They could see the wrought iron, rectangular archway from the Subaru as they parked in one of the allotted spaces near the entrance. In bold white lettering, from left to right, a wooden sign that stretched the length of the top portion read: ARCADIA BAY CEMETERY. An eerie chill wafted through Max’s mind as she realized Victoria was correct about this place. The storm unforgivingly devastated the entire town but left the cemetery completely intact. In fact, it looked exactly the same way she remembered, and it was beginning to break her heart all over again. The three girls exited the car and began slowly plodding towards the graveyard.
“Chlo, I… I hate it here.” She knew her voice sounded shaky and it made sense, as she was choking back the tears that threatened. In her mind, she felt selfish. To her, this awful place was where she experienced the crippling horror of burying the kind soul who was like a father to her, while feeling guilty she would soon be leaving her best friend all alone at any moment. Even more devastatingly, she had to bury the love of her life, her partner-in-time, her favorite person, her Captain, and her soulmate not five years later. She remembered the overwhelming grief she experienced as she watched Chloe’s lifeless body lie in complete stillness knowing she could have changed things for a different outcome. Her casket was lowered, and she believed she’d never see the girl that meant everything to her ever again.
“Max, are you okay?” Her spouse’s voice helped release her from her own thoughts, momentarily bringing her back to the present. She felt an encouraging arm on her shoulder sending a slight relief to her worried heart. A few hours earlier, she felt a degree of strength and vigor flowing through her body as she was prepared to face Arcadia Bay once more. But physically being back in the town, especially the cemetery, filled her with an enormous sadness.
“Yeah, I think so. Let’s just get in and get out. Fuck this place.” Chloe pulled her closer into a side hug, slightly touching at the hips, and it reminded Max of the time they were reconnecting in the junkyard while casually strolling down the train tracks.
“Since you’re the mysterious superhero… I’ll be your faithful chauffeur and companion.”
“My powers might not last, Chloe.”
“That’s okay-we will. Forever.”
She always knew her connection with Chloe was unique, but when she heard her punk use the word “forever” that day, she knew she meant it. Max wasn’t exactly sure when she realized she was in love with the girl, but the shared moment was special, and her embrace felt warm, and loving… and real. That week was tough in so many ways, but she didn’t harbor many negative feelings about it anymore. Without the darkness they experienced during the first storm week, she and her amazing wife wouldn’t be where they were today, and she trembled at the thought of where she might have ended up without the girl’s love and devotion.
This feeling was different, however. Being back in such a dreadful place was like digging into skin and peeling back a scar so old it was barely still visible. Max’s heart raced as the girls continued up the slight incline, past the bench at the entrance, and towards the main section of gravesites. The rain had lessened to a sprinkle when they arrived, but it was still enough to soak into the fabric of their nice business clothes. If not for the dark clouds, the sun would have illuminated everything on their path, but currently, it was pitch-black like nighttime. Thankfully, the lone streetlamp shined brightly enough to show the way.
“Guys,” the teenager abruptly spoke from a few paces behind the couple, startling Max to a point where she jumped and spun around. “What are we looking for? I know she said something about a fixed point, but what does that really mean?” A thunderclap growled in the distance indicating the storm had moved past the graveyard area and was heading away from their location.
“Rachel showed us a Chloe,” Max began after clearing her throat, “that was running tests at… William’s grave. That has to be it.” After walking up and stopping at their destination, she looked down at the empty cement flower urn beside the headstone in regret. “We should have brought some flowers. I’m such an idiot.” She placed the back of her hand on her forehead and wiped the rain moisture from her brow.
“No way, dude!” Chloe reached over and took Max’s hand, lovingly kissing each finger in the process. “You’re perfect. I should have been the one to think about the flowers. Hell, we didn’t even know if this place was still intact when we left the house. So many shitty fucking things happened here, flowers were the last things on any of our minds. Don’t beat yourself up, please, love.”
Des placed a hand on both of her moms’ inner shoulders and gently rubbed in a circular motion. The family of three hovered over the grave, and Max heard Chloe take a quick, short breath.
