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


A surprised Andy Helder grasped Carl's arm and swung the boy around.  Both of them were now facing Carl's persistent, unwanted suitor.  Curious, the crowd eddied around them in the bar's "hook up" room behind the men's room as the man named Duke stared balefully at his prey.  Duke was not used to being resisted.  Usually his good looks, coupled with his overbearing physical approach to securing partners for sex, sufficed.  He wasn't in the habit of having to cruise anyone for long before hitting pay dirt.

Who the fuck does this kid think he is? Duke asked himself.  He's hot, but still...  The man decided that intimidation, as usual, was the appropriate course of action, and putting his hand in a pocket, pulled a knife. Pushing a button on the handle with his thumb, a four inch blade shot out and locked in place with a click.

Andy Helder's eyes narrowed.  He wasn't cowed.  Pushing Carl back with his arm, he made a quick, smooth, lateral sweep with his right leg and kicked the knife out of the Duke's hand before the man could even react to the threat.  The knife arced through the air and then skittered across the floor, coming to rest against a wall.

"That wasn't nice, faggot!" Duke told Andy, stepping toward the two boys menacingly.  Carl, over his shock now about what was going down, stepped forward himself and punched their aggressor in the nose with a closed fist as hard as he could.  The man's nose flattened with a sickening crunch.  Blood flew everywhere, splattering on Carl's T-shirt, and Duke went down like a brick onto the dirty floor.  Hands over his face, groaning, he didn't even try to get up.

An instant later, Andy pulled Carl through the gaping crowd and the swinging door back into the bathroom, and then out to the bar proper.  They made their way quickly across the crowded dance floor, and found Cam and Kevin still sitting at their table.

"Hey," Cam said in surprise when the two boys reached the table.  He stared at Andy and the blood spatter on Carl's T-shirt.  "What...?"

"We have to go," Andy said.  "Right now!  There was trouble in the restroom."

"Well, shit!!" Kevin said, throwing back the rest of his glass of beer as he took a last look at the two gyrating dancers in the middle of the bar.  "I was just gettin' to like this place."  He grinned at Carl.  "I can't leave you on your own for a minute, can I?"  His gaze swung over to Andy.  "I didn't expect to see you here, dude!"

"I know," Andy said.  "Let's go."

Cam and Kevin slid off their stools, and the four boys made their way swiftly through the crowd toward the front door.  When they hit the sidewalk, they trotted along Bourbon Street for a block.  Looking back, they saw a N.O.P.D. squad car, all lighted up, without siren, pull up to the bar.  Two officers got out and went inside.

Reaching an intersection, the four boys turned toward the River and trotted another block before making a turn on to Royal Street and heading back toward their hotel.  Looking around, they didn't see anyone coming after them, and slowed to a fast walk.

Cam looked over at Andy as they walked along.

"This is a shock," he told the boy.  "I never had a fucking clue you were one of us."

The kid chuckled ruefully.  "I guess we're all pretty good at hiding who we are, huh?"

"Yeah," Cam nodded.  "Just what happened in the bathroom, anyway?"

"Some guy had the hots for Carl, and didn't want to take 'no' for an answer," Andy said.  "He pulled a knife on 'im."

Andy put his hand on the back of Carl's neck and left it there for a moment as they walked.

"The karate king here kicked the guy's knife right out of his hand!" Carl said.

"And then Carl rearranged the asshole's nose," Andy added.  "Dude, that was a good punch you threw there!" he told Carl, turning his head to look at the boy.

Carl smiled, but didn't respond.  The sidewalk narrowed at that point, and Carl and Andy moved ahead of Kevin and Cam.

"I knew your cute little ass would get us all in trouble," Kevin said, grinning as he looked at Carl's butt.

"Uh huh," Carl mumbled, rubbing vainly at the blood spatter on the front of his shirt.  "Shit!  How am I gonna get upstairs to our room in this shirt?  If Father Jim sees it or gets wind there was a problem tonight, our nights out on the town will be a thing of the past."

"When we get back to the hotel, I can run up and get you a clean shirt," Andy suggested.  "You can wait in the parking lot until I get back."

"No problem there.  Carl's good at skulking," Kevin kidded.  He stared at Andy's back.  Good, broad shoulders on the kid.  And also a nice butt in those 501's.

They arrived back at the hotel fifteen minutes later, and didn't see anyone from their group in the lobby.  Carl decided to chance going directly to his and Andy's room, and the four of them got on an elevator.

"Let's talk," Cam suggested to Carl and Andy as the elevator climbed smoothly to the third floor.  "I'll get us get some soft drinks.  Let's get together in your room in ten minutes."

"All right," Andy said, and he and Carl went into their room right away when they reached it.  Cam went down the hall to get some sodas while Kevin sat on the bed in his and Cam's room, debating whether to knock on Yolanda's door so he could take Casey for a while.  Probably too late, Kevin told himself.  It was 11:30, and he was afraid Yolanda might have gone to sleep, and decided not to chance it.  He went into the bathroom to take a leak, and then went back and sat on the bed.

When Cam came back with the sodas, he went in and sat down next to his partner.

"You didn't get Casey?" he asked.

"Naw.  Yolanda's probably asleep."

"Oh," Cam said, putting down the four cans of soda on the bedside table.

"I've always liked Andy," Kevin said, unsolicited, changing the subject.  He put an arm around Cam's neck.  "I hope he and Carl get to know each other on this trip."

