Journey to Love
Key West Again
edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
Preface warnings apply.
The day following my return from Key West, I ran a taxi service from the airport. Levi and Telvin were the first to arrive. Both had an extra bag filled with gifts they purchased in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
On the way back to the house, Levi said, “DOD (for ‘Dear Old Dad’, Levi’s name for his father) thought he could get me in Europe where I’d be all jet-lagged and slip one over on me. He wrote the first of March that we needed to discuss a provision of Mom's will, but unfortunately, he would be in Europe until June. 'The matter is urgent and if you could get away and fly to Europe, I will pay for your ticket.' I immediately smelled a rat and wrote back, 'I have spring break coming up and could meet you in Paris. However, I am a diver and, as you know, divers can make mistakes and injure their backs. Unfortunately, I am not perfect. I am afraid my back cannot tolerate a plane seat for very long.' I didn’t exactly lie. I didn’t say I had injured my back. I knew if he had a scheme going, he would offer to fly me business class. When he did, I wrote him saying in that case, I thought I could make it. He purchased a ticket for me and I exchanged it and purchased one for Telvin on a different flight. We flew to London three days before we were scheduled to arrive in Paris. We slept in, did a bit of exploring, and made love. Refreshed and relaxed, we left for Paris aboard the Eurostar at noon the day we were scheduled to land in Paris.
"I certainly didn't trust my father and suggested we take a taxi to the airport and wait in the international terminal until our scheduled flight landed. When it did, we joined the passengers leaving the terminal, caught a taxi and went to the hotel as though we had just arrived. When we checked into the hotel, I was given a message from my father saying we had dinner reservations for 8:00. Telvin and I were supposedly tired, jet-lagged and sleepy when we joined him and his gold-digging wife. It was hard to pull our act off since we’d had a wonderful, relaxing time in London and an easy trip to Paris, but we managed.
“As course followed course, each with its own wine, I caught DOD exchanging wine glasses with his wife. She was drinking most of hers and his. He was drinking little. I managed to let Telvin know what was going on. We proved we could also play the switch-the-glass game. The gold digger and Telvin were getting really drunk, but Telvin was holding his better than she was. To all appearances, I was as drunk as either of them.
“After dinner, DOD ordered brandy and when it arrived, said, ‘Do you mind getting our business out of the way?’ I half nodded drunkenly and he took papers from his coat pocket. ‘I don’t know why we haven’t noticed it before, but when I read your mother’s will to check something, I discovered there is a provision regarding Loch Katrine.’ Loch Katrine is our estate in Upstate New York. He folded pages of the will back and held a single page up so I could read. It was the provision giving him lifetime use of the estate. He said there was an option and semi-showed it to me. ‘I’m sure you don’t want to read all the legal mumbo-jumbo. Essentially it says that should I desire I can take a cash settlement instead of having use of the estate. Mrs. Epstein and I have discussed this and have decided we’ll take the cash settlement which is, as you can see, one million,’ he said, pointing to a paragraph in the will. I wasn’t supposed to have noticed he had flipped back a page. ‘All you need to do is to sign an acknowledgment that you agree to my accepting that option and you can be off to bed.’
“He slid a sheet of paper across to me. It simply stated that I agreed to DOD’s accepting one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) in exchange for release of any claim he had on Loch Katrine. As he reached in his pocket for a pen, I picked up the copy of the will he had put down, flipped through it until I reached the section dealing with the estate. The mumbo-jumbo read, ‘for a cash settlement of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00)’. Suddenly sober, I said, ‘Sorry, Dear Old Dad, but there seems to be a mistake. Seems the will speaks of half a million, not a million.’ He looked chagrined and said, ‘My mistake.'
“There were four men I was sure were Americans seated at a table near us. I walked over to them and said, ‘Sorry to disturb you, but I am in dire need of some witnesses. I wonder if you would be willing to help me.’ I explained what I needed and one of them said, ‘No problem. Bring you father and the document over.’ When I did, all four witnessed the change of the one million to half a million and my father’s and my signatures by signing, dating and listing their address on the document. All DOD had to do was take the document to the trustee of the estate to get a check. I found out in addition to his free-spending wife, the upkeep on Loch Katrine, for which he was responsible, had cost him dearly recently and he was running out of money and needed cash.
