Authors: Danielle Steel
“I think I'm getting very sure,” she said softly. “But I'm not there yet.” It was a painfully honest statement. As desperately unhappy as she was, she still needed to make the decision.
“And where would you run to?” he asked as they finally found a cab, and asked for the rue Castiglione. He didn't want to drive her right to the hotel, and they didn't know yet if everyone had been able to go back inside, or if they were still gathered in the square, waiting.
But for Olivia, Peter's last question was easy. She had been there before, and had known even then that it would always be her safe haven. “There's a place I used to go a long time ago, when I came here to study for a year in college. It's a little fishing village in the south of France. I found it when I first came, and I used to go there for weekends. It's not chic, or fashionable, it's very simple, but it was the one place I could always go to think when I needed to find myself again. I went there for a week after Alex died, but I was afraid the press would find me eventually, so I left before they did. I would hate to lose it. I'd love to go back there again one day, and stay for a while, maybe even finally write the book I keep thinking I have in my head, to see if I can do it. It's a magical place, Peter. I wish I could show it to you.”
“Maybe you will one day,” he said almost glibly, pulling her closer to him, but it was a gesture of comfort and support. He made no attempt to make any advances to her, or to try and kiss her. He would have liked nothing in this world more, but out of respect for Olivia, and his wife, he absolutely wouldn't do it. In some ways, Olivia was a fantasy for him, and just having talked to her all night was a gift he would cherish forever. It was like something in a movie. “What's this place called anyway?” he asked, and she smiled at him and gave him the name like a gift. It was almost like a password between them.
“La Favière. It's in the south of France, near a place called Cap Benat. You should go there if you ever need to. It's the best thing I can give anyone,” she whispered as she lay her head against his shoulder, and for the rest of the ride back, he just held her there, sensing without words that it was what she needed. He wanted to tell her that he would always be her friend, that he would be there for her if she needed him, that she should never hesitate to call him, but he wasn't quite sure how to say all of it to her, and instead he just held her. For a mad moment, he even wanted to tell her that he loved her. He wondered how long it had been since anyone had said that to her, how long since anyone had even talked to her as though they cared about her, and had any interest at all in what she was feeling. “You're a lucky man,” she said softly to him as the cab stopped on the rue Castiglione, down the street from the Place Vendome, just as they had told the driver.
What makes you say I'm lucky?” Peter asked curiously. The only thing that seemed lucky to him just then was having been with her all night, emptying their souls in each other's hands and sharing their secrets.
“Because you're content with your life, you believe in what you've done, and you still believe in the decency of the human race. I wish I still did, but I haven't in a long time.” But she hadn't been as lucky. Life had been kind to him for the most part, and extremely hard on Olivia Thatcher. She didn't tell him she suspected his marriage was a lot less fulfilling than he told himself, because she thought he didn't even know that. In some ways, he was lucky because he was still so blind, but he was sincere and caring and he had worked hard, and he was willing to close his eyes to his wife's indifference to him, and her involvement in her own life, and his father-in-law's outrageous invasion of what should have been their life. He was fortunate in Olivia's eyes, because he saw none of the emptiness around him. He sensed it perhaps, but he didn't really see it. And he was basically such a kind, decent, loving person. She had felt so much warmth from him that night, that even now, just before dawn, she didn't want to leave him.
“I hate to go back,” she whispered sleepily into his white shirt, nestled against his shoulder in the back of the cab. After all their talking, they were both spent, and she was beginning to fade now.
“I hate to leave you,” he said honestly, trying to force himself to remember Kate again, but it was this woman he wanted to be with, and not Kate. He had never talked to anyone as he had talked to Olivia that night, and she was so giving and understanding. She was so lonely and so hurt and so starved. How could he make himself leave her? It was hard to remember why he should now.
“I know I'm supposed to go back, but I can't remember why.” She smiled sleepily, thinking of what a heyday the paparazzi would have if they could have seen them for the last six hours. It was hard to believe they had been away for that long. They had talked for hours in Montmartre, and now it was agony going back where they belonged, but they knew they had to. Peter suddenly realized he had never talked to Kate the way he had talked to Olivia that night. Worse yet, he was falling in love with her, and he had never even kissed her.
“We both have to go back,” he said mournfully. “They must be half crazy with worry about you by now. And I have to wait to hear about Vicotec.” If not, he would have loved to run away with her.
