” Excuse me, sir…. sir…..”

       Matty opened his eyes. Leaning over him was the young, attractive stewardess, who was gently tugging on his right arm.
    
       “I’m sorry, what did you say, Sheila??”
       “I hope I’m not disturbing you! You seem to have fallen asleep… I can come back later, if you wish.”
        “No… no… it’s fine, really!! I must have nodded off! I guess I didn’t sleep much, last night… But, it’s OK… What’s happening?”
         “Well, if you’re sure, then. You see, the captain would like to have a word with you… He thought you might like to join him in the cockpit for a few minutes. It was his insistence that the flight be delayed, so that you might join us.”
         “Oh, wow… Of course!! I’d be honored… I’ve never been in a cockpit before!! To be honest, ma’am,  this is the first time I’ve flown on an airliner… I’ve been in private planes before, but, never in one so large!!”
          Sheila giggled. “Well, I know Captain Maddox would love to talk to you, if you don’t mind…Would you follow me?”  She extended her arm, pointing towards the front of the plane.
          “Sure!”  The blond boy rose from the plush seat and, straightened his tie, fidgeting with it, to make it straight.
           “Here, let me!!” Sheila smiled, and, reaching up towards the neck of the tall boy, tucked the offending edges of the tie under Matty’s collar, and, straightened the knot.  “Perfect! You look handsome!!”  She winked at the blushing boy, and  led him by the arm to the door at the front of the aircraft.
            The diminutive brunette knocked sharply on the aluminum door, and, then opened it slightly and announced the boy’s presence to the flight crew.
            A distinguished, dark haired man rose from the left seat, and hung up a set of headphones he had been holding in his lap… He turned to the tall boy, and extended his right hand.”I’m Captain Maddox. Lord, you’re even taller than you looked, running across the tarmac!!” He laughed, and his blue eyes twinkled. Matty liked him instantly.
           “My name’s Matty. Thank you for waiting for me, sir!! I would have been in real trouble if you didn’t!! It would have been a heck of a thing to report for duty late, on the very first day!!”
            “That’s quite all right, son.. I heard we had our missing soldier running with a large entourage of, shall we say, tiny subjects and caregivers through the terminal, at breakneck speed. It would have been a disappointment to me, if I hadn’t been able to help you reach the ‘Blue Zoo’ on time, too…”
           He chuckled at Matty’s confused look.  “You see, I’ve been checking  the passenger manifest, kind of doing a little detective work, looking for the young men  traveling with a military voucher. Final destination, Colorado Springs. I’ve been waiting to meet the future cadets from Connecticut. I knew you’d be coming through here yesterday or today. So, I thought I had it timed pretty well…I’ve been flying this leg for the past week. Then,  I got a call from the front desk, after they heard about your transportation dilemma…”
            Matty felt his face turning red. “Do you mean, my dad’s car problems??”
           “Nothing to be embarrassed about son…” The man placed his hand on Matty’s shoulder. “These things happen, especially in a big family!! You know, I come from one myself, and, by the way, I have a son, just a little older than you, who would have loved to be in your shoes, right now. He tried his hardest but didn’t make the cut… You did!! I wanted to be sure to congratulate you on that! ” He reached for Matty’s hand, and took it in his own big hand, and firmly shook it, looking the blond 17 year old directly in the eyes.
           Matty shook the warm hand, and, smiled nervously. “Thank you, sir!!  Can I ask you something?? I’m a little confused. Do you mean that the state cop that helped us get my dad’s car started, called you guys??  Is that what he meant when he said he’d make sure I got on the flight??”
          “I do, son,” chuckled the handsome man, “Your guardian angel was working overtime for you, today… Do you know who that cop was?”
          “No sir, I never met him before today.”
          “Well, that’s probably because he patrols the area up here, near the airport.  He’s the resident state trooper … He’s also my brother- in- law.  My sister, Diana  is married to him!!”
           “Huh? You’ve got to be kidding, sir!  You mean he called you, and asked you to hold the plane??”
            “Well, not exactly. He patched through a call to the main desk. They told him that they would talk to me, and, let me know what he said. Apparently, he brought you in, under escort, right?”
            “Yes sir!! I was pretty embarrassed. My kittle brother thought it was cool…”
            “Well, it did the trick!  That, and, a little recheck, I ordered, of the cargo hatch…”  The pilot chuckled at that, implying in a subtle way that the cargo door check was a stalling tactic…
             “I don’t know what to say, sir… I guess my mom, practically crying that I was heading to the Academy must have got his attention!  How embarrassing!!”
             The captain laughed heartily at that, and patted Matty on the back. “My mom would have done the same thing!! Besides, it didn’t delay us very much, to be honest… We’ll just find that jetstream, and, make up for any lost minutes. Nobody will say anything. I do have a little clout, in this outfit!  Hey,  let me show you around!! Why don’t you take the seat of honor, here. I’d like to introduce you to my partner in crime, First Officer Jodfrey. Behind him, usually sits our navigator, but,  he drank a bit too much coffee and is visiting the head, as we speak…”
            Matty shook the hand of the man seated to the right, as he sat down, trying not to touch any of the controls by accident. “Pleased to meet you sir!! Thank you for waiting for me!”
            The man laughed and looked up at the pilot. “We  have a real gentleman here, Captain!! Someday, soon, he’ll come looking for your job!!”

