Instead of heading straight home after talking with Randy, Ethan called Jamie and asked if he was available to talk. "Sure," Jamie said. “Kathryn's still at ASU and the boys are with Mrs. Kistler. Come to the house." When Ethan arrived, Jamie was sitting on the deck, his feet propped on the ‘non-obstructive’ railing, listening to the river.
“Pull up a chair and sit, Brother. This deck was a great idea.”
“Must be nice to be a man of leisure, sitting on a deck watching the river.”
“Must be. I don't know. Haven't had the experience.”
“Know what you mean. Kathryn and the boys doing well?”
"Very well. Kathryn's running herself ragged trying to be the perfect wife and mother while carrying an overload at the university. We had a heart to heart about that a few nights ago. This is her last semester taking an overload. I finally convinced her of the truth: she will never prove to her parents that she is happy with a sharecropper, wants for nothing, is a better mother than her mother and a hell of a lot better wife. They will never admit that we have a beautiful house, own half of a plantation, are very much in love, have two wonderful boys who are thriving and could buy her parents for what they want people to think they are worth and still be comfortable. She knows that, but needs it pointed out from time to time."
“And you’re happy?”
“So happy it sometimes worries me. How about you, Big Brother?”
“Think I may be on my way, Little Brother. I was, then had the bottom snatched from under me. Guess it was a real blow.”
"More than you admitted but was not well hidden. So you think you may be on your way, all the way, out of the hole?"
"Yeah, but there's something I have to do and that's what I want to talk about. Something has come up that makes me aware I have some unfinished business."
“Let me guess. The something is named Caleb and the unfinished business is named Scotty.”
"Not sure about the former although you may be right, regardless of that, the latter is holding me back. I know I should be finished with Scotty, but I do need to talk to him, to know it's over and I'm over him. Understand?"
"Not really. Never had the experience. I have been in love once and am still living in that same love. I never really had a crush on a girl before Kathryn. Sure, I liked them well enough to fuck, but it was definitely 'fuck 'em and leave 'em' before Kathryn came along. I mean, I can understand intellectually, but emotionally? No. So I don't know how I can help."
“Talked with Randy and he suggested I call Scotty and if he is willing to talk, find a neutral place and talk. He also suggested you go with me. I guess I never realized it, but as much as Randy and Ginger love Scotty, Randy says both know he has always been a manipulator and has become even better at it since his time in California. So what do you think?
“Wise man, Randy. Sounds like a plan to me. I'll go along, but what the two of you have to say to each other is your business. Just give me a few days’ notice.”
“Thanks, Jamie. Turning to something else, what do you think of Cade? I've seen very little of him and very little of Caleb since he's been here, I might add.”
"You see one, you see the other. On the one hand, I'd love to have him. He's been promised his leg will improve—not that it will ever be a hundred percent again. He's suffering separation from his family, the Marines, and he has some hang-ups, but he knows goats almost as well as Caleb. On the other hand, he does indeed have those hang-ups. He's angry and bitter about the war and what it has cost him. He feels lost without his Marine support system—which has failed him in my eyes—and he has a real problem with gays. Caleb has really gotten in his face over that. When I heard him made a remark about fags I landed all over him knowing that was not the first time he had been drawn up short on that score.
‟He goes to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville next week, part of his processing out. Heaven only knows when he will get his disability claim settled. I understand that can take years. Anyway, I guess Cade will live with Caleb and I'll make him a member of the Philos staff if he can get over his hang-up about gays. Think maybe that is going to be up close and personal soon. Another change of subject, want to go car shopping? Kathryn asked why we couldn't have a car in addition to the truck. Should have thought of that.”
‟Sure, just let me know when."
On his way home, Ethan stopped by the pond and phoned Scotty. There was no answer, but he didn't leave a voicemail. He was halfway home when his phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID and saw it was Scotty. He pulled over and parked before he answered. "Hello, Scotty."
“Ethan. You called?”
“Yeah, I did. Scotty, we need to talk. Well, I need to talk.”
“So do I. So do I.”
"I need to, well, I need to talk. Can you meet me in Atlanta? According to Randy, that's about midway between us."
“Not unless Jesse can and will come with me. I can't leave the state otherwise. Actually, I can't legally see you, but I think Jesse will overlook that.”
“Talk to him and let me know and I'll make reservations accordingly.”
“I'll talk to you soon. I'm glad, very glad you called,” he said and the two hung up.
