Danielle Steel: The Kiss

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Gordon told her who among her friends he didn't like, who she could see, and who didn't meet with his approval. He expected her to entertain lavishly for the bank, and she learned how to very quickly. She was adept and capable, remarkably organized, and entirely willing to follow his directions. It was only later that she began to feel that he was unfair at times, after he had eliminated a number of people she liked from their social circle. Gordon had told her in no uncertain terms that they weren't worthy of her. Isabelle was far more open to new people and new opportunities, and the varied schemes and choices that life offered. She had been an art student, but took a job as an apprentice art restorer at the Louvre when she married Gordon, despite his protests. It was her only area of independence. She loved the work and the people she met there.

Gordon found it a bohemian pursuit, and insisted that she give up her job the moment she got pregnant with Sophie. And after the baby was born, in spite of the joys of motherhood, Isabelle found that she missed the museum and the challenges and rewards it offered. But Gordon wouldn't hear of her returning to work after the baby was born, and she got pregnant again very quickly, and this time lost the baby. Her recovery was long, and it wasn't as easy afterward to get pregnant again. And when she did, she'd had a difficult pregnancy with Teddy, which resulted in his premature birth, and all the subsequent worries about him.

It was then that she and Gordon began drifting apart. He had been incredibly busy at the bank then. And he was annoyed that, with a sick child under their roof, she was no longer able to entertain as frequently, or pay as close attention as he liked to her domestic and social duties to him. In truth, in those early years of Teddy's life, she had had almost no time for Gordon or Sophie, and she felt at times that they banded together against her, which seemed terribly unfair to her. Her whole life seemed to revolve around her sick child. She could never bring herself to leave him, in spite of the nurses they hired, and unfortunately by then, her father had died, her mother years before. She had no one to support her through Teddy's early years, and she was always at his side. Gordon didn't want to hear about Teddy's problems, or their medical defeats and victories. He detested hearing about it, and as though to punish her, he removed himself almost instantly from any intimacy in their marriage. It had been easy to believe eventually that he no longer loved her. She had no concrete proof of it, he never threatened to leave her, not physically at least. But she had a constantly uneasy feeling that he had set her adrift and swum off.

After Teddy, there were no more babies. Gordon had no desire for them, and Isabelle had no time. She gave everything she had to her son. And Gordon continued to convey to her, with and without words, that she had failed him. It was as though she had committed the ultimate crime, and Teddy's illness were her fault. There was nothing about the boy Gordon was proud of, not the child's artistic abilities, nor his sensitivity, nor his fine mind, nor his sense of humor despite the burdens he bore. And Teddy's similarity to Isabelle only seemed to annoy Gordon more. He seemed to have nothing but contempt for her, and a deep, silent rage that he never expressed in words.

What Isabelle didn't know, until a cousin of Gordon's told her years later, was that Gordon had had a younger brother who suffered from a crippling illness as a child and had died at the age of nine. He had never even mentioned his brother to Isabelle, nor had anyone else. The subject was taboo to him. And although his mother had doted on Gordon when he was younger, the latter part of his childhood was spent watching his mother nurse his brother, until he died. The cousin wasn't entirely sure what the illness had been, or what had exactly happened, but she knew that Gordon's mother had fallen ill after the boy died. She had lingered then, with a long illness, and died a slow, painful death. And what seemed to have stayed with Gordon was a sense of betrayal by both of them, for stealing attention from him, and tenderness and time, and eventually dying and abandoning him.

The cousin said that her mother had been convinced that Gordon's father had died of a broken heart, although several years later, but he had never recovered from the double loss. In effect, Gordon felt he had lost his entire family as a result of one sick child. And then he lost Isabelle's time and attention to Teddy's illness. It had explained things to her when the cousin explained it to Isabelle, but when she had tried to speak of it to Gordon, he had brushed her off, and said it was all nonsense. He claimed he had never been close to his brother and had never had any particular sense of loss. His mother's death was a dim memory by then, and his father had been a very difficult man. But when Isabelle spoke to him of it, despite his protests, she had seen the look of panic in his eyes. They had been the eyes of a wounded child, not just an angry man. She wondered then if it was why he had married so late, and remained so distant from everyone, and it explained, finally, his resistance to Teddy in every possible way. But whatever she had come to understand did not help her with Gordon. The gates to Heaven never opened between them again, and Gordon saw to it that they remained firmly closed, and stayed that way.

She tried to explain it to Bill, but he found it impossible to understand, and inhuman of Gordon to desert her emotionally. Isabelle was one of the most interesting women he'd ever met, and her gentleness and kindness only made her more appealing to him. But whatever he thought of her, Bill had never suggested any hint of romance to her, he didn't even allow himself to think it. Isabelle had conveyed to him clearly right from the first that that was not an option. If they were going to be friends, they had to respect each other's respective marriages. She was extremely proper, and loyal to Gordon, no matter how unkind he'd been to her, or distant in recent years. He was still her husband, and much to Bill's dismay, she respected him, and had a profound regard for her marriage. The idea of divorce or even infidelity was unthinkable to her. All she wanted from Bill was friendship. And no matter how lonely she was with Gordon at times, she accepted that now as an integral part of her marriage. She wasn't searching for anything more than that, and would have resisted it in fact, but she was grateful for the comfort that Bill offered. He gave her advice on many things, had the same perspective on most things as she did, and for a little while at least, while they talked, she could forget all her worries and problems. In her eyes, Bill's friendship was an extraordinary gift that he gave her, and one that she treasured. But it was no more than that.

The idea of the trip to London had come up purely by accident, during one of their early-morning conversations. She'd been talking about an upcoming exhibit at the Tate Gallery, which she was dying to see, but knew she never would, as it wasn't scheduled to come to Paris. And Bill suggested that she fly to London for the day, or even two days, to see it, and enjoy a little time there on her own, without worrying about her husband or her children for a change. It had been a revolutionary idea to her and something she'd never done before. And at first, she insisted that she couldn't possibly go. Leaving Teddy was something she never did.

“Why not?” Bill asked finally, stretching out his long legs, and resting his shoes on his desk. It was midnight for him, and he'd been in the office since eight that morning. But he had stayed just a little later, so he could call her. “It would do you a world of good, and Teddy's been better for the past two months. If there's a problem, you could be home within a couple of hours.”

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