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


Totally relaxed, the Rev. James Anderson Mason lay on his stomach in bed at 4:59 a.m., head turned to squint at the red numerals on his digital clock.  He waited for the inevitable, the alarm to sound.  When it began to beep at him, he stretched out a muscular arm and turned the alarm off.

As usual, he had slept well, and was prepared for whatever the day might throw at him.  Or at least he would be prepared once he had said his office and offered Mass at St. Andrew's later that morning.  Given that his business was shepherding human souls, be they proud or contrite, suffering or satisfied, spiritual or crassly material, rich or poor, chaste or lustful, and all the gradations in between, anything could happen in the course of a day, and usually did.  He was a hard worker, and he liked the variety that came his way in the pastoral ministry.

In the cool of his room, he turned over and stretched his 6'1" frame taut before springing out of bed and heading for the bathroom.  He shucked off the ratty old pair of boxers he'd worn to sleep in and relieved himself into the toilet, catching a glimpse of himself in the bathroom's full length mirror.  He grimaced at his reflection, rubbing an index finger over a tooth that seemed a little rough.  Replete with glistening white teeth, he'd been told many times he had a killer smile, much to his discomfiture.

He wasn't totally satisfied with his conditioning, but he had a good body, hairless except for the black hair on his head, in his crotch and underarms and a patch of black hair between his pecs and a dusting on his legs.  Big hands, big feet.  It was a jock's body, a nice balance between wiry and beefy, muscular in the right places, with good pecs, a flat stomach and great abs.  He'd engaged in a variety of sports throughout college, including swimming, but had ended up a cross country track star at UC--Santa Barbara.  His job in the parish ministry didn't allow him as much time for exercise as he liked, but he rose extra early in the morning four days a week to run.  When time permitted, he usually ran five to six miles.  He also tried to get to the YMCA at least once a week at noon for a pickup basketball game with some guys his age, and then to work on his abs in the Y's fitness center, but that didn't always happen.  At age twenty-six, he was in excellent shape.  Every unmarried young woman in the parish was after him for a date, and some of them fantasized about more than a date.  But he had promised himself when he had accepted the Rector's offer of employment at the time he was still a deacon and not yet ordained a priest, not to concentrate on young women in his own parish for date material because of the complications that could arise from doing so.  That cut the field considerably, but in retrospect it had been a wise move.  Or so he told himself.

Moving quickly now, he went back into his bedroom.  He put on a jock, sheer running shorts, a tank top, sweat socks and trainers, and he was good to go.  He did his stretches outside his apartment building and began his usual set route.  It was sometimes tough for him to get moving on the days he ran, but once he was in stride, with his body bathed in endorphins, he loved it and hated to stop at just five miles.  The few people who were on the street at that hour of the morning frequently saw the tall, handsome young man run by them with a big smile on his face, and usually gave him a wave.

On his way through a park which happened to be on his regular route, he recognized six guys running toward him in a clump.  Cam and Kevin, accompanied by Carl, William, Dan and Mark, did a double take when they saw him, and the six of them stopped for a moment on the path, all of them running in place so they didn't lose their groove.

"Father, we met you in church last Sunday," Kevin said to the priest.  "I'm Kevin, and this is Cam, William, Carl, Mark and Dan."

"Hey, guys," Mason said.  "Unless I have my calendar mixed up, I'm going to see you all later for supper."

"Yes, sir," Cam said.  "Mom mentioned that.  We're looking forward to it."

"It's good to see some dedicated runners out here this early in the morning," the young priest said.

"It's not so much dedication as self-preservation," William said.  "We don't have much choice.  If we don't get out of bed and run with them, Cam and Kevin bug the heck out of us and won't let us sleep anyway, so we may as well run."

Father Mason laughed.  "I get the picture.  I'll see you tonight."

The priest and the group of boys set about running again in opposite directions, but not before Cam had turned his head as they did so, looking back and taking a good look at the priest's ass.  "Very nice," the boy thought to himself, and then started to get back to business.

"What a horndog!" Kevin told Cam quietly, grinning, as the two of them hung back a little.  "I saw what you were looking at."

"Shutup!" Cam said, his face reddening.  "The only reason I looked is that I'm on a quest."

"What quest would that be?"

"I'm trying to find another butt that's as perfect as yours."

"Yeah, right!!" Kevin laughed.  "You have an answer for everything, doncha?"

"I try."

"Do you think God wants you looking at His priest's ass?"

"I'll think it over and let ya know."

The group soon attained their former pace, and all that could be heard was pounding feet and heavy breathing as they swept along.

Father Mason finished his usual course and reluctantly headed back to his apartment.  He did his cool down and final stretches before going back upstairs.  Stripping down in the bathroom,
he started the shower.  A moment later he was under the shower head, feeling good as the water streamed down over his head and body.

After finishing his shower and toweling himself dry, the young priest studied his face in the bathroom mirror and sighed.  His reflection told him he was going to have to shave that morning, and he grudgingly began applying shaving cream to his face and neck.  Rinsing his razor in the stream of hot water in the sink after each stroke, he began drawing the razor over his skin in long, even movements.  When done, he dampened a hand towel in hot water and wiped off the shaving cream.  A clean visage with bright blue eyes, a wide mouth and a straight nose which seemed to fit his face perfectly, looked back at him.  No nicks from the razor.  It was going to be a good day, he thought to himself.  He spiked up his crewcut in front a bit, and then went to his bedroom to dress.

He put on plain, square-cut white boxers and a white, ribbed undershirt, followed by a black clerical shirt with a white tab at the throat, and then a black suit.  He gave his black shoes a quick buffing with a shoe brush, and put them on over black socks.

