I took one last look at the antique broach, closed the lid of the velvet box, got up from the desk, slipped the box into the jacket pocket of the clothes I'd laid out on the chair next to my studio couch, and came back to the desk. I'd left the drawer open. I took out the worn stack of postcard-size photographs I kept in the drawer and started shuffling through them, looking for inspiration.
I had pulled out all of the stops on the broach I was giving Marlee for Christmas. We'd met for the first time twenty years ago tonight, Christmas Eve. We both had been drunk. It was the first and only time we had sex. I wouldn't have remembered the twenty-year anniversary myself, though, if Marlee hadn't brought it up last August. She'd been looking over my drawings, saying she needed some for a special Christie's auction, and I'd seen her hesitate over them, not immediately picking any. This wasn't like her.
"What's wrong with them?" I had asked.
"Nothing, of course, darling," she'd said, and immediately selected two. The best two, of course. Marlee had the eye for best quality. But that was why I'd been concerned about the brief hesitation.
Then she had pulled a 180-degree turn on me. "You know, it will be our twentieth anniversary this Christmas Eve. I believe a special gift is in order."
She left me then, with me scratching my head over what in the fuck that meant and taking up my drawings to examine them closely and wonder what was wrong with them-because surely there was something wrong with them. Marlee didn't hesitate over top-quality art.
I shuffled through the photographs until a vision started to form in my mind and then stood away from the desk and, in the nude, walked over to the easel, flipped the drawing pad to a new page, picked up a piece of black charcoal, and began to sketch in broad, bold strokes.
It was unusually quiet for the Chelsea district of New York late on a weekday afternoon, but this was Christmas Eve. Other galleries like mine on 22nd Street had closed early too, and nearly everyone was home preparing for whatever they had decided to do to ring in Christmas. I was alone in my studio.
My gallery was a small one, a narrow store front that ran deep to the back alley. The front gallery was where I sold my beloved post World War II Japanese wood-block prints by such artists as Kiyoshi Saito, Joichi Hoshi, Tadashi Nakayama, and Sadao Watanabi. Behind that, however, in a very private gallery that provided most of my income, were my male nudes, many of which were my own drawings under the assumed name of Hamilton Gold. It was a special thrill of mine to hear collectors praise artwork I was showing them without realizing that I was the artist.
My studio was in the area behind this gallery. This was where I now was-a long, narrow room with art work piled against the walls, my desk and a filing cabinet, a small platform with my easel standing in front of it, a studio couch, and a small bathroom beside a counter with a sink in it.
I stood at the easel, looking at the platform that only supported a velvet-draped bench, and imagined my model posed there. Half way through the drawing, I realized the perspective was off. I tore the sheet away, crumpled it, and let it drift to the floor to join a week's worth of earlier failures. Furiously, I attacked the blank sheet that had been under it, trying to work fast enough not to lose the image in my head. I had discarded many more false starts in the past few months than in the years before-enough for even me to notice. Even I was becoming slightly dissatisfied with almost everything I was drawing now. Marlee had noticed that in August. It had taken me until October to fully accept that she had been right. November and December had been agony.
I hoped that my frustration and dissatisfaction wouldn't spill over into the evening. Marlee deserved better than that. She was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
We had met at a Christmas Eve party at a loft apartment of an artist whose paintings were in one of the first exhibits I was included in following art school. He was far more famous than I was-and still is, for that matter-but he had taken an interest in me. I had thought his interest was in my art, but on the night of the exhilarating opening of the show, he invited me back to his loft and showed me in no uncertain terms that his interest was in me, not my art. I was flattered. And he was so much farther ahead of me in the "notable artist" race. I had given him what he wanted. And what he wanted was a little kinky, but I grew to want it too.
We hooked up now and then for the next few months, and he invited me to his Christmas Eve party, which I attended in awe in the knowledge that everyone there was far more notable in the art world than I was.