"Well, duh!" Cam said, chuckling at his partner.  "They're rooming together, and now they know they're both gay.  What're the odds they'll find something to do while they're in that room at night?"

Kevin smiled and gently pushed Cam back on the bed.

"You're such a cute little wiseass, sometimes I can't stand it!"  Kevin moved his face over Cam's and hovered there for a minute before lowering his head and giving him a soft, prolonged kiss.

"Love ya, buddy," Cam said when they broke the kiss. 
"Can't help it," he added, looking deep into those brown eyes.  He reached up and put his big hands at the sides of Kevin's head and caressed his face with his thumbs. 

"We better go next door if we're going," Kevin finally said.  He was half hard just from looking at his boyfriend and being touched by him.

Cam sighed, and they stood up, both of them rearranging their equipment so they didn't betray how turned on they were.  Grabbing the soft drinks, they went next door and knocked.

"Yeah?" they heard Andy ask quietly.

"New Orleans Police," Cam said in his deep voice.  "Open up."

Andy swung the door open, and the three of them stood there looking at each other for a moment.

"Come on in," Andy said, moving out of the way.

Carl had already changed his bloodied shirt, and was sitting on the bed farthest from the door.

"I'm glad you guys are all right," Cam said as he and Kevin went in and sat down in two easy chairs.  Andy walked over and sat beside Carl on the bed.

"Yeah," Carl said.  "No wonder Father Jim doesn't want anybody walking around alone at night."

"Rules, smules," Cam said.  "Kevin never lets anything keep him from his beer, no matter what.  He's a thirsty boy."

Kevin looked over at his partner suspiciously.

"Yeah," Cam continued.  "Rain, snow, sleet, high wind, or dark of night, nothing deters Kevin when it comes to beer.  I remember one time he went into a bar, looked around, and said to the bartender, 'Gimme a beer before the problems start.'  The bartender shrugged and gave him a beer.  Kevin sat there drinking, and about ten minutes later, he said to the bartender, 'Gimme another beer before the problems start.'

"This went on for a hour, and Kevin had polished off five beers by then.  One more time, he said, 'Gimme a beer before the problems start.'

"By now the bartender was getting weary of this act, so he looked around the bar to see if there was any trouble brewing.  He didn't see any, so he said to Kevin, 'Are you gonna pay for any of these beers?'

"Kevin looked at him and said, 'Ah, now the problems start.'"

They all laughed, even Kevin.
"You little shit!" Kevin told Cam.  "You're gonna pay for that!"

"Don't I always?" Cam said.

They all took a drink of their soda, and Carl looked at Andy.  "Are you a karate expert?"

"I wouldn't say that, but I've been at it for about six years.  I started when I was a little guy," Andy said.

"I could tell," Carl said, thinking how easily the boy had disarmed Duke.

"Andy, I nearly crapped my drawers when I saw you walk up to us in the bar with Carl," Kevin said.  "After all the years you and Cam and I played sports together, I never had a clue you were gay."

"Same here," Cam said.  "How long have you known?"

"Since I was in eighth grade, I guess," Andy said.  "I knew I really liked looking at guys even back then, but I was pretty good at  pushing my thoughts away until I was a sophomore.  That's when my fantasies about guys really took hold.  I faked people out by dating a lot of girls, but I knew the truth about myself and never got serious with any of them."

"You out to anyone?" Cam asked him.

"Nope," Andy said.  "Except now to you three."  He paused.  "It feels pretty good, to tell you the truth."  He looked over at Cam and Kevin.  "What about you guys?"

"We're out to the family, and so is Carl. " Kevin said.  "And to Father Jim.  That's it."

"Father Jim?" Andy said in surprise.  "How'd that happen?"

"He was over for dinner at our house one night, and he used an upstairs bathroom before we ate," Kevin said.  He looked at Cam and grinned.  "Mr. Libido and I thought we were alone up there, and were standing in the hall kissing, and Father saw us.  He apologized to us for catching us, if you can believe that, and nothing more has been said to us since then. He doesn't pretend he doesn't know about us or anything, though."

"Does he know about you?" Andy asked Carl.

"Yes," Carl said.  "I went over and talked to him about being gay during the time I was getting some therapy for some things that happened to me.  His attitude was such a relief to me after hearing
how evil homosexuality is from my priests in the Catholic church all those years when I was growing up.  I guess that's one of the reasons our whole family is attending the Episcopal church now.  I'm not too religious, but I have to admit it was great to know that God and the Church don't hate me for what I am.  And the family has been so loving and accepting..."  He looked at Andy.  "If you ever need to talk to anyone about who and what you are, I can recommend Father Jim.  Anything you say to him is under the seal of the confessional, he says.  He's supportive, and he can back up what the Episcopal church says about being able to be gay and be Christian at the same time.  You can't go wrong with him."

Andy looked at Cam and Kevin.  "How did you all come out to your parents?"

"I consider Cam's mom and dad to be my own.  Along with Ian and Mary," Kevin said, and then frowned.  "You probably saw on TV that my real dad tried to kidnap my son Casey."

"Yes, I did."

"So my real dad is more or less dead to me, and he doesn't know I'm gay," Kevin said.  "That's a good thing.  Anyway, back to your question."  Kevin laughed.  "Catherine confronted Cam and me at supper one night after she noticed that only one of our beds was being slept in every night."

