Alex has convinced Jennifer to go to the Homecoming Dance with him! Meanwhile, Todd stole Roger’s backpack with the MP3 player in it. But middle-aged Roger (from the future) has teamed up with his teenage self and hatched a plan to retrieve the device.
7:28 p.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The Magnolia High Homecoming Dance.
Jennifer takes Alex’s arm as they enter the gym, her touch sending a shiver of joy through him. She looks totally bangin’ in a pink dress with matching lace gloves and a big bow in her giant mane of permed hair. The perfect corsage adorns her wrist. Alex is grateful that he didn’t have to pin the flowers on her dress, as he was so nervous he probably would have drawn blood. Alex is looking pretty boss himself in the off-white, unstructured blazer and skinny black leather tie that Jennifer picked out for him at the mall.
Inside the gym, pink and teal crepe streamers have been strung from the walls to a central point above a spinning mirror ball. Underneath, dozens of teens are kickin’ it to ABC’s “Look of Love.” Other kids gather in couples or small groups along the walls, sipping punch or chatting excitedly. It’s not a formal, but everyone’s dressed to impress.
Heidi is collecting tickets at a folding table just inside the entrance. She’s also dressed up for the dance in a frilly black skirt with lace leggings and a lime green sweater. She stares at Alex and Jennifer in slack-jawed shock. Alex slides his tickets across the table. “Good evening, Heidi. Here are the tickets for my date, Jennifer, and me. My date is Jennifer Adams.”
Heidi takes the tickets slowly and hands back two ballots. “Uh huh. These are your ballots for Homecoming king and queen. Drop them in the box by the DJ between eight and nine.”
Alex and Jennifer take their ballots and step into the dance. They are greeted by stares and whispers. Alex can’t stop grinning. It’s the best night of his whole life.
He turns to Jennifer. “Do you want to dance?”
“Later,” she replies. “We only have an hour and a half to convince people to vote for me. The real lobbying happens in the bathrooms. Go work the boys’ room, and I’ll meet you back here.” Jennifer sashays toward the girls’ room.
Work the boy’s room? He’s not sure what that means, but if that’s what Jennifer wants him to do, that’s what he’ll do.
When Alex enters the bathroom, he discovers there’s only one person inside: Kevin English, who’s relieving himself at a urinal. Alex almost turns around and walks out – that’s what he would do if he found himself alone in a bathroom with Kevin during school hours. But he has a mission. A mission for Jennifer.
Alex steps up to the urinal next to Kevin and unzips his fly. “So,” Alex says as casually as he can, “decided who you’re voting for for Homecoming Queen yet?”
Kevin fixes Alex with an icy glare. “Why are you talking to me? Are you a fag or something?”
How ironic. “Listen, Kevin, I know the real reason you lash out like that. Trust me, it gets better.”
“Trust me I’ll kick your ass if you keep talking to me while my dick’s out.”
Apparently the irony is lost on Kevin at this stage in his life. Assessing the look on Kevin’s face, Alex decides he doesn’t need to urinate after all. He zips up and bolts for the door, shouting back over his shoulder: “VoteJenniferforHomecomingQueen.”
* * *
As Alex moves back through the crowd, various boys give him a thumbs up or a pat on the back.
Paul Andrews high-fives him. “Jennifer Adams, nice! You guys should swing by my place later on. My parents are out of town, so I’m having a party.”
“Okay,” Alex says. He’s never been invited to one of Paul’s parties before.
“Choice date, man!” Tim Gelbach says, tossing his long, curly, rock star hair.
Even Ms. Pfeifer, keeping a wary eye on the dancers to ensure things stay PG, greets him. “Did I see you come in with Jennifer Adams, Alex?”
She gives him an impressed nod.
Alex is feeling pretty good about himself by the time he reaches the entrance. There’s no sign of Jennifer yet. She must still be working the girl’s room. Alex leans against the wall by the check-in table, taking in the scene.
Heidi looks up from the book she’s reading. “So, you and Jennifer Adams.”
Even Heidi is impressed with him. Poor girl, she has no idea how her future’s going to be changed tonight. “Yeah. Pretty awesome, huh?”
“Awesome, sure. I gotta say, I was surprised to see you with her.”
“Why? Didn’t think a guy like me could get a girl like her?”
“No. Well, yeah, but more because she’s into sports and parties and cheerleading, and you’re into D&D and comic books and cool clothes.”
“You think my clothes are cool?”
“Well, tonight’s ensemble is a little tame, but usually you look like you stepped right out of MTV.”
Alex is genuinely pleased by the compliment. “So, do you have to sit here all night, or do you get to dance?”
“I doubt I’ll have time for dancing. That’s the price of being Homecoming Committee Chair.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
“It’s not fair that M.I.T.’s student body is less than one third women. I have to make sacrifices if I’m going to do something that changes the world someday. Besides, who needs dancing? I have my book.” She holds up The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.
“I haven’t read that one.”
“It’s totally cool. It’s about this professor from today who goes through a time portal and gets trapped in 1810. He slowly realizes he’s becoming a famous poet who he studied in the future, so he knows what’s going to happen to himself.”
“Interesting. And does that mean he can change his future?”
