“He promised to help us?” Jack asked cocking his eyebrow. Michael was nervously playing with an apple in his hands and nodded.
“He said that he could try to get me in Paris with him. I told him I wouldn’t go without you and he promised to help us both. What do you think?” Although they were alone Michael spoke in hushed tone as if afraid that the walls would have ears too.
“Um… How would he do that?” Jack asked, puzzled. He understood now how fond Jean had to be of Michael, to offer his help like this.
“He didn’t know yet, he suggested that we would all meet and discuss about it.” Michael finally bit into the fruit in his hands while looking at his boyfriend intensively.
“What have you told him?” Jack asked, still skeptic.
“The main parts of our situation, not the details, I told him that I want to talk with you first.” Jack nodded slowly. Michael didn’t divert his gaze from him. “Well?” He asked slightly impatient and the older boy sighed.
”He wants something in return… But … We could use help, so I think we should at least hear him out.” Jack resigned. Michael nodded, of course the man would want something, probably sex, what else would he have to offer?
A couple of days later Michael and Jack sat in the living room of Jean’s rental flat. Jack held Michael’s hand and noticed the man’s somewhat sour reaction to it.
“Would you like some coffee?” Jean asked.
“Thank you,” Michael smiled and Jack nodded.
“Milk or sugar?” Jean asked in calm tone.
“Milk for me, Jack likes it black.” Michael answered. Jean smiled and left to the kitchen. Few minutes later he returned carrying three cups on a tray.
“Here you go,” he handed the cups to the boys and sat down. “As I’m sure Michael told you, I’m willing to help you two.” Jean said looking at Jack. The boy was pale and thin, he had a hint of dark under his eyes. Jean glanced the boys thin arms as he was drinking his coffee and noticed the needle marks; drugs, as he had suspected.
“He did, but why? What do you want for it?” Jack asked. Michael had lowered his hand upon his thigh stroking it soothingly. Jean cleared his throat and smiled.
“Michael is…” Jean started, looking at the younger boy whom had a healthy glow on his skin compared to the other. The boy gave him that sweet slightly embarrassed look that made Jean’s smile more genuine. “I care for you Michael, you’re a sweet boy and I couldn’t leave knowing that I’d leave you in trouble.” Jean diverted his gaze to Jack. “And because you’re important to Michael, I want to help you as well.” Jean said and sipped his coffee.
”But what do you want for it?” Jack asked again and Jean sighed.
“I want Michael to move to Paris with me.” Jean replied honestly and noticed how the younger one startled, how the pale boy narrowed his eyes. “I’m very taken with Michael, very attracted, I won’t lie. And I believe that I could offer a good life for you, with me.”
“I won’t go, not without Jack!” Michael snapped. “ I told you!” Jack gave his hand a soothing squeeze.
“You want Michael to be your personal whore, is that what you mean?” Jack asked in tight tone.
“No, I want him as my lover.” Jean said. “I would get you to Paris with us too, Jack, I wouldn’t forbid you two from meeting each other. But… Michael, you I want to stay with me.” Michael gritted his teeth. He wanted to be alone with Jack, love him alone, something normal, not something like this! “You need help,” Jean repeated. “I believe that I can arrange passports to you both, if you stay here without ID, you won’t survive for long. I want to help, but…”
“Everything has its price.” Jack took note in almost defeated tone.
Michael got up and lowered his coffee cup on the table. “Let’s go, Jack…” He said.
“Michael?” Jean sighed and got up as well but the boy shook his head stubbornly.
“I want to go now with my boyfriend.” Michael headed to the hall. “Come on, Jack! “ He called and Jack glanced at the man who held somewhat helpless and miserable mien. Jack sighed.
“I’ll talk to him,” he whispered before following Michael..
“I won’t agree to it!” Michael huffed as Jack led him to a secluded alley. Jack lowered his hand on his shoulder, Michael wept. “I want to be with you Jack!” He wrapped his arms around Jack tightly and kissed his cheek.
“Michael, we don’t have many options… His offer…”
“I don’t care! You’re my boyfriend! We’ll figure something out.” Jack stroked Michael’s back feeling sad.
