Jean-Paul Beaubier was not a fan of the month of January.
Every year the people around him would be trying to change themselves for the better, and by Valentine’s Day they were back to being the same person they’d always been. On top of that, Late January always brought him back into the public eye. Everyone would remember it was the anniversary of his “historic” coming out, but all Jean-Paul would remember was losing his daughter. How could something he’d only had for a few weeks still haunt him so much? His heart ached just to think about it, holding her in her final moments, it was so unfair, he’d lost so much already, how could he have lost her too? His brief moment of grief was interrupted by a knock on his office door.
“Come in” he said, clearing his throat. Aurora came in with a soft smile on her face. They’d been better lately. With Aurora in therapy and being able to have an outlet outside of Alpha Flight in the form of Jean-Paul’s company, she was the only person in Jean-Paul’s life that Jean-Paul could say was going to be sticking to her New Year’s resolution all year. But she made it clear that she was going to drag her twin brother with her.
“I’m not going to form a New Year’s resolution, Aurora, It’s already the third and they are pointless. Besides, I don’t need to change, I’m already perfect.” He flashed a smile her way and she rolled her eyes and folded her arms in response.
“Tell that to public opinion. You have a 23% approval rating among the Canadian public.”
“Oo! It’s in the double digits this year!” Jean-Paul smirked.
“It’s not funny, brother.”
“When have I ever cared about public opinion?”
“How about when it’s affecting your stocks?” Aurora said smugly, Jean-Paul hated it when she knew she had won. “Besides, you aren’t forming a New Year’s resolution because I already did that for you. By the end of this New Year’s your approval rating will be up to at least 50%.” Jean-Paul scoffed.
“And how are you going to make that happen? Hire the Scarlet Witch to enchant all of Canada?”
“Close. I hired my friend Kyle to run our PR Department.”
“You have friends? We have a PR Department?” Jean-Paul asked, confused.
“One, I’m way more popular than you and two, we have one now!” she said, walking over and grabbing her brother’s arm, dragging him towards the exit, “Come on! We’re going to go get lunch so you can met him.”
They met Kyle at a nice restaurant down the street from where they had their offices. Jean-Paul had heard a couple of stories about Kyle, and what he expected was not what he got. Kyle was tall, taller than Jean-Paul was, and he had a goatee, but he made it work. Jean-Paul had never met someone who could make a goatee work. When he saw Jean-Paul and Aurora coming his eyes lit up and he smiled, he had a nice smile to. Jean-Paul could see how being around this guy could improve his approval ratings. Kyle pulled Aurora into a hug and said it was good to see her again.
“How was your flight?” Aurora asked, arms still wrapped around Kyle’s neck. Jean-Paul had a fleeting thought about how this hug was much too long for a simple ‘friend.’
“Not too bad, and it’s always worth it knowing I get to see you!” Kyle said, Aurora gave a little giggle and JP felt a little irritated, so Aurora had hired her boyfriend to control Jean-Paul’s public image? He turned to Jean-Paul and stuck out his hand, he had a non-threatening smirk on his face that felt almost contagious, “We haven’t met yet. Kyle Jinadu. Call me Kyle.”
“Jean-Paul Beaubier.” Jean-Paul said, as if it wasn’t obvious who he was, “Jean-Paul or JP is fine,” he hated when people were too stuffy and formal, and he liked that Kyle had also told him to call him by his first name, “Aurora talks about you a lot.” He said, a sharp edge in his voice.
“I hope nothing to bad.” Kyle chuckled, rubbing his neck nervously.
“Just enough to make me question your morals.” Jean-Paul smirked,
“Not like he was in a place to judge anyone about morals.” Aurora said, digging an elbow between Jean-Paul’s ribs. Kyle smirked and sighed a small chuckle. “Why don’t we eat and discuss?” Aurora suggested, shooting a look to Jean-Paul once Kyle had turned to go into the restaurant.
“Sounds like a great idea! I’m starving.” Kyle said, Jean-Paul murmured in agreement, clutching his now aching chest.
“So Aurora tells me our goal is at least a 50% approval rating by the end of the year. It’s going to be difficult, but probably not impossible.” Kyle began to say, after they all had ordered.
“How long how you worked in PR?” Jean-Paul interjected, before Kyle could say much else. Kyle’s shoulders straighten, and his jaw clenched.
“I’ve been working as a publicist since I was 23.” Kyle said with an even voice, very obviously trying to keep frustration out of his voice. Jean-Paul wrinkled his nose, that couldn’t have been too long ago; Kyle looked fairly young. “If you’re questioning my capabilities right now, I’d save it. I’m young but I’m not stupid, and I know how to do my job.” Kyle said, there was a fire in his voice that let Jean-Paul know that Kyle wasn’t to be fucked with.
