| Well, thank you for inviting me!
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"Jessie, would you mind coming down here a minute!"
Jessie Fletcher jerked her head up from the picture she was drawing, a rather elaborate sketch depicting an animal not native to the planet, and pulled the earbud of her CD player from its place in her pointed ear. Well, technically the CD player wasn’t hers, but she usually ignored this fact.
She scrambled up from her bed and trotted out of her room, slowing down a little when she reached the stairs. Her father hadn’t sounded angry, but for some reason, whenever a parent calls you downstairs you always feel like you’re in trouble, no matter what tone they use. And when it came to Jessie, she often had good reason for this. But when she reached the living room, he had an amused smirk on his face that told her she had nothing to worry about.
"Would you mind explaining why there is a fire extinguisher stuck up the chimney?"
Jessie blushed almost immediately. Everyone in the family usually asked her first when something bizarre happened in the house, but this time, it actually was her fault.
"It was an accident, Daddy, really."
"I’m sure it was, but why put it there in the first place?"
Jessie glanced downward and nudged the rug with her toe.
"Well, uh...we don’t want Santa getting his breeches burned, do we?"
Lawrence looked at the fireplace, which had a warm fire ablaze in it, and let out a laugh.
"No, we most certainly don’t." He hugged her and ruffled her grassy-green hair.
Right around then, what appeared to be a mountain of Christmas decorations with legs came bouncing happily down the stairs, whistling “Jingle Bells” as it went.
"Phineas, what are those for?” Jessie asked, speaking to her stepbrother who was hidden behind the massive assortment of lights, tinsel, and paper snowflake chains. "This place already looks like it was built by an army of elves."
"Well, yes," he said, setting the box down and starting to hang things up. "But there’s no such thing as too much Christmas spirit! Especially today!"
He was quite right, because today was Christmas Eve. And nobody in the Flynn-Fletcher household could possibly be any happier. Nobody, it seemed, except one particular member:
Everybody jumped. Somebody, who was so wrapped up in scarves and coats that she was not immediately recognizable, had wrenched open the door, letting in an icy blast of wind, and slammed it behind her just as fast. She was leaning again it and panting as if she had just ran a mile.
"There were so many...” she whimpered.
"Good heavens, Candace, what happened?” Lawrence asked, alarmed.
"I thought squirrels hibernated during the winter?” Jessie remarked.
"I thought they did too...” she was covered from head to boot in gnaw marks. As soon as she’d removed her many layers of scarves, leaving them scattered on the floor in a pile of mushy snow, she stomped upstairs to her room. After getting over the shock of being chewed on by an infantry of rodents, she seemed very angry. Then the door opened again.
“Actually, they were hibernating,” said a low, British-accented voice. Ferb, by some sort of mysterious means, had heard the conversation through the door. "I was in the park collecting charity money, and I guess I played my music a trifle too loud."
Phineas thought of how Candace was in the morning if woken too early, and snickered.
"Just give her a minute, she’ll come around. It’s impossible to stay mad during the holidays."
Ferb agreed, but just to be on the safe side, he thought a little extra cheering up wouldn’t hurt.
Candace, now in her room, started mumbling to herself. "Lousy squirrels...What was Ferb thinking, going around, waking them up...?"
Then she remember what she was doing out. Candace and Jeremy had discovered this new movie that they both thought would be amazing. Apparently, so had many other kids. She had to stand in a line for five hours and she had to use the bathroom the whole time. But when she finally got the last two tickets, she knew it would be worth the kidney damage. She picked up the tickets and smiled. A romantic night with Jeremy on New Year's Eve would make her happy no matter what. She opened the door...
Bang!It took Candace about ten seconds to make sense out of what just happened. All she knew was, something very bright had exploded the moment she opened the door, making her hands burn and showering her entire front with an even layer of black. She blinked, clearing her dazed head, then processed it: Ferb, in a last-ditch and unnecessary attempt to cheer her up, had left some sort of miniature Christmas tree in front of her room, and it had blown up in a festive mushroom cloud the moment she opened the door. Ferb stood there, blinking at the shriveled dark remains of his gift. It now looked a lot like the flimsy little tree that belonged to Charlie Brown. Candace looked down at her hands. They were stinging with minor burns, but that wasn’t why she was looking. Her precious tickets, the ones that she had spent five hours and the possible health of her kidneys on, were now crumbling into little flakes of useless ash.