“I picked up the copy of the will, which in fact I had never read, and when we got back to the room, read it carefully. There was a provision concerning me I had never been told about. It regarded my housing while in college and grad school. I could rent an apartment, or purchase a condo or house. If I elected the latter, I was authorized to spend up to a million dollars to purchase and renovate a house that's the number DOD showed me at the dinner table. Since Telvin and I plan on grad school, we’ll need a place for several more years and if we go elsewhere, it can always be rented to students or sold. Derek, my friend, you are about to lose a housemate, not, I’m sure, something that will be upsetting you a great deal.”
“I’m happy for you two,” I said. “So I assume this means you are a serious couple.”
“You assume correctly.”
“We even discussed getting married in Europe,” Telvin said, “but decided it would be pretty much an empty gesture. But we will get married here in the States, not that Virginia will recognize it. Yeah, Derek, I--we--have never been so serious about anything. So what did you do during the break?”
I told them about DeAngelo making it possible for me to go to Key West and what all happened there. “But no boyfriend material?” Telvin asked.
“No, but I met another gay couple who give the lie to the ‘gays are all promiscuous’ stereotype.”
Jeremy arrived two hours after Levi and Telvin. I met him at the airport. He told me he’d had a great time and I could see the beginning of an absolutely beautiful tan. “Derek, you should have been with me! I think the place had a monopoly on beautiful men for spring break.”
“I guess my invitation got lost in the mail,” I laughed, and walked with him to the baggage claim area.
“Ha! No such thing. Those beautiful boys couldn’t take real competition. Sorry you had to spend your spring break here.”
“As a matter of fact, I didn’t. I spent it in Key West, the home of beautiful and ugly, young and old gay men.”
“You found a boyfriend!”
“Actually, I spent most of my time with two very handsome gay men, one white, one golden brown. They, however, are very much married regardless of what the State of Florida says. However, they are good friends and I hope to see them again.”
“So tell me all about it!” Which, of course, I did. After listening to me, he said, “Derek, you’ve got to go back this summer.”
“Well, you know I have responsibilities here and besides, I plan on taking a course or two this summer. If I do that, I can be a second semester sophomore next fall.”
“So, are Levi and Telvin back?”
“I picked them up earlier. They are at my place and I’ll let them tell you the news.”
“Telvin’s pregnant. I knew it was going to happen. I knew I should never have let them go to Europe. Those strange Europeans do weird things.”
“I don’t think even strange Europeans could cause that to happen,” I laughed.
“Man, you never know,” Jeremy said, managing to suppress a chuckle. “I’ll have a talk with them to make sure they haven’t been hopelessly corrupted. I suppose DeAngelo and Joe managed to fuck everyone under thirty in Key West.”
“Jeremy, you’ll never believe it, but they ended up with two women who caused them to swear they’ll keep it in their pants and study like monks.”
“Damn! What planet did they come from?”
“Another surprise and difficult to believe, they're students at Martha Baldwin.”
“You’re kidding me! Martha Baldwin girls calm down those two pussy hounds? You’re right, I’ll never believe it.”
“One’s pre-med and the other is pre-law and DeAngelo and Joe both fell hard. I couldn’t blame them. The women are beautiful and obviously smart and, I’m sure, woman enough to more than handle those two.”
Back at the house, Auntie and Levi had cookies and lemonade waiting and we sat down to enjoy them. We all talked about our break, again, and then Levi told Auntie and Jeremy about the money for a house. “You’re seriously interested in a house?” Auntie asked Levi. He said he was and she started quizzing him about what he had in mind.
“Well, I suppose this one isn’t for sale.”
“You’d have to talk with Derek about that, but how about one very similar? It's larger, needs some repairs, but nothing serious, I suspect. If you’re planning on renting to students, you’ll have to add a bathroom or two and, of course, you’d be able to use the whole house, unlike Derek here.”