“And then what?” She was referring to Vicotec. “Our various worlds fall apart, separately, and we keep on going. Why do we have to be the brave ones?” She looked and sounded like a petulant child, and he smiled as he looked at her expression.
“I guess because that's what we got picked for. Somewhere, sometime, someone said, 'Hey you, get on this line, you're one of the brave ones.' But actually, Olivia, you're a lot stronger than I am.” He had sensed that that night, and respected her a great deal for it.
“No, I'm not,” she said simply. “I never volunteered for all this. This wasn't multiple choice, and I picked it. It just happened. That's not brave, it's just destiny.” She looked up at him silently then, wishing that he was hers, and knowing he never would be. “Thank you for following me tonight …and for the cup of coffee.” She smiled, and he touched her lips with his fingers.
“Anytime, Olivia …remember that. Anytime you want a cup of coffee I'll be there …New York …Washington …Paris …” It was his way of offering her his friendship, and she knew it. Unfortunately for both of them, it was all he was able to offer.
“Good luck with Vicotec,” she said as they got out of the cab, and she looked up at him. “If it's right for you to help all those people, Peter, it'll happen. I believe that.”
“So do I,” he said sadly, missing her already. “Take care of yourself, Olivia.” He wanted to say so many things, to wish her well, to hold on to her, to run away with her to her fishing village near Cap Benat. Why was life so unfair sometimes? Why wasn't it more generous? Why couldn't they just disappear like Agatha Christie?
They stood at the corner for what seemed like a long time, and then after he squeezed her hand for a last time, she finally walked around the corner, and swiftly across the square, a small, lithe figure in a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. And as he watched her go, he wondered if he would ever see her again, even in the hotel. When he followed her, she stood at the door of the Ritz, and waved for a last time, and as he looked at her, he hated himself for not having kissed her.
Much to his own astonishment, Peter slept till noon that day. He was exhausted after coming home at six o'clock in the morning. And when he awoke, all he could think of was Olivia. He felt quiet and sad without her, and when he looked out the window, it was raining. He sat thinking about Olivia for a long time, over croissants and coffee, and he kept wondering what had happened when she had gone back to her room early that morning. He wondered if her husband had been furious with her, or terrified, sick with worry, or just concerned. He couldn't imagine Katie doing a thing like that. But two days earlier, he couldn't have imagined himself doing it either.
He wished he could have gone on talking to Olivia all night. She was so honest and open with him. And as he finished his coffee, he thought of some of the things she'd said, about her own life, and his. Looking at his marriage through her eyes suddenly gave him a different perspective, and he felt uncomfortable about Katie's relationship with her father. They were so close that he actually felt shut out, and it irked him that he couldn't tell Katie about Suchard, and the reason for the delay in Paris. Even if he didn't want to tell Frank, he would have liked to tell his wife, and he knew with total certainty that he couldn't.
It was strange to think that it had been easier last night, talking about it to a perfect stranger. Olivia had been so sympathetic and so land to him, and she had easily understood how agonizing it was for him, just waiting. He wished he could have talked to her again, and as he showered and dressed, he found that all he could think about was her …her eyes …her face …that wistful look as she walked away, and the ache he'd felt as he watched her. It was all so unreal. It was almost a relief when the phone rang an hour later, and it was Katie. Suddenly, he needed to reach out to her, to bring her close to him, to reassure himself that she really loved him.
“Hi there,” she said, it was seven in the morning for her, and she sounded bright and alert, and already in a hurry. “How's Paris?”
For an instant, he hesitated, not sure what he could tell her. “Fine. I miss you,” he said, and suddenly waiting to hear from Suchard felt like a crushing weight to him, and the night before only an illusion. Or was it Olivia who was real now, and Katie the dream? Still tired from the night before, it all seemed very confusing.
“When are you coming home?” she asked, sipping a cup of coffee and finishing her breakfast in Greenwich. She was catching an eight o'clock train to New York and she was rushing.
“I'll be home in a few days, I hope,” he said thoughtfully. “By the end of the week for sure. Suchard had some delays in his tests, and I decided to wait here. I thought it might make him finish a little more quickly.”
“Is anything important causing the delays, or just technicalities?” she asked, and it was almost as though he could see Frank waiting with her for the answer. He was sure Frank had already told her everything Peter had said the day before. And as always, he knew he had to be careful what he told her. It would all go straight back to her father.
