Rhett looked at their hands and for a brief moment he pictured Scarlett comforting him. That it was Scarlett assuring him that Bonnie's death had not been his fault. He had longed to comfort and be comforted after Bonnie's death, but instead they exchanged heated, cruel words out of anger and hurt. Neither were the best communicators during the best of times. A fact made evident during their time of grieving when they should have helped one another through it instead of work against one another.
How he had longed to hear Scarlett just once say the words ‘it wasn't your fault, Rhett.' Even a ‘I know you didn't mean for it to happen' would have sufficed, but she had said nothing. He had after all trained Bonnie to ride sidesaddle. He had after all been so distracted by talking to Scarlett that he had forgotten to walk through the course in the yard to ensure the bar was not placed too high or not in place at all.
Add to that he knew that not only had he caused Scarlett to suffer the death of her child he had, by way of that stupid pony and sidesaddle, made her relive the sudden death of her father under similar circumstances. A death he doubted Scarlett had ever fully recovered from. Outwardly she was fine and rarely spoke of it. Scarlett mentioned her mother and her death, guilt at not being there until she was already gone, more than she did Gerald O'Hara's. Rhett suspected that it was because Scarlett was much more like her father than her mother and Scarlett had lost a part of herself that day her father jumped Tara's fence. For that he was unsure he deserved forgiveness. It was bad enough to watch one person die that way, but two people both your flesh and blood, both people you cherished and put above anyone else was horrific.
Rhett bore some guilt surrounding Gerald's death, though he had never admitted that to another living soul and never would. Ellen O'Hara there was nothing he could have done for Scarlett to get her to Tara any quicker, not with Melanie due to have Beau any day. He had thought how different things might have gone if had not joined the army those last months of the war. He would have been there to help Scarlett with Tara and Gerald might not have been riding a horse that day. Rhett realized that he could not change any of it and if he had done things differently, young Ella would not be here and chances were good that Scarlett would not be his wife. And she was still his wife. Had he been in the position to hand money over to her, she would not have had to marry Frank Kennedy or anyone else.
When it was all said and done, Rhett knew he was not responsible for Gerald's death. Gerald O'Hara alone, and perhaps Ellen O'Hara's death, led to his slow mental breakdown and his death. Suellen might have helped him over the edge a little, despite knowing Scarlett and Suellen had a sibling squabble that went back years, Rhett believed Scarlett when she had told him the things Suellen had said and done.
But Bonnie's death was an entirely different matter. There he knew that he might have been able to prevent it. Damn it, as her father it was his responsibility, it was as simple as that. But this woman's words, the gentleness and lack of accusation in the tone of her voice and her eyes told him that perhaps he was being too hard on himself, carrying the burden alone.
He had never spoken to Scarlett about his feelings on the subject nor did she speak to him regarding her feelings. In part he was afraid, afraid that Scarlett might truly blame him and he just could not bear knowing he had lost both his daughter and his wife on the same day. Up until the moment of Bonnie's death Rhett had been convinced they would be able to make it work. He had been about to suggest they go away together, travel, get out of Atlanta and away from Ashley.
It was not just Rhett's fear that prevented him from talking about it, though. It was as if he and Scarlett both had locked memories of Bonnie away in some attic of their minds and thrown away the key, so she never would be spoken of or thought of again. Of course, just because they didn't speak of her didn't mean they didn't think of her. Rhett was sure Scarlett thought of her, missed her, and ached most days from the painful memories of that day just as he did.
"I am aware it is not my fault, but I do find it incredibly ironic that Bonnie died and Wade and Ella have thrived against the odds. Scarlett wasn't exactly the most caring mother, emotionally at any rate. Wade suffered it worse with the War and the reconstruction, but even then Scarlett ensured he ate even if it meant she didn't."
"Perhaps she was your test, both of you I mean. I certainly cannot justify the death of a child. I have friends who have lost children and nothing ever seems fair, just or right about it no matter the circumstances. But Ella made it sound as if she was well loved. And perhaps," she was stepping away from him now taking the warmth and comfort of her hand with her. "Well, perhaps it was supposed to make you appreciate the two you do have, both of you. Or perhaps it was supposed to bring you closer together."
