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 sneezed as she stretched. It was definitely spring again, and she wondered if she was back in the same spring reality or if this was a different one. She checked the date and found that this world was following the timeline—it was the next year instead of the first. Like the previous day, this reality seemed to be the day after, but as she looked through her things during breakfast, she realized she was only dating Brain, not both him and Jenna.
As she began her walk, Fern heard someone run up to her. She saw Brain and stopped. He caught up to her and took a few moments to gather his breath.
“I thought I’d missed you,” he said, taking her hand, “I think you left a little early today, didn’t you?”
“Well I didn’t mean to,” Fern admitted. Brain accepted this and kept catching his breath. Fern took this opportunity to ask him, “How is everyone taking my poem?”
“Well, a lot of people didn’t like that a teen’s love poem won an award and got a recital, but some were happy because their tests were rescheduled for today. Otherwise I haven’t heard anything. You’re aware that our peers take high literature for granted. They only respect the classics, not the new eras of poetry or fiction, or even nonfiction.”
Fern nodded and tried to call up any memories this world had to offer her. She could see herself reading the poem over the auditorium, almost a panoramic camera shot of the entire event. Her eyes, whenever they lifted, fell on only one person, Jenna. Fern wondered why as she and Brain walked into Elwood City High hand-in-hand.
“I need to stop by the library. I’ll see you at lunch,” Brain said, pulling Fern into a lingering hug.
When she was released, Fern went to her locker and dug through it for any signs that she was in a relationship with Jenna. She could tell they were friends, but she doubted they were lovers. When she closed her locker and found Jenna standing there, she knew this was the case, but she knew that something else was up with Jenna. She looked ill, but she walked with Fern anyway.
“I keep wondering if your poem was about me,” Jenna whispered. She stopped and turned to a stunned Fern, “I told you I liked you but you almost ignored me. I know this is taboo in this world, but I care about you more than just a friendship. I know you have a boyfriend, but would I ever have a chance with you? I need to know…so I can cut my losses and get out of here.”
“We can just be friends, Jenna. You don’t have to find anyone else—“
“I’ll be leaving entirely. My mom has always wanted me to go to the same private school she and her family went to. If you and I never have a chance, then I have to leave. I can’t stay here and see you every day. Elwood City High is just big enough to find new friends, yes, but you’ll always be here. You’ll always be in the background, and I can’t live with that. I can either have you or I can’t.”
“I only see you as a friend,” Fern apologized, “but I understand. If you need to leave, go. I won’t tell anyone why.”
Jenna smiled, “See, that’s why I fell for you in the first place. You just always have that way of being kind, even in the worst situations. I’ll always love you, Fern. You told me who I was and what I like.”
When they entered the classroom, Jenna decided to go to the bathroom before class. Her things remained in her spot even after the bell rang, and though the class told the teacher where she was, Fern had doubts. A few minutes into class, she asked to go to the restroom, but the teacher refused.
Fern thought about the situation. She wouldn’t have to see this reality again, so she ran with it. Instead of waiting and asking again, she stood up, grabbed her purse, and marched towards the exit.
“Excuse me! Miss Walters, stop! I did not give you permission to leave!” the teacher screamed with a hint of disbelief. The entire class was staring as the teacher gave one last plea, “I will write you up if you leave this room!”
“Do it,” Fern shrugged, opening the door and quickly closing it behind her as the class oh’d in her favor.
Fern rushed around to the bathrooms of the school, even on the second floor, but she found no sign of Jenna. In a last ditch effort, Fern went down the stairwell leading into the basement. The basement was only for janitors because it namely housed the school’s equipment. But Jenna and Fern knew there were small classrooms downstairs because they heard stories of couples going down there to mess around.
Sure enough, the hallway at the bottom of the stairs looked like all of the others in the school, but the doors were closer together. Most of the rooms were dark as well, which Fern could see through windows, but Fern needed to check inside. She opened each door and found them all unlocked. Her brief searches revealed every light switch, but illumination didn’t help her search. It was as if Jenna had vanished completely.
“Miss Walters,” a voice called. Fern was at the end of the hall now, and she looked up to see the principal. He gestured to her with one finger, “Come with me.”
The office proceedings were normal, or at least Fern guessed they were normal. When she left, the teacher immediately buzzed the office, and the principal used the school’s resource officer and access to the security cameras to locate Fern. They realized she was looking for someone or something because of how long it took to track her, but Fern remained silent. What if Jenna had vanished entirely and they didn’t know who she was? Fern couldn’t sound crazy, so she remained silent.
Finally the principal decided to let her off with a week’s worth of detention. The bell for second period rang, and Fern went around the halls looking for Jenna. There was no sign of her, so she looked back into her first period classroom. Jenna’s things remained on the desk, but they seemed faded. People ignored them as if they weren’t actually there, and the sight disheartened Fern entirely. Where had the girl actually gone?
Brain walked Fern home and left for the ice cream shop after school, leaving Fern alone to tell her mother the news. She found Doria in her home office looking over listings with dark circles under her eyes. While Fern’s difficulties revolved around her poetry, her mother’s problems revolved around her work, and in this reality, Fern knew she wasn’t going to make things any easier for her.
“Hey, dear, what’s going on?” Doria asked. Fern pulled a letter out of her pocket and handed it to her mother. It was a letter from the principal letting Fern’s parents know about the detention. Doria read it over and passed it back to her, “So, what were you searching the school for?”
“Jenna,” Fern admitted.
Doria shifted in her seat, “Honey, you haven’t been in school with Jenna Morgan. You know her through her parents, but she goes to private school. Are you feeling okay?” Doria asked with genuine concern.
Fern nodded, “Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking,” she lied, “but I wanted to find her. It’s nothing. I mean, I’ve always wanted to know what detention was really like in case I ever decide to write about it.”
“I can tell that you’re lying, Fern,” Doria said, sighing heavily, “If it helps, I feel weird myself. Things just are going in circles, and I just can’t figure anything out. I’m working hard for this couple, and it’s just…I’m losing it too. Every day is so different from the last—“
“Like the same day but a different season?” Fern questioned.
Doria looked up, “You too, huh? It’s just how I feel. I do the same things over and over, and for what? I think we need a vacation, a long vacation. You’ll be out of school soon, so maybe we’ll go then. But only if you stop getting in trouble.”
Fern nodded, but she couldn’t guarantee that. If her realities were going to go even more haywire, she couldn’t promise anyone that she wouldn’t have another session where she walks out of class to search for someone who’s disappeared. But to make it easier for her mother, she would make that promise.
After dinner, Fern went online and found the evidence. Jenna was one of those private school girls in a tight friend circle. Her and four other girls did everything together, and Fern couldn’t help but feel envious.
But Fern wondered what it would mean for the other realities. Would Jenna still live in Elwood City? Would they still be in school together? Because of how the other worlds were behaving, she didn’t think Jenna would simply disappear from them, but what about someone else? The way this world behaved scared Fern, and more than ever, she wished things would just stop and get back to normal.
She wouldn’t get her wish. When she opened her eyes the next morning, her windows were open, and the warm morning air of July flooded her bedroom. As she went to sit up, she realized her arm was in a cast, and this wasn’t her bedroom.