Bill is a young, handsome, first-year photography teacher at Miss Porter’s, a prestigious, all-girls finishing school in Farmington, Connecticut. Of course, he’s popular among the students, but he finds himself specifically drawn to Betty Leonard. In fact, he feels as though he has met her before; he feels as though they are connected.
Betty is a mature senior, and she sees no problem in dating a teacher. Bill has his doubts, but although he tries to resist her, he is overwhelmed by irrational feelings of love. As the photography teacher Bill has access to a valuable antique camera left to the school a generation ago by a student.
Using the camera, they are able to see the ghost figures of a young man and woman on the grounds of the famous Hill-Stead Museum, just a short distance from the school. They soon come to realize they are reliving a love story that failed long ago. They are haunted by the ghosts of their past lives and fear that past failures are doomed to repeat.
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By Robert DeFosses
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Robert DeFosses
All rights reserved.
Why am I so drawn to this place? Bill parked his 1963 black Beetle, top down, in front of the building everyone at the girls' finishing school referred to simply as Main. It was August 1967; a warm, bright late afternoon.
Typical of an elite boarding school with students from all over the world, Porter's had its unique expressions, traditions, and customs. Counting House was the business office; Olin was the science, math, and arts building; None was the Nona Evens Room, large enough for small meetings and receptions; Milk Lunch was morning break; and Nova Nine was the nine-member student council.
Counted among the Ancients, as students referred to graduates, were Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Lilly Pulitzer. The ranks of alumnae included last names like Rockefeller, Bush, Forbes, and Van Rensselaer, to name just a few, along with many generations of debutantes and heiresses. Old Girls were students who had been at Porter's for at least one year; New Girls were those who had just arrived, including freshmen.
Because he'd grown up about eighty miles from here in the little village of Old Mystic on the Connecticut coast, Bill had no connection at all with Porter's, which was the locals' name for the school. None of his relatives had attended the school; in fact, he had never personally known a student there or even anyone who worked at the place. Nonetheless, he always had the fantasy of being on the faculty of a private boarding school, and as a college student, he had naturally daydreamed of it being an all-girls' private boarding school. Perhaps, he now thought, that's why I am drawn to this particular place. And there was also the prestige that went along with being on the faculty of a famous school like this one.
Main, the school's main office building, was a large, three-story, red brick building with white columns on a raised, stone entrance porch; black shutters on all the large windows; chimneys on each corner; and an enclosed white cupola on top. On a black iron post next to the porch hung a white sign with beautiful black lettering that read, "Miss Porter's School, 60 Main Street, Farmington, Founded 1843." Built and used as a hotel in 1830, when the canal from New Haven made Farmington a center of commerce and trade, Main once housed the entire school, presided over by Miss Porter herself.
The school now encompassed several large, turn-of-the-century, white clapboard homes on both sides of the street east and west of 60 Main, and other buildings north of Main to the Farmington River. People driving along Main Street every day may not have realized they were driving though the middle of the campus of such an elite school, not even if they were stopped at the traffic light in front of Main while a group of its privileged students crossed in front of them. As a matter of fact, compared to most high school girls, Porter's students dressed very casually. They had no need to impress anyone, especially as there were no boys on campus.
Bill took the short walk to the new Olin Arts and Science Center, stepping carefully along the old slate sidewalk next to one of the large, clapboard dormitories built in the nineteenth century. I don't belong here, he thought. There must have been candidates more qualified than I am to be a photography instructor. Of course, he did have the academic background, with a photography degree from Rochester and a teaching certificate from NYU. But his only teaching experience had been at a Boy Scout summer camp; he'd thought for sure that a job at a prestigious school like this one would have gone to a teacher with lots of experience. Bill could envision him, some dumpy, balding guy in his fifties, married, with lots of children. Certainly Bill didn't fit the image, at an athletic five six and just twenty-three years old, with a Vandyke beard and light-brown, sun-streaked hair that fell to his shoulders.
The school had even offered him room and board: a furnished apartment on campus and free meals at the cafeteria. He realized that he hardly needed a car. I really am lucky to have been chosen for a job I only thought I'd have in my daydreams.
When Bill stepped through the glass front door of the fine arts building and into its spacious, well-lit lobby, he felt somewhat disoriented. When he'd visited the building during his job interview a few weeks earlier, the room had been full of student art in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, some framed, some simply matted. And on pedestals at the front of the room were several sculptures formed from various materials like metal or clay or even papier-mâché. Now in front of him was a maze of empty, free-standing white display panels covered with bits of tape and punctured all over with tiny holes. Randomly placed at a distance from the glass wall to his left and right were empty black pedestals like islands on the blue-gray slate floor.
