Rhett returned to Atlanta pleased with himself that a visit with the O'Hara girl had ended on a somewhat positive note. They had not ended up arguing or with one of them getting upset. There was a first time for everything. He realized a girl like Miss O'Hara must be bored with all the boys she knows being away at war, still he couldn't help but think her acceptance of his calls was more than boredom. There were many layers to Scarlett O'Hara, and he was interested in figuring out how to go about exposing each one of them.
He spent the evening playing cards and drinking at Belle's. Belle was her usual attentive self to Rhett's card game. Men would come from all over to play against him, and Belle learned long ago if she put one of her girls on the card games they weren't nearly as profitable for her as when she worked them. Belle had a way about her that made men all too willing to part with their money without them even realizing how much they were spending.
To both their surprises, he quit playing cards and left Belle's before it had closed to return to his room at the Atlanta Hotel, taking his winnings with him minus his normal generous tip for Belle. He had no idea why he was leaving, and a brief kiss to her cheek was his only attempt at an explanation. He knew she was somewhat upset with him. It had been a given as the years went by that nights he was there late for card games he stayed with her, she didn't even give it a second thought and refused to entertain other men. Yes, Rhett was her friend, but he was also one of her more generous customers as well as her business partner. And despite that fact, he never asked for anything without expecting to pay for it.
He woke early the next morning and after checking the train schedule with the front desk; packed his bags and made arrangements for them to be taken to the train station while he ate breakfast. He was accustomed to dining alone; years of travel had forced him to. He was shocked to see Belle enter the restaurant, standing as she approached his table, gesturing for her to sit down if she so desired. He did not make an effort to pull her chair out for her, or to help her sit.
She eyed Rhett curiously.
"Rhett, I'm not here to interrupt your breakfast but I heard you were leaving town today and I couldn't help but be hurt by the fact you hadn't even said good bye. I realize I'm not your girl friend, Rhett, and that you don't owe me anything but a good bye would be the least I'd expect from you."
It had taken a lot for her to come here this morning. She knew it was no secret around Atlanta that Rhett chose to spend his time at her establishment, but for her to come to a respectable place like the Atlanta Hotel was an entirely different thing altogether. Rhett had changed over the last few months and she had no idea what it was that was causing the change, the rift between them.
Three months ago, she was certain that they would eventually one day end up together. She was no fool, she knew Rhett wouldn't marry her. She didn't think he'd ever do that, but she was confident that one day he would come to Atlanta on a visit and just never leave. His trips to Atlanta over the years had not only become more frequent, but they'd also been lasting longer, especially as of late.
She knew she wasn't the only woman Rhett visited, but she believed she was the only one that he returned to so frequently. She knew that he had a long history of one-night stands and women that he cast aside when his business in whatever foreign land he was in had ended. She also realized that most of these women probably didn't mind being used by the likes of Rhett Butler.
Rhett had a way of making even two hours with him seem like the best two hours of your life. She knew that from personal experience. Though she was a whore, he had never treated her with anything but respect. He prided himself on not being a gentleman, but underneath it all he had more of the upbringing in him than he cared to admit. She had no doubt that even the women he had used for purposes of sex and sex only he had somehow made feel special in a way only Rhett could. They probably walked away from it thinking they hadn't even been used.
But recently Belle felt as if she was losing him. He still came around, but he no longer spent all of his time outside of business in Atlanta with her. There were mysterious days that he disappeared when she knew he had mentioned his business being finished. True there had only been a few of those so far, but it was still baffling. Add on top of these peculiarities, he was going to leave today without so much as a good bye.
She had been sweeping off the sidewalk in front of her bar when she noticed one of the Atlanta Hotel's staff heading in the direction of the train station with what were obviously Rhett's bags. She knew him well enough to know his bags. One thing about Rhett, while he didn't have a lot of things the things he did have weren't cheap. She had paid the man to get the information that Rhett was in fact leaving on that morning's train headed for Chattanooga.
At first she wasn't going to do anything, but then her anger lead to jealousy and then to curiosity. Perhaps he had a woman with him. Belle had always wondered what type of women Rhett chose to spend his time with away from her. Somehow she imagined them as being rather glamorous, she wasn't sure why. She knew he had once traveled with a woman, he even brought her to Atlanta with him though she never saw the woman.
