It had only been a minute or so since the girls locked fingers in the middle of the table, finding strength and purpose among a seemingly hopeless situation. Coordinated thought hid itself from Max’s grasp, vanishing behind bubbles of memories that attempted to push through to the forefront of the photojournalist’s mind; all fragmented but radiating with a shade of truth that seemed of importance.
…a truck in the Blackwell parking lot pulling up at the perfect moment…
…a train track walk, holding hands to steady one another…
…searching for five bottles for target practice…
…dead whales and birds…
…a swimming pool adventure…
…missing girl posters everywhere…
Somewhere barely within earshot, on the other side of one of the walls, a slow and steady dripping echoed with each decent. The only other audible sounds came from her own breathing and that of the other girl sitting across from her. A deep intimacy was shared between the girls in a moment of stillness, both never breaking their stares. Max felt herself drift into a state of joyfulness, as her soul was exposed and bared for Chloe to witness. As intimating as it felt at first, the visitor bathed in the heartfelt acceptance she was experiencing through an intangible openness.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the prisoner broke eye contact, as an abrupt sense of displeasure enveloped the photographer. The girl’s gaze inched downward, landing somewhere just shy of the brunette’s eye line. Max couldn’t be sure, but she thought Chloe was looking at her lips.
Is she looking at my… mouth?
“Shit, Max,” Chloe impishly bubbled. “I could sit here forever with you… if only I wasn’t facing my execution in two damn days.” She glanced back into Max’s eyes, head slightly tilted with a look of frustration painted on her face.
Suddenly, something struck the visitor as odd, her disjointed thoughts sharply moving into focus. “Two days? No, we have until Saturday. They said the execution wouldn’t happen until the weekend.” She heard the somber anguish in her own voice, echoing on a loop in her mind. The words that came from her mouth almost sounded like someone else; someone desperately begging for a different answer.
“Not anymore. Jack told me first thing this morning it was moved up.”
“Chloe… no. Fuck. Why the hell would he do that?” It felt a bit personal to the visitor, like she’d been bamboozled or intentionally mislead.
“Nah, it’s not him, Max. He’s actually a decent guy deep down. Reminds me a little bit of David.”
“Are you sure? He seems like a self-righteous jerk to me.”
“He has his moments, for sure.” Chloe lowered her hands, releasing the grip she had on Max’s. All four drifted downward, laying flat on the table’s surface; chains and cuffs slightly rattling.
“Chloe, are you okay? You look sad all of a sudden.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just remembering my first few weeks in this hell pit. Not to go too much into my own shit right now, but a lot of fucked up things happen here. Being a prison exclusively for women, you can imagine how a mostly male staff would treat prisoners. Well, I was approached by a dickhead early on and before it got bad, Jack busted in and beat the shit out of the guard. I never saw that jackoff again. Get it? Jack. The warden’s name. JACKoff. Nevermind.”
“Oh, Chloe! I’m so sorry. That’s… that’s…” Max trailed off, as the inmate’s story reminded her of her own attack just hours prior to their meeting.
“Anyway, he said it has something to do with pressure from the governor’s office and making an example out of me ‘to suppress the NCDPA’s advancements’.” She used finger quotes as she recited the warden’s exact words. “Get this, dude, as he was telling me about this shit, I saw him wipe a tear from his face. A fucking tear! He’d never admit it, but I think he’s actually gonna miss me.” The girl mischievously smirked with an out-of-place pumping of both eyebrows.
“The NCDPA?” It sounded familiar but Max couldn’t quite place it.
“Yeah, The National Coalition for Death Penalty Abolishment. It’s ironic if it’s true, don’t ya think? The very group that wants to end capital punishment might be the reason I get put to death early. You gotta admit, that’s hilarious.”
“No way, Chloe, that’s terrible! I thought we had more time. There’s no way in hell I could ever just let you die!”
“Maybe not now,” the inmate responded, “but at one time you could… and did. Not that I blame you. It was the right thing to do. And now we can confidently say that the universe could never keep us apart.” The girl briefly held two middle fingers towards the ceiling with a rebellious sparkle in her eyes.
The room began trembling. “Wait, I let you… die? Is that what Mom was talking about?”
“Shit, I’m sorry. It’s important to go slow with you and your memories. I’ve been worried as hell that piling it all on too quickly would hurt you even worse. I never wanna hurt you, Maxter.” She looked down at the table, withdrawing her assertiveness from the conversation. “The problem is we don’t have much time anymore. What do you remember? Ease into it. I’m here, dork. I got your back.”
