The gathering moved to the parlor around the candlelit Christmas tree. India passed around the pralines Scarlett had brought from New Orleans, and the group of young children gathered in the corner of the parlor occupied with the tea set, books and trinkets Aunt Scarlett had brought for Christmas. Rosalie watched intently as the two blonde girls interacted and Julia asked"May I" and "Please" to each other. These were skills she never used with her Father or Mother, and she didn't interrupt.
As the adults shared coffee, apertifs and pralines, Wade and Beau gave them the report of all that went on in New York.
"They are putting electricity in the city," Beau gleamed, "It is really quite extraordinary."
Scarlett asked, "Isn't that quite expensive, and I imagine the city is so big."
"It is only in the theater district, they would need it more for the performances," Beau explained.
Rhett nodded, "Yes, that would be beneficial and safer than all those gas lights."
Ashley nodded, "The last time we went to the theater, there was an explosion in one of the theaters."
Catherine chimed in, "Yes, it was the night we went to see Sarah Bernhardt."
Scarlett squirmed next to Rhett, he knew she was preoccupied with her store, and this conversation was not in her arena of interests. A wail from upstairs jerked Scarlett to her feet, and she excused herself to check on the baby. Catherine stood called out, "Dear, I'll come with you."
Upstairs the pudgy baby sat in the middle of Aunt Pitty's huge bed surrounded by chairs, his face red, and his mouth opened in a wail, ay seeing Scarlett, his eyes brightened, and he reached his hand out.
Scarlett scooped him in her arms, and checking his diaper just as Dilcey appeared in the door, "I'll take care of him, Miss Scarlett."
Passing the child to her former servant, now working for Aunt Pitty, Scarlett turned back to Catherine, "Ashley is very happy, and how are you?"
Catherine blushed slightly, "Married life is wonderful, I feel as though I have found a new life. These last five years have been the most happiest."
Scarlett nodded, she slightly understood the feeling of comfort and stability that being pampered and love did for a person, but she didn't realize that Catherine meant she had found a purpose. Scarlett had always found purpose in outside interests, and motherhood had been second. But Catherine was older, she had traveled with her sister, worked as a "spiritualist" before she had children, but Scarlett was a disillusioned seventeen year old who tried not to think of having a baby, until the pains had started and even then, that year of her life was played out for her like a theater tableau, where she didn't feel as though she was even a player.
Scarlett turned to go downstairs, "I'm very happy for you and Ashley."
"I know Melanie asked you to care for Ashley and Beau, and I want to thank you for looking beyond what everybody saw, and making a choice to help Ashley and me."
Scarlett sighed, "Well, I've been on the end of their vicious gossip after the war, when I had to help my family."
As they entered the parlor, the group was smiling and laughing at Aunt Pitty's story of her girlhood Christmas with her family in New York, "before they were Yankees" was her last words before the laughter started.
As Scarlett settled back on the sofa next to Rhett who was holding John, she asked, "Well, Wade are there any plans for the summer, yet?"
Wade shrugged, "Just finished mid term exams, and starting a new semester, none yet."
Scarlett's eyes gleamed, "Well, if you and Beau want to earn some extra money, I may need someone to run the store this summer."
Wade rolled his eyes, and answered a curt, "No, thank you."
Beau fidgetted with a button on his shirt, and shook his head, "Aunt Scarlett, I was planning on helping Uncle Henry, and get some experience."
Rhett clapped his hand on Scarlett's knee, "Well, its six months off, so we can revisit it later."
Ashley changed the subject, as the air got quite tense, "So, will you all return to Louisiana, soon?"
Rhett answered, as Scarlett started to sulk, "Probably in about two weeks we will move on to CHarleston for the season, and then head back around March."
Catherine offered, "Maybe in a year or so, when the children are older, you could come up to visit us. Especially when the boys graduate, we would love to have you."
Scarlett smiled, "Yes, that would be lovely."
Ashley asked, "Well, so you will be back at Tara next week?"
Catherine clasped Ashley's hand, India noticed and sat up straight, "What is it?"
Catherine held up her hands, "This is not my idea, I told you Ashley, not here."
Ashley's eyes glazed and became feverish and bright, "Dearest, they will understand. We want to invite all of you to twelve oaks next week. I have been wanting to conduct a seance to contact my family."
India's face went white, "Ashley, you can do that?"
Ashley smiled, "No, sister, Catherine is going to do the seance, we could talk to Father and Mother."
India stood, "No, you can't do this. I will not allow it."
