Mr. Butler relished his mornings, those wonderful times when the sun was up but the people weren’t yet. Occasionally he would walk to the neighborhood bakery for bagels and coffee, walking slow and enjoying the breeze and the smell of dew and palm trees. It was a distinctly American tradition he was developing with himself, and he wasn’t sure how that made him feel. But it helped calm his heart. He didn’t know why his heart seemed to beat so fast these days. He thought it better not to think too much about these things. Over-worrying would only make it worse.
This morning, Mr. Butler came to the front door of the small, old house he shared with Chandler and Rainbows, expecting the stillness he had come to cherish. But he could hear the commotion in the kitchen as he walked through the front door. He frowned. Chandler was up already and banging around in the cupboards. He checked his watch. 8 a.m.
“Your meetings do not start for two hours, Mr. Chandler. What are you doing up so early?”
Chandler jumped at the sound of his voice. He turned and rubbed a hand through his hair. “I can’t sleep,” he said. “I was… going to make pancakes.”
Chandler looked a little sheepish. Mr. Butler smiled and raised the bag full of bagels he had brought back with him.
“Breakfast,” he said simply.
Chandler sighed. “Good man, Mr. Butler. Thank you.” He looked around the kitchen. “I don’t even know where we keep flour.”
They sat at the table and Chandler poured a cup of coffee for Mr. Butler. The older man smiled at the gesture. It was small, but it gave him a feeling of… success. After all, he had raised Chandler from the time the boy was 14. And even with all the entitlement one would expect from the heir to China’s greatest fortune, here they felt like equals. Chandler had grown into a good man.
Mr. Butler’s thoughts were interrupted as Chandler chewed his bagel loudly, opening his mouth to show him his food. Mr. Butler shook his head, grinning. Maybe not quite a man yet. But he had to admit, it felt nice to sit here with Chandler being silly…. It felt like father and son doing nothing but just hanging out, as Chandler liked to say. Just having breakfast together.
Then Chandler got serious. “I was thinking last night, Mr. Butler,” he said. He took a swig of coffee and a deep breath. “Lab2O is ready for market.”
Mr. Butler eyed him and leaned back in his chair. “You think so?”
“I do. From here on out it’s just tweaks we’re making. The technology is ready. And I’m getting more impatient all the time.”
Mr. Butler smiled. “I can see that.”
“I’d like to introduce the lab with an Oscars, red carpet kind of press conference.
“Oscars red carpet? Are you making a movie about Lab2O now?” Mr. Butler raised an eyebrow, puzzled.
“No… I mean a press conference that… looks like an Oscars red carpet event.” Chandler stood and started pacing. “We are in the capital of movie stars and glamour, right? So I thought, why not make the press conference like an Oscars party?” Chandler looked animated as he described his thoughts. He started gesturing with his hands. “Let’s turn the first floor of the lab into a gala with special effects. We have the LED glass, and the tanks, and we can use lighting… it’s all there. We can create an illusion of being under the sea. After all, the lab is about to turn the world upside down with the ‘live’ water invention. It’s perfect.”
Mr. Butler sat in silence and didn’t say anything. A sharp pain was creeping up again around his left shoulder and he found it hard to concentrate on what Chandler was saying. For the past few weeks, this sudden pain had always led to a rapid heart rate if he didn’t work on some serious relaxation techniques right away. Mr. Butler made his face like stone. He felt like he was going to faint.
Chandler continued. “I would like to hire a PR firm to help us manage our imaging, press and”—
“And the party.” Mr. Butler jumped in without letting Chandler finish.
Mr. Butler had taken a deep breath and somehow felt better again. He could control the pain. At least for now.
“No, actually,” Chandler said slowly. “Mr. Butler… I was wondering if you could manage the party. You’re the only person I trust to make the party a… a grand one. In true Wang fashion. Would you?”
Mr. Butler took a moment to make sure the pain was gone. Then he smiled and raised his coffee cup to toast Chandler. “Don’t worry,” he said. “If grand is what you want, I will make it grand!”