Two days later Scotty called. Jesse was willing to overlook Scotty seeing Ethan, but not him going out-of-state. Ethan agreed to meet him in Chattanooga and said he'd make reservations for Scotty and Jesse and email the confirmation. When Ethan told Randy, he responded, “Manipulation number one. Scotty came to pick up his car and things while all of you were at school. Nothing was said about Scotty's leaving the state then.”
“So be it, Randy. I just want closure.”
“Watch the price. It may not be worth it. Well, if you're going to Chattanooga you gotta see the aquarium. It's said to be the best in the world. A couple years ago, Ginger and I went to visit her sister who lives in Ringgold just outside Chattanooga and spent over half a day exploring the aquarium complex.”
“Maybe I should take all the under thirties,” Ethan said thoughtfully.
“Maybe someday. This trip is too emotional for you to have anything to worry about other than Ethan.” Ethan nodded.
Since Scotty would have less than a two-hour drive and Ethan would have a four or five hour one, he decided one night in Chattanooga was enough for Scotty and Jesse and made reservations at Holiday Inn Lookout Mountain for them. He booked a suite near the aquarium for two nights for Jamie and himself. He made two reservations for two at a nice restaurant for Saturday night. He figured if he and Scotty met for dinner, they’d have their say and part afterward. He emailed Scotty the motel confirmation after he called Jamie and made sure they could go up Friday and be there until Sunday.
Two days before he and Jamie were to leave, Jamie called and asked Ethan to go car shopping with him. The two looked at several SUVs with Ethan asking all the questions, generally actively shopping while Jamie just wandered around the showroom. On the way home, Jamie asked, ‟What do you think, Brother?
‟I like the Ford Escape Titanium for a family. Think I might get one for Ash and Kathy and the boys.”
‟Do and I'll see about a deal on two after I check with Kathryn." Two days later, Jamie drove up in a deep blue, fully loaded Ford Escape Titanium and said, "Kathryn's happy with it."
“Ash just called to say she and Kathy were very pleased with theirs.”
“We'll drive this one to Chattanooga. You know you have all that money, you should buy yourself a car and the two of us should buy Sally Ann one."
“Maybe,” Ethan responded. “We’ll think about it when we get back.”
The drive took just under five hours and Ethan and Jamie talked the whole way. They hadn't had such a chance to talk in a long time. They left Arkadelphia at 10:00 and were checked into their suite by 3:15. The two young men showered and put on fresh clothes and made a beeline for a brewpub down the street from the motel. Jamie decided he'd order a beer hoping he wouldn't be carded and he wasn't. They had a second beer with a wonderful meal and decided they'd just stroll the area. After walking for several minutes, Jamie spotted a Ben and Jerry's and he and Ethan got an ice cream, sat on a nearby bench and people watched, making comments about the people strolling in the evening.
Saturday, after a large breakfast, they went to the aquarium. They spent the morning in the first built unit of the aquarium, ‘Mountains to the Sea.' After a fair lunch at an aquarium cafe, they spent the early afternoon in the sea aquarium. Finally, Jamie said, "I think I've seen enough fish," and Ethan agreed. As they walked back to their motel, Jamie noticed Ethan was growing more and more tense. When they got back to the room, Jamie suggested a nap and Ethan was soon sound asleep. Jamie closed the bedroom door and when into the sitting area and watched TV awhile, but mostly worried about his brother. Unlike Randy, Jamie did not think this trip was a good idea but had said nothing.
He woke Ethan at 5:30, they showered and got dressed and headed to the restaurant where they had reservations for dinner. It was across the river in what had once been a textile mill but now housed restaurants and boutiques. They arrived a few minutes before 7:00 and Jamie glanced inside and did not see Scotty. He rejoined Ethan and they waited outside. At five minutes after seven, Scotty drove up in his Triumph, an older man seated beside him. When they reached the porch, Scotty shook hands with Jamie and started to hug Ethan who quickly extended his hand.
"Jesse, Jamie and Ethan Taylor. Jamie, Ethan, Jesse Starr, manager of Hickory Nut Farm up the road. Ethan is the manager of the pecan operation on Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove plantations. Jamie is half owner of Philos Plantation. All three are in Bragg County in South Georgia—way down the road."
“Jesse,” Ethan said, extending his hand. Jamie also shook hands with Jesse. “Jesse, I have taken the liberty of reserving a table for you and Jamie since Scotty and I need to talk.”
“Understand,” Jesse replied as Jamie announced himself to the hostess. When she returned, she showed Ethan and Scotty to a table some distance from Jamie and Jesse as Ethan had requested when he made the reservations.
When they were seated and had given their drink orders, Ethan asked, “How have you been, Scotty?”
