When Andy and Cameron got back, they both rushed upstairs to dress. Andy took a quick shower and dressed in his blazer and slacks. Christine told him a tie was not absolutely necessary, but he read between the lines and put one on. For some reason, while he was checking himself in the mirror, he recalled the look on Carol's face when Mr. Clark told Mr. Evans the best deal he could give him for a duplicate of Christine's ring was fifteen thousand. He sure hoped she told her mother, but he doubted it. He didn't doubt Mr. Evans would tell his wife.
He glanced at his watch and saw it was almost 6:30 and went downstairs. He heard voices in the library and walked in. "Andy, what's your poison?" Mr. Evans asked.
"Jack and water, light on the Jack, please."
As Mr. Evans was fixing his drink, he said, "Ed, my future son-in-law Andrew Hickey of Philos Plantation in Bragg county. Andy, my brother Senator Edward Evans." Andy shook hands with the senator.
"Don't believe I have heard of Philos Plantation," the senator said.
"It's only three years old," Andy said.
"Philos Plantation is a registered LLC," Mr. Evans said. "Andy's half of the LLC and James Taylor is the other half."
Mr. Evans had a mischievous look on his face, and Andy thought to himself, 'He has been checking on me, and he's up to something.'
"Here's the ladies. White wine ladies?"
"Jack and water for me, light on the Jack," Christine said. Mr. Evans gave Carol a diet Coke, Cameron an orange juice and the two older women white wine. "Aunt Edna, my fiancée, Andrew Hickey of Philos Plantation in Bragg County. Andy, my Aunt Edna Evans,"
"Ma'am" Andy replied and was surprised at Aunt Edna's firm handshake.
"Of Philos Plantation; of Philos Plantation," Carol said in a pouty voice. "You'd think it was special."
"Think it is special when an eleven thousand acre plantation is owned and operated by two young men who are barely old enough to buy beer," Mr. Evans said.
"Exactly where is Philos Plantation," Senator Evans asked.
" Adjoins Pleasant Grove Plantation which is antebellum," Andy responded. "Mr. Davis Edwards of Arkadelphia Plantation, which is also antebellum, bought Pleasant Grove just over three years ago now. We actually work together trading work, machines, etc. as we hold the same philosophy."
"Arkadelphia Plantation, James Taylor, Andrew Hickey--- Albert, you are a dirty dog. You knew!" the senator exclaimed.
"Knew what?" Aunt Edna asked.
"Think, Mama. Arkadelphia Plantation, James Taylor, Andrew Hickey, ah Taylor---there was another Taylor involved and another fellow whose name I can't recall."
"You're Andy Hickey!" Aunt Edna practically shouted as she grabbed Andy in a huge hug. "I am so proud to meet you!"
"Will someone please tell me what is going on?" Mrs. Evans asked.
"Eunice, you really need to pay attention to what's going on outside Thomasboro. Do you recall when a whole crime organization, which had an operation in Bragg county, was brought down about three years ago? Four young men played a major part in bringing it down. Andrew Hickey was one of them."
"You got quite a windfall out of that as I recall plus free college. Hope you didn't spend it all on fancy cars and diamond rings," the senator said.
"The other Taylor is Ethan. James Taylor, Jamie is the other half of Philos Plantation. He and I spent practically nothing foolishly. Well, I did buy the car with Jamie's help." When asked, he told how Jamie hoodooed the car salesman. "We saved the money because we wanted to buy a place together, but hadn't found one to our liking." Andy then told them the tale of how they ended up owning the former crime center site, found themselves in the goat business and Jamie's building his house.
"Are you're planning on building a house?" Mr. Evans said.
"We are," Christine said. "I picked up the plans today. We haven't had time to look at them yet."
"After dinner," Mr. Evans said. "I'd surely like to see them."
Dinner conversation was lively. Andy noticed the senator made sure Cameron was included. Carol was pouting, and Mrs. Evans looked sullen. No one else seemed to notice.
