Authors: Danielle Steel
They talked for hours that night, and he took her home eventually. And then, although he knew he shouldn't have, he called her. It seemed so easy at first, he even told himself they could just be friends, which neither of them believed. But all he knew was that he wanted to be near her. She was bright and fun, and she understood the crazy things he felt, about how he didn't fit anywhere, and what he wanted to do with his life. Eventually, far, far down the road, he wanted to change the world, or at the very least make a difference. She was the only person in his life then who understood that. He had had so many dreams back then, so many good intentions. And now, twenty years later, Vicotec was bringing all those old dreams to fruition.
Peter Haskell hailed a cab at Charles de Gaulle, and the driver put his bag in the trunk, and nodded when Peter told him where he was going. Everything about Peter Haskell suggested that he was a man in command, a man of impressive stature. And yet, if you looked in his eyes, you saw kindness, and strength, integrity, a warm heart, and a sense of humor. There was more to Peter Haskell than just well-tailored suits, the starched white shirt and Hermes tie he wore, and the expensive briefcase.
“Hot, isn't it?” Peter asked on the way into town, and the driver nodded. He could hear from the accent in his French that he was American, but he spoke it adequately, and the driver answered him in French, speaking slowly, so Peter could understand him.
“It's been nice for a week. Did you come from America?” the driver asked with interest. People responded to Peter that way, they were drawn to him, even if they normally wouldn't have been. But the fact that he spoke French to him impressed the driver.
“I came from Geneva,” Peter explained, and they fell silent again, as he smiled to himself, thinking of Katie. He always wished that she would travel with him, but she never did. At first, the children were young, and later she was too caught up in her own world and her myriad obligations. She hadn't taken more than one or two business trips with him over the years. Once to London, and the other time to Switzerland, and never to Paris.
Paris was special to him, it was the culmination of everything he had always dreamed, and never even knew he wanted. He had worked so hard for what he had, over the years, even if some of it seemed to have come easily to him. He knew better than anyone, it hadn't. There were no freebies in life. You worked for what you got, or you wound up with nothing.
He had gone out with Katie for two years, once he'd found her again. She stayed in Chicago after she graduated, and she got a job in an art gallery, just so she could be near Peter. She was crazy about him, but he was adamant that they would never be married. And he kept insisting that eventually they'd have to stop seeing each other and she should go back to New York and start dating other men. But he could never bring himself to break off with her and actually make her do it. They were too attached by then, and even Katie knew he really loved her. And ultimately, her father stepped in. He was a smart man. He said nothing about their relationship to Peter, only about his business. He sensed instinctively that it was the one way to get Peter to let down his guard. Frank Donovan wanted Peter and his daughter back in New York, and he did what he could to help Katie woo him.
Like Peter, Frank Donovan was a marketing man, and a great one. He talked to Peter about his career, his life's plan, his future, and liking what he heard, he offered him a job at Wilson-Donovan. He said nothing about Katie. In fact, he insisted the job had nothing to do with her whatsoever. He reassured Peter that working for Wilson-Donovan would do wonders for his career, and promised him no one would ever think it had anything to do with Katie. Their relationship, according to Frank, was an entirely separate issue. But it was a job worth thinking about, and Peter knew it. In spite of all his fears at the time, a job with a major corporation in New York was exactly what he wanted, and so was Katie.
He agonized over it, debated endlessly, and even his father thought it was a good move when Peter called him to discuss it. Peter went home to Wisconsin to talk to him about it over a long weekend. His father wanted the moon for him, and encouraged him to take Donovan's offer. He saw something in Peter that even Peter himself hadn't yet understood. He had qualities of leadership that few men had, a quiet strength, and an unusual courage. His father knew that whatever Peter did, he would be good at. And he sensed that the job with Wilson-Donovan was only the beginning for him. He used to tease Peter's mother when Peter was only a small boy, and tell her that he would be president one day, or at least governor of Wisconsin. And sometimes, she believed him. It was easy to believe great things about Peter.
