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Once Upon an Island

By Terry O’Reilly


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2018 Terry O’Reilly

ISBN 9781634866927

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All rights reserved.


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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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To all those who love the island that lies in the straights between Lakes Michigan and Huron.

* * * *

Once Upon an Island

By Terry O’Reilly

Chapter 1

“You care about him, Neil. You know you do,” Janet Logan said. She sat on her brother’s bed in the bedroom of the apartment Neil Logan shared with his good friend Jordan Dennison and watched him pack.

“I do. I do care about him—very much. But I just don’t feel the same way Jordan does about us,” Neil responded without looking at her.

“So, you’re just going to run off without tell—”

Exasperated with this conversation, he threw several pairs of socks into his suitcase. “I’m not running off!” Neil said in a voice bordering on a shout.

“What would you call it then?”

Neil took a steadying breath. “I’m leaving to take a summer position,” he said, his tone more under control.

“Okay, you’re leaving to take a summer position, but you’re not going to tell him how you feel?” Janet asked, looking at her brother, her expression disapproving.

Neil sighed. He made eye contact with his sister. “Yeah, I think it’s better this way. I like Jordan. He’s my best friend, and I don’t want to hurt him.”

“Tell me again—just how is leaving without his knowing you don’t feel the same way about him as he does about you such a great plan, and how that’s not going to hurt him?”

“Well, to begin with, I’ll be twelve hundred miles away. I think that with time Jordan’s feelings for me will cool, and both of us will just move on,” Neil said, trying to be patient with Janet as he folded a shirt and put it into his bag.

“You both will just move on?” Janet shook her head. “Y’all may have graduated magna cum laude from vet school, but you’re a flunk out in the school of life.”

Neil stopped packing and looked again at his sister. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped, irritability overtaking his attempts at patience.

“Ever heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder?”

“Ugh,” Neil grunted, “that’s just some old proverb like…a stitch in time saves nine or…don’t count your chickens, blah, blah, blah. They don’t mean anything.”

“They’re based on truth. Besides, you’re only going to be gone for seven months. You guys have been together for more than six years. You really think seven months is long enough to erase feelings he’s developed in all the time you’ve spent together?”

Neil shrugged. He didn’t want to hear stuff like this, stuff that might undermine his determination to carry out his plan. He couldn’t see any other course of action. Why couldn’t she see this was the only way to keep from hurting Jordan? Why did she have to be so…so…reasonable?

“I still think it’s a rotten thing for you to do. Jordan’s a good guy. Y’all are gonna regret this.” Janet got up and walked to the bedroom door. “Call me when you’re ready to leave for the airport, and I’ll come over and ride along with you guys,” she said over her shoulder as she left the room.

Neil watched her go. He sat down on his bed and heaved a sigh.

Neil met Jordan at Texas A&M University where they were undergraduate pre-vet majors. Neil found the man to be witty, smart, and compatible in many ways. He also found Jordan to be very attractive. The attraction proved to be mutual, and they soon began a relationship that lasted for all of their four years in veterinary school and through their year of internship.

To Neil it was a wonderful friendship with benefits. Neil was not a player, and to be good friends with a handsome young man who met Neil’s physical needs as well, suited him just fine.

After finishing his year as an intern, Neil was going to stay in College Station for an extra year of postgraduate study in advanced equine science and then add an extra semester to get his hoof and leg specialist certificate. Jordan, a small animal major, had taken a job as a vet in a practice in Dallas.

That was when Neil began to realize Jordan had a different perspective on their relationship than he did. Out of the blue, Jordan had announced that he’d taken a job at a local veterinary hospital, so he and Neil could be together while Neil did his year of postgraduate study. Neil thought back to that afternoon. He remembered it very well. It was two weeks before they were to finish their year as interns.

Jordan was all excited as he burst through the door of their apartment. “Neil, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Neil had looked up from his studying, “What’s that?”

“We won’t have to be separated when we finish our internships after all!”

“Jordan, what the hell are you talking about?” “You’ve got a vet job in Dallas and I’m staying here. I’m not planning on commuting. Are you?”

“No! I won’t have to commute. I decided not to take that job in Dallas. I saw an ad for a position in an animal hospital right here in College Station!”

“But I thought you said you’d exhausted the possibilities of a vet job here. There are too many vets in the area because of A&M vet school being so close.”

“You’re right, but they needed a vet tech. So I took the job!”

“What? A vet tech! Why would they hire you? You’re over-qualified.”

“I told them my mom needed me. I said that she was sick, and I needed to stay in town to care for her.”

“You’re mother lives in Wichita, and she’s not sick. What did you tell them that for? Jordan, you’re about to get your DVM. You’ll be a full-fledged veterinarian! Why would you lie just to take a job as a tech?” a bewildered Neil asked.

