The green-haired, mother-to-be placed a flattened palm on Max’s pregnant belly. She slowly, tenderly rubbed in a clockwise movement enjoying the smooth skin between her favorite person and their baby.
“You know I’ll be the cool parent, right, Maxi?” Chloe bent over and kissed her wife’s round belly with a large grin on her face. Try as she might she couldn’t stop smiling. Together, the two lovers created life, and it was the most amazing thing she’d ever experienced. Chloe spent a lot of the time hating herself a few years earlier, never really allowing positive thoughts about her future to enter her mind. Now, just a handful of years after Max came back into her life, she was actually happy. Even though she occasionally wondered if she deserved any of it, the young adult had a purpose and knew she would be surrounded by unconditional love for the rest of her life.
“As long as I can introduce her to photography, and we can work together on her very own photo wall, I’ll allow you that honor, babe.” The pregnant girl smiled up towards her spouse from the prenatal checkup bed.
“Oh? You’ll ‘allow’ me the honor of being the cool one?” Chloe cackled. “You act like you have a choice in the matter.” She cocked a single eyebrow to let her partner know her words were meant to sound playful.
“Maybe she’ll love photography and think my work is cool. Ever think about that?” Max removed her wife’s hand from her abdomen area and brought it to her lips, kissing the ring on the hand she had extended.
“Dammit, Max. I was gonna keep giving you shit and messing around, but you’re way too damn cute. Who gave you permission to be so perfect?” Chloe leaned back down and pecked the brunette on the lips.
“I’m not even close to perfect, Chloe, but our baby is.”
“Okay, enough of the PDA,” the doctor said as she stealthily entered the room, shutting the door behind her. “This week will be a quick check up.” She flipped through pages in an accordioned binder. “We screened you for GBS two weeks ago. Vaginal exam was great. Still nothing to report out of the ordinary, Max? No leakage or bleeding?”
Chloe wanted to make a ‘vaginal exam’ or ‘leakage’ joke but restrained herself. She hoped her uncontrollable grin would be observed as her just being happy rather than holding in a laugh.
“Nothing like that,” Max replied, narrowing her eyes towards her wife. “Just uncomfortable a lot of the time.”
“That’s common in the third trimester. Having a good partner to shoulder the load will help tremendously.” The doctor turned to the little counter in the exam room and snapped a pair of latex gloves on her hands.
“No worries,” Chloe chimed in. “She’s in good hands here. I even made sure to get her like 20 bags of Cheetos. You know, the big puffy ones.”
“Chloe, no.” Max placed her hand on her face, shaking her head in embarrassment.
“Listen, Doc,” Chloe stepped towards the woman after winking at her wife. “Is it healthy for a preggo to eat three times her weight in Cheetos? Seriously, at this point, if that little rugrat doesn’t come out all orange and shit, I’ll be surprised.”
“Oh, god,” Max sheepishly responded.
The doctor laughed and Chloe smirked, knowing her joke had landed. It was true that Max ate a ton of Cheetos, but it was her only real craving. Chloe heard stories about pregnant women demanding pickles and ice cream in the middle of the night, and she wasn’t looking forward to that part. She was eager to make sure the mother of her child was comfortable and happy during her pregnancy, but not having to run out for weird cravings at all hours of the night felt like a treat.
“It’s not all bad, Doc. At least she’s cute as hell when she’s chowing down. Just gotta keep the pantry stocked with puffy Cheetos. No big deal.”
“I’ll tell you this,” the medical professional grinned. “I see couples come in here all day every day. Most show up with some sort of personal issues… or baggage, rather. You can hear it in their voices and see it in their mannerisms. But there’s something special about you two, isn’t there? The doctor in me, who believes in science over everything else, can see something more between you two. Something larger than life. It’s like you’re perfect matches. Call it fate or destiny, or what have you.”
Max and Chloe looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. The taller girl leaned over her wife’s belly, bent down, and kissed Max’s baby bump once again.
“Destiny,” Chloe cooed, a spring of joyfulness overflowing her heart.
The red-streaked blonde felt her girlfriend’s arms around her as they rapidly twisted and turned, speedily blasting their way through the sub-molecular expanse between time and timelessness. Granular bars of magnificent color zipped past, contrasting against the blackness of the tunnel they were traversing. Even though it slightly reminded Des of a Fourth of July fireworks show, no combination of words could accurately describe the sights and feelings the moment held.
