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.
As I said at the beginning, this story would never have been written without Evan Bradley's encouragement. It was he who suggested a story with an arts center setting and kept after me until I actually began writing it. Thanks, Evan!
Thanks again to Jeff and Ben for advice and information along the way.
And then there are Mickey S. and Drew Hunt, who have provided encouragement and all sorts of advice and help throughout the writing of this series. Imagine having two fine writers who act as your muses and editors. What a combination! Thanks, guys. Love you!
* * *
Since Jean began this story, it seems appropriate to let her have the final word.
I'm writing this on a Monday morning in mid-June. It's been just about a year since Whitney became the new director of Sunrise. He's taking today off so he and Stuart can pack. They're leaving tomorrow for a two-week museum tour of Italy.
Those two had a fabulously successful exhibit of their works in May and the first week in June. Billed as "Two Stafford Artists," it drew lots of people as well as getting excellent reviews not only in the Sentinel but also in papers from as far away as Charlotte.
The only thing that marred the joint exhibition was that Whitney's brother, Fenton, dropped in unexpectedly. He said he'd been in Knoxville on business and had heard (though goodness knows how, since I'm sure Whitney never told him) about the exhibit and thought he'd stop by and take a look at it.
I had figured out that Fenton Pell and his brother, Collier, were not among the boss's favorite people, so I paid close attention to see if I could understand why. He reminded me a little of Chave MacPherson. In his Armani suit, with his $100 haircut and his handmade shoes, he looked like something from GQ, or an older version of that. He must be about 40, I'd say. You could tell he and Whitney are brothers. He's a few inches taller than Whitney, but he has the same square face, blue eyes and blond hair. He seemed to know he was handsome. And he gave the impression that he was used to getting whatever he wanted. I think he could turn on the charm when he wanted to, but he apparently didn't think I was worth the trouble.
Whitney was out of the building when Fenton came into the office. He introduced himself and asked about his brother. When I told him the boss was at a meeting across town, he smiled and said that wasn't a problem, he really just wanted to see the display of Whitney's works.
He actually asked me, "Where do you have his stuff?"
I took him to the main gallery.
"The glass things are Whit's, I suppose? Who did all those little bitty pictures?"
"Those are by Stuart Blount, another Stafford artist."
"I don't suppose they're worth much, being so little. He must be a queer like Whitney if he does such delicate little things."
I was about to say something, but then I remembered this was Whitney's brother.
"That glass stuff is really what my brother does? And they call it art?"
"Yes, Mr. Pell, they certainly do."
"I suppose here in Stafford, he can get away with that."
Again, I bit my tongue.
"Tell Whit Fenton said `hi' when he comes back."
He nodded at me dismissively, so I left. Rheba, on the reception desk, told me he looked around for another five minutes or so before putting twenty dollars in the contribution box and leaving.
A much happier event, not only for me but for many friends of Sunrise, took place this past Saturday. It was the commitment ceremony of Jon Baker and Frank Cummings, held at the gazebo on the grounds of "Sunrise," with a reception in the main gallery afterward.
For an outdoor event the weather is crucial, and we had a perfect Carolina June day, with cloudless skies, a light breeze, and a high of 76 degrees. Just perfect so the men wouldn't be sweaty in their jackets. And we women knew enough to bring something for our arms if we wore sleeveless dresses. The breeze caused a little problem for those of us in "picture" hats, but we managed.
As soon as Jon had told me about the event, I'd wanted to know what they were wearing. He said he and Frank had decided not to do anything silly like white suits. They wanted to keep things fairly informal, so they weren't wearing daytime formal wear, and he said he would certainly never do anything as gauche as wearing a tuxedo in the daytime. So, they had decided that all the men in the party would wear navy blazers and gray trousers. He and Frank wore gold ties, while the others wore ties of a silver grey. Oh, and they all wore yellow roses on their lapels.
