PREVIOUSLY: Megan is suspicious of Carrie’s behaviour – not knowing that the person is really Beth, who is substituting until the time machine is rebuilt.
PART 85a: POWERING UP
Beth Parker wasn’t stupid. Naive, she would grant – and could hardly deny after how she’d been duped by Ms. Peabody – but stupid? No. She had kept some savings back then. And this time, it had taken her less than a day to realize that the ‘astral plane’ of her ‘angels’ was the very same town where she lived, somehow decades in the future. The dates she put on Carrie’s class notes merely confirmed it. It explained a lot.
At the same time, she wasn’t about to let on about what she knew.
Oh, surely Carrie’s friends had to be aware of her suspicions; Hank Waterson most of all. In a way, Beth’s heart went out to the poor man, who’d had to put his faith in a bunch of teenagers, a waitress… and herself. An aspiring singer who had, thanks to a twist of fate, been sent back into high school. To learn about her future in a history class.
But there was no point in inviting trouble, and that seemed inevitable were she to treat this experience as anything other than an ‘astral plane’. Besides, she had wanted to help her ‘angels’, and now, at last, she was. It was a pity they hadn’t told her what to do about this girl Megan though.
“Nice try, Waterson,” Megan fired back. “Can you even name the origin of your mangled quotation?”
“Matthew 7. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Beth countered.
Megan took a half step back. “Huh. Okay. So you’ve seen the musical ‘Godspell’, good job. Doesn’t mean you found God.” She seemed rattled though.
Beth slipped her hands behind her back, hoping she looked disarming. “Listen, Megan. While I’m not going to outright claim to you that Carrie Waterson has become religious, or that your demands on me are hypocritical, any truth I speak here? Would be rather subjective. And you know as well as I do that such truths would not set you free. So, what’s the real issue behind cornering me here?”
Megan pursed her lips. “Okay. Okay, I guess I want to know what Corry’s up to. Is he getting you to read up on scripture in order to attack me on my home turf?”
“I think Corry’s too worried about his sister right now for such planning.” A thought struck Beth. “Is this about Claude?”
This time, instead of backing up, Megan reached out to grab the front of her shirt. “Who have you been talking to?!”
Beth eyed Megan’s hand. “Um, no one, outside of the few close friends I have here. But I notice things. Like how you were lurking around the music room last week, at the same time as me and Julie were there. Watching Corry’s band rehearse for the Christmas assembly.”
“I’m taking music! I was wondering if Mrs. Willis was around.”
“At first, maybe? But you were there for quite a while. And your attention wasn’t on Lee or Tim. Now, I suppose it could have been directed at Corry, except didn’t I hear that you were the one who got Claude into that band in the first place?”
Megan’s grip relaxed somewhat. “I may have insisted, yes. Because Claude knew the music, and while he’s not the best bass guitarist, he’s a lot nicer than that jerk Tommy.”
“Nicer? You knew Claude personally?”
“Not really. Not then. But he didn’t snark back at me that Friday when I said maybe he shouldn’t disrupt the talent show. In fact he–” Megan stopped herself, using her hand to push Beth away. “How dare you? Have your talks with Chartreuse been about how to handle me?!”
Beth regained her footing and shook her head. “Um, again, no. Your religious nature might have come up in conversation – not that I couldn’t spot it – but no, Megan, Chartreuse didn’t say anything about handling you. Or Claude. Do you fancy the guy, is that it?”
“No!” Megan sized her up, then blurted, “B-But he did ask me out.”
“Okay. So did you reject him, is that the trouble?”
“I… I didn’t. Not outright. Except it wouldn’t be appropriate, me dating Claude! Not with me and Corry being rivals. The poor guy might then become a lever that Corry could use against me, and moreover it’s a clear conflict of interest.”
Beth shook her head. “Corry wouldn’t use Claude against you.”
Megan scoffed. “Just when I thought you were making sense.”
“Really, he wouldn’t. His friends wouldn’t let him do that,” Beth insisted. “Haven’t you noticed how they act as his conscience? Are you sure you’re not using Corry as an excuse?”
Megan visibly flinched. “I’m not scared of a relationship. I’m strong, I wouldn’t be tempted into sin.”
“Great! So what’s the real problem?”
Megan’s lips pursed again. It took a moment, but finally she answered again. “The problem? Is it’s a man’s world out there, Waterson. Consider Corry. Mister Hunt. Even God, if you buy into the personal pronouns. Women like us? We have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. I don’t want to lose it all by dating Claude.”
That one forced Beth to stop and think. Since Megan wasn’t wrong. In fact, Beth had been surprised by how much certain things had changed in the intervening decades – and by how much some other things, which she might have expected to change, had not. “Valid point,” she granted. “You said Claude was nice though. Do you think he would take control away from you?”
Beth mused again. “Well, it’s a risk then. Though I don’t think anyone would accuse you of being weak simply on account of a relationship. Not if they’re smart, anyway. And regret? That’s a terrible thing. So if it were me? I think I would go for it.”
Megan’s eyes narrowed. “Did Corry tell you to say those words?”
Beth sighed. “No – and why would it matter if he had? In the end, you’ve got to do what’s right for you. Seems like Corry is the plank in your eye. Try to remove him.”
Megan flinched, frowned, and then let out a long breath. “Damn. That’s the second time your little inner circle of seniors has surprised me. Maybe Chartreuse really was onto something with her talk back in the woods.”
Not sure how to respond to that, Beth simply stood quietly. Megan fingered the cross on her necklace as she came to a decision. “Okay Wat– Carrie. You can go. Maybe I’ll even loosen the screws I’ve got on Corry, and focus more on my own grade level. Provided the rest of you can keep him in check.”