“I’m sure you are very capable, but this isn’t just about me or you, or Aurora... If this company fails, it affects thousands of people. I just don’t know if you have enough… experience.”
“Well… My last employer trusted me to run her brand, and I am confident that she was worth a lot more than you are.” Kyle fired back. While Jean-Paul was a little irritated by Kyle’s jabs at him, he could appreciate his fire and his drive. Aurora cleared her throat and took a sip of her water, which seemed to signal to Jean-Paul and Kyle to stop their pissing contest and get back to business. “So,” Kyle says, “You are not going to like most of my ideas, but I hope that they make sense to you.”
“And what are your ideas?” Jean-Paul asked, trying not to sound too annoyed.
“One of your main problems is that you aren’t open about your life with the public. All they have to base an opinion of you off of is the fact that you were a skier who was stripped of his medals, the fact that you’re a mutant, the fact that you’re a superhero, and the fact that you are gay. All the details that the public knows are reasons they can hate you. What we need is for them to see more. I’ve heard enough about your life from your sister. Jean-Paul, you’re an underdog story, a self-made man. It explains why your rough around the edges and furthermore? People love a good underdog story.”
“So what are you suggesting.” Jean-Paul said, trying to keep his face neutral. Whatever Kyle had in mind, he was right, Jean-Paul knew he was going to hate it. He’d in the span of a minute insulted him at least three times and the idea of the public knowing his life? He would rather have no approval rating.
“I’m saying: Tell your story. An autobiography perhaps?”
“No.” Jean-Paul said, too quickly. Aurora sighed in contempt next to him, as she always did when Jean-Paul was being too stubborn for her tastes. “Don’t we want the respect of the people? Not pity?” He said, unable to keep the scowl off his face.
“Respect isn’t gained by being stoic or unemotional. Respect is gained through trust, and trust is gained through vulnerability.” Kyle said, his eyes had softened like he understood why Jean-Paul was against this, but his voice kept it’s edge, “Besides, if we do an autobiography, you control the narrative. It’s all up to you how vulnerable you want to be, but we have to start somewhere.” Aurora looked at Jean-Paul, they didn’t have twin telepathy in the sense that Jean-Paul always knew what she was thinking, but they had enough of a connection that Jean-Paul knew that without any words she was saying ‘give a little to get a lot. This is just another business deal.’
“I’ll consider it,” Jean-Paul mumbles as their food arrives. Kyle took it as a satisfactory answer, even though Jean-Paul had no plans to consider it. Eventually the conversation strays away from business and well Jean-Paul is still irritated, he decided that even if it is extremely unethical and out of character for Aurora to hire her boyfriend, or whatever Kyle was to her, he was much better than the guys Aurora had been with in the past. They made plans to go out for drinks that night, since it was the first Friday of the new year.
“So what do you think?”
“I’m not going to fired him,” Jean-Paul offered, “But I’m not writing a book about my life either.”
“Jean-Paul,” Aurora said in that voice, that voice that always reminded JP that he may be bigger than Aurora, she was still 5 minutes older than him,
“He was right and you know it.” Jean-Paul grumbled unhappily, not wishing to continue this argument. Later at the bar, he decided he genuinely liked Kyle as a person, though it might have had something to do more with Kyle paying for several rounds of shots, more than anything else.
Early January passed by without much noise, Kyle continued to float around the office, though he didn’t really seem to talk to Jean-Paul as much as Jean-Paul thought. Not that it really bothered Jean-Paul, it didn’t, and Kyle wasn’t ignoring Jean-Paul, but considering that it was his job to “fix” his public appearance, you’d think he would spend less time talking to the other employees, and more time talking to Jean-Paul.
Really though, it didn’t bother him.
The fateful anniversary rolled around. It was known throughout Northstar Industries, Alpha Flight, and Canada that Jean-Paul didn’t make public appearances on the anniversary of Joanne’s death. He’d make his appearances on the 21st and, begrudgingly, celebrate the anniversary of his coming out. But he was to be given peace and quiet on the 20th, the only day he was allow to feel his pain.
He slept until about noon, a thing he never did, not even on weekends but, he had been heavily drinking the night before so he thought he’d give himself the benefit of the doubt. He showered, but didn’t bother to shave. He did have plans for today. The same, exhausting plans he always had for this day. He put on his super suit and climbed out his apartment window, flying away from the city to the countryside.
