The six of us were standing on the front steps when the van pulled up, Mrs. Metzer in the driver's seat. As Adam opened the door, he gave a "What's this?" with his hands and she laughed. "What? Afraid of a woman driver? Anton and Sharky left a while ago, remember? I'm your chauffeur and tour guide."
The drive to the pier was a pretty quiet one. There was little sightseeing and Mrs. Metzer made few comments. That was fine with me because I, for one, was thinking about the letters and the conversations we had just finished as was, no doubt, Justin. Susan and John seemed lost in thought as well. Adam and Bobbie? I hadn't the foggiest, but something was going on between them, and I tried to dismiss it as none of my business.
I guess if I had given it any thought, I would have realized a boat which would carry a crew of three and seven passengers or more, would be a bit larger than the pleasure craft in the harbor at Elizabethton, but I was unprepared for the yacht awaiting us. We went up the gangplank, where Sharky and the Captain greeted us with a hearty "Welcome aboard."
The Captain said, "I'll show you to your cabins so you can stow your gear. Then I'll give you the twenty-five cent tour while the boys finish getting us ready to sail. If you will follow me. The boat will carry a dozen passengers comfortably, two to a cabin, but there's no reason you can't have your own cabin," he said as we went below.
The cozy cabins Adam, John, Susan and Bobbie were shown to had bunk beds. As the four went to their cabins, the Captain winked at me and said, "Your cabin is this way." We walked past a cabin where Mrs. Metzer was stowing her things and the Captain opened the door to a super nice cabin -- it had a double bed. "Thought you honeymooners would appreciate this cabin's accommodations. Enjoy!"
We tossed our bag on the bed and followed the Captain as he collected the others for a tour of the boat. It was definitely designed for passengers -- well-heeled passengers -- and for making excursions, not fishing. It was spic and span and had all the luxuries you could expect including freshwater mist showers. The cabins were, of course, small -- even Justin's and mine -- but beautifully appointed. The salon -- I was promptly corrected when I called it the living room -- was beautifully furnished and had plenty roomy for a group larger than ours. In short, everything was in excellent condition and the boat well fitted for its purpose. In fact, before we had finished less than half of the tour, I began to wonder how two guys who started with practically nothing ever expected to pay for it. I guess Justin was wondering the same thing because he said, "Man, this must have cost three or four bundles!"
"Should have, and Antwon and Sharky could never have come up with the money to buy the boat, much less the business. But Mrs. Crandall was willing to trust them and put up the money; Mr. Logan's son wanted the business off his hands, and Mr. Logan wanted someone who would appreciate it, so they actually got the business at a bargain -- only a bundle and a half," the Captain laughed. "Business was slow for maybe six months and the boys were pretty discouraged, but people who can afford one of our excursions expect good service and when the service was exceptionally good, as it is with us, they pass the word along. We've been booked solid for months and are through Labor Day, and don't have a whole lot of free slots after. In fact, they'd never brag about it, but they are repaying Mrs. Crandall much, much faster than she expected. Yeah, good manners and good service are good business. As a matter of fact, this trip was possible only because Antwon had insisted we keep the week free for ourselves."
"And now all three of you are working," Susan said.
"This is different. Dealing with Mrs. Crandall's friends is always a pleasure for us and the boys will do most anything for her. Plus, she crosses nasty, demanding persons off her list in a hurry."
Back topside, Antwon and Sharky were waiting for us. "I'd like to get underway in forty-five minutes, but we're not ready just yet. You might want to get in some sightseeing, check the night life, whatever, just be ready to cast off in forty-five," Sharky said.
"How about a run on the beach?" John asked. "The night life doesn't much appeal for me and I definitely feel the need of exercise. I think a good run, a shower, and I'll sleep like a baby."
"Babies are often up at night, sometimes colicky and cry for hours. Hope I sleep better than a baby," Susan laughed as she punched him on the arm. "I'll join you for a run, though, soon as I change."
