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


Contrary to what he had expected, Cam was in a great mood when he drove to UCLA for his first appointment with his therapist, Dr. Martha Owens.  The reasons for that weren't complicated.

First of all, telephone calls from his extended family the previous evening after he and Kevin and Carl had returned home from taking Berto and Andy to the airport, and even that morning, had given him a tremendous boost.

He had received individual calls from San Rafael from Catherine, Ian and Mary Carson, Father Jim Mason, and from each one of his brothers, including Berto and Andy once they hit San Francisco International on the way home from L.A.  And from
his dad and John Kelley in London and Sean Miller in Manhattan.  Susan Miller from next door had also called, along with Father John Ryan and his wife Lisa from St. Dunstan's rectory in L.A.  And then, that morning before he left for school, he heard from Jeff Miller at Assurances.

Every call had been different, as individual in character as the caller.  But the calls all had one thing is common.  They were expressions of love and support as he entered therapy to deal with the horrible things that had happened to him in that house down the beach.  Most surprising to Cam was how explicit the boys had been in expressing their love for him, something he hadn't really been expecting from teenage peers.  He hadn't been prepared for it.  He hadn't cried, but had been right on the verge of doing so by the time he had finally talked to everyone.

After Cam had fielded all the evening phone calls which had come in one after another, he and Kevin had eventually made it upstairs to their bedroom with Casey for the night.  Their routine up there had been nothing out of the ordinary.  They'd stripped down to their boxers, used the toilet, and brushed their teeth.   Then they'd checked out Casey, whose diaper was dry.  Bending down over the crib, they'd loved on the little guy a bit, stroking the curls on his head gently, and kissing him.  The baby had blissfully slept through it all.  His stomach had been full and his diaper dry.  For him, that had been heaven on earth just like usual, and all was right with the world.

But the second big boost to Cam's spirits, after the phone calls, had happened when Cam and Kevin had finally crawled into bed together.  They hadn't been looking to have sex.  They had just lain on their sides, facing one another.  Kevin had been so tender to his partner, caressing his face silently, hugging and kissing him gently and repeatedly.

"Almost everybody has called me," Cam had whispered to him, sharing his surprise and gratitude for all the telephone calls he'd received.

Kevin had rubbed noses with him, and then kissed him on the nose.  "Why wouldn't they?" he'd asked, looking into his partner's green eyes.  "Don't you know how much everybody loves you?"


"Cameron, you're the best person I've ever known," Kevin had said quietly, matter-of-factly.  "And I'm obviously not the only one who thinks that about you.  The only difference between them and me is that I get to lie here in bed with you in my arms when I tell you how much I love you."

Cam had swallowed hard and tried not to tear up.  Recovering, he had smiled.

"You're prejudiced!" he'd said.

"I know," Kevin had agreed.  "But who and what you are pretty much speak for themselves."

"I'm the lucky one."  Cam had pulled Kevin's face over to his and kissed him on the lips.



"Will you marry me?"

Cam had been so stunned by the question he'd stopped breathing for a long moment, unable to speak.

"We've talked about it, but haven't really made a final decision about it," Kevin filled the silence.  "We'll both be 18 in a couple of months.  I know my life won't be worth a damn without you in it, no matter how well everything else goes.  I love you totally and completely.  I need you, and Casey needs you.  We can go out east and have a civil ceremony, and then come back here and ask Father Ryan or Father Mason to bless our marriage in church.  Maybe both of them can be involved.  I know we're young, but getting married has kind of been in the background of our relationship ever since we admitted we love each other.  Please don't turn me down."

Cam had hardly been able to talk because his throat had closed up.  "Of course I'll marry you," he'd whispered, and then smiled.  "I've been counting on it.  You really have your shit together, dude.  I'd have eventually gotten around to asking you, but you're always one step ahead of me.  You make me so happy, Kev."

Tough ol' Kevin had teared up at that point, and pulled Cam tight against his body.  "Thanks for agreeing.  You're in my heart.  You are my heart, man.  And you always will be.  I know you don't think I pray enough, and you're right, but I've been praying about this for a while now."  He had kissed his partner on the lips again, looked into his eyes, and then looked up at the ceiling.  "Thank you, Lord," he said out loud.

Clinging to one another in pure happiness about the present and their hopes for the future, they'd lain awake cuddling for a long time before eventually drifting off to sleep, totally satisfied with the life they were making for each other and their baby.

*  *  *

A benevolent Kevin had let Cam sleep late the following morning without hassling him about running.  Kevin and Carl had run on the beach with the dogs at the usual time and then had come back to the house and showered.  Despite feeling a little guilty about not exercising, Cam had enjoyed luxuriating under the covers as long as he could.  After Kevin had kissed him good-bye and left for school, he'd fallen right back to sleep.

He showered after he finally climbed out of bed, putting on a white T-shirt and a short-sleeve dress shirt and tie, and a pair of dark slacks.  Then he shined a pair of black shoes to wear.  It won't hurt to look nice for the doc, he'd thought to himself. When he had gone downstairs for breakfast after dressing, Maria was just finishing up with feeding Casey.  She had looked him over, smiling at how snappy he looked.

"Sharp!  Are you all right?" she'd asked, used to seeing him in more casual clothes for campus.

He'd beamed at her.  "Couldn't be better!" Cam had told her.