Marlee had been present too. She had already been pointed out to me as an up and coming art curator at Christie's auction house. She was older than I was, perhaps as much as ten years, but we never did pin that down. It didn't seem important then and it doesn't seem any more important now. We somehow found ourselves elbow to elbow at the bar that had been set up on top of a door set on a couple of sawhorses-both of us had been to the bar far more times than we should have been. I started to introduce myself, but she said she knew who I was. She declared that she had been to all of my exhibitions-all three of them, I quickly admitted to-and that she saw much promise in my art.
I don't know who was monopolizing the time and attention of the other for the next hour and it hardly matters, but I found that, in a drunken stupor, we had arrived back at her apartment on Eighth Avenue and that we had fucked.
The awkward groping had been a disaster. It was what I thought she expected, though-and she was an up and coming art curator at Christies who knew my art and thought it had promise.
"We must promise never . . . ever to do that again," she had said with a low, throaty laugh, when after a laborious effort I had come and rolled off her.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled. "I will leave."
"No, please. That's not what I mean. And I don't want you to leave. I think I want you to stay. Obviously, though, this is not what either one of us wants. But what we want might not be the best to broadcast. I propose that you come live with me. I want to be closer to the development of your art. I think you are going to be someone very important in the field. But . . ."
"But what?" I had asked.
"But no matter what we pretend to the world, I propose that there never be any pretense between us. We must not try this again."
I had stayed. Going on twenty years-tonight. And we never fucked each other again.
We both had fucked since then, of course. Marlee with a succession of younger women in the arts-she was partial to stage actresses. And I with men. The preferences of the artist in the loft had been dark and I had found them to my taste.
Marlee helped me establish my art gallery and was the main conduit for my secret collection, taking chosen pieces from me and bringing special clients to my back gallery. And when I wasn't showing and selling art, I was creating it in the studio at the back of my galley.
For several years I had cruised the rough bars of the Chelsea District within a few blocks of my studio. I brought rougher trade back to the studio and they would pose for me and then fuck me on my studio couch. Afterward I would do drawings of them from the inspiration of the encounter and from memory and it would be these that would sell the best. Then about ten years ago-no maybe only eight-I had been brutally assaulted while bound and was robbed and my studio ransacked as I helplessly watched. It was several hours before Marlee found and freed me. She neither judged no laughed at me, for which I have eternally felt grateful. But as for the bound assault, I felt violated and stopped bringing men back to the studio.
Since then I had tried to capture the inspiration I needed from photographs.
I let my attention roam while drawing the nude figure this time and that helped. I let my hand operate from pure inspiration and instinct, no intervention of trying to get it perfect. It thus turned out close to perfect. Not completely perfect, but it was near enough perfect to fool a client. Not Marlee, of course, but this would be one that she would take for auction. She would hesitate and sigh, but she would take it. But there was no pretense with Marlee on what was perfect and what was not.
I put the charcoal down and padded into the small bathroom at the back corner of the studio and stood under the shower and masturbated myself back into the world of reality.
When I came out of the shower, my mind was back in the groove of the evening. It was Christmas Eve. I was meeting Marlee near the tree in Rockefeller Center and she would decide where we were going from there.
I thought again about the gift I had gotten her. I pulled the velvet box out of the pocket of my jacket and opened it and looked at the antique broach again. I still thought this was the perfect gift. Marlee had had a broach exactly like this that she had inherited from her grandmother. She had worn it on special occasions since I met her-she wore it that Christmas Eve twenty years ago. A few years later, however, the broach had gone missing and Marlee had been crushed and had moped around for a couple of months. Luckily, photographs existed of Marlee wearing the broach.
Last August, what Marlee had said about this being our twentieth anniversary and worthy of a special gift had rung in my ears for days. I had gone in search of a jeweler who could replicate the lost broach perfectly. I hounded him about how it had to be a perfect match, that Marlee had an eye for perfection. And this broach was perfect, I was sure of it.
And Marlee was perfect too.
* * * *
"Isn't he gorgeous, Frank?"
