The Donor

Chapter thirteen

      Lana met Terry at the lobby door downstairs from work. "I looked for you last night," she said, her clear eyes bright with gratitude, jaw slack with relief. "I got the best news. I'm switching teams."
      Terry was immediately suspicious. "I'm sure any change looks good to you right now, but are you sure this isn't something Marcia's doing to push you out the door?"
      Lana nodded energetically. "I'm sure. Jack's training me to take his place. He gave his notice yesterday too."
      Terry said, "That was clever of him."
      "You want me to put in a word for you? I'll be with him all day for four weeks."
      "What kind of word did you have in mind?"
      "I know you miss him."
      "Spare me," Terry said. "Look. I do appreciate your concern for me but if there's one thing I have learned it's how to live with what you haven't got. It was a fling. It was over. Life goes on."
      "I hate to miss out on the chance --"
      "Don't make a clean thing messy for me, please."
      "All right, all right. But I don't get many chances to play Cupid."
      "I'm sure you'll find others. As for now, I've got to be on time. I don't want to give Marcia an excuse to make me her replacement scapegoat."
      Not until Lana started lunching with Jack did Terry realize he had gotten into the habit of going out with Lana and nobody else. Now that she was busy, he realized he had nobody really to connect to. He did try going to lunch with some others, but found he had less to say than ever.
      What was it with his mind, anyway? Why was it so empty? He had practically nothing to say to anyone about anything. The world still went on around him. He participated in it, as far as he could tell. He did the things that other people did. He went out, he went to Dylan's practices and his games, he attended such events as the Pride Parade. He talked to his family, to Eurick, to Mary. He read books, watched television, went to the movies. And yet he had nothing to say for himself. He was like a stick.
      It hit him: this was what depression was. "I have depression," he said aloud to himself, trying the words in his mouth, and decided that it was more cheerful to say that than "I am depressed." It wasn't an integral part of himself: it would go away, eventually. Meanwhile he would just go on living. And August was coming up, and in August he would be giving blood to Eurick again.
      Lana e-mailed invitations to everyone for a party at her place, both to celebrate her promotion and to give Jack a preliminary send-off. She sent a separate message to Terry urging him to come, and again, passing him in the hall, she whispered, "Don't worry about Jack. I have a big apartment. Just come and enjoy yourself."
      Terry shrugged. He hadn't even thought of staying away on Jack's account. But he did wonder whether it was better to stay out of Jack's way altogether or to carry on as if there had never been anything between them. It did occur to him that Jack might notice him and remember how good they had been together, but he admonished himself: "No means no, and no is what he said." All the same he fretted about his clothes in the morning, dressing even more anonymously than usual, careful there was not a flirtatious thread on his body.
      He passed the calendar on his way out the door. "August," he thought. "Any day now."
      At lunch he walked three blocks to a pay phone on a windy corner.
      "Well, hello," Mary said. "Anything wrong? You've never called from work before."
      "Nothing's wrong. I just noticed it's August and I wondered what you thought of it."
      "And it couldn't wait till after work?"
      "Well," he said. "There's a party after work. And I just had some time to kill. So I wondered what you thought. I mean, if you've put any thought into time of day or whatever."
      Mary drawled dubiously,"No, but evening's probably best . . . not too late. You should probably have a day off after. But you didn't the other time, did you? And you were fine." She spoke vaguely, lightly, as if she would rather be thinking about something else.
      "Yes. I was fine. So. You don't care what day?"
      "No, any day's fine."
      "How about next Friday?"
      "Next Friday's fine. Look, Terry, I'm sorry, but I have to let you go. I'm sort of in the middle of something."
      Terry's ride was with a bunch of people he barely knew. There were four of them squeezed into the back seat, and Terry found himself more intimate than he wanted to be with the only other gay man he knew at the company besides himself and Jack. "Don't worry," Nathan said, patting his hand, "It doesn't mean we have to get engaged."
      On the sidewalk outside Lana's building, Nathan drew Terry aside. "Really, it's all right," Nathan said. "You don't need to be so keyed up. You'll do fine."
      "Thank you. I'll remember your name next time I need advice," Terry said.
