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


The adults and all the guys were in a great mood after their trip to Disneyland.  The bus sat idling in the street in Santa Monica while Cam, William and Carl picked up ten thin crust pizzas loaded with all the toppings, ten large boxes of cheese sticks, and twenty liters of soft drinks.  Cam paid with Catherine's credit card, and the family headed back to the Malibu house and feasted, sitting around the dining room table.  The guys relived some of better rides at the amusement park, sharing their experiences with the adults, who had been more sedentary.

Before he ate, Kevin sat at the table holding Casey, feeding him some strained vegetables from a jar he took out of the kitchen.

"Save me some pizza," he told Cam as he watched the guys eat.  "These savages will eat everything in sight before I get any."

"Yep," Cam said, closing one of the boxes with half a pizza left in it, putting it over on the sideboard for safe keeping.

When Kevin was finished feeding Casey and had burped him, Father Jim took the little boy into the living room and sat in a rocking chair.  Minutes later the baby was dropping off to sleep as the priest rocked.

Mason softly sang the baby a hymn tune he especially liked:  "Sing my soul, his wondrous love, who, from yon bright throne above, ever watchful o'er our race, still to us extends his grace..."

Andy Helder and Carl Emrick joined the priest in the living room to keep him company after they had eaten their fill of pizza.  They sat on one of the couches beside each other, and Carl reached over and held Andy's hand.  They hardly ever gave any public indication of their relationship, but they trusted this man.

The priest studied them from the rocking chair.

"How are things going for you guys?" he asked.

Andy and Carl looked at each other and smiled.

"I can't begin to tell you how good, Father," Carl said.

"I'm glad," the priest said.  "Andy, do your parents know you're in a relationship with Carl?"

"They don't have a clue," Andy said.  "I've been debating when and how I'm going to tell them."

"There will be a right time for that," Father Mason said, "and you'll know when that time is.  Trust me on that.  Have you been praying about it?"

Andy looked down at the floor.  "Not really.  Do you really think that God approves of gay relationships?"

"I think that God approves of all loving relationships for those who are free to be in one," Mason said.  "You two qualify.  Haven't you been listening to what Father Blackburn and the other priests and I have been saying about this in church?"

"Yes, sir," Andy said.

"Is your relationship with Carl a loving one, and does it reflect your true nature as a human being?"

"Yes, Father."

"Well, the Episcopal Church isn't going to judge you negatively in God's name for this relationship, so don't you be judging yourself and putting yourself down," the priest said sternly.  "If you do judge yourself adversely, you're going to be in a world of hurt until you accept God's love for you and Carl as a couple."

"Thank you for saying that," Carl chimed in.  "I've been trying to reassure Andy about this."

Jim Mason nodded, and looked down at the baby in his arms.  "Andy, I'm not trying to give you a hard time.  And I'm not minimizing the challenge of coming out to your folks, and I'm certainly not trying to dictate when it's the right time to let your mom and dad know you're gay."  He paused.  "It may or may not be disappointing for them.  But for all you know, they may already have a sense of what your sexual orientation is."

"I don't know," Andy said, "but I don't think so."

"According to the communicant list, your mom and dad have been parishioners of St. Andrew's for many years now, and they know our stand on sexual orientation issues.  I have no reason to think that they're going to reject you or your relationship with Carl.  That isn't to say that they may not need some time to adjust to the reality of it, but I have a good feeling about the outcome whenever you elect to tell them."

Andy teared up a little.  "Thank you, Father.  I'll pray about this.  I admit I've been worried about it."

"And you know I'm always available to help you and your family with any problems that may arise," Mason said.

Just then William and Berto came in, followed by Catherine.  The discussion was concluded, but Andy seemed relieved that they had talked.

"May I have the baby?" Berto asked, going over to Father Mason and holding out his arms.  Casey was fast asleep by then.

"Here you go," the priest said, sliding forward on the rocker.  "You want to sit here?"

"Yes, please," Berto said, bending down to take the child and then sliding into the chair when the priest stood up.  Once seated, he dipped his head, touched noses with the sleeping child, and began rocking him gently.

"I think we're gonna play poker at the dining room table," William told Berto.

"Go ahead and start.  I'll be there in a few," Berto said.

William looked at the priest.  "You wanna play, Father?"

"Sounds good," Mason said.

"If I take your money, is it holy money?" William smarted off.

"Definitely.  It'll bring you bad luck if you keep it," the priest said solemnly.  Then he chuckled.  "Not."

"I'll lend you money if you lose your shirt, as you most certainly will," William said.  "I'll only lend the money at a suitable rate of interest, of course.  You know--like the banks."

"The banking industry is a sore subject right now," Father Mason commented as Andy and Carl stood up to leave with the others for the card game.

"Dr. MacKenzie, can you spare me a few minutes sometime to talk about St. Francis University?" Andy asked Catherine before he left the room.  "I may want to major in English lit."

"Of course, Andy," Catherine said, looking pleased.  "Anytime."

"Thanks," Andy said as he walked out with Carl, William and Father Jim.

Catherine sat down and watched Berto hold Casey in the rocker.

"You look pretty natural there, Berto," she told the boy.

"I love this baby," Berto admitted, smiling.  "All us guys do.  I want some kids just like him one of these days."

"Well, when you do have them, you'll be entering into family life with your eyes wide open," Catherine said.  "Casey is so fortunate to have a big family who all love him."

"That's true," Berto said.  He studied the woman sitting across from him.  "You know, I'm not sure whether I've ever told you how much I appreciate all you've done for me.  Letting me live in your house and everything.  And continuing to take care of all us boys, even after Cam and Kevin and Carl moved down here to Los Angeles.  I don't think I can ever thank you enough."

"Sweetheart, believe me, you've thanked me every day by just being who you are.  You're a wonderful young man, and you're like a son to me and to Ian and Mary.  You're right where you belong.  We all love you so much."

Berto lowered his head, trying not to let Catherine see that his eyes were a little moist.

"I know you came to us out of tragedy," Catherine said, "but I have no doubt that you're going to have a wonderful life.  You're smart.  You're tough.  You're a hard worker.  You have a loving personality.  Those qualities are a winning combination in this world, and I'd clone you if I could.  You've been a real gift to every one of us in this family, and you'll always have a place in our hearts and in our homes.  Now they're your homes.  I hope you know that."

Berto brushed the moisture out of his eyes and then pretended to look around, grinning with modesty.  "Are you talking to me?"

"The very same, young man!" Catherine said, smiling.

"'Thank you' just doesn't seem to say enough," Berto said, looking Catherine in the eye.

Ian and Mary walked in at that point and sat down together on the couch.

"Berto, the boys want you in the dining room," Mary said.  "They said you should bring all your money."

Berto smiled.  "Those losers!  I'm gonna take every cent they have!"

