Hey, this is an oldie, but I thought I'd post it anyway. i'm trying to work on a new xmas story so hopefully it will be up by xmas:D. Anyway, until then, happy holidays!
The room was dark save for the natural lighting of the moon that permeated through the thick clouds and cast a silver sheen on the blanket of snow outside, creating ethereal shadows within. Rhett stood at the window of his hotel suite in Augusta with his head resting on the wall next to the glass, looking with weary eyes into the black and blue depths of a long winter's night; looking, but not really seeing anything. He fleetingly thought of the comfort and warmth of the bed behind him, but sleep was a long way off, as it had been every night for the past eight months. He pulled his dressing gown tighter around his body to keep out the cold. The fire had burned out hours before and he had thought it pointless to ring for someone to rebuild it, or to do it himself. Bringing his right hand up, he put his fingers against the cold window pain and closed his eyes; the chill of the night mixing with the heat of his incessant thoughts.
He knew why he was having trouble sleeping, and it discouraged him, angered him even that he should be tormented in his isolation now of all times. Tomorrow was Christmas, a joyful holiday for everyone else; one that brought smiles and laughter, happiness and harmony to the people around him. But he was no longer a part of that world, had not been for some time, and did not wish to be. Yet he felt a faint pang of sadness and longing of days past in his heart at the thought that this would be his first Christmas alone—without companionship, without his family, and without Scarlett.
It had been eight months since Melanie Wilkes' funeral, and eight months since he had left his wife in the mansion on Peachtree Street that they had once called their home. Eight bitter months of reckless abandonment, of heavy drinking and self destruction. He would do anything to forget that little green-eyed firebrand that had tormented him for twelve years. But she always managed to slither her way into his thoughts, his dreams, his nightmares, and he hated her for it. He hated her, yet part of him still loved her—would always love her. Still, his hatred, fueled by the pain she had caused him, the pain he had inflicted on her as a means of protecting himself, was what kept him focused on the promise of moving on. He wanted a new life, a calm life, a taste of the long gone lazy peacefulness that he had managed to elude in the past.
Sometimes he still thought of the good times he and Scarlett had shared, though they had been few and far between, but these happy memories always turned somber, and he had tried so hard to become indifferent, to stop thinking of her all together. She was in the past now, and only in casting her adrift from the lifeline of memory could he move on. But tonight, she had crept to the forefront again, and though he told himself he did not care what happened to her or where she was, he could not help but wonder what she had done in these eight months since he had left. He had not been back to Atlanta to keep the gossip down as he had promised, and he smirked at the thought that Scarlett had probably run to Ashley's waiting arms now that he was gone…but she had said she loved him, that she no longer loved Ashley.
Well, it didn't matter anyway, he thought bitterly. He wanted nothing to do with her and that was final. Momentarily shutting his eyes tightly to try and block out the image of her face that night, Rhett clenched his jaw and let his fingers slip down the cold glass of the window. When he opened his eyes again his mind was set on one purpose. He found his way to the brandy decanter on the table next to his bed and, groping for the used glass, he poured himself a drink. God, how many times had he done this in the past? How many times had Scarlett done the same thing to forget her pain over the years? He examined the shimmering glass in the moonlight; the brandy looked black as thick molasses in the dark, but his mind was too sore to think anything of it. Old habits die hard, he said to himself, and downed the contents of the glass, cringing as the liquid left a trail of fire down the back of his throat. One after another he threw back the shots of alcohol until the room began to spin and he fell into a heavy sleep.
Rhett was roused from his slumber very early in the morning by a sound that was strangely familiar, yet he could not make it out exactly. Opening his eyes tiredly, he allowed his vision to adjust to the darkness and then strained his ears in hopes of catching the sound again. There was nothing but silence for a few moments, but then he heard it again. It was the faint sound of laughter, but not just anyone's laughter, the laughter of a little girl.
Squinting his eyes in order to discern if there was anything in the shadows, he wondered if he was dreaming. Surely no one but him was awake at such an hour, let lone a child. He heard the noise again, this time from the black shadows near the door.
