Author's Note: Why hello there, everyone! It's been a long time since I've been able to write an author's note, as you generally need a story for that. But here it goes. This will be just a little story (three chapters). I'll try my best to update it at a reasonable pace, but I've found time to be a somewhat precious commodity these days. Anyways, I hope you enjoy reading it.
And thanks, as always, to Bugsie for everything but especially for reading...and re-reading...and re-re-reading this throughout its various stages of development.
It was a cool night in early fall as Rhett Butler made his way up the wide steps leading into the cavernous monstrosity of a house he regrettably called home. He impatiently glanced at his pocket watch. Damn it. It was far too late—the political meeting at Dr. Meade's house had gone much longer than he originally anticipated. Although in retrospect, that wasn't surprising as the good doctor seldom needed much encouragement before setting forth on a long-winded oration about the wickedness of Scallawags and Republicans and the righteous need to restore good Southern Democrats to every office, high and low, in the state of Georgia.
Rhett sighed. Respectability had its inconveniences—listening to that pompous old goat was one of them, but coming home too late to put Bonnie to sleep was quite another. Although, he thought with a smile, knowing his willful darling Bonnie, she probably wasn't asleep yet at all. In fact, she'd probably thrown the whole house into turmoil, waiting impatiently for his homecoming and resisting whatever frantic efforts were employed to coax her to sleep. No one knew how to properly deal with Bonnie except him—not even Mammy and certainly not Scarlett.
But as he opened the front door and swept into the hallway, he was surprised to be met with only silence and not the petulant cries he expected to hear echoing down from upstairs. He shrugged out of his overcoat and placed it on a side table, before moving up the grand staircase, his footfalls silent and swift out of long habit. He reached the upper hall and moved to his bedroom, but was it was dark and empty. Puzzlement and a twinge of panic filled him. Where was Bonnie? He had already started to move towards the nursery, when he heard her.
"Mother, where is Daddy?" came the sweet childish voice from the direction of Scarlett's bedroom.
Ah, so that was the answer—Bonnie was with Scarlett. An unusual turn of events, to be sure. Scarlett rarely spent time with Bonnie, he thought bitterly, conveniently overlooking the fact that Bonnie following him around like a shadow might have something to do that.
Rhett moved closer to the bedroom, the door of which was slightly ajar, and furtively peeked in. There, Scarlett sat in front of her gilded vanity mirror, combing her dark hair with brisk strokes. Bonnie stood wriggling and squirming next to her, a ball of impatient energy clad in a dainty blue nightgown.
"Your father went to a political meeting—at the Meades, I think. He should be home soon, Bonnie," replied Scarlett, her voice short and clipped.
"But I want Daddy! Daddy always tells me a bedtime story! I want Daddy!" Bonnie cried angrily. Her tiny hands had balled into fits and her black brows were slanted, indignation threatening to consume every ounce of her three and a half year old frame.
Rhett moved back behind the door and stifled a faint laugh. He had planned to knock and announce his presence but no—now he'd just wait. It would only be a few moments now before Bonnie was completely unmanageable and Scarlett was in a helpless fury.
When that happened, he'd sneak back down the stairs, then come up them again, loudly. Already a small malicious jolt of pleasure was forming in his chest at thought of Bonnie gleefully running to him from Scarlett's room—and at Scarlett watching from her doorway, her face twitching with wounded frustration at Bonnie's desertion. Of course, Scarlett's frustration would last only a fleeting second before her face smoothed out again into its absent, polite lines—a mirror image of the same impersonal lines his own face had worn for over a year now. He knew that was wrong of him but—
Bonnie's plaintive cries pulled him away from his thoughts. He listened on.
"Daddy! I want Daddy! And my story—I want my story!"
"But, Bonnie baby, your father isn't home yet. Stop this foolishness and go to bed. You—"
"I won't! I won't go to bed! Not without my story! I want my story now! You tell me a story, Mother!"
