PART 19: DANCE DANCE REDUX
Luci peered into the black box sitting on Frank’s lab table. She smiled – being done a little ahead of schedule meant a chance to chat with Frank this evening. They’d been so focussed on their work, both Saturday and today, that there hadn’t been much opportunity for idle conversation.
Then again, Luci still felt awkward whenever talk shifted to personal lives – partly because of how Frank tended to talk about Carrie. Luci wasn’t quite sure what to say about that.
Why did Frank think that Carrie was anything more than the shallow persona she displayed at school? Even as Luci pondered this, the basement door opened and she heard someone coming downstairs. She looked up, reading the expression on Frank’s face.
“She’s coming over then?” Luci guessed.
Frank nodded, running a hand back through his hair. “Carrie’s on her way,” he affirmed.
Several blocks away, Carrie threw on her jacket as she headed for her front door. “I’m going out, Dad,” she called out in passing.
“Carrie, wait,” her father requested.
The blonde poked her head back around the entrance to the living room. “Yes?” she said with thinly veiled annoyance.
Hank Waterson folded up his newspaper and set it to the side of his chair. “We still haven’t discussed the matter of Friday’s dance.”
Carrie sighed. “It’s like I told you yesterday, there’s nothing to talk about. In fact, by the end of the weekend, you’ll have forgotten all about it.” She smiled at her inside joke.
“Carrie, when your school calls to tell me that my daughter may have been involved in a case of cheating, this is not something I will casually dismiss!”
‘Why not, you do that to everything else about me,’ Carrie thought to herself. Aloud, she responded, “Dad, please. It was almost two years ago, and they have no proof it actually happened. The whole thing’s been blown out of proportion. You know how school does that with me.”
Her father hesitated. “Still, I’d hate to see something like this escalate, and damage your permanent record. I got the impression that your school contacted me to ensure that such a thing won’t happen.”
“It won’t,” Carrie asserted. “Don’t worry, Dad, I know cheating is bad. Also, drugs are bad and sex is bad. I’ll be a good girl, okay?”
“Carrie! Be serious with me.”
“I am being serious!” Also snarky, her head voice added. Tone it down with him, for once? “Look, I’m sixteen, I can take care of myself without a lecture from you. Okay?” Carrie attempted another smile. “Now can I PLEASE go to Frank’s house? He’s expecting me. It’s math stuff.” Time travel involved math, right?
Her father appeared to wrestle with this internally. “Be back by ten o’clock,” he concluded.
“Ten? Since when do I have an actual curfew??”
“Since there are consequences to your actions. I’m only allowing the trip at all because it’s related to your schoolwork.”
“But… oh, fine,” Carrie sighed, deciding to hurry for the front door rather than stay and argue.
Honestly, why did her dad even try? It was obvious he didn’t care much for her, as highlighted by the fact that it took a problem like this for him to pay attention to her. Or was it more like, for her to pay attention to him? ‘Shut up, voice inside my head,’ Carrie grumbled.
After the front door slammed, Hank slumped back down in his chair. He turned to look at the picture sitting on the table beside him. “She’s so much her mother’s daughter,” he murmured. “I don’t know how to handle her, Elaine… not since she found out you wouldn’t be coming back. What would you have done if you were here? Would you have let her go? If only you could guide me somehow…”
The picture didn’t answer. He hadn’t expected it to. A few minutes later, Hank retrieved his newspaper back from the floor with a sigh.
Frank closed up the time machine. The new circuits looked fine. Great. Now came the tricky bit. He turned to Luci. “Okay. So. Uh, if you want to head out before Carrie gets here, that’s understandable. Seeing as the two of you… haven’t been getting along.”
A huge understatement. He could still recall Carrie’s reaction from last Monday, when he had called her over – then revealed that Luci was going to be helping out with the time machine.
“Luci?!” Carrie had yelped at him. “Luci is going to be messing with the time machine? Frank, we’d agreed NOT to tell anyone about it! If this device was too much for you, you could have said so, rather than call in little miss ‘I-know-so-much-that-I-skipped-grades’. I mean, what’s she going to do for us, integrate a high-tech lollipop dispenser into the thing?”
All that – with Luci in the room. Fortunately, Luci had taken it in stride, retorting, “I’d promise not to show you up, Carrie, but that would entail me doing even LESS than nothing.”
A comment which hadn’t endeared Luci to the blonde. It had taken Frank’s explanation, of Luci discovering the machine’s existence herself in August, along with a reminder of Carrie’s “one week deadline”, to get Carrie to capitulate.