"Hello?" He whispered tentatively, and then a little louder, "Is someone there?"
There was silence again, and Rhett had nearly decided that it was only his tired mind playing tricks on him, when he heard a childlike voice whisper in the darkness, "Daddy."
His heart began to pound in his chest. That voice was so familiar, but all logical reasoning told him that he was hearing things. Gripping the blankets in his large hands, he took a deep breath and asked again aloud, "Is anyone there? Show yourself!"
As if beckoned by his voice a small figure materialized from the darkness, and when it came out into the dim moonlight Rhett let out a startled cry and shot back against the headboard of the bed in bewilderment and fright. He was looking at his daughter, Bonnie. But that was impossible; Bonnie had died the year before. Squeezing his eyes shut he told himself aloud that he was dreaming. He had dreamed of his little girl many times over the past year, reliving the loving, happy moments of her tragically short life. Sometimes he would awake with an anguished cry as he remembered the sickening crack of wood as Bonnie's beloved pony, Mr. Butler, hit the jumping bar with his short legs, the frantic scream of his wife before she fainted, and most of all the hammering of his own heart as he clutched Bonnie's lifeless body to his chest and pleadingly begged her to open her eyes. He had never stopped blaming himself for Bonnie's death, and the cruel, stinging accusations from Scarlett added to his own guilt, and to this day it still haunted him. He was dreaming again now, he had to be, otherwise he must be insane.
When he opened his eyes again, he was partly relieved that there was no one standing in the spot where he had seen his daughter, but he swiftly turned his head to the side of the bed when he heard her voice again. There she was, just as he had remembered her, all of four years old, smiling and giggling at the expression on his face. Her dark curls contrasted sharply with her pale skin and her small, white nightgown. Her eyes, dark in the shadows, sparkled with laughter. For a moment he thought he was in the house on Peachtree Street, in his room, and he impulsively reached out his hand to touch his daughter's hair as he used to when she would wake him up during the night. But he just as quickly recoiled it.
"Bonnie?" he asked skeptically, his mind still unable to accept the fact that he was really awake.
Bonnie's smile brought out her dimples and she said quietly, "Daddy, I missed you." Then she climbed onto the bed and threw her arms around her father's shoulders. As if on impulse, as if nothing was out of the ordinary, Rhett held Bonnie to his chest so hard he thought he would crush her small body. She was dead, and this was not real, but it did not matter, for she was here, now, and he could feel her, his little girl, as if she had never been gone. In the initial first seconds of his powerful embrace Rhett's mind was blank, but then the chasm of darkness that had been time, all of this time since Bonnie had died came rushing back to flood his memory and his broad shoulders began to shake as tears slipped down his roughened cheeks.
"Bonnie, baby, I'm so sorry," he choked, "it was my fault and I—Oh God, I didn't mean to! I've missed you so much."
Bonnie disentangled herself from her father's arms and kissed him sweetly on the cheek, like she used to when he tucked her into bed at night. Have you a kiss for your sweetheart?
"Don't cry, Daddy." Rhett smiled warmly, the first real smile since the day Bonnie died. But then Scarlett's accusations came back to him and he shut his eyes. He did not expect Bonnie's next words, as if she could read his mind, "Momma didn't mean what she said that day. She was just sad."
Rhett inhaled sharply and let the hot tears continue flowing as he relived those awful moments, being locked in his bedroom with Bonnie's body as Scarlett mercilessly beat on the door, desperately screaming to see her baby, calling him a murderer for teaching the little girl how to ride a pony. Those had been some of the most painful days of his life, only matched by the ones that had passed a short time earlier when Scarlett was lying in bed, unconscious and on the verge of death, all because of him. How could one man possibly stand such burdens? Even he, who had traveled the world and seen many things, had proven that he was not invincible. Some things were just too much to bear.
Rhett turned his head to kiss Bonnie's cheek but opened his eyes when his lips brushed thin air. She had vanished and he was alone again. Thinking he had imagined it he brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs, resting his head on his knees and he wept—for Bonnie, for his wasted love for Scarlett, for his happiness which had been locked away for so long and for his self pity. How long he sat there in the dark he had no idea, but suddenly he felt a warm hand on his head and he abruptly sat up, startled, as a bright light momentarily blinded him.