Her grave was nothing too fancy. Jean-Paul had kept it simple. It wasn’t important how big it was, just as long as it was there, next to where he had buried Raymonde. He’s eyes grazed the empty plot next to it, a reminder that one day he will be under the dirt that lays undisturbed there. Even though the ground is damp with the January snow, Jean-Paul sits and swallows the lump in his throat.
“Hey Joey,” He says, “It’s that time of year again. You’d be 9 now, if you were still with us. Almost double digits! I’m told you’d be losing your baby teeth and that I’d have to start worrying about you having crushes.” The tears start to swell, damn, that didn’t take long at all. Memories of a little girl showing off her barred gums where two front teeth should be, memories of her riding a bike, drawing with crayons, and getting her heart broken dance through his head. Memories that never were, memories of a life he can never have. He doesn’t speak, he hopes silently that Joanne would already know the words on his tongue and the love in his heart. He stays for a few moments in silence, letting the cold sting his face. Before standing and clearing his throat, “Well, you know the drill, kid. I’ll come back soon, maybe next time it won’t be so cold and snowy, and I’ll bring some flowers. Until then, be sure to give Uncle Raymonde some trouble, but not too much trouble.”
He returned to his apartment later, after his usual visit to the Sadler home. He’d help Louis son, Louis Jr., with choirs that needed to be done around the house and then he’d make coffee. He usually stopped by the Sadler house biweekly, but on the anniversary of Joanne’s death, and on the anniversary of Michael’s death, they didn’t speak as they sipped their coffees, they sat in a silent understanding. Tired and drained from the most exhausting day of the year, he stumbled up his apartment steps and was greeted by an array of color outside of his door. A bouquet of white roses, lavender, and forget-me-nots, with a card attached, which read:
Jean-Paul, On the anniversary of your loss, may you be comforted by memories, be welcomed by friends, and rest easy knowing that your daughter is at peace. My thoughts and prayers are with you today. -Kyle Jinadu
The card and the bouquet were touching, nobody outside of the Sadler’s and Aurora had ever acknowledged Joanne’s life and death, at least not since the cameras had long since turned away from her story. He put the flowers in a vase, and got into bed, falling asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. Grief was exhausting.
That night he dreamt that he was taking Joanne to her first dance recital, she was nine years old and her hair was in a tight braid that wrapped around her head like a crown, Aurora had done it, and she wore a pink leotard and tutu. She talked about how she wanted to be a ballerina/superhero one day. Jean-Paul smiled and laughed, looking at his daughter in the rearview mirror. They arrived to the dance hall and Jean-Paul kissed her cheek and she ran back to the dressing room to get ready for her recital. Jean-Paul went into the audience and sat between two sets of parents, feeling a little self conscious about his own status as a gay, mutant, single dad who was also a superhero. But then, the lights came up, and the recital began. Joanne danced beautifully across the stage, more graceful than a nine year old could possibly be.
“Your daughter is beautiful,” a voice whispered in his ear, he smiled and turned to say thank you and came eye to eye with the Deadly Ernest. Suddenly he couldn’t move. He looked down to find his wrist tied to the arms of his seat, and he watched as the Deadly Ernest moved onto the stage. He weaved between dancers as Jean-Paul screamed for someone to do something, but none of the other parent seemed to notice the Deadly Ernest presence. The Deadly Ernest reached Joanne then, and picked her up off the ground mid jump. She immediately began screaming; an ungodly noise. She did not died quickly as Jean-Paul had come to know with the Deadly Ernest victims. He watched her scream for him as her skin melted off of her bones. Jean-Paul continued screaming; Why had none of the other parents noticed? Joanne’s screaming stopped abruptly as the last part of her melted onto the floor. The Deadly Ernest turned and bowed alongside all the other dancers as they bowed, and the other parents gave a standing ovation, drowning out Jean-Paul’s screams. He woke up that way, screaming. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and turned to look at his alarm clock. 1:21am.
The bars would still be open, and right now, he desperately needed a drink. He decided against a gay bar. He didn’t want attention right now, and being that it was officially his “out-iversary” (A term affectionately coined by Heather and Aurora) he wouldn’t be able to fly under the radar. But at a straight bar, he would just drink. He ordered several shots for himself. The bartender gave him a long and lingering look, as though she recognized him. Jean-Paul suddenly felt very self conscious of his ears, even with the pair of glasses that he never wore publicly, the ears always gave him away. But eventually the bartender just brought Jean-Paul his shots and chasers. He began to drink to the memories of Joanne, Michael Sadler, and other friends he had lost along the way; but after two shots, Jean-Paul heard a commotion behind him. He turned around to see the bartender, being groped by a patron. Even under a long sleeve flannel, the patron’s muscles were prominent and he had a booming voice and there was something oddly familiar about him the put Jean-Paul on edge. The bartender slapped him square across the face and the people that the patron was with oh-ed and laughed at their friend, who turned a bright red and stood up. He had to be about six foot five, and he towered menacingly over the bartender.
