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


Kevin awakened before Cam did the morning after their adventures getting Casey back.  The boy felt rested, not having awakened during the night even when his partner got up to give the baby a bottle.  With Casey back in their hands, life was good, Kevin realized.  Great, actually.  Feeling the early morning chill in the air, he pulled the blanket up to his chin, making sure Cam was covered as well.  He smiled to himself and snuggled up to his lover.

His lover.  Recalling the previous evening before they had fallen asleep completely sated, Kevin reveled in the memory of how Cam had felt inside his body, fucking him slowly at first and then faster, bringing and maintaining
ecstasy after long, long minutes of preparation and anticipation and stimulation.  Kevin continued fantasizing about their sexual intensity, remembering it with satisfaction.  He wanted to relive it yet again, how Cam had made love to him as the boy's salty sweat had rained down on Kevin's chest and abs.  Sweet!

At this point in their relationship, both of them had long since perfected precisely how to give and receive the ultimate in love and pleasure when they had sex.  They pleased one another totally.  Good skills, Kevin thought, smiling again.  When you've got 'em, you got 'em.  And Cam had those skills in spades.  He was an uninhibited sex partner in bed, and yet gentle to his core when gentleness was called for.  He was persevering and perceptive and gentle in bringing his partner to the pinnacle of sexual enjoyment and release.  No prudery there at all, but still lots of consideration for his lover, thank God.

Kevin could feel himself starting to get hard yet again, and gave his dick a stroke.  Maybe they had time...  He was just about to nestle his head into the crook of Cam's neck and nuzzle his face and kiss his neck and see what developed from that point when there was a soft knock at their bedroom door.  It broke his train of thought.

"Yeah?" he inquired softly.

The door opened slowly, and Father Mason, already dressed in his running clothes, stepped inside.

"You two gonna run this morning?" the priest asked.  "Alex and John and the rest of the guys will be over here in a couple of minutes."

Cam groaned right then and opened his eyes, rubbing them.  "Oh, man, did I ever sleep!" he croaked, then cleared his throat and raised his head.  "What time is it?"

"Ten to six," Father Jim said.

"Ohhhhh," Cam said, dropping his head back on to the pillow, then swiveling a bit to look at Kevin.  The boy's face made Cam smile, even just out of sleep.  "Hey, dude," he said happily.

"You rang?" Kevin said.

"We gonna run?"

"I await your orders.  But somebody has to stay with Casey."

"Yolanda is up," the priest said.  "She says she wants to watch him this morning."

"Cool.  Thanks, Father.  Get up, then," Cam said to Kevin.  He waited until the priest had gone and shut the door behind him to throw back the bedclothes, leaving Kevin and himself stark naked and covered with the copious residue of the previous night's lovemaking.  He scooted down in bed and repeatedly kissed Kevin's abs, which were still covered in dried spunk, and then gave him a lick.  Yep, it was Kevin's splooge, all right!  He knew that taste.  He ran a hand gently over Kevin's torso, then cupping and gently squeezing the boy's package before letting his hand journey up to his pecs, where he rolled the nipples between his thumb and forefinger before moving on to his face.  As usual, Kevin's face wore its sexy blue-black mask, the stubble he sported every morning before he used his razor.  Cam touched the boy's face gently, and then kissed his cheek.

Kevin exhaled loudly, and then for the moment gave himself over to the sweet touch of the boy he loved more than life itself.  If only they had more time...

"Don't get me all fired up, now," Kevin finally had to warn as Cam continued to caress him.  "I know, I was hoping..." he admitted.

"I know exactly exactly what you were hoping, horndog.  Not gonna happen, unfortunately.  Not right now."

Kevin laughed, grabbing Cam's head, pulling him to his face and planting a long, soft kiss on his lips, and then giving his body a squeeze.  "I know," he said, loving Cam, body, soul and spirit, so much so that he had butterflies in his stomach.  He had been lucky in love, and he knew it.  More than lucky.

Grunting, Kevin rolled to the edge of the bed, put his feet to the floor and headed for the bathroom with Cam right behind him.  Cam admired the T-shape of Kevin's beautiful physique as he tried to get hold of that perfectly rounded, muscular ass.

"Don't get grabby," Kevin said, swiveling his hips to avoid his partner's hands.

"You've never complained before, you wiener," Cam responded to his partner as they got ready to relieve themselves.

They shared the toilet, their streams of urine crossing and uncrossing until they finished.  Afterward they ran warm, damp wash cloths over their bodies so the other guys wouldn't smell sex on them.  They knew they'd never hear the end of it if their stink confirmed what they'd been up to.

Cam studied his own face in the mirror.

"Yeah, your skin is perfect.  Like always," Kevin scoffed at his partner as he rubbed his own stubble.

Cam pretended to scowl at him.  "Shut up."

They went back into the bedroom, where they put on jocks, running shorts, warm-ups, T's and sweatshirts, and finally socks and running shoes.  After he was dressed, Kevin walked over to the crib, looking down on a sleeping Casey.  His exhilaration at having the baby back where he belonged was only increased by what, for him, was a new understanding:  no matter how many the total hours and minutes may be, sometimes we only have those we love for what seems like a few moments in time.  And then they, and frequently we ourselves, are gone.  We have to live in the moment, and make the most of it, Kevin thought to himself.

