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


Cam and Father Mason wasted no time walking out to the short-term parking lot at LAX.  The priest stowed his suitcase and garment bag in the Highlander, and they climbed aboard.  Cam fumbled with the ignition until he found the button on the dashboard to start the hybrid.

Dan Emrick's comment the previous weekend about Mason having lost weight came to Cam's mind.  The man did indeed look gaunt.

"Father, it's good to see you," he said.  "Have you been doing some extra running or working out lately?  You look thinner than the last time I saw you."

"I've lost a little weight," the priest admitted.  "I haven't changed my exercise routine, though.  I've just had a lot on my mind lately."

"Anything you want to talk about?"

"Not right now.  Before I go back to San Rafael, I do want to talk to all you guys about something I've had on my mind, though."

"Aw'right.  What are your plans while you're down here?"

"I need to spend some time with my mother," Mason said.  "Probably a few hours tomorrow afternoon.  You probably heard that she's in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's."

"I did hear that," Cam said.  "I can't tell you how sorry I am.  What is her Christian name?  I'll put her on my prayer list."

Surprised, the priest turned his head and looked at Cam.

"You don't know how good that makes me feel, Cam.  Sometimes I don't think the Church gets through to young people about some of the important things, and then you tell me you have a prayer list!  Of all people, the clergy shouldn't be selling people short.  Especially not our young people when it comes to matters of faith.  You put a lot of long-time Christians to shame."  He paused.  "My mother's name is 'Marie'," he said softly.  He turned and looked back at the road.  "Thank you," he said.

"You're welcome."

"And while I'm here I need to spend some time with Father Ryan at some point," Mason continued.  "Maybe tomorrow late afternoon after I see my mother."

"Okay.  Listen, I'm going to lend you my Camaro while you're in town," Cam said.  "You need to be mobile."

"You don't need to do that.  I can get a cab when I want to go somewhere."

"Cab, smab," Cam said.  "Quit talking about a cab.  You're family.  You drive the Camaro as long as you need it."

"How are you going to get around?  This is L.A."

"My dad's Porsche needs to be driven.  Seriously.  It's not good for it to sit in the garage all the time.  So this is the time.  The first thing Alex will do when he gets back from London is fire up the Porsche.  And woe to me if the battery's dead!"  He laughed.  "I'll blame Kevin, though, if it is."

Father Mason chuckled.  "How is Mr. Kevin?"

"He's great!  I wouldn't have gotten through my latest scrape down the beach without him.  I thank God for him every day, Father."

"Well, you're a blessing to each other," the priest said.  "I'm happy for you both.  Truly."

"Thanks.  I don't know how gay people who are religious make it without the support of their churches.  Or their priests or ministers.  Do you?"

"No, I don't.  I was really pleased that New York State passed a gay marriage law, weren't you?"

"Absolutely!  Things seem to be going our way right now," Cam said.

"They do, indeed.  And rightly so.  Speaking of things going well, I hope your therapy has been doing you some good."

"It's been great, actually," Cam said.  "Dr. Smith at St. Francis was right on target when she recommended Dr. Owens at UCLA for my therapist.  Dr. Owens has done so much for me.  I'm not saying our sessions have been pleasant, but they sure have been effective!  As a matter of fact, we're at the point where she wants to take me to the house down the beach where I was, uh, molested.  I'm not looking forward to that, I can assure you.  But she's been right about my treatment so far, so..."

"We have to trust those in our lives who've been right about our issues, whatever those issues may be," Mason said.  "And we have to trust those we feel have been authentic in their own lives, too," he added.  "I'm saying that to myself as well as to you, Cam."

"You've been one of those people for me, Father.  I just want you to know that."

"Thanks.  That means a lot to me."

Traffic hadn't been heavy, and soon they were pulling into the driveway in Malibu.

"I'm glad I had a chance to talk to you, Cam.  It's really good to be here," Mason said.  "I've missed you guys."  He smiled.  "Including Casey."

"Thank you for everything you've done for our family," Cam told the priest as they got out of the truck and retrieved his luggage and went into the house.

Carl and Kevin and the dogs came to the back door and greeted Father Mason warmly.  (Casey was asleep upstairs in his crib by then.)  They went into the den  and sat and talked for a half hour or so.

Mason quizzed them a little bit on how their studies were going.  Kevin and Carl told him a little about their classes and said they were doing well.

"What about you, Cam?" he asked.

"I dropped everything except Cinematography after my little mishap down the beach.  I fell behind, but a new friend who's in the class shared his notes and has been helping me catch up.  So I'm not behind the eight ball too much."

"Excellent," Father Mason said.

Eventually the priest asked them if they were all going to be home tomorrow evening at supper time.

"Sure," Kevin said, looking at Cam and Carl for confirmation.  "'Sup?"

"I'd like to take you all out to eat," Mason said.

Let's eat here," Carl suggested.  "You don't want to miss out on one of Maria's gourmet meals she fixes for us before she goes home."

Cam and Kevin nodded in agreement.

"That sounds good.  I'd like to have some time to talk to you all after we eat," the priest said.

"We'll be available," Kevin promised.  "Do you want to run with us tomorrow morning?"

"Yes," Mason said.  "What time?"

"How about seven?"

"Oooh, a late, easy morning, you slackers," the priest said in the first and only attempt at humor he'd made during the evening.  "I'll be ready."  He stood up.  "I think I'll hit the sack now.  I really appreciate your hospitality, guys."

