The few weeks before Christmas passed quickly for those at Tara. Two more shipments of furniture came; Rhett couldn't help but realize that his mother had sent them most of the furniture that had once been at Dunmore Landing. He wondered how she had managed that without alarming his father.
Geraldine had mastered rolling over from her stomach to her back and was now on her way to getting from her stomach to her back. Rhett found his hours out in the field decreasing on a daily basis due to his desire to be indoors with his daughter when she started doing these things. The winter wheat and peanuts were on their way to a healthy crop. Tending to the fields that encompassed Tara was no small task. He still worked long hours, but always returned to the house when he knew Geraldine would be awake in the mornings to spend an hour or two with her before returning to his work.
Rhett had hired some men to rebuild the servants quarters. They didn't need many, but he wanted those servants that wanted to have a home of their own to have one. Tara was getting far too crowded with everyone living under the same roof.
Mammy he would never dream of suggesting move out of the house. Rhett felt that ten houses should suit their needs, and with Will's being almost finished his should be done in no time. Nine more houses then should be enough for Big Sam, Pork and Dilcey and their children, Manigo and the new cook, Martha. Rhett had plans of hiring at least two more field hands. If he wanted corn to become part of his plan, he would need at least two. So extra servants' quarters gave him the ability to hire more if the need arose. He would worry about furnishing them when they were needed; otherwise they would sit empty and unused.
Martha, the cook Rhett had recently hired, was busy organizing the kitchen and sang the praises of her employer when the ingredients for the Christmas feasts began arriving. Spices and other condiments, turkey, ham, roast beef, lamb, and all the trimmings. It had been a long time since she had seen so hearty a feast and she was glad the Butler's trusted her abilities well enough to do the food justice.
She had been hesitant at first to leave Atlanta to come so far away from everything, but Mr. Butler had been so persuasive with his wage that she couldn't very well say no. The first day she came and saw someone in the kitchen, she had felt awkward until she saw the relief in the woman's eyes that she would no longer be required to cook for the household. Martha and Dilcey quickly became friends and Dilcey was quick to lend a hand to Martha whenever it was needed. Dilcey was not a cook and she knew Rhett meant no disrespect when he hired the woman.
They had a Christmas tree at Tara for the first time in five years and though it was decorated sparsely with strings of cranberries and popcorn and candles, Rhett couldn't remember one that had been decorated with such enthusiasm.
Suellen and Scarlett seemed to put aside their bitterness towards one another for the evening that was spent decorating the tree. The Wilkes' were coming and Rhett knew that Scarlett wanted everything to be perfect. It hadn't exactly been his idea to spend his first Christmas with his wife and child with the object of his wife's affections. But he couldn't very well say no, the Wilkes' were Geraldine's godparents as Rhett and Scarlett were to Beau.
Rhett watched in silence holding Geraldine as the women tend to the tree and placed the gifts under it. The stockings were hung and the parlor for the first time in years looked like he imagined it once did when Scarlett and her sisters were children. He dismissed the thank you's from all three of the O'Hara women as being nothing special, though he had never really given Christmas much thought as an adult until this year. Rhett sensed that there were things on Scarlett's mind that she was not willing to approach him about as of yet.
Since the day the first shipment of furniture had come and she had inquired about his dealings with love she had been different towards him. He couldn't tell if she was upset that he had claimed to love someone once or if she had figured out what his statement had meant and was just distancing herself from him. She wasn't unfriendly towards him, but he caught her looking at him at times with a questioning look in her eyes. Had she voiced her feelings or questions, he would have answered her but he wasn't about to bring up the subject. He didn't think he was ready to leave his heart open to her mercy.
He had to wonder, though, what it is she thought. Surely she couldn't be simple minded enough to think that he had no feelings for her. The fact that he married her should have told her he had feelings for her. He had never spoken of them, enjoyed toying with her.
Often times the truth could be found in his teasing, surely she had to realize that. He knew that underneath it all Scarlett cared for him a great deal more than she realized and he was just biding his time until the realization hit.
