Chapter 28

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"Can I get more guitar in my monitor?"

Clara watched Kevin from the corner of Dunleavy's that was furthest from the stage. The club was bigger on the inside than she had expected, and cleaner too. Even though she could see an active bar through a heavily decorated opening, the main performance room held as many families eating dinner as it did people standing around with beers in their hands watching the band set up.

When Clara walked in on The Caretakers' soundcheck a few minutes earlier, Kevin seemed to be staring right at her – until she realized that the stage lights, small as they were, were still bright enough that no one from the band could see past the first row of tables. That worked out nicely. She hadn't prepared a backup plan for the chance that she'd walk in and find herself in Kevin's sights.

She turned away from the stage and opened her purse. Inside, she saw three twenty dollar bills. Clara thought how nice it was to work a job that actually paid her enough where she could go out and do things like this. It was a great feeling – freedom.

Next to the cash was the article she'd taken from the library's Breach Point Castle display. Clara unfolded it and re-read the first few sentences, then focused on the author's name – Joel Rudderow. She folded it back up and tucked it away.

She decided to get a drink, and maybe an appetizer, too. She spotted a few people coming down a stairway carrying drinks, so she headed up.

The second floor of Dunleavy's had a relaxed feeling. Clara edged up to the cozy upstairs bar, passing through little groups of people. She hadn't seen Nicholas but she remained hopeful.

Clara was cautious as she approached the bar, but when she looked around and saw that the other customers in line all had green wristbands and hers was red, she finally understood why she'd been asked her age while paying the cover charge.

The bartender looked her over and smiled. "What can I do for you?" he asked.

Clara tried to make sense of the handwritten menu behind him, but it was too dark and the writing was too messy.

"Can I just get an iced tea and a bagel with cream cheese?" she asked.

The bartender nodded. "Sure thing," he said, filling a glass for her. "The food should only take a few minutes."

She took the iced tea and was about to thank him when she caught a familiar face off in the corner, watching the band from a small balcony as they continued their soundcheck. Nicholas.

Clara walked toward him – slowly, and without taking her eyes off him. He was smiling, lost in the music. She was already rehearsing and revising what she was about to say when Nicholas turned and saw her. The smile left his face.

"Hey," she said, trying to keep it as flat as possible.

"Hey," Nicholas said back in an equally emotionless way. "What are you doing here? How'd you find me?"

"You told me the name of your uncle's band," she said. "I saw a flyer for the show the other day."

"Oh," Nicholas said. Clara couldn't be sure, but he sounded like he was letting his guard down.

"Bagel with cream cheese!" the bartender called out. Clara watched him slide her order onto the corner of the bar. She waved to him, then turned back to Nicholas.

"You want to find a table?" Nicholas asked.

Clara smiled. "Sure," she said.

###

"I know that's what I said. It's totally my fault and I'm really sorry, Nicholas."

Clara took a sip of her iced tea. Her nerves made it hard to swallow. She couldn't believe that she was sitting with Nicholas again, and that he was listening to her apology without interrupting. Not many people were able pull that off.

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