"Yes," he said to himself as he saluted into the mirror over his bureau.  Then he was out the door, smiling and feeling energized, heading for the church.  The entire staff at St. Andrew's attended Mass every weekday morning before the parish offices opened at 9 a.m., and he and his boss said Morning Prayer together in the chapel privately before the celebration of the Mass.  After the office was said, it was Mason's turn to offer Mass.  He and Father Edward Blackburn, the rector, vested and said the preliminary prayers together with the altar server assigned from the parish school that day.  Father Blackburn served as deacon, and read the gospel.  There was the usual crowd of seven staffers along with five additional parishioners on hand that morning.  Mason had a good liturgical voice, and enjoyed offering the Eucharist when it was his turn to officiate.

After Mass, the two priests unvested and went back to Father Blackburn's office and sat down together to go over their schedules.

"Did you run today?" the older priest asked his curate as they sipped coffee and orange juice and ate a piece of toast.

"Yes.  I thought might I'd see you out there," Mason kidded his boss.

"Yeah, right!" Father Blackburn said.  "The day that happens, you can help Gloria"--his wife of twenty-five years--"pick me out a nice casket."

"You're not in bad shape.  If you started off gradually, you could get into it.  Running, I mean, not the casket."

Ed Blackburn smiled.  "I know I should get more exercise, but my schedule..."

"Uh huh," Jim Mason interrupted him.  "We just came from the altar, Father, so don't give me that bull!"

"Don't hold your breath waiting for me to join you on your run, that's all I'm saying."

"Noted," Mason said.  "By the way, while I was running in the park I met all the boys from that new family that was in church last Sunday."

"Really?  It's pretty unusual for high school kids to be up that early and running."

"That's why I'm not giving up on you when it comes to running," the young priest said.  "Your middle name is 'dedication.'"

"Yeah, right!"  Blackburn just smiled again and shook his head dubiously.  "Now, what's on your schedule today?"

"I'm calling on Bessie Henderson and Lou Koulis at the Redwoods Nursing Home this morning so they can receive Communion.  I'll be back here this afternoon to start work on my homily for next week.  And I'm joining Catherine MacKenzie and her family for supper tonight.  What about you?"

"I'll be here until 11:30 doing paper work this morning, and then I have a Kiwanis meeting downtown at noon.  I'll be back here this afternoon for some counseling sessions with parishioners.  By the way, when are you going to join Kiwanis?"

"You know that's not my bag," Jim Mason said.  "But I'll make you a deal.  If you'll start running or carrying out some other meaningful form of exercise, I'll join."

"You drive a hard bargain," Blackburn said, grimacing.  "I'll think about it.  About tonight--do you think the MacKenzies are interested in St. Andrew's?"

"Maybe," Mason said.  "
I think they're 'seekers' for sure, but where they are on their spiritual journey right now and where they want to be, I'm just not sure.  And I'm a little confused about just how all the people in the family relate to each other.  Dr. MacKenzie is a well known professor of English literature at St. Francis, I am aware of that.  And if Ian Carson practices law downtown, I know who he is.  I guess I'll know more after tonight."

"OK, Jimmy," Ed Blackburn said as they stood up.  "Let's do the Lord's work today!"


They each made the sign of the cross and parted company.

The two priests were very much on the same wavelength when it came to the way they approached their duties.  Both were solid Anglo-Catholics in theology, Biblical and evangelical in their preaching, and above all, unlike so many priests, outgoing and friendly in their relationships with other human beings.  The older priest had made it a point when he hired Jim Mason as his assistant to make him aware just how important it was just to be nice to people in general, and friendly to them.  It wasn't their primary job as clergymen to sit in judgment on other human beings, Blackburn had said.  It was their job to help people confront themselves and their own issues as the Holy Spirit embraced them and led them.

Jim Mason had thought the matter over, and concluded that Blackburn was exactly right.  Many, if not most, of the priests he knew just weren't that pleasant to be around, and he wanted to be different.  Both priests were traditional in their theology without being legalistic, understanding that their job and that of all Christians was to love God and love their neighbor.  Period.  That matter wasn't complicated for either one of them.

They also accepted and supported the information that science provided to modern society about the human condition and how to address it.  Both of them had supported the Episcopal Church USA when its last General Convention had authorized the consecration as bishop of a gay priest living with a same sex partner.  They believed that many gay people had been born homosexual, and that it was irrational and counter-intuitive to believe that a loving God would forbid his creatures who were gay to express their sexuality within committed relationships, whatever the Bible might have to say on the issue.  Mason knew that the Old Testament also required a man who even touched the bed of a menstruating woman to be stoned to death, and that Scripture viewed human slavery as an accepted and acceptable part of everyday life.  Jim Mason and Ed Blackburn rejected fundamentalism when it came to loving and using Scripture within a Christian context.  They often said that individuals who were Biblical fundamentalists should require of themselves that they follow all the Biblical admonitions for behavior, many of which were strange and even illegal in modern culture.  But fundamentalists weren't just about to subject themselves to that, preferring to use Scripture more as a weapon against persons whose sexuality was different from their own.

One would never have known it from the way he was dressed in his priest suit and clerical collar, but Jim Mason had been a hellion during his growing-up and college years.  He had been born in Whittier, CA, and went through the public schools there.  His parents were middle class, well off, and pretty clueless about what their three children, Jim the eldest and two sisters, were up to during their high school years.   The senior Masons were both cradle Episcopalians, and not very observant when it came to their religious duties.  If they went to church on Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, that was a good year.  They had always made sure that the three kids got to church until, almost inevitably, when the children reached their teens, they followed their parents' examples and refused to make the effort any more.

