Kyle here. At this point I have to provide a little background for the next portion of Mitch's story. You remember Liddy Lidholtz, Tim's Vice-President for Development? Her background was in the arts, opera to be specific. While Tim had brought his interest and experience in athletics to the development position, Liddy had brought the arts with her. Neither of them sacrificed other aspects of the job, but they were at their most creative when dealing with their particular interests. One of the things that Liddy had encouraged was a series of competitions in the arts that would bring outstanding high school students to the Grand Forks campus. She began with music, but soon was working with the art department to promote the Northern Tier High School Painting Competition at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. As you might guess, sculpture would follow close behind. It was an open competition for which high school art teachers could nominate their students, and for which the nominated students were invited to submit a portfolio showing their painting skills and experience. Seventy-five winners were invited to an all expense paid weekend at Grand Forks, to which they were to bring a specially painted work for display. During that time they participated in art seminars with UND faculty, saw their painting hung in the university gallery, and had it judged by a three-person panel consisting of one member of the art faculty, a practicing local artist, and the art critic from a North Dakota newspaper or magazine. Ten winners were picked, and they received offers to purchase their paintings for amounts ranging from $1,500 to $500. Virtually all accepted the purchase offer, and the university art collection features some of the best high school art anywhere. A few became, or would become, leading artists making the university collection grow in value.
Back to Mitch:
Two things happened during my junior year of high school. First, I saw that the three-way relationship between Frank, Jeremy and me was breaking down: Frank and Jeremy were falling in love. I think I knew it before they did, but they admitted it when I pointed it out. They continued to include me in their activities, but I often found excuses not to be available, so that they could be alone together.
They were making plans to attend the University of Minnesota at St. Paul, continuing their art studies. I decided that the easiest way to allow our relationship to end without bad feelings was for me to go elsewhere to college. But where? Like many of my contemporaries, going to a good school meant going to U of M for financial reasons, or getting a scholarship to someplace better. Better yet, getting a good scholarship to U of M.
In November (it would've been 1993) my art teacher came by the easel where I was working and said, "Mitch, can you come see me after school?"
I wondered what it was about. Usually a summons like that meant you were in trouble, but I couldn't imagine what trouble I might be in. When I went by the art room Mr. Caulkins invited me to sit by his desk. He asked, "Have you ever heard of the Northern Tier High School Painting Competition at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks?"
"Well, I've heard of it, but I wasn't very familiar with it. It's a competition for top high school artists. I get a mailing about it every fall, and I was considering suggesting that I might nominate you, with your permission, of course. Before I could do anything about it, I got a most unusual telephone call. It was from a Ms. Liddy Lidholtz, a vice-president of the University of North Dakota. She told me that the university was very eager to receive a nomination for Mitchell Flaherty to the Northern Tier Art Competition. I was flabbergasted that somebody in North Dakota would know about you, but she told me that she had seen your work displayed at the Minnesota State High School Art Exhibit in the Capitol in St. Paul last spring. She had made inquiries there and in Grand Forks, and decided that you, and I quote, simply had to be exhibited at the competition in Grand Forks. Well, are you interested?"
"Is the Pope Catholic?"
"I thought you'd be. The nomination form isn't difficult, and I have to fill it out. Then they'll invite you to submit a portfolio. I get the impression that you could submit a half-a-dozen sketches of garbage cans and still get an invitation. But the portfolio will be on public exhibit as well as a painting that you'll be asked to paint for the competition. So you want to put together a knock-their-socks-off portfolio. I'll help you."
The invitation soon followed, and I was ready with what I thought–and Mr. Caulkins agreed–was an outstanding portfolio. A number of my summer oil paintings from the two previous summers were small enough to go into a portfolio without folding or rolling, after being carefully stretched on hard backing mats. In addition I enclosed quality photos that I'd taken of what I considered were my best ten paintings. I added a collection, all dated and stretching back a number of years, of drawings in pencil, charcoal and chalk. Finally, I did a series of pastel chalk drawings of male athletes–all students at my high school. Even though they were all clothed, those pictures were somewhat of a give-away that I might be gay, but since the President of the University of North Dakota was very publically gay, I decided that there was no point in my hiding who I was.
My invitation to come to the competition came virtually in the return mail, and I was asked to paint a painting, sized between 2' x 3' and 3' x 4', in my preferred medium, of any subject and any style, that would best show off my talents. I decided on a portrait and thought long and hard about whom it should be a portrait of. I wanted it to be someone I had an emotional attachment to, and that led my thinking straight to Johnny. I hadn't seen him in a while, but I wanted to paint him as I remembered him, not as he was today. So I hauled out every photograph of him that I had–there were plenty, including some that I certainly couldn't show to the public–and went to work. I wanted him only slightly larger than life, a head and shoulder view, with little in the background. I decided to work with a square 3½ foot canvas, in a style very reminiscent of Rembrandt–at that time in my life one of my favorite artists, and one whose work I'd copied from a photograph several times. It took me six weeks, working two hours a day in school (class and study hall) and often one or two hours after school–Mr. Caulkins would either stay and watch, or have the janitor lock up behind me when I left.
