Present Moment.

Wednesday. A fairly ordinary day of the week, really. Nothing special - just an average day thrust into the middle of the week. Monday was renowned for inducing fits of depression. Tuesday dealt mainly with the repercussions of Monday. Thursday was full of anticipation for the weekend, and Friday was the start of the weekend and thus filled with huge amounts of happiness. The weekend itself hardly needed to be explained.

But Wednesday? Just there - stuck in the middle. Boring, even.

However, for Michael Jordan Mackenzie, this Wednesday was very important indeed. He was walking down the streets of Lawndale, having just left school for the day. He had somewhere to be, and someone to meet. Plus, it was very important that he meet that person before certain other people got into the house, otherwise things could get rather messy.

Of course, thought Mack, that was usually how things went. At least in his life, anyway. He rounded the corner, and began the walk into Lawndale's more affluent living area. The houses suddenly got a lot bigger, and the smell of money permeated every single aspect of the area. It never failed to amaze Mack how much different life seemed here than in his own house. He always felt like an outsider.

Of course, some of the residents usually seemed to make sure that he always felt that way, but that was another story. Mack put it out of his head. He had a job to do. He was a man on a mission.

He reached the gate of Stately Landon Manor, and waited for the security system to let him inside. After a short pause, the gates opened, and he continued on his way. He had to hurry. He didn't want to still be here when those certain people he had mentioned got here. It would look kind of awkward, and the last thing he needed was more awkwardness with this family.

He walked up to the heavy oak front door, and rang the doorbell. After a short pause, the door opened, and the person he had been hurrying to meet stood there, wearing a large, infatuated grin.

"Hi Rachel," said Mack with a smile.

"Hi," said Rachel shyly.

"Can I?" said Mack, indicating the doorway. "We need to hurry. Jodie will be home in a short while, and it's going to cause some problems if she finds me here."

Rachel looked at him, and nodded quickly. Mack stepped past her, and stood in the hallway as she closed the door. "How are you?" she said, smiling at him again.

"I'm good," said Mack. "Listen, I..."

"Yes?" said Rachel eagerly.

"I really appreciate you helping me with this. I do."

"You're welcome," said Rachel softly. "Anything, really. If you want help with anything, just ask, I mean."

"Do you have it?"

Rachel's smile faltered a bit. "Yeah. I guess." She sighed. "Follow me."

Mack followed her up the stairs, and down the corridor to her room.

"It's in here," she said, pausing at the door.

"I'll just wait outside," he said, with a slight smile.

Rachel's smile drooped a little further, and she went into her room with another sigh.

Mack stood outside and waited for her for a minute or so. She came out, a sheet of paper in her hand, and handed it to Mack. "There you are. Took me a little longer than I'd intended, but I got it, just like I promised."

Mack smiled gratefully, and pocketed it. "I owe you one, Rachel. I'm sure Jodie'll appreciate this too."

"I'm not doing this for her," said Rachel with a frown. "But you're welcome."

Mack gave her another smile of thanks, and she flushed slightly. She showed him to the door, and he left, feeling rather more confident about his plan. The sheet of paper contained all the information he would need. It had taken Rachel a little longer to get it than he had anticipated, but no matter. It just meant that he would have to work a little faster in order to get everything ready in time.

Mack's plan had to be completed by Friday, and he knew that. There could be no postponing. Friday was the deadline. It was, after all, Jodie's eighteenth birthday, and how often did that come about? Once. That meant it had to be right the first time out. There couldn't be any mistakes this time, or he'd never get another shot like this.

Mack was doing all of this because he wanted to get Jodie a birthday present. But this wasn't going to be just any present, not like the CDs he had gotten her the year before, or the books he had gotten her for Christmas. This was going to be special. It was going to show her how much he cared for and appreciated her.

He had put a lot of thought into what the present was going to be. Jodie was not a particularly hard person to buy for, but the idea of a truly special birthday present had stumped him for some time.

Eventually, though, he had figured out a gift idea - something he knew Jodie would like. He knew it would take some work to pull off, and now everything seemed to be falling into place. He had completed as much as he could in the previous few weeks. The information from Rachel had been one of the final pieces he needed. Now he just had to use that, and complete the gift.

Of course, with the time being so compressed now, he would have to work fast. He wouldn't have the luxury of being able to do this at his convenience, as he had in the past. That way, he had been able to slip his work in behind Jodie's back. Now, with the hurry, he would have to do it faster, which meant more risk of her discovering him.

So, that was part of the reason he was heading to Brittany's house at this exact moment. He had to make sure he had some help in keeping the wool held over Jodie's eyes until his work was completed. Kevin, for all of his good intentions and eagerness to help, was not a great help at the best of times, but Brittany was quite a bit sharper than most people gave her credit for. Mack knew she'd be a great help.

He walked into Crewe Neck, exchanged some banter with the security guard, and waited while the guard contacted Brittany's house. After that, he continued on his way. He reached Brittany's front door, and knocked. After a short wait, the door opened, and Brittany stood beaming in front of him. "Mack!"

"Hey," said Mack, with a slight smile. He walked inside, and followed Brittany to her room. As they walked, she turned to him slightly.

"How is the present going?"

"Pretty good," said Mack. "I think I'll be able to pull it off."

Brittany beamed. "That's so cool! She's going to love it!"

"Hope so." Mack shrugged. "I just wanted to do something special for her. Your eighteenth birthday only comes around so often, you know."

"Tell me about it," said Brittany, with a frown. "It's the kind of thing where you expect a little more from your boyfriend than a set of DVDs detailing fifty years of Super Bowls."

"Ah," said Mack sheepishly. "I did try to talk him out of that, you know. But you know Kevin - once he gets his mind set on something, nothing on Earth can pull him away."

"I know." Brittany smiled. "It's not your fault. Anyway, Jodie's going to love this."

They reached Brittany's room, and went inside. Kevin was in there, buttoning up his pants. Brittany and Mack stopped in shock as they saw him doing it.

"Kevvie!" said Brittany. "What the hell are you doing?"

Kevin grinned awkwardly. "Hey, Mack Daddy!"

"Kevin," said Mack levelly. "What were you doing?"

"Man," said Kevin. "I got confused, right? Britt left to answer the door, and I thought when she said she was leaving, she meant that I should get comfortable, if you know what I mean..."
"I think I do."

"I mean that I thought me and her were going to..."

"Kevin," said Mack sharply. "Remember that fascinating concept I told you about? Discretion? You might want to use it sometimes. Like now."

"Oh." Kevin nodded enthusiastically. "I remember!"