“No, I’m going to stay,” Luci now asserted. “The trip you’re both planning, it’s back to Friday, right?”
“Yeah,” Frank admitted, pulling himself back to the present. “After all, Carrie’s taken issue with what happened at the dance. So it’s a good a date as any to test out our new circuits.”
Luci shook her head. “Is it really? Or is that what she says? Because you don’t need to go to Friday – heck, even if Carrie somehow prevents that recording from being played, it doesn’t change what she did to Laurie in the first place!”
“I know that,” Frank assured her. “But there’s more to Carrie than how she acts.” After all, she had… well, helped that girl Beth in 1955? Frank ran his hand back through his hair. He was starting to wonder if his defence of Carrie was becoming more a defence of his own choice to work on time travel for the last two years.
Luci sighed. “What exactly did Carrie say to you when she came by yesterday?”
“Nothing mean. Not really. She was upset about the dance, that’s all. And about how we couldn’t use the machine yet, because we were in the process of making adjustments.”
“So she showed up ONLY for the time machine,” Luci pointed out. “Can’t you see how that girl’s all take and no give? I mean, really.”
“But there’s also her unique perspective on time,” Frank protested. “She sees things differently. Plus, something bad happened in her past.” Luci looked at him expectantly. “It’s not my place to go into detail.” Detail that had been filtered through his younger self. Were his memories even accurate?
“Uh huh.” Luci put her hands on her hips. “Fine. Then I’m not only staying now, I’m going back in time with you both.”
Frank stared. “What?” Yet again, Luci was surprising him.
“Even setting aside how Carrie’s been manipulating you, based on past experience? I suspect neither of you have much of a plan as far as a trip to the dance goes. You could end up getting yourselves into even worse trouble. I figure someone has to be around to talk sense.”
Frank shook his head. “The dance is a familiar environment. And since I still believe that we can’t change the past, we can’t get into any more trouble than we’re in already.”
Luci crossed her arms. “Sorry, but I’m not sold on your unchangeable theory about time. And even if I were, there could still be repercussions as yet unseen. So – I’m going! If you’re worrying about how to pitch it to Carrie, I’ve spent at least 24 hours fiddling with this machine over the past week. Am I saying you two owe me this trip? No… but if something goes wrong with the new circuits, it might be good if I’m there too, right?”
“That’s… a fair point,” Frank conceded. He let out a long breath. “All right. We’ll see what Carrie says.”
“No! Absolutely not.”
“Carrie, let me finish. Luci knows more about the new–”
“So IF something comes up, we’ll give her a phone call Friday night,” Carrie interrupted. “For that matter, I can do the same with you, Frank. Neither of you need bother coming. I can take this trip myself.”
From her position, sitting on the lab table, Luci fought down the urge to comment. After all, it would be better for all of them if she let Frank assert himself here. Right?
“Carrie, be reasonable. You haven’t been able to set the machine by yourself yet. And you can’t paradox your way through this, I don’t remember seeing you on Friday.”
“You mean you don’t remember seeing me YET. But fine – you’re testing stuff, so you can still come. ONLY you.”
Frank merely sighed. And Luci could no longer hold her tongue. “Carrie,” she broke in. “Do you even have the faintest idea of what you’ll be doing to try and reverse things on Friday?”
“How odd. Frank, did you just hear a noise?”
“I’m right aren’t I?” Luci pressed. “You probably don’t even know the recording was all a plot by Julie.”
“What?” both Carrie and Frank chorused, turning to face her.
Luci looked back and forth between them. “Surely that can’t come as a complete surprise to BOTH of you?” Even without the extra tip-offs through Chartreuse, Julie’s involvement had seemed fairly obvious.
“It’s likely,” Frank admitted. “But I also heard some people talking as they left. They seemed to think Corry had set it up, as an attempt to regain sympathy after his unfriendly remarks about Julie’s teddy bear.”
“I actually challenged Julie about it that same night,” Carrie added. “She said she left after Corry’s statement to the effect of her not trying anything, figuring it would be best to just go. She didn’t know he was going to play that recording of me, and she apologized for not coming to my rescue. Said she’d make it up to me somehow this week.”
Luci boggled. “Carrie – are you actually that stupid?”
“Now you listen here, little girl…”
“Carrie, stop,” Frank said, stepping between the two of them. “Please? Let’s all be civil about this? Please?” His uncertain gaze went from Carrie back to Luci. When neither of them spoke, he ventured, “Now, Luci, why do you say it wasn’t Corry?”
