Chapter 7

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 and Drew, who have provided advice, inspiration, and encouragement throughout the writing of this series.


I had been in Stafford for four months, and it didn't seem as if I'd had time to draw a deep breath.  Meshing into the new job took a lot of time and energy.  I was constantly meeting new people, each one eager to bring me up to speed in his or her area of special interest.  It was all very exhilarating.  As with any organization, the Stafford Arts Alliance had many smart, hard-working, cooperative people.  But as with any arts organization, it had its share of prima donnas.  I came to discover that the artists were by and large much easier to work with than some of the SAA committee chairs, the people who were "artsy" rather than artists.  But it was a major part of my job to soothe, placate, pour oil where needed, and I knew that when I took the job.

In October when the first new show of the fall was hung and we hadn't had our first concert yet, I could relax a little.  I needed to get together again soon with the committee in charge of finding the musicians for the next year's concert series.  I still hadn't managed that meeting with the art and music faculty of the area high schools (and the middle school folks would have to be encouraged, too, I realized).  But for a few days there, I was able to slow down, to take a breather.

That led to some stock taking.  All in all, I loved the job.  It was a different kind of challenge from my work at Clearfield.  And it was good, in a way, to be back in my home state.  I knew these people, understood them, could talk their language.  Stafford was a much more cosmopolitan little city than I would have thought.  I think in the 17 years I'd been up north, things had changed a lot in Carolina.  People seemed worldlier, less provincial.  Maybe I was the one who'd changed.  Maybe things had always been that way and I was too caught up in my own agenda to see it.  Anyway, I was enjoying Stafford.

I found, however, that I didn't enjoy living alone.  

For a while after Kyle and I broke up, I was too disillusioned to mind.  In fact, I felt I was better off alone than with a guy I didn't any longer share much with except a bed.  Even though I'd recognized he was right when he said we didn't have much holding us together except convenience and inertia, I was still hurt that he'd accepted the transfer to England without even talking with me about it first.

Maybe that's why I reveled for a while in my new independence, in not having to consult anyone about what groceries to buy, what meals to fix.  I could wear what I wanted, come and go as I chose.  Four months later, however, I realized that, even though the passion had gone out of our relationship, even though there probably had never been any real love between us, we were sharing a life.  And I missed having someone else in the house, someone to talk over the events of the day with.  To go to a movie with, or a concert, or a ball game.

What I wanted, I realized, was not to be alone, to have a housemate.  Even more I wanted someone I could truly love, someone who loved me, someone with whom to have a committed relationship. I wanted something permanent, substantial.   I wanted a partner, a lover, a mate.


The second time I went to a soccer match with Frank, we ended up dinner at my house.  He confessed that he'd gone home after our first dinner together at Friday's because he was too attracted to me, afraid he'd do something to scare me off.  That was ironic, because I was attracted enough to him to invite him back home, hoping we could at least continue to get to know each other.  I knew where I'd hoped that might eventually lead, but I had no intention of pushing things.

It was heartening to know that Frank liked me and felt comfortable with me.  Okay, he'd said he was attracted to me.  On the one hand, I felt a little guilty at first thinking about getting close to another man, thinking I was being disloyal to Will.  But Will had been gone for a decade by that time, and I knew he'd want me to move on.  Sometimes I thought I could hear him asking me what the hell I was waiting for.

I'd made an apple pie earlier, thinking that was appropriate to the season.  I left it sitting on the kitchen counter when I went to meet Frank at Judd's match, hoping the house would still be filled with its wonderful aroma when Frank and I got back.

It was another beautiful fall afternoon.  Stafford won again, and Judd was once again the leading scorer.  It seemed to me that his teammates were a little cool with him.  Sure, they congratulated him, but they certainly didn't treat him like the hero of the game, though he had clearly been outstanding in the two matches I had watched.  It was as if they were giving him perfunctory kudos, but their hearts weren't really in it.  I couldn't help wondering what had caused the distance between Judd and the other boys.  I was tempted to ask Frank if he had any idea what was going on, but I thought better of it.  No point in stirring up something if it was really all in my imagination.