Jim had drunk his share of booze during his senior year of high school and four years of college, tempered only by his need to stay in shape for sports and not to fail any drug screens required by the athletic department.  But he had loved weed, and used it whenever he could get it and get away with it, which at UC--Santa Barbara, was often.  He was a happy, satisfied business major until one weekend during his junior year in college when, by a fluke, he had attended a retreat sponsored by the university's Canterbury Center.  He'd been talked into it only because his roommate had said there would be a lot of hot girls there.  There were.

But it wasn't the girls who had made the biggest impression on him, but the retreat leader.  She was an Episcopal priest, a middle aged woman whose meditations were crisp, humorous, to the point, and for him, life-changing.  He had definitely been shaken up when it came to his lackadaisical approach to religion, and the very next Sunday he had worshipped at the Eucharist in the university's Episcopal chapel.  Although he remained happy and fun loving, his life had definitely headed in a new direction.

Mason had fallen in love with one young woman whom he had dated rather consistently, and after serious consideration, in the middle of his senior year of college, he had asked her to marry him.  She had agreed, but the engagement did not survive when he had told her subsequently that he believed he had a call to the ministry.  She told him that being a priest's wife was definitely not something she could see herself doing, and returned the engagement ring to him.  He'd been deeply hurt, but had continued steadfast in praying about whether or not he had a call to the priesthood.

His former fiancée' hadn't been alone in her shock over the matter of Jim Mason's call to the priesthood.  His parents had been equally upset, particularly his father, because he had counted on Jim to follow him in running the family business, a steel fabricating company that had been especially successful due to great product design.  Fortunately, one of his sisters was also a business major, and was able to become the heir apparent in the family enterprise.

During the Spring of Mason's senior year, the Episcopal chaplain at UC--Santa Barbara had introduced him to the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles, and shortly thereafter Jim had been accepted as a postulant for Holy Orders, and then as a candidate for Holy Orders.  His father, despite his pique over the change in his son's career plans, had paid for Jim's seminary education.  The elder Masons and his sisters had attended Jim's ordination to deacon at the cathedral in Los Angeles, and then as priest at St. Andrew's in San Rafael.  If his family members were still harboring disappointment about his choice of his life's work, they had hidden it well.

Unlike many clergy, the newly minted Father Mason loved making calls on parishioners, especially those who were elderly and in need of company.  He held an abbreviated Eucharist at the nursing home that very morning, inviting all baptized Christians to receive the Blessed Sacrament.  Afterwards he had sat down with the two members of St. Andrew's who lived there at the nursing home and talked with them for a good forty-five minutes.

When he left, he grabbed a quick sandwich at a handy Subway and took it back to the parish office with him.  As he was on the way in, he met Father Blackburn on the way out.

"Why don't you forget the sandwich and come to Kiwanis with me?" Father Blackburn suggested.

"Not today.  But I promise you I'll go with you next week."

"I'm going to hold you to that."

"All right."

On the way to his office, Mason stopped in the church kitchen for a bottle of cold water.  Then he stepped inside his space, snapped on the overhead light, and sat down at his desk.  Shoving a pile of papers aside and opening the water, he unwrapped the sandwich and began eating.

The office was a slightly smaller replica of the rector's office, comfortable and lined with shelves full of books.  Mason's theological library was quite large for a young man, and he had read most of the books there from cover to cover at least once.  He loved reading, and among other benefits, it kept his mind off the vitriolic stew that the Episcopal Church, along with the Canadian Anglican Church, was in with the remainder of the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality.  The Anglican bishops in the African nations were particularly outraged on the subject of accepting homosexuality and homosexual persons.  "Love God and love your neighbor," Mason thought to himself often.  "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Within a few minutes the priest finished his sandwich.  He chugged the remainder of the water, and threw the waxed paper into his waste basket and the bottle into his recycling bin.  Getting up, he went to the bathroom and washed his hands.  Once back in his office, he opened up the lectionary for the Sunday on which he was scheduled to preach, and began studying the text of the lessons line by line.  Then he read the New Testament selections in Greek.  Immersed in what he was doing, the next two hours passed quickly.  He was jolted out of his line of thought when the church secretary buzzed his phone with a question on the bulletin for the following Sunday.  Another hour passed quickly, and when Mason closed his books and sat back in his chair, he had a workable outline written down for his next homily.  He usually wrote his homilies out on his computer in Word and then preached extemporaneously, or seemingly extemporaneously.  People who heard him often commented that he seemed to speak to every person in the congregation personally.  He appeared to be open and serene in spirit when he preached, and he always said what he had to say with confidence.  Some of that came from having been an athlete, he supposed, where you attain your objectives by giving it all you had in order to meet your objectives.

Mason went back to his apartment after he left the office to check his mail, read the morning newspaper, and after checking his appearance, headed for the MacKenzie house at about 6:30 p.m.  He parked in the driveway in front of the gates and went to the door, where he was met by a handsome, good looking boy who introduced himself as William Carson.

"Hello, Father," William said, shaking hands.  "Welcome.  If it's all right, I'll open the gate for you so you can park in back.  My dad isn't home yet, and he usually parks in the garage, so he needs to get around you.  Just come up the stairs to the back deck, then, and come in the back door."

"You got it," the priest said, smiling, and went and moved his car after the gate opened, letting him into a large garage area with four bays.

He parked his car and entered the back door, where William was waiting for him.  Mason saw Catherine MacKenzie, Mary Carson, and a diminutive Hispanic lady in the kitchen.  The priest's mouth watered when he smelled the food they were cooking.

"Hello, Dr. MacKenzie," Father Mason said.  "William here told me to come in the back door."

Catherine smiled, dried her hands on a towel and shook hands with him.

