As quickly as a flash of lightning brightening the night sky, the execution chamber vanished leaving the girls suspended in an endless blackened ocean, being carried away like driftwood on the swell. Like slipping over an unperceived edge of a waterfall, the abrupt sensation of falling came out of nowhere. It was nearly overwhelming, yet Max and Chloe held onto one another’s outstretched hands with a grip that would not be denied.
Despite plummeting at a horrifying rate, Chloe recognized where they were, but she knew Max would most likely be disoriented. She experienced the same sense of descending rapidity when she returned to the Blackwell restroom five years ago. She was pulled into a fast-moving current through some sort of vortex-like cosmic tunnel. At the time, she had no idea how it happened; she only knew that the universe led her to a kind of space between time. Now, she was beginning to think it wasn’t the universe who opened a wormhole for her back then, but rather somehow Max had created a rift between realities so she could find her way back.
Inch by inch, Chloe slowly pulled Max closer to herself, finally pressing their bodies together in horizontal embrace. “Maaaax, listen to meee! We have to flip arouuuund!” The rushing air reminded her of the storm that never came. Despite yelling, she could barely hear her own voice. She could feel Max’s muscles tense, and she knew the girl understood what they needed to do. They pulled in the same direction, bicycling their legs and pivoting their torsos upward.
“Chlooeee! We have to stop falling!”
“I knooow!” When their bodies finally swiveled to vertical positions, Chloe closed her eyes and remembered what she did before; a practical understanding of physics wasn’t required in this place. Imagining a barrier between the pair and the empty space beneath them, she willed a floor to materialize and the falling abruptly ceased. They toppled over, flipping several times, Max landing on top of the former prisoner. Her hips were spread apart with knees on either side of Chloe’s waist, head burrowed into her chest.
“Well, well, well, Maxter. Figured we’d at least go on a date or something before attacking each other. Not that I mind.” A dim glow lit the area, creating visible, water-like shadows rippling across the girls’ faces. Chloe waggled her eyebrows as Max was reluctant to release the tight grip she had around the girl’s body. When Chloe realized her savior was sniffling, she returned the hug even tighter, confirming she was safe and they were really together.
For several moments, the two just laid there, hugging one another and enjoying the warmth their bodies produced together. Chloe knew her favorite person wouldn’t loosen her grip unless she said or did something to remind her that they still had some work to do.
“So,” the former inmate began, “I just thought of a joke. Wanna hear it?”
Max pulled back and slackened her grasp enough for the two to roll over into seated positions. “A joke? Yeah, sure.” She wiped her eyes dry and looked over at Chloe.
“Okay. So… What do you call a smart-ass prisoner falling through a wormhole?”
“I don’t know, what?”
Holding back a laugh, Chloe answered, “A condescending… con descending. HA! Get it!? I’m a con… a convict, and we were falling.”
“Oh, my dog, you’re still such a dork.” Max couldn’t help but giggle. She held her hands over her face, as she poorly attempted to contain her laughter. Chloe smiled a toothy grin while watching her best friend look away then back at her several times. With each glance, she giggled harder. The girls shared a laugh then, as the excitement faded, they slowly grew silent.
Still sitting side by side on the false floor, she noticed her fingers were interlocked with Max’s. Her pointer from the opposite hand began trailing up and down the girl’s skin. Realizing what she was doing, Chloe stopped and abruptly pulled her hand away. A bit of embarrassment caused her breathing to momentarily stagger.
“Wh-why did you stop?” Max asked, voice cracking a bit as she spoke. Her head was angled down, yet her upcast eyes were begging for Chloe’s gentle touch again.
“Oh, I-I guess I didn’t even know I was doing it. I’m sorry, Max.”
“Chloe… no way. I’m the one who’s sorry. So damn sorry.” The girl withdrew into herself, pulling her knees towards her chest and wrapping her arms around them. Rocking side to side with slumped shoulders, Max bit her lip, eyes darting back and forth. “You wouldn’t have even been in there if I could have just listened to my heart and stood with you on that cliff. It’s the biggest regret of my life. I fucking abandoned you, Chloe!”
“Hey, hey. Don’t do that.” Chloe reached back over and placed her palm on Max’s back, slowly rubbing with a lightened touch. “I’ve had more than enough time to understand why you chose the decision you did. I stood there and made the case for you to fucking do it. What we didn’t realize at that time, was just how strongly connected we were. Plus, we’re together now, and everyone in the town is safe. It’s been a shitty few years, but now we get to make up for it.”
“Y-Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Max sounded dejected, and her words were lined with deep regret.
