The townies had been divided with a majority favoring Jamie when he had been jumped the first time. When the opening bell rang the day after he had been jumped the second time, the news that Tad Hayes and three other members of the football team had been arrested spread fast. The divide once among townies expanded to include most of the student body. Almost everyone agreed that four on one was a bad thing, but some thought a farmer dating a townie and/or having a fag brother was reason enough to beat the shit out of him—just in a fair fight. Some thinking students pointed out that Jamie had no control over his brother’s sex life and a few, a very small minority, went so far as to say who you slept with was none of anyone else’s business. But then, as the fact that the four had been suspended and would not be playing in the game became known, the division changed. Faggot brothers and dating above your class might have been calls for action, but doing anything to threaten a football game was serious, life or death serious, and Jamie had destroyed the football team and that was what was really important.
Jamie and Sally Ann picked up Andy Friday for the football game. It was an hour before game time when they arrived at the stadium, but because of the distance many students had to travel and the often complicated arrangements they had to make for transportation, the Boosters’ Club had made arrangements to have a teen canteen in a secondary gym an hour and a half before game time. What started out of necessity became a hit with students. Jamie dropped the two off—they were meeting Keith and A’isha at the canteen—and headed to Kathryn’s place.
Kathryn greeted him with a kiss at the front door before he went in to speak to her parents. Her parents, especially her mother, had objected strongly to her dating ‘one of those sharecroppers.’ “You know, dear, they never amount to anything,” she had told her daughter. Kathryn had set her straight, telling her Jamie was already an employee of Arkadelphia Plantation and was engaged in an independent study program in animal husbandry with Joe Maddox. “He is a full member of the four-man team running Arkadelphia’s cattle station,” she told her mother, “and he and Andy Hickey will be in charge of their cattle breeding program.” Her mother really didn’t know what she was talking about, but it sounded impressive. Her father had some idea of what she was saying and decided Jamie was an outstanding young man for a sharecropper, but still a lowly sharecropper. He was definitely far below Kathryn’s social status.
Kathryn had a younger sister—barely younger as there were just eleven months between them—who didn’t like Jamie at all. Jamie let her know right away that he saw through some of the things she tried to pull, but it didn’t stop her scheming. Her mother would never admit it, but Eugenia was a slut. Kathryn had tried to tell her mother, but she would never listen. “She’ll be pregnant before she finishes high school,” Kathryn said.
Instead of going to the canteen, Jamie and Kathryn rode out into the country and parked on a side road and made out for forty-five minutes. They had not gone all the way yet, but had come close. Kathryn had said she wasn’t interested in waiting until she married—“Why should girls when you boys don’t?” she had asked—but did say she wanted to be sure of the relationship before she gave herself to someone. To be honest, she was pretty sure what she had with Jamie was worth working on and she wouldn’t object too strongly if he pushed her to have sex. She had expected it because Jamie was known as a ladies’ man and, from what several of her friends said, with good reason. But Jamie had never pushed. He gently led and he had not led her to intercourse—yet.
It was five minutes before kickoff when the two joined the others in the stadium. Jamie noticed, sadly, that Sally Ann and the others were pretty much isolated. He wished it wasn’t that way, but knew Sally Ann would chew him out if he suggested it was his fault.
As the team ran on the field, Andy said, “Seems to be a few missing. I wonder why?” and laughed. The coach looked very glum as he took his place.
Andy, who was the biggest football fan among them, knew every play the coach had used all year. “It’s obvious the whole team has been conditioned to play to Tad and his pals. They have been on the field to make sure Tad and the other jailbirds have glory heaped on them. They don’t know how to play football.” At the end of the quarter Andy said, “Unless those guys forget what they have been told and play football as a team, the score is going to look like a basketball score.”
The coach got so offensive in his language and actions toward the players that a ref ordered him to sit down and keep his mouth shut. The ref then sent the team into a huddle. Some players kept looking over to the coach, but the ref blocked their line of sight. When play resumed, the people in the stands could see the players evolving into a team. They still lost badly—by forty points—but they came off the field a team for the first time.
A’isha’s parents picked her up after the game. They turned their heads so Andy could give her a goodnight kiss. Sally Ann and Keith climbed into the backseat and made out on the way to his house. When they arrived, Jamie walked Kathryn to her door and kissed her goodnight while Keith kissed Sally Ann goodnight in the truck. Their dates home, Jamie headed for Arkadelphia.
