This is my first attempt at Fanfic. I have been hovering on this site for a couple of months and think it is brilliant – and I love that everyone is so in love with the Rhett and Scarlett story as much as I am! Any reviews welcome – good and bad! I hope you enjoy. Of course, it goes without saying that I do not own GWTW (if only I had written such a marvellous story!) and all the characters are owned by MM and her estate.
A/N – August 2013. When I started writing this in early 2012, I never thought it would become as long as it did, but I felt that there were a lot of issues for the warring spouses to iron out. And there were also a lot of minor characters that I wanted to flesh out. When I have had a rest from fan fic, I will come back and edit this story – particularly the first few chapters. I feel as though I found my groove from about Chapter 8 or 9 – the writing (I think) improves after the initial few chapters but I don't yet have the energy to do the big edit.
It took me hundreds of hours to write this. If you do read this and have a thought – please let me know. If you give up or stop reading because you become bored or lose interest or it doesn't ring true – perhaps you can also tell me why. It's the only way any of us will ever improve. And I have realised that reviews spur authors on to write – other stories, amendments etc.
Six Months Later
The carriage pulled along the cobbled street and turned left into Peachtree Street, jostling Scarlett awake with the change of direction. She yawned and rubbed her eyes and looked out of the window. She would be home soon.
It had been a long day, her feeling of tiredness compounded by the fact she had woken at two o'clock in the morning and tossed and turned for more than four hours in the vain hope that sleep might reclaim her, before rising and starting her day. She rarely slept well these days and whilst she found falling asleep easy, staying asleep was harder.
She had spent the morning at the store – something she had neglected for the first three months after Rhett's departure – going over the books and trying to guide Hugh in his management of the business – and then she had gone over to Maybelle Picard's, to sew and embroider for the Widows and Orphans of the Confederacy. When Melanie had died and Scarlett realised how much she had loved her and when Rhett walked out of their house a week later, after telling her he no longer gave a damn about her, she had taken stock of who her real friends were and realised she had none left – apart from Ashley. Melanie and Rhett had been her best friends and her two stalwarts – the two people who had never let her down. Then in quick succession they had both let her down – Melanie by dying and Rhett by abandoning her. The women she had befriended in the early days of her third marriage were not friends but loose acquaintances. They didn't really care about her and she now wondered whether if she hadn't thrown her lavish parties, hadn't always dressed expensively and in the latest fashions, whether they would have even bothered to cross the street to say hello to her.
With this realisation and an overwhelming need to quell her loneliness, she had set about trying to build some old bridges and although initially the Old Guard had given her short shrift, gradually the barriers weakened as people pitied her – everyone knew that Rhett had left her and no one felt able to deny that her grief for Melanie was profound and genuine. Whilst Scarlett didn't want pity – hated pity – if it led to some sort of friendship and companionship, she would put up with their patronising looks.
And so, two months to the day after Melanie's death and Rhett telling her he didn't love her, after Scarlett heard that Maybelle Picard and Fanny Elsing were hosting a Christmas fete to raise money for the Association for the Beautification of the Graves of the Glorious Dead, she sent Maybelle a card and asked if she might help. To her surprise, and without warning, Maybelle turned up on Scarlett's doorstep the very next day, when Wade was at school and Ella was with her governess, and asked Scarlett if she really meant it. Scarlett, eager to please, said that "of course" she meant it and Maybelle, knowing that the local causes had missed the Butlers' money since Bonnie had died and Rhett's pursuit of respectability had stopped, persuaded Scarlett not only to donate $200 of furniture from her store but extracted from her a further $300 as the top raffle prize. But even more astonishing, Scarlett agreed to help run the cake stall, alongside one of her most hated enemies, India Wilkes. After the fete, when even the most hardened of the Old Guard begrudgingly agreed that the success of the fete had been in large part, due to Scarlett's generosity, Maybelle invited her to join the Sewing Circle for the Widows and Orphans of the Confederacy and to take Melly's place as secretary. Scarlett disliked sewing, and even more disliked the inane chatter that went with such pursuits, but knowing that it was a small step towards gaining some sort of acceptance in the town that had been her home on and off for almost half her life, she graciously accepted the invitation. And that was how Scarlett had come to spend the afternoon at Maybelle's small, poky house in the poorer part of Atlanta, some fifteen blocks away from Scarlett's extravagant mansion.
She sighed as she thought of the afternoon and wished that somehow she had been better able to control her temper. Over the last three months, she had learnt to bite her tongue at such gatherings and whilst the odd sarcastic comment involuntarily passed her lips, often she said it so quietly that it was lost in the general melee of the surrounding conversation. If anyone did hear her barbs, they were infrequent enough that the women actually doubted they had heard correctly. But today had been different.
