SINGING AMONGST SANDCASTLES
There's something about being alone that either makes you reflect or makes you wallow in your own self misery. I'd like to think I'm the type that reflects, but, in reality, I think I feel sorry for myself far too much for my own good. You see, my name is Mara and I was abandoned on someone's doorstep when I was around four years old. They'd tucked me into a blanket all nice and neatly and placed a letter into the hand that was curled into my body. My parents told me when I was younger once that a stork delivered me and, wanting to embrace the childish fantasies, I'd foolishly accepted that as being the truth. I know better now.
Here I was though, once again being alone, once again living and (sort of) loving my own company. Here I was, sitting under the birch tree where I first met my best friend and thinking.
I like thinking. It gets you places and you don't have half as many regrets if you think about things before you do them or say them. I learned that the hard way.
"How would you feel if I suddenly took off?" I asked, watching the grass ruffle around my feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him thinking. His mouth was doing the thing where it turned up and he was wrinkling his nose, attempting to look like he was considering the idea that I'd actually do something as silly as running away, but he knew me and I knew me and we both knew I'd never do it.
"I don't think you'd do it." He rubbed his nose with a finger and sniffed. "You're too settled here, Mar."
I raised an eyebrow. "Maybe I'd do it just to spite you."
He grinned, finger across his top lip so it was acting like a mustache. "My dear, I do believe you would never do that. You wouldn't leave me, you love me too much!"
"Elementary, my dear Watson, I do believe I would." I placed my finger over my top lip too and blew a raspberry at him.
His hand went over his heart and he fell over backward onto the grass. "You break my heart," he cried out, sobbing.
I sat up on my knees and peered over at him. Pretending my hands were as good as a stethoscope, I stuck one hand on his forehead and one ear to his heart, listening for its beat. "Sir, I think you're faking it. For this, your punishment shall be tickle torture!"
"Nooo," he howled, "anything but that!" His arms went over his head in an attempt to fend me off, but it was going to take more than that to deter me.
"Bwahaha," I cackled, lunging for his tummy and letting my fingers twitch and crawl over it, digging in and then racing around as he squirmed under me. His laughter rained down on me, encouraging me to go even further.
"How would you feel if I suddenly took off?" I asked the question again. We were under the birch tree, but the wind wasn't stirring the grass around us this time. My gaze was fixed upon his face, watching for any motion, any facial expression or gesture that might hint towards how he was feeling. Then, he's been my best friend for over ten years and he knows that I know him too well by now to give something away. When he tries to hide something, he hides it so deeply that even I can't get it out of him.
"I stand by what I said then, and so I repeat it now - I still don't think you'd do it," he replied, kicking at the ground so that a few dandelions were loosed and scattered in the air.
I raised a finger up to catch a seed on the tip. It hovered in mid air for a moment before falling off and floating on the ground. Dandelions are sometimes called wishies and when I was a child, I used to think that maybe if I blew on a dandelion and wished really hard, believed really hard, that my birth parents would hear my wish and would come and take me with them wherever they were, wherever they were going to.
I'd grown up wishing I could see their faces, remember their names – all those things a child hopes for, wants to have, but can't. Sure, I'd had things as I was growing up, I was loved, but I had always felt like the the outsider. You see, in the darkest of nights, not just my eyes will reflect the moon, but my entire body. I have fair skin – everyone else has dark skin.
I snatched up one of the dandelions that Steve had loosed and held the flower up to my face, peering at it intently.
I saw Steve looking at me out of the corner of my eye. "Are you trying to set that on fire with your mind?" he asked innocently.
I stuck my tongue out at him. "No, but I'll set you on fire if you don't watch your mouth," I replied. I held the dandelion up to his face, so close that it was almost tickling his nose. "Make a wish, you brute."
"Brute? Brute!?" he exclaimed, placing both hands over his heart. "Oh, you torture me so with your insults."
"I'll insult your face if you don't watch it."
"You can't," he proclaimed, "I'm much too good looking to be insulted."
I turned my head one way and then the other, eyeing him up from various angles. "I would beg to differ," I told him, "and your ego needs a sound popping."
"And you need a reality check," he murmured quietly.
I felt my eye begin to twitch. "And why would that be?"
He was entirely serious as he said, "Mar, look at yourself. You're asking me what I would think if you suddenly took off in search of your so-called 'real family'."
I felt the butterflies that had been dancing around in my stomach and around my heart harden so my chest felt heavy. My shoulders drooped a little. "You're my best friend, of course I care about your opinion."
"Then don't go."
I looked away. "It's not as simple as that. I have questions that I want, no, that I need answers for. I'm not going to get them here in Seabeth."
