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


Watching a monitor in a conference room at the court house, Cam and Kevin had witnessed Superior Court Judge Robert MacClaine sever Rory Lomer's case from those of Eric Clymer and Peter Murtha in the brutalization of Cam down the beach from Cam and Kevin's house.  Lomer had agreed with the DA's office to plead guilty to a reduced charge of sexual assault of a minor in the second degree, and to serve as a witness in the trial of Clymer and Murtha for kidnapping, attempted murder in the first degree, and aggravated sexual assault of a minor in the first degree.

"Read the charges," Judge MacClaine had ordered.

The three defense attorneys had stood up, and one of them had said, "Defendants Clymer and Murtha waive a complete reading of the charges of
kidnapping, attempted murder in the first degree, and aggravated sexual assault of a minor in the first degree, your honor."

"Defendant Rory Lomer also waives a complete reading of the charges of kidnapping, attempted murder in the first degree, and aggravated sexual assault of a minor in the first degree, your honor," Lomer's attorney had stated.

"Very well," the judge said.  "How do you plead?" he asked the defendants.

"Eric Clymer pleads 'Not guilty' to all charges, your honor," Clymer's lawyer said.

"Peter Murtha pleads 'Not guilty' to all charges, your honor," Murtha's attorney said.

"Rory Lomer pleads 'Guilty' to a reduced charge of sexual assault in the second degree, your Honor," Lomer's attorney said, "pursuant to a pre-trial amendment of charges by the office of the District Attorney, Los Angeles County."

"The plea of defendants Clymer and Murtha will be noted for the record.  The amended plea of defendant Lomer is accepted, and noted for the record," Judge MacLaine had stated.

The conjoined trial of Lomer and Murtha had commenced immediately, with Lomer's sentencing scheduled in his guilty plea to take place following verdicts in Lomer's and Murtha's cases.

The Lomer/Murtha trial had taken only two days to complete, with both defendants found guilty of all charges in a unanimous verdicts by the jury.  Four days after the verdict had been handed down, Judge MacLaine had sentenced Clymer to fifteen years in prison without parole, and Murtha to twelve years, also without parole.

Rory Lomer, having fulfilled the terms of his deal with the DA's office for what proved to be very graphic testimony against his former companions, was sentenced to five years in prison, with parole possible after three years.

The metro sections of all the LA papers had covered the two trials to the degree possible given the closed courtroom, and fully covered subsequent sentencing in detail.  This time they had omitted Cameron's name as the victim of the crimes.

Of course Cam's victimization had been reported to the community previously by the newspapers, but having had the support of Kevin and Art and Carl and the rest of the family in San Francisco, along with previous therapy, at this point he refused to relive what had happened to him down the beach.  He had successfully put those issues behind him.  The past was now the past.

*  *  *

It was early on a Saturday morning several weeks after the trial was over.  Lying in bed, Kevin was awakened by a sound from the speakers of the nanny cam surveying Casey's room, and he glanced at the little screen on the bedside table.  He saw Maria go to Casey's bed, pick him up out of the crib, kiss the little boy's head, croon to him, and take him into the bathroom to check his diaper.  Five minutes later, with the little guy freshly diapered, she carried Casey out the door and down the stairs to the kitchen for some breakfast.

Kevin silently gave thanks for the wonderful, loving care Casey received day after day from his and Cam's housekeeper.  He promised himself he would talk to Cam about what they could do, financially or some other way, to return to Maria and her family some gift in response to the blessing her presence brought to their household, and especially to Casey.

Adjusting the sheet covering him and Cam, a smiling, naked Kevin rolled over on top of his partner. 
The two of them always slept au naturel except when the guys from San Rafael were in town staying in their room with them, and then they wore boxers to bed.

Cam labored a little to breathe as his eyes fluttered open.  He looked up from his pillow directly into Kevin's handsome face and dark brown eyes.  Kevin began kissing Cam's face gently and rubbing noses with him.

Cam grabbed a breath.  "'Sup?" he asked.  As if he didn't know!  He repeatedly ran his hands up and down Kevin's sides and his back, eventually coming to rest on his partner's muscular bubble butt that always turned him on so much.  He inserted a finger into Kevin's crack just a little, and lightly rubbed his hole.

"Oh, yeah!!  You're way too cute for your own good!" Kevin responded.  "And too good in bed.  Sometimes I just can't stand it."

"Well, you won't have to stand it for long if you don't let me breathe."

Kevin didn't answer except to pump his hips once, where his rapidly inflating cock was planted firmly on Cam's package.

"Oh," Cam said in anticipation of what was about to happen.  His own cock started to harden as Kevin pressed against him.  "Is Casey awake?" he asked.

"Yes."  Kevin glanced again at the nanny speaker and screen on the bedside table.  "Maria came up and got him a few minutes ago.  But don't change the subject."

"What is the subject?"

Kevin pumped his hips one more time.  "You're the subject."

"No, you're the subject."  Cam ran his hands up and down Kevin's back and sides to his butt again, and began to rub his ass cheeks more firmly.  A finger found its way into Kevin's crack yet again, and entered him a little more deeply, this time to the first knuckle.

"You're so bold!" Kevin told him, pleased and smiling.

"You inspire me."

"Good to know."  Kevin rolled over and pulled Cam on top of him, and they began to kiss passionately with lots of tongue.  They were each fully hard in just seconds as they began to pinch each other's nipples.

"Do me," Kevin eventually told his partner after the touching grew more insistent.
  "I want you in me, dude.  Fill me up."  He slipped off Cam's body on to his own back.

Not needing to be convinced, Cam slid over to the drawer of his bedside table and found some lube.  Returning to the center of the huge bed, Cam kissed his way down his partner's awesome abs.  He briefly mouthed his boy's long, thick cock, and then pushing Kevin's legs back, proceeded to lube his hole, open him up with his fingers, and then lube his own dick.