“You have such a place for sale?” Levi asked.
“No, but Mrs. Collins, whose backyard and ours join, does. She was living by herself until several months ago. Then she had someone staying with her and now even that’s not enough. She’s moved into an assisted living apartment and finally decided to sell the house. She has no one she wants to leave it to and the extra money would give her a nicer setup. You want me to call her about your looking over the place? I don’t think she’s listed it and if she hasn’t, she can sell direct and get more money and you’d pay less.”
“By all means, call her. Obviously, I know the neighborhood. It’s close to the campus and quiet. Ideal place for serious students and I’ll have no party animals since I will be living there as well and I have to study.”
Auntie called Mrs. Collins. She was happy for Auntie to take Levi over and show him the place. Of course, all of us walked over with them.
The house was certainly of the same era as Auntie’s, but as she said, larger. The yards were very much like Auntie’s, although not as well maintained. Downstairs, in addition to the usual living room, dining room and kitchen, all large, there were four exceptionally large rooms and a bath. Upstairs there were six large rooms and a single bath. It was more than just a bit larger than Auntie’s.
Looking around, it was evident, as Auntie had said, the house needed repairs, but nothing major showed up to our unpracticed eyes. Levi made a sketch of the floor plan and Telvin took a couple dozen photos.
When we got back to Auntie’s, Levi asked us all to sit down at the round table and discuss the house and what should be done in addition to any needed repairs. We worked for an hour and being students sure helped. The upstairs could be reconfigured to provide two pairs of rooms with connecting baths. The rooms would be plenty large enough for two people to have a sleeping area and a living/study area. A fifth room would have a private bath.
"If I purchased the place," Levi said, "I'll set a price for double occupancy. If someone wanted a private room, the price would be the same." Downstairs, two of the rooms would be converted into a suite comprising a living room, study, bedroom and bath for Levi and Telvin. The remaining two rooms would become the communal study/library and a student room with bath. The kitchen would be renovated with professional equipment since there would be up to fourteen living in the house and eating breakfast and dinner there.
Levi made Mrs. Collins an offer of a three hundred thousand five hundred for the house. She responded that she was planning on listing it five hundred thousand. Levi asked if she would pay Jake to do an estimate of repairs for which she would be responsible. She agreed. Levi called Jake and asked him to do the estimate for Mrs. Collins and one to renovate it for which he would pay.
Jake did a through job and included things we simply had not thought about such as replacing the water heater with a boiler system. The renovation of the downstairs to include what Levi wanted was possible, but with a different arrangement dictated by load bearing walls. Jake’s estimate was seventy thousand dollars, plus or minus ten percent—“and it’s almost always plus,” he added. When Mrs. Collins saw the cost of repairs for which she was responsible and was reminded that a direct sale would avoid a realtor’s commission, she lowered the asking price to three hundred seventy-five thousand. The deal was quickly signed and Jake given a contract. He started work immediately. Jake estimated it would take two months to complete the house. He actually finished just as second semester ended at the beginning of June.
Since Levi had spent less on the house than he was allotted, he and Telvin decided to check out furnishing it since students renting off-campus housing constantly struggled to find furnishings. Peter came down and he, Levi and Telvin worked out the decorating plan. Peter suggested they go to Richmond and check out the warehouse for bargains. When Peter spoke to his dad, Mr. Lee remembered a place that made the heavy crate type furniture popular a couple decades ago which had gone out of business. To his knowledge, they‘d just closed the doors and their final inventory had never been sold. He called about it and found it was all still in their warehouse. The owner told him he would be happy to sell it for practically nothing.
The furniture was heavy, solid and comfortable and, as Peter’s dad pointed out, the only thing to wear out were the cushions and those were easily replaced. Levi and Telvin also got crate furniture for their bedroom including the only king-size bed in the lot. All the other rooms had either twins which could be bunked or queen-size beds.
