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


Cam woke up at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

As he did every morning as soon as his eyes opened, he looked at Kevin.  The boy was sleeping soundly beside him, his face masked in its familiar, pre-shave growth of black beard.  His facial hair was so black that in the light from the beach window it looked dark blue.  Cam thought Kevin's face was sexy whether he shaved or not, but he had long since decided he liked about a one-day growth of beard on his partner.  It just emphasized how masculine the guy was.  But usually Kevin shaved every day at least once, to Cam's disappointment.  Cam himself could go for a week without shaving, and a cat could lick his sandy colored beard off with one swipe of the tongue.

Trying not to wake him up, Cam moved closer to Kevin so he could breathe in the smell of him at leisure before they climbed out of bed and went about the day's activities.  That was not to be.  Kevin's eyes popped open and he slowly turned his head to look at his bed mate.  When he met Cam's gaze, a slow smile creased his face.

"I'll pay bigtime to have your face be the first thing I look at every morning for the rest of my life," Kevin said in his low, morning voice.  He moved his own face closer to Cam's and rubbed noses with him.

"How much?" Cam asked.

"How much what?"

"How much will you pay?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I want everything you got," Cam said, reaching under the covers, snaking his hand inside the fly of Kevin's boxers and cupping his package.  Kevin was half hard and moving toward red alert.

"You've had everything I got.  Many times."

"Typical," Cam said.  "I'm talking about spiritual things, like the sight of my lover's face in the morning.  And you're talking about sex."

"Then why do you have your hand on my equipment?"

"I knew that would get your attention."

Kevin began to laugh quietly so as not to awaken Jeff on the other side of the bed.  "Shutup," he said softly.

"Guys, I'm awake," Jeff said at that point.  "And listening to every word you say."

"Nothing gets by you, does it, Jeff?" Cam responded.  "Any comments you want to share?"

"No."  Jeff put his pillow over his face.

"Hey, bud?" Cam said to their guest.

"What?" Jeff's muffled voice came back.

"Do you wanna run this morning?"

"No."  Jeff pulled the pillow off his face.  "If I run, I won't have the energy to go to church."

"Bet you will," Cam said.

"If I have a choice, I'm stayin' in bed," Jeff said.

Cam looked back at Kevin.  "Why don't you check with Carl?  If he doesn't wanna run, he can stay with Jeff and Casey."

"Why me?"

" 'Cause you're closest to the door."

Kevin groaned in defeat and flipped back the covers after removing Cam's hand from his genitalia.  It was obvious to Jeff at that point that both his bed mates were sporting impressive morning erections.

Kevin went over the Casey's crib and reached down to feel the baby's diaper.

"Casey's wet," he told Cam with a grin.  "Your turn to change him.  I'd do it, but you gave me an errand to run."

It was Cam's turn to groan.  But he climbed out of bed after tucking his hardon up under the elastic band of his boxers, and peered at Casey over the edge of his crib.  The baby's eyes were wide open and bright.  But he was aromatic, for certain.

"I just wanna know one thing," Cam said to Casey in his high pitched baby voice.  "How did you get to be so cute?"  He reverted to his normal baritone speaking voice.  "As a matter of fact, I don't know how you could be any cuter than you are!  You stink, but you're v-e-e-e-ry cute!"

After peeing, Cam came back and carried the boy into the bathroom and put him down on a changing table Kevin had set up in there. 
At this age, Casey was well into producing more substantial waste than just urine.  Cam stripped the boy's diaper off, wrinkling his nose as he placed the dirty diaper in a sealed diaper pail.  Raising the little guy's legs, he used several antiseptic baby wipes to clean him up and a soft hand towel to dry him.    Then he powdered the baby's bottom and put a clean diaper on him.

"You're all set, Case!" Cam told the baby.

Kevin walked into the bathroom, waving his hand in front of his face because of the residual smell.

"Man, you need a shower," Kevin said to Cam to aggravate him.  "You're ripe."

"Yeah, yeah," Cam said.  "What did Carl say?"

"He'll stay here with Jeff and Casey."

"Cool.  Let's suit up and hit the beach.  Maybe Carl will feed Casey."

"Maybe he will," Carl said, walking into the bathroom in his boxers.  "Whew!  Nice aroma."

"Will you feed him?" Cam asked.

"Yep.  What should I give him?"  They walked back into the bedroom with Casey in the crook of Carl's arm.

"You choose," Kevin said.  "There's a variety right there," he said, pointing at their little room refrigerator, with small jars of food stacked on top of it.

Carl put the baby back in his crib while he picked out a jar of food, opened it, and found a bib and a clean spoon.  He put them on the arm of an easy chair, picked Casey up again, and eased into the chair.

"Hey, baby face," Carl said to the boy as he tied the bib around his neck.  "You hungry?"  When he touched a spoonful of food to Casey's lips, the child opened his mouth.  "Way to go, little guy!" Carl told him.

Cam and Kevin stripped off their boxers and stepped into clean jocks while Jeff admired their bodies from the bed, trying not to be too obvious about it.  They're fucking buff ! Jeff thought to himself yet again.  And hung!

After Cam and Kevin had their running shorts, T's, and running shoes and socks on, Cam picked up a pedometer and clipped it to his shorts.  Kevin went over to Carl, seated in the chair, and leaning down, wordlessly kissed his friend on top of the head before leaving the room with Cam.

Jeff watched Carl as the boy talked to Casey and spooned food into the baby's mouth.

"Do you know how lucky you are to have friends like Kevin and Cam?" Jeff asked Carl.

"Yeah, I do."

"I had a few close friends in high school before I started getting into drugs," Jeff said.  "But nothing like the relationship you guys have."

"I think it's because we're really a family.  I had a few good friends in high school, but it wasn't until my brother Dan and I started living with the Carsons and Cam and Kevin and their mom that we got close.  That's when Dan and I got close to each other, and we found out what family is really all about.  It's not just friendship with these guys, it's love."  Carl paused and looked over at Jeff.  "At one time I would have been a little embarrassed to talk like this, but it's one of the basic truths in my life now.  I really am a lucky guy.  But I already talked to you about this on the beach the other night."

