“Oh my Dog! This is so good!”
The two women sat on Max’s couch digging into their food ravenously as a Netflix series played on the monitor across the room. They weren’t paying much attention to the show, as food to replace their missed lunches took priority. Between mouthfuls of pot-stickers, sweet and sour pork, and rice the two of them could not stop glancing at each other; both with something clearly on their minds yet unable to form the right words and being polite enough to allow the other to go first. A tension grew in the room, something exciting and familiar, yet new and foreign at the same time. They focused once again on their dinner. One of them would have to break the ice.
Chloe stopped raising the chopsticks to her mouth and looked over towards her first mate, a quizzical look painted her expression and an eyebrow raised. With a small nod, she offered Max to continue.
“…you never did finish your story.”
“Yeah, I guess I didn’t,” she giggled. “We kinda got sidetracked, yeah?”
“It’s very easy with you.” Max moved closer and poked the taller girl in the ribs to accentuate her statement.
“Dude! You’re starting something…” Chloe casually set down her dinner.
“Am I?” Another poke was highlighted with a sly freckled grin.
“K nerd! Come here!” Chloe lunged and wrapped her arms around the smaller girl and ended up on top. Victory was at hand! The captain mercilessly attacked her crewmate’s sides.
“Er… Chloe… No! Stop! HA! HA! HA!”
“Submit ya’ scurvy dog!”
“HA! HA! HA! HA! Stop! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! I! HA! Can’t! HA! HA! HA! Breathe!” The tickling didn’t let up.
“Say it, dork!”
“HA! Oh my Dog! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! StHAHAHAp! HA! HA! HA! HA! I give! HA! HA! HA! I’m gonna pee! HA! HA! I give! I give!”
With a final wiggle of fingers, hands were removed from ribs and she laid down lengthwise next to the still giggling victim facing her. Fitting like two parts of a puzzle they gazed into the other’s eyes, each seeing their friend in familiar and yet new ways. They stayed this way until the laughter trailed off and their breathing returned to a normal steady pace.
“Hey…” In sync, they both started talking. A freckled smile met a mischievous smirk.
“You really want to know?”
“Yeah, Chlo. I need to understand what’s changed and… well… I want to learn more about… you.”
“Ok Relaxi-Max. I get it. I’m just… some of this shit is really dark. I mean, I know what you went through… mostly.”
“Come on, you and I know each other too well. Don’t we?” She gave her a telling look. “You left some things out.”
“Yeah…” She let out a sigh. “I guess I did. A… are you …mad?” Max cringed a bit.
“What? No! No, you dork! It’s just… I’d like to think we get back to being us again, you know?”
“I… you’re right.” Max blushed as thoughts of ‘ … being us… ‘ complemented her already enamored feelings. She sat up in an attempt to get some distance and hide her face but failed to do so as she noticed the other girl’s blue eyes follow. Chloe followed suit, stretching and standing up to let her crimson friend off the hook for now.
“Let’s get back to that later.” Her eyes twinkled with delight. “If we’re gonna get all heavy and shit, we’d better clean this stuff up first.”
The girls proceeded to tidy up the remnants of their respective meals, tossed the dishes into the washer, and met back at the couch. The taller blonde settled down and Max stretched out with her head on Chloe’s lap. Chloe looked down at blue eyes and freckles and slowly leaned closer, until their noses were almost touching.
“Comfy?” She waggled her eyebrows as her warm breath washed over the brunette’s face which forced her little pirate’s freckles to become camouflaged amidst a crimson background once again.
“Very.” The response had a confidence that even the blush couldn’t hide. The blonde’s smirk made an appearance. We can get through this.
“Good. Alright, if you have any questions or need me to stop, go ahead and say something, this might take a while. You ready?”
“The readiest,” the smaller girl confidently replied.
Chloe briefly paused as if something didn’t feel quite right. She shook it off then took a deep breath and began. “Well, it all started a couple of weeks after Rachel disap… wait. What the hell did you just say?”
“You know, babe… that dumb, dorky thing I sometimes say when I want you to get turned on and all.” Max lifted her shoulders with a shrug, a goofy smile forming on her face. Suddenly, her grin faded and her mouth dropped open in astonishment, eyebrows darting upward. An awareness was setting in and her mind was racing, yet the only cohesive word she could utter was, “Wowser.”
“Fuck. This is nuuuuts! We’re in another fucking universe… like, right now!” Chloe energetically turned and scanned the apartment, then she finally peered back down at Max, who just stared up at her wife’s radiating blue eyes from the spot on the couch where she was propped.
“Well, damn,” Max muttered. “Now that we know we’re here, shouldn’t something… happen?” The brunette recalled how quickly the previous reality faded when she realized she wasn’t in her home universe and figured this time would be similar.