"Put it in me," Kevin demanded again, fisting Cam's slippery and erect penis which was more than ready for business.

Cam obliged him, raising his partner's legs higher and moving between them, then working his dick fully into Kevin.  Once he was fully at home inside his boy, he just lay there on Kevin's body letting his boy become accustomed to the welcome intruder.

They lay there for several minutes, wordlessly studying one another's face before Cam pulled back from where he was buried inside Kevin's hole, plunged back in, and started to rhythmically pump his lover's ass slowly and then with increasing vigor as minutes passed.  Kevin groaned as his prostate began to respond to Cam's cock repeatedly massaging it.  A pearl of pre-cum appeared at the end of Kevin's penis, which pulsed where it laid on his abs.

After five minutes, Kevin groaned and reached down to grab Cam's butt, slowing his in-and-out momentum.  "Lord, you do know how to fuck!" he gasped to his lover.  "But let's make this last for awhile!"

"Yeah," Cam gasped back, slowing his tempo.

Eventually Kevin began tightening his hole when Cam thrust into him, and loosening it when he backed out, multiplying the sensations that both of them were feeling.

"Oh, yeah!" Cam said, and his pleasure increased even more when Kevin began raising his ass to meet Cam's thrusts into him.  He encircled Cam's butt with his legs, locked at the ankles, pulling Cam forcefully into his hole each time.  Cam eventually couldn't help increasing the speed of his thrusts to what they had been before, and at the fifteen-minute mark he flooded Kevin's smooth, tight insides with his sperm.  Then he lay there, spent, on Kevin's body as Kevin lowered his legs to the bed.  Cam softened, and his cock finally fell from its favorite home.

"Sorry I couldn't last longer," Cam whispered when he finally regained speech, gently kissing his partner's face again and again.

"You did great!" Kevin assured him.  "You're so good at fucking I may never let you out of bed again."

Kevin's abs were coated with his own pre-cum, but he had not yet ejaculated.  Cam scooted down in bed, and after licking up Kevin's pre-cum, he put the still-swollen head of Kevin's cock in his mouth and pumped his partner's dick with his hand.  Two pumps later he was swallowing as fast as he could, bringing Kevin off with seven full shots of semen.  Some of the thick juice leaked out of the corners of Cam's mouth, and Kevin pulled Cam's head down and tongued his own seed from his boy's face.

"Oh, man!" Kevin groaned, licking his lips when he finished.  "You always feel so good inside me!" he said as his body relaxed.  "And I taste pretty good, if I do say so myself."

Cam smiled.  "Yes, you do," he said.

The guys kissed each other deeply, sharing the remnants of Kevin's cum before hitting the bathroom and emptying their bladders.  Then it was back to bed, holding each other tight before they dropped off into a blissful, post coital coma.

When they woke up twenty minutes later, Cam kissed Kevin and looked at him appreciatively.

"I couldn't ask for a better lover than you, Kevin Stoltz," he said, looking him in the eyes.

"Likin' that!" Kevin said.  "I love you so much, Cam.  Sometimes I could come in my pants just from lookin' atcha."

"Well, this bears a lot more discussion.  But why don't we clean up a little, wake up Art, and take a run before we shower and eat breakfast?" he asked.

"You read my mind," Kevin said.

They bounded out of bed and into the bathroom, where they ran damp wash cloths over other's bodies before putting on jocks, running shorts, T-shirts and running shoes.  They went downstairs.  Maria was sitting at the kitchen table beside Casey in his high chair, feeding him.

"Morning, Maria," Kevin said, bending down and greeting the woman with a kiss on the cheek followed by a kiss on top of Casey's head.  "Thanks for taking such good care of Casey."

"What brought that on?" Maria asked.  "That's my job."

Cam gave her a sideways hug and kissed her cheek.  "It may be your job, but what you do for Casey, and for us, is obviously more important to you than just a job."

"Well..." Maria said, at a loss for words.

"Hey, Casey," Cam said, bending down and giving the little guy a kiss on the head.

"Daddy," Casey said, not specifying who he was talking to.

"If you guys are going out today, will you stop at a hardware store and get us some gates for the stairs?" Maria asked.  "One for the top and one for the bottom?  I caught Casey yesterday trying to crawl upstairs."

"You're kidding," Kevin said.

"No, I'm not.  He's strong, and he's active," Maria said.  "Thank goodness for that, but we don't want any accidents."

"We'll get the gates today," Cam promised.  "Right now, we're going for a run."

"All right," Maria said.  "I'll fix you some breakfast when you get back."

"Sounds good," Kevin said.

The landline rang just then, and Maria stood up and answered it.

"Good morning.  MacKenzie-Stoltz-Emrick residence," she said.

"Good morning," a man's voice said.  "This is Ralph Abernathy at Rodeo Drive Jewelry, calling.  Is Cam or Kevin available?"

"Yes, sir," Maria said.  "One moment, please."  She covered the speaker.  "It's Mr. Abernathy at the jewelry store."

Kevin held out his hand and took the receiver.

"Good morning, Mr. Abernathy," he said.  "This is Kevin.  What's the good word?"

"We have your rings ready to look at, Kevin, at your convenience.  When do you and Cam think you might be able to stop by to see them?  I want to double-check that they're correctly sized."

"Hold on for a moment, sir, and let me talk to Cam."

"Of course."

Kevin hit the hold button, and the main line began to blink.  "Our rings are ready to check out," he said to Cam.  "When do you want to stop by the store?"

"Excellent!" Cam said enthusiastically.  "What about two o'clock this afternoon?"

"Sounds good," Kevin said, reconnecting with the blinking number.  "Mr. Abernathy, would you be available at two o'clock today?  We're eager to see the rings."

