Kenny recognized the road from Crystal’s drawing. It was just after the toll, as they approached Boston. He had been this way on business a million times and never paid attention. A building really did go right across the highway.
His father drove. Kenny, against his better judgment, had called him after he was sure that Johnny wasn’t going to turn up again after all. He didn’t know how much of Johnny’s story he believed, but the vampire had stayed away for the last couple of weeks so maybe he really was asleep for the rest of the winter, like Lisa said. In light of everything that had happened, however, he also wasn’t sure he should involve his father any more than strictly necessary. The man was sharp; he didn’t miss much. Already he was asking questions Kenny really didn’t want to answer. But Uncle Robert was his brother, and it was originally his idea to contact him.
“Where are we meeting him?” Kenny asked, as they approached another toll.
“At the Prudential Center,” his father answered, throwing two coins into the toll box. “He has an office there. We’re meeting him at a restaurant nearby.”
Kenny nodded and watched the road as they drove underneath another building into a long tunnel and took the first exit. His uncle had wanted to meet on neutral ground for this first meeting. They parked the car and made their way to the restaurant. Kenny recognized the man who must be his Uncle Robert immediately. He looked just like his father.
The man stood up and smiled widely. “Kenny! You don’t remember me, do you? Last time I saw you, you were just a baby!” He came around the table and hugged his nephew. So he wasn’t exactly like his father, after all, Kenny realized.
“Georgie,” Uncle Robert said next, holding out his hand to shake his brother’s. “Sit down, sit down.”
Georgie? Kenny shook his head. He had never heard his father referred to as Georgie.
“So I hear you’re getting married,” Uncle Robert began, as they all sat down and ordered drinks. “And you didn’t bring your fiancée?”
Kenny wondered just how much his father had told Uncle Robert when he initially set up this meeting. The two brothers had been estranged for most of Kenny’s life. “She’s—uh—her daughter has school,” Kenny managed to say. “She couldn’t come.”
“And Joanna? You didn’t bring your wife either?” Uncle Robert asked his brother.
“You know she doesn’t like this vampire business,” Kenny’s father replied, matter-of-factly. Kenny glanced around to see if anyone was paying attention, but no one seemed to notice.
Robert smiled. “I remember,” he said softly. “And the new girl—I assume she knows?”
Kenny’s father nodded. “She’s a Summerfield. Philip and Amelia’s granddaughter, it turns out. After he left Lockwood, we lost touch with his branch of the family, but apparently he kept in contact with another daughter and stayed in the area. Nobody knew the connection until just recently, and Philip himself had no idea about the bloodline his son carried. To make a long story short, my son was called in when there was a problem, at first to guard the girl, but you know how it goes. Blood calls to blood. “
Kenny gulped his drink, his eyes darting around the restaurant. They were talking about this so casually! In two minutes he had learned more about his family than he had in the previous thirty years! His mother knew about the vampires? She never let on, and his father was always so careful to shield her from any conversation regarding vampires or their family’s history. And what did his father mean, ‘blood calls to blood?’
“Problem?” Uncle Robert’s voice was sharp. “What kind of problem?”
“What do you think? The vampire turned up again. This time we had irrefutable proof. Kenny killed it.” Mr. Brown turned to Kenny with a proud smile. “Just like I taught him.”
“John Price?” Uncle Robert was suddenly all business. He sat up straight in his chair. “Are you sure? What happened?”
Kenny shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Can we go somewhere else to talk about this?” he asked. The two men looked at him in surprise. “I mean, don’t you have an office we could use?"
- - - - - - - - - -
Lisa picked Crystal up from school and they both took a detour by the cottage on the way home. The dirt road wasn’t plowed, but there were tire tracks through what snow was still on the ground so it was relatively easy to drive. She parked the car in front of the cottage. It looked small and forlorn in the fading afternoon light. She sighed. It was a long time until spring.
“Do you want to go inside?” she asked Crystal. She still had a key, and there was a flashlight in the trunk of the car.
Crystal shook her head. “No, that’s all right,” she replied. “I still miss it sometimes, don’t you?”
“The cottage? Yeah. Even though I love our house now, this place holds a lot of memories.”
They sat in silence until it got too cold, then Lisa started the engine. “He’ll be fine until spring,” she said. “What about you? Do you feel any—side effects—or anything?”
“No, nothing like that. I know it will be all right as long as we exchange blood a few times a year. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do.”
Lisa’s cheeks reddened as her daughter so blithely spoke the words she just couldn’t get out. Exchange blood. Her daughter was on the road to becoming a vampire and she should be horrified, or something, but she wasn’t. She loved them both, and her heart ached whenever she thought about the tragic set of circumstances that had brought them all to this path. “Do you want to take a ride down to the beach?”
Crystal’s eyes lit up. “Yeah! Can I drive?”
- - - - - - - - - -
Every year at solstice, in the summer, Eoin and his kindred made the trek to a place their father designated. Every year it changed. No one, not even his own children, knew where their father slept.
