We awoke in the middle of the night to a magnificent thunderstorm. We Could see the lightning through our bedroom window, but I wanted to see it Over the water. The ballroom offered an excellent vantage point through its Wide French doors or, if we were brave enough, the balcony terrace. I Hopped out of bed, grabbed a pair of shorts, and said to Justin, "Come on! Let's go to the ballroom."
Justin was not as wide awake as I was, but managed to get out of bed and Into shorts. Before we left, I tapped on John's door and called. John Answered and I told him Justin and I were going to the ballroom to watch the storm. "See you in a couple," he responded.
When we reached the ballroom, I couldn't resist going out on the terrace. We were soon joined by John and Susan. "I got Susan up, after I realized What was going on."
I was standing in front of Justin who had his arms around me and I was a bit surprised when I noticed John and Susan were also standing that way.
"I phoned Bobbie and Adam, but don't know whether they will..." Susan didn't finish the sentence as Bobbie and Adam appeared at the other end of the terrace and Bobbie waved at us.
We all stood in awe of the lightning display and the crashing thunder. The wind was up and getting stronger when, suddenly, it was as if someone had upended a bucket over our heads as the rains came in torrents. We all rushed back inside and the guys headed to our room for towels, Susan and Bobby to John's.
We were, of course, all wide awake and a bit chilled from the drenching we had received. "Now would be a good time for hot chocolate," John said as we stood in the bathroom, drying ourselves.
"Agreed, but not enough to have someone crawl out of bed and make it for us," Justin said.
"Not necessary," I said. "I know where the kitchen is and think we can find hot chocolate if we work at it."
I led the crew down the servants' stairs to the kitchen where we started looking through cabinets for hot chocolate, which we found after a five-minute search. While we had been searching, Bobbie found cups and heated some milk in the microwave. Soon we were all sitting around the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate. It was like it would have been before Justin and I came out to ourselves, each other, and our friends.
We had had a pretty busy day and it was the middle of the night, so it was not surprising that as soon as the hot chocolate had warmed us up from our encounter with the cold rain, we all went back upstairs and to bed.
I guess I expected the Florida Keys to be like Camelot where it only rains at night, but it turned out to be just like everywhere else and sometimes you have a rainy day. Monday was one. With the help of Mrs. Metzer, we found plenty to do. There was a pool table which Adam and Susan dominated. They were about an even match and far better than any of the rest of us.
Bobbie, Justin, John, and I played several hands of cut-throat poker before Justin and John decided they'd play chess. Susan and I found the library and some fairly recent bestsellers, and curled up with books.
The rain stopped for a while after lunch, but it soon started again. We all went to our rooms and I suspect the others did as Justin and I, and had a nice nap.
Justin and I had a nap after a bit. We made slow, gentle love, starting with butterfly kisses. I was not quite as sore as I had been the day before, but appreciated the gentleness of Justin's lovemaking as well as a fantastic climax. After the necessary cleanup, we lay nestled in each other's arms, gazing into the eyes of our lover as we slowly drifted off to sleep.
After our naps, we went for a swim since there was no thunder or lightning, just rain. Adam and Bobbie had joined John in the suite's living room and were, again, engaged in a tight game of Monopoly. Justin invoked the rule and we had just distributed the money to start over when Susan arrived. Justin won this time and got to count the win.
The rain stopped and the sky was clearing when we went down for supper. Susan had asked Mrs. Metzer to join us and she did. It was nice to have her as a part of our group rather than an outside servant.
As we waited for desert to be served, Mavis was on duty again, Susan asked Mrs. Metzer how she came to be at La Casa.
"It's long story," she replied, then laughed, "I guess all of my stories are. Anyway, it was a very round-about path. After college, I was at a loss as to what I wanted to do. I had majored in nursing, done a year of advanced clinical training and earned my RN, but the thought of working in a hospital just didn't feel right. I was working in a large metropolitan hospital and it all seemed so impersonal. One day I was working in the emergency room when a young man who had been beaten nearly to death was brought in by another young man.
