Fiona Beaumont's relationship is over, and a career in the art world has stalled. Her decision to change direction sees her interact with two generations from different families, the Mitchells and the Robertsons. Tim Robertson is a prodigious artistic talent. Jeremy Mitchell is a golden boy and through Caravaggio, his sexual dawning, desires, and denials, cause him to discover a different self.
Fiona Beaumont had had a hectic week. She had returned the Art projects to her year eleven students and although the grades were important, examining each other’s work was more so. Predictably the triptychs with their “A” grade had become the cynosure of all eyes. Tim Robertson had mixed feelings. He was pleased with the grade and after he saw the other students work he knew, and understood, that an “A” was a massive underestimate. It didn’t matter. He was a little embarrassed by all the attention. The other students were interested in the process and Miss Beaumont saw a collaborative student centred learning opportunity in it and invited him to speak to the class. Tim carefully explained the storyboard sketches, the photo shoot, the pencil sketches and finally the oil on canvas painting techniques. His peers were rapt and fired a series of intelligent and sometimes probing questions. They didn’t seem all that interested in the naked youth in the three panels. Unlike Todd Walker, no one recognised him, and to Tim’s surprise, no one asked. He was just a means to an end for a group of art students.
When Fiona Beaumont asked Tim if she could have the triptychs framed in preparation for the whole of school Art Exhibition he surprisingly said no. He told her that the life model knew that people had recognised him in the pictures and that had broken their original agreement to preserve his anonymity. Tim said he felt a responsibility to the person who had posed for the photos not to display the work too widely. Fiona Beaumont speaking as an art teacher, expressed her profound disappointment, but said she did understand. It seemed such a pity.
Tim took the triptychs back to his room in Mossgrove, and over the next few days wrapped them carefully in brown paper and then made a cardboard packaging sleeve from discarded boxes he found at the back of the Maintenance Department building. He slipped the panels into the sleeve, separating each one with a cardboard insert. Finally, he sealed the whole sleeve with packing tape and placed it in the large blanket draw under his bed. He would take them home to Casterton during the Third Term break.
Jeremy Mitchell thought about going to see Miss Beaumont for a couple of days, and finally decided he would go to the Art Room in the second half of the lunch break on the Friday of the first week of Term Three. At that time Fiona was busy at her desk doing course work preparation. She wanted to create a series of photographic slides of great works from the renaissance for the art history component of the course. She had a limited budget, so she was selecting the colour plates she wanted from a collection of coffee table art books. She thought she could get 24 slides made by the Audio Visual Department and she had narrowed it down to six artists and was trying to choose four plates to represent different aspects of their work. It was proving a difficult assignment and she wondered if she went to 36 slides whether that would fit into the meagre art allowance. Colleagues had warned her not to overspend the budget. Getting on the wrong side of the Bursar was akin to getting on the wrong side of God. She was so absorbed in her decision making process that she didn’t look up when the knock at the door came. Automatically and a little absent-mindedly she said:
The door had opened and closed again before she looked up and there he was walking towards her desk. She recognised him immediately. Jeremy didn’t swagger; he didn’t need to. He walked with a confident grace and style. He was dressed in the Grammar School’s blazer outfit and wore a white shirt. Even Fiona knew what that signified. Clearly he was playing in a “First” sporting team on the weekend, but she had no idea which one. He wore clothes well and presented a lot better than many of his peers. As he walked towards her Fiona thought he looked just as good fully clothed as he did naked. She almost made herself blush with that thought and immediately suppressed it.
For his part Jeremy walked towards the front of the room and perched himself on the corner of the student table right in front of Miss Beaumont’s desk. It was done with such an easy grace. Jeremy looked at the young female art teacher and concluded, on first sight, that she was a very attractive young woman. No it was more than that, she was delicious. He spoke with an unaffected charm, and Fiona heard the voice for the first time and liked the sound.
“I know, I recognised you”
Mistake thought Fiona, I shouldn’t have said that, but Jeremy put her at her ease instantly:
“You mean you recognised me with all my clothes on?”
They both laughed nervously, but Fiona was ashamed that he had “twigged” to exactly what she was thinking. There was an awkward pause, but again it was Jeremy who eased the tension:
“Todd Walker told me you wanted to see me.”
Balanced again, Fiona felt she could now embark on a sensible conversation.
