Chloe didn’t mind when her wife insisted on driving, which she did most of the time these days. It allowed her to kick back and make a couple of phone calls from the passenger’s seat during their journey back to Arcadia Bay. It would be the first time returning since the entire town was destroyed seven years prior. Des called ‘shotgun’ before they piled into the car but was quickly overridden by her mother, so the teen begrudgingly took the back seat. The rules of the game were simple, whoever said the word ‘shotgun’ first, earned the right to sit in the front seat. However, more times than not, standard rules didn’t apply when it came to the former punk.
The first call was placed so she could check on their two-year-old daughter who had been staying a few nights with her grandparents. She missed that little rug rat immensely and knew her beautiful bride felt the same. They planned to pick the girl up that evening, and Chloe hoped the trip back to their hometown would be quick. She was thankful for her wife’s unwavering parents, and was glad they didn’t ask many questions about the need to keep Destiny for as long as they had. She used FaceTime so they could not only see their sweet freckled, blue-eyed daughter, but so the toddler could also see them and feel at ease about their extended absence.
The second call was made as an attempt to correct a wrong with the friend Chloe was rude to the morning prior. In the past, she wouldn’t have cared much about Victoria’s feelings, but her heart had changed because of the pure love she shared with her wife and best friend. She genuinely felt bad about her actions, so a conversation felt necessary to smooth things out.
The trio was about ten minutes down the road from their townhome when Chloe made the second call. It only rang once before the eager blonde answered.
“Hey, Victoria,” The girl in the passenger’s seat began. “Let’s just get it out there. I shut the door in your face yesterday, and I wasn’t being a good friend, and… well, shit… I-I’m sorry.” Her cell phone was set to the speaker option so the others in the car could hear their conversation.
“I was excited to have breakfast with you. I thought, and hoped, we could hang out, just us. We never get the opportunity to spend time really getting to know one another. Max and I are close now, I guess, but you never let me in. I wish we could be besties, too.”
“Aww,” a half-chuckling, calm and tender voice purred from the driver’s seat. “Hi, Vicki,” Max chimed in. “We’re all already besties. Chloe just has a tough time showing it. Right, babe?” She felt an elbow strike her side from the driver’s direction that wasn’t exactly a light, playful nudge.
“Uhm, oh. Yeah, of course. I’m working on it.” An immediate mischievous thought crossed Chloe’s mind. That elbow from her wife actually hurt a little, and she would remember to get the girl back when she least expected it.
“You know I don’t like it when you call me ‘Vicki’, Max,” she huffed with a sharpness to her words.
“Just trying to lighten the mood, Victoria,” the brunette clarified. “Our… uhm, well… w-we had family over and I…”
“Yeah, Des is my, uh, cousin,” Chloe broke in. “She dropped by unexpectedly and it was a damn shocker. Sometimes I don’t think things through when I’m excited. Again, I’m sorry, dude.” She wasn’t sure if the girl on the other end of the line believed her, but she thought Victoria snuck a peek of the teenager through the door before it was impolitely closed in front of her. Max briefly turned her head and narrowed her eyes in Chloe’s direction, who shrugged not knowing what to say.
“No, it’s best I left when I did. It started raining later, and I barely got ahead of the storm. Anyway, apology accepted. What are you guys doing today? I have a rare day off and nothing planned except to drive around. I needed to get away from work for a bit, ya know? Maybe we could go do something… if you want to, that is.” It was still insane to Chloe just how different Victoria was now. It made sense she’d grow up and change, though. She recalled a time in her life when she was much different herself. Chloe also knew the terrible shit the gallery owner had gone through with losing her parents and other loved ones. In many ways, they were more similar than she cared to admit.
“Believe it or not, we’re taking a day trip back to shitville,” Chloe responded. “It’ll be our first time back, since… well, you know.”
“I tried to go back a couple of years ago and they were still cleaning up. I don’t think anyone is in a hurry to restore the town. There was a memorial plaque at the overlook, but, besides that, you wouldn’t even know it was the same place. I didn’t stay long, but I heard they replaced the lighthouse so ships wouldn’t crash and shit. What’s ironic is the cemetery was unscathed. Some hellish fucking storm wipes out the city killing everyone in it, yet leaves the goddamn graveyard perfectly intact like a shitty cosmic joke.”