“Oh...oh dear...” said Ferb, looking guilty at what used to be his gift. “That...that certainly wasn't wasn’t supposed to happen...”
Candace didn’t respond. The look on her face was making Ferb think of a volcano that was about to erupt. If they were in a cartoon, steam would’ve been hissing out her ears.
The volcano erupted.
Her voice exploded into a furious roar,
"I'VE HAD IT WITH YOU AND YOUR SO-CALLED 'CREATIVE' LITTLE KNICK-KNACKS! DO YOU EVEN REALIZE WHAT YOU JUST DESTROYED?!?! I MIGHT NEED TO GET MY KIDNEY REPLACED NOW, AND BECAUSE OF YOU, IT’S FOR NOTHING!”
"You can have my kidney...” Ferb squeaked timidly.
"I DON’T WANT YOUR STUPID KIDNEY! I DON’T WANT ANYTHING AT ALL IF IT COMES FROM YOU!"
"I’m...sorry?""OH, YOU'RE SORRY! SURE, SAYING SORRY WILL REPLACE THE HUNDRED DOLLAR TICKETS YOU JUST BLEW UP! YOU JUST DON’T CARE, DO YOU?! YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYTHING JUST AS LONG AS YOU GET ALL THOSE PSYCHOTIC INVENTIONS OF YOURS BUILT! I CAN HANDLE IT ANY OTHER TIME, BUT WHEN IT STARTS GETTING IN THE WAY OF MY PERSONAL STUFF AND MY LOVE LIFE...OH, THAT IS THE LAST STRAW!
Candace grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled his face about an inch from hers.
"I HATE YOU! I WISH YOU'D NEVER EVEN BEEN BORN!"
She dropped him, having finally yelled her self out. She stood there for a second or two, panting from her outburst, giving him a look of absolute loathing.
“I hate you,” she said in a final tone that was somehow more painful than shouting “You’re dead to me.”
Ferb sat there for another moment, then stood up and ran, down the hall, into his room, and through the door. He slammed it shut and locked it. A definite sign that he was hurt.
Candace stood there, fuming and exhausted from her rant. Downstairs, it had gone quiet, meaning she’d probably been heard. Great, she was going to get in trouble. She didn’t really care, though. She’s just released seven years of repressed anger on her good-for-nothing excuse of a little stepbrother, but for some reason, did not feel any better. She had just turned to go back into her room and brace herself for her parents to come in and ask what happened, when a seemingly disembodied voice spoke:
“Ya wish he’d nevah been born, eh?”
Candace nearly jumped clean out of her skin. The voice was female, had a New Jersey accent, and had a sort of mechanical edge to it, as if it was a computer and not a real voice talking. She spun around, alarmed, when it spoke again:
Candace looked down, and found the source of the noise. She hadn’t noticed it before, but Ferb had been carrying another one of his and Phineas’s contraptions, and had dropped it when the Christmas tree exploded. It didn’t really look like much, just a silver metal box about six inches tall with a large purple button on the top, but Candace knew her brothers well enough to not judge their inventions by their cover.
“Are you...talking to me?” Candace stammered.
“Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you,” the machine said. “Now would ya mind openin’ this thing, already? It’s as cramped as a porta-potty in here.”
Candace looked uncertainly at it. Then, sounding impatient, it spoke again.
"The button, ya goose, push the button!"
Candace did so, and in about three seconds, the box had popped open like a Jack-in-the-box and unfolded, revealing a sort of electronic orb that Candace thought looked like a crystal ball from a year thirty years into the future. Candace had just enough time to take this image in, before a hologram was projected from it. Well, “projected” isn’t exactly the right word, apparently, it had been programed it so that it floated out in an ominous, genie-like fashion.
“‘Baut time, gool,” said the projection. Apparently, this was how she pronounced the word “girl.”
The holographic person, who appeared to be about Candace’s age, maybe a little older, was wearing a dark purple sweater and a tattered pair of jeans. She and choppy pink hair about to her shoulders, amber-golden eyes, and very pale skin, giving Candace the impression she was a vampire. She was thin to the extremes, and was stretching lazily as if she had just been rudely woken up from a pleasant sleep.
“...Bobbi?! What are you doing here?”
“Takin' a nap. What do ya think I was doin'? Nevah mind. Long story short, I ain't really Bobbi, I'm a holographic whatever made by Phineas and Ferb.”
“Phineas and Ferb?! Ooh, they are so-”
“Don’t even go there, Missy.”
