"Bubbly Hearts," fractal art by the author, Deeann D. Mathews
Jean-Luc Dubois and Thomas Stepforth Sr. were good friends, both Black elders with businesses and lots of grandchildren. Monsieur Dubois had more grandchildren, spanning from Black French Louisiana all the way to Quebec, and billionaire Mr. Stepforth had a few more and bigger businesses, but they still found they had more in common than not, including a love for one special little boy.
“So,” Monsieur Dubois said to Mr. Stepforth, “how is my grandson-in-law Vertran doing today?”
“Your granddaughter's engagement ring almost went on nine-year layaway today.”
Both men cracked up laughing, because Vertran had only been nine years old for three months, and had proposed to Louisa Dubois Chennault – also nine – two weeks before his ninth birthday.
Thomas Stepforth Sr. had been the baby boy of his father, and so had room and time to be the child prodigy. He recognized that his grandson Vertran was very much like him. Yet Vertran was the middle child of his father, Thomas Stepforth Jr., and so too young to hang out with his teenage siblings and too old to fit in with his younger siblings.
Vertran needed more time and attention than his parents had for him, and so had latched on to the Dubois family, who had brought their granddaughter Louisa with them to study in Mr. Stepforth's programs for advanced students such as Vertran. He and Louisa had become fast friends, and the Dubois grandparents and sons in town had extra time to spend with him, so he had decided to marry Louisa and join the family!
Vertran thought of himself as his grandfather's miniature, and the resemblance was more than skin deep. He already had convinced his parents to let him start a YouTube and then a Threespeak channel about “How to Survive and Thrive in First Grade,” and then he had added every grade from kindergarten through third grade. He also had added a new review channel in 2020: “Catching Kids Doing Something Right.”
Vertran's presentations were well-researched, serious, and of course, perfectly ridiculous. It would be like listening to Benjamin Banneker at eight and then nine years old, his flawless research, brilliance, and kid logic blending seamlessly, earnestly, and innocently. Vertran went viral because kids loved watching him, and their parents loved watching again in private for the laughs.
Lo and behold: Vertran by age nine had become the first “thousandaire” in his generation of the family, and in the spring and summer of 2020, while people were sitting at home looking for ideas to entertain and educate their kids and to amuse themselves, his channels got a huge bump.
One fine day, Major Thomas Stepforth Jr. had come to his son with a big envelope.
“Well, Vertran, look here. Sit down first, and take a deep breath.”
A few minutes later, Vertran Stepforth was in shock after seeing his channels' accounting on both YouTube and Threespeak, and after his father had put his YouTube Gold Play Button and his Hive Orca printout on his lap.
“I don't think any of us were quite ready for this,” the retired major said to his son, “but we are all very proud of you.”
Vertran thanked his parents and made his thank you videos for both platforms, and then looked again at his accounting. It was definitely time to go to the other mogul in the family to get some advice.
“So,” Mr. Stepforth said to begin the story to Monsieur Dubois, “I saw my little grand-mogul coming in his Sunday best across the street with that big envelope and his notebook just as I was finishing my teleconference with my business manager. I said, 'Lord, I guess I'm properly warmed up now.' ”
Monsieur Dubois laughed.
“I suppose it would take that much to be ready.”
“So here he comes, looking just like me in a serious mood … Velma [Mrs. Stepforth] is always telling me that God gave me a perfect mirror in that boy, and that reminds me to be patient with him in the same way my father was with me – patient and proactive, so I met him on the porch with a hug.”
“That is really what he needs,” Monsieur Dubois said. “You are the most fitted to understand him, and he just needs a lot of understanding love.”
“Yeah, he was loving that hug … I noticed he was trembling a little bit, so I went on and picked him up.
“ 'Let's go into my office, Vertran,' I said. 'I understand you made a big business milestone today.' ”
“ 'Yes, I did, Pop-Pop, and I need your advice, bad.' ”
“So, Grandma made us some chamomile tea with honey, and he and I just sat in the office for a while, in my big business chair, that little boy all snuggled up against me with his big envelope until that chamomile started working and he calmed down a little.
“ 'I know it's Monday and you set everything up for the week, and I don't mean to interrupt, but … .' ”
“And he took the gold button, the orca printout from Hive, and the accounting of his YouTube and Threespeak royalties across all time and put them on my desk.
“ 'Smack just got real, Pop-Pop.'
