"Well, that went a lot smoother than I thought it would," said Logan as they walked to their cars.
Reed chuckled. "You're not kidding. I thought for sure Phillip, at least, would be put out."
"Well, you know we've opened up a whole new set of problems."
Reed thought about that for a moment. "Like what? I can't think of any down side."
"Oh come on, Reed. We're going to have to put more effort into each performance. That's going to mean an awful lot of practice time." He grinned as Reed punched him in the shoulder and laughed.
They arrived home expecting to find a harried Arthur, wondering how he could extricate himself from his single-minded nephew. What they encountered instead was raucous laughter from the direction of the bedrooms. The two of them glanced into Ben's room and found him and Arthur totally engrossed in what was happening on the screen. Mother was nowhere to be seen, so they walked on by and went on to find her, as they'd expected, in her office.
"D`ja miss us?" asked Logan quietly as he and Reed made their way across the room and engaged in a group hug.
Margaret smiled. "The only thing I've missed is my usual quiet Sunday. Hard to concentrate when I have two children in the other room carrying on."
"It did sound like they were having fun," said Reed.
"Yes they are," sighed Margaret. "Actually, it's been pretty enjoyable hearing the two of them carrying on. I don't think Arthur has had a lot of opportunities to just let his hair down and stop worrying about the condition of the world. I actually had to threaten the two of them to get them to come away from the computer to eat some lunch." She laughed. "And look at this..." She quickly manipulated her computer to display a series of pictures. All of them showed Ben and Arthur at various tasks; making up Logan's bed, washing dishes, and, of course, playing on the computer. They laughed together at the sight.
"You realize you could make a fortune off those pictures, don't you?" asked Reed.
"No actually, I can't. He made me promise to password protect and encrypt them before he'd let me take them. Still, it's worth it. I'm going to copy these, and any others I take, to a flash drive and give it to him to take home with him."
"Whoa, the beginnings of a family album," said Logan. "That'll be so cool."
Margaret then kissed both boys. "So, why don't you go join the mayhem so I can finish up my proposal?"
"Sure, mom," answered Logan. "You need anything before we go?"
"Actually, a refill on my coffee would be nice," she said as she handed over her cup.
Arthur stayed for dinner and then left for parts unknown, but not before they all exchanged Skype addresses so that they could accomplish the new closeness Arthur wanted. Reed left for home shortly after that.
Ben was exhausted and went to bed as soon as their guests had gone. That left Logan and mom a few quiet moments alone before they too retired.
"So, how are you and Reed doing?" asked Margaret.
"Mom, I can't remember being this happy," he said softly. "We're in love, you know."
"Yes, dear, I've noticed that. Do you two think you'll be able to concentrate this school year?"
He smiled. "Yes, ma'am. We've talked about it a lot. We've got school to finish and our careers to get off the ground. We know it's going to be hard to find time just for us, but we'll be responsible, I promise."
"That's fine, sweetheart. I just wanted to be sure you'd thought about what you were going to have to deal with."
"Gees, Mom," he said, turning and hugging her tight, "I love you so much."
Monday started with a bang. He arrived at the salon to find a crane in the parking lot. Ralph was standing off to one side of the goings on's, smiling as he watched the original business sign being lowered to the ground.
"My God, Ralph, I didn't know you knew how to get up this early," laughed Logan as he approached.
Ralph laughed in return. "Trust me, mister, only something this important could get me out at the unruly hour of oh dark thirty."
"So, how's the new sign look?" asked Logan
"You tell me," answered Ralph with a smile as he pulled Logan around the side of the truck.
What he found astounded him. In the center of the rectangular sign was the altar pieces from the Franks wedding. Between the pieces was a group picture of the salon artists. Outside of the left piece was a photo of Ralph, outside the right, one of Logan. It was, in fact, his Junior year school photo. Above it all was 'Maxwell Justice Studios'. Below the photos in slightly smaller print was 'Purveyors of Floral Excellence'.
Logan couldn't even respond verbally. He simply stood wide eyed and took it all in. This was certainly far more than he'd expected.
Ralph smiled at his reaction. "I thought it time to give everyone credit for our success. This gives a bit of ownership to everyone. I'm going to have them cover it and we'll have a little ceremony for the troops as soon as it's in place."
Logan broke into a wide grin. "Oh, that'll be so cool, Ralph."
"Come on," said Ralph as he pushed Logan toward the door. "Let's get the lights turned on." But once inside and out of view of the outside, he pulled Logan into a hard embrace. "Damn, Logan! That show you three put on was out of this world!"
"Thanks, Ralph," he said as he returned the hug. "You're going to love the outcome even better."
Ralph stepped back and simply stared at him. "Outcome?"
"Yeah," laughed Logan. "No more private shows. We'll be doing two of those shows every month for the next six months. Reed and I will do three and then we'll include Phillip in one. No more leaving early from work for shows."
"Well, I can't deny that I'll be happy to have you around more regularly, but won't that cut into the money you could make?"
"Can you keep a secret?" But before Ralph could respond he continued. "We each made thirty-two thousand dollars from that one show."
Ralph's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Holy shit!"
"Yeah, pretty cool. Reed and I didn't want to do the private shows anymore."
"So, that really was the consummation of your relationship?"
"Oh, honey," said Ralph with tears in his eyes as he hugged Logan again. "Congratulations! And none of those old fogies had a clue."
"Didn't matter. The people that mattered understood."
"Hey!" yelled Jake as he and Martha entered from the back. "What's with the cover over the new sign?"
"You'll find out in a bit. Now come over here you two and congratulate Logan. He's found his domestic partner."
Well, that was unexpected. But both of them gave him enthusiastic hugs and congratulations, asking when they'd be able to meet this mystery man.
"Friday," answered Ralph. "We're going to close at lunch time and I'm throwing a reception."