Mr. Caulkins didn't say much as the painting developed, making a suggestion now and then. When I declared it finished, he declared it one of the best paintings he'd ever seen, and certainly the best that any student of his had ever created. "You can be proud to show this in Grand Forks. You're only difficulty will be deciding whether to part with it for the $1,500 they're going to offer you to purchase the first prize painting." I wasn't filled with quite that much confidence, but I was pleased, and shipped the painting off to Grand Forks without hesitation.
I flew to Grand Forks on a Thursday in May on a charter flight that'd started in Ste. Sault Marie, Michigan, stopping in Marquette, Ironwood, Duluth (where I boarded) and Brainerd. We were told that the charter was much cheaper for the university than individual tickets that would either involve changing in Minneapolis or being picked up in Fargo. Another charter came across the western half of the Northern Tier. What a weekend! I attended several seminars taught by the university art faculty, got to meet a number of famous artists, especially Sid Madison, Prince Hunter, and Merle Reed, all of whom were around the whole weekend, talking to the competitors. I learned a lot, especially in the seminar about creating colors with oils. I just knew that my painting was going to improve with the use of a wider color pallette.
Three things stood out. The first happened at the end of the first seminar on Friday. Sid Madison was waiting as we came out the door and he invited me to have a drink of Coke or coffee with him. I asked for Pepsi, hoping that wasn't a faux pas, and he had coffee. He told me, "A lot of people are going to be interested in you this weekend. Your history up to now, your portfolio, and the portrait you submitted for the competition are stunning. Tongues are wagging throughout the art department. It's a given you're going to win this thing. More importantly, you're going to be invited to study here next year. The bribes will be enormous–full tuition, room and board, everything top athletes get. Hold out for the whole banana. It's my job to start the hard sell–to convince you that you want to study here and not some goofy place like Harvard, Yale, or the University of California. If they knew about you, they would come running, and it would take you very little effort to insure that they knew about you. So, my bit is to invite you to my studio this evening after dinner, get to know you, let you get to know me, and convince you that Grand Forks is a great place to study art and to be an artist. Will you come?"
I'd used the, "Is the Pope Catholic" line with Mr. Caulkins, and it certainly fit then, but my mind was spinning and I could just barely get out, "Yes." Just what was Sid Madison telling me? I mulled it over and decided that he was telling me that I was a really good artist; that I stood out, even among the best high school artists in this part of the country. That can really inflate an ego, and I was reeling.
Mr. Madison seemed to understand and said, "I know, that's a lot to take in. In time you will absorb it, and will learn to live with it. You're destined to be a great artist, and I hope you'll find that the University of North Dakota is the best place to find that destiny. I'll see you after dinner this evening."
My trip to his studio was fantastic. His wife, Cathy, and son, Auggie, met us at their house. Mr. Madison introduced Auggie by saying that he spent summers sailing in Madison, Wisconsin, where he was making a name for himself as a sailor. According to his father Auggie was also becoming a accomplished photographer. I couldn't possibly have dreamed then of how Auggie's photography would support me in just a few years. Both Sid and Cathy Madison were artists. They showed me around their work area and showed me a lot of the drawings and paintings in their archival storage area. Then Sid asked if I would pose while he did some drawings of me. I couldn't believe the speed at which he worked–in pencil and charcoal. He let me pick out three to keep, telling me that he'd fix them overnight and have them for me as I left for home.
The second stand out event was winning first place in the competition. It was announced at the banquet on Saturday evening, and even though Sid Madison had assured me that I would win, having it confirmed ended a lot of nervous anticipation. I could feel President Tim's influence on the award presentation ceremony. It was obviously modeled on the Olympic medal ceremony. First, the third place winner was called to the podium, stood on a low riser and got a bronze medal hung around her neck. Then second place was called, stood on a little higher riser, and got a silver medal. Then I was called, stood on the highest riser, and got a gold medal. The medals were presented by President Tim who gave each artist a firm hug after he presented the medal. A brass sextet that had performed during dinner then played the Minnesota Rouser (Minnesota, Hats off to thee, etc.), since I was from Minnesota. Then there was great applause and cheering, and we were allowed to return to our seats.
The third stand out event came right afterward when President Tim, Ms. Lidholtz and a middle-aged gentlemen came up to me as I left the banquet hall and invited me to come with them. I was taken to President Tim's office in the main administration building. President Tim introduced the gentleman with them as Frank Peters, the Dean of Admissions of the University. He shook my hand and said, "President Tim would like to make a little speech."
I can't repeat the speech, but President Tim said pretty much what Sid Madison had told me somebody would say. I was just the kind of student they wanted at UND, and they truly hoped that I would attend. If I came, I would be the recipient of a Milson scholarship that would pay room, board, tuition, books, twice-a-year round trip transportation from home, costs of my art materials (a significant benefit), and some additional perks. Furthermore, it was unconditional for four years. I couldn't believe it. Mr. Madison had told me to negotiate. There was nothing to negotiate. It was a dream come true. It solved my problem about avoiding the University of Minnesota because of Frank and Jeremy; it solved my parents' financial issue of how to pay for my college; it saved the agony of applications and waiting for decisions. I said, "Yes," on the spot.
