“You know,” Max teased, “you could totally be a masseuse if you weren’t gainfully employed by that kick ass photography studio… uhm, what’s the name again? I know it has a letter and maybe a number or something.”
“M3 is the perfect name and you know it, hippie. They even have that hella sexy freckled brunette photographer that I’d love to get my hands on.” Chloe impishly smirked and bit her bottom lip as she continued to massage Max’s feet while they soaked on opposites sides of their cylindrical freestanding tub. All the upgrades and contemporary interior stylings of the new townhome were part of the reason the girls decided to plant their roots there.
“She’s okay, but I prefer the tall, gorgeous blonde that runs the business and is admittedly the photographer’s muse. She’s a damn goddess.” Max was glad they chose to enjoy a bath together rather than shower. There was something special and sensual about relaxing in the warm water with the girl she loved.
“Max, please. I’m nothing without you; you know that.”
“Ditto, babe.” The married couple leaned forward for a slow, heartfelt kiss then returned to their spots, sloshing the soapy water around beneath them. “Oh,” Max perked up, “I’ve been thinking about writing some new songs. After we saw those younger versions of ourselves and how that Max wrote and played a song for her Chloe, it inspired me. I have some new lyrics rattling around in my mind, too. Maybe when all of this is over, I can play for you again.”
“That would be totally amazeballs, love! And I can sit and wonder what I did to deserve your perfect ass. Speaking of ass…” Chloe had that look in her eyes that Max knew meant only one thing.
“Chlo,” Max interrupted, “before we attack each other, can we just talk for a minute?”
“You got exactly one minute, Mean Max.” With faked annoyance, she splashed a hand-sized wave of bubbled water at the love of her life, pattering down on her neck and chest. “Then I won’t be able to control myself, and you’re gonna get it.”
“I’m cereal, Chlo. I think we’re finally near the end of all this crazy shit. Soon, it’ll be up to Des to do her part. What do you think about everything? I mean, I’m so happy to be back here with you, and it feels like we’ll finally never have to be apart again, but something big is coming; I just know it.”
“Yeah, me too, love. If what Rachel says is true, it’s not really up to us anymore anyway. I only hope we can help in some way. We’ll just have to support her.“
Max felt her masseuse begin to move upward from her foot to her calve and it sent a pleasurable chill throughout her body. “That feels good, babe. You trying to make a move on me?”
“Always. Come sit in front of me. I wanna massage your shoulders and feel you up against me.” Chloe smiled and raised her eyebrows slightly. Max still felt butterflies in her stomach when the girl showed her affection. They’d seen and experienced every inch of one another’s bodies, but it still felt new and exciting to the younger girl. The way her partner looked at her, she knew Chloe felt the same.
The masseuse worked her thumbs and fingers just below Max’s neck, moving from the shoulders to the spine in deep yet tender circular motions. While moving down her back, a hand or two strayed from their paths and ended up in the same spot on the front side. Eventually, the freckled brunette laid half-way down and allowed her eager wife full access to her body. Angled back and up from the spot where she now rested on her lover’s chest, Max gently pressed her mouth against Chloe’s soft lips. She felt an arm slide around her torso and a hand find its way to her thigh, slowly edging inward. The intensity of their playfulness heated up, and both girls passionately enjoyed each other for the next several moments. They took turns pleasuring one another with a lustful desire and graciously detailed attention to the other’s needs and wants.
After their bath, the satisfied couple, still riding the high from being back together, helped each other dry off and get dressed. They put on pajamas and snuggled up in the bed, turning on Netflix and wanting nothing more than to hold onto each other forever. Chloe traced her favorite person’s freckles while her wife played with her long blonde hair, twirling a soft still damp strand around her fingers.
“The new Stranger Things season is up, love, you wanna watch it?” Per usual, Chloe took charge of the remote while they searched for a show or movie to watch. Also, per their routine, the blonde was indecisive and relied on her petite partner to make the final decision.
“Yeah, that sounds great, babe. We need to check emails and go through resumes at some point too. It’s been nearly two days since I’ve even thought about M3. That’s probably not a very good thing with running a growing business.”
