email: flamebyrd [at] gmail.com
Arcady woke to see sunlight leaking in thin streams through the gaps in his blinds. He rolled over to face the wall.
"Archibald, are you awake yet? It's ten thirty!"
He groaned. "Mum, it's the holidays!" he yelled out.
"Archibald Randolph Cadman..."
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Arcady rolled off the bed and collapsed onto the floor. "Just let me get dressed."
He pulled on some jeans and an oversized t-shirt and stumbled downstairs.
His sister sniffed as he went by. "It's about time," said Verity. "I was wondering if you'd sleep all day."
"It's only ten thirty," he muttered. "You're all just freaky early risers." He pushed past his sister into the kitchen.
"Oh, there you are, Archie," said his mother. "Get your breakfast and sit down."
Arcady yawned and poured himself some cereal.
"Now, kids," his mother said, as Arcady sat down. "Your father gets a week off after Christmas, and we were thinking of going to Auntie May's beach house."
"This couldn't wait?" said Arcady, incredulously.
"I need to meet Mrs Henderson at 11," said his mother. "Oh, don't look so horrified, Verity! It'll be great," she continued. "The sun, the sea, the sand, no telephones, no computers..."
"What?!" said Arcady.
"No computers," she repeated, with a glare. "No television, no gaming consoles, no nothing. Books and sunshine will be good for you."
Arcady stared at her in horror.
"You can each bring a friend, if you like."
"Only one?!" yelped his sister.
"Yes, Verity, only one."
"If Archie doesn't bring anybody, can I bring two?" she asked, slyly.
"Hey, I have friends!" said Arcady.
"So who were you planning on asking, then?" she demanded.
"Kai," said Arcady, without having to think about it. "He already said that the Colberts don't get time off until mid-January."
"What about you, Verity?"
"I'll have to think about it," she said.
"Archie, why don't you go ask your friend, then?" said his mother. "We'll be leaving the day after Boxing Day."
Arcady nodded, and started to head back upstairs.
"Archibald, are you going up to use that machine? Just use a phone like a normal person, for heaven's sake!"
Arcady sighed. "I don't think I have Kai's phone number," he protested.
"Honestly, Archibald, you are completely useless... Use the phone book, for heaven's sake!"
"Beach house?" repeated Kai, wedging the phone between his chin and his shoulder as he doodled on a notepad.
"Yeah, it belongs to my aunt," said Arcady. "She usually rents it out, but I guess this year she has a window free."
"I see," said Kai. "Where?"
"South," said Arcady vaguely, and Kai could imagine the circles his hands would be making. "Not too far."
"I see," said Kai again.
"Um, I should warn you though," Arcady continued. "Mum's put an all-out ban on electronic devices."
"Don't worry," said Kai, smiling to himself. "I like the ocean."
"Really?" said Arcady, sounding surprised.
"I'm an islander," Kai reminded him. "Well, at least technically." In truth, he had no memory of where his parents came from.
"I suppose," said Arcady.
"I'll ask the Colberts about the beach house tonight," promised Kai.
"Please," said Arcady. "Or Verity will convince Mum she can take two friends and I'll be in girly hell for an entire week."
Kai wondered if he was supposed to laugh or be sympathetic. "Sounds horrible," he said. "I'll do my best."
"Catch ya on IRC," said Arcady.
The Colberts said it was fine for Kai to go away, as long as they got to meet this Arcady's parents first.
"Oh," said Kai, "I call him Arcady, but his real name is Archibald and I think that's what his family call him."
"I see," said Mrs Colbert.
"Why Arcady?" asked Mr Colbert.
Kai shrugged. "His initials spell A. R. Cadman, I imagine that's where he got it from."
Mr Colbert nodded, although he clearly thought it was strange.
Kai paused, as he thought of something else. "Oh, while I'm thinking of it, his father doesn't like magic, so if you could avoid mentioning that when you meet them..."
"I thought you didn't like lying about magic?" said Mrs Colbert.
"I didn't like lying to prospective guardians," said Kai, pointedly. "People I could be spending the rest of my life with. This is different."
