(This story takes place between Aunt Nauseam & Prize Fighters)
Brittany Taylor finished her routine by doing the splits, as the other members of her team hiked her into the air. Kevin Thompson, QB of the team, shot her an appreciative glance. “Hey, babe, you know I love it when you spread your legs...”
“Give me strength,” muttered a voice from behind him.
“Kevin! Get over here!” It was Coach Gibson. Kevin rushed over into the huddle. Coach took a look around at the team. “Okay, guys. It’s the final game of the season, and the Oakwood Taproots are killing us...”
This name was met with a variety of insults and catcalls.
“It’s fourth down, and we have 20 yards to go. Score is 24 to 21 against, and there’s 10 seconds left on the clock. Plus, we’re on the forty-yard line. Our forty-yard line. We ain’t doing so good.”
“Field goal would tie the game,” suggested Michael Mackenzie. “But I don’t think any of us just wants a tie.”
“No way, Mack Daddy!” yelled Kevin. “We’ve got to smash those Oakwood pussies into the ground.”
“Yeah!” The team chorused.
Mack grinned. “Thought so. Okay, I’ve got a plan. Kevin, you pretend to pass the ball to Joey. Joey, you run as far as you can, till they tackle you. Then they’ll realize you don’t have it.”
Kevin shot his arms in the air. “Yeah! I get it. I’ll pass it to Jamie, right? Then he’ll throw it to you! Good idea, Mack Daddy!”
Mack shot Kevin a glance, wondering how he could be so well-versed in football, and be so hopeless in everything else in life. Maybe he was an idiot savant.
Jamie looked a bit uncertain. “I don’t know, guys...”
Mack put a hand on his shoulders. “Come on, man. You’ve got the best throwing arm on the team. You can do this, right?”
Jamie looked up. “Yeah. I can do this.”
“All right.” Mack grinned. “Go lions!” The rest of the team joined in, and seeing their cue, the cheerleading squad started enthusiastically cheering them on. They took their places. Kevin found himself face to face with Oakwood’s quarterback, Sam Stack.
“Hey, loser,” whispered Stack, quiet enough so that the referee wouldn’t hear him. “Think you assholes can pull this off?”
Kevin’s eye narrowed, and he was tempted to do something very unsportsmanlike. Instead, he kept his mouth shut. They couldn’t afford any penalties now.
Out on the split end position, Mack waited for the play to start. He shot a quick glance towards the stands. Jodie, and her parents were there. She gave him an encouraging smile, and he returned it.
Kevin yelled the signal - the play started. Kevin rushed back, and handed off the ball to Joey, or so everyone thought. Joey pretended to grab it under his arm, and ran. He saw the right end coming towards him - then Jeffy slammed into him, knocking him down. He ran - saw the right linebacker. He tried to dodge, but the guy was too big. They crashed into each other, Joey falling to the ground.
Then everyone saw he didn’t have the ball.
Kevin had ran back, and thrown the ball to Jamie, while everyone was following Joey. As everyone turned to Kevin, Jamie took aim, and threw the ball up the field. Mack sprinted, seeing the ball coming down, and calculating where it was going. He was aware of the buzzer going off for full time - they only had one shot at this. He leapt up - caught the ball, and kept running. There were some players following him. He didn’t need to worry about that - he knew he was faster. It was the players ahead who were the problem. He saw two - one on the 20 yard line, one near the end zone. Both coming his way. The first guy lunged at him. Mack easily dodged past him, and kept going. The guy was too big to catch up. End zone guy ran forward, and went for him. Mack paused, let the guy hit dirt, and jumped. He flipped over the guy, just as he hit the ground. Mack landed, and stopped. He was in the end zone. He raised the ball in triumph. The crowd went wild.
Upchuck’s distinctive voice came through the speakers. “And Michael Jordan Mackenzie scores a touchdown! An incredible 60 yard play to finish the game, with the Lions at 27, Oakwood at 24!”
The cheerleaders went crazy. The rest of the team ran up, and they began yelling and high-fiving each other. Damn, thought Mack. I’m going to miss this.
At the after game party, Jodie ran up to Mack and hugged him. “That was awesome.”
Mack shrugged. “I couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team.” He looked over at Kevin, who was noisily making out with Brittany in the corner.
Jodie smiled. “Yeah, I can see how he’d be a big asset.”
Mack turned back to her. “So what are you doing here? I thought you were busy. Not that I’m not glad...”
“My parents thought we should be here to support the team on the final game.”
As if on cue, Andrew and Michele Landon walked over. “Michael!” said Andrew warmly. “Great game, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Will you be taking it to a college level too?”
Mack nodded. “Hopefully. I applied to Vance. Minoring in business.”
Andrew clapped him on the back. “Excellent choice.”
“Thank you.” Andrew and Michele wandered off to mingle with some of the other parents.
Jodie looked at Mack. “You okay?”
“I guess. Just thinking about how this is my last game with the guys. I’m going to miss them.”
“No, I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of him, somehow.”
Jodie smiled. She glanced over at something. “Hey, Mack? I have to go. My parent are beckoning.”
“Thanks for coming.” Mack leaned over and kissed her. She walked off, waving.
Mack walked over to the Three Js, when he noticed some of the Oakwood players walking towards Kevin. Kevin, of course, was too busy with his tongue down Brittany’s throat to notice. Mack frowned and stepped in front of them. “Any problem here?”
Sam Stack, who was leading them, glared down at Mack. He easily had three or four inches on him. Mack wasn’t worried though. He’d run into him before. He was all talk, no action.
No brains either.
“Problem, here, Sam?”
Stack ran a hand through his greasy black hair. “None at all, Mackenzie. Just want to have a little chat with QB man here.”
Hearing his name sort of mentioned, Kevin broke away from Brittany, and walked over. “What do you want, Stack?”
Stack’s piggy little blue eyes narrowed as he looked at Kevin. “Hey, genius. That was a pretty smart play you did out there. Want to make some more smart plays outside, smart guy?”
Kevin shook his hands. “No way, man. I’m not into guys!”
Mack placed his head in his hands. “Kevin, he’s trying to get you to fight him. Seems he’s being a bad loser about this.”
Kevin glared at Stack. “Hey, we won fair and square. Not my fault you guys are losers.”
Stack gritted his teeth, and looked like he was going to make a swing for Kevin. “You guys shouldn’t have even been playing. You forfeited.”
“That was because of that Ultra Cola fiasco. They ruled we should replay the match.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t.” Stack glared at him, trying to intimidate Mack.
Mack glared up at him again. “I think you’d better leave, Sam. You don’t have a great record for this sort of thing, and it would be a shame if your coach found out about you threatening the other team.”
Stack glared down at Mack, who didn’t shift his ground. Finally, he turned, and walked off with his teammates, only turning back to wink at Brittany. “Remember me, gorgeous?”
“Eep!” Brittany ran off.
Wonder what that was all about? Mack turned to Kevin. “You always know the right things to say in these sort of situations,” he said, sarcastically.
“Thanks, Mack Daddy!”
“Don’t call me that.”
After the celebrations were over, and the cleaning up had begun, Mack took a second to take quick walk down the corridors of Lawndale High. He was heading for the trophy cabinet. He didn’t know why, but a wave of nostalgia had swept over him, and he felt the need to look over his and the team’s past accomplishments. Maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t going to be playing with them anymore.
He rounded the corner to the cabinet, and was mildly surprised to find Kevin already standing there.
“Kevin? What are you doing here?”
“Looking at our past glories, Mack Daddy!”
“You know, with us, the Lions rock!” Kevin was getting pretty spirited now. “We rule!”
Mack shushed him. “Keep your voice down.”
“Sorry. But you know, we had some good times, right?”
Mack gazed up at the rack of trophies. “Yeah, I guess.” The Gatorade from the match began stirring in his guts again. “Damn. I’ll be back in a second, Kevin.”
He ran to the nearest toilet. After he was done, he walked back to the trophy case, and was shocked to see Kevin lying unconscious on the ground. He rushed up to him, and tried to revive him. Kevin moaned softly, and Mack noticed a red welt on the back of his head.
“Mack? What happened?”
“It’s okay, Kevin, they didn’t hit you anywhere useful.”
Mack glanced up at the trophy case. It wasn’t broken, but it was open. He scanned the trophies, looking to see if any were missing. One was - the state championship trophy they had won last year, against Oakwood. Mack cursed. “Who was it?”
“Didn’t see. They got me from behind.”
The following morning, Ms. Li was predictably furious.
“I can’t believe you gentlemen would let Lawndale High’s most prestigious trophy get stolen like this. This is a black day!”
Mack started to protest. “Ms Li, it wasn’t our fault. I was in the bathroom, and Kevin was taken by surprise.”
