“Lisa, I need the truth.” Kenny paused, his arms full of clothes he was carrying out to his car. Uncle Robert was coming in a few days, and Kenny wanted to clean things out of his own house to give his uncle some room. These days, Kenny pretty much lived at Lisa’s anyway, and only used his own house as a giant closet. “About Johnny.”
“I told you the truth,” Lisa said, a heaviness settling in the pit of her stomach. Her arms were sudsy as she scrubbed the kitchen counters. Crystal was upstairs doing the same thing to the bathroom.
“You tell me what you want me to hear,” Kenny responded. “Uncle Robert knows about vampires. We can’t afford to make a mistake because you neglected to tell me something important.”
“Like what?” Lisa countered. This was the conversation she had been dreading.
“Like where’s Johnny? How can we protect him if we don’t know where he is?”
Lisa’s eyes widened. Kenny was worried about Johnny? “Kenny, I . . . .” she hedged.
“It’s all right.” Crystal came downstairs carrying her bucket of cleaning supplies. “Johnny will be fine.”
Kenny spun around. “You too, Crystal! You’re not telling me the truth either.”
Crystal grinned. “That’s for Johnny to tell,” she said, and Kenny shook his head in mock despair.
Lisa smiled, too, but she still felt guilty. She hated being in the middle like this. Hadn’t Kenny proved his loyalty to Johnny? She wished Johnny had told Kenny about the lake.
“Seriously,” Kenny continued, “we need to be very careful what we say in front of my uncle. He knew Johnny’s name.”
“What?” Lisa wiped her hands on a towel. The heavy feeling in her stomach was back full force. Maybe she and Crystal should go to the lake and try to waken Johnny. She had no idea how to go about it, but she had no doubt Crystal would know.
“It will be okay,” Crystal repeated. She looked directly at her mother. “Johnny will be okay.”
-- - - - - - - - -
Nothing disturbed Eoin’s rest for a good sixty years. When the next call for blood and protection came, it was Young Jack who answered it first. The family member who awakened him by dripping his blood into the black waters of the lake was new to Eoin, but he had been well-versed in the secret traditions of their blood and knew just what to do.
Jack stood beside the young man now, on the banks of the river, as the young keeper knelt and offered his cupped hands to Eoin, who came up out of the water naked and hungry. He, too, knew the correct form, and only sipped lightly at the offered blood. As always, it shot a jolt of pure energy down Eoin’s spine.
“What’s the problem?” Eoin asked, straightening up. Jack, he couldn’t rightly be called Young Jack anymore, draped a warm tartan over Eoin’s shoulders. In his other hand he held a bundle of clothes for Eoin to change into later on.
The young keeper stared at Eoin in awe. He hadn’t been nearly as intimidated by Jack when the other vampire had come out of the loch to answer his call. Something about Eoin set the man back, something not quite as human as Jack appeared to be. Eoin realized it probably was his eyes, which were glazed over black. No human eyes looked like his when the hunger was upon him.
“Never mind. I have to leave, but I will be back at midnight.” Eoin glanced significantly up at the autumn moon, which had just risen. “You can tell me why you called me then.” Eoin strode off, following the contours of the lake.
With a glance at the cousin who had awakened them, Jack hurried to follow. “Wait for us,” he cautioned the young man. He caught up to Eoin a little further up the path and thrust the bundle of clothes at him. “You need to get dressed,” he said.
Eoin glanced at him sideways. “In a minute,” he said with a grin. He threw off the tartan, leaving Jack behind to pick it up, and bolted up the hill and into the thick brush. He wanted blood, human blood, but he knew he needed to be cautious this close to the family village. He would settle for animal blood—for now. This new cousin had better promise him lots of enemies to feast on.
-- - - - - - - - -
Uncle Robert looked around with interest at all the furnishings and photographs in Kenny’s living room. “This brings back memories,” he commented. “I remember coming here as a kid with my mother, your grandmother Alice. Your dad and I used to spend our summers here.” He glanced around the room once more. “You didn’t change very much.”
