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


Cam stood there on the beach staring at Carl as they stopped running, reaching over and putting his hand on the shorter boy's shoulder.

"I won't ask whether you're sure about being gay or not," Cam said.  "I know you've been thinking about this for awhile."

Carl shrugged.  "Yeah.  All I know is, I am what I am.  I'm gay.  I'm not thrilled about it, but there are worse things in this world.  I know that from watching you and Kevin and seeing how much you love each other.  If I can do as well as you guys, I'll be happy.  In the meantime, I'm horny!"

Cam grinned and pulled Carl into a sweaty hug.

"Common, dude, let's catch up with the others," he said in Carl's ear before letting go.  "We'll talk more later."

"OK," Carl said.

It took them a few minutes of gunning it before they caught up to the rest of the pack, but they were both in such good shape that other than breathing a little harder than usual, no one would have known they had been running at close to a six minute mile pace to close the gap.  Just as they reached the group, the sun came out from behind a cloud and illuminated miles and miles of gleaming coastline ahead of them, a magnificent, panoramic view of water, sand, pebbles, and huge rocks rearing up out of the ocean to the heavens.

Alex and John were right there in the middle of the young guys, and showing no signs of flagging.  Alex looked up to the sky, marked with clouds of sea gulls spooked off the beach by the runners.  He was thankful beyond measure for the time he was getting to spend with his sons and their friends.  The joy of this day and the beauty of the beach imprinted themselves on his memory.

Without slowing down, William Carson looked down at the pedometer clipped to his running shorts.

"We're at two and a half," he said with a smirk.  "If we're limiting ourselves to five miles, we should turn back."

"Turn back!!???" John Kelley said, grinning at the tall kid.  "Why don't we do seven today?  I've barely worked up a sweat."

"Uh huh," William laughed.  "You're just feeling good because the air up here is so much better than in L.A."

"I can't deny that," John admitted.

"Dan, whaddaya think?" Cam asked.  "I don't want ya to overdo it if you're not ready for seven miles.  Kevin'll be pissed if I let ya."

"I'm good," Dan Emrick said.  "Let's hit it."

The two border collies, fur wet from running in the water and with tongues lolling out of their mouths, circled the clump of runners excitedly, waiting to see whether the group was going to advance or retreat.  Their humans apparently were not ready to abandon their quest of pain for gain, and the dogs were happy when the group surged ahead.  A half mile down the beach, William gestured at a large house up on the cliff.

"There's Mom and Dad's place," he said.  "I wonder if they're there yet."

When they reached the three and a half mile point, William turned everybody around, and they headed back for Alex's cabin.

Kevin and Mark were just starting to climb the long stairs off the beach when the gang arrived, and the runners caught up with them.

"I thought you'd been kidnapped," Kevin said, looking at his watch.  "Where'd you go?"

"We did seven," William explained.

"Oh," Kevin said.  "Dan, you worn out?"

"Yeah.  But I feel good."

"Okay," Kevin said.   "Good goin', buddy!"  He highfived Dan, who was still breathing hard.

Cam got behind Kevin as they all climbed the narrow stairs up to clifftop.  Cam's height and broad shoulders blocking the view of those behind him,
he pinched Kevin's ass.  Then he slid his hand between Kevin's muscular inner thighs right up to his crotch.  "Ummmm," Cam intoned.

"You perv!" Kevin said softly, turning his head to look back at his partner, and laughing.  "'How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways!'"

"Elizabeth Barrett Browning," Cam said.  "What a show-off!  Mom would be pleased with how smart you are, though."

When they got back to the cabin, Kevin hooked up the hose and washed the salt water and sand off of Alice and Samantha, and put them on the deck with strict orders to stay where they were.  The dogs were tired, and after they drank their fill from big bowls of water Kevin put down for them, they curled up and went to sleep.

The gang showered in shifts over the next hour.  Kevin and Cam showered together.  Cam was worn out for the moment and just stood under the water relaxing as Kevin washed his partner's hair and then his body.

"Thanks," Cam said.

"You know I love doin' this," Kevin assured him as he finished up by soaping Cam's penis and balls, and putting a soapy middle finger just inside the boy's sphincter.

"Oh," Cam said.

"Sorry," Kevin said, not meaning it.  "It just slipped in there."

"I have something to tell ya," Cam said, trying not to get aroused and only half succeeding.

"That your ass is mine whenever I want it?"

"You know that already.  No, this is something Carl told me while we were running.  But he wants us to keep it quiet for now."

"He's gay," Kevin said, holding Cam's head under the spray and rinsing the soap out of his hair.

"Well, shit!  How did you know that?" Cam demanded when he could speak.

"'Cause he's been watching the other guys' butts more and more when we run.  Just like you do."

"That means you've been skeevin' on him skeeve on the rest of us!"  Cam raised his face to the shower stream, taking some water in his mouth and spitting it out on Kevin's chest.  "You like watching boy ass, too.  Anyway, you just ruined my news bulletin."

"You'll get over it!" Kevin said, putting his arms around Cam and pulling him to himself.  Then he moved his hands up to Cam's face and pulled it to him for a kiss.  He looked into those green eyes he loved.  "You're so fucking hot, I never get tired of lookin' at you and touchin' you.  And I never will--unless you get fat or pregnant."

"Well, I won't get pregnant, that's for damn sure!"

"How do you know?" Kevin asked.

" 'Cause as of right now, you're cut off."

The two of them were laughing as they fell out of the shower together, all arms and legs, and started toweling each other dry.

"Man, you're one horny pup," Cam said, bending down and kissing the head of Kevin's stiff tool, and then drying it off with the towel.

"That's your fault," Kevin said.  "You go outta your way to tempt me.  You know I'm tellin' the truth."

