Rhett arrived in Charleston two months before he was set to marry Scarlett. His off the cuff comment about marrying in December seemed to meet with her approval, so a date of December seventeenth had been set.
Scarlett had surprised Rhett by in fact writing him a couple of letters in his absence. While they were certainly not the types of letter he slept with under his pillow, they had left him with a good feeling that she had taken the time to write him at all. He had assumed she wouldn't, that she would be discouraged that she had to send them first to his lawyer. She had received the material he had sent for her to use for her dress as well as for the bridesmaids' dresses and had gone on for over two pages about what an extravagant gown she could have with the material he sent.
He had to laugh at the way she closed her letters. They were to marry; yet she closed her letters with "fondly." While he didn't expect her to claim her undying love for him, he had hoped for something a bit more than fondly out of her. He took the time while in Charleston to book passage for him and Scarlett to Europe for mid-January. That would give them two weeks in Atlanta after the wedding and perhaps a day or two in Charleston with his mother.
His mother joined him for lunch before he left Charleston. He didn't relish remaining in Atlanta for almost six weeks, but knew that he had to. While at lunch, he extended to his mother the invitation to be there for his wedding. He knew Scarlett would send her a handwritten invitation shortly, but he wanted his mother to hear the news from him first.
Surprise could not suitably describe Eleanor's reaction to the news that her oldest child was getting married. She had heard him speak of no one in their brief visits, so she had no idea who his fiancée was until Rhett made mention of the fact that her aunts, Eulalie and Pauline, resided in Charleston.
Rhett knew that they were friends with his mother and she did indeed know whom Scarlett was when the association to her two dear friends was made. Rhett knew that his mother's only hope of being able to attend his wedding was if she went with Scarlett's aunts and did not reveal the purpose of her trip to his father. He left Charleston hoping that his mother would come to the wedding, but knew the chances were not good.
Rhett stopped in Augusta for a few days before completing his trip to Atlanta, Augusta was a city he didn't frequent often but one that always reaped him a healthy profit when he did. Like Atlanta, there were plenty of bars around and bars these days needed liquor and were willing to pay whatever price Rhett quoted to avoid shutting down. With November and December came Thanksgiving and Christmas, and with those two holidays came furloughs. Bar owners knew that business would pick up over the upcoming months, and Rhett played on that knowledge and brought the benefits with him to the bank. He couldn't guarantee delivery anymore, but his prices were the cheapest and most people knew if anyone was capable of fulfilling their order it was Rhett Butler.
Rhett knew that he would only be able to take the train so far with Atlanta having been taken by Sherman's men in September. He would go as far as he could and then travel by horse, cut across to Jonesboro and Tara. A trip to Atlanta really wasn't necessary at all until after he had seen Scarlett. He wouldn't blame Scarlett for wanting to postpone the wedding, but somehow he didn't think Scarlett would do that. If she did, he would try to convince her that a wedding might be just what they need in the County.
He was thirty-six now and wasn't in the frame of mind to wait any longer than he already had to marry. Besides, with the end of the war eminent, Rhett knew that would bring about the return of Ashley Wilkes. Rhett wanted Scarlett as his wife before that happened. He knew if she hadn't married him by then that his chances of her doing so would decrease despite the fact she had already accepted his proposal. The fact Ashley was already married wouldn't matter.
He arrived at Tara safely, tying off his horse and carriage to the hitching post as no one was outside. The plantation appeared run down and uninhabited. He hadn't been to Tara in quite some time, so he had no idea how long it had looked this way. Rhett hoped that he wasn't too late, surely had Scarlett needed help she would have asked him. He had seen the destruction and despair the war had caused on his trip from Charleston to Tara, but he somehow never dreamed the war could touch Tara. Of course he knew it could, and that nothing would stop Sherman's troops if they came through. He walked up the porch steps and made his way to the door, knocking hoping someone would respond.
Melanie was in the parlor with young Beau, her newborn son when the knock on the door came. She was startled and was almost afraid to answer the door. She was alone inside the house. Everyone was out in back trying to capture the last of the livestock that they had to put in the swamp from the last Yankee visitor. She hesitated and then realized she was foolish.
Surely if it were the Yankees they wouldn't knock they'd just come in. She left little Beau on the floor in the parlor and slowly made her way to the door. She hadn't recovered as quickly as she should have after having the baby, so everything was a challenge to her as of yet, even simply walking. She smiled when she opened the door and saw it was Rhett.
"Captain Butler, what a pleasant surprise. Won't you come in?" She blushed slightly, bringing color to her otherwise very pale face. "Scarlett's out back by the swamp. Do you need me to get her for you?" She had to ask the question, it would be impolite not to. Rhett had obviously not come to see Melanie, but she silently hoped he would not ask such a task of her.
Rhett followed Melanie to the parlor; a smile crawled to his lips as he saw the baby. He knew Melanie had been pregnant, Scarlett had mentioned it in one of her letters to him. "Why, Mrs. Wilkes, what a handsome young boy you have here. That won't be necessary for you to go out and get Scarlett. I'll either wait here for her or go out to find her myself."
He glanced from Beau to Melanie, a look of concern crossing his eyes. She did not look well, even for someone who had recently had a baby. He knew women like Melanie weren't meant to have babies at all, but childbirth seemed to have taken an extreme toll on her. "While I'm here, Mrs. Wilkes, why don't you take advantage of me. Can I get you something from the kitchen? Some water or lemonade perhaps? Or something for the baby?" He picked the baby up and held him, careful to support his head.
