Neither Justin nor I had to work Friday or Saturday because of the prom and we were home before Mom arrived. She called from the airport, surprised when I answered. "Marc? I expected Clarisa. What are you doing home this time of day?"
"Short schedule today because of the prom. Need someone to pick you up?"
"No, the luggage is being loaded now and we'll be home in half an hour or so. I'm looking forward to seeing you, son. So is Betsy. She seems to think you have a fantastic surprise for me."
"I'm sure it is a surprise, definitely, but fantastic? You'll have to answer that," I responded.
Clarisa was not at home and Justin reminded me she had said she would drop by McKessins while she was downtown. "You know she and Miss Amy Louise were up to something. Why don't we cruise downtown and see if they are holding the newspaper editor hostage or something."
The newspaper office was on the main drag, a couple doors down from the sheriff's office. When we got within a block of the newspaper, the street was blocked and a cop in the street directing traffic, sending it around the block. "Looks like something is going on at the sheriff's office," Justin said. "Maybe Clarisa and Miss Amy Louise are holding him hostage."
"Or maybe it is the newspaper editor. People all over the street so it could be either."
We found a parking place two blocks over and walked back toward the newspaper office. As soon as we could see what was going on -- at least partially -- we saw a crowd of people in the street, parading back and forth carrying placards.
Standing on the steps of the newspaper office were Clarisa and Miss Amy Louise with Fr. DeBruhl between them. He was dressed for the Good Friday service -- black cassock -- and was speaking to the assembled group. Even though he was using a bullhorn, it was difficult to understand what he was saying because of the echo, but the assembly was definitely with him as witnessed by shouts of "Amen!" and other encouraging words. When we got closer, I could see the placards were what was being assembled in our downstairs a couple nights ago. They all had an outline of the crucified Christ and slogans. I saw one which said, "Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor.'" Others had quotations from the Hebrew prophets or from the Gospels, all dealing with the poor, the sick, the neglected or the marginalized. I was surprised by placards which read, "Jesus loves gay people too." There were even a couple which said, "God Loves fags!"
Miss Amy Louise nodded to Fr. DeBruhl and took the bullhorn from him. We were now close enough to hear what was being said and Miss Amy Louise was letting the newspaper editor have a piece of her mind, then started on those, "who like myself, have neglected the least of our brothers and sisters." After she had finished her speech, Clarisa took the bullhorn and laid out a plan of action which included the newspapers carrying stories about the needs in our county, expanding the Cup into the whole county via satellite stations and several other, it seemed to me, very practical things.
"For today, we are passing out sign-up sheets for you to offer your services and we are demanding the editor of the 'Bugle' and 'Town Crier' come and promise to be more sensitive to the needs of our county." Clarisa then turned to the newspaper office and called out, "Mr. Editor, show your face out here and speak to these good people." Turning back to gathered people she said, "While we wait for him to get out here, Let's sing." Clarisa started singing in a strong clear voice, "We shall overcome."
After a verse or two and the editor hadn't showed up, Miss Amy Louise stepped down and picked up a placard which said, "Brigade of Little Old Blue-Haired Ladies" and a group of women of her generation assembled around her. As soon as they had her surrounded, they whipped out pots and pans I had not seen and started pounding on them with spoons, creating a god-awful racket. After a few minutes of general noise, they started pounding in rhythm and singing. When the editor still didn't appear, another group, of younger women, appeared and joined in. The editor finally appeared and said he would discuss the situation with a committee of three or four, "not every little old blue-haired woman in the county." Big mistake, since well over a third of the crowd were men. They started chanting, "Whoa, Ho Chauvinist!"
Miss Amy Louise, Clarisa and Sally Abercrombie, president of the Junior League, and Arthur Smith, president of the Lions Club, went inside. As soon as they were inside, the noise stopped and the people started moving around restlessly. Fr. DeBruhl took the bullhorn again and asked people to sign up to help. A few other people spoke and it wasn't fifteen minutes before the four re-appeared, waving a sheet of paper over their heads. Miss Amy Louise took the bullhorn and said, "We have made a start toward making a difference. Now let's do what we know we need to do!" Fr. DeBruhl was asked to bless the people and send them out, which he did, and the people started drifting away.
Justin and I waited until almost everyone was gone and then approached Miss Amy Louise and Clarisa. "You come to take us crazy women home?" Clarisa asked and laughed. They walked with us to the car and we took Miss Amy Louise home then headed for our place. We hadn't been gone as long as I thought, but I was still surprised when Mom was not back home. We had barely gotten out of the car before a limo arrived.
