New York Stories

Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish

A Six-Part Story by Altimexis

Posted November 16, 2019

 

Part Five – Freck’s Recovery

I arrived with Stéphan at Châtet-Les Halles, the train station located within Forum Les Halles. I was shocked at how modern the place appeared, even though I’d left from here only a few days before. It was nothing like the architecture of Paris, even though it maintained the ridiculous height restriction. Stéphan led the way, explaining that his office was actually located within Forum Les Halles. How cool!

Before we’d gotten very far, however, I was tackled by a flying mass of brown wavy hair, and then Kyle kissed me on the lips, right in the open.

“You asshole,” he screamed at me. “You fuckwad,” he added. “You scared us shitless.”

Without emotion, I replied, “You called me ‘Schreck’. You called me Francis. You know how much I hate that name. You even questioned my integrity as an architect. I thought you loved me and it hurt. I just couldn’t handle it.”

“Of course I love you, Freck,” he responded. “I still love you, very much. I never questioned your integrity, as a future architect or otherwise. You and I have different opinions of Paris architecture. We probably always will. Couples who claim to have the same tastes in everything are either lying to each other, or one is allowing themselves to be dominated by the other. Neither of those alternatives is healthy for a relationship.

“We’re gonna have fights, Freck. That’s just a normal part of a relationship, and it’s necessary to clear the air, but it doesn’t mean I think any less of you or you less of me. I never questioned your integrity and I could never envision what you see when you look at a building or an empty lot and imagine what could be.”

“I just don’t know if I can ever trust you again, Ky,” I countered.

“We both said things that were meant to hurt, and that is something we should vow never to do again, but I’m not sure I can promise anything when we actually face a disagreement in the heat of the moment.”

“Then maybe it’s better if we go our separate ways,” I replied.

“If you think you’ll ever find another boy who loves you as much, who supports you and who understands you, you have another thing coming. And if you think you can ever get the kind of satisfaction from pot or from casual sex, you’re bound to have a serious fall.”

“How did you know about…”

“I didn’t, but pot makes you horny and you were with hormonal teenagers, and you’re sexually active, so I figured that you probably did things you might later regret.”

“It wasn’t like I wanted to cheat on you, Kyle,” I continued. “It just… happened, and it was pretty good at the time. It was something I needed then. Or I thought I did.”

“Was it really better than sex with me?”

“In a word, yes,” I replied, but I could see how much it hurt Kyle, which was the last thing I wanted to do. “Not that it was anything like the feeling we used to get when we made love, but these kids were older and more experienced. I learned things you and I never even thought of doing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe if we can get back to where we were, we can try those things. Maybe when coupled with love, it could really be great. It’s just gonna take time before I can forgive you.”

Putting his hand on my shoulder, he responded, “I know you must think I betrayed you, but please consider it in the context of the betrayal of your parents. I could never do to you what they did to you all your life. I called you names you hate and I give you my most profound apologies for that. I know you think I judged your ability to be an architect, when all I did was express my opinion about old-world versus modern architecture. Modern works well in New York, but not so well here. It can work here, as it has with Forum Les Halles, where we are right now, but old-world style provides a sense of history and even New York benefits from it. That’s my opinion and it’s my right to have it, regardless of your chosen profession.”

“It’s hard for me to see it that way, Ky,” I answered, “but I’ll try to understand it from your point of view. It just may take some time, and I just don’t know if our being boyfriends will work out in the end.”

“I’ll be patient, Freck, and I’ll do everything to show you that I’m the one you should spend the rest of your life with. But you have a lot of soul-searching ahead of you. I don’t think you realize just how much your running away hurt all of us. It was devastating. Dad and Ken hired Stéphan to help to find you…”

“Their choice,” I interjected.

“No, it was no choice. They are responsible for you and we were in a foreign country and had to rely on a bureaucracy we didn’t understand. Hiring Stéphan was the only way.  We also lost several days of our vacation, and that’s time we’ll never get back. It’s not about the money, but the opportunity we lost to see some remarkable things that will have to wait for another time… a time that may never come again. The worst of it, though, was last night, when we had to go to the morgue to identify what the police were certain was your body. That moment will forever be etched in my mind. I had a nightmare last night that it really was your body. I think I’ll probably have that nightmare again from time to time.”

“Quit trying to make me feel guilty!” I practically shouted in anger.