His sister Muriel said the same things about him too. To her, her brother Peter had always been a hero, long before Chicago or Vietnam, or even before he went off to college. There was something special about him. Everyone knew it. And she told him the same thing as their father: Go to New York, reach for the brass ring. She even asked him if he thought he'd marry Katie, but he insisted he wouldn't, and she seemed sorry to hear it. She thought Katie sounded glamorous and exciting, and Muriel thought Katie looked beautiful in the pictures Peter carried with him.
Peter's father had invited him to bring her home long since, but Peter always insisted that he didn't want to give her false hopes about their future. She'd probably make herself right at home and learn to milk cows from Muriel, and then what? It was all he had to give her, and there was no way in the world he was going to drag Katie into the hard life he had grown up with. As far as he was concerned, it had killed his mother. She had died of cancer, without proper medical care, or the money to pay for it. His father didn't even have insurance. He always thought his mother had died of poverty and fatigue, and too much hardship in her lifetime. And even with Katie's money to back her up, he loved her too much to condemn her to this existence, or even let her see it too closely. At twenty-two, his sister already looked exhausted. She had married right out of high school while he was in Vietnam, and had three kids in three years with the boy who had been her high school sweetheart. By the time she was twenty-one, she looked beaten and dreary. There was so much more that he wanted for her too, but just looking at her, he knew she'd never have it. She'd never get out. She had never even gone to college. And she was trapped now. Peter knew, just as his sister did, that she and her husband would work at her father's dairy farm for their lifetimes, unless he lost the farm, or they died. There was no other way out. Except for Peter. And Muriel didn't even resent that. She was happy for him. The seas had parted for him, and all he had to do was set off on the path Frank Donovan had offered.
“Do it, Peter,” Muriel whispered to him when he came to the farm to talk to them. “Go to New York. Papa wants you to,” she said generously. “We all do.” It was as though they were all telling him to save himself, to go for it, swim free of the life that would drown him, if he let it. They wanted him to go to New York and try for the big time.
There was a lump in his throat the size of a rock when he drove away from the farm that weekend. His father and Muriel stood watching him go, and they waved until his car disappeared completely. It was as though all three of them knew this was an important moment in his life. More than college. More than Vietnam. In his heart, and his soul, he was cutting his bond to the farm.
When Peter got back to Chicago, he spent the night alone. He didn't call Katie. But he called her father the next morning. And he accepted his offer, as he felt his hands shake while he held the phone.
Peter started at Wilson-Donovan two weeks later, to the day, and once he got to New York, he woke up every morning feeling as though he had won the Kentucky Derby.
Katie had been working at an art gallery in Chicago, as a receptionist, and she quit her job the same day he did, and moved back to New York to live with her father. Frank Donovan was delighted. His plan had worked. His little girl was home. And he had found a brilliant new marketing man in the bargain. For all concerned, the arrangement was a good one.
And for the next several months, Peter concentrated more on business than romance. It annoyed Katie at first, but when she complained to her father about it, he wisely told her to be patient. And eventually, Peter relaxed and became less anxious about whatever unfinished projects he had at the office. But generally, he wanted to do everything perfectly, to justify Frank's faith in him, and show him how grateful he was to be there.
He didn't even go home to Wisconsin anymore, he never had time to. But in time, much to Katie's relief, he began to make more room in his schedule for some diversion. They went to parties, and plays, she introduced him to all her friends. And Peter was surprised to realize how much he liked them, and how at ease he felt in her life.
And little by little, over the next several months, none of the things that had once terrified him about Katie seemed quite so worrisome to Peter. His career was going well, and much to his astonishment, no one was upset by where he was, or how he got there. In fact, everyone seemed to like and accept him. And swept away by a wave of good feelings, he and Katie got engaged within the year, and it didn't come as a surprise to anyone, except maybe Peter. But he had known her long enough, and he had come to feel so comfortable in her world, he felt he belonged there. Frank Donovan said it was meant to be, and Katie smiled. She had never doubted for an instant that Peter was right for her. She had always known it, and been absolutely sure that she wanted to be his wife.