"I don't hafta go out of my way to give you a woody," Cam said.  "You prolly had a hardon when you popped outta the womb.  For your mother's sake, I hope you came out feet first.  Heh."

"That wasn't very nice!"

The two of them continued heckling each other as they put on clean boxers and T's.  Cam stood in front of the bathroom vanity looking into the mirror, studying his face as he turned his head one way and another.

"You're such a pretty boy!!" Kevin teased his partner, trying to sound scornful.  "Don't waste a lot of time looking at yourself in the mirror.  Your complexion's perfect, like always.  Too bad you can't grow any hair on your face, though, you twink."

"Listen, Sasquatch, my face is good just the way it is.  I'm surprised Casey doesn't burst into tears when he sees your face in the morning before you shave.  Scary shit for a little kid."

"Casey!!" Kevin said, reminding himself how much he was missing their son.  "Let's call Mom and see if they're at the Carsons' yet.  I wanna go get him."

"Me, too," Cam admitted.

Kevin pulled Cam into an embrace.  "I'm so happy to be here with you right now," he said, kissing him.  "I love ya, man.  I know we say that a lot to each other, but it never gets old.  I wish I could tell you better what you mean to me.  And we have the whole summer ahead of us, and then we get to go to college with Carl.  Being with you makes me high, and I haven't smoked anything for a long time!"

"What brought all that on?"

Kevin grinned.  "I dunno.  Sometimes when I look at ya and think about our future, I just lose control."

Cam was going to make a wiseass remark about control, but decided not to.  He smoothed back his partner's crew cut and kissed him, sliding his tongue into Kevin's mouth as a hint of what they might do later that night, with any luck, after the rest of the guys fell asleep.

Before they got too aroused, the two of them vacated the bathroom to get some shorts out of their bags.  Dan Emrick went into the bathroom to take his shower as Cam and Kevin pulled on some pants.  Mark was wandering around the big living room, looking things over, wearing his iPod.

"Mark, is your dressing all right under that helmet?" Kevin asked as he pulled on his cargoes.  "If you sweated into it, I can change it for ya."

"It's OK," Mark said.  "But thanks."

Cam pulled out his cell, opened it and said "Mom" at it.  Voice Recognition did its thing, and putting the phone to his ear, he heard it dialing, and Catherine's phone began to ring.  She answered.

"Where are you?" Cam said.

"We're at the Carsons'.  Where are you?"

"We're at the cabin.  Kevin is crying his eyes out because he misses Casey so much," Cam said.  "Can we come and get him?"

"Yes," Catherine said.  "Bring your dad and his partner with you."

"Uh..., what?"  Cam was shocked.

Catherine paused.  "Bring your dad and his partner with you, and all the guys."


"I'd like to meet your dad's partner. 
I want to talk to them about you and Kevin and Carl living in Malibu with them next fall," she said, "and I'd rather do it face to face than on the phone."


"What's the matter?  Don't you trust me not to hurt someone?" Catherine asked, laughing.

"Yes, but..."

"I love your dad, Cameron.  There won't be any scene.  Anyway, Ian and Mary want to meet them both."


"Well, all right, I'll ask them," Cam finally said.

"Good.  We'll see you in a little while.  And Cam?"


"Have everyone bring their swimming trunks or some shorts.  The Carsons have a pool.  We'll cook supper for everybody tonight."

"Okay, Mom."

Cam snapped his phone shut and looked at Kevin.  "Holy shit!" he said.


"Mom wants us to bring Alex and John over to the Carsons' when we go over."

"She doesn't own a gun, does she?" Kevin joked.

"I don't think so," Cam said.  "She says she just wants to meet John and talk to both Dad and him about us living in Malibu.  And she says Ian and Mary want to meet them."

"Can I go watch?" Mark asked with a grin.

"You want to put yourself in harm's way again?" Kevin asked with a serious look on his face, and then broke out laughing, looking at Mark.  "At least you have protective headgear this time."

Mark looked back at Kevin with a blank expression that said nothing and everything at the same time--one of his specialties when somebody was being a wiseass.

"I'm just kiddin', Marky-Mark," Kevin said, throwing an arm over the boy's shoulders.  "Of course you can go watch."

"They want us to bring all you guys," Cam added.  "But let me go ask Dad and John if they'll go," Cam suggested.  "I don't think they expected this."

He walked over to the hall and down to the master bedroom, knocking on the closed door.

"Yeah?" he heard Alex say.  "Come on in."

The two men had showered, and John was dozing, lying on the bed on his back in his boxers.  Great body! Cam involuntarily thought to himself as he looked at John.  Alex was sitting at a window in shorts and a T watching two birds interacting as they sat on a tree branch outside.  Alex was always watching something or other, and with his powers of observation, it was no wonder he was a great movie director.

"Hey," Cam said to his dad.  "I just got off the phone with Mom.  She wants you and John and all of us guys to come over to the Carsons'.  For supper, and to swim, if we want.  Ian and Mary want to meet you and John."

Alex looked surprised and then pleased.  John looked surprised and a little apprehensive.

"Are you sure Catherine wants me over there?" John asked quietly.

"Yep," Cam said, going over and sitting down on the edge of the bed beside John.  "She specifically said, 'Bring the home wrecker,'" Cam added, and burst out laughing.

Alex roared.

"You worthless little...!" John said with a scowl, grabbing Cam, pulling him down on the bed, tickling him.

"Ow.  Ow.  Ow," Cam said just for effect between gales of laughter.  "Daddy, Daddy, the bad man is hurting me..."

"You MacKenzies!  Like father, like son," John said under his breath, breaking into laughter himself.  He kissed Cam on the cheek and let him go.

