The Donor

Chapter 20

      "It's a shame you couldn't spend longer with us," Lynn said returning Terry to the airport after his whirlwind trip to his family. "You look like you could have used the rest."
      "I could, but this is how much time I have off," Terry said.
      "Dad said you could hardly keep up with him when you went running yesterday." There was that searching look.
      "I'm criminally overworked. I took care of everybody else's stuff during the fall, and now I'm paying for it."
      "That's all? You're okay otherwise?"
      "I'm okay otherwise. Look."
      "What is it?" Lynn frowned at the flimsy paper.
      "It's a negative lab result. It means if I get a cough, it's just a cold."
      Lynn grinned widely, then pretended to be nonchalant. "That's very nice," she said. "But I always knew you were safe."
      "I wish I hadn't let you go," Jack fussed. "You look worse than when you left."
      "You really know how to make a guy feel pretty," Terry said. "Anyway, I've got a day to sleep before I have to go back to the salt mines." He was looking forward to his clean white bed in his little white house.
      But Jack turned the wrong direction and climbed the wrong hill. Terry hesitated a moment in the car. He could probably ask Jack to take him home, but the effort, and the effort was too much and he didn't want to argue today. He followed Jack into the house.
      His first impression was that Jack must have been painting because the furniture was all moved around. Then he realized there was also more furniture -- his furniture. It wasn't all his furniture. The couch and bed weren't there, but his bookshelf and his dresser, and some boxes which probably had his clothes.
      Terry stared, not actually angry, though it wasn't what he wanted. He wasn't raising his voice and demanding to be moved back home. But he must make some reaction. It wasn't what he wanted.
      Jack was studying him, smiling uncertainly. He sat down and began to untie his shoes. "I thought you should just stay here for a while," Jack offered. "Until you've recovered."
      "Recovered from which?"
      Jack's smile fell. "Look, I know it was pretty pushy but I knew you wouldn't let me help otherwise. I can move you back next weekend if you want me to."
      Terry paused with a shoe in his hand. "Thank you. That would be good."
      But on the weekend Terry slept all day again and Jack left his things where they were. Even with New Year's day off, the week had been long. Marcia had given him a dangerous look when he said he was still feeling ill.
      Mary called towards the end of January. Terry was closer to the phone, but he let Jack pick it up because he didn't expect any calls. He could tell it was for him, though, from Jack's change in expression -- he looked like he wanted to slam the receiver down.
      "How are you?" Mary asked. It wasn't just a greeting, it was what she wanted to know.
      "Fine," Terry said. "Good." He paused, deciding to tell her what she wanted to know. "I'm almost up to my normal running schedule. The dogs don't growl at me any more."
      "That's good. Are you planning to give up the downstairs apartment?"
      "No. This is only temporary. How's --" he hesitated. Jack was not pretending not to watch him. "How's everybody?" he asked.
      "We're all doing all right. Dylan misses you. I told him you're having a honeymoon."
      Terry laughed. Every overture he'd made to Jack had been deflected. Jack kept saying Terry needed to conserve his strength.
      "And Eurick?"
      "Misses you too, I guess."
      "No, I mean, how is he?"
      "Fine. Fine. We'll manage in the old way."
      Terry took a deeper breath. "How about the way he was last month? Still like that?"
      Jack's lips thinned.
      "Not really. Only a little bit. It's like the beginning, but now we know he'll get better."
      "That's better." He flashed Jack a conciliatory smile. "Listen, Mary, I think Jack wants the phone. You want to have lunch with me Saturday? We could meet somewhere."
      "Roosevelt Tamale Parlor," she blurted, laughing. "It's why I called."
      "You bet. One o'clock?" Terry hurried to confirm before he was reduced to ashes by Jack's glare.
      Jack turned to his work, but Terry could see that the tips of his ears were red.
      "She's my oldest friend," Terry said after he hung up. "I'm not going to the house."
      "I'm not telling you what to do," Jack said.
