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Katie looked up from the journal she had been reading with tears streaming down her cheeks. She brushed the tears away quickly when she heard the sound of footsteps descending the steps. She gave Charles a smile relieved to see it was her nine year old cousin and not his parents.
"What do you need, Charles?"
"Mom and Dad said they are about to leave."
"Oh okay, tell them I will be right up. Thanks, sweetie."
Katie smiled with a soft sob as he stomped up the wooden steps. He was such a rambunctious boy, but then so was his daddy so Katie expected no less. It was going to be an interesting month babysitting. But if she had truly found what she thought she had, the month could go by real fast. How had Will come by these things?
"Katie." The sound of her name called somewhat urgently brought her from her thoughts.
"I am coming Will." She gently gathered the aged journal, flipped the light switch and ascended the stairs. She and Will had run up and down these stairs when they were kids, too. Once Katie had fallen down and broken her collarbone. She had been about three and Will about nine, Will had not let her forget it either for years. Every time she would come over with her mom and dad, Will would tease her about being careful on the basement stairs.
"What were you doing down there, Kat?"
"I was reading this journal. Have you ever read it?"
"No, I have not. I did not even realize I had it. What is it?"
"Well, I think it was in a box of your grandfather's things."
"That could be. We have a lot of his things stored since he had to move from the house into the condominium last year."
"Oh yeah, that is right I remember now. Anyway, it is nothing important I just got lost in reading."
"You were always a dreamer, Katie. I would pick you to get lost in a journal probably written years ago over anyone else I know." Katie felt the heat rise to her cheeks from a blush at Will's words. He smiled at her though so she knew he was not teasing or ridiculing her.
"You guys have fun and do not worry about a thing. Charles and I will be just fine."
"You have our numbers right for both the hotel and our cell?"
"Yes, Will, I do. Go now before Gwen beats me up for keeping you too long."
Will laughed and kissed Katie on the cheek. "I really appreciate you doing this, Katie. You are the best and when you have kids of your own I will repay you in kind."
"I know you will, Will. Thanks. Bye now, have fun, and you can call anytime you want to talk to Charles." She walked outside with Will in an attempt to urge him to the car faster. Charles ran down the stairs almost colliding with Katie on the front stoop.
"Are they leaving now?"
"Yes, Charles, sweetie, it is just me and you now."
She and Charles waved to Charles's parents as they drove away.
"Can I stay over at Keith's house?"
Katie lowered her hand to her side, Will and Gwen now out of sight. "I do not know, is Keith someone your parents like?"
"Yeah, sure, he is my best friend."
"Well, let me talk to his mother to make sure it is okay and that she knows your mom and dad are gone. Okay?"
"Aw, Katie, do you have to?"
"Yes, sport, I do. I want to make sure she knows and that you are not an imposition."
"I am not, I swear."
"I know you are not and I am sure Keith does not think you are either, but that does not mean his mom does not have something else to do tonight but watch two nearly ten year old boys."
"All right," he said somewhat downtrodden. He ran indoors, returning a few minutes later with the cordless phone. He punched in Keith's phone number on the touchpad and handed the phone to Katie.
"What is his last name, Charles?"
"Huh," he asked his focus now on the basketball he was bouncing in place. "Oh, Adler. Bonnie Adler."
"Thanks," Katie whispered just as someone on the other end of the line picked up. "Yes, I would like to speak with Bonnie, please." She heard a loud ‘Mom' called out after she was told to hold on followed by a loud clamoring that sounded like a phone being set on a counter. Not long after there was more clamoring as the phone was picked up, Katie hoped by Mrs. Adler.
"Yes, Mrs. Adler, my name is Katie Strong, I am Charles's cousin and am watching him while his mom and dad are in Europe for the month."
"Yes, sure, I remember they were going to be gone."
"Well, Charles waited until after Will and Gwen had driven off to mention he wanted to spend the night at your house. I just wanted to make sure that it was all right with you and that you knew his folks were not in town."
"Charles is welcome here anytime, he is such a good boy and he helps keep Keith in line to be honest. So sure, send him over. I will cook him dinner so you do not have to worry about that. One more plate on the table does not matter when I am feeding six to begin with."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I am sure, Katie, is it? Charles is a dear, send him over anytime and I do appreciate you called. It is nice to know people are concerned about these type of things today."
Katie couldn't help but smile. "Thanks Bonnie, I will send him over in a little bit. Is there anything I should send over with him besides his pajamas and a toothbrush? Can I send over some popcorn or a movie or anything?"
"No, we have got it all set. The boys will probably play basketball or football in the backyard."
"Okay, well I will be home all evening should you need anything or if he becomes a bother just give me a call."
"Okay. Enjoy the peace and quiet." Katie could hear her light laugh through the phone and could not help but smile. "Good bye now, we will look for Charles in a few minutes."
"Bye," she said and then disconnected the call. "Okay, Charles, go on up and get your pajamas, toothbrush and clothes for tomorrow packed up."
"Thanks Katie," he said his back already to her as he ran into the house.
Katie could not help but laugh. She wondered if Charles knew he was named after his great great great great grandfather. Katie certainly had not known until reading part of that journal. Katie thought it sad that the first Charles Hamilton had died without knowing his son. She found it interesting that the son, Wade Hampton Hamilton, had been named after his father's commanding officer. It was tradition apparently, one Katie was glad was no longer followed. Wade was not so bad a name, but Hampton was a silly name Katie thought.
Katie wondered if even Will knew he had named his son after a distant relative. He had said he did not know about the journal, but she wondered if he had found out some other way. She hoped, for her younger cousin's sake, that this generation's Charles Hamilton had a longer life than the first one had. He was dead before he reached twenty-one. She was not sure what the legal drinking age was during the Civil War, but she knew what it was currently. A person dying before reaching the age of majority died way too soon as far as Katie was concerned.
It did not take Charles long to assemble his over night bag. Katie checked it just to make sure he had packed his toothbrush and something to sleep in. She trusted Charles, he was almost ten, but she did not want his friend's mother to think she was irresponsible if he did happen to forget something.
She kissed him on the cheek and ruffled his hair. "You have fun, Charles, and I will see you tomorrow. Maybe we can take Keith and go to a movie or something."
"Yes, really. Go have fun and we will talk about it tomorrow. Good night and please behave for Mrs. Adler."
"I will," he said his hand already on the handle to open the screen door.
Katie watched as Charles walked across the street and two houses down to the Adler's house. She closed the front door when she could no longer see him. Katie did not need to worry about Charles, this was a safe neighborhood but she still wanted to see he had made it across the street safely.
She walked to the kitchen and began to make herself a cup of tea. Gwen always had the most interesting and sometimes exotically flavored teas. Katie had no thoughts of what to do with her evening but sit on the oversized arm chair in Will's family room, drink her tea, and continue reading her great great great grandmother's journal. What an interesting person her mother, Katie's great great great great grandmother and Will's great great great great great grandmother, must have been for Ella to sit down and write about her life.
Katie took a sip of tea burning her mouth as a result of her inattentiveness. She barely noticed, though she set the cup down quickly as a reflex. In the recesses of her mind she heard the mantel clock in Will's living room signal that it was midnight. Where had the time gone? She had been reading for over five hours. She did stop periodically to refresh her tea, but otherwise she had been engrossed in the journal enough to keep her stuck to the chair.
The journal, Katie, had found was more a telling of Ella's mother's life and the effects it had on Ella and her brother Wade. Katie wondered if Ella had not written it as an attempt to justify some of Scarlett's behaviors, some were questionable even by today's progressive standards. Katie found it enthralling to read. The people on the pages, Scarlett, Rhett, Ella, Wade, Ashley, Melanie, Beau, Pittypat, Suellen, Carreen and others all distant relatives many generations removed from Katie, seemed as vivid and alive to Katie as her kin that were alive and well today. She knew without a doubt that this journal was just a snapshot of their lives, despite her feelings of familiarity with these people she would never truly know them.
Katie just started reading about Wade and Ella's little sister, Bonnie. Wade and Ella both seemed to get along with their step-father, Rhett. Rhett seemed to treat both Scarlett's children well, Rhett had brought a young Wade Hampton gifts, toys that he loved playing with even before his mother was married to Rhett. Their mother had not been attentive to Wade during the War, so Wade had been happy to receive these things. Rhett's gifts not only kept Wade occupied but kept him from thinking and being terribly frightened of the Yankees and what they would do if they caught a little boy.
How terrible for the boy to live in such fear! Katie wondered if those who talked about things being better in the past knew about stories like this. A little boy living in fear that someone would come into his house or yard and take him merely because of where he lived was a tragic thing. Sure, children were abducted for lesser reasons today in Katie's world, but things did not seem that safe or secure for a young Wade Hampton either. Katie imagined there were more children like him.
It was clear from Ella's writing, despite her being a little girl at the time of some of these events, that the marriage between her mother and step-father was stormy. Katie had come to learn, too, that she had been named for Ella's mother. She had not been told her name was a family name. But Ella's mother's name was Katie Scarlett after her Grandmother O'Hara who resided in Ireland. Ella's descriptions led Katie to believe that she resembled Scarlett too. From her chestnut hair to her green eyes that many had said were the color of emeralds and her petite but womanly figure she sounded eerily like this woman on these pages.
For some reason as Katie read this journal she felt a kinship to Scarlett and wondered if this was why. Katie had even married an Irishman, Ryan Patrick O'Casey. Katie knew she was descendant from a well to do French family, it seemed those who had researched her family tree had focused on the Robillard and Kennedy side of her family rather than the O'Hara side. Maybe some were ashamed of Scarlett and her Irishman father, Katie did not think they had any reason to be ashamed. She was only human after all, doing what she could to survive and to protect her children from starving.
Katie began reading about Wade's suspicions that their mother was drinking too much brandy. He believed this was the reason their mother did not do much with them, slept late in the mornings and did not look so well when she emerged from her bedroom. Katie felt like a voyeur to the scenes playing out and wondered if maybe she should not be reading this after all.
