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 up to Elwood City High with contempt. It was a frigid day, far too cold for people to actually be going to school and work like normal, yet here she was, walking to school in what felt like ten layers. She had no choice today, her mother said, because today was the day she was going to read her winning poem in front of the entire school. She’d written it for a contest (because she had to for her English class), and now she’d won and had to read it for the entire school in order to claim her “prize,” a commemorative placard and a pat on the back from the district’s superintendent.
Fern sighed as she stepped inside and made her way to her locker. She’d have to leave some of her layers behind, but the chill of the morning was still on her. She couldn’t really carry all of these clothes around with her, but she was tempted. Maybe if she wasn’t wearing proper attire, they wouldn’t allow her to read her poem onstage.
Fern grabbed her math workbook and shoved her coat into her locker. Then she made her way to class, where Muffy had already taken over a corner of the room to discuss the latest issue, fashion for winter. According to Muffy, they were all doing it wrong. They shouldn’t go for comfort but for style, and all these mismatched clothes were making the entire school look bad. It was no secret that today was the big day for the contest winners, and she’d gotten wind of another rumor that went along with that news, that a photographer or local news crew would be there to document the entire thing.
Muffy was frustrated because that meant Elwood City High would look like the least fashionable school ever, but Fern was petrified. Would there really be a news crew there? Would she have to read for the entire city by proxy? She hadn’t signed up for that, and she found herself resenting the school’s English department for demanding that each student write an entry for the contest some three months ago, when things were sunny and bright and Fern didn’t have to read one of her carefully-written poems in front of what felt like the entire world.
“Fern, darling, please, of all people I thought you would’ve at least tried today!” Muffy declared, looking the girl over. Fern looked through her and continued walking to her seat. Muffy huffed, “You really should listen to me. You’re the one whose reputation is on the line if you look bad. High school means everything to college recruiters, and any media coverage of this event will last far longer than you think. Better yet, you could even get a job now if the right member of the community hears about your ability—“
“They’ve already heard if they know anything about the youth of Elwood City,” Brain said flatly, looking up from what everyone knew was an idea book for his science projects. He was sick of listening to Muffy’s harping, and he wasn’t afraid to let her know, “Why don’t you just let people do whatever they’re going to do and just accept the fact that no one really cares except you.”
“Fashion means far more than you’ll ever know. You go by brains, so you might not get to see that aspect of society, but the right clothes say everything about everyone, including you. You’ve looked like a nerd from day one,” Muffy spat.
Brain shrugged, “You’ve looked like a bitch, but you don’t hear me standing on my soap box letting the whole world know you’re selfish and can’t accept the flaws that every human being has. In fact, that’s yours. You’re too busy running your mouth to hear what people really say about you, and they say you’re annoying, that you should shut up, and that you should mind your own damn business.”
The class had gone quiet when Brain spoke the first time, but now that he was letting into Muffy with the fury of a hurricane, the expected Ooh’s and Ah’s filled the air. The teacher, who had walked in at the beginning of his tirade, heard every word as well. It was well known that she couldn’t stand Muffy because she was always wrong but argued her point anyway, so instead of chastising Brain for foul language in the classroom, she went to the board to write down the morning warm-up problems.
Muffy was offended, but she knew to sit down and stop pushing the issue. She took her seat along with the late crew as the bell rang overhead. Fern exhaled heavily and eyed the morning’s problems. It would be easier to focus now that Brain had alleviated her biggest problem in her math class. Muffy probably wouldn’t speak to anyone for quite a while, but Fern knew not to get her hopes up. Her other problem was still waiting, and after the morning announcements, she knew she only had a little less than two hours until the reading would take place.
Fern wasn’t necessarily worried about the content of her poem. While some students expressed that they would be overly embarrassed to read their entries in front of the entire school, it wasn’t any personal issue that kept Fern from wanting to read the poem. It was the issues hidden inside, the problems her school faced without realizing it. Muffy’s constant begging for people to wear better clothes was only one problem. There was a class difference that was driving everyone apart, particularly people who weren’t like Muffy. The most obvious example was that Muffy and Francine weren’t even remotely friends. In fact, they seemed to be mortal enemies for most people watching. Fern knew they were former friends torn apart by the school’s secret rule that people without didn’t mingle with people with, whether it was hot threads or good grades. Intellectuals stuck with intellectuals. Fashionistas stuck with fashionistas. There was no mix, and it ruined relationships that had been in place since grade school.
The poem discussed this issue, but the examples within called out specific people that had taken this phenomenon too far, including Muffy. There were a handful of others too that wouldn’t be happy about being included in the poem, even if no one was mentioned by name. But it wouldn’t take people long to figure out who the poem was really about, especially for those who knew the people personally.
