It was a few seconds before the sun glare faded and Clara was able to fully discern the eyes and mouth of the male figure in front of her. He looked young.

"Oh no," the boy said. "I am so sorry."

He offered his hand, but Clara didn't notice until she'd pulled herself up on her own. Little piles of caked sand broke apart and trickled down her legs.

"It's no problem," she said. She tried not to sound as jarred as she was, but she realized that the crackle in her voice probably gave her away. Clara looked over the boy. He seemed a little older than her, with some burgeoning stubble on his chin and cheeks. The tips of his hair had blue and purple tints – no doubt the remnants of a cheesy month-old dye job.

The boy, looking genuinely regretful, slowly brought his hand back down to his side. As Clara brushed herself off, she noticed a small spiral-bound sketchbook and pencil in his other hand.

"I'm such an idiot," he said. "I was just on the dunes over there when you walked past..."

He pointed to a sandy hill in the tall grass, though Clara couldn't understand how she'd missed him earlier.

"I'm Nicholas, by the way," he said.

"Clara. Nice to meet you," she said. Pointing to Nicholas' sketchbook, she added, "Are you an artist?"

Nicholas looked down at the drawing tools in his hand. He seemed to forget that he was even holding them.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I was just working on my crosshatching."

"I see," Clara said, remembering the shading lessons from her sixth grade art class. She noticed that when Nicholas spoke, the tip of his nose moved down a bit each time his mouth opened. She wondered if that was something that everyone's nose did and she'd just never picked up on it before, or if it was his body's peculiar idiosyncrasy.

"Were you looking for the Castle?" Nicholas asked.

"I was, actually," Clara said. "What made you ask that?"

He pointed to the Castle reunion flyer in her open camera case.

"Oh. Right," she said, letting out a little laugh. "There don't seem to be many other picture-taking opportunities here, anyway."

"Yeah. I guess not," Nicholas said. "Are you new here? You look... new." His nose did the thing again.

"I am," Clara said. "I just got into town today. I'm staying with my aunt for the summer."

Clara watched as Nicholas' lips spread wide and curled upward. "Cool," he said. She smiled back, though more cautiously.

"Hey... you wanna see the Castle?" Nicholas asked with unconcealed slyness.

"Are you tricking me?" Clara asked.

"Ah... kind of..." he said.

Nicholas opened his sketchbook and spread it across the span of his arms.

Clara looked at its pages and saw detailed pencil studies of broken tree branches, rocks and shells, seagulls, and other objects found in nature. She was impressed with the efficient way that the drawings revealed their subjects, in many places defining a complex edge with one wiggly line and often leaving sun bleached highlights out completely.

"Wow," she said, meaning it. "But you said--"

Nicholas smiled and flipped to a double-page spread of a dark gothic structure. Clara recognized Breach Point Castle from the flyer, but Nicholas' drawing managed to show the attraction as a much more intimate place, with excited customers milling about its front gate. His drawing even made it appear like the imitation it was – the simple illustration on the flyer looked more like a real castle. Clara didn't understand how Nicholas had given the imposing place such charm.

"That's amazing, Nicholas," she said, still looking over the artwork.

"Thanks," he said back.

"How did you get all these details?" Clara asked. "I thought the Castle burned down a long time ago. This looks like it was drawn by someone who's actually been there."

"My Uncle Kevin," he answered. "He and his buddies worked there in the seventies. They have tons of pictures that they let me use for reference. All kinds of behind-the-scenes stuff."

"Ah," she said. "That explains it. The more people tell me about the Castle, the more I wish I could have seen it for myself."

Nicholas' eyes hung on her, considering her words. He shut the sketchbook and gave Clara a funny look.

"Hey," he asked, "are you hungry?"

------------------

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- Steve


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