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


Andy Helder awakened only slowly from a sound sleep on the fifth morning during that first week in New Orleans.  Naked, totally rested, he lay on his right side in the double bed he shared with Carl Emrick, facing him, limbs entwined with those of this boy with whom he was rapidly falling in love.  His eyes caressed Carl's handsome face, memorizing the strong planes of it.

That he would harbor such feelings for Carl so quickly was somewhat of a surprise to Andy.  But as they had worked side by side gutting houses in the lower Ninth Ward of the Crescent City, his admiration for the kid had grown.  Never in his wildest dreams had Andy thought he would ever find a person he admired and enjoyed as much as he had come to admire and enjoy Carl.  Being around the boy gave him a natural high, pure and simple.  It made him happier than he had been since he was a little kid, back before puberty had revealed to him that his attractions were going to differ markedly from those of his peers.  Now, what had begun in pure lust for the handsome little jock's body had blossomed into respect and the beginnings of a more selfless love for another person than Andy had ever suspected he was capable of.

Andy had known many jocks among his high school classmates in San Rafael, acquaintances of his who had seemed mostly arrogant and so wrapped up in themselves that a real and deep friendship with them was difficult, if not impossible.  Certainly not the kind of friendship he wanted, anyway.  Andy's first clue that Carl was fundamentally different from many of the self-absorbed adolescents he knew was the way the boy doted on Casey and handled him when it was his turn to care for the child.  Cam and Kevin's little boy received a lot of attention from all the members of the extended family, and even from other members of the St. Andrew's youth group who had just come in contact with the infant.  But Carl's vibe when he held that baby always bespoke love and kindness rather than curiosity, and no one could consistently fake that.  In Andy's view, that phenomenon told you unmistakably who Carl Emrick really was.

Their first sexual encounters had been tentative.  Tentative at the beginning, but satisfying and evocative.  After several nights of newfound, unleashed passion, however, they had begun to give themselves to one another in a variety of ways that had until then been experienced only in their imaginations.  They each began to learn what the other liked, and were enthusiastic about broadening their sexual horizons.

Andy had become aware of something else as the two boys shared more and more of their physical and mental selves with each other.  There was a sadness about Carl that gripped the boy at a level Andy had not yet penetrated.  It had nothing to do with their physical, sexual relationship, which just couldn't have been better in Andy's opinion as they tried new things in bed to pleasure one another.  Carl had shared with Andy how much he was enjoying being with him and having sex with him, and Andy had no reason to doubt him.  But there was definitely something stalking Carl's spirit, deep down, that Andy hadn't been able to figure out.

Andy moved his head closer to Carl's on the pillow they shared, and inhaled the masculine smell of the boy's short, blond hair.  Carl's eyes fluttered open just then.

"Hey, man," Carl whispered softly, a smile spreading across his face as he looked at Andy.

"Hey," Andy responded.  He kissed Carl gently on the mouth, then pulled back to study his face.

"What time is it?" Carl asked softly.

"Early yet," Andy said, looking over Carl's head toward the luminous face of the clock radio on the bedside table.  "Five o'clock."

"Good."  Carl shut his eyes again and pulled Andy closer to him, kissing his neck.  "You're such a stud," he told his bedmate with a little smile.

"Is that right?" Andy said.

"Uh huh.  I'd never lie to ya."  He moved his hand down and wedged it smoothly between Andy's muscular thighs just under the boy's ball sack, leaving it there motionless.

"Back atcha, dude," Andy said, taking a quick breath.  He nuzzled the side of Carl's head, kissing his ear, and he felt his own dick begin to harden.  "You're such a cute, horny little fuck."

"You bring out my best qualities."

"Thanks," Andy said.  They lay there in silence for a moment.  "I suppose if we're gonna run, we better think about getting up," Andy finally said.

"No-o-o-o," Carl whined.  "I wanna stay in bed all day with my hand on your dick.  Please?"

"I could live with that.  But then I wouldn't be able to watch that cute little ass of yours twitching along Canal Street in your running shorts."

"My ass does not twitch!" Carl protested.  He moved his hand higher between Andy's thighs, bypassing his balls, and took hold of the boy's cock, now engorged.  He gave it a stroke.  "Hmmm.  What a handful we have here!"

"Don't get me excited, man," Andy pleaded.  "Once the launch sequence starts, there's no going back, y'know."

Carl laughed.  "No shit?"

"No shit," Andy confirmed.  "Father Jim and Ian expect to see us out on the street pretty soon.  Misery loves company, so let's not disappoint them."

"See," Carl kidded him.  "Taking the road less traveled is what makes you a true leader."  He reluctantly let go of Andy's penis and kissed the boy's chest, smooth except for a little patch of bronze, reddish hair between his pecs leading down in a treasure trail to his pubic hair.  Untangling himself from Andy and the sheets, he struggled to get out of bed so he could go to the bathroom.  When he stood up, his own ample endowment was saluting the ceiling.

"Sweet!" Andy proclaimed, looking at Carl's rampant cock before it and the body to which it was attached went away.  Carl's cut dick, perfectly formed with a nice big head on it, was pleasingly fat and had to be at least 7  inches long when hard.  Andy had felt every inch of it when Carl had plunged it home the previous night after patiently opening him up.  Initial discomfort was followed by exquisite pleasure as Carl had treated him to a long, slow fuck in the missionary position with a fast and vigorous finish.  Awesome! Andy grinned as he remembered Carl's face hovering over him in the muted light of their bedside lamp, their tongues exploring one another's mouth.  Thinking about it, he caressed his own stiff dick, very similar in length and heft to Carl's own, a few more times.

