Sorry MW, I lied (oops, ha ha), new stuff is in the NEXT chapter. But I'm working on it . PS, yes, i like the song on your myspace and YESSSSS, Exit Music (for a film) is one of my fave songs, and it was awesome live, as was Fake Plastic Trees...and Airbag...and every song they played.
A month had passed since Scarlett's return to Tara and in that time so much had changed in her life that she felt like a new person entirely; whether it was for the better or not was yet to be seen. Her sisters had slowly recovered from typhoid, and though they were still weak, their services were needed out in the fields just like her own and everyone else's. To say that working at Tara was a struggle was an understatement. The days were long and hot, and without a full force of field hands to pick the scant cotton that hadn't been burned, Scarlett manually picked it herself. Every evening she came back to the house with her back aching so badly that she didn't think she could stand it another minute. It did not help that Suellen and Careen, her father, Pork and even Mammy complained about having to work in the fields when they had not been brought up to do so. The only person who did not complain was Melanie. She was still too weak to do much work, but Scarlett was at least grateful that she helped out with what she could. Melanie had a value that she could not seem to find in anyone else sometimes precisely because she was obedient. Could they not see that they had to work for themselves if they wanted to get by? There was not enough food for everyone to have enough to fill their stomachs, and Scarlett often found little Wade huddled by the banister on the bottom step of the staircase, watching her with wide, aching eyes, and so she often gave him her share of food to keep him from going hungry.
The main thing that had changed in Scarlett, though she may not have recognized it, was her attitude. She was still proper when she had to be and she had not lost her spunk, but the fire had gone out of her eyes and she became defensive quite easily. She was no longer a girl, carefree as she had once been. Now she was a woman in every sense of the word. She did not have time to notice the hurt looks those close to her sometimes bestowed upon her after a wrathful string of words had escaped her lips. She was too consumed with getting things done throughout the day to worry about people's feelings, and it was not because she did not care, but because she was afraid that if anyone saw the timidity underneath the thick layer of skin she had developed, the carefully nurtured bravery she was putting on would fall away and she would not be able to deal with it. She was the leader at Tara now; everyone depended on her, and she did what must be done.
It was on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of September when an unexpected visitor rode up to the front steps of Tara. Scarlett had just come in through the kitchen, carrying blankets and bed sheets that needed to be washed when she heard the sound of hoof beats on the hard dirt out front. Not knowing whether this stranger was friend or foe, she skeptically made her way to the front of the house, careful not to make too much noise lest she need to flee to find a weapon of defense. What she saw was a man in a tattered gray uniform riding what looked like a healthy brown mare. It was a Confederate soldier. Hopefully he did not want food or lodgings, she thought as she went out onto the porch to him.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," he said in a scraggly voice as he tipped his torn felt hat toward her.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"I hope so," he smiled kindly. "Are you Miss O'Hara?"
"Yes," Scarlett replied, a bit hesitant to reveal such information. She watched as he reached into his saddle bag and produced an envelope, holding it out to her.
"For you, ma'am."
Confusedly, she stepped forward and took the letter in her hand, turning it over and looking at the writing on the back. She knew it was from Rhett the minute she saw the large, bold letters that spelled out her name, even though it had no return address. How was he able to get a letter here through the post in times like these, she wondered. Looking back up at the man on his horse, she felt a bit awkward and wondered briefly if she should give him some sort of money for his troubles; he looked as if he had come a long way. But the man gave her no time to think it over; with another tip of his hat he turned his horse and walked back down the drive, leaving small clouds of dust where the horse's hooves met the dry ground.
As she made her way up the stairs to her room a few minutes later, Scarlett's curiosity about the letter in her hands became nearly overwhelming. Though she had not had time to think of Rhett much since the night of her mother's funeral, she had not forgotten him entirely. She was still angry at him for leaving in the first place in such a discreet manner, as if he had not cared about her at all. But in the back of her mind an image of his face, with his jet black hair falling in his eyes and his teasing smile, appeared as clear as day, making her heart beat just a little faster than normal, and she wondered where he was. She shook the memory off as quickly as it had appeared. What on earth could he possibly have to say to her in a letter that would be of any importance?