By the time the house was ready, Levi had a stack of applications from students. Some had not read the rule against smoking, others did not like the idea of meals being included and having to take turns cooking, some wanted lower rent for single occupancy. The proud couple set up a Saturday following the end of the semester to interview students and make final decisions. I would have to find out their decisions later as I was heading to Key West!
My last final examination was Wednesday morning before the school year ended on Friday. When I got home, Auntie was waiting for me with some news. Her great granddaughter wanted to come back for three weeks to do research and a granddaughter wanted to come for a week to visit. “You have June free of looking after me. Get out of here.” Other family members would be coming later in the summer and I would go home then, but with June free, I was on a plane headed for Key West Monday morning.
Antwon met me and seemed as excited to see me as I was to see him. He and Sharky had a friend who was leaving in an hour or two to go teach snorkeling/scuba diving on one of the Caribbean islands and had offered Antwon and Sharky his apartment for me if I wanted it. On the way in from the airport, Antwon stopped at a grocery store and I stocked up since I would be eating breakfast at least in the apartment. The apartment was over a garage and had a living room, bedroom, bath and kitchen, all small, but neat and clean. I changed into shorts and a T, put my things in the bedroom and in less than five minutes was ready to go. When we reached the marina I realized the apartment was only four blocks away. Transportation to and from work would not be a problem.
At the marina, Sharky grabbed me in a hug and said, “Derek, welcome back to Key West. Good flight?”
“How was the semester?”
“Tough, but I did okay.”
“Well, I did make a B in Spanish. Man, I spent a great deal of time unlearning what I had been taught in high school.”
“One B and from the sound of it, you’d think you failed something. I’m happy with my Bs,” Sharky said. “So we have you for a month?”
“Yeah, if I can earn my keep.”
“Oh, you’ll do that alright,” Antwon laughed, “and we’ll make a sailor out of you. Up for some great seafood?”
We headed back toward the mainland and three or four miles after we left the town behind, Sharky turned down a trail running off into a thicket. The trail ended at a shed with a corrugated metal roof. Underneath were picnic tables. We sat down at an empty one and an African-American man who was at least seventy came over and Sharky and Antwon greeted him and introduced me. He was carrying three beers which he placed in front of us, then went to a cut-in-half fifty-five gallon drum, stoked the fire under it, and dropped a basket of shrimp and other seafood into the barrel. A few minutes later, he lifted the wire basket from the barrel, brought it to where we were sitting and dumped the contents in the middle of the table. He turned and took a tray of sauces from a shelf and placed it on the table and said, “Enjoy.”
“Well, eat up and drink up,” Antwon said. “You’ll taste none finer.” After I had eaten my fill and had enough beer to get a bit of a buzz, I had to agree.
“How does he get by selling beer to minors?” I asked.
Sharky said, “You were with us so he knew it was okay. Had you walked in on your own, you’d never have gotten close to a beer. Had anyone official walked in, he would have placed the beers in front of Antwon, none in front of you. Of course, if anyone official showed up it would be to eat and not to bother Brother Wallace.”
“Yeah,” Antwon laughed. “When George Wallace was in his heyday, Brother Wallace claimed he was George’s baby brother.”
After lunch, we went back to the marina and started provisioning the boat for a sunset cruise. After the one I was on during spring break, they‘d begun doing one any evening they were not otherwise engaged. “They’re easy, cost us very little as we have an arrangement with a caterer and add a bit to what she charges for the food, and because we actually run the boat only a short time; most of the cruise it’s anchored. What we charge is considered a bargain for the service we offer. Everyone seems happy and the two, two and a half hour cruises just about pay all business expenses, so we can pay back our loan with everything else.”
Once the boat was provisioned except for the last minute food from the caterer, the two suggested I go to the apartment, get things squared away, take a nap and then meet them back half an hour before we sailed, which I did.
When we got back to the dock after the cruise, we ate supper from the ‘leftovers’ from the cruise. Excellent food, very fancied up. After we ate, we cleaned up from the cruise and stocked the boat for an all-day fishing trip leaving at 7:00 in the morning. We finished around 10:00 and I went to the apartment and was soon in bed, asleep.