      Nathan shrugged. "Sometimes I appreciate a word from somebody who has nothing invested in my life. I thought you might too."
      Lana's apartment ran across the whole second floor of a large building backed up to an unfinished length of elevated freeway. The ceilings were high, with decorative moldings and graced with large chandeliers. The windows were tall and the light switches were pushbuttons. Dancing was confined to one long narrow mirrored room, where the sound system consisting of a short stack of components and two large, oddly positioned speakers. Terry staked himself out in this room, dancing, or watching the dancing, not required to say anything intelligent.
      He thought he'd pulled it off nicely: hours had passed, he had socialized in his way, he hadn't seen Jack nor actually avoided him either. It had been dark for a long time, and he thought he could leave any time now. But Lana came in and turned off the music and turned on the lights. "Come on, guys, we're going to cut the cake," she said.
      "Somebody's birthday?" one of the dancers asked.
      "No, it's just a bon voyage cake, for Jack." She turned to Terry and held him with her gaze. "You have to come, too, Terry, be a good sport."
      "All right, I'm coming," Terry said, irritable at the suggestion that he would have been ungracious. "It's okay."
      But he hung back at the edge of the crowd while others gave speeches and made jokes. He watched Jack easily returning the teasing congratulations and the praise. Jack's slight flush from the excitement and attention reminded Terry of Jack aroused, Jack coming at Terry full of voracious joy. He hugged himself tight as if he could push back the wave of longing that came over him.
      The person next to him presented a slice of cake. "Yes," he said abstractly, but he wanted to be saying yes to something else and when he looked at the cake, it was the wrong thing for his mouth.
      On the other side of the table Jack was telling someone about the freelancing he was doing. Answering a question, he said, "Actually, Terry did it."
      Terry's ears pricked up. Jack's eyes flicked over him and returned to the person he was talking to. "Terry introduced me to a friend of his who had all the leads and advice I needed to get started."
      Terry put the cake down on the table and searched the thinning crowd for Lana. He found her deep in the kitchen, surrounded by dashing young women. "I'm going now," he said. "Congratulations again. Great party."
      "I was counting on you staying till the bitter end," Lana said. "I was planning on one of those all night gab fests over the dregs of the wine."
      "I'm sorry," Terry said. "I've got to catch the bus before it turns into a pumpkin."
      "I'll drive you home later if you want to stay," Jack's voice drawled behind him. "If home is where you're going," he added pointedly. "If you've got someplace more exciting in mind, by all means don't let me stop you."
      Terry passed his fingertips across his forehead. Okay: "Tell you what, Lana, let's have that gab fest with just us two whenever you like. I've got a headache to put to rest," and now he did, but he turned to ask Jack for that ride right now, but he wasn't there anymore.
      He wandered through the unevenly lit apartment, and twice he thought he saw Jack standing backlit in doorways but he was wrong. He looked through a couple of rooms but even with the thinning crowd it was a lot of people to wade through and his headache was getting worse every second. He did see Nathan and he said, "If you see Jack tell him I was looking for him but I missed him."
      Bitterly, walking down the street to the bus stop, he thought, "If only he wouldn't come at me so suddenly like that. If only he wouldn't take off so soon."
      "Rest, fluids, drop the spices for a few days . . .You think Tuesday?"
      Mary nodded and Terry went on. "And I should wait to unseal the house until Friday, right?"
      Mary sighed and nodded again with amused tolerance.
      "So I went too far last time in unsealing the house. What do you suggest? What should I remove and what should I let stay?"
      They were lying side by side on beach towels on the patio, clad in bathing suits, flanked by thick trashy novels, chips and Mary's strong salsa, and tall glasses of iced tea. Terry was wearing shades and Mary a hat.
      "You act like it's a date you're getting ready for," Mary said, chuckling, indulgent. "You're so caught up in the details."
      "Well, I want to do it right this time. Not upset things. Or people."
      "You're doing it okay," Mary said. "Nothing to worry about."
      "You know I think you must be the third person to tell me I'm doing okay in the last twenty-four hours," Terry said. "I must be projecting a mass of ill-confidence."
