Time was something that didn’t matter much anymore to the engaged couple. In recent years, they only concerned themselves with specific numbers on the clock when other people were involved. If they made lunch or dinner plans with Max’s parents, or if they had a meeting involving M3, they ensured their timing was impeccable. Other than scheduled events, the girls could lose entire days just spending every moment together until sleep became necessary. Even then, the lovers were never far from one another.
A newfound confidence had wrapped itself around the thorny layers of doubt and uncertainty, as the duo knew timing would be of utmost importance. They knew number one hundred and one existed now and were hopeful their love could even the odds as it had previously with the Watcher. Before attempting a forward shift again, the duo decided to try small rewinds and fast-forwards in order to build assuredness and poise. The syrupy raised sweet spots had become much easier to locate since their last meeting with Rachel in the dreamspace.
While holding firmly onto each other with a strong desire of not letting go, Max rewound for a few seconds, followed by a fast-forward from Chloe. They went back and forth in a serious, business-like manner at first. It didn’t take long for the girls to turn it into a game, becoming more playful with each power usage. Even though they were in their twenties now and looked older than they did when they were children, the girls remained pirate kids and were always looking to have a fun time together.
Chloe made it clear that her main goal in life was to make every moment feel special for Max. She suspected her blue-haired beauty knew, just as she did, that every second they spent together was the most amazing moment she had ever had. This latest adventure might be the most important journey of their lifetime, but the girls would not let that keep them from enjoying each other’s presence.
A couple of hours rolled by and the companions had gone forward and backwards dozens of times. Their control and command grew as their confidence continued to soar. Once or twice they even tried their powers without the other girl to see what happened, but they didn’t do it much, just to stay safe. Unless they were touching, the rules seemed to remain the same. The one who used the power without touching her partner, did so alone while the other could feel the residual energy but wouldn’t travel with her.
“At this point, I think we’re just procrastinating, babe,” the smaller girl admitted. “Are you up for trying to shift again? If not, it won’t bother me if we wait a little longer. Hell, we could wait another day or two and make more romantic memories. Even waiting another week would be fine.” Despite a degree of assuredness, Max was anxious to save their daughter yet also very nervous and hesitant. It went badly the last time Chloe jumped, but this time she was sure her partner’s power was strong enough to bring her along.
The array of emotions seemed endless, ranging from fright of failure to overwhelming joy at the thought of seeing their daughter in person. She saw the girl through Rachel’s dreamspace vision, but the idea of physically being around her in the real world filled Max’s heart with a deep brimming joy.
“Yeah, let’s try it. Do you have the photo you took earlier?” The older girl’s voice trembled a bit with an odd mixture of both uncertainty and preparedness. Max could see her best friend going through a checklist in her head. The girl was a slacker by every sense of the word, except when she was motivated. If there was something she desired, she would bend the world to acquire it.
The photographer obtained the picture from the dresser, which was located right where she placed it a couple of hours before, and it was sitting beside Chloe’s half-drank glass cup of water. Tucking it in her pocket, Max nodded in confirmation. The photo was of utmost importance, as it was a way to try again. It was the reset they needed if things didn’t go quite like they had planned. The odds were against them, and the pair knew they would need every advantage they could find.
“Well, here we go, love. Let’s save our daughter.” They held each other firmly, and the forward-jumper closed her eyes. “No matter what happens, Max,” the taller of the two whispered, “that little girl is all that matters. We save her and forget about everything else.”
“Wait, Chlo. What exactly are you saying?” The words she had just heard puzzled the smaller girl. There was no answer from her partner since she had begun focusing on the scene and the forward shift. Noticing the concentrated effort on her fiancé’s face, the brunette braced herself in preparation for what was to come.
This future was one she had never seen before, as things had changed slightly since she last viewed the timeline branches. Quickly, Rachel scanned to see what this attempt had in store for her friends. “Oh no!” She screamed deep into the deafness of the never-ending abyss after she witnessed the bleak futures that could come. “Fuck! This can’t happen. No goddam way!” There were two possibilities that could play out if she didn’t intervene somehow, and both were far from ideal. Death and darkness followed both branching realities. In some ways, these new futures were worse than any she had seen previously.
Rachel conjured up several familiar scenes and picked the one with the best chance for success. As she formed the dreamspace landscapes, she could see the potential futures adjusting to her work in a way she hadn’t noticed before. The immediate problem would be pulling them in to warn them prior to the forward jump. They were not asleep and were fully conscious. She tried with everything she had to force them into a slumber, but, try as she might, her attempts were unsuccessful. “I’ve got to keep pushing. Fuck, I have to.” She considered blowing wind or making rustling noises, but it would be too late if she did. It also wouldn’t change the outcome from the two possible futures they were headed towards.
