My Belovèd is mine, and I am his.
Song of Songs 2:16
Catherine MacKenzie hit the ground running,
literally and figuratively,
after she and Ian Carson had returned to San Rafael from L.A. She
put in some long
hours to catch up with her work at St. Francis while getting back into
her running/jogging routine with Ian, Mary and the boys.
Despite her ongoing concerns about Cam, Catherine's mind was like a
laser when she was
focused on her work. Fortunately, her four graduate teaching
assistants who taught subsections of her classes while she was away had
done an excellent job in her absence. She had already sent a
commendatory memo about their work to the graduate dean of Art and
Sciences with a copy to the president of the university. Actions
like those were but one reason her graduate students, without
her affection, loyalty and respect long after they had received
advanced degrees and moved on in their careers to other institutions.
She also was starting research on the life and work of Gerard Manley
Hopkins, a nineteenth century English poet and university professor
who was also a Jesuit priest. Her plan was to discover whether
was sufficient meat in the man's work to warrant writing a book about
him and his poetry.
In her quiet moments, though, her thoughts were never far from Cam as
the aftermath of the maltreatment he had received at the hands of Eric
Clymer, Peter Murtha and Rory Lomer. She had been pleased with
even the slight improvement she had witnessed in his condition before
she left for San Rafael, and even more with the breakthrough Kevin said
William had achieved with his visit. When William had come home,
Catherine had held him for a long time in her arms and kissed him,
grateful for the time he had taken out of his busy schedule for his
But she still worried about
her son, and talked with him and Kevin and Carl every day. She
was hurting for Cam when her mind was on non-work matters. Based
on what William had accomplished when in L.A., she hatched a plan with
Mary in which a different boy in the family would travel in rotation
down to Malibu
every weekend to see Cam, Kevin and Carl. For Carl's sake, she
was also including
Andy Helder on the list of designated travelers as often as he could
Catherine got the idea because William Carson's trip to L.A. had had
such a marked effect on Cam. What William had said to him that
night in bed must have been powerful and amazing from one so
young. His words had pulled his friend back from the dark and
profound abyss into which he had been descending and redirected him
toward life and healing. And done so quickly. Yes, the
medication which Dr. Owens had prescribed had also had a good
effect. But Catherine, Kevin, Carl and the rest of the extended
family gave William's wisdom, strength and compassion its due.
Besides meeting Cam's needs, the truth was that all the boys missed
other and needed to see one another as often as possible.
Catherine's secretary had placed the mail that had piled up during her
absence neatly on her desk, and she went through it quickly on her
first day back. It was the usual stuff--academic journals which
she would peruse at leisure, publisher's blurbs on new text books,
memoranda on administrative matters at St. Francis, a royalty check
from her book on Algernon Swinburne and another royalty check from her
father's writings. There were also six other envelopes
set aside to open last.
She had been waiting for several months for these letters. They
were from various administrators in the English departments of Yale,
Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, Columbia and Stanford universities.
Once she had disposed of the routine material in her pile of mail, she
letters, yet unopened, squarely in front of her on her desk
blotter. She studied the envelopes for a good five minutes before
picking one up, slicing it open with her letter opener, and removing
contents. In each case the envelopes contained a single sheet.
She could hardly believe that every one of the first five letters was a
invitation to join the faculties at the various schools she had
about her availability to teach following her resignation at St.
Francis at the end of the academic year. She
saved the letter from Stanford to open last.
"Dear Dr. MacKenzie: (it said)
"I am so pleased to give you a final response to your
June 30, 2009, in which you made known your availability to join our
as professor of English in the Fall of 2011.
"Based upon your academic, teaching and research record, along with
positive recommendations from many of your peers at academic
the United States and England, as well as from the president of St.
and from several prominent alumni of Stanford, the English faculty and
of the School of Arts and
Sciences of Stanford University have authorized me
to offer you a contract for the position of Professor of
English, effective August 15,
"This proffer of employment hinges upon successful negotiations with
Human Resources Department of Stanford University with respect to terms
conditions of employment, and with the English Department as to a
acceptable teaching schedule.
"I would respectfully ask for your response in writing within thirty
calendar days of the
date of this letter.
"Speaking for myself and our faculty, we look forward to the
opportunity to work with
you as a valued colleague upon your acceptance of the position
"Homer T. Wilson, Ph.D.
Dean, Department of English"
Catherine sat back in her desk chair with a sigh. It was partly a
sigh of relief, partly one of concern for her extended family in light
of the alteration in all their lives that a change in her employment
Her acceptance of a new job wouldn't come as a total surprise to the
family--they all knew that she had résumés out to a
top flight schools around the country due to her vulnerability at
St. Francis. This was despite having tenure at the school.
Her friend Father Reilly
would be relinquishing the presidency of St. Francis at the end of the
academic year, and the
archdiocese of San Francisco had not ceased in their efforts to have
her fired because of her outspoken public disagreements with some of
the teachings of
the Roman Catholic Church.
She knew that Ian Carson would probably not be surprised about the job
from Stanford, because one of Stanford's "prominent alumni" Dr.
Wilson had mentioned was Ian himself. He was a strong supporter
the school and a big fund raiser for them. He was widely seen as
someone very likely to be appointed to the school's board of trustees
in the not-too-distant future. His letter of recommendation on
behalf of Catherine had offered strong testimony to her knowledge and
proficiency in her field. The fact was that she was a great
teacher and researcher.
Truth be told, Catherine was not wild
about the possibility of moving to the eastern United States
despite the warm letters of invitation from the institutions
She didn't want any greater distance between herself and her two boys,
when it came right down to it, between herself and the adults and the
rest of the boys
the extended family. She had grown to love Berto and the Carson
and Emrick boys very much along with Ian and Mary.