Remembering that his office was at the far side of the lobby, Bill wandered through the maze. When he reached the other side, his attention was immediately caught by a large, brightly colored impressionist painting hanging all alone on the wall next to the office door. As Bill approached it, he could see that it was a full-length oil painting of a young woman beautifully dressed in forties-era clothing. Her hands tucked behind her, she was leaning back against the left side of the deep-green, arched lattice entrance to a gazebo or summerhouse. Pink and white petals lay on the ground by her bare feet like a dusting of light snow. Her long, loosely pleated, tan cotton skirt ended just below her knees and was bordered at the hem with a flower-patterned band. Her short-sleeved white blouse was unbuttoned at the throat and neatly tucked in at her slender waist. Her head tipped slightly down toward her right shoulder, her face framed by a cascade of long brown hair and accented with a coy, closed-lipped smile. A shallow-brimmed straw hat trimmed with a pink ribbon set off her crystal-blue eyes. Her expression and body language gave Bill the impression that she was flirting with the person looking at her. In the lower-right corner of the painting was a signature: "Betty Leonard 1967."
Captivated by the beautiful painting, Bill was shocked out of his daydream when he heard someone call to him from behind.
"Hi, Bill." It was Lynne, the department head, approaching the office door with her keys in her left hand and a steaming mug of coffee in her right. "Beautiful painting, isn't it?"
"It certainly is," Bill replied.
"So, how've you been? All settled in yet?" she continued as she stepped past Bill and unlocked the paneled wood door.
"Pretty much. I really don't have a lot of stuff to move. How've you been?" Bill decided that Lynne must be about twice his age. Her dark hair was cut shorter than his, and she wore a loose-fitting, black knit pullover with black slacks. Around her neck hung a beautiful gold pendant of two fish, possibly a Pisces sign, entwined to form the ancient Chinese yin-yang symbol. Bill wondered if Lynne was a believer in astrology or if she was like so many people who wore symbols around their necks and didn't really know what they meant.
"Just great," Lynne replied, pushing the door open with her knee. "Come on in."
Lynne paused briefly just inside the door, took a slurp of the hot coffee, and then placed the mug on her desk before switching the lights on and stepping farther into the windowless room. Stopping behind her, Bill found himself standing before a large wood desk cluttered with folders and papers. "You'll be using that desk over there," Lynne said, pointing to a second, similar desk at the far end of the room.
Now that the room was lit, Bill could see that it was bright and colorful. The white walls were decorated with several large, vibrant paintings, some matted and all beautifully framed. There was a mixture of acrylics, watercolors, and pastels, but most of the images were painted in the colors of warm, late-afternoon light. There was a large painting of a mud flat at low tide, reflecting rippled pinks and yellows in an abstract pattern, as well as paintings of beaches, sand dunes, and oceans at sunset. As he took a few steps toward his desk, he noticed two smaller pieces on the wall to his right. One was a delicate pastel sketch of a beach plum bush in bloom, and the other was a black-and-white photograph of a young, shapely woman lying on her right side on a blanket, facing the camera. Behind her was a large piece of driftwood that mimicked her form.
When Bill realized he'd been staring at the picture, he turned and stood next to his desk, feeling slightly embarrassed. "Altogether you've created the feeling in here of a small art gallery near the shore," he said. "These paintings weren't hanging when I met you for the interview just a few weeks ago. Beautiful work. Yours?"
"Yes, thank you," Lynne replied. "I needed to brighten the place up a little. If you want to hang some of your work, just let me know."
"Thanks," Bill said. He nodded toward the beach scenes. "Cape Cod?"
"Yes, you're very observant," Lynne said with a smile. "Tell me how you knew."
"Just a lucky guess," he replied. "Whenever I see pictures of beach plum, tidal marshes, and long stretches of wide beaches bordered on one side by tall sand dunes and on the other by ocean and sky, I think of the Cape. I've only been there once for a long weekend, but I'll never forget how beautiful it is. Wish I could afford to spend more time there."
"I'm sure that someday you will," Lynne responded. "I go there as often as I can, I enjoy painting outdoors as I observe a scene. And the quality of the light there is some of the best on earth to paint by. Artists call it 'Cape light.' Photographers enjoy it, too."
"I did take a few photographs when I was there," Bill said, "although as a college student I couldn't afford to shoot all the Kodachrome I wanted to. I did mostly black and white. Your backlighting of the black-and-white figure is fabulous."
"Thanks," Lynne replied, smiling again, and then she sat down at her cluttered desk.
Understanding Lynne's nonverbal suggestion, Bill turned his attention to his own desk, on top of which was a six-inch stack of dog-eared filing folders in assorted colors, as well as a ragged pile of papers and magazines.
"I'm giving you all my notes and lesson plans for the introductory photography course you'll be teaching," Lynne said. "I thought this might save you some trouble so that you can focus on the new, advanced course."
"Thanks! That'll be a great help," Bill replied.
Next to the folders there was a brochure about canoe rentals on the Farmington River. Lynne watched as Bill immediately picked it up.
"I knew from your job application that you were an Eagle Scout and that you spent your summers as a waterfront director at a Boy Scout summer camp," she said. "I thought you'd be particularly interested and skilled enough to enjoy a canoe trip. I've never been in a canoe, but people who have paddled down the Farmington tell me it's very picturesque and relatively safe for the most part, although there are a few treacherous places that only experts would dare go. You may want to bring a camera."