“Wait, wait a sec... if you’re not Bobbi, then... what are you?”
“I am the What-if-O-Matic.”
"The what-y what now?"
"It’s a device your brothers made. Using some sort of technology you ain't smart enough to undahstand, I can make your little wish come true. I can make ya a whole othah reality where Ferb was nevah even thought about."
The mention of that name stirred back the blind rage that had been temporarily subsided by Hologram-Bobbi’s appearance.
“I’ve nevuh been more serious in my life. Okay, weird choice of words. So, what do ya say, do ya really wish Ferb was nevah born?”
It was a tempting offer, but Candace still hesitated. Ferb may have been nothing but a quiet, green-headed pestilence to her ever since the day he’d become part of the family, but did she seriously, honestly not want him to exist?
She probably would’ve said no, and there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell, if she hadn’t chosen then to glance down at her hands. They were still burned from the explosion, and a few sad grey flakes were still stuck to her fingers, the only evidence that her tickets had ever existed. All thanks to Ferb...
“Yes,” she decided. “Yes I do.”
Hologram-Bobbi smiled, an almost evil smile.
"Awesome. Now just step into this bubble-thingy. Man, that's a bad design, I mean it's cramped enough by myself, but when you join. Ugh! Just get in." Candace walked towards the bubble still floating a few feet above the ground. She wasn't a hologram, so she doubted she'd be able to fit in without breaking the bubble.
"You sure it'll work?" Candace asked hesitantly.
"Course! It hasn't not worked yet."
"Yeah really. You're the first one." At that note, Hologram-Bobbi grabbed Candace (to her utter surprise, since technically she should have passed right through her) and pulled her into the bubble. Apparently, the same technology the boys used when they made the giant bubble was what made Candace pass through with ease.
Inside the bubble was not very pleasant. Hologram-Bobbi had described it like a porta-potty, but Candace had been inside less cramped boxes (not an experience she liked to reflect on). She felt as though she would suffocate to death. But that was only the beginning.
"Say it!" came the muffled voice of Hologram-Bobbi. Candace couldn't see her face, but she figured it could kill her if looks could kill. She tried to ask what she meant, but Hologram-Bobbi's foot was pressed against her face. Then the latter growled. "Say your freakin' wish! Ugh, maybe I should stop callin' ya a goose, it's an insult to geese everywhere."
Candace wiggled her head out from behind Hologram-Bobbi's foot and barely got out, "I wish Ferb was never born."
At those words, the bubble started shaking, making Candace feel very nauseous. Then, the bubble dropped to the ground with such force, she was surprised she didn't break a limb. "Please tell me this is the worst," she said, holding back possible vomit.
"If I did, I'd be lying," replied Hologram-Bobbi. Then, the bubble started compressing, squeezing her. If she hadn't been suffocating before, she definitely was now. As she started gasping for air, the bubble felt as though it were being flung through the air, with such force it gave Candace whiplash. Then, it just popped.
Candace lazily rolled out, panting and feeling very incapacitated.
"Uhh..." She carefully stood up and looked around. Everything seemed about the same. Her room pink with posters of Tiny Cowboy. Her bed neatly made. And the best part of all: no explosion. Ferb was not here or anywhere. She picked up the family portrait on her nightstand. No Ferb. Not even a gap where he used to be, Just her, Phineas, and her parents. She grinned
"What did I tell ya?” said Bobbi.
"It worked!" Candace squealed, feeling giddy with excitement "I can’t believe it actually worked!"
"Well, ya better believe it, cuz that thing won't have enough juice to make another trip for a while."
Candace jumped up and practically pranced to the door, prepared to enjoy a happy, Ferb-less Christmas. She headed down the hall, humming to herself, then glanced over her shoulder, sensing somebody was behind her.
"Oh, hey Phineas."She looked back, then did a double-take. Her jaw dropped.
Candace had to blink a few times to make sure. Yes, it was definitely Phineas, she barely recognized him.
Phineas was leaning against the wall, his hands deep in his pockets. His hair was lank and flat, quite unlike the jaunty mess she was used to seeing him wearing. But one thing shocked her the most: He wasn’t smiling. He was just staring at the wall, his eyes half closed, looking deathly bored.
It was Christmas Eve, and Phineas wasn’t happy. That was possibly the creepiest thing Candace had seen in her life.
“What do you want?” he asked. His voice was almost unrecognizably glum.
“...What...happened to you?”
“Me? You sure are one to talk, since when did you care about anything that I do?”