Dinner afterward was easy, comfortable.  Frank asked my opinion about how to present a certain poem by Whitman.  I thought he'd taught that poem for years and was just asking me to be nice, but I told him how I'd done it, and he seemed to like the suggestion.  We talked about how the Carolina Panthers were doing, as well as the Tarheels, the Blue Devils, and the Mountaineers of Appalachian State.  He wanted to know what was happening at Sunrise, and I talked about that for a while.  I told him that Whitney was gradually making changes, that he seemed to have energized the rest of the professional staff and the volunteers as well, and that I thought he was looking a little tired.  We agreed that we'd press him to join us to see one of Judd's matches and then spend the evening with us afterward.

Back at my place after dinner, I left my car in the driveway.  When Frank and I went through the front door, the house did still smell faintly of apple pie.

"Oh, man, Jon!  This smells like home.  What a great place you have here!  Did you spray it with some fantastic scent before you left this afternoon?"

"No, my friend," I said.  "I just baked a pie.  Think you could stand a piece with some ice cream and coffee?"

"I'd love it, as long as the coffee's decaf."

My house was built before the days of family rooms.  I had converted a downstairs bedroom into my study.  Both it and the living room had fireplaces.  The one in the study had gas logs, but in the living room there was the real McCoy, along with my television and stereo.  I asked Frank to find something in my cd collection to put on the stereo while I started a fire in the fireplace.  It was probably the first evening that fall when a fire would feel good, especially as I had cut off the furnace that morning after I'd had my shower.

Soon we were sitting side by side on the sofa eating apple pie a la mode, drinking decaf, and watching the fire as we listened to Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  When he finished, Frank set his plate on the coffee table and rested his head against the back of the sofa.  I put down my plate with its unfinished pie and put my arm around him, hoping it wasn't the wrong thing to do.  He sighed and leaned against me.  Since he didn't object, I just held him, breathing in the smell of his aftershave and occasionally nuzzling his hair.

"This is nice, Jon."


We stayed that way until the Rachmaninoff finished, when he sat up straight and looked at me.  

"I hope that didn't freak you out or anything," I said.

He smiled.  "Not at all.  It was very nice, but I should go."

"It's only 10:00, Frank.  Why don't we put on another piece of music?"

"I'd like that if you're sure you don't mind."

"You want to pick out something else to listen to?"

"Your turn this time."

I was afraid if I chose something too soporific we'd both go to sleep, so I put on the Mendelssohn violin concerto.  I guess there are two, but I put on the one everyone knows.  I invited him to kick off his shoes and then followed suit.  When I sat next to him and slipped my arm around his waist, he put his arm around my shoulder, pulling my head over against his.  It was such a secure feeling holding and being held by this nice guy.  I hadn't done that with anyone since Will died, and I relaxed, feeling safe and happy.  

The next thing I knew, Frank was taking his arm away.  The room was quiet, and the fire was nothing but some red coals.

He chuckled.  "What a pair of old foofs we are.  I think we both fell asleep."

"Oh, Frank, I'm so sorry.  What kind of host am I?"

"Nonsense.  It's great we're comfortable enough with each other to do that.  Now, before I go, there's something I think you promised me last week."

I knew what he meant.  We'd spoken of kissing.  He turned toward me.  It was awkward for a moment, and then we reached for each other, hugged, and our mouths came together.  It was very chaste at first, lips against lips.  Then I touched my tongue to his lips, and they opened for me.  Soon, we were in the midst of a hungry exploration.

When we finally pulled apart, he said, "Wow.  You kiss pretty good for an old fart."

I chuckled.  "Look who's talking.  I'm only a couple of years older than you, boy, and don't your forget it."

He stood.  "Jon, it's been a great evening.  You make fine pie.  I love your choice of music.  And the snuggling, well, I, uh "

"Yeah, Frank.  I enjoyed that, too."

I got his jacket from the front closet. As he shrugged into it, I noticed he had an erection.  My own was apparent too, but he didn't seem to notice it.

"Got any plans for tomorrow evening?" he asked.

"No, not really."

"I'm a fairly decent cook. Why don't you come to my place and I'll fix us something?"

"I'd like that if you promise not to go to any trouble.  Can I bring anything?"

He grinned.  "Yeah, bring some red wine and the rest of that pie.  It seems to have a good effect on us."

