Somewhere in the searing pain of his loss, the young man had become numb to the possibility of love. He dreamt about the gentle waves that started continents away and washed ashore, carrying the fears and the hopes of boys like him from all over the globe. Often, he awoke in the pitched darkness, reaching out, only to confirm the worst.

         Each day had been a struggle against the shadows of self doubt  that obscured his path. He choked on the strange words that had  brought him such joy. Sharing. Companionship. Honesty… Love.

         The winds raged and the rain pelted off the tarnished armor and dulled the razor sharp steel that had once reflected the Light of His Grace.

          And now, as the candle flickered in the strange chapel so far from home, the lonely boy said a simple prayer that he had learned so long ago…. He clutched the simple silver cross hanging from his neck and studied the Mother and Child in front of him.

           Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst woman and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen…

            He whispered the words at first, but slowly they grew louder until they echoed off the stucco walls and drifted towards the wooden beams high above the stone floors. Over and over the words rang out until the sword glistened once again and the candle flame rose in unison, threatening to breach the blood red glass.

             Matty knew then. He had been left behind, but he had never been alone. His life was his own in very few ways. He had always been an instrument, whether he wanted to be or not. What tests lie ahead, he could only imagine. In so many ways, he would not be prepared…

November, 1975

              Matty awoke and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Sunlight was streaming thru the tinted windows of the sleek car and there was no practical way to avoid it. Besides, his impromptu sleeping arrangement left a LOT to be desired! Now, the backs of his ankles were aching because his legs had been stuck through the open window all night. There were advantages to being tall, but none of them counted in situations like that!

              The lanky young man groaned and wrangled his way to a sitting position on the passenger seat. He had found it more comfortable to sleep with his legs elevated on a stack of luggage sitting on the driver’s seat. Soft luggage of the athletic variety, that was normally used at tournaments to house his extra rackets, shirts, shorts and other vitals that would be necessary for the nomadic lifestyle of the circuit. So, he stretched his cramped legs and his twisted back, and felt for the knot at the base of his neck.

               It was gone. Mysteriously. Along with the sad thoughts and the anxiety of being alone. He looked around and smiled. Everywhere he looked, there were oranges! Real, Florida oranges! And, unlike the suspicions of certain family members, the oranges were really orange, requiring no artificial dye!!

             It was surreal! He pulled on the chromed door handle and stepped awkwardly out out of the car, stumbling and holding his sleeping legs. They were tingling from the restricted circulation so he rubbed them and jumped up and down, trying to get the blood flowing again. In the distance, he could hear the traffic on the interstate as a random truck made its way south, followed by a few early birds… Matty twisted the heavy watch band around until he could read the dial. It was nearly 7:20 already. He yawned and walked  down the grass- covered path towards a nearby irrigation canal and looked around. There was no house to be seen and no sign of human life, so he unzipped his fly and relieved himself with his head back and his eyes closed. It felt so nice to feel the morning chill on his bare flesh and when he finished and opened his eyes, he noticed the goosebumps on his naked arms. It might be Florida, but it was still a bit chilly here!

            There had been no visible signs when he left the highway during the night, but now the tall lad noticed a rusted, ‘no tresspassing’ sign about a hundred yards away. It was falling over, and half hidden by some vegetation, but very near where he had entered the grove, looking for a safe place to park… He winced and headed towards the Firebird… ‘Better get gone’, he thought. It wouldn’t be cool to start his new life with a trespassing charge hanging over him!

            He heaved the tennis bags into the back seat and climbed into the low- riding car. The throaty rumble of the 400 engine greeted him as the gauges sprung to life and registered the vital signs of the performance car. He revved the engine and listened for anything unusual. It had been a long trip, but ‘Betsy’, as he had now named his prized possession, purred like she was content and raring for a morning workout! So he pushed the ‘heavy’ pedal to the floor, shifted into 1st gear and slowly engaged the competition clutch until the wide tires bit into the dirt and grass and the finely tuned machine started to move once again…

             Matty shuddered. Today, he felt excited and for the first time in months, energized. His skin tingled and he felt almost like he had as he took the oath at the ‘Blue Zoo’ three years prior. There had been a tidal change in his thinking and he didn’t know exactly what had created it, but it had started in that tiny chapel at The Mission of Nombre de Dios. Of that, he had little doubt.

               Three years… He sighed, thinking about the last year and everything that had happened. This trek south had been carefully planned, even if  the dynamics of the trip had played out so differently. It had all started after he returned home from the Academy and considered his future in the little New England town…

 October, 1974

             “Bubba…. Bubba… Hey. Sweetheart… ”  Bobby kissed the back of Matty’s neck and whispered into his ear. “Time to get up. It’s 6:30… Whatta ya want for breakfast? Maybe scrambled eggs and some of that maple flavored bacon? Or maybe one of my famous omelettes with peppers, onions, bacon and cheddar?”