Des never grew tired of the beauty that, until now, only she was allowed to observe firsthand. Her dark-haired mother previously traveled with her a time or two a couple of years ago, but she was never in control enough to enjoy the trip. Sure, there were countless similar situations when she was collecting versions of her moms to restore the shattered universe, but those instances felt more like hard work, and she was much less confident about her power then. She definitely hadn’t taken any non-time-travelers with her as she was currently doing with Pearl.
Besides the beauty of the atmosphere, another beauty was holding onto her and she realized just how terrifying the entire event might be for someone unaccustomed to the experience. She could sense Pearl’s terror as the girl gripped her shoulders with one arm and her torso with the other like her life depended on it. And from what Des understood about traveling, her passenger’s life very well might have been on the line if they lost their connection in this atomic space. The athlete’s body and mind could be separated and set adrift in the vast nothingness, which horrified Des and encouraged her to focus more stringently than she typically would.
After a longer span of time than she would have liked, a pulsating light, alternating between amber and violet, shone in the distance. Somehow, Des knew they were converging on the realm of the Watcher, and Rachel would hopefully be waiting for them when they arrived. She angled her body, becoming as aerodynamic as she could, helping Pearl position correctly as well. Spinning her legs in a bicycle-like circle, their trajectory was established, lining them up for a full-on collision with the light that was hastily approaching.
Des looked down her chest and noticed Pearl’s concerned eyes. As their glances met, the time traveler could see her companion mouthing something, but no sound came out; her mouth, cheeks, and jaw moved as if she were speaking, and Des wished she was better at reading lips. She thought if Pearl could blink her eyes in Morse Code, they would be able to communicate. Breathing was also hindered while traveling, and Des wished she had the opportunity to prepare the shorter girl a bit more before they left. Being a runner, it probably felt to Pearl like she was in the middle of an intense workout.
Suddenly, like surfacing after a dive from a cliff into the ocean, the pair crashed through an almost unseen barrier and flipped over one another, landing on a marble-slick, semi-wet floor. The girls tumbled into a tangled pile of elbows, knees, and hair with Pearl finally coming to a stop on top of Des in a straddled position. She could feel the portal between the Watcher’s realm and her time tunnel close behind them, winking out of existence. Even though the thick umbra surrounded the girls, neither moved for a minute or so. It almost felt like nothing else existed but the two of them.
“I could lay like this forever,” Des hummed, breaking the silence. It hadn’t been completely quiet, however. She could hear her own breathing, which paled in comparison to the deep, elongated breaths coming from the other girl. It felt romantic in the biker’s heart, yet she knew it wasn’t the time. Her girlfriend had just gone through undoubtedly one of the most profound experiences of her life. She needed to swaddle Pearl in reassurance to help ease her mind through the transition. “Are you okay, Pearl?”
Des squirmed from underneath as Pearl shifted her body to one side. Both moved around until their backs were against a cold wall, ending in a sitting position one beside the other. Their hands met between them, fingers tightly locking together like they had always belonged there. Pearl squeezed hard enough to cause a tiny grunt of pain to escape the blonde’s lips.
“I-I tried to scream but nothing came out. I c-can’t believe this is real. Is it real, Des? This has to be a dream, right?” Pearl continued compressing Des’s hand in her own.
“That’s sort of a side effect of time travel,” Des confirmed. “Can’t say shit. But this is real all right. Though, Rachel also has a talent for making dreams seem real too.” She shrugged after realizing her words probably didn’t make sense to her companion.
“I can’t see anything. Why is it so dark? I think I’m freaking out! Des, I… I…” She was shivering, and the time traveler knew it wasn’t from the cold.
“Hey, shhh. Everything is fine. Okay? Please, just trust me.” Des lifted their connected hands to her lips, kissing each of the girl’s knuckles consecutively. Pearl’s grip moderately loosened, confirming to Des that her words and kisses were helping.
After drawing her mouth away, she continued. “Yeah, this is some strange shit, for sure. But I got you. We’re in this together, Pearl.” She released their hands and wrapped her nearest arm around the brunette’s neck, pulling their bodies closer together at their side. Pearl didn’t resist, embracing Des’s firm cuddle by moving in as close as she could. The smaller girl continued to tremble as Des stroked her hair in a petting motion. It was something she saw Chloe do for Max when she was stressed out about a photo shoot. It always worked to calm her mom down, so she figured she would try it for Pearl.
The pair sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder. They couldn’t see anything but could feel the other’s body, which acted as an orientation-like waypoint to help ground them both.
