Arkadelphia Plantation

by Sequoyah


Chapter Five

Friday morning, Ethan picked up Davis as they were to return to the task of sampling. When he climbed into the truck with Ethan, Davis looked at him and said, “Ethan, you look like the Cheshire cat—all grin. Good night?”

Ethan started to panic, got control of himself and said, “Well, it sure as hell didn’t start out well.” He then told him about the discussion in the evening class.

“Ethan, I’ve done a lot of thinking since you decided to educate an old man. I don’t know why people are the way they are. Hell, I don’t know why I am the way I am, was the way I was. I think fa ... gay men frighten young men because when you’re in your teens, the whole sex thing is a major part of your life and it’s frankly confusing. For a teen, I think a gay man may be frightening because it raises the questions of whether or not he is gay. I can understand that. Can you?” Ethan nodded. “Maybe for young women, a gay man is a threat because he is competition and there is enough competition for the good men already. I can understand that.” Ethan nodded.

“Now as I understand it, you, Scotty and a couple others are the only youngsters in that class.” So what’s the problem? I mean, what was my problem with Jeff? What damn difference did who he slept with make? Well, I tell you what I think about that. Jeff was to provide my immortality. He was to get married, have kids and carry on when I was gone. Understand what a damn fool I was? I had known long before I found out Jeff was gay, he wasn’t going to do that. Sure, he might have married and had a dozen kids, but he was not going to take over Arkadelphia regardless of who he married or slept with.

“Now that accounts for me, but for others? To be honest, a lot of hurt and pain has been visited on some wonderful people by ignorant and unthinking assholes like myself. Gotta try to make it up to my son and his husband—damn, that sounds strange, but he faxed me a copy of their marriage certificate. At least in some states and most of Europe, he’s as married as Molly and I. Now I ask you, how did Jeff and Art getting married have anything to do with my marriage?” Ethan made no comment. “By the way, as you know, Jeff and Art are coming Friday before the Fourth, but you may not know they will be here at least for the following week. It’ll be great to have them here for the celebration.”

“It’ll be good to see Jeff and Art again. Jeff sure was good to me when he was training me to take over his job.”

“Guess he was starting you out to take over the job I had planned for him ... turn here. We’re going to Pleasant Grove. Signed a contract to purchase it. Closing’s not until the twenty-ninth, but it’s mine. More important to do testing there than at Arkadelphia. All we’ll be doing at Arkadelphia is tweaking the fertilizer and if we don’t get it sampled right away it’s not extremely important. Just from walking over Pleasant Grove yesterday, I can tell you it needs a lot of work and will cost a pile of money, but it has great potential. Got it at a bargain. Once Sawyer saw the appraisal and what it would take to get it back in good shape, he ended up accepting half what he first asked. He wouldn’t have gotten that had it not adjoined Arkadelphia. I was willing to pay more to get it than an outsider would. Did get him to owner finance at a very low rate as well.” In an abrupt change of subject, he said, “So you had a good night.” I was hoping Davis would forget asking about my night. He didn’t.

“Well, yes, after that rotten class, Scotty and I came back and had a swim before I took him to Piggly Wiggly. It was a nice night after a poor start. Sometimes being with a friend is especially great and Scotty and I are really good friends. Riding to and from the college gives us a lot of time to talk and we work together Thursday between the classes. Yeah, we’re good friends.”

“Good. A man needs good friends. Head for the house. The contractor, Francis, was to be there this morning to go over it. So you and Scotty came here to go swimming last night. Need to be careful swimming at night.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You bring a couple of girls?”

“No, just the two of us.”

‟Mighty big smile this morning for just two fellows swimming.” Ethan knew he saw his blush, but said nothing.

