The Donor

Chapter sixteen

      Jack rubbed his eyes and sighed. "This is not a good time for that conversation," he said.
      "No, no, I didn't mean to start that conversation," Terry said. "Only you asked. I should go to bed. Thanks for taking care of me tonight. I don't think I needed it as much as you thought I did. But I do appreciate your concern."
      He stood up, only slightly light headed, and turned off the television. Jack was watching him. "Good night," Terry said. "Thanks again."
      Jack didn't move. Terry didn't either.
      "I want to stay here tonight," Jack said. "In case."
      "All right."
      Terry felt Jack's eyes on him in the dark.
      "It's safe to sleep," Terry said. "I won't run off in the middle of the night."
      "I wish I understood."
      "Look, Dr. Loria doesn't know anything about me, okay?"
      "But you haven't given me anything else to believe."
      "I don't demand to know everything about you."
      "I'd tell you. But I don't do anything dangerous, either."
      "No. You just chase after the broken butterflies."
      "Like Mickey. Like you think I am."
      In the morning Jack watched Terry get ready for work and drove him in. When Terry came out of work at the end of the day Jack was waiting for him.
      "I have a bodyguard," Terry said. "How are you going to get your work done?"
      "I thought you might appreciate the ride," Jack said. "If you don't want to see me, I can just drop you off."
      "Sorry for being a bitch." Terry snapped the seat belt. "I am glad to see you. I always am." "I thought we could start where we left off yesterday. Go out like we were going to last night."
      "Soccer practice," Terry said.
      "I could give you two a ride and we could go out afterwards."
      "Okay, but we can't talk Dylan into dinner out. He won't eat anything that isn't suffused in garlic."
      Jack laughed. Terry laughed too, mostly because Jack wasn't worried about him right now.
      "Wait," Terry said as Jack stopped the car. "Before we get out. I have a question."
      Jack waited. Usually it was Jack who sprung the big questions in a parked car.
      "Hypothetically, right? You've got a friend with unusual needs. Somebody you care about. A lot. So what do you do? If the thing the friend needed was really difficult, and it cost you something to do it, and maybe seemed kind of crazy, not really dangerous but hard to do, but your friend really needed it? You'd do it, wouldn't you? Even if it was weird, or hard?"
      "I don't really understand what you're saying. But you want an answer. I guess it would depend on a lot of things you're not saying. How hard, now much does he need it? Is it ethical? And how he went about asking me. Sorry I can't be more specific."
      Jack studied Terry for several long breaths. "You want to tell me what this is all about?"
      "Nothing, really. I was just thinking."
      "Well, don't think too hard," Jack said.
      Terry checked. Jack was teasing, that was all.'
      Jack didn't stick around for soccer practice. He went off to run errands, but showed up before the end of the game to pick up Terry and Dylan.
      Eurick came out with a loud cheerful greeting, a firm handshake for Jack, an embrace for Terry, as if it had been two weeks instead of two days since he had seen either of them. Terry melted momentarily in the brusque grip of that embrace, and then he couldn't take his eyes off him. Eurick was healthy and ruddy looking, easy, strong -- like a person you might meet on a ski slope, except for his pallor.
      "So how was practice?" Eurick asked the streaked and limping Dylan.
      "Better, since Terry showed me what to do." Eurick beamed.
      "Bath before supper," Mary said. "Terry, you want to do me a favor and help him get it run?"
      Terry sat by the tub, trailing his fingers in the water. "So how do you like your bath?"
      Dylan was taking the longest time with his shoes. The extra long laces were wrapped several times around the ankle and tied in a variety of knots. "Scalding," he said.
      "I don't believe it."
      "The only thing I don't like about Eurick is his skin is so cold," Dylan said. "I take hot hot baths so my skin won't get like that. It's disgusting."
      Terry wondered if Dylan still thought his stepfather was a vampire. and if that confession last year had been real knowledge or coincidence. There was no way to ask.
      "Well. I think this is pretty scalding. Enjoy your bath."
      Mary met Terry in the hall. She spoke very low and urgent. "Jack came over this afternoon while you were at practice with Dylan." Her long lashes still framed reddened eyes, bright from headache tears. "He asked us about you, your friends, everything about you. He told me what the doctor said last night."
      "Oh my god. What did you tell him?"
      "Not much. We don't really know that much, anyway. But Eurick says he was tempted to tell him everything about you and him."
      "Whatever for?"
