Arkadelphia Plantation

by Sequoyah


Chapter Thirteen

Sunday night, Davis and Molly had a dinner for everyone to wish Jeff and Art a safe journey back to Emory and a good school year. It was certainly a happier Edwards family that welcomed their guests than it had been a year ago. Davis looked ten years younger for having his only son back. Jeff and Art, tanned and toned from a summer of hard work on the plantation, were also much happier than they had been when they left: Jeff, because he and his husband had been accepted as a married couple by his father; Art because he had finally accepted the fact that he would never be welcomed back into his family. The two Emory students promised to be back for Thanksgiving if they could not come back a weekend before. Both thought their class load and class requirements would keep them very busy and tied to Atlanta.

Doug was also leaving Monday to go back to Atlanta to take up his teaching position at Atlanta State. He had hoped to get an appointment at Audubon University where he had taught summer school, but it was not to be. The summer started with him living in Audubon and Rich, his partner, in Atlanta but, because of the investigation Rich was engaged in, they had ended up together at Pleasant Grove Plantation. Now Rich was staying at Pleasant Grove and Doug was going back to their apartment outside Atlanta. Andy left earlier on Sunday to spend the week before school started with his mother.

Monday morning, as the three were leaving, Scotty, Jamie and Randy went back to Pleasant Grove to resume fencing a pasture. They would miss Doug because with four working, they could keep a steady pace of setting posts. With only three working, digging post holes and dropping posts in them was a lot faster than filling the holes and tamping the dirt around the posts. Their progress was slow compared to what they had been doing with four.

Dek, Davis and Ethan also went back to Pleasant Grove to continue cutting the trees in the oldest grove there. Mid-morning Davis said he was going to check on the cattle crew. Dek and Ethan continued felling the trees, cutting the limbs from the trunks and cutting the large limbs into blocks. When they had finished with a tree, they piled the small branches for burning. Davis had been gone for fifteen minutes when Ethan’s phone rang. It was Davis saying he was going to stay with the cattle crew. He’d drive the tractor so two men could set posts.

Quarter of twelve, Davis drove up on the tractor with the fencing crew in the now empty post trailer. “Want a ride?” he asked. Dek and Ethan piled in the trailer. Molly had decided Sally Ann and Claire Bell would fix dinner for the whole crew, so they headed to the plantation house.

Dinner was a meal for working men. Claire Bell and Sally Ann had prepared new potatoes in butter, green beans, corn on the cob and hamburger steak. A platter of tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions completed the dishes on the table. A blackberry cobbler with homemade ice cream and coffee was the finishing touch. When all had eaten, the men went to the screened porch where Davis and Dek lay down on two cushioned gliders. The young men sprawled out on the floor and all were asleep in a matter of minutes. The conditioned air inside had felt good as the outdoor temperature was over ninety, but they knew better than to spend too long in it before going outside in the sun and heat.

Half an hour later, Sally Ann came outside to wake up the crew. As they were preparing to leave, Davis warned, “Be careful of dehydration. The temperature’s high and the humidity unusually low for south Georgia. You’ll be losing a lot of water and can become dehydrated before you know it. Scotty; sunscreen.” Surprisingly, given how blond he was, Scotty was developing a slight tan, but he would burn very quickly without sunscreen in the sun and building fences was all in the sun.

Dek and Ethan had been working for almost an hour when Dek was cutting a huge limb. He saw Ethan under the limb too late to warn him, but Ethan caught a glance of the limb falling toward him and jumped. Both men were completely unnerved. Dek dropped his chain saw—Ethan had dropped his and it was pinned under the fallen limb where he would have been had he not jumped. Dek grabbed Ethan and said, in a shaky voice, “Are you all right?” Ethan nodded. The two sat down on the trunk of the fallen tree, still trembling. Both reached for their water bottles, took a long drink and Dek said, “Ethan, that was much too close for comfort. I looked before I started and was sure you were out of the way.”