Yawning widely, Andy finally slid out of bed, reaching down to pick up a used rubber full of pearl jam lying on a kleenex beside the bed.  Carl was already in the shower when Andy threw the residue of the previous night's lovemaking into the toilet and then relieved himself, flushing the toilet afterward.  Shaking off by habit, he opened the glass shower door and joined Carl under the warm spray.  Soaping up a wash cloth, he began to wash Carl's back.
  God, life was good!

When Andy was finished with Carl's back and his butt, he soaped up his hands and reached around the boy to wash his package.

"Hmmm," Carl said contentedly.  "Your not so hidden homo has come out to play."

"Yeah," Andy admitted with a grin.  "Big time!"

When Andy had finished washing his lover, Carl returned the favor.

After they toweled each other dry, they put on their jocks, running shorts, T's and running shoes, and went down to the lobby.  The usual suspects were there in addition to the two of them:  Ian and Mary, Catherine, Alex MacKenzie and John Kelley, Father Jim, Kevin and Cam, William and Mark Carson, Berto Hernandez and Dan Emrick, and a couple of guys Cam and Kevin and Andy had played soccer with at San Rafael High.  And Angela Crowley, who had just graduated in Cam, Kevin and Andy's class at San Rafael, and who had been consistently hanging out with William since they had arrived in New Orleans.

Kevin went over to Mark and put his arms around the boy when he saw him.  "Marky-mark," he said as he hugged him.  "I miss you, dude.  How's the side of your head?"

"Good," Mark said, loving the attention.  "It's getting better all the time."

"I'll be the judge of that," Kevin said.  "I'd better take a look at it after supper tonight."

"Okay," Mark said.

Kevin kissed the boy on the cheek and let him go, paying no attention whatsoever to anyone who saw him give Mark some affection.  Ian smiled, thinking to himself yet again what a nurturer tough ol' Kevin had turned out to be.  Ian's older son, William, was also moved by what Kevin had done in being kind to Mark.

"Next," Kevin said kiddingly to William, holding his arms open to the tall boy in jest.  To his astonishment, William walked right over and enveloped him in those long arms of his with no sign of embarrassment.

"Love ya, bro," William said, and with no hint of joking around, kissed Kevin on the forehead before he turned him loose.

Kevin was stunned.  Will wonders never cease! he said to himself.  William must have gotten laid to make him feel this good! he conjectured.

Cam started toward the lobby doors.  "Come on, you homos, you need to get some exercise before this lovefest gets out of hand," he smarted off.  Catherine shook her head and looked disapprovingly at her son.

"Takes one to know one," Carl told Cam as he followed close behind him, giving the boy's ass a swat as they walked.

They hit the street, and it was like stepping into a sauna.  Their same young cop, already sweating in his police T-shirt and shorts, gun on hip, was waiting for them in the pre-dawn light on his bike.

"Have mercy," Father Jim muttered to himself about the heat and humidity after he had greeted the police officer.

"Listen, folks," the priest told the group.  "If you stop sweating as we run, or get a headache, or you feel weak at some point, let me know right away.  It could be the beginnings of heat stroke, and that needs to be addressed right away.  I have a couple bottles of water in my fanny pack, and I'll share if you get thirsty."

Everybody held up his own water to show that he was prepared.

The runners nodded at what the priest had said and began their stretches.  When they finished, William set his pedometer, and they started their run in the dim light, heading again for the neutral ground on Canal Street.  Cam was running behind Kevin, his eyes glued to his partner's ass.  And to his broad shoulders, which were stretching the cloth of his T-shirt.  He's a hunk, and then some, Cam thought to himself.  His gaze moved to Angela Crowley, running beside William.  Not bad for a girl, not bad at all.  Good for William!

Carl found himself moving along in the "runners trance" that he sometimes indulged in, letting his body go into automatic mode, leaving his mind free to think about other things.  It wasn't long before he was stewing about his impending trip back to California with Ian for the trial of his father
for aggravated criminal sexual assault.  As much as he wanted to see his old man punished as he deserved, Carl was smart enough to know that testifying in court against Walter Emrick was going to be hell.  He realized that in a sense, he was also on trial along with his father because his father's attorney would do everything he could to discredit him and shake his testimony.  Or so Ian had told him.  Carl knew that Ian would be rehearsing him, teaching him what to look out for in the defense attorney's questions, how not to let the lawyer shake his concentration or his confidence or engage in assassination of his own character by innuendo.  Ian had been buttressing Carl's confidence all along by frequently re-affirming to him that the truth was on Carl's side, and that all he needed to do was testify truthfully, without shame or fear, about what the man had done to him.

Thanks to his time in therapy, Carl was no longer bothered by bad dreams at night, and thanks to his newfound relationship with Andy Helder, he was happy with himself and positive about life for the first time in a long time.  He came out of his reverie smiling, and looked over at Andy running beside him.  Carl couldn't believe his good luck in finding this boy, and promised himself that he would treasure every minute they spent together.  Andy made that easy to do.

Carl might have been surprised to know that Ian was also thinking about the upcoming trial back in Monterey as he ran along the neutral ground.  Ian knew that Carl had come a long way in learning to like himself as a gay person, and knew as well that his therapy had helped the boy turn away from blaming himself for what had happened down in the Emricks' basement.  Even if he couldn't prove it, Ian believed that Walter Emrick had hired Alejandro Hernandez to kill his sons and anyone who tried to help his sons.  Ian promised himself yet again that he was going to see justice done and Carl's good character affirmed if it was the last thing he ever did.