"I don't know any stories. Now you need to act nice and— Oh for goodness sake! Do stop fussing so. Be a good girl for Mother. I don't have a story but here—let me see—I—"
Over the high pitch of Bonnie's cries, he could faintly hear the sounds of rustling and rummaging, of drawers quickly opening and closing. This was the moment. He started to move back towards the steps, but a sudden, excited gasp from Bonnie stopped him in his tracks.
"Here." said Scarlett, her voice peppered with annoyance. "Do calm down now, Bonnie, and act like a good girl. If you do, you can play with this. Mother will even let you try it on."
Puzzlement stirred inside him for the second time that night. What was it that had halted Bonnie's tantrum? He peeked inside the door again.
There in front of the vanity mirror stood his daughter, her dark head bent down in utter awe over an ornate sapphire necklace resting at her little hands. Scarlett looked down at her with a wry smile—that particular smile of equal parts exasperation and reluctant amusement known only to harried parents.
"Oh Mother, it's so pretty!"
"It is, isn't it?" Scarlett laughed unwillingly.
"Can I wear it now?" demanded Bonnie.
Scarlett wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Good Heavens, you have fewer manners than a field hand, Bonnie Butler! It's 'may I wear it please?'—not 'can I wear it now?' And yes, you may wear it—but only if you promise you'll stop carrying on so and go to bed soon. Now, will you promise?"
"Well…" Bonnie clutched at the necklace, her little face screwed up in pouting confusion as she considered the dilemma at hand. With an unbidden ache at his throat, Rhett could remember as if from another lifetime ago that exact same expression on another stubborn girl debating the merits of a green bonnet. Now, as then, vanity won out.
"Alright!" his daughter replied brightly.
At this cheerful assent, Scarlett moved to place the necklace on Bonnie, who squealed and gleefully clapped her hands. Taken in by the child's excitement, Scarlett laughed and swept Bonnie up on to the plush ottoman in front of the vanity mirror, to better admire the jeweled object.
"Ooh! Mother, look! Blue!" cried Bonnie, delighted at her glittering reflection.
"Yes, that's right—just like your eyes," agreed Scarlett. She pinched the little girl's cheek and dimpled. "You're mighty pretty, precious!"
"So are you!" said Bonnie generously.
Bonnie idly toyed with the necklace around her throat. "Did Daddy get it for you?"
"He did." Scarlett offered, her mouth drawn into a sudden thin line.
"A long time ago." came the quick reply. Then she fell silent for a moment and some indiscernible flicker played across her face. "A long time ago—in New Orleans," she finished, quietly.
New Orleans. Rhett's chest lurched with an odd stab of pain. He could remember. He could always remember. That was his misfortune—these memories, bright and hard like cut glass wedged into his heart. And now the old memory rose to steal him back into the reluctant past…
It was their final morning in New Orleans and nearly everything had now been packed in preparation for the long train ride that would carry them in the direction of Atlanta that afternoon. Brilliant bright light streamed merrily into their suite through the curtains fluttering about the windows—a warm note that seemed to match the recently renewed peace struck between them last night. Scarlett surveyed the small mountain of trunks and luggage boxes accumulated in the corner of the room with a satisfied smile. She turned to him with dancing, expectant eyes.
"Oh Rhett, don't let's spend our last morning here in this stuffy hotel. We must go somewhere!"
He had laughed before steering her out of the hotel and then down to the streets below. And they had drifted down the Quarter's cobbled roads, amiably, leisurely, before stopping to breakfast at a small café and then slowly making their way back towards the hotel again. The balmy air, redolent and heavy with summer fragrance, wrapped around them and they strolled in companionable silence.
Scarlett tucked a small hand in the crook of his elbow and he smiled down at her. And his heart swelled, for here in this unhurried calm—here in this moment with Scarlett's soft lips curved into a light smile and her eyes glowing like pale green stars—he could believe. He could believe what he had first started to believe last night, when he had awoken her from her nightmare and she had longed for his embrace—that he had made a small inroads into her stubborn heart, that there was now a little piece of her that belonged to him alone…
They had lazily strolled on like this for a while before a sudden, excited gasp from Scarlett surprised him away from his thoughts. They had come to stop in front of a jewelry shop—and there in the window gleamed an ornate necklace, made of tiny sapphires that curved like leaves on a vine towards a prominent central sapphire stone. It was exquisitely crafted, startlingly unique, clearly expensive. It was almost—though not quite—tasteful, a small miracle for any object to catch Scarlett's fancy.
