“Hey, lazy bones, answer your phone,” Ray said as he handed Gus the phone. Gus was indeed being lazy, luxuriating in bed on the last day of their quickie Paris vacation. They were scheduled to meet with Pierre the next day. Gus stretched his long frame before taking the phone from Ray who was waving it in front of Gus’ face.
“Coffee,” Gus grumbled as he grabbed the phone. Ray went to order room service while Gus said hello.
“Good morning, Gus, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything important,” a familiar voice said on the line.
“Who is this?” Gus asked with suspicion.
The man on the phone laughed. “Charles Higgins.”
“Charles? Is my mom all right?” Gus quickly sat up.
“She’s perfect.” Charles heard Gus breathe a sigh of relief. “I’m calling because a little birdy told me you’re in Paris poised to make an advertising coup.”
“Now don’t get your knickers all in an uproar, I haven’t told a soul. You know Shane and I have become friends and your mother and I…”
“I get the picture; no pun intended,” Gus snarled making Charles chuckle. “To what do I owe the pleasure,” Gus growled sounding remarkably like his father.
“Pierre Bellerose and I are old business acquaintances. There are several small galleries in Paris and just outside of the city that the National Gallery has done business with. Pierre’s agency handles the PR. In fact I was about to discuss a new Justin Taylor show at one such gallery.”
“Hmm,” Gus’ wheels began cranking over in his brain. The aroma of rich French coffee that had just arrived to their room was helping to turn the crank. “That would be some event, if we could pull it off in time. The merger and the promotion of a new show. Hmm.”
“Gus? Earth to Gus!” Charles said loudly.
“Sorry, Charles, just thinking.”
“No need to apologize, my boy. Glad to be of service. It would be good to see the passion back in Pierre’s eyes again. The last time we met his eyes lacked their usual enthusiasm. Please convey my regards to him when you meet. And I wish you luck, my boy, although I doubt you’ll need it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You come from a unique lineage. Passion, intellect, curiosity, and the brilliance to pull it all together. You were a mere lad when you created the fractal video. We still feature it; it never fails to entertain. And you have one more thing in your favor.”
“What’s that?” Gus asked although he had a sneaking suspicion of what that “thing” was.
“Those stunning Kinney looks. Combined with your mother’s sweetness, I sincerely doubt that anyone could resist you when you set your mind to something.”
“I’m ringing off; say hello to your young man for me,” Charles said with a laugh as he cut their connection.
“Hmm,” Gus murmured as he automatically hit the red button.
“Who called? And you have that look in your eyes,” said Ray as he sat on the edge of the bed and handed a cup of coffee to Gus. Gus inhaled the rich aroma then took several sips, savoring the flavor.
“That was Charles.”
“Charles? Your mother’s Chaarles?”
“The one and only. You know for a notorious ladies man, he’s lusted after my Pop for years.”
“Yeah, well your Pop could turn Donald Trump to the dark side,” Ray quipped.
The boys stared at each other for a few seconds, “eiwed” then shook themselves.
“Okay, now there’s an image I could live without,” Gus said as he shivered. He handed Ray his now empty cup then got out of bed. Throwing on some jeans, Gus went in search of breakfast.
“So what did Chaarles want?”
“Apparently something my mom said to him, peaked his curiosity. He went to Shane for confirmation. Bottom line, Charles knows Pierre. The Bellerose agency handles the PR for a few small galleries this side of the channel for Charles.”
“I thought so too. Plus, Charles is planning a Justin Taylor show here, soon.”
“Now that would be a great way of kicking off the merger,” Ray spouted.
“Agreed. No conflict of interest issues?”
“Not at all. Kinnetik has the Bloom Gallery contract which is Justin’s home base. Isles handles the National Gallery. Nothing wrong with Bellerose handling the PR here.”
“Yeah!” Gus said with a big smile. “What time is it?” Gus asked as he grabbed Ray’s wrist to check the time. “Shane and Molly should be here soon. Let’s go over a few things first,” said Gus in his Kinnetik business voice. Ray nodded as he refilled their coffee cups.
The boys got back to business.
As it turned out Molly did go to London first. She was toting a carry-on filled with Kinnetik material for Shane, little of it needed in Paris. It made sense to go to Isles first and deliver it there. Shane and his partner had gone back to London so Shane took that time to set Molly up in the same Paris hotel as Gus and Ray. He and Molly would take the channel crossing. When their business was complete, successfully Shane hoped, Molly would travel back to Pittsburgh from Paris.
Molly was traveling solo. She thought seriously about Brian’s offer to have Owen and Taylor accompany her, but Molly didn’t want the distraction. She was only scheduled to be in Paris overnight, three days at most. Molly planned on sticking with Ray while he reviewed contracts. Not only was Molly fluent in French, she was able to read and write it.
Molly vowed to go to Paris with her family in the near future.
Brian stepped out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist and was toweling off his hair as he called Michael.
“Hey, Mikey, am I interrupting anything important?” Brian asked when Michael answered his phone.
“Not really. I was just watching Ben type. Why?”
