Chapter 19

The following fictional narrative involves sexually-explicit erotic events between men.  If you shouldn't be reading this, please move on.

In the world of this story, the characters don't always use condoms.  In the real world, you should care enough about yourself and others to always practice safe sex.

The author retains all rights.  No reproductions or links to other sites are allowed without the author's consent.  

The town of Stafford, the Sunrise Arts Center, and the characters in this story are fictitious.

Special thanks to Mickey S. and Drew Hunt for their helpful advice throughout the writing of this series.


On the Saturday after New Year's, Judd and I went to a matinee at the mall.  After seeing some totally forgettable flick, we decided to go to McDonald's for burgers and fries.

Just as we were fastening up our coats, getting ready to make a dash for Judd's car, we heard someone hiss, "Faggots!"  

We turned together to see who'd said it.  Three girls about our age or a little younger were walking into the mall.  They'd passed us coming in as we were getting ready to go out.  

"Who were those bitches?" Judd asked.

"I don't have a clue," I said.

We went on to Mickey D's.  After we'd gotten to a table with our stuff, Judd asked me, "What do you suppose brought that on?"

"You mean those girls?"


"I suppose it was bound to happen, babe.  I've never officially come out at school, but a lot of people must suspect the truth.  So when they see us together so much, I guess they're just putting two and two together.  But, Judd, I'm so sorry!  There will probably be more of this shit, and that's gonna make it tough for you."

"So, let `em talk!  I'm not gonna give up beingg with you because of some people's attitudes."

"Well, maybe you should think about that a bit.  Your soccer friends might really give you a hard time if it gets around school that we're a couple.  Do you want to avoid being seen with me at school?  Around town?  I'd hate it, but I'd understand.  Maybe we could just get together at your house or mine and try not to be seen together in public."

Judd put down his Big Mac with cheese.  Then he looked at me with those incredible blue eyes.  "Are you trying to get rid of me, Lefever?"

"How can you even ask that?"

He grinned, and I almost melted when I saw the crinkles around his eyes.  "So let the bastards or bitches talk.  Graduation's in a few months, and then it's college.  I'm not about to go into hiding because of some nasty talk."

Judd took me back to my place.  We went into the family room and sat and watched tv with my parents for a while.  They asked how we'd liked the movie, and we both said it was pretty disappointing.  Then my dad asked if we were sad that school started on Monday.

"Not me, Dr. Levefre," Judd said.  "I'm looking forward to it.  I'm taking an AP course in psychology with Mr. Young, and another one in English with Mr. Cummings.  And, after all, it's our last semester in high school."

"Good for you, Judson," my father said.  "I'm happy that you like your courses.  Have you thought about which university you want to attend?"  Or what you will major in?"

"No, sir, I'm not sure about any of that yet.  I do know that I want to go to the same university as Louis.  And he should be in the best art program in the state.  I'll go anywhere he goes, as long as I can get in."

"But you'll want to play soccer, ba--, uh, Judd.  So we'll want to go somewhere you can do that."

My mother smiled.  "I think it's very good that you young men want to go to a university together.  I'm sure you can find somewhere that will be good for both of you.  But you need to arouse yourselves and find which universities will be best for the two of you."

I looked at Judd and grinned when she said "arouse yourselves," and he grinned back at me.  

"You're right, Mrs. Lefevre, we should."

I stood up then and said, "I think we'll go upstairs for a while.  Thanks for your advice." I gave Maman a kiss on the cheek and then waved at Papa.

On Wednesday morning, everyone was talking about a letter that had been written to the op/ed section of the Stafford Sentinel.  Some homophobe signing himself "Revolted" had held forth at length about the "fact" that gays were taking over the city of Stafford.  He'd said that the high school was full of perverts, both on the faculty and in the student body.  He mentioned that Sunrise was a "hotbed of faggotry." He said that several "queers and dykes" were dancing with each other at a recent party held in a local church, of all places, and suggested that the legal community in town had more than its share of queers as well.

