Andy said very little about his trip to see his mother and brother. Dek did let it slip that Andy and Christine had not returned to his mother's for the night. "Andy must have been visiting a plastic surgeon because he seems to have picked up a permanent grin that night," he laughed.
Jamie was sure something was going on when Andy asked the name of the architect who designed his house. "You thinking about building, Andy?"
"Thinking about it. Dad ran across a high school sweetheart at the mall several months ago. They got to talking and he learned her husband had died a couple of years ago. Dad asked her out and they have been dating pretty heavy. He sorta hinted he might consider another attempt at marriage. If he does, they'd probably like the house to themselves and I'd like for them to have it. No rush, but I'm thinking." Jamie gave him Dr. Henry Austin's name and Andy called and made an appointment to see him after class Wednesday.
Neither Christine or Andy had mentioned marriage and Andy stuck to his story that he was only considering building his house because Dek might remarry. He did, however, insist that Christine accompany him when he went to see Dr. Austin.
When they had introduced themselves, Dr. Austin said, "Ah yes, Philos Plantation. How are Jamie, Kathryn and the boys?" Andy told him all were doing great and he thought the twins would grow up to be goatboys. "So a house at Philos. Another creation in stone and glass?"
"Not quite. Told Jamie it was too much like living outdoors. What I have in mind is what I think is called a Georgia farmhouse."
"Quite. Roof slopes from peak to front and back, porch across the front. I'll be honest with you Andy, there were a lot of challenges in the design of the rock and glass creation at Philos. It pretty much started with a list of wants and don't wants and a blank piece of paper. It was designed from the bottom up.
"On the other hand, you have selected a design, a good one proven by how long it has lasted, which indicates to me you have a pretty firm idea of what you want. A very different task confronts the architect working with you than the one working with Jamie and Kathryn. The architect's job will be to include within that design what you want and don't want. Maybe there will be some modifications, but the design is set. You don't need me and my costs to do that. I have a grad student who can do an excellent job for you, including supervising construction for a third of what I would charge even at the rate I gave Jamie. He can do it as a project which means he gets course credit and I will be supervising. I recommend highly that you contact him. His name is Philip Wesley."
"When could we meet him?"
"I'll give you his number and you can set up a time."
Andy called Philip and he agreed to meet Andy and Christine Saturday morning at the Compound. When he arrived, the three climbed in a truck and headed for the house site. "Dr. Austin said he had designed a house for here," Philip said as he drove through the forest.
"He did and it is some house, but not my kind," Andy responded. "Christine, call and see if Philip can see the place after we look over the site." She called and spoke to Kathryn and who was happy to have them drop by when they finished.
When they reached the site, Philip went ecstatic. "What a wonderful site! I'd clear enough for a front lawn and backyards, but work very hard to keep the oaks in both. Oaks are susceptible when it comes to being disturbed. You are going to have to have a heavy equipment operator who truly knows what he is doing, or he'll kill them. Sometimes a severe bump by a machine will end up killing an oak a year or two after the event." They walked over the site for over an hour with Philip taking notes. "As much as pines seem to love Georgia, it is hard to love one in a lawn or yard. Don't save any of them when preparing for the lawn and yard. Pity they can't be taken down and cut into lumber It would be prime grade."
"Oh, that's no problem--well, maybe--we have a man who still logs with mules and runs his own sawmill.
On the way back, Andy called Kathryn and she told them to come ahead. Philip was fascinated by the house and its location. He asked Kathryn several questions especially about things she wished had been included or omitted from the design.
"I can't think of any," she responded. "Although we wanted the house as soon as possible, we spent hours discussing what we wanted and didn't want between the two of us and with Dr. Austin. I strongly advise that approach."
When they got back to the plantation office, the three sat down to talk. "I understand you have air dried lumber to build the house."
"I do and all prime grade. It was cut to dress out to full dimension, so you need to take that into account--either plan for full dimension lumber or plane to today's standard. We have pine for the major structure, ten to sixteen inches wide. There's oak for the floors, and again it dresses to full dimension. Nothing shorter than six feet and much of it wide. We'd like what I think is called plank floors--wide boards and long, like Jamie's. We have walnut, cherry and pecan for cabinets. I think pecan for the kitchen cabinets and walnut for the office bookcases and cabinets."
