Don Hanratty

My Belovèd is mine, and I am his.
Song of Songs 2:16


Carl woke up with a start in the middle of the night when one of the cell phones on his dresser rang insistently.  He could tell from the ring that it was his old cell phone, not the new one that Mary Carson had bought him the previous afternoon.  He glanced at the luminous face of the alarm clock on his bedside table.  3 a.m.  Who the hell would be calling him at that hour?

He stumbled out of bed, went to the dresser, and picked up the phone, which was glowing in the dark as it rang.  He didn't even try to be polite as he flipped it open without looking at the caller's identity.

"What!!?" he said.

"Carl?" an all too familiar voice said, sending chills up and down his spine.

"What the fuck do you want?" Carl asked his father.

"Hey, can't I even call my firstborn for a little early morning chat?  Why all this hostility?"

"You know why!!  I don't have to talk to you, and I don't want to talk to you.  You're not supposed to be contacting me."

"I won't take much of your time.  I just want to tell you that you won't live to testify against me in court, you pussy.  You're dead!  And so is Dan.  If I'm going to prison, there's going to be a good reason to go besides a little harmless fun with my son.  You got that, you worthless piece of shit!  You just couldn't keep your mouth shut about things that should have been kept in the family, could you?"

"Believe me, I'm looking forward to telling the whole world what you did to me.  And there's no way I won't live to do it.  And when I'm finished on the witness stand, I'm going to look down and laugh right in your fat, ugly face, you dick!"

"You've been warned!  You and your brother are both dead!"

The connection was broken, and Carl slowly closed the phone.

The light beside Dan's bed went on, and he sat up, looking over at Carl with a dazed, sleepy expression.

"What's going on?" Dan asked.

"It was Dad," Carl said, trembling, walking over to the side of his bed nearest Dan and sitting down.

Dan sat up in sudden alarm, wide awake.  "What did he want?"

"He said I'm going to be dead before his case ever comes to court," Carl said, deliberately leaving out his father's promise to kill Dan, too.

Dan looked at his brother and began to tremble in his bed.  "What are we gonna do?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," Carl said.  "I don't know what to do except tell Ian about it in the morning."

"Do you think Dad knows where we are?" Dan asked.

"I don't know.  He might if he hired a private investigator to find us."

"Oh, shit!  Now I'm worried."

"Yeah," Carl said.  He looked at his brother.  "Move over, bro, I'm sleeping with you for the rest of the night."

"OK," Dan said, sliding over and flipping the covers back.

Carl got in bed and pulled the covers up to his neck, feeling the warmth of his brother's body on the bedclothes.

"I'm sorry I got you involved in this, Dan," Carl said.  "Maybe I just should have kept my mouth shut."

"How could you keep quiet?" Dan contradicted him.  "You know darn well there wasn't going to be a perfect, happy ending to this story.  Now, at least, we're getting away from Dad."

"Ian will help us," Carl said, trying to sound confident.  "Let's get some sleep if we can."  He put an arm around Dan and pulled him closer.  "I'm glad you're here with me, bro," he said.

"Me, too."

The two of them tossed and turned for awhile, but they were young, and soon sleep sought them out despite their worried state of mind.

*  *  *

Carl woke up first the next morning, and eased out of bed without waking Dan.  He used the bathroom, put on his robe, and went out to the kitchen and sat at the table, watching the sun come up over San Francisco Bay and a gray cityscape.

Yolanda Vega was the first family member up, and was surprised when she saw Carl sitting in the kitchen.

"Carl, you up so early.  You hungry?  You want some breakfast?"  The automatic coffee maker turned itself on as she spoke, and began hissing and depositing freshly brewed coffee into the carafe.

"No, thank you, Yolanda," he said.  "Not yet.  What time does Ian usually get up?"

"Soon, right after the coffee ready."

"OK," Carl said.

Yolanda went over the cupboard for a glass and filled it up with orange juice.  She put it down in front of Carl.

"You drink this," she told him.  "Mr. Ian be here soon."

"Thank you, Yolanda."

Yolanda was right.  The last drop of coffee had no sooner fallen into the decanter than Ian came shuffling in, wearing his bathrobe, yawning and stretching.

"'Morning, Yolanda, Carl.  What are you doing up so early?" he asked, looking at Carl.

"I need to talk to you," Carl said, his brow furrowed.

"All right.  Do you want some coffee?" Ian asked.

"Today, I do," Carl said.

Yolanda pulled two mugs out of the cabinet, and putting them on the counter, filled them with coffee.  Then she set them on the table.

"Thank you, Yolanda.  Carl, do you use anything in your coffee?"

"Sugar and cream, thanks."

"Help yourself, and let's go to my study," Ian said.

Carl fixed his coffee, and picking up his orange juice as well, the two of them went off to Ian's refuge.  They sat down, and Ian took a sip of his coffee, looking over the cup at Carl curiously.

"I got a call on my old cell phone at 3 a.m. this morning," Carl said.  "It was my dad.  He told me that Dan and I will be dead before he even goes to trial."

Ian blanched, and then he looked furious, clenching his jaw.  He looked as if he wanted to swear a blue streak, but he didn't.

"Do you think your father knows where you are?" Ian asked after he calmed down, taking a gulp of his coffee.

"I don't know.  But my guess is that he may.  He's a smart man, with plenty of money to track us down if he hasn't already."

"You're probably right.  Does Dan know about your dad's call?"

"Yes.  But he doesn't know that Dad said he was going to kill him, too."

