There was a certain rhythm and flow that needed to be maintained whenever she was behind the wheel. If Chloe wasn’t going at least five miles-per-hour over the speed limit, it made the older girl feel uncomfortable. It was her mission to rapidly get from point A to point B, and, if she didn’t have the toddler in the car with her, she didn’t worry about the suggested numbers on a sign.
Her wife was particular about making good time during road trips as well, but Max made it clear she wasn’t too thrilled about breaking the law. She never actually said anything negative about Chloe’s driving, however, the blonde could just tell that her partner felt uneasy by the way she tensed and braced her body during sharp turns around steep curves. Because of their speed, and the lack of traffic during the late hour, the trip to Seattle was much quicker than the trip to their hometown earlier that day.
During their journey back, Chloe listened more than she spoke for a change. The love of her life went on and on about how much Kate being alive meant to her and how nice it was to see Victoria beaming with joy. Max’s voice always soothed her worries and was the driver’s all-time favorite thing to hear, and when her soulmate was excited or inspired, it melted Chloe’s heart. She was more than happy to remain silent so the beautiful brunette in the passenger’s seat could verbally process her emotions. She also suspected her wife wasn’t simply glad to have her friend back, she knew the girl felt a degree of responsibility lifted from her shoulders. They made peace with their past long ago, but a newly discovered survivor of the storm had a profound impact.
Chloe assumed when they arrived at the Caulfield’s house that it would feel normal and familiar. They lived most of their adult lives under that roof and hadn’t been completely moved out for more than a few days. She felt like a guest as they pulled into the driveway and got out of the Subaru. Instead of walking right in, as they had for many years, Chloe stood beside her partner and watched her reach outward with her pointer finger and ring the doorbell. It didn’t take long for Vanessa to appear and invite the girls inside. Once past the front entryway, Max’s mom gave them each hugs and offered beverages.
“No thanks, Vanessa. We need to pick up Destiny and hurry home so she can get some sleep. Where is she anyway?” Chloe bobbed her head left then right, craning around in search of her daughter.
“She passed out about an hour ago,” Vanessa responded then crossed her arms at her chest. “Why don’t you girls stay here tonight? We inflated the air mattress because Destiny wanted to have a slumber party last night. She reminds me so much of you when you were her age, sweetheart.” The older woman chuckled after lightly placing her hand on the brunette’s shoulder.
“That should work,” Max yawned. “We’re pretty tired anyway, and, if she’s asleep, we don’t wanna wake her up. What do you think, Chlo?” She slightly pivoted to the side and slid her petite arm around the taller girl’s lean lower back.
“Yeah, that works.” Chloe nodded her head. She was a bit disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to hold the toddler right away, but knew it was for the best.
“Go on now,” Vanessa began, stepping behind and gently pushing them on their shoulders towards the stairs. “Your old room will eventually be my arts and crafts room, but for now, it’s the playroom. The air mattress is on the floor beside the crib. You girls can get ready for bed and grab some fresh sheets from the linen closet.”
Chloe noticed Max’s mom being more chatty than usual, then she remembered what Ryan previously said. Vanessa went out with friends to a wine and painting party, and she was probably still feeling a buzz, at least a little.
“How was the paint party, and how drunk are you right about now?” Chloe joked behind a wink and a grin.
“Oh, I’m not drunk… anymore,” Vanessa smirked. “Just kidding. I felt pretty good earlier, though. Ryan fell asleep, but I wanted to see you when you got home; make sure you made it in safely.” The woman took a deep breath then exhaled with a goofy grin on her face. “I love you girls so much and would do anything for you, ya know.”
Chloe thought about her mother-in-law and her mind jumped back to the note Max wrote that saved Rachel’s life many years back. It was the beginning of a chain of events that took the choice at the lighthouse away from her and her wife, which eventually saved their two-year-old daughter from getting shot. If Vanessa hadn’t sent the letter they wrote during the photo jump, there’s no telling where they would have ended up. Now, they were closing in on what she believed would be their endgame to the last few crazy years.
“Chloe!” Max’s raised voice gave her a start.
“Don’t wake Destiny,” Vanessa cautioned with a shush.
