The young man sat staring at the computer screen in front of him, obviously daydreaming, seeing nothing. An older man, probably thirty-five or forty, weather-beaten, stepped into the office, took a look and said, “Son, you better get with it. The boss will be here shortly and he’s pissed off already. Bubba Jackson beat his ass yesterday at the cattle sale. He had looked over the cattle being offered and saw a bunch of calves he wanted. When he saw Bubba looking them as well, he was hell-bent on having them come heaven, hell or high water. Bubba was equally determined and outsmarted him. When the calves were the next lot to be offered, the auctioneer announced the owner had pulled then off the auction block. The boss was pissed and when he learned Bubba had made a deal with the owner before they came up for sale ... well, you know how he hates for Bubba to put one over on him. He came home steaming. It’ll take him all day to come down off his high horse. If that wasn’t bad enough, Molly was giving him hell for something when he came out the back door a few minutes ago. He was headed to the receiving pen to check on the cattle we bought yesterday and will be here next, super pissed because what we did buy will remind him of what we didn’t buy.” The boss was Jefferson Davis Edwards III, known as Davis, the owner of Arkadelphia Plantation.
Arkadelphia Plantation had been in the Edwards family since 1826, the year after the Creeks ceded the land to the United States. It was established and named by George Washington Edwards who carved it out of the gnat-infested south Georgia wilderness. His grandson, George Washington Edwards III was the last of the George Washington Edwards as he named his son, born in 1863, Jefferson Davis Edwards. The present owner, Jefferson Davis Edwards III is the son of J. D. who died in 1975. Davis named his son Thomas Jefferson Edwards saying, in case it hadn’t been noticed, the Civil War was over and Jefferson Davis lost.
With slave labor and the demand for cotton, Arkadelphia thrived until after The War. While some ex-slaves stayed on the plantation in little better conditions than before the Emancipation, the family had to struggle to hang onto the land. By the second decade of the twentieth century, as with most cotton plantations, years of cotton had depleted the soil and erosion was washing away what was left. Arkadelphia was barely providing a living for the owners and the three or four families left living there. In the late 1920s, a new county agent* came to the area charged with the task of teaching plantation owners about restoring the soil. Called a ‘city boy’ and a ‘college textbook farmer’—he was neither, as he had grown up poor on a south Georgia farm—he was not welcomed by most. However, Jefferson Davis Edwards II had been pretty progressive when it came to farming and worked with the county agent to develop a plan to begin restoration of the land.
After several years work, two hundred acres were semi-restored. The county agent pointed out a small native pecan grove on the plantation and suggested part of the restored acreage be planted in pecans. After careful study, fifty acres were planted and thrived, so for each of the next five years, fifty more acres were planted. The first grove started bearing by the time Davis was born. Presently the plantation had three hundred acres of fine pecan groves, four hundred growing pines and three hundred in pasture. Herds of beef cattle grazed lush pastures and at certain times in the groves. Arkadelphia Plantation was a thriving business and the Edwards family was once again prosperous.
J. D. died quite suddenly in 1975, struck down by a heart attack. Davis was a thirty-year-old playboy when suddenly he had a thousand-acre plantation on his hands. His playboy days were over and, before he knew it, he was so wrapped up in managing the plantation that he had no time for women and partying. His mother died two years after his father, leaving Davis alone in the plantation house.
He had never given much thought to marriage, certainly not during his playboy days and afterward he was too busy. Then a year or so after his mother died, he was sitting half-watching some dumb TV show when tears started running down his cheeks as he was suddenly overwhelmed by a crushing sense of hopelessness. He realized he was weeping because he was a very, very lonely man and despaired of being able to do anything about it.
