room was to Grace’s left and used only for special occasions. Her mother’s grandmother, the late great Grand Mere Baptiste, gave Caroline and Randy the cherry dining room set and its collection of fine china in the matching hutch as a wedding present.
“One can always tell the quality of cherry by the pits.” Grand Mere explained to Grace when she was a little girl. Her grandmother laid her hand atop of Grace’s to run it along the smooth wood surface. “The pits: they’re recognizable but finished over. Never, ever buy cheap furniture mon petite. This is the stuff that’s built to last.”
Grace smiled at the memories of all the family gatherings in these formal rooms. All of her family would soon be together tomorrow for the start of Macy and Campbell’s wedding weekend. Her happy thought ended abruptly when she heard Mama’s heels clicking across the marble floor. Grace scampered into the kitchen to face her mother.
“Vivienne Grace!” Mama called stomping into the hallway. Caroline Cunningham was immaculate at 8 a.m. just as any well-bred former debutante New Orleans should be. Her white linen shorts were pressed into pleats, a pink sweater wrapped around her toned shoulders over a white camisole. Chanel sunglasses perched on her short blonde hair curled into a neat coif. If it wasn’t for the 30 years she had on her children, Mama Cunningham could have been Macy’s twin.
“Darlin’!” Mama declared. “Did you just roll out of bed?”
“Maybe,” Grace said moving past her into the kitchen. She knew Mama wouldn’t be happy at her unkempt appearance. It was bright…too bright for an under-caffeinated person. Sunlight gleamed off the bay windows and the sparkling swimming pool in the backyard. Light reflected off the white and glass kitchen cabinets giving the whole room an unworldly glow. If Grace was going to continue to face this day with a smile she had to have coffee. And stat.
“Honey, you look a fright.” Mama chided. “Don’t you know there might be photographers outside?”
“Pish posh, Mama! That’s the same thing Macy said. There’s no one out there.”
“How would you know? You certainly don’t look like Miss Magnolia this morning.”
“Mah-mah!” Grace stamped her foot. “Just because I won our school’s beauty pageant doesn’t mean I always have to look perfect.”
Her mother gave Grace an icy look with piercing blue eyes. Whenever Caroline Cunningham raised that one eyebrow of hers, then her daughters knew they were in trouble. Grace gulped hard, backing her way slowly into the kitchen. For a girl almost 18 years old she was reduced to childlike fear at the sight her mother’s stare down.
“I wasn’t expecting perfection this morning, Vivienne Grace. It’s such a big weekend for your sister. Heaven forbid someone from the press saw you looking like you’d just rolled out of bed, when your sister is about to marry into the governor’s family, why I can’t imagine the reprimand we might face from his staff. Or even worse, Mrs. Brayden.”
“Now, now Caro. Leave the girl alone,” Randy called coming to Grace’s side in the kitchen “Angel baby, you look beautiful as always. There’s no way in heaven you could possibly ever look bad.”
Randolph Cunningham was 57 years old and it was starting to show. His once auburn hair faded into shades of light blonde and white. His tan face and shining blue eyes carried a youthful vigor. This week, his most important role was playing Father of the Bride. Grace adored her daddy because he always intervened when tensions were high between her mother and sisters. The lines on his aging face were covered with a full beard. Grace thought the facial hair made her father look even more like a gentleman, especially when he cast a warm smile of approval in her direction.
“Aw Daddy. I thought you were going to shave?”
“If I had my way he never would have grown that beard.” Caroline snipped as she fussed about the kitchen. “Grace, can I fix you a cup of coffee?”
“Yes, oh God, yes please, Mama.”
“Want me to make it a sweet kidddy coffee for you, with lots of milk and sugar?”
“You know it.”
Caroline splashed a ton of milk and sweetener in a mug and passed it to Grace, along with a plate of runny eggs and toast. Grace perched on a stool next to her father at the breakfast bar, who ruffled her curls before turning back to his work on a laptop. After putting the breakfast pans in the dishwasher, Caroline began counting the number of wine bottles in an open cooler.
“Honey, do you think we packed enough Chardonnay?”
“Six bottles should be enough, baby.” Randy replied not looking up from his laptop.
“Well how much are you planning on drinking tonight and tomorrow?”
“Are you even listening to me?” she asked leaning down about the screen. Her caramel hair fell across the laptop causing her husband to earn her attention.
“Dearest, I am sorry, but I’m trying to wrap up some business before we leave. If you don’t think six bottles will be enough for the house we can certainly buy more down in Tybee.”
“That local island market doesn’t come close to a proper grocery. The only wine they ever seem to have in stock is Boone’s Farm.”