Chandler grinned and clinked his mug against Mr. Butler’s.
This kid is all about surprises, Mr. Butler thought to himself as Chandler grinned and dug into another bagel. So Chandler was becoming a man. But some things never changed. And Mr. Butler liked it that way.
Lab2O was consuming Chandler, that was undeniable. So it made Mr. Butler feel oddly secure to at least know that Chandler was, deep down, the same old Chandler he had always been.
“Hello, my name is Laura Maddy. I look forward to working with Wang Enterprises.”
Landon, Mr. Butler, and Rainbows sat quietly as this bubbly, well-groomed redheaded woman walked into the office. Her hair was all puffed up and she wore a tight black suit and red heels. It seemed American women were always bubbly and shiny, no matter what they wore. Rainbows smiled. She liked this Laura lady already. And she could hardly contain her excitement that she was allowed to be here at all. Her grandfather had decided that she could be a great help, and she could learn how to manage a party by helping him. She was thrilled to be along for the ride.
“How are you, Miss Maddy?” Landon stood and shook her hand. “I’m Landon Gartner, General Manager of Wang Enterprises USA.”
He was so official. Rainbows was impressed to see that Laura didn’t seem intimidated at all. She shook her and Mr. Butler’s hands as well, and Landon introduced them briefly. Laura didn’t even look at Rainbows funny when she heard her name. That was a first here in America. She was liking this lady more all the time.
Landon sat back down and leaned back in his chair behind the big oak desk. Laura sat on the other side with her ankles crossed, a small smile on her face. Rainbows and Mr. Butler were seated to the side of the desk. Rainbows felt like a sentinel.
“Before we can proceed, I need you to sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement.” Landon pushed some documents forward. “In order for us to continue doing business of course, going forward.”
Laura furrowed her brow, looking concerned. “If I sign this, whatever you’re going to tell me, I won’t end up in jail in the future, right?” She pursed her lips. “I’m not a big power shop like others out there. I’m a one woman band. Just trying to make it, you know.”
“Miss Maddy, we’ve done our research. We know all about you. A young and savvy agent with exceptional PR skills.” Landon smiled. “Your last client shouldn’t have dropped you to go with a big talent agency. After all, you took the chance and made him the star he is today.”
Laura looked flattered and her cheeks turned pink. She paused and then seemed to compose herself. “But I’ve never represented any non-American clients, particularly Chinese. They are Chinese right?”
She looked over to Mr. Butler and Rainbows. Rainbows was suddenly hyper-aware of the makeup she had forgotten to put on that morning.
“The girl looks like she has potential,” Laura said, “but I’m not sure I’m the right person. Does she speak English at all?”
Rainbows balked. She didn’t know if she was flattered or insulted. Maybe both.
“Miss Maddy, you are not here to represent anyone,” said Landon. “Sign the paper if you want the job. Otherwise, this meeting is over.” He pushed the documents closer toward Laura again, almost as an apology. Rainbows did think that was a little harsh. But Laura didn’t seem fazed.
She hesitated for a moment. “Well,” she said in a casual way that Rainbows guessed was at least somewhat sarcastic, “I like a challenge. The money wouldn’t hurt, either.” She grabbed the fountain pen and signed in a couple of places, then sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “So, what’s the big secret?”
Landon pushed forward another document. “Read it carefully,” he said. “Shouldn’t take more than about ten minutes.”
Laura read and the room was dead silent. Rainbows caught herself sitting on the edge of her chair and craning her neck, as if she could read it from where she was sitting. Laura finally finished and crossed her legs, still looking at the papers.
“Is this a movie script or something? Someone’s got a great imagination. Very science fiction-y.” She flipped her long red hair and pushed the document back to Landon. She eyed him. “Only… I’m a talent agent and I represent no-name actors. The wannabes. Unless this is a movie script, I don’t know what I can do for you.”
