"I need to tell you that next weekend was scheduled a long time ago," Jack said over lunch Monday. "I'm visiting relatives in Iowa. Just so you know I'm not avaoiding you. Not one of those kiss and run deals."
"That's nice to know," Terry said. Also interesting that Jack felt it necessary to explain. Should he be exlplaining his own movements to Jack also? Were they in that kind of relationship?
"I know Tuesday and Thursday are spoken for," Jack said. "How about Wednesday? You could come home with me, and bring what you need so you could stay till morning, and I could bring you in." Now this was an unequivocal initiative. And it was costing Jack: he was red right to his pale eyebrows.
"Sounds wonderful," Terry said. He thought he must have smiled too effusively, because Jack looked as ife he wished he could take it all back.
Wednesday morning on the streetcar Terry took off the necklace and pinned it deep inside the pocket of his pants. He had a tiny rose from the front yard in his chest pocket, one of three unfurled among last summer's hips and next spring's buds.
Every time Terry noticed footsteps near his station he heated up, but it was never Jack, and Jack didn't come for him at lunch, so he went out with Lana and talked about generalities. She cocked her head and squinted at him intently, but didn't say anything, though she asked about the rose. He joked about it but didn't tell her anything.
As quitting time approached Terry realized he and Jack had not made any specific arrangements about leaving together. As people came to a stopping place, they stretched, said goodbye to their neighbors, and scrawled notes on their timecards, by ones, by twos. Terry stuck it out, increasingly unable to concentrate. When he was the only one left, he looked around, wondering sickly whether Jack had changed his mind. He signed out and went looking for Jack, who was on the phone. He signalled to Jack, dropped his bag inside Jack's door, and went for a drink of water, wondering if Jack even had a plan.
He did. Jack took Terry directly to Bernal Heights, to a tiny, very pointy bungalow that was almost swallowed by the red chert hillside. The quince bushes that crowded the front door were in fervid bloom. The tiny stoop sqeezed between them was barely large enough for both of them to stand as Jack unlocked the door and Terry silently caressed his back.
The house seemed to be barely eighteen feet square, with a sloping ceiling which dropped below head height, all lined in red-golden wood and lit by large rear windows that showed Mission Street and beyond.
"Bathroom's downstairs with the kitchen," Jack said. "Stairs are over there behind the bookshelf."
The stairs, as steep as a ladder, descended to a white tiled kitchen, everything miniaturized to fit, from the tiny stove to the sweet dinette, smelling of lemons, trimmed in blue. There was a door to a glass porch with a washer, and a litle yard beyond: and another dopor, which lead to a bathroom tiled and beveled in pink and green.
Terry returned to find Jack arranging cassette boxes on a low black table between the stereo system in its black shelf and the black platform bed. He'd hung his jacket, shirt and tie on a black pole near the bed. Terry slid up behind him and kissed him on the back of the neck, softly, questioningly. Jack reached behind and pulled Terry to the front, holding him, kissing him, maneuvering him to the bed. Jack was all over him, voracious, only stopping for a confirming nod, and Terry could not get his clothes off fast enough for him.
"I must be delicious," Terry said at last. There were wet trails all over his skin that registered every cool motion of the air, nipped points over that, places he knew would be purple in the morning. A thought fleeted by -- what would Eurick think of all this biting and sucking?
Jack lifted his face. "You are," he said. "And I am too."
Terry took it as both invitation and command, worked his way downward from Jack's sculptured throat.
He adored Jack's penis and handled it with longing, but there were urgent new rules to follow, and he put his hand out for the condom. No more could he drink down semen as clean as water: but he was getting used to the taste and feel of latex. And there was no denying that Jack was in there.
The long weekend got off to a slow start. Other than the garden, there wasn't much to do. He thought of calling Jack, but Jack was gone. He thought of taking tea with Mary, but she was gone. He thought of kicking the ball with Dylan, but he was gone too. He caught himself thinking thatg Eurick must be alone upstairs, and now was the time to decide what to do about it -- but Eurick was gone too, with Mary and Dylan.