“I had just walked under the limb,” Ethan said. “I was sure you were cutting a different limb. Thank goodness, no harm done except I may have pissed my pants,” he laughed. “Probably never happen again, but maybe we should work on different trees.”

“I’m for that. If you’ll fell them, I’ll trim. You cut three or four then you can start trimming and we’ll meet in the middle.” Dek went back to the tree they had been working on and Ethan went to the next one in the row and dropped it.

As Ethan cut a fourth tree, the slight breeze shifted and was blowing toward him from the pine grove at the edge of the pecan grove. The breeze was welcome even though it was hot—the temperature had to be in the high nineties. ‘Smells like south Georgia,’ Ethan thought to himself as the scent of the pines bordering the grove reached him. A few minutes later the smell changed. It reminded Ethan of something, but he couldn’t place it. He turned to face the pines, but before he got another whiff of the odor, the wind shifted and all he could smell was the sawdust from the trees he had cut. Ethan started trimming the last tree he had cut and had just finished it when Dek called and suggested they take a break. When Ethan joined him, he said, “I got a whiff of a strange smell when the wind shifted as I was felling the last tree. I almost recognized it, but can’t place it. It’s like trying to remember a name you can’t quite get. Annoying.”

“If you’re like me, it’ll wake you up in the middle of the night,” Dek laughed.

They had trimmed the last of the felled trees and were working together stacking the branches when the pasture crew appeared and started loading the blocks in the trailer. With all six of them working they had a trailer load in no time and the crew piled on top of the blocks and Davis headed to the house.

When Ethan and Scotty got home, Rich was sitting in the kitchen with Sally Ann. Doug had sent Sally Ann a cookbook she had mentioned wanting by a courier bringing materials to Rich. When he brought it by, Sally Ann had invited him to supper.

Ethan and Scotty went upstairs to shower and did so with a minimum of playing around. When they came down, Sally Ann served Rich a Bloody Mary and the rest Virgin Marys. Ethan asked how Doug was doing and Rich said he was toughing it out. “Neither of us are very happy having practically the whole state of Georgia between us, but it doesn’t look like that is changing any time soon. The most we can hope for is that if I’m still here he can teach at Audubon State next semester. Of course, he may be here and I may be transferred to heaven knows where.”

In the middle of supper Sally Ann said, “Ethan, where have you gone?”

Ethan looked up surprised and said, “Sorry.” He then told them about the strange smell and added, “wondering what it was is worrying me to death.”

Rich looked at him with a strange look on his face. “How would your describe it?” he asked and seemed very interested.

“That’s just it,” Ethan said. “It’s like I can almost recall what it is, but I can’t even remember what it smelled like. It’s really driving me nuts.”

“Now you have me wondering,” Rich said, but gave no explanation as to why he was interested.

Rich left shortly after supper and Ethan and Scotty helped Sally Ann clean up the kitchen before the three went into the den to watch television. Ethan and Scotty had just settled in a nice snuggle when Jamie came down to join them. He was carrying his ‘carving box.’

Since he was a young kid, Jamie had been ‘whittlin,’ carving sticks he picked up. As he grew older, he became quite a skilled carver. One of the first purchases he made when he got a pay check from Arkadelphia was a set of carving knives and paints. Recently he started carving a series of birds that lived on Arkadelphia Plantation. Often he did not paint his carvings, but simply wiped them with oil, however for the birds he was painting them as accurately as he could. He often worked on them while the family was sitting in the den.

He placed the box on a small table and picked up a carving of a pair of blue jays he had finished, opened a bottle of paint and started painting them. Suddenly Ethan sat up and said, “That’s it! That’s what that odor smelled like, like that paint! What is it, Jamie?”

“It’s water based so I doubt you can smell it where you are. It has very little odor. Solvent-based paints have a strong odor, but I don’t use them except where I have very, very good ventilation.”

“Well, I smell something that reminds me of that odor,” Ethan said.