"I'll be on hand at two o'clock.  I'll look forward to seeing you both then," Abernathy said before hanging up.

Cam looked at Kevin after he put the phone back on the wall.  "Wow!  I'm really excited to see them!" Cam said.

"Me, too, man!" Kevin agreed.  "Maria, I think we'll take Casey with us when we go to the hardware store and the jewelry store.  We need to spend some time with him anyway."

"Well, if you're sure..."

"That'll give you some peace and quiet for a change," Cam agreed.

Kevin picked up the phone, pushed the intercom button, and punched the number for Art Smith's bedroom.  A sleepy voice answered.

"Yeah?" Art said.

"Throw on a pair of running shorts and meet us downstairs on the deck, my man," Kevin said.  "Let's run before breakfast, and then we'll take care of some errands."

Art groaned.  "OK.  Give me a couple minutes."

"Yep."  Kevin replaced the receiver and went to the refrigerator, grabbing three bottles of water, one each for himself, Cam and Art.

Cam and Kevin went out to the deck after some conversation with Casey, where they met Art Smith, greeted the dogs, and did their warm-ups.  Thirsty, they each swigged down a bottle of water before hitting the beach along with Alice and Samantha.  Running on the beach was dog heaven for the two border collies.

Art glanced over at his two hunky companions as they all started their run.  It was one of those rare occasions when the wind wasn't blowing off the bay, and when the three of them had been limbering up on the back deck, Art had caught a whiff of sex from his fellow runners as they stretched their legs.

Cam and Kevin weren't making goo-goo eyes at each other or anything like that.  In fact they weren't looking at each other at all.  There was no overt communication between them.  But there was this aura surrounding Cam and Kevin that morning that Art had seen before, but not all that often in public, between people who were deeply in love. It required no stretch of Art's imagination that the two young men had probably had physical relations that morning.  They had likely been "one flesh," for damn sure.  For a person his age, Art was a keen observer of social interactions and the vibes that characterized them.  It had always been clear how his two hosts felt about each other.  But this was one of those occasions when the solidarity of Cam and Kevin's relationship, their deep love and respect for one another, was on perfect display for anyone paying attention.  The partners seemingly didn't have to work very hard at it.  It was just there.

Art hadn't received a great deal of love in the bosom of his own family, but he knew love when he saw it.  And he was seeing it.

Despite himself, Art was envious.  Who wouldn't be?  Art wanted a loving relationship like that for himself with somebody.  Whether that person would be a man or a woman wasn't yet perfectly clear to him.  Probably a guy.  But fortunately, thanks to running and working out in the gym with Kevin and Cam, he was starting to attract some attention in public--from both males and females--for his steadily improving physique.  He was looking better every day.

"I wonder how Carl and Andy and Father Mason and the San Rafael boys are coming along with the move?" Kevin asked after the three guys hit their pace on the beach.  Carl had flown up to San Francisco to meet Andy and the priest, pick up the truck Ian Carson had rented for them, and commandeer William, Mark, Berto and Dan to load up Mason's clothes and furniture along with clothes and a few items Andy had ready for the trip to Los Angeles.

"I'm sure they're doing OK," Art said.  "But it feels strange not to have Carl here, doesn't it?"

"I know," Kevin admitted.  "I miss that cute little shit."

"Me, too.  He'll be happy when Andy moves in here with him, I know that for sure," Cam said.

"Yeah," Art agreed.

"Art, have you talked to your parents at all lately?" Cam asked.

"I talk to my mom about once a week.  My dad, never.  He hates me, for sure."

"I know from personal experience what a pain in the ass it is to have a father who's an asshole," Kevin told him.  "Your dad ought to be grateful to have a son like you."

"Thanks, Kev," Art responded.  Compliments didn't come along all that often in life, and the boy was pleased.

Cam looked over at Art.  "Are your classes going well?" he asked him.

"Yeah.  I'm having a little trouble with chemistry, but I'll get through it somehow."

"Don't fall behind," Kevin suggested.  "I can give you some help, y'know.  The physical sciences are no problem for me."

"I know that," Art said.  "I just may take you up on that offer."

"Yeah, I've noticed that nothing physical is a problem for you," Cam told Kevin with a leer.

"Don't start!" Kevin warned, making Cam and Art chuckle.

When they reached the two and a half mile mark, Cam whistled at the dogs, and the three boys turned around.  Kevin had cut them back from seven miles a day, first to six and then to five miles daily, after reading the latest research on excessive exercise leading to free radicals in the body.  He'd not had blowback from anybody about that decision, including Ian and the San Rafael boys, when he suggested during their last visit that they do the same after they went home.

They ran in silence back toward the house for a while, with the dogs happily dodging in and out of the surf.  Cam spoke up.

"Hey Art, Kevin and I are going out this afternoon to pick up some safety gates for the top and bottom of the stairs.  Maria caught Casey climbing up the stairs the other day, and we don't want any accidents now that he's getting more mobile.  Then we're going over to Rodeo Drive Jewelry to look at our engagement and wedding rings.  If you don't have something else going on, why don't you come with us?"

"Thanks.  Sounds like a plan," Art responded.  He was always pleased to have an excuse to spend some time with the guys.

"We won't leave until after breakfast settles," Kevin interjected.  "That'll give us plenty of time to work out in the gym.  You guys are looking a little flabby."  A blatant lie.  "You need to do more than just trot up and down the beach every day to stay in shape."

"We gotta get a muzzle to shut you the fuck up, Kevin," Cam responded.  "So we'll add a pet store to our itinerary for this afternoon."

Kevin and Art laughed.

