After Ethan was settled in the regular room, he was exhausted and slept for most of the remainder of the day. The next day, Dr. Anderson left orders that he was to be up and in a chair for half an hour or longer at least twice. Thursday he was to be on his feet and, if he was able, walk across the room. Friday he was to walk as far as he was able three times. He gradually grew stronger and by Saturday morning he said he thought he was ready to go home. Dr. Anderson strongly disagreed. Secretly Ethan agreed. He had a string of visitors Saturday, as everyone from Arkadelphia came by. Fortunately they came by in twos so there was never a crowd in the room. Nonetheless, he was exhausted by the time visiting hours were over.
Scotty had spent the day with him leaving only to go eat. As Scotty was leaving, Ethan asked him to bring the materials Joe had given him. He also asked him to download some good stories to his laptop---Scotty had bought himself and the three Taylors laptops---and bring it. "I'd only been here half a day before I knew daytime TV was a wasteland," he said.
Fr. Mason came by shortly after Scotty had left. After they chatted a few minutes he asked Ethan if he'd like communion the next day. Ethan told him he hadn't thought about it, but he would. He then anointed Ethan and said a prayer before leaving.
Sunday morning, Scotty, Sally Ann and Jamie came about 10:00. Sally Ann and Jamie had dates Saturday night and had slept in a bit Sunday morning. "Since you slept in I guess that means you were up all hours last night.
Scotty immediately jumped to their defense. "Both were home by their curfew, Ethan. Not a minute late."
"So I have raised you right," Ethan laughed.
"No question about that Daddy/Brother," Jamie said, put on a sad face and said, "unfortunately. I could have been so wicked last night." The four continued joking and ribbing each other. Ethan was, clearly, much better and the other three much less worried.
At 1:15, Miss Mattie sailed in. "Scotty, Scotty why didn't you tell me you were heroes and that Ethan was up here on a bed of pain and affliction. I've been on a cruise and missed all the excitement. Well, I'm here to do something about missing out." She suddenly came to a halt, looked sheepish and said, "I don't know what got into me! Senility I guess, barging in here as I did."
"If you'll drop anchor," Ethan laughed, "I'll introduce you. Mrs. Matilda Franklin, my sister Sally Ann and my brother Jamie. Sally Ann, Jamie, Miss Mattie."
"I declare I would have thought you got all the good looks the Taylors had to offer, Ethan, but I would have been wrong. Jamie, I believe you are more handsome than your brother and Sally Ann, you are a real stunner. Ethan, you're going to have to have a stout stick to beat the boys off and you need to warn the mothers that something as handsome as Jamie is on the loose ... I'm very pleased to meet you Sally Ann, Jamie. Well, Fr. Mason will be here shortly. Rebecca Akins got hold of him before he could escape and had to tell him again all about how her husband was ignoring her. If I had treated mine the way she treated hers I hope he would have strangled me. Were I her husband I'd never be home.
"I brought a copy of the Atlanta, Columbus and Augusta papers from when you were shot, Ethan. All have articles about the sting operation which resulted in a pile of arrests and, unfortunately, you getting shot. You and Scotty are real heroes."
Fr. Mason walked in, greeted everyone and said, "Sally Ann, Jamie, I brought communion to Ethan and Scotty." He handed them a leaflet as he added, "If you would like to receive, please do." The two nodded.
When the short service was over, Miss Mattie said, "Fr. Mason was sure you three would be here with Ethan and I prepared accordingly. I was sure you were very tired of hospital food, so I brought lunch."
Soon a delicious lunch was spread on Ethan's over-the-bed and the bedside tables. It was enjoyed by all. When they had finished, Miss Mattie said her goodbyes and left.
Fr. Mason asked Jamie how things were going on the plantation. "I guess everyone's working extra to make up for Ethan being here."
"Not really," Jamie said. "Randy suggested it, but Davis said nothing was worth working us into the ground. He pointed out Ethan would need us when he got home and if we were worked out it wouldn't be good. He and Ethan had decided we needed more help before Ethan was shot, but he said he wouldn't hire anyone until Ethan could do it. On the one hand he is really, really proud of Ethan and Scotty and on the other he kinda blames himself for Ethan being shot. He says he's older and should have put his foot down and not allowed either Scotty or Ethan to be put in danger."