               Matty sighed and shrugged and pulled Bobby’s arms closer … He squinted at the alarm clock, smiled and closed his eyes again…. He cherished these moments and wanted them to last forever. “Idunnoh…”

                 Bobby giggled. “Huh? What was that? Did you say, ‘I want a blow?’  “

                 The auburn- haired lad smiled without opening his eyes. ” Hmmm…”

                  Bobby snuggled closer and leaned over to see if Matty was looking. “Oh dear.” he started, his voice belying his seriousness. “What have we here? A young man with a woody who doesn’t want to get up for work.” He slid his hand down the tall boys arm and onto his lithe waist, until his fingers reached the transition of Matty’s hips… He made little circles with his fingertips on the smooth skin there, tenderly teasing the goosebumps as he methodically worked his way onto the bare buttocks and the juncture of the separated legs.

                     Matty pretended not to hear and stifled a smile with a fake yawn. “Mumbamum… Mmmmm.” He started to breath more deeply, as tho he was drifting off to sleep again.

                    “Lord… OK,  Bubba… You asked for it…” Bobby whispered hoarsely. He reached between the tall boy’s legs and grabbed the exposed testicles of the slumbering lad.

                     Matty flinched, but ignored the flagrant escalation, so the athletic boy gently squeezed and then reached further, until he had a purchase of the base of the twitching member.

                    “Wow! You’re really big this morning!” He ran his hand provocatively up the shaft and simultaneously goosed the unresponsive boy by suddenly grabbing his upper thigh with his free hand.

                    Matty was already having great difficulty feigning sleep, but that one touch sent him over the edge, and he reacted wildly, laughing and squirming at the delicious but startling sensations. Bobby had always been a master of this game, and as much as the tall youth had learned over the years, he could not resist if the boy really wanted his attention! And, he really had it now!  The two lovers now wrestled for control even tho that was hardly the point, and after a few minutes of laughing and grabbing and tickling, there was deep and ragged breathing, and the intertwined, tanned bodies twitched with desire and soon after gave way to the ecstasy of release as both boys reached climax within moments of each other… It was always different, and unpredictable in some ways, as their youthful imaginations were constantly seeking new scenarios, but even after 6 years, the excitement had never waned.

                  By 6:45, both boys were showering and enjoying the perks of having a buddy nearby to soap and scrub  the hard- to- get areas, all the while, saving on hot water, or so the theory goes…

                  Matty shaved while Bobby started to prepare breakfast, since he wasn’t due at his job until 10 A.M. when the store he worked in was open for business. The tall boy was employed in a much different occupation. Because of his background, and his analytical nature, he had been hired as a lab technician, and the work had evolved quickly to a point where the owner of the research and metallurgical firm was determined to make the lad a long- term employee. In the 6 months he had worked there, his natural abilities had attracted unwanted attention, and he was now working long hours on projects of a classified nature. It was an inadvertent result of the  enthusiasm he brought to every job he would ever work, and in this case, it was wreaking havoc with his future plans. To get the job, he had been purposely vague about those plans, knowing an employer would likely frown to know that he had sand in his shoes. Bobby was less circumspect and he let Matty know it, in his typical, fun- loving style.

                  “So, you gonna blow anything up today, Bubba?” came the voice from the kitchen.

                   Matty rinsed the last of the shaving foam from his face and inspected himself in the mirror. “Huh? Blow what up?”

                   “You know, that torpedo thing you’re working on for the Navy… Maybe you can design one for ‘Betsy’ and mount it under the rear bumper! ” He laughed heartily… “If  ‘Five- O tried to pull us over on the way to Florida, we could push a special button and let him have it! Nobody’d be able to stop us!”

                    Matty sighed, and finished drying his face. “Yeah, that’d work… Maybe the cop would laugh himself into a heart attack or something. You DO know that a torpedo is designed to swim to its target, right?”

                   “I know… I know… Hey! Maybe you could put wheels on it… Maybe a skateboard that has flames and  says ‘Betsy #1’ on it! You could have two torpedos! One near each exhaust pipe! Imagine what that would look like!” Matty could feel Bobby grinning in the kitchen. He smiled and draped the tattered towel over the loose towel bar and donned the white BVD’s that he had retrieved from the freshly- washed laundry basket. In this apartment, very few clothes ever made it to the small chest of drawers or the closet. Well, except the wrinkle- prone cotton pants and a few long- sleeved shirts. Both boys ‘lived’ out of the large laundry basket and often battled each other for the whitest socks and briefs. Matty was taller but both boys wore the same sized briefs and Bobby didn’t mind wearing the larger tube socks.

                       The tall boy padded down the carpeted hallway and into the galley kitchen. Bobby was singing softly to himself and smiling as the countertop radio crackled the verses to ‘Knights in White Satin’, one of Matty’s favorite ‘Moody Blue’ songs. He stood in front of the smallish stove in his underwear and worked a wooden spoon through the scrambled eggs in the large, copper- bottomed fry pan. In a smaller pan, pork sausages sizzled and the tall boy could smell the maple aroma that ‘Jimmy Dean’ had infused in the tasty links.

                      “MMMMM!! Dang! Those smell great!  You’re cooking eight? Hmm… So, what’re YOU gonna have?” Matty said sarcastically.

                       “Your mama!” Bobby instinctively replied…

                       “EWWWWW!!! What the heck… Man, don’t put that picture in my head before work!!”