“Maybe it’s my nail polish,” Sally Ann said.

“Definitely,” Ethan said as he walked over to where Sally Ann was painting her nails. “Not exactly the same odor, but sure close. Rich seemed really interested in it. Think I’ll call him.” Ethan did and Rich asked him a lot of questions and thanked him, but didn’t say why he was interested.

The next few days passed without incident and Ethan had forgotten about the strange odor. Friday, Dek and Ethan were ready to quit for the day when, again, a breeze sprung up from the direction of the pine woods. This time Dek also smelled the odor. “Smells almost like the Cardinal bus company in Glen Stockade did years ago when the paint booths vented to the outside. It’s definitely solvent of some kind.” When they got home, Ethan called Rich and told him what Dek had said. Again, Rich thanked him, but said nothing more.

Saturday, Davis came by and said he’d like to talk to Ethan and Dek. They drove over to Dek’s place. When they had sat down, Davis said, “I think I may have something which interests you two. A representative from the hardwood company buying the logs called and wanted to know if we could have the logs ready faster. I told him we couldn’t. He asked about their company doing the logging. He offered to cut the trees, trim them, and pile the branches for burning, haul away the logs and limbs. He’d pay half per log he’s paying us for logs we cut. I guess he has a use for the limbs,” Davis said.

“I’m sure he does, the same as I had in mind,” Ethan said. “Pecan chips for home grills command a good price. I planned on selling what we cut for that, but we’re not in the log or chip business and it’s going to take me and Dek months to clear that grove. What does Molly have to say about the deal? Are we going to lose a lot of money this way?”

“We’re not, especially if we had to hire a crew in order to have the grove ready to replant at the proper time. We’ll come out a little ahead taking the deal.”

“I sure have no great desire to cut down a grove when it can be done at essentially no cost,” Ethan said.

“Amen to that,” Dek agreed. “Andy could be wrong, but he thinks the fencing is going too slow as well. We have things which need doing in the groves, but we’d also have time to work on the fence.”

Davis said, “There’ll be three of you sometime next week. Ash’s house will be ready Monday, Tuesday at the latest, Francis says. I’ll give the hardwood guys a call Monday and you two can get on doing the regular work in the groves and working on the ones being rescued at Pleasant Grove.

Sunday, Ethan and Scotty again headed to Audubon and St. Matthew’s. They arrived early again and sat in the car talking until Miss Mattie drove up in her big Buick and they ushered her inside. Ethan still found the service strange, but he was more at ease with it than he had been the previous Sunday. The older priest had preached and Ethan found he didn’t pay as close attention as the previous Sunday. Later, when he mentioned that, Miss Mattie said, “I’m not surprised.” As they were leaving, Miss Mattie again introduced the two to the older man and he responded, “Delighted to have you with us,” but Ethan had the impression he was ‘on automatic.’ When they approached the younger priest he extended his hand and said, “Scotty, good to see you,” turned to Ethan and said, “I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t seem to recall your name.”

“Ethan, Ethan Taylor.”

“Of course, Ethan.” As he was shaking Ethan’s hand he said, “Less shell-shocked this Sunday?”

Ethan laughed and said he was.

“Maybe we can get together for lunch sometime soon,” Fr. Mason added.

“Sorry, but we are very busy right now, so lunch is an hour break then back to the groves. Arkadelphia is half an hour away, but I would like very much to talk to you as soon as I have some time.”

“Maybe I could come to your place one evening,” Fr. Mason said.

“Why not?” Ethan asked. “Come for supper one evening next week.”

“I’d like that. I’m single and a meal with more than myself is always welcome.” He handed Ethan a card and said, “Give me a call and we’ll find a day.”

As they headed to the parking lot, Miss Mattie said, “You two are coming with me. We are having Sunday dinner at my place.” She drove them to a residential area Ethan was sure was at least pre-war—Civil War—and to a house sitting well back from the street in a grove of old oaks. Inside, Mattie prepared mimosas and said, “After suffering through that sermon, we deserve a drink. Fr. Everett is retiring in two months and decided to start early. He is recycling sermons which weren’t that good in the first place.”