But she was
particularly concerned about Cam's
and Kevin's reaction
should she accept a new position anywhere else and move from San
even if it were just to Palo Alto. That was especially true if
she sold the house in
which Cam had grown up. He
was, after all, psychologically not at the top of his game right then,
and had enough
challenges to face without being made to feel that his roots in San
Rafael were being torn up and discarded. She was pleased to
have heard affirmatively from Stanford for that reason, because
accepting a position there
would at least keep her in the northern California area, still somewhat
near Cam and Kevin and the rest of the extended family. She
began to mull over in her mind the possibility of trading domiciles
with Ian and Mary. Buying or renting their penthouse in San
would put her within easy driving distance of Palo Alto, while the
could continue to
live in San Rafael.
After reading all the letters over again, she picked up the
telephone and called Father Reilly's office. The priest
wasn't in, but Catherine made an appointment with his secretary to have
lunch with him the following week. Just to talk with an
old friend and trusted confidante would be a comfort. He had
called her after Cam had been brutalized, and personally gone over to
to talk with her about it after she had returned from L.A. He was
her friend, but an excellent pastor.
Both Father Blackburn and Father Mason at St. Andrew's had also called
her while she had been in Los Angeles, and she planned to initiate
calls to them after her next class so they'd be up to date on Cam's
condition. She and the family didn't lack for
pastoral support. She was grateful for that.
* * *
William's talk with Cam had indeed had a marked effect on Cam.
persuasive comments to Cam about how much he was loved and admired had
to some degree restored the latter's interest in life in general, and
in particular, in sex.
Cam hoped that his sessions with Dr. Owens, scheduled to start the
following Monday, would take him the rest of the way to normality.
Several days after William had returned to San Rafael, Cam lay sprawled
on the bed in his and Kevin's room listening to his iPod as bedtime
the moment his
eyes were glued to Kevin's beautiful back. Kevin was stripped to
the waist, clad only in his boxers, sitting at their desk with his back
to Cam on
bed. He was studying his physics
Despite all the stress and tension stemming from the attack
on Cam, Kevin had continued to work on his body to keep it the work of
art it had always been. He hadn't varied his running or his gym
regimen one iota;
had just moved his schedule around a little to accommodate Cam's needs
for help and companionship.
In addition to his disciplined physical regimen,
Kevin's concentration was formidable, like Catherine's, when it
came to his studies. He
physics text as if it were a novel, and everything he read stuck with
him. It was no wonder he was already showing promise
making a four point average in his
classes at UCLA.
Cam hungrily watched the muscles and sinews in
his partner's back flex under his tight, lightly tanned skin as Kevin
turned the pages of his book.
Cam was horny. Very horny. He and Kevin had not really had
what Cam regarded as satisfactory sex, not even when they showered
together, since just
before Cam had
attacked. The bulge in Cam's boxers testified to that.
Finally he couldn't stand it any longer.
"Hey," Kevin responded, swiveling around in his desk chair and looking
partner. When he saw Cam's swollen crotch, he grinned.
"Something's come up, I see," he said, yawning as he stretched his arms
over his head and threw out his chest. Seeing those well
pecs only heightened Cam's desire for his partner's body.
Swiveling his chair back around,
Kevin closed his book, stood
up and faced Cam.
"Dude, we probably need to talk," Kevin said.
"'Talk?' I don't think that'll address my problem."
"What problem is that?" Kevin asked with an innocent look on his face.
Cam cupped his own prominent package. "You know the problem I'm
"I don't see it as a problem." Kevin smiled. "What some
people see as a problem, I see as an opportunity."
"Are we talking about the same thing?"
"I think we are." Kevin tried not to show his excitement as he
crawled up on the bed over Cam and lay
on top of him, face to face. He nuzzled Cam's nose with his
own. This was the first time Cam had shown any serious interest
since he'd been molested.
"Whaddaya have in mind?" Kevin asked.
"Nothing that involves you being on top of me, at least not this time,"
said, looking up
into Kevin's face.
"Be more explicit." Kevin reached down between them, pushed
Cam's hand away, then cupped Cam's crotch with his own hand.
"Never mind. I
think I know what you're trying to tell me."
"Maybe you do." Cam put a hand on the back of Kevin's head
and pulled his face down for a long kiss with lots of tongue.
"Likin' that!" Kevin breathed. He began to harden.
Kevin rolled off of Cam to the side and began to
boxers off his
down his legs. Once freed, Cam's erection snapped up on to his
"Look at this!" Kevin said, looking at Cam's dick as he took it in
hand. "I think this bad boy needs attention. Some
exercise. And right now."
"Oh, shi-i-i-t!" Cam gasped, raising his head off the pillow as Kevin
followed through by plunging down on his cock, for the moment holding
motionless in his
mouth and throat, and then pulling back and swirling his tongue around
the head of
it. "Oh, fuck!! That feels awesome!" Cam said, putting
a hand gently on the back of Kevin's head as his partner worked on the
his affection. Then Kevin pulled off and looked up at Cam's face.
"Can I get you off?" Kevin asked, not wanting to push things faster
than Cam was comfortable with.
"Yes," Cam said, plopping his head back down on the pillow. "Oh,
Kevin's duty was also his pleasure, and he headed for Cam's cock again.
"Wait," Cam said.
Kevin stopped and looked up at Cam face.
"Get rid of those boxers and swing around so I can do you," Cam said.
Kevin looked at him doubtfully. "You sure?"
"Oh, yeah! You don't know how much I need this!" Cam
reached over and began to help Kevin strip. By the time his
underwear hit the floor, Kevin was as hard as his partner. After
Kevin flipped around, Cam
began to stroke and lick Kevin's dick before taking it in his mouth and
down his throat.
Kevin sighed contentedly as he and Cam began to pleasure each
other as they lay on their sides. Kevin pulled off long enough to
say, "Let's make this
last," before slowly and deliberately going down on Cam again.
They took their sweet time with each other as the pre-cum began to
flow. Knowing each other so well, they sensed exactly when to
off to cope with the growing sexual tension. That worked fine
until Cam reached
around his partner and worked his middle finger into Kevin. Kevin
was aware that Cam's asshole was still healing, so he
didn't reciprocate. But he wanted to.
