Max always kept a change of clothes in the trunk of the Subaru for herself, Chloe, and the toddler, and after squirming around in the grass and mud, they needed to change to avoid soiling the interior. Their soggy garments were also starting to become uncomfortable, so getting out of them was somewhat of a priority.
After changing, the girls had climbed inside the vehicle; Chloe in the driver’s seat and Max in the passengers. Before cranking up and hitting the road, Ryan’s phone call came through taking precedence of the pair’s attention.
“Destiny’s missing!” Ryan shouted, prompting Max to pivot the phone several inches away from the side of her face. “She was here, now she’s gone!”
“She’s… missing… gone?! Dad, what the fuck is happening?” She noticed her wife rapidly spin her head to the side, in her direction, with widened eyes and a straightened back at full attention.
“Dammit. Never mind. I swear, she wasn’t here a second ago; now she’s right here. I-I don’t know.” Max dropped her arm down, holding the phone outward, and set it to the speaker option so her wife could take part in the conversation too.
“Ryan,” Chloe urgently began with a sharpness in her voice, “what are you talking about? Is Destiny okay?”
“Yeah, she’s good. I sat her in the playroom with her toys, went to the bathroom, and then she was gone when I came back. I know she didn’t leave the room because the child gate between the room and the hallway is still up, and I searched the whole damn place for ten minutes. I grabbed my phone and called you. When I walked back in just now, she was sitting in the floor playing with her She-Ra doll. Sorry to alarm you.”
“Where’s Mom?” Max asked, frustrated, after catching a glance of understanding from the girl in the driver’s seat, confirming the pair was thinking the same thing. It was a scary thought knowing about their daughter’s ability, and if she was starting to time travel, they probably needed to pick her up as soon as possible as to not expose her power any further. Max could only imagine the looks on her parents’ faces if they ever witnessed Destiny’s ability.
“She’s out with her friends at a wine and painting… thingy, and won’t be back until later this evening. By the way, when are you coming to pick up your daughter? She misses you two, ya know.”
“We’ll get there at about bedtime,” Chloe matter-of-factly responded. “We miss her too. Headed that way now.”
“I’m going to get her a snack and a fresh water. You know how she is; if she doesn’t have fresh ice clinking around in her cup, she says it’s old and won’t drink it.” Ryan let out a heartfelt chuckle. “See you girls soon. Love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.” Max ended the call then plugged her phone into the car charger and set it on the middle console near the gearshift.
“Damn,” Chloe grumbled. “Looks like we’re gonna hafta keep a close eye on the rug rat now. If she’s time traveling as a toddler, the next few years are gonna be hella wild. Crazy shit if she left and didn’t know how to get back.”
“Yeah, babe, but we know she’s safe as a teenager, so everything must work out fine. Honestly, I’m more worried about anyone finding out about her ability. I still think about that religious zealot asshole who would have shot her if you hadn’t intervened.” Max reached over and put a hand on her wife’s shoulder who, in response, smacked an air kiss then blew in her direction.
Not two minutes after hanging up with her father, Max’s cell phone buzzed again because of a text message. She picked it up and saw Victoria’s message at the top.
Victoria: OMG!! YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHO I JUST RAN INTO!!!
Max: Whoa. Who?
Victoria: Meet me at the lighthouse! It’s a surprise!
Max: For reals?
Victoria: Seriously, this will knock your socks off!! <3 <3 <3
Max: Be there soon.
Max: On our way.
“Victoria says she ran into someone and wants us to meet her at the lighthouse, babe. Seems sorta important.” Max shrugged with raised eyebrows and her head titled to the side.
“Well, we really need to get back, but I know that look. You already told her we’d come, yeah? Let’s just hurry and get it over with. I miss Destiny a ton and we don’t want her to ‘disappear’ again.” Chloe used finger quotes and goosed her neck forward for dramatic effect.
“We won’t take long, Chlo. Victoria seemed excited. Plus, I’d like to check out the new lighthouse too. After that, we can put this shitty place in our rearview and never look back.” Max smirked as a mischievous thought crossed her mind. “Actually, we need to leave our mark, ya know? Maybe we should let them know we were here, black-marker-style.”
