Don Hanratty
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 exception, showed 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 there 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 he struggled with 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 friend.

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 Ian and 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 get away.

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 each 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 which she 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 put the 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 its contents.  In each case the envelopes contained a single sheet.

She could hardly believe that every one of the first five letters was a warm invitation to join the faculties at the various schools she had notified 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 résumé and letter of
June 30, 2009, in which you made known your availability to join our faculty
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 institutions throughout
the United States and England, as well as from the president of St. Francis University
and from several prominent alumni of Stanford, the English faculty and the dean of
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 the
Human Resources Department of Stanford University with respect to terms and
conditions of employment, and with the English Department as to a mutually
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 identified above.

"Yours truly,

"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 would bring.

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 number of 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 offer from Stanford, because one of Stanford's "prominent alumni" Dr. Wilson had mentioned was Ian himself.  He was a strong supporter of 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 there.  She didn't want any greater distance between herself and her two boys, or when it came right down to it, between herself and the adults and the rest of the boys in 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 Rafael, 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 Francisco would put her within easy driving distance of Palo Alto, while the Carsons 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 her office to talk with her about it after she had returned from L.A.  He was not only 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.  His 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 approached.  At 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 the bed.  He was studying his physics text.

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; he 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 read his physics text as if it were a novel, and everything he read stuck with him.  It was no wonder he was already showing promise of 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 periodically 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 been 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 at his 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 developed 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 talking about."

"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 down flat 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 in sex 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," Cam 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 work Cam's boxers off his butt and down his legs.  Once freed, Cam's erection snapped up on to his stomach.

"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 it 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 object of 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, Lord...please..."

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 back 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, swallowing furiously so that 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 been sandbagged.  When they finally released each other, Kevin summoned the 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 times, he could always count on this stalwart and patient lover to be by his side.

Kevin woke up, and looked into Cam's face.

"You all right?" Kevin asked, rubbing away Cam's tears.

"Oh yeah!!"

"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 mentally from what Clymer and his asshole friends did to me, but you've stuck with me no 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 until Cam fell asleep for good.  Kevin gently raised his boy up, pulled down the 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 hours?"

"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 told him.

"What now?"

"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 at it again?" he asked with a smile.

"We gotta get you 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 partner, too."

"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 us on weekends.  I'm 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 first?"

"'Cause they recognize I'm the mature one in this household," Carl said with a smirk.

"Yeah, right," Cam said.  "Not!"

"Let's get going," Kevin the taskmaster said, standing up.  "Time's wasting."

"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 his mid-morning snack.

"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 like himself.

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 you 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 ya know."

"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 sliding downhill in the mud.  Paradise sometimes carried a price tag, paying for its sins.

*  *  *

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 about 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 some progress only when he had begun to do just that.

Jeff wanted to help Max somehow, but he had already learned something else from 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 life, too.  And 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 addiction if it 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 so many 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 reticence 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 man, 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 high 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 his counselor for their daily session.  He was just heading toward the gym 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.  Father Ryan."

"Thanks, Mike."

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 make an exception for a clergyman and let me see you."

"Well, thank you for coming by," Jeff said, smiling and warmly shaking the 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 each other.

"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 when 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, Jeff."

"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, Jeff.  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 really doing?"

'I don't see why not.  It's not a confidential matter when it comes a friend like you.  He's doing much better now.  He kind 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 professor at 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 he 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 what 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 speak."

"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 your case."

They continued talking for another half hour before Jeff looked at his watch.

"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."

"Please don't."

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 our 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 over here," Jeff told him before turning around and moving toward his counselor's office.

"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 into a counseling session.

*  *  *

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."

"I do."

"One moment please, Father."

The phone went dead for a moment, and then Father Ryan picked up his extension.

"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 said.

"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 Miller.  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 cleared his throat.  "I admit I've developed more than the usual affection for this family.  It's an unusual collection of people, but I love them 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 there yet."

"Don't be so hard on yourself.  Don't sell yourself short.  We all have reserves of grace and strength we don't always realize."

"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 servanthood."

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 finally said.

"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 sometime."

"That sounds good, Jim.  The sooner, the better."

"I'll plan on it.  Let me talk to Ed Blackburn, and to Cam, Kevin and 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.  Don't neglect your mom, at least.  Parents slip away from us all too soon.  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 you, Jimmy.  If we can work it out, I'd like to have you and Cam and Kevin and Carl, and Casey, of course, over for supper while you're here.  My 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 of yourself."

"You, too.  Hi to Lisa."

Mason hung up the phone feeling a lot more cheerful than when he'd called.

*  *  *

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.  Some of the idiots on the varsity wouldn't know a red jersey that quarterbacks wear in practice to show they're immune from hits if it bit them on the ass, and 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 yet.  He 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 was doubly true.

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 things were 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 the discomfort he was experiencing in his ass every time he moved.  He looked at 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 everybody 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 asked.

"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 other."

"Well, you did a good job," Berto said.  "I hope I can do that too."

"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 anything else."

"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 really hurting 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 right, then, 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 serious Berto liked to fuck with William's head.

William stared at him.  He couldn't help himself, and began to laugh.

"Boys!"  Mary Carson's voice floated up the back stairs.  "Supper's ready!"

"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 ya anyway."

"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 table.  The other guys, accompanied by Andy Helder who had come over for supper, 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 around the table.

"Heavenly Father," Berto said, "we ask you to look with favor on this your family--those here 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 Jesus 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 seated her.

"Berto, that was an excellent prayer," Catherine said.  "Thank you."

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 me."

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 send 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 last weekend, and we think that every one of you can help do the same thing in your 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 family.  "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 payback."

"What he said," Dan Emrick said, pointing at Mark.  "Anyway, I miss my bro and Cam and Kevin a lot."

"You're doing a good thing, folks," William said.  "It's just something 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 when 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, if 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 troubled boys.

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 William 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.  He didn't particularly want the other guys to see him giving William a massage.

"Take a hot shower," Berto told his friend.  "As hot as you can stand it."

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 find, including the nice bubble butt which was causing its owner so much pain at the moment.

"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 partly 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 said.  "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 bore down.

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 stick."

"Shut up, man.  I'm gonna massage your little girly ass now.  And 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 you know?"

"About 9:30, I think," Berto said.  He gave Kevin the flight number.

"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," Cam said.

"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 here."

"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 wrong.'

"'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 him.

"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.  "He's 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 the truck, looking forward to the weekend.

© 2010 Don Hanratty

As always, thanks for your patience.