Searching for Swimmers–Chapter 37
Reese had immediately regretted setting up the meet at her apartment. The first thing she did was to swallow the rest of her wine. Then she poured another glass. Before the first sip, she looked down at what she was wearing—plaid pajama bottoms and a pink bathrobe. This is no way to present myself to a guest. Not just a guest…a man…and not just a man: Jason Purdue. Jason Purdue is not a man, he’s a client. Well… not exactly a client…he’s… shit…. She didn’t know what he was. She padded into her bedroom and caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror. She was further embarrassed by the way she wore her bathrobe. If she were to believe the movies, most women wore a robe and nothing else, but she was so insecure that it felt wrong, even when alone, to have nothing on under her robe, so she wore pajama bottoms and either a t-shirt or a sports bra.
As these thoughts blew through her mind, she tossed off all of her clothes and slid into a nice, but not too nice, flower print dress. Then she ran a brush through her hair and pulled it back. It took less than five minutes before she was back on her couch, nervously enjoying her only slightly stale glass of wine. Once her glass was empty, she sat quietly on the couch and looked at her front door.
Maybe I’ve rushed things a bit, she thought. She looked at her empty glass, at the door, at the glass, at the mahogany box, at the door, at the wine bottle, at the door, at the mahogany box. “Fuck it,” she said out loud then pulled a second cigarette from the box. She lit it and leaned back in the couch and waited.
“Where to now, chief?” the cabbie asked. Jason gave him the address. “Visiting a friend?”
“She’s not exactly a friend.”
“Ah ha. Here we go again. Am I right? A visit to the sperm bank, then the bar, then a late night call to a lady friend. Damn, man.”
“Shit, look at me. You’ve heard my story. You really think I’m some sort of lady killer?”
“I choose my own stories and the one you gave me was unsatisfactory. You’re still the Sperm Casanova in my book.”
“Nice to know I’m something more than a loser in someone’s book.”
Reese looked at the clock. It had been over twenty minutes, twenty-three minutes to be precise, since Jason Purdue had interrupted her night. She looked at the nearly empty bottle of wine and the four crushed cigarette butts in the ashtray. In those twenty-three minutes, she had been reduced to a drunk and a smoker. She wasn’t sure if she could handle his actual arrival. What’s next? Rapist? Baby killer? The wine buzz prevailed, settling her nerves a little. She considered turning on the television but didn’t want Jason Purdue to judge her on her television viewing habits. It would be just my luck to be channels surfing when his knock comes and I get up to answer only to find The Jersey Shore on the screen when we walk into the living room.
The wine made her giddy. Maybe I should just put it on PBS, have a book lying around, open, but face down on the coffee table, then he’d think I’m some self-righteous, pretentious snob. Why do I even care what he thinks? She wasn’t so drunk that the truth evaded her. This wasn’t about Jason Purdue. It was all about her and her ridiculous concern about what everyone thought about her. Her attempt to make herself…well…pretty…well, not horrifying, wasn’t because she wanted to bed Mr. Purdue, nor did she want him to think her an intellectual by having PBS on and books thrown about the house. She just didn’t want anyone to think she was less than she knew she could be. Deep down she knew, even if in her own estimation, she wasn’t yet the person she knew she could be. She knew she was more capable than the life she’d been living.
Reese jumped a little and her body tensed when she heard the knock at her door. She leapt from the couch, scanned the room for any embarrassment, her head jerked around like a broken bobble-head doll. Almost as quickly, she realized how silly she was being and scurried to the front door. After looking through the peephole and seeing an even more disheveled Jason Purdue than she’d remembered, her nerves calmed to their normal unnerving level and she opened the door.
Jason sat on her couch and fidgeted. The couch was plush and comfortable, but he was having second thoughts about meeting her at her home. I made him feel like he wasn’t on equal ground. Why should ground matter? he wondered.
Reese hovered in front of the coffee table. “Would you like a glass of wine, Mr. Purdue?”
“Yes, god, yes.”