He lowered his head until it was the same height as mine and put his hand under my chin, gently pulling my head around until I was facing him. I kept my eyes turned away, but I could feel his eyes boring into mine. "Mar, Mara," he said softly, "look at me."
I didn't want to, but I felt obligated to. When I had been younger, he'd taken a liking to me and we hadn't left each others' sides since. We'd been teased as we were growing up that we were going to grow old together, get married, have kids, the whole house with the white picket fence scenario. We'd both laughed it off, saying even though we were best friends, we didn't love each other that way.
But still, seeing the look in his eyes that day, it made my icy heart want to crack into a million tiny pieces.
I reluctantly turned my eyes to look at him. His features softened into a smile. "Good."
"You're not gonna get all sappy on me, are you?" I asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
He chuckled. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, he chuckled. "Maybe."
I stuck my lower lip out in a pout. "I'm not gonna listen if you're gonna be sappy," I said resolutely.
"Okay, okay, I won't be sappy."
I grinned. "Good." Oh god, staring at his face was giving me butterflies. I thought those had turned into coal. My face flushed red.
His eyebrows knitted in concern. "You okay?" He placed a hand on my cheek and the other on my forehead, leaning forward.
Okay, so that wasn't helping. At all. It felt like my heart was about ready to leap out of my chest and slap him silly. "No, I'm not."
"Because you're my best friend and I'm not supposed to feel like this." I gestured flamboyantly for a moment, but gave up trying to explain the way I was feeling to him.
"You're looking at me like I'm lunch."
"Maybe I'm just hungry."
"Hungry for what?"
"Maybe the food you cook, because you're a damn good cook."
"But not worms, right?"
He had me pinned – I couldn't move. Above me, in one hand dangled an earthworm. He was threatening to drop it on my head; his taunts something along the lines of, "Well, your hair looks like worms, so I'm sure they'd love the company!"
I rolled my head from side to side, fear flooding my being and a horrified look on my face. On his was a look of pure glee. My reactions delighted him – this was how he got his kicks.
"Mara mara fo fa fara loves her worrrrmmmssss."
He dropped it on my head and ran away, laughing maniacally. I sank to the ground, where I was in the corner, and cried.
"OH. You are SO DEAD for that one, mister." He was close to me, so it wasn't hard to spring forward and pin him to the ground, and swivel myself around so that I was straddling him across his middle. He was back first on the ground, his legs and arms pinned by mine. I flexed my fingers and cracked my knuckles. His eyes widened as he realised what was coming. I grinned widely – and somewhat evilly - as I said, "Mercy?"
He shook his head. "I shall never stoop to the level of begging you for mercy."
"Are you sure you want to pee your pants?" I asked, raising an eyebrow and flexing my fingers some more.
"Well, I'd prefer not to, but if it has to come down to that..."
"So be it then." I attacked.
Five minutes later, he was a quivering pile of mess and my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. It had taken him that long to crack.
I looked over at him and crowed in triumph. "I must say, I'm pretty proud of myself. I can still kick your butt in tickle wars."
"I'll beat you one day."
"Not if I have a say in it, sunshine." I giggled and laid on the ground next to him. "I completely handed you your rear on a silver platter. Whether or not you choose to accept that is up to you, of course."
"I still think I'll beat you one day."
"Ha, that's funny," I replied and lightly touched his nose with a finger. I saw that there were still dandelions scattered around us – some of them had escaped destruction. "Hey, Steve," I whispered. The wind picked up around us as we lay beneath the silverbirch tree.
"Wanna scratch our names on the tree?"
He looked at me like I was crazy, then looked up at the tree. "Eh... why the hell not? Count me in."
I fumbled around in my pockets for a knife, then fished one out. "We can use this."
I raced him over to the tree, and was first to carve my initials in. I had a sudden sense of de ja vu, like I'd done this all before... but not with Steve, with a different person.
I found myself staring at the tree, my eyebrows knitted together as I concentrated on the bark. My finger was touching it, tracing the trails that it created and feeling the rain pouring down. I was relatively safe, sheltered by the tree, but I was still getting wet.
"Mara." I heard a soft voice calling my name and there in the rain was a lady, her arms outstretched, a look on her face that could only be described as loving. I felt an urge to run to her, away from the shelter and the safety of the tree, but something was holding me back. "Mara... come out, darling, it's safe here."
I heard myself say, "But I'll get wet."
She kneeled down and beckoned with her hands for me to go to her. "Then we'll dance. We'll dance to keep warm."
"But why dancing?" I called.
The rain made me feel like I shouldn't dance.
"Because the stars are out and they want a show!"
"I fall over a lot though."
She smiled. "I'll hold onto you, so you'll never have to worry about falling."