Dean Peters said, "Slow down, Mitch. We know we made you an outstanding offer, and it's one we hope you can't turn down. But go home, talk to your parents, your school counselor, your art teacher, and make a calm, considered decision. Then let us know."
I said, "Are you kidding me? There isn't a chance I'd turn this down. The answer is, yes, yes, yes. That's said before you change your minds. I'm not leaving this campus till I get all of this in writing. And I'll be glad to sign on the dotted line, or whatever."
Ms. Lidholtz said, "Frank, don't stand in the boy's way. I know you have the papers in your briefcase. Haul them out and get them signed. And Mitch, the president of this university is simply Tim. First names are acceptable. Please call me Liddy, and feel free to call me on the telephone if you have any questions. Frank is an old fuddy-duddy. He likes to be called Dean or Dean Peters. Humor him, but call him up any time you have questions."
Tim said, "Call me anytime as well." All three of them gave me their business cards with direct line telephone numbers. Tim continued, "Now, let's go over to the art gallery, get pictures taken of you and your painting, and introduce the Milson Art Scholar for 1995. It's sad that we're going to have to wait a year for you to come, but you do have to finish high school."
I said, "As I read the papers I just put in my pocket, my scholarship is unconditional; I don't have to finish high school."
Tim grabbed me around my shoulder and said, to no one in particular, "I like this guy already." Then he turned to me and said, "Do you want to skip your senior year of high school? You could, you know?"
That bowled me over, and I had to think really fast. But I replied, "No, I think I'd miss being a high school senior, and I don't think I'm ready to pull up stakes and leave my family just yet. I know that has to come, but I'll wait a year."
Dean Peters said, "A wise decision."
Tim said, "You know yourself well, and better than any of us do. I respect that. It's your job to steer your ship of life, and ours to try to help you through the storms, not create storms. We'll see you in a year."
I arrived back home in Duluth and was met at the airport by my parents and my art teacher, Mr. Caulkins.Mom said, "How did it go?"
I simply burst into tears of joy.I managed to get out the scholarship papers and hand them over for my parents to read.I handed Mr. Caulkins the portfolio that Sid (I was learning) handed me on Sunday morning before I left. It contained three drawings of me, all matted and signed conspicuously by Sid Madison. Sid's drawings were spectacular: I seemed to come alive right on the paper. You could just feel the joy I was feeling as I stood in Sid's studio; absorbed everyone's praise; and let the great artist sketch me. I told Mr. Caulkins that one of the drawings was for him to keep, as a thank you for all he'd done for me. I learned later that I'd just given him a gift valued at about $5,000 to $10,000, but neither one of us would've considered selling any of the three.
My senior year of high school sailed by very quickly. Frank, Jeremy, and I remained friends, and we spent nights together from time to time. But they were a clear partnership, and while they never excluded me, I felt that they were entitled to a lot of time by themselves. I was focused on life ahead, and couldn't wait to move into the world of Tim, Sid, Auggie, and many others that I knew I'd meet.
My parents and I decided that we'd tell my friends at school, and the school, that I had a scholarship to the University of North Dakota, but would remain silent regarding the amount and the spectacular lack of conditions it imposed. In particular, I didn't want my success at UND to drive a wedge between me and Frank and Jeremy. They both got very good partial scholarships to U of M in St. Paul, and were very happy. Unless they're reading this story years later, they never knew that my scholarship was very different from theirs.
The next big things in my life were meeting my new roommate, Roger Aston, and my new art teacher, Grant Harwood. And now I'll turn this narrative back to Kyle.
The storytelling took more that one walk around campus. After the second story and walk, Mitch invited Grant to join Roger and him for dinner at Jerry's. All the smart people in Grand Forks seemed to find Jerry's rather quickly. At dinner Roger went out of his way to encourage Grant and Mitch to continue their efforts to get to know each other. He suggested movies, restaurants, campus athletic events, and–though not usually fully embraced by artists–exercising together at the gym or walking, swimming or running.
Grant and Mitch followed through and as Christmas vacation approached, it was clear to them that their friendship had deepened. It was clear to Sid that this was reflected in their painting, for they'd continued painting a series of diptychs of scenes on campus. Not long before Christmas Sid invited them to dinner at his house, along with assorted friends and Gang members. Sid had an agenda, but he didn't reveal it until the last minute. However, he'd prepared carefully.
As Auggie and Kay (the two young people present) cleared the table, Sid invited Willie to talk–specifically to Mitch and Grant. Willie, one of a whole Gang of people who weren't inclined to mince words, simply said, "Well, the symbiosis thing is going well by all accounts. It's time to move it to a different level."
Grant asked, "What do you have in mind?"
Grant looked stunned. He finally said, "For a whole raft of reasons that would be out of the question."
Willie smiled and said, "We expected some sort of reply like that. Let's hear your reasons and either I, or someone, will demolish them one by one."
"For starters, Mitch is in love with Roger."
"That's true, but I don't see how that prevents you and Mitch from having a sexual relationship. Perhaps you could explain."
Grant was now completely flustered. "I..., I..., I... Mitch should be having sex with Roger."