Having Ashley away from Tara these past few months helped, but now he was going to be here this evening and Rhett feared things would return to where they were before Ashley left. He stood quietly from his chair, realizing it was time for Geraldine's bath and left the room without telling anyone he was leaving. He didn't think he'd be missed, the women seemed rather into themselves at the moment and Will seemed to understand more than Rhett gave him credit for and would never interfere.
It was some time after Ashley, Melanie, Beau and Pitty had arrived that Scarlett realized Rhett and Geraldine were not in the room. Will indicated that he had observed Rhett take Geraldine upstairs some time ago. Scarlett couldn't help but wonder what the accompanying look in Will's eyes meant.
She had grown fond of Will over the months; he had proven his worth in gold and then some. He was far too observant and astute for his own good and she couldn't help but wonder what he knew about Rhett and Ashley. She excused herself from the room and went upstairs in search of Rhett and Geraldine.
Scarlett was trying to figure out what had changed between her and Rhett over the past few weeks. She noticed he had been different towards her and she really didn't understand why. It seemed to have started the day the furniture was delivered, when she had asked him about being in love. She hated thinking back on that conversation; she hated herself for having asked the question to begin with. His answers, as with most things involving Rhett, weren't simple answers. His answers could have meant any number of things.
She wanted to believe he was talking about her, that she was the one he loved and that was what he meant when he had said that maybe she hadn't let him go. She wanted to believe that it was her he spoke of, not wanting to believe he had a mistress somewhere. This thought played heavy on her heart.
He had no time really to have a mistress. She realized this from a logical standpoint. He rarely traveled anymore and his trips to Atlanta were minimal. But she had to wonder if she was pleasing as a wife, she did her best. She mended his clothes better than she had mended anything in her life. She made sure his meals were always prepared for him when he walked through the door. When he came in at night she made sure his bath water was ready with a glass of brandy and his robe waiting for him. She never said no to his advances, and though there were times that she wasn't in the mood she found that he usually changed her mood quickly and she found herself responding to him.
It was these thoughts that ran through her mind when she thought of him having a mistress. Maybe her responses weren't good enough. Maybe she wasn't making him happy. But how could she if he didn't tell her what he expected of her. She wasn't a mind reader; he of all people would know that. She had long since given up on trying to figure out what he was thinking. She had no idea what went into being a wife and her mother had died before Scarlett became a wife to advise her on such things. Certainly there was more to being a wife then what she was doing so far. But try as she might, she couldn't imagine anything her mother did. Mammy tried to offer advice, but Scarlett wasn't ready to listen to someone who had never been married.
Seeing Ashley that evening had thrown more confusion into Scarlett's thoughts. She had been looking forward to seeing him for two weeks, ever since Rhett had told her he had invited their family to spend the holidays at Tara. She had pictured in her mind being able to steal a moment alone with him, but now that she saw him in person she found that that idea no longer appealed to her.
Instead, she found herself looking around the room for Rhett wondering why he hadn't joined her in greeting their guests. It was then that she noticed he wasn't there, and it was then that she noticed the look that Will had given her. Certainly Will couldn't think that she would be unfaithful to Rhett.
Or could he?
A year ago she would have answered with a simple yes, thinking that Rhett wouldn't have cared what she did so long as she didn't get caught and make a fool out of him or their marriage. But if it was she that Rhett loved, and if he ever found out she had been unfaithful that love and everything that went with it would be stripped from her and she knew that.
Why, he might even try and take Geraldine with him. Anyone could attest to the fact that he adored the child and could certainly provide for her better than Scarlett ever could. And despite the fact she wasn't fond of children, and certainly not of the process that brought them into this world, she had grown to love her daughter very much. So much so that if Rhett were to push wanting her to have another one on her in a year or two she might not be disagreeable to the thought. She knew she wasn't a very good mother, other than nursing Geraldine Rhett and Mammy did most of the work. But she loved the child in her own way.
But there was more to her casual thoughts of Ashley, she realized. She remembered a few months ago when thoughts of Ashley were friendly in nature rather than romantic. Had she fallen out of love with him? She had to wonder if she ever really loved him at all.