“I’m not here very much,” Kenny replied. “I started living here after I finished school.”
“Didn’t want to go back to your parents’ house, huh?”
Kenny reddened. “No, that’s not it.” But it was, when he thought about it. Lockwood had been the alternative to moving back home at the time, and since he had relatives here, and an old house which was just waiting for him, it had been the perfect solution.
“It turned out to be the right move, considering you found the vampire in Lockwood,” Uncle Robert said soberly. “Although with our family, very little is coincidence.” He put his suitcase down. “This place will suit me just fine. You’re sure I’m not putting you out?”
“No, I practically live at Lisa’s as it is,” Kenny said. “She bought Aunt Beth’s old house up by the lake. Did you know Aunt Beth?”
“I know who she is—did she die? But I didn’t know her personally. I only got out to Lockwood in my younger years. Your grandfather preferred us boys to keep away from this branch of the family—for obvious reasons. As you know, it doesn’t always work. We are drawn to each other.”
Kenny gaped at his uncle.
“You didn’t know?” Uncle Robert smiled wryly. “Blood calls to blood. That’s why we hunters always had to keep track of it, and why we had to be especially careful whom we chose to marry, because our blood is one of the stronger strains. It’s why your grandfather insisted we stay in Rhode Island. Haven’t you noticed that most of the Smythe descendants still live in Lockwood? There are a few other groups that came over on that ship who settled in certain areas and are still there, for the most part. Your mother, for instance—“
“She’s from Maine, but if you trace her roots back far enough you’ll find that her ancestors came over on the same ship as ours did. Your father and I both dated her, you know.”
Kenny didn’t know. “So she has the blood too?”
“A trace, no more. But enough to attract us both. The only reason we knew it is because we’re charged with keeping the records. Your grandfather was furious at first when your father married her. He got over it, though.” Uncle Robert lapsed into silence. “We’ll have time to talk later. I want to meet your Lisa and her little girl. Didn’t you say we were invited over there for dinner?”
They drove in companionable silence across town to Lisa’s house. Kenny couldn’t help thinking about what his uncle had said, that blood calls to blood. Did that mean that Lisa’s first husband had family blood too somewhere along the line? Otherwise, why was the vampire so sure Crystal could be turned?
“I’d like to drive around the lake first, if that’s all right,” Uncle Robert said abruptly as Kenny turned off the town road onto the paved road that led to Lisa’s house. He continued driving past, pointing out Lisa’s house as they drove by. His uncle’s head swiveled to the left as they passed the cemetery, then to the right as he took the dirt road just past the cemetery and followed it around the lake to the bridge on the other side. Uncle Robert stared at the lake, still frozen over, as Kenny made his way around the other side. He took the cut-off to Lisa’s family cottage and pointed that out to his uncle as well, but Uncle Robert just nodded politely, so he continued the circuit, emerging back on the paved road. He took a final right, down the hill past the lake where the stream fed into it, then up the hill past the cemetery once more, before finally turning left into Lisa’s driveway.
Uncle Robert sighed as the car slowed to a halt. “Thanks. I haven’t been by the lake since I was a teenager. I remember this house too, now that we’re here. I don’t think I ever was inside it, though.”
“Then come on in. Lisa’s eager to meet you.” Kenny led his uncle in through the front door.
-- - - - - - - - -
At midnight, three of the family were waiting by the lake for Eoin and Jack to return. They all knelt as the two blood-drinkers approached, and repeated the offering in the ancient language as they held cupped palms out to Eoin and his companion. Eoin accepted, and nodded to Jack who also drank a sip from each offered palm.
“There has been a lot of fighting,” one of the men said. “Between the clans.”
Eoin glanced at Jack. “And you want to win,” he said to the cousin who had spoken.
The man nodded nervously. “If you would fight alongside us, we would be sure to win.”
“Are you sure? Do you know what happens when I fight alongside you?”
