"Well, be still my heart, you look like a lady should."
Katie was not particularly happy to be dressed like this, but she swore she was not going to complain. Rhett had spent more money on her wardrobe in one day than she probably had in her entire adult life. The dressmaker was not pleased at Katie's protests over the corset and Katie knew better than to explain to the woman that she had never worn one before.
"Please tell me what exactly the purpose of this torture device you call a corset is."
"Well, it is to enhance your figure. Slim your waist, accent the curves the good lord gave you, and push out your, um, well other more feminine attributes."
"My breasts you mean."
"Yes those feminine attributes," he said followed by a light laugh as he gazed at the floor instead of at her.
"Okay, well, I am not here to catch a man. I already have a husband, so please make sure that is known."
"Oh, my dear, most men will listen to your mouth and run so far in the other direction I do not believe you have to worry about gentleman trying to vie for your attentions."
"I know you mean that as an insult, but I am relieved." She walked toward Rhett, having practiced walking in the shoes so that by now she felt comfortable in them. "Thank you, by the way. I really do not mean to sound ungrateful. Mrs. Ferrell says that you arranged for all of this," she said gesturing to the gowns, chemises, corsets, stockings, and hair accessories strewn over the couch.
"Well, I could not have you go walking around making a fool of me or Scarlett."
She looked at him curiously but if he noticed he said nothing on it. She found it curious he was concerned about Scarlett being made a fool of, though. Or at least that her name was said in the same breath his was. "I would not dream of making a fool of you, Rhett."
"And I thought of the reason that you stayed here instead of at the house."
"Oh boy this ought to be good."
"You were not feeling well and did not want to infect the children."
"Okay that sounds reasonable. But is your wife going to invite me to stay with her? I mean, she does not know me, and I somehow get the impression she is going to be more skeptical of my story than you were."
"Yes, I imagine we should keep your story between the two of us. I leave the idea of why you are here to you."
"Thanks a lot."
"My pleasure," he said with a gallant, exaggerated bow.
"You know, I know you do not mean that and that you are teasing by bowing like that but I kind of like it. Men do not do that anymore."
"Really, but I guess if the trade off is men not bowing to get out of having to wear all of these clothes it is one I am willing to make."
"Do you mean to tell me you dress like that," he waved his hand as if she would know what the that he was referring to was. Of course she did, but she watched him struggle for a moment.
"Do you mean like a man or in shorts and a T-shirt?"
"Well, both I guess."
"Sure. Heck, there are women who go to beaches and swim in way less than what I was wearing."
"Women swim? Surely you are kidding."
"No. It is a popular past time. Houses, especially in the south, come equipped with pools often times."
"I guess it would be. But then there are not many plantations left standing in the original form or on their original plot of land left. Tara is one of few. I am sure people where I am from would look at all of your opulence and excess and say that that was amazing as well."
"I suppose you have a point. You seem to be making quite a few of those today."
"Mm, indeed, points."
"Are you keeping score for me?"
He shook his head slightly, his teeth flashing in a wide smile. He was amused and Katie found she liked him amused, light, laughing and teasing. "No, I see no reason to keep score for you. If you are ready then, since you look presentable and acceptable by Atlanta's standards I shall take you out."
She glanced at his offered arm and remembered from prom and her wedding what she was supposed to do, but walking like this every day was foreign to her. She slipped her hand through his arm. "I wonder if she will like me."
"Yes. I get the idea from what Ella wrote that she did not get along with women too well."
"When she was younger I would say that was an appropriate assessment. Times have changed and I do not believe she is quite as possessive about her beaux as she once was."
"What of her husband?"
"I do not know that she was possessive of any of her husbands, Katie."
"I doubt she had much reason to feel possessive over the first two, I imagine she might about you, though."
"We shall see I guess. If she goes to scratch your eyes out I will agree and tell you that you were right."
"Thanks a lot."
"I think despite my appearance I should be your cousin not hers. I mean, surely she will wonder why she has never met me before."
"Actually, that is true. She has relatives in Ireland and I believe Savannah who she has never set eyes on, her O'Hara kin. Given your last name of O'Casey it is not impossible."
"All right. And you just happened to know I was coming into town because?"
"Why, I was at the post office collecting the mail, of course, and was told there was a telegram for my wife informing her of your arrival. Being the gentleman that I am, I met your train to save her the trouble."
She tossed her head back and laughed. "You are too much, Rhett Butler. But you know what, I like you. In a way I hope this is a dream because, well, I just hope it is. In a way though I hope it is really happening. To really have met you is sort of amazing."
"I hope you do not say that to your husband."
She laughed again. "Not every compliment from a woman is flirtation, Mr. Butler."
"No? In my experience it is."
"Then you have been around the wrong women entirely too much. I meant the way Ella wrote about you that you seemed larger than life, almost a dream come true. I mean you served in the Confederate Army and from what she said you did not brag about it but in fact were discreet about having served. You were a blockade runner, took care of Scarlett and her children, and I get the sense that you are dangerously protective over those and that which you consider yours."
