The Donor

Chapter 23
      For weeks nobody talked again about any part of the problem with Eurick. Terry gathered that Eurick had a slight remission. Jack didn't mention his work visits with Eurick. Mary wouldn't let Terry come to the house to get Dylan and bring him back, which meant that Jack was doing that duty while Terry waited in the car. Dylan gave Terry a knowing look as he made his farewells, but otherwise didn't crack the illusion that this was a normal way of doing things.
      Dylan's discretion led him to talk constantly while in Terry's company, about cars, sports, everything but his family. His favorite topic was the "Star Wars" movies which he had been watching over and over on tape. Terry could only respond with grunts, not wanting to get into the relationship between the heroic and innocent young hero and his corrupt and powerful father. Dylan himself wasn't interested in the psychology of the movie. What he liked to talk about was the spaceships and the aliens, especially the furry ones.
      Terry knew Eurick's remission was temporary and illusionary. He knew that at some point he'd reach a crisis that couldn't be ignored and something would have to be done. Terry also thought, though he would never tell Jack or Mary, that Eurick had not been candid with them. He thought that, besides being afraid as he had told Mary and Jack, Eurick also missed the pleasure of taking the blood the way that Terry had offered it. Grief: and petulance too.
      Now it was September and Eurick had gone without a human blood supplement since December. Terry wondered what would happen if Eurick went for a year or more. Would he eventually adapt? Common sense told Terry that would be the most desirable thing. But he had to acknowledge that he didn't believe it and he couldn't even really want it. There were other possibilities, truly horrible: Eurick snapping, losing control, beginning to prey on people -- or lapsing into a creepy corpsey state, maybe.
      Terry wasn't surprised when Mary called and asked for Jack without preliminary. Just as before, he knew that if she wanted to bypass him it would have to be about Eurick: and it was. Jack was tense and pale as he recounted the conversation. He reported that she told him she was looking for an apartment to move herself and Dylan into. "It's just too nerve-wracking," she said, unable or unwilling to provide details.
      Terry thought he knew what she was talking about. He thought Eurick was haunting the house at night, lurking in Mary's room until her woke and disappearing when she tried to speak to him. He thought Eurick was draining the rabbits faster than Mary and Dylan could use them, faster than they could reproduce themselves, and still hungry. He imagined Mary hardly able to concentrate at home, struggling to keep from inserting red weft everywhere.
      "Did you ever mention what I said that time to Mary? Or Eurick?" Terry asked.
      "Look, I'm trying to figure out how to help Mary with this," Jack said. "The last thing I need is for you to start up. Just keep cool for me, please?"
      "I'm not lobbying," terry said. "I just wondered."
      Jack didn't answer or even look at him. Terry was halfway down the stairs when Jack shouted, "And don't put on that rational act with me!"
      Mary came over the next day. Terry got her settled on the big chair and left the room as soon as Jack sat down. He knew Jack didn't want him to be part of the discussion and he wanted at least to give an appearance of staying out of it. He started making fresh coffee and hovered over it until he couldn't stay anymore. When he came back upstairs with the coffee, he heard Jack saying "I'm still not sure it shouldn't be me instead," but as Terry's foot sounded on the stairs, the conversation stopped up there.
      The way that Mary and Jack were watching him arranged the cups on the tray confirmed what Terry had guessed on the stairs: they had been discussing his suggestion. He backed up against the bookcases and waited, his stomach cold and his throat tight.
      It was Jack who spoke first. "We already know how susceptible you are. If we took some of your blood to Eurick, you would never be able to go to that house again." He was frowning, but with effort, Terry thought, not with anger.
      "I know," Terry said, though in a tiny corner of his mind, there was a voice saying "who knows what could happen -- after a long time, maybe?" -- not reassuring, really.
      "We don't even know if he'd accept it, or if it would do the trick at this point," Mary said.
      "My advice is to not ask him," Terry said. "Just leave it for him on the table at night. He'll know it's there and he'll know whose it is. By morning you'd know what happened."
      "I still hate the idea," Jack said.
      "There's nobody really more suitable," Mary said, frowning significantly at Jack, who shook his head at her. Terry made a note that Jack didn't want him to know he had been talking about giving blood to Eurick himself. He measured his words carefully.
      "What you hate about it is that it feels uncontrollable," terry said. "But it is controllable. I'm putting it in your control."
      "You make it sound like it's just my aberration, like I'm a control freak," Jack said.
      "Not at all," terry said. "You have good reason to want to be in charge. I did a lousy job of controlling it last year. So did Eurick. And you're trustworthy."
      Please, pick up on this, Terry was thinking, please, just say yes.
      "I don't want you cutting yourself," Jack said.
      "I can get him better equipment," Mary said. "I'm still worried about the consequences if it backfires."