When they reached the plantation house, Randy’s truck was there. Pleasant Grove—the house, not the plantation—was older and larger and looked more like what people expected of a plantation house than Arkadelphia. It even had the seemingly required white columns, but was itself red brick. The brick had been made on the plantation just after the Civil War when a Yankee purchased Pleasant Grove for practically nothing. He had been a corn farmer in Indiana and knew nothing of cotton. Local folks were not inclined to tell him what he was doing wrong, so he lasted only a couple years before moving back to Indiana leaving the plantation to an overseer. The overseer was ignorant, lazy and people hated working for him, so the plantation continued its downhill slide. The owner finally sold it back to the Sawyers for less than half what he had paid for it.

Amos Sawyer, the present owner, was hell-bent on getting away from Bragg county as soon as he could. After college, he went to work in Atlanta and had lived there some ten or so years. Jeremiah Sawyer, his father, refused to sell even when he got too old and feeble to oversee the operation of the plantation. Accordingly, house and plantation had been neglected completely for five years and for all practical purposes for almost ten years.

Randy and Francis were sitting at the dining room table when Davis and Ethan walked in. “Good morning, Davis,” Francis said. “Randy here is having second thoughts about the house.”

“Problem, Randy?” Davis asked.

“Yeah. I brought Ginger over to see the house yesterday and she asked me if I was nuts. ‘Randy, we don’t have servants,’ she said, ‘and I’ll be damned if I am going to take care of this place.’ She wanted to know if there was a house more in line with the Taylors’. We looked at the overseer’s house and it struck her fancy.”

“Well, if that’s what she wants, she can have it. Makes sense. This place is huge. It’s lots bigger than Arkadelphia. Lot bigger than I thought. Well, Francis, check and make sure there’s no leaks or anything here, board it up, then start renovating the overseer’s place. It’s pretty much the same as Ethan’s place, right?”

“Practically identical.”

“Then do the same to it. Well, get with Ginger about anything she wants different. What am I going to do with this house? I really had forgotten how huge it is.”

Downstairs there was a formal parlor and formal dining room and a breakfast room, an office, a sitting room—like a family room—and the master bedroom and two guest rooms, all very large. The kitchen had been detached as they were when the house was built for fear of fire. A ‘modern’ kitchen had been added between the original and the house. There were, of course, no original bathrooms, two had been added, one between the guest rooms and one for the master bedroom. On the second floor there was a sitting room and six bedrooms. Three bathrooms had been added. Pleasant Grove had a mansard roof and what was essentially a third floor had, in years past, been a ballroom. As Ginger readily saw, Pleasant Grove was huge—and neglected.

Outside, Davis asked, “Randy, how about pastures?”

“Not too bad. Nature has taken over but, for the most part, we can mow, scratch up the soil a bit, fertilize and in couple of years the sod will be passable. Won’t carry nearly as many cattle per acre as Arkadelphia, of course, but it will be productive. We can do that to three-fourths of the pasture and do a serious renovation of the remaining fourth. In four years it would all be in good shape. Now I can’t say a patch job will do on the fences. Best to just start over.”

“We need to get a permanent crew in place as soon as possible. I think a couple of hands at both places will be adequate, maybe with some part-timers. We’ll still have to hire extra from time to time, but four hands could be kept busy with the two places. Any ideas?”

“He’s a city kid and unskilled, but Ethan’s friend Scotty is turning into a real cattleman. Don’t know if that aunt of his would allow it, but he’d be a good one after learning the ropes. What do you think, Ethan?”

Ethan thought, ‟I am on the spot. Having Scotty around would be a dream come true for me, but it could be a disaster as well. Aloud he said, “He’s a good friend, nice guy and all, but I haven’t seen him at work. Hard to imagine him handling a bull. His aunt would definitely be a problem. She wouldn’t let him work with Eli. It’s beneath him.”

“As I said, he’s turning into a real cattleman. Loves working with them and works hard. I recommend him if he’s available. He’d probably live with the Taylors,” Randy said.

