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


Casey should have come home from the hospital wearing a little gold crown and carrying a scepter, because that's the kind of treatment he received in the MacKenzie house.  He was the king.  The boys all vied with one another to see who got to hold the baby, feed him during the day and evening, and yes, even change his diaper, the latter because Kevin and Cam made it clear that you took the good with the bad when Casey was in your care.  The competition to hold the child became so fierce that Kevin and Cam had to set up a schedule of duties and who would carry them out, and post it in the upstairs hallway so the guys would all get a chance to spend time with the baby.  Sometimes Catherine, Mary and Ian just had to storm the bastions, as it were, and take the child away from one of the boys for a few minutes to hold that new life in their arms.

He was a "good" baby, rarely crying except for food or to have his diaper changed.  When held other than when he was being fed or changed, he was also a curious baby.  His brown eyes were alert and already trying to focus on the world around him.  When he was awake, that is, which wasn't too often yet.

Cam and Kevin were in school Tuesday morning, feeling a little sleepy from having been awakened twice that first night by Casey, wanting a bottle.  Cam had handled one feeding, and Kevin, the other.  For them, it had been the beginning of a lifelong love affair with that baby as he began his own life journey.

When Kevin had climbed back in bed after feeding Casey, he had turned on his side and lain as close as he could to Cam, putting his nose to his partner's head of hair and enjoying the smell of him.  He'd put his hand on Cam's chest and kissed his cheek gently, studying his boy's profile in the dim light, savoring his love for him.  Cam had sighed in his sleep but had not awakened, and Kevin had eventually drifted off to sleep again with a smile on his face.

Adding Casey to the mix had also begun strengthening Kevin's and Cam's relationship with each other even more, taking some of the edge off their tough adolescent masculinity and accentuating their capacities to nourish.  Catherine had already noticed that the two of them seemed a little kinder to the other boys in the house, too, more understanding, cutting the guys more slack in the give and take conversations in which they normally gave them a hard time.

Needless to say, Casey was already beginning to thrive as a result of all the good care and the attention he was receiving.  Kevin and Cam wanted over time to share with the other boys all the tips on child care that they had learned in the baby class they'd taken.  One of the things they taught them first was how to hold the baby so that his head and neck were always supported. And that when feeding Casey, you should hold the bottle as close to vertical as possible, nipple down, of course, to minimize the chance the infant would ingest air and promote intestinal gas for which he would require extended burping.  The latter insight saved the boys a lot of time and Casey a lot of discomfort.

Rosa Martinez emptied the dishwasher and put the dishes away that Tuesday morning with a watchful eye on the baby.  Casey was sleeping in a little rocking cradle that Rosa had brought from home for him for the times he was downstairs with her.  Yolanda Vega, smiling and happy, was upstairs emptying the clothes hampers, shoving the contents down the clothes chute to the basement and straightening up the bedrooms as she went.  She was glad to be back with the Carsons again after living alone in their condo in San Francisco for weeks.  She also loved to watch Casey when it was her turn.

Berto was in his room on his computer, trying to keep his mind busy so he didn't think about his parents and what had happened to them.  When he did think about them, he suffered a paralyzing sorrow that laid him low.  Others in the house had started intervening right away when they saw him looking down in the dumps, and tried to distract him by getting him involved in shooting baskets or swimming or playing an electronic game.  Even so, Berto would often cry silently in his bed at night, not wanting William Carson or Carl Emrick, his roommates, to hear him.  The previous night, William, macho William, never particularly concerned about what anybody else thought about him or his sexual orientation, had heard him weeping.  William had wrapped himself in a blanket and gone over and gotten in bed with the kid, holding him gently until the boy fell asleep.  Carl Emrick, not feeling all that secure about his own sexuality yet, had lain in his own bed wishing he had had the guts to do that.

By nine o'clock that Tuesday morning, the Carson and Emrick boys were gathered around the dining room table with their tutor, Mr. Montgomery.  He was going through a comprehensive review with them in preparation for several hours of final exams he was going to give them on Friday.

William leaned over and passed a note to Carl as Mr. Montgomery wrote a sample calculus question on the greenboard.  "Son of a bitch," William had written, "we're really gonna have to take some finals.  I thought Cam and Kevin were just fucking with us."

Carl shrugged and gave William a "What, me worry?" look.  Mark Carson and Dan Emrick, well ahead of their school years in mathematics by now thanks to their tutor, were studiously analyzing the problem as Mr. Montgomery wrote it on the board.

*  *  *

About midmorning, Mary and Ian poured themselves a last cup of coffee, and Catherine a cup of tea, and they went into Catherine's study to make themselves comfortable.  They needed to talk about the upcoming funeral for Berto's parents.

In the study, Ian took a sip of his coffee and looked at Catherine and his wife.  "Well," he said, "we have to make a decision about which of the boys goes to the funeral with Berto tomorrow, if any of them.  We know that they all want to be there for him.  But that can't be the deciding factor."

Catherine and Mary nodded.  "I agree," Mary said.

