Well, it's finally happened – I've fallen in love! I know what you're going to say, that I fall in love ten times a week. But this time it's the real thing, honest it is. I've got the stomach-churning, the bell-ringing, the angel choir-in-the-sky stuff - just the way Mum always said it would be. And it's wonderful! Are you happy for me, Maggs?
It's a boy, of course, my usual age-group, eighteen-to-twenty. I'm still in such a state I don't even know his name yet. In fact, I don't know anything about him except he's French, he's a couple of inches shorter than me and he has spiky straight brown hair and the deepest of deep blue eyes. I met him on this campsite outside Toulouse I sometimes stay at when I'm doing the Barcelona run – you know the one with the pool? Funny thing is, I wasn't even going stop here this trip but drive right through the night. It must be Fate. Do you believe in Fate, Maggs? I'm beginning to. If there hadn't been a security check at the border I might be half way to Paris by now. All this happened yesterday, by the way. Like it says in the song, "What a difference a day makes!" Up till then I'd been a bit depressed. Today I'm on Cloud Nine.
That's where I first saw him, by the pool I mean. Him and his mate were larking about, showing off the way boys do. They ended up falling in the water together. But when he climbed out again with the water cascading off him and sunshine glinting on his wet skin – wow! I was knocked out! It was like in that James Bond film - you know the one where that foreign bird comes up out of the sea in just a bikini? I never understood the fuss people made about that scene before, but I do now. He was stunning. He had on a pair of those loose-fitting cotton shorts the Continentals go in for. When they're wet they leave very little to the imagination. But that wasn't what did it. It was because he knew, see? Knew I was watching him. He didn't actually look at me but I could tell by the way he acted. You can, can't you? From the way they deliberately don't catch your eye. Soon as I realised I had to leave, I couldn't stay knowing what he was thinking. But then later I thought, this is stupid. After all, nothing's ever going to happen unless one of us makes the first move. Thing is, I don't want to make the mistake I made with little Ilja. Remember him? Course you do, I was forgetting. I've got to take it easy this time. Slowly slowly catchee monkey, as Mum used to say. So I've decided to go the bar tonight and if he's in there I'm going to try and speak to him. Just casual, like. What could be more natural? Couple of blokes being matey in a bar - couple of mecs I suppose I should say. Just hope my French is up to it - and my nerve. Wish me luck.
Your loving brother,
His name is Lucien. I overheard his friend call him that last night in the bar. And before you ask - no, I didn't speak to him, my nerve went at the last minute. How pathetic is that? Me who's had all sorts in my cab – runaways, tarts, or just boys willing to do anything for a free ride. It's not like me to get shy. Just goes to show how special this one is, I suppose. They were sitting at a table, him and his mate I mean, on the other side of the bar arguing about something - money, I expect, it usually is at that age. That's really why I didn't speak. It didn't seem the appropriate moment. And like I say, I don't want to push it. Anyway, I didn't mind. I enjoyed just watching him, the way he moves. And this funny little gesture he has of flicking his hair out of his eyes when he gets agitated. It sent a tingle right through me. See, even anger he does beautifully. Do you think that's because he's French? I've never really thought about French boys that way before my tastes being, as you know, usually for the more Slavic look. His friend is kind of cute, too, but blond and bit skinnier. His name is Robert, or Robert. Do you think they might be boyfriends? They share the same tent but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, does it? I know because I followed them to where they pitched their tent which turned out to be right on the other side of the campsite from where I'm parked. I thought I might move the rig up that way. They've gone off this afternoon somewhere in their car, a beat-up old Renault, so maybe I'll do it before they get back.
Well I did it. I moved the cab. I was lucky, a space came vacant opposite them just as I was manoeuvring so I was able to get in and set-up before they got back. Do you think they'll notice? Bit difficult to hide a ten-tonne Scania truck, I suppose. Last night I sat in the cab and watched them while they sat outside cross-legged on a blanket eating and drinking beer. Lucien drinks too much beer. He’ll start to look haggard before he gets much older. They sat up till nearly midnight like that just talking and drinking so I guessed they'd be late getting up this morning. And I was right. It was nine o'clock before there was any sign of life from their tent. Lucien appeared first, his eyelids glued together and his hair all messed up. He went over to the shower block clutching his little sponge bag. I stood in the cubicle next to his while he showered. It’s all right, I don't think he knew it was me. Afterwards I stood in the puddles he left behind and I found a discarded piece of soap in the waste gutter. I've got it wrapped in a piece of toilet paper back in the cab. It's not a brand I recognise but it has a gorgeous smell. I must try and find out what it is.
By the way, Derek phoned this morning wanting to know where I was. I'm supposed to pick up a load of frozen chicken for delivery on Friday in Krakow. If I don't leave by tomorrow morning I won't make it in time and Derek will probably give the job to someone else. Pete, I expect. He's been after my East European run for ages.