The little head liked the idea, but the more rational head didn’t. Before Ethan could say anything, Davis said, “Don’t think that’s a good idea. Besides, a house is one of the perks for permanent workers. He’d need to be here at Pleasant Grove anyway since you’ll be based here, Randy. There’s a small place down the road from where you will be. Needs work—everything here does—and a bathroom will need to be added. Randy, call Scotty and see if he is interested and if he is, set up an interview.” Ethan was ecstatic at the prospect of having Scotty nearby, of working with him, and was having a hard time hiding it. He wasn’t sure he had when Davis glanced at him.

Randy suggested another couple of fellows who might be interested. He knew them from cattle sales and being around the feed store. Davis told him to set up interviews if they were interested. “I want you in on all the interviews, Ethan. Not only can you pick up interviewing skills, but also I want you and Randy to know the whole crew. After all, we’re running cattle and pecans, but the same outfit. Even thought of dropping Pleasant Grove’s name, but there’s a lot of history there. We’ll keep the name, but for business purposes the two will be handled as one. Any suggestions for the pecan operation?”

“No, none,” Randy said. “Hold it. Maybe I do. Howard Hickey worked on Ridge View up toward Glen Stockade for twenty-five years or more. Now the owner has sold out to one of those corporations. They’re letting folks go and Howard is pretty sure if he gets to stay on, it’ll be just part-time. Known him for years. He’s a good man. Has a wife and two kids. Youngest is, I guess, Ethan’s age or maybe Jamie’s. Older one’s going to Glen Stockade University this fall. Younger one’s just interested in girls and cows Howard says. Howard’s worked pecans all his life.”

“Give him a call. If he and the boys are interested, we have you with three youngsters—I’m counting on Jamie working with you as a regular hand, Randy—doing cattle and Ethan and new hires doing pecans. Think he’d resent a boss his kid’s age?”

“Now that I can’t tell you about. Glad you included Jamie. I had planned to talk to you about him.”

“Mr. Edwards, think Joe might know another pecan man?” Ethan asked.

“Should have thought of that. Give him a call also, Randy.”

Randy left to drive back to his place to make phone calls and Ethan and Davis went to a pecan grove and started taking samples. Two hours later they headed for the house and lunch.

Joe recommended Howard Hickey first crack out of the box. When Davis called, he said he was interested and asked about coming down Saturday for an interview so he’d not miss work. He had been put on an hourly basis with a pay cut so he needed all the hours he could get. Neither son was working as much as half time.

Scotty told his aunt he was going for a job interview and when she asked about it, he told her he might have a job offer to work cattle at Arkadelphia, she hit the roof. When she said it was too degrading, he told her it wasn’t half as degrading as sitting on his ass doing nothing. After she ranted and raved for a half hour, he just left.

Driving to Arkadelphia, Scotty was torn by two emotions. The idea of being close to Ethan sent him over the moon, but he was also concerned about whether or not to tell Mr. Edwards and Randy he was gay. It wouldn’t have been a question had he not outed himself in class. The university was not small and he was only a part-time student so far as the campus was concerned, but he had announced he was gay in a class of non-resident students, students who lived and worked over a wide area. He traveled over the same area with Randy attending cattle sales. No, it was not like he was on campus and could hide there. Sooner or later someone would recognize him and say something to Randy.

Then there was Ethan. If he did tell the Arkadelphia folks he was gay, wouldn’t they look askance at Ethan. He needed to talk to Ethan before his interview. He stopped in Braggton at the Piggly Wiggly’s public phone and called Ethan. Sally Ann answered and said he was at the plantation office and would be all afternoon. “He’s working on the books and has some interviews later. Need the number?” She was surprised to learn he did, but Scotty had made it a policy not to call Ethan at the office.

Scotty dialed the number. “Arkadelphia Plantation. Ethan Taylor.”

“Ethan, Scotty. Ethan, we need to talk before I have an interview at your place this afternoon.”

“Just come early and we can talk.”