“Show some respect you cunt.” He snarled.
“Don’t put your hands on me, scumbag.” She fired back. He grabbed her by the arm and she let out a startled noise. Jean-Paul stood quickly.
“You should listen to her, you don’t want any trouble.” Jean-Paul said, the man’s attention suddenly turned to him and he smiled wickedly, laughing at the implication that Jean-Paul considered himself "trouble" and moved towards Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul then got an idea of how he could fair in a fight against this man. He made Jean-Paul’s five foot eleven seem insignificant, and Jean-Paul wondered if he seemed familiar because he was reminiscence of a hairless Sasquatch. Jean-Paul’s legs screamed to run, but he forced them to stay firmly planted. Jean-Paul made eye contact with the bartender as she moved back behind the bartender and gave the phone. Both of them seemed to know that a crime will have been committed by the time the police got there.
“You better mind your own fucking business, fairy-boy. This doesn’t involve you.”
“You're telling me to mind my own business? Really? You should have minded your business before you touched her. Your mother never teach you manners?” The man grabbed Jean-Paul by the shoulder and pinned him against a wall,
“At least buy me a drink first!” He quipped, and watched a close fist come plummeting towards his face. He quickly dived out of the way, and landed a solid knee into the man’s groin before he was reminded that the man was alone in this bar, and he had a team behind him. He doesn’t remember how he ended up on the floor, but he remembers that if you’re in a fight and you end up on the floor, the best thing to do is to protect your head and wait for the beating to end.
He’d learned that when his foster dad had found his journal.
He doesn’t realize the cops have come until he realizes the kicking has stopped. He rolled off his side and onto his stomach, pushing himself onto his knees, the bartender helps him to his feet. He feels like his body is on fire, and he can taste blood in his mouth, and looking at the ground, saw his glasses shattered and bent.
“Do you need to go to a hospital?” She asks, looking him up and down. She had guilt in her eyes, and Jean-Paul wanted nothing more than to hold her close and remind her that this wasn’t her fault, men should learn how to respect women, but he hurt too bad to be extra kind.
“No, I’m fine, I heal fast and I’m sort of used to it.” Putting on his best brave face.
“Is there, is there anyone I can call for you then?” Jean-Paul thought for a long moment. He was in too rough a shape (physically and emotionally) to be alone tonight. But Aurora was out of town on business. Even if she wasn’t, Jean-Paul knew she would kill him for getting into a bar fight. He told the bartender the first number that came to mind after Aurora.
“Sorry it’s a mess, I’m still in the process of moving,” Kyle said, he motioned for Jean-Paul to lay down on the couch, the only thing in the living space of his apartment besides boxes. Jean-Paul did not resist Kyle’s suggest and fell onto the couch, he’s whole body was screaming and he was exhausted. Kyle had insisted on seeing a doctor when he picked Jean-Paul up from the bar. Jean-Paul had been able to protect himself relatively well. No concussion, which was pretty much a first for him in a fight, but he did have bruised bones in his arms and chest.
“So what were you doing tonight before you were playing nurse?” Jean-Paul asked, trying to distract himself. “I was unpacking, and then I had a really bad date, and then I came home to do more unpacking.” He said, going to the kitchen and putting water in a tea kettle to boil. Jean-Paul drew back a little.
“You had a date?” He had been sure Aurora and Kyle had a thing.
“What, am I ugly or something?”
“No, I just thought you were seeing someone.” Jean-Paul blushed.
“Nope, been single for a year now. Trying to get back in the game sucks.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Feel like I’ve got through every guy in the providence of Quebec just trying to get a second date.” Jean-Paul laughed.
“What was your longest relationship?” Kyle asked, as the water on the teapot began to steam up.
“Four years.” Jean-Paul said wistfully. “Maurice Lefevre.” Kyle turned quickly to look at Jean-Paul with his mouth hanging open.
“The figure skater?”
“The very same. We made our Olympic debuts at the same time.”
“What made you like him?”
“He was handsome, of course. But then he was kind and funny. I admired his drive. He was on the ice every chance he got, running his routine, practice… He won gold and would still be focused on correcting the mistake he made in his axel. I don’t know what he saw in me. I’m a cocky bastard now, can you imagine the kind of high horse I was on before being stripped of gold? But anyway, We dated for the next four years. Even got a house together. We got away with just ‘being friends’ because we got a three bedroom and convinced his sister Rhonda to move in with us.”
