16 years later
Des sat on the side of the tub in her bathroom, where she arrived moments prior, pondering the overwhelming success she just experienced. During her journey, she met numerous versions of her moms: 3… 16… 78… 194… 2,952… way too many to actually count or fully recall. Some of the meetings were vividly clear in her mind while others felt like distant memories, tucked away never to be thought of again.
There was one hazy memory that greatly differed from the others. In most every instance, Des collected a version of her moms, who had been spread out across the multiverse, and restored them in the prime reality. However, she also pulled someone else into a realm she only heard stories about. The disabled version of her mom convinced the teenager to restore Rachel Amber, merging the girl with her prime form. When she did, she received a message from the Watcher that she would never forget: “I love your moms so much, ya know? They’re hella special to me, and you are undeniable proof that love always wins. Let ‘em know I’ll be… watching.”
The red-streaked teen stood and walked a few steps towards the mirror, propping her arms on the granite counter-top between the two sinks. Looking at her reflection, she saw heavy, grey bags underneath her eyes, and she couldn’t remember the last time she actually had a good night’s rest. She knew her body was tired and she needed to lie down, but her mind was still spinning. The reflection staring back at her appeared weary, yet her back was held straight and her chest puffed with pride due to her recent accomplishments. She ran fingers through messy, tangled hair and knew she needed a shower, but didn’t want to bother herself with washing just yet.
Realizing she’d been back home for quite a while lost in thought, Des decided to finally leave the room and quit postponing the inevitable. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see her moms, of course she did, it was more her way of letting the past several days marinate in her mind so she could move forward with her life. She was the tool needed to fully restore a broken universe, and she only wanted a few moments alone to gather her thoughts.
When she twisted the brushed-nickel knob and pulled the door towards the interior of the bathroom, she immediately recognized a child’s laughter coming from the larger room down the hall. Her blonde-haired mom used to correct her when she called it the ‘living room’. According to the tiny words on the layout she viewed while they were building their house a few years back, the most spacious room with the television, fireplace, and couches was called the ‘great room’. Their living room was walled off and a door installed so her moms could use the space as an office for M3-related activities.
Stepping from around the corner, the sleepy girl smiled then tenderly spoke to the 2-year-old version of herself, “Well well well, sweetheart, just what are you doing here?” The two women and the toddler between them turned their heads and looked back at the girl who had just arrived. “Take it from me, you’ll get lost so many times you’ll start to wonder if you should even travel anymore, but you know what? Keep going. If you have trouble finding your way, just take a deep breath then listen. Follow the sounds, they’ll lead you home.”
“Des!” Max squealed, hopping up from her spot on the loveseat next to Chloe and quickly running up to her daughter. She wrapped her arms around Des’s torso and just about squeezed every bit of air from the girl’s lungs.
“Mom. Please.” Des felt the need to seem like she didn’t want to be touched, but her mother’s embrace felt warm and loving, and she really needed it. When the woman didn’t release her grip, she instinctively returned the gesture with a hug of her own. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to accept the mutual care they shared for one another.
“Dude, how was your trip? Saved the world yet?” Chloe smirked as she playfully lifted the toddler above her head, holding her under the armpits to simulate a flying sensation.
The blonde teenager pulled away then scanned the room. It occurred to the girl that her actions within the multiverse might have unexpected consequences in the present. She looked at the mounted television on top of the mantle then at the artwork hanging above the couch. Everything appeared to be exactly how Des remembered and she felt a degree of worry release from her mind.
Her gaze eventually landed on a framed picture on the side table under a lamp, and she slid over to pick it up. Des was fairly certain she took the shot but couldn’t be completely sure. Pulling it towards her face, she saw that the photograph captured her moms and little Destiny the day of the fair in the downtown square where they previously lived. It had only been a few days ago to her but it was more like sixteen years prior to her parents. She didn’t believe Max even brought her camera with her that day, but with all the new memories still floating through her mind, it was difficult to keep everything straight. In her mind, she also recalled Chloe’s hair being blonde, but the photograph showed it blue. She wasn’t sure if there was a Ferris wheel or if her moms were even wearing those same shirts, but everything else seemed to be in order.
