Jennifer has convinced Alex to take a break from the Homecoming Dance and go over to the graveyard, where the cool kids are drinking and making out. Meanwhile, teenage Roger is scheming with his middle-aged self to retrieve the backpack – and the MP3 player inside – that Todd stole.
7:42 p.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The graveyard.
Jennifer leads Alex across the street. About a dozen teens are already in the graveyard, clustered in a loose group near the oak tree, making out or drinking. Paul Andrews gestures to a case of Rainier sitting by a tombstone. “Hey guys, want a beer?”
“I guess I can have one,” Jennifer says, taking a can. “I want to get back to the dance in time to vote for Homecoming King and Queen. Deadline is 9 p.m.!”
“I’m voting for you!” Gabby Edwards says. She’s sitting on Brian Peterson’s lap, who in turn is perched on a squat tombstone.
“Aw, thanks!” Jennifer replies.
“I’ll vote for you, too, if you toss me one of those.” Brian says.
“Promise?” Jennifer hands him a beer. Brian gives her a thumbs-up as he pops the top and takes a good chug.
“Give me a sip,” Gabby says.
“Get your own can,” Brian replies.
“I don’t want a whole can, I want a sip.”
“Well, I don’t want your backwash.”
“You don’t have any problem putting your tongue in your mouth, but you won’t give me a sip of your beer?”
Brian shoves the beer into her hand. “Fine. Keep it.”
“Hey Brian,” Alex says, “I hear they’re working on an antibacterial gel that you can carry around with you wherever you go to sterilize your hands and stuff.”
The other kids all laugh, and Brian flushes. “Bite me, MacDonald.”
“I wasn’t kidding,” Alex replies.
“Antibacterial gel,” Paul chuckles. “Mental.”
Alex feels Jennifer stiffen beside him. He follows her gaze, and sees Todd, Bonnie, Kevin, and Wendy strolling up. Todd looks at Alex and laughs. “Is this dweeb the best you could get to replace me? Pretty sad, Jen.”
“From what I could tell during the slow dance, Alex is a lot more man than you are,” Jennifer shoots back.
The other kids laugh – and Todd seems to shrink. He slumps down onto a wide tombstone. “Give me some of that whiskey,” he says to Kevin.
Kevin removes a backpack from his shoulder and hands it to Todd. The backpack is decorated with a picture of the A-Team.
“Is that Roger’s backpack?” Alex asks.
Todd pulls a bottle of scotch from the backpack. “So it is. Maybe you want to take it back to him? Then you and your nerd buddies can play D&D all night.”
The group laughs. Alex feels his face warm. “I just didn’t know you were such a big A-Team fan. But whatevs.”
“Big talk from the guy taking my sloppy seconds.”
“Why you passed up the chance to go to homecoming with the most beautiful girl in the school is your business. I suppose she was too much for you to handle, so you found someone more basic.
Brian chortles, “Ooh, face!” The other kids laugh.
Todd seethes, his grip tightening on the scotch.
Jennifer grabs Alex’s hand. “Let’s go sit over there.” As she leads him to the tree, she whispers, “Thank you.”
* * *
7:57 p.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The Homecoming Dance.
Heidi bobs and weaves through the crowd of students. She can make out Roger ahead of her. She shouts his name, but her voice is lost in the rhythm of Adam Ant’s “Desperate But Not Serious.”
Heidi muscles past some drunk metal heads just as Roger reaches Ms. Pfeifer. Good – when Heidi tells Ms. Pfeifer that Roger crashed the dance, she’ll kick him out.
As Heidi steps up behind Roger, she hears him say, “Ms. Pfeifer! What time is it?”
“Almost eight,” Ms. Pfeifer replies.
“Perfect. I saw some kids drinking in the graveyard.”
Heidi snaps her mouth shut. Alex is in the graveyard. Heidi doesn’t care about the other delinquents, the ones who are getting wasted when they could be going to a perfectly good dance that she spent all day setting up, but Alex isn’t like that. He doesn’t deserve to get busted.
Heidi quickly scrambles back toward the entrance.
* * *
8:02 p.m. The graveyard.