“I really need to talk with you privately. Some place we can meet? Ethan, it’s important.”

“Sure, if it’s important. Where are you?”

“Piggly Wiggly.”

“I’ll meet you at Hardee’s in twenty minutes.”

Twenty minutes later, the two were in a back booth, having cokes and sharing a large order of french fries. “Ethan, I have a problem ... well, a dilemma. After Randy called about the job, I got to thinking. There are, what, twelve other people in the freshman seminar where I outed myself. That’s twelve people scattered over four counties telling folks about this queer in their class. I don’t give a shit about that, but at least half of them will mention my name. Before you know it, a lot of people in four counties will know I am gay.

“If I continue to work with Randy, we’ll be going to cattle sales, feed stores, places where we get supplies for the pastures, that sort of thing. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, someone’s going to say something about Randy working with a queer.

“Again, if that’s all there was to it, I’d tell Randy and Mr. Edwards this afternoon and let them decide whether or not they wanted to be working with a fag ...”

“Scotty, you do not use that word around me, even joking. So why not? Why not tell them?”

“Because if I do, they might look at you. Hadn’t planned on saying this right now and not this way, but Ethan, I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you. If you come to feel the same way, we’ll only be able to hide it for a time before someone catches on. I’ll not out you.”

Scotty looked up and into Ethan’s eyes. There was a face-splitting smile on Ethan’s face and his eyes were sparkling. “Scotty, did you say you thought you were falling in love with me?”

“Yeah, I did,” Scotty turned bright red as only a blond can.

“I’m ahead of you on that one, boyfriend. If I’m not in love with you now, I don’t know if I can take the real thing. So we tell Randy and Mr. Edwards. You don’t get the job, I get fired, we may as well know it now.” Ethan didn’t tell Scotty there wasn’t a chance in hell Davis would fire him or not hire Scotty because they were gay.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

The two young man drove to Arkadelphia; Ethan directly to the office, Scotty went looking for Sally Ann. Scotty’s interview was scheduled for three and it was just after two when they arrived. He found her in the canning house with Mrs. Edwards canning peaches. Claire Bell and Sally Ann had picked a couple of bushels the afternoon before after it had cooled off a bit. Most of the produce from the gardens preserved for winter was frozen, but some was also canned, a hot job. When she saw him, Mrs. Edwards told him to find a cool place. “You stay in the canning house, you’ll show up for a job interview all wilted and sweaty.”

Scotty wandered toward the barn and was halfway there when he remembered Randy was at Pleasant Grove. Ethan told him if he got the job, he’d be living in a small house at Pleasant Grove down the road from Randy. “Pleasant Grove’ll be the headquarters for the cattle business,” he had told him.

At quarter of three, Randy drove up, saw Scotty at the barn and motioned for him to join him. The cattlemen waited outside the office until Davis came up, looked at him and laughed. “You look like you’re going to be the guest of honor at a hanging. Lighten up.” Scotty gave him a weak smile. “Well, come on in. Pretty sure this is just a formality.” Scotty wasn’t at all sure.

“Come on in,” Davis said. “Both of you, have a seat. Coke, ice tea, water?” Both Randy and Scotty opted for ice tea.

“Mr. Edwards. Before we go any further, there’s another matter we need to clear up. Last night in class the university’s non-discrimination policy was the basis for the discussion. Some of the students made some pretty nasty comments about fags and queers and the teacher let it go on until it was really vile. I objected pretty loudly because I’m gay.”

Davis had been doodling on a pad and continued to do so. Randy looked gobsmacked and avoided Scotty’s eyes. Finally Davis looked up asked, “Scotty, would you have objected as strongly had someone started talking about niggers?”

“I hope so, but probably not with the passion I spoke with. Not only was it an attack on a group of people, it was a personal attack. I am here, Mr. Edwards, because my stepfather found I had been reading stories about gays and looked at a gay website. He put me in the hospital for three weeks. I dropped the charges against him when he agreed to pay for my college. Aunt Lily took me in over the objections of her husband. My life has been pretty miserable until recently. So, yeah, there was a lot of passion in what I had to say to that dumb asshole.”