“Look. Holy shit!” The older girl pointed to the nearest wall beside the couch. Barely visible translucent ripples rhythmically cascaded up and down the surface, bubbling outward every so often like boiling water. Max reached up to touch her face and when she pulled away, her hand stringed outward like it was made of stretchy saltwater taffy. She noticed the floor and the ceiling sharing similar properties as the wall and a slight fright splintered through her nerves. The distance between herself and the rest of the room was filled with what appeared to be millions of web-like strands glistening and dancing in the mid-morning sun.
Not a lot surprised the brunette anymore, but the sensations she felt were unlike anything she experienced before. Her mind uncontrollably jumped to thoughts of the wheelchair-bound version of her favorite person and her teenage daughter. Where Des had been split amongst the infinite depths of the multiverse, she felt like the opposite was happening to her. An unseen, forced pressure squeezed her thoughts like a tourniquet had been purposefully tightened around her mind by design.
“Chloe?” The younger girl whispered but wasn’t sure if the words even left her lips. All tangibility bled from sight and rational thought was becoming more difficult to control. The freckled girl fought against the surreal, abstract nature of what she was seeing but failed to fully regain command of her own mind. Max hurriedly searched for the once-raised sweet spot where her power and the inner-workings of her mind resided, but she couldn’t locate the area amidst the turbulence she was experiencing. She didn’t see nor physically feel her wife, but in her heart, she knew she was right there with her. “I love you, babe. I love you so goddamn much.”
With her last words, a dark shadowy void spread throughout Max’s perception and she ceased her fight against the pressure allowing the tourniquet to fully take hold. A mighty wind blasted her body and loudly whipped all around blowing her skin and clothing. She’d never been skydiving before, even though she wanted to one day with Chloe, but this was exactly how she imagined it felt while free falling from the jump.
She could tell she was rapidly traveling because she remembered the almost unbearable rushing wind that felt like microscopic razor blades all over her uncovered skin. Caricatured memories twisted and melted together like a hot ball of wax in her mind.
After several immeasurable and vertiginous moments, Max abruptly felt a solid surface beneath her feet like she had jumped from a short height. She crouched to catch her balance and realized her eyes were squeezed together tightly, so she slowly opened them and waited for her pupils to adjust to the light. She pushed herself to a stand and blinked several times before finally being able to view her surroundings. About two meters from her location, after vision phased back in, she noticed an older woman staring up at her from the sitting position in a wheelchair. Her strawberry blonde hair and gorgeous sapphire eyes were unmistakable, and Max immediately recognized the woman.
Their gazes latched onto one another, and the warmth from their souls lovingly twisting together forced a half-smile on the younger girl’s face. This version of her wife was quite a bit older than Max, but the woman in the wheelchair was no doubt the version of Chloe that masterminded the whole plan to restore the multiverse back to a single reality. The connection between the two was impalpable and Max understood why. Since all of the multiverse stemmed from her prime reality, this Chloe, too, was her Chloe; at least that’s what she thought.
“Maximus, how are you feeling? Please take a seat if you’d like.” The blonde motioned to the chair directly to Max’s right with an open palm turned upward towards the ceiling. “I bet you’re a bit disoriented right about now.” Her voice sounded mature and wise, yet she could sense the pirate girl she’d known all of her life was still inside holding up a middle finger or two at the world.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Max quietly replied then took her companion’s suggestion. She sat down and shifted to a comfortable position, one leg under her body and the other still hanging and grazing the floor. “So, did you bring me here?”
“That I did, First Mate. Would you like anything to drink? I want you to be comfortable, but I also suspect we don’t have much time.” Max noticed the woman completely focusing on her, never breaking eye contact, and even though she was very thirsty, she refused the drink with a slight shake of her head.
“Okay, so… I’ll just say it. These next moments will be tough… very tough, and I don’t know exactly what the end result will look like. I have my theories but don’t know for sure. To be honest, I didn’t know where we were going when I started this whole thing, just that we needed to get there. I did anticipate, however, that you would need some help while all versions of yourself merged back into you. I’ve placed a sort of quantum filter on your mind to help ensure your head won’t explode. Not really, of course, just… well, to put it simple, you could go completely batshit bonkers. Imagine an infinite number of memories, experiences, and alternate versions of yourself rushing back into you at the same time. We needed to make sure all of our work didn’t fail in the end, and I won’t sugarcoat this; there’s a very real chance things could go wrong. But, you know, we’re Max and Chloe, right? We got this shit!”
“Chloe.” Max matter-of-factly addressed the woman. “Where is she? MY Chloe.”
“Oh, no need to worry right now. Her experience should be similar to your simulation here. You don’t need to concern yourself, though I know you well enough to know that’s damn near impossible. I mean, she is me… ya know? Soon, we’ll all be back together.” Chloe was clearly trying to calm Max down, but it wasn’t really working. “That’s the plan anyhow. Plus, we’re all connected. I know she’s fine because, well… I’m fine.”
“Simulation? S-So, this isn’t real?” The younger girl’s voice shook as she spoke, and though she wanted to be brave, she had a terrible feeling about what was to come.
