Terry had that feeling again, the feeling that Jack was getting ready to break off with him. He noticed a small but disturbing distance in Jack's manner and it was days before he found himself in Jack's bed again. Everybody, everything around him seemed kind of haggard, and it was only the beginning of summer. He could just see everybody drying up and collapsing before the end.
He was searching for something in the store fronts down the hill. A paint store in walking distance. He was about to do something, not something he was planning, but preparing for while steadfastly not thinking about it. Though he had a running thought: "it's much safer than they think." He kept finding this thought in his mind, always pushed away by a surflike terror, breathtaking, washing over and ebbing away, but not too deep to stand up in.
Two gallons of white paint was just about right to carry home. He could have told Jack he was redecorating, and Jack probably would have approved. But after the necklace, he didn't want to talk about it with anyone. Everything about it was unspeakable and unbelievable. If he believed the thing about Eurick, what he was doing was inconceivable. If he didn't, why was it so hard to do it? Why was he in such a fragile state of mind? He never said what he was doing, even to himself. He didn't even say the word "paint" except when he was in the store, matching the paint chip.
He was breathing hard when he opened the door, not only because he had rushed up the hill with the paint cans. He set them down carefully in the middle of the apartment, his palms tingling with anticipation. He caressed the latex gloves into position, teased open the can, and poured the paint in incremental spurts into the paint tray. He rubbed the pink roller over the ribs if the paint tray, hesitated, watching the drops splash thickly back into the tray.
He took a shuddering breath, then spread the paint in great viscous sweeps over the walls. When the walls were glistening and blank, he stroked the broad brush gently across the lip of the can. He applied the paint with short, quickening strokes. his breath coming in gasps. his tongue prickly from the uric acid smell of the paint.
It was as much as he could do in one go. Later he took down the flowers, the garlic, the talismans. He put them all in a box in his bedroom.
He never once took off the necklace.
The next week he stopped off at different little stores on the way home. He bought the things one at a time, and furtively, as if anybody seeing him would know what he was going to do. Though he was still not saying in words what that was. He bought a bowl of pure white stoneware: no way he would use the dishes he ate out of. The scalpel fairly screamed as he took it off the hook. The box of bandages felt lurid in his hand as he stood in line to pay for it. He couldn't look at the things when he brought them home. He dropped them in a corner where he wouldn't have to look at them.
He behaved as if he would forget everything as soon as it was over.
Jack asked him at lunchtime how late he thought he was going to be. "Oh, fiveish," he said. There was no rush on right now.
"I'll take you home," Jack said, not asking: a challenge.
"I've got errands," Terry said.
"I don't mind," Jack said. Terry could look away from Jack's pale eyes, but there was nothing else in the world to see.
"They're boring errands," Terry said. He was thinking, "yes, bring him home, that's exactly what you need to do, that's exactly what you need to do." But what he was saying was, "I appreciate the offer, Jack, but I think I'd rather do these particular errands alone."
Jack bit air, sucking in his lips and his temper and whatever insult he read in Terry's words.
Terry almost ran after him saying "I can explain!" but of course he couldn't.
That was the first night he took off the necklace. He stood in the middle of the nearly empty livingroom. The night was hardly dark enough to turn the windows into mirrors. What else, he thought, rubbing his elbows. The invitation.
"Okay." He startled himself with his own voice, uncertain and self-conscious in the quiet house. Could Eurick hear him or not? It seemed like Eurick always just knew what Terry was up to. "I'm inviting you, Eurick. This is the invitation. Come in."
Hours later, a dry throat, nothing else.
He felt stupid. Of course it wasn't true, any of it. It was a game they played upstairs. And now they'd proved it. He went to bed, thinking at least he didn't have to wear that uncomfortable necklace anymore.
The experiment, if that was what it was, was over, and he had time for Jack.
Now that Terry was on a different team from Jack, it was not hard for Jack to avoid Terry. It wasn't conspicuous in any objective way, but to Terry, it was conspicuous the way there was no Jack around him all day, compared to the way that there had formerly been little incidents of Jack scattered through the hours, detouring on his way from one place to another, intercepting him at the water cooler.