"Father, it's good to see you.  Thank you for coming.  You remember Mary Carson.  And I'd like you to meet our indispensable right hand in this house, Rosa Mendez.  Rosa, this is Father Mason."

"Padre," Rosa said.  "Is good to meet you!"

"Hello, Father," Mary Carson said.  She also dried her hands and shook hands with their guest.

"Senõra, I'm glad to meet you," Mason said to Rosa.  "Hello, Mrs. Carson.  I appreciate the supper invitation.  It smells as if you ladies are cooking up something really good!"

"We're having one of the boys' big favorites--pot roast, Mexican style.  I hope you like it," Catherine said.

"I'll love it!" the priest assured her.

come with me," Mary Carson said, nodding toward the other side of the house.  "May I interest you in a libation before dinner?"

"Sounds good," the priest said, and they and William walked into the TV room where there was a wet bar over to the side.   Three of the boys, Carl, Dan and Mark, were also there.  The boys stood up when the priest came in.

"Hello, boys,"  Mason said.  Each of them introduced himself.

"Thanks for coming over tonight, Father," Carl Emrick said.  "These guys"--he pointed at Dan, Mark and William--"need spiritual help.  Lots of it."

The priest grinned and reached into the left, side pocket of his black suit coat, bringing out a short sacramental stole, white on one side and purple on the other.  He put it around his neck, purple side up, and looked at them expectantly.

 "I'm ready," he said.  "Who wants to make his confession first?"

Mary Carson started laughing at the surprised look on the boys' faces.

William smiled and nodded approvingly.  This guy was fast on his feet, and he liked that.  It was going to be an interesting evening.

"Father," Mary said, "what can I give you to drink?"

Mason pondered the question for a split second after removing the stole and putting it back into his pocket.  "I'll have a light Stoli on the rocks, please," he said.

"Coming up," Mary said, stepping behind the bar.  She took it down two glasses from the cupboard, filled them with ice from an ice bucket, and poured vodka in them.  Keeping one, she handed the other to their guest.

"Thank you," the priest said, accepting the glass and raising it.  "Here's to new friends and good company."

The boys picked up the cans of soda they'd been drinking before their guest came in, and everyone took a sip.

"Sit down, Father," Mary said.  "My husband Ian should be home any minute now, and supper will be ready soon."

"Your husband Ian is home right now," a cheerful voice said from the doorway.  "Hello, everybody," Ian Carson said, coming in and embracing Mary, kissing her cheek.  "Hello, Father," he added, shaking hands with the priest.  "Thank you for joining us this evening."

"I'm glad to be here," Mason said to the tall, balding lawyer.

"Here, sweetheart, take my drink," Mary said, handing Ian her vodka.  "I need to help Catherine and Rosa in the kitchen."

Ian slipped out of his suit coat and laid it on a bar stool, took a sip of vodka and smiled.  "Thank you, dear," he told his wife as she left.

They all sat down, and Ian looked at the boys.  "All right, guys, let's have a report of your activities today for Father Mason and me."

Dan looked at his foster father.  "Same ol', same ol'," he said.  "First, I was forced from my warm bed by Cam and Kevin at 5 a.m. to go running.  We met Father Mason out running this morning, too, by the way," he added.  "Then we slaved over our books all morning and part of the afternoon with Mr. Montgomery.  That man has the patience of Job, working with a confederation of dunces like these guys..."

"Hey, hey!!!" Mark protested.  "Speak for yourself, dude!"

Dan was undaunted.  "Then we helped Rosa clean the house a little," he continued. "Then we got cleaned up ourselves so we wouldn't gross out the priest, and then sat here on the edge of our chairs waiting impatiently for you to get home, Ian."

Father Mason sat back in his chair with a smile.  He had yet to understand yet just how all these people fit together into a family, but one thing was immediately obvious:  they all liked each other a lot.

Ian grinned at Dan.  "I love you, too, Daniel.  Speaking of Cam and Kevin, where are they?"

"They're upstairs," Carl said.  "I wouldn't even want to guess what they're up to."

"Hmm," Ian said.

They all sat around chatting for a few minutes until Mark stood up and went into the bathroom off the TV room, shutting the door behind him.

"I could stand to use the facilities myself," Father Mason said.

"I'll show you, Father," William said.  He took the priest to the front stairs.  "There's a bathroom first door on your right at the top of the stairs."

"Thanks."  Mason went upstairs, found the bathroom, and relieved himself.  After he washed his hands and came out, he glanced to the right down the long hall before turning left to go back downstairs.  He saw Cam and Kevin standing down the hall, having stopped there on their way downstairs, he thought to himself.  The two boys were quietly holding each other face to face.  It was a moment, the priest surmised, which had been spontaneously ripped from another over scheduled, overly busy day.  Kevin had one hand on Cam's butt and another behind his head, and Cam's arms were wrapped around Kevin's back.  They kissed gently.  The man sensed the tenderness of what he was witnessing, and inexplicably, it both jolted him and warmed him.

The boys stepped apart when they saw the clergyman, and after a moment during which they collected their wits, they walked down the hall toward him.

"Hello, Father," Cam said, looking singularly unperturbed about being caught with a boy in his arms.  "I'm Cam, and this is Kevin," he
said, gesturing toward his lover as he reminded the priest yet again who they were.  Kevin smiled tentatively but remained silent.

"Good to see you again," Father Mason said, shaking hands with each of them.  "I'm apologize, guys.  I know you didn't expect to see me up here.  I was using the bathroom.  Sorry for the intrusion."

"That's all right, Father.  Not your fault," Kevin said, having by now regained his usual aplomb, looking him in the eye.  "You'd have found out about us eventually, so we may as well get started with no secrets."  He hesitated.  "Uh, as you may have guessed, Cam and I are gay, and we're partners.  Life partners."