”You said that he’s gentle…” Jack whispered. “You said you like him… Michael, listen to me…” Jack swallowed, held the other close. “You know that we wouldn’t really last long living on the streets…. Lets just give him a chance to at least to tell more about his plan? Okay? We can decide then.”
“I won’t go, not without you.” Michael whispered.
“You don’t have to, you heard what he said… Lets go back there, okay? Lets talk things further… He already knows and we have little to lose if we tell him more.” Jack kissed Michael’s forehead, stroked his hair and finally the younger one calmed enough to agree going back to Jean’s. Jack was right, it was not like they had much other options.
There was still hope, Jean thought as he listened Michael completing the story that he had started earlier, The other boy sat beside Michael, stroking his hand and observing Jean carefully. Jean wanted Michael, in reality he was afraid to take Jack with them to Paris though, simply because would make that much harder to win over Michael’s heart and his trust. On top of that, Jack’s addiction to drugs might become a real problem in the future.
“Richard Larkin and Joe Taylor,” Jean repeated the men’s name thoughtfully. “Their families don’t know about you? “ He asked. Michael glanced at Jack quickly before he looked back at the man.
“No, Ricky’s family lives further away. They believe that he’s straight and… Honestly, I am not sure how he’s explained my staying with him to his family. To other people he simply claims that I am his illegitimate nephew, of a brother who is dead. His family rarely visits New York, they haven’t visited even once while I’ve been with him.”
“Joe’s family doesn’t know about me either… If one of them comes to visit he sends me away, to Ricky’s place or somewhere… “ Jack shrugged. “The neighbors and his acquaintances think that I’m a son of his friend that sometimes visits.”
Jean lit a cigarette, was quiet for a moment and thought about it. In the end everything might go a lot more smoothly than either of the boys thought. It didn’t really require much more that a couple of well thought out phone calls that would create a momentary chaos in the men’s lives. In best case scenario, both of them world have become too cocky, too self-assured, although they probably were smart enough to have a backup plan. “Alright, I have to check their background a little more, that’s the first step, the other is to arrange passports to you. It won’t be simple, but I’m confident that we’ll get this organized.” Jean smiled
Days passed and turned into weeks, Jean did his best arranging things and Michael visited him as often as he could for sex, to pay for the man’s help, or so he himself considered it. It was difficult to believe that Jean truly wanted him with him as an equal partner, that he had genuine feelings for him. Michael’s own heart belonged to Jack and he wasn’t ready to let another one that close.
It was also somewhat confusing how easy tricking Ricky proved to be. The monster didn’t show any sign that he would have known where he really was on those afternoons alone, or perhaps he himself had just turned into a great actor? Michael’s feelings towards Jean were conflicted, the man could be gentle, gentler than most, but still it didn’t suffocate the insecurity that he felt.
He continued making sure that once they’d get to Paris he was allowed to see Jack as much as he liked, making sure that Jean would arrange an apartment to Jack as well. The man stoked his hair and obediently repeated the same promises. “You won’t be a prisoner in my home,” Jean whispered. “Perhaps in time you’ll learn to care for me as I care for you.” Michael usually didn’t respond to this, he couldn’t tell what would happen. Jean could say that he wouldn’t be a prisoner, but they both knew that his gratitude would bind them together for a longer period of time.
Would there ever be a day when he could be alone with Jack? Live somewhat normal life and maybe… return back home? Michael often dreamt of seeing his family, but at the same time he felt too ashamed of what he had become. He couldn’t imagine how he could look his parents in their eyes and tell them where he had been and what he had been forced to do. It would surely disgust them, he would disgust them.
Jean on the other hand didn’t want Jack to come with and with each day he wanted it less. From what Michael had told him Jack’s use of drugs had only grown with time and Jean didn’t see how the change of environment would help. Michael however seemed too blind to how severe the addiction really was. Jean knew that Michael would do everything to save his boyfriend from it and it didn’t fit into Jean’s plans. He wanted to be Michael’s hero and the only man in his life; there wasn’t room for third in that picture.
Jack was still collecting money in that alley, Jean knew that. He had seen him few times after observing the situation. He believed that the boy gathered money to ensure the supply of drugs. One afternoon Jean followed him, waited until he got out from one apartment building.
