Forty-eight year-old Alex is searching for teenage Roger, who’s under the bleachers making out with Sierra. Meanwhile, teenage Alex is at the bar inside the reunion, interviewing Jennifer to try to find out how he can end up with her back in 1987.
9:04 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Class of 1987 reunion in the Magnolia High School cafeteria.
Alex maneuvers through the crowd, nodding at the greetings from his old classmates. He doesn’t have time to reminisce now – he knows teenage Roger must be here somewhere.
He hears Heidi shout his name and spots her waving at him from beside the DJ booth. She’s with Fran Salk, sipping wine from a plastic cup. Alex wants to find Roger, but he’s dodged his wife for too long tonight. He goes over to her.
She greets him with a kiss. “Where have you been?”
“Sorry, I had to stop and do some parenting.”
“Is Mackenzie okay?”
“She and Chase broke up.”
“Oh, no. Though I have to admit, I never liked that kid. Is she really upset?”
“Yeah. But she’s young, she’ll get over him.”
“Heidi was just telling me about the mobile game app you two are collaborating on,” Fran says. “It sounds amaze-balls.”
“Oh, thanks,” Alex replies. “Heidi’s really the brains of the operation. She came up with a super intuitive combat engine.”
“Which means nothing without your story,” Heidi replies. “I’ve got a surprise for you.” She gestures to the DJ. He nods and fades the Bananarama song that’s currently playing into Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
Alex grins. “Our song.” Heidi thinks of everything.
Heidi turns to Fran. “Would you excuse us?” Fran nods, and Heidi takes Alex’s hand, leading him to the dance floor.
* * *
At the bar.
“I hate this song.” Jennifer downs the last of her cocktail, signals the bartender for a refill.
Alex has been peppering her with questions about her life, and based on her responses, it sounds like she grew up to be everything that he imagined she would. There’s no question that she’ll make a much better wife for him than Heidi. Now he just needs to find out how he can make that happen. “Let’s talk about high school memories.”
Jennifer lights up. “Oh, I loved high school. I was a cheerleader, you know.”
“Yeah. I was determined to have the perfect high school experience. They always say those are the best years of your life.”
“Do you remember your homecoming dance? Who did you go with?”
Jennifer’s face darkens for a moment, but the shadow passes quickly. “His name was Alex MacDonald. You look a bit like him, as a matter of fact.”
This is the best news Alex has heard all day. So he successfully convinced Jennifer to be his date for the dance! Now he just needs to find out how he did it. “And what made you go with him?”
“He was kind of a nerd – not the sort of boy I would normally date back then. But he made the most romantic speech about how he’d had a crush on me forever and how he would do anything to make me happy.”
Romantic speech. Okay, he can do that. Alex scribbles notes on his pad.
“The night started out great,” Jennifer continues. “I was even elected Homecoming Queen. And then the little prick ditched me!”
“What? That’s impossible.” Why in the world would he dump her? Alex realizes Jennifer’s looking at him funny. “I mean... who would ditch a beautiful woman like you?”
“Aw, you’re sweet. It was really her fault.” She points to the dance floor. Alex turns and sees Heidi dancing with his older self. Alex raises his pad in front of his face. He’s going to have to work fast, before his future self sees him.
“That’s Alex, and that’s his wife, Heidi. She ruined our royal dance.”
“I knew it.” So it was all Heidi’s fault after all.
Jennifer looks at him, eyes narrow. “Why? Did she say something?”
“No, I haven’t talked to her yet.”
“She’s responsible for this disaster of a reunion, you know. She should have hired me. As I said, event planning is my specialty.” She pronounces it spe-see-al-i-tay.
“You said she ruined your royal dance. How—”
Jennifer cuts him off. “I’m tired of talking about the past. How old are you?”
“Good. Let’s dance!”
She grabs his hand and pulls him toward the dance floor. He checks his Swatch. He has time for one dance. But he maneuvers her to the opposite side of the floor from Heidi and his older self.
* * *
9:14 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Under the Magnolia High School bleachers.
Roger can’t believe it. He’s making with a girl! This is incredible. He likes girls, of course, but until now only from afar… he had no idea how great this would feel. And Sierra is a total Betty!
As he’s considering whether he dares to touch her boob, the alarm on his digital watch beeps.
Roger checks the time. “Bummer. I have to go.”