“I don’t want you to feel guilty. I just want you to realize that there are people who love you, and that it’ll take a whole lot more for us to change our minds. It saddens me to think that you’re so broken that you can only see the worst in people… the worst in everything.”

“The world’s a shitty place,” I countered.

“I know,” Kyle replied, “but it’s also a pretty incredible place.”

By now the dads and Roger had caught up to us and Stéphan was gently trying to motion us forward. Within minutes we were all sitting in Stéphan’s office. He asked if anyone wanted coffee and, predictably, Kyle indicated in the affirmative, and so he put a pot on.

Stéphan began by saying, “If you don’t mind, let’s get the financials out of the way and then we can discuss where we go from here.” He then handed a multi-page document to each of the dads and said, “I’ve itemized all my expenses, my daily rate and my hourly rate for my services, broken down by date and activity. Three days at five thousand is fifteen, and three hours on Sunday plus six hours today at 500 is 4500 euros, for a total of nineteen-five. I’ve itemized all of my time since we met on Sunday and I think you’ll agree that the cost was reasonable. I’ve also itemized expenses, including copying, phone calls to the States and train tickets etcetera, for a total of 689, which I’ve rounded to five hundred, and then there were the bribes. Some fine members in law enforcement and in the legal system are complicit with sex traffickers. I have my contacts of course, and they led me to find Freck, but it took five thousand in bribes. It was money well spent. So the total comes to twenty-five thousand, which is exactly the amount of the retainer. If you’ll sign here, we’ll call it even,” he concluded as he handed Jake a two-part receipt and a pen.

“You guys spent twenty-five thousand euros to find me?” I asked in shock.

“Of course, Freck,” Jake answered. “You’re more than worth it to me. If it’s any consolation, we’ll see if your trust fund will cover it, but we paid it with the full expectation that we’ll never get it back. Stéphan told us the average case costs double that, and that it could easily have cost in the six figures to find you. We also knew the odds were fifty-fifty that if we found you, you’d be dead. But if we didn’t spend the money, we’d almost certainly never have seen you alive again. We weren’t willing to take that chance. None of us thought twice about putting our plans on hold either.”

“Damn,” I responded, “and for you guys, that’s a hell of a lot of money.”

“Freck, your parents may be billionaires,” Jake countered, “but as I’m sure your father would tell you, they didn’t get to be billionaires by treating 25k as if it were pocket change.”

“That’s exactly what he’d say,” I admitted.

“So the next question,” Stéphan interrupted, “is where do you go from here. Not that I didn’t enjoy meeting you and I must say, it’s been a pleasure working with two such precocious young men, but the last thing I want to have to do is make another phone call to ask this family to go to the morgue to identify your body, Freck. We were lucky this time… it turned out the kid in the morgue was older… maybe fourteen or fifteen… but next time we may not be so lucky. What’s obvious is that your insecurities didn’t end when the Goldsteins took you in. Your parents sent you to useless therapy sessions, and then wham, you found a boyfriend who understood you and loved you, and a family that loved you and offered you what you never had from your biological parents, so you were cured, right?”

“I guess I never really got over the affects of the attempted suicide,” I responded.

“But it wasn’t an attempted suicide at all, and yet it was, wasn’t it?” Stéphan asked.

“Yes and no,” I answered. “I was smoking a lot of pot and it dulled the pain, but it took away the good feelings too. It made me apathetic and it distorted reality. When I attempted to jump, it was because I thought I could fly, but I really didn’t care.”

“Exactly,” Stéphan agreed. “You thought you could fly and wouldn’t it have been wonderful if you did! But if you couldn’t fly and instead fell to your death, well, game over… just hit reset, isn’t that right.”

“That’s exactly what was going through my head,” I agreed.

“But the real issue is that the marijuana use amounted to self-medication. You were using it to dull the pain… the pain of a useless existence. You had parents who treated you as a possession, little different from a Mercedes or a Rolex… something to show off. You had sisters who were so much younger than you that they only reinforced your sense of isolation. You had a nanny who used to pay you a lot of attention, but then the twins were born and she had to devote all her attention to them, and it turned out she was undocumented, so she was always looking over her shoulder and she resented you as a burden she had to bear to keep from being deported. She didn’t tell you that, but you must have felt it.”

“Yeah, I did, but I had no idea what it was about,” I answered.