"Living room and dining room across the front," Christine said. "Kitchen, of course, with an eating area lots of windows-- a family room across the back, master and guest suites. Four bedrooms and two baths up."
"Big house. Let's talk wants and don't wants. Of course, we'll continue that conversation as I began to develop plans. Major question, Andy, you said you wanted a porch across the front. A modification of that design has a long porch--think across the living room and dining room--with one or more extensions to the house set back from the porch. Those could be the master suite and guest suite. They would be separate from each other by the living room and dining room. If you had a back porch it could extend across the back of the bedroom suites and they could open on to it."
After Philip left, Andy said, "I guess you know, Christine, building our house means we're getting married."
"Kinda figured that, Andy," Christine said as she hopped in his lap and gave him a toe-curling kiss. "Hate to bring this up at a happy moment, Andy, but the time has come to meet my parents." Andy had been dreading the trip to Thomasboro when Christine first mentioned it. He was proud of what he had and was accomplishing and wasn't ashamed of his upbringing, but he knew class consciousness among old African-American families was extremely high and Christine's mother was from one of the old black aristocratic families. To many who considered themselves superior, skin color was important and Christine was what was called 'high yellow' or 'bright,' and Andy most assuredly was not. Lighter than Ray, he was nonetheless far from 'bright.' A few weeks later, Christine told him, "Next weekend Thomasboro, Big Boy."
Friday after work, Andy cleaned and polished up his car and packed an overnight bag and put his dress-up clothes in a garment bag, ready to leave in the morning. He got up at his usual time and fixed breakfast for himself and Dek. He was ready to call Dek when he came walking in. "Perfect timing, Dad," Andy said as he handed his dad a cup of coffee.
"So you're off to Thomasboro for the weekend."
"Yeah and I'm not looking forward to it. Christine, or at least her mother, is old family and her uncle is Senator Evans. They are way above me in social class."
"Son, you are probably worth more than any of them and class is something they inherited. You are good people because you are, not because someone said you were high class. Remember, their shit stinks too. Don't let them put you down. We hadn't seen much of each other lately. How's the house plans coming?"
"Philip gave them to Dr. Austin Monday and expected to have a conference with him sometime this week. If he approves, I guess we'll be ready to let the contract next week. Christine was picking up the final plans yesterday."
"Francis doing the work?"
"Yeah, unless his bid is outrageous, which it won't be. I know his work."
"You didn't get the contractor Jamie used?"
"He wasn't interested. Jamie wanted to use Francis, but Francis said with all the glass and rock work he didn't think he was the man for the job."
"I take it Christine has something to do with you deciding to build."
Andy blushed and said, "I'd say she had a lot to do with it. Charlotte had something to do with it as well."
"Dad, you are like a new man since you've been dating her. She knows and I know you are thinking about remarrying. If you don't know it, she'll tell you one of these days."
"I'll admit I've given the idea some thought, but that doesn't mean you have to rush into anything."
"I'm not rushing, but Christine and I kinda have an agreement."
"What sort of agreement?"
"Let's just say we're picking up a ring this morning."
"You found what you wanted in Audubon?"
"We did. Actually, we decided what we wanted and the jeweler ordered one for us to look at. It was perfect. Cost a bundle, but when I said something to Jamie, he laughed and said, "So what? We'll cut a tree.' It won't come to that since aside from buying Philos and the car, I've spent little."
"She's a fine woman, Andy. I hope she can be happy in rural south Georgia."
"I think she had no illusions about that. She has at least three more years at ASU to get her master's and probably more to get her Ph.D. I think she's thinking about teaching on the college level, but there's a streak in her like Ash. She loves being in the field. Well, I better get going. I'll be back on Sunday afternoon or evening. Behave yourself."
Andy drove to Audubon being happy one minute that Christine had said yes and they were getting the ring to announce it and worried the next about what her family would think of him.