"Let me describe the kind of security we have lined up for the funeral home and for the church, if that would help," Ian suggested.  He outlined exactly what the arrangements were with the Monterey P.D., the CHiP, and the private police he had hired, mentioning that there were secure points behind both the funeral home and the church where attendees would be out of the line of fire from the street, and that entry into the graveyard would be closely monitored.  As he walked Mary and Catherine through the plans, he himself tried to find flaws in them, but didn't come up with anything.

Catherine sipped her tea and looked over her glasses at Ian and Mary.

"I think it's important that we and the boys give Berto all the support we can.  I'm certainly going to the visitation and Requiem, and I'm in favor of letting all the boys go except for Kevin," she said.  "Maybe Cam shouldn't go either, I'm not sure.  The reason Kevin, for certain, shouldn't go, and maybe Cam either, is that they have a responsibility for Casey now.  No matter how much they want to be there, I don't think they should put themselves at risk.  Does that make any sense?"  She paused.  "Please don't think that I'm trying to protect my two sons and being cavalier when it comes to the safety of the rest of the boys."

"I know you wouldn't do that, Catherine," Mary said slowly, taking a swallow of coffee.  "You have a point about Kevin's and Cam's responsibility for the baby.  I just don't know, deep down, whether we should put any of the kids at risk, even though the security plans sound good, Ian.  Berto, of course, has to be there."

"You know exactly what William and Mark are going to say to us if we don't let the whole bunch go, don't you?" Ian asked Mary.

"Not exactly, but I know you want to tell me," Mary answered with a smile.

"They're going to say, 'You taught us never to let bad people or evil circumstances go unchallenged if you have a choice and the wherewithal to do something about it.'  And then they'll say, 'Now it's time to stand behind your words.'"

"To which you'll say...?" Mary asked.

"I'll have to say, 'You're right,' and let 'em go."  Ian grinned.  "Why did you let me teach them that?" he kidded his wife.

"Don't start up with me, Mister," Mary said, laughing.

Catherine smiled.  "Well, are we agreed, then?  All the boys except Kevin, and maybe Cam, will have the opportunity to go."

Mary and Ian nodded.

"I'll talk to Cam," Catherine said, "and leave the decision about whether he goes or not up to him.   Kevin--well, I'll tell him it's my decision that he can't go to Monterey.  I don't want him to blame you, Ian, just because you and he butted heads about it yesterday at breakfast."

"All right, Catherine," Mary said.

Ian looked over at their hostess.  "Catherine, I don't know how Mary and I are ever going to thank you for all you've done for all of us.  To put up with the two of us and five boys is definitely above and beyond the call of duty.  I've just been so thankful that everything has gone so smoothly.  You and Cam and Kevin and Casey are always going to be a part of our family, and I know for sure the boys feel the same way."

"Ian's right," Mary said.  "Whatever any of us may encounter down the line, we're going to be there for you and for all these boys.  Count on that."

"I feel really good about the time we've all spent together," Catherine said, smiling.  "I've learned a lot about managing a big household.  But more than that, we've been so much on the same page when it comes to raising children.  It's been a great affirmation for me about how parents need to accept their youngsters for what they are as God's children.  The way you've accepted Cam and Kevin as partners, and been willing to work with Carl and his challenges--well, it's been a blessing to all of us.  And your generosity in taking in Berto has been a lesson for me.  A practical lesson about really loving all our brothers and sisters in this life and reaching out when we can.  We can all do only so much in this world, but you've taught me to just 'do it!'  To just 'get on with it!' and to seize the moment to do a good thing.  So, I'm the one who needs to thank you two.  And I do."

Ian and Mary Carson sat there in surprise, looking at one another, with even Ian, the consummate wordsmith, the golden tongued lawyer, at a loss for something to say.  No one spoke as they stood up and embraced each other.

*  *  *

After the boys had finished with class and Mr. Montgomery left late about one p.m., the boys helped Rosa and Yolanda finish fixing lunch.  Yolanda had put on a big pot of Tex-Mex chili early that morning, and the boys except for Carl cut up vegetables and lettuce for a side salad and poured drinks of choice.  William sliced up a couple loaves of French bread.

Carl didn't help with lunch because it was his turn to feed Casey.  After he warmed the bottle of formula, he gently picked the baby up out of Rosa's rocking cradle and sat in a kitchen chair holding him.  Removing his pacifier and positioning the bottle the way Kevin had taught him, he fed the child as he crooned to him in a sing-song voice.

"Don't sing to the kid," Mark Carson told Carl, peering over the boy's shoulder.  "You'll give him gas."

"Shutup," Carl said.

"Seriously, you'll give him the colic," Mark said.

"Don't talk to me.  I mean it."

Casey was hungry, and emptied most of the bottle over the next few minutes.  Carl shifted the child to his shoulder, towel in place on it, patting his back until Casey let go with a good, healthy burp and was ready to sleep again.  Kneeling, Carl put him back in the rocking cradle, gave him his pacifier again, kissed his head, and covered him up.  Mission accomplished.

By then the other boys had the chili dished up and put on the dining room table along with the salad, bread and drinks.  Everyone gathered around the table, and Catherine asked Carl to offer thanks.  The grace he offered was, in its way, a reiteration of what Catherine, Ian and Mary had been saying to one another earlier in the study.

