Crystal, Chapter 32:

I felt better once it was full dark, another sign that Grandfather's temporary fix was fading. Ellie brought me to her bedroom so we could talk away from the prying eyes of her siblings. We hugged, and I backed off quickly as a surge of hunger rippled through me. Just a reaction, I told myself. There was no way I could actually be hungry this soon after having fed from not only Johnny, but Paul and Kenny as well.

"So?" Ellie sat cross-legged on her bed, regarding me with shining eyes. "How was Scotland?"

"Beautiful," I answered honestly. I sat a careful distance away from her, on the chair she kept by her dresser. Her family blood had what I needed, traces of whatever Grandfather was, to counteract the pull of the water, which is what I really needed.

"That's not what I meant," Ellie reprimanded me. "What about Johnny? And Paul? And you?"

"We brought Paul back with us," I told her, bringing a smile to Ellie's lips. I knew she had a crush on him! "We met Paul's vampire. Johnny's brother. Some others."

Her eyes got wider and wider as I spoke. We had talked a little bit about Johnny possibly not being the only one, and she had known one of the reasons we had gone to Scotland was to trace Johnny's origins. How could we not? Ellie was my best friend.

"And you? Are you going to--?"

Ellie knew about that, too. I nodded. "Tomorrow, at the Equinox," I told her.

Her face drained of color. "So soon?" she asked.

Barely in time. She had no idea how close to the edge I was. If I didn't go through with this, I would die anyway, and so would a lot of other people. "It will be all right," I said. "In Scotland, we found out exactly what we need to do. There's no danger." I gave her my best smile. "I'll be back, better than new, the day after tomorrow. You'll never even know anything has changed. I'll be just like Johnny." It was the same spiel I'd been telling my Mom, telling myself, too.

Ellie looked doubtful, but she didn't argue. "You'd better," she said. Then, leaning forward, she noted my pale face. "Do you need a little blood?"

I backed up quickly, bumping into the dresser. "No," I said. Yes. I smiled tightly, careful not to reveal my fangs. I didn't want her to see how much I had already changed. "I'm fine." I made myself go over to the bed and sit next to her. "I'd better go. Johnny's waiting for me." With a quick squeeze of her hand, I stood up. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to taste her blood. She had offered.

Ellie looked at me in surprise. "I thought you said he went fishing."

"He did. But we're supposed to meet up at the beach," I lied. "I have to go." I edged towards the door. "I'll call you in a few days. After . . ."

Ellie nodded mutely and watched me leave. I passed her brother on the stairs. He never knew how close he came to death. With a smothered scream, I ran out of the house and down the street. I kept running until there were no more houses, and I was alone on the dark road that led from town to my house and the lake. Occasionally, a car would go by, headlights temporarily blinding me, and I half-hoped one of them would stop. If someone stopped, they would die. It was that simple.

What was I going to do? I had told Johnny I was all right. I should have been all right. Another car drove by, and after it passed me, I saw brake lights. I turned and ran into the woods. No one would die tonight if I could help it.

I couldn't go home. My mother and my little brothers were there. They were mine in every sense, mine to protect, mine to kill. I never thought I would feel that way but tonight I did. I sank down, my back against a tree trunk, and buried my face in my hands. Was this how I was going to feel forever? My own blood pounded in my ears. I wanted, no, needed more blood!

The night was loud around me. Sitting there, alone in the woods, I heard noises that once might have scared me. Rustling, crickets chirping then suddenly stopping when I moved. Only, I hadn't moved. I lifted my head. My night eyes picked up more than they used to. A little ways ahead I saw a deer, moving sedately through the underbrush, pausing now and then to nibble on fallen acorns. The deer hadn't spotted me yet.

Could I do it? Grandfather had hunted a deer with me and let me feed from the deer. It was good, nourishing. I could drink to my heart's content and then, maybe, I could face people again without wanting to tear them apart. Slowly, I got to my feet. The deer's head shot up. Slow wasn't going to work. I rushed the deer, counting on my more-than-human speed to make up for its natural instincts. As soon as I moved, the deer abandoned its frozen stance and bounded away. I chased it, futilely, as it turned out. The deer was faster than I was.

I started crying as I realized where I had ended up. There, at the bottom of the little wooded hill where I stood, was a newer neighborhood where Johnny had taken me hunting once or twice. I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself. Tears streamed down my face as I trudged down the hill. Not that house. I knew the family, I--. It didn't matter, did it? Someone was going to die, because I needed blood and I could no longer control myself. I moved more quickly, keeping to the backyards where the lights weren't so bright. The first door that opened—

"Where do you think you're going, little vampire?" Strong arms grabbed me from behind and swung me around.

"Johnny!" I sobbed, and threw myself against him. "I can't stop!" I said.