Suddenly, the photograph shifted…
Des widened her eyes then blinked several times. The picture changed back to the original and she rapidly shook her head back and forth in an attempt to gain control and clarity.
“This time travel shit is still strange. So,” Des pondered once she felt her mind clearing up, “the two of you that I remember before I left… had you already experienced the multiverse merger and all that, or is it a new memory you picked up after I finished? This picture looks different than I remember.”
“It’s time to go back now, ya little rug rat,” Chloe interrupted as if she hadn’t heard the teen’s question. “Ryan’s prolly freaking out right about now.” She slightly giggled then stood to her feet, placing the two-year-old on the floor beside her.
Max moved to the teenager’s side and propped her head on the girl’s shoulder, pointing to the framed picture she was still holding. “You’d make a damn good photographer, Des. I know you’ve helped out over the years, but you have a gift too. If college wasn’t potentially right around the corner, I’d try and convince you to focus on photography.”
“HA! I see what you did there, love. ‘Focus’ on photography? You’re so cute when you pun shit up.” Des watched as Chloe stepped to Max’s other side and gently graze her lips against her wife’s cheek for a quick show of affection. “Forever,” she whispered, not quite out of earshot.
“Gross,” Des smirked while placing the photograph back on the table, removing her mother’s head then turning towards the interior of the room. “Okay fine, it’s not gross at all. It’s really pretty cute. I’m actually jealous. One day I hope to find my… what do you call each other again?”
“Best friend?” Chloe answered.
“Partner?” Max quickly responded.
“That one,” Des spoke out hoping they’d stop but knew them well enough to know she’d opened a can of worms.
“Favorite person?” The married couple turned and started inching closer and closer until their foreheads were slightly touching in the center.
“Love of my life?”
“Greatest thing that ever happened to me?”
“MOMS!” Des raised her voice to break the cadence and end their ridiculous list. She rolled her eyes as the women cackled for several moments. When the laughter finally died down, she shook her head but couldn’t resist the grin that was widening on her face.
“Yes, all of that. I’m at the end of my teen years and you two found each other long before now. I know you said not to compare myself to you, but I’ve just seen sooo many versions of you two. You were meant to be together in like, every damn scenario, even if you didn’t realize it at the time, and I want to know what that feels like, ya know? I want my own Max or Chloe. Fuck, that’s weird to say out loud.” She placed her palm above her brow and marginally shook her head.
“Well, I for one hope you find somebody like Chloe. She ripped me outta my shell and taught me how to enjoy life. Without her, I would’ve been lost at sea.” The women were pressed together tightly in a sort of side hug. Max had picked up Destiny and was holding the little girl like a basket with her outer arm.
“No damn way, dude. You need someone like her, Des. She’s the light of my entire world. Everything she touches turns to gold. Her smile and laugh makes me feel like…”
“Let me stop you right there, Mom,” the teenager broke in. “I get it, you two are in love and all that shit. That’s what I’m saying. I wanna find someone like either of you. Someone I can feel safe with and spend my life with. I dunno…” She trailed off and started fidgeting with the single bullet on the necklace around her neck.
“Well,” Max began, “you’re still young. I mean, I don’t really remember being a kid without Chloe around. We’ve essentially been together our entire lives, which is a very rare thing. You’ll find that special person one day. Promise. Oh,” the woman seemed to remember something she had forgotten, “Des, do you wanna go out with us in a few hours? I’m sure you’re tired and all, but it’s Victoria and Kate’s ten-year wedding anniversary. They invited us to dinner and to have drinks with them.”
“Just me and two old couples? Hard pass.” Des stuck out her tongue and tossed her hands down to her sides.