“And he was right, Jean-Luc. Your little grand-mogul-in-law has a million YouTube subscribers and about half the folks on Hive subscribed, and his combined revenues have also crossed into the six figures. This little boy only needs to multiply what he has by about $30,000, and he is right up here with me – and he's nine!”
“That kind of long multiplication is probably a bit beyond someone who doesn't yet understand long division,” Monsieur Dubois said, “but we know Vertran is pressing every limit, trying to get across the gap, not knowing any better.”
“I know!” Mr. Stepforth cried, with a laugh. “That's the hilarious and terrifying thing about him – he is just like me, accounting for access to the Internet!
“But see, this is the day that smack really has gotten real for our entire family. When I was a child, there was no way for me to express the gifts I had and convert them to a man's money until I was a man. The 21st century is totally different – the problem is, Vertran has the ability and access, but still needs room to be a child and is running himself out of it.
“He started crying, Jean-Luc … the pressure was getting to him.
“ 'I don't know what to do, Pop-Pop. I was trying to figure out if I should go on and start putting Louisa's engagement ring on layaway, or go buy a dozen or so municipal bonds, or pick up some Google and Amazon and Pfizer and Moderna stock, or buy my family home for me and Louisa… .' ”
“Poor baby,” Jean-Luc said. “He and Louisa have picked up a lot from listening to my son Jules, who has reactivated his financial advisor license and is collecting clients left and right – thank you for your referrals to him, by the way.”
“Any time – gotta get some other folks rich because the Stepforths can't have all of it. Anyway, you know my little grand-mogul had brought his notebook with him … .”
“Of course … he had every possibility all worked out in detail, working around the lack of being able to do anything beyond multiplication,” Monsieur Dubois said. “My son Major Dubois says he could follow your Major Tom into West Point and be running it in 30 years because he has that kind of mind.”
“Exactly. Vertran is never going to be hindered by what he can't do because he can do far too much with what he can do. He doesn't fully understand the price of houses and rings, and he is not the mathematician Louisa is, but he doesn't need to be – the child worked it out by sheer multiplication and addition, down to the impact of bi-weekly and weekly payments as opposed to monthly payments when buying an asset. This boy looked me in my eye and told me that everyone is doing this housing thing wrong because we can all be paying 13 monthly payments a year and pay off our mortgages in 17 years instead of 30, meaning he could own his home at age 26 if he starts tomorrow. He's right!”
“Sounds just like him – he was over here the other week saying that since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and since everyone who drinks your daughter's mint-ginger-cinnamon tea is now remarried, he figures that if he can come and have four ounces of your daughter's tea from a sippy cup with Louisa every week, they can bank about 100 pounds of marriage problem prevention before they are 18.”
“I have never before seen my son Jean-Paul retreat from a confrontation, but that was too much even for my major.”
“Oh, I catch my son and my daughter-in-law tiptoeing backwards out of the room when Vertran gets on a tear and I'm around to buffer it … Velma and I have joked about just moving him in over here for the rest of the summer, because he needs the time we have to give him. His parents love him, but he is one of seven and takes as much energy as the other six combined.”
“May I offer you some advice, sir?”
“Of course, my friend.”
“Why do you think Louisa is with her grandparents? Of course her parents love her, but she needed to be here with us so she could come be in your program and get that structure, and also get more personal attention than she can get at home. Do not ignore what is in front of your face, my friend. Move Vertran in.”
Silence, as the billionaire considered the words of the man with more grandchildren.
“You know, we've been friends for a long time, and it started because you saved my marriage with two bowls of gumbo,” Mr. Stepforth said. “I didn't ask for that any more than I asked for the advice, but you're right, Jean-Luc, on both counts.
“Vertran calmed right down when I said I would look over all of his documents with the viewpoint of an accredited investor, and said that it was probably better for him to invest in assets at his age than liabilities. 'Thanks, Pop-Pop!' he said, and then curled up and went right to sleep in my arms.”
“You see, Thomas?”
“I do, Jean-Luc. Do you mind if we just hold off on the ring for Louisa another ten years or so?”
Monsieur Dubois laughed.
“Listen, my friend,” he said, and put the phone down so that Mr. Stepforth could hear Louisa walking through while talking on her phone.
“Okay, so, I talked with Uncle Jules and he said Pop-Pop-in-law is right – get the assets, and they'll pay for the ring and the house later. Besides, my ring size is still in negative numbers. They would need quantum physics to work that out, and you know goldsmiths don't study that.”
“What? Never mind, Jean-Luc. Let me go get my grandson off the phone and packed and over here!”
“Tell my grandson-in-law I said bon jour, and that I love him.”