With the loss of Scotty and Ethan, Arkadelphia was crippled, but Davis reminded everyone that he would hire temporary labor if necessary. Fortunately, after she got over morning sickness, Ash was as good to go as she had been before she got pregnant. Michael and Alfred were godsends. Jamie and Andy put work at Philos on hold. Dr. Austin, the architect, had a graduate student, Charles Summers, take supervision of construction as his entire final project and he was taking supervision very seriously. Charles relieved Jamie of daily supervision of the construction as Jamie had implicit trust in him. Construction started on the last of August.
Molly and Ginger were working along with the men and Mrs. Kistler made sure there was lunch for everyone and Claire Bell and Sally Ann took responsibility for feeding everyone supper.
After the first week in the hospital, Ethan was allowed limited visitors and Jamie and Sally Ann saw him three evenings a week for half-hour visits. After the second week, Ash and Rich were also frequent visitors. Both had suffered at the hands of unfaithful lovers and understood Ethan’s pain in ways no-one else could. Ash’s unfaithful lover had also slipped into the party scene in Nashville much as Scotty had done in Long Beach. Her partner ended up not only unfaithful, but also dead from an overdose.
Ethan’s real salvation was the yet unborn babies. Ethan was making progress, but was still stuck in a black hole too much of the time. Ash and Kathy discussed the situation at length before deciding to tell Ethan he was the father of both their babies. “Sorry, Ethan, but given Scotty’s looks, I really liked the idea of a baby Scotty and I could make. We were both small, but had good bodies, both were very blond and had curly hair. But physical looks alone is a damn poor way to decide anything other than beauty contests. Looking at Scotty’s physical characteristics against his attitude, I decided I didn’t want my child to have a father who rejected him or her before conception. There had been no question as to who Ash wanted her child’s father to be so, Ethan, you have two sons on the way.” Ethan was ecstatic and started crawling out of the black hole he had been in. He devoured baby books, read everything he could get his hands on about being a father.
Ethan was released from the hospital at the end of four weeks. He would have therapy sessions with Dr. Kiegle twice a week, but otherwise was under no restrictions. He threw himself into the work at Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove, falling into the bed so tired that he could not stay awake if he wanted to. Jamie worried about how hard he was working and spoke to Dr. Kiegle about it. Dr. Kiegle told Jamie, “Your brother is slaying demons. He will survive. Just make sure he is eating well and sleeping. I have taken him off all drugs and can put him back on them if needed, but I think he is strong enough and has support enough to win his battle.”
Since the year was an off year, the pecan crop would be much less than the previous one, so harvest would not as frantic. Of course, all the other tasks associated with growing the nuts were the same regardless of the size of the crop. There wasn’t the task of taking down trees and planting new ones as that had been accomplished the year before. In short, even being short-handed, life at Arkadelphia was moving at a slow pace, but all was well when October rolled around.
October fifteenth, Kathy called from school and told Ash and Ethan to meet her at the clinic in Braggton. When they arrived, the midwife told them they should get gowned because there was a baby on the way. Ethan was helping Kathy with her breathing and Ash was holding her hand encouraging her. “Since this is your first, don’t expect this to be over quickly,” the midwife said as she checked Kathy. “Well, maybe you might better scratch that, seems someone is in a rush to take on the world.” Fifteen minutes later she held up a baby who was protesting his entry into a cold world at the top of his lungs.
Ethan was convinced he was the most beautiful baby ever born. Of course, he had blue eyes, but his shock of hair left no doubt; the child was obviously a redhead. When the midwife filled out the certificate of live birth, the father was listed as Ethan Michael Taylor and the mother as Katherine Joy Elliot. Kathy and Ethan had discussed what the child would be named and agreed on Kayden Taylor Elliot. Mom and baby did well and Ethan went back to the clinic noon the following day and brought them home. Needless to say, Kayden was a star attraction at Arkadelphia. Kathy had taken maternity leave and would not be returning to school until after the Christmas break.
Ethan was making a good recovery, but everyone was still walking on eggs around him. Ethan became aware of it and let it be known he didn’t like it. He finally called Davis on the carpet and demanded to know what he knew about Scotty. Davis was reluctant to tell him the whole story and Ethan sensed that and demanded to know all. Davis was especially reluctant to tell him Scotty had asked to come back to Arkadelphia. “We all knew you were still in love with him and were afraid he would hurt you again.”
