Because of the immediate shock of the information received, “Wowser” was the only word that escaped her lips. She just met a future version of her daughter and was left stunned and without the proper way to express how she was feeling. Standing face to face with the gangly blonde with short-cropped hair and a streak of red that clearly symbolized her rebellious nature, Max recognized the girl’s slumped posture and knew it mirrored her own when she was that age.
“I’m sorry for spying on you,” the teenager softly admitted, breaking the awkward silence. “I just… I dunno… I have a lot of questions.” Max noticed the girl wasn’t making eye contact and assumed she inherited the same anxious and self-doubting energy that plagued her during those younger years.
“Hey, it’s okay, Destiny.” The brunette took a step forward and tenderly placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder with her head tilted upward looking into beautiful sapphire eyes that matched her own. “Take a deep breath and find a calm spot in your mind. That’s what helped me when I was your age.” Most people with kids are afforded the opportunity to slowly watch their children grow up and somehow figure out how to communicate with them along the way. Max had been thrown into a conversation with a girl she loved with every beat of her heart but didn’t really know. Communication would have to be learned quickly and on the fly.
Without hesitation, the teenager stepped forward and wrapped her long arms around her mother’s neck. Max felt her body slightly shaking and could feel the pulse under her skin thumping rapidly. Something about the embrace and raw emotion compelled the brunette to lower her eyelids and an immediate adoring and heartfelt warmth surged through her body. She released the hug and looked up at her daughter’s face. She was smiling and her confidence was building.
“Will you come with me? I’m sure Chloe is worried sick right about now. Let’s go back to our place and talk.” She stretched out her arm, palm facing the sky, in hopes of building a mutual trust.
“Sure,” the blonde hesitantly responded as she took hold of her mother’s hand. “I prefer ‘Des’.”
“What?” Max asked, a little confused.
“I… I haven’t heard you say my full first name in years,” the younger girl stuttered. “Most people call me ‘Des’ now. Is that okay with you?” Her voice trembled a bit but had a thin, sharp edge to it.
“Yeah, of course. Whatever you want.” It felt weird to shorten her daughter’s name, but the adult was trying to be as careful as she could to not scare Des away. The girl had clearly traveled through time to be there, and frightening her off was the last thing Max wanted.
After sharing marginal smiles, the girls slowly twisted around and began walking back towards the festival where the toddler and her mom were waiting. Following the first few steps, Max’s cellphone vibrated from her back jeans pocket, and she knew it was her wife attempting to reach her. She retrieved the device and confirmed it was her soulmate’s message, replying with a mere thumbs-up emoji. Years ago, her best friend hated that she sent emojis all the time but they slowly grew on her. Chloe even began to use them herself after realizing their usefulness to convey thoughts and emotions quickly without having to type full sentences.
The mother-daughter pair didn’t speak except once when Max asked Des if she wanted a bite to eat. The girl shook her head and they continued walking. As they approached the bench, before making their way past the brick half-wall that separated the road from the sidewalk, she spotted Chloe’s extended arm in the air waving back and forth in their direction obviously relieved to see her. Her hand movement slowed and her eyes narrowed, and Max could almost hear her wife’s gears turning, wondering about their new teenage companion.
“New friend, Maxter?” The taller of the three stood and greeted them with one palm against her hip and the other hand holding the toddler’s. “She’s hella cute; look at those beautiful freckles.” A strange spired tickle of unseen energy swirled amongst the group. All four felt the rush including the toddler, who began to giggle at the sensation. It only lasted several seconds and then died down as quickly as it began.
“Whoa,” the teen said first. “That felt… uhm… really good, I think. What did you do?” She looked across at the blonde adult who briefly pushed her shoulders up beside her ears indicating she was baffled too. She stepped in front of the two-year-old version of herself and ran her fingers through the little girl’s hair. “Hey, sweetheart,” she bubbled with a tender heartfelt grin on her face. “You’re in for a wild ride, but you’ve got this. You get to live a fantastic and amazing life that others don’t. Find the beauty in it.” The little girl obliviously smiled then went back to playing with her fingers.
Like a lightbulb sparking in her mind, Chloe’s face lit up with wonder. “Holy shit. Are you… you know… are you her?” She angled her thumb in the hitchhiker’s motion towards the little girl still sitting on the bench. “Fuck, that’s wild. What are you, seventeen? Eighteen?” Max could see the puzzle pieces falling together in her partner’s head.