"Kevvie," said Brittany firmly. "If you do anything in my bedroom, I'd like to be here when it happens, understand?"

"Oh yeah, babe! See, I realized we weren't going to do it when I heard Mack Daddy and you in the hall...and I know you're not into threesomes, and..."

"Shut up!" screeched Brittany. "Kevvie!"

Mack covered his face with his hands. He figured he'd better intervene before violence erupted. "So you tried to put pants on as quickly as possible, when you realized your mistake."

Kevin nodded.

"Okay," said Mack again. "Let's put this behind us, all right? I came here because you two agreed to help me with Jodie's present."

Brittany nodded. Kevin looked lost.

"Just roll with me, Kevin," said Mack. "I know you don't remember."

"What do you need us to do?" asked Brittany.

"I have to hurry to get everything finished in time. I can't be as discreet as I was before. I need you two to help keep Jodie in the dark about all of this until Friday. Just while I get things finished, okay?"

Brittany nodded. "You can count on us."

"What's happening with Jodie?" asked Kevin, who had been looking increasingly lost during the past conversation.

"It's her birthday. On Friday."

"Whoa! You need to get her a present."

"I have," said Mack exasperatedly. "Remember? That's why I'm here. I know I told you this."

Kevin scratched his head. "Doesn't ring a bell. You sure?"

"Kevvie," said Brittany with a frown. "Mack's been working for ages to try and get this, don't you remember?" She gave him a pointed look. "I was saying how nice it was that a guy would really put a lot of effort into a birthday present like that."

Kevin scratched his head. "Ummm...ahh..."

Brittany fumed silently. She closed her eyes, and then raised her voice. "Kevvie? There's something I need to tell you!" she said, her tone suddenly distraught. Mack cocked an eyebrow at her sudden change of mood, not entirely sure what was happening.

"What, babe?" said Kevin innocently.

"I'm late!" she said, almost hysterically. Mack raised his eyebrows in shock.

"You're late? But you're right here..." Kevin's eyes went wide. "Oh man!" He looked at her in total shock for a second, then keeled over in a dead faint.

Brittany turned to Mack, and smiled. "That should get him out of my hair for a few minutes."

"What was that about?" said Mack, deeply confused. He knelt down to check that Kevin was okay, then thought about something, and looked back up to Brittany. "You're not, are you?"

Brittany laughed, and shook her head. "I just do that when I want Kevvie to be quiet. It always works. Don't worry, he won't remember when he wakes up."

Mack glanced down at Kevin, and frowned. "So how often have you done this?"

"Like, today? Or ever?"

"Never mind," said Mack, shaking his head, and standing back up. "Look, I got the details ready. I should be able to pull this off before Friday, but I need you and Kevin to run interference. I just can't have Jodie finding out about this beforehand. It'd ruin the surprise, kind of."

"Okay! You can count on us."

"I know. Look, just don't let on what I'm doing, okay? I want this to be a total surprise for her."

"I know," said Brittany. She sighed. "Wish someone would do that for me."

"They will, Britt. Trust me." Mack smiled.

Kevin stirred from the floor. He mumbled something incoherent, and staggered to his feet. "What was I doing on the floor?" he said, rubbing his head. He looked at Mack. "Hey, Mack Daddy! How's the present for Jodie going?"

Mack shook his head in disbelief, and decided not to press this matter any further. "Fine, Kevin. Look, as I was saying to Brittany, you guys just need to run interference for me until Friday. Okay?"

"Sure, man!" Kevin nodded enthusiastically.

Mack handed him an envelope. "Hey. To help with that, I've made you a cheat sheet if you should find yourself without Brittany. It'll tell you exactly what to do."

"Wow," said Brittany. "You think ahead, don't you?"

"Experience has taught me that that's the way to go." Mack smiled again, and said his goodbyes. He still had some work to do tonight, and he had better get started.

****

The next day at school, Jodie Landon walked into school. For any girl, she would have been looking forward to the fact that the weekend was almost there, but for Jodie, the weekend held no such special connotations. Since she basically worked the same amount every single day, she'd given up thinking that the weekends were going to be any different. She went through the same routine day-in, day-out.

Even the fact that tomorrow was her eighteenth birthday didn't lift her spirits any. She knew that her parents weren't going to make a big deal out of it. They never did. She didn't even think that she was going to have any time off, even then.

Jodie sighed. She walked down the corridor, and smiled when she saw one of the only things that did lift her spirits. Mack was walking down the corridor towards her. Jodie smiled to herself. Seeing him always brightened up her day, no matter how dark or depressing it seemed at first.

Jodie walked up to him, and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. "Hey."

"Hey," said Mack, with a grin. "So how are you this morning?"

"Same as usual."

"That bad, huh?"

Jodie batted him playfully on the shoulder. "Jerk."

"Hey, you love it." Mack paused a second. "Sorry I had to bug out on you so fast last night."

"Yeah, what was with that?" said Jodie, with a frown. "Final bell rings, and you're gone so quickly, it reminded me of the time Brittany caught Kevin making out with most of the Oakwood cheerleading squad, and he tried to make a getaway."

"Oh God, I remember that," Mack said with a groan. "Of course, he goes to my house..."

"...Because he really thinks you can solve everything..."

"And then I have to try to keep not only Brittany, but half a dozen or so crazed cheerleaders he's been lying to." Mack sighed. "You should have seen me try to explain that to Dad when he came home."

"Ouch."

"He thought it was funny as hell."

"I always did like your Dad."

"You just like seeing me in uncomfortable situations."

"So does he," said Jodie with a grin. "That's why I like him so much."

Mack grimaced. "Anyway, sorry about yesterday. Just had some errands to run, is all."

"Oh." Jodie shrugged. "It's not such a big deal. I was just curious." She shook her head.

"That's not all that was curious yesterday. When I got home, Rachel was acting really weird. She kept wandering around with this really smug grin on her face, as if she knew something I didn't."

"Oh," said Mack, shrugging. "That doesn't sound so weird. I mean, doesn't she act kind of weird around you most of the time?"

"If by weird, you mean incredibly resentful, then yes. But smug isn't one of the usual ways, at least not in my experience." Jodie sighed. "I don't know what it is with her. I want us to be closer, I really do. I mean, she's my sister and everything. But Mom and Dad hold her to such an unrealistic standard, and she thinks it's because of me. Probably is, too." Jodie shook her head. "I'm sorry. I know I go on about this a lot."

"I never get tired of listening to you," said Mack with a smile.

Jodie smiled gratefully. "What would I ever do without you?"

