After I ran out on Kyle and out of the museum, I kinda knew where I needed to go, and it didn’t take long to find a kid who sold dope. He wanted too much for it, but he was willing to trade a pretty good supply for my phone, and I definitely needed to ditch the phone. I’d already turned off Find My Phone for obvious reasons, and since it wasn’t on contract or anything, all I had to do was ditch the SIM card and hand the phone over. Once he verified the phone worked, he handed over my dope and I had enough pot for a week at least, or so I thought.
Once I had a chance to think things through, though, I realized there was no way I could go back to my family and I might have to end up living on the streets until I could find a decent place to stay. One thing was for sure – I needed money and I needed it in cash. I had a small amount of cash with me, like a few hundred euros, but that wouldn’t last long. I had more cash back at the hotel and Kyle had some too. I had a lot of money in my bank accounts and I had a credit card with a decent credit limit, but any attempt to access either of them would be traceable. But if I did something now, before my family even realized I was gone, I wouldn’t have to access my resources later. Although I needed a co-signature to make a cash withdrawal from my bank accounts, I had a debit card linked to one of my accounts and could use it to withdraw up to five thousand dollars, or maybe over here, euros, at a time.
Before I could do anything, though, I needed my passport, which was in our hotel room, and I needed my clothes and essentials, but the luggage I had would be a dead giveaway that I had money, so I stopped in a sporting goods store and bought a decent used cross-country backpack. Returning to the hotel, I emptied my luggage into the backpack, taking all my clothes and toiletries. I also grabbed the rest of my cash, and Kyle’s stash of cash. Even then I felt guilty about taking it, but I needed it then and I knew Jake and Ken would take care of him. With my passport and possessions in hand, I headed to a nearby convenience store and bought a prepaid debit card that couldn’t be traced back to me. I think the clerk was surprised I wanted such a large amount, but the transaction went through without a hitch. Then I went to a mobile phone store and bought a prepaid smart phone – not the kind I was used to, but it was adequate.
With the essentials taken care of, I headed to a nearby park, where I finally had a chance to partake of my cannabis purchase. Man, it’d been way too long since my last smoke and I felt nothing but relaxation as I lay back and enjoyed the high.
Next thing I knew, I was cold and it was pitch dark out. In a panic, I checked around me and realized my phone was gone, my cash was gone and my pot was gone. I still had my backpack though, and when I checked, my passport and debit card were still there. I’d hidden them well, thank God, but I was out some serious cash. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I said aloud, though there was no one to hear me. Without my phone, I had no idea what time it was and so I slung my backpack over my shoulders and started walking. As I did so, I realized just how starved I was and so I headed in search of food, but unlike in New York, all the shops were closed. Eventually I found my way to a super-modern train station. I didn’t recognize it, but I figured there’d be food there, at least from a vending machine if not a kiosk. First thing I did was hit up an ATM and replenish my supply of cash. Ironically it was a McDonalds I found and so I ordered a couple of Big Macs and a large order of fries, found a nice patch of floor by a wall I could lean against, sat down and wolfed down my gourmet meal.
I noticed a station clock and the time was 3:47, but I wasn’t the least bit tired and so I remained seated against the wall and pretended I was waiting for my train to arrive in the station. I guess I did fall asleep though, as the next thing I knew, the station was filled with commuters arriving from the suburbs for work. I couldn’t stay where I was and so I needed a plan.
With my command of languages, I could go anywhere in Europe, but traveling the intercity trains required showing my passport, and then I could be tracked. It might be possible over the course of several days to travel by local trains across much of Europe, but to what purpose? I’d be no better off and I’d have spent a fair chunk of my money. I was totally fluent in French and not just French, but authentic-sounding Parisian slang. There were plenty of places I might have gone in Paris where my family would never think to look, but I’d be a lot safer outside of Paris. There were a number of major suburban edge cities that were better places for a young runaway to blend in. Noticing that a train was leaving shortly for Cergi-Pontois, I purchased a ticket from a kiosk and got on board. Because I was commuting away from the city, I had my choice of seats and settled in for the short ride. The first station I came to was very suburban and it would have been difficult for me to find anything without being noticed. The second station, however, was in a large urban center that, although very modern, was covered in graffiti and kinda run down. Perfect.