Sierra raises her eyebrows. “Seriously?”
For one brief moment Roger considers just staying in the future. But that’s madness. And the wormhole is going to close soon.
“Thank you.” He shakes her hand, ignoring her incredulous stare, and then dashes off.
* * *
9:14 p.m. on October 14th, 2017. Class of ’87 reunion.
Alex enjoys dancing with his wife, but he can’t help noticing that it’s almost time for teenage Roger to meet up with teenage Alex. He scans the room.
Heidi notices. “Looking for an old girlfriend?”
“I was just... hoping to see Roger.”
“I wish you’d tell me what you guys have been feuding about all these years.”
If he told her about the time machine and what he and Roger did as teenagers, she’d think he was crazy. “It’s not important. Let’s just enjoy the dance.”
They spin past teenage Alex and middle-aged Jennifer. Jennifer has her hand on teenage Alex’s butt. Adult Alex remembers how thrilled that made him when he was that teenager, but now it’s just creepy.
Alex returns his attention to his wife – and spots teenage Roger over her shoulder. “Hold on a minute, Honey. There’s someone I’ve gotta talk to.”
“But this is our song!” Heidi protests as he pulls away. He ignores her – she’ll be disappointed, but he’s doing this for her. He pushes through the dancers on a course to intercept teenage Roger.
Roger sees him coming and freezes. Their eyes lock across a dozen dancers. “Give me that MP3 player!” Alex shouts.
Alex gives chase, but it’s hard to move through the press of people. Roger loops around the dance floor, entering on the other side. Fool, thinks Alex. You know where he’s going. You should have intercepted him there. Roger’s going to get teenage Alex.
* * *
On the dance floor, teenage Alex is enjoying Jennifer’s hands on his butt. He’d like to do the same to her, but he doesn’t want to do anything that might ruin the moment.
He cranes his neck and spots Roger pushing past a knot of reunion attendees onto the dance floor. About twenty feet behind him, Old Alex is in pursuit. Apparently, Roger’s scheme didn’t go quite as planned.
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Roger shouts as he stumbles up to Alex. “The wormhole’s going to close soon.”
Alex peels himself off of Jennifer.
“Wait,” she protests, “I… I thought we had a connection.”
Alex takes her hand and stares intently into her pale blue eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m going to fix this. We’ll have our whole lives to be together.”
She smiles, hopeful and confused. Alex thinks she may be even more gorgeous than she was when she was seventeen.
The moment is ruined by his older self, who crashes into a dancing couple spinning past. The three middle-aged people tumble to the ground, scattering other dancers.
Roger grabs Alex’s arm and pulls him toward the exit. In the chaos, Alex’s fake mustache flies off.
“Was that Jennifer?” Roger asks.
“Yeah. And now I know how to get her to go to Homecoming with me.”
* * *
Alex untangles himself from the two dancers he ran into. It’s Brian Peterson and his wife – his second wife, if Alex remembers correctly. “Sorry ‘bout that,” Alex says. “Are you all right?” Brian takes a hit from an inhaler, but assures him they are unharmed.
Alex scans the room. He spots teenage Alex and Roger just as they escape through the main doors. Alex sighs. It’s too late to stop them now. He’ll just have to hope his teenage self is as smart as he was when he was his teenage self. The thought makes Alex’s head hurt. Time travel is complicated.
Heidi runs up to him. “Are you okay?!”
Jennifer joins them. “Hi guys. You did a lovely job on the reunion, Heidi. If you ever need help with future events, call me. I also do birthdays and bar mitzvahs.” Jennifer hands Heidi her business card. “Um, you wouldn’t have any extra drink tickets, would you?”
Heidi gives Jennifer a couple tickets. Jennifer clutches them happily and scurries toward the bar.
“Boy,” Heidi says, “you really dodged a bullet there.”
“I hope so,” Alex replies, ignoring Heidi’s confused expression. Poor Jennifer. She’s been struggling with that event planning business for years. From what he’s heard, most of the money she makes goes to booze. He supposes he’d drink, too, if he were still living with his parents.
He pulls Heidi close and they resume their dance. “Y’know,” he muses, “dances always looked so fun back when nobody would dance with me. But now I’d really rather be home doing Sudoku.”
“Mackenzie isn’t here,” Heidi says. “You can just call it sex.”
