Half an hour later, Ethan opened his eyes and found himself looking into those blue eyes, easily the most beautiful blue eyes in the whole world. A smile spread across his face as he reached up, buried a hand in golden curls and pulled Scotty's lips to his. When they broke the kiss, Scotty said, "Good afternoon, Sleeping Beauty," and kissed him again.
"I'd like to wake up like that always, Scotty. You are so beautiful, so makes-my-heart-ache beautiful."
"Not bad yourself, you know," Scotty laughed.
"Yeah. Well, all I need is here. I left everything I didn't think I'd be using this summer packing. When I got back Mr. Edwards told me Francis had rehired some workers he let go for lack of jobs and put them to work on my place. Ethan, I'll have a place of my own!" He raised an eyebrow and asked, "You know what that means?"
Ethan just smiled a goofy smile and said, "Yeah."
"So what about the Hickeys? How did the interview go? I met them when I got back. They were regrouping after looking over the house, getting ready to go to Pleasant Grove." Ethan started telling him about the interview and when he said he asked how they would feel working with a gay man, Scotty exclaimed, "What? You told them we were gay?"
"Course not. I just told them they would be working with at least one gay man."
"Andy didn't give a shit, Mr. Hickey's not sure and Ray went nuts."
"Figures. One look at Andy and you know he has no problems getting dates with males or females. From my perspective, he's hot; from your sister's he cute and sweet, a deadly combination. Mr. Hickey? He's an older fellow, not exposed to much beyond a pecan grove. Ray? Ray's a jock. Jocks are always afraid someone will question their manhood."
"My thoughts as well. My sister thinks Andy is cute and sweet? She's looking at boys?"
"For heaven's sake, Ethan, she's fifteen ..."
"So she's going to grow up next week? You told me next week was her birthday and you had to get her a present."
"Well, yeah, but boys ..."
"Take a look at her, dude. She is one beautiful woman. You are going to have to get a bulldog to control the guys."
"Well, I can and will."
"Like you beat the girls off of Jamie? Admit it, dude ..."
"Scotty, please don't call me dude. Makes me feel dumb."
"Sorry. Forgiven?" he asked, and kissed Ethan on the tip of his nose.
"Forgiven," Ethan said, returning the kiss.
"Anyway, admit it, Ethan, there's more sex appeal in this house than should be allowed in a dozen."
"Only because you're here."
"You think I'm sexy?" Scotty laughed.
"Damn right!" he answered as he rolled on his back, pulling Scotty on top. "You should know that for sure," he laughed, pressing his hard manhood against Scotty.
Scotty laughed as he pressed his large cock against Ethan's thigh. After he kissed Ethan, invading his mouth with his tongue, he rolled off of him and said, "Sally Ann sent me up to tell you to get ready."
"Shower with me?"
"Don't think that's wise, boyfriend."
Ethan showered and changed into shorts and a fresh shirt and the two went downstairs.
Ethan and Scotty were designated to serve before-dinner drinks. Sally Ann had prepared some kind of sparking drink which was very light and refreshing. When they all had drinks, Ethan asked, "What do you think of Pleasant Grove, Mr. Hickey?"
"Gonna take a lot of work to get it in shape. Man lets groves go like that doesn't deserve to own a place, but they have potential. Think Mr. Edwards needs to take a second look at some of the groves he was planning to take out. I think with attention to the trees—careful pruning, work on the soil, spray program—they be producing and producing well within a year, two at most, long before a new grove. Lot of years in those trees yet. Not much of a pasture man myself. 'Course you don't need to know pastures to see fences need replacing."
"How about you, Andy? You're a cattleman."
"Not yet, but definitely interested in becoming one. Got a chance to look at the cattle here. They're in good shape, excellent shape, so are the pastures. Pleasant Grove? I can see how replacing the fences, mowing and fertilization will bring some up to where they are useable, barely, but were they mine, I'd begin completely re-working half this year and half next. I think in two years, three at most, the profit would compensate for having them reworked. As is they'll run a third or less per acre than Arkadelphia. Randy's not sure he agrees.