Whitney was Jon's groomsman and Stuart was Frank's. I noticed that Whitney had bought a new blazer, a good one. I'd been after him to do that because I think he'd had the other one since college. The ushers were Louis Lefevre and his friend Judd Thomas. I have to say when those guys were all getting their pictures taken afterward, they were six great-looking pieces of male flesh. The two grooms were handsome, elegant, and distinguished. Whitney and Stuart were just plain gorgeous men. Very different, but both sexy as could be. And the boys were adorable.
Father Gary from Holy Trinity conducted the service. I suppose it's not accurate to say he officiated since this was a ceremony not sanctioned by his church. He kept it as close to the marriage liturgy in their prayer book as he could, he told me later, but there were certain things he couldn't do, like have a Eucharist or use the words marriage or matrimony.
One of the high points of the ceremony was when Jerome, who has a beautiful bass-baritone voice, sang. He was dressed like the other men in the party. I knew he and Father Gary had become pretty close friends, but I wondered if his singing at this affair meant he was coming out. What he sang was a song my mother used to love, very old fashioned. He said Frank had requested it because his mother loved it. It's called "Because God Made Thee Mine." I asked him for a copy of the lyrics:
Because you come to me with naught save love
And hold my hand and lift mine eyes above,
A wider world of hope and joy I see
Because you come to me.
Because you speak to me in accents sweet
I find the roses waking round my feet
And I am led through tears and joy to thee
Because you speak to me.
Because God made thee mine, I'll cherish thee
Through light and darkness through all time to be
And pray His love may make our love divine,
Because God made thee, Mine.
There were two fifty-something men, good-looking both of them, sitting near me. While Jerome was singing, I saw them look at each other and smile, both with tears in their eyes. Jonathan introduced them to me later as Stanley Mason and Douglas Curtis, friends of his who'd come up from Florida for the occasion.
At the end of the service, Father Gary presented the two partners to the assembled guests, and they kissed, not too chastely, as we applauded. A group of high school kids stood up and cheered.
There must have been about seventy-five people at the ceremony. I think a few more showed up for the reception. It was not a sit-down dinner, but there were enough hot and cold hors d'oeuvres to satisfy even my Ralph, plus an open bar. Oh, and a wedding cake with two grooms on top. Jon and Frank cut the cake together, but they didn't feed each other a piece. I think at their age they thought it might be undignified. A number of people from the Arts Alliance were there, along with some people I was told were members of Holy Trinity. I wasn't surprised to see about fifteen high school age kids, for I knew Frank had been a popular teacher. The way they were loading up on the food, I was glad we'd ordered lots.
Chave MacPherson was there with a big, tall, square-shouldered man who wore his hair cut like a Marine. I noticed that Chave now had a very short haircut, too. The body language made it clear those two were a couple. The big guy was definitely not the sort I'd have expected Chave to be with. You just never know, do you?
Ben Ferris, the editor in chief of the Sentinel, and his wife were there. Asa Dean, the new managing editor, was also there and he appeared to have a date. At least they sat together and seemed inseparable at the reception. The new friend was several inches taller than Asa. He had a boyish looking face with sexy blue eyes which seemed to sparkle when they looked at his friend. He was introduced to me as Seth Morgan, a nurse at the local hospital. I was so glad Asa had found somebody, because that boy always looked lost to me, as if he needed someone to look after him. From the glances that passed between those two, I'd say he'd found what he needed.
I also noticed Burke Davis. I wondered why he was there alone. He and his wife had been generous supporters of Sunrise and the Alliance as long as I'd been there. She was something else. She called me Jean. I knew better than to call her anything except Mrs. Davis. I'd heard rumors that things weren't going too well between them, but I figured she wouldn't pass up a chance to see and be seen. Unless, of course, it was because this was a gay "wedding." At any rate, Burke was all smiles and charm when he was talking with people, but he looked sad and preoccupied when he didn't think anyone was looking. The expression "alone in a crowd" certainly seemed appropriate to describe him at that point. I really felt sorry for him, even if I didn't know what was bothering him.