Belle was brought out of thought when Rhett cleared his throat. "Well, I'm sorry if I've upset you in some way, Belle. It was time for me to leave. As I told you the other day my business here is finished for the time being, and I need to tend to some business elsewhere. I wasn't under the impression I needed to say good bye to you, I must apologize if I have somehow given you the wrong impression as to my commitment to you and to the city of Atlanta. I really don't like the feeling that for some reason I can't come and go as I please. We've known one another too long for you to start questioning me on my travel schedule." He dabbed his mouth with his napkin as he finished eating his eggs.
Belle lowered her eyes slightly. He was of course right. She had never before in all the years they'd known one another sought him out for an explanation as to why or when he was leaving. She suddenly felt embarrassed at her behavior, and color crept to her cheeks.
There had been plenty of times he had left without saying goodbye. She just had this overwhelming feeling that something about this time was different, and she couldn't shake it. Nor could she question him on it, she realized. How could she possibly question a man who had never promised her anything but his friendship?
He'd never really promised her that much; it was something she just took for granted. She watched as Rhett signaled for his check. "Well, I won't keep you any longer, Rhett. Have a safe trip." There was more she wanted to say, but she instead stood proudly, her head held high as she left the restaurant without looking back.
Rhett paid the tab and sat a moment deep in thought. Belle. He had never lied to her. He had never intentionally led her on. He had never made her any promises. Yet something told him she was hurt and perhaps had ideas about them that he simply could not fulfill. He liked spending time with her, but that was really all it was to him.
He set his napkin on the table in front of him, stood and made his way to the train station. He'd deal with Belle another day. If he went to talk to her now, it would only fill her head with more wrong impressions if indeed they were already there now. As he looked at his pocket watch, he realized a visit to her would be cutting it too close anyway.
He arrived in Chattanooga the following afternoon, where he spent five days before heading up to Virginia and then New York for a stint of wooing business associates and swaying new prospects to his side. He took his business contacts to dinner, theatrical performances, or whatever else was required to keep them happy and on his side. He even got them women.
The only place he drew the line was letting them win at cards. He didn't mind losing, and was a most gracious loser when it happened. But he never lost on purpose. When a month had passed, he found his thoughts wandering to Atlanta, and to Miss O'Hara. After he finished his business up north, he made arrangements to head south toward Atlanta once again.
Thoughts of Atlanta led him to thoughts of Belle. He wasn't sure what it was, but things were changing between them and he felt it. She had been a good friend, lover, and business partner of his for a number of years now. He thought back to his last day in Atlanta. Never before had she sought him out to inquire as to his leaving. He wondered why all of a sudden she had done so. He knew things had changed slightly, but he didn't think it was that noticeable or something that would make her think he was leaving and not returning to her.
True, there was a time in which he perhaps could have done that without a moment's hesitation, however, that was no longer the case. Having very few people he trusted enough to call friend, he knew how rare it was to encounter a person he did trust enough to call them that. He knew she loved him. It was obvious enough that any fool could see it and Rhett realized that he maybe took advantage of her feelings for him at times. But that's what he did, and he tried not to think about it often. One of the things that made him successful was that he was good at reading people and knowing their weaknesses, which he liked to expose and take advantage of. Belle was no different.
Rhett was about to board a train bound for Charleston and Atlanta when he remembered he had told Scarlett he would send her a telegram when he knew his travels would bring him back to Atlanta. Certain she hadn't thought him sincere in his statement; he planned on sending her one just to prove her wrong in her thinking. He looked at his pocket watch, there wasn't much time, but he could do it from Charleston. That would place him in Atlanta a few days after that, giving him a more definite date to work with. One never knew when trains were going to be delayed, and somehow he imagined if he failed to show up at a set time with Scarlett that it would be his last time regardless of the lack of gentleman callers.
