The Donor

Chapter Seventeen
      As Terry and Jack walked out Terry's front door to go out, Jack dropped a couple of condom's in Terry's hand. Terry frowned at them. He looked at Jack.
      "I told you before I wasn't jealous," he said. "I just don't want you to be careless."
      "I wasn't planning on doing anything but hanging around," Terry said, pouting.
      "Well, now you're prepared if something unexpected comes up. I've got them too."
      Terry stared. "You don't."
      "Well, if I do, I'll do it safely. Let's go."
      Terry suddenly didn't feel like going.
      "Come on, Terry," Jack said, and Terry shoved the little packages into his back pocket, walking into a reaching tendril of wild rose, snagged by the thorns. One undersized bud had broken open and even in the chill of the evening it breathed a slight scent. Terry snapped it off and tucked its short stem into the buttonhole of Jack's jacket.
      It was so easy to forget everything for a couple of hours. It was one of those airier places, more conducive to conversation than seduction, and that suited Terry fine this night. He was talking soccer with a stranger when Jack showed up saying,"I want to leave now. I can drop you off home or you can stay and get the bus later."
      "I could leave," Terry said regretfully. When he reached the sidewalk he realized there was a third person with them.
      "This is Mike," Jack said. "And Terry."
      Terry glanced at the two of them and got into the back seat. He took note of Mike's hand on Jack's thigh. He took note of the many times his thoughts repeated that it was no more than he did himself. He said goodnight in a loud cheerful voice, and went to bed thinking about Eurick.
      The next afternoon Jack was silent on the drive back, and Terry walked straight to his door without looking back, not wanting to face the moment when Jack would not get out of the car. When Jack caught up with him in the house, Terry smiled carefully, not knowing who he was smiling at, not wanting to look foolish by giving Jack the wrong expression.
      Jack followed Terry into the bedroom and while Terry changed into his running clothes Jack lay down on Terry's bed, gazing at the ceiling. When Terry looked at him again, he saw that Jack was asleep. With his eyes closed, Jack was almost cute, with long pale lashes lying on his high cheekbones and his mouth relaxed into a tender downturn.
      Terry ran. He ran hard and long, seeking and finding that cherished state of not thinking, almost surprised to find Jack still at the apartment when he returned. By this time Jack had awakened and was messing with the thermostat. The apartment smelled of the coffee Jack had made.
      "Long run," Jack said.
      "Lost track of time," Terry said.
      Jack forced a grin. "I got that appointment for tomorrow. He was very good about making time for us. He worries about you."
      Terry turned toward his bedroom. "Right. What time?"
      "Late. Six-thirty. He's usually gone by then."
      "Okay. I need a shower and warmer clothes," he said.
      Terry came back with his hair wet and carrying his socks. "So. How was it last night?" Terry asked.
      Jack's smile was radiant. "Wonderful. I hadn't seen him in more than a year. You'll have to get to know him, he's a great old friend of mine."
      "That's nice," Terry said. "So that's why you crashed just now. You stayed up all night talking."
      Jack laughed. "Not just talking. You better not be objecting. Not with your habits."
      "I'm not objecting," Terry said. "Just curious. I know what it means when I do it, but I don't know what it means when you do it."
      Jack jumped up. "Let's eat out," he said. "Sushi. Wasabi instead of garlic for a change."
      The day of the appointment both Jack and Terry were restless. "So how do you want to kill time? Ready to eat?" Jack was wearing a tie, a narrow black one.
      "We could go to Land's End and walk around. watch the sun go down," Terry said. I haven't been out there since I came back."
      At the ruins of the old Sutro Baths, the cold took on a life of its own. It went beyond discomfort to insistence, almost violation. The ruins were nothing but unreadable cement structures. It was hard to imagine that here there had once been a great glassed-in structure with pools full of lively people. As it grew dark it became worrisome to try to walk around, so they stood and watched the last of the sunset.
      "What would you do if somehow you found out that some fairy tale type stuff was real? Like ghosts for example?" Terry asked.
      "Probably nothing," Jack said. "If they'd been real all along, then nothing would really be different. Though -- if I found out the hard way --"
      "Directly, by contact of some kind," Terry added.
      "I'd wonder if I was nuts. It would take a lot of convincing. You?"
