Black Water

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Chapter 20

Kenny formally proposed to Lisa at Easter, and she accepted. All the family was there, including Lisa’s parents and her brother’s family. Lisa had even invited Cara, whose husband had recently passed away, and Cara brought her granddaughter Ellie, who was Crystal’s friend.

Uncle Robert, down from Boston, beamed at Lisa’s parents. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. Is it true you had no idea you had relatives in Lockwood even though you’ve been coming to your summer cottage here for years?”

John Summerfield shook his head and smiled wryly. “No idea,” he agreed. “Although in retrospect now I understand why my father didn’t want us associating with the town people.” He turned towards Cara. “Did you know?”

Cara smiled back. She had aged in the last few months since her husband had died, but she was still a young-looking Grandma, younger than Lisa’s parents at any rate. “My mother was the last one to keep in touch with Philip,” she said softly. “If it wasn’t for Lisa, we probably never would have known we were related.”

“Did you ever have any—strange encounters—while you were at your cottage?” Uncle Robert asked Lisa’s father, his eyes suddenly intense.

Lisa froze in the act of clearing away dishes.

“Strange encounters?” John Summerfield frowned.

“Did you ever feel funny—uneasy? Uncomfortable around any of the people you met?”

Lisa’s father laughed. “Strange encounters. I get it,” he said.

Lisa began moving again, gathering up dishes and stacking them together. Kenny watched her with a worried frown.

Uncle Robert narrowed his eyes. “Do you remember John Price? Johnny? Lisa said he used to babysit Crystal.”

That Johnny? Ellie mouthed to Crystal, her forehead crinkling in surprise.

I’ll tell you later, Crystal mouthed back.

Lisa dropped heavily into an empty chair, dishes forgotten. She waited anxiously for her father’s reply.

“John—oh that kid. Yeah, I remember him now. Haven’t seen him in years.”

“I remember Johnny!” Maureen, Lisa’s brother’s wife, spoke up. “He was a nice kid.”

“He didn’t make you uncomfortable?” Uncle Robert pressed.

“No-o,” Lisa’s father drawled, frowning. “Why would he? What are you getting at?”

Uncle Robert visibly relaxed. “Nothing.”

“I remember Betty didn’t approve of him,” Cara said. “Didn’t he move away a few years ago?”

“Yes, he did,” Mr. Brown said firmly, glaring at his brother, who gazed blandly back at him.

Ellie pulled Crystal away from the table and upstairs to Crystal’s room. “Johnny used to be your babysitter?” she asked breathlessly. “I thought he was your boyfriend!”

“He’s still too old to be my boyfriend,” Crystal replied. “But he’s going to wait for me to catch up to him.”

“Oh, my—so he does like you!”

Crystal smiled. “I like him, too.”

The door burst open and Crystal’s two cousins rushed in. “What are you doing?” asked Bethany. “Can we hang out with you guys? The grown-ups are still talking downstairs and it’s boring.”

“Sure. Are they still talking about Johnny?”

“No. Now they’re talking about the cottage.” Bethany’s eyes lit up. “I remember Johnny too,” she said. “I wish we could see him again.”

“Would you like to?” Crystal had an idea. “Not the real Johnny, but we could take a walk to the cemetery. I’ll show you the grave of Jonathan Price. Johnny’s named after him.” Her eyes twinkled.

Downstairs, Lisa asked her dad, “How soon before we can open up the cottage?”

“Oh, it’s way too early still,” her father replied. “Mid-May is the earliest. We could still have a frost or a freeze before then.”

“Mom, we’re going to take a walk to the cemetery!” Crystal called.

“Okay, but hold your cousins’ hands crossing the road,” Lisa called back. “And watch for cars!”

“What was all that about Johnny?” Lisa’s father demanded after the children had left. “Did he do something wrong?”

“No, nothing like that,” Kenny answered quickly. “I was just telling Uncle Robert about the time I first met Lisa, and I happened to mention this teenage kid who was always hanging around the cottage. He left Lockwood that same summer.”

“Some of our family are a little bit psychic—maybe sensitive would be a better word,” Uncle Robert added. “We get feelings about certain people sometimes. Betty had mentioned she felt odd around that boy, so I thought, since you had also met him, I would ask if you got that feeling too.”

Mr. Summerfield shook his head. “I barely remember the kid,” he said. “I don’t remember feeling weird around him, either.” He grinned. “I guess I’m not one of those psychic family members, then!”

Everybody laughed. Lisa allowed herself a small chuckle too. Whatever Johnny had done to her father back then to make him forget still worked.

“I never felt anything either,” Cara said. “I knew Betty didn’t like him, but I thought that was because he was a teenage boy and she thought a girl babysitter would have been more appropriate.”