Melanie watched Rhett with admiration as he picked up Beau so gently, almost as if he had done it all of his life. She wondered how it was people could say such unkind things about him. There was no question in her mind that he was a good man, just by watching him with her son.
"Just the help with Beau is more than enough, Captain Butler. I'm afraid I'm not much help to Scarlett right now, so I'm in the house alone for the most part. Mammy and Dilcey check on me of course, but …" She trailed off, not wanting to seem as though she was complaining. "Was your trip to Tara safe? You weren't in danger coming here were you?"
"No, Mrs. Wilkes, things are fairly safe south of Atlanta yet. Though I'm sure they won't be for much longer." He set Beau down and stood, brushing off his suit. "I think I'll go find Scarlett now, but I'll come back and sit with you before I leave. Congratulations on your son."
He kissed her hand politely and left the parlor, going through the kitchen and out the backdoor. He found Scarlett and her sisters near the swamp just as Melanie had said. He walked toward them and after a slight wave was startled by Scarlett's appearance. Never had he seen her look as disheveled or unkempt as she did now. It saddened him that he had been gone during a time when she needed him. "Miss O'Hara," he called as he approached her. He smiled a genuine smile though there was some amusement visible in his eyes. Never before had he imagined Scarlett O'Hara chasing down a pig in a swamp, never mind the fact that she was without gloves and a bonnet.
For once, Scarlett didn't care that Rhett was seeing her in soiled clothes, her hair pinned up sloppily, and working like a field hand. She wiped her hands off on the skirt of her dress as she walked towards him with a tired but genuine smile on her lips. A beat followed where she was uncomfortable as she wiped her brow with the back of her hand.
They were engaged and had been apart for months, surely she should kiss his cheek or something but so much had happened to her in this last absence of his she didn't know what was proper anymore. It had been three months since she wrote him last and in that time Melanie had had Beau, her mother had died and Suellen and Carreen had taken ill. She figured he knew about Beau, Melanie would have had to answer the door to tell Rhett where to find her.
She wasn't so sure he knew about her mother's passing or her sisters' illness. She finally did reach up and kiss him on the cheek. "I'm surprised you found me out here, Rhett." She narrowed her eyes at him, not wanting to let him know how concerned for him she was. "I'm almost surprised you managed to get to Tara at all."
"Had I tried to get through to Atlanta, I wouldn't have. But I got off before Jonesboro and rode the rest of the way here. I see Melanie had her baby." His eyes narrowed slightly as he spoke, realizing it wasn't his place but needing to say it anyway. "I don't mean to overstep my boundaries, but has she seen a doctor lately, Scarlett? She doesn't look well at all."
"Of course she's seen one, Rhett. I'm not a horrible person. Dr. Fontaine says that she simply wasn't meant to have babies, that he didn't understand how she survived it through this one." She looked at the ground and then up meeting Rhett's gaze. "She can't have any more, Rhett. I know it's just going to crush Ashley that he wasn't with her through the whole thing. He'd never complain, of course, but he places those things high on his list." She started walking towards the house, not waiting for Rhett to follow. "I have lots to tell you, Rhett, please come with me. I'd rather do it in Pa's office then stand out here in the sun."
Rhett followed behind her, curious to say the least. When they got to her father's office, he was even more surprised when she shut the door behind her after telling Melanie they were not to be disturbed. He raised his eyebrows as he looked at her with a chuckle. He sat in a chair in front of the desk, while she sat familiarly in the chair behind the desk. "What is it, Scarlett, did you miss me so much you've decided to have our wedding night here on your father's desk?"
She shot Rhett a glare that could have stopped a rabid dog in its tracks. "I am in no mood for your jokes today, Rhett. Please. Your attorney returned my last letter to you stating that you'd be in Atlanta before he could get it to you any place else." She stared at her hands lying politely in her lap. "I don't know that I can marry you, Rhett, at least not in December." She peered at up at him realizing that this one sentence could change everything for the better or the worse in her life. She waited silently for his reaction, saying no more until she knew what his mood was.
Rhett had half expected something like this, but he was curious to hear her reasons. "Oh? And why is that exactly, Scarlett? Surely it can't be Ashley Wilkes, I think even you can see that he has a child now. There is no room for you in his life. Is it someone else?"
Scarlett flushed with anger. "No, Rhett, it has nothing to do with Ashley or anyone else. Why do you always have to bring Ashley into everything?" It was her turn to narrow her eyes as she looked at him. "Haven't you noticed that my mother isn't here? Haven't you noticed that Pa hasn't come to say hello to you yet? Surely the ever observant Rhett Butler has noticed that something is amiss at Tara, and it has more to do than just the war and the damned Yankees." Tears bean to flow from her eyes. She swatted at them with her hands, willing them unsuccessfully to stop.
She had been so strong through all of this; she had to remain that way. If she let her guard down, if she allowed herself cry now, she would never stop. There would be a proper time to mourn her mother, when the war was over and things were back to normal. Until then, she had mouths to feed, sick to take care of, and bills to pay.
"Well, I just assumed they weren't here, Scarlett. My apologies for not asking." He was concerned for her, and stood walking the short distance to her behind the desk. He pulled her out of the chair she sat in as he sat on the edge of the desk in front of her. He took her into his arms, his arms encircling her tiny waist as he brought her to him. "What's wrong, my dear? What is it? Don't worry about crying it's all right. I'll do whatever I can to make things all right for you, you should know that by now."
