She stared out through the mahogany banisters towards the open doorway and sighed with remorse. It didn't have to be this way, she supposed, she could have just kept her damned mouth shut, but heaven forbid that! No, she was doomed forever to be locked in this hell she'd made for herself, away from the rest of the world, a deviant to the rules of society.
Once, not long after the war had ravaged her world, and more directly Tara, she recalled thinking that she no longer had anything to fear. A woman who had seen the worst, as old Grandma Fontaine had called it, and had nothing left to fear; not life nor Mother nor loss of love or public opinion. Only hunger and her nightmare dream of hunger could make her afraid. Or so she'd thought.
A wild thought of quickly dashing down the steps and into the parlor to retrieve a bottle of brandy crossed her mind, but she knew she couldn't; Rhett would be coming through that door any moment…or maybe in a hour or so…or maybe not till morning. Still, she waited.
She was imprisoned forever by words which were stronger than any jail. "Rhett, I've decided that I don't want to have any more children…"
And because of those words, she was forever bound to live a life shut out from those around her, essentially windowed out from the world from which she'd once belonged. She couldn't comprehend these Atlanta folk who went about starving with their heads held high. The war had taught her what people really were, but it didn't teach her anything more about how to live with them, be they Atlanta's disheveled finest, or the bejeweled Scalawag crowd. But most of all, she was shut out from Rhett, the one person whom she'd always been able to turn to, the one who understood and knew her best.
She couldn't go out and buy drab shaded gowns and begin attending masses and tea parties in an attempt to regain her reputation; for everyone would know what a sham it was, seeing how she and her husband still occupied separate rooms. No, she wasn't privy to all of the resources Rhett seemed to have in his armory.
And why was that? Why was it that he could do such things, yet still carry on with a mistress and not be looked down upon? It made no sense, and simply served to make her seethe with resentment towards Rhett, and men in general. Oh, they were all common and vile, and Rhett Butler was the worst of them all.
Yet she stayed and she waited…
**** (End JLT's part)
Rhett's feet grew heavy and hesitant in their step as he approached the sidewalk leading to the home he shared with his wife. Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler, the green eyed woman who had caught his fancy years ago before there had been a War to make her into what she was today, was that wife. Oddly, he was scared to go inside. Not from fear, but rather it was uncertainty that made him unwilling to go inside. He had no idea which wife he would encounter.
He had spent the majority of the past few days at Belle's trying to get her off of his mind and force her out of his heart. Whisky hadn't appealed to him, in fact tonight it had tasted awful on his taste buds so he had stopped drinking after the first glass. Poker didn't agree with him, he lost twenty dollars on the first hand and had stopped before discovering he'd lost his shirt. Not even Belle Watling appealed to him, the woman most of Atlanta knew to be Rhett's mistress.
The first thing that struck him as being off when he actually did open the front door and step inside the front entryway of his house was that it was dark. He had assumed, obviously incorrectly, that Scarlett would have waited up for him. Obviously her talk of loving him had been a bout of insanity even Scarlett was prone to succumb to now and again. Perhaps she had felt some guilt and that had inspired her to say it, but she had washed that guilt away with brandy.
Or perhaps, she hadn't remained at their house at all and as soon as Rhett had left Scarlett had paid a visit to the mourning Ashley. People grieving can do stupid things. Rhett didn't imagine Ashley would ever make love to Scarlett while she was married to someone else under normal conditions, but these weren't normal conditions. He fought the feelings of hurt and betrayal thoughts of Scarlett with Ashley brought with it, but just the thought left a bad taste in his mouth.
Normally, he'd have stopped off in the dining room and helped himself to a glass of whisky before bed, but he didn't want to tonight. Instead, he started up the stairs loosening his cravat and removing his suit coat before he even got to the top step.
Perhaps it was a sense of conscious, the foolish hope that she'd be waiting up for him in her room that made him check or to satisfy his suspicions that she wasn't even home that made Rhett check on Scarlett. Later, he would never know what it was that led him to her room. His hand paused at the door handle, the considerate part of him prompting him to knock. The inconsiderate part of him, the part that wanted to know if what she had said had all been some sort of lie to keep him from leaving prompted him to just enter as he had the right to do.
