Fire crackled and popped, releasing smoky spires that twisted upward towards the darkening sky, spreading and disappearing into nothingness among the late October breeze. Flitting sparks gracefully moved atop the dwindling flames like tiny dancing spirits with a childlike, playful randomness. Spooky whistles of wind shook and rattled the leaves on the trees in the distance, while two bodies lovingly cozied together on a soft, flannel blanket.
“I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since we’ve been back here,” Max quietly cooed, gently resting her head on Chloe’s shoulder. She twisted a strand of blue hair between her fingers, as the arm around her lower back pulled her in a little bit snugger.
“Not everyone gets to relive the last five years of their life, Maxi. Now that we’re together and teenagers again, we gotta make the most of it.” Chloe tilted her head and buried her lips in brown hair. She kissed the girl on her head and took a deep, sniffing breath. After loosening her grip, she inched around, gazing directly into her date’s contented, blue eyes. “You smell good tonight.”
“Teenagers again,” Max sighed. “I didn’t really enjoy it the first time.”
“Yeah, I tried to act like everything was fine. Now the thought of pretending to be some edgy punk makes me wanna vomit.”
“Aww, Chloe. I love your punk, mosh pit attitude.” Max extended her neck, craning outward for a kiss. As she inched closer, her girlfriend pulled back.
“I swear to God, Max, if you say ‘shaka brah’, I’m outta here.” She playfully leaned away from the girl’s approaching lips with an impish look on her face. Just as Max had given up and was shifting backwards, Chloe quickly shot in, attempting to surprise the brunette with a kiss of her own.
This time, Max pulled back and gingerly placed a hand on her partner’s soft cheek. Looking deeply into her eager eyes, she smiled and said, “Ready for the mosh pit shaka brah,” followed by an onslaught of sloppy pecks on the lips, cheeks, and chin.
“Dammit, how’re you so cute?” Chloe purred after surviving Max’s attack. “I guess I’m sorta glad you didn’t have much confidence as a teen. If you did, everyone would’ve been all over you and I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“That’s such bullshit. We were meant to be with each other no matter what. Who else is always together even when they’re not?” A goofy grin materialized above her chin.
“Yeah, that’s been proven over and over again.” The blue haired girl stood, helping the love of her life to her feet as well. She wrapped her arms around the girl, leaving space between them so their faces were in alignment.
“I love your hair so much, Chloe. The fire almost makes it look green.” Max giggled as she ran her fingers through the hair on the back of her partner’s head.
“Hmm,” Chloe pondered. “Maybe I’ll dye it green next. That’s a damn good idea, Maxi. Maybe you could help me with it next week, yeah?”
“Anything you want, babe. That sounds like fun.”
“Still wanting to hit the road when you graduate? You can work on your photography, and we can drive coast to coast scraping by until you land a spot in a gallery somewhere.” Chloe’s eye lit up as she spoke.
“It doesn’t matter what we do. As long as we’re together, I know we’ll be fine.” The girls’ lips suddenly met in the center for a passionate yet tender embrace. The warmth from their breathing was magnetic; neither wanted to pull away. When they finally did, their foreheads remained touching in the center, as they existed together as one. Besides the breeze whisking through the trees and the crisp popping of the fire, all that could be heard were the yearning inhales and exhales of the two lovers.
“Dude, we gotta hold off a little longer.” Chloe stepped back, causing a displeased grunt to come from the other girl. “They’ll be here soon, and I wanted to tell you about everything that happened while you were in Seattle. Especially if we’re gonna try that last thing on our list. You need to know all about what I experienced during the five years we were apart.”
“Oh, y-yeah, I guess you probably should. I still feel so damn guilty about everything.” Max’s mood shifted, her eyebrows lowering and a crease appearing above her brow. The smaller girl sighed and turned away.
“You need to stop, Caulfield.” Chloe spun Max around and forced her back into a hug, squeezing and rubbing her with an intended closeness. “Everything that happened to us, brought us together. Even if we didn’t see it at the time, we needed to be away for those few years so we could be ready when the timing was right. You have to know that by now.”
“Yeah, I do. But I wish I had been there with you more than anything.” Max took a deep breath and released an airy exhale. “Okay, you’re right. I’m not going to let it get me down. I still have to work through some things, but I have you now for strength.”
“Now that’s the spirit, my love.” Chloe released her girlfriend’s body and turned around. She joyfully bounced the few paces to her truck, opened the door, and retrieved a sheet of notebook paper attached to a clipboard. When she returned, Max was again seated on the blanket beside the fire ring patting a spot beside her, encouraging her best friend to snuggle. Chloe cozied herself beside the fire, shoulder nudging Max as she sat, drawing a tiny giggle from the time traveler. She set the recently obtained item to her side and shifted around. Clutching her favorite person’s hands in her own, the girls angled towards one another.
“Looks like you got the list,” Max said, eyeing the clipboard now laying to her right.
“Yeah, we’ll go over it again in a moment, but first, I wanna… sorta, kinda get this over with. It was a dark time for me, I hate thinking about that shit to be honest. I let it go and left it behind me while I was in the clink.”
“Oh, Chloe,” Max consoled. “We don’t have to if you’re not ready.”
“It was years ago, I’m fine. Really. My past made me who I am. OUR pasts make us who we are. I just need you to understand where I’ve been so we can get wherever we’re going. Does that make sense?”
“Of course it makes sense, Chloe. Just start when you’re ready.” Max brought one of her companion’s hands up to her mouth and kissed the backside just above her wrist. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Super Max.” The girls hugged one another again, then resumed their positions in front of the other, eyes locked in the center. “Okay so…”
Chloe began to reveal everything she experienced beginning with the day they were told William had died. She was forced to pause her story several times. As both girls opened up their hearts, tears stopped and started up again in waves.
