After Alex’s future daughter, Mackenzie, invites Alex and Roger over to her house, Mackenzie’s boyfriend, Chase, traps Alex in the guest room because Alex keeps interfering with Chase’s attempts to seduce Mackenzie.
5:24 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The MacDonald’s living room.
Roger contemplates the MP3 player in its Plexiglas display case on the mantle. It’s not fair. He’s smarter than Heidi. He should’ve been the one who invented something cool and got rich. Instead, he’s doomed to a future as a broke janitor. How is that possible? Did Heidi sabotage him? Is that why she succeeded instead of him? He’s certain she sabotaged his project for the junior year science fair… and he has no doubt she’d do it again.
And Alex married her! What kind of friend marries his best friend’s archenemy? Something must have gone terribly, terribly wrong their senior year. But now that Roger knows all this, he has a chance to change things. He just needs to make a plan.
The door SLAMS open behind him, causing Roger to jump.
A middle-aged man with a big, bushy beard lunges in. He’s wearing dark jeans, the cuffs pegged, held up by thin suspenders over a plaid shirt, like some kind of fancy lumberjack. He points at Roger, a crazed look in his eyes. “I know what you’re thinking, Roger. Don’t touch that MP3 player.”
And with that the man charges up the stairs.
But there was something in the man’s eyes that was familiar. Roger feels goose bumps rise on his arms.
That was Alex.
* * *
5:24 p.m. Mackenzie’s bedroom.
A shiver runs down Mackenzie’s body as Chase flicks her earlobe with his tongue. He’s so much more experienced at this sort of thing than she is. She opens her eyes and sees Taylor Swift looking down from the poster hanging above the head of the bed. The slow beats of “Closer” by the Chainsmokers thrum through Mackenzie, resonating deep in her bones.
Chase sits up. “It’s getting hot in here.” He pulls off his shirt. Flexes his muscles playfully. Mackenzie smiles. He can be so cute sometimes. Chase smiles back. “You’re looking hot AF yourself.” The compliment delights her.
He grabs the bottom of her shirt, raises it slowly, his knuckles brushing her belly. She feels butterflies fluttering inside that belly. But this is going too fast. She grabs his hand to stop him. “Chase, wait...”
His frustration is obvious, though he tries to hide it. “Come on, bae. You’ve been making me hella thirsty all day long.”
“I just want our first time to be romantic. Let’s go out to the lake after the dance. There’ll be moonlight, I’ll bring a blanket—“
Chase rolls off her, and she feels a sting in her heart at the rejection. “But what about Sierra’s after-party?” Chase asks. “Don’t you remember how crazy it was last year?”
“I… wasn’t there.” Last year Mackenzie spent the homecoming dance huddled with her friend Laura, talking about which boys they liked. She only got asked to dance once, by Damon Weller, who was wearing so much body spray she tried to hold her breath the entire song. She and Laura went back to Laura’s place after the dance and watched Mean Girls on Netflix. It’s been too long since Mackenzie hung out with Laura. Since before Chase. Laura doesn’t really get along with Chase’s squad.
“I don’t know,” Chase is saying. “First you sign up for the play, and now you want me to miss the biggest party of the fall. I love you Mac, but I’m getting the feeling maybe you don’t feel the same way.”
Why would he say that?! Mackenzie’s chest tightens with panic. “No, Chase, I love you, too! You’re wonderful.”
She throws her arms around him and kisses him. He’s stiff at first, but melts into it after a few seconds. He leans her back down, whispers, “This is the Mac I fell for.”
He raises her shirt again, and this time she lets him pull it all the way over her head. She shoves the small, nagging doubt to the back of her mind. Chase is the coolest guy in school. She wouldn’t want him to think she’s some kind of prude. He reaches around for her bra clasp and she arches her back to give him access—
SLAM – her father bursts into the room.
“Get off my daughter!” he roars.
Mackenzie screams, grabs her shirt to cover herself. “Dad! What are you doing home?”
He rounds on her with that intense look of controlled fury. She knows that look, knows she’s in big trouble. “I left work early to keep you from making a huge mistake. Although I was almost too late... I couldn’t remember the exact time because of the booze.”
“You’re drunk?” This is horrible. What will Chase think?
“Not now,” her dad says, flustered. “Back then... never mind. What’s important is why you’re half-naked with this sleaze bag.”
Chase grabs his shirt. “Whatever, Dude. I’m out. See you at the dance, Mac.” Chase brushes past her dad, apparently unconcerned with his temper. If her dad ruins her relationship with Chase, she’ll just die!
And then it gets worse.
“No you won’t,” her dad sputters. “She’s grounded!”
“Dad! That’s not fair!” Is he intentionally trying to ruin her life?
Her dad spins back to her. But the anger is gone now. Instead, his look is oddly gentle. “Trust me, you’ll thank me later.”
Yeah, right. Mackenzie buries her head in her pillow. “You just don’t understand what it’s like to be a teenager today.”
* * *
5:27 pm. The guest room.
Alex examines the crack between the door and the frame. He can tell the door isn’t locked, but something is jamming it from the other side. He can’t make out anything through the crack, but he’s pretty certain Chase must have wedged the chair he took into the handle somehow. Alex has tried holding the handle and leaning back with all his weight, but it was no use. His Reeboks slipped on the carpet and he landed hard on his butt. He debates whether he dares to try to break the door down. He’d have a tough time explaining that to Mackenzie. Plus, he might be more likely to hurt himself than the door.