"Yes, he's perfect," I said, but Marlee couldn't hear me over the noise in the apartment near Times Square, so I said it louder.
"Yes, he's perfect."
Marlee laughed and said, "Yes that's the word for Lars." Then she squeezed my arm and wafted off in the direction of the young stage actress, Sally Troth. Sally was the toast of the town. She was starring even now in the Judy Holliday role in a revival of the classic romantic comedy The Solid Gold Cadillac on Broadway. The revival timing could not have been any more fortuitous, and it was playing to packed house of cheering audiences. In this play a ditzy blonde, originally played to type by Judy Holliday, but now starring Sally Troth, who was anything but ditzy, bumbles her way onto the board of directors of a corrupt corporation and through basic honesty, perseverance, and innocent misinterpretation of everything being proposed to co-opt her, rose to the position of CEO and set the corporation's house in order to the cheers of the small shareholders. This play had opened the weekend Occupy Wall Street had set up camp on Wall Street to protest the greed of corporations in America. There was little question then that Sally Troth's play would be a sell-out.
When Marlee had approached me at the tree in Rockefeller Center and put her arm through mine, she'd looked up at me with a twinkle in her eye as if she'd scored a visitation with the queen or pope and informed me, "Tonight we are guests of Sally Troth, Frank."
I was happy, yes-but mostly for Marlee. She'd been talking about the charms of Sally Troth for weeks. For me, I would have preferred a more quiet Christmas Eve-a gourmet dinner and then home to revel in the knowledge that we'd made it for twenty years. It was like we were an old, comfortable married couple.
The perfect Lars had been on door duty when we arrived. He was a towering blond Nordic hunk, with good, white, sparkling teeth; a crushing bear paw; and a jovial welcome. He was even wearing a Santa hat. My immediate thought was that he also was the bouncer, but when Marlee introduced him as "Our host, Lars"-no last name-my next thought was to wonder if he was a Troth or if Sally was carrying her stage name beyond the theater.
For the next hour and a half, it was bedlam in the apartment. Marlee was at Sally's side much of the evening and Lars was cruising around and seeing that everyone was having a good time. Several times he winked at me in passing, and each time I'd have to admit I was having a good time-if only because he smiled my way. There were several artists and art collectors there, as Marlee had assured me there would be, and I worked the room.
I was concentrating on business so hard that almost everyone was gone before I realized that the entertainment rooms were thinning out. I looked at my watch. It was very early for calling it quits in New York, but then I realized it was Christmas Eve and could understand that everyone would want to be home to lift a cup to the next day in more privacy.
I realized too that I was near exhaustion and also that I'd had a bit too much to drink, not having counted my drinks while I was working the art crowd. I went over to Marlee and Sally, who were now sitting at the dining room table, with their shoes kicked off, and chatting merrily. I suggested that perhaps it was time we went home too, but Marlee just smiled at me and waved me away.
"Go in the living room and enjoy the tree and the fire," Sally said in a rich contralto that I'm sure enhanced her charm on the stage. "Lars is seeing the last of the other guests out. He'll bring you a Cognac and keep you company. Marlee and I still have much to discuss."
I was happy for Marlee that she had made this connection with the actress. I knew that she had wanted to become friends with her. I fingered the velvet box in my jacket pocket. I wanted to be alone with Marlee to give her her special Christmas gift. But Marlee was enjoying herself. That's what was important. There was plenty of time to give her the gift later.
I took my jacket off and laid it over the back of a nearby straight chair and sat in the sofa facing the fireplace. The Christmas tree, the lights and ornaments of which twinkled invitingly in the glow of the fire, was located to one side of the fireplace.
A maid came through picking up platters and glasses on the coffee and side tables. I heard Sally's rich voice telling her in the other room just to stack the dishes in the kitchen and to go home to her family and enjoy their Christmas.