When he arrived in Charleston, he sent word to his mother that he would like to have lunch with her if she was available. He provided her with the room number at the hotel he was staying at on this particular visit. He stopped at the Western Union office and sent Scarlett a telegram stating he would be in Atlanta and would call on her for the evening of dinner and dancing he had spoken about during his last visit on Thursday at three o'clock in the afternoon.
After the telegram had been sent, he recalled her statement about being unable to accompany him if she had a beau. He somehow doubted that would be the case, there weren't enough able-bodied men left in Atlanta to court her, but if those were the circumstances he hoped a visit at Tara would not be out of the question. He did realize, however, if there was an able-bodied beau to court her of all the girls he would have the opportunity to court, Scarlett O'Hara would be tops on the list.
Rhett had lunch with his mother that afternoon. He felt bad putting her in the situation where she had to lie to his father in order to see him, but he enjoyed seeing her nonetheless. As always, she enjoyed listening to his talk of travels and his business dealings. She provided him with the latest gossip and goings-on in Charleston, something Rhett had little interest in but feigned intrigue.
He always enjoyed spending time with his mother. She was a good person, one of the few people who Rhett truly admired. Despite his father's efforts to prevent Rhett from having anyone to call on socially in Charleston, a few chose to accept his visits. Rhett would have been content just seeing his mother and leaving the following day, but he got to Charleston so rarely anymore he tried to see those he could. So, he spent a few nights in Charleston before leaving for Atlanta.
After arriving in Atlanta and having his bags sent to the Atlanta Hotel, he stopped in at Belle's for a drink before he retired for the evening. They spent the evening playing cards, something he had taught her to do years ago and she had through the years turned into a formidable opponent. They had a running tab that right now Rhett led in winnings, not that he ever intended to collect on it. In the morning, he offered to take her to lunch knowing he would not stay the night with her that night or see her the next day, something about going from Belle's bed in the morning to Tara that afternoon didn't sit well even with him.
Belle was obviously surprised at his lunch invitation. She and Rhett rarely dined outside of her saloon, and she jumped at the chance to be seen with him in public agreeing to meet Rhett later that morning. She dressed in a fine blue muslin frock with a matching handbag and hat. It was flattering to her figure, showing off her curvaceous body and the color accentuated her red hair making it seem more fiery than normal.
As she walked through town to meet Rhett at the restaurant, she knew that the townspeople she passed despised her. For some reason today she didn't let it get her down. Some of the women she noticed as she walked past them were forced to dye all of their frocks black due to a death in the family and here she was walking through town in a brand new frock that looked fantastic on her and wasn't black. She couldn't help but smile to herself knowingly.
When she entered the restaurant she noticed that Rhett had already arrived and gotten them a table. She dismissed the gentleman at the door making her way to Rhett's table. She set her handbag on the floor to the side at her feet and looked at Rhett with a smile knowing that they were being stared at. Rhett alone would make people stare, but the two of them together caused heads all over Atlanta to turn. She couldn't help but notice how handsome he was. Even dressed in a basic light gray suit, white shirt, and a black ascot he would capture anyone's attention. His tie was held in place by a pearl tie tack and his shirt cuffs by pearl cuff links. As always, everything about him exuded class and style. On most men, pearls would look unmanly but on Rhett they didn't.
Rhett stood as Belle approached, brushing some lint off his suit jacket as she approached the table and sat across from him. He talked to her of his travels and his business, which for some reason never seemed to bore Belle. Of course, being a businesswoman herself and not having been out of Atlanta in years, she seemed to enjoy living through him. When relating an amusing story about a gentleman she was familiar with, by way of Rhett's having brought him to Atlanta on business, his hearty laughter was cut short by the realization that he was being watched.
His gaze strayed from Belle only to find himself looking into a pair of green eyes he was growing more than casually familiar with, and they weren't happy. His gaze went from the eyes to the rest of the face and there was Scarlett, standing a stone's throw away from him fully aware of his presence. He never imagined running into Scarlett in town, so the thought of what he would do in such an instance had never crossed his mind.
Of course he realized her parents would bring her here from time to time, or allow her and some friends to come to town, as was obviously the case today. It was just most unexpected as was evident in his reaction. He stopped slightly as he allowed their eyes to meet then with a slight nod of his head in recognition and acknowledgment he returned his attentions to Belle. He watched out of the corner of his eye as she and her friends sat at a table by the window not too far from where he sat.