“Oh, Maxi Max, I think you know the answer to that question. Of course we’re not physically here, but our minds are here, so that makes it real, don’t ya think? I suspect your physical body is right where you left it. I also don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility that absolutely zero time will have passed from the moment you left to the moment you go back; at least the perception of time in the prime universe anyway. Although my data pretty much took a shit several moments ago. Suffice to say, we’re beyond the point of return so I have to sorta make educated guesses now.”
The younger girl stood and turned to the front wall, away from the elder woman in the room. She considered for a few seconds then turned back around, latching her view on the mastermind still looking up in her direction. “Why did you do all of this? I mean, what motivated you to spend your entire life trying to fix things we didn’t even know were broken?”
For the first time since Max had arrived, Chloe looked away, spinning her wheelchair towards the advanced computers and machinery that lined the walls behind her. Her glance was undeniably focused, so it caught the younger girl off guard when she heard a tiny sigh come from the woman’s mouth followed by a couple of dampened sniffles. She watched as Chloe’s head titled slightly and a hand reach up to apparently touch her face.
Max assumed the woman was wiping a tear or two, and her assumption was confirmed upon watching her spin the wheelchair back around and lock eyes once more. There was still a bit of smeared moisture on the woman’s cheeks so, instinctually, the younger girl stepped over to a small nearby side table and retrieve a tissue from the box. She then walked to the wheelchair and bent down towards Chloe’s matured, yet still gorgeous face. She placed an open palm under her chin and slowly blotted the moisture, tenderly grazing one cheek then the next. Max noticed the blonde gingerly shut her tired eyes with a barely noticeable coo.
Suddenly, a memory Max had tucked away and nearly forgotten about pried its way into the girl’s mind…
“Chloe, you’re priceless. Uh, no pun intended.”
“You are such a geek. That’s why I love you. Of course, I know a geek when I be one. See, I’m practically a human entertainment system. It would be sweet to chill out together and watch a movie, like when you’d spend the night at my house…”
“What do you want to watch?”
“Uh, I think I’m in, like, a mellow ‘Blade Runner’ mood. I always cry at the end. Plus you know I always wanted to have cool colored bangs like Pris.”
“I know. You would look incredible with blue hair. Now let’s get this show on the road. And you better not fall asleep on me, like you always do when we watch movies.”
“I remember, Max. Swear I won’t fall asleep. Not when you’re here. Not yet.”
Max grabbed a tissue and started cleaning Chloe’s face.
“Thanks. I think you missed a grain stuck in my eyeball.”
“Hard to believe how just a little sand can cause such a big mess.”
“It’s like that Chinese proverb, ‘A spark can start a fire that burns the entire prairie.’ You know, like that butterfly thing…”
“So I’ve heard…”
Abruptly, the memory swirled away like a rising twist of smoke at a campfire, vanishing almost as quickly as it appeared.
“Ah,” the graying woman commented while peering upward. “That look in your eyes. I can see the puzzle pieces falling together. You’re beginning to remember, yeah? To answer your question, ‘why did you do all of this?’… well… because I never stopped loving you, Max. Never. I figured it out after putting some serious thought behind the way you were acting that day. You changed things in the original timeline because you wanted to save my dad to make me happy again, but in doing so, you thought you sentenced me to a slow and painful death. What you didn’t know is when you visited me, you filled my entire heart with so much love, I actually started getting better.”
The freckled girl didn’t know whether to be happy, sad, terrified, or relieved. She was stupefied with a thousand thoughts rattling around inside her brain. This was the same Chloe she visited years before and spent the day with in the alternate timeline. After jumping back, she was overwhelmed with relief in seeing her favorite person healthy again, sitting in her desk chair with her back to the room deep into their detective work.
I’ve never been so glad to see Chloe in my life. The second I saw her blue hair and that beautiful pissed off face I wanted to kiss her again...
“As much as I love feeling your touch on my skin, can I please have my face back?” The blonde smirked up at the girl who was still hunched over her.
Max realized she still had her palm snugly curved around Chloe’s chin and immediately dropped her arms to her sides, taking a swift step backwards. “I-I’m sorry.” She made her way back to the chair and sat down again.
“Don’t be. Your touch and your love… it… it makes me so happy; you have no idea. Well, maybe you do have an idea, but you know what I mean.” After a moment of silence between the two women, Chloe continued. “I need to take a second right now and apologize, properly.” She wheeled closer and turned her chair so the pair was facing the same way directly beside one another. The older woman reached over and took Max’s hand, pressing the back-side to her lips. She lowered it and placed both of hers on top in her lap.
“What could you possibly have to apologize for?” Max questioned. “I’m the piece of shit who didn’t even come visit until…” She trailed off as the memory of what she considered to be the greatest mistake she ever made popped back into her head.
“No way, dude. Nobody knows you as well as I do; you know that. You were full of anxiety, doubt, grief, and so many other emotions no kid should have to shoulder. You shutting down and figuring out a way to push out the pain is not something to be ashamed of; not even a little. We’re all human. Our brains are designed to protect us by blocking out traumatic events so we can keep on living. It’s quite amazing from a purely scientific point of view, to be completely honest.”