“Because of how it involved his sister,” Luci answered easily. “Corry doesn’t always show it overtly, but he’s very protective of her. Remember that whole mismatched date thing he set up last year? He’d never hurt Laurie the way that recording did. And once you eliminate him, it’s down to Julie. With the possible exception of one other person.”
“Ha! So it could be this other phantom person and not Julie?” Carrie challenged.
“Yes,” Luci yielded. “But that other person is you, Carrie.”
“What?” Carrie and Frank chorused again, Carrie adding a “how DARE you imply such a thing!”
Luci sighed. “Oh my God, you two. Think about it, seriously. Who led the outcry against Corry all last week regarding the teddy bear? Carrie. Who had the most opportunity to record the Carrie/Laurie conversation we heard? Carrie. Who had words with Corry immediately following the incident? Carrie. Who is the most mean spirited cheerleader on the face of the Earth?”
“Luci!” Frank said.
“Nope, not me! I bet Carrie was even the one who suggested karaoke to Corry. Am I right?”
“Okay Luci, enough.”
It was Frank’s tone more than anything that caused Luci to purse her lips shut. He seemed to be troubled. Indeed, she could now see that Carrie’s face was also an interesting mix of emotions – ranging from anger to confusion.
“That recording made me look equally guilty,” the blonde finally managed.
Again, Luci couldn’t stop herself. “The school has no proof. Technically, the worst they can do is a slap on the wrists, maybe a phone call home. The only hitch in my reasoning is how I know for a fact that you aren’t smart enough to pull something like this off.”
“Shut it, brainchild! I’ll have you know that I’ve recorded pretty damning information before. Remember, Frank?”
Frank winced. “Yeah, um, you mean that time with Julie in that chemistry lab affair?”
“I stand corrected then,” Luci acknowledged. “You could have pulled it off. Corry will be pleased to learn that, I’m sure.”
“OOoh! I said shut it, or I’ll shut it for you,” Carrie shouted, trying to reach around Frank to grab for the shirt of the younger girl.
“No, stop this,” Frank pleaded, putting his own arms out to block her. “Please! Luci, you stop baiting her, and Carrie… you HAVE to admit, insults aside, that what Luci says about Julie makes some sense. Julie may even suspect about our time machine.”
Carrie’s gaze snapped back to him. He lowered his arms slowly. “Oh. Yeah, uh, I’ve been watching her the past couple of weeks. She worries me, kind of. I even talked to Clarke about her.”
Carrie worked through a few more choice facial features. “I tell you Julie wouldn’t set me up like that. She doesn’t treat her friends that way.”
Luci bit down on her tongue, and was glad when Frank spoke up instead to ask, “Are you one hundred percent sure?”
Carrie fumbled for a strand of hair, which she then started twirling about her finger. “Okay. Say it’s Julie,” she said, doing her best to sound nonchalant. She wasn’t successful – Luci could tell that Carrie was getting worried. “How did she pull it off? She wasn’t even in the room.”
“Well, er…” Frank turned helplessly back to the younger girl.
Luci decided to look back at Frank, rather than at Carrie, to keep her focus. “I don’t know how Julie did it,” she admitted to him. “What I’ve told you has all been worked out in hindsight. Which I grant may be part of the reason why I want to go back there with you. I’m missing something.” Also, Chartreuse deserved an explanation.
Luci sensed Carrie glaring at her, but she kept staring at Frank. At his glasses, his jawline, his lips… she shifted her gaze to the ceiling.
“Fine,” Carrie murmured at last. “Fine, Frank. Luci can come too, if she wants to. I mean, why should I care, right? I’ve already won at being the meanest cheerleader on the face of the Earth. Why continue to prove it?”
Okay, Luci couldn’t ignore that pitying tone. “A sympathy act? REALLY, Carrie?” she fired off.
As she turned back though, Luci was surprised to see genuine distress on Carrie’s face. Was Carrie upset because Luci had called out her act? Or, the younger girl wondered, had she actually managed to hurt Carrie’s feelings somehow?
“Okay! Well then, let’s all travel now before anything else happens,” Frank decided, clapping his hands together and smiling hopefully.
The previous Friday evening saw three figures materialize in a residential backyard. One of them collapsed immediately to the ground, while another slipped over to the fence nearby. The third set down the time machine and popped it open for a quick glance. “So far so good on the new circuits,” Frank said.
“And the school is right over there,” Carrie added, her eyes adjusting to the darkness. “Let’s go. I figure, if I cut power to the whole stage early, the recording can’t play after Corry’s song. Good enough plan?”
So she had thought about it since they’d spoken on Saturday. “Actually, yeah. But hold on, Luci’s fallen unconscious,” Frank indicated.