      "You are," Mary said. "But that's okay too. I do want you to relax, especially when it comes down to Friday. I want the whole thing to be as casual, as normal, as possible. Remember, you said it was no big deal last time."
      "That was after. Before, it was a big deal."
      "Something else on your mind too?" Mary was squinting at him, hard, as if she could see right through his shades if she tried. "Right? How was the party last night?"
      "It was a party. Some good dancing. Had a little jolt about Jack. About what you'd expect. Lana's apartment has to be seen to be believed, though."
      The week went slowly. Terry spent it in training for the event on Friday night. Work was merely an irritation. He had meetings with Marcia, where he was alarmed to learn that he was getting the bulk of Lana's work, which was reasonable in a way, since their work had more overlap than others, but he wondered if he was going to get her scapegoat status along with her work.
      Next Friday was his beacon, and last Friday a puzzle. If he had turned around fast enough, could he have read Jack's expression? He felt stupid, failing to respond in time to Jack's offer of a ride home. And here it was Thursday, and he hadn't seen Jack up close even once, and the force of longing that had hit him on Friday still not ebbed away.
      And then he had to go looking for Lana to clear up something in the work he had inherited from her. She had given him the same instructions Jack used to give him: to drop by the office when he was ready to go to lunch. He approached the open door warily. Jack and Lana were still at work over a stack of papers. They raised their heads at the same time as he stood in the doorway. Lana smiled broadly, but Jack wasn't giving anything away.
      "Better sit down," Lana said. "I want to get this right before we go." She was much more enthusiastic about this job than Terry could ever imagine being.
      There were still two chairs. Terry took the farther chair, gazing at the corner where Jack had him almost three months ago.
      Her felt Jack's gaze. Jack was red and uncomfortable, and did not smile as Terry held his gaze. Terry smiled the sweetest, friendliest was he could, thinking it must look utterly pathetic, then looked away.
      "No more," Jack said to Lena. "If you try any more you'll lose what you've got. Clear your brain and go clear up Terry's little problem."
      "Are you coming with?" she asked him breezily.
      "No," Jack shook his head. "I've got errands to run,. But I'll walk you guys downstairs."
      Almost too late, just before they parted ways at the front door, Jack stepped in behind Terry and said softly into his ear, "I'll take you home tonight." Not trusting himself to speak, he only nodded. Lana turned her sharp eyes to each of them, but as if she sensed the delicate balance of the moment, she barely cracked a smile.
      Precisely at five Terry logged off, wrote his note, and met Jack and Lana at the office they were sharing. This time it was Lana who sent Jack away. "It's not that urgent for me to get this one before you're gone," she said. "I'll muddle through."
      "Yeah, right," Jack laughed. "I bet you've never muddled through anything in your life." To Terry, "Most organized person I've ever met,"
      Lana looked like she was settling in for a long cozy read with an old bound copy of occupational safety rules.
      All the way to the car they were silent, Terry acutely aware at every step of the nearness of Jack, his mouth, his hands And in the car, only a few words passed about the surprising morning sun at the beach, Lana's apartment. Terry hardly looked at anything but the weave of his own trousers.
      When Jack parked Terry asked "Do you want to come in?" but he thought it was just a polite noise, because of course if Jack drove him home he must mean to come in. But Jack shook his head and drove away, leaving a smile lingering like a Cheshire cat's.
      He kept coming back to that as he went through his evening, putting different interpretations on it. Maybe it was just as it appeared: Jack drove him home but had no further interest. Maybe Jack wanted to be friends. That would be okay. Maybe there was something more complicated. Maybe there was a pattern with last Friday, some message he was sending to Terry -- and not a good one. But his last thought before sleep was that the next night he'd be seeing Eurick.
      Though the week had gone slowly, Friday felt like it needed brakes. Morning already, and already time to leave for work, and then the morning passed like the first drop on a roller coaster, and lunch came up bump like the valley at the end of the drop, and the second hill was that time he spent not following the conversation of a group of people who all went out together for burritos. His throat was dry all day, and he kept having to get up and bolt down cups of water and to go to the bathroom. The only event all day that got through the vibrating haze of anticipation occurred there.