Sharky reminded us the boat had only mist freshwater showers. "There are showers on the pier -- shower heads -- so you can grab a shower on your way back." Five minutes later, all six of us were running on the beach. Susan told us later Bobbie said Adam had growled he wasn't interested in running, but when she said she was and added, "I'll see you in the morning," he changed his mind and had joined us, clearly pissed about something. Anyway, we ran, showered and went back on board.
We were below, changing into dry clothes, when I heard Sharky call out, "Ready to cast off!"
The engines were throbbing below us as we went topside and the boat was moving away from the pier slowly. The sun was below the horizon, but a magnificent sunset still colored the sky. "Well, we're underway," Sharky said. "After the sunset, there's not going to be much to see until morning, but why not go to the bow at least for the rest of the sunset?" As we headed forward, Sharky joined the Captain and Antwon on the bridge -- at least that's what John said it was.
We had just found a comfortable place and sat down, when the Captain called out, "Full speed ahead!" and the boat's speed rapidly increased.
Not quite two hours later, the engines slowed and finally stopped. The boat gradually came to a standstill, rocking in the gentle swells and you could hear the silence after the throbbing of the engines. Sharky came down from the bridge to where we were and made sure everything was okay as the Captain lowered the anchor.
Shortly afterward, Antwon joined us and said, "We'll anchor here for the night, watch the sunrise, then head to Garden Key. We are right offshore from the island now. If you look to the north," he pointed, "you can see the navigation light and the outline of Garden Key and Fort Jefferson against the night sky. We sailed past it and then turned east, so we'll have a good view of the sunrise. After sunrise, we'll take the dinghy to the Island. It'll take ten or fifteen minutes, max. We'll get there early so we'll have a good chance at staking a claim to one of the few campsites. We're permitted only three tents and six people, so the crew and Mrs. Metzer will sleep on board so you can have the tents..."
"Whoa! Are you talking sleeping in a tent? On the ground?" Susan asked.
Antwon looked puzzled and nodded.
"I was a Girl Scout for years. Slept on the ground. Slept in a tent. Been there, done that, don't need to do it again. Sleeping on the boat, in a bunk, is an option? Then I'll sleep on the boat, thank you."
"How about the rest of you?" Antwon asked. "What is your pleasure? Tent or boat."
"I vote we be generous and allow others to use the campsites," John said with a grin.
"Agreed," Justin quickly added.
"Saves me a lot of trouble," Antwon said. "You can spend as much time on the island as you like. There's Fort Jefferson to explore and, if you're interested, fishing off the pier is permitted now -- hey, maybe you can catch supper! When you're ready, we can snorkel. Then, come evening time, it's back to the boat and another night on the open sea."
"Any of you want to go with me to explore Fort Jefferson?" Mrs. Metzer asked. "I'll be happy to have you, but feel free to explore on your own, right Antwon?"
"Absolutely. You can be on your own and do what you like -- so long as it doesn't violate the park regulations, which you have seen. I will, however, recommend the Metzer Fort Jefferson Magic Tour. Also, you'll definitely have to decide whether or not you want to snorkel. You can explore as you please, but snorkelers will have to get together since we'll take you out to a good snorkeling area. Otherwise, we'll decide when we need to get together for lunch and a pottie break if necessary."
"A pottie break?" Bobbie asked.
"Pottie break. No toilets on the island. You are free to use the toilets on any ferry tied up, and that will usually take care of the calls of nature, but we'll come back to the boat if necessary. Assuming you are willing and interested, we have the needed permit so we can go to Loggerhead Key day after tomorrow. That beam is from its lighthouse," Antwon said, pointing to a beam sweeping the sky. "Excellent snorkeling, especially the windjammer wreck. So, plenty to do to keep from being bored and, actually, I think you'll enjoy every minute. We -- Sharky, the Captain and I -- still enjoy it after a lot of trips here."
"So do I," Mrs. Metzer said.