"Good," Maria had said.  "I can relax a little then."

"You can relax all the way.  I'm looking forward to seeing the doctor.  And I'm gonna be fine."

Maria had hugged him then, some of that unmistakable mother-love that she lavished on her own kids at home coming through in their embrace.  Then she'd let go of him and fixed him some poached eggs on toast with homemade Hollandaise sauce for breakfast, with American fried potatoes, and gave him a huge glass of orange juice.  Everything was delicious. 

Jeff Miller's encouraging call from Assurances had come in just after he had eaten.  It gave him just one more reason to feel good about his day so far.

Cam had just walked out to the Camaro, rolled down the windows and started the car when Maria came out of the door with an envelope in her hand.

"I went into the study to start dusting and found this envelope on your dad's desk."  She handed it to him.

"Thanks, Maria."

The maid nodded, smiled, and went back inside.

The Camaro's muffler rumbled pleasantly in the driveway while Cam looked at the envelope.  It was one of Alex's envelopes, business size, with his dad's printed return address on it crossed out and "Berto" written in the left hand corner.  Cam's name was hand-printed in the spot for the addressee. 

Cam tore the envelope open and took out a short note in Berto's neat handwriting.

       "Cameron--(it said)

       "My mom gave me this a month before she died.
       "I want you to wear it until you're over the bump in
       the road you're facing right now.  I'd like to have it back
       when you're well.


Cam looked inside the envelope again, and nestled in the bottom was a small silver crucifix on a silver chain.  Cam had never known Berto not to be wearing that crucifix around his neck, whether he was running, playing basketball, swimming, playing soccer, working out, studying, sleeping, showering--whatever he was doing.  Presumably even when he was making love to a girl.  It had always been a part of the boy, 24/7, as long as Cam had known him.

Cam's eyes had teared up as he took it out of the envelope, opened the catch, and fastened it around his own neck, adding it to the chain holding the MacKenzie medallion he already wore that Kevin had given him for Christmas the previous year.  He would put the medallion and crucifix on a single chain later.  He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt, letting the crucifix fall down on his chest under his T-shirt.  Then he re-buttoned his shirt and pulled up his tie. 

What a beautiful, loving thing for Berto to do, Cam had thought to himself.

He'd pulled out his cell and texted Berto:  "Thanx dont cover it, man.   Luv ya 4sure. C."

*  *  *

The trip to UCLA was reasonably quick and totally uneventful.  Cam smiled with satisfaction as he stopped at the traffic light before turning into the medical school parking lot.  He was early for his 11:00 appointment with Dr. Owens.  He pulled the Camaro into a vacant parking place well away from other cars and turned off the engine.  Resting his head on the steering wheel for a minute, he began to relive the previous evening he had spent hearing encouragement from everybody in his extended family, and having Kevin propose to him.

When he finally opened the car door and walked into the large building, he was totally pumped.  It was time to man up to what was coming, and he was more than ready to do that.

He found the building directory, noted the suite number for Dr. Owens' office, and caught an elevator to the fifth floor.  Walking into the waiting room, he introduced himself to a smiling receptionist, and she had him fill out a couple pages of paper work.  When he was finished he turned them in, and sat down again to wait for the doctor.  The waiting room was painted a relaxing light green color with nice, medium tan leather furniture, neutral beige carpet, and an eclectic mixture of traditional and modern paintings and other art work scattered around.  Cam felt comfortable there.

Dr. Owens came out of her office door not five minutes later and introduced herself.  Standing about 5'7", she appeared to be about 55 years old with graying hair tied back in a pony tail, and a pleasant, unlined face, wearing a white blouse and a dark skirt.  She looked like a pleasant, happy person.  She and Cam shook hands.  She had a good grip without squeezing too hard or being wimpy.

As she always did with new patients, Martha Owens looked Cam over quickly without appearing to study him too closely.  A handsome young man, clean shaven except for a hardly visible goatee, roughly 6 feet tall, sandy hair in a grown out, messy burr cut, green eyes.  Good body, good posture, well built.  Big hands and feet.  Obviously an athlete.  Healthy looking, good skin.  Somewhat surprisingly, given his reason for being in her office, his affect was positive, although there were some subtle, residual pain lines around his eyes.  He looked alert and somewhat wary.  A little stressed, but that was normal under the circumstances.  She liked the way he looked, and not just because he was neatly dressed.  He reminded her of her own son.

"It's nice to meet you," the doctor said in a mellifluous voice.

"Hello," Cam said.

"Please come in."

She ushered him through an open door into a spacious office, light and airy without being overly bright.  There was an ancient rolltop desk standing closed in one corner of the room, with a high back leather chair in front of it and a table beside it with a notebook computer on it.  An office-sized little refrigerator sat near the rolltop.  The other furnishings were comfortable leather chairs arranged in groups around the room, more beige carpet, and additional eclectic art on the walls and on tables here and there--artwork for every taste.  There was a therapeutic couch against one wall with a straight backed chair next to it.

"Pick a spot, and let's sit," Dr. Owens said.  Cam did, and they sat down in a corner of the room, with Cam with his back to the wall.  The group of chairs where they sat was lighted by unobtrusive spotlights recessed into the ceiling, not too bright and not too dim.

"How do you like to be called?" the doctor asked.