Loving that little boy, he bent down and gently caressed the baby's head.  "Boychick," Kevin whispered to him.  No response.  If anyone had told him a year ago that he could love a baby as much as he loved Casey, he would have said the person was crazy.

Kevin turned to Cam.  "Did you give him his bottle last night?" he asked.

"Well, yeah!" Cam said.  "Somebody has to be responsible."

Kevin chuckled but didn't rise to the bait.  "Thanks," he said.  "From Casey and me both."

A door slammed in another part of the house, and then they heard a cacophony of male voices down the hall toward the kitchen.

"Ready?" Cam asked.


The two of them joined the others, milling around in the kitchen.  Kevin spotted Yolanda.

"Casey's still sleeping," he told her.  "Thanks for watching him."

"I sit with him, and feed him when he wake up," Yolanda said, smiling.  Kevin went over to her and gave a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  The world was good.  Yolanda and Rosa, who was still back at the MacKenzie house in San Rafael, were the salt of the earth as far as he was concerned.

Alex, John, Ian, Mary, Catherine, Father Mason and the two dogs followed the young guys outside and down the road the short distance to the stairs to the beach.  Once down on the sand, everyone commenced their stretches.

"Dad, I'm gonna speed it up today," Mark Carson told Ian, who looked at him doubtfully.

"You sure?" Ian asked.

"I'm ready."

"How about three-quarters of the distance at speed, and then turn around and fast walk until we catch back up with you, and then finish fast?"  Ian was in negotiating mode.  Always the lawyer!  And a good one.

Mark smiled, taking what he could get.  "OK," he said, adjusting the leather helmet where it touched his still healing wound.

"I'll run and walk with you, Mark," Father Mason said.

"Thanks, Father," the boy said.

There was a cold wind off the Pacific, and those who had worn warm-ups left them on.  William set his pedometer, and the group took off down the beach.  Alice and Samantha led the way, as usual, playing in the surf at the shoreline as they went.  Carl Emrick stuck with Cam and Kevin, and the three of them ran in silence for a few minutes.

Carl finally broke the silence.  "It must have been nice for you to sleep in bed together for a change.  You two look really relaxed this morning," he said, pointedly not looking at them.

Cam gave Kevin a quick look, grinning, but said nothing.

"Thanks," Kevin said.  "Something you wanna know about our evening?"

"Something you wanna tell me?" Carl asked.

"You're way more curious than you should be," Kevin told him, laughing.

"There shouldn't be any secrets among friends," Carl shot back.

No response from Cam or Kevin.

"When are you taking me into San Francisco to hook up?" Carl asked.

"You're not horny, are ya?" Kevin asked him.

"Whaddaya think?" Carl asked.  "Fuck yes, I'm horny!"

"Why don't we wait 'til you have a chance to scope out the guys in the St. Andrew's youth group who are going to New Orleans with us?" Cam suggested.  "There may be somebody who's good looking and on the hunt for a boyfriend."

"No fucking way!  I don't want to hear that word 'wait' anymore," Carl said.

"Waiting is good for your character," Kevin said.

"In that case, no more sex for you two until I get laid," Carl said.  "That should speed things up.  We'll be sleeping three to a bed, with me in the middle."  Carl looked pleased about that thought as they all hit their stride and started sweating despite the cold wind off the water.  "A three-way sounds pretty good to me."

"You gotta be fucking kidding," Cam said, dismissing Carl's three-way thought as Kevin grinned.

"Not entirely," Carl said.

"You know that Kevin and I have sex out of love for each other, doncha?"  Cam didn't look thrilled with this conversation.

"Yeah.  But don't you guys love me?" Carl asked.

"Yes.  But not the same way we love each other," Cam said.

"All right," Carl said, smiling broadly.  "It never hurts to ask."

"Why is getting you laid our job?" Kevin demanded.  "Let me give you the word of the day.  COMPUTER!  C-o-m-p-u-t-e-r!  Get your ass busy on your laptop and develop a profile, choose a picture that shows the real you, and for starters get on Men4Men or Craigslist.  There are more.  Or go on and do a little chatting.  Who knows what that could lead to?"

Having delivered himself of that advice, Kevin broke stride and hopped forward on one foot to give Carl a little kick in the butt before the three of them speeded up to catch the others.  Carl grinned and brushed off the seat of his warm-ups.

But thereafter the hunky little jock began trying to sleep between Cam and Kevin when the gang all slept on the floor at Alex's cabin.  And if Cam and Kevin didn't get their sleeping bags zipped together promptly enough, sometimes they let him.  William and Berto laughed their asses off as they observed Carl's dogged, unsubtle campaign to have sex with something other than his hand.

*  *  *

"Father, have you been to New Orleans before?" Mark asked the priest as they ran along beside each other on the beach.

"Yes, I have," Jim Mason said.  "I went down there for Carnival several times when I was in college."

"What's 'Carnival?'"

"It's the two week celebration before Ash Wednesday," the priest explained.  "Most people call the whole deal 'Mardi Gras.'  But technically, 'Mardi Gras' is 'Fat Tuesday,' the day before Ash Wednesday, and it's only one day."

"Oh," Mark said.  "Anyway, how was it?"