Logan was dumbfounded. He was also left completely out of it as Ralph, Jake and Martha began making plans. The rest of the crew got involved as they arrived. All Logan could do was sit at his bench and watch the excitement.
Logan pulled out his cell and dialed Reed.
"Hey, lover," answered Reed.
"Hey, yourself, sweetie. You got any plans for Friday afternoon?"
"Not that I know of. Lucius may be delivering furniture by then, but we're not sure yet. Why?"
"Well, you better block the afternoon for personal use," laughed Logan.
"Why? What's up?"
"A wedding reception."
There was complete silence from the other end of the phone. Logan simply chuckled as he waited for Reed to get a grip.
"It's Ralph's doing. He asked if we'd really consummated out relationship on Saturday. I, of course, said yes. Well, that's all it took. We're married as far as Ralph is concerned, even if we can't do it legally. You should see them, the entire staff here is huddled together making plans."
There was more silence from the other end of the line. But finally Reed got his head wrapped around it. "You know, that's sort of cool."
"It's a bit embarrassing right now...but, I agree...it's cool. I'm going to tell Ralph that he has to handle all the inviting, though. You and I are not involved."
"So, no telling Dad and Phillip?"
"Let Ralph do it. He'll get a kick out of it."
"Wow. So, you coming for lunch today?"
"Absolutely. I gotta keep up on the progress. Have you heard anything from Taylor?"
"Yeah," answered Reed. "He called just a bit ago, actually, and told me the two systems were built and that he was starting the testing phase. He said they should be ready for installation on Thursday."
"That's great, Reed."
"Oh, you haven't heard the latest," said Reed. "He suggested that I set up a few computers in the lobby area that will be set on the better websites I've designed."
Logan laughed. "And, of course, he has just the computers you need."
"Nope. He told me that if I liked the idea to go to WalMart and buy a few of their systems. Don't need anything fancy to surf the web. I thought you and I could do that tomorrow after work."
"That'll be fine, sweetie. Now, I should probably go see if anybody thought to open the front doors here." He laughed.
"See ya at lunch," said Reed, also laughing.
"I'll bring Burger King."
Logan went out the front of the salon and unlocked the doors and took a glance outside to see how the installation was coming along. The workers had set up cones to direct traffic around their work so there was no problem with customers finding their way. There were, in fact, two customers waiting to get in.
At ten-thirty, the foreman of the sign crew came in and told Ralph that the sign was ready for the big reveal. Ralph immediately halted all work and hustled everyone outside, including the one customer they had at the time.
"So, everyone, as you can see, the new sign has arrived," said Ralph once he'd gotten everyone positioned. The man-lift was still extended just over the sign with one man inside the basket with a rope in his hand. "Logan and I may be the names behind the salon, but you are all the backbone of this operation. This business would not be the success that it is without your effort. We've decided that we want to ensure that everyone knows how much we appreciate your efforts." He then turned and nodded to the man in the basket.
The sheet that had covered the sign fluttered to the ground and there was a general gasp from everyone. Martha and Jake were immediately in tears while the rest were simply stunned. Logan and Ralph simply smiled.
Reed was in the midst of mild chaos. He'd arrived at eight that morning to find Charles and his crew already there, moving in cabinets and countertops. But what got his attention immediately was the walls. They were primarily a light blue. But what set the walls off were the arched stripes of dark blue and green that swept from the floor at the front windows, up to the ceiling halfway to the counters and then angling down to waist level at the wall that led to the work area. The point at the floor was just that...a point. The stripes thickened until they were about a foot and a half wide at the ceiling and then they dwindled to about half that at the back wall.
"Well, my boy," called Charles, "I'd say Lucius has done another bang up job based on the stunned look on your face."
"Wow, is all I can think to say," said Reed with a chuckle. "I never imagined it'd look this elegant."
"That's his specialty, Reed. Lucius has the eye for that sort of thing. I'm always amazed at what he accomplishes with just a few swipes of the paintbrush. So, here are your counters."
"My God, Charles, that wood looks expensive."
"Cocobolo, from Central America. Lucius suggested this orange-red variety. And you're right, if these cabinets were made strictly of cocobolo, they would be outrageously expensive. But we cheated. This is a veneer over birch plywood. Still well within our budget."
"It's magnificent, Charles." He then took notice of the countertops sitting off to one side.
"That's Red Sea Granite," said Charles. "That did bite into the budget a bit, but we managed to slip it in by using the veneer on the cabinets."
"I know we talked about these things," said Reed, "But gees, Charles, isn't this all just a bit much for a simple web design studio?"
"Ah, but Reed, that's what we're trying to avoid, remember? Look, I've done a bit of research on your product. Your sites are most definitely a cut above the rest. You are not a 'typical' web designer. Your vision is unique and the quality of the finished product is inspired. So that's what Lucius and I are trying to convey with your office space. When people come in here they are going to know immediately that they are going to be getting something out of the ordinary."
Reed smiled at the praise. "Well, I'm glad I've got the two of you putting this together, because I would have botched the job."
"Oh you just wait until you see the finished product, Reed. Lucius has some surprises in store for you, I promise."
By the time Logan arrived for lunch, the front counters were all installed and the countertops in place. The men were in the back installing the work surfaces. His reaction to the sight was everything Reed could have hoped for. Logan stopped dead in his tracks as the door shut silently behind him. His mouth fell slightly open and his eyes got round as saucers.
"Oh...my...God," he said softly. Then he saw Reed and Charles standing at the opening to the design area. "Reed, this is fabulous!"
"Pretty cool, eh? Charles says this is nothing." He walked out and met Logan halfway and gave him a hug, despite the fact that Logan's hands were full with two Burger King bags. "According to him this is nothing compared to what it's going to be when Lucius finishes."
Reed then pointed over to one side where a folding table and two chairs were set up. "Come on, I'm hungry," he laughed.
