When we got down, Mrs. Metzer was waiting for us in the terrace room. "Good morning. I trust you rested well." There was general agreement and she continued, "Good. After you finish breakfast, I think we need to discuss some plans for the week. There is a lot of flexibility and the main thing is that you have a good experience but, for now, enjoy your breakfast. I'll rejoin you for coffee. Sarah is on duty this morning. Sarah?"
A very attractive young woman -- not much older than we were, if at all, came into the room, pushing a cart. "Sarah is a freshman in culinary arts at Florida Keys Community College. She started last fall. Mrs. Crandall became very interested in the college several years ago and tries to find students who need to work while attending school. She gets people to do what she needs done, they earn a decent wage and have working schedules which put school first. It is a good arrangement all the way around."
Sarah had been pouring and serving orange juice while Mrs. Metzer was speaking and, when she finished, said, "I have prepared Belgian waffles with fresh fruit and whipped cream. I can, of course omit the whipped cream if you like..."
"Bring it on!" Adam said, licking his chops, and no-one objected.
"The fruit topping is a mixture of fresh fruit. I can, if anyone wishes, prepare a dish with fruit you select."
"You are the chef," Adam said. "We'll let you be the judge."
I had forgotten how good fresh-squeezed orange juice was, and the juice Sarah served was exceptional. The waffles which followed just could not have been better.
While we all ate like we were half-starved, Justin and I still couldn't keep our eyes off each other, both grinning like Cheshire cats. At one point I saw John looking at us and grinning as well. Sometime later, I saw him look at Susan and wink. She was grinning too. They looked very smug and were acting as if they were sharing a secret. Susan even said, "Some people sure look bright-eyed and bushy tailed this morning," in a very provocative way. Bobbie and Adam didn't seem to notice or rise to the bait. In fact, they seemed absorbed in themselves or maybe each other. When John responded with, "Yeah, some real tail-bushing going on!" and laughed, Bobbie looked up, puzzled, and Adam just looked more disgruntled.
When we finished and the table had been cleared, Sarah came with a cart and offered fresh coffee, hot chocolate or tea. As she poured, Mrs. Metzer arrived and John seated her at the table. As soon as she had fixed her coffee, she asked, "Do any of you know Dry Tortugas National Park?"
"I seem to remember something about it. Hemingway fished around some islands by that name, I think," Adam replied. John nodded agreement. If any of us knew something about Hemingway, it would be John and Adam, especially John. Both had done a research paper on Hemingway the past semester, and John had turned it into a major research project on the man and his writing all this semester. As a matter of fact, John and Adam had an on-going debate about whether or not Hemingway had been gay. Adam took the affirmative position with more noise than fact, while John took the argument for the opposition and was always doing more research. Guess such a question gives students something to do and keeps them out of trouble. Anyway, the rest of us shook our heads indicating we knew nothing at all about the park.
"Please stop me when you have heard enough," Mrs. Metzer smiled. "I happen to love the place and can go on and on about it. There are seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. They, along with the surrounding shoals and waters, make up Dry Tortugas National Park. It is famous for its bird and marine life, as well as its legends of pirates and sunken treasure. The area is called dry because, well, there's 'water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,' no fresh water at all. Since the days of Spanish exploration, the reefs and shoals of the Dry Tortugas have been a serious hazard to navigation and are the site of hundreds of shipwrecks.
"In the early 1800s, the military realized the strategic location of the islands in the Florida Straits, and plans were drawn up and construction started on a massive fortress, one of the largest masonry forts in the world. It was an ambitious project, but never finished.
"The park lies between sixty and seventy miles west of Key West and can only be reached by seaplane or boat. Antwon is part of a business that offers boat trips to the islands and can arrange for a seaplane when a group doesn't want to go by boat. When I suggested you might like a day trip there, Antwon raised his usual protest, 'A day is not enough.' It does take two hours or so to reach the islands by boat, so I suggested a seaplane out with a boat meeting you there and then the boat back. Antwon said he'd favor a boat both ways with an overnight on the boat, and reminded me that both Mrs. Crandall and I had made an overnight with a group of friends several times. I thought that was a good idea and made reservations. Had I waited until you arrived, it would be likely neither boat nor plane would have been available. In fact, it was a rare piece of luck that Antwon could arrange an excursion, but I can cancel today if you're not interested. Interested?"