It didn’t take me long to find a kid, maybe fifteen, I guessed, who was standing by a lamppost and vaping. I wasn’t sure if he was vaping tobacco or something else, but it didn’t much matter and so I asked in my best French slang, “Hey man, can I get a hit of that?”
“It ain’t tobacco,” he replied.
“Don’t much like tobacco anyway,” I replied. “Was hopin’ for somethin’ else.”
“In that case, help yourself,” he said as he handed me his Juul. I took it from him and took a real good look at him without being obvious about it. He was wearing skin-tight jeans with flip-flops, but his shirt, what there was of it, was an under-sized, super-tight spandex wife beater, and yeah, now that I was on my own, I was gonna call it a wife beater. His clothes screamed prostitute, so I’d need to be cautious.
“Gonna be a scorcher of a day,” the kid said. “Supposed to be maybe 37 today and forty tomorrow.” Shit, that really was hot, like over a hundred degrees hot.
“Fuckin’ global warming,” I said.
“Fuckin’ right,” he agreed.
I took a deep hit and felt a sense of calm wash over me. “This is really good shit,” I exclaimed as I took another hit before handing the Juul back.
“Pure THC. Nothin’ but the best. Those were pretty good hits for a little guy like you,” he commented. “Plenty more where that came from if you’re interested.”
Yeah, I was interested all right, but I didn’t know this guy from Adam and I’d hafta hit up an ATM to buy some pot. If he were to see what I have, he might just take my stuff and run, so I had to be even more cautious. “Maybe later,” I replied. “I’m interested all right, but I don’t exactly have the money.”
“The stuff’s illegal here,” he added as he looked off into space, “but essentially legal in The Netherlands, which is where we get it. Some folk get it from Spain or even Germany. It’s a bit riskier there… black market. It comes from China and it’s dirt cheap either way, but you never know if it’s pure unless you pay your contacts to buy it legal, then smuggle it in.”
Then turning to look directly at me, he commented, “You got nice threads for someone who don’t have the cash.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” I countered. “Rich parents don’t mean shit when they throw you outta the house.”
“You gay?” the boy asked. Talk about being direct!
“Are you?” I asked.
Taking another hit on his Juul, he nodded his head and answered, “I wasn’t any older than you when the rents caught me givin’ my best friend head. My friend was almost thirteen and I was kinda close to twelve, but I wanted it as much as he did. My old man didn’t even give Luc a chance to pull up his pants. He threw us both out and told me never to return. Worse, he called Luc’s parents and they were as bad as mine. So we were both on the street with no money and no home.”
“You been on the streets for four years?” I asked in surprise.
The boy took another hit from his Juul, and then handed it over to me before sayin’, “More like two-and-a-half,” he replied. “I’m fourteen now, but I know I look a bit older. Kinda the reverse of you, I think. You look eleven, but from your voice, I think you’re maybe twelve or even thirteen.”
Takin’ another deep hit on the Juul, I passed it back and said, “I’m twelve. Won’t be thirteen ’til 28 December. Name’s Jacques, by the way.”
“No it’s not,” he countered, “but I’ll call you that if you want,” he added with a disarming smile. “Americans don’t go by Jaques.”
Before I could stop myself, I responded, “How’d you know I’m American?”
Laughing, he answered in English, “Oh, don’t get me wrong. Your street French is just about perfect. You’ve even got the mannerisms down pretty good. But no French kid would wear your clothes. Another thing is your face. Native French speakers use different muscles than American English speakers, and it affects the way your face looks.”
“Damn,” I replied, also in English. “I have a good ear for languages, and I can pretty much trace your family history from the way you pronounce certain words. I guess because I can pick things up from what I hear, I never bothered to consider the way language affects the face.”
“So what’s my history?” he asked.
“Not a lot to tell,” I replied. “One of your parents is part Tunisian, which isn’t unusual in Paris. Other than that, your parents are at least third generation working class Parisians.”
“And proud of it,” he added. “By the way, my name’s Jacques… really.”
“Boy, I sure picked the wrong name,” I responded, and then added, “My given name’s Francis, but I hate it. My friends call me Freck, ’cause of all my freckles.”