In the warmth and comfort of Rhett's arms, she allowed herself to cry for the first time in months. Everything that had built up inside of her came out. The trip to Tara from Atlanta at night, having to go around the campfires she saw in the woods for fear that even if they were friendly troops they'd take her horse and wagon even though they carried Melanie, Beau and Prissy. Coming home to find her mother dead, both of her sisters on their deathbeds and her father gone mad. Fear when her last letter to Rhett had been returned to her. Fear that something had happened to him, or that he had changed his mind about marrying her and wasn't coming back. The Yankees coming to Tara, stealing their food, their animals, burning their cotton, trying to take her mother's earbobs. Everything that could go wrong did.
Now that Rhett was back, Scarlett knew that he would make everything right.
She just didn't feel right marrying him when Tara, her family and her friends needed her so. She couldn't leave them now; there was no one but Scarlett strong enough to tend to the fields, to oversee the work of Dilcey, Pork, Big Sam, Prissy and Mammy.
When she had finished crying, telling Rhett everything, she felt stronger rather than weaker as she had expected to feel. There was no one at Tara or in the County to lay her burdens on; everyone else had problems of their own to contend with. Scarlett and Tara were somewhat lucky compared to some of their neighbors, Twelve Oaks included.
Scarlett had cried when she had seen Twelve Oaks her first day back. She had expected to live there one day; to be its mistress. To see it vacant and burnt was more than she could bear. Somehow, finally voicing all of these things was a comfort, not a hindrance and Scarlett felt her growing stronger still.
Rhett comforted Scarlett as best he could, letting her cry until he sensed she had no more tears left within her to shed. He hugged her tightly. "It's all right, Scarlett. Everything will be all right, I'll see to that." He stroked her hair gently, not wanting to let her release her from his arms. "Have you told me everything, Scarlett? Is there more? You aren't having second thoughts about marrying me? You haven't agreed to marry someone else in my absence have you?"
Scarlett peered up at him, her eyes reddened and puffy from so much crying but they also reflected the hurt she felt for such questions. "Of course not, Rhett. Why would you even think that? I just feel I'm needed here. I can't leave Pa alone. I can't leave Melly here with Beau with no one to care for them. Suellen and Carreen aren't well enough to do much of anything. And the servants, what ones did stay, only Dilcey and Big Sam hold their own." She smiled slightly. "Believe me, Rhett, marrying you and running away from here to Europe for months or even years sounds most appealing, but I just can't do it. I've learned that nothing is more important to me than Tara, and I'll do whatever I can to save it from destruction. I won't have it looking like Twelve Oaks, I just won't. I'd rather die than see it look like that." She clenched her fists, pushing them against Rhett's hardened chest fighting back more tears.
"Scarlett, darling, did it ever occur to you that I'd have no objections to living here at Tara with you? To help you and your family bring it back to what it was before the war. It's your Tara, and yours and your father's love for Tara that inspired me to want to marry you partly. It reminds me of the plantation I grew up on, which is run down and empty now. We have servants who keep it up, but it's not near what it was during my childhood." He sighed slightly, trying to think clearly in his head. "May I make a suggestion, my dear?" He continued when she looked up at him curiously. "No one's going to want to come to an extravagant wedding during these times. Why don't we hire a priest to come out here tomorrow or the next day to marry us? Your father, sisters, Mrs. Wilkes, young Beau, and anyone else you'd like here can come. We'll have a small wedding; your dress is done, so you can still wear it. We'll spend a night or two in Atlanta, come back to Tara and when things are somewhat back to normal and you feel Tara can stand on its own without you for a few months then we'll go on our honeymoon."
Scarlett looked at him, trying to hide the astonishment in her eyes. "You'd do that for me, Rhett? You'd marry me and come live here at Tara with Pa and my sisters? You'd help me bring it back to what it once was?"
She smiled slightly; not understanding why it was Rhett was always so kind to her. He always gave her what she needed seemingly without batting an eye. And she knew that bringing Tara back would not be cheap. Her thoughts turned then to their wedding night. Of course he'd want to stay in Atlanta for a day or two when they were first married, she couldn't rightly expect him to spend his wedding night at Tara in her childhood bedroom.
She blushed slightly at the thought, realizing that he very well may not mind that concept at all. She thought to her bedroom and though it was more than suitable for her it wasn't suitable for a man to live in. Everything about it screamed that only a female had inhabited it for almost twenty years. But she wouldn't bring up staying at Tara instead of at a hotel; the least she could do for him if he was going to live at Tara with her was to give in to his wishes on this point.
"Scarlett, if Tara back to its pre-war status is what you want then that's what I'll give you. I have to admit to feeling a little odd sharing a home with your father and your sisters, but I'm willing to do that if that's what you need to do." He pulled her closer to him, his mouth close to her ear. "And as long as our bedroom is far away from everyone else's I won't mind a bit. I think that one I've slept in a couple of times on the top floor would be good, don't you?" He kissed her ear briefly, nibbling at her earlobe gently. "It's big enough for the both of us and unless someone has moved up there since the last time I was here we'd have the whole floor to ourselves. I don't mind living with your family, but I want to be able to enjoy your being my wife," he mumbled softly in her ear as he continued kissing her softly.