"I was with a bunch of raunchy fraternity brothers, and we had a great time," Mason said.  "Awesome, to be truthful."

"I hope I'll get to do some fun stuff," the boy said a little wistfully.

Mason looked over at his running companion and grinned.  "Are the family ties feeling a little snug right now?" he asked kindly.

"Yeah," Mark said.  "I can hardly use the bathroom without somebody checking to see if I'm all right."

"Who's doing that?"

"Mom and Dad and Kevin are the worst."

"You understand why that is, don't you?" the priest asked.

"No, I don't.  What's the big deal?"

"Get a clue!" Mason suggested.  "Don't you know how much everybody loves you, and how afraid they were for you when you got shot?  That doesn't go away overnight, y'know."


"Look at those people running ahead of us," the priest said.  "There isn't one of them who wouldn't go down fighting for you if he or she had to.  They care about you.  Be thankful."

"I guess.  I'd just like to be able to do some fun stuff without everybody getting all bent outta shape and hovering over me," Mark said.

"You'll be able to do that, and it won't be all that far off.  I think we'll all be able to have some fun down in New Orleans."  Mason paused, and looked over at Mark again.  "Of course, along with the fun, we still have to be in good physical shape and psychologically ready for the destruction we'll see when we go to work.  The French Quarter was untouched by flooding, and a lot of Uptown wasn't damaged, or so I understand.  But areas nearest Lake Ponchartrain and the drainage canals were either submerged altogether or badly damaged.  That's where we'll be working.  It's going to be hard work."

"I need to look at a map."

"We're going to have an orientation meeting for the whole youth group in a couple of weeks, and I'll have big maps of the city to look at," the priest promised.

"Where are people who used to live in New Orleans living now?" Mark asked.

"A lot of people are living in Houston and Dallas and Atlanta.  Smaller populations are scattered around the country.  Those who have returned, if their houses were destroyed, are living in FEMA trailers.  It's been incredibly difficult for people, especially for youngsters, because so many schools were flooded and haven't re-opened.  And the older people have been feeling pretty down about their losses."

"How big was the population of New Orleans before Katrina?"

"Probably four fifty or four hundred seventy-five thousand," Mason said.  "Now it's probably around two hundred thousand.  Maybe a little less."

Mark looked at the priest.  "I didn't know we were talking about that many people still being away from home."

"Unfortunately, yes.  Some people have relocated elsewhere permanently.  Others want desperately to go back to New Orleans."

"Somebody on television the other day said that they didn't see why Federal taxes should pay for the broken levees and damaged houses," Mark said.

"I'm not surprised," Jim Mason said.  "The fact is, though, that the levees were constructed by the Federal government and belong to them.  The Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for them.  And it seems that during the original construction, they cut some corners they shouldn't have.  The Feds haven't been that eager to pay up, and even the money that's been appropriated by Congress for rebuilding homes isn't getting into the hands of individual citizens very fast.  That's why what we're going to do down there to help homeowners is so important."

"I'm looking forward to it," Mark said.  "I think all the guys are."

"I think it's going to be a good experience for all of us."  Mason looked over at Mark.  "Now, not to go back to a sore subject, but how is your head healing up?"

"Good," Mark said.  "Kevin and my dad and mom check it out every couple days.  They say it looks good.  When I look at it in the mirror, the wound looks pretty gross to me.  But Dad says its gonna heal up fine, and that if I need it, I can have a little plastic surgery on it at some point."

"So Kevin's kind of taken you under his wing?"

"Yeah," Mark said.  "To look at him, you'd think he'd be just the typical bad-ass jock.  But...well, he's really a very loving person, like you were saying before.  Even so, I'd never want to get him mad at me.  He can really handle himself.  He's been good to me, though, and I appreciate it."

The priest filed that information away for future reference.  "I'm just thankful you're all right," Mason said.  "We all are."  He smiled.  "There's only one Mark Carson, and we need you alive and kicking."

Mark laughed.  "That's the way I prefer it, believe me!"

They ran in silence for a few minutes.  Jim Mason looked over at his running companion.

"Uh, Mark, can I ask you something?"


"You may not be able to answer this off the top of your head.  Or you may not want to answer it at all.  I was just wondering, what are your life dreams now that you're gonna be starting college in a couple of years?"

"Oh, man..."  Mark didn't know what to say.  "I'll have to get back to ya on that."

"Let me tell you why I'm asking," the priest said.  "All the time I was growing up, nobody ever asked me what my dreams were.  Not my parents, not my teachers, not even my counselors, nobody.  My parents, especially my dad, kind of took for granted what my employment dream would be--to work in his company and take over for him when the time was right--but no one ever asked.  So I never faced the question until later in my life than I should have.  I know it may seem like I'm being nosy, but when I have a chance, I try to ask the kids I come in contact with at St. Andrew's what their dreams are.  Their goals, if you want to put it that way.  It's not even important that you know the answer right now.  It's just important at your age that you keep asking yourself the question, because our dreams are so powerful.  And sometimes fragile."

"You blow me away sometimes with your questions, Father," the boy said.  "I know I don't have a solid answer to that particular question right now.  There are things that I think I might like to do in life, but they keep changing."