“I haven’t finished it yet. But that’s the time travel question, right? If you change something in the past, what happens to the future? Like in The Terminator, if the Terminator did kill Sarah Conner, then John Conner would never be born, but if he was never born, the machines would never send the Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Conner. It’s a paradox.”
“Or like in Back to the Future where if Marty can’t get his parents back together, he won’t ever be born.”
“Right,” Heidi says, “but if he isn’t born, how can he go back in time to interfere? What’s interesting about that one is he fades away slowly. So it’s like the time line doesn’t change instantaneously.”
“As opposed to The Butterfly Effect where the time line changes instantly and only the main character can remember the old one.”
She cocks her head. “What’s The Butterfly Effect?”
Oh yeah, duh, she wouldn’t have seen that one. It won’t come out for years. Better change the subject. “Uh, it’s obscure. Did you see Somewhere in Time?”
“Yeah, in that one the time line seemed to be set. The character couldn’t change anything. Time travel is always complicated.”
Alex nods. She has no idea. “I had no idea you were into this stuff,” he says. “You’re a lot cooler than I thought.”
“That’s ‘cause Roger’s always telling you bad things about me. I don’t know why he hates me so much.”
“Well, you did sabotage his science fair project last year.”
“I didn’t sabotage his project. He miscalculated the amperage of the power supply. He never checks his math.”
“Really? Huh.” Now that Alex thinks about it, Roger is often making miscalculations. Like how he messed up the time the wormhole was going to collapse. Or that time they made a water balloon cannon and broke the library window and soaked Mr. Farrell. It is entirely possible that last year’s science project exploded without any help from Heidi.
Jennifer bounces up. “Good news! Everybody’s calling Bonnie a slut for stealing Todd from me. I’m raking in the sympathy votes.”
“Awesome,” Alex says.
“Let’s go dance now. I want people to see that she hasn’t beaten me.” Jennifer grabs his hand and pulls him toward the dance floor. Alex gives Heidi a little wave goodbye.
“Excuse us, Pratalie,” Jennifer says to Patrick and Natalie, who are pasted together so tightly it’s hard to tell which limbs belong to which person. Pratalie steps aside so Jennifer and Alex can move on the dance floor. “I think it would take a crowbar to split those two up,” Jennifer whispers.
Or maybe just a volleyball player named Sheila, based on what Alex heard in the future.
Alex and Jennifer find an open spot just as the DJ puts on Spandau Ballet’s “True.” Their first dance, and it’s a slow song! Jennifer links her hands behind Alex’s neck. He puts his hands politely on her hips. The scent of her Love’s Baby Soft is intoxicating.
“Thanks for bringing me tonight,” she says, as they sway to the music.
“It was my pleasure.”
“I would have been majorly bummed if I missed my homecoming dance. Like you said, we only get one chance at high school. I’ve worked so hard to make mine perfect.”
“Mine became perfect the moment you agreed to be my date tonight.”
“Aw, how sweet. Ok, you can go ahead and put your hands on my butt.”
Alex is startled, but Jennifer presses her body against his. He gingerly slides his hands down from her waste. A big grin spreads across his face. He’s in heaven.
Until the next song comes on: Young MC’s “Bust a Move.”
Alex is disappointed when Jennifer pulls away from him. But he loves the song, and it’s an opportunity to show off some of the new moves he learned in the future. He launches into the Whip and Nae Nae…
That gets the attention of the kids around them. Alex gives them a little Lean and Dab…
Some of the kids have stopped dancing to watch. Alex shows off his Hit Dem Folks...
Jennifer is staring at him wide-eyed, so impressed that her mouth is hanging open. Time to bring out the topper. Alex turns around and starts bouncing his rear up and down the way Sierra did. He backs up toward Jennifer, but before he can make contact, she steps out of the way.
She grabs his hand and pulls him toward the edge of the dance floor. “Look at the time. We should go out to the graveyard.”
Alex is disappointed. He was really starting to get into the groove. “The graveyard? Why do you want to go there?”
“It’s where everybody goes to drink and make out during the dance.”
Alex’s heart does a triple back flip at the words “make out.” Apparently the twerking worked. He’s about to have his first kiss with Jennifer Adams, a kiss he’s fantasized about for years.
“And there will be a ton of people,” Jennifer adds. “I can drum up more votes for Homecoming Queen.” She leads him toward the exit.
Jennifer pauses at the door to schmooze a group of newly arrived teens. Alex, giddy, leans into Heidi. “Jennifer and I are going to the graveyard.”
Heidi doesn’t look up from her book. “Use protection.”
Alex feels his stomach knot. He hasn’t thought beyond kissing. He’s not sure he’s prepared for anything else.
Just then, Roger enters. He hasn’t dressed up for the occasion at all, wearing only jeans, an OP T-shirt, and denim jacket.
“Roger,” Alex says. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for Ms. Pfeifer. Have you seen her?”
“Yeah, she’s inside.”
“Thanks.” Roger bolts into the gym.
“Hey!” Heidi shouts, “Where’s your ticket?”
“I’m not here to dance,” Roger calls back.
“You still need a ticket!” Heidi drops her book and chases after him.
Jennifer rejoins Alex. “Roger is such a spaz. You ready?”
Alex is no longer sure, but he nods and says, “Uh huh.”
She takes his hand and leads him out into the night.
Go to Chapter 20