Chapter 2 – An understanding uncle

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Montreal, Quebec – March 1st, 2015

Sometimes when teenagers realize that other people are watching them, they assume that anyone younger can’t wait until they become teenagers, and anyone older would give their left arm to be that young again. When those teenagers are doing something as uninhibited as dancing, they think the allure is that much greater, but anyone younger is scared off by the confusing display of hormones and anyone much older has difficulty understanding whey they like the music they’re dancing to. As newly fifteen-year-old Yvette Overmann-Greene danced with her friends, relatives and co-workers, the older generations looked on with bemusement. At least, that was the case with the adults in the room who weren’t on their cell phones.

While Yvette understood that her family wanted to be there and she was glad that she made it work, she would have preferred that the dance floor wasn’t in view of the adults. She and her friends were having a lot of fun goofing around, but she couldn’t help but feel that she couldn’t go too crazy with her parents watching. Plus, there were certain dance moves that she and her friends liked to use, and they were innocent in her mind, but she knew her mother wouldn’t think the same. Even though her dad was barely paying attention to what was happening, she knew that if she danced too close to any of the boys, she would have to explain herself later on, and she really wanted to dance closer to Joey.

As with any Overmann family event, this birthday party doubled unofficially as an Ascent Pharmaceutical company event. Yvette’s father Luke sat at a table with his father-in-law, Yvette’s grandfather Aaron, as they discussed issues arising from the research and development branch of the company where they both worked. Yvette’s mother Norma, who was head of finance, was trying to pay attention to what was happening, but she was also on her cell phone, following up on an earlier conversation with someone in payroll. Two more Overmanns sat at another table; Jacob, the CEO, and Abigail, one of the main board members. Their father Morty had started the company as a simple pharmacy almost seventy-five years ago.

“You should get there and dance too,” Abby said to her older brother. “Show these kids that you were young once too.”

“I never felt comfortable dancing when I was in my right mind,” Jake said with a laugh, “and I gave all that stuff up a long time ago. No, these kids are right. I’m old. I would rather have them see me as a jolly old man than a washed up hippy.”

“Speaking of old,” Abby said, “you would think Aaron should be getting ready to retire by now. Someone should tell him that he’s pushing seventy and he should take it easy.”

“He’s still got a lot to give,” Jake answered, “and when your son-in-law works in the same department, it almost becomes a kind of long-term succession plan.”

“I hope Luke is okay with the timeline Aaron is using.”

“But Aaron’s always been that way. While you and I used our twenties to have some fun, he got his degrees and then got married. I don’t think he knows how to have fun.”

“That’s why he was always the favourite,” Abby said.

“It was either him or Ben,” Jake agreed. “Either way it wasn’t one of us.”

“What’s your succession plan then? Are you planning to retire soon?”

“It sounds like you’ve been talking to my wife,” Jake said. “No. What am I supposed to do? Pack up my stuff and move down to Florida while some kid with an MBA restructures everything so he can sell shares and make some investors rich? Ascent has always been more than a business, and I plan to keep it that way.”

“As long as you keep the board of directors happy.”

“Well, I think it’s going to take some cake to make people happy around here. The kids seem to be doing alright, but we’re losing the adults.”

Technically Aaron was paying for everything and Luke and Norma had made the reservation, but since they were busy, Jake felt free to go see if the cake could be brought over.

It took a while for the waitress bringing the birthday cake to put the pieces together. At first, she, like most other people, saw the French name “Yvette” and the English-speaking Jewish parents, and then she saw the olive skin and the long, straight, dark hair. She had to be adopted, but just what exactly was her background?

Yvette was so used to people staring, men and women, that she hardly noticed anymore. All her life people had been taking extended glances to see if they could discern just where she came from. Over the last little while the stares had taken on a different tone as she grew into womanhood, but she didn’t mind the attention. If anything, Yvette liked looking different. She thought it was fun when someone approached her and spoke a different language, assuming she was one of them. Sometimes if people asked, she would tell them that she was mixed race, and people had guessed Arabic, or Iroquois or Tunisian, but she didn’t really know. Her parents had always been open with her about the fact that she was adopted. They had even made room for her birth mother Naomi to keep in contact, but sometimes her lifestyle choices didn’t fit with how they wanted to raise Yvette so that contact had to be closely monitored.

While the extended Overmann clan was culturally Jewish, there weren’t a lot of demonstrations of that in their homes. Because Yvette had never studied Hebrew, she was afraid of the requirements for a bat-mitzvah, so she never had one. Instead, her grandfather Aaron, in consultation with her parents and her great-uncle Jacob, decided that they would throw a big party like this when she turned fifteen. She didn’t want to make any speeches or wear any silly clothes, she just wanted her friends to be there, and to dance to her favourite music, so that’s what was arranged. The only official duty she had was to hand out pieces of the cake to everyone who came.