He gave Kevin and Carl hugs before Cam and he picked up the luggage, and Cam walked the priest upstairs to his room.  Mason thanked him, giving him a hug as well.  And then, in a first, he kissed Cam's cheek before saying goodnight.  That surprised Cam, but he didn't say anything about it to Kevin and Carl when he went back downstairs.

*  *  *

Wearing a big smile on his face, Jeff Miller burst out of his counselor's office at Assurances the afternoon following Father Mason's arrival in L.A.  He'd just heard that his counselor was recommending that Jeff be given a three day pass to go home.  It would be his first time out of the facility since he checked in, and he was so up for that.

He hustled right back to his room and picked up the phone receiver.  By design there was no dial or buttons on any of the residents' phones, and he waited for the Assurances' switchboard to answer.  Residents had to earn the privilege of placing and receiving calls.

"Operator..." a young, feminine voice answered.

"Hi.  This is Jeff Miller.  Will you get me 310-555-5545, please?"  The number of his parents' house.

"Hi, Jeff," the young lady on the switchboard told him.  "Hold on, please."  Jeff knew who it was right away, and smiled again.  She was cute, in her early 20's, and always gave Jeff a friendly smile whenever she saw him.  I wouldn't mind hittin' some of that, Jeff thought to himself about the girl.  He was horny.  So horny that he wasn't all that particular right then about who a potential playmate might be.

He looked over at the empty bed on the other side of the room.  His former roommate, a good looking, 25-year old named Max McCaskey, had left Assurances without permission two days ago, and now the police would be looking for him for breaking his court ordered rehab.  Jeff shook his head.  The guy just hadn't been serious about getting clean and staying clean.  Max knew he wasn't serious, Jeff knew he wasn't serious, their fellow counselees knew he wasn't serious, and the counselors all knew it.  Unlike Jeff, Max wasn't willing to confront his chemical demons.  Not yet, anyway.  Unfortunately, the real question for addicts like Max was whether they would live long enough to confront those demons to take away their power.  It all lay in honest confrontation, Jeff knew, and any addict who was going to make it out of the trap of drugs and alcohol had to be relentless about doing that.

Two weeks ago, hetero Max had offered to give Jeff a blow job if Jeff would get one of his visitors to bring in some heroin or crack.  Max couldn't have visitors.  Jeff didn't judge him harshly for offering sexual favors.  He knew that he'd done the same, and worse, when he was on the street in in West Hollywood during the throes of his drug addiction.

No deal on Max's offer, of course. 
Much to Max's dismay, Jeff hadn't been willing to put his hard won privileges at risk.  Jeff knew that turning their relationship into a sexual one wouldn't bode well for either of them.  Jeff had earned the trust of his counselor and the other powers-that-be in the facility, which explained his phone privileges and now the leave to go home.  

Despite the fact that Jeff was now the lone occupant of the room and was horny, he hadn't taken advantage of the solitude to jack off for sexual relief.  Not yet, anyway.  He needed some action, but was out of the habit of masturbating, that was all.

Jeff heard the telephone at the beach house ringing, and Juanita, his folks' maid, answer.

"Miller residence," she said.

"Hi, Juanita, this is Jeff.  How are you?  I miss you."

"Allo, Jeff," Juanita said enthusiastically in her Spanish accent.  "I miss you, too.  How are you?"

"Better all the time, thanks.  Is Mom around"

"No.  Your mom and dad are in London.  They'll be gone until the end of the month.  They're going to see Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Kelley while they're there, by the way."

Jeff rapped his forehead with his knuckles for being forgetful.  "Mom told me they were going," he said.  "I didn't think their trip was this soon, though.  Time got away from me."

"Do you want me to tell them you called when I talk to them?"

"Yes, please.  Listen, I'll probably see you this weekend.  I have a three-day pass from Assurances starting Saturday, and I guess I'll stay next door if they'll have me."

"Well, your own bed is always here now that you're getting better, you know that," Juanita said.

"Thanks.  I'll come over to see you sometime after I get to Malibu."

"You'd better!"

"I will.  Talk to you later."

He disconnected, and then waited for the Assurances operator to come back on the line.  When she did, he gave her the MacKenzies' number.

Maria Romero answered.

"Hello, Jeff.  How are you?" she asked after he identified himself.  She liked Jeff.

"I'm good, thanks.  You still puttin' up with those bums you work for?"

Maria laughed.  "Love 'em to death," she said.

"You're a saint!   Are any of 'em there?"

"Cam's here, and Kevin and Carl should be home any time now."

"Can I talk to Cam?"

"Sure.  Hold on."  The line went dead for the moment as Maria used the intercom, and then Jeff heard Cam's voice.

"Dude!!  How they hangin'?"

"Side by side," Jeff said.

"That's preferable."

Jeff laughed.  "Tell me about it!  Hey, listen, I'm gettin' a three-day pass from Assurances.  I was wondering if I could stay with you guys?"

"You know you can," Cam said.


"That won't ruffle your folks' feathers, will it?" Cam asked.  "It's none of my business, but maybe you don't want to hurt their feelings by staying over here rather than at home without checkin' with them first.  They've really been in your corner."

"You're right about that," Jeff said.  "But I just talked to Juanita, and Mom and Dad are in London right now.  I knew they were going, but I kinda forgot when.  By the way, they're gonna see Alex and John while they're there, Juanita told me.  Anyway, I can stay next door if you're short of room."

"There's always room for you here, bud.  You know that.  Father Mason is here right now, but he's leaving Thursday night to go home."

