Reality swirled in through a heavily vibrating vortex of spinning spirals that seemed to quickly vanish, disappearing and trailing in towards her chest. Max shakily pulled herself forward on the cold floor, barely holding her head upright, after being slung and thrown down by an armed guard. Through the foggy glass that separated the viewing area from the injection chamber, she watched as Chloe mouthed the words “even when we’re not” in slow motion, a look of panic on her face.
Though tightly restrained at the arms, legs, and torso, the inmate struggled from the chair where the medical staff and several other guards, including the warden, surrounded her. Tears and sweat streamed down both the prisoner’s and photographer’s faces as they realized their fight was coming to an end, eyes locked on each other one final time.
Max’s depleted energy wouldn’t allow her enough strength to do much more than hold her body upright. She searched deep within herself for one last rewind, but she couldn’t even release a trickle of her power. Having attempted to change her partner in time’s fate over a dozen times already, there simply wasn’t anything left…
The universe finally stopped twisting to Max’s relief, as a trail of barely discernible spinning spirals disappeared from view like sparks dwindling to nothingness atop a fire’s flame. Everything abruptly grew distorted and warped after she read the text confirming Chloe’s execution had been fast-tracked. Maria sent the message nearly an hour prior to Max reading it, and the information she relayed spun the room vertiginously like a mid-flight rotor blade.
What the hell was that?
At some point during the last several minutes, Max’s mom helped her to the couch. She must’ve been on autopilot since the woman continued discussing her past again. It was almost as if the girl traveled from her location in the apartment to some other place in time, then back again, but she couldn’t quite recall what she’d experienced.
“You were lost, sweetie.” Sliding her arm behind Max’s neck, the oldest of the two pulled her daughter into a side hug where they sat. “We rushed you to the emergency room where they stabilized the bleeding. Once they released you into our custody…” Her mother’s words started running together, creating a garbled mess of syllables and dissonant tones in her head. It wasn’t that the woman didn’t make sense, Max just didn’t care to hear what she was saying any longer. “You were a robot for the next two months, only going through the motions; not speaking and barely eating. We met with a specialist who offered us hope, and the experimental medication she prescribed snapped you out of it. Are you even listening to me anymore?”
Pushing away and removing the arm from around her, Max stood and faced her mother who remained on the couch. “I remember now. Nothing matters but her, Mom. Nothing. I’m sorry.” As she turned towards her bag, on the other side of the room, she felt a hand firmly grasp her by the wrist, halting her movement. “Let me go!”
“Max!” Vanessa raised her voice then paused, shuffling to her feet. “Is-is it really her? Is the prisoner really Chloe?”
A yearning ache, beginning at the pit of her stomach, grew as images of past and current events with the love of her life flashed before her eyes.
Max’s breathing caught; the sensation of a slightly quivering bottom lip slowly cascaded upward. Her immediate urge was to restrain the liquid bucketing in her eyes from spilling out, but the pressure was too much to deny. She broke down and wept in her mother’s arms, releasing what felt like a decade worth of pent-up grief, desolation, and darkened sadness.
They held onto each other until Max finally pulled away. Using a combination of alternating palms, the back of her hands, forearms, and shirt, the girl wiped her face and neck to dry the wetness from her skin. “It really is her, Mom. It’s Chloe.” She finally responded then sniffed, hoping her bawling didn’t release any more blood from her nose because of earlier.
“After reading your journal over and over and being around you now… I believe it. Everything I know about this world is telling me there’s no way all of this can be true. The rewinding time stuff is so bizarre and a little terrifying, but, Max, I have faith in you. If Chloe is alive with a chance to be saved, you have to try.” The woman reached over and held her daughter’s other hand, stepping closer and narrowing the gap between the pair. “It didn’t take me long, after the first time I read your words, to realize this isn’t about saving the life of some old friend. This is about saving the person you’re in love with so you two can be together. Being in love is so darn special. When it happens, you have to fight for it. I understand.”
Thinking back to her recently rediscovered memory of that week with Chloe five year before, Max had never considered what it would mean if her parents knew she had romantic feelings for another girl. The thought simply never crossed her mind. She’d only fully realized her true feelings as she shared a passionate kiss with the most amazing person she’d ever met on the cliff during the storm. She remembered exactly how the girl tasted in her mouth while she came to terms with the hero who stood before her, agreeing to sacrifice herself for others. That girl deserved so much better, and Max was determined to never let her go again.