“And then on top of it all,” Stéphan continued, “you’re a genius and you had this incredible gift of being able to pick up languages almost in an instant. To you, it was so natural, yet everyone made such a big deal about it that you came to resent it as something that set you apart from everyone else, and yet you couldn’t turn it off if you tried.”

“God, that’s exactly how I felt,” I answered.

“So you felt rudderless and you saw your parents drinking and smoking pot, and you saw how it made them act crazy, but they seemed so happy and you wanted to feel like that too, so you tried alcohol, which only made you more depressed, and you tried pot, which didn’t make you happy, but it took away all the bad feelings and so you smoked more and more of it.”

“I thought I was past that,” I commented, “but when things went wrong, I went right back to it. But why? I had a great boyfriend and a caring family, yet the first time we had a major disagreement and I felt like I was under attack, I ran. Am I really so insecure and self-centered and shallow that I can’t handle a disagreement? But why did Ky push it? Why did he call me those names? Why did he insult me so?”

“Let’s start with the names,” Stéphan suggested. “Schreck is a cute little character and you’re a cute little guy. Is Schreck really such a bad nickname?”

“I got called that by bullies all through fifth grade,” I answered.

“Does Kyle have anything in common with those bullies?”

“Not at all,” I replied. “Not even close.”

“So would it really bother you if he called you that, so long as it wasn’t meant in malice. So long as it was meant in an endearing sort of way.”

I thought about it for a bit, and then I answered, “You know, it wouldn’t. In fact, I’d like that, so long as it wasn’t used to hurt me.”

“I’d never use it to hurt you, Freck,” Kyle chimed in. I didn’t know your history when I called you that. I’ll never call you that again… unless you want me to.”

“Ky,” I replied as he took both his hands in mine, “you can always call me that so long as it’s done in love. It can be like a pet name you have for me, and a reminder that we should never push those buttons again.”

“And what about Francis?” Stéphan went on. “You can’t expect to be called Freck forever. In fact, you probably wouldn’t like being called that once you’re in college next year. So what about Francis?”

Interrupting, Kyle said, “I’m sorry, Freck, but I really did call you Francis in malice because you jumped on me for calling you Schreck the way you did. But Freck, I’ll never call you Francis again, unless you want me to.”

“And I’ll hold you to that,” I replied. “But actually, Francis isn’t so bad as a formal name… it’s just so formal and it’s particularly bad for someone who’s gay like me and trying not to be thought of as a sissy.”

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Stéphan interjected, “but in no way are you effeminate or a sissy. Now I know you don’t want to be called Frank or Frank Junior, but how about Frankie?”

Nodding my head, I responded, “You know, that’s actually a very good compromise, but it makes me sound like a gangster. Jacques… he’s the kid who rescued me and introduced me to Philippe… he gave me the nickname ‘François’. I’ve been using it for the last few days and it’s grown on me.

“François is the French version of Francis, but it doesn’t sound so effeminate. As I figure it, I’m three-eighths Italian, a quarter French, a quarter Jewish and an eighth Irish. It’s kinda funny that I look more Irish than anything, but I guess that just means I don’t need an Irish name for people to know I have Irish blood in me. So if I go by ‘François San Angelo Goldstein’, everyone’ll know my roots.”

“You wanna take my last name?” Kyle asked with a tremor in his voice.

“Of course I do,” I answered with conviction. “After all, we’re getting married, aren’t we?”

“You… you still wanna get married?” Kyle asked as tears overflowed his eyes.

Taking his hands in mine, I answered, “Ky, I really fucked up. Our love couldn’t be stronger. I shoulda known you were only expressing your opinions… and maybe a little of your ignorance when it comes to French architecture. But above all else I shoulda never doubted our love. I shoulda known the name-calling was only teasing.

“I overreacted, and tragically so. I coulda lost you forever, but worse than that, if something had happened to me… you’d have never forgiven yourself. You’d have blamed yourself for the rest of your life. It would’ve been self-inflicted pain and I’d have been the cause of it. Believe me, I know what that kinda poison is like. No one should hafta go through what I’ve gone through.

“So yeah, I wanna marry you. I want to be with you ‘til death do us part and all that. And I never ever want to put you through that kind of pain again.”

“Not to blame you for what you did while on the street, but who’s Philippe?” Kyle asked.

“He’s the guy who ran the flat where I stayed.” I answered, but then Jake gave me that look that says, ‘You need to own up to this, son,’ and so I added, “He was the house pimp… a former street kid who took kids like me under his wing and made sure they were safe.”