“You jerk,” Jordan had said, walking across the room and pulling Neil up from his chair and into a hug. “Don’t you get it? It’s because being with you is more important to me than working as a vet right now. I’ll get a job as a vet next year after you’re done with your postgrad, and we decide where we’re going to live. Neil, I’d do anything just so we don’t have to say goodbye.”

Neil shook his head, letting the memory go. He got up and went back to packing. How had he missed the fact that while he thought of their relationship as a great friendship, Jordan seemed to be on a different page?

I shoulda done something about it then, he thought to himself. But I was so freaked, I had no idea he had feelings like that for me. I didn’t know what to do. But I shoulda done something.

Neil recalled how later that same night, when he and Jordan had gone to bed, Jordan initiated what he’d called celebratory sex—sex to celebrate they wouldn’t have to be separated. The sex was spectacular, and while it was in progress Neil came to the realization that the great sex he had shared with Jordan over the years wasn’t only because of the excessively active libidos of two virile, young men. It was passion that was emotionally driven. What Neil had thought of as two horny guys having passionate sex, Jordan had viewed as two lovers making passionate love.

Neil turned from his suitcase and went to the bathroom to gather his toiletries. Hell! It’s not my fault, Neil thought defensively as he put his toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a razor into his leather overnight case. Jordan never once actually said, ‘I love you’. We never made any kind of verbal commitment to each other, so how was I to know? Was I supposed to read his mind? Hell, I never even realized Jordan’d planned on us living together after my extra year in postgrad was finished.

Going back into the bedroom, he let his mind return to that night once more. After they’d finished having sex, Jordan had snuggled against Neil, prattling on about how great it was that the two of them were going to be able to stay together after all. In a little while Jordan fell asleep.

Neil hadn’t been able to sleep, however. As he held Jordan in his arms, he’d tried to put a positive spin on the situation. Jordan was handsome, they had great sex, and Neil already liked him very much. He and Neil had lots in common: both were vets and loved animals, both loved the outdoors, both enjoyed sports, and both liked the same kinds of food and movies. Neil knew he could do a lot worse than Jordan. Was it such a stretch for Neil to go from liking Jordan to loving him? Why not just let it take its natural course and let the relationship develop?

But it didn’t develop, Neil thought as he sat down on his bed, looking at his half-packed suitcase. There was always something missing—some spark I always thought would be there when I met that special man. The one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

As Neil’s extended postgrad went on, it became increasingly clear that his feelings for Jordan weren’t changing. Jordan was a great guy, but Neil wasn’t coming any closer to falling in love with him. On one level he did love Jordan, but not in that special way that Neil had envisioned he would feel for a life partner.

However, Neil had let it go too far. Clearly, Jordan was oblivious to the fact that his feelings for Neil were not being reciprocated. Jordan was totally content and happy. He continued to talk of what they would do after Neil’s studies were completed. Jordan never seemed to notice that Neil never invested himself in those conversations. Neil didn’t see any way out of the situation without hurting Jordan. Then one day while reading a professional veterinarian journal, a possible solution presented itself.

It had been a rainy, Saturday afternoon. He was reading The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. While paging through the journal he passed the classified section and an ad leapt out at him. It was for a summer position as an equine veterinarian, and it was on an island hundreds of miles away from Texas. He suddenly had a thought. Since neither Jordan or I’ve never actually said I love you, maybe if I go away for a while, it will all cool off. Jordan will find someone and move on.

Neil had gone to his computer and found the site listed in the ad. He immediately filled out the application for the position and, without hesitation, clicked on submit.

Remembering that moment, Neil got up from the bed, went over to his dresser, and picked up a letter that was lying there. It was from a Dr. Turner. The letter informed him he had gotten the job he’d applied for—the job that would take him away from Texas and Jordan. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. I sure hope this works, I can’t think of any other way to do this.

Neil turned back to the bed, put the letter in his backpack, and finished his packing. He looked around the room he’d shared with Jordan for over six years. He heaved a sigh. He felt guilty. Jordan was a great guy, just not the guy for him. Neil had a fleeting feeling that this might not be the best way to change the complexion of their relationship, that he was taking the coward’s way out. Maybe Janet was right. Maybe he should just come clean before he left and be done with it.

He’d had that opportunity when he’d gotten his letter of acceptance from Dr. Turner. He’d told Jordan about the job on the island. Jordan had looked stunned that Neil would apply for a job that would take him away until late fall, especially without telling him. Neil explained it was a great opportunity for him, that he would be getting tons of experience. He apologized for not telling Jordan sooner. Jordan relented and had immediately brightened, saying it was only for a few months, that would go by quickly, and he and Neil would be together again. Neil had let the moment pass.

No, this is the best way. I’ll just go, and it will die a natural death. He’ll get lonely and find someone else. When I come back he’ll have moved on, and we can still be friends.

Neil took one last look around the room, picked up his suitcase and backpack, and walked into the living room to wait for Jordan, who was to drive him to the airport after he was through with work.