"Weird. I was going to say the same thing." Mack wrapped his hand around hers. "About Rachel - I'm sure it's nothing," he said, with a slight shrug. Oddly, the shrug seemed a little exaggerated, as if he was trying to appear extra nonchalant. Jodie thought that was kind of odd, but she dismissed it. Probably her just reading into things a little too much. "You have been a little over worked lately," continued Mack. "Might just be seeing things that aren't there."

That was probably true, thought Jodie. "Hey," she said, putting the thought from her head. "I've got a little extra time tonight before I have to be at the shelter. You want to hang out for a while? Maybe get some pizza?"

Mack shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jodie, I can't."

Jodie felt a slight wave of disappointment wash over her. "Oh," she said simply.

Mack paused for a second, the continued. "I promised Kevin that I'd take him to...the mall, help him pick out some sports supplies. I could always tell him I can't go...?"

Jodie shook her head. "No..." She paused for a second, and looked at Mack. He looked back at her, but couldn't meet her gaze for a split-second. "No, that's okay...I'd hate to disappoint Kevin. You go ahead, I don't mind."

"You sure?" Mack sighed. "I know you don't have a lot of free time..."

"That's putting it mildly." Jodie gave a wry grin. "Hey, I guess we'd better get to class."
Mack nodded, and they set off. As they walked towards class, making small talk on the way, Jodie couldn't help but be a little worried. Mack was acting awfully weird this morning, and once she'd looked into his eyes just then, she'd realized something.

He was lying about going to the mall with Kevin.

Mack was always a terrible liar, it was one of the reasons that she liked being with him so much. He was always honest with her, and now he was lying about something. Jodie couldn't fathom what exactly it could be. She knew he would never cheat on her, he just wasn't that sort of person.

She considered asking him the truth, but decided against it. She didn't want to be seen as not trusting him. Their relationship was too important to her to mess it up by snooping around.

On the other hand, this really wasn't like him. Maybe something was wrong? Maybe he needed her help with something and just couldn't tell him for some reason? Maybe he needed her to snoop around.

Jodie realized she was trying to justify her curiosity, and thought about it for a second. She eventually concluded that it wasn't unreasonable to wonder why your boyfriend wasn't being honest with you, and that she should try to find out.

That dilemma solved, Jodie continued onto class with Mack.

****

After school was over, Mack said his goodbyes to Jodie, and slipped away. He quickly made his way to the football field at the back of the school, knowing that that's where Kevin and Brittany would be heading after school. He hated to mislead Jodie, but he was sure she'd understand why he was doing it come Friday.

Once again, he hoped that she was going to like his gift. He was taking a fairly large liberty here, but he hoped she would like it.

Jodie had acted kind of oddly when he had kissed her goodbye. He didn't think that she suspected anything. If she did, it could mess up all of his plans. He had to get to Kevin and Brittany quickly. He didn't want Jodie to find them first.

Mentally kicking himself, he wondered what had possessed him to use Kevin as an excuse. Kevin could barely remember what was supposed to be happening on a particular day, never mind having to deal with a different scenario on the same day. But, it had been the first thing he could think of. He couldn't change it now, it would look too suspicious.

Walking out past the bleachers, he spied Brittany chatting with the other cheerleaders. Kevin was over on the pitch, throwing a ball to Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie. He called out to Brittany, and she came running over.

"Mack? What is it?" She looked at him. "You look like you're in a real big hurry."

"Brittany, I need to ask a favor."

She shrugged. "Sure, what is it?"

Mack briefly filled in about Jodie, and their conversation before school. "You guys aren't busy, are you? I mean, I hate to ask, but..."

"No, no!" squeaked Brittany. "You're fine! Jodie's my best friend, I don't want her to miss out on this surprise."

"I appreciate it. Look, just get Kevin away from here. If she sees him here, she'll know he's not with me, and then she's going to be really suspicious."

Brittany nodded. "Sure. But why can't you just take him with you? I mean, wouldn't that be even better?"

Mack thought about this for a second. Then he shook his head with a wince. "I don't think he'd really go down well in the places I have to go."

Brittany considered this, then nodded in agreement. "Oh. I guess you're right."

Mack smiled. "Great. Thanks, Brittany."

Brittany glanced over to where Kevin was on the football field. "KEVVIE!" she bellowed, at the top of her lungs, causing Mack to wince in pain. Kevin looked over, and then ran over to her, leaving the three Js on the field, looking at each other in confusion.

Kevin bounded over, with his usual unbridled energy. "What is it, babe?"

"We have to go. Now."

"What?" Kevin looked confused, then he grinned. "Oh. I see."

"Not for that!" said Brittany crossly. "Well, not at first, anyway. We have to go because of Mack."

Kevin's eyes went wide. He glanced to Mack, then back to Brittany. "Are you sure? I never knew you were into that." He thought about it. "Well, I guess I'm game."

Mack covered his eyes with his hand. "Kevin. You're not going with me, okay? You're going because I need you to avoid Jodie. She can't find out where I am. Got that?"

"Why?" asked Kevin bemusedly. "Unless...Mack Daddy! How could you?"

Mack gave a heavy sigh, and rubbed his head, which was starting to ache rather heavily. "Just listen to Brittany, okay Kevin? You can do that, right?"

Kevin began to think about this for a few minutes. After a wait that seemed to take forever, he nodded. "I...think so," he said slowly.

Mack shot a look at Brittany. "I'll make sure!" she said cheerfully. "We'll go right now!"

"Thanks, Britt," said Mack. He glanced at Kevin. "And if worst comes to worst, just remember that paper I gave you, okay?"

Kevin reached into his pocket and waved it out. "Got it right here, man!"

Giving a final, incredibly doubtful, look towards the two of them, Mack set off.

****

After Mack had gone, Kevin glanced at Brittany again. "So are we going to make out, or what?"

"Later, Kevvie. We've got to get out of here before Jodie sees us." Brittany started to walk off the field, leading Kevin behind her. As they neared the exit to the school grounds, Nikki, one of the other cheerleaders, ran up to the duo.

"Brittany! Omigod! You've got to come right now!" She seemed rather agitated.

"Nikki?" said Brittany, in a confused tone. "What are you talking about?"

"Big cheering argument...on the field. You have to come right now!" She was out of breath, and really quite upset about things. "Tori and Angie got into this big fight about routines, and it's getting really vicious, and you know how cheerleaders are!"

Brittany bit her lip. Duty called. "Kevin," she said calmly. "I have to go take care of this. You need to leave right now. Go to your house," she added slowly. "Jodie can't see you, you understand?"