Sunday afternoon Rich called and asked Ethan and Scotty to come over if they weren’t busy. “Well, we would have been busy in a short while, but we can postpone the activity,” Scotty laughed.
When they arrived, Rich greeted them at the door and added, “Doug sends his best wishes. He’s very busy, but really misses all of you.”
“You’ve seen him?” Scotty asked.
“Yeah, I had to drive to Atlanta for a conference Saturday, so I went up Friday and just got back. Thought you’d like to know we have some tentative news about the future. Doug has been told there is a possible position at Audubon State. It’s going to depend on which department gets its requests funded and also on a seventy-year-old professor actually retiring. He has said he was going to retire for the last five years, but always backs out at the last minute.
“My conference was about my investigation here. Breaking up the ‘temp workers’ racket was a biggie and the thing I’m struggling with now looks bigger, much bigger. If it turns out the way it should, I have more than a half-promise of an advancement and reassignment to the Macon district. That would mean I could live in Audubon. Nothing definite.”
“So you tried to catch up on loving, but still have a lot to do,” Ethan said and blushed. “And you had a conference about something big in Bragg County. What’s up?”
“Well, I did put in some time in trying to catch up on loving, but it’s an endless task—thank God,” Rich laughed “but also worked my ass off. My boss thinks the ‘temp workers’ racket was only a small part of a massive crime conglomerate. I’m trying to figure that out from what I’ve found out from a guy arrested in the worker thing you broke up. But how about a beer and chips and you tell me what’s going on with you.”
They had not seen Rich in a couple of weeks and told him the whole story of the homecoming queens’ election and of Jamie being jumped.
“Sounds like Jamie has a bulldog for a lawyer,” Rich said.
“He does and Randy told me why. He was in school with Clyde and knew the whole story. I think his lawyer is a bulldog and he would do well for a client, but there’s more involved here,” Scotty said and told Rich about Clyde being bullied in school and Washburn’s part in that.
“If he can stay cool, he’ll have some people by the balls, but he can’t let his emotions rule his case.”
They talked a while longer about what was going on with the family and at Arkadelphia. Rich got a real laugh out of the blue lupine story. “I’ll have to be sure and pass that on to Doug. He worked with Jamie and while I appreciate the story not knowing Jamie too well, Doug will really get a kick out of it.”
The room fell silent for several minutes until Rich said, “None of my or Doug’s business, but I’m supposed to ask where you are physically in love-making.”
Needless to say, Ethan blushed and Scotty laughed and said, “All the way down Ethan’s shaft. We both can deep-throat the other. That’s as far as we’ve gone.”
“In that case, Doug and I have a present for you.” He went into the bedroom and came back with a box which he handed to Ethan. “We’re not suggesting or rushing anything except to say when you’re ready to get ready, use this with our compliments. Go ahead and open it.”
Ethan held the box between Scotty and himself and when he opened it, they saw a small, medium and large dildo, a large pump bottle of Gun Oil, a book, The Joy of Gay Sex, and a package of two dozen condoms.
“Thanks,” Scotty said. “I guess we need to talk about this.”
“Probably not,” Rich replied, “I think if you were ready you would have talked about it. As I said, no rush, but when you think you are ready, you’ve got something to get you ready—or something like that,” he laughed. When Ethan and Scotty got home, Scotty put the ‘training kit’ in the nightstand. He knew he’d want to have Ethan inside him, but not yet.
Eventually, Ethan told Davis they needed to cut a road, at least a field road, between Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove. As it was, they had to drive a mile from Arkadelphia to the highway, about three miles along the highway and finally a mile to Pleasant Grove. When they got to Pleasant Grove, they had to drive to a grove or pasture, some of which for all practical purposes, joined one at Arkadelphia. One Monday when he went to Davis’ office to discuss the week’s work, Davis had an aerial map spread out on the conference table. “Have a look at this, Ethan,” he said.