“Freck?” Jacques practically spat. “Freck isn’t the right name for a kid like you. It’s too cutesy American, if you know what I mean. It’s not the right name for a street kid, especially not one who’s trying to appear to be French.”
Then after a pause, he suggested, “How about François. You can’t get more French than that! It’s the same as your Francis and it means ‘free’.”
“François,” I repeated. “It’s perfect.”
“Then it’s settled,” Jacques agreed. “From now on, you’re François. And it was very clever of you, the way you got out of answering my question. ’Course it didn’t take me long to figure out you’re gay anyway. I can tell you like the way I look, but you don’t know me and you’re bein’ cautious, which is one of the most important rules of survival on the street. You’ll tell me your story when you’re ready.”
“You’re assuming I’m going to stick with you,” I noted.
“I don’t need to assume anything,” he responded. “I already know it. For one thing, you need me for this,” he said as he held up his Juul. “For another, you need a kid like me who’s a survivor, who’ll look out for you and protect you. I know you got some money, but that’s a liability on the street, ’cause everyone will try to take it from you if they know you got it. I know how to keep your stuff safe, and when you need more, I know how you can get it.”
“Is that what this is about?” I asked. “Are you setting me up to take my things?”
Looking at me askance, Jacques replied, “I’ll admit, I wouldn’t mind some help now and then. That’s what friends on the street do. I said I’d look out for you and I meant it. But I’d never steal from you, François. You’re a good guy. I get that vibe from you. I think we could help each other. I’m serious about keepin’ your shit safe. Deadly serious. There are plenty of people who would kill you, just to get their hands on that nice backpack of yours…”
“But it’s an old one,” I pointed out.
“Maybe to you, it’s old,” he replied. “More likely, you bought it used thinkin’ you could fool a street kid like me, but it’s way too nice for a street kid. You’re gonna hafta ditch the pack or make it look worthless to keep it and everythin’ inside from getting stolen. But I know where you can keep your things where they’ll be safe. I know you ain’t ready to trust me, but in no time, you’ll know better than to trust anyone else.”
“You said you know how to get money?” I asked. “I assume you mean by turning tricks.”
“There are only so many ways to survive on the street,” Jacques replied, “and the only other way for kids like us is stealin’ it or sellin’ dope. That can land you in a whole lotta trouble real quick, and it can get you dead faster than anything.”
“So can sellin’ your body,” I pointed out.
“True that,” he replied in American ghetto slang. “That’s why you need a good pimp. No doubt, most pimps are only interested in getting’ what they can from you. To them, you’re just a product to be sold and when you’re no longer marketable, they get rid of you. That’s a good way to wind up in the morgue. That’s why you need me. You need someone who’s been on the street and survived. Someone who knows his way around and knows who you can trust. My pimp’s a good guy. Started out on the street like us, learned the ropes and now he looks out for the next generation of street kids. He’s not just a pimp, but a street mom and daddy all in one.”
“I hafta ask you this,” I countered, “but does your pimp pay you to recruit kids like me?”
“You’re very perceptive François, but it’s not like that. We’re a family out here. We take care of each other. Of course, Philippe is always on the lookout for new merchandise, but he doesn’t need to pay us to recruit new talent. He takes care of us and we take care of him. Mostly, though, we do it because it’s the best way for kids to survive on the street. Philippe can give you a place… a decent roof over your head… make sure you never go hungry and help you stay clean in more ways than one. Pot’s OK and wine’s OK in moderation, so long as they don’t interfere with work or school…”
“You go to school?” I asked in surprise.
“We all do,” Jacques answered. “Not regular school, ’cause you need a real address for that and a legal guardian, but the local parish school doesn’t turn anyone away.”
For the first time I noticed that Jacques didn’t stink. In fact, he smelled rather nice, like he was wearing a light cologne. He was clean-shaven, his hair was neat and his nails were trimmed. He was actually quite handsome. But then remembering his story, I asked, “So whatever happened to Luc?”
It kinda looked like Jacques was about to tear up when he answered. “Luc didn’t understand the ways of the street… neither of us did… but Luc was always the leader. He didn’t take shit from no one and he didn’t back down. Any sane person knows to back down when someone asks for your money. A fist is no match for a knife. He was just thirteen and I still feel guilty that he was tryin’ to protect me. He was the first street kid I saw die in front of me, but not the last. That’s why you need Philippe.”