“Ohhh, great idea, love! Check the glove box, I think I have some pens and a Sharpie in there.” Max dug around through old napkins and removed the car’s manual. Underneath, she found pens, pencils, several AA and AAA batteries, a highlighter, and one wide-tipped, black permanent marker. “Ah. Got it!” She held it up then placed it in the cupholder on the driver’s side.
“Holy shitballs! We’re gonna tag that damn lighthouse.” Chloe’s excitement made Max giggle, and it felt refreshing to see and hear her pirate captain acting like she was still a little kid. Looking back, she missed those carefree days before the accident and prior to her forced departure from Arcadia Bay. Nostalgia is a funny thing, though. She remembered being frustrated on many occasions that Chloe would always be in charge of how they spent their time together. It was sort of a ‘her way or the highway’ mentality, and it got under the brunette’s skin a little at the time. Looking back, she retained fond memories of those days, and the little things that bothered her then, she realized, were part of the reason she fell in love with the girl. Her playful assertiveness helped bust Max out of her shell and become the outgoing person she was today.
“Let’s go then, Chlo. Chop chop.”
“Did you just ‘chop chop’ me, Maxter?”
“That I did,” the girl in the passengers seat responded with one cocked eyebrow. “You gonna do something about it?” Max loved taunting her best friend nowadays. It always started as a competition and typically ended with them romantically attacking one another.
“Oh, you’re soooo gonna get it when we get back.” The older girl bit her bottom lip and slowly shook her head, maintaining eye contact with her partner. The earnest glare in her eyes informed Max that her best friend meant exactly what she said, and she was growing aroused just thinking about it.
“Can’t wait, babe. But first, let’s meet Victoria and this mystery person, then we can hit the road. If there’s time tonight… well… I wanna do things to you.” Suddenly, Chloe cranked the car, shifted into reverse, backed out of the parking spot, shifted into drive, then floored the gas pedal, tires squealing behind them. Max giggled at the abruptness of her wife as she attempted to hurry them home so they could spend some alone time together.
“Hey Maxi Max,” her lover whispered in a low-toned, sultry voice, “the sooner we get back the sooner we can… you know.” Max could practically see the eager girl salivating to get her home. In a way, it made her feel loved and needed, which eternally boosted her confidence. Her tall goddess found her so attractive and desirable that she could hardly control herself, and it made Max feel special. It was something Chloe did quite often, but sometimes Max was especially attuned to the love radiating from her wife and deep into her heart.
“I love you so much, Chlo. Thank you for making me feel sexy and wanted.”
“Why are you thanking me, love? No need to get goopy; you’re hot as shit. Anyone would react like me. I mean daaaaayum!” Chloe used one hand to steer the wheel and the other to fan herself like she was too warm.
“Oh, so it’s nothing to do with being in love with me?” Max puckishly questioned, folding her arms in front of her with a tiny huff and a slight grin.
“Well… there’s that too. Okay, fine. I’m in love with your amazing and beautiful ass. There. Are you happy? I can get goopy too if that’s what you want.”
Max pulled the seatbelt at her lap to loosen it and give it some slack, then she leaned over and slowly pressed her lips to her wife’s cheek. She sat back down and resituated herself in her seat knowing Chloe probably wanted more. “Yeah, we need to see Victoria then we’ll have time for each other afterwards.”
“Fine. Have it your way.” The driver continued to speed around the curved streets as they made their way to the bottom of the trail that lead up to the lighthouse. When they arrived, two cars were sitting in the parking area at the base of the cliff, one being Victoria’s Audi and the other an older white Volkswagen Jetta that looked to be in great shape. The married couple parked then exited the Subaru and walked over to the vacant cars.
“Whose is that?” Max wondered while cupping her face with her palms and peering inside through the window. The pristine interior was spotless and the only items she could see were a book neatly sitting in the back seat and a phone charger plugged into the cigarette lighter socket.