"Also, if I had Pleasant Grove, I'd start breeding my own stock, probably Brangus. 'Course there might be better breeds so the county agent would definitely be a help on that score."
"Son, think you'd be welcome at Arkadelphia regardless of what your dad decides. Like the way you think," Mr. Edwards said. "Mr. Hickey, may not sound practical as you and I have some idea of the cost involved, but we need young blood around to kick us out of our rut. How about you, Ray? What do you think?"
Ray had said nothing and now just shrugged. "I'll be going to college in little over a month and I'm not interested in being a farmer. Hard work and little money. Plan on going pro myself."
‘Must be a hell of a lot better and bigger than he looks,' Ethan thought. ‘Never heard of him or his high school being a hotbed of professional players. Of course, I've never been a football fan.' Randy was and looked at Ray as though he had just said he was going to be the next Queen of England.
Dinner was a great success. Conversation was lively with Mrs. Edwards pointing out occasionally there was more to the world than cows and nuts. Ray was sullen. Sally Ann and Andy flirted outrageously. From time to time Scotty caught Ethan's eye when he was looking at the two and grinned. Ethan looked sheepish.
After dinner, the guys—except Ray—cleaned up. The older folks went to the Edwards' for adult after-dinner drinks. Half an hour or so after they had finished cleaning up, Ethan said, "It's a beautiful moonlit night and hot. How about a swim?"
"Sounds good," Jamie said. "Andy, I have shorts that should fit you. Bet Mr. Edwards has some big enough for you, Ray. Probably not fashionable, but who cares. Sis, up to a swim?"
Ray said he would go along, but not to bother with shorts. He didn't like to swim.
All six piled into Ethan's truck and headed for the pond in the old grove. When they arrived, Sally Ann draped towels over the truck windows and changed inside while the guys just stripped and pulled on swimming trunks. All dived in except Ray who sat on the side of the pond looking peeved. When Sally Ann came out of the truck, Scotty started the wolf whistles. Ethan expected her to be embarrassed. Instead she started strutting, walking toward the pond. She dived in and when she surfaced, grabbed Scotty and ducked him. "You better learn to respect the ladies, Mr. McCarter. We're not all loose like the ones you run around with."
"Yes, ma'am, Miss Taylor," he said, bowing toward her.
They frolicked in the water for a hour, then lay on towels they had spread on the grass and talked. Curiosity finally got the better of Andy and he said, "None of my business, but you three live alone?"
"Yeah," Sally Ann replied. "Our mom died of cancer over five years ago now. Our dad had worked on Pine Ridge Plantation and was injured. Pine Ridge should have had to pay, I think, but got out of it. We lived in a shack, really. The three of us had to manage the house, school and take care of Dad. He died a few weeks ago."
"Ethan went to work keeping books for Arkadelphia plantation when he was a sophomore," Jamie took up the story. "Davis, Mr. Edwards, pissed him off a few weeks before Dad died and Ethan gave him an ass chewing. When Davis said something to Randy about it, Randy had a ‘come to Jesus' session with him and he saw the light. Made Ethan assistant manager in charge of the pecan operation, hired me to work with Randy and renovated the house for us. We've been pretty much on our own since we were like nine, eleven and thirteen."
"Wow! Ethan, you must really have kicked ass," Andy declared.
"Just told him the way it was. He's a good man, just stubborn as hell. And you really don't want to piss him off."
"Think we'd be happy here?" Andy asked.
"I think you could be," Ethan answered, thoughtfully. "You should have seen yourself when you were talking about Pleasant Grove. Obviously you were talking about something you love—cattle. Davis meant it when he said we are going to make these two plantations models of what plantations can be and I'm excited about being a part of that. So, yeah, I think you would be happy here. Not sure about your dad. Part of what I see as a model plantation is what I said, one where everyone—including gays—are accepted and valued for who they are. To stick a label on someone and decide you hate them is not a part of the future of Arkadelphia or Pleasant Grove. Of course, we haven't met your mom ..."
