Authors: Danielle Steel
“He was different then. But things changed very quickly. A lot of bad things happened to us. Everything seemed right in the beginning. We loved each other, we cared, he swore to me he would never go into politics. I saw what my father's career did to us, to my mother particularly, and Andy was just going to be a lawyer. We were going to have children, horses, and dogs, and live on a farm in Virginia. And we did, for about six months, and then it was all over. His brother was the politician in the family, not Andy. Tom would have been president eventually, and I would have been happy never to see the White House except when they lit the tree at Christmas. But Tom was killed six months after we were married, and the campaign types came after Andy. I don't know what happened to him, if he felt obligated after his brother was killed, obliged to step into his shoes and do 'something important for his country,' I've heard that line until it choked me. And eventually, I think he fell in love with it. It's heady stuff, this thing called political ambition. I've come to understand that it demands more from you than any child, and seems to offer more excitement and passion than any woman. It devours everyone who gets near it. You can't love politics and survive. You just can't. I know that. Eventually, it eats everything you have inside, all the love and goodness and the decency, it eats whoever you once were, and leaves a politician in its place. It's not much of an exchange. Anyway, that's what happened. Andy went into politics, and then to make it up to me, and because he said we would, we had a baby. But he didn't really want it. Alex was born during one of his campaign trips, and Andy wasn't even there then. Or when he died.” Her face kind of froze over as she said it. “Things like that change everything …Tom …Alex …politics. Most people don't survive that. We didn't. I don't know why I thought we should have. It really was too much to ask, and I think when Tom died, he took most of Andy with him. The same thing happened to me with Alex. Life deals out hard hands sometimes. Sometimes you just can't win, no matter how hard you try, or how much money you have on the table. I put a lot on this game, I've been at it for a long time. We've been married for six years, and none of it has been easy.”
“Why do you stay?” It was an amazing conversation to have with a stranger, and they were both surprised at the boldness of his questions and the candor of her answers.
“How do you go? What do you say? Sorry your brother died and your life got all screwed up …sorry our only baby …” She started to say the words but couldn't, and he took her hand and held it, and she didn't pull it away. The night before they had been strangers in a swimming pool, and suddenly, at a cafe in Montmartre, a day later, they were almost friends.
“Could you have another child?” Peter asked cautiously, you never knew what had happened to people, what they could and couldn't do, but he wanted to ask her, and hear her answer.
But she shook her head sadly. “I could, but I wouldn't. Not now. Not again. I don't ever want to care that much again for another human being. But I also don't want another child in this world I live in now. Not with him. Not in politics. It almost ruined my life and my brother's when we were young …and more importantly than that, it ruined my mother's. She's been a good sport for nearly forty years, and she has hated every moment of it. She's never said that, and she'd never admit it to anyone, but politics has ruined her life. She lives in constant terror of how people will interpret every move she makes, she's afraid to do or be or think or say anything. That's how Andy would like me to be, and I can't do that.” And then as she said the words to him, she looked genuinely panicked, and he knew instantly what she was thinking.
“I won't hurt you, Olivia. I will never, ever repeat any of this. To anyone. It's between us, and Agatha Christie.” He smiled and she looked at him cautiously, deciding whether or not to believe him. But the odd thing was she trusted him. Just looking at him, she could sense that he wouldn't betray her. “Tonight never happened,” he said carefully. “We'll go back to the hotel separately, and no one will ever know where we've been, or that we were together. I've never met you.”
“That's comforting,” she said, looking truly relieved and very grateful, and she believed him.
“You used to write, didn't you?” he asked, remembering something he had read about her years before, and wondering if she still did write.
“I did. So did my mother. She was actually very talented, she wrote a novel about Washington that set it on its ear, early in my father's career. It was published, but he never let her publish anything again, and she really should have. I'm not as talented, and I've never published, but I've wanted to write a book for a long time, about people and compromises, and what happens when you compromise too much or too often.”
“Why don't you write it?” He was sincere, but she only laughed and shook her head.