Did she really want to know about Scarlett's drinking? To know that Wade believed Rhett had a mistress? A woman whom Wade had reason to meet when he accompanied Rhett on business to the bank. Katie was not sure, but no matter the guilt she felt about reading about these people's private lives she was too engrossed to stop.
Scarlett had obviously been a strong person and had survived despite the odds that she should not have. Ella made a point of praising Scarlett's strengths at great length and skimmed over the negatives, such as her drinking and using convicts as labor for a lumber mill she owned. But the negatives were there as plain as day, and some of them were more personal to Ella than they would have been to anyone else. Some were things that only Ella or Wade could have known about living under the same roof as she did. Katie doubted many knew that Scarlett drank, as Ella made it sound like her mother tried to hide it even from Rhett.
Katie laughed out loud at the revelation of the lumber mill workers. Imagine, a woman at that time owning such a dirty business, she wondered how Scarlett managed to do it and stay neat and tidy. Ella had emphasized in her writing that her mother was rarely seen outside of her bedroom looking anything but impeccably groomed.
As she read about Bonnie, Katie grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes wondering if Ella had any planned on anyone reading this journal. She went into great length of her jealousy of Bonnie because her mother and Rhett doted on her so much, almost as if Wade and Ella had not been wanted and Bonnie had been. Ella knew her mother was not fond of children, everyone knew that, which to Ella made it worse that she openly loved Bonnie so much.
Not knowing her father Ella had to wonder if her mother's dislike for Wade Hampton and herself was because both children looked like their fathers. Ella learned eventually that Scarlett had not loved either man. She learned, too, the circumstances as to how she had come by her first two husbands and wrote about it, too.
Ella wrote quite a bit about Ashley Wilkes, who Ella, Wade and Bonnie all had called Uncle Ashley. It seemed that Ashley marrying his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, who happened to be Charles Hamilton's sister, led to Scarlett marrying Charles, Wade's father. Ella blamed Ashley for quite a bit of the problems between Rhett and Scarlett as well as Scarlett's waywardness and feeling of incompleteness in her life for so many years.
The writings about Scarlett's marriage to Frank Kennedy, Ella's father, were interesting to Katie. Apparently, Frank was Scarlett's sister, Suellen's, beau, but Scarlett deceived him into marriage to keep from losing Tara after asking Rhett for a loan had failed. While Charles' death had been sudden and he had not seen active duty, he had died of illness before he could get to the front lines, but he had died a military man nonetheless. Wives, mothers and girl friends know when their man goes to fight a war he might not come back.
Frank's death on the other hand, seemed rather senseless and Katie had to agree with Ella on this point. Scarlett had not pulled the trigger of the gun that had shot Frank through the head, but had she not been so flamboyant about her trips to and from the lumber mill she might not have been attacked and Frank might not have died that night. It was clear Frank and Scarlett were not suited for one another and that their marriage was cordial at best. At least if Scarlett curbed some of her actions Ella would have known her father instead of being a six month old infant who had no recollection of the man whose hair color she had inherited.
Katie had been to the Tara Ella spoke of, the plantation Scarlett had married a man she neither loved nor liked in her efforts to save it. The plantation, though smaller now, was still in the family, Will was next in line to take over the upkeep of it whenever Will's father passed it down or passed into the afterlife.
Apparently there had been some difficulty surrounding this as Suellen O'Hara had resided at Tara while Scarlett lived in Atlanta with Frank and then Rhett. Suellen had married a man and borne him a son, a Gerald Benteen after Scarlett's father, and expected that Tara would go to him. Somehow it had ended up as Wade's though. Katie was not that far into the journal to know how Wade came to have rights to the property. She was glad that it was still in her family, Scarlett's family, and not someone's family who had not been raised on the property from its beginning. Tara was Hamilton property now, not O'Hara, but it still had O'Hara blood, sweat and tears on its red soil just as the Hamilton and Kennedy kin had O'Hara blood coursing through them.
Will's grandfather had gone through a lot of time, energy and spent money to restore Tara to the way it had looked before the War. One had only to look at a portrait of Tara from eighteen hundred sixty and the structure today and they would believe they were looking at a painting of the home from today rather than one hundred forty years ago. Katie had always loved Tara, though she had not been there in quite some time. It was modernized now, of course, but there were still some things left from its original time.
Reading of the hardships Scarlett and others went through to keep Tara running and from falling into the hands of the Yankees made Katie proud of her ancestors. All of them. She was after all related to Scarlett's sisters, too, and their families. For some reason, though, the Hamilton and Kennedy kin kept in touch better than the Benteen kin. It was obvious from Ella's writing that there was no love lost between Scarlett and Suellen. Carreen had become a nun, never married and therefore had no children, but there were still plenty of the Benteen kin around. Katie saw them, about once every five years they would all gather at Tara for a big reunion. Those were always fun, especially when the cousins brought a new child to the party, yet another generation brought into the close knit group of being a product of that land that had been fought so hard over to keep.
Katie sipped her tea, more cautiously this time, as she heard the mantel clock chime one. The hours were flying by. She could not believe Bonnie had received her own pony. No wonder Ella had been jealous; Katie would have been, too. It did seem that young Bonnie had been quite spoiled, whether that was necessarily Scarlett's fault Katie did not know. She suspected by some of the things Ella wrote that it had been Rhett in favor of spoiling the child more than Scarlett. Regardless, Rhett should have thought about his step-children and the things they would see and how they would interpret those things.
The feelings of empathy for Ella passed as Katie read about Bonnie's death. No wonder she did not know anything about this distant aunt of hers, she had died before turning five. She read through the details, the memories Ella wrote. How painful it must have been to as an adult not just recall but write down such frightening feelings. She had been a seven year old girl and watched as her parents, and Ella and Wade both considered Rhett their father more than they did their step-father neither having any recollection of their real fathers, fought and said horrible things to one another.
Ella thought Rhett had died too because he would not come out of Bonnie's room for days. Ella was supposed to be in bed, but hid and remembered being relieved at seeing her Aunt Melanie come. Finally, the arguing and morbid feeling in the house would cease, Ella despite her young age knew that Melanie Wilkes would fix everything. Ella had been relieved to see Rhett alive and her little sister finally laid to rest.
As if things could not get worse about two months later Wade and Ella's Aunt Melanie died. Ella had not understood until she was an adult that Melanie had died due to complications from pregnancy, a pregnancy that she should not have been going through to begin with. So Ashley Wilkes was left without a wife and Beau was left without a mother. No longer could Ella seek the hugs and kisses that Melanie bestowed upon her without question. There were times Ella wondered if Melanie would not have preferred a daughter to Beau and maybe that was why she had risked another pregnancy. She certainly had doted on Ella.
Ella and Wade's world tumbled down that night as their step-father who despite his favoritism to Bonnie had been placed on some sort of pedestal left by the brother and sister. Wade heard the entire exchange between their mother and step-father and relayed it later to Ella when their mother claimed that Rhett had gone on a trip. Wade did not want Ella to falsely believe their step-father would come back any time soon.
Wade heard Scarlett plead and insist with Rhett that she had never loved Ashley and that she must have loved Rhett all along but had been too selfish and blind to see it. Wade heard Rhett say more hateful things to Scarlett and for once Wade had felt sympathy for his mother. Something he did not quite understand, but Ella did when she set about writing the journal. Rhett believed that with Melanie's asking Scarlett to take care of Ashley and Beau it was only a matter of time, with Melanie's permission, that Scarlett would want to take Melanie's place as Mrs. Ashley Wilkes. Rhett knew that Scarlett, if she wanted to, could twist Melanie's dying wish into meaning just about anything and convince Ashley in his heartbroken state that Scarlett was telling the truth.
Little more in the journal was said about Rhett. Scarlett, however, remained at their home in Atlanta until Ella married her husband, Paul, when she was eighteen. Wade was already married by this time to his wife, Colleen. Once Ella was married, she returned to Tara where she lived out her life. She and Rhett remained married, but as far as Ella knew the marriage was in name only from that horrible and sad night forward. She imagined by that point so much had been said and done it was just beyond repair.
Ella believed, as did Katie based on what she would read, that the two never could initiate a final ending to their lives together. They had been a significant part of one another's lives for so long, even before they had been married, that getting a divorce would have been like cutting a piece of themselves away. This combined with the fact that divorce was still frowned upon by the church Ella believed led to a divorce not being sought. Scarlett was not overly religious but Carreen was a nun and Wade, Ella and Beau did turn to the church for comfort during the difficult events that transpired in eighteen hundred seventy-three. Ella also did not believe, when all was said and done, that Rhett would do anything to disgrace Scarlett. Ella believed that Rhett waited for Scarlett to initiate the proceedings, wanting to know just when it was he could expect Scarlett to add a fifth last name to her long line of them.
The two were never seen together, aside from the weddings of Wade, Ella and Beau. They had sat together as was expected of husband and wife and Rhett had given Ella away and ensured that her trousseau had been provided for. Scarlett paid for the actual wedding herself. Ella thought despite their working together for her wedding that a resolution to their problems was as distant years later as it had been that fateful night when she was seven and Rhett left claiming he did not give a damn.
Ella wrote as an aside on Rhett, and her last mention of her step-father in the journal, that she believed quite the contrary was true. She believed that despite those last bitter and hurtful words to Scarlett he had cared, cared too much and that was why he had left. Why he had never returned once it became obvious she had no intentions on seeking out Ashley in any capacity other than that as friend, sister in-law by marriage and aunt to Beau, and to fulfill her promise to a dying Melanie by looking after Ashley and Beau Ella did not know. Rhett obviously just did not want to see what others saw. And others saw a melancholy Scarlett who just was not the same as before, Bonnie and Melanie's death had taken a lot out of her, but she missed Rhett and it had been obvious to everyone old enough to realize what was wrong with her.