"'Cam.'  Or 'Cameron,' if you prefer."

"All right, Cam."

"How do you like to be called," Cam asked, curious as to what she'd say.

"Martha, or Doctor Owens, or just plain Doctor."  She smiled.  "Anything will do except 'Hey, you!'"

Cam smiled back at her, knowing that this woman was going to be easy to communicate with.

"Would you like something to drink?" Dr. Owens asked.

"Some water would be great."

The doctor stood up and went over to the little refrigerator.  Pulling out a bottle of water, she brought it to Cam.

"Thanks," Cam said, twisting off the cap and taking a swig.

"Why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself, Cam."

Cam took a breath, deciding to give her the whole shot right off the bat.

"I'm 17 years old, a transplant from San Rafael for school at UCLA in the School of Film and Television.  I just started classes this fall.  I'm gay, and I have a partner, Kevin, who's my age.  We're raising a baby boy--Casey."

"Are you Casey's father, or is Kevin?"


"Does Kevin like women?" she asked out of the blue.

"I think he does.  I can tell by how he looks at them sometimes.  But he loves me.  So that's never been a problem for us.  Heck, I even like to look at women if they're pretty.  But I'd rather look at guys.  They turn me on."

"I see.  That's interesting.  Well, labels like 'gay' and 'straight' aren't very definitive or informative, are they?"

"I guess not.  I haven't given it that much thought."  Cam smiled.  "All I know is, Kevin holds my attention.  And that's an understatement."

"Tell me more about yourselves."

"Kevin and I grew up next door to each other in San Rafael, and I've always been in love with him.  When we came out to each other, Kevin told me that he's always loved me, even when he was dating girls.  We've been partners for well over a year now.  We're sexually active, and we're going to be married out east somewhere when we're 18, and then have our marriage blessed back here in church.  We're both religious, I guess you'd say."

"Being religious is a little unusual for young men your age," Dr. Owens said.

"I guess," Cam agreed.

"May I ask what church?"

"The Episcopal Church.  Our parish back home and the parish we attend here have been been very affirming and supportive of gay parishioners.  So has our family."

"That's been a blessing for you and Kevin, and your family, too, hasn't it?"


"When you say, 'our family' with reference to you and Kevin, does that include Kevin's natural family?"

"No.  His mother is dead, and his dad is homophobic, and the man even tried to kidnap Casey at one time so the boy wouldn't be raised by two queers.  His dad is in jail now for kidnapping."

The doctor digested that information as Cam studied her for a moment.  "I don't mean to pry, but are you religious?" he finally asked.

Dr. Owens hesitated because therapists don't usually discuss their personal lives with their patients.  "Well, yes," she finally said.

"May I ask what your affiliation is?"

"I'm an Episcopalian, too.  But I didn't know you were when I accepted you as a patient."

Cam grinned.  "Not too many psychiatrists are religious, are they?"

"Perhaps not.  I'm a psychiatrist, but I tend to follow principles of psychology more than psychiatric ones in doing therapy."

"What does that mean?"

"For one thing, I'm less likely to use medications in the therapeutic process than many of my colleagues.  I do so sometimes in a crisis or in order to make therapy possible, but medications can also sometimes cover up problems that need to see the light of day."  She stopped.  "I'm not as dogmatic, I guess you'd say, as some psychiatrists are in talk therapy.  There are other distinctions, but let's get back to you."

"Well, Kevin and I have an extended family of adults and mostly young guys.  My mom--I think you've talked to her on the phone--is a professor of English at St. Francis University in San Rafael.  She and my dad are divorced.  My dad is a movie director, and has a male partner who's also a movie director.  My dad's a great guy, and so is his partner.  They're in England right now making a movie.  Kevin and I live in my dad's house in Malibu with our foster 'brother' Carl, also a student at UCLA.  He's gay, too.  Ian Carson--he's a well known attorney you may have heard of--and his wife and kids live in San Rafael with my mom.  We all consider ourselves one family.  My 'brothers' are all awesome."

Martha Owens looked Cam in the eye.  "It sounds as if you and Kevin are in a good situation when it comes to family, then."

"We are.  We've really been accepted as partners, and loved for who we are.  We have a lot of support."

"That's good.  Well, tell me in your own words what brings you to my door." 

"I'm here because I was attacked on Malibu Beach three weeks ago by three guys who hate gays.  I was dragged into a vacant house there, and was tortured and sexually assaulted for many hours."

"Were you singled out on the beach, or were you a random victim?"

"I was singled out," Cam said.  "My whole family was at Disneyland before school started.  Kevin and I were walking together with our brothers, and I kissed Kevin on the cheek as we were walking along.  There were four guys walking behind us in a group, and one of them started giving us a hard time about the kiss and getting aggressive about it.  One of our brothers, Andy, is a karate expert, and when their leader threatened to get physical, Andy gave him a kick to the chest that put the guy down on his back.  That's when the animosity really started.  And it continued whenever we saw Eric and his cohorts on the beach in Malibu.  They'd call us faggots and give us a lot of verbal abuse.

"Anyway, what they did to me in that house really messed me up."

"How has it messed you up?"