“I sorta got over most of the self-loathing years ago because of Chloe’s love. She’s so amazing; always protecting me and… she accepts me for who I am. I’ve no doubt changed for the better because of her, but not even once has she ever tried to purposefully change me. Not one time. She loves me for who I am and I love her for who she is… we’re perfect.” Max was starting to get emotional but somehow knew the older version of her soulmate didn’t mind.
“Always so damn goopy, Maxter, and I love it.” Wheeling around to a position directly in front of her sitting visitor, the wheelchair-bound Chloe took both of Max’s hands into her own. “I need to apologize before you go,” she began while the women’s eyes lined up and hooked onto one another. “I asked you to do a thing that wasn’t fair to you back when you visited me. We were reconnecting and I could feel your love illuminating everything around me. Colors seemed more vivid, smells were more fragrant, I mean… I knew you were my soulmate right then. I guess I always knew, but that day, there was no denying it. I figured I would never be happier than I was at that moment, so I wanted to die with that feeling, experiencing the highest high I would ever know. We all thought I was gonna be a goner soon anyway. Me stabilizing then growing healthy was said to be a damn miracle, but you and I both know it was our love that healed me.”
“God, Chloe,” Max whimpered. “You were in such bad shape physically, I considered doing it. Like really, really considered it. You seemed miserable, a-and I wanted to help you escape from your misery. I couldn’t do that, though. No way. Maybe it was selfish, but fuck that.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t or I wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point.”
“So,” Max wondered, “did you decide to start focusing on mending the universe like, right when I left?”
“Oh, hell no. It took years for me to realize what I needed to do and figure out you were a damn time traveler, ya know? I was so angry at you for a little while. Yeah, it was irrational and unfair for me to hold it against you, but I got over it pretty quickly. Oh, by the way, did you read the letter I sent with Des?”
“I did, but at the time I didn’t connect the dots. I didn’t know you were THE Chloe from my alternate timeline. I think I repressed the memory and blocked it out a bit, like you said.”
“I stated that the problem we needed to fix was three-fold. First, we needed every version of you to choose your Chloes over Arcadia Bay because, well, you are never okay afterwards. Every Max needs her Chloe and vice versa. Second, we used another Max to help branch timelines so we could gain more information. Third, and what evolved into the main focus of the plan, save each Max and Chloe in every universe. The more I learned about the true nature of reality, timelines, and the multiverse, the more the data supported a point in time when the prime versions failed to sustain themselves. And without you, we all cease to exist. Hell, I didn’t even postulate a prime universe until I met Des. Anyway… you see, we’re all in this together; always have been.”
Max stared in awe, into her older partner’s deep sapphire orbs, watching the mastermind explain her work. Chloe was inspired and excited, just like her own wife when she deeply cared about something.
“We didn’t know until recently how this was going to play out. Even now, I’m not entirely sure what the final outcome will be just that we’ve reached the end of this long and fantastically amazing journey. It’s so goddamn beautiful Max, not at all unlike yourself, and one way or another it’ll be over soon. When we were young pirate girls, back in the day, we played pretend all the time. But did you ever imagine how fucking crazy and out of this world our lives would be?”
<beep> <beep> <beep> <beep>
Chloe released Max’s hands, spinning around and wheeling over to one of the more centrally located monitors. She used her pointers on what appeared to be an invisible touch screen to move charts and numbers around and seemed to be analyzing some important data.
“You’re about to leave, Max,” she spoke with her back to the room’s interior. “There’s not much time now. Ha! ‘Time’.”
“If this place exists in our minds,” Max curiously considered, “how are you using a computer here to know when I’ll leave?”
“Like I said, this space is as real as anything, my dear.” Chloe’s words resonated with the younger girl. She recalled both the dreamspace that Rachel created and the mindspace she previously shared with her wife. Those places were real, she was sure of it, and wherever she and this disabled version of her wife were currently, she understood was similar in many ways.
Suddenly, the room began shaking and vibrating like they were in the middle of an earthquake, yet their current existence seemed to quiver more from fear than from tectonic plates shifting below the earth’s surface.
“Max.” The older woman slightly raised her focused voice, as she turned and faced her first mate. “Hang in there. I’m cereal… yes, I said ‘cereal’. This next part is what we’ve been working so hard and so long for. The tourniquet will hold and you’ll be fine if you fight. You will have to fight the darkness, love. It’s gonna get fucking rough, I won’t lie.”
“So… Des was successful?!” Max quickly asked. “She’s gonna be safe right? And what about Chloe… MY Chloe?” The shaking of their current reality began to intensify with equipment and fixtures falling and flying all around the room, causing noise and commotion to almost drown out all other sound.
Despite the dire situation they currently found themselves in, Chloe calmly yelled, “Even with reality collapsing around you, you’re still thinking of the safety of others; it doesn’t surprise me. Your heart is so fucking big. But yeah, Des has been goddamn brilliant, Max. She is soooo brave and strong. Using an intricately complex, yet elegant algorithm, she split infinitely and has been gathering everyone together for the final big pull. Des was also fitted with a tourniquet before she began; she’ll be as safe as you are.”
