Ethan decided he really needed to push himself to move on with his life. In thinking about that, he thought that maybe he should try dating. 'Nice idea, Ethan, but just whom do you plan to date?' he asked himself. There were two available males at Arkadelphia, Christopher and Caleb. Caleb, when it came to the question of gay or straight, was an unknown. Of course, so was Christopher, but Ethan was pretty sure the Texan was gay. Why did young men get thrown out of their homes? For drugs? There sure was no evidence he was into drugs and he had been at Arkadelphia for awhile now. Serious crime? Would he had headed for an unknown uncle he had to know was a federal law officer? Hardly seemed likely. No, the odds are Christopher was disowned for the same reason his Uncle Rich was, he was gay. Ethan didn't exactly have a crush on the Texan, but Christopher was a nice looking guy and Ethan was lonely and Christopher probably was as well and if something developed . . . . He had decided he'd ask him about going to a movie.
As the crew cleaned up after work Thursday, Ethan had resolved to ask Christopher before they scattered. As they all finished getting dressed, Ethan was working up his courage to ask Christopher to hold up when the Texan dropped a bomb. Out of the blue, he said, "Guys, I have a confession to make. I knew Rich was gay and had a partner, but when my parents threw me out, I could think of nowhere else to go. He was my uncle, but even at that, the only reason I came was that I was desperate. See, I had heard my dad talking about his fag brother—there are quotes around that!—and I sure didn't like the idea of living with a couple of gays, but my 'friends' soon let me know I wasn't welcome to stay with them after my dad had talked to their dad, etc. You can imagine how I felt when I got here and found out Rich and Doug were not the only gays here. Anyway, as I said, I was desperate and decided I'd make the most of it. Well, I want you to know I wouldn't trade my place here for any other I can think of. You've sure made me change my mind and attitude. I appreciate it."
“Thanks for the honesty, Christopher,” Jamie said, “but to be honest, I think most of us thought you were here because your parents found out you were gay and threw you out.”
Christopher burst into gales of laughter. When he got control of himself, he said, “Nothing could be further from the truth. My dad caught me in bed with Felicita, daughter of Roberto, one of Dad's foremen. I had been on thin ice for six months, all the time I had been dating her. Dad called me in his office a couple months before he caught me in bed and asked if I was enjoying fucking a Mexican. 'It better not go beyond fucking,' he said. I learned the next day someone had seen the two of us in a neighboring town holding hands and kissing and told Mom who told Dad.
"We were extra cautious after that, but Mom and Dad had gone to dinner and a movie and I knew we had until midnight or so before they got back. Well, they got back an hour early. Found out the movie and dinner were just a means of checking up on me. Felicita had shown a couple of her girlfriends a ring I had given her and told them we were engaged. That got back to Mom and she told Dad. He figured, rightly, we'd take advantage of being alone and set the whole thing up. When they got back, he and Roberto came upstairs and caught us in bed fucking like rabbits.
"Little background here. Her grandfather was a naturalized citizen and Roberto was born here, so he is by birth an American, but Dad and the family still called him a Mexican. Southwest Texas prejudice against Mexicans can be as bad as Georgia's prejudice against African-Americans and my family is at the top of the 'send them back to Mexico' club. Of course, our ranch would collapse if all the Mexicans—legal and illegal—left.
"Like the old South was supposed to have been, it is okay to have sex with Mexicans, but certainly not in your house and among my family's social class the very idea of marrying one is to invite shunning. When we were caught, I told Dad to stop speaking to her like she was trash because we were getting married. When I said that, Roberto grabbed her by the arm, yanked her up and dragged her, naked, out of the room shouting, "You . . . you . . . you puta Mexicana are going to discover your Old Mexico heritage!" I guess he sent her to some relative in Mexico.
“I was disowned and told I had an hour to get out of the house. 'You are gone in an hour or you're dead,' my dad shouted. No, I got thrown out for being caught in bed, but it wasn't with a man.”
Ethan realized he was disappointed. He had sorta hoped something might develop beyond an employee-boss relationship. Ethan also realized he was thinking more about his emptiness than Christopher in particular or someone for sex although he didn't think he'd turn down sex if offered.
With Christopher's revelation, Andy said he'd introduce him to his 'girl of the week' system. Since both were handsome and fun to be with no doubt there would be no shortage of girls. Well, that's not true, given the population of Bragg county—or lack thereof—there was always a shortage, but the two would have more than their fair share of the available women.
