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

Any similarity between the characters in this story and any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Catherine was not available to take Kevin to the orthopedist the afternoon he was scheduled to have his casts removed because she had an appointment with Father John Reilly, S.J., president of St. Francis University.  The topic of conversation was a letter which the priest had received from the Most Reverend John Michaels, Archbishop of San Francisco, concerning the suitability of having Catherine continue to teach at a Catholic university.

The priest stood up from behind his desk as Catherine was ushered into his office by his secretary for their 1 p.m. appointment.  They were, in fact, having a late lunch together there in the office to discuss the letter.

"Hello, Catherine," the priest said, walking around the desk and offering his hand.  "How are you?"

"Good afternoon, Father.  I'm fine.  How are you?"

"I'm better than I have any right to be," Reilly joked, "considering that most college and university presidents live short, miserable lives.  We can't please the students, we can't please the faculty, we can't please the support staff, we can't please the trustees, we can't please the alumni, and if we're at Catholic institutions, we can't please the bishops in the jurisdictions in which we're located.  You get the picture."

Catherine laughed.

"Considering all that, you're looking remarkably well.  I do think you're more popular than you give yourself credit for."

"One lives in hope," the priest said.

They sat down at a small conference table talking about inconsequentials while the secretary set out lunch and then excused herself.  The priest offered thanks, and they began to eat.

"As I told you on the telephone, I received a letter from His Excellency of San Francisco as a result of your visit to the Chancellery a while back," the Fr. Reilly said.  "That must have been quite a meeting.  I'd like to have been a mouse in the corner for that one."

"I thought I was going to meet with Father Raddley alone, but just as we were getting started, the Archbishop himself joined us.  To be candid, I felt I had been called downtown to intimidate me for being so outspoken about the sad state of the Church these days when it comes to academic freedom.  So I thought I'd give them their money's worth.  While I was at it, I threw in a few comments on the hierarchy's views on selected social issues.  I dare say my ideas were not well received."

"You're right about that," Father Reilly said.  "Why don't I just let you read the Archbishop's letter?"  He passed the letter over to Catherine, who put it down beside her plate and began to peruse it as she ate.

The letter from Michaels began with a few pleasantries, and then got down to the reason for the communication:

"You will recall that my assistant, Father Raddley, had requested through you that Catherine MacKenzie, Ph.D.,
a professor of English literature on your faculty at St. Francis, join him at the Chancellery some weeks ago for a
discussion centering on the crucial role of the Church in maintaining an appropriate level of academic freedom without
unduly confusing the minds and hearts of young Catholics in our care.

"We were stunned when not only did Dr. MacKenzie refuse our attempt to offer her our godly admonitions
concerning some of her public statements critical of the Church, but saw fit to criticize roundly our views on academic
freedom on the campuses of Catholic colleges and universities along with some of our teaching on social issues
such as the evils of homosexual conduct.  She also faulted us for failing to speak out forcefully on the evils of the Iraq war,
the use of torture in military prisons, and the increasing utilization of capital punishment in this country.

"Although we were all in substantial agreement about the evil of abortion, she also dared to fault the Church for attempting
to use the government to impose our views on abortion on non-Catholics as well as general insensitivity in the way we
deal with Protestants and persons of other religions.

"She also castigated the hierarchy of Holy Mother Church for minimizing the importance of the laity in the saving work
of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world.

"To top all else else, she dared to lecture us on our 'extreme' views on papal supremacy which vitiates, according to her,
the key role of local bishops as well as the importance of ecumenical councils and national episcopal conferences of bishops.

"We were shocked by her views, and she resisted all our attempts to correct those views to bring them into conformity with
Catholic faith and teaching.  Although I did not excommunicate her, I invited her to examine her conscience in order to
gauge whether or not she should continue to receive the Blessed Sacrament in light of her lapses in doctrinal matters.

"I strongly urge you to review the fitness of Dr. MacKenzie to continue teaching young and impressionable Catholic
young people in an institution purporting to be a Catholic institution of higher learning.  Although professors of English
literature, unlike professors of theology, do not require a license from the diocesan bishop to teach in our colleges and
universities, it seems appropriate at this juncture to remind you of your responsibility to maintain the purity of teaching and
theological views among your faculty which are consonant with the Catholic magisterium.

"My hope is that you will see your way clear to rid St. Francis University of the pernicious influence of Dr. Catherine
MacKenzie on our young scholars at your earliest opportunity.

"Please advise."

The letter was signed by the archbishop at the bottom with his usual flourish.

"I don't think he likes me," Catherine said with a smile when she had finished reading.

"Or your views.  But you certainly got his attention," Father Reilly said.

"I don't regret one word I said to the Archbishop, John, but I do regret putting you in the middle of this situation."

"Don't be concerned about that.  As a Jesuit, I try to take a long view when it comes to mediating issues like this.  I recognize that we are in an age in which the church hierarchy is taking an ultramontanist view of the papacy, and many of our bishops don't have two original thoughts to rub together.  I can only say when it comes to the current narrow view of church polity, 'This too shall pass.'  If there's one constant in life, it's change."

"I don't know how many times I heard my husband say the same thing:  'Life is change.'"

"I could tell His Excellency, 'Who are you kidding?'" the priest said.  "I could say, 'You know the history of Catholic thought and practice better than to send a letter like this,' and let the matter rest there.  But I want to harm St. Francis as little as possible while defending your freedom to speak out on the issues he mentions in his letter."

