"You're going to murder me out here, aren't you?"

Clara could barely see where her feet were landing on the rocky outcropping. And the only image she had of Nicholas as he led her further out was the black silhouette he punched into the faded purple horizon.

"Was I that obvious?" Nicholas called back.

Clara chuckled. She looked behind her and saw the festival in the distance. She could only hear the faintest trace of the music and the crowd from her position on the natural pier, and the crashing waves drowned that out every few heartbeats anyway.

Nicholas stopped. Clara could see his profile now as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. He was squinting – staring out at something in the ocean.

Clara turned and looked in the same direction. She saw a dim shape near the southern part of the shoreline, tucked inside a small inlet. It was a small piece of land, and after a moment she realized that it was glowing.

"Is that... an island?" she asked. "It's hard to make out."

Nicholas kept his eyes locked. "Yeah," he said. "There are a few of them in that grouping, but that one's the biggest. They're called the Cascades."

"Oh," Clara said. "That sounds familiar now. I think I saw it on a map at work." She focused her eyes on the forested area in the center of the tiny island and asked, "But... why is it glowing?"

Nicholas turned to her. "This guy Carlo Rizzieri owned Breach Point Castle. When things would break or get too old to use, he'd have his crew bring them over to the Cascades."

Clara nodded. She wasn't sure that Nicholas could even see her, but she didn't want to interrupt him. He sounded so serious.

Nicholas continued. "So that island became a party spot for the people who worked in the Castle and the rest of the pier. And even now, they keep power running to some of the original lighting fixtures as a tribute to the Castle."

"Interesting," Clara said. "Have you ever seen this amusement-park-slash-junkyard in person?"

Nicholas looked down and shook his head. "My uncle and his friends go there every couple weeks, just to keep an eye on things. There's a cove on the southern end, but you can't just take a boat over there. There's all kinds of chains and gates around it that you have to know how to avoid. Some idiots took a boat out there a couple years ago. They got stuck and cut up pretty bad. The Coast Guard had to bring them in."

"I don't think I'll be making a visit either, then," Clara said, trying to locate the cove. "Well, I've certainly never seen anything like a glowing island before," she said. "Thank you for showing it to me."

This time it was Nicholas who only nodded. He seemed fixated on the island. She liked that he'd made such a point to share it with her.

Nicholas took another moment, then turned to Clara, smiling. There was a different tone in his voice when he spoke – and Clara couldn't decide if he sounded older or just plain spooky. "I'm freezing all of a sudden," he said. "Come on. Let's head back."

They turned and walked back toward the shore. The outcropping was too narrow for them to switch positions, so Clara took the lead. Not being able to see Nicholas behind her, she tried to place the image of his face into her head. She'd only known him for a short while but she realized she could recall his features as well as any of her friends back home. She wondered what that meant. And she also wondered how Nicholas saw her. Was she a friend to him? Or did he now think of her as a potential girlfriend – someone you took out to the ocean at night to see something special?

And it hit Clara that Nicholas hadn't even touched her yet – not on the beach when she met him, not at the Giant Brine, or on the walk back, or tonight. She realized that she wanted him to make some kind of physical contact – even if it was only a hand on her shoulder – just to make sure he was real. Maybe the Breach Point population was less touchy-feely than the people she knew back home.

When they'd made it to the end of the rock pier, Clara stepped down onto the sand. Nicholas reached forward and grabbed her arm, helping her down. "Perfect timing," she thought as she turned around, just catching sight of two fireflies flickering above his head.

They headed back toward the festival in silence. But after walking a few yards, Clara saw some kind of activity in the parking lot. Nicholas' friends J.T., Dennis, and Gaby were gathered around the opened back of an S.U.V. with some other tough-looking older kids. They all seemed to be studying something inside the vehicle.

Clara looked at Nicholas to see if he'd noticed the group yet. He had – he was staring right at them, looking incredibly tense.

Dennis saw them. He looked up grinning and said, "Hey, Clara! Come here. You have to check this out!"

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

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- Steve


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