The Donor

Chapter eighteen

      "Sit down," Jack urged.
      "You sit down if you want to. Don't interrupt or I'll stop."
      Jack backed up to the chair, turning it and sitting in it without taking his eyes off Terry.
      Terry went on, so fast he hardly breathed. "I have this friend. This is what he lives on mainly that's all. Mostly animal blood, but it's better when there's some human blood now and then. It's not a game, it's not a preference, it's a physical need and he's stuck with it. He doesn't like taking human blood but he's so much better when he takes a little now and then. I've given him some three times. That's all. That's all."
      Dr. Loria was smiling blandly.
      "It's not a ritual. There's no force. Nothing sexual. No game. He didn't even ask me. I don't know why I get spaced out afterwards because he doesn't take much. I don't get stoned to do it."
      Jack looked as if he'd been slapped with a plank.
      "Nobody makes me do it," Terry urged. "I do it because it helps him. Because he's my friend and it makes him better. You can't stop me."
      Dr. Loria sat back with a truly satisfied expression. Jack's eyes were wide.
      "I'm ready to go home now," Terry said.
      "You can't drop a bombshell like that and just leave," Jack said.
      "Actually, he can," Dr. Loria said. "But are you sure you wouldn't prefer to talk about it now that it's in the open?"
      "There's nothing more to say. You won't believe that it's just like I say. You won't believe he needs it physically and you won't believe I give it willingly and sober."
      Dr. Loria put on a very professional look. "Tell us how you found out about your friend's problem. You said he didn't ask for help."
      "Who is it?" Jack blurted.
      "I'm going home," Terry said.
      "Will you allow Jack to go with you?" Something in the doctor's voice insinuated he thought Terry was about to go and put an end to it.
      "He can do what he wants." Terry did leave now, pulling the door open, striding through the outer office and the ill-lit hall. He heard running feet behind him. Jack caught up with him at the elevator, breathing hard.
      "I'll take you."
      Terry closed his eyes, opening them when he heard the elevator door open. Jack followed him on to the elevator. "I won't leave you till I know you'll be all right."
      Outside, Terry started walking briskly toward the BART stop, as if he were determined to go home alone but when Jack slipped his arm through his and tugged toward the car he went along. But when Jack spoke he didn't answer. He kept thinking he should tell Eurick what he'd done.
      "So I told you," Terry said when they were in his house. "Is it so different from what I said before?"
      "I kept expecting you to come up with some other bizarre explanation. I really expected you to tell me he was wrong."
      "He is wrong. There's only one thing he has right. The rest is wrong."
      "That's a pretty amazing thing to have right."
      "It's the smallest part."
      "Are you going to tell me who it is?"
      "What's the problem the person has? I've never heard of anything like it."
      "Yes you have. But I'm not naming it."
      "Come on, you can't just keep giving me these little teasing bits and then clamming up," Jack said. "This is crazy."
      "You'll never be satisfied no matter how much I tell you. All I want is for you to forget about it."
      "If it was over, I'd forget about it. As long as it's not, I won't. It scares me."
      "I doesn't scare me." Terry's pulse raced. "Are you spending the night?"
      "After that? Are you kidding? Of course I am."
      "I'm not suicidal," Terry said. :"I wish you were spending the night because you wanted me to rub your neck all night long or something."
      "You can do that."
      The next day Terry got a message at work from Dr. Loria. He dropped the note into a wastebasket, not bothering to crumple it up.
      On Saturday afternoon Jack and Terry took Dylan and his friend Juan to the Exploratorium. All the way back Terry struggled to stay in the conversation with Jack and the boys. He was full of anticipation because he was going to see Eurick. It was time to monitor his condition. He had a feeling he was still trying not to use the rabbits, and that he would be beginning to be hungry again.
      Eurick didn't emerge when Jack and Terry and the boys arrived. Terry took it on himself to knock on the office door. Terry blinked and stepped back when Eurick opened the door.
      "We brought your kid back," Terry said apologetically. "That's all."
      "Good." Eurick examined Terry, his eyes moving up and down. He opened his mouth but didn't speak. Terry shrugged affirmatively. He was right. Eurick hadn't lost vitality, but he was suffering. He was all eyes and mouth.
      Terry thought he was beautiful.