"Do you want me to resign?" Catherine asked.

"I wouldn't even consider accepting your resignation!" the priest said emphatically.  "You're too good at what you do for the students here, and you have an international reputation for the quality of your work in your field."

"What if the Archbishop becomes more insistent that I be fired?"

"You know that the faculty, on principle, are not going to allow the administration to fire a tenured professor of English literature merely because a bishop doesn't like his or her style or his or her views.  You have to remember that we have a diversity of people on the teaching staff here, and many of them are not Catholic.  Some are not even Christian.  Even the Catholics on faculty aren't going to allow a professor of literature to be fired for her views on theology and academic freedom in order to placate a bishop.  Not even an important bishop."

"I have to admit, Father, that at this point I am giving some thought to exploring the Episcopal church as a new spiritual home for me and my children.  That has nothing to do with this immediate controversy with Archbishop Michaels, and a lot to do with the conservative position that the current pope and the former pope staked out on issues such as homosexuality and what is required of homosexuals in order to remain in a state of grace.  Does it make any sense to you that God creates human beings who have same-sex attractions, and then tells them that they are to remain celibate all their lives, irrespective of whether they are called to that state of life or not?  St. Paul was right.  If a Christian can remain celibate, let him do so.  If not, let him marry.  And that command to marry includes gay persons as far as I'm concerned.  And that's just one issue in which an Old Testament view is prevailing in the church today rather than Jesus' command to love God truly and love our neighbor truly, and to let this dual command of his guide our lives.  And there are numerous other issues in which the church is misinterpreting the gospel message, in my opinion."

"I may even agree with you on some of these matters, Catherine, but I hope you won't leave the church.  I want to emphasize again that all these theological positions are subject to modification over time."

"I understand that, John, but too many human beings are suffering right now over these matters, and they shouldn't have to.  I don't want to be a part of a so-called Christian body that advocates unwarranted suffering and denies human beings their basic, God-given rights.  I understand that the heart of our religion is the suffering of Jesus for the sins of all, but not everything the church labels as 'sin' really is sin, you know.  If the hierarchy focused a little more on the sins of the spirit rather than the sins of the flesh, they'd be much more in touch with the teachings of Jesus."

Father Reilly sighed, and then he guffawed.

"No wonder you got John Michaels so hot under the collar of that purple cassock.  But I trust that you don't see the Anglican Communion as a safe haven for liberal theological thought, because they're still fighting their own internal battles over some of these issues."

"I know," Catherine said.  "But at least the Episcopalians had the guts to consecrate as bishop a gay priest who has been in a monogamous relationship with his partner for almost twenty years.  That seems to indicate a willingness to face a difficult, contentious matter and do the right thing."

The two of them continued to talk throughout their meal
about the matters raised by the Archbishop like the old friends they were.  When they were finished eating, the priest looked at Catherine.

"This is how I'm going to respond to the Archbishop," he said.  "I'm going to tell him that there is no way that I, the faculty or the Board of Trustees is going to put the accreditation of St. Francis University at risk by attempting to expel a tenured faculty member in the School of Arts and Sciences over unusual, or even unorthodox, theological views.  That's the truth of the matter, and between you and me, it's a position with which I'm quite comfortable.  I hope you are as well."

"I am," Catherine said.  "But I don't think the Archbishop will abandon his efforts to have you take punitive action against me," Catherine said.

"Perhaps not.  But in time the pope will no doubt want to reward the extraordinary devotion of this archbishop with an appointment to a job in Rome, and after that, with a red hat.  All we have to do now is wait for the inevitable."

They parted warmly, and Catherine went across campus to teach a class.  After class she went back her office and telephoned Jack Montgomery, who had been Kevin's tutor while he was housebound.  Montgomery agreed to tutor the Carson and Emrick boys while they were exiles from San Francisco.  When she called Mary Carson on the phone and outlined the man's credentials, Mary was pleased with the man's qualifications and agreed to his fees without hesitation.

Catherine then went home to a house full of lively and energetic boys.  She gave the four visitors the "bad" news about the intensive tutoring that was in the offing for them, and they took it pretty well, although not enthusiastically.

After supper they all played poker around the dining room table, including Catherine.  She showed those adolescents how a truly proficient competitor played Texas Hold 'em, and ended up with most of the chips.

*  *  *

Following their ignominious poker defeat at the hands of their hostess, the four visitors finished unpacking and putting away their clothes.  Everyone was in bed by 11 p.m. and fell asleep quickly.

William Carson woke up first the next morning at about 6 a.m., and was hungry.  Feeling a little shy yet about just going down to the kitchen and fixing breakfast on his own, he walked quietly down the hall in his boxers to Cam's bedroom door, which was unlocked, and opened it slightly.  He was surprised to see Cam and Kevin sleeping naked in the same bed, with Kevin holding Cam as they slept head to head.

He closed the door quietly without waking them, and went back to his own room.  Carl opened his eyes when William came back in, and looked at him.

"Uh, I need to ask you something," William said.  "I'm a little embarrassed to ask you this, but do you know if Cam and Kevin are gay?"

Carl woke up fast.  "Why do you ask?"

"Well, I went down the hall to Cam's room to ask him if it was all right to just help myself to breakfast in the kitchen, and he and Kevin are sleeping together in Cam's bed.  Naked.  Uh, I'm just wondering."