"And won't," Andy said.
"Andy, that's family business," Ray snapped.
Everyone was silent for a short time and then Ethan continued, "Look, I can understand why your dad might not want to work here. He was a crew boss in Glen Stockade. He won't be here. From what he said, the pay won't be that much different, especially when you factor in free housing, but not only will he not be manager, but will also be working for a kid younger than Ray. That might be hard to take. I can tell you, I will be the manager, but I would listen to your dad the way I listen to Davis. They have years of experience and know things which can only come from experience. However, I'll not hesitate to override them if I think they're wrong.
"As your dad pointed out, Davis talked about taking out trees which have ten, maybe twenty years of productive life and replacing them with young trees which would not be producing for six, seven or more years, but the replacements will be young and produce many more years to come. Ultimately that is a decision that I will make. Had I only the advice of Davis, there would have been no question. However, from the experience of your father and his advice, there are two options to be considered. I've been thinking about that. Know Davis has been thinking about getting old, I think that's the reason he's starting to hire a crew of young, very young people. He sees us as a long-term plan for the plantations the same way he sees new plantings.
"Your dad on the other hand, sees there's life in the old trees and in Davis. He realizes that youth and vigor is not all it's about, there's also knowledge and wisdom which only comes with age; it's like your dad sees there's a question of what to do and the strength and energy to do it. Maybe that's why your dad wants to keep the old grove rather than starting over. Sure, it will be gone in time, but it's there while the young trees grow into their own, your dad and Davis are here while we grow into our own. Makes sense to me.
"I know nothing about cows, which is more than I want to know," Ethan continued with a laugh. "Maybe breeding a herd is the way to go, but had you not brought it up, it probably wouldn't have been considered. Maybe ripping up some pastures and starting over while nurturing older ones to give the new ones a chance to get started is the way to go. You have the wisdom of Randy and you and Jamie the youth ... makes me think we need another older experienced man on the cattle crew. Long answer, but yeah, I think you'd be happy here."
"Don't you ever let up? Dude, it's as if Arkadelphia is your whole life," Ray said. Scotty saw Ethan bristle a bit at being called dude.
"Well, I've been kinda head of the family; we three had to be adults so long that relaxing is sometimes hard."
"Well, I don't have such a hard time," Jamie said, grabbed Andy's hand and pulled him back into the pond. They horsed around for a while, then Andy jumped out, grabbed Sally Ann's hand and jumped back in the pond. Scotty and Ethan were lying on their stomachs side-by-side, chins on their hands watching the horseplay in the pond.
Jamie called from the pond, "Ray, sorry you're not enjoying yourself. If you'd like to skinny dip, I'm sure Sally Ann would be willing to go back to the house then you could get in. Want to do that?"
"You want to see me naked? Want to perv on my body. So you're the cock-sucking faggot," Ray snarled.
"What the fuck you talking about?" Jamie asked as he and Andy got out of the pond.
"Your brother said there was a faggot we'd be working with if we came here. Should have known it was you, pretty boy."
"Ray, you fucking asshole, shut your fucking mouth," Andy said an icy voice.
"Yeah, I suggest you remember faggot is not a word we use here any more than we use nigger. You work here, use words like that, your ass is out of here," Jamie said.
"You calling me a nigger, cock-sucking faggot?"
"God dammit, Ray, nobody called you a nigger, asshole. Jamie was just telling you calling him a faggot is as bad as calling someone a nigger. You called him a cock-sucking faggot when you don't know shit about him. Shut your god damn fucking mouth." Andy was standing in front of his much larger brother, balled fists at his side, shaking with anger.
"Does my little brother want his ass fucked? You want to suck my cock, sissy boy?"
