“Damn it, work you piece of junk!” Mack growled.
She pulled the start cord on the lawnmower three more times to no avail. It had been working just fine until a minute ago when the machine belched out a puff of foul smoke and the engine died. Mack tried restarting the mower, which worked after it died going through a particularly thick patch of grass, and checked the fuel level, but that was fine. Beyond that Mack didn’t have a clue how to fix it. This was a problem because she still had most of the backyard to cut.
Maybe it had overheated. Mack thought that happened sometimes. She leaned against the handle trying to catch her breath. If Brady had just mowed the lawn last week like he promised instead of flittering off to band practice she could use their new eco-friendly push mower instead of this gas guzzling monstrosity the last tenants left in the shed. She was the one stuck using the noisy, polluting, potentially dangerous lawnmower because it was the only tool available that could whip their lawn into manageable shape. After this it would be push mower all the way and, unlike Brady, Mack wouldn’t skip out on her responsibilities.
“Hey there, need some help?” a woman called out.
Mack looked up to see a friendly looking brunette leaning on her chain link fence. When their eyes met the other woman’s eyes widened then her smiled morphed into a grin. Somehow this gesture made Mack smile back.
“I would love some,” Mack said.
The woman hopped her fence and strolled over. Mack knelt down next to the power mower. Since she was kind enough to help and there was half a lawn in dire need of a haircut Mack wanted to get down to business straight away. There would be time for pleasantries later.
“There’s still gas in the tank and when I lifted the mower I didn’t see anything caught on the blades. Beyond that I don’t know how to diagnose it,” Mack explained before sheepishly adding, “I’ve never used a lawnmower before and Brady had promised to cut the lawn so I could start fresh with the push mower.”
“Is Brady your boyfriend?” she asked, squatting down next to Mack.
“No way,” Mack laughed. “I mean, we dated for like a year in high school, but that was ages ago. The man can’t keep to a schedule to save his life and while I can handle that in a friend, it doesn’t work in a boyfriend. We work much better platonically.”
“Good to know. Okay, let’s take a look at this sucker.”
She reached out to the second smaller cap on the mower and unscrewed it. When she pulled it off she revealed a long thin metal strip attached to the bottom of the cap. Opening this part of the mower caused more smoke to issue forth from the engine. Both women started coughing. While Mack coughed into her hands, her new associate coughed into the sleeve of her pink T-shirt and whipped out a rainbow handkerchief. She offered it to Mack, who gladly accepted, while they waited for the smoke to disperse.
“I’ll still check, but you’re definitely outta oil,” she said.
“These things need oil?” Mack asked in horror.
“Sure, it’s a machine. But don’t worry, I’ve got a spare at my place,” she said, correctly interpreting the look on Mack’s face. She jerked a thumb at the open garage across the alley. Mack could see a couple of motorcycles and an old muscle car. “My brother, Butchy, is a real gear-head and I’ve learned a few things along the way. We’ll get ya fixed up in no problem.”
“Thank you. For everything,” Mack said, returning the handkerchief. “It’s very lovely. I like the pattern and the flower charm is a nice touch.”
“Carrying a hankie is just common sense, but the charm has a lot of sentimental value for me. A very good friend gave it to me in high school.” The fond expression on the brunette’s face almost seemed to be directed at Mack and that made the Californian uncomfortable. While she did look naggingly familiar, Mack was certain they had never before met. “It used to be attached to a cheap bracelet, which read ‘save the beaches,’ but the plastic was biodegradable and eventually disintegrated. I keep the metal flower as a reminder of her.”
“At least it was eco friendly materials?” Mack offered. “As an environmentalist and conservation major I can respect that.”
“I’m sure you do.” The sentiment came with such a knowing smile Mack almost asked her if she knew her from somewhere. Instead the woman motioned for Mack to follow her across the street.
Inside the garage Mack realized there were a lot more than just two motorcycles, but the rest were in pieces. The room had a definite 1950s greaser feel to it and yet she found it oddly charming; perhaps because her new friend immediately acknowledged the tacky kitsch of the place. As Mack took in her surroundings the other woman dug through the various bottles and tools on the shelves. Just as Mack was about to investigate the obviously non-vintage fridge she heard an exclamation of triumph.
“Found it,” she said, walking over and setting the oil on the mini fridge. “Want a drink?”
“Ah, no, I’m underage,” Mack said. She didn’t know why she felt silly admitting that, she normally didn’t, but perhaps it had something to do with the fact the brunette seemed a bit glamorous, like a movie star, even though she was just in normal clothes like Mack.
“Considering all we’ve got is Coke in here that shouldn’t be a problem,” she laughed.
She opened the fridge to reveal it full of glass bottles of Coke, most of them boasted of being made with real sugar. They both grabbed a real sugar Coke and the hostess produced an Elvis bottle opener to pop the tops. Mack studied the other woman thoughtfully. She actually did look really familiar, but for the life of her she couldn’t place the connection.