After the showers were over and all the boys were dressed, Cam rounded everybody up and herded them down to the cars along with the dogs.

"You're such a take-charge guy," Kevin kidded his partner.

"You're good at stating the obvious," Cam laughed.

Cam traded keys with Carl, who got behind the wheel of the Navigator, and Cam and Kevin took Dan and Mark with them in the Camaro.  Ten minutes later they were all pulling into the Carsons' driveway and heading into the sprawling house.

*  *  *

Catherine had been thinking a lot about Alex and John ever since Cam had told her the previous week that they were coming up from L.A. to see Casey.  She knew she would always love Alex no matter what the future held for her, romantically speaking.  Some little mannerism of Cam or way of expressing himself reminded her of Alex almost every day.  There was no bitterness left in her feelings for her former husband.  Once she had worked through the devastation that had gripped her after the divorce, she was able to accept the likelihood that Alex would choose a good man for his partner.  That prediction had been confirmed by Cam and Kevin when they had returned from their visit to Malibu and had very gently, very diplomatically, suggested that he had done so.

So this was no ambush for Alex and John she was planning at the Carsons' cabin.  Rather, she wanted to gauge whether the two men were going to be able to provide the kind of supervision for the three boys that Cam, Kevin and Carl could accept and live with when they started at UCLA in the fall.  She wanted to get a sense of that, particularly if Alex and John were going to be working fourteen hour days all the time.

The Carsons' "cabin" was much more than the name suggested.  The place had a living room and a den, each with a fireplace, a dining room, five bedrooms, two decks--one overlooking the Pacific and one surrounding the pool, which had a diving board.  There was a three-car garage with a basketball hoop attached, and a caretaker's tool shed.  Sitting on the spacious deck surrounding the large pool was a huge, built-in, stainless steel range for cooking and barbecuing, along with a deep fryer for poultry.  A fireplace was built into the wall of a pool house which sat at the far end of the pool from the main house.

The place was immaculate, but after he, Mary, Catherine, Yolanda and the baby had arrived, Ian began puttering around with this and that, including removing an errant leaf or two from the pool.  Then he started setting up deck chairs, followed by a series of metal picnic tables, pushed together beside the pool. Mary and Yolanda soon covered them with checkered tablecloths, napkins and silverware, weighed down so they wouldn't blow off.

After he was fed, Casey was asleep as the three women began planning the meal, laying out the food for the big group which would be rolling in for supper

When everyone arrived carrying their swimming trunks, Ian, Mary, Yolanda and Catherine converged on Mark first, hugging him and kissing him now that he was out of the hospital.  The boy blushed a little to be the center of attention yet again, but obviously enjoyed it and appreciated it while pretending not to.

Catherine and Alex eyed each other poolside as they walked toward each other.  Catherine extended her hand as they closed in on one another, but Alex opened his arms and enveloped her, just holding her for a long time without speaking.  He kissed her cheek.  When they stepped back, they each had tears in their eyes.  If there had been any final healing needed for the two of them, it had just happened.  And not only for them, but for Cam as well as he stood there watching them.

"I'm really glad to see you," Alex said to Catherine.  "Thank you for inviting us."

"You look good, Alex," Catherine said.  "I'm glad you're here."

Alex turned and pulled John forward.  "Catherine, this is my partner, John Kelley."

"Hello, John.  I'm glad to meet you," Catherine said as she shook hands with him.  Handsome man, she thought to herself.  She could tell from looking at them that Alex and John were very much in love.

"Thank you for having me," John said politely.  Good looking woman, he said to himself.  I can see why Cam is so handsome.

Mary, Yolanda and Ian were introduced to Alex and John in quick order.  The three men sat down at a round table with an umbrella shielding them from the sun.

"Would you guys like something to drink," Ian asked.  "You name it, we probably have it."

John asked for a beer and Alex asked for a lime and tonic.  Ian got them, and the three men settled down to talk while the ladies, bless their hearts, went back to preparing food.

Satisfied that things were going to be peaceful and cordial among Catherine, Alex and John, Cam followed Kevin into the house, making a beeline for Casey.  The little boy was sleeping in a crib that Ian and Mary must have had around from when William and Mark were babies.  Kevin had to fight his desire to pick the baby up, he'd missed him so much.  Cam walked up behind Kevin and put his arms around him, and resting his chin on Kevin's shoulder, caressed his partner's chest through his T-shirt.

"Ummm," Cam hummed, kissing Kevin's neck.

Kevin laughed.  "You're such a horndog, dude.  A one-track mind.  And I'm really glad about that, y'know."

"Me, too," Cam said as they looked down at their baby.  "Casey looks happy about it, too."

"He always looks happy, you doofus."

"Well, yeah," Cam admitted.  "But that's because his two daddies are happy."

"He doesn't know that."

"I respectfully beg to differ," Cam said.  He licked Kevin's neck and then kissed it again.

"Respectfully?  That's a new approach for you," Kevin said.  "And don't get my neck all sticky."

"I'm always respectful, particularly when I'm trying to get you horned up.  It doesn't take much."  Cam dropped one hand and squeezed Kevin's crotch.  Kevin was getting hard in his cargo shorts.  "Oh, oh," Cam said.  "What's this?"

"Don't paw me in front of Casey," Kevin said, trying not to laugh.

"I'm just trying to teach you some self-discipline," Cam said.  "You can't just be sportin' a bone in polite company whenever you feel like it."

"You're not exactly what I'd call 'polite company,'" Kevin insisted.  "I say that with all due respect."

"Let me get my feet up before your bullshit gets on 'em," Cam said, jumping on to Kevin's back, wrapping his long legs around his partner's waist.

Kevin staggered and then barely recovered.  "Dumbnuts, you're gonna make me fall and wake up the baby," he said.  "Then I'll have to kick your ass."

