Loving an Artist

Chapter 1

Reflected in the bathroom vanity mirror were small imperfections that he hadn’t noticed before.  His spongy love handles were more pronounced. The hair on his head, face and body had turned totally white like his father and grandfather before him. Chest and legs were firm from cycling and weight training. His manhood hung flaccid and didn’t extend as far as it did when he was in his twenties. Still he was generally pleased with what he saw.

Head and shoulders view of a bearded middle-aged white man

John's Reflection

Standing in the walk-in closet he pulled a button, starched soft blue shirt over his black tee shirt. Sitting on the foot stool he pulled on long black socks.  He pulled up black suit pants without underpants. He wanted to be risqué with no one knowing. Howard loved when he was naughty at home so he was going commando. He didn’t put a tie on because Howard didn’t like to wear ties even if he was required to wear one. He put his jacket over his arm and carried black loafers out of the bedroom.

He hadn’t dressed up since he retired four years ago. The last year had been terrible as he watched Howard waist away with untreatable prostate cancer. Today is the celebration of Howard’s life at his favorite bar on Halsted Street in Chicago. He had buried Howard’s ashes next to his mother in Queen of Heaven cemetery in Hillside. He didn’t have to dress up but he did out of respect for Howard who had been his partner for almost ten years. Howard picked him, he didn’t pick Howard. He had never seen himself with an older man. Howard was almost twenty years older. They had wonderful times together traveling all over the world and had only stopped fifteen months ago when Howard became too ill to travel.

As he sat in the Uber car for the twenty minute ride to Roscoe’s on Halsted he wondered if he would find someone as wonderful as Howard. Howard loved him, cared for him, and lifted him up when he was discouraged. Howard was always ready for another trip or cruise. While some of Howard’s money went to his grandchildren he left John in good financial shape. He didn’t have to worry. The one lingering question was if he was going to stay in the house where they had lived for ten years. It had been Howard’s family home on the northside of Chicago. The bungalow was too big for one person and there were maintenance issues. John wasn’t interested in doing those things while Howard loved fixing things.

The celebration at Roscoe’s was made special by the larger-than-life duo of Amy Armstrong and Freddie Allen.  He and Howard saw them on their first RSVP cruise. They loved to see the duo when they performed at clubs in Chicago and Saugatuck. When John contacted their agent he didn’t know if they would do a special performance. Since Freddie lived in Chicago he agreed to ask Amy. She agreed. They entertained about twenty acquaintances who were mainly Howard’s friends. As Amy belted out her naughty lyrics his mind wandered. He thought about the empty house and all Howard’s things that had to be dealt with. He tried to focus on the entertainment and the friendly conversations that were taking place. He couldn’t concentrate and was happy when the event was over.

Roger and Henry drove him back to Howard’s place. He invited them in. He couldn’t tell if they really wanted to come in or felt they needed to. After offering them a drink Roger said, “We’ll have what you’re having.” He made three brandy old fashions with a black cherry juice. They sipped and conversed. Roger was about John’s age in his mid-50’s but Henry was younger. Both were happy and cheerful without being too probing. He envied Roger having found a mate as young and charming as Henry. They finished their drinks and excused themselves but not before voicing an invitation to join them in Wisconsin later in the summer.

After sipping one more brandy old fashion John went to bed and slept soundly. The next morning Howard seemed to be everywhere. He didn’t like the feeling and decided to move. He didn’t want to stay in Howard’s house without him. He felt like he was a visitor even though he had lived there for ten years. He went upstairs and dressed for cycling.

The morning sun was bright and the air warm. He cycled south along the lakefront. He knew that one of the couples, John and Kevin, who attended Howard’s celebration, lived on South Michigan Avenue. He had not been to their place so didn’t have an address. The thought of moving to a condo near the lake was appealing. He wasn’t ready to buy but thought he might rent while dealing with disposition of Howard’s stuff.

He pedaled onto the bike path at Bryn Mawr Avenue and cycled south past Diversey Harbor; then Oak Street beach where young, muscular boys and girls were playing volleyball before 9am in the morning. He rode past Northwestern Memorial Hospital before crossing the Chicago River bridge. He pedaled past the Pritzker Pavilion in Grant Park before reaching the Field Museum where he turned onto city streets. New, imposing apartment and condo buildings lined South Michigan. He didn’t want to live in a high rise  As he pedaled south he passed a less imposing but new structure about six stories tall. He made note of the address. He rode past a couple of other interesting buildings before returning north on Wabash. One building had Coca Cola carved into the cornice and he noted the address of that building plus the one across the street.

On his way north he stopped at the grill at Oak Street beach for a salad and iced tea. When he got back he checked Zillow for vacancies in the three buildings he was interested in.  Two days later he was signing a one year lease for a furnished condo at 1440 S. Michigan, the first building he noted on his bike ride. The condo was a nicely appointed fourth floor small two bedroom loft apartment. The condo faced east onto Michigan Avenue. Two weeks later Roger and Henry helped him move minimal clothes and appliances into his condo. Henry puzzled, “John, don’t you think you’re moving pretty quickly?” He assured Roger that he wasn’t. Roger mentioned that Howard’s friends who attended the celebration lived in the next building. 