Reese retrieved a glass from the kitchen, came back to the living room and emptied the bottle into the glass. Seeing the less than half full glass, she flushed and said, “Oh, sorry. I have another bottle. Red though. Is that alright?”
“Sure, whatever.” Jason grabbed the glass and swallowed its contents in one gulp.
Reese walked off, then quickly returned, grabbed Jason’s glass and walked back toward the kitchen. Before reaching the kitchen, she abruptly stopped and turned to face him, holding the glass up, “I’ll rinse this.”
“Sure, that’ll be fine,” Jason said.
Jason leaned forward on the couch, elbows on knees and wrung his hands. Why am I so nervous? Is it because I might actually get some answers? Or no answers? He tried to convince himself he no longer cared. He looked at the contents of the coffee table and felt the adrenaline wash away, replaced by the lethargy of the day’s drinks. He didn’t exactly feel relaxed. Instead, the give and take of the natural substances his body secreted and the false substances he’d ingested fought each other to an apathetic response. He was incapable of anything beyond observance. To fight it, he grabbed a cigarette and the lighter. The cigarette, the stimulant, felt good.
Reese grabbed the bottle of Merlot from deep within the cabinet. She was more of a white than red girl, but was grateful she had a bottle stowed away. As she rinsed Jason’s glass, her confidence gained. He’s far drunker than I am, she concluded. As she looked for the corkscrew, she wondered when it was that she had gone from working in a cryo lab to entertaining a drunk, middle-aged man in her apartment? Her confidence waned a bit.
She grabbed the wine and the glass, took a deep breath and then walked into the living room. She paused when she saw him smoking one of her cigarettes. She sat down on the opposite side of the couch, poured him a drink and handed it to him. She filled her glass then sat back and crossed her legs.
“You know,” Jason said, “I don’t smoke.” He tapped the ash from the cigarette into the ashtray.
Reese grabbed and lit a smoke. “Me either.” She exhaled a beautiful plume.
The silence unnerved Reese. Still, she sat sipping her wine and puffing her smoke, waiting for the anxiety to pass.
“So, sperm,” Jason said.
“That is why we’re here. Well, that’s why I’m here. You’re here, well, because you live here. Me, I’m here about sperm. So, tell me about my sperm.”
Reese slightly choked on her sip of wine. “Uh yes, your sperm, uh, the list. That is why you are here, after all.”
Jason ground out his half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray and then scooted closer to Reese. Reese scrunched further into the corner. “That is why I am here, Ms. Taylor. May I call you Reese?”
“Yes, you may.”
Jason took a gulp from his wine and moved even closer to her. “I’m here, Reese, because you turned my life up the fuck side down.”
Reese tried to disappear into the sofa cushion. “Well, that isn’t what I intended, Mr. Purdue.”
“Call me Jason, please.” He swallowed the last of his glass and scooted closer.
Reese stood up. “Look, Mr. Pur- Jason, I didn’t mean to cause you any discomfort, but I didn’t screw up your life, you screwed up mine.”
“Really, how is that?”
Reese swallowed hard. “Well, I was perfectly happy with my job until you showed up.”
Jason looked her up and down. “Really? Were you really?”
She felt exposed, but stood her ground. “Yes! Yes, I was. But you had to come in and well, well, fuck it all up.” She stomped her foot like a petulant child.
Jason fumbled the wine bottle into his glass. “Well, I’m sorry. No, I’m fucking sorry that I interrupted your heartfelt fucking life, because the essence of my life was fucking stolen.”
Reese dropped her head, ashamed. Slowly she walked back to the couch and sat next to Jason. She refilled her glass and took a sip. She whirled the wine around in her glass. “I know. That’s why I gave you the list. I didn’t feel right about what had been done to you, even if it was an accident.”
Jason took hold of her hand. Instantly, her posture straightened and she turned her head to meet his eyes. Jason looked into those green eyes. “Thank you,” he said as he squeezed her hand. “It’s strange. In most ways, the last week has been the most miserable experience of my life, but in many others, mostly subtle, it’s been the best.” Jason squeezed her hand again. “So, thank you.”