Several minutes went by and Pearl gingerly moved away. “Thank you, Des. This is a lot to wrap my mind around. I mean, shit… we just time traveled to some other dimension or something. What. The. Fuck.”
Des stood and helped her girlfriend to her feet as well. “Yeah, you could say that. I mean, this isn’t how it usually works. Most of the time, it doesn’t take as long, and I don’t crash-land on the floor. We’re in the Watcher’s realm now. Rachel’s realm.” She felt the wall, running her palm and fingers over the smooth surface to her side, taking a couple of steps forward.
“Rachel?” Pearl wondered. “The Watcher?”
As if on cue, the darkness suddenly retreated behind an illuminated brightness, originating from down the corridor. The cave-like walls, ceiling, and ground took shape, as did the two of them. Like flipping on a light switch in a dark room during the middle of the night, vision and clarity returned. They looked at each other and Des nodded, again taking hold of the athlete’s hand. She turned and began in the direction of the light. It was almost as if the girls were being summoned like two moths towards a flame. Des knew it was Rachel’s way of informing them of her location and drawing them to her. She noticed the glowing light dancing in cascaded waves on the walls and ceiling, ripples undulating as they continued towards the Watcher.
“Rachel is a sort of family friend,” Des admitted, again surprising herself by how easy it was to open up to Pearl. At one time, she was terrified to tell anyone about her family’s secrets. “My entire family would’ve been lost if not for her. My life was even saved because she loved my moms so much. We owe her everything. Anyway, I’ve got a loooong story to tell you when we get outta here, but yeah… sooo… she can kinda, like… see the future.”
“Clairvoyance?” Pearl asked, an upbeat, curious inflection to her word. Des realized the girl was inquisitive and curious by nature. It reminded her of her moms— both of them, in some ways.
“Uhhh, yeah. Something like that, I think. She can see potential futures and possible outcomes from people’s decisions. I’m not sure how it all works, to be honest, but this place is where she watches… like, everything.” Des noticed Pearl shaking her head.
“This is mind blowing, Des. I mean, is she a goddess? Hell, are you a goddess, Miss Dragonfly?”
Des cackled and it echoed down the chamber. She couldn’t help it; it just came out. Growing up around people with powers, maybe she took it all for granted; the fact that they were extremely unusual and unique. But being asked if she was a deity, that was hilarious to her for some reason.
“No.” She finally composed herself from the abrupt laughter. “Well… maybe,” a smirk appearing on her face. “How would it make you feel knowing you’ve kissed a goddess?” An air of confidence was building inside of Des. She felt like a better version of herself around Pearl, and the feeling was intoxicating.
“Actually,” she paused. “I’m not so sure I remember any… kiss. Maybe we should try it again. Just to jog my memory a little.” An enticingly mischievous smile caught Des off-guard, causing her breathing to catch. The dimness of their current location created a strangely romantic atmosphere.
Their pace naturally slowed then stopped. Des turned inward; Pearl did as well. They longingly faced one another, hands gripping together at about waist-level. The distance between the walls, that created the hallway-like corridor, felt like an even smaller space than it actually was. A fervent energy began filling Des from the tip of her toes to the top of her head; butterflies filled her stomach, as cliché as it felt.
The athlete released one of Des’s hands and placed it on her cheek, marginally rubbing back and forth. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered, which carried a raspy weight because of the realm’s cylindrical, narrow shape. Following Pearl’s lead, the time traveler continued rubbing the shorter girl’s face— enjoying the softness of her creamy skin.
Their eyes locked in place and an almost palpable, magnetic sensation pulled their bodies together. Both sets of hips touched in the center followed by their torso then foreheads. Des lifted her chin upward and Pearl tiptoed to boost herself to eye-level, faces centered.
“I know this is the worst timing ever, but… hello ladies.” A woman’s voice startled the couple, causing them to jump. Pearl released a small yelp before Des placed a hand on the shorter girl’s mouth.
A woman stood facing them with her back towards the light source, casting dark shadows on her face. She had one hand on her hip, while the other smoothed hair down on the top of her head.
“This is the Watcher.” The red-streaked blonde snaked her arm around the small of Pearl’s back for reassurance. She turned her head to face the woman. “Hey, Rachel.”
Pearl remained silent and didn’t move a muscle, which cause Des to glance down her shoulder in the girl’s direction. Her eyes were peeled back, open wider than she’d ever seen before.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt, truly. I’m not surprised to see you here, Des, but I am glad to see you BOTH here. Only a small percentage of the time do you both make it. This is a very good thing for you two.” Rachel stepped in closer. She was nearly face-to-face with the couple. She squinted her ageless eyes and even appeared to sniff the air in front of them a couple of times. “But not necessarily very good for your moms.”
