Alex has gotten onto the high school grounds with Chase and his friends, who are going to the homecoming dance. Then Alex slipped away from the others to find a way into the Class of 1987 reunion. Meanwhile, Roger has gotten past Mackenzie’s dog, Yaz, and into the MacDonald house, where he plans to steal the MP3 player Heidi invented… while Mackenzie mopes in her room upstairs.
7:33 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Magnolia High School.
Alex slips out of the double doors at the back of the gym and bolts toward the athletic field, looking over his shoulder to make sure nobody has noticed him leave.
And because he’s looking back, he doesn’t see the 3-foot-high, cement security pillar until he slams into it. It catches him right in the family jewels – OOF – sending a shock of pain and nausea up into his belly. He emits a high-pitched moan. Those are new.
Alex waddles to the door beside the drama department. Sure enough, the lock is still broken. Guess the school board never did catch up on that maintenance backlog.
Inside, the thump of music from the homecoming dance echoes through the empty halls. Alex creeps into the darkened drama classroom. He leaves the lights off to avoid drawing attention, navigating to the dressing rooms by moonlight, scaring himself once when he mistakes a costume on a dress stand for a real person.
The dressing rooms have no windows, so he feels safe turning on the lights there. He raids the make-up cabinet and finds a cool, bushy mustache that matches his hair color. A little spirit gum, and voila – none of his classmates will recognize him. Which is a little disappointing, considering Alex has been trying to grow a mustache for two years. He admires himself in the mirror. He looks a little like a blonde Freddy Mercury.
Alex jogs through the deserted halls to the cafeteria on the other side of the school, where the reunion is being held. The beat of the homecoming music is gradually replaced by the beat of the reunion music. Unfortunately, when Alex reaches the double doors to the cafeteria, they’re closed. He peeks through the little square windows and sees the DJ booth has been set up directly in front of them. He’ll have to find another way in.
The kitchen “Staff Only” door opens behind him, startling him. A young man in a red jacket and black slacks comes out, tapping on his phone. Alex tries to think of an excuse for why a teenager is peeping into the reunion, but the man doesn’t even look up, simply heading straight to the bathroom.
Maybe Alex can get into the reunion through the kitchen. He cracks the door open. No good, the kitchens are bustling. Red-jacketed waiters and waitresses return from the cafeteria to exchange empty trays for full ones. A tall, slim woman in a white chef’s coat assembles the trays. Then Alex spots one of the red jackets lying on a counter only a few feet away. That would perfectly complete his disguise. When the tall woman bends down to extract fresh hors d’oeuvres from the oven, Alex slips in and snags the jacket.
“You!” The word freezes Alex at the door. It’s the tall woman. Busted. He turns back, mind racing for an excuse.
“I can’t have everyone taking a break at the same time,” she barks. “Get out there and serve these crab puffs before they get cold.” She holds out a white porcelain tray of small biscuits. Apparently he’s not busted after all.
Alex takes the tray and follows another waiter into the cafeteria.
* * *
7:33 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The MacDonald’s living room.
Roger slinks through the darkened room to the fireplace. The house is quiet. He knows Mackenzie is upstairs, but so far there’s been no indication she’s aware of his presence.
Roger lifts the Plexiglas case off the MP3 player. He picks up the small device. It’s light… simple. It looks less impressive than a calculator. Hard to believe it got Heidi this huge house.
Roger drops the MP3 player into his “A-Team” backpack and slings the pack over one shoulder. As he turns, his gaze falls on the wet bar, and the bottle of scotch Mackenzie said was Heidi’s favorite.
The only alcohol Roger has ever tried was beer, and he didn’t really care for it. But the temptation to give Heidi one more jab is too much to resist. He retrieves the bottle and slides it into the backpack as well.
It’s probably a pointless bit of revenge. If he successfully changes the timeline as he plans, Heidi probably won’t even end up living in this house. But it still feels pretty satisfying.
* * *
7:40 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The class of 1987 thirtieth reunion in the Magnolia High School cafeteria.