Brian smiled, he had had some trepidation about their reunion. So Brian was happy to hear that Michael was demonstrating some appreciation for his husband. Even if it was only watching the man work. Brian had loads of personal experience doing just that.
“Can you come over here? I have a proposition for you.” Michael took a sudden intake of air. “Not that type of proposition, you dork. A business proposition.”
“Who you calling a dork? You dork,” Michael retorted without malice.
“You, you dork,” Brian teased as he giggled.
“You’re the dork!”
“No, you are!” Brian heard Michael laughing. It was one of the best sounds he had heard in a long time. “Seriously, Mikey, can you come up to my office?”
“Sure. I’ll just tell Ben.”
“Later,” said Brian as he hung up then quickly got dressed.
“Hello?” Michael called out as he stepped through the sun porch door.
“Up here!” a voice replied. “Come on up.”
Michael climbed the spiral stairs to the balcony and doorway to Brian’s inner sanctum. “You know something, I don’t remember the last time I was up here,” he commented. Brian just nodded as he fiddled with his computer and made a phone call.
“Comic Book store,” came a voice over the speaker phone.
“Hi, Honey Bun!”
“Dad!” JR reprimanded her dad as she stomped one foot. Brian cracked up.
“You’ll always be my Honey Bun,” Michael vowed.
“I hate to break up this touching family moment but I have business to discuss,” Brian interjected. Michael and JR stopped talking. “Thank you. Now that I have your attention I’d like to discuss your website.”
“What about it?” Michael asked.
“I know,” JR said.
“Go on,” said Michael, his arms already crossed over his chest.
“He’s crossing his arms, isn’t he, Uncle Bri?”
“Yup,” Brian replied with a smirk. Michael glared but didn’t uncross his arms. “Glaring too.” JR giggled.
“That’s enough. What’s this all about?”
“Dad, I’ve been telling you for years that we can use our website for more than just promoting Rage and our other merchandise. It’s time, Dad.”
Michael slowly uncrossed his arms with resignation. “You want us to open up an online store,” said Michael as a statement more than a question. They had tried it before but the economy wasn’t cooperating at the time. So they kept the website for promotional purposes. Michael had all but forgotten it existed.
“Yes, Daddy. It will be a great way to get more out of our other store too.” Long ago Michael opened a small store in Philadelphia which was turning a small but steady profit.
Michael sat down on the futon. He knew he stood little chance against his daughter and Brian.
“Okay, tell me how this will work.”
About an hour later, Brian and JR had Michael convinced.
“Can I do this by myself?” Michael asked.
“Of course you can, Mikey!” Brian assured his friend.
“Will you help me set it up?” Michael asked with puppy dogs eyes.
“Sure,” Brian said brightly. “I have lots of experience promoting Michael Novotny online,” Brian said in a tone that had JR suspicious. Michael snorted.
“Okay, I have the impression I don’t want to know what Uncle Brian means by that. Dad, keep me in the loop. I want to help too.”
“Of course we will, Honey Bun,” Michael teased.
“Oh Dad,” JR said with exasperation. “Uncle Bri, let me know if there’s anything I can do from this end.”
“I will,” Brian assured her. “Send me a copy of your inventory,” he quickly added.
“Okay. I love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, Sweetheart.”
“Send my love to Ben.”
“Hey, what am I? Chopped liver?” Brian griped.
“Love you too, Uncle Bri!”
“Backatcha, Kiddo,” said Brian just before he disconnected the call. He then turned a grinning face toward his life-long friend.
Molly and Shane arrived in Paris late in the afternoon. Molly was in awe as they drove through the historic city to their quaint hotel. Her nose was practically glued to the cab window as she took in the sights.
“He would have booked a longer stay,” Shane quietly stated as they drove to their hotel. Molly knew the “he” Shane was referring to.
“I know he would have and in a heartbeat if I had asked but I couldn’t do that. Brian does so much for his friends and family without thinking or asking for anything in return. I don’t want to take advantage.”
“He wouldn’t look at it that way.”
“I realize that too and it’s for that reason he needs to be protected. It wouldn’t be intentional however, if we didn’t keep ourselves in check, we could easily rationalize that to refuse Brian’s help would insult the man.”
“And we couldn’t have that now, could we,” Shane added, nodding with understanding. It was true, Brian could be, at times, too generous for his own good. Gus had similar qualities and hadn’t yet developed the savvy to guard himself. “I think you give Brian little credit when it comes to catching an ulterior motive, intentional or not.”
“Maybe not but I refuse to be that person,” Molly emphatically stated.
“And the rest of the family? All those cottages on your infamous lane or positions offered at Kinnetik? And I hear tell, he had a hand setting up several businesses.”
“How do you know all this?” Molly asked as she narrowed her eyes at Shane.
“Research, my dear woman. You don’t put your life’s work into someone else’s hands without thoroughly learning to whom those hands belong.” Molly’s eyebrows surged upwards. “Brian is fully aware that I made it my business to learn everything I could about Brian Kinney the businessman. In fact he encouraged it. One of the first things I did was give Pierre the same dossier. Pierre is in a similar position.”
