Cade had been in Afghanistan for three weeks before Caleb heard from him for the first time and he was going to learn that it would just be that way. Cade never wrote, period. When he had access to email, he would send an email if the mood struck. As a result, Caleb was never surprised when he didn't hear from his brother but was always surprised when he did. From his occasional email, Caleb did realize Cade was a Marine through and through and a realist.
Cade knew how it was to be poor, very poor, so it wasn't the poverty he saw in Afghanistan that disturbed him, but the cruelty. Over the weeks, he became increasingly incensed by the demand that he fight for the freedom of people who denied freedom to their own and in particular to women who were virtual slaves. What he saw, he described in his emails to Caleb. He also described his increasing conviction that the time, money and blood being poured into the country wasn't worth it. The culture of thousands of years would not be changed by outsiders when insiders didn't want change. Each email raised more and more questions for Caleb. Caleb was also afraid for his brother when he wrote about fighting and roadside bombs, but knew there was nothing he could do about it.
So it was that he was not very surprised when he received a letter stating that Cade had been wounded by an IED, an improvised explosive device. After that, he heard nothing for over two weeks and had no knowledge of his condition. When Cade finally emailed him, he was in the hospital in Germany. "I almost lost my left leg," he said, "but the doctors managed to save it. I'm going to be alright. Don't worry," but of course Caleb did.
It was four weeks later after Caleb had received the email that he received an actual letter--his first--Cade had written. It was addressed in care of Arkadelphia Plantation and Ethan brought it to him. When Caleb read the letter, he turned very pale and tears started running down his face. He looked at Ethan and collapsed in his arms, weeping. When he got control of himself, he handed the letter to Ethan. As Ethan read the letter, he reached out and pulled Caleb to himself.
I am at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in DC. I arrived a week ago. Sorry, I haven't kept you up to date with what's going on, but to be honest, all I wanted to do was hide in a hole.
Three other Marines and I were in a Humvee taking a woman who was having a baby to the hospital when an IED hit us. The woman and one of the Marines were blown to pieces. One of the remaining Marines died before we could get help and the other one died later. I was the only one who 'escaped.' My left leg was pretty much destroyed and I was sure I would lose it, but the medics managed to save it.
I was sent to Germany where I have had a dozen surgeries and have ended up with about as much metal as bone in my leg. The doctors managed to save the leg, but I'll have a limp as long as I live. But I guess life with a limp far outweighs no life.
I came in on a hospital plane from Germany and it looks as if they have done all they can do for me. I have daily physical therapy, but other than that the doctors have finished with me. Unofficially, I have been told the Marines are finished with me as well. I suspect I'll start the whole review before discharge, but I don't know when
I've been told on the qt that I would probably be granted a convalescent leave in a couple of weeks. I had thought about you coming up but seems best for you to wait and come up to accompany me back to Georgia. Hope your house is big enough for both of us because I'll not be going back to Hubert County.
Send me your phone number as I managed to lose it somehow.
It's rough, Brother.
Caleb called, but Cade was unavailable. After several more attempts, he gave up and sent an email. Ethan insisted Caleb come with him to Arkadelphia and after calling Jamie and telling him what was going on, the two went to Ethan's place. Cade called Caleb at 6:00 in the evening and the two talked for an hour.
The first round of breeding goats was to begin in a week and Caleb spent most of the week teaching Andy and Jamie about the whole process. "The first thing we need to do is select doelings to replace the nannies we sold from the first group to kid. Mr. Blount replaced fifteen to twenty percent of the herd after each kidding. We don't have to worry about selecting the nannies to sell for a while but we need to select replacements for those already sold."
Jamie could imagine them spending days rounding up goats and was surprised at how relatively easy it was. The secret was getting to know the goats. Caleb spent time with them most days and encouraged Jamie and Andy to do so. Goats are social animals and easily became friendly. All three learned to take a bag of corn chips--they bought huge boxes from a restaurant supply house--with them a time or two each week as a goat treat. While the whole goat pasture would cover acres and acres, Caleb had insisted they begin by fencing areas he felt would support fifty goats and dividing that in quarters so the herd could be rotated giving the pastures time to recover. Now that they were ready to select goats, watering troughs were placed in one division and each of the goat boys took one group of goats to pay special attention to and give treats. One afternoon they got all in one sub-pasture, the gate between was closed and selecting animals was easy.
The doelings of breeding age were placed in a common subdivision so the new nannies-to-be could be selected. Having had time to observe operations at Philos, Caleb discussed increasing the herd with Jamie and Andy. This provoked an extended discussion about how much time they would spend at Arkadelphia and how much at Philos. The decision was to increase the herd slowly.