After long minutes they both came as if it was their first time ever,
their thick cream didn't overflow and run down their faces on to the
bedspread. They lay there afterward for a while as if they had
sandbagged. When they finally released each other, Kevin summoned
strength to turn his body around to face Cam. He held him gently
as they shared the spunk in their mouths. Kevin began kissing
Cam's chest and
then nestled his head into the crook of his neck.
The two of them dozed for a good fifteen minutes before Cam
awakened. He turned his head and put his face into Kevin's
crewcut, breathing deeply of his partner's scent. He began to
weep silently, full of love for Kevin and gratitude that in the bad
times such as he had experienced down the beach, and also in the good
he could always count on this stalwart and patient lover to be by his
Kevin woke up, and looked into Cam's face.
"You all right?" Kevin asked, rubbing away Cam's tears.
"Why the tears?"
"You'll think I'm a real pussy if I tell you."
"I know better."
"I'm just thankful to have you, bud," Cam said. "And not just
for the sex, as good as that is. I'm still pretty fucked up
what Clymer and his asshole friends did to me, but you've stuck with me
matter what. I won't forget it."
"You did the same for me when I was hurt. You've always been
there for me and
Casey. Why wouldn't I do the same for you?"
"I guess because it's not that kind of world."
"Well, it is that kind of
world when it comes to us and our family, doncha think?"
Cam hesitated. "You're right. I just need to be
reminded of that every now and then."
They lay there quietly, Kevin softly caressing Cam's head and face
fell asleep for good. Kevin gently raised his boy up, pulled down
bedspread and top sheet of the bed, and covered him with the sheet.
Then he went to check on Casey. The little guy was asleep on his
back in the crib, head turned to the side, breathing quietly. His
diaper was dry. Kevin covered him with a light baby blanket, bent
down to kiss him, and went into the bathroom. He relieved
himself, cleaned his teeth, and went back to bed. He snuggled up
to Cam, counting his blessings, inhaling the masculine smell of Cam's
body, and had soon drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.
* * *
On Friday morning Cam and Kevin and Carl were getting ready
for a run before Kevin and Carl went to UCLA for classes. It
would be Cam's
first real run since his surgery.
Cam's cell phone rang just as he finished dressing. He didn't
recognize the number, but answered anyway.
"Yep?" he said.
"Hey, bro, sup?" Cam looked at his phone again, still not
recognizing the number. But he knew the voice.
"Jeff Miller! How the hell are ya, man?"
"I'm good. The question is, how are you?"
"I'm doin' better, I think. I wasn't too good for awhile, but
things are looking up. I have my my first appointment with a
therapist at UCLA on Monday. I'm not lookin' forward to it, but I
gotta do it."
"I'm happy for ya, dude," Jeff said. "Speaking from my experience
here at Assurances, it's no fun to dig deep. But for me, as
least, the payoff's been fantastic. I feel like I know who the
fuck I am for the first time in years. I know addiction is a
little different than your issue, but some therapy can't hurt ya."
"So everybody keeps telling me," Cam said. He stood there in his
bedroom, lust in his eyes, watching a naked Kevin, fresh and a little
damp just out
of the shower, pull on a jockstrap and then his running shorts.
"Listen, I won't keep you," Jeff said. "I just wanted to let you
know that I can have visitors. Do you think you guys could stop
by and see me sometime?" He paused. "My roommate's cool,
but I'm kinda lonesome for you guys, to tell the truth."
"We'll get on that, Jeff," Cam promised. "What are your visiting
"Ten to two, every day. And seven to ten every night."
"Excellent! If I can talk 'em into it, why don't Kevin and Casey
and Carl and I stop over right after church on Sunday? Will they
let the four of us visit all at once?"
"I'm not sure, but I'll check on that," Jeff said. "If you don't
hear back from me, it's OK."
"Good deal, man," Cam said. "Thanks for calling. We miss
ya, and it's good to hear your voice. You sound good.
However many they'll let in to see ya, we'll be there on Sunday."
"Lookin' forward to it!"
The line went dead, and Cam looked at Kevin, now sitting on the bed and
putting on his running shoes.
Cam gave Kevin a visual once-over. "I don't know about you," he
"You were deliberately parading around naked while I was trying to talk
to Jeff on the phone. Have you no shame?"
"Lots of it, but not for being naked in front of you, dude."
Kevin laughed. "You may not be a hundred percent, but at least
your libido is back from vacation," Kevin observed. "I like
that. It's a good sign."
Cam chuckled and went over and sat beside Kevin on the bed, throwing an
arm around his waist, hugging him and kissing him on the cheek.
"How's Jeff?" Kevin asked.
"Sounds good. Says he's good."
"I take it he can have visitors?"
"I wanna see him."
"Me, too." Cam looked into his partner's eyes. "I love you
so much I could jump outta my skin," Cam said.
"What kinda happy pills does that doctor have you on?"
"I can't answer that without my lawyer's permission, and he's in San
Rafael right now."
Carl knocked on the door and came in. He looked at Kevin and Cam
sitting on the bed holding each other. "Oh shit, are you two are
again?" he asked with a smile.
laid, boy," Kevin told him.
"You're right about that," Carl said. "Make me an offer."
"That's a bold proposition," Kevin said. "Right in front of my
"I'm glad I got your attention."
"When is Andy coming down here?" Cam asked.
"I don't know," Carl said. "But I think there's a plan afoot for
the 'rents to
send one or two guys in the family down here in rotation to see
hopin' Andy can get in on that."
"Outstanding!" Cam said. He jumped up and high-fived Carl.
"That makes me happy! How come you always get the good news
"'Cause they recognize I'm the mature one in this household," Carl said
"Yeah, right," Cam said. "Not!"
"Let's get going," Kevin the taskmaster said, standing up.
"Where's Casey?" Carl asked as they moved toward the door.
"Maria has him," Kevin said. He ducked into the kitchen when they
arrived downstairs, and kissed Casey who was in his highchair awaiting
"Maria, we're gonna hit the beach for a run," Kevin said.