"Yeah, you guys are going to see Metzer in her glory," Sharky laughed and Mrs. Metzer grinned. "About tonight, one of the three of us will be on watch should you need anything during the night," he continued. "We'll give you plenty of time to get awake for sunrise, so early to bed is probably a good idea. The Captain's taking first watch, so Sharky and I are headed below. See you for sunrise." Mrs. Metzer said her goodnights and went below as well. We had been sitting along the rail while we were underway. Now that we were at anchor, Adam lay stretched, his head in Bobbie's lap -- I guess they had made up. John and Susan were sitting, back to back, at the very front of the boat, silent. Justin stood, took my hand, and pulled me to my feet. We walked to the stern where he put two cushions side-by-side on the deck, lay down and pulled me down beside him. We lay on our backs, looking up at the stars. I never remember seeing so many, or their being so bright. When I said so, Justin reminded me we were seldom where there was no light pollution. Here the only lights were the boat's warning lights and the beam from the Loggerhead Key lighthouse sweeping across the sky.
We lay on the deck for several minutes, then Justin turned to face me and said, "You know, I think we need to show the Captain our appreciation by making use ofthat bed below." I agreed. I guess the others had decided the bunks called as well because they were right behind us.
"Honeymooners?" I asked as we walked to our cabin.
"Why not?" Justin responded, grinned, and swept me in to his arms and carried me into our cabin. As he tossed me on the bed, he repeated his question, "Why not?"
"Because honeymooners are newly married and we're not married."
"Would you like to be? Married, I mean. Married to me."
"To be honest, I haven't given it a thought. Would you? Like to be married to me?"
"Hell yes, I'd like to be married to you. I'd like that very much." I was still lying across the bed and Justin was standing over me. Suddenly he dropped to his knees, reached up and took my hand and when I sat up asked, "Marcus Alexander Porcher the Fourth, will you marry me?"
The smile on Justin's face completely dissolved me. I slid off the bed and knelt beside him. His lips, ever so lightly, brushed mine and, as they did, I felt a tear run down my cheek. "Justin, Babe, you are so serious."
"You're right. I am serious, very serious, as serious as I can be."
I stared into those wonderful black eyes, my heart racing, and said, "Justin, I don't know what to say. I'll have to think about it. I mean, God, I love you, but I can't get my mind around two men being married."
"Will you think about it?"
"Of course I will." I returned his soft kiss with one equally soft, like the touch of a feather.
We are normal -- gay, but normal -- eighteen-year-olds, so the kisses didn't stay soft long but grew increasingly passionate. As could be predicted, things didn't stop there. Even in my best fantasies, I had not imagined the feeling that Justin's mouth and tongue gave my manhood. I only hoped he was receiving as much pleasure from my attention to his. I was soon rewarded by the taste of Justin which pushed me over the edge as well.
Minutes later, wrapped in each other's arms, Justin whispered, "Marc, I love you, man. I really, really love you. And I mean it. I want to marry you."
"Justin, I'll think about it. I mean, how can it happen? Who will do it? Are we sure that's what we want? I mean, what I've seen of marriage doesn't make it very appealing, you know."
"Yeah, well, I've never seen it up close and I guess I always wanted that, a kind of commitment and caring for Mama. We'll think about it, ok?"
"Sure," I said as I snuggled against him. "Now can we get off the floor?" I laughed.
We both crawled into bed and wrapped each other in our arms. Minutes later, his regular breathing told me he was asleep. I expected to go right to sleep as well, but it was a while before I could get my mind turned off. I was thinking of all the implications of being married -- of two men being married -- and it was upsetting to me for some reason. Well, why not? Look at what I had as a close-up example of marriage. Finally the events of the day faded into the background and I joined my beautiful Justin in sleep.
It was still quite dark when Sharky tapped on our door and said, "Sunrise is on schedule. It'll be in forty-five minutes."
Justin groaned and sat up in bed. For me, Sharky had interrupted a beautiful dream. We were romping through a field, nude, holding hands and I knew we were running to do something wonderful.
I laughed, hopped out of bed and headed for the head. After taking care of the call of nature and conquering dragon breath once again, we got dressed and headed topside. Sharky, the Captain and Antwon were on deck, but none of the others had joined them. The sky was getting lighter, but it was still quite dark.