“Do you wanna go alone, babe? Maybe you’d like to have a little time by yourself for a few minutes…”
“No, way,” the taller girl interrupted, “I want you with me. He meant a lot to both of us, and I can’t imagine doing this without you.” Max snuggled in tightly with her partner, and she felt both horrified at the setting, and safe and secure with her wife. Chloe bent down and buried her face in brown hair, taking a deep sniff. “You smell good, love.”
“Uhhh, yeeeeah, you two are weird.” Des giggled, and pushed past the pair which marginally helped to lighten the mood. She crouched down beside the headstone with marble lettering that read “PRICE”, and placed a hand over the raised name. Max observed her daughter slowly running her fingertips over the raised area, watching them wiggle with the bumps and curvatures in the stone.
The artwork still looked really good, she noticed. On each side of the last name, two trees were etched congruently opposite each other. At the top, a mountainous structure complemented the scene acting as a frame around the marbled lettering. Below the last name, and to the bottom left corner, “William H” occupied a rectangular area along with the dates 1970-2008, which served as a reminder that it had been 12 years since the accident. In the right corner, a matching blank rectangle inhabited the lower quadrant like it had been waiting years to be filled in.
Max knew the vacant spot was meant for the man’s wife whose body would never find its final resting place where it belonged because of the explosion at the diner during the storm. No doubt Joyce and William decided upon a shared headstone, years prior, but they didn’t expect what fate had in store for them and their family. In one of the two realities Max experienced, she was there to witness that second rectangular area filled in with “Chloe E” and it made her heart sink thinking about that bleak and horrendous day.
Suddenly, like a waking nightmare, she was back in that place. She wore a black, sleeveless dress which came down to about her mid-thigh, with a false-golden doe necklace that draped down hanging mid-torso. The sun was bright, casting elongated shadows out in front of the others who were attending the funeral, yet it was dank and dingy in her heart. It might as well have been the darkest part of night as the pitch-black grief sent her mind in uncontrolled loops. Her soul had been stabbed and slashed with the bitter dagger of death, and she would do anything to hold her blue-haired punk again.
The minister was progressing through his standard grave-side message and it royally pissed Max off. Her soulmate deserved so much more than the typical verbiage the motherfucker probably Googled on his computer a day earlier. A disassociation spread throughout her body and she felt a numbed nothingness set in. As upset as she was, everything appeared grey and lacked any real definition or meaning.
The only thing that mattered right then, right there in that moment, was the past and the future. She no longer cared about the present. As she came to this realization, a butterfly landed on her love’s casket. Through red, irritated eyes, she couldn’t control her face, as a smile was forcing itself through her slightly chapped lips. The only two thoughts that ran through her mind were the kiss they shared in her wife’s final moments, and the word “Destiny.” She would be facing a different outcome had she not listened to her partner who begged her to photo jump, once more, to save the town from a fucking storm, sacrificing her perfect person. Chloe Caulfield-Price, in a most selfless act, gave up her life for others. Max considered the blue-haired girl a hero…
“Do you mind speaking first, love? You’re better at this kinda thing.”
“FUCK!” Max was rapidly pulled back from the terribly vivid memory to the present where Chloe and Des stood in the damp grass looking wide-eyed back at her.
“MAX! Shit, are you okay?!” Chloe wrapped both arms around her wife, and Max felt the squeezing sensation with a grip she hadn’t experienced in quite some time. Of course they hugged and held onto each other regularly, but this had a tightness to it that was meant to show she was safe and sound. It reminded Max of how her partner reacted when she was having one of her nightmares that had finally stopped in recent years.
“I-I slipped back to that day.”
“Which day?” Chloe urgently begged as she released a little pressure from the hug.
“The day we buried you, Chlo. Fuuuuck! I can’t believe I ever made that choice. I don’t deserve you!”
“Max Caulfield-Price, don’t do that to yourself! Just stop! Listen to me… you didn’t make the choice, I asked you to do it. You were honoring my wishes, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You also made the choice to save me, babe. Don’t you see? None of that matters. Remember, our love is stronger than some goddamn unfair decision. We’re Max and Chloe, dude. We were always gonna be together no matter what. Fuck the universe!” She released the hug then pulled back and held Max’s face with her palms on either cheek. She planted a kiss directly on her wife’s lips and held it in place for what seemed like a lifetime. There was no tongue, no multiple kisses; just two people who cared deeply about one another embracing their raw love. The guilt, regret, and despair all fell away and Max realized what she’d known all along.