A little of both parts of him won out. He rapped once on the door as he pushed it open. Had she bid him to stay out, he would have been able to close the door again without infringing on her precious privacy. As it was, though, she didn't say a word. His eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room, only one lamp on the far side of the room had been left on.
She wasn't sleeping or at least not soundly, Rhett could tell. He was familiar enough with the sound of her breathing and how she looked when sleeping to know. So it seemed she hadn't been so distraught over his leaving her, perhaps permanently, to go to sleep relatively early.
He started to close the door again, not wanting to disturb her when she turned over in the bed. She was facing the door now and he could see from the shiny glimmer that her eyes were open and looking right at him.
"I'm sorry if I woke you, Scarlett." He wanted to say more, to tell her that he had felt inspired to check on her. The urge to care for her, to pamper her, and yes even to love her hadn't left but he wasn't about to admit that to her.
"You didn't wake me, Rhett. I just couldn't think of anything else to do, so trying to sleep seemed at least a reasonable thing to attempt."
"Unsuccessfully it seems. No brandy tonight? That usually helps you sleep." He had tried to sound sarcastic with the question and follow-up observation, but he failed. Rhett was aware of her sleeping problems, and his leaving her like he had probably didn't make for a refreshing night's sleep.
"I didn't want any," she admitted sitting up in the bed. She moved to the edge, her feet on the floor. "Are you going out again?"
He should say yes, he shouldn't stop at saying yes but mean it and get the hell away from her. She looked as though she actually gave a damn whether he stayed or left and he didn't like what feelings that brought about in him. And when she looked like that it made Rhett doubt his decision. "I hadn't really decided for sure yet. Why?"
"I was hoping maybe we could talk, Rhett. Really talk now that we've had a while to think on everything."
"Who says I've thought on anything, Scarlett?"
"Please don't be nasty, Rhett." She stood from the bed and walked toward him not bothering with a wrap. "You smell like cigars and cigarettes," she observed, clearly surprised.
"What were you expecting?"
"Perfume," she said unable to meet his eyes with that simple one word admission.
"I haven't been with Belle tonight if that's what's worrying you." He could have kicked himself for not only admitting that, but for the way he had phrased it. As if he should let her know he cared that it might worry her. It would be good for her to worry and then some. Let her worry like he had worried all those years with her, these past few days since Melanie Wilkes had died.
"I figured you might approve."
"I do." She placed her hands on his shoulders and reached up standing on her tip toes so she could kiss him.
Rhett could feel the warmth from the palms of her hands through his shirt against his shoulders. He could feel the slight tremble in her knees. He could hear the hitch of her breath that indicated she was hesitant in kissing him. And her hesitancy and fear of how he'd react to her kiss both humbled and flattered him. And how could he resist? It wasn't often Scarlett initiated kisses between them. Not kisses like this anyway.
He felt her lips part, inviting him into her mouth and despite the nagging voice in his mind telling him to stop he welcomed the invitation and responded to it accordingly. This had been what he wanted from her all along, her kissing him, her making love to him with no Ashley in the picture.
Did he dare trust that this wasn't just a passing thing? Did he dare risk his heart any further on the chance that she could in fact love him and not Ashley? He was taking a chance, he knew, because he had the feeling that if he came back and this failed he'd be incapable of loving again. And now that he'd found it, gotten his hands on it, he found he liked it. He liked the stability it brought and the feeling of belonging he'd lost over twenty years ago.
His mind was shouting a resounding no, telling him to run while he still had a portion of his heart and his honor still intact. His body and the very heart he feared for, on the other hand, were more than willing to give her the chance. Even a portion of his mind, despite his doubts, seemed willing to agree with his impractical side that a Scarlett who loved him could be fun to be married to for the rest of his life.
