C'est la Vie
"Honeybun, I'm going over to the diner to get a lemon bar and a coffee," Michael called to his daughter who had more or less barricaded herself in the office of the comic book store. She couldn't stand her father's incessant humming for another minute. "Can I bring you anything?"
JR came out of the office. "Sure, I'll have a coffee. And...take as long as you want." She hoped he'd stay at the diner for a couple of hours. That would give her some much needed peace and quiet.
"No lemon bar for my sweet daughter?" Michael asked with a coy smile.
JR shook her head. Her father did have some endearing qualities, even if she did feel like smacking him upside the head for being so dense ... so often. "Sure, a lemon bar would be nice," she agreed.
"Great, I'll be back soon," Michael said as he opened the door to the shop.
"Don't hurry," she called before he closed the door behind him. She really hoped he wouldn't come back too soon.
Michael walked along the street, smelling familiar smells and thinking about how great everything was now that he was back in Pittsburgh ... with Ben. He had been mulling over an idea that he wanted to present to Lacy.
He pushed open the door of the diner and heard the familiar bell jangle above the door.
"Hey, Lacy," Michael said as he took a seat at the counter.
"Hello, Michael," Lacy responded. "What can I get you?"
"Just a coffee for now. If you have a minute, there's something I'd like to talk to you about."
"Okaaay," Lacy said with a frown. It wasn't always good when Michael wanted to talk. She wondered what he had in mind. She heard, "Order up," from the kitchen. "I need to deliver these meals and then we can talk."
"Great," Michael replied as he hummed softly to himself.
It wasn't long until Lacy returned and poured him a cup of coffee. The diner was pretty quiet this time of day. She made a coffee for herself and came around the counter to sit beside him. "So, what's up?"
"I had an idea for the next edition of Rage," Michael said with a grin.
"Yeah, I think you'll like it."
"We’re already working on the next issue," Lacy said firmly. For several years Michael and Justin had been removed from the publication of the Rage comic. That was the way Lacy and Candy liked it. Lacy too had stepped back from Rage so she could concentrate her efforts on the diner, but while Candy was an excellent artist, she still needed Lacy for the plot ideas and the text.
"Well, there will always be one after that," Michael stated confidently.
Lacy drew in a deep breath. "So, what's your idea?"
"I thought you'd never ask," Michael said with a grin.
Lacy bit her tongue. She could have lived very nicely without asking Michael about this new idea. But the deed was done. "Go ahead," she said with a small sigh.
"Well," Michael began, “since Ben and I have returned to Pittsburgh, I thought it might be nice to have an issue of Rage that centered on Zephyr and his professor."
"Wait! Hear me out," Michael interrupted, holding up a hand to prevent her from saying anything else until he had explained his idea. "I think this could be really good." Lacy reluctantly nodded and Michael continued. "Zephyr and the prof are separated and have to find their way back to each other."
"That's the premise of the story?" Lacy asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yes, and it's a good idea," Michael replied defensively.
"But the comic is about Rage and JT, not Zephyr."
"Exactly! And that's getting old. This is a new approach."
"I don't think the readers would like that very much," Lacy explained.
"Sure they would. Zephyr is as popular as Rage."
"And that's why the comic is called Rage?"
Michael grimaced. "The comic may be called Rage, but that doesn't mean that Zephyr can't have his moment in the sun," Michael said vehemently.
Lacy shook her head wondering how she could explain that Michael's suggestion didn't make sense, without making him mad at her. She drew in another deep breath. "I'll certainly think about your idea, Michael. But as I told you, I have the next issue all mapped out. I don't know if your idea will fit into the progression of events that I have in mind."
"I'm sure you could make it fit," Michael stated, "if you want to."
"I said I'd think about it. Now I need to get back to work."
"Fine," Michael said knowing that he had been basically dismissed. He threw a five dollar bill on the counter and left.
Lacy watched him go, knowing that she did not like Michael's proposal at all. She could not envision that she would ever use it. Thankfully she had final say in the production of Rage these days. However, she didn't like the idea of being at odds with Michael. She wondered what she could do about that, as she cleared the table where people had just left.
Michael stomped along the sidewalk heading back to his shop. He muttered to himself all the way. His happy humming had been replaced by his grumblings.
"Ungrateful bitch," he mumbled. "Who gave her a start? She doesn't appreciate what I've done for her. My idea was a good one. She's just too dumb to realize it. Everything doesn't have to be about Rage." Michael was still mumbling when he entered his store.