“Hi, Mom.” The new arrival giggled. “I’m eighteen.” She paused and looked back over her shoulder at Max. “I’m about how old you were when you fell in love, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Well, sorta,” the brunette nodded. “I was always in love with your mom even when we were kids. But yeah, at around your age, I think I convinced her to love me back.” She shot a tender glance at her partner who playfully scrunched her face and rolled her eyes.
“Oh, right.” the red-streaked blonde agreed after running her fingers through her own hair from front to back. “The ‘pirate years’ are what you call them, and I would tend to agree. I saw how you looked at one another back then. It’s the same way you look at each other now. Your love was always there, even in the beginning. Only a fool wouldn’t recognize that.”
“Wait, you saw us as kids? But how did…?” Chloe began, but was cut off mid-sentence.
“Why don’t we go home for this conversation,” Max interrupted, looking back and forth over her shoulders at the people walking by who she suspected might be within earshot. “This probably should be a more private conversation.”
“Did you just say ‘more of a PIRATE conversation’, Maxi Max?” the older girl joked, luring humorous grins from the others in the group. “Yeah, let’s take this to the house. Maybe we can make some coffee and chat. Also,” she glanced at her favorite person, “I was in love with you the whole time too, dork.”
“I guess you love coffee in every universe.” The teenager bent down and deeply laughed in what seemed to be a personal inside joke. When she gathered herself and looked back up at her staring parents, she coughed and apologized. “Sorry. Guess that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you.”
Chloe stood close to the girl, who had inherited half of her own DNA, and squinted while scanning up and down. She glanced at the girl’s feet and slowly made her way up to the punkish red streak. She reached out and gingerly pushed her fingers through the dyed front portion and smirked. “God, you look so much like us now. I love your freckles and you’re built like me. Shit, I hope you aren’t as dumb as I was at your age. I said and did some pretty stupid things.”
“Babe,” Max urged, “Let’s do this when we get home.” Her paranoia was heightened and she didn’t want to be off her guard. In a potential future, this day was one of the most horrific of her life. She was slightly terrified someone with evil intentions would overhear, and her heart sank like it did when she thought her partner was dead.
“Yeah, okay. I’m sorry, love. Let’s get outta here.” Chloe obviously realized it wasn’t very smart to discuss these things in a public setting, especially today. The girls gathered their belongings and started meandering through the crowd back towards their townhome.
“Shit,” the photographer gulped, “I needed to take some pictures for the blog today, and there’s no way I’ll be focused enough to sift through resumes.” M3 had grown larger than Max had ever dreamt. The Chase Space residency was still in full effect, but she had offers from several other galleries and requests from hundreds of individuals wanting her services. Demand was much higher than she could keep up with, and her partner convinced her that growth was necessary. The brunette wanted to mainly focus on her own artwork but was aware she needed to hire other artists to fill the gaps she couldn’t by herself. It was her intention to hire mostly new amateur photographers to help them learn their craft and expand their knowledge through experience. The tough part would be finding a balance between inexperience and quality, as she didn’t want anyone being part of her team that didn’t massage their craft with the same care she did when she was first starting out.
“We can come back tomorrow, love. The festival will be going on all weekend. And there’s really no rush on the resumes. We’ll go through them together in a week or so.” Max nodded and they continued their stroll.
On the way back to the house, the toddler fell asleep in the taller girl’s arms with her head crooked over on her mom’s shoulder. She typically napped around midday but with the festival taking place, it was a couple of hours past her nap time. Inside, Chloe took off the kid’s shoes and socks and laid her down in the crib. She covered her with a promotional M3 blanket she had created for an additional revenue stream for the website.
The photographer emptied the old brew from the morning, rinsed the glass brown-stained pot, and prepped for a new batch of coffee. She opened the bag and took a deep sniff, enjoying the scents of the fresh grounds. The smell of coffee always sent the girl to a happy place in her mind, calming her soul and relaxing her thoughts. Des was slowly strolling around the living room snooping through some of the boxes that littered the floor. At first, Max thought it strange and wondered if she should call her into the kitchen. Then she realized the teenager was a lot like her. Being overly curious and nosy, checking every little detail in every room, was how she used to be too.