“What about Chloe? Is she safe?”
“I placed a filter on her mind too. I knew the tourniquet process would bring you to me, but I’m not exactly sure where she is, just that she’s safe. If something happened to her, I’m very sure we would both know. Plus, we’re all fighters, so I don’t think there’s any problem. At some point, I’ll merge with her and, if I’m allowed, my consciousness will fight like hell, trust me on that.”
“What do you mean if you’re allowed?” Max asked with a focused sharpness to her voice. “Babe… uh… Chloe, I don’t understand.”
“Well…” the strawberry blonde hesitated, a half-smile forming on her face in the same manner as her wife’s did when she was feeling loved, “with all of us merging back together, there’s a possibility that the prime version of Chloe will only be aware of certain consciousnesses; same for you. Actually, it’s more than only a possibility. The human brain has a finite carrying capacity, so I doubt either of you will be completely aware of every single thing each version of yourselves went through. What I am certain about, is that you will have the wisdom and the completeness from them all. It’s just impossible to remember and know every little thing; I don’t think we’d want to either.”
“Fuck.” A dreadful question grew in the younger girl’s mind and she had to ask about it. “Does that mean there’s a chance we’ll return to our bodies with different personalities than we had when we left? I mean, is there a possibility that other traits and experiences will override what we’ve gone through in the prime universe?”
“Ah.” Chloe nodded and grinned. The vibrations of the simulation were growing in ferocity, and she looked around the room before continuing. “Now you’re using your noodle. I really dunno, though. My suspicion is that the prime versions will remain dominant; the tourniquets should help with this too as they’ll slow the process and percolate your memories. The others will take root and some will be of influence; there’s just no way to really know which. Although, I did promise myself I would be completely transparent with you, even if it does bring you a degree of discomfort. The probability of your specific memories being overridden is higher than you’d like, I’m afraid.”
Max’s heart sank and a thorny, electric jolt of nervousness shot through the girl’s body. If she somehow forgot even a small fragment of the time she and her wife spent together, this whole thing wouldn’t be worth it. Her muscles tensed and she felt her hands and legs tremble with fear. She picked at the edge of her jeans pocket, sensing an uncomfortably restless energy flowing from deep inside her.
Then, a surprisingly euphoric sensation stilled her nerves and calmed her heart. “Wait. You said my Chloe is experiencing a similar simulation, right?” Things seemed mixed up and in disarray but amidst the chaos, she could sense her wife’s energy. No special rewind or fast-forward ability was needed, just the power of pure love. Even if not together in their own simulations, their bodies were still right beside one another on the air mattress back at her parents’ house. They are Max and Chloe, always together, even when they’re not.
“She should be in a similar simulation, yes, but her experience is no doubt quite different than yours. Since the quantum field of the tourniquet was focused mainly on you so it would bring us together for this meeting, you are probably the most protected. Chloe’s mind will try and make sense of the space she perceives herself to be in. Think of it like a dream. Dreams are random images that the mind tries to connect as a singular flow of events even though those images might be totally unrelated.” The mature, older woman spun around and looked in the direction of the monitor she used previously.
The sudden sounds of deep inhaling gasps coming from Chloe’s direction were clearly audible over the pandemonium in the room. The alternate version of her favorite person turned to face the interior of the room clutching her throat with one hand and clawing at her chest with the other. Max’s eyes spread wide and the room churned in a circular, rotating motion then abruptly winked from existence.
What the fuck?
Seconds after the room vanished and she was left floating in an endless expanse of darkness, Max began to feel other thoughts and memories trickle into her mind. At first, she winced, as it felt like a machete had penetrated her skull and was lodged deep inside her brain, but after a couple of smaller foreign memories entered, she realized she might be fine with the help she received from the elder version of her best friend. Having photo-jumped through time, been stuck in a nightmare, kidnapped and trapped in the darkroom, kept in a trance by the Watcher, and all the other terrible things she experienced the past several years, this actually wasn’t so bad. She kept her wits and focused on breathing, feeling at peace knowing they were near the end of this epic journey. If her wife was experiencing a similar situation, she knew they were both safe, and that was good enough for her; at least for the moment.
Though she felt things would be fine in the end, she couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the older Chloe she finally met and why it seemed like she suddenly couldn’t breathe.
A muddled maelstrom of turmoil and confusion breezed in and wrapped its wings of disarray around the girl’s mind. The last coherent and logical thought she recalled having was one of wonderment, staring into the ripples of reality that bubbled from the wall in an alternate universe after eating Chinese food in an apartment with her first mate.
“Max…” she whispered towards the darkened void.
“You’re not gonna just lie there forever are ya, sweetheart?” Like a pushpin being thrust through an air-filled balloon, logical understanding snapped back in, triggering Chloe’s awareness to roil into focus. The man’s voice filled her heart with sadness, regret, emptiness, and dread, yet somehow a nearly overwhelming sense of love seemed to stifle all other emotions.