"That's bullsh... stuffing," Ethan said. "There was no-one who could do what Scotty did and when he was in, no way was I not going to be. Rich tried without success."
"Jamie, you said something about hiring additional people?" Fr. Mason asked.
"Randy reminded Davis of that and he made it very clear that it was not going to happen until Ethan could do it, 'I'm still looking for prospects, but no interviews until Ethan can do it,' Davis replied. He thinks Ethan hung the moon."
"When you get around to thinking about hiring someone, Ethan, I'd like to talk with you about a situation I think can be a win-win. Well, I better run."
Randy and Ginger came by mid-afternoon and stayed a short while. They had been shopping and were on their way back to Pleasant Grove. Jamie and Sally Ann left shortly after. Ethan was obviously tired and Scotty closed the room door, sat beside the bed and held Ethan's hand. Ethan was soon asleep and Scotty rested his head on the edge of the bed and dozed off himself. They had been asleep for half an hour when a nurse came in and took Ethan's vital signs. "Your temperature's elevated a bit, and I suspect that's because all the company tired you out, but I'll keep an eye on it."
A few minutes before nine, Scotty got ready to go and leaned over to kiss Ethan. Ethan cupped his face in his hands, looked into his eyes and said, "You are beautiful and I love you very, very much Scotty McCarter."
"You, too, are beautiful Ethan Taylor and I truly, truly love you." Their lips met in a soft kiss which grew passionate very quickly. They broke the kiss, but Ethan immediately pulled him in another one, which was passionate and involved tongues.
They were still kissing when the door opened and a nurse's aide walked in, gasped and walked out quickly. Scotty jumped back and said, "Shit! She wouldn't have reacted that way if you were a girl. Well, I hope she got a thrill!" He gave Ethan another quick kiss and left. When he reached the door, it was open a crack and he saw an eyeball peeking into the room. He opened the door quickly, catching the nurse's aide off balance. He looked her in the eye and said, "We're engaged."
Monday morning, Ethan's temperature was still elevated slightly, but the nurse said it was not enough to cause concern. He didn't eat much breakfast; he didn't feel like it and was asleep when the orderly came to remove his tray. When he awoke, he still felt tired and listless and his wound hurt more than it had the day before, but he attributed that to having overdone it. He ate very little lunch and went back to sleep. About 3:00, he started shaking with a chill and pushed the call button. When the nurse came, she took his temperature, it had gone up three degrees and she called Dr. Anderson. After examining Ethan and his wound, he said, "Ethan, you have an infection. Not uncommon in these situations, but not desired. I am starting you on antibiotics and will start a culture. I hope I don't have to transfer you to ICU and restricting visitors will help prevent that. I'm placing a half-hour time limit on visits, no more than two visitors at a time and no more than four visits a day. Agreed?" Ethan nodded and drifted off to sleep.
Ethan had little memory of the next two days. He slept most of the time and when he was awake was not very alert. Tuesday evening Ethan was awakened by a kiss from Scotty. He looked at Scotty and smiled. "How ya doin' stud?" Scotty asked and kissed him again and took his hand in his.
"Like I'm back from the dead, but weak as a new-born calf," Ethan responded. "Dr. Anderson was by mid-afternoon and told me the infection was gone---well, under control---but I'll be taking antibiotics for a while so it doesn't bounce back. He had hoped I could go home Friday, but he says I'll be here at least through the weekend."
"Babe, you had us all worried sick," Scotty said, his thumb drawing circles on the back of Ethan's hand.
"I kinda missed it," Ethan smiled. "I remember very little after Sunday night. By the way, Dr. Anderson lifted the restrictions on visitors, but said I needed to keep it sane. I told him to remove restriction on visits from you, Jamie, Sally Ann and Fr. Mason. Others are to be told to keep visits to ten minutes. If I want, I can extend that, but it protects me from a day like last Saturday."