“I see Scotty. I see that. You said ‘pretty miserable until recently’. What changed?”

“Randy, the Taylors, Mrs. Edwards, you, Arkadelphia, college.”

“I see. Ethan, you know all this?”

“Yes, sir,” he answered quietly.

“And you said nothing about Scotty being gay when we started talking about him coming here?”

“Randy said he could do the job and that was all that mattered, besides it wasn’t my place.”

“Good answer,” Randy said, surprising both young men.

“Since we’re on the subject,” Ethan said, “I’m also gay.”

“Thought so,” Randy said. “I knew about Jeff long before anyone else did. I was a shoulder to cry on, watched him and Art fall in love, so I kinda had a sense I was watching the same thing going on with you, Ethan. One reason I tried to stand between you and Davis. Davis, I agreed when you suggested you teach Ethan to run the pecan business. I haven’t changed my mind about that. I suggested you consider Scotty for the cattleman’s job before I knew he was gay. The cows don’t give a shit and neither do I. I wanted them both and I still do.”

“Just one question, Ethan. Did Scotty have anything to do with that Cheshire cat grin you couldn’t get rid of this morning?”

Both Ethan and Scotty turned bright red. Ethan finally looked up, a smile covering his face and said, “Sure as hell did.”

“Was that the reason you said Scotty living with you wasn’t a good idea?”

“Well, yeah, I mean I’m not ready for him to move in yet.”

“You can be had, but are no push over, huh?” Randy laughed.


“Good. So Scotty, it’ll be a few weeks before your house is ready. When do you want to start work?” Randy asked.

“As soon as possible, but I hadn’t expected to be moving anytime soon, so I can wait.”

“But you rather not?” Davis asked.

“Wish I didn’t have to, but I can wait.”

“How long will it take you to get packed up?” he asked.

“No more than a couple hours.”

“Need a truck or will your car hold everything?”

“My car will hold practically nothing.”

Davis picked up the phone, dialed and said, “Molly, Randy just hired Scotty to work cattle. His house won’t ... I wasn’t going to suggest he live with the Taylors, but not because of Sally Ann. I was wondering ... Okay, right. He will be in the guest room until his house is ready .... That’s taken care of. Go, take one of the plantation trucks, get packed and come on back. I think Sally Ann’s having us all for supper.”

Howard Hickey and his two sons arrived at four-thirty. An African-American, Howard was a man of forty, forty-five, well-built. The two sons, as Randy said, were around Jamie and Ethan’s age. The older one was a jock, football player type and had just graduated high school. His brother was well-built as well, but had the body of a swimmer and moved like Scotty. He was between Ethan and Jamie in age, but would be in Jamie’s class. Davis had told Ethan the interview was his.

“Mr. Hickey, I’m Ethan Taylor, manager of the pecan business here at Arkadelphia and now, unofficially, Pleasant Grove. We have signed the contract to purchase Pleasant Grove, but the official closing isn’t until the end of the month. Mr. Edwards is the owner of both plantations and I believe you know Randy, the manager of the cattle business.”

“My sons, Ray and Andy,” Mr. Hickey said, as he shook hands with the three.

“Ray, Andy,” Ethan said, shaking hands with the two. “Before we do anything else, I’ll give you an overview of what we are out to do here. You may not be interested once you have a picture of that. Arkadelphia has been a successful operation even when other plantations were not doing well because the Edwards family has worked closely with the extension service out of Glen Stockade. We still do. Joe Maddox, whom you may know ...” Mr. Hickey nodded “... is working closely with us as we continue to improve Arkadelphia and restore Pleasant Grove which has been, essentially, abandoned for almost ten years.

