Whenever Jean-Luc Dubois found his wife Ébène-Cerise giggling uncontrollably in the late spring of 2020, he already knew what was going on.
“Who needs a television – another episode of La Romance de Vertran et Louisa, eh?”
“Oui, oui – viens, viens!”
And the grandfather sat down by the grandmother to “chaperone” their precocious nine-year-old granddaughter and her equally precocious nine-year-old best friend who had proposed marriage to her the other week.
It began with Louisa talking with her Uncle Jules, who had been cleaning and polishing a long table someone had abandoned by the side of the road.
“Uncle Jules, can you put the table in the front yard for an hour, please, and two chairs on either end? Vertran is coming by and bringing some of his aunt's famous tea, and we want to have a socially distanced tea time.”
Five minutes later, the table and two chairs were in position, and elder brother Jean-Paul saw it and went to find Jules.
“Why do you spoil that child?” he said. “We're her uncles, not her lackeys!”
Jules had a spectacular answer.
“What would you do for the only person in the world that you knew believed in you, no matter what?”
Jean-Paul thought of a thousand logical retorts, but, the truth and the insanity were one.
Louisa was a child prodigy, but also that kind of soul who could go and pray earnestly with adult family members about things she did not fully understand just because she knew how important they were to those she loved. She had a child's strong faith backed by early observation that God answered both big prayers and little ones when the family prayed together. So, her intellect, her emotional intelligence, and her faith were unusual for her age. You could mistake her for a loving and deeply spiritual woman if you were a little precocious boy who thought you were a grown man ready for marriage … or, if you had really been damaged by the life you had lived and needed to have some feminine energy in your corner unburdened with your history.
But then again, how many men had done for their children what they could not bring themselves to do for any adult woman? How many men matured because they stepped up to fatherhood and then later in life became good mates? Gilbert Dubois, another younger brother, had come to himself through finding out his fiancee was pregnant – he was getting his whole life together, and so, maybe Jules was on a similar track.
Jean-Paul just went out and addressed himself to Louisa and her friend Vertran Stepforth, who had just arrived in his little summer suit and matching mask and bag, looking like a small bronze replica of his equally bronze-hued billionaire grandfather, Thomas Stepforth Sr.
“Attention,” Jean-Paul said with gentle firmness, and the two children, knowing “Uncle Major” as they did, instantly snapped to attention.
“This is an antique table that Uncle Jules is restoring,” he said. “It is worth an entire week off to some of our workers who need a rest. If either of you scratch or spill anything on it, it will be worth nothing.”
“Sir,” Vertran said, “I completely understand where you are coming from, and you'll be pleased to know I planned ahead when Louisa told me it was a special table.”
Deep in his soul, Jean-Paul heard the words, prépare toi – prepare yourself!
“First of all, I not only brought my family's best thermos – it's hot today, so the tea has to be nice and cold – but also two big sippy cups. There is nothing like a sippy cup for keeping your mask on and enjoying a good drink. The sippy cups will also prevent the possibility of spilling, and have no sharp edges because you know how babies are!”
“Vertran, the fact that at your age you even put all that together … is impressive.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Jean-Paul observed Louisa over at the other end of the table, beaming on her little fiance … she had modeled so much of the body language of her grandmother showing loving respect to her grandfather that it was easy to see how she had innocently wrapped her Uncle Jules around her little finger.
“Now, when Louisa told me about the table, I dug really deep – I did bring some of my mother's bigger saucers, and so I had to wrap them anyway –.”
He showed the wrapped saucers for a moment, and Jean-Paul did a double take – .
“ – so I just brought the rest of the three fresh rolls of toilet paper over so we could wrap the table and make sure to catch any drips and prevent any scratches. These are fresh rolls out of a fresh pack. They weren't even in the bathroom yet. Now, I know what you are thinking, Major Dubois. We know that toilet paper will soon be approaching the price of gold in the United States based on the demand, because people are beating each other down in stores about it even more than the hottest toy on the Christmas rush.”
Jean-Paul could not dispute that either – the truth and the insanity were again one.
“However, since my family has resources, I felt the need to show the respect I have for your family and for your niece.”
Vertran held up a roll of toilet paper comparable to the size of his head.
“This is two-ply premium toilet tissue on a double roll, with the finest lavender scent on the market right now.”