"Ray, I suggest you take your brother's advice," Ethan said calmly. "You do not talk like that in front of my sister. Hell, you don't talk like that at Arkadelphia. I suggest you shut your mouth."
"Yeah, Ray, you don't know what you're talking about. I'm about ready to bust you one. If I was Jamie, I would," Andy said.
"Fuck you, little brother. Who's going to bust me one? You and your faggot friend?" The two brothers were standing, facing each other. When Ray took a step toward Andy and reached out to grab him, he got his answer. So quick it was hard to see it, Andy slugged him a couple of times, once in the face, kicked him in the groin and shoved him backwards into the pond. Ray floundered around, obviously suffering from having received a direct hit to the balls. Before he went under the second time, Ethan and Scotty dived in, grabbed him and towed him to the shore. Jamie and Andy managed to drag him out of the water.
When he had about recovered, Andy said, "Ray, just keep your mouth shut. I want to work here; Dad wants the job here. You don't like it here? Go live with Mama. You two get along fine." Huge as Ray was, Andy hoisted him on his shoulder and tossed him in the truck bed. "You can ride back there, not with the decent folks."
It was eleven when the six got back to the house. Ethan dropped Scotty, Ray and Andy off at the plantation house. As Ray climbed out of the back of the truck, he had an obvious mouse under his right eye where one of Andy's punches had landed. Scotty got out and he and Ethan locked eyes for a moment, making it clear they wanted a goodnight kiss, but knowing it was not going to happen.
The next morning when the Hickeys came down for breakfast, Ray was sporting a real shiner. The Edwards refrained from commenting on it, but as soon as breakfast was over and the Hickeys departed, Davis headed for the plantation office. He, as he expected, found Ethan working. "Ethan, Ray Hickey was sporting a real shiner this morning. Know anything about that?"
"Yeah, I guess I'm kinda responsible for that."
Davis exploded. "I hope to hell you have a good explanation for giving Ray, a guest at Arkadelphia, a black eye. What in hell did you mean? I want Howard and Andy Hickey here yesterday and you probably blew it by starting a fight." He continued his ranting, working himself up into a real lather.
"Mr. Edwards, I guess you don't know me very well. I have never given anyone a black eye. I haven't struck anyone since I was in fifth grade and I most certainly did not give Ray Hickey a black eye."
Davis looked stunned and hung his head, shame-faced, and said, "I'm sorry, Ethan. I thought you said you were to blame for the boy's black eye."
"I may be responsible, but I did not do it. Sally Ann says Ray has a problem. She may be young, but she generally sees right to the heart of a situation so I suspect she's right." Ethan then told Davis what had happened at the pond last night.
"And you think his reaction was over the top?"
"Way over the top. Sally Ann said maybe he was gay and didn't want to be. I can understand being gay and not wanting to be. I guess if I wanted to hide being gay, going off like that might be one way to do it. Frankly, I don't care why he goes off, name calling and all. The fact that he does means I don't want him here, but I sure would like to have Mr. Hickey and Andy."
"I couldn't agree more," Davis said. "Well, you left the ball in their court and it's still there. So back to your having more time to spend on the work with and from Joe. Well, and not working seven days a week. Know you'll be taking accounting courses and probably will be interested in changing our system, but what do you think about giving up that position? Before you answer, I already talked to Bill Kimes. He knows no-one ready to take over. Thought you might go through the business department at the college. They also have a career counseling service which may have someone looking for a job."
"I guess I thought about accounting because that was what I was doing," Ethan said. "I'd be happy to turn it over to someone else. There are other colleges around I could check as well. Would more than likely mean we'd have someone three days a week rather than a few hours every day. Shouldn't matter. I'll look into it."
"Fine, fine," Davis said. He then got quiet and then looked up Ethan, "Ethan, son, I apologize again for even thinking you gave Ray that black eye. So his little brother did it. Wouldn't have thought he was capable of taking on that jock."
"Mr. Edwards, Andy moved so fast I didn't see it. He's not a hulk like Ray, but he's a lot quicker and a lot stronger than you might think. Lots smarter too, truth be known."