"Shh," he murmured, stroking my hair. He kept a tight hold on me. "Not here."

He led me back towards the hill and I pulled against him. "No, I need—" My voice was desperate, my throat raw. "You can help me, I don't have to take too much!" I hated how I sounded, like an addict.

"You will kill anything you touch," Johnny said flatly, coming to a stop. He let me go. "Is that what you want? Because I'm fine with that."

I stared at him, confused. "No, no," I said. I didn't want to kill anyone. But I needed blood. I clung to Johnny, only just registering that he shouldn't even be here, although I was very glad that he was. "Why aren't you fishing?" I asked stupidly. The story I had told Ellie had been a lie. Johnny was supposed to be out on the lake with Kenny and Paul, enjoying their last fishing trip of the season.

"I didn't go," Johnny replied.

"Then where—?" I realized he had been following me the entire time. He must have seen the fiasco with the deer. "Oh."

"You did better than I thought you would," he said. "I would have killed someone by now."

"You would have caught the damn deer," I muttered, not looking at him. I heard his chuckle.

"Yeah. That's not a bad idea, really," he said, pulling my arm again. "Come on, let's go get you one."

Just like that, we were running through the woods, and he deliberately scared not one, but two deer, just so he could chase them. Possibly he did it so that we would end up deeper in the woods, far away from humanity, but I doubt it. I think Johnny enjoyed the chase. He brought down one of the deer with little effort, and didn't wait for me to catch up to him before he sank his teeth into its haunch, leaving the vulnerable neck to me. I fell upon the poor deer in a frenzy, and felt it when the animal died like a punch to my stomach. When I was satisfied, I leaned back, a little horrified to see the bloody mess that was left and knowing that I had caused most of it.

Johnny laughed. "You're covered in blood," he said.

I looked down. He was right. "So are you," I pointed out. Johnny had blood on him, too, but not nearly as much as I had. I was red from head to toe. I felt much, much better.

"You can't leave it here," Johnny said. And I got my first lesson in how to hide my kill. By the time we were done, Johnny was as bloody as I was. He took me by the hand and led me through the woods on a path I never knew existed. We ended up at the lake, I don't know how. It was at a spot between two summer cottages. The people had already closed up the places for the winter. There were no lights in any of the cottages on this stretch of the lake. "Wash it off," Johnny advised me, splashing into the cold water.

I hesitated, which was stupid, considering I would be going under the water tomorrow to complete my transformation. But the water was cold in late September! Gingerly, I stepped in, shoes and all, since they were covered in blood, too. It wasn't cold! It was—perfect! I flopped down, letting the water cover me. Nobody could hear us out here. I giggled, and jumped onto Johnny, knocking him flat in the shallow water. He blinked water out of his eyes and looked at me in surprise. Then he grinned and lunged for me. I squealed, and tried to run away in the water, like walking on the moon. In slow motion, Johnny caught up to me and knocked me down, his arms encircling me and his lips pressed tight to mine. Together, we sank to the bottom of our little sandy beach and we kissed until I ran out of air. Johnny let me up, but he still held on to me and we stared into each other's eyes, both sobered by the kiss and what was to come.

"I don't want to go home," I whispered. I wished we could stay like this forever. Even the air felt perfect. My soaking wet clothes whipped in the breeze, but I didn't feel cold. In a way, it was a relief. I understood there was a measure of magic involved in going under the water, but up until this very minute I had worried about being cold and uncomfortable. Now I knew that wouldn't happen.

"Sure you do," Johnny said, breaking our embrace and the moment. He bent down and splashed water on me, then started scrubbing my clothes to get the last remnants of blood out. "I'll take you home when we're both a little cleaner. You need to say good-bye to your mother."

That's what I didn't want to do. I was afraid I'd get the urge for blood again. The times in between were growing shorter, and I still had all day tomorrow to get through. Besides, I kept telling my mother—and myself—that the Equinox wasn't an end of anything, that I would still be me. Was Johnny worried? I eyed him apprehensively. "You'll stay with me?"

"Try to keep me away." He dunked me under one last time. "You're presentable. Or you will be, once you're dry. Come on."

We ran all the way around the lake, and by the time we got back to my house, I was dry. We tiptoed upstairs and took showers to clean off the rest of the blood, giggling like little kids. Johnny threw our clothes, still streaked with blood that hadn't come out, and now also stained with lake water, into the dirty clothes hamper for my mother to deal with in the morning.

I saw my parent's door creak open as we made our way to my bedroom. Kenny was back from fishing. Johnny nodded to him, and the door closed.

Johnny stayed, and held me past dawn when I started to shiver uncontrollably again. My mother knocked at my door, and Johnny called out to her to come in. I hid my face in his shoulder. I didn't want her to see me like this. I didn't want to feel like this.

"Crystal, honey," she said, coming to sit on the edge of my bed.

