Note: I had intended on waiting to post this story until I had completed "The Year After"; however, I've been really excited about this one, so I'm going to go ahead and put it out there. I've read several really awesome "present-day" GWTW fics - this is my attempt. It picks up at the "end" of the novel, and borrows certain characters from "Scarlett" as well as the core characters from the original. As always, any and all feedback is solicited. All characters are the intellectual property of Margaret Mitchell.
Those were the first coherent words in Scarlett O'Hara Butler's mind after it happened. The computer date read September 30, 2011, 11.11 p.m., when her first instinctive move had been to update her Facebook relationship status from married to divorced. Why did she want to avoid the inevitable? After all, it had been a year since her husband had walked out.
And in a year, she had made no changes to her profile. After all, she was still married.
But now, the State of Georgia had put that asunder; she had the documentation to prove it. So here it was, a year after the fact, and she was forced with the decision.
She made the change and reflexively pressed save before she could change anything else.
She saw no need to add the additional disclaimer of divorce because there would be no mistaking what exactly had occurred. Her 239 friends, a mixture between Atlanta's best people and miserable reprobates that had a lot of money and therefore merited her Facebook friendship, had probably known that it was coming before she had. After all, her husband - no, ex-husband - had done the duty round as soon as the papers had been finalized. Her Uncle Henry Hamilton, not her uncle really, but a misanthropic old bastard who had been the uncle to her son's father - Henry had called Rhett's settlement more than generous, his alimony agreement unprecedented…and his continued patronage of Henry's firm hadn't been so bad either.
Scarlett had gotten through the whole mess by some lucky combination of liquor and what her therapist had called the vortex effect, but which Scarlett was privately certain was simply an added benefit of the alcohol. Whatever the case might have been, it was an undisputed fact that she had shown up at the damned hearing inordinately intoxicated. So much so on the day that she affixed her signature to the divorce decree, Ashley had had to pick her up at the courthouse and drive her home. How was that for complicated?
She clicked on his profile as she surfed through the 239. George Ashley Wilkes. Thirty-eight years old. Occupation - Kennedy's Irish Pub, General Manager. That's rich, Scarlett thought to herself. Ashley had been in the corporate world like the rest of their quality friends, old money all of them. Recession had hit the economy like a tidal wave the decade before and the majority of their peers had lost everything. Her Pa, loveable darling that he had been, was struck a double blow when her mother had died suddenly the year after the big crash. They'd been struggling financially for months, and Scarlett herself was privately uncertain if her mother's heart attack could have been the result of stress of the crash itself or merely just the shock of the events that had transpired before it had ever occurred.
Scarlett's senior year of high school had been pretty interesting. That had largely been Ashley's fault. Ashley of course, having chosen Homecoming Weekend to announce his engagement to Melanie Hamilton, a mealy-mouthed ninny only a year or so older than Scarlett, had no possible way of knowing that he had started it all, but Scarlett still blamed him, in retrospect.
Scarlett sighed as she surfed through Ashley's pictures. Tall, blonde handsome Ashley. He would be available now. Now that she had grown up enough to realize that it had been Rhett all along that she had wanted, not Ashley. She paused as she reached 43 of 52. Melanie. Who would have been with her in that courtroom, but wasn't. Who would have listened when she told her what had happened. Someone for whom Scarlett's story wouldn't have come off at all elliptical - she simply would have understood. But Melanie was not there. Twelve months and eleven days before, Melanie had died. She had discovered the previous July that she was suffering from Stage 4 ovarian cancer, the incurable, inoperable sort - around the same time, she had realized that she was pregnant. Neither mother or child survived that dreary September day, even though Melanie had done everything known to mankind to ensure that her child would be born healthily. She had refused any and all chemotherapy and radiation, she ate a high calorie diet - it was too much for her, though.
It was, for Scarlett, the straw that broke the camel's back. It certainly was the event that had cut loose any fixed ideas she had possessed about life - or death, for that matter. Not that tragedy had never struck her.
Back to Ashley, and Melanie - Scarlett's senior year of high school was supposed to be the crowning jewel of four years of absolute debauchery and scandalous daring do at Fayetteville Prep, the elite boarding school for young ladies and gentlemen of good Georgia breeding. Scarlett had managed in a single year to earn more boyfriends and lose more girlfriends than anyone in the school's hundred and ten year history. It had been Homecoming Weekend, and Ashley-freaking-Wilkes showed up for the football game, fresh from Harvard and looking more and more Brad Pitt-esque with every passing year. Scarlett had been a varsity cheerleader, and had seized the opportunity to tell Ashley how she had always felt about him. He had been her next door neighbor, before he ran off to Harvard and got serious. That Ashley had been fun and flirtatious and easy-going. This new Ashley, the one Scarlett didn't know had shown up in the Old Ashley's stead, had brought with him a new girlfriend. Well, she wasn't exactly new… She had been a few years ahead of Scarlett at Fayetteville, then had gone off to Wellesley or some other Women's Lib college and then had gotten her Masters in Social Work or something. It wasn't that Melanie wasn't intelligent - Scarlett would have been happy to admit even then that Melanie was by far more intellectually equal to Ashley than she herself would have been. It was simply that Melanie, or Melly, as she insisted that Scarlett call her that night they had been reacquainted, was as plain as Scarlett was pretty, as capable of turning a beau's head as Scarlett was of keeping gal pals - but Melly was so damned nice. Scarlett had always been weary of nice people. They were like butter. Lovely on biscuits but deadly to one's figure and one's arteries - ultimately, avoided entirely unless absolutely necessary.
