We were just getting out of the minibus at a beautiful old Victorian house when Wolf and Derek came strolling up the street, slowly. A slow stroll was about all they were capable of doing since they were clutching each other by the waist and joined at the hips. As they approached, Adam asked, "You two sure you can come unglued long enough to take a piss?"
"What makes you think we'd want to come unglued then?" Wolf asked and Derek grinned.
"I take it, then, your days weren't wasted? Good time on your excursion?" Susan asked.
"Good-time days and romantic, tropical nights," Wolf said. "I don't want it to end."
"If that is what Antwon and Sharky call work, I'm ready for the eighty-hour week," Derek laughed. "I mean, of course being with Wolf and our getting to know each other was great, and would have been great regardless, but we also had a grand group on board."
"Part of that means they were big tippers!" Wolf grinned. "Even I got a generous tip, but even better was the fact that they kept talking about 'young love' and making sure Derek and I had some private time and we made good use of it!" Wolf kissed Derek on the lips.
"You're in public!" Bobbie said, trying to sound horrified.
"And in Key West," Derek replied and returned Wolf's kiss, with tongue.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Mrs. Crandall said, appearing at the front door, "it's tea time."
Inside, we were introduced to Mrs. Phillips-Williams, the owner and mistress of the house. "Welcome to Phillips House," she said after we were introduced. "Mrs. Crandall and I are old friends and she has spoken so often of the remarkable young women and men from North Carolina that I insisted she bring you here for tea."
"Thank you very much," Justin said, acting as our spokesman. "Thanks for having us in your lovely home."
"Well, if you like, I am sure we can arrange a tour after tea but, first, let's have tea and visit."
I fully expected dainty tea cups and small cakes and, indeed, those were present, but Mrs. Phillips-Williams also offered lemonade and limeade and generous slices of spice-and-chocolate cake. Mrs. Metzer and Mrs. Crandall joined her for tea, but we younger ones went for the cold drinks and slices of cake.
The tour of the house was great. The house was furnished in priceless antiques, I suspect, much as it had been almost from day one. My favorite room was the dark-wood-paneled library with a proper reading table, complete with antique lamps. Justin loved the guest room with its huge bed with elaborately carved posts supporting a canopy of lace. As we were looking at all the antiques, Mrs. Phillips-Williams said, "Of course, there is an office with the latest in computer equipment, the kitchen is as modern as it can be and I do enjoy my flat-screen TV, especially during baseball season."
"Arabella is a diehard Atlanta Braves fan," Mrs. Crandall laughed.
All the time we were enjoying our visit, Mrs. Phillips-Williams was asking us about our lives and our dreams for the future. When it was time for us to go, I learned she had not planned to go to the exhibition until the following day and on the spur of the moment I said, "Mrs. Phillips-Williams, we are attending a private showing of Mr. Nixson's paintings and I'd love to have you join us."
Belatedly I realized I may have stepped over bounds and glanced at Mrs. Crandall who looked chagrined and said, "How very rude of me for not inviting you, Arabella. Thank you for being a gentleman, Marc. By all means, Arabella, you must come with us and have dinner with us afterward."
"I would be delighted. I'll have the automobile brought around." While Mrs. Phillips-Williams went to arrange for her car, Mrs. Crandall phoned the restaurant and made arrangements for an extra guest.
When we started to leave, Mrs. Philip-Williams said, "Ladies, would you like to accompany Mrs. Crandall and me in the automobile?" Susan and Bobbie thanked her and John and Adam offered their arms to Susan and Bobbie as Justin and I offered ours to Mrs. Phillips-Williams and Mrs. Crandall. Michael offered his to Mrs. Metzer even though she would be riding in the minibus with us.
When we walked out the front door, I expected to see a long black Cadillac. I had not expected to see a Rolls-Royce. Well, what I saw was an antique Rolls-Royce, the kind with an open front for the chauffeur and an enclosed back with two broad seats facing each other. I couldn't help it, I said, "Wow!"
"Nice, isn't it?" Mrs. Phillips-Williams said. "My father had it built. I generally drive myself in my 1957 MG Roadster, but I do love the old Rolls." After we had helped the ladies into the automobile, the five of us returned to the minibus. As we seated ourselves, Adam said, "Shit! Damn, I sure would liked to have had a chance to ride in that machine!" We all agreed.
When we reached the gallery, the Rolls was parked in front, waiting for us. John, Justin, Adam and I rushed to the automobile, and assisted the ladies. Offering them our arms, we walked into the gallery.
