Ethan awoke before Caleb and sat up in bed adoring the man he loved. He couldn’t help comparing the feeling he had had for Scotty with his feeling toward the dark beauty lying beside him. He knew he had loved Scotty. Had he not done so the destruction of that relationship would not have hurt so much. At the same time, he realized the depth of that past love was shallow compared to the bottomless well of his love for Caleb.
As he watched, Caleb slowly opened his eyes and reached up with his arms and pulled Ethan to himself and gave him a closed mouth kiss. “That’s all you get until I have cleaned the dragon’s lair,” he laughed. He hopped out of bed with Ethan right behind him and the two headed for the bathroom.
As Ethan walked to the bathroom, his ass reminded him of their last night’s love making and he wondered how Caleb felt about it this morning. He didn’t have to wonder long. When he had finished brushing his teeth, Caleb pulled Ethan’s nude body to his and pressed his lips to Ethan’s, his tongue invading his lover’s mouth. Both had raging erections when he broke the kiss.
After they had made love, they showered and went downstairs for breakfast. The Reynolds had eaten earlier as they had to get to the airport for an early flight. Their host Jacob and his partner Mateo, whom they had not met previously, joined them for a delicious breakfast. As they ate, their host told them the Reynolds wanted him to tell them how much they appreciated what they had done. “Mrs. Reynolds said you two gave her back a son she had driven away. Wonderful piece of work. Wish someone had been able to do that for my dad, but he went to his grave hating his gay son. At least when mom realized she had a few years left she did come around. Even ended up thinking of Mateo as another son. Hope you have a good relationship with your parents.”
“Both of my parents are dead,” Ethan said. “Neither knew I was gay. To tell the truth, I really hadn’t admitted it myself until after their death.”
“My mom died when I was young,” Caleb said, “and my old man is an abusive alcoholic. He didn’t kick me out because he didn’t know. I left because of his abuse and more importantly because of an opportunity to make a life.” He grinned and added, “Turns out it was an opportunity for a life I couldn’t have dreamed as it includes Ethan.
“Right now my soon-to-be ex-marine brother has a problem with gays, but doesn’t know about us, but will when we get back. I don’t know what he will do. He’s seeing a therapist and his attitude toward gays is one thing he’s dealing with, but he also had a lot of problems related to his time in the Marines and his duty in Afghanistan.”
“Well, good luck on that score.”
After breakfast, Ethan and Caleb went for a swim in the ocean, strolled on the beach and came back and lay in the sun nude before showering, packing up and leaving at 2:00. Traffic on I-16 was moving well above the speed limit and the trip was much shorter than expected. They were home before 5:00
They went straight to Jamie’s to deliver the car to Andy. Kathryn brought them all drinks and after the had visited for a few minutes, Andy sent Cam to get his bag. Watching Cam go, Kathryn said, “Ethan, I think Cam is going to work out well this summer. May be hard on him getting used to work, but I think he’ll hang in there. Be good for him to get away from that smothering social environment he’s in.”
“Be especially good for him to be around males who are not authority figures or peers. That’s all he encounters in that closed military academy compound where he sends almost twenty-four-seven,” Christine added. “The fact that some of the real men are gay will be a real eyeopener, I think.”
“Will be happy to have him aboard,” Ethan responded and asked “Everyone else back?”
“Let’s see,” Jamie said. “Sally Ann is. She had a great time being shown off to Keith’s North Carolina relatives. Doug had assured Michael he had a fellowship for graduate school and he got official notice of it Thursday. He’ll be with us awhile longer. Cade’s back and seems very self-adsorbed. Not sure what’s going on with him. You knew Christopher's back and hasn’t come down yet. He’s invited to New York for an interview on a cooking show. Dek and Charlotte got back yesterday. The Matinez-Ortegas are all moved in and Davis and Molly called to say they were spending another week in Atlanta. Randy and Ginger are here and he’s ready to look at a larger breeding program. Guess that covers it.”
Cam came back to the deck carrying his bag. “Thanks everyone for having me and it’s going to seem too long before I get to come back. I’ll be on my way here before the last ding of the closing bell at the Academy.” Minutes later, Andy and Christine were on their way to Thomasboro taking Cam back to the Academy.
