Black Water

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Chapter 22

The last thing Johnny wanted to do was talk to Kenny. He followed the hunter around the corner of the cottage, casting a final glance at Lisa and Crystal, who stared at the two of them in surprise. Johnny wanted, no—needed to taste Crystal’s blood, and he wouldn’t have said no to Lisa’s either, if she had offered.

“You’re looking a little red there,” Kenny commented.

Johnny scowled, and stepped back into the shadow of the building. “What do you expect?” he snapped. “It’s still daylight. What did you want to talk to me about?”

Kenny un-did the cuff of his sleeve. “Do you need more blood?”

“No,” gritted Johnny, turning his head away. He wanted more blood. “You offered. I accepted. That’s enough.”

“That wasn’t how it was before,” Kenny said, grinning slightly. He was enjoying the look of discomfort on Johnny’s face.

“Things have changed,” Johnny replied shortly. Now that he knew the truth, now that Kenny had re-established the ancient pact, he was obligated to protect him as family. He didn’t have to like it.

Kenny’s grin widened. “So it’s true. We’re safe from you now.” He leaned against the back wall of the cottage alongside Johnny. “I just wanted to be sure. I met my uncle while you were away.” He glanced at Johnny out of the corner of his eye, but the vampire didn’t react. “He knows a lot about vampires, a lot about your history in particular. He’s been coming here every weekend, living at my grandmother’s house. If you’re going to be hanging around now, you’ll need to be careful. He’s sharp. He’s been asking too many questions about your death.”

“What does he know?” Johnny asked, focused now. This was what he had wanted, another link to his past.

“It’s hard to get information out of him without giving myself away,” Kenny replied, not noticing how Johnny glanced sharply at him. “He knows the blood ritual we just did, and he’s been to Scotland. He says there are traces of our family blood there, but nothing anybody consciously remembers. No vampires.” Kenny shook his head. “I’m not sure I believe him.”

“Keep him close. We need to find out everything he knows,” Johnny said, adopting the same ‘we’ that Kenny had used earlier. “I can take care of myself.” He pushed away from the wall and winced as the last rays of sun hit him in the face. “Tell Crystal and Lisa I will see them later.”

“Where are you going?”

Johnny paused, and sighed. “You know. Don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the answer.”

“You won’t go after my uncle, will you?” Kenny asked, concerned now that the vampire would attack Uncle Robert for the information he thought he might have, or just to silence him once and for all once he had what he wanted.

“He’s family.” Johnny didn’t go back around the front of the cottage, but cut through the woods by the back fireplace. Kenny should have been able to see him for some time through the still budding trees, but he disappeared from view the moment he crossed the line between grass and trees.

Kenny gathered up the lawn mower and gas can he had been using in the back, and brought them around to the front. “Come on, girls, lock up. It’s time to go home.”

“Where’s Johnny?” Lisa asked, but Crystal went inside and began closing the windows they had opened earlier to air out the place. It was still cold inside the cottage.

“He said he’ll see you at home,” Kenny replied. “Who wants pizza?”

By the time they had finished their pizza in the little place the next town over and driven back to Lisa’s house, Johnny was already there, watching television just like he had never been gone for several months. Kenny sank down on the couch, since Johnny had once again appropriated his easy chair. “You know,” he said conversationally, “I live here now. Lisa and I are getting married in September.”

“What’s your point?” Johnny asked. “I have a key.” He held it up.

“No point,” Kenny admitted, realizing that the chair issue might just be a lost cause. “Except I’m the adult and you’re the kid.”

“Is that so?” Johnny said in amusement. Any trace of his earlier sunburn was gone, and he had new clothes on, too. Stolen, no doubt, from his prey.

“That’s so,” Kenny affirmed.

“Then, sir,” Johnny’s eyes darkened but there was a wicked gleam to them, “do I have your permission to accept the blood offering from the girls?”

Lisa and Crystal had just come into the room, and while Lisa paled, she did not hesitate coming forward to stand awkwardly in front of Johnny’s chair. “I forgot what to say,” she apologized, holding out her hand.