Roger spoke up, "Oh, I assure you that he most certainly is. But he's a virile young man, certainly capable of more. On the other hand, I'm so busy at the super collider that I can't satisfy his needs."
Mitch spoke up, "That's stupid. You take care of my needs very well."
"Bullshit. When I came in the other night you'd fallen asleep on the bed, laying on top of the sheet. For sure you fell asleep jacking off, because I was late and you were horny."
Willie interrupted that with, "Let's move on. What other reasons?"
Grant said, "Well, you just don't go around having sex behind your partner's back."
Willie jumped on that with, "Right. But nobody suggested going behind Mitch's partner's back, and you don't have a partner."
Grant countered with, "Well, not behind his back. But you're supposed to be faithful to your partner."
"Well, yes, I would hope so. But if your partner encourages you, how is that being unfaithful?"
"It just isn't done."
"Oh, yes, it is. All the time. The difference is that most of the time it's behind a partner's back, and that makes all the difference."
Grant thought for a minute and said, "OK, I guess the biggie is that Mitch's my student. I'll be grading him."
Willie replied, "That's a problem. I've thought about that, and talked to a couple of people. The general agreement is that if it's in both of your interests, then there ought to be a way to proceed. The other general agreement is that the man to talk to is Tim."
"You want me to go into the office of the president of this university and ask about having sex with one of my students? Are you out of your mind?"
Ronnie said, "No, he's not. You're not going in to Tim to talk about true confessions; that would put him on the spot. You're going in to talk about a problem. You've taken no action; nothing has been done that could be criticized. And I know for a fact that Tim would be upset if he thought that a member of his faculty had a problem that he was uncomfortable talking to Tim about. So go talk."
"You people are really serious, aren't you? You all seem to think it'd be a good idea if I crawled into the sack with Mitch and we made love, in the name of art."
I said, "That's put a little more crudely than I'd like, but you've got the right idea."
Grant looked at Mitch and said, "What do you think of this?"
"You're a pretty sexy guy. Look, Grant, I've had sex with more than one guy in my life, and Roger knows it. So has he. I know you have, so we wouldn't be moving into new territory. I think I'm ready; I hope you are. Remember, we can call a halt at any time; we wouldn't be making any kind of long-term commitment."
"You guys aren't giving me much choice, but I don't think I really want it. Mitch, if you're ready, I guess I am."
Cam spoke up. "OK, I've been waiting for the right moment to make this suggestion. Tim and Charlie found the most wonderful little B&B up in Canada. It's an afternoon drive up, spend two nights, and drive back the following morning–Friday to Sunday. This Friday to Sunday. Murray and Toppy made the same trip; I'll get one of them to talk to you and give you all the details."
Kevin said, "I didn't know Murray and Toppy made that trip."
"They were struggling with one of life's great issues; I'm not sure which one. I know they came back very content. It's the perfect place for Grant and Mitch to get to know each other better, especially in the Biblical sense of know."
Grant spoke up, "Look, we agreed that we needed to have a conversation with President Tim before anything could go forward. And I'm not at all sure that he's going to smile and bless this whole business."
Sid said, "Talk to him tomorrow. If he puts a roadblock in the way, we'll have to reverse course."
Grant continued, "I don't want to keep putting obstacles in the way, but I wouldn't want to take my little car on a winter road trip in North Dakota and Canada; I stay pretty close to home this time of year."
Kevin said, "Not a problem. The Circle has a fleet of cars. They'll trade you a heavy car worthy of this time of year for your little car for the weekend. And, they rarely use all their cars, so yours will probably just sit on their lot. Just talk to Murray."
Grant said, "Look, Mitch and I don't even know Murray."
Kevin said, "You will in a few minutes. I just called him on my cell and he's on his way over here."
Grant looked at Mitch, "Are you ready for all of this?"
Mitch said, "I find it very hard to believe; I'm not used to friends, some of which are almost strangers, being this kind and generous. But I'm truly enjoying soaking up the love. Yes, I'm ready for all of this."
Kay said, "He gets it. Oh, Mitch you really get it." She walked over to where he was seated, slipped onto his lap, and give him a huge kiss. "You're wonderful."
The meeting the next morning with Tim was certainly an eye-opener for Grant, and Mitch as well. Grant had opened the meeting in Tim's office with, "Dr. Tim...."
"Tim, I have a problem. Ronnie told me to be completely up front and unembarrassed in speaking to you, and I'll try. Mitch here, and I, have been painting together for the past few months. I'll have to admit that we've had some stunning success."
"I've seen some of your working hanging in the gallery. It's quite good," said Tim.
"Well, several people, specifically Ronnie, Sharon, Kyle, and especially Willie, have suggested that the art would improve as what they call symbiosis
increases between us. They're strongly suggesting that a sexual relationship between us would further the symbiosis."
Tim said, "And thereby improve your art."
"I think that's oversimplifying it, but that's the idea."
"And Mitch is your student. Is that the problem?"
"Well, you can't have a sexual relationship with one of your students. Period...."
"So there wasn't much reason for our coming here. That's what I told them."
"I didn't say that. Never approach a problem by asking why you can't do something; ask how you can. In this case, the clear answer is that you have to end the student-teacher relationship."
"So, do I quit, or does Mitch drop out?"