Carl sat up in bed.

"Well, that's probably a question you need to ask them," he said.  "Will it make a difference to you if they are gay?"

William was silent for a moment.  "I don't know," he said.  "I've never been friends with any gay guys before, or at least not that I know of.  It's different, is all I'm saying.  I may not want to swim naked in the pool anymore, maybe, or take group showers in the pool house.  I don't know."

"It's up to you how you choose to deal with it, if they tell you they're gay," Carl said.  "But I can tell you from firsthand experience that I'd trust these two guys with my life.  In fact, I did trust them with my life.  I'd do anything for them, I know that.  So if you want two great friends who are trustworthy, you won't go wrong with them.  I hope you won't be too quick to judge them."

William didn't respond right away.  "You've given me something to think about," he finally said.

There were no awkward moments that morning resulting from William's uneasiness about Cam's and Kevin's sexual orientation, because the latter were up, showered, dressed, and out the door before the other boys even put in an appearance in the kitchen.  Catherine fixed the four boys bacon, eggs and pancakes before she left for St. Francis, and they gobbled everything up.

Rosa Mendez arrived to start putting the house in order, followed shortly by Jack Montgomery, the newly hired tutor.  After meeting and talking with the four boys for a few minutes, Mr. Montgomery sat them down at the dining room table and gave them rudimentary placement exams.  He found that William and Mark were quite advanced for their grade levels, and Carl and Dan were only slightly ahead in theirs.  That meant that Carl and William could be taught together and given somewhat the same assignments, and the same was true for Mark and Dan.  The tutor kept them occupied for three hours, and then left them with two hours of homework.  The boys finished that up, and then they were free.

Cam and Kevin had a soccer match after school, and Catherine had given Carl the keys to Ian's Navigator along with directions to the school so that the four visitors could attend if they wanted to do so.  They did, and were sitting in the front row of the stands when the San Rafael High School team came bursting out of the locker room on to the field.  Kevin played only briefly because his leg was still weak, but Cam, perhaps inspired by the sight of his new "brothers" in the stands, played a brilliant game, making three of the four goals scored by San Rafael as his team vanquished the visiting team 4-2.

Catherine accommodated the athletes by fixing a late supper that night, and they all gathered in the dining room after Cam and Kevin arrived home. 

"Dan, will you offer thanks tonight?" Catherine asked.

"Yes, m'am," Dan said.  They all bowed their heads.  "Father, we are grateful for the opportunity to be living in this house with good friends.  We thank you for the food which is before us, and for our foster mother who prepared it.  Bless it to our use, and give us thankful hearts for all your many gifts to us, through Christ our Lord."


"Thank you, Dan," Catherine said.

Everyone dug right in and sat around the table kibitzing and kidding around long after the meal was finished.

"How did your tutoring session go today?" Catherine asked the Emrick and Carson boys.

"Good," Mark Carson said.  "Mr. Montgomery is cool, and he's an interesting teacher.  Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed it."

The other boys nodded their heads in agreement.

"I'm glad," Catherine said.   "I'm hoping that he'll help you keep up your studies to the point at which you would have been if you were in school."

"Maybe I'll forge ahead of where I would have been," Carl kidded Catherine.

"Wonderful!" Catherine said, smiling.  "I'm going to hold you to that."

William Carson had been more reserved and quiet than usual, and Cam had noticed him shooting curious glances at him and Kevin and then looking away.  He didn't know what was going on, but he planned to find out sometime during the evening.

"Anybody want to swim later, after our food digests a little bit?" Kevin asked.

Everybody agreed except William, who shrugged his shoulder noncommittally.  After the group broke up, he went upstairs alone to his room while the other boys headed for the TV room.  Cam followed him upstairs and went down to William and Carl's bedroom.  William was sitting on the side of his bed.

"Hey," Cam said, knocking on the open door.

"Hey," William said, not looking at him.

"What's going on with you tonight?" Cam asked, tackling whatever the issue was head on.

"Whaddaya mean?"

"I mean that you haven't looked me in the eye or talked to me one time tonight.  Are you mad at me for some reason?"

"No," William said.

"Well, what's going on, then?"

William was never one to be shy.

"I woke up early this morning, about 6:30, and I was hungry.  I didn't want to just go down to the kitchen and help myself without asking, so I got up and came down the hall and looked in your door.  I saw you and Kevin together in bed, holding each other.  Naked.  I was surprised.  Are you guys gay?"

Cam was taken aback by the boy's directness, and stood there speechless for a moment.  Then he went into the room and sat down across from William on Carl's bed.  He looked William straight in the eye.

"Yes, we are."

"I'm just surprised, that's all," William said.  "I asked Carl, and he said I should ask you.  You guys don't look or act gay.  I mean, you're jocks and everything."

"Well, most gay people don't have any certain looks or mannerisms or anything," Cam said.  "You can't tell by looking."

"Oh."  William sat there silently for a moment.  "I thought Kevin's former girlfriend was going to have their baby pretty soon."

"She is."

"That doesn't make sense.   I didn't know a gay guy could father a child."

"It happens sometimes," Cam said.  "A gay guy can do anything sexually that a straight guy can do.  It's more a matter of a person's God-given preference for one sex or the other that's important.  Kevin and I have loved each other for a long time, but neither of us really understood until recently the depth of those feelings, or that our feelings would have to have a physical dimension to express our feelings of love."