“Dad?! What are you doing here?” An outstretched hand slid into view, blocking the sun’s bright golden bars and casting a shadow directly overhead. Reaching out, she gripped the man’s wrist and was immediately pulled upward to a stand. Chloe wobbled a bit before catching her balance and propped up against her father’s shoulder to avoid tumbling back down.
“Do you even know where ‘here’ is, Chloe?” William chuckled while using his pointer and middle finger from both hands to produce air quotes out in front of his face. “From what I’ve seen, this is where you began to really fall in love with your wife. Nice choice of scenery.”
Chloe released the man’s upper arm and looked down at her feet, quickly realizing exactly where they were. “The… uh… Arcadia Bay train tracks? But why?”
“Well, it is YOUR cross-over. Maybe you should ask yourself why you chose this spot.” Her father was smiling and looked happy to see her, yet his head was slightly tilted and his eyes looked wearily gentle like he was holding back some undesired information.
“Wait, my what?”
“Yes, Chloe, your cross-over. The point where you transition to your next existence. You’ll come with me and I’ll lead you there. It’s how it’s always been done.”
“Why would I do that, Dad? What the hell’s happening?” After the question departed from her lips, Chloe looked left and right, then up and down and behind the spot where she was standing. A vast, empty space of whiteness surrounded the father and daughter pair leaving only train tracks and a warm glow from overhead that she previously thought was the sun. As the severity of her situation was beginning to sink in, a soul-tearing fear crept down her spine. “N… no… this isn’t right.” She shook her head. “Fuuuuuuck! No, Dad. Please! Am I… d… d…?” She couldn’t finish her thought.
Chloe didn’t even realize the two had been strolling along the tracks until the man stopped and stepped in front of her. With tears burning her eyes and blurring her vision, she watched as her dad took both of her hands into his own; eyes following one hand then the other. A pacifying chill flowed throughout her body as she slowly looked up and locked eyes with her father. She was terrified but felt the same sense of calm that she once experienced after the man scooped her up and hugged her following a bad dream when she was just a little girl.
“It’s okay, Chloe. See, this is part of it all. We leave behind what once was, and we turn towards what soon will be. Letting go is hard.”
“No. FUCK. THAT! Max is still out there! Destiny is still out there! No way in hell am I leaving them!” Her voice seemed to echo in the distance as she pulled her hands from her father’s clutch and balled two fists, one by either hip. The man appeared to be flowing with love and looked identical to how she remembered, yet she hated the words that were coming from his mouth.
The golden-haired man nodded his head and smirked to himself. “I had a feeling you were gonna say that.”
“Wh-What’s happening to me?” Her voice shook as she spoke and she realized it was growing tougher to catch her breath. She asthmatically wheezed as she attempted to draw air into her lungs but wasn’t sure why she felt so much pressure in her chest. A sudden flash of herself in a wheelchair grasping her throat shot into her mind then quickly disappeared.
He cut his eyes left then right, finally centering them on his daughter again. “I’d say you’re sorta… in-between at the moment. If you choose, you can go back right now. I’m just not sure you will make that choice.”
“Of course I’m going back, Dad! I will NEVER leave Max behind. No fucking way! You gotta know that, right?” She wheezed and coughed desperately attempting to pull more air into her lungs.
“You and Max are so beautiful, sweetheart. You were literally designed for one another. You’re connected at such a profound level that your love shattered the damn universe.” The man grinned while sliding closer, placing both of his hands on each of his daughter’s shoulders. He craned forward and hovered merely inches from Chloe’s face. “Your mind was overwhelmed and your body is in the process of shutting down. Even though you had a filter of some sort on your mind, it was just too much, Chloe… I-I’m sorry.”
After a momentary pause of thought-filled silence, William continued. “When my amazing and beautiful granddaughter successfully pulled you back, restoring the universe, a time paradox was created. Here’s the important part. In the process of merging the universes together, something… happened. In one potential reality, you return to Max with all of your memories plus a ton more from the other versions of yourself that merged back into you. You two will stay in love for the rest of your lives. You’ll fondly remember the crazy years and live a normal life. Eventually death will show its beady eyes and you’ll be back here with me.”
“That’s what I want! I choose to be with Max. I promised her I would be with her and protect her forever, and nothing you can say will change my mind. She is my home. She is where I belong.”
Her dad sighed and tenderly stroked a stand of blonde hair out of his daughter’s face, tucking it behind an ear. “If you come with me and leave your current existence…”
Chloe didn’t let him finish before blurting, “Don’t you fucking dare say I’ll return to that goddamn bathroom and die from a bullet again! Please!” She strained her lungs, forcing herself to inhale.