They were halfway through their meal before Logan regained his composure. "God, Reed, this is going to be over the top. What's left?"
"Tomorrow the TV guys show up to install the big screens and test them out. Charles and his guys will be doing a major cleaning before the carpet folks come on Wednesday to install that. Taylor will be installing the design computers on Thursday morning. Lucius then gets the place for two whole days to do his magic. We're barred from the premises during his work. We get the grand tour on Saturday at noon."
"What about the computers you told me about for out here?"
"That's last minute. You, Taylor and I will set them up next week, after hours. Charles will have his carpenters building pedestals for them between now and then."
"So, when are you going to open for business?"
"Two weeks from today," answered Reed. "I'm meeting with the ad specialists tomorrow. The public announcements will begin next Monday."
"Good, that'll give me and Ralph plenty of time to put together some things for you. Can your budget handle a thousand dollars for floral?"
"Yeah, but gees, Logan, do I really need that much?"
"First impressions, lover, first impressions."
When Logan returned to the salon, he headed straight to Ralph's office. "Hey, partner, I was thinking this weekend that the Maxwell Justice Studios should probably think about entering the twenty-first century."
Ralph smiled. "You mean a website. Wondered when that might come up. Is he any good?"
Logan answered that by going over and pulling up the furniture store website Reed had first shown him on Ralph's computer.
"Wow, Logan," said Ralph after a few moments to investigate the site. Then he frowned. "What's that music? I don't recognize it."
"I'd be surprised if you did. That's an original composition by Reed."
"Well, if this is the quality of his work, we definitely need to look into it. Any idea what it'd cost us?"
"Not a clue. I've never inquired about his rates. But I was thinking we could get him to come over here the end of the week. Lucius is kicking him out of the office while he does all the finishing touches. He can walk us through the process and give us an estimate. I thought it'd be a big boost for his business if he could announce a contract with the Maxwell Justice Studios during his grand opening."
"Speaking of which, any idea what the budget is for the floral arrangements?"
"He said he can afford a thousand. I told him he was paying for materials only."
"Well, of course. He's family," said Ralph. "A thousand for materials will give us plenty of leeway to be creative."
"This one we work on together, partner. This one has to be a Maxwell Justice collaboration."
"I can get onboard with that," said Ralph and he got a faraway look in his eye as he contemplated what they might do. "When can we get a look at the place?"
"Saturday's the big reveal for Reed. I told him you and I would be there to support him."
"Well, speaking of grand openings, we have that new hair salon that's opening next week." With that they sat down and began batting ideas back and forth.
Ben was having a good day. He'd been struggling for several hours with Patrick's latest assignment but he'd finally gotten the hang of it and was simply sitting there basking in the glow of accomplishment when his Skype rang. He nearly jumped out of his chair. Then he glanced at the address of the caller and got excited. He clicked on the accept icon.
"Uncle Arthur! Miss me already?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," laughed Arthur. "Actually, I needed someone to cheer me up. I've spent all day dealing with idiots and assholes, nephew."
"There's a lot of those running around in the world, Uncle. We could always have them all shot, but that'd nearly depopulate the world, wouldn't it?"
Arthur laughed hard at this. Ben thought it must have been a bad day, the remark hadn't warranted quite that enthusiastic a response. So while Arthur laughed, Ben manipulated his programs and pressed the send button.
"Hey, Uncle, check your email?"
He watched as Arthur leaned forward and did just that. His eyes got huge as he watched what Ben had sent him. It was a morph using three photos; ones of Ben, Logan and Reed.
"Damn, Benny, that's really great!"
"Thank you. I've been struggling with it all morning. Figured it out just before you called."
"Good morning, Arthur," said Margaret as she entered Ben's room. She ruffled his hair as she stepped up beside him. "I heard you talking to someone and came in to see what was happening. Wanted to make sure you hadn't suddenly taken to talking to yourself." She laughed.
"Good evening, Margaret," said Arthur.
"Like that where you are, is it?" she said with raised eyebrows.
"I just finished my supper."
They chatted for another ten minutes before Arthur finally signed off.
"Well, Benny, you ready for some lunch?"
"Yes, ma'am. Can I help?"
"You don't have to, sweetheart."
"But I want to. My original mom never let me in the kitchen. Logan said that gay guys should know how to cook, and he hasn't been wrong about anything so far." He laughed.
The two of them retired to the kitchen and mom showed Ben how to warm up leftovers without burning them.
Oscar's morning involved a conference call to the board at which time he informed them of the boys' decision about their performing.
"Well, that's inconvenient," said the chairman.
"I'm afraid that I have to agree with the boys," defended Oscar.
"No, no, Oscar, I didn't mean it like that. We agree that they have the right to choose the direction of their performing. It will just mean breaking in a new boy or two in your area. Nothing we can't handle. We're not going to start changing our operating philosophy simply because it's inconvenient. May I ask why they've decided like this?"
Oscar explained about their careers, school and being in love.
"Well, good for them," said the chairman, meaning it. "We'll just be happy that they are willing to continue doing the big shows. I have to tell you Oscar, we would be really skeptical about all the raves we've been getting if it weren't for Arthur's first hand account." He paused for a moment. "Do I understand correctly that there's a video recording of the show?"
"There is. But it's under my control, Dan. I'm willing to share it, but only with restrictions."
"What sort of restrictions?"
"No one touches the disc. It will be accompanied by an expert in video who will set up his own equipment. I have no intention of allowing this video to ever be copied. There will also be a security person present at all times." He paused but couldn't see any real shock. "I'm sorry, but these are my sons. I'm willing to share because it was an extraordinary performance, but I'm not willing for them to be exploited."
"Oscar, you don't have to explain, really," said Dan. "You're being very generous in even being willing to share. The board is having their yearly retreat in a week, Oscar. Would it be possible to arrange for us to view the video at that time? This way we'd be able to see what all the hurrah is about at one time."
