It was almost by accident that we found Whitney Pell and landed him as the new director of the Stafford Arts Alliance and Sunrise, our Center.
I'm Jean Risley, executive assistant to the director, so I know everything that goes on around here. This is what happened. Carol Burns, who was on the search committee, and her husband Randy went to Charlotte to see an exhibition of fused glass pieces by several artists. At a reception where they got to meet the artists, Carol and Randy began to talk with one of them whose works they especially liked. They learned he had a doctorate in art history and was the administrator of an art museum that was part of Clearfield University in the Midwest. He was also, they discovered, very knowledgeable about music. Carol told him of our job opening and asked if he'd be interested. His answer was that something had happened in his life recently which made the idea of relocating sound good. Carol urged him to send them a vita, and he agreed to do that.
Everyone loved the outgoing director, George Henry. A tall, silver-haired gentleman of the old school, he was especially popular with the rich old biddies who contribute so generously to the Alliance. Mr. George really built up our organization during his tenure here. More than anyone else, he was responsible for our new concert hall. We now offer fifteen concerts a year, and we change the featured exhibit in our main gallery every six weeks or so. We're the envy of most cities our size in the Southeast, and it was our director who made the Alliance and the Sunrise Center what they are.
When George announced that he was retiring so that he and his wife Beth could move to Florida, everyone thought SAA couldn't possibly survive. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth among the old biddies. But at least George gave two years' notice, so there was plenty of time to look for his replacement.
The problem was the Board couldn't agree on what they wanted. One faction wanted a clone of George Henry. The younger set, the forty-somethings, wanted a greater variety, both in the art we exhibited and in the concerts we sponsored. Of course, there was also a very vocal group who insisted that the new director had to be a woman, whatever her other qualifications were. There were some pretty testy meetings of the Board and of the search committee, let me tell you!
They read dozens of vitas and interviewed a bunch of candidates. But the more they looked, the more frustrated they became.
In April before George was to retire, a few influential members actually approached him about staying on for another year. He graciously but adamantly refused, saying the job didn't require a magician and that they should just hire the most promising candidate and get on with things.
To make a long story short, the search committee was impressed with Pell's academic credentials. The Burnses raved about his glass pieces. He'd sent slides of some of his work. Randy and Carol had bought a piece, which Carol took to a committee meeting. His recommendations from Clearfield University were glowing, though the dean there said they really didn't want to lose him. So, Dr. Pell was invited to come to Sunrise. Needless to say we staff members were eager - and a bit apprehensive - to get a look at our potential new boss.
The "candidate" was scheduled for a very busy day. He had to be shown around the facility and inspected and interviewed by a bunch of folks..
"Sunrise" is a huge old mansion on a hill overlooking downtown Stafford. The Arts Alliance bought it in the 70's and converted it to use for offices, classrooms, and galleries. It cost a fortune to renovate, but the Alliance did a good job with raising the money. Some years later, George Henry persuaded the Board of the Arts Alliance that using the high school auditorium or various churches for the musical groups we brought to town just wasn't good enough, that we needed our own venue for music performances. Again, the funds were raised, and we built a little gem of a concert hall on the Sunrise grounds. It seats only 500, but that's just about perfect for the soloists, chamber groups and jazz ensembles we bring in.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the candidate had to be shown around the facilities. He had a long meeting with George. He had lunch at the Stafford Country Club with the search committee. Unlike any of the other candidates, though, he had asked for some time with me.
I had caught a quick glimpse of him as he was being whisked here and there, but about the only thing that registered were that he looked younger than I expected and he had a pony tail. When he came into my office that afternoon, I had a chance to get a good look at him. He's about 5'9" tall and in the khaki-colored suit he was wearing he looked a little thin, like his wife wasn't feeding him properly. He had a neatly-trimmed mustache and goatee which were as blond as his hair, though he was showing a little gray at the temples. I knew from having seen his vita that he was 35, and as I studied him sitting there across from me, I could see he looked his age. He had blue eyes that sparkled as if you and he were sharing some sort of delicious secret. I thought he was pretty sexy.
He asked me all sorts of questions, saying he figured there wasn't much going on at Sunrise that I didn't know about. He wanted to know how I liked working there. He wanted my ideas about what problems the Alliance was facing or would be likely to face in the near future and longterm. I told him he should really ask George or the Board members those questions. He smiled and said he had asked them, but that he wanted my take on things, too.
