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 mother wanted them to leave right after breakfast, but Fern made up an excuse to go for a walk. She grabbed one of her own books and told her mother it was a library book that was very overdue. Her mother gave her a dollar and sent her out into the world, but Fern wasn’t sure where she wanted to go. She knew that her friendship with Jenna disappeared entirely the day Jenna went to the bathroom and never returned, but who else could she trust?
As she turned a corner, she nearly ran headlong into Brain. He eyed her carefully before his eyes saw the cast. He sighed as he studied it, and Fern wondered what he was really thinking.
“What do they say about me?” Fern asked. Brain shook his head, but Fern pleaded, “Listen, Brain, you don’t need the details, but I need to know how bad this really is. I don’t know what’s happening. I honestly have no idea.”
“People think you’ve lost your mind,” Brain said, “and they agree that you need treatment so you won’t be a danger to society. They know you got rid of your poem before punching the mayor. The question everyone wants to know is this—why did you do it?”
Fern shifted, “I have no idea. I wasn’t here for that.”
It was Brain’s turn to shift. He honestly had no idea what to say to that, and he remained speechless. Fern sighed, “I doubt you’d even want the details. What people say about me would be confirmed, and yes, I believe them, but not for the reasons they have. Punching the mayor is nothing compared to what I’ve been through over the last few weeks.”
Brain looked down, “Well, I will be honest with you if you decide to be honest with me. I’ve had strange dreams about you for that same amount of time. Some of them are cold or hot like a specific season, but you’re always different. You’re a different age or you have a different problem. In one, we were…a couple, and I woke up confused, and I have wanted to tell you for a while, but I didn’t want you to think I was asking you out—“
“I know you’re not. You must be picking up on what’s happening with me somehow. My mother showed signs until I arrived in this reality,” Fern murmured.
“This reality? My dreams are true? None of this is making any sense.”
“You ought to be me. Before this mayor incident, every time I went to sleep, I ended up in another reality,” Fern said, “and I’m being truthful. It revolves around that poem, but the poem changes and the consequences change too. One reality welcomed the poem. It was the strangest thing ever, and the only one who had a problem with it was Jenna, but—she’s the weirdest part. In the reality before the mayor, she came onto me. That was the reality where we were a couple, and in this version, she told me if she couldn’t have me, she wanted to go to private school and never see me. Then she got up in first period, went to the bathroom, but disappeared along the way. I searched for her, defying authority to do so, but she was gone. She’d never even gone to school with us, just like in this reality. Somehow everything is linked, and your dreams must be linked as well.”
Brain turned to her, “Do you know how to make this stop? I doubt this is your own reality because you seem so uncomfortable.”
“It’s not. I have no memories from this reality except that moment when I punched the mayor. The only memory I have similar to that is the last time I was in a reality like this. The mayor threatened me, and he grabbed my wrist and broke it,” Fern said, looking around the neighborhood, “Until now, it’s changed every night, but now I’m stuck here. I need to get back to my real home, but I don’t know how. I thought that sleeping in my own home again would fix things, but it didn’t. Everything is still the same.”
Brain pondered her situation for a moment, then he gestured for her to follow him. Within minutes, she was inside his workroom. He went to a bookshelf and pulled off a thick paperback, which he quickly handed off to Fern. It was a book about hypnosis for amateurs, and Fern nodded to him. She wanted to try whatever Brain had to offer, and he agreed.
“I’ve only done this once to help me calm down for a test, but I can make it work for you. Lay down and get comfortable,” he said, pointing to a futon as he flipped through the pages. Fern obeyed and settled onto the futon, breathing carefully. She placed her book on her chest so she could really feel her breath going in and out, and the sound of Brain flipping through his book’s pages was comforting.
Brain began the ritual. He used a broken yo-yo to swing back and forth, and after checked what he needed to say, he had her count down from ten. When she got to one, he snapped his fingers and announced that she was asleep.
Fern welcomed the blackness. She could still hear Brain’s voice as he walked her through the ritual. He was inviting her back to her own reality, permanently, and Fern prayed for that. It was all she could think about, being back in her own world at whatever point she ended up. She just wanted to go back there for good.
“And you are now…awake!” Brain announced, snapping his fingers again.