“There’s no guessing, dude.” Chloe knee-walked around for the girls to be directly in front of each other. She clutched the girl’s hands and placed them in her own, two sets of eyes latching onto the other. “A wise man once told me, every Max needs her Chloe, and every Chloe needs her Max. This was always meant to happen, my dear.”
“Your… dear?” The brunette raised her eyebrows and slightly tilted her head, a heartfelt smile beginning to curl the corners of her lips.
“Yeah, I’m trying it out. Why not? We have a lifetime to find the right pet names. I figured Captain Bluebeard and First Mate Long Max Silver might be a little outdated now. Maybe not though.” She shrugged then pulled in a little closer. “I mean, after all this, you’re never leaving me right, Max?”
“Fuck no! I never want to be away from you ever again.”
Chloe lifted her freckled friend’s hands to her mouth, kissing one then the other in secession. “You’re my hero, Max. I mean that. You’ve saved me so many times, I could never repay you.”
“Chloe, every breath you take is a gift to me. You ARE my repayment.”
Releasing Max’s hands then slowly lifting hers, Chloe tenderly placed them on either side of the girl’s face, fingers caressing her cheeks in tiny circles. She smiled then inched in closer until their foreheads were touching in the center. “I love you so goddamn much, Max. I thought about you every second of every day for the past five years. You were my strength and my hope. Not to get too damn goopy, but… you’re my person.”
Max reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind Chloe’s ear, leaving her hand on the side of the girl’s neck. As she glided across Chloe’s skin, the sensation sent pleasurable chills and unidentifiable tingles down the former inmate’s body. The bass drum in her chest increased in frequency causing a strange, nervous energy to pulsate outward from her mind. Her eyes instinctually closed and her neck craned forward, chin tilting inward. She could feel the heat streaming in and out of each of their mouths, enveloping her heart that was now set on one thing. As two pair of lips joined in the center, it was like the universe stopped expanding just to catch a glimpse of the most beautiful sight ever seen. Their lips danced together in opposite unison, gyrating in a pattern of connectivity and sloppy desire. Nothing else mattered but them.
After being wrapped in a transcendent cloud cloth of pure love for what felt like an eternity, the girls withdrew from one another, moisture stringing back as they inched apart. Chloe licked her lips and smacked her gums a few times before speaking. “Have you been practicing, Super Max? That was so goddamn good. But then again, the last time we kissed on the cliff, it was the best I’d ever had.” Chloe ran her fingers through her partner’s hair, marveling at the beauty before her.
“I wish I could stay in this moment forever,” Max cooed. She brought Chloe’s hands to her face and nuzzled into her palms, gently sliding her nose and mouth along the inner folds.
“Yeah, me too, Max. But we aren’t out of the woods yet.” Simultaneously, the girls turned their heads to the side, glances landing on the translucent columns of what appeared to be running water.
“What are those?” Max asked as Chloe was helping her to her feet.
“Dude, I’ve been here. Those things over there put me on death row. Be careful, Max. They will suck you in and fuck shit up.”
“So,” Max began, a puzzled look forming on her face, “when were you here?” Chloe thought it was cute seeing her grown up hipster trying to make sense of everything. She wanted to tell her but the moment had passed, and they probably needed to focus on what lied ahead.
“After you did your photo thingy and disappeared, I went to the Blackwell restroom. I saw some sort of butterfly, which may or may not have just been in my damn head, and a hole opened up. It vacuumed me up and yada yada yada… I was here.”
“Shit, Chloe. I-I couldn’t live with myself anymore; not without you. I pushed my power as far as I could and it nearly killed me.”
“When I lost control, I remember somehow seeing the restroom and a path opening up for you; just briefly.”
“Max, I’m pretty sure it was you who did it. You knew I would need to find my way back, and you created your wormhole to give me a chance.”
“I wish I could take credit for it, Chloe, but it was like it was happening TO me, not BECAUSE of me.”
“Well, like I said, the universe knows every Max and Chloe need each other. I don’t care how the hell it happened. We found our way back to one another. Just like now, I dunno what you did to get me out of that prison, but you did it. Rewind, wormhole… what the fuck ever. At least I’m not dead now. That was a close call.” She thought the last part of her words would be funny, but the increasing crease in Max’s brow weaved a different tale.
“It sucked so bad. I went to your damn funeral.” The girl swallowed hard. “Everything in my head was telling me you were gone. But in my heart, I could still feel you. At first, I felt so dumb – like it was just a stage of grief, and I couldn’t understand that. But the feeling was so damn strong, Chloe. I knew you were out there, and I had to do something to get to you.”