“Miss Maddy.” Mr. Butler had stood up without Rainbows even noticing. He looked taller than usual. “Wang Enterprises is the largest private company in China and what you read is not a science fiction movie script. It is a new product; the greatest invention since the light bulb and the internet. And you are exactly what we need—a small, one-woman shop with experience dealing with press and managing public image.”
“You speak English?” Laura’s eyes were suddenly big. Mr. Butler had seriously taken her by surprise, and Rainbows had to cover her mouth to avoid laughing. “Why do you speak with a British accent? I’m sorry… are you Chinese or…” Laura trailed off. It was becoming par for the course for people to be freaked out by Mr. Butler’s British accent.
Mr. Butler continued, and Rainbows realized something…. He was doing this on purpose. He was making a point. “As you know, Americans tend to be suspicious of Chinese companies, no matter what they do. Introducing a water product that can replicate or regenerate itself…Can you imagine?”
Landon gave Laura a look. Rainbows wasn’t sure if it was just in her head but it sounded like Mr. Butler was exaggerating his British accent. Laura looked convinced.
“Alright, alright… got it. Received.” Laura waved both of her hands in the air and stood up from her chair. “What do you want?” She looked over at Rainbows, who was caught staring at her with what she could only call admiration.
“We want you to manage us like you manage a movie star. We want you to be our publicist and put on an Oscars red carpet event for our project introduction.” Rainbows shot out the entire sentence without taking a breath.
“Exactly!” They all jumped as Chandler walked into the room, looking handsome as ever and striding confidently. “Miss Maddy. You do this, and we will make sure to compensate you well. You will be known for your work with us.” As he spoke, he walked toward Laura with his hand out for a handshake. “For starters, here is a $50,000 check engagement fee for you.”
Rainbows noticed Mr. Butler and Landon sharing a glance. She had heard the story about when Chandler had shown up at Landon’s door offering some ridiculous sum of money. This was very Chandler. At least he’d learned to write a check instead of just offering it up in cash.
Laura was appraising him. “So, you’re the star of this whole shebang, huh? You do have the look. Not to mention the British accent.” She paused. “Where do I start?” She reached out and shook hands with Chandler.
“Mr. Butler will be your main contact,” Chandler said. “Landon and Rainbows will be on the team as well.” He smiled. “And not all Chinese speak like Brits. Just the lucky ones.”
He winked, and Laura laughed and picked up the check. “If this check bounces, I’m out of here.”
Rainbows had to smile. If she only knew.
The rumors started flying around the city. Rumors that there was a huge film production about to take place but no one knew exactly who was making the movie or where. Rumor had it that someone had been renting, reserving, and hiring staff for this production and some kind of glitzy red carpet event, but no one in the business had seen anything or knew exactly what it was all about. The air buzzed with the rumors.
Laura was brilliant with her gossiping skills—friends, vendors, even the paparazzi. She would drop hints here and there when working with vendors, knowing that they—just like the paparazzi—loved to leak little rumors. There was definitely a pecking order in LA, and the ladder-climbing bug hit just about everyone. Laura knew exactly how to stroke egos, to stoke the fire. It was amazing to watch the rumors build.
To Rainbows’ utter delight, Laura decided that she would be her right hand man. And she loved following this bright, sparkly woman around. It was so foreign and exciting all at once. This would never happen in China—the Chinese wouldn’t spend money just for someone to manage their image. They were expected to do that on their own. They were to follow traditions, to follow protocol. The Chinese knew their place in society, and they worked within it. It was what Rainbows had been taught her whole life. So watching Laura create this buzz, this excitement over a mythical event, seeing the reputation building for Wang Enterprises, when nobody even knew their name yet—it was fascinating. And it was even more amazing that the company would spend so much money on someone like Laura. There was something magical about watching her work her charm.