When they had finished their drinks, a young African-American girl came to the door and said “Dinner is served.” The food was excellent and the conversation lively. All three were obviously having a good time. When dinner was over, Ethan and Scotty stayed with Miss Mattie until 2:30, talking about what they were doing at Arkadelphia, St. Matthew’s and some of the things a younger Miss Mattie had done.

Monday morning over coffee in Davis’ office, the Arkadelphia crews did a serious evaluation of what needed doing. “It’s been pretty dry,” Ethan said, “so we need to start irrigation in the groves in Arkadelphia. This week is a fungicide week and we need to check for insects and worms. Dek and I can get on the irrigation and we should be ready to apply fungicide by Wednesday. If Ash gets all moved in and ready to work, we should finish with fungus and insect control this week. It’s also time we ordered trees for planting at Pleasant Grove. Dek and I—and Ash when she gets here—will have our hands full.”

Davis nodded.

“The cattle crew will continue work on the fence at Pleasant Grove,” Randy said. “We need to take a load of cattle to the sale Friday. The dry weather is doing a job on the pastures. That means no hay making and we need to reduce the size of the herd.”

“Okay,” Davis said. “I’ll continue working with the fence crew.”

“Davis, I hate to bring it up, but we are going to need to add to the permanent crew. We simply cannot do all the work required on both plantations,” Ethan said.

Davis looked thoughtful. “You sure about that?”

“I’m sure. When we have the fence replaced, pastures renovated and groves at Pleasant Grove in good shape it’ll be a different story—-maybe—-but no way can we handle all that’s to be done now. We have two pecan experts now and you and Randy know the cattle business, so what we need are more hands that can follow instructions and work.”

“What do the rest of you think,” Davis asked.

Dek and Randy looked at each other. Randy said, “Davis, the man’s right.”

“How many?” Davis asked. “Do we provide housing? Are they salary or hourly?”

“That’s not the kind of decisions I make,” Dek said. “Ask me what to do about the orchards and I’ll tell you and argue if you disagree, but I don’t make personnel decisions.”

“Right now we need at least two,” Randy said. “Beyond that, I’m with Dek.”

“Scotty, Ethan?” Davis asked.

“Davis, I’m all new at this,” Scotty said. “I know we need help, but how much and how they’re hired, I don’t know. Ask me about cows, otherwise I’m dumb.”

“We need to talk about it,” Ethan said. “I have ideas, but we need to talk it out.”

“Okay,” Davis said. “You stay.”

“Dek, if you’ll begin checking on the irrigation system and for insects at Arkadelphia, I’ll join you shortly,” Ethan said.

When the others left, Davis asked, “When did you decide we were short-handed, Ethan?”

“After Dek and I had been at work ten minutes after you left to join the fence crew. I gave it a lot of thought and remembered we had three additional men all summer. What we need are simply workers. We have or will have all the experts we need. We had three; I think we need at least two. There’s some advantage to hiring hourly workers, but that means they are free to work elsewhere. Housing? We have houses that can be made livable. We don’t have to go all out as you have done, but they need to be made decent. It’ll cost some money up front, but we can get good workers for less by offering free housing. I think if we are going to keep our idea of making these places models, we need to offer housing. I guess there’s no huge rush to get everything done. The old grove is being taken care of and replanting is down the road. I do think we need to get to work on the fence. According to Jamie, the pastures should be ready to support some cattle by spring and will definitely turn a profit before the groves. That’s my thinking.”

“Sounds solid, son. Let’s go for it. I’ll put out the word we are looking for people.”

Dek and Ethan divided the Arkadelphia groves and inspected them. They found insects were under control and no evidence of worms. The irrigation system was working well. When they completed the inspection, they began applying fungicide.

