Saga of the Elizabethton Tarheels

by Sequoyah


Chapter Thirty


When John dropped me off, he asked, "What about a tux for Justin? Looks like he might be a permanent fixture."
"He'd better be," I laughed and added, "While we're at it, may as well go ahead and let Mr. Gibson take measurements and get a tux tailored for him. My new one is still at Gibson's. It wasn't quite right when it came from the tailor -- I couldn't see anything wrong with it, but you know Mr. Gibson. He called last week to tell me it was ready and suggested I come by then, but I forgot all about it. I'll remind Justin tonight he needs to rent one for the prom since I know he hasn't given it a thought. Actually, I don't think there is any change -- in his measurements, I mean -- since the Christmas dance and I know Mr. Gibson has a record of them but, yeah, we'll get a tailored one for Justin. Of course we've waited too late -- to get a tailored tux... for Justin... to get Justin one of his own for the prom." For some reason I was tripping all over myself and had John laughing.
"Man, even after all this time, you've still got it bad. Pick you up at, say, 10:00 in the morning?"
"Justin has to be at work at 9:00. Maybe he can get off an hour for measurements. I'll call."
"Laters," John said, and roared up the street in his new wheels.
Justin came home for supper at 6:30. He had forty-five minutes, he said. "Business is slow tonight anyway."
"Think you can get off an hour mid-morning tomorrow? You need to go get measured for a tux."
"Monkey suits again? Of course, I just forgot about it. Get off to get measured? Sure, well, probably no problem."
After supper, I walked him to the car, kissed him, and went upstairs. I really had little to do since I definitely was not going to do homework Friday night so I decided to clean our apartment. That usually meant little more picking up after myself -- Justin was much better about picking up than I was. But tonight I was bored and Justin wasn't here, so I really got into a cleaning mood and had cleaned, vacuumed, and was busy dusting when the phone rang.
When I answered it, Mom said, "Good to hear your voice, Marc. How's things at home?"
"Fine," I responded. "How are you?"
"Fine, sober, homesick. Actually I'm not as homesick as Betsy. We are on our way back -- again, this time for sure. We'll arrive in the Keys Monday and I'll be home early Friday. We're leaving here early, very early, hitching a ride with a couple flying to New York. Plane is scheduled to leave here around 6:30 I think. Should be home by lunch at the latest, plenty of time to make sure you have everything for the prom. It is next Saturday, right?"
"Yeah, a week from tomorrow night." I didn't mind talking to Mom, but I didn't want her to ask too much about the prom since it would definitely include...
"Who are you taking? I know THAT girl is out... SHE BETTER BE." Mom had not lost her ability to speak in capitals when she wanted to. ... asking about my date.
"Guess Justin and I are going together."
"You two, as handsome as you are, going stag? I don't believe it. Anyway, what else is new?"
I managed to talk with Mom for half an hour without having to deal with my new relationship with Justin. Of course, that was easy enough once she got off the prom. "
Well, I've got to run," Mom finally said. "Oh, Betsy is coming to North Carolina with me. She'll be there a week. She hadn't mentioned it until she talked to Metzer a couple times, now she's all mysterious, just says she doesn't want to miss seeing you and your date all decked out for the prom. You better get a date or she'll be disappointed."
After I hung up the phone it suddenly occurred to me: Mrs. Crandall expected me to go with Justin! She knew about us. Of course, I wasn't worried about that because of how she supported Antwon and Sharky and, actually, it would be good to have her around when we told Mom.
Justin called at 8:45 and said he'd be a bit late getting home. "Mr. Sanford discovered a fellow out in the Grandview section gave him two twenty dollar bills when he should have given him only one. Seems the fellow keeps his money in cash and the two bills were brand new and stuck together. Mr. Sanford doesn't want him to think he had lost the twenty or that he was cheated at the store. When I asked why we couldn't just phone the man, Mr. Sanford said they didn't have a phone. 'Can't afford it. His daughter's left an abusive husband and come back home with a three-month-old baby a few days ago. They needed a crib and mattress and I sold him one.' When I asked what kind of bed we had for twenty dollars, Mr. Sanford said, 'The kind hard-working poor people need.' In other words, Marc, he took what the man could afford and I saw what was loaded on the truck. It was our least expensive crib set, but it still sold for over a hundred dollars. Anyway, I won't be too late, but it'll take me close to an hour to get to the Jacobson's and back. Mrs. Sanford and Adam are minding the other store so Mr. Sanford can close for me, so I'll come directly home. See you around quarter of ten if not before."
