It was dark as the two boys made their way back through the quiet marsh. They walked side by side, with their arms around each other. Bobby had his arm draped protectively over Matty’s shoulder, and Matty held his friend loosely around the waist.

The path was eerie but quiet and the boys walked slowly, content to be sharing that moment. Matty felt safe with his muscular companion and altho he knew that he was in the crosshairs of a disturbed man, he trusted in the feeling deep in his heart that everything would be resolved and that Bobby could be counted upon to look out for him, perhaps better than any other living soul…

So, the two blond teenagers exited the cut -through that passed by the area of Matty’s shattering experience. Bobby held him  close and peered intently down the little peninsula that jutted into the swamp proper, just to make sure that noone was lurking. He turned to his lover and kissed him tenderly on the cheek and said, “Bubba, I never said how sorry I was that you went through that stuff. I know it happened before I met you, but, I wish I could have been here to help… No kid should be alone, that way, when stuff happens. I think a lot about that and it makes me so mad! So mad I want to scream and make it like it never happened even though I know I can’t… I don’t know what else to say, even though I practiced saying this stuff to you, but I guess I wish if it had to happen, it happened to me and not to someone like you.”

It was the final sentence that overwhelmed the 14- year- old boy, and the tears poured from his eyes as he convulsed in the arms of his best friend. The two boys held each other, crying for a long time as the April sky pulsed with the sparkle of a million stars, each twinkling with the joy of the heavens and lighting the way home to the little red cape of the young gay boy. It was the first time in his youth that he felt so safe in the shadows of the weeping willows that marked the site of his despair.

He said just one thing to his friend- “I love you…” He whispered it into his ear as he rested his head on the boy’s shoulder. The tears of pain turned to tears of joy as he looked to the sparkling sky and thanked the heavens for the grace that had been bestowed upon him and the mercy of the Lord to bring such joy into his life. And the boy in the swamp smiled inside the secret place where he lived, the place where noone could find him to hurt him again….

It was nearly 8 o’clock by the time Matty got home. Bobby had been true to his word and had walked all the way with him  to the edge of the little farm and there they said good night, in the deep shadows of the towering pines, behind a hedge that formed a protective barrier on the east side of the homestead border. Matty and Bobby kissed and then embraced one more time, and before they parted, Bobby asked, “Are you gonna be alright, Bubba?”

“Now I am”, Matty said, smiling. “Thanks, you maniac…”

“Anytime, Dracula…”

Bobby laughed, and after one last grope of the blond boy’s butt, made tracks for the big field and the path through the marsh that led him home, giggling the whole time.

As Matty walked into the house he heard the sound of the console television and the darkened kitchen  indicated a certain calmness had set in, after the frantic activity of the early evening. As he walked past the kitchen table, he noticed the light coming from under the door of one of the first floor bedrooms, the one occupied by the two youngest girls, Cathy and Lucy… The boy hesitated but then continued on, through the swinging louvered door into the living room and the staircase to the second floor where he and Gerry shared a large bedroom. The one with the $35 blue carpet that now smelled like rancid spaghetti sauce, even after being hosed down and shampooed with carpet cleaner.

The TV droned on in the living room, as the blond boy rounded the corner and greeted the two tired parents.

“Hi Mom, Pop…”

“You’re back… said, the weary mother. “Matty, I wish you would tell someone when you leave… I had to ask everyone before I remembered the phone call from Bobby, and decided that you were off with him. “Could you at least tell somebody when you’ll be back, so it doesn’t leave me guessing?”

“Sorry, Mom. It was kind of crazy around here when I left, what with Gerry getting sick, and, the cops showing up…”

“The cop,  not cops! One… By the way, I wish you would call him a police officer, and not a cop. You know how much I hate it when you use slang words!”

“OK… the police officer, then. By the way, what did he want? Anything important?”

Matty’s mom looked across the room at her husband and exchanged brief glances, and then she turned to Matty and said, “Nothing too important, but, he was asking if we noticed a certain person that the police department has been looking for.”

Matty felt a chill run up his spine. He looked at his mom and then his dad, and, fidgeted with the buttons on his blue football sweater. “Who are they looking for?”

“Well, it’s nothing for you to worry about, but, just in case you see him, I want you to stay away from him. He’s been seen driving a blue car, some kind of … what was it dad? A Plymouth sedan, was it?”