“Yes, I wanted to congratulate you, and thank you, for the work you did as a life model for Tim Robertson’s art project.”
“It was my pleasure, Miss Beaumont. I am glad for Timothy’s sake that it turned out so well.”
“Had you done anything like that before?”
“No, not at all. In fact it almost didn’t happen. I was pretty suspicious when Timothy first asked me, but when I saw the storyboard sketches, I was intrigued. He is a real talent that boy, Timothy.”
Fiona listened to the young man use the name Timothy, and wondered why he did. It didn’t sound affected or a “put down”, it was just unusual and quaint.
“He certainly has some special skills. So tell me about the shoot itself.”
“Pretty professional really. Timothy knew what he wanted, and I was comfortable with it all, although it did get a bit cold up by the weir.”
“Lots of takes?”
“No, not all that many. Timothy stuck to the storyboards pretty much. He was using Polaroids so he couldn’t waste them on his budget; they are quite expensive I understand. He did take a few extras in the boulder shot and I liked the way he worked all that out in the end, without actually using any of the three shots in their entirety. He is a very creative person.”
“Were you involved much in the subsequent sketching and painting?’
“Not at all. Timothy is a passionate artist and a perfectionist, and he rarely surfaced once he had started. I got some progress glimpses of the canvases over coffee sometimes, but not a lot. Timothy has the room next door to me in Mossgrove.”
“You’re boarding this year?”
“Yeah, so is my sister, Melissa, she’s at Monarco Girls. Dad got a promotion and an offer to work in Germany so Mum took my younger brothers, Davey and Richie, with them. They go to the International School in Munich. Mum, her name’s, Leah, teaches music there.”
“So how long will you be boarding?”
“I think I might have got a life sentence. The family is settled in Munich and well set up. I was there this vacation just gone. We all toured Europe together.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“I saw a lot of fine art in a lot of galleries. It has become my new passion.”
Fiona thought she might be being charmed into submission, and just for a moment thought that Jeremy was “having her on”.
“Yeah, well here I do two maths, three sciences, English and History. I was going to follow Dad, he’s Harry by the way, into engineering, but now I am not so sure.”
Jeremy indicated the coffee table art volumes on the desk and made the connection.
“Like you I am hooked on renaissance artists.”
“Well I’m more of a fan of the impressionists, but I do like the classics too. Do you have a favourite?”
Jeremy tossed back his head and laughed with a private memory.
Fiona knew that time was running out and there were a few other things she wanted to say, so she changed the direction.
“You know you could pursue the life modelling seriously if you wanted to. The Technical School’s art department are always looking for models and they pay quite well. I think $20 a session is the going rate. It would augment your pocket money.”
Jeremy’s face betrayed him when Fiona started this line of conversation. He thought it was going to lead somewhere else, so he was relieved when she finished the statement and showed it. Jokingly he quipped:
“Miss Beaumont, who do you think I am? I do not take my clothes off for money. Leah would be horrified to hear you suggest it.”
They both laughed and it was now titillating banter:
“So what do you take your clothes off for?”
Fiona had asked the question before she had thought about its implications, and now she wished she could have the words back.
“Once for Timothy Robertson’s photo shoot, daily for showers, and all too infrequently these days for sex.”
This time Fiona Beaumont flushed and blushed. She couldn’t help it, but Jeremy saw it and he was not going to endure an awkward moment after such a pleasant first encounter. He slid off his table perch to his feet in one elegant motion and said:
“Well I must get going. I have to get across the academic Rubicon and into the Physics Lab. for first lesson after lunch.”
“Of course, thanks for coming. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
Jeremy headed to the door, but couldn’t resist turning back.
“Likewise, perhaps we might do it again sometime?”
He was gone and the door had closed behind him before she could even formulate a response. Fiona knew that they would meet again.
Jeremy called from outside of Timothy’s door:
“I’ve got coffee cups in both hands Timothy, will you open the door please?”
A chair slid back, footsteps padded across floorboards and Tim opened the door.
“I heard you in the kitchenette, but I didn’t think you were making coffee for two.”
“Well I was. Here take it and invite me in.”
