“What’s going on here, Tom?” the former actor asked her new acquaintance. “It’s like… not a damn thing’s happening. Everyone’s just waiting around; more showing up every minute.”
The man fidgeted with his fingertips on both hands, alternating between fingers in a cyclical pattern like a recovering drug addict seeking stimulation. “Yeah, it’s been that way for a long time.”
Rachel looked up towards the shadowed gloom and couldn’t see a ceiling. It was as if there was no end to the darkened void above them. “Where is this place?” she asked, still getting a feel for her new situation. “Purgatory or some shit?”
“Nah,” Tom responded. “Purgatory is where you go to get punished, I think. This is more like… what’s the word?” He ran his slightly trembling fingers through short, dark hair before continuing. “Limbo. That’s it. Just waiting around for… I don’t know, whatever comes next.”
The pair had pushed the others out of the way and created their own circle-like space where they could chat free from being crowded or bumped into.
“Well,” Rachel began, attempting to gather every piece of information she could, “how did it happen for you? Ya know, how did you die?”
“Feels a wee bit too personal, Rachel. We just met.”
“Ah, come on! Too personal? What the hell does that even mean here?” She cocked an impish eyebrow to let the man know she wasn’t trying to upset him.
“I don’t know,” Tom responded, eyelids lowering as he stared in the girl’s direction. “You go first. Maybe I’ll feel more comfortable hearing about you. Mine is pretty… dark.” The muscles in his face briefly twitched.
Rachel nodded. “Sounds fair. Brace yourself, though, because this might sound batshit crazy to you. So, I kinda died twice. Once was fucked up because of a damn drug overdose from a shithead. The other was after Max, a friend of mine, sorta reversed time and I sacrificed myself to save her and my other friend.” She stopped as she noticed the man take a step back, jaw slacked in apparent disbelief or shock. “Yeah, I know it’s strange…”
“Whoa, you know M-Max?” His eyes were darting back and forth as if trying to solve an impossible riddle.
“Uhhh, yes? Wait, how do you know her?”
“Holy shit,” Tom spun around, palms landing on the back of his head. He slowly rubbed his upper neck as Rachel watched him work through his thoughts. He psychotically giggled to himself once and spoke under his breath at such a lowered level that the girl couldn’t make out his words.
“You okay, dude?” Normally, she would have approached the man and maybe laid a hand on his shoulder so he could feel more at ease. But she noticed his mannerisms, and she didn’t really know how he would respond to her touch. Instead, she waited for him to gather himself enough to continue their conversation.
After a couple of minutes, Tom turned back around with an oddly disproportionate grin broadening on his face.
“You… suddenly seem… happy, I think,” the blonde confusingly stated, speaking her words slowly not to rattle the man.
“Rachel, the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve felt this weird connection to the power. It’s just out of reach but definitely there… or maybe here in this place. When I close my eyes and concentrate, I can feel its presence around me.”
“Power? You mean Max’s rewind?”
“Yes!” His volume increased and his voice seemed to thunder through the vast area of quietly waiting souls. “I can feel it!” He clapped his hands in excitement.
Rachel took a step back, readying herself if she and Tom were headed for confrontation.
“The power,” he began, “I had it before Max did. Then I fulfilled my purpose and it found its way to her.” He paused. His smile faded and was quickly replaced by a look of desperation and sorrow. “I-I felt so empty without it and… without Vera. I had to sacrifice the love of my life to save those people at the mall; all those damn kids!” He lowered his head as if realizing he’d been defeated. “At least I thought I did. It didn’t matter for me, though. I found life was too painful without her.” Rachel noticed the man’s eyes filling with liquid. A couple of tears escaped and he wiped his face.
“I’m so sorry, Tom. That sounds pretty fucked up.” This time, she felt the need to place a hand on the man’s back as a show of support. When she did, as soon as her palm made contact, she could see every single thing he had previously gone through. His past, him looking into Vera’s heartbroken eyes one final time, his unfair sacrifice, him talking with Max in a diner, a phone call he received from Chloe, potential futures he could have had, then finally, a bathtub overflowing with pink water and his body floating at the top. A pair of silver, gooey red scissors were on the side with his cut hand bobbing up and down near them. She forcefully pulled away, jumping backwards with a start and crouching down, almost to a full sit. “Fuck!”