All was quiet in Stanley Hall as it was Saturday morning and the girls were sleeping in. It was too early for him to be on the hall, but he doubted anyone would see him or care. Christine was waiting for him when he reached the suite she shared with three other girls. After a passionate kiss, he picked up her bag and they went downstairs.
It was a few minutes before 9:00 when they arrived a the jeweler's, but he was expecting them and opened the door as soon as they walked up. "I didn't expect to see you at 9:00, but I see you meant what you said. Of course, I'm expected to say it, but I really mean it, the ring is beautiful. People don't seem to realize simple is beautiful," he said as he took a ring box from under the counter and opened it. When he opened it, it was clear what the jeweler meant. Resting in dark blue velvet was an engraved platinum band holding a large emerald cut diamond. He had promised sparkle, and he had not failed. Andy took the ring from the box, slipped it on Christine's finger and gave her a deep kiss. "That makes it official," he said as they broke their kiss. They thanked the jeweler and moments later were headed for Thomasboro.
11:00 found them entering the city limits. They drove into an obviously old neighborhood with large, stately houses. "I'm surprised African-Americans live in this neighborhood," Andy said when he saw the houses.
"It's been a black neighborhood since before of the Civil War," Christine said. "The people who lived here were freemen into all sorts of business, including slave trading. Others made money in cotton. A black family ran the only distillery within miles. They were/are all mixed blood and quite light. After the Civil War, they lorded it over the darker ex-slaves. You would never have been a part of this community."
"I wonder if that has changed," Andy mused.
"Sure it has," Christine replied, but her voice said otherwise. "First house in the next block. Drive is on the side street, so make a right turn, and halfway down the block you'll see the drive."
Andy parked in front of the stately house, grabbed his and Christine's bags. Christine put her arm through his and lead him up the steps. The front door opened and elegantly dressed women stood, arms raised to embrace Christine. "Christine, you look wonderful."
"You do as well as always, Mother." Her arm around her mother's waist, she turned to face Andy. "Mother, my fiancée, Andrew Hickey of Philos Plantation. Andy, Eunice Evans, my mother."
"Yes, we made it official on the way down," Christine extended her hand to display her ring.
"But we didn't know about this. There was no announcement party. Oh dear. Christine, you know better. Why do you do this to me?" Mrs. Evans then gave herself a slight shake and said, "How very rude of me. Welcome to our home, Andrew, I believe. Exactly what is your relationship with Philos Plantation?"
Andrew understood clearly she was not expecting his answer. "Thank you, Mrs. Evans. I am half of Philos Plantation LLC. James Taylor is the other half."
"We must speak more of Philos Plantation later," Mrs. Hickey said. "Drop your bags where you are. Alonzo will take them up."
'So the Evans have servants,'Andy thought to himself, 'and Mrs. Evans probably thinks that is the proper role for my dark self.'
"So, Dear, you got yourself engaged without speaking to your father or myself. Surely you realize that is not at all the proper way to do things."
"Mother, I wanted to avoid all the hoopla. Andy and I have spent a lot of time together since my senior project involves Philos' goat herds and we have spent hours planning the house. Seemed perfectly natural to say yes when he asked if we were planning our house. To tell the truth, Mother, I was about ready to ask him myself. We had ordered the ring and when the jeweler called yesterday to say it had arrived, Andy said we'd pick it up on the way here. You want to announce it at a party, name the date and we'll be here, but make it soon as we have another goat herd which will be kidding soon. I picked up the house plans yesterday. The house will probably be started within the month."
"The house?" Clearly, Mrs. Evans hadn't been listening.
"Yes, Andy's house, our house." Andy nodded when Christine corrected herself.
"Well, we can all discuss this later. Lunch will be ready shortly. I'm sure you need to wash up. Christine, show Andrew his room and bath."
As they walked upstairs, Andy asked, "Christine, why didn't you warn me?"
"Because I wanted you to just be yourself. Andy, I not only love you; I am proud of you and admire you. If I had warned you, you might well have tried to fit into their mold. Well, I fell in love with the wonderful guy you are and I'm not going to allow anyone to make you think you should be otherwise."
