In Bittersweet, Danielle Steel has written a novel for our times, a story of choices and new beginnings.
India Taylor lived in a world of manicured lawns and neatly maintained calendars: a merry-go-round of Little League, piano lessons, and Cape Cod summer vacations. With four wonderful children, India believed in commitment and sacrifice, just as she believed in Doug, the man she married 17 years before. For India, this was the promise she made, the life she had chosen--not the award-winning career as a photojournalist she once had. It was a choice she had never truly regretted. Until she begins to regret it with all her heart.
India couldn't pinpoint the exact moment. Perhaps it was the last time her agent called, begging her to take an assignment Doug insisted she turn down. Or perhaps it was when Doug told her he thought of her as a companion and someone to take care of their kids, and not much more. At that moment, the price of the sacrifices she'd made began to seem high.
And then, she met Paul Ward. A Wall Street tycoon married to a bestselling author, Paul lived life on his own terms, traveling the world on his own yacht. India hadn't planned to become Paul's friend. Anything more was unthinkable. Yet talking to Paul was so easy. India could share her dreams with him, and offer comfort when Paul suffers a heartbreak of his own. And while Paul urges India to reclaim her career, Doug is adamantly against it, determined to keep her tied to the home. But with Paul's encouragement, India slowly, painfully, begins to break free, and find herself again.
Rediscovering her creativity and her courage, India uses Paul like a beacon on the horizon, sharing intimate phone conversations with a man half a world away, a man who never stops reminding her of all that is possible for her. India is changing, and nothing in her life will ever be the same again. Not her marriage. Not her friendship with Paul. And when India is presented with an irresistible opportunity, she makes a heart-wrenching decision, leaving a safe, familiar place-and the people she loves there-to move into the terror of the unknown.
Bittersweet is her story, a story of freedom, of having dreams and making choices to find them. With unerring insight, Danielle Steel has created a moving portrait of a woman who dares to embark on a new adventure and the man who helps her get there. Her painful, exhilarating journey inspires us all.
Many a stay-at-home mom's worst nightmare is realized in Steel's latest novel when India Taylor's husband, Doug, threatens to end their 17-year marriage if she dares to pursue her long-abandoned photojournalism career. Doug repetitively intones that marriage is by necessity an unromantic contract in which the wife's sole purpose is to care for the home, kids and husband, and if she reneges on her end of the deal with a pipe dream of independence, that is the ultimate "deal breaker." But in tried-and-true Steel (Mirror Image, etc.) fashion, India has a handsome Wall Street billionaire, Paul Ward, in the wings. His glamorous wifeAan internationally bestselling authorAdies in a plane crash several months after he and India have struck up a close friendship. But then Paul turns guilty and skittish about the budding romance, leaving India alone to face the harsh realities of being a single mom of four. Predictably, India's desolation is brief, punctuated by travel, adventure, a thrilling new career and a near-tragedy to put everything into perspective. As usual, Steel takes a theme of interest or concern to manyAin this case, a woman striking out on her ownAand turns it into a compulsively readable tale. With its swiftly moving story line and tidy love-conquers-all ending, Steel's latest should gratify her millions of fans. Major ad/promo.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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February 28, 2000
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Excerpt from Bittersweet by Danielle Steel
India Taylor had her camera poised as an unruly army of nine-year-old boys ran across the playing field after the soccer ball they had been heatedly pursuing. Four of them collapsed in a heap, a tangle of arms and legs, and she knew that somewhere in the midst of them was her son, Sam, but she couldn't see him as she shot a never-ending stream of pictures. She had promised to take photographs of the team, as she always did, and she loved being there, watching them on a warm May afternoon in Westport.
She went everywhere with her kids, soccer, baseball, swimming team, ballet, tennis. She did it not only because it was expected of her, but because she liked it. Her life was a constant continuum of car pools, and extracurricular activities, peppered with trips to the vet, the orthodontist, the pediatrician when they were sick or needed checkups. With four children between the ages of nine and fourteen, she felt as though she lived in her car, and spent the winters shoveling snow to get it out of the garage and down the driveway.