Only the blood-drinkers were allowed to participate—both those who were born of their father’s flesh and those who came to his life through the blood, like Young Jack. The gatherings affirmed their connection with each other. They were both part of their human families and other, and the otherness set them apart.
“Eoin, wait.” His father held Eoin with a look, as the dawn sky brightened behind him. Eoin hesitated. Young Jack needed his rest. Most of the others had already departed, moving swiftly in the false dawn light towards their scattered villages and their deep, silent lochs. Eoin turned to face his father, squinting as the light, diffused as it was, hit his sensitive eyes.
“You’ve been following the Bruce,” his father said, and Eoin felt himself bristling at the implied censure in his father’s words. “Be careful,” his father continued. “His battles are not ours.”
“I’m only doing what my chief and my family ask of me,” Eoin replied. “There’s blood for the taking.”
“And that’s all you take?”
Eoin nodded curtly. Only blood. What did he care about causes and crowns and right or wrong? As long as his family was protected, and he was well-fed, he saw no problem in continuing to go to war.
Young Jack looked from one to the other, clearly uncomfortable. He was a product of his time, and new to blood-drinking. He worshipped Eoin, yet he was disturbed by what he heard. Weren’t they fighting for a noble cause, for family and country and pride?
The father pinned Young Jack with his bright gaze. “And you. Do you follow my son only for the blood?”
Jack stammered, “No, yes, yes,” and averted his eyes. There was nothing like the blood. And family, of course. He helped Eoin protect them, and he helped to protect Eoin, who tended to be incautious when the bloodlust was on him.
- - - - - - - - - -
“I thought so.” The father dismissed Young Jack by turning his gaze back to Eoin. “Take Young Jack and go to sleep until this is over. The family needs to forget about us for a time, and you need to remember who you are.”
“He was real? You have proof?” Kenny’s uncle spoke with barely masked excitement. “You’re sure?” He sat behind the desk in his office while Kenny and his father took chairs across from him.
“I told you he was,” Mr. Brown replied. “If you had stayed . . . .”
“You know why I didn’t,” his brother reminded him. “I couldn’t listen to the same recitations about our blood and vampires and our sacred duty when there was nothing but blind faith to go on. I needed to find out for myself.”
Kenny felt guilty. He had listened to those recitations and believed what he had been taught without question—until recently. He was also finding out that there were great gaps in what he had been taught.
“And did you find out anything?”
Uncle Robert shook his head. “Not much. I took a few trips to Scotland years ago, trying to find my roots, as they say, but there wasn’t much to find. It’s not like I could just ask people if they knew where I could find the local vampires.”
“Why didn’t you come back?” Mr. Brown asked. “Dad would have taken you back. We all would have.”
“You knew where I was,” Uncle Robert countered. “You never even called me when Dad died.” He sighed. “This is ancient history. Can we start over? You said you had discovered John Price, the vampire our family has been hunting for the last century. And he really existed. It’s hard to believe after all this time.”
“Kenny discovered it. He dealt with it because he learned what you refused to learn. I’ll let him tell you all the details later. Right now I need to know if you’re willing to come back. He and the Summerfield girl are planning to marry. I’ve drummed it into their heads, more or less, that they can never have children because of their bloodlines, but that means our family needs someone else to carry on the hunter tradition. Do you have sons?”
“Why? Didn’t you say you killed the last one?”
Kenny watched the two brothers argue back and forth. What would happen to him and Lisa if Uncle Robert refused to become a hunter again? Worse, what would happen if he did become a hunter again? Johnny was alive and well as far as he knew. It was only a matter of time before either his uncle or his father figured that out. That put Kenny in the awkward position of having to hide the vampire.
“You know why. To make sure another one isn’t born.”
“You would have me kill a child?” Uncle Robert pushed away from his desk. “I’m not willing to do that.”
“Your sons, then.”
“Then this conversation is closed.” Mr. Brown got up to leave.
“Wait!” Kenny stood also, and grabbed his father’s arm. “All you really need is someone to keep track of the families, right? I can still do that. Even if someone of the blood is born, there’s no one left to change him into a vampire, so it wouldn’t be an issue.”
Both Browns turned to stare at Kenny. “How do you know that?” His father asked softly.
Kenny swallowed. “You taught me,” he replied.
His father took a breath to respond, but Uncle Robert beat him to it. “He’s right,” he said to his brother. “I’ll come back. If Kenny doesn’t have kids to pass down the record-keeping, I’ll take it back. I want to hear more about John Price and how you killed him. I want to meet this Summerfield girl. It’s about time we mended the rift in our family. There’s not enough of us left.”
Kenny sank back down into his chair. Saved for now. He glanced at his father out of the corner of his eye, and saw the stormy looks his father was shooting back at him. Maybe not. He hadn’t meant to let that slip about the change. Damn that Johnny anyway! How was he supposed to keep straight who had told him what? “You can stay at Grandma Alice’s old house. It’s my house now, but I mostly live at Lisa’s.”
“Fine.” Uncle Robert beamed at him, back to his jovial self. “I’ll come down in a couple of weeks to meet the family, and you can tell me all about John Price.”