      "Go to a hotel for the night," Terry said. "Jack can check on him in the morning."
      "I like that," Jack said. "Am I invulnerable or expendable?"
      "Invulnerable," Terry said, earnestly.
      "It just seems so strange for you to be willing to get into this again after what happened last year," Jack said.
      "It's not the same," Terry said.
      "I feel badly asking you to do this," Mary said.
      "You feel worse when you think of the other alternatives," Terry said.
      "All right," Jack said. "You bring Terry what he needs and take Dylan to a hotel. I'll take care of the rest."
      Terry leaned back, breathing deeply, fatigued. He had prepared so carefully and for so long for this moment and now he was depleted.
      Here was Jack, taking him in his arms, caressing his head and neck, reassuring him now, telling him it would be all right. Just what he had been trying to tell Jack. He burrowed into Jack's arms. Maybe this was the end of this particular struggle, and he had won. Or something.
      Mary arrived a couple of hours later with a box of lab equipment all sealed in plastic bags with sterile stickers on them. "Don't ask me how I get them. They're easier to get than you might think, but hard enough that I reuse mine. You have to sterilize them really well, though."
      Terry stared at the box. The tubes and glassware and needles were as lurid to him as the scalpel and bowl had been before. Suddenly, he was reluctant to actually do it. "I want to wait till after dinner," he said finally.
      "Let's go out," Mary said.
      "Where's Dylan?" Terry asked.
      "Juan's house. He wanted to stay the night."
      Jack tossed Terry his jacket. "Are you checked in anywhere?"
      "Phone reservation. South City."
      When they got back, Terry was still hesitant. He kept talking about inane things, suppressing the urge to go running up the red hill and down to Precita Green. Finally Mary asked him if he was waiting for her to leave.
      "Do you want help?" Jack asked.
      "God no," Terry said, shivering. "You guys stay up here and I'll go do it." But he didn't move.
      "Not too much," Mary said. "Remember, he did fine with 300 milliliters before."
      "Okay." Terry sat for another long fraction of a second before he stood up and headed for the stairs with the box.
      "Call me if you need anything," Jack said.
      "I will," Terry said, thinking: what I need is for you to draw my blood for me but there's no way I can ask you to do that.
      Terry stalled further by thoroughly investigating every piece of plastic, every hollow needle, every piece of tubing and every jar and beaker. Finally, having opened and shut several times the plastic clip that worked as a shutoff valve, he had to admit that he was as ready as he'd ever be. He swabbed his inner elbow. With difficulty and distaste, he shoved the needle through his skin and the rubbery wall of the vein. He opened the valve and watched the blood splashing out of the tube into the beaker on the floor.
      He didn't agree with Mary's numbers, so he set his goal at the 500 milliliter line. A little nest of bubbles bobbed along the meniscus. He held the valve lightly between his fingers. The tubing passed over his hand. His vision sparkled a little. It took two tries to shut off the valve when the time came, and he noticed that a heave of panic that was building faded right away when the valve clicked to.
      He shook and shivered his way through getting the needle out and the bandage on, pouring the blood into a screw top jar, cleaning up the drops that had spilled on the floor. He dropped the used things into the beaker and covered them with alcohol. He put them on top of the refrigerator behind the large bowls, where Jack would not have to look at them before Terry got to them. He hauled himself upstairs and handed the bottle to Jack in a paper bag.
      "Write him a note," Jack said. "He should know the terms."
      "He'll know. He won't need a note." But Terry wrote a note anyway, because Jack wanted it.
      "If you don't mind I want to stay until Jack gets back," Mary said, as Jack went out the door.
      "Please do," Terry said.
      They sat together quietly on the couch, with nothing to say even after Terry turned on the television.
      When Jack returned, he said there was nothing to report -- "I left it on the table and I came back." He gave Mary's keys back to her.
      With the relief of having this stage over, Mary and Terry fell to chattering about low-heat tomatoes. When Mary finally left, Jack promised to go see Eurick right after he took Terry to work in the morning.
      Terry went downstairs to finish cleaning up. When he came back upstairs Jack was waiting up for him.
      "Do you want me to take your mind off it?" he asked.
      "Yes please," Terry said.
      Jack was ardent: Terry was greedy: but the red tide did not subside from Terry's mind. At last Jack was asleep, sated, and Terry wasn't. Terry lay open-eyed, pressed against Jack's bony back, breathing in time with Jack and smelling his wholesome smell, but otherwise more at Eurick's house than Jack's. He knew Eurick was circling his empty house, letting the blood cool while he vacillated about taking it. He'd taken the bottle out of the bag and in the faint red light that permeated the darkness it looked black. He knew when Eurick finally picked up the bottle and when he unscrewed it. He was finally able to go down to sleep as a wash of the familiar unfocussed, tender feeling came over him.