"Oh.  How'd she take it?" Andy asked.

"She cried a little," Cam chimed in.  "More out of worry about the crap that gays sometimes have to take in life than in disappointment.  She's amazing.  And she's tough.  We have to love her for that, even when she's on our case about something or other."

"What about your dad?" Andy asked  Cam.  "He's pretty famous."

"He lives in L.A., and he knows," Cam said.  "Uh, he's gay, and lives with his partner, John Kelley, in Malibu.  They're good together.  Kevin and I and Carl are going to live in their house when we go to school at U.C.L.A. this fall."

"I see," Andy said.  "I didn't know your dad's gay."

"You must be the only one on the planet who doesn't," Cam said, smiling.  "He's totally out."

"Your mom and dad are divorced?" Andy asked.

"Yep," Cam said.

"And they're still friendly?" Andy asked.

"Yes, they are.  Catherine even likes Alex's partner," Kevin said.

"That's awesome," Andy said.

"Do you think you'll ever come out to your parents?" Carl asked Andy.

Andy sighed.  "I don't know.  I don't think they'd hate me or anything, or throw me out.  That's not their style.  I've never in my life, ever, heard a prejudiced word about anybody come out of their mouths.  I guess they're the typical Marin County liberals--live and let live.  I don't know whether my brothers would accept me as gay or not."

"You have two brothers, right?" Cam asked.

"Yeah.  One a year older than me, at Berkeley, and one a year younger.  Roger, the younger one, is with our group here in New Orleans.  He's staying down on the second floor, I think."

The four boys continued to talk for another ten minutes, when a knock sounded on the door.  Carl got up and went over to answer it.  It was Father Jim, doing a bed check on his crew.  Carl hid his right hand, now swollen from hitting Duke, behind the door.

"Hey, Carl," the priest said.  "Hi, guys," he added, looking in at the other three boys.  "Oh, good, Cam and Kevin.  I was wondering where you guys were," he said.  "I just tried your room.  Anyway, it's time for you all to hit the bed.  You'll get an automatic wakeup call from the front desk at 8 o'clock.  We have to be ready for church and on the bus by 10 a.m.  Mass is at 10:30.  You can get a glass of juice or something in the dining room before we go, and we'll have a short meeting there before we head out.  They're serving us a big breakfast at church after Mass."

"Thanks, Father," Kevin said, yawning and stretching.  "We'll be ready."

"OK, boys.  See you tomorrow."

"Father, are we going to work out a schedule for running while we're down here?" Cam asked.

"Let's talk about it tomorrow," Father Jim suggested.

"Cool," Cam said.


Carl closed the door and went back and sat down.  The four boys talked for a few minutes more, and then Cam yawned himself and suggested they get to bed.

"Thanks, guys," Andy said as he stood up.  His face turned a little red.  "You don't know what a relief it is for me to be able to talk to you about who I really am.  You know."

"Yeah, we do know, buddy," Cam said.  He walked over to Andy and gave him a hug, rubbing the boy's back with one hand, and then kissing him on the cheek.  Kevin followed his example.

"'Night, guys," Kevin said when he reached the door, he swung around.  "I'm glad you two weren't hurt at the bar."

"You mean when the problems started?" Andy asked.

"Yeah," Kevin laughed.  "Right then."

He and Cam shut the door behind them and went back to their own room.

Carl and Andy opened their suitcases on the racks provided, and took out their toothbrushes and toothpaste.  They glanced at each other in their boxers after they each pulled off their T-shirts, sneakers and Levi's.  They were both built, and liked what they saw.

"Go ahead, I can wait," Carl said, nodding toward the bathroom and feeling a little awkward.

"I'm not shy.  We can share," Andy responded.

They went into their bathroom and shared the sink.  When they were finished brushing, Andy unwrapped two glasses, taking off the cardboard covers and discarding them in the trash.  He handed a glass to Carl, and they rinsed their mouths, spitting the water into the sink.

"Thanks," Carl said.

Andy nodded, and then went over to the toilet, snaked out his dick, and took a leak.  What the kid was packing was reflected as Carl watched him in the mirror.  Nice tool, the boy thought.  Big.  Nicely shaped, with a big mushroom head on it  When Andy was finished, he shook off, put his dick away, and went back to the bedroom.  Carl took his turn at the toilet, flushed, and joined his roommate.

Andy had pulled back the covers on one of the beds, and was sitting on the edge when Carl came in.  He watched Carl as he pulled down the bedspread and covers on the other bed and lay down.

"We don't have to do anything, Carl," Andy said.  "But...will you sleep in my bed with me?"

Carl smiled, happy the boy had put into words what he'd been wanting to suggest.  He threw back the covers and went over to Andy's bed as the latter climbed in and scooted over to make room.  They put their heads on their pillows and turned on their sides toward each other.

"I've never been in bed with anyone before," Andy said into the silence as they studied one another's face.  He hesitated, and then said, "I've been alone with what I am for a long time." 

I felt that way once, Carl thought to himself.  His heart was hammering in his chest as he pulled his hand out from under the covers and reached over to brush Andy's long, bronze-colored hair back from his face.  He used his injured hand, the knuckles swollen from hitting Duke back at the bar.  Andy took hold of Carl's wrist and examined the boy's hand.

"Let me get some ice for this," Andy suggested.

"I can do it."