"Slow down. This is a big campus. There are many students in loving relationships with teachers. Just not their teachers. Mitch, what class do you take from Grant?"
"That could be taken from a number of professors, right?"
"Yes. But I like working with Grant."
"Are there other courses you want, or need, to take from Grant."
Grant answered, "My Impressionism course is required."
Tim thought for a minute and then said, "OK, here's the deal. First, Mitch, switch professors in your studio course. After you hear my whole idea, you can ask Grant to suggest the best teacher. Grant, as a faculty member, you can take a course each term; sign up for the same studio art course that Mitch is in. That'll end the teacher-student relationship; you'll be fellow students. As for Impressionism, get it waived. I'll sign the waiver if need be, but that won't be needed. Mitch, you can audit Impressionism, just so Grant isn't giving you a grade. Mitch, if I'm not mistaken, you have a partner. Roger, isn't it?"
"How do you know? Well, I guess I answered your question. Yes."
"Presidents are supposed to know everything. And a very wise lady once told me that wise persons never reveal their sources. I assume that Roger is aware of this conversation?"
"Oh, God, yes."
"Willie would never have urged this course behind Roger's back. But that means that you ought to keep your relationship with Grant very private. If you take the steps that I laid out, Grant would be in the clear if the relationship became public. The university won't condemn him for what some might call an adulterous relationship, as long as it isn't with a minor or his student. Besides, thanks to an outdated law, you and Roger can't get married, so the relationship isn't legally adulterous. But, privacy would be a good idea. I don't want to spoil any Christmas plans, but I think you should wait until this semester's grades are published and you're both registered for a studio course together next term."
Grant said, "I certainly didn't expect this kind of support."
"Grant, and Mitch, Sid's told me about you. I'm sure that he's supportive of this, and it's my job to be supportive as well. UND wants to claim two more top flight artists, and we want them to be the best they can be. I strongly respect Willie's judgement in this case. He knows exactly what symbiosis is and what it can accomplish. It's won him two gold medals."
It did mean that Cam's idea for a trip to Canada before Christmas had to become an early in the new year trip to Canada. But by early January they were off, following the trail of Tim and Charlie, and Murray and Toppy. You've met the chefs and the innkeepers. I'm going to move the story forward to their arrival in that wonderful back bedroom in the Crystal House with its king bed and lovely view of the plains.
Grant looked out the window and exclaimed, "I know why Murray thought that we should come here. The view's wonderful."
"Murray says to be sure and see it at sunset, which is going to be before five o'clock this far north."
"That's in about two hours. I'm not hungry yet, let's stay here until the sky's color's passed and then head out for dinner."
"And that brings us to the elephant in the room, now that we've run out of trivia to talk about."
Grant replied, "Ah, yes, the elephant. Well, we both agreed that this was a good idea, but now we have to deal with it in the here and now, not the there and soon."
"Why're we finding this difficult?"
"Because we know there are a lot of issues here, and while we've dealt with them logically, we still have to deal with them emotionally."
"When I've had sex in the past, the hard part was the initial discussion: would talking about sex out me? Would it undermine the relationship I have with the other person? Now we're past that; in fact, other people easily pushed us past that stage. But having agreed that we're going to have a sexual relationship, we're still hesitating."
"Mitch, you're a beautiful young man. When I learned you'd be in my studio class I knew who you were, and that you'd be the outstanding artist in the freshman class–your reputation had preceded you. But I did not know you were a work of art by yourself. But you were a student, younger than me by a dozen years, and completely off limits. I still enjoyed looking at you, and sometimes imagining what your body looked like under your clothes. I could dream of you in advanced studio when kids started to do nude studies and wonder if you'd be interested in that. But the rule was, 'Hands off,' and I kept my hands off, mentally and physically. This afternoon I'm getting all tingly at the idea of actually seeing you nude."
"Grant, I have to be honest here. I never thought of you in sexual terms until that damn little Willie brought it up. Since then, my mind has wandered to thinking of you, and thinking of sex with you, all too often. The idea excites me. But it's the sex, not the nudity, that excites me."
"Interesting. Well, that means one thing: I'm going to get my jollies before you do. May I undress you?"
"Do we need to pull the shade?"
"That would spoil the sunset." He carefully looked out the window. "No, we're high enough here that nobody can look in, unless they have a telescope on that hill over there. Quite unlikely. May I undress you?"
Grant walked over to Mitch who was standing between the bed and the window. They'd taken off their coats, and now Grant untucked Mitch's sweat shirt and slowly pulled it over his head. Mitch had nothing on under the sweat shirt and was now bare to the waist. Grant asked, "No tee shirt?"
"I hate undershirts and tee shirts; I always just wear one shirt. If I'm cold I put on a jacket."
"You're going to have to work your way through three layers on me."
"I can handle that. But it's still your move."
Grant knelt down and untied his shoes and slipped them off, along with his socks. The he unbuckled Mitch's belt, unhooked the waistband, and unzipped his fly. That allowed him to push down his pants, and Mitch stepped out of them.
Grant started to push his underpants, but Mitch stopped him, and said, "OK, you imagined what my genitals looked like. Let's see how accurate you were. Am I circumcised?"
