A/N Penultimate chapter. This does need revising but I will revise this – and some of the other chapters to make them flow better/provide tighter writing – after I have finished the story. I cannot tell you how excited I am about writing Chapter 50 and finally being able to mark this story as "Complete". Thanks to all you readers, reviewers, favouriters etc. You make my day.
The guests started to trickle through the giant, front door of the Butler mansion at exactly half past seven. Pork and William stood on one side of the entrance, holding silver trays replete with glasses of champagne and Minnie and Reena stood on the other to take shawls, hats and umbrellas.
The hosts and the newly-weds had assembled in a line, ready to receive their visitors. Uncle Henry had tried to remove himself from the fuss by hiding in the parlour but Eleanor had stood her ground. "It's only once, Henry," she had scoffed. "Anyone would think you were having second thoughts about being married. Or that you were embarrassed to be married to me."
"Not at all, Eleanor. Not at all."
"Well then," she said and she linked her arm through her husband's tightly as she manoeuvred them into the hallway.
Scarlett had acquiesced and allowed Wade and Ella to stand next to their parents and Ella was eager to tell everyone that she was wearing the same dress she had worn to the actual wedding. "I was there," was herfrequent refrain. "And I kept it a secret for two whole weeks."
"We all kept it a secret, Ella. Beau, me, Aunt India, Uncle Ashley. It wasn't just you," Wade would whisper, before Scarlett shot him a threatening look which silenced him.
Soft melodies from a Viennese harpist, and the hum of contentment and awe, spiked with hearty laughter, wafted through the parlour and the rarely used, formal sitting room. Their interconnecting doors had been pushed back and the guests mingled, spilling onto the front porch when the two large rooms became overcrowded, sipping on the finest champagnes and eating mouth-watering canapés, a novelty that Rhett had come across in France and which he had asked Dilcey to replicate,
By nine o'clock, one hundred bottles of champagne and fifty bottles of burgundy had been drunk, most of the canapés had been eaten and the children had been ushered upstairs to bed by Mammy, who had taken the opportunity to retire herself.
Scarlett was standing next to Ashley, talking to Emma and India when she felt Rhett's hand on the small of her back. "Come with me, darling," he whispered, his eyes flicking up towards his former love rival. Then, he added, just loudly enough for the person closest to Scarlett to hear, "Although, unfortunately, I can't take you to where I really want to take you for a few more hours," and he brushed his lips against her neck, making sure that Ashley was in no doubt what he meant.
"Rhett!" Scarlett giggled, oblivious to the silent battle that was going on between her husband and his nemesis. She was too blinded by her own adoration for her husband to catch either Rhett's eyes pivoting from Ashley to her, or the look of disdain on Ashley's face.
She placed her hand in the crook of his arm and walked with Rhett to the entrance of the ballroom, the doors of which had just been opened by Pork. The room was a sea of oak panelling and green silks, lit up by exquisite silver candelabras and three huge crystal chandeliers, that shimmered like diamonds in the mirrors. White flowers had been placed in the four corners of the room and on the six side tables that Scarlett had had shipped over from Paris. The two, semi-circular settees, newly reupholstered in a pistachio coloured silk, had been pushed together to make a perfect circle in the centre of the room, ready for dancers to rest their tired feet on, and the dining room chairs had also been placed strategically around the room for the same purpose.
"I don't believe there is a nicer room in the whole of Atlanta," Scarlett said to her husband, admiring the spectacle. "Or a more expensive one."
Rhett laughed and kissed her on her forehead. "At least it's more tasteful now, darling. Even if you did wipe out a large chunk of my fortune doing it up."
"My fortune, Rhett," Scarlett corrected. "I didn't spend your money."
"Hmmm," Rhett murmured, but Scarlett either didn't hear his response or chose to pretend she hadn't.
"I think we should begin the dancing. It's after nine o'clock," Scarlett whispered as she spied the string quartet in the furthest corner, poised and ready to begin playing.