He went back and forth in his thinking about it. It was more dignified to accept that he'd blown it and it was all over. It was stupid not to try to do something about it before it was too late. But it was too late already, wasn't it? He found reasons to pass Jack's door, and hesitated there for brief fractions of seconds, but the threshold seemed too high to cross.
Mary was in a bad mood when he collected Dylan. Her jaw was set and she didn't talk to Terry at all, addressing her short words to Dylan. Terry didn't ask. At night he stared at the phone until his eyes wouldn't stay open, but there was nothing he could think of to say, no decent apology to make, no possible explanation. His white white walls unnerved him, and every sound in the city sounded as if it originated in the skeleton of the house.
Jack didn't speak to him the next day either. Terry doodled little pyramids of circles and ovals while he waited for the computer to perform its task, and he thought he'd be glad to go crawling to Jack, to abase himself in any way, if he could figure out how. But he wasn't ready to make a scene if Jack was really finished with him.
If Jack would say something, Terry would know what to do. He thought Jack probably felt this way when Terry wouldn't go home with him, and he felt bad that he hadn't spent more effort making believable excuses, letting Jack know he'd be available again. He just hadn't thought ahead. Hadn't thought.
Silence all day at work, silence all night at home. On this third night he spoke out loud again. Musing bitterly. "I invited you. Why didn't you come? Faker."
He looked at the clock. Too late to go out. Too early to expect nature to knock him out.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Eurick's voice.
Terry turned slowly, startled but not really surprised. Eurick looked awful.
"It's a gift," Terry said.
"I don't want it." Eurick said. It was obvious as he chewed his lip that he was lying.
"You don't want it because you think it's dangerous," Terry said. "But I've noticed things. It's not like you say it is at all."
Eurick shook his head. "wishful thinking," passing his hand over his mouth, "I know how it feels."
"I see you all the time among unprotected people and you act like you don't even know they have blood in their veins. You share a bed with Mary. You're completely comfortable with her. You even had a good time at Dylan's birthday party. You acted like you'd never been hungry in your life," conveniently ignoring the flash of a glance Terry had seen,"and it wasn't the first time I saw you do that."
"After Dylan's party I had headaches for days from the sun."
"But you forgot everything during the party. You forgot you ever wanted blood."
"You're talking about a yard full of little kids," Eurick said with an expression of distaste.
"If you were what you think you are it wouldn't have made any difference."
"You've seen things with your own eyes. I know I can't make you believe the things I feel."
"I didn't say I don't believe any of it." Terry reached behind the couch where he had stashed the bowl and the other things, conscious that Eurick's eyes followed him,. "I just know that you're not the monster you think you are."
"I'm not a monster. I don't want to be a monster. I don't want you to make me a monster."
Terry sat down. He arranged the things on the table in front of himself. "You're not a monster," he said, rolling up his sleeve. "I don't want to make you a monster, and I couldn't if I did."
His arm was slender and smooth and pale on the inside, the tendons and the blue veins just under the skin at the wrist and the elbow. "It's just a little gift to you and Mary. A little break for her, a little extra for you." He didn't look up, but he knew Eurick was staring at him. It's only a little blood. She says it's only a little. It'll go right into the bowl, you can take it away with you. No big deal." He paused to tie his arm off, making a fist like they told him to do at the blood drive. Opening and closing it. He wiped his wrist with alcohol. He had a sudden doubt about using the wrist. People killed themselves slitting their wrists. But he was pretty sure -- it was the vein, right there, not the artery.
He had trouble with the scalpel. He hadn't practiced. He was pretty sure what to do. He didn't really want to do it.
He took it as proof that he wasn't crazy, the fact that he didn't really want to cut himself.
"This is not Mary's idea," Eurick said. "She didn't even want me to come try to talk you out of this."
It was as if the skin were impervious there, or the scalpel was dull. He couldn't -- but suddenly he was through the skin. Off target, and only a superficial slice. "Rats," he said, looking up to see Eurick biting both hands, not moving. He opened his mouth to tease him, but decided he didn't want to remind Eurick that he could easily get the scalpel from him.