A few months later he was invited to a dinner party at Rebekah Furr’s Sweet Water Plantation. Rebekah Furr’s sister, Amelia Post and her husband had purchased Cold Springs Plantation and Rebekah wanted to introduce them to the other planters in the area. As soon as Davis set eyes on Molly, Rebekah’s niece, he knew the solution to his loneliness. He was thirty-five years old and Molly was almost fifteen years his junior, but neither of them thought that was important as Davis’ courtship of Molly began. The fact that she lived sixty miles away might have put a crimp in some courtships, but both Molly and Davis were stubborn. Six months after they met, Davis and Molly were married. From the beginning, Molly made it clear she was not cut out for the traditional role of the wife of a plantation owner. She was determined to do more than sip ice tea and gossip, and started keeping books for the plantation shortly after she and Davis married.
As the years passed, it had seemed there would be no Jefferson Davis Edwards IV as Davis and Molly had been married ten years without children. There had been miscarriages, but no children. Then, just before her thirty-second birthday, Molly had a ‘touch of the flu’ which left her hanging over the toilet a few mornings. Davis finally insisted she see the doctor. When the doctor has finished examining her, Molly said, “Just touch of the flu which will run its course, right Doc?”
Old Doc Winston laughed and said, “Not flu, Molly, but it’ll run its course—in about nine months. You’re pregnant.” He then gave her instructions and cautions, hoping she could carry the child full-term.
When she got home, she told Davis he was going to have to find a bookkeeper as she would not be doing it. When he asked her why, she said, “Because I need to carry this child full term.” Davis whooped and hollered until he was probably heard in the next county.
Davis had always been a strong supporter of the local schools and especially of the high school. He highly respected Bill Kimes, the young business teacher he first met at a Lion’s Club meeting the year before. Thinking he’d like to have someone local taking his money, he called Mr. Kimes and asked if he knew someone he would recommend to keep books for him. He could and recommended Sarah Worth who was just out of high school. She started working immediately with Molly by her side until she felt comfortable with the job.
Sarah had worked at Arkadelphia almost sixteen years when, right after New Years, she announced her husband had accepted an offer to become a farm manager in Alabama and gave a month’s notice. She reminded Davis she would moving to Alabama and would not be around to stand behind a new person. “I’ll be here a month to help someone learn the ropes, then she’s on her own.”
Davis had found Sarah by talking with Mr. Kimes, so he called and made an appointment to see him about a replacement. When he told Mr. Kimes what he wanted, he was surprised at his response. “To tell you the truth I have only one student or recent graduate I think could handle the job. He’s not yet sixteen, a sophomore, but if I work with him, I think he could handle it.”
“Think he’d be interested?”
“Can’t say. You’ll have to ask him.”
“When can I see him?”
“Maybe at the supper table. The guy who I think could handle the books is your son, Jeff.” Davis was flabbergasted.
When Jeff got home from school, Molly told him his daddy wanted to see him in his office. When he stepped into the office, Davis asked if he wasn’t taking a bookkeeping course and when he said he was, his dad said, “Fine. You have a month to get good at it and take Sarah’s place.”
Jeff was very much like his father—stubborn—and not exactly the respectful and obedient son. He replied, “I’ll expect the same salary Sarah is getting.” That led to a major fight and the two finally agreed Jeff would get a slight increase in his allowance, a new sports car at the end of the school year and a summer’s travel following graduation. On his own initiative the soon-to-be sixteen-year-old went to Mr. Kimes and asked him to help him learn the ropes of the plantation bookkeeping system. A month later, Mr. Kimes told Davis he thought Jeff would do okay. He also offered to check on him for the first couple of months and help him out should he get stuck. The kid never got stuck and, in fact, found some places where Sarah had made mistakes.
A few months before he graduated high school, Jeff reminded his dad he needed to get someone to take over the bookkeeping. “You might be thinking about someone to take over management of the plantation as well. Dad, a part of our deal was I could travel the summer after I graduate. Art and I plan to leave a couple of weeks after graduation.” Art had been Jeff’s best friend since first grade and the two were much closer than most brothers. “Truth of the matter is, we’ll start Emory two weeks after we get back and I’ll not be back except to visit. That’s no surprise to you. We have talked about this often. You know I hate Arkadelphia Plantation and this whole part of the world.” Davis had long ago accepted the fact that Jeff was not cut out to be a plantation owner or, for that matter, for rural life.