“Davis, I was still in love with a Scotty that maybe never was. I’m sure drugs pushed Scotty into more than he might have wished, but the Scotty I loved would not have gone apeshit as soon as he was away from me. I was under the illusion that Scotty and I were together for life and, to my mind at least, that meant we were monogamous. It would never have occurred to me to fuck around. I loved Scotty so I didn’t need a fuck buddy even if we were separated. You needn’t have worried. Had I been conscious I would never have permitted Scotty to come back here. I doubt, from what he told me the last time I talked with him, he regrets anything he did. Maybe he’s sorry he got caught, but not for the pain and suffering he has caused. Maybe after he has served his time and really regrets what he had done, maybe he will want to come for a visit and that’s okay, but he will never again be a part of Arkadelphia. I’m sorry, but he shit on us all and did so with no regrets.” There was a finality in what Ethan said and the whole Arkadelphia family saw Ethan had reached a turning point. No doubt he was lonely at times. No doubt he still loved the Scotty that maybe had never been, but he was moving on with his life.
Thanksgiving rolled around and all the Arkadelphia women were busy preparing for the Thanksgiving feast. Kathy was busy with Kayden and Ash was no cook so she went to the plantation house to fetch and carry for Molly. Sally Ann was preparing one of Davis’s special hams and mid-morning, when it was ready, had Jamie take it to Molly for carving. Jamie had just placed it on the kitchen counter when Ash, who was standing in the middle of the kitchen, said, “What the hell?” as she looked at the puddle of water around her feet.
“Your water broke,” Molly said. She told Jamie to call his brother and tell him to come get Ash and take her to the clinic.
Ethan rushed in, scooped Ash up in his arms and took her to Molly’s big Lincoln and placed her on the blanket Molly spread on the back seat. He had barely reached the highway when Ash said, “Ethan, I think you better stop. Your son is on the way out.”
Ethan stopped, got in the back seat with Ash and helped birth his second son. He cut the cord as he had been told in the classes he, Kathy and Ash had attended on childbirth. They had not stopped for Ash’s ‘going to the clinic’ bag, so Ethan took off his coat and wrapped the baby in it, gave him—he was still announcing his arrival at the top of his lungs—to Ash and headed to Braggton at top speed. Ash had had presence of mind to phone ahead and as soon as they arrived, mother and baby were rushed inside. The midwife was checking out the two when she noticed the cord had been cut and asked Ethan if he had the honor of doing so. Ethan nodded with a huge smile on his face.
Ethan and Ash had discussed names for their son and Ash suggested one of his names be after Ethan’s dad. “I loved my dad dearly,” Ethan had responded, “but I did not like his name—Silas.” Ash was insistent one of his names be Ethan. They finally agreed on Ethan Taylor Ratledge and he would be called Taylor. The midwife was not aware of Kathy and Ash’s arrangement with Ethan and as she was filling out the certificate of live birth asked with obvious distaste, “Am I to expect any more women to name you as the father of their child?”
“Only if they ask politely,” Ethan said and Ash laughed. The poor midwife looked stunned.
As Christmas approached, Ethan began remembering last Christmas and started sliding back into depression. He had been doing well most days with only occasional bouts of depression, but Christmas was not going to be a joyous time for him. Doug ran across him on campus Monday after they had been to the Christmas tree farm and asked him to go for coffee. When he asked Ethan how he was doing, he replied, “Not very well. Most days I’m fine, well, okay, but I can’t help remembering how happy I was last Christmas and comparing it with this Christmas. I wonder how Scotty is doing, what he is doing, if he has realized the pain he caused, those kinds of things. I think I no longer love him, well, as much as you can ever recover from your first love. And, damn it, I’m lonely. I don’t know what I would do without the boys. They have truly been my salvation. Bless their hearts, Kathy and Ash let me have them a lot more than I suspect they anticipated, but ... well, I’m lonely and Christmas is driving that home.”
“I know it’s rough, Ethan. Fortunately, I have never had to endure the kind of betrayal you and Rich have suffered and, frankly, I can’t imagine what it must be like, but I’m here for you as is the whole Arkadelphia family.” Both fell silent. After several minutes, Doug said, “Sharp change of subject, but I understand you and Jamie selected one hell of a Christmas tree.”