"Aside from being physically damaged, when I think about what happened to me sexually gets me all upset and makes it difficult for me to concentrate or study or carry out everyday tasks.  I was running on the beach the other day with Kevin and Carl and a couple of brothers who were visiting us from San Rafael.  When I glanced over at the house where I had been taken and tortured, I passed out in the sand.  The guys revived me, but I really need help if I'm going to function in the future the way I used to.  The way I want to.  I need your help."

Dr. Owens studied him for a moment in silence.  "I think I can help you," she said.

Cam breathed a pent up sigh of relief.

"Do you know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is?" Martha Owens asked.  "It's called PTSD for short."

"Yes.  I heard my mother talking about it when she was down here just after I was attacked.  And I googled it."

"What did you learn?"

"Well, it seems as if it's pretty common in war veterans who've been badly injured, or seen or experienced terrible things in the fighting.  But I guess other people can get it, too."

"You're exactly right.  We've made a lot of advances in treating PTSD victims coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and now we understand better what happened to some of our Vietnam and even Korean war veterans.  The Pentagon has begun contracting with selected therapists to deal with the problem, and with great success, I might add.  I went to Pennsylvania to study for a time with a professor there who developed the most successful therapeutic model currently in use to address PTSD.  You're not a veteran, of course, but you went through a terrible and hurtful experience.  And a humiliating one.  Obviously, the trauma you suffered is negatively affecting your level of functioning."

"Yes, it is.  How does this treatment work?" Cam asked.

"We work together to help you embrace your life experiences in general, the ones that are good and even those that are terrible--like this one--so that you can function well.  That doesn't mean you'll have to like the bad experiences, but you can't just tuck them away or they will cripple you.  You're going to hate that aspect of the therapy, and you may even hate me because I'll be asking you to face a lot of painful memories, but the outcome will be that you'll be freed to live and love and be creative again.  This process is called 'prolonged exposure.'  It will tear your heart out--and put it back inside you, healed.  I can promise you that.

"But after today we'll add another element to recalling and reliving the events that have brought you here.  It's called EMDR, which is short for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.  If you asked me to tell you exactly how it works, I couldn't except to say that it seems to stimulate parts of the brain which are not directly involved in maintaining and accessing memory.  But use of it during the course of treating PTSD clearly mitigates the effects of the memories that stress us.  The outward aspects of the treatment are asking the patient to follow a therapist's hand or finger with his or her eyes as the therapist moves them back and forth."

"That sounds ridiculous," Cam said.

"I agree," Owens said.  "The only thing is, it works."

"Is this where you ask me to trust you?"


Cam stared at Owens in silence for a long moment.

"I have to trust you.  I do trust you.  When can we start?" 

The doctor checked her watch.

"We can start today, if you like.  I think you're a good candidate for this therapy, Cam.  Before we begin, though, I want you to know that anything you tell me in our sessions is absolutely confidential.  I will never give up any information in your file, or discuss your case with anyone, even family, without your permission."

"All right.  What do we have to do?" Cam asked, sinking down a little in his chair.

"I'm going to ask you to relax in your chair as you describe to me in detail what happened to you on the night you were molested, from the moment you left your house and encountered your assailants on the beach to the moment you were found and rescued.  As we move through our sessions, we're going to go through that process again and again and again until there is no pain left in those terrible memories for you.  The EMDR we'll start in the next session is going to aid in that process."

Cam blanched at the prospect of the pain he would suffer in sharing these memories.

"Oh, shit!" he said.

"Yes, exactly.  Why don't you tell me your story."

"'It was a dark and stormy night...'"  Cam grimaced and then smiled.  "Sorry, I couldn't resist."

"Keep that smile and your good mood," Martha Owens said.  "You're going to need them."

Cam began to tell his story, starting with his decision to run on the beach by himself and not take the dogs or a human companion with him.  Within ten minutes of beginning, he was sweating profusely and his hands were trembling as Martha Owens kept asking for specifics about his ordeal.

*  *  *

"I wonder why we haven't heard from Cam," Carl said to Kevin, giving him a worried look as the two of them sat in the student union at noon having a burger and fries.

"Me, too," Kevin said, checking his phone to make sure it was on and he had bars.  The clock on the screen said 12:00 exactly.  "Maybe he's not quite done.  His appointment was for 11:00."

"Yeah," Carl said.

"Let's give him another fifteen or twenty minutes, and then I'll call him."

" 'K," Carl said.  "I'm a little worried."

"Same here."

Art Smith, formerly one of Eric Clymer's minions, passed by with a tray full of food.  He looked inquiringly at Kevin and Carl to see if he could sit with them at their table.  Carl shoved a vacant chair out from the table with his foot, and Smith sat down.

"Where's Cam?" he asked.

"He had a doctor's appointment," Kevin said.  "He's getting therapy to get over what your buddies did to him."

Art Smith looked Kevin right in the eye and started to stand up again.  "Listen, they aren't my buddies.  I've already said I'm sorry for what they did to Cam, but I didn't do anything to him.  You hafta stop giving me shit for something I didn't do."

Kevin sighed.  "Sit down, Art.  I know you didn't.  My bad.  You're just a handy victim because I'm upset about my partner.  I'm gonna stop crappin' on ya, I promise."

Art nodded after a long minute, and sat down again.  He started eating in silence.

"Have you heard anything about Clymer, Murtha or Lomer?" Carl asked.