Davis liked the idea of cheap labor and went back to the high school to talk with Mr. Kimes, hoping he had student who could take over. Mr. Kimes was sure he did and told Davis about Ethan Taylor, whom he recommended, and suggested Davis come by at 11:30 next day to meet and interview him. “His lunch period begins at 11:45 and he has my class immediately afterward, so you can have him for almost an hour and a half. You might take him to lunch.”
Mr. Kimes sent a note to Ethan asking him to come by and see him after school. When he arrived, he told him of the job offer. He ended up saying, “I don’t mean to bad mouth anyone, but Davis Edwards will try to get by as cheap as he can. Don’t take the job for peanuts.” After they had talked awhile, Mr. Kimes suggested an hourly wage that would be absolute minimum. “Tell him you don’t think you can work for less than two dollars more than that, then negotiate,” he said as he handed Ethan a pass so Davis could take him to lunch the next day.
Davis came by Mr. Kimes’ room at 11:30 the following day, just as the class was being dismissed. A few minutes later a young man walked in. The first thing Davis noticed was that he carried himself well. He was about five ten, five eleven with black, slightly wavy hair worn a bit longer than most did these days. As he came closer, Davis was struck by his fine features. The kid was handsome, but what really hit him were his eyes. Large, brown, so dark they were almost black, they were framed by some of the longest lashes he had ever seen. In spite of his dark hair and eyes, he was not very dark, but Davis knew he’d tan in the sun.
“Mr. Edwards, Ethan Taylor. Ethan, Mr. Davis Edwards.” The two shook hands.
“Ethan, may I call you Ethan?” Davis asked.
“I understand you know I’d like to talk with you concerning a job.”
“Would you like to discuss it downtown over lunch?”
“Mr. Edwards, any student here would do just about anything to escape eating cafeteria food. I’d be happy to discuss a job over lunch.”
The two went downtown, ordered and before their food arrived, Davis said, “Ethan, I don’t know a damn thing about keeping books or how the report I’m handed each month gets put together. Molly, my wife, handled it all in her own way until she got pregnant with our son Jeff. I hired Sarah Worth to do the job and she did it for almost sixteen years. When she moved to Alabama, Jeff took over the job. You know Jeff?” Ethan nodded. “He took over when he was a bit younger than you are. He’s got the system pretty standardized to what you learn at school. He works about twenty hours a week. You can work out your own schedule, but it’ll take twenty hours to do the job I’m pretty sure. Interested?”
“Sure. I can work after baseball practice every day for two and a half hours and seven and a half Saturdays. I do play baseball and when we have an out-of-town game, I’ll work over a couple of days to make up for it. Baseball’s all I do except go to school and help out at home. All I have time for. How much are you planning on paying?”
When Davis gave him a figure, it was just a few cents below what Mr. Kimes suggested as his minimum. “Mr. Edwards, I suspect you’re basing that somewhat on what you pay Jeff, but you need to remember, you house, clothe and feed him as well as provide a car and spending money, none of which will be coming out of your pocket for me.” Ethan then gave him the two dollar an hour over the minimum as Mr. Kimes recommended. Ethan finally accepted an offer for a buck fifty above his minimum with a promise of a raise of fifty cents an hour after six months if he worked out. Davis secretly thought he had met his match.
When Jeff told him what he thought learning the job would involve, Ethan decided to drop baseball for the rest of the year and the two started working together the first of March. Ethan liked Jeff very much and was liked in return. They did a lot of laughing and joking as might be expected, but both were serious about the job. Jeff kept telling his dad how impressed he was with Ethan. He did say that so far as Ethan’s life outside school and the office were concerned, he knew practically nothing. “Ethan just doesn’t talk about his family and personal life,” he told his dad.
They had been working together for a three weeks or so when Ethan walked into the office and found Jeff and Art Willis kissing each other. “What the fuck?” he exclaimed, causing the two to jump apart.
“Damn, Ethan, didn’t mean for you—or anyone else—to find out about us,” Jeff said. “Yeah, we’re gay, so you know we like boys better than girls and each other best of all. Can you keep your mouth shut until school’s out? After that, I don’t give a flying fuck. We are out of here and don’t plan to be back.”