"Is Cam going with you?" she asked.
"Good!" Maria had been doing some heavy duty worrying about Cam,
and she had been visibly more cheerful once he had started to act more
Taking Alice and Samantha out on to the deck with them, the three boys
began to do their stretches while the dogs wandered around in the front
yard waiting for "their" run to begin. When Kevin was satisfied
that the guys were limbered up, he led the way out to the hardpack on
the water's edge.
"Now Cam," he said, "I don't want you doing too much. Why don't
do a couple miles at a run, and then head back?"
"I'll think about it," Cam said just to give his partner some
grief. "I'll let
"Brat," Kevin said under his breath.
"What?" Cam asked.
"Nothing," Kevin said with a grin.
They took off at a good pace. The dogs ran ahead, wandering
into the surf every so often, and then coming back to circle around
the guys. It was another one of those warm, beautiful, crystal
clear, southern California fall days that the rest of the country
envied so much, at least when the hillsides weren't burning or houses
downhill in the mud. Paradise sometimes carried a price tag,
paying for its
* * *
After getting off the phone with Cam and then with his parents, Jeff
Miller sat down on his bed
in the room he shared with his roommate, a 25 year old burnout named
Max McCaskey who was in his fifth stint in rehab. He was a nice
enough guy, but Jeff wasn't too sure about his commitment to the
program or his prognosis the fifth time around. Max had yet to
share very much about who he was or what he believed about himself and
life in general with Jeff or any of his peers at Assurances. This
was despite the intense peer pressure in the required group sessions to
talk about oneself. The others would pick on you relentlessly
until you opened up.
Jeff sighed. He knew how self-protective he himself had been when
he'd first entered Assurances, how reluctant he had been to bare the
inner workings of his mind and soul to himself, let alone anyone
else. But his counselor had told him, early on, after confronting
him about his reticence in group, that there would be no healing
without identifying his own truths about himself, first to himself, and
then verbalizing them to others. In Jeff's view, he began to make
only when he had begun to do just that.
Jeff wanted to help Max somehow, but he had already learned something
his experience at Assurances. That "something else" was that you
can only help someone with an addiction when that person wants to be
helped. That probably applied to a lot of other challenges in
Jeff hadn't seen any signs at all that Max was interested in helping
himself or letting anyone else help him.
Jeff periodically reflected back on being discovered by Kevin under the
rear deck of
Alex's house. What a sad sight he must have been, dressed in that
filthy old overcoat, with long, dirty hair, smelling of urine. He
knew that it had been tender-hearted Cam who had tipped the balance
with Kevin and Carl when it came to letting him stay at the house with
them. As it turned out, that had been a life-saver for him.
He could have been like Max, wandering in the psychological desert of
hadn't been for people who were willing to gamble on him and give him
shelter from that storm in his guts. It had been a storm which
had pushed him to do
foolish things--stupid things--in his life.
He could well have been Max had he chosen to play his
cards close to the vest when he stayed at the MacKenzies', a habitual
familiar for him. Instead he had thrown
himself on the mercy of Cam, Kevin and Carl after they had taken him
in, and being honest and open with them had been a precursor of what he
would do in rehab.
Cam. The assault on that beautiful person, that beautiful young
had shaken Jeff to his core. Human
beings like Cam can be so tough and resilient and yet so fragile at the
same time, Jeff thought to himself. I guess we all can. That
anyone could or
would abuse Cam, well, he couldn't understand it. Jeff's former
school classmates must be awfully
close to being pure evil.
Jeff wanted to have visits from all the
boys in the
extended family, but especially Cam. Jeff wanted to hug Cam and
to hold him
for just a moment longer than might be comfortable for either of them,
so maybe Cam
would know how much Jeff cared about him and wanted him to heal.
He shook off his dark thoughts about what had happened to his friend
and stood up, looking into the floor length mirror on the wall.
Kevin would be pleased when he visited to see how hard
he had been working out in the gym. He was looking g-o-o-d.
Someone you would hardly recognize as having crawled out from under a
deck in Malibu all fucked up not that long ago.
Jeff glanced at his watch. He had an hour before he had to see
counselor for their daily session. He was just heading toward the
for a workout when an aide coming down the hall called out to him.
"Jeff, you have a visitor at the front desk. A priest.
Jeff was surprised. He reversed direction and starting walking
toward the front entrance.
"Father! How did you know I was just cleared to have visitors?"
"Hello, Jeff. I didn't. I just took a chance they might
an exception for a clergyman and let me see you."
"Well, thank you for coming by," Jeff said, smiling and warmly shaking
priest's hand. "I've been lonesome for a familiar face.
Come on back to the lounge, and we can talk."
A comfortable lounge with overstuffed leather furniture and a giant
screen TV was empty when they arrived, and they sat down across from
"I hardly recognized you when you came into reception," Ryan
said. "You look really good, Jeff. You must be doing
right by yourself."
"I think so," Jeff said. "This is the first time in years that I
feel like I have a little control in my life."
"I'm so pleased to hear that. You're discovering, then, that it's
worth the effort you're putting in here?"
"Yeah, I am. The staff here are good. They're
professionals, and they know what they're doing. It seems to me
that it's more than just a job to them."
"Excellent," the priest said.
"I'm kind of overwhelmed that you'd come to see me," Jeff said.
"You hardly know me."
"Well, where better to spend my time than with
you, then? I've been seeing your parents in church every Sunday
you're dad's in town, so I've just been wondering how you were
doing. By the way, your mom and dad are really proud of you,
"Thanks for telling me that."
"It's the truth. Your dad just beams when your name comes up."
Jeff smiled with satisfaction. "Mom and Dad are going to
church? That surprises me a little," he
said. "I'm glad. But I wonder what turned them around?"
Father Ryan looked at him appraisingly. "Maybe you did,
And their neighbors at the MacKenzies'. On a lot of Sundays
they'll all come to church together."
"I get it now."
