“You realize we never got Mexican food, Maxi. Guess I’ll juuuuust have to cook dinner for you instead.” Chloe wiggled free from her wife’s arms, making special care not to pull the blanket off this time. She adjusted her boxers and t-shirt, took a couple of steps away from the living room, then turned back towards the loveseat. “Grilled chicken and veggies sound good, love? On the stove?”
“I wouldn’t change a single thing about you, Chlo. But…” Max paused, raising her eyebrows with a freckled smirk, “it would’ve been nice if you inherited your mom’s cooking skills. Just saying.” Her smile turned into a feigned grimace, tensing for a potential retaliative comment or action.
“Hardy har har.” Chloe rolled her eyes. “There was prolly a version of me somewhere that was a famous chef. Unlucky for your ass, I don’t remember anything like that.” Chloe slowly shook her head with pursed lips. “Anyway, just for that, I’m gonna burn your food and make you eat it.” She stuck her tongue out from behind her teeth and twisted her body around, disappearing to the other side of the partition and into the kitchen.
The younger of the two giggled and repositioned herself under the covers.
“Never piss off the chef BEFORE you get your food, Meanie Max. You never know what they might do to it.” Her voice was partially muffled, but it was clear enough to be understood from where Max sat.
The fridge was opened then shut several times. Sounds of silverware clanging, drawers rolling out then back in, and cabinet doors being opened and closed came from where Chloe was preparing dinner. Max picked up her phone to see if Kate had replied to her text about Des going to campus. A small bunny emoji with two thumbs up was the only response she received from her friend. She suddenly felt guilty she hadn’t made plans with Kate and Victoria in almost a year.
“Babe,” Max called out, slightly raising her voice so her wife could hear her over the sounds of a heating skillet and vegetables being chopped. “Now that we have a couple weeks away from gallery appearances and shoots, let’s make time to hang out with Kate and Vic; it’s been a long time since we’ve seen them. Charlie’s team can handle everything for a bit.”
“FUUUUUCK!” Chloe bellowed from the kitchen, starling Max with a jump. “Goddammit! This is bad, Max!”
Rushing up from her resting position, Max nearly fell to the ground trying to untangle her legs from the blanket’s restraint. As she hurriedly rounded the corner, she noticed Chloe with a once white, now pink, dish towel wrapped around her hand, gripping the top area with her other hand. She was doubled over in pain, grunting and trying to catch her breath.
“Chloe! What’s happe…” Before Max could finish her question, her eyes scanned downward to the kitchen island. An object she’d never seen in that form before rested calmly in a small pool of scarlet liquid. She recognized blue fingernail polish adorning the end of a dismembered piece of finger and her mouth gaped open in shock. Noticing a slight twitch of the partial digit, Max pushed away the shock and began to focus.
“FUCK! MAX!” The taller of the two urgently pleaded through barred teeth. “Unless you wanna take a trip to the emergency room and have me missing the tip of my fucking finger for the rest of our lives, you’ll rewind!”
A tiny voice in the back of Max’s head whispered, “Don’t use your power.” But Max shook it away, knowing she would do anything for Chloe regardless of the cost. She immediately stretched out her arm and reversed time. It was easy to find the sweet spot in her mind among the endless fields of grey, despite having not rewound in years. She pressed down and a pulse radiated outward. She stopped the backwards rush and plugged the pulse as Chloe was opening the drawer and grabbing for the knife.
As time returned to its normal forward flow, Max placed one hand on the silverware drawer and the other on her wife’s wrist. “No, babe. Let me help you.”
Chloe hesitated, halting her movement and cutting her eyes left then right in suspicion. She settled her gaze on the brunette beside her and squinted. “You fucking rewound. Shit. What did I do this time?”
“Well,” Max began, voice slightly trembling, “y-you cut yourself. It was bad.” She released pressure on the drawer that had kept it shut so her wife wouldn’t obtain the instrument that led to a bloody nub.
Chloe turned to face her favorite person. “Damn. So, how bad was it?”
“You completely severed your first knuckle.” Max gripped her partner’s hands and held up her right one at eye level. Using her pointer and thumb, the younger of the two rubbed the tip of the finger that had been cut. Bringing it to her mouth, Max kissed it then released her hold. She pulled Chloe in for a hug and they stayed in each other’s embrace for several minutes.
“What would I do without you, Maxter?” Chloe moved her body back then craned forward, dragging her lips slowly across her wife’s. Two hands reached up and softly framed the blonde’s face, pulling their kiss deeper. As time had resumed its natural course, Max and Chloe enjoyed a nostalgic reminder of their heartfelt love. The rewind was once again proof of their connection at the deepest levels, and the two felt their souls playfully twist together like two kids in the backyard pretending to be pirates.
“Come, Esther,” Father Isaac interrupted the girl with a softened voice as she was praying in a small room inside the main building of the church. “I wouldn’t disturb you if it wasn’t important, but it just happened.” The girl opened her eyes and shifted her concentration towards the elder.
She took a deep breath and grinned, running fingers from both hands through her dark black hair. “It’s starting then.”