“You’re fags?” Ethan asked in a strange voice.
“Ethan, that’s a nasty word. It’s like calling Claire Bell a nigger. We’re gay and we’re in love.”
“The boss ... your dad know?”
“He knows. He doesn’t like it and you can imagine the hissy fit he pitched when I told him and Mama, but Mama landed on him and he doesn’t say anything more about it. He’s disappointed that I won’t be taking over Arkadelphia, giving him piles of kids and doing what I’m told. Not the life I want. Gay or straight, I’d hightail it out of here as soon as that diploma is in my hand. Art and I are traveling the country this summer and headed to Emory next fall. I won’t be back except to see Mama.”
Ethan wanted to ask them how and when they knew they were gay and all about being gay, but he never got up the courage . Ethan never mentioned the kiss to anyone. Jeff’s admiration of him grew and continued to grow as they worked together.
With his first paycheck, Ethan bought a new outfit for Sally Ann his sister and a new pair of jeans and a new shirt for his younger brother and himself, as well as a pair of khakis and a shirt for his dad. They were the first new clothes the family had since his mom died five years ago. All their clothes since then had come from a thrift store operated by a local church.
Ethan’s dad Silas had worked on Pine Ridge Plantation which was—surprise, surprise—planted in pines for pulpwood. They lived in a shack rent free, left over from the days when cotton was king. That was all he got out of Pine Ridge after he had been hurt in a logging accident ten years ago, the result of Pine Ridge’s skimping on equipment maintenance. There were several witnesses to the accident and its cause, but all were job scared and refused to testify. As a result, Pine Ridge got off scot-free. It took two years before Silas got Social Security disability and it was only with the help of food stamps and his wife working in the school cafeteria that they managed at all. When the disability checks started, things improved, but there was still nothing extra. Five years ago, Ethan’s mom got very sick at school and was taken to the emergency room. She had advanced cancer and was dead in less than six months. The going really got rough then, with the family living on disability payments. The money from his keeping books for the plantation would make life a lot easier.
Davis, Jeff and Ethan agreed spring break would be a good test of how well Ethan could handle the job without Jeff. He managed very well. Five weeks later, Jeff graduated and, true to his word, left town practically in his graduation gown.
“So Bubba beat the boss again,” Ethan laughed. “That’s the second time since last fall. I bet he is pissed.”
Randy Ashton looked at the young man he had come to really admire. He had been doing an adult’s job for the past two years now and instead of throwing his earnings around, helped his family. He had changed in those two years. He was still pretty much a bumbling teenager when he came to work at the plantation, but was now definitely a young, confident man. He had added a couple of inches to his height since coming to work at fifteen so he was over six feet tall. He went out for the baseball team again his junior year and worked hard at it. It was the one pleasure he allowed himself. His body was well-defined, but not bulky, from his training and conditioning for baseball. He had his mother’s fine features and his dad’s brown, almost black eyes with long lashes. He still wore his very black, slightly curly hair longish. Randy thought he was about as handsome as any young guy around and wondered why he seemed to be without a girlfriend. Of course, he had a lot on his shoulders, but still Randy did wonder.
So far as Molly and Davis were concerned, they and Art were the only people who knew Jeff was gay. They knew Art had not told his parents because the Rev. Archibald Willis, Art’s dad, had the largest church in the county and was a big shot in the rigid, fundamentalist denomination. God only knows what he would do if he found out he had a gay son. However, Randy had known about Jeff and Art since he caught them naked in a hay loft, kissing, a while before Jeff told his parents. He never understood why they were gay—he once said he couldn’t understand why they chose to be gay and got straightened out on that point—but he and Ginger, his wife, loved the boy like the child they never had and he never mentioned the incident. Anyway, he wondered about Ethan, wondered if he might be like Jeff.
Now, however, Randy’s concern was about something else. When there was any possibility that he could provide a buffer between Ethan and the boss, he did. Today he knew Davis was pissed off at the world and the first person he came across who displeased him would feel his wrath. Sure enough, shortly after Randy had come to warn Ethan, Davis stormed into the office and shouted, “God dammit, Ethan, how in the hell am I going to run this god damn operation with you leaving?”