                       Both boys laughed hysterically until Matty was wiping tears from his eyes and trying to catch his breath. Bobby finished plating the steaming scrambled eggs with his whole body shaking from laughter and started scooping the sausage links out of the sizzling grease.

                       “Shit!” he yelped, as a link ‘popped’, and the grease squirted onto his exposed upper thigh. He jumped up and down and snatched the small towel from the oven handle, wiping frantically at the small spatter. “Man, Bubba… That freakin’ grease is HOT!”

                       Matty tried not to laugh, as was the custom in this domicile, but one look from Bobby was all it took… The bewildered astonishment accompanied by the sight of him dancing in his ‘tighty whities’ on the Congoleum  floor sent the tall boy over the edge, and gave him license for the patented response. “Didn’t feel a thing…”

                      Bobby shook his head and choked on his laughter, trying to play the injured mate, but it was a little too late. Matty knew he was fine, but still offered to ‘kiss it and make it feel better…”

                     Bobby snarled his response, trying not to laugh… “Jerk! You’ll be sorry one day…”

                     And so it was, in that early fall, as two boys made their way in their new lives, free in that tiny abode where their secrets were safe and their plans were bold. It was to be the stepping stone to their future. One year hence, their path was to take them south. Or so they planned…

 November, 1975

                 Daytona Beach drew the excited boy in the sleek car. His curiosity demanded his presence, even for a quick stop, so he left the interstate and meandered through the hotel- laden streets until he could see the sparkling mid- morning ocean. He found himself on a ramp like road that ended on the beach, so he stopped near the curb, in an unmarked area and surveyed the action… There were small  groups of young people here and there. It was a weekend, after all… He sat there watching for about 20 minutes, and finally  decided to get out of the car to check out the beach.

                    But once he reached the end of the asphalt, he noticed the restrooms to his right… They seemed more elaborate than just restrooms, so Matty decided to explore further. Running his fingers thru his hair made him cringe. He desperately wanted to shower and wash his hair before too long…

                   Just like he thought, there were showers inside, and a line of sinks as well, so he toyed with the idea of heading back to the Firebird for a towel, but changed his mind. The area seemed a bit tawdry, so he looked around, and seeing noone, quickly dunked his head under a running shower, which ran cold, and smelled different than New England water. But, it was water, and it refreshed the tall traveler in only a minute or so…

                    Matty turned off the shower valve and tried to squeeze the water out of his hair whilst bent over… He ran his fingers thru the auburn locks and then shook his head violently, in an attempt to expedite the drying process. He was so self -absorbed, it made the giggle behind him even more startling.

                 He spun around. A young man of perhaps 25 years of age was leaning against the painted, cinderblock wall, grinning broadly.

                   “Just get into town?” the dark- haired guy asked.

                   “Uh… yeah. Just this morning,” Matty offered.

                    “Bet  THAT felt good, huh!”

                     “I guess…” Matty responded, turning away, red- faced. He felt conspicuous, and a little nervous about the attention he was receiving…

                       “Saw you cruisin’ around in the Firebird before. Over on Ocean Drive…” the guy countered. “Nice car! Maybe you can give me a lift?”

                       ‘ Man! This guy’s a little pushy, ‘ Matty thought.

                        “Maybe, I can do you a favor if you do me one…” the stranger said, licking his lips suggestively.

                         “Favor? Uh… Not really looking for favors… And, sorry and all, but I gotta get rolling soon, and I’ll be heading for the turnpike,” Matty replied, his voice trailing off. He looked at the guy, making eye contact. He didn’t find him attractive at all. It was something about him, more than his physical looks. He just seemed a little too edgy… And, the lip- licking thing… Geezz! It just made him look slimy!

                           “Oh, come on! Don’t be running away so soon! I just found you! And by the looks of it, you’re packing some real meat!” The guy straightened up and looked directly at the tall boy’s crotch.

                              Now, Matty was getting uncomfortable. He had always cherished the joking nature that Bobby possessed, but it was something he grew to love, after years of friendship! This… Well, this was ALL wrong! Who did this character think he was? He ran his fingers thru his soaked hair once again and turned to look into the mirror over the sink. Behind him, the guy took a few steps closer… Matty was now getting concerned where this might go, so he steeled himself and turned to face the uncouth stalker.

                           “Nice meeting you and all, but I think I’ll pass… Gotta hit the road. I have a long way to go today..” Matty said firmly, preparing himself in case the situation warranted.

                             “Tell you what…” the stocky guy suggested. “Why don’t you whip it out just so that I can see… You gotta be packin’ 9 inches there, right?”

                            “Never measured it. And probably never will. I’m not sure what makes you think you have a right to ask that kind of question  though … Kind of a raunchy way to treat someone in my book… And,what if I was a cop, or part of a sting operation? Ever think of that?”  He squared off in front of the approaching stranger with his fists clenched at his side. He felt the anger rising inside and the surge of adrenaline. He had not come all of this way to live in a sewer, but for some reason, every encounter with people was ending badly.

                               His world had become one of survival, once again. Matty  loosened his arms, like he had been taught, ready to counter whatever was coming…

Continued in Part 14…