Arriving back home, they ate some of Maria's special huevos rancheros, their favorite breakfast, after Kevin offered thanks.  Cam went out to the garage after they finished up and found a tape measure in their tool box in the garage.  He measured the width that the stairway gates would have to cover, and wrote the figures down on a sheet of paper.

Then they worked out and worked up a sweat in the little gym after their breakfast had settled.  Kevin complimented the guys on how well they did with the weights.  Afterwards, they showered.  Cam and Kevin washed each other under the pelting water, as usual, and then dressed in their usual T-shirts, Levi's and Skechers.  Art jacked off in his own shower as he fantasized about his hosts having had sex that morning, and was in a good mood when he joined them downstairs after dressing.

Kevin checked Casey's diaper, found out the little guy was all right, and after saying good-bye to Maria, the three boys loaded the baby, the baby bag, and themselves in the Mustang.  Cam sat in the back seat to interact with Casey in his backward car seat.

"We have plenty of time before we have to be at the jewelry store, so let's go to Lowe's first and see if they have the gates we're looking for.   If they don't, we can hit Home Depot," Kevin suggested.

"You're a master shopper," Cam told him.

"That's more satisfying than being a master bator," Kevin responded.

"Oh man!  You should warn me when you're going to talk like that so I can cover Casey's ears," Cam kidded him.

"Oops," Kevin said.  He smiled.  "You're right."

They found a pair of attractive, sturdy gates at Lowe's, and checked carefully to see that all the needed hardware was in the boxes.  They rolled the boxes out to the car on a cart and loaded them into the trunk of the Mustang.

Kevin had put the purchase on his credit card, where Ian Carson would probably see it on the bill and ask him about it.  Ian never argued about any purchases the guys made, but he did monitor what the boys spent, and Kevin and Cam didn't resent that at all.  They knew he was watching out for them.

Heading out of the lot, they stopped at an In and Out Burger to get some burgers and milk shakes, and drove toward Rodeo Drive.  Cam had picked up a plastic spoon at the cash register, and he fed a couple of small spoonfuls of his vanilla shake to Casey.  The little guy had a sweet tooth, and really liked that.

There were no parking places on the street near the jewelry store in Hollywood, so they parked in a garage.

"Why don't you let me carry Casey so you guys will be hands-free to deal with the rings," Art suggested as they got out of the car.

"Thanks, Art," Kevin agreed, and helped Art put on the baby sling.  They settled Casey into it and walked down the street toward the store.  Passers-by all smiled and checked out the baby as they went by.

They entered the jewelry store and were promptly greeted by a friendly female sales person.  Cam didn't see the young man who had acted homophobic to Kevin and him the first time they'd visited the store, and he wondered if the guy had gotten the ax for his bad attitude.

"We have a two o'clock appointment with Mr. Abernathy," Kevin told the young lady.  He glanced down at his watch, and they were right on time.

"Yes, sir.  He's back in the work area.  I'll call him."

"Thank you, m'am," Kevin said.

Abernathy joined them shortly, and Cam introduced Art to him and identified Casey.  The little guy had fallen asleep.  Abernathy smiled down at the little boy, and said, "Beautiful baby!"

Then he led them to a counter toward the back of the store.  Unlocking a glass cabinet, Abernathy pulled out four jewelry boxes and placed them on the counter.  Kevin's name was taped to two of the boxes, and Cam's name to the other two.

One by one the jeweler snapped open the boxes.  Two boxes held the wedding rings, and two, the engagement rings.  Cam's and Kevin's eyes were initially drawn to the engagement rings.  As Abernathy had promised, they were elegant and beautiful without being flashy or overpowering.  A sizable, flat cut ruby dominated the center of each ring, with two smaller emeralds bracketing it, but the gems all hugged the rings without protruding.  Looking closely, Cam and Kevin saw that the gold engagement rings had a filigree running around it which appeared to match the one on the wedding rings.

Even without trying them on, Cam's and Kevin's first thoughts were that the engagement rings would be comfortable for them to wear--not only physically, but because of what they stood for.

Cam and Kevin looked at each other, and Kevin briefly put his arm over Cam's shoulders and gave him a side hug before they reached down and pulled the engagement rings out of their respective cases.  Cam took Kevin's left hand and put the ring designated for him on his ring finger.  It slipped over Kevin's knuckle with just a little effort.  Kevin put Cam's ring on his partner's finger, and it fit perfectly without being too snug.

They each held out a left hand, and regarded them silently.  The rings had some heft, but they weren't overly heavy.

"Oh, my gosh," Kevin said quietly, eyes a little moist, before pulling Cam into his arms and kissing his cheek.  "They're perfect!"

"For sure," Cam said.  He looked over at Ralph Abernathy.  "These rings are like our dreams come true, sir," he told him.  "You captured what we wanted perfectly!"

"Good!" Abernathy said with a smile.  "I'm really pleased with the finished product!  The gems are all of high quality, I can assure you of that, and they speak very well to your relationship."

Cam and Kevin reached down the counter to pull the wedding rings out of their cases.  They were gold, matching the gold color of the engagement rings.  The wedding rings were moderately wide, and the guys could see clearly up close that they were indeed decorated with the same delicate filigree which spiraled around the engagement rings.  A perfect match.

"Let me show you how the wedding rings interlock with the engagement rings," Mr. Abernathy suggested.  Cam pulled off his engagement ring and handed it to the jeweler.

Abernathy lined up Cam's engagement and wedding rings, pushed them together, and then rotated the wedding ring a degree or two, causing it to seat firmly with the engagement ring.  He handed the two rings back to Cam.  He put the rings back on his finger to check them out, and then removed them.  It took a firm twist before Cam could separate the two rings again.

"Excellent," Kevin noted with satisfaction.

"The interlock will keep the engagement rings from spiraling around from the weight of the gems, so you won't have to be adjusting them all the time," Abernathy said.  "And by the way, your first names are inscribed on the underside of each ring so they don't get mixed up.  You wear different sizes."