“Beats me, but we’ll find out soon enough.” Chloe slithered her arms around Max’s waist positioning the girls’ bodies against one another then leaned down and trailed her nose and lips up and down her exposed neck area. Max closed her eyes and enjoyed the pleasurable sensations which caused goosebumps to form all over her body.
“Chlo, you feel so good, but not now.” Max pulled back and twisted around, followed by a quick peck on her wife’s lips. It took every ounce of the smaller girl’s will power to resist her soulmate’s advances, but she knew they needed to meet Victoria so they could be on their way. She was also very curious about their friend’s mystery person.
“Okay, okay,” the taller girl sighed. “You win, dork. Guess we should head on up.”
Chloe seemed disappointed, and Max hated seeing her that way. Then something occurred to her. “Wait,” Max beckoned, “aren’t you forgetting something?” Using her right hand, she made a motion like she was writing something in the air.
“Oh yeah! The damn marker. Can’t forget that.” The blonde turned back around and hopped in the car. She gathered the Sharpie from the cupholder and placed it in her pocket. Chloe returned to the spot where Max was standing, and the girls held each other’s hand. They trudged forward, side by side, up the rain-soaked trail towards the new lighthouse.
“Damn,” Chloe nonchalantly remarked, as both girls looked around noticing the same thing on their hike up the path. The area’s tree cover had been thinned out due to the storm but some of the larger ones remained, and, in the distance, juvenile cedar and other conifers were planted neatly in offset rows. Lots of smaller unkempt bushes, shrubbery, and weeds grew on the near sides of the trail which was much less cleared than before. The path was still distinct, but it looked like it had hardly been used and was narrower because of the plant growth and decreased foot traffic. It was probably less of a hangout spot now and more of a hiking destination for neighboring cities. “Looks different but still feels familiar, ya know?”
Max nodded in confirmation but was distracted by the now completely visible side of the new structure that seemed to tower over the cliff. She recalled the countless trips she and her best friend made on their many pirate excursions up and down the path and all over Arcadia Bay. She also remembered the feelings she experienced while watching the city get decimated on two separate occasions. They had found safety from the storm up on the cliff but left before the lighthouse came crashing down. The new one didn’t erase her memories of the original, but it was shiny and pleasant to look at. It was ornate, almost gaudy, and didn’t have the same charm as the old one, but Max liked the look of it.
As they crested the top portion of the hill, the girls stopped and took notice of the changes. The old bench had been replaced with several wooden picnic tables that formed a semicircle around the cliff’s border. A waist-high black, chain-link safety fence was installed on the edge so sightseers wouldn’t wander too close and fall over.
While approaching, the sun’s bright bars were blinding; they could barely see Victoria stand up from the center table and face their direction. She was excitedly waving for them to join her and her friend. The other girl was still sitting faced away towards the bay, and Max couldn’t make out who the stranger was from their location. “Who is that?” she whispered.
“Dunno. Stupid sun and its damn golden hour. Can’t really see shit.” The married couple shielded their eyes by holding their hands on their foreheads to block as much of the bright rays of light as possible. Max watched as the silhouette of the stranger stood and turned towards them.
“Max, Chloe.” Her voice sounded like an angel and she definitely recognized it but was still unsure who it belonged to. “It’s been a while.” All of a sudden, the view cleared up, and, as impossible as it seemed, the girl who was standing beside Victoria even looked like an angel too. Her blonde hair wasn’t up in a bun as she remembered, but it was down freely flowing and a little longer than shoulder-length. Max knew her mouth was hanging open in shock but she couldn’t find the proper words to speak, even though her heart was overflowing with joy.
“Holy shitballs!” Chloe gasped, who was seemingly having the same trouble Max was at articulating her thoughts and feelings during this surreal moment. “But how… I mean… we thought… fuuuuuck…”
“It’s fine guys,” Victoria broke in. “I had the same reaction when I first saw her. She has a crazy damn story though, and I’m sure she won’t mind repeating what she spent the last hour telling me. Is that okay, Kate?”