Rhett had told her once that they were meant to be together because they were alike, bad lots he said they were. Both not caring about anyone but themselves, and while she had to agree with him she wondered then why it was he did all these things for Tara and her family. She wondered again if it was Scarlett Rhett had spoken of when he spoke of loving someone. She wanted to find out, but she had no idea how and she doubted he'd answer her question if she asked.
She had to find out without letting him know she was seeking something from him. But what would she do with the information when she had her answer? What if it wasn't her he loved? She'd think about that tomorrow she thought as she picked up her skirts and ascended the stairs to search for her husband and daughter.
The first room she looked in was the nursery. When they weren't in the nursery and there was no evidence they had been in there, she grew worried. Rhett had had a bit to drink that night; she wondered if he would have done something foolish. She went to their bedroom; breathing a sigh of relief when she saw Rhett asleep on their bed with Geraldine lying naked on his chest sleeping her little hands and face resting comfortably on her daddy's chest as if it was made for that purpose.
Her voice was barely above a whisper as she spoke to her daughter. "I don't blame you for getting comfortable on Daddy's chest, Geraldine, Mother finds comfort in Daddy's big strong arms too. Sometimes there's no place I'd rather be. I have no doubt whose arms you're going to seek comfort from when you fall out of trees or get your heart broken. Daddies always have a way of providing comfort with words of wisdom mixed in that somehow always make you feel better and make you wonder why you were crying to begin with. My Pa would scold me for crying like a girl if I fell out of a tree or fell off a horse. He wouldn't hear of my crying he'd make me go right back to that tree or that horse and try again. If it licked me a second time, then he had time to listen to my sad tale. But not too many things were able to lick your mama twice." She touched her daughter's curly brown hair, which was still damp from her bath. "Let's get a diaper on you though, I don't think Daddy would appreciate getting his shirt ruined."
Realizing how exhausted Rhett must be if he fell asleep without even putting a diaper on Geraldine, Scarlett silently berated herself for not being more attentive to him that evening. It was things like this that made her doubt very highly that it was she who Rhett loved. How could he when she was so caught up in something silly like a Christmas tree to notice he was tired. She lifted the sleeping baby from his chest and was startled when his hand closed around hers. "You're awake," she said dumbly. She didn't know what else to say.
He was still aside from the movement to take hold of her hand. His eyes remained closed as he spoke his voice soft but crisp. "Yes, my dear, I was just enjoying some peace and quiet with my daughter. I figured you'd want some time alone with Ashley. And Melanie of course."
"She's my daughter, too, Rhett. Of course I was looking forward to seeing them and little Beau, too. He's so big, Rhett, and he's walking now. Can you believe it? When they left here he was standing up but wasn't anywhere close to walking yet. They grow so fast, don't they? Just think in a few months we'll have to contend with her doing the same thing. Let me take her from you, Rhett, and put her to bed. You're obviously tired as well or you wouldn't be up here lying in bed." She felt his hold on her hand relinquish. "I'll be right back, Rhett. Hopefully she won't wake up and be hungry." She put Geraldine down for the night, relieved when the girl didn't make a sound. She returned to her room and sat on the edge of the bed by Rhett. She stared at her hands that were set in her lap nervously. "You don't think I'd do something dishonorable in the house we live in do you Rhett? Surely you can't think that low of me."
"I don't think ill of you at all, Scarlett. As far as acting dishonorably. I honestly don't know what you're capable of when it comes to Ashley Wilkes."
"But, Rhett, what have I ever done to make you think that? Other than that day at Twelve Oaks of course, but you and I weren't married then. Since the time we became engaged, Rhett, when did I ever make you think I'd be unfaithful to you?"
"I don't have to think about it, Scarlett, to know that if Ashley weren't so honorable a gentleman he would have bedded you a long time ago and you would have been a willing participant my wife or not. This thought disturbs me a great deal when I think of the fact I've done more for your family and for Tara in the past six months than Ashley Wilkes could have done in his entire lifetime. I have an aversion to having another man think I'm a fool or that I'm not doing something to fulfill my obligations as a husband. I just hope that plays on the back of your mind somewhere when you seek your few moments alone with him this week."