It took Candace a minute to process that. How could he say that, when she usually spent just about every waking minute obsessing over what he was doing.
“Since...always? Okay, seriously what is wrong with you?”
“If anybody here has something wrong with them, it’s you, Freak!”
Just then, a very exasperated voice shouted from downstairs.
“Phineas, can’t you do something besides torment your sister?!”
The voice sounded similar to a woman Candace knows, but she couldn't place the voice exactly. She followed her brother, if she could even call him that, down the stairs to the owner of his voice. Much to her surprise, the voice belonged to none other than her mother. Linda was dressed in messy sweats and her hair was sticking up in many spots.
But she only had about a second to take that in when even bigger surprise hit her:
Everything was completely blank. All the Christmas decorations, from the miles and miles of tinsel chains to the half a ton of artificial icicles, were gone. The walls and ceiling were stripped completely clean, now looking bleak and desolate. There was still a tree, but compared to the one Candace had helped her family put up weeks before, it looked downright depressing.
Candace felt like a plug had been pulled in her brain. This couldn’t be right...
“Shocking, ain’t it?”
Candace jumped and turned around. Bobbi was standing there, appearing to enjoy seeing Candace squirm.
“I...think you mad a mistake on the machiney-dealy-bob...thingy. I asked for for Ferb to be erased from existence, not the warm fuzzies of the entire family!”
“No, it did exactleh what ya asked it to do.”
“Candace? Who are you talking to?”
Candace looked behind her and saw...Dad? It looked like him, but she hadn’t seen him looking that glum in ages.
“I...I, uh...can’t you see her?”
Candace realized that Bobbi must be invisible to everyone but her, immediately giving her the impression that she must look like an idiot, standing there, talking actively to thin air.
He gave her a look, then returned to the newspaper he was reading.
At that moment, Candace suddenly further understood of her decision: She hadn’t just wished away her brother, she’s wished away her parents’ son...
Was his impact really that much?
In an attempt to dismiss the thought, she decided to say the first go-to phrase that came to her mind:
“Hey, where’s Perry?”
All the heads in the room turned to her.
“...Our platypus? The smelly little meatbrick who always disappears at the most unsuspecting moments? That Perry?”
Lawrence was now giving her a seriously concerned look.
“Are you feeling alright, Candace?”
Her face was seriously red now.
"Uh... I gotta go..." she stammered, running upstairs. She arrived at her bedroom to collect her thoughts.
Something must have gone wrong, she thought. I mean, there's no way Ferb was the sole reason we were so happy...And PERRY?! What’s he got to do with ANYTHING?!
"If you ask politeleh, I could tell ya."
Candace jumped again.
"Bobbi, seriously, stop doing that!"
"Popping out of nowhere! It freaks me out!"
"Sorreh, it's just fun to watch."
Candace growled in frustration.
"Oh, that's it, I'm calling Stacy. She'll know what to do."
"Stacy? Uh, sorreh Candace, but I woudn't-"
"Uggh, why are all my contacts gone?!"
"Inter-dimensional travel tends to screw techy-stuff up a bit. But Candy, I really would advise against-"
Too late. Candace had already punched in the number.
"Hello?" said Stacy's voice on the other end.
"Stacy, you've gotta help me! I'm stuck in this weird alternate-rality thingy that Phineas and Ferb made, and now Perry is missing, and I'm being stalked everywhere I go by a vampire, and-"
"Uh, who is this?"
"What do you mean, 'who is this?' It's Candace!"
"Stacy, stop pulling my leg, this is a serious problem!"
"Uh...I think you must've entered a wrong number...but, uh, good luck with that, I'll just be hanging up now..."
"Stacy, come on!"
"You're kinda freaking me out..."
No more response. Stacy had hung up.
"I warned ya."
Candace didn't want to hear it.
"Okay, Bobbi, tell me right now: Where is the universe with only Ferb missing, how can I get there, where am I know, and why did you send me here instead of there!"
"I sent you exactly where you asked for, Gool. This is the universe Ferb wasn't born into."
"Well, that doesn't explain why-"
"Candace," she spoke with a very serious tone "I can explain everehthing. Would ya like me to, or would ya rathah just figure it out the hard way?"
"I...alright, tell me."
"Let's start off at the beginnin': Ferb came," Bobbi started. Candace wasn't really sure how this would all play out, but she had a feeling it may not be good. "I know ya remember that, right?"
