It had been five years, five long years since he had last seen her. Four years since she had signed the divorce papers he had sent her. Three years since he gone back to Atlanta looking for her, only to find that she had sold the Peachtree house and her businesses, but left the large cash settlement he had given her and vanished without a trace. Five long years and here she was, sitting in the dining room of the very Parisian hotel that he was staying at, looking as if it had only been mere days since he had last seen her, dining with another man. She looked as beautiful as he remembered her, perhaps even more so in her stunning, but tasteful green and gold silk evening gown. And while she looked happy, he couldn't help but notice that the old fire was absent from her eyes.
He had every intention of turning around and finding somewhere else to eat, there was no shortage of acceptable restaurants inParisafter all, but before he could rip his eyes away from her laughing and joyous countenance she looked up and they locked eyes.
Scarlett had been listening to one of her dining companions many amusing anecdotes, when she felt the very atmosphere of the room change. It had been five years since she had felt this way, all the small hairs on the back of her neck stood up in response of the feeling someone's eyes on her. Yes, it had been five very long years and she knew this could only mean one thing, Rhett was somewhere close by. Praying that she was wrong, she glanced up towards the entrance of the dining room and there he was standing there staring directly at her, looking as handsome as the day she met him. As soon as they locked glances he started moving towards her and Scarlett had to concentrate on controlling her breathing.
"Well if it isn't Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Bu–"
Scarlett jerked unconsciously upsetting her almost empty wine glass, causing Rhett to take a step back before could finish her rather impressive list of names.
"O'Hara," she said quickly as both she and her date quickly tried to clean up the mess she had made. "I go just by O'Hara now, I find it's easier and less painful for everyone involved," Scarlett explained shooting Rhett a significant glance.
"Yes," the still unnamed man chuckled, "this poor lady had been widowed so many times that I fear for my life every time every time I get a cold just because of our association."
"Well," Rhett told the man, "I assure you that there were extenuating circumstances with the death of each of her...marriages."
"Oh did you know Scarlett when she lived in America? I'm sorry, that's not very proper of me," he said quickly, aware of his social faux pas, "but I'm just so curious. You see, my Scarlett has always been very secretive about her life before she showed up on the London social circuit, when was it my dear, four years ago?"
Rhett did not fail to notice the man's easy use of Scarlett's first name or his endearments. And although he had long since thrown her from her place in his heart and life, he couldn't help but feel a little ill at another man referring to her as his.
"Yes, I do believe that is was about four years ago," Scarlett confirmed. "And I don't like to talk about my life before I came to England because I think my mysterious past just adds to my many charms, don't you agree?" she asked, reverting to her southern belle tricks to try to steer the conversation away from the dangerous topic of her past husbands. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced you two. Rhett this is Andrew Cunningham, he has the premier law practice in all of London. Andy, this is Rhett Butler, he...well to be honest I never have quite figured out what Rhett does exactly."
"Well perhaps my mysteriousness is part of my charm as well," Rhett quipped. He knew exactly what Scarlett was doing, but he let her do it, for now.
"Well it is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Butler, any friend of Scarlett is a friend of mine," Andrew said graciously. "Please sit down and join us for a moment."
"That's very kind of you Mr. Cunningham, although I'm not sure that Scarlett here would still consider me a friend after what we have been through together all of these years," Rhett said with a chuckle as he sat down next to Scarlett, even as he said he shouldn't, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.
"Have you two known each other long?" Andrew asked conversationally, trying to hide how eager he was to get this rare glimpse into Scarlett's mysterious past.
"Oh yes, many years. Let me think, we met," he paused even though both him and Scarlett both remembered exactly when and under which circumstances they had first interacted all those years ago, "yes I believe it was the day the war started. At a barbeque held at one of her neighbor's plantation if I remember correctly. She had just broken something, isn't that right Scarlett?" Rhett asked with an innocent expression as the waiter came by and refilled their glasses.
"If by broke something, you mean I hurled that ugly little bowl at the wall in a rage, shattering it into a thousand pieces, then yes you are right, I had just broken something," she responded calmly as she took a rather large sip of her newly refilled Bordeaux. She knew he was toying with her, and she was not about to play his games. Not anymore.