"That's completely understandable, Kai," said Mr Colbert quickly.
Kai hesitated. "I'm sorry I'm not exactly what you expected," he said, quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"When you adopted me," said Kai. "I'm not exactly your average kid."
"Kai... Well, if you want us to be honest, you weren't what we were looking for when we decided to adopt a child. But we chose you because we liked you."
"My only regret is that you're so mature and independent you barely need us," said Mrs Colbert, with a smile.
Kai flushed. "I'm very glad you brought me here," he said. "Thank you."
Arcady found it hard to enjoy Christmas day, and he wondered if it was because he was getting older - was fourteen too old to enjoy presents? - or if it was the prospect of a week spent with no internet or computer.
Maybe it was the hours he had to spend with his extended family.
"So are you still playing around with computers, Archibald?" asked his aunt.
They sounded interested, but when he tried to explain what he was doing their eyes glazed over and they tried to change the subject.
"Do you know what you want to be when you grow up yet?" asked his grandmother. "You'll be fifteen in May, it's about time you started thinking about it."
"I want to be a computer programmer," said Arcady.
"Now, Archibald, isn't it about time you started being serious about this?"
"I am serious," said Arcady. "In a few years, you won't even be able remember a time without the internet and I'm going to be one of the pioneers of internet business."
She patted him on the shoulder. "Just promise me you'll think about it, Archibald."
After the third iteration of this conversation, Arcady gave up and fled upstairs to his room.
He lasted even less time on Boxing Day, much to the disgust of his parents.
The Colberts dropped Kai off at seven o'clock on the day after that.
"Hi," said Kai, when Arcady opened his bedroom door. "The Colberts are chatting to your parents."
"It is far, far too early to be up," said Arcady, ushering him in and thumping back down on the bed.
Kai grinned. "How was your Christmas?"
"Boring as hell," said Arcady. "And Boxing Day was worse. You weren't online," he added, accusingly.
"The Colberts have a billion friends and relations," said Kai. "I hardly got a moment to myself."
"So I'm kinda glad it's over," Arcady continued, deciding it was a fair excuse. "Although I'm not too thrilled about the beach house."
Kai shrugged. "I'm sure we'll come up with something to do."
"And my sister's friend," Arcady continued morosely. "Verity is bad enough on her own."
"Oh," said Arcady, as he remembered something. "You haven't forgotten, have you? About my father and magic." He didn't want to lose any potential parental approval he might have gained by having a friend (the horror) that, not only had magic, but also knew how to use it.
"I remember," said Kai. "I'll be careful. Although you've never really explained why, you know."
"Oh," said Arcady, "my father just thinks it's a waste of time. It's never going to earn you any money, so you shouldn't waste time on it. He'd be livid if he found out I was teaching myself how to use it."
Kai shook his head. "Where I grew up, my magic was pretty much the only thing that kept me alive," he said, wistfully. "I've never been particularly good at mental magic," he continued, "but that wasn't what they wanted us to do. They had lots of people to write spells, but they needed kids so that they could train them how to adapt to overcome the disruption to the magic streams."
Arcady raised his eyebrows. "Over here, magic is like... pure mathematics. Most people are dimly aware it exists, but it's mostly an academic field and serves no practical purpose. Because it's so easily defeated, it may as well not exist."
"I've noticed," said Kai. "It's weird. But gangs can't afford military-grade disruptors, so having a competent mage team can make or break a gang."
"You might have noticed I'm a little heavy-handed with my magic" Kai added, shyly. "That's because I'm used to working against resistance."
Arcady nodded again. "I think..."
"Archie! Kai!" His mother's voice drifted up the stairs. "Are you two ready to go?"
"Yes, mum!" called Arcady. "Come on," he said to Kai. "Time to face our doom."
In general, Kai had found Christmas rather surreal. It was his first Christmas with the Colberts, and he couldn't help but feel rather like a rare and important insect on display.
People in this country had such interesting priorities.
The Cadman family had hired a van, and the six of them bundled into it at precisely 7:30am.
"So, where are you from, Kai?" asked Mrs Cadman, after about half an hour on the road.