“Who’re you calling ‘old’?” Chloe puckishly responded, clearly pretending to take offense. “I’m just hitting my prime, dammit.” Her mothers shared a smile and stared at one another as if they existed in a secret world together like they did much of the time.
“Plus, you just want me to be your designated driver, don’t you?” The teenager placed both hands on either side of her waist with her elbows angled outward, pushing her hips slightly to the side.
“Actually,” Max spoke up, “we have another person joining us. You remember Charlie? I know you girls met a while back, but I’m not sure how long ago it was at this point. She’s your age. Maybe you two will have some things in common.”
“Charlie?” Des tilted her chin towards the ceiling searching for a memory of the girl, but the whole multiverse merger really jumbled things in her mind. She definitely remembered the name, but for some reason, she couldn’t quite picture her face. More than a few memories seemed wonky and reminded her of one of those caricature creations artists draw at the fair.
“Fine. But I’m gonna shower and nap first. It’s been a long few days.” As she spoke, she noticed a tickle like the little hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end. As soon as she felt the sensation, the room’s glow swelled, and she heard a metallic-sounding hum fade into existence. Suddenly, a tiny golden-rimmed portal opened up and the toddler was crawling through. “Destiny, wait!”
“Oh, don’t worry about her,” Chloe smiled as she nudged Des with her shoulder. “As you damn well know, she’s doing just fine. She visits us every week or so. I’m not sure when she’ll stop, though. Hell, you were so sneaky as a kid, I had no idea how much you left, but we could feel it sometimes on our necks if you were close by. Ha! And you should’ve seen Max the first few times; she was a goddamn nervous wreck.”
“Yeah, I guess I got better at it; didn’t need the portal after a while. Now I can just… ya know… go.” Des turned away and strolled to the kitchen, retrieving a bottled water from the refrigerator. She could hear her moms kissing and playfully joking with one another from the other room.
As the fridge was shutting, Max turned the corner with her hands above her head, pulling her hair into a little bun in the back. With her arms up, the cerulean butterfly ink on her forearm became visible. Des was much younger when her mother decided to get her first tattoo; or so she was told. She didn’t even remember the woman without it, she was just glad she got a chance to spend time with them during their earlier years. “How are you for real, sweetheart? You’ve just been on an amazing journey, and…” She briefly paused before continuing. “And you saved us. You saved us and others along the way. Just… thank you.”
“Yeah, whatever. Not a big deal.” She casually smiled then turned towards the hall with the intention of heading to her room and lying down. The pipes in the walls shifted, making a bumping noise through the sheet rock, indicating water had been turned on somewhere in the house.
“Maaaax, come on, love!” Chloe hollered from the master bathroom, voice sounding muffled in the distance. “Get your sexy ass in here!”
Des looked back at her mom and rolled her eyes, releasing a slight huff. Max placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder, shrugged, then enthusiastically bumped past, hurrying down the hall.
The teenager was envious of her moms’ love for one another but more than that, she was happy they were so youthfully joyful to be around each other. She never had many friends in school, but she knew several kids that lived with parental figures who unhappily argued and fought constantly. Others came from broken, divorced families which largely impacted their well-being. In that moment, watching her brunette mother scamper towards the love of her life, she felt blessed to have them as her parents. After all, they were Max and Chloe, which she heard all the time, and they would always be together.
After being lost in thought for a few seconds, Des realized a shower was in her near future. She meandered to her room, grabbed some fresh clothing from the dresser and closet, then closed herself in the bathroom. She laid her clothes on the counter and retrieved a towel from the bathroom closet. Just before turning the handle to get the water going, she heard bumping and laughter coming from the other bathroom. A grin widened on her face and she turned the water on to drown out the obnoxiously pleasurable sounds coming from the other room.
She locked the valve on top of the faucet so the shower head would turn on, then she ran her hand back and forth underneath until it reached the desired temperature. Des disrobed, tossing her clothing into a pile in front of the toilet, then stepped in, closing the shower curtain behind her. She moved under the shower head and slowly rotated around so the water would touch all parts of her skin and hair. She just stood there with her eyes closed as the warmth sent a slight chill through her body before lathering up and rinsing off.