After dinner, coffee was served in the library. Carol excused herself, and Mrs. Evans continued in her sullen mood. While the others looked at the floor plans and elevations, Andy and Christine poured over the list of changes Dr. Austin had made. They all were technical construction changes or specific items rather than just a generic name with specifications. Andy and Christine could never have spotted the differences the changes made in the plans or in the house.
"This takes the idea of the Georgia farmhouse to a whole new level," Aunt Edna said. "I love it, especially the placement of the master and guest suites. Both are assured privacy."
"I notice the plans specify you are to supply the lumber, Andy," Mr. Evans said.
"Right. We had to cut some old pines when the road joining Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove was extended to connect to Philos. Also, we cut some trees when the road entering the three Philos' house sites were chosen. We have a fellow in the county who logs in the old way with mules and has his own sawmill. While we were cutting the road right of way, we had a forester look over the pines and select others which needed harvesting. He also located oak for flooring, cherry, and walnut for cabinets, trim, furniture, etc. There were logs from pecan trees culled from the groves on Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove which we bought from them. The green lumber was stacked in a building with fans, and air dried and has been held at the optimal moisture level since."
"The exterior of our house will be lumber from seventy-five to hundred-year-old pines. The floors will be oak from old trees, some way over a hundred years old, I'm sure. We have decided on pecan for the kitchen cabinets and walnut for the bookcases and cabinets in the office/library. We have a master cabinet maker lined up to handle those and as a couple of furniture makers as well."
"So how long will all this take?" Aunt Edna asked.
"Six to twelve months," Christine answered.
Senator Evans and Aunt Edna left at 9:00 and Christine grabbed Andy and walked him into the living room. "It's a beautiful night, Big Boy. How about a drive into the county?"
"Can we take Cam?"
"Sure." Christine went upstairs and brought Cam back with her. She stuck her head into the library where her parents were having a nightcap and said, "We're going for a drive and taking Cam with us."
"It's dark so make sure Andy keeps it under a hundred, hundred fifty max," Mr. Evans said.
"Don't call me if you are tossed in jail for speeding," Mrs. Evans said in an unpleasant voice. "The very idea 'keep it under a hundred fifty.'"
Cam started to fold himself into the backseat when Christine caught his arm and climbed in back herself, leaving the front for Cam.
They were just out for a relaxed moonlight drive and frequently were driving under the speed limit. "I sure like your aunt and uncle," Andy said as they were leaving Thomasboro behind.
"I do as well," Christine said.
"I love both of them to pieces except for Uncle Edward's politics. He plays to the Evangelicals, and I know he's not that way. He knows I'm gay and has no problem with it, but he's against gay marriage when he gives a speech."
"Politics, nature of the beast I suppose," Andy answered.
Christine was navigating and had Andy turn into a dirt road. A sheriff's car was parked, almost hidden. Christine said, "We get out here." She walked over to the sheriff's car, and the deputy rolled his window down, and Christine asked, "Roscoe, how you doing? How's Martha and the kids?"
"Damn, Christine, good to see you. Martha asked your dad about you last week. Said you were doing well too. Martha's fine and our youngest will start pre-school next year."
"Roscoe, Andy Hickey, my fiancè. Andy, Roscoe McKnight. Roscoe was three years ahead of me in school and pulled my ass out of the crack more than once."
"That your vehicle, Andy?"
"Ever had her opened up?"
"He hit a hundred ten on Bethel Church Road, but it wasn't opened up, and that's only ten miles," Cam said.
"Can find a better spot if you'll give me a ride."
"Sure," Andy grinned.
Roscoe spoke into the mike on his shoulder and said, "Dispatch."
"Myrtle, Jake and Clyde still on duty?"
"Patch me through, please?"
"Jake, Clyde, Roscoe."
"Got a code 620."
"Roger," both said.
"That's the old code green light, Roscoe?"