“I said your name five times, babe. Where were you?” The brunette had her hands on her hips with bulged eyes and pressed lips.
“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about the letter Vanessa sent me on my nineteenth birthday. You know, the one we wrote to ourselves when we were kids? Not sure why that memory popped in my head.”
“I was so glad I found it,” the older woman beamed. “It was the least I could do. Do you know how bad I felt about keeping you two apart? Had we known at the time what you meant to each other, you better bet things would have been different.”
Max stepped over and pulled her mom into a side hug. “We love you, Mom. Everything worked out, so… we can’t complain. You gave us a place to live and showed us so much love since then. Don’t beat yourself up for what happened when we were kids. You did what you thought was best at the time. Also, I need to shower…. badly.” She released her mom’s waist and slid over to Chloe. She quickly pecked her wife on the cheek then disappeared upstairs.
“Guess I should head on up too,” Chloe awkwardly mumbled, running her fingers through the messy hair on the back of her head. She could hear the water turn on in the upstairs bathroom and a desire to join her best friend washed through her.
“Why don’t we sit down and chat for a bit? I’m not quite ready for bed and could use some company. We never really got much of a chance to talk just you and me.” Vanessa turned and walked towards the kitchen, taking a seat at the bar area. She looked back towards her daughter-in-law awaiting for the blonde to join her.
“You sure?” Chloe asked as she approached the kitchen area. “I probably stink. We sorta, well, slipped down in the mud earlier. Had to change clothes and everything.” She felt an aura of awkwardness she hadn’t felt in some time. Vanessa was right, over the last few years living under the same roof, they were rarely together, just the two of them. Chloe told herself it was a matter of randomness, and simply no situation arose where she found her mother-in-law alone with her. If she were being completely honest, though, she knew it was her who went out of her way to avoid the woman. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her, she just wanted to avoid uncomfortably forced conversation.
“You don’t stink.” Vanessa shifted her weight on the stool as Chloe took a seat. “So…” The woman paused for a moment. “Where were you two the last few days? We’ll always watch our granddaughter for you when you need it, but this felt secretive and a little strange.”
Chloe angled her eyes upward trying to find the right words to say without opening a can of worms. She didn’t want to lie to her wife’s mom, but she needed to chose the proper words to use to avoid a conversation about the multiverse and time travel. “Well… we… uhm.” She knew she was mumbling and would need to figure out something quickly. She decided to go with the shorter, normal version of the recent events. “We went back to Arcadia Bay and visited the new lighthouse, the cemetery, saw my dad’s grave, ya know… just needed some final closure from that place.”
Vanessa bobbed her head as Chloe spoke, so she knew the woman believed her, and she felt proud knowing lies wouldn’t be necessary. She hated the deceitful and selfish person she used to be before Max came back into her life. She’d stopped self-loathing years ago, but would never forget the way she acted as a teen. Thankfully, the Caulfield-Price’s balanced each other out and made one another whole. As she grew older, thoughts about the love they shared brought a tear to her eye and softened her heart.
“Oh, yes. Closure is good. It’ll allow you and Max to fully move on with your lives. I know there’s a lot of memories and baggage you two carry from your time there, but if it weren’t for those moments things might have been much different for you. I’m just so happy you two fell in love and all. As you’re well aware, we were worried about her when she was here in Seattle after we left.”
Chloe squinted and tilted her head. “What do you mean… you were worried?” She understood that her wife wasn’t happy after leaving Arcadia Bay, but she didn’t know her parents were very concerned about her. In her mind, they took her away, causing unnecessary hurt and strain between she and Max.
“Yeah. She was aloof and disengaged. Her mind wandered and we noticed she couldn’t focus or concentrate on any one thing. We knew she was super smart, but we considered putting her on Ritalin or some other treatment plan. We ultimately decided to let it all play out and just hope she’d figured everything out. Do you know why? Do you know why we didn’t go with a medical plan?”