Rhett laughed loudly at both Scarlatti's honesty and the shocked look on her companion's face. Rhett too was surprised, he had expected her to get angry, or flustered, or at least try to skirt around the issue, but of course he should know by know that Scarlett rarely did what was expected of her.
"Why on earth would you do that?" Andrew asked, visually taken aback upon learning that Scarlett would do something like that. As long as he had known her, she had never been anything but a perfectly proper lady.
Sighing deeply, she took another sip of her wine before explaining. "I was very young at the time, hardly sixteen and I had just found out that the man that I thought I loved was going to marry another girl even though he had led me to believe that he was going to marry me. At least that's how my vain eyes perceived the situation. We exchanged words, and I got very angry, believe it or not I used to have a terrible temper, and threw a bowl across the room not realizing that Rhett had witnessed the whole embarrassing scene."
"And she hasn't been able to get rid of me since," Rhett joked teasingly.
"I didn't always want to get rid of you," Scarlett said softly looking down at the wine she was absently swirling in her glass, with a sad look in her eyes that only Rhett caught.
"I forget sometimes, just how young you were when I met you," Rhett admitted in the same soft tone.
"Still very much a child, but then it did take me a long time to grow up," Scarlett responded, looking up from beneath her lashes to meet Rhett's studied gaze.
They shared a meaningful look, but Mr. Cunningham was preoccupied trying to imagine Scarlett acting as she had in their story to notice.
"I can't even imagine you getting that angry Scarlett," Andrew finally said, the disbelief clear in his tone. "In all of the years I have known you I don't think I have ever heard you raise your voice let alone be angry enough to throw something."
"And I can't believe that you have never been regaled by Scarlett's infamous Irish temper," Rhett replied incredulously, forcing himself to break the gaze he had found himself in with his ex-wife.
"Well maybe Andy just doesn't have the same talent for infuriating me as you do Rhett, or perhaps I have actually changed a bit since last you saw me," Scarlett said simply, bringing her glass up to her lips once more.
"Touché my pet, touché," Rhett responded causing Scarlett to choke on her wine and Mr. Cunningham to look at him queerly. Rhett saw this and quickly changed the subject. "So you mentioned that you now reside in London, what brings you to Paris?" Rhett felt Scarlett tense beside him, making him even more curious as to the answer of his question.
"Actually we are just here on holiday celebrating our recent engagement," Andrew said with obvious pride in his voice.
All the air rushed out of Rhett's chest and he felt like he had just been sucker punched in the stomach. Now he understood why Scarlett suddenly went so pale. However, true to form he masked those feelings and acted as if this news meant nothing to him.
"Well then, I suppose congratulations are in order," Rhett said glancing over at Scarlett who was now guzzling what was left in her glass and signaling to the waiter to fill it once more.
"Thank you," Andrew responded genuinely, "If you happen to be in town at the time, you must come to the wedding."
Rhett chuckled sardonically, all too aware of the irony in the man unknowingly inviting his fiancée's estranged ex-husband to their wedding. "I'll see what I can do."
"So how long have you two been together," Rhett asked. It wasn't a socially acceptable question and frankly he didn't even really want to know how quickly Scarlett moved on, especially after she had said she loved him, but his masochistic curiosity drove him to keep asking questions.
"Well, we met the day she moved in next door, but as I'm sure you are aware that she had just recently lost her third husband the year before and she was still very deep in morning. It took me three whole years of constant prodding to finally convince her to let me take her out as more than a friend. And then it took me the past three months of asking her to marry me every day before she finally broke down and said yes last week. Scarlett may be a lady, but she can be a stubborn as a mule," Andrew said looking at Scarlett fondly, as she downed another glass of wine.
"Yes, as stubborn as a mule in a horses harness," Rhett said causing Scarlett to set down her now empty wine glass with a bang. Deciding he had heard more than enough he stood, "but now I will let you get back to your celebrations."
"Yes, it's about time for us to be getting to the theater anyways. Are you ready to go darling?" Andrew asked Scarlett.
Feeling slightly dizzy from drinking so much wine so quickly, Scarlett rose without saying a word and allowed Andy to place a hand on her lower back and guide her from the restaurant. It wasn't until they were nearly outside that she allowed herself to glance back and take one last look at the man that she would love until the day she died.