She stared at him in disbelief. "But, Rhett, I have no intentions on being alone with him this week. Honestly I don't. Yes, the thought had crossed my mind; I'm not going to lie to you. I don't know if it's being married or being a mother or what it is, but I realized that Ashley's not worth risking losing what I have." She returned her gaze to her hands. "In all honesty, Rhett, I don't know that anything is worth the risk of losing what I have." She had no idea what she was saying or why, but the words were spoken she couldn't very well take them back.
"And what do you have, Scarlett? You have Tara, though you share it with your sisters. You have a husband you're nothing more than fond of. You have a daughter you never wanted. Why would you be content with that when the man you love is downstairs?"
"Stop being so nasty to me, Rhett. I never wanted a child, that is true but I love her. And as far as Tara goes, if you're not happy here then just tell me where you want to go and we'll go. Will seems capable enough of running things here without you. I love Tara, and I would like nothing more than to live out the rest of my days here but I realize full well that this isn't the life you pictured yourself leading. You're more like that grandfather of yours you've told me about than you realize, you like to roam. I've never understood that, honestly, because home was so special to me. It was sacred. I appreciate everything you've done for me, for Tara, for my sisters. There's absolutely no way I could begin to repay you for your kindness, other than to offer you the chance to leave if you wish. If you don't want me with you, well I guess I understand why. I know I can't be easy to live with. I know you never wanted to marry, why exactly you chose me to marry to begin with I'll never understand."
Rhett opened his eyes and looked at Scarlett, confusion was evident in his eyes. "Are you telling me that you want to come with me or that you want a divorce, Scarlett? Or are you offering to let me go but still be able to return from time to time to collect what is rightfully mine as your husband?"
"I'm not saying either thing, Rhett." She toyed with her engagement ring. How could he speak of divorcing her so casually? "I'm just saying that I realize this is perhaps more than you counted on when you proposed and when we were married. You were counting on taking care of me and whatever children you sired, not taking care of my sisters and my parents' servants." How did this conversation get here? She had no idea, and she didn't like where it appeared to be heading.
"I'm not going anywhere, Scarlett. If you want to be rid of me, you're going to have to tell me to leave. I didn't wait until I was thirty-six to marry only to have it fail. Are you trying to start an argument with me, Scarlett, so that you'll feel justified in running to Ashley? If that's what this is about I'd really rather not be a part of your decision making process as to whether or not you're going to seek him out for affection."
She slapped him hard across the face. "How dare you, Rhett Butler. I just finished telling you I had no desire to see him. I'm up here with you not downstairs in the parlor with him, or have you failed to notice that. I could have gone downstairs after putting Geraldine to bed and not come back in here. And if you were awake when I was talking to Geraldine then you heard the things I said to her. I meant those things, Rhett. She can't understand me, so I wasn't just making something up to hear myself talk. The girl's not dumb. What girl wouldn't seek out your chest and arms to rest her head upon? I'd never seen a man shirtless until you, and the specimens I've seen since that time don't even come close to comparing to you."
She blushed slightly at the boldness of her statement, but it was the truth. Of course the men she had seen since Rhett were all soldiers who were nothing but skin and bones after the war. But she didn't think even at their healthiest that they could have come close to comparing to Rhett. The months of hard work in the fields in the sun had certainly done nothing but add to this opinion; he got more and more attractive every day it seemed. Now that she had finally learned to cut his hair and shave him to his liking, she was often taken aback by his rugged good looks.
Rhett laughed lightly. "If I didn't know better I'd think you wanted something from me. But thank you for the compliment, coming from you it's one I shall be sure and hold dear to my heart. They come so seldom."
"And when was the last time you said anything nice to me, Rhett?"