"Alex MacKenzie and John Kelley are back in London, but they had me and
my family over for supper before they left. Your parents let us
use their swimming pool that night, and we enjoyed it, especially my
kids. We enjoyed the whole evening a lot."
"I'm glad." Jeff hesitated. "Uh, can I ask you how Cam is
'I don't see why not. It's not a confidential
matter when it comes a friend like you. He's doing much better
of hit a low point the night my family was at the house. But
Cam's mom got in touch right away with his prospective therapist, a
UCLA, and she
prescribed some antidepressants for him. They've really had a
positive effect on him."
"I'm glad," Jeff said. "I got really down when I heard what
had happened to him. But I talked to Cam on the phone today, and
sounded good. He said that he starts therapy this coming
Monday. And he and Kevin and Carl and Casey are going to stop by
here after church on Sunday to see me."
"I'm glad. They aren't the kind of people who forget a friend."
"I know it." Jeff studied the priest. "I'm glad Cam's
starting therapy. From what I read in the newspaper, you don't go
through what he did without getting a little messed up. And you
can't depend on pills to heal you. They just keep you on an even
keel while you're coming to grips with problems and being healed."
The priest looked at Jeff with new respect. "That's a good
insight. Is that something you learned here at Assurances?"
"I wish everybody knew that," Father Ryan said.
"I've gotten a lot more conscious about what we take into our bodies
since I've been here, including medicine. I'm concerned about a
lot of the food we eat in this country, for example. Out meat is
full of antibiotics, there's mercury in a lot of our fish, and we don't
know what's in the bottled
water we all chug down without a second thought. I don't know
people who complain about too much regulation in our country are
yelling about. We don't have any idea about what's in half the
stuff we consume, but there's nobody minding the store full time, so to
"I agree with you, Jeff. We have to strike a happy medium when it
comes to regulation, but there's a long way to go before Americans are
properly protected. That's just my opinion, of course."
"You're a wise man," Jeff said, laughing.
"I wish," the priest said with a grin. "What do you think you're
going to do once you're clean and sober?"
"I want to go back to school," Jeff said. "Maybe I'll join Cam
and Kevin and Carl at UCLA if the school will re-admit me."
"That would be good. What do you think you might study?"
"Maybe psychology. They say that the best psychologists take it
up because they want to find out why they're so screwed up."
"I've heard that. But I don't think that motivation applies in
They continued talking for another half hour before Jeff looked at his
"Father, I hate to bail on our conversation," he said reluctantly, "but
I have an appointment
to see my counselor in five minutes."
"That's a priority, for sure," Ryan said.
"I can't tell you how much it means to me that you came to visit," Jeff
said. "My first visitor!" he added with a grin.
"I'm honored to have been No. 1," Father Ryan said as they stood
up. "You're in my prayers, Jeff, and I won't forget about you."
The priest stepped up to Jeff, put his hands on his head and blessed
him, tracing the sign of the cross on his forehead with his thumb.
Jeff was moved.
"Father, thank you for that. We're so fortunate to have you for
priest." Jeff gave the man a hug, then shook his hand, and walked
with him toward the front entrance.
"Say hello to the boys when they come to see you," the priest said
over his shoulder as he waved good-bye and headed for the front door.
"Will do, but you'll no doubt see 'em in church just before they come
Jeff told him before turning around and moving toward his counselor's
"You're right. I forgot," Ryan called after him.
The priest's visit had put Jeff in a good mood. An optimistic
mood. That was a good frame of mind to be in when you're going
* * *
The telephone rang, and the receptionist at St.
Dunstan's Church picked
it up on the second ring just before she was going home for the evening.
"St. Dunstan's Church. May I help you?"
"Hello, Denise. This is Father Mason."
"Hello, Father. How did you know it was me?"
"I'd recognize that melodious voice of yours anywhere" the priest said.
"You flatterer. You haven't changed a bit."
"You know I speak the truth."
"Well, it's good to hear your melodious voice. You want to talk to Father Ryan, I presume."
"One moment please, Father."
The phone went dead for a moment, and then Father Ryan picked up his
"Jimmy! I've been wanting to talk to you, and just haven't done
it. How are you?"
"I'm good, John. How are you?"
"Terrific, given the state of this world."
Mason laughed. "I can always count on you to be upbeat."
"Amazing, isn't it. And I'm still doing it without meds," Ryan
"Me, too. I think we may be in the minority."
"I doubt that, young Father. What's going on?"
"I'm calling to get the latest on Cam MacKenzie. I hear from his
mom that he's doing pretty well, and that he's going into therapy."
"That's true. I haven't talked to him directly about it, but I've
seen him and Kevin and Carl and Casey in church with Sean and Susan
I stopped by to see Jeff Miller at Assurances today, and he confirmed
that Cam will
start seeing a therapist on Monday."
"John, when I heard what had happened to Cam--well, it broke my
heart. He's such a good young man..." Jim Mason's voice
broke, and he paused until he could swallow again.
"Do I need to be worried about you, Jim?" Ryan asked.
"No. I know there's evil out there," Mason said. "But this
is such a particular injustice to Cameron and to Kevin." He
throat. "I admit I've developed more than the usual affection for
this family. It's an unusual collection of people, but I love
all. They're good people. They deserve better than to have
this happen to one of their own."
"I know that. But, 'Good out of evil,' Jimmy. That's what
we need to be looking for in all this. That's what our Lord wants
us to do, don't you think?"
"Yes, I do. I try to be as strong as you are, but I'm just not
"Don't be so hard on yourself. Don't sell yourself
short. We all have reserves of grace and strength we don't
"I know that's true," Mason said.
"You said your heart was broken over what happened to Cam. Mine,
too. But we're priests. At the same time we're looking for
as much good as we can find in this world, we need to remind ourselves
that carrying around a
broken heart when the good seems elusive is the norm for us. The
servant is not above his master. Knowing that is just part of
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a long minute.
"I sure called the right guy to put things into perspective," Mason
"When are you coming down here again?" Ryan asked. "Let's spend
some time together."