Belle was looking at him curiously, why it was almost as if he had been caught doing something. She turned to look where his eyes had been focused a moment ago but only saw a group of young girls none of whom looked familiar to Belle. She couldn't imagine how Rhett would know any of them; she was familiar enough with the people of Atlanta to know that those girls weren't from town. Then suddenly one of the girls glanced in their direction looking at Rhett with her green eyes narrowed, obviously displeased.
Belle turned her attentions back to Rhett, who Belle noticed was trying too hard not to pay attention to the girl. "Someone you know, Rhett?" Belle found herself holding her breath; afraid of the answer he was about to give. Belle never lacked for male attention, and she knew she was pretty. But she also knew that she could never compete for Rhett's attention with the likes of those girls. Of course, he would be attracted to girls like that, girls raised to court and marry. She had never really thought before of Rhett courting someone, and suddenly she felt very out of place.
Rhett smiled, his black eyes narrowing slightly as if in thought. "I may have met her during one of my visits, Belle. Certainly you don't expect me to remember every pretty young girl I've run across in my lifetime. Because believe me, I can't remember them all."
He hated lying to Belle, but he felt the less she knew about Scarlett was for the best; and vice versa he couldn't help but think to himself. Hopefully Scarlett's visits into Atlanta were infrequent enough that she did not know who Belle was or what her occupation was. He wasn't ashamed of his friendship with Belle, but he realized if Scarlett were aware of Belle and what she did for a living that she would most likely not give Rhett the time of day. After all, no lady would.
Despite knowing she had some unladylike qualities, he knew she pretended to play the part of a southern belle, and seemingly other than Rhett who did not fool easily, she played the part well. Since Scarlett and her friends had just arrived Rhett knew there was nothing he could do but enjoy his lunch with Belle and deal with Scarlett tomorrow when he arrived at Tara. He wasn't going to let any girl stand in his way of having an enjoyable lunch with his long-time friend.
As they ate their lunch, Belle couldn't help but notice that Rhett's attentions weren't fully on her. She wasn't used to that and found herself wondering just whom the girl was. Did Rhett really not know her? Belle couldn't exactly blame the girl for being attracted to Rhett if that was the case. As she looked at him, his dark hair styled perfectly, his moustache always kept trimmed and clean, he always neatly and impeccably dressed and those eyes. Eyes a girl could get lost in if she took the time.
They were black, seemingly endless pits of nothing that Belle had found herself trying to get to the bottom of unsuccessfully for years. But what was annoying her was that it was suddenly as if Belle wasn't there. Sure, he was talking to and listening to her, but Belle knew men well enough to know when their hearts weren't with her. And Rhett's heart wasn't with Belle right now. She sighed, and when she heard the group of girls behind her giggling loudly, she couldn't help but turn beat red with anger.
After their meal, Rhett and Belle took coffee. He wouldn't give Scarlett the satisfaction of thinking she'd caused him to rush off. He realized running into her under these circumstances could ruin his chances of her ever allowing herself to be seen with him in public. He was doing nothing disrespectful by having lunch with Belle. He also noticed the girls giggling at the table, all but Scarlett. Scarlett had a smile on her face, responding to the girls' chatter but Rhett could see from where he sat that there was no laughter in her eyes. He wondered if her friends could read her as well as he could. Even after only having seen her only a handful of times that spread over a few months he doubted they could. He was quite sure her friends thought she was having a good time.
Scarlett had been in town shopping with her friends Cathleen, Randa, Betsy and Camilla. Cathleen was really the only one Scarlett considered her friend, but Randa was Cathleen's sister and Betsy and Camilla were Brent and Stu's sisters so she of course had invited them to come along as well.
