Scarlett should have known that Rhett would want to leave almost immediately—and, in this one case, she was more than happy to oblige his haste. New Orleans shone before her as a great, wonderful summit on the very near horizon. She wanted to be done and gone with Charleston and Charlestonians, on to a new height that promised dazzling things that she could only dream about and could never describe. She didn't have the imagination to envision anything but misty images of happier times and pleasanter people. But if she could have given a name to her excitement it would have been escape.
Charleston had never become a home for her. The dreary dampness of the place had darkened her mood and the layers and layers of history and ritual had depressed her need for the present, for the wildness of the untamed. A creature of the now, a woman of action, she had been suffocating in the seaside city built on decades of tradition.
She was sick of all this loneliness and rudeness. The day before her departure she visited her Aunt Eulalie to tell her that she was leaving Charleston, hopefully never to return. She let fly her tongue, recklessly giddy and talkative about how deep her loathing for Charleston was and how joyful she felt to go home to Tara and then on to her new home in New Orleans. Much good this frank enthusiasm did her, for that proud widow, her head tilted up, surrounded by her mountains of knick-knacks and trinkets, gave her one sharp look and said: "Don't let me hear any more such foolishness, Scarlett. I'll go see your ungodly husband today if you continue on with this nonsense of a plan. Leave Charleston now? I've never heard of such lunacy!"
"Crazy old cat," Scarlett thought meanly as she left, "that's what happens to a woman who loses her husband right after she marries him and gets stuck in a stuffy town like Charleston—although Savannah isn't much better. If I were ever a young widow, I wouldn't stand around and let myself shrivel up into a crusty naysayer, though."
Scarlett crossed herself immediately—Heaven forbid Rhett died! The gate slammed shut behind her on her way out of the front lawn, and she stalked down the sidewalk, an elderly gentleman swerving out of her way and glaring at her.
Yes, she was sick of all the loneliness and rudeness, sick of the cold shoulders, the averted eyes, the whispers as she passed by. If there had ever been a real desire for her to win over the hearts of Charlestonians, it had faded away weeks ago. Besides, she couldn't even win over the hearts of her Charleston relatives, couldn't even win over the heart of her Charleston husband. Rhett hardly showed the slightest interest in her since announcing their upcoming uprooting. He'd had very little to say in response to her manifold questions on what the apartment looked like, where was it located, how did he like New Orleans, would it suit her. Moreover, he had hardly been in the hotel room at all the past week. She was more miserable than ever.
The day was hot and the sun beat down on her head, a scorching sun that broke the spirits of those who dared to go outside and made Scarlett even more eager to leave this stifling town. The smell of the tide rose laggingly in the air. Perspiration soaked through her freshly starched dress as she walked down the main street and passed shuttered store fronts. She was regretting refusing Rebekah's offer to accompany her, at least her slender arm would have been some support in this choking heat, when she heard someone call out her name from a shaded side street beside the bakery.
She stopped short, and hesitating only a moment, walked into the narrow sideway, breathing in the foul air of refuse and moldy bread. As the caller stepped away from the wall, her suspicions were confirmed, and Scarlett halted, uncertain as to what she should do next, curious enough not to turn around and head back toward the hotel, but determined not to speak first and risk sounding like a fool.
"I don't know how much time I have," Rosemary airily explained, coming a little nearer, glancing behind Scarlett. "I spotted you from the dress shop window and managed to sneak away before anyone noticed."
"Well I wouldn't want you to risk too much by being seen with me again," Scarlett said hotly, furious already. She thought of Helena from the other day. "Not that I care what any of you Butlers think of me."
Rosemary looked Scarlett up and down, as if seeing her for the first time, a calculating frown on her face. "I hope they're not right about you, but even if they are, I'm not in a position to be picky."
Scarlett had her ideas about who they were, and was struggling to come up with an equally cool retort when Rosemary's expression suddenly shifted into a warm smile.
"I wanted to thank you for accepting that letter last week. I know it was an imposition, and an awkward one to boot." She paused, her voice a note higher, "Were you able to send the letter off then with one of your own?"
"One of my own what?"
"One of your own letters to Mrs. Wilkes, naturally."
Slow though Scarlett was at analysis, her mind was very quick when it came to sizing up the competition, and she swallowed back a loud chortle. She may not understand much about the way people think or why they acted as they did, something Rhett had been relentless in reminding her lately, but she understood enough about hanging on to a beau. She might actually enjoy this conversation with Rhett's peculiar little sister. It would be a relief to be the one with all the strings again. She was fed up with not having any two to rub together.
"You thought I would have already sent a letter to Mrs. Wilkes, and yours along with it?"
"I might have," Rosemary replied. "She and you seemed to be as thick as thieves, and well, I rather trust Char—Mr. Hamilton's sister's opinion of you over that of the likes of say, his cousins, Honey or India. From all that Honey said, it was clear as day that she was sweet on, er, gentlemen that had no interest in her, and just as clear that she was jealous of you because of it, even if it was all water under the bridge. Of course, truth be told, and no offense intended, but I honestly believe India Wilkes may hate you more than any person on God's earth hates another person. I think she hates you more than Helena—well, never mind. I saw through it. She's ripe for the picking with jealousy. Mark my words, she'll never get over her hatred of you. But on my life, I just can't figure out why that is."
She prattled this in one uninterrupted breath and it struck Scarlett how very young the girl was. "Why she's barely older than baby Careen, not even out yet!"
