October 11, 2013
Chloe wasn’t completely sure if the streaking droplets cascading down her face were actual tears, or from a storm she watched dematerialize as her best friend vanished from existence. Strong gusts of wind twisted around in the air while raindrops stung as they slapped against her skin, simulating icy pinpricks with each contact.
In one moment, a tornado was approaching with its deadly sights set on Arcadia Bay. After the choice was made, a decision Chloe practically begged her partner in time to make, the area’s hue glowed brightly with flecks of auburn and widening streaks of lilac. She’d never seen anything like it. The person that mattered the most in the world to her winked into nothingness at the same time the storm disappeared, creating an atmospheric disturbance that Chloe found absolutely gorgeous.
After momentarily admiring the mixture of colors, the world seemingly sinking to one of complete stillness, a debilitating loneliness tugged at her mind. “Fuck fuck fuck. FUUUUUUCK! She’s… she’s gone.”
A thorny wave of panic bored through her veins, so she slinked down near the edge of the cliff with her arms wrapped around her legs like a cannonball rocking back and forth, shirt pulled up and over her head in the back. Thousands of thoughts rushed through her mind, but recent memories of previous days were lined with a brightened clarity, drawing her complete attention. She wondered about the series of events that unfolded, leading them to the present.
Over the course of the last five days, she experienced an array of various emotions. She reconnected with the estranged best friend she missed so much, confirmed the death of her first love, and discovered a selflessness that would allow her to give up her life in order to save others. An emanation of purpose strengthened her heart, and she knew she had changed forever. Chloe would never again be so inconsiderate as to put herself before everyone else. Her grief, pain, and feelings of worthlessness dissipated when she experienced the unconditional love her best friend offered, showing her that life could actually be worth living. She and Max became so much more than friends in those several days together, and when it truly mattered most, Chloe redeemed her flaws through courage and sacrifice. She knew she was a hero in Max’s eyes, and, in that moment, that was enough for her.
An urge to abruptly move tugged her back to reality and she realized she was alone in a world she hardly recognized. From the lighthouse cliff, the shadowed city seemed suddenly abandoned. There was no destruction or indication a tornado had come through, and from what she witnessed, that storm vanished as if it had never existed in the first place. She didn’t see any movement down below to indicate even a single person was still around the town. The vivid sky shined down on her hometown, tickling the buildings and the trees, seeming almost like a city she’d never seen before.
The moisture began to escape from her confused eyes but she remained silent. Through watery, blurred vision, Chloe turned and headed down the path back to her truck. She remembered dragging Max’s shell of a body up the path not too long before, desperate for her favorite person to take control once more. When she suggested they go to the lighthouse for safety, Chloe obliged, remembering what Max had said about her vision of the storm.
“She’s really gone,” Chloe whispered to no one. Despite an aura of self-transformation, a lonesome chill raised the hairs on the back of her neck. She stood to her feet and wiped underneath her eyes with the back of her hand, removing all dampness in her path.
She wasn’t sure how, but Chloe knew exactly where she needed to go. Hopping in the truck, she headed to the place where it all began: the Blackwell restroom. The gas pedal was rarely lifted from the floor, her truck squealing around turns and corners. No other vehicles were on the road, which felt odd, but Chloe couldn’t concern herself with anything else. Her sense of urgency bred determination. She had to make it to Blackwell and needed to be quick about it.
As Chloe’s rust bucket slid into the parking lot, she made no attempt at centering it between two lines. The designed spaces meant nothing, as she felt the need to arrive at her destination immediately. The truck’s gearshift was thrown into “park” with two wheels on the sidewalk and the other two on the blacktop. She jumped out, without bothering to shut her door, and ran up the stairs as fast as she could. It briefly crossed her mind that she couldn’t remember the last time she moved at such a quickened pace.
The front entrance was unlocked, so she slung the doors open and raced inside. The lights were off but enough skylight beamed through the windows creating elongated bars on the floor, illuminating her path along the way. When she approached the bathroom door, Chloe noticed a blue-tinted glow coming from the gaps around the door’s edges. She reached out her arm and grasped, turning the handle downward to open the door…
Twelve hours earlier, she finally got a chance to come face to face with the one person that truly mattered to her more than anything else in the world, and the brunette was even more beautiful than she remembered. Chloe always thought her little first mate was cute, but seeing her again as a young adult, she truly realized just how much she loved the girl. She loved everything about her best friend, even the parts she didn’t like so much.
Only once since beginning her blog, did the photographer share a shot that included herself, and it was an artistically distorted reflection from a raindrop. For someone who enjoyed taking selfies when she was in high school, Max seemed to avoid aiming her lens in her own direction these days.
Chloe nearly deviated from her plan, allowing emotions to take control, by hysterically gushing about how much she missed her partner in crime when they sat across from one another earlier. But she didn’t. The prisoner controlled herself during the situation, keeping her mind focused and tuned towards the future.