Jack gave the man a surprised look and walked closer. “I want to talk with you,” Jean said. Jack nodded and nervously lit a cigarette, in a way he already knew even before the man had said it. He knew how attracted and how fond Jean was to Michael and from what he had heard from Michael the man had been good and gentle with him. Even as much so that when Michael after one weekend and Ricky’s party had been tired and sore when coming to their meeting. Jean had allowed him just rest by his side, stroking his back and his hair not demanding anything.
“Lets go to my place,” Jean said and they walked together in silence. Jack felt a pinch in the bottom of his stomach, felt the burn in his chest and eyes. He was afraid to talk. The door closed behind them and Jack felt sorrow from what he anticipated from the conversation.
“Would you like something to drink?” Jean asked and Jack nodded slowly.
“Juice?” He asked with raspy tone and Jean nodded, walked into the kitchen and returned a moment later with a glass that he handed to him. Jean sighed and sat down.
“There is one problem,” Jean started carefully, Jack brought the glass to his lips, his hand trembled and he managed to nod. “You see… well… this is quite risky… Those men will look for you and…” Jean sighed and kept a small pause. Jack glanced at him. “It’s easier to cover your tracks if your paths part.” He said finally. Jack looked at the content of his glass and gritted his teeth trying to swallow down the heavy feeling that he had. Of course he had expected this, he had always known that it would eventually happen, but still now that it had been said out loud it felt harder than he had anticipated. He knew that the real reason was that Jean didn’t want to share Michael with him and he couldn’t really blame him for it. “I’ll fix things for you as well, of course. There is a place in Canada…” Jean hurried to add. “You could get your addiction treated there…” Jack bit his nails, was quiet and thought about it.
“You would take good care of Michael?” He asked his voice quivering a bit.
“Of course, I care for him greatly and I’m certain that with time he’ll learn to love me as well. Michael will have a normal life, a normal home.”
“He deserves that,” Jack admitted quietly. He told himself silently over and over that this really was better for Michael. Jean could offer him so much more than him. His addiction and his behavior because of it, was only getting worse. There had been a couple of times already when he had pushed Michael from his way, without thinking clearly. There was a danger that someday something worse would happen, that Michael would get hurt and he would hate himself forever for it. Jack sighed. “Michael won’t agree to it, he’s too stubborn.”
“I know, “ Jean admitted. “The situation is this, two days from now Joe and Ricky both will get phone calls that will create such a big mess that your disappearance is the least of their worries. They have to focus on clearing the paths of their own lies. This gives you and Michael an opportunity to leave. I have already booked plane tickets, to Toronto for you and Paris for me and Michael.”
“It’s all happening so fast…” Jack breathed and got up, he was trembling.
“It’s better this way.” Jean said. “It’s better that Michael believes that you’re coming with us and that the idea to go in different direction came from you. Our flight leaves on Wednesday morning, yours late on Tuesday evening. You both come over to my place on Tuesday before those calls so that we avoid the risk of them trying to hide you. They don’t have time to start looking for you. Jean got up collecting some papers. “Here,” he handed them over to Jack. “The information of what I’ve arranged to you.”
Jack’s hand shook when he took the papers eyeing them through. Jean also gave him a new passport with new identity. “I’ll keep them here, but I thought you might want to look them through first.”
Jack nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“I also hope that in future you won’t contact Michael, surely you understand? In order for him to adjust better it’s easier for both of you to start fresh.” Jean observed the boy who smiled crookedly, without joy.
”But you have to promise me to treat him right!” Jack said tightly, looking straight in Jean’s eyes.
“I promise,” he assured. Jack brought his gaze back to the papers, promise of a better life, which however felt utterly meaningless without Michael. Still, Jack knew that this was better for his boyfriend. Sometimes when you loved someone you had to let them go, no matter how much it hurt.
It was difficult for Jack to hide the truth from Michael, but he forced himself to it. He reminded himself that it would be the best thing he could do for his lover, even though he might not understand it right away.
“Next summer we could go to Disneyland Paris together,” Michael had smiled excitedly and held his hand when they had rested together in bed the previous day. “You’ll finally get to go to Europe, Jack!” His heart had ached and tears had been difficult to smother, but somehow he had managed even though Michael had wondered about his silent behavior. Jack had blamed it on being nervous.
