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.
When Fern entered Elwood City High, she was a woman on a mission. By now she knew that the footage of her reading had taken the town by storm, and while she had some support, she had some things to explain to some of the people she hurt. Though Muffy was the first person she encountered, she wasn’t who Fern was aiming for. Fern was looking for Jenna, but the determined Crosswire wouldn’t let Fern pass.
“We have to discuss your poem, Fern. Did you know what you read could get you sued? I could have you paying damages to me for the rest of your life!” Muffy hissed.
“If it weren’t true then I wouldn’t have written it. Now if you’ll excuse me,” she said, trying to dodge Muffy, but she wouldn’t let her by.
“What do you mean it’s true? I’ve been nothing but nice to everyone I’ve ever met, including you. Yet you’ve betrayed me with these lies! Everyone knows you were talking about me. Why would I ever put anyone in a corner?”
Fern stared at her, “Well, you’re doing it right now, and it’s honestly nothing new. You’ve been encircling people for years to tell them their clothes look like trash and that they should be ashamed to not look like they walked out of a magazine. Don’t deny it either because you know it’s true. If you’d spend half the time you spend berating people to build people up, you might not have things written about you that you deem hurtful.
“Now get the hell out of my way,” Fern demanded, giving Muffy a firm shove. Muffy was too shocked to say anything back. Fern had just given her a dose of the truth, and she wasn’t necessarily pleased with it. But she knew she couldn’t have this discussion here, not with people pouring into the school to start their day.
Fern peered into the cafeteria but couldn’t find Jenna anywhere, so she went upstairs to the balcony entrance for the gym. All the way at the top row on the far side of the room was Jenna, sitting alone as she flipped through a notebook. Fern recognized it as the same one she had used in the other reality to send cutesie notes to Brain, but she didn’t remember ever using it in this reality. Had it somehow changed? Fern had to find out. She ran back into the main hallway and darted for the other balcony entrance.
As soon as she opened the door, Jenna looked up. She knew she was trapped now that Fern had found her hiding place, so she waited for Fern to arrive, but she wouldn’t let her have the first word.
“I can’t believe you wish we weren’t friends. We’ve been building this notebook for years, and it’s like it means nothing to you. We were content with not being a part of the crowd. What happened to that?” Jenna demanded.
“It’s not what you think,” Fern said, looking down to the notebook. It was a scrapbook filled with ticket stubs and photographs, but Fern remembered none of them. Was this reality really the same one as before? She couldn’t be sure, but she knew she had to fix things, “I wrote the poem the way I did because I’m sick of us being the underdog just because we’re not athletic or dressed like celebrities. I’m tired of us being marginalized because people don’t think we matter. Can’t you see that?”
Jenna looked up, “It does get annoying when Muffy tells me off all the time because my hat doesn’t match my shoes. Did she find you?” Jenna asked meekly. Fern nodded. Jenna sighed, “I knew she would. She was really angry, but making her mad was something I liked. I just wish you didn’t have to bring me into it.”
“I’d edit it and redact that part, but I need to get the rest of the message out. You’re a part of that message, Jenna. Can’t you stand by me to see it through?” Fern pleaded.
Jenna looked down to the book. They both looked so happy in the photographs, and the trinkets they had acquired and taped inside looked just as elated. They were best friends for life, through thick and thin, and Jenna knew it was in her best interest to ride this wild ride with Fern.
She looked back up to Fern and smiled, “Let’s do this. Where’s Muffy at? I want to watch her seethe and boil with anger.”
“It is a nice sight for once,” Fern agreed. The two girls moved into the cafeteria, where Muffy was trying to rally her friends and allies against Fern and her poem. To Fern’s surprise, the media coverage seemed to work to her advantage. Parents of the more privileged children scolded them for being so cruel, and several appeared to be sitting in new areas. The rest were staring at Muffy with bored expressions. They weren’t up for her mission, and Fern smiled. Somehow she’d won this battle, but she wondered if she’d win the war.