"That's perfectly normal at your age," Mason said.  "You're still being exposed to a lot of things, and sometimes it doesn't pay to make a final career decision too early.  But it's always smart to be aware of the question.  There are a lot of people out there making a livelihood doing things that don't mean a thing to them because they fell into something lucrative, and for financial reasons they can't get out.  They hate it, though.  Life's too short for that."

"Sometime I'd like to sit down and talk to you more about this," Mark said.  "Maybe when we go to New Orleans."

"Sounds good to me," Father Mason said.

The priest returned to San Rafael the following day, twenty-four hours later than he had originally planned, but he and Mark Carson didn't have a chance to talk alone again before he left.  Mark didn't forget the question or the discussion, though.

*  *  *

The next two weeks flew by.  The daytime temperatures in the Big Sur kept rising as spring advanced, and on one uncharacteristically warm day down on the beach, the boys just stripped off their clothes after a touch football game and went skinny-dipping in the ocean.  Carl Emrick, especially, was in heaven, getting a chance to look at his naked "brothers" all at one time.  Cam and Kevin didn't turn their eyes away, either, but they had been having sex regularly in the shower, in bed, or in the cave, and weren't so horny that they felt compelled to stare.

Carl liked what he saw.  William Carson and Berto Hernandez were really hung, and got a lot of his attention.  There wasn't one boy there that Carl would have kicked out of his bed except for Dan (for family reasons), he knew that.  The guys were totally wet dream and jackoff material, and the sight of them naked enriched his well developed fantasy life yet again.  He couldn't help but notice how much Kevin's weight training back at the MacKenzie house in San Rafael had buffed the guys up, including Dan, the most reluctant warrior in the gym.  It seemed as if Kevin was never satisfied with anybody's performance on the weights, including Carl's own, but the truth was that Kevin was just good at squeezing the maximum effort out of everybody who exercised under his direction.

The final day in the Big Sur finally came.  It was time to go back to San Rafael for their orientation meeting at San Andrew's for the New Orleans trip.

The family packed up, and drove back up to Marin County.  Cam, Kevin, Alex and John rode in the Camaro with Casey well secured in his travel seat, and the rest of the boys in Ian's Navigator with Carl at the wheel.  Alex and John were going to stay with friends in Sausalito until they all left for New Orleans.  They rented a car when they reached San Rafael.

Ian, in consultation with Captain Ridenour, had decided that it was unlikely the Carsons' condo in San Francisco would still be under surveillance by Alejandro Hernandez, so Mary and Ian and Yolanda, riding along with Catherine in her car, decided to visit the Carsons' burned out apartment on the way home to San Rafael.  Just in case, before he met them there, Ridenour had the SFPD do a sweep of the immediate neighborhood for any sign of a stakeout by Alejandro Hernandez or one of his minions.  The officers found nothing, and Ian had Catherine drive her car into the underground parking garage.  They rode the elevator up to the penthouse, with Mary already dreading what she would find.

The condo was in worse shape than they had expected, unfortunately.  The windows were boarded up, and it was dark.  But a contractor had jury-rigged some makeshift lighting, allowing them to see the extent of the damage.  Mary's antique furniture and original art work had all been destroyed.  The contractor had pulled up the carpet, as it couldn't be cleaned or repaired, and it now rested in rolls against the baseboard in every room of the apartment.  The exposed hard wood floors had warped from the water used to combat the flames, and they would all have to be replaced.  Mary wept and then composed herself as she and Ian inspected all the rooms with Catherine and Tom Ridenour.  The place was a total loss, as even the insurance company adjuster had admitted, wanting to settle the Carsons' claim.

Before they left, Mary found some suitcases which were in good shape except for smoke damage to the outside, and with Yolanda's and Catherine's help, packed some clothes which had escaped the flames for Yolanda and the boys and for Ian and herself.  The two men carried the bags downstairs and added them to the suitcases already in the Lincoln's commodious trunk.  Ian and Tom Ridenour told one another that they'd be in touch.

When the rest of the family arrived back in San Rafael, a mailed flyer was there from St. Andrew's, confirming the upcoming Sunday afternoon  at 3 p.m. for a meeting with everyone who would be going to New Orleans.  Alex and John, by then settled in Sausalito, had been eating some of their evening meals with the family in San Rafael, but Cam called them just to make sure they knew the date and time of the meeting so they could come over.

On Sunday morning, Catherine, Mary and Ian were relentless in getting the boys up and showered and dressed in time for church.  Alex and John drove over from Sausalito to attend Mass with the family.  Kevin reluctantly put Casey in the church nursery after they arrived, and when they were seated for Mass, the family occupied an entire pew and a half on the gospel side toward the rear of the nave.

Father Blackburn was the celebrant at Mass, and Father Mason preached that morning on how Christians can and should deal with personal losses in life. 

"Losing the people and the things that we love inevitably hurts," he said.  "We can feel terribly insecure, more insecure than we should ever feel as Christians, unless we reaffirm to ourselves that as God's children, we are never and will never be deserted by him.  God is always taking the negatives in our lives and will make them positives if we persevere in seeking his help through prayer and good works.  The materialities of life are just 'stuff.'  They shouldn't be despised, because God made them.  But they aren't all-important, either.  We need to remember that God's love for us and our life in him are more important than any loss of material things we can sustain.  But we do have an obligation to offer help and comfort to those who have sustained loss in their lives, and that's why the youth group is going to New Orleans."

