Teenage Roger stole Heidi’s MP3 player prototype, but was caught by middle-aged Alex. Roger’s future-self saved teenage Roger, but then teenage Roger was forced to seek shelter in a tree house to avoid Mackenzie’s dog. Drawn by the dog’s barking, Mackenzie has gone to investigate.
Meanwhile, teenage Alex has infiltrated his thirtieth class reunion disguised as a waiter to try to find Jennifer and learn what happened at homecoming back in 1987.
7:45 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Class of 1987 Thirty-Year Reunion in the Magnolia High School cafeteria.
“Crab puff?” Alex extends his tray to Brian Peterson. Brian still has the muscular arms and barrel chest he had as a high school wrestler, but he’s added weight around his belly.
“Ooh, sure,” Brian says, but instead of taking one, he pulls a small plastic bottle from his pocket, squirts some kind of gel on his hands, and rubs them together. Only then does he pluck one of the hors d’oeuvres from the tray.
“What is that?” Alex asks, indicating the bottle.
“Oh, don’t take it personally,” Brian says. “I always use the anti-bacterial stuff during flu season.”
“Oh, sure.” Alex moves on. As he’s been circulating among his old classmates, he’s overheard a lot about what’s happened to everyone during the last thirty years.
Patrick and Natalie, who were such an inseparable couple throughout high school that they were known as Patalie, are married… to other people.
Tim Gelbach still fronts his rock band, though the members have changed and there’s a bald spot in Tim’s long, heavy metal hair. Tim insists that he’s on the verge of a major record deal, though in the meantime he’s earning a living delivering bottled water.
Paul Andrews, who hosted ninety percent of the cool parties in high school because his parents travelled a lot on business, is now an uptight insurance adjuster complaining about a son who’s apparently following in Paul’s party animal footsteps.
Many of Alex’s classmates are divorced. Many hate their jobs. There is whispered gossip about senior class president Alan Johannes who became a state assemblyman but ended up in prison for embezzling campaign funds. It seems Alex is not the only one whose life will not turn out the way he plans.
Which makes him all the more determined to change his fate.
But Jennifer is nowhere to be found. He’s beginning to fear she didn’t even come to the reunion.
The DJ is playing Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose.” Alex hums along as he squeezes between a knot of former metal heads and a group of ex new-wavers. He emerges to find himself face-to-face with Todd, who’s talking to two women. Despite the fake mustache, Alex fears Todd might recognize him from their encounter earlier in the afternoon when Alex and Roger first tried to enter the school. Alex starts to turn away when one of the women looks up and freezes him in his place. She has gigantic lips, and the skin around her eyes is pulled back, giving her a permanent look of surprise. Her eyebrows are clearly drawn on, and her nose is impossibly narrow. She looks like some kind of alien.
But when Alex glances down at her nametag, it says she is Bonnie Cox, the cheerleader who was Jennifer’s best friend in high school. Alex looks from the picture on the nametag to the strange woman. If this is Bonnie, she looks nothing like her younger self.
“…so now I’m directing the church choir,” the second woman is saying. Alex can see from her nametag that this is Wendy, Kevin’s high school girlfriend. Wendy still mostly looks like herself, except her hair is streaked with grey and she wears a cardigan covered in cat hair over her frumpy brown dress.
Alex realizes he’s staring at them – and they’re staring back. He extends his tray. “Crab puff?”
Todd shakes his head. “Lactose intolerant.”
“Gluten free,” Bonnie says.
“I just don’t like crab,” Wendy adds.
“Okay.” So far Alex has only managed to get rid of two crab cakes. People seem to have a lot of strange diets in the future. He’s about to move on when he gets an idea. “Say, do any of you know where I could find Jennifer Adams?”
“I’d check the bar,” Todd replies, and Bonnie and Wendy laugh.
A shout startles Alex so badly he almost drops his tray.
A young woman in black slacks and white shirt, her hair pulled into a ponytail, pushes through the crowd on the far side of the dance floor, pointing angrily at Alex. “Hey, you! That’s my jacket!”
Alex looks down at the red serving jacket he stole. Well, that explains why it fits him so badly. He drops the tray of unwanted crab puffs and bolts for the nearest escape – the main entrance.
He bursts through the doors, scrambles down the steps, and circles toward the gym. The cool night air is refreshing after the heat of the crowded cafeteria. He glances back over his shoulder and finds the waitress is in hot pursuit. She’s maybe fifty feet behind, but she’s fast and closing the gap—
WHAM – Alex hits the security post again. And again, he takes the force of the blow in his crotch.
He stumbles forward, doubled over, as pain and nausea fill his gut.
Alex manages to stagger around the corner of the gym to the sports field. He half dives, half falls behind a Dumpster.
The waitress runs past, not noticing where he’s hid, and continues toward the parking lot.
When the sharp pain in Alex’s groin has faded to a dull throb, he crawls through the shadows along the rear of the building. As he approaches the bleachers, he hears grunts and moans from the darkness beneath – the sounds of a teenage make-out session.
He looks back. The waitress is stalking up and down the rows of cars in the lot. If he heads back that way, she’ll see him for sure. The only escape is past the bleachers.
Alex crawls on, as quietly as he can. The other two teens are too involved in their game of tonsil hockey to notice him.
But as Alex comes adjacent to the couple, he realizes he knows them – it’s Chase and Sierra.