Johnny grinned, grasping her palm lightly. “You don’t have to say anything,” he told her. “You offered.” He looked over at Kenny on the couch. “All right with you, sir?

For Kenny, it was all about protection. By accepting Lisa’s offer of a drop of blood from her palm, the vampire basically promised not to drink any more blood than what was freely offered, which meant that Lisa would be safe. But he knew Lisa didn’t see it that way. She offered the vampire her blood because she wanted to, and if he would accept it, Kenny was afraid she would offer him a whole lot more than just a taste. Kenny nodded.

Johnny bit down, and the blood welled up. Kenny knew the cut would heal over almost immediately. He looked down at his own palm, which showed no mark at all. Afterward, Lisa sat next to him on the couch, and he put his arm around her. She snuggled in to him.

Johnny stood up and took Crystal’s hand. He led her over to the couch and stood in front of her mother and Kenny. “I’m not going to ask your permission,” he said. “But I’m not going to hide what we are doing. Crystal is mine. Not now, but one day. You say we are of one blood. We are family. Well, this is a part of who we are.”

No more knives. No need. He had control. He slashed his own palm and held it out for Crystal to drink, then he slashed her palm and drank at the same time. It wasn’t necessary for the change, he knew that now, but it was glorious. Crystal’s eyes, as she drank, reflected the same glory. The grown-ups—a part of him smiled at that—on the couch watched in awe and weren’t nearly as upset as Johnny had thought they would be. Lisa’s living room was a far cry from the shores of a long-forgotten lake, but it would do.

“Do you plan on sleeping here?” Kenny asked. Part of him would rather have Johnny here under his control than loose in the town somewhere. “Now that you’re back?”

Johnny shook his head, smiling. “No.” Maybe, sometimes. But he was not going to tell Kenny or even Lisa that. He hadn’t wanted Crystal to know he sometimes rested here in the hidden room above the attic stairs, but she had discovered that on her own. He trusted Crystal with his life. “I have my own resting place.”

Kenny clenched his jaw. Why wouldn’t the vampire tell him where he slept? “You protect us, we protect you,” he said simply. “Right?”

“I’m still not telling you where I sleep.”

“Why not?”

“Why did you offer me your blood?” Johnny countered. “Because you trust me?”

Kenny reddened. The vampire was right. He didn’t trust him completely. He wasn’t sure what it was that he felt. He no longer hated the vampire. “Forget it,” he said.

“Well, if you’re going to be around the house this summer,” Lisa said, “I’m going to put you to work. We have lots of things that need to be fixed up before September. Family members support each other, right? You can start by helping Kenny fix the shingles on the shed.”

“You think that by doing things together we’ll start to like each other?” Kenny asked, jerking his thumb at Johnny. “What use is he going to be in full daylight? Do you want us to work on the roof at night?”

“Daylight is not an obstacle for me,” Johnny pointed out.

“No, you just crisp up like a piece of bacon,” Kenny retorted. “Then you’ll have to drink some blood to heal up. Whose blood are you going to drink if you can’t drink ours? Tell me that!”

“You knew what I was when you offered your blood to me,” Johnny said, his eyes growing dark. “You know how I live.”

“Yeah, but I don’t like it!”

“Exactly.” Without another word, Johnny turned around and walked out.

“Well, that didn’t go the way I thought it would,” Lisa said.

Crystal put her hands on Kenny’s arm. “Johnny hasn’t killed anybody in a long time,” she said. “He takes their blood, but he doesn’t hurt them.”

Kenny looked down on Crystal as she stood so calmly before him. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen any evidence of vampire activity, even before he had supposedly ‘killed’ Johnny. “But he used to kill people.”

“Yes, he did.” Crystal made no attempt to sweeten it.