"Be careful. The Grandview section is not exactly civilization," I said.
"Just country folks. Not bad people." "True of some, not true of others." "Like the rest of the world. See you in a few, lover."
When Justin got home, he was boiling. "I had just left Mr. Jacobson's when one of those jacked-up trucks came barreling down the middle of the road -- which is hardly a road since it's just a unpaved trail which farm equipment has left from going through the field. Anyway, I dodged and had trouble getting the car under control because when I dodged, I ran onto the shoulder and it was just loose sand. When I was back in control, I was already mad when another of those rigs came flying down the road, I think chasing the first. I saw him in the rear view mirror so I didn't lose control again. Those idiots should be restricted to bicycles!"
"Well, you're home safe now. Sit down. Want a coke or something?" I asked, opening the small fridge I had bought for my room last year when I had a kitchen alcove with a microwave, sink and the fridge put in.
"Red grapefruit juice, as if you didn't know." Justin occasionally had a soft drink, but for some time his drink had been red grapefruit juice. I had to agree it was good, but it was not my favorite. "Marc, I know there are poor people in this county. Now that I am working at the new store, I see poor people 'most every day. We carry inexpensive furniture, about as inexpensive as you can get and it have any serviceability -- well, Mr. Sanford says there is one line lower that still offers value for the money, but we won't carry real junk. Anyway, the people who shop in the new store generally are people who do not have a lot of money. So, yeah, I know what poor people look like. Hell, Mama and I were poor. Any bump in the road and we were really up against it. Had she just had a long illness and recovered, we would have been on the street. We would have had to sell the house and I would have had to drop out of school. I know that. I also know that I am lucky to have friends with money who have accepted me and made sure I never felt like I was a poor relative so to speak. "I know all of that, but I must confess, I saw poverty tonight that I didn't know existed and shouldn't exist in this country."
"The Jacobsons live in a single-wide trailer. I don't know how many people live there, but I was introduced to four adults and an equal number of children, not counting the baby. The place was obviously old, very old, but had been and is cared for. The yard, what little there is -- the field is planted with crops practically to the door -- has flowers and shrubs someone cares for. Inside, even with all those people, is clean and as neat as could be, but... but it is all just plain worn out. Mr. Jacobson and his sons are farm laborers, just a notch above migrants. In spite of his obvious state, he insisted I take five dollars for bringing him his money. I told him, 'No, it was purely an accident, but there was a bit of carelessness on the part of the store.' I told him the money should have been checked closely, especially since it was new. 'It's our fault.' "He then insisted I have dinner with them. 'We're kinda late getting in. Spring is a busy time on a farm.' I assured him I had eaten earlier and he finally allowed me to leave. He walked me to the car and said, 'Young man, I suspect twenty dollars wouldn't make a lot of difference to you, but it would have been a great loss to us.' I didn't try to convince him I knew what he meant since, as poor as I have been, I have never known his depth of poverty."
"Maybe we should help them, Justin," I suggested.
"I agree," Justin replied, "but we can't just send them some money and call it helping. It would, of course, but what about the others in the county who are just as poor? Can we afford to, say, take care of all the Jacobson's health care needs? You know they have some if nothing more than need for expensive dental care. You're right, we need to help them, but we need to be smart about it."
"I hadn't thought about it that way," I responded.
"People don't," Justin said. "So what's your news? Any?"
"Sure, Mom called," I said as I handed him a second glass of juice. "They are on their way home -- well, they won't be here until Friday. They will be in the Keys Monday and she and Mrs. Crandall will get here Friday -- before lunch."