"Yes, of course," Candace replied. She remembered it so well, even though she was very young. It was a breezy summer day. Birds were chirping, and the smell of burnt cherry pie filled the air (at that time, Linda wasn't a good cook). When Ferb and Lawrence arrived, Ferb and Phineas immediately became best friends and Candace immediately became his new older sister. She couldn't think of a happier time.
"Now Candy, think about this: did Phin evah show any real interest in buildin' and all that stuff before Ferb showed up?"
Candace thought. No, he had not. To be brutally honest, Phineas had been a bit of a low-spirited, fearful little kid before Ferb had come along, ever since...well, that's another story.
"Ah thought not. So, no inventin', and no best buddy for him to hang out with. It may not seem like much, but friendships can have quite a colossal impact on a person in the long run, as ya can see quite clearly."
"So, moving on, do ya recall what happened, exactleh a week afteh Ferb officially became yer stepbro?"
That took a bit more of an effort, but she did remember:
She'd been sitting on her bed, reading one of her story books to her Ducky Momo stuffy, when there was a tiny knock on the door.
"Candawce?" said a small voice.
She'd looked up. Ferb was peeking in, looking tearful.
"Are you okay, Ferb?" she'd asked.
Ferb shook his head, making his leaf-green locks flap. Feeling a bit of sympathy, she patted the bedding at her side, offering for him to sit next to her. He'd done so, having a bit trouble due to his tiny stature.
"What's eating you?" she'd asked.
"Wha'...wha' happened to Bucky?"She'd bitten her lip. Bucky, their old German Shepard who Ferb had loved so much, had died only a few days ago.
"Daddy says he's gotten sick and went to a farm to feel better," said Ferb "But I dunno, he seemed sad too."
"Well...he was just sad because he was going to miss Bucky. He loved him too, y'know."
"So he didn't make a fib?" Even a kid, Ferb was still seriously smart.
"Of course he didn't. Would Daddy lie?"
"Then there's nothing to be scared about."
"So...Bucky is okay?"
Candace had nodded, feeling a lump rising into her throat.
"Of course he is." she'd lied.
Ferb immediately perked up.
"So he's gonna come back soon?"
Candace shook her head.
"No, Ferb, he needs to stay at the farm forever. He'll get sick again if he comes back."
"Aww...then when can we visit him?"
Candace had put her arm around his tiny shoulders and given him a squeeze.
"We can't visit him, Ferb. He's...he's on a farm that only dogs know where to find, not people. But it's okay, he's happy there, and he's never gonna get sick again."
Ferb had grabbed onto her hand, tears filling his big blue eyes again.
"So...we're never seeing Bucky again? Ever?"
She'd hugged him. She didn't want him to see her cry.
"No Ferb. We're not gonna see him again."
He'd curled up in her lap and began to cry too. For a long time, nothing really changed. She rubbed his back comfortingly, telling him that it was going to be okay and that Bucky was going to be happy, and it helped a little. Eventually, Ferb had cried himself out and let go of her.
He'd never called her anything other than Candace until then.
"If...if we got another pet, would Bucky get mad?"
Candace had smiled.
"No, I'm sure he'd be very happy that we're honoring his memory."
Ferb hopped off the bed and grabbed her hand, tugging her to her feet.
"Den come on! Le's go ask Mummy and Daddy!"
And another hour or so later, they were on their way to the pet adoption center. And another hour after that, the fluffy teal thingamajig they'd brought home had been named Perry and was given his locket.
"That was mighteh sweet a' yeh, Candy" said Bobbi reproachfully, bringing Candace back ot the present "Hard to imagine that six years later ya'd hate him so much ya would willingly zap him out of existence."
"So, that's why Perry ain't yeh pet here. He got adopted by a lunatic scientist who trahed to beat him up daily and trapped him in cages and giant pickles. So now yeh brotha' not only didn't have his best pal to spend his life with, but he also didn't have his pet platypus who, need ah remind you, was also one of his best pals. So that's why he's like how he is now: A nasty-tempered uncreative lil' jerk who's got no friends. Just like I'm certain you've always wanted."
On the last line, it was difficult to tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
"So, yeh were wonderin' about yer famileh'. Well, first, let's start with you. When ya were a small frah, what did ya do before yer lil' bro was born?"
"Uhhh...watched Ducky Momo and...stuff..."
"Not much, eh? And did yeh have any friends? And please, be honest, this is kinda a life altering subject here."
"I..." To be honest, Candace had been very lonely as a small child "...No."