"I want to," Andy said.  He got out of bed and pulled on his pants, T-shirt and sneakers.  Grabbing the ice bucket and leaving their room door slightly ajar, he went down the hall to an ice machine and filled the bucket up.  Once back in the room, he wrapped some of the ice in a hand towel and took it to Carl.

"Thanks, man," Carl said, moved by this small, unsolicited service.  He wrapped the towel around his hand and immediately felt the coolness.  It felt good.

Andy stripped down to his boxers again, and climbed back into the bed.  They looked at each other.

"I knew I liked you the minute I saw you at St. Andrew's," Carl told the boy quietly.

A little smile curled at the corners of Andy's mouth.  "Why is that?"

"Because you're so good looking," Carl said.  "I thought maybe at first that it was just physical.  That's the way it is sometimes.  But I'm beginning to find out there's more to you than that, and I'm glad."

"Don't jump to conclusions," Andy responded.  "I have my problems."

Carl shrugged, looking into Andy's blue eyes.  "Don't we all, dude," he said.  "Don't we all."

Andy yawned, his breath smelling like tooth paste as it wafted into Carl's face.  He reached up and turned off the wall-mounted bedside light, and then he put his arms around Carl and pulled him closer to his own body.  That's where they left things, though.  Soon they were both asleep, dead tired from the trip and from the stress of their night out, breathing quietly as the air conditioning hummed away.

At about 2 a.m., Carl woke up with Andy's hand on his dick.  They kissed for a while, then shucked off their boxers, and jacked each other off onto their underwear.  Happy and now perfectly relaxed, they held one another close as they fell back to sleep.

*  *  *

On the other side of the wall, things were a little more lively.  After Cam and Kevin brushed their teeth, Cam climbed into the bed they were going to use while Kevin took a shower.  Still a little buzzed from the beer, Cam lay there thinking about Carl and Andy, remembering the excitement he had felt back when he and Kevin first committed themselves to each other and they had initially given that commitment its physical expression.  He smiled, realizing that the excitement of that first encounter had never gone away completely.  He hoped it never would.

Kevin finished his shower, toweled off, and came to bed stark naked and still damp.  Cam looked up at his partner's groin as the boy moved toward the bed, Kevin's long, fat dick sprouting in all its glory out of a forest of black public hair, his cock hanging down low over his balls.  Cam could feel his own groin tighten.  He moved up a little in the bed.

"Sit on my chest," he instructed Kevin.

Kevin smiled and complied.  His dick began to harden as he contemplated what was going to happen.  The head of Kevin's cock hovered at Cam's mouth as the latter's tongue extended and licked the end of it, traveling in a circle.

"Yeah!" Kevin said.

Using one hand to guide Kevin's cock, Cam used the other to snake around behind Kevin's butt.  He rubbed the boy's perineum between his balls and anus, and Kevin was quickly at full mast as Cam then repeatedly licked the head of the rampant dick bouncing in front of him.  Pulling back on the head of Kevin's dick with thumb and forefinger, he opened the slit and gently probed it with his tongue before accepting the entire head inside his mouth.  Kevin bent forward to bring his dick down to a better angle, his face a mask of pleasure.  Cam reached up to Kevin's chest and rolled and tweaked first one nipple and then the other.

Cam adjusted the pillow to make his head more horizontal, and Kevin began thrusting slowly, very slowly, in and out of his lover's mouth.  It wasn't long before Cam detected the sweet taste of pre-cum on his tongue.  Taking hold of Kevin's thighs, he slowed down the boy's movement as much as he could.  He wanted to keep Kevin on the edge for as long as possible.  Both boys began to perspire despite the air conditioning as Kevin gradually tried to quicken and lengthen his strokes.

"Oh, man!" Kevin said, his eyes closed as he worked, his desire to cum escalating despite Cam's best efforts to slow the process down.

The pre-cum was still flowing when Kevin eventually reached the point of no return, and began blasting semen into Cam's waiting mouth.  Some was fired down Cam's throat and some stayed on the boy's tongue--viscous, thick, pure essence of Kevin.  It was what Cam had wanted right then, and Kevin had never disappointed him.  When the last of the many eruptions was over, Kevin groaned, froze, and then gradually lay forward on Cam in a state of neural collapse.  Cam smelled Kevin's sweat, and rubbed his nose across the boy's perspiring abs.

"Ohhhh, Lord," Kevin exhaled softly, not moving.

After a few minutes, Cam rolled his partner off of him and over next to him on the bed.  He pulled the sheet over them both, and held Kevin close to his body.

"Now you're pregnant," Kevin croaked groggily.

"You think?" Cam responded, smiling.

"Do you want me to do you?" Kevin asked, totally relaxed in Cam's arms.

"Maybe in the morning," Cam said.  "In the shower."

"You sure?"  Kevin opened one eye and looked over at that face he loved.  He moved closer and soul kissed his boy, tasting his own seed as he did so.

"I'm sure," Cam said when they disengaged.

Putting his hand on Cam's chest, the last thing Kevin remembered was feeling Cam's heartbeat.  Persistent. 
Steady.  Strong.  A minute later, they were both asleep.

The two boys awakened when the phone rang the next morning at 8 a.m., giving them their wakeup call. 

