The necklace appeared in her jewelry box one morning. Mack made a face, confused. Maybe her grandfather had snuck it in there. He was great at a lot of things, but he had a habit of buying gifts for special occasions, forgetting all about them by the time the right date rolled around, then digging them up five months later and randomly gifting, for example, that iPod Mack had asked for on her birthday. She hadn't asked for a necklace with a big bright flower on it, but despite raising two girls of his own, her grandfather was very hit and miss when it came to selecting girly gifts.
She brushed her fingers over the flower. It reminded her of something, and she felt a strange combination of happiness and loss she couldn't explain. This must have been something that belonged to Mom. Mack clasped it around her neck.
"Thanks, Grandpa," she said, running downstairs with her bag on her way out, breezing by with a kiss on his white hair.
"Huh? Oh, you're welcome," he said, going back to his toast without even looking. That was her grandfather all around. He probably already forgot he gave it to her.
Mack absently fingered the flower from time to time. She was sure the necklace had to have been Mom's, but she couldn't remember ever seeing it before.
"Cool necklace," Brady said at lunch. He scrunched up his face. "That flower looks familiar."
"I know. I think it might have belonged to my mother. Do you remember seeing it around before?"
He shook his head. "Hey, some of us are going surfing after school. Want to come with us?"
That sounded perfect. She hadn't been out catching waves in weeks. Then she sighed. "I can't. I've got too much homework tonight. Maybe when I'm finished."
"Okay, but don't wait too long. They're calling for storms tonight."
Mack groaned. "Great."
She went through her afternoon classes in a rush, sneaking time on her calc homework during Lit and Spanish. She was rewarded with being assigned papers in both. Grumbling, she went straight home and typed up her papers as fast as she could, peeking out the window at the gathering clouds. She took a hard look at her chemistry homework and decided the lab report could wait until after she got back. She left the necklace on while she changed into her suit.
"I'm going out," she said to Grandpa. "I'll be back in time for dinner." She grabbed her board.
The rain hadn't started yet, and the ocean was getting choppy. She could get in a little surfing, then go inside, enjoy dinner, and finish her homework. As she got onto her board, paddling out, the same strange feeling came over her as before, the sense of happiness and grief mixed all together.
The waves grew and Mack got ready, climbing up, and then the storm struck.
Mack woke with one cheek on the sand, sunlight piercing her eyelids. She coughed, sitting up. Her hand reached for her necklace first, finding it safely around her throat. She shook her head, letting the sand fall out of her hair, and looked around to see where she'd come ashore.
This didn't look like home. Instead of Big Poppa's Surf Shop, she saw Big Momma's. That rang a bell. She touched the necklace again.
Mack stood, her legs wobbly under her, and made her way into the dark coolness of the restaurant. "Hello?" she said, but she was ignored by the people inside. They were sitting around like they were waiting for something, and Mack wasn't it. She went to the counter. "Hi, could I borrow your phone?"
The woman behind the counter pulled up a large bakelite monstrosity from behind the counter with a dial. Mack stared at it. "What's that?"
The woman stared back. "The phone?"
"Thanks." Right. Retro. She lifted the handset from the cradle and stuck her finger into the dial. How did these work? And what was Grandpa's number? She had everything programmed into her cell, which was back at the house.
Music started out of nowhere. Mack dropped the phone in surprise. Four people came into the restaurant, humming, then moving aside to flank the person walking in behind them.
Now she knew where she was. Mack had watched this movie a hundred times. As Lela started singing, Mack found herself singing along. This was impossible! She must have hit her head on her surfboard during that last wave!
Lela went through her number, and yes, Mack knew those dance moves anywhere. She sang along the responses with the other backup singers, until Lela spun and saw her. Suddenly her whole face lit up.
The music dropped as Lela ran to her, and to Mack's shock, threw her arms around her. "Mack!"
"Uh, hi?" Mack's hands fluttered, patting the star of her favorite movie on the back. She must have hit her head very hard. Finally Lela pulled away to look at her, eyes glowing with delight.
"Oh, wow! I've been dreaming of this. I didn't think I'd ever see you again."
"Again?" Mack gave a nervous laugh. "Oh right. You see me through the movie screen, right?"
"What movie screen?"
They stared at each other. Lela said, her smile fading, "Mack, do you remember me?"