During the changing of classes, I got some interesting looks, and I heard a few muttered comments as I walked through the halls.  I was eager to see Judd at lunch to find out whether anything like that had happened to him.

After I had gone through the lunch line, I found Judd sitting in our usual place.  With him were Christie and Shondra, a couple of girls I'd had a lot of art classes with.  They wanted to talk about the letter in the paper and what we thought of it.  I was pretty uncomfortable.  They'd just assumed Judd and I were boyfriends, and I didn't think we needed to admit that to those girls.

But Judd announced with some anger in his voice that he was pissed at the article.  He said Mr. Cummings had made copies of it for everyone in his English class that morning and asked them to write a brief essay reacting to it for the next day.  By the time he got through with what he was saying, it was probably clear to the girls that he was gay-friendly if not actually gay.  In our town, a lot of people assumed you weren't gay friendly unless you were gay.

Christie said, "Well, I think it sucks when guys like you can't be boyfriends without other people getting all bent out of shape over it."

I nearly choked on my pizza, but Judd merely said, "Damned Straight!"  The girls both went into gales of laughter at that.  I merely looked in amazement at my lover who had just outed us to Shondra and Christie.

There were more surprises in store.

As we were eating and bullshitting with the girls, a couple of Judd's soccer buddies came over.  Chuck Blodgett and Will Simpson were carrying their trays.  They didn't offer to sit down, but Will said, "Guys, we just want you to know that if there's trouble, we've got your backs."  Chuck nodded and said, "Let us know if anybody gives you any shit."  Then they walked over to where most of the rest of the soccer team was sitting, including the Albright cousins.

The girls seemed blown away by that little scene.  "Jesus!  Those two jocks know you're gay and are cool with it!  They actually offered backup if you needed it!  How cool is that!" Shondra exclaimed.

"Yeah, that's pretty decent of them, isn't it?" Judd said, grinning at me.

"Ya know," Christie said, "somebody ought to start a Gay/Straight Alliance chapter here at good ole Stafford High.  Seems to me we need something like that."

After school Judd and I went to our respective homes and did our assignments.  He had that paper to write for his English class, and I had a lot of history to read.  After dinner, I jumped in my black beauty and went to his place.  He was waiting at the front door.

"My folks want to talk to us, babe."


"They've seen the letter in this morning's Sentinel."

Nervously, I followed my guy into the family room.

"Boys, please sit down," Mr. Thomas said.  When we had, he continued, "We've read the letter in the paper this morning.  Judd says you've both seen it."

"Yes, sir.  Everybody at school was talking about it.  Judd told me his English teacher, Mr. Cummings, handed out copies and they were supposed to write a reaction to the letter."

"Judson, have you written your essay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good.  What we're concerned about," he continued, looking over at his wife, "is your safety.  A homophobe like this could stir up a lot of trouble.  We don't want you two being the targets of their bigotry."

"Dad, I don't really think there's going to be any trouble at school."

"Does everyone at school know you two are, what, boyfriends?"

I grinned. "After today they will, and most of our friends knew anyway."

"What do you mean, `after today'?"

"Well, I think Judd practically outed us at lunch today to a couple of girls.  And two of his soccer buddies came over at lunch and told us they were with us if there was any trouble.  It seems like word is getting around."

"This really scares me," Judd's mother said.  "Please promise me you'll both be careful.  Do you think it might be smart for you two to stay away from each other until you see what's going to come of this letter?"

"Motherrrr, no way!" Judd said.  "I'm not gonna let some up-tight jerk keep me from being with Louis.  Besides, this will probably all blow over."

"Yes, dear," Mr. Thomas said, "let's not over react.  But boys, I agree with Sheila.  You've got to promise us to be careful.  Best not to be anywhere unsafe after dark.  Keep your eyes open, okay?"

"Sure, dad."

"Yes, sir."