The group continued to run along the streetcar tracks away from the River until they hit the two-mile mark according to William's pedometer, at which point Father Jim briefly had them run slowly in place, making sure they each drank some bottled water.  Pretty much everybody tilted his head back, bottles in the air, and finished off their water all at once, throwing the empties in a nearby waste can.  Cam drank some and poured the rest over his head.  It was lukewarm, but just what the doctor ordered.  Then they were off and running again, headed back toward the hotel.  T-shirts and running shorts were drenched in sweat by then, and William checked out his new girlfriend Angela's well filled bra, now visible through her T-shirt.

"You're starting to stink," Cam huffed at Kevin as the former breathed in huge lungsful of air.

"Shutup!" Kevin told him.

"And you wonder why you're not as popular as you could be," Cam commented, and then concentrated on running.  It wasn't long before they were back at their hotel.

Their friendly bicycle cop had brought a change of clothes in a gym bag, and Ian led him to the shower room off the swimming pool as everyone headed to his (or her) room for a quick shower.  Twenty minutes later the runners, along with the cop, joined the other youth group members in their work clothes at breakfast in the main dining room.  The young, white cop joined Ian and Father Jim at their table, soon joined by William, Angela and Berto.  Cam and Kevin sat with Casey at the next table, with Alex and John sitting there, too.  Cam held the infant and gave him his morning bottle, trying to overhear the conversation at the neighboring table as Casey practically inhaled the bottle.

The policeman, a young man in his late twenties named Ray Breaux, was enjoying a good breakfast after his shower.  Somehow the conversation at his table focused on the crime rate in New Orleans, and Ray began holding forth about the blacks who had returned to town after Katrina.  He was critical of the black community, especially for the black on black crime in the city, which Breaux claimed currently accounted for most of the felony statistics.  That got Father Jim's and Ian's attention immediately.  The priest gave Ian a look, and then went back to his scrambled eggs and bacon.  They listened for a few minutes to the cop without making any comment.

"I take it you don't have much respect for black people," Ian finally said.

"My experience with them hasn't been very positive," Ray admitted.  "Our black police officers are ashamed of their own community, or so they'll tell you once they get to know you well enough."

"Maybe you're working in the wrong city," Ian commented, thinking about population figures showing that although the black population in New Orleans had shrunk after Katrina, they were still in the majority.

"I grew up here, and it's my city, too," Ray said a little combatively.  "I played sports with a lot of black kids in high school, and had no problems.  But unlike the black kids around here today, we grew up knowing the difference between right and wrong.  The fact that so many young blacks don't know that difference is why I'm assigned to go with you when you run."

Father Mason finished up his eggs, put down his fork, and wiped his lips with his napkin.  He looked over at the policeman.

"Why do you think the situation is what it is?" Mason asked as Ian sat back, waiting to see what developed in this conversation.  "There have to be reasons, don't you think?"

The cop was taken aback, trying to marshal his thoughts.  "Well...I guess part of it is the street drugs.  The hurricane messed up all the established drug territories, so the dealers and their subordinates are busy killing themselves off to establish new boundaries.  That accounts for a lot of murders in the city."

"I tried to research the situation down here in New Orleans online before we came down here," Father Jim said.  "
I'm not dismissing street drugs as being part of the problem.  But you probably know better than I do that the murder rate in the city was pretty high before Katrina, although it's definitely increased per thousand population after the hurricane."

"We're rivaling Compton, out in your neck of the woods near Los Angeles, and probably Newark, for the murder capital of the world," Ray Breaux said.  "But drugs were, and are, responsible for at least some of our problems."

"I'll grant you that," Father Mason said.  "Of course, New Orleans isn't the only community that's having trouble controlling drugs," Mason said.  "Well-to-do white kids are just as much into them as any other groups in society.  Maybe more.  They have money to spend."

The young cop looked at him warily, not having been ready to have his ideas disputed by somebody in this all white group.  He knew he'd better be precise in what he said.  "Well, down here in the city, it's more blacks than anybody else," he said.

"It's a serious problem here," Jim Mason admitted.  "But you're way off base if you don't think that drugs are epidemic among young people up north of Lake Ponchartrain in, what is it, St. Tammany Parish?  That's a wealthy, mostly white parish."

"That may or may not be true," Ray said.  "But their murder rate is nothing compared to ours.  So drugs obviously aren't the whole problem.  I never said they were."

The priest nodded in agreement.  "Do you ever ask yourself what's made the situation here what it is?  A college professor, a black sociologist named Cornel West, now at Princeton, has studied African American youth culture extensively.  Not long ago, he wrote an article for the New York Times about it.  What he said, boiling it down, is that young blacks, especially our young black men, are so enamored and dominated by a life centered around rap music, drugs, hip clothes, sports and making babies--the heart of black youth street culture--during their school years, that it takes a strong family dynamic and a strong school system to combat the negatives in street life.  It's a powerful culture, all-consuming, one that's even swept up a lot of white kids on the margins.  By the time many young black young men hit their late teens to early to mid-twenties, if they're not dead and buried by then, they awaken to the fact that they aren't going to be among the chosen few black actors, musicians, jocks or business kingpins they thought they'd be in order to support themselves and a family.  It's too late by then, at least in their own minds, to acquire the basic educational skills that would allow them to participate in a positive and meaningful lifestyle.  They should have been prepared by their families and their society for participating, but they're not.  And when there are no legitimate economic avenues open to them to allow them to survive, they embrace the illegal ones."

Ray Breaux looked unsmilingly at Jim Mason.  "So now it's all the fault of white people, I suppose!" he said scornfully.

