“Daddy daddy, is that the beach?”
“Yes. That’s the beach.” Marie-Laure pulls her father along the by the hand. She feels her heart beating faster as they get to the stairs that lead to the shoreline. All around them seagulls fly back and forth — she smells salt in the air.
Her father is excited also but in a different way. He is content to relive these moments of childhood vicariously through his daughter. He smiles.
“Slow down sweetie. The beach isn’t going anywhere.”
“Yes, daddy but…” Marie-Laure stops. The ocean. The ocean! Right in front of her. She feels small and grabs her fathers leg.
“It’s pretty big isn’t it?”
She says nothing. When she raises her face to the sky she can feel thousands of tiny raindrops mist her face.
“Is it starting to rain daddy?”
“No dear. That is just mist from the ocean. Sit down and take off your shoes. Now roll up your pant legs.”
She does what he tells her. He does the same. The ocean is gigantic compared to anything she has ever seen. It splashes and rumbles and thunders; she looks out. The ocean dilates and falls over itself. She has never seen anything so enormous. Why didn’t they tell her it would be like this?
“What do I do now daddy?”
She walks. There are cold pebbles beneath her feet — now smooth sand. She reaches down and grabs a handful of it but it slides between her fingers.
“Did you know Marie-Laure that sand is trillions of tiny little rocks?”
She feels a million microscopic rocks between her toes. They pull the heat from the soles of her feet and leaves chilled.
“I didn’t know rocks could be so soft…and cold,” she says, “Daddy what do we do at the beach?”
Her father points to a boy further down the beach. He is building a sand castle; now he is splashing in the water; now he is throwing rocks into the waves. She watches him for a while and then turns to her father. He is holding a handful of rocks.
“Here, try it.” He throws a rock and it lands far into the ocean. She tries. Her rock lands a few feet from the water and rolls in with a splash. She quickly looks to see if the boy is watching but he is too busy digging in the sand with a stick for buried treasure. She looks up at her father.
“Not bad. Try again.”
She picks up another rock and throws it into the ocean. This time her rock skips over a wave. Her eyes widen with excitement. “Did you see that daddy? My rock made it all the way past the beach’s waves. Then it jumped!” She looks over at the boy again — this time more confidently.
He is watching.
He keeps digging for treasure.
A flock of seagulls squawks above her. She is beginning to like the ocean. Her father picks her up and spins her around three times. She no longer feels afraid. The ocean is her friend.
Marie-Laure throws more rocks, searches for shells, builds sandcastles and pretends she is the queen of a powerful kingdom. She sings about the ocean and about the animals. She skips up and down the beach.
Her father calls, “Marie-Laure it’s time to go home.”
She runs back to her father, “Daddy daddy look what I found.” She extends her hand to him and shows him four shells. She is content with her work. Marie-Laure puts on her shoes and grabs her father’s hand to go home. Together they walk back up the stairs.
“Why didn’t that boy wave back to me?”
He smiles, “Sweetie, sometimes when boys are on adventures, they only notice the people who are on the adventure with them. Perhaps he was just on an adventure.”
This answer satisfies her. She wonders what kind of adventures the boy might have been on. Maybe one day she will learn. “Do you think mom will like my shells?”
“Yes, Marie-Laure. I think she will like them very much.”
• • •
It is three weeks and two days since Marie-Laure visited the ocean for the first time. She asks her parents the same questions every day. “Can we visit the ocean today?”
“Not today sweetie we have errands to run,” her father says. “Not today Marie-Laure, your father has an appointment today in town,” her mother says. It is cool and foggy nearly every day for three straight weeks. To Marie-Laure, this just reminds her of the mist from the ocean. She dreams of going back again; she feels the blanket on her bed and imagines it is the sand on the beach; she dreams of finding even more shells; she draws plans for a sandcastle; she dreams of all the adventure that awaits her at the beach — if only it would stop raining.
It’s a Saturday.
Her father gently wakes her up. “Marie-Laure. Wake up. Do you know what today is?”
He is holding up a brand-new bucket and shovel. She can hardly contain her excitement. Today is the day. Today she goes to the beach.