"I think so," said Kevin, scratching his head.

"This is for Mack, remember? He's counting on you." Brittany looked at him pointedly. "You wouldn't want to let Mack down, would you?"

Kevin frowned. "No way! Not Mack Daddy!"

Brittany smiled. "Good. Now go!" She frowned at him again, just to reinforce the point, and ran off after Nicki, leaving Kevin standing looking after them.

He stood in the grounds, scratching his head, and wondering if there was something he was supposed to do. Suddenly, it all came back to him. He had to get home, and hide out there so Jodie didn't see him. Mack Daddy was counting on him! He couldn't let him down. Turning, he walked quickly towards the exit to the grounds, full of purpose.

He was so full of purpose, he completely failed to notice Jodie until he walked straight into her.

Jodie staggered backwards from the shock of the impact, and gasped. Kevin began to apologize profusely. "I'm sorry! Man, I wasn't looking where I was going and..." He stopped short as he saw who it was. "Jodie? Aw crap!"

Jodie got her breath back, and her eyes widened as she saw Kevin. She frowned. "Kevin. What are you doing here?"

"I..." Kevin looked around, hoping that Mack or someone else with common sense would show up and tell him what to do. "I..."

"Weren't you supposed to be at the mall with Mack?" said Jodie, her eyes narrowing.

Kevin decided to try a little bit of misdirection. Perhaps he could outwit Jodie. "Who told you that? I certainly didn't." He said the last part with exaggerated pomposity, as if to deflate any suspicions Jodie might have.

"Mack did."

Oh dear. So much for the outwitting game. Kevin looked around again in panic, hoping for a reprieve. All he could see was Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie. He rushed over to them quickly. "I cancelled. I had to go with these guys instead!"

"What?" said Joey. "What are you talking about?"

"Go where?" said Jamie, frowning. "We had plans, I think..."
"We were going to follow Quinn around the mall, in case she wanted to buy anything, but didn't have enough money," added Jeffy.

"It's odd how often that happens," said Joey thoughtfully.

"Almost as if she knew that's what we were doing," Jamie said, scratching his head.

"Kevin," said Jodie, crossing her arms, and fixing him with a withering glance. "Isn't there something you want to tell me?"

"Guys," said Kevin desperately. "We changed the plans, remember?"

The Three Js glanced at each other, and looked back. "No."

"You can't follow Quinn because..." Kevin searched for a plausible excuse. "She only wants to go out with..." He paused. "Jamie!"

"Hot damn," said Jamie, with a huge grin. "When did this happen?"

"Oh, she told me today," said Kevin nonchalantly.

Jeffy and Joey looked at each other in a daze. "What's wrong with us?" said Joey plaintively.

"I tried," said Jeffy pathetically.

"You don't have it what it takes," said Jamie confidently. "She saw that I was all man. Now if you'll excuse me..." He sauntered away, filled with confidence and swagger. The other two watched him go with stricken expressions on their faces. After he had left, Joey turned to Jeffy.

"This is all your fault!" he said angrily. "You made Quinn turn against us!"

"It was you!" shouted Jeffy.

"Take that back!"

"Make me!"

"Okay!" Joey lunged at Jeffy, and the twosome began pummeling the life out of each other. Kevin turned back to Jodie.

"So you see," he said cockily. "That's why I wasn't at the mall with Mack. It all fits together, as I'm sure you see."

"So where is Mack?" asked Jodie, still fixing that withering gaze at him, not looking like she believed a word he had said. "You still haven't told me that."

"Er..." Kevin paused. Now what? In desperation, he grasped onto the first thing he could think of. "He can't go to the mall because...um...he's dead."

"Uh-huh," said Jodie, raising an eyebrow skeptically.

"What?" said Joey, pausing in his fight with Jeffy. "Mack's dead?"

"What?" said Jeffy, in an even more stricken voice than before. "When did that happen?"

"Um. After we talked in the field!" said Kevin, beginning to worry that perhaps he had not chosen the best excuse. "We started to go to the mall, and then...er...he died. Just like that. It was very sad."

"My god," said Joey, rubbing his head with his hands, and looking pretty devastated. "That's awful. How did it happen?"

"A...piano fell out of a window," said Kevin, improvising wildly. "On his head. He died right away."

"You must have been appalled," said Jodie dryly. She didn't look all that upset, oddly enough.

"Oh yes!" said Kevin, shaking his head in mock sorrow. "His last words were "Tell Jodie I love her.""

"That's beautiful," said Jeffy, with a sob.

"So a piano fell on his head, and he was still able to say that he loved me?" said Jodie, raising an eyebrow.

Kevin put a hand over his mouth as he realized he'd probably blown it. He had to salvage this somehow. "Er...yes. It only...crushed the parts above the mouth."

"So he was still alive when you left him?" said Jeffy, suddenly full of hope.

"Oh. Er. Yes!" said Kevin. "But he was a goner, definitely. He even told me so. He said "Kevin, I'm doomed. But I don't want you to miss out on the mall. Go find Jeffy, and Joey, and Jamie, and go without me. I'll just stay here." So I left."

"Wow," said Jodie incredulously. "Mack always was very thoughtful."

"Oh yes." Kevin turned to Joey and Jeffy. "So can we go to the mall now?"

"He might still be alive!" said Jeffy excitedly.

"We have to find him!" agreed Joey. "We can save him!"

"Let's go!" yelled Jeffy, and the duo ran off, as quick as they could.

"What about the mall?" yelled Kevin. Frowning, he turned back to Jodie. "Well, I have to go. I guess you're devastated about Mack. Um. Sorry."

"Yeah," said Jodie. She sighed. "Kevin, that is the biggest pile of nonsense I've ever heard. None of that actually happened, did it?"

Kevin decided to try a new approach. "Um." He glanced around frantically. "You're right! I...I...was thinking of a completely different person! That wasn't Mack at all! How stupid of me!"

"Where is he?" said Jodie, a little more insistently now.

"I..." Kevin suddenly remembered about the emergency note in his pocket. Ignoring the withering gaze of Jodie, he fished around in his pocket, and got it out.

"What is that?" she asked, trying to read it.

He ignored her, and opened the envelope. Inside was a small card reading: IF YOU ARE SEPARATED FROM BRITTANY, DO NOT SAY ANYTHING TO JODIE AT ALL. NOTHING. GOT ME, KEVIN? And it was signed by Mack.

Kevin glanced up to Jodie again. She asked what the paper was again. Kevin decided to follow Mack's advice, as he usually did, turned the other direction, and ran away as quickly as he could.