Chloe reentered the kitchen and plopped down beside the red-streaked blonde just as the coffee gurgled to completion. “So,” she began the conversation, “You’re a time traveler? Not to be too upfront, but what the hell are you doing here?”
“Well,” the visitor responded with a shakiness to her voice, “I thought today was an important date in your lives. I figured I could recognize something big that would have already happened, though. There’s this… uhm… well, it’s like a knot in the timeline. It’s like something happened today and then it was changed. But I can’t figure out how to see the original event, whatever it was.” She paused and looked back and forth between her moms several times. After a brief moment of silence, she continued. “I’m sorta obsessed with your lives. I can do things nobody else I know can, and it’s because of your damn amazing love. In every possible reality I’ve seen, you are at the center of like… everything. And my parents, well… you guys, won’t tell me much. They always say the answers will come one day, and I have to grow up without expectations. I guess I get it, they… you, have been through some crazy-ass shit, and don’t want me burdened with that knowledge. It makes sense.”
Chloe interrupted, “Destiny…”
“Chlo, call her ‘Des’. It’s what she apparently goes by now.” Max tiptoed over with two hot cups of fresh coffee, laying the mugs in front of the two sitting girls. She retreated, grasped her own beverage, then joined her family at the table.
“Fine then… Des, I was just gonna say that I don’t really know shit about time travel, but won’t we know in the future that this conversation happened? Like, now that you’re here and telling us in your past, the future will be affected, right?”
“Probably.” The younger girl shrugged then stood and removed her black hoodie swinging it over the chair revealing a blue tank top before sitting back down. Max immediately noticed the girl’s half-sleeve tattoo on the shoulder and top portion of her left arm. Engulfed in blue flame, a fierce golden dragon spiraled upward on the arm, hugging in the foreground.
“Nice tattoo.” It made the brunette happy knowing her daughter had the foresight to have the art located high enough so she could cover it if she decided to enter the professional world at some point.
“Fuck, that’s sick! I’ve been trying to persuade your mom to get some ink for damn near ever. I, myself, want another one on top of the blacked-out area, but I won’t do it until Super Max decides she’s in.” Chloe nudged her wife beneath the table with her foot. “We could call it a date and get needled-up together.” Following her mom’s words, the time traveler smiled and shook her head looking down at the table.
“Something funny?” the brunette asked in a stern voice with one eyebrow cocked and a goofy grin on her face.
“No, no. Sorry. It’s just that… well, you have a badass tat in my present. Guess mom talked you into it.”
“It shouldn’t take much; I’ve really wanted one for a while. It just never felt right spending that much money when we could be buying diapers or food.” Max wanted a blue morpho butterfly on her wrist and maybe a lighthouse, but she wasn’t sure if it would bring back painful memories for her or her soulmate. She hoped those dark times were far enough behind them that it wouldn’t matter anymore. If they hadn’t experienced the two storm weeks the way they had, she suspected fate and destiny would still have pulled them back together somehow.
“That’s it, we’re getting inked. We have more dough than we know what to do with, love. I’ve been telling you we need to start spending more money and traveling. We write most of our expenses off on our taxes anyway. Imagine photographing in Europe, or shit… Asia, Africa, wherever! That would be amazeballs!”
For the first time, Max noticed what was hanging from the necklace her daughter was wearing. It had been mostly covered from the hoodie but was now clearly in view. The black twine held one of the three bullets her best friend used to wear several years back. She reached over and briefly cupped the bullet in her palm then let it slowly fall back to where it had been hanging.
“It’s crazy seeing you guys at this age. You’re so full of energy and everything. Oh, and your wedding… holy shit! That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. You two are so cute.” Max watched the way Des’s face lit up when talking about them. She felt proud knowing they must be good parents and raised their daughter right. “And it was incredible seeing my own birth. Nobody else gets to do the things I do. Why not explore my power? In my time, you guys encouraged me not to jump around. I guess you were worried I might mess things up, but I’m very careful. In the end, you knew I would do what I wanted anyway, so here I am.”
“Whoa,” Max broke in, wondering if she might have jumped the gun on being proud knowing now that Des disobeying them in the future. “If we told you not to, why are you doing this? You must have a better reason than just to explore.”