“But that means turning tricks,” I surmised, “and I’m not ready for that.”
“We do sell THC to some of our customers and you could help with that, or you can pay your keep, but it doesn’t really matter,” Jacques answered. “A year from now when your money’s all gone and you’re as hungry as ever, you’ll be a hot commodity, and Philippe will be willing to wait if that’s what it takes. He’ll charge you fifty euros a week, room and board, and nothing more. That’s for a bed, a hot shower and meals with the rest of us. He’ll give you a locker and let you supply the lock. You can’t beat that.”
Jacques sure seemed to be on the up-and-up. There was still a risk he was gonna rob me blind, but I didn’t have too many options, so I replied, “So when can I meet this Philippe?”
Life on the street wasn’t anything like what I’d been expecting. For one thing, I had an actual place to stay with a group of fifteen other boys. Philippe had a three-bedroom flat, and a pretty large one at that. It wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods, which helped explain why people tended to look the other way, with young teenage boys coming and going during the night. I got the impression from some of the others that they sometimes did favors for local cops to keep the police from checking up on the place.
Philippe, of course, had one of the bedrooms to himself, so that left only two bedrooms for the rest of us, which meant eight boys sleeping in each bedroom. There were four sets of bunk beds crammed into each room, so with the addition of me, the house was full. Philippe had his own en-suite bathroom, which meant all sixteen of us boys had to share the one remaining bathroom. At least it was a large one, with three sinks and a communal shower with four showerheads. There was only one toilet, though, which was located in a room by itself, as is typical in Europe. It was made clear that no one could hold up the toilet and that if I got a case of the runs, I’d need to find a place to do my business elsewhere.
True to Jacques’ word, there were sixteen lockers in the living room, all jimmy-proof and able to take a heavy-duty lock, which I purchased immediately at a hardware store down the street. The space was tight, but I was able to fit all my things inside without ditching the backpack. The only drawback was that the flat didn’t have a washer or dryer, so we all had to schlep down the block to a laundromat that cost a euro for each washer load and another euro for the dryer. Obviously, I wouldn’t be washing my clothes until they needed it, and changing underwear was gonna be a luxury.
One of the things I found most surprising about the operation was that the boys weren’t permitted to service random johns. We were all expected to take turns recruiting johns from the strip, myself included, but we weren’t allowed to go off with them. Philippe carefully vetted all the johns himself, to make sure they were trustworthy and clean, and only once he was satisfied that a john was safe would a boy be allowed to go out with him. The john was expected to pay cash up front and to supply their home or a hotel room. No johns were ever permitted in the flat. It was a tight operation.
There was a really nice TV in the living room, but there was no air conditioning and, in the summer, daytime temperatures with so many boys in one place were stiflingly hot, even in normal times. We were all street kids and most of us spent our days on the street, finding our own entertainment wherever we could. Most of the boys slept late, having been up much of the night. The lucky ones stayed out overnight with their johns, for which they earned good money. Because I wasn’t bringing in any dough, I had a greater share of the chores, but everyone was responsible for keeping the place clean.
The day I arrived, the outside temperature was already near 37 Celsius by the time I got there, and the temperature inside the flat had to be at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit if not more. As soon as I had my stuff secured in my own locker, Jacques told me about a large water park, located right in Cergy-Pontois. It set us back four euros a piece, but on a hot day like this, that was well worth it. It took us over an hour to get there on foot, though, but it wasn’t like I had anything else to do. When I’d asked Jacques about bringing a swimsuit, he said I wouldn’t need it, but I didn’t know what he meant until we got there. A lot of the people, particularly the kids, weren’t wearing anything at all. That was fine with me!
For my four euros, there was plenty to do, but things like paddle boats cost an extra fee for rental. Still, Jacques and I were able to do way more than swim, as we tried out just about every water slide and swam on every beach they had. The place was incredibly crowded, but we kept cool and I had a feeling I’d be spending much of my summer here. Jacques kept his Juul with him, inside a water-proof armband in which he also kept our cash. He took it out from time-to-time and we partook of his supply of cannabis. We were hardly alone in that regard.