Kai was getting used to that question. Well, it should be obvious to anybody with working eyes that he wasn't the Colberts' natural son, and he didn't speak quite like a native. "I grew up in the Archipelago," he explained, using the general name the surrounding nations applied to the collection of island nations to the north - they changed governments and alliances so often most people didn't even both to try to keep track of them. "But I think my parents were Pacific Islanders."
"I see," said Mrs Cadman.
"After my mother died I entered an orphanage, and the Colberts adopted me a year ago." All true, although he did noticeably omit the 7 years spent entrenched in the semi-organised underworld of the Archipelago's gangs.
"And how are you finding it here?"
"It's... different," said Kai. "But I think I'm starting to get the hang of it now."
Arcady's sister, Verity, and her friend Anne-Marie started to quiz him about what he'd seen and done since moving to this country. By the time they reached their destination two hours later, Kai was thoroughly sick of being interrogated. He was starting to realise that to the people here, he was probably considered rather exotic.
The girls ran ahead to the house as Kai and Arcady lagged behind to help unpack.
"Oh hey, you brought the ice cream maker!" said Arcady. "I'll go put it in the freezer, okay?" He picked it up and dashed away in the direction of the house.
"Archie! Come back here and take some of these bags!" Arcady's mother shook her head. "Honestly, that boy..."
Kai held back laughter. "I'll take them," he said.
"Thank you, Kai," said Mrs Cadman.
It took about half an hour before Mr and Mrs Cadman declared the unpacking complete.
"Kai, get Arcady to take you out the front," said Mrs Cadman. "You really should see the view."
Arcady rolled his eyes, but obediently led Kai through the front door.
"Wow," said Kai, shading his eyes against the glare. White sand, contrasted against an azure sea that seemed to stretch on forever, filled his vision.
Arcady yawned. "I'm going to lie down," he said.
Kai stared at the waves gently rolling against the shore. He began to suspect the hardest thing about this holiday would be convincing Arcady to leave the house.
Arcady hated the beach. He hated the sand; he hated the pungent, salty tang of seawater and rotting seaweed. He hated the heat of the sun, he hated the cold of the water, and most of all, he hated sunscreen.
"Archie, you'll burn to a crisp if you don't put any on," said his mother, firmly.
"I wasn't planning on going outside," said Arcady, irritably, "until you made me."
"Come on Archie, Kai wants to go swimming!" said Verity.
Arcady shot Kai a glare at this betrayal.
Kai looked guilty. "I would, rather," he said. "But I'm happy to stay here if you like."
"Archie, you're being ridiculous," said his mother.
Seething with resentment, Arcady consented to being slathered in sunscreen and dragged off the front balcony onto the beach.
Kai followed Verity and Anne-Marie into the water, while Arcady sulked on his towel under the beach umbrella and drew swirls on the sand with a twig.
"Archibald, you are not going to spend all afternoon sulking," said his mother. "If you don't want to swim, at least make sandcastles or something."
"Aren't you afraid of my getting skin cancer?" said Arcady. "It's very dangerous, you know. The skin cancer rate of this country is one of the highest in the world."
"No," said his mother. "Now go out and get some sun, you're too pale."
Slowly, with as much drama as he could muster given the heat, Arcady got to his feet and shuffled over to the water's edge.
He swore he could feel his shoulders burning.
The sea water was cold - Arcady was tempted to say, freezing - and more than enough to convince Arcady his initial assessment of swimming conditions was correct.
He kicked the sand as he walked over to a collection of rocks and sat down on a dry patch.
There were some tiny pools of water, crusted over with salt. Arcady poked the crusts to break them, rubbing his fingers together to feel the undissolved salt in the water.
"Found anything interesting?" asked Kai.
Arcady blinked at his friend. "Not really," he said. "Just salt pools."
"I see a crab," said Kai, sitting next to him.
"I see... what is that?" said Arcady.
Kai looked where he was pointing.
"A sea snake?" continued Arcady.
The creature was about five metres away. It was a kind of translucent blue-green colour, serpentine with fins. Arcady swore it was floating on top of the water, but he supposed it must just be an optical illusion.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Kai.