"All right.  This is going to mean some changes in our plans for you guys.  We need to find a safe place for you and Dan to live until the trial is over and he goes to jail.  And since I don't put much past your father at this point, William and Dan are going to have to go with you.  I don't want to think about their being kidnapped by your father, or some idiot he hires, in exchange for you and your brother.  Or killed to punish me.  The first thing I'm going to do, though, is to see if I can't get his bail revoked and have new charges placed against him for threatening you.  I'm still going to move all you boys out of here even if I succeed in getting him incarcerated before the trial, but if your dad has to do his plotting from a jail cell, it might throw a little kink into his plans."

"I'm sorry to cause you and Mary so much trouble, Ian," Carl hanging his head, with tears in his eyes.

"Not your fault," Ian said, taking another sip of coffee.  "I know you felt you had to say that.  But I don't want to hear anything like that out of your mouth again, unless something's really your fault."

He stood up, and Carl did, too.  Ian took him into his arms, and kissed him on the cheek.

"You're our boy now, and you're part of this family, and we're going to take good care of you and Dan," the older man said, wiping the tears from the boy's face.  "Common, let's have some breakfast and talk to Mary."

The two of them went into the kitchen, where the remainder of the family was gathered by this time.

Mary Carson, as always, looked as if she'd just stepped out of a glamor magazine, all groomed and dressed in slacks and a white blouse.  She was helping Yolanda put food on the table for William, Mark and Dan.  William and Mark were dressed in their school uniforms, ready to take off after breakfast.

"There you are," she said as Carl and Ian came in.  "I was wondering where you two were."

"Morning again, hon," Ian said, kissing her cheek.

"Morning, Mary," Carl said as he sat down next to William, deliberately jostling him.

"Ow," William said, faking it.

"Shut up," Carl said.

"Let's say grace," Ian said, and he offered the prayer.  Everyone began to eat.

"We have a problem," Ian said to everyone, biting down on a piece of toast.

"What?" Mary asked.

Ian decided to give everybody the bad news straight out.

"Carl got a call from his father last night threatening to kill him so he couldn't be a witness against him in court," he said. " I'm taking what he said at face value.  I'm going to try to get his bail revoked today and have him charged additionally with intimidating a witness and verbal assault, but it means we're going to have to make some changes in our living arrangements until he's convicted and goes to prison for a good, long term.  William and Mark, this will affect you two as well.  We're going to have to move all four of you out of town until this is over."

William, Mark, Dan and Mary looked at one another, stunned.

"What about school?" William asked.

"We're going to have to make other arrangements," Ian said. 
"You won't be going to school today or until things get resolved, so you can change out of your uniforms.  I'll call the school and let them know what's happening.  Start packing what you want to take with you for at least a month out of town."

William and Mark high fived each other. 

"No school!" Mark said, grinning.

"Early vacation!" William agreed.

"Mary, any thoughts about where we can stash these four characters until further notice?" Ian asked.

"I do.  But I want to talk to you about it first."

"OK," Ian said.  He looked at the boys.  "I don't want you boys to worry, now.  Everything is going to come out all right.  I promise."

The conversation was a little more subdued than usual as they all ate their breakfast.  When they were finished, the boys all left to start packing, and Ian and Mary poured another cup of coffee and stayed behind at the kitchen table to talk.

"What's your idea about where we can put the boys?" Ian asked.

"Well, my first thought is to send William, Mark and Dan to Charleston to stay with my mother until Carl's dad is in jail where he belongs," Mary said.  "That just leaves Carl for us to worry about here until the trial."

"The problem with that is, I think Carl needs his brother to be with him right now," Ian said.  "And to some extent, I think he needs William and Mark, too.  They've all already started to bond, as you've probably noticed.  And Carl needs to be here, or at least close by, so we can get into court whenever we need to.  We don't know what else his father might pull."

"You're right about that," Mary admitted.  "I'm trying to think of someplace in the Bay area where we can place them."  She lapsed into silence, and then her face brightened.  "This is a real long shot.  Dr. MacKenzie gave the OK for the four of them to go up to San Rafael this next weekend.  I'm wondering if she could be persuaded to let
our boys stay with her until Carl and Dan's dad is put away."

"That's asking an awful lot from someone we don't even know," Ian said.

"I know it is," Mary said.  "But after talking to Cam and Kevin at the cabin, I just have a hunch their mother loves kids and has a big heart.  She took Kevin into her home without a second thought when his dad's company transferred him out of town, you know, and took guardianship of him.  Anyway, I think it's worth a shot.   I'll call her in a few minutes to see if she can spare me some time today, and if she can, I'll drive up there."

"Well...all right" Ian said.  "It's worth a shot.  I plan to call Richard Hanosh at the Attorney General's office and see if we can get back into court today with new charges and a bail revocation hearing.  I may have to take Carl with me if I have to go to Monterey, I don't know.  I'll see what Richard says.  Meanwhile, I'm going to get some additional security in our building."

"All right, sweetheart."  Mary reached across the table and gently touched her husband's face.  "I guess we got more than we bargained for this time around."

Ian smiled.  He took her hand and kissed her palm.  "Yes, we did.  But the boys are worth it, and it will all work out."

Ian went to take a shower while Mary got on the phone to try to reach Catherine MacKenzie.  Cam answered the phone in San Rafael, still talking in his husky, morning voice.

"Hello," he said.

"Good morning.  This is Mary Carson."

"Hello, Mrs. Carson.  This is Cam."

"How are you, Cam?"

"I'm good, thanks, Mrs. Carson."

"Is your mother up and around, by any chance?"

"Yes, m'am, she's down in the kitchen, I think.  Let me check."

"Thanks, Cam."

He put the phone down and walked away, and Mary heard him calling downstairs to his mother.  A minute later, and Catherine MacKenzie came on the line.


"Dr. MacKenzie, this is Mary Carson in San Francisco.  How are you this morning?"

