The Donor

Chapter 22

     "How long does a honeymoon last?" Dylan asked Terry. They were walking back from the schoolyard, Dylan's soccer ball under his arm.
      "I don't know. I guess the word means a month. Sometimes people go away for a trip. Usually about a week, I guess."
      "But you were away for months."
      "I was sick for a while, too."
      "The new neighbor is named Wanda. She's hardly ever home but she pays me to feed her cats. They're cool, even though they hate Eurick. All the dogs and cats do. Even raccoons when they come in the yard, they don't leave until Eurick comes out and then they get really mad and go."
      "Too bad for Eurick," Terry said. "To have cats downstairs that don't like him."
      "It's just the way things are," Dylan said philosophically. "Dogs and cats only know what Eurick smells like, but not what he's really like. Like people who only know what a person looks like."
      Mary showed more stress as the spring advanced. By the beginning of May, she looked haggard, her nostrils flaring with each breath. She seemed to be forcing herself to talk when Terry saw her to hand off Dylan. When he even thought of asking her, she glared at him, wordlessly forbidding any discussion of her condition. Terry was left to speculate on his own. Partly, he knew, it was the time of year, coming to the anniversary both of Eurick's battle with Craig and of Terry's first move towards Eurick. But beyond that, he was sure there was another reason: the same reason he woke at night with a dry throat, his fingers twined in Jack's hair, the salty red tide of his dreams ebbing mercilessly away.
      He invited her to go out with him. She hesitated, but she agreed. As they walked down Mission Street, Terry asked her bluntly what was the matter.
      "Nothing much," Mary said. "Not my best time of year."
      "I know, but it seems like something else is going on too."
      Mary stopped and turned on him. "If I tell you things, you feel like you have to fix them, and then you do something that makes it all worse."
      Abashed, Terry shrugged. He was certain that he had guessed right, but Mary had called it: there was nothing he could do that wouldn't make things worse. For now all he could do was wait and watch. And think.
      "Do me a favor," Terry blurted one afternoon, "Find out what's going on with Eurick and Mary. You know it's not discreet for me to get into it much."
      "What do you want to know that's not discreet for you to ask about but is fine for me to ask about?" Jack asked, carefully reasonable.
      "I want to know how Eurick is doing with the blood thing. I think it's okay for me to be concerned about it. He's my friend even if I can't see him."
      Jack made a face. "Now how am I going to ask him about that? Not to mention that when I think about it, I still want to do damage."
      "I don't want to get into that argument. But I would say that the way to ask is point-blank."
      "I can just see me doing that. 'By the way, Eurick, drunk any human blood lately?' And what the hell are you going to do with the answer?"
      "I'm hoping to be reassured. Mary won't talk to me about it."
      "Smart woman. I wouldn't either -- I thought you said it wouldn't be discreet for you to ask."
      "Jack, they're my friends. I get to worry about them. If it's too hard for you, I can ask him myself."
      He waited for Jack's scowl before he added, "On the phone, of course. But it's better if you do it in person."
      Terry let it drop after that. But he thought about Mary and Eurick every day. He did have an idea: he gave Jack a jar of chutney to deliver to Mary, though he could just as well have given it to Dylan. He thought it might be a good idea to have already established that Jack could take things to their house that were from Terry. He couldn't say, even to himself, why he thought this, though he wondered briefly whether this was evidence for Dr. Loria's side. He decided he didn't care.
      "Well, I asked," Jack said, so much later that Terry had begun to plan how to bring up the subject again himself.
      Terry waited for him to go on. When he didn't, Terry prompted him. "So what did you learn?"
      Jack stalled, circling his finger around his coffee cup. "I don't know if it's responsible to talk to you about it."
      "That tells me something right there," Terry said. "I promise not to go running over there with a scalpel in my arm. Tell me the rest."
      Jack grimaced.
      "Just tell me," Terry said.
      "There isn't very much more. Mary said Eurick won't let her draw any blood for him, so he's hungry all the time, and hard to be around. To tell the truth, even I can tell there's something wrong with him. He stares all the time, and he chases me out of his office as soon as he can."
