It was still dark when Johnny crawled out of the lake. He had slept a night and a day under the water.
His clothes were soaked. The cold didn’t bother him, but the feeling of the wet cloth against his skin did. Time for a change of wardrobe.
All things considered, he felt good. A little hungry, perhaps, but that could be remedied at the same time as he got some new clothes. Johnny paused. At this time of year, there weren’t many families still at the lake. He would have to travel towards town to get something to eat. The icy wind stiffened his still wet clothes as he ran.
It turned out he didn’t have to go all the way into town. A lone car was pulled over to the side of the road with a flat tire, its inhabitant drumming furiously against the opened trunk lid.
“Need some help?” Johnny asked.
The man jumped, nearly banging his head on the trunk. “Uh, yeah. Where’d you come from?” the man mumbled, finally turning around and getting a good look at Johnny’s obviously damp clothing.
Johnny grinned. “The lake,” he replied, sidling up alongside the man. He peered into the trunk. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“No spare,” the man answered tersely, letting Johnny in for a closer look. The tiny compartment underneath the pulled up carpet which should have held a tire was empty.
Johnny glanced around. No other cars were in sight. “I can help,” he offered, and swiftly jerked the surprised man’s head around as he dragged him out of sight behind the disabled car. He took as much blood as he dared, and left the man unconscious but still fully clothed behind the wheel of his car. Much as he needed a new set of clothes, it would be too noticeable to leave the man naked in this weather.
Sated for the moment, Johnny took off for Lisa’s house. He let himself in and made a quiet phone call before continuing on upstairs. A repair truck should reach his inadvertent blood donor at about the same time as he started to come out of his enforced sleep. If the man remembered a local kid stopping to help him at all, he would assume the boy had gone for help, which Johnny had done, after all. And if he noticed a slight itch to his neck, he would have no reason to connect it to the boy.
Johnny rummaged around in Lisa’s closet. These would have to do. A part of him was annoyed that he had to make concessions of any kind. He took what he needed. Always.
“Where did you get those clothes?” Lisa immediately rounded on him when he walked into the kitchen wearing the hunter’s jeans and a flannel plaid shirt.
“Too old?” Johnny turned, arms spread wide and low by his side.
Lisa’s face drained of color. “That’s Kenny’s shirt. You didn’t hurt him, did you?” She knew that was how Johnny got his clothes, skinned from the bodies of his prey.
Enough was enough. Johnny stared at her coldly, all traces of humor forgotten. “And if I did?” he asked. “What would you do?”
“I – I . . .” Lisa stammered, her heart pounding.
In an instant, Johnny was on her, grasping both her forearms in an iron grip. His eyes were blacker than she had ever seen them. “Nothing,” he spat. “You would do nothing.” He let go of her arms as if they suddenly burned him and turned his back on her. “I’m not your kid,” he said in a low voice. “I’m not your boyfriend and I’m not your pet. I tolerate you. And him. That’s all.”
He turned back to see great pools of tears in Lisa’s eyes, and a stunned expression on her face. He had hurt her. He’d meant to scare her.
Exasperated, he admitted, “I haven’t seen the hunter. My clothes got wet—I needed dry ones. I knew you keep his clothes here, so I borrowed some.”
Lisa blushed, even though she was aware he knew Kenny stayed over sometimes. At the beginning, it had bothered her tremendously knowing Johnny was in the house when she and Kenny slept together. After a while, she didn’t care anymore and it was only an issue during those parts of the year when the lake wasn’t frozen over. She and Kenny had the winters to themselves.
But looking at Johnny now, in Kenny’s clothes, made her realize again how very alike the two were. Johnny was more slender and definitely looked younger; other than that, they could have been brothers.
“Are you all right?” she settled for asking Johnny.
He ignored her and asked instead, “Where’s Crystal?”
“She’s over at Ellie’s house, finishing up her project,” Lisa replied, glad to be back on neutral ground. “Kenny’s supposed to pick her up on his way home from work.”
Johnny’s eyes gleamed. “Good,” he said. He wasn’t hungry, not really. But Lisa thought she knew him. She didn’t. And her blood, though not as potent as Crystal’s or even the hunter’s, was family’s.
“What happened to you the other night?” asked Lisa, still not realizing Johnny’s intent. “I thought you were helping Crystal with her art project.”
“Did she say something?” Johnny asked sharply.
“Just that you had to go home,” Lisa replied, turning her back to him so she could check on one of her pots on the stove. “I thought maybe you had gone away to sleep for the winter, but then I thought, no, you would have told us first—“
Johnny struck just as Lisa started to turn around again. He saw her eyes widen before she crumpled beneath his onslaught. He was not gentle. She needed to remember who he was and why he was here.
When he was done he carried her to the sofa in the living room. He had been careful not to take too much blood, but her throat, near the base of her neck where it joined her shoulder, was red and raw. He touched it gently.
Lisa tossed her head from side to side and slowly opened her eyes. Johnny stared calmly back at her. “What did you—why?”
Hands in the pockets of his borrowed jeans, Johnny replied. “Don’t worry. I shut off the stove. Go ahead and rest for a while.”
Predictably, Lisa shoved herself upright on the sofa, then swayed and had to lean her head back, breathing shallowly. The angry red rash where Johnny had bitten her stretched tight across her skin. “I feel sick,” she muttered with her eyes closed once more.
Johnny went to get her a glass of water. He handed it to her in silence, and she drank it slowly. “What the hell, Johnny?” she asked with a little heat.
Johnny shrugged. He didn’t feel like explaining himself, especially to her. “You’d better get cleaned up,” he said shortly. “I’ll come check on Crystal later.”
Satisfied that he had gotten his point across, Johnny sprinted up the stairs, pausing at the landing just long enough to watch Lisa stand up and carefully make her way to the bathroom. She was fine. She’d always been strong that way.
He decided to take his own advice and took a brief shower. Dry clothes were good, but he had come to appreciate the benefits of a hot shower. Downstairs, Lisa did the same thing. Johnny toweled his hair dry and tossed the towel into the nearby hamper. Lisa had asked him once if any water would do to rejuvenate him, or if only the lake water worked. He studied his finger where the scissors had broken the skin. That should not have happened. He never should have stayed so long. Soon, he would have to go back under the lake for the winter.
He heard a car drive up. Crystal was home. The hunter, too, unfortunately. Or perhaps fortunately tonight. He didn’t trust himself around Crystal just yet. She was still a child. He shouldn’t have had such a strong reaction to seeing her taste his blood. Taking Lisa’s blood helped to curb his intense craving, but it had not erased it altogether. Crystal must survive.
Johnny found himself outside the dining room doorway. The hunter sat at the head of the table. Johnny’s lips twisted derisively. He didn’t have anything against the hunter anymore, except for the fact that once he had tried to kill Johnny—he thought he had killed Johnny. But Kenny sat here, at the table with Lisa and Crystal, while Johnny was forced to skulk in the shadows.
Lisa wore a turtleneck sweater to hide her ravaged neck. That made Johnny feel a little better. Lisa was his, Crystal was his. Even Kenny was his, although he didn’t know it yet. But he would.