He said the first word he remembered saying was Adieu.
He told her this after the swim, when they sat around the bonfire, clothes dripping and molecules buzzing around. He told her if you said "Bloody Mary" enough times into your mirror at night, her face would jump right out at you. He told her to flick the rock with the wrist to get the best skip.
Now, years later, she held the rock in her hands. It had fallen down behind her dresser some weeks ago, and now she found herself holding it, absently bouncing it from hand to hand, as she turned around in the circle. All around her were meticulously sorted piles of her belongings, ready to be discarded in her monthly purge. The only item without a pile was in her hands, and she could not bring herself to put it down.
She wondered if it was meant to be a boy. She wondered how it felt about being named without anybody asking it for its opinion on the matter. She wondered why her parents did that, why each of her sibling's names was two syllables and ended in a harsh "N" sound. She wondered why parents thought it was cute to give twins rhyming names and matching outfits. She wondered why she was asking the rock these questions instead of deciding what to do with it.
He was the one who decided the rock was a boy. It felt like a boy, he said. He was the one who gave it to her, nonchalantly dropping it into her hand while they skipped stones. He was the one who pretended not to notice when she slipped it into her pocket, the one who did not think it was weird when he saw it on her dresser the next day, sitting in a bed of sand.
He was the one who had named it. She woke up one morning, a few weeks later, to find it was missing. She tore the room apart, frantically searching for the rock. She felt like an idiot. She felt empty without it, and that made her feel even worse.
He was the one who climbed through her window during all of this. He was the one who got her to sit and calm down by telling her a story about people from far away that she did not know, about walking on the edge of the world, about being burned alive and living to tell the tale. He was the one who placed it in her palm, covered in paint, with a boy painted on the back. The boy on the rock was Horatio. The boy on her bed was the one who knew she loved Hamlet, the one who knew everything about her.
He was the one who told her it was magic, one night, after a late study session. He sat on her bed and held it loosely, saying it felt magic and Important. It was her rock, her guide. Her rock angel, he said. She was the one who said it was completely idiotic but secretly believed every word.
She thought he was the boy on the back of the rock. When they walked the narrow sidewalks at night, they walked as if they were on the edge of the world. Whenever she was afraid of falling, he would grab her and pull her back. He was the one who kept her off the edge, who held her back with stories about fried chicken and the Olympics. He held her hand through it all, Horatio nested in between their palms.
Horatio was there through all of it: their first-and last-kiss. The day they stopped trying to pass notes and started trying to pass Economics. The night he set all of her on fire in the fire pit and she threw herself in the sea, fully clothed, until her head became too heavy and she crawled out onto the cold, unforgiving sand.
She wondered why she had forgotten all of this. She wondered why she was trying to remember. She flipped the rock over, tracing it with her thumb, and wondered What If. What if they could go back to before, when "Fuck you" wasn't an invitation? When marriage was something you did on the soccer field during recess to get Cosmic Brownies and a chance to get Milky Pen tattoos and eat honeysuckles with the fifth graders? When "I love you" was something you said to the kid who sat next to you when he let you keep his last good brown crayon?
What if, she thought, We still existed? In Before, they were a We-they had the potential to be a We. What if, she thought, he had not told me over dinner, if he had not raised his glass and had me do the same? What if I had told him that that night was not a mistake? What if he hadn't ripped We out, fresh from the womb, bloody and shrieking and gasping for that first breath, and dropped it into the trash can outside of her room because that sort of thing isn't in style anymore?
She wondered if any of it would have made a difference. She wondered why it even mattered. She wondered if it was all a lie. She threw the rock into the box closest to her feet, picked the box up, and stepped out of the ring. She grabbed her car keys as she left the house, yelling to the father that she was going out for a while as she closed the door behind her. She climbed into the car, the box weighing down the seat next to her. She drove slowly, fingers tapping the steering wheel as a somber song leaked from the radio. She pulled into the parking lot, violently putting the car into park as she turned off the ignition and grabbed the box.
She had to walk only a few feet before she found the spot. It had been carved into the sand for years, a perfect, torched "O." The fire pit would be the final resting place for Before-the place where it had all started. She set the box down on the dark sand beside her as she struck a match and lit the fire. Unceremoniously lifting the box, she threw it into the fire, items scattering as they fell into the flames. She screamed as she watched the flames grow, voice crackling to a strained stop as it died out with the fire.
As the last embers cooled, she noticed something sitting at the edge of the pit, something that had escaped the flames. It was the rock. She picked it up, sliding it into her pocket, and began running up and down the strip of sand, balancing on the edge of the world. She stumbled, repositioning herself with a squeeze of the rock every time she came close to falling. It jiggled around in her pocket as she ran the length of the beach and back, running until her calves became too tight and her breathing too staggered.
She made her way back to the car. As she climbed into her seat, setting Horatio into the passenger seat, she nodded sadly at the fire pit. She wiped at her eyes as she started the car. The somber song started up again, wailing from her radio, and she mouthed the words as she sat there, fingers brushing the rock.
She thought about why he had named the rock Horatio. She went over the play in her mind. She smacked her forehead with the heel of her palm when she realized who Horatio was.
Horatio, she realized, was the scholar. He was the reasonable, logical one. He was the one who presented the story to Fortinbras as they stood, looking over dead Denmark. He was one of the only ones to make it to the end.
She turned off the car and climbed back out. She ran down to the edge of the water, Horatio in hand. She wound up, hesitating for only a moment, and pitched the rock into the sea with an unceremonious plunk. Horatio belonged in dead Denmark. He had to go tell his story to someone who was not there, to someone who needed to hear something that would get him or her away from the edge.
She stood there for a few moments, staring at the sea, before opening her mouth. She strained to speak, and when she did, all that came out, in barely a whisper, was a soft Adieu.