"Sure I do. You're Lela. You're the Queen of the Beach."
"That's right! And you're my best friend Mack."
Mack put up her hands in front of herself. "I wish. When I was a kid, I used to pretend I was in the movie with you, and that we were best friends." Mack stopped herself. She wasn't about to tell Lela that she'd even imagined she was the one Lela fell for instead of Tanner. This might be a hallucination brought on by a mild concussion, but she had never told anyone that, not even Alyssa. Anyway, she was seeing Brady now, and old crushes didn't matter.
Lela bent in. "You have to stop saying 'movie.' When I got back, I was the only one who still remembered we were in a movie. The others don't know."
"Back from what?"
"From your world." Mack shook her head, confused, and Lela's face fell. "Mack, don't you remember when I came to the real world to find you? I stayed with you and went to school with you." None of this sounded at all familiar. Lela's wide eyes looked as though they would cry. "You don't remember that we were friends?"
Lela took a shuddering breath, and she sat down on one of the stools by the counter. Mack took a seat beside her. Around them, the rest of the characters milled around awkwardly. They'd been stopped in the middle of their musical numbers and didn't know what to do next. None of them came over to see why Lela had gone pale and sad. Mack looked around, and she took Lela's hand, squeezing it comfortingly.
"I hit my head on my surfboard. A lot of things are fuzzy now. Why don't you jog my memory?"
Instantly, Lela looked happy again. "That must be it! You have amnesia!"
"Ooo, amnesia!" said Seacat and Tanner, who were closest.
"What's anesthesia?" Butchy asked.
CheeChee said, "Amnesia, you galloot. It means she don't remember nothin'."
Mack was pretty sure she did not in fact have amnesia. She nodded along. "That's got to be it."
Lela changed the hold Mack had on her hand and pulled her to her feet. "Come with me. You can stay at my place until your memory is back." Her face fell again. "And then you'll probably need to return to your world."
"Yeah," Mack said, but she found she really liked how it felt to hold Lela's hand as they walked out of Big Momma's together, and she wasn't in any hurry to get home.
"And then we went to calculus class together," Lela laughed. "So much fun!"
Mack smiled at her enthusiasm. "I've never heard anyone talk about calculus as fun before." Lela's pleasure was infectious. Mack could almost see how much fun it was to integrate the area under a curve when Lela was describing it.
"It made me completely reevaluate my life. Everything you taught me changed me for the better. When I came back here, I changed things, just like you said I could."
That explained a lot. There was a scene in "Lela, Queen of the Beach" about math. Some film critics, the ones who would watch a movie called "Lela, Queen of the Beach" in the first place, said the math scene was out of place in what was otherwise a fun beach movie, but Mack had talked to dozens of girls who'd been inspired to take harder math classes after seeing their heroine Lela do the same.
"I wish I could remember the same things you do," Mack said. "It sounds like we had a lot of fun."
"We did. But I had to go back, or there wouldn't be a movie, and you and Brady would never have met." She went sad again.
"Well, it worked. Brady and I met, and we're dating."
"That's great." Lela sounded exactly like someone who wanted to sound happy.
"Yeah. What about you and Tanner?" She knew, though. One of the plotlines in the movie was how Lela decided to date the lovable lug.
"Every time the movie resets, yeah." She looked at Mack. "It's fine. Tanner's great."
"I always wanted a romance like in the movies. Your eyes meet, and sparks fly. You inspired me in so many ways."
"You, too," Lela said, and again she looked sad. She reached out, touching the necklace. "I guess you don't remember when I gave you this, either."
"It's from you?" Mack touched the flower, brushing Lela's fingers as she did. "No, I didn't know."
"I gave it to you so we would be friends forever, even when we were far away from each other, you in your world, me in mine."
Mack laughed and said, "Just like that first movie. 'Wet Side Story,' you called it? Two people from different worlds find out what they have in common."
"Yes." Lela looked in her eyes, and Mack remembered the rest of that story. Two people from different worlds came together and fell in love. Lela wasn't saying what Mack thought she was saying. Was she?
"Lela?" Mack twisted her mouth. "I want to ask you something that may sound strange. Because I don't remember, and the more you tell me, the more I wish I did. During all this time we spent together, were we … " She didn't know how to finish, and she just marched ahead with it. "Were we in love?"
