Alex and Roger returned to the storage unit to find someone has used the time portal before them. Not only that, Roger miscalculated the time so the portal is smaller than expected.
4:57 a.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The MacDonald’s basement rec room.
Alex has to raise his arms above his head in a diving position and exhale all his breath in order to wriggle into the time portal. The edges of the portal feel tingly – soft but also unyielding, like carpeted concrete. Roger grabs Alex’s hands and pulls him until he tumbles out onto the floor.
“The backpack!” Roger shouts. It’s still sitting on the floor of the storage room on the other side of the portal. Roger reaches through, grabs it, yanks it back—
Just as the portal snaps shut with an electric POP. A smell like burnt toast permeates the room.
Roger holds up his arm – there is no hand at the end of his sleeve!
Alex feels his blood go cold.
And then Roger slides his hand out of the sleeve, middle finger raised to Alex. “That’s not funny!” Alex gasps when he finally quits laughing.
Alex resets his Swatch to the current time. “Five a.m. In six hours, Jennifer will be at the Homecoming parade.”
* * *
When Alex and Roger come up to the kitchen, Alex’s father is entering through the back door, using the sleeve of his robe to wipe grime from his baseball bat.
“Dad?” Alex asks, “What were you doing outside?”
“A strange man was in the house. Did you see him?”
Alex and Roger share a look. It must have been the person who came through the time portal ahead of them. But who was it? “No,” Alex says, “We haven’t seen anybody. What did he look like?”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think he’ll come back.” Alex’s dad leans the bat by the door. “It’s a little early for you boys to be up on a Saturday, isn’t it?”
“We haven’t gone to bed yet,” Alex replies. “We were working on our science project.”
“Were you? Or were you playing Atari?”
“No, really, I wanted to get the science project done so I’m free to go to the dance.”
“Really? You’re going to the dance?”
“Yeah. I’m going to ask Jennifer.”
A big grin spreads across his dad’s face. “Good for you, Alex.”
“But first… I need a nap.”
“I think I’m going to go on home,” Roger says. “Sleep in my own bed.” He slings the A-Team backpack and its precious cargo over one shoulder, gives Alex a wink, and heads for the front door.
Alex starts upstairs to his room – but pauses on the third step. His dad is pouring water into the coffee maker. It’s something he does every morning – a part of Alex’s life that’s so familiar he never thinks about it. But one day he’ll never see his father make coffee again. “Dad... I just wanted to say... I love you.”
His dad looks up at him, startled. “I love you too, Alex.”
“And maybe next weekend we can go to the batting cages?”
“Alex, you don’t have to...”
“No, I want to. Really.”
His dad smiles. “Okay then.”
“But right now I need sleep!”
Alex trudges upstairs.
* * *
Roger can’t help grinning as he strides through the cool early morning air. He time travelled and lived! And more important, he’s brought back the key to his future. Once he figures out how the MP3 player works, he’ll become the greatest inventor of his generation.
Roger’s only two blocks from his house when Todd and Kevin, dressed in sweats, jog around the corner ahead of him.
Roger doesn’t want trouble. He crosses the street, trying to walk casual. But Todd and Kevin veer to intercept him. They bracket him, one on each side, just as he reaches the far sidewalk.
“Uh oh,” Kevin says, “I didn’t realize this was a nerd crossing.”
Roger’s tired of these two losers pushing him around. It’s humiliating for someone who’s going to be as rich and successful as he is to have to endure this. “Enjoy it while you can, Todd,” Roger mutters. “These are the best years of your life – believe me.”
Todd laughs. “Look who suddenly thinks he’s tough. You got steroids in your backpack or something?”
Todd’s hand shoots out, and Roger flinches – but Todd wasn’t punching him, he was grabbing for the backpack. Before Roger can resist, Todd has ripped the backpack off his shoulder.
“Hey, give that back!” Roger lunges for Todd – but Kevin seizes Roger from behind – loops his arms under Roger’s armpits, putting Roger in a headlock.
Todd unzips the backpack. “Your buddy ruined my jacket. I think T-Man deserves some compensation.” Roger struggles helplessly in Kevin’s grip as Todd pulls the bottle of scotch from the backpack. Todd’s eyebrows go up. “Booze, nice! Didn’t know you had it in you, dork.”
If Todd digs any deeper he’ll find the MP3 player. Roger desperately kicks back as hard as he can. His heel connects with Kevin’s shin.
“Ow!” Kevin is caught off guard – his grip loosens, and Roger wriggles free. Kevin clutches at his wounded shin. “You’re so dead.”
But Roger is focused on the backpack. He dives toward Todd—
And Todd PUNCHES Roger in the face—
The world goes dark.
And then Roger hits the sidewalk, the cement scraping his palms. His head spins. He can taste blood, dribbling into this mouth from his nose.
“Get off of him!” The shout comes from up the block. Roger twists around to see who is rescuer is – but his vision doubles. He can make out a figure charging up the street, limping badly.
“Who’s that?” Kevin asks.
“I dunno,” Todd grunts. “Let’s get out of here.”
Kevin and Todd take off – with the backpack. Roger reaches out weakly after them.
The newcomer limps up to Roger, whose vision finally comes into focus. And he’s stunned by who he sees. “You’re me... from the future.”