I laughed.  "You mean it puts us to sleep!"

"No way.  That was because it's Friday night.  I promise to take a nap tomorrow afternoon.  Maybe you should, too.  Then we duffers can stay awake a little later."

I raised my eyebrows.  "That sounds promising.  What time should I arrive?"

"Come about six, and we'll have drinks first.  Do you like your hot dogs boiled or broiled?"

I must have looked surprised, for he laughed again.  "Just teasing, Jon.  I think I can do a little better than wieners."

"Oh, now there's a straight line if I ever heard one!"

"Yeah, and your wiener looks pretty straight right now, too."

So he had noticed!

We laughed.  Then he grabbed me, ground his hard cock against mine, kissed me again, and opened the door.  I got my coat from the closet and followed him outside.  It was cold enough we could see our breath.  

"Until tomorrow, then.  Thanks."

"See you tomorrow, Frank.  Good night."

I put my car in the garage, went inside, put our dishes in the dishwasher, partially closed the fireplace damper, and got ready for bed.

I didn't go to sleep right away, however.  I had to relieve my throbbing dick first.  After that I nodded off with thoughts of the next evening.  Things were certainly looking up.


I didn't have any trouble finding the Lefevre's house from Louis' directions.  It was a big two-story job.  It looked as if Dr. Lefevre was doing all right.  

Louis introduced me to his mom, who was a beautiful woman.  She was nice, too.  She welcomed me and asked us if we wanted anything to eat or drink.  When we said we were okay, she excused herself to go do something else, and Louis took me upstairs.

He had a nice-sized room with the usual furniture for a guy's bedroom.  But the walls had posters for art shows from various places along with a lot of framed photographs, some black and white, some in color.  

"Wow, Louis, are these your pictures?"

"Yeah.  You think it's egotistical of me to have them on my walls?"

"No way, man.  If I could take pictures like that, I'd cover my walls with them."   I spent a few minutes looking at them and asking him questions about them.

Then we got down to business.  I'd made a list of questions I had about my art class, and he must have spent an hour going over them with me.  When he'd finished, I felt a lot better about that class.  I figured a couple more sessions like that and I'd be set.  Then we talked a little about my paper on Bernini.  I'd shown the outline, rough draft, and notes to my English teacher, and he said it looked good.  Louis asked a few questions and he said it looked good, too.  He said he wished he was that far along with some of his term papers.

When we were finished with the school stuff, Louis sat on his bed, smiled at me, and said, "Now, Judd, we were getting to know each other last time.  Wanna go on with that?"

"Uh, yeah, sure, Louis.  Was there something you wanted to tell me?"

"No, dude.  But I think there's something you want to tell me.  Isn't there?"

"Well, uh, I, uh, well, yeah.  Matter of fact, there was."

"I've got till 11:00.  Wanna go grab a burger or something?"

"Let me tell you this first.  I think I'd rather do that here, where nobody can hear us."

"Wow.  Sounds heavy."  He slipped off his sneaks and sat cross legged.  "Go ahead.  I'm all ears."

"First, man, ya gotta promise not to tell anybody, okay?"

He crossed his heart.  "Whatever you have to say stays between us.  I promise."  He smiled encouragingly.

Realizing I was sounding tongue-tied, totally inarticulate, I took a deep breath.  "Louis, I should have told you this the other night at my house.  You trusted me enough to tell me you're gay.  I apologize for not telling you then."

"That . . . ?"

"That I'm gay, too."

"It's okay, dude.  I kind of figured you were.  But I know it's a hard thing to tell someone, especially if you don't know them very well.  I decided just to let you wait until you were ready."

"Whoa, you figured I was gay?  Why?"

"Let's not go into that yet.  I promise I'll tell you later.  Right now, I think you want to tell me something more, don't ya?"

I took another deep breath.  "Yeah, I've kept all this bottled up for a long time.  It will be good to tell somebody about it."

He smiled again and nodded for me to go on.  He looked really good sitting there.  Somehow I felt like I could trust him, like I wanted to tell him about the whole thing.