Unfortunately, the journal ended after the birth of Ella's third child in eighteen hundred ninety when she was twenty-four. So Katie had no idea if Rhett and Scarlett did resolve their problems and come to some sort of way to live out their lives together. From everything Ella had written about the pair, things that Melanie, Pittypat and others had relayed to Ella about the two they belonged together. Most believed that despite Scarlett's faults, or those things others viewed as faults, Scarlett in Rhett had finally found that soul mate everyone wants to find. Ashley and Melanie Wilkes had found it, but their life together had tragically been cut short. Rhett and Scarlett's had ended abruptly amidst a few months of tragedy and turmoil, but they both lived and had a chance of putting the pieces back together again.
Katie had to believe that eventually, if they were truly soul mates, two parts to a puzzle that fit together perfectly that they would come to resolve their problems. By the end of the journal, Scarlett was forty-five and Rhett was sixty-two. Hopefully, Katie could only hope that the man who loved the sea, to travel, and to do things that others would not do would ultimately want to live out his life with the woman he had loved for almost thirty years. And Katie after reading Ella's heartfelt writing believed that Rhett had loved Scarlett all along, just as she had him.
Done with the journal, Katie set it on the glass coffee tabletop and sat back in the chair. She held the teacup in both hands, the bottom of the cup cradled in her palm. She wondered if anyone knew what had happened to Rhett and Scarlett. She wondered if there were more journals with Will's grandfather's things that might answer that question and other questions that Katie had after reading about the lives of her relatives. What had happened that Ella stopped writing? Katie knew that Ella had not died until after World War II, so it was not due to her death.
She finished the last of the tea and walked to the kitchen to rinse the cup out and tidy up for the night. It was almost three o'clock in the morning and Katie now felt the exhaustion one feels when they have been on an emotional rollercoaster that has finally stopped after doing several loopy de loops. Turning off the lights before making her way upstairs to her room for the next month, Katie decided tomorrow she would call Will's grandpa and find out what he knew about the journal and Rhett and Scarlett and all of the rest.
Katie slept fitfully that night. Unaccustomed to getting to bed so late combined with thoughts of Rhett and Scarlett and whether or not they ever reconciled contributed to her inability to sleep soundly. When she did sleep, she dreamt of the couple and despite having no idea what either looked like as the night and her dreams progressed she had no problem creating them in her mind.
"Who in the hell are you?" Katie heard the voice but had no idea who was asking her the question. She certainly did not recognize the voice. It wasn't Will. Maybe it was Keith's father. No, that made little sense. Why would Mr. Adler be upset with Katie sleeping in Will and Gwen's room? For that matter, how had he gotten into the house? Her eyes flew open and she stared into the blackest pair eyes she had ever seen.
She could read them clearly and she sensed somehow that the man standing before her was letting her read them, that he could just as easily mask them into a pair of endless pits of nothing. He was not happy and he was suspicious. She also read cruelty and hurt in them. Yes, Katie saw hurt there. She was frightened, but that brief glimpse into his soul left her incapable of being as terrified as she should be.
She pushed back loose hair from her eyes. If this man was not here to harm her she did not want to say something to tick him off and make him rethink whether or not he should hurt her. "What do you mean who am I? Who are you and what are you doing in my bedroom?"
"Excuse me?" Oh boy, he was amused now. There had been the faintest hint of amused mockery in those two simple words.
"You heard me you come barging into my cousin's home and ask me who I am? Well, Will and Gwen are not here. If you do not leave right now I am going to call the police. You have no business barging in here, scaring the crap out of me, and then getting testy at me."
"You, madam, are in my room. I am the one who should threaten you with the authorities not the other way around."
Katie glanced past him and sure enough this was not Will and Gwen's bedroom she had fallen asleep in. She was in a large sitting room of some sort and lying on an extremely uncomfortable sofa with an angry man watching her. She had no idea where in the hell she was or how she had gotten here. That terrified feeling she had been fighting off started to come to the forefront now.
Realization dawned on her. This man had abducted her! He had taken her out of Will and Gwen's home without her even waking up. She knew she was tired, but Katie was normally a light sleeper.
"Listen, please, whatever your game is, I have a cousin that I am babysitting for the next month. You cannot just abduct me. I have a husband. We do not have a lot of money, but I am sure he would work with you."
He smiled slightly, but it was a mocking smile. "I do not want your money and I have not abducted you or anyone else for that matter. I have not needed to abduct women in the past and I am surely not about to fall into the habit now. As far as your husband." He paused as if assessing her somehow and she tried not to come undone under the weight of his stare. It was not easy; she was beginning to believe the phrase ‘if looks could kill' had been started from none other than the gaze of this very man. "If this is some sort of ploy you came up with to get me called out, you can just forget it. I realize that I am older than I was once upon a time, but I still am a crack shot and your husband would not stand a chance against me. I have left more than one woman a widow, madam."
"I just bet you have," she replied dryly. She focused on his face for a moment, certain that she was dreaming. He was dressed in Victorian attire and rather formal attire at that considering the time. Here it was, she glanced at her wrist but there was no watch there. Oh hell, it was early she knew that much, and he was dressed in a suit complete with a tie, but a cravat instead of a tie. "What in the hell is going on?" Her tone was not even nearly as hysterical as she felt.
"For a moment I thought you were my wife."
Katie scoffed. "Are you always so well mannered to your wife?"
"Well, no, we are, as polite society would say, no longer residing together as man and wife."
"So you are separated you mean?"
The man was at least giving her space to breath now, but the scowl present on his handsome face was not dwindling one bit. Katie was frantically trying to figure out how she had ended up here and how she could get out without anyone seeing her. Ryan trusted Katie and if she said she had gotten here by some sort of mistake, he would believe her. She did not particularly care to chance anyone else seeing her though.
"I do not know the meaning of that word, separated. I am familiar with the meaning, yes, but not with reference to marriage."
"Well," she said sitting up feeling very self-conscious. Katie's sleeping attire consisted of boxer shorts and one of her husband's undershirts. Not altogether sexy or revealing, but sexy and babysitting for her cousin did not go hand in hand. And next to this man dressed to the nines she felt like she was revealing far too much, particularly when his gaze fell to the expanse of golden brown leg visible when she moved the blanket that had been covering her. He acted as if seeing a woman's leg was not an every day occurrence, which surprised her. This man struck her as the type who would have seen more than just his wife's legs at his age. "When two people are married but no longer live together they are separated. Unless they are legally divorced, but then they would be divorced and not separated." She assumed he would understand the obvious, but felt better for some reason clarifying.
"Then I suppose that is a good assessment of where things stand. And I thank you for enlightening me as to my present marital status. You still, however, have not explained what you are doing in my suite. And why you are dressed like a man."
"I am not dressed like a man."
"What do you call those clothes you are wearing then? They are men's clothing. You cannot tell me they are not."
"Well," she bit her lower lip as she tried to explain herself. Then she realized that she did not have to explain herself. "I do not owe you an explanation. I will just get dressed and go. So just give me my clothes please."
The man tossed his head back and laughed heartily though Katie did not find amusement in this situation at all. Her head was throbbing and she rarely got headaches. She had no idea where she was. What if Charles had already called and she was not there to answer the phone? Mrs. Adler was not going to be so impressed with her then. "And just where do you think you are going to find clothes?"
"Well, I left some things in Will's room," Katie said absently sensing somehow that she was not in Will's house anymore. She did not want to believe what her mind was telling her. There was no possible way this man was Rhett Butler, alive, well, breathing and every inch the man Katie had pictured him to be and then some. Ella did not do him justice in her journal. She scoffed at her irrational thoughts, hoping against all hope that at her mention of Will's room that this man would end this charade, bring her back to Will's house and let her get back to her life.
"Will? Will Benteen? Dear Lord, you were sent by Scarlett. Just what is it my wife was hoping for? That I would mistake you for her and let you seduce me?"
"Oh please, get real. Would I be sleeping on your couch if I was here to seduce you?"
"Well, no," he said with a brief pause as if trying to collect his thoughts and weigh her words. "I suppose not. So just who are you?"
Katie did not want to ask the question on her mind, but found she had to. If this was some sort of bizarre dream that she could not wake up from, fine, but she needed to know that she was right in her belief of who this man was. "Who are you?"
"You really do not know?"
"Would I ask if I knew who you were?"
He regarded her for a moment, seated on his couch in boxer shorts and a man's undershirt. She needed to get out of here and out from the weight of his stare sometime soon. If this was Rhett, no wonder he had the reputation he had with women. Katie who while not plain was not beautiful either felt as if he could see exactly what she looked like underneath her shorts and undershirt.
"No, I suppose not. And I am unsure how I will explain your presence here either. I am Rhett Butler, and I have a feeling my wife would file for a divorce and end this separation as you call it if she thought I had another woman in my room with me."
Okay so she was right in who he was. Katie tried to assimilate just what that meant. There was no way that in any plane of reality she was sitting here talking with Rhett Butler. She had to think of something to end this game or dream or whatever it was. Right now, though, no idea came to her and she had been quiet for too long. "So what," she queried curious why he was so hesitant to file for a divorce if Rhett truly despised her so much.
A brow went up, his eyes grew cold and Katie was suddenly more than a little afraid of Rhett Butler. A moment ago a hint of amusement had been there, but now it was gone. If ever she had looked into eyes and thought a man was capable of murder by a look alone this was it. "You dare be so flippant with me, Madam?"
"Well, you are staying here, right? I assume here is a hotel room rather than your home. You were not pleased when you thought I was her here to seduce you. So why do you want to stay married to her?"
Katie felt the weight of his stare bearing into her and she visibly shuddered in response. This was no man to cross or to upset, but at least the murderous look was gone. He was still obviously a man accustomed to having his way no matter the cost. She doubted many questioned him either. Ella had not portrayed him in her journal as such a cold and calculating man, but of course Ella had been a child for most of her life with Rhett Butler.
"Well," she asked again.
"It is complicated."
"Oh please," Katie said exasperated.
His eyes flashed briefly with anger and Katie thought she noticed a hint of respect there too. Interesting, she could not help but think to herself. Rhett Butler while perhaps put off by her attitude seemed to like a woman who spoke her mind and would not say something just because it was what he wanted to hear or expected her to say. "You know, I am unused to people, particularly women, treating me with such disrespect."