"I can't take any more weekends off right now," Jim Mason said.
"I feel as
if I've already taken advantage of Father Blackburn's generosity.
But maybe I could come down for a couple of days during the week
"That sounds good, Jim. The sooner, the better."
"I'll plan on it. Let me talk to Ed Blackburn, and to Cam, Kevin
Carl, and maybe I can come down for a couple days the week after next."
"Excellent. Let me know as soon as you can so I can work with my
schedule," John Ryan said. "Will you be staying in Malibu?"
"If the guys will have me."
"I don't think you need to worry about that. Are you going to see
your family when you're down here?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Let me stick my nose where it probably doesn't belong, Jim.
neglect your mom, at least. Parents slip away from us all too
But you know that already from what happened to your dad."
"You're right. I'll call my mother and set something up."
"Good man. Lisa and the kids and I will look forward to seeing
Jimmy. If we can work it out, I'd like to have you and Cam and
and Carl, and Casey, of course, over for supper while you're
kids love you and those boys."
"That would sure be nice of you and Lisa."
"We'll work on that. Thanks for calling, Jimmy. Blessings
on your work. Take care
"You, too. Hi to Lisa."
Mason hung up the phone feeling a lot more cheerful than when he'd
* * *
William Carson arrived home at 6 p.m. after football practice and
slowly climbed the back stairs to his and Berto's room. He was
limping noticeably from what had been a brutal football practice.
of the idiots on the varsity wouldn't know a red jersey that
wear in practice to show they're immune from hits if it bit them on the
William had been sacked twice despite the team rules.
William had to wonder if it was deliberate. The coach had ripped
the knuckleheads a new one for doing that, but by
then it was too late.
Berto was going to go out for soccer this year, but so as not to
conflict with football, soccer practices wouldn't start for a while
was sitting at his desk buffing a pair of black shoes. Unlike
most of the guys in the family, when he went out in public he
invariably liked to look good. When he went out on a date, that
Berto wasn't the player that William was when it came to the ladies,
but he was getting some regularly from the three girls he was dating in
rotation. His harem. So he was pretty happy with the way
going. So were the girls, apparently. Berto competed with
William when it came to borrowing Catherine's big Lincoln on the
weekends because of its big back seat.
"Mr. GQ," William greeted him. "What's with the shoe shine?"
"I just like to look nice when I travel, that's
all. Catherine asked me to go to L.A.
this weekend to visit the guys. Me and Andy Helder. We're
going to the airport after supper."
"Cool," William said. And he meant it. He was for
anything that would give Cam some support in the face of the terrible
trauma he had sustained in that house on the beach. William had
received a lot of positive feedback from Catherine and his parents
about what he had said to Cam during his recent visit. It
had apparently given Cam a real psychological boost.
"Uh, I need to asked you something," Berto said. "How did you
know what to say to Cam? I don't know what to say to him about
what happened to him."
William gingerly eased himself into his own desk chair, trying to avoid
discomfort he was experiencing in his ass every time he moved. He
Berto, who was still buffing his shoes.
"When I went down there, I only had a rough idea what I was going to
say to him. But I love 'im, the way we all do," William said
without embarrassment. "I asked him to sleep in the same bed with me
Friday night, and I just told him how much I love him, and how much
in this family loves him, and that he would find the strength to
recover from what happened to him. That was the heart of
it. It's something we would all like to hear now and then when
we're in trouble, doncha think?"
"Yes, I do. Where was Kevin while all this was going on?" Berto
"He went down the hall and slept in Carl's room. I asked him to
do that because I wanted to talk with Cam one-on-one. Kev
didn't seem to resent it, and thanked me later for caring enough to
spend some quality time with Cam. To be honest, I put my self out
there to say some things that guys usually don't feel comfortable
saying to each
"Well, you did a good job," Berto said. "I hope I can do that
"I don't think you need to worry so much about what to say," William
said. "Just being there for him is what he needs now more than
"I can do that."
Berto finished buffing his shoes, and put them on the floor side by
side. They looked great.
"Could I ask you to do something for me?" William said.
"Could you give me a rubdown after supper before you leave. I'm
from football practice."
"Would I have to touch your naked body?" Berto asked, frowning.
"Fuck, yes! How else do you give a rubdown?"
"I could wave a towel over the parts that hurt, and pray."
"Come on! I'm serious. I'm in pain."
"What parts of your body would I have to touch?"
Kevin looked at him incredulously. "All of them that hurt."
"Your dick is all right, isn't it?"
"My dick is just fine, thanks for asking! Better than fine!"
"That's what some of the girls at school say about it. Well, all
dude. It's disgusting, but I'll do this rubdown thing because
you're my bud." Berto laughed, his teeth flashing white in
contrast with his olive skin. Once in a while the normally
Berto liked to fuck with William's head.
William stared at him. He couldn't help himself, and began to
"Boys!" Mary Carson's voice floated up the back stairs.
"Hmmmm, good!" Berto said. "Our little talk has made me hungry."
William and Berto stood up, and William pulled the boy into a
hug. "You're such a dick sometimes," he said. "But I love
"Same here, man."
When they got down to the dining room, Rosa and Yolanda were putting
big bowls of mac and cheese and salad and platters of tilapia on the
The other guys, accompanied by Andy Helder who had come over for
were just walking in from
the TV room.
Once gathered around the table, Catherine's gaze fell on Berto first,
and she asked him to offer
thanks. Everyone made the sign of the cross and then held hands
"Heavenly Father," Berto said, "we ask you to look with favor on this
and those apart from us. Lord, please heal all of us when we are
hurt and help us in adversity, and give us grace to help all those who
need it. We're grateful, Father, for the food on this table, and
ask a blessing upon it and on all of us who will eat of it, through
Christ our Lord."
Ian was standing next to Berto, and wordlessly patted him on the back
before seating Mary. Mark Carson pulled out Catherine's chair and
"Berto, that was an excellent prayer," Catherine said. "Thank
The boy smiled and nodded his head, and Dan Emrick gave him a thumbs-up.