Tuesday evening, Ethan called Fr. Mason. “Sorry I didn’t get back earlier, Father, but we’ve kinda been up to our as ... behinds in alligators this week.”

“Understand. Maybe we need to postpone dinner.”

“Not at all. I have a new person coming on board tomorrow.”

“Friday then unless you have a date since I guess you don’t work Saturday.”

“We work Saturday if necessary, but this one looks free. We eat at 7:00 and I’ll be home and showered by 6:00. Come when you like.”

“See you around 6:00. I’ll need directions.”

“I can email them. Do you have a GPS?”

“I do.”

“I’ll send you the coordinates to get you to the front door. Look forward to seeing you Friday.”

Molly came to the grove where Dek and Ethan were working at 9:00 Wednesday to tell Ethan Ash had arrived. He left Dek working and went to the house to welcome her. If she wanted help, he’d call the others to get her moved in.

Ash was overjoyed with the house. It was much more than she expected. When Ash asked about help moving in, she said she had hired movers. “I decided packing and unpacking was something I’d rather someone else do. Kathy was making sure all was done on the up and up and will follow the mover. They promised to be here by 10:00. They’ll unload everything and put it in the room where it belongs and we’ll start unpacking and putting things away when they finish.”

Ethan handed her a cell phone. “This is yours. All the numbers for those of us at Arkadelphia are in the contact list. Sally Ann, my sister, and Claire Bell, the Edwards’ maid—if you can call a family member a maid—are preparing supper for all of us tonight. Molly and Sally Ann stocked your pantry and refrigerator. You need anything for the house, give Molly a call. Anything else you need to know, call me.”

“I don’t think I’ll be ready to go to work today, but we should be settled enough for me to start tomorrow. Kathy’s got a week before she starts teaching. She starts classes at Audubon State next week, so she’ll be doing most of the work getting the house in order.”

“Take your time, but we can sure use you when you are ready.”

Ethan went back to the grove where Dek was applying fungicide.

There were thirteen sitting around the Taylors’ supper table—Sally Ann had declared Claire Bell was family and for the first time in anyone’s memory Claire Bell didn’t win an argument. She did insist there was an empty chair so there wouldn’t be thirteen chairs around the table. The conversation was focused on Kathy for a while since she was a complete unknown to the group and they to her. She and Sally Ann were a lot alike. Both were petite, but where Sally Ann, as her brothers, was dark, Kathy was light. She was a strawberry blond with skin to match. She was very feminine, a contrast to Ash. While Ash was certainly not masculine and was definitely all woman, Kathy was definitely more ‘girly’ and was dressed as such. She had a great sense of humor and could give as good as she got. She said they had gotten a lot accomplished in the house—which she adored and said she would finish so Ash ‘could get to her bugs and worms.’ The after-dinner conversation went on much later than anyone expected and everyone was ready for bed when the party broke up.

Thursday morning Ash and Ethan looked over the groves at Arkadelphia and she agreed that the trees were amazingly free of insects and she, too, saw no sign of the worms which attacked the green, developing nuts. “Molly told me Arkadelphia didn’t have a bad crop last year which surprises me because there is definitely an abundant crop this year.” she said.

“We did have a good year last year,” Ethan said, “for an off year. Would be great if a pecan was developed which produced a crop every year.”

“Well, there are some coming closer, but they have other problems, especially here in hot and humid south Georgia.”

“Given the possibilities and characteristics of each, you, Dek and I will need to sit down and decide what pattern we’ll be using to set the new trees and determine what and how many of each cultivar to order.”