As Fern’s day continued, she realized this was a different timeline. Instead of the year starting over, it was the next, yet the issues were the same. The poem was the same, and even the circumstances were the same. People were sick and tired of people like Muffy telling them how to live their life, and they were even more tired of the social standards binding people to only those like them. Before the day was over, she’d seen people talk and mingle in ways she never had before, and on their walk home, Fern and Jenna discussed the positive changes that they hoped were permanent.
But Fern was worried. As she stood by her fireplace in the living room in an attempt to warm herself more quickly, she wondered if Muffy really would sue her. The consequences of this world didn’t seem as dire as the others. In most, she was at risk of losing relationships, possibly more, if people took her actions the wrong way. She’d already had her wrist broken by an adult, a pain that she still couldn’t shake despite the difference in timelines. Would something else like that happen? Could it be worse?
Fern’s thoughts were interrupted by Doria returning home. She threw off her coats and boots and moved to the couch, where she collapsed and looked up to the ceiling. When she did, she finally took notice of her daughter standing by the fire. Doria sat up straighter and tried to appear less stressed, but Fern had already seen her. She already knew that something was up, and she wondered if her mother was having issues selling a house.
“Oh, there’s no use in trying to hide anything from you,” Doria grinned as Fern sat next to her. “So, you probably want to know what’s bothering me, but I’m sure you already know.”
Fern shook her head, “No, I don’t. Tell me. I’m a really good listener.”
“I know you are, dear,” Doria said, sinking further into her seat and looking over the living room, “I just…I don’t like worrying you with my work. I want you to think it’s effortless, but it’s not. I guess I should stop pretending and give you a dose of reality…. Well, here it is: The Crosswire’s are getting a divorce, and they’re going to have to sell their house in order to please both parties, so both have come to me in an attempt to find new homes, and they’re both driving me insane.”
“Muffy’s parents are getting a divorce?” Fern asked, stunned by the news. She had no idea her parents were having marital problems, but it did explain Muffy’s sudden control issues. Her fashionista ways only got bad when she came to high school, which would be three years ago now, plenty of time in Fern’s eyes to deal with the problems of your parents in negative ways. When her mother nodded, Fern put the pieces together. Muffy was compensating for her own hurt, and it almost upset Fern to think she was being rather cruel to her in her poem.
“You shouldn’t feel sorry for any of them,” Doria said, noticing her daughter’s facial expression. Doria sighed, “This has been going on for years, but it’s her own fault. Millicent is trying to be all high-society, and it’s wrecked that family. People have boycotted Ed’s business because Millicent would come in sometimes and insult them or try to persuade them into getting the absolute best model, which was out of their price range. Millicent can’t be happy with what the average person can afford. She can only be happy with the best, and she thinks that for everyone else. Ed got tired of it, and the wrath he’s receiving because of it makes me wonder if he should’ve stayed with that mad woman.”
“And Muffy is just like her mother,” Fern murmured.
“How do you mean?”
“She knows part of my poem was about her, and she threatened to sue me this morning. Do you think she could?” Fern asked. To her surprise, her mother laughed and shook her head. Fern interjected, “But she could if her mother helps her.”
“I’m sure, but no judge would uphold it. People loved your poem. It brought up this issue from a perspective people often forget about, the perspective of a child who’s had to grow up in a world where people aren’t treated fairly because of what their parents taught them. You gave the town something to really talk about, so you’ll have plenty of support. Just don’t worry about anything, and forget everything I told you about the divorce. It’s not public knowledge, and I really shouldn’t have told you.”
“My lips are sealed,” Fern said, looking up as her father entered with dinner. Fern ate methodically, taking carefully measured bites. This was her way to make the seconds tick slower. She wanted to stay in this world and see things through, but she knew that the moment her eyes closed for any form of sleep, she’d wake up in a new reality with new rules. She just hoped it was back in spring so the bitter chill of winter couldn’t touch her.