She knew people gossiped about the state of her marriage and if people asked where Rhett was, she fed them the same lie she fed Ella and Wade: "He has some urgent business in Europe to attend to – he keeps on getting delayed. He'll be back soon," and that usually shut the old busybodies up. But this afternoon, already fatigued from her lack of sleep which made her even more sensitive to the parlous state of her marriage, she had snapped at Dolly Merriwether. Mrs Merriwether had deliberately cornered Scarlett in Maybelle's parlour.
"Have you heard from Captain Butler recently, Scarlett?" she had asked. Scarlett kept her eyes on her needlework.
"Last week. He's in Ireland at the moment. Goodness knows what he is doing there – something about horses I think."
"Ireland? That's funny." Scarlett looked up at Mrs Merriwether as the old lady raised her eyebrows and felt she was falling into a trap.
"What's funny about it?" Scarlett snapped.
"Just that my sister met a Captain Butler and his mother in Savannah two weeks ago." So he was in Georgia. That was the first time she had heard anything concrete about his whereabouts.
"I'm sure there is more than one Captain Butler, Mrs Merriwether," Scarlett said, her jaw tightening in defiance and her emerald green eyes flashing in irritation.
"Only one Captain Rhett Butler though, surely?"
She should have stopped but her anger was rising inside her and she could no longer quell it.
"Who are you to tell me where my husband is? I am his wife and if I say he is in Ireland, he is in Ireland," she spat out. The other women looked up from their needlework and stared at the direction of the raised voices. Scarlett stood up and faced her silent accusers. "What are you all staring at? I think it is about time that people stopped whiling away their time gossiping about other people's business." She put the cushion she was working on down on her seat and grabbed her small black velvet purse – something she carried everywhere for in it was Rhett's last gift to her – his handkerchief – together with a small miniature of each of her children.
"Maybelle, thank you for hosting today. I'm suddenly not feeling very well and think it best if I go home." She tried to sound as gracious as possible, even though she was making her excuses through gritted teeth. The room remained silent save for Scarlett's heels clipping the floor as she made her exit.
Maybelle got up and followed her. As Scarlett grabbed her black bonnet and luxurious cashmere shawl, Maybelle placed a friendly hand on Scarlett's arm. "Don't listen to what people say, Scarlett. No one knows what is really going on in people's lives." She gave her a warm smile and Scarlett smiled back. She was not a true friend – yet – but she was friendly and she didn't have the malicious streak that some of the old biddies had who it seemed, still wouldn't mind seeing Scarlett O'Hara fall flat on her face.
"Thank you Maybelle although maybe we should re-think whether I should really host the next meeting or even continue as secretary." She turned, left the house and got into her waiting carriage.
"Weez here, Miss Scarlett," Pork called out as he pulled the horse to a halt. He came round to help her out – she had given up trying to tell him she was perfectly capable of escorting herself out of the carriage. What she didn't realise was that there was a great deal of affection held by Pork, Dilcey and Mammy for their mistress and they had become increasingly alarmed by her disappearing frame, lifeless eyes and sallow skin. They all knew she slept badly – and barely ate these days – and even when Dilcey cooked up a delicious stew or ordered in the best beef from miles around, she barely touched her plate. As for her sleeping, Mammy had initially and covertly laced the stews or other sauces with brandy in the misplaced hope that this might induce slumber but had given up when it had made no difference. They were all still alert to Scarlett getting up in the middle of the night – sometimes she was known to even put her wrapper on and sit on the veranda in the cool air bathed in the moonlight while she sipped some hot lemon.
Scarlett took Pork's hand and stepped out. "Thank you, Pork," she said as she finally extricated her hand from his grasp. He drove the carriage off to the coach house and she wearily climbed up the marble steps to her front door. She took out her purse and searched for her key, which was buried underneath Rhett's handkerchief. She took it out, slotted it in the door and turned it.
The heavy oak door, intricately carved at the top with what Rhett had remarked at the time looked like gargoyles but which Scarlett had insisted were lions, creaked open. As the gap grew wider, she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She could hear squeals of childish laughter – something she had not heard since Rhett had left. Actually, no, she corrected herself, before Bonnie had died. She then heard Mammy's cackle rise above the din – so unlike Mammy. And then she heard Ella's unmistakeable high pitched squeal, "Don't Uncle Rhett...I...can't breathe..." and then more laughter. So the prodigal husband had returned and with his return had seemingly turned the house upside down.