“Yes, Sister.” Even through his whisper, the man’s voice shook as he spoke.
She stood from her kneel and started for the staircase down the hall and through the antechamber arches. Her closest confidant followed, trying his best to keep up with the girl’s quickened pace. They descended down the stone steps and entered the room where the machine was connected. A slight vibration hummed, rattling the table beneath. The detection light blinked and the monitor indicated it was in the final stages of locating the precise location of a time alteration event.
Esther leaned in and analyzed the readings on the monitor. “Triangulation locked.” She turned to meet the out-of-breath man who was just arriving to the machine room, gasping and slightly limping. “Does this mean we know where she is?”
“Ye-yes,” the man struggled. “If we…” He inhaled deeply then released an airy breath in a steady, controlled pattern. Finally, calmer, the elder continued. “If we go to this spot, she’ll be there and we can end this. The address belongs to last name: Caulfield-Price. We got her, Sister.”
“That abomination cannot be allowed to bring death to the world. The prophecy must not be fulfilled. I won’t let it.”
“Take two of our military men and a handheld device from the machine,” the old man recommended. “Go and save the world.”
Esther puffed her chest and clasped her arms behind her body. “That’s the plan.”
After one last check of her bike’s engine, Des was confident the grinding she heard earlier wasn’t something she needed to worry too much about. She planned to take it to be looked at in a day or so, but it should be fine until then.
As she departed from campus, Des looked over to the fence where she and Pearl briefly spent time together. She felt a pit of regret in her stomach, as she desperately wished she had been cooler or funnier in that moment. It still blew her mind that the girl even remembered who she was from high school, let alone seemed to want to hang out with her. She imagined what the athlete’s apartment looked like and how it would feel to be painted.
Thoughts of her new friend bubbled through the biker’s mind, and she decided she was in no hurry to return to her house. Plus, she knew her moms hadn’t been home together in a while, so she intended to give them plenty of alone time. Earlier, she walked in on them as things were clearly getting heated, and that was something she worked hard most of her life to avoid.
Des wasn’t planning to push her bike to its limit as she did previously, but she wanted to cruise around for a bit. She hadn’t realized, but the LED fuel light was on, indicating the need to fill up. Typically, she would flip the manual valve below the seat to open the reserve tank, but she was already on the reserve. A trip to a gas station would be necessary soon.
Des winded her way around the curvy backroads between her house and the school, heading towards the nearest convenience store, hoping she wouldn’t run out of gas prior to arriving. Finally, seeing the small, four-pump station, she pulled her bike in and began fueling. The station had one of the last remaining manual pumps that was still in use. A retina scanner was used for automatic payment, but she was still required to lift the lever in order for the flow to be opened up.
Once both tanks were filled, Des pulled the lever back down to its original setting and hung the hose in its designated slot.
Startled, Des rapidly spun around, searching for the woman whose voice she just heard. The only person she saw was a man, through the building’s window, standing behind the counter staring at his phone. Not being able to locate the voice’s source, Des decided it must have been the breeze whistling through the trees in the distance. Shrugging it off, the blonde inspected her bike one final time then hit the road, turning on a street that would lead her deeper into a rural area outside of town.
About a half-hour after beginning her mini journey, the girl fell into the groove. She enjoyed everything about being on the road, and her mind was clear and her heart was filling. The vibration of the vehicle lulled her into an expanded sense of awareness; every action becoming as automatic as blinking or breathing air. She navigated the road by feel, letting the subconscious part of her mind smoothly take control. Without direct consideration, she shifted gears, leaned, and rolled on and off the throttle. The sense of freedom unlocked her mind to think of other things. She was completely immersed in the experience, fully able to exist in the moment.
The bike swerved from right to left as the surprised driver was ripped from her entranced, blissful state. She over-corrected once, moving into the other lane then onto the shoulder. Thankfully, there was no oncoming traffic. Regaining control, and tugging the bike back past the right side of the middle line, Des realized there were two arms now around her waist and a body behind and up against her.
“Des, pull over! We need to chat.” Despite their close proximity, the new passenger was forced to yell so Des could hear her over the sounds of the road.
She pulled into a small greenery area with a warn-down community playground Des recognized. It was surrounded by a rusty chain link fence that was missing entire sections in spots. The grass was overgrown and the shrubs desperately needed a proper trimming. The swings were missing, leaving only bars where they once hung and a dangling section of chain that gently clinked in the wind. The once colorful and vibrant area now looked like a greyscale scene from a black and white movie.
When the girl was much younger, she’d played on the jungle gym and swung on the swings; trying to fly as high as she possibly could. She hoped one day to go so high she could touch the actual sky. As a kid, Des wondered what it would feel like if she cupped her hand and scooped a piece of cloud for herself. She assumed it would probably feel the way cotton candy from the fair felt between her fingertips.
She spent hours laughing, jumping, running, and enjoying the carefree pleasure of non-responsibility. Her moms would bring her there and take pictures as she played. One of M3’s most popular collections came from Max’s “Youth” shoots. That was years ago, and the neglected playground was now rundown and mostly dilapidated.