This recollection was a boost to Scarlett's ego, evaporating that cloud of jealousy into a shadow of mistrust. Charles Hamilton aside, on principle Scarlett despised any belle with more admirers than she had claimed at the peak of her reign, and it lessened the sting of her envy that this child's heyday had not yet arrived.
"The Wilkes' womenfolk can't keep their beaux, that's all there is to it," Scarlett said with a pretty shrug. "But I don't give a rap about what they think of me, and neither should you."
Rosemary pursed her lips. "From all I've heard, you don't give a rap about what anyone thinks of you." She tilted her head. "And I'm not sure if that's something I should be afraid of or impressed by."
"You certainly don't hold your tongue very well."
"Pot calling the kettle black, I'd say," Rosemary replied, surveying her with narrowed eyes.
Scarlett's supremacy faltered a little under the inspection. She hated being examined, or called out for things she did or said. Frighteningly self-confident, it never occurred to her that others judged her because of their own insecurities. She only knew that she didn't bother about what other people did, and that they should pay her the same kindness and stop bothering about her.
"Although maybe you should be more aware of what people might say about you," Scarlett added, hoping to put an end to Rosemary's scrutiny, "passing me a coded love letter when you're not even out yet could land you in some mighty hot water."
Her dig did the trick. Rosemary's eyes bulged, her hands flying to her mouth, her shoulder tensing up against her neck. She looked young again, younger possibly than her meager years, and terrified.
"How did you know? You didn't read the letter, did you? I mean I thought—"
Scarlett rolled her eyes, glad to be back in control, and baffled by Rosemary's reaction. This girl was as unpredictable as, well, as her older brothers, but in an annoyingly, naïve way. Scarlett could see none of the endearing charm that others saw in the young lady, how her sharp mind had been tied with an utterly open heart, making her on the one hand, exceptionally clever and on the other, entirely susceptible to deception.
"No I didn't read the letter. I didn't have any need. I knew what it was the minute you shoved it into my hand."
"And the code—how did you?"
"I didn't bother with the code and all that. As if I cared what you wrote to Charles Hamilton?" Scarlett shook her head. "Anyway, I would have thrown the stupid thing in the trash, for your own good, if your brother hadn't spotted it and decided we ought to send…"
Scarlett couldn't finish her sentence, so confounded she was by Rosemary's expression. It was as if all the lights had gone out inside her. She stared at Scarlett in a blank, ghostly way. The nothingness of it stirred some memory in Scarlett; something she couldn't quite remember, but knew it was in some way connected with Ashley.
"God help me if she faints," she thought, reaching out to take Rosemary by the elbow, "I don't know what I'll do if she has some sort of fit. It's not as if I carry smelling salts with me."
"Rosemary? Are you alright?"
Those big blue eyes cleared and she shirked Scarlett's arm away. "I'm fine, of course, just surprised."
And Scarlett remembered why she had thought of Ashley—Ashley of all people; Rosemary had looked just like Ashley had when Rhett had told him that she had agreed to marry him. And just as it had been with Ashley, a cool façade of polite indifference had slid over the barren shock. To so easily conceal her true emotions was not a skill that Scarlett possessed, and as always when she witnessed someone do something that she could never master, a thick layer of envy oozed out from her, mingled with the slightest bit of admiration.
"I do apologize if I startled you, Scarlett," Rosemary said in a commanding voice. "I just had not thought," she stuttered, "I had not thought that Rhett would be so involved in his wife's correspondence with her women friends."
"You must not know your brother very well if you think he wouldn't figure out what was going on, with or without my help or permission."
"As a matter of fact, Scarlett, I don't know my brother at all. I've never even met him—not formally at least."
Scarlett gaped, speechless, and Rosemary continued on, "He left when I was just a baby. I've always wondered what he was like. I've heard such fantastical stories and I'm sure they cannot all be true—saloon brawls, knife fights, gambling on a river boat, and, er, rowdy women."
She paused, as if waiting for Scarlett to contradict her, but Scarlett could do no such thing; she barely knew Rhett's history and what she had learned so far was outright scandalous.
Rosemary smirked, voicing Scarlett's thoughts: "Or maybe they are all true. I wouldn't know. Rebekah was the only one who would even talk to me about him. Mother would just cry if ever I asked her what he was really like. And it was especially bad after Father discovered Mother's letters to Rhett. He still checks every letter that goes in or out of our house, although it's been years since he found Mother out. No one's brave enough to go against father, of course, which isn't a problem." Rosemary cast Scarlett a sincere look. "Father really is a very good man. He's just also very strict and Rhett hurt him very much."
Scarlett clenched her jaw. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth again, not if she could help it. "I ought to be getting along now." She straightened her shoulders. "No need to worry about your silly letter. And if you don't mind a bit of friendly advice, I'd steer clear of Charles Hamilton if I were you."
Rosemary managed to squirm a little under her strained superiority, and Scarlett walked away from the alley with a bit more swing in her skirts. Farewell, Charleston, she smugly thought. And good riddance. Her plans to leave Charleston tomorrow, however, hit an unexpected bump when she arrived back at the hotel. She hadn't expected to find anyone, apart from Rebekah, in her rooms, and was startled to see a man rise up from a chair as she entered the door who was the spitting image of her husband, twenty years older.
Note: Sorry this is short. But hey, a little is better than nothing, right? I really have zero steam for this story, but I have left it in such a dangle. Last time I updated, it was thanks to a lovely frozen litter of soda, or is it pop, that fractured my metatarsal. This update is thanks to a bout of the flu. Haha.