Lisa shifted uncomfortably. She remembered the last time she knew for certain that Johnny had killed someone. It had been Cara’s cousin, one of their ‘historical society’ members, who had been on the team with Kenny when they ‘killed’ the vampire. Bill Lovall had been unnecessarily cruel in stabbing Johnny and then leaving him to burn, so when Johnny recovered, he returned the favor. Everyone thought Bill Lovall had died in a horrific auto accident. But Lisa knew the truth. Johnny had told her. That’s why she knew Johnny would kill again without hesitation if it ever came to it. Kenny wasn’t all wrong in not trusting Johnny.

Johnny came back the next night, and the next, and by common agreement, nothing more was said about where Johnny slept during the day, or about him and Kenny trusting each other. However, Lisa was adamant about getting the house ready for the wedding in the fall.

When Lisa’s father drove up to officially open up the cottage the following weekend, Johnny stayed away. Although it had been years since Johnny had been in close proximity to Lisa’s father, he didn’t want Mr. Summerfield to sense any oddness in his presence. Neither Lisa herself nor her brother had the sensitivity that both her father and Crystal inherited through their blood. Crystal’s cousins had it, and so did all the hunters. Over the years, Johnny had learned by trial and error which of the family to avoid, or if he couldn’t avoid them, to kill.

Kenny replaced the curling shingles on the shed himself, sweating in the late spring heat. He wiped his brow and took a swig of iced tea from the thermos Lisa had prepared for him. In the distance, great thunderclouds darkened the sky, so he knew he had to hurry and finish before it started raining.

A shadow fell across his back. He glanced up, to see Johnny standing above him, a new pack of shingles held effortlessly in his arms. The vampire had on a floppy fishing hat and a long-sleeved shirt despite the heat. Maybe vampires didn’t feel heat, only sunlight. “Let’s get this done,” Johnny said, kneeling down. He handed the shingles to Kenny, who nailed them down in a row. They worked in silence until the first big drops of rain started falling.

“Thanks,” Kenny said, as they finished the last piece.

Johnny nodded, and busied himself by gathering up the leftover materials as the rain began to pelt down in earnest. Neither one of them looked up as a car stopped a few feet away.

“Need any help?” A voice called up. Uncle Robert peered up, one hand shading his eyes to protect them from the rain.

“No, we’re just about finished,” Kenny called back. He glanced uneasily at Johnny, trying to warn him with his eyes. Quickly, he scrambled down the ladder, intending to lead Uncle Robert away from the shed so that Johnny could leave without getting too close to his uncle. Of all the times for Uncle Robert to show up.

Johnny dropped the rest of the shingles off the edge of the roof and followed them down the ladder. The rain flattened the edges of his hat around his head and plastered his shirt to his body. He warily kept an eye on the stranger. Kenny had been trying to tell him something, that much was obvious. Could this be the mysterious uncle?

Uncle Robert pulled away from Kenny and strode forward to introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Robert Brown,” he said, holding out his hand to Johnny. Kenny held his breath as Johnny shook hands with his uncle. Don’t say it, he prayed.

Johnny smiled with closed lips, but it was already too late. Uncle Robert stiffened, his outstretched arm falling still. Abruptly, he fell to his knees in the muddy driveway, a look of pure worship on his face, and he held out his two hands, palms cupped. “Blood of my blood,” he whispered reverently, along with another phrase in the ancient language that Kenny didn’t recognize.

Johnny’s eyes widened, and slowly he knelt down so that he faced Uncle Robert. Without taking his eyes off the man, he opened his mouth and slashed down once across his offered palm, causing blood to drip over the sides into the other palm. He drank, still watching the man’s expression. When he finished, he stood up and stepped back, and said something back to the man in the same ancient language. It was a ritual response that he only just remembered. Mine, it meant.

“I’m going to see what Crystal’s doing,” Johnny said. He felt awkward around this man who knew too much of the old ways. Unlike Kenny, this hunter revered him as something like a deity. He wasn’t sure he could handle that.

He ran through the rain to the back door and slammed it behind him, leaving Kenny and his uncle staring after him in astonishment. This put a different perspective on things. Johnny allowed himself a small laugh. He had let another one of the family make the blood offering to him. If he kept this up, he was going to end up protecting the whole damn town!

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