The two friends climbed the glacier -cut outcropping and reached the summit and the table sized ledge, their bare feet clinging to the pocked limestone…

Matty walked out and stepped carefully to the edge of the precipice… Five hundred feet below, the winding stream carved it’s way into the ancient canyon, gurgling over the remnants of another time, until it disappeared into the mist of a roaring waterfall.
      The blond boy turned to look at the bronze skinned boy… “I’ll miss you, Bobby…”

      His quiet buddy nodded and tried to smile, fighting back the tears that slowly tumbled from his sad, blue eyes… “Good luck, Matty…”
      The thin blond boy turned and felt the warm updraft from the canyon floor swirl around his naked torso. He closed his eyes and pushed off the windswept overhang and he was falling,  through the golden sky… plummeting towards the unknown mist. His heart raced and a jagged hole bled reluctant memories, leaving him feeling lost and empty inside. The ache became a deep and searing pain and he tried but could no longer see the top of the mountain behind him, or the one true friend he had ever known.

       The 17 year old flinched and opened his eyes… His heart pounded and he looked around, disoriented.  Slowly, he realized the whooshing air from the overhead vent and the glinting reflection of the summer sun off the silver wing of the banking airliner.

      “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left, you will see the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains… And, if you look far enough left, and are fortunate to be seated on the port side of the plane, you will see the snow capped peak of one of the tallest mountains in the lower 49… There are taller peaks, but none prettier…Pike’s Peak, named after the famous explorer Zebulon Pike, after his discovery in the early 1800’s… Formerly known as ‘El Capitan’, to the earlier, Spanish explorers in the area…”

        Matty took a deep breath and his heart beat slowed, leaving him with a haunting feeling. He had not felt this lonely for a very long time. The captain’s voice droned on, and the contemplative young man leaned back into the grey seat, and thought about the challenges that lie ahead, and the love that he had  risked to make this journey. He looked down at his tanned hands and turned the right one palm up, and surveyed the tiny white scar  near the base of his thumb. He ran the fingers from his left hand across the scar and felt the little ridge that marked the ‘V’ shaped imperfection. It no longer hurt, he thought, in fact, it had only hurt for a few days, perhaps a week, after he and Bobby became ‘blood brothers’… It seemed so long ago, but really, it was just a few years back… back in the days that he would remember as his childhood….

                                            April, 1969

       “Hey!! Don’t freakin’ take half my hand with your carving, you maniac!! Geezz!! I knew I should have done it myself… What, am I gonna need stitches before this is said and done?”
        Bobby giggled. “You shoulda stayed still, Bubba!! I wouldn’t have stabbed you like that!! All I was trying to do was cut you deep enough to draw a little blood.”

        “Yeah?? Well, you got a little all right!! Geezz!! It looks like a number 7!! How’d you do that?? Oh, and don’t be blaming me for your bloodthirsty tendencies, either!! I didn’t move at all! Even if I would have, you had my hand under your arm and trapped against your stomach. It couldn’t have moved much!”
         Bobby snickered and looked over his shoulder at his best friend. “Yeah, right! Maybe I should have put  it in my lap and made you hold on! I’ll bet you would have liked that better!”
        “Dream on, you pervert! That’s all you think about! Man, how do you get through your classes, anyways?? All you think about is sex… Even in gym, for cryin’ out loud!!”
         The boy just laughed and handed Matty the knife. “You were looking at the same thing I was, so, don’t deny it, St. Matthew! I was dressing right next to you, remember?  Now, cut me. Before you stop bleeding! We gotta do this!!”
         Matty took the pocket knife and groaned… “I didn’t see his ‘problem’ until you pointed it out, and, by the way, I think he saw us looking! It makes me embarrassed, just thinking about it! How would you like to pop a boner in the lockerroom, where all the guys could see?”
          “Well, if they helped me get rid of it, I wouldn’t mind, one little bit… Especially that Keith Durbin… Man, he has a hot ass!! I can look at him all day in that white jockstrap ! Or, without it… those perfect white buns!! OOOO!! Man, I’d love to give him one of my nudie massages!! You know, Koles, like the ones you never want until I pull your bvds down…”
          “Oh, quit!! You’re going to end up getting all worked up over a guy that has a girlfriend… And, she gives him everything he wants, from what I’ve heard! How are you gonna compete with that?”

           Bobby laughed heartily… “How do you think?? Do you really think she could do him better than me?? Come on! You’re an expert on that!  Now, cut me! Or, I’ll have to open you up again!!”
          “OK, OK… Eww.. I hate this!! You know I would never hurt you… Oh, man… I don’t think I can do this to you, Bobby!!  I’m serious… I’ll end up taking your thumb off or something! Look at how my hand is shaking!!”
           “Just push down on it! I’ll be OK… Come on, Great Trapper! If you can skin muskrats, you can poke me with a little knife!”
           “Oh my God… it’s not the same thing. Besides, you know I hate skinning them! I only do it to make a few extra bucks for the family…  OK, there…. It’s bleeding… well, at least a little!”