      
           It was a marvel to the teenaged boy– The instrument panel — gauges, lights, dials. It all seemed like a dream…  One moment he was  a boy on a tractor,  the next, he sat behind the controls of a powerful aircraft that was gliding through the soundless air, effortlessly, on an invisible freeway in the sky. The three talked for a while, about endless wars, duty, and country. And then, the two men said their goodbyes, and wished Matty Godspeed….

          The boy returned to his seat, once again, studied quizzically by his fellow travelers. Who WAS this boy??
          He sat down and looked out the window at the clouds, far below, and at a jetliner in the distance, screaming through the empty sky, heading away… towards… well, somewhere, far from the place that Matty knew for all of his 17 years. A place called home…

      

       He leaned back and closed his eyes again, and pictured the rolling fields, and, the battleship gray paint on the weathered  barns. He felt the warm memories wash over him, and fill his heart. They were the lifeline that had saved him from his  biggest fear- a life of loneliness, because of the feelings he held, deep inside…

                  November, 1968


          “Hey, Bobby!! Wait up, would ya!!” Matty quickened his pace, weaving his way through the crowded halls of the old school. The blond Adonis spotted him and moved to the side of the teaming hall, waiting for his best friend to catch up.
                “Man, I wasn’t sure you heard me! You looked, but, you kept walking!! Didn’t you see me at first??”
                “Uh… yeah… no… I mean, I wasn’t sure it was you…” The boy’s voice betrayed his excuse.
                 “Whatta ya mean?? You were looking right at me!  What’s the matter, your eyes goin’ bad or something?” Matty looked at the boy, and, realized that there was more going on than Bobby was saying. “Come on, Bobby, let’s head to the john, I have to take a leak.”
                 “So, what do you need me for? You want me to hold it for you?” Bobby half smiled, but, then it was gone again….
                  “Are you OK?  You’re acting a little weird… Come on, I want to talk to you about something. And, I want to give you something, too.”
                   “Naw,  I gotta run!  I’ll be late for Fedi’s class, and, she’s a bitch!!  Maybe I’ll catch you later…”
                  “BOBBY!!!”  But it was no use. The boy kept walking, and, even picked up the pace, as he rounded the corner into the main hall.

                  Matty watched his friend disappear. This was going to be harder than he thought! He reached into his jacket pocket and felt the little leather box again, then headed to his first class…

                  The day went by in agonizing fashion for Matty. He found himself watching the second hand on the generic clocks that marked the passage of time, above every classroom door in the old building. When the final bell sounded, the boy already had the stack of books tucked under his skinny arm, and, was vying for position in the surging crowd of teenagers racing for the exits, and freedom….
                 Once he reached the sidewalk outside the side entrance, he searched the area for signs of his best friend… Nothing. He sat down on the granite capped wall near the entrance, and waited. This was their meeting spot… Bobby would be by in due time.
                It wasn’t until ten minutes had passed, that the tall blond boy realized that he was waiting in vain. He walked back into the building and through the winding halls, until he reached the bank of chocolate colored lockers… Number 238. Bobby’s locker… Matty turned the dial on the combination padlock. Right to 9, left all the way past 9 to 36, right, back to 17… The lock opened, and the boy removed it from the handle and opened the steel door… The boys knew the combinations of each others’ lockers… They were best friends, after all… inside, Bobby’s books were mostly gone… On top of the remaining books, was a folded piece of lined paper. Matty’s name was printed on the outsde.
               He took the note, and, closed the door,  re-locking it with the bulky steel padlock…
               A sense of foreboding filled his heart… Bobby wasn’t one for notes. He walked down the empty hall and out of the massive brick building, and headed home, with the note in his left hand. The path to the red Cape was lonely and full of memories… Matty stumbled along, deep in thought, and, reached the little house in the blink of an eye, his shoes, testament to the journey but his heart  lost in time and hurting from the possibilities contained in the message clutched in his trembling hand.

              He was alone now, in his upstairs bedroom.. The house was still. Baby DJ was napping, and, his mom had followed suit. Matty changed from his school clothes, after removing the small leather box from his pocket, and, placing it atop the dresser in the corner of the shadowy room. He placed the note on the desk near the wooden chair in which he sat to get dressed in the morning…
            Finally, he was ready… He sat down on the small chair, and opened the folded piece of paper…  It was headed, ‘To Matty, my best friend in the world’… The next words cut like a knife– ‘I want you to go on without me, and make Mike proud. I’m sorry that I can’t go with you. It hurts so much. I don’t know why this happened to us, but I love you anyways, koles. Make them remember us, Matty. I know you will.  love, Bobby’

          The afternoon slipped away and the boy sat in the chair and prayed.  The years of joy and pain melted together in his reeling mind and drew a deep sadness to his aching heart. This was not happening. It could not happen…

            The boy arose and donned his warm red flannel shirt. He put the dark blue, football sweater on with the white stripes on the arm, carefully placed his rosary beads in his pants pocket, and set his jaw. Grabbing the leather box from the dresser top, Matty asked God for the strength of His love and set off to find the only boy on earth who spoke the same language as him. He left the red, Cape Cod house before his mother could ask where he was going, and headed down the winding path near  the silent marsh,  drawn to the place where his lover waited on that cold November eve…

           [Continued in Part 3]
          
              
  

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