Unlike a previously selfish version of herself, she cared about other people in general, leaving most of her punk-like anger in the past. Her selfless redemption in Arcadia Bay helped guide her not to verbally attack the prison staff over the last several years and remain as calm as possible. However, she was still Chloe Price – pirate captain with tats and ‘tude, yet she became extremely planned and thoughtful. She had to be patient and much more contemplative if she was going to follow her plan, and that wasn’t easy.
Because of the lockdown earlier in the day, the prison completely functioned as if on an extended count. She hated count time but was thankful the warden decided to remove the restraints from the desk and move her to a more comfortable position, allowing her to lie down on her bunk if she chose to. While Chloe feared she’d be sent to The Box when Max hit the panic button, her greatest fear was never seeing the photographer ever again. She manufactured a meeting with her best friend after nearly five years of planning, and the girl actually pressed the panic button, ending their rendezvous prematurely. A smile formed on her face as she whispered the only thought that swam through her weary mind.
“After five years, you’re still Max Caulfield.”
Slowly tilting over, she placed her shoulders and back on the hard, pokey mattress and the back of her head on the ever-musty pillow, then she closed her eyes. The last cohesive thought that crossed her mind before drifting to sleep was one of hope. She understood today was just the first meeting between herself and Max, and she knew her freckled first mate would be back again in the morning.
Max didn’t turn on her radio nor did she connect her Bluetooth during the drive home to her apartment, which wasn’t typical of the photographer. As far back as she could remember, one of her favorite things to do was chill out to some good music, but after the morning she had, the thought didn’t even cross her mind. She’d considered going back to the office but knew she needed to clear her head after her experience at the prison. A silent drive allowed her to be alone with her thoughts, and she couldn’t get the vision of the prisoner’s beguiling, compassionate, radiant, blue eyes and the soft skin of her cheek out of her head.
Hmm… Chloe? …Chloe. That name feels so familiar. If what she said is true, we’ve known each other for years. How can that be? Get a grip, Max. You’re not crazy.
She pulled into a parking space outside of the entrance to her apartment, a bit weary and drained. It wasn’t late in the day, just midafternoon with an overcast sky, and her stomach grumbled having nothing in it since early that morning. Picking up her phone from the center console, Max powered it on, anticipating a flood of messages.
Seeing the sheer quantity of voicemails and texts, she realized she would have to answer multiple questions from at least three different people: her dad or mom – maybe both, Weston, and possibly Maria. Because of the sudden thought of having to skate around some of the bizarre details of her prison encounter, Max felt a ripple of anxiety paddle through her extremities. Reaching for the bottle of pills that acted more like a crutch to ease her worried mind, Max recalled specific words the inmate spoke.
“Stop taking those stupid pills immediately. Fuck ‘em. I know it sounds batshit crazy, but that garbage is doing more harm than good for you.”
It baffled the journalist how she could so fully trust a girl on death row, but for some unknown reason she couldn’t understand, she didn’t want to let Chloe down. Removing her hand from the lid to her meds, Max took a deep, airy breath and opened the door to her car. Stepping out, the brunette exhaled then shut the door and started towards her apartment, leaving her meds inside the vehicle. It was a bit frightening, not having her pills with her, but something about the prisoner made Max want to try new things. In some ways, she felt like a kid again, with a new world ahead of her begging to be explored.
What the hell? I’m… I’m hearing things. Yeah. Probably just the wind.
Max hurried inside and tossed her bag on the middle counter that separated the kitchen and the living room. She scurried into the kitchen, placed her cellphone on the ledge, then opened the refrigerator. After locating a bottled water and a cluster of grapes, she sat on the single stool that she had placed on the living room side of the counter her first night in the apartment. Max twirled her phone around several times before she finally decided to stop procrastinating and check her voicemail.
She noticed fifteen messages were waiting for her, causing the room to appear warped and slightly distorted. She sensed a panic attack inching towards the surface from inside herself but forced it to the back of her mind. She took another heavy breath then pressed ‘play’ on a message in the middle of the others. It wasn’t the first on the list, but it was the only one she really cared to hear. When Maria’s voice came over the speaker, a torrent of relief flowed through her body.
“Hey, girl. Just checking in. You’re probably tired of hearing this but… GOOD LUCK! You’re gonna crush that shit today. Can’t wait to hear how it all went when you finish up. Anyway, call me back later on. See ya!”
As soon as Maria’s message was finished. The voicemail system cycled back to the first message, which was the oldest of the group.
“Dammit Max,” her furious father’s voice began from the night before, “answer the damn phone. It’s important for you to understand where we’re coming from. Now I can’t really begin to…”
Not wanting to hear her dad’s excuses, Max deleted the message, cutting him off immediately.
“Max, it’s your mom. What your father really means to say is that…”
Again, Max deleted the message in the middle of her mother’s sentence. She recognized the next several messages were from her parents, so she continued to delete them as they came through.