"What do we know?" John laughed. "I guess we'll just have to go and see. Truthfully, Mrs. Metzer, it sounds wonderful. Antwon works for a charter service?"
"Actually, he's part owner of one -- Logan's Florida Keys Excursions. He will, I assure you, provide an exciting two days. If that's settled?" Mrs. Metzer looked around and saw six nodding heads. "Fine, I'll go ahead and confirm your reservations. I'm also sure you'll want to spend time in Key West. Since you are students, I thought you'd like to visit the Hemingway house and museum. And while you'll have an excellent view of the sunset here as well as on your trip, watching the sunset in Key West is a big deal. But you can go to Key West on the spur of the moment since it's not that far away. If you have seen The Birdcage, you have some idea of one aspect of Key West. It's a very lively place."
"Wasn't The Birdcage about queers?" Adam asked, to the embarrassment of us all.
"Yes, I suppose, in a sense, it is. It centered around a gay couple," Mrs. Metzer said in a very neutral voice.
"I'm sure not interested in any faggots," Adam sneered.
"And I'm sure they are not interested in you," Mrs. Metzer replied with an icy smile, "but, fortunately, Key West prides itself on accepting all kinds of people." Her voice was very even, but then she added in a very soft aside, "Even bigots." After a pause, she went on, "As I said, you can go to Key West on the spur of the moment, or not go at all if you prefer.
"Today I thought you might like to stick close and explore the estate -- the house and grounds. There's a bike trail and bikes if you like to do that. If some of you want to do one thing and some another, that's fine. I'll just need to know your plans so I can determine if Antwon will be needed, and what you want to do for meals, especially if you want something special like a picnic or won't be here for a meal but, again, the goal is for you to enjoy your visit."
"It all sounds wonderful," Susan said, "and I like the idea of exploring today. Say we gather for lunch at 12:30 and plan on dinner at 8:00."
"So very civilized," John kidded her, "but, sure, sounds good."
"Before we start exploring, I'd like to know something of the history of this place," Justin said. "There has to be a story here -- a whole bunch of stories -- I'm sure."
"True, very true and, again I don't want to bore you to tears, but I do enjoy being a tour guide, especially when I can sit in this house and talk about it! You are right, the stories about La Casa are interesting.
"Of course the history of the area goes back to the days of the Spanish exploration -- well, actually before that with American Indians. The modern history of La Casa starts shortly after the turn of the century when a Mr. Swanson bought the land and had plans drawn up for the manor house and a village. The latter was to be a cluster of houses for the servants and workers on the estate. It was completed first so those constructing the manor house would have a place to live without traveling to and from work, since most lived a distance away and traveling wasn't as easy then as now.
"As soon as the village was completed, ground was broken for the manor house. The foundations had just been laid when the First World War broke out, so construction stopped. It was a while after the war before construction could be resumed, so the house wasn't completed for a number of years, being officially opened with a New Year's ball in 1929."
"Uh oh," Justin said.
"How right you are. While Mr. Swanson didn't lose all his wealth in the crash, it was considerably reduced. As a result, he decided he couldn't maintain two residences. La Casa, if you can believe it, was only his winter cottage, so it was the one sacrificed. Ideally it would have been sold, but the housing market after October 1929, you can understand, was not thriving. Accordingly, La Casa was essentially boarded up and left. Antwon's great-grandparents were members of the staff and remained employees of Mr. Swanson. They were to look after the place as best they could -- to make sure there were no leaks to damage the house, break-ins, that sort of thing. They weren't required to do much else and couldn't. Can you imagine two people keeping this place? Well, that's one half of the story.
"Meanwhile, Mr. Crandall... and this can get complicated since there are three Mr. Crandalls involved -- Mr. Crandall senior, called Mr. Alexander; Mr. Crandall junior, called Alex; and Mr. Crandall III whom we call Mr. Crandall since he was the husband of the present Mrs. Crandall. Ok? Well, Mr. Alexander had been left a great deal of money by his father and the Crandall wealth had not only survived the Great Depression, but prospered during it. The story is his father had struck it rich in oil and he couldn't turn it off just because there was a depression going on.