Des’s heart sank. Her concern for her parents’ safety had been pushed out of her mind. She was always close with them, but, since restoring the multiverse, she didn’t remember a time when their safety wasn’t her main concern. Their wellbeing had been moved to the back burner, replaced with an obsession to ensure nothing bad happened to Pearl. She suddenly felt conflicted.
“You’re looking all badass now, Des. You get hotter every time I see you. I know that probably sounds weird coming from me, but it’s true. Anyways, don’t worry. Their survival is more probable than a coin flip. I have faith in them.”
Rachel took a hand from each of her visitor’s, stepping back and slowly twisting around. She started walking and leading them further down the chamber towards the light source. After several minutes of wordless hiking, the trio arrived at what appeared to be a dead-end. Vision was much clearer at this end of the corridor. An elegant, velvet-lined chair resided beside the back right corner. It looked to have been designed for royalty. On the opposite side, a small wooden table held a single lit, white-waxed candle. The flame flickered but never seemed to melt the wax that surrounded its wick.
Rachel plopped down in the chair and stretched her legs over the armrest. It was the first human-like thing she witnessed the Watcher do in a long time. “Sorry, I only have one chair… and this one is mine.” An impish grin tightened the skin on her cheeks. “I don’t think this space was designed for more than one person.”
“We’re here, Rachel. What next? Where does this all end?” She felt the desperation behind her words. Despite wanting to sound assertive and confident, Des realized she sounded anything but.
“I don’t know. This exact moment is as far as I can see for myself.” She twisted a strand of hair in her fingers and hunched over the armrest. If Des didn’t know any better, she would have believed Rachel was nervous about something. She’d never seen her like that.
“I thought the Watcher could see all things: past, present, and future. What are you hiding?”
“Well, we can… kinda. I have a very important decision to make. Nobody can see beyond a choice they don’t really understand, which includes me.”
“What choice, Rachel?” An ominous feeling sent a shiver through Des’s body.
“It won’t matter to you. It’s mine to make. In fact, I’ve already made it. Now we just watch and wait. Hope for the best and move forward.”
“Rachel, you’re scaring me.”
A thunderous vibration rang from down the chamber, just out of sight. The realm of the Watcher shook causing the white candle on the small table to jostle about. It flickered and waved, almost seeming to go out for a moment. The light on the cave walls displayed ripples of shadow and light, appearing to fight for survival. Finally, the shaking stopped and the lighting settled.
“What was that?” Pearl finally spoke up.
“Oh, Pearl. Beautiful Pearl. It’s great to see you in person. You…” Rachel paused and tilted her head. “You hold the key. Everybody’s happiness lies on your shoulders. I probably shouldn’t say much more. Just know that your gifts are important.”
“Me? I hold the key?”
“Yes,” the semi-omniscient being responded. “I know it’s a lot, but I really can’t say anything else. Otherwise, the chances of you realizing your true potential shifts negatively very fast.”
An abrupt gust of wind nearly knocked the visitors to the floor, once again causing the candle to flicker.
“Well, well, well… the Watcher.” The voice came from the gloomy dark distance, as a figure began to emerge.
The voice was foreign to Des, yet seemed familiar at the same time.
“How did you get here?” Rachel asked. “That’s impossible.”
The new arrival stepped from the shadows into the more visible section of the corridor, Des gasped at what she saw. The woman’s dark hair dangled down to about her shoulder blades, fluffing outward at the ends. A reddish cape was draped around her shoulders, flowed down her back, and was fastened with a golden clasp just below chin level. She appeared ageless, as Rachel did, but she had a deviousness about her that the Watcher never did.
“This is it, Des,” Rachel confirmed, standing from her chair and stepping to the girl’s side. “The decision has already been made and now she is here.”
“Who are you?” Pearl wondered aloud in a steady tone.
“Sigh. I just went through this.” Everyone quietly stared at the woman.
“Oh, alright. My name’s Marzanna, but most people call me Death. I’m here to fix what she broke.” A boney finger stuck out, pointing at the Watcher. “Her decision to save your moms,” she pivoted her pointer finger towards Des, “happened just before some sort of barrier trapped souls in my realm. Now they can’t properly cross over. You see, I’m the good guy here. I’m trying to free countless trapped souls and help bring them to the afterlife.”