"I do appreciate Wade and Ella. And obviously it didn't bring us closer together."
"Perhaps it has not brought you closer together because you have both stubbornly worked against one another instead of together as grieving parents should do. And as far as Wade and Ella I am sure you do love them, that came across clearly in Ella's journal. At least until you left." She paused slightly and Rhett watched waiting and wondering just what she was going to say next. "But I wonder if they know that," Katie said simply.
She was wandering around the sitting room again. If this was an act Rhett had to admit it was a convincing one. From the knowledge she seemed to possess about not just him but his family to the way she looked at everything as if she had never seen anything like it before. Her statement about him and Scarlett working against each other was the story of their fourteen years co-existing together. As Rhett told her, they had been at cross-purposes. "I am not their father."
"No, but you are the only father either has ever known. Do you have any idea how they both must have felt when Bonnie got a pony?"
Rhett flinched at her words as if struck. He had truly not given one thought to how Wade or Ella would interpret the things he did for Bonnie. He loved them, of course, but they were not his children and it was natural, at least Rhett thought it was, for anyone to cherish and want to spoil their own child. Rhett had so badly wanted to give Bonnie all of the things he had been unable to give to Scarlett, to do the things for Bonnie that during the war and after he had not been able to do for her mother. Perhaps he had been unfair to Wade and Ella but it had not been intentional on his part.
"You sound as if you might have experience in this regard."
"No, not jealousy really, but I know what it's like to feel someone is favored over you. It hurts and you build resentment, toward the person you think is being favored as well as those favoring that person. Especially as a child, it might not always be rational. Of course it is easy for you to justify your treatment of Bonnie and it is easy for me to understand. But Wade and Ella aren't twenty-seven and as you say, Scarlett's not the most emotionally giving person in the world."
She had given him some things to think on, this woman who claimed be his great great great great granddaughter from the year two thousand two. There were some things he would enjoy asking her if she was telling the truth, but he really did not have the time right now to think about the fact she might be delusional. He, in truth, did not believe that was the case. She seemed quite rational and despite her inappropriate attire acted appropriately. With the exception of having a disrespectful streak he saw nothing wrong with her. But she could not stay there with him, it came back to that problem. He was unwilling to take the chance she was a patient escaped from a sanitarium somewhere. He had not heard of such a thing occurring locally, and normally people were notified of an escape for the very reason that the patient might pose a danger to themselves or others.
He swore under his breath when he recalled she had no clothes and while he could rectify that problem he was not certain how she was going to get dressed without alerting the entire hotel of her presence. "I don't suppose you came with a maidservant?"
She glanced at him an unasked question in her eyes. "Hardly."
"This is going to be fun." He took in her figure, which was easy to do with her wearing a pair of men's underwear and a man's undershirt. Did her husband approve of her dressing in such a manner? Were standards so lax in the future that nothing was left to the imagination? As much as Rhett appreciated women and their figures, and as nice as it was to be able to look at her and know that this was her figure and not enhanced by a corset, there was still something to be said for the unknown.
He offered her an approving smile when he had finished his intense scrutiny of her figure. He had to give her credit, she hadn't backed down or made an attempt to cover up. He'd gazed at women who were covered from head to toe with less intensity than he had her and they hadn't stood still. "My meeting should only take about an hour. I will stop at the dress shop and see what I can find that will fit you. Now, I cannot say that I believe your story, but regardless if you are going to be seen with me I will expect you to dress appropriately."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean, the layers," he gestured to her legs. Attractive or not if she was a relative he felt strange scrutinizing her so intensely. But if he was going to procure her clothes that fit he had little choice but to look at her closely. He certainly was not about to bring a dressmaker here to his hotel room to measure her. "The covering of body parts." Her eyes grew wide and he laughed lightly.
"You cannot possibly expect me to."
"The way I see it, you have two choices. You can wait here for me to bring you some appropriate clothing, which is the option I personally would choose if I was you. Or you can leave dressed as you are and take your chances that the citizens of Atlanta do not see you hung for indecent exposure."
She did not look overly amused, which made Rhett lend more credence to her unbelievable story. "And how do you expect me to get myself dressed?"