“I’m sorry I was angry, but please call us back.” Ryan seemed to be pleading at this point. “We really…”
“Look, Max. We love you so much, you know that. You have to…”
“I need to tell you something…”
“Your father has to work tomorrow, but I’m on my…”
“I can’t believe you’re really making your mother lea…”
“Fine. Have a good ni…”
“I’ll be th…”
“Good luck today, kid.” Max almost removed Weston’s message, but she withdrew her finger from the delete key just in time, prior to pressing ‘delete’. “I know you’re gonna kick some serious ass. Remember, we’re counting on you. The governor seriously thinks I’m crazy for sending my newest team member in like this, but the inmate did ask for you directly. My hands are sorta tied. Anyway, go give ‘em hell.”
“I’m about an hour a…”
“I’ll be there shor…”
“What the fuck happened?!” Her boss’s voice boomed over the tiny phone speaker. “You were in with the prisoner for twenty minutes, then you hit the panic button with no real reason? THEN you begged to go back in? Shit, Max. I dunno what to make of it, but I really hope you took some good notes and photos. Did she actually speak to you? Jack said you were a pleasure to be around until the end. Said you looked like you’d seen a damn ghost. I know you’re not back at the office so I assume you’re somewhere working on this piece. Now, I’m not a hardass. As long as you get your shit done, we’re good. But I want to be briefed on the situation first thing in the morning. Come straight to my office. The governor will want an update ASAP, got it?!”
“Max, I’m h…”
With the final message deleted, Max stood up and stepped away from her phone, intent on washing the day off. Her first inkling was to take a long, warm bath so she could decompress, but she really just wanted to sleep, so she decided a quick shower was in her best interest. She turned the water on and adjusted the nobs to ensure a comfortable temperature was reached. After she disrobed and stepped in, Max allowed the water to warm her body and release the tension she’d been carrying most of the day. As soon as she cleared her mind, existing in the moment with no thoughts or worries, she was abruptly brought back to down to earth.
…”That’s a dollar for the swear jar”…
“Who’s there!?” she called out, voice slightly echoing off the tiled bathroom walls.
Shit, did I lock the door?
Max was fully lathered up, so she quickly rinsed the soap from her hair and body and turned the water off. Stepping out of the shower and onto the fuzzy bathmat, Max reached down under the sink for a fresh towel. She hastily dried off, twisted the towel around her body and tied it off, then slowly pulled open the bathroom door.
Peeking through the crack, she could see the front entrance doorknob and deadbolt. Both were in the locked position. Knowing the door was secure brought a slight relief, but she knew the sliding glass door and windows in the back could have easily been broken if someone wanted in bad enough. With towel still wrapped around her body, Max tiptoed to the kitchen and grabbed a knife. As she rounded the corner towards her apartment’s patio, she saw that her back door was closed and also locked. After a quick peek in closets and under her bed, she was convinced nobody had gotten inside. It was just her mind playing tricks on her.
I know I heard a voice, though. Maybe I am going crazy.
She nervously put her pajamas on and sat down on the overstuffed couch her dad insisted bringing when she moved from Seattle. Her heart was still racing but she was relieved. Allowing herself to relax once more, Max reached over to the side table and retrieved the remote control. Before she could press the power button, there was a sudden pounding at the front door. <knock, knock, knock>
Fuck! Who could that be?
The freshly showered photographer slowly lifted herself from her seated position and quietly approached the entranceway. In that moment, she was thankful her dad insisted on an apartment with a peephole so she could peer out before opening the door. Max tiptoed up, closing one eye and placing the other against the small round hole. As she looked out, she realized she knew exactly who it was, and it puzzled her to see the woman in Fresno.
What is she doing here? Oh damn… the messages!
Reaching down to unlock the door, Max inched it open until she stood face to face with the woman. “Mom. What are you doing here?” She took a step back and allowed her mother inside, shutting the door behind her.
Vanessa removed her coat and folded it, slinging it over one arm. Turning back towards her daughter, the woman’s mouth slightly curving up at the corners, she locked eyes with Max. “It’s so good to see you.” She pulled the 22-year-old into her arms for a hug and Max felt obliged to squeeze back. After a few seconds, the pair released their holds and stood in silence for several seconds.
“Well, can I sit?” The older of the two seemed exhausted. She must have gotten up early to make it to Fresno by then. Max looked over at the microwave and the time read 5:05pm.
“Oh, yeah, of course. Would you like some water or anything?”
“No, I’m good. Let’s just sit down for a moment. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Max responded, feeling a little hesitant knowing how upset she and her dad were previously. They headed towards the couch and sat down, Vanessa sitting first. After Max apprehensively took a seat beside her mom, the woman turned and stretched out her arms, gripping her daughter’s hand and lovingly sandwiching it between her own.
“Max, I think it’s time we talked. You need to know what happened in Arcadia Bay.”