The Tuesday morning commercial taping was even stranger than what had gone on Monday, but still without discernible progress towards either our stated or hidden goals.
We had a break in the shooting as Ferb Fletcher left to go acquire a disco style mirror ball. With the sting of my forced breakup still fresh in my mind, I took the opportunity to seek out the one freak who could possibly have arranged all of this.
"Phineas." I addressed him softly, so as to not draw the attention of the two teenage girls who were my co-stars.
"Yes, Jeremy?" He looked up from the studio's blueprints.
"You already knew that Candace isn't a very good skater from the time you built the roller derby ring. So why did you try that again?"
"I thought that Vanessa would catch her." Phineas frowned at my lover's daughter. Make that ex-lover, thanks to him.
"Well that didn't work."
"I may have miscalculated on that point. But, they've been friends before, so I'm sure they'll get over this."
Did he honestly not see what the problem was between the girls? I decided to snap the weakest link in his chain of delusion. "You had the timing of my family right down to the minute. So how many times have we tried filming these commercials?"
"This is the first time."
"How is that possible? People should either do the same thing over and over so as to be predictable, or tiny little changes would quickly change everything."
"Most everybody does do the same thing every time." Phineas looked up at me. "I'm the rogue element."
"And it isn't random either. I went through the first thousand loops without noticing it at all, but lately I've been spotting the issue about once every hundred times on the first day. Jeremy, how many days do you wake up and decide to question the structure of space-time?"
"Not as often as you do, I suspect."
"But even for me this is unnatural. Candace is forcing my hand." He nodded over to where his sister was sitting with an ice pack pressed to her forehead. "This is a cry for help on her part. Somehow she's suffering, way down there, in a way the rest of us can never understand. I just can't ignore that." He looked up at me with such earnest eyes, then dropped his gaze to the floor and continued in an even softer voice. "Jeremy, have you heard of people who are said to live charmed lives?"
"I've always felt that way. But this summer I decided to press the point. It's for science, so I can't just let it be. This summer I've pushed things to the limit, while at the same time applying relaxation methods like meditation and yoga. So I could catch it, that nudge of an angel's wings at my elbow. Everytime I've managed to catch that feeling happening to me, I've stepped back. I looked at the situation and I've managed to spot something I've almost done that would have hurt somebody. A lot of it has been real subtle stuff that even Ferb would never catch. So if you want to know who the real genius in our family is, it's Candace. Either that, or she cheats with time travel to keep everybody safe." Phineas looked up and raised his voice. "Ah, speaking of Ferb, here he is. Yeah, Ferb, let's not use the mirror ball. I've got a new idea for a theme for some commercials. I call it 'Obsession'."
As the rest of the crew was called together I thought about what Phineas had said. Was that an apology? Did he see the entire mess as his fault? Did my life just get turned upside down for nothing?
"So first we'll need the rights to use Animotion's 'Obsession'. Ferb, you anticipate my every need." Phineas signed the contract and handed it back to his brother.
From the brief glance I had of it, it had already been signed by the agency for the artists in question. How had Ferb known about that, if this was the first time we were doing this?
"Let's start with Vanessa." Phineas turned to her. "Perhaps a framing shot of you driving by a Slushy Burger franchise?"
"My parents don't let me drive."
"Oh? Well, the scene works better on foot anyway. And hopefully we'll bring in enough business to Mr. Slushy Burger that they'll be able to afford to buy you a car. Let's open the blinds next to the grill and shoot some scenes with Vanessa outside, looking in."
From the window I could see Phineas direct Vanessa to walk by the building casually, then turn as if she smelled something and have her look directly at me. At the same time Ferb stayed inside to direct me through working at the grill. Somehow Phineas and Ferb were able to coordinate with split second timing, even getting me to look away as Vanessa plastered herself against the window.
Then the film crew moved inside and Vanessa walked up to the service counter and read off her line of "Can I have a double slushy burger combo please?" She trailed out the please as she ran her finger along my arm.
Candace stood up and threw her ice pack to the side. "You can't talk to my boyfriend like that!"
"What?" Vanessa turned to her.
"That's right, Jeremy is my boyfriend. So hands off!" Candace walked up to her.
"Since when?" Vanessa seemed honestly confused.
"What? Don't you know Jeremy's been -" Vanessa suddenly fainted into Ferb's arms.
"It seems the excitement was too much for her." Ferb gently lowered Vanessa to the floor. Had he used the Vulcan nerve pinch on her? Did that really work?
"Cut!" Phineas walked onto the set. "Somebody call the ambulance. Oh, I see Ferb's already on that. I don't want to bother Ms. Doofenshmirtz, so somebody will need to go with Vanessa to the hospital."