      Terry looked over his shoulder. Jack was telling Mary they had all gotten separated in the dark cavern of the Exploratorium and Terry had found the boys in the darkest corner, playing with their multicolored shadows in an optical exhibit. Mary was of course frowning. You don't tell a mother you nearly lost her child in a noisy dark warehouse full of strangers.
      "Can you make some time for me? Friday?" Eurick asked softly.
      "Yes," Terry breathed. He clenched his fist, and used it to wipe the joy off his face before he let Jack see him again.
      "Look at this," Terry said, pointing to the article in the newspaper. "You should go to this concert. Tomorrow night."
      "You hate that music." Jack leaned over to read the interview with the musician.
      "So I'll stay home. You shouldn't miss things because of me. If you felt like it, you could wake me up afterwards, I'll leave the door unlocked."
      Jack considered.
      "It's only a few hours," Terry said. "I'll be all right. Take your friend Mike or somebody. I promise I'll stay home."
      Jack laughed. "You're so anxious for me to do this. It makes me suspicious."
      "All right, don't," Terry said. "But you better have fun while I'm at work then. You know what happens with all work and no play. It makes Jack a dull boy."
      "All right," Jack said, reaching across Terry for the phone. "You asked for it, you got it. You want to be away from me for a night. That's reasonable. You can have that. But I'm dropping by after the concert, so you better be prepared to introduce me to whoever he is."
      The little clock on the nightstand glowed, marking the time: a little after one-thirty. So far, so good. It seemed to have gone off without a hitch, though he thought Eurick had taken just a smidgen more than Terry was expecting. Nothing like the last time, anyway. He was safely in bed, and had been sleeping for a while before he heard Jack's footsteps.
      The light in the livingroom went on, then off. Terry rolled over to watch Jack's dark shape coalesce in the semi-darkness. The constant city light coming through the window gave some bulk to Jack's shape and picked out the whites of his eyes. When Jack turned to strip for bed, his retinas briefly flashed red. Funny.
      It took all his will to stay conscious while Jack stripped and lay down. He cuddled up next to him and drifted down into sleep again, grunting softly in response to Jack's words he did not understand. He'd never noticed before that a person's skin smelled so salty and delicious. His dreams were rosy and warm, as if he were floating on something saline and viscous under a sky the dark color of longing.
      "Up, sleepyhead." The day was very bright. It must be late. "You must have had a ball last night. You never get up later than me." Jack was fully dressed and ready to go.
      "It's Saturday," Terry said, his head throbbing. His throat was dry and his forehead was slicked with sweat. "Where are you going?"
      "I thought we'd go out for breakfast and swap stories. But you're wasting time. Didn't you say you have to go in this afternoon?"
      "Damn." Terry collapsed against the bed. "I wish I didn't have to. What time is it?"
      "Ten-thirty. You still have time. Just get up."
      "Okay. Could you get me a cup of coffee?" He tried to get up and out and into the shower before Jack got back but he was too slow. When Jack came in with the coffee Terry had just loaded his arms with the clothes he was going to wear. The silver chain lay burning in his palm. He pressed his arms against his side and started to the bathroom.
      Jack set the cup down and stood in the way. He flicked his yes so that Terry knew he had seen the fresh bandage in the crease of his elbow. "I thought you were going to tell me when you were going to do that."
      "I chickened out. I thought you'd try to stop me and it would get messy."
      "Now I know why you were so anxious I should go out and have a good time."
      "You did, didn't you?"
      "And while I as enjoying myself, some guy was drinking your blood."
      Terry flinched.
      "Well, that's what happened, isn't it? That's what you said."
      "I know it sounds terrible when you say it like that, but it's not like that at all."
      "If it's not so bad, why do you sneak around about it?"
      "If you want to do breakfast, you'd better let me get dressed."
      "I'd rather hear your answers than do breakfast."
      "If I have to go to work without eating breakfast I won't make it."
      "Okay, get dressed, but it's not the end of the conversation."
      But it was the end of the conversation for a little while at least. Terry took advantage of the restaurant, using the public atmosphere to control the conversation. Jack was reduced to answering Terry's questions about the concert. And in the car Terry deflected and equivocated till there was not another private moment. He was proud of himself for maintaining so well.
      Marcia had called her team in for a meeting, not to do work. She was dissatisfied with things. She made an elaborate show of not mentioning names but Terry could tell who was involved with each point and so could everyone else. Three of eight points touched on Terry's work but he could only do something about one of them. He said so.