Davis had carefully plotted and drawn in the property lines of Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove on the map. “Got to thinking about what you said about a road between Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove. Old man Sawyer was so touchy about property lines that Dad decided to avoid any problems. He had the property lines run and planted pines along the line between the two plantations. I remember when it was done. I was about six or seven, I guess. Sawyer had just inherited Pleasant Grove after a battle over it with a sister. Guess that’s why he was sure everyone was out to cheat him. Anyway, the pines are over fifty years old and would be prime timber, but it never occurred to me to sell them. Have a look.”
When Ethan looked at the map, he was surprised to see a perfectly straight row of pines, which, when he checked the scale, he estimated to be about a hundred feet wide with its southern edge along the property line. As he looked, he got the pastures and groves on the two plantations oriented in his head. He was surprised to see that the field road on the east side of Arkadelphia’s oldest grove and that on the west side of the grove just cleared on Pleasant Grove would have joined had they been extended. “I drove four or five miles to check out the field where the grove had been cleared when I could have driven about a mile from the equipment shed. You want to sell the pines?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, what would it accomplish except some cash. If we really need it and it would help out, sure. Otherwise? I see no reason to. I kinda like the idea that your dad set them out. I say cut a road through—probably a couple dozen pines could be sold. Maybe have a forestry person come and look at the others and see if any need taking out and sell them. Leave the rest. We don’t need the land.”
“That’s what you’d do?”
“I thought you’d want them taken down so the two plantations would be one.”
“I thought the agreement was we’d handle the two as one business, but keep the two distinct entities.”
Davis grinned, “You’re my boy,” and added, “I’ll call Joe about a forestry person to come make recommendations and made arrangements to see if we can sell the trees being taken down. If not, I’ll have someone take them down and to a sawmill and we’ll store the lumber. It’ll be prime stuff and we’ll have a use for it sooner or later.”
Ethan left the office, went to the equipment shed and climbed on a tractor with a fertilizer drill mounted on the back. The soil analysis for the pastures and groves at Pleasant Grove were back and there was now almost eight hundred acres—pasture and groves—to be fertilized and limed based on it. Ethan had started on the pastures and Ash and Dek were in the groves. Michael and Alfred were hauling fertilizer and keeping the distributors filled. Randy had a doctor’s appointment and wouldn’t be at work until after lunch. Davis was making arrangements for a forestry person to come look at the pines. He also contacted a lumber company and found they were not interested unless they could take down everything. No room for their machines. Davis thought he was stumped, but went ahead and called a sawmill. The owner told him they really didn’t do custom sawing, but gave him the name of a man who might. “He does things the old fashioned way, almost as a hobby, but he is happy to cut individual trees because he still logs with mules. Does his own sawing as well. Depending on the timber, he sometimes does it all for a toll of the lumber.”
Davis called him and found out he was in his sixties like himself and really did log and sawmill as a hobby. Davis told him what he wanted done and the fellow said it sounded like his kind of job, “but I don’t saw pine on a toll. What you have will no doubt be prime, but I have no use for it.”
“How about pecan?”
“Not been able to get my hands on any in years. When folks take down a grove, specialty hardwood companies get it and taking down a whole grove, senseless as that is, is the way they do it.”
Davis hoped he never told Ethan that. Wouldn’t do for him and Dek to find out they had talked some sense into him. “May be able to work a deal here. Have two dozen, maybe more, pecan logs I was looking to sell.” Thirty minutes later both men thought they had pulled off a good deal. Davis would get some prime pine and pecan lumber without spending very much.
Ginger had dropped off a truck for the four to drive home for lunch since tractors were slow and could only carry two awkwardly. Michael and Alfred did go back by tractor since they needed another load of fertilizer. When Ethan and Scotty reached the truck, Dek and Ash had just arrived and were sitting in the truck. “How’s it going?” Ethan asked as he climbed in.
“I do hate fertilizer,” Ash said. “I know it washes off, but I feel like I’m covered with it day and night until it’s finished.”
“Know the feeling,” Scotty agreed. “Thought it was just my delicate skin.” he laughed. “You know, for the first time in my life, I have calluses and a tan. Well, I’m not fish belly white,” he added when the other three started laughing.
When Dek stopped to drop off Ash, Ethan said, “Ash, before you go back to work this afternoon, give me ten minutes. We can talk when I get back to Pleasant Grove.”
