When Max was three years old, her parents recorded her waking up on Christmas morning and finding presents in their living room, on the couch and under the tree. The mystery and magic of Santa Claus filled the girl with joy and child-like wonder. At least that’s what she thought she remembered. Because of her young age at the time, the memory was less of a direct experience and felt more like she was watching it happen from the camera’s point of view than her own. She knew it was real, but if it hadn’t been recorded, she probably would have lost it as she grew older.
That was the same way it felt now. Remembering something that happened to a version of herself from another universe, was like watching a video of it rather than seeing it first-person in many cases. The experiences from the countless other Maxes out there became part of her in different ways. She wondered if the mental tourniquet-like restraint, that the older, mastermind version of her best friend put on her mind before the merger, had anything to do with how she absorbed the others.
“You in there, love?” Chloe asked, still sitting behind Max, running her fingers through what appeared to be an eighteen-year-old’s soft brown hair.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. Just lost in my thoughts, I guess.” She wasn’t sure if being sleepy was something that happened in the mindspace, but she felt an extreme contentment and a sense of deep relaxation when her wife played with her hair. Anytime Chloe touched any part of her body, she knew she was ‘home’.
They had been sitting in silence enjoying the moment of calm and stillness for longer than they knew. Just being in one another’s embrace brought joy to both girls. They could do absolutely nothing for hours, or days, at a time; as long as they were together, nothing else seemed to really matter.
“Do you ever think about the other versions of us, Chlo? I really never considered what it was like for them. I sorta thought of other timelines as non-existent besides the one I was currently in. Does that make me selfish?”
Chloe slid around until she was directly in front of her favorite person, locking eyes with the smaller girl. “You’re not selfish, Max Caulfield-Price. You’re easily the least selfish person I know. Why are you questioning that now? We talked about it years ago and agreed we were at peace with everything.”
“These versions of us from when you were in prison… I dunno. It was a super dark and lonely time for both of us. Remembering the entire fucked up situation is really messing with my head.”
“They ended up together and safe right?” Chloe tenderly gripped Max’s hands, allowing them to fall naturally into her own. She brought one to her lips and kissed it before doing the same to the other. “I don’t remember that one, but I know every Max and Chloe will always find each other.”
“Yeah, they were safe. I know their timeline was unstable and would have eventually burned away, but I just feel for them, ya know? Was that really you and me if it took a lot for me remember and you don’t remember at all?”
“Well, Maxi. If I may put on my philosopher’s hat for a minute. I don’t know which version of me I learned this from but here goes. Have you ever heard of Socrates?”
“Yeah, a little. Wasn’t he the one that said, ‘I think therefor I am’? Something like that?”
“Nah, that was Descartes. But you’re close. So, Socrates believed in an idea he called ‘The Forms’. Everything exists as a higher version of itself. Let me give you an example. You know what the number three is, yeah?”
“Of course, babe.” Max nodded.
“In English, we use like, sideways humped squiggles,” she released one of Max’s hands and drew a 3 in the air with her pointer, “like this. But how many ways is the idea of three objects represented in other languages? You have Roman numerals, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, fucking hexadecimal… a thousand ways to represent the meaning of more than two… and less than four. The exact count of three is a universally accepted idea by everyone. I think that’s sorta like us. We’re the highest idea of ourselves. ‘The Forms’ of us. This is the prime reality. It takes nothing away from the experiences of the others; they were and continue to be meaningful parts of us. Maybe some don’t manifest in the forefront of our minds now, but without those other parts, we would be missing integral pieces of ourselves. They are all special and unique. Ya know?”
“Whoa, Babe. That was… that was brilliant and beautiful.”
“What happened, I blacked out,” the blue-headed punk playfully quipped, an impish smirk on her face. “I’m kidding. But don’t stress about it, Maxi Max. Just remember, if we’re happy, they’re happy. After all, we are them.”
“I have to create a wormhole, Chlo, and I suddenly know how to do it. It’s like my power has evolved simply by remembering what that other me knew.” Max noticed her soulmate beginning to giggle. “What’s so funny?”
“I think you’re looking at this wrong. If new memories can upgrade your powers like that… it’s like you’re fucking Neo from The Matrix.” She laughed, drawing a smile then a tiny giggle from Max.