"Not directly," Smith said.  "But Mrs. Clymer told my mom that Dr. Clymer is finished providing lawyers for Eric after the upcoming trial.  That doesn't say much, because Eric and his crew are probably goin' away for a long time anyway."  He popped a nacho in his mouth and chewed it.  "The parents are all fucking devastated.  I don't think they'll ever get over it."

"Well, Cam may not get over it either," Carl commented.

"I hope that's not true," Art said.  "I mean it.  I hope you believe me."

"There's plenty of hurt to go around," Kevin said.  "As for Clymer's parents, my understanding is that they've bailed Eric out--literally and figuratively--every time he's ever gotten in trouble.  It's no wonder the guy thought he was immune from repercussions every time he fucked up.  I blame them as much as I do Eric for what happened to Cam."

"There's some truth to that," Art said slowly.  He took a forkful of his beef stew and chewed it.  "Is Cam coming back to classes at all?"

"He dropped everything but Cinematograpy," Kevin told him.

"I'll see him in that class, then, I guess," Art said.  "I'm in there, too."

Honoring his word to the boy, Kevin bit his tongue instead of wondering out loud why Cam would want to see Art.

"Are you gonna have to testify at the trial, do you think?" Carl asked.

"It's possible," Art said.  "The DA's office questioned me, and I told them what I knew.  But I'm not sure whether they'll call me to the stand.  If I do have to testify, I'll tell the truth. 
I wasn't in on their plans, and I'm not goin' to motherfuckin' jail for those assholes. "

"I don't blame you for that!" Kevin said.

The three of them finished up their lunches without too much more to say.  When he was finished, Art Smith stood up to go.

Kevin looked up at him.  "If you hear anything worth knowing about Clymer and his crew, call us, will ya?"

"Yep."  Smith looked at them.  "I know you don't like me, but I'd really like to know how Cam's doing.  Will you call me?"

Kevin pulled out his phone.  "Give me your number..."

Art did, and Kevin added it to his phone directory.  Art took Kevin's number, too.

"Take it easy," Kevin told the guy, and held out his hand for a fist bump.  They did, and then Art walked off looking sad.

"He's kinda between a rock and a hard place," Carl commented.

"I know," Kevin admitted.  "I'll call him when we find out about Cam.  Which is right now."  He was reaching for his phone to call Cam when it rang, and it was his boy.

"Hey," Kevin said.  "Talk to me."

"It was terrible!" Cam said, talking fast and sounding a little out of control.  "Martha's great, but the therapy's god-awful.  It's like having your balls ripped off by wild dogs.  It's tearing my guts out, and
I have to go back on Thursday..."

"I'm sorry, man," Kevin said quietly, his face all crunched up and looking distressed.  "Are you going home?"


"Do you want me to meetcha there?"

"You know I'd love that.  But you should go to class.  I'll see ya when I see ya."

"Awright," Kevin said.  "Hang in, dude.  I love ya."

"Thanks, Kev.  I need it, believe me.  Love you, too.  Laters."

Kevin rang off, and then called Art Smith, who had just disposed of his tray and walked out of the Student Union.

"I just heard from Cam, Art.  The therapy was brutal, and he's headed for home.  That's all I know right now."

"Thanks for the call, Kevin.  Talk to you later."

*  *  *

Academically speaking, the afternoon was kind of a loss for Kevin.  The intense concentration which he normally brought to class lectures had gone by the boards.  His thoughts were focused on Cam.  Only on Cam.  His gut was twisting and turning in sympathy for his partner as he reflected on Cam's pained reaction to therapy.  Kevin understood his feelings as a confirmation of his deep love for his boy.  Sometimes it takes misfortune to make us realize how much of our soul belongs to someone else, he thought to himself.

His stomach was so upset that between classes he had to hit the nearest men's room, relieving himself of a bad case of diarrheaEventually he blew off his last class and texted Carl:

"Dude," he told his friend.  "My stomach's all f'd up.  I'm heading for home."

Kevin's phone beeped at him on his way out to the Mustang.  "Know whatcha mean.  See you at home," Carl's text said.

Kevin made it to Malibu in record time.  Maria was in the kitchen.

"You're home early," she said.

"I know.  I wanted to see Cam.  Where is he?"

"In your room with Casey.  He didn't look so good when he came in, Kevin."

"Yeah.  He called me."  He looked at Maria.  "Listen, since I'm home early, why don't you take off for home yourself if you're done with things here.  I know your kids would enjoy a little extra time with their mom."

"Thanks, Kevin.  I think I will.  Supper is in the fridge."

Kevin stepped over to her and gave her a hug.  "Appreciate it, Maria.  See ya tomorrow."

He went upstairs to find a fully dressed Cam lying on his left side in the middle of his bed, spooning Casey.  Both of them were sound asleep, but Kevin could see a residue of tears on Cam's face..  Kevin stripped off his school clothes down to his boxers and joined them on the bed, pulling a quilt over the three of them.  He spooned Cam, who awakened.  Casey continued to sleep.

"Oh, shit," Cam yawned.  "I dropped off."  He turned his head and looked at Kevin.  "You're home early."

"Yeah.  Are you all right?"

"Have to be," Cam said.  "But this next two months or so is gonna be a bitch.  I hope I can make it."

Kevin pulled him close, holding him in his arms, and gave him a kiss on the neck.  "There's no doubt about that, bud."