"Hey, Dad," JR said as he approached the counter. She frowned. "Where's my coffee and lemon bar?" she asked, noting that he was empty handed.
"We're not buying any more coffee or lemon bars from that diner!" Michael stated emphatically.
"Why the hell not?" JR asked.
"That Lacy thinks she's so high and mighty..."
"Lacy? What are you talking about?"
"I told Lacy a wonderful idea for the next edition of Rage, and she dismissed me like I was some dumb kid who didn't know shit."
"Lacy?" JR asked again. That didn't sound like Lacy.
"Yes, Lacy. She may have creative control at the moment, but I'm seriously thinking about making my own edition of Rage."
JR shook her head. "What happened? You were so happy when you left here."
"I just told you what happened."
"I know, but ... you haven't had anything to do with Rage in ages. What brought this on all of a sudden?"
"I was thinking about how happy Ben and I are to be back in Pittsburgh, and I suggested that the next comic should feature Zephyr and the prof. They would be separated and have to find their way back to each other, just like Ben and I did."
JR's eyes had gotten big. "Is ... is that what this is all about?"
"I just told you it is."
"But, Dad, the comic is called Rage. That's who the readers want to see. Not Zephyr."
"Zephyr is just as interesting as Rage is," Michael declared.
"Then the comic would be called Zephyr or Rage and Zephyr."
"Hmppff," Michael reacted. "It could be Zephyr and Rage."
"Dad, this is crazy."
"I don't want to fight with you about this. Let's forget it for now," JR said heading for the office - her safe haven since her father had returned to Pittsburgh.
Michael watched his daughter enter the office and close the door behind her. "It would be nice if my own family supported me," he muttered. "Maybe I should make a new comic called Zephyr. If only I could draw," Michael sighed.
Just then a couple of teenagers entered the shop and Michael turned his attention to them. The new comic was forgotten for the moment.
The gentlemen at the table stood when they saw Pierre and Stéphane approached. “Good morning,” said Brian as he extended his hand toward Pierre. He gave Pierre’s hand a firm shake then did the same to Stéphane. Brian had kept to himself during the opening and in the background when Gus was in business mode, so Pierre and Stéphane had had little interaction with him, up until now.
Brian gestured for the newcomers to sit then glared at the maître dʹ who immediately sent a swarm of waiters to tend to the entire table. When Brian was satisfied that his guests had everything they could possibly require including mimosas made from fine champagne, Brian gave the maître dʹ a smile. The head man straightened his spine with pride as he shooed the wait staff away from the table, giving them orders to pay close attention to the stunning brunet gentleman with the intense eyes.
Gus caught Brian’s eye, trying very hard to hold back a giggle. His dad’s abilities and flare never failed to impress Gus and everyone else for that matter. Brian winked at his son; Brian’s eyes were glittering with mirth. Then in a flash the businessman was back.
“Gentlemen, it’s good to finally meet you. I’d like to make a brief toast,” Brian stood as he reached for his mimosa. The people at the table did the same. “To Kinnetik Rose, long may it bloom!”
“To Kinnetik Rose,” everyone chorused.
“Let’s enjoy our meal before we get down to business, shall we?” Brian asked. Receiving smiles for his answer, Brian knew he made the correct move. As his guests all settled down to enjoy the meal, Brian felt a gentle pat to his thigh. He looked up to see Justin smiling at him. Brian leaned in to buss Justin’s temple as brunch commenced.
As the wait staff removed their dishes, brought more tea, coffee, and exquisite French pastries, Brian scanned the faces of his people, especially Gus, Bree, and Ray. Whatever Brian was going to say or suggest would affect them the most.
“Pierre, congratulations, the early numbers indicate opening night was a success,” Brian stated as he saluted Pierre and Stéphane with his glass.
“Yes. Simone is very pleased, as are we all. Young Gus is a very gifted businessman and Raymond a very talented lawyer. Ne sont-ils pas?”
“I agree,” Brian stated with pride for them both.
“They make a formidable team,” Pierre added. Brian smiled as he nodded. Gus and Ray blushed from the praise. “And you have, as they say, a secret weapon,” Pierre said with amusement. Brian arched a brow. “The lovely Mademoiselle Briana Victoria, I suspect she is as talented as her brother. But what I don’t understand is how one so young is so knowledgeable of the advertising business ?”