      The third time Terry went to the bathroom he found Jack there. Terry nodded a greeting, and Jack said hello, and there was no conversation after that. He thought that the strange thing wasn't seeing Jack in here where everyone eventually had to go, but that he hadn't seen him here in all this time. He watched Jack lathering his graceful hands and reflected that if he'd come in a moment sooner, he'd have found him with his fly open. He was sure Jack was aware of him watching.
      He logged off in a hurry as soon as it was five, dashed his note, strode out the door, taking the stairs almost at a run, speedwalking eight blocks to a further streetcar stop to eat up his waiting time, kept vertical, it seemed, by the press of bodies on the streetcar as it climbed up past Dolores Park. By the time he got off the streetcar he was almost too limp to make it up his own hill, but somehow, he ran those last blocks.
      The sunset was long in coming. He showered, paced, straightened things. He kept checking the seals. In the books, the tiniest unsealed crack would do once the vampire had once been invited, but it didn't seem to work that way for Eurick. He fretted some more. Finally he went upstairs to play checkers with Dylan. Mary winked at him and brought him a beer. Terry looked at it doubtfully.
      "Oh, just drink it," she said. "A little alcohol won't hurt." Terry obediently sipped it, trying to remember what he'd heard about how fast he would metabolize the beer, and how much of it would turn up in his blood. But what did it matter? Would Eurick care? He might even enjoy it, if it did show up.
      Finally he went back downstairs for the blandest of suppers, watching the light change. "You can't go back on it," he told himself. "Anyway, it felt good last time, you've been wanting it."
      He kept finding little things to do, finally ending up perching on the couch watching television with one eye and the window with the other. He had everything laid out on the coffee table, the bandages, the surgical tubing for tying off, the rubbing alcohol, the scalpel boiled for fifteen minutes in the pressure cooker and wrapped in a fresh wad of gauze. Some towels. Not the bowl. He had discarded it. Eurick didn't use it anyway, and it seemed just creepy to him somehow.
      As soon as he could see his reflection in the window, he decided it was after sunset, and snapped off the television. Standing in the middle of the room, churning up spit to be able to speak, he said, more loudly than he meant to. "It's time. You can come now. I'm inviting you."
      He didn't hear Eurick come in, but Eurick's hand was on his shoulder. Terry turned. As he took in Eurick's sweet face, the last of his anxiety left him. Only calm was left, and this desire to give Eurick everything, the world and all, a feeling Mary could have named: that feeling a mother has when her nursing infant has latched on to her full breast, sucking, eyes wide and locked to hers.
      He tied off as he backed up, clenched and loosed his fist as he sat down. Eurick followed, supporting Terry's arm as he made the cut, accurately this time, a nice small neat slit which oozed efficiently but not sloppily. Eurick lost no time and only a drop or so of the blood. The lost drops silently merged with the white towel on Terry's knee.
      Eurick pulled Terry back up against himself and Terry let the scalpel clatter to the table. He could barely hear it. Everything was Eurick and Eurick pulling the blood out of him. Eurick pulled Terry in closer and wrapped his arm around so he could grasp Terry's wrist with both hands. "Good," Terry said softly, his fingers tracing the line of Eurick's jaw. He let his head fall back against Eurick's shoulder and his eyes, full of Eurick, unfocussed and began to close.
      Abruptly he fell back against the couch, no Eurick to hold him, his arm slapping against his leg, pain thudding into the wound and now his whole arm. "Eurick?" he asked, shaking his eyes open to the cross threads of the empty couch. "Don't . . ."
      But the person standing over him was Jack, with an open mouth and white-ringed eyes. "What have you done to yourself?" Jack's voice pitched high, nearly breaking.
      "It's only a little blood," Terry said. "Don't worry." He was still fuzzy, but he was fighting his way out of the dreamy state. He would need to say something to Jack. "Bandages on the table," he said, straining to sit up and reach them.
      Jack pushed him against the cushions of the couch. "Let me do it. God, you're a mess."
      Terry looked down. He was. All that blood seeping into everything. Blood that was supposed to go to Eurick. Had he gotten enough? Jack was cleaning his wrist, now pushing a gauze pad against the wound, talking, but Terry couldn't hear the words, just the voice, peeved and tender.