      "You don't need to be defensive," she said. "I'm sure you will do everything in your power just like everyone else to see that all these issues are resolved. And I'm sure I'll be seeing objective evidence of the sincerity and effectiveness of your efforts."
      "You know I'll do what I can," Terry said.
      "Good," Marcia said. "Results are what we need, not rationalizations."
      On the way out of the meeting Marcia pulled him aside for a cryptic warning. "I always give a hundred percent, you know that," Terry said. "My results are as good as anyone else's, and better than most."
      But Marcia only shook her head wisely. "Just so there are no surprises if I should have to talk to you."
      Jack said he had to drop off something for Eurick. Mary said, "I don't know if he's up to a conversation right now." But she knocked on his door.
      When Eurick came out, Terry understood Mary's misgivings. Eurick didn't look like he had fed the day before: neither comfortable and satisfied nor expansive and smirking. He was unwilling to look at either Jack or Terry. He just took Jack's package and slipped back into his office, mumbling nothings, flashing Terry a brief look, as intense as hatred. But not hatred.
      Terry lingered half a minute after Jack started down the stairs. "Is he all right?" he asked.
      Mary lifted her hands. "I don't know. Anything different last night?"
      "Not that I noticed," terry said, turning to join Jack, who was halfway back up the stairs looking for him.
      "So what do you want to do tonight?" Terry asked Jack.
      "Oh, I thought I'd sit around and collect evasive answers all night," Jack said. "Or we could go to a movie."
      "Let's go to a movie. I don't really want to sit around thinking of evasive answers to give you all night."
      "Isn't this better? You should let me do this more often. You can just pretend to be a baboon and let me scratch your head for hours. You could even forget you know how to speak."
      "Keep that up and I'm liable to," Jack said. "I can hardly keep my eyes open."
      "Don't bother," Terry said. "Nothing to watch out for right now."
      tonight. I'm not doing anything sneaky at all. Just scratching your head."
      "But we should talk."
      "Later. Just let me make you feel good for a while. Think of it this way: you're keeping me out of trouble."
      The phone rang. Terry could reach it with only a slight shift in weight.
      It was Dr. Loria. "I'm concerned that you've participated in another incident," he said. "I'm also concerned that you seem to be going to greater lengths to do it and to conceal it from Jack. "
      Terry interrupted what he thought was shaping up as a long tirade. "I don't have any explanations right now," he said. "I'm busy."
      "I am concerned," Dr. Loria repeated in his gentle voice. "I worry that you blind yourself to the reality of what you are doing. I worry that you are in denial about the consequences of your actions. It concerns me that --"
      "I need to hang up now. I'm sorry to be rude, but I have other things I need to attend to." Terry placed the telephone down gently and rested his cheek against Jack's head.
      A moment passed. He began to stroke Jack's hair again.
      "So?" Jack asked.
      "Nothing," Terry said.
      Jack brought up snow camping again over dinner. "We could go when you shut down for Christmas," he said. Terry thought the veins over the backs of Jack's hands were unusually beautiful. He almost lost himself in their sharp relief and gracious contours.
      "They're not shutting down till the last minute this year," he said. "My flight down South is on the night of the twenty-third. You're not going back East to your family?"
      "I never go at major holidays. Too heavy. I go later when all the tumult and shouting have died down."
      "You want to come with me? I bet we could still get you a ticket on the same flight." They could trade seats once they were aboard. Terry could smell Jack's warmth the whole way.
      "Are you kidding? What would you tell them?"
      "Whatever you wanted me to. They'd be all right with it. You're a friend who can't go to his family. Or I'm desperately in love with you and I've named you in my will. Or you're a trick for the week. Or nothing. We could let them draw their own conclusions."
      "When are you coming back? I'll pick you up at the airport." Jack's neck was very interesting too. It had all sorts of sweet vulnerable anatomy, moving delicately with Jack's study pulse.
      "My family's really nice and friendly. It doesn't have to mean anything for you to visit them." It would be nice to just feel along the veins for the pulse, just drink in that delicious mineral smell Jack seemed to have developed lately.
      "So let's plan on going to the snow in January then," Jack said.
      Terry gulped. "Yes," he said, suddenly aware of the direction his thoughts had been taking.