In one hand she holds her pail in the other her father’s hand. They walk to the beach. Her wavy blond hair blows into her face — it is a warm windy day.
“First we are going to throw rocks. Then we will look for shells. Then we will use my new bucket to make the greatest castle yet.” Her father nods in approval. “It really is a nice bucket,” she says again.
There it is — the ocean. She forgot how enormous it is. She releases her father’s hand and runs down the stairs. She is not scared this time. Marie-Laure takes off her shoes. She rolls up her pants. She feels a million grains of sand between her toes — each grinds against its neighbor. Her father is by her side now, “Here daddy. I found you some rocks already.”
“Wow! Thank you, Marie-Laure.” They throw all the rocks. Now they search for shells. Seven. Two of them are cracked. Her father laughs to himself, “Those crabs must have been cracking up before they left their shells.”
“Daddy. I don’t get it.”
“That’s ok. One day you’ll understand. What are we going to do next?”
“Now it’s time to make the biggest castle yet.”
Her father shows her how to take water from the ocean and mix it with the dry sand just right so the walls stand tall. She learns quickly and skips off.
Seconds. Minutes. Hours. She loses track of time. She is too busy building cities and finding adventure. Marie-Laure dreams that she has come home from a voyage at sea. She is welcomed with loud shouts and cheers. Crowds praise her for her bravery.
She looks up.
It is the boy.
“H…hi. That is a really nice bucket.”
“Thank you!” She beams — happy that the boy notices her prized possession — “I got it today from my daddy. Do you wanna try using it?”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah here. I will teach you.”
She shows him how to take water from the ocean and mix it with the dry sand just like her father showed her.
“See,” she says, “this way the walls stand even taller.”
The boy watches in amazement. “I have never seen a castle so high. Do you think we can make more? Here, I will help you gather more of sand.”
They are a great team. They build another sandcastle; and another; and another.
He says, “One day I will go on real adventures.”
“What kind of adventures?”
“Uh…I don’t know. The kind that people write stories about…you know from books and stuff.”
“But those kinds of adventures don’t happen in real life,” she said, “Grown-ups have different kinds of adventures.”
He stops, “What kind of adventures?”
“I don’t know. I suppose every day will be a different kind of adventure.”
“Like today? Today is sort of like an adventure. Isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I guess today is like an adventure.”
They work together on their city. They dream of kid adventures and wonder about grown-up adventures. They step back and admire their castles; tomorrow the tide will come in and their hard work will be gone. But that is tomorrow’s adventure — today they keep building castles in the sand.
“What is your name?,” He asks.
“Marie-Laure. What is yours?”
“William,” he says, “Hey! We should think of adventure names. You know like names that only we know.”
“Hmm…how about Sandcastle.” She giggles, “You are getting good at building castles.”
He scowls, “Ok I suppose that will do for now. But we should keep thinking.” They agree.
“What if I call you Beach Waves?”
“Beach Waves?! Why Beach Waves?”
“Cause in the wind your hair kinda looks like beach waves. It’s the perfect adventure name.”
William stands up turns his face to the wind and says in the most grown-up voice he can muster, “The adventures of Master Sandcastle and his sidekick Beach Waves.”
She laughs, “Hey who ever said I was your sidekick?”
“Well, every adventurer needs a sidekick…”
Her dad calls, “Marie-Laure time to go.”
“That my dad calling, I better go. See you later Sandcastle.”
“Bye Beach Waves,” he laughs but she is already is running back to her father.
She is quiet. Her father says, “How was your day at the beach?”
“It was great. William and I built sandcastles.”
“That’s wonderful. Who is William?”
“William is my friend. Well, his name is William but I call him sandcastle because he is really good at building sand castles. I taught him everything he knows. I showed him how to mix the sand and water just right so that the castle will stand tall.”
“Hmm…that great. And what a creative nickname.”
She is quiet again.
“Do you think my hair looks like beach waves? Sandcastle…I mean William said that my hair looks like beach waves.” She said slightly disgusted but mostly puzzled.
Her father smiles. “Sometimes when boys try to say something nice, they get their words mixed up and say things that sound funny. Your hair is beautiful Marie-Laure.”
