The raging wind tossed and spun Max around through a large tunneling column. This time felt different than before; it was much more turbulent and violent, yet she was completely conscious and could feel and hear her daughter beside her. “I’m here, Des!” she bellowed, through the nearly overwhelming dizzying effects of the tumultuous trip.
Their hands were still locked tightly at each other’s wrists, and the older girl fought with all of her strength to maintain the relentless grip, even though her hand was starting to go numb. She realized her eyes were finally focusing and she could see past the unforgiving wind and the shadowy void, deep into the tunnel.
“Mommm! I don’t know if I can do this!”
“You got it, Des!” Max wanted to be supportive, but the swirling energy that originated from the teen seemed to be depleting.
“Help me!” Des’s voice trembled with terror, and Max feared her daughter was in over her head. The previous times the eighteen-year-old traveled between universes she glitched and was never in control. From what Max understood, she could freely traverse their timeline, but going to another universe wasn’t something the girl could fully handle yet. She gathered that Des must have used her power while she was with Chloe in the mindspace, so she assumed there was a good reason. She realized she probably stayed inside with her wife for too long but didn’t regret it for a second.
She sensed Des’s strength subsiding and rapidly draining. Their bodies weren’t flying as smoothly as before, and they were being tossed and slung around carelessly. Max was worried about what might happen if the teen exhausted her power while they were between universes, so she did the only thing she could think of. She closed her eyes and located the raised sweet spot where her power was stored. She longed to pull, rather than push, so she could feel her soulmate’s connection again, but she knew it wasn’t the time. She needed the rewind as it existed in its original form. Just one pulse might help charge her daughter’s energy enough to push through.
Pressing down on the spot, Max released a wave so robust it could be described as a tsunami. The power didn’t produce its typical results as it would if bound within time. Wherever they were at the moment, time wasn’t something that restrained them and the power’s vigor was heightened. Through the cascades of energy, and past the spired vortex of their travels, Max noticed her daughter inhaling deeply with a breath of renewed strength.
She wanted to plug the pulse but was worried it would cause the teen to become overwhelmed again, so she allowed the flow to continue. Once she sensed Des was back in control, Max closed her eyes and, before she could locate the source to close it off, a second tunnel ripped open and split from the first out in front of them. She had no idea how far it was from their location, but she knew the pair was quickly approaching the point where the paths diverged. She watched as every bit of her power tore through the vacuum of the second tunnel and was joined by a much smaller torrent of Des’s power. Most of the girl’s energy was concentrated on the original path, but the smaller stream was enough to help create the second direction.
The cleft of the tunnels was upon them and, as hard as she tried, she couldn’t maintain contact with her daughter. Their grip was easily peeled apart by force and speed and Des continued on her path while Max was flung in the other direction. “Noooo!” The older girl screamed as she realized she was headed somewhere different than her daughter.
She wasn’t sure if it was because she couldn’t breathe very well, or the temporary madness induced from rapidly passing between universes, but an odd giggle escaped her lips. Her body was face down hurling through space with one arm out in front, and she felt like a time-traveling version of Captain Marvel.
The strange laughter was abruptly replaced by a sobering concern. She noticed Des’s golden current begin to form a small circle up ahead, burning away at the fabric of space. When her power joined her daughter’s, a small hole was gashed in the air and Max was headed straight for it. As quickly as she noticed the opening, she passed through and blasted to the other side. She flipped and rolled, landing on a damp solid surface, sliding a little way before catching herself, then she turned and watched the opening wink out of existence to nothingness. Max sat in silence, in the dark, thankful she wasn’t being tossed around anymore. Solid ground was exactly what she needed despite knowing she was separated from her teenage daughter. Breathing became much easier and all disorientation faded away.
At first, she felt a dull pain in the back of her head like a next morning hangover. Then, the pain splintered outward into her limbs and torso. Max rolled over on her side and balled up in the fetal position. Her entire body ached from head to toe like she had been in a car wreck. Inside felt icy and cool, but outwardly her body was on fire. A cold sweat dripped from her brow and she uncontrollably shivered for several minutes before the aches subsided and she felt normal again.
Max sat in complete silence for a moment gathering her thoughts. A mild panic burned through her veins and her body shuddered with uncertainty. She stood up to gather her bearings, hands frantically searching behind and then in front, but the complete darkness obstructed all sight. Directly behind, where she emerged from the hole, she discovered a chilled, damp wall blocking her path. Stretching her arms out, she searched to her left and her right, but only discovered more walls. The only open path was directly in front of her.