"Oh Rhett, isn't it lovely?" asked Scarlett, her voice brimming with child-like glee as she squeezed his arm. Before he could reply, she coyly tilted her head to gaze at him through fluttering lashes.
"May I try it on?"
His mouth bent into a smirk. "No."
"Oh!" Her face fell instantly. "But why not?"
"Because I'd had hate for you to get attached to something you aren't going to get."
"Oh but Rhett, don't be mean!" she cried petulantly. "It's so stylish! Why can't we go in and look at it?"
"My dear, your passion for garish trinkets is exceeded only by your complete inability to listen. Have you already forgotten what I told you last night?"
She looked at him in angry confusion. He grinned and his eyes began to dance.
"Ah, so you don't remember? That is as I expected. Then I shall be quite pleased to refresh your memory. I said you could have jewelry, but that I'm going to pick it out. You have such execrable taste, my pet."
"I don't either!" she retorted hotly. Rhett raised his black eyebrows into twin sardonic peaks. Realizing she was getting nowhere, Scarlett swiftly retreated back to her earlier tactics and adopted a demure expression.
"How about you pick out this necklace for me, then?" she offered sweetly.
He threw back his head and laughed.
"Indeed, no. That would thoroughly defeat the point of me making the selection. You'll simply have to make do without that silly sapphire bauble."
"Oh, Rhett, don't be hateful," she pouted. "If only you'd be nice for once."
"Says the lady who's already had two trunks full of frippery shipped back to Atlanta—and who has a vulgar amount of luggage waiting for her in our hotel room. Come now, Scarlett, don't argue."
And his black eyes gleamed with such boyish, teasing merriment that Scarlett couldn't help but laugh.
"Oh, how you do run on!" she replied lightly, sticking her tongue out at him. He offered out his arm to her once again and they continued their meandering journey back to the hotel.
Once there, he had deposited her in their room, saying he needed to go down to the lobby to settle their account. But instead he traced his steps back to the jewelry store, buoyant at the promise of surprising Scarlett and presenting her with the necklace she'd spotted. He knew it was damned sentimental foolishness, but they were leaving News Orleans and he now suddenly wanted her to have a keepsake of their time here—something to commemorate these fleeting two weeks that had hurried by so sweetly and so swiftly.
Besides, he realized with a soft amused smile, he could deny her nothing she truly wanted. Certainly the house he'd agreed to build her last night was evidence of that. This necklace was too, although, at the very least, Scarlett's taste in jewelry appeared to be less atrocious than her architectural aesthetic. For all he had teased her earlier, the necklace really wasn't that garish. This fact intrigued him and hastened his gait—he had expected Scarlett to want something more obvious—larger stones, emeralds, perhaps, to match her eyes, a showier design. He liked to think he knew her exceptionally well—far better than anyone else—and yet she held the power to surprise him anew. There were mysteries to her, little secrets and surprises like this one, and he wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life discovering each and every one of them.
By the time he slipped back into their hotel room, the wrapped package hidden in the breast pocket of his suit jacket, Scarlett was in an anxious fury.
"Great balls of fire, Rhett Butler!" she exclaimed. "Where in Heaven's name have you been? Our train leaves in an hour and you—Oh, Rhett, how nice you are!"
She dimpled prettily at the sight of the proffered gift, clutching it eagerly in her small hands.
"Is it really for me?"
"No, it's for the other charming Mrs. Butler who's hiding somewhere about the room," he mocked, his white teeth flashing in a sarcastic grin. "Of course it's for you. Open it up."
She complied and then gasped joyously at the sight of the sapphire necklace.
