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."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com