      "Me too. A lot of convincing. But once I was convinced I guess I would just accept it."
      "Naturally, I'd wonder if it would mean I could talk to Mickey."
      "What would you say to him?"
      "That he better be running his afterlife better than he ran his first life."
      Climbing into the car, Terry wondered whether he had just been about to tell Jack all about Eurick. Or just making conversation.
      Dr. Loria's office was very warm, but Terry couldn't shake the cold. Alone on a chair, hunched inwards, Terry wished that he and Jack were sitting together on the couch. The doctor himself looked haggard at the end of his long day, with limp clothes, but his hands still shone, overscrubbed and neatly trimmed.
      He started by greeting Terry warmly. Terry thought he must have gotten the impression that he was going to talk about everything today.
      "I think I came only to talk about what goes on with me and Jack," Terry said, hoping to neutralize the blood subject before it came up.
      Dr. Loria nodded thoughtfully and prompted Jack with his eyes.
      "That's all right to start with," Jack said. "But I think in the long run there are deeper concerns."
      Terry fought off a sense of impending betrayal and entered into a delicate round of negotiations, willing to spend the whole session defending his ground. Dr. Loria didn't say they were wasting time. He acted as if each generalized statement defended with passive voice verbs and dependent clauses were an important revelation if great healing significance. Terry didn't give in, but he felt he was losing ground steadily anyway.
      Jack wasn't satisfied. He made another appointment for both of them. Dr. Loria made them wait two weeks. Terry didn't think anything of the wait until Dr. Loria called him at home. "I hope you'll use the time before our next appointment to think about what we've been saying to you," he said. "You should know that your case concerns me a lot. It reminds me of others I've had dealings with, which ended tragically. I worry that as long as you stay in denial about what you are doing, you will stay in great danger."
      Terry hung up as soon as he could.
      He stood his ground at the next appointment. He kept to his main point: that he had never expected Jack's interest in him to last, and he wanted to provide a pleasant experience for Jack as long as he was interested, and he didn't want to spoil it with all this worry. He only wanted to reassure Jack and get on with it.
      But Jack heard something else: he thought somehow Terry was trying to protect his integrity, and he said, "I really do respect your right to privacy, but it's hard to watch you go down without trying to help."
      "I don't take nearly as many risks as you think I do."
      And all of a sudden the gloves were off. Dr. Loria was going on about the dangers of infection and shock with blood-sharing rituals. He knew of cases, he said, where people playing at vampires had inadvertently killed their donors. He talked about thrillseekers upping the ante on each other until they were doing things other people could hardly imagine, which left them mutilated at times, scarred frequently, sometimes guilty of mayhem or murder, and almost always infected. His eyes gleamed with evangelical fervor, though his voice retained its professional neutrality.
      Terry walked out. He walked around for a little and then took the streetcar home.
      The phone rang about an hour after Terry got home. He let it ring for a long time, but when he finally picked it up Jack was still on the line.
      "I'm sorry you were upset," Jack said."
      "Me too. Forget about any more appointments."
      "I won't forget it, no, but we don't have to talk about it right away."
      Terry didn't say anything.
      Jack said, "I do think it's interesting that you decided to leave when you did. You could have just said he was wrong."
      "I thought we didn't have to talk about it."
      "We don't. But why not? If it was me, I'd want to set the record straight."
      "I'm going to bed now. If you want to you can come too. The door is unlocked. But I'm not going to talk about it."
      The phone rang again. It was Dr. Loria. He apologized, but then he started up again, and Terry hung up again.
      He paced a few minutes, and finally went upstairs. Mary's color was good at last, and she flashed Terry a brilliant smile. "Long time," she said.
      "Yeah." He sat down. "Jack's at his place tonight."
      Eurick passed from the bedroom side to the office, barely acknowledging Terry with a gesture before he disappeared behind the door. Even with the bare glimpse of him, Terry was disturbed. Eurick was so hungry, so bright and tense with the effort of self-containment, that Terry was afraid for himself. He didn't want to wonder whether he was afraid of Eurick or himself.
      "When were you thinking of doing it?" Terry asked Mary.
      "Pretty soon. I can't think why he's so bad so soon. He used to go much longer without needing me to." She gave Terry a look that said she thought Terry was responsible.