After exhausting as much of her dreamspace power as possible, the most she achieved was making her friends tired. “That’s not enough! If I can’t do this, everything we’ve worked for will be meaningless. Shit!” She didn’t have much time, as the duo was nearly to the point of jumping. When no amount of effort was successful, she fell to her knees in disappointment and despair.
Max’s curious eyes remained open as she felt her fiancé’s torso and arms begin to tremble. Unlike the previous attempt, she could hear the sounds of the future and knew they were merely moments from jumping. Their child’s voice was clearly audible through the rushing sounds of wind, and it made her heart race and the corners of her lips curl upward. She felt the prickle of electric waves with a flowing liquid quality running up and through her body. The walls of the room and all physical objects started winking in and out of her view. Looking up at her partner’s face, she noticed a yawn forming, which caused her to yawn as well. She felt overly tired, but her determination outweighed all other impulses and urges. If they were to save their daughter, they would need to focus deeply. She shook off the sleepiness and knew Chloe had too.
Both of their bodies glowed with a bright yellow outline, and she felt a gravitational release followed by absolute stillness. She opened her eyes and was surrounded by white nothingness. Far in the distance she heard Chloe’s laughter and a little girl’s voice. “Mama, I wuuuuv chocat.” She gasped out of delight at the sounds of her precious little family.
As reality began to trickle in, starting in the middle of her view, she recalled Rachel telling them they had anywhere from one to three seconds prior to the gunshot. Like a machine, Max was hyper-focused. Her mind scanned the area gathering as much data as she could. She knew she had grabbed the photo to jump back, so if they were not successful this time, they could try again. She hoped more than anything there wouldn’t have to be a next time.
She didn’t recognize the area but would never forget what she was seeing. They were in a small-town city square, where a local festival was taking place. Tents and makeshift craft stands lined the road where items were sold to people passing by. The traffic appeared to be cut off with orange cones and road barrels allowing for safe pedestrian trips to and from vendors on the asphalt and sidewalks. Food trucks also lined the streets selling meals, beverages, and sweet treats. About ten steps from the three girls, a dessert truck idled where they no doubt just visited. The young girl held a waffle cone wrapped with napkins at the base and topped with a scoop of creamy, smooth chocolate ice cream that had been licked several times.
Looking up from the chocolate topper, Max made eye contact with the little girl for the first time. At about the same moment she met her beautiful young daughter’s eyes, the photographer heard a loud startling boom and a crackling in the air, causing her heart to race and her muscles to tense. Time seemed to nearly stop, as she forced her way towards the little girl as quickly as she could. She couldn’t have been more than a few paces away, but every step felt weighed down with a million pounds of sand. It was like trying to run at full speed in the ocean with only marginal success.
Abruptly, with an unexpected force, she was shoved towards their little daughter pushing the girl down to the ground and landing on top of her. Looking back, she met the eyes of her best friend and lover, then witnessed those perfect sapphire orbs roll back in the girl’s head. Her body went limp and she crumbled towards the ground. As she fell, the cratered hole in her temple became clearly visible, oozing with a thick crimson liquid. It reminded her of a moment that had been erased back in the junkyard while trying to protect Rachel’s body. Her former psychopathic teacher had shot Chloe in the head before Max jumped back and made things right.
“NOOOO, Chloe!” She bellowed out of horror and fear, wincing from the sight.
Max looked down at her daughter who was balled up under her protective body crying. Her face had been skinned and bruised from the sidewalk concrete she landed on, but she was safe. The photographer’s hands were shaking nearly uncontrollably, though she knew she had to get to the photo to jump back. Fumbling around in her pocket she fingered the picture finally pulling it out. When she flipped it over, she noticed water on the frontside, rendering it a blob of mixed colors and chemicals and was completely useless. The condensation from Chloe’s water cup must have crept its way to the photo when it was lying on the dresser. She studied it for a moment but knew she wouldn’t be able to jump with it in its current condition.
Panic swooped in and tears began forming in her eyes. A crowd had gathered, with some on their phones and others gawking in their direction. Max stood over her daughter and held her arm straight out. She searched for the sweet spot for a regular rewind, but she couldn’t do it. She tried over and over and over again but failed many times. Blood was rushing from her nose, but it didn’t matter. Closing her eyes, she attempted a mental shift. She’d always needed a photo but hoped this time it would be different. She desperately hoped she could do what Tom and all the other time-travelers before her could, but it seemed impossible. After several failed attempts she opened her eyes and saw her partner still lying silently on the cement all alone.
Realizing there was nothing she could do, her heart sank deeply in her chest. She desperately threw herself on top of her lover’s body. “Chloe! Chloe! Don’t leave me. Please! I can’t do this alone, I need you! PLEASE!” The air was thick and it was tough to draw in a breath. Her strength was fading but she knew she needed to move forward.