“As far as pimps go, he’s decent,” Stéphan interjected. “He cares about his boys and doesn’t just use them. He’s a good part of the reason Freck’s still alive”

“Don’t you want to include your middle name, François?” Jake asked.

“He won’t tell me what it is,” Kyle lamented.

“I know what it is,” Jake admitted. “I’ve always known. I had to have it to file the court papers for guardianship.”

“You knew it and you didn’t tell me?” Kyle exclaimed.

“It wasn’t up to me to tell you,” Jake replied. “I never even told Ken.”

“I suppose you have a right to know it,” I jumped in. “It wouldn’t be right for my husband not to know my middle name, but I hate it even worse than I hate Francis. My middle name’s Lynn. Francis Lynn. How do you like that for a gay boy’s name? My parents musta had gaydar when I was in the womb or something. So I guess my full name’s gonna be François Lynn San Angelo Goldstein.”

“Damn, I’m so used to thinking of you as Freck that it’ll take a lot of rewiring to think of you as François, François,” Kyle added.

“I think that goes for all of us,” Jake agreed with a laugh

“You guys can still call me Freck, or Freckles, Schreck, Francis, Frank, Frankie, Lynn or even Fucker if you want,” I replied. “I’ll still go by Freck at Stuyvesant until I graduate, but once I start college, I’ll go by François. I’ll even change my name, legally, since I won’t be able to get married until I’m sixteen.”

“So what about what you said about Kyle insulting you?” Stéphan continued. That was probably the hardest thing for me to address, but it needed to be addressed. I could easily forgive Ky, but I’d never forget his put-downs.

“That’s something I can forgive,” I answered, “but I don’t know if I can ever forget it. Sustainable architecture is my passion, and if we’re gonna save the planet, we hafta replace older, inefficient buildings with new ones.”

“You see where I keep my office,” Stéphan pointed out. “Most tourists think it’s really cool, which is one of the reasons I’m here, since I cater mostly to tourists, but Parisians think it’s hideous. I like having clean lines and contemporary furnishings, and it certainly dispels the image of the disheveled P.I. most people think of when they think of someone in my profession. Most importantly, it makes it possible for me to charge what I’m worth. It makes it possible to afford to live in Paris.

“But the rent here is very high. Much higher than in most of Paris. I’m on a meter and I pay my own electric bill, and it’s very high. I can’t wait to see the bill for July, with the way I’ve been using the air conditioning. My friends who are in the old stone buildings are much more comfortable and they pay a lot less for electricity. The old stone structures may seem antiquated, but there was a method to the madness. High ceilings trap heat, keeping it away from the people below. Large courtyards help keep outdoor spaces in the shade, helping to cool the buildings overall. And the stone itself is a heat sink, helping to maintain a constant temperature, day and night. The only problem is that with an extraordinary heat wave like the one we’re having, the stone absorbs the heat and releases it slowly, keeping the building hot long after the heat has dissipated. But by combining air conditioning with stone, it’s possible to remove the heat during peak periods, allowing the building to cool itself the rest of the time.”

“So you’re saying that I still have a lot to learn,” I concluded.

“There wouldn’t be much point in going to architecture school otherwise.”

“And I was merely expressing an opinion and drawing on some of my knowledge of the very science Stéphan just outlined.” Kyle said as he looked me in the eyes. “I wasn’t insulting you by any means although you seemed to take it that way. I just see it differently is all. Besides which, doesn’t razing an entire city kind of defeat the purpose of sustainability?”

“I don’t want to raze Paris at all,” I countered, “but as an architect, I bridle at the restrictions imposed by the building height rules.”

“Forum Les Halles and the Pompidou Center are perfect examples of how you can still be inventive within those confines,” Stéphan pointed out.

“Yes, but it still perpetuates an affluent city proper, surrounded by middle-class suburbs and suburban slums,” I objected.

“That, my friend, is more a matter of attitude than architecture, and it seems to me you have the same problem in New York.”

“He’s right, Freck,” Kyle agreed.

“Yeah, I know,” I concurred. “It’s just hard for me to back down. You remember when I asked you to save me the next time I went down the rabbit hole?”

“Yeah, I do,” he replied, “and this is definitely that time, and probably not the last time.”

“No, I’m afraid it’s not.”