Untangling himself from his partner and the bedclothes, Cam got out of bed first and went into the bathroom.  After relieving himself, he turned on the shower, climbing in after the water was warm.  He heard the toilet flush again, but fortunately it had no effect on the temperature of the shower water.  He was facing the spray when he heard the shower curtain slide back, and Kevin stepped in behind him.  He turned Cam around, and held him as the water cascaded down over them both.

Kevin's love for his partner swept over him anew, and he began kissing Cam and gently nuzzling his neck.

"You don't have a clue..." Kevin started to say.

"About what?"

"How much I love you.  And how glad I am that you love me.  And Casey."  He put his forehead against Cam's, and they stood there looking into one another's eyes.

"I do know," Cam contradicted him softly.

Kevin turned Cam around again and stood behind him, still nuzzling his neck, holding and caressing his body with one hand, fondling Cam's package with the other until the boy was hard.  Using some soap as lubricant, he stroked him at gradually increasing speed until Cam finally ejaculated on to the shower tile.  He shot five times, a copious load, and then totally relaxed, leaning back into Kevin's body. After several minutes, Cam came back to life, standing again on his own, and Kevin deflected the stream of water to wash off the wall.  Then Kevin soaped up his partner, washing him head to toe. 

Life is so good
, Cam thought to himself, reveling in his lover's touch.  Then he turned around and washed Kevin, returning the favor.

Their ablutions completed, the boys toweled one another off and dressed in dark slacks and short sleeved white shirts to go to church.

"You look butch with that five o'clock shadow!" Cam teased his unshaven partner before they were ready to leave their room.  "It's a good thing I'm so submissive."

Kevin laughed.  "You?  Submissive?  When was that?  I must have missed it.  Of course, there was that split second two weeks ago when you let me have my way with you..."

"Humph," Cam said.  "A split second is all it takes to get you off.  Not much staying power."

"You ungrateful little fuck!" Kevin said, laughing.

Kevin telephoned Yolanda next door to see if he and Cam could pick Casey up and take him downstairs to the dining room so they could spend some time with him.  Yolanda said the baby was ready, and Kevin went next door and got him and brought him back to their room.  Casey was all bright eyed and looked happy, and Cam wanted to hold him, but Kevin made him wait his turn.  After checking to see that they had their wallets and their keycards for the room, the two boys, followed by Yolanda, took their baby downstairs along with a bottle of mother's milk that Yolanda had taken out of the little refrigerator in her room.  In the dining room, Cam and Kevin were immediately surrounded by the boys in the family and then by a crowd of St. Andrew's guys and girls who wanted to see and talk to the infant before he was fed. 

Looking happy, William Carson was with the girl he'd been bird-dogging back at the St. Andrew's parish meeting in San Rafael as the crowd surrounded Casey.  Angela.  Angela something was her name, Cam thought to himself.

Cam went to get some orange juice for Kevin and himself, and ran into Carl Emrick and Andy Helder in the line.  They looked happy and relaxed, too.  Very happy and very relaxed, as a matter of fact.  The two boys had eyes only for each other, eyes that for the moment, at least, said clearly, "I love you."  When the two of them got their juice, they went over and sat with Cam and Kevin and Casey.  Kids kept coming by the table and talking to Casey and making a fuss over him.  The little guy was popular.

A few minutes later, Father Jim stood on a chair and asked for the crowd's attention.

"Thanks for being so prompt this morning," the priest told the group.  "In a few minutes we'll get on the buses to go to Mass.  The parish church we're going to be associated with during our stay is dedicated to St. Thomas.  It's a small church, not all that far from the French Quarter.  In many ways it's an unusual church because its membership is so diverse.  I'm told that it's a real reflection of our society:  the people there are rich and poor, black and white and Latino, young and old, gay and straight.  It was founded several years before 1850 during the time of Leonidas Polk, who was a bishop of the Episcopal church and later a Confederate general.  As you might expect, it has had its ups and downs over the years.

"St. Thomas's church building suffered no damage at all from Hurricane Katrina, and the parish hall incurred only minor wind damage.  They were lucky.  They are situated on high ground, so that when the levees collapsed and the city was flooded, their buildings were untouched.

"I hope you'll use the opportunity this morning, when we arrive, to spread out and introduce yourselves to as many people as possible.  You'll soon get a sense of this, but the people of New Orleans are very grateful to have us down here as volunteers to help gut houses and speed the recovery process.  The federal and state programs to provide money for rebuilding are doling out funds at an extremely slow pace, so what we are going to do will really be appreciated.

"As I told you last night, St. Thomas's is hosting breakfast for us after Mass.  Enjoy that, and when you introduce yourselves, please let the people know we're all happy to be down here to help out the community.

"Are there any questions?"  The priest waited, but heard nothing.  "All right, let's board the buses.  Please remember to offer our thanks to God during the Mass for this opportunity to be of service."

Cam ran interference for Yolanda and Kevin, who was carrying Casey, and everyone streamed out of the hotel and boarded one of the three buses in the parking lot.  Fifteen minutes later they were pulling into a spacious parking lot, and the St. Andrew's parishioners streamed into the front door of St. Thomas.  The church was small, seating only about 150 people, so extra chairs were set up in the back to help accommodate the additional people expected.  The Church calendar was a few weeks into the Sundays after the feast of Pentecost.

The visiting St. Andrew's parishioners found places to sit, and Father Jim left them to go to the priests' sacristy to vest.  He was to be the deacon of the Mass, and would be preaching.

Having been fed back at the hotel, Casey's eyes were closed in sleep as he was passed from family member to family member as each grew physically tired from holding him.