"Nothing's free, Dan."
"Oh absolutely. We'll pay. We just have to see what was worth three thousand dollars. I have to tell you that everyone that's contacted us felt that they'd gotten a bargain."
"That's nice to hear. The boys will be pleased to hear it."
"Well, we'll make the arrangements. You just make sure you tell the boys that the board is thrilled with what we've heard and appreciate their willingness to continue in this way."
"I will, and thank you all." He then signed off.
"That sounded like it went well," said Phillip from the door.
"Yes it did," smiled Oscar. "I was afraid there'd be some resistance."
"Well, I've talked with Morgan and he actually has one prospect in mind," said Phillip. "A boy he met just last week when he was through here again. He's promised to pursue the matter when he's back this way in a week and a half."
There was another meeting taking place after the noon lunch hour in another part of town. This one took place in an abandoned warehouse outside of town.
"Look," said the first man, "Lee Whitfield really managed to fuck us over with his little stunt, but we've got to start rebuilding."
Randy Sanders simply stared in disbelief at Eric Mendenhall. "I can not believe you just said that."
"What? We've got the Lord behind this. He'll protect us."
"Yeah, right. Just like he protected all those idiots that got themselves arrested. I can't believe we weren't named. You can forget it, Eric. I'm out! I've had enough of your crap. None of this is worth going to prison for. As it is, I'm going to end up with a hefty fine because of that shit at the boy's new office."
"You're going to go to hell if you don't stay with us."
"Us?" said Randy incredulously. "What us? There's no one left, you ass. They've all been taken off to prison. That precious organization of yours is history."
"With what? The feds are going to be looking for just that. No way. You can forget it. I'm out."
"I'll make you regret running out on us," said Eric with some heat. Randy had always been so easy to bully before, he just knew that he'd be able to force him to cooperate. But he got a terrible surprise.
"You know, I've had enough of you and your little Nazi organization." With that said, he pulled a revolver out of his coat pocket and aimed it at Eric who froze in place, not believing how this meeting was rapidly turning into a disaster. "I think I'll do the world a favor."
"What the hell are you doing?!"
"I'm going to rid the world of another worthless piece of shit. You know, those boys were right. You're like a rabid dog. And you know what we do with rabid dogs? We put them out of their misery." Randy pulled the trigger of his already cocked gun. Fortunately, this was a very remote location, so there wasn't much chance of anyone hearing anything. He watched with some satisfaction as Eric fell backwards, one neat hole in his forehead.
Randy Sanders simply turned and got into this vehicle and drove away, knowing precisely where he'd dispose of the gun so that there could be no connection. His first stop on entering town was the nearest tire store where he purchased four new tires and had them installed. He hoped that the forensics people would be unable to track him.
'I think I've had enough of all this intrigue,' he thought as he returned to his office. 'Time to concentrate on my business and family.'
Tuesday found Phillip at the salon going over Ralph's financials. He spent two hours on the computer before passing judgment. "Well, Ralph, Logan, you've got everything in order it seems. It'd be a good idea if you got a full-time person like you want. I've got a couple of suggestions, if you'd like. I'm too busy to take it on, but I know a couple of guys that are looking for something more permanent."
"So, we can afford to bring someone onboard?" asked Ralph.
"Definitely. If you choose Walter Gamble, you'll be able to have a dedicated person to handle your financials and inventory control. He does both and does them well. He wants to get out of the strictly accounting end. He's new, but he's talented. He just got married and he wants to have a more stable income."
They spent a bit of time discussing the salary they should offer and then made a call to a very surprised young man.
"Phillip! How the devil are you?"
"Doing real good, Walt. Got a question for you though. You still interested in a permanent position doing financials and inventory."
"Hell yes. Bev and I are really tired of my up again, down again income. Why, you got something cooking?"
"I might. You ever hear of the Maxwell Justice Studio?"
"Ah, come on, Phillip, who hasn't...wait, are you suggesting?..."
"I'm not just suggesting, Walt. You got a bit of time that you could come down to the Maxwell Justice Studio?"
"Ralph and Logan are looking for someone that can free them up to concentrate on their creative efforts."
There was silence at the other end of the phone line as Walt digested that bit of information. "Uh, when should I go there?"
"Ralph Maxwell here, Walter. We'd like to see you as soon as you can drop by."
"Mr. Maxwell! I can be there in half an hour. Or is that too pushy?"
The three of them laughed. "Not at all, Walter. Logan and I have some big projects coming up real soon. I'd love nothing better than to get a reliable person in here so that I can escape this office. When you come, if your wife is available, bring her too. She can see where you'll be performing your magic and meet the people you'll be working with."
"Thank you, Mr. Maxwell, we'll be right over."
It was less than half an hour later that the two of them walked in the salon. Phillip had stuck around to do the introductions. Besides, he hadn't seen his college friend for several months; not since the wedding, in fact. The three of them hugged in the lobby.
"Phillip Stewart," scolded Beverly, "You don't call, you don't visit, and we're tired of it."
They laughed as they walked back toward the open office door. "You're right, Bev, and I'm sorry. It's just been so hectic since your wedding. But things are settling down. I'll make a point of being more friendly."
They stopped just inside the office as Ralph and Logan stood. "Beverly and Walter Gamble," said Phillip, "Allow me to introduce Ralph Maxwell and Logan Justice."
Walter stepped forward immediately and shook both their hands. "It is a real pleasure to meet you both." He turned and waved his wife forward. "For both of us."
Phillip and Ralph showed Walter the job requirements while Logan sat and chatted with Beverly in the little seating area. Once the salary offer had been made and accepted, they made their way to the small, unused upstairs space. It contained two offices, one of which was being used for dry good storage. The other had ample space for a desk and records storage, and even had a large window that looked over the work area and lobby below.