Sure there might not be any more children after the miscarriage, but they had Bonnie's memory to hold onto and there were always options besides having the babies they could turn to if they decided they wanted more. Rhett had the means and the connections to adopt a whole household of children if they wanted them.
He broke the kiss, his hands on either side of her face so she couldn't pull away too far. He knew he was putting the cart before the horse. His thoughts were getting way ahead of him, thinking of children and adoption and a life together.
"What," she asked her face flushed. "What is it, Rhett?"
"You wanted to talk," he said dryly hiding successfully just how their kiss had affected him.
"Yes, of course. I was hoping you'd want to. Perhaps we should go downstairs."
"I think that would be best, far less tempting then standing here with you in your chambers, Mrs. Butler. Put some clothes on, though, will you please?"
"You've never minded my going downstairs in just a wrap before."
"Yes, well, this isn't before this is tonight, Scarlett. If a wrap is what you want to put on, then that's fine. I'll be waiting in the library."
Rhett left the room, closing the door behind him almost colliding with Mammy who had obviously been trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. "Good evening, Mammy."
"Don't be mad at me again, Mammy. I'm here talking to her, aren't I? It's better then most men in my shoes would be doing."
"I give you that, Mr. Rhett, but you and Miz Scarlett has gone through so much together and loss so much, I dun think she can lose you too, Mr. Rhett."
"Well, we'll see what we can do, Mammy," he said, descending the stairs and entering the library. He poured himself a glass of whisky but then decided against drinking it. He didn't need liquor polluting his thoughts. Not that he'd needed liquor to do that a few minutes ago, he'd let a simple kiss pollute his thoughts too easily. No, he thought to himself pouring the liquor into the decanter, he needed a clear head when dealing with Scarlett.
Scarlett joined him a few minutes later. She had changed into a simple green muslin dress, but hadn't bothered with a corset. She was still flushed from their kiss, thankfully he didn't visibly show the affects of their kiss himself. He was curious as to where she'd gotten the dress, but he didn't ask.
"Rhett," Scarlett began.
"Have you seen Ashley Wilkes since Melanie died?"
Scarlett glanced up at him, her eyes conveying her confusion at the question. "Of course I have, Rhett. He asked me to help with the arrangements."
"Yes," she demanded crisply. "That's all. Unlike you, I have been home every night since Melanie died."
Rhett dismissed her dig at his nightly absences since Melanie's death and proceeded with his line of questioning. If she was feeling like a suspect good, because he was suspect of her and her sudden change of heart. "And how do I know in a few days, weeks, or months you're not going to rekindle your love for Ashley Wilkes and now that he's available toss me aside like you would have done up until the other day?"
"Because Rhett, everything you've said about us and about Ashley over the years is true. I know now Ashley could never have made me happy. His life is filled with dreams and hopes, nothing real or concrete. When I was younger I guess I admired it in him, but now that I'm older I see what a fool he is at times. Hopes and dreams didn't keep Frank's business thriving or the mill running. Dollars and cents, sweat and tears, and hard work and sacrifice are what kept them running."
"I didn't realize it until that night, Rhett. If I were to die, I'd hope you'd mourn me of course, but I know you would go on and that you wouldn't live your life hopelessly until you die too. We're strong you and I, Ashley could never have survived the aspects of the War I did."
"He survived as a soldier," Rhett observed.
"Of course he did, but there was structure and rules there. Here and at Tara, I had only myself and my mind to rely on to make things work. No one else would have done a thing to raise the three hundred dollars we needed for Tara. I married Frank, and I know it was wrong to do to Suellen, but a dozen people were able to retain a roof over their head and food on their table because of what I did. Ashley would never have done that. His honor would have let those same dozen people starve to death."
Rhett smiled widely but said nothing. He wanted to hear her out. For once she was making sense, talking as if she had actually thought this out.
"And another thing. When he had been captured and was in a prison camp. Do you remember how upset Melanie got at thinking that Ashley would defect to the Union's side in order to gain his freedom?"
"Yes, I remember it quite clearly, Scarlett."