From the doelings, Caleb had Andy and Jamie each select nine for breeding. When they had, he thought they could have done as well flipping a coin. Realizing they had no idea of the criteria to use, he had them watch carefully as he selected or rejected a doeling, explaining why and how he made the decision.
Caleb also intended to teach them how to match nanny with billy. To do that, they needed to see and learn the qualities of each of the billies. As they approached the first billy pen, the two new goat farmers were, figuratively and literally, hit with the stench of a billy in rut. "I guess billies don't clean up for the ladies," Andy said, breathing through his mouth.
"The exact opposite as you can smell," Caleb laughed.
Caleb had shown them the breeding records from the last season and explained why very careful records were kept of the bloodlines to avoid any inbreeding. "After this breeding season," Caleb said, "I suggest we purchase a couple of superior females who have been bred to outstanding billies to, hopefully, introduce new bloodlines into our herd. We can also exchange billies with someone, or go the purchased sperm route to keep our bloodlines strong. We have strong bloodlines now, but they need to be strengthened by new ones, not weakened by inbreeding. Anyway, we're ready to start breeding next week."
Monday at the meeting to discuss the coming week's work, Andy said, "Jamie, Caleb and I are 'pimping' goats. We are escorting nannies to their 'dates' with a billy today."
Caleb saw they learned well how to tell when a doe was in heat and they each soon had does who were ready to mate. Andy and Jamie didn't do too bad a job of explaining which billy they would choose to breed each of the does. The billies performed well for willing does, but it was almost 1:00 when the three men, saturated with billy goat stench, took the second group of does back after their date.
"I am starving," Jamie said, "but I know Kathryn won't let us in the house stinking as we do." Jamie's phone rang and when he had closed it, he said, "Kathryn. She left food on the bridge and a box of goat milk soap. Why the goat milk soap?"
"It's the only thing I know that will get rid of billy goat stink," Caleb said.
The three washed in the river using the goat milk soap but were sure they still smelled of billy goat and knew their clothes did. Nonetheless, they were able to eat lunch.
It was 5:00 when the last does were ‘home from their date'. Caleb told them all to strip and he would wash their stinking clothes. He put them in the washer with the usual detergent and shaved in a bar of goat milk soap before joining the other two in the river scrubbing with the soap. They finished up with a hot shower at Caleb's and put on clean clothes they had brought. Kathryn had invited Andy and Caleb to supper. When asked, she declared the three were billy odor free, though it was hard to convince them. They thought they could smell each other.
Cade and Caleb talked almost every day. Cade had days when he was very depressed both by his physical condition and the fact that he was hanging in limbo. Ethan wanted to help Caleb, but he didn't know what to do until he talked with Rich. "Ethan, if Cade can't get a pass to come here, Caleb needs to go there," Rich said. "Let me know what his plans are. I may be able to help."
When Ethan suggested Caleb fly up for several days, even a week, Caleb pointed out there was still six weeks of the breeding season. "Can't Andy and Jamie handle that?"
"That's an iffy proposition," Caleb said. "They can easily handle getting does and billies together, but I'm not sure they are well enough versed in knowing which does go to which billy and when," Caleb said.
"So when is the next breeding date?"
"In a week and a half, assuming the ladies cooperate and come into heat."
"So why can't you make a trip before that date?"
"Well, I guess I could. What about school?" The Arkadelphia students had started back to school the week before.
"You are on campus Tuesday and Thursday. You leave Friday morning and come back Monday. You have two full days with Cade."
"Lots of money for two days."
Ethan decided he was going to have to take drastic measures. "Caleb, it's only money. I know you as I can't help but remember how precious money can be, but think about Cade. He's stuck in a deep hole. Part of that is simply because he is wounded among wounded. A visit from his brother will remind him that there is a world outside of war and hospitals. So get ready to go."
Ethan and Caleb had talked on Wednesday after Ethan had taken Caleb home from ASU. Both decided the coming Saturday was too soon for the trip. When Caleb asked Cade about his coming up, Cade was ecstatic. Caleb checked on planes and talked with Ethan about the possibilities. Ethan suggested he get an early flight such as one leaving Audubon for Atlanta at 6:30 in the morning. "You can cut your evening class--everyone cuts freshman orientation as often as they can--and go up Friday and get back Monday early evening. I'll take you to the airport and bring you back."
"Thanks in advance."
"You're welcome. I'll come by tomorrow and we'll make arrangements. You don't have a credit card, do you?"
"No, when I applied I was told I didn't have a credit history."