So it was Friday night and Andy and Christopher had left on the prowl. Sally Ann was out with Keith for dinner and a movie. Doug and Rich were in Atlanta for the weekend. Ash and Kathy had taken the boys to Columbus. Michael was in Audubon. Jamie had said he and Kathryn had a date. And Ethan? Ethan was home—alone. 'Whoa!' he said to himself. ‘I'm missing someone.’ He picked up the phone and dialed Caleb's number. When Caleb answered, Ethan said, “Caleb, you have the goats to keep you company, but pecan trees aren't very good at that. What are you up to? It's Ethan. ”
“Not much,” Caleb chuckled. “Mostly just twiddling my thumbs. Jamie and Kathryn are bringing the twins over in a few minutes for me to babysit. They're going to the late movie because I'll babysit, even change a shitty diaper if I have to, but I don't feed baby humans once they start eating baby food. It's hard to imagine how two creatures so small can create such a mess with a mere spoonful or two. Why don't you come over? We can watch a movie or something. I'll try to be better company than a tree.”
“See you in a few,” Ethan said.
Ethan had spent the day working around the house: mowing the lawn, weeding flower beds, etc. He had taken a quick shower and tossed on sweats when he had finished. He realized he needed to shower before changing since the earlier one was just 'lick and promise' to get some of the sweat and dirt off before putting on the sweats. Upstairs, he stripped and walked down the hall to the shower. After a long shower, which included lowering his tension, he stroked his face and remembered he hadn't shaved in a couple of days, so he did that.
Back in his room, he realized how hot it was as he dried his hair. It was definitely shorts weather. He put on a pair of shorts and a polo shirt, looked at himself in the mirror and decided he had better-looking shorts and changed. The shirt he was wearing clashed with the shorts, so he changed shirts and looked at himself in the mirror again. Finally satisfied with his appearance, he headed for Philos.
As Caleb invited him in he said, “Make yourself at home, Ethan. I have to get the pen contraption fixed on the bed as the twins are on their way.” Jamie and Kathryn arrived with the boys just as Caleb disappeared into the bedroom.
“Ethan, you look great. Something special going on I need to know about?” Kathryn asked.
“No, just that Caleb and I were the only people under thirty left on three plantations, so I called and he said he was babysitting and asked me to come over. We'll watch a movie or something.”
“Fine, Bro, glad someone's keeping him company. Well, we'll be late getting back. We're having coffee and dessert then going to the late movie. The boys will probably sleep through it all. They're sleeping through the night most nights now. In case one does wake up, it's usually because he is wet. A quick diaper change and he'll be asleep again in minutes.”
Ethan told the two to go ahead since he was there. “Have a good time, but be safe,” he said as they were leaving.
“I think you can depend on that!” Kathryn laughed.
Caleb came out of the bedroom just as they left. Ethan thought Caleb was dressed very well for babysitting, then blushed when he remembered he had not done too badly himself. “You get the goats to bed?”
Caleb grinned and said, “Fortunately goats are a lot less trouble than humans.”
“Good thing. Seems we are overflowing with goats around here.”
“Don't knock goats,” Caleb said. “Try almost doubling your cattle herd twice a year. And remember, they will be ready for market in three to five months. Milk fed kids command a high price and keep in mind what the nannies and welters are eating.”
“Maybe we need to get rid of the cattle and go goats,” Ethan chuckled.
“You tell Randy that and make sure I am in the next county when you do!” Caleb said and they both laughed imaging the scene.
The twins were asleep in their carriers and Ethan and Caleb took them to the bedroom where Caleb had strapped a kind of bottomless play pen on the bed. They took the boys out of the carriers and laid them inside.
“So you want to watch a movie?" Caleb asked as they walked back into the living room.
“To tell the truth, I'd rather not, but that is one beautiful entertainment center."
“Thanks. I just finished it.”
“You made that?” Ethan exclaimed.
“Indeed I did with lumber from one of the old pecans you cut over two years ago.”
“A wonderful job. Glad the woodworking shop is being used.”
“Well, as I have time I will definitely be using it. It has much better equipment than I have ever used at school. Do you, by any chance, play chess?”
“Jamie and I used to play all the time."
“You want to play?
“Sure. I haven't had a chance for ages.”