Caleb and Ethan, without thinking, had lay down on a lounge and Caleb was wrapped in Ethan’s arms. As they were talking with Jamie and Kathryn, Caleb lay on Ethan’s shoulder and Ethan was stroking his cheek with the his fingers. Unconsciously, Ethan bent over and gave Caleb a quick kiss. “Are you two making an announcement?” Kathryn asked with a laugh.
Ethan turned bright red as Caleb burst out laughing. “Don’t know about the red faced boy, but I am. Yeah, I’m announcing I am madly in love with your brother-in-law, Kathryn.”
“Good job, Caleb, good job,” Jamie said. “Now for the sixty-four dollar question, what about Cade?”
“Don’t know. That’s up to Cade. I’m not going to hide anymore. If he can’t accept who I am, he’ll have to go. Even if he can keep his mouth shut and work with people here, he will not chase me out of my house. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling he’s ready to accept people as they are. I’ll—we’ll just have to see.”
“Ethan, cat got your tongue?” Jamie asked with a grin.
“Kinda. God, Little Brother, I can’t tell you how much I love this man. The love I had before is nothing compared to how I love Caleb, but he kinda surprised me when he said what he did about Cade. I was prepared to keep our relationship secret, as secret as anything can be at Arkadelphia.”
“Ethan, you lost that secret weeks ago. We all knew, well, I guess except Cade and I think the only reason he was in the dark was because he wanted to be. So where are you going to live?”
“We haven’t talked about that.” Ethan said.
“For the time being, I’ll stay at my place and Ethan will be at Arkadelphia,” Caleb said. “I need to be where the goats are and I know Ethan needs to be there. Maybe we can come up with new arrangements before too long, but right now that’s the way it needs to be.”
Ethan looked at Caleb strangely and finally said, “Damn! You take a guy off and have your way with him and he turns on you.” Caleb just laughed and kissed Ethan.
Kathryn asked if Caleb and Ethan would like to have a sandwich with Jamie and her and both guys said of course they would. A few minutes later she brought the fixing and beers and they made sandwiches and talked about first one thing, then another. They were just finishing when Estella brought the twins home. She had taken all four for the afternoon in appreciation for Kathryn and Jamie, Ash and Kathy helping her get moved in. After they had played with Andrew and Raphael a bit, Ethan said it was time to go.
When they approached Caleb’s, they saw the lights on in Cade’s place. Caleb suggested they not bother him and they used the new door into Caleb’s bedroom. As they got out of the truck, Caleb said, “I don’t have to be at work until tomorrow and I like having you in my bed.”
The ever cautious Ethan asked, “What about Cade?”
Caleb grinned and said, “He can sleep in his own bed.” Ethan gave him a big smile, grabbed their bags and they went inside. They went to bed and after they had made love, Caleb fell asleep quickly. Ethan didn’t. He was worried what the morning would bring when Cade discovered he had shared Caleb’s bed.
Ethan woke to the smell of coffee, pulled on a pair of shorts and walked out of the bedroom as Cade walked out of his place. Cade stopped, did a double take and said, “Holy fuck. You slept with my brother.”
“Damn right, Cade, Ethan slept with me. Not the first time and not the last.”
“So you two are . . .
“Gay, lovers, both fit,” Caleb said.
“How long have . . .
“How long have I known, suspected I was gay? Since I was thirteen or fourteen. How long have I admitted it? Less than a year. How long have I loved Ethan? Not sure. It was practically lust at first sight, but it took awhile to realize my feeling for him was more than lust. When was I going to tell you? I planned to wait until I thought you could handle it. While I was away I figured you could handle it as well now as later and I wasn’t willing to hide anymore.”
“It sure as hell comes as a surprise. Never did figure out who around here was supposed to be gay what with everybody seeming so straight and Ethan having sons by two women.”
Ethan grinned and said, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to become a father. I make no apology for loving your brother, Cade.”
“I hope not! You’re just damn lucky,” he answered.