An hour later, Jordan came in the door. He’d picked up the mail on his way in. From the expression on his face it looked like he’d just gotten a draft notice from the army.

“What’s wrong?” Neil asked.

“Crap,” Jordan said, looking up at Neil from the piece of paper in his hand.

“What’s wrong?” Neil asked again as he got up from where he was sitting and walked over to Jordan.

“I was hoping I’d have a big surprise for you,” Jordan said, holding out a letter he’d apparently opened on his way up to the apartment.

Neil took it and read:

Dear Dr. Dennison,

Thank you for your interest in a veterinary position with Island Tours. I am sorry to inform you that both our summer veterinary positions have been filled.

We will keep your application on file and, should the need arise, we will contact you.

Sincerely,

Brian Turner, DVM.

Director of Veterinary Medicine

Island Tours.

Neil looked up at Jordan. He didn’t know what to say. Finally he managed, “You…you applied for a job on the island, too?”

Jordan misread Neil’s reaction. “Yeah, I’m just as bummed as you are. I really wanted to surprise y’all and come in and say, ‘Hey! Guess what? We won’t have to say goodbye for the summer. I’m coming with you.’ Maybe I shouldn’t have told you I applied. Now you’re gonna leave all disappointed that I can’t go, too. Don’t feel too bad, ok?” Jordan put his arms around Neil as if to console him. “Maybe I can come and visit.”

Neil returned the hug. He felt relieved but at the same time even guiltier. Jordan had cared enough for Neil that he’d taken a job as a vet tech just to be near him during Neil’s year of post grad study, and now he’d tried to surprise Neil by applying for a job that would keep them together over the summer.

Neil steadied his resolve. This was the right thing to do. He’d dodged a bullet—Jordan’s surprise had fallen through. Neil’s plan would go forward. It was all for the best—best for them both.

“Yeah, bummer,” he managed to say as convincingly as he could.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Neil stood on the prow of the ferry as it plowed through the choppy water of the straits on its way to the island. A cold wind blew against his face. It made his eyes water. The ship was called The Welcome. Appropriate, Neil thought as he approached the destination where he would spend his summer. He wished now he’d done more research on spring in the north. It was April, but to Neil, a boy from Texas, it felt more like January.

He tightened the drawstrings on the hood of his Texas A&M sweatshirt and wrapped his arms more tightly around himself, wishing he’d thought to pack a winter coat. Nevertheless, cold though he may be, he was glad to be here, on his way to his first real job as an equine vet.

As Neil gazed out over the white-capped waves, he thought of Jordan for the hundredth time, remembering that a great career opportunity wasn’t the only reason he’d taken the job. Relieved Jordan didn’t get the vet job he’d applied for to surprise him, Neil still felt guilty that he hadn’t manned up and told Jordan that the real reason Neil had applied for the vet position on the island in the first place was to put distance between himself and Jordan. Feeling he needed to spare Jordan the hurt of being rejected, Neil left Jordan waving goodbye at the airport with the situation between them unresolved.

To make himself feel better, Neil rationalized that since Jordan’s degree was in small animal medicine, he was ill- equipped for a job that required extensive work with horses. Jordan’s only equine experience was his required six-week rotation while in school.

When Neil had left him, Jordan had assured Neil he would be in touch. Neil reassured himself his decision to distance himself from his friend was the right one. Neil still hoped that with time, Jordan’s feelings for him would cool, and both of them would be free to move on.

The island was now close enough that Neil could clearly see buildings and physical features. Rising from the surrounding water was an island of unexpected beauty. The shoreline was dotted with large homes which looked as if they were from the turn of the 19th century. Behind and above them rose another row of houses of the same vintage. The spire of a church rose above these. Higher yet was a large, imposing white building several stories high with what seemed to be a large sweeping porch covering the entire front of the structure.

The heavily forested island was clad in the pale green of early spring, the trees just beginning to leaf out. It was truly a spectacular sight for a lad raised on a ranch in the heart of the wide-open spaces of Texas, where you had an uninterrupted view of the horizon, and the trees and buildings were far and few between.

Neil could feel his excitement rising when the ferry’s horn sounded as the vessel pulled into the harbor and approached its mooring. Being early in the season, only a few passengers were on board. The ferry mostly carried goods and supplies for the many shops that were preparing for the arrival of the tourists still a few weeks off.

Neil walked down the gangplank amid trolleys laden with boxes. He dodged still more that were being pushed up a ramp from the lower levels of the ferry to the dock. Neil stepped onto the pier itself and walked along the wooden wharf into a covered enclosure. Here he and a few of his fellow passengers waited at the luggage claim area for their bags to be brought from the ferry. As travelers began leaving the enclosure and going out onto the street, he heard someone calling, “Dr. Logan! Lookin’ for Dr. Neil Logan.”