"To some degree, yes," the priest said.  "Take your school system here in New Orleans.  Pre-Katrina, if what I read is true, it was run by people who were not all that competent and motivated.  The system was supervised by a succession of school boards and superintendents who were polarized along racial lines to the extent that they couldn't really govern.  Add to that a ruling group of white businessmen, the city's elite, standing in the shadows behind elected black officials, who were uncommitted to supplying the tax resources to run the school system properly.  After all, why should the white elite invest in young, inner-city New Orleans blacks when the whites had their own children to worry about?  An extensive parochial and private school system siphoned off whites and elite young blacks, leaving only the many disadvantaged blacks and some disadvantaged whites to languish in an incompetent, under-funded public school system.

"The parochial schools weren't meant to do this by their founders," the priest continued, "but it was an unintended consequence of what happened pre-Katrina right down to the current time.  Now we're beginning to understand the blood-soaked outcomes when a society writes off large numbers of young people over a long period of time who should have been invested in, educationally, as God's children.  The outcomes are crime, drugs and disorder.  Many blacks been poorly educated and badly trained for any vocation.  And the final state of these youngsters is terrible.  They are people without hope for the future.  And you, Ray, unfortunately, are among the point persons who catch the brunt of the problem because you're a cop.  You're angry about the circumstances you face every day, and for good reason.  But you need to be knowledgeable about what brought about the current situation down here, as well as in other big cities in our country.  The reasons for it go back many decades."

"You liberals are all alike," Breaux said forcefully.  "Always looking for someone else to blame besides those who are really responsible.  Are you a minister or something?"

"Or something," Mason admitted.  "I'm an Episcopal priest.  And don't think that a substantial parochial school system run here by Episcopalians hasn't contributed to the problem, because we have.  Parents have a right to educate their children as they see fit, or should have that right, but that freedom to choose 'something better' by the elite has taken the pressure off the public school system to succeed, and to be funded to succeed.  There just aren't enough people who have, at least in the past, insisted on a public school system which can guarantee good, equitable education and training for all students.

"The school system isn't the only reason you're facing the problems of violence in the African-American community, but it's a substantial part of it.  That and the disintegration of families in poverty.  This lack of education, vocational training and poor family ties among young people in general, not just among blacks, leads to negative behaviors that reflect the worst human condition of all.  I mentioned it earlier:  a lack of hope.  People without hope, whatever their age, can't and don't live happy, positive and productive lives.  Where there is no hope, there is no love.  And where there is no love, there is death, both physical and spiritual.  You police officers often bear the brunt of our social failures and the moral failures by perpetrators of violence.  We all sowed neglect, and now we all reap crime and disorder.  God is not mocked."

Ray Breaux sat looking at Father Mason for a long moment as if he were speaking a foreign language.

"Well, Father," the young cop said, "I don't think you're right about any of this, necessarily, but you've given me something to think about.  Thanks for that, I guess."

"You're welcome," Jim Mason said, reaching across the table to shake hands with the angry young cop.  "I wasn't trying to put you down, I hope you know that.  Anyway, maybe we can all do something positive today for people who need it.  That's sometimes a battle in and of itself, and we need to be on the right side."

"Yes, sir," Breaux said, standing up from the table and collecting his dishes and silverware.  "Thanks for breakfast.  I need to report to my precinct now.  See you in the morning, I guess."

"Good," Mason said.

He and Ian watched the young man walk away, place his dishes at a collection point, and then leave the building with his gym bag.

Cam, Kevin, Alex and John, at the nearby table, looked at one another and smiled.  The priest hadn't said anything they couldn't all agree with.  There had to be reasons for prevailing social conditions, including the negative things.

"You're just too tough for words," Ian kidded the priest after the police officer left.  "I'm glad I don't have to face you in court."

"Give me a break, buddy!" Mason laughed.

Ten minutes later, after Cam and Kevin had loved on Casey and turned him over to Yolanda, all the St. Andrew's people went outside to board their buses for another grueling day gutting houses in the Ninth Ward.

It was hell out there weather-wise, but Cam noticed that in the trucks there were now face masks and hard hats not only for all the workers, but also for any homeowners who were on hand to help with the efforts to gut their houses.

*  *  *

After work that day, Carl and Andy had gone back to their room, showered together, and lain down on their bed in fresh boxers for a short nap before supper downstairs.  Carl has been quieter than usual, Andy thought to himself as they lay there facing each other.

"Are you gonna tell me what's bothering you?" Andy asked.

Carl closed his eyes for a long moment before opening them and searching Andy's face.  "You don't wanna know," he said.

"That's not true.  I want to know everything about you."

Carl was quiet for several long minutes.

"My father beat me and raped me," Carl finally blurted out, looking like he might lose it and begin to cry.  "His trial starts on Monday, and Ian is taking me back to San Francisco, well, actually Monterey, on Monday morning.  I'm gonna have to testify at the trial, and I'm scared to go back."

Andy was so stunned at first he didn't know what to say.  He pulled Carl close to him and kissed him gently on the lips.  Nothing was said for several more minutes.

"Why are you scared to go back to Monterey?" Andy finally asked.

"Because I'm embarrassed to have to say in public what he did to me, and threatened to do to Dan.  Ian also thinks that dear ol' dad hired somebody, probably Berto Hernandez's uncle, as a matter of fact, to kill me and Dan, and even Ian, because Ian and Mary took us into their family.  So..."

"Where was your mother when all this happened?" Andy asked.

"She's dead."

Lacking words at that moment, Andy put his arms around Carl and just held him tightly as tears began running out of Carl's eyes and on to their pillow.  Andy felt so bad for him that he started weeping silently as well.  He couldn't help but contrast his own loving family with Carl's father and what his friend had experienced at the man's hands.  His own family wasn't perfect, but it was beginning to look pretty good, all things considered.