“Damn. That’s… that’s so fucked, Victoria.” Max was always good with empathy. Chloe had admired her best friend’s big heart since they were kids, and every time she saw how much the girl cared about others, it made her feel content and safe. She was still Max Caulfield. Except now, she was hers forever. Max Caulfield-Price was her wife, and it filled her heart with delight every time the thought crossed her mind.
She noticed Max look over again as she grinned thinking not about the lives lost and the busted town but about the perfect person sitting next to her. It suddenly dawned on the older girl that her expression didn’t match the somber mood of the conversation. “Why don’t you come with us, Victoria,” Chloe blurted to divert her partner’s attention.
“That’s a great idea, babe. We’re all part of the survivor’s club, right? Going back together makes a lot of sense.”
“Normally, I would avoid as much to do with The Bay as possible, but yeah, I’d like to join you. I’ve been pretty lonely lately, and I know we chat all the time, Max, but it’s not the same. I dunno.” To Chloe’s surprise, it broke her heart hearing the girl sound so unhappy and empty, especially since she knew how fulfilled and overjoyed she was with her own life. Maybe that empathy thing her partner had mastered was rubbing off on her. She reached over with her free hand and entwined her fingers with her wife’s. Her hand was smooth and soft, as usual, and she felt Max playing and fiddling with the wedding ring on her finger.
“Are you dating or anything? Max said you were at one point.”
“Nah, not really. Just staying busy with the gallery. I find my work keeps my mind occupied.” Chloe thought she heard a sigh, amplifying the pain in Victoria’s voice.
“Where are you now?” Chloe wondered. “Sounds like you’re in a car. We’re not too far from home if you want us to turn around and pick you up.”
“I’m actually not too far from you. I’ll just meet you there, if that’s okay. Maybe going back will do me some good. Not sure I ever had real closure.”
“That sounds great,” Max encouraged. “Meet at the overlook?”
“See ya there. Chao.” Victoria hung up before they could say goodbye.
“She sounds miserable, babe. Thank you for inviting her. I think this trip has been a long time coming for all of us. We’ve tried to forget the horrors there for so long, and it’s been much easier for us, since we have each other, than it has for her. I hope she can gain whatever she needs to move on. I know her work keeps her sane, but it’s pretty clear she never truly moved forward.” Chloe nodded in agreement then reached up and affectionately tucked a strand of hair behind her wife’s right ear, purposefully grazing the brunette’s ear and neck.
The three girls continued their trek down I-5 towards the place where it all began. From their townhome, it would take about three hours to get there. If they didn’t stay in Arcadia Bay longer than an hour or so, they would be able to return to Seattle and pick Destiny up before it got too late. Otherwise, they would have to ask Max’s parents to let her stay another night, which might make them more suspicious than they already were.
The day trippers only stopped once to use the restroom and stock up on drinks and snacks. When Max was behind the wheel, she was determined to stop as few times as possible. She had this thing about making good time, and it felt like a game to the older girl. Chloe wasn’t sure when her best friend became so competitive, but she figured it was one of those times where she was a good-bad influence on her partner. After M3 took off, the freckled photographer’s confidence seemed to drive her competitive ambition towards achieving her goals. Together, she knew the pair was unstoppable.
After shooting the shit and talking about nothing in particular, and about thirty minutes remaining before their arrival, Chloe realized it was the first instance she and her wife were able to really spend time together with their teenage daughter. She enjoyed the jokes and teasing, but suddenly wanted to connect at a deeper level, so she decided to ask a question she hadn’t and was previously a little uncomfortable asking.
“So, Des… what are we like in the future? I’m still a badass, yeah?”
“Badass? Well, I dunno…” Chloe whipped her head around to face the teen, and she noticed a toothy smirk on the girl’s face. “I’m only kidding, mom. After watching you in the past, I’d say you’re a big softy now compared to then. Only because you still love her so much.” She bobbed her head in the direction of the driver. “It’s cute. You’re, you’re… well… you’re in love and happy. I mean, you still don’t take shit, and you’d murder someone if they even looked at her wrong, but besides that, you’re goopy as fuck.” This time, a raucous laughter filled the car from the backseat, which was accompanied by a softer giggle from her wife.
