“Dad’s will named me CEO of Spaulding-”
Alan-Michael rolled his eyes before cutting in. “Phillip this really doesn’t surprise me. Everyone in Springfield knew you were Alan’s golden boy. I was constantly left having to prove myself while you could do no wrong. I may have been a typical Spaulding ass before I was run out-of-town but the old man was a champion at it before you and I were even born.”
“Okay this sibling rivalry stuff has gotten old. Did dad ever shoot you? I think physical damage to one’s person trumps exile. So yes, in his eyes I could do wrong and I did. Frequently. But that is beside the point. The point is I want to make Spaulding Enterprise a true partnership with you and I working together not against each other. There is nothing in his will that says there can’t be two at the helm, we can both be CEO. ”
Alan-Michael stood motionless for a few minutes flabbergasted by what he had heard. Come back to Springfield? Run Spaulding alongside his brother? The whole idea sounded ludicrous. “What does Aunt Alex have to say about all this?”
“Surprisingly she’s all for it. She doesn’t play much of a role in the company these days. She’s been too busy traveling the world with Fletcher Reade.”
That news caught Alan-Michael by surprise. “Aunt Alex and Fletcher Reade huh? Don’t know what to say about that one. As for you and me? You do realize we don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to sibling accord right?”
Phillip smiled patiently, “Alan-Michael it’s time for us to bury the proverbial hatchet. You want to know why I was the so-called golden boy? Because Alan saw a lot of himself in me, and that’s not a particularly good thing. In you he saw a lot of your mother. Do you try to tarnish the goodness in others or hope that the goodness outshines the Spaulding genes? Hell he knew you didn’t want to be like him and damn if I didn’t prove the old man right at times by acting just like him.” He looked at his brother and hoped that whatever decision he made that something good had come from today, “Even if you decide to return to France I hope that we can work on this brother thing. We wasted too many years being at odds. I only have one brother and time is too short.”
Perhaps Phillip was right, though Alan-Michael tended to think Alan’s mind games had gone deeper than that. That they were simply the only way he knew how to show love. He knew from family stories that his grandfather Brandon had done the same to Alan and Alex, pitting them as eternal rivals. But he couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to have family, a true family he could give his son. And he knew Lucy missed her own family as well. It would be nice to belong to this well-knit community again. “I need to speak with Lucy about all of this.”
“Of course.” They turned and walked towards where Lucy stood talking animatedly to Buzz and Lillian, “Do you need some backup?”
Alan-Michael was momentarily shocked at the question, it was a night for shocks it seemed. That Phillip would play the big brother and even offer or that Alan-Michael would find himself accepting, “That might actually be good. Last time I was in town, well it wasn’t a good scene with me and Buzz.”
“What do you think you are doing Lucy? Did you not learn your lesson the first time with that creep? And you have a child and you never even bothered to let me know!” Buzz was nearly foaming at the mouth he was getting so worked up. He kept his voice low but it still held a tone of outrage.
“Yes I wonder why we have stayed away. Because we both knew that this would be the reaction we would get. But dad, part of the reason we came back today was because Alan-Michael wanted to make amends. You of all people should know about making mistakes, and yet I forgave you just as Harley and Frank forgave you.”
If it was possible Buzz’s face got even more red as he bristled with rage. “We’re not talking about my mistakes. We’re talking about a man who repeatedly hurt this family. Who hurt his own family. Who-”
Lucy began ticking off Buzz’s past transgressions on her slim fingers one by one. “Like you dad? You hurt this family too you know. You abandoned Nadine and her kids and married my mom. You tried to buy forgiveness for your abandonment using money from my trust fund. You tried to hide my very existence to spare Frank and Harley’s feelings, but we all forgave you. You don’t corner the market on second chances dad.”
“Lucy it is beneath you using stuff from over twenty years ago in your arsenal.”
Lucy just shrugged, “It is what it is. And if you want me in your life. And if you want to get to know Michael, you’ll have to forgive just like everyone else.”
Tony leaned towards Danny and whispered. “You were right, our family no longer corners the market on dysfunction.”
“No kidding. I think we went to a bar-b-que and ended up in Peyton Place.”
Alan-Michael stood in the middle of the patio and looked at the sea of faces. Some family and some friends. Some familiar and some unknown. After witnessing Buzz and Lucy’s heated exchange he knew what he had to do. And that was to eat some serious crow, publically. So here he stood on display with an unlikely ally in his brother Phillip by his side. He took a deep breath. Here goes nothing, “By now you all know who I am. While this entrance isn’t quite as memorable as the parachute drop I had some precious cargo with me and wouldn’t risk it for the world.” He shot a wink over to Lucy who stood holding Michael. She moved to his other side and took his hand in support as he continued, “Anyway, years ago I was an ass. I lost the best thing in my life and I took it out on a lot of innocent people. People that mean a lot to me.”