"Not yet. In a few moments. We need to raise a toast and welcome Henry into the Butler family."
"Welcome Uncle Henry into the Butler family? But your mother has become a Hamilton."
Rhett grinned. "Only in name. She's not really a Hamilton."
"Of course she is! She's married Uncle Henry hasn't she? And don't let Wade hear you say that. He's quite chuffed that his grandmother now shares his surname."
Rhett smiled benignly at his wife, before turning to Pork, who was hovering nearby. Rhett nodded at him and Pork began to beat gently on a small cymbal, calling the guests to attention. When there was only a ripple of whispers, Rhett started speaking and after welcoming everyone, he regurgitated a couple of anecdotes that Scarlett had relayed to him over the past couple of weeks about the newly-weds before he toasted his mother and Henry and their new life together. Then, the quartet started playing and Rhett prompted Henry to lead Eleanor into the centre of the room to begin the dancing, before taking Scarlett's hand and following. Soon, fifty or so couples were dancing and after the reel ended, Rhett and Henry swapped partners as the quartet struck up a waltz.
"I didn't even realise you could dance, Uncle Henry," Scarlett exclaimed, as she moved into his arms.
"I've always been able to dance but it's not a pastime I care much for. It seems, however, that when you are married, you don't always get a choice in what you do," Uncle Henry replied. He looked down at her neck, before quickly snapping his head back upwards, evidently uncomfortable with the amount of cleavage she was showing. "I see you're wearing your engagement ring, Scarlett. The one you sold."
"I should be mighty mad with you," Scarlett chided. "Why didn't you tell me that you had sold my jewellery to Rhett?"
Henry chuckled. "I don't break confidences, my dear. I'm a lawyer. But really, it should have been obvious. Who else but your husband would have had that sort of money and want to spend it on jewellery? He's always been a fool so far as you are concerned."
Scarlett raised her eyebrows. "He told me he bought it for an investment."
"That's an interesting way of putting it," Henry replied.
"Interesting?" Scarlett said, confused.
"He bought them for you, Scarlett. You were his investment."
"I was his investment?"
Uncle Henry nodded and then chuckled. "Scarlett, wasn't it obvious what he meant?"
"No. It wasn't obvious what he meant, Uncle Henry." She sighed. Obvious! That word was beginning to irritate her. "I wish Rhett would stop talking in riddles and tell me, in simple words, what he means."
"It's his way of holding back, protecting himself against you."
"Against me?" She raised her eyebrows in mock indignation. "How did he find out I was selling my jewellery?"
"I wrote to him and told him and he wrote back almost by return telling me that he would buy the lot. When I went to Charleston in July, I gave him the jewels. He had already transferred the money." Uncle Henry twirled Scarlett around, before he added. "He was quite hurt, Scarlett."
"Indeed. Especially when he saw what jewels you were selling."
"Like my engagement ring?" she asked.
"No. Funnily enough, he didn't seem too bothered by that. He seemed more upset – more angry -about a diamond necklace – one that had fifty diamonds or something – and some emerald earrings."
Scarlett grimaced. He had given her the emerald earrings the day after she had told him she was pregnant with Bonnie, his way of cheering her up. And the necklace…the necklace was the one he had given her on the eve of their wedding. Who would have known that her husband could be so sentimental?
The last few cadences of the waltz played and then, as the music stopped and Scarlett sought Rhett out, Henry whispered into Scarlett's ear. "Remember that I am no longer just Wade's uncle. I am also your father-in-law."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That I have his interests at heart, too. And if I hear that there is any more trouble in your marriage because of old infatuations, you won't just have your husband to deal with but me as well."
