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Beach Party Writing Contest 2020: VoidDancer's entry

Prompt: All of them
Words: 1889

He stepped onto the sand and looked out at the calm waves. A warm breeze lazily drove the sand to erase his footsteps behind him as he made his way to the water's edge. Seabirds flew low, diving down with precision to soar up again with glittering silvery fish as their prize.
He walked along the line where water and land met, the occasional wave creeping far enough inland to wet his feet. Spotting a seashell, he smiled and bent down to pick it up, turning it in his hands.

The first time he comes to the beach he hates it. The stupid sand and the stupid water and the stupid birds in this stupid place his parents insisted they move to. It's his 8th birthday and all his friends are too far away and they have only been here for a week and he is never going to find friends as awesome as those he had to leave behind and no one should be alone on their birthday. He kicks at the sand in frustration and glares at the world in general. "We know you are sad your friends can't be here. We would have waited but we had to move now, there was no other way. How about we make the best of it and get some ice cream?" His mother sounds sad and he knows they are trying. He knows. It still sucks. He steels himself and smiles. "Three scoops?" he asks hopefully and his mother looks relieved. "Three scoops and sprinkles." She nods and they walk along the beach to a small hut selling drinks and ice cream.
Ten minutes later the world is a tiny bit less bad. At his age ice cream still goes a long way towards making things right and he runs along the water's edge with a half melted scoop of vanilla and the endless energy only youth and copious amounts of sugar can produce. He spots a sea shell and decides that he has to have it, steering towards it with single minded focus. What he does not notice in his determination is the small girl already reaching for it and they collide in a heap of limbs and sand and ice cream.
When they manage to untangle themselves his prize is in the girl's hand. "That's my shell!" he yells and grabs for it. "Nu uh, I grabbed it first!" the girl says decisively and holds it behind her back. "But it's my birthday!" he tries. She thinks. Shaking her head she says "Just because it's your birthday doesn't mean you can just ask for things." She has quite a fierce glare for such a tiny thing. He glares right back until suddenly the absurdity of the situation hits him. They are both covered in ice cream and surrounded by more seashells than both of them together could ever gather. And he starts to laugh. The girl looks baffled for a second, then joins in the laughter. "I'm Keera." she says. And that's that. She never gives him the shell but he has gained something much better. A new friend.

With a fond shake of his head at the memory he tossed the shell into the water where it is swallowed by the waves. Close to where it went under an empty bottle bobs in the water, brought close to the shore before being dragged back out.

When he is ten Keera is no longer his only friend. She is his best friend but there is a whole group of others with them, once again running along the water´s edge on his birthday. Something half buried in the sand catches his eye and he stoops down to find an empty bottle, sealed with a cork and a small bit of paper inside. The others crowd around and excitedly he pulls out the new utility knife he got earlier to pry the bottle open. “I bet it is a letter from someone stranded on a remote island!” Nem shouts excitedly. “Noooo, I bet it is a love letter!” Eskra sighs. “Ewwww, no, that would be stupid. You girls are always so sapp…” Ilias does not get to finish his sentence when Keera cuffs him on the back of the head and glares at him, still as fierce as on the first day they met.
He carefully pulls the paper from the bottle and unrolls it. “A map, it´s a treasure map!” he exclaims and hops up and down excitedly. The next few hours are spend retracing the steps marked out on the map. None of them question the fact why a treasure map washed ashore would show the way to a treasure buried just around the corner. Or that said treasure consists of rock candy skulls, when after the hunt they all flop down into the shade sucking on the sweet treats. His parents fawn over the little explorers and wink at each other when hearing all about the day´s adventures. Keera sits next to him and when he drops his candy into the sand and looks upset she wordlessly hands over her last one and smiles. Around her neck, tied to a simple leather cord, is the seashell that started their friendship.

He drew nearer to the stretch of the beach where the currents deposit quite a bit of driftwood. From small twigs to whole logs thrown into the ocean during the last big storm it littered the beach. A few younglings gathered around a bonfire, laughing and spinning a bottle around. He smiled and passed them by, knowing they would never even notice his presence as absorbed as they were in their game. It seems some things stay the same for every generation.

