Chapter 39

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Clara could just about make out the dock. She'd been walking along the sand for a few minutes, but her eyes still hadn't completely adapted. There was no moon – only starlight, a chilling wind, and the pulsing Cascade island just down the shore.

Then the dock appeared, with a rowboat tied to its mooring. A dark figure sat above the boat, its legs dangling beneath and any features hidden by a hood drawn tight.

Clara approached. She saw the figure's head turn slowly toward her. With his face still dark, he spoke: "Clara...?"

The figure stood up and faced her. Clara could see beneath the hood just well enough to recognize Nicholas, but the strange lighting made him appear different somehow.

"It's me," she said.

She walked closer to him, stepping up onto the dock. Nicholas pulled down his hood.

"Listen," he said, "I'm so sorry about what happened back at my house--"

"Why didn't you come back for me?" Clara interrupted.

Nicholas shook his head. "I just couldn't. Kevin made up this whole story about a huge order he had to deliver by noon while we handled a rush at the store. I tried to get out of it but my parents got pissed. He set up the whole thing so I'd look like an asshole who wasn't willing to help out his family if I tried to leave – which is exactly what happened."

Clara just looked at him. "Let this experience change you for the better," she reminded herself.

"Okay," she said.

"'Okay'?" Nicholas asked. "I can't tell what that means. Aren't you mad? I know I would be."

"No," Clara said. "I'd probably do the same thing if I were in your position. He's your uncle, after all. I'm just glad you're here with me now."

Nicholas smiled with relief. "It's just like our first meeting on the beach," he said. "Except completely different."

"Right," Clara said, smiling back. She looked out at the Cascade island, still blinking its eerie light. "So how are we looking?"

Nicholas looked at the island as well. "Pretty good. Dennis said Kevin and Greg took the ethanol this morning without any problems. As far as the power on the island, nothing's happened so far, but that should change soon." He pointed down at the rowboat beneath them. "You want to wait in there?"

Clara watched the boat bob up and down.

"Sure," she said.


"Don't get too close."

Nicholas rowed the boat toward the Cascade island. "Why not?" he asked.

Clara squinted, scanning the island's tiny shoreline for any sign of change. The glow continued – it seemed to be coming from inside the trees now.

"I just don't want us to be near it when something happens," she said.

Nicholas nodded. He lifted the oars, letting them rest. They floated south along the shoreline. As the boat settled between the Cascade island and Breach Point's shoreline, the waves beneath it lessened.

"So what did Kevin say?" Clara asked. "When he had you at his store."

"He was asking about Kenny," Nicholas said. "He wouldn't give me any answers about his skin, though."

"Of course not," Clara said.

Nicholas continued. "And he was talking about you. He warned me to stay away from you."

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