Downstairs in Judd's room after I'd kept him on edge until he begged me to finish him off and then he'd done the same with me, we were lying naked.  Judd had his arms around me and I was nuzzling his ear.  

"You know, Louis, Christie may be right.  A club for gay and straight people at SHS might be just what we need."

"Ya think?"

"Uh huh.  I wonder if Mr. Cummings would be willing to help get one set up?  Do you know any other gay teachers?"

"Nope.  That is, none that are out.  But if my gaydar is worth anything at all, there is at least one more."

"Who's that?"

"Stuart Blount."

"That big hunk?  I thought he was married."

"He was, but his wife died"

"Didn't you just tell me you thought he was gay?"

"Yep.  He doesn't act gay, but neither do you.  I just get this vibe.  And he was with Whitney on New Year's Eve."

"I know they were both there.  You mean they were there like on a date?"

"What else?  They left together.  I'll bet those two got it on to celebrate the occasion."

He grinned.  "Now there's a picture.  Li'l ole Whitney and big ole Mr. Blount.  I wonder who's the top?"

I licked Judd's ear, and he twitched.  "It might not have been the way you think, babe."

"Ya think Whitney's a top?"

I just smiled.

"Well, then, If you're right about Mr. Blount being gay, maybe he would help Mr. Cummings get a gay/straight club organized.

"Could happen, I guess."


Burke called me a day or two after he'd gotten home from the hospital.  He said it was tense around his house because of Marcy.  When the kids were around she was pretty much like her old self, and she seemed determined to see that Burke got all the attention he needed.  But when it was just the two of them, she wouldn't speak to him.  
Fearing she thought the worst about the evening he'd spent with me, the evening before he was taken to the ER, he'd tried to tell her that all we did was have some drinks together, eat, and talk.  But she wouldn't even listen to his explanations, saying that of course he'd lie and that she didn't think she could ever trust him again.

"But Burke, you were honest with her about our being boyfriends in high school.  And you didn't have to tell her that.  How can she accuse you of lying to her?"

"Oh, she says I should have told her that before we were married, that I've been living a lie all our married life.  And you know, Jon, she's right.  I have loved Marcy, and I am crazy about the kids and the grandkids.  But maybe marrying her was wrong.  Or at least not telling her about my gay past was wrong."

"Well, my friend, a lot of gay men our age did the same thing back then.  I'm certainly not going to tell you what you should have done.  And I suspect you and Marcy have had many happy times together, haven't you?"

"Yeah.  I learned to keep my gay urges squelched most of the time, and as I've told you, I was never unfaithful to her sexually.  Oh, I've had my fantasies, with you the star of a lot of them, I might add, but that never translated into actual infidelity."

"So what happens next?"

"I'm going to Charlotte and spend a week with my daughter and her kids.  Ray, Cindi's husband, has to work, of course, and the kids will be in school.  So Cindi and I can do some bonding, I can get some reading done.  She says she'll take me to a mall where I can walk, as the quacks say I must.  And it will give Marcy and me some welcome time apart."

"You'll be in my prayers, Burke.  Enjoy your visit with Cindi and her family.  Does she know about any of this?"

"Well, she knows that her mother is acting strange, but she doesn't know why.  At least she isn't sure, though I think she may have guessed some of it.  I'm going to tell her the whole story, I think."

"That's a tough call.  It might be better if she never knew.  On the other hand, if she finds out anyway and you haven't told her yourself, she'll really be hurt."

"Yeah.  I think in this case I'm gonna opt for the truth.  Cindi's a good woman, Jon, living in the twenty-first century.  I think she'll be all right with it."

"Good luck.  Please get in touch when you get back to Stafford.  Frank and I would like to see you."

"Will do.  Give my best to Frank."