“Ethan, not only will you get to play chess, but you'll also be the first to see my prize." Caleb brought a small table from beside the entertainment center and did some trick which flipped the top from a plain table to a chess board, He then opened a drawer beneath the top to reveal a beautiful chess set lying in velvet lined niches. "The table was in the office of the house in Audubon and when I spied it, I loved it. It did strike me as completely out of place where it was, but I hadn't the foggiest reason why. It was only much later that I opened the drawer and saw the set. Took me awhile to find how to change the top, but as you can see, it's a real prize." Ethan agreed.
The two young men were pretty evenly matched and both moved quickly, so the game lasted less than an hour. “Another game?” Ethan asked.
“I'd rather get to know Ethan Taylor better. I've spent a lot of time with Jamie and Andy in a lot of situations, but I've only seen Ethan as the generalissimo of three plantations and yes, you have a lot to say about what happens at Philos as well as about the two you officially run.”
“You think I run Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove? Randy runs the cattle station and I am only responsible for pecans. Davis is the generalissimo of both.”
“Says you, Ethan. Who makes the decisions about everything? I've seen who, Ethan, and I'll say, he's fair and certainly has a crew loyal to the death, but there has to be more than that to Ethan Taylor.”
“So, what do you want to know?”
“Jamie and Andy saw where I lived; it's a shack. They know anything I had came from Mr. Blount. Cade and I never worked enough to earn all he gave us. They know my father was a drunk and that Cade had protected me from him. They told me about how they had lived before Arkadelphia, but what about you?”
Ethan didn't understand why it was important for him to tell Caleb about his life before Arkadelphia, but he did feel that way and he did tell him. He concluded, "I guess we were as poor as you were without the advantage of having a Mr. Blount. I did earn a small wage keeping books for Davis, but we struggled to put food on the table. Because all the girls were after Jamie, the townie guys took great delight in calling him the thrift store kid. But the one thing we had you did not have was a loving father. I know he suffered because he could not do more for us, but we never suffered from lack of love."
“So how did you end up the assistant manager of pecans and generalissimo of two plantations?"
Ethan laughed and said, “I threw Davis out of my office!”
“And he didn't fire you? I've seen Davis pissed.”
Ethan laughed again and told him what had happened. “It's funny now, but I was scared shitless for twenty-four hours.”
“Is that the reason fag, queer and all such are not tolerated here? Was that the beginning of the Arkadelphia Dream?”
“I never thought about it, but I guess it was.”
The two talked about Davis’ adopting the Taylor family, the hiring of Dek and Ash and how the Kistlers ended up at Arkadelphia.
“If it's okay, I'd like to know the story behind your being Kayden and Taylor's father.”
“I suspect you have figured out most of it. Kathy and Ash wanted to have children as in giving birth to them and as we all know, try as often as they like, two women are not going to make each other pregnant—nor two men . . . "
“Nor two goats when one's a billy and the other is a wether, but God knows, they'll try!"
“I've seen that! Well, simply put, Ash and Kathy asked me and another guy to donate sperm their doctor would use to impregnate them. We did, but they ended up both impregnated with my sperm.”
“Randy said something about someone named Scotty who used to work here . . . ” Caleb saw the pained look Ethan got on his face and immediately regretted mentioning the name. “I'm sorry, Ethan. I didn't mean to bring up something unpleasant.”
“It's okay,” Ethan responded. “You should have been told, but everyone walks on eggs when Scotty is mentioned, especially around me. Caleb, you know I'm gay and Scotty and I were in love, well, at least I was in love with Scotty—well he did love me. I thought we were together for life.” Ethan then told Caleb the whole sordid story from their meeting until the present. He managed to get through the whole thing before he started crying, but when he did, he wept in great sobbing cries. Caleb reached out and hugged the sobbing young man to himself. Ethan cried for ten minutes.
“Sorry to be such a crybaby, Caleb,” Ethan apologized when he had finally stopped crying.
“No need to apologize, Ethan. Sometimes we all need a good cry. It's not just for women, you know,” Caleb smiled.
Ethan felt more relaxed than he had since before Scotty left. He also felt at peace with himself, something he thought would never happen. He asked Caleb if he had ever been in love and Caleb said he had not. “Never had a high school crush either. Maybe that part of me is broken.”
“Either that or you've never met someone that looked like a goat!” Ethan laughed and Caleb punched him on the arm.
Ethan asked him about high school and soon they were trading high school horror stories. That, somehow or other, led to talking about growing up and the things they got into. Caleb remarked on the fact that neither had gotten into the usual high school pranks and Ethan observed they had too much responsibility to risk a prank backfiring.