      Mary coughed and winced. "Jack's a good person. He likes you a lot. He's really upset about what the doctor said."
      "And you think he'd like the truth better?"
      "I don't know. But we thought you should know about Jack."
      Terry went back in the livingroom where Jack and Eurick were talking shop. He watched them, stewing, seeing their energetic, easy, flippant manner, thinking, they are so agreeable with each other that they've synchronized their gestures. They're even wearing the same black t-shirts. And, he realized, each of them in his own way held Terry's fate in his hands. "I'll wait downstairs," Terry said abruptly, making no attempt to be gracious as he strode out of the room.
      "It's amazing how strong that guy is considering he never leaves the house," Jack said when he came into the light of Terry's kitchen, dragging the early chill in with him like a trailing scarf. "I was just remembering a couple fo days ago when we went down to the peninsula. He couldn't talk them into coming up for supper. He fussed over his sunblock and shades for half an hour before we left. Anyway, we got a flat tire on 280 -- right past that strange seminary building? The jack slipped, and you wouldn't guess. You know what he did?"
      Terry shook his head morosely, staring at his own interlaced hands.
      "He caught the damned car and held it up in the air while I got the jack seated again. He lifted the thing while it was falling, And held it. I am still amazed."
      "Now who talks about Eurick incessantly?"
      "Now who's jealous?"
      "I don't know. Who sneaks around checking up on who with whose friends?"
      "What do you call what you did this afternoon when I was at soccer with Dylan?"
      "I wasn't sneaking. I'm not after your secrets."
      "What do you call it then?"
      Terry shrugged off the arm Jack put around his shoulder.
      "You don't trust me," he said, not shouting but only just.
      "I'm just trying to figure you out. The only thing you'll tell me is that Dr. Loria is wrong."
      Terry's fingers were white with the pressure. There had to be an answer that made logical sense. "I trust you." That wasn't it.
      "We've been over this ground before." Jack was trying again to get his arm around Terry's shoulders. Terry didn't let him.
      Jack stood back. "Tell me one thing. Do I have the right to care about you?"
      Terry thought if he said no he'd lose Jack and his problems would be over. But he nodded yes instead.
      "I saw Dr. Loria today," Jack said.
      Terry frowned. "What for?"
      "I needed to talk to somebody. He seemed pretty tolerant to me."
      "That's what I thought till yesterday."
      "He's not at all judgmental. He just says what you're doing is dangerous. And he says you can't stop without help."
      "So. He's a deprogrammer or something? What bullshit."
      Jack stood up and walked toward the front of the house, He turned at the kitchen door. "He also said you can't stop until you decide to. All I can do is hang in there with you until you're ready for help." He paused. "I'm going to do that."
      Terry dropped his head into his hands. "I should be grateful," he muttered into the table.
      After that Jack was always there. He picked Terry up and stayed with him on weekends. It was almost like having a live-in lover except for the lover part.
      He knew that Jack was talking to Dr. Loria. Once Dr. Loria called Terry, but Terry gave up after Dr. Loria refused to accept his insistence that he had done nothing against his will.
      The afternoon of Halloween Terry loaded Jack's car with a dress Mary had lent him ("something innocent," he'd said, but he hadn't looked at it yet), and an assortment of cute Asian candies wrapped in pastel papers to supplement the brand-name candy miniatures Jack had bought. He was going to spend the whole night with Jack, since Dylan had developed plans of his own. After the trick-or-treaters were done, they were going to go to a bar in costume.
      The dress turned out to be white and drapey and somewhat daunting. "Mary's idea of innocent is Isadora Duncan," Terry said, gazing at it lying on Jack's black bed.
      "Put it on anyway," Jack said adjusting brown suede chaps. "I'll grab you some ivy from next door." Terry didn't mind the idea of a white gown and an ivy crown, breathing drugged smoke and speaking the truth in riddles.
      It was not hard to get on and more comfortable than Terry would have thought. He had no drag experience. He was pleased with his first glance in the mirror. His slender neck and bare collar bones stuck out above the dress: innocent, indeed. A vestal virgin. "Anemia suits me," he thought, studying the light brush of purple under his eyes, his pink full lips against his pale cheek. He didn't need a wig: Jack was right about the ivy. There was a full-length mirror outside the bathroom door, only useable while standing awkwardly in the middle of the kitchen. "I can't wear this," he said softly. "I look doomed."