On Wednesday of the first full week of the New Year, after Frank had been given a hug and a kiss and gone off to work, I had another cup of coffee and read the Sentinel, my usual routine.  My habit was to read the front page articles, then the editorials, including the op/ed page.  That's when I found "the letter" that was to cause so much talk around town.  Whoever had written it was pretty well informed.  Whitney had been a fairly high-profile guy since coming to town, and he'd made it clear from the beginning that he was gay.  His private life was quiet, however.  If he was having sex with anyone, it certainly wasn't common knowledge.  So it was a bit of a stretch to say that Sunrise was "a hotbed of faggotry."  Surely the letter-writer couldn't know about me.  And who else was there?  The bookkeeper and the publicist were both women, and I was pretty sure both of them were straight.

I knew there had been a dance for the teen crowd at Holy Trinity on New Year's Eve, so I supposed that was the one the writer referred to.  But how many gay couples could there have been at that function, and how had they behaved?  I assumed the event was carefully chaperoned.  

At any rate, I was worried.  This was a bigot armed with some information and lots of suspicions, and he or she could cause a lot of trouble.  I got a headache thinking of the trouble that could be stirred up, in fact.  Things had been so pleasant since I came back to Stafford, and now it looked as if they could turn nasty.

When Frank got to my house that evening, we discussed the letter.  He told me he'd talked about it in all of his classes, and he knew that many of the other teachers had done so as well.  He said his AP class was required to write an essay in reaction to the letter for the next day.

Later on, after drinks and dinner, we were having apple pie and ice cream.  


He looked at me and smiled.  The smile made my breath catch for a moment.  I realized just then how much I loved this sweet, smart, gentle, loving man.

"Yeah babe?"

"Damn!  I can't remember what I was going to ask you."  For a moment I had indeed forgotten.

"Well, think of something else and it will come back to you."

"It was thinking of something else that made me forget it."

He looked puzzled.  

"Yeah, it was thinking about how great you look and how much I love you that drove it out of my mind."

He stood up, kissed the top of my head, took our empty plates to the sink, and rinsed them.  Then he put them in the dishwasher.  I poured more coffee into our mugs and handed him one.

"When you say things like that, Jon, I can hardly believe how lucky I am.  I had given up hoping I'd find someone like you."

We sat on the sofa, side by side.  I put my coffee mug on the coffee table, took his and put it there, too, and then put my arms around him.  "I love you, Frank."

"How can anyone say what we have is wrong?"

"That's it!"

He jumped.  "What's it?"

"I'm sorry, babe.  You just reminded me what I wanted to ask you in the kitchen."

"Well, that sort of ruins the mood, but what is it?"

"Do you think it would help to start a club for gay and straight students at the high school?  Most colleges and universities have them, and some high schools do."

"I dunno.  This is Stafford, you know.  And I don't think there are many high schools in the state that have gay/straight groups.  It would be an uphill battle."

"Well, I think I know a guy who's retiring soon and doesn't have too much to lose who might spearhead the effort."

He was quiet for a while.  I just held him and enjoyed the smell of his hair.

"I'd thought maybe I'd just go out quietly.  But dammit, Jon, I'm a Rogerian.  We need to build bridges of understanding any way we can.  And I think a chapter of the Gay/Straight Alliance would help tremendously at the high school.  If we can combat ignorance and prejudice there, we'll have a better community in the future."

"Atta boy!"

"I think I'll talk quietly to some of my colleagues.  I'm not sure whether Cal Timmons, our principal, will have the guts to approve something like that or not, but if there's enough support from the faculty and student body, he might just go along."

"Let me know if there's anything I can do, tiger."

I wanted to get up close and personal with my man, but he had work to do for the next day's classes, so that had to be postponed until bedtime.


What a week!  

As I pulled into the Sunrise parking lot for the second time on that snowy Wednesday, I realized I was dreading hearing from Stuart.  I'd decided I'd have to tell him the truth.  At least I would tell him I'd had dinner with Chave, had a lot to drink, and that Chave had persuaded me to sleep no, bad word! stay over with him because of the weather.  I certainly didn't plan to tell him about the sex Chave and I had shared.

As it turned out, Stuart didn't call me on his lunch break as I had expected he would.  

