Clara shook her head and said, "I appreciate your offer to help but I can handle it myself – thank you very much!"

Nicholas gave her a strange look as she opened the back door and tossed her suitcase inside.

"You're actually a pretty weird chick," he said.

Clara laughed. "It's an inside joke between me and Aunt Maureen," she said.

"I figured," Nicholas deadpanned. He started the car and backed out of the driveway.

"How's she doing?" he said, turning the wheel and starting off down the street. "I can come by sometime and check in on her."

"That would be nice, but she's completely fine," Clara said. "It's like nothing even happened to her. Just like you."

Nicholas held his chest. "But she doesn't remember," he said. "So she doesn't understand what Eric did for her. I do. You and I - we'll always know..." His voice sounded distant.

Clara rested a hand on his leg. "Yes we will," she said. "But that doesn't have to be a bad thing."

Nicholas flipped on his blinker at the corner, slowing down as he turned onto Central Avenue so a group of kids could cross in front of him.

"Kevin and the others made it sound like a huge burden," Nicholas said.

"I don't doubt that it will be," Clara said. "But it's also a privilege. We know something that no one else knows. Maybe there are more out there like Eric. And when Kevin and the others get old, they'll need someone to take their place."

"I don't even want to think about that," Nicholas said. "Besides, we don't really know anything about Eric. His body doesn't work the way ours does. He might not live much longer."

"Or he might outlive us all," Clara said. "It's possible."

Nicholas shook his head. "You sure know how to put someone's mind at unease," he said.

Clara laughed. "We can talk about it later," she said. "I'll give you a call once I'm settled back in at home. And thank you, by the way, for driving me to the bus station."

"I'd drive you all the way if you'd let me," he said. "I think I'm getting better at highways now."

"You're a very sweet person, Nicholas," Clara said, "but I really need some time with my parents alone. Especially my mother."

"Gotcha," Nicholas said. His eyes got wider. "Oh!" he said. "I almost forgot – I got you something."

"Really?" Clara said. "Now I feel bad. I didn't get you anything."

"Don't sweat it," he said. "It's nothing big."

He reached behind his seat and pulled forward a white paper bag. Clara gave it a suspicious look as he handed it over. The bag was stapled shut at the top and there were grease stains all down its sides.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Just open it," Nicholas said. "I got it just before I picked you up, so it should still be hot."

Clara removed the staples from the bag's flap. When she peeked inside, the sweet smell of batter and sugar washed over her. She reached in and pulled out a giant hunk of greasy funnel cake.

"Nicholas," she said, "you literally could not have given me a better going away present."

"I passed a stand walking to my car and couldn't resist," he said. "I did good?"

Clara took a bite. The funnel cake was the perfect temperature. It tasted even better than she'd imagined.

"You did very good," she said. Her words were barely audible from the amount of food she'd crammed into her mouth.

Nicholas turned into the parking lot behind the bus station. He pulled into an empty spot and looked over to Clara.

She finished chewing and rolled up the top of the bag. "This is exquisite," she said, wiping her mouth. "I'll save the rest for the bus ride."

"Good luck with that," Nicholas said, suddenly sounding deflated. "And I'm not even going to offer to carry your bag inside the station. A guy can only take so much rejection."

Clara laughed. She looked over at the car's clock. "Well, the bus leaves in fifteen minutes and I still have to buy my ticket, so I'd better get moving."

She unbuckled herself and opened the car door. Nicholas just stared at her. The angle of his eyebrows and the way his lip curled into a half smile/half frown made Clara wonder if she'd done anything to give him the wrong idea about her intentions.

"I'm really going to miss seeing you every day, Nicholas," she said. She felt like she'd only really understand the sentiment once she was on her way home.

"Me too," Nicholas said. "But you have to come back to visit. Next summer?"

Clara nodded and said, "Definitely." She leaned across and held her hand on Nicholas' cheek, laying a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth. Intentions be damned.

When she pulled away, Clara saw the biggest, goofiest smile that had ever adorned a human face.

"Bye," she said.

Nicholas managed to get out a weak, "See you soon."

Clara stepped out of the car and opened the back door. She dragged her suitcase to the ground, shutting both doors behind her. As she started off toward the station, she took one last look at Nicholas. The boy who had taken a metal spike through the chest for her – almost died for her – pulled out of the parking space. She hadn't known him for very long at all, but the ache that had already begun to form made that seem impossible.

Clara watched as Nicholas turned onto the road. A few seconds later, he was gone.

As she walked into the entrance of the bus station, a man pointed at Clara's suitcase. With an excited smile, he said, "Oh man – that's so awesome! I totally remember that place!"

Clara looked down at the "I Lost My Head at Breach Point Castle" bumper sticker proudly displayed across the side of her luggage. She loved the way it looked there.

"So do I," she said. She returned the confused man's smile before noticing the ticket counter and walking away.

------------------

Thanks for reading Chapter 43 – and completing Breach Point! If you enjoyed the book, please consider voting or leaving a comment – I respond to every one, and it will help the book reach more people.

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Thank you!

- Steve


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