"This way you won't feel like you've been sequestered to the nether regions," laughed Ralph. They discussed Walter's office needs at this point. "Until we can get this space set up, you'll work out of my office. I plan to spend most of my time in the shop anyway."
"You still a one car family, Walt?" asked Phillip.
"Afraid so. My little attempt at my own business just hasn't done very well."
"Well, not a problem," piped in Ralph. "The salon has a five year old caddy in the back that needs a use. So your employment will also come with a company vehicle." He smiled at their shocked looks. "So, how soon can you begin?"
"I can start immediately," said Walter as he looked at his wife who was nodding her agreement.
"Well, as it's just coming on lunch, you can start after that. Right now I'm taking the two of you out for your noon meal. Now, let's go down and introduce you to everyone."
Logan and Reed took the following day off to spend it with their friends. Ben was invited as well and got the shock of his life when he arrived to find four of his friends there.
"Mom raided your email and invited them," explained Logan. "You haven't spent any time with your friends since you got stuck in that basement."
Even little Peter attended the festivities.
The following day found Reed at the salon discussing what Ralph and Logan wanted in the way of a website. Ralph pretty much let the boys handle the details; they were much more attuned to what would work in a computer environment. Ralph's only requirement was that the site would not be an ordering outlet. It was to be for viewing the stock of premade arrangements and showing the special venues they'd provided florals for.
Ralph spent an hour with his interior designer going over the needs of Walter's office space, allowing the man some say in what he'd appreciate having in the space. He had to work there, after all, and it was only good sense to have paint colors he would find soothing and furniture that would suit his work ethic.
Since the space was empty, the designer had painters in that afternoon and by quitting time the space was decked out in its new color scheme.
Logan brought Peter to the salon on Friday to spend the day 'helping' the florists making their arrangements. The designer moved in the new furniture in the morning and Taylor dropped by with a new computer that was specifically designed for accounting, inventory and ordering. By the end of the day, Walter pronounced himself thrilled with the new space and was effusive in his thanks to Ralph.
Reed, of course, was a nervous wreck by lunch time. He'd spent the whole morning thinking of nothing but what Lucius was possibly doing at the office space. Well, not the whole morning. He spent a little time on his computer working out some preliminary ideas for his new project. Then he'd decided to work on a new composition and had turned to his instrument area...only to find it empty. Well, of course it was empty, They'd moved the equipment to the office on Wednesday. Well, that only brought him back to his anxiety.
"All right, Reed," announced Phillip, having had enough of his brother's pacing.
"Why aren't you dressed to go?"
Phillip simply stood at the door for a few moments his face turning from anxious to sympathetic. He walked over and pulled Reed into an embrace. "You're a mess, little brother. You're spending too much time worrying about your shop."
Reed relaxed into the hug. "It's so exciting and frustrating."
"I can only imagine, little brother. But you've gone and forgotten the reception Ralph is throwing for you and Logan."
"Oh damn!" He jumped away from Phillip and looked at his watch. "Shit!"
"Relax, Reed. Just go take a quick shower and get dressed in something nice. Ralph said nothing formal. Just make it quick. Dad and I will be ready to leave in fifteen."
Reed just made the fifteen minute timeframe. As he came running down the stairs he saw Phillip and dad coming out into the foyer. The ride to the salon was fun as the two of them worked to relax Reed and get him laughing.
The reception was attended by everyone at the salon and family. But what surprised Logan and Reed was that their friends had all been invited as well. There were no wedding gifts, just good company, congratulations and plenty of food.
Logan was able to get them off to one side about halfway through the festivities.
"How'd it go with the ad guy from the newspaper?"
"Oh, that went great. We're going to start a series of small ads on Monday. We'll put out the half pager in the Sunday paper. We're going to include pictures of the office in that one."
"Got a receptionist?"
"Receptionist? Oh, you mean a salesperson. Yeah, I stopped by Taylor's store yesterday after I'd finished here. He had two people for me to interview. The guy was really knowledgeable, but so cold...no people skills. The girl wasn't as up on everything, but she's a sweetheart and funny...and gorgeous, too. Taylor suggested some reading material for her. Her name's Arlene and she's nineteen."
"She going to be there tomorrow?"
"Oh yes. She's really excited about this."
"Well good. Sound's like you have a handle on everything."
"God, Logan, I'm so fucking excited about it. I forgot all about this reception."
Logan laughed. "Yeah, that's what Phillip said when he called. You better now?"
"Oh yeah, this has helped a lot. This was really sweet." He smiled. "Embarrassing, but sweet. Whose idea was it to invite the crew along?"
"Phillip's. He figured that since they already knew about us, there was no reason not to include them."
"It's been fun having them here," said Reed.
Peter was all excitement after the morning spent at the salon. Everyone had made much of him, always finding little things that he could do to help out.
Logan spent the night in an effort to distract Reed from his anticipation. He may not have been completely successful at the distraction, but he certainly wore his lover out and that enabled him to sleep quite soundly.
They both took some care with their appearance the following morning. They were, after all, businessmen, and it seemed logical that they should look their best for this major event in Reed's life.
Mom and Ben arrived at the residence at nine-thirty looking like they were going to a movie premier or something. What shocked them all was when Uncle Arthur walked into the study at ten o'clock.
"Uncle Arthur?" said Reed, stunned.
"You don't for a moment think I'd miss out on my nephew's big day, do you?"
Well that brought Reed to tears as he stepped up and hugged his uncle.
Arthur simply smiled as he hugged Reed. "Nervous?"
"I'm a basket case, Uncle Arthur."
"That first business venture can do that to a guy," said Arthur with real understanding.
Lucius had arranged for an eleven o'clock reveal, so everyone marched out of the residence at ten-thirty and slid into two limousines that Oscar had provided. This was a big day for his youngest son, and he was determined to make the most of it.