He walked out of the enclosure to see a boyishly handsome young man in a heavy plaid jacket and jeans, wearing a cowboy hat. Neil repressed a surge of attraction. Then, thinking the whole point of moving this far away from Texas was to let Jordan move on, Neil decided it applied to him as well. He allowed his feelings of attraction to the jacket-clad man to surface once more.

The man was standing by a black covered carriage, hitched to a Belgian draft horse. Neil walked over to him. “I’m Neil Logan.”

“Hey. I’m Kip, Kip Davis,” the young man said, giving Neil a sweeping appraisal. “Doc Turner sent me to pick ya up.”

Neil recognized the name of the head veterinarian who’d sent the letter offering him the job.

Kip extended his hand. Neil took it. “Welcome to the island,” Kip said with a smile that enhanced his handsome features.

Neil shook Kip’s hand. “Thank you. I’m just waitin’ on my bags.”

Kip turned to the horse. “You stay put, Clancy. I’ll be right back.”

Clancy snorted his acquiescence.

“Come on, Doc, I’ll help ya with ‘em.”

Soon the two men were riding along behind Clancy down the main street. It was lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels. The fact that this was a tourist town was clearly evident. As it was still early in the season, the street was fairly empty, except for horse- drawn delivery wagons and a few bicycles.

“I don’t see any cars,” Neil observed.

“That’s right. Other than the fire trucks and ambulance—no motorized vehicles allowed. Horses and bikes—the only way to get around.”

“Wow! Really cool. I could get used to this real quick.”

“So, this is your first trip north?” Kip asked.

“Yep. How did y’all know?”

“Anyone’s been here this early before, would know better than wear only a sweatshirt,” Kip said. “That where you went to school?” He nodded toward the A&M insignia.

“Yes.”

“You got a winter coat?”

“No.”

“Better get ya one. Be a few weeks before it gets warm up here. The big lakes that surround the island keep it from gettin’ too warm even when it’s the middle of summer. There’ll probably be something up at the stable we can find for you to wear until ya can get one of your own.”

“Thanks,” Neil said, feeling grateful as well as slightly embarrassed that he hadn’t thought that there would be a difference in climate between Texas and an island this far north. He was chilled to the bone.

They turned at an intersection and made their way up a steep hill. They passed the large white building with the sweeping porch Neil had seen from the ferry.

“That’s the Imperial Hotel,” Kip said. “It was built in 1887 as a retreat for vacationers from the mainland. More than 130,000 overnight guests stay at the Imperial each season. More than a million people visit the island each year, the island has only 600 year-round residents.”

“Wow,” Neil said, impressed. “Y’all sure know a lot about the hotel.”

Kip laughed. “Well, I aughta. I was born and raised here on the island, and I drive a tour wagon for Island Tours. What you heard was parta my spiel for the tourists.”

A while later Kip pulled up to a large green building trimmed in red. “Welcome to headquarters of Island Tours,” he said, making a grand gesture toward the building. “I’ll catch up with you later. I need to get Clancy put up. He’s worked up a sweat. Still has his winter coat. Just go on in and introduce yourself to Margie and Mr. Douglas—and tell ‘em you need a coat, too.” Kip winked at Neil, who ducked his head and chuckled.

Neil grabbed his bags from the back of the carriage, thanked Kip, walked up the wide walkway past a bronze statue of a horse and buggy, and went inside the building. He welcomed the warmth. A sign directed him to the office. He went in.

“Hello,” a pretty young woman greeted him from behind a desk. She got up and walked around to the other side. Extending a hand, she said, “I’m Margie. You must be Dr. Logan. My granddad’s expecting you.”

She led him to an inner office. When they entered, an elderly man looked up from his desk. His smile was warm and welcoming. “Dr. Logan,” he said, getting up and coming around to greet Neil. “Andy Douglas.” He offered Neil his hand.

Neil took it. “It’s good to meet you, sir.”

“My, but your hand is like ice,” Mr. Douglas commented.

Neil chuckled. “I guess this Texas boy underestimated the weather y’all have up here. I didn’t pack for winter. I didn’t think I’d need gloves or a coat in April.”

Mr. Douglas laughed. “We’ll take care of that. Margie!” he called to his granddaughter in the outer office. She came to the door.

“Call the barn and see if they can find someone to bring up something warm for Dr. Logan to wear. Tell them I don’t mean a horse blanket.” He winked at Neil. “And bring Dr. Logan a cup of something hot.”

“Sure thing, Granddad. What can I get you, Dr. Logan?”

“Black coffee’s fine.”

“Granddad?” Margie asked.

“Coffee for me, too,” the older man said. He turned to Neil. “Have a seat, Neil, and lets you and me get acquainted.”

He led Neil to a corner of the room where they sat in large leather chairs that surrounded a glass top table made of a large wagon wheel.

Neil looked around at the walls of the pine paneled room. They were covered with pictures of various locations on the island. Prominent in each picture was a horse-drawn vehicle: tour wagons, carriages, sleighs, or carts. The horses represented several well-known draft breeds: dapple gray Percherons, Clydesdales with their long feathered white legs and deep, red brown coats, honey colored Belgians, enormous black Shires, brown and white American Drafts, as well as several other breeds Neil didn’t recognize.