Andy reached over to the bedside table and grabbed some kleenex from a box they'd put there, and wiped Carl's face and then his own.  Then he moved over to partially cover Carl's body with his own, as if to protect him, and they fell asleep in that position until it was time for supper.

*  *  *

Several months previously, Father Mason had arranged for the group to eat at one of the finest restaurants in New Orleans, the Commander's Palace, on the first Friday night of their two weeks in town.

Getting there entailed riding on the buses because the restaurant wasn't located in the French Quarter, but Uptown right across the street from one of the city's venerable, above-ground graveyards.  The food at the Palace was eclectic modern Creole, if one had to classify it, and the adults in the group were anticipating a fine meal.   The youngsters weren't so ecstatic about going, particularly when they found out that that they had to dress up for the occasion, or they wouldn't be admitted to the premises.

"Stand still," Cam ordered Kevin as he tied the latter's tie loosely without first buttoning the collar of Kevin's short sleeve dress shirt.  They'd have time to make last minute adjustments after they arrived at the restaurant.  Below the waist they both wore khaki dockers and loafers.

Kevin returned the favor with his partner's tie, except at the last minute he tightened Cam's tie to the point he started to choke the boy before quickly loosening it.

"See how you are?" Cam said, loosening his tie even further.  "No good deed goes unpunished.  I do you a favor, and you you respond by trying to take me out."

"I am taking you out," Kevin said.  "To a nice place.  I just want you to look nice.  I don't want you to embarrass me and Father Jim the way you do so often."

"No," Cam snorted, "I mean you tried to garrote me with my own tie, you idiot," Cam said.

"Oh," Kevin said, grinning.  "That."  He looked at his partner.  "I'd have given you mouth-to-mouth if you'd stopped breathing.  No problem.  And even if you did die, you'd have gone out looking good."

Cam reached around and grabbed a nice big chunk of Kevin's muscular ass, and hung on to it.  "You're all heart," he told Kevin.  "And butt.  But you just wait."

"Wait for what?"

"Never mind.  Whenever it happens, I want it to be a surprise."

The two of them studied their images in a big mirror mounted on the door of their closet.  They were looking very preppy in a California sort of way.

"I guess we won't get a chance to visit Bourbon Street later tonight," Kevin said.

"Well, not the gay places, anyway," Cam agreed.  "I don't wanna meet up with Duke, at least not if Carl and Andy are with us.  I'm sure the guy has a long memory--and a long knife."

"I might sneak out after you're asleep tonight," Kevin said.

"Don't even think about it," Cam said.

"Yeah, I might want to meet up with Duke and show him a good time."

"Shit, you can't handle what you already have in bed, let alone take on somebody new," Cam said.  "You don't know how many times I can hardly fall asleep after we have sex, wondering how it would be to make love to somebody with some staying power."

He'd heard that line before, but Kevin still broke out in laughter.  Kissing Cam, he pulled the boy toward the bed, and they lay down on it facing each other.

"After I'm finished with you later, you won't wanna go anywhere," Cam softly assured his partner, looking deep into his brown eyes.

"I'm counting on it," Kevin said.

"You're so weird," Cam said.

Kevin looked at him seriously.  "I know," he said, "but that's the good stuff in a relatlionship.  When I'm old, toothless and bald, I wanna be lying in bed every night lookin' at you and sayin' weird shit to ya."

Cam laughed and caressed his boy's face wordlessly until they finally had to roll off the bed, put on their sport coats, and go next door to Yolanda's room to take charge of Casey.  Cam carried the child in his carrier as they accompanied Yolanda downstairs to go to dinner.  Kevin had the ever-present diaper bag.

"You boys look nice," Yolanda told them.  "I dint know you owned ties," she kidded them in her Spanish accent.

"Et tu, Yolanda?" Cam quipped.

"What?" Yolanda said.  "Spek English.  Or Spanish," she said hopefully.

"It means, 'You, too' in Latin," Kevin translated.  "That's all right, Yolanda, I don't understand half of what he says, either."

When they stepped off the elevator in the lobby, a lot of kids, as usual, surrounded them and wanted to hold Casey and talk to him.  All of them looked good in their "going out to dinner" clothes.

After boarding the buses, they arrived at the Commander's Palace twenty minutes later.  The priest had reserved a large banquet room on the second floor of the restaurant, looking out over a lighted interior garden.  Cam, Kevin, Andy and Carl sat together, with Casey in his carrier in a highchair at Cam's side.  Cam noticed that Carl's cheeks were red, looking suspiciously as if he'd been crying.  Andy looked as if he might have been weeping, too, although they both looked cheerful enough now.

"Everything all right?" Kevin asked the two boys.

Carl nodded silently, not wanting to verbalize his fears about the trip back to Monterey in public.

Everybody looked over the menu, and when it was time to order, Cam and Kevin both ordered pheasant, with sparkling water to drink.  Most of the adults ordered wine with their meals.  The huge dining room buzzed with conversation as they waited for their soup or salad to be served.  Kevin took Casey out of his highchair, holding him in the crook of his arm, and gave him a bottle of milk he took from the diaper bag.  After the child had consumed the bottle, Kevin burped him and put him back in the highchair just in time for the first course to be served.  Casey fell asleep immediately.  Father Jim offered thanks for the food.

"Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the abundant gifts you have provided us.  We bless you for the food we are about to receive, and for the opportunity to serve some of your sons and daughters with our work in this wounded city.  Make us strong to do your will, wielding us as your instruments in lifting up those who are living with so much loss in their lives.  Help us to offer the gift of ourselves to others, Lord, as your son commanded us, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord."