"I'm sorry I won't get to see him."  Jeff paused.  "I miss all you guys," Jeff told Cam.  Whatever else the counseling at Assurances had accomplished, it had made Jeff a lot more in touch with what he was thinking and feeling, and more ready to put those feelings into words.

"Do you want us to pick you up?  We were planning to see you after church on Sunday, anyway.  We'll just come by and getcha.  When does your leave start?"

"Anytime Saturday morning.  But that's all right.  I can get a ride."

"I don't think so," Cam said.

"Well, if you're sure."

"I'll pick you up at 8 on Saturday and bring you back here to run with us.  Bring a pair of slacks if you want to go to church with us on Sunday."

"Will do.  This is excellent!  I'm excited.  I can't wait to see you guys.  And Casey."

"I think Catherine's coming down from San Rafael this weekend, too.  She'll be glad to see ya."  Cam paused.  "She'd never admit it, but I think she worries about all of us.  That includes you, y'know."

"I'm looking forward to seein' her.  See you at 8 on Saturday."

Cam had no sooner hit the disconnect button than he heard the back door open and then close, and heard Kevin greet Maria.  He stood up and strolled into the kitchen and smiled at his partner.

"Hey," Cam said.  Kevin looked sexy as hell in a tight UCLA T-shirt that showed off his upper body perfectly.  He was stuffed into a pair of white, knee length cargo shorts and was wearing black Skechers.  Damn! Cam thought to himself.  I can't even look at this boy without getting hardAnd that's exactly what was happening.  Cam had a split-second fantasy in which he walked over to his partner, pulled up his T-shirt and sucked and nibbled on his nipples while cupping his package.

"Hey," Kevin said back, taking in Cam's physique in return and thinking about how good his partner looked.  "Where's Casey?" he asked.

"In the den, waiting for Daddy Kevin."

"I'm there," Kevin said, shrugging out of his backpack and holding it by the strap.  "You leave us something good for supper, Maria?"

"I made hamburger patties for you guys to grill, cut up some tomatoes and onions for the burgers, microwaved some potatoes to finish on the grill, and made an apple pie for dessert.  And there's ice cream in the freezer for pie a la mode.  That should hold even you three bottomless pits and Father Mason for an hour or so."

"Love ya," Cam said, going over and giving Maria a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks, hon,"  Kevin told her.  "You're a wonder worker.  See ya tomorrow."

"I'll be here."  Maria smiled, retrieved her purse out of a kitchen drawer, and left to go home to her own family.

Kevin and Cam walked down the hall toward the den together.  Cam put a hand in one of Kevin's back pockets, feeling his partner's glutes tense and relax as they walked.   What a sweet, tight ass this boy has! he thought to himself, feeling his own cock rubbing against his boxers.

"Maybe I shouldn't tell ya this," Cam said, "but the more therapy sessions I have with Dr. Owens, the more sex I want with you.  She's really loosening up my libido.  By the end of my treatment, I'll be throwing you down in the driveway the minute you get home from school and having my way with you."

Kevin grinned and pulled Cam closer to him, nuzzling his face.  "It's prolly not that far off.  Why do you think you shouldn't tell me that.  More sex with you is like a dream come true for me, dude.  We'll make sure Carl has his camera and is taking pictures of all this action I'm gonna get."

"I don't think Carl should see that," Cam said, laughing.  "He'll be all fired up and nowhere to go with it.  Unless, of course, Andy is here..."

Cam looked at Kevin and put an arm around his neck.  They stopped in the hallway, facing each other.

"More sex with you is the good news," Cam said.  "I have something else to tell you, though, and I don't know how good it is.  Dr. Owens wants to take me on a visit to the house down the beach where Eric and his boys fucked me up.  I'm not so sure I'm up for that.  Not yet, anyway."

"From everything you've told me, I think you can handle it."  Kevin searched Cam's eyes.  "You've always said you trust her judgment."

"I do trust her judgment."

"Well, if she thinks you're ready, then you're ready."  Kevin drew Cam into a hug and kissed his cheek.  "Do you think she'd let me come with you?  You know I'd do that if you want me to."

"I don't know, but I doubt if she'd agree.  If I read her right, her attitude is that I need to face what happened to me pretty much on my own.  With her help in any crisis, of course."

"She could be right.  But ask her anyway."


They resumed walking and stepped into the den   Casey had used the edge of the coffee table to help him stand up.  He wobbled as he held out his arms to Kevin to be picked up.  "Da," he said.

"There's a first," Cam said.  "Either he's Russian or he's starting to call you 'Daddy.'"

"Call us 'Daddy,'" Kevin corrected Cam.  "He'll be talking in complete sentences by the end of the week," Kevin exaggerated.  He walked over and picked the little guy up, covering his face with kisses.  Casey started squirming, and said "Da" again.

The two guys sat down on the couch with Casey crawling around on their laps.

"Once he starts walking and talking, all bets are off," Cam said.  He took hold of Kevin's chin, turned his head, and kissed him on the lips.

Kevin pulled back a little and studied Cam's face and those green eyes.

"I'm lucky, lucky, lucky," he said.

"For what?" Cam asked, a smile playing across his lips.


"Your Mustang?"

"That too," Kevin said.  He reached over and put a hand on Cam's chest, feeling his heartbeat.  "But most of all for having Casey and you to love.  And for having you love me back."

That got to Cam, and he took a quick breath before responding.  "Thanks, man," he said softly.  "Same here.  You know that."

They sat there in silence for a minute as Casey continued crawling around on their laps, eventually managing to slither his way back down to the floor to grasp the table and stand up again.  The little boy wobbled and looked at his daddies.