“As long as those bastards know she’s mine and her happiness is all that matters to me, I guess it’s fine.” She felt a loving squeeze on the hand her lover was holding. “Anything else you haven’t told us? I mean, you said we were easier to talk to here; that must mean something.”
“Yeah, I think just… in my time, you’re older and you seem wiser. Not that you’re not wise now, but you don’t worry quite as much; you’re pretty set in your ways. It’s like you know things nobody else does and you two live in the moment and for each other. Also,” Des cleared her throat, “the PDA shit might even be worse in the future.” The red-streaked blonde stopped and intently looked out the window, clearly avoiding eye contact from the rearview mirror as well as the other set of eyes that glared at her from the passenger’s seat. “I know I’m not really supposed to say stuff like this since it could change things, but…” Des swallowed hard, “you don’t have your powers in the future. At least that’s what you’ve told me. I mean, I think you can still connect with each other or whatever, but the rewind and fast-forward are gone.”
“Wowser,” Max whispered as she turned and locked eyes with Chloe.
“Shit. What do you think that means, love?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure. I know when the cycle ended, the rewind left until your fast-forward like, reawakened the power. I couldn’t even find the sweet spot anymore until then. Maybe, it means we have to give them up for some reason.”
“I dunno,” Des mumbled, marginally shaking her head. “It could just mean you stopped using it and it… disappeared. We really never talked much about it. Though, when I get back, I think I’ll be more open to discussing things with them… with, you. Maybe the walls I’ve put up are the reason we don’t get along like we used to. I miss it…” The girl trailed off and appeared to be lost in thought. Chloe realized how grown up Des seemed at eighteen. She was only a teenager, after all, but it made sense. She would have gone over a decade knowing about her power, and it simultaneously made Chloe both sad and proud. On one hand, it would mean her daughter wouldn’t get to experience a typical childhood. On the other, it meant she would be well prepared for life’s challenges and everything that comes with having a special ability.
A brief silence rolled through the Subaru as a few large drops of water pattered on the windshield followed by an ominous thunderclap in the distance. Chloe noticed they were driving directly towards a dark-clouded rainstorm, and it appeared to be heading towards the bay area. Before she realized how close they were to their destination, Max pulled over to the side of the road. The older girl spotted the memorial plaque at the overlook and unlatched her door to get a better view. Chloe stepped out of the car and walked over to the slightly weathered sign which read:
“Damn. This place is… shit. I don’t even know.” She looked out over the landscape of what was formerly Arcadia Bay. A light mist was in the air, and she could see the cascading sheets of rain edging from the water inland. The last time she saw the town, it was in shambles from the aftermath of the storm. Chloe wasn’t sure what word best described what she was witnessing, but she thought ‘sterile’ was the closest. The barely noticeable ruins of Blackwell remained on the hill, covered with vegetation, but the rest of the town appeared leveled, besides some smaller makeshift buildings near the shoreline. Like Victoria had described, a new lighthouse resided on the cliff and it looked eerily similar to the one she remembered.
As the older girl marveled at the sights, she felt an arm slide around the small of her back and a hand grasp her opposite hip. Chloe responded by wrapping both arms around her favorite person and pulling her in for a supportive and loving embrace. They stood there in silence, tangled between each other’s arms, looking out at what used to be their hometown.
“Fuck,” the teenager blurted in astonishment as she walked up to her moms, now able to see over the side railing and down below. “I haven’t been back here. It looks better than it did when you left, but shit. I would have thought someone would rebuild or something. I dunno. At least the lighthouse looks fine.”
Without saying a word, the trio stood and watched as the beacon made a few revolutions illuminating everything in its path. Two girls held onto one another and the third stood in close proximity for several moments. The sound of a car’s engine suddenly could be heard in the distance quickly approaching from the road behind them. The family of three turned to witness a silver sedan whip around the curve and squeal to a stop beside their blue Subaru. Above the Audi’s logo of four interlocking rings, peering through the windshield, Victoria fidgeted with her seatbelt then opened the door.
“Wow, you guys look good. I haven’t seen you dress this nicely since our first meeting at the gallery a few years back. How goes it?” The new arrival walked over and put both hands on each of the girls’ backs in a sort of awkward group hug. When she released her grip, she turned and glanced at Des who was standing with arms folded and her hips slightly cocked to the side. “You haven’t introduced me to your cousin.”