"Can I watch?" a voice said behind them.  It was Carl, who came over and looked at the baby, too.  "Way cute," Carl said.  "Too cute for you guys to raise.  I think I better take custody.  You know, somebody mature."

Kevin snorted as Cam slid his feet down to the floor, and the latter put an arm around Carl's neck and squeezed.

"You're too short to raise a kid, man," Cam told Carl.  "Casey needs tall daddies to keep him in line while he grows up."

"It's not how tall ya are," Carl told them.  He grabbed his crotch.  "It's how tall ya are, if ya get my drift."

"Then you came from the midget farm," Kevin said, grinning.

"I hate to break up an intellectual discussion like this, but let's go get in a swim before Casey wakes up," Cam said before Carl could respond in kind.

"Good idea," Kevin said.  "I have something toxic on my neck, so I need to get in the water right away."

Moving quietly but quickly, the three of them raced out of the bedroom, through the house, and onto the back deck.  They arrived just in time for William, already in his swim trunks, to cannonball off the diving board and splash some of the guys.  Kevin, Cam and Carl went into the pool house to change into their suits, and Carl came back carrying a volleyball.

"This'll do," Carl said.  "Let's have a game."

"Mark, you play in the shallow end," Kevin said.  "Don't get your head wet."

Ian overheard Kevin as he and John and Alex sat talking, and smiled.  "Kevin's taken to parenthood in a big way, and not just of Casey," he said to them quietly.  "He looks out for all these guys.  Actually, Cam and all the guys look out for each other.  They're all good boys, and I'm really proud of them.  Their commitment to one another and to the baby is pretty unusual.  I think they're all going to be lifelong friends.  Or more like brothers, I guess."

"So, how did all you folks meet and start living together?" John asked.

Ian gave John and Alex a reader's digest version of the story, and because of what they'd been through, Alex and John looked sympathetically at Berto, Carl and Dan as they batted the volleyball back and forth in the pool.

Alex shook his head.  "Berto and the Emrick kids have obviously faced a lot in their young lives," he said.  "They seem pretty resilient, though."  He focused on Carl as the boys started their volleyball game.  "John and I have been looking forward to having Carl come down to Malibu with Cam and Kevin and Casey to live with us when the boys start school at UCLA."

"I knew Carl wanted to do that," Ian said.  "But I didn't know you'd made a final decision to let him move in."

"As far as accommodations are concerned, we have plenty of room, and since the three of them are so bonded, we thought it would work out all right," Alex said. 
"There's been some change in John's and my plans since we agreed to house the kids, though, and we'll need to talk about that with you all later."  He paused.  "Talking about the boys, they've been very lucky to have you and Mary and Catherine available to them, Ian."

"Especially Catherine," Ian added.  "I don't know exactly where we would have sent our five kids to live if she hadn't taken us in.  You know, some place safe where they could get some guidance when they needed it."

"Catherine has a big heart," Alex agreed.  He looked down at the table.  "How has she been getting along at St. Francis?  She has some very definite views on academic freedom that the church doesn't always appreciate."

Ian smiled.  "From what she's said, she and the president of St. Francis, Father Reilly, are good friends.  Archbishop Michaels did summon her downtown at one point to be chastised for her liberal views.  She didn't say much about it, but I got the idea that she kind of turned the tables on the archbishop and his assistant, and took them to the woodshed a little bit.  She knows a lot of theology and church history.  She wasn't excommunicated, though, and I don't think Catherine's heard anything from them directly since then.  But Father Reilly regularly hears from downtown that she should be fired so she doesn't corrupt the students, I understand."

"Catherine is a pretty independent thinker," Alex said.  "She doesn't like to be talked down to, and I don't blame her.  I'm surprised she's put up with some of the teachings of the Roman Catholic church this long, particularly as they relate to women and gays."

"Well, I don't want to speak out of turn," Ian said.  "But we've all been going over to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in San Rafael for Mass lately as a result of some of those issues.  The rector there is a good priest, and we've gotten especially close to the young assistant, Father James Mason.  He and the guys get along really well.  He's a jock, a runner like them, and he speaks their language.  And he's politically and theologically progressive.  Mary and I and Catherine think that's a sound, Christian point of view, so we've been pretty happy there so far.  Mary and I and my two boys had already taken instructions at Grace Cathedral in the city, and Mary and I are ready to be received into the Episcopal church when a bishop comes our way.  My boys will need to be confirmed.  I don't know whether Cam and Kevin were ever confirmed in the Roman church or not, but they'll have to make a decision about what they want to do."

An uproar broke out in the pool, with William Carson and Kevin disputing a call on where the ball had landed.  Then everything settled down, and the game resumed.

Alex watched the boys in the pool, focusing again for a moment on Carl.  No kid should have to go through what he has, Alex thought to himself.

Mary Carson came around behind Ian, and bending over, kissed the top of his head.

"Hon," she said, "you can fire up the barbecue.  The food is ready to cook."

"All righty," Ian said, looked up at his wife fondly.  "We'll have a hot grill in ten minutes."  He looked at Alex and John.  "While I'm up, you guys want anything else to drink?"

"Thanks, Ian," John said.  "We'll get them."

Ian went over to the far side of the pool, and raising the lid on the grill, turned on the gas, twisted the knob on one of the burners, and snapped the button for the built-in electric match.

"Fire in the hole!" Mark yelled at his dad from the pool.  Ian grinned, thankful yet again that his boy was all right.

Casey's voice was heard at that point from inside the house, signaling that he was awake and hungry.  Kevin didn't hear him because of the noise of the game.