After they had washed up, Andy and Christine went back downstairs and Christine led him to a sunroom where a table was set for six. "Looks like Carol and Cameron are here. Carol is a freshman at Spelman in Atlanta and Cameron is at Thomasboro Military Academy. Although the academy is just on the other side of town, Cameron is a boarding student. He is seldom home even though he's finished by 11:30 on Saturday. All the school has Saturday is 'sports.' I am really surprised Carol is here. I guess Mother called them home when told we were coming."
As Christine finished talking, a very slender young man--Andy knew Cameron was sixteen--in a military uniform walked in. He hugged Christine, kissed her on the cheek and said, "Sure good to see you, Sister." He then turned to Andy, extended his hand and said, "You must be Andrew, kicker of Evans hornet's nests. Sis looks like you know how to pick'em. I could go for this one myself. Andrew, you'd never be told, but I am the gay disgrace so I can appreciate hot hornet's nest kickers. Hope that doesn't get your panties in a wad."
"Call me Andy. No problem. Maybe we'll get a chance to talk about hornets' nests."
"I'll make a chance. Those your wheels in the drive?"
"Yep, like it?"
"Are you kidding? What will it do?"
"I can't tell you. I've never had it wide open. Jamie warned me it was like a moving sign reading, "Write this man a speeding ticket."
"He did have it to a hundred once when I was with him and he did not have it to the floor," Christine said.
"You've got to take me for a ride. Think I can show you a place where you can let that horse run. Hi, Dad," he said as a bear of a man walked in.
"Dad," Christine said and kissed Mr. Evans on the cheek. "Dad, I'd like you to meet Andrew Hickey, your future son-in-law.
"Andrew," Mr. Evans said, extending his hand. "Understand you are a part of Arkadelphia Plantation in Bragg County."
"Technically I am an employee, just without getting a check," Andy laughed. "I get paid in machinery. I spend most of my time on Philos Plantation."
"In Bragg County?"
"Yes, it adjoins Pleasant Grove."
"Strange I don't know it. I've done a lot of business in Bragg County in the past. Know Arkadelphia well and knew Pleasant Grove when it was semi-functioning."
"Not too surprising if you haven't done business there in the recent past. Philos has only been in existence for three years."
"Dad, the reason Andy spends most of his time at Philos is that he's half owner. It's eleven hundred acres of mixed forest, loblolly and longleaf pines, and pastures. He and James Taylor have three goat herds, two at Philos and one at Pleasant Grove and have just added twelve Brangus heifers to the mix."
"Sis, I wouldn't have thought you knew anything about plantations."
"Another of my surprises, Cam, You're stocking Brangus?" Mr. Evans asked.
"We are. Jamie and I worked on the cattle station at Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove and were responsible for it's going all Brangus and no one regrets it. We all like them."
Mr. Evans said "Enough plantation and animal talk," as a young woman walked in. "Andrew, my other daughter Carol. Carol, Andrew Hickey." Carol offered Andy the tips of her fingers. Andy took them and gave her a slight bow. Christine grinned at him.
"So Christine has roped a cowboy or are you a goatboy," Carol said with a smirk. Mrs. Evans had a similar expression on her face and Mr. Evans looked very displeased.
"I can see Spelman's reputation for teaching women how to be young ladies is greatly overrated, Sister," Christine said, giving Carol a look that could kill.
"Girls, keep the hen fights elsewhere," Mr. Evans said. "Let's be seated."
As soon as they were seated, Mrs. Evans looked at Andy and said, "If you would return thanks, Andrew."
'She's using the table blessing as a weapon against me,' he thought, but he had shared a lot of meals with the Taylors at Arkadelphia and Philos. "Let us pray," he said and then used a prayer straight from the Book of Common Prayer."
"That sounded Catholic," Mrs. Evans said.
"Episcopalian. Book of Common Prayer," Andy responded.
A woman came in and started serving lunch.
After lunch, Mr. Evans asked Andy if he had time to talk. Andy said he did. "How about a ride in that machine I saw when I came in?"