****

Jodie watched in bemusement as Kevin pulled an envelope from his pocket, quickly scanned it, and ran away in the opposite direction at hiss top speed. Certainly, that had to rank as one of the more bizarre conversations she had had in the past few months.

Obviously (as far as Jodie could make out) Mack had used the cover story that he was going to the mall with Kevin, and then told Kevin to get out of there. Then she had run into him by accident, and he had freaked and ran away.

That, of course, left the obvious question of where Mack was, and what he was doing. Jodie frowned. This day was getting more and more unusual by the second. What could Mack be doing that would require him to be so secretive? He wasn't an especially private person usually, and he didn't hide any of his life from her, so why had he started now?

Jodie hated to be nosey, but she had to find out. That left only one problem - where could he be? She didn't know where to start. Frowning, Jodie began to formulate a plan.

****

Kevin ran as fast as he could towards the football field. He had the sinking feeling that perhaps he had not handled that situation in the best way. The idea of Mack being dead was a good excuse, but the more he thought of it, he realized that it might have presented problems when Mack showed up for Jodie's birthday tomorrow. Still, Kevin reflected, that might have made her birthday even more happy. Or she would have passed out from shock. Kevin couldn't predict chicks sometimes.

As he got to the field, he paused, and looked around. At the far end, he could see Brittany. It looked like she was in the middle of a furious argument with the other cheerleaders over something. Normally, Kevin would have loved to have seen cheerleaders fight amongst themselves, but today, he had other things on his mind. Important things.

Besides, he thought to himself, they weren't even in a real catfight yet. That would have made all the difference.

Making his way over there, he ran up to Brittany as fast as he could. "Babe!" he yelled urgently. "We got a problem!"

Brittany frowned, and turned to Kevin. "Kevin, if you don't mind, we have a very serious problem here. Can't you wait?"

"Of course not," said Angie bitchily. "Everyone knows he has a problem with stuff coming out early." She grinned, and the rest of the cheerleaders began snickering.

Kevin scratched his head. "I don't get it."

Brittany fumed. "That's a half-truth!" She glared at the other cheerleaders, and then looked at Kevin. "What do you want?"

"I saw Jodie!" said Kevin unhappily. "It was an accident, and she asked me where Mack was and I didn't know, so I told her that he was dead, but she didn't believe me, and I didn't know what to do, so I ran away!"

"What?" Brittany now glared at Kevin. "Kevin! Didn't you get out of school fast enough? You knew how important this was to Mack!"

"I know!" wailed Kevin. "I didn't know what else to do."

Brittany sighed heavily, and turned to the other cheerleaders, who were watching this little spectacle with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. "I have to go. We need to take this up tomorrow, okay?"

The other cheerleaders shrugged, and made vaguely affirmative noises. Brittany frowned again, and fixed them all with as much of a withering glance as she could. "I said we'll take care of this tomorrow! Is that okay with everyone?!" she squeaked, as loudly as he could.

The other cheerleaders made more definite noises of agreement this time. Brittany smiled sweetly at them, and turned to Kevin. "Come on, Kevvie! We have to fix this!"

Kevin glanced back at the others as they were walking away, and then looked at Brittany with a lavicious look on his face. "You know, babe, when you get all decisive like that...it kind of turns me on..."

"Not now," said Brittany, in an annoyed tone. "Later. We have to find Jodie and stop her from finding Mack. Otherwise they'll ruin this and then Mack'll be all pissed and neither of them will ever talk to us ever again."

"Whoa. Bummer," said Kevin thoughtfully. "That would suck." They left the football field, and continued out of the school grounds. As they made their way onto the street, something occurred to Kevin. "Hey, babe?"

"What?" said Brittany, who was looking head with purpose.

"Er...we didn't know where Jodie was going, so how are we going to find her?"

Brittany stopped in her tracks, causing Kevin to run into the back of her, almost falling over. She was silent for a minute, and then eventually said: "I think....I know..." very slowly. "We don't know where Jodie was going, but we do know where Mack was going!"

"No we don't."

"I do," said Brittany. "He told me where he was going tonight. Just in case I needed to find him."

"Why would he tell you, and not me?" asked Kevin, with a frown on his face.

"I..." Brittany smiled soothingly. "He meant to, but he forgot."

"Oh okay," Kevin said, nodding. "I mean, the only other explanation would be that he thought I'd mess it up somehow."

Brittany laughed unconvincingly, and they set off again.

****

In another part of downtown Lawndale, Mack was walking along the street, checking his itinerary. He didn't have a lot of places left to go, and so far it seemed to be going rather well. He idly hoped that everything was going well with Jodie, and that Kevin and Brittany had managed to do everything right.

Well, Brittany mostly. Kevin meant well, but he was not the best person at following a plan. Still, Mack thought, everything seemed to be going well so far.

As if in answer to his thoughts, he saw Jamie walking down the street, looking as if someone had just run over his dog. Repeatedly.

"Jamie?" he said. "What's wrong?"

"Hey Mack," said Jamie despondently. "Everything, really."

Mack sighed. "This wouldn't happen to be anything to do with Quinn Morgendorffer, would it?"

Jamie looked up in amazement. "Man, that's right! How do you always know that?"

"It's a gift," Mack said dryly. "Look..." He glanced at his watch. He had a few minutes to spare, so he might as well help out Jamie. "Look, what did she do, or not do this time?"

"See, I'd heard that she wanted to date me and only me..." began Jamie.

"Didn't that go badly the last time?"

"Yeah, but I can hold my bladder better this time..."

"Never mind," said Mack shaking his head. "Go on."

"So I go over to her house, and ask her about this...and she acts like she never said it! It was terrible," he moaned. "All she did was ask if we were still going to follow her round the mall, and where the other two were..." Jamie sighed. "I even told her about my amazing bladder control and all she could say was 'ew'." He cast his eyes downward in despair. "Why does this always happen to me?"

"Jamie," said Mack sympathetically. "It isn't your fault." Something occurred to him. "So who did tell you this about Quinn."

"Kevin," said Jamie sadly.

Mack frowned. Why would Kevin tell Jamie that? "Jamie, you have to realize that Kevin isn't the most reliable of people. You can't always believe everything he says at face value, you know."

"You mean..." Jamie frowned. "He was lying?"

"No," said Mack. "He was probably just mis..."

"I'll kill him!" said Jamie, pulling himself up. "Why would he do something like that?"

Mack shrugged. "I don't know...I don't think he meant to mislead you..."