"I see," Mason said.  "Well, I'm glad you told me."

"Yes, sir," Cam said, "We don't know you very well, but it's better that you know about us, because we'll probably end up as your parishioners.  We're thinking about trying to have our relationship blessed sometime.  Is that ever done in the Episcopal Church?"

"It's been known to happen," Jim Mason said.  "Does the family know you're partners?"

"Yes," Cam said.

"Are they all OK with it?"

"Yes," Cam said.

"Well, we can talk about a blessing whenever you want to," Mason said, "although you'll have to be eighteen for it to happen."

Cam and Kevin smiled.

"Thank you for coming over tonight," Kevin said.

"I'm glad to be here," the priest said.  "I should probably get back downstairs.  Ian and the other boys are probably wondering where I am."

"The front stairs are behind you," Cam said.  "We'll be down in a minute."

"All right.  Thanks."

The priest walked ahead and went downstairs, leaving Cam and Kevin looking at each other.  Cam made a "What, me worry?" motion with his hands, accompanied by a goofy smile, and Kevin chuckled quietly.

"You're cute as hell," he said to Cam.

"Do tell."

"Yep.  Being outed like this is what happens when you let your passions run wild."

"Run wild?  You ain't seen nothin' yet," Cam laughed.  "Wait until tonight."

"Do I have to wait?"

"'Fraid so.  We can't blow off dinner--we have a guest."

"Oh, all right then!" Kevin said, feigning deep disappointment.  "You're such a tease."

"It's your fault!" Cam said, stepping back up to Kevin and fondling the latter's crotch and kissing his lips.  "You're such a hunk."

They heard Catherine's voice float up the back stairway, calling them to supper.  Kevin adjusted his equipment, which was feeling a little constricted in his Levi's by then, and the two of them clattered down the front stairs together.  They looked into the TV room as they went by.  Ian and Father Mason were just finishing their drinks as the other boys were standing up, stretching.  Ian turned off the TV, and ushered the priest toward the dining room.  Jim Mason's mouth watered as they approached the table, which was now covered with dishes of steaming food.

"Father, why don't you sit here?" Catherine said, pointing to a place at her right.

"Thank you," Mason said.  "I can't tell you how good this food smells.  It's a privilege to have a home cooked meal, believe me."

"Thank Rosa, Catherine and Mary for that," Ian said.

They all found places and stood around the table holding hands.

"Father, would you offer thanks?" Catherine said.

He nodded.  "The Lord be with you," he said.

"And also with you."

"Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, of your goodness you have provided the abundant meal before us.  Lord, we offer you our grateful thanks, especially remembering those who do not have enough to eat this night.  Bless us as we partake of this food given to us, and bless the hands of those who prepared it, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

"Amen," they all said, making the sign of the cross.   Father Mason seated Catherine, and Ian seated Mary.  The boys passed the food to the adults first, then helped themselves as the serving dishes came back their way.

"So, guys, how was the rest of your run this morning?" the priest asked the boys after the adults all had a glass of wine in front of them and everybody's plate was full.

"It was good," Kevin said.  "I have to tell ya that it was a religious inspiration for these slackers to see a priest who's taking care of his body."

Mason smiled as the rest of the boys gave Kevin a dirty look.

"You can't believe a word Kevin says, Father," William interjected.  "Keep that stole of yours handy in case he has an attack of conscience and wants to confess."

"Kevin does a lot of projecting," Dan observed, deadpan.

"Psychology 101 rears its ugly head," Carl said about his brother's comment.

"The thing you need to know about these guys, Father," Kevin said, "is that they can be all buddy-buddy with you one minute, and turn on you viciously the next."

"I get it," Father Mason said, taking a sip of the excellent Merlot in his glass.

Cam grinned.  "Before, when you said, 'projecting,' Dan, I thought at first you said Kevin does a lot of praying, and I was going to ask you to take that back in the interest of accuracy."

"Oh, man..." Kevin groaned, shaking his head and looking down at his plate.

"So, Father, how long have you been a priest?" Mary Carson asked so the boys would shut up for a minute.

"About six months now," Mason said.  "I came to St. Andrew's from the Diocese of Los Angeles when I was a new deacon."

"How do you like it?" Ian asked.

"I'm very happy to be here," the priest said.  "Father Blackburn is a good pastor and a good boss.  I'm learning a lot from him."

"We were impressed with St. Andrew's, Father," Catherine said.  "And we liked your homily.  I should tell you that we're all restless Roman Catholics who are looking around for a new spiritual home."

"I see.  May I ask how you're all related?" Father Mason said.

Ian laughed.  "I don't blame you for being confused," he said, looking around the table.  "Some of us are related by blood or marriage, and some aren't.  Mary is my beautiful wife, and William and Mark are our sons.  We normally live in San Francisco, where I work as an attorney.  Carl and Dan are our foster sons.  Catherine is our friend and wonderful hostess, and Cam and Kevin are her boys."

"That helps me get my bearings," Mason said.  "How do you all happen to be living here?"

Ian's face darkened.  "We have reason to believe that Carl's and Dan's lives may be in danger right now, and maybe William's and Mark's as well," Ian said frankly.  "So this is our hideout, and we're so grateful to Catherine for taking us all in.  We're enjoying living here."  He smiled at Catherine.  "Catherine may have to take legal action to get rid of us."

"We're glad to have you here," Catherine said.  "Aren't we, boys?" she said to Cam and Kevin.  That was a mistake.

"Ian and Mary, yes," Cam said, grinning.  "I'm taking the Fifth when it comes to the rest of them."