Shane stopped her with the raise of his hand.
“Again, Brian insisted. I lost nothing when we merged other than worrying about making enough of a profit to stay afloat. I have never regretted merging with Kinnetik and I don’t believe Pierre will either. And how did this conversation become all twisted?”
“Just lucky, I guess. And you’re right, Brian does what he does because he wants to, not because he’s been goaded or bamboozled.”
“Bamboozled? Now there’s a word you don’t hear too often,” Shane said with a laugh. “No, I don’t think Brian is capable of being bamboozled and I pity the fool who’d try.” Shane grinned as Molly laughed. “We’re here. After we get you settled, let’s meet with the boys so we get all our ducks in a row.” Molly nodded in agreement as she set her mind to the business at hand.
Bree sat on the swing in the big backyard of the conjoined cottages. She pushed listlessly with her feet when she thought about it, but mostly she just sat. Her mind was going all kinds of crazy places, but she knew deep inside that most of them were impossible.
Beau lay near the Wendy house watching. He knew something was wrong, but had no idea what he could do to make it better. He thought maybe just his presence would bring some comfort to the girl.
"Want a push?" Patrick asked as he came out of the sun porch.
"No!" Bree replied emphatically.
"Okay, okay," Patrick said quickly. "I'll leave you alone."
"Sorry," Bree said shaking her head, "but a push isn't going to cut it."
"Want to talk about it?"
Bree shook her head and Patrick started to walk away. "Wait," she said before he could take more than three steps.
"Change your mind?"
"Do you want a push on the swing now?"
"No, come sit with me," Bree said as she slid off the swing and headed for the Wendy house.
"Aren't we getting a little big for going in there?" Patrick asked as he followed her.
"I was going to sit on the porch."
"Okay, that sounds good," Patrick agreed as he dropped down beside her.
Beau came over to lie at their feet. They couldn't help but ruffle his fur. He groaned with pleasure.
"So, what's up?" Patrick asked.
"I wanted to go to Paris 'cause Gus got to go to Paris, and they wouldn't let me, and then they said I maybe could go later, but now Aunt Molly has gone to Paris too, and they said she could take Taylor, but they wouldn't take me. And I'm really, really bummed!"
"What? You said shit."
"Yes, I did."
"But you never swear."
"I swear, but you don't hear me."
"Yes, really," Patrick said with a chuckle.
"Oh." Bree frowned and thought about what he had just told her. She thought she knew Patrick so well, but she didn't know that he sometimes swore.
"Hey, we all swear when things go wrong," he told her.
"Maybe," Bree replied still trying to figure this out.
"So, is Taylor in Paris with his mother?" Patrick asked trying to change the subject.
"No, she didn't take him. She said she was going to be working and it didn't make sense to take him."
"Just like you."
"Well, it didn't make sense for you to go to Paris when summer's almost over. We have to get ready for school."
"There would have been time," Bree countered.
"All right, maybe you're right. I just know that everybody else gets to do stuff and I don't."
"Are you kidding?" Patrick laughed.
"You are so smart, but sometimes you're so dumb. You got to go on a major shopping spree for the best clothes for school, and you've had a really good summer overall, and you can just about rule the damn world."
"Now you said damn."
"Yes I did," Patrick affirmed.
"Well damn," Bree responded.
"Bree!" Bree just grinned at him until he shook his head and grinned back. "What more do you want out of life when you've already got so much?"
"Paris," Bree said decisively.
Patrick just shook his head again. Sometimes girls were so exasperating, especially this one. "You're impossible," he said.
"And you don't intend to change, do you?"
Bree shook her head. "Not likely," she said with a smile. Beau raised his head and nudged Bree's hand. She ran her fingers over his soft coat. "You understand, don't ya, Beau? Even if you are a boy." Beau whined softly.
"Us guys need to stick together, Beau," Patrick told the big dog.
Beau let out a little woof of agreement.
"Traitor," Bree said pulling her hand away. Beau nudged it again and Bree gave him another pat. "It's okay, I always have to fend for myself. There just aren't enough girls on this lane."
"I think there are plenty of girls on this lane," Patrick declared.
"Like who?" Bree asked with a frown.
"Well there's you and Michelle..."
"Michelle and Cindy are hardly ever here anymore."
"Okay, there's Molly."
"Aunt Molly's not a girl anymore, and she's hardly here either."
"Okay, okay, I give up."
"I'm always right," Bree declared with a self-satisfied smirk.
"Yeah, you are, but that won't get you to Paris," Patrick said. He regretted his statement as soon as it was out of his mouth and he saw the pain it brought to Bree's face. He should have been pleased that he cheered her up for a while instead of reminding her of what had her bummed in the first place. "Sorry," he said quickly.
"That was mean, but I was ... gloating, so I guess we're even."
"Still friends?" Patrick asked.
"Of course, you are my best friend in the whole world. I couldn't have grown up without you."
Patrick's face broke into a broad smile. "We are best friends, aren't we?"
"Always," Bree said as she laid her head on his shoulder.
Beau gave a woof of approval.
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