He leaned up on his elbows to look at her. "Dear Lord, Scarlett, what more do I have to do for you? I work my fingers to the bone working your damned fields. Planting winter wheat and peanuts for the spring. Trying to figure out how much cotton we should plant next spring, trying to get the fields ready to perhaps grow some corn in the spring. I'm not a farmer, Scarlett, your father's not here to tell me what to do and my father doesn't speak to me. Your neighbors help, but they don't trust me well enough yet to be of too much help. Big Sam and Will are Godsends, they both seem to have a natural ability to know exactly what should be planted where and when. I come in from working twelve to fifteen hour days and still take the time to spend my hour or two with Geraldine every evening so that you can have some time to yourself to read, sew, knit, or whatever it is you do and not have to watch her. I have seen to it that Tara was restored to what it was once to the best of my abilities. I have clothed your sisters and the servants. I even allowed the man you are in love with to live under my roof and be supported by my hard work. Because of my efforts the staff refers to me as the master of Tara, I have never asked for such a title to be bestowed upon me. But I do my best to live up to the expectations that come with such a title. Good God, woman, what more can I do for you? You need to verbally hear me tell you how devoted I am to you? I would think, madam, that my actions speak quite plainly."
"I'm not in love with him, Rhett."
She breathed sharply as the words came out of her mouth. She knew that it was probably not the response he was looking for after what he had just said. But he was right, what more could he do?
He was always the first to pay her a compliment when one was warranted. He always commented on her hair or her perfume. But when was the last time she had ever dressed to receive a compliment? She had grown content to dress practically because of Geraldine without putting much thought into how she looked. Everything he did pointed towards the fact he was as he just said devoted to her. Even Mammy had told her months ago how much Rhett loved her. Had she been too blind to see it, or had she just not wanted to see it? She really had no idea.
"I don't love him, at least not like you talk about it. I don't know when I realized it, but I've known it for some time now. I care about him, but I know he could never have made me happy. Even without the war."
Rhett narrowed his eyes slightly. Instead of feeling like a major battle had been won, he felt unsure of his footing from this point. If what she said was true, then she was free at last to accept him into her heart. But what bothered him is the thought that she might be hesitant to let herself love again for fear that if she was wrong once she'd be wrong again. "And do I make you happy, Scarlett?"
"Of course you do, Rhett. How can you even ask me that?" She looked from her lap to him, raising her eyes to meet his. "Is that really what I do to you? I make you question whether or not I'm happy?" She watched as Rhett said nothing, but his eyes gave her the answer that she sought.
"I know I'm not the easiest person to live with, Rhett. I know that. I'm sure Pa is watching you right now laughing if you thought I would be easy to live with. But you let me be myself. You make me feel like I'm your equal, and I have no doubt that if it wasn't for Geraldine you would let me be out there in the fields working with you if that's what I wanted to do." She thought of something. "Rhett, why don't we go into Atlanta when Ashley and Melanie go home? You and me and Geraldine, we can bring Prissy with us. We haven't done anything the two of us since we were married. Don't you think that would be nice? We could dress nice for a change? If you think it would be unfair to Will, then let him have a couple of days off this week."
Her eyes lit up with the idea of a few days in Atlanta. It would be so nice to get away from Tara for a few days. To get away from a house full of people and be alone with her husband and daughter. To show off the clothes and shoes and hats that Rhett had given her. She knew that she had to have some of the best clothes; Rhett wouldn't buy her anything but the best.
Rhett had all he could do to keep a straight face. If Manigo or Will had let on to her his plans he was going to have a word or two with them. "We'll see how things go this week, Scarlett. After having company for a few days you may not want to go." He hoped that would suffice as an answer for now. Sensing her mood changing for the better, he reached for and began to unbutton her dress. "Should I assume you are here to stay for the night, Mrs. Butler? It is getting late after all; you wouldn't want to be the cause for St. Nicholas passing by our house tonight." He chuckled lightly when his attempts at unbuttoning her dress went unstopped.
Scarlett swallowed hard. She wasn't expecting this. And while her breathing revealed her true feelings about Rhett touching her, she needed to be the voice of reason. "Rhett, we have guests downstairs." The words had barely left her mouth and she leaned forward to kiss him fully on the lips allowing him to remove the top of her dress.