When they reached Dek’s place, he got out and Scotty slipped into the driver’s seat. At home, they found Sally Ann had leftover Sunday roast beef, gravy and vegetables to be heated. There was carrot, nut and raisin salad with apple pie for dessert.
After they had eaten and cleaned up, Scotty walked up behind Ethan, wrapped his arms around him and started nipping on his ear. “Baby, you’re starting something I don’t think we can finish and riding a tractor all afternoon with blue balls ain’t good,” and planted a passionate kiss on Scotty’s lips. He broke the kiss and said, “That promises my undivided attention later.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Scotty replied and gave Ethan a quick kiss.
After lunch, Ethan stopped to pick up Ash and when he reached tractor she was driving, they stayed in the truck. “Ash, I’ve been thinking ...”
“I’m told that that usually leads to something new, strange and different,” she chuckled.
“Not true in this case, I think. First, I’d like your honest feeling about your situation. I mean here you are an expert in insects, pests and diseases which attack pecans and you’re driving a tractor spreading fertilizer. I know you wanted away from a desk, but to become a common farm hand?”
“I’m not complaining, Ethan. Kathy and I both love our place, we have a great bunch of people around us and I work with them. Would I rather be doing something other than driving a spreader? Sure. Who wouldn’t? But my situation? I’m happy.”
“I’m glad, damn glad,” Ethan said. “But to what I wanted to talk to you about. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that I am glad you are here and will fight tooth and nail to keep you here, but I feel we are cheating pecan growers by not making your expertise available. I talked to Davis about it and we want to make you an offer. We’d like you to be available as a consultant at a consultant’s fee which would be yours. You would be available any time you were free for consultations and could schedule small conferences during our off season. That would be when growers were also available. No immediate need for a decision. If you want to do it, feel free.”
“I might like that,” Ash said. “Yeah, I might like that. Let me think about it and talk it over with Kathy.”
“As I said, no rush.”
Both the pasture and the grove crew finished spreading what material they had and Ethan suggested they knock off for the day. “By the time we haul fertilizer out here, it would be time to quit anyway.”
As they approached the highway from Pleasant Grove, a tricked-out pickup shot from the side of the road and raced down the highway. “What the hell?” Dek said. “Who was that and what was he doing here?”
Scotty thought to himself, ‘I’m afraid I know and I don’t like it.’
When they got back to Arkadelphia, Dek was coming out of Davis’s office. “How’d it go today?” he asked.
“Fine,” Scotty answered. “We ran out of fertilizer and Ethan had us come in.”
“Yeah,” Ethan added. “You seen the two scalawags?”
“Yeah, I set them to digging the sweet potatoes.”
“Fine. I was going to have them load the trailers for in the morning, but the potatoes need to be dug and stored.”
“By the way, the co-op said they would finish the application of lime day after tomorrow,” Dek said. “Smart move to have them spread it. Davis said we have always done ourselves which meant they brought it, dropped it off and we have to haul it to the pasture or grove and spread it. I suppose it costs an arm and leg to have it spread rather than just delivered though.”
“Hardly,” Ethan replied. “When you add in fuel at what we are paying today and labor, you actually come out about even. Wish we could do the same with the fertilizer, but no can do because of run off.”
“Actually I came out, Ethan, to tell you Davis wants to see you in his office.”
“I’ll be in as soon as I clean up,” Ethan said.
“While you do that, I’ll get the two potato diggers on loading the trailers.”
Once he had showered and put on clean clothes, Ethan headed for Davis’ office where Davis was waiting for him. “Have a coke,” he said when Ethan walked in. “How did Ash react to your suggestion?”
“She said she’d think about it. I think she would leap at it if she was not happy here. So what’s up?”
“Let’s wait for Randy. It’s actually his story to tell. By the way, Clyde Shepherd called today. He said he thought you should know Tad Hayes and ‘his boys’ have been hanging out with Jake Ballock since they were suspended. Washburn suspended them for ten days, but Everett Hayes insisted they have Herman Smith of Smith, Smith and Jones represent them at the tribunal and he wasn’t available until this week. So they have been out over three weeks now. Here’s Randy.”