“Wait,” she said to herself, as the words echoed through the deep and empty chamber. “Cogito, ergo sum…. fuck! I’ve been here before.” She remembered the terror that enveloped her body and mind when she was there a few years back. It was a time prior to M3, her marriage, and before her beautiful daughter was conceived.
…Death. Disasters. Sacrifices. More death.
Death. Disasters. Sacrifices. More death.
Death. Disasters. Sacrifices. More death.
Death. Disasters. Sacrifices. More death…
Max attempted to forget the haunting memories that weighed heavy in this place; the terrible trance brought on by The Watcher. She replaced them by remembering how they ended the cycle and saved countless lives, including their own. It was a time when her and Chloe were still exploring their love for one another, and that love ultimately broke her free. This time, everything was much different.
With the combining of the smaller stream of power from her daughter and her own rewind pulse, a hole was torn in space similar to the first time in Max’s room that day. It was her purpose, then, to climb through and find the entity at the end of the dark, dank chamber. She knew it was no accident she ended up in The Watcher’s realm again, but she wondered what reason she had for being here now. The last time, she extinguished his flame and put an end to the awful cycle. As the week reset, one final choice had to be made, and that decision was graciously and heroically taken from her in a final act of love and protection.
She remembered the panic and terror as she crawled towards the end of the path on her first trip to this realm, but she was filled with confidence knowing she could handle any situation thrown her way because of the love she shared with her perfect person. She would not crawl and she would not be afraid; not this time. Max took a deep breath, puffed her chest with confidence, and began walking towards the end. It would be a lengthy trek to her destination, but she knew it was where she needed to go in order to discover her purpose for returning.
With her first steps, she felt a tickle on the side of her neck. It was the secret sensation she shared with the yang to her yin. Chloe was reaching out and it filled her heart with an overwhelming joy, causing her body to pleasurably shiver and a single tear to slide down her cheek. Surely Des had returned to their universe and informed her soulmate what happened with them being split apart during their trip.
She imagined that her partner was freaking out when Des arrived without her, but the connection they shared would always allow them to feel one another. The brunette closed her eyes and sent a tiny pulse back to the love of her life. Somehow, she knew Chloe received it and it calmed her distraught heart. Max felt a crooked smile forming on her face as she thought about her wife’s realization of her safety. She missed her family more than anything, but, if she was summoned back to this place, she knew an important task must lie ahead of her. A fiery confidence roared from inside her soul and she started walking towards her next challenge.
Chloe reached for the keys after sliding in and closing the door on the driver’s side of her and Max’s blue Subaru. After latching her seat belt, she aimed the key towards the ignition slot and was stopped by a sudden tingling sensation on the back of her neck. The little hairs felt like they were standing and goosebumps popped up around her neck area. “Destiny,” the blonde driver gasped just before she was about to crank the car. “Change of plans.” She hopped out, slammed the door, and sprinted back inside the house, leaving her puzzled friend sitting alone staring at an opened front door.
“Max, Des! You’re back!” She felt the thick pumping of her excited heart deep inside her ears, and all she wanted to do was wrap her long arms around the tiny brunette and never let her go again. She promised herself over and over that she would always be there and never let anything happen to her soulmate, but part of her felt like she betrayed her own promise when the teenager and her wife disappeared from the kitchen floor. She knew it was something she couldn’t control, but that didn’t stop her from heading down the familiar path of self-blame. It was a bad habit she carried with her since her father died.
Chloe immediately saw Des balled on the floor in the kitchen with her head in the palms of her hands shaking her head. She ran over and helped pick the girl up off of the ground, pulling her in for a hug then quickly breaking the embrace. “Des, where’s Max?” It was becoming obviously clear that her wife hadn’t made it back and her heart started racing. She frantically looked around the room searching for the love of her life. When she didn’t see the girl, she instinctually grabbed the red-streaked blonde with both hands grasping the top of her shirt, pulling Des’s face near her own. A crazed panic splintered through her mind and the worst possible scenarios looped through her thoughts. “Where the fuck is Max?”
“I dunno!” the teenager screamed in response. “She was with me, then another path opened up and pulled her in. I have no idea where it took her!” Her mom released the grip, ran to a moving box in the living room, picked it up off the floor, and slung it across the room. Something inside shattered when it slammed against the wall but the box remained intact. A wet, soggy spot formed on the lower side of the box, and she knew she had just broken her favorite snow globe which only added to her anger.