“Oh, right,” Max said as she moved away from her wife’s hold and turned to face Victoria and her daughter. “Des, this is Victoria. Victoria, Des.” Her hands faced upward, open palmed, pointing from one girl to the other in succession.
“Bonjour. Nice to meet you.” The new acquaintances waved towards each other, and then Des turned in the opposite direction. Facing back towards Max and Chloe, Victoria raised both eyebrows. “I didn’t realize when I saw her yesterday that she was so cute.”
“No, Victoria,” Chloe abruptly spoke. She felt a knee bump into her thigh from the side and saw Max shaking her head. “What I mean is… yeah, she’s very cute. Takes after my side of the family.”
“Is she really from your side? She looks like Max in the eyes; even has her freckles.” Victoria’s face was scrunched up like she was attempting to solve a riddle and make sense of things.
“Victoria,” Max interrupted as she placed her hands on each of the girl’s shoulders, spinning her around towards the open viewing area, “what are those little buildings down there?” She pointed towards the shoreline where small hut-like structures had been erected. It looked like they were the only signs of life down below.
“From what I heard, some environmental group set up shop down there. I don’t know if they run tests or what, but they were here when I came back before.” She momentarily paused and scanned the area where the town used to be, focusing her attention towards the ruins of Blackwell. “Shit, this sucks. I mean, so many terrible memories happened here and so much fucking death.”
Chloe looked over at her partner and noticed the disheartened look on her face. She hadn’t felt the twinge of guilt in many years, but Max’s eyes informed her exactly what the girl was thinking. “You okay, love?” she whispered as she buried her face in brown hair near the girl’s neck and ear.
“This is just a lot, babe. Victoria is right; so much fucking death. We made peace with everything years ago, but being back here is… painful. The guilt is dull and pushed to the back of my mind because of our love, but it’s still in there. This goddamn place… fuck.”
“Yeah, I feel it too. The cemetery is ten minutes down the road. Let’s just keep moving forward and focus on our plan. We don’t have to stay here longer than we need.” For the first time in years, Chloe was worried her perfect person was beginning to unravel. Her temperament resembled a much less confident and cheerful Max, and it broke her heart to see this side of her resurfacing. She would be there for her wife, no matter what, to calm the turmoil in the girl’s heart, but her own dread and worry was nearly enough to derail her steady demeanor.
“Victoria,” Max began, “we’re going to the cemetery. You should come if you’d like. After that, we’re heading back. This place blows.”
“I think I’d rather drive around for a little bit. Do you ever feel like you’re meant to be somewhere or do something, but you have no idea where or what it is? I think I’m supposed to see something on my own while I’m here. Cemeteries give me the creeps anyway. Let me know when you leave, and we can meet up again.”
“You sure, Vic?” Chloe asked. “Maybe you shouldn’t be alone out there.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I need to see some other places that don’t have fucking gravestones and corpses. You guys go ahead, and thank you for actually making me feel like I belong.” Victoria began slowly walking towards her car, shoulders slinked down.
“You do belong, Victoria,” Max called out. “We’re your friends and always will be.”
“I know that, Max. Thank you.” The girl forced a slight smile, closed the door, cranked the Audi, put it in reverse, then sped off causing a small dust cloud to float over and past the girls.
A startling crack of thunder, much closer this time, rang out and echoed through the forest trees. The wall of rain had just reached the overlook, causing the girls to sprint back to their car. Once buckled and settled inside, Max cranked the vehicle and they began the ten-minute drive towards their destination.
The cemetery was right down the road, and the older girl hoped they wouldn’t be there very long. She knew she would have to face her father’s headstone again, but she was more worried about her wife. They hadn’t spoken more than maybe once or twice about it, but there was a time when Max had to attend Chloe’s funeral, and she shuddered thinking about how tough it must have been to experience that horror.
“I love you, Max; so goddamn much.” She craned over and cupped a palm beneath the driver’s chin and kissed her on the cheek. “This’ll all be over soon, and before you know it, we’ll be back home and curled up together in bed.”
“I like the sound of that. Love you too, babe.”