The Donor

Chapter fourteen

      Terry woke up in the full light of the summer morning still wrapped in Jack's arms, full of languorous wellbeing. He oozed over to kiss Jack awake, so pleased with the sight of his tightly-sprung features that he chuckled.
      Jack blinked and pushed him away. "You are nuts," he said. "Don't you remember last night?"
      "Yes." Terry fanned his hand through the wiry reddish curls on Jack's chest. "I feel much better now. Thank you."
      "I still think you should see a doctor. For my peace of mind anyway."
      "Okay. Later I'll go see a doctor. Right now I want to make you feel good. I feel good."
      "This is not going to go any farther till I get some assurances that you're not going to lose it again. If you could see yourself. -- You look like shit."
      "All right," Terry said, beginning to climb slowly over Jack.
      "Where are you going?"
      "To make you some breakfast. It's the least I can do."
      Jack watched him suspiciously as he fumbled on a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt. Terry paused. "I could bring you breakfast in bed. Or you could watch me cook if it makes you feel safer about me."
      Somehow that reassured Jack enough to let him leave the room. He got the coffee started, then put his head back in the bedroom door. "I'm just going to go tell Mary I won't be joining her for coffee this morning. Unless you'd rather go up and tell her."
      "Just don't spend too long," Jack said, busy with his pants. "You have no idea how scary you looked last night."
      "Sorry. I'm all right now. Really I am."
      Mary was sitting on the back stair landing with a large pad of white paper across her knees and a basket of yarn ends next to her. She was squinting at several different arrangements of red shades, shaking her head. "It doesn't matter how long you work at something, some days you just have to figure it out from scratch," she said as Terry reached the top of the stairs. "How are you? Eurick was worried."
      "I'm okay. How's Eurick? Did he get enough?"
      "Don't worry about it. Did Jack stay?"
      "Yes, but now he thinks I've been hallucinating."
      Mary laughed. Terry frowned. "I didn't want to go lying to Jack," he whispered. "I wish I'd learned to lock the damned door."
      "That's what Eurick said. He said he barely left in time."
      "If he can tell whether I'm wearing that damned necklace when I'm not even in the room, why can't he tell whether the door is locked?"
      "Nobody's perfect." She looked up, smiling. "Look who's here!" She said more loudly, waving.
      Jack, dressed but uncombed, came up the stairs.
      "Morning. How are you?" he asked Mary.
      "Fine, you? Terry was telling me about last night."
      Jack stood on the step next to Terry, an arm ready to shepherd him down the stairs. "He seems to have come out all right," Jack said. "But I want to take him in to a doctor. He says he never did anything like that before."
      "Oh yes you did, Terry," Mary said. "Don't you remember, in eleventh grade?" Her eyes were smirking.
      "No, I don't," Terry said, alarmed. What was she doing to him?
      "There was that flu that everybody got, but you got it worst. You went up to a hundred and five the first day," this was true, so far, "and your mother said you started muttering and wandering around the house acting strange, and they just kept putting you back to bed. It was scary, but it was over in a couple of hours, and when it was over, it was over."
      Terry caught on to the purpose of the lie. "Oh, right. I remember that. Vaguely. I almost never get sick," he said to Jack. "I try to forget about it when I do."
      "Once every seventeen years or so isn't bad," Mary said. "If you do get sick, don't forget the aspirin, is all. No high fever, no hallucination."
      "well," said Terry. "I promised Jack breakfast for taking care of me last night. Thanks for the tip, Mary."
      On the way down the stairs Terry put his arm around Jack's waist. "I'm all right. I won't break," he said.
      Jack didn't shrug him off and didn't pull him closer. "We'll see."
      It was such a pretty morning and it was so pleasant to cook for Jack but Terry was weak and it all came together very slowly. Afterwards he leaned across the table, kissing the air. "Dessert," he suggested. He waited while Jack didn't look up. "Please? I can't say how much I've missed you."
      Jack did look up. "No," he said. "I'm sorry. I like you. I don't think I can handle being overly involved with another unstable person. I've been down that road."
      "You don't have to be overly involved."
      Jack shook his head, irritated. "I can't do that with you."
      Terry sat very quiet and small.
      Jack leaned forward. "Why don't we just give it a little time?"
      Terry stood up and began gathering the dishes. "You just tell me what you want me to do," he said.
      Jack was silent. Terry watched the bubbles climb over the dishes. "So what are you going to do right now?"
      "I've got some work to do. I thought I'd check back later and see how you're doing."
      "You don't have to," terry said, watching the bubbles popping. "I mean, I love to hear from you. But you don't have to watch over me. You don't owe me anything."
      "It's okay. I want to."
      As soon as Jack had gone, Terry went back upstairs. "Where's Eurick?" he asked Mary.
      "In his office? You need to talk?"