Alex stood up.  "Good.  I want to hold that baby and feed him."  He strode off toward the kitchen.  "Catherine, do you think Kevin would mind if I fed the baby?"

"I don't think so," Catherine said.  She left the kitchen and walked to the edge of the pool, cupping her hands around her mouth.  "Kevin!" she shouted.  "Casey's awake.  Is it all right if Alex feeds him?"

"Yep!" Kevin yelled.  "That's cool."  His head was turned looking at Catherine at the wrong time, and he got the volleyball right in the face.  "OW!" he said.  The game went into hiatus to see if he got a nose bleed out of it, but he didn't.

"Sorry, man," Dan Emrick, the culprit, said to Kevin from across the imaginary net.

"You'll pay," Kevin told him with a grin as the game resumed.

Volleyball continued until Ian put steaks on the oversized grill and the smell began wafting across the pool.  The boys began drooling, and that was it for the game.  They went into the pool house and rinsed the chlorine off in the shower, keeping their suits on for a swim later.  Then they went back to sit on the deck, wrapped in beach towels for warmth, to wait for the food to be ready.

Alex came out of the house with Casey nestled in the crook of his arm.  He settled down
in a deck chair in the shade, formula bottle in hand.  Catherine had put a little knit cap on Casey to keep his head warm in the cool breeze off the ocean.  The little boy was hungry, and began to empty his bottle in record time.  It had been a long time since Alex had seen an infant feed.  Cam had been breast fed, but Alex remembered sitting with Catherine in their big, sunny kitchen in San Rafael as the sandy haired little guy had sucked hungrily for his meal.  Alex had recently read somewhere that mother's milk was better for babies than formula, and made a mental note to mention that fact to Kevin, because mother's milk was available on the market.  It was a little pricey, but supposedly worth it.

Kevin, wrapped in a towel and smiling, sat down near Alex and watched him feed Casey.

"Grandpa," Kevin told him, giving him a 'thumbs-up.'  "Good job!"

"Thanks," Alex said.  "Kev, I wanted to mention to you that you can buy mother's milk for Casey that's supposedly better for babies than formula."

"That's news to me," Kevin said.  "Where did you hear that?"

"The health segment of a newscast in Los Angeles mentioned it."

"Hmmm.  I'll look into it," Kevin said.  "Damn, you know everything!"

"Aw, shucks," Alex said, trying to look humble.

Kevin laughed.  "I can't get over how much Cam is like you," he said.  "It makes me crazy!"

*  *  *

Alejandro Hernandez woke up in his own vomit on the floor beside his bed in a flea bag hotel in the city.  He was living in San Francisco all the time now because the local gendarmes in Monterey were doing daily checks of the transient hotels and motels there, looking for him.  It was easier to hide in a big city.

It had been a tough night at the local bar, and he didn't even remember going "home."  Between liquor and crack, he was out of his mind most of the time.  And he wasn't making any progress when it came to finding the two Emrick brats or his own nephew or the Carson family so he could dispatch them all to the next world.  Walter Emrick's fucking trial date was moving ever closer, and that jailed pervert wasn't pleased about Hernandez's lack of progress in at least killing Carl Emrick so he couldn't testify against his father.  On top of all that, Hernandez was starting to run out of money, and with Walter Emrick's manager at the Cadillac dealership now dead from suicide and somebody new in charge, he had no way of getting more cash.  He was already trying to plan a robbery somewhere in San Francisco that would garner him some money to live on.

Hernandez had driven past the house in Monterey where Berto had lived with his mother and father, and there was a For Sale sign on the front lawn.  When he'd called the realtor to ask how he could contact the owner, all he'd gotten was Ian Carson's name and phone number at the the law office.  Hernandez already had that information, so he was no closer to finding out where his quarries were.

There were some facts that Alejandro didn't know about Carl, Dan, and Berto, as well as William and Mark Carson, that would have changed his modus operandi for killing the boys.   It had to do with a matter of great concern to him:  money.

Ian had taken the guys to a branch bank in San Rafael a few days ago, and one by one, set up accounts of $20,000 each which would earn modest interest.  The boys could, on their own signatures, withdraw sums up to $500 from their accounts at any one time.  Sums over that amount would require Ian's signature as well.  And it was entered into the bank's computer, authorized by the bank manager after talking to the California Highway Patrol, that if one of the boys attempted to withdraw more than $500 without a countersignature, the local police and the Highway Patrol would be dialed automatically by the computer and summoned to the bank office.  Ian had told the boys that if Alejandro somehow captured one of them, the captive was to tell his captor right away about the money and offer to take him to the bank, where hopefully the miscreant could be disarmed and captured when he tried to drain the account.

*  *  *

When the food was cooked and laid out steaming on a long table, Ian clapped his hands for attention.

"Let's offer thanks," he said, taking off a ratty old cap that said "Legal Eagle" with the outline of a law book embroidered on it.  Everybody stood up and gathered around the food table, holding hands.

"The Lord be with you," Ian said.

"And also with you."

Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, creator of life and giver of hope, we pause to thank you for the many blessings you have bestowed upon all of us here.  Out of your goodness we are nourished by love and joy and kindness and companionship.  We are privileged to have the food that you have given us today, and ask you to bless it to our use as you bless the hands of those who have prepared it, through Jesus Christ our Lord."


Kevin dapped Ian silently in approval, and the youngsters had the women and adult men get their food first before they picked up their own plates.  Catherine put Yolanda Vega first in line.  Soon everybody had helped himself and was chowing down scattered around the deck.

"Delicious, ladies!" John Kelley said.  "Ian, good job!"

The women nodded and Ian said, "Thanks."

As the guys were eating, Carl looked over at Berto, who was thin as a reed, a reed with muscles, though, and grinned.  "Berto, you're getting fat as a little piggy."

