The summer breeze was warm and inviting.
The trees had coated the forest floor with a tent made of green leaves. The scent of warm Virginia air was completely present in the moment.
I stood on a rock, and looked to the young boy in front of me. He was different from me in every way; shorter, darker, more adventurous and less cautious.
But as the beam of sunlight bounced off of his light brown hair and he waved me over to the creek he had found himself ankle deep in, I somehow realized, at nine years of age, that this boy, my polar opposite, would grow to be my best friend.
“Come on in, Alan!”
“No, I don’t want to get wet!”
He crossed his arms and pouted before doing the unexpected and falling face first into the water.
“Paul?” I asked once, not receiving any response, “Paul!”
I ran down to help him, hoping he hadn’t passed out from the heat.
The moment I put my hand on his shoulder to flip him over, he grabbed me in his arms and pulled me into the water, getting me just as soaked as he was.
I screamed in protest, I knew my mother would kill me if I came home like this. And she had just bought me these brand new red sneakers that were now brown with mud.
I gave up and gave in, and we sat down side by side in the creek, watching crawdads swim by and enjoying each other’s company in the summer sun.
“I wanna go to Alaska,” Paul blurted out.
He shrugged, “I don’t know why.”
I contemplated the idea for a moment. In my immature mindset, picturing Alaska was the same as picturing mountains everywhere, coated in snow, decade long winters and year long nights with skies that glowed with a green tinted fiery passion.
I liked what I had imagined, “well, maybe when we’re sixteen we can go.”
“Where would we get the money?” he asked.
“We could start saving up now.”
“Alright. I’ve got two dollars in my piggy bank at home, how much do you have?”
I thought for a moment, nearly saying $4.00 until I recalled the extra $2.00 my mom gave me for washing the dishes earlier that day, “six dollars. I’ve been saving up for a telescope.”
“Well, you should keep saving for the telescope, and buy it, and then when we get to Alaska, we’ll go up to the highest mountain, above all the clouds, and look through the telescope to see the stars and planets.”
I nodded in agreement, “that sounds like a plan.”
We spent the rest of the day running through the forest, fighting imaginary beasts and ignoring the sting of skidded knees.
This was bliss.
This was friendship.
This was the beginning.