Rainbows had spent all her life in prestigious private schools, international schools, with private tutors, with her grandfather. She had been exposed to nearly everything—at least nearly everything Mr. Butler deemed important. But now—now she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. She wanted to be like Laura. She wanted to work magic, too.
They were sitting in a coffee shop, sipping iced lattes, when Laura surprised Rainbows.
“You know, sweet girl,” she looked at Rainbows with big eyes like she was talking to a sad puppy. “We’re going to need to give you a makeover for the event.” She paused and her expression went back to normal. “So you don’t look pathetic to the point where people get nervous. You know, the Chinese taking over and ruining everyone’s style, things like that. We need… an American touch. Some highlights, bangs. A little airbrushing. You need some… sparkle.”
She was grinning. Rainbows was never sure how to take Laura. She wondered if this kind of brutal honesty was how she showed her that their friendship—she liked to think they were becoming friends—was different. Laura didn’t gossip and manipulate with Rainbows. She was honest to a fault with her.
“Umm,” Rainbows hesitated. “I’ll need to ask my grandfather first.”
Laura let out a little laugh that she quickly turned into a cough. Her phone buzzed and she was instantly engrossed in texting.
Rainbows huffed, frowning. She was neither pathetic nor inadequate—she was what a Chinese girl should be. Proper. Her look, her mannerisms, even her demeanor were trained into her from the time she first set foot in her grandfather’s house. Nothing about what Rainbows did was unintentional. But she sat there, sipping her coffee, watching Laura making a call and mingling away, building “the image.” She sighed. Laura was good at what she did… really good. Maybe she wasn’t so off base.
Rainbows hunched her shoulders, wishing she could retreat into a corner. Mr. Butler was almost shouting.
“$250,000 for a press conference! Miss Maddy! How could you be serious?”
Laura kept the smile painted on her face. “Alfred—I’m sorry, Mr. Butler, right? Sorry.” She looked to Rainbows for support. “He just reminds me so much of Alfred. You know, from Batman? I can’t stand it sometimes!”
Rainbows covered her mouth so Mr. Butler wouldn’t see her smile.
Laura took a deep breath, still smiling. “Yes, Mr. Butler. Putting on a press conference of the caliber you’re asking for does take money. It also includes a makeover session for Mr. Wang, you, Rainbows, and Mr. Gartner.”
“Frivolous,” Mr. Butler said, blinking rapidly. “I will not be in need of such nonsense.”
Laura raised an eyebrow. “I believe I’m the expert here,” she said.
Mr. Butler was about to counter when Laura quickly got the meeting back on track.
“Anyway, we’re only a week away. Let’s go over the checklist before the countdown really begins.” She looked around the room and made eye contact with Chandler, Landon, Mr. Butler, and finally Rainbows.
Chandler nodded to Mr. Butler, who recomposed himself with difficulty. He pulled out a notebook—it always amused Rainbows that he still insisted on keeping a steno pad with him and taking notes with a pencil, even though Chandler bought him some new gadget every time anything new came out. Mr. Butler cleared his throat.
“The security on the entrance to the building and one more elevator to the lab are both installed and tested. We will have five security lines and ten escorts to the elevators. Each elevator will hold four guests and one attendant. Once the guests arrive at the lab floor, they will be greeted by four Chinese attendants in traditional red Qipao.”
“Hold on.” Laura stopped him. “Qipao?”
Mr. Butler looked ruffled. He looked at Chandler.
“Those long silk dresses, you know, with the turtlenecks?” Chandler said. He pulled up a picture on his phone.
Laura frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “You don’t really… see that in America. I was thinking something more like this.”
She pulled a picture up on her own phone and passed it around. Rainbows almost gasped.
It was… something like a Qipao. Except the skirt had a slit up the thigh and there was a big open diamond space in front showing enough cleavage that she wanted to look away. Like so many times with Laura, she didn’t know if she was excited or offended.
But it was clear how Mr. Butler felt. His face turned red instantly and he rounded on Laura.
