Ethan gave Michael directions to Arkadelphia and told him to drop off Shawn and Mrs. Kistler at his place, “Third house on the left as you come in from the highway,” and then drive on to the plantation office. Saturday morning Molly called Sally Ann and told her she would meet Mrs. Kistler at the Taylors’. As soon as they arrived, Sally Ann said, “Mrs. Kistler, I’m Sally Ann Taylor and will be taking care of Shawn. This is Mrs. Molly Edwards, mistress of Arkadelphia.”
“Call me Molly,” Mrs. Edwards said, extending her hand.
“I’m Naomi, Molly.”
Sally Ann turned Shawn loose in the fenced backyard. The nearly four-year-old immediately headed for the swing Jamie had put in the large oak for Samuel, and played on it without stopping. While he played, Naomi sat and talked with Sally Ann and Molly.
After Shawn was slowing down a bit, Molly suggested Naomi take a look at the house which was available. Dek had suggested he and Andy take a smaller house instead of Randy’s old one, so Randy’s was available. Sally Ann said that she’d walk with Shawn and Molly could drive Mrs. Kistler. “Shawn has slowed down,” she said, “but he’s still going strong. A walk will burn some more of his energy—maybe.” She told Shawn to hold her hand and he did, but that neither stopped him from seeing everything as they walked nor from asking a thousand questions.
When they arrived at the house, Molly was telling Naomi what would be done to get it ready for them. “If the men are offered jobs and they accept, the floors will be refinished and new appliances installed. I think maybe new kitchen cabinets as well. The house will be cleaned and painted. The windows look all right, but the screens will be replaced.” They walked through the house, Molly pointing out things that would be done and Naomi asking questions. When they had walked thorough the house, Molly said, “As you see, the house has a living room, eat-in kitchen and two bedrooms and bath downstairs. If you like, we can go upstairs or I can just tell you the attic is finished and there are two small bedrooms up there and a bath with a shower, no tub. Davis said he would have window air conditioners installed if the central air conditioning is inadequate.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Naomi said. “I avoid any stairs I can.”
“Same here,” Molly said. “Do you have any questions? Did I leave anything out?”
“A pretty important one,” Naomi answered. “How much is the rent? This will be much nicer than what we have and we can’t afford much more rent than we are paying now, unless the boys will be making a great deal more than they do.”
“Of course I don’t know what they are making or what the salary will be here. Ethan and Davis will discuss that with them, but I can tell you it will be more than any other plantation workers earn. The house, however, is one of the benefits which include health insurance and a retirement plan as well, but they will know all about that.”
“You mean there will be no rent?”
“Right. You’ll pay electric, but the house goes with the jobs.” Naomi was obviously surprised and pleased.
“I’m sure Ethan will make it very clear to your sons, but we have a vision for Arkadelphia.” Molly then carefully explained what they hoped to achieve. When she finished she said, “Naomi, I haven’t met Alfred, but I understand he is mentally handicapped. Have people made fun of him?”
“Oh, yes. That was one reason he dropped out of school. That plus the fact that the school was just providing a place for him to spend the day. He could have learned much more had he been taught.”
“No-one will make fun of him at Arkadelphia and if it does happen there will be consequences. We are trying to have a place where people are valued for who they are. We have an African-American family—well, a father and son, I’m not sure what is going on with the mother—here, actually they live next door, and we have gay people who work here ...”
“I heard that fellow from here who was shot was a fag. He was seen by my neighbor kissing another man—she works at the hospital. She goes to the Temple of Jesus’ Healing Stripes and said her Bible class went to the hospital to let him know what they thought of fags ...”
Molly was seething, but kept her voice calm. “Mrs. Kistler ...”
Naomi either did not hear her or chose to ignore her and continued, “I asked her why she thought who someone loved was any of her business or the business of her Bible class, her church or her preacher. ‘Even if you felt it was your Christian duty to admonish the young man, why do you think you have the right to gather a bunch of people with unchristian and wrong signs—there were signs which said ‘God hates fags’ and such—and carry on like a mob of rude, hateful people out front of a hospital?’ I asked her. ‘The young man is a hero to many good, Christian people who were being abused and ill-treated by people who were driving them out of their homes.’ She had no answer to that except to say the Bible says when a man lies with a man it is an abomination to the Lord. ‘It also says that God is the judge and I don’t think you have been made God yet. I think the penalty of claiming to be God is stoning to death,’ I said. ‘They’re still fags,’ she said, her chin in the air. You can’t get through to the mind of an ignorant bigot, Molly.”
Molly was standing with her mouth open. When she finally got it closed, she said, “I couldn’t put it better, Naomi.”