"Father, we thank you for Casey, the new life we have in our house.  We ask your blessing upon him and upon all of us, especially our brother Berto right now.  We're grateful for all who care for us and love us.  Help us to do the same for others as we receive this food with thanks to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

They all made the sign of the cross, and Carl seated Catherine and Ian seated Mary.

"Good one, dude!" William said to Carl about his prayer, giving him a dap.  "Thanks."

They began eating, the boys talking back and forth.

After she had a few bites of chili, Catherine got up and went out to the breakfast nook, where Yolanda and Rosa were eating.

"Yolanda," she said, "the chili is really good!  Thanks for fixing it for us today.  And thank you for moving here with us and helping Rosa and all of us out.  We really appreciate it."

"De nada, Dr. MacKenzie," Yolanda said.  "I happy to be busy again.  This is good family.  Too much work for Rosa alone, so I help."

"Thanks to both of you," Catherine said, and walked back to the dining room.

The adults ate in silence, listening to the boys kibitzing with one another.  When they were finished eating, Mark Carson stood and picked up his dishes and silverware to take them to the kitchen.

"Mark," his dad said, "hold up a second.  We want to talk to all of you about the funeral tomorrow."

Mark sat back down, and the boys all looked at Ian curiously.

"Mary, Catherine and I have decided that all of you can go to the funeral tomorrow," Ian said.  "We know that you all want to be with Berto to support him.  There's some degree of risk in letting you go, but we think we have security pretty well covered."

The table erupted in thanks expressed by the guys as they dapped one another, and Berto looked pleased.

"Just one more thing," Catherine added.  "Kevin can't go because of Casey.  Yolanda and Rosa will be going with us to Monterey, so he has to stay here with the baby.  Cam may decide he should stay here with Kevin, I don't know.  But I don't want any of you to tease Kevin about not being able to go.   You know he wants to be there for Berto, and it would hurt his feelings if you give him a hard time.  OK?"

"We won't," William promised.  The rest of the boys nodded.

Carl excused himself to go upstairs and put on a polo shirt and khakis.  He had an appointment with Dr. Smith at her office that afternoon.  The other boys went out to the pool to lie around for a few minutes, digesting their lunch before playing some basketball.  It was a beautiful, cloudless day with a temperature of about 70 degrees.

"Later, guys," Carl told the boys in the driveway as he climbed into the Navigator and went on his way.  They waved.

Carl had really formed a good relationship with Amanda Smith, and she had grown fond of the boy.  Actually, she admired him for his resilience in the way he faced his problems.  Molestation issues for a young man who also thought he might be gay were complex and difficult, but Carl was a determined kid who had refused to hide from his challenges.  Thanks to many hours discussing what his father had done to him, the horrific event of being beaten and raped by Walter Emrick was well on the way to being desensitized in Carl's mind so that it could be dealt with rationally.  The inexpressible had been painfully expressed time and time again, prompted by Amanda, and so one therapeutic goal among several goals was well on the way to being accomplished.

"Hello, Carl," Dr. Smith said, coming around the desk to shake his hand when he went into her office.  She really wanted to give him a hug like she would one of her own sons, but refrained because that wouldn't have been professional.

"Hi, Doc," Carl said, grinning, in a good mood.  "You're looking especially fine today."

"I'm glad to hear that," Amanda said, smiling.  "Most of my patients don't venture into that territory."

"Just stating the obvious."

"Well, thank you.  You seem pretty upbeat."

"I'm feeling pretty good, actually.  Horny, but good.  And also a little sad, of course."

"You'll have to explain that."

"Yeah.  I'm feeling good because Kevin's baby came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon."  Carl had told Amanda early on about all the family members he was living with, so she knew about them and about Kevin and Cam, their partnership and how it was they came to have a child.  "I love that baby so much," Carl continued.  "All us guys do.  Cam had to make a schedule so we wouldn't fight over holding him and feeding him and stuff."

"What did they name the baby?"

"Kevin Cameron," Carl said.  "But Mark Carson suggested we call him 'K.C.' for short, or Casey.  So that's what we call him."

"What is there about the baby that makes you feel so good?"

"I guess it's because Casey is a new life, so beautiful and good, totally dependent on the people around him right now.   It makes me feel happy to help out with him.  I think I want to have a baby of my own some day."

"Well, I can understand why you'd feel good about the baby," Dr. Smith said.  "But you also said you're feeling sad.  Why is that?"

"Because of what happened to Berto's parents.  I told you in our last session that they'd been murdered.  They loved him, y'know, and that's not always true in some families.  The funeral is tomorrow in Monterey, and Ian is going to let us all go to support Berto.  Everybody except for Kevin and probably Cam, that is, because Kevin needs to stay with the baby and will probably want to have Cam around for some company.  Anyway, Berto's in bad shape, as you might expect.  He's a pretty tough kid, though, and we're all trying to keep him busy to keep his mind off of what's happened."

"There seems to be a lot of affection developing among you boys."