I loved to swim, and it felt good to be back in the water, but it reminded me so much of the life I’d had with Kyle, Roger and the dads. The thought of what I’d lost made me feel sad in spite of the good time I was having with Jacques. He noticed my change in mood right away though, and he asked, “You missing your family?” How’d he know?
I ended up spilling my guts and telling my whole life story as we lay together on the the beach and smoked from his Juul. I told him far more than I ever planned to.
“It’s not too late, you know,” he finally said. “It sounds like you had a pretty good life, even before you met your boyfriend. I understand that you were alone and hopelessly lonely, and that’s a good part of the reason that you turned to pot. But your boyfriend helped you overcome it. At least you know he’s still alive. I wish I could say the same. Sometimes I’m so horny, I can’t stand it. I know that sounds crazy for a whore to say, but it’s not the same. More than anything, though, I miss Luc. I really loved him and I sometimes cry myself to sleep thinking about him.
That did it. The tears came to my eyes and Jacques and I ended up hugging each other and consoling each other. But then the atmosphere changed as I think we both realized how close and intimate our contact was, and we both became aroused. Slowly, I pulled away to get a good look at him, and then I close my eyes and our lips came together. When we started grinding against each other, Jacques suddenly stopped and cautioned, “We can’t do this here. We could end up in Juvie for doing it in public, and Philippe could throw us out for that. He can’t afford any trouble with the police.”
Then grabbing my hand, he said, “Come, I know a place where we can be alone.” He led me to a wooded area of the waterpark where we were out of site of the crowds, and then he leaned down and took me into his mouth. I was so horny, it didn’t take long. I felt guilty afterwards, but I was still horny and I was still high, and I put the guilt out of my mind for the time being. But seeing that Jacques was still aroused left me with a quandary. Getting head was passive sex and although I didn’t refuse Jacque’s advances, I’d done nothing to encourage him.
Giving head would be another matter entirely, and there’d be no way to avoid the feeling that I’d cheated on Kyle. When Jacques saw my hesitation, he asked, “Is something wrong?”
With tears in my eyes, I replied, “I have a boyfriend. At least I did. We had a fight and we both said things that made it impossible to continue being boyfriends, but…”
“But you’re not over him,” Jacques said, completing my thoughts. I merely nodded my head, and then my thoughts of Kyle only served to bring me crashing down, and a crash on pot is like a bipolar flip from mania to depression. I burst in to tears and cried uncontrollably as Jacques did his best to console me. When the tears finally started to subside, he added, “Something tells me you’re not gonna be with us all that long, but we’ll take good care of you until you figure out what you want to do with your life.”
Then standing up and lending me his hand to help me up too, he said, “We need to head back now if we want to eat with the boys. If you stay, you’ll be expected to help with meals, but you’re a newbie and so you can do that later. Let’s get going, and you can meet the rest of us at dinner.”
Dinner was surprisingly good, and healthy. We had some sort of beef stew with wine and vegetables in it, and there was a salad and lots of bread. None of us went hungry. The boys were a mixed group, and I was surprised to see I wasn’t the youngest either. We ranged in age from ten to seventeen, with fourteen being the average. It was pretty obvious that these were all street boys, though, as even the friendliest of them seemed hardened, and all of them seemed older than their actual age. When dinner was over, several of the boys left, I guess to be with their johns, while the rest of us cleaned up and washed the dishes. Another thing I hadn’t noticed at first was that there wasn’t a dishwasher.
The apartment was still uncomfortably hot and no one was shy about shedding clothes. Most of us were in boxers or boxer briefs. A few of the boys weren’t even in that much. Once everything was put away, we went outside and played a game of soccer, right on the street. Although it was still quite warm outside, the game made us work up a sweat, which ironically actually cooled us off. I’d used to play soccer when I still lived in Battery Park City, so I held my own in the game and actually managed to score a goal.
Once it was completely dark out, and with non-functioning streetlights, we had no choice but to go back inside. We took our turns showering and brushing our teeth, then we all went to bed. I’d never slept in a bunk bed before, much less a top bunk, and that took some getting used to. The trickle of boys as they returned home from their jobs didn’t help with my getting to sleep either. Eventually I did, though, as the next thing I knew, I awoke to the smell of coffee. As I slipped down from my bunk, it dawned on me that today was the day we were supposed to leave for Madrid and I silently wondered if they’d left without me.