The story moved past her attending concerts with Elliot, struggling to feel ‘normal’ around David, then continued with the time Chloe spent with Rachel. As the story unfolded, Max began to worry she might get jealous hearing about how the love of her life cared so much about someone else. But, to her surprise, she didn’t feel that way at all. Max’s heart was completely set on Chloe, and she knew her girlfriend was in love with her as well.
Instead of any negative emotions, Max felt an immersive empathy towards Rachel. She imagined herself experiencing the moments her girlfriend depicted from the other girl’s viewpoint. Chloe described in detail the concert at The Mill, the day they skipped school and hopped aboard a moving train, The Tempest, fixing her truck, confronting drug dealers, meeting Rachel’s real mom, and every moment in between. Even during the more tender and emotional moments, Max was thankful Chloe had someone while she was absent.
Unlike examining a photograph, Max knew she wouldn’t be able to imagine the exact scenarios her partner described, so she envisioned herself and Chloe as they were at that moment. In her mind, even though she knew it wasn’t real, she saw Chloe with the blackened tattoo cover she got in prison and the green hair she now perceived as the yellow flames reflected against the blue.
Some of Chloe’s descriptions felt off a bit, like how she claimed Max ghosted her, though neither contacted the other after she moved. Or how Warren was in her class despite him being only thirteen at the time. Memory was tricky, and knowing how easy it is to mix some things up, she didn’t correct the details that she knew were inconsistent with facts; it just wasn’t important. The entire reason for discussing the past, was for Max to understand what her partner had been through.
The taller girl’s story ended, and the two hugged. Chloe breathed a sigh of relief, and Max felt a burden being released from the both of them.
“I feel fucking drained,” the taller girl admitted, “but I’m glad you know everything now.”
“Me too, babe. I’m so happy you shared that with me.” Max leaned in and gently dragged her lips across her favorite person’s cheek. When she pulled back, she noticed how dark it had gotten. The dying flames cast ripples of light across their faces, but the black of the night caused vision to fail. They couldn’t see much beyond the fire ring, except shadowy outlines of object that were once visible. She broke away from holding Chloe’s hands and fished around inside her backpack. After retrieving two flashlights, she handed one to her partner and kept the other for herself.
A noisy wall of nighttime chirping from crickets and katydids swelled in the distance. Chloe retrieved the clipboard and pivoted her body back around to sit directly beside her girlfriend. She held the list in her lap so Max could view it too. Shining the beam from her flashlight onto the paper, both girls looked at the page that included numbers with objectives written beside them.
“So, I put a line through this one,” Chloe confirmed, pointing at the number one. “David has ex-military friends in the FBI. He made some calls and said all three men are under investigation now. They say they have enough evidence to do some serious fucking damage thanks to your tip that they should search that prick’s desk.”
“Good. Weston, Governor Prescott, and Jack all deserve to be behind bars. They would have ended your life to make money. That’s… just… fuck them!”
“I know, Max. But with Jefferson behind bars after we exposed his shit, that completes all but the final thing on the list.”
“Maria worked for the Fresno Herald the longest. With any luck, she’ll get a promotion. At the very least I hope she finds happiness. I miss her.”
Up the gravel road behind them, doglegged to the left, two vehicle headlights shined in their direction, effectively spotlighting the campsite. The grinding sound of tires against gravel began to increase, and Max knew their alone time was soon to be over.
“So,” Max hurriedly spoke, “you’re fine with the plan?”
“I think so. We have to try, right? If you can do your wormhole thing and save this one last life, maybe you’ll never have to use the power again.”
“Yeah, I just hate risking something bad happening. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It’s like my heart is full because of you, and I don’t want anything to take that away from us. But on the same hand, how can we stay happy knowing we have the power to save her? Like you said, we have to try.”
“Tomorrow it is then, my love. Let’s worry about that shit in the morning. Tonight, we get to spend time with friends.” The girls smirked at one another then moved together for a side hug. “Also,” Chloe lowered her voice and leaned in towards Max’s ear, “I wanna try that thing I told you about. The one with our tongues. Remember?”
“Chloe!?” Max giggled.
The lovers stood and turned to face the incoming car. They remained holding onto one another with a hand and palm on each other’s lower backs, waiting for the group to arrive.
“Hey, let’s give ‘em a quick show.”
“Oh, I dunno if that’s a good…” Before the shorter girl could finish, Chloe had planted her lips on Max’s, dipping her body downward to get in deeper. A car horn sounded, but the girls didn’t stop. They stayed in position, enjoying each other’s love without a care about who saw them.
“Get a room you two,” Victoria’s voice called out from the driver’s side window after the car came to a stop beside the truck.
As their mouths and heads finally went in opposite directions, Chloe lifted Max back to an upright position. Besides seeing Victoria’s playfully scowling glance, Kate, Dana, and Juliet were all shaking their heads and smiling.
“Well, Max,” Chloe whispered, before the others walked up. “It’s you and me forever, yeah?”
“I’m never leaving you, babe.”
Knowing how this time in their lives went previously, Max and Chloe had approached it very differently because of this second opportunity. With no threat of a storm or any unfair choice where lives would have to be sacrificed, everything worked out much better. Being several years older than her body, coupled with the fact that she was much wiser and more experienced, Max’s confidence helped Victoria and the others see how good their friendships could be. It was a whole different world this time around.
Neither Max nor Chloe knew what the future held; they only knew they would be together, ready to face whatever obstacles were in their path.
Not even the universe could keep them apart.
They were in love and had their entire lives ahead of them.
It was perfect.