Summary: Fern hates public speaking, especially when she has to read her school assignments to her peers. But this assembly is different because her work could have unintended consequences…and because it keeps happening. Every day is a new day but the scenario is the same. Fern is stuck in a time loop and she has no idea how to escape. Can also be found here on ff.net.
Fern’s walk to school was pleasant despite the anger seething within her. Now that she saw how this game was being played, she was determined not to be a part of it anymore, at least the “tearing my life apart” aspect of what her poetry could do. She planned to do something she’d never intentionally done before, and that was to not turn in anything at all.
As she looked to the leaves falling from the trees in graceful paths in the cool breeze, the memory of the assignment came to her. They were all asked to write a poem for the contest as homework, and they were all given the topic of social injustice. Fern thought that was well and good considering the subject matter of her poem, but she knew it was too personal of a piece. Not turning in anything would be just as awful, but at least she could maintain her friendships. She could just find another way to deal with Elwood City’s problem.
When Fern arrived at school, she found Jenna and Muffy standing near her locker. Fern took no notice of this at first because she thought Muffy was just lecturing Jenna about what she was wearing—a hand-sewn sweater with about ten different colors of yarn mixed in. Jenna had worn the sweater before because it was a gift from a younger cousin and she wanted to be supportive. In the reality Fern was familiar with, Muffy told her it was vomitrocious and that she should burn it within the sights of whoever made it, causing Jenna to burst into tears then and any other moment she thought of the encounter for the next two weeks.
But this wasn’t Fern’s usual reality, and Muffy’s next line shocked her:
“I think you should send your cousin to me. My mother and I have been knitting for a few months now, and we’re barely getting the hang of it. It’s a small group of people actually, but we host it. You and your cousin should come to see what you can do. I almost made a good pair of socks during the last session, but they were too short and scratchy. I picked the wrong yarn and used the wrong pattern. It was such a disaster!” Muffy laughed.
Jenna laughed with her as Fern looked on with disbelief. This was not the Mary Alice Crosswire she’d grown up with. If the Buster from her reality was here, he’d scream “ALIENS!!” and run in the opposite direction. Fern was tempted to take his place as the bell rang, but she studiously moved towards her math class.
“Hey, Fern, where are you going? We have English first,” Jenna smiled, pulling Fern towards the second floor. Fern was a little surprised. Not only were people mingling with each other that normally didn’t, her schedule was off too.
Then Fern realized something—if it was October, she would be in the next grade. She would be another year older too, which meant this was a completely different ballgame.
No wonder things are so different, Fern thought, but I doubt they really changed that much overnight. I made the right decision to ball up that poem. I did. I know it.
As they walked through the door, the English teacher demanded copies of their poems. This was a different English teacher than the first one, but her response was the same as any other teacher when she realized Fern, one of the school’s best writers, had no assignment. Her reaction, a stern glare from the front of the room, caught the attention of everyone else, and soon the class was in a frenzy to find out why she of all people wouldn’t turn in a poetry assignment about social injustice.
Fern remained defiant. She offered no explanation and attempted to continue on like always, but she could feel the shift. She wasn’t responding as she should, and that was going to be the biggest consequence of this reality. She didn’t mind considering what she’d already been through in the previous days. Her wrist was still sore from the mayor’s disgusting grip, but she knew this place was different. Maybe this was the reality that needed the poem despite how all the others had turned out—maybe inaction would be her downfall here.
The day continued like always, but Fern kept getting questions. At lunch, she was surrounded by the old Lakewood gang, Muffy included, and they all wanted to know why she didn’t turn in an assignment. Jenna suggested writer’s block, Arthur suggested forgetfulness, and Buster suggested aliens took the real poem and replaced it with something illegible.
Fern wanted to go with that option, not because it made her smile to see the old Buster, but because it was almost less crazy than what was really going on. Her time in other realities was skewing her vision, and she asked the group if she should write a poem now and turn it in. Everyone liked the idea, especially Francine and Brain, so Fern excused herself and got a pass from a vice-principal to go to the library.
As she typed out her poem, she noticed the librarians were in their office with a teacher, her English teacher. A glass wall helped the sound of their voices carry to Fern, who was able to hear every word clearly.
“I was just floored to see that she didn’t have an assignment. I thought for sure she’d be the one to put in the winning entry,” the teacher sighed.
“She’s been distracted lately by a new book series. Maybe she just kept reading and reading until she forgot about the assignment,” one librarian suggested.
The second librarian disagreed, “No, no, Fern is studious. Something must be wrong with her if she didn’t put in a working assignment. Look, there she is now. Maybe she wrote something she was unsure about and wanted to do better.”