"I trust you took advantage of your accommodations," the Captain grinned as we joined the crew on deck.
"We did," Justin grinned and I blushed as I smiled. In that moment I realized Justin was much more comfortable with being gay and loving a man than I was, and I wasn't sure why.
The others joined us, first John and Adam, then Mrs. Metzer, Bobbie and Susan. As the women joined us, the sky was definitely lighter and Fort Jefferson was clearly visible. Then the rosy fingers of dawn began illuminating the eastern sky. Justin pulled me to himself and I leaned against him as he put his arms around me, his chin resting on my shoulder. I noticed Adam and Bobbie were standing in a similar position which was not surprising. Well, maybe it was. since their relationship seemed to be on-again and off-again lately. What was surprising was John, who standing with his arms around Susan. They kept protesting that they were just good friends, and maybe that was all they were, but I really wondered. Of course, that was their
business. We all continued watching in silence as the sun rose and finally cleared the horizon. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
"Breakfast is ready below -- fruit, juice, milk, cereal and yogurt," Antwon finally said. "After breakfast, we'll take the dinghy and head for the island."
All of us grabbed what we wanted for breakfast and went topside again, not wanting to miss a moment of the morning. As soon as we were finished, Antwon said, "Ok, review of the day. I suspect you all will want to spend time at Fort Jefferson. It really is interesting. There are self-guided walking tours, but we happen to have the best tour guide available -- Metzer. Right, Ma'am?" Antwon smiled.
Mrs. Metzer gave a thumbs-up, then added, "But if you want to follow the self-guided walking tour or just walk around on your own, feel free. Don't feel you'll offend me if you don't want to be guided."
"Now, we need to give at least some thought to other activities. We'll break for lunch, of course, which the Captain and I will bring to the island. You'll probably welcome a bit of down time afterward. For those interested, we purchased fishing licenses and tackle will be in the dinghy anytime you want to pick it up. Be sure to take your license when you get gear. They are in the tackle box. How many will be fishing?" Everyone gave a wave of the hand and Antwon continued, "Fine. Not the usual group I see, since seldom does anyone we bring out want to fish. Had any experience snorkeling?"
"We've all had some, but not serious snorkeling, I guess," Adam answered.
"But enough to know whether or not you'd like to try it?"
"Oh, no question we'd all like to try it," Adam answered as he looked around.
"Look forward to it," Susan said.
"Then I suggest that after you've had a break following lunch, Sharky and I take you snorkeling around the fort's walls. It provides some of the best snorkeling in the world in my book. Tomorrow I think you'll like to snorkel at the ship wreck, which is the only place I know which tops what's here, but we'll talk about that later. You provide the fish and we'll have fresh fish for dinner in the style of Antwon. Again, you're free to do what you wish on the island and meet for lunch. Be sure to take sunscreen and use it liberally. Marc, I think you might take long pants and long-sleeved shirt. You can put them on later and certainly before you go on the pier fishing. I sure don't want a member of the party cooked."
We got what we needed -- sunscreen and all -- and were in the dinghy headed for the island in ten minutes.
Mrs. Metzer lived up to Antwon's praise as she guided us through the fort. In fact, before she had spent fifteen minutes talking about the place, our group had grown as other sightseers joined us. We spend well over an hour and a half touring the fort with her -- so much for the approximately forty-five minutes the guidebook said the park ranger tours took. Of course, the fact that we knew Mrs. Metzer meant we were a lot freer with questions and those who had joined our group fell right into our attitude toward our special guide. When she finally said, "Ok, you're on your own now. We'll gather down at the dinghy in an hour, so do what you wanna do 'til then," we all headed to in different directions.
After Justin and I went to check a couple things we wanted to investigate closer, we were standing inside the fort, kissing if you must know, when we heard Bobbie's and Adam's voices. It was obvious they were angry, but trying to keep their voices down. Nonetheless, we had no difficulty hearing both the anger in their voices and what they were saying.