"So do I. Because you and I both would have done what we had needed to do to get out of that camp, even if it was to say we were going to fight with the Yankees against our own people. We would have done it and bided our time until we were able to run away and come back home."
"Something along those lines, yes, you're right."
"But Ashley wouldn't have done it. Honor is fine and good, but if it gets you killed, what good does it do you?"
"I don't know," Rhett laughed heartily, his arms crossed over his chest now. "I've wondered the same thing since I was eighteen Scarlett. And I still have no answers on that."
"But you are honorable, Rhett."
"Am I," he asked a hint of teasing in his voice.
"Yes, of course you are. You have always been there for me, Rhett. Oh sure, you've made inappropriate remarks that bordered on rude at the same time, but I've always known even if it meant you had to steal something for me I needed you'd come through for me. You retrieved Melanie's wedding ring for her. I didn't see any other man doing that. Only you, Rhett."
"And those things make me honorable?"
"Those and lots of other things, Rhett. After I'd married Frank and you had been released from jail you came by the store. Do you remember that? You were in your own caddish way ensuring Tara and its taxes had been taken care of, that Frank hadn't somehow misled me or not come through for me."
"I did that?"
Scarlett smiled widely. "Yes, you did that. And you can't lie to me and tell me that wasn't why you came by that day. I know it was. And you rode with me out to the mill when I was pregnant with Ella."
"That wasn't necessarily honorable, Scarlett. People knew and gossips had a field day talking about it."
"Yes, but I don't care about that now. Had I loved Frank maybe I would, but I didn't so I don't."
Rhett laughed loudly. "I hope you don't say the same thing about me a year or two after I've died, Scarlett." For the moment he didn't care that what he had just said could be construed by Scarlett as his admission to his staying.
"Oh Rhett, I could never say that about you. That night Melanie died," she trailed off, visibly swallowing hard.
"Yes, Scarlett," Rhett said, prompting her to continue. He sat next to her on the sofa, placing his large, tanned hand over her smaller, creamy white one offering her support.
"I've never really told you about the dreams I've had since the War. But always it was about going hungry and always I was running from some thing in a thick fogged night. I'm running from something, but running towards something at the same time. It's always the same, and I never see what I'm running from or toward. Never in all the years of having that dream did I realize until that night that it was you I was running towards. That night, the night Melly died, I went outside and it was as if my dream was happening. I was running from a childhood dream, a childhood fantasy, and running toward the reality in you, Rhett. I was leaving my childhood and the silly dreams behind and grasping what was real and what would last. And as I ran the fog cleared somewhat, as if my mind was clearing with it. I was waking up from a lifelong lasting dream."
She shook her head slightly as if clearing her thoughts. "You've been the one constant in my life since I was sixteen years old, Rhett. Always there when I needed you, sometimes there even when I didn't need you or didn't realize I needed you. Even more than Pa," she admitted, lifting her eyes to meet his.
"I should be embarrassed that you have been able to pick up on that fact so easily."
"It wasn't so easy, Rhett. It's taken me a dozen years to see it, so don't tell me it was easy. Though I do feel like the biggest fool for not realizing it years ago. Just think how things might have been different if I had."
"Yes, but there's not much sense in thinking on it now, Scarlett."
"But the future can be different for us, Rhett. Can't it?"
"I don't know, Scarlett. There's a lot of past between us."
"It's not all bad, is it? Bonnie was good, and we made her together. And I know the other baby would have been good too. And," she looked away from him almost a demure air to her. "Well, maybe we could have another one. I'm not too old yet, am I?"
Rhett laughed lightly. "No, you're not too old. Are you sure that having another one is what you want?"
"Things like having a tiny waist don't seem as important as they once did. I mean, of course I don't want to be as big as our house," she admitted sincerely.
"Of course you don't," Rhett drawled teasingly. He removed his hand from over hers, placing his arm behind her on the sofa back. Extending his feet out in front of him, he was curious to hear what else she'd say. So far she sounded sincere, but Rhett knew Scarlett could be a good actress when she wanted to be.
"Just how soon were you thinking of working on this other one, Scarlett?"