“Am I leaving?” Ethan asked calmly.
“Ain’t you going off to some prissy ass college and become a fag like Jeff?” he shouted.
“Mr. Edwards, I don’t like that word. You are not to use that word around me or in my office,” Ethan said in an icy voice. “Further, you are wrong for outing Jeff.”
“It’s not your god damn office and I’ll do as I god damn please. This is my god damn plantation,” the boss shouted.
“It’s my office and I’ll not put up with that word or you putting down Jeff and I’m tired of your shouting and cussing. Now behave yourself or I’m leaving right now.”
It would be hard to tell whether Randy or Davis was the more astonished. Davis’ mouth was opening and closing like a fish gasping for oxygen and finally he said, “Boy ...”
“And don’t call me boy.”
“I’ll tend to you later,” he said, looking as if he might have a stroke, turned and stormed out.
“Ethan, I think you’re in deep shit,” Randy said.
“Too damn bad. I’ve got too much other shit going on to put up with a bigot bad mouthing his son and putting me down by calling me boy. Dad’s not doing well, in fact he’s worse every day. Jamie got in a fight when a kid called him ‘Thrift Store Boy’ and Sally Ann is having problems with a teacher. I have enough on my plate without putting up with Mr. Edwards being a bigoted asshole. Jeff is at Emory, gay and lives with a man. Big deal! He’s not stuck on Arkadelphia Plantation working for the old bastard who doesn’t appreciate it. He’s happy.”
“Sorry to hear about your dad, Ethan. Do I know him?”
“I don’t know, probably. His name’s Silas.”
“Used to work at Pine Ridge?”
“Yeah, got hurt, disabled there. Think there’s more going on than that now. He’s definitely going downhill.”
“Anything I can do?” Randy asked.
“Not really. Well, if you happen to be near, he’d appreciate a visit. He’s stuck at home all the time now since getting out requires more strength than he has. I’ll be honest, I just hope he lives to see me graduate. He’s really looking forward to that,” Ethan said, teary eyed, “but I don’t think he’ll last much after that, if that long.”
Half an hour later, Ethan closed the office, walked to his twenty-year-old wreck of a truck and headed home. As he drove the five miles, he thought about the conversation he’d had with Ms. Wallace, his school counselor. She had called him to her office to talk about scholarships and financial aid for college. ‘Well,’ he said to himself, ‘she never accepted the fact that there was no way I could leave.’ Even when Ethan had explained his situation the second time, she kept saying she knew his father would want him to go on. Ethan assured her he knew that. Yet again the young man told her at the time he was all holding the family together and that would only get worse as his dad’s health was definitely on a downhill slope. Even when he told her he would not desert his brother and sister, she didn’t get it. ‘Now I managed to piss off the boss,’ he thought, ‘ and sure as hell, he’ll fire me tomorrow.’
When he got home, his fourteen-year-old sister Sally Ann was finishing supper and Jamie, who had recently turned sixteen, was hanging clothes on the line. Their old washer was still going, thank goodness, and they had never owned a dryer. He went in to check on his dad and found him asleep in his worn recliner. He’d let him sleep until supper was on the table. He’d probably not eat more than a couple of bites anyway. Ethan was sure there was more wrong with him than his old injury, but his dad refused to see a doctor.
When Sally Ann had supper ready, Ethan told his dad and was asked if he could bring him a small plate which he did. At the supper table, Ethan said grace and the three started eating. “Ethan, I was moved out of Mrs. Waycaster’s English class to Ms. Crawford’s. She’s real nice. Everyone likes her.”
“Good,” Ethan said. “No excuse now for a bad grade.”
“There won’t be.”
“How about you, Jamie?”
“Mr. Washburn talked to me and that snooty Dick Richards. He gave us both three days out-of-school suspension, but after you talked with him, he gave us in-school. We both have to write a thousand-word essay on tolerance and respect for others in addition to regular school work.” The punishment sounded reasonable to Ethan.