      Jack came to the head of the stairs. "Pretty," he said.
      "Crap. I look like Lucy Westenra or something," Terry said.
      Jack came down the stairs. "You look perfect. You don't even need to shave anything extra for the occasion. He stood behind Terry, watching himself in the mirror, gliding his fingers where the delicate skin dove behind the draped fabric.
      "This is not me," Terry said, frozen.
      "Of course no," Jack said. "It's a costume. Halloween, remember? You dig something out of your unconscious and parade it around . . ." he broke off, frowning at Terry's wide-eyed image in the mirror. "On second thought, let's trade. You look like a sacrificial
      "Now that's something nobody would believe."
      "Right. You want somebody to believe you looking like that? Better to get laughs, don't you think?"
      Terry already had his arms inside the dress, pulling it up and off.
      "Whatever it takes to get a simple evening out," Jack said, unbuckling the chaps.
      Despite Jack's efforts the evening wasn't simple. The crowd was too dense for carefree dancing, too dense for some of the costumes -- the wings, the haloes, the fins, and baskets of fruit, the nun's habits, pieces of hardware, and inexplicable objects. Terry worried about the rented chaps catching on something as he moved through the bar.
      As for Jack, he wore that dress like it was a Roman military toga.
      Terry kept an eye on Jack. Jack, Terry knew, was watching Terry, watching the crowd, wondering if the one Terry bled for was here. But Terry knew nobody in this crowd. It wasn't one of the bars he went to. A truly beautiful boy in silver lame jeans, somehow familiar looking though Terry had never chatted up anybody like that, was speaking softly to a man in gleaming leathers whose hair was cropped so short you almost couldn't see his bald spot. The man nodded stiffly and the boy stood up slowly, his smile both tender and ironic, as he made a subtle gesture to follow. Although Terry wasn't at all interested in the shiny young man, he took a step in his direction before the leather man passed by him and Terry was stopped by what he saw in his face. Terry shook himself and looked at the floor to clear his mind. He knew right away what was familiar about the leather man's face, and that meant he also knew what was familiar about the silver boy's face.
      The expression on the leather man's face was the same as the one that Terry saw in the mirror when Eurick was hungry.
      Not what he wanted to know.
      He searched the bar for Jack, and when he found him, he stood next to him, not speaking, waiting for his heartbeat to subside.
      Later, there was another gleaming fellow, who wore a long tight skirt styled at the bottom like a mermaid's fin and ingeniously constructed so as to allow remarkable access. The merman demonstrated this access fleetingly, and flashed Terry a wonderful smile, sly and at the same time, somehow, innocent. Terry smiled back but a prickle at the back of his neck caused him to look back. Jack was frowning, not at the merman, but at Terry. Terry shook his head regretfully and allowed the merman to swim away through the reef of gaudy revelers.
      Terry lay on Jack's bed reading a week later while Jack worked at the computer. He raised up on his elbows and spoke. "If I could tell you about when those things would be happening again, how would you feel about it? Would it be better or worse?"
      Jack turned around, frowning. "What things?" But before Terry could think of a way to reword his question, Jack said, "Oh. Both. Better and worse. I think. Do you know?"
      "No. But I probably will." As soon as he could get time alone with Eurick or Mary. "If I told you as soon as I knew, what would you do?"
      "Try to stop you. I mean try to talk you out of it. I guess."
      "You can't stop me. So. Should I tell you anyway? Would it be easier if it wasn't a surprise?"
      "You want me to pick up the pieces afterwards?"
      "No. I don't need that. I promise. I won't go into shock or anything. I just wondered if you'd feel better if you knew ahead of time."
      "No, I wouldn't. But tell me anyway."
      "Why, if it won't make you feel better? I don't want to upset you for nothing."
      "Just tell me."
      "Let's visit Mary and Eurick this evening," Terry said on the way home from work. "I hardly ever see anybody I know anymore."
      "Is that my fault?" The careful tone of a person who is failing to resist taking offense.
      "No, I'm not saying that. Can we?" Terry laid his palm on Jack's thigh.
      Terry and Jack were very different in their displays of affection. Years of hiding left Terry with the instinct to dissemble in public even here and now where it was no longer necessary. In public places Terry stood away from Jack and did not touch him. Away from his closest friends, he never even spoke of him. At home, though, he liked to touch him at every opportunity, as affectionate as a lapdog. Jack had no qualms about taking Terry's hand right on the street, but he sometimes seemed to feel that Terry's private affections were too much, and as at this moment, he would push Terry's hand away. Terry told himself it was just a matter of sensory overload, and not a rejection.