"She's coming so she can check you out before you leave for the prom," Justin grinned.
"She'll check you out too," I said. "Mom said Mrs. Crandall decided to come after talking to Mrs. Metzer a couple times. She said Mrs. Crandall is acting very mysterious and doesn't want to miss seeing me and my date for the prom."
"Mrs. Crandall knows."
"Right, of course. Anyway, how are we going to go about telling Mom?"
"Carefully," Justin said, "but I don't know exactly what that looks like. Your mom coming home the reason you gave this place a real cleaning?"
"No, I did that because you weren't here and I was bored."
"Got to watch that or we'll end up as clingy as Bobbie and Adam were."
We talked about that for several minutes, to both our surprise, I'm sure. Finally Justin said, "I have to be at work at 9:00 in the morning so maybe we should go to bed since I have plans, plans to keep you from getting bored."
We were still very much in the exploring stage, especially with the toys from the Keys friends -- Toys from the Boys we called them. Justin seemed to like my using one to play with him better than I liked his using one with me. I worried that meant I was holding back from Justin, but he reminded me of what the Captain and the Keys boys had said about people being different. "Besides," Justin had added, "your mouth makes up for any other shortcoming -- pun intended!"
I suspect Justin wished there had been less playing and more sleeping when the alarm went off the next morning. He, of course, assured me otherwise, but he was dragging around until he had his shower. I didn't bother since I could shower after he had gone to work.
Clarisa had taken her Saturday option of sleeping-in or whatever, and had not made breakfast. We had cold cereal and fruit, and Justin downed a couple of yogurts, something else he liked which was not on my favorite-foods list. Breakfast finished, we got in some hot kisses before Justin said, "Where this is leading could get me fired," as he fondled my hard cock, then raced out the door.
John came by at 9:45 just as Justin called to say he could meet us at Gibson's at 10:00.
Mr. and Mrs. Gibson were both waiting for us when we arrived. "I think we're all set," Mrs. Gibson said, "except for possible adjustments to Justin's tux." Justin's tux? I wasn't sure what was going on. "Come on to the workroom and we'll make any final adjustments needed."
The workroom was in the back of the store where Mr. Gibson was working. As we entered it, he looked up and asked, "You boys won't mind Mrs. Gibson seeing you in your skivvies will you?" Since the Gibsons were old enough to be our grandparents, and had known us forever, we started stripping. "See why yo'mama tells you to always wear clean underwear?" Justin laughed. "You never can tell when a lady may get a glimpse of your skivvies." "More than a glimpse in this case," Mrs. Gibson laughed as Mr. Gibson handed us garment bags with our tuxes. As I started getting dressed, I noticed Justin taking a tux exactly like mine -- a Bill Blass single breasted with single notched lapel classic -- out of his garment bag. We both were given tucked shirts and black bow ties and when we were dressed, Mrs. Gibson laughed and said, "Of course, you'll have new black sneakers!" All three of us looked down and started laughing. We were wearing our sneakers -- mine and John's were more than well-worn since it wasn't a school day, Justin's were decent since he was working at the store, but the design on them wasn't exactly formal -- and they were mostly white, not black.
"Of course," Justin laughed. "Are wingtip sneakers acceptable with formal wear?"
"John, Marc, perfect fit and you do look handsome. You're taking Susan to the prom, John?"
"I am indeed, otherwise the prom wouldn't be official."
"Marc, Mary Beth Arnold be home for the prom?" The tone of Mrs. Gibson's question left no doubt about her distaste for the girl.
"Don't know. Won't be my date if she is," I replied.
"Oh, well, good," Mrs. Gibson said. "So who are you taking?"
"The handsome man in the tuxedo and sneakers," I said with a smile and pointed to Justin who was standing still as Mr. Gibson fussed over him.
Justin got a huge grin on his face and said, "Don't you think I have a great looking date?"
"You do," Mrs. Gibson said and asked, "Daddy, does Justin's tux need a lot of work? You know we just had the measurements from his rental to work with. When Mrs. Porcher called and asked that we have one tailored for you, Justin, she insisted you not be told. I hope it's ok."