"What have you boys found?" asked Arcady's mother, walking up behind them.
"What's that over there?" asked Arcady, pointing at the creature.
His mother shaded her eyes. "I can't see anything," she said.
"Right there," Arcady insisted. "It's a sea snake or something, isn't it?"
His mother shook her head. "I really can't see anything."
Arcady and Kai exchanged looks.
"It's right..." Arcady blinked, as the creature popped out of existence. "It's gone."
"Well," said his mother, "when you boys are done, come back up to the house and we can have lemonade."
"Okay!" said Arcady.
"The ice-cream maker should be frozen enough to use tomorrow," said Arcady's mother the next morning. "So I'll get you boys to help me make the ice-cream mix now."
Recipe for Toblerone Ice cream
* 1 cup full cream milk
* 1 cup cream
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 2 whole eggs
* 1x 200g bar Toblerone
1. Whisk together eggs and sugar until well combined and fluffy.
2. Heat the milk until not quite boiling, then stir into the egg and sugar.
3. Stir the mixture over very low heat or a double-boiler until it thickens slightly or coats the back of a spoon, custard style.
4. Before taking the custard off the heat, melt in 2/3 of the Toblerone bar.
5. Refrigerate until cold, then stir in the cream and any chocolate that may have settled to the bottom.
6. Place the mixture in your ice-cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
7. When the ice cream is starting to firm, add the rest of the Toblerone, roughly chopped.
"You know," said Kai, conversationally, as they stirred. "This is pretty boring."
"It's worth it," said Arcady. "You'll see."
They finally finished the 'ice-cream' ("This looks like custard," said Kai, but Arcady insisted it turned into ice-cream when it was frozen) at about 11.
"Let's go out to the rocks again," said Arcady. "I want to see if I can spot that creature again." He waved a box at Kai. "I have binoculars."
Kai nodded, although he thought he might take the opportunity to get some swimming in.
"Hey," he said, as they headed down the ramp from the balcony, "is that a boat?"
Arcady looked. "A dinghy," he said, without much enthusiasm.
"Can we use it?"
"Um," said Arcady. "I dunno. We'd have to ask Dad."
"I'd like that," said Kai.
Arcady gave him an odd look. "I never realised you were such an outdoorsy type."
"I just like the ocean," said Kai.
Arcady pulled the binoculars out as they approached the rocks from yesterday.
"Can you see anything?" asked Kai.
Arcady shook his head. "Nothing yet," he said.
Kai shaded his eyes and looked out to sea. The ocean stretched out before him, blue and inviting.
Kai toed his sandals off and walked over to the water's edge. He buried his toes in the wet sand with a sigh. "Mind if I go for a swim?" he asked.
Arcady shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Kai loved the silken swirl of cold water over his skin as he swum. He dived under the surface and kicked himself along a few metres before coming up with a gasp. He opened stinging eyes to find a snake-creature in front of them.
"Hello," he said, quietly.
The creature was hovering about a ruler's length above the water. It regarded him with bright, unblinking eyes.
This close, it clearly wasn't a snake. It had fins along its side, and what looked like the wings and head of a seahorse, only it was a translucent blue-green colour, with touches of pinkish red along the edges.
He could dimly hear Arcady yelling things from the shore.
Kai trod water carefully, not wanting to startle the creature away.
"I've never seen anything like you before," he whispered. "What are you?"
The creature stared at him for a moment more before disappearing.
He waited a minute or so just in case it decided to re-appear, then dived under the water again to head back to shore.
"That was amazing," said Arcady, excitedly.
"You were watching?" said Kai.
"Absolutely," said Arcady. "What is that thing?"
Kai shrugged. "I have no idea."
Kai slung his towel around himself, and the two walked back to the beach house for lunch. Arcady spent most of the journey babbling theories about the creature, which Kai absorbed placidly.
"Mr Cadman," said Kai, over his sandwiches, "I was wondering if you'd like to take us out in the dinghy sometime?" He resolutely ignored the look Arcady was giving him, as he was 90% certain if Arcady had his way he would spend the entire holiday sulking in the beach house. From the first look at the ocean, Kai had wanted to get out onto it.