When they finished moving in he fixed three brandy old fashions. After an hour and another old fashion Roger and Henry excused themselves but not before volunteering to help empty Howard’s place.  Howard’s adult son lived out of state and declined John’s offer of Howard’s worldly goods.  John then called Howard’s granddaughters and offered them whatever they wanted. The three girls drove from Chicago’s western suburbs the following Saturday with a U-Haul truck. They wanted the more contemporary things like sofas, flat screen TV, refrigerator and three of the beds. After loading the truck John felt like the house had been raped. No longer could the house be lived in. Howard was a packrat so dispersal of his accumulated things took the next several weeks. John was concerned that the house would look so empty for the realtor. His realtor friend told him that the house would show fine unfurnished. As it turned out their traditional bungalow was on the market for only a week when he received a cash offer over asking price. He was pleased that this phase of his life soon would be a wonderful memory.

The Michigan Avenue condo satisfied his needs. The great room had high industrial ceilings with wrap around with floor to ceiling windows on the east and north sides. The modern kitchen with silver mat finished appliances was located at one end. A master bath with tub and shower was off the master bedroom.  A second bath served as the guest bath and second bedroom. John had become comfortable being naked at Howard’s but found being discrete in his new place difficult. He replaced the blinds with sheers which helped disguise his nakedness. Occasionally, he noticed people in the apartment windows across the street but didn’t pay much attention until mid-afternoon one day he was getting dressed to cycle. He noticed a fellow looking at him from across the street. He didn’t care, pulled up his biking shorts up and put on his shirt. After an hour of riding the sky had turned black and the rain pelted him as he hurried back. By the time he locked his bike in the garage bicycle rack he was soaked and dripping. Not wanting to get his floor wet he stripped right inside the front door and carried his dripping biking clothes into the bathroom. He hung his clothes over the towel bars before getting into the warm shower. When John got out of the shower and walked to the window he noticed the same fellow was looking but he didn’t think anymore about it.

After his August weekend in Wisconsin with Roger and Henry John returned to Chicago relaxed. The three of them had gone to one of the many festivals and fairs that populated western Wisconsin summers. Plenty of cheese, brats and beer were consumed. Roger and Henry’s summer place was a little farm in the middle of nowhere that had been Roger’s childhood home. They, like Howard and John, were totally comfortable being naked around the house. They both sported heavy Prince Albert’s which he thought was unusual. They didn’t seem like the type that liked leather and chains.

When John got back to his condo he unpacked the few clothes that he had taken. He looked across the street. He didn’t immediately see the fellow but noticed the fellow’s curtains or shades were completely drawn back. Out of the shadows a naked male upper torso with blond hair came into his view as he sat down preparing to draw. The artist didn’t look in his direction but stroked the pad with his pencil. John couldn’t see the sketcher’s face. In the following days John occasionally watched as the fellow sketched. The artist rarely looked away from his sketch pad. John couldn’t see what he was sketching.

Even though Roger and Henry were working John asked if they had any interest in taking a cruise which he and Howard had booked two years earlier.  The cruise was paid for but they politely begged off.  John contacted several other friends and none were interested. He decided not to cancel the Danube River cruise in early September and go on his own.

One afternoon John was walking home from the L-stop at Roosevelt Road.  He stopped at the little bar immediately north of his condo. After ordering his black brandy berry old fashion and taking one sip a twenty something, blond fellow sat on the bar stool next to him.  John took another sip and said something to the bartender about the Sox game. The young fellow looked at John politely said, “Sir, my name is Richard Johnson. I live across the street from you.”

Surprised John said, “Sorry, I don’t think I know you.”

“Yes you do. I’m the guy who’s always sketching.”

“Oh, nice to meet you. Yes, I know.”

“If you don’t mind me saying you have a nice body for someone your age.”

Taken aback and slightly insulted John snapped, “Thanks.”

Head and shoulders view of a young bearded white man


Richard quickly recovered with, “Sorry, that came out wrong. I mean you’re a handsome man.” John took a sip of his drink trying to decide what to say next. He continued, “Have you ever considered modeling?”

“You mean clothes modeling?”

“Well, no, I really meant live modeling for an artist to draw or paint your body.

“Never had anyone interested.”

“Well, I’m not usually this bold but I am taking a live figure drawing class and each of us is supposed to bring in a model to model for the class. I’m looking for someone who would be willing to model in the nude. You don’t seem to be too shy so I thought I would ask. I don’t mean to be rude.”

“Are there boys and girls in the class?”

“Yes, three boys and five girls and our male instructor.”

“Where do you do this?”