Tuesday was supposed to set a record, with a high around forty Celsius, so staying in the apartment was not an option. After cleaning up from breakfast, while some of the boys went on a shopping trip with Philippe to an airconditioned mall, Jacques included, a group of nine of us headed to the waterpark to spend the day. I didn’t really know any of the others yet, but they treated me as one of them and I felt safe. When we got there, we shucked our clothes and hit the waterslides and other water attractions, doing our best to stay cool. One of the boys brought a Juul with him and an ample supply of pot which we passed around.
Rather than spend money we didn’t have on burgers and fries, we’d brought a sealed pack of smoked salmon with us and a loaf of bread. Funny, but lox back home woulda cost me some forty or fifty dollars a pound, but in Paris a pound of smoked salmon was no more expensive than a pound of smoked turkey. And even in this heat, a sealed package of smoked salmon could keep without refrigeration. It was a perfect French lunch for the group of us.
After lunch, we passed around the Juul, and then something happened that was completely out of the blue. The boys snuck into the woods and of course I followed. We were already naked and horny as hell from the pot, so when Paul touched me, I couldn’t help but react. I was uninhibited and resistance was futile. That thought made me think of my best friends, Asher and Seth, back home, which made me hesitate for a moment, but the moment was quickly forgotten as multiple sets of hands touched me all over, even in places I would have never touched myself. It was hot as hell and we were nine horny adolescent boys, most or all of us gay. It was the most stimulating thing I’d ever experienced.
Only later would I realize I’d participated in an orgy, even though there wasn’t any direct penetration. Except for the pot and the circumstances, I’d have never done anything like this, especially with a group of prostitutes. Yes, they were all around my age and seemed nice as hell, and we were all in a bad situation, but the risks of unprotected sex were extraordinarily high. However, they were experienced professionals and they did things with me I would have never even conceived of doing myself. The experience was amazing and whether it was intentional or not, they taught me more about how to give and receive pleasure in that one afternoon than I could have acquired in a lifetime of sex with Kyle. I almost didn’t feel guilty for cheating on Kyle… until I did.
The bottom fell out early Wednesday morning when one of the boys woke up with a hacking cough. Not only that, but similar coughing could be heard coming from the other bedroom, where it was obvious that a least two of the boys were sick. Philippe emerged from his bedroom with the concern of a mother hen, but there was something else I saw in his eyes too. I knew that look from my biologic parents, and it wasn’t a benign one. It was the look they had when they were weighing their obligations as parents against the potential fallout and deciding between what was right and what was best for them.
It was still hot as blazes in the apartment and so Philippe’s attempts to feel foreheads was fruitless. Finally, he brought out a digital thermometer and all three of them had low-grade fevers. “I don’t like this,” he said. “I don’t like it at all.” After a pause, he continued, “There’ve been rumors of kids getting’ sick from Juulin’, but no one knows why. I don’t need a fancy degree to figure it has somethin’ to do with contaminated THC. I thought I knew our supplier. I trusted him. He used to be one of us.”
Turning to the group of us, he continued, “We have a doctor who’s discrete, but I don’t need a doctor to know this is serious. This ain’t a cold or the flu. Three of you couldn’t have caught something from a john. If this is from Jullin’ with bad THC, you could die without treatment. Quick treatment. I’m gonna drop these three at different emergency rooms. I’m sorry, but it’s the only thing that can be done. I can’t do more than that to help you. I’m sorry you’ll have to go into the system until you can get away, but that’s better than bein’ dead.
“And for the rest of you, we’re gonna hafta smoke our weed the old-fashioned way, but we all need time for our lungs to heal. I don’t need to tell you that these three are our heaviest THC users…” Next to me, I thought. “…and that’s a big clue about what could await all of us.” Phillippe continued, “I’ll have the doc come check all of us out, but I think the best thing is for us all to give up pot for the foreseeable future. We’ll see what the doc says, but it’s probably best if we lay off the stuff for a while or longer.”
“What about booze?” a boy who I think was named Chris asked.
“You know the rules for beer or wine,” Philippe answered. “No stealing it and no getting drunk in public. If you can stick to the rules, feel free.”