In Key West, 6:00 seemed to come extremely early. Even after a shower and a cup of coffee, I was still half asleep. I ate a breakfast of cereal and fruit, got dressed and walked to the boat before I was functioning at full speed.
There were eight in the fishing party, three older men and their five fortyish sons. It was obvious this was a special occasion for them and they were in a very good mood when they showed up at 7:00. When we reached the spot Sharky had selected for them to start fishing, they became serious fishermen. After an hour with no fish, Sharky suggested he move them to a new spot. They were agreeable, but one commented that they hadn’t expected to be guaranteed fish. “You’d be surprised at the people who are upset when they find out I can’t guarantee fish,” Sharky said.
“Then they know nothing of fishing,” one of the younger men said. “No patience. Bet it’s not just when their fishing.” We all nodded in agreement.
The new spot had fish and a good time was had by all. Most of what was caught was released, but a dozen good fish were placed in ice to be cleaned, wrapped and frozen for a family outing Labor Day.
After we had cleaned the boat, refueled and fastened down everything for the night, Antwon said, “Derek, we’ll stop by your place so you can get some clean clothes--nice casual--and go on out to our place where you can shower and get dressed. We’re invited to La Casa for dinner. The Clan from Elizabethton--isn’t that just down the road from you?” I nodded. “Well, the Clan--that’s six people, two girls and four guys--who just graduated high school and some of their friends are down for a week. Two of the guys are gay, best friends from kindergarten, who were in love with their best friend, but were afraid he would find out. The first night they were here last year, one of them kissed the other and, well, you can guess the rest. Not sure about the friends, but anyway, they have to be decent people for the Clan to associate with them.”
It was about a forty-five minute drive to the couple’s cottage, but we had plenty of time as the fishing trip had ended a bit early. I showered and dressed. I had picked a knit shirt that highlighted my dark skin and showed off my chest without it being too obvious. When I came out, Antwon whistled and said, “Man, you are one hot brother. Expect to be hit on in town.”
The three of us walked to La Casa and into the room where everyone was gathered. Antwon started introducing me to the Clan--Marc and Justin, the gay couple, John and Susan, Adam and Bobbie, straight couples. Marc then introduced us to Michael, another Tarheel. “You’ll have to forgive Michael,” Marc said. “Sandy, the love of his life got held up and won’t be here until later. Oh, Sandy is Michael’s boyfriend.” Suddenly my eyes were drawn to a light-skin African-American. He was tall, slender and moved with cat-like grace. Effeminate, but not in an offensive way. He was very animated and beautiful, simply beautiful. Had someone described him to me, I would have said he was not my type, but when I saw him in person? Man, I felt as though I had been hit by a freight train! For a moment I couldn’t breathe, then began to fear if I did he would disappear. I simply didn’t know what was going on, but I had to get to him. I was finally able to speak and asked, "Want to introduce me to the brother I see over there?"
“Sure,” Marc, laughed, grabbed my hand and led me over to him. When he saw me approaching, he froze, then his eyes got big and finally he shook himself and a smile which lit up the room spread across his beautiful face. I almost hyperventilated when he looked into my eyes and his smile got larger. "Derek, my friend Wolf. Wolf, Antwon and Sharky’s friend Derek.”
Mrs. Crandall got our attention and said, “Those of you who came down together, of course, know each other, but we have other guests. Dr. Alex Macon is also a Tarheel from Elizabethton and knows the Clan and associates well as he has cared for them, especially Sandy who will be joining us later this week. Dr. Macon’s father, also Dr. Ted Macon, a resident of Key West . . ." The elder Dr. Macon--a very distinguished man with white hair and beard--gave us a sweeping bow. He was not an exact older version of young Dr. Macon--Alex--but obviously a close relation. "And Dr. Alex Macon's fiancé, Mr. Daniel Running Wolf," she said, indicating a dark, handsome man.
I guess it was rude, but Wolf and I spent the rest of ‘mingling time’ together. We, obviously, felt a very strong attraction to each other. There was no denying part of it--most of it--was pure lust as evidenced from the tents in our pants we were both trying to hide! During dinner we played footsy under the table and grinned sheepishly at each other, often blushing.
