Johnny stood at the foot of Lisa’s bed and gazed impassively at the two figures lying there. Lisa was curled into the hunter’s side, her head tucked under his arm. Yellow hair spilled all over the blankets, which were pulled up to Lisa’s chin. Johnny allowed himself a small smile. She had on her flannel nightie, the one with the pictures of butterflies all over it. It came up to her neck. He bet the hunter hadn’t liked that.
He studied the hunter, Kenny, and briefly thought about tasting him again, just because he could. Lisa might wake up, but she wouldn’t do anything. He decided against it, mainly because the timing wasn’t right. He wanted them both to know what was happening to them, and why. When Crystal was older, maybe then he would indulge himself.
Kenny slept over at Lisa’s a few times a week and almost every weekend. She had refused to marry him and move into the house that had once belonged to his grandmother. Instead, Lisa had used the gems Johnny had left her to buy Aunt Beth’s house. Johnny knew why she wouldn’t marry Kenny. He wouldn’t give her children. According to family lore, they would never be allowed to have children together. Kenny was a hunter. His family, especially, knew the old legends. He had shared what he knew with Lisa. So they were at this impasse. They loved each other, but it would never go any farther than this.
Lisa had no idea that, because of it, she had signed her own death sentence. If she wouldn’t have children with the hunter, then Johnny had no need for her, once Crystal was grown. Johnny grimaced. No, that wasn’t true. He was going to regret killing her, when the time came.
As silently as he had entered, Johnny left the bedroom. He needed to go back under the water, but he wanted to see Crystal one last time. In the Spring, when he woke up, she would be older while he would remain exactly the same. They would all be older, except for him. Crystal had to survive. She had to. Otherwise, he would be alone again. Right now, the greatest threat to Crystal was himself. He shouldn’t go near her.
“Johnny.” Crystal stood in the hallway. How had she managed to escape his notice?
“What are you doing out of bed?” Johnny scolded, remaining still and unmoving several feet away from Crystal. He didn’t trust himself to get any closer. “You’ve got school tomorrow.”
“Are you mad at me, Johnny?” she asked, coming closer. Johnny stood frozen as she approached. “Are you mad that I tasted your blood?”
She stood in front of him now, earnest face upturned, the beginnings of unshed tears on her lashes. She had no fear of him at all, she never had. Her tears were for him. The shock of her sudden appearance and then her words had blinded Johnny to the truth that his senses just now were screaming out at him. He smelled blood. His eyes widened.
“Here.” Crystal held out her hand, palm up and cupped to hold the blood that pooled there, sweet and warm. She held it out as an offering to him. Her blood in exchange for the single drop of his blood that she had taken.
Johnny rocked as a memory hit him. He was a child, smaller than Crystal, hardly more than a baby, and his mother held him steady between her knees, helping him hold out his cupped palm exactly as Crystal was doing now, while a tall man bent down and drank the blood he offered. The man might have been his father, he wasn’t sure, but he was sure that the man was a vampire.
Johnny fell to his knees and carefully grasped Crystal’s hand. He must not let her offering go to waste. Never taking his eyes off her face, he flicked his tongue and tasted. This was more blood than the tiny taste he had taken when she was little. It burst within him like a flower, like something he had been missing all his life. It wasn’t just blood, it was life. His life. His future.
He was careful not to let his teeth graze the flat cut she had made across her palm. When he had lapped up all the blood, the cut was no more than a pale line, already healing. By morning, it would be gone. “Silly girl,” he murmured, scooping her up and carrying her back to her bedroom. “I’m not mad.”
He tucked her in, but she struggled against him. “Finish it,” she insisted. “You’ve got to finish it.” She reached past him and opened the drawer on her nightstand where she kept her sketchbook. Quickly, she flipped through the pages until she found the drawing she wanted. She had gotten better over the past few years. Her drawing showed a small child drinking something from the palm of a tall, dark-haired man. She didn’t use colors, but it was obvious that the child was drinking blood. Or maybe it was obvious to him because he remembered it.
He pulled Crystal to him in a hug. If she had not drawn that picture, taken from some place deep inside her soul, it might have been too late. There had never been any hope of him changing Elizabeth, or even Amelia. By the time he tried, they were already too old. He remembered now. It was a slow process, and it took years, even for someone like him, who was born to it, and certainly for someone like Crystal, who only had the potential.
“All right, let’s finish it,” Johnny agreed, leaning Crystal back against her pillow. “And then you need to go back to sleep.” He pierced his own palm with a quick swipe across one sharp tooth and watched the blood well up in the center. Because he had stayed away from the lake waters for so long this past summer and fall, his skin didn’t immediately heal over. This, too, was part of the process, he suddenly remembered. “Drink,” he said, holding his hand out to Crystal.