      Next time, he knew, Eurick wouldn't wait so long.
      Do you want me to call you when I know?" Jack asked. "Or you could call me around lunch time."
      Terry shook his head. "I can wait until I see you," he said. "I'm not anxious about it."
      Jack looked at him quizzically. "Why ever not? It's your blood we're dealing with."
      "The hard part is over for me," Terry said. "I'm sure it worked, and that Eurick is going to be okay now."
      "You do have these strange bursts of optimism," Jack said.
      Terry floated through the day with the familiar sense of wellbeing and slight tiredness, but without the fragility. Time seemed to slow just enough for him to have time to reflect and decide before every move. He even enjoyed his inevitable threatening conversation with Marcia. He wondered why, if she had so little faith in his work, he remained assigned to her after several opportunities to reassign him. Not that it mattered -- Eurick was satisfied.
      Jack was not so happy about events. "You were right," he said as Terry pulled his seatbelt around him. "Eurick took it. He's okay." He paused. Terry knew what Eurick had looked like when Jack talked to him, and he knew Jack was just sensitive enough to be disturbed.
      "You know this raises new problems," Jack said as they approached the intersection.
      "Nothing we can't handle."
      "Only if we handle them," Jack said.
      "I couldn't agree more," Terry said softly. "do you want to hear what I think?"
      "Yes, I do. You've apparently been working on this a long time."
      "You know most of it. If he takes it this way, there's no place for errors. Right?"
      "I don't keep you on a leash," Jack said, as if he almost wished he could. "What's to keep you from deciding to take it over there in the original container?"
      Terry considered how to explain this. "Two things. One is I know you will take it there for me. And the other is that I really do want to live. I want to live with you for a long time."
      Jack angled in to his spot and curbed his wheels. "If all that other stuff is true, you could live with Eurick for longer," he said as he climbed out.
      "It isn't like Eurick makes it look attractive," Terry said on the steps. "I haven't been tempted by that even for a minute. You have to know that."
      "No, not really," Jack said inside the house as Terry began to change his clothes. "I didn't know that. You were never very forthcoming about it."
      "I thought I told you everything," Terry said with his sweats in his hands. "I meant to."
      "Really? I had the distinct impression that you evaded every attempt I made to try to understand what was happening to you."
      "Well, last year . . ." Terry pulled his sweatshirt over his head. "Look, there's something I wanted to talk about."
      "Changing the subject."
      "No, it's the same subject. I think I should do smaller amounts more often. So Eurick doesn't have a chance to miss it. It was what I was trying to do last year but it didn't work because there was no way to measure it."
      "How small? How often?"
      "Mary used to do 600 milliliters every three months and then we were going to do 300 every six weeks between us. So I could easily do 50 a week, and it'd be like nothing to me and he'd always have a little of it in his system --"
      "That's stupid."
      "It'd be like bleeding ulcers. Your body wouldn't even know it was losing the blood and it t wouldn't replace it. You'd get sick. Not to mention the needle tracks."
      "Well, something in between then," Terry said. "Just to smooth out those peaks and valleys."
      "Which peaks and valleys?"
      Terry bent over to tie his running shoes. He looked up. Jack was frowning. "I do feel it. When he's hungry or not hungry. I never stopped feeling it."
      "Just now you said you thought you had told me everything," Jack said. "I can't believe you just overlooked that."
      "You think it's evidence I'm not trustworthy."
      "I don't know what to think. Why didn't you talk about this before?"
      Terry moved towards the door. "I wanted to establish some credibility first."
      "Wait," Jack said. "You can run later. Let's finish this for once."
      "All right," Terry said, returning to sit on the bed.
      Jack sat beside him. "Tell me what you mean -- you feel it. What do you feel?"
      "All right," Terry said again. He thought for a while. "It's confusing." He struggled:"I just get anxious, like you do when you're really hungry for a long time, and I can't stop thinking about him. When I'm around him and he's hungry I can't stop thinking how much better it would be if I just gave him some blood right now. It's like when you have a sore on your lip and you keep wanting to chew on it, and it just gets worse."
      "And when you give him the blood?"
      "Much better. Like last night I think I was awake when he finally took it and I felt better than I have in months." He thought of describing the tender feeling, the delicious acquiescence and golden doze: but he said, instead, "And then I can stop thinking about it until he's hungry again."
      Jack gazed contemplatively at Terry's hand which lay curled up on his knee. "Is it like sex?" he asked finally.
      "No. A little bit. Like eating is like sex. Like sleeping is like sex. You want it when you don't have it."
      "So what you want to do is to keep him from getting really hungry."
      "Eurick was really hungry for the last few months and I didn't see you suffering."
      "I told you: I had to establish my credibility."
