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Surprise Delivery(5)
Author: R.R. Banks

If I were him, I'd consider leaving these fools to rot and hang out my own shingle without them. But then, the fraternal brothers’ bond is a strange and mysterious thing – something I don't and will never understand.

“Are you okay?” Preston asks.

I nod and purse my lips. “I'm fine,” I lie. “Thank you.”

No other words need to be exchanged since we both know the score. He's doing what he can for me, but I have to learn to control my temper if I want to hang onto this job. I'd let Tyler push me into reacting. He'd scored a point and I'd given him a little ammunition to use against me.

I know Preston will do what he can for me, but I also knew he won’t go to the mat for me. Not entirely. He would never rise up against the others just to defend me. His protection most definitely had its limits.

He gives me a slight nod, his lips tight, then turns and heads into his office, gently closing the door behind him. I sink down into my seat, my heart still racing, the adrenaline making me shaky. My stomach lurches and a wave of nausea sweeps over me. I manage to hold it down and not puke in my trash can – but just barely.

I don't know what I'm going to do. I need to get out of here, but I don't have many options – no, I don't have any options. I'm barely scraping by as it is and can't afford a step down in pay. But, without an education, it's not like I can demand more.

The feeling of being stuck and the overwhelming sense of dread I get, whenever I step foot inside this office, has never been thicker. All I want to do is cry my eyes out and then punch something really, really hard.

It's only five after eight and I can already tell it's going to be a pint of ice cream kind of night – maybe two.



“I'm so glad you can always find time to fit me into your busy schedule,” she says. “It's nice getting together with you.”

I laugh softly. “I'll always make time for you, Mom.”

“I just know how busy you doctors are,” she replies.

I reach out and take her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Some things are worth carving out the time for.”

We're sitting on the back deck, the sun shining down on us. The day is wonderful – it's warm, but not too warm. It's actually about perfect, truth be told. I make a point of getting together with my mother at least once a week – usually for lunch. She manages to keep herself busy with all the volunteer work she does, and various boards of charitable foundations that she sits on, but I also know that she gets lonely in this big old house by herself. Ever since Dad died, she really hasn't had anybody. And it's not like my brother Henry makes a lot of time for her.

Henry is so caught up in his own little world, expanding his financial empire, and of course, enjoying all the trappings of being a rich, eligible bachelor. It's not like I don't enjoy the finer things in life – I most certainly do – I just don't make the spectacle of myself that Henry tends to. I don't want flashy cars, supermodels on each arm, or outrageous displays of wealth. To me, that seems rather gauche.

It's just one of the million different ways I differ from my brother. We may have grown up in the same house, but it's like we lived with two separate families. While I can't say my folks were necessarily the salt of the earth types, their humble beginnings made them appreciate what they had a whole lot more – and it made them, in my opinion, far less given to ostentatious displays of their wealth.

I take after them more than my brother. I can't even begin to know who Henry takes after. I remember growing up, he always fit in with those spoiled, entitled, trust-fund kids I've always despised. He's got a snotty, elitist attitude I've always found so boorish and he tends to look down on people not of what he considers his station.

“So, are you seeing anybody?” she asks.

I give her a small grin. “Not since you asked me last week,” I tease.

“I just want to see you happy and in love, Duncan,” she smiles. “And of course, I want grandbabies.”

I laugh. “Well, that certainly escalated quickly.”

“What?” she asks, a mischievous smile on her face. “What mother doesn't want grandbabies?”

“Well, how about I start with just dating first?” I negotiate.

“Oh fine,” she huffs. “But don't take too long, I don't know how many years I have left, you know.”

“Don't say that, Mom.”

She shrugs. “It's true. I've never been one to shy away from the truth of things, you know that.”

“I know,” I sigh softly.

“And the truth of things is that I'm getting older. It's no secret,” she says. “And I just want to be able to hold my grandchildren before I'm too old to do it – and to spoil them rotten, of course.”

Hearing my mother talk about dying is something that hurts me. Losing my father was a body blow in and of itself. I know that losing my mother, who's been my rock and my steadying, guiding force in life, is going to hit me even harder.

I mean, I know death is a part of life. As a doctor, I see it almost daily. Even still, the thought of losing my mom is a tough, bitter pill to swallow.

I just hate to give her false hope about having grandchildren. I don't see Henry ever giving up his playboy lifestyle, and I just haven't found anybody who's really captured my heart. I haven't found that person who really resonates and connects with me. I'm not the kind of guy who's going to get married and have a family just because it's expected, or to maintain some sort of image.

No, if I get married and raise a family, it's going to be because that person has really become an integral part of my soul – and I just don't see that ever happening. The women I'm exposed to, I'm generally not very interested in. I mean, I go out with quite a few women – I've even dated a few of them for a couple of months. But it usually doesn't take me long to lose interest in them.

It's a tired, trite old saying that really means nothing, but in this case, it's actually kind of true – it's really not them, it's me.

I finish off the sandwich and push my plate away. Elisa, my mother's house assistant – my mom thinks the word maid is demeaning – is there in a flash to scoop up the empty plates. She gives me a smile and disappears without a word. I lean back in my seat and sip at my glass of iced tea, relishing the sunshine of the afternoon.

“So, how are things at the hospital?” she asks.

“Dull. Boring. Monotonous,” I say. “I'm getting tired of pampering the rich folk.”

She laughs. “Is it really that bad?”

I shrug. “I went into medicine to make a difference. To save lives.”

“I'm sure you're saving many lives, Duncan,” she says. “Just because they're rich, doesn't mean they don't also need your help.”

“I know, but I don't mean it like that,” I try to explain. “It's just – most of the surgeries are beyond routine. It's not as bad as plastic surgery, but there's not a lot of excitement in it.”

She laughs softly. “You went into medicine for excitement?”

“Not necessarily,” I say. “But I won't deny enjoying the adrenaline rush that I got working in the trauma unit. Being able to work under intense, high-pressure circumstances like that and save a person's life? You just don't get that kind of a feeling anywhere else.”

Which is probably part of the reason my life has become so drab and flavorless ever since they plucked me out of trauma – that sort of rush can't be duplicated. I honestly don't feel like I'm making much of a difference. And while yeah, I'm helping people, it's just not the same.

“So, why don't you ask to move back to trauma then?” my mother asks.

“I have. Several times. And Janet has denied my request every single time,” I tell her. “She says she can't afford to lose the face of her high donor unit.”

My mom laughs and shakes her head. “Office politics have even infected the medical field, have they?”

“You have no idea.”

“No idea about what?”

Just the sound of his voice sets me on edge, and I sit up a little straighter, a familiar tightness in my shoulders as Henry steps out onto the deck. He drops down into the seat next to our mother, leans over and places a kiss on her cheek.

“Well, this is an unexpected surprise,” she says. “Both of my boys coming to see me – at the same time no less.”

“It's purely coincidental, I assure you,” Henry says dryly.

There's a tension in the air between us that crackles like static electricity. I love and respect my brother because, at the end of the day, he's family. I just don't particularly like him as a person. And I know that Henry loves me as his brother, in his own way. I just don't think he respects me. Not that I really care all that much. His approval isn't something I've ever needed or wanted.

We usually try to put up a good front when we're around our mother or at a family function, but outside of the required holiday appearances and whatnot, we don't interact. Like, at all. I can't remember the last time either one of us reached out to the other. No phone calls, no text messages – nothing.

The source of our discomfort with each other extends far beyond traditional sibling rivalry. He believes that I've betrayed our family name by choosing a career in medicine, rather than following him into the business. It's a resentment he's nurtured for a long time now, and one that's only seemed to grow more bitter with every passing year.

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