"What can be the cause of such tears?" a feminine voice radiated from the source of the light.
Shielding his eyes with his arm, Rhett tried to discern the figure that had roused him from his previous state of misery. "Who are you?" he asked.
The light dimmed and the voice said lightly, "Surely you haven't forgotten your wife's sister-in-law, have you? Has it been so long?"
Rhett let his arm down from his eyes and stared fixedly ahead of him at the figure before him. Melanie Wilkes, Scarlett's only real friend, and the woman he himself had harbored much respect for during her life, stood next to him with a kind smile on her face. She was illuminated by an unearthly glow that seemed to emanate from her entire body.
Rhett, disbelieving, shook his head back and forth. He had had too much to drink that evening, and his mind was making him see things that were not there. "It's impossible, you're not real. You're dead. My imagination is playing tricks on me."
"Yet you believed when you saw your daughter. You held her in your arms and knew she was there. Why don't you believe that I am here, Captain Butler?"
"You saw Bonnie?" he asked, hope at the thought that she had indeed been there filling his deep voice. "Are you a ghost?"
"It depends on what you believe, Captain Butler."
I don't believe in ghosts, Rhett told himself, still staring at Melanie.
As if she could hear his thoughts, just like Bonnie did earlier, she said, "Perhaps you believe in angels then? Bonnie would be so disappointed to hear that you do not believe she existed."
Feeling anxious and helpless at the same time at the mention of his little girl, Rhett asked her again if she'd seen Bonnie.
"She's here right now. She was so excited to see you that we could not hold her back and she came here earlier than she was supposed to." Melanie looked behind her and whispered, "Come out here, darling." And from behind the folds of her skirt came Bonnie, smiling brightly at Rhett. "We've been watching you for some time, Captain Butler."
"What do you mean, watching me?" Rhett asked, his eyes wandering from Melanie to Bonnie, wondering how all of this could be possible. Were they spirits from the world beyond? It comforted him in some way to think that these people continued to live on even though death had taken them from the ones that loved them too soon.
"We've watched you Daddy, and Mommy too."
"Have you?" Rhett breathed. Bonnie nodded her head and looked up at Melanie who smiled in silent approval. Bonnie stepped forward and held out her small hand for Rhett to take.
"Come on, Daddy."
"Where are we going, sweetheart?" he questioned in bewilderment.
"We've been instructed to help you, Captain Butler. We haven't much time so we must be going."
Rhett raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Help me with what?"
"Find happiness," Melanie smiled. "We'd best be going now before it's too late."
"I—I am happy," he whispered.
"Come on, Daddy!" Bonnie said impatiently, taking Rhett's hand and tugging on it until he stood up from the bed. His head felt strangely light as he put his feet on the floor. Before he had attributed this symptom to drunkenness, but now he was not sure at all what was dream and what was reality. Were these two beloved figures from his past really here again?
He was standing next to Melanie and Bonnie in the middle of the bedroom. With only his thin dressing gown, Rhett was quickly chilled by the cold air. "Where are we going?" he inquired.
"To a Christmas in the past," Melanie responded lightly. She instructed Rhett to grab hold of Bonnie's hand and she took his other hand in her own. Still not knowing what to think, Rhett obeyed, and they started walking toward the window where he could see the thick flakes of snow lazily falling from the night sky.
"A Christmas in the past?" asked Rhett. "But who's-"
Before Rhett could finish his statement they had passed through the wall as if it were transparent as thin air, and they found themselves in the parlor of a stately, yet homely plantation house.
"Where are we?" Rhett asked. Looking around he saw a good sized cherry wood dining table that still held the remnants of that night's meal, an iron chandelier with a dozen lighted candles that hung from the ceiling, a side table fashioned in the same way as the dining table stood in the corner by the door that most likely led to the kitchen. On the side table was an intricately painted porcelain vase that he recognized having seen similar ones in a shop in Savannah. The entire room was well fashioned, he thought. He wondered who lived here, as his surroundings were unfamiliar.