"There is.  Berto rooms with William Carson and me.  Last night, Berto was crying, trying not to let us hear him, but we did.  William got up and went over and got in bed with him and put his arms around him.  I wanted to do that when I first heard Berto crying, but I was afraid to do it because I thought he'd think I was gay.  William is so hetero, he just does what he damn well pleases and thinks nothing of it.  Neither does anybody else."  Carl laughed.  "I'm jealous."

"Carl, we can only do what our personalities and makeup allow us to do at any given moment.  Your instincts to help Berto were good.  I know you're still thinking about what your orientation is, so let's talk some more about that if we can.  Just for my benefit, repeat back to me what I told you last week about our discussions on sexual orientation."

"That we need to talk about it, but I may not know for a while what my real orientation is."

"That's right.  This is an area of discussion that requires some patience at your age, especially given what you've experienced with your father.  And while you're thinking about this subject, please remember that your worth as a human being isn't going to depend on what you determine your orientation to be.  Do you agree with that?"

"Yeah, in theory," Carl said.  "The reality, though, is that a lot of gay people are treated like shit by other people.  It's hard to think about sexual orientation and not think about the consequences of what you find out about yourself."

"Yes," Amanda agreed, "there's sometimes a price to be paid by someone who discovers who he is and comes out.  But just to give you food for thought, there's also a price to be paid when a person stays in the closet.  When someone sets out to hide an important aspect of his life, he often restricts growth and achievement in other areas of his life.  It can corrode a person's entire experience.  It can divert a lot of energy from accomplishing worthwhile things.  Keeping your mouth shut about your orientation doesn't let you off scot free."

Carl looked at her silently.

"But we're way ahead of ourselves at this point," the doctor said.  "Way ahead."  She made some notes.  "Will you share with me what you think and feel about the people who are objects of your affection right now?"

"You mean, 'Who am I skeevin' on?'" Carl asked with a laugh.

"Yes," Amanda said, smiling.

"Boys.  All boys, all the time.  Every damn boy I live with is primo.  I can't help myself."

"Do you fantasize about them?"

"When I masturbate?"  She asked for it, Carl thought to himself.

"Yes."  Amanda was totally unruffled.

"Yes, I do.  I'm horny and thinking about the guys in the house, except for my brother, all the time."

They talked about that at length.  Amanda finally summed things up as their time together that day began to run out.

"It's not totally strange at your age to be thinking with sexual overtones about the guys you live with, whether you're gay or not," she said.  "You're surrounded by attractive young men, with no attractive young women your age in sight."

"Yeah, except Mrs. Carson is totally hot even though she's older, and Catherine's not bad, either.  But just to completely humiliate myself in front of you, what I think about the most is Cam and Kevin getting to have sex with each other whenever they want to, and I'm totally bummed that I'm not gettin' any."

"You're not humiliating yourself, Carl.  I'm grateful that you're trusting me enough to tell me everything, because that means we're making progress.  You've made so much progress!"

"Thanks.  That cheers me up," Carl said.

"You should feel good."  Amanda paused.  "I think you told me once that you had a girlfriend in Seaside before your dad did to you what he did.  Is that right?"


"What was her name?"


"Next time we get together, then, let's talk about what your relationship with Carol was like."

"All right."

"Before you leave," Amanda said, "are you having any thoughts about suicide at this point?"

"Nah.  I'm happy as a clam.  You've given me go-o-o-d drugs," Carl laughed.

Dr. Smith smiled.  "Excellent.  Let me know if those thoughts come back, will you?  And let me know if the funeral tomorrow really gets to you."

"Yes, m'am."

"All right, call me if you have any problems, and I'll see you Thursday."

"I'll be here."

Carl left Dr. Smith's office feeling good.  He was feeling so good, as a matter of fact, that on a whim when he pulled out of the parking lot, he drove over to St. Andrew's Church to see if Father Jim Mason was free to talk with him for a few minutes.  He really admired and respected the priest and wanted some one-on-one time with him.  And, Carl admitted to himself with a grin, the guy was easy on the eyes.  He'd been putting off talking with him until he was feeling better about himself.

He walked into the church office and introduced himself to the receptionist, and asked whether Father Jim could spare him a few minutes.

The receptionist buzzed the priest on the intercom, and a minute later Father Mason appeared in the reception area with a big smile on his face.  They shook hands.

"Carl!  How are you?  I'm glad to see you.  Come on in."

They went back to Mason's office.

"How about a bottle of water or a soft drink?" the priest asked.

"Thanks, water sounds good."

Mason opened a panel in the wall which hid a small refrigerator, and pulled out two bottles of water, keeping one for himself and tossing one to Carl, who made a perfect, one-handed grab.

"Good hands!" the priest said.  "You're a godsend today, man," he told Carl.  "I thought I was going to have to work on my homily for Sunday."

"I can make an appointment and come back some other time," Carl said.  "I shouldn't have just barged in on you."

"I'm glad you did," Jim Mason said.  "That's what I'm here for."

"Thanks," Carl said.

"How is Berto doing?" Mason asked.

"I'm not sure.  He's putting up a good front for everybody, but after he thinks William and I are asleep at night, he cries.  I'd be crying, too."