      Terry went and kissed Jack's cheek. "Was there something you wanted to do on Saturday? I could change it."
      "No, you do what you think is best," Jack said, pulling away.
      "So, you said you were feeling pretty good," Mary said, scrutinizing Terry across the formica table.
      "Yeah, I am," Terry said. "Jack takes good care of me. Too good. But he did tell the shrink not to call me any more."
      "You're really okay?"
      "This birria is really good. I guess I'm a little shook up, mentally."
      "I'm sorry it happened," Mary said. "I'm sorry I didn't treat you better while it was happening."
      "You did try to tell me."
      "But it was me that asked you to make it a regular thing. I had this picture of being able to share it with you. Not really because of the blood. But to have someone else who knew what it was all about."
      "Well, I do know what's all about. That won't go away."
      Mary sighed. "You know, I did the same thing you did. I knew it wouldn't really work, but I wished it would, and then I believed in my wish."
      "You'd think with all of us feeling guilty about the same thing, the guilt would get divided up, but instead, it multiplies."
      Terry smiled at Mary. "I really miss our conversation," he said. "All I do is sit around Jack's house and watch music videos. I think he must get sick of me, but I really can't think what else to do with myself."
      Mary put down her fork. "You know Jack and Eurick are still working together."
      Terry shook his head. "I had that impression. He doesn't talk to me about his work."
      "Really? That's surprising," Mary said, but she didn't sound all that surprised.
      "I'm surprised they can work together. Jack doesn't want me anywhere near Eurick. Even this is too near. He was really uncomfortable about me coming here."
      "Jack did bring up the subject of breaking up the partnership but Eurick resisted and so it never happened."
      "How is it when he comes over?"
      "Pretty good actually. Like it always was. Hack even stays for meals."
      Terry gnawed at an uneven fingernail. "So. Maybe when Spring rolls around I could take Dylan to soccer again," Terry said.
      "Maybe," Mary said. "We'll see."
      "I might even be getting a car. Though it seems pointless. I'd probably never use it because I wouldn't want to give up a good parking spot once I found one."
      "Remember last Valentine's Day?" Terry asked Jack over the sound of running water. He was washing dishes. Jack had just begun to let him.
      "Of course, why?" Jack stopped scrubbing the stove.
      "We could do something like that again. It was fun."
      "Like an anniversary." There was a dangerously cool tone to Jack's voice, as if he didn't like the idea. Terry composed himself before going on.
      "No, not necessarily. It wouldn't have to be. It could be like it was before. We could just go. Or what you want."
      A sound, a shift: Jack had turned around. Terry did too, with the dish brush in his hands, and Jack's full of cleaner and a rag.
      "I'm sorry," Jack said. "I thought I knew what you were suggesting, but now I don't."
      Terry took a deep breath. Why was this so hard? "It was just a suggestion. We could go out on Valentine's Day. I wasn't thinking about what it meant. I was only thinking that it was nice before and we haven't gone out since before Christmas."
      "I'll look into it," Jack said, which struck Terry oddly, but he nodded as if he understood.
      Jack did take Terry to a dance. It wasn't as silly and inventive as the one they'd been to the year before, but for a little while Terry didn't think about the events of December, and that was enough. He did feel naked at first when he couldn't see Jack, but he took a deep shaky breath and smiled back at the man in front of him. And then he had almost an hour of forgetful dancing and pure enjoyment before he suddenly felt tired and unsettled and went looking for Jack. He finally found him, on the sidelines watching, but shiny with recent effort – he must have been dancing, and was it with that goodlooking man next to him? Terry came within talking distance, but no closer. He really couldn't tell if Jack was with that man or not.
      "Ready to go home?" Jack asked.
      "Ready but not anxious," he said carefully, though really he wanted very much to go home now. Suddenly he felt that he had no business here, as if he had been marked by the almost-invisible scars on the inside of his arm, a stranger in human society.
      "I'll take you home," Jack said.
      "Only if you're ready."
      "I've been ready since we got her," Jack said.