"Well, that, Mrs. O'Casey, is a very good question. I am afraid I have not quite thought of that nor how to explain why you are here dressed as you are. I will figure out something, though. If you would like I will arrange for them to send up some bath water for you."
"Really? You would do that for me?"
"Sure. I still have not figured out if I believe you, but it is clear whether you are from when you say you are or are merely running away from something you have had a rough night. Scarlett always enjoyed a bath to relax her."
"Can I meet her?"
"I suppose you would want me to bring you to meet her. That is really your question, isn't it?"
"If it would not be too much trouble, yes, I would. I would like to see your home. Ella wrote about it in such vivid detail. Some of it sounds absolutely unbelievable. And I am not sure that I would know what to say to her honestly."
"I experience that myself," he said with a smile. "As far as the house sounding unbelievable, not knowing just what Ella has said about it just be prepared. Scarlett has interesting tastes to put it delicately. I think after the war and all the hurtful things people said about her she not only wanted to know she was really wealthy, that she was not going to lose everything this time in the event of another crisis, but she wanted to visibly show those who ridiculed her that she had survived and come out on top where most had not."
"She only lives there another ten years or so."
"Why? What happens?" Rhett clenched his fist and closed his eyes tightly. If this woman came here to tell him that Scarlett had only ten years to live he was not going to be responsible for any physical harm that might befall her. The idea of Scarlett dying should not be so abhorrent since he had not shared a house with her in a year and a half and even longer still since they had been truly husband and wife. Despite the reality of their marital situation, or lack there of, Rhett found he did not like the idea of her dying at all. Burying Bonnie was bad enough, but Scarlett was younger than him and he did not care to outlive her too. He was not sure he could handle a funeral for Scarlett O'Hara without going insane. Scarlett was larger than life, had been since the day he had met her and in Rhett's mind she would always be that way, always be that lovestruck girl of sixteen with a schoolgirl crush. To think of her buried in the plot next to Bonnie was a nightmare he did not want to deal with.
"She returns to Tara."
He laughed loudly, shaking his head. "Now I know you cannot possibly be speaking the truth. She would never have moved back to Tara, not as long as her sister was still living there."
"I thought the same thing, but Ella does not say much about it, she stopped writing in eighteen hundred ninety, but somehow Tara was left to Wade Hampton not Suellen's boy."
"It still exists then?"
"Tara? Oh yes, it does. My cousin Will's grandfather, he would be Wade's grandson and the person whose things I found Ella's journal with, has restored Tara to look like what descriptions and portraits show it looked like before the Civil War."
"Yes. They're all boys on that side of the family. Generation after generation of Hamilton boys."
"What was your last name? Your maiden name I mean."
"Katie Scarlett Cummings. And you were born when," he asked in part to see if her story would stay the same. He did recall her age and what year she claimed to be from, so he could deduce what year she should be born. But would she on a moment's notice?
"Nineteen hundred seventy five. I could give you the name of the hospital, but you would not have heard of it as it was built after the war."
"My dear, we are after the war."
"No, not the Civil War. I probably should not be telling you these things. While I still believe this is a dream over the alternative option, I should not tell you things about the future."
"And just why is that?"
"Well, in books or movies whenever someone goes back in time they make it a point that you should not reveal anything because you might alter the future that way."
"I see. Well, far be it from me to alter the future. But might you just by being here alter the future."
She glanced at him curiously and Rhett wondered what she was thinking. "I suppose so, but it seems if that is the case it is only your future I might be altering."
"And you think my future needs altering?"
"Honestly, Rhett, I do not know. Ella wrote very little about you after your separation from Scarlett. She mentioned that you were at their weddings and christenings of their children and what not, but little was said about your day to day activities. And even if she had I would be uncertain which were true and which were stories concocted by you."
"I find it hard to picture Ella married."
"You give her away and I think that meant a lot to her. I know it would have to me had I been in that situation. You have been her daddy since she was a baby."
"She doesn't call me daddy."
"Does she have to? I mean, I do not know about eighteen hundred seventy-five, but in my time there are men who are fathers who never see their children. Father is just a title, just like Mister or Misses or Doctor. In my opinion, it is earned. Helping to create or giving birth to a child does not instantly make you a mother or father beyond name only. You have cared for them, fed them, clothed them, loved them, provided a roof over their heads for most of their lives, haven't you? How is that being any less of a father than Charles or Frank was?"