As her mind cleared and the limbo-like reality swished back into focus, she saw Tom standing over her. “You saw it too, didn’t you?”
Rachel just shrugged, still shocked from the encounter.
“I thought my purpose was finished, but I now know it wasn’t until this moment. Rachel, we’re here together somehow by design. The odds of us finding each other in this, this… shit-hole is unlikely. This is the only reason now that I can see a way forward. You need to touch me again. Use my energy and fulfill your purpose. The source. You have to find it.” He stretched his arm out with an opened fist, obviously seeking Rachel’s touch again.
She pushed herself up to a stand without touching the man. Being able to see Tom’s entire existence reminded her of the futures she could see in the dreamspace where she warned Max and Chloe in order to save Destiny’s life. “It’s… it’s all connected, isn’t it? We ARE both here for a purpose. Is it really so I can find… the source?”
“Yes, Rachel. I can see it so clearly now. Maybe this is my chance at redemption, too. Maybe, just maybe if I can help you, my choices… my debt will be repaid.” He stretched his arm out once more. “Take my hand. Take my essence. I give it up to you freely.”
The green-eyed blonde looked around at the trapped souls, observing their zombie-like behavior. She knew she couldn’t stay in this place much longer. If she had learned anything from her experiences with Max and Chloe, she knew having faith didn’t mean believing in some deity somewhere. It meant letting go and yielding to some unexplainable thing that’s bigger than yourself. Max and Chloe had each other’s love. They never tried to explain it, they just gave in to where it was taking them.
Rachel nodded and slowly inched her hand towards Tom’s. She could already feel a current of energy as the distance between their hands was reduced. Finally, they touched. A blinding, pulsating light erupted and a wave of radiating electricity shot upward. She felt herself being lifted, towards the gloomy void.
As her speed increased, she looked down, noticing the sea of trapped souls shrinking below her. She hadn’t realized just how vast the space was until seeing it from afar. She located the spot where Tom was standing and noticed a burnt, charred-looking circle in his place. Wherever she was headed, it was because of him that she was free from the doom of limbo.
Rachel shook off the memory as it faded from her thoughts, her own realm coming back into focus. Nearly two decades had passed in regular time since she met Tom, and she rarely thought about it. She knew both of them had their parts to play and she was thankful for her current situation versus the spot where she could have ended up. It dawned on the Watcher, though, that having her ability came with restrictions. The limbo-like space where she and the man found each other, existed outside of time. She had been unable to see it since she’d left, but she hoped the waiting souls somehow crossed over or found their way out.
Her past wasn’t a main concern at the moment, however. She purposely told Des just enough information to give her the best chance at saving herself and her moms, which also meant casting doubt about the Watcher’s intentions. It pained her to see the questioning look in the girl’s eyes, knowing how much she loved her, Max, and Chloe, but it had to be done.
Rachel dealt in probability, and she knew something dark was coming; something that she didn’t understand from somewhere she could not see. For that reason, for several moments, she purposefully concentrated on other events rather than the three of them. Finally deciding to check on her favorite people, the Watcher rolled her eyes back and located their lifelines.
“Oh, no!” she whimpered. “Fuck!” The most probable outcomes of Des’s actions made Rachel’s heart sink. She had chosen to send the girl down a specific path, but she didn’t know if it was the right thing to do or not. As she continued to scan the timeline for other futures, she decided to intervene one more time. Des needed to come back to her realm for another challenge she was facing, but she didn’t know it would happen so quickly. She determined her course of action and would visit the red-streaked blonde again sooner rather than later, even if she didn’t feel ready for their encounter.
Calling the athletic living areas anything other than apartments or condos seemed incorrect. From what Des knew, dorms were more like small, one-room spaces meant only for sleeping and studying. Pearl’s dorm was even bigger than some houses she’d seen; the square footage was definitely plentiful and a bit excessive for one college student. But the university seemed adamant about their naming conventions, probably having something to do with funding guidelines, and attracting the country’s best athletes was sure to give the institution a boost.
As the dorm door closed behind her, Des followed Pearl into the living room. After several steps, the brunette turned around, about one meter away, to face her biker friend.
“The ladies’ room calls. Be right back, Destiny.” She smirked then pivoted ninety degrees, opening then disappearing behind a smaller door near the hallway that separated the living room from the kitchen. “Make yourself at home,” she yelled, muffled behind the closed bathroom door.