They arrived to find the street blocked off and as they made their way down the block they understood why. The first thing that everyone noticed, were the sheets that covered the two store-front windows and the one over the door that covered the business sign. The second thing was the crowd. There were several media groups in attendance, but what got Reed's real attention was the fact that he recognized most of the milling people as the contractors and craftsmen that had worked on his space.
"Well, young man," greeted Charles, "Your day has finally arrived."
"Yes, sir," said a stunned Reed. He had not expected them to make such a to do about all this. But then again, he was thrilled a bit by all the effort and attention.
"A man's first business opening should be a major event in his life," said Lucius with all seriousness. He stepped up and gave Reed a brief hug. "So, you ready for this?"
"Yes, Lucius, I'm quite ready," smiled Reed.
He was led by Charles and Lucius to a spot in the middle of the street, directly in front of the store front. Surprisingly, the crowd grew hushed as they took their place.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Lucius in a voice that wasn't a yell, but easily carried to the entire crowd. "Thank you for coming this morning. Most of you have had a part in building this new business location. So it is only fitting that you are here to see the final results of all your work." He then turned to Reed. "Reed Stewart, you have taken a big leap of faith in venturing into the world of business. It can be a bit frightening that first time. But you have approached this new life with dedication, imagination, and a spirit of cooperation. We believe that you will be a success, and we consider ourselves privileged to have had a part of bringing you to this moment."
Lucius stepped back and allowed Charles the honor. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are here today to christen a new business. But more than that, we are here to toast the efforts of a truly talented young man as he endeavors to become all that he can be. That young man is Reed Stewart, and this is his new life." He waved toward the front of the store and the sheet covering the sign was lifted out of the way. "RS Business Media will be a success because the young man behind it is dedicated to the art behind the business." He waved one more time and the sheets covering the windows were allowed to fall.
Reed was stunned. Too stunned even to cry at the sight before him. He'd spent all those hours with Charles and Lucius, choosing and deciding, and yet he could not believe what they'd done with all those choices.
RS Business Media was a vision of sophistication, and yet there was that hint of youthfulness about it. For instance, the two store front windows had a letter stenciled on each of them; R and S in beautiful calligraphy. But what set them off was the slight right hand tilt of the upper portion and the lines to the left of each letter that gave the feeling that the letters were running for some goal. The sign above the door had no such whimsicality. It was a model of professionalism. Sophisticated professionalism above with youthful whimsy below.
The windows were tinted a light bronze, so nothing could really be seen of the interior. There was a hint that there were floor to ceiling drapes and something light across the width of the windows; probably something shear or semi-shear.
It took a moment for it to register with Reed that there was applause throughout the block. When that finally penetrated his mind, he became aware of other responses, such as the rapid beating of his over-excited heart, the flush of blushing cheeks and the slight shaking of his hands. For him, there could be only one reaction to it all. His arms stabbed into the air over his head, fists clenched. "Yes!!"
That only caused the applause to become more intense and there were cat calls and whistles to accompany it.
He spun rapidly about and finally found Charles and Lucius standing side by side, Cheshire cat grins on their faces. He stepped rapidly up to them and wrapped an arm around each of them and pulled them into a fierce embrace, tears steaming down his face.
"You guys are the BEST!"
They returned his embrace with laughter. After a few moments Charles tried to regain control of the situation.
"You know, Reed, there's more to see. Wouldn't you like to check out the interior?"
Reed released them and stepped back, wiping the tears from his eyes, all the time laughing. "I don't know if my heart can take it."
Each man took hold of one of his arms and gently guided him to the front entrance of the building. The applause continued, but no one approached. This was his moment, and his alone. The two men stopped Reed about four feet from the double doors.
"This project has been a treat," said Charles. "It's been an innovative design and the proprietor has been a real pleasure to work for."
"This is your future, Reed," said Lucius.
The two men left Reed standing there as they stepped forward and each grabbed the handle of one of the double wooden doors. They pulled and Reed nearly fainted. They'd talked for weeks about what it would be...they'd scrutinized the drawings, ensuring everything was perfectly placed....they'd sat at the CAD representation and adjusted this and that. But none of that prepared him for the reality.
The very first thing he saw was the horseshoe counter in that red, wood veneer; the shoe opening facing the back of the store. Behind that counter stood Arlene, dressed as professionally as anyone could have hoped, in a stylish women's pinstriped business suit in navy blue. What gave the suit that youthful feel was the fact that the pinstripes were in pink. Her brunette hair was styled casually. Her smile was warm and welcoming.
"Good afternoon, sir, and welcome to RS Business Media. How may we be of assistance to you?"
Reed laughed. "Well, Arlene, I'm hoping you have some oxygen back there somewhere, because this takes my breath away," he replied as he stepped over the threshold.
Now that he was inside, he next noticed the carpet. What had been a simple dark beige carpet when he'd last seen it, now had two brilliant blue letters imbedded in it, in the very center of the showroom. To the left side of the showroom were the six pedestals that supported the simple computers that were set to some of Reed's previous web designs. To the right of the showroom was a sitting area, complete with mock fireplace, where Reed would consult with individual customers about their requirements. The rest of that side was taken up with pictures of various options available to customers.
The last thing that Reed finally noticed was that the space did not glare at you. The lighting was very specifically designed for each area. Spots highlighted the various pedestals as well as the photos. The sitting area was lighted with floor lamps with long sweeping arms. The general lighting was six spot lights installed a foot below the ceiling that were all directed toward the center of the white ceiling, thus adding a soft general lighting to the entire room.
"Wait a minute," said Reed as his mind finally caught up with his eyes. "Where'd the computers come from? They weren't supposed to get delivered until tomorrow." He looked around, but Charles and Lucius were still at the doors.
Arlene came out from behind the counter. "These have been delivered early courtesy of your older brother, Phillip, who made a few phone calls to WalMart management who miraculously found just the number you needed from several stores."
