Summary: Fern’s sophomore year at Rosewood Academy isn’t going as planned. She feels her entire world is crumbling, and in a moment of weakness, she commits suicide. When she returns as a ghost, will she be able to work through the problems that caused her to end her life or will she be stuck in a state of depression forever? My NaNoWriMo2014 piece. Rated T for dark themes.
Can also be found here.
The Rosewood Academy was an elite prep school a few miles outside of Elwood City. The building was large and old, its bricks covered in thick ivy that trailed up to the roof line. The architecture itself proved to the world that this was the place that future leaders went for training, a place for the best education in the area.
Students could only get into the academy by invitation, and even then, tuition was extremely high. Very few area students could actually afford the school, meaning that most were actually from out of town. Those students lived in a small dorm complex just off campus, their lives mandated by the school’s officials. The only students free of their watchful eye were the local students. Only three were enrolled now: Muffy Crosswire, Sue Ellen Armstrong, and Fern Walters.
Fern received a journalism scholarship in the seventh grade after becoming a success on the Grebe Middle School paper, Squawk Weekly. Her English teacher recommended her to the Rosewood Academy Board of Directors, and they sent her an invitation within a few weeks. They accepted her before the year ended, but she didn’t start until her eighth grade year. By then, Muffy and Sue Ellen were already there, and needless to say, they were rather surprised to see her. Fern’s family didn’t have a rich monetary or cultural background, and they knew she must be there on scholarship. Muffy turned on her, her father’s logic about the poor rubbing off on her. Sue Ellen took to her side, and the two became best friends.
Now they were sixteen years old, and though Sue Ellen had helped Fern throughout these years, Fern’s scholarship requirements were rising. Her responsibilities on the Rosewood Academy journal,Prestige Periodical, had grown since she entered the upper-most grades, and the only thing helping her through the madness was Sue Ellen. On a particularly busy Friday, Fern met her at a local coffee shop to talk about her week.
“I couldn’t believe it when Dr. Hopkins asked me to redo my piece. He’s usually so pleased with my work. Do you know what might’ve gotten him into a bad mood?” Fern questioned. Sue Ellen shook her head as she sipped her soy latte. “Well, something set him off. I don’t mind redoing pieces when he actually tells me what needs to be improves. Maybe you could read it over.”
“Fern, we’ve talked about this before,” Sue Ellen said, pushing the paper away from her. “I can’t judge your writing for the paper because I’m not as talented as you, and I doubt I ever will be. He’s just challenging you because the board is seeking a grant renewal from their richest benefactors. You need to bring your best material, and if he rejected your work-”
Fern sighed, “Then it must not be my best,” she murmured, hanging her head. “I just…things were easier when we were younger. They were less complicated, less…I just don’t know. I used to have days like this when I was younger, days when I felt almost sick because I was so sad. Now it’s deeper-”
“You’re depressed,” Sue Ellen interrupted. Fern gave her a perplexed look as she took a tiny bite of her scone. “You, Fern Walters, are reaching the Age of Depression. My mom is always reading these psychology journals thanks to some old friend of hers. I thumb through them when I have the time, and it said teens our age are more likely to face our first deep wave of depression. This must be your first. Your story got rejected, your math scores are abysmal-”
“You’re not helping,” Fern grumbled. Sue Ellen shrugged and smirked softly. “You think you are helping?” she asked. Sue Ellen nodded and sipped her drink. “Well you’re not! I used to be able to come to you about these sorts of things. Now you diagnose me with problems, refuse to help me with anything. What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing, Fern. I have my own responsibilities though, and you rarely return the favor when it comes to listening. I’ve tried to look impatient as possible through this entire conversation, but you never even noticed!” Sue Ellen exclaimed, gathering her things. “I told you the other day, yesterday, and this morning that my father needed me home early because of an embassy-related dinner. I’m leaving, Fern, and when we meet tomorrow, I want you to listen to me as well. You used to be so good at it, but ever since we got into high school…well, you’re not as good of a friend anymore.”
The words stung Fern as Sue Ellen stormed out of the coffee shop’s rotating door, nearly trampling a teenage boy as she did. Fern sighed heavily and looked down to her scone and drink. She was a bad listener when it came to Sue Ellen’s problems, but she had her reasons. Listening to Sue Ellen gave her time for her mind to wander, which meant her thoughts would return, thoughts she didn’t know how to handle.