The large crowd sat down and began eating as the food was brought out by waiters carrying trays on their shoulders.

Cam's salad, topped with Caesar dressing and crisp croutons and feta cheese, had little baby shrimps in it, and Cam practically inhaled it.  The pheasant, when it came, was perfectly prepared, steaming, succulent breast meat, accompanied by chunks of cranberry and walnuts, with broiled baby asparagus on the side.  Cam glanced around the room, and all the meals looked good.  Kids who normally didn't ordinarily care what they put into their stomachs were eating hungrily after the well trained wait staff had supplied them with food.  Conversation dropped off to practically nothing as the meals disappeared at a rapid pace.

Everybody's meal was excellent, and was followed by elegant desserts like strawberry shortcake in heavy cream, crème brulée, and different flavors of homemade sorbet.  Father Jim settled up the bill out of the travel fund, and eventually the contingent of very happy, sated young people and adults left the restaurant, boarded their buses, and went back to their hotel.

Cam and Kevin went back to their room as fast as they could to change into cargo shorts and T's.  They watched TV for an hour to let their food digest, and then Cam unfolded their collapsible baby carriage to take Casey for a walk around the large lobby and maybe around the block, while Kevin headed for the hotel gym to work out.  He did some stretches, and then did some cardio on a stairmaster.  He was just contemplating getting into some crunches to give his abs a workout when Carl and Andy Helder came in.  They both looked good in their tank tops and gym shorts, Kevin noticed.

"Hey," Kevin said, looking up from a mat on the floor.  "Don't tell me there's somebody else who cares about his body in this group!"

"Humph," Carl said.  "Some of us probably need it more than others," he added, trying to look condescending as he contemplated Kevin's physique.  Shit, he thought to himself, Kevin just keeps looking better and better.  His muscles always look great without looking as if he's muscle bound.

"Yeah, you do need it," Kevin shot back.  "Hey, will you spot me when I do some bench presses?"

"You just wanna look up my shorts," Carl said.

"I don't know," Kevin huffed as he did his crunches.  "You look smaller in the crotch every time I look at ya."

"Ooh, burn!" Andy observed, smiling at Carl.

Kevin grinned and said nothing, cranking out his crunches.  His six-pack looked perfect, like a washboard.  When he was finished, he held out his hand and Andy pulled him to his feet.

"Are you guys doing all right?" Kevin asked.

"Yeah.  You asked us that before.  Why?" Carl asked.

"Right before dinner you looked like you'd been crying."

"You're right," Carl said hesitantly and reluctantly, looking embarrassed.  "I'm just worried about going back for my dad's trial."

"If Ian wasn't going to be with you, I'd be worried, too," Kevin said.  "He's gonna take good care of you."  He paused and glanced at Andy, then back at Carl.  "Andy knows about what happened to you?"

"Yeah," Carl said, sighing.  "If I could get out of going back, I would."

"Between Ian and Captain Ridenour and--what was the name of the lady from Child Protective Services?" Kevin asked.

"Mrs. Reed," Carl said.  "Lauren Reed."

"That's right," Kevin said.  "With them in your corner, you're gonna be golden.  The doctors who examined you will testify, I'm sure, and the prosecutor will have the pictures we took of you, uh, after your dad whipped you."

"I know you're right," Carl admitted.  "It's still gonna be stressful."

Kevin shut up and just gave Carl a hug.  Then he went over to the weight bench, adjusted the weights, and lay down on the bench.  Carl followed to spot him as Andy got on the stairmaster.

"No peeking," Carl told Kevin, cupping his own crotch as he stood above him.

Kevin laughed and got right into the bench presses.

*  *  *

Ian sat at a desk in his room, scribbling on a lined, legal size yellow pad.  His wife Mary was still in bed dozing after a session of vigorous love-making.  Ian liked to say they hadn't lost a step over the years of their marriage when it came to having sex, but that wasn't exactly true.  The frequency of their sexual encounters might be fewer than when they were in their twenties, but the feelings their activities evoked had only improved over the years.  They were more in love than ever.  Ian was feeling good right now.

It had been love at first sight for the two of them in college at Stanford.  As was so often true, Mary's physical beauty had accounted for Ian's immediate attraction to her, but the tall, athletic boy-man had been so well mannered and so persistent in wanting to be around her, that the relationship quickly grew into exclusive dating.  Mary was a very smart girl whose grades and interests matched Ian's own, and that was a very good reminder to Ian that taking this girl for granted would be a huge mistake.  So their mutual attraction had grown into mutual respect and admiration.  She was the love of his life.

Despite Ian's best efforts to speed things up, the two of them didn't have sex until they were married during their senior year.  They received their pre-Cana counseling from the Roman Catholic chaplain at Stanford, although Ian was already restive about some of the teachings of the Roman Church even back then.  After discussion, they knew that the church's teaching on contraception wasn't something they were going to follow in their new marriage.

After graduating, Ian was accepted into the School of Law at several universities, but he and Mary decided they wanted to stay in San Jose at Stanford.  Mary began modeling to supplement Ian's law scholarship, and was bringing big bucks into the family coffers from her work while Ian racked up an enviable academic record.  He had offers to join prestigious law firms in the San Francisco area in hand well before he completed his third and final year of law school.  He chose the firm at which he was now senior partner before leaving school, and it had been a wise decision, indeed.  The old guard at the firm were pleased when he began to earn them more money than many attorneys who were years his senior.  He was on the fast track to partnership, and wanting to keep him, the firm made him a partner in his fifth year there.  His meteoric rise in the firm and in his profession had continued.  He was a good litigator, and didn't like to lose in court, so he was the "go to" guy if you wanted to win your legal battles.