"I'm going to go kick his face in!" said Jamie angrily. "He'll learn that I'm not a guy you want to mess with!"

"Jamie...calm down," said Mack placatingly. "Just tell me...what were you guys doing whenever Kevin said..."

"I gotta go!" said Jamie, and he turned and ran off, full of purpose, before Mack could stop him.

Mack stood and watched him rush down the street, shaking his head. He would find Kevin, and they would probably tussle in a half-assed way for a minute, before forgetting the whole thing. That's what usually happened. He sighed, shook his head, and began to make his way back onto his previous route. The question of why Kevin had said that still remained in his head, but he had to finish his work before he could tackle that one.

He had walked a little bit further down the street, when he suddenly heard a loud cry of his name. Frowning, he turned to see Jeffy and Joey running down the street, heading straight for him.

"Mack!" yelled Joey excitedly.

"You're not dead!" screamed Jeffy, beside himself with happiness.

"What?" said Mack, totally bewildered. This day was starting to become rather strange. He stopped on the sidewalk, and waited while the duo ran up to him. They stopped right in front of him, and looked at him. Jeffy reached out a finger and poked him in the stomach. "Ouch," said Mack.

"Okay," said Jeffy, turning to Joey, and nodding sagely. "He isn't a ghost. You were right."

"Of course I was," said Joey confidently. "I have a fifth sense for this sort of thing."

Mack swore he could feel his head start to throb, as it usually did when his life started becoming bizarre. "What are you guys talking about?"

"We thought you were dead...or dying!" said Joey.

"We'd heard that your head had been crushed by a rogue piano," Jeffy added.

"What? Who told you..." Mack stopped, and sighed very, very deeply. "Kevin, right?"

Jeffy and Joey both nodded enthusiastically. "I guess he mistook you for someone else," Jeffy said thoughtfully.

"With the head crushed, I can see that," pointed out Joey.

"Oh. Yeah." Jeffy nodded.

"He said you had been walking along, when a piano fell out of a window, and crushed your head. You were upset about it..."
"I imagine I would be," Mack said dryly.

"...But you still wanted him to go to the Mall with us, because he really wanted to go," finished Jeffy.

"That was nice of me." Mack sighed again, ignored the pain in his head, and looked at the twosome. "Look. I'm not dead, or dying. That never happened. Kevin obviously just was trying..." Something suddenly occurred to Mack. "Oh God...was trying to cover something up. Jodie was there, wasn't she?"

Joey nodded. "Yeah. Er...that's when he found us, actually. Jodie was there, and he came running over."

Mack closed his eyes in annoyance. Jodie knew. She knew that he was up to something. Brittany must have gotten sidetracked, and Kevin had been left in the position of having to cover it up - not a job he was ideally suited for. So now Jodie was probably out looking for him. He had to work quickly. "Guys," he said hurriedly. "I've got to go." He turned, and began to walk away as quickly as he could. He had to hurry now. Time was running out.

****

Jodie walked along the streets of Lawndale, not in any particular direction, or with any real sort of purpose. She had started out with the intention of finding Mack, but eventually she had realized that she had absolutely no idea where he was, or what he was doing. So now, she was just idly wandering, hoping that maybe she would stumble across him, unlikely though that seemed.

She glanced at her watch. She didn't have to be at work for another hour or so, so she resolved to continue the search. This whole situation was still bothering her. She couldn't figure out why Mack would feel the need to lie to her, and she also couldn't figure out exactly what he could be doing. This whole situation left her with a queasy feeling in her stomach. Her life was complicated and busy enough without the one stabilizing factor going weird too.

As Jodie was beginning to think that she should just give up, and get ready to go to work, she heard her name being called. She looked up, casting her thoughts out of her head, and was surprised to see Jeffy and Joey running towards her, their faces lit up with glee. Jodie sighed. She wasn't in the mood for this right now - Kevin's useless attempt at dissembling had been quite enough for one day.

"Jodie!" yelled Jeffy, beaming all over his face. "We've got great news!"

"This is the best news ever!" Joey added.

"Unless Quinn asked me to marry her," pointed out Jeffy.

"That would kind of suck for me," said Joey, turning to Jeffy with a frown.

"Not for me, though," said Jeffy.

"Yeah, well, it ain't never going to happen, and you know why?"

"Why?" asked Jeffy, a confrontational air entering his voice.

"Because she wants a real man..."

"Don't know where she'd find one with you around..."

"Take that back!" Joey raised his fists.

"Guys, guys," said Jodie, putting herself in the middle of them. "Calm down. You guys get so worked up over this sort of stuff, you know that? You need to get a little perspective."

Jeffy and Joey looked at each other sheepishly. "Sorry, man," said Jeffy awkwardly.

"That's okay," said Joey, equally awkwardly.

"Now," said Jodie calmly. "You said you had some great news for me."

"Oh yeah!" Jeffy's face lit up again.

"Just make it quick, okay?" said Jodie, glancing at her watch.

"It's Mack!" said Joey.

Jodie's face shot right back up as he said that. "What about Mack?"

"He's not dead!" rejoiced Jeffy.

"I know that," said Jodie impatiently. "You mean you saw him?" Nods. "Just there now?" More nods. "Where?"

"Er....downtown," said Joey thoughtfully. "Corner of fifth street, I think. You know it?"

Jodie nodded. "I work down there sometimes."

"Turns out he wasn't hit by a rogue piano," added Jeffy. "Kevin must have been thinking of another Mack."

Jodie looked up at the duo. "Thank you, guys."

"What for?"

"Never mind," said Jodie. "Look, I have to go," she added, walking quickly past them, and heading into downtown. Now she knew where Mack was. Why would he be down there, of all places? Speculation could wait, though. She had to hurry, while she knew where he was, or at least the general area. She was going to get to the bottom of this whole, weird affair.

****

Brittany walked as quickly as she could, heading into downtown Lawndale. Kevin walked behind her, trying to keep up. "Hurry up, Kevvie!" she said impatiently. "We can't let Jodie find Mack!"

"But..." Kevin strained to think and walk at the same time. "How would she? She doesn't know where he is. I don't even know where he is."

"Jodie's smart. She'll figure something out. Besides, I know where he is, so I can make sure she isn't there. Understand?"

"Not really," said Kevin unhappily.

Brittany sighed heavily. "It doesn't matter, okay? What matters is that this really really means a lot to Mack, and I don't want it to be screwed up."

"That makes sense," said Kevin, scratching his head thoughtfully.