India Taylor loved her children, her life, her husband. Life had treated them well, and although this wasn't what she had expected of her life in the early years, she found that it suited her better than expected. The dreams that she and Doug had once had were no longer relevant to life as they now knew it, who they had become, or the place they had drifted to since they met twenty years before in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.
The life they shared now was what Doug had wanted, the vision he had had for them, the place he wanted to get to. A big, comfortable house in Connecticut, security for both of them, a houseful of kids, and a Labrador retriever, and it suited him to perfection. He left for work in New York at the same time every day, on the 7:05 train out of the Westport station. He saw the same faces, spoke to all the same people, handled the same accounts in his office. He worked for one of the biggest marketing firms in the country, and he made very decent money. Money wasn't something she had worried about much in the early days, not at all in fact. She had been just as happy digging irrigation ditches and living in tents in Nicaragua, Peru, and Costa Rica.
She had loved those days, the excitement, the challenges, the feeling that she was doing something for the human race. And the occasional dangers they encountered seemed to fuel her.
She had started taking photographs long before that, in her teens, taught by her father, who was a correspondent for The New York Times. He spent most of her childhood years away, on dangerous assignments in war zones. And she loved not only his photographs, but listening to his stories. As a child, she dreamed of a life like his one day. And her dreams came true when she herself began freelancing for papers at home while she was in the Peace Corps.
Her assignments took her into the hills, and brought her face-to-face with everything from bandits to guerrillas. She never thought of the risks she took. Danger meant nothing to her, in fact she loved it. She loved the people, the sights, the smells, the sheer joy of what she was doing, and the sense of freedom she had while she did it. Even after they finished their stint with the Peace Corps, and Doug went back to the States, she stayed in Central and South America for several months, and then went on to do stories in Africa and Asia. And she managed to hit all the hot spots. Whenever there was trouble somewhere, for a while at least, India was in it, taking pictures. It was in her soul, and in her blood, in a way that it had never been in Doug's. For him, it had been something exciting to do for a time before he settled down to "real life." For India, it was real life, and what she really wanted.
She had lived with an insurgent army in Guatemala for two months, and had come up with fantastic photographs, reminiscent of her father's. They had won her not only praise internationally, but several prizes, for her coverage, her insight, and her courage.
When she looked back on those days later on, she realized she had been someone different then, a person she thought of sometimes now, and wondered what had happened to her. Where had that woman gone, that wild free spirit filled with passion? India still acknowledged her, yet she also realized she no longer knew her. Her life was so different now, she was no longer that person. She wondered sometimes, in her dark room, late at night, how she could be satisfied with a life so far removed from the one she had once been so in love with. And yet, she knew with perfect clarity, that she loved the life she shared with Doug and the children in Westport. What she did now was important to her, as much as her earlier life had been. She had no sense of sacrifice, of having given up something she loved, but rather of having traded it for something very different. And the benefits had always seemed worth it to her. What she did for them mattered a great deal to Doug and the children, she told herself. Of that, she was certain.
But there was no denying, when she looked at her old photographs, that she had had a passion for what she did then. Some of the memories were still so vivid. She still remembered the sheer excitement of it, the sick feeling of knowing she was in danger, and the thrill of capturing the perfect moment, that explosive split second in time when everything came together in one instant in what she saw through her camera. There had never been anything like it. If nothing else, she was glad she'd done it, and gotten it out of her system. And she knew without a doubt that what she had felt was something she had inherited from her father. He had died in Da Nang when she was fifteen, after winning a Pulitzer the year before. It had been all too easy for India to follow in his footsteps. It was a course she couldn't have altered at the time, or wanted to. She needed to do it. The changes she had made came later.
She returned to New York a year and a half after Doug had gone home, when he had finally issued an ultimatum. He had told her that if she wanted a future with him, she had better "get her ass back to New York" and stop risking her life in Pakistan and Kenya. And for only a brief moment, it had been a tough decision. She knew that a life much like her father's was out there for her, maybe even a Pulitzer like his one day, but she knew the dangers too. It had ultimately cost him his life, and to some extent his marriage. He had never really had a life he cared about beyond the moments when he risked everything for the perfect shot, with bombs exploding all around him. And Doug was reminding her that if she wanted him, and any kind of normalcy, she was going to have to make a choice sooner or later, and give up what she was doing.