Kevin studied Cam.  "How are you doing with your Cinematography class?  Are you caught up yet?"

"Pretty much, thanks to Art Smith.  He's really been generous with his notes from class, and always takes time to go over them with me if I have questions."

"That's good," Kevin said.  "Does he ever say anything about Eric Clymer and his friends?"

"Not unless I bring them up.  Why?"

"Just wondering."

"He seems kind of lonely since he turned his back on Eric, Rory and Peter," Cam said.  "He always eats alone in the cafeteria at school unless I go over to his table and sit with him.  At first I'd just sit with him to go over Cinematography notes, but lately I've kinda gotten into talking to him.  He seems like a pretty nice guy, actually."

"Really?" Kevin commented skeptically.  "Well..."

"Yeah.  I'd like to invite him over to study and maybe for supper sometime.  That's if I can trust you and Carl to be nice to him."

"We're always nice."

Cam chuckled.  "Well, no problem, then."

The guys heard the back door open and slam shut.

"I'm ho-o-o-me!" Carl shouted.

"We're in the den," Kevin yelled back.

Carl's face appeared in the doorway.  "Hey, Casey..."  He strode into the room, bent down to kiss Casey's head where the little boy stood at the coffee table, and then planted himself in a one of Alex's upholstered Scandinavian swivel chairs across from the couch.  He looked over at his housemates.  "Hey, assholes.  'Sup?"

"You gotta stop talkin' like that," Cam scolded him.  "Casey picks up all this shi..."  He stopped himself.  "All this stuff we say.  He's starting to talk a little, and we all gotta start watching it."

"You're right.  And when you're right, you're right," Carl admitted.  "Thank goodness I'm not the lone offender."

"True dat," Cam said.  "Hey, while I'm thinking about it, Jeff Miller has a three-day pass from Assurances, and he's gonna stay with us this weekend.  His folks are in London.  I'm gonna pick him up Saturday morning at 8 so he can come back and run with us.  Provided Kevin will agree to a late start for our run."

"Consider it done," Kevin said.  "I'll be awfully lonely in bed while you're gone, though."

"You have a very capable right hand," Cam suggested.

"I'd never touch myself," Kevin said as if he loathed the idea.  "Not when I have a boyfriend like you.  It would be sacrilegious."

Cam and Carl laughed.

"I wonder what Father Mason wants to talk about with us tonight after supper," Cam said.

"It must be something important" Kevin said.

"I assume so," Cam said.  "He made a special point of it."

"That's cool," Carl said.  "I've been wanting to spend some time with him this trip."

"Me too," Kevin said.  "I'm in good shape with my homework, and I'd like to talk to him.  Where is he now?"

"I think he's at his sister's house," Cam said.  "I guess his mother is staying with one of his sisters now.  Then he was going over to talk to Fr. Ryan at St. Dunstan's."

Kevin nodded.

"Who's coming down from San Rafael this weekend besides Andy?" Carl asked.

"Catherine and your brother," Cam said.  "You remember him, doncha?  I talked to him last night on the phone."

"Excellent," Carl said.  "I miss my little bro."

"Yeah.  But I don't know how 'little' Dan is anymore," Cam taunted Carl.  "He said Berto's been workin' him and Mark hard in the gym.  Dan may throw you down on the mat, and that'll be it.  The' balance of power' in the Emrick family may have shifted."

"Maybe, but I doubt it."  Carl laughed.  "So Berto's trying to turn wimps into men, huh?"

"That's what Kevin did for you," Cam said.

"I was always the monster stud I am today," Carl contradicted.

Kevin snorted.

"So Andy's coming down," Cam asked.

"Oh, yes," Carl said, smiling bigtime.

"I hope Father Jim's all right," Kevin said, looking serious as he thought about the priest again.  "He doesn't seem like himself right now."

"I know it," Cam said.  "Maybe talking to Father Ryan will do him some good, though."

*  *  *

The two priests gave one another a prolonged hug after Jim Mason entered Fr. Ryan's office at St. Dunstan's.

"It's good to see you, Jimmy," Ryan said, finally pulling back a little to look into his friend's face.  "Have you lost some weight?" he asked.

"Yes," Mason said, not elaborating.

Ryan noticed the dark circles under Mason's eyes, but didn't say anything about that.  They sat down on a couch in Ryan's office.

"Did you see your mother?" Ryan asked.

"Yes.  She doesn't seem any more disoriented than she did the last time I saw her.  We could hold a decent conversation.  But this is just the beginning stage, I'm told.  She's on medication right now that supposedly slows down the development of full-blown Alzheimer's.  At least for a  while."

"That's good," Ryan said.  "Let's pray that she stays in good shape, then.  What I mean is, let's continue to really pray about this."

"Yes," Mason said.

"Does your mother's condition explain why you're losing weight?"

"That's part of it, I'm sure."

"All right.  What's the other part?"

Mason avoided looking at Ryan and stared at the floor.  He was silent for a long minute.

"You don't know how much I hate to get into this," Mason said.  "But I have to talk to someone about it before it drives me crazy."

"Let's have it.  You know you can tell me anything.  It's under the seal of confession, and I won't judge you."

Mason looked at him sadly.

"I've come to you because I'm not sure I can be an authentic person anymore unless I get some perspective about this."  He paused for a painful moment.  "I think I'm gay," he said.

Ryan didn't blink an eye.

"Given what you and I both believe about sexual orientation, you better be all sad-faced for a better reason than that," Ryan said.  "Tell me what's going on."