      Lately Terry had been running only in a desultory fashion. This week he decided to return to more serious running. Jack accepted his invitation to join him part of the way.
      "Next block, the dog I told you about," Terry said between breaths. "He's friendly. He'll probably join us. Rushes out barking but doesn't mean anything."
      "Thanks for the warning," said Jack. He was only barely sympathetic to dogs in the first place.
      But when they came around the corner the dog lurched up growling and slunk up sideways to the sidewalk with a fearsome grimace. As Terry and Jack drew nearer, he began serious barking and snapping, hackles raised, posture protective.
      Terry was surprised enough to break stride. "Don't you remember me?" he wheedled. "Come on, pup, let's be friends again."
      The big dog crouched like a cat, growled and barked and snapped.
      "He's serious," jack said. "Let's get out of here."
      "I don't get it," Terry said, walking away. "He's always been such a sweetheart before."
      "Maybe it's not really the same dog."
      "No, I'm sure it's the same dog."
      The cat in the next block, who used to roll seductively onto its back when Terry jogged by, shot away when he came near. And another dog gave Terry the same treatment as the first.
      "Well, I used to be popular with the animals around here," Terry said. "I don't know what happened."
      "Maybe they know something about you that I don't," Jack said.
      Mary wasn't as enthusiastic about Christmas shopping with Terry this year as the year before, but she agreed to go. It was a quicker, less deliberative trip, and they ended up quietly eating lunch. "Did you figure out what's wrong with Eurick?" he asked Mary.
      Mary shook her head curtly. She stirred her coffee.
      Terry spoke low. "Was there anything wrong with my blood?" he asked.
      "No, nothing was wrong with your blood," she said, tired, as if they had been talking about this for hours.
      "It was the wrong time," Terry guessed.
      Mary didn't say anything.
      "He asked me," Terry said.
      Mary put her spoon down. "I don't have anything more to say about that," she said. "But I do have something to say to you and I want you to really listen to me this time."
      "All right." He crumbled the cookie in front of him.
      "You think you've figured out something about Eurick, but you're wrong," she said. "You think he's just like you are. And it's not true."
      "I don't think he's like me. He's different in almost every way."
      "I'm not talking about what you think I'm talking about. You think you know all about what's dangerous about what he wants because you know what's dangerous about sex. So you think that the way you deal with danger and sex is the way Eurick should deal with the danger of what he wants and you're wrong. They're not the same. And if you don't figure it out I'm afraid of what will happen to you and Eurick."
      Terry sat silent.
      Mary went on. "You came back to San Francisco because you wanted to do what you wanted to do. You decided that a good attitude was going to keep you safe. And you think a good attitude is enough to keep you safe with Eurick too. And you know what? I don't think you even care about being safe with Eurick."
      "The only reason I do what I do with Eurick is because I know I'm safe with him. Because we do it safely."
      "You think you know that. But you don't know what the disease will do. And you don't care enough."
      Terry sat with his chin in his hand. "I do care, Mary. That's why I did it in the first place. Because I cared about what was happening to you."
      "And because it was a way to have Eurick." It was clearly an effort for Mary not to look away after saying it. Terry didn't look away either.
      "I won't deny it. But it's not the most important thing. You know the most important thing is our friendship."
      Mary nodded, accepting his reassurance." "There's another thing. It's hard to ask."
      "What is it?"
      "The test. Have you been treated?"
      "Not yet. I've been thinking about it."
      "All right." He shrugged as if it were a little thing.
      "I mean soon," Mary said.
      "I'll call tomorrow."
      Eurick came to the door as Mary and Terry were parting at the base of the stairs. "Come on up for a bit," he said.
      He dropped his packages inside the door and climbed the stairs, wondering why he dreaded this.
      The air in the flat was morose. Little stories about the Christmas shopping rush fell flat. Eurick's responses were too slow and forced to allow Terry to build a raconteur's momentum. And it was clear that Mary wanted him to leave.
      "Well, I'm going to go deal with all that loot," Terry said.
      Eurick walked out the back way with Terry. Mary's words made this small friendly act seem ominous. At the top of the back stairs Eurick stopped behind Terry, and Terry stopped on the first step down. Eurick touched the chain where it chafed against Terry's neck. Terry didn't look back at him but he knew what the grimace looked like that went with the subaudible gasp.