After Scarlett had danced a reel with Hugh Elsing and the two-step with René, she excused herself and, picking up a glass of burgundy from a tray perched on the clavichord, walked outside. Rhett had disappeared into the library a few moments before with Uncle Carey and a group of other men and she strongly suspected that they hadn't gone in there to admire the books but rather to play poker or some other card game. But she didn't mind. She knew her plan was working. Her husband's eyes had barely left her all night, even when she had been dancing with someone else, and, whenever she had passed him, or he had passed her, he had pulled her to him and whispered something totally indecent into her ear which had made her blush and her heart beat wildly.
"Fancy old Henry Hamilton biting the bullet and getting married!" Grandpa Merriwether said to her, as he passed her on the veranda, on his way to join Doctor Meade and John Simmons for a smoke in the gardens below. "I didn't think he had it in him."
"You're only jealous he got there first, Mr Merriwether!" Scarlett replied, laughing. "Who wouldn't want to marry my elegant mother-in-law?"
She watched him walk down the steps to the grass below, and then turned her attentions back to the elevated veranda, as his daughter in law, Mrs Merriwether, pushed by Caroline Meade, rattled past her. Hugh and Jane Elsing followed behind. "We've just been for a walk to get some fresh air," Jane said to Scarlett. "The garden looked so beautiful and romantic with all the candles. And I've never seen so many flowers in a back yard and such varying types. It looks exquisite."
"Thank you," Scarlett replied. The gardeners had been working all week to get the garden ready for the party.
"It was a good idea to light it all up, Scarlett," Dolly Merriwether said over her shoulder, as Mrs Meade pushed her back into the ballroom. "Where on earth did you get the little candles?"
"From up North, I'm afraid," Scarlett answered. "I had them shipped in from Boston."
Mrs Merriwether snorted her derision, took a glass of champagne from William, who had just walked outside with a tray of drinks for the guests, and then ordered Mrs Meade to push her into the house. Scarlett watched the two battle axes for a while, before she beckoned to William to come over so that she could swap her burgundy for champagne. Then, she leaned against the balustrade and peered into the ballroom.
For the fourth time in the evening, Ashley was dancing with Emma. If it had been any other widower of less than a year's standing, such behaviour would have been scandalous, or at the very least would have elicited some mumblings of impropriety and raised eyebrows. But the town's original golden boy seemed untouchable and no one seemed to care or notice.
It would be a year, in three weeks, Scarlett thought. Three years since that dreadful, black day when a light had been extinguished forever in Atlanta and when both her and Ashley's lives had fallen apart. Ashley had struggled on, his family rallying around him, but, anyone with objectivity, would have been able to see that he needed a wife. And Melly…Scarlett, felt that Melly, ever practical Melly, would have agreed and understood. She would have wanted her husband to find a new wife to look after him and her motherless son. She wouldn't have felt that his love for her was devalued just because he sought happiness with someone else.
As the waltz finished and another reel began, Scarlett's eyes wandered to India, who was sitting perched on one of the semi-circular settees, champagne flute in one hand and nibbling on one of Dilcey's canapés. India had always been a reluctant dancer – even when she had been younger – and was usually found on the perimeter of a party, her face etched in a sour, disapproving scowl. But tonight, India had embraced the festivities. She had flitted from one group of people to another, demonstrating social skills that Scarlett, and others, had had no idea she possessed. It was almost as though it was her party, as though she was the hostess, from the way she was carrying on and, rather strangely, Scarlett didn't mind.
Scarlett drained her champagne glass, walked over to the edge of the balcony and leaned over, admiring the flickering candles – like a fire blossom – that edged the lawn. Jane was right. The garden did look romantic, like something out of that Shakespeare Dream Rhett had taken her to see in London. But it would be even more romantic if her husband was standing next to her and they were alone.
Her contemplation was disturbed by the sound of footsteps on the patio below. She looked down and when she couldn't see who it was, she stood on tiptoes. It was Jack.
"Hello," Scarlett greeted, as he walked up the steps from the garden to the first floor. It was too late for either of them to avoid each other without appearing rude. He stood on the top step, hesitating, and then he strode over to her.
"Hello Scarlett," he said, smiling at her. "I hope you don't mind me taking a walk in your garden. It was too hot in the ballroom."