      They walked the chilly street to the car the way they walked everywhere these days, a foot apart, Jack watching Terry more than the street, Terry watching Jack. When they got to the car Jack moved as if to unlock the passenger door for Terry but when Terry stepped close Jack seized him and kissed him, hard, pushing his tongue far into Terry's mouth, his hands working at Terry's body, his hips pressing Terry against the car.
      "It's what I want," Terry thought, willing himself to relax. "What am I frightened of?" But he wrapped his own arms loosely around Jack, resting his hands against Jack's shoulderblades, caressing him limply, his mouth open but not greedy. Jack pulled back and stared at him. Terry rested against the side of the car and returned his gaze. The street was very large and cold and quiet, the streetlights high and lividly orange. Jack stepped abruptly around the car and got in without saying anything. Terry climbed in silently, and the ride home was quiet.
      Terry began undressing as soon as they got into the warmth of the house. He sidled close to Jack but Jack was moving through the house as if he weren't there. Terry put himself in Jack's path, catching him by the elbows, and kissed him. Jack let him, but that was all.
      "I'd better ask," Terry said. "Otherwise, I'll make an ass of myself. Where are we on this?"
      "I wish I knew," Jack said. "Mainly, when I think about it, I get the creeps."
      Terry let out a breath. "The creeps," he said slowly. "So. I should move back soon then."
      "well, what then? I give you the creeps, but I should stay here and clutter up your bed and your house? Don't you think it would be a good idea for you to find somebody who doesn't give you the creeps? I'm pretty sure I would like to fine someone who can stand to touch me."
      "I don't think it's you that makes me feel that way."
      "What, then? The thought of Eurick? That can't be it. You're over there all the time. You probably talk to him more than you talk to me. A lot more."
      "Calm down. I don't think it's permanent. I've been seeing Loria about it. He says you should come to but I know you'd refuse."
      "What does he say about it? No, don't tell me, I don't think I'd like it."
      Terry dropped into Jack's chair and huddled there.
      "I know it hurts your feelings," Jack said.
      Terry grimaced at the floor. "Okay, I'm here sort of as an indefinite guest while you feed me, take care of me, wash my clothes, give me my fucking iron pills. You drive me places. You don't let me contribute to the housework --"
      "I do too."
      "Yeah, a little, lately, occupational therapy or something. But you don't talk to me, you don't touch me. What am I for? I can't be for decoration."
      "People don't have to be for something."
      "I guess that means I'm not good for anything. Only one question. What was all that kissing about back on the street?"
      "I was trying."
      "Thanks for the effort. I really thought for a moment there you wanted me."
      "I do, till I think about it."
      "Think about what?"
      "You know what."
      "Once you said you could forget about it if it was over. Now it's over and you're not forgetting about it."
      "I'm trying. Anyway I'm still with you, aren't I?"
      "But you're not getting anything out of it. I'm just extra work for you."
      "You're more than that."
      "Yes, I am," Terry said in a burst of inspiration he knew he'd regret as soon as it was said, "I'm a fucking Mickey surrogate." He fell back in the chair and squeezed his eyes shut against the glare of Jack's face.
      "No, sweetheart," Jack said. "That you're not. Nothing like."
      Terry opened his eyes. Jack's jaw was as clenched as his voice.
      Terry nodded. "Right. That was presumptuous of me, wasn't it?"
      Jack went downstairs and Terry crawled into bed, willing himself to fall asleep before Jack came back.
      Jack kept staring out the windows. Terry tried to stay out of the way. Moving back into his own place would require talking to Jack about it, and anyway Terry didn't want to be the one to take the first concrete step towards dissolution.
      "I'm going to go out by myself tonight," Jack said. "Do you want a ride anywhere?" so casually, as if they'd been doing this all along.
      Terry thought he ought to take him up on it. He pictured himself, smiling, at a man in a crowd in a bar, and the man smiling back at him, showing his teeth. Chilled, he shook his head. "Unless you want to have the place to yourself when you come home. I could go to my place."
