The Donor

Chapter eight

      Terry turned the thermostat all the way up but he just couldn't get the apartment warm enough to suit him. The thought of taking his clothes off, exposing his skin to the night air, was unbearable, but he couldn't see going to bed in his clothes either. He grabbed the blankets off his bed and sat on the couch watching situation comedies twitch and twitter across the little blue screen of the television while he failed to think a coherent thought. Sentences would begin to form in his mind, and break off, replaced by the gibbering echoes Eurick's words and staccato replays of Eurick and the fence, Eurick impaled, Eurick healed.
      The news came on. It was all traffic items. There had been a freak snowstorm back East causing a pileup miles long. There was an unintelligible story about a bus in South America. It didn't seem to have crashed but whatever it had done must have been spectacular, because there was a lot of footage of the bus parked on a dirt street with houses made of corrugated iron in the background and very interested-looking neighbors dressed in t-shirts and limp dresses. And then there was a string of stories about the local freeways, one after another, including some helicopter footage from the afternoon.
      Terry reflected bleakly that he probably wasn't going to sleep that night. It wasn't the first time he'd gone to work after being up all night, but this was different. The other times he had been having fun, at least nominally. He laughed at himself. The love of his life was claiming to be a mythical creature of evil and he was fussing about a night's sleep.
      He was going to need a greatly expanded world view to continue living here. Even if, as he hoped, he could eventually come up with another explanation for what he had seen.
      Jack stopped by Terry's station about midmorning the next day. "Come see me after lunch," he said, with such a smile that Terry's stomach dropped.
      There were two chairs in Jack's office. Terry took the farther chair, the one with a stiff back.
      Jack leaned across the desk. He hesitated, then got up, walked around the desk, and took the other chair, drawing it around to face Terry. They were only a few inches apart at the knees.
      "So we're about to start new projects, and we have to rearrange the personnel, you know, get everybody lined up so we can best exploit them, I mean exploit their talents," Jack said, grinning.
      There had better be something good here, Terry thought. He had better not be cracking jokes and smirking while he's firing me.
      "So we all sat around with names on cards and played dominoes with them, you know, lining them up, and you ended up in Marcia's stack."
      Terry breathed out. It could be worse. He could face working for Marcia.
      "It's not exactly a promotion," Jack said.
      "What do you mean?"
      "Well, it could make it easier for you to get a promotion, not that that ever happens around here, but it'd mostly just a sideways move." But why was Jack so pleased with himself over this?
      "What should I know about it?" Terry asked.
      "Hell if I know. Marcia will tell you all about it tomorrow."
      What was Terry supposed to say now? How reluctant he was to leave Jack's group? A show of gratitude for being placed on another exciting project? He tried both. "Thank you, it sounds interesting. But I'll miss working with your group."
      "No you won't. Marcia won't work you near as much overtime as I do."
      Terry shrugged. "Nothing better to do, usually."
      Jack's grin widened and he slapped Terry's knee as he bounced up. "Should do something about that, too." The interview was over: Terry went bemused back to his station.
      He avoided going upstairs, but only for a couple of days. When Dylan came down to get him for soccer lessons in the park -- the closest level ground of any size -- Terry felt it was his responsibility to act the same as ever. Then it seemed that the only way to continue keeping up a normal front for Dylan was to go on upstairs as he had been doing. He carried on a banal conversation with Mary, and Eurick emerged from his office for a few moments as usual. Aside from an overlong glance at Terry which no outsider could have read correctly, he conducted himself with affable neutrality. If anything he seemed more at ease than before, which for some reason put Terry on edge. It was as if Eurick knew something Terry didn't. Even after Dylan was put protesting to bed, nobody made reference to anything unusual. Terry went away dissatisfied, not knowing why he should feel that way.
      "Maybe it didn't happen," he thought later. "Maybe it was a dream." He returned to the puzzle at some quiet moment every night, and he nearly had himself convinced that nothing had happened when Mary gave him indirect proof.
      She came downstairs with a request. "In a couple of weeks, we're going to go away for three days. My spring bulbs will need watering if it doesn't rain. Will you do it?"
      "Of course," Terry said. "Just show me where they are and I'll remember."
      "Sure, I can remember for two weeks. Anyway, I can ask you for a refresher just before you go."
      They went out through the kitchen, which was already in deep twilight, and into the back yard which was still lit feebly by the sun. Mary showed him three areas which she thought should be watered if it wasn't raining. As they came by the place where Eurick had made his demonstration Terry almost didn't look at the fence. But the long grassy blades of narcissus grew right in front of the disturbed earth around the post, and his eye traveled against his will from the exposed collar of cement, and the footprints too large to be Mary's, up the post with the stringers still askew and showing bright new wood where they had been chafed in the lifting, to the top of the post. Where the wedge-shaped wound was scarlet against weathered gray.