Shuffling sounds from the hall interrupt his train of thought.
A moment later, Roger opens the door. “What happened? Why were you—”
Alex pushes by him. “Out of my way! I’ve got to stop Chase from violating my daughter!”
Roger grabs his arm. “You already are.”
“Old you just showed up.”
“Really? Rad! Now I can ask myself what happened with Jennifer and how I ended up with Heidi.” Alex notices the bottle of water Mackenzie brought him sitting on the bedside table. “Oh, by the way, don’t drink the tap water. Apparently it’s not safe.”
“Who needs water in a world with unlimited soda refills?”
The two boys scramble out of the room. They reach the foyer just as the bearded man Alex saw at the storage facility comes down the stairs. They all freeze, staring at each other.
Up close, Alex can see that it is indeed his own eyes looking back at him. Alex is shocked to see that his skin is lined and blotchy. There’s even an unfamiliar mole near his ear, and he’s put on at least thirty pounds. He’s totally old! Alex knew he’d be older in the future, obviously, but it turns out knowing and seeing are very different things. He looks more like his dad than himself.
On the other hand, he’s grown a glorious bushy beard.
Old Alex shakes off the shock first. He waves his hands urgently at them. “You two have to get out of here. Heidi will be home any minute.”
“You know who we are?” Alex asks.
“Of course. I was you. I remember traveling into the future. I remember all of this.”
“So was it you who put the time machine in storage?” Roger asks. “And you left the Playboy for us?”
“I wanted to make sure you went through the portal,” old Alex says. “Besides, the Playboy was there when I went through, so I figured I better stay consistent.”
“Gnarly,” Roger says. “It’s like a paradoxical loop. If you got the idea to leave the Playboy from yourself, then where did the idea actually originate?”
“Forget about the Playboy!” Alex cries. “Tell me what’s going to happen. Did Jennifer turn me down for homecoming? How did we end up with Heidi?”
“I can’t tell you anything,” old Alex says. “I don’t want to mess up the time line.”
“But that’s the whole point. I can avoid your mistakes. I can fix your life.”
“My life doesn’t need fixing. It’s great. And it depends on everything happening for you just like it did for me.”
“Great? You don’t have bitchin’ parties or go to rad nightclubs or anything! I was supposed to become cool after high school.”
‘We did some partying after Heidi sold the patents on her MP3 player. It’s not as much fun as you think. I have a good job drawing comic books, a wonderful daughter, and a happy marriage. I like staying home with my family.”
Something’s gone very wrong. What has happened to him? What could have made him – and then Alex realizes. “It’s her fault, isn’t it? Heidi did this to you. She’s so... so....”
“Evil?” Roger chimes in.
Old Alex scowls at Roger. “Heidi’s not evil. You’ll find out she’s actually sweet and fun. Look, I can’t say any more.” He pulls one of the futuristic portable phones from his pocket. “You figured out how to use these, right?”
“The phones? Yeah, they have some kind of fax machine in them to send messages.”
“It’s called texting. Here’s what you push to send a text.” He shows Alex a small icon that looks like a word balloon on the screen of the phone. Old Alex touches the picture and a program opens up. “You find the name of the person in your contacts like this. Then you type out a message on this little keyboard and hit send.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Alex says. “The future’s awesome. Nobody needs to talk.”
“It’s very important you know how to do this.”
“I got it. But why did you—“
“I can’t tell you any more about your future. You need to go now.”
He tries to herd the two boys toward the door. But Alex has something else on his mind. “I saw Dad’s tombstone.”
Old Alex stops. Alex can see the sadness in his eyes. “Yeah. Last year was rough.”
“Tell me what happened. Maybe I can save him.”
“I wish you could. He got sick. It happens. I’m sorry.”
“What about… what about mom?”
“Mom’s doing fine. She’s started taking salsa dancing lessons.”
The sound of a key in the door elicits a look of panic from the older Alex. “That’s Heidi!” he hisses. “She can’t see you. I never told her I traveled through time.”
“Why not?” Alex asks.
“Because she’d think I was mentally ill. Hide!”
He pushes the two boys down behind the couch just as the door opens. Alex peeks cautiously around the edge of the couch. Heidi looks exactly like what he would have expected her to look like in thirty years – crisp and businesslike in a sleek, dark suit and sleeker haircut. Apparently shoulder pads are out in 2017, but Heidi appears commanding enough without them.
Old Alex rushes up to kiss her. Behind the couch, Alex and Roger make gagging faces.
“That’s a nice welcome home,” Heidi says. She starts toward the stairs – and Alex ducks back, a rush of panic tightening his chest. In a few steps, she’ll be able to see them. Would she recognize them?
But old Alex catches Heidi’s arm to hold her back. “Can I make you a drink?”
“We should get over to the school early to make sure everything’s ready for the reunion,” Heidi says. “I wish I knew class president was going to be a lifetime job when I ran.”
“Okay. Would you mind if I met you there a bit later?”
“I could really use your help. Is there something you have to do?”
Old Alex glances back toward the couch. “Um... just this.” He pulls her in for a deep kiss, and young Alex feels bile rise in his throat. His older self gestures behind Heidi’s back for Alex and Roger to scram.
Alex and Roger crawl to the hall that leads back to the guest room.
“Old people kissing grosses me out,” Alex whispers when they’re clear.
“Hey, one of those old people is you,” Roger replies.
Go to Chapter 12