"Okay, here goes.  I had a friend, Tom.  His family moved here when we were in 7th grade, so we were in middle school together and we moved on to Stafford high for 9th grade.  He lived down the block from us.  You know how it goes.  We became best friends.  We slept at each other's houses, camped out in a tent in his back yard, went swimming together in the summers, even played together on the middle school soccer team."

"Sounds nice.  I mean, having a friend like that.  You guys must have gotten pretty close."

I looked at him to see if he was suggesting anything.  Well, of course he was.  He'd be stupid not to see where this was going.

"Long story short, Tom and I jacked off together almost from the time we first knew each other.  We had our first cum within a couple of weeks of each other.  We went from that to sixty-nining.  We liked to kiss each other, too.  I think we got to love each other like brothers.  No, better than brothers."

"I think I understand."

"Everybody knew we were best buds, but we tried to be careful so no one knew we were messing around with each other.  We never held hands or kissed or even touched each other at school or anywhere else in public.  Only in his room or mine or in our tent."

"You were being smart."

"Uh huh."

"But . . . ?"

"Then, at the end of our tenth grade year his dad got transferred to Atlanta.  We were both sick about it, but there was nothing we could do.  We promised to email and talk on the phone, but we knew things would never be the same."

"So what happened?"

"He and I kept in touch almost every day at first.  Then, you know, the emails came less often.  Now I hear from him every other week or so.  He's got a new boyfriend.  They aren't out, but he says there are a lot more gay kids, or at least out gay kids, at his new high school.  

"I guess that's life, Judd.  Sad, but not surprising.  I get the feeling, though, that's not the end of the story."

"No, it's not.  And here's the thing, the reason I couldn't make myself come out to you last time.  When school started the fall after Tom moved away, that was junior year, two of my team mates came to me one day at lunch.  The three of us ate together, off by ourselves.  None of the other guys came over to eat with us that day like they usually did.  

"Who were these two guys?"

"Jamie and Phil Albright.  You know, the cousins?"

Everybody in school knew those two.  They looked enough alike to be brothers.  They were both hunky guys with brown hair and blue eyes.  Jamie's dad was a local judge, and Phil's dad was a dentist.  Their families were pretty important in town, and the guys always seemed to me to act like they knew it.  They were together a lot.  They were good soccer players.  They dated all the most popular girls, but no one girl for very long.  You know, like they were spreading themselves around, doing the female population a favor.

"Oh, them.  What did they want?"

"They told me it was good Tom had moved away.  They said that he was a queer, and it was better for me and for the team that I wasn't hanging around with him any more.  They said people `like us' didn't have anything to do with fags."


"Yeah, and, you know, Louis, they didn't actually say so, but somehow they let me know they knew what Tom and I had been doing.  And they made it pretty clear to me that they'd be watching me.  When they finished their lunch, one of them said that I should choose my friends more carefully.  They said I was an asset to the team, and they'd hate to lose me."

"What did they mean by hating to lose you?"

"I dunno.  I was afraid to ask."

"What's it been like since?"

"Well, on the field during a match we're all buddies.  I, uh, well, I'm pretty good."

"No false modesty, Judd!  Everybody says you're the star of the team."

"I don't know about that.  But I carry my weight, I think.  Like I said, on the field, everything's fine.  Off the field, I still feel like I'm on probation or something."

Louis stared off into space for a minute or two.  He seemed to be thinking everything over, so I waited.

"So, even though I'm not officially out at school, some people suspect I'm gay.  And if you start being seen with me, then your friends are going to get suspicious, maybe even pissed at you."

"Yeah.  Which is why I didn't have the guts to tell you the other night that I'm gay."

"Hey, man, it's okay.  But what are we gonna do now?  Do you think it's the whole team with the attitude problem, or just the two guys who had lunch with you that day?"

"You know, it's a strange situation.  Everybody sort of looks to me for leadership on the field.  Off the field, these two guys seem to be the team leaders.  So I guess the others must take their cues from them."

"Judd, I sure don't want to get you into trouble with those guys.  I think they're jerks, but you have to play with them.  And your team is having a great year.  We don't want to jeopardize any of that.  I'm sorry I got you into this, man."

"You didn't!  Dr. Pell didn't know about any of this shit when he arranged for you to help me.  I guess I could have stopped it, but I didn't."