      Terry nodded. Mary waved at him from the vertical loom.
      The office was cool and dark, with bright spears of light slicing at the edges of the heavy window shades. Eurick had the computer on, but he was lounging back in the chair rubbing his finger pensively over his lip. Terry softly closed the door behind him and stood there swallowing dry spit.
      "So you're okay, then?" Eurick asked eventually, without turning around.
      Eurick beckoned him forward. Terry came to him. Eurick barely looked up. "Go back and put it on," he said.
      "Are you sure it was enough? It didn't feel like enough."
      "It was enough. Don't worry about me. Take care of yourself."
      "It didn't feel like enough."
      "What are you talking about?" Eurick took in Terry's posture, his hand held out at his waist as an offering. "You're not serious," he whispered.
      "I mean it."
      Eurick leaned forward, took Terry's wrist in his hands, studied the bandage. Terry stood as patient as a dog at a show. Eurick shook his head but did not release him.
      "It's a bad precedent," he said.
      Terry let out a short nervous laugh. "All right, don't," he said, but he didn't take back his hand either.
      Eurick made a feint towards the bandage, but rubbed his lip instead. Terry bit his tongue.
      Eurick lifted the bandage slowly. He dipped his head and sucked briefly, fiercely, clapping the bandage down again almost immediately. He pushed hard on the bandages and pushed the hand away. Terry held his wrist, the ache a tease more than a pain.
      "Now go away," Eurick said. "Don't come near me again until you're wearing that thing."
      Terry slunk past Mary, hesitating at the back door.
      She looked up. "So?"
      Terry shrugged. "He doesn't really want to see me naked."
      She frowned till she understood, then laughed. "You can't blame him. Tell me about Jack."
      Shrug again. "He didn't altogether buy the fever story. I'm going to have to prove I'm not crazy."
      "That's going to be hard."
      "You think I'm crazy too?" Terry extended his lips to show that he was joking.
      Jack did call, late enough that Terry had begun to regret staying home to wait for him. "I made an appointment with a shrink," Terry said. "I was surprised they answered on Saturday. I'm going Monday after work."
      "That's good," Jack said lightly, as though it hardly mattered. "Did you run today?"
      "Of course. Just like everyday. I feel fine. Just one thing and my life would be perfect."
      Jack didn't take the bait. "You want a ride Monday?" he asked, something weary, something wary in his voice.
      "It wasn't a ploy," Terry said.
      "I only offered you a ride," Jack said.
      "Okay. It would be lovely to ride with you. I would enjoy your company very much."
      Jack announced that he would drive Terry to his appointment and Terry didn't argue. Jack was waiting for him when he got out, and Terry told him he had more appointments. He didn't tell Jack how puzzling the visit had been.
      At first the doctor had seemed perfect. He was maybe fifty, easy in his large soft body, with an intimate manner and a gentle, rising inflection in his speech. He made every statement as a question, setting his head to the side like an inquisitive bird, fanning out his fingers like a peacock's tail. The first questions that Dr. Loria asked were to the point, asking about what had brought Terry there. Terry offered Dr. Loria almost the same version of events he had given Jack, but with more details about Eurick. He described it all as a dream or a hallucination, never saying that it had happened or that he believed that it had happened.
      But Dr. Loria's careful formula responses were phrased oddly. He said things like "If these experiences are hallucinatory in origin . . ." ". . .if indeed you have manufactured these experiences . . ." as if what he doubted was not the need to give blood to Eurick but the possibility that Terry had made these things up. As if he believed that it was more likely that Terry lived downstairs from a vampire than that he had had a fever dream. The doctor seemed to have none of Terry's initial reluctance to give credence to the vampire.
      It didn't make Terry feel more comfortable. It made him feel more exposed. But he committed to the further appointments anyway. Maybe because he hadn't had to be defensive about loving Jack.
      Lena cornered Terry on Tuesday. "So I never found out what happened after Jack drove you home Thursday," she said. "I can tell something happened, though, because Jack keeps dropping your name and he looks at you every time we're in the outer room."
      "I'm not sure what happened." The version he told her over lunch was still more truncated, and included Mary's story about the fever. "I'm telling you this even though I know you gossip," he said. "I know you won't tell the worst parts."
      Lana put her large elegant hand on his. "You know I won't. Don't worry about it, though. Everybody takes leave of their senses now and then. It doesn't mean anything at all by itself."
      "Thanks for the vote of confidence," he said. "All by itself? What else is there?"
      "Aside from taking up with Jack in the first place? Or letting him go in the second place?" She shook her head. "Aside from those, no."
      She told him there was to be another party on Friday after work, the final send-off for Jack. "You're coming, right? You might get a ride home."
      "I have an appointment, but I'll come afterwards if I can."