"How did you guys find out you were gay and loved each other?"

"Kevin told me earlier this year that he loved me.  I was shocked, but I had to be honest with him.  I felt then and still feel the same way about him.  If you've ever been in love, you know how we feel.  The joy we have in being around each other.  I love everything about him, including the fact that he's a boy.  Well, a man, I should say."

"Does Catherine know?"

"Yes," Cam said.  "She confronted us just recently about it, and we talked it out."

"Is she OK with it?"

"Yes.  Maybe a little disappointed and a little afraid for us because our society is so bigoted about homosexuality.  But she loves us and accepts us for who we are and what we are. 
Y'know, all Kevin and I ask in our lives is to be treated fairly, and that we be left alone by society to make our own decisions about the way we live our lives.  For most gay people, being gay isn't a choice any more than having blue eyes or black hair."

William sat there in silence looking at Cam.

"I don't want the fact that Kevin and I are gay to spoil your time with us, William.  Kevin and I are monogamous, and we're going to have our relationship blessed as soon as the timing is right.  We aren't going to be hitting on you, if that's what you're worried about."

William continued to look over at Cam, and the latter could tell by his face that he had made a decision.

"I guess I get it," William said.  "I don't want to be the kind of person who goes around all pissed off all the time about other people and their behaviors or about who they love.  You and Kevin saved Carl's life, he says, and Dan's, too.  That tells me something.  And you're both jocks and good at your sport.  All aside from the great thing your mom is doing for me and Mark and Carl and Dan by taking us in, I want to be your friend.  If you're a little different, fuck it!"

Cam laughed, and stood up and extended his hand.  William took it and they gave each other a shoulder bump.  Then they went downstairs, made the other guys stop watching television, and went out to the pool.  They all stripped and were playing around in the water.  At one point William stood up in the shallow end of the pool, and catching Cam's eye with a big grin, grabbed his cock and wagged it at Cam.

Cam roared, and knew right then that things between William and Kevin and him were going to be just fine.

*  *  *

The four new boys were settling into their new surroundings and new routine very well.  They all doted on Catherine and she on them, and vied with each other to think of things they could do to please her.  She loved them, but at the same time, she never hesitated to let them know who was in charge.

The boys all liked Jack Montgomery, their tutor.  About a week into their studies with him, however, Carl, for reasons known only to himself, abruptly began to withdraw mentally from participation in the class and sat through several days of instruction in his own little world.  Mr. Montgomery did his best to re-interest him, but to no avail, and he finally had a word with Catherine about it.

One night after supper, Catherine took Carl into her study and shut the door behind them.  She pointed to a chair in front of her desk, and Carl sat down.

"Mr. Montgomery tells me that you aren't participating in your class or doing your assignments anymore, Carl," she said, sitting down beside him.  "What's going on?  You were doing so well."

"It just seems like a waste of time," Carl said.  "I have enough credits from Seaside to graduate, and I've been accepted at UCLA.  What's the point?"

"Well, first of all, have you considered that your participation might help Dan and William and Mark?" Catherine told him.  "I agree that your grades at Seaside were good, but surely you're not telling me that you have nothing left to learn.  Don't you want to get a leg up on what you'll face at UCLA?"

"William and Mark are really smart, and my participation doesn't affect them them one way or another, I don't think.  And Dan could probably pass his SAT's right now with no help from me.  As for UCLA, I don't have a clue how hard the classes may be.  But I should be able to handle it."

Catherine studied him.

"Carl, are you having trouble concentrating on school work because of what your father did to you?"

Carl looked at her, surprised.  "Well, a little bit.  How did you know that?"

"It stands to reason.  What he did was very hurtful to you, and even with help, you don't heal mentally and emotionally overnight from that kind of experience."  She was silent for a moment.  "I think I've kind of dropped the ball on getting you into counseling here in San Rafael.  I know that Ian Carson had a therapist all picked out for you in San Francisco, but after your father threatened you and Dan, getting you into therapy kind of took a back seat to getting you relocated."

Carl didn't respond.

"I know you may not be thrilled right now about the prospect of getting some help," Catherine said, "but I agree with Ian that you need to do that.  Will you let me call Ian about it?  Right now?"

"Yes, if you have to," Carl said, a little sullen.

Catherine picked up the telephone and hit the speed dial.

"Hello?" Mary Carson said at the other end.

"Mary, Catherine MacKenzie.  How are you and Ian?"

"We're fine, Catherine.  How are you and all the boys?"

"We're all doing pretty well, thank you," Catherine said.  "Is Ian around, by any chance?"

"Yes, he's in his study.  Hold on, and I'll buzz him."

"Before you go, when are you and Ian coming up to San Rafael?" Catherine asked  "The boys miss you."

"We miss them," Mary said.  "We were thinking about driving up next weekend.  Will that be all right?"

"Absolutely.  Why don't you stay overnight with us.  I still have a vacant guest room with your name on it."

"Thank you so much.  We'd love to stay with you.  Mention that to Ian when you talk to him, will you?  I'm sure he'll agree."

"Yes.  Good to hear your voice, Mary, and I'll look forward to seeing you."

"Thank you, Catherine."  Mary put the call on hold, and Ian came on the line.

"Catherine!  I'm glad you called.  I was sitting here thinking about the boys instead of reading this legal brief I have in front of me.  I miss them, even though we talk to them almost every day."