Just then two arms encircled him from behind. He recognized them immediately and reached up and held them tightly to him. "My little brother deserved to see his business fully equipped the first time he walked in."
Reed turned his head and they kissed. "Thanks, big brother."
"You're welcome," smiled Phillip. "Now, there's someone on the other side of the showroom that wants to present something to you."
Reed turned around and found Taylor standing at the sitting area. Arlene looped her arm in his and pulled him gently toward the area.
"Congratulations, Reed," said Taylor. "I am thrilled to be able to welcome you to the fraternity of business owners. I imagine we'll be sending people to each other over the coming years." He laughed. "Seriously, Reed, you and Logan have been some of my very best customers over the years. So, in recognition of your loyalty I have a gift for you." He swept his arm toward the center of the seating area and the glass topped coffee table. He pulled Reed into the area and sat on one of the sofas, pulling Reed down next to him.
"Touch the table top," instructed Taylor.
Reed's head spun toward Taylor, his mouth hanging open. "No," he breathed in disbelief. "You didn't."
Taylor simply smiled and nodded toward the table.
Reed turned back and reached out a shaking hand and touched the glass finish. Immediately the table came to life displaying the Microsoft logo and the word 'Surface'. That cleared after a couple of moments and then a new program took over...an animation of RS Business Media, complete with a picture of Reed. Just as he was about to speak, the table piped in.
"Welcome to RS Business Media, this state's premier web building company," said a female voice. "Founder and principle web architect, Reed Stewart, has built a reputation on designing web sites that are a step above the norm. The sites he's developed in the past couple of years, both in the business arena and the area of personal sites, have garnered rave reviews."
The scene shifted to a flash of several pages of the furniture store website as a new voice spoke. "This site has increased our sales by ten percent in the year that we've had it." A window opened in one corner to a video of the owner of the furniture store. "Reed Stewart spent hours with us, determining our needs and our hopes for bringing our enterprise into the twenty-first century. What he delivered was a site that was far beyond our expectations. The ease of use for visitors is astounding. The musical accompaniment is inspired. But best of all was the time he took in educating us in the proper maintenance of our new technology. If you are looking for a website that will attract new customers, you can do no better than RS Business Media."
The screen blanked briefly and then came back to life as several printed texts slowly scrolled up the screen. "The sites that Reed has developed for personal use," continued the female voice, "Are just as well received. Letter after letter have sung the praises of those individuals that were expecting your average, run of the mill sites. The words 'astounding', 'well beyond my expectations', and 'totally over the top' recur over and over in these letters and emails."
"If you are looking for innovation, then RS Business Media is the place to invest your advertising dollars."
The screen blanked and then a 'play' icon appeared in the center and began to flash. Reed reached out and pressed the spot. The screen faded open and there were Mom Justice and Ben.
"Congratulations, son," said mom. And it was at that moment that Reed realized that the voice in the previous piece had been hers. "Benjamin and I worked to put that together as our gift to you as you step out and begin this new life. You are a remarkable talent, son. We know that you are going to go far. And when I say we," and the screen began to pan out and the rest of his family came into view, including Uncle Arthur, "I mean all of us...your family. We are so proud of you, Reed. Now go out there and rock their world." Everyone on the screen then stood and began applauding as the image began to fade.
With tears streaming down his face he looked up and wasn't the least bit surprised to find his family standing around the sitting area applauding. The tears, hugs and kisses were in abundance. Then he finally turned back to Taylor and held out a hand.
"What? I don't get a hug too?" laughed Taylor.
Reed stepped right in and hugged Taylor hard. "God, Taylor, this is totally unexpected. Thank you so much."
"You're welcome, Reed. Just remember me when you come across a customer with a computer need."
"I'll do better than that," said Reed as he broke their hug. "When we get your website up and running, it will be one of those that runs on one of these machines in the showroom, along with a stand that has your business cards on it."
"And I'll return the favor at my store," said Taylor.
Reed took a deep breath and turned to the room at large. "I...am...overwhelmed. This is beyond my expectations. My contractor and decorator are rivaled by no one. My friends are generous. My staff is stunning. And my family...my family are an unparalleled blessing. With all this support, I can't help but succeed. I'll do my best to make you all proud." He smiled at everyone impartially. "Now, let's let everyone in to have a look around. These people worked their butts off to make this happen."
To prove his appreciation, Reed walked over to the entrance and shook everyone's hand as they entered and thanked every contractor impartially. When he'd shaken everyone's hand he looked around and finally found Arlene standing off to one side with mom and dad.
"Arlene, you look marvelous," he said as he approached.
She actually blushed slightly. "Thank you, Reed. I had Lucius help me choose this."
"Well, you both have very good taste," he smiled. "Uh, is this the sort of thing you'd like to wear for work? I haven't given much thought to it."
"Actually, I like this quite a bit. I thought if you were going to go with the name 'Business Media' that it'd add a touch of class to go with a business dress."
"Arlene, it's a marvelous choice. And since it's obvious that your wardrobe is not prepared for this, since Lucius had to help you, I'm going to include a clothing allowance in your paycheck for the next two months." He smiled at her shocked looked. "Oh, and by the way, you're officially on the clock as of today. There's a lot to accomplish between now and our grand opening next Monday."
"Reed," whispered Arthur in Reed's ear. "Can I talk to you privately for a couple of minutes?"
"Excuse me," said Reed as he followed Arthur into the back work area.
"This is a fine looking establishment, Reed, truly fine."
"Lucius and Charles have outdone themselves with all of this. I mean, I've seen it all on paper and a computer simulation, but this...this is totally over the top."
"Yes it is. Now, I wanted to get you alone to let you know what my business warming gift is to you." He held up his hand to stop Reed's response. "Please, Reed, allow me. I've never had family to spend my money on." Reed nodded. "Good. So here's my gift. Your dad is arranging for me to pay all of your startup costs. What you've already paid out will be reimbursed to you and I'll pick up the remainder of your bills."