“Randy and the headquarters for the cattle business will be located at Pleasant Grove. I live here at Arkadelphia and the headquarters of the pecan business will be here. It’s been a number of years since Arkadelphia or Pleasant Grove have had anyone other than Randy living and working on the place as a permanent employee. My family is the first of what we hope will be a cadre of employees. We hired a young man, my age, to work cattle with Randy. As soon as his place is ready, he will live at Pleasant Grove. We anticipate another man working cattle. We thought Andy and Ray might be interested in working cattle alongside my younger brother. They, of course, would be living with you and your wife.”

“What about school?” Mr. Hickey asked.

“Sorry, I guess I assumed you knew. I started working here keeping books when I was a sophomore and just assumed Jamie, my brother, and Andy would work as I did, after school and Saturdays. Ray could work as needed and available if he likes. Andy also for that matter. That’s up to you and your sons.

“We also hold open the possibility of adding a family to either business when we see how things develop. That’s the general overview. Oh, there’ll really be no sharp lines between the businesses so far as work is concerned. We’ll all have our primary assignment so to speak, but pecans can expect to deal with cows and cows with nuts. Questions?”

“Just how bad is Pleasant Grove?” Mr. Hickey asked. Randy explained the pastures were in poor shape, but usable after the fences were repaired. “The big problem is with fencing. It’ll all have to be re-done from scratch.”

Davis said the groves needed a lot of work. “It's a pity, but the groves have been essentially neglected for ten years. Disease and insects have such a strong foothold that the trees will best be taken down and replaced with saplings. Too bad as it will be several years before saplings start producing.”

Andy asked about the school, extracurricular activities and the house.

“School is what you make it,” Ethan said. “It’s small and serves the whole county. That curtails some activities. Teachers, as everywhere, range from piss-poor to excellent, cafeteria food has never killed anyone—yet. I know little about the sports program except baseball. I played baseball with a great bunch of guys. We set no records, but I enjoyed it. Did honors and AP classes when they were available since you do get good teachers that way.

“As to the house, you’ll have a chance to look it over before you go.”

After some other questions, Ethan said, “We’ll need to talk money, but before we go any further, there is a matter, maybe an issue, I need to be upfront about. We have gay men who live and work here and want to know how you feel about that.”

“I’ll be god damned if I work with any cock-sucking fag,” Ray thundered after leaping to his feet and standing, his hands balled into fists.

“Given that attitude, I can assure you, you will definitely not be working at Arkadelphia or Pleasant Grove. No way,” Ethan said calmly. “Mr. Hickey, Andy?”

“Will I be working with a fag?” Mr. Hickey asked.

“Mr. Hickey, we do not use that word on Arkadelphia or Pleasant Grove. If you mean it as an insult, then this interview is terminated,” Ethan said. “If you used it out of ignorance, then be advised it is a word as insulting as the N word. If you meant to ask if you would be working with anyone who is gay the answer is yes.”

“Don’t know how I feel about that,” Mr. Hickey said, scratching his head. “Never been around any queer ...”

“We don’t use that word either. The word is gay, Mr. Hickey.”

“Well, since there’re no que ... gay African-Americans ...”

Andy exploded in gales of laughter. “Dad, I’m sure Uncle Henry would disagree. He and Uncle Jerry have been together almost as long as you and Mom. You’ve seen them kiss, you know they sleep in the same bed. If they are not gay African-Americans, what are they?” Mr. Hickey didn’t answer.

“Mr. Hickey, you also need think about how you would feel working for a boss your son’s age, as well as remembering at least one man you work with is gay. As Randy says, the cows don’t give a shit. I can tell you the pecans don’t care. Neither do we. We have a vision of where we’re headed and welcome anyone who shares that vision. A part of that is an Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove where men and women are valued for honesty, integrity, hard work, but also as members of an extended family.

“Look over this contract—which includes the pay scale—and let us know if you are interested and we’ll made a decision on this end. My brother Jamie is outside and will show you around both plantations so you have some idea of the work involved.”