The second time he was more successful. A rubbery pop, and then the blood was seeping over his skin. It seemed to be flowing fast at the wound, but only a few drops hit the inside of the white bowl, making little spiky circles like sun disks which ran away into pale streaks.
"I'm sorry, I don't know how long this takes," Terry said. "I'd have done it in advance, but I didn't know if you were going to come."
Eurick's eyes were dilated black.
"Don't worry. I've got these bandages to bind it off with before too much comes out." Terry's heart lifted: Eurick had stopped chewing on his hands and was smiling a tender haggard smile of acquiescence.
It was getting painful to hold his wrist up over the bowl, and the wound ached. Terry wished it would flow faster and be done -- and Eurick wasn't standing in front of him anymore.
The couch cushion next to him sank and Terry could feel Eurick's cold bulk there. He swallowed as Eurick took hold of him, gently, pulling him close, circling round him and taking his wrist. As Eurick hesitated another two drops splatted into the bowl. Terry looked up from the two red circles as they ran away, and into Eurick's deep eyes, and nodded, folding into Eurick's cold breast. "It's okay," he said.
Eurick still hesitated, and little rain of small drops splashed into the thin film at the bottom of the bowl. Tinier drops bounced back to the sides.
"It's okay," Terry snapped, afraid the blood would get on his clothes or his furniture. "Go ahead."
"Only a little bit," Eurick said.
When he began it was like a kiss. Eurick's tongue lapped across the mess the blood had made over Terry's arm, tracking the red trails down to his elbow and around on the back where fine pale hairs lay against the skin.
And then. He got Terry's wrist with both hands and got to work on it. It was nothing like the blood drive at the Red Cross now. He was always relaxed during the blood draw there, but he never had this sense of crumpling into a friendly, sweet, welcoming abyss. He pressed his fingers against Eurick's cheek and let his head fall on Eurick's shoulder.
Maybe he slept.
"Good thing you got these big bandages," Eurick said softly, as Terry passively watched him snugging the bandage down firmly over his wrist. "You want a lot of pressure on that so it will stop bleeding quick."
Terry was in a slow-witted fog, but here was Eurick: businesslike, brisk, cool and friendly. To look at him, he'd dropped ten years. He had a little of that confident smirk Terry had seen in February, after Mary had left him blood.
"Do me a favor," Eurick said, standing up. "Stay away from me for a couple of days. And put that necklace back on. You might be right about it, but you don't know how it feels."
Terry nodded. He would do anything for Eurick now. Really. When he's thought that before, he hadn't known what it meant. Now he did. Even the ache in the wound was pleasurable. He curled into the cushions and watched Eurick clean up. "Pleasurable" -- a funny word. "Please," now, that was even funnier. When you asked for something, you would say it, but who was the one who was pleased? Who was pleased now? Had Terry said "Please let me give you this?" Next time he would. He'd say please.
He woke up thirsty, maybe a little tired. He changed the bandage carefully and put extra ones in his pocket. He put on a long-sleeve sweater over his long-sleeve shirt. He remembered the remarks about people who wore turtleneck shirts to cover their hickeys -- "vampire bite you last night?"
He drank an extra glass of orange juice and an extra cup of coffee. He started out a little earlier, propelled by an eager sense of well-being over a slippery anxiety down at ground level. The morning was bright, the fog burned off before it could accumulate, the house looked like a fairy tale house with its roses and nasturtiums and its rickety-legged stairs.
The next task was fixing things with Jack. Everything seemed possible this morning. This afternoon, he'd fix things with Mary.
The thing to do was to make a little symbolic gesture to break the ice with Jack. As if he were starting from scratch. It really seemed possible. everything seemed possible. The sun glinted off the streetcar tracks and the plastic panel signs above the little stores. The streets had never seemed wider, or brighter, or cleaner. He had change in his pocket for every panhandler he passed. He felt like the dancing hero of an old musical, passing pleasantries with every quarter.
Here was a square blond woman dressed in too many layers of sweatshirts and a frayed red watchcap, her hands full of improbable flowers, great blooms with ungainly stems, clearly stolen from people's yards. She muttered "a dollar for a flower, a flower for a dollar," and Terry focused in on a stalk of cymbidium orchids among the valerians and variegated roses and bird of paradise. "I'll take them all," he said, handing her a twenty and marching off with them, the faint scent of the gaudy roses in his nostrils.