The teenager rarely spent an excessive amount of time in the shower but she wasn’t really in the mood to rush. It felt like she had lived a thousand lives since she showered last, and, in some ways, that wasn’t totally untrue. After shutting the water off and grabbing a towel, the red-streaked blonde opened the curtain and dried off. She dressed herself, left the bathroom, and made her way down the hall and into her room. Des turned on the fan and closed the door, leaving the light switch in the off position. Even though there was still some late afternoon sunlight beaming through her curtain, it was dim enough to get some rest.
She plopped down on her bed and tucked herself under the covers. It felt nice to finally be in her own soft bed. A slight indention had formed on the near side of the mattress where she usually ended up during the night. It was like a tiny nook that was designed just for her, and it felt warm and safe curled up in her spot.
As she cuddled with her blankets, she felt her mind slipping between thoughts of the multiverse and hopeful considerations of finding true love. As her thoughts started shifting towards the abstract, she realized she was about to fall asleep. Des was glad to be able to release control of her mind and drift towards a pleasant slumber after all she’d been through the last few days.
“Des!” Max called from the other side of the door, abruptly waking the sleeping girl who sat up startled. “It’s time to get ready if you’re coming with us.” The teenager looked over at the clock on her nightstand and realized she’d been asleep for a couple of hours. She always enjoyed dreaming but was glad for a dreamless nap this time around. Her mind was foggy and she was still tired, but Des was sort of glad to do something normal with her parents. She was intrigued by the inclusion of her moms’ friend Charlie, and apparently, they had met before.
The idea that she could potentially connect with someone else her age, sent a nervous prickle of energy through her body, beginning in her chest and radiating outward. The last person she had hoped to grow close with, she wasn’t even sure if the girl remembered her. They were mainly only around each other during class or lunch period, yet one time they shared a special moment at the movie theater together that she would never forget. Even if she attempted to get close, Pearl was leaving for college out of state in a few weeks.
“I’m up,” Des groggily responded as she kicked back the covers and slung her legs to the floor. The door inched open and her brunette mother slowly stuck her head in, an empathetic look on her freckled face. “Hey, Mom. Come on in.”
“We wanted to give you some time so you could decompress before we asked any questions,” Max softly spoke as she made her way to the side of the bed and sat down beside her daughter. “Are you okay? You did, ya know… save us and all. Physically, emotionally… how are you doing?” Des felt her mother’s palm slide to her upper back and begin massaging in a counterclockwise movement. The touch was tender and effective, as Des momentarily closed her eyes and enjoyed the heartfelt embrace.
“Yeah, I-I’m good… I guess. To be honest, I feel great. I figured there would be some sort of… I dunno… lag or something. My memories are still a bit jumbled, but I’m just tired from not really sleeping, I think.”
“Are you sure? I just… well, I can see how heavy your heart is right now. You experienced something nobody else could ever even imagine.” Max extended her arm and gripped Des’s shoulder, pulling her in for a hug.
After several seconds of silence, Des decided to fully open up. “If my purpose was to merge the multiverse… what the hell am I supposed to do now? Nothing will ever compare, ya know? Just… never mind.”
“No, that’s awesome, Des. Thank you for sharing. I know at your age it’s tough to see your parents as people you can trust and open up to. Me and your mom love you so goddamn much. You’re literally the embodiment of our love. There’s nothing that could ever change that. Also,” Max let go of her daughter’s shoulder and pivoted her torso so she was more in line with the girl’s face, “about your purpose. It took me years to realize that nobody has one singular purpose. You have fulfilled your most recent purpose, but take it from me, you’ll have many, many more throughout your lifetime. As for me, I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a photographer, and so much more. Every label represents one of my many purposes. So you see, this isn’t the end for you; it’s only the beginning.”