“Miss Maddy, please! I have put up with the sparkles, the fluff, the exorbitant, bloated budget, and I will even go through with this… makeover nonsense if I must. But this is not only improper; it is an insult. I won’t allow it.”
“What, are they going to bow and bind their feet too, then?” Laura said, standing.
“Qipao is the most respectful, traditional of Chinese dress for women”—
“Exactly!” Laura looked around at Landon and Chandler for support. “You told me you wanted a press conference to rival the Oscars. Well, have you ever seen the kinds of freaks they let into Hollywood? We’re talking ten-inch heels and dresses made of meat. If you want people to be excited and have a good time, if you want decent press for this thing, you have to leave a good first impression. The last thing you want is a bunch of conservative, foreign looking women who don’t speak English.”
Chandler was grinning. Landon looked uncomfortable.
“I kind of like the nontraditional Qipao,” Chandler said, ignoring the huff that immediately came from Mr. Butler. “Kind of refreshing. And it’s at least… reminiscent of Chinese. It gets the point across.”
They looked at Landon and he put his hands up. “I don’t have a vote,” he said. “I’m just here for the paperwork.”
“I believe the party planning was left up to me,” Mr. Butler said. “I will have the final vote. I say this is unacceptable.”
“I’ll rock paper scissors you for it,” Laura said.
Chandler snorted. Rainbows couldn’t understand how he was enjoying this so much. She just wanted it to be over.
Mr. Butler looked immensely offended. “We are maintaining traditional Qipao,” he said. He went back to his notes and repeated, “They will be greeted by four Chinese attendants in traditional red Qipao. They will line up on each end of the hallway to guide the guests.”
Laura still had the smile on her face. Her eyes were squinted and she was watching Mr. Butler, but she didn’t offer up any more arguments.
“Additional LED glass has been installed throughout the lab. When Chandler flips the switch, every inch of the lab will be appear to be ‘under water.’ The floors will become clear to provide a view of the greenhouse below.” Mr. Butler cleared his throat again. “Then the party will begin. Chandler will proceed to the press room and answer questions from reporters.”
He stopped and looked over to Landon and Laura.
Landon applauded. “Very impressive, Mr. Butler,” he said.
“Not bad, Alfred—Oh shoot, Mr. Butler.” Laura’s smile was unmoving. “Well, rumor has it that something big is going down this Saturday. I’ve been hearing things on Entertainment Tonight, Wall Street Journal, even CNN. They are all curious about what is going on… but nothing has leaked yet.” She winked at Mr. Butler, who frowned. “And we’ve got the invite list down, unless there’s anyone you’d like to add?”
She handed some papers to Chandler. He glanced through them.
“Your professors, the lab science guys, the interns… they’re all invited. I didn’t leave anyone out. Oh, I also invited a B-list celebrity I know to the party. Shouldn’t make things…. Too crazy.”
Mr. Butler was loosening his tie, his face pink. He sat down and put a hand to his chest. Rainbows wondered if Laura was going to give him a heart attack.
Laura interrupted Mr. Butler before he could even finish his sentence. “Yeah, yeah, it’s all ready to go. Food, drinks, music, the red carpet, goodie bags. All the party stuff is in place. Don’t you worry, Mr. B.”
Mr. Butler had been holding onto Laura’s phone. He handed it back to her.
“Well, thank you, Miss Maddy,” he said, sounding as proper as ever.
She raised an eyebrow, still smiling, and looked at the image on the screen. Rainbows had to admit it was a pretty risqué outfit. Part of her was relieved that Mr. Butler had put his foot down.
“No, Mr. Butler. Thank you. Oh, and I’ve got the servers all hired for the party,” Laura was saying. “Real cute girls.” She grinned at Mr. Butler and paused. “They would look great in Qipao.”
Mr. Butler looked like he was going to blow a fuse. Chandler laughed. Landon looked nervously around at everyone. And Laura sat, composed, with that smile ever in place.
Rainbows just wondered how they were going to pull any of this off.