On the darkened beach, the air was a lot warmer than the  July sea. The two boys staggered through the churning surf and made their way towards the barren shore. There, the sand was littered with the ancient carvings thrown onto it by the  persistent tumbling of millions of waves. Stones from the basement of time lay along side  the fragments of  shell- armored creatures, worn smooth into geometric anomalies. Here, a portion of a once graceful conch, now resembling something akin to the last tidbit of a child’s ice cream cone… There, a polished piece of granite, pink and cream colored. Indigenous to the New England story, and perhaps as old as Pangaea itself.

             Matty felt the loose assortment under his  feet as he trudged onto the rugged beach with Bobby at his side. A sudden breeze buffeted the naked boys as they shook the water from their soaked hair and climbed the gentle slope to the idling car. Joey stood there, grinning broadly.

               “So, you guys weren’t kidding! I thought you might have been yankin’ my chain… Maybe heading somewhere else… Uh… I guess I wouldn’t blame you. I mean, you guys seem like you’re having plenty of fun without me butting in!”

               Matty winced and caught Bobby’s smirk out of the corner of his eye. “No… no. We weren’t kidding… We actually weren’t sure you would show up after working all night.” He heard Bobby choke back a laugh, so he intentionally stumbled to the side, elbowing the shorter boy in the ribs at the same time. Bobby was startled, but not muzzled…

               “Fuck! You ’bout broke a rib that time! God, Koles. How ’bout watching where you swing those blasted elbows! Damn.. Who needs karate when you got those freakin’ things?”

                Matty turned to his lover and gave him a stern look. Sometimes, Bobby was just clueless!

               Joey, on the other hand, didn’t seem to pick up on the ‘secret’ signal… He was too busy, trying to avoid staring at the two naked boys! More or less… Matty reached the blacktop just ahead of Bobby and as he danced away from the hot exhaust of the Volkswagen, he caught  Joey giving him a quick once over… The boy dug his hands into his pockets and shifted his weight nervously. But then, Bobby arrived behind Matty and he almost strained to get a good look at the golden skinned youth. Bobby was oblivious, and still playing with his privates and muttering.

              “Damn… what the heck is itching me now? My poor balls…”

               Joey giggled at that. Matty just rolled his eyes.

              “So, Joey… Do you ever skinny dip?” Matty enquired, for lack of anything better to say.

               “Uh… well… Not really. I don’t hardly ever even come out here… at least lately. We did come here some last summer, to toke … uh… I guess that’s not somethin’ you guys are interested in.”

               “Naw… not really. We like our fun pretty much straight… Well, I mean, we have had our little adventures. Me and Bobby. But, that wasn’t really planned or anything. Kind of just happened when I fell through some ice one time…”

              “Ice?  You fell through the ice? No shit? Where? Back home?”

              “Yeah, no big deal… Maybe we’ll tell you about it someday…” the tall boy replied.

               Bobby snickered at that. “Yeah… No big deal… He almost freakin’ drowned, and then he almost turned into a popsicle… A BIG freakin’ blond haired popsicle! But, no big deal.. You know, I got him so drunk on Jack Daniels that night, that…”

              Matty elbowed his best friend again, forcing a deep grunt from him. “Maybe we’ll tell you all about it someday, Joey, when we’re not standing here in our birthday suits…”

             “Oh… hey! I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to keep you guys from your fun!  Maybe you want to finish your swim…”

              Matty interrupted the dark- haired boy… “No, it’s OK… We were just about done anyways. We managed to avoid all the sharks, even if we made enough noise to attract every one on the east coast!”

             “Yeah,” Bobby chimed in, “We made it through without becoming Eunises, or whatever the heck you called them!” He glanced at Matty who just rolled his eyes.

              “Eunuchs”.

              “What are those?” asked Joey.

              “Ask the walking encyclopedia with the deadly elbows,” Bobby snickered. “Something about guys who lost their balls and dicks to the sharks…”

              Joey looked confused and glanced at Matty with a frozen grin and then back at Bobby who was still scratching away and tugging on his rather large member.

            “Don’t listen to my buddy, ” Matty interjected,” He only hears what he wants to, unless there’s food or  sex involved. Other than that, he’s like a filter. Some gets through, the rest… well, every once in a while, it kind of tumbles out all mixed up and you never know if he’s talking about something really profound or he’s actually going nuts.”

