Crystal, Chapter 1:

I always knew I was a vampire.

It took my parents and my vampire boyfriend a little longer to realize it. Yes, I have a vampire boyfriend. He doesn't like to use that term, boyfriend, not vampire, but that's what he is. Or he will be, if I have anything to say about it. He still thinks of me as a kid, but we're practically the same age now, at least in looks. Now that I've caught up to him, he wants me to wait so we can get a little older together, but I say, enough is enough. I've waited long enough as it is.

I first met Johnny when I was six years old, and I knew right away what he was. I think I surprised him, that day in the cemetery. He had just attacked my mother and was sucking her dry while I watched. Something in my expression made him pause. I wasn't horrified. I wasn't scared. I knew him. Deep down in my soul, I knew him, and I couldn't tell you why that was so.

"Hi," I said as he crouched over my mother and stared at me with black, black eyes. "My name is Crystal. What's yours?"

Slowly, Johnny put down my mother's limp body and straightened up. He licked his lips. "Johnny," he said hoarsely. He looked like he was ready to bolt out of the cemetery. I guess most of his victims didn't strike up conversations with him. He clearly didn't know what to make of a little girl who wasn't afraid of him.

"You're a vampire," I observed, and he nodded.

"I am."

"Will you be my friend?" I asked. Nothing about my mother, or 'please, please don't hurt me.' I think that's what swayed him. He dragged my mom behind a gravestone and I helped him arrange her so she wasn't all crumpled up. She was breathing fast, and her eyes were closed. I peered at her neck and saw only a bright red rash.

"All right," Johnny agreed.

We sat quietly side by side and waited until my mother woke up.

Of course, my mother didn't believe Johnny was a vampire. She learned, over time. I think she even came to love him in some ways, but I knew from the moment I met him that Johnny was mine.

Speak of the devil . . . .

"Johnny," I said, as he drove up to the back entrance of the high school to pick me up after choir practice. "What took you so long?"

He grinned at me and slid over to the passenger seat. On paper, this was my mother's car, but we all knew it was really his. I hopped into the driver's seat with a little grin of my own. Johnny let me practice driving whenever he picked me up. It was still a few months before I could go for my test—stupid DMV changed the rules that said I couldn't get my license as soon as I turned sixteen. But at least I got to drive.

The afternoon sun was a red ball on the horizon. Oh, that's why Johnny was late. The days were getting longer and, no matter how he tried to tough it out, the sun hurt Johnny. "Do you need blood?" I asked quietly, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. His hands and face were red.

"Keep your eyes on the road," he cautioned me. "You're not getting blood tonight."

"Not for me!" I protested, mock-insulted. I didn't need blood, like Johnny did, but I liked the taste of it. Sometimes, not often, he let me go with him on his little dinner jaunts, and I got to taste a little fresh blood. Human blood, but never family blood. He was very strict about that. "For you!" I insisted. "You have a sunburn."

Johnny wasn't buying my excuse. He shot me a long, calculating look before the corners of his mouth turned up in an irresistible grin. I loved Johnny's grin. "Pull over," he said, and I obligingly turned the car into an empty parking lot. "We could do the blood exchange right now," he suggested, a hint of amusement in his voice.

"Can I keep driving afterward?" I asked, trying to bargain. Johnny and I had been doing the blood exchange for four years now. It was the way to make me a true vampire like he was, eventually. Johnny had figured out that we absolutely had to exchange blood at the spring and fall equinoxes, but it wouldn't hurt if we did it at other times, too. We never took a lot, hardly more than a taste, except at the equinoxes when we drank more. But Johnny couldn't get enough of it, and to tell the truth, neither could I. Johnny's blood was family, that forbidden, exquisite strain, and more than that, Johnny's blood was truly vampire blood. Both my biological parents carried the potential for vampirism in their blood, which is why I can honestly say I am a vampire. The combination of their bloodlines made me one. But Johnny's father was never human.

"We'll see," Johnny answered. He leaned over and buried his face in my neck. If anyone drove by, they would have seen two teenagers smooching. Now I get where the expression 'necking' comes from. If only Johnny would kiss me for real, like a boyfriend is supposed to do. Not that I minded the blood exchange, not at all. But I've waited practically my whole lifetime for Johnny to kiss me, and he still thinks I'm too young.

