“Welcome aboard, sir!!”
       Matty reddened… “Thank you so much for waiting…. I don’t know what I would have done….”  The boy’s voice trailed off as he smiled nervously at the young stewardess, who stood attentively by the rear belly door…
       “That’s quite all right, sir, we have specific instructions from the pilot to assist you in any way that we can… It seems that he graduated from the same school you’re heading for… Oh, you can put your carry- on right in here… It’s normally reserved for the flight crew, but, there’s room , and, I’m sure the captain would insist…”
         The strapping 17 year old was even more embarrassed… “Are you sure??  I guess, if it’s all right…Maybe I should get to my seat… All these people… waiting!!… Oh Lord, they must be wondering…”
         The dark- haired girl leaned close and whispered, “Let them wonder!! It’s not every day that we are carrying a future Air Force officer….My name is Sheila; I have the perfect seat for you…”

        With that, she closed the door to the closet and gently led the teenaged boy down the carpeted aisle, past an array of gawking passengers, some whispering and craning their heads, to see what ‘royalty’ had been brought aboard, at the last possible second….
      Somehow, the boy’s seat had been magically upgraded, and, he was now being seated, to his dismay, in the 1st class section towards the front of the aircraft… It was all so surreal…Late to the airport… (Thanks, mom and dad!!)…  His first flight in an airliner, which he boarded on the tarmac, almost on the runway… ‘That can’t be normal’, he thought…
     The butterflies had complete control of his stomach as he lowered himself into the plush seat, next to the window. Why not??  Both were empty, and, just maybe he could get one last look at the family, before the red, white and blue painted jet lifted off, and his life changed forever….

      Matty took a deep breath and exhaled, calming his pounding heart, at last… He looked out the small window, to his left, and studied the terminal building. Almost instantly, he spotted his excited brother, waving his arms frantically, trying to get his attention. Matty smiled and placed his hand in the center of the thick glass, and waited… The floor of the jet vibrated, and the plane started to roll ever so slowly, continuing the aborted taxiing from before… Gerry pointed, suddenly, and the whole group started to wave and point towards the window that the boy peered from. Mom stopped waving, and held her hand to her mouth, then, wiped away some tears, as the jet picked up speed and zig zagged into position on the runway.
      Matty held his face to the window for as long as possible, and, in a few seconds, the engines of the giant bird surged, and pulled the quiet boy back, towards the grey and blue seat as the pilot ‘throttled up’ and the runway became a blur…. The silver wings flexed and groaned and took their purchase of the clear blue sky, and the weight of the precious cargo was borne, higher and higher, as the ground disappeared and became like a magical scape with miniature trees and roads… Then, the thud of the landing gear retracting into the bay and the plane banked, and headed West, to the places of a young boy’s dreams and imagination….

     It had been a remarkable childhood, thought Matty… He leaned his head back, against the soft seat and closed his eyes…. He tried to remember, what had brought him to this place. He smiled, as the memories of the last 4 years washed over him, and, he felt the tears well in his eyes, as he realized the finality of the moment… Still, it was a long road ahead– there was time for one last trip…back… back to the days that changed everything, and set this path in place for him….

November, 1968

      Bobby pushed Matty from below, suddenly, laughing as the blond 14 year old boy started to climb the rickety slats that led to the weathered treehouse…
      “Hey, watch those hands, you horndog!! Geezz, don’t you EVER get enough?”  Matty demanded, jokingly, as Bobby squeezed his denim covered butt..
       “NEVER, EVER !! You know I love your cute ass!! And, you know you love it when I feel you up, too, so stop complaining, and, enjoy it!!”
      “God, you think you got it all figured out, don’t you??” Matty looked down at the grinning boy, and felt his heart leap. It was moments like this that made the boy joyful… Bobby filled a place deep inside him with such love and joy, that he shuddered to think what would have happened to him, if they had never met…