“What does your shirt say?” Mack asked, gesturing at the symbols. “I mean, I can tell it’s some sort of equation, but that’s it.”
“It’s a calculus joke. I majored in mathematics at Concordia and our department made this shirt design for all the graduating seniors last year.”
“Math, huh? Good on you. We need more women in STEM.”
“I know. That same friend who gave me the bracelet introduced me to calculus and I fell in love at first integral, but from the gender ratios of half my advanced courses you’d think it was still 1962.”
“Lela,” Mack breathed, pointing at the other woman. The 1962 comment finally made it click.
“Glad you finally figured it out, Mack,” she laughed. “I was beginning to wonder.”
“No, I mean you look just like Lela, well Grace Phipps, from Lela, Queen of the Beach,” Mack explained. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She didn’t remember telling her her name, but she must have. ‘Mack’ wasn’t the sort of girl name easily guessed at random.
“No, I am Lela,” Lela said, frowning.
“You mean you’re named after the movie character?” Mack guessed, hoping she wasn’t standing in a delusional person’s garage.
“You don’t remember!” Lela cried, clearly shocked as she touched both hands to her hairline. As she lowered them she pulled off her flower pendent necklace. Mack stared at the jewelry as Lela was clearly offering it to her. “Look, just humor me for a second and take the necklace. Please? If need be we can write this whole encounter off as your weirdo neighbor being eccentric.”
“Okay,” Mack slowly agreed.
She picked up the necklace. It felt like a jolt of electricity in her hand. By all rights Mack should have dropped the jewelry and fled, but instead she squeezed it tighter. As she stood there swaying slightly Lela cocked her head to the side and worriedly examined her. Mack didn’t know how long she stood there for, but when she felt energized enough to move she launched herself at the other woman, wrapping her arms around her neck.
“Lela!” Mack shouted, this time with the warmth and familiarity her friend had expected. “Lela, I remember everything! How the hell could I forget about you?”
“I don’t know,” Lela laughed, hugging Mack tightly. “You were so important and real. I couldn’t believe you had forgotten like everyone else.”
“What do you mean?” Mack asked. “This… this is so weird. I suddenly have a second set of memories.”
“Most things are still the same, but in this new set of memories my favorite movie, Lela, Queen of the Beach, is some hokey romance called Wet Side Story,” Mack frowned. “Brady and I started dating three months sooner. I don’t understand; how could you be a movie character? How could I have gotten sucked into a movie?”
“Magic, fate, narrative connivance, I dunno, but you changed everything, Mack,” Lela laughed. “You changed me completely. Made me self aware and gave me the desire to be real, not just me, but for me to want everyone to be real.”
“Okay, but how are you here? You went back into the film. Lela is still an absurdly famous cult classic! Or did you just escape?” Mack asked, pulling back to look at the other woman.
“We’ve been here in New York almost seven years.”
“How? We only met three years ago,” Mack said.
“I don’t know,” Lela admitted. She leaned against a workbench. “When I went back I was always self aware. It was pretty cool being able to develop my own story, but after the first couple thousand times it was unbearable. I could do anything and everything I wanted, but at the end of the week everything reset. No one else ever seemed to care, not even when I pointed it out to them.”
“That would drive me insane,” Mack said sympathetically.
“It nearly did just that,” Lela agreed ruefully. “However, I eventually realized I still had the magic design from your family’s surfboard. I put all my hope and faith into it bringing me back to you, Mack. Though it took a little longer than I was expecting. Do you still have my jacket?”
“Your jacket” Mack asked. As far as she could recall Lela never gave her a jacket, but she looked so hopeful. “Can you describe it for me?”
“Oh Mack. It was a black leather motorcycle jacket with ‘Mack’ in great big silver rhinestones across the back. How could you get rid of it? It took me dozens of attempts to obtain and bedazzle the jacket before the big finale and I don’t know how many times I tossed it before it finally went through to this world.”
“That was from you?” Mack demanded. “I thought Alyssa made it. Of course I still have it, I love that jacket!”
“Good,” Lela said, mollified. “But seriously, Alyssa? Have you ever seen her bedazzle anything?”
“Well, excuse me for not thinking an actual character in a movie threw their onscreen jacket to me in real life,” Mack snapped. She softened after a moment to add, “That was incredibly sweet of you.”
“You’re welcome. The jacket was also how I figured out there was a way for all of us to be real and escape the movie without disappearing. It took a long time, but I basically willed us into existence here on earth.”
“How did that work?” Mack asked. She slipped the necklace onto her neck.
“Magic. Probably a lot of other stuff too, but mostly magic.” Lela shrugged and grinned, gesturing around the garage. “You see this house? When Butchy and I first woke up here the neighbors told us our parents left it to us when they died a month ago. We got lucky. Since I was a main character in Wet Side Story the original script writers gave me a back story.”