Alan-Michael turned towards his father-in-law to address him individually, “Especially you Buzz. You didn’t deserve what I did to you. If I could take it back I would. But since I can’t I can only hope I can prove that I’m not that guy any more.”
Buzz stood motionless absorbing the words and weighing their sincerity. He wasn’t the only one. The rest of the town stood nearby silent and still as if being the first to make a sound would fracture the scene before them. The prodigal son returning and bowing before the town a humble man. It was quite the event for the Bauer BBQ.
Michelle was the first to stand and move towards her cousin. She enveloped him in a tight embrace, “Welcome home Alan-Michael.” She gestured towards the picnic table, “Come meet my husband Danny and his cousins, Ray and Tony. And I am sure you remember Marah. Tony and Marah got married last year so now she gets the added privilege to call me family.”
“Last time I saw you Marah you was wearing pigtails!”
Alan-Michael’s comment made the rest of the adults at the table break out in laughter and eased the residual tension. Except for Marah who did a face palm in childhood embarrassment. “Don’t remind me.”
Toby eyed with wife with a grin. “Pigtails huh? I think I’d pay money to see that.”
As Alan-Michael passed by Buzz the older man held out a hand to stall him. “Look, Lucy was right. I did screw up a lot when I was younger. And you were right as well. We are both guilty of being asses. So I don’t care what you do to me, I’m a big boy and I can take it. But you hurt her again and I will hurt you so bad they won’t be able to find the body. Got it?”
Alan-Michael accepted the threat humbly. “Got it.”
The adults in attendance all grumbled good-naturedly as Rick called them together for their last event. The washers tournament was a popular event at the Bauer feast.
“Oh stop it.” He admonished with a grin. “You all knew what you were getting yourself into.”
As the competition was so stiff only a select few actually participated, the rest just stood on the sidelines and cheered. Or jeered as was the case with Rick who took it all in stride since he knew it was all in fun.
Rick stepped forward with his clipboard. “So I see the teams are the same this year. Let’s see we have, Josh and Jonathan, Billy and Bill, Danny and Tony, Buzz and Frank, Holly and Blake, Mindy and Beth, Reva and Marah. And of course the three-time champions, Yours truly and Michelle.”
From nearby someone coughed which sounded suspiciously like “braggart”.
But Michelle surprised everyone when she stepped forward and made a last-minute substitution. “I think this year I want Alan-Michael to be my teammate.”
Rick look pole axed. “But Michelle, three-time champions!”
Michelle ignored him and instead walked over to Alan-Michael. Yes he was a Spaulding but he was a Bauer too, it was time for this town to remember that. “What do you say cousin?”
Alan-Michael looked uncomfortable, as if being put on the spot was the last thing he wanted. But he saw the sincerity in Michelle’s eyes, the hope that he would come back to the family fold. By his side Lucy nudged his gently, urging him on. He smiled. “I say let’s show them how it’s done.”
Phillip slung an arm over his friend’s dejected shoulders. “It’s okay buddy. You always have me.”
Marah sat propped against her husband as they waited for the fireworks to begin. Suddenly she slapped the arm holding her and pointed towards the sky in excitement. “Look! A shooting star!”
Tony leaned down and nuzzled the hair away from her ear and whispered, “What did you wish for?”
Marah laughed huskily, turning her head to gaze into her husband’s chocolately brown eyes. “Not happening Mister Santos. If I tell you I won’t get my wish.”
When she began pouting as if not getting her wish would be the worst thing in the world Tony thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. A woman pouting. Call him crazy. He leaned down and whispered against her lips this time. “Maybe if you tell me I can make all of your wishes come true.”
Marah thought her heart would stop at Tony’s statement. If she already didn’t love him with all her heart she would have fallen in love right then and there. She pulled him closer for a kiss that left her breathless and tingling in all the right places. Just then the sky exploded in a kaleidoscope of colors. It was so beautiful that Marah wished the night would never end. Wrapped up in the arms of the man she loved with their child resting safely under his protective arms. Life didn’t get more perfect than this.
“Hard to believe how much has changed since a year ago.”
Marah looked over her shoulder at her husband, “Hard to believe how much better it is. I never would have thought anything could have topped you coming back to me, to all of us. ”
Tony had to agree. This past year had seen all of his dreams come true. Marah and him were finally married after so many years of pain and loneliness, and now they were expecting their first child. Things couldn’t get much better than this. “Ready to pack up the kids and head home?”
“You know me. I’d go anywhere with you Tony Santos.”
Tony stood and helped her to her feet before placing kissing her briefly. “My kind of woman.”