             With that, the two boys joined hands, blood for blood, and stayed that way while the blood mingled.
             “Well, Bubba, we’re the same now!! Nobody can change that. Even if they try…”
             “Bobby, they couldn’t have, anyways… only we can do that…. Listen, promise me that you’ll never give up on me, and leave…”
             “Huh?  What’re you talkin’ about Koles? You’re the one talking about leaving, not me!”
             “Bobby!! I thought we had that settled…”
             The 14 year old giggled… “I’m just joking, Matty. I love it when you get mad! The corner of your mouth turns down!”

             “Huh? What’re you saying? You like messin’ with my head? While you’re pretty much sitting in my lap?? Huh?? You crazy, or somethin’?”  With that, Matty grabbed the lower thigh of his buddy’s right leg and held on, as Bobby yelped and squirmed, laughing hysterically… It was one of his most sensitive spots and soon the boys were wrestling for supremacy again, on the ground, at the base of the giant tree with the rickety ladder.  The place where they had first explored their feelings and shared the budding passions that had now intensified into a bond whose seal was the lifeblood running through their young veins… A friendship that only death could arbitrate.

             It was late morning when the two teenagers noticed the smoke… They smelled it first, as they wound their way from the treehouse and down the marsh path. But soon, it hung like a fog in the trees all around them, and the sounds of the sirens grew louder… It was an unnerving feeling for Matty once he realized the direction that the smoke seemed to be coming from.
             Now, the path exited the edges of the marsh as the boys vaulted over the last small stream and jogged nervously down the trail leading to the open field where a soldier had once broken Matty’s heart.
              “Oh my God!! Look, Matty… the woods near your house!! They’re on fire!!”
            Both boys were now sprinting, and within seconds, had reached the scene of the leaping flames that were lapping at the trunks of the towering white pines, feeding on the pine straw that covered the forest floor… A fire truck was already disgorging its crew and hoses as the boys arrived and volunteers in personal cars were screeching around the corner of the sleepy street, turning the neighborhood into some kind of horrible carnival, as billows of white- grey smoke choked the air…
           “Back!!” ordered a large man in a heavy fireman’s jacket, steering the anxious boys towards the relative safety of Matty’s uncle’s house, and the open, green lawn surrounding it.
           “What happened?” yelled the blond boy, as he and Bobby were frantically pushed back…
           “Not now!!” was all the fireman said, as he scrambled to man the business end of the long hose, which had now inflated with the pressure from the nearby hydrant.
           The hose end sprang to life in a jolt as a second fireman braced the first from behind and the lever near the nozzle was pulled back. Soon, the drenching arc of water was being trained on the worst of the flames and the undergrowth was saturated, leaving smoldering pine straw and charred leaves, and a strange musty stench in the spring air that burned the back of Matty’s throat and stung his eyes, causing them to tear.
            But, at least the flames were gone, and the boys breathed a mutual sigh of relief… Only a short distance away was the little red Cape, and the original farmhouse was even closer. Both were safe, and the two boys started to walk towards the other side of the farmhouse, to join the cousins and all the families that had gathered to witness the unusual event.
            They didn’t make it far… “Hold on, you two!!” ordered another fireman… Matty turned; The man was walking towards him and his best friend, and he didn’t look happy.
            “So… What do YOU two know about this?”
            Matty looked at the man, quizzically, then at Bobby, before he answered. “What do you mean, sir?”
            “Just what I said, son… What do you know about this?? You know, the fire!! How did it start? What did you have to do with it?”
            Matty really didn’t like the man’s tone or the insinuation of his questions. “If you’re asking if we had anything to do with starting this, the answer is NO!! Why would we start a fire that might burn my house down?”
            “I didn’t ask you why, I asked you how!! If I want lip from you, I’ll …” He never finished because he was interrupted by a voice behind the two boys…
             “Wait a minute, there bud!! You’re talking to my nephew here, and, I don’t like the things you’re implying!! What’s the problem?? Do you like pushing kids around, is that it?”
             Matty turned. The voice belonged to his Uncle Stosh, who lived in the neighborhood where all the homes, save two, were occupied by relatives of the same family– Matty’s. In fact, the whole area had been a family farm, started by the boy’s grandparents and the farmhouse had been built by the men of the community, the head of which, was Matty’s granddad.
             “Who are you?” fumed the angry firefighter.
              “Trouble” was all Uncle Stosh said, as two other uncles arrived behind him. “If you want a piece of me, that’s one thing, but leave my nephew out of this!! He wasn’t even around when the fire started… Your own man saw two little kids running from the area… Two girls by his own description.” He stood there, an ex Navy man, with his hands on his hips, staring the red faced fire Captain down.
              “So, why didn’t you just say that, then, instead of trying to make me look bad?”
              “Just did. And, don’t come into our neighborhood and treat our kids like common criminals without any reason or proof!”
              With that, Uncle Stosh put his arm around his teenaged nephew and led him and his friend away, accompanied by the large and growing group of gathered cousins and friends…The cousins and uncles all closed ranks around the two boys. It was a moment that touched the 14 year old’s  heart. Community… family… safety… loyalty…blood… Not just words…

     Continued in Part 8….