      Mary and Terry's house counted as private for Terry. Before dinner he sat on the floor at Jack's feet, and Jack let his hand stray , tracing the curve of his ear as he told a story. After dinner Terry massaged Jack's neck and took turns with Dylan in reporting and analyzing the soccer league standings.
      He watched for a moment alone with either Mary or Eurick. His first moment came when Mary stepped out to the porch to collect a dessert from the second refrigerator. Terry followed her behind the refrigerator door.
      "I need a moment to talk to Eurick," he said. "Jack never leaves me alone these days."
      "Funny. He doesn't seem like the type," Mary said.
      "He's not. Usually. And I think he'd let me be alone if I asked, but I don't want to give him anything to tell Dr. Loria."
      Mary closed the refrigerator door with her foot. She made a wry face. "You're terrified of that doctor. I think you're afraid that he's right in spite of himself."
      "That's crap. I am afraid of him. But it's because he's wrong, but he could screw me up. How can I talk to Eurick?"
      She grinned slyly. "I'll talk to Jack, and you talk to Eurick. Is Eurick going to tell me what you two talk about."
      "He'd better. What are you going to talk to Jack about?"
      "You, of course. Don't look so upset. It won't hurt you."
      Dylan got permission to fade into his room with his cake, which was highly aromatic and not very sweet, and Terry went in with him for a bit to help Mary pair off with Jack. Dylan had a long-standing battle ranged around the inlay in his floor. The small plastic animals were the good guys and were going to beat the small plastic people, but there had been much carnage and would be more before the issue was finally decided. Terry got a guided tour of the battleground, and then Dylan was absorbed in play and hardly noticed when Terry returned to the outer room. Mary had taken Jack out to the yard to talk and Eurick had retreated to his office. The office seemed more peaceful this time, not threatening as before.
      "We have to talk," Terry said.
      "You're finally really looking all better," Eurick said. "even a couple of days ago you were pale. I was worried."
      "I'm okay. But that was too much all at once. I mean -- well, it wouldn't have been, if I didn't have to maintain afterwards. But it caused problems for me to be messed up for so long."
      "Yes. I'm sorry. I didn't realize until I stopped how it affected you. I don't get it, though. It wasn't really that much more. It shouldn't have been like that."
      "Now we know, anyway. It can't happen like that again."
      Eurick bit his full lip. "If it's causing you difficulties you don't have to do it again at all."
      Terry shook his head impatiently. "You know that's not what I'm here for," he said. "I don't want to even talk about that. I just want you to be more careful with me. Now that we know what can happen." He frowned at Eurick. "You're already getting hungry again, aren't you?"
      "Only a little bit. Nothing I can't handle for a while." Eurick frowned back. "You're very sensitive. I don't think that's good."
      "I can't help it. Well. Do something about it as soon as Mary's up to it. She looked a lot better tonight."
      Eurick continued to regard Terry. Terry gazed steadily back thinking, no, he doesn't even want Mary's blood, he wants mine. But he can't have it so soon. He can't. He swallowed, touching the chain under his shirt, thinking, he could, if he wanted it badly enough. I just would.
      "We have to do things differently so you don't get so hungry," Terry said, speaking fast, wanting to slip his conclusion in fast before Eurick could see it coming. "It drives me completely up the wall when you're like that. And then it's too hard to judge how much is the right amount when you're so hungry. We need to even out what you rake and how hungry you get. So it's not too much."
      He faded out under Eurick's gaze. The silence went on so long he knew Eurick was waiting for him to offer right now. Terry shuddered. He really did want to. He waited it out.
      "Get me the ginger-colored rabbit at the far right," Eurick said at last, wiping his face, wiping away the remembered taste of Terry's blood, or the anticipated taste of the rabbit's.
      If it was a bluff, it wouldn't work. Terry brushed past Eurick to the rank of cages. The rabbit Eurick wanted was the biggest, sleepiest one. It didn't hedge back to the farthest corner of the cage like a normal rabbit, or sidle hysterically away as Terry grasped it. It didn't even kick when he picked it up. It was as floppy as a sleeping cat.
      "I am not like you," Terry said to the rabbit as he cradled the animal in his arms, scratching it in the narrow space between its ears.