The guys put the wedding rings back in their boxes and closed them up, and but kept the engagement rings handy.

"Ask me," Kevin instructed Cam, handing him Kevin's designated engagement ring.

Cam knew exactly what Kevin meant.  "Kevin, will you marry me?" he asked.

"I will," Kevin said, and Cam slid the engagement ring on the third finger of his partner's left hand.

"Cameron, will you marry me?" Kevin asked in turn.

"I will."

Kevin put the engagement ring on Cam's ring finger of his left hand, and they kissed each other lightly on the lips without making a big spectacle of it.  The store wasn't busy at the moment, and the staff had been watching Cam and Kevin's reactions to the rings.  They applauded when the two guys kissed and embraced.

Mr. Abernathy beamed at them.  "Gentlemen, congratulations," he said, and then shook hands with each them.  "I hope you'll invite me to your wedding."

"Count on it!" Cam said.

Then Art shook hands with each of his roomies, and gave each a hug of congratulations.  Despite the seemingly casual exchange of rings, he was moved, though he tried not to show it.

After a little more conversation, they all went to the payment desk, and each pair of rings was charged to the guys' respective credit cards.  The charges went through with no problem.

With final thanks to Mr. Abernathy, who said a special good-bye to a sleeping Casey, the three guys left the store and began walking back toward their car.

"Wait 'til Ian sees our credit card bills," Kevin said, laughing.  "He'll fall on his ass!"

"Well, it isn't as if we didn't tell him what we were going to do," Cam responded.  "But I do hope this is the last time we spend this kind of money on each other just for 'stuff.'  There are a lot of hungry people on the street without a roof over their heads in our country, for us to be this selfish.  I love the rings, but y'know, enough is enough.  Let's make a good contribution to the Santa Monica homeless shelter."

"I totally agree, Cam," Kevin said.  "By the way, on another subject, I think we should do something special for the Romeros, especially for Juan, Jr., and Roberto.  Maybe make some substantial down payments on a college fund for each of them.  I know Maria and Juan, Sr., may be a little reluctant to accept a gift like that, but let's make it happen.  And let's raise Maria's salary.  When Andy moves in, she'll be taking care of five of us now along with Casey."

"What a great idea!" Cam agreed.  "Let's talk to Ian about what we can do for the whole family.  I know the Romeros aren't exactly poor, and I think Juan is going to end up being a highly successful contractor in the L.A. area.  But we couldn't buy the kind of care we're getting for Casey and the rest of us for two or three times what we're paying Maria.  You know that's true."

"No doubt about that," Kevin said.

The guys couldn't help lifting their hands and inspecting the new engagement rings periodically on the way back to the car, and felt a deep sense of satisfaction with their beauty.  Once at the parking lot, they put Casey back in his car seat without waking him, and headed for Malibu.

Cam carried the baby into the house and put him in his downstairs crib after they arrived home, while Kevin and Art brought the new gates for the stairway inside.  Maria came down from upstairs when she heard the boys come in.

"All right!" she said.  "Let's see the jewelry!"

Cam and Kevin extended their left arms, and she held their hands for a moment while she inspected the engagement rings.

"Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed.  "They're absolutely beautiful!"  She gave each of them a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks," Kevin said, pleased that Maria agreed with his own opinion of the rings.  "Mr. Abernathy did a great job."

"They're just what we wanted," Cam said.

"What do you think, Art?" Maria asked.

"I think they're beautiful!" Art said.  "Outstanding!"

'Let's see the wedding rings," Maria said.

Cam and Kevin pulled the jewelry boxes out of the pockets of their Levi's, and opened them up.

"I see the filigree on the wedding rings matches the engagement rings," Maria observed.

"It does," Cam said.  "And the engagement rings and the wedding rings interlock as well.  Everything is perfect!"

"For sure!" Kevin said, ready to move on.  "Now, on another subject, as you can see from the big cardboard boxes, we got the gates," Kevin said.  "We'll install them right away."

"That will be one less worry," Maria said.  "I appreciate it."

"While you guys pull out the gates, I'm going to take pictures of my rings and send it to Mom, Carl and Andy and Fr. Mason and Jeff Miller, and the whole crew in San Rafael," Cam said.

"I think he likes his rings," Kevin said, chuckling.  "Well, get to it.  Art and I will start on the gates."

Cam sent the picture of the rings with a caption to the family, and it wasn't long before the accolades began pouring in.

*  *  *

The following Tuesday, Juan Romero pulled up to the the main gate of Magnum Studios, the date that George Eisner's secretary had given him for a lunch meeting.  It was 12:45.  A uniformed, Caucasian guard came out of his shelter right away, looking skeptically at Juan's beat-up old truck with the chipped paint.  "Romero Construction" was painted on the door.

"May I help you?" the guard asked, bending down to check out the inside of the truck while not betraying a whole  lot of respect for the visitor.

"Yes," Juan said.  "I have a one o'clock appointment with Mr. Eisner and Mr. Lazlo."

"Yes, sir," the guard said, his face suddenly looking more welcoming and his posture straightening.  "One moment, please."

The man went back into the guardhouse, picked up a telephone, dialed a number, and spoke into it.  Two minutes later, having received a response, the guard walked back to the truck.

"Yes, sir," the man said, this time with respect.  "Just follow the signs that say 'Administration,' and park in the lot in front of the Administration building.  Go in the front door, and a staff member will be waiting for you at the reception desk."

"Thank you," Juan said as the guard hit a button to raise the striped pole blocking the entrance and touched a finger to his uniform cap as the truck rolled by.

