"Do you have everything you came with, honey?"

Aunt Maureen popped her head out from under the kitchen counter. Clara couldn't hide a grin as she watched her aunt rush around the kitchen, tidying things up along the way. Her return home two days earlier had been unceremonious – just as she'd requested. Aunt Maureen was back to her old self once again, and seeing her back in the house put Clara at ease.

"I do, Aunt Maureen," Clara said. "I was all packed last night." She tapped on the handle of her suitcase in its waiting spot near the open front door.

"Always so organized," Aunt Maureen said as she walked over to her workspace in the living room. "I'm sure they're already missing you at your job. I bet your boss gives you a stellar recommendation."

"I'm pretty confident she will," Clara said, looking out to the street.

They hadn't spoken of everything that happened, and Clara wasn't even sure how much Aunt Maureen remembered. It seemed better – and safer – not to even bring the topic up. Clara followed her across the room.

"I really would have liked to drive you to the bus station myself," Aunt Maureen said. "It would have made me feel like a better host – especially since you spent so much time here without me."

"You're an excellent host," Clara said, "But I'll be fine." She leaned in for a hug and added, "Thank you for letting me stay here, Aunt Maureen. It was a summer I'll remember forever."

"You and I both," Aunt Maureen cackled as Clara let her go. "It was as much a pleasure having you here as I imagined it would be. And you seemed to get along fine on your own while I was gone. Oh... that reminds me..."

Aunt Maureen opened the cabinet where she kept her unfinished cross stitch projects. She pulled out a piece with a red frame and handled it to Clara with a grin.

Clara looked it over and smiled. A cartoonish little girl character with her circle mouth fully opened and her hands on her hips proudly exclaimed, "I appreciate your offer to help but I can handle it myself – THANK YOU VERY MUCH!" in a word bubble that occupied all the remaining space in the frame.

"This is wonderful," Clara said, laughing. "And it's so you. I really get to keep it?"

"It's so you, Clara," Aunt Maureen said. "You're the inspiration – of course it should be yours."

Clara took a long look into her aunt's face. "I love it," she said. "And I already know exactly where I'll hang it in my room."

Clara unzipped the front pocket of her suitcase and slid the cross stitch piece inside. She closed it back up, then smiled to herself as she caught a glimpse of the new addition she'd given the outside of the suitcase the night before.

A car engine sounded outside. Clara pulled the curtain back and peeked out at the driveway, then turned to Aunt Maureen.

"It's time to go," she said, grabbing her suitcase.

Aunt Maureen nodded. "Have a nice trip home, honey," she said. "And tell your mother I'm glad she wasn't forced to come down to play nurse for me. I'll have to visit you all sometime soon."

"I will," Clara said, stepping out. "And yes you do."

She walked out onto the porch. She could see Aunt Maureen taking a stealthy look at Nicholas before pulling the door shut.

It was by far the brightest, clearest morning Clara had seen since arriving. "Of course it's this nice on my last day," she thought.

And there was Nicholas, sitting in his car with the windows rolled down. He leaned out and over the car's roof.

"You need help with that?" he said, pointing to her suitcase.

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