I had work to do in the office, but the first thing I did was to read the letter to the editor in the Sentinel, the one Jean had told me about earlier.  Irate homophobes write letters like that all the time, and this wasn't much more than run of the mill.  Except.  Except that the writer seemed well informed.  How did he know about the gay and lesbian couples at the Holy Trinity New Year's Eve dance?  And he commented about gays in the legal community?  I didn't know many local lawyers except for a couple who were either Alliance Board members or who were regular contributors to the Alliance.  And Chave, of course, but I didn't think he was known around town to be gay.

And then there was the writer's comment that Sunrise was a "hotbed of faggotry."  That claim could make a lot of trouble for both the center and for me.  A hotbed?  Hardly.  Of course everyone knew I was gay.  I'd made a point of their knowing.  But who else?  Well, Jon, but how many people about town knew he was gay?  I suppose because he was seen often with Frank, who was also quietly out, people would put one and one together, so to speak.  But the letter writer would have to know that Jon was a volunteer at Sunrise.  And that was all.

Oh, well, there was Jerome, but no one knew he was gay, surely.  

I sighed and put the paper down.  The phone rang.  I was afraid it was Stuart.  It was worse.  It was the chairman of the Alliance Board wanting to know what I was going to do about the assertion in that morning's letter.

That evening, when Stuart still hadn't called, I decided I'd better call him.  After I'd had my dinner (I heated up some canned soup, not having much appetite), I used the memory dial.


"Stuart, Whitney."

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.  You?"

"I'm okay.  But I'm not the one who dropped off the radar screen for twenty-four hours."

I didn't know whether to be annoyed that he seemed concerned, grateful for his concern, or guilty because I'd slept with Chave.  Maybe all of the above.

"Jean told me you'd called this morning.  I'm sorry we've been out of contact."

"Well," he said, "it's good to know you're all right.  I suppose it's none of my business, but I can't help wondering where you were."  Something about his voice sounded tense, but I wasn't sure whether he was miffed or merely concerned.

My first reaction was that it really wasn't any of his business, but then I knew that was wrong.  Stuart was my best friend.  I'd come to care for him, and we'd been having wonderful sex regularly.  Of course it was his business when he couldn't reach me overnight and all the next morning.

"Look, I'm sorry if you were worried.  But I'd like to explain in person instead of on the phone."

"Uh oh, that sounds ominous.  Why can't you just tell me?"

"I'm eager to see you, for one thing.  And I'd just rather be with you when I tell you."

"This is sounding worse and worse, Whitney.  Maybe you'd better not say anything more."

"Stuart, please."  God, I sounded as if I were whining!  "Can't we just get together?  I could come over.  Or you could come here."

"Not tonight.  I've got too much to do."  I knew that.  He'd told me how busy he'd be that week.  That's why we hadn't planned to get together until the weekend.  But I sensed that he was using being busy as an excuse not to see me.  As if I'd hurt him.  

"Well then, how about tomorrow?"

"Look, Whitney, we'd already agreed not to get together until the weekend.  I do have lots to do tonight and tomorrow night.  We'd planned to see each other on Friday evening, and I suppose we can still do that."

He supposed.  I guess I'd have to live with that.  "Okay."

"But, look we don't have, uh, I mean, we aren't . . ."


"I think maybe I've been assuming more about us than I should have."

"Stuart, please!  It's not like that.  I want you to know what happened.  I want to get this whole thing cleared up, to put it behind us.  Would you come here for dinner Friday, please?"

"Behind us?  I don't like the sound of that.  Maybe we'd better just "

I was practically groveling on the phone.  Why would I do that?  Because my feelings for Stuart were stronger than I'd realized?

"No. I know what you're going to say, and that won't work.  Be here for dinner, Stuart.  And plan to spend the night."

"The night, huh?  Well, whatever it was, I guess it couldn't be too bad.  Okay, I'll see you about 5:30.  Can I bring anything?"