The cool kids talk and drink and make out and rib each other with an easy camaraderie. Alex holds hands with Jennifer at the outer edge of the group, just happy to be there. This is the kind of high school experience he’s always longed for.
Jennifer leans against him. “You know, Alex, out here under the stars is a pretty good setting for our first kiss.”
A shiver of excitement runs through him. “Really? Okay. You mean, now?”
“Uh-huh. Open up.” She holds up a spray tube of Binaca. Alex opens his mouth and she gives him a couple spritzes. The mint burns, clearing his sinuses, but the sensation is oddly pleasant. He licks his lips to moisten them. He wants his first kiss with Jennifer to be perfect. He’s imagined it a million times. Jennifer will look into his eyes and be inexorably drawn to him. He’ll take her in his arms. Without a word, they’ll kiss, and electricity will pass between them, joining their souls forev—
“Do you remember what I told you?” Jennifer asks.
“I think so.” Eyes and mouth closed, she said. Don’t make it too long or too short. Just linger.
Alex closes his eyes. Leans in tentatively. His nose bumps Jennifer’s.
“Tilt your head more,” she whispers.
Their noses bump again.
“The other way,” Jennifer says with just a hint of annoyance.
Alex tilts his head the opposite direction.
This time their lips meet. Alex holds it for a count of two Mississippis. Her lips are soft and taste of cherry and a hint of Rainier beer. It’s pleasant… but the electricity he imagined isn’t there.
Alex opens his eyes. Jennifer is smiling at him. “Wasn’t that nice?”
“Yeah...” Alex says. “Nice.” Why was it just nice? Maybe he put too much pressure on the first kiss. There was a lot to think about with the head tilting and lingering. Maybe the lack of electricity and soul-joining is nothing to worry—
“Psst. Alex!” The voice comes from the shadows behind him. He squints, and sees Heidi motioning from behind another tree a short ways away from the group.
But Todd has spotted her as well. “Hey, look who it is!” Todd shouts. “Homely Heidi!”
Jennifer scowls at Todd. “Todd! Don’t be a jerk.”
“I’m not your boyfriend anymore,” Todd snarls. “I don’t have to do what you say.”
“Alex,” Heidi hisses. “I need to talk to you.”
Alex can feel the other kids staring at him. He gestures for Heidi to leave. “I’m busy. Go away.”
“It’s urgent,” she says.
“Ooh,” Kevin says. “I smell a love triangle! Is Jennifer getting thrown over for Homely Heidi?”
Jennifer gives Alex a strained smile. “Alex, what’s going on?”
“I’ll take care of it.” He scrambles over to Heidi, pulling her deeper into the shadows before she can disrupt his romantic night any further.
“What are you doing here?” He demands. “You’re ruining everything.”
“But I wanted to warn you. Ms. Pfeifer—”
“I’m one of the cool kids now, Heidi. I can’t be seen with you.”
It’s clear by the way she steps back that his statement stung her. Alex immediately feels bad. Heidi purses her lips. “Fine. Don’t blame me for what happens next.”
She turns and stomps off.
Jennifer comes over. “What’s going on? What did Heidi want?”
“Something about...” But before Alex can finish the thought, he spots Ms. Pfeifer striding into the graveyard. “Ms. Pfeifer!”
He pulls Jennifer down behind a tombstone. Other kids have spotted Ms. Pfeifer now too – they start to scatter—
But Ms. Pfeifer flicks on a high-powered flashlight, pinning Todd, Bonnie, Kevin, and Wendy in its beam. “Todd! Bonnie! Kevin! Wendy!” she barks. “I know who you are, so it won’t do any good to run.”
“You can’t bust us, Ms. P,” Todd says. “We’re not on school property.”
“Is that so?” Ms. Pfeifer replies. “Well, I’ll give you a choice, Todd. You can come with me now or I can call the police. Would you prefer detention or jail?”
The four teens’ faces fall.
“I thought so,” Ms. Pfeifer says. “Come with me.
Alex and Jennifer watch from behind the tombstone as Ms. Pfeifer directs the busted kids back toward the school.
“That was close,” Jennifer says when the coast is clear. “We better get back to the dance. The voting for king and queen has started.”
“What about your friends?”