“I love you so much, Chlo. It’s this… place.” Max felt her partner’s thumbs wipe away the trails of tears that had developed, leading from her eyes down her face and towards her chin. She took a deep breath and smiled up at the gorgeous sapphire orbs that stared back at her. The intensity of their connection forced the rest of reality to bend, then bleed from her peripherals in a manner consistent with the moment they conceived their daughter. It felt damn good but she realized it wasn’t a good time to fully connect at that level, so she reluctantly forced herself to look away making eye contact with the teen who stood, mouth agape, staring at her mothers.
“You two never cease to amaze me. I mean, damn, your love is so powerful.” Chloe removed her hands and Max walked directly to the other side of the headstone, wrapped her arms around her daughter, and pressed their bodies together in a heartfelt sentiment. The girl seemed unresponsive and unaware of how to respond at first, then she gave in to her feelings, hugged her mom back, and closed her eyes. Max felt the taller girl join them from behind and pull both girls into a three-way hug. It was great to share a tender moment with the two girls she loved more than anything, but she knew they needed to focus on their plan.
“I’m sorry. I guess we should refocus and get through this.” Max was filled with a new confident resolve, but she realized they weren’t out of the woods yet. William and Joyce deserved their complete attention and she intended to say what was on her heart. She moved to the side and stood in the middle of her daughter and wife, inner-locking her fingers with her partner’s hand, and gingerly gripping the teen’s with the other. She took a lungs-filled breath and then began to speak.
“I miss you so much, William. I want to say some things I was too shy to say at your funeral, because, now, I’m so much stronger than I was then, and it’s because of your beautiful, smart, assertive, and loving daughter. You should see her now. She’s the light of my world, and I hate that you never got to be around her as an adult. She’s not only a great partner and best friend, she’s an amazing mother. Part of me believes you’re watching right now, and I really really really hope that’s true. It means you’re proud of her, just like I am. And your granddaughter, Destiny, is so beautiful; both as a little girl and as a young adult. She has your blood running through her veins so you know she’s a kind person who, like you, would move the world to make those she cares about happy.”
Max paused briefly and realized her eyes were shut. She could hear sniffles coming from both sides of her, as Chloe’s grip on her hand was tightening with every word she spoke. “You taught us so much, William,” she continued. “We learned what it meant to be kind because of you. You taught me that it doesn’t matter how silly I look as long as I always try to make my loved ones feel safe and enjoy their lives. You showed me love and care like I was your own daughter. Thank you for that. I also look at you like a second father.”
“One thing I’d like to mention might sound silly, but it’s my favorite quote from Winnie the Pooh . ‘If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.’ You will always be in our hearts, William. I can speak for both of us… we’re better people because of you. I wish things had been different, but in the end, you’re still here in our hearts until the end of time.”
“That goes for you, too, Joyce. In my mind, you and William are happy together wherever you are… in the next reality. You were like a parent to me, also, and I miss you so very much. You were a role model and an example of what it meant to be a strong and courageous woman. You worked so damn hard and I admire how determined you were to make sure your family was taken care of, even after the accident. I know you blamed yourself, but it was never your fault. Sometimes we’re just dealt shitty hands and we have to push forward. If I can be half the woman you were, I’d say I’m doing a mighty good job. I wish you could see how wonderful Chloe is now, too. She’s grown into a woman you’d be proud of; I promise you that. Wherever you two are, you are never far from our minds and always in our hearts.”
Following Max’s words, Chloe turned and craned over placing her lips on her partner’s cheek. It was an endearing gesture that showed the girl who had just finished speaking that her words were appreciated. The older girl turned back towards the headstone, licked her lips, and inhaled deeply. Her hand was slightly trembling, so Max brought it up to her mouth and slowly kissed her palm, helping to encourage her partner to begin.