She nodded. He didn't need to tell her that he needed to get away from Fanny for a while, too. Fanny, who had clung to him like a leech and hadn't allowed anyone else to dance with him and barely anyone else to talk to him. But who could blame her? Scarlett thought. Jack was a good catch.
"It's been a marvellous party."
"I don't think I've been to a better one. We're not so sophisticated in Louisiana."
"It's not over yet," she said, as she thought of the fireworks that Pork was going to light at midnight.
He fumbled in his jacket pocket, took out a cigar and lit it. Then, he leaned against the balustrade, smoking.
Scarlett studied him. Swarthy, muscular, masculine, a younger version of Rhett. He wouldn't have made a bad husband. "I hear that you're courting Fanny," Scarlett said. She wanted him to know that she knew and that there should be no awkwardness between them.
He swivelled his head round to his hostess and stared at her for a few moments, as though he was trying to determine if there was more to her statement. He nodded slowly.
"Fanny is a good woman," Scarlett found herself saying. She meant it too. Fanny was a good woman and she deserved some happiness, and her son, a father figure. She didn't really mind that Jack was courting her, her vanity had only been temporarily piqued. And if he did marry her, it might finally lay to rest the guilt she had felt about her husband's death.
"Yes," Jack said. He rubbed his eyes and then puffed a couple of times on his cigar. "And a good mother. Tommy Junior is a good boy."
Scarlett took it as her cue to leave but as she turned round, she heard him say, "Your husband." He paused. What about Rhett? "He's back, I noticed."
Scarlett stopped moving. His back was turned to her and she couldn't make out his demeanour. "Yes," she said simply.
"And you're happy?"
"Yes. I…I think so."
"He's permanently back?"
"Yes," she replied. Even though Rhett hadn't said as much, she was pretty sure he was back permanently. At least as permanently as he could ever be.
"Then, it's all worked out for the best."
He stood up, straightening to his full height and faced Scarlett. She remained mute.
"Hasn't it?" he pressed.
"Yes…yes…I suppose so." She was happy, wasn't she? It had worked out for the best, hadn't it? She could never really have left Atlanta, left to go and live in Louisiana with Jack, could she?
"You suppose so?" His eyes were alert, and she felt them sweep over her face and then her body. She crossed her arms in front of her chest, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and self-conscious in her low cut gown. She would be happy, blissfully so, if Rhett told her he loved her, if he agreed to have another child with her.
She cleared her throat. "Yes," she replied more definitively. "It's all worked out for the best."
"In that case, do you think your husband would mind if I had your next dance? For old time's sake?"
Scarlett wasn't so sure. Would he mind her being twirled on the dance floor by a man who had proposed marriage to her, of sorts? "I…will Fanny mind?"
"I'll have a lifetime of dancing with Fanny but maybe only tonight to dance with you, Scarlett."
Scarlett smiled up at him. His eyes told her that he still desired her but did it matter? Surely one dance wouldn't hurt? She owed it to him. He had helped her, he had lifted her mood, he had made her feel feminine again. When her husband had only seemed intent on hurting her.
"Let's go and dance," she said.
He held out his arm and she took it.
Carriages arrived at one o'clock and when Rhett and Scarlett had bidden the last of the guests good night, including Aunt Eulalie, Aunt Pauline and Uncle Carey, who were staying in the mansion, it was half past one. Scarlett dismissed the remaining servants, telling Minnie that she would undress herself tonight, and then she walked up the staircase with Rhett, feeling giddy from the champagne and the party's success.
As soon as they were in their bedroom, Rhett closed the door and turned the key. "I don't want any interruptions tonight," he explained, as he pulled her to him and started kissing her. "Not from the servants, not from Ella, not from anyone."
She reached up to his neck and coiled her arms around him. "I've wanted you to do this to me for at least the last couple of hours," Scarlett murmured.