"After we got the patient stabilized, I went out to tell his friend the prognosis, which was actually pretty good. He had no broken bones," well, not serious ones. He had a couple broken ribs and they could have
punctured a lung, but all was well. I then asked him what had happened. Seems the two had been out clubbing and when they walked out of a gay club, they were jumped. 'The attackers left this, if you can believe it.' He showed me a crude, vulgar drawing with 'God Hates Fags' written across it.
"Turns out his friend," actually I learned later, his partner, his lover, was injured much worse than first thought and was in the hospital for over a week. I got to know them very well during that time and learned they had met while they were Peace Corps volunteers in Guatemala. We talked a lot about the Peace Corps and, a month later, I signed up. After my training, I went to El Salvador and helped establish and run a clinic for mothers and children. When my first tour was complete, I signed up for another one.
"It was not the success the first one was. I was kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries and held captive for six months. At the end of the time, I was a mental, emotional, and physical wreck. I had contracted a tropical disease which did a real job on my body. Unlike many hostages, I had never come to side with my captors, but suffered from all sorts of trauma as a result of the period in captivity. After a long hospital stay and mental and emotional therapy, I was released from the long-term treatment center where I had been, and needed a job. For some reason, I found myself taking a job in a very posh rehab center and there I met Mrs. Crandall. She decided I needed fresh air and sunshine and she needed a nurse for a while. That
was fifteen years ago and I'm still here. Those two young men, by the way, are the reason I have little patience with homophobia."
Tuesday we decided to go in to Key West again, this time with Adam along. We had a grand time exploring and were pretty tired when we got back to La Casa. The plan called for an early supper followed by bed as soon as we thought we could get to sleep, because Wednesday, early, we would begin our trip to Dry Tortugas.
We got back to the manor mid-afternoon and Mrs. Metzer was waiting for us when we came from parking the van. "We need to have a confab before dinner," she said. "Seems Antwon is in favor of a new plan for our Dry Tortugas trip, if you are interested. I'll have tea waiting on the terrace in fifteen minutes."
We went upstairs. Justin and I took care of the call of nature, put away the gifts we had purchased in Key West and were standing in the living room, engaging in a passionate kiss when there was a timid knock. John was standing in the door from Justin's -- now his -- room. As we broke the kiss, he said, "You know, I'm positive you two are in for some rough weather in the days ahead and I don't envy you that. I guess I do envy your love -- whoa, don't get me wrong, I'm at least as straight as Adam thinks he is -- I'm just envious of you loving someone and being loved in return. I hope you know what I mean."
"I do," I answered, "but remember how long we didn't know we loved each other. I hope you are as loved and love as much as I do, but I sure hope that you don't have to love and not be loved in return or not know you are loved in return."
"Yeah, I second that," Justin added, "I think."
"I look at Adam and Bobbie and I'm surprised I am not at all envious of them and their relationship. You two seem so happy with each other and they... I'm not sure, but something's wrong there."
"Agreed," I said, "but there's nothing we can do about it."
"Guess not. Well, tea time."
When we stepped out of the room, John tapped on Susan's door and she joined us. When we got to the terrace room, Bobbie and Adam hadn't shown up. Susan suggested calling them but, as she got up to do so, they appeared.
While there was a formality about tea with Mrs. Metzer pouring, it wasn't stuffy, and definitely had later teens in mind when it came to food -- and drink for that matter. As soon as we were seated at the laden table, Antwon said, "As you know, our original plan was to leave here very early tomorrow morning and that is still possible should you decide so. However, I got to thinking and this being the spring of the year, tourists to the Islands are increasing. We'll likely spend a great deal of time on the boat, but it's nice to be able to spend time on land as well. There are a very limited number of camp sites on Garden Island and they are available on a first come, first served basis. We can claim one and put three tents -- that is the limit
allowed by the park service. Since there are only six of you, that works out fine, two to a tent, I mean." He laughed and added, "How you split up the three tents is your business." Mrs. Metzer, underscoring what I had suspected, that she knew about our sleeping arrangements, smiled.
"What about you, Sharky and Mrs. Metzer?" Susan asked.