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“And you couldn’t have caught me at a better time. Got a good lesson while I was away. When I arrived at Jesse’s place he introduced me to Jack, his partner. Took me a minute or two to realized he meant partner as in husband. We had several long talks about that, but what I couldn’t get out of my mind was what a man and a hero he had been in Afghanistan. I didn’t ask if he was gay or straight when he saved my ass out there and I don’t care who he slept with or fucked. I was just damn glad he was where he was, when he was and did what he did. That set my thinking about everybody. I never cared who someone slept with or had sex with when we were working or playing together, only when I was putting labels on people. Then I thought about labels people could put on me. Say calling me a cripple. What has that to do with my worth or how I’m respected? Not a damn thing. The Arkadelphia Dream should just be the way it is, not something that is a dream. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but when I am discharged I’d sure like to be a part of making that dream a reality.”
Caleb grabbed Cade in a bear hug and Cade reached out and pulled Ethan in with them. Shortly afterward, they had breakfast, Ethan headed for Arkadelphia.
When he went by the house he found a note from Sally Ann saying she was going to ASU to meet with her adviser about a scholarship and to see if her senior project had been accepted. On the way to the crew meeting Ethan realized that he was pretty much on his own. Davis would not be back for a week and Randy looked after the needs of the cattle station and the pines, but that was the extent of his being management.
Everyone was back and Ethan asked what needed to be done. “I haven’t had time to work out a schedule for the week. Since I have been gone, I don’t know what needs to be done except things that are on some kind of cycle. Dek, Ash, we need to do an inspection today and see if there’s anything the the groves require. From what I hear, we’re going to have to do some long range planning as soon as possible so folks can do what they need to do elsewhere. Christopher, understand you are going to be away being a celebrity and another big contest and we need to do what we can to make sure that happens. Michael, congratulations on the fellowship.
“Thanks. Hope that means I can still be a part of the Arkadelphia crew.”
‘“Course it does and I’m glad,” Ethan responded.
“Randy, hear you’re interested in increasing the breeding herd. Stick around and tell me about it. Alejandro, Ignacio are you and your family settled in?” They nodded. “Everything okay with the house?” They nodded again. “The Philos crew seems to have everything under control. So, guess we all are better than we were a week ago. So let’s go to work.”
When the others left, Randy and Ethan talked about the cattle station. It all boiled down to there being much less work with the cattle operation being focused on breeding and selling Brangus calves rather than buying calves to fatten for market. Cattle that they did raise for slaughter were all grass fed Brangus now, so the pastures required more attention. Having wisely started the pastures at Pleasant Grove from scratch, it was a matter of keeping an eye on them and applying fertilizer and water as needed. Rotating the cattle from one pasture to another could have been a big job, but with Alfred’s magic touch, the cattle just followed him like obedient dogs from one pasture to another. Of course breeding and calving times would be very busy, but careful scheduling made them less so. Randy wanted to add another herd of twenty-five bred heifers and made a good case for it. Ethan told him to take care of it “Call on Andy and Jamie as needed. Same with the Ortega brothers.”
Cade left midweek following spring break to finish his official discharge from the Marines, returned and asked Andy about hiring on at Philos. Andy checked with Jamie and the two decided they could use him since Caleb had been urging them to increase the goat herd. While the three—Caleb, Andy and Jamie—could handle what they had with help from Arkadelphia during kidding and breeding, Andy and Jamie really wanted to spend more time developing their Brangus herds. Andy suggested they talk to Ethan. “If we do consider hiring Cade, you know we’d want Ethan to handle the interview,” Andy had said. Accordingly, Andy told Cade he would hire him as a temporary employee until he and Jamie had time to develop a plan to see if they could use him. “”Give us, say, a couple of weeks.” Cade was more than agreeable.
After a lengthy discussion, Ethan said, “Look, you two are cattlemen, damn good ones. That’s where your heart and passion is, not in goats. Now, plain vanilla cowboys who know how to deal with cattle when told what to do are in good supply. When it comes to seriously dealing with a cattle station, with the knowledge and experience you two have and the support of Randy and Joe, any help you need will be for plain vanilla cowboys. You can always find help if you need it. There is no reason why you can’t increase your cattle herds and the two of you devote almost all of your time to that enterprise.