"Soo-wee!" Berto yelled, smiling and continuing to shovel down the food.

After two helpings of food, three for some of the guys, there was butter pecan ice cream for desert.  When everybody was finished, they slumped down in their chairs, groaning.  The food table looked as if it had been visited by a plague of locusts.

Cam motioned to Carl after a few minutes had passed, and the two of them went through the house and out on to the front deck overlooking the Pacific.  They sat down side by side in a freestanding swing they found out there.  The view of the coast was breathtaking.

"So..." Cam said, looking over fondly at the studly little jock.  "I take it you're not overjoyed about being gay."

Carl studied his friend.  "That's true.  But I'm not crushed by it, either.  I've been thinking it was in the cards for me for quite a while.  How did you feel when you found out you were gay?"

Cam stared out at the ocean thoughtfully.

"Well," he said, "it was a little different for me because Kevin was the key to what I knew about my orientation.  I was in love with Kevin, and only Kevin, from the time I first thought about sex.  To be honest, I didn't look at other guys or think much about them.  Naturally, I didn't think I stood a chance with Kevin when he started dating, and especially not when he started having sex with Heather.  So I just suffered in silence, more or less, and dated Teri.  I did realize that sex with a girl wasn't going to 'do it' for me, though, so I didn't want to get started down that road with Teri."

"How did you and Kevin find out that you were both gay?" Carl asked.

"We'd just come back from Malibu for a visit with Alex and John while Catherine was on a trip to New York,"  Cam said.  "While we were down there, Alex came clean about what he'd gone through when he was married.  He was so miserable as a gay man married to a woman that he almost committed suicide.  I eventually realized that it was only his honesty with himself, despite how miserable I'd felt when he left Catherine and me, that gave him his life back. 
It was his honesty about who and what he is, and who he was when he was married, that really affected Kevin and me when Dad talked to us.  I didn't know when, and I didn't know how, but I knew then that at some point I was going to have to tell Kevin about my feelings for him.  Kevin felt the same way I did, obviously, because he came into my bedroom in the middle of the night when we got home and asked if he could get into bed with me.  Bottom line, he did, and he told me that he loved me, and I did the same, and then we got off together for the first time.  We didn't do everything we do these days as far as the sex was concerned, but it was the greatest feeling in the world just to get each other off and for me to hold him close to me.  To have him touch me and know he loved me was like heaven!"

Carl looked down at the deck and shook his head.  "I don't know how I'm ever going to find anybody like you two guys," he said.  "To tell ya the truth, you two are kinda my ideal for what a gay relationship is all about.  I could never be that lucky."

"Yes, you can," Cam contradicted.  "You have to know who you are and what you're looking for, though.  The fact that attractive guys all have dicks and balls and good bodies, and we like that about 'em, isn't enough of a basis for a good relationship with a person, I'm sure you know that.  Appearance is a factor, but it's not everything.  Anyway, the right guy for you could be just around the corner.  I don't wanna preach to ya, but gettin' your rocks off with someone without some real affection for your sex partner just doesn't cut it, at least not long term."

"I don't have any way to meet gay guys though, and that blows," Carl said.  He smiled.  "So from now on, I want you and Kevin as my rotating partners.  That seems fair."

Cam laughed.  "Well, you know that's not gonna happen, bud."

"Just kidding," Carl said, his face growing serious.  "Anyway, I'm not going to let bein' gay get me down.  Every day I live, and that Dan and Berto live, is a bonus.  There's a homicidal fucking maniac lookin' for us, and who's to say he won't get lucky and find us, and then..."

"He's not gonna find you, and he's not gonna find the rest of us," Cam said reassuringly, with more confidence than he felt.  "We'll just keep movin' around this summer, and he won't stand a chance of findin' us."

"My dad's court case is coming up later this summer in Monterey, and I have to testify.  That could be it for me," Carl said.

"No, man, don't be thinkin' that way!  The authorities will take every precaution to keep ya safe."

"Uh huh, like they did Mark," Carl said.  "It could be a fucking crapshoot when I show up there, and you know it."

Cam shook his head, but knew there was some truth to what Carl was saying.

"Listen, I know there aren't any guarantees for any of us," Cam admitted.  "All any of us can do is live our truth one day at a time--happy or sad, gay or straight.  But I want to promise you something to take your mind off the bad shit.   Kevin and I will take you into San Francisco first chance we get so you can meet some gay guys.  Maybe William and Mark know some gays from where they went to school, I don't know.  When we get down to UCLA for school, we'll do everything we can to find you some date material.  Hookin' up will be up to you, but I know you're probably more than ready for some action."

"Sounds good," Carl said approvingly.  "I'll appreciate the help."

"You're hot, dude, and you ain't gonna have any trouble attracting some attention," Cam said.  "No judgments from us no matter how you handle things, but I hope you find someone you can care about and who will care about you."

"Who knows?" Carl sighed.  He looked down at his right hand and flexed his fingers.  "Meantime, hand, don't be failin' me!"

Cam laughed.  "I know you've been through a lot a' shit," Cam said.  "We all love ya.  Don't forget that, no matter what."

"Dan and I are lucky to be in this family," Carl said.  "I know that."  They stood up, and Carl popped Cam on the butt, smiling, but his eyes looked a little damp when they went back through the house to the swimming pool.

Except for Kevin, the rest of the boys had broken out the sun tan lotion, greased each other up, and lain down in the sun.  After protecting their own skin, Carl and Cam joined them.  Casey had a full tummy and was ready to fall asleep, and Kevin was holding the child under a big umbrella with the adults and listening to them talk.

Ian and Alex had pounced on the post-Katrina performance by FEMA following the hurricane devastation along the Gulf coast, particularly in New Orleans, as the topic of their conversation.