“There are two problems you need to face, François,” Stéphan interjected. “Firstly, there is your drug dependency, and you’re not the only one,” he added as he gave Kyle a withering stare. What was that about? Kyle didn’t seem to have an idea what he was talking about either. He just shrugged his shoulders and returned an inquisitive stare as he sipped his coffee.

“That’s your third cup of coffee,” Stéphan pointed out.

“So what?” he asked. “I love the taste of coffee.”

“And a lot of people love the taste of wine, but you’d do more than raise an eyebrow if I were drinking my third glass of wine since getting back to the office now, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but that’s different,” Kyle claimed. Interesting. I’d never really given thought to Kyle’s love of coffee before. It was just a part of him.

“Is taste the only reason you drink coffee?”

“Well no,” he answered honestly. “I need it to wake up in the morning. I need it throughout the day to stay awake.”

“Are you sleep deprived?” Stéphan asked.

“Well no,” he answered.

“Do you see anyone else here drinking coffee?”

“No, but I’m the coffee addict in the family.”

“Think about what you just said, Kyle, and I think you’ll realize you hit the nail on the head.”

Did Kyle just admit to being addicted to coffee? I didn’t need to think long about it. Without coffee he couldn’t function at all, yet I seemed to get by just fine without it. But addicts need to give up their addiction completely. I couldn’t picture Kyle ever giving up coffee. He loved it with a passion.

“Are you suggesting I give up coffee?” Kyle asked Stéphan.

“As a student, it will be hard to give it up entirely, especially in university,” he answered, “but there is an alternative. You can wean yourself from the caffeine in coffee by gradually substituting decaf, and then drink regular coffee only when you need to stay awake, as for example with a particularly boring lecturer, or to study for an exam. I think you’ll find that if you use caffeine sparingly, it’ll be much more effective when you really need it.”

I had to admit, that made perfect sense and apparently it did to Kyle too, as I saw him nod his head.

“Now Freck,” Stéphan continued, “you have a serious problem with marijuana and it was unresolved even before your relapse, which was why you went back to it. You definitely need help to avoid it going forward, but there’s an even more significant issue… the reason you used pot in the first place. Can you explain it, François?”

I didn’t even need to think about it. “I smoke pot to dull my pain,” I answered.

“But pain is such a nebulous word, right?” Stéphan countered. “It means so many different things to many different people. Pain can be sharp, lancinating, stabbing. It can be dull, aching, throbbing. It can be tingly, numb, burning freezing. Which was yours?”

How could I describe my pain? It wasn’t real, was it? But then I thought about it and answered, “It was kind of dull and aching, but maybe even more, it was an icy-hot, burning, freezing numbness, but that doesn’t make sense!”

“How’s that,” Stéphan asked.

“Well, I felt painfully numb from the absence of emotion. My parents didn’t love me, but they didn’t hate me either. They just didn’t care about me so long as I didn’t embarrass them. They displayed me like a fine sculpture, expressing pride to their guests until the guests departed, but then their pride just switched off, just like that. I got more caring from my dad’s secretary and my mom’s manager than from my own parents. So what did I do? I went and smoked pot to replace one kind of numbness with another. It doesn’t make sense!”

“I think it makes perfect sense,” Stéphan responded. “There are many kinds of numbness. You said so yourself. There’s the burning, painful kind of numbness, such as when your foot falls asleep, or you get frostbite, or when the Novocain starts to wear off at the dentist. Then there’s the pleasant kind of numbness when you slip into dreamland, when you’re comfortably numb.”

Kyle and I turned to look at each other as we simultaneously said, “Pink Floyd!”

Looking back at Stéphan, I asked him, “How do you know all this shit?”

Laughing, he replied, “I have a Ph.D. in child and adolescent psychology, but the pay for therapists in the field is, as you put it so nicely, shit. I took some courses in forensic psychology in school and realized I like that kind of work. It allows me to apply my knowledge to place myself inside the heads of my young victims and use that knowledge to find them. The hard part is that a part of me dies every time a kid is already dead by the time I find them, but finding a child alive is the greatest feeling in the world.”

“So where do we go from here?” Ken asked.

“I think you may now realize that the assumption that François would be fine, just from putting him in a loving environment was incredibly naïve. He’s going to need a lot of help, both in terms of his drug dependency and in terms of his residual feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. And he needs help to develop his own sense of self-worth, independently of all of yours.

“Let me ask you, what are his sleeping arrangements at home?”