“She’s scheduled for execution tomorrow. I have to save her, Mom. I’ll do whatever it takes. Even if that means…”
“Tomorrow?” the woman interrupted. “Oh my gosh! What can I do to help?” She seemed genuinely perturbed about the situation and willing to assist if possible.
“You’ve already done a ton. I have to figure out what to do now. I don’t have much time.” Max released her mother’s hands and started for her bag once more. She opened the satchel and located her keys.
If I can just get to the prison, I can rewind and figure shit out as I go.
“You’re not thinking about driving, are you? We drank way too much alcohol to get behind the wheel now. Is there anything you can do from here? Maybe make some phone calls or use the internet.”
Max squeezed her hands into balled-up fists beside her hips ready to lash out, but she considered for a moment, then realized speaking to Maria might be the best next step anyway. The journalist could have more information about why the execution date was changed. She also knew her mother was right. If something happened to her because she drank then drove, she wouldn’t even have a shot at saving Chloe.
Damn. What reason could they possibly have to push the date up? Doesn’t make sense.
She took a deep breath to calm down. “You’re right. I’m gonna make a call now… if you’ll excuse me.”
Max unclenched her fists then briskly walked out of the kitchen and living room portion of the house, making her way to the bedroom. She closed the door and sat on the corner of the bed with her phone in her palm and her hand in her lap. She opened her contacts and selected Maria’s name, pressing the speaker option button. After a couple of rings, her colleague was on the other line.
“Max the Mysterious. You’re the toughest damn person to get in touch with, Chica. Anyway, have you heard?”
“Hey, Maria. Yeah, just read your text. Why the fuck did they move Chloe’s…. er, the prisoner’s death date up?”
“Chloe, huh? Guess you’re holding back some details for your story. I’d do the same thing if I were you. Just don’t slip up like that and have some cutthroat reporter share your information. I would never do that, but there are some who would have no damn problem yoinking it from you. As far as the death date, I have no idea, to be honest. I was standing at Weston’s door when he took a call from a guy named Jack. He put it on speaker so I heard the whole thing. He didn’t say why, just that it was moved up. Texted your ass as soon as I left. So… you’re welcome.”
“Thanks. Speaking of… I have to know. I’m sorry for even asking this but… well, here goes. How the hell did you hook up with that asshole? I understand wanting to get ahead with your career and all, but it seems sorta beneath you… and creepy.”
“Shit, Max. You’re a little nosy. Anyone ever told you that?”
“Yeah, actually. Not the first time I’ve heard it.”
“If you gotta know, it wasn’t exactly like that. Shit, I can’t believe I’m telling you this.” The woman stopped and took an elongated, pronounced breath before proceeding. “Things were different then. It’s still a man’s world, ya know, but back then, it was REALLY a man’s world. Anyway, the truth is… I actually loved him. My naïve ass thought he would leave his pregnant wife for me. I was so dumb. He wanted a side piece; I wanted a relationship. When you’re the other woman, it’ll never end well.”
“Maria, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s way in the past, Max. Don’t sweat it. But once he found out I had real feelings for him, he pushed me away. He started throwing me all the good stories to shut me up and keep me busy, I guess. At least something good came out of it, yeah? And yes, I realize he’s a monster now, but he didn’t use to be. He’s in a loveless relationship with his wife, and is looking for some sort of connection outside of his marriage. Mix that with a need to be in complete control all the time and you get… Weston. Not that it makes who he’s become okay, just… I dunno. It’s complicated.”
That bastard still attacked me. Fuck him.
“I don’t know what to say. He just…” Max stopped herself before continuing. As much as she wanted to, she knew she couldn’t tell her friend about the rewind power, so she decided to drop the subject. “Thanks for opening up, Maria. It means a lot.”
“You’re easy to talk to, Max. Just don’t fucking judge me, biotch.”
Max giggled at the impish inflection in her colleague’s voice.
“I have a contact that might help. Did a story on prison employment a couple of years ago and she was a valuable resource. I’ll send you her number.”