Michael believed that Jean had arranged an apartment for Jack, thought they would see often and fretted about the fact that he had to live with Jean. Michael corrected that he liked the man, but didn’t love him like he loved Jack. They had made love one last time, before Jack had to go back to Joe. “One more night, Jack, only one with these monsters….” Michael had whispered and smiled before he had left. “Then we’ll be free!” That night jack had cried himself to sleep.
The next afternoon they had arrived to Jean who was quite cheerful. They ate dinner together and Jack watched Michael silently as he sat next to Jean smiling and listening as the man pained their future with words. Jack wanted to believe that eventually Michael would be happy and that he’d forget about him.
In order for Michael not being able to stop Jack from leaving, Jean had mixed sleeping drug to his food. Jack was aware of that, he knew that otherwise Michael would do anything to stop him and they didn’t have time to lose. They had to go along with the plan so that they would have time to leave the country before Ricky or Joe would have time to look for them.
The drug began working and already around 7pm Michael complained about being tired which Jean suggested that he would go to bed, the flight would leave early and it would be a long day.
“You could write him a goodbye letter,” Jean suggested after Michael had fallen asleep. Jack nodded and Jean gave him a sheet of paper and a pen. “Tell me if you need any help,” he said and sat across from him, pouring a glass of wine for himself. Jack sighed deeply, though for a moment before bringing the pen to the paper.
“Dear Michael,” he started swallowing his tears. “I didn’t want to tell you earlier since I know you would have tried to stop me. The truth is that I met someone else and I feel it’s easier if you and I part our ways. You can focus on Jean. He really is a good man and will take care of you. Do not worry about me, I’ll be fine…” Again Jack had to take a moment to think. “I told Jean about this and I asked him not to tell you. Jean promised to help me and…” Jack tried to think of a name. “…Chandler, everything is fine, we have a place to go to and I believe I’ll be happy with him. I do care for you, Michael, always. This is however for the best. It is very important that you leave with Jean, do not bother to look for me. Even Jean doesn’t know where exactly we’re going. Take care Micha! Enjoy Paris and freedom! -Jack” He allowed the man read the letter and he approved it with a nod. Jack took the letter back folding it neatly.
“I’ll go see him one last time, if that’s alright?” Jack asked. Jean lit a cigarette and nodded.
“I’ll call a cab for you in the meantime.”
Jack walked silently into the bedroom. He felt tears running down on his face when he looked at Michael who slept innocent and unaware. He stepped closer and knelled by the bedside, lowered the letter on the nightstand before he brought his hand to caress Michael’s hair. He gave a shaky kiss on his warm forehead. “I love you… Dammit I love you…” Jack whispered. “This is for the best, you’ll be happy, you’ll see your family soon and all, I’m sure…” He tried to smile. “You wouldn’t be happy with me… We would end up being just two starving whore’s running on the streets and hiding… I would use drugs and it would crush you… No, you deserve better… That’s why I’m leaving.” Jack planted another kiss on the tip of Michael’s nose and his lips. “Jean is a good man, everything will be alright… I’ll never forget you.” Another small kiss, Michael moaned in his sleep and Jack rose slowly. It wouldn’t get any easier, he had to just go. A moment longer he looked at the other, trying to store his image in his mind to keep it there forever, he smiled with sadness and walked out of the room, with a heavy heart he closed the door after him.
“Want me to walk you out?” Jean asked and Jack shook his head.
“There’s no need, I’ll be fine.” He said and looked towards his lonely bag in the hall. “Swear to me, one more time, promise that you never, ever hurt him!” Jack pointed at the man firmly with his finger and Jean lowered his hand on his chest to his heart.
“I swear.” He promised. Jack gave a stiff nod and walked with heavy steps to the hall, he got dressed in his outdoor clothes and took his bag.
“So, I guess these are goodbyes,” He whispered. “Keep him safe.”
“I promise, don’t worry.” Jean said. “Take care Jack, I’m sure everything will go alright.” He smiled softly and the boy looked at him, gave another nod with sadness written on his face. After closing the door after him, Jack felt how the tears started to flow; giving Michael up was one of the hardest things he had done and he would miss him terribly.