A/N: I'm still writing my other stories, but it's early November, temperature here is still in the upper 80s every day (30C, my European friends) and it's making me cranky to write winter/Christmas scenes in this heat!
I've gone back and forth on this story, thinking maybe it was a little too on-the-nose to write a GWTW fanfic homage to a movie that itself stars Clark Gable. But also, what the hell. Besides, It Happened One Night is one of my tippy-top most favorite movies, and one that, I think, has a really wonderful, happy character dynamic that unfortunately we just barely got to see in the book. ALSO I FOUND OUT TODAY I PASSED THE BAR EXAM. I am pretty sure there's something in the Constitution about posting a new story when that happens.
I hope you like it! Drop a line if you do.
Seagulls circled overhead. A soft wind blew cool and salty air across the water of the bay. A bright Florida sun hung in the sky, bathing the world at large in warmth. The two men standing on deck noticed none of it.
"Hunger strike, eh? How long's this been going on?" Gerald O'Hara asked the boat captain.
"She hasn't had a thing yesterday or today," Sam answered, a touch nervously. Oh, Gerald was a good boss—blustery but never cruel. All bark and no bite, as they say. Still, on issues concerning the matter of his only child… the old man could be a little touchy sometimes.
"Send the meals to her regularly?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir," Sam replied.
"Well, why don't you jam it down her throat?" Gerald retorted, his voice slightly raised. (See? Touchy.)
Sam straightened his shoulders as he stood his ground, calmly looking back at his boss. "Well, it's not as simple as all that, Mr. O'Hara," he explained gently, as if his boss were a five-year-old. Sometimes, if one acted hurt by Gerald's empty threats, he would be filled with contrition and give you an extra day off in apology; other times, he just needed to be placated. This seemed like one of the 'kid gloves' times.
It worked, deflating Gerald a little like a balloon. "Agh," he said, waving his arm, his brogue thickening as it was wont to do when exasperated. "I'll talk to her myself. Have some food brought up to her."
Sam watched Gerald go below-deck. Oh, to be a fly on that wall. Miss O'Hara's—except she wasn't Miss O'Hara anymore, was she?—tempers were legendary. He did not envy the man.
"I'm not going to eat a thing until you let me off this boat!" a voice carried easily through the closed door. The three men eavesdropping on the tête-à-tête glanced around at each other. They'd been wondering how this stalemate would end for days now. The boss's daughter wasn't so bad—especially if she wanted something, she sure could be nice. But cross her, and hoo boy. They did not envy the man who fought with her.
"Hmm-HMM." A throat clearing startled them out of their commiseration. Sam was standing a few feet away, behind a tray laden with covered dishes. The men scurried guiltily back to their posts.
Inside, Scarlett was facing the fireplace, resolutely refusing to look at her father. Pa always let her have anything she wanted! She couldn't understand why he was being this way, now of all times!
"Oh come now, Katie Scarlett," Gerald cajoled. He put his hands on her shoulders to turn her around. "You know I'll have my way." Daughters were such a tremendous trouble! He wouldn't trade his Katie Scarlett for anything, but there were times he wished she'd been a boy instead.
"Not this time you won't," Scarlett cried, squirming out of her father's hold. She stalked across the room to the bar cart. "I'm already married to him!"
"But you're never going to live under the same roof with him. Now I'll see to that!" Gerald rejoined, following behind her.
Scarlett looked to the heavens for fortitude, which the heavens steadfastly refused to provide. She whirled back around to face her ridiculously determined father. "Can't you get it through your head? Ashley and I are married. Definitely, legally, actually married." Her hand chopped the air, punctuating each adverb as she gathered steam. "It's over, it's finished. There's not a thing you can do about it. I'm over 21, and so is he." She tossed long black hair over one shoulder, and picked up her drink.
"Would it interest you to know that while you've been on board I've been making inquiries to have your marriage annulled?"
Scarlett looked at him skeptically over her glass, then took a deliberately nonchalant sip. "Annulled. I'll have something to say about that. And so will Ashley!"
"I'll expect him to," Gerald replied, irritatingly placid and smug.