He looked better immediately, his face taking on a warm, golden tone as the sunburn faded. He offered me his wrist and I took it, mainly because I had no way to pierce his throat as he had mine. I've asked him if I'm going to get sharp teeth like his when I finally become a full-time vampire, but Johnny just smiles and doesn't answer. I hope I get sharp teeth.

The rash on my neck disappeared almost as quickly as the cut he had made on his own wrist for me, a mark of my burgeoning powers, he says.

"Johnny," I said huskily, wrapping my arms around his neck when we were through. I pressed my lips to his, wanting him to respond. I love him to distraction, and I know he loves me, but . . . .

"We should get going," he said, giving me a perfunctory kiss and then slowly disengaging himself from my arms. I sighed.

"Fine," I said. "But I get to drive all the way home."

I parked Johnny's car behind the shed in his usual spot and stomped into the kitchen without waiting for him. It didn't seem to bother Johnny that I was mad at him. He sauntered in right behind me and swept up my little brother Ian, who squealed and yelled, "Donnie!"

"Oh good, you're home," my mother said. "Will you keep an eye on him while I finish supper?"

"Mom!" It wasn't that I didn't like babysitting. I didn't really mind it. But I had wanted to hang out with Johnny for a little while—alone.

"Sure. Come on, kiddo." Johnny carried Ian out to the living room and out from under Mom's feet. Kevin was already sitting cross-legged in front of the TV, but when he saw Johnny, he jumped up and launched himself across the room. Johnny, still carrying Ian on one arm, easily fielded Kevin's leap and lifted him up in his other arm.

You'd have thought they were his brothers instead of mine. They shared his wavy brown hair and brown eyes, rather than my blonde hair and blue eyes. I take after my mother but my brothers definitely look like my step-father, Kenny. It goes to show you that the family blood runs true. Johnny was Kenny's ancestor, not mine.

They shared more than just Johnny's looks. Both my little brothers shared the potential for becoming vampires, like me. It's something we all avoid mentioning in front of my mother. She still thinks I might choose to give it all up and be a normal girl. Much as she loves Johnny, she believes he will let me choose to walk away from what I know I am. He probably would, too. I'm not walking away from anything.

My parents took a chance having Kevin and Ian, knowing they would have the potential, knowing Johnny would be an influence in their lives. They did it anyway, but I know my mother hopes they won't choose Johnny's life.

I felt a pang of unease as I watched the three boys wrestle around on our living room floor. Johnny, fierce predator that he was, let my brothers climb all over him. He was smiling broadly, not hiding his sharp teeth here in this house, where everybody knew him.

Sometimes I see things. When I was younger, I used to draw, but I don't need to, anymore. As I grew older, I learned to express my sudden insights in words rather than drawing them out. This time I didn't want to say what I saw out loud. I didn't want to be right.

"Okay, boys, let's get washed up for supper," I said, clapping my hands. "Daddy will be home in a little while."

"Daddy!" Both my brothers scrambled up and ran to the downstairs bathroom to wash their hands.

I caught Johnny's eyes and smiled ruefully. He had been superseded. He shrugged, not minding a bit. "I have to go anyway," he said.

He did look a bit peaked, even after sharing my blood. "You need more blood," I agreed. "And sleep." I said it firmly. "Since the equinox you haven't been going under the water enough. It's all right, you know. I'm not going to age overnight. You don't have to stay awake to keep me company. Unless. . ." This was the clincher which would make him listen to me. ". . . you take me under the water with you."

"No." Johnny frowned. "It's too soon. I'll hunt, then rest, and see you in a few days then." He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and left.

I smiled to myself. It worked every time. Johnny wanted me to come to his life but he was deathly afraid something would go wrong and I wouldn't survive the transition. He had lost his memory over three hundred years ago in a vicious attack, and only recently was beginning to recall bits and pieces of his former life. Now that I had caught up to him in chronological age, he kept putting the final moment off, which was fine with my parents, fine with everybody but me.

This time, however, I wanted Johnny to leave. Something bad was coming, and I didn't want him anywhere near the danger that I sensed.

We were eating dinner when a frantic knocking on our front door interrupted us. Already? My 'visions' were never very clear to begin with. I had thought we'd have a little more time. "I'll get it," I said quickly. Maybe I could head the problem off at the door.