“Goats are different. The truth of the matter is you two got into the goat business at Joe’s suggestion. If you didn’t have Caleb, you wouldn’t have the expertise and experience to deal with the goats and they would be gone tomorrow. Unlike cowboys, goatboys are not in plentiful supply. But you have Caleb and the business is making you money, lots of money.
“You need to answer a couple or three question. First, and foremost, are you interested in keeping goats? I think we all know the answer to that. On the one hand, you have little passion for the animals. On the other hand, you are perfectly willing to be goatboys when kidding and breeding come around. So I assume you’d rather have the goats here than not. The next question is whether or not your buyer can handle more goats. Is there a demand for more of your goats? If there was not, then it’d be a moot question, but you know otherwise. Your buyer is always asking for more.
“If you decide to increase the herd to meet the demand, where is that someone you are going to need to hire? Okay, you have someone almost as good as Caleb—maybe as good—with goats available. If you want to take Caleb’s suggestion, then you’re fools not to hire him.
“This is getting to be a long lecture,” Ethan said and drank half a bottle of water.
“What about his attitude toward gays?” Andy asked. “No way am I hiring him unless his attitude has changed.”
“You can be sure it has,” Ethan said and blushed. “I know.”
“He caught you and Caleb going at it,” Jamie laughed.
“Not exactly, but he did see me coming out of Caleb’s bedroom the morning after we got back. The buddy he visited, who had saved his life in Afghanistan, has a partner and talked a lot with Cade. Woke him up.”
“So we need to talk to our buyer and go from there.”
“That would be my advise,” Ethan said.
Three days later Jamie called and he and Ethan sat up an interview—which was really unnecessary—with Cade. They hired Cade and at Ethan’s suggestion made Caleb manager of the Philos goat operation. When he asked about increasing the herd, Jamie said, “Caleb, talk to your crew and decided. You are manager.” They increased the herd.
When Davis came back, he was driving a motor home towing a new Jeep. Molly was following in her Lincoln. After he had parked the rig, Davids called Ethan and learned he was on his way to Pleasant Grove with Randy. They were going to look at a stand of pines, which were being grown for pulpwood. Ordinarily they would have been cut eight or nine years before, but because old man Sawyer wasn’t doing much at Pleasant Grove, they hadn’t been. Randy thought they might be sold for a higher price if sold for lumber. Joe had a forester come and go over the trees with Randy and Ethan. He agreed they should probably sell them for lumber and if they could, it would definitely be to their advantage. Randy and Ethan were meeting a representative of a lumber company who would be making a bid on the trees.
Davis drove to where they were and listened in on the discussion without comment. The forester had given them an estimate of the board feet in the stand of pines and Ethan was interested to see the lumber company representative’s estimate was slightly higher. He said he’s send them a quote the following day along with a contract spelling out how the logged off area would be left, etc.
When he left, Davis said, “You two got a lot more out of that patch of pines than I thought.”
“Randy gets the credit for that,” Ethan said. “I’d just sell it for pulpwood since it had been called pulpwood all the time. I know something about pecans, but pines are Randy’s bailiwick.”
“See I’m leaving the place in good hands,” Davis said.
“You’re leaving? Well, we know you’re leaving in a few months,” Randy said.
“Next week. Molly and I went to the RV show in Atlanta and saw this deluxe motor home and decided to buy one. Plan to leave next week and travel until the week before we leave for the cruise. Truth of the matter is, Arkadelphia is yours to run for the next year without me around. The only thing I’ll have to do with Arkadelphia is cash the checks.”
Ethan and Randy were pretty anxious about being left in charge of Arkadelphia and Ethan especially because it all really rested on his shoulders. Randy would handle the pines and cows, but had absolutely no interest in the overall picture. Nevertheless, everything soon settled in a predictable pattern and while there were very busy times, Arkadelphia, Pleasant Grove and Philos were are well oiled, smooth running machines.
