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Prodigal Son(3)
Danielle Steel

And all the while, his brother Michael was exemplary in every way. He wasn’t as good looking as Peter, or as dazzling in some ways. He was shorter, stockier, quieter, and didn’t have Peter’s looks. Their mother always said that Peter could have been a star if he would just do his homework and behave himself. Michael was always solid and polite, dedicated to his schoolwork, and got outstanding grades. They never had to worry about Michael. It was Peter who nearly broke their hearts every time he failed again. And Michael was always quietly on the sidelines, pointing out Peter’s inability to do what was expected of him, or control himself. Michael goaded Peter to lose his temper, whenever no one was watching, and on the rare occasions when Michael did something he shouldn’t have, he saw to it that Peter got the blame. It was easy for their parents and teachers to believe that Michael was innocent and Peter the guilty party. By the time they finished high school, Peter’s parents were in despair over him. His childhood tantrums had turned into adolescent rages, based on the intolerable frustration he had lived with for eighteen years. He couldn’t win his parents’ approval, or anyone else’s, so he had given up trying to win it or do anything he should. He and his brother were staunch enemies by then, and Peter saw him as the cause of many of the ills that plagued him, or even most of them. Peter could never measure up to him. And all of them were astonished when Peter got into college. He had one dedicated high school teacher who had written an extraordinary recommendation for him, insisting that beyond his poor grades and checkered school career was a remarkably bright, creative young man who would one day overcome his problems. He called him a “late bloomer,” which was the kindest thing anyone had ever said about him, and assured the college that had accepted him that he would make them proud one day.

And once in college, Peter’s entire life had changed. An English professor had taken a profound interest in him, sensed that his earlier poor grades were not due to laziness, and had sent him for sophisticated testing at the learning center. Like a specter in the mists that no one had previously suspected or seen, the dyslexia that had caused him so much pain emerged and was diagnosed. The English professor who had sent him for testing became his mentor and tutored him personally for all four years. The results had been remarkable, and Peter himself was astounded at what he was able to accomplish.

More than anything, Peter had wanted to impress his parents and win all the approval that had belonged only to his brother for so many years. But by then, all his parents were capable of, when it concerned Peter, was relief. And Michael had been threatened by Peter’s new-found skills and quick to point out that all his success in college did was confirm how lazy Peter had been for all the years before. If he was able to win good grades now in college, why hadn’t he in high school? The crippling effect of the dyslexia on his early life was more than his parents could absorb, and Peter found them no warmer and no happier with him than they had been before. With his wild, aggressive behavior and frequent rages, he had burned too many bridges when he was a boy. Their lack of faith in him made him even more determined to succeed once he graduated from college, and show them once and for all what he was capable of. Suddenly he burned with the desire to show everyone and be a “star,” just as his mother had believed he could be, as a boy. But those days were long gone, along with her faith in him.

His success in business school afterward and meteoric rise on Wall Street came as no surprise to those who had mentored him in college. They had found him to have overwhelming motivation and drive. It only came as a surprise to his brother and parents, who still acted as though they expected him to revert at any moment to the headache he had been as a boy. There was no winning their confidence anymore, and Peter remained convinced that Michael exacerbated their fears about him, and kept the memories alive in their minds of how much trouble he had caused them for so long. “People don’t change,” Michael had often assured them, and although his parents wanted him to do well, their faith in Peter had been too badly shaken, and their relationship with him too strained by the time he moved to New York. Their life with Michael had always been so much easier, ever since he was born. Peter had become identified forever as their problem, and Michael as the perfect son. It was more than Peter could cope with, and too hurtful, and he rarely went home after college, once he realized how little faith they had in him, even then. It was Michael they always believed, and always had, and why wouldn’t they? He had been the perfectly behaved little boy, doing everything they expected of him, not the one coming home from school every day with a detention slip and a bloody nose. Michael supported their beliefs about Peter, reminding them that people don’t change, and they believed him. Michael had the stronger relationship with their parents once they were grown up, and he was so much more like them.

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