“Well, a year ago when two young men were beaten by a Braggton policeman because, he said, they were having sex, I said the very thought of two men having sex disgusted me. Alfred said, ‘Well, the thought of you having sex kinda disgusts me, and you had to at least twice, but I don’t said bad things about it.’ Then Michael really gave me a talking-to. Seems the two young men were walking in the park holding hands. Hardly call that having sex, but Michael told me fags are born that way. I’ve done some thinking since then.”
“The only thing I’d add is that calling someone a fag is like calling someone a nigger and neither is tolerated here at Arkadelphia.”
“I didn’t know that, Molly. I’ll mind my tongue.” Molly nodded.
When the two men had been interviewed, Jamie was ready to show them the house and do a tour of the two plantations.
“Well, what do you think, Ethan,” Davis asked.
“I think people have been taking advantage of Alfred. He doesn’t learn the way the rest of us do, but he knows a lot more than he’s given credit for. The guy knows plants and obviously can learn how to do things. That’s plain. He’ll earn every cent he’s paid and will be loyal to the death.”
“I agree completely.”
“Michael is another question altogether. I figure we’ll have him three, four years, maybe more, but he’s hell bent on getting his degree and when he does, he’s not going to remain a common laborer. That being said, I feel he will be a good addition until he finishes his degree.”
Davis nodded at Randy.
“Again, I agree,” Randy said. “I did think he might be a problem when Ethan started the interview and said he would be their boss. He was taken aback by that, but when he spoke I realized it was the idea that someone so young was in charge, not that he would be his boss, at least I hope that’s it. Still, you know you have to prove yourself, Ethan, in a way Davis or I would not.” Ethan nodded.
“Then we should offer them jobs?” Ethan asked. Davis and Randy both nodded agreement.
“So, Ethan, how are things going with you?” Randy asked. “Don’t want you overdoing it, but I know you will if we don’t keep an eye on you,” Randy said.
“Dr.Anderson says I can do anything I feel like doing, but I tell you, my body sets definite limits. I’m not up to much manual labor, but I hope to be soon. I know we are behind at Pleasant Grove because I haven’t been here. It’s been slow getting there, but now I am able to take over the routine inspection of the groves. We’ve really been lucky so far as pests are concerned and I hope it stays that way. The trees here at Arkadelphia have set a great crop. I have also done inspections at Pleasant Grove. Dek’s getting things under control there. The trees are in much better shape than I thought. Davis, you’ll not regret taking Dek’s advise and renovating rather than replanting. Dek and I are talking about inter-planting. Some of the trees in all the groves need replacing, but we think the best path would be to replace only those rather than replacing an entire grove. I’ve been doing some reading on that and want to talk with Joe, but there’s no rush.”
The three spent an hour talking about what needed doing and where to put their efforts over the next weeks. Ethan would gradually increase both his time and effort in the more physical side of grove management. While they were talking, Jamie returned. He had left the two men with their mother at the Taylors’.
“What do you think, Jamie?” Ethan asked.
“I can tell you one thing, Alfred may be slow, but if I was hiring, I’d make damn sure I got him. He is very excited about coming here and makes no bones about it. He’ll be great with the cattle. We were looking over the herd and he called them and they all came to him like he had been working with them all their lives. Randy, those three Angus calves we got a week ago took to him like he was their mother. I know you want him for general work, but if we really get into Brangus, I’d have him work with them regardless of what else he might be doing. Michael is looking at being here in terms of his future, which is fine. He’ll work hard because that’s just how he is, but he’s not going to be a common laborer all his life.”
“You see it pretty much as we do,” Davis said. “Well, let’s go home.”
As they were leaving, Ethan saw Scotty coming in. He had been offset disk harrowing the pasture they were renovating. Scotty parked the tractor at the equipment shed, hopped off and disappeared inside, headed for the shower. Davis was headed home, but Ethan decided to make a detour and walked with Davis until he split off, headed for the shed. He went inside and stepped into the mudroom. As soon as he heard the shower stop, he grabbed a towel and waited for Scotty to step out. When he did, Ethan asked, “Need drying off?” and grinned. Scotty grinned in return and Ethan started drying his lover, planting kisses on him as he did so. When he had finished, the two engaged in a passionate kiss which might have gone on longer except for the fact they heard a tractor approaching and knew Dek would be walking in soon. While they didn’t hide their love for each other from Dek, displays of affection in his presence were few and far between.
Scotty dressed in clothes he took from his locker and the two headed for home, greeting Dek as he passed them on his way to the shed.