Life was not without adversity, though.  Their first child had died in childbirth.  They had named the baby Ian, Jr., and the infant had been baptized by the Catholic priest at the hospital before the infant passed away.  Ian and Mary hung in there, though, and within a year Mary had given birth to William, followed a year later by Mark.  Ian was working long hours in his law practice, but the money was excellent, and he and Mary were loving and patient with each other and with their offspring.  Things at home were good, and the money continued to roll in, making life very pleasant, indeed.  Mary, often joined by Ian, began to help community agencies raise funds for work that the couple felt was worthwhile, even as Ian began to do the legal pro bono work that was expected of successful attorneys.  The difference between him and some of the others in his craft was that Ian believed in doing it and enjoyed working on behalf of those who could never have afforded his services.

Unlike many successful men, Ian was grateful for the opportunities to achieve what he had achieved in life thus far, as was Mary.  That gratitude for the good things in life had led to such charitable actions on their part as taking Carl and Dan Emrick and Berto Hernandez into the family's home and affections.  William and Mark knew exactly where their parents were coming from in being generous to others in need, and that made family life seamless and smooth as it could be.  Ian smiled, thinking about his two natural sons:  William, bold and assertive in his approach to life, not to mention perpetually horny, and Mark, more contemplative and laid back about things.  Even when family life was challenging, as when Mark was wounded and their apartment burned, Ian and Mary's generosity to others continued unabated.  They understood that life demanded sacrifices be made for others.  Mary is a trooper, Ian thought to himself, living like a nomad without any complaint for so long.  He loved her to death.

Ian had bought round trip first class tickets for himself and Carl for the trip back to San Francisco, and he intended to give Carl a good, last briefing on the plane before testimony began in the boy's father's trial.  The prosecutor assigned to the Walter Emrick case had called Ian's cell phone in New Orleans to say that jury selection was complete, that in his opinion they'd gotten a good panel, and the trial before Judge Peter McDowell was scheduled to begin on Monday afternoon after lunch with opening statements by the lawyers.  Ian wasn't thrilled that Judge McDowell would be hearing the case, but the most immediate challenge, after briefing Carl about what lay ahead in court, would be to get the boy from the San Francisco airport to Monterey feeling strong and outraged about what had happened to him, and ready to do battle with his father's defense attorney when he testified.

Ian listed matters he wanted to brief Carl about:  the boy's dress and demeanor on the witness stand, how to give his own respectful answers to questions by his father's defense attorney rather than answers that the lawyer wanted him to give, to be open and graphic about what his father had done to him in the assault, showing emotion about it without losing it on the stand, and being ready to address his sexual history to that point, if necessary, without getting into the fact that he now believed himself to be gay, and finally, being prepared to discuss how his father's personality and actions had changed markedly after his wife's death to the point that he had became a violent molester.

When he had finished the list, he went over to the bed and gently awakened Mary.  She showered and dressed, and then they went downstairs for a game of bridge with Father Jim and Catherine MacKenzie in the lobby.

"You were counting cards," Father Mason accused Ian after he and Mary had won several games.

"Of course," Ian confessed without shame.  "Just like I do in Vegas."

"I doubt that," the priest said.  "The casinos don't like that, and you're still alive and kicking."

Ian laughed, and they switched partners for the remaining games.  Then Mary and Catherine began to win consistently, and Father Jim began wondering if it were Mary who was counting cards.

*  *  *

On Sunday morning, the St. Andrew's parishioners once again utilized the buses to attend Mass at St. Thomas.  Father Jim celebrated the Solemn High Mass, and the Rector, Father Matthew Rukaiser, served as deacon and preached from the steps to the chancel.  The Old Testament lesson that day was the story of Elijah's raising from the dead the son of his hostess, a widow, an act which affirmed her faith; and the Gospel was Jesus' raising of a young man, "the only son of his mother," in the city of Nain.  The priest pointed out that while all good deeds which benefit human beings are important, the ones which often tend to make the greatest and most lasting impression are those which greatly benefit people as individuals.  In the Scripture for the day, he said, two widows received the restoration of their children, providing two wonderful lessons about God's immense love for all his children.  The priest likened the good deeds done for New Orleaneans by those from St. Andrew's, San Rafael, to the good works of the prophets and of Jesus himself, saying that in the giving, there is healing, there is life, and there is resurrection for the city.

"Let me say especially to you young people:  I am very proud of you for coming here to help us," Father Rukaiser said.  "I know your parish is proud of you.  I ask you to reflect on the good deeds that you are doing for us collectively, and doing for individuals here.  And I also ask you, when you have an opportunity, to show appreciation to those in your lives who have supported you, guided you and inspired you to do good for others.  Every day, one day at a time, we have an opportunity to give thanks for those who have helped make us instruments of God for the good of others."  The priest then concluded his homily, and in silence went back to the sedalia in the sanctuary and sat down beside Father Mason.

Catherine was sitting next to Kevin, and he reached down and took her hand and gave it a squeeze.  She looked at him in surprise, and then gave him a smile.

As the Mass proceeded, Kevin gave thanks for his and Cam's good fortune in having Casey, alive, healthy, thriving, giving their own lives structure in the very act of their caring for the child.

Following Mass, the St. Thomas parishioners again served a wonderful brunch to their guests before the California crowd finally boarded their buses and returned to their hotel.  By that time of the day, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk, and most of St. Andrew's people hit the pool for a pleasant afternoon.  The kids soon set up a net to play water volleyball in the indoor portion of the pool while the adults sat and watched the youngsters wear themselves out in the water.