Jason let go of her hand. Reese’s eyes remained on her lap as she tried to think away the blush flushing her cheeks. It didn’t matter, Jason didn’t notice.
“So, back to my sperm.”
Reese straightened. “Yes, I suppose you want the full story.”
“Yes. Yes, that would be good.” Jason went to pour another glass of wine but was stopped. Reese put her hand on his arm.
“I’m not offended by your drunkenness, but unless you want a repeat of tonight, I suggest you remain at least sober enough to remember our conversation.”
Jason retracted his hand. “Am I really that drunk?” He stared at his hand for moment. “Okay, you make a very valid point. Please, continue.”
“First, let me make a pot of coffee.”
They sat at her kitchen table, drinking the strong brew.
“Okay.” Reese settled herself and for the first time in the evening, she felt in control. “It all started with a mix up. Somehow your specimen got mixed up with the specimen of one of our most popular donors. You know, I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this. I really shouldn’t be telling anyone. I signed a non-disclosure agreement when I was hired.”
“I understand, but you already broke it because for some reason you felt an allegiance or a duty to me. You’ve already broken your agreement. It’s not like you can break it again.”
“True. So, if you wouldn’t have terminated your specimen, we would’ve never known about the mistake, and as far as I can tell we, they,” Reese corrected herself, “still don’t know who it was exactly that made the mistake.”
“But it was just one vial, right?”
“Yes, you provided two vials and only one vial was left at the time of termination. I know this because I was the one who was sent to terminate your specimen.”
“Yeah, I was uncomfortable about it too. All of that aside, a mistake of this magnitude, needless to say, is a giant deal. Yet, I was unimpressed, no horrified, with the way my boss handled it.”
“Yeah, he seems to be a giant tool.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Well, your statement also seems like an understatement. You haven’t gotten to the part that explains why you don’t work there anymore. I sense, perhaps, some pent-up animosity. To that I say, Ms. Taylor, let it fucking free. Trust me, being recently unemployed, I know. Let your animosity fly.”
Reese took a sip of her wine and stirred in her seat a bit. “Well, Dr. Radkin, well, was a bit of an asshole.”
“Come on now,” Jason said, “you’ve got more in you than that. I think you need to stand up for this.”
Reese looked at the floor. “Okay.” She stood up and took a deep breath. “Dr. Radkin was a fucking asshole,” she said with a small amount of passion.
“Still don’t believe it,” Jason said. “May I make some suggestions?”
“Uh, sure, I guess.”
“First, use the present tense. I know he was an asshole, but you know what? He still is. Secondly, stop addressing him with authority. Fuck the whole doctor thing, unless you want to say something like, like he’s the doctor of come bucket analysis. You know, number one self-proctologist. Come on, Reese, feel the hate and release it.”
Reese breathed in then breathed out. “You know, Jason, Dick was a come bucket. That was his job designation, but he was so worthless he couldn’t even justify being a come bucket. Instead, his head was so far up his fucking ass that the taste of shit became his preference, to the point he no longer knew what his name was, let alone his clients.” Reese exhaled and felt much better.
“You sort of lost me at the end. But, hell, looks like it made you feel good. All that matters.”
Reese smiled and sat next to Jason.
“Yeah, I feel a lot better.”
“Good, because now, I’m going to need to know the rest of it.”
“Well, I overheard Dr. Radkin, um Dick, on the phone. There was an active investigation into who may have received your sperm. I didn’t know the names until you showed up. That’s when I snuck into his office, found the names and their ages.”
“Why that format? Just out of curiosity. Couldn’t you have given me names and cities, even better, names and addresses with a note explaining why?”
“Honestly, it all went back to that phone call with you. I made a promise, a promise I was unable to keep. I felt horrible about it, but when you actually showed up and I saw Dick put you through the ringer, I just couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when I decided to help.”
“Hence, the list.”