      He let Jack finish the dressing, then struggled past him to stand up. He was woozy, but he began to gather the things, to get them out of sight, pretend nothing had happened. Jack stopped him. Terry pushed at him. This task was the only thing he could think of.
      "Cut it out," Jack said, steering him back to the couch. There was a spot where the blood had gotten into the upholstery. Lemon juice for that? "Just sit down for a few minutes while I call 911," Jack said. "You're so unsteady it makes me dizzy to look at you."
      Terry slid his hands to his sides, the bandage hidden against his leg. "Don't call 911. I'm not in danger." He waited for Jack to say something, or leave in disgust. All the things were in a pile where Jack had made him drop them.
      Jack sat down next to Terry. Used his hands to turn Terry's head to him. "Whatever were you doing?" he demanded.
      Terry listened to his own racing heart, not trying to think of an explanation.
      Jack stood up and paced. "I thought I was done with weirdo self-destructive faggots," he said bitterly. "What were you doing? Rehearsing suicide? Clearly you weren't taking the plunge."
      "No," Terry said. "I don't want to die." Though right now it did seem attractive, dying, not having to talk.
      "So? What? What were you doing?"
      Terry shook his head. "I don't know how to explain."
      "Just talk!" Jack shouted. "Just tell me something! Even a lie would do. How can you do these things and never say a word?"
      Terry leaned forward with his head against his fingers. "That other time, I was painting my apartment and I just wanted to be alone while I did it because it was kind of scary in a way. And it seemed to be such a weird thing to feel that I couldn't say it." He was breathing quickly, lightly, but the words were coming slow and heavy.
      "So you didn't say anything. All right. That's three months ago. What about tonight?"
      Terry gazed at the stiff, dark patches on his leg where the blood had soaked through. He shook his head in the cage of his hands. "I still don't know how to say it."
      "Look, what could possibly be weirder than trying to kill yourself? You said you weren't and I believe you. " Terry heard Jack take a step closer. He felt the air change around him as Jack squatted down to his level. "I want to understand. Please just try for once."
      Terry looked up. Jack's face was blotched and earnest. Terry tried to swallow the knot at the base of his tongue but it wouldn't go down.
      "Don't play games with me. It's way too late for that," Jack said.
      "I thought it was too late for anything," Terry said. "Why did you come here?"
      "What, you'd rather I left? That can be arranged."
      "No, no. I'm glad to see you. I really missed you. But it's hard to talk. My head kind of hurts."
      "Do you need an aspirin?"
      "No. It's okay. What do you want me to tell you?"
      "Start with a simple one. Why did you cut your wrist?"
      "You want a simple answer. Um. To get the blood out?"
      Jack blew out a breath. He settled back on his heels and took Terry's wrists in his hands. "And why did you want the blood out?"
      Terry grimaced. Whatever he said would sound lunatic anyway. "It was like a blood donation. It was like there was someone right here. I guess I was hallucinating or something."
      "All right," Jack said, "I'll go with that," grimly, adding, "Were you on something?"
      Terry considered taking the easy way out. "No, I didn't take something. I had a beer in the afternoon."
      "I should take you to the hospital."
      "You don't have to," Terry said. "It's all right now. It wasn't that much blood."
      "If you've been hallucinating you should be seen."
      "No, I don't think it's necessary." How to sound emphatic without sounding nuts? "Really. I don't think I'll do that again. It must have been like a fever dream or something. I was feeling strange all afternoon. Food poisoning, maybe. My stomach hurts." It did.
      Jack frowned. "At least let me spend the night. If anything happens, I'll be here. Will you let me do that?"
      "Please," Terry said.
      "Can you stand up now?" Jack stood up, held his hand out. Terry didn't reach for it, but started to walk on his own. Jack took him and led him anyway, tenderly, as if he were a child. Terry let him, and let him help with his clothes which has unaccountably become heavy and stiff and stuck to his clammy skin.
      Sleep pursued Terry as he climbed into bed. He fought it back just long enough to pat the mattress next to him. "Sleep here, okay?"

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