Isabelle had inherited her father’s height and her mother’s fine English skin. Her looks made men turn their heads – even with her pale, long hair drawn severely back.
She sighed loudly. There was a time when she looked at her husband Sebastian as if he was a Christmas present she wanted to unwrap. The smell of damp rain eased its way around the windows and doors, finding its way into the old house. The gun-metal sky was pierced with occasional jagged bolts of lightning and the rain fell in sheets.
Her dark, sombre mood matched the dropping temperature. Her finger traced the rain’s path as it created a tiny river down the windowpane, and clustered before dropping to the ground below.
Fear shimmied down her spine. She caught her breath as she heard Sebastian enter the room. He tipped a frosty bottle of beer to his lips and stood in front of her for a full minute before she lifted her gaze from the ice cubes, doing a slow melt, in the glass in her shaking hand. Isabelle could smell perfume and cigarette smoke on the blue silk shirt she had bought him last Christmas. Her intelligent grey eyes looked at him. "Where have you been? Dinner was ready hours ago."
"You’re lying, aren’t you?"
Isabelle listened in silence, her grey eyes never leaving his face.
"You’re a frigid bitch, Mandy’s got more life in her little finger than you have in your whole body."
Then in a sudden burst of violence, he hurled the beer bottle on to the slate, beside the fireplace. The smashing sound failed to satisfy the savage fury that still lingered, rage, born from a sense of failure, refused to fade.
"Just go,’ she said. ‘I can’t do this anymore."
Pinpricks of dread teased the small hairs at the nape of her neck. She didn’t need to look at him to see him clenching his fist. His punch catapulted her backwards before she could react. She toppled over, striking the side of her skull against the marble tabletop. Everything faded – sound, light, thought.
Isabelle laid face down, her blonde hair splayed across the polished floor. The room was empty. In the fog that filled her head, she tried to decipher what her senses were telling her. Thinking just made her head hurt even more.
Then the memories came flooding back of the first Christmas with Sebastian, and the first beating he gave her. She could see him standing over her with exactly one-dozen, long-stemmed, red roses. One perfect dozen. She’d sniffed the heavenly scent and all the fatigue had faded from her face. He’d drunk too much at the office party and she’d believed him when he apologised. He’d said it would never happen again.
Yet it did happen, whenever he drank a beer he didn’t want, to quench a thirst he didn’t have. Isabelle watched him consume drink after drink. She wished the effects of beer would summon sleep in her husband, yet knowing it would fail. She would again be his punching bag.
Staring blankly out the window, she was lost in her daydream, a wistful expression on her face. Maybe this Christmas would be the time Isabelle would do something to get out of this marriage. She would have the Christmas she deserved. As she stood up she gasped.
The rain had stopped and been replaced by snow, fresh and white everywhere. As though the whole world was buried. Snow weighed down the branches of the bare tree under a blanket of purity. On top of the all- enveloping white coldness was a grey ball of fluff. Forgetting her injured head, she ran outside and scooped up a shivering body. The fur, soft, and spoke gratitude to her comforting as four sets of tears raced down her cheeks.
She had never felt this strong desire to protect, this tiny grey bundle of fur. She knew if she let Sebastian back into her life with another "I’m sorry", he would destroy this tiny animal. He would leave her with no hope for the future, just as he had alienated her from her family and friends. No more, never again.
An invisible thread pulled her out of that cold house, the kitten purring, curling up inside her jacket. She didn’t cry. She was eerily calm. She might have felt absolutely frozen inside but she didn’t cry.
This innocent kitten had wound its way into her heart. The kitten couldn’t take away the hurt of the last five years, but maybe, just maybe, he’d be her salvation.