"Oh Rhett…" she breathed in a happy little whisper.
He smiled. The necklace had cost a small fortune, but it was worth it, well worth it—just to see her eyes shining up at him with full-hearted gratitude. His heart soared, but he kept his features bland, amused.
"Ah yes, well, I figured you deserved some souvenir by which to remember the fair city of New Orleans." He took the necklace from its box. "Allow me, Scarlett. I will fasten it for you."
With a bright smile, she turned to offer her back to him and he fastened the clasp about her throat, his fingers grazing the cool skin along the nape of her neck. At this light touch, he offered up a wry prayer for his wife's penchant for low-cut dresses. It certainly had its advantages. Once the necklace was in place, Scarlett whirled around excitedly.
"How do I look?"
His breath stopped. The dark blue stones glittered luminously against her alabaster skin, the gems rolling and undulating in a graceful pattern that seemed to mirror the curves of her soft frame. She had never looked more breathtaking.
"Lovely—and very nearly tasteful. Perhaps I'll make a lady out of you yet, Scarlett." he teased, but his voice was warm and rich.
She ignored his jibe and moved closer to him, happiness gleaming in her green eyes. "Oh Rhett, you are so kind!"
He laughed lightly, for as he had learned these last two weeks, Scarlett's expressions of gratitude were always endearingly simple like this— Oh Rhett, you are nice… You are so kind… You are good to me…
But they were his, meant for him alone, and he would never trade them for more elaborate declarations.
"There's nothing I like better than being –er – kind to you, my darling," he drawled silkily. His thumb wandered down to caress the sapphire trail around her neck. "And consider this necklace a promise—not only shall our marriage be fun, but if you're good, my pet, it shall also be filled with delightful surprises like this."
She didn't say anything but looked up at him through the dark veil of her lashes. Then she leaned towards him, shyly meeting his lips in an innocent kiss. She had initiated only a scant number of their embraces in their young marriage—and now the light pressure of her warm mouth against his served as his undoing.
From the events that followed they had nearly missed their train—that and Scarlett had then insisted on unpacking one of her trunks in search of a blue travelling dress to wear with her newly prized necklace.
Hours later, as the train groaned and chugged relentlessly onwards in the direction of Atlanta, a sleeping Scarlett nestled closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. He drew her closer, but his eyes were pensive, dark, remembering not the day's happy events but the evening two nights ago that had nearly driven him mad with rage. For despite the largely idyllic warmth of their honeymoon, the specter of Ashley Wilkes had already wedged its way into their marriage. And now they were going back, leaving New Orleans and its enchanted spell behind, going back to Atlanta—Atlanta which carried a looming threat crystallized in the form of the hapless Ashley Wilkes.
The train lurched forward, steel screeching violently against the tracks. They were going home and he was powerless to stop it. With each jostled movement closer to Atlanta, it was as if he could feel Scarlett receding further and further away from him. He knew he was being irrational—she was here in his arms, sleeping and blissfully unaware—but he held on to her tighter, needing to keep her close, needing to keep her his. For he was convinced that a part of her, however small, was truly his now. Last night and today had shown it. And back in Atlanta, he would simply redouble his efforts to make her his—truly his. Surely the grand house she wanted would bring them closer together, would sway her with his generosity and consideration, would open up another piece of her elusive heart to him—just as this necklace seemingly had.
He glanced down at her. Around her slender throat, the sapphire stones gleamed dimly in the half dark of the train car. Bending, he gently kissed her forehead and willed them safely home…
It was the dull hiss of the gaslights in the hall that brought him back to the present, their flickered flame conjuring dark gold specks in the gilt-framed mirrors hung on the wall, drawing out long shadows from the deeply carved side tables placed at intervals down the corridor. Looking about him, his eyes narrowed as he took in the rich dark wallpaper and thick red carpeting, the high-ceiled walls studded with their many mirrors and steel engravings in heavy frames—as he took in each and every garish display of that which his money had bought.
