While Adam checked in with the warehouse to let them know we were on the way back, I climbed into the driver’s side of the truck and we started back down the trail from Mr. Nixson’s place. Feeling good, I was humming under my breath while Adam talked on the phone. Mom and Clarisa had been singing, harmonizing, when Justin and I had walked in a few weeks ago and neither Justin nor I seemed to be able to get the tune out of our head. Justin or I had started singing it a few times and when one did, we smiled at each other and started singing away. The song was ‘More.’ Every time I started singing while Adam was around these days, he joined in. The two of us also sang ‘I Only Have Eyes for You.’ Seems Adam had come in from work one evening and found his parents dancing in the sunroom to that song and liked it. It was kinda Bobbie and Adam’s special song as ‘More’ was mine and Justin’s. Old, old, oldies, but goodies, I guess for us younger folks.
As soon as Adam closed his phone, he joined in and we were singing at the top of our lungs. Suddenly he stopped and exclaimed, “Shit! There’s that son of a bitch!” pointing out the window. As I looked where he pointed, I saw a blue jacked-up truck disappearing down a side road. “I know that’s the bastard who tried to run us into the swamp. I know it! Son of a bitch,” he shouted, shaking his fist at the departing truck.
“So we were right. The truck’s blue,” I said in a somewhat calmer voice.
“Yeah, it’s blue, a blue Ford F-350, couple-three years old, I think. I even got a bit of the license number. It was pretty mud-smeared, but I know it begins with NC. There’s a space, then RD. I don’t know what else.”
“North Carolina Road? I don’t know any North Carolina Road around here.”
“Same here, but I bet it’s one of those where you just say what you see -- nc rad, nc red, nc rid -- something like that. Wish we had the rest of it. Maybe Sheriff Anderson knows how we can move from those four letters and the fact that it’s a Ford F-350 truck and after 2000 model, I’m at least sure of that.”
“Sure worth reporting to him.”
Sheriff Anderson wasn’t in his office -- after all it was nearly seven when I called. Had Ellen Mae still been in the office, she would have seen what she could do with the information we gave her, but she had left promptly at five. Anyway, I left a message with the dispatcher.
Justin was home before I was, for a change, and in the kitchen helping Clarisa with supper. She was in a bit of a rush because she had a meeting of some kind at eight and it was after seven already. As I gave Justin a quick kiss, she said, “Wash up. Supper is practically on the table. Take your shower later, if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah, take your shower later,” Justin said, giving me his special, raised-eyebrow look.
Sundays and Thursday evenings were our two red meat meals -- others were rare, very rare. Usually Sunday was a bit fancy while Thursday supper was for things like pot roast, meat loaf and my favorite -- country style steak or, as it is known some places, steak and gravy. Gravy is held in high esteem in our household and Clarisa is a master at making it. When we asked, she taught me and Justin how and we were almost as good as she was.
We sat down to hot biscuits, mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh sliced tomatoes and fried okra -- what Clarisa called our monthly, healthy food disaster night -- which we all loved, but knew neither it nor the finish -- more hot biscuits with real butter and blackberry jelly -- was on any approved diet.
After supper, Justin and I crawled upstairs, having eaten way too much, and he joined me in the shower. We were in no rush and played in the shower for at least forty-five minutes. Without discussing it, we brought each other near the point of no return, then backed off several times. Finally, there was no question -- we either got relief or we'd suffer. We did not suffer.
We were drying each other when our phone rang. Justin answered it and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Crandall. We are both quite pleased to be finished with high school. Let me put you on the speaker phone so Marc can hear as well.”
“Marc, just congratulating Justin on the latest milestone in your young lives.”
“Thank you,” I responded.
"Was wondering what you and your friends had planned for the immediate future.”
“Well, for the immediate, immediate future,” I laughed, “we have PSSV -- post-secondary school visitation week -- and Mr. Sanford is giving all three of us -- Justin, Adam, and myself -- the week off. After that, it’s back to work, I suppose.”