      "No," Jack said hastily. "Don't disturb yourself. If you're not going out, you may as well stay here."
      That next morning was the first time in a long time that Terry took the Muni to work. He got the Mission bus with minutes to spare. But Jack was there as usual to pick him up after work, in a new and cheery mood.
      Part way home Jack chuckled, rubbing Terry's thigh. Terry put a tentative hand on Jack's. Jack withdrew his hand, but only to make the sharp steep turn at the bottom of his street.
      Terry changed into sweats and jogged down the hill without once looking back. The chuckle had been nice but Terry wasn't going to expect anything.
      He was running his old distances again, and running up the hill at the end too. That at least felt good, He was supposed to go back and get another blood test, but he hadn't done it. He planned to take the iron pills until the refills on the prescription bottle were used up and then forget about it. He knew Dr. Loria was probably telling Jack that Terry was no more in control of himself than before, that he was still in danger: and he thought that it was at least one reason why Jack wouldn't touch him.
      He stopped outside Jack's door, letting his breathing wind down as he contemplated the quince blossoms. Last year at this time just looking at the flowers as Jack unlocked his door would give him weak legs and a fluttering belly. How quickly they had become lovers, how easily he had lost him, and how thoroughly Jack had reasserted himself in Terry's life -- and now where were they?
      When he finally went into the house he had lost the heat from the exercise and a little chill followed him into the house. Jack wasn't upstairs. Terry went downstairs, the chill following him around like a small cloud: no Jack. Had he seen the car out front? He was pretty sure he had. The door to the back yard gave way reluctantly, squeaking loudly as it scraped against the sill. There was Jack, staring at his posturing plants in the dimming light. He turned around at the sound of the door. Terry shivered.
      "What's up?" Terry asked, not stepping further into the yard.
      "Just looking at this aloe. It's incredible."
      Terry came over. It was. Its soapstone-colored leaves were fat and rigid. The thorny spikes at the end of the leaves were big enough to be used as weapons. The whole plant came to Terry's chest. "It is amazing," Terry said. I think it's even beautiful. But it's scary."
      He was too cold. He turned to go back into the house.
      Jack pulled him back and kissed him, his hands cold, even his lips cold at the first touch, everything harsh and cold about this embrace. Drowning, Terry backed up. Jack reached after, holding him up, and Terry didn't try to back up anymore. "Please, let's go inside," he thought but he didn't say anything , but allowed his sweats to be tugged off on the patio.
      They did go inside after. Terry started heating milk for chocolate, warming his hands over the flame. He was sore where he had rubbed up against the astringent cement of the patio. His pants were on wrong. The damp spots were icy, and he was cold all through. He didn't feel like doing anything to remedy any of it.
      "What's wrong?" Jack asked from the doorway.
      "Nothing," Terry said, stirring the milk. Everything's fine.
      "It was what you wanted," Jack said.
      "Yes. it was. Thank you," Terry said, cupping his hands around the pot of milk trying to draw the heat in through his palms.
      "You act like you've been violated."
      "I'm just cold."
      "I guess." Jack turned to go upstairs.
      "Don't you want some of this chocolate? It's almost ready."
      "Bring it upstairs. will you?"
      After Jack had gone upstairs Terry turned off the flame and went into the bathroom. He stuck the thermometer between his lips while he cleaned himself up. A minute later the thermometer had not reached ninety-seven. He replaced it and ran his tongue over it, trying to warm it. It rose a little, not much, and the mercury seemed to seep backwards as he watched, reluctant to admit him that much warmth.
      Terry carried two of Jack's faceted black mugs up the narrow stairs. He handed one of them to Jack in the arm chair and settled down to drink the other on the floor at Jack's feet, wrapped in his own white comforter, He wasn't going to tell Jack about his temperature drop. It wasn't important. He was beginning to feel warmer anyway.
      "It was nice," he said without preliminary. "How was it for you?"