As they approached the house, they could hear Shawn laughing. When they walked in through the back gate, they saw Sally Ann pushing Shawn in the swing. He was laughing and shouting, “Higher! Higher!” As soon as he saw them, he started to jump out of the swing, Sally Ann caught him in time to prevent his jump until she could stop the swing. His feet had barely hit the ground before he headed for Jamie like a shot, while yelling, “Jamie! Jamie!” and made a flying leap for his new hero. Jamie had spent enough time with Samuel that he was not completely caught off guard when Shawn pulled the flying kid trick.
After kissing both on the cheek, Sally Ann said, “If you three can keep an eye on a midget whirlwind, I will get on supper.”
She had barely gotten inside when Molly drove up. She waved as Naomi got out of the car and came in the back gate.
“I see you have a leech attached, Jamie,” Naomi said.
“I think leeches just attach themselves to one spot and stay still. I think I have been attacked by a south Georgia wiggle worm,” he responded as Shawn used him for a jungle gym.
“Where are Alfred and Michael?” Ethan asked.
“They decided to walk. I think Michael needed to burn off some energy. He’s been under a lot of stress since he came back from Atlanta, well, while he was there too, and I think he saw some hope today. Didn’t say a lot, but he seemed more relaxed than I have seen him in a long time when he came to look at the house. Well, I’ll go see if I can help Sally Ann with supper.” Several minutes later Ethan spotted Michael and Alfred coming down the road playing some game of tag as if they were ten-year-olds and took that as a good sign.
When they entered the backyard, Shawn shouted, “Daddy!” climbed off of Jamie and headed for his father at top speed. After Michael had tossed him in the air a few times and chased him around the yard, Shawn kissed him on the cheek and ran to Alfred, grabbed his hand and headed for the swing.
Michael came over and said to Jamie, “I guess you got your exercise for today. Shawn can be a handful.”
“He’s a great kid,” Jamie said.
“Kids love the Taylors,” Scotty said, “but most aren’t as bright as I am. They all run to Jamie.” Ethan gave Scotty a look and turned bright red. The three others laughed. “Hate to leave you, Michael, but Jamie and I have kitchen duty,” Scotty said and the two headed inside to set the table.
“Know you probably don’t want to talk business, Ethan, but I’d like to ask a question.”
“Sure. I’m kinda on duty twenty-four/seven.”
“Only one question, what’s the catch? The situation here seems too good to be true.”
“Sorry to inform you, Michael, but there’s no catch. Maybe there would be if you were completely ignorant of what we have here and what we want to have here. As I told you, the idea of Arkadelphia Plantation is a vision of what might be. Is it too big a dream? Maybe, but that’s not going to stop us from trying. It will mean some tough times and hard challenges, but the dream is worth it. I think one reason it came to be is because we all long for family and everyone here knows the pain of broken families.
“Sally Ann and Jamie are my family, but my extended family is the Arkadelphia family. When we were living in a shack and our father dying, Arkadelphia Plantation became my larger family, giving me strength and hope. Each of the families here have decided to become a part of that larger family. So I guess the catch is if you come here, you commit to this family, to become a trustworthy part of it.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Michael said, “if the jobs are offered, Alfred and I will be here before you know it. It’s just that it seems too good to be true.”
“Wait until we have to spend a twelve-hour day in south Georgia heat and humidity!” Ethan laughed. “And, by the way, the jobs are yours. Maybe after supper we can talk about when you can move in.”
Sunday, Jamie and Sally Ann surprised Ethan when they announced they were going to St. Matthew’s. “Fr. Mason was there for you and for us while you were in the hospital,” Jamie explained, “so when he invited us to St. Matthew’s, we said we’d go. He said we should expect to be shell-shocked, but you and Scotty would rescue us.” When they were ready to go, Ethan assumed they would all go in the truck, but Sally Ann said, “We’ll meet you in the parking lot,” as she told Jamie she was ready to go.
It was a beautiful and warm day in early October, so Scotty put the top down on his car and told Ethan they would take the back roads and enjoy the trip. It was a nice drive, but took longer than ordinary.
When they arrived, Scotty was surprised to see Jamie holding Kathryn’s hand. They, and Sally Ann, were talking to Miss Mattie who was still sitting in her car. “You two stop for a make-out session?” Jamie asked as they walked up, knowing Ethan would blush. He did.
“No, we just drove through the countryside,” Scotty answered.
“Such a great day for it,” Miss Mattie said.
Miss Mattie, Scotty and Ethan helped the three visitors keep up with a service, which was like nothing they had ever seen. Sally Ann was fascinated by everything going on. Kathryn said both the service and church had a sacred feel. As Jamie was shaking Fr. Mason’s hand after the service, he said he was impressed by the fact that he had not been shouted at and told of his wicked and sinful ways. “Besides,” he added, “the sermon was short. I can live with that.”