While I had seen it the day before, and in fact had helped hang it, I was immediately captivated by 'Swamp Shack.' Mrs. Crandall, who was on my arm, must've thought I'd gone insane. I stood before the painting, mesmerized. What was different? Why had it not captivated me the day before? Captivated? No, captivated was the wrong word. I don't know why, but I was seized by a feeling of disquietude and unease bordering on fear as I gazed at it for several minutes. It looked menacing, evil. Suddenly I realized it looked as I had seen it in my dream. When I finally came to myself, I started to apologize to Mrs. Crandall, but she seemed as captivated as I had been, then she, too, appeared to come out of a daze. "Very strange that a painting I saw yesterday, could evoke such strange and strong emotions," she said. "I don't understand it."
"I have the same thought. I felt as though there was only the painting and myself and nothing else."
"I guess it's just one of those things that we do not understand, but enjoy," Mrs. Crandall said. Enjoy was definitely not the word I would have chosen!
Nothing else in the show impacted on me the way 'Swamp Shack' did, but it did seem to be a new exhibition. I mean, it was almost as though we had never seen the gallery or the paintings before. Of course it was all new to Wolf and Derek who, it appeared, were much more interested in each other than the paintings and seemed well on the way to becoming boyfriends. I'm sure we would all have to hear the full story sooner or later.
I was surprised that none of us were anxious to leave the exhibition and in fact lingered longer than we had planned, making us a bit late for our dinner reservation. When we were ready to leave, Justin and I offered our arms to Mrs. Phillips-Williams and Mrs. Crandall. When we approached the automobile Mrs. Phillips-Williams said, "Betsy, I think our escorts should ride with us to the restaurant." After helping the two ladies into the car Justin and I joined them and were to driven to a really upscale restaurant. This time the maitre d' seemed delighted to see us.
We were ushered into a private room which had an all-glass wall overlooking the Gulf. "I like this place very much," Mrs. Crandall said. "Another time we could sit here and enjoy dinner while engaging in a favorite Key West pastime -- watching the sunset." Moonrise was some time off, but by the time we had finished our drinks and the first three courses, the moon has risen high enough that it was reflected in the gentle waves washing ashore. Dessert and coffee were served as we watched the moonlight on the sea. "What a beautiful ending to a wonderful afternoon," Mrs. Phillips-Williams said, "but I'm afraid I must leave you."
"It's also time you all were on your way to La Casa," Mrs. Crandall said. "I will be returning a bit later."
We all gathered around Mrs. Phillip-Williams, thanking her for tea, for the tour of her home and for her company. She then excused herself and Justin I escorted the two ladies to Mrs. Phillips-Williams' automobile. As she entered, she looked at Justin and me and said, "You two young men are certainly a handsome couple and are obviously in love. I wish the best for you." Justin and I thanked her and one at a time, leaned into the car and kissed her cheek.
I guess we were so used to Wolf not being around that we were well on the way home when Susan asked, "Where's Wolf? How did we miss him? Did we leave him stranded?"
"I doubt it very much," Sandy said, "I think he's riding home in a pumpkin coach with Prince Charming."
Sure enough, when we got back, Wolf and Derek were standing at ease on either side of Mrs.Metzer atop the front steps. As we stepped out of the minibus, they snapped to attention and gave us a salute. Mrs. Metzer was laughing, but really lost it when Wolf said in an impressive command voice, "General Metzer hereby commands you to appear in the library at 2100 hours to discuss your remaining time at La Casa. You are dismissed!"
There were no plans to gather before going down, so after Justin and I had washed our faces, we snuggled on a loveseat in the common room. He had noticed my reaction to 'Swamp Shack' and I told him what I had felt, but neither of us could explain it.
When it was time to go down, Michael and Sandy came out of their bedroom. Obviously they had started something they didn't get to finish as both sported tents in the front of their shorts. "Later, guys," Justin said, grinning at them. They grinned in return.
As the four of us entered the library we were greeted by Mrs. Metzer. Soon the original Clan was all present, but Wolf had not yet appeared. As soon as we were seated, Mrs. Metzer asked Sandy about his trip down and they chatted a few minutes. Wolf still had not arrived when Mrs. Crandall joined us, followed by Mavis pushing a cart. "Cool drinks anyone? There's iced tea, lime and lemonade as well as iced coffee." Mavis was pouring our drinks when Wolf and Derek walked in or floated in, since I think they were obviously on cloud nine. The two got their drinks, managing to do so without removing an arm from the other's waist.
"You two must really hate each other the way you keep pushing each other away," Justin grinned.
Both blushed. "Well, I'm working on tolerating him, but given how ugly his magnificent, warm chocolate, hard, muscular body is, and how unappealing his beautiful, big, mysterious brown eyes are, it's hard, it's very hard!" Wolf said, shaking his head.
Adam let out a whoop, John sprayed coffee from his mouth and the rest of our reactions were of a similar nature. Before we could get calmed down, Bobbie said quietly, but loud enough to be heard, "I'm sure it is. I'm sure it is," which got things going again. Mrs. Crandall tried to act innocent.
As things started settling down, Justin whispered to me, "Wonder if Derek is staying over?"
"If so, think they will both fit on a single bed?"