“I can see you place your own bladder above the honor of Lawndale High!”
“What? What does that even mean!? We weren’t the guardians of the trophy case, we just happened to be there!”
“Yeah!” Kevin spoke up. “We’re innocent! We’re not going to be your betsies!”
Mack looked at him. “Patsies, Kevin. Don’t say anything else.”
Mack looked back to Li. “Look, don’t your security tapes show who it was?”
“They were masked. We don't know who they were.”
“And how did they get inside the case? It wasn’t broken.”
“I don't know, Mr. Mackenzie. I do know something. You and Mr. Thompson need to recover that trophy.”
“What? That’s insane!”
“You want to graduate, don’t you?”
Mack seethed. He didn’t have a choice, though. “Okay.”
Li smiled. “Excellent. By the end of the weekend, shall we say?”
Mack glared at her, and got up and left.
Outside, Mack stood, thinking what the hell he was going to do. He couldn’t afford to not graduate. Hell, he needed a scholarship! One thing he wouldn’t miss about High School was Li. He was aware of Kevin running up beside him. “Don’t sweat it, Mack Daddy! With my brainpower, we’re sure to find it.”
“Kevin, I’m fighting an overwhelming urge to cry with despair right now.”
Mack stormed off, hoping Kevin would take the hint. Who the hell would have stolen it? Oakwood sprang to mind, especially after the way they took that defeat. He didn’t have any proof, though. He spent the rest of the day in a funk.
After he got home, he lay on his bed, and tried to think this through, Before he could start, the phone rang. He answered it. “Mack Daddy!”
“Kevin?” This was not who he wanted to talk to right now.
“It was Oakwood!”
“That took the trophy!”
“How did you figure that one out?” Mack was stunned. Maybe Kevin was smarter than everyone thought.
“They just called and told me!” And then again, maybe not.
“Yeah. They said it was because we were all a bunch of pussies, and they wanted to show us a lesson, or something. Didn’t make a lot of sense.”
No surprise there, then.
“Plus, he said to say hi to Brittany. Know what that meant?”
I could hazard a guess. “No idea, Kevin. Look, I’ve got a plan. I’ll just head on up there, tell their coach, and get it sorted out.”
“Cool idea! You want me to come?”
“No, no...I’ll get Jodie to take me.”
“Um.” Mack struggled to find a convincing excuse. “Because...she needs a break....and I’d hate to drag you away from Brittany.”
Long pause. “Okay!”
“I’m sorry, Mack, but I can’t go.” Jodie looked crestfallen.
“My parents are making fill out all these scholarship papers, and they have to be one before Monday.” She took Mack’s hand. “I’d love to go...”
“That’s okay. I know how your parents are.” Lots of anti-Landon thoughts floated through his brain, but he forced them back down again.
Jodie smiled sadly. “I’m sorry, Mack.”
“None of you guys can take me?”
Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie all shook their heads.
“Why not? What cold you all have planned this weekend?” Mack frowned.
“I’m going out with Quinn tonight!” said Joey.
“I’m taking Quinn to the movies tomorrow afternoon!” said Jamie.
“I’m going out with her tomorrow night!” said Jeffy.
Quinn. Figures. “I thought you guys had cooled down a bit with her since she tried to date you one at a time?”
Jamie stared at him. “But...she’s Quinn.”
The other two nodded furiously in agreement. Mack shook his head, and left. He couldn’t believe those guys. He’d never go out with someone who acted like their other activities were more important than their relationship. Well, except Jodie. But that was different. Somehow.
After a few more hours of phone calls, Mack faced a terrible reality. No one was free to go with him to Oakwood. It wasn’t like it was a huge trip, just a couple of hundred miles. But no, everyone else had plans.
I am NOT going with Kevin.
He did need to go somehow.
He didn’t want Li to flunk him.
“Road trip, Mack Daddy!” Kevin hiked his bags into the back of his jeep.
“Don’t call me that.” Mack shot Kevin a look. “This is not a road trip, Kevin. We are going up there, getting that trophy, and leaving. Got it?”
Mack stared at him again. “Kevin? We’re going to Oakwood, our major rivals. Do you think it’s a good idea to wear your Lawndale uniform?”
Kevin thought for a moment. “Is this a trick question?”
After a few minutes, Kevin came back out of his house wearing some jeans, and a black t-shirt. As he was walking to the car, Brittany came running up. “Kevvy! Are you really leaving?”
“Yeah, babe! Me and Mack Daddy are going to Oakwood to kick their asses.”
“Oh Kevvy, you’re so brave!”
Mack checked his watch very visibly, in the hope they would get the hint. Being who they were, they didn’t. Instead, they began making out while Brittany screamed about how much she’d miss him, and Kevin pledged his eternal love. The same thing that happened when he went to the store. Or anywhere else that had them separated for more than an hour.
“And you’ll be faithful, right Kevvie?”
“Sure babe! I’d never cheat on you.”
Except for the rest of the cheerleading squad. And most of our opponents’ cheerleaders too, come to think of it, thought Mack. I’d feel worse for Brittany if I didn’t know she was doing the exact same thing. Well, not with cheerleaders, or course. Oh, that’s a mental image I don’t want. Honest. I don’t. Really.
While Kevin and Brittany were loudly trying to re-enact “Wild Orchid” on the sidewalk, Jodie walked up. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Mack gave her a quick hug.
“Just wanted to wish you guys good luck, and apologize again.”
Mack shrugged. “Not your fault.”
“I know, but, still...” She smiled, kissed him, and walked off.
Mack managed to extricate Kevin from Brittany, and they set off, the wind rustling through Mack’s hair, as he vainly tried to ignore Brittany’s loud declarations of love from behind them.
They sped out of Lawndale, headed for the interstate. Mack figured that they could get there by Saturday afternoon, get the trophy back, then head back. They could stay in a motel on Saturday night, and get back by Sunday. No problem. Of course, the best laid plans...
Kevin’s jeep sped down the interstate, leaving the greenery of Lawndale behind, and heading into the desert. Kevin was loudly singing along with the radio, and Mack was trying vainly to block him out. “This is so cool, Mack Daddy!“ Kevin turned to face Mack. “I mean, we’re two guys, free and alone, on the road. Sky’s the limit, man!”
Mack lunged for the wheel, as they veered across the line. “Keep your eyes on the road!”
“Anyway, we’re not free. We have to get to Oakwood, and back by Sunday, remember? Our academic future is riding on this.”
“Oh yeah.” Kevin thought for a moment. “But you know, there’s a whole stretch of babes from here to there...”
Mack shot him a look. “I’m dating Jodie, remember? And you’re dating Brittany. You do remember Brittany?”
“Kevin, you do know that you’re not supposed to cheat on your girlfriend?”
Kevin thought about this for a moment. “Really?”
Mack sighed. “Didn’t your dad teach you that? Or your mom? Your Dad doesn‘t cheat on your Mom, does he?”
“Sure he does! All the time!” Kevin paused. “At least, he tries to.”
Okay, that was something Mack didn’t want to know. Knowing Doug Thompson, it didn’t surprise him, though.
Kevin continued: “Dad keeps telling me that Britt’s not good enough for me, and I should be going out with other women. So I am, but I can’t dump Britt, can I? I’m the QB! Then Mom acts like she doesn’t like Britt, and we shouldn’t be having sex. So I don’t know what my parents want...” He tailed off, and the grin went off his face for a few seconds.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the jeep for a while. Then Kevin turned the radio up and started singing along again.
After a few more hours, the jeep pulled into Oakwood. It was a small town, not totally unlike Lawndale. The intervening few hours had been trying ones. Kevin was not the easiest person to travel with. Every time they stopped at a gas station, or to get food, Kevin would do something stupid. He’d go to the bathroom, and when he came out, he'd be chatting to some cute girls, ready to go off with them. He’d go to get something to eat, and Kevin would be getting preyed on by con artists. They’d already lost some of their money that way. Was Kevin that easy of a target? Mack took a quick look at him. Okay, he was. At least the first leg of their journey was over. There wasn’t that long to go.
“Okay!” It was Kevin. “We go to their houses, kick the shit out of them, and take the trophy by force!”
“No. We are going to do this my way.” A legal way, too. “I have Principal Broderick’s home address. We’ll go there, explain the situation, and he’ll be sure to help us.” Mack was confident this would work. I mean, not all high school principals can be like Ms. Li, can they?
Five minutes into the meeting with Broderick, Mack was forced to reconsider his opinion. Broderick was a bland looking man in his early fifties, with thinning gray hair, and a permanently suspicious expression. As soon as Mack explained their position, Broderick had accused them of trying to sour the reputation of Oakwood High, and besmirch the good names of his football squad. Mack tried very hard not to lose his temper, but he wasn’t doing a good job. “Look,” he said, as calmly as he could. “We have a confession. They phoned Kevin here, and told him everything.”