He hesitated about going out. Jack seemed to disapprove of the bar scene, but he also seemed to explicitly make no claims on Terry. He finally did, and he came home again satisfied that he'd had a couple of pleasant conversations and hadn't even looked for someone to go home with. As he climbed the hill to his house, he saw the lights on upstairs as bright as ever. To foil robbers?
Sunday crawled along, and Sunday night Terry stayed home with a brand new book. He had the radio on till it got annoying. Then he read in silence. Very late he heard Eurick's printer start up. Did they get home already? he wondered. The printer went on for a good many minutes. He thought about going upstairs to see, but it was warmer in bed and he fell asleep over his book.
It was late when he rose. Terry's bedroom was rosy from the sun which had cleared the peaked roofs across the street. He made coffee warmed up a strudel, and carried it up the back stairs to Mary. But after extending knocking and door handle rattling, he decided they must be all gone again, so he went back to his own kitchen. Ten minutes later he heard more computer noises and the printer started up again.
He spent the afternoon at the laundromat and then at home taking care of his clothes. In the early evening there was the sound of feet on the stairs: Terry looked out and saw Mary and Dylan struggling up the stairs with awkward duffles and sleeping bags. Terry stepped out and greeted them.
"Hi, Terry," Mary called breathlessly from the landing. "We just got in. I didn't mean to be so late back in town."
"Tell you what," Terry said. "Don't make supper. I'll bring something up."
Mary looked like she would like to refuse, but she nodded instead.
When he came back upstairs with supper balanced in three containers, the house was still in disarray, with two open duffels spilling their contents on the floor and two sleeping bags draped over chairs for airing. Dylan and Terry arranged the table for supper and Eurick and Mary emerged, wrapped around each other, Eurick's long fingers woven through Mary's hair, Mary's fingers stealing beneath his shirt. Just as Mary said he would, Eurick looked a lot better, his cheeks almost plump, his color rosy, his manner easy. Self-assured, he strode right over to the table, not hanging back like before. He nodded in greeting, flicking his eyes over Terry speculatively. It was confusing. Terry knew that look from another place. But in a bar, a man who looked at him like that would be interested, and Terry would be showing off, trying out his conversational gambits, expecting something.
"So how was the trip?" Terry asked.
"It was really refreshing," Mary said, though he saw circles under her eyes. "But you know, the packing and unpacking and the driving around really take it out of a person."
"It was cool," Dylan said. "I saw wild boars."
Eurick didn't say anything. Mary praised Terry's fettucine. Dylan said it didn't have enough garlic. Terry laughed. Dylan rhapsodized about eagles nesting in the trees around the lake.
Eurick was smirking under his splayed fingers, watching Terry with a possessive confidence and enjoyment Terry had never seen before. Mary was noticing it too.
Terry scratched at his chest. The necklace was there.
"Your computer was busy while you were gone," Terry said. "I could hear the modem turning the printer on at night."
Eurick shrugged. "No rest for the wicked," he said. There was a different, smooth, un-Eurick tone in his voice.
"I expect you want to make an early night of it," he said. "Leave those, I'll get them tomorrow after work." He was feeling virtuous. Here was Eurick interested in him and he was keeping his distance. Of course he was only doing it because Eurick was so scary tonight. And he had Jack to look forward to.
"That's okay," Mary said. "I'll get them tomorrow. I expect we'lkl want to be pretty quiet for a couple of days." She was looking at him with a plea in her eyes. But what was it? Stay away? Or come help? And how could he figure out which it was?
The book he picked up when he got downstaires wasn't making much of an impression. When the phone rang, it wasn't the call he was waiting for -- not Jack. It was Mary.
"I forgot something. I picked up a souvenir for you wjile I was gone. Can I bring it down right now? Would I be interrupting anything?"
"No, there's nothing to interrupt, come on down."
The box was the kind that would make you expect a watch or a piece of jewelry. There were three little vials in the box, one with clear water, one with silty water, and the last with a piece of bark. More of Mary's fetishes.