“Brooklyn Italian bikers hanging out in a Hawaiian surf bar,” Mack deadpanned.
“I didn’t say they gave me a good one. Come on, it was a 60’s musical, what do you expect? The point is I had a back-story, a home, family, and finances. Most of the backup dancers didn’t even have names.”
“Oh ouch, that’s going to make living in the real world difficult.”
“Tell me about it,” Lela sighed. “Since I realized we made it, we were finally really real, I’ve been tracking down the cast to make certain they’re safe and okay. There were like fifty people in the film, but I made a point of memorizing everyone’s face after we all nearly disappeared. Some of them were pretty easy to find, like Tanner, and others were nearly impossible. It took seven years, but I finally tracked down the last person earlier this month.”
“That’s some serious dedication,” Mack said, impressed. “The Lela I remember, no offense, wouldn’t have worried about them in the slightest.”
“I know. Somewhere along the way I grew a conscience. I guess that’s just part of being a real person.” Lela’s face suddenly lit up. “Oh! Maybe this is why the board sent me where it did instead of having us meet up right away like I wanted! It knew I’d need the time to develop as an individual, learn some hard truths, and become a compassionate human being before we could be together!”
“I guess that makes a certain amount of logic from a movie perspective?” Mack ventured, trying to give the situation the benefit of doubt. The whole situation needed as much help as it could get. “I mean, that doesn’t remotely fly in real life, since random things just happen randomly, but sure, if movie elements dictated when and where you turned up on earth then a hand wavy explanation makes more sense than anything else.”
“I’m glad you agree,” Lela said.
“What’s Tanner up to?”
“He’s now Tanner Farthing Wellington VI, son of old money and slowly failing out of Yale,” Lela said. Mack laughed. That did sound like Tanner. “He remembered me fairly well, better than anyone else I ever tracked down, but his parents were aghast to see him hanging out with the likes of someone like me.”
“You’re pretty awesome.”
“Thanks, but try convincing Mr. and Mrs. Wellington of that. Tanner seems happy though, so I don’t really want to screw things up for him. I never know how much actually penetrates that thick skull of his and considering the fact all the experiences we went through together didn’t seem to really change him that much, I thought it best to leave him in his blissful reality. He’s got my number if he ever needs it though.”
“What about the others? Like, Seacat, CheeChee, Fringe Girl?”
“You know, the girl in the fringe bikini who’d always do this,” Mack said, shaking her chest to demonstrate Fringe Girl’s defining action. “Her name’s never mentioned in the movie. Either movie.”
“That’s Giggles!” Lela said after watching Mack for a minute. “She’s working as a daycare provider. CheeChee’s at a nail salon, but she’s living with Struts until one of them finds a boy suitable to take home to their mothers.”
“Is that a challenging task?”
“I don’t think either one of them is actually ready to settle down. Struts finally got over her crush on Butchy, which is good because he’s got this on-again off-again thing with Seacat that seems super dependant on how their community theater stuff is going.”
“I don’t quite know how to handle all of this new information,” Mack said. “I um… I think I need to process. You guys have really gotten used to New York.”
“Yeah,” Lela agreed, smiling gently. “Do you want me to finish fixing your mower?”
The women walked back to Mack’s yard. Once they reached the lawnmower Lela bent over and poured the oil into the machine. After the biker felt she had added enough she wiped the cap’s metal stick off with her handkerchief, stuck the cap in place, then pulled it out again to check the oil levels. Deeming the oil level satisfactory, Lela secured the cap in place. Mack immediately pushed the bail drive against the handlebar and yanked on the start cord twice more. Nothing happened.
“Looked like you stalled out,” Brady said as he stepped out of the house into the backyard. “Guess you need a hand fixing the engine?”
“Boys. Always so impatient,” Lela said, rolling her eyes. “I wasn’t done fixing it.”
“You sure you can?” Brady asked, crossing his arms.
“Watch me.” Lela crouched down next to the lawnmower again. She looked at it from all sides then smirked. Reaching out she did something to the front of the lawnmower then pushed the primer twice. “Try starting it now.”
Mack yanked the cord as hard as she could. The engine wheezed, but didn’t turn over. She pulled again. This time the engine roared to life. With a victorious grin Mack looked first to Lela then to Brady. He clapped and saluted Lela. Mack took a step forward with the mower, but then stopped and let go of the handle. The engine cut off again.
“What are you doing?” Brady asked, “Aren’t you going to finish the lawn?”
“No, you’re going to finish the lawn. It was your responsibility in the first place,” Mack said. She wiped her hands off on her pants and smiled at Lela. “We’re going to go do something fun.”
“Who’s she?” Brady demanded, walking out to the women. Mack slipped her arm into the one Lela offered.