"You got it in one Christine. Andy follow me." Roscoe drove back to the highway, turned his lights and siren on and headed down the highway. He was doing ninety. Ten minutes later they passed a sheriff's car parked on the side of the road. Ahead, the highway, straight as an arrow, disappeared in the distance. Another ten minutes, Roscoe pulled to the side of the road and got out. "Christine and Cam, guard my car." He got in the car with Andy and said: "Back to the other sheriff's car."
When they reached the other car, they got out, and Roscoe introduced Andy to Jake, a fellow deputy then said, "All clear?" Jake nodded. "Then let's roll," Roscoe said. He and Andy got in the Shelby and took off. They passed Christine and Cam doing almost a hundred sixty. The car had more to offer, but Andy decided that was enough.
Minutes later Roscoe said, "Start coming in for a landing. You have only six or seven miles to go."
Andy took his foot off the accelerator, and the car started slowing. When Roscoe said, "Three miles to go."Andy started braking, pulling to a smooth stop beside a third sheriff's car. Roscoe and Andy hopped out and walked over to the patrol car, and Roscoe introduced Andy to Clyde. "Clyde, we hit one sixty, and that pony still had more to offer. Would hate to have to try to chase him down."
"You won't have to," Andy laughed. "It's usually no more than ten miles above the speed limit. Sent my partner to buy me a Mustang, and he came back with the Shelby for less money. You ever run across Jamie Taylor you don't want to try and out wheeler-dealer him."
"Well, we better go rescue Christine and Cam," Roscoe said.
"Thanks," Clyde," Andy said, shaking his hand.
"Always glad to do a favor for Christine. You have got yourself one great woman."
"I agree," Andy said.
Andy drove Roscoe back to his car and picked up Christine and Cam. "Man, you were flying when you passed us. Did you open her all the way up? How fast did you go?"
"Nope, didn't open her up all the way. Stopped at one sixty."
"Damn!" Cam said.
"Keep that among us, Cam," Christine said.
"Of course," her brother replied.
Sunday morning, it was assumed Andy would go to church. Cam flat refused to go. Andy wished he could have. The Ebeneezer Baptist Church of Thomasboro---the black Baptist church---was by far the largest in the town---in the county, almost twice the size of the First Baptist Church of Thomasboro---the white church. To Andy, the service was more a musical show than a church service. The people often applauded and whistled after a song by the band, choir or soloist. Everything was designed to whip up the crowd: it was a pep rally.
Andy's mind was somewhere else when the preacher shouted, "You may have to beat the gay out of your son if he is seduced by a God-hating, evil, child-abusing son of Gomorrah." It got worse. It was all Andy could do to keep from walking out. Finally, Christine leaned over to him and said, "Let's get the hell out of here before I explode."
Back at the house, Andy and Christine started making out, forgetting Cam had not gone to church. "Guess I don't need more proof Andy's not a son of Gomorrah," Cam laughed as he walked into the library, "although if Andy's going to get naked, I'd like to stay around."
"Not a chance," Christine laughed. "I take it today's damning of the sons of Gomorrah was not the first."
"Part of the regular Sunday morning 'aren't we special standing against all the hell-bound liberals.' Belle---she's the cook, Andy---tells me we are it for Sunday dinner, no guests."
"Unheard of," Christine said. "Mother always has some VIP around her Sunday dinner table."
"Well, you and I may think that Andy is a VIP, but I'm sure Mother wouldn't agree."
Andy shrugged and said, "She couldn't have important people meeting her daughter's nobody fiancé, and certainly she could never have unimportant people at her table. Plain as the nose on your face."
"Bingo!" Christine agreed. Turns out Andy was glad only family was present.
It was another half hour before the rest of the family arrived. Mr. Evans fixed Bloody Mary's for the 'adults,' and Carol had a diet coke. Mr. Evans gave Cam a Virgin Mary which Christine managed to deflower.