Taking the losses sustained in New Orleans as a concrete example, Mason spoke at length then about the upcoming trip there with the parish youth, outlining the conditions in south Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  He said that their group's objective, along with the monetary gifts that St. Andrew's had already sent to several of the hardest hit churches in New Orleans, was to offer aid and to comfort the citizens who were fighting so hard to survive.  The priest said that their work there would be in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah:  "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."

Mary Carson seemed especially buoyed up by the homily as she considered the loss of her own home in San Francisco.  She reflected thankfully about Mark's recovery from injury as she watched her boy participate in the Mass.  At the passing of the Peace, she caressed Mark's face in gratitude as she kissed him, realizing yet again that his recovery was much more important than the loss of their apartment.  During the passing of the Peace, Cam kissed Kevin on the cheek, and Kevin responded in kind.  No stones came flying at them, so Cam guessed he hadn't been too out of line in a parish with affirmative values like St. Andrew's.

After Mass, Ian took the whole crew to an IHOP, and the adults and boys ordered themselves buckwheat pancakes and potato pancakes with sour cream, bacon and eggs, and anything else on the menu that looked good to them.

Kevin eyed the boys with a grin as everybody gorged himself.

"I'm going to make you gluttons suffer in the gym for eating all this food," he told them with an evil grin, taking a big swig of orange juice.  "Your abs are gonna cry for mercy when I'm done!"

"What about you, dufus?" William shot back.  "You're as big a pig as the rest of us.  Soo-eee!"

"Shut up, man!  My body's under perfect control," Kevin said.  "You don't see any fat deposits or sagging muscles on me, do ya?"

"You're a fat man waiting to happen, dude," Berto told him, and the family roared.

"Good one!" William said.
  Berto and William high-fived.

Mary had just finished feeding Casey, who snorted right then, and the baby gave a happy little wail and flailed his arms.

"Even Casey liked that one," William observed.

The heckling continued as the comestibles on the tables disappeared and the pace of eating eventually slowed.  They were finally finished, and went out to their cars while Ian paid the bill and Alex left a hefty tip on the table.

They went home, and the boys snoozed on the pool deck in the sun for a while after they had changed into T's and swim suits.  Cam went upstairs and took his turn changing Casey's diaper, and then brought him downstairs and put him in his carrier on the deck in the shade of the pool house.  The adults sat quietly in a circle and talked about the upcoming trip.  After the boys woke up, they played some volleyball in the pool before going upstairs to change into Levi's and polo shirts for the big meeting at church.

There must have been over a hundred kids and adults in the parish house by the time the MacKenzie-Carson contingent arrived a few minutes before the meeting was to start.  Not all the adults in the room were going to News Orleans, but many of the parents wanted to hear about the goals and itinerary for the trip.  The women's guild was serving snacks and soft drinks over to one side of the huge room, and kids, especially the boys, were scoffing down food like they hadn't eaten yet that day.

Carl Emrick used the time to wander through the crowd, scoping out the guys.  There were some good looking boys in the crowd, and Carl was especially taken with one boy who looked something like Cam in height and build.  From circling around, Carl could see the kid had a good chest, a nice ass, and an impressive bulge in the crotch of his 501's.  He also had big feet clad in Doc Martens slipons and a really cute face, framed by curly, shoulder length, bronze colored hair.  The boy was talking animatedly to a bunch of his peers, but didn't seem to have a special girl hanging on his arm or monopolizing his attention.

When Carl had a chance, he introduced himself to the boy as a new parishioner of St. Andrew's who would be going to New Orleans.

"Hey, man," the kid responded, and his blue eyes pierced Carl's soul as they rendered each other a slip and slide handshake, concluding with a dap.  "Andy Helder.  How ya doin'?"

When Andy touched his hand, Carl's legs felt weak.  "I'm good," Carl said.  "I didn't know this many kids would be going on the trip."

"Yeah," the boy laughed, showing a mouthful of even, white teeth.  "It's a chance to get away from home for some fun," he said.  "Not that we don't want to help out down in New Orleans, but most of us are ready to spend some time outta town, if ya know what I mean."

"I hear that!" Carl said.

"You said you're new here at St. Andrew's," Andy said.  "Do you live here in town?"

"Yeah.  My brother Dan and I moved here from Seaside.  We live with our foster mom and dad right now at Dr. MacKenzie's house."

"Cam MacKenzie's mother?"

"Yeah," Carl said.  "Do you know him?"

"Yeah.  I was on the soccer team with him when we graduated from San Rafael High.  He and his buddy Kevin Stoltz were the nucleus of our team," Andy said.  "I spent a ton of time over at the MacKenzies' after some assholes here in town beat Kevin up a while back.  Broke his arm and leg, among other things.  Members of our team used to trade off going over to eat supper at the house and study with him and Cam."

"I heard about that," Carl said.  "That wasn't too long before I moved in."

Andy nodded and studied him.  "You look like a jock yourself.  Lemme guess.  A wrestler?"

"Good guess," Carl admitted with a grin.