Reed's eyes teared up, despite knowing what was going to happen. "Thank you, Uncle Arthur," he said softly.
"You're quite welcome, nephew. Now I have to know, where'd you find that knockout for a receptionist?"
Reed laughed. "The owner of Taylor's Byte Factory helped me find her."
"I have to say, you're taking quite a professional approach. She looks stunning in that suit."
"Her choice, Uncle. But I'll admit that I'm stoked by it. She's going to be the first image everyone sees of this business."
"Reed?" said a small voice from the door. Reed turned to see little Peter standing there looking very hesitant. "Benny said you were talking to Mr. Puckett."
"I certainly am. Want to say hi?"
Peter nodded and walked over to them. "Hello, Mr. Puckett."
"Hello, Peter. How are you doing?"
"I'm doing real good, sir. But I have a question. How come you did this trust thing for me?"
"Oscar told you about that, did he?" Peter nodded. "It's very simple, Peter. I like doing good things for good people. You are very definitely a good people." Peter giggled at the wording, and Arthur smiled. "The trust fund I've started for you will grow as you get older. When you turn eighteen you'll be able to use the money to start a career, just like Logan and Reed are doing."
"But I'm not part of your family," objected Peter.
"But you are, Peter. Who saved you from that foster parent?"
"And who's looking out for you now and making sure you get a good home?"
"Mr. Oscar and Phillip and Reed and Mrs. Justice."
"So that makes you a part of their families. Since I'm Uncle Arthur, that means we're family, Peter. Even after you get a new home you'll still be part of this family, won't you?"
"That's what Mr. Oscar has told me."
"Then that makes you another one of my nephews, Peter. Welcome to the family, my boy."
Peter stood there and thought about that for a moment, then he smiled. "I love you, Uncle Arthur."
"And I love you too, Peter."
They exchanged a quick hug before Peter ran back to the front. "He's such a sweet little boy," said Arthur.
"Dad thinks he's found the perfect couple for him. They're not capable of having kids of their own. They're coming over on Wednesday to meet Peter and see if they can't make a connection."
"Good. So go on, back to your guests. Oh, wait, by the way," he motioned Reed closer.
"The organization is very, very pleased by the decision you, Logan and Phillip have made. You've agreed to give us something we've never had before...a really well thought out set of performances. To show their appreciation, you are each receiving a twenty-five thousand dollar bonus. And before you ask, no, I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I've informed the board that where the three of you are concerned I can not be involved, except to ensure your protection. So, I don't want to hear anything about favoritism. This is simply a bunch of dirty old men letting you know that the three of you rock big time."
"They're not upset by us giving up the private shows?"
"Not at all. They appreciate that you want to concentrate more attention on your school and your budding careers. These are businessmen, Reed. They have a great deal of respect for anyone that has their priorities set properly. Don't you guys worry about it. Now, go mingle with your adoring public," he laughed.
When he entered the showroom, he walked directly to his dad. "You could have told me," he laughed.
"It was Arthur's idea to see how you handled a budget that you'd set. He's quite pleased with your performance. You're on time and in budget. He wanted to reward you for your diligence."
"Well, I have one final set of expenses to take care of." He looked around and waved over Charles and Lucius. "Well, gentlemen, you've outdone yourselves as far as I'm concerned. The result is so far beyond what you showed me on the CAD that it doesn't even bear mentioning. Now, I have one final financial task to take care of."
"We've already been paid, Reed. Your uncle, I believe."
"Yes, I know. This is personal. Now how many men and women did you have working on this project?"
"I had ten, and what was it, seven, Lucius?"
Reed smiled. "Well at least I can still count." He then reached into his inside suit pocket and pulled out a handful of envelopes. He counted out ten to Charles and eight to Lucius. "These are all a one hundred and fifty dollar bonus from me personally for all your peoples' hard work." He then reached in and pulled two envelopes from his other inside pocket and handed one to each of them. "And these are your bonuses."
"The first thing I'll be doing tomorrow is creating a sign that will go in the front window that will tell the world who it is that created this space. I've got before pictures that I'll be posting near the front door that will allow everyone to see what it was you started with." He paused and looked at them both, just a hint of moisture in his eyes. "Thank you, gentlemen...thank you very much."
"You're welcome, Reed," they said simultaneously. Then they walked off to distribute the envelopes.
When he turned back to his dad, Phillip was standing there as well, and they were both smiling. "Way to go, little brother," said Phillip. "So, what's on the agenda for the rest of the week?"
"Arlene and I are going to be busy receiving supplies and advertising materials. She's going to have to go through her computer and see if there's anything that's confusing and organizing it to suit her style. And I have got to sit down with that toy in the sitting area and learn what it can do."
"Not a problem," said Taylor as he walked up to them. "I've already set Wednesday afternoon aside to come and teach you the intricacies of that toy."
"Cool. Thanks again, Taylor."
"By the way, have you looked at what's playing on your big screens?" asked Taylor.
"Playing?..." Reed hadn't so much as glanced at them. He did so now and was amazed to see a morphing presentation of the transformation of the space. It was only then that he realized there was a quiet monologue accompanying the show. It took him a moment or two to realize it was Ben's voice he was hearing describe all the steps that had gone into the project.
Reed spun around and easily located Ben standing off to one side with mom and Peter. He walked up behind Ben and hugged him hard. "Thanks, little brother."
Ben turned around and hugged back. "For what?"
Reed pointed his chin up toward the big screen. "That."
"You like, eh? You're welcome. Got a lot of good experience learning that morphing technique."
Mom and Peter simply smiled at their show of affection. Then suddenly, Reed saw Peter get the most perplex look on his face. The little man's hand went to his head as his eyes rolled back in his head.
"Peter!" yelled Reed as he jumped over and caught Peter before he could fall and hurt himself.
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