"Indeed, my dear, we do. I'm sure Mammy or your sisters will realize that you're not coming back downstairs and see that they are properly tended to. They don't need you for that." He took one of her hands, lowering it to his trousers. "But I, madam, most definitely need you for this." He watched as Scarlett's hand capably unbuttoned his trousers. He watched as she stood to remove her dress the rest of the way and blow out the candles. "No, leave the candles lit, Scarlett." He shed his trousers, tossing them to the floor from the bed as she did as he asked and returned to the bed.
Rhett was pleased with the passion Scarlett seemed to return his kisses, and when his tongue gently ran across a nipple he felt her shiver followed by an audible groan. Something that she was normally careful not to do for fear that someone in the house would hear her. When his tongue met the soft mound between her legs, she lowered her hands to his shoulders and he felt the pressure of her nails breaking through his skin. This combined with her statement that she no longer loved Ashley led Rhett to be a bit faster and less gentle than he normally was in his lovemaking. While he knew he had pleased her, he felt that his desire had been spent too soon.
Afterward in the dim light of the remaining candles, she seemed content to rest her head against his chest. He was drifting off to sleep when he felt her lips against his chest. He let out a slight groan in appreciation as her tongue sought his male nipple. "Was there a problem with the services rendered, madam? Were they not to your satisfaction?"
He queried partially in jest, yet partially wondering if he in fact hadn't satisfied her. He realized it was impossible to know every time she was so hesitant to let him know what she was feeling, but tonight he was rather confident that he had succeeded. Between the sounds she made and the marks he thought had to be on his back and arms, there was little doubt she had been happy with their lovemaking that evening.
Scarlett shrugged as she looked up at him; mischief written clearly in her green eyes as her finger gently traced over where her lips had just been. "I've just never done that before. I wondered if it caused the same reaction in you it does when you do it to me." She giggled slightly as she looked from his face to his chest and then settling at his manhood. "Apparently it does and on a few other parts as well." She turned her gaze back to his eyes. "But if you're not in the mood, Santa can't be too far away. I'm sure he'd believe me when I tell him I've been a nice girl this year."
"I don't know about that. I don't know too many nice girls who expect their husband's to perform their husbandly duties twice in so short a time span. One might interpret that as being quite naughty, madam. Not that you'll hear me voicing any complaints, but I don't know that you'd get much sympathy from Santa." He rolled over to his side, placing his arms around her waist as he brought her to him, returning to his back.
"Come here," he whispered softly as he brought her on top of him, guiding himself into her as his hands rested on her hips. He was surprised when he released his hands from her hips that she remained kneeling above him and took the opportunity to explore her breasts, stomach, arms and shoulders with his hands and fingertips. The urgency of before was gone and was replaced instead with his desire to explore this new aspect of his wife.
A woman who for whatever reason was not only responding to him, but had initiated relations with him as well. His hand went behind her head as he brought her to him for an impassioned kiss when he felt his time come again. He was short of breath as she rested against him, her chestnut hair fanning about him knowing she could hear his heart beating quickly in response to their activities. He kissed the top of her head content to have her lying on top of him for the rest of the evening if she was willing to stay there.
"Merry Christmas, Rhett." Scarlett said softly from beneath her hair as she still rested against Rhett's chest. She was embarrassed to look at him, having no idea what had come over her. He hadn't seemed to mind, but she still didn't know that she could face him at the moment. She was content to feel his arms around her for the moment, realizing as she listened to his heartbeat so quickly that she was the cause of that. Color unknowingly crept to her face as this thought entered her mind. Wondering just how their lovemaking had come about, she grew confused. Hadn't they been arguing just a little while ago? Enough so that she had made the bold suggestion that Rhett might want to leave?
She closed her eyes, not wanting to think anymore about such a foolish statement. She had no idea why she had made such a suggestion; she didn't want Rhett to leave. She had grown accustomed to sharing her bed with him, to his strong arms enveloping her when she had a bad dream, to waking up to the familiar sounds of his morning ritual while dressing for his day in the fields. She wouldn't have believed it possible; marriage always struck her as being so boring.