      Terry wondered if she knew about the rabbits. She must: she butchered them herself.
      "He seems pretty extreme," Terry said. "It's distracting."
      "To say the least," said Mary. "Anyway, I'm all set up. I think Thursday would be good."
      "You don't leave anymore."
      "Doesn't seem necessary any more. The aftereffects are not so strong. I don't know why."
      "Maybe because he gets what he really wants," terry said.
      Mary shook her head disapprovingly. "If you mean what I think you mean, he does not get that from me. I can't afford to get that wasted. I've got responsibilities. You should see yourself afterwards."
      "He doesn't take more from me than you."
      "How do you know? I measure mine. In a flask. Less than 250 milliliters. How much do you give him?"
      "About that."
      "How do you know?"
      "He stops when it's right."
      Jack was examining Terry closely, squinting, his head cocked.
      "I suppose you're going to make a bust of me to put on your piano," Terry Joked. "Do it in bronze. Marble looks anemic."
      "You're about to do it again, aren't you?" Jack asked.
      "No, I'm not," Terry snapped. "I told you I'd tell you when I knew."
      "Don't bite my head off. Are you tired?"
      "Not especially. Are you?" Terry ran his thumb softly on the inside of Jack's leg.
      "A little," Jack said. "I had to make two trips today, down the Peninsula and to the East Bay."
      "And you still came and got me. I'm flattered."
      "It's the high point of my day."
      "I don't think so," Terry said, leering, looking down.
      Jack rolled his eyes. He pulled Terry over with him on to the floor, saying, "Sometimes I think it's all you ever think about," giving him a sharp, abrupt kiss, pushing him back a little.
      Terry ran his tongue along Jack's collarbone. "Let's pretend it is," he said. "Let's pretend it's all anyone ever thinks about. Later on we can think about other things. Current events. Public health policy. SALT talks. Even the President. But let's just think about this for a little bit."
      "All right," Jack drawled indulgently, letting Terry pull his clothes off.
      Terry woke up nestled tightly against Jack. He thought about what Eurick was doing now. Mary had probably given him the blood. He pictured it in a half-liter graduated beaker, the dark fluid coming to a strip of tape pasted over the skeletal lines. He gripped Jack's arm, picturing Mary's artist hands, calloused and stained and marked by her tools, passing the beaker to Eurick like a chalice, or like a prosaic cup of coffee: and how did Eurick receive it? He pictured it one way, with awe, another way, nonchalantly: like a loop the event kept repeating in his mind, with minor changes, and increasingly, with his own hands substituting for Mary's, his own lips substituting for Eurick's.
      He buried his face in Jack's shoulder, swallowing away the image, caressing Jack till he nearly waked. He continued, willing Jack to rouse and be aroused. Jack muttered peevishly and shook him off. Terry calmed himself, closing his eyes against the picture of the beaker and the blood. He had a few minutes before the image returned, filling and filling to the half-mark over and over again, sometimes dripping languorously, in slow viscid drops, sometimes flowing and splashing like wine.
      "Again," he whispered hoarsely into Jack's ear. He could tell Jack's body was capable of it.
      Jack was jolted awake. "What?"
      "Again. Let's."
      "How do you manage it? I'd think we already did enough tonight."
      "Because you're so nice," Terry said.
      "Jesus, Terry. In the morning, okay?"
      "Okay." But he pressed his hands against Jack. biting his lips against the vision in his mind. Jack snored twice. Terry saw sparks. Good, he thought: if I'm hyperventilating maybe I'll pass out and I won't have to think about it anymore.
      When he woke again Jack had thrown his arm over him. He crawled in closer and stroked Jack's cheek and neck. He toyed with Jack's ear as a small child plays with his blanket binding, and slept again.
      It was Jack's lips teasing against his wrist that woke him this time. He rolled away, touching himself, but found that without Jack's body to anchor him, he stimulated inchoate frightening images as he stroked his own flesh, and he turned back to Jack and his warmth and rich smell. This time Jack murmured something soft and accepting, and Terry moved down between Jack's legs and stroked and sucked until Jack's reflexes took over. The whole thing was brief and confusing. Terry found himself unsure he was himself and not Eurick, or that Jack was not Terry.