"Well, whenever you'd want to, Rhett. I just know you wanted more than Bonnie and I can't tell you now how stupid I was not to give them to you."
"Well, I suppose having two already weighed in on the decision, as well as the fact that the fathers of both of your children died and left you to raise them on your own. Both left you financially well to do, I realize, but it's not the same. And well, Ashley played a big part in it, too."
"Does that mean you'll think about it?"
"Yes, I'll think about it."
"Will you stay here with me and give our marriage a try with my meeting you half way?"
"Half way? After all this time, I think more than half way is called for."
"Rhett, even if I was inclined to agree to that term, we'd be right back where we are now if we did it that way."
"Because then I'd be miserable. Or is that what you want? Me to be miserable for a while."
"No, I've never wanted you to be miserable, Scarlett. But I don't want to be miserable either, and after twelve years of thinking you'd come around I've finally had enough. I have to put me first."
She stood and walked to the one of the bookshelves, running her hand along the edges of the books. "As I did for years." She turned to look at him, her hand dropping to her side. "I'm so sorry, Rhett. If I had it to do again I would do it so differently."
"No you wouldn't, Scarlett, and that's one thing I admire about you. You'd do it all the same, your reputation be damned."
She giggled lightly. "I suppose you're right."
"Well, against my better judgment I'm willing to give this another chance, Scarlett. But I swear to God the next time I won't leave, but divorce you and keep my house."
She cringed at his words. "I understand, Rhett. There won't be a next time. I promise you, I've changed. I meant what I said when I loved you and everything tonight. And I realize you won't say those things back to me until you know you can trust me. But don't be nasty to me."
"By bringing up divorce or Ashley or that Belle woman every time we might get into an argument. We will have them I'm sure, whether we're getting along or not."
"And a baby?"
"We don't have much say in that, Rhett."
He scowled. "You don't mind that we wait a while to actually try for one?"
"No, I suppose not, but I don't want to get too old, Rhett."
"I'm not talking years, Scarlett."
"Yes, I suppose that's acceptable. I'm not saying that we have to have one."
"I know that, and we may not whether this works out between us or not. Wade and Ella might just have to be enough."
"But I could never love them like I loved Bonnie or any child of yours, Rhett."
"While I appreciate you saying that Scarlett, don't you dare repeat that. The last thing you need is for one of them, especially young Wade Hampton, to believe you don't give a damn."
"I think Wade's a lost cause, Rhett. But he likes you well enough, and I know I shouldn't say what I just said, but it's true."
"I think part of repairing your relationship with me should include repairing the one you have with your children, Scarlett. If you've really changed, be a mother to them."
"I wonder if it's not too late, Rhett."
"You need to try, Scarlett. I'll do what I can to help, but you need to make the effort or they'll just care for me because I'm the fun step-father. And as much as I might care for them because they're your children, I'm not staying to raise two other men's children."
"They do love you, especially Wade."
"Maybe take them out of town for a few days and spend some time with them individually. I'm sure Ella would love shopping with you. She likes to look pretty like her mother. And Wade," he shrugged. "I don't know what you could do with him. Take him to some places nearby where the war was fought. He might like to see those things."
"You could take him to West Point."
"I could, yes, but this isn't about me doing things with Wade or Ella."
"No, I meant, we could all go as a family, you could show us things. I never saw any part of the war except Atlanta and Tara, Rhett. We could go as a family. You could tell Wade, Ella, and me about the war."
"Are you just trying to get the four of us away from Atlanta, Scarlett?"
"Would that be so bad?"
"No, but what of their schooling? Schooling especially to Charles I'm sure was important, Scarlett, I won't let you turn your back on what he would have wanted for his son."
"We can hire tutors to accompany us, Rhett."
"Do you plan on being gone so long that would be necessary?"
"I'd like to be gone for a while once the funeral is done, yes."
Rhett looked at her, his eyes bearing into her trying to determine just what, if anything, she was up to. He could think of no reason she'd want to leave Atlanta if this was a game. It would do her no good for them to reconcile away from Atlanta, Ashley Wilkes, and all of the gossips.