Cam picked up Kevin's hand that was caressing his chest and holding him, and kissed the palm of it.  Kevin smiled.

"Kev, you're one of the big reasons I know there's a God.  That's the truth."

"I love you so much, man," Kevin said.  "How can I not?"

There was a light knock at their open door, and it was Carl, home from school.  He looked at the three of them and came over to the bed, lying down on his right side facing Casey.  Kevin flipped the quilt so it covered Carl, too, and the three big guys and the little guy lay there together for a while, just chillin'.  Not a word was spoken as they lay close to one another experiencing the kindness and calmness of being together.  It felt healing for all of them, especially for Cam.

They napped briefly, and when they awakened Cam rolled on to his back and pulled out from under his T-shirt the crucifix Berto had left for him.  He showed it to Kevin and Carl.

"Where'd you get that?" Carl asked.

"It's Berto's.  He left it for me in Alex's study, and Maria found it and brought it to me before I left for school.  He wants me to wear it while I go through therapy."

"Wow.  He wears that all the time," Kevin said, reaching out to touch it.  "He never takes it off.  That's really generous."

"Fer sure," Cam said.  "His mom gave it to him before she died.  It means the world to him."  He turned his head to look at Kevin.  "That's love."

"You deserve it," Kevin said.

*  *  *

After supper that night, Carl called Andy Helder to see what his plans for the weekend were.

"I wanna see you so bad," Carl told Andy.  "Do you think you can come down here?"

"You know I want to," Andy said.  "But I was just down there, and money's a little tight right now."

"Will you be mad if I give you the money?  I don't want you to get bent outta shape about taking it, but you know I have it, and you're the one doing me a favor by coming down."

"Well, let's get something straight right now," Andy said.  Carl braced himself to get yelled at.

"I wouldn't be doing you any favor by coming down there," Andy continued.  "It would be a favor to me--a big favor to me--to see you and spend some time with ya.  I'm not talking about just gettin' laid.  It's more than that, although you know I love having sex with you."  He paused.  "You feed my soul, man.  You lift me up.  I'm not myself anymore when I'm not around you.  So..."

Carl was moved, and fell silent.

"Does that mean you'll come down?" Carl finally asked.

"You know I will."

"I love ya, Andy," Carl said.  "Dan and Mark are supposed to be coming down here on Friday, so I'll check with them to see what flight they're taking and make reservations for you on the same flight.  That way your ride to the airport will be all taken care of.  I'll call you back and let you know the flight."

"Thanks, man.  I can't wait to see you."

"Same here.  I'll be talking to you in a little while."

Carl went to give Kevin and Cam the good news.

*  *  *

Father Jim Mason stripped down at his gym locker after putting himself through a brutal workout on Friday night.  Grabbing a towel from a nearby shelf, he headed for the shower.  It was several years since he'd finished seminary, but he was still in great shape, including those corrugated abs.  The almost daily running, sometimes with the whole crew from Catherine's house and sometimes alone, along with trips to his gym several times a week, was doing a good job holding off the depredations of time.  He was now closer to 30 years old than to 25.  Just barely, but still...It took work.

Of late he had begun to notice some of the regulars at the gym giving his physique admiring looks.  Maybe they always had done so and he was just starting to notice it.  But they were.  He took it as a compliment.  It didn't make him uncomfortable or anything.

Maybe one reason it didn't make him uncomfortable was that he was looking back at them.  He was starting to notice guys in the locker room as much as he was noticing women out on the floor of the gym and on the street.  Maybe more.  And he was beginning to wonder why that was.  But he was pretty sure he knew why.

After fighting off thinking about his sexuality during the previous six months or so, about a week previous he had finally admitted to himself the possibility that he was either bi, or gay.  And maybe more gay than bi.  He didn't know for sure.  He had always thoroughly enjoyed sex with women back in college, especially with the girl he'd thought he would marry.  He'd even had sex with girls twice during his senior year in high school, but had never had a homosexual experience with any guys.  But the casual sex with women at UC--Santa Barbara had stopped once he had become a postulant for the priesthood late in college.  He'd successfully tamped down his sexual desires through ongoing, rigorous exercise ever since then.  He'd finally concluded that opting not to date eligible women parishioners at St. Andrew's hadn't been the best decision he'd ever made.  But he didn't think that his developing habit of looking at guys' bodies had anything to do with that decision.

He wasn't disgusted with himself or scared about his apparent changing, emerging orientation, but he certainly wasn't ecstatic about it, either.  He'd been considering going to L.A. and talking face to face with his friend John Ryan about the matter  He trusted the man completely, and not just because John was a priest, but because of the person Ryan was.   Mason had thought about telephoning his friend and making an appointment to see him, but hadn't made a final decision about that yet.

First, though, he had to find out if Father Blackburn would give him the time off to go out of town.  He was pretty sure he would.  Fourteen and fifteen hour days were not uncommon for either of them because Ed Blackburn set a high standard for pastoral care of his people and for prayer and study.  Jim Mason thrived on that, and St. Andrew's parish was growing like crazy because of good pastoral stewardship by its priests.  But because of the long hours they put in, Blackburn was always generous to Mason with time off.

