Though he would never admit it, Rufus Low owes his life to those black balloons.
After Emily left, and it was just he and Marigold again (there were things he couldn’t tell her: this is how he would justify her leaving them both. He had pushed her away by erecting an emotional wall even her wrecking ball of love could not dent), Rufus and his gaming store had suffered tremendously.
He stopped keeping the place open after hours, for one. Kids would have to gather somewhere else for their Settlers of Catan and Warhammer tournaments. He no longer had a passion for the game store, locking himself in the back, playing Blockscape until close letting the teenage associates do all the peddling. They couldn’t care less about getting customers to try out any of the new games for $7.50 an hour. Soon, all the kids were going elsewhere for their gaming needs, and not only that: Marigold wasn’t speaking to him. It seems she blamed him for her newly acquired maternal figure absconding as well.
When the balloon came to him (catching in the ‘LOW’S HOBBYHORSE STABLE & GAMES’ sign—he had watched it float gingerly down and settle inside one of the ‘O’s, as if nesting. Through thin latex flesh he could spy something within), he was quick to retrieve the ladder and investigate.
Afterward he was even quicker to comb the internet, discovering he wasn’t alone, and after rounding up a few fellow balloon-catchers, he held the first official meeting of the Helium Detectives inside his store. An official website would soon follow. As the group grew, so did the customers. Rufus began to offer a prize of store credit for anyone finding one of the balloons, which drew back all the old customers and more. Not only that, it would also bring together a diverse group of enthusiasts all looking for an excuse to hang out.
One of these enthusiasts would be Janine Fowler. Her hidden motive: new in a strange city (or strange in a new city, rather) she sought friends.
One day Rufus would sit her down to tell her everything of his past, and she would dare to do the same.
Down would come that wall, in its place an impenetrable temple of trust rising from dust.
Marigold would never want for a mother again.