We started down the long front drive, but took a side trail about halfway to the gate. The trail was a well-maintained one and, while not paved, had a surface that prevented bikes sinking into the Florida sand. It was wide enough for all of us to ride abreast and Antwon told us we could, since it belonged to the estate and was built for recreation. "Should a maintenance vehicle need it, they would definitely be on the lookout for bikers, walkers, and joggers. In a sense this belongs to the community, as do all the grounds of La Casa. There's a side gate at the entrance which is wide enough for a bike and for picnickers. Only rule is to respect the place -- clean up your own mess and don't pick the flowers. The Crandalls have always insisted the grounds should be enjoyed by all."
We rode in silence for a few minutes, then Adam asked, "How did you get so buff? Working in a gym a lot?"
"That's a part of it now, but it started elsewhere. Well, I'm not ashamed of it since it's a part of the past which got me to where I am now, and I like where I am. Don't know how much of a story you want to hear though."
"All of it," Bobbie said. "We all love a good story."
"You'll have to judge how good it is and you have to promise to let me know when you've had enough.
"It started before I was born as, I suppose, it always does, Antwon laughed. I'm one of those kids born to kids. My mom was fifteen when I was born and my biological father was in prison for statutory rape of another kid, a fourteen-year-old. He was twenty-four. Anyway, my mama never saw him again after he got her pregnant and I never laid eyes on him.
"We lived with my grandmama here on the estate -- we'll see the house where I grew up in the village. When my mama was sixteen, she ran away with a twenty-year-old man, leaving me with my grandmama. They went to live in Detroit and, believe it or not, apparently had a decent marriage. There were no other children, a result of the pregnancy which produced me. Once I got old enough to know such things, I wondered if her husband didn't resent me because of that. Anyway, I only saw my biological mother once or twice a year. So far as I am concerned, Grandmama is my mama.
"I did ok through grade school and the first part of middle school. I could have made better grades, but I was both lazy and spoiled." Antwon laughed. "When I was in the seventh grade, I caught the 'school's not cool' disease which infects too many African-American boys. I started hanging out with a bunch of 'real men,' who liked to call themselves gangstas. In fact they were just real losers -- ones not dead already are in prison or jail. Soon I was smoking weed, ditching school, and working hard at being cool, a real wannabe gangsta. They allowed me to hang with them because I did anything they asked -- steal beer, weed, run drugs, carry their personal drugs. Stupidity made me think they thought I was cool. My grandmama was pulling her hair out, but I was being somebody. Well, I guess it was predictable. I got caught with a bag of weed I stole from Fat Boy -- the king of our little country -- for Shanks, leader of my pack so to speak. Actually, I was lucky at that since had I not been caught, Fat Boy's homeboys would have beat me within an inch of my life IF I was lucky! Shanks had run for cover as soon as he saw the cop, abandoning me. Taught me a lesson, sure did.
"I learned later the juvie judge had just heard seven cases of middle schoolers caught with serious drugs, guns, as well as stolen goods and she was, if you'll pardon the expression, seriously pissed. I don't think she even listened to my case, just sentenced me to five years in juvie -- until I was eighteen.
"After being beat up shortly after I was placed in the detention center, and then raped -- twice -- I had a definite shift in priorities. I knew I'd be beaten and raped again if I could not defend myself. The first step to that goal was getting into shape. The juvie's equipment was old, but a weight's a weight and I started training as best I could. I spent two-three hours working out and training to defend myself. That occupied part of my time. I was taken under the wing of a huge fellow, Big Jake, who was as gentle as could be most of the time, but hated to see someone picked on. I worked hard to be able to protect myself when my protection was gone -- he only had nine months left of his term. When Big Jake told me goodbye, I was ready to take care of Antwon and only had to prove it once.
"Like big prison, there wasn't enough to do in juvie, so it was boring, boring, boring. In addition to working out, I had six hours of classes a day and, since doing something was better than doing nothing, I started doing my school work again. I did well, better than I had ever done in school before, and since there was no reason not to do school year around, I did two and a half grades in two years.