He stood up.  "Does anybody want to take the baby?  I can hold him and play cards at the same time, though.  Kevin does it all the time."

"I want him."  Catherine held out her arms, and Berto stood up and passed her the child.  Then he leaned down and kissed Catherine's cheek before heading for the dining room.  Catherine was moved, and looked over at Ian and Mary.

"Berto is a very special young man," she said, telling them what they already knew.

"He is indeed," Mary said.  "A great kid!  I love him to death.  He's survived everything the world has thrown at him and just kept rolling along.  So resilient!  He's a good example for all the boys.  A good example for all of us."

Ian nodded.  "I couldn't agree more.  Every day he's been with us has been a blessing."

"The boys who make the most noise and act out in one way or another tend to get a lot of my attention," Catherine said.  "I guess that's natural enough.  But I don't think I've been giving Berto the attention he deserves, and I'm going to do better by him."

"You're absolutely right about that, Catherine," Mary said.  "Berto kind of flies under the radar.  We can do better."

Ian looked at Catherine thoughtfully.  "Catherine, I don't know what we'd do without you.  I mean that."

*  *  *

Berto walked into the dining room and was greeted with big smiles.  He had always been the guy to beat in the boys' card games, and they loved to compete with him because he was always low key and even tempered, win or lose.  But he seldom lost.  Not badly, anyway.

He sat down and bought some poker chips from Mark, the banker, and sat quietly until the current hand was over.  William won that hand, and raked in the chips and stacked them up in front of him.

"Where's Casey?" Kevin asked.

"Catherine has him," Berto said.

"Berto, Berto, Berto," William said in a sing-song voice.  "I'm so glad you joined us.  It's going to be tough to take your money, roomie, but I'm gonna force myself to do it."

"How about less talk and more action," Berto told William, watching Cam deal the cards.  They were playing five card draw, and when Berto checked his hand he saw he was already within one card of having four of a kind.  But he didn't smile and give anybody a "tell."

They went around the table betting, and William threw in three chips from the humongous pile in front of him.  Berto and the other guys matched him.

Kevin was watching Berto, and saw him give up only one card in the draw.

"Watch the Latino," Kevin announced.  "He has a good hand.  I can read him like a book."

Berto smiled and said nothing.  During the next round, William bet one chip, and Berto raised him one after checking his cards.  The other guys threw two chips into the pot with some reluctance.

During the next draw, Cam drew three cards, so everybody knew his hand wasn't so good.  Kevin drew two, but his face remained impassive when he saw what he had drawn.  Berto didn't draw, confirming Kevin's suspicions the kid had good cards, and the remaining boys and the priest drew one card.

During the last round, Berto bet four chips, and everybody but Kevin folded.  Kevin put in four chips, and raised Berto one.  Berto threw in the required chip and called Kevin.

Berto had queens, four of a kind, and Kevin had a full house, aces over tens.

"Shit!" Kevin said, throwing down his cards.  Then, realizing Father Mason was sitting in, he blushed and said, "Sorry, Father."

The priest nodded, saying nothing.

"You should have taken your own advice to watch Berto," Carl observed to Kevin as he dealt the next hand.

"Shutup," Kevin said.

"Hey, Kev," William Carson said


"What's going on with your face?"


"Your facial hair is rapidly overwhelming your countenance," William said.

"Ante up and keep quiet," Kevin said.

"No, seriously.  Are you growing a beard?"

"Not exactly."

"Well, what exactly?"

"You're nosier than you should be," Kevin said.  "You should pay more attention to your cards."

"Spill, dude!" William said.

"If you must know, I'm not shaving as close as I was."

"Obviously.  But why?"

"'Cause I like it.  If you could grow hair on your little girlie face, you could try it."

"Burn!" Carl opined, grinning at William.  The other guys hooted.

"Cam won't like what you're doing," William told Kevin.

"To the contrary, Cam likes it a lot," Cam corrected William.  "I asked him to let it grow a little, if you must know."

"Well, no offense meant," William said, smiling because he'd gotten a rise out of Kevin.

They went through several rounds of betting after things calmed down, and Father Jim ended up winning that hand.

"Who says the Lord doesn't love His anointed?" the priest said as he raked in the chips.

"Don't rub it in," Mark Carson suggested.  "I thought Jesus loved the poor more than anybody.  Didn't you say that in a sermon recently."

"You've got me there," Father Jim said.  "He does love the poor, so I'll put all my meager winnings into the collection plate at Mass on Sunday.  I know you guys don't need it."

Mark laughed and high-fived him, and they continued playing.  Two hours later when they quit, Berto Hernandez was the biggest winner, followed by Dan Emrick.  William Carson had lost everything except for one lonely chip.

"See what happens when you taunt your friends about facial hair," Kevin told William, pointing at the chip.

"I know," William said, putting an arm around Kevin's neck and hugging him as they stood up from the table.  "I just can't stop myself.  Actually, your five o'clock shadow looks pretty good, but don't quote me on that."

After cleaning up the dining room and restoring the leaves they had removed from the table, the guys congregated in the kitchen.  Mary had bought several gallons of soy milk which was flavored with vanilla when she had last shopped, so the boys tried it to wash down some cookies before bed.

"Not bad," Kevin said as he quaffed some of the soy milk.  "It's supposed to be better for you than cow milk.  But who knows?"

"I don't think it would taste so good if it weren't for the vanilla," Carl said.  "I guess I could get used to it, though."

They continued talking and eating until they were satiated.

Carl and Andy eased out of the kitchen at that point and went upstairs to their bedroom.  Cam and Kevin retrieved Casey from Catherine in the study, and took him upstairs for a quick bath and then put him in his crib.  When they were finished, they went back downstairs to find the boys finishing up cleaning the kitchen.

"Listen up, you losers," Kevin announced as the guys continued rinsing plates and glasses, putting them in the dish washer, and wiping down the counter tops.  "We're running tomorrow at 8 a.m.  Anybody who's late can't swim in the Millers' pool when we get back."

There were a number of responses to that threat, the general tenor of which were:  "Fuck you, asshole!!"

"You sure know how to win the hearts of the people," Cam kidded his partner, laughing.  "You should consider politics."

On the way back to the living room, the guys continued to verbally abuse Kevin for what he'd said.  After brushing their teeth, they pushed the furniture back and put their sleeping pads, sheets and pillows down on the floor.

Knowing that Mark Carson would try to worm his way between him and Kevin again, Cam moved to the other side of his partner and put Jeff next to him at the very end of the line of boys on the floor.  Mark still got to sleep next to Kevin, but not between Cam and him.

The boys all stripped down to their boxers, and got under the sheets, yawning and stretching and groaning.