Chloe dropped to her knees and grabbed her head with both hands. “You. Have. To. Find. Her,” she fumed from behind her palms, teeth grinding as she spoke. “Do you understand me? It is the only thing that matters. Find her!”
“How?! How the fuck am I supposed to find her, Mom? We’re talking about the goddamn multiverse. I barely made it back myself. If she didn’t use her rewind to save me, we would have both been lost. I was losing power and she… she… I guess, she charged me.” Her stern, irritated voice shifted to more of a regretful sadness. “I just closed my eyes and felt like I was gonna pass out. Then this pulsing ridge of energy hit me and I was energized. Somehow, some of my power fused with hers and a damn tunnel opened up. It was almost…”
“Wait,” Chloe interrupted. “Your powers fused?” The taller of the two stood and paced around the room in silence. The anger had escaped and was replace with a contemplative curiosity. A knock at the still opened front door broke her concentration.
“Chloe? Is everything okay? You just ran in like a…” Victoria couldn’t finish her sentence before she was cut off.
“Victoria, I need you to go. I’m sorry, but I have something else I have to do. Please, no offense, but I can’t go with you now.” As she finished her sentence, she was already closing the door right in front of her friend’s face. If it were another time, or under other circumstances, she wouldn’t have been so rude, but she had a new mission. She would stop at nothing until she found her precious Max.
As the door swung closed, Victoria’s words trailed from earshot, “Who is that girl… is she your cous…?”
After shutting the front door, Chloe staggered to the bathroom and closed herself in. She shut her eyes and immediately soared past the grey. She located the raised sweet spot and slightly pressed down. Her wife would respond if she were safe, and she knew this was the only way for now. If it didn’t work, she would tunnel in and force herself into her perfect person to get a glimpse of her current reality. She quickly plugged the power and opened her eyes.
She waited for a couple of seconds, then felt Max reciprocate the tickle. Her breathing hitched and she sniffled at the knowledge that, no matter where she was at that very moment, her partner was safe. She recalled the feelings of a desperate rewind after her best friend had climbed through a floating hole in her room, ending up in some place with an entity she called The Watcher. This felt different though; the rewind tickle felt happy and reminded her of their wedding day. Her favorite person didn’t appear to be in any danger, so Chloe decided to let the situation play itself out. If she were in trouble, Max would let her know somehow, she was sure of it.
She approached the bathroom door and stretched her hand out grabbing for the knob. Before she could turn it, a faint hum of reverberating sound from beyond the bathroom stopped her from moving. It sounded like music coming from the married couple’s room, so she moved her hand back to her side and just listened. She hadn’t heard Max’s guitar being played in a long time, but she recognized the sound of someone tuning her partner’s instrument. Chloe reached her arm back out, slowly turned the knob and crept out of the bathroom, then she made her way down the hall and stood outside of the opened bedroom door just shy of eyeshot.
Des was sitting on her parents’ bed holding the guitar Max loved so much but hadn’t touched in longer than Chloe cared to remember. During their earlier trips across the country, when they were working to get Max’s art accepted into any gallery that was willing, the beautiful brunette played and sang for her then girlfriend. There were times they slept in their car in a random park in a random city. At night, it wasn’t uncommon for the girls to gather twigs and fallen branches to start a campfire, and they would cozy up to one another content on feeling each other’s closeness. Max strummed her guitar and sang, and Chloe fell in love over and over again while listening to the girl’s soft, soothing vocals. In many ways, Chloe missed those less complicated days. They were working through the pain from the storm weeks with nothing but their future ahead of them and each other’s love to guide the way.
She wasn’t sure if the teenager had inherited her singing voice or her wife’s, but she surely hoped the latter was the case. The girl began strumming a tune that sounded similar to her wife’s style, and after about ten seconds, Des began singing:
“Inside this girl there lives a ploy,
And in that ploy with little care,
Another one lives who plays coy
With a separate shiny toy,
Her voice … I still hear it, I swear.
Beneath the tree we used to swing,
Up the hill that once seemed bigger,
The seat of rubber used to sting
When the sun would bake everything.
As kids we would jump and snicker…”
The young mom stared as her daughter continued to sing a mesmerizing and charming tune. There was something nostalgic about the cadence of her words, and Chloe couldn’t turn away. She silently inched her way into the room as to not disturb the girl’s beautiful song. It was now clear she had inherited Max’s voice but with an extra skosh of rasp. She gingerly took a seat on the same side of the bed several shoulder lengths away, slinging her legs off the ground to rest on top and underneath her. For a moment, she was hypnotized by the teen’s tender voice and was lost in her words:
“Now I cannot recall those times,
As I could once before, you see-
Between the sappy, creaking pines
The wind would whistle spooky chimes;
This I remember vividly.