Damn, you just never know who the fuck is going to show up here to see somebody important, even if they're driving a piece of shit like that truck, the guard thought to himself as he watched the truck pull away and he went back inside his hut to await the next visitor.

Juan followed the guard's instructions and pulled into the parking lot of the main office building.  Before alighting from his truck, he took off his cap and studied his image in the rear view mirror.  His saw that his jet black hair was still neatly combed, parted on the left, and his face neatly shaven.  He was a handsome and well-built man with light tan skin, neatly dressed in clean work clothes with his company logo over his left breast pocket.  He had thought about wearing a suit to this meeting, but had decided against it.  He had surmised that Messrs. Eisner and Lazlo weren't going to base their decision about whom to select for a building contractor on how much he looked like a desk-bound businessman.

Leaving his Romero Construction cap on the passenger sear, he opened the driver's door of his truck, got out, and snaked his way through the parked cars to the main entrance of the Administration building.

Another guard greeted him inside the building at a revolving door, and directed him to a reception desk where a well-coifed, middle aged Latina greeted him in a friendly manner.

"Good day, sir," she said.  "How may I help you?"

"I have a lunch meeting with Mr. Eisner and Mr. Lazlo."  It was now 12:55.

'Yes, sir.  Your name?"

'Juan Romero."

"One moment, please."  She stepped to a telephone and punched in a number.  "Stephanie, Mr. Romero is here for his meeting with Mr. Eisner and Mr. Lazlo."

She nodded her head and hung up.  "Señor Romero, if you'll take a seat over there, someone will be down in a moment to escort you upstairs."  She gestured with a graceful wave at some leather chairs at one side of the lobby.

"Gracias, Señora," Juan said, and headed for a seat.  He had only been seated for about two minutes when a young woman emerged from an elevator and approached him.

"Mr. Romero?" she asked, extending a hand.  "Welcome to Magnum Studios.  I'm Stephanie Anderson, Mr. Lazlo's administrative assistant."

Juan greeted her and they shook hands.

"If you will follow me, I'll escort you to Mr. Lazlo and Mr. Eisner for lunch in Mr. Eisner's office."

"Thank you," Juan said, and followed the svelte, shapely young woman to the elevators.  They made small talk on the way up to the top floor.  Without waiting after knocking, she opened a door labeled George Eisner, Chairman.  Two men rose from a couch where they had obviously been waiting to greet their guest.

"Mr. Romero," the taller of the two men said with a smile, "Welcome to Magnum Studios," he said, shaking Juan Romero's hand.  "I'm George Eisner," he identified himself.  "And this is Rick Lazlo."

Lazlo smiled, and shook hands.  "Glad you could make it.  Hope you're hungry.  George sets a good table."

"I think I can sit up and take some nourishment," Juan said with a grin.

"Well, let's have at it, then," Eisner said as they moved over to the table.

Before they pulled out their chairs and sat down, Eisner offered thanks over the food.

"I appreciate the prayer," Juan said when Eisner finished and the three of them made the sign of the cross.  "My family started saying grace because the young men my wife works for customarily offer thanks before meals.  My family has gotten in the habit."

"I know who you're talking about, Juan," Eisner said.  "Your wife's employers attend my parish church."

"Excellent family!" Juan said.  "They've been so kind to us."

"Good people," Eisner said.  "Good boys with good friends.  They've experienced some tragedy at a young age, and come out of it successfully.  Cameron MacKenzie's father and his partner worked for Magnum, and were killed in a plane
crash coming back from England.  And Kevin Stoltz has had his own family problems.  Ian Carson, who recommended you for the construction job we're going to talk about today, has been sort of a foster father to the boys."

Juan smiled.  "I met Ian and his wife, and their maid from San Rafael, along with all the boys in the Carsons' extended family, at Cam and Kevin's house on Thanksgiving.  Cam and Kevin had invited Cam's mother and her maid, our family, and their next door neighbors Sean and Susan Miller, along their maid, who is my wife's sister, and the Miller boy and another young man from college, for the meal.   I should mention that the maids were the guests of honor at that meal, and the families did all the cooking and serving."  Juan Romero looked at his hosts.  "I didn't think I'd have a good time because I'm a laborer only one generation removed from being an immigrant myself, but we all had a ball!  They're all easy people to relate to.  And I do."

George Eisner nodded in agreement.  "You see what I see, Juan."  Eisner studied him for a long moment.  "You speak English well.  Where did you get your schooling?"

"I attended an Anglican primary and secondary school in Mexico City where my father was the janitor.  I guess my schooling explains my English proficiency, and then I graduated from college at the National Autonomous University, also in Mexico City, on a scholarship in architecture.  I immigrated with my parents after graduation, met my wife here in LA, and the rest is history.  Although I was a legal immigrant, the architectural firms wouldn't hire me here because they thought I was a wetback and lying about being legal."

George Eisner shook his head in shame.  "Times have changed."

"To some extent," Juan said with a smile.  "You wouldn't know it to listen to some of the presidential candidates these days, though."

"I guess you're right," Eisner admitted.

Lazlo studied the two men as the three of them continued with the meal.  It might be true that hiring a building contractor was technically his decision, but Lazlo also knew that Juan Romero was as good as selected as far as his boss was concerned.  If he didn't get this particular contract, Eisner would most certainly bring him aboard in some other capacity.

When they finished their light noon meal, prepared for hot weather, of cold vichyssoise soup, thin sliced veal cutlets, raspberry jello salad with a dab of sour cream dressing and pecans, and miniature cinnamon rolls, they moved right on to dessert:  iced coffee with freshly baked apple tarts.  There had been no alcoholic drinks served, nor wine with the meal.  And that suited Juan just fine.  He wanted all his wits about him for the conversation to come.

Two white-coated waiters cleared the table after lunch, and the three men just sat there at the lunch table and got down to business.