"Now hurry up!" Brittany turned back ahead, and quickened her pace. She glanced at the street sign at the next intersection. "According to Mack's plan, the one he gave me, he should be a couple of blocks from here. It was one of his last stops, I think."

"Well," said Kevin, glancing around. "We haven't seen Jodie yet. Maybe she gave up and went home."

"Maybe..." said Brittany. She wasn't good at this sort of thing, really. She was straining to figure out what Jodie might do in this situation, but she was having a hard time. All she did know was that she couldn't let this whole thing go bad, or Mack might never forgive her.

Sure, it wasn't really that big of a deal, just Jodie finding out about a birthday present a day early, but the whole thing was still up in the air. Brittany knew Mack didn't want to mention anything about it to Jodie until the entire thing was completed. He didn't want her to be disappointed about not getting it, and Brittany wasn't about to contribute to her best friend's disappointment.

Mack was always very thoughtful about things like that...

Shaken out of her thoughts, Brittany realized that Kevin was tugging her shoulder.

"What?"

"Babe!" Kevin was frantically pointing across the street. Brittany looked over to see Jodie rounding a corner, and quickly walking down the street, completely failing to see them.

Brittany gasped. According to Mack's itinerary, he was in the exact direction that she was going, and she was going there pretty quickly. Somehow, Brittany thought, Jodie had to have found out where he was and now she was going there.

"This is terrible!" she squeaked, putting her hands up in despair. "She knows!"

"It's not that bad," said Kevin soothingly. "After all, now we know where she is!"

Brittany glared at him, then back across the street at Jodie, who was rapidly walking off into the distance. Brittany decided to act quickly. This was a time for action.

Grabbing Kevin, she rushed across the street, half-dragging Kevin behind her. "Jodie!" she yelled. "Over here!"

Jodie glanced around, and her eyes widened in surprise as she saw who it was. She stopped her walk, and waited until Brittany and Kevin half-walked, half-ran up to her.

"Jodie!" said Brittany again, fixing her most cheerful grin on her face. "We were just looking for you!"

"Really?" said Jodie, raising an eyebrow. "That's odd. I was just looking for Mack. You guys wouldn't happen to know where he is, would you?"

"No!" said Brittany cheerfully. A little too cheerfully, really.

"Of course you don't," said Jodie. "Kevin? How about you?" She looked past Brittany and fixed Kevin with that glare again.

"Um...er...ah..." said Kevin nervously. Brittany quickly stepped in between the two before Kevin could say anything else incriminating.

"No, we don't know where Mack is!" she said with the same excessive cheerfulness. "Why would we?"

"I don't know," said Jodie with a shrug. "So, tell me...why exactly are you looking for me?"

"I..." Brittany paused. She hadn't really though this through, and it was showing now. "I..." She paused. Now Jodie was fixing her with that piercing gaze. Something suddenly sprang to mind. "We came to give you your birthday present!"

"What?" said Kevin, before Brittany nudged him really hard in the ribs, causing him to grimace in pain.

"A day early?" said Jodie with a frown.

"Yes!" said Brittany, nodding furiously. "Because...you're such a great friend!"

"That's sweet," said Jodie, looking a little surprised at this turn of events. Her rather confrontational tone seemed to have vanished for the time being.

There was a long, awkward silence. Eventually, Brittany realized with some horror that she would actually have to produce the birthday present she had just mentioned. She did have one for Jodie, but it was at home, waiting to be wrapped for tomorrow. She had to think quickly, and Brittany knew that was not one of her strong points. But she still had to try. "You can..." She struggled, trying to think of something - anything - that she could use. "You can have Kevin!"

"What?" said Jodie and Kevin simultaneously.

"Yes!" said Brittany, kicking herself inside, knowing that she was just digging herself deeper. "Um. You can have him for tomorrow! For...er...anything you want!"

"Brittany, have you gone mad?" asked Jodie, her eyes wide with shock.

"Babe, are you okay with this?" said Kevin, staring at her. "Because if you are...then I guess I don't have a problem with it! Jodie, what do you want to do first?"

Before anyone else could speak, however, Kevin's plans were rudely interrupted by Jamie rounding the corner. "Kevin!"

Kevin blinked in surprise. "What is it, man?"

"You made me think Quinn wanted to go out with me!" said Jamie angrily.

"Um," said Kevin, at a loss for words at this point.

Clearly not wanting to wait for a rational explanation, Jamie lunged at Kevin, and the two began pummeling each other on the ground. Brittany stepped back in alarm. Jodie watched it, still shocked, and then turned to leave. "This is ridiculous," she said, and began to walk away.

Brittany gave another quick look at the Kevin/Jamie brouhaha, and ran after Jodie. "Jodie," she said as she caught up to her. "Where are you going?"

"To find Mack," said Jodie, deliberately not stopping. "I've heard where he is, and I'm going to find him."

"Jodie, no!" said Brittany, keeping pace with her. "You can't!"

Jodie glanced over at her, still not slowing down or breaking stride. "So you do know where he is."

"I..." Brittany paused. She sighed. "Yes, I do know where he is."

"And you know what he's doing?"

Brittany nodded. "Yes. Can you please stop?"

Jodie frowned. "Can you tell me what he's up to?"

"I..." Brittany shook her head. "No. I promised."

Jodie looked back forward. "Then I can't stop."

"Jodie..." Brittany rushed around to Jodie's front, and blocked her path. "Jodie, please stop. You really can't do this."

Jodie tried to step around Brittany, to no avail. "Brittany, please get out of my way."

"Jodie..." said Brittany pleadingly. "You can't...really. Look, Mack is...he's..." Brittany sighed. "He's doing something for you."

Jodie stopped in her tracks. "What? He's doing something for me? What?"

"I can't tell you," said Brittany sadly. "I promised. But it is for you, and it's nothing bad, I promise. I mean, you trust Mack, don't you?"

"I..." Jodie's shoulders slumped. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"And you trust me, right?"

Jodie nodded. "Of course. I..." She tailed off, and sighed again, rubbing her head. "I'm sorry, Brittany. I mean, I'm under a lot of stress these days..."

"I know," said Brittany sympathetically.

"I didn't mean to come across like I didn't trust Mack, I didn't..." Jodie looked down. "It's just...he's so dependable, and when he starts acting weirdly, I get worried, and freak out..."

"It's okay."

"Then you guys started acting up too, and it was like something was going on, and everyone knew but me, and it was kind of frustrating, you know...?"

"I know." Brittany looked sheepish. "I didn't like lying to you, and I'm really bad at it..."

"I've noticed," said Jodie dryly.