Ethan laughed, “Yeah! Jamie said we needed practice for next year when we could have a really big one in his house. The sucker is nine feet tall and I have no idea how many feet around. We had to special order a stand and go to Braggton to get a ladder—actually we got two ladders that form a platform—in order to decorate it. We also bought a shitload of decorations. Jamie’s insisting on our decorating it Christmas Eve. We’re starting at 10:00. You and Rich should join us.”
“I’ll talk to Rich. Not sure what his plans are. He got a call from a nephew a few days ago asking if he could spend the holidays with his Uncle Rich. He’s a sophomore at some school in Texas. Not sure why he’s not going home. His family owns a huge ranch somewhere in west Texas. Neither Rich nor I have any real family, so a nephew showing up is a big surprise. Fact is, Rich didn’t even know he existed.”
“Bring him along,” Ethan said. “You know he’ll just be part of the family.”
“Will do. Also, want to see Ethan Junior and Ethan Junior. Knew they were born but, frankly, getting settled here has been harder and required more work than I anticipated. The department is more or less at each other’s throats and about the only thing they can agree on and work together on is making life miserable for the new professor. The fact that I outrank some who have been around for years doesn’t help. Of course, if they had gotten off their lazy asses, they could have advanced. I don’t even know the boys’ names.
“Kayden Taylor Elliot and Ethan Taylor Ratledge. Ethan Taylor will be called Taylor.”
“Seems a lot of Ethan's getting born this year. So how are Kayden and Taylor?”
“Growing like weeds.” Ethan laughed. “You’d never know Kayden was the oldest as Taylor outweighs him and is longer by far. Of course, their mamas are two very different sizes.”
“You know, I was really surprised to learn the two wanted to have babies and pretty thunderstruck when I found out you and Scotty were involved. I guess looking at the two you can see which is his and which is yours.”
“Not sure about that. See, actually, Scotty isn’t the father of either, but Kayden is a redhead. Strange redhead as he is not as pale as you’d expect. Anyway, we only thought Scotty was going to be a father. Kathy wanted to have him as the father of her child because of his physical appearance, but he made it very clear he wasn’t interested in being a father. He said once he shot he didn’t give a fuck what happened to his cum so she could have some if she wanted it. However, he made sure she knew, aside from providing a sperm cell, he was not in any way going to be a father. After thinking about that, Kathy decided she didn’t want her child being rejected by the father before he was conceived.”
“So good people Ethan sperm won out. Good for Kathy! Jamie and Kathryn doing okay?’
“They’re doing great. I imagine they will have some rough places ahead. They are so very young, but they are good people too.”
“They are. Is Jamie going to graduate high school mid-term? I know that was the plan, but that was before.”
“He had his last exam last week. He’ll be a second-semester freshman here next semester. Mrs. Kistler will be keeping the boys and Jamie and Kathryn’s twins when they arrive. Run across anyone looking for work, give a yell. Arkadelphia and Pleasant Grove are running smoothly, but with Scotty gone and Jamie and Andy cutting back, we could use a person or two more.”
“Will do. Look, I plan to have more time next semester since I’m not putting up with the bullshit that has been dished out so far. I plan to put in some hours working on the plantations as well.”
“Great! Well, I need to run.”
“Makes two of us. Keep your chin up, Ethan. We all depend on you.”
Christmas Eve, Sally Ann and Ethan were up at 8:00, showered and dressed. Sally Ann put a breakfast casserole in the oven, emptied a gallon jug of cider into a large coffee pot and tossed in a cheesecloth bag of spices. Jamie and Kathryn had come into the den and Kathryn said, “I waddle like a frigging duck!” Truth was, she was huge and still had almost a month before the twins were due.
Andy came in just as Sally Ann took the casserole out of the oven while Jamie took biscuits from a second oven. As they sat down to eat, Andy said, “Strange not to see Keith and A’isha here.”
“Does feel strange,” Kathryn acknowledged.
“Well, we had great fun, but I saw no reason not to break off with her after she reminded me she was high class and I was a dumb farmer.”
“Yeah, dumb farmer indeed!” Sally Ann said. “you could buy and sell her whole family and not cut a pine tree. Oh, well, some folks don’t know when they’re well off.”
“So what’s with Keith?” Jamie asked.
“Let’s just say he went international with Roman hands and Russian fingers. Told him to stop, he started whining and begging, but didn’t stop. “You get one please after I say stop, then you better stop. Last time I saw him he was rolling on the floor cradling his balls. He knew that would happen when he didn’t stop when I said stop.”