After quickly saying his prayers, Cam covered Kevin and himself with a single shared sheet, and moved close to him, also sharing his partner's pillow and feeling the welcome heat from his body.  He breathed in the familiar male smell of him.  Pulling the sheet over their heads, Cam kissed Kevin softly on the lips.

"Love ya, bud," Cam whispered.

Kevin smiled and pulled Cam tight up against him so that their bodies were touching head to toe.  That was all it took to arouse them, and a moment later they were feeling one another's erection through their tented boxers.  But they didn't pull away.

"Cameron, I love you more every day we're together!" Kevin whispered into his partner's ear as he returned Cam's kiss.  He trembled as he inhaled Cameron's sweet breath.

Cam smiled, kissed him again without speaking, and turned over on his other side.  Kevin spooned him, putting his free hand on Cam's chest and caressing him softly. It was such a strong hand to be capable of such gentleness, Cam thought to himself.  He grasped it, and moving it to his lips, kissed Kevin's palm.

You're in my heart, Kevin.  You are my heartYou're the gift of a lifetime.  You and Casey are the gift of a lifetime.

That was the last thing Cam thought about before drifting off into rest, feeling whole and content in Kevin's arms.

*  *  *

Kevin was as good as his word about getting everybody up to run the next morning.  Cam heard the alarm of Kevin's watch go off under their shared pillow at 8 a.m.  Kevin reached under the pillow and shut it off.  He stood, tucked his morning hardon under the elastic of his boxers, and moving around the living room, awakened the boys with a quiet word and a touch.  It was a nice change for the guys from Kevin's previous morning's noisy Reveille.

When the guys were awake, Kevin went upstairs and began knocking on the adults' bedroom doors, announcing that it was time to run.  As before, he went into Carl and Andy Helder's room after knocking.  The two guys, looking sleepy, were intertwined in their bed, and Carl had his hand pressed softly to Andy's face.  Kevin smiled at them and used their bathroom before going back downstairs.

"Let's go, guys," he told them before leaving the bedroom and shutting the door.

He met Maria Romero at the bottom of the stairs for the second morning in a row, and was embarrassed because he was wearing just his boxers.

"Sorry I'm not dressed," Kevin mumbled sheepishly, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Don't worry about it," Maria said.  "I'm a mother, you know.  You're decent."

Kevin smiled.  "Casey's with Catherine."

"I'll get him," Maria said.  "Have a good run."

He went back into the living room, where the guys were in various stages of changing out of sleepwear into their jocks, running shorts and T's or tank tops.  Kevin began to dress, putting on a dark blue T-shirt that pictured a man across the front of it successively entering into the evolutionary process:  first all crouched over as he emerged from the primordial slough, then gradually morphing over several panels into homo erectus, and finally ending the tableau all crouched over again--in front of a computer.

William laughed when he saw the shirt.  "That says it all!" he said.  "I want one."

"I got it in Santa Monica," Kevin said.  "We'll get you one before you leave for home."


Eventually the whole family gathered on the deck for their warm-ups, and Cam couldn't help watching them as they prepared to run.  Scoping out the boys in particular wasn't just prurient interest on his part, although there was some of that.  Every one of the group, though, the adults as well as the young guys, had a healthy glow to them.  As always, Cam was pleased and thankful to be a member of this extended family.  After they had all limbered up, once again they set out on the beach in one of three groups--runners, joggers, fast walkers.

Kevin breathed deeply as he got into stride, he and Cam out in front of the rest of the runners.  They didn't know it, but they received more than a few admiring glances from the young guys behind them, including the straight ones.

It was the beginning of another perfect southern California fall day as they ran along the hard packed sand at water's edge.

They were well into their second mile when a group of four guys approached them, running from the opposite direction.  Nobody said anything as the two groups passed, but the strangers were the same four young men who had confronted them at Disneyland after Cam had kissed Kevin in public the day before.

Kevin and Cam looked behind them at the group, and saw that Eric, the biggest of the four, was looking back at them as the gap between the groups widened.  Eric gave them the finger before he turned his head back around to look where he was going.

Cam looked over at his partner.  "Shit!" he said quietly.  "Those assholes must live here in Malibu.  What a bummer!"

"Yeah," Kevin said, trying to shake off a strange feeling of apprehension.  "I think I just may end up punching out 'Eric' before too long if we happen to meet.  He may not even have to give me more of a reason than he already has."

"Let me help," Cam said as they settled back into their pace.  But he had an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach and didn't know why.  After all, no out of the closet gay guy was a stranger to negative vibes and hateful looks when he had allowed himself to show affection to another man in public.  Cam found himself half wishing that he hadn't kissed Kevin out in the open on that fairway at Disneyland.

"Who were those guys?" Ian asked from further back in the pack as they all ran along.

"We saw them at the amusement park yesterday," Andy Helder said.  "They're a little too macho for their own good," he added diplomatically.

Ian groaned and shook his head, but didn't say anything more.

They continued the run, with the negative feelings from the chance encounter with Eric and his minions causing Cam and Kevin to up the pace a little beyond their usual speed.  Nobody complained, though, and everybody kept up.

Kevin was monitoring his pedometer, and got the runners turned around at the three and a half mile mark and headed home.  When they arrived there, the group had bested their previous record for seven miles by half a minute thanks to the sizzling pace set by Cam and Kevin.

Jeff, a jogger by now, was waiting for them on the deck.  The runners did their cool downs, and Fr. Jim and Ian went into the house to shower.

Kevin looked at Jeff.  "Let's go swim at your house before we shower, Jeff."

"Cool.  Mom and Dad are in Chicago, visiting an aunt.  And Juanita is in L.A. seeing a sister.  So we'll be all alone.  I hope you assholes can swim."

"Well enough to rescue you from the bottom of the pool if you keep dissing us," Kevin said.  "Or maybe not."

The pool was located on the street side of the house behind a tall brick wall.  Jeff fished a key out from behind a brick in the wall, and opened a heavy wooden gate.  Once inside, the guys stripped off shoes and socks, T's, running shorts and jocks, and hit the water naked.  The water temperature was perfect.  They bobbed to the surface, and Cam moved behind William and dunked him.

You dumb fuck!" William gasped out to his tormentor when he surfaced.  Cam swam over to a ladder and climbed out of the water.  William looked Cam over as the latter stood there naked on the side of the pool, taunting him.

"You shouldn't have gotten out of the water, MacKenzie," William told Cam.  "Now everybody can see what a small dick you have."

Before Cam could respond, Dan Emrick pushed him into the pool, where William got hold of him.  He put an arm around Cam's neck, squeezed it tight and held Cam under water.   Meanwhile, Dan Emrick's satisfaction at pushing Cam into the water was short lived.  Berto got behind him, and Dan went in as Cam struggled to get away from William.  He did so, and went after Dan.  It was pretty much chaos after that.