"Sure. You want to drive?"
"Son, I think that thing would run right out from under me." Mr. Evans directed Andy out into the country. Soon they were on a road that was as straight as the eye could see. "Andy, show me something of what this machine can do." When the speedometer hit a hundred twenty, Mr. Evans said, "Calm this horse." Andy dropped back to ten miles above the speed limit and it seemed a though they were coasting to a stop. "Any idea what the top speed for this thing is?"
"Around two hundred," Andy laughed. "Lot more car than I needed, but my partner, Jamie is a real wheeler-dealer and got it for less than a new Mustang."
"Pull into the next road on the left just coming up." The dirt road was overhung with live oaks and ended at a small lake. A pier ran into the lake, ending under a gazebo. Andy stopped the car, and Mr. Evans indicated they should get out. He started walking toward the pier, and Andy followed him. They sat on benches attached to the gazebo.
"Andrew . . . "
"Mr. Evans, call me Andy, please."
"Fine and you can call me Albert."
"I'd find that difficult, Sir."
"Understand. Andy, I wanted to get a chance to talk to you without interference. I have three children whom you have met. Cameron is sixteen and is probably gay. It may be a phase, I hear that sometimes happens, but I think not. He has never told anyone except, I suspect Christine. I hope that makes no difference to you. It doesn't matter to me."
"It doesn't. All three plantations are dedicated to what we call the Arkadelphia Dream. Maybe we can talk at length about that sometime, but a part of it is that to be a part of the Arkadelphia family--and that includes those of us from Philos--you respect people, no exceptions. We don't broadcast it because it's no one's business, but we have three and maybe four gay men and two gay women in the Arkadelphia family. So if Cameron's gay it's no problem for me."
"Fine. Physically, it is obvious Cameron takes after his mother. He's not too bad in sports, but he's not good. He's an artist and a musician, something I am not. He's a free spirit, and I'd have it no other way. I know Carol taunts him, and he seems to ignore it, but it pains me. His mother would never admit he is not straight, but I hope he never suffers because of that."
"Carol? Carol is her mother's child, doubled. To both appearances and what others think is of top importance. According to her family--one of the 'old families' in the area--Eunice married below her station. Old family, no money. We are not hurting for money, but it's not old money. I own a farm implement business, worked hard and had more than a few lucky breaks. I came by what I have honestly and want my family to enjoy it, but I don't give a shit what others think. Too many years dealing with farmers who generally do not put up with fools."
"Which brings us to Christine. Christine is her father's daughter. She's a lot smarter than her old man, but down to earth, finding her own way and hasn't a pretentious bone in her body. No doubt you have already heard her mother is upset because Christine got herself engaged without piles of parties. She's engaged to someone who does not have a long family history--as though I do. No doubt there will be some unpleasantness this weekend. I'll do my best to keep it down as much as possible, but I hope you won't let it trouble you. No doubt Christine allowed you to think you chose her. I know better. The first time I heard her mention you I knew you were a goner. I don't know you at all, but if Christine thinks you are okay, you're okay in my book. So enough of that. Tell me about Philos, why you have goats and about this house you're building."
"I haven't seen them yet, but Christine has the architect's final drawing and projections. A graduate student under the supervision of his professor did them for us. We both have spent hours with Philip, the grad student, making sure what we wanted was included and what we didn't want was excluded. So, instead of talking about it, you can have a look when we do."
Andy then told him how he came to be half owner of Philos and why they had goats. Mr. Evans go a real kick out of the tale. When he finished, Mr. Evans said, "So it was the goats that brought you and Christine together."
"It was, and I was sure it was for real when she didn't back off from the first billy in rut she met."
"I guess we better get back. I'll say I think Christine has found a good man and I know you have found a good woman."
"By the way," Andy said as they walked toward the car, "Cameron asked about me taking him for a ride. That okay?"
"Sure so long as you keep it below a hundred fifty and don't allow him to drive unless you can be sure he'll behave. He doesn't have much experience."