Neil was impressed by the magnitude of the operation and expressed this to Mr. Douglas.

“They’ve been offering carriage tours on the Island for a hundred and fifty years or more. Island Tours started about seventy-five years ago. Our family has been involved for four generations,” Mr. Douglas said, smiling proudly as he, too, gazed at the pictures.

“Currently we have around four huindred head of drafts and about a huindred light breed riding horses. Everything on the island except fire and ambulance is done with horses—the tours, a taxi service, shuttle to the hotels, luggage delivery, garbage pick-up, deliveries, everything.”

“Kip told me. That’s really impressive. What are the light horses used for?” Neil asked.

“We have a trail ride service so tourists can explore the island on horseback and…”

Just then the door opened and Margie came in carrying the coffee. She was closely followed by a mountain of a man who was carrying a coat, knit hat, and gloves. Neil felt his stomach lurch and his heart skip a beat.

“Ah, Margie, thanks,” Mr. Douglas said, taking the steaming mugs from her and setting them on the table.

Neil couldn’t tear his eyes away from the large man. He stood just inside the door looking uncomfortable, staring at the floor.

“Rolf, come on in,” Mr. Douglas said, raising a welcoming arm. “Meet Dr. Logan. He’ll be joining the veterinary team for the summer. He’s from Texas and didn’t expect winter in spring.”

Rolf walked into the room, still not making eye contact with Neil.

“Neil, this is Rolf Gundersen,” Mr. Douglas said.

Neil slowly rose from his chair and held out a hand. He had to work at keeping it from trembling. “It’s nice to meet you, Rolf.”

Rolf took Neil’s hand and gave it a firm shake and nodded. “I guess these are for you,” he said with a heavy accent. He handed Neil the coat, hat, and gloves.

“Thank you,” Neil said, while at the same time feeling ashamed as Rolf was dressed in a short sleeve shirt and bib overalls, evidently immune to the cold.

Neil’s eyes demanded that he look at Rolf. As surreptitiously as he could, Neil took in the man’s massive chest, bulging biceps, and tree trunk legs. He had thick, light blond hair and a matching bushy beard. His eyes were a pale blue.

“Rolf, join us. I was just giving Dr. Logan a verbal tour of our operation,” Mr. Douglas said. He turned to Neil. “Rolf is our head farrier. You two will be working together a lot over the summer.”

“Uh, thank you, no” Rolf said hesitantly. “I better get back…uh…we’re trying to get the shed set up and running. First load of summer horses coming back soon.”

“All right. You and Dr. Logan can get acquainted later,” Mr. Douglas said.

Rolf nodded and turned to leave.

“It was good to meet you,” Neil said.

Without looking back, Rolf nodded again and left.

“A man of few words,” Mr. Douglas said as they watched Rolf leave the room. “I’ll take you over to the dorms where the summer staff stays. But if you’d rather, you can get a room in town.”

“I think I’d like to stay in the dorms,” Neil said. “I’ll feel like I’m more a part of the crew, if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine, if that’s what you’d like,” Mr. Douglas’ smile indicated he approved of Neil’s choice. “I’ve arranged for you to have dinner with me, Dr. Turner, and his wife this evening. You can get to know them and Dr. Turelle as well. She’ll be joining us. Betsy is the third vet on the team. She’s here for the summer like you. She arrived yesterday. Ron Sumpter, our barn manager and Leslie Fredericks will be coming, too. Leslie coordinates the tours, taxi, and horse rentals. Rolf will be there as well.”

Neil heard every word Mr. Douglas said, but it was of secondary importance. Once Rolf had been mentioned the big man’s image came to mind, and Neil’s reaction to the farrier took center stage. Neil was struggling to figure out why his reaction to him was so intense.

* * * *

Chapter 3

The men chatted a while longer. When they’d finished their coffee, Neil went to the outer office and made the necessary arrangements with Margie for a room in the dorms. Mr. Douglas met him in front of the building. He was sitting in a golf cart.

When Neil got in he gave Mr. Douglas a hesitant look.

The older man laughed. “Guilty. This is my only concession to the no motor vehicle rule. Well, that and riding mowers. Too much grass to cut for the grounds crew to use hand push mowers. This runs on batteries so they let me have it because I’m too old to be tramping all over the place. Bad knees. Driving a horse ‘n buggy around up here at headquarters would be impractical.”

When they arrived at the dorm entrance, Neil got out of the cart and thanked Mr. Douglas. He went into the building and looked around. There were mailboxes on one wall, otherwise the entry was unremarkable. Just your typical dormitory Neil thought.

Seeing that there didn’t seem to be an elevator, Neil walked up the four flights of stairs up to his room.