"After I'd been inside two years, my grandmama managed to get a lawyer to look at my case. He told her even though I had been guilty of a lot, my sentence was out of line with similar cases. He went back to juvie court and I got transferred to a boot camp -- sure you've heard about Florida boot camps since the kid smothered by guards in one made national news. Didn't surprise me, but there's enough fuckups to keep the guards off your back if you just follow the rules. I knew that if I kept my nose clean, I'd be out in less than a year and if I did not, it was back to juvie. I was a good boy, a very good boy.
"I had been in boot camp six months when I came up for review, and was told it would determine whether it was out or back to juvie. After the review, I was told I would be released if 1) I agreed to close mentoring, 2) found a sponsor, 3) agreed to very strict rules -- curfew, school, job, etc. That was all well and good, but I had no way to find a sponsor, job, any of that.
"Grandmama had worked for the Crandalls since she started work at sixteen and asked Mrs. Crandall if she would help out, so here I am. Got myhigh school diploma and started doing community college now and working here. Oh, and there is a workout room down by the indoor pool and I try to work out at least three times a week. So, yeah, you don't have to take the hard road I took, but you gotta work to build a body like mine. Helps if you work out your mind as well." He laughed.
"You said you have been doing community college -- part of Mrs. Crandall's school and work program, right?" Adam asked. Antwon nodded. "What field?"
"Mrs. Metzer told you I'd be going to Dry Tortugas with y'all?"
"Antwon, if I may interrupt," Susan said.
"I don't know how to put this, but you talk white."
"Awww ah can jive dat jive when I wants ta, slap mah fro!" Antwon laughed, "but I guess you could say I'm bilingual. I can and do use the one that works."
"About Dry Tortugas," Adam urged. I think he was embarrassed by Susan's question. "Mrs. Metzer said you'd be going and that would make the trip extra special."
"It sure will," Antwon laughed. "You will be getting the finest trip available. Actually, it will be special because my partner and I will be breaking our necks to make it special. See, when I started at Florida Community College, I had some vague idea of wanting to do something having to do with the marine world. When I took my first marine biology class, my lab partner was this really ho... great guy, Sharky, and in no time at all we were best friends. After we had known each other for a couple months, he had a problem with his landlord and since my house was rent-free -- as an employee of the estate, I live in the village -- I invited him to move in. That was over a year ago and we are still waiting for our first serious disagreement."
"Sounds like a very special friend," John said.
"Something like that," Antwon replied and, I was sure, blushed. Just as John had made the comment, I noticed the plain gold band on Antwon's left hand and was sure he and Sharky were more that just special friends. "Anyway, Sharky -- his name is Mason, but when he was just a kid he caught a tiny shark and pitched a fit when his dad told him couldn't keep "Sharky" for a pet. His dad started calling him Sharky and the name stuck. Anyway, we really were spending a lot of time together -- school, living together and all, and talked a lot about what we wanted in the future. He worked for an excursion and diving company in Key West and was taking a two-year diving and business program, as well as taking courses in the marine technology. After that first marine biology course, I was hooked as well, and thought about working in marine research or recreation.
"I mentioned that to Mrs. Crandall and she suggested I see about getting a job in the business. I hadn't thought about that since I was obligated to the estate, but she said, 'We can work around your outside work schedule as well as your school schedule. You don't want to spend your life just waiting around for me to need you.' I told Sharky and he asked his boss about my going to work with them and was told I could have the first opening. In a month or so, I got a job.
"Sharky and I talked about our own marine business -- probably excursions -- but it was just a dream, and all we had was our willingness. Then, Mrs. Crandall asked about a trip to Dry Tortugas for herself and six of her friends. The boss suggested Sharky and I take it and do everything from the get-go. We planned an overnight trip like the one you will be doing. It went well, very well, and the word spread among Mrs. Crandall's friends and from them to other people with money -- you have to have a high debt limit on your credit card or a stack of cash for an overnight excursion for half a dozen or more people. People started asking for the 'Sharky and what's his name's' tour, and we were working every weekend and as often through the week as we could be away.