“I know Kung Fu,” the brunette joked, pretending to be Neo during his training when he was being uploaded with new programs.
Chloe, quickly taking Morpheus’s line, responded, “Show me.”
The girls shared a few more laughs before everything shrank back down to silence. Max traced Chloe’s fingertips on one hand as Chloe continued to play with Max’s hair with the other. It truly felt like the calm-before-the-storm and both girls wanted to exist in the moment forever, though they both suspected the other realized they needed to get back home.
Finally deciding to push forward, Max moved around and pushed up to her feet. She reached down and helped her wife to hers.
“When we go back, your head is gonna feel like shit, Maxi. Besides just being here with you, that’s probably the main reason I don’t wanna return. I hate when you hurt.” She reached over and pulled Max into a side hug, the girls’ hips touching in the center.
“I’ll need to focus. If I can channel my power properly, I’m pretty sure I can open a wormhole. Not sure what’ll happen after that, but I know what those versions of us went through after they did it.”
“Max, just let ‘er fucking rip. There’s nothing we can’t handle. However it goes down, we’ll be standing when the smoke clears. I believe in your ass, love.”
“My… ass? You’re always such a perv.” Max playfully shoulder bumped her best friend.
“Don’t you dare tempt me right now. You know how I get.” The taller girl pumped her eyebrows up and down a few times.
“Yeah, I’d love to give in to temptation right about now, but we need to get back. The more I feel like I understand how these powers and everything works, the more I realize… I don’t know shit. How long have we been away?”
“I dunno.” Chloe marginally pulled her shoulders up and beside her ears before releasing. “But I do know everything that happens to us has a purpose. I think the universe has proven that point so many times I’ve lost count. We’ll return at the perfect time.”
“Okay, so on the count of three, let’s go back. If you can cause a distraction, I think I’ll be able to do what I need to.”
“Distraction is my middle name. I got this shit.”
Chloe’s confident smirk worked to settle the butterflies in Max’s stomach. She could clearly visualize what the death row version of herself went through to conjure a wormhole; she just didn’t know if it would work the way she’d envisioned.
“Here we go. 1… 2…”
Chloe quickly turned her head just before Max finished the count, pecking her hipster on the cheek. “I love you,” she whispered.
“FUUUUUUCK!” she screamed towards the blackened sky and shimmering stars, one hand on her bike and the other cradling her helmet. Not five minutes had passed since Des heard something terrifying happen to her mom over the phone. The call was ended prior to finding out her mother’s fate, and it made her sick thinking about the possibilities.
The girl’s mind was plagued by Rachel’s words; she kept hearing them repeating, over and over again.
“…trust me when I say… you need to stay away. They have their own abilities and can manage by themselves, I hope…”
She understood the first part. Yes, they had their own powers, and she would never second guess the survivability of her moms when they were together; Des knew they could handle anything. It was the “…I hope…” part that continued to bother her. Couple that with the horrifying sound she heard over the phone, and her heart felt like glass on the verge of shattering. She wanted to equally weep and grieve as she did fight and kick some ass. Going on a rampage didn’t seem too far outside of the realm of possibility, but she knew that wouldn’t solve anything.
One thing was for certain, she’d need to find somewhere other than her own house to sleep for the evening. She first considered asking Kate and Victoria, but she didn’t want to involve them since they were friends of the family. Up until this point, her moms had managed to keep their powers secret from everyone. If she did, there’d be questions asked that she couldn’t answer.
Then she remembered the new number that was recently added to her phone. Pearl lived on campus and as much as she hated to ask for a favor the same day they reconnected, she figured she might not have a choice. The last option would be to get a hotel room. But Des didn’t know if Esther was tracking more than time travel. If the zealot had high up connections, she might be able to trace electronic spending. Calling the girl she knew from high school appeared to be the best option.
Des attached her helmet to her bike and located her cell in a front leather jacket pocket. She scrolled down until the name “Pearl” was highlighted. Besides those in her family, most of her contacts included first and last names, but her athletic friend only added her first. Holding her thumb above the call button, the biker paused before building up enough courage to call.
It rang several times, and Des nearly hung up just before the call was answered.
“Hello?” Music was playing and people were talking in the background.