Scarlett reacted differently than she expected to Rhett's kiss; differently she was sure than Rhett had expected. She did not pull away from his lips; instead she moved her head slightly so that his lips could kiss her neck. It wasn't a conscious thought, but what he was doing felt good and it had been so long since anything had felt good to her that she just felt the need to give in. She pulled away slightly, her eyes soft. "Rhett, would you find it strange if I asked for you to wait for me here while I went upstairs and changed? It's been so long since I've worn anything nice, even the dresses from you are looking old and worn now but I have one left. I've been outside all day working. You'll wait won't you?"
Rhett laughed slightly as he released his grasp on her. "Of course I'll wait, Scarlett. How could I turn you down when you have a look in your eye that tells me it might in fact be worth my while to wait?" He placed his hand gently against her mouth before she could speak. "It was a joke, Scarlett. Before you let my joke ruin the mood, go upstairs and do what it is you need to do. I'll be in the parlor with Mrs. Wilkes and her son unless you wanted me to wait here in this very room. Is that what you wanted? I don't know that I'd sit in this little room for an hour or two while you freshen up."
"No, of course, the parlor is fine. In fact, I'll take Melanie upstairs with me while you stay with Beau, and I won't be an hour Rhett, really. You just always seem to catch me when I'm just home from the hospital or out in the fields or when I've fallen off a horse when you drop in on me. I'd like to look nice for once when you kiss me." She turned and walked toward the door before placing her hand on the doorknob and turning towards him once again. "Besides if I take too long you're liable to forget what it was you were just doing, and that would then defeat the purpose of why I want to freshen up." She smiled slightly, lowering her eyes demurely before she left the room without another word. She stopped at the parlor to ask Melanie to go upstairs with her as Rhett joined them in the parlor saying that he'd keep an eye on Beau for Melanie.
True to Scarlett's word, she came downstairs less than an hour later dressed in a fresh dress, her hair brushed, and she wore perfume. Feeling that she looked much better, she looked forward to facing Rhett as she descended the stairs. She walked into the parlor, a slight smile climbing to her lips as she saw Rhett with Beau. Rhett stood holding Beau at the window looking out over Tara's front yard talking to him about what they saw out the window as if little Beau understood. He either did not know Scarlett had come in, or he was ignoring her she didn't know which. She cleared her throat softly, "Am I interrupting?"
Melanie had walked up behind Scarlett, a smile on her face as she saw the gentle way in which Rhett handled her son. "Let me take him from you, Captain Butler. Thank you for watching him it was very kind of you. I hope he wasn't much trouble. He hasn't really been around men, other than Scarlett's father and Pork."
Rhett relinquished his hold on the infant. "No trouble at all, Mrs. Wilkes. We were looking out the window as I told him what I remembered from the first time I stood in this very position. Children have always seemed to take a liking to me for some reason." He shrugged slightly as he let Beau grasp on to his index finger. "Well, now that you've changed, Miss O'Hara, what is it you want to do?" He walked towards her after patting young Beau on the head.
Scarlett bit her lip slightly, she always felt uncomfortable talking to Rhett in front of Melanie. Melanie would never understand the way she talked to Rhett. Melanie would never understand that Scarlett didn't need to sugar coat anything or act like a demure lady in front of Rhett. Scarlett knew that she could say whatever she wanted to him and he would never hold it against her or think badly of her.
Sure he teased her at times, made her feel silly at other times but he never ridiculed her. If she said some of those things to Melanie, or anyone else for that matter, they would never understand. She blushed slightly as she looked up at him. "Well, let's go back to Pa's office. There's still more we need to discuss, don't you think? I didn't mean to run out on you so suddenly like that, but I just can't think straight when I feel I look a mess."
Melanie suddenly realized she was in the way. "Well, it's about time for Beau to go down for his nap. I'll bring him upstairs, you two can have the parlor." She looked from Rhett to Scarlett. "I'm sure you two have plenty to talk about, and I'm feeling rather tired anyway. Thank you again, Captain Butler, for your help with Beau." She left the room, closing the doors behind her after a moment's hesitation realizing that they were soon to be husband and wife and that they more than likely did have a lot to talk about. Melanie knew Scarlett was afraid to leave Tara.
Scarlett had never told her in so many words but Melanie knew that no one worked harder than Scarlett had these past few months. Scarlett would sometimes go without dinner to ensure Melanie and Dilcey ate enough, Melanie needing to recover and Dilcey nursing two children. When Melanie thought of Scarlett out in the fields picking cotton she felt so useless that she was unable to stand alongside her and work. She knew that Scarlett was afraid if she left again that she'd have no home to come back to, just as Ashley and so many others had no homes to return to. Melanie quietly and slowly went upstairs to her room with Beau knowing that Rhett would sense these fears of Scarlett's and do the right thing. Just what the right thing was, Melanie didn't know but she had every confidence in Rhett that he would figure it out.
Scarlett watched as Melanie left and went to Rhett hoping he'd take her into his arms again without her having to ask. She didn't know if she'd be able to ask him, even though it was exactly what she needed. She used to be able to find comfort in Pa's arms, but that was no longer the case. Pa was reliant on her now, there being days he didn't remember Mother had died and he wouldn't let them begin to eat until Mrs. O'Hara joined them. Those were the worst days; Scarlett had to relive seeing his face all over again when she had to tell him once more that Mother wasn't going to be joining them for dinner.
She stood in front of Rhett, thinking he was going to just let her stand there. Feeling foolish, she started to talk. "Well, I guess we can sit down then since Melanie's left us alone."