When we'd finished talking about the job, he asked about my family. I told him about my husband, Ralph, who has an insurance agency in town, my daughter Nicole, who's married to an instructor at NC State, and my son Elliott, who would be a freshman at Appalachian State that fall.
When he stood to leave, he said, "Jean, I have just one more question." I waited for him to go on. "If I were to take the job here, would it be a problem for you to be working for a boss who's gay?"
"Not as long as you do what I tell you to, just like Mr. George always has," I said, smiling so he'd know it was a joke.
He laughed at that, shook my hand, and left.
Now Whitney's been here two years. As I said, he's very different from George Henry. Like the way they dress. Mr. George always showed up for work in a jacket and tie or a suit. Whitney, who doesn't like to be called Whit, often wears khakis or jeans with a sport shirt and tie. Sometimes he wears sneakers or, in the winter, work shoes. I've seen him in a suit once in a while, though, and the man does clean up good. You should get a look at him in his tux at our annual fund-raising gala.
Two more things I can't help mentioning. He wears a small diamond stud in his right ear. That caused a lot of comment at first, especially since he also wears the pony tail. Some of the biddies were all atwitter about it. The other thing is that he has a really sexy body. As I said before, he's on the thin side. But now that I've seen him in polo shirts, I can tell you that he has a nice chest and a flat tummy. I know he goes to the gym three times a week. After all, I keep his calendar. And he's got the cutest rear end. Nicole calls it a bubble butt. I'm an old married lady, all of ten years older than my boss, but it's nice to have the eye candy around the office, even if he is gay.
It was serendipity. I hadn't really been thinking seriously about leaving my job at the university, but when Randy and Carol Burns told me about the position at Stafford, I realized I had no reason to stay where I was. I'd liked the job at Clearfield well enough, but I'd really gone there because of Kyle. Now that he and I were finished, perhaps it was time to move on. And, though Stafford was at least back in the part of the country I hailed from, it wasn't so close to home that I'd ever have to worry about bumping into my family.
I suppose I should explain about the Pells. They've been in this area since the eighteenth century, and they've managed not only to hang on to inherited wealth, but to make it grow. At least as far as my grandfather Carter Pell's generation. The problem with the Pells is that they tend to equate individual worth with net worth. In short, they're snobs. I won't go into that any more than to say that my parents, Arleigh and Judith, weren't at all happy to learn that their youngest son was gay. My majoring in art history at Duke didn't make them any happier. They couldn't see why a gentleman would major in something so frivolous as art. The pony tail was the last straw, as I'd more or less intended it to be. Now the senior Pells could dote on their grandchildren and meddle in the lives of my older brothers, Fenton and Collier, who were both lawyers, fathers, and respectable members of the community. That all suited me fine. Oh, I should also mention, perhaps, that thanks to Grandfather Carter, there was a nice trust fund I came into when I turned 30. I hadn't touched it while I was at Clearfield.
Kyle and I had a very hot relationship when it first started five years before my move to Stafford. He was stunning, God knows. Black Irish. You know, pale skin, black hair, green eyes, a cute cleft in his chin, lots of hair on his chest, arms, and legs. Very passionate. At first. When, just before I showed my stuff in Charlotte, Kyle told me he was being transferred to his company's branch in England for two years, he assumed I wouldn't come with him. We'd gotten comfortable together, but the intensity was gone from our relationship. I cared for Kyle, but I wasn't about to give up my job and follow him to Manchester.
What worried me about the breakup was whether it meant that, as is proverbial with gay men, I wasn't capable of sustaining a long-term relationship. I thought about that a lot over the next several months. I knew I wanted to find the one perfect man and live with him forever. I kept telling myself that I just hadn't found him yet and that breaking up with Kyle made it possible for me to start looking again.
Although I was on track for tenure at Clearfield, I wasn't tenured yet, so the university wasn't upset with the relatively short notice I gave them. Face it, there are lots more people out there with degrees in art history than there are jobs. They did give me a good recommendation, apparently, for the folks on the Stafford Arts Alliance seemed eager to get me. It was my work as director of the university gallery that interested them, not my teaching. Oh, and apparently they were impressed with my glass, too.
