Despite Alex insulting her and telling her to go away, Heidi successfully warned Alex and Jennifer in time to avoid getting busted by Ms. Pfeiffer in the graveyard. Todd and his buddies were not so lucky. But when Ms. Pfeiffer brought them to her office, she found middle-aged Roger waiting. He is trying, unsuccessfully so far, to get her to give him the backpack with the stolen MP3 player in it.
8:20 p.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The Magnolia High gym.
Alex and Jennifer slink back in to the gym. Heidi is sitting at the ticket table with her book. When she sees them, she quickly sweeps a crumpled tissue off the table. “I see you escaped Ms. P,” she says.
“Yeah,” Alex says. “Thanks for the warning. I’m sorry about—”
She cuts him off. “Save it. If liking science and inventing stuff means I can’t hang out with you and your ‘cool’ friends, I think I’ll survive.”
Alex feels like a total dick. “I didn’t mean it that way. You’re going to do great things someday. I know it.”
“And I’m sure you’re going to have lots of shallow friends. So we’ll each get what we want.” She buries her nose in her book again, dismissing him.
Alex feels like he should say something more, but he doesn’t know what.
Jennifer puts a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Alex. It’s after eight. Let’s go submit our ballots.”
“Sure.” He follows her into the gym. Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?” is playing. They circle the dance floor to the DJ booth, where a cardboard box wrapped in yellow paper and decorated with the hand-written words, “Homecoming Royalty Ballots” sits on a card table. Several pens are attached to the box with string.
Alex gets the ballots from his blazer pocket and hands one to Jennifer.
On the line for homecoming queen, he writes, “Jennifer Adams.” But he realizes he doesn’t have any idea what to put on the line beside homecoming king.
“Who did you vote for for king?” he asks Jennifer.
She laughs. “Why, you, of course.”
“Yes. You’re my date. You should be my king.”
Alex smiles. It’s such a nice thing for her to do. The only thing he ever won that required people to vote was an election for sixth grade class treasurer, and he ran unopposed for the position. He puts his own name on the line. At least he’ll get two votes.
Jennifer takes his ballot and drops it in the box with hers. She claps her hands. “That’s done! Do you want to dance?”
“Sure,” he says.
“Just… this time maybe stick with basic dance moves. At least until the voting’s over.”
That’s disappointing, but maybe his classmates aren’t ready for futuristic dancing yet. They make their way onto the floor. As they dance, Alex spots Heidi through the bouncing heads, reading at her table. Her book sounded interesting, especially in light of his recent time travel experiences. Maybe she’ll let him borrow it when she’s done. If she’ll ever talk to him again.
“Are you okay?” Jennifer asks. “You seem distracted.”
“I’m fine.” He tries to muster up some cheer. “Hey, what do you think of the time travel paradox in The Terminator?”
Jennifer shrugs. “I don’t know. I didn’t really like that movie. I kinda fell asleep.”
Alex has no response to that. She fell asleep during The Terminator? Who falls asleep during the best movie of the year?
* * *
Roger checks his watch. It’s 8:55 pm. The thumps of the music from the homecoming dance echo through the empty halls of the school. The glass windows and wide entrance of the administration suite are fifty feet away.
Roger creeps along the wall of lockers to the edge of the window and peeks inside.
Todd, Kevin, Bonnie, and Wendy are sulking in the waiting area. The door to Ms. Pfeifer’s office is behind the reception desk, half open. Roger can’t see inside, but that’s where his future self said the backpack would be. However, if Todd or his buddies see Roger, he might not make it to the office. So he drops to his hands and knees and crawls up behind a large, fake plant at the edge of the entry.
From there, he quickly crawls across a few feet of open space to a bank of file cabinets opposite the seating area.
He pauses behind the filing cabinets. No sign that the other kids saw him. So far, so good.
From the file cabinets it’s a simple matter to duck behind the reception desk. And from there he can crawl to Ms. Pfeifer’s office without being seen by the others.