Fern opened her eyes. She tried to sit up to look around further, but she felt tied down to the bed. Her eyes finally registered what she was seeing. She was in a hospital room, and her right arm was in a cast like before. She thought she might be in the same reality from before, that something went wrong during the hypnosis, but then she spied a nervous Jenna sitting with Brain in the corner of the room. Doria was there as well reading a magazine. The room had an awkward silence about it, a silence Fern wanted to stop, but she couldn’t speak. She tried to cough instead, getting everyone’s attention.
“Oh, thank god! Nurse! Nurse! She’s awake!” Doria exclaimed. A parade of nurses came in to look her over, then a man in a white coat entered. Doria immediately called to him, “Doctor, she woke up just like you expected.”
“She’s been very reactive the last few days. It took longer than I expected, but eleven days is alright,” the doctor smiled. “Hello, Fern, I’m Dr. Bell. You have a tube in your throat. I’m going to remove it, but you need to follow what I say. Alright, exhale,” he said, pulling the tube from her throat. Both Fern and Jenna looked away, but it was an easy process. With the tube gone, Fern could finally speak:
“What happened?” she asked with a weak voice.
“You were hit by a car on the way to school,” Doria announced with a solemn tone, moving to the side of the bed once the nurses moved away. “I was so worried about you, and the school was as well. You were supposed to read your poem, but you never made it there.”
Fern registered what her mother was telling her, and the pieces came together. As Fern wondered, she was in a coma, and each reality was just another unrelated dream. Everything was really as it should be, for the most part, and even her pains in her arm had a reason.
Over the next few hours, Fern rested and spent time with her mother and friends. Soon Jenna and Brain left and agreed to spread the news, but Fern was more concerned about being alone with her mother. Doria smiled as she held her daughter’s hand, rubbing it gently as she studied her.
“There was a lot of concern that you might have brain damage because of your coma,” Doria whispered. “I…I somehow knew we just needed to give you some time. Your memory might be affected or something else long-term, but I just felt like you’d come out of it when you were ready.”
Fern nodded, “I’ve been ready. You have no idea what I went through in that coma.”
“You became more alert and responsive lately. What was going on recently?”
“I punched the mayor and you sent me to live with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Paul so I could get therapy,” Fern admitted. Doria laughed, not believing it. Fern continued, “Before that it was a different reality every day, but it was a different time of year. My favorite was fall, I guess. That reality accepted my poem, and I wasn’t in a weird relationship game or losing friends,” Fern said, pausing to sip some water.
Doria laughed again, “I still can’t believe you punched the mayor. Why would you even do that?”
Fern shrugged, “I wasn’t there for that part. I woke up in Aunt Sarah’s guest room with a cast on my arm. They told me the rest.”
“Wow,” Doria said, shaking her head, “I never expected that.”
“I never expected you to exile me. You were very mean in that reality. In the others, you were just stressed. Are you having trouble making a sell right now?”
“I am,” Doria admitted, sitting back, “Wow, I guess you could hear me this whole time. I have several troubling clients right now, but I’m getting through it. My partners are helping me with my house hunting duties, and things are getting done even though I’m here most of the time.”
“How are Jenna and Brain?”
“As good as ever. Both of them came every day once they heard, usually right after school. I think he likes you,” Doria winked.
Fern shrugged, “Who knows? We were a couple in two of the realities. I don’t think I’m in good enough shape to start a relationship right now though.”
“You are a little young,” Doria grinned, standing up, “I’m just glad you’re awake right now, and you can recover in your own time. And if you’re curious, here’s the date. They’ll ask you about it constantly once everyone gets word that you’re awake. The quicker you appear to have everything together, the quicker you can get home.”
Fern studied the date and squinted, “It’s fall? I thought it was February. That’s the first thing I remember.”
“No, it’s October, well for a few more days,” Doria said. Fern nodded, looking towards the hallway. Now that she knew what day it was, she realized an odd object she’d been studying in the hallway was a giant fake spider with fuzzy pink legs.
Fern tried to recall anything she could, but her memory was shot. That would be her biggest struggle in the coming days, her memory. But she would soon be home and going back to school. Her poem would be read whenever she was ready, but she hoped not to read it. The poem was still the social injustice piece she’d written in English class for a contest, and Fern still wondered how people would take it. She needed to get more information before she’d feel comfortable taking that path again.