The blonde considered for a moment but had no idea why her partner’s parents wouldn’t put her on medication if they thought it might help. “I dunno. Maybe she was traumatized by the fact that you ripped her away from me and everything she ever knew right when she had just lost a father figure and needed me the most… so she fucking refused?!” Her voice was raised and her agitation was apparent. It wasn’t her intention to get upset about what happened when they were children. She just knew if she and Max were faced with a similar situation, they would never make Destiny move away like Max was forced to. “I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”
“It’s okay, Chloe. You’re still raw about what happened. Maybe you always will be. I don’t blame you, though. Max is our only child and we thought we knew what was best for her. Turns out, parents can really only guess what they think is best. You do right sometimes and you get it wrong sometimes. In this case, we got it very wrong. But,” the middle-aged woman paused and took a lung-filled inhale. She released an airy sigh then placed a hand on Chloe’s shoulder and marginally squeezed, looking into her eyes. “It was photography that showed us she could find her passion. We saw her smile again and seem genuinely happy behind a camera. Everything appeared fine for a while, but even that was eventually not enough.”
Vanessa lifted her hand from Chloe’s shoulder then shifted around on the stool until the women were centered in front of one another. “You know… when we decided to let her go to Blackwell, all she could talk about was reconnecting with you, Chloe. When you did finally restore your friendship, she found her missing piece. It was photography that helped ground her, but it doesn’t take an advanced degree to see that your influence made her complete and whole. She always had the eye for taking amazing pictures, but your love pushed her to realize her full potential. Seeing her go from a struggling high school student with an IEP plan to a world famous, successful photographer, it fills me with overwhelming joy. I don’t think she would have ever realized her dreams without you. So, I guess… thank you for showing our little girl the love we believe she deserves. You two are so perfect for one another, and we couldn’t have planned a better person for her. If I didn’t believe in soulmates before, you girls definitely made a believer out of me.”
Not knowing what else to do, and being filled with an energetic love, the blonde abruptly slipped her arms around Vanessa’s upper torso and shoulders, leaning in for a hug. She blinked rapidly as the forming tears began to slightly burn her eyes. She hadn’t realized how much she needed to hear those words of approval from her mother-in-law until that moment. She knew the woman had no issues with her and her wife’s relationship, she just didn’t know how deeply she felt.
“Thank you for the talk, Vanessa; I mean it. I’m gonna go upstairs and check on my girls. Have a good night. Oh, and drink plenty of water. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.”
“Good night, Chloe. I hope you know we love you all.”
“Yeah, I know. Love you too.” Chloe stood and turned towards the living room speechless from what just occurred. As she approached the stairs and ascended towards the bedroom, she didn’t hear the water running. Max must’ve already finished her shower, she figured.
When she inched the bedroom door open and peeked through the gap, she immediately saw her favorite two people snuggled together on the air mattress asleep, and it was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. Not wanting to disturb them, she quietly jumped in the shower and washed off. When she walked back in from the bathroom, fully cleaned, her wife was groggily moving their daughter to her crib. The toddler was tenderly cradled in the brunette’s arms, and Max gently laid her down and pulled the blanket up to cover her body.
When the shorter girl turned towards her wife, she made the “shhh” sound with a pointer over her marginally pursed lips. In the dim moonlight that was pushing its way through thinly veiled curtains, Max slinked over and slid both arms around her partner’s neck. With a tiptoe and an upward tilt of her head, she sloppily pressed her lips against Chloe’s with a sensual energy. It didn’t surprise the taller girl that her wife wanted to feel affection, she just wasn’t expecting it with their daughter just a couple of feet from where they stood.
After pulling back, Chloe took Max’s left hand and kissed her ring finger, starting at the tip and ending at her wedding band. “You’re so beautiful, love,” she whispered. “Best thing I’ve ever done in my life was marrying your sexy ass.”
The shorter girl craned around, looking at the air mattress, then back towards her best friend. “I want you right here, right now.” Unexpectedly, Chloe was playfully nudged, tumbling backwards on the make-shift bed. The squeaking rubbery sound of the shifting mattress was much louder than either girl anticipated, but Max jumped on top in a straddling position anyway. They realized quickly that, if they continued, the noise would wake their sleeping toddler, so the girl on top purposely toppled over and landed softly on her side. The girls gingerly kissed and groped one another until the intensity dulled to lighter touches. Chloe traced Max’s freckles like she always loved to do, while Max twisted a strand of Chloe’s still wet blonde hair between her small soft fingers. Their eyes mainly stayed locked on one another with the occasional glance towards the crib.