"Let's grab some drinks and some chips," Andy suggested, and they walked over to the long tables against the side of the room together and did just that as they continued to talk.

Meanwhile, William Carson was like a bird dog on the hunt, scoping out all the pretty girls in the room, of which there were several.  He introduced himself to a couple of them in a clump of girls, and they all struck up a conversation.  He concentrated on one brunette named Allison Wright, with nice tits.  Unbeknownst to him, she had  graduated with Kevin and Cam.

Kevin watched William's machinations, and poked Cam in the ribs.

"Check out Mackdaddy at work!" Kevin whispered to his partner.  "It's a good thing he's straight.  He's so smooth that if he was gay, he'd probably talk you right into his bed."

Cam laughed.  "Not without you, buddy!" he said in a low voice.  "Yours is the only hand I want touching my ass."

"I'll try to keep that in mind," Kevin said, chuckling.  "If I forget, remind me, willya?"

The young people and adults continued to talk up until Father Blackburn called for order at 3 p.m., thanked everyone for being there, and turned the meeting over to Father Mason.   They all found chairs, and Kevin saw that Carl had managed to grab a seat next to Andy when everybody sat down.  Kevin poked Cam again and nodded over at Carl and his new friend, and Cam smiled approvingly.  Both of them knew and liked Andy.  There had never been even the slightest hint that Andy was gay, and he probably wasn't, but who knew for sure?  Maybe, unlike the two of them, Carl had an improved version of gaydar going for him.

Father Mason turned on a slide projector, and after echoing the Rector's greetings, began by showing huge maps of New Orleans on a big screen.  Red arrows pinpointed the levee failures in the city, with the flooded areas tinted blue.  A big orange arrow indicated the small hotel in the French Quarter which St. Andrew's had rented out in its entirety for two weeks, and a green arrow designated the parish church not far out of the French Quarter that would be their spiritual home during their stay, and where they would take at least some of their meals.  Several buses would pick them up early each morning and take them to their work sites, and then pick them up again in the early afternoon when the temperature would make it too hot to work.  A noon meal would be catered at the work sites.

The priest provided packets with handouts which were chock full of information about the trip.  One laid out in detail the group's schedule for the two weeks they would be in New Orleans, and another broke down the entire youth group into work crews, each with at least one adult crew leader.  Cam noticed that he and Kevin and Mark would be working in Father Mason's crew.  The kind of clothing needed for work in the field was specified on another sheet.

Another handout set forth the rules the kids were expected to follow while in the Crescent City.  That handout said explicitly that none of the kids were ever to walk around the city without at least one companion from their group, and never without the permission of their adult crew leader.  The boys and girls were never to be in one another's rooms at the hotel after their ten o'clock curfew on weekdays, or midnight on weekends.  Failure to obey that last rule was cause for being sent back to San Rafael immediately.  Curfews would be enforced, and there would be bed checks.  There was to be no alcohol or drug use, but the paper didn't say you'd automatically be sent home if you didn't follow that rule.

Mason spoke at length about the kind of work everyone would be expected to do, and the health precautions everyone would need to take.  He said specifically that anyone who suffered from an allergy to mold should see him for special instructions before leaving the meeting.  He told them that at the close of the meeting, everyone would have an opportunity to sign up for a roommate, same sex, two people to a room.

Cam and Kevin grinned at each other.  No problem there.  Yolanda would have Casey in her room.  The two guys knew they would be horny, as usual, and were looking forward to some good sex.

The meeting closed with a prayer and a blessing from Father Mason, and then young people flocked to the sign-up sheets for a roommate.  Carl followed closely behind Andy.

"Are you gonna room with anybody special?" Carl asked him.

"Not really," Andy said.  "You wanna...?"

"Cool," Carl said.  He was seriously pumped, and had butterflies in his stomach.

Mary Carson talked with Father Mason about her allergy to mold, and said that she would receive a shot from her doctor for the problem before leaving town.  After the signup was finally completed, everyone was feeling good about the trip and what they would accomplish in Louisiana as they filed out of the parish hall.  Carl watched Andy Helder as he walked out of the building with his parents just ahead of the MacKenzie-Carson family, and the Helders got into their car.  The kid turned him on.

"I see you met Andy Helder," Cam said to Carl as they slid into the Camaro and then waited in a line of cars to pull out of the parking lot.

"Yep," Carl confirmed.  "He said he was on the San Rafael High soccer team with you guys."

"Yeah," Kevin said.  "He played forward, and was fast on his feet.  Nice guy, and a good athlete."

"Uh, do you know if he's dating anybody special?" Carl asked.

"He wasn't when we graduated," Cam said.  "Not that I knew of, anyway.  I don't know if he's tight with anyone now or not."

"Straight or gay?" Carl asked, not beating around the bush.

"As far as I know, straight," Cam said.  "I never got any vibes from him, did you, Kevin?"

"Nope."  Kevin looked into the back seat at Carl.  "How about you?"

"Maybe.  I'm not sure.  But he's easy to talk to, not standoffish with someone he just met.  In fact, we're gonna room together in New Orleans."

"Way ta go, dude!" Kevin said approvingly.  "Showing some initiative!  I like that."

"Had to," Carl said.  "I knew if I waited on you guys to help me out, my dick would shrivel up and fall off from lack of use."