“That,” said Broderick, “could have been anyone.”
“They told me their name!” yelled Kevin.
“I told you not to speak,” whispered Mack.
“Sorry, Mack Daddy,” whispered Kevin back.
“You gentlemen must realize how flimsy your story is. If you ask me, you’re just desperate to avoid the consequences, and are trying to seek a scapegoat.” He stood, and motioned towards the door. “I’ll have to ask you to leave, now.”
“I live here.”
Kevin looked lost. Mack grabbed him, and they desolately shuffled out. Broderick closed the door, but just before it closed the whole way, Mack heard him say: “You never should have won that last game anyway...”
Mack’s eye’s narrowed, and he walked out to the jeep. Kevin followed. “What now, Mack Daddy?”
“He knows,” said Mack. “He must be in on it. What is it with principals in this state?”
“I don’t know.”
“Kevin, that question was rhetorical.”
“No, it was easy!”
Mack covered his eyes with his hand, and groaned. “We’re going to have to think of a better plan.”
“Please don’t. I don’t need your head to explode before you can drive me back.”
Mack thought of a plan. It was dumb, and probably illegal as hell, but he was a desperate man.
Some time later, Mack and Kevin were hidden in some bushes across the street from Sam Stack’s house. He hadn’t been home all day, and Mack was hoping this wasn’t a waste of time. Not that they had a lot of options though. Mack was sure Broderick was in on this, and Stack had to be the ringleader, given his phone message to Kevin, and his attitude after the game. By watching him, maybe they’d find something out, at least about the location of the trophy.
Kevin was munching on a cheeseburger from Beefy Burgers, somewhat noisily. Mack nudged him. “Kevin! You’re supposed to be watching the other side of the street.”
“Oh.” Kevin looked blank. “Can I use this now?” He held up one of those cheap children’s directional microphones.
“No,” Mack said firmly. “I already told you we are not using it to hear people having sex.”
“Aw, man! Can I at least borrow your binoculars?”
Mack looked down at the binoculars they had bought. “No. These cost fifty bucks. You are not going to use them to check out women.”
Kevin sulked. Mack looked back to the street. There was Stack, walking towards his house. Success. Kevin spotted him, and moved to go and confront him. Mack held him back. “Let me go!” Kevin snarled.
“Ssshhh!” Mack held his hand over Kevin’s mouth. “We are not going to go and fight him. We are going to find out where he has that trophy, and go and get it. Understand?”
Kevin nodded mutely. Mack removed his hand, and raised the binoculars. He could see Stack in front of one of the first floor windows. He was talking on the phone. “Use the microphone!”
Kevin raised it, and adjusted his headphones. He started reciting what he could hear. “Crish crish punks. Zzztt pshh the trophy. I’m arrr errr school. Going there now. You know I fshhh his girlfriend? Yeah! Brittan - eshhh. Huge crckkk! Bye.” Kevin stared at the microphone. “Man, that didn’t make a lot of sense.”
“No, just talking.”
“It made enough sense.” Mack watched as Stack walked out of his front doorway, carrying a large bag. Large enough to carry a trophy, definitely. “Come on.” They moved out of the bushes, and right into the path of a jogger. She was in her 20s, brunette, pretty cute. She took a look at their amateur surveillance equipment, then at the house they were staring at, then to the bushes, then back to them. Mack moved to explain, but she cut him off.
“That’s just sick.” She jogged past them.
“What did she mean?” asked Kevin.
Mack decided that this day was rapidly getting worse. He put the binoculars in his jeans’ pocket, and set off.
After following Stack’s car for a few blocks, Mack decided his theory was right. He was going to the school, and he probably had the trophy with him. Mack was tempted to pull him over right now, and grab it, until common sense returned to his mind.
Ah yes, a black guy assaulting the school football hero in broad daylight in the middle of suburbia. That’s a good way to get shot, all right.
They’d follow him to the school, go inside, and take it from him. Minimum of fuss.
Stack’s car pulled up to the school. Mack told Kevin to park a few blocks away, and they sneaked up to the school. They saw Stack get out of his car, and go through the front door. “Let’s go!”
Kevin started exaggeratedly sneaking up to the school, shiftily running from one bush to the next, looking around madly, drawing a lot of attention. Mack could swear he heard him humming the Mission: Impossible theme tune. This was unneeded attention at that. People were starting to stare. Mack grabbed him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Be quiet.” Mack turned to the crowd. “Er, performance art.”
The crowd clapped. Mack manhandled Kevin up to the door, and went inside. They peeked down the corridor. Nothing there. He decided to look for the main office first. He followed the signs, and they arrived pretty quickly. Mack looked around. No-one he could see. As quietly as he could muster, he cracked open the door, and peered in. Nobody there.
But there was a large trophy on the desk. Lawndale’s trophy. Mack grinned. He opened the door the whole way, and quietly went inside, Kevin following. He grabbed it, and went back out the door.
Principal Broderick, Sam Stack, and two other goons from the football squad were standing there.
“Shit.” Mack sounded resigned.
“Look what we have here. Lawndale High’s star quarterback, and the football captain, caught stealing. What a scandal.” Broderick grinned. “Poor Angela.”
Great. Li pisses someone off, and we get the shit for it. Why does this not surprise me? “Look.” said Mack. “We’re not stealing - we’re taking back what’s ours. You stole it, remember?”
“That’s not what the police are going to hear.”
Mack slumped. There went his scholarship. “Why?”
“Cause!” It was Stack. “You punks forfeited! You shouldn’t have got a second game.”
“Hey man,” said Kevin. “We would have pasted you if we hadn’t been pissing our pants with cola!”
“Well,” sneered Stack. “We play with our pants full of pee! Right guys?” His two pals nodded.
“That’s nothing,” said Kevin, grinning confidently. “I’ve played with my pants full of shit!”
“Oh yeah?” said Stack. “Well, we’ve played when we all had chronic dysentery!”
Mack decided his world was spiraling into insanity.
Kevin opened his mouth, now doubt to make another scatological boast, but Broderick cut him off. “A contest of champions, to be sure, but I think we should retire to my office, where I can contact the police.”
Kevin leaned over to Mack. “Don’t worry, Mack Daddy! I have a cunning plan!”
“Kevin, you wouldn’t know a cunning plan if a woman opened her shirt, and one breast said ’cunning’ and the other said ’plan’.”
“That’s not true!” Kevin thought for a second. “How big are they?”
“Still, I’m all out of options. Go ahead.”
Kevin grinned confidently, paused dramatically, and suddenly pointed across the room, and screamed: “Oh God! What’s that?!?”
Stack and his pals looked, Broderick did not. Kevin looked defeated. “I’m all out of ideas, Mack.”
Mack stared at him. “That was your plan?” Kevin shrugged. Mack shook his head. “What was I expecting?”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Actually...” Mack reached under his arm, to where the trophy was. “You want this? Have it.” He threw something straight at Broderick. He freaked. Stack and his friends ran to intercept it. In the confusion, Mack grabbed Kevin’s arm and ran. They sped towards the exit, Mack turning long enough to see Stack intercept the missile...Mack’s binoculars. Mack grinned, and burst through the main doors, and towards the jeep. He climbed in, Kevin started the car, and they drove straight past Stack and Broderick, who were just coming out of the school, fuming. Mack held up the trophy, and they sped out of Oakwood.
“Yes!” Kevin pumped his fist in the air. “We did it, Mack Daddy!”
“Calm down. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
“Look, if Broderick’s anything like Li, he’ll have them chase us.”
“But, how would they find us?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just be cautious, okay?”
“Okay.” An hour or so passed uneventfully. Mack couldn’t see any vengeful quarterbacks or principals on their tail. Maybe he as being a little paranoid. On the other hand, if Broderick was of a kind with Li, he’d already be tracking their movements on his spy satellite, gotten with money skimmed from the school band’s instrument budget. It was embarrassing having the Lawndale marching band show up at a game, with the largest kazoo section in history.
“I’m hungry!” It was Kevin.
“You had a cheeseburger just an hour ago.”
Mack sighed. “Okay.”
“Can you stop the car?”
“Oh.” Kevin pulled over at a nearby Drugs N Stuff. Mack got out of the car, got Kevin’s order, and went inside. It might seem cruel, but he just didn’t trust Kevin with the money. Not after all that stuff with the con artists earlier. As an afterthought, he picked up the bag with the trophy too. Before closing the door, he thought of Oakwood again, and turned to Kevin. “Just lie low, okay?” Kevin waved in acknowledgment, and Mack went inside. After paying for the food, Mack walked back outside. He couldn’t see the jeep anywhere. Weird. Knowing Kevin, he’d probably tried to hide it some bushes, and ruined the paintwork. Mack looked around, but he couldn’t see him anywhere. He called out his name, and Kevin’s grinning face popped out of the bushes across the street.