Hi Maggie, it’s me again.
I’m having a really bad day today. First of all I overslept which is something I never do, and then when I looked out of the window I thought for a minute the boys had left while I was asleep. Their tent was gone and so had the Renault. I started to panic but then I realised they'd left a few things – a bucket and some cooking pots and one of those hood-things the French leave over the site-peg to say it's occupé. I tell you I was in a right state for a while there. But once I calmed down and rationalised it I felt better. I don't know where they went but there was nothing I could do till they got back. I didn’t want to just hang around the campsite all day so I went into town and phoned Derek from the post office. I told him I might be back tomorrow night but I wasn't sure. He didn't sound too pleased but I couldn't make any firm commitment because I didn't know what Lucien and Robert were doing. You know what boys are like at that age. They might be back, there again they're just as likely to leave their gear and do a bunk without paying. I got really agitated for a while not knowing. But it was all right. When I got back their tent was back in the same spot, thank goodness. I don’t know what I would have done if they’d just disappeared. Probably gone looking for them the way I did with Ilja that time. He used to say I was obsessed. Yeah, that was the word he used, obsessed. He must have looked it up in his dictionary. Remember his dictionary? He was always looking up new words in that dictionary. I’ve still got it somewhere.
It was a warm night so I decided to sit outside this time. I’d bought some cheese and sausage and had it with a baguette. When the boys finished their meal they got up and started to walk down the slope towards me. I got a bit worried that they might be coming over and thought about getting into the cab but they turned up the path at the side at the last minute. Robert put his arm round Lucien’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear and laughed. I don't know what the joke was. I hope it wasn't me. I don't like that Robert. I think he’s a bad influence on Lucien. Went to bed feeling depressed.
You remember I said I thought Lucien knew I’ve been watching him? Well, now I know he does. Last night proved it.
It started off like any other evening - you know what these campsites are like, full of middle-aged or retired couples. Soon as it starts getting dark most of them pack up and go to bed. Pretty soon there was only me and the boys still up and I didn't want to be conspicuous so I packed up for the night, too, although I still sat up in the cab watching. Lucien and Robert were the only ones left sitting and just chatting really - you know, joking about. They weren’t being a nuisance but at night sound carries and around midnight someone shouted for them to give it a rest. I think it was a couple of Brits who arrived earlier in a campervan – I thought he looked like a toffee-nosed git when they arrived. Anyway, it was a plummy English voice so maybe that's why Lucien and Robert thought it was me. Next thing I know the pair of them are outside shouting up at me. Lucien was the worst. He couldn't see up into the cab but I could see him making obscene gestures. I felt like strangling the little fucker. Everybody must have heard him. It was humiliating. Fortunately, being near the Spanish border this campsite has a quick turnover of people so I only had to lie low next morning until most of them had gone. I should have gone too but now I'm too depressed to drive. I'll ring Derek later, spin him some yarn about a blown gasket or something. He can give the Krakow job to Pete.
There's been yet another twist in the Lucien saga, one I'm almost too embarrassed to tell you about. But we're best mates, aren't we? as well as being brother and sister, I mean. Mum always said honesty is the best policy, and I've never hidden anything from you. And as you'll see, it wasn't my fault. Well, not entirely.
After the fiasco of the other night I realised Lucien and I were probably never going to be friends now. So I went down to the bar to drown my sorrows and try to decide what I should do, stay or go, when the pair of them walked in. It was the first time I'd seen either of them since the incident and I thought they might have said something. But they only glanced at me when they came in and went and sat at a table on the opposite side of the room. I was drinking beer which I shouldn't do since it makes me morose. I'd probably had too many already which is why I stayed when perhaps I should have gone. But I thought, Fuck it, I have just as much right as they do to be here – scuse my French, Maggs. Anyway, like I say, there they were sitting at a table and pretty soon they were at it arguing again like an old married couple. I felt like saying something this time like, Why don’t you two just fuck each other, you obviously want to. But this time I realised it wasn't money they were arguing about, but me. I could tell because Lucien kept turning round in his seat and glaring at me. It was really pissing me off. I couldn't make out what they were actually saying but I suppose I could have had a good guess. I thought, Any minute now and I’m going to go over and smack him one. Maybe that's when I should have left but the beer was making me bolshy. I was fucked if I was going to let a couple of kids intimidate me out of the bar. So I just glared back at him and got on with my drink. Well, to cut a long story short, I didn't leave and next thing I know Lucien's stood up and he’s come storming over to me. He leans over the spare chair with a face like thunder. "Why don't you leave us alone?" he yells in his broken French accent. I was flabbergasted. I should have been angry, but I wasn't. I mean, I was angry but seeing him glaring down at me like that it sort of evaporated. It was so ridiculous. And he looked so cute standing there with his brow all puckered up and his fists clenched like a little boy who can't get his own way. He tried to look threatening and yet I could have floored him with one slap. I don’t know what I would have done if he’d tried anything. I just had to laugh which of course only made matters worse. He said something else in French then he left in a huff toppling the spare chair over as he went.