The woman dropped her finger and took a couple of steps forward.
“Wait!” Rachel hollered. “You’ll allow them to pass, right?”
The woman looked between Des and Pearl several times, back and forth. “I mean, I was gonna just handle all three of you, cover all the bases.” She smiled and shrugged.
Des sarcastically giggled. “What makes you think you can take us?” She puffed her chest and nodded towards Pearl. “I’ve dealt with assholes like you before.”
“Destiny Caulfield-Price! Do not rock the boat. We have no chance against her.” Rachel stepped closer towards Marzanna. “Let them safely pass. Since you know who I am, then you also know what I can see. If you let them out of this realm, safely back into their own, there’s a chance everyone can be happy. We can all come out of this in a best-case scenario. If you’re the good guy you say you are, you have to consider which path brings the most happiness.”
“But you see, Watcher, I don’t concern myself with happiness. It doesn’t matter to me. Everyone ends up walking by my side at one point or another. It’s just how things happen; my purpose. I lead them to the next plane.” Death took another step forward causing all but Rachel to retreat by the same number of steps.
The Watcher held out her palm and desperately continued to negotiate. “Let them live and I won’t resist. You know that I can make things very bad for you. No, I don’t have your level of power, but I have seen what will happen if I decide to push back.” A fiery, protective force seemed to radiate from within Rachel’s heart.
Marzanna placed her fist under her chin and looked towards the ceiling, appearing to be in deep thought, deciding her next move. Finally, the woman responded, “Fine. Freely give yourself to me, and I’ll let them live. You for them.”
“Rachel, no. We can fight,” Des pleaded. “We have to fight.”
“No, Des, this is the only way now.”
As Death approached the Watcher, Rachel waved the girls to the back of the cave-like space where their backs hit the wall. They slid down to a crouching position, sitting with their arms folded over their legs. Rachel stood nose to nose with Marzanna, who chuckled as they stared at one another.
Rachel broke eye-contact, turning to look towards Des and Pearl behind her. “As long as my flame burns, everything will be fine. No matter what happens to me, this won’t be goodbye forever, okay? Don’t you worry about what happens to me.”
“Actually,” the caped-woman spoke, “I’m not sure what happens when one of you dies, but there was another guy here before you… uh… what are they calling you?… Rachel? I’ve never seen his soul in my realm, Rachel. Not sure he even exists anymore. Maybe your death will be a forever goodbye for you too, who knows.” She nonchalantly shrugged.
“Fuck, Rachel!” Des screamed from the floor. “There’s gotta be another way. How will this help anything?”
“If my existence has been blocking souls from crossing over, we have to do the right thing.”
Marzanna stretched out her hand and gently swept a strand of hair out of Rachel’s eyes. As she did, she tenderly brushed her knuckle against the Watcher’s forehead.
Rachel jumped backwards, landing in a fetal position on the floor right in front of the time traveler and her companion. “AHHHHHH!!! FUUUCKK!” An animalistic, guttural cry beckoned for mercy from the depths of her soul.
Her body twitched then burst into flames. The echo of the screeching sound that followed would be forever seared into both of the girls’ minds forever.
A pile of dust remained where Rachel once stood.
“NOOOOO!!!” Des cried out. “NOOOO! FUCK! NO!”
When the smell made its way to the couple, Pearl gagged then turned to the corner and puked several times. She continued to heave even after everything was out of her.
“Well, looks like my job is done. Time to see if it worked. Later, girls.” Marzanna turned and vanished from the realm, sending a gusting wind throughout the chamber. As the breeze reached the pile of ashes, they scattered into the air, causing Des and Pearl to cough when some of the particles entered their lungs.
Through the tears in her eyes, Des looked over at the flickering candle. She remembered Rachel’s words: “As long as my flame burns, everything will be fine. No matter what happens to me, this won’t be goodbye forever, okay? Don’t you worry about what happens to me.”
She blinked away the tears and stood to face the flame. Marzanna abruptly reappeared which caused Des to stumble back into the opposite corner.
Death licked her fingers. “I almost forgot.” She removed her pointer and thumb from her mouth and placed them on top of Rachel’s candle, extinguishing it with a little squeeze. It sizzled out and everything went dark. “Can’t leave anything to chance. Well, goodbye girls.” She chuckled then was gone again.
Des frantically felt her way through the darkness to Pearl’s side and hugged her with all of her energy. They sat together in silent terror, in the dark, for the next hour.