“I’m over here!”
Mack scowled and walked across the road towards him. Did he know Kevin, or what? He walked up, and raised an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t mean like this.”
“But look - no-one can see me!”
“Ingenious. Where’s the jeep?”
Kevin looked lost. “Over by Drugs N Stuff.”
“No, it isn’t. Didn’t you move it?”
Kevin shook his head. “I was in disguise!”
Mack’s stomach fell. “You did take the keys out, right?”
Kevin looked lost again. “Maybe...”
“Kevin, do you know what happens when you leave a jeep on the sidewalk, with the keys in the ignition?”
“Is this a trick question?”
Mack resisted the urges inside, which were all telling him to do nasty things to Kevin’s smiling face. Instead, he gritted his teeth, and said: “Your jeep has been stolen.”
Kevin’s jaw dropped. “Oh no! How?”
Mack closed his eyes, and wondered why God had forsaken him.
Mack trudged down the dusty road, Kevin at his heels, trying not to lose his temper. Kevin was enthusiastically asking everyone he saw if they’d seen his jeep. No-one had. Then, if they were female, he’d inevitably move onto hitting on them. Mack had had to drag him away from at least ten women already. And they’d only been walking for half an hour. “Kevin,” he said levelly. “We need to get to the police station, so they can find your jeep. We don’t have a lot of time.”
“Time for what?”
Mack shook his head. “Never mind.” He was trapped a couple of hundred miles from Lawndale, his entire academic career riding on his getting back before Monday, with a handful of crazed football players on his heels, in the company of someone who though Thomas Edison used to write for Star Trek. Now that he thought about it, Mack figured his entire school life had been a struggle. Struggling as one of the only black students in Lawndale High. Struggling as the only reasonably intelligent person on the football team. Struggling to spend time with his girlfriend, with her insanely competitive parents. It was only fitting that his completion of high school was going to be a struggle as well. He was going to miss it, though. Was that just the masochistic side of him talking? No - there was some good memories there. He turned to Kevin, to remind him of one, and was shocked to find that he was gone. He whirled round, trying to locate him. No sign.
No answer. Shit! Why did he have to do this, all the time? Suddenly, he heard a car horn. He turned towards the sound, and saw Kevin, in his jeep.
“Over here, Mack Daddy!”
Mack’s eyes widened. Maybe Kevin was good for something, after all. He walked over, and climbed into the jeep. “Kevin, I’m impressed. How did you get your jeep back, or should I not know?”
Kevin drove off, smirking proudly. “Well, I figured since we left the jeep sitting out with the keys in it, maybe someone else would too.”
“Someone did!” Kevin basked in his own imagine glory. Mack got a horrible sinking feeling.
“You mean, you just found a jeep that had the keys still in it, and assumed it was yours?”
Mack’s thoughts become dark and bloody. How could anyone be so stupid? How could he have been so stupid to trust him? Summoning up the strength of will to speak, not scream, he turned to Kevin. “Is this your jeep?”
Kevin looked confused. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“IS THE LICENSE PLATE THE SAME?” screamed Mack.
“Whoa, Mack Daddy! I can’t be expected to notice everything, can I?”
Mack was not at al surprised to hear sirens from behind them. Kevin glanced in his rear view mirror. “Man, I wouldn’t like to be the guys they’re chasing.”
“IT’S US! They’re chasing US!”
“No way!” Kevin pulled the jeep over, and the cop car stopped behind them. Two police officers got out, and pulled their weapons. “Don’t move, or we shoot!”
Mack had to bite his tongue not to tell Kevin to move.
Office Lydecker, a burly man in his late forties, leaned over the desk towards Mack and Kevin. “Okay. I’ve read both your statements. Yours..” He pointed at Mack. “Sounds plausible enough. Yours, on the other hand...” He indicated Kevin. “Well, let me just read some of it out.” He lifted up a folder from the table, slipped on a pair of glasses, and cleared his throat. “I am Kevin Thompson, I mean Kevin Bond, and this is Mack Daddy. We are top secrett agentz for the pres! Wee wur on the trayle of the communists, when they excaped by helly...hally...plane. Then I asked a hot chick to loan us hur car, and she sed “Sure! Anything for a hot guy like u! Then we totally made ut. Then she lent us her car, and u arrezted us. So we hav to be let go, and catch the commiez, or the pres will be madd at u.”
“Yeah!” said Kevin. He leaned over to Mack, and said in a stage whisper: “Great plan, huh?”
“You amaze me sometimes.”
“Thanks!” Kevin missed the veiled insult.
Lydecker removed his glasses, and sat down opposite Mack and Kevin. “I think I see what’s going on here.”
“You do?” Mack sounded incredulous.
“Yes.” Lydecker smiled a little. “Mr. Daddy...”
“It’s Mackenzie, actually.”
“Yes. Mr. Mackenzie, I think what you’re doing is very noble. I couldn’t do it.”
“Mentally disadvantaged people do need time out as well, and it’s a very worthwhile thing to be a caregiver for them. Just try not to let him out of your sight again.”
“You’re letting us go?”
“Yes. Just be more careful with your charge in future.”
He smiled, and indicated the way out. Mack walked out, not believing he just got away with that. Kevin was bemused. He couldn’t figure out why they were suddenly free. They walked down the street in silence for a while. Mack was trying to think of how they could get out of this. They still had no car or transportation. “I know!” It was Kevin. “They must have fallen for my story. Too bad you couldn’t think of that, Mack Daddy!”
That was it. Mack had had enough. “He turned to Kevin. “Me!? It’s YOU that’s gotten us into this mess, and all the other messes!”
Kevin stepped back. “Hey, Mack Daddy, you seem a little tense?”
“TENSE? You bet I’m tense! I have to spend all day with you! And don’t call me that.”
“Back off, man.” Kevin frowned.
“Back off? I wish you’d back off - as far from me as possible. God - you always screw everything up! Why do I even bother? You’ll learn soon enough, when you’re working at KFC because you’re too much of an idiot to make any other career work!”
Kevin’s face twisted up in anger, and he stepped forward. “Shut up.”
“I would - if it meant you’d shut your retarded prattling up for one stupid minute!”
Kevin took a swing at Mack. Mack saw it coming, and managed to roll with it a little. He came back up, and punched Kevin in the gut. Kevin doubled over, grunted in pain, then brought his fist up to catch Mack in the ribs. Mack swallowed the pain - then punched Kevin in the jaw. Kevin went sprawling. Mack stepped back, glowering at him. Kevin stood up, and rubbed his jaw. “Screw you, Mack! I don’t need your help to get back to Lawndale!”
“Fine by me.” Mack grabbed the trophy bag, and slung it over his shoulders. “You’ll be begging for me in a few hours.”
“No way, man!” Kevin defiantly turned and walked in the opposite direction. Mack glared at his retreating figure, and then walked away. After a while, he got to a bus stop bench, and sat down. He had a couple of options. One, find Kevin’s jeep. But that was nigh on impossible. Two, rent a car, and three, catch a bus. He began to count his money. After some counting, it became apparent he couldn’t afford to do any of that. He sighed. He hadn’t brought enough money to account for this sort of situation.
I guess Dad’s right. I am no good with money.
That left another solution. Call someone, and ask for help. Mack hated to do that, but he didn’t have a lot of choice. But who? He ruled out his dad. He didn’t want another lecture about money. That left Jodie. She’d be mad too, but she'd let him off with a shorter lecture.
He used some of the cash to buy a phone card, and dialed Jodie’s number. Andrew
Landon picked up. “Michael! How was your trip?”
“Fine, sir. Um, is Jodie there?”
“Well,” Andrew’s tone went a little more subdued. “She’s actually filling out scholarship applications right now.”
“Well, it’s kind of important.”
“I’m sure it can wait until tomorrow, son. I mean, you wouldn't want to interrupt her, would you?”
The line went dead. Mack stared at it for a second, and then smashed it back on the receiver, and started yelling thinly veiled references to Andrew Landon. He stopped when he realized people were staring, and turned back to the phone quietly. Andrew was a nice guy most of the time. He just didn’t realize that Jodie was able to make decisions for herself. Mack hoped she’d just tell him off one of these days. And he also hoped he’d have ringside seats when she did.
Who the hell was he going to call now? Who else’s number did he have? He flipped through the small address book he carried. All the football team? No, they’d all been busy. He’d tried Jodie. Brittany? No. Daria?
Well, she was smart, and resourceful, and he had her number. Jodie must have written it down there sometime. She probably had a few ideas, if she was in a helpful mood. He dialed the number, and hoped he wouldn’t get Quinn. She was a little grating. After a few rings, Daria’s usual monotone came on the line. “Hello?”
