After teenage Alex saw Mackenzie’s boyfriend, Chase, making out with Sierra under the bleachers, Alex stole Chase’s phone and sent Mackenzie a fake text. Pretending to be Chase, he asked her to sneak out and come to the dance. Meanwhile, teenage Roger has escaped adult Alex, while adult Roger has found the key to the storage unit where the time portal is stored.
8:27 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Outside Magnolia High School.
Alex lounges near the entrance to the gym where the homecoming dance is being held, trying to look nonchalant. He’s no longer in disguise. After the waitress gave up searching for him and returned to the kitchen, Alex stashed the jacket he stole from her behind some bushes. The fake mustache is tucked in his pocket.
He spots Mackenzie running from the parking lot. She’s changed into a flouncy teal dress with a beaded top. She looks lovely. Alex almost regrets what’s about to happen. “Yo, Mackenzie.”
She skids to a stop. “Alex? What are you doing here?”
“I had a date to the dance, but apparently I’m a catfish.”
She looks as confused by the catfish description as he was. “Never mind. Chase is waiting for you out back under the bleachers.”
“Under the bleachers?”
“You know Chase.” Or at least she will soon.
“Yeah. Right. Thanks.” Mackenzie heads around the gym to the sports field.
As soon as she rounds the corner, Alex scrambles after her. He sidles up to the edge of the building and peeks around to watch his plan unfold.
Mackenzie heads for the bleachers, but pauses when she hears the moans and giggles coming from underneath. Alex crouches down to where he can see the writhing forms of the two horny teenagers making out in the shadows.
Mackenzie seems uncertain as to whether she should proceed. “Come on, don't stop now,” Alex mutters to himself.
Mackenzie finally edges forward. Kneels down. And then falls back in shock. “Chase? Sierra!”
Chase leaps up, banging his head on the bottom of the metal bleachers. “Mac?”
Mackenzie scrambles to her feet. “What the hell?”
Chase emerges from the shadows. “Chill, bae. It’s not what it looks like.”
Sierra comes out behind him, adjusting her dress. “Yeah, it kinda is. Sorry Mackenzie.”
Mackenzie balls her fists, seething with fury. “Both of you suck ass. I can’t believe I was gonna sleep with you, Chase. I was even gonna quit the play for you! Wow. Now that I say it out loud, I guess I should have expected this. You were an awful boyfriend. We’re done.”
Alex smiles. That’s my girl.
Mackenzie turns and stalks back toward the front of the gym, and Alex scrambles away so she won’t catch him spying. This time he remembers to dodge the security pillars – but he trips on a sprinkler head and face plants in the grass.
* * *
8:55 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Josie’s Self-Storage.
Roger unlocks the door to the storage unit and slides it up. The science project he created thirty years before – with no help from that slacker, Alex – sits in the middle of the empty room. The energy field hums between the two posts, only about three feet across, creating a smell like impending rain. Through the portal, Roger can see the ping-pong table with Alex’s Apple IIe, and beyond that the couch where the boys spent countless hours playing Atari and watching MTV and sci-fi movies when they were teenagers.
It’s unfair that Alex hid Roger’s science project from him all these years. If Roger had had access to it, he’s sure he could have figured out the rogue computer code that ripped the hole through space-time. And it’s doubly unfair that Alex’s life has gone so well while Roger has endured so much. If Roger had mastered time travel, he could have gone back and fixed everything that went wrong in his life.
But he’s finally got another chance, and this time he’s going to get his due. This time, he’ll make sure his future is spectacular. He’s not sure what will happen when he changes the time line – will he simply pop out of existence? That’s disconcerting, but presumably it means another version of himself will materialize back here in 2017, one that’s wealthy and successful. Whatever the metaphysics, at this point he really has nothing to lose.
He climbs through the portal.
* * *
4:20 a.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The MacDonald’s basement rec room.
Roger slithers out of the time portal and into the past. His chest tightens with a wave of nostalgia as he looks around the MacDonald’s rec room, his second home as a teenager.
But now is not the time for nostalgia. He darts upstairs.
Unfortunately, Bananarama is sleeping in the laundry room just off the kitchen and wakes up when Roger emerges from the basement stairs. The yellow Lab barks furiously when he sees the stranger. Stupid Alex and his stupid dogs!
“Shh, Bannana, it’s me, Roger. You’re old friend… remember?”
Bananarama creeps over and sniffs him, still suspicious. But Banana was always a friendly dog. He lets Roger scratch behind his ears, while keeping a wary eye on him. Roger hasn’t exactly won the dog over, but he’s achieved some kind of détente. Roger begins edging slowly toward the door to the backyard.
He’s halfway across the linoleum when a voice says, “Alex, is that you?”
Roger bolts for the door – but he’s too slow. Bud shuffles into the kitchen in an old robe, eyes bleary. But when he spots Roger, he goes instantly alert. “Hey! Who are you? What are you doing in here?”
Roger lunges through the door, into the morning chill and darkness. He dashes across the yard, vaulting over the rear gate.
Bud bursts out of the kitchen door behind him – a baseball bat clutched in his right hand.
Roger picks up his pace.
* * *
8:45 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Magnolia High cafeteria.
Nobody’s manning the check-in table anymore, so Alex is able to walk back into the cafeteria without anyone asking what business a teenager has at a thirty-year class reunion. He’s donned the fake mustache again so his former classmates don’t recognize him. The spirit gum has retained some of it stickiness, but the attachment is tenuous.