"Anyway, Mr. Alexander fell in love with a woman, Miss Janice Seymore, he met at a summer's party just after he had graduated college. Unfortunately, she was already engaged to someone else. Nevertheless, they moved in the same social circles and saw a great deal of each other over the summer.
"At the end of summer party, Miss Seymore was in attendance without her fiance and Mr. Alexander took advantage of the fact, dancing almost every dance with her. While they were dancing -- and when they sat out and talked -- he told her he would be leaving for the Far East and anticipated being away until Christmas or the New Year. She made him promise to write her and tell her about all the things he was seeing and his experiences. "I wish I could travel, not on a grand tour, but to really see people and places. You must write so I can imagine what it would be like," she had said. He wrote her almost every day and she responded as often. Nonetheless, she did not tell him she had broken off her engagement. When he returned a few weeks before Christmas, he discovered she was as much in love with him as he her. So far as anyone else knew, they had a whirlwind courtship and announced their engagement at a New Year's party. They were married in May 1930 -- he finally marrying the woman he had worshiped for almost a year. The present Mrs. Crandall says Mrs. Alexander Crandall senior wasn't hurting for money in her own right and their combined fortune was considerable.
"Both wanted a houseful of children as they were only children themselves. After four years of marriage, they had been very disappointed when there were no children and they had been told by doctors here and in Europe, there never would be. Then, surprise, surprise, Mr. Crandall junior was born -- their miracle baby. When he was almost four, Mr. Swanson died and, in settling his estate, La Casa was put on the market. Mrs. Alexander had been at La Casa for the holidays in 1928 and the 1929 New Year's ball and had fallen in love with the estate, not just the manor house. As soon as it was offered, she made an offer which was immediately snatched up by the agent for the Swansons.
"Mrs. Alexander supervised the renovation of one of the cottages in the village and the Crandalls spent Januaries and Februaries here for couple years avoiding the worse months of their hometown's -- Chicago's -- winters. Mrs. Alexander absolutely hated the Chicago cold and asked about their making this their year-around residence. Mr. Alexander liked the idea and they came down in early 1941 and decided to reopen the manor house. World War II intervened and the renovations didn't start until 1946. The Crandalls spent the war in Washington where Mr. Crandall was working for some government project. I have never known anything concerning it and apparently those who did have been very closed-mouth. While the Crandalls spent what time they could here during the war, it was very little.
"After the war, the Crandalls moved back and started renovating the other houses in the village and moving in workmen as a house was ready. That job was finished in 1950-51 and work started on the manor house when the Korean War erupted. Mr. Alex was in the ROTC in college and thought he'd escape the draft but, for reasons I don't know, he was inducted into the Army -- I think in late 1952 -- younger than others being drafted. He was always very bitter about it since he should have been able to finish college and go in as an officer. I have always suspected a member of the draft board was jealous of the Crandalls and managed to pull a dirty one. Anyway, the Korean War was still going on when the renovation of the manor house was competed in 1953. Mr. Alex was in Korea so his parents didn't have any official opening. Then when the war ended, Mr. Alex was still assigned there until just before Christmas after the ceasefire was signed. The house was officially reopened with a New Year's ball in 1954."
"I would have thought they would have learned a New Year's ball opening was not a good idea," John grinned.
Mrs. Metzer laughed and said, "It would certainly seem so. Alex was at the ball and, as his father had been at beginning of summer party, was absolutely captivated by a young lady, Alice Blaupoint, he met there. She was a graduate student working in marine biology at one of the Key West research stations. Alex spent every minute he could tear free from being a part of the host family chasing her, and running from Melissa Grant -- the daughter of one of his mother's college classmates. The mothers had decided the two would make a grand couple and apparently Melissa agreed. Alex, on the other hand, told his mother Melissa had cotton candy for brains and that was her best quality.