But Ashley hadn't bothered telling her that he and Melly had an understanding. No, he had let her chase after him all weekend. He'd invited her to ride in his Aston-Martin home to Clayton County for the weekend and had even stayed for dinner, which of course had solidified in Scarlett's mind his desire to stay even longer. She hadn't been a bad girl then, per se. That was, she still held the V-card, which would have pleased her Catholic parents very much, although their expectations probably wouldn't have been that high. Her sister Suellen, on the other hand, had lost it her sophomore year and been labeled the resident slut for the rest of the term - a rumor Scarlett herself had probably had most likely had a hand in starting…Sue had been so shamed by it all that she'd had to resort to dating much older men. Enter Frank Kennedy, affable and almost forty. But it wasn't like Sue was going to find anyone else…
Back to Ashley. He invited Scarlett and her sisters and her parents to the ginormous birthday party that his parents were throwing for him. The Wilkes's were not the most practical of folks on a good day, but this was going to be a nice party - white linen tablecloths, black tie - the works…
Scarlett had, naturally, been set to return to school, but ended up staying for the weekend in order to attend Ashley's party. Unbeknownst to her, Ashley already had acquired an escort in Melanie, who had brought her brother Charlie with her. Charlie was the sort of young man who had an IQ of a bizillion but had never experienced any success whatsoever with women. He was nice, Charlie, but so….awkward? Nonetheless, the midnight announcement that Ashley was not only dating Melanie but actually marrying her caught Scarlett so off guard that she had one glass of champagne too many, then started taking shots with some friend of Frank Kennedy's - a friend whom she would get to know much better at a later date - and found that Charlie Hamilton looked pretty damned good after about twelve. The sight of Ashley sticking his tongue down Melanie's throat in the middle of the dance floor cemented her initial intention to leave with Charlie, who couldn't believe his good fortune.
They had made out in her parents' bedroom and she had initiated the obvious follow-up act. Charlie had been shit-faced, but not so much that his gentlemanly instincts disappeared entirely. Gentlemen, after all, do not allow a lady to perform that.
But Charlie was not entirely hopeless in the love department, and after a great deal of persuasion by Scarlett, he submitted to her charms. Obviously. Hence the complication that would manifest itself three months later.
Scarlett had been attempting to break up with Charlie, who called her every moment from Virginia Tech, where he was getting his second PhD or something equally unexciting - when a trip to the school nurse for an upset stomach yielded a pregnancy test and a call to the Headmaster's office. Her parents had had to be called and it was all over school by lunchtime that Scarlett O'Hara was having a baby. She was going to call Charlie and tell him…assuming that her Pa didn't shoot him before she had a chance to…but she never got to. Instead, she got a call from Boston at five thirty in the evening. She had picked up the phone expecting Ashley, of all people. It was Melanie. It was Melanie telling her that Charlie was dead. A car crash, five miles from campus. Scarlett had wished that she was dead.
So she had traded in her pom-poms for diapers and vomited and cried and lamented the loss of her figure, her social life - she had been set to go to the University of Georgia. She would have been a Tri Delta like her mother had been. Instead, she was pregnant with stupid Charles Hamilton's stupid baby. Getting rid of it, her mother had warned her in no uncertain terms, was not only a mortal sin - it was simply not something to be discussed.
Wade Hampton Hamilton was born a week after what would have been her senior prom and two days after her seventeenth birthday. The crash - that is - the crash that ruined not only her father financially, but Ashley's father and all of their friends' fathers happened that summer. There were businesses that over-speculated and mishandled investments. There were people being pulled out of Fayetteville because their father had been arrested for tax evasion. It had been a time of such turmoil that Scarlett had become yesterday's news. But still, she had been glad to accept Melanie's offer of a place to stay. Her mother was willing to help with Wade, but only to a point - she had expected Scarlett to take up responsibility for him - and she had unequivocally banned her from attending parties.
Rhett had changed that. Frank Kennedy's business associate, from whom Scarlett had taken all of the shots the evening of Ashley's party - was actually a wealthy banking executive from Charleston. Wealthy was an understatement. Rhett was loaded. But he was not received, despite his good family connections. After all, it was Rhett who was buying all of Scarlett's friend's parents bankrupt companies, readjusting them and reselling them for handsome profits to overseas buyers.