"Good," Scotty replied.
Ethan improved every day, and by Friday had become strong enough to walk up and down the hall again, which he did several times a day. When Dr. Anderson came late Friday afternoon, he redressed the wound and the 'cover the chest' bandage was replaced by a small one. When a nurse came to check his vitals, Ethan asked about taking a shower. "I think I might be able to make that happen," she said. She came back with a tray holding a small plastic sheet. "This plastic will adhere to your body, protecting the wound so you can shower. I wouldn't advise your facing the shower so your wound gets pounded." Ethan had never enjoyed water so much as he did that shower, even if he had to have an orderly help him and spent most of his time sitting on a shower stool. It had been two weeks since he had been shot.
Friday evening, Dr. Anderson said he was amazed at his recovery, especially since he had to overcome an infection. "That's fine," Ethan said, "but when can I go home."
"Let's talk about that," Dr. Anderson said. "If you promise to follow instructions, you can go Monday. You'll have to not overdo it, eat plenty of good healthy food, including a lot of protein, start an exercise program a physical therapist prepares for you, and get plenty of sleep." Ethan promised he would if he could go home.
Monday morning, Dr. Anderson examined Ethan and when he finished, he told him he was discharging him. "You'll be home by 10:00," he told Ethan. "I'll see you in my office in a week unless you need to see me before. Call if you have any questions." He then shook hands with Ethan and said, "Good luck."
"Thanks for all you have done, Dr. Anderson. I really appreciate it," Ethan said in reply.
Scotty came in as Dr. Anderson was leaving. "Scotty, you can run downstairs and check him out. What do you drive?" When Scotty told him, he said, "I think you better make some other arrangements to get him home." As soon as he left, Scotty kissed Ethan and headed downstairs to get him checked out. Ethan called Molly and told her he was ready to come home.
Molly had not arrived when Scotty stormed into the room looking very angry. "Ethan, an orderly will be here shortly with a wheelchair and will take you out the back. Seems a nurse's aide saw us kissing and got her church's Bible class in an uproar. They in turn got the preacher involved. He has organized a protest against fags being called heroes. They are on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. The preacher is ranting away and the Bible class are walking back and forth carrying hateful signs." Scotty was steaming.
"I am not going to sneak out the back," Ethan said. "They have the right to say what they please, but not to make my life difficult."
"The head of hospital security is afraid you'll be hurt," Scotty.
"Not if he's doing his job," Ethan said. He opened his phone, dialed a number and said, "This is Ethan Taylor. I am ready to leave the hospital and there is a bunch of Bible thumpers here protesting my breathing.... No, I will not leave through the back door. They have the right to say what they please, but I have the right of free passage ... What do I expect you to do? You're the police dispatcher. Dispatch someone here to assure my safe passage.... Yes, you are quite right. I am being difficult and for your information getting more difficult by the minute." Ethan snapped his phone closed.
An orderly appeared with a wheelchair and said, "Mr. Taylor, Capt. Sneed, head of security, has directed Mrs. Edwards to the back and you'll be going that way."
"I will not!' Ethan said and again opened his phone.
"Capt. Sneed, hospital security," the head of security answered in a pompous, self-important voice.
"Capt. Sneed, Ethan Taylor, I am being discharged and am ready to leave, but have been told I will be leaving by the back, the receiving ramp to be exact. That is totally unacceptable.... Capt. Sneed, the fact that there are people outside carrying on some inane protest is no concern of mine. Your responsibility is to assure the safety of the patients of this hospital and to make sure they are treated with dignity...."
When Scotty saw how upset Ethan was becoming, he took the phone and said, "Capt. Sneed, Scotty McCarter, Ethan is becoming very upset and that is bad, very bad .... Just what the hell do you mean, 'He brought it on himself?' Who he does and does not kiss is none of your fucking business.... Did you just call Mr. Taylor a faggot? ... I'll deal with your bigoted ass later!" Scotty shouted into the phone and slammed it closed.
"What's going on?" Molly asked as she walked in the door. "I arrived and was told to go to the back, to the receiving ramp to pick you up. They were not even going to take you through the emergency entrance."