"I picked up on the fact about a month ago that I'm looking at men more than I am women," Mason said.  "And when I say 'looking at men,' I don't mean glancing at them.  I mean I'm really looking at them.  Enjoying how they look as sexual objects.  The other day in the shower at the gym, I found myself staring at a good looking guy about my age and having to turn away before I got an erection.  I was stunned.  I'm still stunned.  I don't understand what's happening to me.  Or should I say, what's already happened to me."

"Do you still look at women?"

"Yes.  I know a good looking woman when I see one.  But what I feel when I see one isn't as powerful anymore as what I feel when I look at a well-built man.  Everything that I've always believed about my own sexuality is being changed, and it's destroying me in the process.  I don't know who or what I am anymore.  Please help me, John," Mason pled with his friend.  He put his hands over his face.

"I am going to help you, Jim.  I'm helping you right now by being with you and listening to you without judging you for anything you tell me.  You know what I'm talking about, because you've offered the same gift to a lot of people your time as a priest.  Take your hands off your face and look at me."

Mason complied, and Ryan saw that his friend's eyes were moist.

"Let me reiterate some facts that we both know to be true," Ryan said.   "First of all, the Western Church has always had a problem reaching a rational position with respect to sexual standards, especially for clergymen.  You probably remember from seminary that the Council of Elvira in Spain around 360 A.D. held that clergy could not marry, and some say that the Council also forbade priests and bishops already married from having sex with a spouse for a certain number of hours before offering the Mass.  By the way, the Council also said that Christians who had sex with young boys were not allowed to receive communion even at death.  The battle over whether clergy could marry wasn't settled once and for all until the Second Lateran Council in 1139, when marriage was effectively forbidden for all priests in the Western Church.  Many speculate that one of the reasons for not allowing marriage for priests and bishops was so that church property couldn't be willed to a clergyman's children.  That had apparently happened on occasion.

"At any rate, those blanket pronouncements concerning marriage are in complete contravention of New Testament Scripture, which permitted marriage but didn't recommend it for clergy, for whatever that's worth.  I think you could rightly say that historically the Church's pronouncements on sex and marriage down through the ages are all over the map.  In many ways, those pronouncements reflect the social and ecclesiastical mores of their day.

"But more to the point for our discussion, let's talk about the what's driving the Episcopal Church in the U.S., and the Anglican Church in Canada, and the Church in New Zealand, to cite a few provinces, to make a sea change with respect to the way we're looking at the issue of homosexuality in today's world, thanks to modern science.

"First of all," Ryan continued, "through research we've found that there's a continuum between gay and straight that all human beings fall into when it comes to sexual orientation.  Very few people are at one extreme of that continuum or the other, hardly anyone at all.  Hardly anyone is totally straight or totally gay.  Right now I think it's safe to say Jim Mason really doesn't know exactly where he falls on that continuum.  You may have thought you knew your precise orientation until recently, but either you were inaccurate about that or else your point on that continuum is changing to some degree.  Perhaps both.  It could be due to having more stress in your life than you can handle right now.  Do you think that's possible?"

Mason nodded his head in agreement.  "Yes," he said.

"Your current questions about your orientation," Ryan continued, "may be a blessing in disguise."

Mason looked dubious.

Ryan continued.  "I say that because I know you've counseled people, especially young people, about orientation issues they were having.  You did this when you were confident about your own orientation--confident that you were straight yourself.  Your buy-in to what you were saying to those you were counseling was largely theological and academic in the past.  Based in emerging science.  I think you would agree about that.  Suddenly, however, you're raising questions about your own orientation, and those questions seem to you to chip away at some of the fundamentals you took for granted about yourself.

"You've told people over the years that God loves all His children equally no matter what their orientation is.  You've told people who experience their orientation as gay that they are as equally as valued by God as straight people are.

"And now in light of what you perceive to be your own change in orientation, I think you need to confront yourself about whether you really believe in the equality of God's love.  What do you really believe about gays and their worth?  Are they as worthy of a good life and as worthy of what we Christians call 'salvation' as straight people?  Are they as worthy of God's love and care and of the respect of other human beings as straights?  Only when you can answer that question for yourself once and for all can you continue to answer that question for others."

Jim Mason looked at his friend and sighed.

"Do you think I've been a hypocrite about this issue all this time?" Mason asked.

"Not consciously, I don't think." Ryan said.  "But don't you think the question is worth asking?  If you are gay, whatever that means, can you be as proud of yourself now and as grounded in God's love now and as good a priest now as you were when you perceived yourself to be straight?"

"I don't know.  Maybe I can be a better priest if I see myself as somewhat of an outcast because I'm gay," Mason suggested.

"Now that's something you're going to have to work on," Ryan said.  "You can't be buying into a widespread negative, secular attitude about gays for yourself--that gays are somehow outcasts--and think you can still remain a powerful spokesman for the Gospel that says God inclusively loves all His creatures.  Whether you're gay or not, either God loves you the same as He loves all His children, or He doesn't.  What do you really believe about that?"

"I believe God loves all His children equally."

"I believe that, too, and I believe it for you and about you.  By and large, so does our church."  Ryan paused.  "And let me go on to state the obvious.  Sexual orientation and sexual practice aren't the same thing.   Some men or women who may admit to themselves they're gay never permit themselves to have sex with another same-gender person.   I don't recommend that kind of bifurcation in people's lives, but it's a fact that it happens.  The ideal is to let one's sexual practice match one's orientation to the extent possible.  That's a no-brainer.  The day has come when human beings can do that in the United States and much of Europe.  Our part of the Anglican communion supports that freedom."