"I bet you are."
"There you are again, rude and flippant. Just what did you say your name was? I do not believe you did actually. I would enjoy having a word with your husband and whether you get away with talking to him like this."
She hesitated for the briefest moments, only because she was not sure he would believe her when she said her name. "Katie."
"Katie?" He had apparently expected more than just her first name, because the word Katie hung in the air, an unspoken question.
She tilted her chin up, daring him to question her or make a comparison to his wife one more time. "Yes, Katie, as in Kathryn, but I am just Katie not Kathryn."
"Okay just Katie. Explain to me what you are doing in my room."
She closed her eyes tightly and opened them again hoping she would awaken from this dream. No such luck, he was still standing before her bigger than life looking more handsome than a ghost or a man long dead had the right to look. He had been alive in eighteen hundred ninety, Katie knew that from Ella's journal but did not know beyond that when he died. She sensed though that life would not take a man like Rhett Butler before he was willing to give into Death's call. She noticed now upon closer inspection that he had faint circles under his eyes. Taking this to mean he was not sleeping so well during his separation from Scarlett she felt some hope. She also wondered, dream or not, if perhaps she was sent here for a reason. Was there something important about this moment in time that would alter what was to become of Rhett and Scarlett and their marriage? She had always believed she was destined to do something important, something life altering, but she certainly hadn't envisioned this. "I do not know. I honestly do not know."
"Okay," he said elongating the single word. He didn't believe her. Well, she did not care because she quite frankly did not believe it either. "Let us start with who let you in then."
"Oh please, do you really think someone would let me in here dressed like this?"
Rhett seemed to regard her and her question seriously for a moment. "No, I suppose not. You do resemble my wife enough that you could have been mistaken for her."
She wished he would stop comparing her to Scarlett. She liked Scarlett sure, she respected the woman for what she had done and all that she had gone through. She believed, though, that she was the ultimate reason for their separation. Scarlett's was a typical story, that of you do not realize what you have until it is gone. In Scarlett's case Rhett had delivered the third strike before she had had time to recover from the first two - Bonnie's and than Melanie's deaths - and step back into the batter's box. "This is a dream. There is no other explanation for it. You are a dream, those clothes are a dream, and this room is a dream. Where are we anyway?"
He walked over to a tray with a decanter on it and poured himself what Katie imagined was liquor of some sort. It was too early in the day for liquor, but honestly she would like a drink herself. She could not stand liquor, she was curious though if in a dream it would burn going down her throat as it did in real life.
"I assure you that you are not dreaming," he stated ending his statement abruptly as if he had more to say but could not. "I am sorry, Katie, but despite my lack of gentlemanly scruples I find it difficult to address a woman whom I have just met and do not know intimately by their first name. I realize I am seeing you in some sort of sleepwear contraption, but do you think you could tell me your last name?"
"Okay. Much better." He took a drink, belting the liquid down in one long gulp. "Miss O'Casey, or rather Mrs. O'Casey since you did mention a husband. What makes you believe this is a dream?"
"Well, you are, I mean that is to say, we are," she stopped. Katie found the floor at her feet suddenly of great interest. He would think she was mad if she told her the truth. If this was a dream, it did not really matter. But if this was not a dream she heard horrible tales of asylums for insane people at this time in history. They were not that heralded in her time. That was an illogical thought as this was only a dream, she was certain of it. She had merely read that damned journal, gotten caught up in the romance, the mystery, the era of a city rebuilding itself after being ravaged by war, her great great great great grandmother's struggle to retain Tara, the tragedy of losing her daughter. Their daughter, it was Rhett's child, too. And then finally Rhett. "You are my grandfather."
Katie thought for a moment he was going to strike her. His eyes flashed first with disbelief and then terror and then she saw pain and fear. Just what had she said? "How did you find me?"
"Well, I did not find you. I mean, I told you this is a dream. Somehow I ended up here. That is how dreams work, isn't it?"
He poured himself another drink and Katie stood walking to him. She placed her hand over his surprised at the size of it. She was petite so she was used to people being larger than she was, but his hands were much larger than hers. "Please do not take another drink."
"Mrs. O'Casey," he said making no effort to move his hand from under hers. His thumb stroked the side of the tumbler, but left her hand where it was. "I have no grandchildren," he paused. He looked at her sharply, she read guilt now in his eyes. Dear lord, what sort of can of worms had she opened by that simple statement? She had expected him not to believe her. She could not bear the looks he was giving her. "Who are your parents?"
"Well, that is where it gets complicated, you do not know them."
"Well, then how can I possibly be your grandfather?"
"Well, it is complicated," she smiled slightly realizing she was using the same words to describe this situation as he had used to describe why he stayed married to his wife.
She puckered her lips and blew out sharply. This was a dream she chanted to herself, her motto prompting her to continue. But if he laughed at her, she doubted it would hurt any less to hear him laugh at her - dream or no. "You are actually my great great great great grandfather by way of Ella." Katie shook her head slightly, an attempt to clear her head. Her eyes narrowed as his question of who her father took on a new meaning. "Wait a minute, you do not have any children."
Rhett slid his hand from under hers, leaving the tumbler in its place on the small tray. "How do you know I do not? If you are my relation you must know of Wade, Ella and Bonnie."
"Yes, of course I know of Wade Hampton Hamilton, born in January eighteen hundred sixty one and who never knew his father, Charles Hamilton. I actually have a cousin named for Charles, he is who I spoke of babysitting. His father's name is Will, but he was not named after Suellen's husband. There's also Ella Lorena Kennedy who was born in October eighteen hundred sixty-six. And Bonnie, who was actually your daughter, your flesh and blood. I do not remember her Christian name, the name she was baptized with, I apologize. I do know though that she died in September eighteen hundred seventy-three. I also know that it was an accident, not at all your fault or Scarlett's or anyone's."
She had said more than she had meant to about Bonnie and realized it had to be hard for him to hear her words. So she changed the subject. "But on to your question about how I know you do not have any children." She pointed at the newspaper near the liquor tray. "It is June eleventh eighteen hundred seventy five according to this newspaper, and unless you hold onto out of date newspapers, your son, Wade Hampton, is only thirteen years old. And while I realize it is possible for children that age to beget children of their own I know for a fact Wade Hampton does not. Ella at nine is obviously too young. So it stands to reason that I could not be your grandchild and be twenty-seven years of age."
"Just who in the bloody hell are you?"
"I told you."
"And you expect me to believe this tale you have woven just like that? I am a progressive man, I assure you, but even I can see your story is wild at best."
"Well, it is my dream, so it seems to me that you should believe whatever I tell you to be true, yes."
He strode in long, confident strokes, only the nervous way his hand balled into a fist in his front trouser pocket belayed he was not feeling so confident at that moment.
"Rhett, Mr. Butler, I am afraid I do not know what to call you, we are related so it seems stupid to call you Mr. Butler, but calling you Rhett seems disrespectful as well. And I surely cannot call you Grandpa."
"No you damned well cannot be calling me Grandpa, not in Atlanta anyway."
"Hey, I did not mean for you to get touchy on me, I was just saying, obviously I cannot be your granddaughter at this stage in the game."
"Well, you see, Mrs. O'Casey, that is where you are quite mistaken and obviously misinformed. I do have a son who is old enough to bear me grandchildren, not those your age though as he is younger than I believe you to be. Only one other in Atlanta besides me knows of his existence, now two. Why I have told you this I do not know, I do not like lies is part of it. I also do not want you walking around telling the good citizens of Atlanta that you are my grandchild. The rumors have long since been put to bed and I would rather not have the gossip mill running full force again about me and what illegitimate children I might have sired before taking Scarlett as my wife."
"Well, of course I would not do that. But what I was going to say is this, you said I resemble your wife; I am even named for her. I told you my name is Katie, but I neglected to tell you my middle name is Scarlett."
"Good grief. Just why in the hell would anyone want to name a child after that cat of a woman?"
"Um, my parents I guess. I do not know, I just found out last night while reading Ella's journal. I had no idea nor did I know that my younger cousin Charles was named for anyone. How old is your son? May I ask?"
He scoffed slightly, turning to face her with his back now to the window. His hand was still balled into a fist Katie noticed. She also noticed that he was staring at her, though Katie did not believe he was seeing her at all but rather the woman whom Katie seemed to resemble.
"I do not see the harm in asking since you already know about him. He is twenty, so as you can deduce quite old enough to have borne me a child but obviously not one your age. On that point you were correct. Now what is this about Ella writing a journal? She is a nine year old girl."
"Well, this was actually written after she was married. I found it in a box yesterday, had never seen it before."
"Just where do you come from? And if this is your dream why the hell is it real to me?"
She sat on the couch, placing one arm over the arm of the couch. "I do not know. Believe me I do not know. The only other alternative is that I am really here, with you in June eighteen hundred seventy-five and that is simply not possible."
"You did not answer my question. Where do you come from?"
"Well, we live in Georgia, and I was born a hundred years from now exactly, nineteen hundred seventy-five. Currently, it is two thousand two."
"Impossible," he said under his breath.
"Trust me, I know."
"Well, you do not have any clothes and you cannot go out dressed like that. Hell you should not be in my room dressed as you are. Though people will take one look at you and there will be little doubt you are Scarlett's relation, they will wonder why you are with me rather than her."
"Why did you call her a cat?"
"Because that is what she is, a heartless animal who likes to tear up anything she can get her claws into."
"Oh come on. She told you she loved you."
"How do you know that?"
"Ella wrote about it."
"The kids were sleeping that night."
"Wade was awake, or at least Ella wrote he was and overheard your conversation. Did you really think he would be able to sleep when Beau's mother died?"
For the briefest of moments she felt sorry for Rhett. She saw the look of pain on his face and she realized she probably should not have mentioned Wade overhearing their conversation.
"I would never have said some of the things I said to Scarlett had I known he was listening."
"Of course not, Rhett."
"You say my name just like she does, which seems impossible given if even what you say is true you should not sound like her." He raked a hand through his hair, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and middle finger. "Christ, I am starting to talk as if this craziness is true."
