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.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com