In the darkness, something stirred. A tiny heart began to beat slowly, and with the coursing of blood came memories. Flight. It remembered being raised up by invisible hands to drift in the icy air. It remembered clouds like cotton brushing its cheeks. It remembered great waves of starlings breaking around it, like salt water over a turtle's back. Most importantly, it remembered what it was like to be free.
"Oh, leave it be. We've got plenty of rocks already."
Little Maggie pouted. Pools of color spilled into her cheeks until they were as bright as her curly hair. She stomped one foot in the sand. "But it's so pretty."
David sighed and risked a quick look heavenward. Unfortunately, no one had left him guidance written in the clouds. God must not be into skywriting. "You said that about all the other rocks, princess." He opened the plastic bag he was carrying to show her.
Maggie put her hands on her hips and hmphed loudly. "I want that one."
David thought she reminds me so much of her mother, sometimes, but he didn't say it. Instead he dipped a slight, stiff bow and said "Okay, princess. Your wish is my command." Maggie giggled.
David squatted down and picked up the stone. Truth be told, it was rather beautiful. It wasn't like most beach rocks: as polished and bright as sea-glass in the surf and then dull and blotchy when they dried. Nestled in a little bed of warm sand, the stone was already dry. It was also jet black and smooth, perfectly oval-shaped. It had been soaking in the sun for a long time, too. It was warm when David picked it up.
He went to put it in the bag with all the other rocks (to be forgotten and dumped discreetly in the backyard after a few days), but Maggie grabbed his arm. "I wanna carry that one."
David smiled. She rarely volunteered to help anyone with anything. He thought he should encourage her. "Thank you very much. It was getting heavy."
Maggie shot him one of the oldest looks he had ever seen. It said I'm not doing this for you, you know. David clapped his mouth closed and handed her the rock. He knew better than to question any woman—even a six-year-old—when they gave him that look.
The instant the stone passed into her hands, Maggie brightened. She started skipping away, towards the parking lot. "Hey, I thought you wanted to stay here a while longer?" The words caught up to her a few skips later and she stopped for a moment to shake her head.
"Uh-uh." Auburn curls bobbed in the sea breeze.
Relief heaved out of David's lungs. He had been wondering how long it would take to appease the little scavenger. Fifteen minutes ago, her brother Lucas had gone to the parking lot to wait by the car, despairing of ever convincing his father to leave. David hadn't gone after him. Lucas was in a phase where he had to do everything on his own, which wasn't strange for a thirteen-year-old.
"Hey, you can't just stand there, Daddy. I can't drive yet."
David snapped out of his reverie with a smile. He acted like he was considering something, then said "Maybe you're right. Six is a little young for driving. I'll teach you next year."
Maggie made an I know you're kidding and it's not that funny face. Then she turned around again and started walking slowly away, that way he could catch up before they reached the parking lot.
They both found Lucas by the car, sulking. He said he didn't like beaches much and asked to be left out the next time they went. David said okay, but in the mean time they should all go and get ice cream. Lucas grudgingly accepted. Maggie was ecstatic.