"Do I really sound like her?"
"When you say my name you do, yes. She has this lift to her voice. She has a way of making my name sound like the vilest of curses or the most seductive siren's song. It can send a chill down my spine or make my blood heat in an instant."
"Just from one word?"
"Just from one word."
Katie let him think on that for a moment, the fact the woman he was forcing himself to be separated from had that much affect on him with merely a one word utterance. She stood from the couch and took in the lavish sitting room of the suite.
"Where are we?" She placed her hand on the mantel above the fireplace. There was no evidence that a fire had been burned recently. Good lord, she was starting to believe this dream was real that she was really standing here talking with Rhett Butler.
"Well, I gathered that. No, wait, I guess I did not, Ella said something about your traveling from the time you left."
"That is what we have told the children, yes, so they would not wonder why I was gone."
"They know anyway. You may as well tell them the truth. Where are we then? A hotel?"
"Yes, the Atlanta Hotel. I can probably arrange for you to have some clothes. You just cannot stay here with me. I only have the one sleeping chamber and I would not embarrass Scarlett like that."
"But you had no problem introducing her son to your mistress?"
"What? I did no such thing."
"Well, Ella's journal says Wade knew who your mistress was, that he met her when you had taken him to the bank or something."
"Christ. You know if you have come here to make me feel guilty you are doing a hell of a job of it."
"No. I was just pointing out it was rather hypocritical of you to be concerned for Scarlett's feelings when we have not nor will we do anything disrespectable yet you had a mistress right under her nose."
"You know there were things that led to that. Not that I need to justify myself to you or anyone else. But Ella I am quite sure did not realize that I remained faithful to my wife until the day she told me that she wanted no more children and all that went into making them."
"Why would she do that?" Katie asked the question without thought. The idea that anyone in their right mind would kick this man out of her bed was mind boggling. She loved Ryan, she believed some days the sun rose and set on him, but she could still appreciate this man standing before her as being a viral, attractive, sexier than hell man. Distant relative or not, his looks, charm, apparent confidence despite the crazy circumstance they were meeting under all made him an attractive man.
"Because she was in love with another man."
"Ashley," Katie said distastefully.
"You sound about like I do when I think upon him. I doubt Ella could have read that much into things to share my dislike for the man."
"Well, no, but Wade overheard that part of your conversation the night you left as well. So he knew Ashley had played a part in your problems, so Ella did too."
"You are talking about my children in the past tense. You make me uneasy doing that."
"I make you uneasy yet you do not see them? Rhett, really. I apologize if I make you uncomfortable, but they are in the past tense to me by years and years."
"Only then did I break my vows, Katie. I am really not that horrible of a man and never would I have otherwise, but Christ almighty that hurt."
"That is understandable and reasonable, but she did not have an affair with him."
"No, of course not, he was too honorable a gentleman to sleep with another man's wife or betray his wife."
She noticed he didn't claim that Scarlett was too honorable to stray from her husband. "Okay. So Melanie Wilkes is dead now, right?"
"Yes, she has been dead for about eighteen months."
Katie proceeded with caution. She really did not want to make him mad. "And has your wife done anything to indicate to you that she was lying the night she said she loved you?"
"Well, no, of course not, she has fixated on me now."
"Fixated on you or perhaps just had an epiphany and grew up a little bit?"
"You know it is very convenient for you to come in here and question my relationship with the woman. For twelve years I did nothing but love her."
"But did you ever tell her that?"
"Of course not. She thought until eighteen months ago she loved Ashley Wilkes."
"Well, no offense, and you are right it is easy for me to come in here because I can read through Ella's journal and I know what happens in the future, at least the next fifteen years of it."
"Is that why you came here? To tell me she ends up with him? Does she bear him a child too? That one would live, of course. Only the child we had together would be the one destined not to survive."
She was standing in front of him and could not even recall closing the short distance separating them. She placed her hand over his forearm and then slid it to his hand. "No. None of those things is true. She does not marry Ashley, she has no more children. Do you truly believe that Bonnie died because of something you did somehow?"
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.
"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.
Rhett entered the house without knocking on the front door. It was his home after all. He had never in the past eighteen months seen the need to knock to gain entry into his own home. The fact that he had left Scarlett and they were separated as Katie called it was not lost on him but he would never knock to gain entrance into the home as long as they were married.
He turned to shut the door a smug grin creeping to his lips when he saw Katie was still outside on the front stoop. "Come in, Katie. Please."
Katie shook her head. Rhett knew she was nervous but then again she was not being overly discreet about that fact either.
"Please come in," he prompted once again. Rhett offered her his hand, which she took and made the final step over the threshold into his home, Scarlett's home. Rhett could not get over entirely thinking of the home as theirs.
"Thank you," Katie said almost shyly which made Rhett smile. Up until this point he had seen no behavior by her to indicate nervousness or shyness. In fact, despite her situation she had been quite bold and forthcoming until now. Was she that nervous and unsettled about meeting Scarlett? It made Rhett curious to know just what young Ella had written about her mother as an adult.
"I'll show you to the parlor and then we can take it from there. Wade and Ella are here somewhere, so should they come in here," he said escorting her to the parlor, "don't be surprised."
"I love children, so I should be fine."
"Yet you have none?"
"No, not yet."
Rhett sensed somehow it was not quite as simple as ‘not yet' and decided it was not his business. "I'll be back shortly then, please make yourself at home. There's a pull cord there if you would like lemonade or tea just tug on it and a servant will come," he said before departing the room.
The house was quiet, but it did not take Rhett long to find Scarlett on the veranda enjoying the view of their garden. "Mrs. Butler," he said swooping one arm to his waist in a gallant bow. "We have company if you are in the mood for some."
"Company?" She glanced at him from the book she held in her hands.
"Yes, we. A relative came into Atlanta. A relative of yours."
"Yes. I picked up the telegram when I was collecting the mail and thought I would save you the trouble of having to meet her train. It was a good thing, too, when she arrived she was quite ill. I doubt you would have wanted her at the house with the children." Rhett suspected Scarlett would not have given the children much thought but it sounded good and made it sound as though Rhett really had been thinking of Scarlett and her well being.
"Well, I would have made room for her of course, but," she set the book on her lap after marking her place and Rhett's brow rose slightly. He had never known Scarlett to read and was curious to know what she was reading now. Judging by the mark of her place she had actually been reading it.
"I know you would have, Scarlett, but I saved you the trouble."
Scarlett looked at him skeptically. She was not dumb, though Rhett liked to pretend sometimes he believed her to be. "And just who is this relative of mine you have come to the rescue of, Rhett?"
"Your cousin, I guess. I didn't subject her to an inquisition, Scarlett."
Scarlett slid her hand through Rhett's arm. "Of course you didn't, I'm just surprised is all. I didn't realize I had any relatives honestly. Eulalie and Pauline never married."
"I am guessing she is kin by way of your O'Hara side, Scarlett."
"Why do you think that?"
"Well, her last name being O'Casey was the most obvious clue."
"Yes, I suppose that would be pretty telling. And she's from where did you say?"
"Savannah I believe."
"That makes sense," Scarlett said more introspectively than anything and Rhett knew he had won this part of the battle.
He escorted Scarlett into the parlor. "Scarlett your cousin, Katie O'Casey."
Scarlett offered Katie a polite smile as she walked toward the girl. Rhett could not detect anything forced about it which puzzled him somewhat, unsure if this was a good sign or not. Scarlett rarely accepted things like this so easily.
Rhett shrugged as Katie cast him a sidelong glance. It was as if she was asking him the very question he was asking himself, which Scarlett was she going to come up against. Rhett hated to think of Scarlett giving the girl a hard time, but he knew how all of this might look to Scarlett. He could see how she might jump to conclusions, as if he would honestly bring someone he was involved with to their home. Scarlett was not always rational, though, and Rhett imagined he would soon find out what she thought.
"What brings you to Atlanta, Katie?" Scarlett asked.
"I, well," she stammered. She was not sure what she was supposed to say. "I needed to get a way for a spell."
"So you just took a train to Atlanta?"
"Well, yes," she said, glancing at Rhett. She could not believe she was standing here in front of Scarlett O'Hara. She was as pretty as Ella described in her journal, not beautiful or overly striking but a pretty woman. Now that she was here she had no idea what to say. "A telegram was sent."
"Yes, Rhett mentioned that. Were you wanting to stay here with me?"
"If it's not an imposition."
"Not at all. We have plenty of room. Don't we, Rhett?"
"Yes," Rhett said. Katie noticed he had not stepped further into the room at all. But Scarlett said they had plenty of room.
"It'll be nice to have a guest. I'll make sure Dari sets enough places for all of us. The children will love the company. Will you be home for dinner, Rhett?"
Katie caught sight of a smirk before Rhett hid it. He was so capable of masking his thoughts it was a little frightening. Ella had described him as being a loving man but believed Scarlett had made him build a wall around his heart. "Yes, I can be here."
"We could invite Ashley and Melanie, too," Scarlett said enthusiastically.
"Perhaps another night, Scarlett. Katie just arrived and she was under the weather to begin with."
"Of course, how silly of me, Katie," Scarlett said extending her hand to Katie. "Come, I'll show you to your room. You can rest some before dinner. You'll see to her luggage won't you, Rhett?"
"I don't have much. Really, I can do it," Katie volunteered.
"Nonsense," Rhett said, placing his hat on his hand. He seemed rather relieved to have something to do so Katie left it at that. "It would be my pleasure."
"Thank you, Rhett," Scarlett said and Katie thought she saw a sincere smile but could not be sure. From what Ella had written Scarlett was a master at disguising her true feelings. "You can rest and then we can catch up. I admit I've never met an O'Hara before."
"You haven't?" Katie asked, curiously. She had just assumed differently. When it got down to it, Katie knew nothing of her ancestors. Finding Ella's journal was the first thing Katie had ever seen about her past. She found being here fascinating, the idea of seeing Ella as a young girl before the words in the journal were ever put to paper.