"Thanks, Ferb. So let me review the footage and see if we've got enough for Candace's part."
After Ferb left with the paramedics who carried the sleeping Vanessa away, Phineas came back to the set and briefed us on the next scene.
"It looks like we got enough footage before the interruption. So we'll splice in the previous shots of Vanessa taking an order away and then Candace will walk up to the counter and ask if Jeremy is free to go out with her and he'll point to the long line of customers behind her."
Yeah, that has certainly happened often enough.
"And we'll close with Jeremy and Candace walking out the door with lunch for a happy ending."
"What?" Phineas turned to Suzy.
"I mean, wouldn't it be a happier ending for Jeremy to be with his cute little sister? Right?"
"Yeah, sorry Suzy. We promised to include you in the commercials. Okay, we'll put you in the next commercial after this one. I'm a little short handed, so let me call somebody to help with this." Phineas pulled out his cellphone and hit a speed dial.
A cellphone rang from just off stage.
"Hi, Phineas. Whatcha doin'?" Isabella Garcia-Shapiro walked onto the set, and put her cellphone back in her pocket.
"Oh! It's a good thing you were nearby, Isabella. Do you know how movie studios will cast adult actors in the roles of teenagers?"
"I want you to do the reverse. Can you make Jeremy and Candace look like twenty somethings?"
"Hmmm... What do you think, girls?" Isabella turned to her Fireside Girls Troop, who had suddenly appeared behind her.
One of the girls, I think her name was Gretchen or Holly, looked us over for a moment and then said, "It's a challenge, but a great way to get our cinematic makeup and costuming badges."
"That's the Fireside Girls spirit! Now let's get the proper equipment." Isabella led her troop off.
We filmed the final part of the obsession commercial. Then as Phineas walked onto the stage to thank the extras, I looked above him at a creaking noise. One of the lights had come loose and was falling towards him.
Suddenly a diminutive leapt on stage and kicked the falling light away. It was Isabella. She made a three-point landing past Phineas, skidded to a stop, and looked up, at my sister.
"What are you doing up there?" I walked under Suzy.
"Big brother, I'm so frightened." She released the girder she had been clinging to and fell backwards. "Catch me, Jeremy!"
I dashed one step forwards and carefully caught her.
She wrapped her arms around my neck. "That was so scary, Jeremy. But I feel safe in your arms."
"Is everybody alright?" Phineas asked.
I turned around to show him my apparently unharmed sister and caught Candace scowling at me. Was she upset that I had caught my sister? Just what sort of monster was she?
I put Suzy down, but she kept a tight grip on my hand. "I'm okay, thanks to big brother Jeremy."
I noticed that Candace had shifted her gaze to Suzy, but was still angry. Just what was wrong with that girl?
"We need to get these three in makeup, but we've got a sunset to catch. Isabella," Phineas turned to her, "Can you handle the makeup in the van ride over?"
"No problem, Phineas. Outdoors light makes people look older, so I'll handle the challenge of Suzy. You girls take care of Jeremy and Candace."
The Fireside Girls nodded at Isabella's order and we were all soon packed into a company van, with Phineas in the front passenger seat to direct the driver to the picnic spot.
We shot a few scenes of Suzy playing in the field and of the three of us eating Slushy Burger food. Candace's usual clumsiness kept the Fireside Girls busy with cleanup as she fell face first into a mud puddle and then squirted herself with a ketchup packet. It was almost like she was trying to trip over Suzy. At this rate I'd have to find some other sitter for Suzy, just to keep her safe.
At least Candace managed to keep still for the sunset shot, that Phineas said would have the "It never gets any better" company slogan displayed over it.
We returned to the studio to pack up for the day.
Candace turned to Ferb and Vanessa, who entered the studio walking hand in hand, and asked the other girl, "What was that about Jeremy?"
"Oh?" Vanessa took her eyes off Ferb to look at her.
"You said you knew something about Jeremy."
"Oh, whatever that was, it must not have been very important." Vanessa bowed down to kiss Ferb on his huge forehead. "See you tomorrow, Tiger." She then walked off, stopping only at the door to blow him a kiss.
That evening Ferb's image once again appeared in my room.
I jumped to the attack before he could start. "You're using mind control on Vanessa."
"Yes, but Candace started it and I did it for a very important reason. Candace must not learn about your little indiscretion."
"At least what I was doing was between two consenting people. You are forcing yourself on Vanessa."
"I'm not going to force her to do much. We're both underage, after all. Now that she is out of your way, you need to make the sale with Candace. The clock is ticking." Ferb's projection glanced to my door then vanished.
The door to my room opened. It was Suzy in her pajamas. "Big brother, I'm still scared about what happened today. Can I sleep with you again tonight."
"Sure, Suzy. No problem."