“Actually better than I expected when I was sent here. It was hard at first. Even though I had been through rehab, I frequently craved a drink or drugs. That's pretty much past now, but I wouldn't trust myself back in California. How have you been?”
"It's been a struggle. To be honest, I came completely unglued when you essentially called it quits. Spent four weeks in the psychiatric hospital and needed it. Took me awhile to get back on my feet. My salvation was my sons—by the way, they are both mine. Two wonderful boys."
“I bet you are a good daddy. I still want to have nothing to do with kids. Understand Jamie has two as well. I was surprised he let that happen.”
“He had help. That bitch sister of Kathryn's substituted something for her birth control pills and the condom broke.”
"Damn bad luck for Jamie. Among other things, knowing a gay lover is not going to get his gay fuck buddy pregnant is definitely an advantage gay boyfriends have over breeders. The very idea of being responsible for a kid—or anyone—is a real turn-off for me. Well, she should have had aborted the fetus. There was no reason Jamie couldn't have afforded that and it would have been a very small price to pay for a serious fuck up. Instead, he's trapped with a wife and two squalling brats." Scotty took no notice of the expression on Ethan's face and just barreled ahead about how miserable Jamie the playboy had to be tied down with a nagging wife and two brats. He finally said, ‟I sure as hell don't envy him his miserable life."
“Neither do I envy him his lif . . . . Maybe I do. He has two beautiful sons, but so do I, but I don't have a loving partner which he does.”
Scotty was so wrapped up in what he was saying that, again, he didn't see Ethan's obvious disagreement with what he was saying. "Yeah, and I'm sorry about that. We did have something pretty wonderful going, didn't we? Maybe we could have it . . .
"Don't say it, Scotty. Don't say it. Maybe I had a glimmer of hope. Maybe that's the reason I drove almost five hours. I knew I may never have trusted you but I think I might have tried until you spoke as you did about Jamie. If anyone in this world is not trapped in a bad situation, it's Jamie. I know that the way you spoke of his sons would be the way you'd feel about mine. In spite of all, you have done and said, I think I might have been willing, not now but someday, to try to make a go of it with you until you talked being trapped with two squalling brats. Suddenly I recalled the times I ignored when it was obvious you resented Jamie and Sally Ann and what you had said about my wanting something to do with any child of mine. Any thoughts I had of maybe making a life with you have finally and completely been put to rest. Good night, Scotty. I hope you find happiness or at least contentment." Ethan got up, nodded to Jamie and walked to the hostess station, handed her two hundred dollar bills and told her to split any change between the two waiters.
Jamie joined him and they were headed back to the motel when he spotted a nice neighborhood restaurant. “Brother, I'm starved,” he said as he pulled into the parking lot. He ordered two beers, huge hamburgers and onion rings. When the beers arrived, he tapped his against Jamie's and said, “Here's goodbye to the past that never was.”
“And here's to the future which is yet to be.”
“You know, Jamie, I thought my conversation with Scotty would be long and painful. Deep down I think I had some hope that we might get back together, but as soon as he said something about our sons, it was all over. ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last.’ The two laughed and talked until the place was closing.
Both brothers were awake, showered and dressed before 7:00. They got packed, went downstairs for breakfast, packed the car and were on I-75 headed for home before 8:30. With only stops for gas, they would be home in time for a late lunch.
As the two brothers raced toward South Georgia, Ethan had a smile on his face Jamie had not seen since Scotty left for California. From time to time, Ethan would burst out laughing and then shout, "Free at last, free at last! I'm free at last."
After one such outburst, Jamie said, “Beloved Brother, I was wrong. I thought meeting Scotty was going to be a big mistake. Now I regret it had not happened sooner.”
“I don’t think it could have happened sooner. The time had to be right. I wasn’t ready before, but I’m very glad it happened because, Jamie, I truly feel I am free.”
“So what’s next, Ethan?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I know that whatever happens, I won’t be haunted by the Ghost of Scotty, of the Scotty that I thought I knew. I won’t be held back by the walls I had built around myself. Jamie, I am free!”
Kathryn had lunch waiting for them when they arrived at Philos, but Jamie could hardly eat for taking time to love his sons. ‘Trapped in a miserable life with a wife and two squalling brats,’ Ethan thought, ‘I don't think so. Scotty, you and I should be so miserable. I have no idea what the future holds,’ Ethan thought, ‘but I sure as hell know the past is dead and, for the first time, I am glad.’