* * *
9:41 p.m. on October 14th, 2017.
“Plenty of time to spare,” Roger says as he and Alex trudge through the doors of Josie’s Self Storage.
“I’m so ready to get back to 1987,” Alex replies. “I’m exhausted.”
“Hello,” says a perky, heavyset woman in her mid-twenties sitting behind the counter. She finishes tapping something into a pink phone decorated with rhinestones. “Welcome to Josie’s Self Storage. What can I do for you?” This could be trouble. When they left, the attendant on duty was snoozing.
“We’re just going to our unit,” Alex replies.
“Okay. I’ll need to see some I.D.”
Alex reaches for his wallet. If his future self rented the storage unit, then his license should match the name on file. Hopefully she won’t notice the birth year like the guy in—
The dispensary. The security guard in the dispensary still has their driver’s licenses. Alex flashes the clerk his most winning smile. “Um… you know what? I left my I.D. in my other pants. But we have the key to the unit. Roger, show her the key.”
Roger whips the A-Team backpack off his shoulder, digs through it.
“That won’t matter,” the clerk says, putting down her phone. “You provide your own lock, so the key won’t mean anything to me.”
“Uh, Alex…” Roger says.
But Alex is focused on trying to charm the clerk. “Listen, there must be some way we can work this out.”
“Alex!” Roger has a horrified look on his face. “Can I speak to you over here, please?”
Alex huddles with Roger in the corner. “What is it?”
“I lost the key!” Roger hisses.
“I don’t know. It must have fallen out of the backpack somewhere.”
“We only have, like, half an hour to get through the portal. We don’t have time to retrace our steps.”
“I know! That’s why I’m panicking!”
Alex takes a deep breath. He turns back to the clerk. “You say you don’t have copies of the keys for each unit?”
“So what do you do if you someone abandons their unit?”
“Oh, we cut the lock off with that.” She gestures to a large, red bolt cutter leaning in the corner behind her desk.
“Of course, that makes sense.” Alex huddles back with Roger, whispers, “I have a plan. I’m going to get her out of here. You grab those bolt cutters. There’s a gate at the rear of the facility. Meet me there and let me in.”
Alex goes back to the counter. Flashes that winning smile at the clerk. “You know, you have very pretty eyes.”
The clerk’s expression hardens. “Flattery won’t get you in, kid.”
“Too bad.” Apparently his smile is not as winning as he would hope. No matter. Alex makes his move – he grabs the clerk’s portable phone.
“Hey!” she cries, “I was in the middle of a game of Candy Crush!”
Alex bolts through the door. He hits the sidewalk and takes off. He can hear the door slam open again behind him. A quick peek back reveals that the clerk has given chase, just as he hoped. For a larger woman, she’s moving pretty fast.
Alex, however, is beat. His legs feel like they’re filled with sand. He’s never going to make it all the way around the block before she catches him.
He rounds the corner and spots his opportunity. Halfway down the block, there’s a trashcan filled nearly to the top with garbage. Alex skids to a stop next to it.
The clerk sprints toward him—
And Alex drops her phone into the trashcan. “Douche bag!” the clerk shouts.
But Alex is already running up the street. As he rounds the corner, he glances back and is gratified to see she’s stopped to dig through the trash. His plan worked.
Alex is on the verge of puking by the time he reaches the back gate. Roger is waiting for him, bolt cutters in hand. “Nice work,” Roger says as he lets Alex in. “We still have over twenty minutes.
But as they slog toward the storage unit, Alex feels his stomach knotting from something besides unaccustomed exercise.
The door to the unit is wide open, the lock cast aside on the ground next to it.
“Didn’t we close that when we left?” Roger asks.
“Yeah,” Alex replies. “Someone must have found the key you lost.”
“Well, we don’t have time to solve that mystery now. We’ve got to get back.”
But as they step into the storage unit, they get another shock. The science project still hums happily, but the portal between the posts has shrunk to less than two feet in diameter.
“Why is it so small?” Alex cries. “We’re supposed to have twenty minutes to spare.”
“Crap,” Roger says. “I calculated how long until it collapsed instead of to a minimum diameter.”
Alex resists the urge to punch him. “I think we can still fit. You go first. You’ll have to take off the backpack.”
Roger sets the backpack on the ground and wriggles into the portal.
Go to Chapter 18