Neil’s room was large and carpeted. It had a full-sized bed, a large bureau, dresser, and desk. There was also an overstuffed chair and a loveseat. Pictures of horses pulling tour wagons of smiling tourists hung on the walls. There was a private bath.

He began to unpack his bags. Now that he was alone in his room he let his thoughts about Rolf have free rein. There was no question that his response to the big man had been physical. He’d had that response many times to men he found attractive. He’d had a similar, although not so intense, response to Kip when he’d first met the man. However, the reaction that had accompanied the physical one upon meeting Rolf was new. He’d never experienced anything like it before. And Neil wasn’t sure how he should take it.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. He opened it to find Kip grinning at him.

“How’s it goin’?” Kip asked.

“Good,” Neil replied, genuinely glad to see the young man. “Y’all come on in.”

Kip laughed. “Well now, ah don’t mind ifin’ ah do—y’all.”

Neil chuckled. “Y’all are making fun of my accent.”

“No…well, yeah. But I think it’s sexy. A tall, Texas stud like you and that drawl—makes for a killer combination.”

Neil knew Kip was flirting with him. Somehow he didn’t mind at all.

Kip came in and looked around. “So, this is what the suites for the privileged few are like,” he joked.

“Why? What are the other rooms like?” Neil asked.

“Eh…not so bad. Bunks, dressers, desks. Bare floors though. And it’s two or three to a room. Kinda crowded. Have to share a bathroom.”

“Well, y’all can come and visit anytime,” Neil said, deciding he’d do a bit of flirting as well.

“I just might take y’all up on that, Dr. Logan.”

“Please, call me Neil.”

“Okay, Neil.” Kip winked at him. “So what you been up to since I left you off at the office? I see you got a coat.”

“Yes. Mr. Douglas had Margie call someone, and a man named Rolf brought it over.”

“Ah, so you’ve met our man Rolf.”

“Yeah. Is there something I should know about him?”

“Well, no. Just he’s one strange dude. I been here four summers now, and he hasn’t said but five words to me. He keeps pretty much to himself, never socializes with the staff or nothin’. Even his team of farriers say he don’t say more’n he has to, and then it’s usually something to do with work.”

“He has an accent,” Neil said.

“Yeah, he’s from Germany. Been in the States a long time though. He came over with the German equestrian team for the Atlanta Olympics. He was top farrier for the team, I heard. Then he left the team all of a sudden and stayed in the U. S. No one knows why.

You’ll be workin’ pretty close with him. The vets and the shoers do a lot of consulting. The old saying ‘no hoof, no horse’ is really important here as the whole island depends on horses for the tourist trade and transportation. So the farriers are super important in order to keep the wheels rollin’.”

Kip suddenly jumped to another topic before Neil could process the information about Rolf he’d just been given. “What’cha doin’ for dinner? I could introduce you to the dorm cafeteria—a truly divine experience—or we could grab a couple bikes or a buggy, if one’s available, and head to a restaurant in town.”

“Sorry, but I’m supposed to have dinner with the Douglases and meet Dr. Turner and the other new vet…uh…Betsy something, and some others, the barn manager and tour director. Rolf will be there, too.”

“Oh, okay. Maybe another time then,” Kip said, sounding disappointed.

“I’d like that.”

Kip brightened.

“Say, I can’t seem to get any cell service,” Neil said. “I’d like to call home and let everyone know I got here okay.”

“It’s pretty iffy. But if you’re hooked to wi-fi it’s pretty reliable. They’re talking about getting some sort of booster towers that pick up cell and wi-fi signals and make better connections when you’re out and about. One of the biggest complaints tourists have.”

“Is there wi-fi in here?”

“Yep. Password’s ITDorms. One word. The I, T, and D are in caps.”

“Thanks.” Neil took out his phone and put in the password. As soon as it connected to the dormitory wi-fi it gave off a series of text notifications.

Kip laughed. “Somebody’s worried about you.”

Neil checked his messages. There were six from Jordan, one from his sister, and one from Neil’s parents. Neil let out a sigh. He realized he’d not thought about Jordan since he’d arrived on the island. Seeing his name was kind of a reality check.

“They’re from a friend back home and my family,” Neil said.

“A friend?”

“Long story,” Neil said, not wanting to go into detail. “I need to get going. Mr. Douglas said dinner was at six, and it’s nearly that now. I need to take a shower.”

“Too bad you’re in a hurry. I could use a hot shower myself.”

Neil smiled. “Now that’s a proposition I wouldn’t mind taking you up on—maybe later.”

Kip waggled his eyebrows, said that maybe he’d take Neil up on that invitation, waved goodbye, and left the room.

After Kip left, Neil opened Jordan’s messages. Each became increasingly concerned that he had not heard from Neil. Neil wrote back that he was sorry, made reference to the unreliable cell service, and assured Jordan he was all right.

Every message also contained some expression of how much Jordan missed Neil, even though they’d only said goodbye that morning. One even said Jordan was counting the days until Neil returned to him.