“So, what happened… if you don’t mind me asking.”
“What happened was I ‘joined’ Alpha Flight, and we were both still in the closet, and dating in the closet is always draining, especially when you’re a public figure. Eventually, neither of us could handle the pressure. I wasn’t allowed to compete in the Olympics that year, and even though Maurice was, he had his infamous breakdown. Later he told me he had to choose either me or skating. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when he choose skating. He told people we broke off our ‘friendship’ because I was ‘caught cheating’ and he only surrounded himself with authentic gold.”
“What happened after that?” Kyle asked, bringing in two mugs of tea.
“Well, first was that neither of us were ready to come out. Then after we both came out, we tried again. After a week we decided we’re much better as friends.”
“And you introduced him to his husband didn’t you?” Kyle said, sounding excited. Jean-Paul laughed a little, and then winced slightly at the pain.
“I did, It was a little awkward at first, to have my two exes dating, but Raul and Maurice are truly an amazing couple, and I couldn’t be happier about how things worked out in the end.” Jean-Paul said, him and Kyle let the silence settle for a beat before Jean-Paul realized. “So, do you have an interest in figure skating? Not a lot of guys I know would recognize Maurice Lefevre’s name as quickly as you did.”
“I come from an ice family.” Kyle explained, “My sister figure skates, I played hockey. We talked to each other about our sports all the time, and she had a huge crush on Maurice Lefevre growing up.”
“How crushed was she when he came out?”
“She locked herself in her room in mourning. I remember my mom shouted ‘he’s your brother age and he’s famous! You never had a chance with him anyway!’” Jean-Paul laughed, even though it hurt. It must have been obvious that he was in pain; Kyle’s smile dropped, and he went to the kitchen. He returned to where Jean-Paul lay on the couch with various frozen vegetables, and pain relievers. Jean-Paul slammed the medication and finished off the tea, while Kyle broke up the frozen vegetables so they were malleable and started placing them on Jean-Paul’s body. Never of them spoke for a long time, Jean-Paul just watched Kyle, studying him carefully. This was the first time he’d seen Kyle without a suit on. He wear a flannel shirt with black jeans and Timberlands. His hair was pulled back into a bun, and he had glasses on. “You got hurt pretty bad.” Kyle said, quietly.
“It’s fine, I’m fine.” He said, even though every tiny move hurt.
“You know, I played hockey my whole life- Got checked into the boards more times than I can count and I got into more fights than probably necessary- I know what it looks like when someone’s putting on a brave face.” Kyle smirked. Jean-Paul sighed, “
Yeah, It hurts like hell, but people can’t know that I’m hurting. If I’m hurt, they’re going to say I’m weak. Especially considering- I got my ass handed to me… on the anniversary of me coming out. News outlets would have a field day with that.” Kyle said nothing at first, his lips tightly pressed together while he sipped his tea, deep in thought. Suddenly, he spoke again.
“So, do you only care about public opinion if they think you are weak?” Kyle asked. Jean-Paul feel the tips of his ears turn red, and he felt suddenly very exposed.
“I am not weak. I don’t want the public to think I am something I am not. I pride myself on always being honest.” Jean-Paul snaps. Kyle looks at him for a long moment, as if he is not sure how to respond, and nods understandingly.
“We should get some sleep.” He says, it’s almost suddenly. Jean-Paul doesn’t argue, his eyes feel like they are hundred pounds, and Kyle’s couch is very comfortable. He doesn’t have a nightmare. Instead, in his dream him and Kyle are eating pancakes at Raymonde’s restaurant, Maurice and Raul are with them, they are all laughing, and when he wakes up, Jean-Paul’s feels a hole on his chest that it wasn’t real. He lays in the dark and thinks about how he searched for years and years for Raymonde’s perfect pancakes recipe but never found it. They haunted his dreams because he always forget what they taste like as soon as he is awake.
Kyle didn’t say anything about it in the coming weeks, excepted for when he handed Jean-Paul a new pair of glasses. When Aurora came back though, she cursed at Jean-Paul about his bruises (even though they were yellowed by the time she’d come home) but Jean-Paul never saw or heard a word about the altercation. He’s not sure how Kyle kept it out of the media considering his identity had been poorly concealed, but he was grateful. So grateful he decided to sit down at his computer and type up a list of things he would cover in his autobiography… If he were to write this autobiography, that is.