It is said that retrospect brings clarity to all things, lays mistakes bare and glaring before the naked eye. It was true for him. Now it was so obvious—so painfully, stupidly obvious—to see the truth that had been there the whole time, truth he had ignored and willed away during the first heady bloom of married life. For it had always been the lurid glow of greed—the cheap thrill of the things he could buy her—that had warmed Scarlett's heart, and none of the generosity or consideration that lie behind his gifts. She had never wanted him. He glanced towards the stairs and his heart constricted with cold clear memory. She had never wanted anything of his. He knew that to be true.
"Nah-leans!" the bright sweet voice broke his thoughts, rolling like cool balm over his heart.
Bonnie. Thank God for Bonnie. He had lost so much at Scarlett's hands, but he still had Bonnie. Bonnie who made it enough for him. Bonnie who made it very nearly enough for him…
"Nah-leans!" Bonnie chirped again and Rhett returned his attention to the scene at hand. His daughter raised bright excited eyes to Scarlett. "Daddy took me to Nah-leans too!"
A quick frown darted Scarlett's brow. "Yes—he did do that."
Her voice crackled with a note akin to bitterness, but before he could analyze it further, the harsh note evaporated. Scarlett looked down at her bejeweled daughter and laughed, shortly.
"Come now," she said. "I let you try on the necklace, and now it's time for bed."
"But Mother! It's so pretty—I don't want to take it off to go to sleep."
"You promised you'd go to bed, Bonnie. Enough with this nonsense. Now be a good girl and go to bed—and, if you do, well…Mother will let you wear the necklace to sleep."
"Well..." Bonnie pondered.
"Well… I do want to wear it so I s'pose I could go to bed." Bonnie smiled widely as if granting her a magnanimous favor. Then she continued in a guilty small whisper. "I do want to wear it to bed. I do! But I am not very tired yet."
"Oh Bonnie!" Scarlett sighed in exasperation. "At least you're honest about it, I suppose."
Rhett watched as Scarlett bit her lip in vexation and tried to think of some clever means by which to encourage fatigue in their all too lively daughter. For while the necklace might be used to coax Bonnie in the direction of her bedroom, it was proving entirely insufficient at getting sleep to claim the child.
Scarlett glanced down at Bonnie, who had comfortably seated herself on the square ottoman before the vanity and was now idly swinging her chubby little legs back and forward from the edge of her perch. On the vanity rested the hairbrush that she had set aside to quell Bonnie's outburst and, seeing its silver glint, she picked up the object with a sly dazzling smile.
"Here Bonnie," she crooned sweetly, cloyingly. "Let Mother comb your hair."
There were few things in the world that Bonnie Blue Butler disliked more than having her hair combed and, undaunted by her mother's suddenly sugared appeal, she wrinkled up her small face in intense displeasure.
Rhett frowned from his hiding place beyond the door. Scarlett was a fool. Trying to comb Bonnie's hair was the swiftest route to inciting a tantrum from her. Even a mother as inattentive as Scarlett had to know that. Perhaps this had gone on far enough, he thought. Perhaps it was best just to announce his presence and put Bonnie to sleep for the night himself.
He moved his hand to the door knob, but the sudden sound of soft pealing laughter made him pause. Looking in, he saw Scarlett's face pulled into a wide-eyed, innocent expression, her dimples on full display against an artful smile, her lashes a flutter as if overcome with excitement.
She laughed vivaciously. "Why Bonnie! Don't look so upset. You said you wanted to wear that pretty necklace to bed, didn't you?"
Bonnie frowned warily. "Yes, but…"
Scarlett airily placed her hands on Bonnie's slight shoulders. Bending down, she spoke in a low voice, as if drawing the child into a closely guarded secret. "When I was small and I couldn't fall asleep, Mammy would comb my hair until I got tired and nodded off right to sleep."
Bonnie hesitated and said nothing, but her frown wavered at the edges.
"I promise it will make you sleepy, my darling! And then, just think! Oh, Bonnie, how pretty you'll look! With that precious blue necklace and your hair all shiny and smooth. Why, you'll look like…like a queen! Oh, wouldn't that be a nice way to fall asleep?"