            Joey giggled. “Are you sure you guys haven’t been smoking?  Dude…”

           Matty rolled his eyes and grabbed Bobby’s right arm, effectively stopping his ‘ballgame’. “Come on, you flea- bitten jerk master! Let’s get that fire started! Uh… By the way…. dude. You got any matches?”

           Bobby started scratching with his left hand. “What?”

           Matty sighed and looked at Joey. “See what I mean?”

          “Ahh… Got you covered, man… I got a lighter!” And with that, the dark haired boy pulled his hand out of his chinos and sure enough, there it was… Um… Well… Even in the dim light, Matty was pretty sure that unless Joey carried a whole lot of something else in his left pocket, well… he was sporting a pretty nice erection!

          So, the trio headed into the dunes after Joey pulled his blue Beetle off the road and killed the lights. It was easy to find the loose branches and driftwood for the fire. Someone had recently started a small fire not more than 100 feet from where the boys had left their gear. There was unburnt wood still in that firepit and a small pile of collected debris near that. Add a shopping bag from the 7-11 venture and it was only 10 minutes before the fire had caught and the larger branches were being added.

         “Hey Koles, let’s get those marshmallows goin’!” Bobby announced gleefully. {Bobby had always loved marshmallows} “Maybe we can melt some chocolate and dip them in it! Gawd! I can taste it already!!”  Bobby found his shorts and fished the jackknife out of the pocket and went to work on one of the empty Coke cans, ‘dissecting’ it to make an improvised cup. He poked a hole in one side near the top and jammed a thin branch through it. Voila! Now for some chocolate ‘fondu’!! While he was creating his pot on a stick, Matty donned his underwear and shorts. It seemed to intrigue Joey, who looked away quickly when the tall boy caught him browsing… Matty picked up his lover’s BVD’s and walked up behind Bobby and hugged him tenderly and then kissed him on the neck. He whispered into his right ear and handed the underwear to him…

         Joey grinned sheepishly… “So, can I ask you guys somethin’?”

         “Sure,” Matty responded. “What’s up?”

         “Well… Are you guys boyfriends… I mean, it’s OK if you are! I won’t tell noone! Uh… sorry. I guess I should…”

         “Yup! We’ve been ‘friends’ since… well… forever.” Matty relied nonchalantly.

         “Uh… You mean, like… friends?  Or, like BOYFRIENDS?”

         “We fuck every time we see each other, and there’s still stuff I want to try but Matty won’t do…” Bobby said, interrupting his chocolate melting venture… “OWW!! Damn! That can gets mucho hot!”

         Matty sighed and rolled his eyes. “Like I said, food or sex…”

        “Eunuch”, Bobby snickered, glancing at Matty.

         Joey looked back and forth at the two boys and giggled….

October, 1972

         “What’s up, Karnes”, 4th class cadet Matty inquired.

         “Just stopping by to remind you guys about the mixer… We’re leaving at 5 o’clock and I was told by the CQ that everyone going will be exempt from tours or other disciplinary measures that were scheduled for friday… Anyone who has to serve a tour will be on the quad before breakfast formation monday morning instead. They’re going to compress the tours to 45 minutes for anyone who was supposed to serve them on friday.”

         “Nice… Only we don’t have any.” Matty responded. “Still have a clean record. Just like you.” He glanced at his roomie from Texas. “Summers, you have any since the last ones?”

         Cadet Summers looked up from his trigonometry book and frowned. “Yeah, I got one from that fuckin’ jerkoff from Seattle. He caught me not squaring one freakin’, fuckin’ corner near the stairwell. He was waiting, fuckin’ tryin’ to fuckin’ ambush me!”

         Matty sat at his desk stone faced. There was little about Ron Summers that he found appealing, from his crude language to his massive ego around his football skills. When he screwed up and got caught, the blue- eyed boy felt little sympathy. In fact, he relished the time when Summers was forced to be on the terrazzo, marching in his parade blues with the M1 carbine on his shoulder. Back and forth, under the watchful eye of an upperclass cadet assigned the duty of administering this tedious punishment. For the 18 year old from Connecticut, it was a blessing to have one less roommate if even for a few hours.