Vertran put the three toilet paper rolls on the table, pulled out the readout he had written up, pulled out his little spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and sprayed it – “we'll just let that dry a little bit, Uncle Major, and I did it in pencil so it won't run … here you are, sir” – and handed it to Jean-Paul.
“You … you went online and did product research,” the major said, “and copied all this by hand.”
“Yes, sir. Lotta big words, but, you can enjoy them while I get this table ready.”
And the child TP-ed the table from the top down to the bottom of the legs.
“There!” Vertran said. “How does it look, Louisa?”
“Perfect,” she said. “There isn't a mummy in Egypt wrapped better!”
“Well, I can't be a pharoah for you just yet, but I'm always going to do the best I can!
“Now, back to you, Uncle Major, about this tea – only the best for your niece. My Aunt Melissa makes this from real live spearmint, real live ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, and real sugar – she gets the dark Mexican block sugar from the new mercado and risks her fingers, breaking down those piloncillos so she can make batches of this.
“But see, this tea is good for married people. I see Grandpa and Grandma drinking it, and they are getting back together, and Aunt Melissa makes it for Uncle Vincent, and they are getting back together, so my thought is that Louisa and I should just start now, because Mom always says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If an ounce works, a full sippy cup has really got to work well, because there are four ounces in each one.”
“You're nine, Vertran, and you're nine, Louisa.”
“Right, so you figure that if we drink this tea and talk every week for the next nine years, we'll prevent every problem in our marriage before we even start. I'm not as good at math as Louisa, but I buckled down and really got to figuring.”
And what did this boy do but pull out another piece of penciled paper, spray it with rubbing alcohol, let it dry, and then hand it to Uncle Jean-Paul?
“My figuring assumes each of us drinking at least four ounces of this tea for 52 weeks a year for nine years, leading to 1,872 ounces or exactly 117 pounds of prevention for each of us, because there are 16 ounces to a pound.”
“That's really good, Vertran,” Louisa said. “You are catching up in math, really well.”
“You're my inspiration, Louisa, and this is for us. Anyway, Uncle Major, I did figure that life happens – if you will turn the page over – I had figured Louisa would be going to college by age 13, and, I have a growing video business, so I might do some collabs and have to travel too, and, things might get messy with travel because of Covid-19.”
“So, I'm aiming for 100 pounds of marriage problem prevention in total. It's just easier to deal with big round numbers, although Louisa says all whole numbers are round, really, just some more than others.”
“They are, Uncle Jean-Paul: all whole numbers are round, like pies,” Louisa said. “I mean, obviously 117 isn't as round as 100 because it's odd, and it doesn't have as many prime factors, but it is a multiple of three and that counts for a lot, and then when you look at all the decimals and fractions that make up the other slices … .”
One thing about being a military man: you had to know when it was time for a tactical retreat.
“All right, well, you two enjoy your tea.”
“Right on, Uncle Major.”
“See you later, Uncle Jean-Paul!”
When they were at last alone, Vertran served Louisa and himself, and they sat for a good and quiet while in their chairs, kicking their little legs in the heat and contentedly sipping the rich, cool herbal tea.
“This is really good, Vertran,” Louisa said. “I'm so glad I put on one of my Sunday dresses for this. Thank you so much.”
“I love you,” he said. “When I get something good, you're getting some too.”
“Same here, Vertran. Here's an idea. Tell Aunt Melissa she needs to come into business with us Duboises. We're out here saving lives by feeding people who don't have money right now, but think of the marriages she could save with this.”
“Wow, Louisa … I hadn't even thought about that … and then if we can get somebody who can make an adult-sized sippy cup to join up because then nobody has to take their masks off … .”
“Even better, Vertran.”
“I need to write all of this down – see, I do something good for you and you give me another good idea. I figure this will make Aunt Melissa at least ten thousand dollars, and just think of the happy people.”
“Just imagine, Vertran,” Louisa said. “You may have discovered the key to everybody growing old and happy together, not just us. Tea time and talk time, every week for a year – I think you are really on top of it, Vertran, for everybody.”
“We're on top of it for everybody, together, Louisa – this is too big for me alone.”
“Want some more tea?”
And there they sat at a toilet-paper covered table, sipping tea from sippy cups and planning tea time and happiness for every couple in the world.