Terry's sister Lynn had been sent to the airport as an advance delegation. She began cheerfully, telling Terry his mother was fine, and asking him about little things.
Then, in her arching contralto voice she asked, "And are you quite well?"
"Never better in general. But overworked this week," he said, in case he didn't look so good.
Lynn opened the hatchback and Terry lifted his duffle in.
"What a strange neckchain you have," she said. "It's very handsome. Did someone give it to you?"
"A friend of mine made it for me. Otherwise I think I'd be embarrassed."
"Oh, a woman," she said with warmth.
"A friend," Terry said.
They had been driving a few minutes when Lynn asked "So what's the gossip?" She glided the car into a red light and turned her face so she could hold his gaze. "The stuff Mom and Dad should know but they won't ask and you won't tell."
"Nothing new," Terry shrugged. Really there wasn't. "I go to work. I visit. I read. I run. Still not the marrying kind."
"Oh, all right," she said. "Be like that."
The rest of the visit unfolded like a sentimental painting in a magazine. Terry found himself outside for hours tossing balls to nieces and nephews, most of all Lynn's oldest girl, a ten-year-old with long legs and a deadly aim. Inside he played card games with the adults and board games with the children. The second morning Terry's father joined him for part of his run. Between the bursts of breath they talked about how San Francisco had changed since the family had left.
The Christmas rituals were observed to an absurdity, but with a preternatural good humor and calm that Terry could never remember having associated with such effort. The cookie platters on the sideboard were kept constantly filled with an assortment that included exotics from the sisters' inlaws. Toni got them singing carols as Lynn's oldest picked them out painstakingly note by note on a new guitar. Terry thought he saw his mother crying, but when he put his hand on her shoulder he saw that she was just rubbing the raw spot made on her cheek by her glasses. She wheezed a little now and then, but never alarmingly, and when he asked, she said she was really fine.
The children were allowed to open a present each before bed. Then they were given the traditional lecture about how Santa Claus doesn't come to houses where the children are awake. The adults sat around the livingroom for a couple of hours after the children were settled in the back bedrooms. Slowly, the big presents were hauled out and placed around the tree, and finally, the adults settled in to sleep, the sisters and their husbands in the same beds as their children, and Terry on the couch. The next morning's pandemonium rose and fell in a pile of pretty papers. The adults, overfed and sleepy, got the children through their cranky period and into quiet corners for the afternoon.
All along, everything Terry said was met with gentle warmth and understanding smile. Not once was he accused of self-absorption, unreality, not being serious, or wanting to chock or offend. Nor did anybody pretend he was saying something different from what he had said. The air was full of calculated sympathy and acceptance. He'd never been so accepted before in his life. He was so accepted he was tempted to say something shocking just to see what would happen.
It wasn't until the day after in the ride to the airport that Terry figured out what was going on with the picturesque sweetness of the holiday.
Both Toni and Lynn came along. They wouldn't let him carry his duffle and they hung around with him right until boarding time. They clung to him in a way that was both comical and disconcerting. They talked to him solicitously, as they would to their mother. Just as he handed his pass to the person at the gate, Toni said, "Be sure not to hide anything that comes up. If you need anything, your family's always here."
Lynn added, "Don't hide behind your pride. There's no shame in getting a disease, no matter where you get it from."
Terry's jaw dropped. "I'm not sick," he said, as he was borne away into the plane by the moving crowd.
It was about three weeks after that Terry came upstairs with a bottle of wine again.
"What's this? A promotion?"
"Nope. It's nothing at all." Terry grinned widely. "You bet. Nothing at all. I made some New Year's resolutions. Safety first. Live life to the fullest. Make these two things not contradictory."
"Me too. What do you want for your celebration dinner?"
"I thought about taking you all out."
"Well, you could, but Eurick doesn't like going out in crowds."
Agoraphobia, Terry repeated to himself determinedly.