The room steadied as the girls looked into each other’s eyes again, latching on. “Chloe… I…” The brunette hesitated, an ominously dreadful feeling taking control of her motor functions.
“It’s fine, Super Max. Show that Max Caulfield confidence I read about in your blog. You really could make the world bow, ya know. Don’t be afraid, just let go.”
“I… I can rewind time.”
“How many times have we been over this, Dad? Jeez. I’m not a machine. I can’t keep finding myself sitting in your car talking to the back of your head as you drive us to nowhere.”
“Chloe, you’ve always been bullheaded. Your mom used to say that. I had a more positive spin on it. To me, you were more ‘strong willed’.” The man chuckled to himself, eyes never leaving the road. “You still have one more thing to do, sweetheart.”
“Yeah? What exactly is left for me to do now? It’s not exactly like I can freely move around and figure shit out. I’ve been convicted of murder, sentenced to death, kept quiet like we planned, and Max is still out there. I have no way of contacting her or knowing if she’s okay. I feel helpless.”
“Do you remember what I said the third time we met in a dream?”
As Chloe pondered how to respond, her father hummed a country song slightly bobbing his head with the beat.
“Yeah, of course. You said I was blinded by beauty but there’s a greater beauty yet to come. That greater beauty was Max, right?”
“Bingo, sweetie. I always knew she would be back.”
“How did you know that, though? She left me, remember? I had to move on.”
“Chloe, I knew because you knew. After all, I’m just in your head, yeah?” The man giggled to himself again then reached over and turned the radio up full blast.
The father daughter pair sat in silence as the same country song she’d heard hundreds of times, while dreaming about her dad, finished playing over the car’s speakers. Chloe knew what would happen next. They would chat more about Max and her needing to remain calm and patience. Eventually, another vehicle would come crashing into them waking her from her dream. As terrifying as the crashing moment always felt, she was still very thankful to spend time with her father, even if a figment of her imagination. Him being there helped the girl not feel so lonely while locked away.
“Daddy, tell me. This time can be different. What’s the one more thing I have to do?”
“You haven’t called me ‘daddy’ in years; since you were a little girl.” Unlike each previous instance, William slowed the car down and flipped on his blinker. He pulled over to the side of the road and turned around until he was face to face with the girl in the backseat. “The one last thing you have to do to figure everything out is actually easier than you might think.”
“What is it, please!?”
“Chloe, you have to let go.”
Suddenly, the two were standing over an open grave in a cemetery wearing nice black dress clothes. The casket was closed so she couldn’t see the unfortunate individual inside, but she figured it was probably a memory of her father’s funeral. Chloe turned around to scan the others in the crowd behind them and recognized nearly every face: Dana, Warren, Justin, several truckers who frequented the Two Whales, David, Victoria, Kate, and others. The only one who wasn’t smiling was a younger version of Max, who was holding what appeared to be a shoebox. She looked the exact same as she did the last day she saw her before leaving for Seattle.
“Chloe, you’re a legend,” Justin whispered as he approached, fist bumping then disappearing as if he was never there.
“You saved us all, Chloe,” Kate softly spoke, dragging a supportive arm across her shoulder then also vanishing from sight.
One by one, the funeral guests walked by with complimentary words all kind and heartfelt about how she saved them or was some sort of hero. Finally, the younger Max walked up and hugged Chloe tightly around the waist with her free arm, the shoebox still tucked under the other. It felt weird with her arms around her best friend from years ago, but the same loving energy that was always there transferred between them.
“Your dad’s right, Chloe,” the petite brunette began as she pulled away from their embrace. “You have to let go.” Her voice was cute and soothing, as always, but there was a concerned, uneven texture to her words.
“I’m trying. I want to forget about the past and focus on the future but I don’t know how. I mean, I’m stuck in prison facing my own death; I don’t know what to do next… or even how to start.”
“No, Chloe. Your heart is heavy and your mind is clouded. We’re not broadly talking about letting go of your past. You have to actually let HER go.” Max slowly lifted the shoebox lid, allowing it to drop to the ground. Craning over to catch a glimpse of the revealed object, Chloe felt her breathing catch as she recognized the blue feather earring residing at the bottom of the box. She rapidly whipped her head around and turned back towards the casket. It was somehow now open with Rachel’s lifeless body lying inside.
“No,” Chloe shockingly whimpered as she raised both hands to her open mouth. Several tears streamed down as Max stood on her tiptoes reaching upward to wipe her friend’s cheeks.