Then turning to look directly into their eyes, he continued, “Denys, Paul and Léon, get washed and dressed, and we’ll leave in five minutes.” Then turning back to the rest of us, he said, “Everyone else, go back to sleep. I’ll return after I drop them off, and we’ll talk about getting everyone checked out in the morning.”
But before going to get ready himself, he stopped me and said, “I know you’re new here, François, and you aren’t familiar with the rules yet. We’ll talk when I get back, but the bottom line is that my first priority is in keeping everyone safe, but when it comes down to a choice between the safety of one or even a few of you, I can’t do anything that would risk our home. I’m taking enough of a risk as it is to drop the boys off, as there are cameras and my license number could be tracked. I’ll reduce the risk by going to different hospitals and dropping them on the next block, but it’s a risk. It’s the most I can do.
“Anyway, get some rest and we’ll talk when I get back. Just don’t get any foolish ideas about turning us in to save yourself. I’ve never had to inflict severe punishment on a boy and I’ve never killed anyone. But don’t think I wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to keep everyone else safe.”
“Come here, son,” the Doctor asked as he beckoned me forward into a makeshift exam room on the living room sofa. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“François,” I answered.
“Well, you certainly look healthy and in better shape than the other boys, and I don’t recall seeing you before during our monthly screenings. I’d certainly remember such a handsome boy as you. There aren’t so many redheads in France, after all. How old are you, François?”
“I’m twelve-and-a-half,” I answered honestly.
“And well into adolescence, I see,” the doctor added. “OK, let’s take a listen to your lungs,” he said as he placed his stethoscope on my chest, and then on my back. “Take some deep breaths, he told me and I complied. “Your lungs are clear as a mason jar,” he continued as he placed a digital thermometer under my tongue and placed a clip on my index finger. A minute later, he removed both and said, “Your temperature’s normal, your heart rate is low, which shows you’re in great shape, and your oxygen saturation’s 100%. It doesn’t get better than that.”
“Does that mean I’m OK?” I asked.
“It means there’s no sign of infection or of active lung disease,” he answered. “Of course there are the recent reports of pulmonary fibrosis in users of black-market pods with e-cigarettes. That might not show up until after several weeks or months of use.”
“I’ve been smokin’ THC with the others during the last three days,” I reported. I was really kinda freakin’ out.
Squeezing my shoulder, he responded, “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, François. There shouldn’t be any lasting damage from such a short time. Now in a group like this one, we always have to worry about TB,” he added. “It’s a serious problem among street youth, it’s often drug-resistant and the symptoms are very similar.”
I was at a near panic when he told me that. I’d read about how drug-resistant tuberculosis was spreading among the homeless in New York, and it was common in association with HIV. And here I was sharing a bedroom with seven other boys, all of them involved in high-risk behaviors. “Couldn’t you just test us for it?” I asked.
“You must have forgotten about your immunizations,” the doctor replied. “In the United States, where the incidence is generally low, they prefer to use surveillance and skin tests to detect and treat TB before it becomes rampant. We have such a large immigrant population, especially from Tunisia, and there is such suspicion among immigrants that we can’t afford to rely on surveillance alone. Not that the vaccine is very effective… it’s in the category of being barely better than nothing, but because of your vaccinations, your skin test would be positive, regardless of active infection, or not.
“However, if you were an American… Francis instead of François… your skin test could still be negative, even right after becoming infected with TB. It could take several weeks before you seroconverted to a positive skin test.”
Fuck, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear! I might have tuberculosis right now and I’d never know it. And I couldn’t even be tested for it for several weeks. And then it dawned on me, the good doctor had spoken to me in English at the end. Had I blown my cover? Did the doctor know who I am? Double fuck!
It had been three hours since the doctor finished examining the last of us and left. We’d worked together to prepare dinner, had a nice meal of puréed vegetable soup and smoked salmon, with blueberries and heavy cream for dessert, and we’d worked together to clean up after the meal, wash the dishes and straighten up and vacuum the flat. I was outside playing soccer with some of the boys as we used the time to blow off our anxiety over the day’s events. Those who had dates for the evening were out with their johns. It was business as usual.