The procession began with the opening hymn, the thurifer leading the way as the thurible released the sweet smell of incense while the three sacred ministers and their altar servers moved forward.  Heads in the congregation bowed as the processional cross was carried forward.  Kevin smiled.  Episcopalians were so well mannered in church, he thought to himself.

Once in the sanctuary, the celebrant took the thurible and circled the altar, censing it, flanked by the deacon and subdeacon, and then the Mass was underway.  After the gospel was sung down in the midst of the congregation by Father Jim, he went to the pulpit.  Invoking the Trinity, he waited until one could hear a pin drop, and began his homily.  He preached on the Lukan account of Jesus' healing the centurion's slave.  As Cam reflected on his words later, the essence of his message was that Christians must understand that they are not in the world to serve themselves, but to serve God and to serve others, just as their Lord did during his days on earth and since then.  No boundaries to service, no barriers.

"Brothers and Sisters of St. Thomas's," the priest said, "I invite you to look upon us who have come to visit you in a time of great trouble for your city.  We share your faith, and we come to share your sufferings, just as those who have been here before us and will come here after us have done and will do.  We offer our love, our prayers, and our modest service to New Orleans as healers and builders.  May our work carve out for your city one of the many small steps forward to make it whole after your great tragedy from Hurricane Katrina.  We are grateful for the opportunity to join you as healers and reconcilers in what is sometimes a sad, beleaguered and contentious world."

Even hardheaded Kevin was moved by the message, and squeezed Cam's hand as the congregation stood after the homily to sing the Nicene Creed.  The rest of the Mass went smoothly as the congregation were communicated, and everyone flocked into the parish hall for breakfast.  The crowd from St. Andrew's followed instructions, and mingled with the people of St. Thomas's until the servers began bringing huge platters of eggs, bacon, toast and various jellies, and orange juice and coffee out to the crowd, who quickly found seats after the rector offered thanks.

The women of St. Thomas continued to bring food out of the kitchen until even the most voracious of the boys was sated.  At that point, Father Jim held a short meeting with those who were interested in running in the morning during their stay in the city.  The bad news was that runners would have to be up by 5:00 a.m., and in the hotel parking lot and ready to run by 5:30.  The good news was that the temperature at that hour would be as cool as it would ever be during a superheated New Orleans summer day.  Not many people were interested enough in exercising to make plans to run at such an early hour except for
the MacKenzie-Carson-Emrick boys, Berto Hernandez, Andy Helder, Ian and Mary, Catherine and a handful of others.

When they left the church to board their buses, the reality of the mid-day heat and humidity of New Orleans hit the Californians.  Once back at the hotel, the kids and some of the adults changed into swim suits, and soon were having a good time in the swimming pool.  The pool was cleverly constructed, with one wall reaching down only to the water, dividing an indoor portion from an outdoor portion so you could swim from inside to outside and back again if you wanted to do so without leaving the water.

After the group had been swimming for about 45 minutes, Father Jim walked through the outdoor area where some were sunbathing, and cautioned them from staying out in the strong sunshine too long.  Sweating at work the next day through a sunburn would be very uncomfortable, he told them.  Hearing that, Cam and Kevin took Casey and sat on the inside pool deck, people-watching after they had taken turns swimming.  Some of their peers, both girls and boys, were exceptionally attractive, Cam thought as he looked around.   And their priest was clearly a hunk.  There was just no two ways about that.

The group from California spent the rest of the day swimming, using the exercise room (mostly the boys), eating, checking emails on several computers which were in the lobby, and walking around in the French Quarter in groups, sightseeing. 

On instructions from Father Jim, all the kids were back at the motel by 10 p.m. that night.  The priest called everyone together in the dining room before they went to bed.  General wakeup calls were scheduled for 6:30 a.m.  When a few kids complained about getting up at 6:30, the priest told them that they would thank him for starting the work day early because of the heat they would face in the city by mid-morning.

Following the meeting, Kevin grinned as Andy and Carl left before anyone else to go upstairs to their room.  He nodded at the two boys, and asked Cam, "Whaddaya s'pose they're gonna do?"

"Watch TV, no doubt," Cam said, smirking.

When the 5 a.m. wakeup call for runners came the next morning, Cam was groggy and considered blowing off running that day.  Kevin wouldn't take "no" for an answer, though, and when Cam didn't get up, got back in bed and, holding him down, began raining kisses on Cam's face, neck, shoulders and chest.  Cam tried to keep his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep.

"After kisses come the licking and drooling," Kevin told him.  "Who knows where things will go from there?"

"Uh-h-h-h," Cam groaned.  "Don't..."

"But yes, my Cameron," Kevin said, awake and playful.  "You have a devil on one shoulder telling you to stay in bed, and an angel on the other, telling you to get up.  You will get your ass up and run with me this morning!"

"You can be such a shit sometimes!" Cam told his partner, smiling in spite of himself, keeping a hand over his face to ward off Kevin's attentions.

"It's my duty," Kevin said.  "And my pleasure," he added with an evil grin.

Twenty minutes later the two of them were in their running clothes down in the parking lot, where they joined Father Jim, Ian, Catherine and Mary, along with William, Mark, Dan, Berto, and also a few other boys from St. Andrew's who were jocks.  Carl and Andy were nowhere to be seen, causing Cam and Kevin to shake their heads knowingly at each other.