"Holy water from a botanica in a town near the mission, water from a hot spring that was supposed to be holy to the Indians, and a piece of bark from an oak tree where someone had put up a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe," Mary said.
"What do I do with them?"
"Whatever you want. You could put them around your apartment, if you want.."
"Eurick didn't go with you, did he," Terry said abruptly, not even knowing he was going to say it.
Mary hesitated. "No, he decided to stay home. It felt safer to him."
"He's different tonight."
"He's rested up."
"What rest? He worked all weekend."
"What makes you think that?"
"I heard the computer. Modems don't turn on printers."
Mary didn't say anything.
"It's just pointless," Terry said. "So Eurick stayed home. So why didn't you want me to know he didn't stay home? It's no big deal. If he wanted to be left alone, I'd have left him alone."
Mary poked at the little vials. "You saw how he was tonight."
"Yeah, you called it 'rested.' Seemed more on the verge of mania to me."
"He'll be like this until tomorrow."
"What, is he dangerous?"
"I don't think so. But he seems more . . . vulnerable at these times than at other times. It's a strain to be around him. It's a strain for him to be around other people."
"He didn't seem to mind it tonight. He actually sat through dinner with us. I never saw him happier."
"That's just how it looks. He says it's nerve-wracking, rather painful oin the inside."
"So what is it?"
Mary picked up two of the vials and rolled them in her hand. She didn't say anything. Terry waited. She looked up, her moth opened, but she didn't say anything.
Terry weighed his words. "Mary, you told me everything else even before I could believe any of it. It looks to me like I need to know. What makes Eurick looke better and also makes him dangerous?"
"Not dangerous. Vulnerable."
"Not dangerous, which is why you run away from him for three days and tell me he's not home. What is it?"
"I told you we don't always know what to do. We just sort of experiment."
"Right. Like life in general."
"I told you we don't know what it is that Eurick gets from the rabbits' blood."
"Whatever it is, there's not as much of it in rabbit's blood as there is in people's blood. Over time he doesn't really get enough of whatever it is. Sometimes he just needs more than the rabbits can give."
Terry took a breath. "You're saying what -- you let him bite you after all? After all that?"
"No! I draw some blood and I leave it for him in a bottle and Dylan and I go camping. Eurick is sealed up in the house until we get back. And then he's all better. But weird for a while."
"You draw your own blood? How do you do that?"
"It's easy," she said dismissively.
"So how often do you do this?"
"Well, we stretch it out as long as we can. We just watch and see when he starts to ail, and then we get ready."
"About how often does that end up being?"
"Not too often. The rabbit's blood keeps him going well enough most of the time."
"But how often do you give him some of your blood?"
"Now and then. When he seems to need it."
Exasperated, Terry said, one last time, "But how often does that seem to be?"
Mary hesitated. "Usually everythree months or so. More or less."
"What about this time? When was the last time you did it?"
"July. We pushed it for a long time this time."
"Isn't it obvious? Because you were there." She shook her head. "There's another reason. It's not fair to say you're the cause."
She shifted, moving her arms aimlessly, looking for a nonexistent comfortable position. "I've been a little under the weather myself. I've gotten a little anemic. Not from this. I don't give Eurick that much blood." She fidgeted with the chair. "I've been having kind of massive periods. Doctor says it's not really danfgerous. Just a stress thing. But. I don't want to part with any more blood than necessary. Not that I give him enough blood to make a difference, but the whole thing, the preparations, the driving, all that, it's sort of a drag on me. But I was afraid I was pushing Eurick too hard."
She was an old friend, and he had asked her to tell him everything.
"Seeing how hard Eurick took it when I had a couple of bruises, it must be pretty hard on you two when you have your periods," he said with some difficulty.
"Yes," she said, shortly.
"Couldn't you use that blood?"
She grimaced. "It's not even mostly blood."
The silence stretched out. There seemed to be no way to continue and no way to terminate the conversation.