"Why?" Cam said, grinning.  "Is your right hand broken?"

"Funny man!" Carl said, scowling, but then he broke into laughter.

*  *  *

The days before leaving for New Orleans flew by.   They were marked for the boys and adults alike by Kevin-imposed agony in their makeshift gym so that everyone would be prepared for long workdays in the heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast.  Endurance would be the name of the game.  Kevin made everybody work hard, even Catherine and Mary.  He was merciless with the boys.

After an early breakfast on the Saturday morning of their departure, two stretch limos arranged for by Ian pulled into Catherine's driveway at 7 a.m.  The family loaded their baggage and themselves into the cars for the trip to San Francisco International airport.  Alice and Samantha were disconsolate at being left behind, but Rosa said she'd take good care of them.

A few of the boys fell back to sleep as they rode along.  They drove to a private hangar at the airport, where they would be catching a charter for New Orleans.  Father Mason and the other planners for this trip had decided a charter would be better than going commercial because most flights to New Orleans, particularly from the west, included a stop and change of planes in Houston.  That would have been a hassle with this large a group.

Screening for charter flight was minimal, although the Transportation department employees who were examining the carry on luggage pulled out the bottles of formula for Casey that Kevin was carrying, and examined them.  Eventually they were satisfied that Kevin was not trying to blow up the plane.  The group boarded what proved to be a turboprop with an engine on each wing and one in the tail.  It was an older plane, but appeared to have been well maintained.

They were in the air by 10:00 that morning, bound for New Orleans.  The girls in the group almost immediately started singing some stupid camp songs while most of the boys remained disdainfully silent.  The singing stopped when "Dumb and Dumber" starting showing on the video screens on the back of each seat.  It wasn't a great movie, but watchable.  Most of the kids had seen it before, but gave it their attention again.

Catherine had purchased his own seat on the plane for Casey, who was strapped in his carrier to the back side of the middle seat in front of Cam and Kevin.  The child was sound asleep with a pacifier in his mouth and a little knitted cap on his head.  Kevin snagged two blankets and pillows from the overhead compartment, and moved over to sit next to Cam, with Casey suspended in the carrier right in front of him.  Unfolding the blankets, he covered Cam's and his own laps.  Undercover, he put a hand in Cam's crotch, and gently flexed his fingers.  Cam grinned and placed one of his own hands over Kevin's.  Heads together on their pillows, the two of them promptly fell asleep.

The group arrived in New Orleans in mid-afternoon.  After disembarking, they claimed their luggage at the foot of a conveyer, and
several buses were waiting for them in front of the charter hanger.   Everyone immediately noticed the change in temperature and humidity from the San Francisco area.  It was hot and humid, a foretaste of what they would experience during their stay.  Cam secured his bag over one shoulder and carried Casey in his carrier, the little boy's eyes wide open and bright.

The buses wound their way out of the airport and on to Interstate 10 going east.  The traffic was light compared to the San Francisco area, and thirty minutes later they were at their hotel in the French Quarter.  The hotel staff and Father Mason were well organized, and checking in the group only took 15 minutes.  Kevin's and Cam's room was nice, on the third floor
with a flat screen TV and a work table for their laptops.  The room had two double beds, of which only one would be needed in their case.  French doors led to a balcony with two lawn chairs, facing a back courtyard complete with a spraying fountain and vegetation.  Carl and Andy Helder were next door to Cam and Kevin on one side, and Yolanda Vega's room was on the other side.  The latter was handy because she would be caring for Casey a lot of the time.

Cam and Kevin lay down on one of the beds, intertwined for a nap before supper.  When they woke up, they changed into cargo shorts and T's and went downstairs.  The evening meal was served in the hotel's dining room, cafeteria style.  There wasn't much food left when that crowd finished eating.  They started off with a delicious chicken and sausage gumbo--the real thing, New Orleans style--followed by a fish called drum, seared and served in butter sauce and with steamed vegetables.  The dessert was Crème Brûlée.  Kevin and Cam had two desserts each, and split a third.

Cam and Kevin and Carl asked Father Mason for permission to walk around the French Quarter, and he gave permission with a reminder to be back no later than midnight so they could get up in time to make the 10:30 Mass the next day.

"Where's Andy?" Kevin asked Carl.

"I don't know," Carl said.  "He kinda disappeared after supper.  It's just as well.  He might not appreciate where we could end up."

The two guys had finally succumbed to Carl's unrelenting pressure to experience a little gay night life, and without volunteering any information about where they were going to anyone, they walked over to Bourbon Street.   They started walking down Bourbon a block off Canal Street, strolling through crowds of people as they walked deeper into the Quarter.

Using their fake ID's, the bars they walked into first were definitely hetero.  One of the places had female dancers on the stage in various degrees of undress, and the girls weren't bad looking.  The guys on the door of these establishments hardly gave the boys' fake California driver's licenses a second look.

The guys limited themselves to only one beer per establishment as they worked their way down Bourbon Street until, after an hour, they finally hit a gay bar.  They showed their ID's at the door and sat at a table.  A good looking young guy waited on them, and pushed a local beer on draft named Abita, which he said was made on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain.  The boys agreed, and soon had bottles in their hands.  The three of them drew lots of attention from the clientele, mostly in their mid to late twenties.

