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


Catherine MacKenzie was an expert at kicking boy-butt when something in the household had to get done, all in a most genteel way, of course.  It was only later, usually, that the "persuadee" realized that his backside was a little sore.

The bone of contention in this instance was over the matter of buying furniture and supplies for the new baby for when Heather Butler gave birth.  For some weeks, Catherine had been begging Kevin and Cam to visit a department store in town to pick out a crib, bassinet, linens, mobiles appropriate for an infant, and a multitude of other supplies for when the child came home from the hospital.  She was bound and determined that it was their responsibility, and that she was not going to do it for them.

It wasn't that the boys were resistant about their commitment to take the baby, or were having any second thoughts about raising the child.  Far from it.  They were, in fact, looking forward to it.  It was just that it was Spring in northern California, and there was lots to do, including, for Cam, making final arrangements to attend the prom with Teri McKee.

Cam and Kevin came bounding down the back stairs on a Friday morning, having run earlier with the rest of the boys, and then showered.  They were prepared to heat up some pop tarts and be on their way to school, when they encountered their mother sitting in the breakfast nook, sipping a cup of tea.

"Mommy," Cam said.  "What a nice surprise!"

"To what do we owe this honor?" Kevin asked as he pulled some pop tarts out of the refrigerator and put them into the toaster.

"Pour yourself some orange juice and sit down," Catherine said, unsmiling.

"We'll be late for school," Kevin protested.

Catherine consulted her watch.  "No, you won't."

Sensing that an ill wind was blowing, Cam poured two glasses of orange juice, and they sat down at the table.

"How many weeks have I been asking you to shop for baby furniture and supplies?" Catherine asked, her gray eyes piercing and unblinking behind her glasses.

The guys started squirming.

"Well..." Cam said, looking down at the table.

"How many?" Catherine demanded again.

"Uh, three, maybe," Kevin said.

"Try six," Catherine said.

"Now, Mom, you know we've been pretty busy, what with the school year winding down and all," Cam said, using his "butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" voice.

The pop tarts sprang up in the toaster.  The smell of them made the boys' mouths water, but Kevin didn't move a muscle to get them until Catherine nodded toward the appliance, giving permission.  He put them on plates and brought them to the table.

"I don't think you boys get it!" Catherine said.  "This child could be born any time now, and we'd have nothing on hand to take care of him or her.  This is your responsibility, and you've made no move to do what I asked you to do.  This doesn't bode well for the way you're going to raise this baby."

Kevin and Cam looked at each other uneasily across the table.

"We'll take care of it, Mom," Kevin finally said, biting into his pop tart.

"And that would that be when?" Catherine asked quietly.

"After school today," Cam said a little grudgingly.  "Will you at least go with us?"

"No.  I'm going over to Marin General to see Carl after my last class."

"Oh," Cam said.

"And you need to get over there yourselves to see Carl," Catherine added.  "He needs our support right now, and he'll think you don't care about him."

"You're right," Kevin admitted.  "We'll go over tomorrow morning."

"I certainly hope so," Catherine said.  "If you two are having trouble meeting your tremendous responsibilities, I can begin scheduling your free time for you.  I'll be glad to help you out with that, you know."

"No, Mom, that won't be necessary," Cam said.  "We'll do better."

"All right.  Finish your nutritionally deficient breakfast, and get to school.  Just so you won't be completely out of it when you go shopping, here's a list of the things you need to get for the baby."

"Yes, m'am," Kevin said, taking the piece of paper from Catherine and stuffing it into the pocket of his Levi's.  He picked up the glasses and plates, licking the pop tart residue off the plates as he walked over and put them into the dish washer.

"Bye, Mom," Cam said, bending down to kiss Catherine.  "It's always nice to see you in the early morning."

Kevin and Catherine both suppressed smiles.

Kevin kissed Catherine, too, and the two guys were out the back door  and walking toward the garage.

Cam grinned.  "Well?  How does your cute little ass feel?" he asked Kevin, looking down with pleasure at the Levi-clad body part in question.  "You richly deserved that butt kicking Mom gave you."  Cam shifted his book bag and reached down and grabbed a big chunk of Kevin's left buttock in his right hand, holding on as they moved toward the car.

"Ow!" Kevin complained.  "What will the neighbors say?"

"The neighbors can't see us."

"What would they say if they could see us?"

"They'd say, 'Get it while it's hot!'" Cam said.  As they neared the Camaro, h
e finally let go of his partner's ass, popping him one on the butt as he did so.

Kevin pretended to be indignant about the whole conversation with Catherine.  "I thought I could depend on you to keep me out of trouble with Mom!  But NO-O-O-O!"

"You should have taken the blame so Catherine wouldn't have been mad at me," Cam suggested as they climbed into the car.  "No matter how hard I try to stay above reproach, you pull me down to your level."

"Bullshit!" Kevin snorted.  "You think those green eyes and cute smile and that big dick and sweet ass of yours are all you need to skate through life, man.  But every now and then you catch the shit you so richly deserve."

"I kept telling you we should go shopping, but you wouldn't listen!" Cam argued.

"You never mentioned one damn word about shopping," Kevin contradicted.

"Well, I was thinkin' about saying something," Cam said.

Kevin burst out laughing.  "You're a real piece o' work!  God must have made ya, 'cause nobody else couldda dreamed you up."