Just then the sound of girlish laughter filled the air and he heard the pounding of two pairs of feet descending the staircase in an adjacent room.
"Pa!" came the voice of one of the girls, and Rhett turned to Melanie in question. "I don't know this house," he said.
"No, you never came here, did you," Melanie replied matter-of-factly. They walked out into the foyer where he saw two young girls in pretty dresses gathered around a massive and beautifully decorated Christmas tree, laughing and shaking the gifts that lay underneath, waiting to be opened the next morning. The older one looked about fifteen while the other one could not have been more than thirteen years old. They looked vaguely familiar, but Rhett could not place them in his memory.
It was not until the unmistakable boisterous Irish voice of Gerald O'Hara came blasting through the library door that Rhett knew where he was.
"Tara," he said with wonderment. "But won't they see us, Melanie?"
"No, these are shadows of things that have been. They have no consciousness of us."
Rhett looked back at the young girls and realized that they were Suellen and Carreen O'Hara. He turned his head as he caught the faint scent of lemon verbena sachet and watched as a still young, dignified woman with a regal air about her came into the room, and he realized that he was looking at the fabled Ellen O'Hara. This woman, with her beautiful, heavy dark hair pulled back in a fashion Rhett recognized as having been out of style for quite some time, her shoulders back and her head held high, this was the woman Scarlett had idolized since childhood. And rightly so, he thought, judging by her stately appearance.
Her voice was cultured when she spoke, revealing her strict and formal education as well as her wealthy upbringing on the Georgian coast. "Gerald where is your other daughter?"
"Why I'm sure she'll be along shortly," Gerald said, his red cheeks flushing as he addressed his much younger wife. Then, turning to his younger daughters, he addressed Suellen, "Where has your sister run off to, missy? She's always holding things up."
"She's upstairs, Pa," Suellen said, never taking her attention away from the presents under the tree.
Gerald, with the limp Rhett knew from his meeting with Mr. O'Hara in Atlanta during the war, made his way to the foot of the staircase and bellowed, "Scarlett O'Hara! If you're not down here by the count of ten we'll be starting without you! One…two…three…"
Rhett heard footsteps on the stairs and the voice he knew all to well.
"I'm coming, Pa."
And then he saw her, descending the staircase in a lovely forest green dress trimmed with white lace. Her black hair fell in perfect ringlets around her shoulders, and even from where they stood by the doorway he could see her green eyes light up with the radiance of youth and the excitement of the festivities that evening. She was just as beautiful as she had been the day he saw her on the staircase at Twelve Oaks, he observed. He had not noticed the quickening pace of his heart when his eyes caught sight of her, but his gaze never left her as she made her way to where her sisters were and the family assembled for prayers.
Rhett felt something tugging on his hand and he looked down to see Bonnie, her blue eyes shining brilliantly as she exclaimed with excitement that she recognized her mother.
"Mammy is mighty pretty," Bonnie said.
Rhett could not help but smile softly at his daughter's comment. How they resembled each other! He always thought, when Bonnie was alive, that if they had to, no one would ever question who her mother was, so alike were they in facial feature and mannerism. "Yes," he lamented softly, bending down to scoop her up in his arms, "she was beautiful. You looked just like her."
The three unseen guests stood watching the O'Hara family as Ellen led the nightly prayer. When Rhett finally allowed himself to take his eyes off of his wife, he turned to Melanie and asked why they had brought him here. "You said these are shadows of things that have been. Nothing can be changed. Why have you brought me to Scarlett's past and not my own?"
"Because, Captain Butler," Melanie smiled, "you already know your past; you lived it. Scarlett, too, is part of that past, but you did not know her before she entered your life. She was not always as she seemed"
Furrowing his brows, Rhett asked, "What do you mean?" but before his words made it out of his mouth, the scene before them faded and they found themselves in a darkened room where two figures were lying on the down comforter of a spacious canopy bed, trying to suppress hushed giggles.