"Yeah.  Well, I'll probably never experience it myself," Jeff said.  "But I like to watch how people who are close act around each other."

"Hang around.  It can happen for you.  You'll like the rest of the family when you meet 'em next Thursday, I know that," Carl told him.

*  *  *

Cam and Kevin did their stretches out on the back deck.  The humidity was high, and they both stripped off their T's and left them behind.  They put on their shades, and Cam reset the pedometer and the stopwatch function on his watch just as they took off toward the water to run on the packed sand at the water's edge.

"Let's open it up a little today," Kevin told Cam.

Cam nodded, and they increased their pace somewhat.  Cam looked up at the sky.  It was cloudy, with a few vestiges of fog around, but chances were that it would end up being another one of those typical, nearly Fall days in southern California--sunny, hot, and windy.  It's a nice change from San Francisco weather, Cam thought to himself, remembering the chill he and Kevin had often experienced when running up there in the early morning.

Cam and Kevin weren't the only runners on the beach.  A couple of good looking guys with long, blond hair ran by them in the opposite direction, and Cam checked them out as they passed.  Well built.  Handsome faces.  Good chests and legs, and nice butts.  Surfer boys, probably.   They grow 'em good down here in L.A., Cam thought to himself with a smile.

"You need to keep your eyes down in the sand!" Kevin suggested to his partner.  "You're such a boy hound!" he added, smiling.

Caught, Cam looked over at him with a grin.

"I have to look around once in a while so I can count my blessings I have you," Cam said.

"Uh huh," Kevin huffed skeptically.  "Who knows what you're gonna find at school when we get on campus?"

"You've never had any competition anywhere I've been, if that's any comfort," Cam said.  He looked over at Kevin again.  "Being out here right now and running with you is my little slice of heaven, bud.  That's all I can tell you." 
Kevin had just broken into an early sweat, musculature gleaming.  He looked like the consummate jock he was, a picture of virile good health.  Fucking beautiful.

"I'm only teasin' you, man," Kevin said.

"I know."

"You know what I'd really like to do?"


"I'd like to throw you down on the beach and do you right here," Kevin said.

"Right here?"


"Before we go to church?"

"Uh, huh," Kevin said.  "I figure God gave us the equipment, and he expects us to use it.  Whaddaya think of that?"

"I like the way you think, dude.  Always have.  I need to remind you, though, that sex and sand aren't always a pleasing combination."  Cam put an arm around Kevin's neck, pulled him over momentarily, and kissed the side of his head without breaking stride.

They flew down the beach side by side, grinning broadly, just enjoying each other's company.

By the time they arrived back at Alex's house, the sun was out and sweat was pouring off their bodies.  After consulting the stop watch and the pedometer, they were both pleased to see that they had each achieved a new personal best for four miles.

"See how a little sex talk along the way speeds things up?" Kevin asked his partner.

"Word!" Cam said.

They went inside, ran up the stairs and went into their room.  Casey was asleep in his crib, and there were two lumps on either side of their bed which indicated that Jeff and Carl were still conked out.

"Getcher asses up!" Kevin said to the boys, eliciting a groan from Jeff.

The runners hurriedly stripped off their sweaty clothes in the bedroom, and climbed into their shower together.  They needed to get ready for church, but Kevin took the time to pull Cam's body to his own under the spray and just hold him for a minute and kiss his face, neck and chest before they started to wash each other.

When they finally emerged, they put on fresh underwear, collared shirts, Dockers, and relatively well polished real shoes for a change instead of sneakers.  Carl and Jeff were gone from the bed--probably showering in bathrooms down the hall--and Casey was in his crib, eyes wide open, watching the mobile clamped on to the crib rail as it moved around slowly in the breeze from the air conditioning.

Kevin picked up the baby and felt his diaper.  Still dry.  He grabbed a baby bag, shoved a clean diaper, some baby wipes, a jar of strained carrots and a spoon into it, and went downstairs with Casey and Cam to the kitchen.  Cam fixed toast and poured orange juice for himself and Kevin, and they sat in the breakfast nook.  Jeff and Carl joined them a few minutes later, looking sharp.

"You guys clean up pretty good," Cam acknowledged, looking them over.  "You want some toast and juice to tide you over until after church?"

"Yeah," Carl said as Jeff nodded.  "I'll do it."  Carl grabbed two pieces of bread, put them into the toaster, and then poured some orange juice for himself and Jeff.  When the toast popped up, Carl buttered it, put them on plates, and he and Jeff sat down with the boys.

"Did you wimps get enough sleep this morning?" Cam asked, seeing what he could get started.  He looked at Carl.  "You're starting to look a little flabby," he told him.

"Not.  I'd hate to have to hurtcha before Mass," Carl said.  "Asshole!"

Cam smiled.  "Good.  Now you'll have bad language to confess in church. Along with threatening a friend."

"Those aren't sins when somebody deliberately tries to provoke you," Carl said.  "As you do so often."

"Who told you that?"

"The priest in my parish in Seaside."

"Oh.  That was in the old days before Vatican II," Cam said.  "That's all changed now."

"How do you know?"

"Catherine told me."

"You don't even know what Vatican II was, you nimrod," Carl said.  He grinned at Jeff.  "Sometimes it's just better not to take the bait, and keep your mouth shut."

 "Man, are you ever right about that!" Kevin responded, laughing.  He looked at his watch.  Nine-thirty.  "Eat up, or we're gonna be late getting to Hollywood."

The guys finished their toast and orange juice, rinsed their dishes in the sink. and started to leave, Kevin with the baby in the crook of his arm.

"Where's Casey's car seat?" Kevin asked, looking at the keys on the keyboard by the door.

"In the Highlander, I think," Carl said.

"You wanna drive, then?"

"Yep," Carl said, taking the remote pod for the Toyota off the key board.  After buckling Casey into his car seat in the SUV, they were off, heading for St. Dunstan's church.  Father Jim had told him a little about the parish, at which he had served a few months when he was a deacon.  He and the rector had become friends.