Could she change as quickly and easily as she had seemingly done? Who the hell was he to judge? Hadn't he until meeting her claimed he'd never marry, never settle down, never change, and never dare love a woman? And hadn't he broken every one of those self-made proclamations for her? And he knew long before he ever proposed to Scarlett that if he ever did marry it wouldn't be to anyone but her.
Hadn't that been why he proposed as he did so shortly after Frank Kennedy died? Of course it was, because he knew Scarlett would once again have her share of beaux on her doorstep, two children in toe or not. Some of them might have been sincere in their admiration for her, Scarlett was an easy woman to admire. But Rhett knew, too, she was a wealthy woman and many men would attempt to woo her with financial gain in mind rather than love. Rhett didn't need her money, so it seemed logical he step in and propose. Once again coming to her aid as she pointed out a while ago he always did even when she didn't realize she needed his help.
"How are you, by the way? I'm sure by helping with the arrangements you're arranging everything. That's a lot to put on you so soon after Bonnie."
Scarlett stiffened visibly at both his question and the mention of Bonnie. She could lie and say she was fine, but his giving her another chance relied on her being honest with him this time. He could always see through her lies anyway. "He's in no shape to do it, Rhett. I never really realized until now how much of Ashley's strength and his reason for living came from Melly. Besides, it's helping to keep me busy and my mind off of thinking about how I've buried my daughter and now my friend, really my only friend, in less than a year's time."
Rhett turned toward her. Certainly had it been up to him, he wouldn't be offering her comfort, but she so obviously needed it. It must be hard to realize too late just how much someone meant to you. Even in death it seemed Melanie was trying to keep them together, and perhaps her death would actually enable them to be together. And not just be together but live together happily as Rhett knew they could all along had Scarlett just met him half way.
His arms went around her and he brought her to him, offering her his broad shoulders and hard chest which for some reason she always found comfort in. It seemed the least he could do just now. He was surprised when he felt her quivering against him. Assuming she was cold he leaned his head in to speak softly against her ear. "Let's get you back up to bed where it's warm, Scarlett." It was then, feeling dampness on his shirt that he knew she was crying. She wasn't sobbing uncontrollably, but he knew she was crying nonetheless.
He smoothed his hand over her hair soothingly, speaking soft words of encouragement to her. He was more than a little surprised to witness her crying, she so rarely did it. He couldn't really remember her crying in front of him after Bonnie died, though he was sure she had. "It's all right, Scarlett," he said softly. "Melanie knows you loved her."
"Do you really think so, Rhett," she murmured against his chest, shifting her head slightly.
"Yes, I do, Scarlett."
"But what about the night of Ashley's birthday party? He never did deny it."
"She knows, Scarlett. She knows. I'm sure she and Ashley talked about it. I know it, and I'm not as trusting as she was. So surely she knows as well."
"You believe me?"
He hesitated and remembered that night. She had responded to him in her bed too passionately. For the first and only time ever he had felt Ashley was not there with them. "Yes, I believe you, Scarlett. It's not in you to seduce him at the lumber mill."
She laughed lightly, brushing away her tears. "Shows what you know. I might have once upon a time, but not that day. I think that's when I started to realize I loved you and not Ashley."
"I don't know that I'll ever get used to hearing you say those words in reference to me, Scarlett," he admitted, grateful she was more concerned with drying her eyes then focusing on him. For a moment, his emotions were raw, exposed and on display for her to see if she had so chosen.
She cocked her head slightly and looked at him, her green eyes narrowing slightly as if confused. "You mean that I love you? Or that I don't love Ashley?"
"That you love me."
"I do, Rhett. I think I've loved you all along. Mammy Jincy told me once years ago that I'd marry a man with jet black hair and a long black moustache. At the time I didn't pay it any attention, I didn't like dark haired men then." She smiled brightly, her dimples flashing and teasing evident in the way her eyes shimmered. "But I do now."