"Are you suggesting I should begin having sex with men now?"

"Not at all.  But let me put it this way:  God will not be displeased with you if, as a gay man who knows he's gay, you seek sexual companionship with another gay man.  By that I obviously mean that you seek sexual fulfillment within a loving relationship, not in promiscuous sex.  In the eyes of the Church, promiscuous sex is not something God wants for us.  But he also doesn't want humans doomed to a solitary life who are not called to it.

"Let me add this caveat to the overall picture.  Simply put, God isn't fixated on the sexual practices of human beings.  Many Christians want us to believe He is, and some of them insist everyone believe it.  They want us to believe that the most important human behaviors so far as God is concerned are our sexual behaviors.  That's not true.

"Even when we sin with regard to our sexual behavior, we need to remember that Jesus never thought the sins of the flesh ranked up there with the sins of the spirit like pride, anger and envy.  Let's never forget that.  Sex never hurts anyone--far from it.  But exploitation of others in a sexual context can indeed hurt people.  Both a perpetrator and a victim are hurt.  That's obviously something to avoid."

"I can't argue with a thing you've said, John."

"I think we're on the same wavelength, then.  With respect to your own situation, I read something in Carl Sandburg's poem Little Word, Little White Bird the other day that's worth thinking about:

"'...nothing can harm you.
Unless you turn yourself into a thing of harm,
nothing can harm you.'"

Father Ryan looked at his friend.

"Wow," Jim Mason said, shaking his head in appreciation for Sandburg's insight.

"Let's go into the chapel for a few minutes," Ryan said.  "I want to hear your confession and absolve you, anoint you and bless you.  I want you to stop letting this orientation bullshit consume you!  There are more important things in life to stew about."

Mason laughed as he stood up, starting to feeling some peace for the first time in many days.  "I don't think I've ever heard you use the King's English--or is it the Queen's English under Elizabeth II?-- in just that way before, John."

Ryan laughed, too, a little sheepishly.  "I try to keep my cruder vocabulary to a minimum, but sometimes those words just pop out," he said.

"Been there, done that," Mason admitted.

The two men went into the chapel and stopped before the altar and genuflected to the Sacrament.  They sat down in the first two pews, Father Ryan behind his friend, and Mason made his confession.  Father Ryan pronounced an absolution, and then they went up to the altar together and kissed it.  Ryan went over to an aumbry at the side of the sanctuary, and took out an oil stock and put on a purple stole.  The two men stood at the altar and said the Lord's Prayer, and a Hail Mary, and Ryan anointed Mason on the forehead with oil blessed by the diocesan bishop as he said, "I lay my hands on you and anoint you with oil, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, asking the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that all your pain and sickness of body, mind and spirit being put to flight, the blessing of health may be restored unto you."

"Amen," Mason said.

Ryan concluded with making the sign of the cross over his brother priest:  "And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you this day and remain with you always."

Ryan went over to the aumbry to put away the oil stock, removed his purple stole, and walked back to his friend, still standing at the altar.  They both bent down and kissed the altar again, and then looked at each other as they left the chapel.

"John," Jim Mason said quietly.  "You've always been my friend and mentor.  How can I ever thank you?"

"Just by continuing to be the best priest you can be.  You're an excellent priest.  That's more than enough thanks!  And by the way, if you ever decide you need to come back to work in L.A. because of your mother's illness, just let me know.  I'd love to have you back serving in this parish."

"Thank you.  That could happen."

"When it comes to charting your own course on orientation, Jim, I want you to think about what John Henry Newman said after he left the Anglican church for the Roman church:   "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."

Mason smiled.  "I'll give that some thought," he said.

"I'm available to talk any time," Ryan said.

Father Ryan gave his friend a hug before they parted, and Mason asked him to convey his best wishes to Lisa Ryan and the three Ryan kids.

Jim Mason walked out to Cam's car feeling much better than when he had walked into St. Dunstan's, and started looking forward to his talk with Cam, Kevin and Carl, and eventually with the rest of the family he felt so much a part of.

*  *  *

The three guys didn't hear the back door of the beach house open and close.

"Hey!" Father Mason's voice said.

No answer.  They probably didn't hear him over Cam's voice, which was belting out a song in the den.

The priest walked down the hall and looked in the door.  Carl and Kevin were sitting on the couch smiling, watching Cam on his knees in front of Casey.  Casey was standing on the floor as Cam held the little boy's arms and moved them in time to the refrain of Bob Dylan's words in the Byrd's song, 'This Wheel's on Fire':

        This wheel's on fire,
        Rolling down the road
        Best notify my next of kin
        This wheel shall explode.

Casey was laughing at his dad, and Kevin and Carl were laughing at Cam.  Cam doesn't have too bad a voice, Mason thought to himself.

The priest walked into the room, and the three young men looked up at him.

"Hi, Father," Kevin said.  "Sup?"

"Things are good," Mason said.  "But it pains me to see Cam abusing Casey like this."

Cam laughed.  "You mean moving his arms around in time to the music?  He's got rhythm, and he likes that."

"No, not that.  I mean your singing," the priest said.

Kevin and Carl got a good laugh out of that at Cam's expense.

"Finally somebody tells it like it is," Carl said.  "It's abuse for all of us, Father.

"You guys have no appreciation for true artistry," Cam huffed.

"What did you do today, Father?" Kevin asked when things calmed down.

"I spent a couple of hours with my mother, and some time with Father Ryan at St. Dunstan's.  I did have one small problem."

"What was that?" Kevin asked.