When he turns 16 they build a bonfire on the beach for his birthday. This is the first time they are allowed to party without his parents present and he is so proud, finally they start to see he is almost grown up! The flames licking the logs are turned green and blue by the salt infusing the logs and make for a magical atmosphere. The weather is mild, just this side of too cool but the fire´s warmth keeps them comfortable. Suddenly Nem declares “I know the perfect game for this occasion! Let´s play truth or dare!” There are mixed reactions from cheers to groans. It begins pretty harmless, silly dares like making a handstand at the waterline – Ilias sputters as the waves hit him and make him fall over – and truths that surprise no one as they have all known each other for years. But soon the dares keep getting riskier, the questions more personal. Keera decides on truth every time and the 5th time it is her turn Nem shouts over her “New rule, you only get to pick truth or dare three time in a row. Some people here are just too boring otherwise!” “Yeah, boring!” Eskra parrots and somehow the whole group gets caught up in it, jeering and making chicken noises and being cruel in the way only kids can be when feeling powerful in a group. He does not want to get involved and stays silent. But when Keera looks at him for help and he still does not open his mouth because what is he supposed to do? He knows it was the wrong decision. Her usual glare is absent, there is just a look of disappointment and pain and his stomach roils when he realises that by keeping silent he has deeply hurt his best friend. She stands to leave abruptly and after a split second of indecision he jumps up to follow. “Oh, lovers´ quarrel” someone snickers but he ignores them. “Look, I am sorry. But what did you want me to do?” But the moment he says it he realises that making excuses is not going to cut it. He wants to be grown up and being grown up does mean standing up for what is right, not leaving your best friend to the wolves. It means owning up to his mistakes. Especially when it comes to people he cares about. “Actually, I am just sorry.” He tries again and apparently his tone conveys his sincerity because Keera looks at him quizzically for another moment before nodding. The two sit down and watch the ocean in silence for another few minutes, comfortable in each other´s presence again. They run back to the bonfire when they hear a commotion, finding an angry looking officer lecturing the others on something they did in one of their rowdier dares the game had devolved to. They grin at each other and go back to their quiet spot to let them deal with it on their own.

He carefully picked his way up the cliffs at the end of the beach. The sun was sinking lower and the sunset from up there is spectacular. Reaching the top, he sat on one of the rocks near the edge.

The last time they all come together at the beach for his birthday is when he turns 21. Nem had split from the group of friends shortly after the bonfire episode. Eskra will move across the country to be with the love of her life – her words, she always had been the romantic of the group. Ilias would start a job a few cities over soon and the rest of them had been accepted to schools all across the country. They make promises to meet back up every year but deep down they all know it is not going to happen. None of them want the night to end and they sit around yet another bonfire, laughing and talking until well past midnight. One after the other leaves he and Keera are the last to sit under a sky that is already showing the first light of dawn. “We´ll stay in contact, right?” he asks and she gives him a look that says “Duh, of course” louder than any words could. “No matter what happens, we´ll meet back here in ten years” she says, as if it is fact. “Ten years?” “Yes, right up there on that cliff at sundown.” “Bit dramatic don´t you think? Did you spend too much time with Eskra before she left?” he jokes and gets a shove for his troubles. “Ten years.” She repeats.

It has been ten years since he was last here. As much as he hated the place when he first moved here he now looks back with nothing but fondness and good memories. The sun is barely touching the horizon, painting a trail from the beach into the distance, colouring the ocean a rich gold.
Footsteps crunched on the path behind him and Keera plopped down next to him, handing him a slightly warm bottle of Tiger Fizz with a smile.

It has been a mere five months when there is a knock on his door. Confused he opens it, not expecting any guests, he hasn´t really made any new friends in this town yet. “You know what, that whole 10-year-idea was stupid.” And that´s that, as it always has been with Keera.

Keera handed him a small package and upon unwrapping it he held a seashell necklace in his hands. “It was about time you got your own.”