The thoughts started with a dream. It wasn’t long after they’d entered the ninth grade and Fern was thinking of her old classmates. She dreamed she was in the old Elwood City High prepared for class. Sue Ellen skipped past in a cheerleader’s outfit, yelling out rhymes at the other students. George hid behind his dummy, Wally, while Arthur looked on dumbfounded. When Fern looked back to Sue Ellen, she noticed her breasts for the first time and how they bounced when she moved. Fern woke up blushing, and when she saw Sue Ellen the next day, she took in the changes from afar. Later, she examined her own body and found that she wasn’t as curvy or vivacious as Sue Ellen.
She hoped her insecurity with her own body would ease these thoughts, but since her ninth grade year, her dreams about Sue Ellen had become more frequent and more sexualized. The thoughts scared her, and though Sue Ellen was her best friend, Fern knew that wasn’t the sort of thing she could discuss. Besides, Sue Ellen liked boys, and she’d mentioned a crush just a few weeks before-
“That was months ago!” Fern muttered to herself. She blushed as a fellow coffee drinker looked at her with an expression she hadn’t seen before. Fern shrank in her seat; she knew that look from her own expressions. She’d studied them for a social sciences class the year before. It was the look you gave someone doing something inappropriate, and talking to yourself in a public restaurant was definitely inappropriate.
Fern decided to dispose of her scone though she’d barely touched it. She carried her coffee outside and tried to check her phone. She cursed under her breath as a line of code filled the cracked screen before the entire thing vibrated and went dark. Fern grumbled as she walked to the bus stop to wait for the next line.
Sue Ellen sat next to Fern in the Rosewood Academy library. She was wearing a dress and nice shoes, something Sue Ellen rarely did considering it was out of uniform. But when the librarian nodded to Sue Ellen with a smile, Fern understood: Her friend had gotten a job at the school.
“Dr. Hopkins interviewed me last night after the dinner,” Sue Ellen explained. “He was hoping I could start today, so I asked him to file the Change of Uniform paperwork overnight. It was ready this morning, so now I’m an official intern for the Rosewood Academy Library. Miss Hardwell is getting my badge made now, so I can’t talk long. Did you take my conversation to heart?” Sue Ellen asked. Fern gave her a perplexed expression and Sue Ellen sighed, “You are listening, but I’m not giving you a chance to do much else?” she guessed. Fern nodded solemnly. “Well, I get off at four and…well, I have another obligation after school. I’m sorry, Fern, but maybe we can talk online or see each other later in the week.”
Fern watched her friend walk into the back portion of the library with envy. As a scholarship student, Fern did not qualify for the school’s internships. Besides, her work with the paper—a requirement for her scholarship—was far more important, though she’d always loved libraries and dreamed of working in one.
As Fern looked down to her latest story, she felt a cool breeze against her skin, making it goose pimple. She overlooked the sensation as she eyed her story. She was satisfied with her work. It was a story on a local councilman’s recent trip to Africa, a trip Fern and several other Elwood City residents didn’t agree with for various reasons. Fern’s interview helped clarify that the councilman was seeking a partnership with a small town so their students could come to the area to learn, and she felt the subject matter was important considering that the paper often reached the hands of local residents.
The bell rang and Fern closed her binder. She caught a glimpse of Sue Ellen darting from the library and her heart sank. Her best friend was pulling away from her, and she felt her throat tighten as she came to a sudden realization: They were parting ways, but Fern had never told Sue Ellen how she truly felt.
Fern sat on a bench outside of Dr. Hopkins’s office. When he was finished with a phone call, he stepped outside and gestured for her to follow. Dr. Hopkins was a short, round man who usually appeared jovial even on his worst days. But today? He barely said anything as he settled behind his desk. Fern passed him a file folder and he accepted it. He opened it but immediately tossed it down.
“Miss Walters, we’ve discussed this story already. I asked you to find another topic, not because your work was not good enough or credible or whatever argument you’ve already come up with,” Dr. Hopkins glared, sighing heavily. “I’ve had a horrible week, Fern, a week like you wouldn’t believe. I’m impatient with you as it is, so I expect a decent excuse from you.”