He gave me a puzzled look.  "Yeah.  You could have.  Why didn't you?"

Good question.  I had to think about it.  "Two reasons.  I desperately needed your help. And I'd guessed you were gay and maybe down deep I was hoping we'd become friends.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not coming on to you.  I just thought it would be great to know another gay guy, to have someone maybe I could talk with about things."

Louis still had a serious look on his face when he said, "Okay.  Let's take your points one at a time.  First of all, there's no reason why you and I have to be seen together in public ever if that would help.  We can keep getting together at each other's houses until you're doing okay in Ms. Burleigh's class.  Then we don't need to see each other any more at all, if that's what you want."

"But that's not what I want.  I like you, Louis.  I want you for my friend.  Like I said, I'm not suggesting we're gonna be boyfriends, but I'd like us to be friends.  Uh, you don't have a boyfriend, do you?"

He grinned.  "Nope, no boyfriend.  And I'd like us to be friends, too.  So what are we gonna do?  Whatever you decide, I'll go along with."

Wow!  That was pretty generous of him.  Looking back on it, I wonder if my decision had anything to do with the fact that he looked incredibly sexy there on the bed, leaning back on his elbows with his bulge showing prominently.

I shook my head to clear it of thoughts about his package and tried to get back to what he and I should do.  The more I thought about it, the angrier I got.

Maybe I wasn't the best player on the team, though everybody said I was.  But I was one of the guys who'd helped us to a winning streak that stretched back to middle of last season.  What business was it of anybody's if I got help from a gay guy?  What business of anybody's was it if Louis and I were friends?  

"Fuck, Louis!  I don't think I want to let two homophobic morons run my life.  I want to be your friend.  I need your help.  Let them think what they want to."

"Judd, are you sure?  You may be asking for trouble."

"I don't think I'm going to get beaten up or anything.  And they can't exactly kick me off the team.  That would be up to the coach."

"So . . . ?  What are you suggesting you and I should do?"

"If it's okay with you, let's just go ahead getting together for my tutoring sessions.  If we feel like going for a burger or something, why shouldn't we?  If we want to be friends, and not just tutor and tutee, what's wrong with that?"

`And if we want to go beyond being just friends, what's wrong with that?' I asked myself.

And then I had a terrible thought.  "But, oh, shit, Louis.  I hadn't thought about the fallout for you.  Do you have any friends that would be pissed because you and I were working together or becoming friends?"

"No.  And they wouldn't stay my friends very long if they did."

"Well, there's even a possibility that some of the soccer guys could say something to you."

"It wouldn't be anything I haven't heard before from a few of the football jocks and the basketball jocks.  Don't worry about me.  I'm pretty comfortable with who I am."

"Did we just agree to go ahead with the tutoring and that we'd just see if the friendship thing grew?  And that we'd let my team mates go piss up a rope if they didn't like it?"

He laughed.  "Yeah, Judd, I think that's about what we decided.  I like your attitude, man."  

I stood up.  "Wanna go for a burger?  My treat.  We can go in my car if you're willing to ride in an old Civic instead of that cool Sebring of yours."

"Yeah, let's go for a burger.  I can't let you treat every time, but you can again tonight if you want.  Sure you don't want me to drive?"

I punched him lightly on the shoulder.  "Yeah, yeah.  I know.  You really don't want to lower yourself by riding in my car."

"Busted!" he said, grinning at me.  

"Well, I've got you blocked in.  So you'll just have to go slumming in the Civic."

He grinned and we headed downstairs.  I wanted to put my arm around his shoulder, but I thought that might be pushing things a bit.


One of the things I liked best about my new job was that I met a lot of fascinating people.

One day toward the end of October Jean told me I had a phone call from Brad Telford, whose work was going to be featured, along with that of his partner, Christian Fields, at our next show.  I hadn't talked with either of them before, and I was eager to get to know them.  I'd seen slides of their work.  Christian did boldly expressionistic acrylics, and Brad was, believe it or not, a blind sculptor.

"Hi, Brad, this is Whitney Pell.  I've been looking forward to talking with you and Christian.  And we're looking forward to your show."

