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Home > Making Faces(6)

Making Faces(6)
Author: Amy Harmon

Bailey looked up at her, some of the horror and despair relaxing from his expression. “Like Grandpa Sheen?”

Angie nodded, laying a kiss on his forehead. “Yes. Grandpa didn't have muscular dystrophy. But he got in a car accident, didn't he? He left us sooner than we wanted him to, but that's how life is. We don't get to choose when we go or how we go. None of us do.” Angie looked her son squarely in the eyes and repeated herself firmly. “Do you hear me, Bailey? None of us do.”

“So Fern might die before me?” Bailey asked hopefully.

Fern felt a rumble of laughter in her mom's chest and looked up at her in amazement. Rachel Taylor was smiling and biting her lip. Fern suddenly understood what Aunt Angie was doing.

“Yes!” Fern jumped in, nodding, her springy curls bouncing enthusiastically. “I might drown in the tub when I take my bath tonight. Or maybe I will fall down the stairs and break my neck, Bailey. I might even get smashed by a car when I'm riding my bike tomorrow. See? You don't have to be sad. We're all going to croak sooner or later!”

Angie and Rachel were giggling, and Bailey had a huge grin spreading across his face as he immediately joined in. “Or maybe you will fall out of the tree in your back yard, Fern. Or maybe you will read so many books that your head will explode!”

Angie wrapped her arms tightly around her son and chuckled. “I think that's enough, Bailey. We don't want Fern's head to explode, do we?”

Bailey looked at Fern, and everyone could see that he was considering this seriously. “No. I guess not. But I still hope she croaks before me.” Then he challenged Fern to a wrestling match on his front lawn where he soundly pinned her in about five seconds. Who knew? Maybe he really could have whupped Ambrose Young.

2001

In the days and weeks following the attacks on 9/11, life returned to normal, but it felt wrong, like a favorite shirt worn inside out--still your shirt, still recognizable, but rubbing in all the wrong places, the seams revealed, the tags hanging out, the colors dulled, the words backwards. But unlike the shirt, the sense of wrong couldn't be righted. It was permanent, the new normal.

Bailey watched the news with equal parts fascination and horror, tapping away at his computer, filling pages with his observations, recording the history, documenting the footage and the endless tragedies in his own words. Where Fern had always lost herself in romance, Bailey lost himself in history. Even as a child he would dive into stories of the past and wrap himself in the comfort of their timelessness, of their longevity. To read about King Arthur, who lived and died more than a thousand years before, was its own immortality, and for a boy who felt the sands of time slipping by in an endless countdown, immortality was an intoxicating concept.

Bailey had religiously kept a journal for as long as he could write. His journals filled a shelf in his bedroom bookcase, standing among the stories of other men, lining the wall with the highlights of a young life, the thoughts and dreams of an active mind. But in spite of his obsession with capturing history, Bailey was the only one who seemed to take it all in stride. He wasn't any more fearful or any more emotional than he ever was. He continued to enjoy the things he had always enjoyed, tease Fern the way he always had, and when Fern could take no more of the history enfolding on the television screen he was the one to talk her down from the emotional cliff everyone seemed to be teetering on.

It was Fern who found herself closer to tears, more fearful, more affectionate, and she wasn't the only one. A pervading sense of outrage and sorrow intruded on daily life. Death became very real, and in the senior class at Hannah Lake High School there was resentment mixed with the fear. It was senior year! It was supposed to be the best time of their lives. They didn't want to be afraid.

“I just wish life was more like my books,” Fern complained, trying to hoist both her and Bailey's backpacks on her narrow shoulders as they left school for the day. “Main characters never die in books. If they did, the story would be ruined, or over.”

“Everybody is a main character to someone,” Bailey theorized, winding his way through the busy hall and out the nearest exit into the November afternoon. “There are no minor characters. Think how Ambrose must have felt watching the news in Mr. Hildy's class, knowing his mom worked in one of those towers. He's sitting there, watching it all on TV, probably wondering if he's watching his mother's death. She might be a minor character to us, but to him she's a leading lady.”

Fern brooded, shaking her head at the memory. None of them had known until later how close up and personal 9/11 was for Ambrose Young. He'd been so composed, so quiet, sitting in math class, repeatedly dialing a number that had never been answered. None of them even suspected. Coach Sheen found him in the wrestling room more than five hours after the towers collapsed, after everyone else had long since gone home.

“I can't reach her, Coach.” Ambrose whispered, as if the effort it took to increase his volume would crack his control. “I don't know what to do. She worked in the North tower. It's gone now. What if she's gone?”

“Your dad is probably wondering where you are. Have you talked to him?”

“No. He's got to be going crazy too. He pretends like he doesn't love her anymore. But I know he does. I don't want to talk to him until there's good news.”

Coach Sheen sat beside the boy who dwarfed him and put his arm around his shoulders. If Ambrose wasn't ready to go home, he would wait with him. He talked about random things--about the upcoming season, about the guys in Ambrose's weight, about the strengths of the teams in their district. He strategized with Ambrose about his teammates, distracting him with inconsequential things while the minutes ticked by. And Ambrose kept his emotions in check until his phone peeled out in shrill alarm, making them both jump and reach for their pockets.

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