      Jack made his whole last week into a long celebration. He brought treats into work every day and took over the loudspeaker at random junctures to play unusual music at varying volumes. He grabbed people and danced with them. He even grabbed Terry and danced with him, once. His impassioned speechifying broke out all over the place. He urged some people to follow his footsteps into freelance work, and others to unionize the workplace.
      Terry's second and third visits with the psychiatrist continued to baffle him. Dr. Loria returned to the "hallucination" story from several angles, all of them basically factual: "and what happened then? how did it feel?" He seemed to have dropped even the "if indeed it was a hallucination" framework.
      Terry had been expecting to tell more of his history. He had expected to talk about his sex life, his shyness and his longing for friendship and romance. He expected questions dealing with his fears about the AIDS epidemic, a confrontation at least about his inconsistently safe behavior. But Dr. Loria seemed to be only interested in the event that had triggered Terry's visits. It was Terry who had to remind Dr. Loria that it wasn't supposed to be real.
      He did say, when pressed, that he didn't especially think that Terry suffered from more than the usual neuroses. Terry made him write it down.
      "It's unusual for me to make a report of this kind for a patient. But I'll do it for you," the doctor said. And he did, adding to the report a recommendation that Terry continue to seek counseling in the future to deal with stress and examine life choices, just those things Terry had been surprised not to discuss so far.
      Terry took the note to a copy shop and made a copy on handsome heavyweight light blue deckled paper which he put into a large white envelope. He got the bus back downtown in time to meet the crowd from work before they broke up entirely. He stood at the opposite corner of the table from where Jack was sitting, telling a story about his first year at the company. Someone produced a chair and he sat in it, accepting at the same time an empty mug and the nearly-empty pitcher. He waited out the end of the party, sipping at the thin beer.
      Several people left before Jack stood up. Terry dropped a ten and a five into the kitty and joined the group moving toward the door, angling closer to Jack as the group fanned out on the sidewalk, pacing him as they walked away together after Jack's last goodbyes, as if they had previously arranged this. Jack seemed to accept Terry's presence tacitly.
      Terry stopped at Jack's car. "I've got something for you," he said, and put the envelope into Jack's hand. Jack frowned at the unlabelled envelope and gave Terry a bemused look.
      "Should I open it now?"
      "Yes, now," Terry said.
      Jack frowned more deeply at the paper. "What is this?"
      "Read it."
      Jack did, and laughed. "It's a letter certifying your sanity?"
      "No, he said he can't do that. For anybody, I mean. Just -- I don't have any more reason to worry than most people." He didn't say anything about the doctor's apparent willingness to believe in vampires.
      Jack seemed to be trying to find a place to put the paper down. "I didn't ask for this," he said. "This is pretty strange."
      "Don't hold it against me," Terry said.
      "You want me to make a decision."
      "No," Terry said. "I don't care if you never decide."
      Jack put the paper back into the envelope and held it out for Terry. "I have my own copy," Terry said, but since Jack didn't take it back, he took it, slumping a little.
      Jack opened the passenger door of his car. Terry hesitated. "Get in," Jack urged.
      Terry closed his eyes. "Lana said she's getting a loveseat into the office," he said.
      "Yes, and she'll lose a bit of information she could be getting from watching people deal with those chairs. You, for example, always took that straight-backed chair and moved it back away from the desk even after you started seeing me. I always wondered about that."
      "I wonder what it will look like. After seeing her apartment, I guess something dramatic."
      "I expect it will be kind of corporate-colored."
      Terry's eyes were still closed. The angle of the hill they were climbing felt more like Jack's hill than Terry's. The car stopped, and Jack went through the business of curbing the wheels. Terry opened his eyes to the sunny, windswept hillside where Jack lived, the red dirt hulking at the top of the street and the big radar dish behind that. He leaped to the front steps, his heart flying to see the quince bush all out of bloom but red in the leaves. But when he looked at Jack's face, somehow grim as he slowly followed Terry, it caused him to come down with a jolt. He followed Jack into the house, subdued again.
      There had been a few changes, mostly to the area around Jack's computer, which was clearly businesslike now. A new bed, covered in black plaid.
      Jack sat down on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes, stretching his toes and rubbing the soles of his feet. Terry sat next to him, daunted by Jack's manner. He trailed his fingers on Jack's leg, stopping as Jack settled a fraction of an inch farther away from him.
      "Did you want to talk?" he asked.
      Jack shook his head. "I did. But I can't think of anything to say but what I already said."
      Terry said, "I don't even know if you like me at all. Or what." Jack started to answer, but Terry cut him off. "I don't need to know anything. Except what you want me to do."
      "It's not like I have this specific agenda for you."
      "Why can't we start up where we left off, and you could see how it goes? At the very worst, you'd have an unsatisfactory fuck."
      Jack winced.
