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.
Life in a time loop can be freeing when you discover it, but what would ever happen if it stopped?
Fern looked around and realized she was at her aunt’s house out of town. She went downstairs and found her mother and aunt sitting on the couch together with coffee mugs in front of them. Both mugs were full, and the two were having a deep conversation, which Fern interrupted with her appearance. Doria eyed her daughter with a look Fern had never seen before, concern and disgust all rolled into one.
“I’m disappointed,” Aunt Sarah whispered, standing up and leaving the room while muttering, “I’m disappointed and that’s all I’m going to say.”
Fern watched her aunt leave and turned back to her mother. Doria groaned, “I don’t know why you did what you did, but any pain you have this morning should be a firm reminder.”
The memory flooded Fern like a tsunami. She was behind the scenes at a small auditorium near City Hall. The mayor came towards her, and Fern punched him so hard that she broke her hand in several places. Fern came out of the memory without any context of why she would punch him, but if it was an incident anything like her first with the man, he was acting inappropriately and she put him in his place.
“Well, they’re not filing charges, at least, but you have to see a counselor. I’ve brought you here to stay with your aunt so that she can work things out. I have too much work, as does your father, to really dedicate ourselves to your recovery,” Doria said, turning to Fern, “I just can’t believe you thought he was going to hurt you. He’s been nothing but good to us, and I just…I’m going to pack my things. I need to go home.”
Within the hour, Fern was left alone with her aunt Sarah and her husband, Fern’s uncle Paul. They had been married for years but didn’t have any kids, which Fern was grateful for. She was having enough of a struggle without some kid asking her dumb questions, questions she honestly had for herself.
Despite being childless, Sarah was nurturing. She cooked Fern breakfast and sat with her while she ate. When Fern was halfway through her pancakes, her uncle entered and poured himself a cup of coffee. Sarah stood and retrieved Paul’s plate from the microwave. He thanked her and sat down heavily in his seat. His eyes fell on Fern, but he waited a few bites before talking to her.
“So, we get to take you to a shrink because no one will believe you?” Paul asked.
“Paul, I told you we weren’t going to get involved,” Sarah hissed.
Paul shrugged, “Well, since she’s here in our home, I’d say we already are involved. I just want to know why her mother doesn’t believe her. That guy looked skeezy on the news, and I believe her. If he was coming after her, she had every right to punch him in the face. You broke his jaw, by the way, Sweetie,” Paul grinned, “I wish you were my daughter so I could really be proud.”
“I’m your niece. Isn’t that enough?” Fern offered.
Paul chuckled and nodded firmly, “Yep, that’s right. We are still related a little, and that’s all I need. Sarah, do we have to take her?”
“It’s a part of the deal they made so they wouldn’t arrest her for assault. She has to go,” Sarah said, standing, “I’m going to get dressed now. Fern, I’ll help you when you’re done. Paul, you should stay here in case anyone calls. Doria just left for home, and you know she tends to get lost.”
Paul nodded and remained dutifully in the kitchen. Fern was soon dressed and in a car. The town wasn’t a place she readily recognized, especially where her aunt was taking her. The small doctor’s office was in an old home remodeled for the psychiatrists inside. Fern was led into a small sunroom by a nurse and given a clipboard with a thick stack of paperwork. It was a detailed questionnaire that Fern needed to complete, and since her right hand was broken, it was slow work. The only comfort came from the open window, but Fern couldn’t let herself be too comfortable.
Because of her situation, honesty wasn’t something she could allow in this situation. Fern was in a lot of trouble already for her actions, and admitting to a group of mental health professionals that she lived in a different reality every day would just make things worse. These questions didn’t ask for details, usually just a “yes,” “no,” or a number, but Fern had to keep her guard up. She couldn’t afford to get people involved with her situation or she very well could end up being committed. If she were, it might affect the other realities.
That thought prompted a memory that hit Fern like a freight train. Jenna wasn’t her friend in this reality either, namely because they never got a chance to know each other. Jenna was in private school here as well, which meant she could be in private school for all of the other upcoming realities. Fern didn’t like this at all. She and Jenna were best friends, and not having her would make life difficult for her, well, more difficult, considering her situation.
Fern had to refocus her attention, and after over an hour, she finally finished the questionnaire and was sent home. Her aunt bought her an ice cream on the way home, but the delicious chocolate flavor couldn’t help Fern focus back on this world and her own problems. All she could think of was the day before, when Jenna disappeared completely and affected all of the other realities. Did she have romantic feelings for Fern in every other reality? That was the tipping point, but why would she be erased completely from public school life over one decision in her mid-teens?
The facts weren’t matching up, and Fern’s head throbbed from trying to figure everything out. She was still adjusting to these reality shifts, and this one was the most bizarre of all. She was living with her aunt, being abused by Elwood City’s mayor, and visiting psychiatrists all in one place, but Fern could feel the consequences brewing.
Her aunt offered Fern to take a nap, and though she wanted to spend a little more time here to work things out, she took her up on the offer. Her eyes closed, and when she woke up…it was still warm and she was still in the same place. Dinner was being served, and everything else was the same.
Fern shook her head, “This just can’t be happening,” she whispered, looking at the date. It was still the same too. The loops seemed to have stopped, and Fern wanted to scream. She didn’t want to be stuck here, but she had no choice. This timeline needed to continue, and it was her job to pretend to be this version of Fern Walters for however long she was going to be here.