"Uncle Robert!" I said in surprise, taking in his flushed, anxious appearance. Uncle Robert was family, Kenny's uncle on his father's side, and knew enough to use the kitchen door. Why was he knocking on our front door?

He spoke fast, and kept his voice low. "Is Johnny here?"

I shook my head.

"Good," he said, relief evident on his features. "If you see him, ask him to keep away for—" He cut himself off as two figures walked up the steps behind him. Louder, he continued, "Are your parents home, Crystal? I'd like them to meet my sons—they've come all the way from Scotland to visit me."

My heart thudded as Uncle Robert's two estranged sons, both grown men in their twenties, nodded to me. This was the danger I had sensed. Why?

"Crystal, is it?" One of the sons held out his hand to me, as if I were truly a grown-up. I took it. He was handsome, in sort of the same was as Kenny was, as Johnny was, and I guess Uncle Robert must have looked when he was younger. You could definitely tell they were related. My hand tingled when I touched his. Oh, he had the blood, all right. "I'm Paul. Paul Brown. Pleased to meet you."

I stammered something and invited them inside. The other brother, Michael, looked me up and down and dismissed me. Fine, I thought Paul was the handsomer one anyway. Michael nodded politely through all the introductions while Kenny and Uncle Robert shot glances at one another. Finally Michael said, "These are your two sons? Yours and hers?" He nodded towards my mother.

"Yes," Kenny said defensively. He knew the rules as well as any hunter. Children from bloodlines such as theirs were forbidden. "And Crystal is my step-daughter. Lisa's daughter."

Michael smiled, and didn't say anything else. My mother set out things for tea.

"They're staying with me for the next few months," Uncle Robert said. "Thought it was time to get to know the American branch of the family."

"May I be excused?" I asked. I felt physically ill. Everybody who knew about my drawings, including Johnny, thought I knew more about stuff than I actually did. Things come to me suddenly, and then I know them. It's like seeing a snapshot in time. All I see is that moment, nothing before or after it.

I left them there, at the kitchen table, having tea and cookies and talking as if nothing were out of the ordinary. I slipped out of my bedroom window and shimmied down the spout on the side of the house. I had no clear idea where I was going, but I wanted to get away from the house and those people. Before I realized it, I was at the cemetery. It was full dark now, and chilly in the early April night. I pulled my sweater tighter around me and headed towards the back of the cemetery, intending to climb over the low stone fence and cut through to the dirt road below. The lake sparkled just beyond the dirt road. I could see glimpses of it through the trees.

I started running.

"Hey, hey, where are you going?" Strong arms gripped mine and I was held effortlessly in place. I started to cry at the sound of his voice, mostly from relief that I had found him. I hadn't even realized until that moment that I had been looking for Johnny. He pulled me close and held me until I was done crying. "What are you doing out here by yourself?" he asked, stroking my hair.

I hiccoughed, and looked up at him. "You need to stay away for a while," I told him. "It's dangerous for you. Uncle Robert's sons have come from Scotland to visit him. They're at my house right now."

Johnny's eyes darkened. "Why are they here? I told Robert not to tell them anything about me."

"That's why you have to stay away," I said. "Uncle Robert didn't invite them. They just came. I don't think they know about you. They don't know about me, either." I remembered Michael Brown's dismissive glance. As far as he knew, I only had my mother's blood. "Uncle Robert told me to warn you. Don't let them see you."

"Oh, they won't see me," Johnny promised darkly, then he relented. "I'll stay away for now," he said, tilting my chin up. He bent down and kissed me softly on the lips. I thought I would melt. His lips were soft and burning hot and I felt my heart flutter. I didn't want it to end.

"Let's get you home," Johnny said. He scooped me up as if I were no bigger than Ian and ran with me back to my window, and put me to bed. What part of 'stay away' didn't he get? He caught me looking at him in disbelief and grinned. "I told you they won't see me," he said. "But I'll be watching them. Don't worry."

He left me there and slipped back out the window, and I tried to go to sleep. Of course I was worried. About Johnny, about us, our future, and especially about my two little brothers. In my vision, I had seen both of them kidnapped by the two Brown sons from Scotland.