Neil sighed. He reminded himself this was only day one of their separation, and despite the fact that Neil seemed to have already forgotten about Jordan, it would take time for Jordan to let his feelings for Neil go. Or so Neil hoped.

After Neil responded to Jordan’s texts, he called his family to let them know all was well and got ready to go to dinner.

* * * *

Dinner with the Douglases was an interesting combination of pleasure and business. In addition to Neil and Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, the guests, as Mr. Douglas had promised, included Dr. Turner and his wife; Betsy Turelle, the other new vet; Leslie Fredericks, the tour coordinator; and Ron Sumpter, the stable manager. Rolf was not there. He’d given Mr. Douglas an excuse for not attending. Neil greeted this news with a mixture of disappointment and relief.

Neil learned quite a bit about the Island Tours operation and how the horses were cared for. Since horses were the backbone of the business, their care was of prime importance.

Neil was told that at the present time only about fifty horses were on the island. They had provided transportation and delivery services over the winter. Within a few days they would be transported to their summer homes on the mainland, and the horses that populated the island for the tourist season would begin arriving—all five hundred of them. They’d spent the winter relaxing on the mainland at various locations.

They would come in groups of ten to twenty, traveling in the lower level of the ferries. Their arrival was somewhat of a celebration. The full complement would not be on the island until late in June as that was when tourist traffic was at its peak.

Those horses that had arrived earliest would begin to be returned to winter quarters late in August as the tourism season began to wane. By late October the last of the summer herd would have left and been replaced by the winter horses, who’d had a leisurely summer on the mainland.

Neil was told that as the horse numbers swelled, so too would the staff population. Grooms, vehicle drivers, stable helpers, and staff for souvenir shops and concession stands would arrive in droves. And as with the horses, the huge staff would peak by mid-summer and slowly diminish as the tourist season drew to a close.

Dr. Turelle, who had the least experience with horses, would be assigned to the riding stables where the light horses were housed. Neil was informed he’d work with the drafts with Dr. Turner. All the vets took a rotation in the small animal clinic in town, which served the pets of residents as well as visitors. It was also staffed by a full-time vet tech. As if to punctuate the importance of the horses’ care, Mr. Douglas pointed out that there were three vets and only one regular medical doctor on the island.

By the end of the evening, Neil’s mind boggled at the complexity of the operation. Ron, the barn manager, had arranged a tour of the facilities for Betsy and Neil for the next morning. Neil hoped that would help to put some perspective on the operation and his place within it. Right now it seemed overwhelming.

He was somewhat surprised at his response to both Dr. Turner and Ron Sumpter. Both were handsome, mature men with above average builds and attractive salt and pepper hair. Dr. Turner had a beard. Neil had always noticed attractive men before, but somehow his responses now seemed to be heightened. Could it have something to do with stepping away from his relationship with Jordan? Jordan had always been there to meet his needs, so Neil had felt no pressure to look further for satisfaction.

And then there was Rolf, where it was not only physical attraction, but some indefinable response to the man that still puzzled Neil.

* * * *

Neil was still turning these thoughts over in his head when he arrived back at his room in the dormitory.

As he was turning the key in the lock, someone behind him said, “How’d it go this evening—y’all?”

He turned to see a smiling Kip walking down the hallway toward him. The man was wearing grey sweatpants and a white tee with the Island Tours logo, a silhouette of a covered surrey pulled by a high stepping horse. The fact that the sweats clung to a prominent bulge just below the waistband was not lost on Neil.

Hey,” Neil said in greeting.

“Saw you come up the walk through my window and thought you might like some company.”

Neil smiled. “Sure. Come on in.”

He finished unlocking his door and walked into the room. Kip followed.

“So, how did how’d things go?”

“It was a lot to take in,” Neil said as he took off the coat Rolf had brought him and hung it in the closet. “This is one big operation.”

Kip sat in the overstuffed chair, draping a leg over one of its arms.

Neil told him about the people who’d been there and the fact that Rolf had begged off.

“You’ll find they’re all really great to work with. Ron’s really great. He’s easy goin’ and fair. Leslie—well Leslie can be kind of a bitch. But coordinating schedules for drivers and horses is plenty stressful I guess. Don’t know Doc Turner very well, but I hear he’s a nice guy. I’m not surprised Rolf didn’t show. Like I told you before, he don’t socialize much. But talking about the staff—well, that’s not what I really came down here for.” Kip got up and walked toward Neil.

Neil felt a surge of arousal. From the time Kip had spent with him earlier, Neil had been hoping something like this would happen.

“What did you come for then?” Neil asked, knowing full well what it was.

Kip was now directly in front of Neil. “Oh, I don’t know—maybe this.” Kip reached out and began to fondle Neil through his pants.

Neil pressed himself into Kip’s hand. “And what made you think that’d be all right with me?”