They had been eating for a short time when Mrs. Evans said, "I certainly hope you or Andy were sick and had to leave the church this morning otherwise you were insulting."
"Oh, I was sick all right. I was ready to puke at the trash coming from the pulpit," Christine said.
"Christine! We are at the dinner table! Watch your language. I thought it was a perfectly fine sermon," Mrs. Evans said.
"Of course, you did, Mother," Christine said. "It condemned things you'd never consider, so you are righteous, and it told you how much better you were than others. I didn't hear any condemnation of the racism, poverty, spousal abuse, selective policing, the real evils in the county. While not attacking the significant evils in the community, he lies about a perceived evil."
"Perceive evil? What do you mean 'perceive evil?' I don't understand."
"He perceives being gay is evil and ascribes all sorts of evil action to gays."
"Well, of course, being gay is evil just like having an abortion or using drugs is evil."
"Mother, whether or not I ever have an abortion will be my choice. I won't go into the question of the abortion itself. Whether or not I use drugs is my choice. Whether or not I engage in sex is my choice. Whether or not I am gay is most certainly not a choice."
"Of course, it is. Gay people choose that disgusting lifestyle with all its disgusting habits. Don't tell me you are born gay, born a child abuser, born choosing to engage in unnatural sex. Promiscuous, sleeping with first one and then the other, forcing young boys to have sex with them."
"Ah, but Mother, that is exactly what I am telling you. People are born gay. It's like the color of your skin. You're born with it so you can claim no virtue in your light skin nor is there anything inferior in Andy's darker skin."
"That's a lie. Those young faggots chose to be gay with all it disgusting and evil ways."
Christine was looking calm and collected. Mr. Evans clearly wished the issue had never come up. Andy just wanted out of the whole mess. Carol was looking smug, and Cam was at the boiling point.
Suddenly Cam exploded, "Bull shit, Mother, I'd have to be twins to be any gayer. I never had a choice. When I began to realize my body was changing and sex reared its head, I knew I was gay. I liked guys. I have girls who are friends. What I wanted was a boyfriend. Choice? About the same as I had in my parents. And in case you're interested, unlike me, Carol, who is sitting there all smug, I haven't fucked around. I haven't done a single member of the football team while heterosexual Carol missed very few in her high school career."
Mrs. Evans got out of her chair, walked over to Cam and gave him a hard open-handed slap. "Don't you dare tell such lies about your sister and if you insist on being a fag you get out of my house."
Mr. Evans had had enough. "Eunice, sit down. I don't ever want to see you hit anyone else and especially one of our children. Cam, in spite of what your mother said and what her parents would like for others to believe, this house is mine. I bought it when the bank was foreclosing on your grandparents. Whether or not you're a virgin is unknown to me. You say you are and I accept that. Your mother and I are equally ignorant when it comes to Carol." The rest of the meal was eaten in silence.
Fifteen minutes after the meal was over, Andy and Christine were ready to go. Mr. Evans walked out with them. When they reached the car, he said, "Christine, Andy, I know this has not been an easy weekend for you. Overall, it had gone better than I expected until today. I know what you have heard from the pulpit echoed by Eunice cuts against much of what you believe and fight for. I'm sorry about that and hope you'll not let it keep you away, especially for Cam's and my sake."
"We won't," Andy said, "and we'll expect Cam at Arkadelphia after school's out if not before." Mr. Evans hugged Christine and shook hands with Andy and waved as they drove away.
As they left Thomasboro, Christine said, "Welcome to the Evans family, Dear Heart."
"Well, all I have to say is if your mother and Carol are examples of the socially elite, I'm glad I'm a peon! I do feel sorry for your dad to some extent, but more for Cam. I can see why he lives across town. I'm going to talk to Dad about him staying with us this summer."
"Andy, I'm sure he'd love that. Enough about the Evans family. What did you think about the house plans?"