“On it, boss,” Chloe playfully saluted. The lovers withdrew from their cuddle and sat up in the bed. Max watched as she obtained the iPad from her nightstand, unplugged it from charging, then opened several apps to check messages and comments. It was getting dark outside and, with the lights off, the flickering glow from the television and iPad was enough to illuminate the room.
“Welp, people still love you. Lots of likes, shares, retweets, and upvotes. Quite a few requests through the new website form, too. Maybe now’s a good time to look over the resumes I sorted out the other day. We got some interesting and qualified applicants you’ll wanna check out, love.”
Max shook her head and sighed. “I know we need to, but hiring other people is so weird. It’s been just me and you for so long, hitting the road and grinding it out for years. This just feels so… I dunno… corporate or something.”
Chloe set the iPad on her lap, gingerly put her hand under her wife’s chin, and turned her face in her direction until their eyes were aligned. She craned in and lightly pecked Max on the lips. “You deserve this,” she whispered, after withdrawing from the kiss. “Your art and influence should be shared with the world; with everyone we can possibly reach. You’re gonna hafta release your grip a little. We’ll teach the new folks what you expect and hold them accountable. Plus, we’re still in this together, dork. That will never change.”
After a hug and another kiss, Chloe resumed scanning through messages. “Oh, damn. Brody sent an email. He’s on the road doing his travel blog thing, and asked if you’d like to collaborate sometime soon.”
“That sounds great, babe.” Max cocked an eyebrow up, and one corner of her mouth angled in a crooked half-smirk. “Actually, He’s funny, smart, charming… I think Brody might be the coolest person I’ve ever met.” Chloe huffed and quickly snapped her head around, shooting a disapproving frown and narrowed eyes at Max. “Besides you, of course,” the brunette quickly added as she snickered into her hands. “You know you’ll always be my sexy badass punk.” She nudged her partner with a playful and fun-loving shoulder.
“You’re damn right. Don’t forget it.”
“Never. Although, speaking of you being a punk… I have an idea for a ‘Badass Chloe’ theme to add to the new collection.” The former punk shifted her body around and centered herself more in front of her bedmate. Her attention had mainly been focused on the iPad, but now was solely on the photographer. “You know how Des has the red streak in the front? I was thinking, what if we do a year-long theme featuring you with different colored hair around the country? We’ve seen blue and green, but I’m thinking we do red, purple, pink, silver, whatever we decide. What do you think?”
Her perfect person’s face lit up like she just realized she hit the lottery. “Dude, I love it! I know you have a thing for my natural hair color, but, dammit, I’ve really been wanting to dye it again. Let’s do it!” She grabbed Max’s hands and pulled her off the bed, dancing around in the process. “Ready for the mosh pit shaka-brah?” Chloe cackled and continued bouncing around the room.
“Damn, babe,” Max giggled, as she felt her face warm while glancing at the floor. “Feels like a lifetime ago we were in your room that morning, and as embarrassing as it is now, I did get my first kiss from you… so… not complaining. Plus, I learned how damn good flannel looks on me.” The girls began thrashing around their room like they did when they were kids. The speed of the dancing, however, quickly decreased, ending in a body-pressed back and forth swaying. They had slow-danced together previously, but only once at their wedding. Max realized it was nice to move in rhythm with one another like a tangled, singular creature. They proved they were connected in so many deep and profound ways, but there was something unique and special about their bond while slow dancing.
“Thanks for the dance, love.” Chloe buried her face in messy brown hair and pressed her lips down, ending in a sucking smooch sound that sent a cascading ripple of energy through Max’s body. “Come here.” Max was playfully pulled by an arm around her waist onto the bed and into a snuggle. The married couple propped up with pillows at their backs and continued examining the contents on the iPad. Chloe held the device as Max watched her open several documents.
“These are the ones you think would work well?” Max wondered as she studied the resumes and applications Chloe was scrolling through.
“Yep, yep, yep. Got ten here that would be good fits. You just gotta decide if any would be GREAT fits. Want me to show you my favorites, love?” Max nodded and the girl of her dreams began with the list.