"I know you do.  Mary said you might be able to come up this weekend.  I have a guest room waiting for you and Mary whenever you can make it, you know."

"That sounds delightful," Ian said.  "We'll plan to do that.  We should be there by Saturday noon."

"The boys will be happy about that," Catherine said.  "Now, I want to talk to you about therapy for Carl.  He and I are in my study talking, and he's having some problems concentrating in class.  He tells me that what his father did to him is responsible for that, at least in part.  I know you had selected a therapist in San Francisco for him, but I'm wondering if you have anybody in mind up here.  I think we need to move forward on this matter right away."

"You're absolutely right about that," Ian said.  "I just talked today to Dr. Greta Thompson, the therapist down here that I had in mind for Carl, and she had several recommendations for psychiatrists in Marin County.  One of them teaches in the school of medicine at St. Francis, as a matter of fact.  Dr. Amanda Smith is her name.  She specializes in child and adolescent therapy, Greta told me.  Do you know Dr. Smith?"

"I do, indeed," Catherine said.  "She and I have served on several faculty committees together, and she's good and down-to-earth in the way she relates to people.  I'm confident that she's especially good in dealing with young patients.  Do you want me to contact her?"

"I'd really appreciate that," Ian said.  "Catherine, I know I'm repeating myself, but I don't know how we'll ever thank you for everything you're doing for us.  Seriously.  Just promise me that you'll let us know if the responsibility gets too heavy, will you?"

"These boys are a joy to me, Ian," Catherine said.  "It's a privilege to have them around, and Cam and Kevin are genuinely happy to have them here.  Every day they're here is a bonus for all of us."

"A pretty rambunctious bonus, I'd say," Ian said.

"They're good boys, every one of them.  We'll all look forward to seeing you this weekend, Ian.  I'll talk to Dr. Smith, and have a report on her availability ready for you when you come."

"Thank you, Catherine.  See you soon."

Catherine hung up, and she and Carl contemplated one another in silence.

"Stand up," Catherine said to Carl as she rose.

She took Carl into her arms and just held him for a long time.  At first Carl's arms remained at his sides, but eventually he returned her hug.  Finally stepping back and kissing the boy's cheek, Catherine looked him in the eye.

"God gave you to me to take care of for a little while," she told him.  "I love you.  Everybody in this house loves you, and that's not going to change no matter where we all find ourselves in the future, you know."

Tears began running down Carl's face, and she hugged him tightly again.

"If you can, I want you to start participating in class with Mr. Montgomery," Catherine said.  "It will be good for you, and you can help the other boys in ways you don't even know.  Will you try to do that?"

"Yes," Carl said.

"Help is on the way for you, sweetheart, and we're all here for you."

"Thank you, Catherine.  You're a good mom to me and to all of us.  I'm sorry I've been a jerk."

"You haven't been a jerk.  Don't say that again.  You're going to start feeling better about yourself in no time, I know that for a fact."

She wiped the tears off his face, hugged him and kissed him again, and sent him off to the rest of the boys in the TV room to tell them that Ian and Mary Carson were coming up for the weekend.  Two minutes later she was on the phone, calling Dr. Amanda Smith at home.

The boys in the TV room kidded Carl a little bit about "goin' to Catherine's study."  From then on, whenever Catherine had a matter of discipline to be discussed with one of them, "Goin' to the study" would sum up the event.

*  *  *

Catherine wasn't feeling well the next day, but she shrugged off feeling a little dizzy and taught all her classes.  She thought she had done an especially good job in her last class discussing Gerald Manley Hopkins, an English poet who had also been a Roman Catholic priest.  Feeling tired after class, she went back to her office to rest for a few minutes instead of heading directly for her car to drive home.

She had no sooner sat down in her comfortable desk chair than she saw stars, her left arm went numb. and she lost consciousness.  When she came to, she saw from the digital clock on her desk that she had been passed out for at least thirty minutes.  When she reached for the telephone to call home, she noticed that her left arm was weak, although she could still move it.  She punched her number into the phone keypad and sat back.

"Hello?" a boy's voice said.

"Hello.  Who's this?" Catherine asked.

"This is Mark.  Is this you, Catherine?"

"Yes, Mark.  Is Cam there?"

"Yes, m'am.  He's in his room, I think.  I'll get him."

Mark put the phone in the kitchen down, walked away, and shouted up the back stairs for Cam, who was just on the way down.  Catherine could hear those big feet clomping down the stairs a minute later.

"Your mom," Catherine heard Mark say.


"Yes.  Cam, I need some help, I think."

"What's the matter?"

"I'm not feeling well, sweetheart, and I need you and Kevin to come and take me to the hospital."

Fear stabbed through the boy, and his chest tightened.

"Where are you?"

"I'm in my office at school."

"I'll be right there, Mom.  Hang on, now.  I'm leaving right away."

Cam hung up the phone, knowing this must be serious, because his mother would never ask for help frivolously.

"KEVIN!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.

"WHAT?" Kevin shouted back from the TV room.


Kevin knew from the sound of his partner's voice that something was very wrong, and came running from the TV room back to the kitchen.

"Grab your shoes," Cam said.  "Mom is in her office feeling sick, and we have to take her to the hospital.  Right now.  Let's move it!"

Kevin's dark complexioned face turned white, and he ran back to the TV room to get his sneakers.

