You are cordially invited to view another of a triptych of stories involving the lives and loves of gay men who work or volunteer at the Sunrise Arts Center in Stafford, North Carolina.
Dr. Jonathan Baker volunteers to man the reception desk because, like he says, he enjoys meeting people. He also boasts he folds a mean program. Everyone tells him he's wasting his talents at doing such menial tasks. But Jonathan is lonely and needs to keep busy.
After retiring, Jonathan decides to move back to his hometown. Although he was quietly out at work, he's uncomfortable in disclosing his sexual orientation in the more conservative hometown. This is despite the new director of the Arts Center being out and proud. Whitney is young, Jonathan is not.
In a further effort to meet people, and to dip a toe into the waters of the local gay scene, Jonathan joins a men's book group at his local church, most of whose members are gay. The person chairing the first meeting is high school English teacher Frank Cummings. Frank confesses he knows of Jonathan through scholarly articles Jonathan had written.
Frank and Jonathan soon find they have several things in common. Both teachers of English, both belong to the same church, and both are of a similar age. This last is the problem. Jonathan has previously lost a lover to illness and fears history repeating itself. Is it fair to burden someone with looking after him if/when he becomes frail? Should people their age enter into relationships or just stay friends? Only time will tell, but how much time do they have?
When I arrived at the meeting, I was surprised to see about twenty guys there, ranging in age from one in his early twenties, a student at the local community college, to several who looked almost as old as me. We all had to fill out and put on name tags. I hated that. Our dean had been a fanatic about name tags, and I'd always detested them. But I could see the utility of them in a setting like this.
We were offered coffee before Gary convened the meeting. Then he introduced me as a new member. He said I'd moved to Stafford over the summer, that I was retired, that I was a new parishioner at Holy Trinity, and that I volunteered at Sunrise. True to his word, he didn't say anything about how I used to earn my living. Then he introduced Frank, who was leading the discussion that evening. Frank didn't have to work very hard. Just about everyone seemed to have read the book and to have been excited by it. We all had questions or comments. I had resolved to keep quiet and listen, being the newbie, but I couldn't help making a comment or two.
When the discussion was finished, Gary invited us to have more coffee. There was also a chocolate cake from the bakery department at Winn Dixie. As we were eating cake and sipping our coffee, Frank came over and introduced himself. He said he was Frank Cummings, that he was head of the English Department at Stafford High, and that he would be retiring in a year or two. He really surprised me by saying he knew who I was. He knew I was a native Staffordian because he'd had a couple of my cousins' kids in class. But what really surprised me was that he'd read several of the articles I'd published over the years.
"Why didn't Gary tell the group who you are?"
"Because I asked him not to. I thought having an English professor in the group might be intimidating. I confess I was also a little worried that I'd be asked to do a lot of presenting, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that."
Frank smiled and said that he understood both reasons. As I was about to leave, we shook hands. He said he was glad that I'd joined the group and wondered if I'd like to have dinner with him sometime.
"Are you alone?" I asked.
He looked a little sad. "Yeah, I am. I've been looking for the right guy all my life, but don't seem to have found him. And in a place like this, it's not easy. We're lucky Fr. Gary got this group together. I'm not sure what would happen around the community if it became known that we are mostly a gay group."
I told him I'd love to have dinner with him sometime soon. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, and Frank moved on to talk with Father Gary.