Ethan was on the baseball team this year and the team had PE the last period which was actually physical training and conditioning for the team. Baseball practice followed school, so it was 4:30 before Ethan got to the office. He worked for two and a half hours Monday thorough Friday and eight on Saturday. When there was a ball game after school, he’d work until eight a couple of days to make up the time.
It was actually not according to the rules to have a PE period for a single team and to get around it, there were several students not on the team in the class. They needed PE and that class was available to them. One of those was Scotty McCarter, a new student who had transferred to Bragg County High School last February. He lived on the other side of the county at River Bend Plantation with his mother’s sister. Like Arkadelphia, it had pecan groves and ran cattle. Ethan thought Scotty was attractive, but some the other guys had picked on him at first. Unlike the ballplayers and the few others in the PE class, Scotty was small, probably not more than five seven or five eight at the outside. Slender, it was obvious he wasn’t a jock, but he was pretty well defined and extremely well coordinated.
Wednesday, the coach had a required faculty meeting so there was no baseball practice. After PE, most of the guys didn’t shower since the coach wasn’t checking. In fact, Ethan and Scotty were the only two headed for the locker room when the coach stopped Ethan to ask a question. When Ethan got to the locker room, Scotty had undressed a few lockers down from his and was headed for the showers. Ethan undressed quickly and followed Scotty, suddenly realizing he was looking at Scotty’s ass, liking what the saw and getting a boner as a result. He hit the showers, dressed and got in his truck as quickly as possible, not only because he needed to get to the office, but also because, even after a cold shower, he was still at half-mast.
Ethan knew and had known since he was twelve that he was into guys, not girls, but he was so far back in the closet that Sunday came a day late and he planned for it to stay that way. He had found himself attracted to a guy occasionally and jacked off thinking about him, but honestly he had never had a crush on a guy, not a real crush. Most certainly he had never before started getting a boner seeing a naked guy in the shower, but his half mast was now back to full mast and gave no sign of going down. ‘Shit!’ he thought, ‘this will never do. Rural Georgia is not exactly friendly to gay men.’
He had been daydreaming about Scotty when Randy warned him about the boss being pissed. Now he was having a nightmare about the coming confrontation with Mr. Edwards. No doubt he’d be fired and was very worried about how they would manage without the small salary he made keeping books for the plantation, but he didn’t regret speaking up. He walked into his office, started the computer and sat down, waiting for the ax to fall.
There was a knock on the open door and Mr. Edwards asked, “Ethan, may I come in?”
‘What the hell is going on?’ Ethan asked himself. “Of course, come in.”
“You have a few minutes to talk?” Mr. Edwards asked, a bit hesitantly.
‘Aliens, aliens kidnapped the boss and left a nice look-alike in his place,’ Ethan mused to himself. “Sure, Mr. Edwards, anytime.”
“Ethan, I want to apologize for yesterday. I’m an irascible old son of a bitch and I doubt that changes much, but after you left yesterday, Randy gave me a royal ass chewing. I was ready to fire the both of you until he beat me to the draw and quit. As soon as he said that, I realized this plantation is completely dependent on you two. I should have seen that when Jeff left, but you were already in place and doing well. I ate crow and kinda begged and told Randy I wasn't accepting his resignation and he agreed to stay on, so I gave him a raise. Arkadelphia's in good hands with you and Randy. And it got Molly off my back.
“Got me to thinking about Jeff. I’m not much younger than my father was when he dropped dead. Even if I live to be ninety, I only have so many years left. I know Molly has been pissed at me because Jeff comes home so seldom. He’s our only child and I’m keeping him away. I called him last night and we had a long talk. About the most difficult thing I have ever done. He agreed to come and spend a week or so this summer. He’ll bring Art with him. You know Art?” Ethan nodded. “They have been best friends since first grade, I think. After I hung up, Molly told me Art was his husband. They got married somewhere in New England a year ago. She flew up for it, but I knew nothing about it. Would have just been an asshole had I known. Anyway, he told me they didn’t mind being called gay if I needed to, but wanted me to thank you for kicking my ass about calling him a fag.