Jamie was taking Ethan to Arkadelphia, but when they reached Pleasant Grove, Ethan asked him to just drop him off at Ash and Kathy’s. “I need to see my boys,” he said
He knocked on the door and when Kathy opened it and saw Ethan, she said, “Surprised to see you. Thought you wouldn’t be back until tonight.”
"We both were in a hurry to get back and see our sons."
Kathy called the boys and they came running. Ethan hugged them and was soon on the floor with them. Ash laughed and said, "Hello, Ethan. My, such a dignified daddy our sons have."
“To hell with dignity,” Ethan laughed in turn, “it’s play time.”
“Good trip?” Ash asked.
"Good trip. A lot of shit got flushed in Chattanooga. I knew it was really, really over when Scotty said Jamie had a miserable life trapped with a wife and two squalling brats. I realized then just how much he resented Jamie and Sally Ann and what he thought of my sons. That did it. We had only received our drinks, but I got up and walked out. I think I probably was stepping on Jamie's last nerve by the time we got home by bursting out with ‘I'm free' every few miles during the drive back."
“Does that mean you and Caleb . . . ”
"Maybe, maybe not, but either way, the ghost of Scotty won't be haunting me."
Two weeks after Jamie and Ethan returned, Randy said to Davis, "Sure is good to see Ethan back with us. He's really here these days.
"Remember I told you you're advising him to talk to Scotty was a mistake? Well, I have never been more wrong."
“You weren’t the only one. Jamie gave me hell and Ginger threatened to make me sleep on the couch. I talked to Rich and Ash who I knew had been dumped like Scotty. Both thought it would be good for Ethan to talk to Scotty when he was ready. Both thought Ethan really was in denial about where he stood with Scotty and about his ability to ‘make it work’. I just worried about Scotty manipulating Ethan into letting him come back to Arkadelphia. Frankly, he could have, but he voiced his jealousy of Ethan’s family and that cooked his goose. No way was Ethan setting his family aside for Scotty, especially now he has his two sons.”
“I guess Scotty had to have him all or nothing and got nothing. I don’t know how he could have missed the fact that Ethan has enough love to share. You think Caleb precipitated his need to make sure Scotty was in the past?”
“Maybe. I’m sure he would never have let his walls down had he not buried the ghost of Scotty and Caleb is so shy. They are both great guys. I guess we’ll see,” Randy responded.
“Speaking of Caleb, what’s his brother’s situation? Do you know?”
“Only what Jamie has told me. Bottom line is he had five or so months left on his enlistment and has been told he cannot re-enlist. He's at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, I guess working on his processing out. May have to go to Lejeune. It's the military—who knows what happens next, so hurry up and wait. Think Jamie and Andy would love to hire him. He knows almost about goats as Caleb. Jamie says they could likely double their herd if they had him. Says they could hire two people to work with the Halls—Cade and Caleb—give each brother and his helper a herd. Says they could offset breeding from each other so they could help each other during breeding and kidding the really busy times. The demand for goat is rising and they have a good reputation in the market. The only blocks right now are what the Marines are going to do and Caleb's unwillingness to okay Cade's stand on the Arkadelphia Dream. Says Cade has a real problem with gays."
“I guess I was wrong. I assumed Caleb was gay.”
“We all have and I don’t think we’re wrong. Guess he’s not sure or hasn’t decided to come out.”
Meanwhile, Cade was at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville Florida waiting to talk with a team as a part of his being processed out of the Marines. He had arrived the day before and checked in after a three and a half hour drive from Philos. Ethan had loaned him a plantation truck to drive down. He had no idea how long he would be in Jacksonville and told Ethan such when he offered the truck. “Don’t worry about it,” Ethan had responded. “Just focus on what you need to do to get settled.”
He was told to report at 0800 and it was approaching 0900. ‘Another case of hurry up and wait,' he thought to himself. He didn't see the necessity of all the paperwork and red tape. ‘Hell, the Marines are dumping me after making sure I wasn't fit for much. My damn leg hurts, I'm living with my brother in his house which was obviously built for one person or a couple. No job and damn little to no prospects. What do I know? How to fire a weapon, drive a Humvee, sometimes locate an ambush. A lot of call for that in the civilian world. I know goats, but looks like my brother has that job wrapped up and besides there's that ‘Arkadelphia Dream' shit.' Cade was again sinking into the deep well of dark depression and as usual, responded by starting to slip into self-pity then sleep—which would be interrupted by nightmares. Just before he dozed off, he heard his name called and responded, "Sir, here, sir!" as he came to his feet.