"Hello, Whitney.  Chris and I are excited about having a show together.  We haven't been asked to do that very often.  It's about the show that I'm calling, in fact.  We'd like to come to Stafford and see the gallery for ourselves.  It would help us select what works we want to put in the show.  Any chance we could drop by this coming Friday?"

I took a quick look at my calendar and saw that their visit was "doable" that day.

"No problem, Brad."

"Great!  I think we'll drive down on Thursday afternoon.  Chris wants to see the fall color.  We'll get there about dinner time, spend Friday in Stafford, and drive back to Richmond on Saturday morning."

"Sounds good.  May I impose on you and Christian to have both lunch and dinner with me Friday?  I'd like you to meet the chair and some members of our gallery committee at lunch, and I'd really like you all to myself for dinner."

He chuckled.  "So we can talk shop?"

"Nah, we'll have had enough of that.  So we can talk about being gay, of course."

He laughed at that.  "Oh, I didn't know you were family.  We'll look forward to it."

"Having said that, Brad, I confess I'm really curious about how you manage your work.  You won't mind explaining to me, will you?"

"Of course not.  Everybody wonders how a blind guy could do portrait busts."

"Do you want me to make hotel reservations for you?"

"No, thanks.  I think Chris has already got something lined up at the Hampton.  Is that a decent place?"

"Yeah.  It's new, attractive, conveniently located, and I hear they put out a fairly extensive continental breakfast."

We said we were eager to meet each other and rang off.

I had Jean call Fiona McWhorter, the chair of the gallery committee, to explain what was happening and ask her to invite as many members of her committee as she could round up to lunch on Friday.  When we knew how many were coming, we'd make reservations at Palmer's, a restaurant where my predecessor often took visiting artists.  

On Friday Chris and Brad didn't show up until about 10:30.  Apparently they liked to sleep late.  When Jean told me they were here, I got up to invite them into my office so we could chat a while.  Normally, I'd offer to take them on a tour of the facility.  I paused a moment, thinking of Brad's vision impairment, but decided to make the offer anyway.  He could always refuse if he wanted to.

When they came in, I offered them coffee, which they declined, saying they'd had plenty at breakfast.

Brad was a big man, 6'2" and 220 pounds, I guessed.  About 40, he was losing his hair, most of which was still brown, though there was some gray at the temples.  He had been and still was a handsome man.  He was soft spoken and seemed very gentle. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about him was his beautiful blue eyes.  They didn't appear to be damaged.  And he looked at you when you spoke to him.

Christian was a little guy, shorter than I am by an inch or so, and quite thin.  He had a full shock of sandy hair, which appeared to be blow-dried and therefore rather fluffy.  His green eyes had very long lashes.  His features were delicate, and his fingers were long and thin.    

We chatted awhile.  I asked them about the drive down from Richmond.  

"Oh, it was lovely," Brad said.  "Chris describes things so perfectly I feel I know exactly what he's seeing."

"Then you haven't always been blind?"

"No.  Perhaps if we're going to be together for dinner, I can tell you about that then."

"Only if you don't mind.  Now, would you like a tour of our facility?"

"Yeah," Chris said.  "That's one of the reasons we came."

"Okay," I said, standing. "I'll show you around this morning, and after lunch we can come back to the galleries where your things will be exhibited."

Chris and Brad stood as soon as I did.

"Whitney," Brad said, "you're probably wondering why I'm coming along on this tour."

Before I could stammer out something tactful, he continued.  

"You'd be surprised what I can pick up.  Vibes for one thing.  It's amazing what you can feel about a place if you try.  And, of course, I'll learn even more from listening to you explaining to Christian what he's seeing."

"Then, gentlemen, let's go."

Brad reached out for and immediately found Christian's elbow.  Then they moved off as one.  I was touched by that simple movement.  It seemed to me to indicate their relationship, a beautiful metaphor.

We hadn't walked far when Brad said, "This house is pretty old, isn't it?  Despite the climate control system, it has the lived-in smell of an old building."

I told him that Sunrise had been built in the 1920's.  In the early 70's when the then owner had been killed in Viet Nam, his widow had been eager to sell it.  The Stafford Arts Alliance had been looking for an appropriate home, so the parties soon agreed, and voila!  