“He sleeps with me,” Kyle replied.

“That’s what I figured,” Stéphan responded. “Is space tight in your home? Is there another bedroom you could use to make it just his?

Laughing, Jake answered, “We have six bedrooms, with a home office, a study for the kids and a guest room that never sees any use. But Ken and I are hardly ever home outside of family life and the home office is mostly a place to keep our papers, which are all on-line now anyway. We could easily combine the office and guest room and that would leave a separate bedroom for Freck.”

“Why does he need a separate bedroom?” Kyle asked. “We love each other, so why can’t we share a bedroom?”

“I know you love each other, Kyle,” he Stéphan answered, “and I know you’re sexually active and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t still enjoy a loving, sexual relationship so long as it doesn’t become obsessive, possessive or compulsive. However, you’re both still children and even though intellectually, you’re functioning as adults, your psychosocial development is still a work in progress. You still need to develop your independence and you can’t really do that unless you have your own space. If you’re always together, you’ll always have a social handicap and even if you separate, you’ll seek another dependent relationship, and that’s not healthy.”

Wow, that was a lot to think about, and I saw Kyle was equally affected by it.

“So anyway,” Stéphan continued, “It’s essential that you, François, and your family go for regular counseling, and not just weekly. I’d recommend that you see someone at least twice a week until you leave for university next year, and as a family at least weekly. I’d suggest that when you go away to university, that you and Kyle room separately, but I suspect that’s a non-starter…” Kyle and I were both shaking our heads. “But at least you should resist the temptation to put your beds together. You can satisfy your sexual desires without sleeping together every night. And you should make the effort to have your own friends and interests, separately as well as together. That’s very important, and it applies now as well.”

“What about the rest of the trip,” Jake asked. “Should we cancel it and go back home?”

“I think that would be a grave mistake,” Stéphan replied. “You’d regret it the rest of your lives, and there’d be so much guilt on everyone’s part that that alone could split the family. I think the best thing is to go on with your travels and to talk frequently as a family. Just remember that travels are a stressful time for most families and not just yours. It’s rare that people who are close are together twenty-four-seven, and tempers often flare. The best thing to do when that happens is to call a time-out and discuss things as a group but taking turns. However, should you ever need outside help, please call me, on the house.”

But there was something else on my mind that had me worried shitless, and I had to get it off my chest, even if it did mean we had to change our plans.

“There’s something else guys,” I began. “The night before last, three of the boys came down with a terrible cough and low-grade fever. Philippe thought it might be from smoking contaminated weed. The three boys affected were the heaviest pot smokers, but then so was I.

“We smoked THC smuggled in from The Netherlands, where the stuff’s basically legal. We smoked it using Juuls. I guess there’ve been some cases of kids getting pulmonary fibrosis from using bootleg pods in their Juuls, and Philippe thought that might be what was going on. He had us all checked over by a doctor, and the doctor thought it unlikely I could’ve been affected in such a short time.”

Smiling, Ken answered, “As physicians, Jake and I get regular reports from the New York State Health Department and, yes, there have been reported cases, just as you described. We don’t know what the contaminants are just yet, but there’s a lot of conjecture that burning them produces cyanide, and the cyanide is highly toxic to the cells that line the lung. Actually, cyanide is toxic to every cell in your body. It decouples oxidative phosphorylation, which in lay person’s terms, prevents the mitochondria from utilizing oxygen.

“Killing off a few cells in the lung generally isn’t a problem and it happens all the time from environmental toxins, but your phagocytes make quick work of the dead cells and the lungs quickly repair themselves. The problem is with repeated exposures, such that the phagocytes fill up with dead, toxic cells and then they die too. When that happens, fibroblasts move in and the lungs are repaired by laying down scar tissue. Not only do fibrotic lungs lose their elasticity, but they can’t exchange oxygen as well, and the effects are permanent. There’s just no way a few days of heavy pot use would do that to you, Freck. You’re in the clear.”

“But the doctor said something else that has me even more worried,” I countered. “He said the symptoms the boys had was also consistent with TB. I’m scared I might have gotten it.”