Carrie sighed. “It’s always something with her.”
“The same thing happened to us the first few times we used the time machine, remember?” Frank pointed out, tapping Luci lightly on the cheek. “Besides, she adjusted her new circuitry for 9:30pm, so we should have over half an hour. The school’s right there, so what’s the rush?”
“Fine, fine.” There was a moment of silence. “Look, Frank, do you truly think I’m so mean as to…”
Carrie stopped as Luci groaned and began to stir. Then the young girl’s eyes shot open, and she sat up quickly, looking around. “Wow. What a rush,” Luci exclaimed.
Frank smiled. “I guess it can be, at that.”
“Peachy,” Carrie interjected. “Let’s get going.”
The three teenagers were soon over the fence and creeping towards the school. “Wait,” Frank said. “With our past counterparts already inside, how are we going to walk in without drawing any attention? Particularly given how I now have the time machine and our backpack of provisions.”
“I chose to wear the same clothing today as I did at the dance,” Luci offered. “On the off chance I’d get to come back with you. I’m also not very noticeable, so I’ll walk in and go around to the doors closer to the gym. I can let you in there.”
“Well, haven’t you thought of everything,” Carrie grumped.
“No, but I have actually THOUGHT,” Luci retorted, heading off to the main doors.
Once Luci was out of earshot, Frank turned back to Carrie. “Can’t you be a little nicer to her? She’s majorly helped us out.”
“Yeah, but… you know, Luci’s not a very nice person either. Given some of the things she says. And can she run the hundred metre dash in twelve seconds? I don’t think so.”
Frank wondered if he’d missed a segue. “What?”
“I’m just saying, nobody’s perfect,” Carrie said defensively. “At least I’m not trying to impress you the way she is.”
“Yes, it’s painfully obvious what her intentions are.”
“Why would Luci be trying to impress me?”
Carrie did a double take. “Are you serious?”
Carrie shook her head slowly. “Good grief, it’s a wonder geeks ever reproduce,” she muttered under her breath.
“Look, never mind, none of this is important. Let’s get over to the gym doors.” She immediately jogged off, setting a quick pace.
Frank followed after, giving up on understanding. In short order, the three time travellers had reunited inside the school. “We have about ten minutes,” Luci informed the others. “Apparently my time setting was also subject to some random variation, we must have arrived closer to 9:45.”
“Or your stuff never worked and this is a fluke,” Carrie observed. Frank opened his mouth to protest, only to have her add, “But, benefit of the doubt, good job and all that. I’ll be off to the circuit breakers near the stage now.”
“Try not to, you know, bump into yourself or cause too much trouble?” Frank pleaded.
Carrie grinned. “Tempting, but in this instance, why bother? I’ll meet up with you guys in that classroom there in twenty minutes.”
“Okay. In the meantime, we’ll re-adjust the time circuits,” Frank offered. Entering the abandoned room in question, he opened up the lid of the machine. “Still stable. You really knew what you were doing, Luci,” he remarked as she came up behind him. “Ah, if you were trying to impress me, I’m impressed.”
Luci opened and closed her mouth, then cleared her throat. “Yeah, so, while I have this opportunity, I’m going to go tail Julie.”
Again, Frank was sure he was missing leaps of logic. “What?”
“She left the cafeteria before everything happened. I figure it was to set things in motion, because there was no way for her to know in advance what song Corry would sing. I have to know what she did.”
“Luci, are you sure that’s wise?”
“Unlike Carrie, I’ll be careful. Be back ASAP,” With that, she slipped off towards the cafeteria.
As she walked, Luci reflected on the fact that there were two reasons why she felt she had to do this. The first being for the benefit of Chartreuse. The poor girl had seemed rather crushed by the defeat of their little group. Perhaps if Luci could show her that there was nothing they could have done, it would make Chartreuse feel better.
But the second reason was for the benefit of Frank. After all, if Julie WAS initiating some sort of war – Frank’s current ties to Carrie were liable to put him in the blast radius. Maybe. Luci wasn’t sure – she had to know more.
There were a few people milling about in the hallway outside the cafeteria when Luci unobtrusively took up a position there against the wall. About five minutes later, inside the cafeteria, she heard Corry get on the microphone. This was it. Her eyes turned to the exit, peering attentively for Julie.
There she was. Luci reflexively held her breath as Julie passed by, then inched after her along the wall, keeping the brunette in sight. Which was when she heard the familiar voice.
“Hey, short stuff! Sounds like Corry’s up to something, want to come in with me and check it out?”