"And who was yer first friend, the one who made you the social buttuhfly yeh are now?"
That question was much easier to answer. "Stacy, duh. We became friends when we were nine."
"Right. So, in this universe, without yer bestie and without a pair of brothuhs to bust, ya spent most of yer free time in the house, keepin' to yuhself. And since Phin had absoluteleh nuthin' betteh to do with himself, he spent just about evereh second of the day tryin' to drive yeh into the nut house."
"He does that in the actual-"
"...He's not doing it on purpose?"
Bobbi slapped a hand against her face."AGH! The point is, as yeh can imagine, it put a lot of stress on yeh parents, particularly yer Dad, since he neveh had Ferb, and was really lookin' forward to bondin' with yeh."
Candace took all that in. A world without a Ferb wasn't really all it was cracked up to be...
"But...that still doesn't explain why Stacy doesn't know me here..."
Bobbi raised an eyebrow, her arms folded.
"I think you know."
Candace racked her dumbfounded brain. She just couldn't wrap her mind around it: How on earth was Ferb connected to Stacy in any way? The two barely even talked, let alone interact with each other in a way that would make his presence imperative for her to be friend's with Candace. She ran over the unexpected changes in her head: No Perry, stressed and bummed out parents, no Christmas cheer, a pessimistic and, dare I say it, cruel Phineas, no craziness, no inventions, no busting...
Then it hit her. Hit her with as much force as it was possible for a normally happy memory to hit her in her scared and uncomprehending state:
It was years and years ago, the first summer since Ferb and his dad had moved in. Now, since the boys were young, the contraption they had made that day wasn't really bust-worthy by Candace's current standards, just a pair of birdhouses the boys had modified to become minute mansions for squirrels, but Candace was also much younger. She also had slightly different priorities, since her main concern then was that they would fall when they put the houses in and break their necks.
"You two had better get down from up there right now, or I'm gonna tell Mommy!" she had been squealing, pointing accusingly into the tree's branches.
"Don't worry, Candace, we've got our seat belts on!" called Phineas.
"How do you wear seat belts in a tree?! How does that even work?!"
"I don't really know. Ferb made them, but he's not telling me how he did it. He doesn't say a lot, y'know."
"I'm counting to three! One...two..."
"Who are you talking to?"
Startled, Candace turned toward the voice that had come from the direciton of the gate. It was a girl, about her age, with very long black hair, tanned skin, and a blue bow on her head. Candace had seen her a few times at school, but had been to shy to talk to her. She was staring over the fence with big brown eyes, both curioused and confused at what she was doing.
"Oh, uh, hi. I was talking to my brothers. They're up in the tree."
"Really? What are they doing up there?"
"Putting up a squirrel house."
"Really? That's pretty weird."
"Yeah, they're weird like that all the time. Like yesterday, they somehow turned the birdbath into a rocket launcher."
"That sounds scary..."
"It was. I tried to tell my mom, but for some reason, it was a regular bird bath by the time I came back outside."
"Weird. That happen that happen to you often?"
"Yeah, every single day. And Mom never sees it, no matter how hard I try."
"Well...I could help you!"
Candace's eyes got big.
"You wanna help me?"
"Sure I do! I haven't had a lot to do since school was out, so I could use a friend to do stuff with."
Candace had felt like singing. Finally, she had a friend, besides the two weirdos she had to live with.
"I'm Stacy, by the way."
"My name's Candace."
Stacy smiled and hopped over the fence. And from that point on, Stacy had been her best friend, fellow brother-buster, and offerer of advice at any given point necessary.
But since Ferb hadn't been around and Phineas didn't know or care how to build a squirrel estates, that day had never happened. Stacy had never become her friend. And spending only ten seconds skimming over the years that had followed was enough to make it clear she would not be the person she was today if it weren't for her.
Candace felt like she was imprisoned in some kind of oblivion. It all made sense now, the family, the pet, the friends, the grumpiness, even the lack of pictures in her room of people she actually knew. This wasn't what she wanted. All she wanted was for Ferb to be gone...and looking back, even that seemed like a bad idea. Ferb have been the most irritating thing to have to share a house with, but still. Still...
Regret. It's one of the hardest things to bear at a time when you should be so happy.