As the group walked to the parking lot, Miss Mattie said, “I assume you all would be willing to have lunch with me.”
“That would be great,” Scotty said.
“I need to call my parents and tell them where I am,” Kathryn said.
As she walked away to make the call, Jamie’s eyes followed her.
“Jamie, care to rejoin us?” Scotty laughed.
“I had wanted to ask that girl out since the first time I saw her, but didn’t dare,” Jamie said. “She always had nice clothes and all and we had nothing, besides, she was a townie and I’m a farmer. Once I had a job, I thought she was dating Tad Hayes, captain of the football team. I probably would still be leering from afar, my tongue hanging out, had she not had a friend of a friend ask me why I didn’t ask her out.”
“Well, I could be wrong,” Ethan said, “but she sure seems to think you are hot stuff.”
“I certainly agree,” Miss Mattie said.
As they were getting ready to head to the restaurant, Scotty quietly slipped Jamie the keys to his car. Jamie looked thunderstruck. Scotty leaned over and whispered, “Don’t scratch my baby or you’ll die. Follow Miss Mattie.” Jamie took Kathryn’s hand and headed for the Triumph.
Miss Mattie handed Scotty her keys and said, “Ladies of quality ride in the back, chauffeured around town,” as she patted Sally Ann on the back, inviting her to join her. After a great brunch, they went back to St. Matthew’s, picked up their vehicles and drove home.
Back at Arkadelphia, Ethan and Scotty went upstairs, undressed and went to bed. After making out for a few minutes, Scotty wrapped Ethan in his arms and Ethan drifted off to sleep. Scotty didn’t go to sleep right away. Instead, he watched Ethan sleep and though about how much he loved him and how lucky they had been. Well, there was the black spot when he wasn’t sure Ethan would live after being shot, but he was alive and lying beside him now. With that thought, he, too, slipped into sleep.
Scotty was awakened by a kiss. When his eyes opened, he was looking into the beautiful dark eyes of his lover. He gave Ethan a long, passionate kiss which, of course, led to others. Soon both were streaming precum, their cocks so hard they were aching. Scotty kissed the curve of Ethan’s neck before moving his attention to the firm nipples standing in dark circles on Ethan’s hard chest. Ethan loved having his nipples sucked and nipped and Scotty was more than happy to oblige.
Scotty kissed his way down Ethan’s body until Ethan reached down, put his hands under Scotty’s arms and pulled him back up the bed. He then surprised Scotty when he changed ends of the bed, crawled over Scotty, his face above his lover’s groin, leaned down and kissed Scotty’s cock before taking it in his mouth. Scotty reached up, grasped Ethan’s ass cheeks and and pulled his manhood down and engulfed it in his mouth. Before they reached the point of no return, they were lying side-by-side, neither having taken the other’s cock from their mouth. Ethan was jacking and sucking Scotty when he said from around Ethan’s cock, “I’m coming!” and filled Ethan’s hot mouth. That was enough to send Ethan over the edge and Scotty happily drank the nectar which filled his mouth. The two decided a shower was the best way to clean up and showered together with a minimum of play.
Dressed, they went downstairs and found Sally Ann, Keith, Andy and his girl du jour in the den listening to a CD and playing Monopoly—something they did a lot of Sunday afternoons. When they walked in, Andy looked up and said, “Ethan, Scotty, A’isha Wellborn. A’isha, Mr. Ethan Taylor and Mr. Scotty McCarter.”
“A’isha,” both men said and nodded.
“How’s the game going?” Scotty asked.
Keith answered with a groan, “How do you think? Sally Ann’s kicking butt as usual.”
They watched the game a few minutes and, sure enough, Sally Ann was winning. She had just about bankrupted Andy and did Keith when he landed on Park Place his first roll of the die after she had placed hotels on the property. Keith groaned.
“Keith, I take it you still haven’t learned not to play Monopoly with Sally Ann,” Jamie said as he walked into the den.
“Hey, you have to make sacrifices for a woman,” Keith responded.
“Good afternoon?” Scotty asked Jamie.
“Very good,” Jamie replied. “Thanks for the car. I reminded Kathryn she’d be riding in a truck when we go to the football game Friday night. She answered that I should know that made no difference to her. I needed to say something about that even before you let me drive your car, Scotty, because I overheard some of the A crowd girls talking about her being picked up for a date by a cow shit-kicker in a farm truck.”