"Fine, thank you.  How are you?"

"I'm well," Mary said.  "Dr. Mackenzie, I'm wondering if you could spare me a few minutes today if I drive up to San Rafael.  Your boys told me such nice things about you when I saw them last week in the Big Sur, and I'd like to meet you before our boys come up for their big weekend.  I have a couple of things to talk with you about if you can spare me the time."

"I have a light day today," Catherine said, "and I'll be working at home this morning.  Come on up.  I'll enjoy meeting you."

"Thanks so much."  Mary looked at her watch.  "Will 10 o'clock be convenient?"

"Yes, it will.  I'll look forward to seeing you."  Catherine gave Mary the address and some directions, and they hung up.

With Sam trailing along behind, Cam came down the back stairs just then carrying his and Kevin's back packs full of books.  He let Sam out into the back yard and joined his mother just as Kevin crutched his way into the kitchen.

"Good morning, boys," Catherine said, still dressed in her bath robe and standing at the kitchen counter, sipping a cup of tea.

"Hi, Mommy," Kevin said, coming over to her and kissing her cheek.

"What did Mrs. Carson want, Mom?" Cam asked, embracing his mother and giving her a kiss.

"I think she wants to meet me so she can tell me what wonderful kids I have," Catherine said, smiling.  "Actually, we just want to get together and talk a little before her boys come up next weekend."

"Oh," Cam said.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Catherine asked.

"Thanks, Mom, but we don't have much time," Kevin said.  "We'll just have some pop tarts."

Catherine grimaced, but went to the refrigerator freezer compartment and removed four pop tarts, and slipped them into the toaster.  "Pour yourselves some orange juice," she instructed.

Cam glanced at his watch, and then did as he was told.  They all sat down in the breakfast nook for a few minutes while the pop tarts were warming up.  Cam put them on plates when they were done and brought them to the table.

"Kevin, if I can't get to school tomorrow to take you to the doctor, I'm going to spring Cam from school to take you," Catherine said.  "Either way, you won't be on those crutches much longer."

Kevin nodded.  "Thank goodness for that."

"I like him much better as a disabled person, Ma," Cam said.   "He'll be too unruly when he can walk on his own.  He's easier to get along with the way he is right now."

"I don't want Cam taking me to the doctor," Kevin said decidedly.  "Just call me a cab, please, Mom.  I'd rather ride with a total stranger if you can't take me."

"Kevin, Kevin, Kevin," Cam said in a patronizing voice.  "You know you're lyin' about that.  You love to ride with me in the Camaro, admit it!"

"I love the Camaro, I admit that," Kevin said.  "As for you, ehhhh??!!!"  Kevin waggled his hand, palm down, signifying uncertainty on that point.

"Yeah, yeah!" Cam said, grinning.  "Common, dufus, get it in gear, or we're gonna be late!"

The boys put their dishes in the dishwasher, said good-bye to their mother, and out they went, letting Sam in to be fed.  Catherine heard the Camaro start up and move down the driveway, and she and Sam were alone.  She fed the dog, finished her tea, and climbed the back stairs to the second floor.  She glanced into the boys' rooms as she walked down the hall to her bedroom.  Cam's bed was all messed up, but Kevin's bed looked as if it hadn't been slept in.

Kevin had been in a big hurry that morning and had forgotten to mess it up the way he usually did after they both slept in Cam's bed. 

The condition of the two beds more or less confirmed Catherine's suspicions about Cam's and Kevin's relationship.

She leaned against the door frame of Kevin's room, removed her glasses, and had herself a little cry.  She wasn't shocked, but it was going to require an adjustment in her thinking.  She had long ago decided, however, that whatever her boys' relationship was, she wasn't going to pass her own grief about it on to them.  She loved them too much to do anything but accept their love for each other.  She wondered idly if she had done something in raising Cam that had somehow inclined him to be gay.  Or whether, despite what the researchers said, there really was a "gay gene" that he had inherited from Alex.

Then she pulled herself together and went on to her own room to get ready for the day.  Rosa Mendez would be coming soon to make the house spick and span.

*  *  *

Catherine was working in her office when the doorbell rang.  Rosa answered the door and let Mary Carson in, precisely on time at 10 a.m., and took her back to Catherine's study.

The two women studied each other briefly before Catherine walked out from behind her desk, hand extended.

"Mrs. Carson?  Catherine MacKenzie.  I'm pleased to meet you."

"Mary Carson," Mary said with a smile as they shook hands.  "Please call me 'Mary.'"

"I'm Catherine," Dr. MacKenzie said, already warming to her beautiful visitor.  "Why don't we go into the sitting room.  We'll be more comfortable."

"All right," Mary said.

"You like something to drink?" Rosa asked the women before leaving to resume her duties.

"Mary, will you have something?" Catherine asked.

"A cup of coffee would be wonderful.  But don't go to any trouble."

"Coffee for Mrs. Carson, tea for me," Catherine said.  "Thank you, Rosa."

"Si, Señora," Rosa said, leaving for the kitchen.

The two women walked down the hall to the MacKenzies' huge living room, and Catherine motioned her guest into a comfortable chair.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice," Mary said.  "And also for your invitation to our boys to come up here this weekend."

"I can tell that Cam and Kevin are excited about having the boys here," Catherine said.  "And we have plenty of room.  It's no trouble."

"Still, it's nice of you to take on four more adolescent boys at once for a few days.  They can be a challenge."

Catherine smiled.  "You're right about that, but if your four weren't good kids, Kevin and Cam wouldn't like them enough to invite them up here."

"I was very impressed with your guys when I met them in the Big Sur.  They may have told you that they found our dog, which had wandered away from our cabin, and called us in San Francisco.  I went down there to pick her up.  We talked for a few minutes, and I really enjoyed them."