Rhett smiled slightly. "Why are you so stubborn, Scarlett?" He took her in his arms, pulling her towards him so her body pressed against his lean body. He gazed into her green eyes intensely, and he read them clearly. "Why don't you just tell me what you want? Tell me you want me to hold you, that you want me to kiss you, that you need me. You came pretty close a short while ago in your father's office; I was both surprised and impressed."
He brought his mouth to hers gazing into her eyes as he hesitated before kissing her. "Kiss me, Scarlett."
He pressed his lips to hers, one hand at the small of her back and one hand at the back of her head. When he knew she wasn't going to pull away, when he felt her arms encircling his neck he lowered his hand so that both were around her waist. He let his tongue run gently across her lips, letting his lips brush against her cheeks, her nose, and her neck, returning to her cheeks startled when he tasted tears. He broke away slightly, bringing both hands to her face. "What is it, Scarlett? Why are you crying?"
Despite the fact that Scarlett had wanted Rhett to kiss her, she wasn't expecting it when he did and when he asked her to kiss him she was startled by her reaction. She wasn't offended by his words she didn't pull back. Instead, she kissed him, her lips returning his kiss just as intensely as she wrapped her arms around his neck to bring him closer. She didn't want him to let go she didn't want him to stop kissing her. It felt so good to be held and to be kissed; it was the first time since that day at the Krier's house months ago that something had felt good. And she needed to be made to feel good. She needed to know that she made Rhett feel good.
She began crying because she didn't know what it all meant. She had never felt anything like this, even the day at the Krier's had been different. That had, as Rhett said, been caused by the relief that they had survived the robbery. This was entirely different, there was nothing causing her to feel this way other than her feelings.
Everything she was raised to do, to think, to feel, and to say was telling her that what she felt at that moment was entirely wrong. But how could something wrong feel so good? That was tearing her up inside. She knew if as he said they were to marry in a day or two that she would be expected to share his bed, but she had always been told and always got the impression that it was a duty, something to live with and bear.
If that were the case, surely being touched by Rhett in such a simple way wouldn't make her feel things she'd only read about in books that she and Cathleen read and giggled over together. She shook her head finally, shrugging her shoulders. "I don't know, Rhett. I'm torn up inside. I asked you this once before, but I'll ask you again. What does it say about me that I enjoy your kisses so immensely? Does that mean I'm loose, Rhett? Is that why you're marrying me?" She didn't drop her eyes from his; she was looking to him for an answer.
Rhett laughed lightly. "Dear lord, no, Scarlett. Why would I marry you if I thought that about you? I'd just take what I wanted and go on my way. It's not like I haven't done it before." He sighed slightly; disappointed as he felt the mood shifting from one of kissing to one of talking.
He and Scarlett talked too much, he decided. Once they were married he would see to it that there was little talking for quite some time. He smiled at the thought realizing living here at Tara that would more than likely be impossible.
"Scarlett, has it ever occurred to you that it's normal and it comes from within you. You have a temper, and a fiery one. I've seen it in action more than once lest you forget. It stands to reason, Scarlett, that you're also very passionate. I'm sure it's not something you'd care to discuss with your father, especially now if you say he's no longer quite right in the head. I'm sure your father is the same way perhaps even more so. Now you haven't exactly told me what it is you're feeling, but I imagine you're feeling lots of conflicting things. Those things are normal. You've been told that anything involving intimacy is wrong, should be treated just as you'd treat doing the laundry or darning socks, and yet you're finding that you might find it a bit more enjoyable than darning socks and you feel as though there's something wrong with that. I'm not going to hurt you, Scarlett. I think you'll find you enjoy being married, and all the things that come with it. You might even enjoy sharing a bed with me, not for sex but for sleeping." He looked at her a moment. "You do realize, don't you, that while we're at Tara I expect you to share my bed. I will not have you sleeping in a separate room at least not here."
Scarlett bit her lip as she nodded absentmindedly. "Yes, I understand that, Rhett. I, well, I wouldn't have thought otherwise. I guess I never gave it much thought until now. Mother and Pa shared a room," she shrugged simply as if that in itself was explanation for her thoughts. Her eyes widened suddenly.
"You mean there are people who don't share a room?" She giggled suddenly almost as if she had learned privileged information she should not have been privy to. "I guess I just thought that was part of being married. Another misconception I had apparently. See, you should never have told me, now I know." She sighed softly as she turned away from Rhett. She was disturbed by the thought of giving up her privacy, of having to share a room with not just someone but her husband from now on.
This wasn't temporary, as of the day after tomorrow she would no longer be Scarlett O'Hara, she would be Mrs. Rhett Butler. She turned back toward Rhett, a smile on her lips realizing just what that meant. She, Scarlett O'Hara, a county girl was going to be Mrs. Rhett Butler. While Scarlett wasn't aware of who Rhett's other girl friends were, she knew there had to be many and she knew that when they found out that he had married they would envy her.
This made her feel good; she had accomplished something that she was sure many had tried. But just what is it she did to accomplish it? She had no idea. "You said you rode here. Where are you staying? What did you do with your luggage?" She walked toward him; suddenly realizing she had been quite rude.
"My luggage is in the carriage I rented to come out here. Rented for an extravagant price I might add so that I could assure myself I'd get to you in one piece. As far as where I'm staying, I'll go into Atlanta for the night and then I'll be here in the morning to marry my damsel in distress. Or is it my fair maiden?" He took her into his arms again. "I think it's a little of both. Are you offering for me to stay here at Tara instead? You might want to clear that with Mammy first. With the both of us being healthy and not shot, injured or sick, she may not be too keen on the idea of my staying here."