He had another reason for going down L.A.  Actually, several reasons other than talking to Father Ryan.  One was that he wanted to see his mother, and secondly he wanted to see Cam MacKenzie.  Mason knew that both his mother and Cam were going through a hard time right now.  His mother was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, and he wanted to spend some time with her before the disease progressed any farther than it already had.  And he was also well aware that Cam was undergoing difficult therapy in response to being attacked and sexually molested in Malibu several weeks ago.  He had talked to Cam on the telephone before his first session.  Mason knew there was nothing concrete he could do for his mother other than to be with her for a few days.   But for Cam--well, maybe his presence could lift the young man's spirits a little bit.  He hoped it would, anyway.

Mason walked down to the huge, open shower area as he continued to mull over his own orientation issues.  Selecting a vacant shower head, he hung his towel on a hook, adjusted the water and stepped under the spray.  The hot water began to alleviate some of the workout pain in his body.  He soaped himself up thoroughly, rinsed off, and then washed his hair.  He finally shut the water off, and grabbing his towel off the nearby hook, dried his eyes and his hair, and then the rest of his body.  When he finished up and looked around, he saw a well set-up blond guy about his age showering several shower stations down from him.  The guy turned away once he'd been caught checking Mason out.  Nice ass, Mason thought to himself as he took a prolonged look, liking what he saw.  He'd been ignoring sexual fantasies about males, but they were definitely starting to knock on his mental door.

The priest flipped his towel over his shoulder, and walked back to his locker to pull on his boxers, T-shirt and Levi's.  After sitting on the bench to re-tie his Nike's, he put on his favorite 49ers cap, and left the gym.

Mason stopped at a Subway on the way home and picked up a footlong for supper.  After he arrived home, he said his evening Office, ate supper, and did some reading before turning in for the night.  As usual, he slept straight through the night and got up at five a.m. to run.  After showering, it was time to go to St. Andrew's for the Saturday morning Office and Mass.  When he asked Father Blackburn after services for some time off to go to L.A. after services were over on Sunday, there was no hesitation on his boss' part to give him a well deserved break.

After Mason went to his desk, first he called Kevin on the boy's cell to see if Cam was in good enough shape for his visit to L.A.

Kevin sounded eager for him to come down.

"Cam's is only starting with his therapy, Father, but he's having a rough time," Kevin said.  "I think he needs to see you right now.  For that matter, Carl and I do, too."

"I heard from your family that he was facing a challenge," Mason said.  "I don't have any magic words for him.  But if I can just give him some small reminder about how much he's loved--by God and his family--while he's going through this, the trip will be worth it.  And I want to remind him, too, that this therapy isn't going to last forever."

"If anybody can get those thing across to him, you can, Father.  I need to hear those things myself, to tell you the truth.  Knowing Cam's in so much mental pain is killing me."

"We'll work on that, Kev," the priest said.

"You'll be staying with us, won't you?" Kevin asked.

"If it's not an imposition."

Kevin snorted.  "You know better than that.  Please don't ever say that again.  You're family.  You know that."

"That makes me feel good.  Thanks."

"How long can you stay?"

"I'll be coming tomorrow afternoon after services at St. Andrew's and leaving Wednesday morning."

"Good," Kevin said.  "Dan and Mark and Andy are down here now, and they'll be leaving Sunday night.  We're all going to St. Dunstan's tomorrow."

"Good.  Maybe I'll meet up with the the three of them en route, who knows," Mason said.  "Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing you guys."

"Same here, Father.  Let us know when to pick you up at the airport."

"I can get a cab."

"Let us know when we can pick you up," Kevin said insistently.

Mason chuckled.  "All right.  Blessings, bud.  Laters."

"Yep.  And thanks."

They broke the connection.

Father Ryan was next on the list for a call, and Mason made an appointment to see him at St. Dunstan's on the following Monday morning.  Ryan didn't question Mason's reasons for being in L.A. at all.  He just said he'd be glad to see him.

Father Jim visited with the MacKenzie-Carson family at Catherine's house on Sunday after Mass, and told them that he would be going down to L.A. late that afternoon to see his mother and spend some time with Cam.

"You'll just miss Mark and Dan and Andy Helder," Mary Carson said.  "They're coming back from L.A. tonight."

"Kevin told me they were in L.A."

"Yes.  The guys all miss each other.  They're all close."

"I know they are," the priest said.  "What are they telling you about how Cam's doing?" the priest asked.

"I talked to Mark about that on the phone yesterday."  Mary looked over at Catherine.  "He said Cam is hanging in, but it hasn't been easy."

"As I said, I'm going to see my mother while I'm down there, but I want to spend some quality time with Cam, too."

"He'll appreciate that," Catherine said.  "He thinks the world of you, Father."

"That's mutual," Mason said.  He wondered idly whether the family's opinions of him would change if and when he eventually came out as gay.  Probably not, but you never know on matters like that.

*  *  *

Carl and Andy Helder held each other in Carl's bed after they had made love late Friday night.  This was soon after he and Mark and Dan had arrived from San Rafael.  They hadn't wasted much time getting to bed.

Carl rubbed his nose on Andy's nose, kissed him softly and then lowered his head and gave Andy's nearest nipple a lick.  He breathed in the smell of the boy's body, and knew he could pick Andy out a lineup of guys while blindfolded by smell alone.  Masculine.  Clean.  Potent.  That was Andy's smell, and Carl reveled in it.