“Yes, and in some weird logic, I settled on names and ages as a way to navigate my own personal duality between my promise to you and my allegiance to CryoGenerous.”
“It all sounds very believable, but where did you get the names?”
“Those were, well, the prime suspects of falsely receiving your sperm based on CryoGenerous analysis.”
“And they were the only suspects, just three women?” Jason asked.
“Yes, best I could tell.” Reese saw the doubt in Jason’s eyes. “You’ve got to realize that list is a safe assumption, a detailed, highly evaluated assumption. Firstly, CryoGenerous’ ass was on the line; they weren’t going to screw up. Secondly, there were only a finite amount of women requesting specimen 521 on any given day. It wasn’t hard to play the numbers.”
“Play the fucking numbers?”
“Equate the numbers.”
Jason grabbed his head. “Well, I’ve equated the numbers you gave me and all turned out positive. Sorry, verbal misstep. Negative.”
“Good. No, wait. So none of them were pregnant?”
“Sorry, let me clarify. Two got pregnant; one didn’t work. One of the two pregnancies ended in miscarriage. It was, well, kind of fucked up.”
“Are you sure?” Reese asked.
“Well, yeah, unlike you I personally spoke to them all, and it was wildly out of my comfort zone. So, thank you for that.”
Reese looked into her coffee mug and then took a sip.
“Look, I’m sorry. I’m just angry…not at you. Just pissed.”
Reese straightened. “You said only two ended in pregnancy?”
“Yeah, the first didn’t work, Trovato, I think. The second, Hendenmeier, worked, wasn’t mine, and the last, Applebaum, well, she miscarried.”
“I’m sorry, but I think you’re wrong.”
Jason slowly cracked his neck and looked at her. “I’m wrong?” he asked defensively.
“I’m sorry, but yes, you are wrong,” Reese said.
Jason stood up and started pacing around the small kitchen. “How am I wrong? I was there! In front of every last motherfucking one of them. How am I wrong?”
Reese scratched her shoulder and shifted in her seat. “Mr. Purdue, well, I’m—”
“Jason! The name’s Jason.”
“Uh, well, Jason, all three women conceived. Not to say they didn’t miscarry throughout their term, but they all were, well, impregnated.”
“Is that it?” Jason asked, calming down.
“Well, yeah, I guess.”
“Well, I personally confirmed that they were all either without child or that the child within them was not mine, so I’m in the clear.”
“Yeah, if you personally confirmed. That was the point of my list.”
Jason sat back down, drained his coffee and looked up at her. “Then it’s over.”
“It would seem so,” Reese said.
“So, no kids.”
“None, as far as I can tell.”
“Well, that’s all I needed to hear.”
Reese smiled. “Good.”
Jason stood up. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t bother you any further, Ms. Taylor.”
“It’s really no bother.”
Jason stared at her. “Of course it’s a bother. I ruined your fucking life.”
“Well, there, well, there is that,” Reese stammered.
“I should at least leave while my legs will allow me to do so.” He wasn’t sure if he felt wobbly from the discussion or the residue still in his body.
“Of course.” Reese stood up. “Can I call you a cab? Do you already have a hotel?”
“No hotel, but I have a cabbie.” He stumbled back to the living room.
Reese followed him and saw his shaky legs. “Why don’t you stay here tonight and call your cabbie tomorrow?”
“As long as you know I’m not, I’m not, going to fuck you.”
“No sexual favors in the equation.”
Jason fell back into the couch. “Then I accept.” He kicked off his shoes and lay down. “Not that I wouldn’t fuck you. You are a very prime, no, well, interesting specimen of the female persuasion. I just don’t, well, fuck.”
“Ever?” Reese asked.
“Never,” Jason replied and then passed out.
Reese went into her bedroom and removed a pillow from the closet and stuffed it into a fresh pillowcase. She returned to the living room and placed it under Jason’s head. This was the first time a man had slept in this apartment and Reese, just for a moment, wished it were in her bed. She put a blanket over Jason and cleared the coffee table.