The Lake Champlain Bridge was the landmark Clara had been waiting for. After spending nights at budget motels in Missouri and Ohio and winding through the rural towns of northeast New York, she finally gave the hatchback a much-needed quart of oil at a barely functioning service station in Thendara. She'd worried about the car's stability over the trip, but the mechanic who filled it up seemed impressed at what he saw under the hood. Aunt Maureen must have been a freak about vehicle maintenance, she thought. Now, two and a half hours later, the crossing from Crown Point into Vermont gave Clara a sharp focus that hadn't felt since she'd left New Mexico.

She wondered when Kevin would hear her message. She'd called his store during the refill and was relieved when his answering machine picked up. Clara told him only minimal details about her intentions – that she'd transferred to Vermont for her work, but she'd make a point to check in on Nicholas while she was there and would give Kevin and update once she'd found him – if she could. She hadn't left her phone number but figured there was a good chance he'd be able to see it on his caller ID. I just won't pick up if he calls, she thought, hoping it wouldn't come to that. The idea of seeing Nicholas again after so many years made Clara uneasy, and she wondered if there was any truth to Kevin's story. She hoped she'd at least be able to dispel the more outlandish ideas he had about his nephew's situation. Even if Eric had been exerting some level of control over Nicholas, the notion of a cult built around his existence was way too bizarre to be given any credence.

While New York's roads were hilly and verdant, Vermont opened up into flat brown fields separating old homes from older farms. Distant low mountains brought deeper blues into the scene as well as the promise of more exciting landscapes to come. As she headed north toward Burlington, Clara counted the other vehicles that she'd passed. She was still only in the double digits an hour later when she saw first saw road signs for her destination.

Clara was relieved when the roadway opened up into the clean small-town feel that was Burlington. The city's history was prominent in the colonial-styled public centers, well-maintained Victorian homes, and small art deco commercial centers that hugged the winding main street. Images from her Architectural History textbook floated up from recesses in Clara's memory as the smell of burning firewood seeped into the hatchback from an anonymous chimney. She turned on the stereo and drifted through the local stations until she found a suitably gentle classical selection.

Clara reached into the compartment under the stereo and pulled out the notebook sheet with the final few directions. She turned onto a smaller side street and followed it until she recognized the roofline of the Lanford House. Pulling into the inn's curved drive, she followed it around to the back of the building, parking the hatchback in a spot behind the main office. Clara grabbed her suitcase from the trunk, glancing only briefly at the dark spot left by the stubborn adhesive from a long-disintegrated bumper sticker, and headed toward the inn's front entrance.

As soon as she stepped inside, Clara was glad that she'd picked this particular place to stay during her time in Vermont instead of one of the bigger hotel chains that Melody had recommended. The expansive lobby was cozy in a quaint way, lined with authentic old wood and stone. A fireplace on the far left side of the room shot flickering light into the twin chandeliers as well as the rest of the antique glass decor. Fat leather recliners scattered about held a few lounging guests. Clara strolled around the edge of the room, taking it all in as she approached the front desk.

The clerk behind the counter had three tufts of perfectly white hair at the top and sides of his head, all bordered by the healthy red-tinged skin tone that typically belonged to someone much younger. The nametag on his blue and green argyle sweater vest read "Edward" in an informal script. Clara couldn't help but smile as she settled her suitcase at her side and leaned onto the counter, pulling a printout from the inner pocket of her coat.

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