“My class is at the School of the Art Institute.”

“To be honest I have never thought of being a nude model. I can’t sit still for very long.”

“I understand. There are two things you should know.  It’s a sketch class so it goes pretty fast and, second, we take cell phone pictures, if the model is agreeable so we can finish our work without the model having to sit for too long.”

I laughed, “And my nude picture would appear on the Internet.”

He said seriously, “No, that doesn’t happen.”

“Give me your cell number and I’ll think about it. When do you need to know? I have watched you sketch from my window. I’m glad to meet you.”

“I tied the curtains back to get better light on the drawing I have been doing. I have been trying my hand at sketching objects like fruit, shoes and a mannequin torso. Drawing isn’t my major but I wanted to try my hand at sketching. I’m planning to take water color painting next semester.” John finished his drink, paid and thanked Richard for his interest. As he walked toward the condo John tried to get his head around what Richard was asking. He intentionally left the bedroom sheers pulled back like he wanted Richard to see whatever he was doing.

John had a gym routine at 11:30am for yoga then aerobics then weight training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On off days he sent out resumes for computer training specialist listings. Writing on-line instructional programs was the job he did before he and Howard got together. On Saturday morning John called Richard’s cell and got his voice mail. John left a message, “Richard, this is John across the street. I have been thinking about your proposal and I would like to speak to you. Call me on my cell anytime. Talk to you.”

John didn’t hear anything until Monday night and thought Richard found someone else. When his saw Richard’s cell number appear John hesitated answering preparing himself for rejection.

“John, this is Richard Johnson returning your call. Sorry it took me a couple of days but I was back in Indiana celebrating my grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Have you considered my offer?”

“Yes, sort of. I have a different idea. Why don’t you sketch me first? I suggest that you come over here with your sketch pad. There’s plenty of light. I probably can be available on a schedule that works for you.”

“OK, I can come over on Thursday midday before the sun goes behind your building. If it’s cloudy I’ll delay. Will that work? You’ll be naked, right?”

“If that is what you want I’ll be naked. See you Thursday, I’m unit 4-D. I’ll buzz you in.”

On Wednesday John decided to shave around his mid-section and went out to buy shaving cream and a disposable razor since he usually shaved with a rechargeable electric razor. After he got home he decided to wait and see what Richard wanted. At promptly 1:00 my cell phone buzzed. It was Richard who said he couldn’t come over until Friday at 1:00. John was wearing underwear and a tee shirt when Richard buzzed. Richard was wearing baggy hiking pants, a stained Cubs jersey and Birkenstocks. He carried his large sketch pad and a bevy of drawing pencils. He put his supplies on the coffee table and asked to use my toilet. John waited nervously for him to return. “Where do you want me? Standing or sitting? Should I undress now?”

Richard calmly said, “Pull out one of your bar stools and stand there. You don’t have to get naked yet.” He calmly took out his pad and pencil and stood no more than six feet away. He began to draw looking first toward John and then back to the pad where he drew the pencil across the page. John started fidgeting when Richard said, “John relax.” He tried but wasn’t very successful. Richard kept drawing for what seemed like a long time. He finally put his pad and pencil down. Without a word he moved closer to the sofa and patted it with his left hand suggesting he wanted John to sit. John did as he suggested as Richard pushed his long blond hair to the shaved side. He couldn’t weigh more than 160 pounds.

As John stepped toward the sofa Richard held up his hand for John to stop. “This time I want you undressed.” John complied by dropping his tee shirt on the coffee table and pushing his briefs down to his feet. John’s dick remained flaccid, thankfully. Richard took up his pencil. This time he sat directly in front of John’s slightly open legs. Back and forth his eyes went as he sketched as John’s penis began to fill. He was embarrassed but couldn’t stop it. Richard’s facial expression didn’t change as he continued to draw. He put his pencil down momentarily. John said, “Sorry, I’m sure this will happen if I’m in front of mixed group of cute boys and girls.”

“That won’t be a problem we have all seen hardons before.” He kept sketching and finally said, “Want to see?” John stepped toward him still aroused and looked down at his drawing. “Do you like what you see? I have to work on the hands.”

Sketch of a man sitting on a bed

Richard's First Sketch of John

“Yes, you’re quite good. I am complimented by the way you have drawn me. Thankfully, you didn’t draw my penis.”

He laughed. “You have a nice body. Have you ever considered shaving off some of your body hair?” he said smiling.

“It’s funny you should ask because I was going to ask you if you thought I should shave especially my butt and front.”

He looked and took my right arm and turned me so he could see my butt. “Yeah, I think that would be good. I’ll be happy to help if you want me too. I shave myself but I don’t have nearly as much hair as you do.”

“Do you want to do it now?”

“Sorry, I have a date with my friend, Gerald, tonight. What say we get together Sunday afternoon? Are you around?”

“I’ll make sure I am. What time?”

“It’d be after three. I’ll call.”