Roger edges up to the door and peeks inside. Ms. P and the middle-aged version of Roger from the future are sitting in the guest chairs, their backs to the door.
More importantly, the A-Team backpack is sitting on the desk. Unfortunately, Roger sees no way to get past the adults to the backpack without being seen.
“...it just gets so lonely,” Ms. P is saying. “All the good men are taken – my last date drove a van with a unicorn mural.”
“You can’t give up hope,” Old Roger says. “A beautiful, elegant woman like you, you’ll find someone.”
“You really think so?”
Old Roger puts a hand on Ms. Pfeifer’s shoulder. She smiles.
Then grabs him – and kisses him.
Teenage Roger stares in stunned shock.
But then he realizes this is his opportunity. He crawls quickly across the room behind his older self. Carefully slips the backpack off the desk.
Man, his future self and Ms. P are really going to town. Roger is a little jealous – Ms. P is hot.
She’s also strict, though, so he doesn’t dare linger. If she caught him stealing the backpack it’d be a month of detention for sure. He crawls quickly back out of the office, trying to ignore the low, hungry moans coming from his vice principal.
Roger pauses behind the reception desk to make sure the MP3 player is still in the backpack. He does a little fist pump when he sees it. That little thing is going to make him so rich!
He darts to the file cabinets – scrambles to the fake plant—
But he comes in too hard, bumps the plant with his shoulder – it teeters—
Falls, right onto Todd’s lap, the plastic leaves smacking him in the face.
“Hey!” Todd turns toward Roger, who is now crouching, exposed, in the middle of the floor, the backpack clutched in his hands. “You little rat,” Todd growls. “I am going to kick your ass!”
Todd leaps from the chair—
And Roger bolts – feet skidding and slipping on the linoleum in the hallway.
Ms. Pfeifer bursts out of her office. “What’s going on out here?”
Roger scrambles down the hall, Todd hot on his heels. He glances back over his shoulder and sees Ms. P is chasing them both. And then his older self runs out of the administration suite behind her, shouting, “Wait, Susan... I think I love you!”
* * *
9:10 p.m. on October 3rd, 1987. The homecoming dance.
Alex and Jennifer dance to Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” “Do you think you can get your dad’s car to go to the beach on Thursday?” Jennifer asks.
“We’re going to the beach?” Alex responds.
“Of course. For Senior Skip Day. It’s a huge tradition, one of the highlights of the senior year experience. There’s gonna be a keg.”
“I can’t skip on Thursday. The science fair is that day.”
Jennifer rolls her eyes. “Please. The science fair is a total lowlight. You can blow that off.”
“But I like the science fair.”
“You can’t have everything, Alex. You have to choose – would you rather go to the lame science fair alone or a cool party with me?”
Alex has dreamed of being Jennifer’s boyfriend for so long, dreamed of going to things like a Senior Skip Day party at the beach with the popular kids, that this seems like a huge opportunity. But the science fair is one of his favorite events of the year. True, he and Roger probably can’t present the project they made this year, but what he really loves more than the competition is seeing what clever things everyone else comes up with. And afterwards, Mr. Dennis takes all the kids out for pizza. Is it really going to be more fun to drink beer and get sunburned at the beach?
The song comes to an end and the lights come up. Heidi is on the DJ platform. She taps at a microphone. “Students of Magnolia High, may I have your attention, please. I hope everyone’s been enjoying the dance.”
A cheer goes up from the gathered students.
“Now we come to the big event. I’ve counted all your votes and it’s time to crown our Homecoming Queen and King. The Homecoming Queen is...” Heidi pauses for dramatic effect, then says, “Jennifer Adams!”
Alex claps wildly along with the other kids. Jennifer squeals, jumping up and down. She gives Alex a hug. He knew she would win, of course, but it’s still gratifying to see how happy she is. Jennifer scampers up to the stage, beaming and crying, where Heidi places an ornate plastic crown on her head.