In the midst of all that, Kevin started swimming laps, his natural athletic ability showing itself in perfect form despite any lack of formal swimming training.  He maneuvered effortlessly through the guys engaged in all the horseplay as he swam lap after lap.

A half-hour later everybody was worn out, and they put enough of their running clothes back on to be decent and headed for the showers at Alex's.  The joggers and walkers had already showered by then, but thanks to two huge, quick recovery water heaters in Alex and John's garage, there was plenty of hot water for everyone.  Cam and Kevin shared a protracted shower in their (Catherine's) room, and after they had toweled one another dry, watched each other as they put on fresh boxers, T-shirts and cargo shorts--a strip tease in reverse.

Kevin pulled Cam into his arms after they were dressed and just held him for a long time without saying a word, chin on his partner's shoulder.  Stepping back eventually, he stared into Cam's green eyes and kissed him on the mouth before turning him loose.

"You feel like driving into Santa Monica with William and me?" Kevin asked him.  "He wants to go to the T-shirt shop."

"I'll go," Cam said.  "Let's take Casey.  In fact, why don't we take all the guys and let them visit Santa Monica pier and ride the ferris wheel?"

"You're so full of good ideas it's scary," Kevin said.

"You're my inspiration, dude," Cam said, and they headed downstairs for breakfast.

The adults all opted out in favor of sitting on the front deck after a late breakfast and drinking coffee, but the guys all wanted to go to the pier.

"Go!" Mary said.  "But be careful," she added reflexively.

Carl drove the Highlander carrying Andy, Jeff, Mark, Dan, and Berto, and Kevin drove the Mustang with Cam and William and Casey.  They all went to the T-shirt shop first, and everybody bought some shirts.  William got a shirt like Kevin's, picturing human evolution.

"Sweet," William said, taking his new shirt out of the shopping bag as they drove toward the pier.  "A picture's truly worth a thousand words."  He liked the shirt so much that he changed into it after they found parking for the pier.  It showed off his great build.

"If we run into some Biblical fundamentalists, they're gonna kick your ass for wearing that shirt, William," Cam observed as he took Casey out of his car seat and put him in a sling around his neck.

"Bring it!" William said.  "Truth gives me the power of ten."

"Ten wimps, maybe!" Kevin said, grinning.

William laughed and shook his head, not having a snappy come-back for a change.  The three of them headed for the pier, meeting up with the guys from the Highlander on the way.

Once on the pier, Kevin pulled everybody together before they split up.  "Let's all meet at this hot dog stand at eleven-thirty and see what we want to do."  The guys all nodded and scattered in twos and threes.

"You s'pose it's safe to take Casey up on the ferris wheel?" Cam asked Kevin.  Shading his eyes, the latter peered up at the giant wheel as it revolved at the end of the pier against the background of a cloudless blue sky.

"I think so," Kevin said.  "It looks slow and steady, and there's no wind.  I guess they'll tell us at the ticket booth if it isn't safe."

When they reached the ferris wheel, the ticket seller said there was no problem taking the baby as long as they kept him in the sling.  Kevin took Casey from Cam at that point and put the little boy in the sling around his neck while they waited in a short line for their turn to ride.

The huge wheel moved intermittently at first as people debarked and the seats were loaded with new riders.

Kevin looked at Cam.  "Y'know, there's gotta be a faster way to load a ferris wheel than this.  Maybe some kind of a mechanism that would shoot passengers right into their seats from the ground."

Cam laughed.  "Keep at it, dude.  That's the kind of thinking that changes the world."

Once Kevin and Cam were aboard they circled to the top of the arc and eventually were suspended for several minutes at the very top of the wheel.  The guys swiveled their heads, and the view was spectacular.  The bay was flat and smooth, and they could see clearly all the way to the Santa Monica mountains in the north.  Even the L.A. skyline looked clear and clean for a change.

Cam looked down and smiled when Kevin took his hand and held it.

"You scared?" Cam kidded him.

"Only when I realize how much I love you."

They looked each other in the eye, and Kevin moved closer and kissed Cam on the lips for a long time.  That powerful moment of connection conspired with the magnificence of the view to strike them silent for several minutes.

After the ferris wheel finally began to move, Kevin reached over put his hand on Cam's neck and gave his head a little shake.  "Whenever I'm with you and Casey, it's all good, Cameron," he told him.  "Everything's good."

The two guys reveled in the the ride.  On one circuit they spotted Andy and Carl leaning shoulder to shoulder down below at the railing of the pier, studying the calm bay together.  Without knowing what the other was thinking, Cam and Kevin were thankful that the two guys had been able to spend the past few days together enjoying one another's company.  Kevin smiled to himself.  And having a lot of sex! he thought.  That's always a good thing!  I'm kind of jealous about that right now.

When the ride was over, they exited the ferris wheel area and saw the rest of the guys all in line for their turn on the giant ride.  Cam gave them a thumbs-up so they'd know the experience was worth waiting in line for.

Cam and Kevin wandered around the pier, looking at the stuff available in the little booths and feeling the beginning of hunger pangs.  They went to the hot dog stand at the gate right at eleven-thirty, as arranged, and five minutes later the rest of the crew joined them.

"Do you guys wanna buy some crap here on the pier for lunch, or what?" Kevin asked the guys.  "Or we can buy lunch downtown when we leave here, or we can go home for lunch.  What's your pleasure?"

"Anything good at home?" William asked.

"We have some perch in the freezer," Kevin said.  "I'll cook the fish on the grill if ya want me to.  We can eat 'em on hamburger buns."

"Let's go home," William said.  "I'll even cook."

Mark Carson put a stunned look on his face.  "What's wrong with this picture?" he teased his brother.  "Break out the Pepto."

"Shutup, dude!" William told him.

"Well, if you'll cook, that's cool!" Kevin said to William.  He looked at Cam.  "Why doncha call Mommy and tell the parental units not to eat lunch 'til we get there to fix it."

Cam did so, and they all headed for the parking lot.

By the time they pulled into Alex's driveway, Ian had defrosted the perch and fired up the two grills.  William put on an apron and went to work while Maria, Catherine and Mary sliced a dozen tomatoes and peppers, and cut up two heads of lettuce for a salad.

Thirty minutes later they were all standing around the dining room table as Father Jim offered thanks.

Kevin looked at the young guys as everybody sat down.  "Don't eat too many fish burgers," he warned them with a grin.  "We're all gonna start working out in an hour and a half."

The boys gave him the raspberries and shot him the finger when the adults weren't looking.  They started grabbing fish off the platters, piling on the fixins and tartar sauce, and wolfing them down in buns in short order.

Cam clinked his can of coke with William's.  "Hail to the chef!" he said as the diners raised their own drinks.