A knock sounded at the door, and Scarlett watched as Sam and some other men wheeled in a tray full of covered dishes. It smelled heavenly. She swallowed.
"Ah, the vittles!" Gerald exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "Come in, come in."
"I thought I told you not to bring any food in here," Scarlett said, advancing on them like an angry lioness. She took some satisfaction watching them retreat hastily.
"Now, wait a minute," Gerald interrupted. "This isn't for you." he told her, motioning the waiters to bring back the trays. Scarlett couldn't help but smile as they did, keeping their eyes on her like scared little mice, before scurrying out of the room.
Gerald sat down and tucked a napkin into his shirt, making a dramatic showing of sniffing the air.
"Smart, aren't you?" Scarlett asked, her arms crossed over her chest. "So subtle." She smirked, then swallowed again. Good night, why did the food have to smell so good?
"Strategy, missy." He answered, smug once more.
"And you are such a strategist," she remarked derisively. (She would have used air quotes, but they hadn't been invented yet.) "Sending your goons down to drag me away from that justice of the peace: your idea of strategy is to use a lead pipe!"
"I've won a lot of arguments with a lead pipe," he said, now peppering his steak.
Sensing that she wasn't winning, Scarlett swung to another tack. "Outside of the fact that you don't like him, you haven't got a thing against Ashley!"
"He's a fake, Scarlett." Gerald spoke, his voice patient, if a little tired.
A fake! How dare he. Ashley was… Ashley was the playmate from her childhood, before he went away. She hadn't seen him in years, and suddenly there he was, the dashing hero of all her dreams. A fake! Oh, how could Pa!
"He's one of the best flyers in the country!" she offered, angry that she could not think of a better argument.
"He's not right for you, and you know it," Gerald returned. "You married him only because I told you not to."
"You've been telling me what not to do ever since I could remember!" Scarlett said, quite dramatically. It was true enough, however—Pa had always spoiled her, while her mother had been strict. When she died, Pa had shocked her utterly, taking to Ellen's diktats with gusto. He still spoiled her, but he had discovered a core of strength inside himself which surprised her—and himself, she suspected.
"That's because you've always been a stubborn idiot," he returned without missing a beat.
"I come from a long line of stubborn idiots!"
"Katie Scarlett, don't shout so," Gerald said, looking up from his steak for the first time. "You may work up an appetite."
"I'll shout if I want to! I'll scream if I want to!"
"Alright, scream!" Gerald said, his patience finally wearing down.
"If you don't let me off this boat, I'll break every piece of furniture in this room!"
Gerald slowly got up from his chair, holding a fork full of food. "Here, have a nice juicy piece of steak. You don't even have to eat it. Just smell it. It's a poem." (Yeats, of course.)
This had to work, Gerald thought: they'd never make it all the way to South America with an angry, hungry Scarlett.
It did not work. Instead, Scarlett knocked the fork out of his hand. Heaving with fury, she stood looking at him for a second, and then upended the table holding all the food.
Shocked by the wastefulness of her action, Gerald reacted poorly. His temper finally snapped, and even as his hand made contact with her cheek, he regretted it. He'd have given almost anything—enduring marriage to Ashley aside—for the synapses in his brain to have fired just a hair faster to stop him. He had not slapped her hard, but that wasn't the point.
Scarlett stood completely still, speechless for a moment at the wholly unexpected harshness. Then, without a word, she turned and ran out the door, pushing past the men who had since returned to their eavesdropping stations.
Gerald followed quickly, calling after her, "Katie Scarlett!"
Scarlett had already climbed onto the rail when he made it up to the deck. She glared back at him, jaw set, for half a second, before executing a perfect dive into the bay.
Many minutes later, after a riotous confusion of orders to lower the boats had cost them precious time, a small boat puttered its way back to the yacht, as if it knew the wrath that likely awaited it there, and wished to prolong the inevitable as long as possible.
Gerald was waiting at the top step, as the officer grabbed the railing. "She got away from us, sir." he admitted.
"Of course she did," Gerald replied, annoyed yet suffused with pride. "She's too smart for you." Turning to another crew member, he ordered, "Send a wire to the Lovington Detective Agency. 'Daughter escaped again'!"