Teenaged boys can be fickle when it comes to certain things , but there are constants as well… Food is an elixir. Cars are magic carpets to a faraway place. Rules are meant to be broken… But, most of all, love is war. All consuming. Bloody. No prisoners taken…

              Bobby and me were like that. The heat of our love seared us in ways that only a first love can. We were totally different boys, drawn to the same mystical place. The light was blinding but we could not look away. It beckoned us and made clear it’s intent. It would steal away things that made us individuals and enslave our hearts in the most wonderful way.

            We fought. We drew blood. We cried in despair. We drew together and forgave each other.

             We loved. In a way that remains in my heart to this day. He became a part of me. I can still feel him touch me. I can still feel his smile…

  July, 1972

            “Hey Koles! Are you coming home for Halloween?” Bobby asked, grinning.

            “Yeah, sure… I’ll be dressed in pinstripes”, Matty replied sarcastically.

             “Huh?” Joey interjected, not comprehending the banter.

             Bobby laughed. “Uh… he’s either talkin’ about being dressed like a mafioso or most likely that if he did come home, he’d end up in the brig, because he’ll be a soldier soon.”

              Joey shrugged and looked back and forth at both boys quizzically. “Uh… I don’t get it… What’s a brig?”

              “It’s like a military jail… You know. If he comes home without orders, he’ll get arrested for being away without leave… AWOL, they call it,” Bobby proclaimed, proud of his knowledge on the subject.

              Joey looked at Matty and then back at Bobby, and seemed even more confused. “Dude… if you knew he wouldn’t be able to come home without getting arrested, why did you ask him if he was coming home, then?”

             Bobby chuckled at that and replied, “Well, it’s just the way we talk most of the time. Gotta keep my Bubba on his toes!”

             “Oh…” Joey responded, still looking confused.

             Matty looked at Bobby straight- faced, and countered, “So, since I can’t come home, what will you do on Halloween?”

            “I don’t know… maybe dress up like a Puritan with a boner.”

            Joey almost choked on his chocolate marshmallow, as the tall blond boy nodded and grinned discreetly. This was classic Bobby. The fire flickered in the sand pit as the two lovers sat side- by- side, like a married couple, and took comfort in the things that had brought them to this place…

          And so, the three boys sat around the roaring fire and  shared the bounty of the 7- 11 store, albeit in a somewhat modified version. But, it was all good . Melted ‘$100,000 bars’ on top of Hostess apple pies was even more delicious with some marshmallows melted into the chocolate mix! Top that with a YooHoo and the meal was complete!! Who could possibly ask for more, unless it might be an extra Coke or Fanta orange soda….

         It was nearly  4 o’clock when the boys dozed off in front of the dwindling fire. Bobby had fallen asleep wrapped in Matty’s arms as the tall blond boy held him from behind with the shorter boy’s head resting on his chest. It was the first time they had expressed their love in this public way, and it felt empowering. Joey seemed intrigued and had asked a lot of questions, lusting for answers to his own dilemma. A gay boy living in a straight world… Amazed that in a small, blue- collared town, two boys had found each other in this way.

            Bobby and Matty were similarly amazed at the coincidence that Joey divulged. You see, he had family connections in the little town of Newton. An aunt, who both boys knew. The mother of one of their teammates in the Little League days. It was as if the stars had come into alignment in the strangest of ways… A simple stop at a convenience store had brought the three together. The breadth of a feather could have changed that. It might have never happened in so many ways.

          Matty would often wonder why it had, in the years after… But, that night, on that isolated beach, it was of little consequence.

October, 1972

          The silver and blue bus rolled to a stop in front of the darkened brick building, its tires crunching on the grey gravel, sending little pieces scattering under the massive weight of the sleek machine. Onboard, the excitement reached a nervous crescendo, and in the tall cadet’s stomach, the realization of two months of anxiety  gurgled loudly enough for the boy’s seat mate to remark, “Wow, Reed! Take it easy! There’ll be plenty to go around! Me… I want a blond with boobs that scream ‘touch me… lick me… freakin’ bury your face in me!'” He licked his lips obscenely and shook his face violently, as tho he was experiencing one of his fantasies. Matty smiled nervously. A frozen smile at best, as he steeled himself for the night ahead and prayed silently that he would not be discovered. He felt himself drifting off into the same state as he had experienced that evening in Jack’s Valley. It had all become just a bad dream, and he was almost ‘out of body’ in a sense, watching from afar. Stone- faced and numb. He felt the pressure behind his eyes and the cold sweat that sometimes came just before he was sick.

         Suddenly tho, he shook himself back to reality and the ‘task’ at hand. If he was to survive this night in good stead, he would have to use his best acting skills and convince these raving straight boys that he was one of them… His thoughts careened to Bobby, but he swept those away just as quickly, and gritted his teeth until his jaw hurt. This was no time for those types of thoughts!! He grabbed his overnight bag from the overhead bin and joined the teeming line of ‘civie’ clad cadets as they prepared to exit the bus. But, before they could disembark, there was an order of business to deal with. The doors to the bus ‘swooshed’ open and an officer appeared.