"Alice wasn't really interested in romance since she was very involved in her research, but she did go out with Alex a few times. When he began hinting at marriage, she suggested he look elsewhere for a wife since she wasn't interested and too busy to think about it. He persisted, and six months later they were married and came to live here on the estate. Alex was gradually taking over his father's enterprises when, a few months after his marriage, his father died of a massive heart attack and Alice and Alex moved into the manor house.
"Apparently Alex was a born businessman and worked day and night. Alice, likewise was busy, continuing with her research through a pregnancy and after Alexander the third was born a year after they were married. His parents, frankly, were pretty absent from Alexander's life and his grandmother became his overly indulgent parent. According to stories I have heard, he was an insufferable brat, but an absolute genius. His grandmother died when he was twelve, and after her funeral he was hustled off to a private school in New England. I've heard tell his parents, frankly, couldn't stand to have him around. As a result, he spent year around in school or some program. That, coupled with his natural genius, resulted in his graduating high school when he was just past sixteen. Having been away in school so long, it seemed natural that he start college right away.
"He was in his junior year of college when he was old enough to join the ROTC. That was neither a popular thing to do at the time nor a decision his father approved. To make matters worse, a year or so later, he met a young woman working for inclusion of women in the ROTC program and was determined to marry her. He brought her to La Casa and after his parents met her, they put their foot down and told him they would disinherit him if he did marry her. Contrary to his previous behavior, he broke off the romance but, to get even, volunteered for immediate active duty. At the time, sons of wealthy parents were finding ways to get out of military active duty and the Vietnam war. His father was violently opposed to Alexander's decision because of his own experiences with the military, and Alexander was just as determined to do the opposite of anything his father did or wanted. Eventually he ended up a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
"In the final days of the war, he took part in the evacuation of Saigon, during which his aircraft was shot up. He managed to get the crippled helicopter to within the rescue area of a naval ship and was picked up. While he survived the crash, he was horribly burned and no-one expected him to live. He was brought back on a hospital plane and after months in a military hospital, released. His recovery was slow, very slow, and he was left badly scarred.
"He came back to the estate and began working closely with his father. To their surprise, they got along well and enjoyed working together. His father was definitely slowing down and Alexander took on more and more of the Crandall enterprises. His mother had tried to convince him to submit to plastic surgery and, when he noticed his scarred face was a handicap in business negotiations, he agreed. The process had been going on for about a year when, after what was to be one of the last operations, he got an infection which kept him at death's door for several weeks. As if that wasn't bad enough, while he was recovering from surgery and infection, both his parents were killed in a plane crash.
"Since he was in a battle for his own life, his doctors decided Alexander wasn't to be told, but after neither of his parents had been to see him or call for several days, he demanded to know what was wrong. Told about the crash, he went into deep depression and simply decided he didn't want to live. It appeared he would get his wish when the present Mrs. Crandall appeared on the scene. She was doing advanced training to become a nurse practitioner and had previously worked as a psychiatric nurse. She said it didn't take long for her to see what was going on. 'I knew depression when I saw it and knew in this case more than drugs was needed.' She took Alexander on as a special project and, for whatever reason, he responded to her and after six weeks, left the hospital.
"To make a long story a bit shorter, Mr. Crandall learned she had a spring break coming up..."
"Ah! The plot thickens," John said.
"I guess it does at that," Mrs. Metzer actually laughed. "Anyway, he invited her to bring some friends and come to La Casa for the break, which she did. When she completed her training in May, he invited her and a group of friends down for a breather and, later, to celebrate earning her certification as a nurse practitioner. As she was practically ready to board the plane for her first job after that visit, Mr. Crandall asked, 'Why don't you come to La Casa to stay?'" Mrs. Metzer smiled an said, "Mrs. Crandall wasn't sure what he meant since he had never even flirted with her, or so she thought. He had to do some explaining and then some quick talking to have her consider his offer, but she didn't give him an answer. When she got home, the gifts, cards, letters and phone calls just kept coming. She finally called and said she guessed she'd have to accept since she was being buried alive. They were married October of that year and had five glorious years together, then the stress on Mr. Crandall's body from his injuries and their after-effects caught up with him and he died quietly in his sleep. Which, by the way, the family doctor told Alexander would probably have happened to his father had he not died in the plane crash. Anyway, Mrs. Crandall is now mistress of La Casa."