Carl caught West Sunset Blvd. off the Coast Highway, which eventually took them within a few blocks of St. Dunstan's.  They made it to Hollywood and the church a few minutes before 10:15, thanks to sparse and fast moving traffic on the highway.  Mass was scheduled for 10:30.  Two priests and a deacon were greeting parishioners at the front door before Mass, and made them feel welcome.

Cam said a general hello for his posse as they went in, and mentioned that Father Jim Mason had recommended St. Dunstan's to them.

"I'm so glad you found us," the celebrant said.  "Please stay for the coffee hour.  You can bring me up to date on how Father Mason is doing."  Cam agreed, and he and the boys went inside.

An usher, a nice looking, middle-aged woman, introduced herself in the vestibule, making known to Kevin that there was a nursery available for Casey.  Kevin was using the car seat as a carrier.

"Thank you," Kevin said.  "He'll sleep through the service, but if he wakes up and fusses, I'll bring him out."

"That will be fine.  Are you boys from out of town?" the lady asked them.

"We've just relocated to Malibu from San Rafael to attend UCLA," Cam said.  "So we're just church hopping right now."

"Wonderful!" the lady said, handing them bulletins.  "Enjoy the service."

The guys found a pew on the right side of the nave about a third of the way toward the altar, genuflected, and went in.  Putting down the kneeler, they offered a prayer, and settled back in the pew.

The organist began playing something for the prelude that sounded vaguely familiar to Cam.  He looked in the program, and found that it was J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  The organ was magnificent, and it sounded to Cam as if Bach's music was being rendered perfectly.  When it was over, the boys heard the familiar sound of a thurible top being run up its chains as the celebrant at the back of the church added incense to the glowing charcoal.  When the top was run back down, the organist began the opening hymn, the congregation stood, and the procession passed by led by the thurifer and then the crucifer.  The guys dutifully bowed their heads as the processional cross went by.  Jeff didn't know what he was doing, but mimicked what Kevin, Cam and Carl did.

The nave of the church was packed full of people, and as usual, the congregation stood for the first part of the Mass until they sat when the scriptural lessons were read.  The second lesson, from Paul's letter to the Romans, caught Cam's attention.

                Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
                Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the
                needs of the saints, practice hospitality...

Reflecting on the matter of hospitality, Cam glanced over at Jeff.  He was pleased that he and Kevin and Carl had offered to take the guy into their home when he really needed it, and
that their new friend had come to church with them.  And he also realized anew how much he and Kevin loved Carl, truly holding him in what St. Paul had called "brotherly affection."

The celebrant preached an excellent homily after the Gospel lesson was read, going back to St. Paul's letter to testify about the hospitable, open door policy of St. Dunstan parish in welcoming all God's children to the altar and to the fellowship of the parish:  rich and poor, black or white or brown, gay and straight, the exalted and the humble were all welcome. 

"Whatever our brokenness is in this world, we leave it behind when we come here," the priest said.  "We embrace the perfection that God meant for us, and try to take it out the door when we leave."

It was just what Cam needed to hear, and he looked at Kevin and smiled.  Kevin smiled back and nodded his head.  Each knew what the other was thinking about that kind of acceptance.  St. Dunstan's just might turn out to be their church home away from home.

When it finally came time for communion, Cam asked Jeff in a whisper whether he was baptized.  Jeff said he had been baptized as a baby, but that he didn't remember much about it.  Cam took him up to the altar rail, kneeling and showing him by example how to receive the sacrament.  Kevin had carried Casey up to the altar rail, and the priest blessed the baby and then placed the communion wafer on Kevin's tongue because his hands were holding Casey.  The deacon administered the cup, and they all went back to their pew.

Cam didn't know about the other guys, but he felt good, restored, as he knelt to offer his personal thanksgiving.  The altar party recessed after the General Thanksgiving and the priestly blessing, and the congregation remained standing after the final hymn was sung.

The deacon sang the dismissal from the back of the church:  "Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord."

"Thanks be to God," the congregation sang back, and the Mass was over.

On the way out, the rector pointed the guys back up a side aisle toward the parish hall, where they could get coffee or juice and rolls, and talk for a few minutes.

Ten minutes later the clergy showed up, now out of their eucharistic vestments and wearing just their cassocks.  The celebrant of the Mass looked around the room, saw the boys, and made a beeline for them.

"Father John Ryan," he said to the guys with a smile. and Cam introduced Kevin, Carl, Jeff, and Casey, and then himself.  They shook hands (except for Casey, of course).

"We liked the Mass very much, Father," Kevin said.  "And your homily.  It was excellent."

"Thank you," the priest said.  "We can never tell the flock too often that God loves all his children.  And speaking of children, who does young Casey belong to?"

"Cam and me," Kevin said.  "We're partners.  We plan to be married out east when we're eighteen, and then Cam will formally adopt Casey."

"Very good," Father Ryan said.  "Casey is baptized?"

"Yes, sir," Kevin said, smiling.  "And by no less a personage than the Rev. James Anderson Mason himself."

"Just checking," Ryan said.  "How is Father Mason doing?"

"He's very well," Cam said.  "The parishioners at St. Andrew's love him, and he's done wonders with the youth program there.  He took the whole youth group to New Orleans late last Spring to gut houses, and miraculously, he brought us all back alive from the big city.  He's a runner, as you probably know, and sometimes he and our family all run together in the morning.  I can't tell you how much we miss him."

"You're not alone.  He made a real impression on people here before Father Blackburn stole him away from us to go to San Rafael."  Father Ryan smiled wryly.  "Where are you all living down here?"

"Malibu," Cam said.  "My dad and his partner John Kelley live over there right on the beach, so we're holding down the fort for them while they're in England making a movie."

"Are you talking about Alex MacKenzie?" Father Ryan asked.

"Yes, sir," Cam said.

"He makes excellent movies," Ryan said.  "I've enjoyed every one of them.  Among other things, his use of color has always been superb.  Did I overhear one of you say in the vestibule that you're down here for school at UCLA?"

"Yes, sir," Carl said.  "Cam is enrolled in the television and movie school--no surprise there--Kevin will be in the physics program, and I'll be studying business."