"Oh, but Scarlett, who is it that you will marry? Surely half the boys in the county have asked for your hand."
Rhett recognized Scarlett and Carreen as the girls who were talking, and he figured they must be in Scarlett's old bedroom. He found it slightly amusing that he should be in Scarlett's bedroom now, watching her when she could not see him, when he had not been let in her room while they were married.
"Don't be a goose, sissy," Scarlett said. "Of course they have asked me to marry them, but you can't just go around saying yes to every man that asks you, especially if you don't love them."
Rhett was shocked to hear such a statement come out of Scarlett's mouth. He remembered the day he had come to give her the check for the money she needed to pay the taxes on Tara, and he had found out that she had married Frank Kennedy. Tell me, Scarlett. Do you ever shrink from marrying men you don't love? He listened again to the conversation between the two sisters.
"Are you in love Scarlett?"
"What gave you that idea?"
"Sue said that you have been sweet on Ashley Wilkes; that you hope to marry him."
Rhett watched as Scarlett stiffened on the bed, but played things out as if Carreen's words meant nothing to her. "Suellen is a brat who likes to stick her nose in everyone else's business. Besides, what does it matter?"
Carreen laughed and then covered her mouth with her hand as if she were afraid of someone else hearing their conversation. "Well, I don't care who you marry, Scarlett, just as long as it's not Brent Tarleton."
"You needn't worry about that, Sugarbaby," Scarlett said, sitting up on the bed. "Now go back to sleep before Mammy catches us awake. You know she's got ears like a cat." Carreen nodded, gave her big sister a hug and left the room.
"Melanie," Rhett spoke with a bitter voice, "I know who Scarlett was thinking about—who she's always thought about…Did you ever know?" Melanie's eyes were soft and brown, so trusting and kind, and Rhett regretted having posed that question even now, when Melanie no longer existed in the world of the living. But she only smiled enigmatically at Rhett's question and then turned her head toward Scarlett.
She got out of bed and walked softly toward the door. Without thinking, Rhett followed her, still holding Bonnie in his arms. "Where is your mother going?" he whispered to the child.
"To see Grandma Ellen," Bonnie whispered back.
"How do you know this, sweetheart?" Bonnie laughed and buried her head in Rhett's shoulder.
Scarlett made her way down the stairs and through the sitting room as Rhett followed close behind her. He noticed the way she would reach up and brush her hair through with her fingers, the seductive sway of her hips as she walked, things he had long forgotten over the years of their indifference but was now rediscovering with a sharp sense of clarity how he had loved them. She made her way to a closed door near the entryway of the house and knocked softly before entering. Inside her mother sat at a large oak desk going over the figures for the plantation, but she looked up when Scarlett opened the door and stood up from her chair. There was an old couch on the side wall that had sagging, used cushions, and here Ellen sat down, motioning with her hand for her eldest daughter to come and sit by her.
What is it, baby?" Ellen crooned as Scarlett sat at her feet and laid her head against her mother's knees. Rhett stood in the middle of the room and set Bonnie on her feet. Knowing Scarlett as she had been while they were together, this scene between mother and daughter made Rhett curious. He had never witnessed her in so tender a scene with her own children, and he had always wished that she would let him draw her to his knee so he could run his fingers through her long hair and whisper to her how much he loved her. But it had never come true, for she had never loved him.
"Oh, I'm alright, mother," Scarlett replied quietly.
Ellen patted Scarlett's dark head. "I know that look that was on your face when you came in, darling. What is on your mind?"
Scarlett sighed and began toying with the folds of her mother's dress. Rhett noticed that her kittenish eyes held a far away look, as if she were daydreaming, or troubled by her thoughts.
"Mother, how do you know when you're in love? Really in love, I mean," Scarlett asked quietly.
Ellen smiled and said thoughtfully, "I suppose you get a special feeling whenever you're around that man, whenever you touch him. Whenever he smiles it makes your heart beat faster. When he means so much to you that you'd do anything, even give up your way of life for him. Love is both a very selfish and unselfish emotion, my darling. You want to do anything for him but at the same time you want all of him for yourself, and seeing him in pain causes you to feel the same thing. To be in love is to be truly happy. But there now, what makes you ask such a question? Has a special beau stolen your heart?"