“Well, there’s more. If you come with me now, the universe will reset farther back than that moment in the restroom, sweetie.” The man swallowed hard and his expression changed to one of dread and sadness for the first time since Chloe arrived. “It will reset to the day I walked out the door and never returned. I’ll be alive but you’ll still have been murdered at Blackwell. Some things can’t be changed unless other things change too. It’s hard to explain, but do you remember when your daughter sent the Morse code message from my gravesite? Well, that spot was one of several anchor points in the universe. The only way for it to be cleared and me to be back among the living, is if something else takes my place as an anchor point.”
Chloe’s breathing worsened. It took most of her energy to draw in a single breath. “Dad, I…”
“Shh, shh,” the man whispered as he placed his pointer finger over his pursed lips. “It’s time to make your choice. Either leave and go back to living your amazing life, or sacrifice yourself right now to restore Arcadia Bay and bring me back. It’s your choice, sweetheart, but you have to make it now. Follow me towards the light to the next existence, or stay here and return to Max and Destiny. I’m not allowed to try and sway you either way so this is completely up to you. I know you don’t think you can make this decision, but… you’re the only one who can. Are you ready?”
Her mind started bouncing all over the place, from one memory to the next. She wasn’t sure if she actually experienced most of them or if they were given life inside of her because of the merger. It didn’t matter, though, because each were beautiful in their own way and they were all created from the love she shared with her best friend, lover, partner, favorite person, wife, and soulmate:
A photo-jump together to the past.
A phone call in a new world.
The wedding of her dreams.
An impossible realization of pure love.
A perfect life together.
A dark place of closure.
A hope for the future.
From a distant memory, at least she thought it was a memory, Chloe could vaguely hear Max strumming an old, out-of-tune guitar and singing a beautiful song she hadn’t heard before. It was muffled but sounded like it was coming from the sky above. Through glossy eyes, she nodded toward her father and propped herself against the man in a drooping sideways hug. If she could pull in more oxygen, she would no doubt be a mess of uncontrolled sobs and whimpers, but being in her father’s embrace, she was prepared to accept what came next.
A final moment of clarity washed through the girl, and she finally answered her father’s question. “Am I ready? … … … the readiest.”
Max realized the tourniquet was stretched to its limit, holding on by a single thread. Endless memories and experiences were deluging her and she didn’t know when the process would be completed. She was much more thankful for the terrible darkness she experienced in the past, as everything she had gone through up to that point helped prepare her for this moment.
In her mind, it wasn’t dissimilar to child birth, in a way. Sure, it was uncomfortable and quite painful, but she knew in her heart it would be well worth it when she was in her lover’s arms again. If the quantum mechanism that the older Chloe inserted into her mind kept hold, she would eventually make it out of there and go back to where she belonged. The most difficult portion of the experience was the fact that she couldn’t feel Chloe anymore. Infinite versions of herself and memories of her wife flooded into her mind, but it was the absence of the safe and pleasurable, electric sense she typically felt when her perfect person was near that concerned her.
It reminded the younger girl of a story Kate told her back when they first met in the dorms at Blackwell. Jesus Christ was hung on a cross and crucified as a sacrifice to cleanse the world of its sins. While Jesus was hanging there waiting to die, the Bible says all sin flowed into the man and he was briefly cut off from his connection to God. Max wondered, similarly, if the influx of memories and the merger of the multiverse was the reason she couldn’t feel her partner anymore.
Suddenly, there were no more new memories coming in and the tourniquet snapped, feeling a little like the relief experienced immediately following an ice cream headache. She was a bit dizzy from the sheer amount of experiences she now remembered, but overall, she surprisingly felt rather well. Previously, she held her eyes closed and floated amongst the darkened nothingness allowing the merger to take place. Now, nothing seemed to be happening, yet she remained suspended in space. Opening her eyes did no good, she couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face because of the pitch black.
What am I supposed to do?
There wasn’t much she could do except reflect on the new experiences in her head. Just like the older woman assumed, Max’s prime memories were all still intact, and the new ones were compartmentalized in sections where she could clearly differentiate prime experiences from the others. They were all a part of her now and she knew she was going to be fine. All that remained was her need to return home. To return to Chloe.
Out in the distance, she noticed an almost undetectable fleck of light glinting in her direction like the dot of a dim star among the black-banned night sky. She moved her arms in a forward-stroking motion as if swimming, and the light started getting closer. From its glow, she could see her hands again and realized she needed to head towards the light. She patiently approached and reached her arm out taking hold of the mini pearl that floated in front of her.
As soon as her fingers closed and the light disappeared inside her fist, the girl shot up to a sitting position on the air mattress in her old bedroom. She quickly looked over at her soulmate lying beside her and lovingly pressed her head into the girl’s chest, hugging her with all of her might.
“Babe, we did it! Dammit, I missed you so much.” Chloe’s body felt cold and she was unresponsive. Max pushed away and jumped to her feet, then ran over and flipped the light on. She returned to her best friend’s body and realized the girl wasn’t there. Her lips were a purple hue and her breathing had stopped.
