Castle in the Sand
The sun was warm on his shoulders and the top of his head, but still weak in its the early summer rays. He was dressed in shorts and a cotton tee shirt, his shoes and socks and the windbreaker his mother insisted he take were up from the shoreline, away from the potential danger of getting wet. Intent on his task, he was still aware but not quite as in tuned as he would normally be to the passing of time.
It had rained the night before, making the sand hard and stiff... just right to work with. The seat of his shorts were damp, and granules of sand clung to his legs and feet, and the side of his neck where he'd scratched an itch with a sandy finger. The boy cleared more sand away, patted a handful into shape and added it to his construction. He sat back on his heels, and stared at it critically. The tower was lopsided, and a careful hand worked to straighten its line, give it a rounder look.
His light was blocked, and he looked up, tilting his head to the side, staring at the voice's owner with one eye closed and the other half shut against the brightness of the sun. The speaker was a boy about his own age with long hair in a braid, wearing a dark red tee shirt and jeans with the legs rolled up. Heero stared at the boy for a moment only and went back to his task. The question didn't really need an answer, so he didn't.
The shadow covering his castle didn't move for several minutes, but Heero didn't need the light. He deepened the moat, and began carving out the drawbridge. The light snort reminded him the boy was still there; he had almost forgotten, but not quite. The shadow moved away and Heero looked up long enough to watch the boy wade into the surf. Heero grimaced and turned away. This place where his grandpa lived was by a lake and not the ocean. Only they called it a loch and not a lake, and the beach was more rocky than sandy. And the sun was weaker than it was at home.
Up the hill was his grandpa's house and Heero wondered when his mother would call him in. He wasn't finished yet, and knew the tide would wash away during the night what he had done.
"Here," said the boy from before. Only he was behind Heero now, his cupped hands thrust forward, filled with small shiny pebbles. "If you put them in the sand, it'll look like a real castle."
Heero peered up at the boy and down to the pebbles he carried. He picked one up from the pile and it was round, dark and smooth. Turning it over in his fingers, Heero nodded slightly, and pushed it carefully into the castle's blockade. He liked the looks of it and turned to the boy.
"You can help." His hand gestured to the castle and the sandy spot along side him. "If you want."
The boy grinned, showing that the tooth fairy had visited him a couple of times recently. "Sure!" The boy sat with a sudden drop, and spilled the pebbles out of his hands and into a small pile between the two of them.
It was only when his mother appeared out on the sand next to him, that Heero noticed how much time had passed. His castle... no, their castle was finished, or nearly so. But hours had gone by, and the castle was covered in pebbles, and Duo (for the boy had a name, and wasn't afraid to tell Heero what it was) had added another turret. It had taken many trips for the both of them, along the shoreline and up near the hillock path, to gather enough pebbles and stones, and four skinny twigs as straight as they could find. Thick grass blades worked as the pennants, and scrawny cones with twigs poked into its body were horses and cattle.
"Time to clean up for dinner, Heero," his mother said. But her voice was gentle and lilted, and Heero knew she was pleased about something. Maybe grandpa had had a good day today.
He stood up and brushed at his knees. The boy, Duo, stood up as well, but he made no move to brush the sand from his clothes. His arms hung loose at his sides, and Duo was staring at the castle they'd made. Heero wiped his palms over his shirt, watching Duo. He cast a quick glance back at his mother before reaching out to touch Duo's arm.
"I'll be back tomorrow," he said quietly. "We can build a new one then."
"I'll be here." Duo said, and shoved his hands into his pockets.
Heero nodded once, and felt his mouth lift up in a slight smile. He turned quickly, and ran to catch up to his mother, who stopped to pick up Heero's shoes and socks. At the top of the hill path, he turned to look back and waved to Duo still standing below. He was still smiling, and his mother reached out a hand to ruffle his hair. Even if she had gotten after him for ignoring his windbreaker.