“Our new neighbor, Lela, who already happens to be a good friend of mine,” Mack replied. That was the most honest answer she could offer. Either Brady would come to remember Lela or he wouldn’t. By the expression on her face Mack was pretty certain Lela didn’t care either way.
“That was awesome!” Lela laughed when they made it back to her garage. “It is so great having you back in my life.”
“Thanks. Lela, I get the sense you’ve thought a heck of a lot about me in the years since we last saw each other,” Mack said, letting go of the biker. She reached up to fiddle with her necklace knowing she was about to broach a potentially uncomfortable subject. “Is there a specific reason for that? I’m your best friend, but it seems to go further than that for you.”
“I… you changed everything for me. I wouldn’t have become me if it hadn’t been for you,” Lela began. “It’s more than that; you opened my mind to new possibilities and you’re funny, and sweet, and beautiful. I’ve learned so much since coming to the real world and experienced many new things, but I’ve never been able to get you off my mind.”
“Mack, I know life isn’t a movie or a fairytale, but I fell for you hard and I’m still in love with you all these years later,” Lela admitted, refusing to look up from her boots. “If this were a movie, if this were my movie, you’d feel the same way about me. But it’s not. Real life never works out that nicely and the chances you might feel that way about me are practically zilch. I understand that and I’ve come to accept that. Mostly.”
“Lela,” Mack repeated. “I’ve never seriously thought about a girl like that. First there was Brady, and then I was too busy getting over him and surviving college to even think about a relationship. I have no idea if I could even like a girl.”
“Just think about it, okay?” Lela requested. “You do what you need to do, but whatever your decision, I’ll always be there for you. You’re my best friend. Even platonically you mean the world to me.”
Mack had to smile at that. Even with all her growth and life experiences Lela was still incredibly earnest when it came to her. She really appreciated that. Now that she remembered Lela again Mack couldn’t imagine going back to living without her. Despite the secrets, the generational gap, and forced musical numbers no one else had ever been as easy to talk to about anything. That included Alyssa, who had been Mack’s best friend since third grade. Talks with Alyssa were embedded with certain expectations for Mack, which Lela never held. She was always allowed to just be herself; whatever that meant.
Coming to a decision Mack let go of her necklace. She stepped right in front of Lela. Before the biker could ask what she was doing Mack leaned in and gently kissed her. Lela immediately responded. She quickly wanted to deepen the kiss, which was what caused Mack to pull away and put a hand on Lela’s chest to keep her distance. This was just a test. All Mack wanted to do was see if they were compatible.
“Well, it wasn’t any worse than kissing Brady,” Mack said thoughtfully.
“Gee, thanks,” Lela said dryly. Mack poked her in the chest.
“Oh come off it, it’s not like I broke up with Brady because he was a bad kisser,” Mack retorted. “Actually, I rather liked kissing him.”
“Well, that makes me feel loads better.”
“Why don’t we table this particular topic until we’ve gotten to know each other a little better?” Mack suggested. “You’ve changed dramatically during our separation and I certainly hope I’ve improved a bit too. Can you take me on a walk through your neighborhood? I’ve barely spent any time off NYU’s campus and I’d like to get to know the city better. Especially if I can do it from a local’s perspective.”
“Sure,” Lela agreed, smiling. “I can definitely show you around the rest of town too.”
“I did eventually learn how to surf. Did you ever get a chance to ride a motorcycle?”
“No. Why?” Mack asked, though she guessed she already knew the answer.
Lela pulled a pair of helmets off a shelf. She handed one to Mack as she pulled the pink one on over her own head. Mack stepped out of the way as the other woman slowly wheeled a motorcycle out of the garage. Once it was outside Lela waved Mack over and shut the garage door. With a twist of her key the engine roared to life. Mack put her helmet on and adjusted the faceshield so that it fit properly.
“Get on!” Lela shouted over the engine. “I’ll take you to all the best parts of Brooklyn!”
Mack hesitated for a second, then flung a leg over the back of the motorcycle. She slipped onto the seat and, after a moment, tentatively slipped her arms around Lela’s waist. Within a moment she was hugging the biker. It was a little nerve wracking to be on a motorcycle as the vehicle vibrated between her legs, but she also felt oddly giddy. Lela was taking her on an adventure!
“Are you sure you can handle carrying a passenger?” Mack asked.
“Of course, I’m a pro!” Lela promised. “Don’t worry, you’ll learn to love it! By the end of summer you’ll be begging me to teach you how to ride!”
“Okay,” Mack said. She rested her chin on Lela’s shoulder. “Let’s ride!”
With a whoop of joy Lela sped out of her driveway. Mack glanced back at her own backyard to see Brady had slowly started mowing the lawn. She grinned, turning her eyes forward. Mack was on a new adventure and she couldn’t wait to see what she and Lela would discover.