The place was still rather empty when he arrived. He glanced at the clock and made straight for Jack's office. The door was open, a cup of white coffee on the corner of the desk, an open briefcase. Jack was somewhere else. Quickly, furtively, Terry arranged the flowers in a heart shape across the open space in the middle of Jack's desk.
He couldn't get enough water. He began to bring three cups back to his station at a time, so he wouldn't be getting up so much. By ten o'clock his energy had faded, but not his sense of well-being. He didn't feel exactly drowsy, but snoozing was an attractive thought. He stopped checking for Jack after a while.
Jack's face loomed in his peripheral vision, but his reaction was slow: long enough a before he turned his eyes from the screen for all the sweet trust of the morning to flee. He was petrified. Jack was carrying around his manager face, all affable neutrality. He stayed just long enough to say, "Pick me up at my office when you're ready to go to lunch," and then he was gone, leaving no signal of his intention, no secret smile, no cold signal that this was to be the meeting where Jack told him off once and for all.
Terry turned back to the screen, petrified for another long fraction of a second before he picked up the flow of the work he was doing.. The work went on before, but the color of the half-dream under his work thoughts was murkier now.
He was almost the last to go to lunch. He waited until he had made the same slip on the keyboard three times in a row. He discovered as he stood up that a large part of the water he'd taken in through the morning was demanding to be let out again.
"Got to visit the john before I visit Jack," he told himself.
He caught himself in the mirror. He didn't look nearly as good as he felt. He slapped his cheeks, and rinsed with cold water, and thought he looked a little less pale.
He stepped into Jack's office. The flowers had been put into a bowl, or maybe a ceiling light shade. "Get the door, will you," Jack said. "There's a lock."
The lock was a finicky little button hidden behind the knob. Terry chipped his thumbnail working it. He was sucking the side of his thumb as he crossed into the room, watching Jack for an indication.
Jack met him in the middle of the room. He took Terry's face into his hands and kissed him, hard, pulling him into the corner.
Terry hesitated. "Here?"
"Just be quiet," Jack said softly, pushing him lightly against the wall. In seconds Jack had him half undressed and shuddering. Terry dropped to his knees. It was over so quickly he was taken by surprise by a mouthful of familiar taste and swallowed it before he remembered the new rule he was supposed to be following. He fell back on his haunches.
"Sorry," Jack said.
"It's okay." He stood up and straightened himself out. He looked at his watch. There was plenty of time. "Want lunch?"
"No, you go ahead," he said, returning to his desk, picking up a piece of paper.
Terry was too surprised to move right away.
Jack looked up briefly. "I'll see you later," he pronounced clearly.
Deflated, Terry walked out and down to the street. The aftertaste was bitter and waxy. Aimless, he ran out of time and ended up eating greasy piroshki from a dark corner store.
He slowed down more and more during the day. Marcia called an unpleasant meeting to discuss some dissatisfactions she had with the way the work was going. It took up most of the afternoon, which meant that all Terry had to do was sit up and look attentive, but it also meant that he didn't get much more done. He didn't have much to do with the problems being discussed. Marcia could have done the whole thing with three team members.
Of the people who did have suggestions to make, Lana made the most sense, but every time she spoke Marcia shut her down. Lana gave up after a while, and started passing Terry notes with what she would have said, but she indicated by a shake of her head she didn't want Terry to be her voice. Marcia noticed.
The meeting dragged on after five. Terry went to scribble on his time card. He didn't have the energy left to talk things over with Lana, but he commiserated with her with a glance, a hug, and a pat on the arm.
Jack hadn't waited for him. He wasn't in his office and he wasn't by the door. As he mounted the streetcar he felt his spirits sink as low as they had been high before. "Maybe he'll call tonight," he thought. "Or maybe not."
But the next thing he had to was to check in with Mary. Last night was meant as a gift to her as well as to Eurick, but in the light of afternoon he thought she could very easily see it differently. There were lots of ways she could take it wrong. She might be jealous. She might be angry. She might not believe all the soothing things Terry had said to Eurick.
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