Beth nodded, but couldn’t help but ask before she left, “And… Claude?”
A hint of colour crept into Megan’s cheeks. “Time will tell.”
Word had spread of her budding relationship with Claude even before classes ended for the December holiday break.
“Megan emailed me yesterday,” Corry remarked, walking behind Luci and Frank, his hands clasped behind his head. “Told me not to let my guard down in the new year. Said that she’d resume demands if I tried to hurt her through Claude. Even included a picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar holding a cross out. Can you believe that? What, does she think I’m a vampire?”
“Just don’t antagonize her any more,” Luci sighed, boots crunching through the light snow on the sidewalk. The three of them had agreed to meet at the last intersection and walk to Julie’s together. “Considering what Beth told us about their conversation in the library, we dodged a bullet back then.”
“Hey, how is it vampires are still a thing anyway?” Frank asked. “Like, I’ve found that they’ve been in pop culture for our entire life – either of you seen that ‘Forever Knight’ show from the late 90s?”
Luci turned, raising her eyebrow.
Frank held his hands out. “Look, you said not to obsess over time travel. I thought I’d ease into the horror genre.”
Corry face palmed. “You’re both missing my point. This means me and Julie did the right thing, by staying out of it. We’ve got control back! But don’t worry, we’ll take care not to abuse our power. I’ve learned my lesson.”
“Peachy,” Luci stated. “I’m a bit more focussed on the fact that it’s December 30th, and after what felt like the most subdued Christmas ever, we’re finally getting to see what Mindy and the others have put together to fix this whole temporal mess.”
Corry reached out to grab Luci by the arm, but at the last second, seemed to think better of it. He jammed his hands into his jacket pockets instead. “Luci, you’re talking to the guy who’s spent all month without his TWIN SISTER. And I’ve had to call Mindy three times in the past week to maintain the charade with my parents. So don’t you DARE lecture me about how hard it’s been, or how relieved you are for things to be over. Because that all goes double for me.”
“Right. Sorry,” Luci apologized, wincing.
“Look at the bright side,” Frank offered. “In a way, the extra time has given Beth a chance to be changed back. Me and Carrie, we apparently turned her religious on our first trip. Now? Well, she’s considering expanding beyond mere gospel singing.”
“Okay, sure, but don’t forget that Mindy’s going to have to excise parts of Beth’s memory,” Corry pointed out. “Unless you want her becoming some kind of future prophet.”
“Right.” Luci tugged on her hat. “I hate that. We were on such a high horse when Mindy first revealed her mind manipulations, telling her off… and now? We’re becoming just as guilty.”
“Do you see an alternative?” Frank asked. “We know she’s worked it out.”
“No. But I still hate it.”
They reached the LaMille mansion’s front door and Luci rang the bell. To their collective surprise, Jeeves directed the teenagers around towards the garage.
“They did recruit Clarke,” Frank pointed out as they approached. “Maybe they’ve got a DeLorean in there.”
“Chevy, actually,” Mindy said, walking out of the garage while wiping her hands with a rag.
Frank froze, and Luci almost plowed right into his back.
“Of course,” Mindy continued, “my original designs were for something more environmental, maybe a smart car. But I quickly realized the space in one of those is roughly equivalent to a phone booth. For this mission? We might need extra space. Besides, we can always pull the time interface and plug it into another vehicle later. Well, maybe. Kind of.”
“I was joking,” Frank murmured.
Clarke poked his head out from around the opening to the garage. “At last! Guys, you’ve GOT to check this out… it’s pretty cool!”
After exchanging glances, the three of them filed in. “It’s… a Cavalier,” Luci said, nonplussed.
“I got a good deal,” Mindy asserted. “The guy was half ready to donate it to your high school, for their shop class to disassemble.”
“Huh. Well, I have always said that you were supposed to be able to ride around inside a time machine,” Corry yielded.
“It’s more impressive than it first appears,” came Julie’s tired voice. She poked her head out the driver’s side window. “And we’ve still got a couple adjustments to make, but at this point, a second – fourth? – opinion might be of benefit. Plus it means someone other than me can pass the information on to the others.”
Luci was the first to stride over. “I don’t have a driver’s licence!” she protested. “Nor do some of the people in our time group who ARE of age, seeing as we live in a small town and can bike most anywhere. Why make the time machine a CAR?!”
“Safety,” Clarke said. “From what I understand, having an enclosed object means everyone’s sure to be pulled through the vortex.”
“Right,” Mindy concurred, giving up on cleaning her hands and throwing aside the rag she was holding. “The old cash register version? It sucked through whatever was touching the handle, or more dangerously, whatever was touching people touching the handle. Here, you get the whole car, a metallic enclosure, and thus we won’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind. Just, you know, make sure you’re inside. Not touching the doors. Definitely not hanging onto the hood. Okay, so it’s not that much safer.” She smirked. “Still, I always SAID it could be done, but noooo, they were fine with using their stationary temporal generators instead.”
“Could be worse,” Frank decided. “Could’ve been a fridge, we wouldn’t want anyone trapped in one of those. And this means there’s a built in age requirement to get a time travel licence.”
“Actually, the car doesn’t need to be in drive,” Mindy countered. “In fact, probably better that it’s not. Unless you know you’ve got plenty of runoff room at your destination time.”
“Does the DNA sensor track everyone in the car then?” Luci said. “How does it know where to put you spatially?”
“Hi! If you’ll let me EXPLAIN,” Julie said, motioning again in obvious exasperation. She waited until they were peering in the car windows at her, then she pointed to the modified dashboard.
NEXT: Closing the Loop
ASIDE: If I mangled religion somewhere in there, let me know, so I can fix it. Not my forte. Also, time car! Why a Chevy? Well, I used to own one.