Kyle and I were able to sell our house easily. We didn't have much equity in it after only five years, so what was left after we split the proceeds wasn't a lot. I thought I'd better rent for a while in Stafford unless I wanted to dip into the trust fund. My financial advisor talked me out of that plan, however. He said it was foolish to pay rent, and it was foolish to pay interest on a mortgage when I could afford to buy a house outright.
So, I took a three-month lease on an apartment in Stafford beginning in June when I was finished at Clearfield and was able to move. That would give me the summer to look for someplace to buy. I flew to Stafford in late May and found a small apartment. As soon as I finished grading finals and turned in my grades, I called a mover. Kyle had offered me his furniture, but I didn't want it. I had only a few things I thought enough of to keep, so I had the mover take them and I gave the rest to the Goodwill.
And thus, in early June I arrived in Stafford. It was beautiful there at that time of the year. Where I'd been living, it's cold through most of May, so the spring bulbs were just coming out. In Stafford, it looked like full summer. The hills were beautiful, and the gardens throughout the residential areas of the city were full of roses, phlox, day lilies, and other early summer blossoms. I moved into the apartment, having picked up some very cheap furniture to fill in the gaps after deciding to wait until I'd found a house to buy anything decent. And I plunged into my new job.
I was amazed at the number of volunteers at the Sunrise Center. They staffed the reception desk, stuffed envelopes, parked cars, helped with our various fund raising events. Volunteers ran the annual art show, which attracted a couple of hundred artists from all over the Southeast. They also planned and put on the annual formal gala. It was, moreover, Board members who were the gallery committee, the acquisitions committee, and so forth. I was happy to learn that the exhibitions in the main gallery were set through the coming year and that my predecessor had lined up all the performers for our music series for the year as well.
The biggest activity the Alliance sponsored during the summer was six weeks of art classes for school kids, all the way from primary to high school. We had a dozen or so teachers working in everything from watercolors, paints, and acrylics to ceramics and photography. It was wonderful having all those kids in the building all summer. There were even high schoolers who helped with the younger ones. That's how I came to meet Louis. But I'll get back to him later.
Jean, bless her heart, made settling into the new job very easy. If she resented me after working for so long with George, she never let on. She seemed to know what I needed before I did. She was very patient about explaining to me how things worked, from our relation with the city council to operating the security system. If I had anything to complain about, it was her tendency to mother me. She wasn't that much older than I am, but she tended to cluck if she thought I wasn't eating right or getting enough sleep. I sometimes found that irritating, but then I reminded myself she had good intentions.
As for my being gay. . . . I had told the search committee when I was there for my interview I was gay and asked if they had any problem with that. I do know this part of the country, and I wanted to be sure to get that out in the open before we got too far into discussing the job. The chairman of the committee looked around at her colleagues, as if taking a silent poll. She said, "No, Dr. Pell, that's not an issue, so long as you display the kind of discretion we'd expect from a heterosexual man." I couldn't ask for more than that and said so.
After taking up the job, however, there were a few mild repercussions. I'm told that a few longstanding members with deep pockets said they weren't going to renew their memberships in the Alliance come August, which is renewal time. Some of the members of the Board who dropped in during the summer were pretty cool, but Southern civility being what it is, no one made any unpleasant remarks. All in all, things went well on that score, I think.
One of the few things about my upbringing that I hadn't rejected was my being an Episcopalian. I began attending Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Stafford. The rector, Fr. Glenn, and his assistant, Fr. Gary, were both very friendly. I think Gary and I recognized each other immediately as "family," and the rector picked up on it at once. They welcomed me to the community and the parish. Both were members of the Alliance and said they'd be glad to help Sunrise in any way they could. Glenn chuckled and added, "So long as it doesn't involve much money, of course."
It was also at Holy Trinity where I saw Louis. Again. About the third time I attended, he was the crucifer. Since I'd already met him at the center, I was pleased to see him at church. With his black skin, he looked splendid in his red cassock and white cotta. He was about 6 feet tall and beautifully put together. He had an imposing presence. When he came out at the end of the service to lead the procession down the aisle to the narthex, he almost took my breath away. I made a silent prayer for forgiveness and reverenced the cross as he passed my pew.