Rhett woke her the next morning with a kiss while not equal to those they had shared the night before it was still enough to roust her from her sleeping state. "Time to rise and shine, madam, and see what the good St. Nicholas has brought you. Or should I give your presents to Suellen or Carreen."
"Don't you dare, Rhett. I'll be down in a minute." She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. "Why did you let me sleep so late? First I disappear last night and never come back downstairs and now this morning I'm late to rise. Ashley, Melanie and Pitty are going to think I've grown quite rude in my matronly state." In her haste, she failed to notice the fact that Rhett held their child in his arms.
Rhett laughed heartily. "Fear not, Scarlett, no one has voiced any displeasure at your not being downstairs yet. In fact, Geraldine has just risen obviously not yet keen to the excitement that Christmas morning brings. That was really why I came to wake you. I figured you'd want to tend to her needs before coming downstairs. I've already changed her, and I think you'll like the choice in dresses I set out for her to wear today." He handed Geraldine to her mother and laughed as she immediately went to Scarlett's breast. "Just like her mother, knows what she wants and goes after it." Rhett kissed Scarlett again; kissing the top of Geraldine's head gently as not to distract her from the task she was currently focused on and went downstairs to see about breakfast.
It was over an hour later when Scarlett and Geraldine joined everyone downstairs. Geraldine's chocolate colored tresses had green velvet bows in them that matched her dress. Her dark brown eyes were observant and her tiny fists tried to untie the ribbon that held her forest green velvet dress secure. Scarlett relinquished her hold on Geraldine to Pitty who wanted to hold the girl, not having seen her before.
Scarlett welcomed the reprieve so that she could eat breakfast. She was so hungry; she had no idea how she had been able to provide Geraldine any nourishment before eating that morning. After everyone had finished eating, they retired to the parlor where Geraldine and Beau both watched as presents were opened, Beau was old enough to open his own but he was more interested in the tissue paper than the actual presents themselves. Geraldine at not quite five months old just rested in her dad's arms and watched the whole ordeal with interest. Rhett was convinced she would be sitting soon. She already sat if you put her up in that position and let go of her for a minute. She still toppled over pretty quickly, but he felt she would be doing it on her own soon.
Rhett took a box from under the tree and presented it to Scarlett. "Before you open it, Scarlett. You have no idea what my gift is?" It was a statement more than a question. He still didn't know if her desire to go to Atlanta was just coincidence or if she somehow had gotten wind of his present.
Scarlett looked up at him curiously. "I have no idea, Rhett. How could I? Can I open it now?" She was like a little girl again wanting to know what was inside. What she saw in the box took her breath away. "Oh Rhett, how could you? I told you not to spend too much money on me. You've already spent enough this year on Tara alone." She took the gown from the box. It was royal blue velvet with black accents. The sleeves were off the shoulder and decorated with feathers died black. She could tell just by looking at it that it was cut generously low at the bosom. There were black bows at the gathers on the skirt. As she unfolded the dress fully to hold it up to her she heard something fall to the floor. "It's beautiful, Rhett, really but whatever am I going to wear it for."
"The answer I believe might lie in the envelope by your feet, madam."
She glanced at the envelope and forgetting about the dress for the moment set it back in the box as she picked up the envelope and opened it. Two tickets to the ball for New Year's Eve at the Atlanta Hotel. For once in her life Scarlett was speechless. She stared at the dress and the tickets, unable to believe that Rhett had once again seemed to know exactly what she needed before she did. Obviously he had made these arrangements long ago if the dress was to be completed by today. She stood and without a second thought kissed him fully on the lips. "Thank you." She blushed then as she realized that everyone was in the room, for a moment she had forgotten there was a house full of people.