Peter's sister, Muriel, was thrilled for him when he called her with the news, and in the end, Peter's father was the only one who objected to their union, much to Peter's disappointment. As much as his father had thought the job at Wilson-Donovan was a great opportunity, he was equally opposed to the marriage. And he was absolutely convinced that eventually, Peter would regret it for the rest of his life.
“You'll always be the hired hand, if you marry her, son. It's not right, it's not fair, but that's the way it is. Every time they look at you, they'll remember who you were back at the beginning, not who you are now.” But Peter didn't believe that. He had grown into her world. It was his now. And his own world had begun to seem part of another life. It just didn't seem part of him anymore, it was completely foreign. It was as though he'd grown up in Wisconsin accidentally, or as though it had been someone else and he'd never really been there at all. Even Vietnam seemed more real to him now than his early days on the farm in Wisconsin. It seemed hard to believe sometimes that he'd actually spent more than twenty years there. In little more than a year, Peter had become a businessman, a man of the world, and a New Yorker. His family was still dear to him, and always would be. But the thought of life as a dairy farmer still gave him nightmares. But try as he could to convince his father that he was doing the right thing, he just couldn't do it. The senior Haskell was immovable in his objections, although finally he agreed to come to the wedding, but probably only because he was worn down by listening to Peter argue, and trying to convince his father that what he was doing was right.
In the end, Peter was devastated when his father didn't come to the wedding. He had had an accident on the tractor the week before, and was laid up with a bad back and a broken arm, and Muriel was about to give birth to her fourth child. She couldn't come, and her husband Jack didn't want to leave her to fly to New York. Peter felt bereft at first, and then, like everything else in his new life, eventually he got caught up in the swirl of activity around him.
They went to Europe for their honeymoon, and for months after that, they never seemed to have time to go to Wisconsin. Katie always had plans for him, or Frank did. And despite all their promises and good intentions, somehow Peter and Katie never made it to Wisconsin, to visit his family on the farm. But Peter had promised his father they'd go for Christmas, and nothing was going to stop him this time. He didn't even tell Kate about the plan. He was going to surprise her. He was beginning to suspect it was the only way to get there.
But when his father had a heart attack and died just before Thanksgiving, Peter was overwhelmed by his own emotions. He felt guilt and grief and regret for all the things he had never done, and always meant to. As it turned out, Kate had never even met him.
Peter took her to the funeral. It was a grim affair, in the pouring rain, as she and Peter stood to one side, looking wooden. Peter was clearly devastated, and Muriel was a good distance from him, sobbing as she stood beside her husband and babies. It seemed an odd contrast of farm folk and city slickers. And Peter began to realize how separate he had become from them, how far he had traveled since he left, how little they had in common now. Katie had been uncomfortable with them, and she made a point of it to Peter. And Muriel was surprisingly cool to her, which was unlike her. When Peter said something about it to Muriel, she muttered awkwardly about the fact that Katie didn't belong there. Although she was Peter's wife, she hadn't even known their father. She was expensively dressed in a black coat and a fur hat, and she seemed irritated to be there, and Muriel said so, much to Peter's chagrin. She made a pointed comment to Peter and they had argued about it, and then they'd both cried. But the reading of the will only brought up more stress between them. Their father had left the farm to Muriel and Jack, and Kate had been visibly outraged the moment she heard what the lawyer said.
“How could he do that to you?” she had raged in the privacy of his old bedroom. It had a linoleum brick floor and the old tan paint on the walls was cracked and peeling. It was a far cry from the house Frank had bought them in Greenwich. “He disinherited you!” Kate fumed, and Peter tried to explain it. He understood it far better than his wife.
“It's all they have, Kate. This miserable godforsaken place. This is their whole life here. I have a career, a good job, a life with you. I don't need this. I didn't even want it, and Dad knew that.” Peter didn't consider it a slight or an injustice. He wanted Muriel to have it. The farm meant everything to them.