"Terrible loss for him," the priest said.  "Thankfully, he has Ian and Mary and Catherine and you guys around him for support right now."

"Yeah," Carl nodded, upending the bottle and chugging some water.

"And you and Dan haven't had it so easy, either."

"Nothing compared to Berto's loss, though. 
His parents were nice people, unlike our dad.  Anyway, the wake and funeral for the Hernandezes are tomorrow in Monterey.  The 'rents are letting all of us go except Kevin, and maybe Cam.  They have to stay home to take care of Casey."


"Kevin Cameron--'K.C.' for short."

"Ah!  How is the baby doing, by the way?" Jim Mason asked.

"Just great!  He's such a good baby!  We have a set schedule for all of us guys to take care of him, and everybody's nuts about him.  For that little guy, I'd change diapers all day long."

The priest laughed.  "You must really like him."

"'Like' doesn't cover it.  We all love that baby."

"That's great.  You have quite a household going for yourselves over there at Dr. MacKenzie's.  Talk about a blended family!"

"All us guys know how lucky we are to be where we are right now, believe me."

"That's good.  What about yourself?  How are you feeling?"

"I'm feeling really good," Carl said.  "I like my therapist a lot.  I'd be in deep shit if it weren't for her."  He blushed.  "Sorry, Father."

"That's all right.  Who is your therapist?"

"Dr. Amanda Smith.  She's on the faculty of the med school over at St. Francis."

"I've heard good things about her," Fr. Mason said.

Carl stared down at his hands, resting on his knees at the moment.  "I've kinda been avoiding coming to talk with you until I was feeling better about myself," he admitted.

"Why is that?"

"Because I couldn't face up to what I wanted to talk to you about before the last few sessions I've had with Dr. Smith."


"I've never been a very religious person," Carl said.  "Catherine and Ian and Mary make us pray before meals at the house, but I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me and the Church.  I'll probably be going 'downstairs' when my time is up in this life."

"I doubt it."

"But I've been wanting to come over here because you're the youngest priest I ever met, and when you talk, I can understand what you're saying.  I've had the feeling that you can handle what I want to talk to you about."

"That's a nice compliment.  Thank you."  The priest got up from behind his desk and came around to sit in a chair beside Carl.

"The thing is...I think I may be gay," Carl said after pausing.  "Dr. Smith says I shouldn't make a quick judgment about that, but it's starting to look that way to me.  And I wanted to know what the Episcopal Church thinks about that before I get in the habit of praying and going to Mass all the time."

"You don't pull any punches," Mason said.  "I like that."  He looked at Carl.  "Giving you an answer isn't all that easy," he said.  "I can tell you what I think a majority of the Episcopal Church thinks, but it's not unanimous, by far.  Why don't I start there?  I'll give you the 30 second tour."


"In 2003, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met.  That's our major governing body.  They approved a gay priest living monogamously with a male partner for consecration as bishop of the New Hampshire diocese.  That approval started a firestorm among a substantial minority of conservatives in the Episcopal church, and also started a huge uproar among bishops in the worldwide Anglican communion, especially in Africa.  Opponents of having a practicing, homosexual bishop say that what was done violates Biblical teaching.

"That's the same Bible in which I recently read a selection for the daily service that some Christians use, called an "office."  In this selection, Moses had his priests literally run through a crowd of his own people and kill three thousand of them because they'd partied with the 'golden calf' while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai getting the ten commandments.  Three thousand people!  That's just one example of why we Christians need to be cautious about using just everything in the Bible as a guide for our own behaviors.  There are a lot of other examples in the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament that fall short of Christian standards for this day and age.  Human slavery is accepted as a fact of life, for example, in both the Old Testament and New Testament.

"Don't get me wrong.  I love Scripture, and read it every day for guidance and inspiration.  But all Scripture is not created equal for purposes of making doctrine and specifying what behavior is Christian.  Too many Christians today are thinking Old Testament thoughts in a New Testament era.  Even in the New Testament, sex isn't talked about all that much compared with truth and justice and compassion for others, particularly for the poor.

"Jesus wasn't comfortable with a lot of the teachings which were developed before he was on the scene," Mason continued.  "He said that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled and summarized for his own followers in just two commands:  Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  That's it."

"That's all?" Carl said skeptically.

"Those two commandments are supposed to be the foundation of everything we say and do as Christians.  If what we're saying and doing in our daily lives doesn't meet that standard, we're off track."

"But I remember our priest in Seaside, I mean our Roman Catholic priest, saying that St. Paul condemned homosexuality in the New Testament.  Or am I wrong about that?"

"Paul did say that," Jim Mason said, "but it's not crystal clear who he was talking about.  Some scholars think he was referring to the men who were whores in pagan temples for certain rituals back in his day.  Some don't.  Paul described himself as 'a Hebrew of the Hebrews,' a Pharisee, a 'strict constructionist,' so to speak.  What is very clear is that he also believed that Jesus 'took the "Old Law" and nailed it to the tree.'  To the cross, in other words, where it was united with the sacrifice of Jesus himself.  The Law was fulfilled in every respect by subjecting it to Christ in his death.  So we Episcopalians, whatever else we are, aren't Biblical fundamentalists who trot out the Hebrew, Old Testament Law as a weapon on the sexual orientation issue.