Caleb asked Ethan about his sons and watched as he morphed into a proud father. “Ethan, when I was told Ash and Kathy's boys had been fathered by you and by artificial insemination, I imagined that you gave them a cup of sperm and were done with it. It's obvious that's not true.”
“You're right, that's not true. Not the usual method of getting them here, but they are my sons and I intend to be as good a father as possible. I don't like weeks like recent ones when we work such long hours and I don't have time for my boys. Unless we are running flat out, they spend time with me at least twice a week. In case, God forbid, something happens to Ash or Kathy, I become their parent. I made sure I would not be just a sperm donor before I agreed to the scheme and it's all legally documented.”
“I think you're a good dad,” Caleb said.
As they talked, Ethan seemed to be getting mixed signals from Caleb or maybe it was wishful thinking. Caleb knew he was gay and had never commented on it one way or another, however, that should mean if he were gay, he wouldn't hesitate saying so. Gay or straight, Ethan enjoyed the evening with Caleb and didn't want to risk what he thought was the beginning of a great friendship by making a move Caleb found offensive.
When Jamie and Kathryn came home, the two were still talking. After an awkward goodnight, Ethan went home, his head spinning.
After the initial spring rush, there was no Saturday work and Friday before one of the free Saturdays, Randy asked about a fishing trip. Jamie and Andy were busy, but the rest of the younger set and Alfred were dressed to go at 6:00 Saturday morning. Michael and Randy each towed one of the two boats in the shed. Ethan found an old one abandoned by the shed which looked pretty bad, but he couldn't see any leaks. As he and Caleb set it atop Randy's, he tossed a spray can in the boat and said, “As seen on TV,” and laughed. “That stuff supposedly made it possible to float a truck, so we spring a leak, we spray it.” Boats in tow, they headed for the river.
When they arrived, Caleb and Ethan got their boat in the water, climbed in it and saw it was leaking like a sieve. “Think it'd take more than a can of that stuff to make this boat float,” Caleb laughed. The others each offered to take one of the two, but Ethan said he and Caleb would just float fish from the bank. As the others went up the river, Ethan and Caleb made themselves comfortable on the bank and tossed a line into the river. They sat in silence waiting for a bite. After a few minutes, Caleb asked, “Ethan, you're gay and had a boyfriend, right?”
Ethan was surprised that the mention of his boyfriend, Scotty, wasn't painful. He was more surprised when he thought back and realized he hadn't felt the pain and anger over Scotty since the night he broke down at Caleb's. He had completely spaced out and a couple of minutes had passed before he came back to earth. "Sorry, Caleb, I spaced out there. Yeah, I'm gay, about as gay as possible and yeah, I had a boyfriend, Scotty." He chuckled and said, "Strange you should ask here. I think it was here, fishing, that I finally admitted what I had known for some time, that I was gay. When did I know? You have to remember, I hadn't started puberty when Mom died and after that just finding food became a struggle for the family. Dad was disabled, so much fell on all three of us, but especially me since I was oldest. I never thought about dating after I reached puberty. Not only was I a sharecropper—a really dirty word to most girls around here—but also I dressed in worn out clothes and had no time. It was only later that I realized the fact that no girl would date me didn't matter. So when I would have been thinking about, worrying about being gay, I was trying to keep a family together.
“A few months before Davis did his turn around, a new fellow enrolled in school. He was in my PE class and one afternoon, I saw him headed to the shower and started getting hard. That frightened me. Anyway, I semi-acknowledged, only semi, mind you, I had a crush on him and that I was gay. To make a long story short, I got very hard at a graduation party watching him dance and then saw him here the next day and, I think, for all practical purposes admitted I was gay and attracted to Scotty.”
“Somewhat like my own story except for the boyfriend," Caleb said. "When I was about twelve, Cade asked me if I was gay—I don't remember why—and I told him I didn't know, but I wasn't worried about it because it wouldn't change anything. Unlike you, I never had a crush on anyone at school. The reason I asked is because I've been thinking and I'm pretty confused, but if I'm gay it wouldn't make any difference about my being at Philos and kinda like a part of Arkadelphia," a statement, not a question.
“First, Caleb, you are not kinda like a part of Arkadelphia. You are. You just employed here. And, no, it doesn't make any difference. Further, if you are gay, whether or not you tell anyone and if you do, when, is strictly your business. I wouldn't tell anyone because it's your business. So, you have a crush on someone?” Ethan asked his heart pounding. 'What's with that?' he thought
“I don't want to talk about it now. Let's fish.”