Cam laughed his ass off as the two of them reached the street and drove on down the road, chuckling and staying on each other's case the rest of the way to school.

After classes were over, they went right to the car and took off for home instead of sticking around and shooting the shit in the parking lot with their buddies as usual.  They borrowed Ian's Navigator so they had more room for their purchases, and went to the mall.  Babytown, here we come, Cam thought to himself.  They bought everything on Catherine's list, and then some.

They carried the new crib, which was kind of heavy, into the house after arriving home, and put it upstairs into the weight room, shortly to be the baby's room.  Dan and Mark were hanging around, and Cam persuaded them to get the bassinet and the rest of the stuff out of the Navigator and bring it upstairs.

Cam and Kevin opened the large box with the crib in it, and slid out the sections which needed to be put together.

"Yes!" Kevin said, perusing the directions for putting the crib together.  "I love a challenge," he said, putting down the directions and rubbing his hands together.  "Even a small challenge like this.  I've figured out how to get along with Cam, so I can do anything.  ANYTHING!"

"Don't start, or I'll hafta hurt ya!" Cam warned.  "Hurtcha bad!"

"Don't bother me now," Kevin said.  "I'm busy."  Mark and Dan were back.  "Hey, Mark, will you go get the red toolbox out of the workshop in the basement?"

"In exchange for...?" Mark asked.

"My undying gratitude.  And I won't drown you in the pool the next time we swim."

"Oh, OK," Mark said, grinning, and took off.

"You're gonna put the baby here in the weight room?" Dan asked as Kevin checked the hardware to see if the package of nuts and bolts was complete.  "Kevin, I s'pose you're gonna make the kid start workin' out right away?"

"Ya know, Kevin, that's a good question," Cam said seriously.  "Maybe we ought to put the crib in our room at first.  Then later we can move the crib in here until the baby reaches adulthood."

"Adulthood?  You haven't even reached adulthood yet, ya dumb shit," Kevin said.

Cam laughed.

"Anyway, the crib folds up," Kevin said.  "So if we want to move it around, we can.  I think we should move it from bedroom to bedroom so all the guys have a chance to help us out with the midnight feedings and the diaper change detail on a regular basis."

"I like the way you think," Cam said, looking at Dan and grinning.

"I don't," Dan said.  "I'm allergic to shit, and that's why I can't stand to be around you two guys very long."

"Funny man," Kevin said dismissively.

Mark came back with the toolbox, and the four of them got down to work.  In a matter of minutes, the new crib, complete with mattress, stood there waiting for its new occupant.  Cam fastened a mobile to the headboard.  Then they turned their attention to the bassinet.

Ian Carson, home early from the city, poked his head in the door.

"Hey, guys," he said.  "Looks like progress is being made."

"Hey, dad," Mark said.  "You're home early."

"I know it," Ian said.  "I'm gonna change clothes and go over and see Carl before supper."

"Can I go?" Dan asked.

"Yep," Ian said.

"Me, too?" Mark asked.  "Cam and Kevin aren't as much fun as I thought they'd be."

"All right," Ian said.

Cam grabbed Mark around the waist from the back, picking him up and squeezing him hard until his eyes bulged.

"Is this more fun?" Cam asked.

"Ow!" Mark gasped, loving the attention from the older boy despite the discomfort.  "Quit it."  He struggled out of Cam's grasp, and left with Dan.

"You just can't keep good help anymore," Kevin commented after the two boys left, looking down with satisfaction at the assembled crib and bassinet.

Cam poked his head out the bedroom door.  "Tell Carl that Kevin and I will be over to see him in the morning," he told Mark and Dan as they walked down the hall.

"Maybe we will," Mark said.

Ian changed out of his suit into a pair of slacks and a sport shirt, and he and Dan and Mark took off in the Navigator for Marin General.

"Ian?" Dan said from the back seat as they drove along.


"When can Carl come home?"

"I'm not sure," Ian said.  "Probably toward the end of next week."

"What's the matter with him?" Mark asked.

"He's taking some new medication right now to help him figure some things out," Ian said.  "You can ask him when we get there, and he can tell you what he wants to about it."

"OK," Mark said.

Ian began to question the two boys about their lessons with Mr. Montgomery, which occupied them all until they arrived at the hospital.

Personnel at the front desk in the Psych Ward were reluctant to let all three of them go back to Carl's room at once, so Ian went back first while Mark and Dan sat in the waiting room.  Carl was sitting in a chair reading a book when Ian knocked on his door.

"Hey!" Carl said, happy to see him.  He stood up and embraced his foster dad.  Ian hugged him back and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"I'm just first in line to see you," Ian said.  "Dan and Mark are in the waiting room."

"Oh, good," Carl said, smiling.  "I like the company."

"How are you doing, Carl?" Ian asked him after the two of them sat down.

"I'm OK, I guess," Carl said.  "Better than I was."

"That's good," Ian said.

"Yeah, I think so," Carl continued.  "I'm sleeping better, and I'm not as anxious about things as I was, but I'm not thinking too clearly, either," he added.  "I feel all doped up, like I smoked a lot of weed or something."

"Be sure and tell Dr. Smith about that," Ian said, trying not to smile.

"All right," Carl said.

"The boys really do miss you," Ian said.  "And so do Mary, Catherine and I."

"I miss you all.  Can't I come home now?"