"As I said, the park service only allows three tents, so we will stay on the boat..."
"That's an option?" Susan asked. "Staying on the boat, I mean."
"Well, sure that's an option."
Susan said, "I have been a Girl Scout. Sleeping in a tent, on the ground? Been there. Done that. Option, please."
"Well, what I was going to propose is that we spend tonight aboard and we could all do so tomorrow night as well. My only worry is that may mean two nights of being seasick for someone," Antwon responded.
"We live in a waterfront town, remember? We have been on water practically since we were born," Susan laughed, "and I'm sure Bobbie has a patch in her belongings."
"How'd you guess?" Bobbie grinned.
Bobbie was the only one of us who was ever plagued by motion sickness, and it seemed it sometimes struck and sometimes did not, but anytime we were going on the water, she'd slap on a motion sickness patch to take care of it. I had noticed she was wearing one when we flew down and suspected Susan had noticed as well.
"Well, that takes care of securing a camp site and it's not like we'll be afloat all the time. I'm sure you'll spend a lot of time exploring Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. We'll also have time on Loggerhead Key. You'll miss cooking on charcoal grills..."
"Been there, done that, too, "Susan said.
"As have we all," Adam added. "So we can forget camping on the island. Besides, we can do that at home. Spending the night on a boat -- well, we've all done it on boats with sleeping accommodation for four -- if you can call the arrangements accommodations, but not on an excursion boat." I wondered what Adam was talking about, but said nothing.
"Makes my life easier," Antwon said, "but I still suggest we leave tonight to give you as much time in the park as possible."
"I agree," John said as we all nodded agreement.
"What I want to offer as a possibility is for you to get your things together, have dinner, and all of us spend the night on the boat. That way you can get your beauty sleep and we can be at the park for sunrise. You'll want to see sunrise on the open sea anyway and we can anchor near Garden Key -- actually we have to be within a nautical mile of the harbor light. Thoughts?"
"We can sleep on the boat?" John asked, "I mean really sleep and not just find a softer place on the deck?" He was vocalizing my thoughts.
"Sure," Antwon said. "No problem."
My mental image of Antwon and Sharky's boat underwent a significant change, to say the least, and I got a hint at what Adam meant when he said something about an excursion boat.
"Hey, you're the captain," John said. "Whatever you say goes."
"If that's agreeable. You won't need to bring much. You'll be in and out of the water, so you'll probably need two or three sets of dry underwear and a couple swim suits so you'll always have a dry outfit, toothpaste and toothbrush is about it. Anything else you might need, we have on board, I suspect."
"I have bags for all of you -- well, I have three bags and hope you will share one with your roommate," Mrs. Metzer said, handing John and me each a small gym bag. "That large enough?" she asked and we nodded. "Ladies, a slightly larger bag for you, but I do hope you'll still keep it light. The less we carry, the better off we will be. Antwon, food will be ready in the kitchen in half an hour. Cases of bottled water as well."
"We're taking water?" Bobbie asked. "We need water?"
"'Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,' remember?" Mrs. Metzer asked. "The boat carries fresh water aboard, of course, but when we are on land, we'll need to carry our own water. Why do you think they are called the Dry Tortugas?"
"Well, so what's Tortugas?" Bobbie asked.
"Turtles, Spanish," John answered.
"We are going to be sharing space with turtles!" Bobbie exclaimed. "I am not sure I go for that."
"Small turtles, actually, I have only seen a dozen or so large enough to capsize the boat, but all have been so slow we have always escaped... knock on wood. You'll love them."
Antwon had discovered what all of us knew, you could pull Bobbie's leg into next week before she realized it. We were all about to pop laughing and finally John managed to say, "I understand they taste exactly like the Colonel's KFC," and we all burst out laughing.
Bobbie bopped Adam on the arm and said, "You will pay for this, Mister."
"It's 4:30," Mrs. Metzer said. "Can you be ready for dinner in an hour?"
"Seems awfully early for dinner," Adam said. "We had lunch about 1:30."