        “All right, gentlemen… Listen up!”  A hush fell instantly over the packed bus. “Now then, I want to remind you before you start your evening, that each and every one of you represent one of the finest institutions on God’s green earth, and it is your duty to make that institution proud! I don’t want to hear about drunken brawls or unwanted advances. You are off- duty once you exit these doors, but you are still Air Force cadets! I expect you to honor the traditions that are now a part of everything you do… These ladies were nice enough to invite you up here to have a little fun and blow off a little steam. I’m sure you’ll be respectful of their efforts, the school grounds upon which you are welcomed guests, and the expectations that they have of you. Make us proud boys! DIS— MISSED!!!”

         With that, a cheer erupted and the line began to move. Only 10 yards away was the festively decorated entrance with the huge banner that read, ‘USAFA ROCKS! Welcome cadets!’ The jubilance turned to coolness and before long, the small auditorium was packed with clean- cut young men who were  milling around, after stashing their overnight bags on a series of tables down one end of the worn maple- floored room.  There, they awaited the arrival of their counterparts, the female newbies of the small college. It wasn’t long before the anxious boys were rewarded. A giggling gaggle of excited young ladies dressed in their best jeans and tie-died accessories descended from a winding staircase where Matty had already stationed himself, unaware of the pending procession. You see, at the base of the staircase was a very large dog, a St. Bernard in fact, who had made himself comfortable like a giant puppy, stretched out in a ‘devil may care’ pose, panting and drooling onto the discolored wood floor. The tall cadet had always loved dogs, and was drawn to the 200 pound mutt who liked him immediately and let the boy know it. Every scratch behind the ears or belly rub was greeted with a smile… Yes. Dogs CAN smile!

             So, Matty was getting to know his new friend when the footsteps on the staircase turned into a stampede. ‘Tiny’ never flinched  or moved out of the way, and girl after girl just hopped over him, smiling at the blond cadet and occasionally bending down to pet the large mascot. Matty tried to induce ‘Tiny’ into moving but it was useless. He didn’t know, at least not yet, what the trick to all of that would entail. By the time the evening was in full gear, it became apparent…

              Tiny was a party dog. Fond of the ‘suds’ and ‘spuds’, and belligerent when intoxicated. He moved ever so slowly but consumed magnificent amounts of Budweiser ale and slept where he wanted, once he was content and well… doggoned tired… {sorry!}

                But now, the task was at hand, and the tall cadet joined his roommates who were anxiously viewing the possible ‘hookups’ and talking beneath their breaths about some rather unseemly strategies that all led to the same place- a darkened bedroom with a condom in one hand and an open fly in the other.

                 Matty reddened at the thought and felt queasy… This was SO wrong, on SO many levels! He surveyed the gathered girls and could already see the pairings taking place as furtive glances and smiles were exchanged. It was starting to remind the young man of a school dance he had attended as a cover for an incident where he and Bobby had been involved. Both boys had attended and danced that night, looking at each other across the darkened gymnasium. That had made things easier, and the girl who had so wanted to dance with him seemed to understand the unspoken truth. One of the few in high school who did. She didn’t love Matty any less because of that, but their love was … different from that time foward.

               This night, tho, there was to be no comfort. No way to escape the smothering reality that if he didn’t act, the blond cadet would fall under suspicion, so he looked at the group of girls and chose the most homely of them and walked across the creaking maple floors and extended his hand with a brave smile. He was crying inside, for himself, for Bobby, and for the startled girl who never expected to be dancing, much less holding his hand all night, as the fog settled onto the outdoor patio and the two talked about home and parents and dreams… Fictional or not. For Diane, it was an ego- caressing fairytale, for Matty, one of the most despicable acts of subterfuge and cowardice he had ever been involved in. He would spend the next two months answering love letters and trying to extricate himself from a dilemma that he had created, hoping to spare the feelings of a fragile human being in the process.

                  To this day, he has not forgiven himself…

                   I am truly sorry, Diane.

November, 1976

                The rain was pelting off of the sleek hood and washing the glass of the rumbling Firebird as the youngster negotiated the darkened streets outside the Capitol area. Matty peered through the blurry windows and strained to see the roadside signs. Something just didn’t seem right, and he turned the corner, looking for the sign for the bridge, but somewhere, he had taken the wrong turn, and now his chest was aching as he clenched the steering wheel. He had hoped not to become so emotional, but the feelings started to wash over him and he felt more and more torn, yet drawn… Somewhere, perhaps close by, was the turn that would take him over that bridge and to the area where the marble markers had seared their images into his heart some seven years  prior.