Left on the coffee table among a few expensive-looking knick-knacks and memorabilia from past plays was a small box, wrapped in gold foil. Also on the table were a few photographs in small frames. Although there was a man or two depicted in these, Lars didn't seem to be among them. Before I could think further on this, a smiling Lars-his full set of white teeth also gleaming in the firelight-was standing beside the sofa with two snifters of golden brown liquid in them.
"Mind if I sit, Frank? It is Frank, isn't it? You're with Marlee Colson, aren't you."
"Right on both counts," I answered. "And of course you can sit. It's your house. I'm sorry that Marlee can't stop gabbing. I'm sure you and your wife want to have the rest of the evening to yourselves."
"Not at all, Frank," Lars said and then he sat on the sofa, very close to me. "Have you seen the present yet, Frank?" he said in a low, hoarse voice when he had sat down.
I was finding the close presence of him intoxicating-more so than the Cognac, which I hadn't the nerve yet to pour on top of the other liquor I'd already had that evening.
"Present? What present?"
"There in the gold wrappings. Right there on the coffee table. It's for you. Did you look at the tag. Isn't that your name? Open it."
"For me?" I asked, confused. I didn't reach for it, so Lars did. He also ripped the wrapping off it as he handed it to me.
Purely out of surprise, my stomach lurched and I thought I would lose all of the rich food I'd eaten at the party. How did they know-whoever they were-I wondered. It was a bound stack of postcard-sized photographs with a cover on it. I recognized the name immediately. Jeff Palmer. A premier photographer of male nudes. There was a title on it: "Beautiful Bondage."
My intake of breath was audible. I had no idea that such photographs existed, especially not by Jeff Palmer, who did in photography what I attempted to achieve with charcoal. And the subject matter. How could they possibly know? The Japanese art of Beautiful Bondage combined my love of Japanese wood-block prints with my sexual fetish-mild bondage-and it raised that combined form to an art. Jeff Palmer had produced this book of postcard photographs bringing the Japanese art to his own technique.
I held the book, unopened, in trembling hands.
Lars moved very close and put an arm around my shoulders and brought me very close into him. His arm went between mine and my chest and he was fingering the buttons on my white silk shirt. His own shirt was red silk and was open almost down to his navel, showing a massive, well-developed chest covered in downy, curly golden hair. His trousers, as I had noticed earlier, were tight and black and almost could be said to be dancer's tights. The bulge could not be ignored.
"Look at the photos, Frank," Lars whispered.
Nonsensically responding to the command, I started leafing through the photographs. They were everything I could hope to have seen in them. My imagination was going wild on the drawings I could do from these. Using both hands, Lars had my shirt unbuttoned and his fingers playing with my nipples before I came back down to earth.
"The women," I murmured through heavy breaths.
"What women?" he asked, and then he gave a low laugh.
I looked toward the dining room. Marlee and Sally were no longer there.
"We're alone, and I know what you like, Frank," Lars whispered.
"Lars," I murmured. I might have resisted, but the women weren't there. It suddenly struck me that Marlee wanted to come to this party because she wanted to be Sally. Well, if Marlee was going to have her fun . . .
"Hush. And relax, Frank. Lars knows what you want. And Lars wants it too. Concentrate on the photographs. I've given you a present. Give me one too."
He had already unzipped my trousers and taken my cock out with one of his big mitts. The hand of the arm encasing me continued to work my nipples, while the other one stroked my cock. I couldn't fool him. I wanted him. My body betrayed me. I moaned and concentrated on the Beautiful Bondage photographs, my mind racing over possibilities for drawing poses.
When I was ready to come for him, Lars lowered his lips to my cock and took the cum inside his mouth. He raised his lips to mine, and I tasted my essence in his kiss.
He sat away from me then and pulled three long silk scarves, one vermillion, one gold, and the other emerald green out of his side pocket.
"It will be a jolly good Christmas," he said. Then he laughed again and turned to me and, with a more serious expression and a more commanding voice, said. "Take off your clothes, please, and go over to the fireplace."