      "Four and a half months," Terry said, refraining from counting the days as well. "I wonder what he's doing it for? Did you ask him?"
      "No, what do you think?" Jack glared at him. "Maybe he's come to his senses and just dropped the whole thing."
      Terry goggled. "You still think it's some kind of kink with him?"
      "I know it's real to you," Jack said. "I saw that."
      "That doesn't hold much water with you."
      "Look, what are we arguing about here?" Jack asked, exasperated.
      "You think Eurick is a nut case, and I know the thing with him is real, and he's doing the best he can with it. I know you've seen enough to know I'm telling the truth but for some reason you'd rather believe he's a sadist or something."
      "Maybe because in my experience there are a lot more sadists than vampires in San Francisco."
      "Just admit that Eurick acts more like my version than yours."
      Jack shook his head impatiently. "He doesn't act like anything. He just seems like any goodlooking nerd. But nobody would guess about you from looking at you either."
      "Oh bull."
      "I meant nobody would guess what you were willing to do. You don't look like the type."
      "I'm not the type. You should know that."
      "Whatever." Terry didn't pursue the subject any further.
      The movie Terry and Mary went to was light and funny and Mary laughed her way through it, but at the cafe afterwards she sagged. Terry gathered himself to launch his questions. He brought her a double cappuccino and took a drink of his own before he started.
      "Why doesn't Eurick let you give him any blood?" he asked abruptly.
      Mary's eyes flew wide open. "I told Jack not to bother you about it. I wouldn't talk to him until he promised."
      "I bothered him about it. What's happening?"
      "Nothing new. Eurick says he's all right, but he's not. Trying to tough it out." She narrowed her eyes as she studied Terry closely.
      "What about the rabbits?" Terry asked, feigning the lightest interest, not fooling Mary.
      "He does that."
      "At least." Terry looked away from Mary's intense gaze. "I think I know why he's doing it," he said, and waited for her to ask.
      "Okay, why?"
      "I think it's because he has to live with you. I think it's hard for him to think of tasting your blood and stopping at that, being around your smell. I think he's afraid of that."
      "He did it for almost five years."
      "I think I messed it up. Because you used to leave him alone for a while when he took it, and he'd be settled down when you came back. But I was right there, and I upset the balance."
      Mary poked her spoon at the foam on her cup. "I can 't see any relief in that explanation."
      "I think I have a solution but it would involve all three of us cooperating. And you'd have to trust me a little bit and I don't know if you can."
      "Don't you dare go around trying to help."
      "No, I won't. I did learn something."
      "Then what?"
      "I'm not proposing anything like what happened last year. I can only even think about this because I'm not seeing Eurick anymore. I think it would mean I never could see him again, in person. I think. Maybe if I wasn't alone with him. But thinking that way might be a trap. I'm trying to be realistic here."
      Mary shook her head, frowning. "What are you proposing? I can't tell. " But Terry could see that she had an idea of what he was working up to, and she didn't like it.
      "It's simple," he said, aware that he was temporizing. "Eurick needs some human blood to stay on an even keel. He's afraid to take yours because of the proximity thing. I don't have the proximity thing, and I'm willing, and it's safe -- I'm not anemic anymore. But it would have to be a joint project because I can't even bring it to the door."
      "I can't believe I'm hearing this," Mary said.
      "Sure you can. What you can't believe is that I mean all of it, including the part about me not going anywhere near Eurick."
      "I'm not going to talk about it anymore with you," Mary said.
      "Just think about it. Try to figure out what's wrong with it. Not just what's wrong with me."
      Terry addressed himself to looking sane and in control. He never said another word about Eurick. He increased his vegetable gardening. He went hiking with Jack. He read some of the self-help books Jack was always trying to get him to read. He didn't like them. They never addressed what he wanted to know. He didn't aspire to the level of self-containment, self-possession, and self-realization the books held up as the prerequisite to mental health. He only wanted to know how he could do what he wanted to do without drowning -- to give himself completely to the people in his life and still retain a self.