"Thanks again. I can see myself doing this soon."
Bill sat down at his desk and noticed a bronze plaque on the wall next to the door on his right. It read, "This photography lab is donated by the Class of 1944 in memory of their beloved teacher, John Moss, July 28, 1920-June 6, 1944."
"What's the story behind ..." Bill had turned to face Lynne but ended his inquiry midsentence when he saw a female form standing in the office doorway. She was silhouetted by the bright lights of the gallery behind her, which gave her an ethereal appearance.
Lynne turned to see what it was that had caught Bill's attention. "Hi, Betty," she said. "Nice to see you. How's your summer going?"
"Fine, thanks," the girl said. "The gift shop has given me more hours than I expected. Sorry I haven't come by sooner for the painting."
"That's quite all right," Lynne interjected. "I've enjoyed looking at it. And as you can see, we still need to clean up from the exhibit."
As the young student stepped into the warm glow of the lamplight at Lynne's desk, Bill could see just how much she resembled the girl in the painting, although her clothes were entirely different. She now wore a T-shirt with a large red, orange, and yellow pattern on the front; it looked like a mandala with a peace sign in the center. The shirt was untucked and hung loosely over the top of her cutoffs, which were ragged against her slender thighs. Her shiny brown hair with auburn highlights cascaded loosely over her shoulders, and her gold wire-rimmed glasses framed bright-blue eyes that captivated Bill with their steady gaze.
"Meet your new photography teacher, Mr. Ballard. Bill, this is Betty Leonard, one of my best students."
"Hi, Betty, nice to meet you. Are you the girl in the painting?"
"Yes I am," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
"I'll help you get it down," Lynne said, standing up. She led the way as all three of them paraded through the open office door and into the gallery. Bill was last in line, just far enough back to notice the patch on one side of Betty's shorts and close enough to drift on her delicate floral scent. When Lynne reached for the painting, Bill immediately stepped forward to lift it off the wall.
"Thank you both for your help," Betty said, turning her attention from Lynne to Bill, who handed her the painting. As he passed it to her, she looked directly into his eyes with the same alluring smile she wore in the painting. "And nice to meet you, Mr. Ballard."
"Nice to meet you too, Betty," Bill replied as he returned her gaze, hoping that Lynne wouldn't notice his flush of excitement.
Bill's gaze remained fixed on her fluid form until she vanished from sight in the maze of empty display panels. Somehow he felt he already knew her; the way she moved, the look in her eye, the sound of her voice, even the way she smelled all seemed familiar to him, although he could not say how or why. He felt the excitement of meeting someone special for the first time, along with a sense of familiarity that he couldn't explain.
When Bill turned to go back into the office, he realized that Lynne was already seated at her desk. With a few long strides he was comfortably inside the room, but he wondered if Lynne had noticed or even cared about his hesitation. Just in case she had detected even a hint of interest, Bill reasoned, it would be best for him to say something. To say nothing at all or to immediately change the subject would make it look like he had something to hide.
"She's a talented student," he blurted out, hoping to get Lynne to talk about her.
"She certainly is," Lynne replied without turning to look at him. "Always has been. I expect great things from her now that she's a senior."
He tried again to get Lynne to tell him something about Betty. "How could she wait till now to pick up her painting? I thought all the girls had gone home for the summer."
"They did, but a few of them are local girls, commuters. Betty is the only one who lives close enough to walk to school."
He wanted to know more, but he didn't dare ask any more questions, fearing that his interest would seem too personal. "Great setting she chose; it goes well with the portrait."
"It's the summerhouse in the sunken garden at the Hill-Stead Museum. The grounds of the museum are a favorite location for the girls to use in their art classes. You really should become familiar with it the first chance you get. Just follow the signs at the traffic light in front of Main. That's Mountain Road."
"Thanks, I'll do that," Bill replied. Not daring to move the conversation back to Betty again, he walked to his desk and once again glanced at the bronze dedication plaque.
"I see you had a faculty member die on D-Day," he said. "Normandy?"
"You know your history."
Excerpted from EXPOSURE by Robert DeFosses. Copyright © 2013 Robert DeFosses. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Exposure is a charming story with paranormal dimension set in a quaint New England village and particularly at Miss Porter's School, where Jackie Kennedy Onassis received part of her education, as well as a local museum. The story is set in the 1960's with flashbacks to much earlier in the 20th century. The manner in which the story is told reminds this reader of Henry James, but there is also some of the flavor of 60's, and just beneath the surface of the story the sexual revolution and a new emerging set of values can be felt coming to the fore, and yet there the shadow of the 1950's is always there in the background, a sense of fear of rejection of Bill and Betty's love by a very judgmental society. Some excellent research went into this story, which I got very involved with. Mr. Defosses takes us into surroundings that are charming but also somewhat mysterious. and he gets us interested in his characters. I look forward to reading more from this new wrter.