Cowed and confused but still humming from the expert cocksucking I stood and did as he commanded, letting my clothes fall between the sofa and the chair where I had put my jacket. While I did this, Lars had taken a sable throw off the back of an easy chair and laid it out flat in front of the fireplace.
"On your belly on the rug," he said in a calm, but not-to-be denied voice.
I did as he asked. He tied my wrists together with the vermillion scarf, tying off the other end on a sturdy leg of a mahogany library table. My ankles were bound together with the green scarf. The golden one was used to cover my eyes.
I started to breath heavily as I heard the rustling of his clothes as he took them off and let them fall to the floor.
My breathing became more labored and I began to pant as his hands ran over my body, and then his tongue. I gave a little lurch and moaned as I felt his hands part my buttocks cheeks and his tongue start to rim me. I groaned when the tongue began to flick inside my anus and grunted when the lubricated fingers started to open me up.
Neither of us spoke. Lars was hard at work and I was trembling in anticipation and surprise. He straddled my thighs and I felt the heaviness of his engorged cock at the small of my back. I also felt cold hard metal.
He had a heavy cock ring! I shuddered and began to whimper. And then he was entering me in a long, slow slide. He moved his cock head back to where his cock ring rubbed on my prostate, which he sustained until I begged him for the fuck. He dove deep then and started to pump me in earnest. I cried out at the taking-it had been so long since my last one-and moaned and groaned quietly as he lay full length on top of me, holding my legs together with the strength of his knees and the bindings at my ankles, which constricted my channel so that it was a real effort to accommodate the size of him. Once he was saddled and setting a steady rhythm, the memory of how good it could be came back to me. I lifted and set my hips in a rolling motion that gave Lars a good ride and dragged my cock through the fur of the throw underneath me.
Lars laughed and fucked me into Christmas morning.
When he let me free, he pulled me up, and I shuddered again looking down and seeing the size of his cock. He guided me into a back hallway and past a closed door. I could hear moaning inside that room. Two women moaning. If I had felt guilty about letting Lars fuck me before, that was all dispelled now.
I was led into a small room that was almost filled with a twin bed.
I looked skeptical, but Lars laughed and said, "We'll manage."
Then he commanded me to lay on my back on the bed, which I did, looking up at his magnificently toned body. I would do anything he asked at that point.
He opened the closet, in which there was a bureau. Opening the top drawer, he took out two black metallic sets of velvet-lined handcuffs and a long leather strip with wide loops at each end.
I said nothing, just enjoyed every twist and turn of his muscular body, as he cuffed my wrists to the headboard above my head and then pulled the leather sling around my neck and forced my calves into the loops at either end, trussing me up completely to his whims.
Lars came up on the bed between my spread legs and, after sheathing his cock inside my channel again, hovered his torso over mine, the heels of his hands supporting him on the surface of the bed on either side of my chest, and fucked me gloriously for what seemed to be hours.
The Jeff Palmer Beautiful Bondage photographs were racing through my mind as I moaned and whispered how much I was enjoying what Lars was doing to me. Increasingly, the actual photos were replaced in my mind by poses they inspired for my drawings.
I was torn. I was loving the fuck and the bondage experience, but I wanted blank paper and a piece of charcoal in my hand.
When Lars was finished and was releasing me, though, I was too exhausted to do more than cup my body inside his on the narrow bed and drift off to sleep.
When I woke, it was morning and Lars was gone. I found that there was a small bathroom off the bedroom, and I waddled in there, not being able to keep my thighs together, my channel on fire-but a very satisfying "on fire."
I showered and did what I could to look presentable. I couldn't shave, but I decided, looking in the mirror, that I looked quite good with a day's growth of beard. I certainly was smiling and looking well fucked. I looked and felt more relaxed than I had been for months.
I recalled that my clothes were still in the living room, but I found a robe and some slippers behind the bathroom door.
I padded out to the living room and only had time to reach down to retrieve and pull on my briefs, when I heard a woman's voice trilling from the kitchen.