"Guess the little ones can be dangerous."
"Yeah," Ethan smiled thinking of his little one.
"Which reminds me, Scotty went into Audubon to church. Said he'd be back around one."
"He went all the way to Audubon to church?"
"Yeah, said there wasn't one of his brand closer. Don't know what his brand is. Didn't ask."
"Doesn't matter, I suspect. They find out he's gay he'll see he's not welcome."
"No doubt, no doubt."
"Guess church will be something we'll have to talk about," Ethan mused.
"If you plan on being together any time, it's only one of many things you'll need to talk about. And you'll need to keep talking. Molly and I still have to hammer out things which come up."
"You mean you have to argue until you agree with her."
"Most of the time. Most of the time," Davis grinned.
"Molly!" Ethan exclaimed. "Think Molly might take her old job back?"
"Yeah, keeping the books."
"Well, now, Ethan, I don't know. Haven't even thought about it. I could ask. I know it's been a long time since she did the books around here. She'll be really rusty."
"I know she uses a computer and we could get someone to teach us the new system. Bet Mr. Kimes is dying to get his hands on it and, since it's not football, the school is balking at the cost."
"I'll talk to Molly and let you know. Then you can check with Mr. Kimes. If he can't maybe we can contract with someone at the college."
Molly was delighted with the prospects of getting in the middle of the action again. Mr. Kimes was just completing his certification in the new software and was excited about getting a chance to teach it. Arkadelphia would pay for it for the school. In turn the school system would pay Mr. Kimes for a summer school course, open to the community, teaching the program. It would begin the second week in July.
The Hickeys called early Monday. Mr. Hickey and Andy accepted the offer. Andy was delighted. Mr. Hickey was glad to get the job if not overjoyed, but said he looked forward to working on the plantations. Ray would live with his mother in Glen Stockade until he moved into the dorm and started football practice.
Monday, Francis showed up with three crews. One went to work on Pleasant Grove, the house, essentially boarding it up to protect it until some decision could be made concerning it, one went to work on the overseer's house for Randy and Ginger, and one went to work on Scotty's place.
As Davis had said, Scotty's place was a small four-room house, a box. Built before WWII, it had no bathroom, but otherwise was a nice place. As all the buildings, it had been kept up except for the last five years. The lumber used in it was from fine old pines and oaks. Once the outside was scraped, very few boards needed replacing. A similar Pleasant Grove house not had fared as well and Davis decided much of the lumber in it was superior to what he could buy now, so it was taken down and all the good lumber placed in a shed to be used to replace any boards necessary and build the bathroom for Scotty's house.
Painted buildings at Arkadelphia were white with dark green trim. Randy, Davis and Ethan debated using the same colors at Pleasant Grove, but Molly and Ginger overruled them. They decided on a white with the slightest brown tinge with a rich brown trim and so it was. The outside of the two houses were prepped and painted before the week was over. The floors in Scotty's house had been refinished, the electrical system upgraded and the kitchen renovation was almost complete when the painters arrived to begin painting the interior. The new bathroom was not finished, but was well on the way. Scotty had asked Davis if he could have a large shower rather than a tub. "Large enough for two?" Davis asked and took Scotty's red face as a yes.
Davis has said he'd just buy off-white paint for the interior walls of the two houses. Unfortunately, he made the decision without consulting Ginger and Molly. When he mentioned he needed to order the interior paint, Molly asked if Scotty and Ginger had already chosen the colors. He said he was just going to order off-white. He changed his mind quickly. Scotty asked Ethan to help him choose and the two agreed since the house was small, it needed very light colors, but definitely colors.
Since the kitchen was large enough for a small table seating four, Scotty decided he needed a study more than a dining room. He'd purchase a futon for it in case he needed a guest room. Davis said he hoped Scotty's place would be ready by the Fourth of July, but knew it probably wasn't going to happen.