“Pearl. It’s Destiny.” She cringed at hearing herself say her entire first name and wasn’t exactly sure why she said it; she had preferred ‘Des’ since she first became a teenager.
“Well, well, well, you’re already calling. Couldn’t get enough of me, huh?” She sounded pleasantly surprised. The inflection of her tone was upbeat and bursting with what sounded like joy. If she had always been so pleasant to be around, Des felt terrible for what she thought about the girl in high school. She never exactly felt negativity towards her, she just believed being that popular came with an enlarged, self-centered ego.
“I really hate to ask, but do you mind if I come over? I know we just like, officially met each other today, but I’d like to talk. If-if that’s okay.”
“I have some teammates over right now, but come on. The more the merrier! They’re gonna love you.”
“Oh, I don’t wanna be a bother or anything. Maybe I should wait for them to leave.” Des was never too thrilled to be around a lot of people, but she wasn’t sure if she had much of a choice at the moment.
“No way, Destiny. Get your cute butt over here right now. You promised me something and I intend to cash in when you get here.”
Des could feel her face warming, thinking about being called ‘cute’. Then, she became curious about something. “Wait, what did I promise you?”
“This is my one stipulation, Destiny. You can come over as long as you let me paint you. Seriously, it’ll be badass. You have to.”
“Oh, shit. I forgot about that,” Des chuckled, thankfully not having to dwell on Pearl’s compliment. “Yeah, sure. You can paint me. Sounds pretty cool, to be honest.”
“Hellz yeah! You won’t regret it. I promise.” Pearl apparently moved the phone away. She yelled to someone but Des couldn’t make out what she said. The athlete didn’t seem upset, she just needed to raise her voice to be heard over everyone else. During the call, background sounds of multiple conversations seemed to blend to an indiscernible garble. But after Pearl yelled, everything quieted.
A guy’s voice responded: <“I told him not to come over, but he sounded super drunk. What do you wanna do?”>
“Des, I need to skedaddle. Please come over. We can talk then.”
“Is everything alright, Pearl? Your tone sorta… kinda suddenly changed.”
“Yeah, it’s just my ex.” She seemed embarrassed or maybe exhausted because of the situation. “He’s a shithead, Destiny. But let’s talk when you get here. I wish you could meet everyone, but I think most are leaving soon, so we can have a little girl time. I’ll text you my dorm number and send you a pic of a painting I did of myself.”
“Awesome. See you soon.”
Des anxiously awaited her new friend’s text, eagerly staring down at her phone in anticipation. Finally, Pearl messaged.
Pearl: LaShonda might stop you at the door, she’s the RA.
Pearl: A former athlete and grad student with ‘tude.
Pearl: Just tell her you’re my friend and it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’ll come down and get you if there’s an issue. 😉
Des: Got it
Pearl: Check out my art. I hope you love it as much as I do! <3
Des: Holy shit! You’re beautiful.
Des: I mean, your ART is beautiful.
Des: But isn’t it a little conceited to love an art piece YOU created of… YOURSELF?
Pearl: Damn :*-(
Des: Shit. I’m sorry, it was a joke. I’m dumb.
Pearl: HAHA! No worries, it’s all good.
Pearl: So, will you let me do you?
Des: Uhm, what?
Pearl: You know
Pearl: Paint you.
Pearl: You’ve seen what I can do to myself.
Pearl: Imagine what I’ll do to you next. 😉
Des: Oh. Yea sure. Sounds great.
Pearl: Hellz yeah!
Pearl: Now get your ass over here! Don’t make me wait.
Des: On the way.
The biker saddled back up and hit the road, again heading towards campus. She didn’t take the same route she had previously, not wanting to possibly run into Esther. Curvy backroads, the scenic route locals called it, would have to do for the time being. Not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention, Des kept her speed at or slightly below the limit during her trip. Despite her attempts, she realized it was dark and quickly growing even darker. A bike out on the road at that hour would already seem suspicious to anyone paying attention.