"It does not," he conceded her point.
"In my opinion, and this is no reflection on Charles or Frank because obviously they did not choose to die, but I believe you have earned the right to consider yourself their father. You see to it that they learn right from wrong, have taught them their numbers and letters, and I understand by way of bringing young Wade with you to the bank have taught them the importance of working hard for a living."
"Some might argue that point with you."
"That you worked hard?"
"Some might argue that you are not good for Scarlett or the children either. Who are you going to believe? Them or yourself?"
"I cannot answer that as I do not know whether I am good for them or not, any of them." He raked his hand through his hair. "I need to get you something to wear or you will be standing here all day in your sleepwear or whatever you call it."
"I am comfortable."
"I am not. I do not think I have stood here with my wife and had this long of a conversation with her dressed so scantily."
Katie looked as though she had a sharp retort to his comment, he could see that she was holding back and right now he was grateful she did. He needed to get out of his suite, escape from this woman who claimed to be from the future.
"It seems you agree with me, so I will return shortly. When the hotel employee comes with the bathwater, please be out here underneath that blanket. He will not see then that you are so underdressed. I will tell them that you are a relative who got into town yesterday, your luggage was lost and you are not feeling well. That should about cover it."
"But why am I here?"
"That, my child, I am hoping no one will think too hard on or question. You are not a mirror image of Scarlett, but you are close enough to her in looks and your manner of speech that it will be clear you are her relation and not mine."
"Rhett," she called to him as he began toward the door.
"Thank you. I obviously do not have money, but I hope I can repay your kindness somehow. I know you do not believe me, I find it hard to believe me too and for that - for being kind to me despite your doubts - thank you."
Rhett was touched by her words. This was no raving lunatic escaped from a sanitarium. He had quite honestly been looking for a reason to begin talking to Scarlett for quite some time now. Perhaps this woman could be his foot in the door so to speak. "You are most welcome, I haven't had a girl in need of my help in a number of years. I almost do not remember what it is like to play the part of the gentleman hero."
"Somehow I doubt that, but thanks again."
Rhett closed the door to his suite and paused in the hallway wondering if she doubted he had forgotten how to play the role or if he had been without a girl in need in a long while. Rhett knew he had a girl in need and he was not thinking of the one in his suite either. In fact, he had two beside that girl.
He stopped at the hotel lobby desk on the way down, explained his cousin's predicament, cousin seeming the safest explanation of who the girl was and asked for bath water to be sent up. He then left the hotel intent on stopping at the dress shop first.
When he left the suite he had no intention of letting anyone up to his suite to see the girl there or the way she was dressed. In part, he was afraid that people might believe that he had turned to a younger version of Scarlett, one who had not borne three children and miscarried a fourth. Scarlett was only two years older than Katie was, but still people loved to have something new to chomp at the bit and gossip about. But now that he thought about it, there was just no way he could go into a dress shop and purchase accurately fitting things, specifically her underthings, without having her measurements.
So he stopped at the dress shop, explained to the woman that one of Scarlett's cousins had come to town, was feeling sick so she was staying with Rhett rather than Scarlett to avoid infecting Wade and Ella. The tale slipped easily from his lips and if the dress maker did not believe him she gave no indication of it, perhaps a hint of doubt was evident in her eyes for a brief moment and then was gone. It was no secret to anyone in Atlanta Rhett now resided and had for the past eighteen months at the Atlanta Hotel, so that part was not about to send the gossip's tongues wagging with delight at a new morsel. Of course the fact that Rhett was buying this cousin essentially a new wardrobe went a long way toward the dress maker keeping her mouth shut.
Rhett hoped he was not putting the cart before the horse arranging to have so many outfits made for Katie. He sensed she would disappear as suddenly and as devastatingly as she had arrived here. But the fact remained he could not keep her hidden away in his suite, so that meant she required proper clothes. If Scarlett did happen to ask, Rhett would merely say the girl had funds of her own.
That taken care of Rhett went about his other errands for the day. He lunched with Henry Hamilton, met with those on the board of bank, visited the mill and one construction site before deciding enough time had passed and he could return to his suite to a properly clothed Katie O'Casey.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com