      "I wonder if you could remember to check the vegies too? They're on a timer but if you could just look at them to see if it's working right . . ."
      "Yes," said Terry dully.
      Working with Marcia was simpler than working with Jack. He had no doubts about his feelings for her -- mostly neutral, with a fine admixture of loathing. She didn't seem to do anything the other managers didn't do, but she seemed to take satisfaction in it. She didn't do the things that Jack did to nurture loyalty. Her demands and her complaints were unpredictable day to day, but she always greeted him with a possessive smirk. Terry realized that he must at least be temporarily one of the more favored workers and that Marcia thought she had gotten away with something in getting him assigned to her.
      Two weeks into his new assignment, Terry looked up and saw Jack standing over him.
      "Come to lunch?" Jack's big grin was enough to set Terry back in his chair with his hand over his mouth. "Well?"
      "Oh, yes. Just wait, I need to finish up one thing."
      It was what he hoped. Burritos. Light talk, some of it edged with revelation. The undercurrent: "this is who I am, will you have me?" understood, unsaid. Terry told tales on himself, as the goggle-eyed rube, returning to San Francisco clueless and bumbling. Jack told a story about a long-lost lover, truly lost, who had walked out of his life and into oblivion.
      "Last I heard of him, he was in New York," Jack said, resting his cheek against his hand, "and the person who saw him said he was skin and bones, just out of the hospital for pneumonia, covered with a weird rash. I didn't figure out what it meant until a year later. Mickey was one of the first."
      "I'm sorry," Terry said. He hadn't lost anybody to the epidemic, because he hadn't had anybody to lose.
      "He had this god-awful thing for torch singers. I never thought I'd miss his records. But once in a while some queen will play some horrible ballad and I'll think about Mickey. The music's still banal, but without Mickey around to argue with me about it -- it doesn't matter."
      Jack's taste in music was all intellectual. Cage, Sun Ra, and harsh atonal operas. He thought Terry's taste in music was sadly typical. Terry thought he might try to educate himself for Jack's sake. And Jack winced when Terry said he really did run like that, every day. "I thought it was just for the kid," he said.
      "No, I do it all the time. But just for fun and stress relief. I'm not serious. I don't do marathons, I don't go to a gym. I just run."
      "Every day sounds serious to me," Jack said.
      "Nobody's expecting you to do it. I mean, if you wanted to join me some time,. you'd be very welcome. But I'm not asking you to."
      "Well, thank goodness for small favors. Look, do you dance>"
      "Sometimes. In those typical bars, you know, to that typical music."
      "Ouch. There's this dance . . . Valentine's Day. If you wanted to go, I could take you -- you might meet somebody."
      Terry was puzzled by the invitation. A dance, and on Valentine's Day -- but not a date? Going stag? He retaliated by smiling as broadly as he could. "I'd love to go. It sounds wonderful."
      The dance was in the Friday night before Valentine's Day. It started rather late, so Terry spent the early evening playing checkers with Dylan. Eurick, ghastly with exhaustion, opened the door for him. He smiled and touched the chain where it lay over his clothes, brushing his fingertips against Terry's collarbone. "Not forgetting it," wincing, and Terry blushing. Eurick said a couple of things to Dylan about strategy and luck, and disappeared again.
      Terry could smell supper roasting itself as Mary worked out a design on quadrille paper. Terry was distracted from his game with Dylan, thinking about what game Eurick was playing with him, what game Jack was playing with him.
      "So," Mary asked. "Is this serious?"
      :Which? Oh, Jack. I don't know. I'll tell when I do. I don't even know if there's a 'this' to be serious or not."
      Mary gazed at him. "Well, have fun anyway." Dylan squirmed: it was Terry's turn.
      He was downstairs, showered, dressed carefully, resigned to his choices being wrong somehow, resolved to take everything in stride and to ignore any awkwardness. He would be looking for an opening to move in on Jack, and enjoying himself no matter what.
      No, he wouldn't move in on Jack. He never moved at all. He always watched, waited, never ready. No, it would be different this time. Either way, he'd have fun.
      His first bad moment was realizing his clothes were much less hip than Jack's. They didn't match at all. Jack shook his head. "Don't worry about it. You look great. They'll be all over you."
