Cleared for the Option Author:Skip Gaines Prologue: — Jacob Thomas Feamster sat in a wooden, high-backed wheel chair in the sitting parlor of his mansion on Rose Hill. A dark-haired middle aged nurse who was sitting nearby had pushed the wheel chair into the center of a large bay window which spanned the front of the house. The light from the May sun was bright as it streamed through the... more » tall windows. It felt warm to the old man, who squinted as he looked across his lawn and down on the small town of Midway, Tennessee, he had done so much to develop. Seventy-two years before he had been born in this same mansion and except for his days in college and the Army, he had lived nowhere else. At one time he had controlled the town which lay before him; owning farms, coal mines, a car dealership, a hardware store, a sawmill, and a lumber yard. He decided who would be the Mayor and Circuit Judge and Sheriff and Jailer. Thirty years ago nothing was done in Midway without his approval. But those days had gone, along with his youth. As Midway had grown and expanded to the South along the Interstate, his powers had been spread among many businessmen and politicians.
Recent years had not been kind to his health. No one preached in the 20's and 30's that liquor and cigars and too much weight would destroy your liver and lungs and heart. He had carried 30 extra pounds around for most of his adult years and constantly sucked on expensive hand-made Cuban cigars. His lungs were now cursed with emphysema and lung cancer. His heart was weak and his days were numbered. But he did not fear death- he had lived a long and full life.
As he breathed oxygen through a clear mask, his eyes now shut, his thoughts dwelled not on the past, but on the future, a future of which he would not be a part. The old man knew the future of the Feamster family rested on the shoulders of his only grandson, Thomas J. Feamster. Still in high school, Tom was smart and athletic and well liked. He was a leader and a fighter like his grandfather. Maybe young Tom would be the Governor of Tennessee some day, something he had always wanted. One thing was certain- the old man would never live to see it. He dozed off into a deep sleep and his nurse wheeled him off toward his bedroom in the back of the house.
Brian Jennings stood by himself just above the corner of a large outcropping of rock which jutted from a cliff overlooking the lake. His dark black hair fluttered in the breeze. The sky above him was bright blue. Below him and beyond the lake was a wide valley made noticeably green from the Spring rains. In the distance he could barely see the elevated buildings in downtown Midway. It was times like this he loved being alone, with the chance to just sit and think and dream. No one else know about this overlook-- he had discovered it purely by accident. To reach this spot required a delicate traverse over a narrow ledge near the mouth of a cave. He had never brought anyone else here; for this was his private place.
He would rather be here than at home- he'd rather be anywhere than home. His father was an alcoholic and his mother spent her whole life making excuses as to why his dad didn't fulfill one obligation or another. Drunk one day, sober the next, Brian had grown up not knowing which Dad was going to show up on which particular day. Would he be the loving, caring man who would promise to play ball with him or take him to a movie? Or would he be drunk or not even come home at all? Few of his dad's promises ever became reality.
He climbed down a rock ledge three or four feet and sat down. Taking a deep breath, he laid his head back against an oak tree, peacefully shutting his dark brown eyes. Outside of his home environment, everything seemed to come easy for Brian Jennings- school, athletics, and girls. Yet, it still wasn't easy being 18. Things bothered him, his dad, his mom, his home- the Vietnam war which raged in Southeast Asia. Would he have to go? Had his girlfriend started her period? She was already four days late and it upset the hell out of him. His mind wandered to the events of earlier in the day. He had uncharacteristically struck out twice in a double header and made a crucial error at shortstop. His blunders had probably cost his team the second game. The district tournament was now history for Boyd County High and his high school baseball career had abruptly ended.
He had been listening to the hum of an airplane motor from somewhere behind him when it suddenly swung in front of him and made a low pass over the lake. He knew the plane well- a Cessna 172 owned by a local doctor. He had washed it many times to earn money for flying lessons. The plane was so close he recognized the pilot- Pete Stivers. A careless pilot- an accident waiting to happen. He would never fly like that.
Brian Jennings only had two dreams- to be a professional pilot and to find the one passionate love that would give him the real home he had longed for as a child.
Only a few miles from Brian Jennings' perch overlooking Cherokee lake, Butch Buchanan was bent over a pool table. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth. Four days earlier, he had been paroled from the boys correctional facility at Hardinsburg where he had been sent for stabbing a man. He had no dreams or aspirations. He lived from hour to hour, from day to day. It wasn't a question of whether he would go back to Hardinsburg- only when.
The Feamster family trust owned a 350-acre gentleman's farm three miles west of Cherokee Lake in an area containing some of the most fertile soil in Eastern Tennessee. As an heir to the Feamster name and fortune, Tom Feamster had access to the farm and had spent many happy hours playing on it as a child. On this bright, sunny, Spring day, he and Susan Barker lay on a blanket near a small creek which traversed the back of the farm. Susan was a freshman, Tom a senior. They had almost made love before, but today they only kissed and laughed and talked about next fall when Tom would go away to college. Susan felt at peace when she was with Tom, especially when he held her. She worried about next fall, the time they would spend apart while he was away. He was her security in life, the only boy she had ever loved. The boy that God and the Catholic Church had made for her. She wanted nothing more than to spend her life with him.
Susan had to be home for dinner at 6:00 p.m. Tomorrow, Tom would travel to Knoxville and play in the state high school golf championship. They picked up their blanket, kissed one more time, and while holding hands, walked slowly to the car.
The elderly teacher sat in her living room grading final exams. She had been born and raised in the small community of Minter, Georgia, and had taught biology, chemistry, and physics at Minter High School for 36 years. She had seen hundreds of bright students pass through the halls of Minter High, but none had ever completed an entire year of physics with a perfect grade- 100%. This kid hadn't missed a question, not one, all year. And he was the least likely of all to excel, she thought. His father had been killed in a logging accident when he was only three. His mother worked as a cocktail waitress in a dive off Metro street. But this kid was outstanding in every respect. He would finish high school in two weeks with a 4.0 standing- perfect. He would be the Valedictorian of his class.
She searched his exam paper, re-grading, trying to find some mistake. Something seemed wrong with a perfect score--especially for a whole year. But she found no errors. Finally, reluctantly, she wrote about the name Jib Scott: "100%".« less