"I didn't have time to look over the changes carefully, but nothing stuck out. Maybe we can look them over when we get back to the campus, and you can take them to Philip tomorrow and have him get started."
Philip called Thursday and said he had three bids. Andy asked how they looked. "One looks pretty high to me, and one is so low I'm suspicious."
"How about the center one?"
"Within a thousand, fifteen hundred of what I would bid."
"It's the center one."
"I know Francis and his work. I would think hard about rejecting his even if he were high. Have him bring me a contract."
Francis came Friday and Andy signed the contract. Andy asked when he could start. "I could start Monday, but I can't find anyone to do the grading."
Andy picked up the phone and called Christopher. "Christopher, can you get free Monday?"
"Maybe. We have calves falling like rain. What you need?"
"I need grading for my house done. Francis hasn't been able to find anyone to do it. He can start as soon as the grading done."
"You work in my place Monday, and I'll do the grading. I'll order the equipment as soon as we hang up."
"You know about oaks?"
"I do and as I recall, you have some fine old ones."
"Yeah and I'd like them to live for another hundred years."
Christopher put in a ten-hour day Monday and a six hour one the following day, but the grading was done. Both Philip and Francis were highly pleased with the job he did. It was too late to pour the footings when Christopher finished, but the concrete people arrived early the next morning. The time-consuming task was getting rebar placed in the footings. Andy and Jamie had talked about whether or not to add a basement to Andy's house---Jamie's house did not have one, only a large storm shelter and utility room---and to go with a poured foundation. They decided to do both. The concrete company was able to pour the footing, but could not pour the foundation until a week later. All was ready for the above the foundation construction to start the following week. Philip pointed out the delay advanced the completion date for the house, but it was only the first of many delays, "Besides," he added, "the footing will be stronger for the wait." Three weeks after Christopher moved the first dirt, the above the foundation construction began.
An extra warm February was a portent of an early spring. By the time Cade came back from Jacksonville, not only were the goats in the midst of kidding, but the cows were beginning dropping calves. Ordinarily, the two would not have posed a problem since that was the way it had been planned. What had not been expected was the arrival of spring a month early with a corresponding change the pecans made in their internal schedule which put the spring demands of the groves in the midst of a flood of kids and calves.
Additionally, the warm spring had followed an unusually mild winter with many insects ordinarily victims of the weather living through until spring and starting reproductive cycles early. The warm-too-early spring was also humid which meant an ideal climate for the growth of fungus. Weeks before they expected to be, the pecan crews were battling pests of all kinds. The only boon from the weather was flourishing pastures.
By the end of the first week of March, every moment of ten hour days and six and a half day weeks were spent dealing with goats, cows, and pecans by the Arkadelphia and Philos folks. Those in school, which was a majority, battled sleep in class as they put in long hours working and still had their assignments to do. Those not in school fell in bed as soon as they had supper.
Ethan knew there had to be relief one way or the other and told Davis he was looking for three or four temps with the idea that one or two might become permanent. Of course, other plantations were also looking for temps, and it was a week before he found any. He hired four and put them to work in the pecan groves. Near noon Wednesday, he and Davis drove to Pleasant Grove to check on the now two-year-old replanted grove. The four temps were supposed to be working in an adjoining grove. When he and Davis got out of the truck to check on them, they were lying under a tree passing a pot pipe among them. Ethan would have been angry had they only been goofing off, but he was furious that they were smoking dope. He had told them before he hired them that was a big no-no. He announced angrily as he approached them, "You have thirty minutes to be off Arkadelphia property. Pick up your check and leave."
The demands of the plantation meant Ethan and Caleb saw very little of each other. In fact, while they were determined not to give up their weekly chess game, the last two times they had tried to play they had fallen asleep before they made half a dozen moves.