      Sometimes it seemed he could feel and taste and smell the glowing flood in his creams, unusual for Terry, who was accustomed to dreams which were visual only. When he remembered his dreams during the day he had no doubt they were nostalgia only: it would make no sense at all for him to be drawn into Eurick's hunger from a mile away, after months of no contact. It could not be the way it was before, not when he never saw him and almost never heard or spoke his name.
      Terry and Jack kept going on those hikes. At first these were silent walks as Terry's eyes scanned the ground for wildflowers and Jack's searched the sky for birds., except for an occasional question from Jack about Terry's well-being, which sometimes led to arguments. By summer they were more cozy, talking freely about their thoughts -- on all subjects but one -- and mutual plans. Things which were too delicate to discuss in the small sphere of home seemed much safer miles away, under the open sky, with the yellow grass, the greygreen chaparral, the yellowbrown oaks and the dark red conifers. They talked about almost everything, but Eurick's name never came up, not even in the wind at the top of Mount Diablo, with the view of the Central Valley right to the Sierras and around the other way all out to sea: not on the red red duff under the quiet trees at Castle Rock.
      Towards the end of July Mary called early in the morning. Terry took the phone but she wanted to talk to Jack. Terry retreated to his plants outside, telling himself it was not so unusual, that there was no special tone to her voice. It was a long time before Jack appeared.
      "Let's go," Jack said, abruptly, leading the way back through the house to his car. Terry swallowed the question and came along.
      It was a perfectly beautiful day. The mist had burned off early all over the Bay, but even as the sun rose high, a light breeze came gently and steadily off the water, so it didn't get all that hot even inland. The Bay as they drove over the bridge was as blue as a postcard and dotted with sailboats. They argued cheerfully about weather and water. There had been another low-rain winter and some people were concerned about a string of drought years to come, or a permanent shift to a dryer climate. Terry was of the mind that they needed much more evidence than a couple of dry years, but Jack had recently read about the extended drought of the early 1800s and the devastation it had wrought on the native flora.
      The conversation fell away as they got to the trail head. Terry was nervous as they ambled toward the low ridge: if ever they were going to talk about Jack's conversation with Mary it would be here on the yellow hillside. The longer Jack went without speaking of it the surer Terry was that Mary and Eurick were in serious trouble. Of course Jack would be opposed to Terry having anything to do with it. Jack didn't look angry, though, so Terry thought that Mary couldn't have repeated Terry's proposal to him.
      The longer they walked, the harder it seemed to talk. Terry was desperate to appear normal, but without Jack's cooperation it was not possible to carry on a normal conversation. When Jack finally suggested a stopping place for lunch, his voice actually sounded creaky.
      They hardly spoke through lunch. Terry only looked at Jack when he knew Jack was looking at the horizon. When he felt Jack's eyes on himself, Terry kept his gaze down. When they packed up, Jack said, "We'd better hightail it. Mary's coming over this afternoon."
      "That's unusual," Terry said carefully. No response would be as bad as no response.
      In the car, Terry kneaded Jack's cramped neck, but he didn't say anything. Jack's shoulder tensed as if he would put up a hand to stop Terry, but he didn't.
      They had barely got in when Mary came to the house. Terry was alarmed by her appearance, and zipped downstairs to get her a beer while Jack was still saying hello. He stood up against the bookshelf waiting for her to speak.
      "I didn't really want to bother you," she started. "I didn't want to ask anybody else to deal with it. But it's beyond me and you're the only ones who know about it."
      "I haven't seen him in a couple of weeks," Jack said. "How is he?"
      Terry pictured Eurick, ravaged, eyes burning, barricaded in his office, not speaking to Mary or Dylan.
      Mary confirmed it: "He won't let me in his room. He only comes out of it at night and then he only goes into the yard. When I went out there to talk to him he just told me to go back into the house."
      "It's like I said, isn't it?" Terry asked. "He still hasn't taken any."
      "I think he would talk to Jack," Mary said.
      "Why me?" Jack glowered. "I've never been part of this."
      Mary said, "That's why."
      Terry said, "Mary, Jack doesn't believe in it."
      "That's not the point," Jack said, and Terry realized that, sometime without talking about it, Jack had come to accept that Eurick wasn't faking it. "It's just that I don't have any place in this."