“Well,” the young adult began, “a year or two ago I accidentally… uhm, what’s the best word? I glitched beyond our universe and into another. Something happened that was way beyond my control. Some crazy shit went down and somehow, I glitched back.”
“Holy shitballs!” Chloe squawked, followed by a ‘shhh’ from her partner and a head bob towards the sleeping toddler’s room. She lowered her voice and continued, “Let’s take a huge step back. I can fast forward and Max can rewind. Your power seems… I dunno… different. You’re traveling around in time and to other universes, not just moving time around you. I mean, we can photo-jump to different spots, but it has its limitations. Your power feels more… well, powerful. What all can you do?” The older girl glanced back down at her teenage daughter’s arm in admiration. “Damn, I love your tat.”
“Thank you,” Des replied behind a bashful yet beaming smile, running her fingers over the ink on her shoulder and arm. “So, I figured out I can travel through time, as you know. I can see the past or the future through windows I create. I’ve seen as far into the future as my twenty-first birthday, and as far back as you two playing as pirates when you were kids. By the way, I love pirates so much!” She took a gulp of her drink and forcefully swallowed. “You told me not to peer too far into the future so I don’t spoil my entire life, and I promised I wouldn’t. Anyway, when I turned fifteen, I discovered I can imagine a moment I’ve seen through one of my windows, and I can physically travel to that time.”
“Damn,” Max spoke up, followed by a slurping sip of her coffee. “You mentioned something about a knot in the timeline today. That’s why you’re here now. Tell us more about that.”
“Well,” the red-streaked blonde began with a breathy sigh, “like I said, I accidentally glitched to another universe after I had just turned seventeen. I literally thought it was a dream for a while, but then I found proof I was there and things sorta…. changed after that. It made me want to find out more about your pasts.”
“What do you mean ‘changed’?” Chloe asked, also sipping her cooled coffee. “Kudos on the brew, love.”
“The truth is, I think the glitch unlocked a portion of my power. Now, I don’t even need windows; I can see time in my thoughts. It’s like a straight path forward and backward with thin splintering lines that like, branch outward from the center. There are several knots in your pasts where I know you two changed something. I can only see a glimpse into one particular knot, but it’s clear these were important moments in your lives. Also, it only works for me if it involves one of the three of us. I can’t see any other timelines but ours, except when I glitched. I’ve experimented some but am way too scared to play around much. But if I can glitch beyond the straight path, I know there’s even more power I haven’t discovered yet.”
“Straight path? Eww.” Chloe turned her glance towards Max who embarrassingly shook her head with one corner of her mouth angled upward in a slight grin. “Get it… ‘straight’? Damn, never mind.”
Quickly changing gears, Max cleared her coffee-lined throat, “You said you have questions for us. What did you wanna ask? Seems like you already know a ton.”
“Yeah, so,” Des started, after standing up and facing away from her parents, “today… what did you change? Why is there a knot in the timeline? After you answer that one, I have other questions too.”
Max slouched in her seat remembering the terrible feelings she experienced when she thought her soulmate had been killed. She knew they had changed things and nothing bad actually happened but it felt very real. The negative memory bounced around her mind as she also recalled Rachel showing her the moment a bullet would have pierced through her daughter’s head. Noticing Max’s sudden sadness, her favorite person stood up and place her hands on the brunette’s shoulders. She began pressing down with her thumbs in a circular motion, massaging the girl’s neck and upper back in encouragement.
“We had this… friend… who showed us a future where you were shot and killed today. Then, Max experienced a false reality where I was killed. It was horrible for her; I watched the whole shitty thing.” Chloe’s tone shifted, as she was seemingly also dealing with the baggage of what would have happened had she not gone through the future window and prevented the terrible event.
“By ‘friend’, do you mean Rachel?” Des asked as Chloe nodded her head. “I admittedly don’t know much about her, but part of me hates her. I mean, she didn’t deserve to die the way she did, but it’s obvious she used you for years. She manipulated everyone around her and betrayed you. So much about how she treated you back then breaks my heart.”
“Yeah, but she…” Chloe began but was interrupted.
