Ashy eraser shavings fluttered and crawled off the page and onto the grimy white table as the eraser thump thump thumped against it to the ticking of the clock above. Fern sat slumped over the fresh sheet of paper, drumming the pencil and looking at anything but the bucket filled with crumbled balls of half baked thoughts and rambles. She blew some of her frizzy red hair out of her face and looked over at the beaten and rusted old alarm clock that sat on the corner of her desk, next to her bed. It was almost ten. Her dad would be coming to make sure she was in bed soon.
She looked back down at the empty sheet. She simply couldn’t fathom what she was meant to write. Anything she wrote would either be meaningless and fake or whiny and depressing. Neither of those seemed like something she wanted to write to Kim. She was sure Kim had enough to deal with right now. She didn’t need that. Fern stared at the pale blue lines for a moment longer before slapping the largest book she had on top of it, sending her pencil rolling and obscuring the sheet. Out of sight, out of mind.
She got out of her folding chair, the plastic squealing unpleasantly after being freed of it’s burden. She shuffled over to her dresser and pulled out a set of PJs. They were a set of red fleece pajamas that had a been a Christmas present from her grandma. They were normally too hot for summer nights like this, but Fern didn’t care. They were soft and warm, and she needed that right now.
She pulled them on and started towards the bed, almost tripping over one of her many balls of paper. She leaned down to pick it up and could make out some of the words, despite the smearing of graphite and distortion of the ball. Words like ‘moved’, ‘hate’, and ‘stupid’ stood out boldly. ‘Yeah,’ she thought bitterly, ‘I can’t send something like this to Kim.’
The letters became blurry and Fern blinked rapidly, the stinging in her eyes not from being tired. When she tried to suck in a breath, she found that her lungs burned, and her throat felt like it was closing up. She gasped and gulped, getting as much air as she could before holding it in, holding everything in. Fern hated crying. It made her eyes puffy and tired and she always got a terribly runny nose. And she had already cried enough over the past week.
She jolted in surprise as her door creaked open. She spun around, the paper ball clenched against her chest as her dad’s head poked into the room. The light shone off the bald spot at the top of his head and he blinked at her with concerned eyes behind his round glasses.
“Hey, are you o-oh.”
Fern glared and tried to stop her lip from quivering, “I’m fine!”
He started coming in, “Sweety, I know it’s hard when a friend moves, but-”
“I said I’m fine!” She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes again, so she tossed the paper ball towards the bucket and dove under her worn comforter, yanking it up and curling into a ball underneath it. “I’m going to bed now.”
She could hear the floor creaking as her dad shifted from one foot to another, unsure, before he put his hand back on the handle, “Okay…I’m here to talk if you want to Fern.”
Fern bit back a harsh reply. She knew he was only trying to help, because that’s what dads do. But right now she didn’t want help or to be soothed, she just wanted to be angry. It wasn’t fair. She had waited patiently for summer, ready for time at the pool and playing with Kim at the park. She had been ready to spend her days running barefoot on the scorching pavement and playing games all day long, spending months not being bored in a concrete prison for hours on end.
Instead, summer had been heralded by the announcement that her best and only friend was moving to the middle of nowhere, never to return. All because Kim’s parents wanted to live with some grandma Kim had never told Fern about. Fern wasn’t even sure if Kim had ever met this granny. But that didn’t matter to Mr. and Mrs. Rackman, because they packed up their luggage and daughter and drove off one week ago, barely giving the two girls time to say a proper goodbye.
Yes, Fern was angry, but it wasn’t her dad’s fault. It wasn’t Kim’s fault. It was Mr. and Mrs. Rackman’s fault, but she didn’t have any way of lashing out at them anymore, so Fern would have to settle for hating them for the rest of her life.
So instead of snipping at her dad, Fern simply muttered, “’Night Dad.”
The old yellow paint on the walls turned to black as the lights flicked off and the door scraped shut.
Fern didn’t get up, but she shifted the old comforter around so that there was a hole in front of her mouth, letting her get some fresh air into her little bundle. This armadillo position was actually pretty comfortable.
Although she hadn’t cried, the tears had caused her eyes to sting and it was a sweet relief to close them. It wasn’t long before she was fast asleep, dozing the night away.
It was a long time before Fern dragged herself out of her cozy cocoon the next morning. For as much as she hated crying, she had to admit that it did help with sleeping. She stretched and closed her eyes against the morning light that was streaking in through the busted blinds. When she cracked open her eye, she noticed something amiss. A strange, unfamiliar shape in the center of her bedroom.
Her rubbed fiercely at her eyes before training them on the thing, still a bit too tired to fully understand what she was seeing. There, in the center of her bedroom, floated a single balloon. It hovered there, strangely still, bright and almost glowing in the morning light.
It was almost completely round, a large sphere in a pale, silvery bluish color. It was tied to a short length of silky deep blue ribbon, and from that ribbon hung something. Fern cautiously approached it, looking closer. It was a letter. She carefully circled it, observing how the letter had been balanced perfectly within the loop of ribbon so as not to fall out. It was all so carefully placed and still, it was eerie.
Fern cautiously reached out and slipped the letter out of the ribbon, pinching it between two fingers. Without the letter’s weight, the balloon drifted upwards, bumping against her ceiling until it settled again. Fern looked down to inspect the letter.
It was inside a pacific blue envelope, the paper feeling stiff and expensive. On the back there was silvery cursive that read ‘Fern Bloter’, and it was sealed with a real wax seal. The seal was pearly, almost shimmering in her hands. Embossed into it was a simple crescent moon.
After a moment of hesitation, Fern pushed her nail under the seal and popped it open, pulling out the letter inside. The letter itself was also fancy paper, but instead of being stiff and woven out of heavy looking fibers like the envelope, it was thin and slick as water. It was also a crisp white, with dark blue ink spelling out in cursive:
“Would you like to be friends?”