Within fifteen minutes the table was bare, and the boys cleaned up the plates and silverware and put everything into the dishwasher.  Then they went out on the deck and sat down, treating one another to a cacophony of belches and farts.

"You assholes are a class act," Berto said.  "NOT!  I'm glad Casey isn't out here to witness your conduct."  He grinned, and concluded his comment by raising one leg and trumpeting a humongous fart.

William, sitting nearby, jumped out of his chair and leapt over the deck rail into the front yard.  "Have mercy!" he said, waving his arms in case the smell had followed him.

Carl Emrick studied Berto--from afar.  "What's happened to you, young man?  You used to be a nice, well mannered Latino boy.  And look at you now, destroying the environment with methane and bumming out your brothers without a second thought."

"I'm so sorry!  Every one of you is a mentor and preceptor," Berto said.  "So I just follow your example!"

"'Mentor and preceptor?'" Cam mumbled to himself as he stood up to let the breeze help dissipate the smell.  "Oh Lord, Ian's won," he said out loud.  "Using language like that, Berto's gonna be a lawyer for sure."

William pointed at the glass in the sliding door to the deck from his vantage point in the front yard.  "You dumb fuck, Berto.  You discolored the glass in Alex's door."

The guys checked it out, and of course there was nothing there.  Eventually any fear of noxious gas passed, and one by one the boys resumed their seats along the deck, shooting the shit with each other and staring out at the bay, enjoying the day.

Cam was looking out at the bay when he saw four guys strolling slowly along on the hard packed sand at water's edge, seemingly studying him and the other boys on Alex's deck.  He thought they resembled the same four young men they had clashed with at Disneyland after he had kissed Kevin, and whom they had seen earlier when running.  Cam stood up and walked off the deck into the front yard to get a closer look, but the strollers, whoever they were, saw him moving in their direction, turned away, and began trotting toward the north.  Cam went back to his chair and sat down, but he was bothered a little bit that they were being observed.  Especially by these four guys.

Good as his word, an hour and a half after their meal, Kevin told the guys to start thinking about working out, selecting Andy, Carl, Cam and Mark for the first contingent to hit the gym.  Everybody groaned, but began drifting inside to change into their workout clothes.  They knew from experience it was fruitless to buck Kevin on the issue.

*  *  *

After ten minute warm-ups, Cam was doing assisted pull-ups on one of the machines, and Carl was on a bench doing overhead bar presses.   Mark Carson started doing some cable chest presses despite Kevin's reservations that they might be too advanced for the kid.  But after watching Mark for a few minutes, Kevin saw the boy could handle it, and he took charge of Andy Helder, with whom he hadn't worked out before.  Kevin soon had him churning out machine leg presses on another machine to further develop his quadriceps and glutes.

At six feet tall, Andy already had a great body.  He was both lithe and muscular due to his martial arts training, and Cam grinned when he saw Carl sneaking appreciative glances at Andy as the boy worked out.

Satisfied with what he was getting from the four guys, Kevin selected a weight for himself and began churning out triceps kickbacks on another bench.  The sweat was soon pouring off all five of them, and Kevin began bugging them between sets to hit the bottled water in a little refrigerator over at the side of the room in order to stay hydrated.  They switched exercises to address different parts of their bodies whenever Kevin directed them to do so.  As always, he kept an eagle eye on the boys, feeling responsible for their safety and progress.

In just over an hour, Kevin decreed that the first group was finished in the gym for the day.  Mark Carson headed for the shower in the garage and Cam stayed in the gym to help Kevin supervise the next group coming on.  Dripping perspiration, Andy and Carl headed upstairs to their room for a shower.

Andy preceded Carl up the stairs, the reddish-bronze hair of his head darkened with perspiration.  Carl's eyes were glued to the mounds of his boy's ass as they climbed.  Andy was wearing a tanktop and an old pair of gray workout shorts.  The latter were soaked with sweat, leaving little to the imagination.  The elastic in the waistband of the shorts was old and sagged down a little on to Andy's right hip, revealing the damp white belt of Andy's jock.  Carl felt an immediate tightening in his groin from what he was seeing, and certainly didn't look away.

Once in their room, Carl shut and locked the door behind them.  He clasped Andy body to his own from behind as the tall boy walked toward the bed to sit down and take off his gym shoes and sweat socks.  Freeing up one hand, Carl grasped Andy's shorts and gave them a downward yank.  The sweaty shorts fell to the floor, and Andy was left standing there in his jock, smiling bigtime.  Kicking the shorts off his feet, Andy turned around and pulled Carl to him as Carl baby-stepped him backwards to the bed while kissing him passionately.  They fell on top of the yet unmade bed, Carl on top.

Carl raised Andy's torso up off the bed and pulled the boy's tanktop off over his head and threw it to the floor.  He began licking the sweat off Andy's abs before he moved down and smooshed his face into Andy's jock-covered groin.  The smell and the topography there were all Andy, who packed about 7½ inches when hard, just as Carl did.  Carl just lay there inhaling the male smell he enjoyed so much before beginning to nuzzle his partner's package.  Andy's equipment began to stretch the jock out and push it up as he hardened.

"Oh, Lord!" Andy breathed.  "You know every trick in the book, doncha!"

"Only what I've learned from you!"  Carl raised his face momentarily before plunging back on to his still hidden quarry, which had now lifted the old jock away from Andy's body.  Skillfully using his tongue, Carl plunged it into the side of the jock where it was stretched up and began to lick up and down the underside of the stiff, shrouded cock where it was still held prisoner.

Andy began squirming on the bed in total arousal.  "Please..." he begged.

"Please, you say?"  Carl lifted his face and began nibbling through the jock on his partner's bulge.  "Did I hear you say 'please?'"

"Yes," Andy groaned.

"Uh huh.  'Please' what?"

"Just 'please.'"

"I don't think so," Carl said.  "You're gonna have to be more specific."

Catching Carl by surprise at that point, Andy threw his arms around him and rolled the two of them over so Carl was on the bottom, his face still trapped in Andy's crotch.  Half rolling again, Andy pulled Carl up his body until they were face to face on their sides.  Andy yanked off the the latter's sweaty T-shirt, and it joined his own tanktop on the floor.  Carl's shorts were next to go, leaving him clad only in his jock.  Andy sat up and shucked off Carl's gym shoes and socks, casting them aside.

Facing one another, they tasted each other's sweat as they licked one another's chest and sucked and nibbled on each other's nipples.  The jocks were last to go, and Andy slid down the bed and engulfed Carl's cock, tasting the precum beginning to leak from it as he scrubbed the cockhead vigorously with his tongue, working on the slit.

"Oh, fuck!" Carl whined at the sensation he was feeling.  "Please..."

Andy grinned wickedly and mocked his boyfriend.  "Did you say 'please?'   Is that what I heard you saying?"