Kevin and Cam dapped each other, smiling triumphantly.

"Shut up," Mark said.

"May I ask why you're dissatisfied with the Roman Church," the priest asked between bites of food.

Catherine, Mary and Ian looked at each other in silence for a moment.

"Well, for one thing, we think the church is not adjusting its doctrine and discipline to get them in line with what science and modern life as a whole are teaching us," Catherine said.

"For example.." Father Mason said.

"Are you sure you want to get into this?" Catherine asked, smiling.

"I'm curious, yes," Father Mason said.

"All right," Catherine said.  "For example, Rome is wrong when it comes to the rights and vocations of women in the church," Catherine said.  "It's wrong on the gay issue as well.  Threatening public officials with excommunication unless they vote the 'right way' on abortion in what purports to be a heterogeneous and nonsectarian and secular society is also wrong.  They try to restrict academic freedom.  There are other issues, but if I had to sum it up, the Roman church claims to be the sole proprietor of grace and salvation, and I'm finding it more and more difficult to accept that teaching.  It's a control issue, I guess you'd say.  I understand that Catholic Christians should be cohesive in our beliefs, but just how much should we allow our consciences to be controlled?"

Ian nodded in agreement and continued eating.

"I don't want to be argumentative, but to be fair, I think we'd all have to admit that Rome has also been on the right side of a lot of social and theological questions," Father Mason said quietly.

That got Ian's attention, and he looked up from his plate.  "For example?" he said.

"Well, for example, the Roman church has been the only religious body which has systematically stated in papal encyclicals what society--every society--owes working people," Mason said.  "That's important in a country like ours now, where jobs are being exported right and left, leaving working people destitute and unable to support their families."

"Whats an 'encyclical'?" Carl asked.

"It's from the Greek," the priest said.  "En, or 'in,' and kyklos, 'circle.'  'In a circle,' referring to the geometrical perfection of a circle.  It also refers to Christian teaching which circles the world to reach all the faithful."

Ian looked at Mason in surprise.  "I didn't know Anglicans had such detailed knowledge of the western Magisterium."

"We don't talk about it all that much.  But we share the Western Catholic tradition."

"What papal encyclicals would you cite as being important to working people?" Ian asked.

Father Mason rattled them off without even thinking about it.  "Rerum Novarum" by Leo XIII, Quadragesimo Anno by Pius XI, and Laborem exercens by John Paul II."

"Wouldn't you know we'd have to find an Anglican priest who knows what he's talking about," Ian complained wryly to the family.  He turned to Mason.  "Can you sum up the papal teachings on workers in a few well chosen words, Father?"

"Probably not," Jim Mason said.  "But I'll give it a whirl.  One, all human beings are God's children, and we have a duty to treat them as such.  Two, good treatment includes making sure that they are able to work productively and earn enough to live in dignity.  And finally, neither Communism or Capitalism or any economic system in between, should be rigidly applied to a society in such a way that it is detrimental to the working man.  Christians are responsible to see that doesn't happen.  That's about it in a nutshell.  It's not a very elegant summation, but that's it."

"I'm impressed," Catherine said.  "Nobody around this table would argue with what the popes you mentioned have said on economics.  But why don't we hear this teaching from the pulpit or in written communications from the church.  When was the last time you ever heard any bishop or priest take a stand about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States and around the world?  Other than yourself, of course, Father, judging from your homily last week."

The priest looked around the table at the boys, expecting to find bored faces.  Far from it.  Six pairs of bright eyes were looking back at him.

"Mr. Montgomery will be quizzing you guys on this material tomorrow," Kevin kidded William, Mark, Carl and Dan.  "I hope you all got it."  Kevin knew the boys wanted to shoot him the finger for that remark, and couldn't.

"All right, Father, I'll concede that Rome has a lot of good stuff on the library shelf," Ian admitted.  "But Catherine is right.  What good is it if it's not being preached and taught?"

"You know very well that no faith group is beyond reproach," Mason said.  "Rome's an easy target on a lot of issues.  So is the Episcopal Church.  Or any other church group you could name.  The only criteria that matters is, how completely are you able to love God, worship him, and love your neighbor better as a result of interacting with the church and its people and its teachings?"

Ian looked at the priest appraisingly.

"Maybe you should have been a lawyer.  Or perhaps even more appropriately, a judge.  You're good.  I don't mean you shouldn't have been a priest, but you're so"--he hesitated--"fair along with being articulate."

"I don't know about that," Mason said.  "I do have to concede on one issue, the matter that Mrs. MacKenzie mentioned earlier.  Control.  On most matters, we Episcopalians aren't long on controlling and monitoring the faithful to see if they measure up.  Even though Scripture says we have the 'keys to the kingdom,' we priests are primarily supposed to feed the sheep, not judge them."

"I admit that matter of 'contol' is an important issue for me," Catherine said.  "There comes a point at which mature believers need to stand on their own two feet and think for themselves, using all the tools that God and the Church have taught them."

"Mary and I look at it that way, too," Ian said.  "I need to come clean with you, Father.  William and Mark and Mary and I have already taken instructions at Grace Cathedral in the city so we can be received into the Episcopal Church.  We just haven't been formally received by the bishop yet."

"I'm happy about that," Father Mason said.  "I'm not trying to dissuade anybody from entering the Episcopal Church, but
I'm not disparaging the Roman church or any other group to win converts, either.  I just want you to know that being an Anglican carries some challenges of its own."

"Such as?" Mary asked.

