Yup, another chapter and it hasn't even been a year (or several).
And...there is another one every soon to follow.
"And to amputate me, you had Aubrey draw up divorce papers for you," her voice rose until the hanging prisms on a nearby candle stick moved slightly, jangling a faint warning.
A tentative knock came at the study door. "Scarlett, Rhett," Eleanor called softly from the other side of the study door, "is everything alright; I wouldn't bother you, only I thought I heard yelling?"
Rhett went to the door. Opening it slightly, he quietly addressed his mother. "We are fine mother, we'll be out in a bit, please don't hold dinner on our account. If need be, we can go out to dinner."
"Don't be silly, I can have Carleen put plates up for the both of you, but darling, maybe you should just come out. You both should come out."
Scarlett could see the worry on Miss Eleanor's face as she met her gaze steadily. Now everyone knew everything, there were no more secrets. Everyone knew that Rhett wanted to be rid of her. Miss Eleanor, Emily, and Rosemary had each heard different bits of the story from her over the last few months but none of them had known the worst of it. Not only had Rhett not wanted her to come to Charleston, he hadn't wanted her at all.
Everyone knew that she had been the one to come to heel, like a dog.
He closed the door without waiting giving Eleanor a reply.
"Aubrey drew up divorce papers for you?"
"He did. He's not just my lawyer; he's an old friend and a distant relation. I knew I could trust him not to gossip. I knew that when it came time to send the papers, I needed to send someone I trusted to Atlanta."
Her cheeks flamed the same brilliant hue as her name. "So, let me try and understand this, all the times he was here, in this very house and or when we sat with him at St. Cecilia's and I prattled on about how I was so glad I'd come to visit, how I might just stay and bring our children because I so loved Charleston, he knew you wanted me gone."
"Yes," replied simply."
"Then he must have thought I was either a liar or completely blind.
"He thought you were beautiful and high spirited and more than a match for me. He warned me, he told me that his professional advice was to proceed with caution. His personal advice was that I should stop being a jackass and win you back as soon as possible. A man I was paying to be on my side still picked you to root for, that should sooth your bruised ego slightly," he teased mildly.
His teasing was lost on her. "Who else?"
"Who else what?"
Who else knew? Aubrey, Rosemary; those I know, who else?"
"Sally. My cousin Eustace. They were able to surmise what I was planning. Rosemary was my main confidant. I—, she knew everything, every step of the way."
"No wonder Rosemary hated me so, she knew that you were done with me and then I showed up; uninvited, unwanted. She knew all along that I was never truly welcome here." She laughed bitterly, "Also, I apparently interrupted her European vacation. I can't blame her; I suppose I'd be mad too if an interloper showed up to cancel my vacation. I wonder that you weren't angrier with me when I just appeared. I am so sorry to have interrupted your vacation," she added, the acid in her tone belying the sweet, soft drawling words, "Are you still looking to get away Rhett," she asked, her expression wide and innocent. "If you are…"
Catching her by the arms, he startled her into silence. "There was never going to be a vacation. I never actually booked passage on a ship. I wasn't done with you in November. I didn't know if I could love you the way I knew you wanted but I knew that I wasn't ready to let you go. If I decided I was ready, I was leaving the country before anyone did serve you because…"
He released her and moved away, avoiding her intense gaze. Her scrutiny was making him uncomfortable and he longed to leave, to retreat and regroup but doing so would leave her the victor on the field and he could not allow that.
"Because why? If you were ready to divorce me, why leave the country?"
"Because, I was afraid to stay."
He saw the look in her green eyes and knew that she doubted him, she had voiced earlier that she didn't think him capable of fear. "You don't believe me?"
"You keep telling me you were afraid, that's not the Rhett Butler I know." Her mind had obviously also strayed to their earlier exchange.
"The Rhett Butler you know is a carefully constructed façade. I thought you understood that, after all these weeks, I thought you were finally able to understand that everything I led you to believe about…" Sensing the ease in which another fight could and would begin, he trailed off.
She would not be put off. "Believe about what?"
Starting again, his face was naked now, devoid of carefully schooled masks and bland indifference. She should see him for what he was. "Alea iacta est," he murmured softly.
"I don't know what that is?"
"It's Latin, it means the die is cast. Julius Caesar said it as he led his army across the River Rubicon in Italy. He marched on Rome, something no Roman General would do lightly. He might have also meant that events had passed a point of no return, that something, whatever it is, will inevitably happen.
"Are we there, at the point of no return," she asked softly.
"We may be."
"Why were you afraid," Scarlett asked. The earlier doubt was gone. She was listening and he accepted.
"I was afraid to serve you with divorce papers Scarlett for so many reasons, some you may never believe."
"Please, won't you tell me?"
"The main thing, what I was most afraid of, I was afraid that Aubrey would come back here to Charleston and he would tell me what the expression on your face looked like when he introduced himself and handed you the papers that said I didn't want to be your husband anymore. I was afraid that I would finally do what life never could; I would be the thing to at last break you. I was afraid that sending you divorce papers would break your heart."
"I would stare at those papers for hours and then, I would allow myself to think of you. In those weak, often drunken moments, I would allow myself to recall your face, your eyes, the smell of your perfume, the taste of your lips against mine. I would think of all of those things and the longing I felt for you would drive me to open another bottle. When I was good and drunk and could stand it, then I would imagine what Aubrey would tell me when he came back from Atlanta. I know him, we were boys together. He is a loyal friend but he wouldn't pull a punch if he felt I deserved it. I knew I would hear about how it was to serve you with those damn papers. I was afraid that I would see your face in my dreams." He added something, his voice soft, the words hard to catch.
It took her a minute to process what it was he had said. She wasn't sure but she thought he'd said, "And I was afraid you wouldn't care, that you'd be glad to be done with me."
He took a step back, in a softer tone of voice, he added, "And now you know, what I was afraid of when it came to you."
He saw her lips briefly purse as she bit the inside of her cheek, it was an expression he knew all too well. It was the same gesture of mingled irritation and resignation she had so often worn during their marriage in Atlanta. It had been absent for some time in Charleston but at long last, its return to the daily roster of her expressions seemed assured. "So then why, when I first came, if you agonized over your decision as much as you say, why did you make that deal with me? You offered me an obscene amount of money to leave at the end of the season."
He shrugged, "You backed me into a corner, I reacted."
She was stung and the hurt she was so obviously feeling cast a shadow over her face. In sadness, her's was the face of a patient and disappointed Madonna. She was so beautiful to him. How could he have thought that he could stand never seeing her again?
"Then our accident must have backed you into a different corner," she observed quietly.
"How do you mean," he asked, not understanding.
"You've told me how your feelings changed because I almost died. If we hadn't had our accident, where would we be now? A year from now, when the accident is just a memory, will everything be as it was before?"
"Yes," she countered gently, "I think that you only really allowed yourself to love me again because of what happened, how can I trust that those feelings will continue?"
She waited for the denial but none came. There was only silence in the room, except for the pattering of the rain that had begun hitting the windows. Minutes passed and it was clear then that Rhett would not speak and Scarlett could not speak. She could only stand and wait for a reply that might never come.