We spent a while in the various smaller galleries.  Christian and I took turns explaining to Brad what the spaces were like and what was on exhibit there.  Next I showed them some of the classrooms in Sunrise.  Chris was impressed with how well-equipped they were.  

I was about to get on the elevator to go back downstairs to the main floor when they suggested they'd just as soon do the stairs.  Brad's hand, of course, was on Christian's elbow.  I was following them.  When Christian got to the bottom, he bent his knees.  Brad tensed for a moment, chuckled, and said, "Bastard. You're asking for trouble later, you know."  Then he turned to face me.  "He does this to make me think there's another step.  It isn't dangerous, but it does keep me alert."  Christian grinned, patted the hand on his elbow, and we continued.

Next I took them to the new building, where they got to see the concert hall, the green room, and the classrooms there.  Christian had lots of questions, and Brad occasionally had some, too.

By the time we'd gotten back to my office, Chris said, "Whitney, I'm impressed that a relatively small city like Stafford has such a fine facility.  How do you manage?"

"For one thing, it's serendipitous that there are so many people in this community with both the interest in the arts and the money to support their interest.  We have a lot of retired professionals with deep pockets.  We have a number of fund-raising projects, of course.  And then we're always going to the State and to area businesses with our hands out."

"I suppose things are tougher for organizations like yours since 9/11," Brad commented.

"True.  But then, I think part of the problem is that the current administration is just not interested in the arts and doesn't believe in spending public money in support of them."

"Are you talking state or federal?" Chris asked.

"Both, but the feds are worse."

He sighed.  "We hear that everywhere we go."

Lunch with the committee was what you might expect.  All the members were female, as was true of most of our committees.  It was a mix of elderly widows and middle aged women whose husbands made enough they didn't have to work and could be involved in an organization like the Arts Alliance.  I didn't have to do much but eat and listen.  Fiona more or less presided, and everyone was eager to ask questions of our visiting artists.  Or, in a couple of cases, lecture them on what art was all about.

That afternoon Christian, Brad, and I spent some time in the two galleries we planned to use for their show.  First of all, I apologized for the two women who'd felt they had to set the younger men straight on the true meaning of art.  They both laughed, and Chris said they got a lot of that and I shouldn't worry.

I told them we'd discussed showing their works in separate galleries and pretty quickly rejected the idea.  It was a two-man show.  And since Brad's stuff would be on podiums in the middle of the rooms and Chris's paintings would be on the walls, it just seemed to make more sense to spread the entire collection over the two rooms.

When we got to the first of the two main galleries, Brad said, "Oh, this room feels so airy and open."  I wondered how he knew but wasn't going to ask.  He continued, "There are slight echoes from the flooring.  I'll bet it's hardwood, isn't it?  And there aren't any soft furnishings to deaden the noise, either."

"I'd never noticed the echoes.  I suppose whenever I've been here, I've been concentrating on the displays."

"Just so," Brad said, smiling.  "I think this will be a most suitable space for displaying our work, don't you, Christian?"  

"Oh, yes.  And with all the lovely space in the two rooms, we'll be able to bring lots of our things."  He then went on to describe the current exhibit, giving Brad lots of detail about the wall colors, lighting, spacing, etc.  They wanted to see some of the podiums we used for displaying sculpture, so I grabbed my cell phone and asked Jerome to bring us a couple of them.

When Jerome got there with the stands, I introduced the three men.  He apologized, saying he had to get back to something he was doing for Jean.  I admired his V-shaped back and great butt as he walked away from us.  Chris caught my look, grinned, and winked at me.

"Are these the standard podiums?" Brad asked.

"Yeah," his partner replied.

The items in question were elongated wooden cubes.  We had a large supply of them in varying heights for the display of sculpture, ceramics, glass, and other three-dimensional pieces.

"What color are they?"


"Whitney, are they all white?"

"I honestly don't know, Brad.  We haven't actually used them since I came to Sunrise in June.  I've just seen them stacked in a rather dark storage room."

"I don't want to be a pain in the ass, but could they be painted?  I think the white would be pretty stark."

"There'll be no problem about painting them.  I think we have plenty of time."