“Make myself at home,” Des repeated under her breath. She casually strolled around the area, taking in all of the décor and furnishings. Besides several beer bottles on the coffee table, most likely from the small gathering Pearl had earlier, the place was well kept. The carpet seemed freshly vacuumed, everything was neat and tidy, and the pleasant scent of warm vanilla trailed throughout the dorm.
Des made her way around the living room, noticing pictures of Pearl’s parents and what had to be her younger sister hanging on the wall. The young girl looked almost exactly the way Pearl did when she and Des were in middle school, and it made Des smile thinking about the child version of her new friend. Then her lips soured to a frown of disappointment. She wondered how things would have been if she were more assertive when they were kids. Maybe they could have been friends the entire time.
Her moms suddenly crossed her mind and she realized she hadn’t thought about them in several minutes. She felt a sting of guilt from not rescuing them immediately as she had many times during the merger. Recalling Rachel’s words, yet again, Des took an airy breath and shoved the thoughts deep into the recesses of her mind.
“Destiny Caulfield-Price,” the brunette whispered into the red-streaked blonde’s ear, causing a tingling wave of energy to trickle along her skin. Goosebumps raised all over her body from the pleasurable sensation. Des hadn’t realized the girl was finished in the bathroom and was standing right behind her.
She turned to the brunette and realized Pearl was now dressed in a loosely hanging teeshirt and a different pair of gym shorts than she wore previously. Her tee had a graphic of an old Netflix show she’d heard about but never seen. In bold letters at the bottom, the word “Arcane” was flanked by what appeared to be spray painted skulls on either side. Above the bolded, the fading phrase, “You’re perfect,” laid right below a lanky girl with long, blue hair who was holding an oversized, shark-shaped rocket launcher aimed at a building. A large, bright moon in the distance seemed to shine on every object with an eerie red glow.
“Uhm, nice shirt,” Des complimented, not really knowing what else to say.
“Thanks,” Pearl responded with a dramatic curtsy and a toothy smile. “So, you called me and wanted to come over. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you did. Just curious why?” She grabbed Des’s hand and led her over to the couch. As they sat, the athlete swung both legs up and sat cross-legged on the middle cushion. Des could feel the girl’s knee brushing against her thigh.
“To be honest, I’m not really ready to go into detail. Can we talk about something else?” Des felt her face scrunching as she braced herself for Pearl’s response.
“Of course, silly lady! But we’re circling back to this later on. It’s good to get things off your chest, ya know.”
“Yeah, I know. I just…” Des stopped and thought about what it would mean to let someone else into her world. For many reasons, only she, her parents, and Rachel knew about their abilities and what all they’d struggled through. Pearl was someone she wanted to trust, but she had been so protective and reserved with regard to the time travel stuff her entire life. Then it occurred to the biker that she might be getting ahead of herself. She had just never felt the type of connection she did when she looked into the shorter girl’s eyes.
“Don’t worry Destiny, no pressure. Here…” Pearl hopped up and skipped to the fridge. She grabbed two bottled beverages and popped the lids off. Rejoining Her friend on the couch, she handed one bottle to Des and took a sip of her own. “You like beer? You’re not straightedge or something are you?”
“Na,” Des answered. She put her lips on the bottle and lifted it upward. The liquid passed through her mouth and landed on and all around her tongue and teeth in a flavorful swish. She quickly swallowed and breathed out. She could feel a soured grimace forcing it’s way on her face, so she grinned a goofy smile and held up two thumbs. Her eyes slightly watered but she blinked the wet away.
“Oh, goodness, Destiny!” the brunette laughed. “Ultra light beer isn’t my favorite either, but I gotta keep the weight down for track. We can open some wine if you’d rather.”
“We always had both at home. One of my moms loves beer and the other is more into wine and mixed drinks.” Des shrugged. “I’m not really much of a drinker.”
“No shit? Being a badass in high school, I just figured you were into alcohol and stuff like that. Guess assuming things about people before getting to know them isn’t very good, is it?” Pearl tilted her head with a puckish grin, eyebrows raised as if she was proud for proving some sort of point.
Des knew the last comment was directed at a previous conversation the two had where she mentioned thinking Pearl was stuck-up when they were younger. She hoped the warmness in her cheeks didn’t show through. “No, I guess not.”
“Alright,” Pearl stood from her spot and held out both arms. “I’m going to pour us some wine and we can really get to know one another while I paint you.”