She asked the last question in a breathless rush, smiling at her daughter through the vanity mirror, and Bonnie's frown wobbled even more.
For although the Scarlett O'Hara charm had never been used to entice a toddler to sleep, it was on full force tonight, and Bonnie was proving herself an entirely inadequate opponent in resisting its lure. In another moment, she relented with a half pout.
"Alright," the little girl acquiesced. "But just don't tug out my tangles the way Mammy does."
"I won't," Scarlett remarked dryly and she set to work on combing out Bonnie's unruly black curls. Apparently satisfied with the current arrangement, Bonnie chattered on gladly for several minutes, with Scarlett punctuating the child's happy prattle with absentminded um's at intervals. And it was not long before Bonnie's rushing chatter slowed to a trickle and then petered out altogether, her small curled head lolling with the sudden weight of sleep.
Scarlett rolled her eyes as she moved to pick up the child, and at this, Rhett finally made his retreat back to the stairs. He had just finished rounding the top step of the staircase as Scarlett moved from her bedroom into the upper hall, Bonnie's blue sleeping form bundled around her.
At the sight of him, her delicate dark eyebrows flew together in a semblance of annoyance and for a moment his blood stirred perversely at the possibility of a fight, an unexpected return to the old days of bicker and retort…
He would be disappointed.
"Oh. Rhett. You're finally home," she said with the same brittle courtesy that had marked their conversations for longer now than he cared to remembered.
He smiled blandly. "My sincerest apologies. Our meeting ran late on account of Dr. Meade's loquacious tongue."
"Oh. I see." Scarlett shifted her weight awkwardly, trying to better support Bonnie.
"Here, let me take her." he said quickly and moved without pause to take the sleeping child. Scarlett relinquished Bonnie to his arms without comment, but in her face he saw it—that quick twitch of wounded frustration that he had wanted to provoke earlier. Suddenly it did not seem so rewarding.
He said nothing but looked down at her. Scarlett impassively returned his gaze and an awkward silence wrapped them. He coughed lightly to break the spell, returning his attention to his daughter enfolded in his arms.
He lifted his dark eyebrows in pretend surprise at the gleaming blue ornament around Bonnie's neck. "Hmm…what have we here? This is rather formal attire for slumber."
Scarlett sniffed contemptuously, as if annoyed to be caught in the motherly gesture. "Oh that. It's nothing. Bonnie wouldn't hush up, so I told her if she behaved she could wear it to sleep."
At such an offhand recounting of the pleasant scene he had witnessed, his mouth quirked into his old smirk in spite of himself. For a moment a softly drawled barb nearly escaped his lips— "Jewelry has long proven an effective tactic to placate troublesome women." But he curbed his tongue and simply nodded, rising his broad shoulders in a lazy shrug.
Scarlett opened her mouth as if to add something to her account, but then drew her lips together instead. She looked up at him and in her eyes there was the same indiscernible flicker he had observed earlier when she spoke of New Orleans—that same queer look of something he could not place, something there and gone so quickly that its impact was as indistinct as the soft shadowed light that surrounded them.
And yet it was still enough, he realized with a twinge of self-annoyance—still enough to stir from slumber a relic of the old passionate hunger he had nursed for so long. His face did not change, but he imperceptibly tightened his arms around Bonnie and worked to push the past back from where it rose. For just as hope had finally died here in this hallway, so too, he was certain, would these remnants of another time fade. There was nothing left to be had or hoped for from Scarlett. Bonnie was all there was. She was all that there was left, the one spot left unsullied from his marriage.
And at this thought, he bent a cool bow towards his wife.
"Goodnight." he said softly.
"Goodnight." she replied.
With a final nod, Rhett turned on quiet feet and moved in the direction of his bedroom. And in the half dark of the hallway, as Scarlett watched her husband carry their sleeping daughter to bed, she could not have then guessed that the necklace gleaming around Bonnie's throat would soon become the source of a fresh and bitter conflict…