"What about you, Jeff?" Ryan asked.

"I'm not in school right now."  He looked at the priest and took a deep breath.  "I'll be going into Assurances for a meth addiction as soon as they have an opening."

"Good, Jeff!" Father Ryan said.   "Do you live here in southern California?"

"My parents live right next to Alex MacKenzie in Malibu.  Sean and Susan Miller."

The priest's face lit up.  "I met your dad at a community meeting downtown not too long ago.  Nice guy.  And an excellent actor and speaker.  Half the world and I have seen his movies."

"Thanks," Jeff said, pleased with the compliment to his father.

"Listen, I'd better circulate a little bit," Father Ryan said.  "I'm glad to have met you all.  Please come back and see us again.  We'd love to have you worship with us on a regular basis."

"Thank you, Father," Kevin said.  "I think you'll be seeing more of us.  We'll mention you to Father Jim the next time we talk to him."

"I'll appreciate it.  Have a good day, gentlemen!" the priest said, and walked away to greet some of his parishioners.

"You guys want coffee or anything?" Cam asked.

Carl shook his head in the negative.  "Let's book," he said.  "The beach awaits!"

"Yeah!" Kevin said.  "And we all need to work out."

"On second thought," Cam said, "let's stick around for a few hours and drink some coffee."

"No way!" Kevin said, grinning.  "You worthless lumps of you-know-what need exercise."  He poked Jeff in the ribs.  "Especially you, buddy!"

"Thanks," Jeff said with a sheepish smile, pleased even to be picked on by one of these guys.

"Let me carry Casey for a while," Carl said to Kevin, taking the carrier away from him.  "Those puny muscles of yours are probably tired, and I don't want Casey hitting the deck and getting hurt."

Kevin snorted contemptuously, but didn't object to handing over the baby.

They left the parish hall, went to the Highlander, and headed back to Malibu.

*  *  *

When they arrived back home, the guys changed into shorts and T's, and scattered to do their own thing.  Casey needed a diaper change and was hungry, so Kevin got right on that.  Carl got on the phone for an extended conversation with Andy Helder.  Jeff made a beeline for the Wii, and began bowling against himself.

Cam went to the breakfast nook, taking a pen and pad of paper with him.  Picking up the landline, he called Juanita Fuentes' sister, a lady by the name of Maria Romero, to see if they could arrive at an agreement for housekeeping and child care services.

A lady answered the phone.

"Señora Romero?"


"My name is Cam MacKenzie.  I live next door to Mr. and Mrs. Miller, and see your sister Juanita frequently."

"Oh, yes, Mr. MacKenzie," the lady said with no discernible accent.  "Juanita said that you might call."

"No 'Mr. MacKenzie,' please.  Just plain 'Cam' will do."

"All right, Cam," Maria said.  She had a warm, pleasant voice.

"Juanita tells me that you're looking for a new family to take care of because your current employer is moving away."

"Yes, that's right."

"I'd like to meet you and introduce you to the people I live with," Cam said.  "There are four of us right now--that's including Jeff Miller, by the way--and an infant.  Do you have any time tomorrow?"

"I do."

"Why don't you come for lunch, and we can talk.  Noon.  We'll serve you some soup and a sandwich," Cam said, chuckling.  "I think we can handle that without putting you in the hospital."

Maria laughed.  "I'll be there."

"Wonderful!" Cam said.  "I'm looking forward to meeting you."

"Tomorrow at noon, then," Maria said.  "Good-bye."

" 'Bye."

Cam punched the 'disconnect' button on the phone and put it back in its cradle.  "Yaay!" he said out loud to himself.  Then he called Susan Miller.

"Mrs. Miller," he said.  "This is Cam.  Do you have a minute to talk?"

"Of course, Cam.  Is Jeff all right?"

"Very much so.  I just talked with Juanita's sister, Maria.  She's coming over at noon tomorrow to visit with us, so I wanted to talk with you about an appropriate salary for her.  Would you be willing to share with me what you and Mr. Miller pay Juanita?"

"Of course."

They talked for several minutes about the salary level for domestic help in the L.A. area.

When they were finished, Cam went to find the guys.

Kevin was downstairs by then, puttering around in John's gym, putting weights in order.

"I just talked to Juanita's sister Maria," Cam said.  "She's going to come by at noon tomorrow.  If we like her, let's hire her."

"Full time, I assume," Kevin said.  "What's the freight on that gonna be?"

"We need to talk about that.  I talked to Jeff's mom to find out what the going rate is.  We'll have to bump it up from what Juanita's getting because we have more people in the household.  And Alex and John won't be gone forever, and the rest of the family will be down here from time to time.  She'll need to take care of Casey, and that in itself is a lot of work.  I expect we'll need to pay about a $1000 a week, not including benefits."

"Holy shit!  How are we gonna afford that?" Kevin asked.

"We're not.  Alex will feel so much better knowing that his house and Casey are in good hands and that there's a real adult on the premises, he'll be glad to pay," Cam said.

"Pay what?" Carl said as he walked into the gym, fresh off the phone with Andy and in a good mood.

"For a housekeeper," Cam said.  "We're interviewing Juanita's sister Maria tomorrow at noon.  Be here, bud!"

"No prob.  But you guys aren't picking up the tab for me," Carl said.  "I'm gonna pay part of it."

"We'll see," Cam said.

"Bullshit!" Carl said.  "Don't make me put you down on the floor and hurtcha!"  He crooked one arm, letting an impressive bicep speak for itself.

"Oh look!" Kevin said, laughing.  "Carl has a pimple on his arm."

Moving like lightning, Carl swung a leg and swept Kevin's feet out from under him, lowering him gently to the floor and sitting on his friend's stomach, pinning Kevin's arms with his legs.

"Ow!" Kevin said.

"You were saying?" Carl taunted.

"I was saying what an impressive body you have," Kevin said, laughing again.  "Short, but impressive.  Get off me, though.  I smell crotch."

"That would be a familiar smell to you," Carl said.

Kevin and Cam both began to laugh.  Carl got up, giving Kevin a hand and pulling him to his feet.