"Mommy!" Kevin said to Catherine.  She was there, and right on time.  "Sometimes you amaze me."

"Sometimes I amaze myself," Catherine said.

"I had a terrible time getting Kevin out of bed this morning," Cam told her.  "He's such a lazy butt sometimes..."

"Why do you lie like that?" Kevin asked him, looking over at Father Jim.

"Because I can," Cam said, straight faced.

"Father, will you hear Cam's confession later today?" Kevin asked.  "He's carrying around a lot of sins.  Bad ones.  I know that better than anyone."

"How many hours will I need to reserve for this?" Father Jim asked, laughing.  "But it's my job. Maybe I can do it after dinner."

The priest had arranged for a N.O.P.D. officer on a bicycle to accompany the group while they ran, although at that hour of the morning there was little traffic, and presumably any bad guys were still in bed.  The crowd first ran a block over to Canal Street, and began running away from the River down along what New Orleaneans called the "neutral ground" of the wide street.  Streetcars would be traveling where they were running before too long that day.  William Carson set his pedometer as they settled into a steady pace.  Cam and Kevin looked at each other as they began sweating profusely in the cool, early morning humidity.  When the sun came up, the heat would be brutal, Cam thought to himself.

In fact, it was brutal even without the sun.  Within three blocks, the runners' shirts were soaked through. 
Even the cop on his bike looked damp.  Everybody toughed it out, though, until Father Jim turned them around when William's pedometer read two miles.  He told them that a total of four miles was plenty for the first day until they got acclimated to the heat and humidity.  Nobody argued with him.

Back in their room at the hotel, Cam and Kevin stripped off their running clothes and climbed into the shower together.  Standing under the cool spray of water, they held each other for a long time without moving much.  Once they were cooled off, they washed each other, the way they liked to do.

"You think we can get Casey before we go down to breakfast?" Cam asked.

Kevin shook his head.  "I don't think Yolanda will be awake yet.  When we come home after work, we'll get him, 'K?"

"OK." Cam traced the bridge of Kevin's nose as the water splashed down on them.  "You and Heather made a cute baby, y'know."

"So did Catherine and Alex," Kevin said, kissing Cam.  "And he's all mine."

Grinning, the two boys finished their shower, dressed in their work clothes, and went downstairs for breakfast.  Andy and Carl were there at a table already eating, when Cam and Kevin went through the line, and they went over and joined them.

"Where were you two assholes this morning for our run?" Kevin said after he'd said grace over their huge plates of food for him and Cam.

"Well..." Carl started to say.

"Don't lie to me, boy!" Kevin said, cutting him off and grinning.  "I know exactly where you were and what you were doing."

Carl was used to sparring with the guys about anything and everything that happened to come up in conversation, but Andy turned red as a beet and looked down at his plate as he ate.

Kevin laughed and pointed at Andy.  "You don't have to say a word, Carl."  He looked over at Cam.  "I think we have our answer.  Boys gone wild!"

"Shut the fuck up, Kevin," Carl said, and then grinned.  "You should have been so lucky."

"How do you know I wasn't?" Kevin said.  "Some of us are disciplined and still have our fun.  I'd better see both of you down in the parking lot tomorrow morning ready to run, or we're gonna have to split you two up."

"Good luck with that," Carl said disapprovingly.

"You do know that you need to have Father Jim's written permission to have sex on this trip, don't you?" Cam asked, trying to look serious.

"You two are so full of shit you're gonna explode," Carl said, laughing.  "Let's see your permission slip."

"It's hidden up in our room," Cam said, taking a big bite of scrambled eggs.  "Well hidden.  We wouldn't want any thieves to steal it.  They might think they could get wild like you two and go on an extreme sex binge."

"Yeah, right!" Carl said, laughing.  "You guys are so-o-o twisted!"

"Uh huh!" Kevin admitted.  "And your point is...???"

Even Andy laughed at that, and the four of them started talking about the work they might be doing that day.

After talking for a while, Kevin stood up and looked at Cam.  "Let's hit the room for a minute before we have to go to work."

"Yep," Cam said.  "Right behind ya.  See you wimps on the bus," he told Carl and Andy.

Cam started to follow Kevin out of the dining room when he suddenly did a one-eighty and went back to the two boys.

"Don't take it too seriously when we tease you," he said.  "You two guys obviously feel something for each other, and that's great!"  Then he turned and walked away fast to catch up with Kevin at the elevator, leaving their two friends staring at each other in surprise.

"That's why they're my brothers, y'know," Carl said quietly, looking at Andy.

"You're lucky," Andy said.

"We're lucky," Carl said hopefully.

Some minutes later, the St. Andrew's contingent were all dressed in their grubbies and waiting in the parking lot to board the buses.  The devastation they all saw on their ride into the heart of the Ninth Ward stunned them.

"Jeez," Kevin groaned, looking at Cam in the seat beside him.  "This looks like an old World War II movie of Germany after the war.  Un-fucking-believable!"

Cam nodded somberly as the buses weaved down streets partially blocked by houses which had been washed off their foundations and were sitting in the street, and flooded out cars.  It took some skillful maneuvering by the drivers to get the buses around the refuse.