Not only were they exhausted and sleep deprived by the demands of school and work, but they were without any privacy. A glitch in getting the wiring done had put the construction of the addition of the apartment for Cade on hold. Ethan was hesitant about telling Sally Ann he and Caleb were boyfriends. Not only had he suffered at Scotty's betrayal, but also had Sally Ann and Jamie. Deep down he probably knew better, but he feared they would see Caleb as a threat to Ethan's well-being and would reject him. Ethan realized he had to do something but was stymied as to what that might be. Then luck came in a chance encounter.
After he and Caleb had dinner with Miss Mattie, they were faithful in their promise to show up at St. Matthew's. The Sunday after he sacked the temps, he and Caleb were in the pew with Miss Mattie, and Sally Ann and Keith were sitting with his parents who had started going to St. Matthew's. Not surprising, both Ethan and Caleb went to sleep during the sermon. After the Eucharist, Ethan apologized to Fr. McKenzie. "Father, so far as I know, your sermon was okay, but we are spending ten or more hours a day working or in class then doing our assignments, leaving very little time for sleep. We get still; we sleep."
"Understand. A nap was probably better for you than a sermon anyway," Fr. McKenzie replied with a hearty laugh.
Miss Mattie insisted on taking them to lunch at Lyle Plantation. As they walked to the truck---Miss Mattie would brook no argument; she was riding in it---Sally Ann walked up to Ethan and said, "See you before curfew, Brother," and kissed Ethan on the cheek.
"I needed that," he said. "Have a good time---well, I guess it would be better to say have a productive time at the library and a good time afterward," and left Sally Ann in Keith's care---or vice versa.
"You could have invited Sally Ann and Keith to go with us," Miss Mattie said.
Ethan explained that Sally Ann and Keith had plans. "She told me last night Keith's parents were taking them to lunch after which she and Keith are going to the university library to work on their senior project. Sally Ann started joint enrollment last year and put the pressure on Keith to do so this, their senior year. They'll work until time to grab something for supper before going to the late movie."
As they drove to the restaurant, Miss Mattie asked, "Ethan, are you such a skinflint you won't hire some help? You're killing yourself and the folks on the plantations."
"I wish I could find someone worth hiring," Ethan answered. He then told her of his experience with temps. "I don't know what right now, but I do know I have to do something soon."
As they approached the entrance of the restaurant, Miss Mattie waved at a young woman getting out of her car and motioned her over. "Ethan, the young lady, headed this way may be the answer to your problem."
When she reached them, she said, "Miss Mattie."
"Rosemund. Rosemund, Mr. Ethan Taylor and Mr. Caleb Hall respectively of Arkadelphia and Philos plantations in Bragg County. Gentlemen, Miss Rosemund Crawford. Just telling Ethan, you may have the answer to his prayer. Ethan, Rosemund works for the employment office. You meeting someone, Rosamund?"
"I was supposed to meet a cousin, but he just called and said he couldn't make it, so I decided to come on alone."
"By all means join us," Ethan said.
"I wouldn't want to intrude," Rosemund responded.
"Don't worry about that," Ethan said.
"You two can talk business for five minutes, and Ethan can write it off as a business expense," Miss Mattie laughed.
After they had given their drink orders, Miss Mattie said, "Okay, Ethan, tell Rosemund about your problem."
Ethan explained his need for additional workers and his experience with temps. "Either I get help, or we're going to have to decide what we can just let go for a year. We can't go flat out much longer."
"Tell me more. I might have a possibility. You a part of this, Caleb?"
Caleb told her about his job and added that they all worked where needed, not just their primary assignment. "Before you get too far along, you need to know Arkadelphia, Pleasant Grove, and Philos are special. That may be a problem. As a matter of fact, it's got me in a bind right now." He then told her about the Arkadelphia Dream.
When he finished, Ethan said, "Caleb is the last person to come to work at Arkadelphia and articulates the Dream well. You can see it's in our bones."
"As I said, I might have a possibility, but are you really serious about that dream?"
Comments always welcome at Sequoyah