"No, I'm afraid not. We traveled some before the war, but Pa was always so busy with Tara that visiting kin just never happened. Mother took us to Savannah to see her sisters, the Robillard's. Are you familiar with them?"
"No," Katie said with a frown. She hoped that was not odd, her not knowing Scarlett's mother's relatives.
"Well, it's no matter. Pa always said I was more O'Hara than Robillard anyway."
"Your father is gone then?"
Scarlett's eyes grew distant then, sad and Katie regretted the question. "Yes, he died in an accident, horrible really. He was a fine horsemen, but was upset."
Katie squeezed Scarlett's hand, suspecting the woman did not get much comfort in general so she was not sure how the gesture would be taken. "I'm sorry. He must have been a good man."
"He was a very good man and wise. But I'm sure his brothers, my uncles, are like that." Katie followed Scarlett up two flights of stairs. It was hard for her to imagine a house this size. They just did not exist in her time, at least none she would ever have reason to walk through like this. She was tempted to tell Scarlett that Tara still stood, that it was still there but she did not. "Anyway, I'll have this room made up for you. Will this do?"
"It's beautiful," Katie said as she crossed the threshold leading to the guest room. It was a little gaudy but it was beautifully and expensively designed. "I appreciate you taking me in like this. You don't even know me."
"Nonsense," Scarlett chirped cheerily. "You're family, that's what family does. Mother shipped me off to relatives in Macon after my first husband died."
"Charles Hamilton," Katie said.
"Yes, that's right. Are you married, Katie?"
"I am," Katie said, unable to stop the smile from coming to her face at the thought of Ryan.
"Where is your husband?"
"Out of town on business."
"Rhett travels often, too."
"Yes. Too much for my tastes."
"Have you ever told him that you feel that way?"
"No," Scarlett said, running a fingertip along the edge of an expensive looking crystal bud vase. "Why should I?"
"Well, maybe he doesn't realize. I mean," Katie stopped. She was certain she had been sent back here for a reason. Was it to meddle and try to get Rhett and Scarlett to reconcile? "Maybe he'd stay home if he knew."
"Knew what? That I missed him? Don't be silly, Katie."
Scarlett sat in the parlor, taking a sip of warm brandy. She was not sure she believed Rhett's story about Katie though she had no reason not to. It was not uncommon for people to visit relatives with little more than a day or two separating the telegram announcing their arrival and their arrival. Her own mother had done it to her relatives in Macon shortly after Charles had died.
There was just something strange about the girl. She was not very forthcoming with information about herself yet seemed to know about Scarlett. How did the O'Hara's know about her? She had not had contact with them since her father's death. The thought of contacting them had never entered her mind. They had not been a presence in her life before then. She felt a little guilty about it now.
"Pa must have kept in contact with them," she whispered as she set the now empty snifter on the table in front of her. She had been startled to see Rhett that afternoon and he was having dinner here tonight with them. She could hardly contain her anxiety. They had not eaten or spent time together in so long she was not sure she even knew how to behave.
She had tried in vein for months to get Rhett to come to dinner at the house. She had even used the children wanting to see him as an excuse. He had always refused. She suspected he was smart enough to realize she was using the children. Tonight, though, he was coming and Scarlett realized she had no idea what to wear.
"Mammy," she called out as she stepped out of the parlor into the foyer and to the stairs. "Mammy," she repeated.
"I's right here, Miz Scarlett."
"I need help picking out a dress."
"I was just about to get Ella her bath, Miz Scarlett."
"Mammy, you don't understand. We have company and Rhett's coming for dinner."
Something akin to determination flashed in Mammy's eyes and Scarlett knew the only person or thing leftover from her childhood would help her. She had to win Rhett back. She had to put on a grand show of not caring that he had actually come to dinner. Mammy knew that as well as Scarlett did. "Let's go find yerself a dress then."
"I knew you'd understand, Mammy," Scarlett said genuinely pleased. Her curiosities about her unexpected guest were pushed aside for the time being. There were more important things to worry about than whether her story was a lie. She had to impress, Rhett. She had to make him realize that while she was doing fine without him she still wanted him here. She was a survivor, she always had been, but that did not mean she wanted to be alone. The fact that Rhett had not divorced her yet indicated he did not want to be alone either. She just had to make him realize it.
"Oh, excuse me," Katie said startling Scarlett. For the briefest of moments she had forgotten about her guest.
"Lordy," Mammy said as she gazed from Scarlett to Katie to Scarlett again. "Who's this, Miz Scarlett."
"Katie O'Casey," Scarlett said. "She's one of Pa's cousins visiting us from Savannah."
"She looks juz like you, Miz Scarlett. I ain't never seen nothin' like it."
Scarlett regarded the girl and supposed there was a resemblance. Katie was about Scarlett's age, a little younger perhaps and not nearly as thin as Scarlett. "I was about to pick out a gown for dinner. Would you like to help us?"
"Sure," Katie said. "Do I have to change?"
"No, you're fine, Katie, I just want to look nice. It's not every day we get company."
"I'll send Patsy to tend to Wade Hampton and Ella," Mammy said as Scarlett entered her bedroom.
"Thank you, Mammy," she said cheerily. "Make sure they're dressed nicely, too." Mammy knew how big of a deal it was for Rhett to be coming to the house for dinner. She did not confide in Mammy but Scarlett would be blind to miss the concern for her in Mammy's eyes.
"Your room is amazing," Katie said.
"Why thank you, Katie. It's my sanctuary really. I come in here and all my troubles just fly out the window. Not that my troubles are that big."
She watched as Katie ran a hand along the top of her vanity, growing more curious about the girl. She acted as if she had never seen things like this before. Were things that bad for her O'Hara kin that they did not have the basic necessities?
"Everything is so magnificent."
"Thank you. Feel free to look around some, but I need to pick out a gown. Send Mammy into my dressing area when she comes in, please."
"Sure," Katie said as she sat in one of the chairs by the window.
Scarlett could not fault her for choosing that chair. It was one of Scarlett's favorite spots these days. She could look outside and just think without distraction. Her bedroom was bittersweet for her. Some of her best times with Rhett had happened here and some of the worst times had happened here. It was here he had made love to her like no one ever had before. It was here she had told him she wanted no other children. It was here he told her he was leaving. She had had Bonnie and had cried alone in the very same bed after her baby had died.
She was sifting through her choices when she heard her outer door open and close. She heard the familiar heavy footsteps on the floor and knew Mammy had come at last. If she could not get Scarlett to look positively stunning nobody could. Mammy knew all of the tricks and had to know it was time to put them to good use. She was not getting any younger and while she still looked better than most of the women in Atlanta she could not be too careful.
The gown chosen it was time to get ready. Scarlett sat at her vanity while Mammy stood behind her with her hairbrush.
"So tell me, Katie, what does your husband do?"
"Yes, you mentioned he was traveling."
"Oh, right, sorry. He's in sales."
"He must travel a lot then. Rhett always seems to have a new business opportunity and they always take him away from Atlanta."
"It gets old pretty fast I bet."
"One would think after a while that he doesn't want to be here." Of course the fact was he did not want to be there, but there was no sense announcing that fact to the world. Particularly an O'Hara kin who could return to Savannah and gossip about her failed marriage and make her father look bad.
"At least you have Wade and Ella here to keep you company when he's gone. They're adorable."
"Thank you. I suppose you're right," Scarlett said. "You don't have children?"
Scarlett found this a little strange. Katie could not be much younger than she was. It was none of her business and would certainly be rude to ask this woman she just met personal questions. "I'm sure you will some day," she offered cheerily.
She did not mind the children so much but it was the process of making them and carrying them that she was not particularly fond of. Rhett made the process more appealing than Charles or Frank had, but that was not saying much.
Who was she kidding? Rhett made her body hum and her very soul take flight when he made love to her. If only she could have another chance with him. She had yet to make love to anyone with love as part of the equation.
Thinking of children made her think of Bonnie. She had not been to the cemetery lately and she suddenly felt very guilty about that. Maybe Rhett would go with her later this evening after dinner. She was not sure how long he had been back in Atlanta but chances were it was not long and he had not had a chance to pay his respects either.
Her eyes met the dark eyes of Mammy in the mirror and she felt exposed. Mammy saw too much, knew too much. But in this endeavor she was quite certain Mammy would aid her. She smiled, her green eyes taking on the sparkle that she was known for.
"You've done an amazing job as usual, Mammy. I don't know what I'd do without you." It was not often Mammy tended to Scarlett like this. She was getting frail, her hands no longer as agile as they once were but Scarlett missed it.
"My pleasure, Miz Scarlett. I'll check on Patsy and the children while you two go on down to dinner."
"Has Rhett arrived?"
"Not yet, Miz Scarlett, but if'n he said he'll be here he'll be here."
"Thank you, Mammy," Scarlett said as she stood from her vanity. She was pleased with her appearance and hoped Rhett would be too.
"We can go to the parlor if you like until Rhett arrives."
"That would be fine, Scarlett, thank you. I hope I look all right."
"You look fine, Katie." Her dress looked like it was, bought at the store and not made specifically for her but there was nothing wrong with it. "Are you feeling better? How thoughtless of me Rhett mentioned you were feeling ill but I'd completely forgotten until now."
"I'm much better, thank you. I am ready for dinner though."
"Of course, you must be hungry. Mammy will see to the children so we can go downstairs. You can catch me up on Pa's family. I admit I've always been curious."
The look on Katie's face confused Scarlett. She looked frightened and Scarlett did not understand what the woman had to be scared of. Scarlett mulled this over in her mind, wondering if she had said something to cause her to be scared. She did not think she had.
"Well, don't you both look lovely," Rhett said, breaking into her thoughts and distracting her from worrying any longer about what Katie was frightened of.
"Oh Rhett, you always do know how to flatter a girl."
"I take it you two are getting along then?"
"Yes," Katie said.
"Of course we are, Rhett. What did you think? I would bite her or something?" Their eyes met and Scarlett realized he may very well have thought that. Did he really have such a low opinion of her?
"You have a beautiful home."
"Thank you, Katie, I'm glad that you like it. You're welcome to look around as you please."