He pushed her closer to the bed. "Only the last couple? I've wanted to do this to you for the last seven hours. And you made me wait. Spoilsport." His hands traced her breasts and then his lips followed suit. "Really darling, this was a very inappropriate dress to wear," he said, in between his kisses. "From now on, you can only wear it when it is just the two of us for supper. I don't mind men admiring my wife, but leering at her is a bit too much."
Scarlett elicited a soft moan as Rhett started unbuttoning her gown. Within seconds, he had removed the green material and had started untying her stays. "It's been torture not being able to properly touch you," he said. "And seeing you dance with partners other than me…all of whom held you a little too close. And what was Mr Picard doing with you? Remember, I have ears and eyes all over Atlanta-"
"I don't know what you mean," Scarlett whispered as she felt a familiar tingling sensation run over her body.
"-But you're all mine now, and I don't intend to let you escape from my clutches. Until at least midday."
He picked her up, carried her over to the bed and lay her down on the coverlet. Then, as Scarlett unfurled like a butterfly in anticipation, he unbuckled his belt and started to remove his trousers. Scarlett pushed herself up on the bed, propping her body up with her elbows and leaned towards him, ready to meet his kisses with her own. Her plan had worked. The gown she had worn had drawn him to her, like a moth to light. Tonight was going to be the night when he would finally make love to her without any barriers. She had played it perfectly. She had seen him all night, watching her, wanting her. Nothing was going to hold him back.
He threw his trousers on the floor and then began to unbutton his shirt. Then, when he had discarded his shirt, he sat down on the bed and leaned in to kiss his wife. She reached up and ran one of her hands against his left cheek but he caught it and then started kissing her fingers, before working his way up her arm. "You were the most beautiful woman at the party, Scarlett, but, unfortunately, I think you knew that," he murmured, as he ran his fingers down her stomach.
He lay down on the bed and then rolled over so that he was on top of her, the only shield between them his own underwear and her chemise. He gently nipped at her neck and then pushed the straps down on her chemise. Scarlett closed her eyes as her heart began to race. She knew what happened next.
But strangely, nothing did happen, or at least, nothing that she was expecting. She inched towards him on the bed, ready to wrap her legs around him, but as she did so his hands left her body, he stopped kissing her and he rolled away. She kept her eyes closed, hoping that her spell wouldn't be broken. He was probably teasing her. He had always liked to catch her unawares, especially in the bedroom.
When she felt his weight leave the bed she opened her eyes. "Rhett," she whispered. "Rhett, please came back here." But he was no longer looking at her. He was looking underneath the bed and then inside his bedside cabinet. She felt tension flow through her body as she realised what he was looking for. His special box.
"Where is it, Scarlett?" he said finally. The soft, seductive tone had gone and in its place was an accusatory lilt.
"Where is what?" she asked, as she swung her feet to the floor, and put her arms round him, hoping that she appeared nonchalant, despite the rising panic growing inside of her. He shrugged her off, stepped back and stared at her. She was sure her guilt was etched on her face and she tried to avert her eyes.
"Look at me, Scarlett."
She daren't disobey. His face had gone dark and there was malevolence in his expression.
"I thought we had stopped playing games," he said.
"Rhett, really! What are you talking about?" she replied, silently cursing the nervous quiver that had affected her voice.
"I've always told you that you are a bad liar."
"Rhett…" She stepped towards him, hoping that if she could start kissing him again, he would forget about everything but making love to her but his reactions were quicker than hers and he caught her wrists. "Ouch!" she yelped. He didn't release his grip.
"Tell me what you have done with the box." His voice was steely, authoritative.
She looked into his black eyes as she tried to read him. How did he know she had done anything with it? Was he bluffing? "What box? I…I…don't know what you mean, Rhett."
"Yes, you do," he replied, steadily.
"Damn you, Scarlett."
"Honestly, Rhett, I don't know what box-"
"You do, Scarlett. The box that I keep my preventatives in."