I ran to her and she swept me up in her arms and swung me around in a circle. I felt myself hit the ground and she hit the ground next to me.
"Dancing under the stars is a sort of freedom that you will never feel anywhere else, my love," my mother whispered to me. She was laying down next to me and we were under a tree, our arms splayed so that our fingertips were touching.
"Hey, Mara." She rolled over and leaned up on her elbow. "Wanna scratch our names in the bark on this tree?"
I nodded excitedly, giggling madly at the thought.
"Come on, let's go then!" I squealed as she grabbed my arms and heaved me to my feet. She raced me to the tree, gripping the trunk with both hands and then hiding behind it. "Maraaaaaa," she sang the a's out in my name. "You can't catch me!"
"Can so!" I replied resolutely and launched myself at her hand.
Mama giggled and removed her hands from the tree, sticking out her tongue and poking her head around the other side.
I raised my head to the heavens and stuck my tongue out too. "Mama, I can taste the rain! It's like God's crying for us."
"They're tears of laughter, Mara. God wouldn't be sad, not watching us. We're having so much fun."
I grinned sillily and rubbed my face against her wet pants and then looked back up at her again, my eyes wide and innocent. "Mamamaaaaaaa..."
"Yes?" She looked down at me.
"We're gonna be friends forever, right?"
Mama smiled slightly. "Of course, Mara, always."
"Pinky promise on it!" I lifted my hand, my pinky finger out, and looked up at mama, a disgruntled look on my face.
Mama squatted so she was on an eye level with me. "Okay, pinky promise." She was so close I could see my face reflected in her blue eyes. She hooked her pinky finger with mine and we shook on it. "Friends forever," she whispered.
I reached my arms around the tree, sinking to the ground. The bark created scratches on my arms, but I was past caring at that point.
"What's wrong, Mara?" Steve asked, having seen the look on my face.
I turned to him, wan, and put my back against the tree trunk, sitting on the ground. "I... just remembered something. Playing around the tree trunk triggered a memory for me."
"But we've played around the tree trunk hundreds of times before, what makes this time any different?" he asked, confusion colouring his voice.
I raised my head and looked up at where I could see our initials etched into the bark. "We've never done that before," I stated.
His gaze followed mine and I heard him utter an "Oh". I was stunned for a couple of moments before I felt him grab my hands and haul me up off the ground. He slung me over his shoulder and carried me over to where the dandelions had remained unharmed.
"Mm?" I was beyond coherent responses.
"Let's blow a couple wishies for shits and giggles and see where they land us."
I nodded acknowledgement and groped around on the ground until I found one. In my haste to pluck it, half of the flower seeds fell off.
Steve waved a hand in front of my face, but I didn't see it. Her face was imprinted on my mind. Soft features, a stubborn chin with a slightly square jaw, deep blue eyes framed with a dreamer's long eyelashes. Her brown hair was curly and ringlets escaped her bun, falling into her face. She spun me around in a circle, my child, young, toddler self, the air filled with laughter and my protests to be put down.
"Earth to Mara." He waved his hand in front of my face again and I jerked out of my trance.
"Oh, sorry, I was a thousand miles away." My voice was apologetic.
"Clearly." His mouth was set in a firm line.
"Hey, no need to frown, Chicken Licken," I murmured, using my childhood nickname for him.
At that, like I knew he would, he cracked a small smile. "Okay, you first."
"What am I doing?"
"The wishy, silly."
"Oh yea!" I already knew what I wanted to wish for, so I took a deep breath, pursed my lips and was almost set when I caught a glimpse of Steve's screwed up face and dissolved into laughter. "You," I stated, pummeling him with every word, "are a big, fat distraction."
"And I happen to pride myself on it!"
I death-glared him.
"Okay, okay, I won't put you off anymore."
"I'll hold you to that," I warned him, then turned my attention back to the dandelion. I repeated the goldfish imitation and then fixed my gaze on the feathery seeds. I thought about my real family, of her face, long and hard and closed my eyes. "I wish I could find my family," I whispered and blew as hard as I could.
Steve's face was solemn as he countered it with his wish. "And I wish you didn't have to leave to do so."
As he blew, the wind whipped past and took with it both of our wishes and they spiralled up into the bright, blue, cloudless sky.
I owe a big thank you to ohthevoices for beta-reading this revised chapter for me. Thank you so much, darlin, I always appreciate your input.
As far as this chapter goes, it's a lot different from the original and so it's worth a read through. If you've read the story before, you'll know that it was quite choppy and, to be honest, I was never really satisfied with it, haha. I'm really happy with this chapter though. The next chapter's half done - I promise it won't take half as long as this one did!
Thanks for reading!