Alex is flabbergasted. He disliked Chase from the start, but he can’t imagine how anyone could cheat on sweet, good-hearted Mackenzie. Alex cannot just ignore this horrible betrayal.
He is about to bust them when he spots Chase’s jacket on top of the bleachers, the corner of his portable phone protruding from a pocket. Maybe there’s a better way.
Alex gingerly slips the phone out.
Neither Chase nor Sierra even open their eyes.
Alex tiptoes away. When he’s safely past the bleachers, he squats behind a trash can and punches at the screen of Chase’s phone with his index finger. He finds the text app, just like his older self showed him. He begins poking out a message with his finger. It’s slow going. All those tedious hours of typing class are no help with the tiny keyboard.
* * *
8:02 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The MacDonald’s backyard.
Mackenzie steps into the yard, holding her old baton like a baseball bat. She can feel her hands growing slick with anxious sweat. Yaz is standing at the base of the tree, barking and growling. “Yaz, what is it?”
She follows the dog’s gaze to her old tree house. The windows are dark. She can’t see anything inside. Mackenzie creeps toward the tree, tightening her grip on the baton.
She gets closer...
BZZT – from her phone. It almost gives her a heart attack.
She fishes the phone from her pocket. Chase has sent her a text:
Sneak out. The dance is bitchin’. I miss you.
Mackenzie frowns. “Bitchin’?” And when did Chase start using punctuation in his texts? Maybe he’s drunk.
She debates. Why should she miss the dance? Homecoming is a defining high school experience. Her father was being totally unreasonable. So what if he caught her making out topless with Chase in her room? Does he not understand how hot Chase is?
She glances up at the tree house. It’s probably nothing. Yaz is always throwing fits for ridiculous reasons – just like her father.
“Yaz, leave those squirrels alone.” She heads back inside.
But she makes sure she locks the door behind her.
* * *
8:02 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The MacDonald’s front yard.
Roger straddles Alex, pinning his arms to the ground. They’re both grown men, almost fifty. Fighting on Alex’s front lawn is ridiculous. But this has also been a long time coming.
“This is all your fault,” Roger growls. “If you hadn’t hidden the time machine from me, I could have figured out how it worked.”
“That’s why I hid it,” Alex shoots back. “You would have used it to destroy Heidi.”
“She deserved it! She ruined my life! And then you ruined my life!’
“You need to stop blaming everyone else for your failures. Now get off me!”
Alex jerks suddenly, throwing Roger off balance – which gives Alex the opportunity to yank one arm free. As Roger steadies himself, Alex slugs him in the nose.
Roger falls back, stars bursting in his vision – lands on his shoulder in the wet grass.
He shakes his head and pushes himself up to his hands and knees. He regains his senses in time to see Alex run around the side of the house.
Roger staggers to his feet – is about to pursue—
Until he spots a key lying in the grass. He knows what that key is for. He remembers what it looks like, even after thirty years. It’s the key to the storage unit. It must have fallen out of the backpack that his younger self was wearing during the struggle earlier. Roger picks up the key.
Now he understands a few other events from his past as well. This is his opportunity. And he may just know enough to change things this time around.
He runs off down the street.
* * *
8:05 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. The MacDonald’s backyard.
Roger peeks through the tree house window as Mackenzie goes back inside. He breathes a sigh of relief – he thought he was busted for sure. Unfortunately, Yaz still stands rigid at the base of the tree house ladder.
Roger wonders what’s happening in front of the house. Has his older self beaten up Old Alex, or vice versa? He doesn’t know how much time he might have. He’s got to get out of here.
Another glance at Yaz’s bared teeth, dripping strands of drool, convinces Roger there is no escape that way. But a thick branch extends from near the tree house window toward the fence. Roger climbs out of the window, eliciting some more angry barks from Yaz.
Roger reaches his foot over to the branch and drops down until he’s straddling it. He lies down on his belly and inches along the branch, Yaz hopping below him, growling and drooling in anticipation.
Roger is not particularly coordinated – he nearly falls twice. But after several excruciating minutes, he makes it to the fence.
He hangs down – his feet resting on the top of the fence. He balances there as Yaz leaps and snarls below. Roger pushes off from the tree and drops into a bush in the neighbors yard.
The bush breaks his fall, but Roger bounces out of it and onto the grass with a painful thud.
He ascertains that he hasn’t broken any bones, then checks the backpack. Neither the MP3 player nor the bottle of scotch are broken either.
Excellent. Now he just has to meet up with Alex and get the MP3 player back to 1987.
But then he hears Old Alex’s voice from the MacDonald’s yard. “Where’d he go, Yaz?”
The dog barks, just on the other side of the fence from Roger. Crap. Roger runs for the front of the house—
As Old Alex clambers over the fence behind him. Fortunately, Alex was never coordinated either, and it doesn’t appear his athleticism has improved with age.
Roger jogs out from the neighbors’ yard, veers around the MacDonald’s garage, runs across the front yard.
Old Alex dashes out behind him, onto the driveway—
RUMBLE – the garage door begins to open.
Alex dives into the neighbors’ bushes. Roger crouches at the far corner of the MacDonald’s house.
Mackenzie slowly backs her car out of the garage.
Roger’s eyes meet Alex’s, glaring from the bush. Roger smiles and waves.
And takes off into the darkness, the “A-Team” backpack and its precious cargo bouncing on his shoulder.
Go to Chapter 16