Men Without Hat’s “Safety Dance” has the dance floor hopping, though from the looks of some of the dancers, the open bar also had something to do with that. The revelers throw their arms into S shapes with glee.
Speaking of the bar, that’s where Todd said he’d seen Jennifer, so Alex heads there. Sure enough, a blonde in a tight, shimmery cocktail dress is nursing a drink. “Jennifer Adams?”
The woman turns – and Alex’s heart does a little back flip. It is indeed Jennifer. Her blue eyes and the scattering of freckles across her nose are unmistakable. She’s older, of course, but she’s aged incredibly well – svelte, toned, her face smooth, her hair perfect.
She gives him that same smile that’s always melted his heart. “Hello there, handsome. Have we met?”
“Uh, no.” Alex launches into the cover story that he came up with earlier: “I was hired to make a souvenir book of the reunion. You know, what everyone’s up to, favorite high-school memories, that kind of thing.”
Jennifer pats the chair next to her. “Well sit down and have a drink with me. I’m tired of talking to these boring old fogies anyway.”
“Rad.” He pulls out a notepad and pencil. He begins with some basic questions – he wants to get her talking before he goes after the information he really wants to know. “So, are you married? Kids?”
“Nope. Still a swinging single.”
Alex is shocked. “How is that possible?”
Jennifer laughs. “Aren’t you sweet. I guess I never found a guy who could keep up with me.”
Alex nods. That makes sense. “And what do you do for work now?”
“I’m CEO of Adams Global Events.”
“Ooh, that sounds glamorous. What is it?”
“I organize galas, fund-raisers, that sort of thing.”
“So your job is traveling around the world throwing awesome parties for the rich and famous?” Jennifer is living the kind of life Alex has always dreamed of!
“I like to think of it as I create perfect experiences.”
Alex sighs, more certain than ever that Jennifer is his destiny.
* * *
8:58 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Magnlolia High School.
Alex jogs toward the front entrance of the school, ignoring his aching knees. He’s been gone way too long; his wife will be wondering what’s happened to him. Roger is what’s happened, not that he can tell Heidi that. Three decades and the guy still can’t see the mistake he made.
By now, his teenage self has probably found Jennifer. Alex does not want to interfere with that conversation in any way. But teenage Roger will be arriving at the school soon, and Alex would love to interfere with his plans.
Alex skids to a stop. His daughter is sitting on the curb crying. “Mackenzie? Are you okay?”
“Chase and I broke up.”
Of course they did. He was there… though for him it was thirty years ago. He sits down next to her. “I’m sorry, sweetie. What happened?”
“It turns out he was a giant, selfish dick.”
Alex suppresses the urge to laugh. “That’s too bad. But you’ll find someone else. Someone who accepts you for who you really are.”
“How do you know?” Mackenzie sniffles. “Maybe I’m destined to end up as a crazy cat lady.”
“I am absolutely certain that will never happen to you.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because you’re allergic to cats.”
Mackenzie lets out an exaggerated sigh. “Not really my point, Dad. I have no friends. Now that Chase and I broke up, I’m sure Jasmine and Noah won’t talk to me anymore.”
He puts his arm around her. “Then they weren’t really your friends. You don’t need a lot of friends, you need the right friends.”
“But I liked being popular.”
“Sweetie, you’re going to find out the things you think you want as a teenager aren’t always the things that really make you happy. You are smart and talented and kind. The right people will see that.”
He gives her a squeeze. She leans against him. “Thanks, Dad.”
There’s a long pause… and then she asks, “Are you going to punish me for sneaking out while I was grounded?”
Alex smiles. “I’ll let it go this time.”
And then he spots Roger – the teenage Roger – walking toward the school.
* * *
Roger’s ripped from his dreams of wealth and power by the sight of 2017 Alex sitting with Mackenzie on the curb in front of the school. Roger thought he’d lost that guy back at the MacDonald house. Alex says something to Mackenzie and then lunges to his feet, charging toward Roger. Roger doesn’t have time for this – he has to find young Alex, get back to the storage unit, and get to 1987 before the time portal closes and strands him in the future forever.
Roger bolts around the far side of the gym and into the parking lot. He crouches down between two cars, peering underneath one. He spots Alex’s feet enter the lot.
And then Alex bends down and makes eye contact with Roger. Crap.
Roger bolts away, weaving between the cars. Another quick peek shows Alex tracking alongside him one aisle over.
Roger hops up on the back bumper of a monstrous truck. The logo indicates it’s a Toyota Sequoia. It doesn’t look anything like the tiny, gas-saving Toyotas that Roger’s familiar with from the eighties. This one looks more like a tank.
Roger perches on the bumper, fingers clinging to a small ridge at the base of the tinted window. He can hear Alex huffing and puffing in the next aisle. The guy is certainly not stealthy. Roger hears Alex pass the front of the Toyota and continue on. Roger holds his position for a few more seconds, and then steps gently down and tiptoes back the way he came.
When he reaches the sidewalk, he sprints for the darkness at the back of the school.
He pulls up when he realizes someone’s standing next to the bleachers. It’s Sierra. She’s applying lipstick, using the camera on her phone as a kind of mirror.
“Well, look who it is,” she says. “Maybe the third boy’s the charm.” Sierra grabs Roger and pulls him down under the bleachers.
Go to Chapter 17