As soon as the limo had stopped, Clarisa, Justin, and I rushed down the walk. I hugged Mom and then turned to Mrs. Crandall, spread my arms wide and said, "Mi casa es su casa! Welcome Mrs. Crandall," and grabbed her. We had a hug fest on the sidewalk as I introduced Clarisa and Justin. When Mrs. Crandall had been introduced to Justin, she hugged him, then gripped his shoulders and stood back, looking at him with a great grin on her face. She finally hugged him again and said, "You'll do." Mom looked puzzled, but said nothing.
The limo driver, who was unloading the luggage, looked a bit worse for the wear. "We would have been here earlier but, as you can see from the driver, we had to make a pit stop to change a tire. Nice driver did the deed since it was going to be another hour before a limo could pick us up and get us home," Mom said.
The last piece of luggage coming from the limo was an ice chest which the driver set on the sidewalk. The lid was taped to make sure it did not come off, and Mrs. Crandall reached down, stripped off the tape and said, "Have a look. Gardenias." Inside were enough gardenias for a dozen proms. "The gardener, Antwon and Sharky wanted to make sure there were enough and they got here in good shape."
"Looks like they achieved their goal," Justin laughed.
"We'll get your things in the house then run them down to McKessins. Eunice will be thrilled to death. She was so afraid we couldn't get the flowers and she had her heart set on them," I said.
Justin and I grabbed the handles of a steamer trunk and with it between us, picked up suitcases with our free hands and headed for the house. It took maybe fifteen minutes before we had the luggage inside and in the proper rooms. When that was done, Justin and I took the ice chest with the flowers to Eunice. She couldn't believe her eyes when she opened the chest. "Oh, not only are there open blossoms, but buds as well. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. You are going to have the most beautiful flowers at the ball! I'll get right on these."
When we got back, Mom and Mrs. Crandall were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea, talking with Clarisa. "So, Marc, Justin, who are your dates for the prom?" Mom asked and added, "and don't try to convince me you're going stag." Mrs. Crandall was grinning like the Cheshire cat. Clearly she knew.
"Certainly not going stag," Justin said. "I'm taking my fiance."
"Be serious," Mom said, "and you Marc?"
"I'm also taking my fiance."
"Ok, what's the game you two are playing?" Mom laughed. Mrs. Crandall, who was standing behind Mom was about to split holding in her laughter. Clarisa had to leave the kitchen before she lost it.
Marc and I were standing side by side, slipped our arms around each other, turned toward our lover for a great kiss. When we broke our kiss, I said, "We're taking our fiances. We're taking each other. Justin asked me to marry him while we were in Florida."
"And he finally said yes."
Clarisa had returned to the kitchen and said, "When did he say yes? You never told me. The last time I heard he had said maybe. Justin you promised I'd be the first to know."
"Sorry, Clarisa, but I really had no choice. He accepted in Mrs. Powers' AP history class this week. Wednesday, I think. Given what has been going on, I'm not sure of the day without some thought, but I think it was Wednesday," Justin said.
"You get engaged and there's so much going on that you're not sure when. What has been going on?" Mom asked. I guess she kinda missed who we were engaged to. No, it sunk in. "Wait a minute! You two are pulling my leg."
"Well, actually we're not. Justin asked me to marry him while we were in the Keys for spring break, but I wasn't ready to take that step or even commit to it," I said. "But with all the goings-on this week -- well, actually, since we got back from Florida -- I finally saw that's what I really, really want. We don't know what it will look like, finally, but we will be married."
"Are you gay?" Mom asked. I couldn't believe my ears!
"Actually, we don't know," Justin said. "Maybe we just want to have sex with each other and get married. Maybe I'm wrong, yeah, I guess I'm wrong. Hey, Marc, you gay?"
"Yeah and you too." We were both laughing like we were mad. I guess the week had finally caught up with us because we were just plain giddy. When we were finally in control of ourselves, I said, "Mom, Justin and I are very much in love with each other and have been for a long time."
"We just kept it a secret from each other," Justin said. "Then, I guess it was the magic of La Casa because I told Marc I was in love with him and learned he was in love with me. I knew I wanted to be married to my sweetheart but he wasn't sure then, this week, he decided."
Mom was very solemn and silent, but finally said, "I'm going to need some time, but what is all this about this week?"