“I was just hopin’,” Kip said, still massaging Neil’s cock to hardness. He gave Neil’s dick a firm squeeze. “But I guess this kinda shows I was right.”

“Okay, you’re right, but we need to talk first.”

“About?”

“About just what your intentions are.”

“Oh, all honorable I assure you,” Kip said, stepping back and raising his hands innocently.

Neil chuckled. “I mean, what are you looking for?”

“To get us all hot and bothered and have some good ole fashion man sex. Maybe get laid.” Kip winked then resumed his ministrations to Neil’s cock.

“No strings?” Neil asked, cocking his head.

“You got a problem with strings?” Kip asked back.

“Yeah, kinda.” Neil didn’t want to repeat the situation he’d created with Jordan by not being up front with Kip.

“Okay, no strings.”

“Good, cuz right now I’m not into strings,” Neil said.

“That’s fine, but you need to know I’m a serial monogamist.”

“A what?” Neil asked.

Kip chuckled. “A serial monogamist. I don’t sleep around. It’s one guy for as long as the sex is fun. Then, unless something more develops, we say it was great while it lasted and move on, sayonara, no regrets, and—no strings.”

“I like the way you think. Here’s to serial monogamy,” Neil said, pulling Kip against him. Neil kissed Kip, who parted his lips and let Neil’s tongue slip inside.

Kip wrapped his arms around Neil and ground his body against him. Neil’s arousal was intense. Kip was the first man he’d been with other than Jordan in years.

When they came up for air, Kip exclaimed, “Fuck! You Texas cowboys sure know how to kiss!”

“Yes, sir. And we know how to do this, too.” Neil knelt in front of Kip and pulled down the man’s sweats. That released Kip’s hard dick which snapped up and now stood rigid, pointing toward the ceiling. Neil wrapped his arms around Kip’s waist, exploring his firm buttocks as he slid Kip’s cock into his mouth and down his throat.

As Neil massaged Kip’s ass, Kip grabbed Neil’s head and pressed him firmly against his body while he began a rhythmic thrusting.

“God, yeah, suck that cock, cowboy. You’re good,” Kip moaned.

After a few minutes, Neil could tell Kip was getting close.

Kip backed off. “Want to save that for later,” Kip said, and pulled Neil to his feet.

They quickly undressed. Kip flopped down on the bed on his back. He opened his arms. Neil crawled onto the bed on top of Kip. They began to kiss and explore each other’s youthful, muscular bodies.

Kip was a slender young man, built like a swimmer. His red blond hair was cropped short. His torso was covered in short, soft hair of a similar but lighter shade.

Neil ran his hands over Kip’s body and fondled the man’s balls and stiff cock. The feel of a man’s body other than Jordan’s was intoxicating. Kip was so different from Jordan who was more heavily muscled and had a dense covering of black, wiry hair on his chest, legs, and ass.

That thought reminded him of his friend back home. For a moment, a wave of guilt swept over him. Neil quickly squelched it, reminding himself it was Jordan who had made more of their relationship than he. He’d made no commitment to Jordan. Jordan was his best friend with benefits, not his lover.

“Are you a top or bottom?”

Kip’s question brought Neil back. “Top mostly, I guess,” he said.

“Which do you wanna be tonight?” Kip asked with a wink. “I’m pretty versatile myself.”

“Top. But I don’t have any…”

“I do,” Kip said. “I was an Eagle Scout. We’re always prepared.”

Neil laughed. “Y’all were pretty well sure this is where we’d end up then, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, pretty sure. I got real good gaydar.”

Kip got up and fished a couple of condoms and a small tube of lube out of the pockets of his sweats.

Both men had softened somewhat during their conversation so they set to work getting back on track. Soon both were rock hard again, and Neil was loosening Kip with his fingers. Kip was groaning softly as Neil inserted his middle finger all the way and massaged Kip’s prostate.

“Ready when you are, cowboy. But don’t go wastin’ time with those skinny fingers. I want that big cock a yours in me,” Kip said, raising his legs.

Neil knelt over Kip and placed the man’s legs on his shoulders. Neil rolled a rubber on his cock and coated it with lube.

“Fuck me already!” Kip commanded.

Neil chuckled as he pressed against Kip’s hole. “Good things are worth waiting for.” He felt his cock slip inside. He held still for a moment, letting Kip adjust.

“Jesus, Neil! You’re gonna fuckin’ make those draft horses jealous. I knew you were big, But Jesus!”

Neil laughed. “Y’all ready?”

Kip nodded, and Neil began to thrust—each stroke going deeper into the recesses of Kip’s body.

“Holy sh…Yeah, right there. Oh man. Shit!” Kip said through clenched teeth every time the head of Neil’s cock grazed his prostate.

They were into a good rhythm. Neil was in no hurry to get to the finish line. Kip was smiling up at him mesmerized, with his eyes half-closed. He had reached out with both hands to massage Neil’s deeply muscled chest and nipples. He rotated his hips in time to Neil’s strokes.


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