"I want us to be guided by Dr. Smith about that.  Are you still having thoughts about suicide?"

"No, I'm not," Carl said.  "Not so much, anyway."

"That's the truth?"


"I don't know a lot about what makes people contemplate suicide," Ian admitted, "but I do know that there's usually an imbalance in body chemistry involved.  I think that's why Dr. Smith wanted you here so she could monitor your medications better."

"Yeah, I guess."

"Are you still thinking a lot about what your father did to you?" Ian asked.


"Is there anything else going on?"

"Yes.  I don't want to tell you," Carl said, looking away from Ian and across the room.  "But I probably should."

"You don't have to."

Carl took a deep breath and looked down at his feet, eyes moist.  "I want to trust you.  I have to trust you.  You should probably know, so you can warn the other boys."

"Warn them about what?" Ian asked curiously.

"I think I may be gay," Carl said, looking down at his feet.

Ian sat in silence for a moment.  "If you are, do you think I'm going to sit here in judgment on you?" he asked.   "Whether you're gay or not, this isn't the first exposure to gays that the other guys have had, at least if my information about Cam and Kevin is correct.  Why would I have to warn the rest of them about you?  Do you know any finer young guys than Cam and Kevin?  I don't!"


"Listen, Carl," Ian said.  "I know a lot of thoughts are churning around in your head right now.  But I want you to hold on to two important thoughts for me.  First, everybody in Catherine's house loves you.  'To the max,' as you boys say.  Whatever you are and whatever you become and whoever you love isn't going to change that fact for any of us.  And the second thought is, God brought all of us together in that house for a reason, or maybe for many reasons.  So we all have a responsibility to take care of each other as best we can.  And we're going to do that.  We're going to take care of you.  That won't change, no matter what!"

Ian had spoken quietly but intensely, and Carl didn't doubt him for an instant.  A feeling of relief overwhelmed him, and tears began running down his cheeks in the silence of the room.

"Have you told Dr. Smith you think you may be gay?" Ian finally asked when Carl regained his composure.

"Yes.  We were just starting to get into it when she put me in the hospital."

"She didn't put you here because you think you may be gay," Ian said.  "You're clear about that, aren't you?"

"I guess so."

"There's no guessing about it," Ian said sternly.  "She hospitalized you because she didn't want you to hurt yourself.  You can't take back suicide, you know.  By the way, if you ever do hurt yourself, I'll follow you into the Great Beyond and haunt you until you can't stand it.  Do you hear me?"

Carl smiled and brushed the tears from his face, and the tension in the room eased.  Ian told him that Cam, Kevin, Dan and Mark had put together a crib and bassinet for the new baby when it was born, and the boys were starting to think more seriously about the logistics of having a baby in the house.  Then the two of them just talked about things in general.  Ian told him that they had a new boy, Berto from Monterey, living with them, but he didn't want to get into why he was there so as not to worry Carl.

"I need to get out of here so Dan and Mark can come in," Ian said.  "Before I go, though, repeat the two thoughts I gave you."

Dan blushed.  "Uh, everybody at the house loves me, and God brought us all together for a reason."

"Yes!" Ian said.  "I'm going to ask you to repeat that back to me every time I visit you."

"OK," Carl said, smiling.  "Thanks for coming to see me.  And, thank you for being such a good father to me."

The two of them stood up, and Ian hugged Carl tight for a long moment, brushing has hand several times over Carl's crew cut and then kissing his cheek.  Carl kissed him back, feeling really good inside about life for the moment.

Ian left with a smile, but not before turning around in the doorway and saying to the boy, "I love you, bud."

In a couple of minutes Dan and Mark strolled in.  They each hugged him and kissed him, and Carl was surprised that Dan, anyway, did that.  Maybe Ian was right about the love in the MacKenzie house.  It seemed to be catching.  Both boys noticed that Carl had been crying, but neither of them said anything.

"Nice room," Dan said, looking around as they sat down.  "Privacy.  Something I don't have with this yokel around all the time," he added, nodding towards Mark.

"Carl knows he should be so lucky as to have me for a roommate," Mark told Dan.  "So, Carl, what's the deal with you being in here?"

"I've been feeling a little down lately, and the doctor thought I should get a little rest away from you assholes."

"Oh," Mark said.  "Are you coming home next week?  We miss ya, man.  And we need ya.  William and Kevin are gettin' out of control without you around to straighten their asses out."

"True dat," Dan said.  He went on to elaborate on what a wiseass William was, and how Kevin was working them way too hard in the gym.  He also told Carl about the new guy Berto, what a nice person he was, and how he was fitting right into the household.  Then they talked for a while about what Mr. Montgomery was having them do as the school year came to a close, and how he, Carl, needed to get back to take "final exams."

"Yeah, Mr. Montgomery misses having you to pick on," Mark said.  "Now that you're not there, the rest of us have to take all the shit you usually get.  So you need to get home right away."

"Believe me, guys, if I could, I'd walk outta here right now with ya," Carl assured them.

They went on talking for quite a while about sports and other stuff until a nurse came in and told them it was time to go.

"Hurry back, bro," Dan told Carl as they stood up.  He hugged and kissed his brother again, and Mark followed suit, and they left.  Mark came back and stuck his head back in the doorway a minute later.

"Carl, Cam and Kevin said to tell you they'd see you in the morning."

"Thanks, man," Carl said.

