Thank you to fellow Ink Well author and fractal artist @justclickindiva for the inspiration AND the use of her GLORIOUS fractal fan for this story!
Jean-Luc Dubois understood about nine-year-old Vertran Stepforth what the little boy had no means to know about himself yet:
“Our little friend proposed to our granddaughter Louisa the other week,” he said to his wife Ébène-Cerise Dubois, “but that child is in love with you and me, and also Jules and Jean-Paul.”
Vertran was nine years old and the middle child of a family of seven … too young for the company of his teenage siblings, and a bit too old for the Baby Steps, his younger siblings. He was lonely in the middle of abundance, and a child prodigy on top of that.
Then, the Dubois family had moved to Lofton County, VA, and Louisa Dubois Chennault had joined the program for advanced students that Mr. Thomas Stepforth Sr. had set up for his grandson Vertran and many other children. Louisa was also nine, new to the area and alone with her grandparents, who had brought her up to join Mr. Stepforth's program. This also meant that the grandparents had time to give love and attention to one more little child who was her friend.
So, Vertran Stepforth had adopted himself to the Dubois family, and he figured that if he was going to join the family, he ought to do it the honest way and marry his friend Louisa, after a nice nine-year courtship and engagement.
Jean-Luc Dubois understood the whole situation, and he and his wife were both completely relaxed and tickled about “La Romance de Vertran et Louisa” and confident that they could meet the little boy's real needs as well.
On one particular Friday in July when Louisa had chores and Vertran was coming down the road, Jean-Luc Dubois walked out and intercepted Vertran at the gate, giving a big sigh as he came down the walk.
“Can I help you, Monsieur Dubois? That was a big sigh!”
“Grandson” – and Jean-Luc Dubois smiled behind his mask as Vertran's eyes lit up – “I hope so. Tomorrow we want to have our usual picnic, but it is going to be so hot.”
“Yes, sir, I heard.”
“You think Madame Dubois and Mademoiselle Louisa would like it if we went and got them matching fans?”
“Oh, yes, sir, I know they would!”
“Come on then – allons!”
Jean-Luc Dubois was 74, but quite tall, and in good shape, so it was not hard to walk and talk with his active nine-year-old friend all the way to the farmer's market in Tinyville. That had stayed open because farmer's markets were essential services to the locale, and farmers and local artisans had partnered up to offer food and “accessories.”
From Vertran Stepforth's perspective, it was like seeing his own grandfather written large in Black French … everybody in the market knew Monsieur Dubois, and he carried himself with the same noble, benevolent royalty that Thomas Stepforth Sr. did in his circles. And, like Vertran did with his own grandfather, he imitated Monsieur Dubois's style, waving cheerily and following up his greetings in a big, cheery voice, and falling right into Monsieur Dubois's Dixieland jubilee stride.
“So how do you keep up with all the names of the people without writing any of them down?” Vertran asked after about an hour of just walking around in the sunshine and rejoicing with his future grandfather-in-law.
“Like everything else, grandson: practice. People like it when you remember them, and no matter how much money you have, the riches are in the relationship with the people. Your grandfather my friend is rich in that people allow him to hold a lot of the money they have shared with him in the markets. I am rich in that I can let everyone in the world hold their resources until I ask for them.”
“That is a whole lot you just said right there, Monsieur Dubois.”
“You are so intelligent that I can tell you my best secrets, Vertran, like I tell my son Jean-Paul.”
“See, this is why I am marrying into your family!”
“I know, Vertran, and you are welcome.”
Vertran Stepforth forgot all that he was doing and just gave Monsieur Dubois a big hug and started crying, not really knowing why, but Monsieur Dubois did, and just picked the little boy up and carried him out of the market into the shade for a little while.
Monsieur and Madame Dubois had adopted many sons and grandsons, seeing that there was always a need. Vertran was precocious, of course, but one of many young boys and men that had beat a path to the Dubois door, which remained open even in the middle of a world crisis.
Vertran woke up in a bit of a panic.
“Oh, no, I am so sorry – Madame Dubois and Louisa and my mom are going to be so worried, and –.”
“Be calm. They all know you are with me. When you are with me, there is no problem.”
The little boy just sighed and snuggled up again, in complete trust and relief ... the immense paternal presence of Jean-Luc Dubois, plus time, was just about all he had been looking for all day beside Louisa. There was no problem and no hurry; Monsieur Dubois let his little friend rest until he bounced up of his own accord and cleaned up his face with his little handkerchief.
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “I needed that.”