      There was a live band. They had an approach that Terry had never come across before. They played standards but they set them in different genres from their originals. Mostly they played Motown pieces sped up and punked out, but they also moved country songs to a beach sound. Jack disappeared pretty soon, but Terry didn't let it bother him much. He dived into the crowd and danced.
      The lead singer took the mike. "Last dance coming up. Find the guy who brought you, or the guy you wish had brought you . . . Romance time! But remember to play safe . . ."
      Terry looked around in the crowd. Dark clothes, dark room,: he almost despaired of finding Jack. The slow strains began of a familiar tune, played straight and very sweet. Terry turned swiftly, and saw Jack near the door, the green light of the EXIT sign reflected in his hair. Terry hurried to his side, catching up to him just as the singer started the first verse.
      Terry slipped through the moving crowd. "Dance with me?"
      It was the kind of dance to which you dance very close and slow. He was surprised that Jack was not taller.
      "Oh darling," sang the man on the stage, "save the last dance for me."
      "Come home with me?" Terry asked Jack's ear.
      "All right," Jack told Terry's ear.
      As simple as that, Terry thought, as simple as that. If we are speaking the same language.
      "That thing," Jack said, fingering the chain. "Why don't you take it off?"
      "I'll take it off if you stay all night," Terry said.
      "What do you have it for?"
      "It's just comfortable."
      Jack tugged it over Terry's head and studied it with a look of revulsion. It did look ugly after nearly six months of steady wear. "You want to know what it looks like?"
      "What does it look like?"
      "It looks like you and your friends are all in some cult together."
      "Nope, no cults for me. Anyway, it's off, so that means you're staying all night, right?"
      It was Jack's turn to shrug. Terry stood with his pants half off and reached toward the necklace, dangling from Jack's fingers just beyond his grasp. "You can't have one without the other," he said, more seriously than he intended. "Give it back unless you're staying."
      Jack shook his head. He dropped the chain. "You're crazy, but I'll be here in the morning. I don't know why . . ."
      "You're dying for a garlic omelet for breakfast, that's why," Terry said, his hands slipping under Jack's arms as he craned his neck to kiss him. Easy. Just like that, he kissed him.
      And easy to get Jack under the covers, and easy to make him shiver, and easy to make him melt, and easy to get inside and rock away luxuriously, and easy to fall asleep in a comfortable tangle. Easy until Jack stood up and Terry panicked, he was leaving after all, where was the damned chain -- but Jack was only going to the bathroom. When Jack came back, Terry slept.
      He'd planned to wake first, to fix breakfast, to surprise Jack with a tray and a flower. But when he woke, it was to urgent, compelling, almost annoying sensations flitting about his body, now here, now there: Jack was waking him up with kisses and nips. The room was dark, but there was a sense that the sky would crack soon. It was morning.
      Terry's nerves went right over the edge. His breaths came in shaky, sibilant gasps, and he had no idea where his arms and legs were or where they were going. He couldn't take anymore: he reached for Jack: but Jack had a light in his eyes and wouldn't let up. Terry fell back and let Jack run this round the way he wanted to, and he was not sorry.
      When Jack did fall off him, Terry lay still for an impressed and depleted moment. "That was different," he said softly, not wanting to risk an opinion.
      Jack smirked lazily. "Well, last night . . . I was sleepy. Wouldn't have been in the mood at all if it hadn't been the first time. So I took it easy, let you do all the work."
      "That was nice too," Terry said.
      "Yeah, but this was better."
      "Do you really make garlic omelettes?"
      All Terry wanted to talk about over breakfast was how he never really believed he'd get Jack into his bed, so he didn't say much of anything. Mostly he just admired Jack. Jack seemed to be amused.
      Finally, "Do you want to go running with me later?"
      "Today? You're going to run today?"
      "Probably not very far." Only because he did it every day.
      "Not too far."
      "Just as far as you want."
      Terry didn't look for his chain until evening, a couple of hours after Jack had gone home. Watching Jack leave, he had a twinge, realizing they hadn't set another date. It could be the only time. But it had been so easy . He stood, thinking about the details of the day and the night before, and his spirits rose. He felt like sharing his good mood. He set out to change his clothes and discovered his neck was still naked. Irrationally, he thought that was why he felt so cold. He rummaged looking for it. Where had Jack left it? On the table by the bed, but it wasn't there. His heart should not be racing. It wasn't on the floor by the table. Jack could have pocketed it at any time if he really hated Terry wearing it. It wasn't mixed in with the newspaper.
      But if he hated it, why would he take it? It wasn't under the bed. And why did he hate it so much? It wasn't on the breakfast tray. It wasn't in the bathroom trash can.