Heidi takes the microphone again. “And now, your Homecoming King... Todd Wright!”
The students applaud, though this time Alex doesn’t join them. Of course Todd won. He wonders how the royal dance with Jennifer will go. Jennifer’s smile has turned into a scowl.
But the applause fades when Todd fails to appear. Of course… he was busted in the graveyard. Does that mean there will be no royal dance?
Mrs. Greeley, the typing teacher, shuffles out on stage and whispers in Heidi’s ear.
Heidi turns back to the microphone. “Um, I’ve just been informed that, due to recent events, Todd is no longer eligible. So we’ll go to the runner up.” She digs a piece of paper out of her pocket and consults it. “The person who received the second most votes is… Alex MacDonald.”
Wait. That’s his name. Alex realizes all eyes are turned toward him. He’s frozen, unsure what to do.
“Alex,” Heidi calls out. “Come up here.”
In a daze, Alex makes his way through the applauding students to the stage.
Heidi plunks a crown on Alex’s head, whispering, “Congratulations. I guess you’re king of the cool kids now.”
Jennifer takes Alex’s hand and they turn toward the cheering students.
Jennifer leans in, whispers, “See I told you. This is what happens when you’re with me.”
“And now,” Heidi says into the microphone, “The royal dance.”
The kids part to make a path to the center of the dance floor. Alex and Jennifer step off the stage and walk into a spot light. The DJ plays Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
Jennifer loops her arms around Alex’s neck. “Isn’t being popular awesome?” she whispers.
Alex looks at the crowd of students watching them – watching him. But what he sees is Heidi returning to her table and her book.
* * *
Roger slams out through the rear door of the school, and out onto the athletic field. He’s running as fast as he can, but already his breath is coming in ragged gasps, bringing a sharp pain in his side with every inhale. He can hear Todd closing fast behind him. He needs some way to escape.
And then he sees it.
In the parking lot ahead of him, all of the homecoming floats are lined up along the curb. Roger angles toward the closest one – the cheerleader float.
He leaps into the driver’s seat of the little tractor that pulls the flatbed, dropping the backpack onto the floor. As he had hoped, the key is in the ignition. He starts the engine.
Todd lets out a roar as he lunges at Roger – Roger slams the tractor in drive – Todd grabs onto Roger’s arm just as Roger hits the gas – the float lurches forward – and Todd is thrown to the ground. Roger is vaguely aware of Ms. P and Roger-from-the-future running across the grass toward them.
The float is unwieldy with the flatbed trailer. Roger veers to the right and feels the trailer torque sideways behind him. He corrects to the left – and finds himself heading straight for a Ford Pinto. He veers back right to get past it. Heads for the street.
But then another float bangs into the parking lot ahead of him – it’s Todd, at the wheel of the Model UN float, bristling with the flags of many nations.
Roger turns again, but Todd veers alongside him
Todd jams the wheel hard left and bumps Roger’s float. The papier-mâché mosquito in back wobbles precariously. Roger takes a left, circling the parking lot, trying to get distance – but Todd stays with him.
Ms. P and Old Roger run out in front of them, waving for the two boys to stop. Roger glances at Todd – his face is twisted in insane rage. Stopping seems like a bad idea. Instead, Roger puts the pedal to the floor – and Ms. P and Old Roger dive aside as the floats rumble by at a good ten miles-per-hour.
Todd glares at Roger. Grabs the nearest flag – Saudi Arabia – and HURLS it
Roger ducks – the flag’s wooden pole whistles by his ear – but the flag itself wraps around his head. The weight of the pole pulls it tight.
Roger can’t see anything. He feels the float bang up onto the sidewalk.
He claws at the flag with his left hand, steadying the wheel with his right. But the flag won’t come free. He’s driving blind, and he doesn’t dare stop.
Go to Chapter 22