"Why don't you just invite him in for just a few minutes then?"

Aunt Maureen called to Clara as she stared out the front window. The mid-morning sun had broken through the clouds, shining down on Breach Point's walkers and joggers as they went about their their weekend routines.

"I'll bring him in when he drops me off," Clara said, tightening the strap on her backpack. "The judging for his competition gets announced at noon, and he needs to be there early to register. I don't want to slow him down by bringing him inside now."

"All right," Aunt Maureen said, twisting off the cap to the pill bottle in her hand. "But make sure you tell this boy that I'll be baking muffins later and I need him to try one."

"Sure, Aunt Maureen," Clara said, laughing. "I'll guilt him into a visit for you." She saw a car approach and excitedly grabbed the door knob before realizing that it wasn't Nicholas when it passed by.

"Guilt always works, Clara," Aunt Maureen said, tossing two pills into her mouth and chasing them with tea. "Don't ever feel above guilting a man into doing what you want him to do."

"I'll remember that," Clara said. She loved Aunt Maureen's biting wit and wondered if she ever dated. She never mentioned anyone. Maybe the topic would come up over the course of the summer. Clara decided to use Aunt Maureen's next mention of boys or romantic technique to gently bring up the topic.

A dark blue car pulled into the driveway. Behind the wheel, Clara could see Nicholas pushing his hair around. She wondered if he would honk his horn. He didn't – he just lifted himself halfway out the driver's window and looked at her, squinting from the glare. She should have known – he's too polite to be a honker.

"He's here," Clara said with a little more enthusiasm than she'd planned. She pushed her sunglasses on and made it out the screen door and onto the porch before remembering to call out, "See you after the art show, Aunt Maureen!" without waiting for an answer.

Clara opened the passenger side door of Nicholas' car. Seeing him with his hands on the steering wheel made him look older, though she thought it might have just been his eyes – he looked sleepy.

"Morning," he said, waiting for Clara to fasten her seatbelt before pulling out.

"Good morning," she said, buckling herself in. "It's a nice one, isn't it?"

Nicholas nodded and eased the car back onto the street. "Yeah it is," he said. "I'm not usually up this early on a weekend, to be honest."

"Neither am I," said Clara. "But this is a special occasion! Are you excited?"

"A little excited, a little nervous," he said. "That's normal, right?"

"I'd say so," said Clara. "If it was my art on display, I'd have butterflies in my stomach the entire week before. Especially if it was an event like this in a whole different city."

"Now you're making me more nervous," Nicholas said.

"Sorry, sorry!" Clara said. "I'll stop."

"Ha. It's okay," said Nicholas. He pulled onto the bridge that led off the island. Clara realized it would be the first time she'd left Breach Point since arriving. She liked the idea of changing scenery for a day.

Clara looked at Nicholas as they crossed the bay. He was less confident driving when he wasn't on the slower island roads. She asked, "So how did you find out about this art festival? Was it posted at school?"

Nicholas shifted in his seat. "Well... kind of," he said. "This girl in my art class last year told me about it. We kind of used to date."

Clara wasn't sure how she should react. Unlike anyone else in her life, she had no common link to Nicholas. The only things she knew about him were the things he chose to tell her, and she knew that choosing to mention an ex-girlfriend was a big choice. Not only was he opening up to her about a past relationship – it also put focus on how he viewed Clara.

Clara tried to downplay his statement. "Oh, okay," she said. "So, was she an artist too?"

"Yeah," Nicholas said. "She was more into sculpture, though. She was really good, actually. She used to make these mythical creatures out of clay, then she'd give them a detailed paint job. She won a couple awards in a different festival last year."

"Cool," Clara said. "How long did you guys date?" She didn't want to give Nicholas any sign that she was uncomfortable with the conversation, though her brain was already mapping out the routes it was likely to take.

"Three or four months," Nicholas answered, turning onto a hilly road. "She'd just moved here from another state. I didn't see her too much outside of school and a couple art events. She was always super busy."

"Is that why you broke up with her?" Clara asked. She couldn't help herself.

"Well... no," Nicholas said. The traffic slowed and he took a sideways glance at Clara. The way he smiled, she knew he wasn't sure if he was going to tell her the reason for the breakup.

"Oh, I'm not trying to pry," Clara said. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"It's just kind of embarrassing," Nicholas said. "Let me just ask you – do I smell like fish?"

Clara burst out laughing. "What?!" she asked? "Fish? Don't tell me--"

"Yeah, she said that everyone in this town had like, a fishy smell to them."

"Even you?" Clara asked, still laughing.

"Especially me," Nicholas said. "She told me I had a 'tuna-like scent', even right after I showered. We had first period art and she said she could still smell it."

"Oh, Nicholas," Clara said, trying to contain herself. "That is so ridiculous."

He gave her a nervous look. "So you don't think it's true? You're new here. You didn't smell--"

"Not at all," Clara said, interrupting. "Nicholas, that girl is a loon! Be glad she's history!"

Nicholas finally allowed himself a laugh. "Okay, cool," he said. "That's comforting." Clara could tell that he believed her, and that made her happy.

"Well," Nicholas said, sounding confident once again, "looks like we're here."

He pointed off to the right. Clara turned and saw a sign showing the logo of a building made from a triangle roof and three columns. The text below read, "Mount Pritchett Arts Center."

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

Thanks for reading Chapter 16! If you enjoyed it, please consider voting or leaving a comment – I respond to every one.



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- Steve


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