"'Good job, Brownie!'" Alex said, mimicking to a T the President when he'd finally arrived in Mississippi and was
congratulating the man who was at that point the very incompetent FEMA director.  Everybody laughed, even the boys.  The conversation from that point was one-sided and spirited, with everyone pretty much in agreement on how lackluster the job by FEMA had been.

When the ladies had finished straightening up the kitchen, Catherine came outside and went over to the men.

"Alex, why don't you and I and John, and Ian and Mary, sit out on the front deck and discuss the guys living with you in Malibu this fall?"

"Good idea," Alex said.  The three men stood up and followed Catherine and Mary through the house.  At the last minute, Catherine went back to the pool.

"Cam, Kevin, Carl, we're going to talk about Malibu.  Do you want to join us?"

The boys nodded, and got up.

"Bring some folding chairs," Catherine suggested.  Kevin carried Casey, now sleeping soundly, inside the house and put him down in the crib, and then went out on the front deck, where Cam had brought him a folding chair to sit on.  Carl sat shirtless in the sun on the deck with his shades on, continuing his quest for an early tan.

"I thought we should all sit down and talk about how things look for the boys to move to Malibu, Alex," Catherine said to open the conversation.

"I've been wanting to do that," Alex said, "especially since there have have been some changes in plans since we first talked to the guys about this."

"Should I be worried?" Cam asked, looking at his dad.

"Well, here's the deal," Alex said, talking especially to Catherine.  "John and I have agreed to start a new movie next month that will take a year or longer to make.  It's going to be a challenge will be made in England, not in the US.  So we're going to be gone more than we'll be home."

Cam watched Catherine and Ian as concerned expressions crossed their faces, and there was a moment of silence.  Only Mary Carson hadn't reacted.

"So, basically the boys won't have any daily adult supervision, is that what you're saying?" Catherine finally asked.

"Essentially, yes," Alex admitted.  "We'll have somebody coming in every day to do the housework and some cooking, but that's not the same thing as supervision, I admit."

Ian didn't say anything, but didn't look happy.

"And this is a problem because...?" Kevin asked, looking at Catherine.

"It may or may not be, depending on how we think you'll handle yourselves down there," Catherine said evenly.

"I know you guys think you're adults, and all grown up," Ian chimed in, "and in some ways you are.  But life in a big city like L.A. without any adults to look out for you may be more challenging than you think it is once you get down there.  Particularly with a baby to care for."

"We always knew we'd be responsible for a baby, no matter where we were," Cam said.  "That's no change."

"I understand that," Catherine said.  "But you're used to having a lot of backup to help make life go smoothly.  You won't have that down there."

"I don't think it's the matter of backup that's worrying you," Kevin interjected.  "I think you're questioning whether or not we're capable of making good decisions about our lives--and about Casey's life--on our own.  You don't have any confidence in us.  That's what I think."

"That's an overstatement, Kevin," Ian responded.  "We do have confidence in you, particularly when it comes to Casey.  But for good or ill, and I think it's been good, you guys have lived a pretty sheltered life so far.  Living on your own in a place like L.A. may be more than you bargained for.  At your age, you don't know the evil that human beings are capable of."

"We don't?" Carl asked.  "After what happened to Mark, and very honestly, what happened to me, I think we have a pretty good idea about the evil in this world.  We haven't been all that 'sheltered!'"

Mary Carson had just been sitting there quietly, listening.  Now she spoke up.

"You have a point, Carl."  She looked at Catherine and Ian.  "The truth is, there's no ideal moment to turn kids loose to face the challenges this world offers young people.  I've always admired the Amish practice of Rumspringa.  Youngsters 16 years old are given anywhere from a year to several years to sample and experience everything 21st century life has to offer on the 'outside.' 
It probably tears the hearts out of some of those Amish parents to permit their children to sample life outside the community like that, but they do it.  >From what I read, the kids don't hold back when it comes to having a good time, either, including experimenting with sex and drugs.  Then the youngsters make a decision about the culture they want to espouse and live in.  About 80 percent of the youngsters choose to embrace the Amish way of life when their Rumspringa is over.  Here, we have three youngsters who will shortly be 18 years old.  I think they're good young men who are well grounded in how to make moral decisions, and who are ready to go to college in the midst of a city in which there are admittedly a lot of temptations.  In my opinion, it would be a shame to deny them this opportunity to stand on their own two feet.  It's time.  They need to know that we trust them and love them, and also that we'll always be available to them when we're needed."

Alex and John were surprised and movcd, and looked admiringly over at Mary.

After a long silence, Ian smiled ruefully and shook his head approvingly.

"Damnation, woman!" he said.  "I wish I could contradict you, but I can't."  He lapsed into silence, looking at Catherine.  "What do you think, Catherine?"

Catherine sighed, and nodded her head.  "You're right, Mary.  I say that reluctantly."  She looked over at the three guys.  "You don't have any idea how hard this is for me," she said.  "Kevin and Cam, I know you've grown up a lot since Casey came your way.  And Carl, given your experiences, you've had to toughen up a lot in a short time."  She paused.  "So, if you all want to move to L.A., I'll stand behind you."

"Thank you all," Kevin said.  "You won't regret this decision, I promise."

Cam, Kevin and Carl were ecstatic, and after everybody had sat around talking for a few more minutes, they all stood up to go back to the pool deck.  Before going, Cam, followed by Kevin and Carl, went to Mary and Catherine and kissed and hugged them.

"Oh, what the hell," Cam said after he'd done that, and he went on to Ian, Alex and John, and gave them the same treatment.  Kevin and Carl followed suit.

When they were all back at the pool and sitting down, Catherine's cell phone rang.  She pulled it out of her apron pocket.

