The city recreation center housed some of the best practice and training facilities in the country. The organization running the track and field summer camp reserved it each year for the more than 200 participating teenagers. It was always an exciting experience, as Pearl had the opportunity to train and workout with competitors from all around the Pacific Northwest after the school year ended. She didn’t get the chance to be around such focused athletes as herself on a regular basis, so her time at camp was meaningful.
The participants were all invited to an end-of-the-term pool party. It was their reward for having made it through the rigorous eight-week training program. Most of her friends and teammates were fifteen-years-old; one or two had already turned sixteen. Since several of the athletes could drive, less than the usual number of adults were present to help chaperone.
Typically, the park would schedule at least a half-dozen lifeguards for a party as robust taking place at their main Olympic-sized swimming facility. But this was an after-hours event where only three employees were free to work that evening– which was the minimum required by state law. The lifeguards that were scheduled to be on duty were the youngest and newest on the staff.
The organization provided all camp participants with two tickets that served as concession vouchers, which could be used on any available refreshments; one ticket per item. All non-bottled beverages and refills were free of charge. A small handful of volunteers worked the counter, assisting the athletes to hydrate and fill their bellies.
About two-thirds of the way through their allotted time at the pool, one of the more popular, mischievous boys discovered a megaphone in the main supply closet. After standing on a chair, he used its voice enhancement feature to gather everyone’s attention. In what seemed like an innocent, fun activity, the boy told everyone to get out of the pool. He asked them to line up on the edge and wait for his instructions.
“Here we go. On the count of three, everyone cannonball in at the same time. Some of you get on the diving boards and get ready.” He pointed in Pearl’s direction. “When I get to three, let’s make this place rock! If the water ain’t movin’ like a big ass wave pool, we didn’t do it right. After you jump in, keep the party going. Get back out as fast as you can and do it again.”
The boy set the megaphone on a nearby table and seemed to bask in the spotlight; claps and whistles rang out from his peers as everyone was preparing for the moment. He stepped down from the chair and joined the others by the pool.
Pearl just happened to be near one of the two diving boards when the countdown began. Not wanting to disappoint the group, she scrambled up the ladder and made it to the edge just as the boy shouted out, “Three!”
With a smile on her face, she jumped onto the board, bending it with her weight. As her body was catapulted into the air, she tucked her legs up near her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees. As gravity pulled her downward, she hit the water hard, sending what must’ve been a large splash up from the surface where her body made contact. She could hear others splashing in all around her.
She sank low in the deepest end of the pool, proud of her contribution to the group exercise. After touching the bottom, ten feet under and casually pushing up, she readied herself for a deep breath of air. She didn’t realize another athlete had climbed the ladder behind her and was midair, also in cannonball form. He was the largest teenager in the group– a shot put specialist. His best throw was 74 feet; just about three shy of the world record, and he stood about 6 feet, 6 inches tall, with a weight of probably 235 pounds.
Pearl’s forehead was cresting the surface at the same time as the newest jumper’s balled-up body was entering the pool. To her surprise, he struck the brunette with unbelievable force; two knees to the top and side of her head. A scattering, bright shine of radiant colors was thrust throughout her vision. She immediately tasted the iron-like, metallic flavor of her own blood deep inside her nasal passages.
The colors spiraled together and her mind briefly disconnected from her body in a panicked shock. She took two lungs full of blue, chemical-filled water and sank down to the bottom. Despite being unable to physically move her body, she could feel the water not only inside her lungs but also mixing with the blood inside her veins. Her chest tightened and a thorny ripple of fear enveloped her mind.
As she laid at the bottom of the pool drowning, the teens, lifeguards, and few remaining parents above had no idea she was down below. The boy who landed on Pearl, obliviously made his way back to the side without concern. The waves were choppy and intense, creating a frothy, whitewater appearance that hindered everyone’s view to the bottom.
Incoherent thoughts passed through her mind, ranging from abstract and strange to her buried childhood memories she had forgotten years prior.
Pearl recalled diving onto and hugging her grandmother that day in the hospital, not wanting to give up on the woman after everyone else had. Her grandmother survived and was currently still around, enjoying her retired life.
She remembered the bird that her father pronounced dead, as it flew out of her hands, full of life and energy.