"We're in here, Frank. Come as you are."
I reached into the pocket of my jacket and transferred the velvet gift box to the pocket of the robe, and, not taking any more time to do more than that, walked slowly to the kitchen, wondering if there would be some sort of confrontation this morning for what I'd done-what I'd let Lars do-the previous night. The only excuse I could give was that I was drunk. It was the same excuse I'd given twenty years earlier when I had fumble fucked Marlee, so she should be able to accept it. I knew that Sally should be the one I was worried about. But she'd left me with Lars to have sex with the woman I'd brought to the party. I wasn't the most guilty person in this swap-not by a long shot. Still I couldn't tell them I had been seduced by photographs. They certainly couldn't understand the effect that those Jeff Palmer photographs had on me. Well, Marlee might. She was brilliant that way.
But there was no confrontation. There also was no Lars. What there was was a kitchen that looked like a hurricane had gone through and emptied everything out of the cupboards and onto the counter. I quickly remembered, though, that the maid had been shooed out the previous night before cleanup. What there also was were two women-both only in bathrobes and slippers as far as I could see-with smiles on their faces and purrs on their lips that brought to mind kittens falling into the bowl of cream.
"He's gone," Sally said in terse answer to my question. But she was smiling and there was no tension in her voice, so I didn't think she was angry-or particularly surprised at what might have happened. I couldn't believe that she had the imagination that would be able to grasp what actually happened. I wasn't sure I could grasp what had happened. Why and how? All I knew was that I would do it again in a flash, given the opportunity.
Marlee was sitting at a kitchen table and Sally was flitting around the counters. She quickly produced another cup for me and told me to sit. Then she took a long look at Marlee and me and announced that she was going to go take a shower.
When she was gone, I reached into the pocket of the robe and pulled out the velvet box. I set it on the table, and eyes downcast, still uncertain of my bearings here, said. "Happy Christmas, Marlee. This is for you."
Marlee reached for the box, opened it, exclaimed her delight, threw her arms around my neck, and gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek. "This is wonderful, Frank," she cried out. "It's the perfect gift."
When I heard her say the word "perfect," it was the first time since I'd dragged myself into the kitchen that I permitted myself to take a deep breath. It would be OK. She thought it was perfect.
"I have a gift for you too, Frank," she said. Then she produced a long, thin, wrapped box that she'd been keeping under the table and I hadn't seen when I entered the kitchen.
"Open it, Frank."
I tore the paper off. It was a drawing pad, and a small box of black charcoal sticks fell out of the box as I opened it and fell to the floor.
"Oh, damn," she exclaimed. "The charcoal will be broken."
"That's OK," I answered, almost absentmindedly. "I break them before I use them anyway. Umm, thanks."
I didn't quite know what to say. I had hundreds of tablets of drawing pads and boxes of charcoal back at the studio. It began to dawn on me then, though. They were back at the studio, not here.
"These aren't your gift, silly," Marlee said, her voice excited. "These are just tools to make use of your gift. Lars was your special Christmas gift. He's an actor. Just a friend of Sally's. But I thought he was what you needed to return your technique to perfection. You can only take so much inspiration from photographs. And, yes, I bought the Jeff Palmer photographs too. You need real-life inspiration too, I think, to attain that perfection in your work again."
"I don't know what to-"
"Say nothing, Frank. I know where your mind is at this moment." She rose and walked to the door into the dining room.
"I think it's time I got into the shower too, Frank. I think Sally must be lonely. And, I almost forgot. This is a gift that will keep on giving-like those flower of the month gifts. Lars is in a club. I'm sure you know what kind. I've signed up for monthly sessions for you with Lars and his friends. I want your art to sell well. You need constant inspiration."
I should have thanked her then, but I didn't really notice that she was gone. I had already opened the drawing pad to the top sheet and my hand, holding a piece of charcoal, was racing across the surface in bold-and what I knew, with assurance, were-perfect strokes.