“So, I guess it was a different me that was shot and killed at the school? You went to SOMEONE’S funeral, right? I mean, I know I’m here and you’re here, but if you saw a dead me, what does that mean for the other version?”
“Shit. You’re right.” Max turned away from Chloe with her hands on her hips, elbows angled outward. She paced back and forth for a few seconds, clearly fighting with the voices in her head.
“Maybe we don’t have to worry about it, Max. We’re together now. That’s all that matters, right?”
Turning back in Chloe’s direction, the smaller girl responded. “Yes. Well, no. I dunno, Chloe. Maybe I can still make this whole thing right.”
“Max, please, no. We just got back together. We need to find our reality and dive back in. Everything will work out, trust me.” Her voice trailed out as visibility heightened.
The columns suddenly surrounded them, lining a hallway-like corridor in each direction. As far as they could see, the columns ran up and down where walls would be if it were a typical hall. Hundreds of thousands of scenes seemed to be playing out deep within the watery top layers. Like looking through a clearwater pond and viewing the bottom, they both stared at the nearest scene in speechless awe.
Following a lengthy silence, Chloe began explaining what happened the last time she found herself in the same space.
“…so that’s it. I somehow merged a different reality with ours, where a version of me murdered that slimeball. You see, we have to be careful.”
“I just had a thought.”
“Be careful with those, you don’t wanna hurt yourself,” Chloe jested behind a mischievous smirk. “Oh, come on. Is it too soon to joke?”
“Har har, very funny. But no, I think we could use this. Let’s find our reality and stop the other you from going in the bathroom all together.”
“Yeah, but Max. It was pure luck that I even found my way back into our reality, and it ain’t like I got to choose when or where I ended up.”
Max grinned and shook her head. “It wasn’t luck, my dear, it was destiny.”
“Hmm. My dear? Yeah, maybe not. We’ll need to work on that later.” Chloe shoulder bumped her best friend, who, in turn, playfully bumped her back.
“Last time you were here, you weren’t able to create wormholes. Trust me on this one, I think I can get us to that moment, warn Chloe to not go into the bathroom, then come back.”
“It’s so risky, Max. You said it yourself, you almost died using your power like this. What if I go in instead of you? That way, you can focus on keeping it open and I can do the rest.”
“You know, before, I didn’t know what I was doing. When I’d rewind or photo jump, it was like I tapped into the power and it all just happened. At the prison, everything felt more… I dunno. It was more intimate, maybe. It was like I could feel these tiny balls of energy and manipulate them as I saw fit. It was like, digging into the fabric of space, controlling what I touched.”
“Whoa. Dude. You’re incredible. Your power is evolving and shit.”
“I think this is what we have to do, Chloe. One last thing then we can move on from this shitty nightmare.”
“Okay, Super Max. I trust you. What do we need to do?”
“First, let’s find our reality here. Then, I’ll create a wormhole from this place to the Blackwell bathroom. You go inside and make sure Chloe doesn’t get killed. I’m not sure what it’ll look like, but I’ll make sure to bring you back. After that, we’ll be free to dive into our reality, I guess.”
“Well, Caulfield, it’s a good thing you’re pretty, because that plan is absolute ass.”
“Hey, I think it’ll work. Don’t be a dick.” The girls shared a smile. The back-and-forth banter between them was as snarky and fun loving as ever.
“Yeah, I was just joking. Let’s give it a go. If you can save a convicted murderer from death row, I believe you can do this too. I have faith in you. Always have.”
The girls strolled, shoulder to shoulder, down the hall. Chloe wanted to reach for Max’s hand to hold it, but wasn’t convinced she should. Being kept in an isolated corner of the prison, only physically interacting when a guard uncuffed and cuffed her before and after showers, she knew she had been touch deprived for a long time. Having just experienced heavy petting when they shared their kiss, Chloe was already missing the feeling of her skin against Max’s. She dreamed of that exact moment for years; it had become more of a fantasy in her head. Now that she finally got to taste her favorite person’s mouth and feel her again, it wasn’t enough. She desperately wanted more.
As Chloe was at war with herself, she felt Max’s hand swoop down and grasp hers, fingers perfectly aligning and weaving together. The care and love that the touch of their skin confirmed, caused a pleasant wave of warmth to cascade throughout her body. It amazed her how important and special it could feel to hold the love of her life’s fingers between her own. Hand holding didn’t use to seem like a big deal, but the value she placed on having this specific hand in hers, was a simple pleasure she knew she’d never tire of.
“How will we know when we see our reality?” Max questioned, breaking Chloe out from her own mind. “Look at all of these. Sooo many to choose from.”