At twenty-six, she married Doug, and worked for The New York Times for two years, taking photographs for them locally, but Doug was anxious to have children. And when Jessica was born shortly before India turned twenty-nine, she gave up her job at The Times, moved to Connecticut, and closed the door on her old life forever. It was the deal she had agreed to. Doug had made it very clear to her when they got married that once they had children, she had to give up her career. And she had agreed to do it. She thought that by then she'd be ready. But she had to admit, when she left the Times and turned her attention to full-time motherhood, it was harder than she expected. At first, she really missed working. In the end, she only looked back once or twice with regret, but eventually she didn't even have time for that. With four children in five years, she could barely keep her head above water or take time out to reload her camera. Driving, diapers, teething, nursing, fevers, play groups, and one pregnancy after another. The two people she saw most were her obstetrician and her pediatrician, and of course the other women she saw daily, whose lives were identical to hers, and revolved only around their children. Some of them had given up careers as well, or were willing to put their adult lives on hold until their children were a little older, just as she had. They were doctors, lawyers, writers, nurses, artists, architects, all of whom had given up their careers to tend to their children. Some of them complained a lot of the time, but although she missed her work, India didn't really mind what she was doing. She loved being with her children, even when she ended the days exhausted, with another baby on the way, and Doug came home too late at night to help her. It was the life she had chosen, a decision she had made, a deal she had lived up to. And she wouldn't have wanted to leave her children every day to continue working. She still did the occasional rare story close to home, if she had time for
it, once every few years, but she really didn't have time to do it more often, as she had long since explained to her agent.
What she hadn't known, or fully understood before Jessica was born, was just how far from her old life it would take her. Compared to the life she had once led, taking photographs of guerrillas in Nicaragua, and dying children in Bangladesh, or floods in Tanzania, she had had no idea just how different this would be, or how different she would become once she did it.
She knew she had to close the door on those early chapters of her life, and she had, no matter how many prizes she had won, or how exciting it had been, or how good she was at it. In her mind, and Doug's especially, giving it up was the price she had had to pay for having children. There was just no other way to do it. Some of the women she knew could juggle work at home, a couple of her friends were still lawyers and went into the city two or three days a week, just to keep their hand in. Others were artists and worked at home, some of the writers struggled with stories between the midnight and four A.M. feedings, but eventually gave it up, because they were too exhausted to do it. But for India, it was impossible. There was no way to continue her career, as she had once known it. She kept in touch with her agent and had done local stories from time to time, but covering garden shows in Greenwich had no meaning for her. And Doug didn't even like her doing that much. Instead, she used her camera as a kind of mothering tool, constantly making visual records of her children's early years, or taking photographs of her friends' children, or for the school, or just playing with it as she did now, watching Sam and his friends play soccer. There was no other way to do this. She was bound and chained, set in cement, rooted to her life in a thousand ways, visible and otherwise. And this was what she and Doug had agreed to. And what they had said they wanted. And she had lived up to her end of the bargain, but her camera was always in her hand, at her eye, or slung over her shoulder. She could never imagine a life without it.
Once in a while, she mused about working again once the kids grew up, maybe in another five years when Sam was in high school. But that was inconceivable to her just now. He was only nine, Aimee was eleven, Jason was twelve, and Jessica fourteen. Her life was a constant merry-go-round of activities between them, after-school sports and barbecues and Little League and piano lessons. The only way to do it all was if you never stopped, never thought of yourself, and never sat down for five minutes. The only respite she had from it was when they went to Cape Cod in the summer. Doug spent three weeks there with them every year, and the rest of the time he commuted on weekends. They all loved their Cape Cod vacations. She took terrific photographs at the Cape every year, and got a little time for herself. She had a darkroom in the house, just as she did in Westport. And at the Cape she could spend hours in it while the kids visited with friends, or hung out on the beach, or played volleyball or tennis. She was less of a chauffeur at the Cape, the kids could ride their bikes everywhere and it gave her more free time, especially in the last two years, since Sam was a little older. He was growing up. The only thing she wondered from time to time was how grown up she was. Sometimes she felt guilty about the books she never had time to read, the politics she had lost interest in. It felt sometimes as though the world beyond was moving on without her. She had no sense anymore of growth or evolution, it was more a question of treading water, cooking dinner, driving kids and getting from one school year to another. But there was nothing about her life that made her feel that she had grown in recent years.