Romero and Lazlo sparred over some of the costs and details of the new construction that Magnum Studios had in mind as they looked at plans and blueprints while George Eisner just sat there listening quietly and patiently, but eventually Juan Romero got pretty much what he wanted in the contract.  He knew his stuff, and was happy with the outcome of their discussion. He knew that getting this contract would be a huge step forward for Romero Construction.

"Rick, do you have rough copy of a contract I can let my attorney take a look at?" Juan asked when they had wrapped up.

"Let me re-work it to reflect the changes we've discussed today, and I'll have one ready for you by the end of the week," Lazlo said.  "Ian Carson looked over the current draft of the contract and approved it on our behalf, and I'll ask him to take a look at the changes as well."

"Sounds good," Juan said.

The three men removed their napkins from their laps, and stood up, pushing in their chairs and then shaking hands.

"Thank you so much for joining us for lunch, Juan," George Eisner said over a firm handshake.

"Thank you for having me," Juan said, turning to shake hands with Rick Lazlo.

"I'll call you when we get a contract cleaned up and ready for you to look at," Rick said.  "We're looking forward to working with you."

"And I with you," Juan said.

The good-byes said, Juan headed for the door and then to the elevator.

"What do you think?" Lazlo asked, looking at his boss after Juan had gone.

"He's a perfect example of the future of American business, Rick.  All our families were immigrants once upon a time.  I think this is going to be a good relationship for us, don't you?"

"I do.  I am a little curious about why you've taken such a personal interest in hiring someone for this particular contract, George."

Eisner smiled.  "Well, you're right.  I admit I have a personal interest in the Romero family because of my relationship with Cam MacKenzie and his partner, Kevin Stoltz, and the little boy they're raising with the help of Juan's wife.  As I mentioned earlier, Alex MacKenzie was working for us here at Magnum when he and his partner were killed, and I feel we owe their survivors, and those who help them, to do a good turn for these folks when we have a chance.  I hope you don't feel that I've pre-empted your decision.  That wasn't my intent.  I do think Juan Romero is our best option to be our principal building contractor, being that he's an architect as well as a builder.  He has the skills and the expertise to do the job.  But if you don't feel he should be our guy, I'm open to discussing it."

Lazlo was silent for a moment.

"No, I don't think we need to discuss it further," he said.  "Juan Romero has the personal skills and the organization which will best serve our purposes.  I can't quarrel with your analysis of Romero's strengths, and I'm good with giving him the contract.  I was just curious, that's all."

"Good.  Let's move ahead with the contract, then," Eisner said.

The two men shook hands, and Lazlo turned to walk away.  At the door, he turned around and looked back at his boss.

"Your loyalty to people who deserve it is a major reason this organization is so successful, George.  And such a great place to work."

Lazlo stepped through the door, closed it, and went back to his office.

*  *  *

As he prepared to move to Los Angeles, Father Mason's good-byes to Father and Mrs. Blackburn and to the entire parish family at St. Andrew's church in San Rafael had been emotional for all concerned.  The parish had held a special dinner to honor their departing curate on Thursday evening, and many kind words had been said to and about Father Mason.  Among those attending the meal had been Catherine MacKenzie and the extended Carson family, of course.  The parish hall was packed, a testimony to the popularity and respect in which the priest was held.

The junior choir, which customarily sang at the nine a.m. Mass each Sunday morning, sang several musical selections during the meal which included pieces which were known to be favorites of the priest.

Ian Carson had been one of the featured speakers, and what he said about Jim Mason concerning his unfailing kindness to all he encountered, his authentic spirituality, the special inspiration he had provided to the young people of the parish, his powerful preaching and his ability to evoke a real connection with God when he celebrated the Mass was very moving.

Mason's response to the speakers had also been moving.  The upshot of his remarks was that whatever success he had had at St. Andrew's was due to the deep commitment of parishioners to the faith, and to the strong leadership of the Rector, Father Blackburn.  He cited several major steps forward for the parish due to the strong partnership of the clergy and the laity in the San Rafael church.

"I know that I have been in your prayers during my time with you here because I have felt the benefit of those prayers.  Some of you may know that my mother lives in the Los Angeles area, and is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.  Were it not for the rapidly deteriorating health of my mother, I hope you know I would continue working here with joy in my heart and love for all of you."

When Father Mason had concluded his remarks of affection and praise for the parish, along with thanks for the many kindnesses he had received during his time there, Father Blackburn asked him to offer a final prayer and a blessing.  Mason raised his right hand over the crowd.

"O God of hope and author of our salvation, we thank You for the bounty we have received from You in the lives of our families and our parish, and  particularly during this wonderful evening.  We ask for a continuation of Your grace, that the deep relationships of kindness and esteem we have built with one another in Jesus Christ may continue to thrive despite our physical parting of the ways.  May the Holy Spirit continue to bless the work we have all undertaken on behalf of St. Andrew's Parish, our Diocese, and our national church.  May the doors which we have opened here to all God's children remain open and welcoming.  And now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you this night and remain with you always."

Mason made the sign of the cross over the crowd to a resounding "Amen" from the parishioners.  He saw Mary Carson, among many others, wipe some tears from her eyes, and recognized anew that this was no casual parting of the ways for so many.  The priest had given the people his love during his time in San Rafael, and it was being richly returned.

*  *  *

Carl Emrick stayed overnight with Andy Helder at the Helder family home on Thursday night after the big church shindig.  When they stripped off their clothes and slid into Andy's big bed, the two guys held each other for a long time just looking into one another's eyes before they had sex.

"I can hardly believe that this is the first of so many nights we're going to be able to hold each other like this and make love," Carl told his partner.  "It's been a long time coming."

Andy grinned, and french kissed Carl.  "Yeah.  Coming.  Literally.  I've missed you so much, Carl."