Suddenly, the brunette felt the water retreating from her blood stream, slowly twisting and turning with the branching veins in her body. She could feel the pool water leaving her lungs, inching out of her nostrils and mouth the same way it had entered. A full awareness invigorated her mind, and she turned her body perpendicular to the concrete bottom, centering her feet. With a forceful push, she shot upward and to the surface of the pool.
In a desperate state of panic, Pearl swam across, swiftly pushing up onto the side. The aromatic, sweet trailing scent of oxygen and the warmth of the air brought tears to the girl’s eyes. She wasn’t sure what had happened while she was down there, but she knew, somehow, that her destiny was to live, and she was grateful.
Max and Chloe made their way home, hastily sliding into the driveway about an hour earlier. After finding no signs of their previous captors, Chloe playfully pushed Max against the wall, her back making a thud as she hit. The blonde began ripping her wife’s clothes off in a feral frenzy. She was like a wolf who was following the scent of its prey, moving in for the attack.
Max was startled at first but quickly realized what was happening, even helping Chloe undress herself. She was excited that the semi-wet clothing she wore was being carnally torn and ripped at until finally, only her nude body remained. Knowing her lover wanted her so badly, filled the brunette’s heart with passion. A confident familiarity washed over her, and she loved being able to bare herself to the love of her life. With Chloe, the pleasure was always top notch, and each time they connected, it felt profound and meaningful.
They passionately kissed as roles were suddenly reversed. Max spun her favorite person around by twisting her hips, pulling at her clothes until nothing but air remained between the couple. Several articles of clothing piled on the floor near their feet.
Heavy petting and deep, elongated kisses ensued, eventually taking the lovers to the bathroom. Chloe momentarily released their embrace to turn the shower on, adjusting the hot and cold to a desired temperature.
After both stepped in, they enjoyed the water warming their skin and the feeling of one another’s bodies up against the other. Every curve, peak, and valley were aching to be explored with a selfish generosity the pair would only ever want to share with one another. It was their own secret space that was dedicated to and meant for the married couple to experience together.
Chloe moved downward, trailing her lips and tongue along Max’s body in the process, where she ended up propped on her knees. She lifted one of Max’s legs and placed her foot flat on the side of the bathtub, allowing her to move in at the perfect angle. She kissed the inner portion of her wife’s raised leg while massaging up and down on her thigh, specifically avoiding the middle.
“You’re teasing me,” Max grunted, as her hips swayed in a circular movement.
“Yep, yep,” her favorite person responded, seemingly proud of her taunts. She pushed in closer towards the center with her mouth, then she slowly slipped back away.
“Babe,” Max pleaded with her lover. “Stop teasing.”
“Say you want it, Maxi. I need to hear you tell me.” Chloe’s hands drifted up the standing girl’s torso and gently squeezed, occasionally using her pointers and thumbs to caress the sensitive areas.
“I want it, Chlo. I want you so fucking badly.” Her voice trembled with a desire that desperately needed to explode.
The pair twisted themselves into a seemingly singular creature for the next half hour, giving and receiving equally. Their bodies erupted with pleasure as they slipped in and out of tangible reality. As per usual, the married couple moved their concerns away, existing only in the moment together.
Over the years, they had gotten very good at compartmentalizing other areas of their lives when they were together. Nothing else seemed to matter when they were connecting at such a primal, yet transcendent level. They were perfect matches in every way, requited and complete.
After enjoying each other and actually taking time to wash the last day and a half away, Max and Chloe helped each other to towel off. Once changed and in their pajamas, Chloe sat on the couch while Max popped popcorn in the kitchen. Not even a second after the microwave buzzed, indicating a fresh bag had been filled, there was a knock at the door.
“Who could that be?” Max heard Chloe ask to herself as she opened the bag and dumped its contents into the wooden bowl she typically used for salads. Despite being an adult, Max still loved most things retro or antique as she had during her youth.
A small scuffle ensued following a loud boom that shook the house from the ceiling all the way down to its foundation. Max left the bowl on the kitchen’s island and ran around the corner. Her wife had someone pinned against the wall with both hands around the individual’s throat and a knee pushing in on their abdomen. Max couldn’t see who it was from her vantage point with Chloe blocking a direct view.