"Hello," she said, listening.  "Father Mason!" she said then, and all eyes turned in her direction.  "How are you?  We haven't seen enough of you lately."  A lengthy conversation ensued, interspersed with "I see" and "Yes" and "Uh huh" thrown in at strategic intervals.  "I'm sitting here with Ian and Mary and all the guys right now down in the Big Sur," Catherine continued.  "I'll discuss it with everybody, and we'll get back to you soon.  Very soon.  Thank you for thinking of us.  It's sounds like a wonderful opportunity.  We'll see you when we get home, and talk about it some more."   She hung up the phone, smiling.

"That was Father Mason," she said.

"Yes-s-s-s-s??" Cam said curiously.  "And?"

"The youth group at St. Andrew's are putting together a mission trip down to New Orleans to gut houses," she said.  "He wanted to know if anyone in our family would be interested in going down there to work for a week or two.  And if any of us adults might be interested in going along and providing some supervision."

"Awesome!" Berto said.  "That'd be a blast!"

"Yeah, man!  And I thought this might be a boring summer!" Mark said.

Everybody started talking excitedly except for Kevin.

"I can't go," he said when the conversation tapered off a bit.  "I need to stay with Casey."

"If you don't go, I'm not going," Cam said, looking at Kevin.

Things got quiet.

"I agree that Casey shouldn't go down to New Orleans with you," Mary said to Kevin.  "There is a lot of mold in the air down there right now from the flooding.  I'm allergic to mold myself, so I can't go.  If you'd trust me, I'll stay home to take care of Casey with Yolanda and Rosa.  He'd be fine with us.  And that way, Catherine could go."

Kevin's countenance brightened a little, but he didn't smile.  "Of course I'd trust you with Casey," he told Mary.  "But I'd feel guilty leaving him," he said.

"Hon," Mary said, "let me help you out a little.  You and Cam have 18 years of responsibility for Casey ahead of you, and you're going to need a little break from time to time.  When college starts in the fall, you're going to be entrusting him to somebody part of every day, anyway."

"I guess," Kevin said reluctantly.

Alex looked at John, and they nodded at each other.  "If they need more help in New Orleans, John and I would be interested in volunteering.  We feel as if we should, with all the blessings we've been given."

"Excellent," Ian said.  "I feel the same way.  And let's remember one other thing.  This is not only an opportunity for the guys to be exposed to a unique and very vibrant culture, but it also gets them out of this area for awhile."  He didn't need to mention the name Alejandro Hernandez for people to take his point.

"Do you know when they're going?" Carl asked Catherine.  "My dad's trial is coming up, and I have to testify."

"I don't think a firm date's been set for the trip," Catherine said.

"Carl, we'll make sure you're available for the trial if we decide to go to New Orleans," Ian said, "even if we have to fly you back home for a day.  No worries on that score."

Carl grinned.  "Cool."

Kevin looked at William, pointing a finger at him.  "There'll be girls on this trip," he said.  "Church girls.  They're like little nuns, though, so maybe they won't be quite what you're looking for."

The crowd roared.

"Yeah, right!" William said scornfully about the "nun" remark.  His face grew more cheerful.  "Don't worry, I'll pray with 'em.  Dad always tells me how powerful prayer is.  He says that's how he got Mom."

Everybody laughed again, especially Ian.

Kevin gave William a thumbs-up.  "Pretty fast on your feet there, boy."

They all sat around talking as the sun began to set behind the house and the breeze cooled.  Ian got up and laid a big fire in the outdoor fireplace with logs from the pool house.  When it had a good start, the extended family pulled their chairs around it to soak up the heat.

After darkness fell and the evening settled in, everybody raided the kitchen for snacks.

At one point, Mark asked Kevin if he would change the bandage under his helmet.

"Sure, dude," Kevin said, and they went inside to the bathroom.  Mary smiled at Ian as the two guys walked away.

"Kevin has an admirer," Mary said quietly to her husband, who nodded at her.

When the two guys returned, Mark was sporting a new, very white dressing over his wound peeking out from under the helmet.

Finally it was time to go.

"Some of you guys can stay here if you want to," Mary offered as the youngsters gathered up their stuff.

The guys looked at each other.

"Thanks, Mom, but I think we'll stick together tonight and go back to Alex and John's," William finally said.

After some discussion, Kevin reluctantly agreed to leave Casey with Catherine for the night after he planted many kisses on that little head.  The guys and Alex and John drove back over to the MacKenzie cabin in their two vehicles.  Alex started a big fire in the fireplace to take the chill off the cabin before he and John went to bed for the night.

There was a late night card game, and Berto kicked everybody's ass.  But eventually the guys pulled out air mattresses and blew them up with compressed air canisters.  After final preparations for bed, they all settled into their chosen spots in the great room, stripped down to their boxers.  Kevin and Cam were side by side under one blanket with the two dogs at their feet.  Mark parked himself beside Kevin, and Dan was beside Cam.  Kevin reached over and patted Mark on his helmeted head.

"'Night, Marky-Mark," he said.

"'Night, Kev."

Kevin rolled over to face Cam, breathing in the smell of him and pulling their shared blanket over their faces for a moment.

"Love ya, man," Kevin said softly, kissing Cam's cheek.  He put his hand on his partner's chest.

Cam turned his face to Kevin and kissed him on the lips.

"Just by chance, I feel the same," Cam said.  "Lotsa love," he added sleepily.

Kevin chuckled, and then all was quiet except for the sounds of the fire and the wind outside.  Everyone fell asleep watching the flickering shadows on the high wooden ceiling of the cabin.

© 2006 Don Hanratty

My thanks to Dan and Craig K and Mike G for editing and proofing this chapter.