"It's a very, very long story," I said.
"Well, let's hear it."
"I'm sure you have heard a lot about the trip to Florida," Justin said, "but I doubt that you heard the most important and best part and also the worse part of it." Between the two of us, we told Mom and Mrs. Crandall how we discovered we were in love with each other and how Adam had acted up. "But we had a perfectly wonderful time, Mrs. Crandall. And meeting Antwon and Sharky..."
"...and the Captain," Justin added.
"Was really great as we began discovering each other and being gay and all. Working on love-ma..."
"You're having sex?" Mom said and I wasn't sure what she meant or how she was taking the idea.
"Yes! Great sex! Better and better all the time!" I said and this time Justin blushed.
"Well, I'll not think about that," Mom said.
Clarisa chuckled and said, "Good idea. They promised me if I found a boyfriend, they'd not think about my having sex either. Guess the same applies to mothers."
"Yeah, and Mom, Clarisa and Miss Amy Louise have been stirring up things around this week," I said, not really ready to talk about what all had been going on with Adam and the jocks.
"I'm sure they needed stirring," Mom said and Clarisa laughed and started telling about what she and Miss Amy Louise had been up to.
"You should see that Amy Louise when she gets her back up. Said she had been a perfect southern lady of the nineteenth century for almost seventy years -- although she says she's only pushing fifty -- so it was about time she got with this century. 'I'll just skip the twentieth century and be a southern lady of the twenty-first.' Said she and the Brigade of Little Old Blue-Haired Ladies would have a surprise for the rest of us today. All of us except Amy Louise and whoever made up this brigade of hers had gathered at St. Paul's and still she hadn't showed up. I was afraid she had decided she wouldn't go through with today's protest when they came marching down the street with a banner flying in the breeze, a blood-red banner with a blue-haired lady in a white circle in the center. They were marching and singing at the top of their lungs, 'I am woman.'" Clarisa laughed, "That little lady was ready to roll over that newspaper editor like a Sherman tank!" Of course Clarisa then had to tell Mom all about the protest and how the editor had finally caved. "Of course, he is smart enough to know that the little blue-haired ladies can bury his pitiful newspapers if they want to."
"Well, I need to get supper ready. I invited the Clan for supper. It's green salad and spaghetti tonight. Marc, if you and your lover will take care of getting the garlic bread ready, I'll fix the salad. The water is ready for the noodles as soon as the crew shows up."
As Justin and I were buttering the bread with garlic butter, Mrs. Crandall came and stood beside us. "Justin, you have some people in Florida who think very, very highly of you, people for whom I have mountains of respect. So I'm comfortable with your being Marc's lover and partner, but I want you to know, you better treat him right because he is very special to all of us at La Casa."
"Not to worry Mrs. Crandall, he's very special to me too -- very, very special." Justin responded and kissed me.
"'Nough of that," Clarisa said with a laugh as she walked into the kitchen, but she was serious and we both knew it.
A few minutes later, John, Susan, and Sandy walked in and John introduced Sandy to Mom, then realized there was a stranger in our kitchen.
"John, Susan, Sandy, Mrs. Crandall, mistress of La Casa," Justin said.
"I have heard all of your names and high praise of you from the staff, especially Mrs. Metzer, Antwon and Sharky... well, I guess I don't recall a Sandy."
"He's new," John said. "We picked him up just this week."
"He means exactly that, Ma'am," Sandy said, extending his hand to Mrs. Crandall. "They picked me up out of the road."
"I was wondering if you, like Br'er Rabbit had been in the briar patch. From the looks of you, I'd said you had," Mrs. Crandall laughed.
"The swamp, ma'am, the swamp," Sandy responded.
Before more could be said, Bobbie and Kenneth, walking arm-in-arm, arrived and introductions were made. "We imported him for Bobbie, as her prom date," John laughed. "Kinda a temporary guest worker, I guess."
"May not be exactly temporary," Kenneth said. "We're working on getting me a green card." I wondered just what that meant.
"Bobbie, Metzer tells me you did a kind of turn around while you were in Florida, asserting your independence. Good for you."
Clarisa had just dumped the noodles into boiling water when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," Mom said and headed to the front. "Adam, what in the world? Why are you ringing the doorbell?"
"I wasn't sure I would be welcomed," he replied, "but Clarisa did tell me to come if I wanted to."
