Making Faces
Author:Amy Harmon

“She's such a beautiful child.”

 

Fern heard her mother speaking from the kitchen, talking to Aunt Angie who sat by the screen door watching Bailey and Rita sitting in the swings in Fern's backyard. Fern needed to use the bathroom, but had come in through the garage instead of the screen door so she could check on the turtle she and Bailey had captured by the creek that morning. He was in a box filled with leaves and everything else a turtle could ever want. He hadn't moved and Fern wondered if maybe they had made a mistake to take him from his home.

 

“She almost doesn't look real.” Fern's mother shook her head, pulling Fern's attention from the turtle. “Those bright blue eyes and those perfect doll features.”

 

“And that hair! It's white from root to tip. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it,” Angie said. “And yet she's brown as can be. She's got that rare combination of white hair and golden skin.”

 

Fern stood awkwardly in the hallway, listening to the two women talk about Rita, knowing that her mother and aunt thought she was still in the backyard. Rita had moved to Hannah Lake that summer with her mother, and Rachel Taylor, a pastor's wife to her core, was the first to welcome the young mother and her ten-year-old daughter. Before long, she was arranging lunch dates and inviting Rita to come play with Fern. Fern liked Rita. She was sweet and happy and willing to do whatever Fern was doing. She didn't have a very good imagination, but Fern had enough for both of them.

 

“I think Bailey's smitten.” Angie laughed. “He hasn't blinked since he laid eyes on her. It's funny how kids are drawn to beauty just like the rest of us. Before you know it, he's going to start demonstrating his wrestling skills and I'm going to have to find a way to distract him, bless his heart. He begged Mike to let him participate in the wrestling camp again. Every year it's the same thing. He begs, he cries, and we have to try to explain why he can't.”

 

There was silence in the kitchen as Angie seemed lost in her thoughts and Rachel prepared sandwiches for the kids, unable to protect Angie from the realities of Bailey's disease.

 

“Fern seems to like Rita, doesn't she?” Angie changed the subject with a sigh but her eyes stayed fixed on her son swinging back and forth, talking non-stop to the lovely little blonde beside him. “It's good for her to have a girlfriend. She spends all her time with Bailey, but she's going to need a girlfriend as she gets older.”

 

It was Rachel's turn to sigh. “Poor Fernie.”

 

Fern had turned to walk back down the hall toward the restroom but stopped abruptly. Poor Fernie? She wondered with a jolt if she had some disease, a disease like Bailey's that her mother hadn't told her about. “Poor Fernie” sounded serious. She listened intently.

 

“She's not pretty the way that Rita is. Her teeth are going to need some major work, but she's still so small and she hasn't lost most of her baby teeth. Maybe when all her permanent teeth grow in it won't be as bad. At the rate she's growing, she's going to be in braces when she's twenty-five.” Fern's mother laughed. “I wondered if she would be jealous of Rita. But so far, she seems unaware of their physical differences.”

 

“Our little, funny, Fernie,” Angie said, a smile in her voice. “You can't find a better kid than Fern. I am thankful every day for her. She is such a blessing to Bailey. God knew what he was doing when he made them family, Rachel. He gave them each other. Such a tender mercy.”

 

But Fern was rooted to the spot. She didn't hear the word blessing. She didn't stop to ponder what it meant to be one of God's tender mercies. She's not pretty. The words clanged around in her head like pots and pans being jostled and banged. She's not pretty. Little, funny Fernie. She's not pretty. Poor Fernie.

 

“Fern!” Rita shouted her name and waved her hand in front of Fern's face. “Hello? Where did you go? What should I say?”

 

Fern shook off the old memory. Funny how some things stuck with you.

 

“What if you say something like, 'Even when you're not around, you're all I see. You're all I think about. I wonder, is your heart as beautiful as your face? Is your mind as fascinating as the play of muscle beneath your skin? Is it possible that you might think about me too?'“ Fern paused and looked at Rita.

 

Rita's eyes were very round. “Oh, that's good. Did you write that in one of your romance novels?” Rita was one of the only people who knew Fern wrote love stories and dreamed of having them published.

 

“I don't know. Probably.” Fern smiled sheepishly.

 

“Here! Write it down,” Rita squealed, pulling out a paper and a pencil and shoving them into Fern's hands.