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Making Faces(2)
Author: Amy Harmon

The crowd went instantly quiet as Ambrose took the microphone, waiting for what was sure to be a highly entertaining massacre of the anthem. Ambrose was known for his strength, his good looks, and his athletic prowess, but nobody had ever heard him sing. The silence was saturated with giddy expectation. Ambrose pushed his hair back and then shoved his hand in his pocket as if he was uncomfortable. Then he fixed his eyes on the flag and began to sing.

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light . . .” Again, there was an audible gasp from the audience. Not because it was bad, but because it was wonderful. Ambrose Young had a voice fitting of the package it was encased in. It was smooth and deep and impossibly rich. If dark chocolate could sing it would sound like Ambrose Young. Fern shivered as his voice wrapped around her like an anchor, lodging deep in her belly, pulling her under. She found her eyes closing behind her thick glasses, and she let the sound wash over her. It was incredible.

“O'er the land of the free . . .” Ambrose's voice reached the summit, and Fern felt like she had climbed Everest, breathless and ebullient and triumphant. “And the home of the brave!” The crowd roared around her, but Fern was still hanging on that final note.

“Fern!” Rita's voice rang out. She shoved at Fern's leg. Fern ignored her. Fern was having a moment. A moment with, in her opinion, the most beautiful voice on the planet.

“Fern's having her first orgasm.” One of Rita's girlfriends snickered. Fern's eyes shot open to see Rita, Bailey, and Cindy Miller looking at her with big grins on their faces. Fortunately, the applause and the cheers prevented the people around them from hearing Cindy's humiliating assessment.

Small and pale, with bright red hair and forgettable features, Fern knew she was the kind of girl who was easily overlooked, easily ignored, and never dreamed about. She had floated through childhood without drama and with little fanfare, grounded in a perfect awareness of her own mediocrity.

Like Zacharias and Elizabeth, parents of the biblical John the Baptist, Fern's parents were far beyond their child-bearing years when they suddenly found themselves in a family way. Fifty-year-old Joshua Taylor, popular pastor in the small town of Hannah Lake, was struck dumb when his wife of fifteen years tearfully told him she was going to have a baby. His jaw hit the floor, his hands shook, and if it hadn't been for the serene joy stamped on his forty-five-year-old wife, Rachel's face, he might have thought she was pulling a prank for the first time in her life. Fern was born seven months later, an unexpected miracle, and the whole town celebrated with the well-loved couple. Fern found it ironic that she was once considered a miracle since her life had been anything but miraculous.

Fern pulled off her glasses and began shining them on the hem of her T-shirt, effectively blinding herself to the amused faces around her. Let them laugh. Because the truth of the matter was, she felt euphoric and dizzy all at once, the way she sometimes felt after a particularly satisfying love scene in a favorite novel. Fern Taylor loved Ambrose Young, had loved him since she was ten years old and had heard his young voice lifted in a very different kind of song, but in that moment he reached a whole new level of beauty, and Fern was left reeling and dazed that one boy could be gifted with so much.

August, 1994

Fern walked over to Bailey’s house, bored, having finished every single book she'd checked out from the library the week before. She found Bailey sitting like a statue on the cement steps that led to his front door, eyes trained on something on the sidewalk in front of him. He was pulled from his reverie only when Fern's foot narrowly missed the object of his fascination. He yelped and Fern squealed when she saw the enormous brown spider just inches from her feet.

The spider continued on its way, slowly traversing the long stretch of concrete. Bailey said he had been tracking it for half an hour, never getting too close, because after all, it was a spider, and it was gross. It was the biggest spider Fern had ever seen. Its body was the size of a nickel, but with its gangly legs it was easily as big as a fifty-cent piece, and Bailey seemed awestruck by it. After all, he was a boy, and it was gross.

Fern sat beside him, watching the spider take his time crossing Bailey's front walk. The spider meandered like an old man on a stroll, unhurried, unafraid, with no apparent goal in mind, a seasoned citizen with long, spindly limbs, carefully unfolding each leg every time he took a step. They watched him, entranced by his terrifying beauty. The thought took Fern by surprise. He was beautiful even though he frightened her.

“He's cool,” she marveled.

“Duh! He's awesome,” Bailey said, his eyes never wavering. “I wish I had eight legs. I wonder why Spiderman didn't get eight legs when he got bit by that radioactive spider. It gave him great eyesight and strength and the ability to make webs. Why not extra legs? Hey! Maybe spider venom heals muscular dystrophy, and if I let that guy bite me I’ll get big and strong,” Bailey wondered, scratching his chin like he was actually considering it.

“Hmm. I wouldn't risk it.” Fern shuddered. They became entranced once more, and neither of them noticed the boy riding down the sidewalk on his bike.

The boy saw Bailey and Fern sitting so still, so silent, and his interest was immediately piqued. He stepped off his bike and laid it on the grass, following their gazes to where a huge brown spider crept along the walkway in front of the house. The boy's mother was petrified of spiders. She always made him kill them immediately. He'd killed so many he wasn't even afraid of them anymore. Maybe Bailey and Fern were afraid. Maybe they were scared to death, so scared they couldn't even move. He could help them. He ran up the sidewalk and smashed the spider beneath his big white sneaker. There.

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