Mom had a very puzzled look on her face as she came back into the kitchen and I wondered how we were going to handle telling her about Adam and what he had caused over the past few weeks.
"Of course you're welcome," Mom said to Adam as they walked into the kitchen. "Why would you ever think otherwise? Come on, we're almost ready to sit down for supper."
"Betsy, this is Adam Sanford, a friend since he was in diapers. Adam, Mrs. Crandall."
"She's mistress of La Casa," Susan said -- the first, I suspect, to get over the shock of seeing Adam actually show up.
"Mrs. Crandall," Adam said, extending his hand. "Thanks for a great spring break." I think all the Clan was standing, mouth open, at Adam's statement. "Ok, it was a great spring break in spite of my being an ass."
Justin leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Didn't know He was lost, but think the boy found Jesus."
"Look, I'd like to clear the air. I don't know what Marc has told you, but I really screwed up when Justin and Marc told me they were fag... gay." Adam gave a condensed version of the events in Florida and the last few weeks in Elizabethton. I'll have to say, he was brutally honest about what an ass he had been and the results. He finally grinned and said, "I'm definitely on probation more ways than one and hope I can prove I'm worthy of everyone's trust."
The tension in the kitchen had been pretty bad and relaxed a little, and dinner was more relaxed that I would have thought possible. When we were finishing with dessert, Adam said, "I hate to eat and run, but I've got to get back to the store before seven. At seven, if I'm not at home or the store, I turn into a jailbird and, thank you, I've had all of that I want."
After Adam had gone, we talked about the change that seemed to have come over him. "I'm withholding judgment on all except his relationship with me. Well, on that too since I may be his friend in the future, but that's it!" Bobbie said. "I am glad he came and told all that mess he caused, and Justin, you and Marc have covered your affair, so Mrs. Crandall and Mrs. Porcher, I guess you are all caught up, so where's the pictures?"
We all settled down in the library and Mom handed Clarisa a fist-full of memory cards. The next two hours were spent looking at pictures and hearing Mom and Mrs. Crandall talk about their trip. Mom finally said, "There are more, but I think that's enough, at least for tonight." As the Clan was breaking up and I was putting away the equipment, Mrs. Crandall said, "Ann Carter, we're losing it. All those young people here and we didn't give them the posters Metzer sent. I'll get them."
The photos Mrs. Metzer had made while we were snorkeling had been blown up to poster size and all were fantastic. While we were looking at them, Mrs. Crandall said, "There's one your mom hasn't seen. Had to keep your secret." It was a montage of Justin and me made from at least a dozen photos of us, all very romantic. The center was occupied with a wonderful picture of the two of us holding hands, gazing into each other's eyes. We were wearing trunks and it didn't take a lot of imagination to see our baskets were larger than would have been without at least a semi-erection. I hoped Mom hadn't noticed and she might not have except John said, "Randy as always," and laughed.
With their posters in hand, the Clan said goodnight and left for home at 11:00.
After the photos, we had to see some of the things Mom and Mrs. Crandall had brought back and it was past midnight when Justin and I hugged the three women we loved and I said, "Good, very good, to have you home, Mom."
"Good to be home, son, and I really like Mom a heck of a lot better than Mother."
"So do I," I said, hugged her again and said, "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite," Clarisa said, something she had said to me almost every night of my life. After this week, it really was good to have an anchor and Clarisa was mine -- and I suddenly realized, Justin's as well. "Goodnight, Ebenezer."
On the way upstairs, Justin asked, "Why do you call Clarisa Ebenezer? I've heard you do it before."
I chuckled and said, "When I was a little kid and had a nightmare, Clarisa would come and calm me down, then rock me back to sleep. She'd sing 'Come Thou fount of every blessing.' Second verse begins, "Here I raise my Ebenezer.' I paid no attention to it, of course, until I was older and heard her singing it after I had heard or read Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I started laughing and couldn't stop when I imagined someone holding old Ebenezer Scrooge above their head and dancing around. Clarisa told me what an Ebenezer was. In the Bible, Samuel sets up a rock to mark the place where God helped the Jews and called it Ebenezer, so it's a rock of help or a reminder of God's care for you. Yeah, Clarisa is definitely my Ebenezer."
When we got upstairs, we looked at the posters again, put together the frames Mrs. Metzer had sent for them and they were ready to hang. Finally, we crawled into bed, wrapped our arms around each other and Justin started singing "Come thou fount" very softy. Soon I was sound asleep.