"Six months ago, Mrs. Crandall called me into her office -- that meant serious business was in the offing -- and asked what I knew about Logan's Florida Keys Excursions. I told her it used to be one of the finest, but Mr. Logan had slowed down then retired, and his son, who was only half-interested in the business, was running it. Actually, he was less than half-interested. He had a real estate business and hated the excursion business since he worked there during high school and college. Seems that's a common problem for sons who work for their fathers..."
"Yeah, it sure is," Adam agreed.
Antwon nodded in acknowledgment and continued, "Mrs. Crandall asked if the business could be resurrected and I assured her it could. That ended the conversation and I wondered what was going on.
"Two weeks later, she called to the house and asked if Sharky was home. When I told her he was, she asked us to come to her office. I felt like I was being called to the principal's office.
"When we arrived, she explained she had been talking with old Mr. Logan and both were interested in preserving a good excursion service and, since his son wasn't really interested, she had worked out a deal if we were interested. 'It's a good deal for Mr. Logan and myself,' she said, 'but it all hangs on whether or not you two think you can run the business. The deal I am offering, fellows, is to buy the business and equipment. You two agree that the equipment it is all top notch except for some minor refurbishing. We will be partners, share and share alike, except fifteen percent of your income will go toward purchasing my share of the business.' So we became businessmen and look forward to the day when that will be our only job."
We were riding along the trail, shaded by very old trees that formed an arch overhead. Of course, since we were in south, south Florida, it was still very warm in spite of the shade. We had been riding for maybe twenty-thirty minutes when, suddenly, we emerged from the trees. The trail now became a regular street, fronting a group of houses. Between the trail and the houses were very neat lawns and behind the houses -- actually, I guess, in front of them -- was the Gulf of Mexico.
"This is the village built for workers who would be constructing the manor house," Antwon said. Mr. Swanson named it La Aldea, but I think he was the only one who ever called it that. It has just been called the Village as long as anyone can remember. There are twelve houses, as you can see. Now only six of them are occupied with people who work for the estate. Three are for retired employees and three are, I think, rented. The one with all the flowers is my grandmother's. She is retired now and lives for free as she did when she was on the payroll."
"Mrs. Metzer lives here?" Bobbie asked.
"No, she has an apartment in the manor as do the chef, head housekeeper, and several others. I think full-time and part-time there are about fifty on the staff, but many of them are part-time college students. You met Sarah. She works maybe three meals a week unless there's something special. College is on spring break so we all are putting in extra hours while we can. The gardener lives in the house with NO flowers, just that beautifully groomed lawn. Flowers would be a busman's holiday for him and he wants no part of it. The chief of maintenance lives in the cottage at the end of the street and Sharky and I live in the one with the Jeep out in the drive, which means Sharky's home. Ready for some key limeade?" He didn't have to ask twice.
We rode to the front of the house -- the gulf side -- parked our bikes and went inside. "'Ey, Sharky, we got company," Antwon shouted as we trooped into a tidy living room. It was obvious that the occupants were into things marine and nautical from the pictures and decor in the room. A huge aquarium filled with very colorful fish was set into the living room wall. It immediately caught our attention.
We were so absorbed in watching the fish that we didn't see Sharky come into the room. "Welcome to Mini-Casa," a deep, soft voice said. When I turned from the aquarium, I saw a tall, well-built young man whose startlingly blue eyes were sparkling, his face illuminated by a wide smile. Sharky was wearing short trunks and was barefoot. His sun-bleached blond hair, set off by a bronze tan, was clearly something a lot of blonds would die for. "Welcome."
"Mini-Casa?" Bobbie asked.