"Well, I guess I was driving a little too fast in the Camaro, and L.A.'s finest chased me.  I put the pedal to the metal and lost them before I reached Malibu, but I'm afraid they got your license plate number, Cam.  I'm really sorry about that.  I didn't know how fast your car really is."

Cam rose from his knees, picking Casey up and kissing his face.  "What is this, 'Pick on Cam' day'?  Casey doesn't believe a word you've said, Father.  He didn't know priests ever told a lie.  Or should I say, lies."

"Mea culpa," Father Mason said, tapping his chest over his heart with a closed fist.  "And I just received absolution from Father Ryan a few minutes ago, darn it all!"

"Why don't you stand in front of a mirror and absolve yourself?" Carl asked.

They all laughed.

"I wish it worked that way," Mason said.  He looked at the guys.  "Back to more immediate issues.  Like hunger.  Why don't I take you guys out to supper tonight?"

"Nice offer, Father, but no sale," Kevin said.  "Maria left us all the fixin's for hamburgers and baked potatoes and salad tonight.  I'm doing the grilling, and you don't want to miss the magic I turn out, believe me."

"I do believe you," Mason said.  He looked at the boys.  "And if I can have a few minutes of you guys' time after supper to talk to you, I'll appreciate it."

"You got it, Father," Cam said.

Kevin headed out to the deck to fire up the grills, Cam went upstairs to change Casey's diaper and put him down for a short nap, and Carl pulled a textbook out of his back pack to do a little studying before supper.  Father Mason went up to his bedroom to change out of his black suit and clerical collar into a T-shirt, shorts and sandals.  The T-shirt said "St. Andrew's Kitchen"  on the front of it under the shield of the apostle Andrew.

The priest joined joined Kevin in the kitchen.

"Is St. Andrew's getting a lot of lunch business?" Kevin asked after noticing the T-shirt.

"You'd be surprised," Mason said.  "We take our turn with the Roman Catholic parish and with the Presbyterian church in San Rafael serving lunch to the poor.  St. Andrew's puts out meals twice a week, and then opens the Food Pantry for take-home items.  You'd be surprised how many hungry people there are, even in Marin County, Kevin.  Our country's economy is in sad shape, so we do what we can."

"You and Father Blackburn are a blessing to the community," Kevin said seriously.  "I know I need to be doing more to help people in this world than I'm doing."

"You'll have your chance down the line, Kevin.  You've kind of got your hands full right now with Casey and with school.  And helping Cam heal."

"I guess you're right."

Kevin pointed to a pile of potatoes on a platter on the kitchen counter along with large bowls of cut-up onions, sliced tomatoes, pickles, and shredded lettuce, sitting alongside a plate of cheddar cheese slices.  A platter of ground sirloin hamburger patties sat there ready for the grill.  "Father, why don't you wrap these potatoes in aluminum foil so I can put them on a grill right away?  Maria cooked them for a few minutes in the microwave, but they'll still take longer than the burgers to cook on the grill."

"Where's the foil?" Mason asked.

"Second drawer," Kevin said, pointed at down the counter to a bank of drawers.

Mason found the foil and started to work on his assignment.

"Maria really does a good job for you guys, doesn't she?" the priest asked.

"Better than good," Kevin said.  "She loves Casey and takes great care of him, and he loves her.  Having her here means just one less worry when it comes to Casey's care while we're at school.  That's the most important thing.  But beyond that, she works hard to keep things ship-shape around here, especially with all the company we have.  We all love her.  She's like a mom to us in a lot of ways.  She knows just how to set the tone for a household that really works for all of us.  We've already given her a raise once since she's been here, and we'll probably do that again at the end of the year.  Alex probably wonders whether we're going overboard on the her pay, but he's never complained.  When he sees for himself everything she does, I don't think he'll have a problem with it."

"I hardly know her, but she's definitely easy to like," Mason said as he finished wrapping the potatoes.  "But you guys are good and fair people to work for, too."

"Thanks."  Kevin headed for the deck.  "I shall return," he promised.  He paused in the doorway.  "If you want a beer or a glass of wine, help yourself.  You know where everything is."

"You guys want anything?" Mason asked.

"We'll get some soft drinks," Kevin said.  "We promised Alex and John Kelley that we wouldn't drink alcohol in the house without permission of an adult on the premises.  Mom and Ian and Mary Carson sometimes let us indulge.  Otherwise, we don't."

"I'm an adult.  Do I count?"

"Do you ever!!" Kevin said enthusiastically.  "We might have a glass of wine with supper, then, if it's all right with you."

"That'll be fine.  I know Alex and John wouldn't want me to drink alone."

 Kevin grinned and headed for the deck just as Cam came into the kitchen.

"Cam, why don't you cut up the hamburger buns?" Kevin suggested to his partner as he walked by.

"Yes, Ma-a-a-a-ster!" Cam said.

"I love the relationship you two guys have," the priest observed to Cam after Kevin was gone.  "And I can't help but notice you're looking and acting more like your old self," he said.

"I'm feeling good," Cam said, going to a drawer to retrieve a bread knife.  "Kevin has been my rock, and Carl, too.  That means everything when you're not feeling up to par."

"I know that," Father Mason said.  "I'm trying to be that for my mother right now.  It's not that easy, though, when you live 500 miles away."

"Well, you've been a rock for our family when we've needed it," Cam said.  "That's why we all love you," the new, more open version of Cam added.

The young man thought we saw moisture in the priest's eyes for a moment, and then it was gone.

"Thanks for saying that," Mason said.  "I can use a little positive feedback right now."