      It was better, but not over. He still couldn't sleep. There was still that shining beaker with blood in it somewhere, probably drunk down now, but it was still present in Terry's mind. He felt his way to the chair in the far corner of Jack's room. He found the switch on the small reading light there. He picked up Jack's copy of The Guardian and stared at the pattern of black and white. At the edges of the letters there seemed to be a red halo, more interesting than the content of the words.
      "You're awake." Jack's voice from the bed.
      "Yes. But you don't have to be," Terry said.
      "Well, I am now. What's the matter?"
      "I just can't sleep. Happens to everyone sometimes."
      Jack thrashed around on the bed till he reached the edge. His footsteps were soft on the floor and his silhouette lightly gilded from the lamp until he came into the lit circle.
      "Really Jack, you don't have to stay up with me, you had a long day," Terry said.
      "I'm awake." Jack sat on the arm of the chair. "I think I remember you kissing on me a while ago."
      "Sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you, I just . . ."
      "You're just a horny bastard." He kissed Terry's face. Terry tentatively stroked Jack's flank. Did he remember any of what just happened?
      Appalled, Terry realized that the anxious energy he'd been fighting all night was building again. He swallowed. He looked at Jack's sleepy face. Well. Maybe he could.
      "I will if you'll talk to me about Dr. Loria after," Jack whispered in Terry's ear, making feathery motions against Terry's ribs.
      Terry collapsed back against the chair. "shit."
      Jack slid onto Terry's lap, running his fingers over Terry in a deliberate thoughtful way. "All you have to do is agree to talk to me," Jack said.
      "I don't need this." The color behind Terry's closed eyelid's was a warm, orange red. "I don't want it."
      Jack stopped. "Have it your way."
      "I'm sorry," Terry said. "I've just screwed everything up from the beginning. I really am sorry."
      "What are you talking about?"
      "I never meant to make things complicated for you. I meant to be the opposite. Something nice, a pleasant interlude."
      "A pleasant interlude," Jack repeated, bitterly.
      "No, listen, I don't mean I wanted to have a pleasant interlude, I wanted to be a pleasant interlude. Nice, as long as you felt like it. If you wanted me always, I'd be always. But never a bother for you. Not a problem. Right? But I screwed it up."
      "It's not what I call a realistic goal, never being a problem to another person."
      "It seemed realistic. I didn't think you'd want to be so involved. Like to take on my whole life like this."
      Jack shook his head. "What did you expect me to do?"
      "Nothing. You'd either like me or not. You wouldn't try to fix me."
      "You're telling me to back off." Jack did settle a little farther off Terry's legs.
      "No, I'm not telling you to do anything. It's just I'm sorry I make you feel like you have to rescue me or something. It's not what I wanted to be for."
      "It's not what you're for," Jack said. "I thought you were perfectly normal when I started up with you. Just what I was looking for: a mature, stable guy, with good politics and no severe quirks. I was pretty sure. I watched you for a while. Things were fine at first."
      "If I'd know I was crazy I would have made a disclosure statement."
      "I don't think you are crazy," Jack said after a moment. "I think you're into something too hot to handle, is all. I think if you were crazy, I'd have recognized it and kept away. Dr. Loria disagrees, by the way. He thinks I was looking for a repeat of Mickey."
      "I can't be a repeat of Mickey," Terry said. "I've seen the pictures. I'm not that cute and I'm not that talented. And I don't mistreat you. I try not to anyway. And I don't plan to run away and die either."
      "I'm not saying you're going to do those things. But you can see why I don't let you stew in your own juices either."
      "I don't want you to worry ."
      "Then come to Dr. Loria with me again. We can talk about this. Just this, just about us. Okay?"
      Terry opened his eyes at last. "Would you feel a lot better if I did? A lot better?"
      Jack nodded.
      "Okay, but he doesn't get to insult me again." Jack nodded again. "And give me a little time. After Thanksgiving.."