Tim did both and then sat back at his desk and swivelled the chair to face Jeremy who had positioned himself carefully on the bed with his back to the wall trying, and succeeding, not to spill the coffee. Tim sipped his coffee before speaking:
“Thanks for the coffee, which is really good by the way. This is an unexpected but pleasant surprise.”
“New brand I’m trying, and I needed to talk.”
“Needed to talk, or just wanted to?”
“I think it is needed! You’re not too busy are you?
“Not busy at all really, so talk away.”
Jeremy took a mouthful of coffee and savoured the flavour. It was a ploy and Tim recognised it. This was going to be important, and Tim was prepared to wait for the revelations.
“I talked with Miss Beaumont today, the art teacher.”
“I know who Miss Beaumont is Jeremy, but I didn’t know she knew you.”
“Let’s say you introduced us.”
Tim twigged straight away. Now he wondered how all this was going to play out. The questions in his head were simple. Was Jeremy going to let go about having his identity in the triptychs revealed? Was Jeremy about to burden him with a heavy guilt trip for breaking a confidence? Was this the prelude to the end of an embryonic friendship? The coffee did not suggest anything heavy was in the offing but he didn’t know Jeremy well enough to rule anything out at this stage. He was just going to have to let it play out.
“Oh, I see. So what did you talk about?”
“It was mainly about you and the art project. She asked a lot of questions about how you approached me, whether I had had any previous experience, what the photo shoot was like, and what I thought of the finished triptychs?”
“That all sounds pretty civilised.”
“It was very civilised. Then she went on…”
Tim’s mind raced. Here we go he thought we are getting to the crux of it now, is this where I am going to see Jeremy Mitchell at his worst?
“She went on to ask me about boarding, and my family in Germany, and we touched on Caravaggio.”
“Caravaggio? You mean the renaissance artist?”
“The very one!”
“How did he get into the conversation?”
“I told her he was my favourite renaissance painter.”
“You’re having me on.”
“No Timothy, it’s true, while I was visiting the galleries of Europe I couldn’t get enough of him. He has had a profound effect on me in more ways than you care to know about. Anyway she finally asked me if I wanted to do some more life modelling at the Technical School for $20 a session.”
“Are you taking the piss, Jeremy?”
“No, as I am sitting here that’s what she asked.”
Tim noticed the amusement in Jeremy’s face and voice, and so he relaxed a little and was content to play along:
“And what did you say?”
“I said I didn’t take my clothes off for money.”
That was the clincher. Tim just burst out laughing and it was infectious. The two boys shared the moment. When the tension had been thoroughly released Tim got back to clearing up the loose ends:
“Do you know how Miss Beaumont found out about you? You know I kept my word and I didn’t tell her, or reveal anything in my visual diary notes.”
“Relax Timothy. I know how it happened, and who told her, and it doesn’t worry me at all. It was all pretty innocent, a bit naïve and inevitable really.”
“Well that’s good to know.”
“It’s Miss Beaumont I want to talk about. She is something else. She’s extremely attractive and very, very desirable.”
Tim almost choked on his coffee, and took a moment to regain his composure. He really didn’t know how to respond.
“Desirable? Come on Jeremy, she’s a teacher and you are a student, there is no room for ‘desirable’.”
The tone is the room was changing. Jeremy was looking serious and Tim was feeling decidedly uneasy.
“Technically incorrect, Timothy. She is a teacher, but I am not one of her students. In reality if you had not brought us together we may have never met. She lives on one side of the academic divide, the Grammar School Rubicon of subject disciplines, and I am very much on the other.”
“You’re splitting hairs, Jeremy.”
“I’m seventeen, eighteen in January, I guess she is in her mid twenties. We both qualify as consenting adults, where’s the moral dilemma?”
Tim was thoughtful and formulated the words into an argument before he spoke:
“It would be a school based affair that crosses the line of acceptable behaviour, duty of care, and all the unwritten rules about breach of trust and adult responsibility.”
Jeremy drank his coffee and seemed to want to examine the inside of the mug with a forensic investigator’s zeal. Tim saw the change and decided to press home his position.
“It is a schoolboy infatuation, Jeremy, a crush, and you should just get over it. If you pursue your desires you are going to end up in a sordid little scandal that will certainly cost Miss Beaumont her position at Grammar and you will lose your place here too. Selfishly, I do not want to lose a really good art teacher, and a friend, in a dirty little mess. Keep it in your pants, Jeremy. It is the best thing for everyone.”