"What are we gonna do today?" Carl asked.

"Why don't we work out now, and then maybe go catch a flick later," Kevin suggested.  "Or watch a video."

"Star Trek is supposed to be good," Cam said.

"How did I know I was going to hear the words 'work out' at some point?" Carl said.

"All right, let's motivate!" Kevin said, enthused about working out.  "Where's Jeff?"

"Playing Wii," Carl said.  "I'll get 'em."

He walked back to the den.  "Dude!" he said to Jeff.  "You're being paged to the gym."

Jeff groaned, but shut down the Wii.

"I thought Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest," he said.

"It is, unless you fall into the hands of Kevin," Carl said.  "Don't struggle.  It's easier."

When his victims were assembled, Kevin had them do some warmups.  When those were completed he made his assignments.

"You two," he told Carl and Cam, "get on the machines and give me some cable chest flyes.  Slowly."  Both the boys took a swig of water from bottles Cam had taken out of a little refrigerator in the corner, and then went to the cable machines.  Lying flat on their backs with arms extended down behind their heads, they grasped cables down a little lower than bench level on each side, and slowly pulled them until their hands met with arms fully extended over the midline of their bodies.  Then they went back to their original position and repeated the exercise.  Kevin watched them for several repetitions and then turned to Jeff.

"Let's get you started, buddy," he said.  He went over to one of the hinged benches and put the back up almost to a 90° vertical incline.  "Straddle that for a minute," he told Jeff.  He picked out a barbell and put a light weight on each end of it.  "This is called a 'bar military press,'" he explained to Jeff.  "Put your back against the incline, and starting at chest level, push the barbell directly over your head.  Don't lock your elbows when you extend, though.  Then come down with the barbell and do it again.  See if you can give me twenty reps."

Jeff began the presses, Kevin watching him closely.  By the time he had done fifteen reps, Jeff was struggling.

"Just give me two more," Kevin said.  Jeff did so, gasping, and Kevin quickly took the barbell out of Jeff's hands and put it on a rack.

"Wow!" Jeff said, breathing hard.

"Good man!" Kevin said, grasping Jeff's biceps and pressing his thumbs into them in a deep massage for a minute.  "All right, let's work your abs a little.  This is called an abdominal reverse curl.  Here's how you do it."  Putting the inclined portion of the bench down, Kevin lay on it on his back, grasping the bench with each hand beside his head, elbows up.  Bending his legs at the knee, he slowly raised and pulled them toward him until they were over his hips.  He drew his abs toward his spine, and continued raising his legs until his knees touched his elbows at face level.  Then he unwound until he was flat on the bench again.  Then he put Jeff on the bench and walked him through the exercise.

"See if you can give me fifteen of those," he told Jeff.

Jeff did, and was bathed in sweat by the time he was finished.

"Good job, Jeff!" Kevin said.  "Now, let's do one more exercise.  This is called the 'Superman.'"  He rolled out a mat, and got on all fours, hands at shoulder width apart.  Keeping his spine straight and in a neutral position without moving it, he extended his left arm and right leg in line with his body four times in a row, and then switched to his other arm and leg.

"See if you can give me five minutes of that, changing off sides after every four extensions."

"Oh, Lord," Jeff said.  But he got into it, although he had to quit in four and a half minutes.

"Jeff, you've done great!" Kevin said as Jeff slumped to the floor.  "I'm really impressed!"

Jeff smiled, but he lay there like a lump for several minutes while Kevin took a barbell, put a substantial weight on each end, lay down on a bench and began to crank out bench presses at a slow pace.

Carl and Cam had finished their first exercise.  "Give me some machine triceps extensions," Kevin told them as he momentarily stopped his bench presses, and then resumed.

Carl and Cam started the extensions, then stopped for a minute to watch Kevin.

"See how he shames us," Cam said.  "The weights he uses get heavier and heavier, and he doesn't care how weak he makes the rest of us feel."

"I know it.  What an exhibitionist," Carl said.  "I think I hate him."

Kevin fought against laughing and getting out of rhythm.  "I'd better hear those fucking cables start to move!" he gasped out as he continued the presses.

"Oops," Carl said.  "He heard us."

The two guys got back at it as Jeff lay on the floor still exhausted, wearing a big smile and just digging the whole scene.

*  *  *

Father Jim Mason sat silently in his living room that same Sunday evening.  He was in shock.  He had just talked to his sister, the elder of two girls younger than he, in L.A., and gotten the bad news.  His father had suffered a massive stroke that morning, and had just died.

The priest was confused about his own feelings, because right then he had no feelings.  He and his father had never been close, partly because the Mr. Mason had been a workaholic who shared precious little time with his family during his kids' formative years, and partly because the man had been very reserved by nature.  It hadn't helped their relationship when Jim had opted for the priesthood instead of taking over his father's steel fabricating business as an heir apparent should have done.  But Mr. Mason had received some solace when his elder daughter had been interested in business and had stepped in as CEO of the family company after she had graduated from college and business school.   In point of fact, the company had done extremely well under her leadership.  The firm was still closely held, and Father Mason's holdings had more than doubled over time.  Father Jim had a seat on the board of directors, but because of his tight schedule at St. Andrew's, he rarely attended meetings.  His CEO sister had his proxy for voting purposes, and he'd had no complaints so far.

Mason was upset that he didn't feel worse about the senior Mason's death.  His bad feelings about what had happened to his dad were centered mostly around his mother's bereavement, not his own.  She had loved her husband dearly, and according to the sister, was in despair now.

The thought of not traveling down to L.A. for the wake and funeral Mass never crossed his mind.  But any enthusiasm he had about the trip mostly revolved around the opportunity he might have to spend some time with friends, including, he hoped, Kevin, Cam and Carl.  And Casey.  The boys had only been gone from San Rafael for a short time, but he'd seen Ian and Mary Carson, Catherine MacKenzie and the remaining guys in the family at church that day, and had happened upon the family out running the previous week and had joined them for a few blocks.  Seeing them reminded him how much he missed the three boys already.