"Get it now, Candace?" For the first time since she'd come out of the machine, Bobbi didn't sound annoyed, bitter, critical, or sarcastic. "Ya get it? Stuff like ruining a few scraps a' paper or lettin' a few rodents loose in a park ain't the definition of a person, especially when that person is yer brotheh'. I know he drives yeh up the walls, and I know it often feels like it's all he eveh does, but he's got a lot more significance than that. And it ain't just for you, as yeh have so painfully learned."
There was a bit of silence. Candace, who was now at dangerous risk of crying, picked up the family portrait from her nightstand and stared at it. Hard to imagine, only a matter of minutes ago, she'd been smiling at the thing.
"He loves yeh, Candace." said Bobbi "And the last thing he'd eveh do to yeh is wish yeh'd never lived."
Candace sniffled, then...
"Wait...wait a second..." Candace hadn't noticed, not until now, that, the entire time, somebody else had been missing. Somebody besides the person she had wished out of existence...
"Where's...Jessie? She...she should still be alive..."
A sad, guilty look suddenly crossed Bobbi's face. "Ummm..."
"...Bobbi, where is she?"
"Bobbi, tell me where Jessie is. Now."
"Yer not gunna like it..."
"I don't care if I like it or or not, just tell me where she is!"
Bobbi had seemed less spiteful before, but now she seemed genuinely sorry for her. And considering everything she'd just seen Candace witness and not seem sorry for her in the slightest...
"Please don't do this to yuhself..."
"BOBBI!" she tried to grab her aggressively by the front of her shirt, but her hands just passed right through her holographic body "TELL ME WHERE MY LITTLE SISTER IS! NOW!"
She kept her locked in a furious gaze for several seconds, then Bobbi, sad and defeated, let out a sigh. Then she pointed.
"She's right there."
And just like that, through some sort of magic most likely powered by the What-If-O-Matic, they were no longer standing in Candace's room. They were somewhere completely different.
Candace didn't know where she was. All she saw was in some kind of fancy high-tech metal. There was a small chair over by a window and a steering wheel surrounded by many buttons. It smelt like some sort of meat mingled with some sort of rotten fruit. Compared to the room she was just in, it was unbearably cold.
"What is this place?" asked Candace. "Where's Jessie?"
"This," began Bobbi, "Is her spaceship. Where she stayed..."
"Okay. But where is she? This isn't clearing anything up."Then, Candace noticed Bobbi, still pointing. She was pointing to the floor, with an odd ominous feeling, much like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. She looked to the floor and saw what she was pointing at. It was a blue baseball cap, sitting upturned on the floor. It was just a dusty old hat, no markings or logos to make it anything special, but after a few moments, it began to seem oddly familiar...
"Yes. It is. Don't bothuh lookin' for any more, cuz there's nothin' else left."
Of course. Why didn't she figure it out before? If Ferb hadn't been around to find Jessie that one night on spring break, she never was able to find her way home. She was left to waste away in this thing until she either starved to death or froze, she couldn't decide which was worse...
Candace sank to her knees, picked up the tiny thing, and help it in her cupped hands as gently as if it was a baby robin. Boiling hot tears fell before she could stop them, freezing solid to her face. How could she possibly have been so stupid?
"Ah'm sorry, Candace." said Bobbi "But it wasn't my idea."
Candace held back a sob. It was bad enough that everyone she cared about was acting weird, but Jessie...Sweet, crazy little Jessie. She may have been a complete nutcase, but she still loved her...
Candace stood up and turned around. "Bobbi, take me--"
Alas, Bobbi was gone and Candace was left alone in the ship. "Bobbi, this isn't funny. C'mon, where are you? I need to get home!"
"You are home." Candace looked around and saw that she was indeed at her house, but it was not her house.
"Are you alright?" asked her "mother".
"No, I'm not alright!" shrieked Candace.
"She's crazy," mumbled "Phineas".
"You!" She pointed at him. "I want you to be the positive, excitable, yet a little bit annoying bundle of creativity and engineering you used to be! And you!" She pointed at "Linda". "I want you to be that happy colorful woman who always does something random and then bakes pie but never see the awesome stuff! And you!" She pointed at "Lawrence". "I want you to be a chipper guy who always takes Phineas's side but I never minded! I want you all to be those weird people who drove me crazy with but I loved anyway!" At that note, she ran up to her room and started crying.
"I want Ferb back...I want him back..."
"Candace?" Phineas poked his head into her room. "Are you okay?"
"Just leave me alone."
"Uh...okay, but I just wanted to tell you that Ferb feels really ba--"
"Ferb? Did...did you just say Ferb?"