India's life had been virtually the same for the last fourteen years, since Jessica was born. It was a life of service, sacrifice, and commitment. But the end result was tangible, she could see it. She had healthy, happy children. They lived in a safe, familiar little world that revolved entirely around them. Nothing unsavory or unsafe or unpleasant ever intruded on them, and the worst thing that ever happened to them was an argument with a neighbor's child, or a trauma over lost homework. They had no concept of the loneliness she had felt as a child, with one constantly absent parent. They were unfailingly ministered to and cared for. And their father came home every night for dinner. That was especially important to India, as she knew only too well what it was like not to have that.
India's children lived in a different universe from the children she had photographed two decades before, starving in Africa, or jeopardized in unimaginable ways in underdeveloped countries, where their very survival was in question daily, fleeing from their enemies, or lost to natural aggressors like illness, floods, and famine. Her children would never know a life like theirs, and she was grateful for it.
India watched her younger son pull himself from the pile of little boys who had cascaded on top of him as he scored a goal, and wave at his mother.
India smiled, the camera clicked again, and she walked slowly back to the bench where some of the other mothers were sitting, chatting with each other. None of them were watching the game, they were too busy talking. This was so routine to them that they rarely watched, and seldom saw what their children were doing. The women were just there, like the bench they were sitting on, part of the scenery or the equipment.
One of them, Gail Jones, looked up as India approached, and smiled when she saw her. They were old friends, and as India pulled a fresh roll of film out of her pocket, Gail made room for India to sit down. There were finally leaves on the trees again, and everyone was in good spirits. Gail was smiling up at her, as she held a cardboard cup with cappuccino in it. It was a ritual of hers, particularly in the freezing cold winters when they watched their kids play ball, with snow on the ground, and they had to stamp their feet and walk around to stay warm as they watched them.
"Only three more weeks and then school's over for this year at least," Gail said with a look of relief as she took a sip of the steaming cappuccino. "God, I hate these games, I wish to hell I'd had girls, one at least. Life defined by jockstraps and cleats is going to drive me nuts one of these days," she said with a rueful smile as India smiled at Gail in answer, clicked the film into place, and closed her camera. Listening to Gail complain was familiar to her. Gail had been complaining for the last nine years about giving up her career as a lawyer.
"You'd get sick of ballet too, believe me. Same idea, different uniform, more pressure," India said knowingly. Jessica had finally given up ballet that spring, after eight years, and India wasn't sure if she was relieved or sorry. She would miss the recitals, but not driving her there three times a week. Jessica was now playing tennis with the same determination, but at least she could ride her bike there on her own, and India didn't have to drive her.
"At least ballet shoes would be pretty," Gail said, standing up to join India as they began to walk slowly around the field. India wanted to take some more shots from a different angle, to give to the team, and Gail walked along beside her. They had been friends ever since the Taylors moved to Westport. Gail's oldest son was the same age as Jessica, and she had twin boys Sam's age. She had taken a five-year break between them, to go back to work. She had been a litigator, but had quit finally after she had the twins, and she felt she'd been gone too long now to ever consider going back to her old law firm. As far as she was concerned, her career was over, but she was older than India by five years and, at forty-eight, claimed she no longer wanted to be trapped in the courtroom. She said all she really missed was intelligent conversation. But despite her complaints, she occasionally admitted that it was easier just being here, and letting her husband fight his daily wars on Wall Street. Like India, her life was defined by soccer games and car pools. But unlike India, she was far more willing to admit that her life bored her. And there was a constant sense of restlessness about her.
"So what are you up to?" Gail asked amiably, finishing the cappuccino. "How's life in mommy heaven?"