“Mack? Is that you?”
He heard a voice in the background. “Another guy? Should I be jealous?” That must be her boyfriend. Tim, or something. “Or should I be curious?”
Daria’s voice piped through. “I think curious is a more appropriate emotion. It’s certainly the one I’m feeling right now.”
“Sorry to bother you.”
“That’s okay. Tom was losing the debate anyway.”
Tom! That was it. His voice came though again. “That’s only because you said tickling wasn’t a proper form of argument.”
Daria‘ voice: “Just try that on the O’Reilly Factor.”
Tom‘s voice “You know, I think I’d pay to see that.”
Daria‘s voice: “Uh-huh. Mack? What did you want?”
Mack explained the events of the past few days in some detail.
“Wow.” Daria sounded shocked. “Some weekend.”
“Tell me about it. Look, I hate to ask, but I need help.”
“Hold on.” He heard the sound of the phone being handed to someone. Tom’s voice came on again. “Hello?”
“She’s gone to go get something.”
“Crazy weekend, huh?”
“Tell me about it.”
Then Daria’s voice came back on. “I hate to interrupt your scintillating conversation, but I have a solution. I have my mom’s credit card. Use it to rent a car, and pay me back when you get home.”
“Thanks, Daria.” Mack thought for a moment. “I guess I should find Kevin, shouldn’t I?”
“Why? He’s the most resourceful person I know.”
“I suppose. Ms. Li would throw a fit if you lost her star quarterback.”
“Hmm. Maybe you could leave him there.”
“Don’t tempt me. I have to go get him, don’t I?”
“Yeah. He’d never make it back. I saw him try to find Lawndale on a map once, and it took him four hours. And he thought it was in the arctic.”
Mack sighed heavily. “Okay, well thanks for everything.”
“Just don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”
Mack grinned. “Thanks, Daria.” He hung up and turned back to the road. He had to find Kevin somehow. Now that he thought about it though, that didn’t seem like much of a problem.
Kevin pleaded his case to the manager of the “All-Male Exotic Dancing Revue”. “Look, man - you have to let me audition. I’m a QB! That means I’ve got athletic skills. And look at this ass! And I need the money!” That last part came out a little more desperate than Kevin intended, but he was desperate. Even with his limited math skills, he could tell that he was broke. So he had tried to think of what skills he had for working.
After a few minutes, all he could think of was football. Then he remembered how Brittany had said he had a nice ass once. If only he could use his amazing ass to make money!
And then he saw the sign for male strippers...
“Look,” said the manager, an unpleasant little man with greasy hair. “No offence, but you seem kind of young. And the women, you know, they like a bit of maturity.”
“Is that anything like having an ass like this?” Kevin wiggled it suggestively. “Look at it!”
“Yes, yes. Look, I need some ID, or you’re going to have to leave.”
“But my jeep was stolen! It had my ID in it.”
“Yeah, right. Lewis?”
A huge ox of a man came over, hiked Kevin over his shoulder, and threw him out of the club. Kevin landed hard in the dust. He clambered to his feet, and threw a dismissive gesture to the closing door. “Your loss! You’ll never find an ass this nice.”
“I couldn’t say.”
Kevin recognized the voice, but didn’t turn round. “What do you want?”
Mack sighed. “I...look, can we go somewhere and talk?”
“I don’t think we have anything to talk about, Mack.” A thought buzzed woozily around his head. “How did you find me?”
“Heard some women talking about some guy who asked them if they thought his ass was nice, and how QBs needed good asses. Figured it was you.”
Mack sighed. “Look, can we go somewhere and talk. Please?”
Kevin turned round, a sulky expression still on his face. “Okay.”
They found a Beefy Burgers nearby, and got something to eat. Kevin kept eyeing Mack uncomfortably as they ate. Eventually, Mack spoke. “Kevin, I’m sorry.”
“You should be.”
“Look, I was just upset. I didn’t really mean what I said.”
“Yes, you did. Look,” Kevin frowned in a most un-Kevin like way. “I know I’m not the smartest guy on the football team. Or in the school. But...” He tailed off, and looked like he’d lost his train of thought. Mack figured this was his time to step in.
“Kevin, I was just upset that you’d done something that stupid. But you know, it’s partially my fault. I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
“Yeah! I mean...” Kevin thought for a moment, but couldn’t articulate anything.
“Kevin, you might not be the smartest person in the world. But you’re not the stupidest either.” Although you come close sometimes. “You know what, though? You’re a decent guy. You’ve always been there for me, in your own special way. Remember the time I transferred to Lawndale? I was there, scared and lost, and you asked me my name. I said Mack, and...”
Kevin grinned. “I said ‘go long, Mack Daddy!’ and threw a football at you.”
Mack winced at the memory. “And it hit me in the mouth, and almost broke my jaw.”
“Yeah!” Kevin nodded enthusiastically. “Then the next day, you threw one back, and knocked me out! Coach saw your throw, and asked you to join the football team.”
“Yeah.” Mack smiled at the memory. “So you got me into the team, sort of. Wasn’t hard to make friends then.”
Kevin thought of something. “Hey, remember that time you had a big fight with Jodie? I helped you out then!”
Mack thought about it for a moment. “You told her I was sleeping with the entire cheerleading squad, and she wouldn’t talk to me for three months.”
“It was to make her jealous!”
“Yeah. Well, you were trying to help. Look, Kevin, I’m sorry about snapping at you. You are a good friend, most of the time.” Plus, considering your Dad, it’s a miracle you turned out this well.
“That’s okay, Mack Daddy! We’re buds, right?” Kevin punched Mack on the arm. He groaned in pain. “We’re a team! Bro and QB!”
Mack rubbed his arm gingerly. “Okay. Let’s get out of here.”
They sped down the interstate. It hadn’t taken them long to find a car rental place, and with Helen Morgendorffer’s credit card details, renting the car had been a breeze. Mack hated the idea of being in debt though. Soon as they got back to Lawndale, he’d pay them back. He owed Daria big time for this.
After a while of traveling, Mack was starting to stifle yawns, and Kevin was dangerously close to falling asleep at the wheel. All that time dealing with the car theft had taken a big dent out of their schedule, and it was getting dark. They pulled over at the next motel, and checked in. Mack would have dearly loved to get his own room, but the budget didn’t allow it, and besides, he didn’t know what Kevin would do without him.
I just hope he doesn’t snore.
After they got to the room, Mack lay down, and turned off the light, after persuading Kevin it was not in his best interest to watch cable all night. He was just dozing off to sleep when...
Mack stirred a little. “Uh-huh?”
“Yeah.” I am now, anyway. “What do you want?”
“I was thinking about stuff.”
“That amazes me.”
“Yeah, me too!” Again, Kevin missed the subtleties. “I mean, this is it, almost. We’re going to be going off to college, and we won’t be doing this sort of stuff anymore.”
“Trust me, you’ll appreciate it more there.”
Mack sighed. “I know what you mean, Kevin. I mean, I’ll miss all you guys on the team too. We’ve had a good run.”
“Hey, maybe we’ll end up on the same NFL team one day!”
Mack thought about this for a second. “Kevin, can I ask you something?”
“What...” Mack chose his words carefully. “What happens if your football career doesn’t work out?”
“Why wouldn’t it? Are you saying I’m not good...”
Mack cut him off. “No. I’m just saying things happen. Injuries happen. Careers don’t always go the way we want them to. I have business as a backup, what do you have?”
Mack could almost hear Kevin’s brain working. After a while, he finally spoke up. “No, my Dad says I’m going to be a NFL hero. He says everything‘s going to work out.”
Mack’s already low opinion of Doug Thompson went down another few notches. “Kevin, your dad can’t predict the future.” Plus he just wants a football hero for a son. “You have to think about other possibilities. Understand me?”
“Okay.” Mack sighed again, heavier this time. “Just think about it, okay?”
Mack closed his eyes, and began to fall asleep again, when Kevin’s voice cut through his slumbers a second time. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” Mack gritted his teeth.
“Well,” Kevin paused. “Are you and Jodie doing it?”
“Go to sleep, Kevin.”
Sadly, Mack was awoken a third time by Kevin, a few hours later. This time, Kevin was still sleeping, and presumably dreaming. Unfortunately, he was acting his dreams out loudly, and from the sounds of things, they were about Brittany. Mack decided this was far, far too much information about their relationship than he was prepared to know. He considered waking him, but then he’d only want to talk. So Mack decided he would go and sleep in the bath. He picked up his blanket, went to the bathroom, and tried to get comfortable. His head didn’t seem to want to stay straight though. Mack still tried to sleep, after figuring this was far better than the alternative.