        “Well, there’s your answer, Karnes…” He looked back down at his engineering textbook. Karnes was no favorite either. Another ego maniacal cadet. He was an older cadet who gained access to the academy system by attending a military prep school. He was a ‘by the letter’ type of person, completely ‘sold’ on the ‘system’ and wild- eyed in his commitment to the ‘national defense’… Almost a by product of the Cold War that the tall cadet found unsettling. There was just something a little TOO enthusiastic about him. In Matty’s mind, a person not to be trusted. He shuddered at the thought that this guy was making his way through the system in laudatory fashion. Almost to a man, the upperclass looked at him with a certain awe… They seemed unfazed by the underlying flaws in his character. To Matty he was a robot.

         “Summers. You should have squared that corner. Even if noone was watching. We’re under orders as fourth- class cadets. It’s not up to us to decide for ourselves if an order is inconvenient or intolerable. We should always…”

          Matty interrupted. “Is that all, Karnes?” He looked sternly at the cadet in the doorway.

          Karnes sneered in his typical fashion. There was no love lost between the two. “Oh, that’s right. You have a better way of doing things. I suppose you’re going to change the Air Force to suit…”

          “Yeah,” Matty interrupted again. “You can leave now, Karnes. When I need to listen to a lecture about my readiness, I’ll take it cold, from someone who’s my superior. Not from you. Go somewhere else and pretend that you’re not a ‘squat’ like the rest of us. I don’t have time for this.” He glared at the white- faced  cadet from Illinois.

         Karnes glared back with narrowed eyes, pivoted sharply on his heel, and left the dorm room closing the door briskly behind him. Summers looked over at Matty and frowned. “Reed, I don’t know why you think you should talk to him that way… He’s got some pretty important friends. I wouldn’t be making enemies of him if you want to be anybody here.”

         The blond- haired cadet looked up from the thick book and replied softly, “You’re welcome, Summers.” Then, he went back to studying.

        Summers reddened, shook his head, and started to speak, but stopped and said nothing.

        Matty put his head in his hands and tried to focus on the trigonometry necessary to calculate the engineering problem. But now, his focus was gone, so he slapped the book shut and opened the big desk drawer. Inside, was a lock box that contained personal items that he held dear. Letters, mostly. From the homefront. Some from his middle brother, affirming his duty to safeguard the aquariums of tropical fish that Matty had established a few years back. He had always wanted a real pet. A dog, more than anything else, but in the house with 7 kids and two cats (this varied from year to year), a big yellow dog that he dreamed about was little more than a fantasy. So, he settled for the beauty of the tropical fish and cultivated the natural plants to create a fantastical environment. The two aquariums were quite beautiful, and now in the hands of a not- so- enthusiastic middle brother… He updated Matty in sporadic fashion. After all, he hated to write letters almost as much as he hated schoolwork.

           There were other letters from every member of the family. Some were constructed with very large letters as the youngest brother was still learning to write. DJ’s letters were brief, and sometimes funny- Many times, the tall cadet would sit, shaking his head after receiving one, for 10 or 15 minutes, trying to decipher the phrasing. It often helped to just read the words. Many were spelled phonetically, so that too close a scrutiny just confused the issue!

            And then, there were the special letters. Letters signed, {love, ‘B’}… It was a plan that both boys had devised for their communications. Matty had not been sure that his correspondence wouldn’t be ‘inspected’ at some point in transit, before it reached his little, locked  box in the cadet post office. So, he had asked Bobby to be discreet, after receiving his first letter. It was hard enough to read the words and smell his lover on the paper without getting discovered in some unforeseen way! So, he read and reread the precious letters and dreamed of the day that he could finally kiss the soft hair on the back of Bobby’s neck again and taste the nectar of their love.

              It had been 111 days since that night at the sanctuary, and the boy’s loneliness seemed to cut into him more deeply, every passing day.

               And, something about that last letter just seemed… peculiar. Guarded. Artificial, even. The blond -haired cadet  read it over and over again, until his two roommates started questioning him about it’s contents, and shooting glances at each other, that Matty wasn’t supposed to see… or feel. But, long ago, the young man had developed the instincts of a vulnerable creature, because that was really what he relied on for survival. He had been hunted, and knew that it might never stop. He had learned to see things without looking and to feel a look or even a glance.

                 He would live this way for 45 years.

Continued in Part 8…

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