For a minute I was too stunned to move. But I must have shrugged or something because the next thing is Robert's coming over. I thought at first he might be wanting to have a pop at me, too, but all he did was pick up the chair that Lucien had up-ended, sat on it and smiled. I thought, Hallo, now what? But he took out a pack of those cheap French cigarettes and offered me one. Now, you know what I'm like about cigarettes, filthy things, but for some reason it seemed the right thing to do to take one, so I did. He took one, too, lit both and we sat puffing away at each other while someone put some music on the jukebox. It was a bit awkward for a minute because we hadn't even spoken before, so he put that right by offering his hand and saying very formally, Robert. I took it and said, Carl. "Enchanté Carl," he said grinning all over his face. I had to hand it to him, for a kid of nineteen or twenty he had bags of confidence. We sort of continued smiling warily at each other like that and puffing away not really knowing what to say next. So I offered him a beer, which he accepted, and went over to the counter to buy two. When we were settled again he leaned forward and said to me a bit sheepishly,
"You like Lucien, I think, yes?"
I said sure, I liked him. Why shouldn't I?
He said, "I think maybe you like him too much."
Of course I knew exactly what he meant but I asked him anyway.
"You watch him all the time – by the pool, in the bar. I have seen you. Your eyes follow him everywhere. That is why he is angry with you. It is too much. He feels – claustrophobe."
I bristled a bit at that. It reminded me again of Ilja. Only this time I thought I'd been pretty good at hiding my feelings. Seems I wasn't as clever as I thought I was. I said it wasn't just me, that Lucien played up to it. But Robert just shrugged in that way the French do.
"Of course. He is still a boy. But he is not gay. This I know. He is not like you, Carl. Lucien likes girls."
I could have denied it. I could have made out I was insulted but there didn’t seem any point. So I asked him how he knew.
"Because I grew up with him. We went to the same school. He talks about girls all the time."
I said so what? I had a girlfriend at his age. I had lots of girlfriends when I was his age. It didn’t mean anything. But he just laughed at me blowing smoke up in the air and shaking his head.
"Look, my friend. I tell you these things because I do not want you to be hurt. Accept it. He is not going sleep with you."
I don't know whether it was the alcohol wearing off or the shock of his words but suddenly I felt completely sober. I had truthfully never thought about Lucien in those terms. Physically, I mean. I fancied him, of course, but if you'd asked me then what I really wanted from him I wouldn't have been able to tell you. So I winged it a bit. I said I didn't want him to be my lover. I said I'd pay him. That threw him. His smile vanished and he looked long and hard at me. He said,
"You want Lucien to be your whore?"
I said, no of course not. If that was what I wanted I only had to go into Toulouse and take my pick. But he was beginning to piss me off talking like I was some Parisian nonse and Lucien was just some boy tart. Christ, he wasn't much more than an adolescent himself. I was going to give him a lecture about love and honour and emotions. But what he said next really threw me. He asked me how much. I said, What? - like I hadn't heard him properly. He cleared his throat and leaned forward until I could smell the stench of his cigarette on his breath.
"How much would you pay him?"
I looked at his eyes. He was in earnest all right. I'd seen that look a hundred times on a hundred boys I’d picked up on the road. They think they’re so street-wise these kids yet they know nothing. I ducked the question and ordered two more beers from the bar taking my time getting them so that by the time I got back to the table I'd figured out what it was I wanted to say to him. I told him some bullshit about sometimes when you want something really badly but know you're never going to have it then you make do with the thing that touches it the most, like some people will pay a fortune for a dress that belonged to Lady Di because that’s the nearest they’ll ever get to her. He nodded slowly like he understood what I was talking about. But he didn’t really. Not surprising since I didn’t know either but it sounded good. He took a couple of mouthfuls of his beer his eyes on me the whole time working it out. What was going through his mind? I wondered. Whether he reckoned he could do it with me? Whether he'd actually like it? He lit another Disque Bleu and sat flicking the ash nervously in the ashtray with his thumb. At last he said,
"You have not answered my question."
What question was that? I asked knowing full well what it was but making him say it again. He looked me in the eye.
"How much would you pay him to let you fuck him?"
I sat back in my chair like I was thinking about it. I felt like laughing he was so obvious but I didn’t. I just took a long swig of my beer before I answered.
Two, I said. Maybe three.
He laughed almost with relief. "You expect him to sleep with you for three hundred francs?"