“Hey, Mack Daddy, what’s up with your neck?”
Mack rubbed his neck gingerly. “Nothing.” He’d had a disturbing dream about Jodie standing on his neck all night long, but he couldn’t figure out what it had been about. “Let’s just get our stuff, and get to the car.”
They walked out of the room, and began to walk round the corner to the parking lot. Suddenly Mack pulled Kevin back round the corner. “What is it?”
Mack shushed him. “By the car. Stack and those three idiots he keeps for company.”
“How’d they find us?”
“I don’t know. If Oakwood’s anything like Lawndale though, they’re under the same kind of deal we’re under.”
Kevin looked lost. “What’s that?”
“You know, to get back that trophy.”
Kevin took a quick look round the corner. “There’s only three of them, Mack Daddy. We can take them.”
“True.” Mack thought for a moment. “Let’s try to talk this out first.”
“Okay, let me try to talk it out.” Mack walked round the corner, letting the Oakwooders spot him. He raised his hands in a gesture of peace, and started to talk. He was cut off by Stack’s enraged voice. “There he is, boys! Mess him up! And that retard behind him!”
“Whoa,” said Kevin. “They just called you a retard. That was unfair.”
Mack raised his fists into a fighting stance. He hated fighting, but if it came down to it, he knew him and Kevin could take these guys. Of course, the other eight members of the football team that just appeared were more of a problem. Eleven against two. Those were odds even Kevin could recognize were hopeless.
“We can take them!” screamed Kevin.
“When I say run, run,” whispered Mack.
“RUN!” Mack and Kevin turned and bolted in the opposite direction. Oakwood’s sporting pride and joy followed. Mack ran as fast as he could, keeping one eye ahead of him, and one eye on Kevin. His hand gripped the trophy bag tighter. This was very, very inconvenient. Not really surprising, but inconvenient. They ran across the street, Mack looking frantically for somewhere to lose them. He spotted a mall, and made a beeline for it, making sure Kevin hadn’t been distracted by a shiny object or anything. The Oakwood Taprooters were still hot on their tails, but Lawndale didn’t keep beating them for no reason. Mack knew Kevin and him were faster. If they could just get to the mall in time...
They burst through the main doors and ran inside. Mack quickly studied the mall directory on his way past. They had what he needed. “Kevin!”
“What?” Kevin was starting to get out of breath.
“Head for Sears!”
“Okay.” They reached Sears and ran inside. “What are we doing here?”
“Kevin, we’re being pursued by eleven macho football players. We have to go somewhere they would never go.”
Kevin looked horrified. “There? No way - what if someone sees me?”
Mack grabbed him. “Come on.” Against Kevin’s struggling, he led him straight into the perfume and toiletries section.
“No way! I can’t go in here!”
“Come on.” Mack dragged Kevin behind a L’Oreal display. He figured Stack and his cronies would never think of looking here for them, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to overcome their macho conditioning. Plus, there was always the chance that they would all get distracted by the sports section.
Two of the Oakwood players were wandering by the sports section, keeping their eyes out for Mack and Kevin.
“We’ll find those Lawndale punks before long,” sneered the first one. “Nothing’s gonna stop us from pounding their asses but good.”
“Hey,” said the second one. “Helmets are half price!”
They rushed into the sports aisle, all other concerns momentarily forgotten.
Outside the perfume and toiletries section, Stack stood, willing himself to enter. But he couldn’t. If someone he knew spotted him, he'd be the laughing stock of the team. He doubted they were in there, though. What kind of football player could force himself to enter...he shuddered. To enter the forbidden zone?
Mack looked round past the display. He could see Stack standing a few aisles down, not able to come in. He smiled. Macho guys were so predictable sometimes. A little bit of intelligence went a long way. He looked over as Kevin tugged at his sleeve.
“Mack, we have to leave. I’m starting to wonder what would smell nice on me!”
“Wait a little bit longer, Kevin. They’ll leave and go search another store eventually.”
“Am I a Fuchsia scent sort of person?” Kevin was examining the bottles in depth now.
“Just be quiet. Plus, with your complexion, a lighter scent would go better.” Damn, I guess shopping for Jodie’s presents rubs off on you.
After lurking round the store for what seemed like hours, Mack decided it was safe to leave. Luckily, Kevin had found a catalogue in one of the aisles, and had been buried in it, staring at the pictures. They sneaked out of the store, looking cautiously around for any vengeful football players. None seemed to be around, so they set off back to the motel, where they had left the car. As they turned the corner, Mack decided to be more cautious this time, and check to see if anyone was there.
There was. The rental company in fact, and the Oakwood team.. The rental company appeared to be taking the car back. Stack was at the front, telling the rental person that it had been abandoned, and he was just doing his duty as a concerned. The rental person thanked him, and drove off. Stack grinned as he drove off, and then turned to the team. “They have to come back here eventually to get their car, except we’ll be waiting. By the way, anyone see Murray and Travis? I haven’t seen them since Sears.”
Mack cursed silently and motioned for Kevin to go back the other direction. They walked back to the road, and began a long walk. Now what? No car (again). And still hundreds of miles to go.
Oh well, with any luck, Stack and his cronies will wait there forever, expecting us to come.
A few hours later, Stack and his cronies were still waiting there. “They’ll be here,” he announced confidently. The rest of the team nodded sagely.
A few miles away, Mack and Kevin were still walking. Mack was all out of options. If they rented another car, it would be beyond his means to pay it back. And he hated being in debt. Kevin had taken to hitchhiking, jerking his thumb out at random intervals, and then yelling obscenities at the ones who didn’t stop. Which was all of them. Kevin sighed and turned to Mack. “Why aren’t they stopping?”
“We’re not hot women. Men won’t stop for other men.”
“Would it help if we dressed up as hot women?”
“What you do in your own time, is entirely up to you...”
“Mack?” Kevin’s voice had gone serious. “Remember when we were talking about Brittany and me?”
“Well, if I think it’s okay to cheat on her...” Kevin seemed to be straining hard with this thought. “Maybe...she...thinks it’s okay to...cheat on me!”
Mack thought for a moment. He had to choose his words carefully. He couldn’t just tell Kevin that, yes, Brittany did cheat on him. Maybe not quite as often as he cheated on her, but still quite a bit. There was a long silence. Finally, Mack spoke. “Kevin, you know how I told you that your parents are supposed to set the standards?”
“Well, don’t you think that Brittany’s dad dumping her mom for a girl who could pass for her slightly older sister may have had an adverse affect on her outlook on relationships?”
“Never mind. Look,” Mack thought again. “If you want to keep seeing Brittany after High School, and I’m assuming you do, don’t cheat on her. Okay?”
“I...think...so.” Kevin was clearly giving this a lot of thought. Mack half-expected to see smoke coming out of his ears. Suddenly, a car pulled over ahead of them. Mack blinked in shock. It was probably Oakwood. He tensed, and readied himself to run. A female voice came out of the car. “You guys need a ride?”
The two guys looked at each other in surprise. Then, they picked up their stuff and ran to the car. Mack climbed in the back, while Kevin took shotgun. The driver was a slender, attractive woman, Mack guessed in her late thirties or early forties. She smiled. “Hi. I’m Rita Barksdale.”
Kevin grinned wildly. “I’m Kevin Thompson, and this is Mack Daddy!”
Rita smiled back. “That’s nice. What are you guys doing out here?”
“We’re going back to...”
Kevin butted in. “We were visiting friends up in Oakwood College! We’re college seniors!”
“Really? So what happened to your car?”
“My car was stolen.”
“Yeah,” said Mack. “Cause you left the keys in...”
“That’s terrible,” said Rita.
“We had a rental, but it...” Kevin paused, “was stolen too.”
“No it wasn’t. It was...”
“Two cars in one day? That’s awful.” Rita cut Mack off again.
“Well, I’m used to it. You get used to trouble when you’re a QB!”
“You’re a quarterback? For Lawndale College?”
Kevin thought for a moment. “Er...yeah.”
“Actually, we’re not really...”
“I used to love football.” Rita sighed. “My first boyfriend was a quarterback, you know.”
“Really? Well, us QBs are pretty irresistible.”
Rita smiled. Mack rolled his eyes.
“You know,” said Rita. “I’m just coming from Lawndale, but I could drop you guys back there without much trouble.”
“Well, we would hate to...”
“Cool!” said Kevin. He affected a mock serious tone. “You know, you should be careful. There’s a lot of dangerous people about.”
“I know. But I want to live dangerously. You know, as soon as I left Lawndale, my boyfriend dumped me?”
“Oh yes. Over the phone!” Rita gritted her teeth. “Said I was neglecting him. Actors!” Her voice went sad for a moment. “That’s what always happens. They all find ways of dumping me...”