"I guess you saw that bunch of empty headed, Bible thumpers and their asshole preacher out front," Scotty said. "Apparently a nurse's aide who goes to the Temple of Jesus' Healing Stripes saw me kiss Ethan and got her panties in a knot. Her Bible class got worked up when she told them about it and they in turn got the preacher Rev. Blackwood involved and what you saw outside is the result."
"I don't question their right to be there or say what they please, but I also have rights and right of free passage is one of them. I am not going to let them push me around. Where would it stop? If someone had stood up in the beginning when that bunch started running the workers off the plantations, it would have stopped. I got shot because no-one stood up and I am standing up against a bunch of church-going hate mongers," Ethan said.
"If that's your decision, Ethan, I support you," Molly said. "Where's security in all this?"
"Capt. Sneed, head of security, just told me Ethan brought it on himself by kissing me and that a faggot should expect decent people to protest."
"He what!!" Molly shouted, whipped out her phone, dialed, and said, "Miss Mattie, Molly Edwards of Arkadelphia Plantation. Haven't seen you in a coon's age .... We will get together soon. I called because Ethan has a problem at the hospital." She then explained the situation. "Great, thanks," she said after Mattie responded.
It wasn't five minutes later when Mr. Witherspoon, the hospital administrator, showed up. "Is there a problem?" he asked in a very oily manner.
"You better believe there's a problem!" Ethan said and tore into him.
"Miss Pendleton," he said to the mousy women who had accompanied him, "get Capt. Sneed up here."
A few minutes after he spoke, as short, morbidly obese man in a security uniform appeared. He waddled in, huffing and puffing, his gut preceding him and asked, "Miss Pendleton, these faggots giving you a problem?"
"Captain, I believe you need to watch your language," said Mr. Witherspoon.
"I didn't see you, Sir," he responded, looking like he had just pissed his pants.
"All of you, out of here!" mild-mannered Dr. Anderson shouted. "My patient does not need your noise." As the crowd was leaving the room, Miss Mattie and two very distinguished looking men walked up.
"Holy shit!" Capt. Sneed said, "The chairman, vice chairman and secretary of the hospital board."
Ethan was ready for bed, worn out by the commotion, but he wasn't budging. Fifteen minutes after he had first started for the car, he was being rolled out the front entrance. The Audubon police were in evidence and made two arrests when two people threw something at Scotty and Ethan as they approached the car.
Ethan had imagined getting home and getting back into his usual routine right away. By the time he arrived, he was no longer under that illusion. He was hit by reality. He would have been very tired without the hassle at the hospital and with it he was exhausted. Scotty got him into the den in a recliner, covered him with a light blanket and headed to the kitchen to heat some soup for lunch. When he turned to ask Ethan if he'd like cheese toast with his soup, he was sound asleep. Scotty let Ethan sleep and he didn't wake up until Sally Ann and Jamie came home from school.
Jamie spoke to Ethan before running upstairs, changing clothes and dashing out the back door. He picked up Andy and they headed to Pleasant Grove. The fencing had been completed and the pastures not being restarted from scratch had been bush hogged then aerated and fertilized. The weather was still dry, so they had not yet responded and wouldn't until it had rained more than a sprinkle. When the two got to Pleasant Grove, they climbed on two tractors and began work on the pasture which was being started over.
Ethan ate a delayed lunch and walked out onto the screened porch. It was a beautiful day. He sat in the porch swing and read as he kept the swing moving with a gentle push with his foot every now and then. He had been swinging for half an hour when Molly came by to see how he was doing. He told her he wasn't as energetic as he thought he would be. "Maybe I shouldn't have caused such a ruckus at the hospital, but I was really angry that the hospital seemed to think a group of bigots could run roughshod over me. I had been shot because people had been allowed to run over good people. I was proud of Albert's bravery in fighting those crooks."
"Ethan, it would have been a lot easier for you and everyone if you had quietly gone out the back door, a lot easier on you, but taking the easy way out is seldom the right way. You did right," Molly said. "I'm proud of you, nothing I wouldn't have expected, but I am still proud." After Molly left, Ethan dozed off again and slept until Jamie came in from work.