"Thank you," Catherine said.  "They told me about finding your dog.  They speak highly of you and your husband, and enjoyed their visit with you and your family on the way home last weekend."

"Did your boys also tell you about Carl and Dan Emrick from Seaside, and how it came about that they live with us and our two boys?"

"Yes, they did."

"You're aware, then, that Carl, who was a senior in high school at Seaside, was beaten and sexually molested by his father last Friday night.  His father is very prominent in the Monterey and Seaside area, and he might have gotten away with it if Carl hadn't gone to Cam and Kevin with his story after meeting them on the beach the previous afternoon.  Carl was desperate to trust someone with his story, I guess, even new acquaintances.  At any rate, Cam had the presence of mind to call me and my husband, Ian, who as you may know, is an attorney.  Ian was successful in getting the Attorney General's Office and the Division of Child Protection to intervene, and had Carl's father arrested and arraigned."

"Is Carl doing all right?" Catherine asked.

"Pretty well, all things considered.  Ian is working to get him into therapy quickly, and God willing, I think the boy will be fine.  Meanwhile, we plan to foster parent Carl and Dan for the duration."  Mary paused.  "There's a complication, though, that just came up last night."

Just then Rosa rolled in a serving cart with a tea pot and coffee pot on it, along with cups, sugar and milk.  She poured a cup of coffee for Mary and tea for Catherine.

"Anything more, Señora?" Rosa asked.

"We're fine for now, Rosa," Catherine said.  "Thank you."

Rosa left, and Catherine looked curiously at her guest.

"There's a complication, you say?"

"Yes.  Walter Emrick, Carl's and Dan's father, called Carl's cell phone this morning at 3 a.m. to tell him that he is going to kill Carl and Dan before the trial.  Ian thinks the man is seriously sick, and just might try to make good on his threat, even if he has to hire someone to do the job for him.  We're afraid for Carl and Dan, and also for our own two children, William and Mark.  I've thought about sending Dan and William and Mark to Charleston to stay with my mother until the trial's over, but Carl has to stay in the vicinity for his father's trial and to start therapy.  After thinking more about it, though, I don't want to send the three boys to my mother because Carl's mental health is fragile right now, and he needs his brother to be near him.  And he's already bonded with my two boys.  Taking away his support system right now would be disastrous for Carl, I think."

Catherine looked at her visitor.  "Send them all to me, Mary," she said immediately.  "I'll hide them out and take care of them."

Mary Carson looked stunned.  Her mouth opened but no words came out.  She tried to swallow, but there was a big lump in her throat.  She took a swallow of coffee and looked at her hostess.

"Catherine...I....I can't believe you'd do that for us...for the boys.  Without even being asked.  Without knowing us.  I'm so grateful."  She shook her head.  "I admit I was going to ask you to do this, but you've knocked me off my feet!"

"Well," Catherine said, "we all need to invest in our young people.  I have the room here and the wherewithal to take care of these boys, and they need it right now.   I'm obviously not telling you anything you don't already know--you took Carl and Dan into your home without a second thought.  How can I do less?"

"What you've offered to do is huge, though," Mary insisted.

"The only thing I have to do before you tell your family the news is to talk to Cam and Kevin about it.  I don't think they'll have any problem with it--I think they'll be really excited about it, actually--but I owe them the courtesy of running it by them.  Why don't I call you tonight with the final decision?"

"That would be wonderful!" Mary said, having recovered her composure.  "You're truly an amazing woman, Catherine.  I'll be very grateful to have you for a friend."

"And I, you," Catherine said.

"I want us to be clear, though, that Ian and I will be reimbursing you for any expenses involved in having our boys here.  Any and all expenses!  I hope you're in agreement with that."

"If you're comfortable doing that, it's fine," Catherine said.  "But it's not really necessary."

"Let's just make that part of our agreement from the start," Mary insisted.  "We want at the very least to do that."

Catherine acquiesced with a nod.  "Let's go back to my study, shall we, and I'll take down your phone numbers and address."

They did that, and after Catherine showed her guest the two bedrooms she was going to set aside for the four boys, Mary got ready to take her leave.

"Your home is beautiful, Catherine.  Thank you, thank you, for offering to do this for the boys," Mary said at the front door.  She hugged Catherine and kissed her cheek.  "You're truly 'casting your bread upon the waters...'  It will come back to you a thousand-fold.  I truly believe that.  I'll wait to hear from you tonight."

Mary walked to her car, got in, drove down the block, and then pulled over and stopped.  The beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent, educated woman was surprised to find herself weeping at the kindness of a woman she hardly knew.

*  *  *

Cam and Kevin arrived home after soccer practice, Kevin having observed rather than playing, of course, at about the same time Catherine pulled in the driveway after teaching her last scheduled class that afternoon at St. Francis.  The boys greeted their mother and Sam greeted everyone.  The boys continued harassing each other as they walked into the house.

Rosa had left a pot roast seasoned with spicy Mexican condiments in it simmering on top of the stove.

"Oh, yum!" Cam said as they entered the kitchen.  "Rosa made us something good!  I'm so hungry, I can't stand it."

"You should stand it, though," Kevin told Cam.  "You're getting to be such a porker from scoffing down all the food you do.  It was embarrassing watching you waddle down the soccer field this afternoon.  The earth shook every time you put your foot down."

"The earth is gonna shake again when I knock you on your butt," Cam said menacingly.

"Don't be writin' checks with your mouth that your pudgy bod can't cash," Kevin suggested with a grin.

"Shut up," Cam said.

"Yes, please shut up, both of you," Catherine said.  "Go wash up for dinner and help me put the food on the table."