"Guys," he told the boys, "Catherine is sick at school, and Cam and I are taking her to the hospital.  We'll call you as soon as we know something."  He pulled some cash out of his pocket and gave it to Carl.  "Order a pizza or something for supper, OK?"

"Yep," Carl said as all the boys looked at each other, worried.

By the time Kevin had run out the back door in his sweat socks, still carrying his sneakers, Cam had backed the Camaro out of the garage and was waiting for him.

"What do you think is wrong?" Kevin asked his partner as he climbed into the car and started to put on his sneakers.

"I don't know," Cam said.  "This scares the hell out of me, though, because Mom would never ask for help unless she was in real trouble."

They rode without speaking for a few minutes, with Cam breaking all the traffic laws in his haste to get to St. Francis.

"Please, Jesus, don't let this be bad," Kevin said, breaking the silence.  He wasn't big on prayer, but this seemed to be the time for it.

Cam stole a quick glance from the road at his partner, whose hands were clasped and his head down.

"It's gonna be all right, Kev," Cam said, instinctively offering the comfort that he was far from feeling himself.

Cam slid the Camaro into a parking space next to Catherine's car in the faculty parking lot, and the two of them sprinted for Catherine's first floor office in the Arts and Sciences building.

Catherine hadn't taken the lock off her door when she had entered, and the boys couldn't get in.  Kevin took off his T-shirt, wrapped it around his fist, and smashed the glass with "Catherine MacKenzie, Ph.D." in gold letters written on it.  That brought a custodian around the corner of the hall on the run as Kevin shook out his shirt and put it back on.

"HEY!" the custodian yelled.

Paying no attention, Cam reached carefully through the shards of broken glass and turned the inside handle.  He snapped on the overhead light, and there was Catherine sitting at her desk, unconscious again.

"What the hell are you boys doing?" the custodian said, looking in the door at them.

"It's our mother," Kevin said.  "Call 911, will you, please?"

The boys checked on Catherine's pulse and respiration while the custodian used the desk telephone to summon the EMT's.  Catherine was breathing, but her pulse was thready, and she looked pale and didn't respond to them until Kevin touched her face gently.

She awakened and looked up at Kevin as tears soundlessly coursed down his cheeks.

"It's all right, dear," Catherine said to him.  "It's going to be all right.  Don't cry."

"I won't," Kevin said, and then muttered to Cam, "I lost one mother.  I'm not losing another one."

Cam put an arm around his partner's neck and kissed his cheek, then letting go in order to hold his mother's hand.

"Mom, are you in pain?" Kevin asked.

"No, not really," Catherine said, and then added presciently, "I think I'm having a stroke."

They heard the sound of sirens approaching the building, and the custodian left to meet the EMT's and guide them to the office.  A moment later the paramedics came through the door rolling a gurney and carrying their bags of supplies.

"Whadda we got?" the guy in the lead asked.

"This is our mother," Cam said.  "She called us at home to come and take her to the hospital.  We found her unconscious, and she's been going in and out of consciousness since we've been here.  She said she thinks she's having a stroke."

"What's your mother's name?" the medic asked.

"Catherine MacKenzie," Kevin said.

"How old is she?"

"43," Cam said.

"Young for a stroke," the paramedic said almost to himself.  "Step back, if you will."  He put a stethoscope around his neck and checked Catherine's pulse as the other paramedic, a woman, put a blood pressure cuff around Catherine's upper arm.

The male paramedic keyed his shoulder radio.  "Marin, 281 onsite at St. Francis University.  Patient is 43 year old female.  Pulse, 95.  BP, 200 over 120.  Patient is currently conscious and responsive, and believes she is having a stroke."

A voice on the radio came back with some instructions that were incomprehensible to Cam and Kevin except for "Bring her in."

"Catherine, we're going to put you on our stretcher and take you to the hospital, OK?" the woman paramedic said, emphasizing her words to make them clear.  "We'll treat you in the ambulance."

"Yes," Catherine said.

"Mom, we'll be right behind you," Cam said.

Catherine nodded and smiled.

The two paramedics picked her up gently from her chair, put her on the gurney, covered her with a blanket, and rolled her out through the broken glass on the floor.  The two boys followed them out to the ambulance still sitting at the curb with its red lights flashing.  The boys went to the Camaro, got in, and pulled up behind the EMT's vehicle.  The ambulance soon took off, it siren shrieking and horn blaring.  Cam turned on his headlights, and as the ambulance went through traffic lights, he followed right on through the intersections close behind it all the way to Marin General.

The paramedics pulled into the emergency bay, and hospital staff joined them as they removed Catherine from the ambulance and wheeled her into the hospital.  The paramedics passed on to staff the patient's vitals as they rolled along.  Cam found a place to park, and the two boys ran into the waiting room.  They introduced themselves to the receptionist, and said they would be standing by for news about their mother, Catherine MacKenzie, who was just brought in.  Then they went and sat down in those abominable plastic chairs, and Kevin put his head in his hands and began weeping silently again.

Cam put his arm around his partner and spoke quietly into his ear.

"Kev, I know from the experience with you when you were hurt that crying doesn't really cut it in these situations.  If you have something to say to God, get your ass into the chapel and talk to him.  That's my advice.  That's what I did."

"Shit, I can hardly locate a holy place, let alone knowing what to say or do when I get into one.  You know that.  I'm not God's favorite person, and for good reason."