"But this is important to Mack. And you, probably."

"You can't even give me a hint?"

Brittany shook her head firmly. "Sorry."

"Okay," said Jodie, nodding slowly. "I guess I'll just go home, then?"

"I would." Brittany's tone softened. "You know I'd never lie to you for something bad, don't you? Or Mack?"

"I know, Brittany," said Jodie, smiling slightly. "I just freaked out, really. I admit, I'm still curious, but I guess I'll wait."

"Good." Brittany smiled back. "Um, Jodie?" she added quickly. "I...um...wasn't really supposed to even tell you this much. Don't tell Mack, will you? I don't want him to get mad."

"Mack get mad?" Jodie grinned. "That's reserved for Kevin only, I think. But I won't tell him."

Brittany smiled gratefully. At that moment, as if on cue to his mention, Kevin wandered up, followed by Jamie. They were both beaming heavily, despite the fact that they both had black eyes.

"Kevvie!" said Brittany unhappily. "Are you okay?"

"Fine!" said Kevin cheerfully. "Me and Jamie managed to settle our differences."

"It's turns out," added Jamie. "That Kevin was talking about two completely different people called Jamie and Quinn. Who go to Lawndale High. That we've never met."

"Isn't it funny how life turns out," said Jodie, giving Brittany a glance.

"So we settled our differences," said Kevin, "and now we're going to go find the others and play some football!"

"Yeah!" said Jamie enthusiastically, and the two of them set off. Jodie and Brittany watched them go, and Jodie raised an eyebrow.

"Testosterone," she said. "I'll never figure it out."

"Tell me about it," muttered Brittany.

Jodie gave Brittany a last smile, turned, and began to walk away in the opposite direction. After she had gone a couple of feet, she turned. "You can't tell me anything?"

"You'll find out," said Brittany, in as determined a tone as she could manage. Jodie gave a small sigh, waved, and walked away again. After she had vanished around the next corner, Brittany turned and glanced around. If her guess was correct, Mack was only a few blocks away. She shuddered a little at the thought of how close it had been.

****

Mack walked out of the office building, feeling a profound sense of relief. He was finished. He hadn't known for sure that this was all going to go smoothly, but it had. He had succeeded, and Jodie was going to love it. he just knew it.

As he walked down the small flight of steps to the street, he did a double-take as he saw Brittany standing off to the side, waiting for him. Suddenly, all the memories of Kevin possibly messing things up, and the things that the Three Js had said all came flooding back into his head. He hoped against hope that everything was still going smoothly. "Brittany? What are you doing here?"

"Everything's fine," she assured him. Her voice was a little shaky, however. "But...Jodie almost got you."

Mack's eyes went wide. "Almost?"

"She was right down the street. A few more blocks, and..." Brittany sighed. "But don't worry. I took care of it."

"You didn't...?"

"No. She still doesn't know anything."

Mack took her hands in his. "Thank you," he said, with utter sincerity. "I mean that. I mean, to both of you. You don't know how much I appreciate this."

"You're welcome," said Brittany, with a smile. "I mean, you guys mean the world to me. So...no problem."

Mack leant over and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Thanks again, Britt. I mean it." Brittany smiled at him in reply. "I'd better be getting home. Got a packed day tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow."

Mack smiled, and began to walk home. Brittany stood in the street and watched him go.

****

Jodie sighed, and closed the front door to her house. She walked through the grounds of her house, and began to make her way out, and to school. So far the day had gone pretty much as she had expected. Which was to say, not very excitingly. She knew that her parents meant well, but still she wished that they would make a bigger deal out of her birthday. So far, it had seemed like just any other day.

She shrugged. She was probably just being unrealistic in her expectations, as usual.

Jodie was so absorbed in her thoughts, she completely failed to notice Mack walking up behind her until he tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped a little.

"Sorry," said Mack. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"You didn't," said Jodie with a smile. She leaned over and kissed him softly. "Haven't seen you for a while."

"Ah," said Mack awkwardly. "Well, I was busy last night..."
"So I heard," said Jodie with a grin. She had to admit, she was still curious as hell about what he had been up to last night. Talking with Brittany had reassured her that it was okay, but still...

"By the way," said Mack suddenly. "Happy birthday!" He leant down and kissed her again.

"Thanks," said Jodie, with a smile. "At least someone is making a big deal out of it."

"Your parents didn't...?"

Jodie shook her head sadly. "It's not their thing, I guess." She sighed, and looked back to the road. They had left her neighborhood now, and were starting to approach the school.

"Well?" said Mack.

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to ask me what I got you?"

"I'm not curious at all," said Jodie unconvincingly.

"Oh, okay," said Mack innocently, and went back to looking at the road head. There was a brief silence. Eventually, Jodie caved first, and sighed.

"Okay, I'm curious."

"Just a little?" said Mack teasingly.

Jodie made a face at him. Mack relented. "Okay." He reached inside his jacket, and pulled out an envelope. "This is it." He stopped in his tracks, and looked at her for a moment. "I'm not sure you're going to like it."

"I'd like anything you buy me, Mack," Jodie pointed out. "With all you do for me, you wouldn't even need to buy me anything. I'm happy with just you."

"Well, I went one further than that," said Mack. "I've...um...not been totally honest with you."

"Hmm."

"That Rachel thing? That was me."

Jodie frowned, and looked at him. "Why she was acting odd? That was you?"

"Yeah. She was helping me."

"Really?" Jodie was awfully confused now.

"She gave me a copy of your schedule for the weekend."

"She..." Jodie shook her head. "I don't understand. What would you need that for?"

"To go to every place you're scheduled to work this weekend."

"I..." Jodie frowned again. "I'm a little lost here."

"That's what I was doing last night," said Mack. "Anyway, here you are..." He handed the envelope to Jodie, who opened it. Inside was a copy of her schedule. Except...this was different. All of her appointments and jobs for the weekend had been crossed off. Everything from here until Monday was now free.

"It wasn't that hard," said Mack, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "Most of the people were only too willing, considering how hard you normally work."

Jodie looked up at him. She didn't know what to say. "You..."

"I hope I wasn't overstepping my bounds, or anything," he added, somewhat cautiously.

"You got me the weekend off," said Jodie, her voice full of emotion.

Mack smiled. "Happy birthday."

Jodie looked up into his eyes. She smiled, took his face in her hands, and kissed him.

The End.

End Notes:

Thanks to my wife.

Thanks to MTV.

Thanks to my Beta-Readers: RangerThorne, THM, Thea-Zara, and Robert Nowall.