When they got back to the house, they heard Carol in the living room. "A goat farmer! How could you! No class, no background, no money! You'll drag us all down."
Mr. Evans put his hand out and stopped Andy. "I think we need to hear this."
"No money? You think that car out there came out of a crackerjack box? You think this ring is glass? We ordered it."
"No doubt from a TV shopping channel when cubic zircon was on sale."
"Carol, he could sell the goatherds and buy this house and have money left over. He could sell timber that would hardly be missed and so the same. He's got cash in the bank to build our house . . . "
"With indoor plumbing?" Carol sneered.
Christine ignored that. "Background? How much is a background over which you had no control worth? Class? He couldn't think about putting someone down the way you are. To me that's class. What you call class is just a way for insecure people to convince themselves they are better than others. You should be so lucky as to find someone as good as Andy."
Mr. Evans decided that he had heard enough. "Christine, Carol, Andy, in the truck." They all climbed in, and Mr. Evans headed downtown. It took a couple of circles around the block before he found a parking place. He got out and said, "Follow me." As he did so, he winked at Christine and Andy. They walked up the street to a jewelry store and went inside. A gray-haired lady behind the counter greeted them and asked, "Who's the stranger?"
"Ms. Clark, I'd like to present Andrew Hickey, my fiancée. Andrew, Ms. Clark."
"What can I do for you folks?"
"Calvin around?" Mr. Evans asked.
"He's in the back. You need him?"
"I do." When she went into the back, Mr. Evans said, "Christine, give me your ring." Christine reluctantly removed the ring and handed it to her father.
When an elderly man came from the back, Mr. Evans said, "Calvin, Andrew Hickey from Philos Plantation in Bragg County. Andrew, Calvin Clark. Calvin got a ring I'd like for you to take a look at."
Calvin took the ring, looked at it carefully, then picked up a loupe and scrutinized it. "Excellent, excellent. Exceptional stone in the perfect setting," he said, still looking at the ring.
"How much would a duplicate cost?" Mr. Evans asked.
"Would take a while since I'd have to order it. I'll have to look it up." Walked over to a computer and a few minutes later said, "Albert, you're an old friend and we've done business for years, but the best I can do is fifteen thousand. As I said, that's an excellent stone in a nice setting."
"I'll talk to you next week," Mr. Evans said, "when I've not dragging a bunch of kids along." Back in the car, Mr. Evans said, "Damn, Andy, you don't fool around, do you?"
"Not when it comes to Christine."
"Don't let him fool you, Dad, Andy does fool around, well, sometimes he does and I love it!" Andy blushed, and Mr. Evans laughed. Carol was very quiet.
"Carol, I'd tell you to apologize to Andy and Christine, but I'd know you'd only do it because you were told to. I hope you realize you have shown your true colors today and they are not very pretty."
It was 4:00 when they got back from the jewelers. As they walked into the house, Andy asked Mr. Evans, "Do I have time to take Cameron for the ride I promised?"
"Sure, just be back in time to dress for cocktails at 6:30." He then yelled, "Cam, there's a pony waiting outside!"
Cameron practically fell down the stairs he was in such a rush. He was out of the military uniform and dressed in jeans and a sweater. He obviously was not a hunk but was a handsome young man.
Cameron was bouncing all over the place as he and Andy headed for the Shelby. Andy had made a note of the location of the lake and punched it into his GPS. He drove through Thomasboro very sedately, but pushed his speed up to ten miles above the speed limit as soon as he was outside the city limits. Cameron had the car's MP3 player blasting away as he bounced in his seat, eyes closed. He was really into his song when Andy reached the ruler-straight section of the highway. When he saw Cameron was in another world, he turned the pony loose, hitting a hundred twenty in no time at all. Cameron was pressed back against his seat, laughing his head off.
Five minutes later, Andy reined in the pony and Cam, and he went to the lake and sat in the gazebo, talking. While physically Cameron was his mother's son, he got his personality from his father. His heart was his own. Andy noted he and Christine had a lot in common. Andy liked his future brother-in-law. He liked him very much.
Comments always welcome at Sequoyah