"Well, we'll take care of that later. You can use one of Arkadelphia Plantation's and pay it back. Plan to stay for supper."
Caleb was spending almost all of his time with the goats, but Jamie told him they would all be at Arkadelphia working ten hour days and six days a week for two or three weeks in October. "We will certainly not neglect the goats, but anything that is not necessary will be postponed. It will be pecan harvest time. Year before last we set a record for pecans at Arkadelphia. We had taken over Pleasant Grove in late spring and it didn't produce very well. Last year was an off year--pecans produce heavy crops on alternate years--so this year is an on year and both plantations have been well cared for.
"Well, breeding will be out of the way and we have just finished with selecting, selling, etc. of the last kidding and the next is not until November. We do need to be sure there are adequate shelters for the winter and move the fence and goats at Pleasant Grove."
"By the way," Jamie said, ‟Davis is delighted with the way they are cleaning up Pleasant Grove. That's beside the point, anything you need for your trip that we can help you with?"
"Not that I know about. I'm going to Ethan's this evening to make arrangements for the plane, hotel and whatever."
"Good! Caleb, remember we are family and if you need to call on us, do."
Caleb took an inventory of his clothes and knew he was in for some serious shopping, which he hated plus he hated to spend so much money, but it couldn't be helped.
He got to Ethan's at 6:00 and Sally Ann insisted he sit down and relax. "You can get into trips and all after we have supper." As soon as he walked into the den he saw a chess set on a small table. "New set?" he asked Ethan.
"Yeah. Saw it in the window of a consignment shop in Audubon and had to have it."
"It's a beautiful set, unusual, but quite beautiful. When are we going to break it in?"
"Probably not tonight, but soon."
In the middle of dinner, Caleb's phone rang. He let the message go to voicemail. Neither Ethan nor Sally Ann was surprised because answering the phone during a meal just wasn't tolerated at Arkadelphia as Christopher had a hard time learning. After supper, Caleb opened his phone and said, "There's a voicemail here from Cade." He called Cade back and they talked for half an hour. When he finished, he said, "Major change in plans. Cade wants me to come up Sunday. I will be his official escort/caregiver and he will come back with me Monday. He has a thirty-day medical leave. He said my ticket would be at the Delta desk in Atlanta. Oh! He also said he had been strongly advised both by a fellow Marine and his primary doctor to avoid commuter planes if possible. The difficulty getting on and off and lack of leg room make traveling with a messed up leg pretty uncomfortable. Said that was Marine talk for hurts like hell." Told him I doubted we could do anything about that."
"We can. It will mean a two and a half to three hour trip to Atlanta and the same back, but we can do it. We'll go up Saturday and I'll stay over Saturday and Sunday nights and meet you and Cade. I'm sure he'll be exhausted so we can stay over and come back Tuesday or if he wants, we can come back late Monday. "
Caleb was excited beyond belief. He was not flying to DC to see his brother, he was flying to DC to bring his brother home! He grabbed Ethan and danced around the room, then released him and did the same with Sally Ann. When he had calmed down, he said, "I have a lot to do before we leave Sunday to get ready for Cade. I guess I need to think about a bed for him although we have slept together before I came here."
"Ever hear of a Murphy bed?" Sally Ann asked. "I saw one at a place in Audubon once when Molly and I were shopping. You could have one put in the room you are using for an office. It folds up into a cabinet in the wall when not in use and takes little space."
"Sounds good," Caleb said.
"I'll take care of it and have it ready when you get back," Sally Ann said.
Caleb left at 9:00 to go home and after he was gone, Sally Ann said, "We have one happy camper at Philos tonight." Ethan agreed and went up to bed. As he lay in bed just before slipping into sleep he thought about how he felt with Caleb's arms around him as he had danced him around the den.
Friday morning four mowers headed for the groves to prepare for the pecan harvest which would begin in a few weeks. After lunch, the six enrolled in school in Audubon piled into the SUV and headed south. Caleb took a lot of ribbing about how excited he was with Cade coming for a month. They were all happy for him.
When they got back, Sally Ann asked Caleb to stay to talk about Murphy beds. "Caleb, you have nice office furniture, so I thought it would be nice to match it. I called the man who built some furniture for Kathryn and Jamie. He suggested I contact a Mr. Spangler who had experience with the beds. He came out and looked at your place and said since we have cherry he can use, he can build one which will match the furniture you have. It will look like a shallow wall cabinet. It'll not be cheap, but Andy and Jamie said Philos will split the cost with you and loan you your half. Given Cade's physical problems, I'd suggest you splurge and get a memory foam mattress. When I told Mr. Spangler Cade's situation, he said he would get on it as soon as you gave the word. He said he couldn't finish it by Monday, but was sure he could get it done by Tuesday. When Caleb saw the price, he was about to say he and Cade could just share his bed, then he thought about Cade's leg and told Sally Ann to give Mr. Spangle the go ahead.