“Ch-Check ‘em out,” Chloe responded, gazing up from Max’s lips, almost losing herself in the girl’s blue eyes. “Look closely. You see how they seem fake; plastic-like? We’re searching for the one that feels the most real. It’ll be less shiny, which might make it hard. That’s how I found my way before.” She couldn’t stop glancing over at Max. Each time she did, her eyes would scan down to the brunette’s soft lips. It felt like she was a kid again who had just experienced her first kiss.
In a way, the girls did just share their first real kiss, and it was as magical as Chloe imagined. The other kisses were less than ideal in her mind. During the first one, she panicked, not thinking Max would take her up on the dare. At the time, she didn’t even know if the brunette was into girls. The other kiss they shared was under dire circumstances. She had convinced Max to go back and make sure the town was safe, leaving her alone at the lighthouse. It was beautiful but tragic; more of a kiss goodbye. The one they shared just moments ago, was a realization of true love. It meant so much to her.
“Wowser, this is incredible,” Max released her grip and placed both palms on the back of her head. “Oh, yeah. There’s a little shimmer to them.” Chloe noticed an astonished aura to Max’s expression.
The radiance of the columns increased, realities behind them becoming crystal clear. A countless number of scenarios played out as they continued walking down the hallway. Even though it was Chloe’s second occasion witnessing these other potential timelines, the myriad of possibilities still blew her mind as well.
“There.” Chloe pointed towards what looked like a gap between two columns up ahead. “That’s the one.” Their paces quickened as they approached the reality with an outlying dimness.
“Chloe, it kind of feels like I’m being pulled towards the columns like a magnet.”
“Yeah, that’s why we have to be careful. One wrong move and… well, you’re blowing Jefferson’s brains out.”
Chloe suddenly felt Max’s body close in on hers. The girl’s arms snaked around her waist and torso, locking their hips and chests tightly together. Returning the embrace, she bent down slightly and seized her little hipster, lifting her feet off the ground an inch or two then spinning in a full circle.
“Chloe, I-I want to say something before we do this,” Max hesitated as her feet were returning to the ground. Once gently settled, she clutched both of Chloe’s hands and held them out in front of hers, directly between them. “We made it this far, but something could still go wrong. I’m not really good with words, but… I love you. I always have. And I’m sorry about everything that happened before.”
“Shh, Max. I know. Everything that’s happened led us to this point. Maybe we weren’t ready for each other back then and the shit we went through helped prepare us for this moment, I don’t fucking know. What I do know is after this last thing, we get to be together. And that’s goddamn exciting!”
Chloe released Max’s hands and reached forward, grabbing and twisting the photographer’s shirt at the chest, pulling her in for a series of kisses and pecks. Finally, they leaned back and stared deeply into each other’s eyes, an ambiance of contentment permeating between them.
Max stepped to the side and faced the open hallway. “Let’s get this shit over with.” She gingerly wrapped one arm around her partner, then stretched her other arm forward. “You ready, babe?”
“Babe? Hmmm. Yeah, I think I could get used to that one. Okay, Maxter, let ‘er rip. I’m ready.”
As the world around them wobbled and shook, Chloe looked over at Max, who was concentrating all of her energy on her power. An almost invisible, frisbee-sized tentacle seemed to form from the time traveler’s chest. It shot forward and hug in midair.
Chloe briefly noticed the scenes in the columns speeding backwards in reverse. A spiraled vortex formed, warping the space out in front of them. Max’s body shook and trembled as she strained to open the path, but she was successful.
“Now, Chloe! I’ll keep it open as long as I can!”
Chloe nodded and prepared herself. She stepped to the side and pivoted her legs. Pushing off, she dove head-first into the center.
Dammit, this has to work! I can’t lose her again.
Max knew time didn’t function the same way in the space between as it did in reality, but she didn’t expect to see Chloe back so soon. It seemed like less than a minute passed before she witnessed Chloe’s return on the other side. The reflective glow from the wormhole almost made it appear like a younger version of the girl had come back.
Is that… blue hair?
Just as she was about to shut off her power, effectively closing the wormhole, two more bodies appeared on the opposite side.
What? Who are they?
Releasing her strained grip, the hole closed and trailed back towards her chest, transforming into vapors then disappearing all together. Max’s jaw dropped as she looked in the direction of the three individuals who emerged from the vortex. Locking eyes with the former prisoner, she noticed her eyebrows were raised with her shoulders in a shrugging position, palms facing upward. Scanning from her best friend to the other two individuals, Max stared in disbelief.
“Sorry, Max. I had to bring them with me, but I have a plan. Don’t you worry.” Chloe winked then brought others to where Max was still standing.