There were a couple of hours before lunchtime when the two completed their Arkadelphia grove tour. As they headed back, they saw Dek spraying. “I suspect we’ll spend all afternoon at Pleasant Grove,” Ethan said. “Tomorrow, go directly to the equipment shed. Arkadelphia owns two spray rigs. Avery Howard of Howard's Farm Instrument Sales and Repair picked up one from a shed at Pleasant Grove two weeks ago to see if it could be repaired. It has seen little use for the past ten years and none for the last five. Avery said the tractor is, of course, an older model as is the spray rig, but they were the top of the line in their day. They have seen little use so there’s little wear and were stored properly, so should pose no problem. I had hoped he would have had them ready, but haven’t heard ...” Ethan’s phone rang. “Excuse me. Arkadelphia Plantation. This is Ethan ... Thanks, Avery,” Ethan said as he closed the phone. “Speak of the devil. That was Avery telling me the rig is on its way. We can put three rigs in the groves tomorrow.”

After they had spent an hour in the groves at Pleasant Grove, Ethan got a call from the man delivering the rig. He told Ash he would be back, but he had to go and check out the equipment. “Ethan, I think we know pretty much all we need to know about the groves here—they are better than expected, but still need serious work. I think my time would be better spent on a spray rig.” Insects, worms, fungus were evident at Pleasant Grove, but both Ethan and Ash were amazed, not by how high the infestations were, but by how low. For having been neglected, the health of the trees was far better than expected. When Ethan questioned that, Ash explained—and showed—him the signs of health.

On their way back to Arkadelphia for dinner, Ethan’s phone rang. He said, “Would you please answer that?” he asked, handing her the phone.

She nodded, took the phone and said, “Arkadelphia Plantation. This is Ash ... He’s driving right now, but right beside me. Can I help? ... We were just discussing that. We are on our way right now.” She listened a minute, then closed the phone. “The rig has arrived.”

“Great! We can put three in the groves this afternoon. I’ll drop you off on my way and you can meet me at the equipment shed at 1:30. You know to wear long sleeves and pants and all that good stuff. In addition to gloves and eye protection, there are disposable coveralls and head covering that Davis provides and insists spray operators wear. Would add to the heat problem, but the tractors have cabs that are air conditioned.”

“Wow, that’s great,” Ash said.

After dinner, Ethan, Ash and Dek all got suited up. Ethan dropped Dek off at his rig on his way to the grove he was spraying. Dek would finish up the grove he was working and Ash and Ethan would get a good start on theirs. If all went well, they would finish with the fungicide at Arkadelphia before they quit for the day. Before they could spray at Pleasant Grove they would have to get up fallen limbs, bush hog and mow. Next week would be spent at Pleasant Grove beginning to renovate the groves there.

Sally Ann didn’t complain about having to have dinner guests two nights in the same week. She and Claire Bell had both worked on the plantation dinner and she had Fridays alone, but there was also the difference between preparing for thirteen and for five. There was plenty of fresh vegetables from the garden and fresh fruits.

At 5:30 Ethan knew he could finish the grove in fifteen or twenty minutes. That would be cutting it close especially if Fr. Mason came promptly at 6:00. Well, Scotty would be home and showered. If not Sally Ann would be and if you needed a hostess, she was your gal. It was hard to realize she was only fifteen—well, it was also hard to think of her as other than a mere girl when she was well on her way to being a full-grown woman.

At 5:45 Ethan was headed to the end of the last row. When he reached the end, Scotty was waiting for him in the truck. “I think I’ll wait to kiss you until you are cleaned up,” he laughed.

“And I’ll ride in the back,” Ethan said. “I don’t want to get this crap in the truck.” On the way to the plantation house, he shed the disposable protective clothing and when he reached the mud room, tossed it in the bin kept exclusively for such. He left his other outer clothes in the bin for work clothes to be washed. He did a quick rinse off in the shower and pulled on a clean pair of disposable coveralls and crawled back in the truck. He said, “I’m clean enough to kiss now,” leaned over and pulled Scotty to himself for a hot kiss. Little Ethan let it be known that he liked that!

When they got to their house, Fr. Mason was sitting in the den talking to Jamie. Sally Ann was adding a comment from the kitchen often enough that the men didn’t forget she was present. “Father,” Scotty and Ethan said at the same time. “I’m running late,” Ethan added. “If you’ll excuse me I’ll grab a quick shower and be right down.”