Scarlett's eyes turned hard as she looked at Rhett and struggled to get out of his embrace. "I don't care what Mammy thinks. Pa isn't capable of making the decisions anymore, so I have to. We have soldiers sleeping on the parlor floor all the time, and they're strangers. Surely, Mammy can make a bed up for you upstairs. I'll tell her she can camp outside my door all night long if she wants to. I don't know that I could ever think of Tara as being anything but Pa's, but I'm the one in charge now. It's not that I asked to be, but what else could I do?" She looked at Rhett, not seeking his approval but hoping he understood what she was saying.
"You've done what anyone in your position would have done, Scarlett. The amazing thing is that you've survived and though you look a little thinner and paler, I'd say you've come out all right. Your sisters lived, Melanie had a healthy baby, and you're obviously feeding everyone." He looked out the window, noticing the sun was starting to set. "Are we going to be left alone in here, Scarlett, or should we go back to your father's office or out to our tree? If we were done talking, I'd like to be alone with you for a while. Being the soon to be groom, I believe I deserve a few moments alone with my betrothed."
"We can go to Pa's office, Rhett. No one will bother us in there. I'll just tell Dilcey we're not to be disturbed. Mammy won't like it of course, but she'll leave us alone." She smiled at Rhett coyly. "After all I imagine Mammy realizes that all of our hopes of having a warm, well fed winter depend on you. The Yankees were here last week and took what was left of our chickens, the hog that I had personally nursed back to health when we found it in the swamp almost drowned. I could go to the Fontaine's or to the Calvert's, of course, but everyone is suffering hard times right now."
She took his hand, opening the parlor doors with her other hand and leading him to the office. She shut the door, leaving him in the room alone as she sought Dilcey out. Returning to the room, she poured them both a drink and drank hers down in one gulp. She lowered the glass slowly, realizing what it is she had just done. Drinking in front of Pa was one thing, Pa wasn't right enough in the head anymore to tell her not to and she felt at times that he found comfort in the sharing of a late night drink of whiskey with his daughter. She stared at Rhett with wide eyes realizing that she just may have sealed her fate to remain here at Tara alone for the rest of her life caring for everyone but herself.
Rhett smiled widely as he raised his glass to hers in a mock toast. "Had I realized you were so thirsty, Scarlett, I would have suggested we come in here a while ago." He watched her as she stared at him blankly. "What did you expect? For me to call off the marriage because you drink your father's whiskey? Please, you know me better than that by now. There's little you could do to surprise me, and little you could do to change the way I feel about you." He chuckled, hoping to change the subject from how he felt quickly. "After all, what more could I ask for in a wife then a girl who can bear me children and drink her whiskey like a man."
Scarlett narrowed her eyes, one hand on her hips as she slammed the glass on the desk. "How dare you insult me, Rhett. It's been a long day, a long week, a long few months, and I think I'm entitled now and then to something to take the edge off my day. I don't think I have it in me to do anything like a man, and as far as children go. I never said I wanted children. Why would I want to ruin my figure?"
"No children? Perhaps you should have voiced this to me a while ago. Did it ever occur to you that I'd want a child or two?" His words were sarcastic; he hoped she was able to pick up on that fact. Of course, he would love children, but it made him no difference if they had ten or none.
"Well, I don't know, Rhett. I never thought about it before, you've never mentioned wanting children. I just assumed you didn't or you would have married much sooner than now." She looked at him curiously. "Are you upset with me?"
He walked around the desk to her, wrapping his arms around her waist. He kissed her softly, his lips barely touching her lips. "Scarlett, I don't think I'm capable of getting upset with you. Well, aside from your childhood infatuation for Ashley, but we won't talk about that now. As far as children, I really don't care if we have ten, one or none. I hope that one day you will feel differently and want one. But if that doesn't happen, that's fine. We'll just spend our children's inheritance foolishly on travel, extravagant clothes, food and parties, and whatever else you can think of."
"Oh, Rhett, how you go on." She rested her head against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of his arms around her. She was content to let herself get lost once again in the safe feeling in his arms. "You don't really have that much money, do you Rhett? Enough that we could just travel and do anything we wanted to do."
"What a pointed question, Scarlett. If I were a gentleman, I'd get upset with you for asking such a question but since we both know I've never pretended to be a gentleman I'll refrain from getting upset." He thought a moment. "Scarlett, I have enough money that I don't think you'll ever have to worry again about where your next meal will come from, where repairs for Tara will come from, or that you have no new dresses to wear. I plan to make sure that you never again have to worry about the things you've had to worry about these past few months."
The comfort of his arms, the warmth of his body pressing against her, the effects of the whiskey, and the fact that she longed for attention all contributed to making her more vulnerable and susceptible to Rhett and his charms and kind words.
To hear that she would never again have to worry were words that she had longed to hear for so long. She looked up at him, her eyes soft and reflecting her genuine feeling of relief and fondness for Rhett. She opened her mouth to speak, but found that she didn't know what to say. Thank you seemed foolish, childlike and silly. The words 'I love you' crossed her mind, but she quickly pushed them away. She loved Ashley. She wasn't sure what she felt for Rhett, but was sure it wasn't love.