Thousand, I said.
His smile vanished. The hand that was holding the cigarette was resting on the table by the ash-tray. I placed my hand on top and gently stroked it. He did not move it away immediately but I could feel it trembling under my fingertips. When he brought his cigarette up to his lips again I could see his hand was shaking. It was Ilja all over again. Kids who think because they've got a cock and a hole in their arse they've got control over you. To be honest he meant nothing to me. I wasn't even sure I fancied him – too skinny, too French, and he smoked far too much. Still, I wasn't planning on kissing him and I hadn't had sex in over a week so I was up for it. So I thought, Why not? With the exchange rate the way it was, three thousand French francs was less that £300. I'd make that back in two days. It broke all my own rules but on this occasion I was prepared to do it. I felt I was paying Lucien back for my sleepless nights. And funny enough, I really did feel it was the next best thing to having him. He was bound to want to know where Robert had been all night and he'd have to be pretty thick not to work it out.
Robert downed his beer and asked me for another. Dutch courage? I felt like saying to him, You don’t need to worry, I won’t want you to do anything, just bite the pillow and think of what three thousand francs is going to buy you. But I didn't. I let him sweat it out till we got back to the cab. Actually, he was quite passionate in bed. Boys like him often are. They act tough but they’re not really. Afterwards he fell asleep and filled the cab with his farts.
Next morning his stinking breath woke me up – he was snoring right into my face. So I pushed him off. He looked wrecked so I brewed up some coffee and made him drink it. I knew what was on his mind. Now he'd done it was I going to pay him? Specially since he obviously enjoyed it at least as much as me. He sort of sheepishly hung around not wanting to ask. Of course I was going to pay him, I don't renege on deals. I took out thirty crisp one-hundred franc notes and laid them out on the dash so that he’d have to take them. Once that was out of the way he soon found some excuse to be gone and I didn't stop him.
A couple of hours later I was outside the rig checking the tyres over ready for the off. I'd decided there was no point hanging about any longer. Any last chance I might have done something with Lucien were scuppered as soon as Robert pulled his pants down. Robert must have had a similar idea. He was out there too letting the tent down and loading up stuff into the back of the Renault. He was looking a bit pissed so I asked him what was wrong. Seems Lucien had done a runner in the middle of the night, just taken his bag and gone. I asked Robert if he thought it was because of what happened between us but he just grunted something in French I didn't catch. I could see he was embarrassed talking about it and was keen to be off to see if he could find Lucien on the road so I didn't press him. At least he was man enough to shake my hand before I left and muttered something about looking him up if I ever got to Lyons, which was apparently where they came from. Since I never do the Riviera run I didn't think there was much likelihood of that, but I said I would anyway and told him to do the same if he ever got to Sheffield - fat chance. He was still packing up as I drove out of the camp.
Now I'm back on the road and headed north. If I drive right through I could be in Calais by nightfall and make the overnight crossing to Dover. With luck I might just make it back up to Sheffield in time to pick up that load of chicken carcasses.
P.S. You know me, Maggs, I hate leaving a job undone. It gets under my skin and I can't let it rest. That's why I decided to try for the Krakow run. Since I was going back empty I didn't anticipate too many hold-ups, and I was right. I got across the Channel with no trouble and was soon hurtling up the A1.
Next day I was up with the lark and down the depot before Pete and the rest got in. Derek gave me the usual bollocking for pissing him around, but he knows I'm his best driver and will still be around long after Pete has moved on. Besides, I really wanted that Krakow run. After the emotional roller-coaster of the previous week I needed a long drive to clear my head. Sitting around too long in one place always does for me. And I had a special purpose for going this time. I wanted to get away to be on my own. So once I'd made the delivery of frozen chicken I took off for the mountains just south of Krakow. It's beautiful around there, so peaceful. I often go there to be alone and think. Have you ever been? If not, you really must go.
You'll understand, Maggs, that I won't now be sending you this letter or any of the others I wrote while I was in Toulouse. Normally there's nothing I wouldn't tell you, you know that, but this is one thing I have to keep to myself. You see, I couldn't not have Lucien. I'd never have rested. He was just too beautiful. Blame Robert for that. I didn’t really think about Lucien that way until Robert mentioned it. That's what I went to tell him while Robert was snoring in my cab. He didn't understand at first but in the end it was all right. I held him in my arms looking down at his beautiful face so serene and calm. That’s how I’ll always remember him.
I'm sure he'll like it up there in the mountains among the pine forests and the little streams. It is a National Park, after all, so no-one will ever disturb him. I put him quite close to Ilja overlooking a hidden meadow I found. And I promise to visit them both whenever I can. Really, I think they’re lucky. They knew that they were truly loved by at least one person before they died. And how many of us can truly claim that?