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Making Faces(9)
Author: Amy Harmon

“Okay. Just tell me one,” Fern pleaded. For being a girl with such a good imagination, she really couldn't think of anything she wanted to do, maybe because she went on new adventures every day in the books she read and lived through the characters in the stories she wrote.

“I want to be a hero.” Bailey looked at Fern gravely, as if he was disclosing highly classified information. “I don't know what kind yet. Maybe like Hercules or Bruce Baumgartner.

Fern knew who Hercules was and she knew who Bruce Baumgartner was too, simply because he was one of Bailey's favorite wrestlers, and according to Bailey, one of the best heavyweights of all time. She looked at her cousin doubtfully, but didn't voice her opinion. Hercules wasn't real and Bailey would never be as big and strong as Bruce Baumgartner.

“And if I can't be a hero like that, then maybe I could just save someone,” Bailey continued, unaware of Fern's lack of faith. “Then I could get my picture in the paper and everyone would know who I am.”

“I wouldn't want everyone to know who I am,” Fern said after some thought. “I want to be a famous writer, but I think I will use a pen name. A pen name is a name you use when you don't want everyone to know who you really are,” she supplied, just in case Bailey wasn't aware.

“So you can keep your identity a secret, like Superman,” he whispered, as if Fern's storytelling had just reached a whole new level of cool.

“And no one will ever know that it's me,” Fern said softly.

They weren't typical love notes. They were love notes because Fern poured her heart and soul into them, and Ambrose seemed to do the same, answering with an honesty and a vulnerability she hadn't anticipated. Fern didn't innumerate all the things she/Rita loved about him, didn't rave on and on about his looks, his hair, his strength, his talent. She could have, but she was more interested in all the things she didn't know. So she carefully chose her words and crafted questions that would allow her access to his innermost thoughts. She knew it was a charade. But she couldn't help herself.

It started with simple questions. Easy things like sour or sweet, winter or fall, pizza or tacos. But then they veered into the deep, the personal, the revealing. Back and forth they went, asking and answering, and it felt a little like undressing--removing the unimportant things first, the jacket, the earrings, the baseball cap. Before long, buttons were undone, zippers were sliding down, and clothes were falling to the floor. Fern's heart would flutter and her breaths grew short with every barrier crossed, every piece of metaphorical clothing discarded.

Lost or Alone? Ambrose said alone, and Fern responded, “I would much rather be lost with you than alone without you, so I choose lost with a caveat.” Ambrose responded, “No caveats,” to which Fern replied, “Then lost, because alone feels permanent, and lost can be found.”

Streetlights or stoplights? Fern: Streetlights made me feel safe. Ambrose: Stoplights make me restless.

Nobody or Nowhere? Fern: I'd rather be nobody at home than somebody somewhere else. Ambrose: I'd rather be nowhere. Being nobody when you're expected to be somebody gets old. Fern: How would you know? Have you ever been nobody? Ambrose: Everybody who is somebody becomes nobody the moment they fail.

Smart or Beautiful? Ambrose claimed smart, but then proceeded to tell her how beautiful she (Rita) was. Fern claimed beautiful and went on to tell Ambrose how clever he was.

Before or After? Fern: Before, anticipation is usually better than the real thing. Ambrose: After. The real thing, when done right, is always better than a daydream. Fern wouldn't know, would she? She let that one slide.

Love songs or poetry? Ambrose: Love songs–you get the best of both, poetry set to music. And you can't dance to poetry. He then made a list of his favorite ballads. It was an impressive list, and Fern spent one evening making a mix CD of all of them. Fern said poetry and sent him back some of the poems she'd written. It was risky, foolish, and she was completely naked by this point in the game, yet she played on.

Stickers or crayons? Candles or light bulbs? Church or school? Bells or whistles? Old or new? The questions continued, the answers flew, and Fern would read each letter very slowly, perched on the toilet in the girl's restroom and then spend the rest of the school day crafting a response.

She commanded Rita to read each missive, and with each note, Rita got more and more confused, both by the things Ambrose was saying and the answers Fern was giving. More than once she protested: “I don't know what you two are talking about! Can't you just talk about his abs? He's got amazing abs, Fern.” Before long, Rita was handing over the notes to Fern with a shrug and delivering them back to Ambrose with complete disinterest.

Fern tried not to think about Ambrose's abs or the fact that Rita was intimately acquainted with them. About three weeks after the very first love note, she walked around the corner between classes, needing to retrieve an assignment from her locker only to see Rita pushed up against said locker, her arms wrapped around Ambrose. He was kissing her like they had just discovered they had lips . . . and tongues. Fern had gasped and turned immediately, retreating in the direction she had come. For a moment she thought she would be sick, and she swallowed the nausea rising in her throat. But it wasn't an upset stomach that made her ill, it was an upset heart. And she really had only herself to blame. She wondered if her letters simply made Ambrose love Rita more, making a mockery out of everything she revealed about herself.

4: Meet Hercules

It only took a little more than a month before the ruse was uncovered. Rita was acting funny. She wouldn't meet Fern's gaze when Fern handed her the love note for Ambrose that she had thoroughly enjoyed composing. Rita's eyes shot to Fern's outstretched hand, eyeballing the carefully folded paper like it was something to fear. She made no move to take it from Fern's hand.

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