“See, honey, you have to let Rachel go. I mean really let her go.” William stood over the body and pulled his daughter into a side hug. Max was nowhere in sight leaving the opened shoebox in Chloe’s arms. “After you found out what happened to her, there was no time for you to properly mourn. Yeah, you decided to be angry at the time… again. But you and I both know, even though she was very special to you, that greater beauty was always in your future. The greatest beauty we can experience in life is finding an unconditional love. One that will be there for you for the rest of your days, regardless of everything else.” He stopped his thought and slightly nodded his head before continuing. “You just gotta let go, Chloe. You got this.”
“Dad, I tried to let her go over and over again years ago.” She blinked several times to clear the moisture from her eyes. “We were meant to be in each other’s lives for a short time, but we were never built to last. I know that now. I think I always knew, but I couldn’t stop hoping she would want me completely like I wanted her.”
“Here let me help you.” The man gently took hold of the shoebox and removed it from Chloe’s grasp. He retrieved its contents and dangled the blue feather earring out by the hook. “Go ahead, take it.”
Chloe gingerly handled the earring between her pointer and thumb. She ran her opposite palm down its length with one final stroke, then she lightly pressed it to her lips. Looking over at her dad to say ‘thank you’ she realized he, too, had vanished from the dream. All that remained was Chloe, Rachel’s body, and a very special earring that needed to find its way back home.
Bending down towards the open casket, Chloe reached inside, sliding the item’s hook into her deceased friend’s ear. For a moment, she imagined Rachel was only sleeping. It wouldn’t be the first time Chloe sat awake staring down, amazed at how beautiful her friend was and how lucky she was to have found her. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation weighed heavily. Rachel Amber was really dead, and she would never again be able to hold the girl in her arms.
Tears began to cascade down her cheeks again and this time she let them without apprehension. She bathed in her mourning to wash away the pain. Several moments passed by as she stared at the face that was once full of life and wonder. Chloe wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do so she just started talking.
“Hey, Rach. I-I don’t really know what to say. I’m not good at these sorta things. I guess… I should tell you how much I’ve missed you. Forget all the other bullshit, I just miss you. That’s all. It’s not even the parties or the wild things we did together. Not the sleepovers, the hangovers, catching trains, or joy rides in my truck. Yeah, I’ll always remember those fucking amazing times, but I miss the stupid stuff. Like the way you moved your mouth to the side, just barely, when you were meeting someone for the first time. You probably didn’t even realize you did it. The way your eyebrow moved as you spoke. The way you sorta pivoted your hips to the side to act confident even when I knew you were scared as hell. How you always texted or called me even when we were fighting just to show you cared. I miss that shit, Rach. I miss your fucking energy. God, why? Why did it have to be you?”
Chloe squeezed her eyes closed trying to block the deluge, trying to be strong, but nothing could stop them from forcing their way out. The same pain she felt in the junkyard, when she and Max discovered Rachel’s grave, sliced at her as if it had been the first time all over again. The finality of death stung like a sunburn to her heart. She didn’t want to linger in the pain any longer so she decided she’d say a few more words to divert her emotions.
“Rach, I wish you could have met Max,” the saddened girl started, sniffing to clear her nostrils. “You would have loved her so much, I promise. She came back to me recently and in some ways, it was like she never left. Just being around her makes me feel like I know what I’m doing, and I know in my heart what I want. Max unconditionally cares about me. The other shit doesn’t matter to her. She sees me for who I am inside, and…”
Chloe didn’t finish her last thought. She abruptly realized something. Yes, she would forever value the time she and Rachel spent together. Yes, it would still hurt any time she looked back at her past. But now she only wanted to look forward, towards her future. Max meant much more to her than just a friend, and her renewed sense of purpose would be the driving force behind every action she took until she and her partner in time were both safe and together.
The dream swirled around to darkness and Chloe immediately sat up gasping for air. She calmed herself down and wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. A heavy burden she didn’t even realize she was carrying seemed to have been lifted from her heart. Remembering the dream in vivid detail, the prisoner knew from that point forward, she would remain focused and driven. It was time to put a plan into motion, and for that she needed to find Max. If only she had access to the internet; a laptop or computer would work.
The next time a guard came to her cell, she would make a hand motion like she needed paper and something to write with. Having not spoken or even communicated since the murder, Chloe figured the prison staff would jump at the opportunity to gather information from her. It was time to start moving pieces on the board, and Chloe intended to play her best game of chess.
“You can rewind time?” Chloe asked, a smirk beginning to grow as if she already knew the answer to her question. “You don’t say.”
“Please don’t think I’m crazy. You have no idea what I went through this morning.”