       “Yeah, that’s right… Got YOU figured out, anyways… You like to bitch and moan about how I’m always thinking about sex, but, I’ll bet you jerk off, more than I do, even!! Well, I grab what I can, because if I didn’t, we’d still be jerking off alone, under our sheets at night!!” With that, the wiry boy reached between Matty’s legs and deftly grabbed the boy’s privates… 
       Matty almost fell from his perch!! “Hey, you maniac!! Can’t you even wait till we get to the top?? Whatta ya want me to do?? Fall?? Quit it, I said!!! “
       “OOOO… Looky, looky… What’s goin’ on ?? Seems like something’s happening in your pants!!”
       With that, the grinning boy squeezed one last time, and ran his hand up and down the front of Matty’s jeans, massaging the quickly growing member, until the blond boy gasped… Then, just as suddenly, he laughed, and abruptly released his grip…
        “You are nuts!! I almost fell !! I should have– right on top of you!! Would have served you right!!”
       Bobby just laughed, and swatted his blond friend playfully on the seat of the pants. “Yeah, yeah… come on, get up there… You got me all excited!! I can’t wait for the orgy!!”
        Matty sighed…”In your dreams, you total maniac…”

        Once the boys reached the upper rungs of the makeshift ladder, and Matty poked his head thru the open hatch, it was apparent that someone else had made themselves to home in the past week… “What the heck!!” exclaimed the agitated teenager… “Slobs… look, Bobby… someone was eating donuts and potato chips… they left all the garbage behind, and, they’re chips all over the place!! I’m surprised the place isn’t full of squirrels or rats, or something!!”
         The thin boy climbed onto the creaky platform and turned to help his buddy…Bobby hoisted himself in, with Matty grabbing his arm for safety. He surveyed the scene…”Damn, I’ll bet your brother and his buddies were here… Yup, that’s his brand of donuts!!  Geezz,  you’d think he would leave a few behind. I’m kind of hungry…”
         “Wait till I get my hands on him!! I told him to ask me, before he came up here!! Punk kid!! Then, he leaves his trash…” Matty scowled… It was so typical– Gerry, the impulsive slob… He wasn’t supposed to be eating all this junk, and, he knew it… probably used up half of the profits from his paper route, buying the stuff!! The blond, older brother sighed… Time for another sit -down with the little maniac… What was it,  the 3rd one in the past week??
         After a few minutes of housekeeping, the two high schoolers had the place ‘ship shape’, and, were sitting side by side, in the feeble rays of the fall sun, as it struggled to stay above the barren branches of the majestic oaks and firs that dominated the woods to the west.
         Matty leaned back, and felt the rough, weathered planks of the small structure, behind his head… He closed his eyes, and sighed…
        “What’s up, Koles??  You’ve been kind of quiet, the last few days… You OK??” Bobby took his left hand and rested it on Matty’s right knee. He mindlessly traced the outline of the patch that had been sewn into the threadbare denim, in an attempt to prolong the life of the boy’s favorite pants.
         Matty squinted through his half- closed eyes, and watched his best friend play with the soft material. He smiled weakly, and, closed his eyes again, and felt Bobby’s warmth. “I’m OK… I guess…”
         “You guess?? ” The wavy haired boy rested his hand and looked at Matty. “I know you… when you say that, there’s something bugging you… What’s up… you on your period, again?”
          “Asshole!! Period… I told you to stop saying that kind of stuff!! Why do you always try to make me feel like a girl, or something?? Do I look like a girl to you???”
           “OOO!!!  You swore!!  MATTY SWORE!! ” Bobby announced this rather loudly, as if he was addressing his comments to an audience. “Bad, bad, boy!!  I should spank you for that!! Now, you’ll have to go to confession….” With that, he grabbed at the blond teenager, and the two began to wrestle, until Bobby had Matty at a temporary disadvantage… Then, he freed his right hand and walloped the struggling boy hard, on the butt…
             “OWW!! Leave off!! You’re gonna die for that!!” yelled a startled, laughing Matty.

              On and on it went, each boy exchanging wallops… threatening… cajoling… laughing, till they were both breathless, and, exhausted, lying side by side on the wooden floor.  It was a dance they had perfected, over the years… Breathless, exciting, each searching for advantage, enjoying the probing contact, until…  Matty rolled over, and rested his head on the panting boy’s stomach… He turned his face, and listening to the racing heart in his lover’s chest…It had been this way since the beginning. The joyful contests of two, twelve- year- old boys had become the breathless foreplay of the newly aware teenagers….
             Matty closed his eyes again, and listened to the slowing heart and felt the heaving chest still… Bobby reached his arm over the blond boy and cradled Matty’s head in the crook of his left arm… Then, he softly caressed the boy’s blond hair with his other hand, running his fingers through the soft hair,  inhaling the scent of his precious friend.
           “You never answered my question”, the boy said, quietly.
            For a full minute, there was silence.