After dinner, as we were going into the library for coffee or tea, Justin came up beside us, holding Marc’s hand and said, “Looks like the lovebug has bit you, Wolf.” Wolf grinned and nodded his head vigorously. “You too, Derek?” I nodded as well.
When we had finished our coffee, Mrs. Crandall suggested we’d probably like to spend time in the garden or walking on the beach in the moonlight which was very bright. Most of the group, including Wolf and I, chose to walk on the beach although I noticed Marc and Justin going into the garden where, I had been told, they’d first confessed their love for each other.
Michael was alone. When we reached the beach, John and Susan put Michael between them, wrapped an arm around him and set off down the beach. Bobbie and Adam stripped and dived into the gulf, playing, horsing around and making out. Wolf and I were holding hands as we walked up the beach, away from Adam and Bobbie and the three others. We soon reached a palm-covered shelter and Wolf took a blanket from a high shelf and spread it on the beach.
I guess I had been running on adrenaline because suddenly I felt very shy. Wolf seemed to as well because the moon was bright and I could see him blush. “Derek,” Wolf said, “I don’t know what’s going on or what’s happening. My experience is practically nil, but I don’t think what I’m feeling is all sex . . . well, of course, we’re two young, physically fit males so everything has something to do with sex.” We both kinda giggled. “What I mean is, in the past I have seen someone for the first time and been filled with daydreams of making out with him, maybe even having sex with him. That’s not the way I responded when I caught sight of you. I don’t know what I mean, what I’m saying. I’m just very mixed up, but I like it.”
“Wolf, if I am out of line, say so, but what I think happened to me was something I never thought happened. Sure it’s shallow now, but I think it was love at first sight. I guess more accurately, it was the beginning of love and it started when I first saw you.”
“Yeah,” Wolf said, looking deep into my eyes. “Yeah, the start, but there is no end in sight.” He reached out and started touching my face gently with his long, slender fingers. I felt bolts of electricity from his fingers.
As I returned his gaze, I remembered his eyes were not brown like most African-Americans, but an amazing, beautiful green. I placed my hands on each side of his face and slowly leaned toward him until my lips touched his. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me atop his body as he lay back on the blanket. He had said he was inexperienced and his kiss was evidence of that, but as inexperienced as it was, it set my heart singing. We exchanged several more kisses, and my trunks were soon wet with precum. I guess the big head took over for a moment and I realized I had just met the guy and we were moving entirely too fast. “Ah, Wolf, don’t get me wrong, but, ah . . . ”
“Yeah,” he said. “Derek, we’re moving way too fast. Much as I like what we’re doing, I’m also a bit uncomfortable.”
I nodded and we sat up, holding hands and talked. We talked about the fact that we lived an hour’s drive apart and how we could overcome that, about how my responsibility to Auntie meant I was not free to come and go as I please. Finally I said, “Wolf, we’re talking as if we are ready to be married and we know little about each other.” We then talked of our previous experience--very limited in Wolf’s case--and about what we wanted in a partner. We talked, about anything and everything, but not without stopping for kisses from time to time. I finally noticed the others walking up the path toward the house. I stood, still holding Wolf’s hand, and pulled him to his feet, kissed him and, holding hands, we also headed back.
When we got to the house, Adam and Bobbie had gathered a bunch of chips, crackers, dips and cheese and John and Susan had drinks. Adam said, “We’ll go knock on Marc and Justin’s door and invite them to join us. Since they have that large sitting room, they’ll invite us in. All we’ll have to do then is collect Michael and all will be well.”
“If they invite us in,” Susan said.
“Oh, they will,” Adam responded and he was exactly right. We ate and talked, mostly talked, until almost midnight. I was spending the night at Antwon and Sharky’s so when I was ready to go, Wolf walked with me to the drive leading to the cluster of cottages where theirs was located. We exchanged a long, deep kiss--the man was a fast learner!--and a second and third before he headed back to the house and I to the cottage.
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