Scarlett loved to shop, and she was pleased as punch that she had a date the following evening. And to bring her friends along to let them help her pick out a new dress pleased her to no end. None of them had dates, there weren't enough beaux to go around. And Scarlett had a dinner engagement with someone nobody else knew, well she hadn't told anyone whom she was going to dinner with. She had to admit Rhett was handsome, and she could certainly do worse for a dinner companion than the likes of him. Her father had given her plenty of money to buy a whole new outfit, complete with shoes, and she had spent all of it and then some. If there was one thing Scarlett loved to do, it was spend money on new clothes. The five of them were hungry and decided to stay in town for lunch. Their parents wouldn't mind, they knew they were together and it was rare these days for them to enjoy a trip to Atlanta.
They had entered the restaurant gossiping, the four trying to guess who Scarlett's date was and discussing how pretty her dress was and how lucky she was her father had given her money to buy a whole new outfit. They were convinced he lived in Atlanta, for they knew everybody in Clayton County and surely Scarlett wouldn't be so secretive about somebody they all knew. Scarlett did nothing to dissuade them, enjoying the attention they were giving her. When she had turned to follow them toward the table she couldn't believe her eyes.
It was Rhett. Not only was it Rhett but he was eating lunch with a woman. Scarlett had no idea what it was that she was feeling, but she did know she didn't like being played the fool. She clenched her fists as she glared at him, how dare he. He comes to Tara, acting proper and polite and the day before they're to have dinner he's with someone else. She was so mad she could have screamed! Then his lunch companion turned to look at them.
The first thing Scarlett noticed was the color of her hair. She had never seen hair that color before now. And was that rouge she wore on her cheeks? She was much older than Scarlett. Why, she was much prettier than the other woman, too. How could he be with her today knowing that he's going to be with her tomorrow?
Scarlett had never been so embarrassed; she had been caught looking at a man. She quickly turned her attentions back to the girls she was with, determined to enjoy her lunch and not let a low down cad like Rhett Butler or the woman he was with get in her way. She couldn't help but notice whenever Rhett looked over at her, and she made sure that when he did she was not looking at him.
The girls noticed his glances and told Scarlett she should go introduce herself to the handsome man who obviously seemed taken with her. Scarlett was not amused and stated that it couldn't be she he was looking at anyway; he had a lunch companion. Nobody would be that rude. But then they stood to leave and Scarlett couldn't help but watch out of curiosity.
The woman took her handbag as Rhett stood waiting for her. He didn't help her up, Scarlett noticed.
But then he touched her!
Rhett placed his hand on the small of her back as they walked from the restaurant. Scarlett reassured herself as she watched them that he was doing nothing wrong, he was just being kind. Surely a man who wasn't familiar with a woman wouldn't touch her. Not like that. There was an eerie sense of familiarity to his touch that made Scarlett shiver, and with that came anger.
At least, Scarlett thought it was anger. Scarlett was never very good at naming her feelings, for they all came to her so severely and passionately that she just assumed it was anger. The fact that she might be jealous never entered her mind. Certainly not over the woman Rhett was with today. And he had barely cast his eyes in her direction when they walked past her table.
She would tell him what she thought of him the next day and forbid him from setting foot on the grounds of Tara again. Though she was dying to do it right now, she wouldn't give him the satisfaction. She wouldn't embarrass herself, and she couldn't possibly let her friends know that was the man she was supposed to be seeing the next evening. They would make fun of her.
Scarlett was not used to having men play her; it was always her who played them. The nerve of him, she thought. He was no gentleman, and she would tell him so the next day. She thought also of the new frock that she had bought, of the money Pa had given her for it. Money that she knew was not plentiful anymore. Frock or no frock, Scarlett O'Hara would not be made a fool of.
Leaving the restaurant was tricky for Rhett. If he didn't act as he normally did with Belle, she would wonder why he was acting different. So, while he did not help her out of her chair, as he perhaps would have normally, he did place his hand on the small of her back as he walked with her out of the restaurant. He glanced at Scarlett's table, his eyes not focusing on Scarlett, or anything else in particular, and then he and Belle were out the door and on the sidewalk.
Rhett caught Belle a coach and held the door open for her as she boarded it. He shut the door behind her, paid the driver, and turned to look at Scarlett and her friends who he could see through the window from where he stood on the street. He then crossed the street and made his way back to his hotel, visions of the anger held in Scarlett's eyes remaining in his head long after she was out of his sight.