             Finally, Matty spoke… “I love you…”
             “I know that!” Bobby chortled…
             “Well… yeah… I know you do, but, I wanted to tell you that… The past few months have meant more to me than anything in my whole life…No… don’t say anything, yet, Bobby… See, all of what happened was so tough for me, but, you stayed with me through it all, and, made it all right… Nobody else would have done what you did. I mean, when I found out that Mike was gone, you could have been mad at me… We’ve been together for a long time ,but, you never said anything about me and Mike, and, the night that…”
              “Stop it!!” Bobby interrupted suddenly. “I never said anything then, and, I don’t want to talk about it now, either…”
              “But, you have a right to…”
              “Shut up!!  I don’t want to talk about this… Mike is gone… He would have wanted us to be together now… That’s what you said… I can’t think about what happened between you guys… I spent too long crying already…”
              “You were crying??  You never told me about that…”

              Matty turned over and looked into Bobby’s eyes… They were moist… Bobby quickly looked away, and choked back some words, then, stopped talking. “I’m sorry, Bobby…. I never meant to make you cry… You mean more to me than anybody… Mike wasn’t ever going to take your place, he was just… Mike… I don’t know how to explain….But, I’m sorry…” With that, the boy raised up and reached over to the silent boy, and, put his hands on either side of his face, and gently kissed him on the lips, and then, again, as Bobby tasted him and raised his head to meet Matty’s, until both boys were lost in each other…

      The afternoon shadows grew long and the night air rose from the forest floor and pushed away the meager warmth of the shortened fall day. The boys held each other for a long while, until Matty spoke again…
      “Bobby… I’m gonna join up you know…. “
      “Huh? Join up?  What’re you talkin’ about?”
      “You know, like Mike… I’m gonna join up, and make them remember the guys like Mike….”
       “You want to be a soldier?? “
        “I have to…”
        “You have to?? Why?? Look what happened to Mike… Besides, you ain’t old enough to go in!! I think you need to be 18…”
         “I found a way to join up when I’m 17… as long as I turn 18 by the time I finish basic training, it’ll work…”
          “Oh… so, you’re sure you want to do that?? Aren’t you scared?”
          “It’s not a question of wanting… I have to…. I’m not going to have someone else, fighting for me, just because I can get a deferment… “
          “A what??”
           “A deferment… you can get a postponement kind of thing, if you want to go to college… That way, you might be able to get away without serving… lots of guys are doing it… You just need to be able to get into a college…”
           “So, if you’re dumb, they make you go, even if you don’t want to, but, if you’re smart, and have the money for college, you can stay here, and, maybe you’ll never serve?? What the hell kind of system is that?”
           “I guess so… I don’t know, Bobby… it’s just the way that it works… Anyways, I wanted to tell you, because I know we planned on going to college together…”
            It was then that it registered with Bobby. The boy looked at Matty, and, the sadness crept from the growing shadows and, registered on the 14 year old’s face. “You’re leaving?? Without me??”
            “Not for a while, Bobby… besides, maybe the war will end, before I have to go, and, there won’t be a reason for me to go… ” His voice trailed off, the words falling hollow on the cold floor of the treehouse …. Matty sat up, and put his hand on Bobby’s chest and felt his heartbeat… It was racing, again, as if the two had just finished wrestling. Bobby turned away, and cleared his throat…
            “We’d better get off this roost, Koles… It’s getting late, fast…”  He laughed, the way he was famous for, when people were sad, and, needed his humor, to get through….
            Matty stood up and stepped towards the hatch, but turned to say one last thing… Bobby had his back to him and was wiping his face with the sleeve of his left arm.  He stopped himself, and instead,  walked over to the quiet boy and wrapped his arms around the drooping shoulders of his best friend… The boys stood like that as Bobby wept and the night hid his sorrow in it’s frosty breath….

Continued in Part 2…