      "Did you talk to Jack about whether he was coming over tonight?" Eurick asked.
      The bottom fell out of Terry's stomach. "No." His lips were dry. "But he had work to do. I don't expect him." His tongue was thick, his words came out congealed and rough.
      Eurick's hand went flat on Terry's shoulder. Terry turned. The red glow from the clouds lit up Eurick's hungry face.
      "Isn't it too soon?" he asked over the objection of his obedient body.
      "It's a bit sooner than usual," Eurick acknowledged. "I won't take much."
      "You could wait a little while. Take a little time to get ready."
      Terry turned and somehow made it down the stairs without stumbling. He put the pressure cooker on and went to the phone. Reaching it across the apartment was like walking inshore when the tide is running out.
      "Were you going to come over tonight?"
      "Well, no, I was on a roll here and I thought I'd just keep at it until I dropped. Why? Do you want me to come over?"
      "I just wondered." Terry curled up around the phone.
      "Terry, is there something wrong?"
      "No, everything's fine. I just didn't know what you intended to do tonight."
      "How did the shopping trip go?"
      "It was fine. I got you something."
      Terry couldn't think of anything more to say. He gripped the phone.
      "I'm here."
      "Are you feeling ill?"
      "Not especially. Just sort of tired. You know how shopping is."
      "Not if I can help it."
      "Well." Terry sat blank minded. "I guess I better let you get back to work. So you don't lose your roll."
      "Okay. Are you sure you're all right?"
      "You can tell me if you need anything."
      "No, really. I just wondered."
      "If you're sure . . . you can tell me if you change your mind."
      Terry replaced the phone and walked around the house. The chain had never felt so irritating to wear before. It felt like his skin had worn right through. But it was too early to take it off.
      Eurick had told him he didn't have to do it at all if he didn't want to. Tonight should be the test of it. He dreaded it so much. But he didn't feel like he existed in a system that had a dimension of liking and not liking, or willing and not willing. It was as if the thing he was preparing to do was as inevitable as breathing -- and the cessation of breath: and his own feelings as irrelevant to the outcome.
      But he was frightened.
      It was only two weeks ago and it hadn't been such a small amount either. And Eurick hadn't waited for Terry to offer. Twice. And -- but it was absurd to get worked up over the nuances of Eurick's requests. If only Jack had felt like coming over. It would have made the encounter impossible and then maybe Eurick would subside for a week or two. Then everything will be all right.
      Finally Terry took the scalpel in his hand. He paced a little more, then, standing still, he made himself become quiet inside. He reached the state of acquiescence and called Eurick.
      Eurick hung back across the room. "Did you change your mind? Why did you call me?"
      Terry shook his head. Slowly he realized he was still uncomfortable around the neck, that the chain still hung there. He pulled it over his head and dropped it on the floor without taking his eyes off Eurick.
      Eurick held Terry's arm. "Are you sure? Are you sure it's all right with you?" But the question was more of a lullaby than an inquiry.
      Terry worked his mouth and words came out. "Yes. I want to give it to you." He took a firmer grip on the scalpel. "Whatever you need."
      "I'm sorry," Eurick said. "It's too soon, I know. I won't take so much and you'll be fine."
      Terry didn't need soothing anymore. He was ready. Slowly, smoothly, he shifted the scalpel and prepared to make the cut but Eurick wasn't finished talking.
      "I've never told you before how grateful I am for what you do for me. I don't like talking about it. But you should know how kind you are. I don't think a person can be more generous than this."
      Terry heard and stored away all the words but they meant no more to him at the moment than pleasant sounds. Eurick was still holding him so he couldn't make the cut, as he gazed across the room into the darkness. Terry turned to see what Eurick was looking at, but Eurick turned him away and gathered him in for a deep embrace which Terry took passively as a rag doll. "Thank you," Eurick said again, louder.
      He released Terry and Terry found the vein and pierced it in one smooth motion, extending his bleeding arm, rocking a little but still standing.
      Somehow Eurick supported Terry while he took the blood. It seemed t like a lot of blood was leaving him. Terry raised his hand to tap Eurick's shoulder, but his will could not carry it so far. He felt as insubstantial as air. Except in that one spot where Eurick gripped him and in the wound from where the blood was flowing. The thought fluttered sickly through his mind that he was dying, but he couldn't grab on to it, it just floated away.

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