“It’s definitely back to work for me,” Justin said. “I think Adam, Marc, and I may do a session of summer school to get some Mickey Mouse courses out of the way.”
“How’d you like to spend the week at La Casa? Talked with Mr. Nixson, and he and his partner Dakota Everest will be flying down for a show at a Key West gallery -- the invitation came as a very welcome surprise for him -- and in our conversation, he said you and Adam had been to his place. His partner is flying them in on a corporate jet and I asked about additional passengers. He just called back and said they could bring your clan. They will be staying in Key West and you could stay at La Casa.”
“Sounds great to me,” I said.
“Yeah, we need to let your garden know how things that started there turned out,” Justin laughed and pinched my bare ass. “Think you can arrange moonlight?”
“See what I can do about that. Meanwhile, check with the others and call me back,” Mrs. Crandall said, “and I’ll plan accordingly. Now, can you buzz Ann Carter?”
“Sure,” I replied, pressed the intercom and said, “Mom, Mrs. Crandall."
When Mom picked up, Justin got on the other line and started calling the Clan. As soon as he had talked to Susan, I remembered the Clan had expanded and asked, “What about Sandy and Michael?”
“Sandy’s a junior and Michael a continuing senior,” he reminded me. “Pity, though.”
“Michael could still get off as he has all senior classes,” I said, “but even if Sandy could, he shouldn’t since he’s still struggling to get his grades up.”
“You know, I’d like for Antwon to get a hold of Sissy. Wonder if Sissy’d be interested -- and if the plane can take a couple extras.”
Seems all the old Clan were at loose ends for PSSV and would call back immediately if they could go. Our conversation took place around and between calls to the Clan, and while Justin finished the calls, I grabbed a pair of shorts, pulled them on and ran downstairs where Mom was still talking with Mrs. Crandall. I made hand signals until she said into the phone, “Could you hold a minute, Betsy? The baby is frantically waving at me.” She covered the mouthpiece and I asked her to check and see if a couple more strays might tag along. Mom asked who and I answered Michael and Sissy. I added that I’d like Sissy to spend some time with Antwon.
Mom explained my request to Mrs. Crandall and she said of course the house could accommodate us all and she would check about the plane.
Back upstairs, I found Justin still on the phone. As soon as he had talked to someone, they had to talk with their parents, but all were more or less calling back at the same time now, and getting a lot of busy signals. Finally, the intercom buzzed and Mom said Mrs. Crandall was checking on the plane and would call back in the morning.
Susan and Bobbie had given almost immediate answers and were going – “Even if it’s without the boyfriend?” Justin had asked, and Susan said, “Of course,” and Bobbie asked, “Just what do you think?” which we took to be a definite yes. John and Adam said they would have to have time to explain all to their moms. Dads had, as I guess at lot of dads do, said, “Ask your mother.”
All the calls were made and John and Adam promised answers in the morning. I dropped my shorts and Justin and I crawled into bed. We lay facing each other, Justin playing with my hair as we exchanged a butterfly kiss or two. “Just think,” he said, “we are going back to where it began.”
I was sure what he was talking about but, nonetheless, asked, “Where all what began?”
“My real living, my life, our life.”
“Yeah,” I responded as we shared a deep kiss, then were soon asleep.
The phone woke me at 6:30 and when I picked it up, a bright-eyed and bushy tailed someone said, “It’s a go! When do we leave?”
“Have to let you know later,” I said, still mostly asleep.
When I hung up the phone, Justin asked, “Who called this early?”
“Not sure,” I replied, going back to sleep.
“What did he -- or she -- say?”
“It’s a go.”
“What’s a go?”
“It’s,” I responded and re-entered slumberland.
Sometime later, Clarisa called on the intercom to say breakfast would be ready in twenty minutes.