Middle-aged Roger helps teenage Roger sit up. “Yeah. I came back because I remembered Todd and Kevin stole the backpack from me. Or rather you. I was trying to stop it... but thanks to Alex’s brute of a dad, I was too late. Again.”
“But the wormhole’s closed. You’re trapped here.”
“It won’t matter if we change our future. If you build that MP3 player, I’ll be rich and successful in the future and I won’t have to come back in the first place.”
“Except I just lost the MP3 player. My plan failed, just like Alex said it would. You’re stranded and I’m doomed to a life as a loser.”
“Not yet. I happen to know that the MP3 player’s going to be in Ms. Pfeifer’s office tonight.”
Teenage Roger brightens. “So I could break in and steal it back!”
“Yes, you can... with my help. And we’re going to do it right this time. Here’s the plan: At 8 pm, you tell Ms. Pfeifer that you saw some kids drinking in the graveyard. Then come to the office at nine. I’ll be distracting Ms. Pfeifer and you can get the backpack. And this time, I won’t let her distract me.”
* * *
11:30 a.m. on October 3rd, 1987. Magnolia High School’s athletic field.
The Homecoming Parade is in full swing as Alex enters Magnolia High’s parking lot. He’s refreshed from his nap, and looking sharp in his maroon mod shirt and Cavaricci pants like the guys from Flock of Seagulls wear.
The bleachers are filled with students, parents, alumni, and local fans as the student-made floats promenade across the field.
Alex spots the cheerleader float. Jennifer and the other cheerleaders wave from the back of the flatbed, gathered around the finished papier-mâché model: a mosquito stinging a Spartan (the mascot for the rival school in today’s game) in the butt.
The cheerleaders launch into a coordinated cheer:
“Mosquitoes fly, mosquitoes bite,
And our mosquitoes have an appetite.
We’ll sting you – bzz, bzz, we’ll sting you.
We’ll suck your blood and make you itch
Cuz you’re a giant – unh.
You’re a giant – unh.
As the cheerleader float pulls into the parking lot, Alex starts towards it. But before he can get there, Todd jogs past, wearing his football gear. Todd brushes by Jennifer and goes to Bonnie. Bonnie throws her arms around him and gives him a big kiss with lots of tongue.
Jennifer’s face goes crimson, and she scurries off toward the school.
Alex runs to intercept her. “Jennifer!”
“Not a good time, Alex.”
“But I need to talk to you.”
She stops, shoulders sagging. She turns toward him, holding back tears. “What?”
And suddenly, now that they’re face-to-face, all his confidence leaves him. “I wanted to ask you... I mean, do you want to... I’m... uh...” He sighs. He can’t do it after all. “Do you want to study tomorrow?”
“Sure, why not.” She turns away, leaving Alex dejected.
Then he spots Heidi checking the tire pressure on the debate club float. (The float features giant index cards that read “point” and “counterpoint.”) If he doesn’t act, he is going to end up with her. He cannot let that happen. He pulls out his notepad, flips to the notes he made at the reunion. Jennifer said he won her over with a big romantic speech. She said she wanted her high school days to be perfect.
He runs after Jennifer, darts in front of her, startling her. “Jennifer Adams, I’ve had a crush on you for two years. I know you’re beautiful and popular, and I’m not a jock or popular or anything, but if you give me the chance, I will do whatever it takes to make you happy. We only get one chance at high school, and we should make the most of it. You deserve to go to the Homecoming Dance. I would be honored if you would let me take you.”
Jennifer stares at him in shock. She doesn’t answer for several excruciating moments. “Wow. Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me before.”
“Great... so is that a yes?”
She gives him a sad look. “No.”
A heavy wave of numbness sweeps over him. “Oh. Are you sure?” He made the speech. This isn’t what was supposed to happen.
“Alex, you’re sweet... and handsome in an awkward, Jon-Cryer-in-Pretty-in-Pink way. But I had the perfect Homecoming night all planned out. Todd would take me to the dance, we would be elected King and Queen, and then afterward... well, never mind that. But now that Todd’s dumped me, it’s all ruined. It would just be too humiliating to go to the dance and lose Homecoming Queen to someone like Bonnie.”
“I bet you could still win even without Todd.”
“I spent weeks convincing people we were the perfect couple. I don’t know if they’ll vote for me without him.”
“Jennifer, you are the most glamorous, fun, exciting girl at our school. You can win this. I believe in you. You just have to go to the dance.”
She ponders this.
Then bursts into a big smile. “All right.”
Alex grins like an idiot, but he doesn’t care. Jennifer said yes! His dreams have come true!
“But,” Jennifer adds, “if we’re going to do this, we have to make it totally awesome. Pick me up at 7:15. We should arrive after most of the other kids so we can make an entrance, but I also need time to campaign before the Homecoming Queen vote. I can’t leave that up to chance.”
“7:15, got it.”
“Don’t put your hands on my butt until our third slow dance. I don’t want people to think I’m a slut. And when we have our first kiss, keep your eyes and mouth closed. Don’t make it a peck, but don’t make it too long. Just... linger.”
“Maybe I should take notes...” Alex pulls out his notepad.
“Good idea. I’ll wear a pink dress, so get me a corsage with pink and white flowers. A wrist corsage. I don’t want pinholes in my dress. What are you wearing?”
“Well, I have this long purple coat like Prince wore in Purple Rain, and a shirt with a puffy front...”
“No. Let’s go to the mall.”
Go to Chapter 19