So any positive feelings he had about the trip centered on seeing Father Ryan at St. Dunstan's, some of the other priests in the L.A. diocese, and Cam, Kevin and Carl.

Mason heaved himself out of his chair, went to the landline, and phoned his boss, Fr. Ed Blackburn, at the rectory.

"Hi, Jimmy," the older priest said into the phone.  He had caller I.D. and knew who was on the line.

"Hello, Ed," Mason said.  "I have some bad news."


"My father died this evening."

"Oh, Jim," Blackburn said after a moment's silence.  "I'm so sorry.  Do you want me to come over?"

"Thank you, but I'm all right."

"What happened?"

"He had a massive stroke this morning.  So it's a blessing that the Lord took him, I think."

"How is your mother holding up?" the older priest inquired.

"I don't know yet.  I'm going to call her next," Mason said.  "I'm going to have to go down to L.A., obviously."

"Of course.  Take all the time you need."


"Take the week, Jimmy.  Longer, if you need it.  That's an order."

"Thank you, Father.  I'll call you from L.A. and let you know how things go."

"Good.  Let me know where the wake will be held so Gloria and I can send flowers.  And the parish will do so as well.  Do you know where the funeral Mass will be?"

"St. Martin's, probably.  That's our home parish.  I'll let you know."

"All right.  I'll remember you and your family in my prayers, Jim.  We'll do a Requiem for your dad tomorrow.  What was his Christian name?"

"James," Mason said.  "Like mine.  Different middle name:  'James Allen.'  Thank you for your help and understanding, Father."

"We all love you, Jimmy.  Remember that.  Call me when you get a chance."

They said their good-byes.  What a kind man, Mason thought to himself thankfully.  Their working relationship had been wonderful from the day he'd arrived at St. Andrew's.

He was in a fog.  He wanted to go back to his easy chair and just collapse for a while, but compromised by taking the phone and going back to his chair.  He steeled himself to call his mother.

He was on the line with her for twenty minutes.  He didn't talk much, just letting his mother talk to him and weep, letting the woman's misery cascade into his mind and heart.  I'm supposed to be good at this, Mason thought to himself as his mother spoke to him, but I'm not.  Not when it comes to my own family, I guess.

At the end of the conversation, he told his mother he loved her and would see her soon, and they hung up.

When he laid down the phone, he went into his bedroom and threw himself face down on his bed, drifting off and waking up thirty minutes later.  Stripping off his clothes, he put on a bath robe and fixed himself some bacon and eggs and toast.  He sat silently at his dining room table, sipping a glass of orange juice while he ate, feeling low.  He carried the dirty dishes into the kitchen when he was finished and put them into the dishwasher.

Going back to his easy chair, he picked up the phone where he had left it on the table and consulted the electronic directory.  Picking out the entry "CamMcK," he pushed quick dial and listened as the boy's cell rang.

"Yo, Father Jim," Cam's voice said.  "We've been thinkin' about you.  How are ya, and where you?"  Cam stood up from a couch in the den and walked out of the den and into the hall where it was quiet.

"Hangin' in," the priest said.  "I'm home.  How are you guys?"

"Good.  But you don't sound like yourself.  'Sup?"

" dad died today."

Silence.  "Oh, Father, I'm so sorry."

"Thank you.  But I didn't call to talk about that.  I'll be flying into L.A. tomorrow, and I just want to make sure I get to see you guys while I'm down there."

"Of course you will.  We want to see you.  School hasn't started yet.  Is there any chance you can come and stay with us?  We have plenty of room.  You probably don't know this, but the whole family is flying down here this coming Thursday and staying until the following Tuesday.  Maybe you can fly back home with them--Ian has a charter.  Anyway, please stay with us.  It'll help take your mind off...well, other things.  We'd really like to have you here.  We'll run together on the beach.  Casey'll be really P.O.'d if you don't come and stay here."

"He will, huh.  That's a pretty good sales pitch.  We'll work something out," Mason said.  "I want to see Father John Ryan at St. Dunstan's while I'm down there, too."

"We went to Mass at St. Dunstan's this morning and really liked it.  Father Ryan was talking about you.  He had lots of good things to say, I should tell you."

"That's a relief," the priest said, "because he knows a lot of my failings.  Tell you what, I'll call you when I get into LAX, all right?"

"Perfect!" Cam said.  "Father, I'm very sorry for your loss.  We'll pray for you and your family.  I mean that."

"I know you do, buddy.  I'm looking forward to seeing you all.  God bless you."

The priest got up from his chair and hung the phone back up on the wall.  Talking to Cam and knowing that he'd get to spend some time with the boy's whole family during the week had cheered him up immensely.  Sitting down again, he cranked up his reading light and picked up his office book to read Evening Prayer.

When he went online to make plane reservations before going to bed, he grabbed the last seat on an early commuter flight out of S.F. International to LAX.  He booked it, but didn't book a return flight in case he did fly home on Ian Carson's charter flight.  Taking a couple of suitcases out of his closet, he started throwing enough clothes for a week into them.

*  *  *

Cam closed his phone after talking to Father Mason and walked back into the den, looking at the three guys.  They were all watching Alex's video of A Few Good Men, an old movie that Kevin and Cam especially liked.  Kevin hit the stop button.

"So?" Kevin said curiously.

"I have bad news and I have good news," Cam said.  "The bad news is that Father Jim's dad died today."

"Oh, man," Carl said disconsolately, and stared down at the floor.  Kevin closed his eyes for a long moment before looking back at Cam.

"The good news is that Father Jim is going to be down here for a week, and I think he'll stay with us at least part of the time he's here."

"Excellent!" Kevin said, and high-fived Carl.  "I was afraid we might lose track of Father when we moved down here, and I didn't want that."

"I don't think that's gonna happen," Carl said.  "He's kinda part of the family now."

"Yeah," Cam agreed.  "I told him we'd remember him and his family in our prayers tonight.  So don't forget to do that, okay?"

"Absolutely," Kevin said.  Carl nodded, and they went back to the movie.

*  *  *

Maria Romero, Juanita's sister, showed up precisely at noon the next day for her interview, and rang the bell at the street-side door.