“I guess… I dunno.” Chloe’s voice cracked as she began. “I wish you were here, Dad. I miss so much about you. I miss all the jokes we told, even though yours were corny as hell.” She smirked and wiped a tear with her free hand. “I miss the way we could talk about anything. Often, I wonder what those conversations would be like now. Probably me gushing about my perfect wife and daughter, and how life is great. They mean everything to me now, but, Dad, I’m not gonna lie, it was hard without you. Our lives sometimes feel like a book or story, and it was nearly impossible to turn the page knowing you wouldn’t be in the next chapter.” Chloe’s voice hitched but she kept going.
“Mom, you were everything I hope I can live up to one day. Loving, caring, determined, grounded, and positive. Like Max said, if I can be just an ounce of the woman you were, it would mean you two did a damn fine job. I miss you every day, and I’m sorry I didn’t realize how hard it was for you. I blamed you for trying to move on and was an ungrateful brat in the process. Somehow, you kept yourself together despite the nightmare you were living. If something happened to Max, I don’t think I could make it in this life anymore. You lost Dad, and I should have seen that we needed to be each other’s strength. I was anything but, and I’ll regret that for the rest of my life. Just know that both of you showed me how to love and be strong. I’ll never forget you; you’re always in my heart. I’ll love you forever.”
A gust of wind breezed through the trees, descending upon the gravesite. It was as if the universe was saying it had accepted the married couple’s words of love and mourning. The trio stood in silence for several more moments holding each other’s hands just existing among the wind, trees, soggy ground, and the dead.
“I love you, babe,” Max whimpered, breaking the silence. “And you Des; I love you too.” She felt a renewed sense of purpose for why they had come back to Arcadia Bay. They still needed to figure out what they had to do to continue with the plan, and she was certain they were exactly where they needed to be.
“Love you, Mom.”
“Love you, Maxi Max.”
“So, Des, did you bring that letter?” Max remembered most of what written on it but wanted to make sure they were doing the right thing. She knew a signal was required but wasn’t completely sure how it needed to be accomplished.
“No, I accidentally left it when I went back home. I’ve read it enough to know what I need to do, though. I just realized… William’s grave has to be a fixed point in the multiverse. It’s hard to describe, but I can also feel like a trickle of energy here. Wasn’t sure why until now. I just need to send a signal from this spot and we should receive a response. The passage of time is different depending on the universe. It might seem instantaneous, or it might take a while to notice a returned message; I dunno which.”
“Damn, this is exciting,” Chloe blurted, as she stood on the balls of her feet. Max found it adorable that her wife responded with excitement when she was involved in new things. She still saw Captain Bluebeard inside of her best friend and it filled her heart with joy. The emotional drain of being back in their hometown and having to revisit the spot where she buried the love of her life and the girl’s father, had taken its toll. Per usual, the girls conquered yet another challenge and were stronger because of it.
“Yeah, exciting,” the teenager sarcastically responded with a slight roll of her eyes. “I just have to figure out how to send a signal.”
“I have an idea.” Max circled behind the girl and placed her hands on the teen’s shoulders with a gentle massage. “Chloe and I can send these tiny pulses to one another; mine is of course a rewind, and hers is a fast-forward. Perhaps you can send just a little bit of your power without actually traveling. Just a small amount so the energy is barely released.”
“I don’t think so, Mom. I either travel or… I don’t. I’m not sure how to use just a little. I mean, I could try to open a portal like I used to when I was little. I would sometimes open windows to peek into the future. Eventually, I discovered I could go through the windows, and then I figured out how to travel without the portal part. It’s been a while though. It would be like jumping into a kiddie pool when I’m used to diving from the high-dive… or some shit like that.”
“Just try,” Chloe calmly suggested. “You got this, Des.” The older girl was good at encouragement. She’d always made Max feel special when she cheered for her to accomplish a task. “I know you can do it.”
“So, if I can do this, it has to be in the form of a Morse code message. With like, dots and dashes. I’ll just say that we’re here and ask what to do next.” The red-streaked blonde closed her eyes and held both arms in the air, palms extended and pressed outward. It looked almost as if she was attempting to maintain her balance.
It was hardly noticeable at first, but the teenager’s aura phased in and out of reality in a pulsating rhythm:
.– . / .- .-. . / …. . .-. . .-.-.- / -. — .– / .– …. .- – ..–..