Ella stood and ushered the younger children to the kitchen as the adult voices started to rise. Rhett stood and followed them as the baby started to whine. Aunt Pitty was flustered and fanned herself as Beau stood to help her with her smelling salts. Wade folded his arms, and raised an eyebrow at Scarlett. Scarlett called over the loud voice, "Everyone, please, settle down!"
Ashley and India was nose to nose arguing, and Catherine touched Ashley arm, "Dear, it's Christmas."
Catherine's small eyes were stressed, and her face was dour, and Scarlett saw a woman who was happy with her life, yet she knew this man chased ghosts, the ghosts of the past.
As the yelling hushed, Scarlett looked Ashley in his eyes, "Ashley, why?"
"I haven't been back, since before Catherine and I were married, and I have been thinking about this forever. Wouldn't you love to talk with your mother and father again, Scarlett?"
Scarlett felt a lump in her throat, and couldn't speak. Her thoughts were of pity for Ashley, how he had the appearance of a man who has moved on, yet he could not move on. Scarlett brushed a tear from her eye, "Ashley, I would not want to disturb their rest, as far as I know, they were good people, and they are in heaven."
Wade's face softened remembering a shadowy memory of his Grandpa smiling with him, throwing a potato back and forth on the back porch of Tara, he was so hungry and skinny, and for a moment he forgot his hunger as he tossed the rotten potato with his grandpa, he looked down to gather his thoughts.
"Scarlett, New Years' Eve is a day when the veil between the living and the dead are lifted, they get this one day to return."
Scarlett looked at Catherine, and could see pleading in her eyes, and it was India who broke the silence, "Well, aren't you the expert Catherine? What do you think?"
Catherine folded her hands, "I don't think it is the proper time to discuss this, but if Ashley is determined to do it, I will help him."
India stood and walked out the room. Scarlett looked over at Wade, "Wade, help Beau get your Aunt to her bedroom, I'll send Dilcey up to help her."
Ashley and Scarlett stood alone in the room, he flopped in the chair, and held his head in his hands. Scarlett went over to him, and put her hand on his shoulder, "Ashley, Melly wouldn't want this."
Ashley's shoulder shuddered with a laugh or a sob, his face was creased, with streaks of gray around his temples, and his grey eyes were watery, "It's not about Melly."
"Let the dead rest, Ashley, you have two beautiful girls, and a wife who would do anything for you, even this. Why can't you be happy, look at the future, we both got a second chance at love and life."
"Are you truly happy, Scarlett, you never wonder and miss the past?"
"You know I don't, its too painful for me to look back."
Ashley laughed, "We are both a mess in different ways. I live for the past, and you avoid it."
Scarlett sighed, "You do what you have to, it's survival. And Melly would want you to enjoy those beautiful children, kiss them for her, love them like she would."
"I do, but I'm still doing the seance at twelve oaks on New Years' Eve. I would like you to be there, and India."
Rhett walked in, "She won't be there, just like your wife will do anything for you, Scarlett will abide by me."
Scarlett spun around, and was relieved Rhett had spoke for her, "Yes, I don't wish to bother the dead."
"Scarlett, you could hear from Bonnie?"
" Why would I want to bring her back when she is at peace."
Scarlett started to cry, as she felt Rhett's hands on her shoulders.
Ashley's eyes darkened, "Both of you are selfish, you only want to spare your hurt, so you ignore your feelings, and you never wondered about her?"
"I think of her everyday, when I see Rosalie smile or look into John's blue eyes, or even see a doll on the floor, or a damn pony! She is always on my mind, I carry her in my heart, but I have to live life, I can't allow it to bring me into the darkness!"
Rhett clutched Scarlett to him, as she shuddered into tears, all the stress of the day coming to a head. Rhett's voice was cold and tight, "We are leaving, I sent the children ahead with Uncle Peter. Our cab is waiting."
As they left, India stood at the door, "I'm so sorry, Scarlett."
Scarlett nodded, and patted her hand, kissing her cheek, "India, there is nothing we can do for him, he is still in the past. It's Catherine who I am sorry for more than anyone."
Scarlett didn't even notice the cold, she stared out the window at the darkness flying by, and Rhett was silent. "How could Ashley bring up her?"
Rhett's voice was dry, "He is angry and there was nothing left for him to use."
Scarlett renewed her sobs and sniffles, "Well, I'll never forgive him."
Rhett was too upset to chuckle at the irony, "You have said that before."
"I mean it!"
As the carriage pulled up the well lit hotel, Scarlett hurried up the stairs, as Rhett checked the desk for messages. In the room, Vella informed Scarlett the children were in their beds, and Scarlett knocked on the middle door lightly, "Ella?"
"Yes?" the voice came out drowsily.
Scarlett opened the door as Ella turned over.
"How are you?"