Candace's heart started racing. She ran to her desk and picked up her family portrait.
"...He's back! Ferb's back!"
"Uh...yeah...where's he been?"
Ecstatic beyond the ability to think straight, she ran out of the room.
"I love you Phineas!" she called as she bolted down the hall. "Oh, thank you Bobbi! THANK YOU! WHOOOOOO!"
"I...love you too?"
Phineas tried to process what had happened, but in the end he just shrugged.
Ferb walked sadly through the yard, shoveling away the fresh blanket of snow that had fallen on the walkway. He’d been meaning to make up with his sister for most of the day, but he hadn’t seen her since he had accidentally incinerated her hopes and dreams by destroying her tickets, so he had been left with an unresolvable cloud of guilt hanging over his head, There hadn’t been a trace of her since he’d recovered from her shouting at her, so Ferb guessed she was probably away at a friend’s house or something, seething about what a waste of space he was...
Ferb stopped and looked up. That was Candace’s voice, but usually when she called his name it was with an irritated or, more often, scheming tone.
“Ferb, where are you?! Ferb!?"
She was running all over the house, sounding both desperate and overwhelmingly happy. Ferb didn’t understand why that would be, but now was his chance. He reached into his pocket.
“I’m outside, Candace.” he said, just loud enough for her to hear.
Within seconds, the door was flung open so hard that snow fell from the roof."FERB!”
She bolted to him. A second before she reached him, though, Ferb held up a hand to stop her, and she froze, as if her had force-field super powers. Then, from his pocket, Ferb produced two golden strips of paper: Tickets, exactly the same kind Candace had bought, to make up for the ones he had accidentally destroyed. Taped to them a tiny scrap of lined paper. Only two words were written on it:
Candace took the tickets in her hand and looked at them. A few hours ago, she would probably have given half of her vitals to get replacements for those things, but now...
Much to Ferb’s surprise, she smiled at him, and tossed them over her shoulder. Then, to his even greater surprise, she threw herself on him, scattering the snow Ferb had so carefully piled, and crushed all the air out of his lungs.
“Oh, Ferb!" she sobbed “I am so, so, so sorry. I didn’t mean anything that I said back there. I love you, I could never hate you, no matter what you did. I...I don’t blame you if you’re mad at me, or if you never want to talk to me again...”
By that point she’d broken down to the point where she couldn’t speak. She just hugged him and cried. After a minute or two, Ferb gave up trying to figure out what was happened, and returned the hug.
“I was never mad at you."
After what felt like forever, the door opened again.
"So...you two have made up, I see."
The two looked up.
"Yeesh, Candace don't take it that hard. I tell Ferb that I hate him and don't mean it at least once a-"
"JESSIE, YOU'RE ALIVE!!"
"Um, wha- OOF!"
She got yanked into the hug so fast she headbutted Ferb.
"Ah, the ribs, watch the ribs...do not...break...the ribs..."
She loosened her grip, but didn't let go.
"I thought you were dead..."
Jessie, now even more confused, turned to Ferb.
Ferb just shrugged.
"I haven't even the faintest idea."
There was a short, awkward pause.
"So...does Phineas get a hug too?"
Candace perked up.
As it turns out, Phineas was standing right behind them pretty much the entire time. He was wearing a jokingly left-out expression.
"Yeah, what about me?"
Ferb and Jessie were finally released, then looked at each other.
"...I don't get it."
"Candace, are you alright?" Ferb asked who was still grinning like an idiot.
"I guess I'm just really glad to have you guys in my life," she replied.
"Christmas," said Phineas. "It gets ya every year!"
Candace laughed and then, out of the corner of her eye, noticed the glimmer of the tickets she had so casually tossed aside just moments ago. She bent down to pick them up and looked at Ferb. "I understand these were meant to be amends. Am I right?" Ferb nodded. "Well, in that case, I will use them. But if, and only if, you come with me."
"...You're not asking me out on a date, are you?"
"Of course not. It just felt the right thing to do, ya know, after wishing you out of existence."
Now it was Phineas and Jessie's turn to look at each other in confusion.
Ferb just chuckled. "Okay."
They walked to the movie theater. On the way, Ferb figured out in his head why she was acting so weird: before he left, he heard an explosion that could only come from his machine. It seems the machine heard Candace's wish and made it true, and she had been gone so long, the only explanation is that she was in the machine. He acted clueless anyway. So long as she was happy. Everybody, even one little guy like him, makes a difference, and now his sister recognized that.