"Yes, my Mommy," Kevin said happily, in good spirits.  He crutched away toward the stair transporter in the front hall.

"Your wish is my command, Ma," Cam said, heading up the back stairs toward his room.

Catherine smiled.  She put her briefcase out of the way on the kitchen counter, and taking a pot holder, she lifted the top off the cast iron pot in which the food was cooking.  It did look and smell good, she admitted to herself, mouth watering.  Replacing the top, she began pulling vegetables out of the refrigerator crisper to make a salad.  Cam came downstairs looking all happy.  He hugged his mother from behind, kissing her cheek.

"Sweetheart, set the table, will you?" Catherine asked him.

"Yep," Cam said, taking plates out of the cupboard and rummaging around in the silverware drawer, and then heading for the dining room.  When he was finished with the plates and silverware, he came back for glasses, filling them with ice and cold water, and took them to the dining room on a tray.

"You do such good work!" Kevin observed as he crutched into the dining room, watching Cam put the water glasses on the table.

"You better believe it!" Cam said.  "I can't wait until you're walking again so we can get a little work out of you."

"You ain't kiddin'!" Kevin said.  "Believe me, I'm so ready for that!"

With a quick look toward the kitchen, Cam whispered, "You've gotten to be such a lazy fuck, I might have to kick your ass to get ya motivated!"

"Mom, Cam's harassing me again!" Kevin said loudly.

"Cameron..." Catherine said accusingly from the kitchen.

"That's a lie!  A terrible, scurrilous lie, Mom!" Cam said.  Switching to a whisper again, he told Kevin, "You'll pay bigtime for that later, ratfink!"

"I don't think so," Kevin said, quickly moving on to the kitchen.  "Mom, what can I do?"

"I think everything's under control, hon.  Just sit down for a minute, and we can eat."

"OK."  Kevin sighed, sitting down on a stool at the kitchen counter.  He really was tired of not pulling his weight around the house.

Catherine finished fixing and tossing a salad, and removing a couple bottles of different dressings from the refrigerator, she went into the dining room.

"Cam, get a trivet for the pot roast, I'll get the roast, and I think we're ready."

"Yes, m'am."

They gathered around the table.

"Cam, you've been so articulate tonight it's scary," Catherine said.  "Why don't you offer thanks?"

Cam and Kevin grinned at each other, and they all bowed their heads.

"Thank you, Father, for this opportunity to gather together as a family this evening.  Give us your grace in everything that we do, Lord.  We give you special thanks for Kevin's recovery from his injuries, Father, and we ask for your continued blessings upon him and upon us all.  Bless Rosa and Mom, whose hands fixed this meal, as we prepare to eat what you have generously given us, through Christ our Lord."


Cam seated his mother and sat down himself.  They each served themselves.

"Good prayer," Kevin said.  "Thanks, man."

"It was good," Catherine said, spearing a first piece of pot roast and taking a quick bite.  "Hmmm, so's the pot roast."

"Mom?" Cam said between bites after he had served himself.


"Are you going to be able to take Kevin to the doctor tomorrow, or should I plan to do it?"

"I have a commitment I can't get out of," Catherine said.  "I'll give you a note for the school office so you can do it."

Cam and Kevin looked pleased.

They continued to chat during the meal, and when she was finished, Catherine put down her fork and looked at the boys.

"Kevin," she said, "when I walked down the upstairs hall this morning on the way to my room, I noticed that your bed hadn't been slept in last night."

Both boys' faces turned scarlet, and they looked down into their plates in silence, shocked.

"Where did you sleep?" Catherine asked.

Once again, silence.

"In Cam's bed," Kevin finally admitted in a low voice.

"Are you boys in a...a relationship?"

Kevin's eyes began to tear up as he continued to stare down into his plate.

"Yes, Mom, we are," Cam admitted, not looking at his mother.  "We love each other.  For us, it's not just sex.  Please don't think that."

"How long have you been...together?"

"Since just before Kevin was beaten up," Cam said.

Catherine sat there absorbing the news in silence.

Kevin raised his head at last and looked over at Catherine.  "I know how you must hate me now.  But I love Cam more than my own life.  And I love you, too.  I would do anything for him, and I'd do anything for you.  Please don't throw me out."  Kevin was crying silently, the tears running down his face and falling into his plate.

"What?!!!  Throw you out?!!!" Catherine exclaimed, a hint of tears in her own eyes.  "Kevin, you're my son.  I love you.  I love both of you.  Why in the world would you ever think that I would put you out of your own home?"

At that point, Kevin covered his face with his hands, elbows on the table, and sat there in silence, the tears trickling between his fingers.  Cam's eyes teared up, too.

"Mom, we were going to tell you about us before we moved to Los Angeles," Cam said.  "We knew you'd be bummed when you found out."

"Does your father know?"

"Yes.  He had a pretty good idea what was going on when he came up here right after Kevin was hurt.  He asked me right out about Kevin and me when I was driving him back to catch the helicopter to San Francisco, so I told him."

"What did he say?"

"I asked him if he was disappointed, and he said he wasn't.  Basically, he said he refused to be disappointed in people who are true to themselves, true to the person God made."

Catherine looked at him.

"Well, he's right about that, you know," she said.  She removed her glasses and wiped her eyes with her napkin, and then smiled.  "I have to say that you two are the most unlikely pair of gay boys I can imagine.  You're too macho for your own good most of the time!  So much for stereotypes.  If I weren't observant, I never would have suspected a thing."

The boys couldn't help smiling at that.

"We're sorry if we've hurt you, Mom," Cam said.

"I'm not hurt, exactly," Catherine insisted.  "It's just going to take some getting used to.  But we're a family.  We live here together, and it's better that we're all honest with each other about who and what we are."