She swallowed. This was all going horribly wrong but she could still recover. He had no proof. "What makes you think I have done anything with it?" she asked, trying to sound hurt.
"Because I know you, Scarlett. You've never been able to hide anything from me."
His eyes scanned the room and then settled on the hearth. The servants hadn't re-made the fire. She had shooed them out of the bedroom when they had started to because she wanted to soak in the bathtub that adjoined their bedroom. Damn.
"Did you burn it?" he asked, suddenly. "Is that why you had a fire yesterday?"
"I thought it was a little odd to light a fire in September. I thought the room smelt different."
"I felt a chill coming on when I came back from Maybelle's -"
"A chill?" It was obvious he didn't believe her. "On one of the hottest days in September?"
"Ye…yes." She stammered, not daring to look directly at him. "It rained yesterday afternoon and I didn't have-"
"But you were perfectly well enough to go to the concert last night?"
"Am I not allowed to light a fire in my own bedroom?"
"Not in order to burn something of mine, Scarlett. No."
"Rhett, I didn't burn anything!" She felt helpless. This wasn't how it was meant to go. He was meant to have been unable to resist her.
He released his hold and took a couple of steps back. "You are a conniving bitch, Scarlett," he muttered, and then, more loudly. "And the worst liar I have ever come across."
Scarlett looked up at him. He seemed furious with her. How much worse could this get?
He picked up his trousers from the floor and put them back on. Then, he removed his discarded shirt that he had flung over her vanity stool and put that back on, too. Was he leaving her?
Scarlett stepped over her own clothes that were strewn on the floor and placed both of her hands on his left arm. "Darling, I-"
"I would `appreciate it if you took your hands off me, my dear. I am going to sleep somewhere else tonight." He turned and grabbed his jacket.
He looked at her. "Yes?"
She stood stock still, paralysed.
Some latent, horrible memory resurfaced. She remembered how he had walked away from her once before, from this very bedroom, when she had made what had been the biggest mistake of her life.
He moved towards the door.
"Rhett, no. No. No. Please." She ran after him. Her eyes had started watering but she heard him unlock the door and then she saw him place his hand on it and open it.
"No, Rhett, no," she repeated, her panic now beginning to strangle her. Was he going to go to Belle's? He had promised her! He couldn't go to Belle's! He couldn't leave her! Oh dear God, she had known something like this would happen! He liked her, he enjoyed her but he didn't love her and that was why he could just up and leave!
She ducked underneath his arms, slammed the door shut and locked it. Then, she stood, arms splayed, against the door. She had to keep him in her room.
"Rhett, please. Don't go. Don't." She started crying. He couldn't walk away from her again, even if she had to lock him in her bedroom and throw away the key.
"I don't want us to repeat the same mistakes as last time," she said, brokenly, through sobbing. "You can't leave."
"I'm not leaving exactly, Scarlett. I am going to sleep in another room tonight. Down the corridor. Now, please get away from the door or I'll be forced to remove you."
"Go ahead. Remove me," she said defiantly.
"No! No! I'm not going anywhere." The tears were streaming down her face now. "You can't leave."
"Scarlett, we can-"
"No!" She didn't want to hear anything from him. "You're right. You're right. I admit it." She wiped her arm against her blotchy, wet face, in a vain attempt to mop up some tears. "I did get rid of the box. I did burn it. I don't know what came over me. But it's only because…it's only because…" Her body started shaking with sobbing again. "It's only because I love you…and because I don't understand why you refuse to have a child with me."
She had obviously said something right, because his face relaxed, leaving behind its black rage.
"Scarlett…" he sighed.
"I…do…love you…Rhett!" she hiccoughed. "Even if you don't love me." She slumped down to the floor, her back against the door and pushed the straps of her chemise back on her shoulders. "Why do you always have to get your own way? Why is having another child such an abhorrent thought?"
"It's not abhorrent, Scarlett," he said softly. "It's just…" He allowed his voice to trickle away. "You got your way, too, Scarlett."