“I know, Vertran, and you are welcome.”
On to one of the more “creative” pairings of the market … eggs come from chickens, and chickens have feathers, so right next to the booth with the farm-fresh eggs and freshly frozen chickens was the woman selling huge feather fans and costumes.
Vertran was just the right height to read the price tags on everything.
“Wow, prices have gone way up,” he said to Monsieur Dubois. “This pandemic is serious. You may need some of that money folks let Pop-Pop hold to deal with all this.”
“You think so?” Monsieur Dubois said, with a smile. “Watch and learn, Vertran. Bon jour, Madame Ellington.”
Madame Ellington had just finished a sale to another customer, and then turned around and almost screamed for joy.
“Monsieur Dubois! Monsieur Dubois, I did as you said and reached out to Monsieur Chennault [Louisa's father] – he connected me with a modeling agency and they love my fans and costumes! I have so many orders I can hardly keep up! You saved my business and my livelihood, and you didn't have to do any of that!”
“Of course I did,” he corrected her gently in his deep bass voice. “Are you not a fellow person, and heir of the grace of God?”
“I love you, Monsieur Dubois, I really do, and I love your wife, and your whole family! What can I do for you?”
“Take my money – my grandson and I are here to buy my wife and my granddaughter matching fans.”
“Oh, no – absolutely not. You pick out whatever you want, and it is yours!”
Vertran's mouth fell open, although it was behind his mask, and Jean-Luc Dubois smiled as he picked out what he had his eye on.
“What do you think, Vertran? Purple and gold for a queen and a princess, but also blue, because they are true and faithful, a faithful grande dame and a faithful little belle who love us.”
“I think this one is perfect!”
“Madame Ellington, will you allow me to take this fan, and the matching little one for my granddaughter?”
“Is that all you want?”
“Yes, madame – that is plenty, and merci beaucoup. My wife and granddaughter will gladly do some photos of themselves in their beauty with your fans for your website.”
“Thank you, Monsieur Dubois – still giving value! Thank you!”
Five minutes later, Monsieur Dubois and Vertran were walking back up the road to the Dubois home with the fans, each in their own bag to be presented to their own lady.
“What did I tell you, grandson?”
“Tell me this, Vertran – who made the gold and blue of the summertime, and the purple mountain majesty of the morning?”
“And Who said the greatest one among you shall be your servant?”
“God, in the person of Jesus Christ.”
“Who serves everyone by sharing what He has with us?”
“And who is the greatest One of all?”
“God … oh, wow … so, you're telling me that … oh, wow … .”
“I told you I was rich, Vertran,” he said, “and that people's hands are open to me. Now you know why. I follow the model of the richest One of all.”
“My mind is absolutely blown, sir.”
“Go home and talk to your grandfather about it. You will learn even more.”
Vertran went home having forgotten all about Louisa, who thus was able to finish her chores without distraction.
The next day, on came Vertran down the road in his cream summer suit, carrying both a lemon pie his mother had made for him to take to the picnic and also the fan he was going to give Louisa … and both Louisa and Madame Dubois were charmed in their matching white sundresses when Monsieur Dubois and Vertran, in matching cream summer suits, presented them their matching fans.
Thus began a day of picnicking and photography, with fun-loving Jules Dubois playing model photographer – “yes, darlings, yes – more, yes, beautiful, absolutely stunning, yes!” – and more serious-minded Major Jean-Paul Dubois taking backup shots for Madame Ellington's website. Grandmother and granddaughter obliged for both as stunning representations of African-American beauty in both childhood and elder years.
But the best photograph was never taken, only remembered … all through the picnic, Vertran imitated the men who made do with cardboard fans if they used them at all, but was pleased along with all the men to see Madame Dubois and Louisa, perfectly cool and refreshed and lovely with the combined fanning power of their two big fans.
“It doesn't even feel as hot, seeing them so happy and beautiful and sweat-free,” Vertran said to Monsieur Dubois.
“That means we did our job right, Vertran.”
Vertran Stepforth threw himself into Monsieur Dubois's arms.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too, grandson.”
And, as the afternoon wound down and cooled off, Vertran curled up and went to sleep by Monsieur Dubois just as Louisa had curled up and gone to sleep by Madame Dubois.
Madame Dubois smiled at her husband.
“How much longer do you think it is going to take before Vertran realizes he doesn't have to be engaged to Louisa for nine years to be welcomed here?” she whispered.
“Oh, come now, my wife,” he purred back. “Now why would you want to mess up the only soap opera we watch?”