      "So what did you bring me here for then? To tell me we can't do anything because you haven't decided whether I'm good enough for you yet? Okay, but couldn't you have told me that back on the street?" Terry bit his fist, shaking his head as if he could erase his words.
      "Do you know what you want?" Jack challenged him. "Are you sure?"
      Terry nodded slowly, placing his hand gently on Jack's groin. Jack pulled back, but Terry's heart raced, because there had been a distinct length and firmness in there. Something he could have, maybe.
      "Is that all you want?" Jack asked, fiercely.
      "It's not nothing. I'll go on record as being willing to accept true love if it's offered."
      "Really." Did Jack like him saying that? Or not? Was it enough? Too much?
      "There's kind of a stretch between the two."
      "I don't know that. But whatever is between, I'll accept that too."
      "Just not particular, are you."
      "No," Terry admitted. He couldn't very well claim that all he wanted was Jack, even though it was true. "We're going in circles. Can we have dinner or something?"
      Jack stood up. Terry followed him down the steep stairs to the kitchen. Wordlessly, they collaborated on stir-fry. Jack's eyes kept returning to the wound on Terry's wrist, now covered by an ordinary small bandage, exposed when Terry rolled up his sleeves to work. Terry swallowed the provocative remark he wanted to make when he caught Jack worrying about the small sharp knife Terry was using on the carrots. He saw Jack swallow some kind of remark too. When they sat down to eat Terry let his knee touch Jack's, not playfully bumping or rubbing, just still, and Jack didn't pull away.
      Suddenly Jack stood up and stepped aside, indicating with his eyes that Terry should precede him, and Terry , climbing the narrow stairs, thought, "I'm like a dog, always ready to hope."
      Jack caught up with him upstairs, and still wordless, began to pluck at Terry's clothes, rushing as if he'd change his mind if he hesitated. Terry kept kissing Jack, anywhere he could reach with his lips, as much as anything to keep his mouth occupied so he wouldn't say something stupid that would stop the proceedings. Jack shivered when Terry touched him, and shuddered when he took hold of Terry, and lurched when Terry slid under him, and lay there shaking after he'd come inside of Terry.
      "That was very nice," Terry said softly, admiring Jack's wiry muscles and raw-edged bones.
      Jack's lip twitched, more of a grimace than a smile. Terry touched his face. "Do you wish you hadn't?" he asked.
      Jack shook his head, but barely.
      "Good," Terry said. "Because I'm really grateful you did. You know it's all I've wanted for weeks."
      "You don't expect me to believe you haven't had any all this time. I know what you do."
      "I know you do." He thought about trying to explain about Jack and not-Jack, and decided he'd only sound apologetic. He had no intention of apologizing for his sex life. He did think of something he had wanted to say a while back. "I like tricking. Just like I like going to the movies. Or running." He took a breath. "But I would quit any of it if that was what you wanted."
      Jack sighed. "I can't tell you what to do. I don't have the right. Especially since . . ." he trailed off.
      "Since you might not keep seeing me even if I did everything you asked me to do?" Terry asked. Jack nodded.
      "I'm willing to take the risk. Just tell me what you think you'd like and I'll try it."
      "That's nuts," Jack said. "Do you hear how you're talking? How can you stand it?"
      "Did you ever eat moi? Chinese salted plum?"
      Jack shook his head.
      "I had a friend in college who used to carry it around and insist that everybody try it. Hardly anybody who wasn't Chinese could stand to look at it, let alone taste it. But I did. I tasted it, and I liked it. We're still friends."
      Jack shifted, untangling their legs, looking at Terry from a new angle. "You're saying that this stuff is like that? Like salted plums?"
      "You got any salted plums in your pocket?"
      "I think you're looking at them."
      "It's got to be harder than that. I already know I like you."
      "No, you don't, or we wouldn't be having this conversation," Terry said, but he was exulting. Jack said he liked him.
      "It's not about whether I like you. It's about whether I can stand the uncertainty you bring into my life."
      "What uncertainty? I said I'll do anything you want. I'd promise you the rest of my life if I thought you wanted it."
      "We're going in circles again," Jack said.
      "All right, I'll shut up." Terry leaned over and picked up his t-shirt, wiping under his arms with it. "No, not yet. I want to say this one thing one time and I won't say it again. Just listen to us. You're complaining about the uncertainty I bring into your life, but I'm the one saying I'm willing to do whatever you want as long as you want it, and I'm not asking for any promises in return."
      After a silence, Jack said, "You're right. I know it's not fair."
      Terry waited for Jack to make it fair, but he never said anything else. After a while Terry went down to the bathroom. Then he came back and lay in the bed for a long time as if he were asleep. The last thing he thought about was that somewhere in the world there was Eurick, who would be wanting his blood again someday. And that was a comfort.

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