When the waiter came back, Kevin asked if there were any gay bars with dancers within walking distance.  There were, and he got directions to the nearest one, which was further down Bourbon Street a few blocks.  They finished their beers and took off.

When the boys reached their destination, a burly guy at the door wearing a cowboy hat, a leather vest over a bare, hairy chest, and 501's with cowboy boots, checked their ID's.  His smirk told them he knew that their ID's were probably fake, but he passed them through without a word.

The place was crowded.  There were a lot of men in their early twenties who were out for a good time standing three deep at the circular bar, which featured a sinewy blond, long haired young guy, clad in a black jock strap and a pierced eyebrow and nothing else, dancing on a raised platform right in the middle of the bar. 
The kid's jock had money sticking out the sides, placed there by appreciative customers as he gyrated.  A live band was playing over in one corner, and the featured dancer at the bar was grinding to their beat.  A small dance floor for customers fronted the bandstand.

Finding the only vacant table, the three boys perched on stools there and ordered a pitcher of Abita beer from a cute waiter who, like them, looked younger than most.

"I'm in love," Carl said as he watched the young waiter's ass as he retreated to the bar to get their beer.

The band was good, and Cam and Kevin eventually danced together on the dance floor to one song, and a little later, Carl danced with both of them.  The three boys were definitely digging the opportunity to be in a place where everybody was gay.  If you liked the look of somebody, there was no need to wonder about the guy's orientation.

Before long, a second dancer, also in a black jock, joined the first dancer on the platform in the middle of the circular bar.  This second guy, with black hair in a crew cut and no visible body hair, was really built, with a tattoo of a guy on a motorcycle at the top of his left arm and a diamond stud in his right ear.  The two dancers ran their hands over one another as they danced, exciting the crowd around the bar and increasing the tips placed in their jocks.

"That's pretty hot," Cam whispered into Kevin's ear after they had watched for a while.

"Hey, guys, I'm gonna go take a leak and look around," Carl told Cam and Kevin after they had put a dent in the pitcher of beer.
  Carl had a little buzz going for him.

"All right," Kevin said, speaking into the boy's ear.  "Just watch yourself!  Be a little cautious, because we don't know anybody here or what the fuck's going on."

Carl nodded, slipped off his stool and started walking toward the back of the place, followed by many admiring eyes in the crowd.  A handsome, muscular guy with long, blond hair, standing a head taller than Carl, began to follow the boy as he checked out the bar area and the band.  When Carl ordered a bottle of beer at the bar, the husky young man, wearing a silver chain with big links around his neck, an embroidered cowboy shirt, and Levi's stood beside him and wanted to pay for his beer.  Carl mistakenly let him, and they tried to talk over the band.

The young man extended his hand.  "Duke," he said, shaking with Carl, holding on to Carl's hand too long.  "I haven't seen you here before."

"First time," Carl admitted.

"You live here in town?" Duke asked.

Carl shook his head.  "No, in California, north of San Francisco."  Feeling a really strong, predatory vibe from this guy, and remembering Kevin's words, he stepped back from the man.

"Excuse me, I gotta hit the john."

Carl started to walk away, but the man followed right behind him.  Carl found the bathroom and went in.  The place was dimly lighted, stank of urine and disinfectant, and seemed more like a corridor with people constantly moving through it than just a restroom.  He sidled up to a urinal, setting down his beer on it as he opened his fly and started to pee.  Carl could feel the heat of the Duke's body as the guy stood right behind him.

"You need some help with that?" the man whispered in Carl's ear as the boy started to relieve himself.  The guy's breath was warm and smelled of whiskey.

"Fuck, no!" Carl said loudly so he could be heard over a speaker playing the band music from the main room.

The forceful response apparently gave the guy pause, because he moved back a step.  When Carl was finished at the urinal, he buttoned up and brushed by the man, taking his beer with him, and went to a sink to wash his hands.  Drying his hands and ignoring Duke, who was still hovering, he noticed that many men seemed to be walking toward the end of the bathroom, where there was a swinging door with an exit sign over it.  He killed his beer and discarded the bottle, and leaving Duke behind, Carl walked to the mystery door and went into another sizable room.  Men in twosomes and an occasional threesome were going into booths which lined the walls, each with a door that would close and lock.

Carl sensed someone behind him, and started to look around when Duke's arms went around him and held him from the back.  He could feel Duke's swollen crotch cozy up to his ass.

"Let's get a booth," Duke said.

"Get the fuck off me," Carl said, struggling a little to get away without being too violent.

"I don't like your attitude," Duke said, trying to muscle Carl toward an empty booth.  "I bought you a beer!"  A sharp elbow from Carl into the man's gut freed him, and Carl turned angrily to face the annoying asshole.

"Get the fuck away from me," Carl demanded.  Guys were starting to stop and look at them.

Duke reached out and slapped Carl's face, openhanded, and grabbed Carl and clasped him to himself while the boy was still stunned.  Carl spun away, and fell into the arms of someone who was passing by.  The newcomer and Carl stared at one another in disbelief.

It was Andy Helder.

©2007 Don Hanratty

My thanks to
Dan, Craig K and Mike G for their excellent proofreading of this chapter.