Antwon was standing beside Sharky, grinning from ear to ear. "Obviously, this is Sharky," he said, "business partner and housemate." Antwon then introduced each of us in turn. He introduced Adam and I noticed when he extended his hand to Sharky there was no smile on his face.
"Mini-Casa?" Bobbie asked again.
"What else?" Sharky laughed. "To tell you the truth, we wouldn't trade with Mrs. Crandall for Mega-Casa, although I think at times she'd like to." When he asked, "All ready for a cool drink?" there was universal assent.
"Need any help?" I asked, hoping for a yes. I wanted to talk to Sharky, even if for only a couple minutes.
"I never turn down free help," he laughed.
With two males in the house, I guess I assumed they were fast food consumers and was surprised when we walked in to a very well-appointed kitchen. "Appears someone around here cooks."
"Antwon," Sharky said, as he handed me a pitcher of limeade and started putting ice in glasses. "We are the perfect combination: Antwon likes to cook and I like to eat. Well, I like to work outside and Antwon enjoys beautiful landscaping."
"That's something I'd like to talk to you and Antwon about. Not about cooking and eating, but about being a combination. I mean..."
"You're gay, of course," he stated and I nodded. "I thought as much. And Justin's your partner?"
I couldn't look at Sharky and kept my head down as I filled glasses. "I guess, yeah, I mean, as of last night ..."
"Oh, what happened last night?" Sharky asked.
"Well, we admitted to each other we were in love -- with each other I mean."
"And it was a surprise? I'm surprised you were surprised. It seemed pretty obvious to me, but maybe it's because you are new at the game and can't keep your eyes off of each other. But, yeah, I spotted it right off."
"You did? That makes me pretty nervous when I think about going back to North Carolina."
"Oh, no, school and all."
"We'll make a chance to talk, but right now we better get drinks to the crowd. Thanks, by the way, for trusting me."
We took the limeade in and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves except, maybe, Adam. He didn't look too happy. I suspect he was having to come to grips not only with two well-built, definitely masculine, guys who were pretty obviously gay, but also one black and one white. Adam had serious problems with a mixed-race couple last year. To make it worse, it involved one of his jock buddies who started dating an African-American cheerleader. I suspect it was not pleasing to him now, even though the two were gay.
"So, Sharky, Antwon told us you two met in a marine biology class. What, a year ago?" John asked.
"That's about right. We've been living together over a year. Yeah, we were lab partners and right off found we had a lot to talk about, enjoyed many of the same things and -- as I told Marc in the kitchen -- we are a good combination. Antwon likes to cook and I like to eat!" Sharky grinned.
After we finished our limeade and were leaving, Antwon was last outside and I saw him kiss Sharky before joining us. Fortunately, Adam was already on his bike.
We rode to where the trail looped back toward the manor house. The return trail ran along the beach, a totally different experience than our ride out. We were back at the house just in time to shower before lunch.
I undressed and headed to the shower. Justin had entered from his bedroom and stood waiting for me. As soon as I saw his beautiful body, I started getting an erection. I don't know whether it was my own nude body or just Marc Junior, but as I grinned at Justin, Mr. Smith started becoming Mr. Big Smith. Of course we had seen each other naked plenty of times, but now that our relationship had changed our cocks reflected it. Both of us were grinning like a jackass eatin' briers when we embraced. Our kisses started out pretty hot, but got hotter and hotter, our mouths open, our tongues doing battle while our hard cocks poked each other. Finally, Justin's cooler head prevailed and he said, "Look, I don't think we have time even to jerk off together. Lunch is waiting or will be in a matter of minutes. Think we can cool it enough to get presentable?"
"I happen to think we are presentable right now," I grinned and kissed Justin again.
"You might, but I can think of at least four others who would likely disagree."
"Sad to say, but I guess you're right." With a final passionate kiss, we broke our embrace and hit the shower.
It was all we could do not to start something in the shower, but we were able to stop with just soaping each other. A quick rinse and toweling and we were ready to get dressed.
I was afraid we'd get downstairs and find the other four past ready to eat, but only John and Susan were waiting.