As she winded around the streets, avoiding most larger intersections, she tried to keep her mind off of her moms. She’d become an expert at compartmentalizing her emotions, gaining most of her experience from the multiverse merger. Some versions of Max and Chloe were pretty bad off and broken down when she saved them. Several situations were downright shitty and depressing. Keeping her focus on the big picture helped to mitigate her overwhelming feelings, allowing her to accomplish what she had set out to do. Unfortunately, this time, things were much different. She didn’t have a set goal or a clear path forward. Several hours earlier, when she walked out of the house, she didn’t know it was the last time she might see her moms for quite awhile. A deepened sadness threatened to well up inside her, but the girl fought it away and kept pushing forward.
Understanding her predicament meant she would need to go against her instincts and allow her moms to fend for themselves. Denying the voice in her head that was calling out for her to help them, was one of the toughest things she had ever done. Everything she’d known, centered around her and her moms’ safety; she now had to temporarily try and forget about them.
“Fuck, I hope they’re doing okay,” she whispered towards the road in front of her. “There’s that goddamn word again… ‘hope’.”
She shifted her thoughts away from the gloomy situation and aimed them towards Pearl. The girl had already made a big impression on her, and now she was about to be in the athlete’s dorm. It felt surreal.
A prickling nervousness swept through Des’s mind as she approached the campus. She could literally travel through time, anywhere she wanted, but the idea of not being good enough to hang out with Pearl made her stomach churn. She giggled to herself at how dumb it was to let a seemingly minor thing impact her in such a profound manner. But she couldn’t deny the very real feelings she was experiencing.
Finally, she made her way through the university streets and rode to the athletic dorms at the far end of campus. There were two structures with large letters adorned on the street-facing side. They were shaped like multilevel rectangles, more modern in appearance than the other university buildings. A parking lot that must’ve been paved in the last week or so, surrounded the dorms in all directions. Freshly painted white lines separated the spaces in even, congruent sections. The parking booth was unmanned and the arm was raised, so Des pulled in and found a parking spot nearer the building with the “F” on the side.
“F211. Gotta be it.”
Removing her helmet and tethering it to her bike, Des hopped off and headed for the glass double-door entryway. She unbuttoned her jacket and started along the path to the entrance. The sidewalk leading from the parking area to the dorms was lined with well-lit, square-shaped LED lights that were set a few feet apart near the grassy edge on either side. The lobby was even brighter, illuminating light spilling out from the mostly glass side walls.
Des pushed the door open and was greeted by an older girl. Her shoulder width was probably double that of the biker’s and she was at least a head taller. She had cornrows lining the top and sides of her head, and she wore athletic clothing; gym shorts and a tightly-cropped white teeshirt with a light yellow runners jacket on top.
“Where you headed, blondie? It’s getting late, and I ain’t never seen you before.” Her tone was direct but didn’t feel impolite or disrespectful.
“Uhm… Pearl. Pearl Fawkes. She told me to meet her in her dorm room. It’s F211. We’re old friends, kinda.”
“I know where Pearl’s room is, girlie. Second floor; take a left from the elevator and 211 is right across from the showers. What’s your name?”
“I’m Des. Well, Destiny.”
“Which is it, Des or Destiny?” The resident assistant tilted her head and lowered her eyebrows.
“Pearl sorta uses my full name, but I prefer Des from most everyone else.” The red-streaked blonde shrugged, a tiny, goofy grin briefly curling her lips.
“Mhmm. Well, sign in here and head on up,” the woman held a digital device near Des’s face and captured her retina scan for identification. “Destiny Caulfield-Price. Okay. I’ll notify her you’re here. Elevators are right around the corner; we got two. Stairs’ll be across from ‘em. Oh, by the way, if you didn’t park in the visitor’s lot and plan on staying the night, you might have a ticket in the morning, just sayin’.”
“Thanks.” Des sort of half-saluted and spun around towards the corner the woman indicated. The doors were already opened on the right elevator, so she strolled on inside. She pushed the button for the second floor and rode up one level. After a ding, the doors slid open.
She was facing two students, one male and one female, with their arms around one another in a side hug. As Des walked around them, the pair stepped inside the elevator.
“Hey,” the guy spoke up, calling out to Des. “Are you Destiny?”
Des spun around and made eye contact with the boy. “Yeah. Who are you?”
“I’m Chris and this is Kara.” The girl stuck her hand up beside her ear and waved. “You’re headed to Pearl’s room?”