Jennifer shrugs. “They’re busted. If they haven’t voted by now, it’s too late.”
* * *
8:15 p.m. Magnolia High School administrative suite.
Roger looks around the lobby of the old administrative offices. He hasn’t been here for thirty years. It looks just like he remembers it – the reception counter, padded chairs with graffiti scratched in the wooden arms, big fake plants. Of course it looks the same, he realizes. He’s thirty years in the past. It is the same.
Ms. Pfeifer enters with Todd, Kevin, Bonnie and Wendy in tow. Ms. Pfeifer is not as tall as Roger remembers, but she’s just as hot. Her blue eye shadow and the big shoulder pads of her jacket look odd by his 2017 sensibilities, but her toned body and lush lips are as sexy as ever.
She pulls up short, startled to see a strange man in the offices. “Hello. May I help you?”
“I believe you can, Ms. Pfeifer,” he replies.
“Have we met?”
“A long time ago. These teenagers stole my backpack earlier tonight and I’d like it back.”
Ms. Pfeifer eyes the A-Team backpack slung over Todd’s shoulder. “Is this true, Todd?”
“No, Ms. Pfeifer.”
“So that’s your backpack.”
“Well, no. It belongs to Roger Kruger. He let me... borrow it.”
She looks at him skeptically. “Was that just before he told me you were drinking in the graveyard?”
“He – that narc!”
Roger cringes. He’s going to get his teenage self beat up if he’s not careful. “I’m Roger... Roger’s uncle. Gerry. Roger borrowed my backpack and told me these boys stole it.”
Ms. Pfeifer holds out her hand. “Give me the backpack, Todd.”
Todd hands it over.
“Let’s see what’s in here.” Ms. Pfeifer starts to unzip the backpack—
“Wait!” Roger springs forward, grabs the top of the backpack before she can open it. It would be hard to explain the futuristic MP3 player if she saw it.
Ms. Pfeifer fixes him with a cold stare. “Excuse me, sir. Please take your hand off the backpack.”
This is not going as he planned. Roger gives Ms. Pfeifer a friendly smile. “Can I speak to you in private, Ms. Pfeifer?”
After ordering the teenagers to wait in the lobby, Ms. Pfeifer leads Roger into her office. She places the backpack on her desk and turns toward him, arms folded expectantly.
“Let me explain,” he says, “I work for the IBM computer company. That backpack contains a top-secret, proprietary prototype for a product we’re developing. I could get into big trouble if anybody finds out I let it out of my sight.”
“So why did Roger have it?”
“Well, you know how much he likes science. I wanted to help the kid out, show him what we were doing. Prepare him for the future.” She has no idea how true that statement is.
Ms. Pfeifer nods. “That is a logical explanation.”
“Great. So if I could just...” Roger reaches for the backpack. But Ms. Pfeifer grabs his arm. Her grip is like a vice. She really was strong.
“Before I give you the backpack, Gerry, do you have any I.D.?”
Crap. His driver’s license says his name is Roger Kruger. Not to mention it doesn’t look like the eighties licenses. How would he explain that? “Uh... well, the thing is, Ms. Pfeifer, I lost my wallet.”
“I see. Well, the thing is, Gerry, I’m looking at a strange man without I.D. who has come onto school property on a Saturday night and doesn’t want me to look in a backpack. You know what would be another logical explanation for that? You’re a drug dealer.”
“What? No, I swear. Look, I can prove I’m Roger’s uncle. He told me he offered to let you spank him yesterday and you refused. How else would I know that if he didn’t tell me?”
“I’m wondering why he would tell anyone something like that.”
Roger takes a deep breath. He’s going to have to try a different tack here. “Listen, Ms. Pfeifer, I know your job is very difficult. These kids lie to you all the time. They don’t treat you with the respect an intelligent, successful woman like yourself deserves.”
Her expression softens. “Frankly, they’re little hooligans.”
“Yet you take care of them. You watch out for them. But who takes care of Ms. Pfeifer? Who watches out for her?”
Ms. Pfeifer smiles. “Call me Susan.”
Go to Chapter 21
Today's chapter is in memory of Stacie Varner, my high school classmate and a sweet, wonderful woman.