“Thanks, Maria, but who is she?”
“Just sent it. Her name is River Wyles. She’s the local chapter leader of The National Coalition for Death Penalty Abolishment. If anyone knows inside intel about what’s going on, it’ll be her. When she’s involved in protests and shit, she’s ruthless. Otherwise, she’s sweet as a bowl of churros.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that group. Thank you.”
“Hey, Maria. This might be weird to say, but… thank you for being so cool. Without you the past week, I would have been lost. I wouldn’t have made it without you. I guess… I’m just glad we’re friends. That’s all.”
“You’re super mushy, kid, but thank you for saying that. Although, you’re acting like we won’t ever see each other again. That’s loco. We still work together.”
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, thanks again. I’ll call your contact right away.”
“Sounds good. Talk to you later, Max.”
“Wait, I meant to ask. How’s your nose? Did the bleeding stop?”
“Yeah, I just kept pressure on it like you said and it eventually went away.”
“Good deal. Okay, goodbye for real this time, Max. Have a nice night.”
“Thanks, you too.”
Following the conversation, the two women hung up. Max immediately saved River’s contact information in her phone then began the next call. After several rings, a woman with a soft-spoken, yet deeply raspy voice picked up.
“Go for Riv.”
“Hi, is this River Wyles?”
“You got her. Who is this?”
“My name is Max Caulfield. Maria Abeja gave me your number.”
“Ohhh, Maria! I haven’t spoken with her in years. How the hell is she?”
“She’s good. Listen, I’m covering the death row case and was told the execution was moved up, any idea why?”
“Lucky you.” In the background, Max could hear the clicking of a lighter and the drag of a freshly lit cigarette. As did many things lately, it reminded her of Chloe.
“If you know anything, please tell me…”
“Yeah. It all comes down to the courts. A ruling on capital punishment abolishment is expected in 36 hours. They want to expedite this one so it doesn’t get hung up. The damn system is broken and twisted. Think about it. A girl is accused of murder, doesn’t defend herself, then gets moved to the only state in the surrounding area with an active death penalty? This was carefully orchestrated by men who hate women. They’ll say it was imperative that they moved her to an all-women’s facility, but that’s bullshit. The ruling should be based in the state the damn crime happened.”
Another long, deep inhale of the burning cigarette could be easily heard. “We’ll be there protesting until the very end, per usual. But the good news is that Ms. Jane Doe has already accomplished so much. Her death row experience has encouraged young women across the country to become fighters. We’re seeing it on social media every day! It’s empowered them to stand up for their beliefs and not be silenced. Not speaking a single word all this time was a genius move on Jane’s part! She’s a goddamn hero.”
“She’s MY hero.”
“Damn tootin’! Her choosing to be silent then put to death without a defense will surely change the entire system surrounding women’s rights in prison, um… what’s your name again?”
“Yeah, Max. That’s right.”
“Is there any way we can stop it? She doesn’t deserve to die. Your group has to do something!”
“Truth be told, Max, our organization has never stopped a single execution. We’ve caused a delay once or twice by overwhelming law enforcement with our tomfoolery outside of the prison, but we’ve never changed an outcome. Our goal is to shed light on a system that’s fucked, hoping somewhere down the line we make a difference. In Jane’s case, it’s probably best she dies. Change will definitely come then.”
“What?! How can you say that?”
“You know what a martyr is, Max? Her death will be the catalyst to drive real change. She’s important to the cause. She’ll be considered the silent victim that was murdered by the men in charge. You see what I’m saying? She has to die for progress.”
“No way. Not her. I will never allow that!”
Max quickly smashed the end button then threw her phone across the room. It crashed against her door causing a loud crashing bang. Tossing herself backwards, she laid flat on her back and closed her eyes in an attempt to momentarily block out reality. A few seconds later, she heard a knock on her door and abruptly sat up.
“I heard a noise. Are you okay, Max?” The bedroom door inched open, revealing brown hair and blue eyes that matched her own.
“No. Not even close.” She stood and approached the concerned woman who was standing in the entryway between her bedroom door and the small antechamber that led to the living room. Max wrapped her arms around her mother and held on for a few moments. The women were nearly the same height, Max being slightly taller, so it wasn’t easy for the girl to fully lay her head on her mom’s shoulder, though she tried.