After the Hickeys left with Jamie, Mr. Edwards said, “Damn good job, Ethan, but you surprised hell out of me when you asked about him working for a young man and with someone who is gay. Smart move. You told him just what he needed to know and no more. What do you think, Randy?”

“I agree. Question is, what will he decide?”

“Don’t know. What do you think, Ethan?”

“Here’s the way I see it. It’s a damn good offer and Mr. Hickey knows it. He’s practically out of a job after having a good one. He’s going to think about that. Remember, regardless of any scholarship he might have, Ray is starting college this fall. That’s more expensive than high school. A decent job at a decent wage will incline him to take the job. Also, he’s going to think about having been a crew boss for ten years and not being one here. Working here will be a step down, especially since he’ll be working for a kid. That will probably stick in his craw and incline him to look elsewhere. My bet is, he’s more inclined to take it and make the best of it. However, the two sons will cast the final vote. Ray will pitch a tantrum if he even thinks about coming here. Andy is all for it.”

“Because Andy’s gay?” Randy asked.

“Don’t know. If I had to bet money on it, I’d bet against it. No, I think gay or straight doesn’t make any difference to him. What does is being treated as an adult. How does he know he’ll be treated as an adult? Because you have kids—in his eyes—helping run the business and working as adults. He respects that.”

“What about Ray being here?” Randy asked. “He’ll be a pain in the ass.”

“Until he finds out he’s no longer a big shot, he’ll be a pain the ass wherever his is. I figure a month at Glen Stockade being a water boy will be enough to get through to that arrogant, thick skull of his,” Ethan said.

“Davis, what do you think?”

“I just thought, ‘He’s out of a job and here’s a good one.’ No question in my mind he’d take it. Damn, Ethan, how’d did you get so smart? How can you see inside people?”

“Don’t know. Just seemed to be the way it was from where I was sitting. They’re staying over, right?” Randy asked.

“They are. We’re all having supper at the Taylors’.”

“Sally Ann know that?” Ethan asked.

“Of course she knows. Molly knows and she and Claire Bell have been helping Sally Ann all afternoon,” Davis said. “Think they’re putting the little pot in the big one. Jamie’s showing them around and Ginger will be showing them the house. If he takes the job, they will move into Randy’s old place as soon as he and Ginger are at Pleasant Grove and any needed work on their old place completed.”

“Shouldn’t take more than another week,” Randy said. “Mostly painting.”

“Yeah, a week should handle it,” Davis said.

They left the office and Ethan headed home.

When Ethan came in the back door, Sally Ann immediately shooed him out of the kitchen. As he walked past the dining room, he saw the table had been extended to its maximum length and was set for eleven people. Sally Ann had told him she was borrowing china, silver and crystal—well, stoneware, stainless and glass—from Mrs. Davis and everyone on the plantation would be coming for dinner. It was her first dinner party and she was very excited.

In his room, Ethan lay down on his bed, his hands behind his head and let his mind drift. His life—the life of his family—had changed dramatically in a few short weeks. It was pretty overwhelming even before last night, then last night happened. He had pretty much known he would spend his life alone. Even if he fell in love with someone, how could they live in south Georgia? Yeah, Ethan had it all figured out. Then Scotty suddenly appeared in his life. Actually, looking back, Ethan realized it wasn’t sudden at all. Scotty had sorta crept into his life. He started noticing him in gym class and maybe a few times thought about him as he stroked himself. When he caught himself thinking about him, Ethan shoved the thoughts to the back of his mind. Then they started going to class together and it was harder and harder to pretend he didn’t have feelings for Scotty beyond casual friendship. Then last night ... feelings he had pushed to the back of his mind could not be denied once Scotty’s lips touched his.

Thinking of golden curls and blue, blue eyes, Ethan drifted off to sleep, a smile on his face.