"Thank you, Mama," Cam said, getting up and going to her and hugging and kissing her.  Kevin did the same.

"You haven't called me 'Mama' since you were five years old," Catherine said, looking at Cam.

"Right about now, I feel like I'm five years old again," Cam said as he and Kevin returned to their chairs.

"All right, let's move on," Catherine said briskly, her emotions once again under control.  "I have something else I want to talk to you about."

The boys relaxed a little and looked at her expectantly.

"I had a visitor today," she said.  "Mary Carson drove up from the city to meet me after she called me this morning.  She wanted to check us out a little, I guess.  I like her.  A lot.  She had some nice things to say about you two, by the way."

"I'm not surprised she drove up here," Kevin said.  "My impression is that she and Ian like to keep pretty close tabs on their boys."

"I think you're right, and that's a good thing!" Catherine said.  "She told me something about the situation with the Emricks that you two don't know, though."

"What?" Cam asked.

"Carl and Dan's father called Carl's cell phone at 3 a.m. this morning.  He told Carl that he is going to kill him and his brother before Carl can testify at the trial."

"Holy shit!!" Kevin said without thinking.  Catherine looked displeased.  "Sorry, Mom."

"Oh, man, I bet Ian hit the roof," Cam speculated.

"Mary didn't say, but I know they're both worried about Carl and Dan.  And they're worried about William and Mark, too," Catherine said.

"Are the Carsons going to let the boys come up here this weekend?" Kevin asked.

"Yes, I think so.  But if you two agree, the boys are all going to stay on with us here at the house at least until the Emrick trial is over.  Would you be in favor of that?"

Cam and Kevin looked at each other, and Kevin got a big smile on his face.

"I say a big 'Yes,'" Kevin said.

"Me, too," Cam said.  "This is good of you, Mom, to do this.  Really good!"  He studied her.  "I'm going to remember your kindness to these people for the rest of my life, y'know.  You're a great mother and a great teacher."

"I don't know about that," Catherine said.  "But I'd surely want somebody to do this for you boys if our positions were reversed."

"Thank you for giving us some input on inviting the guys here, though," Kevin said.  "And thank you for asking Cam and me about our relationship.  I think I'm so lucky to be here and have the chance to know you and love you, Mom.  I appreciate you so much!"

Catherine smiled. Then they all got up and started to clear the table.

Cam and Kevin went upstairs after their kitchen duties were completed and did their homework.  They didn't have all that much to do as the school year moved to a close.  After they studied, Kevin made Cam work out on the weights until he was trembling and sweating.

"You're killing me, you dumb fuck!" Cam told Kevin, breathing hard, after he finished the last exercise.

"Now, now," Kevin told him in a fake, soothing voice.  "I'm just helping you develop the body I know we both want you to have."

"I already have the body I want me to have!"

"It could be better!" Kevin said with a grin.

"A more developed body won't be of much use to me if I die in the process, dickhead!  Give me a break!"

"Muscles are very attractive.  As you get more of them, I'm going to be much more passionate in bed."

"Well, I'm glad something good is going to come out of all this pain."  Cam looked at his partner and grinned.  "I admit I've been on the brink of telling you a couple times to kick it up a notch when we've had sex."

"The sex has been great, and you know it!" Kevin insisted.  "As least that's what you've been telling me."

"I only said that so you wouldn't be discouraged in the sack," Cam said.

Kevin laughed.  "You're such a dick!" he said.  "Cute, but still a dick."

The two of them brushed their teeth, and Cam showered, and then they climbed into Cam's bed together.  For the first time in the months since the two of them had been intimate, Cam didn't bother to lock the bedroom doors.  That in itself buoyed him.  He felt a little more free from the world's judgment on their relationship, and totally happy to have Kevin in his arms and in his life.

Sam jumped up on the foot of the boys' bed, turned around twice, and lay down.  She knew Cam and Kevin were patsies for her charms, and she had abandoned her dog bed on the floor for a better spot on the big bed two nights after she had arrived in the MacKenzie household.

Cam gently caressed Kevin's face and body as they lay there in bed holding each other, talking quietly, first about how good Catherine's acceptance of their partnership had made them feel, then about plans for making the Emrick and Carson boys welcome when they came to San Rafael to stay with them.

There was a new sense of tranquility and serenity in their love for one another as Cam and Kevin drifted off to sleep in each other's arms.

*  *  *

Ian Carson wasted no time contacting Richard Hanosh at the Attorney General's office about Walter Emrick's 3 a.m. call to Carl.  After getting on Judge McDowell's docket for an another emergency hearing, Richard picked Ian up from home in a state vehicle, and they headed for Monterey.

The hearing was short and sweet.  McDowell revoked Emrick's bond on the grounds that he was a danger to the community, and approved a new arrest warrant on charges of intimidating a witness and verbal assault.  This time the Monterey police went out to the Cadillac dealership and made the arrest instead of the state police.  Within an hour, Carl's father had been arraigned on the new charges, processed, and was securely incarcerated in county jail until his trial.

Ian called Carl after court proceedings were concluded, and told him the good news.  The information went a long way toward calming Carl's and Dan's anxieties.

Ian also called his wife in her car as she drove back to San Francisco and told her what had happened in court.  Mary filled him in on her talk with Catherine.  Ian was pleased.  Plans to protect all his children seemed to be coming together nicely.

He and Richard Hanosh headed back into the city.

*  *  *

After her talk with Cam and Kevin at supper, Catherine had called Mary Carson about bringing the Emrick and Carson boys up to San Rafael.  She'd told her that Cam and Kevin had not just agreed to the extended visit, but were enthusiastic about it.