My body un-tensed.  I could almost hear him smiling. Maybe I hadn't fucked up too royally after all.

"Just your sexy self."

"Okay, little stud.  See you Friday."

I knew I wouldn't have time to fix anything that took a long time for Friday's dinner with Stuart, so I planned veal marsala, rice, and asparagus.  I got some Cherry Garcia ice cream and planned to put hot fudge sauce on it for dessert.

I normally stayed until Sunrise's closing time at 5:00 to help with the locking up, but Jean shooed me out a little early, saying that she and Jerome could manage fine without me.  Sometimes I worried that with the two of them there, Sunrise could manage without me most of the time.

I got home a little after 5:00.  I'd no more than come into the house from the garage than the doorbell rang.  It wasn't time for Stuart to be there yet, so I was curious as I went to the front door.

It was the UPS man, a cute hunk about my age with sandy hair and beard and blue eyes.  
He handed me a package and asked me to sign for it.  There was no return address on the box.  I hadn't ordered anything, so I was puzzled.  But I didn't have time then to open it, as I wanted to get things started for dinner.

The doorbell rang again at 5:33.  Stuart came in, his cheeks red with the cold.  He was wearing a leather bomber jacket which I took and hung in the closet.  Then I pulled him to me for a hug and a kiss.  Putting his hands under my butt, he picked me up and swung me around as he kissed me. I wrapped my legs around him.  As our groins were pressed together, I felt myself getting hard.  Damn, he tasted good!  And felt good!

He was wearing a blue oxford dress shirt open at the collar, navy corduroy jeans, work boots and white socks.  And he had on the chain and medallion I'd made for him.  Lordy, he looked hot!

"You look fantastic!  I've missed you."

He grinned.  "Yeah, I've missed you, too."

Apparently the 48 hours since we'd talked on the phone had allowed him to relax, to get over his pique about my overnight disappearance.  

I poured us some red wine and set out a plate of jarlsberg and crackers.  We talked about nothing in particular for a while.  Then I went to the kitchen to start the rice and the veal.  Stuart broke up the asparagus spears and prepared them for steaming while I worked on the other things.

Finally, we had everything ready and took it to the table.  The dinner conversation was mostly about the letter in the paper and the reaction it had caused around town.  Stuart told me that Frank Cummings had asked him to help organize a chapter of the Gay/Straight Alliance at the high school.

"Are you going to do it?"

"Sure.  I think we really need a group like that.  It might help mitigate some of the damage done by that stupid letter and other things that are going on."

"Other things?"

"Uh huh.  Several of the lesbian and gay students have been getting nasty comments or have been the victims of name-calling.  I mean, you can expect some of that.  It's bound to happen.  But I gather things have gotten worse recently."

"What are your chances of starting such a group at Stafford High?"

"Depends on the principal and the school board.  And that may depend on how much support we get in the community."

"Well, you know you can count on me for anything I can do, but I don't imagine it's from the out gays that you need support."

"Yeah, we need to find some straight people with clout to get behind the effort."

"Well, best of luck.  And let me know if there is any way you think I can be helpful.

After dinner we took snifters of brandy with us to the living room.  In front of the fire, our sock feet on the coffee table, Stuart said, "I hate to bring this up, but you did say you wanted to tell me where you disappeared to Tuesday night."

To that point it had been a great evening.  Things had seemed normal between us.  We were relaxed, comfortable together.  We'd worked in the kitchen, enjoyed our meal, just like always.  But when he brought up "the problem" I tensed up.  I took a bigger swallow of my brandy than I planned to, coughed, and set the brandy down.

"I was with Chave MacPherson.  Do you know him?"

"Not really, but I know who he is.  I think I've seen him at a reception at Sunrise.  Didn't you tell me he'd commissioned you to do a piece for him?"

So far, so good.  

"Yes.  I worked on that piece and got it finished during the holidays.  I phoned his office on Monday to ask when I might deliver it, but he wasn't available.  He didn't call back until Tuesday afternoon, at which time he suggested I bring it over right then.  You remember what the weather was like Tuesday?"