"There's always the floor and I doubt they'd know the difference." I agreed.
When all was under control, Mrs. Crandall said, "Well, it seems our plans for your holiday at La Casa got shoved aside by your working on the gallery. While I appreciate it, as does Jess, I'm sorry you didn't have more time to enjoy your stay."
"Please don't be," Susan responded for us. "I seriously doubt any one of us would say we didn't enjoy our time here very much. It was good to be doing something constructive together. In the long run, it will be I am sure, much more memorable than playing would have been. And we did get in some wonderful play time." There was agreement from all.
Mrs. Crandall said, "I am pleased you feel that way. As you know this is a very important show for Jess and without your help, it would not have happened. Thanks to you, the gallery and the exhibition look great. Unless you want to go back, that's behind you and you have tomorrow free. Maybe Sunday as well. I have a call in about the plane and if it can be rescheduled, you can leave Monday. Just in case, you might want to clear that with your parents tonight. Sandy, I talked with your dad and he told me you would be in Sarasota at the Ringling School of Art and Design's summer program starting a week from Sunday. Since your stay got cut short, I'd love to have you stay over until you go to Sarasota. Give you time to enjoy La Casa and all, as well as save a trip to and from North Carolina."
"Thank you, ma'am, but...."
"And I'm inviting Michael as well if he can stay."
"I'll have to check, but I am almost sure I can as I don't start my summer job for another week. Thank you!" Michael said. The two looked as if Christmas had suddenly come in May and Sandy laid a good one on Michael, who turned deep red.
Wolf cleared his throat, looked at Derek and said, "Well, I'll not be going back just yet either. I talked with my mom and dad and I will be spending the next three weeks with Derek."
"You're boyfriends?" Sandy asked, all excited.
"Not yet, we are just getting to know each other, maybe on the road to becoming boyfriends," Derek said. I wasn't sure Wolf would have placed that limit on their relationship.
"So there will be just six of you returning?" Mrs. Crandall asked.
"Would appear so," John answered.
"Then get things clear with your parents about leaving Monday as with only six I am sure there will be a plane available. Now I'll leave you to Mrs. Metzer."
"Well, any suggestions for tomorrow? What would you like for me to do for you?" Mrs. Metzer asked.
We talked about what we might do and the general consensus was we'd like to do different things. Justin, Michael, Sandy, Derek and Wolf all expressed a desire to go sailing. After some debate, Justin and I decided we could handle the catamaran which was large enough for all six of us. Susan and Bobbie wanted to go shopping and were told a car could take them in. "It only holds two passengers, right?" Adam asked Mrs. Metzer.
She laughed, "Of course, only two passengers and they have to be women."
"Good!" Adam said. "I'd like to explore the bike trails if that's possible," he added.
"Sounds good," John said.
"Fine," Mrs. Metzer said. "Do you know where the bikes are?"
"I can show them," Justin said.
"Then we're set. Late breakfast?"
"How about having stuff set out and we can do our own as we are ready?" I asked, hoping to sleep in.
"Fine. Mavis will have it waiting in the sunroom. Can we have a 10:00 deadline?" We all agreed. "So the ladies will have lunch in town. I'll have box lunches for the sailors. What about you cyclists?"
"Box lunch?" John asked Adam and Adam nodded.
"Box lunch it is. We'll have snacks available in the sunroom at 4:00 and dinner will be at 8:00. We are having a cookout."
"Thank you again, Mrs. Metzer," I said.
"Marc speaks for all of us," Susan added.
As we started upstairs, I noticed Derek was still with us. "Staying over, Derek?" I asked.
"Thought I would since Wolf and I are going sailing with you in the morning. New adventure for me."
"Glad to have you, but be careful tonight. Wolf's bed is kinda small and you don't want to get carried away and fall out of bed. Could do serious damage to both."
"No problem if you start on the floor," Adam laughed, "Just watch for rug burns. Those can be really painful." Bobbie gave him 'the look.'
Once we reached our room, Justin and I undressed each other and crawled into bed. We talked briefly about Michael and Sandy and how the two complemented each other. We also talked about Michael's situation knowing that sooner or later his parents would discover he was gay. There was no doubt in either of our minds that even if he could conceal that for some time, his attending ESU would precipitate real trouble for him. We also talked about the developing relationship between Wolf and Derek. Clearly it could be no more than a growing friendship, but it looked like more and, as Justin pointed out, next year the two would be less than an hour and a half apart. "Hell, if we were just that far apart, I'd commute," Justin said as he gave me a quick kiss. A few passionate kisses followed, then Justin chuckled and asked, "Marc, do you ever get the feeling we're parents to a bunch of late teens?"
"Yeah, and they have at least one good daddy."
"They got two good daddies and you know it!" he replied.
We gave each other butterfly kisses then, secure in our love, wrapped our arms about each other and drifted off to sleep.