"How do I know which one to pick?" she asked, stooping down to inspect the shore line.
"You pick the rock you're curious about" Said the boy. "Like this rosy one here. Don't you wonder what's inside?"
"I guess so. Okay, how about this one?" She held a smooth yellow stone between her thumb and forefinger."
"Good choice. Now put it here" he said, placing the specimen on a large grey slab of rock. "And hold this," he instructed, placing a big jagged rock in her hands. "Now break it."
She hesitated. Then she brought the rock crashing down. There was dust and the air smelled like gun powder.
"Beautiful! let's see, let's see"
The yellow stone was smashed to several pieces. she held one up and bits of crystal sparkled in the sun.
"It's nice isn't it?" He asked.
"It is nice," she agreed, "But I don't get how you can do this all day."
"I don't get how you can go to school all day."
"I guess that's fair. Anyways, here's your homework. Today it's only math. When do you think you'll come back to school?"
"Come on Peter. You can't stay out on the beach your whole life breaking stones. I'm surprised anyone's let you stay out this long."
Peter didn't seem to be listening. He ran his hands over the pebbles before him. "Sometimes there's sea glass too," He said mildly.
"I like sea glass," said the girl. "Anyways, I should get home before it's dark."
Peter considered this as he held a piece of the broken yellow stone between his palms.
"Do you live in one of the trailers?"
The girl felt her neck grow hot. "I do."
Peter hung his head. "You're lucky. I like the swing set you've got over there."
She bristled. "Are you making fun of me?"
The boy looked taken aback. "I'm not. I'm sorry. I'm not."
After the girl was gone, Peter sat watching the sea. The tide came in and drew back, came in and drew back. Peter had long ago decided that this was God.
The sky was turning purple and pink and all the stones on the shore turned that way too. For most of the day, for all their subtle differences, the stones were mostly grey. Sunset changed the look of everything. Even his math homework, held down beneath a smooth round rock, looked to be a dreamy neon. Peter figured sunrise had a similar effect on the beach, but he was never awake to see it.
On the horizon he saw a figure approaching. Her clothes looked purple and pink too, but Peter knew they were really white. His mother always wore white.
When his mother reached him, she set down a Tupperware container full of ravioli before him. She stood above him, her arms hanging awkwardly at her sides.
"Thank you," smiled Peter. "That's always been my favorite. You cook ravioli so well. You cook everything so well."
She stood there, not meeting her son's gaze. She clenched her jaw and looked to the sky, giving the effect of a war-weary soldier. Then she began to sob.
"What did we do wrong?" She asked.
Peter looked unmoved. Or like he wasn't really there at all.
"Nothing, mom. I just can't come home."
"When," She asked pointedly, "will you be able to come home? When will we be enough for you to come home to?"
"It isn't that," Peter assured her, "I just realized I have to be here."
"You belong at home, and you have to go back to school. We've tried to reason with you. It's just not acceptable."
Peter drew his knees up to his chin. She knelt down in the sand to look at his face, searching. It was the face of a boy who had already accepted everything.
Night on the beach was freezing, or at least it felt that way. And the dark seemed darker than anywhere peter had ever slept. He looked forward to the nights when the moon was full or almost full, hanging above the sea and spilling light over every wave. Tonight the crescent moon was thin and pitiful. "Still Beautiful," he thought.
The tide was rising as Peter made his way towards the dunes. At this point, he knew the way to his blanket pile well. Sometimes he found little birds nesting in the dunes. He tried to set up camp as far from them as he could.
He crawled under his quilts and drew them around him. He knew it was only a matter of time before his mother realized they were missing. He closed his eyes and could hear the sea. He pushed the top of his head out of his cocoon and felt the wind move his hair.
Peter had moved to the seashore about a month before his physical body moved there. He had made up his mind on the school bus returning home one day. His epiphany didn't even come directly from the sea. It took the form of a cloud. Peter was watching the cloud from the bus window when he realized it was the best one he'd ever seen. He was filled with a reverence that quickly turned to anxiety. How could he make sure this cloud, which would surely dissipate, was remembered? He didn't have the words to describe it, and while he was a competent draftsman of faces and trees, he knew he could never make an adequate drawing of the cloud. So how would anyone else experience this perfect thing? Then, with relief, he realized it didn't matter. That if he felt this way towards this cloud, then surely many others had felt similarly towards other clouds. And nothing had to be done about it. It was no one's responsibility to document the sight or communicate the feeling. That's when Peter knew it would be best to live by the sea.
Peter awoke at noon, a bit sweaty under the blanket pile. He took the tupperware from last night's ravioli and rinsed it in salt water. Then he walked around where the shore was wet and glassy, reflecting the clouds above. He got on his knees to watch little bubbles emerge from a tiny hole, followed by a tiny crab who ran fearfully back to the water, claws held above its head.
Peter walked up to where the sand was dry and surveyed the banks of stones of all shapes and sizes, warming in the sun. He chose his place and sat down to begin the day's ritual of breaking stones.