Home > Making Faces(11)

Making Faces(11)
Author: Amy Harmon

Ambrose reached out and took them, anger flashing across his face. And his eyes found hers then, pinning her back against the wall.

“So you had a good laugh, huh?”

“No.” Fern winced at the child-like sound of her voice. It matched her childish figure and her bowed head.

“Why did you do it?”

“I made a suggestion. That was all. I thought I was helping Rita. She liked you. Then it got out of hand, I guess. I'm . . . sorry.” And she was. Desperately sorry. Sorry that it was over. Sorry that she would never see his handwriting on paper again, read his thoughts, know him better with each line.

“Yeah. Whatever,” he said. She and Rita had hurt and embarrassed him. And Fern's heart ached. She hadn't meant to hurt him. She hadn’t meant to embarrass him. Ambrose walked toward the exit without another word.

“Did you like them?” she blurted.

Ambrose turned back, his face incredulous.

“I mean, until you found out I wrote them. Did you like them? The notes?” He despised her already. She might as well go for broke. And she needed to know.

Ambrose shook his head, dumbfounded, as if he couldn't believe she had the gall to ask. He ran one hand through his wet hair and shifted his weight in discomfort.

“I loved your notes,” Fern rushed on, the words tumbling out like a dam had burst. “I know they weren't meant for me. But I loved them. You're funny. And smart. And you made me laugh. You even made me cry once. I wish they had been for me. So I was just wondering if you liked the things I wrote.”

There was a softening around his eyes, the tight, embarrassed look he'd worn since he'd seen her standing in the hallway easing slightly.

“Why does it matter?” he asked softly.

Fern struggled to find the words. It did matter. Whether or not he knew it was her, if he liked her letters it meant he liked her. On some level. Didn't it?

“Because . . . I wrote them. And I meant them.” And there it was. Her words filled the empty hallway, bouncing off the empty lockers and linoleum floors like a hundred bouncy balls, impossible to ignore or avoid. Fern felt naked and faint, completely exposed in front of the boy she had fallen in love with.

His expression was as stunned as her own must be.

“Ambrose! Brosey! Man, you still here?” Beans sidled around the corner as if he'd just happened upon them. But Fern knew instantly that he'd heard every word. She could see it in his smirk. He must think he was saving his friend from being assaulted, or worse, asked to a girl's choice dance by an ugly girl.

“Hey, Fern.” Beans acted surprised to see her there. She was surprised he knew her name. “I need a jump, Brose. My truck won't start.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Ambrose nodded, and Beans grasped him by his sleeve ushering him out the door. Fern's face flamed in embarrassment. She might be homely. But she wasn't stupid.

Ambrose let himself be pulled away, but then paused. Suddenly, he walked back to her and handed her the envelope that she'd given him only minutes before. Beans waited, curiosity flitting across his face.

“Here. They're yours. Just . . . don't share them. Okay?” Ambrose smiled briefly, just a sheepish twist of his well-formed lips. And then he turned and pushed out of the building, Beans on his heels. And Fern held the envelope close and wondered what it all meant.

“Get a net over that hair, son,” Elliott Young reminded patiently as Ambrose dropped his gear by the back door of the bakery and headed to the sink to wash up.

Ambrose pulled his hair back with two hands and wrapped an elastic band around it so that it was out of his face and less likely to fall into a vat of cake batter or cookie dough. His hair was still damp from his shower after practice. He pulled a net over the dark ponytail and pulled on an apron, wrapping it around his torso the way Elliott had taught him long ago.

“Where do you want me, Dad?”

“Get started on the rolls. The dough is ready to go. I've got to finish decorating this cake. I told Daphne Nielson I'd have it ready at six-thirty, and it's six now.”

“Grant said something about cake at practice. He said he thought he was close enough to weight he would be able to steal a slice.”

The cake was for Grant's little brother, Charlie, a birthday cake with characters from the animated Hercules on the top of three chocolate layers. It was cute and fanciful, with just enough color and chaos to appeal to a six-year-old boy. Elliott Young was good with details. His cakes always looked better than the pictures people could look at in the big cake book positioned in front of the bakery on a pedestal. Even the kids liked to peruse the laminated pages, pointing at the cake they wanted for their next big day.

Ambrose had tried his hand at decorating a few times, but his hands were big and the tools were small, and though Elliott was a patient teacher, Ambrose just didn't have the touch. He could do very basic decorating, but he was much better at baking, his strength and size more suited to labor than finesse.

He attacked the rising dough with competence, kneading and rolling and tucking each mound into a perfect roll without thought and with considerable speed. In the bigger bakeries there were machines that did what he was doing, but he didn't mind the rhythm of the operation, filling the huge sheets with hand-made rolls. The smell of the first batch of rolls in the oven was killing him though. Working in the bakery during wrestling season sucked.

“Done.” Elliott stepped back from the cake and checked the clock.

“Looks good,” Ambrose said, his eyes on the bulging muscles of the mythical hero standing atop the cake with his arms raised. “The real Hercules wore a lion skin, though.”

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