As I sat there in the June sunshine, I thought what a year it had been since Whitney arrived. Sunrise and the Arts Alliance were flourishing. Whitney hadn't had any say in the musical performers that had been scheduled for the past year nor, except for his and Stuart's show, the exhibitions in our various galleries. For the coming year, though, things were going to be different. Everything was going to be a little edgier. The artists chosen did things that weren't going to be so "comfortable" for the patrons. The same could be said for the concerts booked. A pair of Israeli percussionists who called themselves PercaDu were starting the fall season. I'd seen pictures of them, and Whitney had one of their cd's. Three young string players from Baltimore who played everything from Blue Grass to Brahms were coming early in the new year. George, my former boss, would never have booked either of them. He'd have been afraid of offending the Mozart to Tchaikovsky crowd.
Louis and Judd were both going to help with the younger kids at our summer Art Camp. I think Whitney had convinced them to behave themselves while the kids were around. They were both going off to Chapel Hill in the fall, where they had taken an apartment together.
Frank told me at the reception that he was selling his condo and moving in with Jonathan. He said there was no nicer place than western North Carolina in the summer, so except for a brief honeymoon, they weren't doing any traveling until fall, but they were going to Lake Polk, Florida in November to visit Stanley and Douglas, and they might even take a Caribbean cruise at Christmas time. Oh, and Frank told me he was available to work on the reception desk half days, starting as soon as they got back from the honeymoon. I asked him to be sure to call me when he was ready. During the summer so many of our volunteers are away that we have to scrabble to keep the desk staffed, and Frank will be a welcome addition.
The biggest change at Sunrise was that Jerome was leaving. He came in the office one morning and hugged me. Then he said he wanted me to be the first to know, even before he'd told Whitney. He had an associate's degree from the local community college. He said both Father Gary and Whitney had been urging him to go on for his bachelor's, and he'd decided to do just that. He wanted to major in social work and be involved with kids after he had the degree. He told me he'd continue to work at Sunrise for the rest of the summer, but that in September he was going to start at Appalachian State. When I told him how much we were going to miss him, he said he'd be home to check on his mother every weekend. I made him promise to call me so he and his mama could come to dinner sometimes. He didn't say so, but I was pretty sure he'd be spending a lot of time with Father Gary on those weekends when he came back to Stafford. Anyway, Sunrise would be a different place without our sweet Jerome.
* * *
During a lull one afternoon a couple of weeks before Jon and Frank's ceremony, I had gone into Whitney's office to give him some letters to sign. He thanked me and grabbed his pen.
"Hey, boss, are you going to let your pony tail down for the upcoming wedding?
He blushed. "I asked Stuart if I should. He said not to because this was Jon and Frank's show and wearing my hair down would attract too much attention to me."
"I loved it when you wore it down at the Gala. But I can see what Stuart means. Tell me to butt out if you want, but you seem a lot calmer and happier these days. Is it because you've finally realized how much you need Stuart?"
He laughed. "This, coming from the person who predicted I'd sleep with Chave MacPherson?"
"I was right, too, wasn't I?"
"I've never admitted that, you evil woman!"
"Okay, okay. I just wanted to say that I'm happy for you. Stuart's a sweet man, not to mention a hunk."
"That he is. And thank you."
"So, Jonathan and Frank are getting hitched in a couple of weeks. Any chance that you and Stuart will be doing the same?"
He looked thoughtful. "I'd love that, and so would Stu. But as long as he's teaching, he thinks he needs to keep a low profile. I more or less outed him without thinking what I was doing back at the Gala, but fortunately not many people were there when it happened. Since that time we've been pretty careful. We'd like to live together, walk down the street holding hands, stand up and tell the world we're partners, the way Frank and Jon will do soon. But we can't do that yet. Neither of us wants to move away, so we're just going to have to enjoy each other in private, for the most part."
He sighed and gave me a sweet smile. "Maybe someday."
* * *
[So ends the story. Thanks and love to all of you for sticking with me. --Tim]