Max frantically dragged her wife to the floor and straddled her torso, beginning CPR compressions on her chest. “Fuck no! Not after all we’ve been through. No way in hell is this happening!” Following the chest compressions, the younger girl pinched Chloe’s nose and placed her mouth around the cold lips of her soulmate. After two rescue breaths, Max returned to the chest compressions.
Behind her, she heard Destiny stirring in the crib and hoped she wouldn’t wake up and see what was happening on the floor. Even if she did, the toddler had no way of exiting her bed so at least her mom knew she’d be safe.
Max kept with the CPR for several more minutes alternating between compressions and breathing. Finally, she stopped and realized this wasn’t the way. Nothing she could do physically would bring her partner back. Her eyes welled and she grabbed her perfect person’s lifeless face, placing a palm on both of her icy, cold cheeks. Her eyes were partially opened and looked cloudy and distant.
“My Chloe,” Max began, whispering through sloppy sobs of desperation, “my p-perfect Chloe. You can’t l-leave me now. We have too many more adventures to g-go on; too many more ships to plunder. Our time is NOT over, Chlo, it can’t be! It’s t-too soon!” During the merger, several terrible memories made their homes inside of her mind. They were despairingly sad, and she dreaded facing her wife’s mortality at some point way way way in the future. But she never knew how deep the dagger would slice into her heart when the time was upon her.
She wiped her face and took a deep, airy breath. “I realize that truly loving you, babe, meant that I would have to be okay with the pain of losing you one day. To be in love is to take a risk in hopes that the joy might outweigh the pain.” Max felt herself slipping into a mentality of acceptance, but it didn’t feel real. They finally made it back to a space where they could be together and live a normal life, yet now her soulmate was dea… “No. I can’t accept this.”
She ran to her closet and rummaged around in the back, searching for a specific single object she hoped was still there. Her eyes lit up when her hand brushed against it and she knew she had found what she sought. Max pulled it out, revealing the old, beat up guitar she practiced on before her father bought her a new one many years ago. The musically gifted girl got down on her knees and hovered over her best friend’s body. The strings were slightly too loose, and the guitar was out of tune, but it didn’t matter. She started strumming and sang the first words that came to her mind.
Your kisses mean more,
Like an unholy war.
We put down our guns
But we do not run.
We all have to fight
With all our might
When timing is right
Babe, fight tonight!
She didn’t know where she was going with the lyrics, but it didn’t matter. She had to keep pushing forward and try to reach her wife, wherever she existed. If Chloe could just hear her voice, she somehow knew the girl would come back to her. She just knew it!
Tomorrow we’ll find,
A common reminder
To keep a straight face
Your ghost I’d chase
To the ends of the earth
Your value, your worth
Don’t leave me yet
Our love, no regret
We’re always and forever
Chloe and Max together
Come back to me
For all eternity…
Suddenly, a guttural gasp of air ripped through the room and Chloe sat straight up. “CHLOE! FUCK!” Max threw the clunky old guitar to the floor and dove down towards the air mattress, wrapping her arms around her wife’s neck and burying her tear-streaked face into her partner’s chest. She squeezed her perfect person with an energetic vigor that came from deep within. Pulling her back and grabbing the girl’s shoulders to get a better look at her face, she saw the color returning to her cheeks and eyes.
“I chose you, Max,” the blonde whispered with a goopy, heartfelt grin as she finally caught her breath. “I’ll always choose you.” They pushed back in for a firm hug, Max never wanting to let her goddess go ever again. The girls held each other in silence for what felt like forever, just enjoying one another’s presence, eventually falling asleep on the air mattress in a pile of hair, elbows, and thankful contentment. They had stayed awake as long as they could but finally gave in, allowing their tired bodies to rest.
The next morning came and they discussed their individual experiences and the memories they now possessed. It felt like a brand-new world where they were still themselves but more thoughtful and wise versions. They played with their daughter, ate breakfast with Ryan and Vanessa, then hit the road excited to be on the path back to their new townhome to enjoy spending time with their little family.
Max and Chloe couldn’t stop touching and staring at one another. In the car they held hands; at the breakfast table Max sat in Chloe’s lap, sneaking kisses anytime they could. They were never far away from each other except for brief moments here and there, which turned into a yearning to be back by the other’s side. The girls shared a special secret about time travel, powers, and the multiverse, as well as a bond that would keep them tethered to one another for the rest of eternity.
On the way home, they wondered how Des was handling herself after everything that happened. She was confident and brave, and, most importantly, she was successful. The married couple was overwhelmed with pride, and wished they could see her one last time during their younger age, yet suspected she was long gone at that point. They were well aware, and at peace knowing, they would get to raise the girl and watch her grow into the amazing woman who saved them all.
The girls began a new routine where they would constantly whisper in each other’s ear the word “forever” any time one would leave then return. It felt sweet and safe knowing it didn’t matter where they were in life or what was happening, the lovers would always be together even when they weren’t and no matter what, and that was all that mattered. They knew the toughest days were behind them and, from that point forward, they would finally have what they always wanted, a normal life…
… as normal as you can have with a time traveling daughter.