"Relax, Corporal and come with me," a fellow Marine Corporal said. "I'm Corporal Hawkins." He led Cade into a room where there were four officers sitting. One, a major, said, "Corporal H all, welcome the Jacksonville Naval Hospital. Our purpose here is to make your transition back to civilian life as smooth as possible. Over the next days, maybe weeks, your medical status, physical and mental, will be determined—which, by the way, will include the determination of your disability—you'll work on career plans, etc. Anytime you have any questions, ask. If we don't know the answer, we'll try to find it. I won't bother with introductions as you will be meeting with each of us individually in the next day or so and we'll handle introductions then. For now, Corporal Hawkins will show you to the lab."
After he had blood drawn and gave the lab a urine sample, he was shown into a waiting area. For the rest of the day and the next two, his leg was x-rayed, scanned by CAT and MRI scanners. Two days after the scans, he was shown into a doctor’s examination room where he saw x-rays, MRI and CAT scan results on light boxes. "Corporal Hall, Major Cannon. Appears I am going to be your surgeon."
"In a word, Corporal, yes. I was concerned when I examined the x-rays of your leg. Something didn't seem quite right, so I ordered the other scans. Corporal, when you were hit by that IED, there was a lot of metal flying around and your leg stopped some of it and that was removed during previous surgery. There was other crap flying around as well, some of it pretty transparent to x-ray, which was missed. I could be wrong, but I suspect you have a great deal of pain from whatever is in there impinging on nerves. I think with it out you'll find you're relatively pain-free. I can't replace the muscle blown away, but I can get rid of the crap. Other than that everything looks normal. I've scheduled your surgery for tomorrow morning. Check in tonight by 2100." He then talked to Cade about the surgery and follow-up. Cade thought about calling Caleb but decided it would only worry him, so he didn't.
Cade checked into the hospital at 2100 and got dressed in a hospital gown. A nurse came in checked his vital signs and he had just left when a med tech came with a cup full of pills and after he had swallowed them, attached him to an IV. He was asleep in a matter of minutes. He was awakened at 0530 the next morning, his vital signs taken and a sedative injected into his IV line. In seconds he became very drowsy and was wheeled down the hall. That was the last thing he remembered until he awoke in recovery.
When he was wheeled back to his room, Major Cannon came by. “Cade, your surgery was a complete success. I took out several pieces of clear plastic. I don’t know why it had not resulted in infection, but I’m certain it was causing you a great deal of pain. I was able to do some repair which should help as well, but as you know, you’ll always have a limp, but that’s far better than having lost your leg. You’ll be here for a few days before you will feel like getting back to the processing out. In the meantime, you need anything, call the nurse.
Five days later, Cade was discharged from the hospital with a schedule for appointments for physical therapy. After his morning physical therapy session, he was told to report to an office to be scheduled for appointments with a psychologist, a career counselor, a representative of the Veterans Administration and a benefits consultant.
His first appointment was with the Capt. Sawyer, the career counselor. After they had chatted for several minutes, Cade had taken a couple of inventories and answered a long questionnaire about his skills, he was told to take a break, have lunch, rest and report back after his afternoon PT session. After lunch, he was definitely ready for a nap. He wasn't as ready for his PT appointment and the therapist really pushed him during it. His leg was giving him a great deal of pain when he arrived at the career counselor's office.
After he was settled in a comfortable chair, Capt. Sawyer said, “Corporal, I see you made corporal pretty quickly.” Cade nodded. He was proud of that. Now he was being dumped.
"See here you have worked with goats," Cade told him about working for Mr. Blount and how he worked some with his brother while he was on leave. "You seem to enjoy working with goats."
"I do, but Mr. Blount died and a couple of guys bought his flock at the time I was entering the Corps. They hired my brother and have developed quite a goat farm and doubled the herd. They have a great setup and have set up my brother very nicely."
“Think you might join your brother?”
"I haven't been offered a job. My brother lives in a house the owners built for him, but it is small, only one bedroom. Well, I guess there were two in the plan, but one is his office. They put a Murphy bed in the office so I'd have a bed of my own. Not a big hassle, but a reminder that the house was built for a single person or couple."
“Tell me more about this goat farm.”
“Philos, Philos Plantation.” Cade then told the counselor the history of Philos and finished with, “While Andy and Jamie own Philos, it is pretty much a part of two other plantations, Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove. It adjoins Pleasant Grove. All three are a part of what the people there call the Arkadelphia Dream.”
“The Arkadelphia Dream?”
“Yeah, that means they have fags working there. One reason I’ll not be offered a job and wouldn’t accept it if I was.”