She pressed her mouth to the cold, dry lips of the love of her life and pinched her nose. In a failed and pointless attempt at CPR, Max couldn’t help but continue trying. She balled her hands up and started with chest compressions. Frantically, she moved back to the mouth-to-mouth position and blew as hard as she could. The blue-haired girl’s chest rose with each exhale, but was not responding on her own.
Finally, a man pulled her off the lifeless body saying something about her needing to stop because she was already gone. His voice hit Max’s ears in a garbled mess of nearly muted sound. It was like she was underwater while someone above the surface was trying to speak to her. She jerked away and shoved the man. “We’re Max and Chloe,” she cried, “We’re… we’re…” The words wouldn’t come out, but a loud and sloppy sob came weeping from the girl’s mouth as she fell to her knees in a pile of pain and tears. “AHHH!!” She screamed as loudly as she could, using the last bit of energy she could muster. Each inhale and exhale rang loudly in her head, reminding her that she was still breathing while the one person that mattered to her more than anything in existence wasn’t afforded the opportunity to experience the cool chill of breath entering and exiting her lungs.
Her daughter came over and snuggled with her mother as the two shared endless tears and heartbreak. Through bloodshot and scratchy eyes, Max pulled her daughter away from her body to get a better look at the girl. Placing her hands on either side of her head, their gazes lined up and it was as if she was looking into her lost lover’s perfectly clear blue eyes. The mustache of chocolate on her daughter’s mouth streaked downward, as rain began to fall from clouds she didn’t realize had rolled in. Pulling the little girl to her chest for a tight hug she could only think of Chloe’s last words: “No matter what happens, that little girl is all that matters. We save her and forget about everything else.” Warmth radiated from her body, and it felt nice to hold her, but it was a deeply empty feeling she wished she could discard.
Then it occurred to the newly single mom, her partner had planned this without telling her. Anger briefly replaced grief, which quickly passed. “There had to be another way,” she murmured. In her heart, she knew the only thing that mattered at that point was the safety of their daughter, but she didn’t know how to carry on without her soulmate, her best friend, her everything. The tears flooded down again, and Max couldn’t hold anything back. Her body went limp and she crashed down to the ground in a puddle of rain and sadness, releasing the girl as she tumbled. She squeezed her eyes as tightly as she could hoping she’d wake up. Despite her desperation, she knew it wasn’t just one of her bad dreams. It was the first time in her life she actually wished for a nightmare.
Abstract and disjointed thoughts bounced around inside Max’s head. Finally, her mind settled on the idea that she had to protect their daughter at all costs. It was all she had left. Realizing she didn’t even know the girl’s name, the urge to hold onto her replaced all other thoughts. She tried to push herself up to locate her princess, but was unable to move. Her body had been grief-stricken and would not allow her to function properly. She tried to get up, but was unable to budge. A sorrowful paralysis had taken over, as her body and face laid in a flowing stream of water that ran down the sidewalk.
The storm intensified and the water slammed down onto Max’s motionless body. Each drop felt like a mallet slamming against her skin, crushing her heart and soul. A crackled thunderclap echoed through the trendy downtown area as the crowd had dispersed seeking shelter of their own. The sky illuminated brightly for a second and was noticeable even through clenched eyes. Care or concern for sheltering herself was far from any desire the dejected girl felt.
For a moment, she considered the possibility of dying by lightning strike, and she would happily welcome an exit from this life if it were to send her to a space where she could hold Chloe again. She already missed her soulmate and felt a cavernous hole open in her recently fractured heart. She’d do anything to fill the freezing emptiness inside her, where all the colors mixed together forming a grey-hued void. A cold blue ice encircled her heart, as the end of her world was playing on a bitter loop behind the girl’s puffy eyelids. She felt like kicking out the windows and setting fire to this new icy existence, but was unable to shake the sting of her paralyzing grief.
Suddenly, she was hoisted in the air from her lying position and was cradled in someone’s comforting arms. “It’s okay, Max.”
She gasped loudly, recognizing the caring and tender voice. “Everything will be fine, trust me.” As the cradled girl reopened her eyes and forcefully lifted her head to see who had scooped her up, she was surprised when she noticed the person staring back at her. The extreme shock and emotional strain were too much to handle. Objects blurred and perception spun out of control. She slouched downward as her petite frame went limp, everything fading to a black void of nothingness, and was carried away from the area.
“Will she be alright?”
“I think so, she’s tough. This is still new to me.”
“We can’t lose her. Do you understand?”
“Of course, and we won’t.”
“We should just stay here until she wakes, yeah?”
“It might be best if she wakes somewhere a little more familiar.”
“Yeah, that makes sense… and… thank you… for everything.”