      It was getting darker by the second. Where was Jack's number? He had it from before. I can't accuse him, he thought, I have to keep a calm voice, like it didn't really matter. After an eternity of ringing Jack did answer the phone. Terry asked carefully.
      Jack was silent for a moment. He really thinks I'm crazy, Terry thought.
      "Try that planter on the bedside table."
      The necklace was there, coiled and tangled like a nest of baby snakes.
      "Why did you put it there?" He twisted and bent the phone a fraction of an inch away from his ear so that he could slip it back on.
      "So it wouldn't get lost and I didn't have to look at it."
      "It offends you?" Terry murmured. Maybe he could get away with wearing it only when he would be around Eurick. Or home alone.
      "I don't think I would say offend. It just looks sort of superstitious and I don't much like superstition."
      "It's just a comfort. I don't believe it does anything particular for me." Except keep Eurick happy.
      "Right. Well, see you Monday."
      For an insane moment Terry almost ascribed some meaning to Jack's refusal to let Terry touch him until the chain was gone, his voraciousness in the morning, the sweet depletion Terry felt. But he shook the thought away. He wasn't going to let Eurick and Mary;'s weirdness color his perceptions of the rest of the world.
      There was enough light for him to brush his short hair and adjust his collar by the mirror. Upstairs there would be all the light and warmth he would need, and it was Saturday, so Dylan would be staying up: he could play checkers with Dylan and tell Mary about his date. Or whatever it was.
      "Shouldn't you be in bed?" Terry asked Eurick. "You don't look so good." He had an image of putting Eurick to bed himself, sitting by his side, giving him hot drinks.
      "I'll be okay," Eurick said shortly.
      "He'll be better after we go on our little vacation next week," Mary said. "You'll see. It's been too long since we got away. That's all." She had him chopping garlic in minutes. He wondered, if everything she said was true, how could they travel? What did they do? Carry along a casket of earth -- or was that just a story? But did they take along all their garlic and gewgaws to seal the motel room? But his mouth was closed to the questions.
      Mary had her questions too, Terry could see, but she was taking her time, waiting for Terry to tell the tale.
      "All right," Terry said at last. "Here goes. We had Szechuan, we went to the dance and I hardly saw him there but I had a great time. I found him in time for the last dance, he came home with me and he only left a couple of hours ago. I might be in love. I have no idea what he wants. He doesn't like this," he said, touching the necklace.
      Mary shot him a warning look. She nodded toward Dylan, setting the table.
      Terry had fallen into the habit of washing the dishes at Mary's, though she wasn't concerned herself about getting them washed. It was warm in the kitchen, so he pulled off his sweater. "We'll play checkers again as soon as I'm done with this," he told Dylan.
      "What happened to you?" Eurick's voice was shrill.
      Terry looked around to see what had happened in the quiet room. Eurick was staring at Terry.
      "What happened?" Terry asked.
      "What happened to you?" Eurick repeated, not much calmer.
      Terry looked at himself. He couldn't see any reason for Eurick to be alarmed about him. It wasn't Terry who looked used up and ready to collapse. "Nothing. What are you talking about?"
      "Those, on your arms."
      Terry looked at his forearms. Nothing. He rolled his shoulders, one after the other, to get a better look at the backs of his upper arms. There were two bruises high on his left arm and one on the other.
      "Love bites," Terry said, blushing. "You know, hickey. Not KS." Kaposi's sarcoma was the best known presenting symptom of AIDS.
      Eurick hunched in embarrassment. "I didn't think about that. I was just worried."
      "They're just little bruises. Nothing to get upset about. They'll fade in a couple of days."
      "I'm just nervous," Eurick apologized. "Any kind of bleeding bothers me. Even when it's just a little bit under the skin. Neurotic, I guess."
      "And so who isn't?"
      Eurick bit his lip and looked meaningfully at Terry's sweater, draped on the back of a chair. Locking eyes, Terry walked slowly to the chair. Eurick seemed mesmerized, as if he wanted to stop Terry from taking the sweater in his hands, could prevent him from pulling it over his head like this -- could stop him and tear off his t-shirt, go looking for more bruises. Terry wondered just what it was that Eurick was feeling.
      Emerging from the neck hole of the sweater, Terry caught Eurick nodding towards the door, as if asking him to leave. He shook his head. :I promised Dylan I'd play checkers with him," he said against the current of air around him. He stepped forward to where Dylan had the board already set up, and Eurick stepped back,
      "Ready for you, Dylan."
      Behind him, he heard the door of Eurick's office open and close again. He thought, what am I trying to do to Eurick? Why don't I leave him alone?

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