I didn't fit in anywhere. For one thing, being Haitian, I looked different from the African-Americans in my school. And I got ragged on a lot because of my French-sounding name. I was big enough to play sports, and I worked out, so I was in good shape. What my brothers didn't know was that I wanted to look good because I was gay. But except for phys ed I just didn't do sports. I took all the art classes Stafford High had to offer. I was okay or a little better in watercolors and oils, but I was most interested in photography. My photography teacher, Mr. Blount, assured me that I had a good eye and real talent as a photographer. Soon, though, the other Black guys decided that I was not a jock and not like them and pretty much ignored me. Occasionally I was taunted by being called a fag, but I don't think they suspected I was gay. They just meant that because I was into art I was different. And high school guys tend to call anyone different a fag.
I had signed up for the Art Camp at Sunrise every summer since I was a kid. The summer before my senior year, I volunteered to be a student aid, helping look after the younger kids who had signed up for the program. The new director, Dr. Pell, had just come on board, and I was excited because everybody knew he was gay. They said he'd told them that before they offered him the job. Most of the kids my age who were being student assistants were cool with that. After all, these were all kids who were interested in art, not the jock crowd.
When I got my first look at Dr. Pell, though, something happened. I wanted him. He was such a cute little guy, with his pony tail and blond hair and tight little ass. I got hard instantly and kept getting hard every time I thought about him.
When I was at the Center, I got to see him a lot. Most days he was wearing khakis and a polo shirt. Old Mr. Henry always seemed so dressed up. And old. Whitney, as he told all of us to call him, looked great. Obviously the guy worked out. I really wanted to see him with his shirt off, but I could tell through his shirt that he had flat pecs but good abs. And he had nice guns, too. Best of all was the bulge in his pants. He might have been a little below average height, but he had a nice package.
A few weeks after he came to town, it was my turn to be crucifer at the late service at Holy Trinity. How did a Black guy wind up carrying the cross at the biggest (and highest) Episcopal Church in Stafford, you ask? Because my parents were Haitian, and lots of Haitians become Episcopalians when they come to the US. My folks were luckier than most, I suppose. Papa is a doctor, and he was able to get board certified here. Ma mere, who had been a nurse back in Port Au Prince, didn't need to work after they got here, so she stayed home and had me. I'm an only child. I have loving parents. We're comfortable financially. And my folks are cool with me being gay. How lucky can a guy get?
Well, I hoped I'd really get lucky with Dr. Pell. When I saw him in church that morning, I decided to stop by his office sometime and talk with him. I could always ask his advice about what university to go to to major in art.
Several of the high school guys who helped with the Art Camp that summer were cute. There was Allen, who'd been in the program since he was in third grade and now was one of the high school students helping with the younger kids. He was a senior, but with his thin body, babyish face and long hair, he looked about fourteen. Except that he had really big feet and, obviously a package to match. His friend Bo looked like a football player, but Jean said he was a talented pianist and a fair water colorist. She told me he and Allen had been buddies since Kindergarten.
And then there was Louis, who pronounced his name the French way, not as if it were spelled Lewis. He had very dark skin and black hair but rather delicate features. If his skin were lighter, he might have looked as French as his name, Louis LeFevre. He was a couple or three inches taller than me and very well built, athletic looking. I wondered if he played any sports in school. Louis smiled every time he saw me, and I felt warm and sticky whenever he did.
I lectured myself. I was old enough to be his father. I'd be abusing my position if I had anything to do with him beyond what was appropriate for the director of Sunrise and a student assistant. I reminded myself that he was probably just friendly and smiled that way at everyone.
And then he'd smile at me again, I'd get hard and leaky again, my heart would skip a beat or two, and I'd forget about all those things I'd told myself.
One afternoon late in the summer, I looked up to see Louis standing there, giving me his brilliant smile.
"Hey, Louis. What's up?"
"Got a minute, Dr. Pell?"
Waving him in, I said, "Come on, Louis. You know I've asked you to call me Whitney."
"Yes, sir, I know, but it's just goes against my upbringing to call a man your age by his first name, especially when he is a doctor."
"Ouch! That's cold. A man my age? Guess I'd better remember my cane tomorrow."
The poor kid looked really embarrassed, and I felt bad.
