Clara stood up. The dizziness she'd felt on her walk over to the group was gone. Time and conversation had sobered her up.

She moved toward the fire pit in what felt like slow motion, becoming hyper aware of the stars and the sound of the flames. Once she'd gotten close enough for her footsteps to be heard, Kevin's head turned.

Clara walked around in front of Kevin and Eric. Kevin stood and smiled.

"Mind blown yet?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "It has been for at least an hour."

He laughed. Clara glanced at Eric and caught him studying her face. He didn't turn away. She kept still, allowing his eyes to explore. Eric looked her over the way a baby might stare at their parent, or perhaps more like a doctor examining their patient.

"Guess I should apologize for scaring the shit out of you," Kevin said. "Our group has been..." he stopped himself and looked at Eric. "We've been living with this for a long time now."

"So I heard," Clara said.

"I bet you did," Kevin said. "We decided a while back that we'd do what we had to so people wouldn't find out. It's too important to risk losing. I gotta give you credit, though – you don't scare easy."

"I appreciate the compliment," Clara said. "But if you don't mind... I wanted to talk to Eric alone."

Kevin looked to Eric. "That okay with you?" he asked. "Can Clara here have a chat with you?"

"Yes," Eric said. "That would be very nice."

Kevin reached an arm around her and leaned in close from the side. Coming from him, the hug – awkward as it may have been – felt like an apology.

"Just be careful not to push him," Kevin whispered in Clara's ear. "He's not like us."

He let go of her and walked off toward the others. Eric stared up at Clara until she sat down next to him.

"So," she said, stumbling for an opener, "do you... do you live out here?"

"Sometimes," Eric said. "I used to live in other places, but they are all gone now."

"Oh," Clara said. "Do you like it here? The cabin seems very nice."

"It is very nice," Eric said. Now it was Clara who studied his face as he stared into the fire. His heavy brow and lined forehead showed micro expression.

"Especially when all of my friends are here with me, like tonight," Eric continued.

"I see," Clara said. "That does make it nice."

"Yes," Eric said. "It does." She was impressed with the clarity he gave to each word, as well as the short pauses between them.

She took a moment to think of what she wanted to say next. It was surprisingly exhausting speaking with someone who didn't adorn the conversation with extraneous thoughts. She could see more of him now, even under his thick layers of clothes. He was short and stocky, with thick fingers and wide shoulders. And his eyes were set a bit too far apart, with deep insets beneath them, making Eric look as if he hadn't slept in years.

"There's something I wanted to say to you, Eric," Clara finally said. Eric looked at her, waiting patiently.

"I... I just wanted to thank you for saving my aunt," she said.

"Who is your aunt?" Eric asked.

Clara laughed. "Of course you wouldn't remember her," she said. "She was sick a little while ago, and you made her better."

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