"We're in an uproar right now because the rest of the Anglican Communion is taking the Episcopal Church to task because in 2003 we authorized the consecration of a gay man with a partner as a diocesan bishop, for one thing," Mason said.  "There's a small minority of our own bishops and clergy in this country who are likewise outraged, and are trying to have themselves declared the real Anglican presence here in the US.  Things are a little dicey right now.  There will have to be a lot of conversation before that tension is resolved, if it can be at all.  We're a pretty disorderly bunch sometimes.  And that's a boon or curse, depending on how you look at it.  It's what happens when church polity doesn't give one person, like the pope, the last word."

"I'll take discussion and thoughtful disagreement over monotonous uniformity any day," Catherine said.  "Especially when you're not certain that all the relevant ideas have been considered thoroughly.  The Vatican bureaucrats control the discussion in the Roman church to such a degree that when the pope speaks, you don't know who is really talking."

The meal continued with lively discussion.  Even the boys stuck their oar in from time to time.  After second helpings of pot roast, everyone helped clear the table and put the dishes into the dish washer.  Then they all returned to the table for a sizable bowl each of crème brulée that Mary Carson had made, following her mother's recipe.

After dinner, the men and boys headed for the TV room while the women finished the little bit of cleanup remaining.

The women had just finished up and joined the crowd in the TV room when Cam spoke up.

"Any of you slackers want your butt whipped at ping pong?"

A torrent of abuse was forthcoming from the other boys as Cam stood there with a big smile on his face.  Then everyone, adults and kids alike, went down to the pool house, where the ping pong table beckoned.

"Don't think your collar is going to save you from being humiliated," Kevin said.

"Bring it on, smart guy," Jim Mason said.

Within a few minutes, the priest had vanquished Kevin and then Cam, and had begun to mow the boys down one by one.  When it was Ian's turn, though, he beat the clergyman, and went on to defeat Dan and Mark, and Mary.

Then Cam got his mother to play Ian, and it was "Katy bar the door."  Catherine was an amazing player.  It wasn't that she was so fast, but she was skilled and crafty, putting so much English on the ball that Ian couldn't return a lot of her shots..

"Where did you learn to play like that, woman?" Ian kidded Catherine when she had beaten him quite handily, and gave her a hug.  "And if you tell me you were a professional ping pong player, none of your victories count against us amateurs."

"Dear old dad taught me," Catherine said with a smile, putting down her paddle as undisputed champion.

When they went back into the house, Kevin mentioned that Cam would be wearing a kilt to his prom the following week, and a hue and cry arose for a preview of coming attractions.  Cam was reluctant, but finally gave in so he could show off a little for Father Mason.  Cam went upstairs to change, followed by Kevin.  For some reason, Carl trailed along behind them.  The three of them went into Cam's and Kevin's bedroom, and Carl sat down at the boys' desk and watched Cam strip down to put on his prom garb.

Carl's eyes were glued to Cam's body as the latter's clothes dropped to the floor, especially after Cam took off his boxers to replace them with briefs.  Lord, Carl thought to himself, this kid is fucking beautiful!  Perfect skin, broad shoulders, defined chest and abs, fine bubble butt, good, thick legs, big feet.  And one honkin' big dick with a large, round head on it hanging down over huge balls.  Shit, Carl thought to himself, no wonder Kevin walks around with a humongous smile on his face most of the time.

Cam's prom clothes consisted of a ruffled shirt and black bow tie, a MacKenzie plaid shoulder sash, a black coat, a kilt in the MacKenzie tartan, with a fur sporran (pouch) with a silver MacKenzie crest worn in the front of the kilt on his belt, and a sgian dubh (dirk) in an ornamented, bejeweled sheath to one side.  Long, sheer black hose covered his legs, and he shoved his feet into patent leather dress shoes.

Ignoring Carl's presence, Kevin naturally had to raise the kilt and grope his partner before they went back downstairs.

"Evil boy!" Cam told him.  "You're evil!"

"Only when it comes to you," Kevin responded.  "Aren't ya glad?"


The boys went downstairs, and the reception for Cam was enthusiastic.

"This looks like the real thing," Father Mason said, studying the outfit closely.  "Where did you get it?"

"From my dad," Cam said.

"If you keep growing, you're going to have to get a longer kilt," Catherine said, smoothing out a pleat on the kilt.

"If I do outgrow it, I'll give this one to Kevin, the little peanut," Cam said.

"Did he say peanut or pissant?" William said quietly into Kevin's ear.

Kevin just smirked and said nothing.

"Sick, dude!" Mark said, offering the ultimate compliment.  "But isn't it a little breezy under there?" he asked Cam, grinning.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Cam said.

"Who are you taking to the prom?" William asked.

"My former girlfriend, Teri McKee," Cam said, purposely not looking at Kevin or anyone else.

"Oh, yeah, that's right," William said.  "I forgot."

"If they give a prize for authentic ethnic garb, buddy, you should get it," Mary said.

"Looking good, Cam," Ian said.  "I'd make one suggestion, though.  Don't take the real dirk to the dance.  Get a rubber one, or the school people might not let you in the door."

"I'm glad you mentioned that," Cam said.  "I have one, and I'll substitute it for the real thing."

When the compliments were fully mined, Cam went back upstairs and changed into his usual Levi's and a T, then came back.

There were too many people for the TV room, so the crowd moved into the big sitting room for a little more conversation.  Catherine questioned Father Mason about what she, Cam and Kevin would have to do to be received into the Episcopal Church.  He explained that classes would be starting shortly for those wanting to be confirmed, or if already confirmed by a bishop, wanting to be received into the church.  She asked him to let her know when the classes would start.

Thirty minutes later the conversation was still going strong, and the priest glanced at his watch.  It was getting on toward 10 p.m.  He stood up.