Andy Helder, with Carl right behind him, sought out Father Mason where he sat talking in a cluster of adults at poolside.

"Father," he asked, "would it be all right if I go to the airport in the morning with Ian and Carl to see them off?  I'll come right back, I promise."

"If it's all right with Ian, it's fine with me.  Do you have cab fare to get back to the hotel?"

"Yes, sir."

"Check with Ian, then, and let me know."

"I will.  Thanks," Andy said.

The boys walked around to the other side of the pool where Ian was sitting with Mary and Catherine.

"Father Jim said it would be all right if I went to the airport with you and Carl tomorrow morning, if it's OK with you," Andy said.

"You do know we're leaving for the airport at 4:30 a.m., don't you?" Ian asked him.


"All right," Ian said, looking up at the boy.  "That's very nice of you, Andy.  Thank you."

"Yes, sir," Andy said, exchanging a smile with Carl, and nodding over at Father Jim and giving him the high sign.  Then the two boys went through the door to the outside pool, and dived into the water at the same time.  The cool water felt great.

They came up next to each other in the pool.

"Thanks for seeing me off, man," Carl said.  "That means a lot to me."

"Me, too," Andy said.  "I only wish I could go all the way back to California with you."  He looked into Carl's eyes.  "I'm gonna miss you."

The next morning, Carl and Andy were up and in their shower by 3:45, as was Ian in his.  The boys spent a long time in the shower, just holding one another as the water pelted down on them, dreading being apart for the next week or two.  Carl had packed the night before.  Andy, dressed in Levi's and a T-shirt, watched Carl put on a suit so he and Ian could go right from the airport in San Francisco to the courtroom in Monterey.

"Hmmm," Andy told Carl as the latter looked in the mirror at himself.  "You clean up pretty good."

When Carl was ready, he picked up his suitcase, and the two boys went out into the hall.  Before they went downstairs to meet Ian, they stopped at Cam's and Kevin's door, as they had been instructed, and knocked very quietly.  Cam, clad only in his boxers, opened the door right away, and after checking out who it was, let them in.  Kevin got out of bed, showing a little wood.

Cam hugged Carl, and kissed his cheek.  "You'll do great in Monterey, buddy," he said.  "Don't worry about a thing."

"I hope so," Carl said.

"No worries," Kevin said, as he also enveloped the little jock, kissing his cheek.  "We love ya."

Cam went to Andy then and gave him a hug, and kissed his cheek as well.  "Thanks for seeing our boy off," he said.

Andy nodded, and Kevin went and embraced him, too.  "We'll see you at breakfast, all right?" he said to Andy, kissing him on the forehead.

"Yep," Andy said.  "Laters."

Carl picked up his suitcase, and he and Andy left for the lobby to meet Ian, shutting the door quietly behind them.  Cam and Kevin hit the john, and then climbed back into bed.  Cam pulled Kevin closer to his body, and ignoring their erections for the moment, they fell back to sleep almost immediately.

Ian, Carl and Andy walked out of the hotel lobby, and were very surprised when Carl's brother Dan got off the elevator and followed them outside.

"Dan!" Carl said.

"'Morning," Dan said.  "I'm going to the airport with ya."

"Did you ask Father Jim?" Ian asked.

"Yes," Dan said.  "I asked him last night."

Ian looked at the boy.  "OK, then," he said.  "Let's go."

The four of them climbed into a cab that the front desk had summoned for them.   Ian sat in the front seat with the driver, and the three boys sat in back.  Glancing back at them, Ian saw that Carl and Andy were sitting close to each other, holding hands, and he smiled.  There just might be another good relationship like Cam's and Kevin's in the making here, he thought to himself.

There was no traffic except for police cars and National Guard humvees on the streets at that hour, and the cabbie left the French Quarter, crossing Canal Street into the Warehouse District, and then on to the Ponchartrain Expressway and the I-10 toward the airport.  Riding mostly in silence, they were there in 20 minutes, checking in for the redeye flight to San Francisco via Houston.

Ian watched Carl and Andy say good-bye, and was moved by what he saw.  The two boys held each other tight for a long time, finally breaking to kiss each other on the cheek. 

"Think about me while I'm gone," Carl whispered to Andy.  "Say a prayer for me."

"I will.  Kick some ass, and get back here in a hurry," Andy told him.  He pointed down at his cell phone, clipped to his belt.  "Call me."

Carl nodded, and then said good-bye to Dan, hugging him and kissing him as well.

"Thanks for seeing me off," Carl told his brother.

"Put that asshole away for along time," Dan said, referring to their father.

"Don't worry about Carl," Ian told Andy and Dan as he gave each of the boys a quick hug good-bye. "I have his back."

"OK," Andy said, trying to keep from showing any emotion.  His face looked drawn and white as he fought back his tears.

Ian and Carl passed through security, joining the few other passengers present in having their carry-on luggage x-rayed, and ignominiously removing their shoes for examination before being allowed to proceed to their gate.  Carl tried not to look back where Andy and Dan were standing, but he turned around once to give the two a wave.  In a few minutes, they joined the other first class passengers on the articulated walkway from the waiting area on to the plane.  Before sitting down, they put their laptop computers in the overhead bin, with their suit coats neatly folded on top.

Once in the comfortable seat, Carl looked out the window briefly before falling asleep almost immediately.  He didn't even know that the other passengers had boarded, and he slept through the takeoff.  The boy didn't want to think about what lay before him in Monterey.

© 2007 Don Hanratty

  My thanks to Dan, Craig K and Mike G for their help with this chapter of Belovèd.