He tilted her head to meet his gaze. "I see I've left you speechless. That's a first." He chuckled lightly before his embrace tightened and his lips claimed hers. He felt her breathe in when he began to pull away, so he intensified the kiss nibbling on her upper lip before he pulled away finally. He smirked slightly as he watched her. "Ah, there's nothing like a woman with the smell of whiskey on her breath to put me in the mood for kissing." He felt her pull away, and grabbed her arms bringing her towards her again. "I'm not going to let you go so fast this time, Scarlett."
"Rhett, let me go. We can't have Mammy or Pa coming through the door. We came in here to talk, didn't we? Or do you just expect me to marry you so soon without any discussion?" She hoped that she was successful in making him think she was angry, and that it would be that anger he would attribute to her increased heart rate and flushed face. Why was it that when Rhett was around she could go from feeling angry to feeling as if the answer to everything lay in his kiss? It was frustrating to her, and she felt as if she was somehow betraying Ashley by enjoying Rhett's kisses so much.
Rhett was quick to sense the change in her attitude, and he had to admit he wasn't surprised. He sat on the edge of the desk, pouring them another drink this time offering her a genuine toast. "Very well, Scarlett. What is it you wanted to discuss? You know whatever you want I'll inevitably give you, so just come out with it."
She took the glass without drinking it. "No, it's nothing like that Rhett. I don't understand why you have to be so mean to me." She drank the drink quickly, realizing that she now enjoyed the burning sensation of the warm whiskey on her throat.
She remembered when she took her first drink; she almost thought she was going to be sick. But now, she could drink it without closing her eyes. "But if we're getting married, don't you think we ought to discuss more than whether or not you're going to live at Tara and which room we're going to share?"
She narrowed her eyes and placed both hands on her hips as she realized that she amused him. "Wipe that grin off your face, I'm glad you find me so amusing. Am I somehow going to have to repay you for everything you do for Tara? Is Pa? Do you need him or me to sign something? Tara isn't mine, Rhett. Even if Pa dies, he's left it to the three of us. Suellen would never sell her share more than likely just to spite me. I don't know about Carreen, she's been odd ever since Brent's death."
She thought to the Tarleton's briefly. "Can you believe his parents spent money on a grave marker? Of all the things that they could have spent money on, food, clothes, repairs to their house, shoes for their horses, and they spend it on a grave marker." She shook her head, realizing she was rambling and getting off the subject.
"I don't know that Pa could ever pay you back, Rhett, but I'm sure in a year or two once the cotton crop is back to where it was a few years ago I can work on paying you back. And of course there's the taxes, the help that will need to be paid if we're going to make Tara anywhere near what it once was, and the cost of the food to feed everyone. Between Pa, Suellen, Carreen, Prissy, Dilcey, Mammy, Pork, Big Sam, Melanie, me, and now you. Not to mention, little Beau will obviously need to eat food sooner or later. That's twelve people to feed, cloth and put shoes on their feet."
"Scarlett, I would never dream of making you pay me back for anything. That's part of what being married is about, part of what being a husband is about I imagine. I've never had to really think about it before." He looked from her to the glass she held in her hand and back to her. "Scarlett, you can pay me back by being an honest and trustworthy wife to me. I don't want you to lie to me, about anything. I don't want you to ever think there's something that you can't tell me. I especially don't want you wandering around Tara like a lost puppy dog that's found her master if and when Ashley Wilkes returns. I assure you, I'll stand for many things but that, and it's the last I'll talk about it. If you can do those things for me, rather simple requests I think. I'm not really asking you to do all that much, that will be payment enough."
"Yes, I understand Rhett." She didn't really, but she knew arguing with him was futile. She didn't want the humiliation of a cancelled engagement, and she knew that if she argued with him about Ashley or tried to explain her feelings for Ashley to Rhett that it could lead to just that. He would never understand true love anyway, she reasoned. He probably doesn't even understand what love is, she realized and suddenly she grew sad.
"I'm going to see to dinner and have Mammy fix you a bed." She bit her lip and then said softly, "You talked of us having the bedroom upstairs. Have you ever thought I might want to stay in my room, Rhett?" She really had no objections to staying in the room upstairs, but she wondered what he would say.
"Scarlett, I have no intentions on sharing your childhood room or bed with you. It's bad enough I'm going to be sharing a house with ten other people, as you just pointed out. I'm used to living alone, my dear. It's been close to eighteen years since I've had to think about anyone but myself, so please spare me the talk of sharing your room."
She rolled her eyes; she shouldn't have even mentioned it she realized. "I was just curious, Rhett. It is my room, after all. It's the best room in the house next to my parents' room. As soon as my things are moved upstairs, Suellen's going to lay claim to it and I just don't know that I'm ready to relinquish my claim to it is all."
"I can understand that, Scarlett, but you'd been living in Atlanta for how long before you came back to Tara? I know it's been about two years at any rate. Besides, it's time for you to start a life with me, Scarlett. It's time for us to start working on our life together. And while I have no problem starting that life at Tara I don't plan on us staying here for good." He narrowed his eyes slightly. "You do realize that, Scarlett, don't you? That this is not a permanent solution, but only a temporary fix to the problem. We'll build our house right next door if you'd like, but within a year or two I want a house of our own. Someplace for once in my life I can hang my hat and call home."
"Of course I want a place of my own too, Rhett. As much as I love Pa, I couldn't live with him for the rest of my life." She looked at him curiously. He could be so difficult at times and it made it difficult for her to understand him at times.
As if she didn't want a home of her own.