Carl was really cheered up by the visit, and turned on his TV and watched some cartoons, interrupted when Catherine came in, having taught her last class for the day.  He was glad to see her, and shut the TV off.  They had a good talk, and Carl was more cheerful than ever by the time she left.

*  *  *

Lying on his side, Kevin woke up in the semi-darkness very early Saturday morning, stealing a look at the alarm clock on the bedside table before lowering his head again to the bed.  12:30 a.m., the red numerals told him.  He and Cam were snuggled together naked, the way they liked to sleep after having had sex, under a sheet and one blanket.  Cam was on his back and Kevin was embracing him loosely.

Kevin looked at his partner's face in the glimmer from the bathroom night light, and the sight of him stoked his contentment.  Cam had his sleeping face on, wearing almost but not quite a smile, the corners of his mouth slightly curled up, a boy happy in repose.  A boy happy in almost everything in his life.  Kevin could see the fuzz that passed for Cam's beard on his cheeks.  Even sleeping with Cam, just sleeping beside him and doing nothing else for the moment, pleasured Kevin.  He moved his head closer and silently sniffed Cam's skin.  Clean.  Healthy.  Male.  Erotic.  Always erotic.  He felt his penis stiffen a little, but knew he wouldn't wake Cam up for a repeat performance of what they had done just before drifting off to sleep two hours before.

Kevin lifted the covers slightly, and in the dim light studied Cam's right pec.  It was beautiful, a work in progress.  The exercise regimen that Kevin had foisted on his partner was paying big dividends, not just for developing the pec he was looking at, but for the boy's whole body.  His lover was more fucking gorgeous than ever, Kevin thought to himself, smiling.  For now, at least, he denied himself the satisfaction of reaching over and licking, nibbling, and gently sucking Cam's aureole and nipple, and lowered the blanket again to Cam's chest.  Kevin put his head back on the pillow, thinking of the game of basketball he and Cam had played at school with some of their buddies during a free period the day before.  During a time out, Cam had lifted his T-shirt to wipe the sweat off his face, and the sight of his partner's chest and muscular abs had turned Kevin on so much that he had almost come in his jock right then and there.  That mental picture of Cam's body was engraved in his memory.

One of Kevin's favorite things, next to the sex act itself, was to spoon up behind Cam on those occasions they were in bed on their sides, reaching around him and gently running his hand up and down his partner's chest and his taut abs and his flat, almost concave stomach over and over, barely touching the boy's perfect skin as he did so.   He didn't have to caress Cam like that for long until the latter purred like a kitten before dropping off to sleep.

There had never been a lot of subtlety to Kevin's personality, he being a plain spoken and action oriented kind of guy, but Cam was changing him for the better just as surely as Kevin was developing his partner's body through exercise on the machines in their little gym.  Kevin had always been outgoing and fun to be around, and still was.  But since he and Cam had been lovers, Kevin had found himself emulating to a greater extent his partner's quiet kindness in serious matters, his patience, his ability to listen to other people and really hear them, his compassion for the circumstances of others, whatever those circumstances might be.  He had moved,
to his surprise, from his own family situation in which there had been little emotional connection and even less outward display of affection, especially after his mother had died, to feeling comfortable showing his love for others.  First it had been for Cam and Catherine and Alex and John, and then for Ian and Mary, their boys William and Mark, and the two Emrick boys.  Berto would no doubt join that list.  A different and deeper Kevin was emerging, and to the extent he was aware of that, he was feeling good about the change.

Shopping for baby supplies the previous afternoon had reminded him that Heather Butler's time to deliver their baby was really closing in.  Kevin had increasingly accepted what his new role would be as he and Cam had attended baby classes together at the community college.  His bravado about being a father had at first covered up his fear of what lay ahead, but as the time for the baby to be born had drawn near, he had actually begun to look forward to it.  He might not have felt that way without Cam's steady presence in his life, but Cam was always there for him, and he was more than content.

Kevin had just shut his eyes and committed himself to going back to sleep when the telephone rang.  He reached over to the bedside table and answered it quickly before it wakened the whole family.

"Hello," he said softly.



"This is Angeline Butler.  I'm at Marin General with Heather.  I wanted you to know she's in labor."

Kevin was fully awake instantly.

"Can I come over?" he asked.

"Yes.  If you want to.  I'll be in the delivery room with Heather when the time comes.  I don't think she'll want to see you, but you can certainly see the baby after it's born."

"Thank you, Mrs. Butler," Kevin breathed.  "I'll be there in a few minutes."

He turned on the lamp, threw back the covers, and reaching down, separated his boxers from the pile of clothes on the floor where they had fallen in the two guys' haste earlier to get into bed.  He slipped on his shorts, followed by his T-shirt and Levi's.  Cam looked up from the bed, sleepy and disoriented.

"'Sup, man?" Cam whispered.

"Heather's in labor," Kevin said, continuing to sort out his socks and sneakers from the mess, and putting them on.

Cam sat straight up in bed.  "Holy shit!"

"Yeah.  Can I borrow your car?"

"Don't you want me to go with you?" Cam asked.

"You know I do, if you want to come with me," Kevin said.

"Asshole!" Cam muttered, "of course I want to come with you."  He slid out of bed and came around it to the clothes remaining on the floor, dressing quickly.  "Write a note, and we'll leave it in the kitchen in case we don't get back for a while."