Fond memories of yesterday
Are chased by visions of the past,
Which, by my count , will rarely stay
Up the hill where we used to play
And wish for times that have long passed.”
The final notes were picked then gently faded and the room filled with silence. “Wowser,” Chloe marveled, as she watched the perfect combination of her and her wife gently placing the guitar in its stand beside the dresser, taking great care of the instrument.
“Do you think I can take a shower, Mom? It’s been days.”
“Are we just gonna pretend that wasn’t the most beautiful damn thing I’ve ever heard? I mean, yeah, of course you can, but shit, that was hella amazing. I’m guessing Max taught you how to play, yeah?” She got up and stood face to face with the girl who was barely an inch shorter.
“That song is called Her Voice , and yep, we wrote it together. Promise you won’t ever tell her, but she’s secretly, like, my idol. We used to play and noodle around on the guitar for hours at a time. It was one of my favorite things growing up.” Des paused, and Chloe could tell a happy memory floated through the girl’s mind. “She’s so damn patient. Even when I’d pitch the dumbest fits and complain the whole time. I really don’t know how she put up with me. Is it weird I hope I can find someone like her one day… you know… someone to love me, no strings attached? Anyway, about that shower…”
“Yeah, towels are practically the only things we’ve unpacked.” Chloe pointed towards the linen closet door beside the bathroom. “Everything you need will be in there. Do you want some fresh clothes? We’re about the same height, I have some stuff that should fit you.”
“Sweet.” The teenager bumped past her mother, opened the closet door, retrieved a towel, and disappeared into the bathroom. Chloe heard the water turn on and her daughter step into the tub.
There were so many thoughts and emotions rattling around in her head. On one hand, she loved how much Des cared about Max. It didn’t surprise her that their daughter felt close to her perfect person. Chloe loved her too, and would never understand anyone who didn’t see how amazing she was. On the other hand, she felt a little jealous that she didn’t share what the two of them had. There was no denying her words, though, Max’s care for those she loved was superior to anything she had ever experienced.
“Mom!” Des called out from the bathroom, which caught Chloe by surprise. She jumped and briskly made her way towards the teenager. Opening the door, she noticed the girl was peeping through the closed shower curtain.
“Everything okay, sweetheart?” She heard the word ‘sweetheart’ come out of her mouth and it sounded more like her mom than herself. Every day she noticed the presence of her strong and courageous mother inside of her, and it was beginning to make her more proud rather than mournful like it typically did.
After all these years she still missed the woman. She missed her smiles, she missed her cooking, she missed the way she’d take off her shoes and rub her feet after a long shift or two at the diner, and she missed watching her role model put herself together after her father had died. At the time, she was so angry and selfish that she never considered how destroyed her mom was on the inside. Sure, Chloe was young and felt heartbroken about her dad, but when she considered how she would react if a similar horror happened to Max, she didn’t know how her mom kept things together, especially with an ungrateful punk living under her roof.
Despite those darker days, she had escaped her own torment and discovered her partner’s unconditional love. It was a love that fed her daily and helped her remember her mother in a positive and loving light. She had an opportunity to be a mother herself now, and when she heard Joyce’s voice come from her own lips, she mainly felt a closeness to the woman and hoped she could be even half the mother hers was.
“Yeah, I’m good. I just wanna tell you… well, thank you. I should have said it earlier. This probably could have waited too, but I also wanna say… I love you so much. In the future, we argue a ton about bullshit really. Not because we’re actually upset at each other, but mainly I think it’s because we’re a lot alike. It’s not as easy to talk to you in my time for some reason; my fault I’m sure… and I wanted to tell you while I have the courage… anyway…” She quickly disappeared into the bath, leaving her mom staring at a lavender-colored shower curtain.
Chloe reached up with the inside of her pointer finger and wiped both cheeks, one at a time. Not only were a couple of tears threatening, one or two had escaped and trickled down her face at Des’s heartfelt words. She left the bathroom to give her daughter some privacy, then she picked up her phone. She suddenly felt terrible about how she basically kicked Victoria out, and wanted to apologize. After the call, she intended to sit down with the teen and, with level heads, figure out how to get her amazing wife back home.