After three weeks of recovery, her doctor cleared her to go back to school, and Fern returned to a large group in front of the school welcoming her back. At the forefront of the group were Brain, Jenna, and Muffy, and Fern immediately realized this was the accepting reality that didn’t have that many problems, the reality that would embrace her.
But Fern was still wary about her poem, and soon she and the principal agreed that she didn’t have to do the recital. Fern was having trouble with her memory, and sometimes she would zone out in class. She was taking medication and attending therapy sessions to help her, but it would be a long road for her. Fern was in a bad accident, and she needed time to recover.
Luckily she had plenty of help from her mother and friends, but Fern couldn’t help but notice who helped her the most. Jenna, her best friend, was always a phone call away if she wasn’t already there, and Brain was just as reliable. He helped her with her homework most afternoons, sometimes at school and other times at his mother’s ice cream shop. If they were there, he would make her a strawberry milkshake to sip on while they worked, and he was always so polite.
Because of the realities, she wondered if there was something between them. They were a very loving couple in two of those realities, and he was at least in the background of most of the others. He was also the one who helped her wake up, in her eyes, and despite what she was learning about being comatose, she was still curious—Did Brain like her?
Late in November, Fern found herself wanting a strawberry milkshake on the weekend. Fern bundled up and walked down to the shop, where she found Brain wiping down the tables. When he saw her, he went behind the counter, washed his hands, then mixed her milkshake, careful to add in an extra handful of strawberries on her behalf. Then he made himself a chocolate cone and joined her by the window.
“It’s very quiet today, but I imagine winter is a slower season for you all,” Fern said.
Brain agreed, pointing to a machine underneath a plastic sheet, “Once we get the espresso machine to work again, we should get more customers. What brings you here on a Saturday?”
“I just really wanted a milkshake,” Fern said, taking a long sip. She then looked up, “I’ve been thinking about something too that…I guess it’s been bothering me. It has to do with the coma and everything I experienced, and how things have gone since I came out of my coma. I don’t really know what to say, and I really, really, don’t want you to feel completely off-guard.”
“Just say whatever you need to say,” Brain said with an encouraging tone.
Fern swallowed, “Well, I think I told most of my close friends about how I went through different realities concerning my poem, but I left out a lot of details, quite a few actually, involving you and Jenna.”
“We were in most of them?” Brain asked.
“Yes, you were in most of them. You were actually there when I woke up. You hypnotized me, and it worked,” Fern smiled, “And I was so grateful. You and I crossed paths on the street, and you said you’d been dreaming about me, so I admitted to you what was happening to me because your dreams coincided with them. It was strange, but that’s not the weirdest one. In one of the realities, you and I filled this notebook with cute phrases and sayings,” Fern said, pulling her purple composition notebook out of her bag. Fern sighed, “It made me wonder in some of the other realities as well as this one, my real life…is there something between us?”
Brain blushed, and Fern could tell he was desperate to have something in his hands. He was bright red, and Fern blushed too. Why was he having this kind of a reaction?
“I, uh…, I…well,” Brain stammered.
Fern grinned, “I think I know what you’re trying to say. I’m asking because I don’t mind. I know it’s still so soon after my accident, but since it’s been on my mind for so long, I figured it was important for me to discuss with you. And I wanted to see what would happen. I was a little confused when I first entered that reality, namely because I was apparently in a relationship with Jenna too, but when that reality came around again, I was more comfortable. I liked it.”
“It would be nice, but are you sure?” Brain asked, finally finding his voice.
Fern nodded, “If I wasn’t sure, I wouldn’t have asked.”
Brain smiled and looked up as a set of customers entered the shop. He had no choice but to let the conversation end, but Fern didn’t leave right away. She waited for the mother-daughter duo to leave the shop, then she took her empty glass to Brain and smiled to him. He smiled back, and Fern knew this was the start to something beautiful.
A/N: I never thought I’d finish this piece. It was strange, and it was a wild ride, but I kinda like it. I want to do more with this pairing too. It seems obvious because they are both intellectuals, but Brain is a little more intellectual than she is. Could it work? I want to play with it, and if you guys want to as well, feel free. I don’t know if I’ll ever do another fantasy piece like this again, but you never know what I’ll be inspired to do next.
Thanks for reading:)