"Why not have the kitchen pack a picnic?" Antwon asked. "You could have a picnic on the pier or even on the boat."
"Fine. Excellent, in fact," Mrs. Metzer agreed. "It'll take the kitchen a while to get the picnic ready and everyone will need to pack their things. We should be ready to leave in an hour and be at the pier by 6:30 at the latest."
Minutes later, the four guys were in our suite, bags packed. "As Antwon said, we will be gone for only two days and I agree there's no reason to take more than a few changes of underwear, swimming gear and a toothbrush. We'll be in and out of the water, so wearing a shirt and shorts two days shouldn't raise too big a stink," John said.
"Agreed," I said. "Justin, wisely, I guess, suggested I put in a pair of long pants and a long-sleeve shirt. I'll probably need them because of the sun. I put in two bottles of sunscreen and a tube of sunblock as well. Justin said the moonlight this far south would cook my pale ass! No doubt, he's right."
The other three guys wore baseball caps and generally they bucked the trend and wore them right, but when we were in the sun, all three turned them backwards, protecting their necks. They depended on sunscreen to protect their faces. Me? I had a leather hat I had picked up a couple years ago when a store in the mall had an 'Aussie' week. The hat was one of the few articles on sale which were actually from Oz. It shaded neck and face very well and, I think, looked great.
We had heard nothing from the two women and when John mentioned it, Adam laughed and said, "Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall in the girls' room? Mrs. Metzer came up as John and I came here, I bet to supervise their packing. I guess she saw what they had when we arrived and knew they'd need supervision. You just know they are torn between taking a steamer trunk and living with Mrs. Metzer. Kinda think this time the girls have met their match."
Ten minutes later, Mrs. Metzer came by the suite with the two. "The kitchen hasn't quite finished with the food for tonight, so let's plan on leaving in half an hour. That will still get us to the pier by the time the fellows are expecting us. Oh, I almost forgot, Marc, I have a couple letters for you. As she handed me two letters, both from Mother, she said, "Although the postmarks are several days apart, they only arrived today."
I thanked Mrs. Metzer and laid the letters beside the gym bag, intending to read them after supper. "Aren't you going to open them?" Bobby asked. "I could never wait to open a letter."
"I'll wait," I answered.
"Antwon and Sharky have some last-minute things do, so they went on," Mrs. Metzer said as she was leaving. I'll give you a call when the picnic is ready."
I walked into our bedroom and opened the letters. The first was like all the other letters I had from Mother -- a description of where they had been and what they had seen -- for about a page and a half of the three-page letter. The second page was dated five days later and was what I been dreading:
"My Dearest Son,
I hope you are not too disappointed and disgusted with me. I know I told you I was taking it one day at a time and might fall off the wagon, but I never believed it myself. Regardless of the number of times I heard others talk about it in AA meetings. Well, I didn't fall off. I jumped off with both feet.
At dinner over a week ago, I assured Betsy I was never an alcoholic and only drank because of boredom, being rejected by your father, etc., etc., etc. She listened, then told me what a fool I was. 'You are a new recovering alcoholic,' she said and tried to make me see I was doing some 'stinkin' thinkin',' but I knew better. I was a new woman, a strong woman and, to prove it, I had a glass of red wine and stopped -- until I got to my room. As soon as the door closed, I called room service and had a bottle sent up, then another one.
When Betsy found me the next morning, I was a stinking mess -- literally. Fortunately, after so much alcohol, I got sick and threw up. I made a major mess, but fortunately I fell so I didn't strangle on my own vomit. I know that is not pretty and in fact, gross, but it happens. The only damage -- even though that was major -- was to my pride, and my sobriety. Most of all, it was my disappointing you. I hope you will forgive me.
She had written Mom, not Mother as she had always done before. I hope she did that for me and not as a way of putting herself down.
The second letter was written a week after the first one.
"My Beloved Son,
When I finished my last letter to you, I was ending my first week in a spa, drying out. It is a wonderful place and I feel like a new person -- new, but one who can never drink again. Betsy has been a godsend. Having dealt with her own addiction to alcohol, she understands. She is kind and loving, but that doesn't mean she's a push-over. The woman can be a real tiger.