“Mycoplasma tuberculosis is a funny organism, “Ken responded. “It’s an intracellular bacterial pathogen that’s able to hide from your immune system, literally by hiding out inside your cells. That’s why it’s so hard to develop an effective vaccine against it. It has a very long life-cycle that allows it to remain dormant for years. Yes, it’s transmitted by coughing and the primary infection is in the lungs. It infects the cells at the base of the lungs and enters the bloodstream, where it makes its way to the apices of the lung… that’s the top part. Kind of a roundabout way of getting there, but it infects the apical cells and remains dormant for a long time. It isn’t ’til it reactivates that it’s infectious, so the chance of getting TB from kids who have a primary infection is just about zero. And we can always have it checked out when you get home.”

“Wow, that’s a relief,” I admitted.

“Given the fact that three of them came down with the same symptoms simultaneously,” Jake chimed in, “I seriously doubt that the boys had either pulmonary fibrosis or TB, both of which need time to evolve. Perhaps the heavy use of pot made them more susceptible, but most likely they all came down with a common upper respiratory infection from an ordinary virus. Again, there’s nothing to worry about.

“There is a much greater concern, though,” Jake continued. “You had unprotected sex with teenage prostitutes. That’s a very high-risk behavior and you know it.” I dropped my head in response. Of course I knew it.

“The last thing you’d want to do is to give an STD to Kyle, particularly something like HIV,” Jake continued, “and unfortunately, you might not become HIV-positive for up to six weeks after exposure. That means you can’t be tested until we get back home, and that you can’t have unprotected sex with Kyle until you test clean. I’m not willing to trust the life of my son to the integrity of a condom. Therefore, I’m going to have to insist that you limit your sexual activities to mutual masturbation and frottage for now. Is that understood?”

Kyle and I both nodded our heads. It was a tough thing to face, but Jake was being more than fair, and Kyle was being far more forgiving than I thought I deserved.

Just when it appeared we were about to break up and go back to the hotel, Ken spoke up. “You know Stéphan, I don’t think I mentioned it before, but my training is in pediatric neurology and I did a fellowship in epilepsy. However, neurology and psychiatry have the same specialty board and residents are required to train in both. It’s only the emphasis that differs. Is there any reason I shouldn’t provide counseling while on the trip?”

“In a word, yes,” Stéphan answered. “For one thing, you’re far too close to the family and even though you’re a recent addition, you can no longer be objective. Just as important, however, is that psychiatry involves the medical treatment of mental disorders, right? Your training in traditional psychotherapy is minimal, and in actual counseling is virtually nonexistent. You would need to do a psychotherapy fellowship first, no? You’re just not prepared to take this on.” Ken seemed to be relieved as he nodded his head. “So the bottom line is you should enjoy the rest of your vacation and have fun, and make arrangements for therapy when you get home.

“And don’t forget you can call me anytime.”

 

“We have some decisions to make,” Jake began as we sat around a hotel room that wasn’t big enough for all of us. “We were supposed to be on our way to Lisbon today, and then tomorrow we were going to spend time in Lisbon and then drive to Seville, Gibraltar, Málaga, Cordoba, and Granada. Of course it’s impossible to see everything we were going to see originally, but the primary choice is between trying to see as much as we can of what we’d planned, or to simply forget about most of Spain and Portugal, and take the high-speed train tomorrow morning to Barcelona, assuming we can get a seat reservation. We’d then pick up where we left off.”

“I really want to see Lisbon if we can,” I countered, “and Madrid for that matter.”

“How do the rest of you feel about it,” Dad asked.

“I know I’ve been a pain in the ass with my camera,” Roger began, “but who knows when I’ll get back here, if ever. I vote for seeing as much of what we planned as we can.”

“I feel the same way,” Kyle chimed in.

“Great,” Ken exclaimed. “I’ve already worked out the arrangements. We’re booked on a flight to Madrid tonight, and we’ll spend tomorrow morning at the Prada and the rest of the day seeing Madrid. We’ll then pick up our car on Saturday morning and drive to Toledo and on to Lisbon. We’ll spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning in Lisbon, then drive to Gibraltar, Granada, Valencia and on to Barcelona. We won’t have a lot of time along the way, but we’ll get to Barcelona only a day-and-a-half later than we’d planned, which we’ll make up by bypassing Switzerland and driving directly to Milan. We’ll miss out on some of the scenery… the Pyrénées, the Mediterranean coast and the Alps, but we’ll hit the highlights and then pick up what we’d planned.”

“If it’s Tuesday, this Must Be Belgium,” Roger said with a laugh, and we all joined in.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude, Codey’s World and Gay Authors for hosting them.

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.