Mack figured this would be a good time to get some sleep. “I’m going to sleep...”
“Yeah, actors,” muttered Kevin.
“It’s not like any of you are listening...”
“Why do I always have such bad luck with men?”
Mack closed his eyes.
“Is that a trick question?” said Kevin worriedly.
Rita didn’t seem to hear him. “I mean, I finally get on a good relationship with Helen and Amy, and then this happens. Why can’t anything go right? It’s always been like this. Ever since Erin was born.”
Kevin tried to figure out if this was a cue to talk. He decided it wasn’t.
“Why can’t I find a guy to love me for who I am? Boyfriend after boyfriend after boyfriend. All ended up not being worth the time. Is it me?”
Long pause. Kevin finally decided that was a cue.
“I think you’re attractive for an older chick,” he ventured.
Rita smiled. “That’s very kind of you to say so. How old are you again?”
Kevin thought for a moment. “25,” he said finally.
Rita smiled again.
Mack was awakened from his pleasant Jodie-inspired dreams by the car stopping. He glanced outside, expecting to see Lawndale. He didn’t. Instead he saw a motel. He frowned. “What’s happening?”
“It’s late,” said Rita. We wouldn’t make it to Lawndale until after 2 in the morning.”
“Yeah, Mack Daddy!” Kevin was looking terribly eager for some reason.
Mack scowled. “We have to be in Li’s office tomorrow morning.”
“I can get you there before school starts. I promise.”
“Okay,” said Mack reluctantly.
They checked in, and got two separate rooms. Rita went to hers, and Mack and Kevin went off to theirs. As soon as they got in, Kevin went back to the door. “I have to...use the bathroom.”
“We have one here.”
“Yeah, but...” Kevin looked desperately for another excuse. “I...”
Mack sighed. “Just go.”
Kevin moved to leave, and Mack called out after him. “Just remember what we talked about!” He vanished round the corner, and Mack lay back on the bed. Okay, it didn’t seem like he had gotten through to Kevin at all. Damn. Oh well, he was 19. It wasn’t like he was breaking any laws. That Rita lady did seem awfully familiar for some reason. She reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t figure out who. He flicked the light off, and went back to sleep.
Rita and Kevin sat down on the bed. Kevin was practically bursting with anticipation. Rita leaned in and kissed him on the lips. Kevin responded enthusiastically, and they both began to lie down on the bed.
Kevin’s mind was racing. He was on a bed with a hot chick (an older one, but still...) and he was going to get some! Then he suddenly thought about Brittany, and what Mack said. Which was odd, because he never thought about Brittany when he was cheating on her.
Rita gazed into Kevin’s eyes. Okay, he was young. Not too young, though. Hell, why couldn’t she be the bohemian one for a change? But above all, she was lonely. She just wanted to be with someone to make up for Rafe dumping her. Then she realized what she was doing.
Kevin and Rita both sat up and said “Wait!” at the same time.
“I...I can’t...” said Kevin, unsure of himself.
“Neither can I,” said Rita hurriedly.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Rita took the opportunity to begin. “I’m sorry. I think I’m just using you, I think. I mean...oh I don’t know.” She paused to collect herself. “All my relationships end badly, you know? I don’t know why...maybe Helen and Amy are right about me...tonight I just wanted to find someone to help me forget all that. God, I’m pathetic. I’m reduced to picking up guys on the side of the road. Plus you’re 15 years younger than me.”
Kevin started to correct her, but then thought better of it. “Um,” he said. “I can’t either. I have this girlfriend...I always used to cheat on her, but now...I think I shouldn’t...or something...if I want to keep seeing her, which I do.” That made a sort of sense to him. He looked at Rita expectantly.
“Ah,” she said. “You’re saying that we should all try to find one meaningful relationship, and stick with it?”
“You know, you’re right. I have to stop wasting my time with all these loser guys. Find a guy I can love, and stick with him. All my boyfriends...they’ve just been ways to fill my life, you know? And I’m lonely. I’m reduced to doing this to find company. But not anymore. You’ve showed me what I should do with my life.”
“You’re a smart guy, you know that, Kevin?”
“I am?” Kevin was stunned.
“That’s a lucky girl you have.”
Kevin couldn't quite figure out what was going on now, but he was sort of convinced he’d done the right thing. Rita leaned over and kissed him. “Thank you.”
The next morning, around six, Mack awoke, and looked over. He was mildly surprised to see Kevin back in the room, stretching and waking up. “Fun night?” he asked sarcastically.
“It was kind of weird,” said Kevin.
Mack raised his hand. “Don’t tell me any more, please.”
They walked out to the car. Rita was waiting for them. She seemed a lot happier than last night. Mack didn’t want to think about why.
After a few hours, they sped back into Lawndale. They pulled up a few blocks from Lawndale High, and Mack and Kevin got out. Mack glanced at his watch. They still had plenty of time to get to Li’s office before school started. “Thanks for the lift,” he said.
“Not problem. And thank you, Kevin.”
“No problem, babe!” said Kevin.
Rita leant over and kissed him on the cheek. Mack rolled his eyes.
“Gonna visit your family?”
“No.” Rita shook her head. “Things are actually looking up with them, so I don’t want to jinx it. I think I’ll head home, and sort a few things out. Especially with my love life.”
Rita waved and drove off. Kevin turned to Mack. “Cool chick, huh, Mack Daddy!”
“You amaze me sometimes, Kevin.”
“Hey, sometimes, I amaze myself.”
Mack turned and began walking towards the school. Just before they reached the main entrance, he heard an angry shout. It was the Oakwood Taprooters. Again. “Hey, you!”
Mack sighed and turned around. “What?”
“We waited at that stupid motel for 14 hours! Why the hell didn’t you show up?”
Kevin sneered. “I guess we’re too smart for you.”
Stack growled. “Get them, boys!”
Mack and Kevin decided that discretion was definitely the better part of valor in this case, and made a run for it. Stack and co. burst through the doors after them. Mack and Kevin barreled down the corridors, heading for Li’s office.
Mack and Kevin ran faster, and almost collided with the fashion club. “Watch my hair!” yelled Sandi. “Sudden gusts of wind can be very damaging!”
“Move!” screamed Mack, rushing past them.
Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie were walking up to ask Quinn if she needed anything, when they spotted the chase. “Is that Mack and Kevin?” asked Joey.
“Is that Oakwood?” asked Jamie.
“Get them!” screamed Jeffy.
They piled after the Oakwood team. Mack and Kevin ran on, almost colliding with Mr. O’Neill. “Mack, Kevin, I’m very pleased you take your exercise very seriously. Still, the corridors might not be the safest...” He was cut off as an Oakwood player ran into him, knocking them both to the ground. Unfortunately, Ms Barch was walking out of a nearby classroom, and saw her beloved hit the ground, and immediately begin whimpering.
“Skinny! Just like a man.” She ran over, and began to lay into the defenseless Oakwooder. As the Oakwood team paused at seeing a psychotic woman lay into their teammate, the three Js caught up, and with a cry of “Lawndale Forever!” also began to lay into the Oakwood team. Pretty soon, a total free for all had developed in the corridor. Mr. DeMartino walked by, and saw the melee. “Oh NO! Football PLAYERS are beating each other UP! They could get HURT doing that!” He smiled evilly. “I have to see THIS!”
Dimly aware of the huge conflict behind them, Kevin and Mack reached Li’s office, and flung themselves inside. Li was there, as was Broderick.
Mack stopped short in shock. “What the fu...”
Li cut him off. “Mr. Mackenzie, I would appreciate it if you knock before coming into my office in future.”
Kevin burst in behind him, and spotted Broderick. His mouth worked up and down: “Wha....er....um...” He whispered in Mack’s ear. “What school are we in again?”
Kevin thought for a while. Finally, he pointed accusingly at Broderick. “You’re not supposed to be here!”
Broderick grimaced. Li grinned. “Do you have it?”
Mack reached into his bag, and produced the trophy. Li’s face shone with avaricious delight. “We win!”
Broderick scowled. “And so you do.”
“Win what?” Mack gazed at both of them.
“Well,” began Li, “this has been a little...contest, so to speak.”
“Yes.” Li paused for dramatic effect. “Richie...Richard here made me a bet that his team were much smarter than our team, after our decisive victory the other day. He claimed that his team could pull off this without a hitch. I said that our team was smart enough to figure things out and recover the trophy. We won! Go Lawwwnnndale!”
Broderick shrugged. “You got lucky.”
Mack was furious. “You jerked us around for a bet!”
“Not just for a bet. This way we get additional funds to help Lawndale High!”
“And we get shafted,” muttered Broderick.
“Don’t be a sore loser.” Li turned to Mack and Kevin. “As for you gentlemen, I’m sure a couple of notches higher on your grades will be more than adequate compensation.”