                  So much had happened during those years… The images tumbled in incoherent fashion through his exhausted mind now, and the tears began to well. How could he tell Mike? He could hardly understand it himself … His hands were shaking so violently now, he tried to pull to the curb…. And then, it happened.

                  From nowhere, the red brake lights appeared directly in front of him. He stomped on the pedal, but it was too late, and the v- shaped bumper of the low- riding car rammed into the glowing red eyes and extinguished them with a shattering sound. The car jerked and stopped, as the torrential rain beat the steel roof like an impertinent drum.

                  Matty slumped over the steering wheel and held his tear- streaked face in his slender hands. It had only been 6 hours since he had left the little town in the valley. And now this…

                A loud knock on the passenger side window snapped him out of his trance. Outside, a blue- clad cop stood, motioning to the boy  to step out and join him in the car that had almost magically appeared directly behind him. Matty turned off the ignition and applied the emergency brake. He stepped out into the roaring deluge but hardly noticed that he was being drenched. The officer scrutinized him and then took him gently by the arm, talking soothingly and asking questions that went unanswered… Matty followed him, zombie- like to the parked cruiser and climbed inside… Time had stopped and much was still a blur as the policeman got into the driver’s side and spoke again. This time, his voice penetrated the fog that had overtaken the tall young man…

                “Are you OK, son?”… Matty glanced at him and nodded and felt the drops streaming off his saturated hair, washing the tears from his reddened eyes. He looked at the hands on his knees and realized they were his- Slender and tanned, with fine blond hairs that glistened with the little  drops of rain that clung delicately to them. He looked at his white corduroys and noticed the way they clung to his legs, particularly in the crotch area. Embarrassed, he struggled to readjust them as he shifted his weight  on the bench seat. Slowly, he understood that the man was still waiting, and seemed to be evaluating him. Checking him out from head to toe and looking quizzically at him, waiting for Matty to say something… anything. So, he spoke.

          “I’m sorry…. Is everyone OK in the car I hit?  I never saw it until it was too late…”

           “Oh… yeah, sure…” the cop confirmed. “You just knocked out a few lights. No damage to your car, but I guess she’s going to need some brake light work done… Gotta say, I almost hit you! ” The grey -haired man chuckled. “The rain was coming down so hard, the visibility was shot!”  He glanced at the 21 year old again. “I’m gonna have to write this up, regardless… I’m sorry about this son…  Normally, I would just hand out a warning, but there IS  property  damage involved… So, how about your license and registration?”  He paused and breathed deeply, and then added, “and insurance information…”

           Matty nodded and pulled out his wallet. The cop breathed a sigh of relief… “Well, I’m really glad you have all of that! You wouldn’t believe all of the young guys I stop who drive like bandits…”

          “Bandits?” Matty queried. “You mean without insurance and all that?”

          “Yes sir!” the officer declared. “Seems like a lot of people are having a hard time nowadays… So, they just take their chances. Puts me in the ‘bad guy’ position. I don’t like it one bit when I have to tell a young guy he’s heading for court and might lose his license if the judge gets pissed. I have two teenaged sons myself! “

           “I see “, Matty replied. “Must be a tough job, even without all of that to worry about.” He handed the man his license and insurance card. “My registration is in the glove box. Should I get it?”

           ” It’s OK… hang on. Maybe the rain will slow down…” He glanced at the license and turned it over in his hands. He shook his head and muttered something under his breath.

            “Is everything all right?” Matty asked.

           “Yeah… sure, ” the man answered. “Only I wish that Connecticut would get on board with the whole  picture thing on the license. It would sure make my life easier.”

           “Would it help if I showed you something with my picture on it?” Matty asked. “I mean, I do have another ID, only it’s a federal one… I was working on research in a place where I needed clearance…” The boy fished it out of his wallet and handed it to the quizzical cop.

           “Interesting… You’re kind of young to have this, aren’t you? I mean, twenty- one no? Are you moving here from Connecticut to work as a spook or something?”

           Matty looked out the side window as the pouring rain formed rivulets on the glass, blurring the city lights. He was deep in thought again, and answered softly, “Nothing like that… just passing through. I wanted to see an old friend before I left. Someone who I knew a while back. A soldier…” His voice trailed off as he choked on the last words.

          “Where’s he stationed, Matthew?” the cop asked gently.

         “He’s not… he’s not stationed… that is, I wanted to visit him the only place anyone can anymore… at Arlington.”

         “The cemetery? Arlington National…”

          “Yeah..”

          The cop looked down at the license and the picture on the laminated card and then slowly placed them on the seat next to the boy’s left hand. He placed his hand on top of Matty’s.

          “I’m sorry, son…” Matty looked at the grey haired man, nodded and turned away… He was unaccustomed to crying in front of other people. The rain beat down and the thunder rumbled in the distance as the boy searched his heart for the strength to move on, like he had once promised himself and the boys who meant so much to him….

Continued in Part 9…

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