When they had finished breakfast and cleaned up from it, Ethan asked, “Jamie, you think we can get that tree inside and in the stand?”
“We can try.” Try was all they did. They probably could have gotten it off the flatbed where it had been since they bought it, but decided they would wait for help. Fortunately Rich and Doug came at 9:30.
The Kistlers drove up right behind Davis and Molly. As they got out of the truck, Jamie said, “Alfred, Michael, we need your muscle. Yours too, Doug and Rich. We need to bring the tree in.”
“Is the stand in place?” Andy asked.
“It is,” Jamie said.
The seven young men under the direction of Davis maneuvered the tree into the house and into the stand. Jamie wiggled under the tree to tighten the bolts holding it in the stand and to pour water into the base. While they were doing so, Ash and Kathy—with babies—arrived.
They had the tree in place just as a cry was heard from a baby carrier. Taylor was making his presence known. Jamie went over and picked him up and said, with a wrinkled nose, “Taylor Ratledge, you are rotten!” he took a diaper from Ash’s diaper bag and a box of wipes and went into the nursery—his dad’s former room—and changed Taylor. With a clean, dry diaper, Taylor was happy.
When Jamie brought him back, he handed him to Ethan who said, “Brother, you have passed your fatherhood exam. You picked up a shitty baby and changed his diaper without complaining.” Anyone looking at Ethan’s face as he looked at his son would know he had passed his fatherhood exam, there was no question about the love he had for the son in his arms.
Not to be outdone, Kayden demanded attention. Ethan handed Taylor to Ash, picked up Kayden and performed the same service for him Jamie had for Taylor.
With the tree in place, Jamie and Andy got the ladder-platforms in place and placed the decorations on the top four feet of the tree as directed by Sally Ann and Kathryn. Doug, Rich, Ethan and Michael hung wreaths and garlands Alfred was carrying in from the porch. Kathy and Ash were directing that operation. Molly and Mrs. Kistler were putting cookies on a plate and started the large coffee pot Sally Ann had prepared with cider and spices. Davis was also working on a large coffee pot After half an hour everyone took a break for cookies and cider before resuming decorating.
Forty-five minutes later, they were done and Davis announced, “Okay, I have a pot full of warm glogg ready for you folks. Number one rule with glogg, you have to give your car keys to someone not drinking,” Davis said.
“I’ll keep the keys,” Ash said. “The two of us nursing babies won’t be drinking as our boys are underage.
“So am I, but I’m having a mug,” Jamie said. Underage Ethan and Andy did as well.
“Rich, Doug told me you had a nephew call about spending the holidays. Did he not make it?” Ethan asked.
“He did. He got in this morning about 3:00 after walking from Braggton. He didn’t have our phone number and was so broke he couldn’t have called even if he found a pay phone. Poor kid had hitched from his parents' place in west Texas. Somewhere in the middle of the piney woods of East Texas, he was told to put out or get out and he got out. Spent the rest of the night sleeping in the woods. It was late the following afternoon before someone picked his up and went as far as Shreveport. He had a hard time getting a ride from there, but finally, a trucker picked him up. He was on his way to Birmingham and dropped him off in Meridian, Mississippi. He started walking and had walked about ten miles when dark caught him. He slept in a barn.
He walked for several hours the next day before a guy picked him up. He was again told he was paying for his ride with his ass and only escaped when he grabbed a rifle from the gun rack and hit the guy in the head. He grabbed his bag and took off leaving the guy stunned if not unconscious. He got a ride in the back of a pickup which took him down state route 8 in Alabama about twenty miles. The rest of the way he walked and caught short rides. Google says it’s an eighteen-hour trip. He was on the road for five days, a lot of that walking. When he arrived he was ready to collapse. Rich got him in the shower and made him a bed on the couch. Guess he’ll sleep there until we can make other arrangements. He was still asleep when we left and we haven’t had a chance to talk with him. I know nothing about his situation and, in fact, didn’t know he existed since he came along after my family had disowned me.”
Ethan was feeling the warm glow the glogg was spreading through his body and was feeling pretty sleepy himself. “Think I’ll go up and take a nap. See some of you at Miss Mattie’s tonight and the rest of you here for dinner tomorrow.”
Before he went up, Ethan kissed each of his boys on the forehead and said, “Boys, be good for your mommies and let them get some sleep tonight.” When he got to his room, he stripped and fell in bed and with the help of good old Norwegian glogg was asleep in minutes.