“This first one is a bit of a wild card, but she seems like a total badass. Lucy Rose Jones doesn’t have any real experience per se, but check out the headshot she included. Her cover letter says she’s been drifting around the country playing her guitar and living a minimalist lifestyle. Think about the raw passion you could get outta her. We could train, then send her around the country to document her travels and shit. Could be an interesting new segment for the website, and it would free you up from your weekly blog entries.”
“Next, we have Emma Vincent. She’s a comic book writer and artist who fell in love with your work and says she loves our story. Currently, photography is a hobby but she wants to transition to full-time and study the craft under you. She says she’s been through unexpected twists and turns in life that were out of her control, but she is inspired by our love and knows we’re meant to be together forever. Emma is a big fan but also a very astute person who will take the role seriously.”
“This next one is a bit… different. His LinkedIn profile shows he’s the oldest on the list but his aerial drone work is phenomenal. Jim Rickman is a physicist and engineer who dabbles in photography. He has two daughters, is married, and would absolutely make you proud with his attention to detail and artistic passion for taking photos. Here’s a nice drone pic of Herron Island. He’s local, so we could interview him in-person pretty quickly.”
“Last, we have D. Gray. He draws, writes, paints, does graphic art, and enjoys photography. He has some lovely nature photos I think you’ll find stunning. His application is professional but also hilarious as shit.” Chloe handed the device to her partner.
“These aren’t bad.” Using her pointer finger, Max scrolled through the documents and nodded in approval. “We’ve gotta find the best fit for what we’re trying to do. Thanks for getting these together, babe. They all seem like they’d be open to my vision as well as bring unique perspectives to the team.”
“Hot damn, dude. You already sound like a boss.”
“Hmm,” Max giggled. “Maybe you should start calling me ‘THE Boss’.”
“You’re not Bruce Springsteen, beeyoch.”
The tittering began slowly but was infectious. When Chloe saw Max holding her mouth with both hands and revving up, she began to chuckle too. When Max noticed Chloe’s shoulders trembling and bouncing, even though she was trying to hold it in, hers swelled to a full-on hysterical laugh. Both girls cracked up and found themselves lost in the gap between sanity and laughter. The lovers fell on top of each other in a pile of happiness and pajamas.
Finally, the giggle fit subsided and the best friends turned in for the night. They laid so close together they could feel the warm air from one another’s nostrils as they cuddled in bed. It felt like an eternity had passed since they were able to fall asleep in each other’s arms. Chloe drifted off first and Max found herself captivated by the goddess sleeping next to her.
The girl’s natural hair was blonde with a hint of reddish mixed in, but, through the glow of the now muted tv screen, her locks appeared golden and kissed by the sun. She admired every perfect part of her sleeping wife’s face from the outline of her jaw, to the angles of her eyebrows. Max treasured every breath the girl took in, enjoying the steady, ambient pace of the air swirling past her nasal openings. “I love you with all I am,” she whispered, then bent over to kiss the girl on her cheek. “Good night, babe.”
It was still dark when Max was awoken by the sound and smell of the coffeemaker gurgling and spitting from the kitchen. She still felt Chloe’s arm on her hip and heard the girl snoring, so someone else must’ve been in the house. Confused and abruptly alert, Max woke her sleeping partner up with a not-so-gentle shake. “Hey, Chlo?”
“Mmm,” the taller girl shifted and sniffed. “The only reason you’d be waking me up now is if you’re ready for your captain to dive in and plunder your… uhm… shit, not very creative right now. You wanna get it on, Maxi?”
“Chlo, no. Someone’s in the house.” The older girl jumped up startled and ready to fight. “Wait, never mind.” Max’s awareness was returning and she realized she knew exactly who it was. “It’s gotta be Des.” She looked over at the digital clock on her nightstand and it read ‘5:15am’. “Damn, she’s super early.”
“Des!” Chloe called out. “Get your ass in here.” Max flipped the light switch up to brighten the room then heard footsteps approaching.