They went to the sixty-nine position right away, and slowing down the sucking action, teased one another for long minutes before Andy finally fired six shots of cum into Carl--two deep into his throat and four into his mouth.  That triggered Carl's own ejaculation, and he shot five times, all into Andy's mouth.

Carl didn't let go of his boy's dick, continuing to rub his tongue over the head of it.  It was sensitive and caused an immediately reaction.

"Ow!" Andy mumbled around Carl's still turgid prick in his mouth.

Carl stopped rubbing Andy's cockhead with his tongue.  They lay there unmoving in the same position for several minutes, still hard, not releasing their cocks, savoring the taste of what they had just received from one another.  Eventually Carl swung around and lay on top of his partner.  They kissed deep, sharing their juice, and lay there recovering in one another's arms.

"Do me," Andy whispered to Carl after a little while, looking into his eyes, half asking, half demanding.

"Damn, boy!" Carl responded with a grin.  "Working out in the gym makes you one horny little puppy!"

"Whaddaya mean, little?"

"Sorry.  I take that back."  Carl reached over to a drawer in the bedside table, pulled out lube and a condom, and smiled.  "By now I could find this stuff in the dark if I had to."

"Y'know, we gotta get tested," Andy said as Carl started preparing himself for Round 2.  "I'm sick of using these condoms."

"You're right," Carl agreed, his mind anticipating the pleasurable task at hand.  "Pull your legs back, dude."

Andy complied, and Carl lubed his friend's hole and added a dollop to his condom, now in place.  After putting a pillow under Andy's butt and pausing at the threshold momentarily, Carl popped inside his partner and waited until the lines of discomfort on Andy's face disappeared before working his way all the way in.  Then he lay down on Andy, and they kissed gently.

"I want us to be able to make love like this for the rest of our lives," Andy said, relaxing into the bed once he had accommodated Carl.  He studied his partner's face and then nuzzled it.  "I love you so much, 'C!'" he said in a husky voice.

"I'm wanna show you how much I love you back," Carl answered.  Thus began a fifteen minute session of what was truly lovemaking for each of them, a physical manifestation of their growing affection and commitment.  Both of them were sweating copiously, and the perspiration lubricated Andy's stomach, abs and chest as Carl slid up and back on the boy's silken skin while he thrust in and out of Andy's body.  Andy's cock was trapped between them, and that, along with the prostate message he was getting inside, added to his growing sexual tension.
  Andy began to breathe faster as he again became became more and more aroused.  He finally released his load between their bodies, his hole spasming, milking Carl's cock while coming.  Ten seconds later Carl shot deep inside Andy, moaning with each ejaculation.

They both promptly went into a post coital coma.  When Carl awakened a few minutes later, he was still on top and inside his partner, the two of them semi-glued together by Andy's semen.  Carl's soft cock slipped out of Andy, and he watched Andy snooze, loving him more than he ever thought he could care for anyone.

After Andy woke up, not a word was spoken as they repeatedly kissed one another.  They were physically satisfied and emotionally renewed in the afterglow of good sex.  They kissed over and over again until they eventually abandoned the bed and found their way into the bathroom where Carl disposed of his used condom.  They climbed into the shower together, hugging under the warm spray before finally starting to wash each other gently.

*  *  *

All the guys spent the afternoon playing cards and competing in Wii games.  During an interlude William Carson badgered Cam to let him drive Alex's Porsche.

"Come on, dude," William said.  "You know I'll be careful, and you'll be sitting right beside me."

"Whaddaya think, Kev?" Cam asked his partner.  "Alex did tell us to keep the battery charged up, and we haven't driven it since we've been down here."

"It's up to you, bud," Kevin said cheerfully.  He'd just won a poker hand and was raking in chips.

Ian Carson overheard the guys talking, and went from the living room into the study with a skeptical look on his face.  "William, quit bugging Cam about driving the Porsche.  If anything happened, he'd be in real trouble with his dad."

Cam looked at Ian with a grin.  "Is your son a good driver?" he asked.

"He is when I'm in the car," Ian said.  "Who knows how much he burns rubber when I'm not.  So you tell me."

"Actually, he's pretty responsible," Cam averred after thinking about it.  He looked at his Wii bowling score on the big screen TV and then at William.  "Tell you what.  Let me finish bowling, and we'll take a little road trip.  Why don't you get the key off the keyrack in the back hall and take the cover off the Porsche, and see if it'll fire up?  If the battery has a charge, you can move some cars around in the driveway so we can get out."

"Great!" William said, excited and grinning in anticipation.

Resigned to the inevitable, Ian shrugged.  "You guys be careful!"

"We will, Dad," William said.  Standing up, he went over to his father and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before heading for the key rack.  "You know you trust me," he said as he left.

Ian smiled and shook his head.  "Humpf!" he snorted.  "Being your dad is tough duty," he shouted after his son.  Thank God that's not true, Ian thought to himself.

The Porsche started right up, the exhaust burbling at idle.  Ten minutes later William was at the wheel backing out of Alex's driveway, Cam riding shotgun.  Following Cam's directions, he drove to the Coast Highway, headed west and then north.

William was a good driver. He slipped through the gears as smooth as silk as he watched his speed and watched for cops.  A little over the speed limit, they flew by a Highway Patrol car staked out at a pull off, but the red and blue lights didn't turn on and the car didn't come after them.

"Your lucky day!" Cam observed, turning his head to look behind them.

"Yeah," William admitted.  "Thanks for letting me do this, Cam."

Cam nodded.  "Fun to drive, isn't it?  Tight little fucker.  Handles like a dream."

"Yep.  If it turns up missing, you'll know who has it."

"Speaking of cars, are Ian and Mary gonna let you get some wheels?"

"I haven't been pushing it, to tell ya the truth," William said.  "I have access to a vehicle anytime I want it.  Catherine even lets me use her car when I ask."  The boy grinned.  "Man, her Lincoln's a boat!  My dates love it."

"Big back seat, isn't it?" Cam observed.  "You gettin' any?"

"Well..."  The kid smiled.

"I'll take that as a 'Yes,'" Cam said.  "I wouldn't want ya to get carpal tunnel from whackin' off."

"You don't need to worry about that."

"I didn't think so.   You meet anybody you really like?"

"Not really."

"I'm sure you will," Cam said.

"Maybe."  William looked over at him and slowed down to cut the sound of the wind.  "I know being gay has its challenges, but when I look at you and Kevin" --he paused-- "I'm a little jealous, to tell ya the truth."  He blushed.  "Not of being gay, but of your relationship.  You guys aren't just in lust, you're really in love.  Settled and on your own to some extent.  And you have Casey.  I want a kid just like him when the time's right.  You guys have everything goin' for ya."