“Yes, that’s a better option,” the first librarian nodded.
“I hope so. If she brings it to me, I’ll take it. I normally don’t break the rules, but this is Fern Walters we’re talking about. She has to weigh in on this topic,” the teacher said, grabbing a stack of papers and leaving the library.
As lunch ended, Fern reported to her classroom and handed her a printout. The teacher looked it over as she finished chewing a bite of her salad. Her forehead then scrunched and she looked up to Fern. She swallowed before asking, “Is this how you really feel about your classmates?”
“No,” Fern admitted, trying to think of why she didn’t change the poem to something bigger, perhaps something on the national scale. There was certainly enough material in the news to use.
The teacher sighed, “I can’t take this. I told myself I would, but now I see why you decided not to complete the assignment. If you think your classmates don’t mingle between classes and support each other, you must be from a different reality,” she said, looking up in shock as Fern’s face changed, “Wait, why do you look relieved? I thought I was being spiteful.”
“You would be if that weren’t the truth,” Fern admitted. She pointed to the poem, “This poem has gotten me into more trouble than I know what to do with. Yesterday the mayor broke my wrist because I refused to be his star child and read it for the city. It ruined friendships, and I know it hurt people, but that’s where I’m stuck. I can’t do something national or international. I have to tell people what I think, and that’s what happened that day. I just need to word it better, I guess, but I don’t know how to do that, and changing realities every day is a pain.”
“If you were anyone else I’d have you sent to the office for mandatory drug testing, but…something inside me is telling me to believe you,” the teacher said, handing Fern the poem, “Maybe you should keep fighting for your beliefs by changing the poem and proposing the edited version instead. I don’t know how that could help you, but I can see how this isn’t helping anyone. I know of several people who’d probably never speak to you again over this, Jenna Morgan being one of them.”
“If I’m here tomorrow, I’ll give you the edited version. If not, I guess I’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings for me elsewhere,” Fern shrugged, gathering her things as the bell chimed. She made it to her next class just in time, but she intentionally kept her head down and worked on another project. Her teacher was right. She needed to try something different, and seeing this world before her gave her plenty of ideas. This world was what she wanted her own to look like, and she just needed to paint the picture with her words.
Doria peeked her head in as Fern climbed into bed. Doria smiled to daughter and sat on the edge of her bed. Doria looked around her daughter’s room and noticed the pile of balled up notebook paper next to the trash bin.
“I see you’ve been working on a writing project. Care to share?” Doria asked.
Fern shook her head, “No, I’m tired of thinking about it. I’ve literally seen it from every direction now, and I just can’t make much sense of how to fix it. I’d scrap it, but I have no choice,” she said, quickly adding, “It’s an assignment for school that my English teacher is letting me play with.”
“Well, my suggestion is to stop seeing it from every direction and just pick one. There’s only one right way to see things, and you have to pick the one that’s right for you,” Doria said.
“So, my way is the only right way then? What about other people’s perspectives?”
“As long as you can imagine those too in your vision, you’ll be fine. Believe me, I do it for a living. I have my own way of seeing a home. I like certain styles, designs, and amenities. But my clients have their own way. As long as I can meld my knowledge with their tastes, I can usually find them the right home. It’s sometimes difficult though. That pile of paper signifies my latest case. I’ve been trying to find the right home for some first-time buyers for about four months now, and they aren’t happy with anything.”
Fern grinned, “Have you seen things from every different direction yet?”
Doria eyed her daughter carefully, “Yes, I have, and I’m having the same problem. Part of me wants to tell them to just go live under a bridge somewhere, but like your assignment, I have no choice. They do need a place to live, and it’s up to me, in their eyes, to find it. One day it’s a Colonial, the next a Craftsman. My head is swimming.”
“Is every day the same for you just in a different season?” Fern asked in a low, serious voice.
Doria grinned, “Sometimes it does feel that way, but no, not really. Now, I need to get to bed,” she said, kissing her daughter’s forehead, “Good night, and I’ll check in with you about your assignment. You’ll do fine, and I’ll sell those picky people a house, and everything will turn out okay in the end. You just have to be patient.”
Fern nodded and watched her mother leave. As she lay on her side, she wanted to scream to her mother that she’d gotten in right, that she really was giving Fern the best advice in the world. She knew she couldn’t tell her mother that without sounding crazy, so she left the subject be.
Fern closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, it was February again. But it was the day after her reading, and Fern found herself with several hurtful text messages from Jenna. Fern sighed. It was time to face the consequences of her original timeline, and she hoped an edit or a redaction could fix the damage.