Ella blushed, "Fine, I'm just tired."
SCarlett brushed her daughter's curly hair off her forehead, "I'll have some tea sent up for you. If you feel unwell tomorrow, just stay in bed."
Ella nodded, "What were you yelling at Uncle Ashley for?"
Scarlett sighed, "It's nothing for you to worry-"
"Are you mad with him?"
"No, I had a disagreement, Uncle Rhett and I don't agree with him."
"About the seances?"
Scarlett stared at her silly daughter with new interests, "What did you say?"
"The seances, Beau said his stepmother talks to dead people. Miss Catherine had a really pretty brooch tonight."
"Ella, stop, I want to know how did Beau tell you, about the dead people."
"His letters, he writes me at school, he has monogrammed stationery."
Scarlett sighed, "Stop, what does he say?"
" Beau tells me about his studies and New York-"
"No," Scarlett grabbed her arm, "What about the seances?"
"Oh, that, Uncle Ashley has her do them, but in New York, it is hard for her to get any messages."
Scarlett's eyebrows raised in knowledge, and she thought to herself, "Sly boots Catherine."
Rhett was in bed when Scarlett entered their room humming. He sat up, his eyes were dark and brooding, "Are the children asleep?"
"Yes, I was checking on Ella."
"You feel better?"
Scarlett slipped out of her velvet dress, and Rhett got up to help her disrobe. Her hair smelled of lemon and her skin was silky under his dark hands, "Rhett, I think Catherine is handling AShley, but she needs a better nudge."
"A nudge?" Rhett suddenly wanted her silky skin next to his, and forget out this evening for an hour in the dark with his wife.
Scarlett felt his eyes on her, "A nudge," she tapped his nose as he glided the corset over her body exposing her thin chemise, and then she felt the chill which was suddenly blocked by the warmth of Rhett's body next to hers.
"Let's get in bed, I want you to myself."
Scarlett invited his hands to control her body, and relieve the tightness in her chest and shoulders, as if she could leave her body for a few minutes, and relax.
Her hands searched his strong shoulders, gliding past the silken robe as it puddled on the floor around them, and finally his lips were firm and gentle on hers, pushing his tongue as it was invited into her mouth, catching her breath as he walked her to the bed. The pillows obscured their space, as he threw them to the floor, and his weight pushed her deep into the mattress, she felt his firmness next to her, "It's been too long." he breathed into her hair.
Scarlett arched her neck inviting him to trail her neck, with his lips to her breasts, leaving her body feeling liquid, electric and wanting. She whispered his name, as her need for him rose, and her hips rose to meet him gentle, and then forceful until they collapsed exhausted and thrilled. Scarlett turned over resting her head on his chest, and giggled.
Rhett stroked her hair, finding his voice that was husky, "Something amuses you, Mrs. Butler?"
"No, Rhett." her giggles grew more out of control.
"Scarlett, what's got you laughing so much?"
"I don't know, really, it's just-"
Rhett started to laugh too, and he slapped her on her bare bottom, "You are incorrigible!"
That made them both laugh harder, and tears started to run down Scarlett's face, as she raised her head and met Rhett's eyes, "Oh, my. We should get some rest, we need to get to the store early tomorrow."
Rhett sighed, "Your mind is on one subject, huh?"
"Yes, my money and my store."
Rhett pulled the blanket around them as Scarlett layed her head down and settled in to sleep, "Scarlett, did you ever think about the future? About the store?"
"What about it?" her eyes were bright now, and they bore into his half lidded eyes.
"Well, Wade and Beau are both doing law. And Ella doesn't seem to have the business knack to run the store. I have a feeling, if Beau doesn't marry a cousin, his wife will be her career as soon as she finishes school. So, what will become of the store?"
"Well, I will run it, and have the money-"
"The money, yes, you could sell it, and it would be a sizeable dolry for Ella, maybe even turn a better man's head than Beau."
Scarlett's mouth dropped, "Do you mean to tell me, you think I would "buy" a husband for my daughter?"
Rhett shook his head, "No, I was just saying, we aren't here all the time, and maybe somebody else would have the time, you have changed."
"Well," Scarlett pursed her lips, all business,"If I sell I get money once, but if I keep it the money just rolls in every year."
Rhett smiled, and traced her eyebrows with his hands, "You don't need it."
"I do, and anyway maybe Ella will marry a man who would run the store for me."
"Like Eddie Elsing?"
Scarlett's irritation renewed, "No, not him. Ugh! We will have to deal with that tomorrow!"
She looked over at Rhett and he was snoring quietly, asleep, and now Scarlett was irritated and sleep evaded her as she nestled on Rhett's chest, eyes wide open.