The thin canvas suitcase sat askew on the dresser. Clara knelt below it, grabbing items from the drawers and tossing them up into the piece of luggage, not paying any attention to where each item fell. She had the same want for her belongings as she did for herself – to no longer be in Breach Point, in as little time as possible.

Clara rushed into the bathroom and shoved all her toiletries into a plastic bag. The window was open and she felt a morning breeze blow through. Aunt Maureen's house looked as bright and welcoming now as it did when she'd first arrived, but it didn't feel that way. Now it was tainted – menacing, hostile, and part of a town that didn't want her there.

She felt like she'd already abandoned Aunt Maureen once, and now she would be doing it again. But her sweet aunt would understand. And she'd be safe – safer than if Clara stayed. She didn't feel any immediate danger after Kevin's warning half an hour earlier – but she knew there was a limit to how long she could stick around.

After dressing herself, she'd run home from Nicholas' house and found that the same route she'd taken the night before was even more ominous in morning light. Clara had held out hope that she'd find Nicholas waiting for her at Aunt Maureen's, but there was no sign of him anywhere. She couldn't help but resent his absence. No matter how much Kevin had pushed him and his parents to work at the garden store, Nicholas should have found a way to get back to her. How did he know Kevin hadn't done more than just threaten her?

Clara sealed the plastic bag of toiletries and shoved it into her suitcase, zipping it up. She looked around the room. Everything had been packed. What a sad bookend this would be to her summer excursion. She'd have to create a cover story for her job at Fogelsang. Hopefully they wouldn't pursue legal action against her for taking the files from the storage facility. Maybe she could write a letter begging Theresa for forgiveness – but what explanation would she even give?

She lugged the suitcase into the living room and leaned it against the front door, then took another look around the place. The centerpiece on the table, Aunt Maureen's tea cups hanging from their rack, her cross stitch pieces on the wall. Would she have the guts to ever come back here? Maybe with her parents in a few years? But even then...

Clara unzipped the front pocket of the suitcase. She reached in and pulled out a bus schedule. There was a departure for north Jersey in forty-five minutes and another in the late afternoon. She knew she could make the first one if she hurried and the later one if she missed it. Either way, she'd be back home in her own bed tonight – after a lengthy explanation to her parents that couldn't be anything but a string of lies.

Tonight – her mind went to Nicholas and their plan at the Cascades. It all seemed so silly now – pointless and unlikely to even work. Would he even show up on the dock? She knew there was something on that glowing island but her mind couldn't fully lock onto what it was. Nicholas might go on without her. She could find a covert way to check in with him – maybe write him a letter in a week or two, explaining what had happened and asking him for an update. He was as sweet and understanding a person as Clara had ever met – even to a fault – and she knew he wouldn't be too mad at her, even if he resented her for leaving without telling him. Nicholas was, above all else, an empathetic person. Hopefully their friendship could be salvaged.

Clara turned around, looking back into Aunt Maureen's house. All the lights were off, the windows were shut, and the back door was locked. There was nothing left for her to do but leave.

She grabbed the handle of her suitcase, took a deep breath, and reached out for the door knob. But before she could open the door, the house phone rang.

Clara debated whether or not to answer it. The last time she'd held that phone, things had taken a horrible turn. But what if Aunt Maureen was calling? Or one of her doctors? Clara slowly let go of her suitcase, resting it against the front door once again. She walked over to the phone.

She picked it up and said, "Hello?" There was sound coming over the line – Clara knew someone was there – but there was no response. With her stomach already starting to shake, she steeled herself and prepared to speak again when a meek female voice asked, "Clara?"

It was a voice Clara hadn't heard in a long time, but even with only her name to go on, she immediately recognized who was on the other end.

"Jerilyn?" Clara said. "How did you--?"

"I called your mom," Jerilyn said. "She gave me your aunt's number. How are you? How's your summer been?"

The pauses between Jerilyn's sentences took just a little longer than normal. And in those pauses, Clara's mind raced through everything that had happened between the two of them – especially that night at the party. She tried to make herself angry, but it only came out hollow.

"I'm okay," Clara said. "The summer has been... interesting."

"Yeah?" Jerilyn said. "I'm so glad to hear that." And then a longer pause. "I'm glad you're even talking to me. I missed you."

Clara swallowed. "Me too," she said.

Jerilyn breathed heavily and it sounded like she was crying. Not bawling, but at least tearing up. Her voice became shallow.

"Clara, I am so sorry for what I did," Jerilyn said.

Clara just waited. It seemed better to let Jerilyn say what she needed to without interrupting.

"The party..." Jerilyn continued. "That was... that was the worst thing I ever did in my life. I know I hurt you... so much..."

"You did," Clara said. She couldn't stop herself from asking, "But... why?"

Another pause. "I don't know," Jerilyn said. "I guess I just... I wanted to know what it would be like to try something new. I was exploring. I know that's a stupid cliché but it's the truth."

"I believe you," Clara said. "But what made you pick Craig?"

"He was just there," Jerilyn said. "That's all. It could have been any guy. I just... I know there's no one else like you in this world, and I can't... I..." Now she was bawling. "I called to ask you if we can be in each others' lives again," Jerilyn said, barely getting the words out. "If we could get back even some of what we had, I would so love that..."

Jerilyn breathed in and out, and in that little span of time Clara felt herself change. She knew that this was actual forgiveness. Not the pretend bullshit when you tell someone that you forgive them, but you keep thinking about what they did, pushing the thought around like a piece of food stuck between your teeth. This was something else. This was letting go.

"Yes," Clara said. "We can do that." And Jerilyn laughed in the middle of her crying.

"Really?" Jerilyn asked.

"Yes," Clara said, looking down at her suitcase and remembering her mindset when she'd first stepped onto the bus that brought her to Breach Point. "I promise – we'll work things out."

"I want to see you as soon as you're home again." Jerilyn said. "When are you coming back?"

Clara crossed the room. She picked up her suitcase again and moved it away from the front door.

"Soon," she said. "I'll be home soon and we'll find each other."

She opened the front door.

"But there's something I have to do first."


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