"Well," Cam said, "you're in luck, then.  The priests say he's in the business of forgiving and listening, so maybe you should get right on it.  I'll wait here for any news from the doctors."

Kevin sighed and wiped his eyes as Cam turned him loose.  "All right," he said, getting up and checking out the signage for directions to the chapel.  He walked away, guided by the oft-followed blue line in the tile floor.  Even in the midst of his fear and turmoil right then, Cam's eyes were glued to Kevin's sweet, muscular ass in his Levi's as the boy left.

Cam pulled out his cell phone and called home.  Carl answered the phone.

"Carl, it's Cam.  We're at the hospital."

"Thank God you called," Carl said.  "We're all worried."

"There's no news yet.  One of the paramedics muttered something about a stroke, but we don't know.  It seems as if Mom can move her arms and legs, so we don't know what the deal is yet."

"All right," Carl said.  "I'll tell the guys.  I know this probably sounds stupid, but I'm actually praying, if you can believe that."

"Thanks, man," Cam said.  "Did you guys get something to eat?"

"We ordered a pizza, and it should be here any minute.  Do you want us to save you some?"

"No, eat up.  I have no idea when we'll get home."

"OK, Cam.  Let us know."

"We will.  Thanks for holding down the fort.  Feed Sam, will ya?"

"Already done," Carl said.

"Thanks.  We'll talk to ya later."  He snapped his phone shut and broke the connection.

Kevin had not yet returned from the chapel when a doctor came out of the emergency treatment section about thirty minutes later.

"Mr. MacKenzie?"

Cam stood up and walked over to him.  "Yes, sir," he said.

"Dr. Rondapour," the man said, introducing himself as they shook hands.  "We want to run some more tests on your mother," the doctor said, "but we think she's had a slight stroke, although there doesn't seem to be any impairment.  We're giving her a blood thinner and some medication to get her blood pressure down.  Do you know if she is already taking a blood pressure medication?"

"I don't think so."

"All right.  We have her personal  physician's name, and we'll be contacting him in a few minutes.  We're going to admit her and keep her overnight for observation."

"Yes, sir.  Can my brother and I see her before you take her upstairs?"

"Yes, give us a few minutes, and the receptionist will let you know when you can come back to the treatment room."

"Thank you," Cam said, and he went back and sat down just as Kevin walked back into the waiting room looking much calmer than when he had left.  He walked over and sat down beside his partner.

"The doctor just told me that they think Mom had a slight stroke, but there's no impairment, I guess.  They're running more tests, and they're going to keep her overnight for observation." Cam said.  "We can go back and see her in a few minutes."

"Thank you, God," Kevin said, looking upward, and then looked at Cam.  "If I ever give you a hard time about going to church again, just kick my ass, willya?" he said to him.

Cam couldn't resist.  "Did you have a little 'Come to Jesus' meeting in the chapel?"

"Yes, and if you kid me about it, I'll kick your ass!"

Cam put his arm around Kevin again.

"All right.  I'm sorry.  I'm not laughing at ya.  The last thing I want to do is tease you about is praying.  I know about praying!  And I know what good things can happen when you do pray."

The telephone on the receptionist's desk rang.  She answered it, hung up, and waved the boys over.

"You can go on back to Treatment Room 6," she said.  "You have five minutes before they take your mother up to her room."

"Thank you, m'am," Kevin said, and they hotfooted it back to Room 6.  Catherine was lying on a treatment table in a white hospital gown with her eyes closed when they went in.  An IV was running into her arm.

"Mom," Kevin said, taking her hand and kissing the back of it.

"How are you feeling?" Cam asked, bending down and kissing her forehead.

"I feel fine," Catherine said.  "I want to go home."

"I think they're going to keep you overnight for observation," Cam said.  "They're giving you a blood thinner and some blood pressure medication."

"I'm glad to know that," Catherine said tartly.  "These doctors don't tell you anything."

"Mom," Kevin said, "you gave us a scare."

"I know," Catherine said.  "I'm sorry.  But thank you for coming to get me."  She looked at the boys with amusement.  "How did the window in my office get broken?  Did one of you break it?"

"I did," Kevin said.  "Your door was locked.  You can take it out of my allowance."

"That's one bill I'll be more than happy to pay myself," Catherine said.  She paused.  "What are the boys eating for supper tonight, I wonder."

"Pizza," Cam said.  "I talked to Carl."

"I can't let you boys live at home alone," Catherine said.  "You need supervision."

"We'll be fine, Mom.  You're going to be out of here in no time," Cam said.  "Anyway, Kevin will keep us all in line."

"True dat," Kevin said.  "They'll either do what I tell them to do, or I'll kick their butts!"

"That's what I'm afraid of," Catherine said.  "I need one of you to do me a favor tomorrow."

"What?" Cam asked.

"Call Fr. John Reilly at St. Francis and ask him to cancel my classes for two days.  Two days only.  I'll be back after that."

"I'll call him," Cam said, suspecting that his mother's estimate of when she'd be back teaching was a little optimistic.

A nurse and an orderly came into the treatment room.

"Time to go upstairs, Mrs. MacKenzie," the nurse said.  "You boys will have to excuse us."

"All right, Mom," Cam said.  "We'll go home and supervise.  You have a good rest tonight, and Kevin and I will be here to see you in the morning,"

"No, you go to school like you're supposed to," Catherine instructed.