"Our church believes that gay people in monogamous relationships can be and should be faithful children of God. 
As Christians, we don't condone promiscuity, so don't get the idea that all sexual behaviors are acceptable.  They aren't.  But whatever the cause of their orientation is, gay people need to be welcomed into our Christian covenant and fellowship and treated like the brothers and sisters they are.  Scientific research is suggesting today that hormone levels in pregnant women may incline some children to be gay, rather than social circumstances in which they're raised being responsible.  In other words, it's nature, not nurture.  Further research about that is being carried out every day, so someday we may have proof.  Meanwhile, we Episcopalians don't think people should be condemned for an orientation which appears to have been created by God himself in some individuals.

"That's a quick summation of a complex subject," Mason finished up.  "I've tried to describe where we stand here at St. Andrew's and in most of the parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of San Francisco on the sexual orientation issue."

Carl sat there in silence for a minute.

"I'm surprised," he finally said.  "If I really am gay, I didn't think there would be a place for me."

"Well, there is," the priest said.  "Right here in the middle of all God's children."

"I'm surprised," Carl said again.

"From what you've said, you're well on the road to finding out who you are." Mason said.  "You probably don't need to hear this, but don't be afraid to find out.  God wants you to be who you really are, and he loves you just as you are.  I don't want you ever to lose sight of that."

Carl fell silent again.

"You don't have a clue what you've done for me today," the boy said.  "I may never be the kind of Christian you priests want all of us to be, but you've given me hope that I can at least try to be one and still function as a human being.  That's important to me.  Thank you."

"You are so welcome," Jim Mason said.  "I'm glad to see you, and it's good to hear that you're starting to come out of what's been a rough period for you.  Keep up the good work."

"I will."

"I always have time to talk to you."

"Thanks.  I appreciate it."

"Remind Kevin to call me so Casey can be brought to church for Baptism.  Usually, when the baby is four to six weeks old is a good time."

"All right," Carl said.  He grinned.  "You don't know what a fight there's gonna be over who gets to be godparents."

"There are worse things to fight over, I guess," Mason said, smiling.

They parted with a handshake and shoulder bump that turned into a hug.

*  *  *

Kevin took it well when Catherine told him on Tuesday after school that he had to stay home with Casey the next day instead of going to Monterey for the funeral.

"You're right," he told Catherine.  "I need to stay here.  I hate to let Berto down, but..."

"You're not letting Berto down.  Just give him some assurance that you'd be with him if you could.  As for Cam, you talk to him about whether he should go or stay here," Catherine said.  "I'll leave it up to you guys."

"OK, Mom," Kevin said a little wistfully.

"It comes with the territory, sweetheart."

"I know."

On Wednesday morning everyone was up earlier than usual except for Catherine, who had decided not to run that day so she could spend some time with Casey.  After putting on his running clothes, Kevin took the baby, still asleep, down to Catherine's room and put him in bed with her.

"Thank you, Kevin."

"Yep," Kevin said, still half asleep himself.  "Cam's gonna stay home with me today."

"All right."

Kevin and Cam went down to the driveway, where there was the usual quiet grumbling and cussing from the boys while they did their stretches and warmed up a little by running in place.  Then they were off, and after the first mile, they were starting to get into stride.  Mary and Ian decided to stick with the guys that day, and were running at a faster pace than usual to keep up.

Berto looked tired, Cam noticed as he and Kevin ran beside him.  Cam felt the boy's pain in the form of a tightness in his own chest, wishing he could, by sharing it, lessen it.  Nobody should have to endure this, burying both parents after an awful death.  He wondered why God would permit what had happened, and asked the question as part of a little prayer he offered for Berto as they ran.  He heard no answer, only the sound of his own breathing and that of his brothers as they all pounded along their route.

They arrived home by 7 a.m. to find Catherine, Rosa and Yolanda busy in the kitchen, fixing breakfast.  Casey was in the rocking cradle.  Mary and Ian and the boys went upstairs, showered, and except for Cam and Kevin, the guys dressed in white shirts, ties and dark suits.  They had all shined their shoes the night before, and they were handsome as all get out. 

Kevin and Cam went into Berto's room before they all went downstairs for breakfast.

"You know we'd be with you today if we could," Kevin said.

Berto straightened up from tying his shoes.  "I know you would."

"We'll be thinking about you."

"Thanks, man."

Kevin gave the boy a hug, as did Cam.  Berto smiled a sad smile and clapped Kevin on the shoulder.  They went downstairs to the dining room.

Carl looked over all the boys over as they gathered around the table, and he grinned to himself.  He couldn't help thinking that if he had the chance, he'd take any one of these guys to bed in an instant, except for Dan, of course, and make love to them for hours.  It would be a good time, he thought to himself, at least for him.

After breakfast there were some last minute trips to the bathroom to use the facilities and to fuss about their appearance. Catherine pushed the button to open the outdoor gate and everybody went down to the driveway.  Dressed in Levi's and a T like Kevin, Cam held little Casey, nestled in the crook of his arm as if he'd been born to the job.  The baby sucked on a pacifier and looked as if he was ready to fall asleep. 