      Terry did the two-Thanksgiving dinner again, this time with Jack along for the first one. Eurick got Dylan to produce a piece of work he had done in school. It was a large piece of paper with THANKSGIVING written vertically in fat colorful letters, with words crossing it at each letter, and drawings to illustrate them. Most of the drawings featured boys throwing or kicking balls. The words were: Terry, Handball, MAry, JuaN, basKetball, Soccer, Garlic, Eurick, Velcro, rabbIts, oceaN, runninG. Terry handed it back to Dylan. "You sure do like sports," he said,. acknowledging his own inclusion by the breadth of his smile.
      Jack said, "You're thankful for Velcro?"
      "It makes a great noise when you're bored at school," Dylan said.
      Terry was apprehensive about dining with Jack's friends again. He'd met some of them a couple of times since the last year, but not enough to be comfortable. And now he also wondered if Jack had confided in any of them. When they looked at him, what did they see?
      Even hypersensitive as he was, Terry detected no special attitude. Eventually, absent friends, the dead, the ill, came into the conversation, and finally, the Test -- it had recently become possible to tell whether one was harboring the HIV virus long before any illness would start.
      Terry didn't try to get out of the visit to Dr. Loria. He did start out trying to make the same bargain, but Dr. Loria wasn't having any. He kept sneaking in references to Terry's "activities."
      "It doesn't make sense for me to go on talking," Terry said at last. "There's something on my mind: how to get Jack what he wants without dragging him into my problems. And you won't let a minute go by without doing just that. I just want Jack to be happy and how can he be happy if you keep telling him I'm some kind of ghoul?"
      Dr. Loria steepled his fingers. "I don't know what you do. I do know you are doing something you won't talk about. I feel it would be unprofessional not to give you information about compulsive behaviors and the dangers of bloodletting activities."
      Terry squared his shoulders. "I do not play at vampires, Dr. Loria. I have never consumed blood or done anything to anybody."
      Jack let out a breath. Terry looked at him: he was eager, waiting for more, waiting for something convincing.
      But Dr. Loria had heard just how specific Terry's denial was. "That's not what we're worried about, is it? I've seen you with the symptoms of severe blood loss. And a definitely altered consciousness."
      "And I have said this is not an issue I want to talk about today."
      "You brought it up."
      Terry stood up. "I want to go home," he said to Jack.
      Jack shook his head. "We'll change the subject," he said. "But let's get our money's worth."
      Terry started towards the door. Jack stood up and caught him.
      "You said it's useless if I don't want to do it," Terry said to Dr. Loria. "I don't. So let me go, Jack."
      "Don't go without me," Jack said. "Stay."
      "What are you afraid of, Terry?" asked Dr. Loria. "Are you afraid of losing Jack? Of revealing someone else's secrets? Of what might happen to you if you reveal those secrets? I would be sorry if you didn't trust the confidentiality of this room."
      "I'm not afraid of anybody," Terry said. "But you think you know everything. You know what isn't so."
      "No, I don't know anything about you. But I do know what's happened to other people who presented like you do. And I know that they can come out of the web of self-destructive behavior and be whole. But they need help to do it."
      "Is that why you told Jack to sit with me every night like he's at a death watch? I'm sure he'd rather get on with his life."
      "What's that supposed to mean?" Real irritation in Jack's voice.
      "Like three weeks ago, wasn't that better?" Terry said. "Better than waiting for me to die or go crazy or whatever you think I'm going to do?"
      "What happened three weeks ago?" Dr. Loria asked.
      "Jack spent the night with an old friend," Terry said. Jack crossed his arms on his chest.
      "And how do you feel about that?" Asked Dr. Loria.
      This hew could talk about. It would make Jack happy. "I worried a little. A lot. He should have done it a long time ago so I would be expecting it."
      Jack laughed, a real, deep, free laugh. Dr. Loria smiled. Terry shrugged. "I mean it. I always made sure Jack knew what I was doing."
      "Almost," Jack said, changing the subject back.
      "I'm talking about something else right now," Terry said.
      "But you know I don't mind about that," Jack said.
      "I don't know that. You don't like it. But you don't tell me not to."
      Dr. Loria leaned farther forward.
      "You tell me you use rubbers. You know what matters to me," Jack said.
      Silence maintained. Terry looked at Jack, standing hopefully next to him with his hands in his pockets, and Dr. Loria, savoring the conversation.
      "Okay," Terry said, surprising himself. "I'm going to tell you everything, exactly the way it happens. Right now. Listen close."

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