“Scotty. Ethan, take your time. I am being royally entertained by a charming young man and woman. Now Scotty’s here, so I am sure I’ll not get lonely.”

Ethan didn’t rush in the shower because he wanted to make sure he washed off any fungicide. He scrubbed his hair, which was getting pretty long, and started to go down without drying it, but thought better of that idea. It was still damp when he had dressed, but was not wet.

“Again, I apologize for being late,” Ethan said as he sat down in the den. “I knew I could finish the grove I was working on in fifteen or twenty minutes and couldn’t bear to come in until it was done.”

“No apology needed,” Fr. Mason said and laughed. “If I hadn’t been sneaky I would have been late. A lonely, elderly lady who lives near the church comes by several times a week and just chats. Well, she tells you the same story about being abandoned by her children and how lonely she is. Same story over and over. She would be there all day if I didn’t tell her I had something I had to do. I saw her crossing the street at 5:30 and hurried out the back door. I had a lot more patience with her before I found out her children left because she had always been verbally abusive to them. Anyway, Jamie and Sally Ann were telling me about your family. I find it amazing that you are still teens and I suspect have a more stable home than many twice your age.”

“It’s not been easy,” Ethan said. “I am very proud of Jamie and Sally Ann. They are really young to have so much responsibility, but I couldn’t ask for better. Scotty started laughing and Jamie and Sally Ann joined in. Fr. Mason and Ethan looked puzzled.

“Ethan’s makes statements like that often,” Scotty said. “He’s two years older than Jamie. Sally Ann is the real phenomenon in this household.

“Agreed,” Jamie said. Ethan nodded. Sally Ann blushed, then made a little bow.

“Scotty, how did you happen to fall in with this family?”

Scotty told how he, Jamie and Ethan had met on a fishing trip as although he had known Ethan before in school, he had not known him well at all. “Ethan and I had classes together at the beginning of the summer. I started hanging out here because living with my aunt, as I had been, wasn’t very pleasant and I had nothing to do. Here, I started working with Jamie and Randy, who is manager of the cattle station at Arkadelphia, and found I loved it. When he and Mr. Edwards, who owns Arkadelphia Plantation, offered me a job I took it.”

“Ethan, Jamie and Sally Ann told me you were working in the pecan groves and that you are manager of the pecan operation. How did that happen?”

As Ethan was finishing the story he made a comment about needing to add to the plantations’ crew. When he finished, Sally Ann said supper was ready.

Ethan asked Fr. Mason to say grace. When he had, he said, “Really none of my business, but do you have grace at every meal?”

“If we sit down together, we do,” Jamie said, “and we sit down for supper unless something important is going on. Mom and Dad insisted we eat at least one meal together and we’ve always assumed that’s the way it should be. I, for one, would insist if someone suggested otherwise.”

“Not much chance of that,” Ethan added and Sally Ann nodded.

After the meal, Jamie and Scotty cleared and put the dishes in the dishwasher, washed and dried the few pots and pans Sally Ann had not cleaned as she went, then went into the den. Jamie said, “Father, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a young lady waiting for me. Ethan, I’ll be back before curfew.”

“Be careful,” Ethan said. Jamie waved and walked out the door.

“Father, if you’ll excuse me as well. Ethan, remember I told you Keith is coming and bringing his adopted sister, Kayla, and Andy is coming over. We’re going to play Monopoly and maybe, later, could we have the den to watch a movie?”

“Chaneeka a thing of the past?”

“Yeah. Her father thinks a farm boy is not good enough.”

“Sure, we’ll move when they get here and you’ll have the den for the game as well.” The words were barely out of his mouth when there was a knock on the door and Andy walked in. “Father, I think we have just been evicted,” Ethan said, and indicated they should go to the living room.