They sat in silence for less than five minutes when Caleb had a bite. He set the hook and then pulled in a nice one. Soon both were busy catching fish, placing them on the stringer or back in the river, baiting a hook and throwing it back in the river. It wasn't long before they had a stringer of nice sized fish. “What say we call it a day?” Ethan asked. “If the others caught any, everyone can have fish for supper. Want to join the Taylors for supper?”
“Sally Ann know I might be showing up? I know who runs the Taylor household,” Caleb laughed.
“She doesn't, but I have to call her anyway to tell her we caught enough to have fish. We could have come up empty you know.”
“Sure, sounds good. Eating alone gets old, but of course, always having something to eat, even if alone, is good."
“Yeah. We never actually went hungry, but venison, venison, venison gets old. Never thought I'd ever like it, but I now know we simply didn't know all the ways it could be prepared. Sally Ann is an excellent cook, even Christopher agrees and he's becoming a professional." Ethan took out his phone and called home.
Kathryn answered the phone and Ethan told her he was surprised to hear her voice. “Sally Ann and I decided we'd all have dinner here tonight—well, the Taylors and Andy.”
“Put Caleb's name in the pot,” Ethan said.
“Got anything going there yet, Ethan?”
“Don't think it's happening, Sister-in-law. Get the grease hot.” Ethan closed his phone and said, “We may as well go ahead and clean the fish we have.” As they started cleaning the fish, Ethan laughed and said, “The Saturday after the graduation party when Scotty and I finished fishing, he asked to be taught to clean fish. Took him awhile to discover you can't hold your breath, close your eyes and clean fish. He was a city boy who got shipped to a plantation in south Georgia. Was like being shipped off to a foreign land.”
“If he's like most city boys, he couldn't even speak the language!” Caleb chuckled.
“Even worse, he spoke private boarding school, not even standard Atlanta metro.”
“Jamie said he could kill him for what he did, but that he had been an excellent cattleman.”
“He was. Caleb, you know I loved him, but I don't even know the man or whatever he became. Drugs made him a stranger.” Ethan was amazed that he was talking about Scotty dispassionately. He knew the Scotty he had loved would always be a part of him, but he no longer held his heart or his emotions.
Saturday afternoon, after they got back to the house, Ethan put the fish in the refrigerator and after he and Caleb washed up, Ethan fixed ham and cheese sandwiches for the two of them. The others were stopping in Braggton for hamburgers. He put the sandwiches on plates with some chips and asked Caleb if he'd like a beer. Caleb nodded. Lunch ready, the two sat down at the kitchen table and ate.
After lunch, Ethan said, “This is my week to do the lawn. I'll just have to mow and trim as the beds have all been weeded. If you like, take the truck or if you want to wait, I'm going for a swim when I finish the lawn.”
“I'll help with the lawn and then we'll go for a swim at my place.”
“You have a place to swim?” Ethan asked, somewhat amazed.
“Yeah, remember it has sort of a natural dam just below where it gets broad. Since it had been warm enough to play in the river, I started adding rocks to the natural dam and the water's about five feet deep now. The dam's about as high as the banks, so it's about as deep as it can be without spilling over the banks.
“Ever worry about the river flooding?” Ethan asked.
“Joe said the river is highly unlikely to flood but if it does, it's got a large flood plain. The water would have to get five feet over the banks before the house is close to being in danger.”
The two made quick work of the lawn, had a cold beer and then drove to Caleb's place. Rather than jumping in the river, they lay on lounge chairs on the deck and both fell asleep. When they awoke, they were more than a little warm as the temperature had climbed while the slept.
“Let's go inside where it's cool,” Caleb said.
When they walked inside, Ethan saw an incomplete painting of a forest glade with two kids play fighting on an easel. “I didn't know you painted,” Ethan said. “You're good.”
“I have always enjoyed it, but never had the money to purchase supplies. A teacher gave me some and I took art at school, but one evening I was sitting around, lonesome, doing nothing when I picked up a pencil and started drawing. As I did, I thought, 'I can buy a few supplies.” I bought colored pencils, pastels and paper. Then, when I got paid again, I bought brushes and acrylics. That's my third attempt with acrylics. The first two even the goats wouldn't look at,” Caleb laughed.
Over the next two months, Ethan and Caleb found excuses to spend time together. A couple of times Caleb had asked questions about being gay and crushes but cut Ethan off after he tried to go further than bare answers to the question. Ethan decided this was definitely Caleb's ball game. Later, looking back, that day marked a much larger turning point than either man realized at the time.