“Thank you, dear,” Abby said when Yvette came to their table. “How does it feel to be fifteen?”

“I thought it would feel different, but it doesn’t, but it still feels good,” she said.

“Well happy birthday,” Jake said.

“Thanks, Grandpa Jake.”

Aaron and Jake did everything together, and in every facet, Aaron was the business guy and Jake was the social guy. So, while Aaron was her grandfather, Jake was just as connected to Yvette, if not more. Both Jake and Abby would love to have kept her with them a little longer, but they knew she wanted to get back to her friends.

Some of the other teens at the party were her cousins, Aaron’s biological grandchildren, and some were friends from school, but some of her new friends were people that she knew from the scholarship program that Jake was running through Ascent. Some of them had even joined in with Yvette in calling him Grandpa Jake, and Joey was one of them.

On the surface, Ascent ran a work/study scholarship program for teens. They would get some hands-on science experience, a part-time job with decent pay, and money set aside for university tuition. There were academic criteria that needed to be met, and they were especially strict with Yvette so they could avoid a conflict of interest. More than that, though, it had become a really strong community. Even though she had only formally been a part of the program for a few weeks, she still insisted that some of her new friends be invited to her birthday party.

When the kids came off the dance floor for cake, Joey was mostly standing by himself, and so Jake put down his fork and went over to talk to the guy. Joey was a little more than a year older than Yvette and most of her friends, and he was one of only a few boys who was invited, so he didn’t have a lot of people to talk to. He had been in the program for a year already, and Jake had gotten to know him during that time.

“I didn’t know you were on the guest list for today,” Jake said.

“Oh yeah,” Joey said, “we were just doing homework yesterday and she got a text that somebody else cancelled, so she asked if I wanted to come.”

“Do you think she’s benefiting from your tutoring?”

“Well, we’ve only studied together twice, but she’s already not as confused about things, I guess.”

Joey was also a mixed race kid. His hair was curly and his skin was darker than Yvette’s, but that seemed to be an instant point of connection between the two.

Jake asked a few questions about the newest assignment he had given out in the scholarship program, then, seeing that Yvette had handed out cake to almost everyone else, freed Joey to go get some dessert.

“Well you go see if the birthday girl has a plate for you too,” he said, patting the young man on the back. Jake went back to his table to enjoy his cake with his sister, but he kept a keen eye on Joey as he approached Yvette.

“Do you have any birthday cake left?” Joey asked when he reached the circle of girls that Yvette was standing in. Her friends kept talking as she walked to the dessert table, but more than one of them watched with raised eyebrows how Yvette handled the interaction.

“I think they ordered way too much cake,” she answered. “We’re going to have leftovers at our house for a long time, not that I mind.”

“Oh. Then give me two pieces.”

“Sure,” she said, handing him a generous portion. “I could go around and see who wants more cake, but we’re probably stuck with it.”

“We could just yell ‘food fight!’ and start throwing it at people.”

Yvette laughed, then said, “I would love to do that, but I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“You’re the birthday girl, you can’t get in trouble,” he said. Then, taking some icing in his hand and holding it up in a threatening manner, he added, “I’m just a guest. I could easily get in trouble.”

“Don’t you dare,” she said quickly before running behind the table.

Joey cocked his arm a few times, faking as if he was about to throw the icing, and each time Yvette ducked. After the second time, she scooped a piece of cake in her hand and threw right at him, hitting him in the face.

Until then, their shenanigans had gone largely unnoticed, but the sound of Yvette’s laugh and the sight of the poor guy with icing all over his face caught everyone’s attention. Joey laughed as he dutifully bent down to pick up the crumbs that had fallen from his face. Yvette, looking around and realizing the impact of what she had done, bent down immediately to help him.

“You lied,” she said, wiping the icing from this face with a napkin. “You said I wouldn’t get in trouble, but I did, even though it was your idea. Now everyone is looking at me funny and you’re still having all the fun.”

“It’s your party,” he said again. “If you want to have fun, have fun.”

“I am having fun,” she said with a smile. “So when are you working next?”

“I have a shift on Saturday.”

“Awesome. Me too. Maybe we can do a shift together.”

“Yeah, that would be sweet.”

To Yvette’s surprise, neither of her parents said anything about the cake incident, although a few of her friends would text her about it later that evening. What she didn’t realize was that both of her parents, and all of the adults in the room, remembered from experience how teenage girls and teenage boys act around each other. If anything, they were far more concerned about the waste of food, and the mess that was caused.

“It looked like you were having fun?” her dad asked finally after he and Norma had finished their business conversation.

“Yeah,” she said, not knowing what they were thinking. “It was a blast.”

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