"Catherine, I don't know how we'll ever repay you for doing this for us," Mary said.  "We're your friends and admirers for life, I can tell you that."

"I'm looking forward to getting to know your kids," Catherine said.

"I'm glad.  And remember, I meant what I said about reimbursing you for expenses," Mary said.

"If you want to.  I do have to get some twin beds and some additional dressers.  Fortunately, the bedrooms in these old houses are large."  Catherine paused.  "I don't know whether you're aware of this or not, but Kevin's former girlfriend is having their baby about the time the school year ends.  We'll be raising the child here.  My plan is to put the baby in Cam's room, Kevin and Cam in Kevin's adjoining bedroom, Carl and Dan in the next room down the hall, and William and Mark in the room next to them.  Or, for that matter, however they want to arrange themselves.  All the guest rooms have their own bathroom, so logistically speaking, things should work out well."

"That sounds wonderful," Mary said.  "Catherine, I want you to know that we have a work schedule for our boys which we keep posted on the refrigerator here at home.  There's no reason that the boys can't take care of some of the basic duties around your house.  I hope you'll consider implementing that system.  I don't want everything to fall on you and Rosa.  Running a household with six adolescent boys isn't going to be a breeze, as I'm sure you know."

Catherine laughed.  "Yes, it'll be challenging.  But doable.  I think I'll take your suggestion about the work schedule, though."

"We'd like our guys to continue going to church on Sundays, if that's possible.  Either to a Roman Catholic church or an Episcopal church.  We all just became Episcopalians, ourselves, but if the Catholic parish is handier, that will be fine just as long as they go."

"I'll make sure that happens.  I won't get into it now, but I've kind of been wanting to check out the Episcopal church myself.  We'll all go to Mass one place or another, though."

"Thank you," Mary said.  "One other thing.  I think Ian wants to get a tutor for our four boys for the remainder of the school year," Mary said.  "Do you know anybody in San Rafael who could do that for us?"

"I do.  I had a tutor come in here for Kevin while he was housebound after being injured, and that seemed to work out well.  The man I have in mind is an evening instructor at St. Francis, and is very competent in many subjects, across the board.  I'll get in touch with him."

"That's excellent!  Just let me know if he's available, and what the costs will be.  Now, on another topic, we're going to have Carl drive our boys up to your house in Ian's Navigator, and leave the vehicle with you.  Carl is to turn the keys over to you.  Use your own judgment about how little or how much the guys get to use it and where they go.  William has his driver's license, but he should probably only drive under your supervision."

"All right," Catherine said.  "We have space to garage the Navigator.  When will the boys be coming?"

"Tomorrow about noon, I think, if that's convenient."

"Can you have them make it an hour earlier?  I have to leave at noon for an appointment on campus, and I'd like to be here to welcome them before I go.  If not, Rosa will be here, and I'll tell her which boys go in what room so they can unpack.  She'll fix them some lunch.  Cam is getting off school tomorrow afternoon to take Kevin to the orthopedist to get his casts removed, so they should be home by 3 o'clock or so."

"Wonderful!  We'll make sure they arrive by 11:00.  Catherine, again, thank you so much.  Call us anytime if there are any problems.  We'll try to get up your way to see the kids this coming weekend sometime, but we'll call you before we come.  I want you to know, by the way, that Carl and Dan's dad is back in jail until his trial.  That should lessen the danger to the boys, but we want to follow through on keeping them out of town just in case Mr. Emrick tries to hire someone to carry out his threat."

"Things will work out here fine, Mary.  I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Catherine phoned the furniture store with which she had done business for years, and ordered four new dressers and four single beds, box springs and mattresses  to be delivered immediately, and then phoned a mover to come over right away to move all the old furniture into the attic.  She sent Rosa out to a department store to buy new sheets, pillowcases, and mattress pads.

Things were going to shape up fast in the MacKenzie house, or she'd know the reason why!!

*  *  *
The boys arrived right on schedule at 11 a.m. the following day, and parked the Navigator in the drive in front of the gate.  They climbed out of the truck, eying the house curiously as they walked slowly toward the big verandah and up the steps to the front door.

Catherine opened the door just before Carl, in the lead, could ring the bell.

"Dr. MacKenzie?  I'm Carl Emrick.  This is my brother Dan, this is William Carson, and this is Mark Carson."  Carl pointed to each of the guys as he introduced them.

"Boys, welcome!" Catherine said with a smile, swinging the door wide.  "Please come in."  She shook hands with each of them as they entered.  "I want you all to meet Rosa Mendez, who really runs this house."  Rosa was peering out of the dining room into the hall at the new arrivals, Sam at her side.  "Rosa, let me introduce Carl, Dan, William and Mark," Catherine said.

"'Allo, boys," Rosa said, smiling.  "This is good you are here."

"Thank you," the boys all said.

"Hey, Sam," Carl said to the dog, and she came out to greet the boys, who all gave her a pat.

"Let me open the gate for you," Catherine said, "and you can drive your truck into the back and bring in your bags.  Your bedrooms are all ready for you."

"Thank you, Dr. MacKenzie," Carl said.

"Why don't we just simplify things?" Catherine said.  "Please call me 'Catherine.'"

"Yes, m'am," William Carson said.  "Thank you.  And we want to thank you for letting us stay with you."

"I'm glad to have you, and Cam and Kevin are really excited to have you here."

"Are they in school?" Dan Emrick asked.

Catherine looked at her watch.  "Yes, but they'll be leaving early this afternoon to take Kevin to his doctor's office.  He gets his casts removed today."

The boys all smiled.

"Big day!" Carl said.  "He's really gonna be happy about that!"