"Yep," Kevin agreed.  He went over to their desk and found a pad and pen, scrawling their destination on the paper.  He took Cam's cell phone and his own off their chargers, and stuffed them both into his pocket for the moment.

"Bring some comic books so you can keep your mind challenged in case we have a long wait," Kevin told Cam.  Cam pretended he didn't hear him, but he did grab a paperback action novel he had been reading and put it beside the door to the room so he wouldn't forget to take it with him.

When Cam was finished tying his sneakers, they moved quietly down the back stairs into the kitchen.  Kevin put the note he'd written on the kitchen island, and they were out the back door quickly and heading for the Camaro.  They drove down the driveway, out the gate, and Cam took off down the street, not sparing the horses, the mufflers murmuring pleasantly into the night air.  The roads were dark and fairly deserted until they reached the vicinity around Marin General, where there was more traffic. 

They pulled into a slot in the visitors parking lot, and Kevin started to get out of the car.

"Kev, wait a minute," Cam said, reaching over and putting his hand on the back of Kevin's neck.


"Are you ready for this?"

Kevin was silent for a moment.

"Yeah, I'm ready.  As long as you're with me, I'm ready, man.  Thanks for standing by me."

Cam nodded, and they got out of the car and headed for the hospital entrance.  Once inside, they got directions to the maternity ward, and headed upstairs.  The halls upstairs were quiet except for a few residents, nurses and aides who were moving around, taking care of patients.

The maternity ward waiting room was deserted except for Heather's dad, who looked up sourly as the two boys went in.

"Hello, Mr. Butler," Kevin said.

The man grunted without speaking and went back to reading his magazine as Cam and Kevin sat down across the room.

They were no sooner seated than Cam asked Kevin, "Do you mind if I go to the chapel for a minute?"

"No.  Oh, here, take your phone," Kevin said, digging it out of his pocket and handing it to him.  "Remember to pray for Carl."

"I will.  Do ya think I'm gonna pray by phone?" Cam asked, chuckling.

"I don't care how you get through as long as you do."

"OK," Cam said, and walked off, leaving Kevin behind with Heather's obviously still pissed off father.  Kevin watched Cam's tall form as his partner retreated down the corridor, staring at his strong back and his ass, feeling his love for the boy filling his chest until it was hard for him to breathe.  He adored Cam so much it was ridiculous.  He loved every thing about the kid, and wondered idly whether it was normal for a human being to love another person that much.

When Cam was out of sight, Kevin closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, which was covered with a broad band of plastic so that greasy head prints wouldn't discolor the paint.  His thoughts began to wander over the last months of Heather's pregnancy as he'd waited for the baby to be born.  He knew that out of spite for him, Heather had not let herself be checked to see whether she was carrying a boy or a girl.  Kevin kind of hoped for a girl to spoil, but he also knew he'd be happy with anything he got so long as the baby was healthy.  He drifted off to sleep for a few minutes, waking up just in time to see Cam coming back down the hall.

Kevin's eyes focused on the crotch of Cam's bleached out 501's as his partner walked toward the waiting room.  The way Cam walked never failed to turn Kevin on.  The boy didn't saunter and he certainly didn't slink, but he walked with a controlled, masculine grace, coupled with a certain boldness that testified to the fact that he was a jock.  Kevin thought about what lay behind the thick, buttoned fly of his partner's 501's, and began to get hard.

Cam sat back down next to Kevin, and looked him in the eye.

"Just what were you staring at when I came down the hall?" Cam demanded sternly in a low voice so Mr. Butler wouldn't hear him.  He already knew the answer.

"Your crotch," Kevin said quietly.


" 'Cause I'm so horny for you I can't stand it.  If old man Butler wasn't here, I'd throw you down on the floor and have my way with you right here and now."

Cam faked surprise.  "I'm stunned," he said.  "You'd think I didn't wear your ass out when we went to bed a few hours ago.  Don't you remember?"

"It's your fault I'm horny."

"Why is that?"

" 'Cause you make yourself all cute and sexy whenever I'm around so I'll go nuts," Kevin said.

"I do not!!"

"'Fraid so."

"You're gonna become a father tonight," Cam said.  "I was hoping for a little more maturity on your part.  A little..." he searched for the right word.  "A little fucking self control."

Kevin ignored that.  "Let's go down to the john," he suggested with a leer.

Cams eyes widened.  "Chill, will ya?  All we'd need is to get caught down there.  I can see the headlines now:  'New father caught sucking dick in maternity ward bathroom!!!'"

"Let's go right now, or I'm gonna tell Mr. Butler you're gay."

Cam laughed silently and stared at Kevin, who nodded toward the john with a serious look on his face.

"You gotta be fuckin' kiddin'," Cam said.

"Let's go."

"You settle your shit down right now!" Cam whispered to his partner in exasperation.  "I'm not gonna do you in some public bathroom, you asshole.  What the fuck's the matter with you?"

Kevin sat back in his chair, smiling.  "I am horny for ya, like always, but I just wanted to see if you'd go for it."

"Well, now you know.  If you're that horny, you could always just go down to the john by yourself."

"No way," Kevin said.  "My dick is trained by now to accept no hand on it but yours."

"Yeah, right!" Cam said derisively.  "Then how do you take a leak when you're at school all day?"

"I hold it in all day long."