      "If Eurick will agree to talk to you, you should go," Terry said. "But wear my necklace when you go."
      "All I'm asking for is for you to talk to Eurick and get him to explain himself to you," Mary said. "I have a kid to raise, and I can't have all this chaos."
      "Just do it," Terry urged.
      "Only if you don't jump all over me and demand a report," Jack said to Terry.
      "Fine, I can do that. For Mary's ears only."
      Jack shook his head.
      Mary called a few days later with the arrangement. Jack had to wear at least two layers of long-sleeved clothes and Terry's necklace in full sight. The meeting had to be in the late morning, and be over by noon. And it had to be on a Sunday. Terry, fresh out of distractions, took Mary and Dylan to Golden Gate Park for almost the whole day. When he got home he found Jack brooding by the window.
      Having promised not to ask questions, he was limited to standing next to Jack and resting his arm at Jack's hip. He waited before he looked at Jack's face. He was jolted to see tears. He'd never seen Jack cry, not once.
      Terry bit his lip. There were so many things he wanted to say, so many questions, and it was so hard to keep his promise.
      Jack finally spoke. "He asked me to kill him."
      "I told him he couldn't be serious and he said he was. He said he didn't know if he'd ever know anybody again that he could ask. He said . . . all kinds of crap."
      "I think I know what he said."
      Jack said, "It's stupid. There has to be a better way to deal with it."
      Terry bit his lip. He knew what was better.
      They stood that way, a long time, quiet. At last Jack said, "He was so different. He was like -- like what he says he is. But he's not that. He's just a guy. Not even a bad one."
      "I thought you only tolerated him because you couldn't get out of working with him."
      "No, I like him."
      They lapsed into silence again. Terry cleared his throat, and dared to say: "I think I have an idea."
      "I don't particularly want you to have ideas," Jack said.
      "I know," Terry said. "Unfortunately, sometimes I do."
      "I don't want to fight. You know I only meant ideas about this. You know what your ideas led to before."
      "Okay, let's not fight. But I do have an idea, and I wish you'd really listen to it and forget for a minute what you think of me. Could you?"
      "What are you talking about? I think the world of you."
      "Please, just listen."
      "Okay." Jack pulled away and turned so he could see Terry better. "Tell me your idea."
      "You have to listen carefully, okay? Eurick told you he can't forget what it was like, right? And he's afraid if he takes any more blood, even from the bottle, whenever he's around the person he got it from he'll just be wanting more and more like he did with me. Right?"
      Jack nodded.
      "I knew it. But he needs it to keep himself together, doesn't he? You see how it is when he doesn't take it."
      Jack was already beginning to look dubious. Terry took the time to compose the next sentence carefully.
      "I think he should be getting the blood from somebody he never sees."
      "What, you want Mary to rob blood banks for him?"
      Terry shook his head. "He never sees me."
      "No way." Jack began to walk away, shaking his head, waving his hand.
      Terry hesitated, then decided to press it now. "It would be like going to the Red Cross, for me. I'd draw a little blood and you would take it to Mary's house. I never see him anyway."
      "Dr. Loria told me to expect some kind of maneuver like this. He said you couldn't let go just like that."
      "This is not the same thing. It would be safe. No way for me to overdo it."
      "You said you knew what was safe before." Jack's face was pinched and red around the eyes.
      "I was mistaken. Now I know more."
      Jack shook his head. "I won't help you do this."
      Terry shrugged. "Maybe someone else will come up with a better idea. Otherwise, I'm willing."
      "I know all about you being willing," Jack said.
      "I'm also willing to wait and see. If you decide to try to kill Eurick like he asked, though, remember it probably can't be done in any way that will look accidental."
      "He told me a way," Jack admitted with a grimace.
      "He did? What is it?" Eurick was really serious then.
      "I don't want to talk about it. It was worse than what you did. I'd rather do that than what he said."
      Terry gasped. "Don't start thinking like that," Terry said.
      "No," Jack agreed, but Terry felt the blood moving in his veins like sand in an hourglass.

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