Ethan took Caleb home and walked him to the door. At the door, Caleb took Ethan's hands in his and said, "Ethan, Arkadelphia and Philos, and especially you, have been so very good to me. I could just kiss you."
Ethan looked into his eyes and said, "I wouldn't object." Caleb leaned forward and kissed Ethan on the cheek. Ethan wrapped his arms around Caleb and kissed him softly on the lips. They stood, looking into each other's eyes for a long minute, then Caleb said, "I think I best be getting inside," turned quickly and went inside.
Ethan went home elated, but also confused.
Sally Ann had already gone up to her room when Ethan came back from Philos, so he went up as well. He got undressed and slid into bed where he lay thinking about the night. Looking back, he could see that his feelings for Caleb had moved beyond friendship while he wasn't looking. For the first time, he really understood how high and strong the walls he'd built around his heart were after Scotty. On the one hand, his conscious side, he worried about being alone for the rest of his life. On the other hand, his unconscious side, he had built walls to keep any possibility of love away. Well, Caleb bulldozed right through that wall with a kiss on the cheek!
Given his inclination to worry, Ethan was afraid he had frightened Caleb away when he responded to the kiss on the cheek with one on the lips. After all, Caleb quickly put a door between himself and Ethan. Well, they would be together tomorrow and spend the night together. Ethan reminded himself he had had a lot more experience than Caleb and that Caleb was shy and not aggressive in the least. Finally, with a smile on his face, Ethan drifted off to sleep remembering again how Caleb felt in his arms.
At breakfast, Sally Ann was chattering away about getting a Murphy bed for Cade and Ethan made a noise occasionally, but not hearing anything she was saying. With one of her mischievous grins she asked, "Ethan, I have a problem. I can't decide between having my head shaved or dying my hair pea green. Help me out. Which do you think I should do."
"Always go with the simple answer, Sister," Ethan replied in a voice that clearly said his mind was a million miles away.
"Ethan, I am very surprised. I thought you liked pea green. What color would you go with?" There was no response from Ethan. ‟Ethan! You are not listening."
"Then which color if not pea green?"
"Which color for what?"
"Ethan Taylor where are you? You haven't been here since you came down. You just sit there with a dreamy look and tiny smile on your face."
"I just have something on my mind."
"Something or someone?"
Ethan just grinned and said, "Sis, I need to get busy. I need to make hotel reservations, get packed, check on vehicles. I don't think a truck will be ideal for Cade. Caleb and I are leaving right after lunch."
Sally Ann said, "I'm headed for Philos to meet Mr. Spangler and Jamie. Jamie is going to show him the lumber we have available. I just hope Mr. Spangler can get the bed built quickly. I called the store in Audubon yesterday and they have the mechanism in their warehouse and I'm going to pick it up this afternoon."
"Good job, Sis. Well, I'm going to talk to Molly about her Lincoln."
At 12:00, Ethan drove to Philos to pick up Caleb. When he arrived, he saw a strange truck parked in Caleb's drive. He started to knock on the open door when Caleb called, "Come on in, Ethan. I'm in the office. Ethan, Mr. Spangler." The two shook hands.
"Find the wood you need, Mr. Spangler?" Ethan asked.
"I did indeed. Beautiful and enough that I could match grain patterns. I picked out what I would need and took it home to plane and spent the morning dressing it. Took some time as I had to plane it to the bed plans. Came back here to recheck all my measurements. I'll cut the pieces and bring them back here to assemble. Since Caleb's going to be gone until Monday afternoon, I may be able to finish the project before he gets back. No promises."
Ethan and Caleb went back to Arkadelphia and had lunch and left for Atlanta at 2:00 which should put them in the hotel well before 6:00. When they took the ramp to I-75, Caleb said, "This is kinda frightening. I had never been more than forty miles from home before I came to Philos and only to Audubon since I have been here. I hope I don't get lost!"
"You won't, Rich has someone meeting you at the airport and taking you to Walter Reed. There's a shuttle from the hospital to your hotel and you can take it back to the hospital. Then a hospital shuttle will take you and Cade to the airport. A piece of cake."
"Easy for you to say! It's still frightening."
"Yeah," Ethan agreed.
The two fell silent for several long minutes then Caleb said, "Ethan, about last night."