Rhett returned to his room, where he spent the afternoon reading and when it was time for dinner went downstairs to eat. He returned to his room to change into clothes for the evening and made his way to Belle's. His mind being elsewhere that evening, he lost money at cards. When he returned to his room after midnight he calculated, between the drinks and cigars he had bought and his gambling, he had spent over two hundred dollars.
Women. They're nothing but poison.
That's why he kept his distance from them, and never let them get into his head. Somehow, he had let thoughts of Scarlett get into his head, and it had affected his game that night. He got ready for bed and spent a few minutes looking out his window contemplating before heading to bed.
The following morning he spent with Henry Hamilton going over some paperwork on a legal agreement he was entering with some of the plantation owners in Clayton County to purchase their cotton. Rhett knew with the war going on, the price of everything would go up here in the south but he also knew that those who used cotton outside of the south would pay a hefty price for it when they thought there was none to be had.
Mr. Hamilton had no knowledge of what Rhett planned on doing with the cotton, of course. Rhett only trusted one attorney to full disclosure of his business dealings. The others he used in towns to conduct local business he only allowed to know what they needed to know to close deals. The less these attorneys knew about Rhett and his dealings the better off everyone was.
He returned to his room around noon, changed into a simple black suit, white shirt, black cravat and a gray waistcoat. His gold cuff links and tie tack were engraved with his monogram. He was dressed simply, yet more than appropriately for an evening of dinner and dancing. As he was fixing his tie, he realized for the first time that he might in fact be returning to Atlanta later that day without a dinner companion. He hadn't allowed himself to think about that aspect of yesterday's encounter with Scarlett until that moment. But, yet, he knew that if he didn't make his appearance at Tara at all then his chances of ever seeing Scarlett again would decrease drastically.
On his way out of Atlanta, he stopped and bought a white camellia and after placing it in the lapel of his jacket, he dismissed the idea of buying Scarlett flowers. He didn't want her to think he was trying to buy her forgiveness, or to think he was courting her. His ride to Tara was uneventful, as always, the time seeming to pass faster now that he knew where he was going. As he pulled onto the road that led to Tara, he wondered briefly what she would say to him about the day before. One thing Rhett knew for certain, lady or no lady he would hear about it.
Surely, she had to realize he had friends in Atlanta, but he was sure she wasn't expecting his friends to be as pretty and well figured as Belle. Belle had led a hard life, and she wasn't nearly as attractive as she had been when Rhett had first met her years ago but she still had her looks. He exited his carriage, allowing one of the servants to tend to it instead of tying the horse off himself and made his way up the steps of Tara. He was about to knock on the door when he heard footsteps on the ground behind him. He turned to look at the person, a smile coming to his lips and a hint of mischief entering his dark eyes when he saw it was Scarlett. He held off speaking, wondering what it was she had to say.
Scarlett had been watching by the side of the house for Rhett to come. She had to admit when she saw him make his approach to Tara that he was too handsome for his own good. Why even the way he sat in his carriage exuded an air of confidence that made her wonder if he was ever without it.
She was in no mood to play games with him today and make him wait the requisite ten or fifteen minutes before she made her appearance. She decided after all to wear her new cream muslin dress with wine accents inlaid in the fabric. Her bonnet was cream, with wine colored frills and ribbons to fasten it. The dress accentuated her tiny waist, the tiniest in three counties, and the wine color helped bring out her eyes. She looked smashing, and she knew it. She wore it to make Rhett realize what it was he had lost by playing her the fool. She was far better looking than that woman she had seen him with and she was going to make sure he realized that.
She glared at him, had she been able to kill with her eyes alone he would have been dead long before he got out of his carriage. "I can't believe you have the gall to show your face here, Mr. Butler. How dare you come here expecting I would still have dinner with you? If you were a gentleman or had a decent bone in your body you'd realize I never want to see you again, let alone have dinner with you."
She weakened slightly when she saw his smile. He seemed so genuine, as if he truly believed he'd done nothing wrong. Suddenly, she felt foolish. She didn't even know who that woman had been. She could have been his sister for all she knew. Color crept to her cheeks as her embarrassment heightened, realizing how little she knew about the man who stood before her. She dropped her eyes from his gaze. Rumors. That was all she knew about him.