“No, not a Plymouth, a Pontiac… Pontiac Tempest sedan”, Pop added.

“But, like I said, Matty… Matty… Are you listening?”

The boy looked up, deep in thought. “Yes, I’m listening, just thinking is all…”

“Well, like I said, it’s nothing for you kids to be concerned about but, I want you to keep an eye out for that car and the man… He’s the father of Henry and Jack … the Martinelli’s that live at the other end of Spring Street. You know, the ones that have 6 kids and the big black dog…”

“OK… yeah, I know who you mean… uh… what did he do? You know, for the police to be looking for him.”

“Well, he did some bad things that we shouldn’t talk about, and, I don’t know what to say anymore.You know, Matty, there are people in this world, who always seem to need help, but, even if you give it to them, it doesn’t always work… Mr. Martinelli is one of those people. Your grandpa helped him a lot, when he was alive, but, it never seemed like he was happy about it. He drank too much, and never even paid back the money that he was loaned, even tho he agreed to do just that.. Well, none of this matters anymore. Your grandpa told me one day that he never expected to get the money back, really. He would have gladly given it to him, anyways, so the children wouldn’t go hungry. But, he made the agreement with Mr. Martinelli because that’s what a real man does. He didn’t want to treat him like he was less, just because he needed money that he didn’t have. He hoped that the money and the job that he found for him would make the difference and it would all help Helen and the kids…” She sighed, and exchanged looks with the boy’s dad again. “Well, just keep an eye out for him, but, stay away from him. He’s done some things that I don’t want to talk about, but, he’s noone that you should trust anymore. Make sure all your brothers and sisters stay away from him, too…”

“OK, I will.” Matty turned, and put his foot on the first stair to the second floor, but, stopped and asked,”Is that all the cop… uh, I mean, policeman wanted?”

“Yes. He was warning us and asking if we had seen him. He left a phone number to call where the person looking into this will take the information if we have any. Now, could you go upstairs and check on your brother? He’s supposed to be doing some homework, but, you know how he dawdles…”

“Is he OK, after… well, since he threw up?”

Matty’s dad started to say something but was interrupted by mom. “He’s fine, now. In fact, I had to make him some sandwiches because he was so hungry. In the future, Matty, please keep your dares about things like getting A’s in school, not how much you boys can eat. I don’t want to go through that, ever again.”

The blond boy looked at his parents sheepishly, and agreed,”Me neither!” And then, he made his way up the 13 creaky stairs to the newly furbished room with two of everything and a smell from the bottom of a garbage can, or the guts of an 11 year old boy….

That night, Matty dreamed — about the emerald waters of the magical lake that almost took his life, and the ‘Grand Old Lady’ station wagon that had carried the family on it’s tired back for so many years, and about the warm embrace of his lover’s arms and the ache in his heart that he felt each time they parted, and finally he was in the wide open country, atop the most beautiful stallion, with the wind at his back. The sound of the giant hoofs filled his ears and drowned out the howling of the creatures with the bloody fangs that pursued him in the distance. He felt the solid muscle of the galloping horse that carried him to safety, slowly harden and turn to solid wood and shiny varnish, and suddenly he was on a carousel again, and the horse went up and down, as the boy desperately pleaded with God to give him life again, and the demons came from the shadows, their eyes ablaze….

The teenager awoke with a start and sat up in bed. It was nearly daybreak. He pulled the blankets up around his neck and covered his naked flesh. He slept with nothing on, and had, for many years, even in the coldest of weather and in the poorly heated room. He could not stand the choking feeling of clothes around him as he slept- grabbing at him and choking him as he twisted and turned, trying to free himself. He was not ashamed of his nakedness, although it was forbidden to expose it to other’s in the family outside the intimacy of the bedroom, where a concession had been made after much debate. The argument was ended on grounds of personal choice and Matty’s deep belief that all of God’s children were beautiful, and made in his image. But, outside the bedroom, or bathroom, his beliefs took a back seat to the puritanical views of his parents, so, he took the pair of Bvd’s that he kept close at hand, and put them on as soon as he pulled the covers back, and then,  because it was so cold, he shrugged and dressed completely in a flannel shirt and his cotton Wrangler jeans. He slipped his feet into a pair of moccasins that he had received  as a Christmas gift and headed downstairs to the darkened first floor.
Most of the family wouldn’t be up for a few hours yet, but, it didn’t matter to the teenaged boy. He liked his private times that were so rare in a house teaming with children. So, he used the bathroom as it was available (a real luxury) and washed the cobwebs from his eyes, before proceeding to the kitchen. There, he quietly pulled out a saucepan from the cabinet near the stove and poured some milk into it and set it on the stove top burner, and waited for it to heat. The Nestle’s Quick was on the countertop, but, Matty reached up into the cabinet  near the refrigerator and extracted the jar of Ovaltine from behind the Quaker Oats Oatmeal container. He was partial to the taste, and much preferred his cocoa made this way, altho the ‘Quick’  was often consumed when he made cold chocolate milk. In his mind, they were completely different drinks, each deserving of it’s own recipe!