We had just finished breakfast when the phone rang. Mom picked it up, said, “Hello,” then “Good morning, Betsy.” She listened awhile and said, “Great, we’ll let you know this afternoon.” They chatted a bit about the weather and when Mom came back for an after-breakfast coffee, said, “The plane is actually more like a commuter than a private jet. Unless there’s excess luggage -- remember to be sure to emphasize that to the women -- it can take twelve, so there’s room for all. There’ll be you all, Mr. Nixson and Mr. Everest and Dr. Macon who is hitching a ride to visit his dad a few days. It’s scheduled to leave at 3:00 Sunday afternoon. Betsy said she’d to happy to have the others.”
“I really hope Sissy and Michael will be able to join us. I’ll talk to them after graduation practice,” I said.
“Yeah,” Justin agreed.
John called just before we left for school and said there might be a change in plans. He was clear to go, but might not be able to leave until Monday afternoon, something about his college trust fund that he needed to attend to. “His dad said he could fly down Monday as soon after noon as he could get a flight. Guess John’s the one who called early,” I said and grinned at Justin.
We wondered if either Sissy or Michael would be interested. I knew Michael would love to have Sandy with him and didn’t know if he’d be interested in going by himself. Guess we’d find out at school.
Things were very calm as we walked toward the school entrance. I guess with the ringleaders under bond and with restraining orders not to approach, speak to, or harass us, the K.J. hangers-on were left alone and didn’t have the courage to carry on very much.
Graduation rehearsal went quickly as students and sponsors were now thoroughly sick of the whole mess. We finished before ten and the Clan had all gathered in the courtyard. “Well, what’s up for you next week?” I asked Michael, hoping to get some hint as to whether to invite him or Sissy to La Casa.
“Well, I’ll hang around here since Sandy has exams next week. After he finishes, we plan to go camping. Haven’t decided where yet, maybe just drive down the coast and camp for a week.”
“When do you finish, Sandy?” Justin asked.
“Wednesday morning. Last exam is just before lunch.”
“Can you leave after?”
“Haven’t thought about it; don’t know,” he responded.
“Why don’t you find out? Get an early start on your trip.”
After Sandy left, Justin suggested the two of them join us at La Casa. “It’s a long drive, but you’ll have the rest of the week to rest up, then leisurely camp back up the coast.”
“I’ll check that out and let you know,” Michael said before the group broke up and went our separate ways.
Sissy was excited about going, but had to check with his parents, whom we knew never denied him anything, and make arrangements for someone to take his radio show. He made some calls on his cell and yelled at us as we headed to work and told us he could go if his parents gave their approval.
Graduation was Saturday evening, so Justin and I had the day off. We took advantage of a Saturday off and slept late. When we awoke, we got rid of dragon breath and made love until noon, when we finally showered and got dressed. When we went down, Clarisa asked if we were coming down for breakfast or lunch, to which Justin said, “We’ll have breakfast first,” and laughed.
After breakfast, we went upstairs and started packing for our trip. We laid everything -- well, almost -- out on our bed for mom’s inspection and she insisted we needed some new things which she would pick up this afternoon, but said we could go ahead with packing. We had finished about about 3:30 when Mom and Clarisa called and came up bearing packages. ‘A few things’ had been transmuted into many -- several new knit shirts, shorts, etc. -- which necessitated repacking which we finished around 4:30. We were then told to shower and get dressed. The ceremony didn’t start until 7:00, but graduates were supposed to be at the school, suited up by 6:00 -- why we were never told.
The ceremony finally got off the ground at 7:15, a bit late, but so were some of the seniors who didn’t show up until 6:50. The whole show seemed to take forever as award after award was given. At one point Bobbie, who was sitting beside me -- honors graduates sat together, the others sat in alphabetical order -- leaned over and said, “I’m disappointed. I didn’t get the potty training award.” It was almost that ridiculous. Seems no-one’s self-esteem could be damaged by being bypassed when the awards were announced. Finally it was over and we were free at 9:45.