"Wow," Bobbie said. "A real love story."
"A very tragic one," Susan added. Everyone fell silent for a moment, then Susan suggested, "So why don't we explore the estate today -- maybe a bike ride this morning, explore the house when it gets very hot outside, and then end the day at the beach."
"Sounds good to me," Justin said.
"Would you like a bonfire on the beach?" Mrs. Metzer asked. When we agreed, she said, "I'll arrange that. When you are ready for a bike ride, give Antwon a call -- dial 8 -- and he will meet you downstairs, Marc, near the entrance to the pool. The bikes are stored there."
We went upstairs to our rooms and agreed to meet in our suite in thirty minutes. Justin and I made short work of brushing our teeth and when we undressed to get dressed for biking, were immediately in each other's arms. After a long, hot kiss, Justin slid his lips down my chest and covered a nipple with his hot mouth. He flicked it with his tongue and teased it with his teeth which sent my already rock-hard cock pulsating with each heartbeat. As Justin continue tonguing my chest, I reached down and grasped his throbbing manhood as I kissed the curve of his neck. Justin was soon wetting my hand with precum and started groaning my name. He wrapped one arm around me and with his other hand grasped my cock, which was also dripping precum like there was no tomorrow. Then, even though we had both exploded in the shower not very long before, we started shooting at the same time, each covering our lover with a physical sign of our newly professed love.
"Wow! Damn!" Justin said when he could finally get his breath.
"Yeah! Wow! Damn, indeed!" I said in response. Then, when I was finally mostly recovered, said, "We better take a thirty-second shower to clean up and, even at that, we are going to be late."
"They can't go until you show them the way," he said and stuck his tongue in my ear.
"Which means they will be here soon and I don't think a locked door would send the message we want sent."
"Why don't we be really late?" Justin said with a grin, his eyes sparkling. "Let's lock the door and spend the day exploring each other."
"Would love to, really I would, but..."
"Yeah, I know. I was just daydreaming."
"Wet dreaming you mean," I said with a laugh and ran to the shower with Justin chasing me.
We had just barely gotten dressed when John knocked, stuck his head in the door and said, "Adam and I are headed down."
"You know the way?" I called out from my bedroom.
"Well, no," John said, kinda embarrassed.
"Come on in," I said, "I'll be right with you." Justin did the bathroom race and I stepped into the living room from my room as Justin popped out the door of his.
Antwon was waiting for us when we reached the storage area where at least a dozen very nice bikes were waiting. "Do you ride at all?" John asked after we had spoken to Antwon.
"Just about every day. Well, every day I have time," Antwon replied.
"Then I'm sure you are a lot better than any of us. Why don't you change and come along? You can show us where to ride, and point out the sights. You have plenty of time to change -- Susan and Bobbie are not here."
"They are probably still deciding what to wear, if Susan is like Bobbie," Adam said.
"So, yeah, why don't you come along?" John asked.
"Would love to if y'all don't mind."
"Hey, you'd be doing us a favor," I responded.
"Give me ten," Antwon smiled. "I need to change and advise Mrs. Metzer of my whereabouts."
"No rush. We'll probably still be waiting for the women."
For the most part, I would say that we are about as liberal a bunch as you can find in eastern Carolina. Having said that, though, I was a bit anxious about how Adam would react to having Antwon, an African-American, riding with us. Adam has, sometimes, pulled the 'some of my best friends are African-Americans' bit, and generally divided African-Americans into ok and not ok groups, with athletes being ok and all others not ok.
Antwon was back in a little more than ten minutes, just as Bobbie and Susan appeared. When I saw him, I knew he was definitely in the ok group. His biker's spandex showed off a magnificent body. Adam didn't miss a chance to point it out, greeting Antwon with, "Shit, Man, you are one built dude. Sure as hell wish I was built like that."
Antwon laughed and said, "Could be if you work your flabby ass off!" as he smacked Adam on the butt. Three of us choked back laughs as Adam turned bright red. "Ready to ride?" Antwon asked and hopped on his bike.