"I'm not sure about what happened. Well, that's not quite true. I know what happened and well, I think maybe I should not have rushed off. To be honest, I think I have feelings toward you that are more than friendship. Don't get me wrong, I treasure our friendship deeply. I treasure my friendship with all of the people of Arkadelphia. I guess the feeling I have for you all is more than friendship. You all are my family. Of course, that includes you, but there's more . . . to tell the truth, Ethan, I'm confused."
"So am I."
"So what do we do?"
"We take things easy, just let things happen--within reason--and don't worry too much about it. I say that, but I suspect it's easier said than done."
They fell silent again for several minutes before Ethan opened a new conversation. "So, you're getting a Murphy bed in your office."
"Yeah. It was Sally Ann's idea. She showed me some brochures and we watched a video on the Internet. When you are ready to go to bed, you release catches on what becomes the legs and it folds down and you have a regular bed. When you get up, you make the bed, then lift the foot and it folds into the wall and looks like a shallow wall cabinet. It takes up about a foot of floor space the width of the bed. Neat."
"I'm glad. I don't know how much pain Cade's leg gives him now, but I'm sure having someone roll over on it would not be pleasant."
"Murphy beds are expensive and I first thought it would be too much, but then thought along those same lines. Philos is paying half and Jamie offered to loan me my half, but since I paid very little for my furnishing, I didn't need it."
"So how's the refinishing coming?"
"Very well. I have the outdoor furniture stripped and painted. I have cushions ordered for it. Also, you have seen how bad the cushions are for the living room, but Molly gave me the name of a lady who would make new ones for me. She's a friend of Claire Bell and is Claire Bell's age so she doesn't rush. I picked up the sofa ones Monday and she had done a beautiful job."
They talked about all sorts of things until they were approaching Atlanta. When Ethan decided to raise a question that had been troubling him. "Caleb, does Cade know anything about Arkadelphia?
"Sure. I write him about what's going on and about everyone."
"I mean something more specific. I mean does he know about, well, the Arkadelphia Dream?"
"I don't know. I think if he is smart he would understand that from what I write, but, no, I have never told him anything specific about it."
"What do you think his reaction will be when he finds out?"
"To be honest, Ethan, I don't know. I have never thought about it. I mean, it's so much of who and what we are I guess I just assumed he would be all for it. I think I better talk to him."
"Please, would hate for him to be blindsided."
Ethan had reasoned that rush hour would be no problem since they would be headed into town, it was Saturday and they would arrive before five, all of which was true, but his conclusion was not. When he mentioned this to the fellow at the hotel desk, he replied, "Oh, but you're correct, but then Atlanta never seems less than rush hour to someone from out of town." He handed Ethan two door key cards, asked if he needed help with bags. Ethan told him they did not and he said, "Then enjoy your stay."
When they reached the room, Ethan suggested they take a quick shower to freshen up, then take the train to Lenox Mall and Phipps Plaza. "Probably can't afford anything, but I've never been on the train nor in an upscale mall."
Riding the train was an adventure. At times Ethan wondered if it was a wise decision as there were some pretty tough looking people all around them. After a moment's thought, he realized two things. One, he was not used to being around so many people and two, the urban scene was not like rural south Georgia. The people looked different as he was sure he and Caleb looked different to them.
Lenox and Phipps Plaza were exciting places, but as he had suggested, everything looked too expensive, but fortunately, neither of the two saw anything they thought they had to have. After looking around for an hour, Ethan said, "We better get moving. I made reservations at a restaurant in Phipps. Caleb was horrified at the prices, but Ethan told him it was his treat and he had chosen the restaurant especially since it featured Arkadelphia Plantation Grass-fed Beef.
When they got back to the hotel, it was 10:00 and both were ready for bed. Ethan had anticipated having two beds, but the room had only one, a king size. Ethan had noticed this when they checked in but said nothing about it.
"Looks like we'll be sleeping together," Caleb said as they started getting undressed.
"Do you mind?" Ethan asked. "I was sure there were two beds and was surprised when we checked in and there was only one."
"No problem," Caleb replied. They crawled into bed and Ethan turned out the lights. "Ethan," Caleb said in a shy voice, "do I get a goodnight kiss?"
"I would be very happy to give you a goodnight kiss," Ethan replied, softly, pulled Caleb into his arms and gave him a butterfly kiss.
Caleb returned his kiss, softly at first, then with some passion. When they broke the kiss, Caleb said, "Goodnight, Ethan."
"Goodnight, Caleb. Sweet dreams."
It was obvious that both young men did not go to sleep immediately, but eventually, both drifted off to dreamland.
Comments always welcome at Sequoyah