Families and friends had scheduled celebrations and Mom had asked about reserving Sunset Lodge again, but someone beat her to the draw, which was OK, because we’d be leaving Sunday afternoon. Of course we didn’t know we’d be leaving at the time, but Justin and I suggested a quiet dinner would be great. Clarisa had a very different idea. As a result, we would be having a festive dinner at home. Clarisa had invited the Clan and their parents. When Mom found out, she was more than a bit upset since Clarisa would be doing the work and she was family. Mom told her to call in some of her friends or family, “After all, you’ll be in on the party since you’re family,” Mom added.
Michael’s parents, whom we had met only a few times, showed up. I noticed that they frowned a bit when asked about drinks and Michael didn’t take a glass of champagne when Mom announced that those who could handle it could have a glass. Mr. Thurmond and Mr. Wilson tried to outdo each other in proposing toasts. Finally we all sat down to dinner at tables throughout the house.
Clarisa had said she wasn't sure of the protocol, but all the Clan sat together. I guess in case his parents did put two and two together, Sandy was sitting between Bobbie and Susan rather than beside Michael. The two women were flirting outrageously with him and he was going along with it. Of course, had Michael’s parents been looking carefully, they would have seen the two lovers giving each other very special looks from time to time. In fact, as soon as Sandy had come in, it was obvious Michael was more than a little excited, but when his mother asked about it, he just got a bigger grin on his face.
While we were having dessert -- fresh strawberry shortcake with real shortcake, not some sponge cake mess -- Mr. Thurmond stood and said, “If I could have your attention, I have an announcement to make.” When we were all quiet, he continued, “I wanted all of you to know that Mrs. Thurmond and I are very proud of all of you and, of course, especially proud of our son John. What you may not know is that we are also proud of our younger son Sandy. While he came to us only a short time ago, I learned today that if he does well on his finals, he will have raised his grade in every class at least a letter. Also, he learned today he has been accepted into a summer arts program beginning in two weeks and lasting until a week before school starts. We’ll miss having him around this summer, but are delighted he will be at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota.” Sandy blushed, but looked extremely proud as we all applauded his accomplishments.
“What Sandy doesn’t know is that he will be allowed to take Wednesday’s exams, if he thinks he’s ready, Monday and Tuesday after school. If he does well enough to raise his grades, as he can, our gift to him is a ticket to Key West.” Sandy was obviously stunned for a moment, but soon recovered, jumped up and grabbed both parents in a bear hug.
As everyone was preparing to leave, Justin spoke up, “Attention all. We have been reminded that luggage for our flight tomorrow must be kept to an absolute minimum. Hope you all flying remember that and that parents check to make sure, otherwise, we’ll have to leave a few of your children here. Swim suit, couple pair of shorts and shirts, a pair of long pants and nice button shirt should be enough. Just the minimum in the way of toiletries -- not a suitcase of make-up.”
“Yeah, remember that Sissy,” Susan laughed. Her laughter ended quickly when she remembered Sissy told us he still hadn’t gotten his parents' permission to go. I guess to compensate, she cornered Sissy’s parents as they were leaving, but got no commitment from them.
After everyone had gone, I started helping Clarisa with the necessary clearing and at first didn’t notice Justin was missing. When I mentioned it, Clarisa said, “I think you’ll find him on the dock.” Our house faced the water and there was a small dock extending into it. Not large enough for real boats, but we used it for small ones. As I walked toward it, I saw Justin sitting on the end. When I approached, he turned his face toward me and I saw moonlight shining off the tears streaming down his face.
I sat beside him, put my arm around his shoulders, pulled him close and kissed the top of his head. He took my hand in his, still without speaking, and we just sat in silence. I was pretty sure he was missing his mom. Finally he spoke, “Lord of my Heart, sometimes I miss her so much. She would have been so proud of me tonight. She wanted so much for me to do well in school, and I have, but she’s not here to see that.” I supposed I could have gone into the “She’s looking down on you and knows,” but I didn’t believe it and I knew Justin didn’t so I said nothing.
Finally, he drew me to himself and kissed me, deeply, tenderly, and we walked back to the house and upstairs to our place where we undressed and climbed into bed. It had been a long day, but was not yet over as we made very gentle love before falling asleep in each other’s arms.