"Of course I will!" said Mr Cadman. "My pleasure. My, I haven't been boating in years."
"Do you think we'll be okay, then?" said Arcady, sounding doubtful.
"Archibald, don't be rude," said his mother.
"Thank you so much," Kai said to Arcady's father, with a smile.
"It's no trouble, Kai."
Arcady had a tendency to assume other people shared his prejudices, and was surprised when people he liked did not.
Thus, when his father suggested they all play a game of cricket and Kai said yes, he stared at his friend in horror.
"Cricket?!" he yelped.
"Yes, Archibald, cricket," said his father, tapping him on the shoulder with a bat. "Come on, kids!"
Arcady grudgingly helped set up the wickets, but refused the bat when his father suggested he take a turn.
Kai seemed a fair batsman, which just made Arcady more grumpy.
Anne-Marie was gratifyingly incompetent, but made up for it by bowling Verity out for a duck.
"At least give it a shot, Arcady," said Kai, as he finished his bowling stint. "You can't possibly be as bad as your sister."
Arcady glared at him. "I don't. Like. Cricket."
Kai shrugged. "It's not bad, as sports go," he said. "Less pointlessly violent."
"Even so," said Arcady.
After Arcady's mother bowled his father out, his father declared an end to the game, much to the amusement of the other players.
"Why don't you kids go for another swim?" suggested his father.
"I'm going for a walk," said Arcady. "See you later."
The sun was just starting to set over the ocean when Arcady returned.
It was hard to stay annoyed in the face of an open fire and toasted marshmallows, which was what he was greeted with as he opened the gate into the yard.
"Oh, there you are," said his mother. "I was about to send out a search party."
Kai grinned at him. "I was afraid you'd be too late for marshmallows," he said, handing Arcady a bowl and a pronged stick.
"Don't eat too many or you'll spoil your dinner," his mother advised them.
Kai rolled his eyes, and Arcady burst into snickers.
Mr Cadman declared that he would take the boys out in the boat the next morning.
Kai was delighted, although Arcady seemed less than pleased.
"Come on," said Kai. "It'll be fun."
"I'm not a big fan," said Arcady, with a distinct edge of 'whine' in his voice. "Can't Verity or someone go instead?"
"Nooo," said Verity. "Anne-Marie and I are sunbathing today."
"You'll get skin cancer," said Arcady.
"Archibald, don't be ridiculous," said his mother. "There'll be ice-cream after lunch if you behave."
Arcady shut up.
Kai bit back a smile.
"I'm amazed," said Kai, as they pushed the boat into the water, "that so many people go to the Archipelago on holiday when they have this paradise so close."
"It's the attraction of the exotic," said Arcady's father. "And a way to show off how much money you have."
They used the outboard motor to get the boat to sea, then switched it off and let the boat drift.
Kai appreciated the sudden drop of noise. The slap of waves against the side of the boat was far more pleasant. "If I had lots of money," said Kai, dreamily, "I think I'd buy a boat and live on the ocean."
Mr Cadman laughed. "That's a nice dream," he said, slightly patronising. "If only the world worked like that."
Kai shrugged. Arcady was giving him a very odd look.
Arcady. Hated. Boating.
There was slimy water building up in the bottom of the dinghy, and he could feel it squelching between his toes. His lifejacket was scratchy and uncomfortable, the boat stunk of fish, and the sun was scorchingly hot on the top of his head, even through his hat (which, incidentally, made him look ridiculous).
Kai was leaning over the side of the boat, trailing his hand in the water with every semblance of pleasure. Arcady hated him with the fire of a thousand suns at that moment.
Kai turned, and flicked little spots of freezing pain onto Arcady's cheek. "Stop looking so dour," he said.
Arcady scrubbed at his cheek. "Leave me alone," he snapped. "Enjoy your ocean."
"Archibald!" said his father.
Arcady flushed and looked away.
A flash of green on the surface of the water a few metres away caught his eye.
"I... hey," he said, pointing. "Hey, Dad. What's that?"
His father squinted. "Some sort of seaweed?" he said. "I can't see very clearly." He rubbed his eyes.
"Is it that creature again?" asked Kai, quietly.
His father pursed his lips. "Seaweed, I think," he said. "Nothing living looks like that." He reached behind himself and switched the outboard motor back on. "Let's go somewhere else."
Kai wrinkled his nose at the smell of petrol.
"Usually when he gets like that it means he thinks there's something supernatural going on," said Arcady to Kai, under cover of the engine.
"He's probably right," said Kai. "Normal creatures can't float above the water like that."
"I never believed in spirits or dragons or anything, though," said Arcady. Magic was just mathematics, after all.
Kai just shrugged.
The ice cream was just as good as promised, soft and cold and creamy.
"I think I'll have to see if I can talk the Colberts into getting an ice-cream maker," said Kai. "This is incredible."
Arcady's mother beamed at him.
"Hey," said Verity, "you want to play a board game after this? Boys vs. girls?"
"Why don't you play board games this evening," suggested Arcady's mother. "It's a lovely day out there, go have a sandcastle competition or something."
"We're a bit old for that, mother," said Verity.
"I've never made a sand castle before," said Kai, disingenuously.
"There, see?" said Arcady's mother.
Kai kept one eye on the ocean as they built their sandcastle, but the creature didn't appear again.
Arcady at least seemed to be approaching the construction with some enthusiasm - perhaps it was the prospect of competing with his sister.
They constructed a veritable fortress, with smooth walls, defensible trenches, arrow slits and even some miniature cannons.
Anne-Marie and Verity's castle was tall and peaked, decorated with drips of wet sand and shells.
"Hmmm," said Arcady's mother, when they called her down to judge. "No, I can't decide."
"Spoilsport," said Arcady. "I knew you'd say that."
"Sorry," said Mrs Cadman, not very apologetically.
Kai raised a questioning eyebrow at Arcady as Mrs Cadman walked away.
"She just doesn't want to be accused of favouritism," said Arcady.
"Really?" said Kai.
Arcady blinked at him.
"Never mind," said Kai.
"Here," said Arcady. "I'll show you how to make sand grenades."
"That sounds dangerous," said Kai, watching Arcady roll a ball of wet sand into dry sand to harden it.
"You throw the thing into the water, idiot," said Arcady, hurling the ball into the ocean.
Kai smiled as he watched Arcady's first 'sand grenade' dissolve into the water. "I get it. Let's see who can throw it the furthest."
Arcady snorted. "You're on!"
Arcady felt a bit less irritable the next day. He put it to the overcast weather. He started devising plans - go out to the rocks again, see if they could get that creature to come closer. Maybe some kind of food? If it was a magical creature, maybe he could attract it with magic...
Kai had apparently got up early for a swim before breakfast, because he was sitting at the breakfast table with wet hair.
"It's a bit cold for swimming, isn't it?" said Arcady.
"Not really," said Kai. "The ocean's much the same temperature."
"It's supposed to storm tonight," said Arcady's mother.
"Awesome," said Verity.
Although he hated to admit it, Arcady agreed with his sister. Summer thunderstorms were truly awe-inspiring.
"Your summers are so dry here," said Kai. "In the tropics, you just have the rainy season and the really-rainy season."
Arcady's mother laughed. "Well, enjoy the clouds while you can; it's supposed to be clear for the rest of the week."
"I think it's the perfect day to go check out some wineries," said Arcady's father.
"Oh, dad," said Arcady.
Verity and Anne-Marie perked up.
"There's a cheese factory, too," Arcady's mother pointed out.
"Right," said Arcady's father. "I declare this tourist day."
"I apologise in advance for this," said Arcady to Kai, under his breath.
Kai smiled. "It's okay. I'm curious."
Arcady groaned. So much for feeling better.
The highlight of Tourist Day, Kai decided, was the meadery. The honey ice cream was strange, but fresh honeycomb was an unusual experience, and he was fascinated by the wall of the building they had converted into a glass-fronted hive.
Arcady spent most of the day in stony silence, and hardly even perked up even when they discovered a chocolate factory.
The first drops of rain were starting to fall as they pulled into the driveway back at the beach house.
By the time they had dinner on the table, the storm had set in.
"Let's go onto the balcony," said Arcady, showing more enthusiasm than he had all day.
Kai leant on the balcony and rested his chin on his arms. Lightning flashes and the crack of thunder occasionally penetrated the darkness and splash of falling rain. Strange, that something so violent could leave him feeling so relaxed.
"I hope we get to see that creature again tomorrow," said Arcady.
"Mm," agreed Kai.
The storm had blown itself out by morning.
"Come on," said Arcady. "Let's head to those rocks."
"I have chocolate biscuits," said Arcady. "Although I suppose magic creatures don't eat."
"You never know," said Kai. "But they probably eat sunlight or air or something."
"Still, it's worth a shot," said Arcady.
The creature was curled up on the rocks when they got there.
"Do you think it's waiting for us?" murmured Arcady.
Kai shrugged, and held out an arm.
The creature twined up Kai's arm and licked his cheek.
"I think it likes you," said Arcady.
"I like him," said Kai. "He's beautiful."
Kai reached over the scratch it on the cheek, but it licked him again and disappeared.
"Damn," said Kai.
"Man," said Arcady, "I would love to get my hands on that creature."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you want to study it up close?" said Arcady.
"Not really," shrugged Kai.
"But just think what we can learn!" he continued. "What we can tell other people!"
Kai shook his head. "I think it's happy being unknown."
"Maybe we can design a kind of magic netting, it shouldn't be too hard using some exponential functions and bell curves and things..."
"Arcady. Just stop it. Leave it alone."
Arcady blinked at him, startled. "I thought you were a scientist!"
"No!" said Kai, a little too forcefully. "I'm a mathemagician," he added, mouth twitching into a smile to turn his outburst into a joke.
They stared at each other for a moment before Arcady started to laugh.
"I'm sorry I upset you," he managed, eventually.
"It's okay," said Kai.
"No, I've been pretty horrible this entire holiday, and I feel bad," said Arcady. "It's just, you make me feel like a brat, and then I feel like an ungrateful wretch for not liking all this stuff."
"The beach?" said Kai.
"The beach, cricket, board games, all that stuff. And I see you, and how easily everything comes to you and how much my parents like you, and I just... lose it."
"Well," said Kai, flushing a little, "I was kind of brought up to manipulate people."
"They play the kids off each other," Kai explained. "So that they fight for approval. You kinda learn how to get along with people."
"Oh," said Arcady.
"Most of the time I don't even realise I'm doing it," said Kai. "But I think I've been putting on a bit of a 'nice boy next door' act this holiday, and I'm sorry."
"I just wish my parents would accept me as easily as they accept you, is all," said Arcady.
Kai nodded. "I understand."
"You're not telling me 'of course they accept you, they're your parents'," said Arcady, suspiciously.
"Well," said Kai, "my mother died when I was very little, and I was always told that my father sold me to the gang. I'm not sure if that's true, because I found out later that all the kids they brought in were told that. But I'm the last person to insist that blood ties automatically invoke approval."
"Oh," said Arcady again.
For a while, the only sound was that of the waves slipping into shore.
"I've been thinking," said Kai, suddenly. "I don't want to be that person any more. I don't want to try and second-guess people, I don't want to live my life being suspicious of other people's motives any more."
"Sounds reasonable," said Arcady. "Have you... have you been putting on an act for me, too?"
Kai hesitated. "I... I don't really know." He linked his fingers together and cracked them noisily. "I don't think so. I really do like computers and stuff."
Arcady nodded. "So we're going to stay friends?"
"Of course!" said Kai.
"And we're going to revolutionise internet business and be millionaires by the time we're twenty," Arcady continued.
Kai laughed. "You can count on it."
"Do you reckon we'll see that creature again?" said Arcady, looking back at the ocean.
"Depends if it heard you or not," said Kai.
Arcady flushed. "Do you think it's intelligent?"
"I don't know," said Kai. "But I hope I get the chance to find out some day."
Note: Prequel to 3am Love Story and The Wind On The Sea