The DJ is playing Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone.” Alex hunches his shoulders as he slithers through the crowd. The caterer’s jacket is just a bit too small. He almost drops the tray of crab puffs when one of the guests jostles him. It’s a slim woman in a flowing dress and a pink knit hat that has two little “ears” poking up, like on Catwoman’s costume. She gives him a smile. “Sorry.”
“No prob.” Alex holds out the tray. “Crab puff?”
“No thanks, I’m vegan.”
Like the stall in the mall food court. Apparently it has a dedicated fan club. Alex notices the reunion nametag pinned to the woman’s dress. It reads, “Fran Salk,” and has an old yearbook picture printed next to it. Alex almost drops his tray again. This woman is Franny Salk, the aspiring Gordon Gekko, president of the stock market club. Not only is she thirty years older, she’s at least thirty pounds thinner. Apparently she doesn’t care for the vegan pizza either.
Alex is curious what else has changed about Franny. “So, are you a stock broker now?”
Franny looks shocked at that suggestion. “A stock broker?! No, I was at Occupy Wall Street.”
Alex is confused. “Isn't that what most stock brokers do?”
She shakes her head. “You need to get woke, kid.”
Two sharply dressed men scurry up. Without even looking at his nametag, Alex recognizes Kevin English, the bully from 1987, from the scar on his forehead, which is even more pronounced now due to Kevin’s receding hairline. The other man’s nametag reads Greg English-Smythe, with the word “Guest” in place of the picture.
“Oh my God, Franny?” Kevin cries. “You look ah-maze-ing! I want you to meet my husband, Greg.”
Alex is so shocked, he blurts out, “You two are married?”
Kevin gives him a sharp look. “That’s right.”
Alex is flabbergasted. “They allow that now?” Two men, married to each other… and that means Kevin’s gay! Was he always gay? He dated Wendy for over a year. Alex can’t wrap his head around it.
“Allow what, exactly?” Kevin is looking at him with that glare that typically preceded a beating back in 1987. Kevin’s still a pretty big guy, and he looks like he’s still in petty good shape. Alex realizes he may have stepped into a minefield.
“Allow... allow... two such handsome men to get married.” Alex gives Kevin the biggest smile he can.
Kevin looks at him like he’s insane. “I can’t tell if you’re hitting on us, or if you’re a homophobe.”
“Supposedly I’m a hipster. JK.” But JK does not seem to be defusing the situation. Alex holds out his tray, trying to change the subject. “Crab puff?”
Kevin shakes his head. “Macrobiotic.”
Kevin’s husband, Greg, also shakes his head. “Paleo diet.”
Alex does not understand those words. “So... is that a yes or a no?”
Kevin and Greg just glare at him in response. Alex decides maybe it’s time to slink away. As he goes, he hears Kevin say, “Millenials” as if it were a curse.
“I weep for the future,” Franny replies.
“Oh, hey, did you hear about Ms. Pfeifer?” Kevin says. “She married some rando and moved to Paris. They invested in Apple and Netflix and got filthy rich!”
Good for Ms. P, Alex thinks as he moves away through the crowd. He’s got no time to ponder the implications of Kevin’s sexuality. He’s on a mission to find Jennifer.
* * *
Roger isn’t sure he can get by Yaz again, especially because he already used the tennis ball, but he figures there will be no harm in going out the front door at this point.
However, when he steps onto the porch, he freezes. Alex – the middle-aged one – is standing on the walkway. “Roger, give me that MP3 player.”
Roger grips the shoulder strap of his backpack with both hands. This is not some adult he has to obey; this is his old friend Alex. “No way. I’m finally going to get my revenge on Heidi.”
“I remember what happens when you bring the MP3 player back to 1987. Your plan doesn’t work.”
“It doesn’t? Why not?”
“That’s not important. What’s important is that this little music player ruins our friendship for years. Please, just give it back to me and go back to 1987.”