She was flirting with him! And what was more, Rhett responded to her flirtations with some of his own. Her eyes were a little red from her tears but the green was as vibrant as he could remember seeing it. He hadn't seen her eyes looking like they did now since that day they first met at Twelve Oaks. "So it would seem, my pet. So it would seem."
"Rhett," she said softly, standing from the couch.
"Will you stay the night with me? I know it's asking a lot and I don't expect you to make love to me or anything. Melanie's funeral is tomorrow and I think I'd sleep much better if you were beside me." She closed her eyes and then opened them again. "That's why you came home tonight, isn't it?"
Rhett swallowed hard, hesitating to answer her question. Is that why he had come home? He hadn't put any conscious thought into coming home tonight and why he might be doing it. It seemed, though, that even when he told himself he wanted nothing more to do with Scarlett O'Hara his need to protect her had outweighed his conscious thoughts. He could lie, deny it, and make her think that he hadn't missed her at all, that he hadn't been looking forward to this day for twelve long years. But then where would that get them? She had been brutally honest with him tonight, perhaps it was time to put aside the sarcasm for once and be honest as well. It was risky, but only through honesty would he find out if she was sincere or playing some sort of twisted game. "Yes," he said simply his eyes never faltering from her piercing gaze.
"Thank you. So will you?"
"Sleep with you?"
She smiled. "Yes, sleep in the same bed with your wife. I didn't realize that was an unreasonable request."
"You obviously don't know my wife," he replied flippantly, but yet teasingly.
"She must be lucky to have a man like you to stand by her side."
"You think so? She might argue about how lucky she in fact is."
"I don't think so," she said, batting her lashes coquettishly.
Rhett escorted Scarlett upstairs and opened her bedroom door for her, letting her pass through. "Let me change into something to sleep in and I'll be right in, Scarlett," he said, walking to the door that joined their rooms together without passing through the hallway.
Returning a few minutes later in his pajamas, he noticed Scarlett was already in bed. He pulled back the covers and joined her on the bed. "I never thought I'd see this room again," he murmured.
"I knew you would," Scarlett admitted softly as she moved into his embrace, her back against his chest.
"Did you now?"
"If it took me the rest of my life to do it, yes, I knew you would. You'll come with us tomorrow, won't you?"
"I don't particularly care for funerals, Scarlett." The last and only funeral he'd been to was Bonnie's and he had no desire to repeat that emotional ordeal.
"Maybe you could stand back from the gravesite then with Wade and Ella. I'm not sure I want them too close either."
"We'll work it out in the morning, Scarlett. Get some rest," he said, kissing her cheek lightly.
"I'll try." She grew quiet for a long time. "Rhett?"
Rhett laughed lightly. He wasn't sure he liked her so uncertain of herself. "Yes, Scarlett."
"Are we going to be okay? We're going to go on a trip with the children, right? And we'll work on making things all right between us?"
"Yes, we can do that, Scarlett. I think some time away will do everyone some good."
"I feel bad leaving Ashley though," she admitted softly.
Rhett could tell she had hesitated to make that admission, which made him curious. "Why is that?"
"Oh, Rhett, you haven't seen him the past few days. India and I have actually gotten along somewhat if for nothing else except for the sake of Beau. I don't know if he'd be fed and have clean clothes to wear if it weren't for the two of us. I just worry about him, Rhett. He's not strong like you and I are. I don't know that Beau's going to be enough."
"He'll be enough, Scarlett. Once he's realized she's really gone, he'll realize he's got a child to live for."
"I hope so, Rhett. Now that I can look upon him as a friend, I don't want to lose him. I have a lot to make up for, to both of you."
"Let's not worry about making up for anything, Scarlett. If you live in the past you won't enjoy the present and what it brings. I never thought I believed in second chances, but I'm here so it seems like I make an exception with you for many things."
"I won't disappoint you this time, Rhett. I promise you I won't. I know I have before many times, but this time will be different."
He kissed her cheek again, gathering her closer against him. "I believe you Scarlett. For some strange reason, I believe you."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com