He picks her up and sets her on his shoulders. The rest of the way home she tells him all about the castles she made with William.
• • •
Marie-Laure and William play together at the beach, now, more days than they do not. Some days William is not there. She doesn’t mind too much — she is happy to throw rocks into the ocean or search for shells. But adventure is always better with a sidekick.
Today they are jungle explorers jumping over rivers, escaping from quicksand and running away from man-eating jungle crabs. They are in search of an ancient Aztec Temples. Legend has it that within the ancient Temples there is a shell that gives the one who possesses it good fortune.
“Look Beach Waves! Over there. It is the ancient Temple,” He says pointing to a two-foot tall sand castle. It is about 30 yards away with a little blue shell on the top. “And, can you see on the very top of the temple, it is the stone we have been searching for.”
“Ahh yes but Master Sandcastle. Don’t forget that before we reach the temple we must get past the Valley of Boulders.” She points to a path they constructed earlier made of rocks they found on the beach. Each of them tiptoes carefully past the rocks.
“At last the long searched for Blue Shell has been found.” He laughs and hands the shell to Marie-Laure. “Here,” he says half-whispering, “They say whoever holds this shell will have good fortune.”
She looks at it and then hands it back, “You should keep it for all your other adventures.”
“An adventurer always looks out for his sidekick,” he says heroically.
She is quiet.
“Plus I took the treasure from the last adventure.” He pulls out a smooth gray rock shows it to Marie-Laure quickly then sticks it back in his pocket.”
“Daddy says we are moving next week. I won’t be able to go on any more adventures with you.” She is talking quietly and looking at the sand. “But we will still be friends, right? And you can keep the Blue Shell and it will give you good fortune on all your adventures.”
“But what about all our adventures? Every adventurer needs a sidekick.”
“It’s fine, right? Everything will be fine…won’t it?”
At first, William looks like he might cry. Then he looks mad. Everything isn’t fine.
“Aaand we can still be friends. And…here you can even keep my bucket to build extra tall sandcastles.” She hands her bucket to William.
Williams stands and wipes his face. “I don’t want your bucket. And I don’t want the shell either.”
She says nothing.
“Maybe we should have never been sidekicks after all.”
“But.. you’re my friend. Remember?”
“Friends stick together no matter what and so do adventurers. If we can’t go on adventures than I guess we can’t be friends either. I will just have to go on all my adventures alone.”
She begins to cry — big sad tears, “But…”
“Here! Take your dumb pail.”
She feels as if she can’t breathe. This is not how she wants her adventure to end. She shuffles awkwardly for her bucket and runs to her father.
By the time she reaches his She is sobbing.
William looks down at his feet and sees a rock. He throws it into the ocean.
“Marie-Laure. What is wrong?” Her father picks her up and squeezes her tight.
She cries. He walks her home.
They are almost home now. She says, “Daddy, why doesn’t William want to be my friend? He told me my pail was dumb.”
Her father signs. “Sweetie. Sometimes when boys are scared to lose something they love, they get angry and say things they don’t really mean. Marie-Laure you are a brilliant friend.”
• • •
It is a brisk cold day. Williams picks up a rock and throws it into the ocean. He has come every day but last Thursday for at least two weeks. He hopes that Beach Waves will come back. He misses his sidekick — his friend. He wishes that this is all part of their adventure — dreams of a happy ending.
“Why did I have to be so stupid?” He mumbles aloud to himself.
He builds another sandcastle. Tonight the beach waves will come. Tomorrow they will be gone. So will his castle. But today he will build. His castle is tall. He wishes it was taller.
“Done.” He says to himself as he places a Blue Shell on the top of his castle.
Tonight the beach waves will come. Tomorrow they will be gone. So will his castle. But today he looks for adventure.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR: If you have stuck around to the end, thanks for reading. This story was “inspired,” in part, by a book I recently read titled, “All The Light We Cannot See.” For those familiar with the book, you’ll no doubt recognize the name Marie-Laure and maybe some other similarities. Everything not inspired from the book is my modest attempt at creating a feeling, perhaps even more than a story. I will allow you, the reader, to determine whether or not I was successful in that respect. Should you find this story lacking, let me suggest to you a few that will not disappoint.