Rhett was so sexy then, still young and handsome. She could recall his black snapping eyes and unnaturally white smile. And he liked her. Almost immediately, according to him. Of course, his ploy to get her drunk and hook up with her had failed dismally. (That particular detail, he'd been somewhat glad about, as she had not been legal at the time - a fact of which he had only recently become aware.) But he had been nice, since she had moved to Atlanta with Melanie (Melanie, who was Ashley's wife by then), so Scarlett allowed him to call…
So life had gone on and Melanie and Ashley had their son, Beau, the having of whom damn near killed Melanie. Rhett grew a shred of a conscience and turned himself into the federal government for his part in an embezzlement scheme - and he and six or seven other prominent men in their circle had served a year and a half for the crime. Ashley had been implicated too, and lost his father's company as a result.
Financially ruined, Scarlett, now almost nineteen, was working as a waitress at Frank Kennedy's measly excuse for a restaurant. The man had left the corporate world with the rest of them, but had inherited his new endeavor from an elderly aunt. The profit margin was almost zero, and Scarlett learned exactly what it meant to survive on $2.50 an hour plus tips - not exactly enough to feed herself and a squalling, fussy baby that she had never wanted in the first place.
When her mother died, she had been devastated - when her father followed, the debts mounted and the bank was threatening to repossess their house…In an act of desperation, Scarlett had seduced and married her boss, her sister's man. That had been a war.
But it had been worth it. Within two years, Kennedy's became an Atlanta institution. Because of her, largely.
Well, Frank had had the idea that it should be family friendly, and non-smoking. But it had been Scarlett's vision that had driven it to its current state of success - that and her vow to never wait a single table again. That job, she left to Melanie. Of course, she had recruited Ashley to become first the GM, then a partner in the business. Of the top one hundred restaurants in Atlanta, they had become number three in two years…
If not for the dark spot of Ella's birth and her two month's maternity leave, Scarlett knew that they would have been number one.
Then Frank died. Shot in the head on the way home from work. And Scarlett had never gotten over that. Not that she loved Frank - she found him fussy, like a chicken, and absolutely tortuous to go to bed with…but he was kind, and a good provider. Even if all of Atlanta did call her a gold-digger.
Rhett showing up didn't help matters. Another whirlwind courtship and another marriage, this time in Vegas.
She sighed as she focused on Ashley's pictures. She had loved Ashley for so damn long, she hadn't known anything else to do but continue in her blindness. And by the time she had figured out that it was Rhett she had loved all those years, it was too late. Bonnie dying didn't help.
Scarlett didn't dwell on that subject overlong. It was still too raw, too fresh - painful in a way that losing her parents had not been. Bonnie had only been four - just a pretty, vivacious child - by far her favorite of the three.
"Mother?" Wade Hampton, Charles Hamilton's boy without a doubt, knocked hesitantly on his mother's study door.
"What is it?" Scarlett snapped, closing her laptop in a hurry.
"The mail's here," her son handed it to her shyly. "Something from Charleston. And Ella says its time for you to take her to violin."
Scarlett tore the cream colored envelope with uncharted eagerness. Perhaps it was Rhett admitting the error of his ways, that the divorce had been a complete mistake on his part and that he was ready and willing to take her back.
The fact that he would have called or texted was lost upon her.
It was not that.
Scarlett frowned as she pulled out the invitation, then the small, handwritten card in Rhett's elegant penmanship.
I hope that you could find it in your heart to be happy for me - I want Wade and Ella to be part of my life, if at all possible…Anne and I both would love to spend some time alone with them before the ceremony. You are most welcome here, too.
God damn the man. He was marrying a debutante from his hometown. Mousy-haired, dull voiced Harvard Law School graduate Anne Hampton. La-de-da.
She had known that Rhett was dating Anne. Who didn't? He certainly flaunted her enough while he had still been married to her, Scarlett. Even Ashley had noticed…but to marry her? He who had been the most confirmed bachelor in the entire country, who had married Scarlett because he had wanted her more than any other woman - and now, he was marrying someone who made Melly look like a beauty queen. Not bloody likely.
The wheels in Scarlett's head began turning.
She would go to Charleston. And she'd go with a date. She'd bring the man that had always made Rhett the most jealous - the man who had started all the complication in her complicated wreck of a life. She'd just need to ask him.
"Mother?" Wade asked hesitantly.
"What, Wade? Oh, right, you need to go to violin."
He shook his head. "Chess club. Ella has violin."
"Right, okay, get in the car. Make sure Ella remembers her violin this time."
Scarlett rolled her eyes as her son shut the door behind him. Her children really were odd, both of them, for all that she did love them.
She grabbed her keys first, then her iPhone. She'd text Ashley now - no, Rhett first, telling him that he could expect five of them - no, better to just show up.
She found Ashley's contact, hurriedly wrote her message and sent it.
Party to crash - hope ur ready
He responded immediately; bless his heart, he was never far from his own iPhone.
Saw announcement in the paper. Will be glad to be of any help.
She smiled a genuine smile for the first time in weeks. Rhett Butler would rue the day he invited her to his wedding to another woman. If he wasn't writhing with agony at the sight of her and Ashley… well… he would be … she would see to that.