"Other than your mother's health, is everything all right with you?" Cam asked.

"Let me hold off answering that.  That's what I want to talk to you about after supper."

"Okay.  Should I be worried?" Cam asked.

"Not really," Mason said.

Carl came into the kitchen just then.  "I'm sorry I'm probably too late to help you with supper," he said with faux contrition.  "It's easy for a highly intelligent person like me to get engrossed in my studies and lose track of the time."

"Nobody likes a braggart," Cam kidded him.  "I'd put you in a wrestling hold for punishment, but you're probably too quick for me, darn it."

"Yes, I am.  And don't you forget it.  Father, you can see what I have to put up with around here.  They fear my brilliant mind and my wrestling skills."

"Well..." the priest mumbled, trying to stay neutral as he finished wrapping the potatoes and picked up the hamburger platter.  "If you'll excuse me, I'll take the food out to Kevin."

"Now you've driven away one of the few friends you have, just because you're such a dick!" Cam told Carl after Mason left.

Carl reached over and gave Cam a little slap in the face before fleeing out on to the deck himself.  Cam just stood there shaking his head.

*  *  *

Supper was delightful.  The cheeseburgers were everything that Kevin had promised, and more.  The priest and the three guys laughed and joked throughout the meal.  Cam told some clean, funny stories that everybody enjoyed.  By the time the four of them had eaten everything on the table, washed down by a good bottle of Merlot, everyone was feeling good.

Carl cleared the table and filled the dishwasher, and then joined the rest of them in the den for the talk with Father Mason he'd requested.  The mood had turned more somber, with the boys not sure what might be on Father Mason's mind.  The priest seemed to be a little on edge.  The three young men sat on the couch, with Mason sitting in a swiveling easy chair across from them.

After a little small talk, Mason took a deep breath and got to it.

"I had three reasons for coming down here this week," Mason told them.  "First, I wanted to spend some time with my mother--you know her situation.  I've done that, and will need to continue spending as much time with her as I can if she goes downhill.  Kevin and Carl, I already asked Cam to keep her in your prayers, and I want to ask you to do that, too..  Her name is 'Marie.'"

"We will, Father," Carl said, looking at Kevin, who nodded.

"The second reason was to get some counseling from Father Ryan.  I made my confession and was absolved, and he anointed me for healing this afternoon.  That really lifted my spirits.

"The last reason I came down was to talk to you guys about what I discussed with Father Ryan this afternoon.  It's something I've discovered about myself, something I've been reluctant to share with anyone.  I want to talk to you about it, though, because you and your family are special to me.  When you're a priest, you don't run into very many people, many families, you can be close to and still be respected as a priest.  Being close sometimes compromises a pastoral relationship.  Maybe the old axiom "Familiarity breeds contempt," comes into play, I don't know.  That hasn't happened in my relationship with your family, though.  So, long story short, I love your family and everything you all are and everything you stand for in this world.  You're my Christian brothers and sisters, for sure."

The guys nodded and smiled.

"Over a period of time, maybe the last six months at least, I've come to the realization that I may be gay."

Mason looked across at Cam, Kevin and Carl.  Their faces didn't betray any shock or surprise.  Or any other emotion, for that matter.  They just looked back at him.

"You might ask yourselves how a man who's coming up on his twenty-seventh birthday pretty soon could possibly be finding out such a fundamental fact about his sexual orientation at this late date.  It seems late in the game for that.  And I can't answer that question to my own satisfaction, let alone to yours.

"My only recollection when I was growing up, and until recently, has been that I've been a happy heterosexual.  Starting late in high school and all the way through college, my sexual experience was exclusively with women.  And I loved it.  I fell in love with a woman in college I asked to marry me, but she decided that being married to a priest didn't fit in with her plans.  Our relationship ended.  Since then I've been celibate.

"But lately I've found my attention in the gym locker room and in other situations focused on men.  Men's bodies are increasingly attractive to me, and what few fantasies I allow myself these days always involve males.

"I've been upset about that.  But talking with Father Ryan has given me a better perspective about being gay.  You guys know that I've always supported those who are homosexual in their life journey.  Any dissatisfaction I've had about my emerging orientation is more about shock than disdain for homosexuality--or homosexuals.  Please believe me about that.

"I've told you this because we're all been close" Mason concluded.  "But I've also told you about this because I've always urged people to be authentic about who and what they are in life for their own happiness.  But it's especially crucial for a priest to be authentic about who and what he is, and be at peace with it, if he or she is to be true to God and an instrument to help others.  And after all, that's what the priestly calling is all about."

The priest stopped talking and looked at the young men sitting across from him.  Everyone was frozen in his own thoughts for a long moment.

"I'd only ask one thing at this point," Mason said quietly.  "I'll appreciate it so much if you'll keep what I've told you to yourselves until I have a chance to talk to the rest of your family.  That probably won't be until next week when whoever is coming down here to L.A. this weekend is back in San Rafael."

"No problem, Father," Carl said, speaking for all of them.

Then Kevin stood up from the couch and went to the priest, squatting down beside the man's chair and offering his hand.

"Father, thank you for trusting us with who you are," Kevin said as they shook hands.  "I hope you know we love you, and we know you love us.  You've been a positive force in our lives in so many ways.  We'll always be your friends and we'll always respect you as a priest."

Cam and Carl went over to them as Kevin and the priest stood up.  Mason held open his arms and filled them with the three young men he admired so much.  If only the rest of the world were as kind and gentle and good as these young guys, the priest thought to himself wistfully.

© 2011 Don Hanratty