The four women in the group were dressed in black, and Rosa and Yolanda were wearing mantillas, and had their rosaries.  Ian and the boys carried their suit coats over their arms so they wouldn't get wrinkled before arriving at the visitation.

"You boys all look so nice," Mary Carson said.  "Handsome!"

"We fight it, Ma, but we can't hide it no matter what we do," William said.

Cam rolled his eyes.

At that point, a shiny, black stretch limo pulled into the driveway, engaged by Ian so they could all go in one car to Monterey.

Kevin whistled.  "Yo!!  Pimp my ride, dude!" he said.  "Way to go, Ian!  Does that thing have a pool in it?"

"I'll pimp your ride, you little..."  Ian stopped talking, and putting an arm around Kevin's neck, squeezed it, and then gave the boy a kiss on the cheek.   "You and Cam behave yourselves today."

"We'll follow your example in all things," Kevin said.

"I told you to behave," Ian responded laughing as he helped Mary, Catherine, Yolanda and Rosa into the car before letting the boys get in.  Once inside, the guys staked out their territory and started checking out the amenities as the car began backing down the driveway slowly as Kevin and Cam waved good-bye.

The car left, the gate closed, and Kevin and Cam looked at each other.

"I don't suppose you'd be interested in grabbing a little more shuteye," Cam suggested.

"Yep!  Let's put Casey in bed with us."

"All right," Cam said.  "For now it's all right, I mean.  Later, we might have stuff to do."

"Ya think?" Kevin asked.

They went upstairs, stripped down to their boxers, and climbed back in bed, putting a now-sleeping Casey between them.  When they started drifting off after a few minutes, though, Cam put Casey in his crib so they wouldn't roll on him by accident in their sleep.  Cam returned to bed and moved over next to Kevin, kissing his shoulder.

Thinking Kevin was already asleep, Cam whispered, "I love ya, man."  He didn't expect an answer.

"Are you sure?" Kevin came back.

"Don't make me hurtcha."

Cam moved his head into the crook of Kevin's neck, and they drifted off to sleep.

*  *  *

The traffic was heavy across the Golden Gate Bridge at that hour of the morning, but once on the other side of the city they made good time.  The guys occupied themselves by listening to music on their ipods and keeping Berto talking while the adults chatted among themselves.  Yolanda and Rosa, especially, were feeling very emotional about what they would face in Monterey.

When they arrived at the funeral home about 8:45, the limo driver identified himself and his passengers to a police officer stationed in the driveway, and the limousine pulled around to the back of the building.  Everyone went inside except for Ian, who sought out the police unit commander in front. 
Half of the Monterey SWAT Team had lined up just behind the sidewalk, eyeballing the houses across the street.  The unit commander showed Ian a schematic which the Swat unit members had memorized, with every window of the houses under surveillance assigned a number on their drawing.  If a member of the unit saw movement behind a window and shouted out a number, all the officers would know instantly which window it was and could react appropriately.

Pleased with the preparations, Ian went into the funeral home.  Two rooms ordinarily divided by a folding door had been opened up into one large room in order to accommodate the gathering crowd.  The closed caskets of Berto's mother and father were against a draperied back wall, each with a crucifix above it and a prie dieu in front of it.  The area was banked with flowers and floral displays, including one from Mary, Ian and Catherine, as well as one from the boys as a group. 

Berto was kneeling in front of his mother's coffin, praying.  Standing behind him and to one side, Mark Carson could see tears running down the boy's cheeks, and Mark himself began to cry and went and sat down in a folding chair a few rows from the front.  Mary went to her son and sat beside him, wordlessly putting an arm around the boy's shoulders and holding him.  The other boys lined up to take their turn in praying before each of the caskets as Berto moved over in front of his father's coffin to pray and say good-bye.  The MacKenzie household adults, including Yolanda Vega and Rosa Mendez, were right there in the midst of those offering their prayers.

The priest, Father Saucedo, came in wearing a biretta and black cassock and sought out Berto, murmuring a few words of comfort in Spanish.  The crowd had grown huge very quickly.  Many were teachers from the school where Mrs. Hernandez taught, and tenants from the apartment building that Mr. Hernandez managed.  After conferring with Ian, the priest delayed starting the visitation service until more people had had a chance to sign the visitation book, to offer their personal prayers and say their final good-byes to Berto's parents.  Everyone went out of his way to speak with Berto, who was operating numbly on autopilot by then.

The priest started the service by saying a few laudatory words about Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez, and then moved into saying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary responsively with the congregants.  When he was finished, people began to file out, some to go to work and others to go down to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Requiem Mass.

Berto and the family were the last to leave as the priest waited behind to say prayers as the bodies were loaded into the two hearses.  The family's limousine rolled slowly down the driveway following the hearses, exiting the funeral home on to the street without incident.  Ian breathed a sigh of relief.