There was a long pause. Jeremy had heard every word and digested them as well. What Timothy was arguing was really beyond debate. He knew he was infatuated and he was aching with desire that was not going to be suppressed all that easily. It was one word in Timothy’s speech that had particularly caught his attention though, and it was with that word that he broke the silence and resumed the conversation:
“Friend? You said friend. You have never said that to me before. I was just your life model, a collaborator in an art project, a neighbour in a boarding house, a coffee companion. You have never said friend.”
“Well you are. I regard you as my friend.”
Jeremy was now keen to probe. The talented boy from Casterton who he had known for six months had never opened up before, and now he had left the door ajar.
“What kind of friend?”
“What scale do you use to grade them Mr. Maths and Science student?”
“Well a friend can be an accidental acquaintance like a neighbour who moves in without your control or consent. It can be someone who does you a favour that no-one else could, or would do, and asks for nothing in return and you become their friend to try and repay them.”
Where was this going thought Tim? This is not spur of the moment stuff. Jeremy has thought about this and there will be a point. He simply maintained his gaze and focus and waited for the proposition to develop or be dropped.
“Or a friend could be a confidant who promises to keep an undertaking and does. Then there are intimate friends who crave a closeness and don’t care about conventions.”
Tim turned the whole thing back on Jeremy:
“And which do you want to be, Jeremy?”
“I want to be a friend who bites off big chunks of life experience and chews them up, and if they are not to my taste I will simply spit them out and bite off something else. I crave experience and I want intimacy.”
“Is this still about Miss Beaumont?”
“No Timothy, we have moved on from there. This is about you and me. I want to be your intimate friend.”
“I am not queer, Jeremy. I told you that when I asked you to do the photo shoot.”
“And neither am I. I have had sex with enough girls and women to know that is where I want to be. This is something different. This is Caravaggio.”
“You want to imitate a 16th century homosexual artist with a passion for young men and a penchant for bloodlust.”
Tim was half joking, but Jeremy was in no mood to jest.
“I knew you would understand, Timothy. I want to experience the sort of intimacy he had, and therefore help me gain insights and understanding.”
Tim was beginning to see how Jeremy was being driven. He wasn’t mad and he wasn’t sex obsessed, he was searching, and he was searching at a level that few could understand or appreciate. It was a search that he, as a young artist, was undertaking constantly in his work. He did understand.
“So what do you want?”
“Well I can tell you what I don’t want. I don’t want a fraught and frantic fumbling wank with a mate in a boarding house shower.”
That was so frank that it released a little of the tension that had developed between the two. Tim sat back in his chair and laughed a little.
“So you know what you don’t want, but you can’t define your life through negatives. Put into words what you do want?”
“That’s the problem. I can’t. I felt something when we were together on the photo shoot, but you were professional and efficient, and I hadn’t been to Europe at that stage and stood for hours in front of paintings by Caravaggio. That was the turning point, and something else happened after that, and I don’t want to share that with you at this stage. I just don’t know.”
“Do you want me to deliver my body up to you so you can find out?”
“No, I want a joint discovery. An unambiguous commitment and a moment, maybe just a moment of sensual pleasure on a really high plane of intellectual and physical interaction.”
“Good luck finding all that!”
“Come with me, we can do it together.”
Now there was silence. The coffee cups were both empty and the two young men had stretched the conversation to its limits and it was about to snap back. Jeremy changed the subject and the tone:
“By the way where are the triptychs? I didn’t see them in the art room.”
“You’re sitting on them. I packed them up and put them in the blanket draw under the bed.”
“I didn’t want you to be exposed to any nastiness for agreeing to be my life model.”
“Because you are my friend, and I wanted to protect you.”
“What do you plan to do with them?”
“I am taking them back to Casterton next vacation.”
“You’re not going to destroy them are you?”
“Why would you think that? It would be like destroying the only real intimacy we have had so far.”
“Yes I guess it would. Will you put them on display at home?”
“God no! Mum and Dad wouldn’t get it. It would confirm all their fears about boarding at the Grammar School. They would think that I had a homosexual lover who I had used as a life model.”
“Just like Caravaggio?”
Tim looked deep into Jeremy’s eyes and penetrated somewhere into his soul as well when he finished the conversation with: