The day had been a lousy one, so far.
After a breakfast of apples, Pete hadn't had any other food, today. Elliot had decided to misbehave and gotten them both in trouble.
Elliot being conveniently invisible, though, meant that Pete got the blame. So really, Elliot's misbehaving had gotten just Pete in trouble.
The broken eggs, the wrecked fence, the spooked horse. Pete groaned. The teacher's petticoat.
He wasn't even sure what he could do about it, either. Pete had stopped talking to him, but he knew Elliot was still following him. The clumsy creature was obvious, to him. Every confused chicken, every spooked cat or dog spelled trouble.
And news travelled fast, too. Pete was being looked at. Frowned at.
Filthy beggar brat.
It made Pete anxious. And so he'd wandered the whole of the small town, all the day long. Not stayed put, anywhere. He'd just walked the streets, up and down and around, trying carefully to avoid any of the people who'd seen him before; the angry grown-ups who might punish him.
He hated getting punished.
As the light started to wane, Pete made his way to the beach, which he'd avoided, up 'til now; he didn't want to scorch his feet on the sand. He needn't have worried; summer seemed to have waned, this close to the ocean, despite it being September.
It was for the best, though, Pete realized, upon looking behind him and seeing unnatural splashes in the breakers, and large footprints leading into the surf. He would have still drawn too much attention.
He picked up his pace, trotting into a cave he saw, equal parts curious, repelled by the smell, and wanting Elliot to leave him alone.
It was cold. But Pete's decision was made. He stepped further into the cave, rubbing his hands along his arms: one of the sleeves had gotten so tattered, he could feel bare skin through the tear up to his shoulder. It had once been a handsome shirt, Pete guessed. It wasn't his. It had been given him, with the overalls, as a set of "work clothes" that had once belonged to Mister Gogan's hired man. And then Pete's "play clothes" had mysteriously vanished. Even his shoes.
Now they were frayed and filthy—he had a large hole in one of the shoulders of the shirt, and another that was hidden by the overalls. The shirt had once been striped. Not that you could tell, now. Filthy beggar brat, indeed.
Elliot became visible at the mouth of the cave, grinning at Pete.
Pete retreated further into the cave, settling on a large rock littered with seaweed and sticks and things. Oh. That probably meant things washed in here, from the ocean. Pete wouldn't be able to stay. He had almost hoped…
But of course not. Elliot had turned the town against him, and now he'd have to sneak up to the consignment store after dark to see if he could find an empty barrel to sleep in. That had been his absolute backup plan. It might even be preferable to find a house with a hole under the porch, like where Pete slept at home.
At the Gogans.
Pete shook his head. The Gogans weren't his family. They'd said so, often enough. They'd just paid for him. Bought him, like Pete could buy gum or licorice for a penny.
Grover had been…the nicest. But it really wasn't saying much. He'd still fought with Willie and caused Pete endless grief.
Missus Gogan hadn't done much to Pete. But she's the one who kept the "Bill of Sale" in her bosoms to show anyone who questioned Pete's treatment. And she kept a cane she didn't strictly need so she could bruise Pete's shins if she thought he was sassing her.
Mister Gogan had been the one to give Pete beatings when Pete failed to follow the rules. Always ready, with his own belt.
But Willie had been the one to give Pete beatings for no apparent reason at all, other than it seemed fun, to him, to hurt someone smaller than him. Willie was always getting into fights with Grover, too. The two of them were of a size, though, and could pass off fights by turning them into wrestling matches.
Willie had been the one who would get Pete in trouble on purpose.
Willie had been the one who would antagonize Pete in his sleep, when Pete had to share the room with him and Grover.
Willie had been the one, a few months ago, to scare Pete out of his mind, one night, which had caused Pete to make the decision to run away, the first time.
Pete still remembered. Willie had sat on Pete's legs and Pete'd had his face shoved into the floor, his nose bleeding, trying to wiggle out of Willie's grip; the older boy hitched Pete's skinny arms further and further up his back, bending Pete's wrists slowly and torturously, not caring if Pete hollered Uncle or not, whispering about how he wanted to see how much it took before something broke.
Wanting to see how much he could do to Pete before he was stopped by someone.
Pete had been lucky; he'd managed to slip a foot free, on account of him not wearing shoes no more, and kicked out hard enough that Willie had let go—probably because Pete had kicked him where he wasn't allowed to kick, on account of how badly it hurt—and when Willie had grabbed after him, and Pete kicked again, he'd nailed Willie right in the face. Probably broke his nose.
Oh, it had been awful. The beating after that. Missus Gogan had to make Mister Gogan stop. He was just so awful mad, he hit and hit and hit…
The next day after that was Sunday, and Grover'd told Pete he could stay under the porch and mend up the whole day.
But Pete had run, just as soon as they all went back inside.
"Boempee," came a familiar babble of unintelligible speech.
Pete looked at the dragon. Elliot had come back to the entrance of the cave, and had craned his long neck around the rocks, trying to be amusing.
Pete turned around. He was cold, and he was hungry, and he was still angry with Elliot.
Elliot slid nonchalantly into the cramped space (cramped for a dragon, anyway, if it was rather roomy for Pete), humming to himself and settling on the same rock as Pete, smiling at him.
Pete turned away, again.
The silly creature still didn't understand.
Pete felt the almost crushing weight of Elliot's tail draping over his shoulders.
He shoved it off. "We're in a lot of trouble, and it's all your fault," he said angrily, turning to glare at Elliot.
The dragon had a hangdog expression; his wings drooped, and he seemed so remorseful.
Pete turned away, again.
Elliot got up from the rock, choosing instead to settle against the cave wall. It was the wall that Pete was looking at instead of Elliot, and so Pete could still see the dragon in his periphery, twiddling his thumbs and sighing sadly.
Pete could feel his resolve crumbling, and it made him mad. He was cold, is all. He was cold and hungry, and he'd been anxious for a large chunk of the day, today.
Elliot picked up a stick—he was so much like an animal, Pete thought. His emotions couldn't stay in one place for long. He set fire to the tip of the stick, grinning and blowing it out, and then proceeding to…draw lines on his own scales. Two vertical, parallel lines, followed by two horizontal, parallel lines.
Pete wasn't watching. He wasn't. He was angry. He was ignoring Elliot.
Who set the stick aflame, again, just the tip, blowing it out, and continuing to use the smear of burnt wood to draw on himself.
Oh. He was offering it to Pete.
It was…it was a game. Tic-Tac-Toe.
"I don't wanna play," Pete said crossly, pushing the proffered stick away.
Elliot sadly drew an 'O' in the center square.
"You did everything wrong in town," Pete said insistently. Grasping his anger, even as he started to shiver with cold. "Now everybody hates us. I don't know whether you're good for me, or bad."
Elliot sniffed, drawing another 'O' in the top-center square.
The last of Pete's anger evaporated, then. He wasn't…bad. He didn't want Elliot to be upset. He was cold, and hungry, and…scared.
"I'm sorry, Elliot," he said forlornly. "I didn't…really mean that. It's just…I don't know what to do. And…I'm scared," he admitted. His feet were cold, on the wet rock. The seat of his filthy overalls was damp, and the light outside was fading fast. He'd have to decide what to do. Where they could go.
He'd have to keep making these…grown-up decisions. And he'd been having to do as much for so long, now…
Elliot moved a clawed hand closer to Pete, who remained still. Elliot didn't hurt him. Not like that. And never on purpose. He handed Pete the stick, and then he stroked a finger-like claw up Pete's face, coming away with one of Pete's tears beaded on the soft scales.
"Oh," Elliot groaned, unhappy because Pete was unhappy.
"Hello, in there!"
Pete's eyes widened. It was a woman's voice.
"Get back!" he whispered frantically, gesturing with his arm.
Elliot seemed to understand, and squished himself inelegantly into a crevice between the wall and a large rock, where even his bright green scales were shaded and harder to see, unless you were looking for them.
Pete tensed, on his rock, ready to run for it, if it was one of the angry townsfolk. The woman who came through the mouth of the cave was smiling, and seemed friendly enough, but Pete was ready, anyway.
She looked at him, and sauntered casually in front of where Pete was sitting. Just to the left of where Elliot had been not moments before, though she wouldn't know that. "Hi!" she said brightly, and the tone…was kind. It reminded Pete forcibly of his Mama. "What are you doing here?"
Pete was clutching the stick in a white-knuckled grip, and he hopped deliberately down from the rock, landing in front of her, ready to run, if he needed to. "Oh, just playing Tic-Tac-Toe," he said honestly.
"Well, this isn't exactly the best place for Tic-Tac-Toe," the woman said with authority. Like his teacher had sounded, back when he went to school. Before the Gogans. "The tide's coming in, and high water reaches this cave sometimes," she continued.
Pete had figured that much out, himself, when he'd first come in here, so the information wasn't surprising. He let her talk, though, because he could see Elliot's curious face moving in the crevice behind her, and didn't want her to have any reason to pay attention to it.
"You better head for home," she finished, and she looked him over. Like…she saw him. Actually saw his awful, dirty clothes, and the tears and holes and frays, and maybe saw how cold he was, now. But her face didn't shift into disgust. Just…confusion, when Pete didn't immediately agree with her and leave the cave.
He wouldn't leave ahead of her. What if she watched him? Or followed him? What if she called the policeman, like that teacher had threatened to do? The thought of having to go with the policeman to jail scared Pete. They'd call the orphanage. Or they'd get word to the Gogans.
That couldn't happen.
"You're not from Passamaquoddy, are you?" the lady asked then, and Pete reluctantly answered her.
"Nope. Just sort of…travelling."
"Where are your parents?" she asked next, because of course she would ask that!
Pete didn't want to lie. Lying was awful and wicked. But he couldn't go back. He couldn't do it. He shrugged his shoulders helplessly, because at least that wasn't…all the way a lie. He…didn't know where his parents were. Just that they were dead.
"Where are you staying?" the way she asked was…odd. Like…she knew he wouldn't answer her.
Pete just shrugged, again.
She was just…looking at him. And she wasn't disgusted. Wasn't annoyed. Wasn't…mad. "What's your name?" she asked, almost in a whisper, and Pete almost felt glad to be able to answer a question, for her.
"Pete," he said simply. No last names. If you didn't give them a last name, they couldn't find out where you were supposed to be.
They couldn't make him go back, if he didn't tell them where he was supposed to be.
"I'm Nora," she said, smiling. "And, I have to get back on watch, up in the lighthouse," she pointed to the mouth of the cave, and Pete knew the lighthouse she was talking about. He'd seen it, as he was walking on the beach, earlier.
He felt a little better, knowing she had to leave. Once she left, he could figure out—
"There's chowder on the stove. If you'd like some," she said, then, and he couldn't help it—he perked up a little. He was so hungry.
She extended a hand. Like she wanted him to take it.
He started to, before he realized what he was doing, and jerked back.
"What's the matter?" she said, laughing. Laughing, but not mean. "It's a hand, not a shark."
Pete didn't laugh with her, though, and so she calmed, quickly. "You…can finish that chowder," she said gently. "If you'd like." And she extended her hand again.
Pete took it.
I realized I couldn't put this as a new chapter under 'When Pete Met Elliot' because it's not really about that, at this point.
So, new story! I'm kinda...going through, in more-or-less chronological order. Just Pete, as he interacts with the others in the story.
I did try to write the scene of him coming into town, bytheway, but it proved too repetitive/reliant on the scene when I tried. This worked better. So much of the timeline is longer than I thought it was! Pete wakes up in the morning and eats apples with Elliot and they sing that 'I love you, too' song. And he doesn't meet Nora until it's dark-nearly bedtime.
Or the next day, they eat breakfast, and then we get introduced to Doc Terminus and Hoagy, and then Pete is asking to show Elliot Paul's picture before finishing with the lighthouse chores and 'being done for the day.' So I'm exploring that avenue, here.