"Brad," Chris said, "the walls in both these galleries are a warm pale gray.  I think they'd be perfect with your stuff."

"Oh, yeah, that sounds a lot better."  He turned to me.  "Got any more of that paint left, or could you match it?"

"I'm sure that won't be a problem."

That issue settled, Chris took a good look at our lighting and asked about the various wattages and types of lights we could use in our tracks.  He asked who was responsible for the hanging and lighting.  I told him that I'd taken over that from one of our Alliance members when I came on board.  

"Jerome does the work, and I, uh, supervise.  Frankly, I've only worked with him on one exhibition this summer and the one you see hanging here now, but I think he could probably do it by himself."

We talked some more about their preferences concerning the upcoming show of their works.  It was nearly 3:00 when we were finished.

They said they wanted to go downtown and check out some of the shops in our antiques and art district.  I told them I had made 7:00 reservations at Raintree, my favorite of the downtown restaurants, and explained to Christian how to get there.

A little over four hours later we had our drinks in front of us and had placed our food order.

"So, did you two buy anything on your shopping expedition?"

"No," Brad said, "but we were sorely tempted."

After a bit I asked, "How long have you guys been together?"

Chris looked at Brad to see if he was going to answer me.  When he nodded toward Chris, the smaller man said, "Ever since we were students at UVA.  Brad and I took a class together spring of freshman year.  I invited him for coffee afterward, and it was love at first sight."

I was interested that he'd used that phrase, "at first sight."

Chris must have noted my reaction.  "You know, Whitney, blind people use visual references in their speech just like sighted people.  For example, they might say `It's good to see you' or `I'll see you later'."

That prompted another question.  

"Brad, when I asked earlier if you'd always been sightless, you said you'd tell me this evening.  I hope you don't mind my asking again."

"No, Whitney, I don't mind.  And the answer is no.  I was in an auto accident while I was in high school.  Damage to the optic nerve cost me my sight.  The accident was the other guy's fault, and I got a settlement from his insurance that paid for most of my university expenses."

"To get back to my story," Chris said, "I fell for this guy that day in the coffee shop.  We spent as much time together as we could for the rest of the term.  We both enrolled in summer school and shared an apartment.  We've been together ever since."

Brad went on to tell me that they both had day jobs.  He worked at the telephone switchboard of an old-fashioned hardware chain, one that hadn't yet installed one of those fancy phone menu systems everyone hates so much.  Christian managed a chain bookstore in a mall.  Both of them hoped eventually to make their living from their art.  Chris said they were hoping their upcoming show at Sunrise would help them become better known in our area.

I said I thought with the exposure their exhibition with us would bring, they could count on becoming better known here. I added that I hoped we could sell lots of their pieces, too.

We busied ourselves with our food for a minute or two.  Then Brad said, "You know, Whitney, I don't think I could make it without Christian.  I could manage to do things like shop for groceries and cook if I had to.  It's with my sculpting that he's invaluable.  Not to mention that I love him."  His hand had been resting beside his plate on the table.  Christian put his hand on top of it.

"I've been meaning to ask you about that," I said.  "How in the world do you do portraits?"

"I feel my subjects' heads."

"You've seen slides of some of his pieces," Chris said.  "But wait until you see the real things.  He's uncanny.  He has an incredible memory, and he can translate what he feels into a clay model with amazing accuracy.  Then, of course, we make molds and cast the heads in metal, usually bronze.  What I love best, though, are the heads he does with no model.  His imagination, his mind's eye, is fantastic.  You'll see quite a few of those pieces when we bring them back for the show."

"Oh, you're bringing them instead of shipping them?"

Brad said, "Those busts weigh a lot, you know.  We have a van and a trailer.  For shows no more than a day's drive, it's cheaper to deliver them in person than to ship them.  

"I hadn't thought of that.  It will be great to have you both back with us.  I hope you can be here while we set up your show and then be present on the evening before the official opening for our reception.  Our patrons will be eager to meet you both."

"Sounds like fun.  We'll be glad to," Brad said.  I noticed that Christian was looking at him with pure love on his face.  I wondered if I'd ever experience that kind of love.  More than anything else in this world, that's what I wanted.  But I realized my chances of finding it were slim.  

To be continued.