After supper, Scotty and Jamie had gone over to Andy's for a cattle study session when Randy and Ginger came by to see Ethan. They said they had been concerned for him, but Ginger added, "We didn't come back after I saw how everyone coming tired you out. I figured rest would benefit you more than a visit."
"The Saturday you and Randy came by just about did me in," Ethan agreed. "Randy, how are things going with the pastures?"
"Very good. The fencing and bush hogging is complete. There was a debate as to whether or not to treat the one we're re-establishing with herbicide. Scotty, Jamie and Andy disagreed with doing it. Change that, they were heels-are-dug-in, backs-up opposed. Davis thought it was the only way to go and I was inclined to agree. They have convinced us to sprig in a Bermuda grass hybrid. They wanted to plow the pasture and disk it a couple times then and plant it in a legume cover crop. Joe came down on their side and when Molly pointed out the money that not using herbicide would save, Davis said they would try the boys' way. They have been disking with the offsets and, frankly, could probably sow it without tilling, but getting it ready to sprig in the late winter could be problematic."
"Lot of work," Ethan said.
"Yeah, but the boys are right. We get the pastures started right it will be much less work in the long run. Speaking of the boys, where's Jamie?"
"He and Scotty went to Andy's for a cattle session. Sally Ann calls them bull sessions."
"Joe thinks otherwise. He's talking about the three being on a panel to talk about practical education next spring. The few kids who remain on the plantations after high school---if they finish high school---have often been poor students and end up just doing grunt work. Joe wants to try to convince them that there is a way to a better life through education and that education doesn't have to be sitting at a desk listening to a teacher."
"Where's Sally Ann?" Ginger asked.
"She's doing homework. Jamie will do his when he gets back. Nights of cattle session he gets to bed late."
"They doing okay in school?" Ginger asked.
"Grades are okay, well, better than okay for both. Otherwise, I don't know. I haven't heard any complaints. Both seem happy which is great to see. Things may change. There is no way Scotty and I won't be outed by that bunch in Audubon since I know there are people in south county who attend the Temple of Jesus' Healing Stripes. I don't know what the two might have to put up with in school when that happens."
"I hope Jamie comes to you instead of trying to handle the crap himself," Randy said, "otherwise he'll be in trouble and his tormenters will go scot-free."
"I hope so as well."
"And you can call on Davis and me. Jamie's like one of ours---if I had one."
Over the next week, Ethan rapidly gained strength. When he went back for a checkup a week after he got out of the hospital, Dr. Anderson was very pleased with his progress. "Ethan, I want you to start walking at least a quarter mile tomorrow and increase it every day by, say, an eighth of a mile. Don't tire yourself, but if you feel like doing more, do it. By the end of next week, do what you feel like doing except no heavy lifting until after I see you in a month."
Knowing he was going to be in Audubon Friday, Ethan had called Fr. Mason and asked about taking him to lunch. "Lunch would be great, but my treat," Fr. Mason had replied. "I wanted to talk with you anyway."
After Dr. Anderson finished his examination, Ethan drove to St. Matthew's and picked up Fr. Mason. "I have wanted a ride in this car since I first saw it."
"It's Scotty's and I am allowed to drive it sometimes. The boy takes better care of his car than he does himself."
They went to the Audubon Grill for lunch. It had been the lunch place for the downtown crowd for sixty years. Nothing fancy about it, but it was always packed for lunch because it served good food at reasonable prices. Since the two got there at eleven, the restaurant was not yet crowded. They seated themselves and looked over the menu. After they had ordered, Fr. Mason said, "Understand your partner looks good in drag."
"My partner looks good in anything," Ethan grinned and said, without thinking, "or in nothing at all." Realizing what he had said, Ethan turned bright red and quickly asked, "But how did you know that?"
"A deputy friend told me about the sting and commented on the fact that one of the men had dressed in drag and when he described him I knew it was Scotty since he is the only male at Arkadelphia as small as he, I suspect."