“Just some minor things. You know how meticulous Suchard is,” Peter said nonchalantly.
“He's a nitpicker, if you ask me. He'll find a problem even if you never had one. Daddy says it went great in Geneva.” She sounded proud of him, but a little cool. Over the years, their relationship had taken some odd turns. She was less affectionate than she used to be with him, and less demonstrative unless she was in a playful mood and alone with him. And she seemed not to be particularly warm to him that morning.
“It sure did go great in Geneva.” He smiled, trying to visualize her, but suddenly all he could see was Olivia's face, sitting in his Greenwich kitchen. It was an odd sort of hallucination, and it worried him. Katie was his life, not Olivia Thatcher. He opened his eyes wider and stared at the rain falling beyond his window, trying to concentrate on what he was seeing. “How was dinner with your father last night?” He tried to change the subject. He didn't want to discuss Vicotec with her. They'd have plenty to talk about that weekend.
“Great. We made lots of plans for the Vineyard. Dad's going to try and stay for the whole two months this year.” She sounded pleased, and Peter forced himself not to think about what Olivia had said to him about compromising everything. This had been his life for nearly twenty years, and he still had to live it.
“I know he's staying up there for the whole two months, you're all deserting me in the city.” He smiled at the thought, and then thought about his sons. “How are the boys?” It was obvious from his tone how much he loved them.
“Busy. I never see them. Pat finished school, Paul and Mike got home the day you left, and this place looks like a zoo again. I spend all my time picking up socks and jeans, and trying to match pairs of size thirteen sneakers.” They both knew they had been blessed, they were all good kids. And Peter loved being with them, he always had. Hearing about them from Kate suddenly made him miss them.
'What are you doing today?” he asked, sounding wistful. He had another day of waiting to hear from Suchard, with nothing much to do except sit in his room and work on his computer.
“I have a board meeting in town. I thought I'd have lunch with Dad, and I want to pick up some things for the Vineyard. The boys ate our sheets last year, and we can use some new towels and other odds and ends too.” She sounded busy and distracted, and the fact that she was seeing her father again had not gone unnoticed.
“I thought you had dinner with Frank last night,” Peter said, frowning. His perspective was suddenly just a fraction different.
“I did. But I told him I was going into town today, and he invited me to a quick lunch in his boardroom.” What could she possibly have to say to him? It made Peter wonder as he listened. “What about you?” She turned the tables on him, and he stared at the rain falling on the rooftops of Paris. He loved Paris even in the rain. He loved everything about it.
“I thought I'd do some work in my room today. I have a lot of little stuff I brought over on my computer.”
“That doesn't sound like much fun. Why don't you at least have dinner with Suchard?” He wanted a lot more from him than dinner, and he didn't want to distract him from what he was supposed to be doing.
“I think he's pretty busy,” Peter said vaguely.
“Me too. I'd better run or I'll miss my train. Any message for Dad?” Peter shook his head, thinking that if he had one, he'd call himself, or fax him. He didn't send messages to Frank via Katie.
“Just have fun. I'll see you in a few days,” Peter said, and nothing in his voice would have told her he'd just spent the night baring his soul to another woman.
“Don't work too hard,” she said evenly, and then she hung up, and he sat there for a long time, thinking about her. The conversation was unsatisfactory, but typical of her. She was interested in what he did, and deeply involved with anything that had to do with the business. But at other times, she had no time for him at all, and they never talked anymore about their inner thoughts, or shared their feelings. Sometimes he wondered if it frightened her to be close to anyone but her father. Losing her mother as a young child had given her a fear of loss and abandonment, and she was afraid of getting too attached to anyone but Frank. To Katie, her father had proven himself long since, and he had always been there. Peter had been there for her too. But her father was her priority. And he expected a lot of Katie. He was very demanding of her time, her interest, and her attention. But he gave a lot too, and he expected to be acknowledged for the generosity of his gifts with an equal amount of time and affection. But Katie needed more in her life too, she needed her husband and her sons. And yet, Peter suspected that she had never loved anyone as much as she loved Frank, not even him, or their sons, although she would never admit it. And when she thought anyone was threatening Frank, she fought like a lioness to protect him. It was the reaction she should have had for her own family, and not her father. That was the unnatural quality in the relationship that had always bothered Peter. She was attached to her father beyond all reason.