“Give me one goddamn reason why I shouldn’t fuck you up!” Chloe was irate. Max had, of course, seen her partner pissed off, but this was on a much different level. She was genuinely concerned her wife was about to do something she would forever regret.
“Pl-Please,” a younger voice gargled, struggling to get any words out with her neck being crushed by enraged hands. “I’m sorry about before. I’ve ch-changed.” Max knew who the words belonged to. She associated them with evilness, shivering at the memory of being held prisoner in her own house.
“LIAR! No way in hell you changed. A day ago, you tied us up and pistol whipped my fucking wife. I should kill you, bitch!”
“Chloe!” Max interrupted, fearing if she didn’t intervene, her protector might just make good on that last threat. As much as she loved knowing the lengths her soulmate would go to for her safety, she couldn’t let Chloe actually kill someone, even if part of her wouldn’t blame her if she did.
The blonde’s eyebrows shot up, features softening. Chloe shook her head, and looked as if she was abruptly aware of her surroundings, being snapped from a tunnel of laser-focused rage.
Chloe released the girl’s neck and spun her around, crossing the zealot’s arms behind her back, holding them at the wrists. She, once again, shoved her into the wall, face-first. After patting Esther down to check for weapons, she pushed her to a seating position on the loveseat and grabbed a vase from the side table, extending it out near the girl’s face, readying for an attack.
The girl coughed and gagged rubbing the spots on her throat where fingers and palms had pushed inward a few seconds prior.
“Don’t fucking move. What the hell are you doing here?” The strawberry-blonde’s voice cut through the air with a sharp edge, anger still obvious.
Max stepped beside her wife and held her hand out towards the girl on the couch. She remembered being able to seemingly heal the wound on her head that Esther had inflicted, and she realized her power had a very dangerous side she wasn’t completely ready to explore.
Esther ran both hands through her long, black hair several times attempting to gather herself before answering. She sighed then leaned over and looked down at her feet.
“I-I’m sorry about before.”
“You’re fucking sorry?” Chloe broke in. “For what: tying us up, hitting Max with a goddamn gun, threatening our daughter? Which part? You’re lucky she stopped me from beating your ass.”
“All of it.” The girl didn’t look from her shoes.
“Wait,” Max spoke up, as she lowered her hand, “what do you want from us? Why would you come back here after the shit you did?” Before Chloe could respond, Max shot her a glance indicating that it was her turn to confront the girl.
Esther looked up. “None of that matters now. Death is here. Destiny and both of you are in danger. We all are. And SHE will come here at some point.” The zealot’s energy changed from dejected and ashamed to eager and earnest.
“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” Chloe encouraged, glancing at her wife for approval, who nodded in response. “What are you talking about?”
Max reached down and placed a hand on the young woman’s shoulder; the two met eyes. “I forgive you, Esther. Now talk to us. You mentioned Des being in danger. You can hit me with a gun if you’d like…” Max touched two fingers to the place on her forehead that was formerly gashed open, now healed. “But we take threats to our daughter very seriously.”
“God, you’re sexy right now,” Chloe impishly spoke. Max glanced over and noticed the blonde biting her lower lip.
“Not now, babe.”
Chloe huffed then lowered the vase. “Fine.”
“Tell us everything. Start from the beginning.” Max moved her outstretched arm back and took a seat beside Esther.
“After everything she did, you think we can trust her? Fuck that, Max.”
“I do, babe. Call it intuition.”
“Well, I don’t.” Chloe folded her arms in front of her chest reminding Max of a younger punk-like version of her favorite person. “I don’t even like you sitting beside her. What if she tries to hurt you again?”
“She won’t. Plus, I think my rewind has recently been… upgraded. I’ve never felt so powerful, to be honest.” Max noticed Esther glancing at her forehead with a bewildered look on her face.
“Okay, okay, Super Max. At least let me get the popcorn for this shit show. She better have some answers.” Chloe rolled her eyes then made eye-contact with the zealot. “If you even fucking breathe wrong, I’ll end you. Got it?”
Chloe disappeared around the corner and quickly returned with the wooden bowl in her hand. Setting it down on the coffee table, she grabbed a handful and shoved several pieces in her mouth. “Don’t mind me, go right ahead.” Her voice could be understood with a mouthful, but just barely.