“What do you think would happen if I did? The press would go wild. Andy would say I had jeopardized his career. The book would never see the light of day. It would be burned in a warehouse somewhere, by his henchmen.” She was the proverbial bird in the gilded cage, unable to do anything she wanted, for fear it might hurt her husband. And yet she had walked away from him, and had disappeared to sit in a cafe in Montmartre and empty her heart to a stranger. It was an odd life she led, and he could tell how close she was to breaking out of it as he watched her. Her hatred of politics and the pain it had brought to her was obvious and abundant. “And what about you?” She turned her deep brown eyes to Peter then, wondering about him. All she really knew was that he was married, had three sons, was in business, and lived in Greenwich. But she also knew he was a good listener, and when he held her hand, and looked at her, she felt something stir deep inside her, it was a part of her she thought had died, and suddenly she could feel it breathing. “Why are you here in Paris, Peter?”
He hesitated for a long time, still holding her hand and looking into her eyes. He hadn't told anyone, but she had trusted him, and he needed to tell her now. He knew he had to tell someone.
“I'm here for the pharmaceutical company I run. We've been working on a very complicated product for four years, which isn't actually such a long time in this field, but it has seemed like a long time to us, and We've spent an enormous amount of money. It's a product that could revolutionize chemotherapy, and it's very important to me. It seemed like my one contribution to the world, something important that makes up for all the frivolous, selfish things I've done. It means everything to me, and it has passed all our tests with flying colors, in every country we work in. The last tests are being conducted here, and I came to wrap things up. We're asking for permission to do early human trials, from the FDA, based on our testing. Our laboratories here are going through the final steps, and until this point, the product has been flawless. But the tests here show something very different. They are not completed yet, but when I arrived here yesterday, the head of our laboratories told me that there could be serious problems with the drug. To put it bluntly, instead of a godsend to help save the human race, it could be a killer. I won't know the whole story till the end of the week, but it could be the end of a dream, or the beginning of long years of testing. And if that's the case, I have to go home, and tell the chairman of my company, who is coincidentally my father-in-law, that our product is either on the shelf or out the window. It's not going to be a popular announcement.”
She seemed impressed as she looked at him and nodded. “I should think not. Have you told him what they said yesterday?” She was sure he had, and it was almost a rhetorical question, but she was stunned when he shook his head and looked faintly guilty.
“I don't want to say anything till I have all the information,” he said, dodging the issue. Her eyes looked deep into his as she watched him.
“This must be quite a week for you, waiting to hear,” she said sympathetically, and only beginning to glimpse from the look in his eyes how important it was to him. “What did your wife say?” She said it, assuming that other people enjoyed a relationship she didn't. She had no way of knowing his particular problem of not being able to say anything to Katie without her telling her father.
But he stunned her again, this time even more so. “I didn't tell her,” he said softly, and Olivia looked at him in amazement.
“You didn't? Why not?” She could not imagine the reason.
“It's a long story.” He smiled sheepishly at Olivia and she wondered. There was something in his eyes that whispered to her of loneliness and disappointment. But it was so subtle, she wondered if he was even aware of it himself. “She's extremely close to her father,” he said slowly, thinking about what he was saying. “Her mother died when she was a child, and she grew up alone with him. There's absolutely nothing she doesn't tell him.” He looked up at Olivia again, and he could see that she understood him.
“Even things that you tell her in confidence?” Olivia looked outraged at the indiscretion.
“Even those,” he smiled. “Kate has no secrets from her father.” It tugged at his heart as he said it. He wasn't sure why, but it bothered him more than it had in years as he explained it.
“That must be uncomfortable for you,” Olivia said, searching his eyes, trying to see if he was unhappy, or even knew it. He seemed to be suggesting that Kate's loyalty to her father, even to that degree, was not only acceptable to him, but normal. And yet his eyes said something else. She wondered if that was what he had meant when he said everyone's shoes pinched sometimes. To Olivia, to whom privacy and discretion and loyalty meant almost everything, Peter's shoes would have given her bunions.