"I didn't-" she began to protest.
"I came back, didn't I?"
"Yes, but I-" She stopped abruptly. She had got her way in that respect. But it wasn't what she had expected. She had expected him to tell her he loved her, not just act lovingly towards her. Was this going to be it? A companionable relationship, a friendship without affirmation of his love, even if they were sharing a bed.
"I want a child," she said quietly.
"And what if I don't?"
She didn't say anything.
"Would you call off this whole reconciliation?" he continued.
"No, of course I wouldn't. But I… " She swallowed a couple of times as she tried to collect her thoughts. "I've felt…empty… ever since…ever since Bonnie died. And I want that feeling to go away."
"Any other child we had, Scarlett, couldn't replace Bonnie."
"I know that Rhett," she snapped. "I wouldn't want to replace Bonnie."
"And what if something happened to the child? Bonnie's death almost broke me. I can't go through that again."
"But Rhett, it was an accident-"
"Children die all the time."
"I know, but…our children…well, they would be strong and well…I… I know they would be fine."
"How many children did your parents have, Scarlett?"
"Six," she mumbled.
"And how many died?"
"Three," she said, barely audibly.
"So maybe you…me…we've used up all our luck."
Scarlett glanced across at her husband and furrowed her brow. Her husband could be so cold and logical sometimes. "Is that what you really believe?" she whispered.
"Is that why you don't want to have another child?"
He looked at her, his black eyes flickering with something.
"Is that why you don't want to have another child?" she repeated.
"Yes," he whispered. Then, he turned round, his back to the door, and slid down onto the floor next to his wife. "Scarlett, I couldn't bear to lose someone I love again. I thought I would die from the pain when Bonnie died and, to a lesser, extent, when James died. I wanted to die." His voice sounded choked. She had never heard him like this. Tentatively, he edged closer to her so that their arms were touching. "And it's not just a child dying. What if the pregnancy killed you?"
"Killed me?" She glanced at him. He wasn't joking.
"Yes, killed you. Remember how unwell you were after your miscarriage? You almost died-"
"But I didn't and I wouldn't have miscarried if I hadn't fallen." She sniffed away some tears. "I'm not like poor Melly. And Doctor Meade, he said that…he said that there was no reason why I shouldn't have another child. In fact, after Bonnie died, he positively encouraged it. He thought it would do us both good to have another child." Rhett looked up at her, with evident disbelief. "It's true, Rhett. Ask Doctor Meade if you don't believe me."
A silence drifted between them and then Rhett spoke. "It's not just about filling emptiness, is it though Scarlett? I think you want another child, as some sort of security. Against me." His voice was bland and level, even if his words were not. "In case, I decide to throw in the towel and leave again."
She stared straight ahead, not wanting to give her thoughts away. "No…I…" she began before she stopped, unable to continue. She closed her eyes again. Her head had begun to hurt, from too much champagne, from tiredness, from his words.
She heard him shift closer towards her and then she felt his arm go around her shoulders.
"Look at me, Scarlett."
She didn't move.
"Look at me. Please."
She complied, uneasily.
"You don't need to feel insecure. Whether we have a child or not. I'm not planning to leave. I've tried it on too many occasions. And it doesn't work." She felt a tear trickle down her cheek. "Haven't I always come back?"
"But October…" Her voice trailed off as the memory of that most painful of conversations came back to her.
"October?" He stared at her with that old intensity, as if he was willing her to understand. "I thought I could leave. I thought I could just walk away. I hoped I could. But I tried it for six months and it didn't work. There wasn't a day – hell, there wasn't an hour - when I didn't think of you. When I didn't wonder what you – and the children - were doing. And at the beginning of March, I realised I had to come back. Yes, in part, it was because of Bonnie's birthday. But that wasn't the only reason. I wanted to see you."
He traced his thumb over the contours of her cheekbones and she tried to look away, but he held her face steadily in his hands. "I needed to see you."