Lela said nothing for a long moment, and Mack felt her stomach clench. She shouldn't have asked. She was stuck in a 1960s beach movie. Even if she'd had a crush on this character, that didn't mean anything. She'd made things uncomfortable. She should go, and find her way home, or get an ice pack for her head and hope the concussion faded.
"I don't know if you loved me back," Lela said at last. "I didn't have the words for what I felt. I came from this place, where we sing and dance, and girls always fall in love with boys. I couldn't explain what I felt about you. I only knew that I was only happy when I was with you. I didn't want to come back. I wanted to stay with you. But I never knew if that's what you wanted." The tears were back, framing her gorgeous eyes. "Tanner's great. I like him. I do. But he's not you." She took a long breath. "And now you came back, and for a moment, I thought you came back for me, but you don't even remember that we were friends." Her breath hitched.
Mack put her arms around her. "It's all right."
"It's not. I shouldn't have said. You're amazing, and you're living your amazing life in the future, and you have no reason to come back here for someone as dumb as I am."
"You're not dumb. Never let anybody tell you that." Mack saw a box of tissues and grabbed one, handing it to Lela. Her makeup didn't smear, and that's how Mack knew for sure they were in a movie or a dream. "You're wonderful. You're Lela. Every little girl I knew wanted to grow up to be just like you."
"Why? I go through my summer over and over, learning to surf, spending time with my friends, and doing math, and dating a boy. That's all fun, I guess, but it isn't as much fun as being with you. I spend every summer thinking about how nice it would be to have that moonlight walk with you."
The moonlight walk was the big romantic number in the movie. Mack had almost worn out her mom's old VHS tape at that scene before the DVD had finally been released. She'd imagined herself walking along the beach, singing the love song duet, and she wasn't always singing Lela's half. Love no matter what. Love no matter how hard. Love no matter how far. Love without end. The song finished with a kiss Mack must have watched a thousand times. It was sappy and Mack loved every word. She had written out the lyrics in her notebooks at school and sang it to herself whenever she felt lonely. That song had reached inside her, and made her long for love. And it turned out that Lela had been singing to her this whole time.
Her favorite character of all time was in love with her. This was one heck of a hallucination.
Brady was great. Mack liked him. She'd always known things wouldn't last forever with him. She would go off to college, and he wouldn't, and they would stay friends. She wondered if this weird dream was her brain's way of telling her the other reason why she would never be able to stay with Brady long-term. Mack had always been entranced by Lela, and by the other powerful, independent women in the movies that had followed. She'd told herself they were role models. She'd thought she wanted to be like them. She'd never let herself consider that wasn't the only thing she wanted.
"I love the moonlight walk scene."
"Isn't it the best?" Lela asked. "There's music and singing by the water, and it ends with … " She broke off, biting her lower lip. "I love that scene, too."
There remained another possibility. Maybe this wasn't a delusion at all. The hand touching hers felt real. Lela's hopeful face looked more real than anything Mack could remember ever seeing before. Lela said she'd walked in the real world, and she'd mentioned real people Mack knew, and she was smiling at Mack like she'd never seen anyone as wonderful or real, either.
If this was real, what did that mean? What did Mack really want?
Suddenly, the room around them changed. Instead of daylight, it was dark. A fat orange moon hung like a pumpkin ornament over the still water. Instead of Lela's house, they stood on the beach. "Whoa," Mack said. "Scene change."
"You get used to it." Lela looked around. "Usually Tanner shows up now. He's supposed to be here."
Mack noticed her clothes had changed, too. She wore a summery dress in red that matched the blue pattern in Lela's dress. There was a flower in her hair, and she knew without looking that the bloom was the same as the one on her necklace.
"Maybe he's not supposed to be here this time," Mack said, and she took Lela's hand. From nowhere, music started. She knew this part. "Love isn't easy," Mack sang, and she saw the recognition on Lela's face.
"Love isn't easy at all," Lela sang back in reply, pulling Mack closer as they started to stroll along the beach together.
They were changing the movie again, Mack thought to herself. They'd be inspiring little girls into whole new lives, assuming she didn't find a way to bring Lela back home with her again. That was tomorrow's problem. Tonight had no problems, it only had music around them, and the moonlight shining on Lela's hair, and the cherry pop taste of her lips when the song, as always, ended on a kiss.