Andy was followed by Keith, whom Ethan had heard a great deal about, but not met, and a beautiful African-American girl. “Fr. Mason, my friends Keith and Kayla Warren and Andy Hickey. Fr. Mason from St. Matthew’s in Audubon,” Sally Ann said.

“Andy, good to know you. Keith and Kayla, good to see you again.” He, Scotty and Ethan adjourned to the living room where Sally Ann served coffee and a fresh nectarine pie with ice cream.

“Ethan, you have a wonderful family. Don’t you agree, Scotty?”

“Of course, but I’m more than a little prejudiced because it’s my family as well.” Ethan gave Scotty a sharp look and Scotty shrugged. “I am and plan to be a part of it for a long, long time. I never had natural brothers or sisters and now I have two of the greatest.”

Ethan decided to really give this church thing a test and said, “And I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”

Fr. Mason smiled and said, “Well, that answers a question I was afraid to ask. So Scotty’s here because he’s your partner, not because he likes cows.”

“Hey, don’t knock cows!” Scotty said. “I’ll admit Ethan is a lot higher on my love/like scale than any cow I have met, but I really do love my work.”

“So I assume you have finished school?”

“High school, yes,” Scotty said. “But we are taking courses at Audubon State, We took two on campus and two on line this summer. Joe Maddox, the county agent, has designed a study program which Andy, Jamie and I are working on as well. He’s done one on pecans for Ethan.”

“Again, I am amazed,” Fr. Mason said. “By the way, I assume Miss Mattie knows you are a couple? Things like that seldom escape her notice.”

“She called us out on it the first Sunday I was there,” Ethan said.

“Well, she’ll keep it to herself and do battle to protect you and I hate to be this way, but I’d say nothing to Fr. Everett. He’ll only be here two more months before he retires and, well, he’s not exactly open to anything except one man and one woman. Looking at the weddings he has had at St. Matthew’s, the man or woman need not be the one you married some time ago. Kinda what I call serial monogamy but, in case you are wondering, I’m for blessing same-sex unions. And, no. it won’t apply to me. I am very straight. I was engaged to a fantastic woman, but she died the summer after my first year in seminary. She had spent spring break in Haiti and picked up a bug which lay dormant for three months, then broke out like wildfire. No antibiotic would touch it and she died in less than a week.”

“I’m sorry,” Scotty and Ethan both said.

“Thanks, but we were going to talk about church.”

The next hour and a half Ethan fired questions at the priest and found answers to many of his questions. Finally Fr. Mason said, “I better be on my way or you’ll ground me, Ethan, for missing my curfew.”

As he left, Sally Ann’s friends did as well. Jamie came in a few minutes before his curfew, a wet spot on the front of his jeans and a smile on his face. When Scotty commented on the spot, he said, “Yeah, we did some heavy making out in the movie and outside her house. Got precum in my trunks and blue balls, but stopped as soon as I got off the main highway and took care of that. Goodnight, don’t groan too loud tonight. I need my sleep,” he said and headed upstairs.

Ethan and Scotty started up as well, but before they were halfway up the stairs, the phone rang. They had finally gotten a base unit with five wireless handsets, so Jamie picked up and called out, “Ethan and Scotty, grab and put it on speaker.”

When Ethan picked up the phone and pressed the speaker button, Jamie said, “Randy, the two scalawags are on the phone.”

“Randy here, guys. Sorry to call so late, but I just had a call from Eli over at River Bend. He asked about our going fishing tomorrow. Seemed real anxious to talk. You two up to an early morning?”

“Sure,” Jamie said. “I’ll call Andy. We can take both boats.”

Ethan looked at Scotty and he nodded. “We’re up to it,” He said, “but not at 6:00.”

“I told him we’d meet him around 9:00.”

“That’s better.”

They hung up the phone and started making out. Both started giggling when the noise from Jamie’s room and his ‘Yeah, baby, Oh, yeah, baby,” suggested that getting off earlier had not been enough.