"But for this he probably wouldn't mind," Mary continued, thinking aloud. She got up and stuck her head into Eurick's office. Terry could make out that she was asking him about the proposal. She pulled back into the room and Eurick emerged, rubbing his elbows like a very cold person, leaning up against Mary as if for support. She rubbed her curved fingers over his forearm.
Terry was astonished to see how bad Eurick looked, worse than ever before, the deep lines in his cheeks casting a pale green shadow, the glimmering eyes in violet gloom. But he was smiling for him. "Just let's go where it's brightly lit and where Dylan will be comfortable."
"Are you okay?" Terry asked. "You look tired." He was about to ask if there was anything he could do, and it did feel as if there were something he could do about that haggard look, if he could only think of it. He wished he could.
"I'm okay. Just stayed up too much lately. I'll take a nap, then I'll be fine."
Terry murmured his sympathy, then went to his own apartment to do restaurant research.
The dinner was silly: mediocre hamburgers, a decent salad bar, impressive milkshakes. Dylan was excited to be there but he thought there was something missing from the food.
Mary laughed:"Of course there is -- these people don't put garlic in the food."
"But why not? The food tastes kind of hollow without it."
Mary shrugged. "All in what you're used to, I guess."
Afterwards, Terry read to Dylan from a collection of fairy stories. He decided he wasn't surprised by the amounts of blood, but he was surprised by the grisly self-sacrifice the maidens and youngest sons undertook for their beloveds. Possessions, home, self-respect, body parts, all lost or given away.
Dylan loved it all, but he kept wondering why the heroes and heroines accepted the terms they were given. Why didn't they just run away? Or beat up the troll wife? Why did the goose girl marry the mean king who put her through all that misery? Terry had no answer.
When Terry came out of Dylan's room, Eurick put aside the glossy technical journal he was reading and, glancing at Mary, stood up to follow Terry out the back door. Mary had a tool in her mouth, but nodded and mumbled through the long warp threads, like the bars of a cell.
Terry could remember being this conscious of a body behind his just two other times, once followed by a long person who kept to the shadows, once followed by the very first person he had ever taken home to his apartment. He didn't know which experience this was most like. He didn't face Eurick until he got to the cement.
It was colder than it had been all winter, and Terry shrunk into his jacket. Eurick had not only not put on a jacket, he hadn't put his shoes on. He was standing there in a t-shirt and bare feet. In the light of the half moon Terry could se that EUrick looked much better than he had in the afternoon, though he still looked tired.
"What's up?" Terry asked.
"Where did you leave it?" Eurick asked.
Terry puzzled at the question -- of course, it was the necklace, again. "Probably in the bathroom," Terry said. "Sometimes I take it off when I take off my clothes to shower."
"Please put it back on. It's been days since you've worn it."
Terry felt a thrill that Eurick had been watching him so closely but it stopped abruptly as he remembered that he hadn't actually been upstairs or near to Eurick in over a week.
"I'll remember," Terry said hoarsely. Recovering, he said, "I live to please," leering, just a little.
But Eurick was scowling. Terry had never seen him look so dangerous.
"Look. You just don't take this seriously at all. I know Mary's told you everything. I know what you've seen. What is it going to take to convince you?"
"It's not the most believable story in the world. You're sort of giving me the choice of believing the impossible, or believing you're playing a role, or believing you're delusional."
Terry said it calmly but every beat of his heart was painful. There were so many ways this was a dangerous conversation. What if Eurick meant to prove Mary's tales? What if he had changed so much -- what if he went into a violent rage? What if he just walked away from Terry and never spoke to him again?
He was unprepared for what Eurick did do. He strode across the yard and stood by the fence. "Come over her and watch this," he said fiercely. "Then tell me I'm playing games. Tell me I'm nuts."
Terry came, dreading.