Esther quickly nodded then began speaking. She first detailed her life starting with what she had been trained to do. Her story illustrated how the prophecy about Des was misinterpreted by her father, and that Marzanna was on a mission to fix something dealing with souls passing on to the afterlife. She told Max and Chloe she ordered the machine to be destroyed and was horribly wrong about what she did to them, realizing her purpose had been flipped on its head. Lastly, she told her account of what happened when she came face-to-face with the woman– that her machine tracked Des to an apartment on campus but she was gone before she got there.
When the girl had finally finished, Max was experiencing a litany of emotions: anger, fear, uncertainty, and a degree of helplessness. She was speechless.
Chloe, who was sitting on the coffee table with her legs crossed beneath her, hopped up and wiped the butter from her fingers onto a towel one of them left in the living room after their shower. “Fuck! So you’re telling us you had a run-in with Death herself, who killed one of your men then went after Des? Damn.”
“Yes. That’s what happened. Except the man she killed was a good friend of mine. And truthfully, she did warn him not to touch her, poor guy. I don’t think she intended to kill him. I’m not sure she takes lives without a reason.”
“Don’t touch Death or you will definitely die. Think I got it.” Remembering how upset Chloe was at Esther earlier, Max found a small comfort in her wife’s sarcastic remark.
“What should we do now?” Max faintly asked. “We don’t even know where Des went, and if Death is tracking her, we have to get to her before she does. I don’t even want to think about all this.”
“Oh,” Esther began, “I believe I might know where she went. Marzanna said she was tracking Destiny’s timedust to a place she called ‘the seer’s realm’… something like that.”
“The Watcher’s realm?!” Max blurted, contrasting her previously soft-spoken words. “Des went to see Rachel? Wowser.”
“Shiiiiit!” The tallest of the three cut her eyes upward and lowered her brow. Max had seen that look on Chloe’s face many times, and it meant she was in the process of calculating and sorting things out in her brilliant mind. “If Death makes it to Rachel’s realm, Des is fucked. I don’t know what timedust is but I bet that shit leaves a trail to track. This Marzanna must be able to tap into it.”
“Actually,” Esther started mumbling then spoke more confidently, “I th-think the machine worked in a similar way by detecting travel events. Maybe it simply tracked timedust. I discovered that iridium allowed it to block an individual from tapping into their powers by enhancing the signal while they were in close proximity.”
“That’s what you did to us,” Max recalled.
“Yes. I’m so sorry about that. But somehow you got around it.”
“Apparently, my badass wife can create wormholes.” Chloe seemed proud.
Suddenly, the front door swung open and a woman, with dark hair that hung down to the middle of her back, fluffed outward at the ends, stood in the entrance. A golden clasp below her chin held a scarlet cape in place.
“Why, if it isn’t Esther. Did you miss me?”
The girl remained quiet as Chloe stepped in front of Max, chest puffed outward. “If you hurt Des, I swear on my father’s grave…”
Marzanna chuckled. “Oh, there’s no need for you to get upset… yet. Destiny and her little girlfriend are fine for now. The Watcher, on the other hand, is dead. Like, dead dead. I thought her death was the solution to my problem, but, as it turns out, I think it all comes back to Max Caulfield. She’ll have to die too.”
“Oh, fuck that!” Chloe screamed, taking another step forward and positioning herself to fight.
“No, Chloe,” Max demanded, pulling the blonde’s shoulder towards herself, halting her approach. “You can’t touch her.” In the moment, the brunette’s mind was reeling. Her heart broke for Rachel, if Marzanna was telling the truth, yet, she felt a sense of relief knowing Des was still safe.
Death chuckled again. “Look, this can be quick. Come out from behind your bodyguard and we can touch. Then we shall end this little charade. There’s no need for harm to come to anyone else. You broke time, thus damning every single soul since that moment from passing over. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m the good guy here. We have to make things right, you understand.” She nodded. “I know you want to do the right thing, and it’s not very justified that you get to live while literally everyone else suffers. They’re all waiting on you. Look, it’ll be quick and you won’t feel any pain.”