"Yes, he will!" Catherine said.  "I'll open the gate.  Bring your bags in, and Rosa and I will fix your lunch.  If you're hungry, that is."

"We are," Dan said.  The boys grinned, and headed out the front door.

The gate across the driveway swung open, and the Navigator headed back toward the garage, where the boys began pulling their suitcases out of the back hatch.  They walked toward the back door, which Catherine had opened for them.

"Hey, a pool!" Mark said enthusiastically as they walked by it.  Then his smile disappeared.  "Darn!  I didn't bring my suit."

None of them had.

The boys lugged their suitcases up the back stairs, and Catherine showed them to their rooms.  The new furniture and bedding had all arrived on time because she was an expert at cracking the whip when she needed to.

"You boys don't necessarily have to room with your brothers.  You can choose whom you want to room with," Catherine said.  "There are fresh towels and wash cloths in each bathroom, so wash up and come on down for lunch," she told the boys, and went back downstairs.

William looked at Carl.  "I don't wanna room with this squid," he said, pointing at Mark.  "Let's room together."

"You're only a junior," Carl told William.  "Just a kid.  I don't know whether I should room with you or not."

"Yeah, but I'm tall for my age," William quipped, tongue in cheek.

"In that case, it's OK by me," Carl said, grinning.  "Is that all right with you, Dan?"

"Yep," Dan said.  "Common, Mark."

So that's what they did.  They unpacked a little, and then straggled back down to the kitchen.

"You can have soup and a sandwich, or left over pot roast from last night," Catherine said.  "Or both."

"What kind of sandwich?" Dan asked timidly.

"Peanut butter and jelly, or cold meat loaf," Catherine said.  "Vegetable soup."

The boys put in their orders, and went into the dining room.

"This place is humongous," William observed, looking around.

"Just like home," Carl said.  "Or should I say, 'Just like condo.'"

Catherine looked into the room from the kitchen.  "Come and get what you want to drink," she told them.  "Milk, iced tea, soda, water, fruit punch," she said, giving them their choices.

"Have the fruit drink," Mark told his older brother William.  "It's perfect for you."

"Takes one to know one," William laughed, cuffing the back of Mark's head.

They got their drinks, and soon they were sitting around the dining room table.

"Would someone like to offer thanks?" Catherine asked before they started eating.

"I will," William said, pausing.  "Heavenly Father, we thank you for bringing us to this place of safety.  Bless Catherine for helping us and taking us in.  We thank you for this food, and ask you to bless it to our use and us to your service, through Christ our Lord."


"Thank you, William," Catherine said.

They all got down to some serious eating, and soon there was nothing left but crumbs.  When they were finished, without being told, the boys all took their dishes and silverware into the kitchen, rinsed everything off, and put it in the dishwasher as Rosa looked on.  She caught Catherine's eye and nodded approvingly.

"Boys, I have to leave in a few minutes.  I teach at St. Francis University, and I have an appointment on campus.  Why don't you finish unpacking and get settled, and Cam and Kevin will be home from the doctor pretty soon.  You can watch television if you want to.  The television room is over there."  She gestured toward the far corner of the house.

"Thank you for taking care of us, Catherine," Dan said.

The other boys murmured agreement.

"You're welcome.  I'm glad you're all here."

The guys all headed upstairs.

*  *  *

The four boys were all sitting in the television room in front of the big screen TV laughing and talking by the time Cam and Kevin arrived home.  Kevin was walking a little gingerly, but without his crutches.

Cam suddenly appeared in the doorway of the TV room.

"Hey, assholes!" he said, grinning bigtime and spreading his arms wide.  "Welcome home!"

The guys all jumped up laughing, and began giving Kevin and Cam the slip, slide and dap routine.

"Nice greeting, dude!" William said with a smile, bumping shoulders with Cam.

"When I'm right, I'm right," Cam said, still grinning.  He gestured at Kevin.  "Look who's walking under his own power now!"

"Congratulations, man!" Carl said to Kevin.  "Let's see your leg."

"It's ugly," Kevin said.

"Let's see," Dan said.

Kevin reluctantly sat down on an ottoman and pulled up his pant leg.  The leg looked thin, and the skin was flaking.  They could see that the same was true of his opposite forearm.

"Any problems?" Carl asked.

"Nope," Kevin said.  "I'm all healed up, but I do have to take it easy for a week or so.  Cam cried when he heard the good news."

"I cried with relief when I realized I wouldn't have to cart your school books around for you anymore," Cam contradicted.

"Are you all unpacked?" Kevin asked, changing the subject.

"Yep," Mark said.

"You guys wanna swim?" Cam asked.  "Let's not waste any more of the afternoon."

"You didn't tell us you had a pool, dufus," William said.  "We didn't bring our suits."

"Who needs suits?  That's why there's a wall around the pool," Cam kidded him.  "Unless you're shy."

William put Cam's neck in the crook of his arm and squeezed.  "That's me, man, all the way.  Shy!"  He broke into laughter.

"All right," Cam said.  "There are towels in the pool house.  Let's go."

They all started stripping off their clothes when they hit the patio, checking each other out a little as they got naked.  An instant later, they were all in the pool, swimming, diving, splashing each other.  Cam got a water volley ball out of the pool house, and soon there was a game underway.  Kevin, aided by the buoyancy of the water, was right in the thick of things, but as his leg and arm tired, he eventually got out of the water, dried off, and sat in a chaise watching the other guys cavort around.  He noticed that the welts on Carl's back hadn't completely disappeared yet.

In addition to being handsome, their guests were all built and well hung.  Kevin just sat back and enjoyed a panorama of beautiful, naked boys.

© 2005 Don Hanratty.  My continuing thanks to ChicagoEric and Dan for editing and proofing Belovè