“Chloe,” the gorgeous freckled girl quietly spoke, breaking the lengthy silence, “we’ve spent so many years in this room. We healed here together, I studied for my GED, you surprised me by starting M3, we brought our daughter home for the first time, and we had so many other amazing memories in this place. But it’s super weird to be back; don’t you think, babe?”
“Yeah, for sure. We moved out only a few days ago but it feels like a damn eternity since we lived here. Speaking of the past few days, how do think Des is doing? I mean, I don’t wanna seem too worried but… ya know… I love that damn girl. I’m worried she might be in over her head.”
“Me too, Chlo. I’m glad you said that. She needed my power to get home less than 48 hours ago. Now she’s off to some unknown place to fix everything? I dunno. She has been gaining strength and confidence, but what if she wasn’t ready? Did we have to go to the cemetery right away? We could have spent the next several weeks preparing. Feels like we might have moved too quickly.”
“I don’t think so, Max. You said Rachel told you it had to be her idea to pull this off. If we would have encouraged her to hold back and not do this now, it could have been very bad.”
“Yeah, I know you’re right, but maybe our role isn’t to simply sit back and hope things work out. I was thinking… well, I tried something before you came to bed.” Max paused and Chloe knew her wife was worried about her next words so she moved her fingers from her favorite person’s face and ran a hand through her soft brown hair. She noticed the girl pivot her hips over and flip around to her back. She stared at the ceiling as she continued, Chloe’s eyes still on her all the while. “I had an idea when we were driving back from Arcadia Bay. I think we might be able to see Des inside our minds like we can see each other. And if that’s the case, maybe we can tunnel in and give her advice or something. Since our love created her, I think we should be able to find her connection inside of us. I searched right after my shower, but I think we might have to do it at the same time; I couldn’t find her on my own. I thought I had for a second, but no.”
Chloe wasn’t sure how she felt about entering the mindspace again. On one hand, Max was right. It seemed like it was the only option left if they were to help their daughter who could be anywhere at that point. On the other hand, it felt more dangerous than before somehow. “Let me get this straight. You want us to both go into the mindspace, find Des’s connection, if it’s there, and tunnel into her mind to try and help her any way we can?”
“If we can do it, I think we should.” Max’s soothing voice had a bit of edge to it, coming across as thoughtful and determined, if not a little intense. “We would never forgive ourselves if we didn’t try, and then something terrible happened to her. We’re not even sure what she’s going through right now, ya know? What is her part in this besides being able to travel through time and between universes?” The girl’s face was glowing from the moonlight. She looked luminous and radiant from her angle on the air mattress as the pale light spread across the room’s mostly bared walls.
“How about this, love,” Chloe responded, still marveling at her wife’s beauty. “Let’s think back about what we know.”
“Okay, so, we know there was a plan from another version of you in a wheelchair who is working with countless other versions of us to fix things. Rachel said we created the multiverse then showed us a handful of others. It might sound weird, but, at first, it just seemed like they were so far away that it didn’t really matter what happened to them. But I felt more and more connected to every single one as I saw who they were and what they were going through.”
“But that first letter,” Chloe jumped in, “said the main goal was to make sure every Max decided to save every Chloe and choose her over Arcadia Bay. But, like, is that shit even possible? Please don’t take this the wrong way, but even you chose both. Feels like the flip of a coin in the grand scheme of things, to be honest.”
“I would never even choose the world over you now, Chlo. Fuck that. We know more now than we did then, and without you there is nothing in this life for me.” She reached down to their sides and interlocked fingers with her soulmate.
“Yeah, but I begged you to do it. I was ready to die in that moment. I pleaded for you to let me go because I finally understood how selfish I had been. It was before we knew anything about the cycle, the Watcher, and all the other shit that was happening. We had reconnected and you showed me an unconditional love that I thought I never deserved. At the time, it felt like the right thing to do so others could live.”
“You’ll always be a hero to me, Chlo. You were so brave to think of everyone else after all you’d been through. I couldn’t ever sacrifice you. Never.”