"Where are the lovers?" Justin asked.
"You mean other than you two," Susan said with a grin. Justin and I both gulped.
"And before you start to deny anything," John said, "congratulations. Susan has said for quite a while now you two would come out when you were ready. Happy for you and wish you the best of luck. You'll need it."
"Yeah, I have thought about that for a good while, ever since I admitted to myself that I was gay. I really dread Bobbie and Adam finding out, but I guess since you and Susan figured it out before we did, they must know, too."
"I don't think so. Adam is so homophobic that he'd never admit to himself that he has gay friends and, besides, the two of them have something going on. They seem distracted and generally not with it these days," Susan said. "And, by the way, I add my congratulations to John's."
"Yeah, again congratulations, I'm happy for you guys," John said, extending his hand.
"Only sorry you weren't out to each other earlier, but better late than never," Susan said and embraced each of us.
"We having a love feast?" Adam asked as Susan and I broke our embrace.
"Sure," Susan said, and embraced Adam while John hugged Bobbie. Then Justin and I embraced Bobbie and shook hands with Adam.
"Well, I am ready for food," Justin said. While we ate, we talked about the morning and I noticed Adam avoided any conversation about Sharky and Antwon. We also talked about what we wanted to do in the afternoon and night. "I vote for a bonfire on the beach tonight. We can roast hotdogs and marshmallows."
"And s'mores," Bobbie added.
"And s'mores," Justin agreed.
"Susan, you've been a Girl Scout for years, do you know the difference between the girl and boy recipes for making s'mores?" Bobbie laughed and the rest of us looked dumb.
"Recipe? A recipe for s'mores? There has to be a catch here somewhere," Adam said, "but I'll bite. What is the difference between the girl recipe and the boy recipe for s'mores?"
"The girl recipe: Take a graham cracker -- the one with four parts marked -- and break in half crosswise. Place a Hersey chocolate square on it. Place a hot toasted marshmallow on the top. Use the second half of the graham cracker to close your sandwich."
"Yeah, right," Adam said, "so?"
"The boy recipe: Eat the chocolate, eat the marshmallow, throw the graham cracker at another boy," Susan laughed.
"Yeah, right!" Adam said and did a high five with Justin and John and me.
"I'll let Mrs. Metzer know about tonight," Susan said. "She said Antwon would lay a bonfire for us."
"Hey, let's ask Antwon to join us," John said.
"And Sharky," Susan quickly added.
I saw storm clouds gathering over Adam and braced for an outburst, which came.
"I don't know about you guys, but I think I had enough gay shit this morning, so I'd like NOT to invite Antwon and Sharky to join us. I mean, I guess there's no way we can get out of the trip to Dry Tortugas ..."
Incredulous, John asked, "You want to cancel that trip?"
"Look, we'll be on a boat with those two faggots for two days. I'd like for that not to happen, but I can see no way of getting out of it, but I'll pass on spending any more time with a faggot nig... African-American," Adam said with a sneer, "and his white boy pussy, thank you. That also goes for spending any time in flaming Key West." I guess I wasn't very surprised, but I was surprised that Adam seemed to be expecting agreement. Personally, I was getting pretty pissed off with his shitty attitude and one look at Justin's face told me he felt the same way.
"Hope you keep that opinion to yourself around here and around us," John said, very quietly. "Offend either Antwon or Sharky and you could get the shit beat out of you." Adam with no shit? That has a definite appeal. "I don't know about Bobbie, but I can assure you none of the other four of us share your bigoted attitude. So just keep it to yourself. If you don't want to make the trip, I am sure all you have to do is tell Mrs. Metzer. As for me, I wouldn't miss an opportunity like that and sure don't want it ruined by your sneering and sulking."
As John spoke, I suddenly realized two things. One was that the six of us had never had problems among us since we left grade school. The second was that while John was as quiet as ever, he surely was less passive since his summer in Atlanta.