Randy sat down and said, “Ethan, I’ll get right to the point. My belly started getting bigger and I just thought I was eating too much. Ginger didn’t notice it at first and when she did, she put me on a diet. In spite of the diet and the fact that we have been working hard around here, it got bigger. She finally got me to the doctor today. After he had examined me, he sent me to Audubon to a specialist. He examined me and ordered a CAT scan. That was done at 10:00 this morning and I was to go back for the report at 3:00. Turns out I have a growth, a tumor in my belly. The doctor in Audubon said he was ninety-nine percent sure it was benign, but he couldn’t be absolutely sure. ‘Benign or not, it needs to come out,’ he said. He asked when I wanted it done, Ginger told him as soon as possible. He scheduled surgery Thursday at 7:30. Now the bad part for you ...”
“Randy, the bad part for me is you have a tumor and are going to have to have surgery. Nothing else is important enough to be bad one way or another.”
“Okay, then, where this gums up the works. I’ll be out of work for six to eight weeks, longer when it comes to lifting and riding on a tractor.”
“So we work hard and if necessary hire someone temporarily. No sweat. All we want is for you to get well.”
“Anything we can do for you and/or Ginger?”
“I can’t think of anything. Molly is going to stay with her during the surgery.”
“Fine. Good thoughts and prayers, Randy,” Ethan said and hugged him. Randy was not a hugger, but he sure seemed to like it.
After Randy left, Ethan said, “Damn I hate that! I just hope to hell it’s not cancer. I don’t want to have to deal with that again. You know Randy’s going to have to be tied down. He’ll be nuts if he has to be inactive for four weeks or more.”
“I’ll have Molly check with Ginger all along and find out just exactly how much he can do. Maybe this is the time to send him on a trip to check out this breeding Brangus thing Jamie and Andy are interested in. Not sure how it works, but those three calves they bought are sure beautiful animals.”
The two talked awhile longer and both mentioned how glad they were they had Michael and Alfred.
Randy’s surgery went very well and the tumor was benign, but was so entangled that the surgery took longer and was more involved than anticipated. That, of course, meant his recovery would take longer as well.
The season’s last football game was in Dotsonville and neither Jamie nor Andy was interested in going. Instead they made dates to go to the movie at the mall in Audubon. A’isha was spending the night with her aunt again. She really had not known the elderly woman—who was almost fifteen years older than A’isha’s mother—until her mother took her to see her when they were in town one Saturday. She and A’isha took to each other at once and A’isha dropped in every chance she got. Auntie Sherlene’s husband had died long before A’isha was born and her children were long grown and gone and she was quite lonely.
One Saturday Andy came by to pick up A’isha for their date and Auntie Sherlene was quite taken with him—his looks and his manners. “You need to bring that young man around for a visit,” she had said. A week after that, A’isha took Andy around when she stayed over after school for the game as they had time to kill before canteen opened. When Auntie invited them back after the game, A’isha said, “I wish we could Auntie, but Andy has to take me home and get home himself. Unfortunately I live in one direction and he lives in another. The round trip to take me home means he has to take me directly home and get back. Jamie, whose truck he drives, stays here with his girlfriend while Andy takes me home, but as soon as Andy gets back they have to scoot since Jamie has a very definite curfew.”
“Well, next time just plan to spend the night with me.” After that, A’isha spent almost every Friday and Saturday night in Braggton with Auntie Sherlene.
The movie they wanted to see started at 7:30, but they were going early. In case it was sold out, their second choice started at 7:15. so Jamie and Andy left at 6:00 to allow plenty of time to make it. At 7:00 Rich walked up to the backdoor just as the phone rang. “Come in,” Ethan called to Rich when he started to knock on the screen door.
“Ethan, it’s for you,” Sally Ann said, handing him the phone.
“Ethan,” he answered, then listened for a few minutes and turned white. “Thanks, Kathryn, I’ll keep you posted.” He was obviously shaking when he hung up the phone. “Jamie hasn’t shown up at Kathryn’s,” he said, sinking into a chair.
“I came to tell you I saw Jamie’s truck over the embankment just down the highway from Arkadelphia’s entrance. I checked it out and found it empty,” Rich said. ”A tricked-out pickup raced past me headed toward Braggton as I was coming home. There were several guys with hoodies, hoods up, riding in the back and I caught a glimpse of someone who could possibly have been Jamie, but one of the guys shoved his head down so I raced here to check on him.”