      Eurick took the rabbit on to a towel across his lap. "Just so you don't have to suffer from my hunger," he said, drawing his slender fingers affectionately across the big rabbit's spine. Terry turned to rejoin Jack and Mary. "Stay," Eurick whispered. Terry leaned against the door, his breath rapid and shallow as if he had just given Eurick a large amount of blood. Eurick gently dangled the rabbit with one hand with one hand and used the other to feel for his spot. Finding it, he reached a scalpel out of his desk drawer and made the incision with practiced swift grace. He dropped the scalpel away from him onto the desk and bent down as the blood wicked up to the top of the rabbit's fur. As he made contact with the open wound, he lifted his eyes, shifting his position so Terry had to see.
      Terry could no more look away now than he could have walked away when Eurick
      was taking the blood from him. And he was the same: slow, attenuated, suffused with buoyant devotion and pushed at by hysterical dread. He felt the flow of blood from the rabbit with an ache very like the ache of his own blood flowing away. The rabbit gave two feeble kicks and then lay still in Eurick's splayed hands. A single irregular drop of blood seeped into Eurick's index finger.
      Suddenly, Eurick stopped, and Terry jerked to. "Put it back please," Eurick said, breaking eye contact with Terry, tapping his keyboard, causing his monitor to bloom again to life and the computer to beep softly.
      Terry saw tiny knots of clotted blood in the rabbit's orange fur as he arranged it to sleep comfortably in its cage. "I am not like you," he whispered again as he closed the cage door.
      "Jack's probably looking for you," Eurick said, dismissing Terry.
      Mary was alone in the livingroom, sorting through sample pieces. Her hair had come loose from its braid and she kept sticking strands of it behind her ear, like a schoolgirl.
      "Where's Jack?" Terry asked.
      "Downstairs looking for you. A minute ago." She was gazing at a piece that was mainly red.
      "Mary." Terry waited for her to look up.
      "I didn't get to say everything I wanted to Eurick."
      He rushed to get it all out before she could stop him. "The way to keep it from getting out of hand is to do it more often so he takes less. "
      Mary's lips went thin. "You just recovered from the last time. You were a zombie. Jack's trying to stop you from ever doing it again and he doesn't even know what it is. I'm worried. Eurick's worried. And you. You want to do it more."
      "It's just your idea. To make it less intense. It was really difficult last time. I'd rather do it more often and have less recovery."
      Mary took in a long shaky breath. "I think you're carried away." She glared at him. "I also think you're trying to get something out of it that isn't there."
      "I'm not going to dignify that with an answer."
      Jack was coming out the back door downstairs. "I've been looking for you."
      Terry put himself up against Jack in a maximum contact embrace, as if it had been months and not minutes. Mary's rose smell clung to Jack's clothes. "I was talking to Eurick. Why didn't you try the office?"
      "Mary thought Eurick had gone to bed," Jack said, rubbing the back of Terry's neck.
      "Even Mary can be wrong. Let's go in, it's cold. I'll make you warm if you want."
      "I want you to come see Dr. Loria with me," Jack said. He was sitting up at the head of the bed with a stack of printed-out material in his hand. Terry was lying across the foot, desultorily going through the small pile of self-help books that had been trickling into Jack's house.
      "Half of these are pop-psych cheerleaders and the other half are psychiatric texts," Terry said. He flashed the cover of one towards Jack: "Co-dependency and the Homosexual Relationship. You going to go back to school and be a shrink? I bet you'd be good at that."
      "Did you hear what I said?"
      "Can you tell I'm ignoring it?" Terry opened another book to its table of contents. "This one looks like bedroom reading. All the chapter titles are the names of couples. Here's a juicy one: George and Fred and Louise."
      "You don't get to ignore it. 'Tell me what you want me to do,' remember? I'm telling you what I want you to do. See Dr. Loria with me."
      Terry put down the book. "What do you expect to get out of it? If I'm only going because you want me to?"
      "Just that we're trying."
      "It's obvious that you're trying. You haven't let me out of your sight for three weeks."
      "If you want to be by yourself, you can just say so. You're changing the subject again."
      "I don't have anything to say to him. You still want me to go?"
      "You could just observe how it goes when I talk to him. You used to like him yourself."
      "Okay. But we go out somewhere fun first."
      "That's an easy deal to make."
      Terry covered his face with his hands. Gentle-voiced Dr. Loria with his theories about Terry. At least this time he'd have a chance to think of what to say.

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