Suddenly, a car drove up and parked right in front of our building. That was peculiar as hardly anyone ever came to our neighborhood. A man and a woman got out of the car and headed straight for the front door of our building. They were buzzed inside, so there was no way to know which flat they visited. They were inside for quite some time and they left before we all went inside. In any case, there was no mention of their visit that evening and we all assumed they were visiting someone else in one of the other flats. It wasn’t until early Thursday morning that I learned otherwise.
I awoke to the sensation of Philippe shaking my shoulder. “François, get up. You need to come with me. There’s a man here to see you.” That sure got my attention as I wondered who it could be. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was naked until I saw the man standing in the living room, waiting for me. It wouldn’t have mattered, though. There wasn’t any room for personal things or to get dressed in the bedroom and all my clothes were in my locker in the living room.
The man wasn’t at all familiar. He was young – probably in his twenties – and stylishly-dressed in expensive-looking, casual dress clothes. It was the kind of outfit my biologic mother might have designed if she designed clothes for men. Sheepishly, I approached the man and said, “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll get my clothes and get dressed.”
The man answered, “There’s no need to be embarrassed, Freck. Why don’t you wait to hear what I have to say, and then you can get dressed in clothes more suitable for the morning.” Slowly I was coming out of my fog and I realized that, not only had he spoken to me in English, but he’d called me by my American nickname.
“My name’s Stéphan Rubeneaux,” the man continued, “but I’d prefer it if you just call me Stéphan.” I’m what you might call a private investigator and I specialize in finding missing and runaway children. Your family hired me to find you, Freck. From what I’ve been told, you are incredibly lucky. The streets of Paris can be very hard on kids, particularly if they’re not familiar with the ways of Paris. That’s especially true of this part of Cergy-Pontois, which is a failed planned community and is overrun with crime. Philippe has looked out for you. Most pimps seek only to exploit young runaways and if you’d met any of them first, your life would have been in great peril.
“But even with the money you stole from your brother and your own savings you withdrew, sooner or later you’d have to resort to prostitution to survive. That’s how Philippe makes his money… by selling the services of the boys he cares for to fat, middle-aged men who want to have sex with boys. That’s your future here, Freck. You’d spend the rest of your youth having sex with fat, middle-aged men with bizarre fetishes, not the least of which is sex with boys who remind them of their own sons. And if you’re lucky enough not to catch AIDS or another STD, or to be killed, the transition from being a teenage prostitute to an adult prostitute is rarely successful. Most former teenage prostitutes wind up as drug dealers in a life of crime, short though it may be. It’s a far cry from what you wanted to do in life as an architect.”
“But the things Kyle said,” I countered, “he disrespected me.”
“I’m sure it won’t surprise you that Kyle sees it differently,” Stéphan continued, “but even so, he still loves you very much… in fact he’s IN love with you and he’d do anything to get you back. Also, keep in mind that he’s only ten. He might have the intelligence of an adult, but he doesn’t have the life experiences that you do.”
“That might be true,” I responded, “but if anything he’s more mature than me… no, than I. I’ve been talking in slang too much lately. He’s never resorted to using pot or doing anything irrational. He’s always kept a level head and approached things from a logical perspective. I’m the emotional one. I’m the one who attempted suicide. I’m the fuck-up…” I started sobbing uncontrollably and Stéphan pulled me into him and let me cry on his shoulder. As the tears subsided, I realized that even though Stéphan was tall, I was crying on his shoulder and not into his chest. Apparently, I’d hit a growth spurt and hadn’t even realized it.
“Come, Freck,” Stéphan resumed. “Let’s get you back to those who truly love you. Let’s get you back to the boyfriend who’d do anything not to lose you. Let’s get you back to your family.”
Philippe, who I hadn’t even realized was still in the room with us, added in English, “You should go with him, François. Everyone else here, myself included, would kill for this opportunity.”
Nodding my head, I went to my locker, removed the lock and got out my backpack. I pulled on a fresh pair of boxer briefs and dressed in a polo shirt, shorts and sandals. Stopping in the lavatory to relieve myself and in the bathroom to wash my hands, I headed out with Stéphan and into an uncertain future.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay preteen and teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. Some of the locations described are real locations, and some of the characters and organizations described may bear a strong resemblance to real individuals and organizations; however, this is a fictional story and should be taken as such. The author retains full copyright.