"The usual. Busy." India took a series of photographs as she listened distractedly to her. She got another great shot of Sam, and even more when the other team scored a goal against them. "We're leaving for the Cape in a few weeks, when school lets out. Doug can't come up for his vacation this year till August." He usually tried to take it before that.
"We're going to Europe in July," Gail said without enthusiasm, and for an instant India envied her. She'd been trying to talk Doug into it for years, but he said he wanted to wait until the children were older. If he waited much longer, India always reminded him, they'd be gone and in college, and going without them. But so far she hadn't convinced him. Unlike India, he had no real interest in traveling far from home. His adventuring days were over.
"Sounds like fun," India said, turning to look at her. The two women were an interesting contrast. Gail was small and intense with short dark hair, and eyes that were two burning pools of fiery dark chocolate. India was long and lean, with classic features, deep blue eyes, and a long blond braid that hung down her back. She claimed she always wore it that way because she never had time to comb it. As they walked side by side, they were two very striking women, and neither of them looked anywhere near forty, let alone a few years past it. "Where in Europe are you going?" India asked with interest.
"Italy and France, and a couple of days in London. Not exactly high adventure, or high-risk travel, but it's easy with the kids. And Jeff loves going to the theater in London. We rented a house in Provence for a couple of weeks in July, and we're going to drive down to Italy, and take the kids to Venice." To India, it sounded like a wonderful trip, and worlds away from her lazy Cape Cod summer. "We'll be there for six weeks," Gail went on. "I'm not sure Jeff and I can stand each other for that long, not to mention the boys. After ten minutes with the twins, Jeff goes crazy." She always talked about him the way people did about irritating roommates, but India was always sure that beyond the grousing, Gail actually loved him. In spite of evidence to the contrary, India believed that.
"I'm sure it'll be fine, you'll have plenty to see," she said, though being trapped in a car with twin nine-year-old boys and a fourteen-year-old for extended periods of time didn't sound like India's idea of heaven either.
"I can't even meet a handsome Italian, with the kids along and Jeff chasing after me, asking me to translate for him." India laughed at the portrait Gail painted, and shook her head. It was one of Gail's quirks, talking about other men, and sometimes more than just talking. She had confided to India frequently that she'd had several affairs in the twenty-two years she and Jeff had been married, but she had surprised India by saying that in an odd way, it had actually improved their marriage. It was a form of "improvement" India had never been drawn to, nor approved of. But she liked Gail enormously, despite her indiscretions.
"Maybe Italy will make Jeff more romantic," India suggested, slinging her ever-present camera over her shoulder, and glancing down at the small, electric woman who had once been a terror in the courtroom. That, India found easy to imagine. Gail Jones took no nonsense from anyone, and certainly not her husband. But she was a loyal friend, and in spite of her complaints, a devoted mother.
"I don't think a transfusion from a Venetian gondolier would make Jeff Jones romantic. And the kids with us twenty-four hours a day sure as hell won't help it. By the way, did you hear that the Lewisons are separated?" India nodded. She never took much interest in the local gossip. She was too busy with her own life, her kids, and her husband. She had a handful of friends she cared about, but the vagaries of other people's lives, and peering into them with curiosity, held no magic for her. "Dan asked me to have lunch with him." At that, India cast a glance at her, and Gail smiled mischievously at her.
"Don't look at me like that. He just wants some free legal advice, and a shoulder to cry on."
"Don't give me that." India was uninvolved in the local scandals, but she was not without a degree of sophistication. And she knew Gail's fondness for flirting with other people's husbands. "Dan has always liked you."
"I like him too. So what? I'm bored. He's lonely and pissed off and unhappy. That equals lunch, not a steamy love affair necessarily. Believe me, it's not sexy listening to a guy complain about how often Rosalie yelled at him about ignoring the kids and watching football on Sundays. He's not in any condition for anything more than that, and he's still hoping he can talk her into a reconciliation. That's a little complicated, even for me." She looked restless as India watched her. According to Gail, or what she said anyway, Jeff hadn't excited her in years, and India knew it. It didn't really surprise her. Jeff was not an exciting person, but it made India think as she listened. She had never actually asked Gail what, in her opinion, was exciting.