"Rhett," Ella squealed in excitement as she trotted down the stairs in a most unladylike way. Scarlett wanted to scold her but her daughter's excitement at seeing Rhett mirrored Scarlett's so she let it go this once. Her little girl, who was not so little any longer, jumped into Rhett's arms who accepted her without question.
"Hey, sweetheart. You look pretty, too. You better watch it or you're going to outshine your mother one of these days."
Ella giggled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Are you having dinner with us?"
"I was planning on it, if it's all right with you."
"Of course it is. We have company," Ella said.
"I see that. Have you met your cousin Katie?"
"Good, then I think we can go eat," Rhett said, setting Ella on the floor and taking her hand. Scarlett's heart skipped a beat at the sight. "How are you, son?"
"I'm well, Rhett, thank you," Wade responded quietly. Scarlett was not certain but thought that Wade was not sure who he should blame or side with and she felt badly for him. It could not be easy, particularly given the fact his father was dead and Rhett was the only father the boy had ever known.
Rhett and the children walked toward the formal dining room leaving Scarlett and Katie to fend for themselves. "I guess we know where we stand," Scarlett said her tone indicating more amusement than she felt. How she longed for Rhett to look at her with the love and adoration he gave to Ella.
It was silly of her to be jealous of a little girl, and her own daughter at that. But she wanted hugs and kisses and love, too. Soon, she vowed. Soon she would win him back.
"I guess so," Kate laughed lightly.
"Let's get you some dinner, you must be famished."
Katie sat at the dinner table feeling uncomfortable. She had no idea whether she was alive or dead, asleep or awake, or having hallucinations. The silverware polished spotlessly, the crystal without a water spot, the china that she could see her reflection in, and the elaborate candleholders that kept the table and the surrounding room illuminated seemed real enough. Rhett, Scarlett, Wade and Ella seemed real enough despite none of them were talking.
Katie was not a sparse eater, but she was not used to such extravagance on the dinner table. The food never seemed to end and was all rich and delicious. If only there had not been so much of it. The corset did not help matters either. It was no wonder women fainted.
The conversation throughout dinner had been stilted at best. Formal, safe and sporadic. Katie felt very out of place and in the way. But Rhett was here eating with his family for the first time in a while from what she could ascertain. So, maybe she was not as in the way as she thought.
The servants were waiting for them to leave the dining room so that they could start clearing the table and work on the night's dishes.
"Do you mind if I ask Wade and Ella to show me their rooms?" Katie asked. She did not want to be too obvious about leaving Scarlett and Rhett alone.
"Of course not, Katie. Was dinner all right?"
"Yes, thank you. I'm just tired from traveling." She was curious from reading Ella's writings what the rest of the house looked like. She wished they were living at Tara. She had no idea what the house looked like after the war and before her relatives had refurbished it to its original state. "And I'm sure you two could use some time to talk," she said quickly as she ushered Wade and Ella from the room.
"You look just like Mother," Ella said softly as they walked up the stairs.
"I've heard that I do."
"You're not really from Savannah, are you?"
Katie looked at Ella with a frown. "What do you mean?"
Ella scrunched her face and shook her head, her sandy brown curls bouncing about. She shrugged then. "I just know you're not real."
Katie knelt down so she was eye to eye with Ella as Wade continued walking to the staircase that would take them to the third floor. "What do you mean, honey?"
"I can't explain it."
"It's okay, Ella. I can't explain it either." She believed Ella knew something was wrong.
"But you're not here to hurt us."
"No, of course not."
"Okay," she said simply and offered Katie her hand. "Mother got a new doll for me."
"Yes. Would you like to see it?"
"Of course I would. Does she have a name?"
"That's a very grown up name. And a pretty one."
"You're welcome. Where do you think Wade went off to?"
"He's probably cleaning up his room."
"Is he messy?"
"Sometimes. Mother says boys are that way sometimes."
"Yes, boys can be that way," Katie said with a light laugh. She loved children and wanted to gather Ella up into her arms and hug her tight. She wanted to gather both of them up and hug them for everything they had gone through in their short lives.
"This is the first time Rhett's been here for dinner in a long time."
"I guessed that."
"No one is supposed to know."
"I bet that's hard. Not being able to tell your friends."
"They think it's neat he travels."
"Do you miss him?"
"Yes. Mother does, too, but you know that already."
"I do," Katie said softly. Ella really was more aware than Rhett or Scarlett gave her credit for.
"Here's my room."
"I can't wait," Katie said. And she meant it. She wondered what type of room Ella had. The way Scarlett liked to go a little overboard Katie imagined it would be amazing.
"It's been so long since I've entertained I can't say as I remember," Scarlett said.
"It has been a while I imagine."
"I was thinking maybe we could have a party while Katie is here."
"If you'd like."
"Would you come?"
"I suppose that could be arranged."
"Rhett, don't sound as if I'm asking too much of you."
Their eyes met and Rhett saw the fresh and pustule-like pain in her normally vibrant green eyes. He was the cause of it, he knew this. He reveled in it and hated it at the same time. He wanted to move on. Several times now he had contacted his lawyer to write up a rough draft of a divorce agreement. He had never looked at one of the drafts. He was no more able to shake her from his life than he had been over a dozen years ago.
"You're not asking too much, Scarlett. I said I would come."
"Good," Scarlett said. Her eyes took on a perkier look and he was pleased to see it. "I'll draw up a guest list tomorrow."
"Still putting things off until tomorrow I see."
"Actually, I had hoped I could trouble you to take a ride with me, Rhett."
"A ride with you?" He could not help but be suspicious of any favor Scarlett might ask of him.
"Yes. I asked the servants to ready the coach so if you can stand to be alone with me for a little while I would appreciate it."
"Alone has never been where our problems laid, Scarlett." That was not exactly true. The fact neither of them could ever be honest with the other was the reason their marriage was at the point it was today. He was not going to offer her his heart on a sleeve only to have her run to Ashley Wilkes as soon as he was out of mourning. True, she had kept a congenial distance from Ashley so far but who knew what would happen once Ashley realized he had a child to take care of by himself.
India Wilkes was no mother. While Scarlett had her faults she at least had a heart. Rhett himself had seen little evidence of it over the years but he knew it existed. Ella and Wade could do far worse now that Scarlett knew she was not going to starve to death.
"Where are we going?" he asked softly.
"Do I have to tell you? Can't you just come with me?"
"I suppose. What is it you're up to, Scarlett?"
"Nothing, Rhett, I assure you, nothing. I just," she looked at him, her eyes pleading with him to let it drop and just go along with her.
He could refuse her nothing when she looked at him in such a manner. She looked at him as if he was the answer to all of her troubles. He knew he could be. At one time in his life that was all he wanted to do, be there for Scarlett O'Hara. He had been burned one too many times, though. His heart wanted him to give her whatever she needed. His head told him to proceed with caution. Rhett Butler had perfected the art of ignoring his heart a long time ago.
"You needn't say any more, Scarlett. I'll accompany you on whatever errand it is you feel the need to run at this time of night."
"Thank you," she said and stood from the table. "I'll tell Katie and the girls we're leaving for a while and get a wrap. Then we can go."
Rhett stood as Scarlett did. Old habits died hard. His instinct still told him to show her the respect she deserved as not just his wife but as the only woman who had ever managed to wiggle a way into his heart.
He went to the parlor and poured himself an after-dinner cordial, knowing Scarlett would be a few minutes at least. She would say good night to the children and ensure that Katie was all right. She would worry briefly whether the children were all right with Katie but she would realize she was an O'Hara and trust her.
Having dinner with Scarlett and her children, his family, was a comfort and a pleasure he had denied himself for far too long. He had forgotten what it was like to sit around a dinner table and hear Wade and Ella talk of their lessons and what they had done that day. He missed it and he missed listening to Scarlett's talk of the mill and the store and her approximations for the future. Other people laughed them off but Rhett had learned long ago that Scarlett was a shrewd businesswoman with a good head on her shoulders. She was no prognosticator but she had a woman's intuition which had not failed her yet when it came to business.
He stopped short when he saw her. She had taken the time to change her clothes. The gown she had one for dinner was a one-of-a-kind, designed specifically for her. The dress she wore now was anything but an original. It was a plain black dress. She wore her mother's cameo at her neck and that was it. "Should I change, too?" he asked, confused by her need to change. Just where was she taking him?
"No, you look fine, Rhett. Are you ready then?"
"I guess I am, though I really wish I knew where we were going."
"You'll find out soon enough, Rhett. It's just something that's been on my mind today."
"That's a frightening thought, Mrs. Butler."
"You have no idea," she teased right back. If she was surprised at his calling her Misses Butler she gave no sign of it. He was, in fact, surprised. He had tried to forget there was another one beside his mother.
Scarlett sat silently in the coach as her driver, Lyle, took them to their destination. Her eyes were downcast, focused on her hands clutched in her lap. She felt Rhett watching her and had to bite her tongue from spilling everything.
"Katie seems like a nice girl," she said finally, unable to stand the silence any longer.
"Yes. An O'Hara through and through."
"You think so?" Scarlett asked, intrigued. She had never given much thought to her father's side of her family.
"You don't see the resemblance?" He sounded surprised.
"No, but I've never been very good at that. People would ask me who I thought Bonnie looked like and I never could tell. With Wade and Ella it's easy to see." She heard him suck in a breath and knew she had made a mistake. Mentioning Bonnie was still something neither of them could do comfortably. That was about to change, though.
She was not sure why Katie suddenly appeared in her life with no advanced warning, but she was not going to lose the opportunity it brought her. Rhett had avoided her like the plague since Melanie's death. He would make an appearance at the house to see the children, but they seemed to be timed with Scarlett being gone.
He had to know she had changed. She had been very careful not to appear to be chasing him. He believed she had just transferred her fixation from Ashley onto him. He had no idea how wrong he was. She had to convince him she was sincere. And tonight was the best time to start.
The coach drew to a halt and the driver descended from the top to open the door and offer Scarlett assistance.