Anyway, we will be leaving the spa -- Betsy has been with me, staying on the holiday side of the place being pampered while I endure getting sober again -- next week. It is good for me and I know I needed this time to not only get sober, but also straighten out my thinking. But Betsy is tired of being pampered and so am I, even though it's a very different kind of pampering.
Also, we both are getting homesick and Betsy hinted about our coming home as soon as I finish here and I jumped at the idea. So it's a few more days here, then home. We should arrive in the States Wednesday week and I'll be home Thursday.
I miss you very much.
Mom -- isn't that nicer than MOTHER???
P.S. I can hardly wait to hear about your time in Florida."
She could hardly wait to hear about my time in Florida. Now if you don't think that gave me pause, think again. I'm here to tell you, I felt my heart sink. She had fallen off the wagon, but crawled back on. I had been having sex with my best friend and I didn't intend to stop. There was no doubt in my mind that my father would blow a gasket when he found out but, hell, who cares? But Mom -- I hoped she'd stay mom -- was an open question. How would she deal with a gay son? I mean, I know I am luckier than a lot of
gay men. I am eighteen and have a very nice trust fund, a college fund and spending money which I never spend. Well, that last may be a thing of the past since Father would likely cut it off the first whiff he had of my "sexual orientation." I'd come to hate that phrase.
I was just standing and staring when Justin walked up behind me, put his arms around me and whispered in my ear, asking if everything was alright. I handed him the letters without comment.
After he had read them, he said, "Babe, I don't see anything here to get upset about. You told me you expected your mom would fall off the wagon and she said so herself. She did but, rather than wallowing in it, she took very positive action to get herself straightened out. I think that's great."
"I couldn't agree more," I said. "That's not the problem. The P.S. is the problem."
"I don't see why. She's just like any good mother. She wants to share in your good... Uh, oh!"
"Yeah, uh oh big time."
"Look, we don't have to say anything and we can be careful and she will never know."
"In your dreams," I replied. "There is no way I can keep how I feel about you a secret for very long around her. I just wish I knew how she'll take it."
"She'll take it fine. You know she will. And she sure won't like you ruining your time here by worrying about it. That much we do know."
When we went back to join Adam and John, Susan had joined John who said Adam and Bobbie had gone to his room. As soon as we were settled down, Susan asked, "Good news from your mother?"
"Yes and no," I replied. Since the Clan all knew of Mom's struggle with alcohol, I felt free to talk about the latest. "So you see," I said when I had finished, "she's in good shape again."
"Then all is well," John said.
"Not really," Justin said. "Marc's afraid of her reaction to finding out he is gay."
"Bet she knows already," Susan said. "I think mothers generally do. Anyway, everything will be all right."
"That's what I told him," Justin said. "I'm not at all worried about her. Not about his father either, since I think he has given up his right to even think about Marc."
"Whoa ho!" John exclaimed, "I'd love to see his face when he finds out one of his campaign issues lives in his house. You know he panders to an electorate who is convinced gays are out to take over the world and turn it into a gay orgy. Bogyman Gay Agenda!"
"Want to hear something real funny," I sniggered. "It's not his house. When he divorced Mom, he lost all claims on it. In fact, it is MY house now. Mom has a lifetime right to it, but it is actually mine."
"Well, no-one's going to put you on the street then, so relax and enjoy the rest of our time here," John said as he looked at his watch.
"Ok. By the way, I hope Adam will do the same -- relax and enjoy the rest of our time here, I mean. Seems to me he is having periods when he seems very unhappy and definitely wants to be away from Justin and me. When I said something to Justin, he thought it was my imagination, but I don't think so."
"After we all talked to him, he came around," Justin said.
John said, "I'm not so sure, Justin. I'm with Marc on this one."
"Well, there's no need to become paranoid enough to ruin the week," Justin said and we all agreed.
We might have talked more, but Mrs. Metzer called, and Justin called Adam's room to tell him we'd meet the two of them on the front steps.