"I couldn't agree more, John," Justin said. Susan and I just nodded. I don't know what else might have been said because Mrs. Metzer came in the room and all was smiles around the lunch table.
One look at Susan and I could see something was brewing. "Mrs. Metzer, I suspect we will want to have an early night Tuesday since, I understand, we will be leaving very early Wednesday," Susan said.
"Right, very early. How does leaving here at five strike you?"
"Ugh!" Susan responded. "Look, Clan, what about a trip to the Hemingway Museum this afternoon and the bonfire on the beach Tuesday night?" Susan asked. "That way 'early to bed, early to rise,' would be easier to manage."
"Sounds reasonable," Mrs. Metzer responded. "Would you like reservations for dinner in Key West as well? That would mean you could spend as much time as you wanted at the museum and doing anything else which might interest you --window shopping, real shopping, seeing the sights. Then Tuesday night on the beach and early to bed."
"Sounds good," Bobbie said. I wondered if her agreement was to send a message to Adam. "Although Adam may not be interested."
"Yeah, think I'll just hang around here, if that's ok."
"Whatever you want is ok," Mrs. Metzer said. "There's the pool, gym downstairs, and the library if you'd like to find something to read."
"I'll be fine, thank you."
"I guess you will need supper. If you like, I'll have cold cuts left and you can fix a sandwich when you like."
"Sure. Thank you." As Mrs. Metzer left the room, Adam said, "I guess that takes care of the beach tonight."
"It does," Susan said. "As I said, Tuesday evening would be a better time for that since we'll want to get to bed early." Adam was definitely having a problem with Susan making decisions, as well as a whole lot of other shit.
Adam turned to Bobbie and asked, "Well, are you going or staying -- to Key West this afternoon, I mean?"
"I'm going. Of course I'm going. I wouldn't miss the chance to see the Hemingway Museum." Adam looked a bit hang-dog and downcast, but he is stubborn and I knew he would not go with us. Bobbie was -- I was surprised -- obviously pissed at Adam.
As soon as we finished lunch, Mrs. Metzer told us Antwon would meet us downstairs. When we reached the front, a SUV was waiting for us with Antwon in the driver's seat. "Where's Adam?"
"He's being a horse's ass," Bobbie answered. "Forget about him, I am." I had never seen or heard Bobbie be quite so assertive.
"Go girl!" Susan said as she gave Bobbie a high five.
"Sharky not up to the trip?" I asked as I climbed in, the last of the five.
"He's already in Key West. He left as soon as we left the house. He had just come in to pick up some things he needed for this afternoon's excursion. He had a group going out on the boat just to go out on a boat. Not much money in that, but we do it when we don't have a better deal. Captain Miles is with him since I figured I would be busy."
"Captain Miles?" I asked.
"Captain is a retired naval officer -- a real one, there are a lot of self-promoted captains around here -- who does it for the fun and because he took a liking to both me and Sharky. When he retired, he moved here with his partner of some thirty years. Talk about prejudice, what he and his partner went through when they were young! Don't know how he managed to fool the navy, except his partner was an accountant in Kansas City so Captain would come off his ship and disappear until time to board again.
"Anyway, when Captain retired, they came here. His partner died of lung cancer three or so years ago and he was at loose ends and hung out at Logan's talking with Mr. Logan. Then he started going on excursions as a guide just for the fun of it. He's a great story teller and has a stock of stories which are very entertaining -- some of which are based on a fact or two!" Antwon laughed. "When we took over the business, he asked about staying on -- for free. We didn't want him working for nothing and couldn't afford to pay him. When Mrs. Crandall heard that, she decided as a partner in the business she could give him a rent-free house in the village and he thought that was a very good idea. Not only is he a nice partner in the business and a great friend, but also it's good to have someone around who understands what's involved in being a gay couple."
"Three gay sailors on board when we head to Dry Tortugas," I thought to myself. When I glanced at Justin, I could see he was having similar thoughts. Even more surprising, John had a very wicked smile on his face!