"I know we do," Cam said, nodding.  "But we wouldn't be as happy as we are if it weren't for this crazy family we're all in.  You don't know how much Kevin and I appreciate everybody's support for us as a couple.  Yours in particular.  You're a big hetero jock, but you've never judged us, William.  We're really grateful for that.  It means a lot."

"Cam, what's to judge?   If I were gay, I'd be in bed with you two guys every night.  A threesome.  For more fun than we could handle."

Cam smirked.  "I don't think we'd kick you out."

The two guys laughed.  After traveling a few more miles down the road, William found a place to turn around, and they headed back to Alex's house.  The Porsche was running like a dream.

*  *  *

Sunday rolled around, and Cam heard Kevin's wrist watch start to buzz at 9 a.m.

Father Mason was scheduled to preach and offer the 10:30 Mass at St. Dunstan's, and had mentioned to Cam on Saturday night that he needed to catch a cab to get to the church a little earlier than the rest of the family.

"Whaddaya mean, catch a cab?" Cam had said.  He'd smiled.  "I'll give you a treat and take you in the Camaro.  What time do you want to leave?"

""Nine-thirty should give us plenty of time, I think.  You don't speed, do you?" the priest had kidded him.

"Only as fast as the law allows," Cam had said.  "I know you'd expect no less."

"You're right."

"You're offering the Mass?"

"Yes.  And preaching."

"Are you going to be inspirational?"

"Your crew cut will stand straight up on end.  'He who has ears, let him hear.'  That's a direct quote from Scripture."

"You're making that up!" Cam had said, laughing.

"No way!  You need to blow the dust off your Bible and do some reading."

Cam had grimaced.  "You're not wrong about that.  Anyway, I'll be ready at 9:30.  I hope you won't be late."

"That'll be me tapping my foot impatiently at the back door when you finally show up."

The two of them had laughed and high-fived, and the priest had gone up to bed.

So Kevin shut off his watch alarm that Sunday morning at 9:00, and putting his arms around Cam, pulled his partner to his body.  He just held him, nose to nose, saying nothing.

"Yes," Cam hummed at last.  "Just keep holding me, and I can tell Father Jim you wouldn't let me get up," he told Kevin sleepily.

"That would be such a lie," Kevin said softly, his hand snaking inside Cam's boxers to grasp his hardon.  "You are up!"

"I can't believe how bold you are!" Cam whispered.

"'Bold.'  I like that description.  I can't deny it."

"Well, let go of me.  I hafta shower."

"Make it a cold one."

Cam snorted derisively and kissed Kevin on the lips.  Crawling out from under the sheet they shared, he headed upstairs, his hardon tucked under the elastic band of his boxers.  He knocked softly on his mother's door, and heard Catherine say, "Yes?"

"Mommy, can I take a shower in here?" he asked, sticking his head in the door.  "I have to drive Father Jim to church a little early."

"Come on in, sweetheart," Catherine said from the bed.  "It's your shower."

"Not while you're in town."  Cam grinned and walked into the bedroom.  He went to his dresser and pulled out fresh underwear, a tie and clean shirt and pair of Dockers, and went into the bathroom, closing the door.  He shed his boxers.  After relieving himself, he turned on the shower to warm it up.  He was surprised when the bathroom door opened and closed again.  It was Kevin.

"I was hoping for some privacy," Cam told him.

"You don't need no stinking privacy."

"So you say.  How do you know what I was going to do in the shower?"

"I don't.  But your options are kinda limited, especially when I'm not here to open up a range of possibilities," Kevin said.

"Well, strip, then." 
Cam laughed, and sat down on the side of the tub to watch the show.  "My time is at a premium.  I don't want Father Jim on my case for being late when I show up at the back door.  And don't be making your usual loud noises when we're in the shower together.  Mommy's out there in bed."

"No, she's not.  She was in her robe heading down to the kitchen as I was coming up."

A minute later they were holding each other under a warm spray.  One deep kiss, but then they were right down to serious business--washing each other and enjoying it very much.

After that pleasant interlude with Kevin, Cam made his appearance at the back door at 9:30 sharp, only to find Father Mason standing there in his black suit and clerical collar, putting on a show of tapping his foot impatiently.

"No, you were early!" Cam said, taking the initiative to forestall any umbrage from the priest.

"Maybe.  Maybe not," Mason said with a grin.  "Let's go, boy!"  They walked toward the Camaro.  "By the way, late or not, you're looking good this morning," the priest said.

Cam was wearing a white, short sleeve shirt with a tie, and a pair of dark slacks with black loafers.  His crew cut was all spiked up.

"Thanks," Cam said as he unlocked and opened the passenger door for the priest, and then went around to the driver's side.

"I don't let just anyone ride in my car," he said, getting into the driver's seat.  "You're going to enjoy this."

"I'm confident I will," Father Jim said, "if we ever get going."

"I thought the clergy were supposed to model patience for the rest of us."

"We do, along with efficiency and effectiveness.  I'm concentrating on the latter two today."

Cam laughed and fired up the Camaro, the exhaust rumbling soothingly.  "I can't win with you.  I give up."

The priest just smiled, saying nothing, as Cam backed out of the driveway and they rolled down the street and out to the highway.

They arrived forty minutes before Mass, just as Father Jim wanted.   The ushers weren't on duty yet in the narthex.  Mason grabbed two bulletins off a table and handed one to Cam.

"Come on back to the priest's sacristy with me and say hello to Father Ryan," the priest said.

"Okay," Cam said.

They walked down a side aisle and through a door behind the pulpit leading to the sacristy.  Father John Ryan, dressed in a black cassock, was just rising from a prie-dieu where he had been offering his personal pre-Mass prayers.

"Jimmy!" he said happily, throwing his arms around Mason.  "I'm so glad to see you!"

"Hi, John," Mason said after they had disengaged.  "Good to see you.  You're looking well."

"That's miraculous," Ryan said.   "I went into a deep funk after you left here for San Rafael."

'Yeah, yeah," Mason said with a smile.  "Well, nothing can keep you down."

Ryan laughed.  "You're right.  No one's indispensable, not even you.  I'm still glad to see you."  He lowered his voice.  "Are you and your family doing all right with grieving your dad's death, Jim?" he asked quietly.

"We're doing pretty well.  Thanks for asking."

John Ryan nodded and looked over at Cam.  "Hello, Cam.  Good to see you."

"Thanks, Father.  I'm glad to be here."

"Would you consider helping us out by serving at the altar this morning?" Ryan asked the young man.  "We need a second crucifer to precede the clergy during the processional and recessional."

Cam put up his hands defensively.  "Whoa, Father.  I have zero experience.  I don't think so."

"There's nothing to it, Cam," Mason interjected.  "The master of ceremonies can teach you all you need to know in ten minutes.  Five minutes, even.  Let's get you a cassock and surplice."