Max stretched her arm up behind her head when she sensed the hairs on the back of her neck tingle with each tiny surge. She watched her wife reach up gingerly touching the back of hers also. About half way through the message, a small golden-rimmed window began forming out in front of the teen, about twelve inches from where her palms were positioned. It was no larger than a baseball, and, as quickly as it appeared, it vanished from sight. Des took a deep airy breath then reopened her eyes.
“I hope that did it. I’m proud of myself, wasn’t sure if I could hold back and release a little at a time.” She allowed her arms to swing back down beside her hips and smiled. “So now… I guess… we just wait?”
“We know time doesn’t exist the same here,” Max commented, “as it does in every other universe. I imagine it could be the year 2068 when she gets the message, and we would receive her response in our time. Now that I think about it, there’s probably a lot of fucking math involved.”
“Ha!” Chloe chortled. “Fucking math is right, but I was pretty damn good at it when I actually tried.”
“Doesn’t surprise me at all, babe. You’re the most intelligent person I know. You just need to be motivated and you can do anything.”
“How do we know if she received the message? What do we even look for?” Des’s eyebrows were lowered in concern. She seemed to be taking her responsibility seriously, as the magnitude and weight of the situation was becoming more important to the girl.
“Good question,” Chloe responded. “I guess let’s just look around, see what we see.” The three girls didn’t exactly split up, but they did wander around the area a bit.
After maybe three or four minutes, Des called out. “Hey guys? We didn’t bring flowers, did we?” The brunette turned around and saw a beautiful and fresh bouquet full of autumn colors in the urn beside William’s grave.
“But how did…?” Chloe slouched forward with her arm out and finger pointing forward, a look of bewilderment in her eyes. “No way, dude. I’m pretty damn sure they weren’t there earlier.”
“Shit, that’s it. Look.” Des reached down and picked up the dozen or so flowers by the stems and stuck her hand in the middle portion. When she pulled it back out, she revealed a folded white piece of paper then placed the flowers back in the urn. Max and Chloe gathered around her, and Max held up her phone to use the glow as a light source in order to fully view the item her daughter was holding. “Here, I’ll just read it…”
Destiny! Holy guacamole! Just got your message. It is you, right? Sorry, sorry… yeah… wasn’t expecting to hear from you. And your message said “WE are here.” Guess you’re not alone, that’s probably a good thing.
Okay, I have to keep this short because you are a hella long way from us and there also seems to be a time difference. For me, it’s been 214 days since we last saw each other. And I don’t know if you ever knew, but it’s the year 2051 here.
First, I want to say thanks for saving my life, and while I know dinner for you and your guest doesn’t come close to repayment, I want you to know that I’m not wasting the second chance you gave me.
Secondly, right about now, you’re probably wondering why the older wheelchair-bound Chloe isn’t answering your hail. Well, that’s a side-effect of your presence. No, don’t worry, she’s fine, and she figured it out beforehand, but for the next twenty-five years (her time) she won’t remember a thing. I’ll have to rig up some way to get her up to speed when the time is right.
Thirdly, me and my Max, who I unfortunately left involuntarily by herself, are racing against the clock to save her from… the end. The timestream I came from is going to dissolve in a little under twenty-four days from now, and I need to get her out of there if we’re ever going to continue with the plan. It’ll be the first time we’ll be bridging three timestreams, so there’s a fuck-ton of risk. Not gonna lie, I’m scared I’m going to lose my first mate, but we’re giving it our all.
Lastly, I’ve set up a beacon of sorts to locate us. I don’t know what it’ll look like to you, but it should be obvious; hard to miss. Kinda like the Bat-Signal, but more badass…. Oh! The Badass-Signal, that’s brilliant, literally; and very fitting considering what you can do!
The next thing I need is for you to, well… follow the beacon and find me, like now. As soon as you can! I know it’s asking a lot, and if the “we” you mentioned is who I think it is, she (or they) might be against risking your safety at this point. But I implore you… no, I’m begging you; please come help us ! We’re all in this together and you’re the key.
Well, that’s all I can think to write in such a small amount of space.