"He is that. He not only dressed in drag, but blackface as well." Ethan then told him, somewhat in detail, about the raid. "It's been rough and at a time when there is so much to do at Arkadelphia."
"May be able to help you out. I have a family, well, a mother, her two sons and a grandchild, who I think would fit in well at Arkadelphia. The older son is about thirty and is a bit simple. He's truly a gentle giant, strong, always happy, hard-working. He worked part-time as a gardener for a Mr. Hendrex, starting while he was in school. He dropped out of school when he turned eighteen. He was in the ninth grade. After he dropped out of school, he did whatever people asked him to do for practically nothing. Everyone who he has worked for says if given specific instructions, he will do an excellent job. He has learned to read fairly well after dropping out of school and can write if spelling doesn't count. Mr. Hendrex said if he had written instructions read to him and then given to him for reference, he was better than anyone who had ever worked for him. His name is Alfred.
"His younger brother, Michael, is about twenty-three or four. He is extremely intelligent. The three-, almost four-year-old child is his. He graduated high school with honors and went to Atlanta State on an academic scholarship. His sophomore year, at frat party, he ended up in bed with a girl he had just met. Afterward, they dated very occasionally, but he says didn't have sex again. Two months after the party, she came to him and told him she was pregnant. He wasn't prepared to deny the possibility, but after the child was born, she demanded a paternity test. There was no question about it, he is the child's father.
"They got married and he got a second part-time job. School and work was too much and he dropped out of school and went to work full time. As the delivery date approached, Lori, his wife, resented him and the unborn baby more and more. The child was born and the mother had as little to do with it as possible. She started partying with a group of friends and before he knew it, she was big time into alcohol and drugs. The child was almost a year old when things reached the crisis point. He came home from his second job one day and found the baby crying, obviously messy from more than one bowel movement, an empty bottle on the floor and the wife nowhere to be found. The father cleaned and fed the baby, cleaned the crib and got something to eat himself. He decided something had to be settled and waited up for the wife's return. She didn't return that night or the next day. When he got up after she had been gone a day and two nights, he found her passed out in the living room. She was completely unresponsive, so he called 911. She never regained consciousness. She was in a coma for six weeks before she died.
"Now a single parent, Michael tried to manage, but the job he had paid so little that rent and child care left practically nothing to live on. It all finally because too much for him and he had a breakdown. The Department of Social Services called his mother and she went to Atlanta and brought the baby back with her. Her son remained in the psychiatric hospital for the allotted ninety days and came to live with her a year and a half ago. The road back has been a difficult one. He has been working at minimum wage jobs since he got out of the hospital. I believe he is in good shape now, but very discouraged. He needs a situation in which he can earn enough to support his child, his mother and himself and have time to get back in school. He says he is not afraid of hard work. Of course, if Alfred were paid what's he's worth, he could contribute to his mother's support as well.
"The mother takes care of the young child, but in a couple of years he will be in preschool and she will be free to work if needed. She's in her early fifties and a very intelligent woman. She has not had it easy since her husband ran off with another woman when Michael, the younger son, was the same age as his child is now. Alfred's condition was, she believes, partially to blame for her husband's leaving her. So, that's the situation as I understand it and as I believe it to be."
"Sounds as though Arkadelphia might have something to offer them and they Arkadelphia. Have them give me a call to set up interviews. I assume moving to Arkadelphia would be no problem."
"None at all. They live in a two-bedroom duplex that is in poor condition. Michael and Alfred share one bedroom and the baby, I believe his name is Shawn, and Mrs. Kistler share the other. The place is tiny and there is no place for Shawn to play outside. The only way he gets outside is when one of the three take him to the park."
Michael called Thursday evening and Ethan set up interviews for Saturday. He told Michael to bring Mrs. Kistler and Shawn with him.
Ethan had told Davis and Molly about the Kistlers and Davis said he would sit in on the interviews. Ethan asked Randy to be present as well. He asked Sally Ann to look after Shawn and Molly to take care of Mrs. Kistler. Jamie was to be ready to take the two men and do a tour of the two plantations.