Cam shook with silent laughter.  "You make me crazy!"

"It's for your own good."

"How do you figure that?"

"Everyone needs a challenge," Kevin said.  "I'm yours.  And you're a lot happier for it, too.  Admit it."

"No way!  I wanna to change the subject and ask you something serious.  Do you want a boy or a girl?"

"I'd like to have a little girl, to be honest," Kevin said.  "I'd go nuts for her, and so would all the guys.  But I'll settle for anything I get, you know that.  A little boy would be cool, too.  What about you?"

"To be honest, I want a miniature Kevin.  He'd pop out of the womb with a full head of black hair and five o'clock shadow."

Kevin laughed.  "You have a wild imagination!"

"I know," Cam admitted.  "But it could happen."

"Well, not the beard, probably.  'Course I'm not known as the Testosterone Kid for nothing.  The kid would naturally inherit all my outstanding looks and good, endearing personal qualities."

"Your what?"

Kevin laughed.  "You heard me."

"Have you thought about a name?"

"A little."


"'Lynda Catherine,' if it's a girl."

"Your mom would be pleased with that if she were alive, and I know Catherine would be," Cam said.  "What if it's a boy?"

"Uh, I'm thinking about 'Kevin Cameron.'"

Cam paused thoughtfully, looking down at his sneakers before turning back to Kevin.

"'Kevin Cameron.'  That has a nice ring to it," he said.  "I like it."

They sat there in silence for a moment.  A movement on the other side of the waiting room caught their attention.  Mr. Butler put down the magazine he had been reading, stood up and stretched, and after a baleful look at Kevin, walked down the hall toward the men's room.

No sooner had the man left than Kevin reached down and took Cam's hand and held it.

"I love ya, man," Kevin said.  "Thanks for stickin' with me through everything."

Holding hands in a public place, even if they were alone for the moment, was a very un-Kevin-like thing for his partner to do, Cam thought to himself.

"Back atcha," Cam said, turning his head and looking at Kevin.  "What brought this on?"

"I just need to tell you more often how much I love you," Kevin said.

"Oh."  Cam grasped his partner's hand and raised it, kissing the back of it.  Cam's love for the big jock, quietly present in him all the time, welled up inside him, and he sat there basking in the glow of his own feelings.

Eventually both boys fell into a fitful asleep.  The two of them awakened off and on periodically until about 5 a.m., according to the big clock on the wall of the waiting room, when Cam heard voices.  Looking over, he could see a nurse talking quietly to Heather's father, who looked very tired by then.  Cam touched Kevin's arm, and the boy awakened with a start.

"Something's happening," Cam whispered to his partner, nodding toward the nurse and Mr. Butler.

Kevin stood up and wandered casually toward the two of them so he could eavesdrop on them.

"It's a healthy baby boy, eight pounds, three ounces," the nurse told the older man.

Kevin smiled, looking around at Cam.

"Is my daughter all right?" Mr. Butler asked.

"She's fine," the nurse said.  "You can see her in about thirty minutes.  We have papers on file that the infant is to be turned over to the child's father when the baby's ready to go home."  She looked across the waiting room toward Kevin and Cam.  "Is one of you Kevin Stoltz?"

"Yes, m'am," Kevin said, smiling at her.  "I'm the baby's father."

"You can see your baby in the nursery in about twenty minutes, when we have him cleaned up.  It's a boy, by the way.  We were given no instructions on circumcision," she said.  "Do you want the baby circumcised?"

Kevin looked back at Cam uncertainly, raising his hands in a question.

Cam scrunched up his face, but said nothing.

"Do I have to make a decision on that right now?" Kevin asked.

"No," the nurse said.

"Let's just wait on that, then," Kevin said.  He glanced at his watch and went back and sat down beside Cam.

"It's a boy," he told Cam.

"I heard.  Congrats, Dad," Cam said, shaking hands with his partner.

"Congrats to you, Dad," Kevin said back, and laughed.  "I want to get you locked into your new job title right away so there'll be no backing out."

"As if!!" Cam said.

Fifteen minutes later, following the signs outside the waiting room, the two guys walked down the hall to the huge plate glass windows which surrounded the nursery, and waited.  There were twenty or so babies in the room, and Cam and Kevin watched them in their cribs while they stood there.  Each occupied crib had a sign with the baby's last name on it.  In a few minutes, a nurse walked in with a baby wrapped in a blanket, and placed the infant in a crib.  Going to a desk at the side of the room, she searched through some signs and found one that said "Stoltz" on it.  Walking back, she clipped it to the crib.  The boys couldn't see the infant very well from their vantage point.

The nurse who had been talking to Mr. Butler earlier came up and tapped Kevin on the shoulder.

"Mr. Stoltz, would you like to hold your son?"

"Yes, m'am, I sure would.  Thank you," Kevin said.

"Follow me."

A few minutes later, Kevin came into the nursery wearing a gown, and head gear like a shower cap.  He grinned self consciously at Cam as the nurse gently scooped up the child and put him in Kevin's arms, leading him to a rocking chair at one side of the room.  Once he was seated, the nurse brought him a bottle, and he began the feed little Kevin, who sucked hungrily on the nipple.

