The boy was crying under a picnic table, but Winter didn’t know why. He was a lot older than her, six, maybe even seven. She crawled beneath and sat down next to him, not caring that her red and white sundress would get mussed. She’d lost her sandals somewhere but she’d managed to hold on to her red hat. Grandma Bridget said it was important so she didn’t burn in the summer sun.
The boy looked up at her, his expression wary, and wiped his face on his coat sleeve. It was peculiar, wearing a suit jacket to a family picnic. But this boy was a guest and Winter smiled at him, wanting to make him feel better.
The boy did not smile back.
Okay, she had to try harder. She reached out and took his hand, and his black brows rose at her touch. Her smile widened and she gently pulled him out from under the table and away from the party. They walked in silence through the gardens, pixies flying from flower to flower overhead, until they came out the other side through the garden gates and their feet sunk into the sand of the beach. The black-haired boy looked around, his dark blue eyes devouring the sight of sand and sky and water. So much water. This was the ‘Cific Ocean, and it was beautiful.
Winter led the boy to the other side of the big dune where it was cool and quiet and where the water brought the scent of salt and fish to pool at their feet. She sat down and took off his shoes and socks, smiling, because she knew it hurt to have sand in her shoes, and shook the sand she found in his out of them, setting them beside him. The boy watched her as if trying to figure her out, and she simply continued to smile.
Winter saw a seashell half-buried next to the boy’s shoes and picked it up, brushing off the sand. It was a clam shell the size of her hand, pretty and pearly on the inside. She handed it to the boy whose brows rose again, but this time a tiny smile played at the corners of his mouth. Winter bounced up to her feet with a grin. So he liked shells? She could find shells better than anyone!
“Where are you off to?” the boy asked, but she was already back with a spirally shell with a broken tip to offer him. And then she moved a little further away, looking for more shells.
The afternoon passed and the shell pile grew and the boy’s smile widened. Winter brought him squishy seaweed and dune grasses and succulent ice plant flowers and he collected them all, touching and smelling each offering with fascination.
Over the top of the dune appeared Winter’s Uncle Adrien, her Aunt Gwen’s new husband, with a camera in hand. He snapped a picture and smiled down at them in his sad, gentle way. “There you are. Your father is looking for you. It’s time to go.”
The boy looked disappointed but he quickly put his shoes and socks back on and stood, slipping his jacket on and buttoning it, pocketing a shell as he did so. “Ta.” He inclined his head to her and turned to follow Uncle Adrien back to the house.
Winter smiled and waved at him as he walked away, sorry to see her new friend go but determined to show him a happy face as he left.