At the church, the hearses stopped in front, where the pall bearers, comprised of neighbors and friends of the Hernandezes, stepped forward to move the bodies into the building.  The limousine pulled around to the rear so that the family could enter the back door, protected from the street.  A second contingent of Monterey SWAT stood at the front sidewalk of the church eyeballing the houses across the street.

The coffins were placed on rolling catafalques and covered with white palls.  Then they were wheeled up the aisle to the crossing and swiveled around feet first toward the altar.  The Mass began.  At the appointed time, Father Saucedo sprinkled the caskets with holy water and waved a thurible over them as incense billowed toward the roof.  His homily relating the life of Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez to the promised resurrection was good, Berto thought.  Ian stole a look at Berto, and he seemed composed.  But no one could know what he was feeling inside.  The boy was numb, but he let the beauty and symmetry of the Mass flow over him and felt peace.  Yolanda Vega was seated on one side of him, and Catherine on the other.  Periodically Catherine would reach down and take Berto's hand and squeeze it to try to comfort Berto, and then let it go so as not to intrude upon his thoughts.

At the conclusion of the Mass, the caskets were turned around and rolled to the front door, followed by the family.  The pall bearers lifted the caskets and carried them down the few steps to the hearses while the family returned through the nave to the back door of the church and stepped into the limousine.  Funeral home employees began to line up the cars of people who were going to the cemetery, each car with a blue pendant on the front fender and headlights shining into the murky sunshine.

When all was in readiness, the priest entered the first hearse for the ride to the cemetery, and preceded by police motorcycles, the long line of mourners' cars began their journey.  As the limousine rolled into the street without incident, Ian again breathed a sigh of relief that Alejandro hadn't intruded with an act of violence.

A half-hour later, the long procession had reached the cemetery.  There were six police officers on duty at the front gate, three of them with rifles, checking out occupants of the cars as they drove in.

Near to where the limousine had stopped, two new graves lay open, with folding chairs under a canopy alongside for the family.  A car had preceded the caravan from the church, and the site was banked with flowers from the MacKenzies, the Carsons, and from friends and co-workers of the Hernandezes.  When the pall bearers had gathered and moved the caskets from the hearses to the grave site, the family stepped out of the limo and went to the seats.  Berto sat in the middle of the folding chairs provided, with Ian and Mary on either side of him.  William stood behind Berto's chair with his hands on Berto's shoulders.

Ian had had the funeral home print a little guide for the graveside service, and he had asked them to include all three verses of the words for Taps following the order of service:

Day is done.
Gone the sun.
>From the lakes. 
>From the hills. 
From the sky.
All is well. 
Safely rest. 
God is nigh.

Fading light. 
Dims the sight.
And a star. 
Gems the sky. 
Gleaming bright.
>From afar. 
Drawing nigh. 
Falls the night.

Thanks and praise. 
For our days.  
Neath the sun. 
Neath the stars. 
Neath the sky.
As we go. 
This we know. 
God is nigh.

Father Saucedo blessed the graves, led the mourners in the Our Father, the Hail Mary and appropriate committal prayers, and put a handful of soil on the caskets as he solemnly reminded those present that even at the edge of the grave, Christians make their song:  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.  Berto stood and placed a rose on each of the caskets and returned to his seat, where he sat, head bowed, unmoving.  The formal service was over.  After a few minutes, Mary Carson sent the others in their party back to the car as she, Catherine and Ian stayed with the boy.  Berto remained sitting there in silence in his chair beside the graves for perhaps ten minutes.

Ian walked back to the cemetery access road and caught the priest before he re-entered one of the hearses, handing him an envelope with a substantial thank offering in it.  By the time he went back to the chairs at graveside, Berto was standing and looking at the caskets, Mary's arm around him.  The four of them returned slowly to the limousine.  Berto's face was devoid of emotion now, his brown eyes opaque.

The family sat quietly in the vehicle, the air conditioning humming, until the line of cars began to move and the limousine also moved forward.  Still in silence, they reached the gate to the cemetery.  They were just turning on to the main road when there were pinging noises as bullets began peppering the doors of the car, and with a crack, several side windows of the limousine imploded, spraying glass fragments over everyone in the vehicle.  In slow motion, Ian saw the faces of those he loved bleeding from the flying glass.  Mark Carson pitched forward on to the floor.

*  *  *

Kevin awakened first from their nap.  Casey was still asleep in his crib, and Cam 's head, eyes closed, was next to Kevin's on the pillow they were sharing.  Kevin's head turned slowly to look at his partner, and he smiled at the sight of Cam's long, lean, defined body, wearing only his boxers, lying next to him.  This beautiful boy he loved and who loved him lying next to him--how could he have been so lucky in life, he wondered, lucky enough to have this boy and their new child to love and care for?

Kevin lay there quietly in the unaccustomed silence of the empty house, not moving, until he heard the cadence of Cam's breathing change.  Kevin smiled.

"You awake?" he asked.

"Gettin' there," Cam said, taking Kevin's hand and putting it on Cam's chest, holding it there on his pec.

"We need to talk about Teri McKee and the prom Friday night," Cam said.

© 2006 Don Hanratty.

Many thanks to Craig K for proofreading this chapter.