“That bunch of witches are all clothes, mouths and gossip with a dumb-as-an-ox football player hanging on one arm,” Sally Ann said with a great deal of fire in her voice.
“Amen to that,” A’isha said.
Sunday night when Scotty and Ethan were lying in bed after making love, Scotty said, “I think I need to put Jamie on my insurance and let him drive my car some. I know I had it made so far as clothes and things go when I was in school, especially when compared how you all lived before Davis took you under his wing, yet I have never heard Jamie or Sally Ann complain about being poor or not having all the latest and top fashions. Now they dress well, but don’t spend ridiculous amounts on clothes, yet Sally Ann is always beautiful and Jamie handsome, but, to tell the truth, that is true when Jamie comes in from working or Sally Ann had been busy doing house things. Won’t hurt to let him enjoy the car.”
“Scotty, I know how attached you are to that car and I’m sure Jamie would never intentionally do it damage, but he is a teenage male.”
“Well, he can at least have it Friday night.”
Michael and Alfred showed up for their first day on the job Monday. When Randy, Davis and Ethan had talked about what needed doing, they decided the cowboys should till the pasture they were starting from scratch at Pleasant Grove. Dek would also be at Pleasant Grove in the orchards there. Ethan thought he would be able to work with Dek if he took Alfred with him. Ethan took Michael aside and asked about Alfred using a chainsaw. Michael told him no way should Alfred be turned loose with one. “I can tell you what he would do if something unexpected happens. He would drop the saw like it was a hot potato, throw his hands in the air and jump back. The results could be disastrous.”
When he started work, Ethan soon found out while he had a great deal of his strength back, his endurance was very low. In fact, he had to rest after cutting his first tree and frequently as he trimmed it up. He set Alfred to stacking the blocks he and Dek cut from the larger limbs and piling the smaller limbs and branches for burning. Once he showed Alfred what to do, Alfred did it to perfection.
When they headed in for lunch, Ethan stopped by to see how the renovation of the house was going. Francis had a crew preparing the outside for painting and a man had set up a sawhorse with a sheet of plywood on them under a large tree and was re-screening the frames for the windows. Inside, the doors on the cabinets were being removed. When Ethan asked why, Francis told him the cabinets were good, better than what they would be replaced with. “They just need cleaning and painting, the doors repaired and hardware replaced. Lots cheaper and lots better than replacing them. The counter tops are hopeless and will need replacing as will the sink.” Things were going well, according to Francis.
Ethan had said Sally Ann would fix lunch for Alfred and Michael and when he and Alfred reached the house, Scotty and Michael had arrived and were putting the food on the table. Sally Ann had prepared it the night before. Scotty and Michael were tilling the pasture and didn’t want to take the time to change clothes or go into the house dirty beyond getting the food, so they were all eating on the back porch. Ethan poured tall glasses of ice tea and the four began eating.
Ethan took a drink of his tea and said, “I stopped by the house on my way in. Francis says things are going well. Looks like you’re going to have a decent place. It’s not as large as this, but it should be adequate for the four of you. Michael, Shawn was having such a great time in the backyard here that I took a look at the one there. It’s been kinda neglected for years, but if you want to renovate and fence it, you furnish the labor and Arkadelphia will pick up the tab for materials—seed, fertilizer, fence etc. Use any equipment you like. I don’t know if it can be renovated or you’ll need to start from scratch. You might check with Randy on that or Jamie. While neither are interested in lawns so far as I know, they do know grass—Randy from experience and Jamie from studying the subject.
“Thanks, Ethan. I’ll get on that right away. It will be great to have him where he will have a chance to play outside and a fenced yard would be especially nice. I’ll speak to Randy this afternoon.”
“Ethan, how did your morning really go?” Scotty asked, “and no bullshit.”
“Alfred and I got a lot done.” Ethan responded. He laughed and added, “I should say Alfred got a lot done. If I am lucky, I can cut down a tree and cut a limb into blocks before I have to take a rest. By the time I am ready to tackle another couple of limbs, Alfred has the blocks stacked and the branches piled up ready to burn from my tree and Dek’s. By myself I wouldn’t have gotten a tree done and with Alfred, we took down two.”
Scotty looked at him and said, “Ethan, don’t you dare overdo it.”
“Don’t worry about him, Scotty. I’ll take care of him,” Alfred said. Ethan thought back over the morning and realized Alfred had been doing just that.
“Thanks, Alfred. Ethan will forget and overdo if he’s not careful. Good to have you looking out for him.”
“That’s what families do,” Alfred said. “Families look out for each other.”
Ethan thought to himself, ‘The man may be simple, but he is rich in wisdom.’