“This is so fucking weird,” the blue haired punk said, turning in a circle and gawking at the unfamiliar sights around her. “I can’t believe this shit is real.”
“You shut your ignorant mouth,” the blonde responded. “If I hadn’t just saved your ass, you were gonna be shot and killed by that prick, setting off a series of events that would only end in tragedy.”
“Okay, okay. Jeez.” The younger version of Chloe turned towards the younger Max and scanned her from head to toe. “You’ve been back in Arcadia Bay for a month and still haven’t contacted me. You left for five years without a call or even a text.”
“I-I’m sorry, Chloe. I wanted to… r-really, I did.”
“No, I’m cereal. I’ve missed you, Chloe. I just didn’t know how. I was gonna…”
“When, Max? When would you find the time to…”
“Stop. Both of you.” Chloe interrupted the younger girls. “I’ll make this quick. You and you,” she pointed from Chloe to Max, “are literally in love with each other. You don’t know it yet, but you are. Anyway, you’re here so we can make things right.” She walked over to the love of her life’s side and pecked her on the cheek.
Still feeling a little drained, Max propped herself up using Chloe’s shoulder like a crutch. “Every movie I’ve ever seen or book I’ve ever read about time travel, shows that bad things happen if past and future selves meet. Is this part your plan, Chloe?”
“Nah, don’t worry about movies or books. There’s probably some idiot sitting behind a laptop now just making shit up. This is real life, Max.”
“Okay, so you brought them back for a reason.” Max’s energy was returning, so she stood and stepped to the side. “What’s your plan, Chloe?”
“Well, I found myself being pushed out of the door from a stall in the bathroom. I looked around and knew a scared Max would be around the corner hiding. Then, an idea came to me as soon as I saw that Prescott dweeb come in. I shoved his ass out and grabbed these two lovebirds. They didn’t even see what hit ‘em. I threw Chloe in first, then told Max not to worry. We jumped back through together.”
“That’s great and all, Chloe, but what’s the damn plan?”
“Yeah, so, if we just use a wormhole to get back to our reality, we’d have to exist with these two knuckleheads running around.”
“Hey, fuck you,” the punk broke in with a huff. “We’re literally right here.” Her scowl morphed into a smile as she noticed her own little hipster giggling.
“I don’t think we want that. But what if you open a wormhole in the same space as our reality’s column? We know they have merging abilities. Maybe if we jump through with our younger selves, we would merge together. I know, weird huh?”
“Wowser,” a soft voice came from one of the two onlookers, which caused the other to respond with a heartfelt laugh.
“I mean, yeah. We’ve come this far. Let’s do it.” Max bobbed her head up and down in agreement.
“Oh. Just like that. I thought you might have some sorta argument against it.”
Max just shook her head. “Nope. You’ve put your faith in me for all of these years, and I love you so much for it. I think it’s time I put my faith in you.”
Chloe grinned then waived the teenage versions of themselves over to their side. “Me and the punk here will jump through first. Then you two beautiful brunettes go next.”
“God, I’m really gonna be goopy like you?” The blue haired girl stuck out her tongue and rolled her eyes.
“Whether you admit it or not, dude, you already are a damn goop. Just wait, it goes to a whole new level with this hipster here. All it takes is spending one day with her and you’ll remember those old feelings you had when you were kids. Then these brand new, badass and kinda scary feelings will wash through you. Don’t run from them.” Chloe gestured towards the younger Max. “She’s your person.”
The teenager turned to the older brunette. “Have I always been this way?”
Max shrugged. “You mean a stubborn punk? Oh, or are you talking about a beautiful, smart, funny, perfect…”
“Okay, geez.” She looked back over at the companion she was just in the bathroom with moments prior. “I get it. I mean, she is cute and, yeah, she’s…she’s Max Caulfield.”
I guess now’s as good a time as any.
Following Chloe’s words, Max stretched out her arm and hand, and after several seconds, another wormhole materialized in the center of their reality. It swirled differently and cast a strange amber hue that it hadn’t previously. The column and vibrating vortex homogenized into one entity as expected.
“Here we go,” Chloe called out, then kissed her time traveler on the cheek. “I love you so much, Max. See you on the other side.” Arms locked at the elbows, both Chloes jumped into the wormhole and were gone.
Max followed suit, locking arms at the elbow bends with her younger doppelganger. “You ready, Max?”
The younger girl smiled and responded, “I’m the readiest.”
“You’re a dork, did you know that?”
“Takes one to know one.”
Following a shared smile, the girls shifted their weight and disappeared through to whatever awaited them on the other side.