Cam wished he had a camera to capture the moment.  As Kevin and Cam had speculated in jest, the new baby did indeed have a full head of black hair.  Cam chortled to himself.  But there was no five o'clock shadow.  Kevin rocked gently in the chair as the baby fed, finishing half the bottle before spitting out the nipple and promptly falling asleep.  The happy and protective look on Kevin's face was worthy of a picture in and of itself.  Looking like a true nurturer, Kevin went into his own little world holding that baby, the contours of his face soft and glowing with love.

The nurse eventually came back into the nursery, and walking over to Kevin, reached down and took the baby and put him back in the crib.  Kevin stood up slowly and moved to the nursery entrance, removing his gown and hygienic headgear in the next room and putting them in the bin provided.  He joined Cam back in the hall.

"You looked pretty natural in there, holding that baby," Cam observed.

"I can't wait 'til you get your chance, dude," Kevin said.  "I had butterflies in my stomach all the time I was holding him.  But it felt good.  Holding that new life in my arms..."

"I think you're gonna be good at this," Cam said.

"We're gonna be good at this," Kevin corrected him.

Cam looked at his watch.  It was a little after 6:30 a.m.  "I should call Mom and the gang," he said.

"Aw, let 'em sleep a while longer," Kevin suggested.  "They'll be just as happy about it in another hour."

"OK," Cam agreed.  "Well, I wonder how soon we can get in to see Carl," he said.  "We should see him while we're here.  He'll want to hear the good news."

"Yep!"  Kevin high-fived his partner out of sheer exuberance, and they went off to ask about visiting hours for the Psych Ward.  They found out they could see Carl any time after 9 a.m.

"Tell ya what," Cam said.  "Let's get our morning run out of the way on the hospital grounds and then get some breakfast in the cafeteria.  By that time, it'll be 9 o'clock, and we can get in to see Carl."

"Brilliant thought!" Kevin said.  "But you're not wearing a jock for our run.  I don't want you to hurt your equipment.  You know, from bouncing up and down."

"Thanks for the concern," Cam said, laughing.  "I think I can tough it out."

"I hope so.  But ya know, if we run in our street clothes, we'll stink when we in go see Carl."

"He can stand it," Cam said.  "He's smelled sweat before."

They headed for the hospital entrance, and after doing their stretches, ran toward the perimeter of the hospital grounds, and got down to business.  They were surprised to run into Father Jim Mason, in running shorts and a T, on their second circuit around the grounds.

"What are you doing over here, Father?" Kevin asked as they ran in place.  "I thought you always ran in the park."

"Sometimes I come over here just for variety," the priest said.  "What brings you over this way, and why are you running in street clothes?"

"We've been here at the hospital most of the night.  Kevin's baby was born this morning," Cam said, grinning.  "A little boy with a head of black hair, so we know it's his.  Anyway, we thought we'd run in the clothes we have on instead of going home and changing."

"I get it," Father Mason said.  "Congratulations, Kevin.  And you, too, Cam.  Would I be right in thinking you'll raise the boy together?"

"Yes, that's the plan," Kevin said.

"Call me soon, and we'll set up a date for baptism," Mason suggested.

"Yes, sir," Kevin said.  "Listen, while we're talking, Carl Emrick is here in the hospital.  In the Psych Ward.  I bet he'd love to see you if you have time to stop by."

"I know," the priest said.  "He registered as an Episcopalian when he was signed in, and the hospital called me late yesterday afternoon to tell me he was here.  I'll come back and see him after I go home and shower."

"That would be great," Cam said.  "Listen, why don't we finish our run together, if you have the time."

"Let's go," the priest said.  And they did.  Cam and Kevin were reminded what good shape the priest was in by the time they finished the run.

*  *  *

Alejandro Hernandez had sat down on his favorite stool in his favorite bar not far from Berto's parents' house in Monterey at 5 p.m. on Friday night.  He sat there until 10 p.m.  Upon arrival, he'd immediately started doing Tequila shooters, chased with Corona beer, and five hours later hadn't deviated from that pattern.  At one point he had popped some X.  The big man had gotten so drunk and high as the evening had progressed that he could hardly sit on the bar stool, but the bartender had been afraid of him and loathe to cut him off.  Alejandro had finally ordered a couple of bean burritos from the kitchen to put something in his stomach, but even after he ate them, he was drunk as a skunk.  He had wobbled his way to the men's room periodically, and when he had come back, started drinking more.  He had finally passed out and fallen off his bar stool on to the floor.  The bartender had a couple of guys carry him over to a table in the corner and put him in a chair.

Everybody in the neighborhood knew Hernandez was mean enough when he was sober, but when he was drunk and drugged out, even guys who could take care of themselves under normal circumstances stayed out of his way.

The big man had snoozed away with his face on the table until 11:30 p.m., when he'd awakened and staggered back to the men's room again.  When he'd come out, he'd settled his bar tab, and had gone out into the parking lot, breathing in the cool, damp night air.  Meandering around the lot until he'd found his car, he'd opened the door and sat in the driver's seat.  He opened the glove compartment and removed a crack pipe and some granules of the substance in a plastic bag.  Loading the pipe, he'd held a lighter to it and let the smoke fill his lungs, and soon he'd been flying. 

Having finally achieved what to him had seemed perfect mental clarity, he'd reached under the front seat of the car and pulled out a hunting knife, tucking it into his belt.  Dragging himself out of the car then, and leaving it where it was in the lot, he'd walked the half block down to his brother's house and let him himself in with the key he'd never given back after he'd been kicked out by his sister-in-law.