Max ran over to her former tea buddy and wrapped her arms around the girl. Tears flowed uncontrollably down her face, and she couldn’t seem to close the floodgates at first. “You’re a-alive!” Max sobbed. “W-we-we thought you were dead. B-but how? S-Sorry,” she sniffled then gathered herself, wiping her face with her sleeve. “Now you have tears and maybe a little snot on your hoodie. It’s just… damn great to see you, Kate. Wowser. Sorry for the language.” The girls withdrew and Max shook her head still in awe and disbelief.
“I’m so glad to see you too, Max. I’ve missed you. Don’t worry about the language; I’m not that person anymore. Congrats on your business, by the way. I always knew you would be successful with your photography one day.”
“I’m here too, Kate,” Chloe joked. “Stoked you’re not dead, but to be honest, it’s like looking at a ghost. Kate Marsh is now the newest member of the survivor’s club.” She patted the girl on her back then turned away to give her some space.
Their old friend giggled then smiled a toothy grin. “Nice to see you, Chloe. Congrats on your wedding too. I never knew you were more than friends back in high school, but you two are so cute together. I love the blog and reading about your adventures together.”
“So, are you going to tell them where you’ve been?” Victoria asked. “We can all sit and watch the sunset together. That would be totally awesome.”
“Oh, shit!” Chloe reached in her back pocket and retrieved the item she tucked away earlier. “Before anything else, I have an idea. Follow me.” She led the foursome up to the side of the lighthouse and popped the marker’s lid off with her teeth. “We need to make our mark. I’ll start.”
Max wasn’t sure what her wife was drawing at first, but it became clear rather quickly. A squiggly, spiraled tornado was drawn nearly as high up as the taller girl could stretch. She stood on her tiptoes for maximum reach. Then, right beneath the storm, she wrote the phrase, “Arcadia Bay Survivors Club” followed by a horizontal underline at the bottom. Under the line she wrote, “CHLOE WAS HERE,” then handed the marker to her soulmate.
Max followed Chloe’s lead and wrote beneath her partner’s phrase, “MAX WAS HERE.” Victoria and Kate didn’t even hesitate, they took the Sharpie when it was their turns and scribbled, “VICTORIA WAS HERE,” and “KATE WAS HERE.”
Max took out her cell phone and snapped a quick shot of the now tagged side panel of the new lighthouse. “For posterity,” she said in jest, as the girls stood for a moment in silence marveling at their handiwork. “So, Kate, where HAVE you been? Last time I saw you, you were in the hospital after…” She paused, carefully considering her next words. She hadn’t specifically thought about that terrible situation in years.
“After I almost jumped, yeah. I don’t run from it anymore. It’s something that happened, and I’m a much stronger person now. I still have you to thank, Max. You saved my life that day on the roof. Without you, I would have been gone.”
“You’re my friend, Kate. I just wanted you to be safe and find your happiness.” Max wanted to divert the attention off herself as quickly as possible, but when she noticed Victoria uncomfortably fidgeting, because of what she assumed to be guilt, she decided to change the subject immediately. “So… I thought the hospital was destroyed during the storm too. How did you survive? What happened that day?”
“Simple. My parents decided to discharge me a couple of hours after you visited. They wanted me as far away from Blackwell and Arcadia Bay as I could get. I’m not even sure if the paperwork was finalized, but the short story is… when my dad found out how much death took place and that our lives had been spared, it profoundly changed him. He became more grounded and thankful for his family’s lives, and he realized how fragile life can be. We laid low ever since, not wanting to be in the public eye.”
“Jeez, Kate,” Max reacted, moving her hands to her hips. “You’ve been in hiding for seven years?” She was astonished by what was being revealed.
“Yeah, basically,” Kate confirmed. “I’m pretty certain the government lists me as deceased, but I’m far from it. We live a simple life and no longer belong to the church.”
“How did you and Victoria meet up?” Chloe wondered.
“It’s strange… I’ve had this feeling that I needed to come back for months. I decided two nights ago that I’d come here one last time for closure, even though Dad was against the idea. I wasn’t at the lighthouse long when I saw Victoria walk up, and, when she saw it was me, she hugged me and we cried in each other’s arms for like a half-hour.”