She didn’t completely understand why, but her mom’s words seemed to drive a heavy burden away, and she suddenly felt much lighter. The smile on Max’s face sent a rippling warmth through Des’s body so she returned the gesture.
“What are you guys talking about?” Chloe strolled into the room and nearly right up to the edge of the bed before either of them noticed her. “Probably about me, yeah?” She had a toothy grin that stretched across her face in an overly exaggerated manner.
“It’s not always about you, Chlo,” Max responded as she stood from her sitting spot and planted a thick, quaking kiss on her partner’s lips.
“Love you,” the taller girl whispered, looking deeply into her bride’s eyes followed by a returned kiss that seemed much like the aftershock following an earthquake. Des had witnessed the playful love her parents shared all of her life. They teased one another, joked about themselves, and always tried to one-up the other one. Like a butterfly dancing with a flame, her mothers’ love had a childish quality about it. When they spoke, her moms bounced their phrases off one another like they were playing some secret game that nobody in the universe would ever truly understand but them.
“What time are we leaving?” Des asked, standing from the bed and walking towards her dresser.
“Oh,” her blonde mom began, “so you are coming? That’s great. We already included your name on the gift card for Kate and Vic. I’ll send you an invoice for your portion later,” she jokingly cackled then exited the room.
“About thirty minutes.” Max walked to the door to follow her wife out, then turned back towards her daughter. “Hey, sweetheart. We’re so glad you’re back.”
“Same. Hey, Mom?” She swept her bangs out of her face and tucked a strand behind her ear.
“I think I’m gonna focus on music for a bit. I have a ton of song ideas, and I’m definitely not ready to commit to college quite yet. You cool with that?”
“Of course, sweetheart. You have to find your own path and college isn’t for everyone. Hell, neither of us went. I mean, we both have memories from other versions of ourselves where did, but I chose photography and Chloe chose to run the business. Together we created M3, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
“Thanks, Mom. Guess I’ll get ready now.” Max smiled at the teen again then left the room, shutting the door behind her. Des made her way to the bathroom and turned the sink water on, splashing several cupped handfuls on her face and neck. Grabbing the hand towel from the brushed-nickel holder ring on the wall, she patted the area until each drop of moisture was dried.
The red-streaked blonde looked up at herself and made eye contact with the reflection that was gawking back at her. The patches of swirled confusion in her mind had mostly disappeared, and she was feeling more like herself than perhaps ever before. There was a part of her that was excited for whatever the next chapter held, and she would embrace the uncertainty with an open mind and heart. Another part just wanted to experience a fraction of the love her moms shared.
They were Max and Chloe and would always be together no matter what. Nothing would ever change that fact; it had been proven time and time again. Together, they had gone through hell and back and deserved a happy, peaceful life in one another’s arms. Des knew, one day, she would find that special person who would melt her heart and love her for the rest of her life, and she couldn’t wait to feel that type of connection. Until then, she had her guitar and would focus her time on music.
The time traveler could still feel the power inside her like a dark passenger lingering in the background of her mind… watching… and waiting. She wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing at this point, all she knew was if she still had it, there must be a good reason. She would be careful if she traveled, as her parents taught her, but if she needed to use it again, she wouldn’t hesitate. Des realized the future would be upon her before she knew it, and the rest of her life was right in front of her.
The red-streaked teenager brushed her teeth and hair then exited the bathroom. She changed into her nicest light-blue pair of jeans, a Fireweed graphic t-shirt, her favorite mahogany pleather jacket, and slid on her boots. She stepped out of the room and joined her moms in the kitchen where they were standing with each other’s hands held out in front of their bodies, fingers interlocked. Chloe released her hold on Max, threw one arm around the teen’s neck and the other around her wife’s. She stood in the middle and firmly squeezed the three together in a sort of three-way hug. The trio, still linked, strolled towards the door that led to the garage. Before they broke their hold, Chloe turned her head towards Max then towards her daughter. Twice she said one of the most meaningful words that would be imprinted in Des’s mind for the rest of her life…