The doorbell rang. Both of them jumped. "Who could that be?" Mary asked. Terry hoped he knew.
"It's not that late," he said, going to the door.
Jack's hands were crammed into black denim pockets, his shoulders hunched under a dark gray sweatshirt. He looked over Terry's shoulder at Mary sitting on the couch, the piullows indented where Terry had been sitting next to her.
"Oh, am I interrupting?" Not even trying to hide the resentment.
"No," Terry said. "We were just chatting. Come in, it's cold."
Jack stood just inside the door. Terry hesitated. There was the couch, and the chair. Jack could sit next to Mary, or he could, and either way he wouldn't be sitting next to Jack.
"I was just checking in. No need to interrupt your conversation." Jack really did seem ready to leave. Terry scoured his brain for a way to make him stay.
"There's nothing to interrupt," Mary said, rising. "I just had to tell Terry a thing, and now I have to run upstairs and get Dylan in bed. School tomorrow."
Jack opened his mouth to answer, even edged farther out, but Mary was gone almost before Terry could say "good night" and Terry took advantage of the moment to advance on Jack and get him into an embrace before anything else could be said, and get his mouth on Jack's open one.
"So what did you do while I was gone?" Jack was studying Terry's face intently, as if he'd caught Terry in a lie and was about to expose it.
Terry pulled Jack to the couch. "I took care of Mary's garden, read a big fat book, ran, took a walk, went out for a beer. I missed you."
Jack was resisting. "Where'd you go?"
"Just sort of out. Couple of bars."
"Jack. I had a couple of beers, talked to a couple of people, sat around, came home. It wasn't even ten-thirty when I got home. That's what I came to the City for."
"You moved here to go to a bar."
"Yes. Among other things."
Jack's mouth stayed thin. Terry had the feeling he was about to walk out. He fell back against the back of the couch, watching Jack, waiting for the words, or the silent exit, whatever it was that people did. When Jack neither left nor spoke, Terry broke his gaze, studying instead the trio of little bottles.
It was a long moment before Jack put his hand on Terry's knee and said, "I'm sorry. I was reading another one of those damned casualty articles on the flught home and I kept thinking about you and I was just worried about you. I know you go out a lot. I don't want you to get sick."
Terry didn't look up. "I'm safe," he said.
"Right, you're safe," Jack said.
"Well, have you seen me be unsafe? Did I do anything unsafe? Tell me. I won't do it again."
"What do I know about what you do?"
"What do you want to know? Ask anything, I'll tell you." Terry's voice was almost a whisper. "I'm an open book."
All day the next day Terry kept returning to the events of the evening. Mary's revelations haunted him at the water fountain. Waiting for his terminal to finish a task he thought about Jack. There had been another bad moment about the necklace, but as soon as Terry had taken it off and put it where he knew he would find it again, Jack was all over him, all lips, all tongue, all teeth and nails and fingertips. Terry was overwhelmed again, feeling himself a feat, or a fig in bloom invaded by the busy wasp.
Jack was so different from one moment to the next. It was interesting just to watch him change. Terry was especially interested in how Jack behaved as if their lives were already enmeshed. He wanted to play with that, to experiment, to discover what it meant. He had a memory of his friends in high school, doing just that with their first relationships, the ones he had not had. Until now, maybe.
Just before lunch he had a fat manual to return to Marcia, which took him past Jack's open door. On the way over he didn't look up, but on the way back he did, he caught Jack's eye for a fleet moment, but didn't linger or even break his stride. He went to the water cooler, telling himself he would stay only for forty seconds by his own count. He was gratified that Jack came across, but the openly proprietary way he put his hand on Terry's shoulder was more than he expected. He didn't flinch. He was in San Francisco. It was supposed to be all right. But he was at work.
"Are you coming to lunch?" Jack asked.
It was a funny lunch. It was all chuckling and bumoing knees. There must have been some verbal conversation in it somewhere, but Terry could not remember a word of it. And then, all afternoon, he kept remembering that Jack's knees had touched his own, and Jack had laughed, over and over again.
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