      Jack shook his head. "You were suffering, and you hid it from me?"
      "Not really suffering, but I felt it."
      "Was it hard on you?"
      "Not as bad as it was last year. What are you thinking?"
      "I don't mind him doing a little suffering now and then, but it's not fair for you to suffer too."
      "So you'll agree to it."
      "To what? No. Not every week. No, why don't you tell me the first time you notice something, we'll see when that is. Right away, before it gets burdensome. Okay? And we'll talk about it."
      The day was chill and bright, the haze so high and clear that the sky seemed not so much overcast as porcelain. Terry's coffee was too hot to drink, and his oatmeal needed to cool, so he sat at the table thinking over his ruby dreams of the night before. Jack yawned and stretched his way down the stairs and blinked at his breakfast. Terry waited while Jack dressed his oatmeal, always an exacting, precise process, before he said anything.
      "He's a little bit hungry. You said you wanted to know."
      Jack frowned. "What is it? Four weeks?"
      "A little over," Terry said.
      "You want to do it?"
      Terry nodded.
      "I'll see Mary while you're at work. We'll talk this evening."
      On the way home Jack stopped at the grocery store. Terry laughed, watching Jack pile the cart with ingredients for banana splits. "I can't believe you. You never go for stuff like that."
      "Just wanted to do something different. Dare to be stupid, I always say."
      Terry had a hard time believing that he used to eat a whole banana split without any strain. Jack was in a strange, fierce mood, teasing and daring, and they made it, giggling and sticky, through the monstrous desserts. "Lizard time," Terry said, ready to go to sleep right away.
      "You can't do that yet," Jack said.
      "Why ever not?"
      "You've still got to draw blood tonight."
      Terry was speechless.
      "It's all arranged," Jack said. "Dylan's at Juan's and Mary's at the hotel again."
      Terry played with his spoon.
      "You said for me to take charge," Jack said.
      "I actually thought we were going to talk about it first."
      "You don't want to?"
      "No, I want to."
      "Do you want to be alone? Or you could do it while I clean up. I could keep you company."
      "If you won't stare at me."
      "I won't. But wait an hour first. Let your blood sugar get a little higher."
      Terry's eyes snapped wide open. "Is that what that junk was for? The banana splits?"
      Jack made a perfect pyramid of the dishes. "Let's go upstairs for a while."
      Terry preceded Jack up the steep stairs, the bananas and ice cream a solid weight in his belly. He picked up his book, but Jack came up behind him and took it gently from his hand, dropping it back on the table as he edged Terry closer to the bed. "Let's get your heart rate up," he said softly, his hands under Terry's shirt.
      "Okay," Terry said, but his pulse was already pounding.
      Jack drew his fingertip across the edge of Terry's lower lip. "Don't think about it," he said, covering Terry's mouth with his own, toppling him over.
      Terry reached for Jack, but Jack held his hands away. "Let me," he said, and the world turned sweet and red and smelling of the sea.
      Downstairs, Terry went through the drill. Jack promised not to stare, but he did watch, intermittently, as he washed each dish with the same attention he had just given to Terry's pleasure. When the blood began to rush out of the tube, Terry heard Jack gasp. He looked up. "It's not nearly as much as it looks like," he said. He had a piece of masking tape at the level where he would stop.
      "That valve. Does it give you any trouble?"
      "No, not really."
      As he shut off the valve he caught Jack staring at the beaker, mesmerized by the dark red. In his peripheral vision Terry saw him, following with his eyes like a cat at the window watching birds, as he decanted the blood and screwed on the top. Jack took the bottle and dropped it into the bag that Terry gave him -- a freezer bag this time. Kissing Terry lightly, he went on up the stairs. Terry stayed in the chair, his head in his hands, seeing in his mind how Eurick paced his house waiting for the delivery. He stayed and waited for Jack to scale the rickety stairs. Jack handed the bag over as if it he were delivering a Chinese dinner, and Eurick took it as if it were a ticking bomb. Eurick retreated into the darkness above, and Jack took the stairs two at a time heading for the pool of light where his car waited.
      Terry threw his head back and gulped air as Eurick held the bottle in his cold hands and Jack turned down the street. Jack drove down to Mission, and across, and up Cortland, turning on his street as Eurick unscrewed the bottle, parking, entering as Eurick held it to his nose. Without willing it Terry had gone upstairs and met Jack at the door as Eurick took his first tentative sip, pressing himself to Jack as Eurick tipped the bottle and let Terry's blood flow into his mouth.
At Juan's house, Dylan read a reworked version of "The Little Match Girl" in which the child survives to spread wealth among the poor of the city. In South San Francisco, Mary stitched a vermillion arc on to a rosy fabric. Terry stood in Jack's arms and Eurick went into his office alone.
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