As the bike came to a stop on the gravel path in the small parking area, the newcomer jumped off the back and put two hands on her hips. She pivoted her torso and grinned. “Nice to see you again.”
“Dammit, Rachel! I swear to god you’re gonna make me wreck one day.” Des threw her hands above her head and tossed them forward. “So, let’s hear it. Why the hell are you here, and why do you insist on trying to kill me?”
“Let’s sit.” The Watcher smiled then bobbed her head towards the wooden bench that was angled towards the swing set, about ten meters away. A single street lamp was positioned on a small pole beside the bench. It hissed and buzzed with an electric current that was attempting to turn on the busted bulb without success.
“Fine.” The younger girl propped her bike on its kickstand and made her way to the bench, walking beside her recent passenger. She noticed Rachel’s eyes following her every move, and, despite knowing the Watcher was there to help, it made her feel slightly uncomfortable.
After sitting, Rachel twisted her torso to face Des with one hip and thigh on the bench and a leg tucked under the other. Then, the two locked eyes. Before a word was spoken, Des noticed the Watcher’s irises were still a gorgeous tint of hazel, but now they somehow seemed cloudy with experienced agelessness. It was like she had lived a thousand lifetimes but still retained her humanity. The red-streaked blonde wondered if she would one day forget who she was and end up like the original Watcher she heard terrible stories about from her mother.
“I’m not gonna lie, Des, I don’t have great news.”
“Sorta figured that. If you’re here instead of where you’re supposed to be, shit’s probably about to get real.” Des broke the gaze and began to stare towards the rusty swing set bars, fidgeting with her jacket collar as she looked away.
“I am sorry about startling you, twice now. I found a way to get here from my realm but only when you’re moving on your bike. If we could’ve had this talk the first time, the probabilities would’ve been much better. Anyways, we don’t have long, so I’ll get right to it. I need your complete attention, Des.” Rachel reached over and clutched the girl’s hands. In doing so, she helped spin Des back around to face her.
“Rachel, I don’t know if…”
Before finishing her thought, the Watcher interrupted. “I’m here to say what I need to say, that’s it. Afterwards, you will have choices to make. Choices only YOU can make.”
“First, I’ll start with the part you’re gonna hate. Like ripping a Band-Aid, I’ll just say it. So, with a 99% probability, if you go back to your house, you and your moms will be killed. You can’t go home, Des.”
“If you stay away, there’s a 95% probability you will live and a 50% chance both of your moms will too.”
“Wh-What the fuck is happening Rachel? Why can’t I go home?” Des’s voice staggered from frustration.
“You’re being hunted by the same group that wanted you dead as an infant. Right now, they’re on the way to confront Max and Chloe in hopes of getting to you. We can’t let them, Des. It’s the most important thing now.”
Without a word, the biker assertively pushed up to her feet. “I gotta save them. I’ll go back in time and warn them.” She began stomping towards her bike when she felt an arm grasp her wrist, halting her movement.
“No! You can’t. Listen to me, Des.” The women stood alone in the center of the abandoned playground. “They have a device that tracks time travel. This scenario can play out a countless number of ways, but not a single one ends happy if you go home. Even if you go far back enough to kill them all before they receive their so-called prophecy, you risk sacrificing your own conception. Which, of course, would mean the restoration of the multiverse wouldn’t have even taken place, thus dooming your parents anyway. So, trust me when I say… you need to stay away. They have their own abilities and can manage by themselves, I hope.”
“You… hope?” Des angrily questioned. “You’re the goddamn Watcher. Can’t you see if they’ll be okay?”
“I cannot. No Watcher can see beyond what they can’t understand, and I do not understand where they have to go. They totally disappear from any space I can see.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means… I don’t know where they have to go but they somehow leave every possible timeline I can see; assuming they survive their encounter with the zealots.” Rachel’s aura pulsated in and out of view.
“Don’t go yet! I have more questions.”
“I can’t stay much longer.” She gently cradled both of Des’s hands in her own. “You should eventually receive a phone call from your moms. As it stands right now, in 50% of those conversations, you will give them information that will help save their lives. Remember your travels when you were restoring the multiverse? Something they’ve forgotten and tucked away will save them; particularly Max. Now, me telling you that last part increased the changes of their survival to 85%.”
“Fuck, Rachel. Just tell me what to do!”
“If I tell you my preferred path, you will try too hard to stick to it… and you will die. Sorry to be so terse.”
Rachel quickened her words. “The last thing you need to know is this: You must come to my realm. There’s so much you don’t know about time, universes, and realities. As much as it pains me to say this, we have bigger problems than whether we save your moms’ lives or not. I promised to always protect them, and I will always try. But this is bigger than anything we’ve faced before. If we’re not successful, everyone’s lives will be lost. You have a gift that is needed to help me save the om…”
The Watcher abruptly winked out of existence, disappearing on the breeze. Only a glittery, fading outline of where she stood a moment prior remained.
“Rachel, wait!” Des called out but her words wouldn’t be heard. She stared at the dimming spot where Rachel left this reality for her own. She could feel the tarrying energy particles as she swept her hand through the area, scattering them like ashes until none were left.