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Prodigal Son(4)
Danielle Steel

He went to medical school like their father, which was a powerful bond between them. And after a brief career as an anesthesiologist in Boston, he had ultimately stepped into their father’s shoes. “Dr. Pat,” their father, was a lovable country doctor, adored by all. And giving up his dream of anesthesiology in a big city, Michael had returned to the fold, to work with his father and eventually take over his practice, and he became as beloved as his father had been, in their general practice, tending to everyone’s needs in a small Massachusetts town. In the end, it turned out to be a role that suited Michael well too. Patients thought he was even more lovable than his father; he had a wonderful way with children and old people, showed immeasurable patience and compassion to all his patients, and was a giver in every way.

By the time Michael joined their father in his practice, Peter was already a whiz on Wall Street, and rarely went home. He had given up trying to sway his parents’ opinion of him, and his relationship with his twin brother was a lost cause. Michael had caused him too much grief, they had shared too many bad times, and Peter blamed him in great part for his parents’ poor opinion of him. Michael had put too much energy into it for too long. The chasm between Peter and his family was too wide by then, and he put his energy into other things, like making money and becoming a legend on Wall Street, not for them, but for himself. He told himself that what they thought of him no longer mattered to him, and he no longer cared. Appearing indifferent to them and seeing them as seldom as possible put balm on years of hurt. It irritated him even further that when he did go home to see them, it was Michael who pretended to have been the injured party of their youth, when the truth was the reverse. Peter had been blamed for everything, even when it was undeserved. Michael had seen to that.

One of the worst incidents Peter remembered of his childhood happened when they were twelve. The boys had shared a beloved dog, a shaggy mongrel that was part husky and part golden retriever. He was mostly white and looked like a wolf, and he had been Peter’s devoted companion much of the time. He had taken him camping to a river with friends of the family the summer they were twelve. Scout, as he was called, had followed Peter into the river, and been swept away by the currents, while swimming only a few feet from them. Michael had been nearest the dog in a small inflatable boat, and Peter had screamed to him to grab Scout’s collar and stop him, and Michael let the dog sweep past and never held out a hand. Scout was killed going over a waterfall, despite Peter’s frantic efforts to reach him in time, to no avail. Peter had been heartbroken over it, and when they went home, Michael told their parents that it was Peter’s fault the dog had drowned. Peter had been too devastated to counter what he said or try to explain it. They never listened to him anyway, only to Michael, even then. Peter had never forgiven him, and for their parents, it was just one more on Peter’s list of sins at the time. The family had mourned the dog for months, and Peter had never wanted another dog after that. Whatever Michael said to their parents, both boys knew the truth. Their parents were all too willing to believe Michael a saint, and Peter the devil in their midst. Michael had appeared to be heartbroken over the lost dog, but it was Peter’s heart that had ached for months, over that and so many other things.

The experiences of Peter’s childhood had made him determined to make it on his own, with no help from anyone. And he had succeeded remarkably, until his whole world had just come tumbling down. Until then, Peter had been a star in his field for two decades. He had made more money than he’d ever dreamed of. His mother had followed his achievements in the business press. She was happy for him, although sometimes even she found it hard to believe. And given what they read of his immense good fortune, his parents had quietly decided that it made no sense to leave Peter the little they had saved. Michael needed what they had far more than his fabulously successful twin. Michael was a country doctor like his father, with a wife and two children, barely eking out a living. Peter had not yet married by then, and had more money than he could possibly need. As a token gesture, they left Peter their small summer cottage on a nearby lake.

His father explained in a long letter written shortly before he died that it would have been coals to Newcastle to leave Peter any money, and they didn’t have a lot anyway. And Michael needed it far more than his twin. In response to that, they were leaving Michael their house in Ware, Pat’s medical practice, and whatever they had managed to save. They were pleased and proud, the letter said, that Peter needed nothing from them. They hoped he’d be happy with the cottage on the lake as a token of their love.

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