"How long is my soft dick?"
"About three inches."
"Five and a half inches."
"Darker or lighter than my other skin?"
"What color is my pubic hair?"
"Are my balls round or elongated?"
"Do they hang low?"
"No, they're tight."
"Well, as you'll see, you got it all just about right. I think you'll find that when I'm hard I go over six inches. Push 'em down."
Grant did. And, indeed, he'd been almost completely correct. Of course, by now it was impossible to measure a soft dick, but the hard one was certainly over six inches and probably very close to seven. In a very emotional voice Grant said, "My God, you're as beautiful as I ever imagined. Behold, Mitch the Magnificent."
Mitch was startled by this compliment, and said, "I guess I should say thank you for that. I really don't think it's deserved."
"Believe me it is." Grant's hand moved toward Mitch's dick.
"Before you touch it, take off your own clothes."
"Do you want to try to describe my dick?"
"No. As I said, I haven't been dreaming of it, and I'm quite prepared to be surprised with what I get."
Grant realized it was going to take a real mental effort to get his own clothes off, but he managed. He stood before Mitch, hard as a rock, and completely embarrassed. Mitch just laughed at him. "Grant, this isn't the first time for you, don't be so embarrassed."
"What makes you think I'm embarrassed?"
"You're very hard; your face's red; and you're having a hard time not putting your hands in front of your dick. Now, remember, I dreamed of sex while you dreamed of nudity. Well, you've had your nudity. It's my turn." He took hold of Grant's penis and gently pulled him to the bed.
They lay on the bed together, fondling each other gently. Mitch was doing most of the fondling, and Grant was certainly enjoying it. After a while Mitch said, "There wasn't much of a sunset this evening, the sky was too clear. Let's get dressed, walk over to the famous supper club, eat dinner, continue our conversation, and then come back here and continue more than a conversation."
"Sounds good to me."
Their reception and meal at the Crystal City Supper Club were wonderful, as they'd been led to expect. They were amazed that the chef remembered Murray and the others, and he was glad to be able to report that they were all doing well. "Tell them to visit us more often," was the response.
The conversation and dinner worried Mitch a little. Grant raised a new issue that he felt might stand in the way of their relationship. Grant explained, "You know, Mitch, I've been thinking about this idea of symbiosis. I'll grant everything that's been said so far, but there's a difference. The models we've been looking at are athletes, in particular, Olympic athletes. They focus on a single event, or series of events over a short period of time. The relationship reaches a climax as the Olympics arrive, and from Willie's comments, the night before his diving finals are quite spectacular–sexually. But our relationship doesn't focus on a event, it's ongoing. I don't need, to use Tim's words, love and support, to paint one painting; whatever support I need must be a continuing thing that goes on perhaps for years."
Mitch was worried that this was leading up to a cancellation of the evening's plans. He said, "Yes, that's right. That's certainly what I'm hoping."
Grant continued, "But look at where that puts you. We're talking about your maintaining a powerful relationship, a physical one, with two different partners. How's a relationship with me, extended over time, not going to get in the way of your relationship with Roger? Willie's married. He builds up to an Olympics, his wife wishes him well, but knows that when the Olympics are over, their relationship will return to normal. For Roger, there'll never be a time when the relationship returns to normal, unless you and I cease painting diptychs, which may happen, but we're certainly looking at a long term relationship as painters of, if not of diptychs, something."
Mitch was silent a long time. Eventually he said, "I see my relationship to you as different from my relationship with Roger, though both have a sexual element. Roger and I are committed to making our lives together, but our professional lives don't mix, at least until he asks me to paint my idea of what goes on inside a super collider. You and I have thoroughly intertwined professional lives, at least we expect to. I see a sexual relationship as the ultimate fulfillment of both of those relationships. I know that it isn't conventional in this world for professional relationships to become sexual, but why not? Social taboos? Societal norms? What Willie and the others have been telling us is that all that's bullshit. Really close relationships, of all kinds, become physical. Most people stop at hugging, but that's their loss. Really wholesome physical relationships involve the entire body. Limiting myself to just hugging you would be as incomplete as the relationship between two men, one of whom unzips his fly and lets the other give him a blow job. I want all of you, and I want all of Roger."
Mitch continued, "But what worries me is that if you and I develop this kind of a professional relationship you won't find the romantic interest that I think you need in order to be fulfilled. I'm not going to be able to fill that void for you, but our relationship may get in the way of your filling it."
"I haven't found Mr. Right yet, but I will."
"But will he be as accepting of the relationship between the two of us as Roger is?"
"If he isn't, then he isn't Mr. Right."
"You're narrowing the field–a lot."
"You, Willie, Murray, Tim, and a lot of others were successful in that search. I will be too. Don't let that get in the way of the two of us."
"Have we talked this to death? Are you ready to go back to the room and stop looking for roadblocks."
"Yes," said Grant. "I know it's seemed like I was looking for excuses to not go ahead. But I really think it's important that we've talked a lot of this out. We don't want to make a mistake, and there really isn't any going back."
"Let's just go forward."