"We'll see you in the morning," Cam contradicted.  "You sleep well tonight."

Kevin bent down and kissed her cheek, and Cam followed suit.  The two boys watched as the nurse and orderly wheeled her out, and then walked slowly back through the waiting room and out into the parking lot.

"By the way, nice job getting us here, Mario," Kevin commented on Cam's driving on the way to the hospital.  "It was white knuckle time all the way."

"I just did what you've always taught me," Cam said.  "'Traffic lights are only advisory,' you always say."

Kevin shook his head and laughed as he got into the Camaro.

"You're such a cute little shit," he said, "In fact, you're cuter 'n sackful o' puppies!"

"Well, shet my mouf," Cam said.  "You're goin' southern on me."

"Not yet," Kevin said.  "That comes later--I'm gonna give you an Australian kiss tonight."

"What's that?"

"It's the same as a French kiss, but it's down under."

Cam laughed, and then pulled out his cell phone out of its holster, handing it to Kevin.  "Call Alex and John," he told his partner, "and then call Ian and Mary.  They need to know what's happened to Catherine."

Kevin complied.  Everyone he talked to was shocked and concerned, and everyone offered to come to San Rafael immediately.  Kevin dissuaded them until they knew more about Catherine's condition, but Mary Carson said she was going to drive up the next day from San Francisco and stay until Catherine was back on her feet.  The support from everyone made the two boys feel good about their "family."

The Emrick and Carson boys surrounded Cam and Kevin in the kitchen when the two walked in the back door.  They gave them what information they had on Catherine's status, and tried to reassure them that everything would be all right.  Cam could see that their housemates were worried.  Kevin informed them that Mary Carson would drive up the next day to stay until more was known about Catherine's condition.

"Yeah, you slackers better straighten your asses up right now!" Kevin told the guys.  "We need some discipline around here!"

They all groaned, and William Carson asked Kevin and Cam if they had eaten.  When they said no, William surprised them by having them sit down in the breakfast nook while he made them some shaved turkey sandwiches and heated up some soup, and served them.  Kevin returned thanks, remembering to name Catherine for healing.  He and Cam ate hungrily as the other guys sat around the table and talked.  Despite their anxiety about Catherine, Cam had the definite impression that the four guests were settling in and glad to be right where they were living.

When they had finished eating, Kevin collected their dirty dishes and put them in the dish washer.  Cam stood up from the table and gave William a hug, patting him on the back.

"Thanks, man," he said.  "That was nice."

"Yep," William said, smiling.  "You're welcome."

They all went into the TV room and watched some Jackass re-runs, and then headed upstairs to bed.

Cam and Kevin were no sooner inside their bedroom behind closed doors than Kevin took Cam's face in his hands and kissed him deeply.

"I love you so much," he said.  "And I'm in lust with your body.  I'm guessing you know that by now."

Cam didn't respond.  He put an arm around his partner and and a hand behind his head, and squeezed him tightly to his body.  They just stood there in the middle of the room for several minutes, unmoving, saying nothing.  When they let go of each other, Kevin sat Cam down on the bed and stripped him down, admiring the beautiful body that emerged as he did so.  Then Kevin was out of his clothes in a split second, and they lay in bed holding each other, looking at each other in the dim light of the bedside lamp.

"You're fucking beautiful, Kev," Cam said as he nuzzled his partner's face.

Kevin smiled and bent his neck to lick and kiss Cam's right nipple, taking it gently between his teeth.

"Oh," Cam said.

Partly lying on his partner and partly on the bed, Kevin kissed and licked and sucked his way slowly down Cam's glowing body until he lay between his stretched out legs.  He took Cam's balls in his hand, nuzzling them with his nose and licking them, and then he took the head of Cam's rigid penis, velvet over steel, into his mouth, and just held it there.  It wasn't long before Kevin tasted a few drops of Cam's sweet precum.  Kevin began to run his tongue around the corona of his partner's cock as Cam groaned.  He kept the boy teetering between heaven and earth until Cam pulled away and turned his body around in a sixty-nine, taking Kevin right down to the root of his dick, reveling in the male smell of his groin.  Now it was Kevin's turn to groan.

The lovers kept stimulating one another, on the brink time and time again and then pulling back from ecstasy, until Kevin went over the edge and gave Cam a giant mouthful of his semen.  That sent Cam into orgasm, and each of them drank down his lover's essence, making sure he received the last drop of the sweet load that was like a gift.

In the afterglow, Cam eventually turned himself around and pulled Kevin up to the head of the bed, covering the two of them with a sheet.  Cam held his partner gently as they drifted off to sleep, loving each other and loving what they had done for each other, their worry about Catherine temporarily submerged in rest.

© 2005 Don Hanratty

My thanks to ChicagoEric and to Dan for proofing and editing this chapter of Belovèd.

I also want to thank readers for their messages of encouragement when I had to evacuate New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina.  I don't know right now when I may be able to go back, but next week I will be heading further south from Indiana, where I'm currently staying with relatives, to be ready to go home.  The area of the New Orleans where I live, the Warehouse District, reportedly did not suffer any flooding, although my motorcycle is sitting in three feet of water in an underground parking garage, I'm told.  That's a small loss compared to what others have lost, including in some cases, their lives.  I think New Orleans will emerge from the tragedy of the hurricane a better and stronger city, and I look forward to participating in the rebuilding process.  DH