“That got me to thinking about you. Sorry to say, I never bothered to find out about you and your family situation. I should know your situation, but didn’t. So sorry things aren’t going well with your dad. Now about you. How long before school’s out?”
“And after that?”
“I was hoping to get some extra hours here.”
“No school beyond high school?”
“No money, Mr. Edwards, but even if I had money, I’m responsible for the family. Dad’s in really bad shape. To be honest, I’m going to be surprised if he lives out the summer. He’s been in pain since the accident, but it has gotten worse. I’m sure there’s something not related to the accident going on, but he won’t see a doctor.”
“Well, son, I’ve been thinking a lot since you grabbed me by the short hairs yesterday—which I deserved. I have known for several years that Jeff would not be coming back to Arkadelphia. I doubt he comes back to anywhere in south Georgia. Knowing that, I neglected Arkadelphia. We had a permanent crew, but as they left they were not replaced until only Randy is left. Arkadelphia was meant to be a hell of a lot more than it is, so I’ve come up with a plan.
“I need you to stay on here and you need the money, but you need to get on with your schooling. I need you to do that as well. Here’s my plan. There’s that overseer’s house beside Randy’s. It’s empty and has been for several years. It’s both larger and a hell of a lot better than where you live. I called Francis Evans, the contractor, last night and he had a crew over there this morning to start renovating the kitchen, bathroom and adding another bathroom. They’ll also clean and paint it up, refinish the floors, put in air conditioning. It’ll be a nice place. It should be ready for you and your family to move in three weeks to a month. That comes with the job here.
“Talked to Jake Bailey up there at the college. Started the process of signing you up. I know you have to kinda look after your brother and sister, so you can do a lot of the courses online. You’ll, of course, keep the job you have, but it only takes twenty hours a week. I think you can manage more than a set of books. Randy and I will work with you, but I’d like to have you begin taking over the whole pecan operation. In a couple of years, it will be yours, leaving the cattle and pulpwood part to Randy so Molly and I can travel. Next year or two the youngest grove should be producing well as it didn’t do too badly last year and that was an off year. Sad to say, the last of the original grove will be gone.
“I’m negotiating with Amos Sawyer to buy Pleasant Grove which adjoins Arkadelphia. He wants to lease it, but as I told him, if we started today, it’d be ten years before pecans would start producing. The groves and pastures have long gone to wrack and ruin and renovating them will be a major job. Probably best just to clear them out and start over. Anyway, I told him it was either a purchase or a hundred-year lease. I think he’ll sell. He’s a big shot in Atlanta and doesn’t want to think about his raisin’. If he sells, we’ll replace the groves and renovate the pastures. There are pines to be sold and the area reforested. How’s that sound?”
Ethan thought to himself, ‘Did Davis have a vision or something? Just what is going on?’ He looked at Mr. Edwards and said, “Damned if I know what to think, Mr. Edwards. You sure you haven’t had a knock on the head or something?”
Davis laughed. “Been thinking something like that myself and, to tell the truth, that kinda happened. As I told you, after you set me straight, I said something to Randy and he gave me a real kick in the ass. Wondered if something strange had gotten into the water you two drank. When he told me about your dad, I remembered he’s a couple years younger than I am and growing up was as strong as an ox, yet he was dying—or so Randy said—and I am going strong. He has kids who are concerned about him and love him and my only child, with good reason, thinks I’m an asshole. Set me thinking about how I could make things better between Jeff and myself and how I might help you who, frankly, have been worth more than ten times what I was paying you. I said something to Randy and he reminded me of the house and when I mentioned it to Molly, she told me to take care of it, call Jeff and see what I could patch up him and then call Jake about college. Getting you and your family a decent place to live will cost me damn little compared to how I’ll benefit.”
So it was that there was a major turn for the better for the Taylors and the Edwards because Ethan decided he didn’t like having someone being called a fag.
*Commonly used term for representatives of land grant universities’ Agricultural Extension Service. They are charged with educating farmers in scientific farming methods.