"Go away!" I yelled, but I didn't want her to go away. No, I wanted her right here, where I could get at her blood. Blood of my blood. She was mine!

Johnny roughly turned me so that my mother could see my face. I snarled. "After tonight, she won't be like this," he said. "Now you see why she has to go under the water."

My mother had stood up suddenly when she got a good look at my face, her own face paling with shock. "There's no going back, is there?" she asked sadly.

"No," Johnny said.

"Take care of her."

"Always."

My mom stumbled out of the room, closing the door behind her. I could hear her sobbing in the hallway. She had always known, since the beginning, that this day would come. She would get over it. "Johnny." My throat was scratchy and my voice came out all funny.

"Here." He shifted so he could place his wrist at my mouth. I tore at him, but he wasn't hurt. Just a little of his blood satisfied me and brought me back to sanity.

"Thank you," I said, sinking down into a fitful rest. His wrist healed almost immediately.

I couldn't sleep, with the sun piercing through the cracks in my door. It had never bothered me so severely before. Johnny was my rock, holding me lightly, giving me sips of his blood whenever I thought I couldn't stand it anymore. What a way to spend my last day. Finally, when the sun went down, Johnny pulled me to my feet. "Come on. There's not much time," he said, aiming for the window.

"Wait a minute, where's everybody?" Wasn't I even going to say good-bye? I thought I could handle it, if we kept it brief.

"At the beach."

My eyes widened. They were going to watch? I wasn't sure how I felt about that.

I still had my pajamas on. "Wait, I have to get changed."

"There's no time." Johnny's lips quirked. "You don't need clothes."

Oh, I was going under the water naked. What if someone saw me? What if--?

Johnny pulled me through the window, and we ran to the lake. I felt as if a heavy hand had come down and was now pushing against my skull. "Hurry," he said.

We stopped at a place on the other side of the lake from our beach, a little wooded lot where no one had ever built a cottage because the land was too narrow and isolated from the rest of the lake. I recognized the place. My mother and I had dumped Johnny's body here once when he was gravely injured. I had seen this place when I was a child. Johnny grinned when he saw that I recognized it.

"Now," he said, gathering me into his arms on the very edge of the water. He kissed me softly. "Good-bye, Crystal," he said. Then he bit me.

I would have screamed if I could. Even when he took so much of my blood in Scotland, it had been nothing like this. He was killing me. I felt myself fading away, and I lost all desire, for blood, for life, for him. I was nothing. I felt nothing. This is what death is, I thought. It was okay. I was Johnny's to do with as he willed. Good-bye, I thought.

I don't remember any of what happened directly after. Later I learned that Johnny held my cold body in his arms and walked with me into the water, shedding both our clothes as we went. He said I fought him as we went deeper under the water, some primal urge to survive, I guess. He held onto me until I finally let the water claim me, and my lungs filled with water. He told me later that he was scared, scared it wouldn't work and that I would never wake up.

I remember being under the water, warm and content and whole as I hadn't been whole in a long time. No longer did my body clamor for blood, no more did I need it to survive. As long as I was in the water, I was more alive than I had ever been before. I opened my eyes.

Johnny held me in the moonlit world beneath our lake. His dark eyes sought mine, and slowly he grinned. He kissed me, neither one of us having to come up for oxygen now, and I had another of those persistent questions that were floating around in my head answered. Making love underneath the water was magical in every sense of the word.

We streaked across the lake, under the surface, another facet of our power that I had never suspected, arriving at our beach in minutes. Johnny held my hand as our heads broke the surface and I saw the faces of my family, including Ellie and Paul, watching anxiously. I smiled, a little embarrassed at my nakedness, but I walked forward with Johnny. Paul came out to meet us, two robes in his hands, just like Michael had done for Lachlan in Scotland. He was a keeper, I'd forgotten. Johnny hadn't.

As one, all of them knelt on the sand. "Blood of our blood," they said together, the formal greeting.

"Mine," Johnny and I replied just as formally.

"Hey, Mom," I added, giving her a little wave. So much for formality.

After a slight hesitation, she came up and gave me a hug. "Hello, honey," she said happily.

The story didn't end there. Stories never do. I finished my last year of schooling at home. Thanks to Johnny and the lake waters, I was able to stand the daylight long enough to graduate with my class. Johnny bought that log house near the lake, and we moved in together after graduation. Someday, I'll have to 'die' so I can continue to live, but there's a while before we get to that point. In the meantime, I've got my license, my house, and my Johnny. Lachlan has promised to come visit next year. Grandfather hasn't shown up yet, or if he has, he didn't tell us about it. Every day, I discover new things about the lake. Whatever spark of Grandfather's spirit is in us has an answering spark in the lake. Whether we put it there, or whether it was always there, is a tale for another day.

THE END

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