Lisa juggled one baby on her hip while closing the tab on the other one’s diaper with her free hand. Both babiess were crying loudly.
“Will you hold him, please?” Lisa used her body to wedge the one on the changing table in place and shoved the other squirming kid into Johnny’s arms. She wiped a stray wisp of hair out of her face before picking up the second baby. They were less than a year apart and Johnny had a hard time remembering which one was which.
Johnny gingerly held the kid—Kevin, he was pretty sure, and eyed Lisa suspiciously. “What am I supposed to do with him?”
“Just—I don’t know—sing to him, or rock him up and down. He likes that.” She sounded as harried as she looked.
“Where’s Crystal?” Johnny asked. He had no intention of singing—ever. The scent of new baby drifted up to him, and he looked down at the wiggly child, catching his gaze. Kevin stopped squirming and stared back up at him. Good. That wasn’t too bad.
“She’s still at school,” Lisa said. “There’s a play tonight. I’m supposed to be there, but Kenny got tied up at work and there’s nobody to watch the babies.” She hesitated. “Unless you--?”
Johnny shook his head. “Oh no, I don’t babysit. I eat babies for breakfast.”
“Pleeease?” Lisa gave him her soulful eyes. It wasn’t that long ago that she feared for her life with him. What had changed? Johnny was afraid it was him.
He sighed. “How long will you be gone?”
Lisa’s eyes lit up. “Only a couple of hours. We should be home by eight.” She pushed the younger baby into Johnny’s arms and turned to go upstairs to get ready.
Lisa froze on the stairs. “Well, as long as you’re babysitting, I thought maybe Kenny could meet me there.”
“How ‘bout if I go to the play with you and the hunter watches his own damn kids?”
He knew that aggrieved tone all too well. “Fine. But I’m not changing them.”
Beaming, Lisa skipped up the stairs.
Johnny gazed down at the two little boys, both of whom had gone still for the moment and watched him with wide eyes. They knew what he was on some instinctive level. Lisa knew, too, but she thought he was harmless. Harmless! He grinned, showing teeth, and the babies crowed with delight.
After Lisa was gone, Johnny attempted to put the babies down, but every time he tried, one or the other, and inevitably both, would break out into wails. He sat in Kenny’s chair in the living room and bounced them on his knee. That seemed to quiet them down for a while. It never lasted very long, however. Johnny stared at the clock on the wall as if it was his most hated enemy.
He could tell them apart somewhat. Ian was thicker, chunkier, where Kevin was smaller all around even though he was older. Kevin was the restless one. He usually set the other one to crying. Johnny tried alternately bouncing, rocking, and finally walking up and down the hallways of Lisa’s house until they fell asleep in his arms. He sniffed. One of them had done something, but he wasn’t about to check any further. Lisa could take care of it when she got home. Or her husband.
He eased himself down onto the couch, still cradling the two babies. They looked so innocent now that they were asleep. He inhaled deeply. They had the blood on both their mother’s and their father’s side. Johnny could smell it through their delicate skin. It would be so easy to take a little taste now, when nobody was home. Just to make sure. They were like Crystal, could be like him one day if they chose. He could make them choose.
Gently, he slid first Kevin, then Ian off his arms and lay them down on the couch cushions, covering them with their tiny baby blankets. The Browns trusted him. They shouldn’t, and he didn’t like that it mattered that they did, but it mattered. He shook out his arms, then he pulled over two kitchen chairs and propped them against the couch, making a temporary crib for the boys before going to prowl the kitchen. Of course, there was nothing for him there.
The doorbell rang just as he tiptoed back to the living room, resigned to watching television with the volume turned off. Both babies startled into wakefulness and began to howl. Johnny felt like howling himself. Who the hell had dared to wake up the babies just when he’d gotten them to sleep?
Stalking over to the front door, Johnny yanked it open, scowling darkly at the teenager who stood on the other side.
“Hello, my name is Martin. I’m selling magazines to help pay my way through college,” the young man said with a wide smile. He pulled a glossy list out of his bag and held it out to Johnny. “Would you care to take a look?”
glanced down the dark road and spotted the car with its lights on parked not
far away. There weren’t many houses in
this part of Lockwood. Those kids must
be desperate—or from out of town. He
grabbed the front of the kid’s arm and tugged him into the house, slamming the
door behind him. Might as well make the
best of it. On the couch, the babies
continued to howl. He left Martin
standing uncertainly next to the door while he went to pick up the boys,
shushing them in between glares at the young magazine salesman. “You woke them up.”
Martin was clearly at a loss. “Uh—I’m sorry?”
Johnny snorted. “You will be.”
Johnny handed one baby to Martin, keeping the other on his hip as he’d seen Lisa do earlier. This was more comfortable, he realized, than holding them with just his arms. Martin looked flabbergasted. That wouldn’t do.
Snake-quick, Johnny grabbed Martin around the neck, careful as he exerted just enough pressure to make Martin’s knees give way. He guided Martin into Kenny’s chair, and rearranged Ian on his lap. The babies seemed to like the sudden motion and stopped crying long enough for Johnny to lean down and take a long drink from Martin’s lolling neck. He didn’t take too much, but—well, he deserved it, and more importantly, Martin deserved it.
Johnny took back Ian and resumed walking up and down the hallway until both babies fell asleep again. He put them back in their makeshift crib and then roughly nudged Martin, who snored softly in Kenny’s oversized easy chair. “Get up. Time to go.”
Martin yawned and scratched his neck, which had a raised red mark like an insect’s bite on it. Johnny’s bite did not leave a puncture wound unless he willed it. Another time, maybe, but not with the babies here. He shoved Martin’s papers at him and shuffled him out the door.
Not long after, Lisa and Kenny came home. Johnny glanced up from Kenny’s chair and smiled. “Quiet. I just got them to sleep.”
The hunter, typically, frowned at Johnny. It could have been about the babies, but it was probably because Johnny was sitting in his favorite chair. Lisa gave him a quick hug. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Where’s Crystal?” She hadn’t come in with her parents.
Lisa flushed. “Oh, I told her she could sleep over Ellie’s house tonight. Didn’t I tell you that?”
No, she hadn’t. Deliberately. No matter. Johnny knew where Ellie lived.
Kenny was leaning over the couch, checking on his sons. Looking for bite marks, no doubt. As if Johnny would be that obvious if he had chosen to taste them. Which he hadn’t.
“I’m leaving then,” Johnny said, pausing by the front door. “Oh, by the way, I ordered you some magazines.” He gestured towards the slips of paper on the table by the front door, and slipped out before Lisa could ask him any questions.
The car containing the “college students” soliciting magazines had traveled past the little library and was on the main road towards Lockwood center by the time Johnny caught up with it. Johnny grinned at Martin’s startled gasp as he opened the back door. “Mind if I come in?” he asked. Turn about was fair play.