"What do you want, Gail? Why bother with someone else, even for lunch? What does it give you?" They both had husbands, full lives, kids who needed them, and enough to do to keep them out of trouble and constantly distracted. But Gail always gave India the impression that she was looking for something intangible and elusive.
"Why not? It adds a little spice to my life, just having lunch with someone from time to time. And if it turns into something else, it's not the end of the world. It puts a spring in my step, I feel alive again. It makes me something more than just a chauffeur and a housewife. Don't you ever miss that?" She turned to India then, her eyes boring into hers, much as they must have done cross-examining a defendant in the courtroom.
"I don't know," India said honestly. "I don't think about it."
"Maybe you should. Maybe one day you'll ask yourself a lot of questions about what you didn't have and didn't do, and should have." Maybe. But to India, at least, cheating on her husband, even over lunch, didn't seem like the perfect answer, far from it. "Be honest. Don't you ever miss the life you had before you were married?" Her eyes told India she wouldn't tolerate anything less than full disclosure.
"I think about the things I used to do, the life we had before. . . . I think about working . . . and Bolivia . . . and Peru . . . and Kenya. I think about the things I did there, and what it meant to me then. Sure I miss that sometimes. It was great, and I loved it. But I don't miss the men that went with it." Particularly since she knew Doug appreciated all that she'd given up for him.
"Then maybe you're lucky. Why don't you go back to work one of these days? With your track record, you could pick it up again whenever you want. It's not like the law, I'm out of the loop now. I'm history. But as long as you have your camera, you could be right back in the fray tomorrow. You're crazy to waste that."
But India knew better. She knew what her father's life had been like, and theirs, waiting for him. It was more complicated than Gail's perception of it. There was a price to pay for all that. A big one.
"It's not that simple. You know that. What am I supposed to do? Just call my agent tonight and say put me on a plane to Bosnia in the morning? Doug and the kids would really love that." Even the thought of it was so impossible that all she could do was laugh at it. She knew, as Gail did, that those days were over for her. And unlike Gail, she had no need to prove her independence, or abandon her family to do it. She loved Doug, and her kids, and knew just as surely that he was still as much in love as she was.
"They might like it better in the end than you getting bored and crabby." It surprised India to hear her say that, and she looked at her friend with a questioning expression.
"Am I? Crabby, I mean?" She felt a little lonely at times, and maybe even nostalgic about the old days now and then, though not often anymore, but she had never become seriously dissatisfied with what she was doing. Unlike Gail, she accepted the point to which life had brought her. She even liked it. And she knew the children wouldn't be small forever. They were already growing up rapidly, and Jessica had started high school in September. She could always think about going back to work later. If Doug let her.
"I think you get bored, just like I do sometimes," Gail said honestly, facing her, their children all but forgotten for the moment. "You're a good sport about it. But you gave up a hell of a lot more than I did. If you'd stayed with it, by now you'd have won a Pulitzer, and you know it."
"I doubt that," India said modestly. "I could have wound up like my father. He was forty-two when he died, shot by a sniper. I'm only a year older, and he was a lot smarter and more talented than I was. You can't stay out in that kind of life forever. The odds are against you, and you know it."
"Some people manage it. And if we live to be ninety-five here, so what? Who will give a damn about it when we die, India, other than our husbands and our children?"
"Maybe that's enough," India said quietly. Gail was asking her questions she almost never allowed herself to think of, although she had to admit that in the past year it had crossed her mind more than once that she hadn't done anything truly intelligent in years, not to mention the challenges she'd given up. She'd tried to talk to Doug about it once or twice, but he always said he still shuddered to think of the things they'd done in the Peace Corps and she'd done after. Doug was a lot happier now. "I'm not as sure as you are that what I would be doing would change the world. Does it really matter who takes the pictures you see of Ethiopia and Bosnia and on some hilltop, God knows where, ten minutes after a rebel gets shot? Does anyone really care? Maybe what I'm doing here is more important." It was what she believed now, but Gail didn't.