“It's just the way things are,” he said simply. “I accepted it a long time ago. I don't think they mean any harm by it. But it means that sometimes I just can't tell her things. They have a tremendous attachment to each other.” Olivia decided, for his sake, to stay off the subject. She had no intention of peeling away protective layering, or of hurting him by pointing out how unsuitable his wife's behavior was. After all, Olivia hardly knew him, and she had no right.
“It must have been lonely for you today, worrying about the outcome of those tests, and having no one to talk to.” She looked at him sympathetically. She had gone straight to the heart of it with the words she used. They exchanged a warm smile of understanding. They both had heavy burdens on their shoulders.
“I tried to keep busy, since I couldn't tell anyone,' he said quietly. “I went to the Bois de Boulogne, and watched the kids play. And then I went for a walk along the Seine, and to the Louvre, and eventually I went back to the hotel, and worked, and then the alarm went off.” He grinned. “And it's been a pretty good day ever since then.” And it was going to be a new day soon. It was almost five o'clock in the morning, and they both knew they had to go back to the hotel before too much longer. They went on talking for another half hour after that, and finally at five-thirty they reluctantly left the cafe, and went to find a taxi. They walked slowly along the streets of Montmartre, in her T-shirt and his shirtsleeves, hand in hand, like two young kids on a first date, and they looked incredibly comfortable with each other.
“It's odd how life is sometimes, isn't it?” she asked, looking up at him happily, thinking of Agatha Christie, and wondering if she had done something like this, or something even more daring, during her disappearance. Once she returned, the famous author had never explained. “You think you're all alone, and then someone comes out of the mists, completely unexpectedly, and you're not alone any longer,” Olivia said quietly. She had never, ever dreamt though that she would meet anyone like him. But he met a deep need for her. She was starving for friendship.
“It's a good thing to remember when things get rough, isn't it? You never know what's right around the corner,” Peter said, smiling at her.
“In my case, I fear what's right around the corner might be a presidential election. Or worse yet, another madman's bullet.” It was a hideous thought which brought back the ugly memories of her brother-in-law's assassination. It was clear she had loved Andy Thatcher deeply once upon a time, and it still saddened her that life had been so hard on them and thrown them so many terrible curveballs. In some ways, Peter felt sorry for both of them, but for the most part, it was Olivia he felt for. He had never seen anyone ignore another human being the way Andy Thatcher had ignored his wife, each time Peter saw them. There was a total indifference to her, as though she didn't exist at all, or he didn't even see her. And his lack of interest in her clearly extended to his advisors. Maybe she was right, maybe to them, she was simply a decoration. “What about you?” she asked Peter with renewed concern about him. “Will it be very bad for you if your product turns out to be a disaster when the tests come in? What will they do to you in New York?”
“Hang me up by my feet and flay me,” he said with a rueful grin, and then he grew serious again. “It won't be easy. My father-in-law was going to retire this year, I think partly as a vote of confidence in me, but I don't think he'll do that if we lose this product. I think it will be very rough, but I'll just have to stand by it.” But it wasn't just that for him. Putting Vicotec on the market was a way of saving people who had died like his mother and sister years before. And that meant the world to Peter. More even than profit or Frank Donovan's reaction. And now they might lose the whole product. It almost killed him to think that.
“I wish I had your courage,” she said sadly, and the look in her eyes was the one he had seen the first time he met her, the look of sorrow that knew no limit.
“You can't run away from things, Olivia.” But she knew that already. Her two-year-old son had died in her arms. What more courage was there in life than that? He didn't need to lecture her about courage.
“What if your survival depends on running away?” she asked with a serious look at him, and he put an arm around her shoulders.
“You have to be very sure before you do that,” he said, looking at her seriously, wishing he could help her. She was a woman who needed a friend desperately, and he would have loved to be that person, for more than just a few hours. But he also knew that once he left her at the hotel, he'd never be able to call her and talk to her, let alone see her.