"It's killing me to be away from you so much," Carl said when he pulled back.  "Seriously, I don't know whether I can make it until you move down here next fall.  I think about you so much I've been having trouble studying."  He looked into Andy's eyes.  "I don't suppose you'd consider transferring down here to UCLA between semesters, would ya?"

Andy laughed.  "I'd love to do that.  But we'd be in bed having sex all the damn time, and we'd both flunk outta school, dude."

"No, we wouldn't.  We could help each other learn how to balance screwing and studying.  You could teach me some self-control."

They laughed together about how ridiculous that thought was.

"Anything I know about self-control goes right out the window when I lay eyes on you."  Andy sighed.  "You've corrupted the hell outta me, boy!  Although, now that I think about it, maybe we could learn to read textbooks while we pork each other."

"Elegantly put!  See how creative you are!" Carl said with a grin.

"I know."  Andy moved his head cheek to cheek with Carl's.  "Thanks for paying for my trip down here.  But I don't want to get into the habit of having you carry me financially.  I know you have money, but I don't want to live off you."

"I love you, Andy.  That makes me want to share whatever I have with you."

"I know, but...just how rich are you, anyway?" Andy asked.

"Well, on paper, I have a lot.  I don't know exactly.  I'd have to ask Ian."

"Don't you think about it?"

"Not very often.  Most of the money is in the Cadillac dealership in Monterey and the land it sits on.  Ian and the business manager he hired are looking into whether it would pay to sell it or not.  The dealership is making good money, though, I guess.  Rich people pretty much just kept buying Cadillacs right through the recession, according to Ian.  Those who didn't want a Mercedes or Bentley or Rolls, that is."

"I don't wanna live off you, Carl," Andy repeated.  "I wanna make my own way in life."

"I respect you for that," Carl said.  "I'm not going to shove my money down your throat in any way, but please let me be a little generous with you, too, sometimes.  I can't enjoy life unless you're enjoying it with me.  I love you so much, Andy, and I need to show you love once in awhile in ways that don't involve being in bed."

"I prefer the bed thing.  But we'll work out the money issue," Andy said.  He studied Carl's face.

"Out of curiosity, when did you know you loved me?" Carl asked.

There was no hesitation.  "It was a gradual thing, I guess, but something about you really hit me the first time I saw you at St. Andrew's.  When we were all there for that meeting about the trip to New Orleans.  I tried to hide it, but I couldn't keep my eyes off you.  But once we started working together gutting houses in New Orleans, I really started to feel it.  And when we slept together after we met in that gay bar in the Franch Quarter, that's all she wrote.  I knew you were the one.  What about you?"

"I was really attracted to you at that meeting at St. Andrew's, too.  But I knew for sure when you saved my ass in the bar by kicking Duke's knife away when I wouldn't go into a booth and have sex with him.  You probably saved my life that night."

"I don't know about that.  You clocked Duke a good one in the nose, and even if I hadn't been there, you'd have mopped the floor with him before long."

"I doubt that," Carl said.  He raised his head and gently kissed Andy on the lips.  "I wanna asked you something.  Just what is it that you love about me?"

Andy rolled over on top of his lover and stared down into his eyes.  Then he moved his nose down onto his face and smelled it.  "I wanna answer that.  I love your skin.  I love your hair, I love your ears, I love your lips, I love your eyes, I love your mouth, I love your face, I love your neck and your chest and your pecs and your nips and your hips.  I love your abs, I love your big dick and balls."  Andy took a breath.  "I love your thighs, I love your calves, I love your big feet, and man, I love that cute little ass of yours so much that sometimes I almost come in my pants just lookin' at it.  I love that sweet little hole that welcomes me inside you.  Those are the things that keep my dick hard and, when I'm not around you, keep my right hand busy.

"And those are just the outward things.  But there's more."  Another breath, and a serious look.

"I don't just love you physically, even though what we do with each other puts me over the moon. 
I love your mind and your spirit and your heart.  I love your kindness.  I love the way you love Casey.  I love the way you love me back.  I love you 'cause we're one person in two bodies."

Yet another breath.  "In my opinion, God made you perfect, and what the hell good am I if I don't give perfection its due?"

Carl looked stunned, his eyes watering.

"So, meanwhile..."  Andy slid down Carl's body, grasping his boyfriend's cock.   He put it in his mouth, and it hardened and slid down his throat.

"Oh!!!!!" Carl said.

Round 2 was underway.

*  *  *

After supper Sunday night, William drove into San Francisco International to pick up Dan and Mark and Andy.

The guys were in a good mood, especially Andy, and on the way home they filled William in on what a good time they'd had in Malibu.

"How is Cam doing?" William asked.

"Kevin thinks he's a little better than when he started therapy," Mark said.  "But I guess he has a long way to go.  You know Cam, though.  He went out of his way to make sure we had a good time even when he didn't feel like it."

"Yeah, that's Cam," William said thoughtfully.  He missed that boy.

*  *  *

After supper Catherine and Ian and Mary took their coffee and went into the smaller of the two sitting rooms in the big old house.  Catherine closed the sliding doors so they could talk in private.

"I have some news about my job search," she began.  "And I think its going to require some changes in our living arrangements..."

© 2011 Don Hanratty