“Then pack some more bottles of our good stuff.”
“Can you please run down to the wine cellar for me?”
Randy looked at his wife, who was only six inches from his face, and grew a stern expression. All Caroline had to do was raise one eyebrow to her husband, who then sighed, and shut his laptop off.
“Thank you.” she replied before turning back to the dishes. “Grace, were your sisters ready when you were upstairs?”
“Macy still had her hair in rollers. Kate was reading.”
“Lord those girls…” Mama sighed moving to the intercomm. “Georgia Katherine! Macy Bissett! Both of y’all! Let’s go!” She turned away to the breakfast bar to take Grace’s half-eaten plate of eggs.
“Hey! I wasn’t finished.”
“You’re done. We gotta go.” Her mother replied picking up the crate of Chardonnay to the garage. Grace gave her father a pitiful look, who chuckled softly in reply.
“Now, Angel Baby. Your mama is just stressed. You know got a lot to do before Saturday. I think she’s just ready to get down to Tybee to make sure the house is all set for the wedding.”
“It’s Macy’s big day,” Grace pouted. “And she was in a mood too. Did you hear her upstairs?”
“Indeed. But you know I never pay much attention to Macy’s tantrums since she grew out of diapers. We just gotta keep her cool. Everything will settle down once we can get on the road. Do you need help with your bags?”
“No, I got them.”
“Good girl,” he patted her head softly. “Go on and brush your teeth.
Through the back bay windows of the kitchen, Grace could see the family cars lined up out in the driveway. Daddy’s toys (a couple of Harleys and a pair of jet skis) occupied the four-car garage therefore the entire family was resigned to park their own cars out front. All of the Cunningham girls had their own rides. Grace’s red Jeep with its Georgia “G” emblazoned on the back windshield flanked Kate’s old Jetta. Macy drove Caroline’s old Land Rover, as Daddy had sold her Mustang when she moved to New York a few years ago and had returned to the South after she and Campbell got engaged. Mama didn’t mind, because this afforded her the opportunity to purchase the BMW convertible she’d had her eye on for years.
“Daddy are you sure Kate and I shouldn’t drive our own car?”
“What would you need it for? Once we’re down at Tybee, everywhere we go we’ll be together. Besides, we need to save on gas money.”
“Since when have you been concerned about saving money?” Kate asked coming into the kitchen.
“Now that I’ve got this wedding to pay for, not to mention your tuition to Yale to cover. Unless you don’t want to go to an Ivy League school.”
“Oh no,” Kate rushed to their father’s side to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Let’s all take one car. Please don’t make me sit next to Macy.”
“You can sit in the back with Grace,” Mama stated. “By the way, Kate, I do like that new navy dress on you. It brings out the color of your eyes. You look much better than your younger sister does this morning.”
“Aw come on!” Grace slammed her tiny fists on the counter. “Can’t a girl get away with wearing a tee shirt and shorts? You didn’t even let me finish my coffee.”
Caroline’s one eyebrow started to rise again. Kate gave Grace a knowing glance, and she started to open her mouth in protest until Macy came downstairs with her long blonde hair curled into perfect coils at the ends cascading down the front of a white Polo shirt and pressed pink Lilly Pulitzer skirt. Macy had full makeup on, her pink lipstick and matching liner expertly applied. At 5’9” she could have been a model. Her blonde hair, green-eyed, tallest of all three of the girls, and even taller than Mama, almost as tall as Daddy. Macy was a former ballerina who won Miss Magnolia, Magnolia Academy’s beauty pageant, then won Miss Georgia and jetted off to New York City after only three years at UGA. It was in Manhattan where she met Campbell Boyd Brayden.
“Look at you!” Mama gasped. “You look ready to slip on a wedding gown. Can’t you take a style tip from your sister this morning?” She shot up that eyebrow of hers at Grace.
“Gracie is so cute she can get away with wearing anything.” Macy insisted. “It’s fine, Mama, really.”
“Hmph.” Mama miffed as she zipped the cooler.
Grace stomped out of the room muttering “pish” and “posh” under her breath. If she hadn’t been a good Christian girl, Vivienne Grace Cunningham might have other words for her stressed-out mother that morning. She went back upstairs to get her teeth a good brushing, then tossed her toothbrush in its traveling case before zipping up her final pink Vera Bradley bag. With two large duffles on either shoulder and her hanging bag resting between her arms she started down the hallway to the foyer. The front door was ajar letting in the heat and humidity from a steamy Southern morning.
Outside Daddy had pulled the family’s white Cadillac Escalade to the front circular drive. Its trunk was open and already packed to the brim with luggage for the wedding weekend.