"Andy, welcome," Mary said. "Thanks for coming over."
"You know I like being here," Andy said. "Thank you for having
After the food had been passed, Catherine looked around the table.
"Boys, your mom and dad and I want to share some news with you," she
said. "Ian, why don't you tell them."
"Berto and Andy know this already," Ian said. "We've decided to
one or two of you who want to go on weekends, down to L.A. to see Cam
and Kevin and
Carl. It'll be different guys every
weekend. Berto will be going first, tonight, with Andy."
Mark Carson and Dan grinned at each other and bumped fists.
"I admit we have a selfish motive," Mary added. "Cam is
starting therapy next Monday, and he's going to need all the support he
can get. Catherine got the idea because William really helped him
weekend, and we think that every one of you can help do the same thing
own way. I don't have to explain that Carl and Andy miss each
other." Andy blushed, and he looked down at the table.
"What do you all think of the idea?" Catherine asked.
'It's a great idea," Mark said. "I really want to see the
guys. Especially Cam." He looked around at the
"I want him to know we all care about him. And this is a great
way to do it. I haven't forgotten how he and Kevin supported me
after I was
shot. It's time for a little payback. The good kind of
"What he said," Dan Emrick said, pointing at Mark. "Anyway, I
and Cam and Kevin a lot."
"You're doing a good thing, folks," William said. "It's just
we all need to be doing right now."
"Thank you, William," Catherine said. "Your viewpoint carries a
lot of weight with all of us because of what you accomplished with Cam
you went down to L.A. last weekend."
"I agree," Ian said. "We don't want this to disrupt your studies,
though. Or anything else we need to be doing here." Ian
looked at Berto. "When you get back, you and I need to start
working on applications for college. Especially one to Stanford,
you're seeing things that way." He paused and chuckled. "I
admit I'm prejudiced in that direction."
"It's a great school," Berto said. "If I can get in there, I'll
feel like the luckiest guy in the world."
"There's no reason why you can't, Berto," Catherine said. "Your
grades are excellent. They're good enough that you can get an
academic scholarship. We're very proud of you."
"Thank you," Berto said, looking down at his plate.
"That means a lot to me, especially coming from you."
Catherine bit her tongue to keep from telling everybody that she had
been offered a professorship at Stanford, and would likely accept
it. She wanted to discuss it with Ian and Mary and with Cam and
Kevin before letting the rest of the boys know. The family
clearly had some things to work out.
Everybody continued talking, with the adults making their usual effort
to draw the boys out about their studies and their social lives at
school. So far as Catherine, Ian and Mary could tell, things were
going well for them. They were good boys, and seemingly not
After the meal, the guys cleared the table and filled the dishwasher so
Rosa and Yolanda wouldn't face a mountain of work the next
morning. Then they headed upstairs to do homework and take turns
working out in the gym. Dan and Mark were secretly glad that
didn't seem to be in any shape to supervise them in the gym, because he
was tough on them.
Berto and William went up to their room, and Berto shut the door.
didn't particularly want the other guys to see him giving William a
"Take a hot shower," Berto told his friend. "As hot as you can
William nodded and headed for their bathroom, pulling off his clothes
as he went. The shower door opened and the water started
running. William eased inside shortly thereafter and adjusted
the water temperature to a little cooler from straight-out hot.
When William emerged ten minutes later with a towel around his middle,
the skin of his body was lobster red.
Berto took one look at him and said, "I told you hot, not
scalding, asshole. I hope you didn't burn yourself."
"Pain means nothing to me," William said.
"Then why am I giving you a rubdown?"
"I meant 'most pain,'" William chuckled. "Where do you want me."
"I don't want you at all. But on your bed, I guess."
William pulled off his towel, laid it out over the bedspread, and lay
face down. Berto couldn't help admiring the kid's body.
Like Kevin's physique, it was about as perfectly developed as you could
including the nice bubble butt which was causing its owner so much pain
"We have any liniment?" Berto asked as he ducked out into the hall to
get a sheet out of the linen closet. When he came back he covered
William with the sheet so his body heat would not be lost.
"There's liniment in the medicine cabinet," William told him.
Berto retrieved it along with a tube of milder body rub. He
uncovered William's body, looking carefully at his skin.
"You're gonna have one hell of a bruise on your butt," he said.
The boy's left buttock was already turning dark, the preview to a
deep bruise. He re-covered William's butt and legs,
and climbed on the bed, straddling his calves. "I
don't think using the strong liniment on your butt is a good idea," he
"I'll use it on your shoulders and back and legs, though."
"No, use the strong stuff all over. I'm already hurting."
William grunted as Berto somewhat reluctantly began massaging his
friend's shoulders with the stronger liniment, digging his fingers into
the muscles and tendons. William groaned in pleasure and pain
as Berto's hands moved from shoulders down his spine and back up again.
"Am I hurting you?"
"No. Do it, man."
"If I get a woody from doin' this, it's your fault," Berto said as he
William chuckled between groans. "From somebody who likes pussy
as much as you do, I'll take that as a compliment."
"Just following your example with the girls."
"And a fine example it is."
"Well, there can be too much
of a good thing."
"I've heard that," William said. "But I think it's a lie."
"I'm reporting this whole conversation to Father Mason."
"Humph. Take one look at how handsome he is, and you just know he
got plenty of pussy in
high school and college."
"I'm sure," Berto said. "But he repented. That's what you
need to do."
"What about you?"
"I repent after every time I do the deed."
"I'll make an appointment for you with Fr. Jim for private
confession," William said. "Then maybe your repentance will
"Shut up, man. I'm gonna massage your little girly ass now.
I'm gonna make it hurt real bad." Berto covered William's torso
with the sheet, scooted farther down the boy's legs, and uncovered his
butt. Greasing up his hands with fresh liniment, he planted his
hands on his roomie's behind and leaned into it.
"Oh, fuck!" William moaned. "That fucking hurts!"