“Forget it,” said Mack angrily. “I don’t need your help to graduate. I’ll be more than happy to leave here when that happens.” He stormed out.
Kevin glanced at Mack, then turned to Li. “I don't need your help to graduate either!” He stormed out.
Li watched them go. “If only you knew, Mr. Thompson.” She turned to Broderick. “Cheer up, Richie. Let Angela make you fell all better.”
Broderick perked up, and pulled down the window blinds.
Mack stopped outside the office door. This was just typical. Around him, Ms. Barch was completely devastating the Oakwood team, who were cowering in fear as she psychotically ranted about what exactly she’d like to do to certain male body parts. The three Js were helping Mr. O’Neill up, who was crying like a baby. Muffled sounds of pleasure came from inside Ms Li’s office, but Mack tried very hard to block those out. However, he did know why they played Oakwood so often now, even given the large distance between them.
“What now, Mack Daddy?” asked Kevin.
Mack sighed heavily. Just then, Brittany came running up to Kevin. “Kevvy! We had broken up, and it was just that one time, and it wasn’t even that good. Not as good as you...”
“Hey!” yelled Stack. Barch silenced him with a glare. DeMartino laughed. “Macho PLAYERS defeated by a WOMAN! Ha ha HA!”
“Shut up, you man!”
Brittany grabbed Kevin‘s hand. “Oh Kevvy it won’t happen again, I promise!”
“Huh? Oh hi babe!” Kevin walked off with Brittany.
Jodie walked up to Mack. “Hey.”
She glanced around the corridor. “What’s going on?”
Mack shook his head. “The usual.”
“Oh. Hey, how come you didn’t call this weekend? I was getting worried about you.”
Mack looked at her, then laughed.
“Have I ever told you how much you aren’t like your parents?”
Jodie looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I love you.” Mack kissed her tenderly.
“What happened on that weekend?”
“I’ll tell you later. I’m not really sure myself.”
“That good, huh?”
“Good isn’t one of the words I’d use to describe it.” Mack smiled. “Interesting would fit.”
“Interesting is never good.”
Mack grinned, and they walked down the corridor together.
When school was over, Daria walked back into the house, and set her bag down. The house seemed so quiet, now that her aunts were finally gone. Plus Dad seemed to have disappeared, though the noises coming from the garage did seem very familiar. She picked up the phone, ready to call Tom, when the doorbell rang. She frowned, and walked over to open it. It was Mack.
“Um, hi.” Mack looked slightly uncomfortable. “Can I come in?”
“Sure. Not that I’m unhappy to see you, but what are you doing here?”
Mack pulled out an envelope from his pocket. “I just wanted to pay you back.”
“Oh.” Daria took the envelope. “Well, thanks. I doubt my mother would have noticed for a while anyway.”
“Well, I just hate being in debt.” He paused. “Besides, I got an envelope from Li paying me back for this weekend. I needed the money.”
“How was your weekend? I have to compliment you on spending an entire weekend with Kevin, and not going insane.”
Mack smiled. “It’s not like I didn’t come close. I did end up punching him into the dirt.”
“And I missed it? Damn.”
Mack looked around. “You know, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been in your house.”
“Well, if you’d been here a little while ago, you never would have came back.”
“Oh, my mother’s sisters.” Daria pointed to a picture on the mantelpiece. “They left a few days ago. Every time they show up, Aunt Rita and Mom get into a pissing contest. They seemed to work it out this time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for the next time.”
She noticed Mack staring at the photo, his face in a state of shock. “Did you say Rita?”
“Yeah, why?” Daria was confused.
Mack turned to her. “I have to go,” he whispered. The he turned and bolted, almost knocking over Helen as she walked in the door.
Helen turned to Daria. “Daria, can’t you try not to scare off visitors every time?”
Daria wasn’t listening. She was looking at the picture of Rita that had freaked Mack out so badly. She tried to work this out logically. Mack and Kevin had gone of for the weekend. Mack returns and is freaked out by a picture of Rita Barksdale. Therefore, something happened on the trip with Rita. They met her? Possibly. She was going in that direction. Then why the shock? Wouldn’t he have just mentioned that? That meant something embarrassing had to have happened. What could be embarrassing enough that it would freak Mack out? Sex? That was certainly plausible, given Rita. Mack was a nice guy though. He would never cheat on Jodie. That left...
No damn way.
Daria turned to Helen. “I have to go.”
Helen looked at her in concern. “Daria, are you alright? You’ve gone awfully pale.”
“I’m fine, Mom. I’ll be back soon.” She ran out, following Mack. He hadn’t gone far. “Mack!” He turned, and saw her coming up. He considered making a run for it, but figured she’d find him sooner or later. She ran up to him, a little out of breath. “You met my aunt Rita on your trip, didn’t you?”
“And Kevin...I can’t even say it.”
Mack nodded again, trying not to look Daria in the eye. “I didn’t actually see them, but you know...”
“Yes. Um.” Daria seemed unsure of herself. “This is one of the most disturbing things that’s ever happened to me.”
Daria turned to Mack. “Mack, how long have we known each other?”
Mack thought for a second. “Two and a half years.”
“And have you ever seen me really angry?”
“Well,” Daria leaned in a little closer. “If Kevin never wants to see me angry, make sure he keeps his mouth shut. I know you wouldn’t say anything.”
“Okay.” Daria turned and walked back to her house. Mack relaxed. He hadn’t realized how frightening a monotone could be until now.
Later that night, Mack managed to track down Kevin, who was down at the arcade, with some of the other members of the team. He persuaded Kevin that they needed to talk in private for a moment. They went outside, and Mack thought about how he was going to phrase this. He just hoped Kevin hadn’t bragged about it to the team yet. He sighed. How was it, that Kevin and Brittany cheated on each other so much, and everyone knew about it, except those two. Life didn’t make a whole lot of sense sometimes.
He cleared his throat. “Kevin...you remember that lady who gave us a lift, Rita?”
“Look, I don’t want to know what you did with her, but...”
“Yeah, right. Look...”
“I’m being serious, Mack Daddy!” Kevin’s tone went a little more subdued. “She had some issues, and I think I helped her through them.”
Mack decided this was a little unbelievable, and said so.
“No way. I thought about what you said about Britt, and...” He paused, straining to think clearly. “Well, maybe I do want to see her after high school, and if not her, then someone else. And that means I shouldn’t cheat on them, right?”
“Right,” said Mack, surprised.
“So I’m going to try and change. I was trying to think about that other stuff you said, about careers, but it hurts when I try to think of more than one thing at a time. But I will.”
“Kevin, I’m stunned. There might be help for you yet.” Mack thought for a second. “Hold on, you didn’t do anything? You got threatened for nothing?”
“What, Mack Daddy?”
“Never mind.” Mack decided to tempt fate since Kevin was in an unusually thoughtful mood. “Kevin, do you actually know what ‘Mack Daddy’ means?”
Kevin thought for a while. “No,” he finally admitted.
Mack told him.
Kevin was shocked. “Whoa, bro! I’m sorry, man. I won’t call you that again!”
Yeah, right. “Well, Kevin, you’ve surprised me. You might actually be able to survive outside of college.” Maybe.
“Hey, bro, we’ll always be a team right? Bro and QB! We’re like that movie about Butch and that Cassidy guy. ‘Unforgiven‘, or something.”
“Yes, Kevin, we’ll always be a team.” Mack sighed.
Kevin grinned and walked back off into the arcade. Mack turned to see Jodie waiting over by the parking lot. “Always be a team, huh?”
Mack shrugged. “It’s probably true. I have this horrible feeling that I’ll end up bailing him out of something later in life.”
“And I know you will,” said Jodie, smiling, “because you’re basically a nice person, and despite yourself, you actually care about Kevin.”
“Damn. You got me.”
Jodie slipped her arms around his waist. “Got any plans for the rest of tonight?”
“I can think of a couple now. Anything that doesn’t involve High School, preferably.”
Jodie looked thoughtful. “Hard to believe it’s almost over, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Mack looked thoughtful for a moment. “But I think I’ll get over it.”
Jodie smiled. “It wasn’t all bad, was it?”
Mack shook his head. “I’ve had some good times, and met a lot of great people. Plus, if I hadn’t come here, I never would have met you.”
Mack leaned in and kissed her. She broke free. “Flatterer.”
“Guilty. Come on.” He smiled, and held out his hand. “Let’s go and relive some of those good times.”
Jodie smiled, and they walked off, hand in hand.
First of all, a big thank you to my beta-readers, Thea-Zara, Robert Nowall, and Roger Moore.
Thanks to my wife for everything.
Thanks to MTV and co. for putting the show on the air.
Hope you guys enjoyed it!