The prisoner must have noticed the wearisome look on her friend’s face, as her grin faded and the playfully relaxed look in her eyes angrily shifted.
“Wait. I thought getting your rewind back would be a good thing, but what the hell happened for you to remember, Max? I know what happened the first time; it was fucking traumatic.”
The photojournalist stood and turned, retreating towards the opposite side of the jail cell, away from Chloe. She placed two hands on separate bars above her head, wrapping her fingers around cool metal and taking hold. “Oh, Chloe. It was awful!” She knew the prisoner meant a great deal to her, but it boggled her mind knowing how important it felt to tell her everything. It was like she had this undeniable yearning to share herself completely with the girl, and everything she went through was meant to be experienced by both of them somehow.
Releasing her grip, Max spun around. Like a primal, yet magnetic pull, her eyes matched up with the inmate’s, sliding perfectly into each other’s gaze. A now soured scrunching of her features was easily recognizable on the girl’s face, an expression that could stop the devil in his tracks. “What the fuck happened, Max? Did someone hurt you? I swear to fucking god…”
“I was attacked by my boss, Chloe. He tried to…” The memory of what happened crashed into her, causing her legs to wobble and her balance sway. She lowered her body down to the grimy floor and propped herself on two knees. The clinking of chains being pulled to their limits rang out from the table, as Chloe unsuccessfully attempted to free herself.
“Goddammit, Max! I wish I could just pull you into my arms and hold you right now. Shiiiit!” The prisoner hammered two balled fists onto the top of the table near the anchor hook in the center. A clamorous echo reverberated out of the cell and down the hallway leading to the heavy door where the warden and his guards were no doubt waiting.
She wasn’t sure if it was the booming strike of the table and Chloe’s genuine concern for her, or if it was the idea of being in the inmate’s arms, but Max was suddenly filled with an uplifting strength.
…”Your power is changing everything, Max. Especially you. I can already tell. You’re not so chickenshit anymore.”…
…”You know what I mean. You’re becoming like this force of nature.”…
“It doesn’t matter right now,” the photographer blurted with a newfound vigor, pushing up from the floor back onto her feet. “We can deal with that later. First, we need to figure out how to get you the fuck out of here. With this… rewind power, maybe I can use it to help.”
“Max, you just lit up. What did you remember?” Chloe’s eyebrows were pushed upward, a look of awe illuminating her countenance.
“We broke into Blackwell for a night swim. God, I think I started falling in love with you then. You were so beautiful in the water.”
“No way, dork. You’ve always been in love with me, and I’m still hot, as you can see.”
Max felt like giggling, but not because of Chloe’s joking demeanor. It was like a shroud of fog had been lifted and she was seeing directly into her best friend’s heart.
…”Once you get over yourself, you’re going to make the world bow.”…
…“As long as you’re there with me.”…
…“Don’t look so sad. I’m never leaving you.”…
…“Now I’m getting cold in here.”…
…“Because we’re yapping instead of attacking each other, otter-versus-shark style.”…
Without saying a word, Max urgently rounded the table. She bent down beside where the prisoner was seated and wrapped both of her dainty arms around the girl’s torso and shoulders from the side. She pulled them together tightly, resting her head on Chloe’s shoulder and gently closing her eyes. The familiar touch sent a shiver of contentment through Max’s body, and she loved every second of the pleasurable sensation.
“Time’s up, Ms. Caulfield,” the warden announced from down the corridor that led to the jail cell. Having been swimming in the euphoric moment with her best friend, Max hadn’t even heard the thick door thunderously open.
“Max, we have one more day together,” the blonde whispered, pushing away. “You have to remember everything. Demand answers from your parents; do some research…anything. Just remember us. I know you’ll find a way.”
The keys behind the visitor jingled and clanked, followed by the metallic scraping of the barred door being muscled open. She nodded in the prisoner’s direction, as anxiety surged within her. Fighting back the fear, Max denied her beckoning impulse to panic. Her mind and heart were set on one thing, which gave her a confidence to shake everything else away. It didn’t matter what she had to do, she was going to stop the execution and get Chloe out of there. She had to.
Jack walked to the table and looked down over the two girls. Max stood and exited the cell, the warden following then locking the door as they departed. She glanced back at her restrained friend and took a deep, airy breath. With a forced smile and a second nod, the photojournalist exited the area knowing her decisions would be of utmost importance from then on out. She knew her actions would have consequences so she would need to be precise with what she intended to do. For now, she planned to head back to her apartment and confront her mom. It was time for answers.