"Folks, this has been a marvelous evening, but I think it's time for me to call it a night.  The food and the company have been wonderful.  I'm so glad I had a chance to meet you all," he said.  Thank you for having me over."

"Father, it's been a pleasure," Catherine said, standing and shaking hands with him.  "Don't think you have to have an invitation to drop by.  Anytime."

"I don't know," Mason said, kidding her.  "You're all too good at ping pong for me."

"Thank you for joining us," Mary said.  "Please come back."

"I second that, Father," Ian said.

"I appreciate it," the priest said.  After he shook hands with the adults, he did so with all the boys.  "You guys behave yourselves," he told them.  "Have a good time at the prom," he said to Cam, who accompanied him to the back door to get his car.

"Thanks, Father.  Bye," Cam said.

"I'll see everybody soon, I hope," Father Mason called out as he walked down the steps and out to his vehicle.

*  *  *

Cam and Kevin shot the breeze with the other boys for a few minutes after their guest left, and then excused themselves to go to bed.  They were horny for each other.  Carl's eyes followed them as they went up the front stairs.  Cam stuck a hand in the left back pocket of Kevin's Levi's as they climbed, and Kevin immediately started to get hard.

"You have my undivided attention already," Kevin said, looking forward to what they were going to do.

"Shoot!  You're lucky I don't throw you down on the stairs and have my way with you right here."

"Get it on film," Kevin said.  "I know websites that are looking for your kind of talent."

"I'm not sharing your sweet ass with anyone, not even in pics," Cam said.

They went into their room, stripping down in about 10 seconds and hitting the bathroom to brush their teeth.  Five minutes later they were in bed facing each other, heads on the same pillow.  Kevin put his hand behind Cam's head and leaned in to give him a gentle kiss as Cam reached down and took Kevin's dick in his hand.  Their penises quickly plumped up and lengthened.

"Ahhhh..." Kevin sighed as they lay there quietly, looking into one another's eyes.  Kevin brushed back Cam's crewcut from his brow as Cam inhaled Kevin's sweet breath, their lips touching.  Kevin pressed a thumb on Cam's left nipple, moving it gently in a circle.

"Loving you, Kev," Cam whispered.  "You're still giving me butterflies in my stomach after all the time we've been together."

"Same here."  Kevin lowered his head and began kissing Cam's chest, then stopped.  "Can I ask you something?"


"Have you decided what you're going to do about Teri if she tries to make you fuck her on prom night?"

Cam groaned and moved his head back on the pillow, studying Kevin's face.

"Not exactly," he said.

Kevin was silent at first.

"Well, look, if you can't get out of it and you want to do her, I think you should," he said finally.  "You and I are solid, and I'm not going to lose it over something stupid like that."

"You don't know how much I love you for sayin' that," Cam said, rubbing noses with him.  "I'm gay, Kevin, and there's nobody else I want to have sex with.  I hope you know that."

"I do know that.  But if you want to, I don't think it would be all bad for you to have sex with a girl just so you know how it feels.  If you want to.  If you do Teri, I know you'll like it, but I'm telling you right now that what we have with each other is better. Take it from me.  I know from experience.  Just don't get her pregnant, for gosh sake!"

Kevin slid down in the bed and took Cam's dick in his mouth and sucked it gently as he probed the entrance to Cam's tunnel with a finger.  Then he lifted Cam's legs, and put his tongue where his finger had been, much to Cam's delight.  When Kevin had Cam good and wet, he dilated him with his three fingers and finally put his dick at Cameron's pucker.  He moved in slowly as Cam lay quietly, the latter's legs spread wide, feet framing his face.  Kevin waited after he was in all the way, making sure Cam was comfortable and relaxed, and then lay down full out on his body.  Cam dropped his legs down and crossed his ankles behind Kevin's butt.

Kevin rested there on his lover, not moving.

"This is as close to heaven as we're gonna get in this life," Cam said.  "You feel so good inside me."

Kevin kissed him, tongue probing Cam's mouth, and began to pump slowly, wanting to make it last.  Cam reached up and caressed his partner's sides and then ran his hands up and down Kevin's muscular back, which was soon damp with sweat.  As Kevin moved inside of Cam, he cupped and rubbed Cam's pecs and pinched his nipples.  Kevin moved his ass in a circle several times before beginning to concentrate on sliding his dick repeatedly over his lover's prostate.  Cam began to moan as drops of precum began to leak from his penis.

When after many minutes Kevin came, he tried to hold down the noise of his pleasure without much success.  They rested quietly before Cam took his turn.

They had each made love to the other three times when, shortly before midnight and totally spent, they fell asleep in each other's arms.  The smell of male sex filled the bedroom.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, down in Seaside at Berto's house, things weren't nearly so loving.  A drunken Uncle Alejandro held his nephew up against the wall by the throat, slapping his face repeatedly because the boy had yet to find Ian or Carl or Dan.

"I've been paying you good money, and you fucking well better find them!" Alejandro slurred.

Berto's father stood there wringing his hands, but his mother wasn't intimidated.  She brought a cast iron frying pan out of the kitchen and slammed her brother-in-law across the back of the head.  Alejandro fell to the floor without a sound as Berto slid down the wall, gasping and holding his throat.

When Alejandro came to, Berto's mother was kneeling beside him with a carving knife at his throat.

"If you touch Berto again, you're dead," she whispered to him.  "Get your things and get out of my house."

Alejandro lay silent until he could get up, and then he packed and slunk out of the house.  He knew his sister-in-law well enough to know she meant what she said.

Berto lay in his bed that night before he went to sleep, seething.  Now he was more determined than ever to find Ian Carson and warn him about his uncle's plans.

© 2006 Don Hanratty

Thanks to Dan for proofing this chapter.