By the time he was finished, he'd vowed to himself, he'd know where Berto was hiding.

*  *  *

Ian Carson's cell phone, sitting in its charger on a dresser in the bedroom, rang insistently at 8:30 Saturday morning.  Ian had just gotten out of the shower and dried off.  Mary was still snoozing in bed.

"Carson," Ian said.

"Ian, this is Tom Ridenour.  I just had a call from the Monterey P.D., and I have bad news for you."

Ian groaned.  "What's going on."

"Since talking with you last, I've had a Monterey police squad driving by the Hernandez house in Monterey on their regular patrols, and they saw that the front door was open when they passed by at 4 o'clock this morning.  They stopped and went inside.  They found a man and a woman, presumably Mr. and Mrs. Eduardo Hernandez, tied up and murdered after being tortured by a person or persons unknown.  You and I know it was Alejandro's work.  We don't know what information he got out of his brother and sister-in-law about Berto's and your own family's whereabouts before he killed them with a knife, but we'd better prepare for the worst."  Ridenour paused.  "Do you want to tell the boy, or should I come up there and break the news."

Ian was stunned into silence for a moment.  Then he groaned again, and sat down hard in a chair, almost unable to speak.

"God have mercy!" he said finally, lapsing into silence again, struggling with shock.  "No, I'll tell Berto, Tom," he finally gasped.  "Thanks for letting me know.  Are the Monterey P.D. looking for Alejandro?"

"Yes.  And I've asked them to keep me informed."

"Thanks, Tom.  I'll get back with you."

They hung up, and Ian went over to the bed where Mary was awake and looking at him curiously.

"Honey..."  Ian couldn't bring himself to tell her at first.

"Ian?  What is it?"

He stared at her in silence, and then blurted it out.  "Berto's parents.  They've been murdered."

Mary stared at him in disbelief, and then put a hand over her eyes and began to weep.  Ian crawled back into bed with her, embracing her, saying nothing.

When she stopped crying, she looked at her husband.

"I know it's selfish of me to be thinking about this now," Mary said, "but thank you for insisting we get out of San Francisco and hide out.  It could have been any of us, you know."

"I know," Ian said.  "But it's not, thank God.  Our job right now is to help Berto.  I don't think he has any close relatives left except for Alejandro."  He took a tissue and gently wiped the tears from his wife's face.  "I promise you that we're all going to be safe, and that Alejandro Hernandez and Walter Emrick are going to pay for everything they've done!!"

"Aren't you sorry you're a defense attorney when things like this happen?" Mary asked.  "I don't know how you do it sometimes," she said, shaking her head.

"I know exactly what you're saying," Ian said.  "But I do it because everybody is entitled to a good defense under the law in this country.  And doing it has saved a lot of innocent people from being wrongly convicted, you know that.  It's a matter of values.  I'd rather have a guilty person go free in our system than have an innocent person be deprived of his freedom, and sometimes his life, by the government."

"I know you're right, but it's hard to swallow that in some cases."

"I know it is."  Ian looked at her with concern for her in his eyes.  "I need to get dressed and talk to Berto."

"Let me shower first, and we'll do it together," Mary said, wiping a few more tears from her cheeks.

"All right, dear."  Ian kissed her and moved off the bed so Mary could get up, and she went into the bathroom.  Ian heard the shower start running as he reluctantly started to get dressed for the agonizing task that lay ahead.

When Mary was showered, dressed and ready, they slowly went down the back stairs to find Catherine giving William, Dan, Berto and Mark their breakfast in the breakfast nook.  The guys were all talking a mile a minute.

"Where are Cam and Kevin?" Mary asked.

"They're at Marin General," Catherine said, smiling as she put a huge platter of bacon and eggs and a plate of toast on the table.  The boys began to help themselves.  "Heather went into labor last night.  I'm hoping they'll call and give us the good news we have a new baby before long."

Mary burst into tears as the boys looked at her with surprise and concern.  Ian put his arms around his wife and kissed her, and then pulled the two women out of the breakfast nook and into the kitchen.

"What's the matter?" Catherine asked.

"There's no easy way to tell you this," Ian said quietly.  "Berto's parents were murdered last night in Monterey."

Catherine dropped the glass she had just carried out to the kitchen to refill with orange juice for Dan.  It fell to the floor and shattered.  She stood there dumbly looking down at the shards of glass, tears welling up in her eyes.

Ian took Catherine in his arms and held her as Mary went over to the closet for a dustpan and broom.  On automatic pilot, she swept up the glass and put it in the garbage.  William stood in the doorway with a worried look on his face, staring at the adults.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"We'll tell you in a little while, Son," Ian said sadly.  "Go eat your breakfast."

Sensing that something was very wrong, the boys in the breakfast nook finished eating their meal without speaking.  The huge platter of bacon and eggs was empty when they were done.

At that point, Ian and Mary took Berto into the study and shut the door while Catherine gave the others the bad news.

William, Dan and Mark were stunned, unable to believe their ears.  They helped Catherine clean up the kitchen without saying a word, and then went up the back stairs to Dan's and Mark's room.

"Oh, God," William said as they sat down.

The boys didn't know what to say or do as they looked at one another bleakly in silence.

© 2006 Don Hanratty.

My appreciation to Dan for editing and proofing Chapter 17 of Belovèd.