It was a standard, six-foot plank fence, made of planks and posts. Eurick grasped one of the posts, six inches on a side and sunk deep, set his face, and pulled. The moonlight shone on the whole concrete plug, hanging two feet above the ripped ground. The fence made a cracking noise and a more musical creak. Eurick held it up, grimacing, but not from effort. "Is that enough?" he asked without breathing hard. "Or do you need more evidence?"
"You've become very strong." Terry wondered if he had seen an impossible thing or an almost impossible thing. How much did a fifteen-foot section of fence weigh? Could Eurick have doctored the fence in any way to make the tack easier?
Eurick shook his head. "Strong isn't the half of it. There's so many changes I can't even remember all of them most of the time. Stupid piddly things that don't make sense. Like the sun thing. That could be a disease, right? But it doesn't bother me at noon, when it's strongest. The silver -- that could be an allergy. How my body behaves. My hair grows and shrinks, depending on my mood. I could grow a three-inch beard in a couple of days, but it would make me tired.
"I'd like to see that," Terry said, with a small laugh, not paying attention to whether he believed it or not.
But Eurick evidently thought Terry was laughing at him, because he scowled again and reached up to the top of the fence post. As Terry watched, he tore a long sharp wedge from the corner of the post. So quickly that Terry didn't have time to switch from freeze to flight, Eurick rolled his left arm over and plunged the sliver into and through the arm muscles. The ragged wood was sticking out the other side.
"Eurick, you dumb shit," Terry whispered, trying to grab him by the other arm," What the hell are you trying to prove? Let's get you to the hospital," and he was grabbing him by the other elbow, trying to tug him towards the gate.
"No, I'm all right," said Eurick, unbudgeable.
"Like hell," Terry said, tugging. Eurick might as well have been made of marble.
"Just wait a second," Eurick said. Terry slumped back and waited.
"Put your hand on it," he said to Terry. Repelled, he still obeyed, touching the place where the wood invaded the cool kin, ragged as a fringe around the wood. There was no blood, The bleeding would happen when the thing was removed.
"Try to pull it out," eurick said softly.
"I think a doctor should do it," Terry said.
"No, it's all right. You try. Then I'll show you something."
"I don't think I should. I don't want to hurt you."
"You can't hurt me. I wouldn't let you." Was this calm the sign of shock? But he was not paler than before, not sweating, not breathing harshly. No breathing sounds at all.
Terry obeyed again, wincing. He didn't budge it at all. The skin didn't even well up. Eurick was grinning triumphantly.
"Now watch," Eurick said. He grasped the wood and pulled it lightly out, with no show of effort. The arm had an ugly wound in it, but as Terry watched horrified, it closed up as in a time-lapse film. It closed, it smoothed over, until at least by moonlight Terry couldn't even see the place where the stick had come into Eurick's arm. The stick was bloody, and had small tags of tissue clinging to its sharp little fibers.
"Let me tell you," Eurick said. "It didn't really even hurt. I mean it did, but not much. This sort of thing hurts more, actually, when it gets fixed."
"It's impressive," Terry said, neutrally.
"Damn it," Eurick said. "Are you telling me you still don't believe?"
"I don't disbelieve what I've seen with my eyes," terry said. "I don't understand it."
Eurick rubbed his hands over his face. "Okay, I'll go for that. It's something, anyway." It was Eurick's resignation now that convinced Terry that Eurick was probably not a lunatic. Not exactly a lunatic.
"Okay, Eurick," he said, "Tell me what you want to do about it."
"Just wear the damned necklace. That's not too much to ask, is it? You don't know what it can be like, being around someone like you when you're not wearing it and I'm hungry and you're right there and I know you'd do anything I wanted you to do."
"You know that," Terry tried to twist his inflection and make the statement a denial. He kept hearing the word "hungry" in his mind and pushing it away.
Eurick pulled into himself as if he finally felt the cold. "Just help me out here. okay?"
Terry couldn't remember taking his eyes off him but Eurick was gone.
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