"I'll get it, thank you," Rhett said as he stepped from the coach and offered Scarlett his hand. She took it without hesitation. It was rare he offered to touch her these days. She had brought it on herself, so she had no one to blame but it still hurt. She knew how passionate and loving he could be and she missed it.
She was not about to let his offer end with just his handing her out of the coach. She slipped her hand through the crook of his arm before he had a chance to step away from her. She felt him stiffen and knew immediately when he recognized where they were.
"What kind of game are you up to, Scarlett."
"No game, Rhett."
"You know I don't come here." His eyes shone with pain and something akin to hatred. He did not hate her. He could not possibly. Memories of terrible things she had said and done to him whirled through her head and she realized he could indeed.
"Actually, I know you do. I've seen the flowers."
"You weren't supposed to know."
"Well, Rhett, don't you think it's time we stopped keeping secrets from one another regarding our daughter?"
"You're not a priest, Scarlett, and you're not a very good confidante either. Your tongue tends to get very sharp when one wears their heart too close to their sleeve."
"Oh, Rhett, must we fight? Can't we visit our daughter together?"
She followed his gaze as he glanced back at the driver who held the floral arrangement she had sent a servant to pick up earlier when this idea had come to her. He would not sit in the coach by himself and wait for her, would he?
"I suppose," he said.
"Thank you," Scarlett said and took the arrangement from Lyle. It was not as extravagant as she was accustomed to, but it was better than she had expected on such short notice. She had worn a gown that she was not concerned about getting soiled or dirty so she did not bother gathering her skirts as they walked toward Bonnie's grave.
This was a first for them, walking this path together. The funeral seemed like a dream now, surreal and distorted from reality. She had buried two husbands and both of her parents, she had never dreamed she would bury a child.
Tears formed in her eyes as they approached the marker that identified Bonnie's final resting place. Scarlett still had Wade and Ella, but Rhett now had no one. He had doted on Bonnie enough for Scarlett to realize he enjoyed being a father. He had been talking of reconciling the day Bonnie died. She had believed then there was no hope, but now she believed there was. If only she had an idea of how to get him to believe in them too.
"What's this?" Rhett asked as they stopped walking and he turned to look at her. "You're really crying."
"Of course I am. You think this is easy for me?" She knelt, placing the arrangement on the ground where Bonnie's head would be and crossed herself. Of course he thought it was easy for her because she had never let him in to see how badly she hurt, too. There was a time she thought he would have used such a show of weakness against her.
"The thought has crossed my mind, Scarlett."
She remained kneeling, unable to look at him. "I'm not as heartless as you think I am, Rhett. I know I've grown to be that way, but it's the war and everything it taught me. All of the death, destruction and carnage. I couldn't stand to let one more thing get to me. Every time I thought there was a sunny day around the corner someone else would die or something would happen to darken the day."
"I know you don't believe me. I know you think I'm just a love sick girl who has set her sights on a new man that she can't have. But I've loved you all of my life, Rhett. I loved you before I knew who you were."
"Those words are from a fairy tale, Scarlett. They don't happen to real people."
She stood to face him. She was not going to back down now that she had his attention. There was no place he could escape to here. He would not be that callous to turn his back on her here.
"I never believed in such things, but a fortune teller told me about you once. It's so long ago now, but it was before I first saw you at Twelve Oaks. Of course I thought I was smitten with Ashley so the idea of a tall, dark and handsome cad of a man was so far off the mark I thought the woman was as crazy as a lark." She laughed bitterly as she thought of those days. She could not remember the day specifically, but she had vivid memories stored away of her life before the war destroyed everything around her.
She had been happy once, vivacious and loving even if she was a little selfish. She had room to be selfish with her pick of any man around stretching to three counties. Her dance card was full at every party and once she set her mind to gaining a gentleman's attention they were hers for the picking.
"And then the night Melanie died." Her words came out broken up as she sobbed. The loss of Melanie cut almost deeper than the loss of Bonnie. She had taken Melanie for granted for years, harboring resentment for the poor woman all along until it was too late.
"Scarlett," he said, taking her into his arms.
It would have been easy to break down, to let the feel of his strong hands rubbing her back calm her. But she needed to say these things. She had not had him as so captive an audience in ages and she was not so sure the opportunity would present itself again.
"No, Rhett, please, let me finish."
"I'm listening," he said in a tone she recognized well.
It was his comforting tone, meant to soothe her frazzled nerves. And it almost always worked. He was always her calm in the storm, keeping her grounded when she would have otherwise drifted aimlessly at sea. She had not appreciated that until he was gone. It was too late then.
"For years I dreamt of you I just didn't know it was you until the night Melanie died. The dream I had, the one that used to wake me up and keep me from getting back to sleep. It came true that night, it really happened. It was about you, Rhett. For years I tried to figure out what I was searching for in that dream only to realize that night that it was you."
"The day Bonnie died, Rhett, you came to me wanting to reconcile, to try to work things out."
"That was a long time ago, Scarlett. So much has happened since then."
"No, it hasn't. The only thing that happened is Melanie died and you have it in that head of yours that I'm going to fall into Ashley's arms as soon as he's done mourning her loss."
"Do you blame me?"
"Of course not," she said, drawing away from him. She placed her hands against his chest, wanting the contact but wanting to look at him. "I'm sorry I didn't know what to say to you after Bonnie died, Rhett. I'm sorry if I blamed you or you took my indifference to mean I blamed you. It was not your fault. We had strayed so far from where we started from that I had no idea what to say to you. I had no idea how to ease your pain."
He was quiet for a moment. She thought maybe she had said too much. "You never told me about your dreams."
"I was too frightened and I had no idea what they meant. I thought for sure I was going to be punished for all the things I'd done wrong in my life and I didn't want you to know that."
He laughed then, heartily and Scarlett could not help but smile in response. It had been a long time since she had heard him laugh. She missed it. "You haven't done so many things wrong, Scarlett."
"With you I have." He placed his hand at the side of her face and tucked some hair behind her ear. She must look a mess but he did not seem to mind. "Can you ever forgive me, Rhett?"
"Yes, for being so blind. For being so stuck in the past and holding onto something I knew was a dream for far too long. For not being able to comfort you when you needed it. I had no idea how to by that point."
"We all make mistakes, Scarlett."
"I imagine you think our marriage is the worst of yours."
He laughed again. "Hardly."
"No, Scarlett. There are things I wish we both could have done differently."
"Yes, if only we knew then what we do now."
"Do you think you would have done anything differently, Scarlett?"
She wanted to say yes, but she honestly did not know if she would have. "I'm not sure," she admitted honestly.
"An honest answer."
"I'm tired of lies, Rhett. I'm tired of deceit and dishonesty between us."
"It was all that we knew, Scarlett."
"I suppose it was. Do you think we can ever undo it?"
"No," he said softly. "I think it's too late to undo anything, Scarlett."
She lowered her eyes not wanting him to see how much those words pierced her heart. She turned from him and stepped away, only to be stopped by his arm reaching for her. He tugged her to him and nuzzled her ear with his cheek. Her breath caught, her heart slammed against her chest and her blood sizzled to a boil almost instantly.
"Rhett," she whispered. She was not sure what he was trying to prove.
"Shh," he murmured. But yet he did nothing. She expected him to do something to advance the seduction he had started. His hand at her abdomen moved, drawing her still closer against him and she heard him sigh.
Fresh tears formed in her eyes as she looked at Bonnie's grave and realized all that her selfish stupidity had caused her to lose with Bonnie's death. Her daughter was just the most noticeable of them. She had known two men besides Rhett in every sense of the word but only Rhett could make her feel this way.
She wanted to feel his touch again. She wanted to feel alive, to feel the pleasure of his lovemaking bringing her to a fevered pitch only he knew how to deliver.
"Come home with me, Rhett," she whispered boldly giving voice to her thoughts. She had never invited him to act upon his husbandly rights.
"You make a tempting offer, Mrs. Butler."
Her eyes drifted close at the feel of his breath against the sensitive skin of her neck. "I'm glad you think so."
"What is it exactly you want from me, Scarlett?"
Her eyes flew open at the question. Did he need her to spell it out for him? She did not think so. So that meant he was just being difficult. Or was he? There was no teasing or bitterness in his voice. It was hard to tell with him sometimes but she was going to take him at being sincere.
"I want you to come home with me, Rhett." She took a deep breath. "I want you to stay with me. In my room." Surely, he would not require her to spell it out more clearly than that.
"Is this just an itch you need scratched, Scarlett?"
"What?" she asked.
"Are you going to wake up in the morning and scream at the sight of me next to you in your bed?"
"Of course not."
"And if a baby should result?"
She took a deep breath. She had not thought about that. She had vowed Bonnie would be the last. Her waist was already ruined so really what was one more. "I suppose we would have to take that as a sign," she whispered. He knew how to prevent pregnancy, she knew he did and there were always options open to her. She had not chosen to avail herself of them before so she doubted she would this time should it happen.
"Have you gotten religion on me, Scarlett?"
She had not set foot in a church in years. She could not remember the last time she had made confession. Her mother would be so disappointed, but Scarlett could not dwell on that. "No," she said with a light laugh. "But I do believe in signs. If I dreamt of you without even knowing who you were who am I to argue about signs?"
"Some might argue you think like a witch."
"One more thing to add to their pot full of gossip about me." She turned to face him. "So will you?"
"Do I look as if I'm joking, Rhett?"
"Don't make me ask again or make it any clearer."
"As usual, you render me powerless to say no."
She laughed lightly at that. "If only it were that easy."
"You caught me off guard. What can I say?"
"That you're doing this because you want to not solely because I asked."
"I've waited years to actually be invited into your bedroom, Scarlett."
"You would have been invited sooner but you left."
He brought a hand to his lips and kissed the palm of it. Her heart skipped a beat. "Let's not argue semantics tonight, Scarlett. I don't feel like ruining the mood."
She wanted to ask him if she had eased his mind about Bonnie at all but she decided against it. She could ask him later. Very likely tomorrow if he stayed the night as he suggested he would want to do.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com