Mrs. Brown had grown very quiet as the conversation turned back to Johnny. Now she spoke. “How old was he?” she asked, with a catch in her voice.

“About sixteen, I think,” Kenny replied when Lisa didn’t answer her. He glanced over at Lisa who was staring at his mother, panic-stricken.

“So he would be in his early twenties now?”

“Probably,” Kenny agreed. He had been relieved when his uncle finally explained his reasoning for bringing up Johnny Price to begin with, although he could have done without the reference to their family being psychic. What a way to explain it! He just wished everybody would stop talking about it already. “He’s long gone,” he added.

Mrs. Brown nodded, and gave him a little smile, before settling back and letting the conversation flow around her again. She seemed satisfied with Kenny’s answer.

“We thought a fall wedding would be nice. End of September. We would like to keep it small, just family,” Lisa said.

Cara laughed. “In this town, we’re all family!”

Crystal wove her way through the tombstones until she came to Johnny’s. They solemnly read the inscription. “Ooh, he died when he was young!” Ellie said, reaching down to trace the faded lettering with her finger. “Was Johnny really named after him?”

“Really.” Crystal pulled her friend after her. “Come see this one. It’s his girlfriend, Elizabeth.” They walked across the cemetery until they found the Smythe family graves. “She died young, too.”

Eddie, Crystal’s young cousin, picked up a piece of broken slate. “What’s this?” It had faint lettering on one side. His eyes widened and he threw the piece away from him. “Ew! It’s a gravestone!”

“Yeah, there’s lots of broken gravestones like that. Some are piled up on the stone wall over there. This is a really old cemetery.”

“I like it here.” Bethany wandered down a row, reading inscriptions as she walked. “It’s peaceful.” She paused. “So many of these graves are children. So many from the same family.”

“It’s a little scary. I recognize a lot of these names,” Ellie said. “My Grandma’s last name was Smythe when she was little, you know. I probably have relatives here.”

“We all do,” said Crystal. “That’s the point.”

Bethany walked back to Jonathan Price’s grave and sat down, leaning back against the headstone. “I wonder what happened to him,” she said. “I mean our Johnny, not the dead one.”

Crystal smiled. “I’m sure he’s around somewhere. Did I ever tell you my mom and I first met Johnny right here, in this very cemetery?”

“Ooh, now I’ve got goosebumps!” Ellie shivered.

“Maybe if we call him, he’ll hear us!” Bethany stood up excitedly. “Johnny! Johnny!”

“No, no! What if the dead one hears you instead?” Ellie shushed Bethany, only half-kidding.

“I don’t believe in ghosts!” Eddie started yelling too, getting into the spirit of things. “Johnny! Where are you, Johnny?”

They laughed, and continued the game as they walked around the cemetery. In the distance, the lake was just visible through the trees. By summer, the leaves would be so thick that the lake would remain hidden from up here. Crystal hung back as Ellie led her cousins ahead to the stone wall by the road, looking for broken pieces of gravestones. They had decided to try and match them up with the right graves.

She stopped by Emily Crew’s grave and said a quick prayer like always. A shadow over her made her look up. “Johnny,” she said with a smile. The other three kids still had their heads down, sorting through stones by the far wall. “You came.”

Johnny shrugged. “Didn’t you want me to?”

“Yes!” Crystal gave him a quick hug. “I wish we could do the blood exchange, but. . . .” Her glance took in the three by the stone wall, who still hadn’t noticed Johnny.

“Soon.” Johnny patted her head and let her go. “Not much longer, now. Unless—I could come to you tonight.”

“No, I want you to rest. That’s more important. I can wait a few more weeks.”

Johnny realized that Crystal craved the blood exchange too. It wasn’t just him, and it wasn’t just because that was how it had to be in order to complete the change in her. She craved his blood. His heart soared. It was working! This would work! Crystal would be changed when the time came. The change had already started!

He bit across his wrist. “Here,” he said, holding it out to her. “Drink—quickly.” He wouldn’t take from her today. He didn’t need to. But he could give her his blood to tide her over until her vision of their meeting at the cottage—the one she had drawn in her sketchpad—came true.

Crystal drank delicately until the wound healed over, mere seconds, but her eyes fluttered and when she raised them to meet his, they were dark with satisfaction. She sighed happily. “Go back to sleep,” she told him, and Johnny grinned and saluted her. She glanced away to see if Ellie or her cousins had noticed anything, and when she looked back, Johnny was gone.

She walked slowly over to the kids, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. There was a faint line of red when she lowered her arm, hardly noticeable. “Any luck?” she called.

“This is impossible!” Eddie complained. “If there are any ghosts in this cemetery, I hope they haunt the people who did this!”

Crystal laughed. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said.

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