Cam went to answer it, leaving a pot full of soup gurgling on the stove under low heat.  He was no cook; he'd known that going in.  So mid-morning he'd taken five big cans of Campbell's Healthy Request Grilled Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, dumped them into a sizable pot, and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  The smell of it made his mouth water, reminding him of the gumbo he'd had in New Orleans.

Maria was neatly dressed in a white blouse and checked skirt, wearing black shoes over hose.  Her hair was black, and she had sparkling brown eyes and skin, with pleasant facial features that reminded Cam of her sister Juanita next door.  The overall impression she gave was that she was a very intelligent, very together person.

"Maria?" Cam said, extending his hand cordially.  "I'm Cam.  Please come in."

"Thank you," Maria said.  She looked around a little as they walked into the kitchen.

"Do you want to talk first, eat first, or take a tour of the house?" Cam asked.

"Let's take a tour first," Maria suggested.

"Cool," Cam said.  "Then I'll get my partner Kevin and our friend Carl, who lives with us, to join us when we talk."

They went through the downstairs first.  Jeff and Carl were in the den, golfing on the Wii.  Maria obviously knew Jeff, and gave him a hug.  She greeted Carl pleasantly with a handshake.

"Mr. Alex and his partner have a beautiful home," Maria said when they finished their downstairs tour and started to go upstairs.  Juanita had obviously shared with Maria that Alex and John were gay partners.  And as sharp as she seemed, it had most certainly registered with her when Cam identified himself as gay by noting he also had a partner.  It's best that all that information be out on the table before we work out our agreement, Cam thought to himself.

They went upstairs, and Cam showed her Alex and John's vacant, immense master bedroom, and then they went next door to Cam and Kevin's room.  Kevin was sitting in their easy chair feeding Casey an increasingly rare bottle of mother's milk now that the baby was moving toward more solid food.  Kevin stood up when Cam and Maria came in the room.

"Don't get up," Maria said, motioning to Kevin to sit down.  These boys have some manners, Maria thought to herself.  That's a good sign.

"Maria, this is Kevin, my partner, and our baby, Casey," Cam told her.

"Hello, Kevin," Maria said, not shaking hands because his hands were full.  She bent her head down and looked at Casey, fleetingly caressing his head.  "What a beautiful child!" she said.

"We love him to death.  Doing a good job raising him is our number one priority," Cam said, and the expression on his face left no doubt about that.  "Do you have children?"

"Yes.  Two.  A seven year old boy and a five year old girl."

"There's nothing like experience," Kevin said, smiling.  "I'm happy to tell you that Casey is a very good baby.  An easy baby, those who have raised children tell us.  He has a good temperament, and rarely fusses about anything.  Lucky us!"

The three of them chatted for a few minutes, and then Cam asked Kevin to go downstairs when he was finished with Casey to eat lunch and sit in on their negotiations.

"Right behind ya, buddy," Kevin said.

Maria and Cam walked on down the hall, and Cam showed Maria the rest of the bedrooms and where all the storage closets and supplies were for taking care of the upstairs.

That done, they went back downstairs.  Before they went into the kitchen to sit in the breakfast nook, Cam called Jeff and Carl.

"Guys, time for lunch.  We'll eat in the kitchen."

"Coming, mother," Carl shouted back.

Cam laughed and shook his head.  "There's a little of the wise guy in all of us, I'm afraid," he admitted to Maria.

They went into the kitchen, where Cam invited Maria to sit down.

"I wanted to ask you something, and please don't take offense," Cam said.  "I notice that you don't have a Spanish accent.  Juanita does, but you don't.  Why is that?"

"I was born here in the States after my father and mother immigrated here and were naturalized," Maria said.  "I'm the youngest child in the family.  All my brothers and sisters were born in Mexico.  So I speak good Spanish, but I learned English here with no accent."

"Thanks," Cam said.  "I understand."

Leaving the table, Cam went to the refrigerator and took out three large packages of lunch meat, put it on a large platter with a loaf of bread, and the chewable food was on the table in one quick hurry.

"Maria, what would you like to drink?"

"Water will be fine," she said.

"We have iced tea, orange juice and milk," he added.

"Cold water will be just fine," she said.

Cam accommodated her, and then went to the stove and started ladling out the steaming gumbo into big bowls.

Carl and Jeff came in, followed by Kevin.

"Ummm, that smells good!" Carl said, licking his lips as Cam began carrying bowls of soup over to the breakfast nook table with hot pads.

"You guys get yourselves whatever you want to drink," Cam told the guys.

When everything was on the table, the boys all joined hands for grace, with Maria catching on quickly and closing the gap.  Carl offered thanks, they made the sign of the cross, including Jeff, and they all sat down.

Maria was surprised.  Grace from teenagers!  Unless, of course, that was just a show to impress her.  If it was, she'd find that out soon enough.

Kevin lifted a spoonful of soup, blew on it to cool it off, and put it in his mouth.  After tasting it, he swallowed it down.  "Almost as good as the gumbo in New Orleans," he opined.  "Almost," he repeated.  "Thanks, Cameron.  This is good."

"Yum," Carl said, stacking a big pile of lunch meat on his bread after Maria fixed herself a sandwich first.  Carl squirted horseradish mustard on the meat, plopped a piece of bread on top, and took a huge bite.  After chewing at length, he swallowed it down.  "Mmmm.  Good lunch, Cam!"  He took another bite and chewed some more.  "I can feel new strength flowing into my muscles."  He looked at Kevin.  "I probably won't need to work out for a while."

Kevin snorted and smiled derisively.  "You wish.  Not gonna happen."

They continued eating until the soup bowls were empty and the lunch meat was gone.

"Seconds on the gumbo?" Cam asked.

"Don't mind if I do," Carl said.

Cam brought the whole kettle over to the table, and started ladling out the soup until he was scraping bottom.  Maria had passed on more gumbo, but all the boys took a second helping.  After finishing up, they sat back in their chairs.  Cam sat there waiting for a big belch to emanate from one of the guys, but they were on their best behavior.