Just as the milk was reaching the perfect temperature (just short of boiling) and Matty started to pour the hot liquid into the waiting mug, he heard the sound of the paper boy outside the door, as he rounded the corner with his bike and reached the door on the outside porch. He put the saucepan down and opened the door to the outside porch. Billy, the 10- year -old paperboy, was just opening the door to the porch to put the newspaper under cover.

“Hey Billy! Morning!! How’s it hangin’, kid?”

Billy laughed. He was a very happy and cute kid… “You know, Matty!  Down to my knees, like usual!!”

Matty grinned.  “So, like a horse then? Hey, did you finally get that first hair?”

“Naw… Not yet, but, I check every day! Someday soon, I’ll get some and my stupid brother will stop calling me ‘little baldy’! Hey, Matty, by the way, could you tell Gerry to meet us over to the pool at 10 o’clock?”

“The pool? Ain’t it a little cold for swimming, Billy?” Matty laughed.

“Yeah, just a little,” Billy giggled. “No, me and him and Petey are ‘sposed to play ‘Cowboys and Indians’ in the woods in back of there… I can’t wait! It’s gonna be great!”

“OK Baldy, I’ll tell him!!” Matty giggled and started to close the door…

“MATTY!! Not nice!!” Billy waved and got back on his bike, grinning and shaking his head…

Matty closed the door and took the newspaper to the kitchen table and dismantled it, removing the sports page, the comics, and the local news. He went back to the stove and finished making the cocoa that he had started and took the first, luxurious sip… It was silky smooth and Ooh… Soo good!!

Then, he turned on the little lamp on the bay window sill, and sat down in his father’s chair at the head of the table and opened the sports page… The Yankees were still in Baltimore and playing pretty well, all things considered, so Matty checked the high school sports area, but, for some reason, the basketball score was not listed from the recent game. He scanned the section, front to back but it just wasn’t there. ‘Late again’, he thought… The basketball coach had a habit of not reporting the scores punctually, and, since the sports page went to press at a certain time, if the score wasn’t reported at the deadline, it was simply never printed. Disappointed, Matty threw the section down on the bench that he usually sat on to eat his family meals, and took another sip of hot cocoa.

It was then that he saw the article. It appeared on the front page of the local news section. His blood ran cold. In large letters was a headline over a three paragraph- long article that read, ‘Local Man Arrested for Attempted Robbery.’ He pushed the mug to the side and picked up the newspaper. The article described the capture of the man in the blue car. It seems that time had finally run out for the tormentor of the young boy’s childhood… In a second attempt to rob the same liquor store, Mr. Martinelli had miscalculated once more, this time attempting to do the deed after dark, by breaking through a rear door into the business. What he didn’t know was that the police had stepped up patrols in the area because of some vandalism and spotted the blue Tempest parked at the rear of building, after closing. They stopped to investigate, and found the door pried open and the would be burglar loading cases of booze in the trunk. The incompetent man had run for the neighboring woods, but, apparently the cop on duty was quite a bit faster and collared him after a brief struggle. There was no more information, but, what Matty had read was quite enough…

The 14 -year -old lad was stunned and laid the newspaper down carefully on the table, folding it in a way that displayed the shocking article. His mind raced and then a gentle peace settled over him. He rose slowly and pulled the collar of his flannel shirt closer to his neck and gazed out the kitchen window at the green fairways of the golf course across the road. The morning dew still clung to the short cut grass of the 5th green, giving it a silvery sheen. A lone  dove took flight, and fluttered across the morning sky as the tears rolled down the young man’s face and God smiled on him once again…