The biker looked up from the couch and locked eyes with the beautiful girl standing above her. The hall light was positioned directly behind Pearl’s head, and Des thought she looked like a glowing angel or maybe even a goddess. She stretched out her own arms and softly clutched the athlete’s hands. It was surprising to the blonde just how soft her friend’s skin felt between her fingers and palms.
As weight was redistributed and Des stood to her feet, the two girls stumbled, catching themselves in each other’s arms. The biker took a hasty, awkward step backwards and bumped into the coffee table.
“I-I’m sorry.” Des released her grip and looked away, hands nervously adjusting her leather jacket.
Pearl giggled and spun around. Des watched as the girl retrieved a wine bottle from the kitchen, twisted out the cork, grabbed two wine glasses, and poured. She pushed the cork back in to keep it stopped up but also left enough above the rim so she could easily pull it out again.
“Follow me.” Pearl tucked the bottle beneath her armpit and carried the glasses down the hall. Des obliged and arrived inside a room that had been converted from a guest bedroom into an art studio. Several easels were propped against the wall and a mess of boxes and art supplies were strewn around the room. Large white drop cloths hung against the walls with chaotic paint splatters and drippings peppering their surfaces.
“It may seem like a mess to you,” the artist began, as if reading her friend’s mind, “but it’s like, organized madness to me.”
“It’s… nice.” Des took the wine glass from Pearl’s outstretched hand and took a sip. “Mmm. Yeah, that’s good.”
“It’s a merlot/blush blend. I knew you’d love it, Destiny. Now, sit here.” She pointed to a backless stool in the center of the room with a thick black cushion on top. There was a small side table where Des set her glass. As she sat, she noticed Pearl propping up one of the easels and gathering supplies. She wheeled over a second stool and created a makeshift desk area about three meters from the biker’s position.
After several moments of watching her friend scurrying around prepping, Des spoke up. “So, you want the jacket on or… ?”
“On. For sure.” She continued to prep, so Des took another couple of sips. She didn’t know if the room was actually getting warmer or not, but she felt things were definitely heating up.
The artist seemed enthralled in her craft. It reminded the subject of her mother when she was on a photoshoot. Max became hyper-focused, managing all aspects of the job with a driven assertiveness. It was like she was in a happy place; where she could exercise her creative outlet and orchestrate amazing art through hard work. If Pearl was anything like her mom, this promised to be a fun experience.
“You’re so pretty, Destiny,” Pearl purred as she finished getting everything ready.
“Thanks. But, honestly, I’m not sure anyone has ever called me pretty before. I mean, my moms have, but you know how that goes. Parents always think their kids are great, ya know?” Gazing around the room, she noticed a white fabric piece draped over several paintings in the corner. She could see the portrait Pearl painted of herself sticking out from beneath.
“That’s a shame, because pretty isn’t even a strong enough word. You’re like, stunning, Destiny. Seriously. I have always thought so.”
Wanting to quickly change the subject, Des pointed towards the corner. “Thanks. So, those are your masterpieces, huh?”
Pearl turned her head ninety degrees to view her artwork. She turned back towards Des and winked. “Masterpieces? HA! I’m not sure about calling them that, but those are the ones I think might be good enough to keep. I don’t know, maybe I could eventually get good enough to sell some.”
“From what you showed me, your artwork is totally awesomesauce.” She cringed hearing herself say that last part. Her moms’ words popped up in her vernacular a little more often than she cared to admit.
“Awesomesauce? Well. I knew you were dark and mysterious, but I had no idea how much of a dork you were.” The fun-loving look on her face showed Des the girl was just joking around.
The painter’s subject skittishly huffed and squinted her eyes.
“Nope, Destiny, I need you to look more casual for the painting. You’re not really upset with me, so stop squinting and look happy.” Pearl giggled before making a few final touches to her set up, angling the easel and canvas towards Des. “Okay, let’s get started. As I begin to solidify the shape of your head and shoulders, I wanted to ask you a question.” She clutched her wine glass and took a couple of sips. “Just as an icebreaker so we can really get to know each other.”
“A question?” Des asked, voice a little shaken in a not-so-certain, almost worried manner. “Yeah, okay.”
“Yep. So…” The artist paused, dramatically batting her eyes. “Are you into boys… or are you more into girls?”