Cam cleared the table, and taking a pen and pad of paper off the counter, he sat down.

"Let's talk," he told Maria.  "Don't worry about being outnumbered," he said, smiling.  "For purposes of this discussion, these guys are silent partners.

"Here's what we're looking for," Cam continued.  "First of all, we need housekeeping and child care help five days a week, Saturdays and Sundays off.  Two weeks vacation to use after the first year.  As far as our expectations go, number one, we'd want you to take care of Casey from when we leave for school in the morning until Kevin, Carl and I are out of classes and get home.  We'll pull our schedules off the computer and give them to you if you agree to work for us.  If you can fix us breakfast before we leave, that'll be helpful, and if you can start supper for us Monday through Friday, that will be good as well.  The beds will need to be changed once a week, and the laundry done once a week.  That includes our personal laundry.  We'd like you to take a quick look at the bathrooms every day just to see that they're not too gross, and change the towels a couple times a week.  The carpets will need to be vacuumed once or twice a week, and the tiled surfaces washed once or twice a week, and waxed if they need it.  Some of the tile doesn't require waxing.  The windows should be washed inside once a month.

"From time to time, we'll have family members come down here from San Francisco.  That entails some extra work, but I can promise you we'll try to help out a lot when that happens so it doesn't get overwhelming for you.  It so happens that the whole family--that's nine people including our two housekeepers from home, along with our two dogs--will be here from this coming Thursday afternoon until next Tuesday morning.  My dad and his partner probably won't be home from England very often for the next six months, but eventually they'll be coming back here to live full time.  I mentioned our housekeepers from home.  I need to warn you that our housekeepers are like family to us--we don't treat them like employees, and they don't treat us like employers.  I hope you'll be family to us if you take this job.

"I want to let you know that we're not super clean when it comes to making messes, but on the other hand, we're not total slobs, either.  We're going to try to help keep your workload manageable by picking up after ourselves a lot.

"Above all," Cam said, "we want to keep the lines of communication open about what's going on around here when it comes to our standard of living.  We don't want you ever to feel that you can't talk to us when changes need to be made in what we're all doing.

"I tried to do a little research about the going rate for housekeepers in this area.  We'd like exceed the going rate a little by offering you four thousand dollars a month gross if you're willing to come work for us.  Of course we'll be paying the employer's portion of your social security.  Does this sound attractive to you at all?"

Maria looked surprised.  "Four thousand?  That's very generous, Cam.  I want to be fair with you.  Are you sure you want to go that high?"

"I'm positive of it now," Cam said.  "Four thousand a month is our offer."

"I accept," Maria said, smiling.

"I'll tell you what," Cam said.  "Why don't I sit down at the computer tonight and put all this down in writing for all of us to sign?  When would you like to start?"

"Is tomorrow too early?" Maria asked.  "I've been out of work for a few weeks."

"Tomorrow is perfect," Cam said.  "We're not in school yet, so why don't you come in about 9 o'clock?  I'll give you your own key to get in the back door, and I'll have our contract ready to sign."

"All right," Maria said.  "I'll be here.  I'm looking forward to working for you."  She stood and offered her hand to Cam and then to Kevin and Carl.

"Oh, by the way, do you need uniforms?" Cam asked.  "We'll front you some money if you do."

 "No, I'm good on uniforms."

"Great!" Cam said.  "Welcome aboard!"  He walked over to the key board, and took a key off one of the hooks.  "Here you go.  This is for the street-side door."

"Thank you so much," Maria said.  "I'll see you all tomorrow.  Good-bye, guys."

The boys said good-bye, and Cam walked her out.

"Dude, you're fucking amazing," Kevin told him when Cam came back.  "You really had your shit down pat."  He grinned lasciviously.  "That makes me hot!  I didn't know you had such an orderly mind.  Are you sure you don't want to be a business major like Carl?"

"Aw, shucks, Kev, you're gonna turn my head."

"I'm serious," Kevin said.

"Good job," Carl agreed.  "I'm impressed."

"One other thing," Cam said.  "We need to go to our bank and set up a household account.  That way we won't come up short when it's time to pay Maria every month."

"Good idea," Carl said.  "You're just full of it!"  Carl grinned.  "Good ideas, I mean."

"Watch it, bud," Cam said.

"Let's get Casey and sit on the deck for awhile," Kevin suggested to the guys.

"I'll get the little bug," Cam said.  "Save me a seat."

After putting on some sunscreen, the guys sat out in the sunshine for a couple hours, shading the baby, just shooting the shit and enjoying each other's company.  Eventually, Kevin made them go inside to change into their workout clothes and sweat for a while in the gym.

They thought about going out for dinner, but decided to stay home.  Eventually Kevin thawed some tuna filets in the late afternoon and cooked them on the grill while Cam made salads for them all, and Carl cooked some mixed vegetables.  They ate a good dinner in the dining room.  After a couple hours of television, Cam got on his computer and drew up their agreement that they'd sign with Maria the next day, printing out a copy for each of the signatories.

They finally went to bed.  Cam put Casey in their bed for a while, and they talked to the baby and played with him as Jeff watched a little Conan and Letterman, flipping back and forth between the channels.  When the TV went off, Kevin put the baby down for the night in his crib and went back to bed.  After they offered their prayers silently remembering Father Jim and his family, they said goodnight to Jeff.  Kevin pulled Cam close to him.

"Thanks for handling all the stuff with Maria," Kevin told his partner quietly, kissing him on the cheek.  "That really helped."

"That's all right," Cam said.  "I wanted to get us on track for when the family gets down here."

"I'm getting excited about that," Kevin said.  "I miss everybody a lot already."

"Me, too.  That'll get better once we get busy in school, I guess."

Kevin pulled Cam's face over and gave him a long, gentle kiss on the lips.  They were both hard, but couldn't do anything about it with Jeff on the other side of the bed.

"I love you so much, Cam," Kevin whispered.

"Back atcha," Cam said, rubbing noses with his partner.

That was the last thing Cam remembered until morning.

© 2009 Don Hanratty

Many thanks to Dan, MikeG and Ken for their help in proofreading.  It's much appreciated.