She drank, and this time he maintained control, since he had taken her blood first. It blunted the edge of his hunger. When Crystal had emptied his palm, the cut he had made already closed, she smiled in satisfaction, then yawned. “Johnny,” she said sleepily. “You won’t go away yet, will you? I don’t want you to go away.”
Johnny smiled wryly. He couldn’t leave now. This was part of it, the exchange of blood, and the weakening of his vampiric abilities so that she could become strong enough to survive the transition. “I’ll be here when you wake up,” he told her softly, pressing a chaste kiss on her forehead.
He practically ran out of the house when Crystal fell asleep. His control was never boundless, and exchanging blood with her had wakened his hunger. If he stayed in that house, he would have gone after the hunter, maybe both of them. It was going to be a long, long winter.
Tonight, he needed the dark and the wind and the cold to wrap around him. He sought out animals at first, and when he had slaked his thirst, he found a house, far enough away from Lisa’s so that she wouldn’t recognize the people living there, but close enough for him to easily get back before dawn. Then he went shopping. The hunter’s clothes were already covered in blood and he needed new ones, ones that were more his style. He ignored the boys sleeping in twin beds and went right to their dressers. One of the boys was heavier than he was, but he found some things that would fit. The other boy was younger, thinner, but still rather tall. His jeans fit Johnny perfectly.
When he was done, he shoved his new clothes into a plastic bag he had found on the floor, and capped off his night with a drink from the bigger one. On his way out, he snagged a gray hooded jacket that was hanging on the doorknob and, with one eye on the horizon, he sprinted back to Lisa’s place.
It was almost dawn when he dropped his bundles in the small attic space he had appropriated for himself. At one time, the attic had been used as a bedroom, although now it was full of Aunt Beth’s old furniture and memorabilia. There was hardly any room to walk in the attic itself, but along either side of the stairs, some prior owner had built a cedar closet that spanned the width of the attic. The closets were as filled with junk as the rest of the attic, including old clothes which had surely belonged to Aunt Beth. Lisa had never gotten around to cleaning them out, neither the cedar closets nor the attic itself.
It was an optical illusion the way the closets seemed to be split by the staircase leading up to the attic. In reality, there was a small crawl space at the very back of the closets which connected them over the stairway itself, and it was there that Johnny had made his daytime retreat, unbeknownst to Lisa. She thought he went away to spend his daytime hours underneath the lake waters, and sometimes he did. But often, lately, he had chosen to sleep here instead.
He stripped off the hunter’s stained clothing and donned the new ones he had acquired. Lisa could have these dirty ones back since she seemed to want them so badly. They smelled like the hunter, anyway. He lay back on a pile of quilts and switched on the small flashlight he kept in his space for when he wanted to read. When Lisa had come back to Lockwood for good, he had taken back his copy of the Smythe family list, as well as the old photograph of the Crews which he had stolen from Betty’s house. It belonged here, in this house where it had originally resided, and with him.
He studied the photo in the dim beam of the flashlight. Little Emily Crew had been six, the same age as Crystal was when he had first met her. He sighed. Even if Emily hadn’t died all those years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to change her because he had fully intended to wait until she was fourteen or fifteen to begin the process. She would have died then, just like Elizabeth.
Frustrated, Johnny placed the photograph back on the wooden box he used as a table. If Crystal had not offered him her blood tonight, if she had not drawn that picture from his past, he would never have remembered, and it would have been too late again. It might still be too late.
He closed his eyes, willing the past to come forward. There was still so much he could not remember. He remembered the man, the vampire, who might or might not have been his father, as a vague figure who fed him blood and eventually took him away from his mother. He remembered his mother clearly, how she offered his blood to the man, how she had sent him away and turned her back while the man led him down to the black lake. It wasn’t enough! He needed to remember it all. For Crystal’s sake, for his own, he needed to remember.
Resolute, he sat up and trained the flashlight on the list of names. The names had triggered the first stirrings of his memories. He would try it again. And, if that didn’t work, there was always the hunter. Once guardians of his kind, the hunters had become their keepers and eventually their persecutors. But they knew things that Johnny had forgotten. He smiled grimly. Lucky for him, he had a hunter right here in the house. Soon, it might be time to reacquaint himself with Kenny, his dear cousin, and convince him that it would be in his best interests not to try to kill him. Because Johnny wasn’t going anywhere, not for a long time.
The list and Kenny would both have to wait, however. Johnny sprang lightly to his feet, grabbed his bundle of dirty clothes, and made his way downstairs. He had promised Crystal he would see her in the morning when she woke up. On the way, he threw his load of wash into the laundry basket.