P.S. Loved your red highlight, dude. Decided to go full-on red myself.
“Holy shit!” Max gasped. “There are other Maxes and Chloes out there with timestreams that are dissolving?! Fuck. Th-that’s terrible! This must be what Rachel meant about saving everyone. I think the other letter mentioned dissolving timestreams, but I had no idea how literal and destructive it could be.”
“So, that Chloe is the one that paid for our meal at Chipotle,” Des confirmed. “I mean, I accidentally saved her life when I glitched the first time, and I didn’t think much of it, but wow. Looks like I have to save her again, intentionally this time. If there’s one thing I know, it’s every Chloe needs her Max, and vice versa.”
“Yeah, I can confirm that,” the older girl spoke up with a heartfelt half-grin and threw her arm around her wife’s neck. “Des, you get to decide what you wanna do. But it feels like this is… well, sorry to sound so corny and shit, but this is your destiny.”
“Yeah, well, I better get to it then. It feels more urgent now. She was literally begging for my help.” The teenager folded the note and handed it to Max. “Okay, see you guys later.”
“I wish we could come with you,” the older girl sighed. “Keep your ass outta trouble.”
“I’ll be fine, mom, and like you said this is my destiny. Also, and not to seem too damn dramatic, I might not see you again as a teenager until… well, until I grow up. Sorta feels like this is goodbye for a while. Oh, one more thing. I know you’re gonna go pick up toddler me after this. Please don’t make her watch PJ Mask or Spongebob , she doesn’t like those shitty shows. Yeah, everyone else on the planet loves Spongebob , except me. However, The Legend of Korra is my favorite show of all time. It’s prolly on Netflix or something here; let me… uh, let HER watch it.” Max nodded then pulled Des into a hug and kissed her on the cheek. The three girls took a few moments to hold onto each other then released their arms.
Max felt her eyes begin to water but knew it wasn’t the time to be emotional. Her daughter had a large task to undertake, and it wouldn’t be very helpful if her mom started bawling. “Please don’t think you always have to fight. Sometimes you might need to run. There’s no shame in realizing the battle is lost, regrouping, and finding another way.” Des nodded towards each of her moms in succession then turned away. “We love you, sweetheart.”
“Love you, Des.” Chloe had been uncharacteristically quiet, and Max knew her best friend was also fighting to restrain her emotions.
“Love you too,” the girl expressed without turning around one final time before departure. Her voice was faintly muffled from the wind, but her parents still heard her words.
Chloe tucked Max into her chest and they both watched as Des’s body vibrated, became translucent, then winked out of existence. “Goddamn that was quick. I know she’s gaining confidence with her skills, but fuck.”
“That tingling on my neck… I’ll never get used to it,” Max reckoned.
“Think you’ll ever get used to this?” Chloe quickly blurted, as she surprisingly grabbed Max’s hips and tripped her to the ground. Her momentum carried her over and she fell down beside her soulmate in the soaked grass and a clumped patch of mud.
“What the fuck, Chlo!” Max yelped, looking at her saturated clothes while lying on her back.
“You elbowed me when we were talking to Victoria earlier, love. I was just trying to get you back, but it looks like it backfired. I’m filthier than you now.”
Max’s anger quickly died down and she smiled while watching her wife squirm around in the muck and the mud. All of a sudden, an impish thought crossed the girl’s mind. “You’ve always been filthier than me, babe.” Pushing herself up, she slung her leg over straddling her partner then planting a deep moist kiss on her lips. Chloe’s arms wrapped around the brunette girl on top of her, and she embraced the gesture with a playful sloppiness. She then buried her fingers into the freckled girl’s sides where her ribcage was located, causing Max to release a series of uncontrolled twitches, giggles, and snorts.
Chloe finally stopped tickling her lover and the married couple laid beside one another in the drenched grass, both with soiled clothing and mud all over their bodies and in their hair. They stayed on their backs looking up at the grey clouds pass overhead for several moments. Max knew the trip back to Arcadia Bay was needed by both of the girls and closure had been obtained. Previously, she was nearly inundated with guilt and regret, but those feelings were washed away. Now, the only regret that remained, was the realization that she shouldn’t have worn her nice dress clothes.