Shortly after a summer kidding, Herbert Harris had called about more billies. Caleb had questioned him about why he needed so many and he said they were good a keeping brush and kudzu under control and he had six people who asked him to get goats for them. “Make a little profit with practically no work,” he laughed.
Ethan and Caleb had driven to Coosa County once to check on the goats and they seemed to be doing well. Caleb did tell Mr. Harris he needed to trim their hooves and make sure they had their shots, etc. The goats had essentially been turned loose in a large pasture and were not socialized at all and, in fact, seemed very aggressive, but Ethan and Caleb were comparing them to Philos goats. With four boys and a seemingly endless supply of corn chips, Philos goats were not aggressive, but then again, they were essentially all nannies or welters neither of which were aggressive animals.
The first Monday of September was Labor Day and Ethan decided Arkadelphia would have a picnic. He invited Doug and Rich and expressed the hope that they could make it as neither were seen at Arkadelphia very often. He made sure Claire Bell invited Albert, LaLisa and Samuel. Art and Jeff had gotten jobs in the Emory hospital system and were working full-time and had taken a couple of courses just for fun in summer school so Arkadelphia had not seen them since the beginning of the summer. Everyone was delighted when they arrived Wednesday before Labor Day for the weekend. They spent Thursday with Ethan looking over the three plantations. Both thought Ethan had won gold when he captured Caleb's heart. “Your boyfriend is an amazing human being,” Jeff had said. Ethan agreed.
Jamie and Andy announced Friday that Philos was hosting a cookout and swimming party at Pleasant Grove's spring fed pond Saturday. The two with help from Caleb and Cade had managed to get the large grills and picnic tables from all three plantations and under the pecan trees surrounding the pond. Sally Ann volunteered to help Kathryn and Christine form hamburger patties. All three were astonished when they counted noses and discovered the three plantation family now number twenty-eight souls. Claire Bell tried to beg off saying she was spending the weekend with Albert and LaLisa, but Jamie had outfoxed her and had already invited the Jacksons to join the plantation families. Christopher would be missing as he was in Chicago for the eastern US cooking contest. He would be competing against six regional winners and three wild cards selected from the twelve runner-ups. The family had gotten a kick out of his fretting over his knives—he purchased his dream set with part of his winnings from the regional contest—since he would not be allowed to take them aboard the plane. Apparently the airlines were well aware of the attachment chefs had to their knives and assured him they would be handled carefully.
Saturday dawned overcast and Jamie and Andy were worried about the weather even though the forecast was for a clear and hot afternoon. It was. After Jeff and Art had finished with the pond a two years ago it was close to an acre and ranged from less than two feet to over twelve feet deep. With the four three year old boys, Ethan and Jamie had marked off an area which was two feet in depth, plenty deep for the boys to swim without having an adult in the immediate area. Today, however, there were plenty of adults in the water as only Claire Bell didn't get in the pond.
Andy, Caleb and Jamie started the charcoal in the grills at 6:30 and started grilling burgers and hot dogs at 7:00. A cut down drum of water sat over a fire and was boiling by the time the guys started grilling. Cade dumped a basket of sweet corn and shrimp into the boiling water. He had added spices and potatoes to it earlier. Kathryn and Christine took large pans of 'pork and beans' which had been 'doctored' with peppers, onions and celery from insulated chest—coolers—which had kept them warm. Sally Ann placed trays of lettuce, sliced tomatoes and onion on the food tables along with buns and potato chips. By 7:30 everyone had a loaded plate and were seated at a picnic table under the pecan trees enjoying the food.
Ethan had been taking pictures all afternoon and when everyone was eating, put the camera on a tripod and and made a series of shots using the self-timer. When he finished, he tapped the table and when he had everyone's attention say, “I hope you all noticed we have achieved a major part of the Arkadelphia Dream. Too bad Davis and Molly are not here to see the Arkadelphia family. Monday we'll be joined by friends and neighbors and that's important, but it's also important to get together as a family. Only one thing missing. When are we going to get any girl kids around here?”
Amidst the laughter Kathryn spoke up and said, “I'm doing my part. Twin girls on the way.” Her announcement was greeted with applause, whistles and shouts.