“I just want to know why this isn’t good enough. Is it my language? Did my facts not check out? Did he redact his statement?” Fern pleaded. Dr. Hopkins sighed heavily and bent down behind his desk. He pulled out a file folder and placed it into Fern’s shaky hand. Fern opened the folder and noticed it was a story by a younger student, a journalism prodigy also at the school on scholarship. “So, you liked her story better?”
“Her perspective was fresh, inviting, warm,” Dr. Hopkins smiled, almost licking his lips with pleasure. “I enjoy her style more because our readers enjoy her more. I almost chose to publish an editorial from a long-time reader commending her on her good work, but I knew that would upset some of the other writers. And I know I’m upsetting you now, Fern, but unless you get me some better material soon, I might have to cut you from the staff, which would end your time here with us. I don’t want to do that, so I’ll give you a lead-”
“I want to cover the councilman because his issues are important,” Fern interrupted. Dr. Hopkins shrugged, “He’s a has-been councilman, but if you know something I don’t, feel free to tell me now,” he said quickly with a hint of growing irritation. Fern stared at him blankly. “You didn’t know he was leaving after this term? Well, he is. Find the new guys. Interview them. But, I know one of them, and he hates children, especially teenage girls like yourself. The other candidate is rarely in the country anyhow. You have nothing to go on here, Fern. Change your tactics and get used to this. For someone who loves journalism as much as you seem to, you know nothing about the industry.”
“Fine,” Fern muttered, gathering her things. Dr. Hopkins called after her, a Post-It in his hand. He rushed after Fern, but she had already disappeared. He crumpled the yellow paper and tossed it into the trash, missing and grumbling under his breath.
A room over, Fern was sobbing in an empty room. She couldn’t believe her life was crumbling so quickly, that she was losing her friend as well as her spot on the staff. She wanted to cover the councilman because that’s what the local papers covered. They obviously found the topic important, and since she couldn’t submit her works directly to them without breaking the terms of her scholarship, Fern hoped they would continue publishing her at the academy. Instead, the new girl was getting her spot. Fern felt like a washed up has-been just like the councilman.
Fern composed herself as a deep chill filled the room. She gathered her things and stepped outside. A heavy rain was falling and Fern sighed under her breath. She pulled her phone from her pocket, but it hadn’t turned on properly for days. Now it vibrated and hummed, and Fern thought she felt it tingle against her slightly damp fingers. She dropped the phone, dividing it into several pieces and cracking the lens further. She tried to reenter the building to use their phone but the door was locked.
Fern sighed and reached into her bag for her umbrella. She found it underneath her math book and attempted to open it…but the metal pieces holding the fabric together flew out at unnatural angles, making the umbrella a useless contraption. She left it on the ground and pulled up the collar of her uniform. She jogged to the dorms and found the RA inside her office. She looked Fern over as she shook water off onto the floor.
“You can’t use our phone,” she said dully. “A guy tried that last week and we got in trouble for it, cell phones too,” she murmured, smacking gum as she pointed to a list of rules. Fern nodded but saw nothing about waiting, so she tried to sit on a nearby bench. “Nope, sorry. You don’t live here so you have to go home. It’s not far to the bus.”
Fern wanted to tell the girl off, but she composed herself quickly and rushed into the rain. It covered her tears from the outside world, but it did nothing to ease her harmful thoughts. Fern’s life wouldn’t be great if she had to return to Elwood City High and her classmates. She suppressed memories as a truck flew past, splashing Fern with muddy water as she hiked towards the bus stop. In the place of her memories, Sue Ellen’s form appeared. She was in a librarian’s outfit and flitting around the stacks with a busy expression. Fern tried to speak to her, but Sue Ellen seemed to look through her as if she wasn’t there. Fern continued the daydream, running from the fake library and directly into the newspaper office. No one could see her there either.
Fern shivered as a gust of wind ripped through her wet clothes. She liked the idea of being invisible, of leaving the world behind. She’d had the thoughts before, but they never felt as final as they did now, as logical. She reached the bus stop just in time for the bus, ending the thoughts in an instant. But as she dripped on the city bus, the driver glaring at her puddles using the bus’s mirrors, she made herself a promise: If things didn’t get better within a week, she would consider all options to make herself feel better.