"Mom ordered a tux for Justin?" I asked.
"She did," Mrs. Gibson answered. "Said he might be her escort again and would need one. How's the fit, Daddy?"
"It's perfect, for which I am thankful. The pants weren't hemmed which is good because you've grown almost an inch since Christmas. Probably your last growth spurt." Justin's tux was obviously tailored to him and he did look handsome. I started to say, "He looks good enough to eat," but thought better of it. John had chosen a double breasted shawl collar tux, still a classic, and he was, indeed, a classic young man.
Justin went back to work and John asked if I minded going by the florist with him. "May as well get everything out of the way today. Next week will be a mess." On our way to the florist, John asked, "Ever see 'The Age of Innocence'?"
"Kinda. It never really captured my interest so I didn't pay a lot of attention to it, but I half- watched it. Why?"
"Remember the men in evening clothes? They always had a gardenia in their lapel. Why don't you order one for you and Justin? That would be so cool." While I had not, as I said, been very interested in 'The Age of Innocence', I had noticed the clothes. I'll admit it was more in line with, "Damn! I'd hate to have to get in and out of all those clothes every day!" than anything else, but the gardenias had caught my eye as they had John's.
Elizabethton is a small town so our shops are pretty limited. There are a couple florists, but only one that really does things other than funerals and weddings, McKessins. Mrs. McKessin had started the shop before I was born, and retired a couple years ago. As often happens in Elizabethton -- Adam being the exception which proves the rule, I guess -- her son Jasper had worked in the shop from the time he was in middle school and now he and his wife Eunice ran the place. Husband and wife were both very good florists, usually going beyond the stiff arrangements most small shops do, but gardenias, I suspected, were not the usual for them and I wasn't sure they could get them. When John and I walked in, Eunice was preparing a large centerpiece in the front of the shop. She looked up as the bell over the door rang and said, "Ah! Let me guess. Two of Elizabethton's handsomest young men to order flowers for the prom. Right, John, Marc?"
"Right, Eunice." The McKessins were still young enough that they insisted we call them by their given names.
"So what did you have in mind?"
"Any possibility we can get gardenias for me and Justin?" I asked.
Eunice thought for a moment and said, "I'm not sure. They are not as in fashion as they once were, so most flower houses do not carry them. They are also pretty delicate, but I'll see what I can do."
John said, "Hey, why don't we get four? You and Justin and Kenneth and me also."
"Sounds good IF Eunice can get the flowers."
"Don't get your hopes up," Eunice said, "I'll give it all I've got, but I don't think I'll be able to get the flowers."
"Eunice, what if I get the flowers, can you prepare boutonnires from them?"
"Did you have in mind something like those worn in 'The Age of Innocence'?"
"Not something like, but exactly like those."
"I would be delighted. When can you get me the flowers?"
"Tuesday or Wednesday early enough?"
"Prom's Saturday. If you could be sure they would be here Friday, that would be fine and would help keep them looking nice."
"Friday it is."
"Just where is this secret garden you are..." John started, then stopped short. "Pretty dense of me! Of course! La Casa! Your mom and Mrs. Crandall are coming up Friday. They could have the flowers cut and they would be here a few hours later."
"And you know someone -- the gardener, someone -- would know how to pack them so they will not be damaged. Eunice, the flowers will be flown in from the Florida Keys Friday."
"And for the young ladies?"
"The young ladies?" I was puzzled. "Four guys so there must be four young ladies expecting flowers from four handsome young men."
I could have kicked myself because I blushed. "Oh," I finally got out, "there are four men, but only two women. Justin and I are going stag."
"Some young ladies are missing having all eyes on them and their escorts," Eunice said. "So two young ladies then."
Susan and Bobbie had both said they didn't want to look as if they were wearing a funeral spray, but something special. 'Try for something unique,' Susan had told John. Eunice suggested they, too, might like gardenias. "Have them call me if they are interested and we'll work out something, maybe something they can wear in their hair or something else, not the usual." Tux and flowers settled, I was ready for the prom and I was really anticipating seeing Justin all decked out.