"You're rather perceptive."
"Thanks," Katie said pleased at the compliment. "So do I really look all right? Mrs. Ferrell was not overly happy with some of my objections."
"I'm sure she was not, particularly if you are speaking the truth when talking about what you do - or rather do not - wear."
"I have lied to you about nothing, Rhett."
He stopped walked and turned so they faced one another. Katie felt like a deer caught in a car's headlights, she was frozen in place by his dark eyes. She should have flinched, should have cowered under his intense gaze but she just stood there and let him look. He was obviously looking for something, she just wished she knew what so she could answer his unasked question.
"You know I believe you," he said dryly.
"Why? I have offered you no physical proof."
"I wish I could give you an answer, but I cannot. Call it a feeling, an instinct, years of reading people, or whatever you like, but I trust you. Perhaps this is a dream, as you have indicated you believe it is, but then we are both dreaming it and I imagine have to live out the dream to see where it takes us."
"What if you do not like where it takes you?"
"It does not seem like I have much control over it, does it," he queried. "And you, I could pose the same question to you. What if you do not like where this takes you?"
"Where could it possibly take me?"
"Well, what if it is not a dream? And what if you remain here?"
"I have thought of that, actually. And I cannot deny I would not like it. I would miss my husband, I would miss my family, and I would miss plenty of things. But if that is the way it is supposed to be then I guess I have nothing to say about it, do I?"
"Very optimistic and very realistic, Katie O'Casey, I am proud of you. No matter how many generations might separate us I would be pleased to have you in my family tree."
"Thanks, I always like to know I am making someone proud of me," she said pleased when he turned away from her and began walking once more. "So you have and Scarlett have been separated for a year and a half or so, is that right?"
"Yes, that is about correct, November nineteen hundred seventy-three."
"Will she be surprised at you showing up today?"
"She might be, but I have always enjoyed surprising Scarlett truth be told. It was times that I surprised her, did the unexpected not so much having the upper hand, that I enjoyed the most. I enjoyed knowing I exceeded her expectations."
"Need I point out, Rhett, you could do that again. Exceed her expectations, I mean. I mean, seriously, what would it hurt to give her another chance?"
"You do not know what you are asking, Katie. What I would be risking."
"Just what exactly would you be risking, Rhett? Okay your heart, but it belongs to her anyway. You are still married and you continue to see her as expected for social functions. Right?"
"Yes, you are right."
"She has not as of yet filed for a divorce, she has not sought out Ashley Wilkes for an illicit affair, and she has not thrown herself at you like a lovesick teenager as she did Ashley Wilkes. Are all of these things correct?"
"Yes," he replied and Katie could hear the hesitation in his voice.
"So, just what would you be risking by giving her a second chance? I mean, she lives in your home, you give her some sort of financial stipend I imagine on top of her earnings from her businesses."
"Yes, but it is not that simple."
"You love her, right? I mean, if that is not true then I could see your reason for hesitation. But my God Rhett if you have loved her for fourteen years how can you just walk away?"
"It is not easy. I hate staying here at the hotel, hate remaining in this city knowing that people know and are waiting for her third marriage to end in divorce rather than death, waiting for me to fail."
"Then why do it? I mean if you are going to stay married anyway, and you do, Rhett, as of eighteen hundred ninety you are not divorced, why not make the effort."
"And if I am miserable?"
"You do not strike me as being altogether happy with where things sit right now, Rhett."
"No, I suppose you have a point there."
She took his offered hand and assistance to step into the coach. It was luxurious inside and Katie was distracted from the conversation to her surroundings. The curtains covering the windows were simple yet nicely made, the seats were covered with a material that did not show its wear or dirt from use. She regarded Rhett as he stepped inside and sat in the seat across from her. She had probably pressed her luck being so pushy, but she could not help but believe that Rhett and Scarlett deserved another chance. The tragedy in their lives seemed to be over, and they deserved to heal together.
She wondered if she had pushed too hard. She wondered, too, what Scarlett would be like and how she would treat Katie. Would she grow suspicious that someone with the same name as her suddenly appeared? Katie hoped not and hoped the fact they shared the same name wasn't brought up. Katie was Katie and Scarlett was Scarlett, hopefully it would stay that way.
Rhett seemed to be thinking or brooding, Katie could not tell which and she left him to his thoughts. She watched as the coach took them from the Atlanta Hotel to the Butler home. Katie was admittedly a little frightened. This whole situation was frightening, but she wondered if her meddling would come back to haunt her. Maybe Rhett and Scarlett had worked things out but Ella did not know it and she was actually stopping that from happening.
She thought, too, of her cousin Charles and hoped he, and everyone else in her life, was all right. Had he come home to find Katie inexplicably gone? Or had time stopped when she passed through it to come here to this time? She had no idea and would not know until she got back. In the meantime, the least she could do was have some fun, enjoy her time here in this time with these people, though she would have much preferred doing it with her own clothes.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com