“My point is, you did at one time. I made a damn good case not knowing about the other stuff. What could Des do that would convince you to not listen to me… like, a bazillion times? I don’t even know if the leader of the fucking plan knows what she’s doing. I dunno, love. I’m worried.”
“Not only that,” Max added, “the response letter at the cemetery didn’t even come from her. It came from the Chloe that Des saved when she first glitched. She’s now apparently one of the main players in this whole thing.” The brown-haired girl paused momentarily and turned back to her side, locking eyes with Chloe. “Babe, let’s try and tunnel in. It’s tough to describe, but I really think she’ll need us.”
“I just don’t wanna be in la la land or whatever and Destiny need us back here. What if she wakes up and we’re unable to return? That would suck ass.” Chloe moved their held hands to her mouth and began kissing Max’s fingers awaiting the brunette’s response.
“I know it’s cheesy to say, but every time we’ve been faced with a situation like this, we followed our hearts and made the right decisions. Everything in my heart is telling me we have to do this. It’ll all work out, trust me. It feels like everything we’ve done has led us to this point, and we need to help Des do whatever she needs to do.”
“I definitely trust you, Maxter. I trust you more than I trust myself or anyone else. If you say we need to do this, I’m all in. I’m not sure how this will turn out, but fuck it. Let’s go.” The girls quietly helped each other stand and walked over to the crib. In turn, they kissed their sleeping daughter and made their way back towards the mattress. They didn’t lay back down, however. Max put her back against the wall beside the door and slid down to a seating position. Chloe followed and did the same. The married couple leaned in and held each other’s faces, passionately kissing each other like it was the last time they ever would. It was sloppy yet sweet and meaningful.
After they pulled back, and without words, the lovers agreed it was time to go. Chloe watched her partner close her eyes and assumed she was already searching for the spot where her power resided. She did the same and located the syrupy sweet spot. Instead of pushing, she gripped the mound and pulled upward. As she remembered, an entire universe of circuitry and loops swirled amongst an endless expands of blackened darkness. She immediately noticed the pink wisp and approached it, reaching her hand outward to feel its radiance.
“Chloe.” She heard Max’s voice whisper from somewhere in the depths of her mind, halting her movement towards the pink wisp. “We have to find Des’s energy. Search around and see if you can locate it. Wait,” the younger girl abruptly spoke. “I think I found it.” Chloe frantically looked around but nothing stood out beyond what she already saw. “It’s red, Chlo.”
“I don’t see anything, Max. Help me get there. Where do I go?”
“Since I carried her inside me as a baby, it might be why I can feel her energy more easily. Maybe if I touch it, you’ll be able find her. Look around, babe. I’m reaching out now.”
“Shit, there it is.” Sure enough, a red aura lit in the distance and Chloe followed the glow, pushing through in a swimming, front-stroke motion. She could feel the warmth of its radiance when she arrived, and she slowly stretched her arm out and grabbed hold with her hand.
A nearly overwhelming surge of wind rushed through and all around her causing a strain from every muscle in her body. She squeezed her eyes tightly and brightness engulfed the void, which could be seen through her shut eyelids.
“Mom?… Mommm!?” Des’s shrieking voice pierced through the extreme wind pressure which was rapidly receding like water rushing down a hill. The trip seemed almost instantaneous, yet Chloe felt like they had been gone for an eternity.
“Des! Shit! Are you okay?” Max’s voice was clear and she knew they’d successfully tunneled in.
“Fuuuuuck! Feels… like… I’m… being… ripped… apart. HEEEEEEELP MEEE!”
Chloe opened her eyes and everything was still a blur. Viewing through her teenage daughter’s barely cracked eyelids, she could make out the older wheelchair-bound version of herself with a finger still on a large green button and surrounded by complex machinery and computers. Her mouth was hanging open as she watched Des’s reaction to whatever was happening.
“Chloeeee!” Max called out at the top of her lungs. “On the count of three, fully open your power! We gotta help her!” Sight was blurred, sound was muffled, and her head was still swimming, but in that moment, she knew exactly what to do.”
“ONE… TWO… THREEEEE!”
She opened her power full blast and felt herself being torn from Des and Max. Simultaneously, her heart broke, her mind shattered, and the world blinked from existence.