Rhett listened to Ellen's eloquent speech, and he was genuinely moved. He had loved Scarlett and thought he had given everything for her, but hearing this explanation from Scarlett's mother made him realize that he had been more selfish than not. What if he had told her he loved her? He had given up everything but his heart, which he had kept locked up out of fear of losing it and having it be trampled upon. But if he had acted differently—treated her more kindly or let her have a glimpse into the windows of his soul? So many things that could have been rushed through his mind and he was left feeling weary.
Scarlett turned her head up and looked at her mother before she moved onto the sofa next to her. "Oh, well…no, that is, I'm not sure, but something happened last year at the bar-b-que at Twelve Oaks…"
"What happened at Twelve oaks, darling?"
"You know how we like to have Mammy Jincy tell our fortunes and all. Well, she told me…she told me that I was destined to marry a man with jet black hair and a long black moustache," confessed Scarlett, somewhat distressed.
Ellen laughed and pulled Scarlett into a hug. "Who was she talking about? Tony or Alex Fontaine perhaps? They're nice boys."
"Oh no! I could never marry one of the Fontaine boys, Mother!"
"Well then who could it be?"
"Oh, I don't know. I don't like Mammy Jincy's fortunes anyway. I don't even like black haired men," Scarlett proclaimed with a bright smile.
At the revelation Rhett inhaled sharply. He knew the man Scarlett was referring to was himself. Had it been destined, written in the stars that they were meant for each other? And she knew all this time?
"I always used to tell Scarlett that we belonged together," he softly told Melanie. "She never believed me. In fact she told me she hated me," he added with a soft chuckle, suddenly filled with the nostalgia of years past when things between he and Scarlett had been so much simpler.
"Do you believe that you belong together?" Melanie asked.
"Once upon a time I did," Rhett sighed.
"But you no longer do?"
Silence passed between them for a moment as Rhett remembered their life together. "So much has happened between us, Melanie. So much that I don't think we could ever pick up the pieces. Scarlett is so hard-headed and stubborn, selfish too. Money changed her."
Melanie's eyes bore into Rhett's as she spoke, "War changed her, Captain Butler, as it changed everyone. Scarlett was not always that way. She did what she had to do to survive, and she did it the only way she knew how. If you had been there during the war you would have seen how brave she was, but it was so hard for her to take care of everyone, let alone herself. One has a right to be selfish in such circumstances, she had to survive for the sake of others. She needed someone to help her…she needed you. But you were not there—no one was there except us."
"I know she had a difficult time!" Rhett's voice became raspy, as if some bottled up emotion were struggling to get out. "But what about after? What about when we were married and she was so careless, so hurtful and unforgiving? I loved her! I knew her and understood her but she didn't care! She never cared! She only cared about herself…and Ashley."
Bonnie's small arms tightened around his neck and she whispered in his ear, "Mommy didn't love Uncle Ashley, daddy."
Rhett's pleading eyes turned to Melanie again, begging for the truth. This was something that he had never believed, and could not make himself believe that night when he left Scarlett for good. It could not be possible. Such things just did not make sense after what they'd been through. But Melanie's words wrung his heart and brought tears to his eyes for the second time that night.
"What Bonnie says is true, Captain Butler. Scarlett may have loved Ashley, but she never loved him the way she loves you."
Taking one last look at Scarlett, so young and beautiful, sitting with her mother on the sofa in the office at Tara, Rhett wished he could step from behind the veil of the future and into this scene in front of him. He would be the premonition from Scarlett's fortune come true. But these were visions of things that had already happened, and he could not turn back time.
"How do you know these things?" he asked, really addressing both spirits.
"It's a gift that is beyond the limits of the comprehension of the living," Melanie smiled. "Come now, there is much to see, and time grows short." Rhett understood the meaning of Melanie's words and set Bonnie on her feet, taking both of their hands in his own and watched as the scene from his wife's past faded into nothingness.