"No pain, no gain."
"Couldn't you come up with something original," William groaned.
"No gain, no pain," Berto said.
"That doesn't make any sense! Owwww!" William raised his
head and looked back at Berto. "You're making this worse than it
needs to be."
"Quit complaining or hire a professional. I warned you the
liniment would hurt you."
William clamped his jaw shut and took his punishment. When Berto
finished William's posterior, it was glowing and throwing off
heat. Berto covered it up and climbed off the bed. Stepping
around to the foot of the bed, he uncovered William's legs. He
moistened his hands with more liniment and began to work on the
muscular thighs and calves in front of him.
"Are these legs or toothpicks?" Berto asked with a grin.
"Oh man, that feels good," William said, ignoring the insult.
"This massage is gonna cost you one of your turns using Catherine's car
on a date, y'know," Berto said.
"It's worth it," William sighed.
"You know it!" Berto said.
"Are you gonna do my front, too?"
"Legs and torso only," Berto said with a grin. "You'll have to
take care of your midsection yourself. You're used to doing that."
"Not too often anymore. And you're such a coward!"
"Damn right. And proud of it."
* * *
When Kevin's cell rang, Berto's call from the San Francisco airport
woke him up from a doze with Cam beside him on the bed.
"Hey, dude," Berto said. "Guess what?"
"Tell me something good," Kevin yawned.
"I'm just getting ready to board a plane for L.A. to stay with you guys
for the weekend. Don't tell Carl, but Andy's with me.
Make sure Carl is there when you pick us up." Berto
laughed. "He'll crap his pants."
"Super!" Kevin said. "What time will you guys be getting in, do
"About 9:30, I think," Berto said. He gave Kevin the flight
"We'll be there to pick you up, bud."
Kevin hit disconnect and put his phone back on the bedside table.
"Who was that?" Cam asked.
"Berto. He and Andy are flying in tonight for the weekend.
Carl doesn't know, and Andy wants to surprise Carl."
"Excellent! Carl really misses Andy, y'know"
"No shit! We better get moving and make up a bed for Berto,"
"Let's do it."
The two of them slid out of bed and went to the linen closet, pulling
out sheets and some pillow cases. Carl heard them and came to the
open door of his room.
"'Sup?" he asked.
"Berto's flying in for the weekend," Kevin said. "He'll be at LAX
at about 9:30. Wanna go with us to pick him up?"
"Yep," Carl said. "It'll be good to see him." He
followed Kevin and Cam into an empty bedroom. "I wish Andy would
come done here."
"He will one of these days," Cam said without batting an eye.
"You'll probably see him before you know it."
"Fuck, I hope so!" Carl said. "I miss him so much. I'm
gonna call him tonight and make him give me a date to get his ass down
"Good idea," Cam said. "The sooner the better."
"You know it. My right hand's getting tired," Carl said.
Cam grinned at him. "What! You mean you're not celibate?"
"Not hardly! Don't be a prick."
"That reminds me of a story that's kind of apropos," Kevin said,
opening a bed sheet and throwing the far edge into the air where Cam
was waiting to grab it.
"Let's hear it then, I s'pose," Carl said, looking at Kevin doubtfully.
"Well, there was this strict religious order, celibate of course, whose
monastery was a
repository for a lot of ancient documents. The brothers would
spend most of every day, after cultivating the garden and taking care
of the barnyard animals, looking over these old parchments and copying
them word for word for a waiting world.
"One day," Kevin continued, "the Father-superior was pouring over a
document concerning monastic discipline that he was going to
copy. Suddenly he began wailing and
weeping and pounding his head on his desk. 'No, no, no, no!' he
said. 'I can't believe my eyes.'
"'Father, what's the matter?' another brother asked him.
"'We got it wrong. After all these years, this says we got it
"'Got what wrong?' the brother asked.
"'It says CELEBRATE!'"
Cam and Carl began laughing, joined by Kevin.
They guys finished making up the bed, and then got dressed in
preparation for going to the airport. They still had a little
time, and Carl and Kevin bowled a game on Wii, with Carl winning
handily. Kevin went up and got a sleeping Casey, putting him into
his carrier, and they all went to the Highlander and took off for LAX,
Carl at the wheel. The freeways were never empty in L.A., but
traffic moved pretty well at that hour.
Carl put the Highlander in short-term parking, and they went to baggage
retrieval to wait for Berto. It wasn't long before the boy came
down the escalator, with someone standing hidden on the other side of
"Who's with him?" Carl asked, craning his neck. Then he saw who
it was and ran over to the foot of the escalator.
"Oh, wow!" he said as he scooped up the taller Andy Helder, carry-on
bag and all, into his arms and swung him around. Carl's eyes
watered, but he didn't cry. "You didn't tell me!" he said as he
put Andy back on his feet.
"Duh," Andy said with a big smile. "I wanted to surprise you."
"You dick! I'm going to make you pay for that. But in a
very pleasant way." Carl planted a big one right on his
boyfriend's lips. The blasé Angelenos eddying around them
paid no attention.
"Hey guys," Kevin said as he and Cam walked over to join them, Kevin
holding a still-sleeping Casey in his carrier. Cam embraced Andy
and kissed him on the cheek, following up with Berto. Berto held
on to Cam, and then kissed him back.
"I'm glad to see you, Cam," Berto said. "You're lookin' good."
"Thanks, man," Cam said. "You, too."
Kevin shouldered his way into the group holding Casey in his carrier,
giving Andy and Berto one-armed hugs followed by kisses. The new
arrivals knelt down to eyeball Casey and give him a kiss on the head.
"He's grown just since we were down here," Berto pointed out.
cuter than ever."
"Thanks for coming down here, guys," Cam said. "It means a lot to
us. To me." He looked at the boys' carry-on bags.
"You got more bags?"
"Nope," Andy said. "This is it. We can go."
Cam took over carrying Casey as the five young men happily headed for
looking forward to the weekend.
© 2010 Don Hanratty
As always, thanks for your patience.