They fought over the check but Mitch won. He said, "With the scholarship that the university gave me, I probably have more disposable income than you do. I'll get this check; we'll split the B&B bill. If we ever do sell any paintings, that'll be joint money and we won't have to have an argument like this."
"The sooner the better as far as I'm concerned."
Back in the room barriers seemed to slip away. Grant started by asking, "Mitch, do a really sexy strip tease for me, I just love looking at your body."
Mitch did and ended by kissing Grant and pulling his clothes off as they kissed. Mitch soon had Grant on the floor in front of the now darkened window, sucking madly on his dick. The obvious result came, and then Grant rolled over on his knees and said, "Fuck me."
Mitch complied, after a good dousing with KY. In discussion afterwards they discovered the wonderful serendipity that Mitch was a top and Grant a bottom, or more specifically Mitch didn't much enjoy things up his ass and Grant did. Grant asked about Roger.
"Roger seems to like just about everything, but I don't think getting fucked is his favorite role. I'll fuck him whenever he wants, but I think he'll be glad that I can get my fill of fucking with you."
"Hug me Mitch, and kiss me."
They hugged, kissed, and slept. The next morning the light reflecting off of snow wakened them pretty early. They hugged tight, kissed, and without any talking took turns sucking each other. They had breakfast with their host and hostess, the Fallworths, and then returned to the room. Both of them were amazed at how easy and comfortable they'd become with each other. They either lay in bed, or sat on the love seat facing the window, saying very little. They had sex on and off, often without the need for an orgasm. By four it was clear that it was another cloudless day with no pretty sunset, and that they were hungry. They headed to the Supper Club for dinner, holding hands, and feeling like teenagers newly in love. At dinner Grant said, "How does one separate professional symbiosis from romantic love?"
"I don't know. And I don't much care. How I feel toward you hasn't changed how I feel towards Roger, and some of the things we did today make me want to hurry home and try them with Roger. Don't worry, Grant, you're not going to push Roger out of my life."
"I promise not to worry. God I had a wonderful day today."
"Me too. And we're going to have a wonderful night."
The next afternoon they drove home, and Grant headed the Circle's car straight to the dormitory where Mitch and Roger lived. They went up to their room and met Roger, who was expecting them. Roger said, "You're both glowing; it must've gone well. Mitch is going to tell me, and show me, tonight. I don't feel like going out; Grant would you join us as our guest in the campus dining hall next door?"
Later, Grant just scratched his head. He wasn't sure that if he had a lover he could share him as Roger seemed to be willing to. He decided that Roger was as exceptional a young man as Mitch had proven to be.
The ongoing relationship wasn't as much of a problem as Grant had feared it'd be. Grant and Mitch painted together as much as they could. Socially Roger often joined them, but was almost as likely to be involved with some project in the Physics Department or at the Super Collider. Sex was never central to their relationship, but it was frequently on their minds and schedules. Grant had a small, but nice, apartment with a king-size bed, which he and Mitch shared from time to time, sometimes with Roger joining in. Grant only rarely visited Mitch in the dorm room he shared with Roger. While they'd taken care not to have a relationship which could harm them if it came to light, all agreed that it was better if it remained private. They realized that nothing really remains private in a college dormitory.
That semester they spent a large part of their available time painting. Auggie wasn't around very much due to his sailing, but when he was in town the three of them, often four because Lynn would join them, sought photo opportunities for Auggie which Grant and Mitch could use as a source for their next diptych. This included landscapes, a still life or two (which Auggie loved to photograph), an ice sailing scene which Auggie loved and which Grant and Mitch were somewhat uncertain about, and some portraits. Mitch felt insecure about portraits, but Grant pointed out the wonderful one that he'd done as a high school junior for the Northern Tier High School Painting Competition. Mitch replied, "Back then I wasn't embarrassed to slavishly copy Rembrandt's style. I'd never do that today."
Grant replied, "It's time to create the Flaherty style."
By the middle of March they had a number of diptychs hanging in the studio where they both painted as students. Sid came by often to see them paint, make gentle comments, and survey the growing corpus of their work. He decided that it was time to push them into the public eye. He called the New Finds Gallery in New York and asked for Andy. Andy was Andre Stilson's son, who was now running the gallery. Andre had continued to represent Sid in placing his material in galleries across the United States and Europe. However, Sid no longer qualified as a "new find" and seldom showed his work at the New Finds Gallery. (Their annual Alumni Exhibition being the obvious exception.) But Andy knew Sid well and said, "Sid, what can I do for you?"
"You can't do anything for me, but I can do a lot for you. There are two artists out here that paint as a team. They do diptychs. And they've created some really good ones. They'd show well at New Finds and make you some money. Come out here and take a look. And say, 'Hello,' to your father for me and thank him for the last check."
Andy Stilson was in Grand Forks before a week was out. He was quite impressed with the diptychs that Grant and Mitch had painted. His first question was, "How soon can you have twenty to thirty of these to put together for a New York show at New Finds? I'd like to feature August Madison's photographs as well, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to make the connection with Sid Madison."
Grant replied, "It takes us more than a week to paint a single diptych, given our schedules. However, if we paint seriously over the summer, counting those already painted, we could have twenty or a few more done by summer's end. What do you think, Mitch?"