Alex steps forward – and Roger steps back, bumping against the door. “Wait… just wait a minute!”
But Alex grabs for the backpack.
Roger panics, tries to pull away, to slide around Alex – but Alex gets a grip on the handle on top of the backpack. The pack slides off Roger’s shoulder, down his arm – he grabs onto the shoulder strap.
“Roger, please!” Alex cries as he tries to wrest control of the pack. There is a brief tug of war – and then—
WHAM – out of nowhere, the skinny guy from the dispensary – who Roger now knows is himself in the future – tackles Alex.
Alex loses his grip on the pack as he slams into the porch railing. The counterforce now gone, Young Roger falls back, stumbles off the porch, crashes down on his back in the grass. The backpack goes flying.
Young Roger rolls out of the way in the nick of time as the two older men topple off the porch. Old Roger rolls on top of Old Alex, pinning him to the ground.
Young Roger sits up, staring at his older self. Despite the leathery skin and bald head, the resemblance is disconcerting. “You’re me...” he stammers.
His older self looks up at him. “Yes. And I’m here to help you. Run!”
“But he said the plan doesn’t work.” Roger indicates Old Alex.
“You can change things. You can make it work this time.”
“No, you can’t,” Old Alex says. “Trust me.”
“You have to make it work!” Old Roger cries. “Our life sucks. Now run!”
Who is he going to believe, himself or Alex? Roger makes his decision. He scoops up the backpack. Old Alex gets a hand free, grabs for Roger’s ankle. Roger jumps back, trips, falls on his butt on the porch. He scrambles to his feet and bolts through the front door—
“Welcome home,” that soothing voice says as he stumbles into the entry. The living room lights come on.
* * *
7:53 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Mackenzie’s room.
Mackenzie sits on her bed, propped up against a pile of pillows, watching YouTube make-up vlogs on her laptop and fuming about missing the homecoming dance. Her dad is clearly determined to ruin her life.
Downstairs, the Google voice say, “Welcome home.” That’s odd. One of her parents must have come home early from the union. Or maybe her dad decided to relent and let her go to the dance after all! Then she remembers Yaz’s barking from a few minutes earlier. She assumed a squirrel was taunting him, but what if…
She feels a cold knot in her stomach. Maybe she better go investigate.
From downstairs, the Google voice says, “Voice not recognized. Please state password.”
Maybe she also better arm herself before investigating.
She digs through her closet to find a weapon. The best she can come up with is an old baton she hasn’t used since she was eleven. She pops off one of the rubber tips, exposing the end of the metal tube to make it more formidable.
* * *
7:54 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The living room.
Roger hops from one foot to the other. “Lights off! Lights off!”
The house replies, “Voice not recognized. Please state password.”
Crap. Roger dashes across the room, throws open the sliding glass doors.
As Roger stumbles out into the yard, Yaz bounds toward him, growling.
Roger will never make the fence before the dog reaches him. He bolts toward the nearest safety – the oak tree in the middle of the yard. A wooden ladder leads up to the old tree house. Roger hopes it’s still structurally sound.
Roger scrambles up the ladder as Yaz reaches the tree – the dog leaps, just getting his teeth around the heel of one of Roger’s Reeboks – but Roger yanks his foot free and pulls himself up into the tree house.
The inside is dusty and cobwebby, with dead leaves scattered about an old tea set laid out in front of one forlorn doll. Roger scrambles into the corner, clutching his “A-Team” backpack and its precious contents to his chest.
Meanwhile, inside the house, Mackenzie creeps into the living room, holding the baton like a baseball bat. “Is someone here?”
The room appears empty.
But Yaz is barking furiously outside. It would be good to have Yaz with her if some creep has gotten into the house. Mackenzie goes to the sliding glass doors.
Yaz is at the base of the tree, looking up at her tree house. That gives Mackenzie some relief. Probably just a squirrel after all. But she better make sure.
She slides the glass doors open, raises the baton, and tiptoes out into the yard…
Go to Chapter 15