She went to the tree and took his present from her and handed it to him. "I'm afraid it's not nearly as wonderful as your gift." She watched biting her lip gently as he opened the box in which was a Bible. It had been his mother's Bible and Scarlett's name had been added to it, as well as Geraldine's in his father's bold handwriting. She met Rhett's eyes and saw his questioning look. "There's something else in the box, too Rhett." She watched as he pulled out the gold pocket watch that had once belonged to his great grandfather. "It's from your parents and me."
"But how?" He looked to Scarlett as if she held the answer to his question who just shrugged casually in response. She had said his parents, hadn't she? He smiled as he wound up the watch, the memory of him as a young boy watching his grandfather and father doing the same thing. Somehow Scarlett had managed to give him something he thought he would never see again. He knelt before her and kissed her hand. "Thank you, Scarlett. Truly. A more wonderful gift I couldn't have wished for."
The rest of the day was spent around the tree with Rhett feeling a part of a family for the first time in years. Somehow Scarlett had managed to give him a piece of his childhood and he had no idea how she had managed it. He never pictured his father relinquishing his claim to this watch, but here it was now in Rhett's possession. He somehow thought that it had been given to Ross long ago, but he was obviously mistaken in his thinking.
He watched as Ashley and Scarlett reminisced about past Christmas's at Tara and Twelve Oaks, and he couldn't help but notice that as they talked the sparkle present in Scarlett's eyes that she once reserved for Ashley wasn't there this time. In fact, she had surprised him a time or two by looking from Ashley to the room as if searching for something and when her eyes fell on Rhett her search stopped as if she had found what she was looking for. Rhett couldn't help noticing that Ashley was aware of her distraction as well. When Geraldine started fussing, he handed his daughter to the person she sought and watched as the two ascended the stairs.
Later when they were seated around the dining room table, Martha proved herself as one deserving a spot at Tara. The Christmas meal was the best anyone could remember for quite some time. After dinner Scarlett sat and played the piano while they all sang carols and enjoyed a cordial before bed. Rhett dismissed himself to put Geraldine to bed when her bedtime came, going to his bedroom afterward to wait for Scarlett. He watched as she opened the door to their room quietly. "I'm awake, Scarlett."
She removed the shawl from around her shoulders, nodding in response to his statement. She got ready for bed and went to her side of the bed, letting her nightgown fall to the floor before getting into bed. "I figured you were still awake." She smiled coquettishly with a slight shrug of her shoulders as she pulled the covers around her curling up along side him.
He kissed her softly, his hands reaching under the bedding to bring her closer to him. "You truly are amazing, Scarlett. How could you have even suggested I leave knowing you had such a gift for me?"
"Let's not have a repeat of last night, Rhett. Please. I said things maybe I shouldn't have said."
"No repeats of any part of last night or just the saying things you shouldn't have said part? There is a part or two of last night I'd most definitely like to repeat." He chuckled lightly.
"Go to bed, skunk." She pushed him away playfully with a slight laugh. "You are terrible."
"Only because you allow me to be, madam. Only because you allow me to be." He thought a moment, his arms wrapped around her gently. "How did you get the watch, Scarlett?"
She giggled lightly. "Your father gave it to me, Rhett."
"You heard me." She smirked lightly. "He's not as handsome as you are, you must take after your mother's side of the family."
Rhett stiffened slightly. Obviously if she met him, he was here in Atlanta. He had given her the watch but he hadn't taken the time to see his own son, the person to whom the watch was going to be given. "Actually, I look quite a bit like him in his youth. I gather I'm not getting any additional information out of you as to your ability to get this heirloom out of my father's possession."
"No. That's for the mistress of the house to know. Perhaps one day the master of Tara will find out, but I imagine there were quite a few things the former master of Tara never learned from the former mistress either. A true lady would never tell."
"Heaven help me, are you trying to tell me you're turning into a true lady, Scarlett? You certainly didn't act like one last night. Or is it just out of our bed you planning on playing the part?"
"You are terrible, Rhett." She giggled as she ran her fingernails gently across his arm. "Good night, Rhett. Sleep well." She rolled to her side, her back towards Rhett pulling his arm with her.
"Good night, Scarlett."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com