“Uhhhh, maybe…” The hesitancy in her voice couldn’t be more obvious.
“It’s okay, Destiny,” Kara calmed. “Pearl can’t stop talking about you. It’s super cute. Haven’t seen her smile this much since…” She abruptly stopped talking with a wince.
Chris seemed to have elbowed Kara, cutting her off. “It was nice meeting you, Destiny. Hope we see you around more soon.”
“Call me, Des.”
The boy seemed taken aback, if not a little embarrassed. “Oh, okay, Des. Sorry.”
“Bye!” Kara was almost overly cheerful as she rubbed her now sore shoulder.
The elevator shut while Des was left standing, staring into the shiny, silver doors where a caricaturized reflection of herself was staring back. She shrugged off the encounter and located the showers. The door on the opposite side of the hall read “211”. She could feel her heart speeding up as she neared her destination. Her breathing began feeling intentional and forced, so she took a deep breath to calm her nerves.
Centering herself in front of the door, Des lifted a balled fist readying to knock. As she did, the door swung wide open and she was standing face to face with the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen.
Pearl fidgeted with her gym shorts and grinned. “Destiny! You made it.”
“Yep, I’m here,” Des nervously responded, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
“Well, come in.”
Des followed her friend as she disappeared inside, shutting the door behind them. She wasn’t sure what was about to happen, and despite her almost debilitating nervousness, she knew there was nowhere else she’d rather be.
Rachel remembered a time right after she died. Not being ready to move on, she experimented and manipulated her current state, figuring out how to help the two people in her life that mattered most, working towards a happy future. When that task was completed, Rachel said goodbye to her friends and intended to move on to whatever plane of existence came next.
She found herself in a massive cave-like room among a sea of other souls preparing to move on. There were as many people behind her and on the sides as there were immediately in front. It felt like being dead center of the crowd at a concert where she could barely move. Nobody was walking or talking; it was one of the most awkwardly unpleasant situations she’d ever been in. They were all facing the same direction as if waiting for something to happen.
“Hey,” she whispered to a preteen boy standing to her right, nearly pushing up against her because of the tight squeeze of the crowd. “How long have you been here?”
The boy marginally perked up, slowly turning his head towards the girl to face her direction. His eyes seemed to pierce right through her, a smoky haze had replaced the white and whatever color his irises once were. As if not recognizing what he was seeing, the boy turned back in the direction of everyone else and continued standing and staring into the distance.
Rachel scanned as many faces as she could see from her spot, and she noticed all of them had the same lifeless looks in their eyes. A mild panic began to take over, and she turned the opposite direction, away from that which the countless souls were facing. The blonde frantically started pushing through, towards what she perceived as the back of the area. Just as she thought she was coming to the end, more and more people appeared in vast numbers, in a steady flow. Unlike her, nobody seemed aware of themselves or their surroundings, and it terrified the former actor in a way she’d never experienced before.
The room was spinning and Rachel felt her mind losing its grip. Something didn’t feel right. She’d never been to this space before but it felt like it had to be somewhere in between life and the afterlife. Souls weren’t moving on like she thought they should and she didn’t plan on staying to find out why. She continued clawing through the endless ocean of bodies but could never find an end. Faces blurred by as she fought past the others in a crazed hurry.
Finally, she cracked. The girl hit her knees and released a deep, guttural scream that originated from the most cavernous areas of her soul. Her chin was pointed upward, every muscle in her body tensed. Tears profusely cascaded down her face creating small liquid puddles on the stone-like floor beneath. Rachel didn’t know how long she’d been yelling and she didn’t care.
Suddenly, she felt a hand on her back, halting her breakdown and causing the blonde to jump to her feet.
“Hey. Don’t be afraid.” A man stood there looking at the girl with an apparent awareness that matched her own. His eyes looked normal and it calmed her to see someone else like her. Rachel’s sobbing died down and she wiped her face. She cleared her throat and began to speak.
“Y-you aren’t like the others. Why?”
“I’m not sure. But when I heard your screaming I knew I had get to you. I was sort of panicking before, but your voice sounded human-like.” He stuck out his hand and flattened his lips, a poor attempt at a smile. “So, what’s your name?”
“I’m Rachel. What’s yours?”
“Nice to meet you. My name’s Tom.”