Kevin loomed over the group, a bird of prey making its dinner selection.

Clara watched the older kids – cocky and tough a moment before – now transformed into wide-eyed children afraid to move or speak.

The group parted as Kevin approached the trunk of the S.U.V. His hair was mussed and most of his skull makeup had been sweated off, with only a few streaks of white on his cheeks and dark circles around his eyes remaining. This made him appear even more threatening than the hooded character he'd performed as earlier.

Kevin stuck his head into the trunk and saw the tablet leaning upside-down against the rear row of seats. The final frame of the video remained on its screen. Dennis gave a quick look to Clara and the others. He seemed to be shaking.

Kevin turned to Nicholas and asked, "You're involved in this?"

Nicholas shook his head. "No, Uncle Kevin. We were just walking back--"

"Are these your friends?" Kevin asked Nicholas.

Kevin took another look at the faces in the group. Clara was half-hidden behind Gaby. She didn't think Kevin had recognized her yet.

"Some of them," Nicholas answered. "We were just walking by and these guys wanted to show us something. I didn't know what they had. They were just... telling stories."

Kevin kept looking at Nicholas, holding his tense expression. Dennis stepped forward and with a shaky voice said, "Look, we weren't trying to be disrespectful to anyone. You know, most kids in town have seen this video."

Kevin grabbed the tablet and held it in front of Dennis' face.

"Little boy," Kevin said, growling his words, "you shouldn't be playing around with peoples' history. It's not smart."

Dennis shrunk and stepped back. Gaby walked over to him, leaving Clara exposed. Kevin made eye contact and Clara knew that she'd finally been noticed.

Kevin took a step closer to Clara. Without breaking his stare, he called back to Nicholas. "Now there's a nice surprise. You brought your new friend."

Clara felt compelled to speak up. "Kevin," she said, trying to sound like the voice of reason, "I know I'm new here and I don't quite understand--"

Kevin got even closer and held a finger in her face. "Yeah, you don't understand. You shouldn't even be here. And you definitely shouldn't be opening your mouth."

Clara could feel tears warming themselves behind her eyes, but she forced them back. Kevin shook his head. He threw the tablet back into the S.U.V., then trudged off toward the festival area, saying nothing as he went.

After he was safely out of earshot, Dennis looked at Nicholas and said, "Man, your uncle's a real asshole."

Nicholas stared at Dennis in silence before rushing off in the opposite direction as Kevin, toward the path to the main road.

Clara glared at Dennis and said, "I thought you were supposed to be his friend?"

Dennis giggled. Clara could see that his confidence had returned – conveniently, once Kevin had left the scene.

"What he really needs right now is a babysitter," Dennis said. "You should ask him what he pays per hour."

Gaby and J.T. laughed at Dennis' comment. Clara gave them her best parental-disappointment look and said, "I guess Breach Point isn't the friendly little town I thought it was." She wished she could have come up with something harsher, but she didn't want to be so rude that she'd feel like apologizing if she saw them again. Despite the night's events, they all seemed close and she didn't expect that Nicholas could stay mad at them for long.

Clara ran after Nicholas. She realized that he must have started walking faster once he'd passed the tall grass, because he was further along than she'd expected – walking down the sidewalk toward the main road. Nicholas hadn't seen her yet and Clara didn't want to call out his name as she passed the beach houses. There were a lot of older people inside, and some would certainly be sleeping. She increased her pace.

As she got closer, Clara wondered if she could ever see herself with a boy like Nicholas. He was intelligent, polite, and had the kind of substance she always found herself drawn to. But the more she got to know him, the more impulsive he seemed to be – he couldn't quite control his emotions. Maybe something else was going on with him. Trouble with his parents or problems at school or something like that.

When Clara got closer to Nicholas, she could see that his jaw was clenched. In a talk-yell, she said, "Nicholas... wait up."

He slowed but didn't stop. Clara could see that he wasn't going to speak on his own. She matched his pace and said, "You know, everything they were saying – I just took that as local folklore."

Nicholas didn't even look over at her. "That's not how it seemed to me," he said.

"Well, I guess I was just all caught up in being around new people and hearing that whole story... and then your uncle..."

She took a few quick steps and got in front of him, blocking his way. "I'm sorry, Nicholas. I know you wanted to get out of there. I should have asked you if we could leave."

He looked into her eyes and his jaw went slack. "Okay. Thanks," he said. "I'm okay now. It's just... just a touchy subject for us."

Clara nodded, brushing away wisps of hair away from her eyes. They started walking again, but at a normal pace.

"I get that," she said. She still couldn't completely read Nicholas, so as they turned the corner, she hunted for a subject change.

"So..." Clara asked, self-conscious and pausing longer than she'd liked. She thought back to her first meeting with Nicholas. "When do I get to see some of your paintings?" she asked.

"I'm actually in an art show this Sunday," he said. The tension had left his voice.

"Really?" Clara asked. "And why am I only hearing about this now?"

"It's not a big thing," Nicholas said. "It's just a charity show in a town off the island."

"Well," she said, "I would love to go, if that's okay with you. Unless you're private about your work. I know some artists--"

"No, no," Nicholas interrupted. "That would be cool."

Clara felt relieved. They'd turned two more corners by this point, cutting through an alley that ran between a row of backyards.

"Do you think you have time to walk me home?" she asked.

"Sure," Nicholas said.

"I'd appreciate that," Clara said, looking around at the unfamiliar streets. "Especially because I have no idea where we are right now."

Nicholas laughed and said, "Don't worry. I do."

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

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- Steve


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