Brian smirked. Justin beamed as he took out his phone to search through his photo gallery. Finding what he was looking for, Justin handed his phone to Pierre.
“Impossible!” Pierre exclaimed as he scrolled through the photos. He leaned toward Stéphane to share the pictures. They murmured in rapid French as they viewed picture after picture of Bree strapped to Brian’s chest as he pitched campaigns, sitting on Brian’s hip as he held staff meetings and conferenced with stubborn artists. Justin had chronicled Bree’s experiences and “education” at Kinnetik from the time she was a baby until the present. He had lots of help from Cynthia and Ted who were co-conspirators.
Brian pulled out his own phone to show off Bree with her own easel through the years, painting at her father’s side.
“This also explains her excellent knowledge of art,” Pierre commented.
Brian and Justin exchanged proud papa smiles.
After brunch, the group decided to reconvene at the gallery to prepare for the evening’s events and discuss further exhibits. The winners of the secret auction were going to be announced that evening. Brian took that opportunity to take Pierre and Stéphane aside. He didn’t want any of his conversation to touch Justin or Gus, for that matter.
“Pierre, Stéphane, let’s walk,” Brian said as he patted his trim waist. “I can use the exercise. This is our first trip to France, I’m sure you can point out the interesting sites, other than the obvious.” Mel caught Brian’s eye. At first he was going to refuse Melanie’s inclusion but then Brian thought differently. He was on shaky ground; Brian nodded.
Justin hung back for a moment.
“Brian, what are you doing?” Justin asked as he reached up on his toes as if to give his spouse a kiss. Brian leaned down to peck at the luscious lips.
“Trust me, Sunshine,” Brian whispered.
“Take them to the gallery. We won’t be long.”
“Okay,” Justin said as he gave Brian a kiss. He quickly rejoined the rest of their party, took Lindsay's arm then led them to the gallery. Brian stood on the pavement watching them stroll away.
“Do we have a problem?” Pierre ventured.
“I honestly don’t know, nor do I know where to begin,” Brian stated. Brian needed to phrase his wording carefully.
“There is a small park just through these streets. We can speak without interruption,” Pierre suggested. Brian nodded as he followed. The walk gave him time to think.
“Brian, I sense not only a man with a heavy burden but a father with a burden. A fiercely protective father,” Pierre ventured.
“You may be right,” Brian murmured as he took in the serene surroundings. There were very few people in the park; Brian felt he was in a safe space. He stretched to his full height then with a nod from Melanie, Brian began, “Let me tell you a story.”
“Incroyable!” Pierre exclaimed after Brian was done. “And you are sure that man is Guillaume Cloutier?”
“I’m sure,” Melanie stepped in. “And so is Lindsay.” Mel dug into her briefcase and pulled out several pictures. Lindsay had had hundreds of pictures taken of her and Gui, Gui with Gus, and the three of them to help make a convincing case to immigration. She handed them to Pierre.
“He is obviously so much younger but I agree, this is our Guillaume,” Pierre sighed as he handed the pictures to Stéphane. Stéphane shuffled through the photos. He smiled when he came across one with baby Gus. He murmured a few things to Pierre as he handed back the pictures to Mel.
“What would you have us do?” Pierre asked.
“Nothing,” Brian said after reflection.
“Nothing?” Mel snapped back before Pierre could respond. “Brian, that, that, person almost ruined our lives!”
“But he didn’t, and we fixed the problem. Plus it was a very long time ago, Mel; we survived. Gus is a good man, we all did a good job raising him. Let’s not give him the wrong example to follow.
“Mel, I’d like nothing more than to see Gui thrown out on his ass but we’re better than that. And as far as we know, he may be an important contributor to Pierre’s agency. Good help is hard to find and even more difficult to keep. We’ve already changed the status quo with the merger; let’s not change personnel too.”
“Fine, but if he says or does anything to hurt my son, I will have his ass then yours, Kinney,” Mel growled.
“You wouldn’t know what to do with my ass,” Brian snarked.
“I’m always serious!” Brian allowed Mel to glare at him before he turned to Pierre and Stéphane. “Gentlemen, I apologize for our behavior.”
“Speak for yourself,” Mel said in a huff.
“I stand corrected. I apologize for my behavior,” Brian said then stuck his tongue out at Melanie who just rolled her eyes then walked away before she smacked Brian silly.
“You have known Mademoiselle Melanie long?” Pierre asked with a smirk as he and Brian watched Mel walk a few feet.
“Too long,” Brian griped.