"Father..." Cam started to protest.

"Cam, think what a positive influence you'll have on all your brothers," Father Jim told him.

"Brothers?" Father Ryan asked.

"The whole extended family is down here from San Rafael," Mason said.  "They'll all be here for Mass in a few minutes.  Lots of brothers."

The master of ceremonies came into the priest's sacristy just then to receive any final instructions before Mass.

"Mike, you remember Father Mason, I'm sure," Father Ryan said.

"Of course I do," the master of ceremonies said.  "How are you, Father?"

"I'm well, Mike," Mason said.  "I'd like to introduce Cam MacKenzie.  Cam, this is Mr. Mike Rogers, our master of ceremonies for the Mass."  Cam and the master of ceremonies shook hands.

"Mike," Father Ryan said, "will you take Cam into the server's sacristy and find him a red cassock and surplice?  And then give him your famous ten minute training session for crucifers.  He's going to carry the second cross for us today."

"Of course, Father," Mike Rogers said.  He looked at Father Mason.  "It's good to have you back today to celebrate Mass for us."

"Thanks, Mike."

"Come on, Cam, let's get you vested," Rogers said.

Cam rolled his eyes at Father Jim, and followed the MC down the hall to another room, the walls of which were lined with sliding closet doors.  The sign on the door said "Servers' Vesting Room."

Rogers slid one closet door open, and pulled out two bright red cassocks and held them up against Cam's lanky frame.  One of them reached down to Cam's shoe tops, and the MC put the other cassock away.  He held the chosen garment up for Cam to step into, and Cam began to close the snaps up the front.  Rogers then handed him a white surplice, which Cam pulled over his head and smoothed out over the cassock.

"Perfect!" Rogers said, turning away.  He pulled a large, elaborately cast, gold processional crucifix, off its bracket on the wall.  After giving Cam a pair of white gloves to wear, the man then showed him the finer points of carrying the cross--where to place your hands on the staff, how high to hold the cross, how to hold it steady in the air when walking, how not to dip it when bowing his head (no genuflecting) as he reached or left the altar while carrying it.  After Mr. Rogers had watched Cam demonstrate his new skills, the man told him he was ready for action.

A handful of high school boys and girls and men of various ages had begun trickling into the sacristy, found their vestments, and were chatting quietly among themselves as they dressed.  Mr. Rogers introduced Cam to them all.

Fifteen minutes later the choir and altar party were grouped at one side of the narthex as latecomers to Mass still flowed through the red front doors and into the church.  One of the last persons in the doors was William Carson, who had parked the Highlander at the end of the lot after dropping family members off earlier.

William's eyes widened when he saw Cam standing there, vested and waiting with the clergy and other servers, holding the crucifix upright with the staff planted on the floor.  William walked over to his brother, smirked and whispered, "Hey, man, I love your red dress and the white gloves."

"Shutup," Cam whispered back.  "This wasn't my idea."

William smiled, caught Father Jim's eye, and ducked into the nave of the church to find the family.

The clock in the bell tower tolled the half-hour, and Father Mason gathered the altar party around him for an opening prayer.  Then the thurifer ran the top of the thurible up the chains.  Mason used a small spoon to dig into the incense proffered to him in a "boat," placed the kernels on the hot charcoal in the thurible, blessed it, and the thurible top was run down amid the smoke beginning to billow.  Father Ryan pressed a button on the wall, and the pipe organ immediately swelled into the processional hymn.

The adults in Cam's family smiled and all the boys except for William gawked from the pews when they saw Cam following the choir, carrying the second crucifix in front of the clergy contingent.  Cam's grin was the only sign that he had even noticed the family.

Cam smiled triumphantly as he approached the altar, and moved to place the crucifix in its holder and bracket on the wall.  I didn't trip and fall on my face, he thought to himself with satisfaction.

Father Mason censed the altar and the huge crucifix on the wall behind it, then going to the sedelia and prie-dieu at the side of the sanctuary and moving into the opening prayers of the Mass.  Everything went smoothly.  After the deacon sang the Gospel lesson, Mason stepped into the pulpit and preached a good homily, adding into his theme about the "final things" at the end of time which were spoken of in the scriptural selections for the day his own experience in dealing with his father's recent death.

Standing in proximity to the altar during Mass reminded Cam of when he and Kevin had received instructions so many years ago before receiving their first communion.  They had learned how on behalf of God and the faithful the priest takes bread and wine, gives thanks, breaks the bread, and gives the consecrated elements to his disciples.  Four acts, the heart of the Mass.  The same unchanging ritual for all time.

Following Mass, Cam carried the cross back to the sacristy, fastened it to the wall, and removed his vestments.  Mike Rogers complimented him on the good job he'd done, and Cam headed toward the parish hall to find his family.

"You're a man of many talents," Ian Carson greeted him as he approached them.

Catherine gave him a hug, and kissed him.  "That was a surprise," she told her son.  "You did well, sweetheart."

"Thanks," Cam said.  "I was dragooned into carrying that cross.  It's impossible to say 'no' to these priests."

"Ouch!  I heard that," Father Jim said as he approached the group.

"Speaking of men of many talents," Mary Carson chimed in, "here's another one.  Good job, Father.  You offer Mass and preach beautifully."

"It didn't hurt to see the faces of this family out there in the congregation" Mason said.  "You always inspire me.  And what did you think of the job turned in by our newest crucifer?"

Berto smiled.  "He was the epitome of liturgical grace," he said.  "A master of the eucharistic mystique," he added.

The family laughed as Cam scowled at his friend.  "What's gotten into you lately?" he asked Berto.  "You're talking more like Ian all the time--big words and lofty sentiments."

"Hey!" Ian protested with a grin.

Father Ryan joined them, meeting the family, including Rosa and Yolanda, and chatting about what they had all done during their vacation.

The crowd in the parish house had thinned out by the time Father Jim told the group that Father Ryan was going to drive him to Brentwood to visit his mother at his sister's house one last time before his scheduled return to San Rafael on Tuesday.  Mason wasn't anxious to go, but knew he had to do it.  He also had some business to discuss with his sister, who was CEO of the Mason family business, a money mill despite the economic downturn.  After the visit in Brentwood, Ryan would drop his friend off in Malibu.

"Father Ryan, when you get back to Malibu, come on in and have a drink with us," Catherine suggested.  "And eat with us, if it's meal time."

They left it at that, and the family headed out to their cars to get back to the beach.  Cam put his arm around his partner as Kevin carried Casey to the Camaro, loving the two of them without reservation.

"You did look good up on the altar," Kevin told Cam as they walked along.  "Maybe you should think about the priesthood.  Appearances mean a lot!"

"What would Berto say to that?  Something Ian-like such as, 'You must be daft!'"

©2009 Don Hanratty

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