She couldn’t help but to compare the embrace with ones she experienced with Chloe. It had been several years since they were able to properly hold one another in their arms, but she had only just rediscovered her memories. As far as Max was concerned, those moments felt like they happened yesterday.
Neither mother nor daughter spoke a word. They shared a heartfelt, tender moment holding onto one another for care and support.
Stepping away, the younger of the two located her phone in the floor. She picked it up and plugged it into the charging end of a chord that draped across her nightstand. Max extended a finger while bending over a bit to set her alarm for 4am. Her plan was to wake up early and head straight for the prison.
“Is there anything you need? I’m not tired yet, so I’ll probably stay up and watch tv. If that’s okay with you. Let me know if I can do anything.”
Max nodded then pulled back her cover and sheet, smoothing the pillowcase out as she typically did before lying down for the evening.
Shit. I still have to send Weston my outline. I don’t need any extra problems tomorrow.
“I just remembered; I have one more thing to do for work before bed. Thank you again, Mom, for the groceries and yummy meal.” It felt like a new era was beginning between the pair – one where her mother knew about her rewind power and accepted it. After saving Chloe, she knew there would be more conversations about everything and how it all worked, but now certainly wasn’t a good time. With such a gloomy predicament looming, she was thankful her mom didn’t mine for information or ask her to prove her power.
“Okay, sweetie. Good night.”
With a sort of half smile, Max shut the door in front of the older woman who had turned to leave. Alone in her room, she sat at the computer and began an outline for an article she was never intending to write. She made sure to keep it vague and ambiguous, then attached several photos of Chloe. She hated sending the man pictures of her best friend, but it had to be done in order to appease the asshole. There’s no telling what his twisted mind would do with them. She shook the thought away from her mind and hit the send button.
Max flipped the light switch downward to darken the room then plopped in bed. She pulled the covers over her body and up to her neck, then she began to lose herself in pre-slumber thought. In a few short hours, she would have to be bold and confident if Chloe was to be saved. She would either become the triumphant hero of a hauntingly beautiful love story, or she would be the fallen failure of a dark and agonizing tragedy. One way or another, she would find out soon.
Immediately before falling asleep, a bubble floated directly into its vacant spot to fill in the memory.
…”I pledge allegiance to Max and the power for which she stands”…
After finding out her execution date was moved to tomorrow, Chloe’s situation only slightly changed. The obvious difference was the warden visiting one additional time, offering a spiritual guide to help prepare her for the end. She refused with one hand up, palm facing the man, and a shake of her head. She didn’t want to be around some priest reading scripture about green pastures or whatever. Her faith was in Max, and when she really thought about it, she realized it always had been. Even during the darkest days of her life, when she felt like she was left alone, she understood the girls would always be together even when they weren’t. It was proven a few years later when destiny brought them back together.
Chloe recalled a moment, years prior, when she pledged allegiance to Max at the diner, after the girl confirmed she could rewind time. She felt shitty that she kept pushing her friend to play with her power without knowing the damage it was doing to both Max and the universe. She quickly forced the guilt to the back of her mind, realizing she didn’t have much more time and it was pointless to live in regret now. They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die, but all the prisoner could think about was Max.
There was one other difference between today and every other day. The warden pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it to Chloe, asking her to jot down her food order. She felt the tradition of giving inmates on death row one final meal of their choice before they were executed was a bit fucked-up. However, she was actually looking forward to some good food. It had been years since she was able to eat anything she desired so she wanted this last meal to be perfect.
The selection that first crossed her mind was classic bacon and waffles, to honor her mom. Then, for some reason, she thought about her father’s attachment to Paris and the beach. He loved food, and, if he had a choice, he would definitely order bouillabaisse or steak. So, she wrote down both steak and the French dish, as well as a cup of coffee in honor of Max, and handed it back to the man. He just chuckled to himself and shook his head when he walked out.
As Chloe laid down on the pokey jail cell bed for her final night in the clink, she wondered how Max was doing. She didn’t worry about her own mortality; she just hoped the girl she was in love with was somewhere safe. One way or another, she knew her current path would end soon. She just hoped, regardless of the outcome, she would be able to see Max one last time.