They discussed details of the battle that was planned to take place in a few days on the banks of a river far to their south. Jack shook his head and leaned over to whisper in Eoin’s ear. “I don’t think this is a good idea. Your father—“
Eoin laughed harshly. “It’s already done,” he said. “I accepted. You can stay here and protect the women. I’ll be back in a few days.”
In his sleep, Johnny stirred uneasily.
Several days later he staggered back to the loch, bloody, burned and alone. Not one of the men who had called him from his sleep to fight had survived to tell the tale. Jack had been right, and while Eoin crept beneath the healing waters of the loch, Jack stayed with the women of their family and taught their young sons how to be keepers of the blood-drinkers. When next Eoin awoke, Jack had aged by several years.
-- - - - - - - - -
“Congratulations on your engagement,” Uncle Robert said after dinner. Crystal had volunteered to wash dishes, to Lisa’s amazement, so they sat in the living room with coffee to talk. “I told Kenny I would let him off the hook with this family business, so I might as well get started.” His genial smile melted away. “Tell me about John Price.”
Lisa’s shock at hearing Johnny’s name showed on her face, even though she had been half-expecting it. “John Price? You mean—Johnny Price?”
“The vampire.” Uncle Robert leaned forward. “You actually met him, didn’t you? Did you know he was a vampire? How did you find out?”
“I—no, he was my babysitter,” Lisa stuttered, glancing desperately at Kenny to help her out. “I didn’t. . . .”
Uncle Robert turned to Kenny. “Did he touch her? Could you tell? What about her little girl? Were there any signs?”
Kenny shook his head. “We got him before things had progressed,” he said, telling his uncle what he had honestly believed at the time. “Lisa and Crystal didn’t know anything.” That was an out and out lie, but again, at the time, he had believed that to be true, too.
Uncle Robert looked disappointed. “Tell me how you caught him, then,” he said, and Kenny explained the sequence of events that led up to the capture and extermination of the vampire known as John Price four years ago. Lisa listened in sickened fascination, because everything Kenny told his uncle was true, and as he told the story, memories flooded her. She had thought Johnny was dead then, too, and even though she knew now it wasn’t true, the familiar, crushing sadness overwhelmed her and she felt her eyes fill with tears.
“Are you sure he’s dead?” Uncle Robert asked when Kenny finished speaking. He pretended not to notice as Lisa wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
“I’m sure.” Kenny spoke the lie firmly.
Crystal came into the living room with her sketchpad and started drawing, smiling brightly at the three grown-ups who had grown silent as soon as she walked into the room. Uncle Robert yawned. “I should get back to Alice’s house,” he said. “Lisa, I’d like you to show me where you first met—him.” He glanced briefly at Crystal, who was absorbed in her drawing. “Maybe we can get together tomorrow?”
“All right.” Lisa didn’t know what else to say.
“Come on, I’ll drive you back.” Kenny got their jackets.
On the way back, Kenny broached the subject of Lisa’s first husband to his uncle. “Do you think he could have had some family blood too?” he asked.
His uncle chuckled. “Not every attraction is because of the blood,” he said. “I doubt it.”
“But Crystal’s blood is very strong,” he argued.
Uncle Robert grew still. “What do you mean?”
Kenny cursed himself for not being careful—again. “I don’t know what I mean,” he said lamely. “I’ve been trying to figure out why the vampire surfaced again after so many years, and I guess I jumped to conclusions.”
Uncle Robert relaxed. “Your father really didn’t teach you very much, did he? You’re probably right. Crystal’s blood probably is strong, but that’s because of her mother’s bloodline. But I’ll look into the father as well, just in case you have something there. She’ll have to be watched even more carefully if that’s the case.”
Crystal finished her latest drawing and closed her sketchpad so she could get ready for bed. She liked Uncle Robert. He was nice, even if he did try to keep things secret from her. She smiled to herself. It was going to be an interesting summer once Johnny woke up.