They made sweet love twice that night--once before they went to sleep, and then again in the middle of the night.

They spent the next day, Friday, at Father Mason's apartment helping him take apart his beds and finishing packing up the rest of his books and miscellaneous stuff.

That night there was a big family meal with the Carson family at Catherine's former home to which Father Mason and Andy's parents and Catherine MacKenzie had been invited.  Rosa Mendez and Yolanda Vega had prepared a wonderful meal.  The evening was fun, with the boys all talking a mile a minute and insulting one another as usual as opportunities presented themselves.  Andy began to realize how much he was going to miss Catherine and Ian and Mary Carson and all the boys as the evening drew to a close.

"We'll see you at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning at Father Mason's apartment," Ian told Carl and Andy as they left to go home.  "After we load Father's furniture we'll go over the Helder's house for Andy's stuff.  You did pick up the truck?" he asked Carl and Andy.

"Yes," Andy reassured him.  "This afternoon.  Complete with the hitch for Father Mason's car.  Thanks again for renting it for us.  We'll be ready for you bright and early."

"Remember, we're going to have breakfast ready for all of you when you get to our place," Mrs. Helder told them all by way of reminder.

"Are you sure you want to feed this ravenous crew?" Mary Carson asked, eying the boys.  "We could stop at a McDonald's before we come by."

"No, we want to do this," Mr. Helder told them.  "St. Andrew's and your family has done so much to help us understand the love that Andy and Carl have for each other, and support them in their relationship.  It's the least we can do."

Everyone was a good as their word, showing up at Father's Mason's apartment at 6 a.m. sharp on Saturday morning.  It was an unusually warm morning for northern California, and the boys began shedding their T-shirts as they really got into moving the priest's furniture, boxes of books, bedding, clothes, pots and pans, and other stuff down to the truck.

Despite efforts to look away, Carl Emrick's eyes were repeatedly drawn to the boys' bodies as they toiled away, sweating as the morning warmed up.  Starting with William Carson and Berto Hernandez, and including his own partner and even the younger guys, the chests, backs and butts on display kept Carl half hard in his shorts throughout the morning.  Andy caught Carl staring a couple of times, and grinned at his partner.  Carl blushed, but couldn't help himself.  These boys all had gym bodies, and were fucking beautiful.  He knew he'd like to lick the sweat off every one of them.

Once Father Mason's apartment was empty and the truck loaded, Ian Carson and Father Mason hooked the hitch for the priest's car to the truck, and Mason drove the auto up the shallow incline until the front wheels were seated in the wells provided, with the rear wheels remaining on the street.  The men then chained down the car, and they were ready to go over to the Helders' house.

Andy's mother had been forewarned toward the end of loading the truck that the moving crew would be on the road shortly, and she was ready for the hungry crew when they arrived.  She had fixed huge bowls of scrambled eggs, platters of bacon and sausage, fresh fruit, pitchers of orange juice, and carafes of coffee.  Father Mason offered thanks for the food, and then everybody found places around the Helder's huge, expanded dining room table in the spacious dining room.  The house was large, in a neighborhood with many pricey homes.

Except for the clinking of silverware, silence initially reigned at breakfast as stomachs were filled.

The boys were all refilling their plates and starting on seconds when William Carson spoke up.

"Mrs. Helder, this is a delicious breakfast!  Thank you so much for going to all this trouble!"

Berto Hernandez began to clap his hands, and the other guys joined in.

"Wonderful breakfast!" Mary Carson chimed in.  "We really appreciate it.  And your home is beautiful!"

"Thank you so much," Mrs. Helder said.  "It's going to seem awfully empty for us now that Andy is moving out."  To her own surprise, tears began to run down her cheeks.

Mary Carson was sitting beside her, and she reached over and held her hand.  "We're going to to be good friends, because Ian and I are facing the same thing before long."

"Hmm," Mark Carson said between bites.  "Well, there'll be a lot of cheering at our place when William moves out!"

Dan Emrick began to laugh, and William scowled at both of them.  Before he could respond, their dad interrupted.

"All right!" Ian Carson told them.  "Don't start!  We're guests here!"

"You're right, Dad," William Carson said, starting to laugh himself.  "I'm far too well mannered to respond in kind.  Get a clue, Mark!"

Changing the subject, Ian looked over at Father Mason, Carl and Andy, sitting beside one another on the other side of the table.

"Have you three decided where you're going to stop tonight?"

"San Luis Obispo," Carl spoke up.  "That's more or less half-way to Malibu."

"Did you already make reservations somewhere in town?" Mary Carson asked.  "There's a college there, and you don't want to have to sleep in the truck if the motels are full."

"You're right, Mary," Father Mason said.  "I'll get on the phone before we leave."  He looked at Carl and Andy.  "I'll get you guys a double room, and me a single."

"Thanks, Father," Andy said, appreciating the privacy for himself and Carl.

The serving dishes were all bare when the boys helped clean up the table, taking the plates and silverware to the kitchen for the maid, who had not yet arrived, to fill the dishwasher.  Once they got started, it didn't take long for all the boys to load Andy's computer desk, desk chair, and some of his miscellaneous stuff into the truck.

Everyone gathered in the Helders' driveway when it was time for the three travelers to go.  There were lots of hugs and kisses exchanged as Father Mason, Andy and Carl prepared to climb into the truck a
fter they had thanked the extended family for all the help they had received.

Andy took a few minutes alone with his parents, during which his mother wept again.  Andy calmed her down by promising to email her daily for the time being, and call her at least once a week.  He let them know yet again how grateful he was for their financial support, and their love and understanding for his and Carl's relationship.

They were on the road by 10:30, with Father Mason at the wheel for the first lap of the trip.

© Don Hanratty 2016

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