Victoria shifted her body in front of Kate’s and grabbed both of her hand with her own, looking directly into the girl’s eyes. “You have no reason to forgive me for the horrible shit I put you through but you did. I was such an idiot years ago, and I’ll regret my actions for the rest of my life. Thank you, Kate, for… well, for being you. You’re so brave and so strong, and I hope we can be friends moving forward.” The former enemies embraced each other with a hug which enticed Max to wrap her arms around her wife to feel her warmth as well.
“We need to get back,” Chloe mentioned, after the married couple snuck a quick kiss. “We’ve been away from Destiny for too long, I miss her.” As sobering as her words were, Max knew her partner was right.
“Destiny?” Kate inquired. “Must be your daughter. Victoria said she was beautiful. I hope to meet her at some point in the near future.”
Max stepped away from her wife and put a hand on her recently resurrected friend’s shoulder. “Kate, you have no idea how much this means to me that you’re alive and well. We mourned for everyone we lost, and we thought you were a part of that group. Now you’re here and, I dunno. It’s… it’s… fantastic. Can we meet next week and catch up? We live in Seattle if you’re up for a visit. Destiny is gonna love you.”
“That would be great, Max. I live just outside of Salem now so it wouldn’t take very long to get there. Maybe all four of us could spend some time together.”
“I’m not leaving yet,” Victoria stepped in. “Would you like to get dinner, Kate? It would be nice to hang out, just us. My treat. That is, if you have time and want to. I’m sure you’ll need to get back home at some point.”
“I’d really like that,” the angelic blonde responded. “I have about a two-hour drive ahead of me with nowhere to be tomorrow, and I am starving.” Kate grinned with an infectious charm. Max was overjoyed to see how much her friend had healed since being tormented years prior. It filled her heart knowing that she and Victoria were working through the baggage from their pasts, and she hoped they’d get to a place of contentment.
“Then let’s go eat!” Victoria hadn’t seemed very optimistic in such a long time; it was nice to see the hope return in her eyes. Max and Kate exchanged numbers, then Victoria and Kate disappeared down the lighthouse trail, arms locked at the elbows, chatting the whole way.
“One last thing before we leave, First Mate.” Chloe lightheartedly nudged Max back over to the picnic tables and revealed the black marker once more. “Your captain needs to make one final tag.” She first drew a large heart in the center of the middle table, then finished out the equation.
“Aww, babe,” the freckled brunette cooed, as she took out her phone and captured the memory, adding it to her cell’s photo collection. “It’s perfect. You’re perfect.” Chloe was clearly proud of her work with a smirk on her face and her chin slightly lifted towards the darkening sky. Max saw an opportunity and attacked her with an onslaught of sloppy pecks on the cheeks and lips causing the older girl to abruptly giggle. After the flurry of kisses and laughter came to an end, the couple sauntered back down the path, holding hands, and they said their goodbyes at the cars. The foursome promised to get together early the following week, and Max was determined to keep that promise.
Once back inside the vehicle, Chloe took her lover’s hand and slowly kissed each one of her fingers looking deeply into her eyes. Max fell in love over and over again each time she stared back into her soulmate’s gorgeous sapphire orbs. “I love you, Maxi Max. I don’t know what I would do without you.” The girl looked beautifully divine with the colorful orange, magenta, and golden swirls peeking down at them through the still semi-clouded sky.
“Who’s the goopy one now, babe?” Max teased knowing it would only encourage her favorite person to continue showing her affection.
“Ah, who cares. I’m the goop master when it comes to you. You’re not only the best friend I could ever ask for, you’re the most amazing wife and mother.”
“I was just thinking the same thing about you, Chlo. I really did hit the lottery when you came into my life. Love you, babe.”
After a few moments of sweet kisses and tender petting, the girls got back on the road excited to see their daughter and hopeful to spend some alone time together. As great as it was to see Kate alive, attain closure from Arcadia Bay, and reestablish the feeling of getting their lives back on track, Max still couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that Des might need their help, wherever the teenager ended up. Tomorrow she would discuss a new idea she had with Chloe, but tonight they would enjoy spending time together as a family.