Rhett's smile widened when he noticed the color creeping into Scarlett's cheeks. He could take a good guess as to what she was thinking.
"It's lovely to see you, too, Miss O'Hara. Though I must say, you were much more appealing to me yesterday than you are standing before me now spouting words of anger at me. I have done nothing wrong. Did I tell you that you would be the only person I would have a meal with on my visit to Atlanta? Have I somehow lied to you? Pray tell, what exactly is it that has you in such a tizzy? Surely, it's not that you think of me as one of your beaux. Your southern belle ways and charms mean nothing to me, so if that's what you think stop fooling yourself." He removed his hat in an overly gallant gesture as he descended the stairs and walked toward her with a smirk on his face.
Scarlett lowered her head slightly as she thought. He had a point; he did not make her any promises. Still, what could he possibly see in that woman when he had a dinner engagement with her. True, she had been standoffish about agreeing to go with him, but that was what a girl did. Surely, he knew that.
"No. No, I suppose you didn't. But you made a fool out of me, Mr. Butler. The girls I was with didn't stop bothering me until well after you had left. They thought for sure I knew you and that I had been hiding something from them."
And you touched her she wanted to add. You touched her in a way that suggested you were familiar with her, more familiar than a simple lunch between friends. She may not be experienced, but she was no dummy either.
Rhett's moustache curled up as he laughed heartily.
"Well, I must apologize for my unwelcome behavior. I did not realize that a man such as myself appreciating a girl he happened to see and find attractive was something I need to apologize for, but I will nevertheless since it seems I have somehow offended you. I would think it would have been quite the contrary, however, my dear Miss O'Hara. If your girl friends were teasing you that means they realized my attentions were directed at you and not them. Surely you enjoyed knowing they knew that."
He was looking at her now, his dark eyes so focused on her. Almost as if they were trying to enter her soul. "I was quite honestly shocked to see you there, and had I realized you were to be dining there I would have made arrangements to dine elsewhere so as to avoid such a situation. My lady friend was none too happy with my behavior either if that information proves to be of any comfort to you. She's used to my full attention whenever we're together. And I was overcome by your presence to the point that I'm afraid I was rather lax in my attentiveness to her."
Rhett brought his face inches from hers as he lowered his voice, "I dare say she might have been a bit jealous, too. I'm sure you noticed she's a bit older than you, and I'm sure she realized it was a table of sixteen year old girls that had captured my attention. If there's one thing I know, it's that women don't like to be reminded they've aged." He raised his head again, "If I may be so bold as to say, you looked very nice yesterday. I wonder if your friends realized how much more appealing you are to me than they were. You say they teased you about me, so they must have."
"While I appreciate your compliments, Mr. Butler, I don't feel they're appropriate at this time. And I certainly never said anything about being jealous. I just never imagined. I mean, I just assumed."
She trailed off. She assumed what? That he had been so smitten with her that he wanted to see no one but her? That the woman she had seen him with was his lover? She wasn't sure what she had assumed.
Frustrated she said, "Why is it you came today, Mr. Butler? If you had half a brain, which I know you do, you would have realized I had no desire to see you." She placed her hands on her hips, a most unladylike gesture she realized, but somehow she didn't care at that moment.
Rhett offered her his arm as he walked toward the steps of the porch. He didn't want her to think he was rude and expecting her to stand there while talking to him. She took it hesitantly and he helped her as she sat on the steps.
"I contemplated that very fact myself, and I'll tell you why. I knew if I didn't show today that I would never be able to again in the future. I realized you were inclined to turn me away today, and I'm prepared for that. I'm sure my lady friend will join me for dinner if you don't. I certainly have never lacked for companionship when I've wanted it."
He laughed as his statement had obviously made her uncomfortable.