She loved Tara, but she knew that with Rhett she could have a magnificent house that would put Tara and all the other homes in Atlanta to shame. And one thing Scarlett knew, she didn't ever again want to live with anything that was dirty or old. When she and Rhett were married and the war was over and they had their own home, she would never again have to wear a dress two days in a row.
She would never again have to use sheets and blankets as bandages. She would never again have to pick cotton or chase after livestock. No, she knew that once she was married to Rhett, even with the war going on, her existence would be a comfortable one. And for Scarlett and everything she had gone through these past few years, comfort was something she craved almost as much as money. And to her it was through money that she would obtain comfort.
"Well, let me see to your room and dinner then." She opened the door, and after a moment closed it returning to him. Her eyes were reflecting the conflict in her mind. "Are you sure you want to live here, Rhett? I mean, if you want to put off the wedding until things have returned to some sense of normalcy I'd understand. I have to put up with Suellen, Carreen, Melanie and Pa, they're family. You, on the other hand, really don't." The idea that he may get fed up with her family and all that went into Tara's upkeep and leave her entered her mind briefly. She couldn't really say she blamed him if that were the case. "And you know Mammy and Pork will always consider Pa the master of the house."
Rhett laughed loudly. "Scarlett, if I cared whether or not I was master of a house don't you think I would have had one built for myself long before now. I certainly wouldn't have needed a wife, a mistress of the house, to accomplish that. Believe it or not, I do know a thing or two about plantation life. I wasn't always on my father's bad side, and I learned from him as much as I don't care to admit it." He poured himself another drink. "Are you having second thoughts about marriage, Scarlett? Is that where this is coming from? If that's the case, don't string me along like every other beau you have had. Though I don't think you've taken your game quite this far with any of them. Let me know and I'll leave now so I can make it to Atlanta at a reasonable hour."
"Fine, rush off to be with that Belle woman. See what I care. That's whom it is you care about getting to at a reasonable hour, isn't it?" She stared coldly at him. "I was trying to give you a chance to back out, Rhett. Things aren't quite the same as they were when you first proposed, and I realize that when you asked me you weren't counting on not having a honeymoon, having to live at Tara, and having to put up with my entire family while we were newly married." She placed her hands on her hips and held her head up high. "How dare you insinuate I'm playing any sort of game with you, Rhett Butler. If I didn't want to marry you I wouldn't have said yes, or I would have told you in one of my letters that I had thought it over and reconsidered and that your ring would be returned to you. If you had a decent bone in your body, you would know that."
"Cheer up, Scarlett, your little soliloquy has me convinced. You actually seemed to pack some emotion so I imagine you are sincere. I have no intentions of calling off our wedding. I'll go to Atlanta tonight, Scarlett. As much as the offer of the room upstairs appeals to me, that is now our room and I will not spend another night in it alone. The next time I stay at Tara, it will be with you as my wife. I'll find a priest, I assume Catholic is what it needs to be, and return tomorrow with him and return to Atlanta tomorrow night with you. I want as much time with you in Atlanta as you're willing to take, Scarlett. If you feel you can spare a week, I want a week. I don't much like the idea of my wife returning to the fields right after we marry."
"Tomorrow? That's so soon, Rhett. But I guess if it's just going to be Suellen, Carreen, Melanie, Pa, and the servants there's nothing else to do but put my dress on and have Pa give me away." She bit her lip nervously as she thought. Tomorrow she would no longer be Scarlett O'Hara. "So you're going to leave so soon? Though I guess it is going to get dark." She took hold of his forearm without thinking. "You will be careful, Rhett, won't you? Traveling with a carriage right now isn't safe. Can't you leave it and your things here?"
"Afraid I won't come back, Scarlett?" He chuckled lightly as he glanced at her hand holding his arm. "All right, I can do that. It would be faster for me to ride the horse alone anyway." He had clothes at Belle's; in fact, he believed he had a nice suit in his room at her house in case he ever needed one. He placed his free hand on top of the hand she had placed on his arm and brought her towards him for a kiss. He kissed her tenderly but deeply as he felt her respond. He stopped kissing her, his lips kissing her chin, her neck, moving to her ear where she had earlier responded to his kisses.
His hand moved to her bosom as his fingers rubbed gently, without hesitation against her covered breast. When she didn't pull away, Rhett did. He kissed her again, briefly a slight smirk on his lips as he pulled away and saw her confusion. "I want you virtuous, my dear. And admittedly a little excited for what lies ahead for you tomorrow. We've gone this far without much more than kissing we can wait another day. As much as I'd rather not."
Scarlett felt her heart racing and couldn't believe the feelings Rhett's hand against her breast aroused in her. She knew she should tell him to stop. She knew that her father or anyone could walk through the office door at any given moment and see them. She knew these things and more, but she stood as if hypnotized where she stood on the receiving end of Rhett's kisses and caresses. She exhaled sharply when he pulled away. She didn't want him to go, though she understood what it was he was saying. She flushed when he talked of her being excited; she flushed because she was embarrassed that he realized she was excited. She pulled away slightly. "I agree. It's better this way."
Rhett walked outside with Scarlett by his side as he unhitched the carriage and unfastened the horse. He took his hat, put on his coat and took her into his arms once more. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Miss O'Hara." He kissed her briefly. "Sleep well, Scarlett. You have a busy day, and night, ahead of you tomorrow." He winked at her with a slight smile and mounted the horse. He tipped his hat, his foot coming out from under the hem of his coat as he prompted the horse to start on its way to Atlanta.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com