"Uh huh."

"When I got there, Chave offered me a drink while he unwrapped the glass piece.  Then he said it was nasty outside, and asked me to stay for dinner.  I confess I had an agenda for the evening.  I've been planning all fall to ask him to serve on the Alliance Board, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  You know, don't you, that schmoozing prominent citizens is part of my job?"

His eyes narrowed.  He swirled the brandy around in the snifter and then took a sip.

"I hadn't thought of that, but I suppose it would be."  He paused.  "I wouldn't like that."

"It's not one of my favorite parts of the job either.  I didn't have to do anything like that when I was teaching.  But several people have urged me to try to recruit Chave to serve on our Board of Directors, and I do think he'd be an asset."

Stuart was staring at the fire, but he nodded to show he was listening.  I'm not sure he was agreeing, but he was listening.  I continued.

"As I told you, when I got there he offered me Jack Daniels to warm me up.  He was very enthusiastic about the glass piece.  We had another drink after that.  We had wine with the meal.  By the time we'd finished dinner and dessert and after-dinner brandy, I'd had a lot to drink.  I didn't think I was drunk at the time, but I had a nice buzz on.  Chave, on the other hand, said I'd had too much to drive, especially in the snowy weather, and he insisted I spend the night."

He took a sip of his brandy and then, still staring at the fireplace, said, "Yeah, right.  He was concerned with your welfare."

"Actually, he pointed out, being a lawyer, that, having given me too much to drink, he was responsible if I were to drive and have an accident."

I was trying to read Stu's body language.  He squinted his eyes for a moment and then said, "Well, I suppose he had a point.  But is that all there was to it?  You bunked down on his sofa, I suppose."

"No, Stuart.  He came on to me.  And we slept together."

"That's a euphemism for having sex, right?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid it is."

Stuart put down his brandy unfinished.  He turned and looked me in the eyes.  "Look, Whitney, I realize you and I haven't verbalized any sort of commitment.  I guess I was stupid to think that we had some sort of understanding.  But that's my own fault for jumping to conclusions.  Of course you were free to sleep with MacPherson."

He was right.  We had never actually said anything about being monogamous.  But I knew damned well we were moving in that direction.  So trying to justify sleeping with Chave on the grounds that Stuart and I hadn't committed to each other was merely a rationalization.  I'd been unfaithful to the spirit if not the letter of our relationship.  And I'd known that from the moment I'd done it.  

Before I could say anything, however, he went to the closet, got out his coat and put it on.  Just before he left he said, "I wonder.  Did you sleep with him because he'd given you a nice commission and then agreed to serve on your Board?  If that's the case, maybe you should ask yourself if you're any better than those brothers you despise so much."  

He opened the door.  "Thanks for dinner."

"Stuart, please, it's not that way."

"Isn't it?  Think about it Whitney.  It seems to me it's exactly that way.  Unless of course you liked it.  The sex with MacPherson, I mean."

God help me, I had liked it.  What did that say about me?  I reached toward Stuart, wanting to justify what I'd done, to explain, to ask his forgiveness, but he turned from me and left.

I poured myself another brandy and sat, staring into the fire.  What had I become?  I had another drink, and another.  I realized I'd totally fucked things up with Stuart.  He was pissed, and he had every right to be.  The question was, what did I want to happen now?  Was it Stuart I wanted?  Chave?  Neither?  I was too confused, maybe too drunk, to know.

About midnight I struggled to the bedroom, got out of my clothes, peed, and fell into bed.  It was 10:00 the next morning before I woke up.  And I had a screaming headache.

When I stumbled downstairs to make some coffee, I saw the UPS parcel sitting on the hall table.  I took it to the sofa, sat, and opened it.  Inside was a small Lalique bowl.  The card said, "Whitney, this is for your crystal collection.  Your secret admirer."

To be continued.