      "You were strange," Jack said from above him. "I wasn't sure you liked it."
      "Let's just be inside next time," Terry said. "I got a little too cold."
      "You could have said something."
      "Didn't want to break the spell."
      Jack leaned over the arm of the chair, frowning into Terry's face. "Are you serious?"
      Terry shrugged, smiling up at him.
      "You thought I'd turn off if you said anything?"
      Jack shook his head and sighed.
      Mary called Terry to ask if he would take Dylan to soccer again this year. Terry repeated her question as he agreed to it so Jack could hear it. He told Jack, "If you think I'm not safe to go over there, you can come with me when I pick him up and return him. But I miss the kid and the soccer too."
      Jack shrugged. "Do what you want," he said. "I'll come if you need me to."
      Terry stared at hin. He had been expecting a struggle and didn't know what to do with the defensive energy he had stored up for it.
      From the first practice meeting, the coach, who remembered Terry from the year before, enlisted him as an assistant. Terry demonstrated techniques and finally really warmed up for the first time in a long time.
      The warmth stayed with him. When he got home he found Jack at work. He could tell Jack was still uncomfortable about Terry having been at Eurick's house because he barely acknowledged Terry's entrance. Terry came around to the side to give Jack a hug, wanting him to feel this warmth, the proof, he thought, that he was doing the right thing.
      "You're hot," jack said, surprised.
      "No, I'm warm," Terry said. "You've just gotten used to me being cold. Soccer did it."
      "You run every day."
      "This took me all the way out of myself."
      "All you needed was distraction?"
      "And to be useful, I think."
      "I can't pick you up on Wednesday," Jack said. "I'm sorry. I can't get this customer to schedule the meeting any other time. Will you be okay? You want to ask Lana for a ride?"
      Terry laughed. "I have been known to take the Muni without melting," he said.
      "I'll be back around six-thirty," Jack said.
      "We could meet somewhere," Terry said. "Have dinner out."
      Jack brightened. "Yes. That way you don't have to be alone in the house waiting for me."
      Terry bit back a protest, realizing that what worried Jack was the thought of Terry alone at home, undistracted.
      Terry smirked as they waited for a table, because Jack was too absorbed in the story of his frustrating meeting across the Bay to notice that Terry was hiding a present behind his back. He slipped the package next to Jack's plate as they sat down. Jack raised his eyebrows.
      "It's no big deal," Terry said.
      "So what did I do to deserve this?" Jack said. It was just a couple of pieces to match Jack's modernistic black faceted china.
      "I don't know. Everything," Terry said. He played with his fork. "It's not a big deal. I just saw them." And he saw the man behind the counter at the store, too, though he hadn't done anything about it this time.
      He added, "It was enjoyable to roam around town on my own. Just poking my nose into things, riding the Muni. You don't have to plan your schedule around me."
      "I like picking you up. I don't just do it because you've been sick."
      Terry measured his words carefully. "It's okay either way. I enjoy riding with you. But I enjoy wandering around on my own too."
      "All right," Jack said. "Terry marks out his independence. Fair enough." Then he burst out laughing.
      Terry smiled, but he didn't laugh. "You can tell that to your Dr. Loria. Progress."
      Terry dropped by at Dylan's birthday party. The boys were, if anything, more animated than they year before. Eurick stood in the approximate center of the small mob, still and composed, only occasionally interjecting a comment or admonition, so apparently wrapped up in the banter and play of the boys that he didn't at first notice Terry in the yard. Dylan called Terry's name as he swooped around from the other side of Eurick. Terry looked over Dylan's embrace to see Eurick smile briefly and look away.
      "Here, sport," Terry said, handing Dylan his present. "I've got to be somewhere this afternoon, or I'd stay. See you Tuesday."
      Dylan was off again among his friends, and Terry left by the gate. Walking down the sunny street with his hands in his pockets, he thought: I can tell. He's not getting enough of it, whatever it is that he gets from blood. It was there in his eyes before he looked away.

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