"But I also know that I would like the opportunity to visit you, even if it is just coming here to Tara and talking with you. So, I weighed my options. Either I show up here tonight and risk being asked to leave; yet by coming here I would be demonstrating to you that I kept my word. I would hope that despite the circumstances you saw me under you would realize that if I had something to hide I certainly wouldn't have come today. You may still turn me away, but I'd more than likely be allowed back once the memory of the events of yesterday wore off. On the other hand, if I stayed away you would think I had been up to no good, that the woman had been my wife, mistress, girl friend or something along those lines. I realized had I taken that route, not showing up today that is, that I more than likely would never be allowed to set foot on Tara again. And quite frankly, that's not acceptable to me. So, here I am offering to take you to dinner. If not, I am more than prepared to return to Atlanta unaccompanied."
He shifted his weight slightly as he switched his hat from one hand to the other. "And by the way, she was not my wife. I am a lot of things, but a marrying man I am not. A few have tried to get me to fall into that trap not believing me when I've said I had no desire to marry." He remained standing, his elbow supported by the porch railing. He expected to be returning to Atlanta alone, and had to admit she would shock him if she accepted.
Scarlett thought over what he had said, and admitted what he said made sense. If he hadn't shown up today she more than likely would have written him off and told Pork and Mammy to tell him she wasn't at home if he ever called again. She played with the ribbon on her bonnet, as she glanced up at him.
"Yes, Mr. Butler, I understand what you mean and you're more than likely right." She raised her eyes slightly, peering into his. "It's such a shame to let a new outfit go to waste, too, but I'm afraid I must this time. I couldn't possibly have dinner with you tonight. Perhaps another time, if I ever forgive you that is."
She stood her heart heavy for having to stay home when she so wanted to go out and dance the night away. She noticed that he did make the effort to help her up, and her thoughts returned to the prior day when she noticed that he had not helped the woman he had been with from her chair. She found herself wondering who she was and while she didn't like being kept in the dark knew there were some things she was better off not knowing. That was the feeling she got about that woman, so she left it.
"I appreciate your coming here today, but I'm afraid I must be going in now. Mammy will wonder where I've gone off to, I had to sneak outside through the kitchen when she wasn't looking in order to be out here when you arrived." Scarlett smiled with delight, her dimples flashing and her eyes shone in genuine delight as she thought of it. How she loved to fool Mammy. She walked up the steps, turning to look at him as she got to the top one.
Rhett watched Scarlett as she fidgeted with her dress and stood to go indoors. He moved slightly to help her up. "Very well, Miss O'Hara." He bowed slightly as he placed his hat on his head. "Would it help if I told you it wasn't a date? The woman I was with at lunch yesterday I mean." He knew it wouldn't, but he figured it couldn't have hurt at such a moment. He knew she wanted to go with him but that her pride was standing in her way.
Scarlett's eyes widened as she registered his statement. He certainly was trying to be persuasive. He must know how deeply she wanted to go. She sighed.
"No, I'm afraid it wouldn't."
Her mind turned back to the touch she had witnessed. She turned on her heels and walked to the front door. She raised her hand in spite of her inclination not to.
"I imagine I'll see you again, Rhett Butler. You don't seem the type to go away without a fight." She turned her face from him so he couldn't see the smile that crawled to her lips.
"Indeed, Miss O'Hara, I believe you can sleep easy tonight knowing that you have not scared me off for good." He watched as she entered the house, closing the door behind her. As he waited for his carriage, he was aware of being watched. Turning his gaze to the house, he saw nothing. The servant arrived with his horse and carriage; he boarded and made his way to the road that led to Atlanta and the long night that lay ahead of him by himself.
Scarlett closed the front door and ran up the stairs to the window in the hallway that Mammy always spied on her from. She was careful to keep her figure hidden from view as she watched Rhett.
Suddenly, he turned to look at the house. She was careful not to disturb the curtain as she stepped back from the window slightly. Surely he hadn't spotted her. She brought her hand to her mouth. What if he had? Still, she couldn't help but watch as his carriage was drawn away from Tara, taking him and her chance at a nice meal and a night dancing with it.
Suddenly she felt foolish. Good times were few and far between these days. She went to her room after knocking on Carreen's door, asking for her assistance in changing. Rhett would be back sometime when she least expected it. Whatever it was that kept bringing him back to Tara, she felt sure it would lead him back again. She just never knew when.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com