She tiptoed in and then gently closed the door. She wanted to observe, before she was observed, and made her way silently to the parlour. She breathed in sharply, astonished at what she saw. Rhett was down on his hands and knees, with Ella on his back, and Beau and Wade were running round the furniture with bows, arrows and wooden swords, and bandanas over their heads, and Mammy was sitting down with discarded wrapping paper all around her and what seemed to be a couple of new petticoats – one in a vibrant, orange hue and another in a grey taffeta. There were other packages scattered around the room – some opened, some with their neat bows still tied on.
She stood for a couple of minutes, surveying the scene. She wasn't sure if the parlour had ever been witness to so much happiness and excitement – the children had always played in the nursery – and she was surprised to see Mammy sitting on a chair, just watching the events. Not that she begrudged Mammy any downtime. She knew that Mammy was part of her family and had been a surrogate mother to her – never more so than after Melly's funeral when she had returned to Tara.
It was Wade that saw her first. He stopped, abruptly, just as he was about to attempt another swashbuckling fight with his cousin, and as he did, the other occupants in the room looked to where he was staring.
"Mother," he said. "I...we..didn't realise you were home." She saw his previous exuberance disappear to be replaced by timidity and uncertainty. No doubt he was expecting her to unleash her temper and scold him for the state the room was in. But instead she surprised him and walked over and kissed him on his forehead and then ruffled his hair. He came up to her neck – soon he would be taller than she was.
"Have you had fun today, darling?" she asked, deliberately avoiding looking at her rogue husband. Not waiting for her son to answer, she turned to Beau. "I had forgotten you were coming over Beau. Are you staying for supper? You're welcome to." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Wade grin - he loved Beau and he also knew that his mother would keep her temper in check if his cousin was around.
"Thank you, Aunt Scarlett. I would love to."
"Well, why don't you both run upstairs and get cleaned up and then we can see about eating." Ella had now clambered off her stepfather's back and was at Scarlett's side.
"Mother – look what Uncle Rhett brought me. A new doll. It's from Paris and with a whole wardrobe of clothes." Scarlett bent down to her youngest child and feigned interest in the present and "ummed" and "aahed" as Ella showed her the various outfits. Rhett had obviously not stinted in lavishing gifts on his step-children. After a while, Scarlett straightened up and then said to Mammy who was now hovering close to Ella, "Mammy, would you mind giving Ella a quick bath and change her clothes and then bring her down for dinner. She is filthy. I'm not quite sure what you have been up to today, Ella, but it looks like you have been rolling around in the garden."
"Dey was playin' hide an' seek, Miss Scarlett."
"Oh, I see," but her mind had already wandered off and now she was staring at the man who had broken her heart six months ago and who had had the audacity to just turn up, announced, after many months of abandonment. Mammy ushered Ella out and Scarlett walked a couple of steps to where Rhett was sitting. God, he was so maddening! He was lounging on a couch with his usual sardonic grin etched on his face, evidently amused by Scarlett's attempts at motherhood.
"You're back then," she finally said, her beautiful eyes flashing with a mixture of confusion, hatred and love. She hated him for what he had done to her but she also knew from the fluttering of her heart that she still loved him. Six months separation had not cooled her feelings.
"For a week or so, yes." He took out a cigar from his monogrammed case – one she had given him as a wedding present – and lit it. She wanted to ask him a hundred questions but checked herself. If he was going to be cool with her, she could match him in ambivalence, even though it felt as though her heart was in her mouth. Neither of them said anything for a while but their eyes were locked on each other.
Scarlett took a careful look at him. His face was less bloated than before and he had lost weight – from outward appearances at least, he looked as though he had cut back on his drinking. His face was dark and swarthy, seemingly tanned from recent exposure to the sun, and his teeth still gleamed like a pirate's. God, he was handsome! How she wanted to run over to him and put her fingers through his black hair. But of course that was out of the question.
Finally, Scarlett spoke. "Are you staying for dinner tonight? I tend to eat with the children these days..." Her voice trailed off – she didn't want to reveal that it was loneliness that made her eat with her children.
"Is that an invitation?" he asked, mocking her with his eyes.
So, he was going to be difficult, was he? Her nostrils flared with anger. Why couldn't he be civil? Why was he here anyway?
But she didn't rise to his bait. "Yes it is," she said simply. And then she added to make it clear that she didn't care where he ate, "But suit yourself. It doesn't really bother me where you eat." The first of many lies that she would end up telling, she thought.
"I'll join the family for dinner," he said and then, he got up from the chair, smouldering cigar still in his hand, and moved across the room. Scarlett was blocking his exit and as he tried to pass her, his suit brushed past her body and she felt electrified by the touch.
"Excuse me," he said and she stepped aside. Only when she could no longer hear his footsteps on the carpeted stairs did she allow the tears that had pricked her eyes for the last ten minutes to finally fall.