She sniffed. "You've never needed anyone, Rhett. Or anything."
He swallowed. "You're wrong. I never thought I needed anyone but the six months I spent away from you were the hardest months of my life. And it wasn't only because of James and Bonnie and my own grief." He pushed her hair out of her eyes and then kissed her gently on the lips. "I can't live without you, Scarlett. And I never want to try to again."
She had willed herself to stop crying when he had started speaking but now she couldn't hold back. The tears streamed silently down her face, dripping onto her chemise. She blinked a couple of times, quickly, trying to regain her composure and then he pulled her closer to him and she reluctantly nestled into his bosom. He was speaking softly to her, but her own hiccoughs masked his words. Then, she felt his lips on her hair, on her neck, she felt his hands go round her waist "You are my life, Scarlett," he whispered. "You don't need a child to tie me to you."
"It's not just my security, Rhett," she stammered. "I want another child to prove that I can be a good mother. Heaven knows I've failed with my first three."
"You don't need to prove anything, Scarlett. And you haven't failed."
"No." He brushed his lips against hers. "Darling, I'm not saying we can never have another child but can we wait? And in the meantime, just…enjoy what we have. You're still young."
"I'm going to be thirty next year, Rhett. That's not young."
"But it's not old."
"I thought this new relationship was about compromise," Scarlett said. She wasn't quite ready to abandon her dream.
"True. But having a child is such a binary decision. It's not as though you can half agree. We either have a child or we don't."
"So you're not saying definitely no?"
He sighed, sounding defeated. "No, I'm not saying definitely no."
"Then, can we agree to discuss it again at Christmas? And in the meantime, you can talk to Doctor Meade if you are really worried about me having another baby."
Rhett smiled. "We can talk about it at Christmas."
He put his hands on the floor and pushed himself up. Then, he held out his hands to Scarlett and hoisted her up.
"Please Rhett," she said softly, "Please stay here tonight. I couldn't bear it if you didn't sleep in here."
"But you've burnt my box Scarlett."
"I know," she confessed.
"I won't be able to touch you, tonight."
"I know," she whispered. "But you could always just hold me."
"And have all that temptation?" His voice was flat but he raised his eyebrows.
"You only held me last night didn't you?"
"Now I know why you suddenly had a headache."
She bit back her retort and continued. "And, if you think I am too much temptation, Rhett," she hiccoughed, "Then, I will sleep on the chaise longue and you can sleep in the bed. I just…I couldn't bear it if you went to another room to sleep tonight."
"You want me to sleep in the same room as you that much?"
"Yes," she replied.
He shook his head slowly and then cupped her face in his hands. "Let's just go to bed, Scarlett."
A/N Jack was always going to end up with Fanny (although someone did suggest to me a while ago that he should end up with Emma). I wanted her to have a sort of happy ending – she was abandoned somewhat by MM in GWTW. Scarlett indirectly killed poor Tommy Welburn. But Jack – after losing his wife and child – wants a family. Fanny provides that for him (and that was one of the reasons he was attracted to Scarlett. She had a made ready family).
I think Rhett is nervous about having a child with Scarlett for similar reasons that Ondine has enunciated in her marvellous The Fall and Murder on Marietta Street. He would see it as a tie – although, to be honest, I have always felt he wouldn't have left Scarlett permanently because he loved and felt tied to Wade and Ella. I also do think Rhett would be reluctant to have another child in case the child died too. The pain of losing a child is so unbearable. I've seen it. You never get over it, you just learn to live with it.
Rhett would never have agreed to come back to Atlanta if he didn't want his relationship to work with Scarlett – that was why he took her to Europe, almost as a test.
Chapter 50 is completely blank at the moment – as in, I haven't started writing it. But I have a free week and I might feel inspired. The weather is glorious in London at the moment – but it is somewhat distracting and I want to be outside as I worry that any moment, we will go back to dark, grey skies. But at least Andy Murray won Wimbledon!