Fern was most worried about the one friend she really had, Jenna Morgan. Fern and Jenna came together when no one would accept either of them full time—Fern wasn’t really that smart compared to the other intellectuals in the school system, and Jenna wasn’t pretty, smart, rich, or funny. They came together because they were ordinary, but Fern’s poem made it seem like she wanted something more. She did, but not because she didn’t like Jenna. But Jenna was sensitive, and Fern knew it could upset her.
As Fern finished her warm-up problems and checked her answers, she realized she could’ve at least told Jenna beforehand that she was included in the poem to see what she thought. Fern couldn’t edit it, and the only reason she wrote on the topic was because of the position she was put in during her English class. She knew the circumstances and wished she could include them in her reading, but she knew she’d have no chance to give her side or edit the work. She was going to be thrown onstage and asked to read her poem for the entire student body, all while the poem’s words appeared behind her.
That was another rumor, but Fern remembered it from the previous year’s contest. The winning entry, a short story, was projected behind the student while he read. There were no pictures, not even for the yearbook, and even some of the school’s administrators missed the event. Something had changed since then, and now everyone would be there.
The day’s math lesson began, but Fern’s stomach was in a knot. Now that it was nearing time to read, she couldn’t think straight. Her mind was on the poem and the consequences. None of the consequences were positive. There were no book deals, talk show appearances, jobs, or college admission agents. It was just Fern versus all of Elwood City High, and she knew this was going to be very difficult to overcome. She could feel people turning on her already even though they hadn’t even heard the words.
Fern stepped into her house and felt the warmth surround her from the gas fireplace. She warmed herself before removing her clothes, and her mother found her standing in front of the stove with her winter gear on. She smiled sympathetically as she eyed her daughter. She knew what the day meant, and she knew Fern was probably facing some difficulties.
“So, how did it go?” Doria asked. Fern shook her head as she removed her scarf and top coat. Doria sighed, “Well, what happened?”
“Everyone was there, everyone. There were journalists and a television crew. It was just awful, Mom,” Fern said, taking off her last coat and sinking onto the couch, “And people hated the poem, they hated it. They know I wrote it in English class because they had to do the same thing, but no one cares. I hate that they made me do this. I’ll probably be a laughing stock for weeks, and Jenna won’t even speak to me—“
“Jenna won’t speak to you? Wow, I had no idea it was this bad. I thought you were afraid of the public speaking,” Doria admitted.
Fern shook her head, “No, I knew this would happen. Whenever you do political commentary, people get upset. Jenna is mad because she probably thinks I don’t value her friendship, when I do. I just wish we both had more friends. I just wish people could look past stupidity to be friends with whoever they should be friends with instead of people who are carbon copies of themselves.”
Doria exhaled as she looked to the gas stove. As she watched the colors dance, she wondered how bad this would end up going for Fern. Doria had no idea this was the real reason for her daughter’s nervousness, and while she hadn’t been in high school for decades, she was worried about the ramifications, and so was Fern.
Fern woke up the next morning and studied the sunny morning carefully. As she made herself breakfast, she decided to look at the morning news to see how cold it was going to be today.
But the low was sixty degrees. The high was eighty, eighty-five degrees.
Fern eyed the date. It wasn’t February anymore. It was May, late May.
Fern tried to think about everything she could’ve missed between then and now, but she couldn’t think of anything but to look at the date again. The year was still the same, which meant this was the future, but Fern had no memory of the previous weeks between the dates.
Instead of asking her mother what was happening, Fern decided to rush to school to see what she could learn there. Maybe this was just a dream anyway, and whenever she normally tried to change locations in a dream, things would go wonky and she’d end up nowhere.
But Fern ended up where she should be. She went to her locker and pulled out her math workbook like always, then she went into her class. It was the same group of students as before, but the only one who would look at her was Brain. He smiled as she sat down, then he passed her a purple notebook. She recognized the notebook as a composition book she’d been saving for a really good writing project.
When she opened the book, she discovered it was filled with random phrases, hearts, and other things that told her one and only thing: Fern was dating Brain.
Fern’s mind swam, and Brain noticed her reaction. When he asked what was wrong, she decided to come clean with him. If he was her friend, boyfriend, or anything, he would listen to her. Either way, he was the only one who could help her.
“Brain, when I woke up this morning, it was today. But the last thing I remember was February when I read my poem for the school. I need you to help me know what’s going on,” Fern said with more seriousness than she’d ever had.
Brain smiled, “You must’ve had a really deep dream about the day’s events. You’re reading your poem today. The assembly starts at ten-thirty.”
Fern went pale as the bell rang. Whatever she had to say or needed to say could wait. The day was beginning, and all Fern could do was ride this wild ride to the end.
A/N: So, this is my first true fantasy piece for Arthur. I’ve completed it, and I’ll be posting it in its entirety on my blog today. It’s strange to me, but I really hope you guys like it, and I want to do more things like this in the future.