"Louis, it's cool. I'd like you to call me Whitney, but if that's not comfortable for you, call me whatever you want. Now, as I asked before, what's up?"
He laid a portfolio on my desk. "I, uh, I was wondering, uh, Dr. uh, Whitney, if you'd mind taking a look at these."
I opened the portfolio to find a dozen black and white prints, all 8 x 10's.
"Are these yours?"
I looked through them carefully. "Man, these are great. I'm impressed. You have a real eye. Did you develop them yourself?"
"I love the way you've left them just a little dark. That gives them such a brooding atmosphere. Where'd you learn to do this?"
He grinned and the room grew brighter. "Mr. Blount, my art teacher, has helped me a lot."
"I'd like to meet Mr. Blount. Is he the only art teacher at Stafford High?"
"No, it's a big school and there are two others."
"Have you displayed your work in the spring student art show here at Sunrise?"
"Why in hell not?"
"Well, it's the art teachers from each school who decide what will be displayed here in the student show. Mr. Blount says the other two don't think that photography is really 'art'."
"I have to talk with Mr. Blount. It's months yet before the student show, but if I can manage it, we'll ask him to submit some of the best work of his best students, even if his colleagues don't agree. It's our show, after all."
"Well, sir, I'd hate to get Mr. Blount in trouble."
It was my turn to grin. "I'll try very hard to see that doesn't happen. But this is good work, Louis, and the public should see it. Are there other photographers at Stafford High as good as you?"
He looked down at his lap for a moment. And then he smiled up at me through his eyelashes. "There are a couple who are almost as good, Dr. - uh, Whitney."
I handed him the portfolio. "Louis, thanks for showing these to me. Do you expect to go on to study art in college?"
He positively beamed at me. "Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, I was wondering if you had any suggestions where I should apply."
"Let me think about that. I'll do some checking around and get back to you. This is your senior year coming up, isn't it?"
"You might want to talk with your counselor at the school and with Mr. Blount, but I'll have some information for you by the time school starts. You'll need to start getting together a serious portfolio of your work for when you start the application process."
He stood, picked up the folder with his photos in it, shook my hand, and started to leave. When he was in the doorway, he turned.
"I, uh, I think you're really hot!"
Having said that, he disappeared quickly down the hall. I heard Jean giggle. Her desk was right outside my door, and she had overheard what Louis said.
I went to the outer office.
"Jean, you overheard that, didn't you?"
She grinned. "Well, he was standing in the doorway, so I really couldn't help it."
"Okay, I'm not blaming you. I just hope you won't tell anyone what you heard."
She looked hurt. "Of course I won't. I can't be any good in this job if you can't trust me."
I was embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Of course I trust you. I was just worried about Louis."
She grinned. "I think Louis can take care of himself. He's a good boy. He's been hanging around here since he was in grade school. He obviously has a crush on you, boss, so be careful!."
"Yeah, I will. Thanks, Jean."
I went back into my office and flopped down in the chair. I reached under the desk and adjusted my hard dick. 'He thinks I'm hot, does he? He's the one who's sexy. Jean's right. I've got to be very careful around young Mr. LeFevre.'
I don't know why I did that. I mean, the man is hot, but I'd never done anything that took such brass balls before. By the time I got to the parking lot my heart was pounding and I was having trouble breathing. I jumped in the car, started it up, flipped on the air, and just sat there for a few minutes. Whitney didn't come running after me or anything, so that was good. But then I don't suppose he would have.
I worried all evening about how he was going to act the next day, when we'd be bound to see each other. As it turned out, he was gone most of the day. Jean said he was with a real estate agent and they were looking for a house for Whitney. I saw him briefly while the kids were on their lunch break. He grinned at me, but he was talking with some old person, so we didn't say anything to each other.
'The grin was good,' I said to myself. 'Maybe he thinks I'm funny. Pathetic, maybe? No, that was just a friendly grin. He wasn't mad at me. I feel sure of that. Maybe there's hope.'
I got an idea. I went to the file drawer in my computer desk and pulled out a folder. I spread a dozen or so of my pictures across the bed. They all had the same subject. 'Hmm,' I said to myself, 'let's start with this one.'
The city of Stafford, the Sunrise Arts Center, and all the characters in this story are fictitious. They have no relation to any place, institution or people in the real world.