"I'm ready if you are. I can't really believe this."
Andy said, "Believe it. We had tremendous luck with both Sid and Prince, and we can do well by you as well. New Finds has become a pretty respected gallery. You know, Sid's show that ended up in the Guggenheim really put New Finds on the map." And so Grant and Mitch, with Auggie doing the photography when he could, had a project for the rest of the semester and the summer.
With the commitment of the artists, Andy went to work scheduling a show for October 1997 at New Finds. He counted on 24 diptychs, i.e. 48 paintings and one or two of Auggie's photographs to go with each, That would take all of New Finds display space, except their small side gallery. He called Sid and Prince and asked if they had material to exhibit in the side gallery, along with some notes about how Mitch and Grant came out of the same Grand Forks tradition. Andy said, "I think we'll call it the Grand Forks School. It sounds good, it ties the newcomers names to yours, and believe me, it won't be long before you'll be glad to tie your names to theirs. I can't believe their diptychs, and they're going to startle the critics here."
Well, the show didn't cause traffic jams; they didn't line up around the block; and it didn't get moved to the Guggenheim after it's first day. By any other standards it was a smashing success. There'd been some considerable discussion of what prices to put on the paintings. Andy insisted,, and the artists certainly agreed, that they had to be sold as a set–the two paintings and Auggie's photographs. Andy was startled to learn that Auggie customarily sold reproduction rights along with his photographs, but insisted that couldn't be done in this case. He said, "Paintings are not sold with reproduction rights, though sometimes the sales contract restricts what the artist, who retains the rights, can do with them. In this case, the reproduction rights to paintings and photographs need to be retained by you, and you want to have quality photographs of the paintings taken before they're displayed and sold. Now, in those terms, what price range should we give to the sets?"
Mitch responded first, perhaps trying to prove the saying that fools rush in where angels fear to treat. "Could we get $5,000 for one of the sets?"
Grant hesitated, and then said, "I think we could get a little more than that."
Auggie said, "Hell, they can't buy my photos for that, much less your paintings."
Andy smiled and said, "We can always negotiate down, but I think the posted asking prices should range from $19,000 to $28,000. We'll only price one below $20,000 and only a couple above $25,000."
Grant said, "You have to be kidding us. Unknown artists don't command that kind of money in their first exhibition. I'd be very happy with a range of $5,000 to $9,000."
Auggie just giggled.
Andy said, "You won't refuse the larger number when people start writing checks, will you? And don't forget, you're unknown and all of the publicity, advertising and so forth falls on the gallery, so we'll be keeping 30%. In future exhibits, we'll only ask for 15 to 20%."
Auggie did a little mental arithmetic. "We could net more than a third of a million dollars."
Grant said, "Over a hundred thousand dollars each."
Auggie said, "Oh, no, this isn't going to be split three ways. I have only a small part here. I only want ten percent."
Mitch said, "Well, you're going to get a third."
Grant said, "I agree."
Andy said, "I agree, too. But perhaps for different reasons than Grant and Mitch. Auggie, you have an established name as a photographer. That's part of the reason that we can get the prices I anticipate. You don't give your name away cheap, even to friends and colleagues. I think the one-third each plan is wise."
Auggie shook his head, "No."
Mitch said, "Look, he's agreeing with us. Andy, when you cut the checks, on the off chance that a few of these paintings and photographs actually sell at those prices, divide the money equally three ways. And Auggie, Shut up."
Auggie shut up, thinking to himself, "Buy the damn shoes."
The exhibition opened on October first, and five of the sets sold that day to a single collector who viewed them as an investment. He told Andy, whom he'd known for years and from whom he'd bought a lot of art, "I'm going to more than double my money on these in three years. These guys are going places."
When the exhibition opened the next day Andy had doubled the prices on all of the remaining sets. The exhibit ran a month, and all were sold before it closed.
Auggie loved his photographs of ice sailing and had persuaded Grant and Mitch to paint them. Mitch had painted a stylized view, emphasizing long black lines following the mast, boom, stays, and other straight lines of the boats. Grant had painted a rich, magnificent color image, emphasizing the blues of the water, sky, and hull of the boat. Auggie loved the result. He told Andy to raise the price to $100,000, secretly hoping that it wouldn't sell, but it did. All told, each of the artists got $234,785. When their checks arrived in the mail about a month after the exhibition closed, Grant and Mitch were overwhelmed. Auggie just grinned and said, "Not bad, but you have to remember that my father came back from New York with more than a million dollars in his pocket."
Neither Grant nor Mitch had any clue that Sid had made that kind of money as a high school student, and were startled to hear Auggie mention it. Auggie said, "You need to get used to the world you're moving into. You're wealthy and you're going to get wealthier. Now, the question is, are you going to be driven by your desire to create great art, or your desire to make money. Sometimes they work together, but sometimes they pull in opposite directions. Greed can easily become a powerful motivator. Think about that as you take those checks to the bank."
They both hoped that money would never become their major motivator, and they vowed to each other that it wouldn't. But, over the years, they had to admit that money was always a temptation.
Regardless, Grant Harwood, Mitch Flaherty, and the Grand Forks School of painting were firmly established in the world of art.
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