“But she chose to sacrifice herself at some point which someway protected you. I’m still not sure what happened or how, but it’s clear both of you forgave her and consider her a good friend. I saw the memorial in your bedroom that day, and I hear how respectful you both talk about her when her name comes up. I saw the night before the wedding with the blue feather earring, and I watched you wear it during the ceremony. Hell, we even share middle names, so she must be special. I realize there are things I don’t understand since I can only see reality as it happens in time, not the things that were changed. It’s just tough to see a person manipulate and destroy someone you care about without having some resentment.”
“Wow, that makes sense,” Max gasped. “But you didn’t get to see her on the cliff sacrificing her life for ours. You didn’t see what she did for us in the dreamspace. Without her, there would be no you, Des. She protected us… and you, without hesitation. She was brave and bold, and we owe her more than we can ever repay.” The younger mom’s voice was stern but her face was soft. She wanted to express how much Rachel meant to them without seeming like she was upset at her daughter.
“She hurt me, Des, there’s no way around it. But she saved me in more ways than I can describe. She’s redeemed herself over and over again.” At one time, Max knew this conversation would be too painful for Chloe, but they had come a long way and healed one another through love and an understanding that everyone has a purpose. “I can completely fill you in on the details at some point if you’d like. Why haven’t you had these conversations with with us… in your time?”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” the teenager sighed and sat back down at the table folding her hands on top. “I’m not as open with them as I’ve been with you. Not that I really hide anything, but for some reason, I feel more comfortable talking to you. Maybe it’s because you’re closer to my age now, I dunno. Plus, they seem to want me to figure things out on my own, I guess. Or maybe they knew I would be here now… shit. Time travel is confusing.” Des smirked then continued. “Anyway, the other questions I have are all about instances I can’t see on the timeline. Like, I saw you,” she looked in the brunette’s direction, “crawl through a tear in space. It wasn’t one of the windows with the golden rims. It was just a floating hole. You combined your powers and shot a lightning bolt or something and tore right through. It’s the only knot I can actually view. It’s not on the timeline for whatever reason, but it’s like a hanging strand I can see, and I’ve looked at it several times. So… where did you go and what was that all about?”
“The Watcher’s realm,” Max shuddered.
“He said he didn’t have a name but his purpose was to watch. He could see the past and the future and then held me in a terrible trance. It was awful, but because of mine and Chloe’s love I broke free and beat that piece of shit. The timelines reset, canceling out an entire week, and we were back at the lighthouse in front of the storm. I’m not sure what became of The Watcher, but as soon as I extinguished his flame, it sounded like he… ya know… died. I’m not sure he was really even alive though, to be honest.”
Destiny’s cries could be heard from down the hall, muffled at first then growing louder, and Chloe left the kitchen to greet the recently wakened toddler. “Be right back,” she said with a grin. “It’s your turn next, hippie.”
Suddenly, only seconds after the older girl left the room, Des abruptly pushed the table and grabbed her head with both hands. “It’s happening!” she called out.
“Des, what’s happening?” Max returned, jumping to her feet and catching the girl as her body limped backwards towards the floor.
“I’m glitching again… shit!”
“No, I got you. Everything will be fine. Just calm down.”
“I can’t control it!” The teenager pulled Max’s face towards hers. “Mom, I think I’ve stayed in the past too long. It’s like last time, only different.” A single tear slid down her cheek and her mother wiped it with her palm. “Please don’t let me go, stay with me.” The brunette considered rewinding to warn the girl before the glitch began, but she hadn’t used her power in years.
“I’m here, sweetheart.” Max noticed the room blinking in and out of reality and quickly understood what that meant. “Chloe!” she yelped, but it was too late. She wouldn’t be able to release the touch if she tried, and if she could, there was no way she’d leave her daughter at that point. She was underneath the teenager’s body propping Des on her knees. Panic began to engulf her thoughts as a bright white light flashed like a laser from the girl she was cradling. The kitchen table and chairs ceased to exist and were replaced with translucent prisms and matrices. “I love you, babe!” She realized she was about to leave the present and there was no telling where she would end up.
The sound of Chloe’s footsteps pattered in the distance followed by a sinking murmur like she was under water. “Max!” the garbled voice screamed. Another flash of white and an overwhelming vortex of wind pushed her sideways. Without warning, all sight vanished and was replaced with a dark black shadow, casting its presence through reality. A sharp, screeching gong-like tone echoed in the unseen distance, and Max’s consciousness was replaced by the vast void.