When she reached her room, the last afternoon sun was pouring through the open shutters and she could see the tiny dust particles floating idly in the beam of light. Her footsteps seemed loud on the wooden floor, and she turned to make sure no one was in the hallway before she made her way to the small desk in the corner of the room. The drawer scraped along the wood sidings as she opened it and she reached inside and pulled out a silver letter opener. How the Yankees had not found this when they set up camp at Tara was unknown to her. Moving back over to the bed, she carefully inserted the knife-like object into the paper and opened the envelope, pulling out the letter inside and unfolding it. She felt guilty for being up here alone when there was still things to be done and the rest of her family was outside in the sun. But didn't she deserve a break once in a while too? She did more work than everyone else, she reasoned, and this would not take long. The sun felt warm on her face, and she pushed back a stray lock of hair before beginning to read.
She rolled her eyes at the address of her first name. Of course he didn't have the decency to call her by her formal name, Mrs. Hamilton, but she read on.
Has it already been nearly a month since that night we fled Atlanta? I suppose it has though it hardly seems like it. If I know you as well as I think I do—and Scarlett, I do know you more than perhaps you're willing to admit—I should venture to guess that you weren't expecting this letter. It is with the best of intentions, honest intentions, that I write this. I will tell you directly, and though it may be contrary to what you have been thinking, I have not forgotten you, and I hope you are well though I am aware of the circumstances under which I left that morning. I want you to know that I would not have left had I not thought you could take care of yourself.
At this time I am writing you from Dalton. I had thought, and my assumptions turned out to be correct, that I would meet the army on the road north. I felt rightfully out of place in a tailored suit when they had nothing but the worn clothes on their backs. I think you would have laughed had you seen it, for if my memory serves correctly you take humor in the most discomfited situations. General Hood let me in without many questions once I told him of my days at West Point, not that they would have rejected any able bodied man of any age at that point, I'm sure. The plan is to march to Tennessee, and if I had a horse, or could steal one, believe me I would. My choice of footwear was not the best and I haven't had time or the resources to procure a new pair of boots at the present time, and it is a rather long walk.
Though I am sure you would just be delighted at more information of a soldier's life, I suppose I should get to the point. I have enclosed the address of my lawyer in Savannah and I want you to write to him should you find yourself in a certain situation. I trust you know what am referring to as I know I have not forgotten that night…
Scarlett's eyes abruptly left the piece of paper in her hands after reading those last sentences. A sudden cold sweat washed over her despite the heat in the room and one hand flew to her mouth as if to stop the breath from coming out louder than she meant it to. As her mouth became dry and her heart hammered in her chest, Rhett's words ran through her mind once more. If she was pregnant…she had not given thought to the matter since the morning she woke up to find him gone from her bed, and now she was bathed in panic at the thought of it being a possibly reality. It was too soon to tell, she quickly reassured herself; it was quite possible that she was not, but if she were, what then? She would never be able to look her father or Mammy or anyone in the face again because of the burning shame she now felt over her actions with Rhett. It was something she did not want to acknowledge but she knew she could not let it slip from her mind again until she was sure it was not true. Damn Rhett for reminding her and for being so crass with his words. But she hated herself for being so careless and absent-minded.
She did not know how long she sat there in a state of sheer guilt and panic but she was brought to sudden attention by the voices of her father and sisters outside. Turning her head to the window she noticed the sun was lower in the sky, signaling the end of the work day and the gathering of her family for supper. She quickly composed herself, not wanting to give away any hint of something being out of place with her demeanor, before picking the letter off of the bed and walking back over to the desk. When winter came and it got cold enough to build a fire in the fireplace, she decided she would burn it. Until then, it would go in the drawer with the letter opener; shut away from the world, as if she had never received it in the first place.