“And yet she works for you.”
“Yes, well, it was one of my weaker moments plus she’s a hell of a lawyer,” Brian said with a shrug.
“I suspect you are more than just a pretty face,” Pierre joked.
“Yes he is. He’s pigheaded, arrogant, and a pain in the ass but he’s the best adman you could ever meet,” said Mel as she returned to the group. “He’s also a very tough but fair employer, a generous and loyal friend, and as much as it pains me to admit, a wonderful parent,” Melanie said gently.
“Mr. Bellerose, it’s me who should apologize to you and your associate. I’m afraid we’ve given you a bad impression of us. Brian and I have butted heads for over twenty-five years. But of all the people in this world I could call a true friend, it’s Brian Kinney.
“And he’s right, Gui may harbor some resentment toward us but that’s no reason to interfere with his livelihood,” Mel stated. “Just know that we’ll be watching him like a hawk.”
“Fair enough,” Pierre said with a clap of his hands and a broad smile. “Now I think we should hurry along to the gallery before they all think we’ve gotten ourselves lost.”
Before they began the short walk to the Simone Gallery, Brian extended his hand toward Pierre.
“You are a most passionate man, my friend,” Pierre said as he took Brian’s hand to give it a firm shake. “I fully understand,” Pierre said with a wink. “And I believe, Melanie is also passionate?” Pierre whispered.
“You have no idea,” Brian snarked.
When they entered the gallery, they found Justin and Gus busily adjusting a few exhibits and rearranging several of the small sculptures. Bree, too, was helping. Lindsay, Charles, and Simone found it amusing. Considering it all was created by Justin, they felt no need to interfere.
“So what have we missed?” Brian asked when they entered the gallery.
“Oh nothing, except for your partner and your son tweaking everything in sight,” Lindsay explained.
“Well, that’s not such a bad thing,” Brian replied. “As long as they’re not breaking out the power tools then I don’t see a problem. Our little Mary Sunshine knows best,” Brian teased.
“Your little Mary Sunshine needs a distraction,” Lindsay replied giving Brian a poignant look.
“Ah, I get your drift. If you wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on the Squirt for a while, I’ll see if I can accommodate you,” Brian stated.
“No problem,” Lindsay said with a smile as Brian turned to track down his anxious spouse.
“Oh Sunshine!” Brian called out as he walked away. Lindsay let out a girlish giggle.
“I wish I could be the man to make you giggle that way,” Charles said with a rakish smile.
“You’re much too sophisticated to make me giggle,” Lindsay responded with her own coy smile.
“Ah my dear, we are like the bird and the fish, forever in love but unable to live in each other’s world,” Charles waxed poetic. He took Lindsay’s hand in his then brought it to his lips. Lindsay giggled as Charles beamed with delight.
“My god, Charles, are you still using those old tired lines? When are you ever going to learn that modern women won’t fall for your crap,” Sam said boldly as he entered the gallery.
“And you think women will fall for your uncouth foul mannerisms? You take no pride in your appearance; you look as if you’ve slept in these clothes for days!” Charles snapped back.
“And what if I have? Who cares how I look. My work is what’s important!” Sam shouted.
“Your work, your work. What work? You haven't produced anything saleable in years!”
“Money isn’t everything,” Sam growled.
“Says the man who has none,” Charles sneered.
“Gentlemen, is this really necessary?” Lindsay asked, trying to keep the peace as Charles and Sam went toe to toe. They were beginning to gather a crowd; fortunately the crowd was made up of Kinnetik people, Simone Gallery people, and chosen friends.
As Charles and Sam continued to go at it, Gus came up to his mother. “I gotta hand it to you, Mom, a renowned artist and a prominent gallery owner fighting over you,” Gus teased.
“It’s a gift, I think,” Lindsay said with a shrug.
“What’s the return policy on that gift? I think they’re both idiots,” Mel snarked as she joined the crowd. Lindsay nodded in agreement.
“You’re a rake!”
“And you, sir, are a rogue!”
“Yeah, but I saw her first!”
“And you neglected to keep her!”
Before Lindsay could protest, Rage, uh, Brian swooped in with JT on his arm.
“I regret to inform you, gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, Lindsay Peterson is off the menu,” Brian announced as he took Lindsay's hand; Justin grabbed Mel’s. All four headed for the door.
“Besides, she was mine first,” Brian stated with a wink. Charles and Sam stared back incredulously. Gus burst out laughing as he followed them out.
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