Max felt a compelling aura as she looked into the woman’s eyes. She blinked away the oncoming trance and turned to her wife, grabbing her hands and bringing them in to her own chest.
“Chloe, what choice do we have?”
“We can fight this, Max! We have to! After everything we’ve been through, we can find a way back from this. We’re Max and Chloe, remember. How many threats have we overcome? She is nothing more than a hurdle for us to get past; a damn bump in the road. I mean, do you think she’s effected by time? Maybe you could just pull together some time shenanigans to get rid of her, ya know? Please! Just try something. Anything!”
“But what if she’s right, babe? What if my life is the key to saving everyone?”
“No fucking way, Max. I won’t trade you. Give me a goddamn break. This ain’t happening. Period.”
“Chloe, maybe we’ve just been delaying this whole thing. If she’s right,” Max pointed towards Marzanna, “then we’re still dealing with shit from me merging timelines so long ago.”
“I don’t care, Max. This bitch walks in here and demands your life.” The blonde looked back at the woman. “You’re gonna have to kill me too, motherfucker!”
“We’ve had a great life together, Chloe; so many amazing moments.” Max’s eyes were fixed on her favorite person. “We’ve experienced true love with one another, got married, had an amazing daughter, a great career… maybe it’s time to consider everyone else now.”
Chloe shook her head as tears filled her eyes. “Your heart is so big, Max, you care about everyone; I love that about you. But I’ve already given my answer. No. No. Hell fucking NO! It’s not going to change. I refuse to live in a world without you. It’s us. Just us. Nothing else matters.”
Max knew she was in a tough spot. She was scared to die, but even more so, she was afraid of Chloe dying. If she didn’t do what Death wanted, the woman might take Chloe’s life too. It had been years since she saved her best friend over and over again, but somehow it seemed like just yesterday in many ways. She couldn’t bear the thought of Chloe in pain or having to witness her death even one more time.
Max understood what it meant to truly love Chloe. Humans are cursed with mortality and the grim fate of facing not only their own deaths but the deaths of those they care the most about. Hopefully, they don’t have to experience those things until they’re really old and lived a long, joyful life. In her heart, Max knew every bit of loving Chloe was worth every bit of pain it would cause to lose her one day.
She pulled Chloe in and swiftly pressed their lips together. After several seconds she pushed away. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, babe. Receiving your love has been the honor of my life.”
“Max, stop. Just stop! There’s no way…”
All of a sudden, Marzanna was standing over them, merely an arm’s reach away causing the pair to jump. “I’m not sure why you are debating this; you don’t really think you have a choice, do you?” She reached out and placed her boney hand on Max’s head, palm flat.
As quickly as she realized she was being touched by Death, Max felt an extreme weightlessness envelope her body. Marzanna vanished with a chuckle as tears cascaded down Max’s face, terror ripping at her heart. The warmth of their salty trails was magnified for a brief moment before numbness passed through her.
“MAAAAAX!!” She heard Chloe call out as if she was screaming from under water.
The will to remain on her feet dissipated and she felt herself drifting towards the floor. The fall didn’t hurt like she was expecting, as Chloe caught her about halfway down. A strange dissociation between her mind and body confused the brunette. An icy yet euphoric tremor cascaded through her limbs and her sight started to blur, colors spiraling and swirling together creating majestic hues of gray.
“MAAAAAAAAAAAX! AHHHHH!!! NOOOOOO!”
Chloe’s voice was garbled somewhere in the distance. Max’s sense of self had dissolved among the gray canvas she was now staring into.
She desperately searched her mind and could still feel her soulmate’s connection, as she always could, yet it seemed to be fleeting from her as if the tethered stands were splintering apart like dry-rotted twine.
Playing pirates in the backyard, giggling. Captain Bluebeard and Long Max Silver. Endless summer days; two best friends against the world.
Max! Come back to me!!
A blue haired punk, beautiful and tall. Kissing in her room. An American flag wafting in the wind from the window’s gentle breeze. Photobomb. Photo hog.
Kissing the girl of her dreams at their wedding in front of their family and friends. Love radiating between them.
Meeting little Destiny for the first time. Looking into her baby’s adorable blue eyes, wondering what type of woman she would grow into.
“She has your freckles, love…”