Father Jim had kept families together as work partners where he could.  The MacKenzie-Carson-Emrick-Hernandez site was three clapboard houses, side by side.  The owners of the three houses were all there, and greeted the work contingent with sincere thanks.  The houses would first have to emptied of moldy furniture which had been under water for several weeks after the storm before the work of gutting the insides down to the studs could even begin.  There was a supply truck there waiting for them at the site, and the kids and adults were first given several wheelbarrows per house along with hard hats, gloves and breathing equipment so they wouldn't inhale the omnipresent mold. 

The vehicle also disgorged a large portable generator, into which large fans would be plugged by extension cords running to the houses.  The generator roared to life, and air soon began circulating in the houses.  In the sticky heat, it was a godsend.

The first task was to build walkways from the front doors of the houses to the street, using old boards and plywood.  That completed, the workers donned the hard hats, the breathing equipment, and the gloves.  They began hauling rugs, furniture, kitchen cabinets and equipment through the houses and down to the street.  The owners of the house Cam and Kevin were assigned to, an elderly black couple, wept as they watched the treasures of a lifetime being hauled outside.  Cam pulled up his mask and talked to them for several minutes, trying in vain to give them a little comfort.  They were inconsolable.

After his next trip outside with his wheelbarrow, Cam went to the supply truck and asked for breathing masks for the old couple.

"These masks are only for the workers," the equipment man told him.

"Come on, man!" Cam said, annoyed.

"I don't make the rules," the guy said somewhat apologetically.

"I'll buy them," Cam said, reaching for his wallet.

"They're not for sale."

Cam didn't argue with the man.  He walked next door, beckoning to Father Jim to come outside.  He did,  pulling up his mask.

"Father, I want a couple of masks for the owners next door.  The equipment manager says they're only for workers.  How about using your influence?"

"Good thought," the priest nodded, and saying nothing more, went over to the truck.  Words started flying quietly between the two men.  But when Father Jim stepped away from the truck, he had six masks in his hands.  He gave two of them to Cam, and started toward the other two houses with the remainder to give them to the homeowners.

"Be sure you turn these in when we leave the site today, OK?" the priest said as he walked away.

"Thanks, Father.  I will."  Cam gave them to the elderly couple, and helped put them on the two masks correctly.

The work was backbreaking.  Cam and Kevin, and Carl and Andy, who were working with them, were bathed in sweat after the first fifteen minutes.  Their T-shirts and old Levi's were soaked through and clinging to their bodies.  Just as they were beginning to get thirsty, a canteen truck pulled up outside and passed out water and ice packs in several coolers.  As they'd been told they should, the guys sat down in the shade once each hour for five minutes and drank water and held ice packs to their heads.  Cam made sure the old couple got water and ice for themselves.  Then it was back to work.

About 11:00, Father Jim walked over from the house next door and told everybody that they would have lunch break at 12:00 for thirty minutes, and then work until 2 p.m.

"We can work longer," Kevin told the priest.

"You probably could, but I'm not letting anyone work past 2:00," Mason said.  "None of us is prepared for sustained exposure to this kind of heat," he added. 
"I'm not sending any of you home in a body bag, or to the hospital with heat stroke."

"Yes, sir," Kevin acquiesced, knowing that sparring with the priest would get him nowhere.  The man was right, and when you're right, you're right.

They knocked off at noon, and a canteen truck was waiting for them in the street.  Cam and Kevin got three bottles of water each, two to drink and one to pour over their heads, some Doritos (mostly for the salt), and a sandwich they had never heard of called a Muffaletta.  It was hollowed-out Italian bread filled with ham, salami, cheese, olives, olive oil and pickled vegetables.  Delicious.  Sort of a Sub, but better.  A delicacy peculiar to New Orleans.

Then it was back to work, with a five minute break stretched to ten during the last ninety minutes as the heat began to wear them down.

When they all were finished that day, the three houses were bare of furniture on both floors, and a small start on tearing out the inside walls had begun.  Their bus came promptly at 2 p.m.  The four boys looked (and felt like) something the cat had dragged in as they collapsed in their seats inside the cool bus.

Cam and Kevin took quick showers back at the hotel, put on their swim suits, and went down to the indoor portion of the pool.  Floating around in the cool water was like heaven.  Yolanda had brought Casey down to the pool with her, and when Cam was cooled down completely, he got out of the water and held the baby on his lap on a towel.

Andy and Carl had joined them.  When Ian came into the pool area to swim, he sought Carl out.

"I heard from Captain Ridenour," he said.  "Your dad's trial begins a week from today.  We're going to have to catch a plane next Monday."

Carl's face turned pale.  "Oh, man," he said.  "I'm gonna hate this."

"I know," Ian said.  "But we've known it was going to happen sometime.  I'll stick with you all the time."  He smiled.  "Stick to you like glue."

"All right," Carl said, none too happy.  "Are we gonna drive right to the courthouse from the airport?"

"No," Ian said.  "We're taking a helicopter.  We'll land right behind the courthouse, and we'll go inside surrounded by cops so you can be briefed by the prosecutors.  Foolproof!"

Carl's face brightened a little when he heard he would get to ride in a helicopter.

"All right," he said.  "I'll try to get myself psyched up."

"Good deal," Ian said, shaking Carl's hand, and then hugging the boy to his chest and kissing him on top of his head.  "You'll do fine, and your dad's going to be staying for a long time right where he belongs--in jail."

Carl smiled.

©  2007 Don Hanratty

My continued thanks to
Dan, Craig K and Mike G for making these chapters of Belovèd readable.