“Dammit, you scared the shit outta me, Mom.” Both hands were resting on the teen’s hips, with her head pushed forward, shaking it back and forth in discontent.
“WE scared YOU? Damn, Des. Fuck.” Chloe didn’t seem too pleased with her daughter’s choice to disturb their sleep and wake them the way she did. “Why did you come back so early?”
“Uhm, would you believe me if I said that I missed you?” An oversized, fake smile formed on the red streaked blonde’s face. Max and Chloe looked from the girl to each other, then back towards their daughter. “Honestly, I’ve only been gone about two hours in my time. I know it’s been longer for you. After I left, I turned on some music and reread the letter half a dozen times. I couldn’t wait to get back and work on this thing. I’ve been thinking… Morse Code is the answer.” The girl had clearly taken a sip or two of her own coffee, because the caffeine was definitely kicking in.
“What?” Max questioned. “The answer?”
“Yeah, you made me take a class to learn Morse Code one summer when I was ten or eleven. It made me angry at the time. All of my friends were having swim lessons and going to other fun summer camps. I think it was in preparation for this… this… plan. The letter says I need to send a message back to the Chloe I met when I glitched, and we have to go to some sorta fixed points. That’s what I need your help with. What the hell does that mean?”
“No idea, sweetheart,” the oldest girl yawned.
“Well,” Max began, “I was also thinking about the letter. Rachel could have shown us any number of multiverses, but she specifically made sure we saw the ones we did. The few that stand out to me are the ones where we were reconnecting as kids, the scenes with the wheelchair-bound Chloe, and the one where a more science-driven Chloe was in the Arcadia Bay cemetery. The last one appeared to be singled out for a purpose. Why was she running tests in the cemetery? Seems odd.”
“Oh, damn, love. You really should be like a private investigator or something. You’re amazing at connecting dots and shit. Sorta reminds me of when we were in my room putting the clues together so we could… find Rachel. Wait,” Chloe abruptly came to a realization. “That means we gotta go back to Arcadia Bay? FUCK. THAT.”
Des backed out of the doorway and turned towards the kitchen. “Anyone want coffee?”
“Look, Chlo.” Max faced her partner and took both of her hands into her own. “I know we haven’t been back since the last storm week, but I think it’s what we need to do now. At least Des needs to go; we don’t have to if it’s too hard. She can do this on her own.”
“I mean, fuck, Max. So much sadness and pain comes from that damn place. Just hearing the name of our hometown makes my heart drop and stomach churn. I guess, if I think about it, we’ve sorta been running from there for a long time. We spent years on the road then lived in Seattle without even thinking of going back. Hell, I don’t even know if anyone has tried to rebuild or whatever.” Chloe leaned forward and wrapped her long arms around Max’s waist, pulling their bodies together and eliminating the empty space between the pair. “We can’t let her go alone, love, so we should go. We have to.”
Des returned to the room with two fresh, steaming mugs and handed them to her moms. The trio found themselves at the breakfast table chatting and eating cereal for the next half hour until the sun began to rise. It was reluctantly agreed upon that they would travel back to where it all began.
They would make their way to ground zero where many unbelievable horrors took place. Max recalled certain memories she had bedded down in the back of her mind that she hoped to never think about ever again. One involved a psychopath and a dark room. Another memory included a storm and so many lost lives. She also remembered how she felt watching a man who was like her father being lowered into the ground as her best friend’s world came crumbling down right in front of her. She wanted to cry and breakdown at the idea of returning to this horrible place, especially the cemetery, but then something amazing happened.
Max’s dark and terrible memories were suddenly dwarfed by another much brighter type of memory; one of the love that enveloped her heart. Several moments played through her mind:
“Welcome home, Max.”
“Can’t dance hippie? Come on! Shake that bony white ass!”
“I just don’t think anybody is good enough for you… besides me.”
“Yup, yup, I’m fucking insane in the brain!”
“Boo yaa! Get it? Boo ya? Like I’m a scary punk ghost.”
“Did you just say hella? I think I’m a good bad influence on you.”
“You better not rewind and take that kiss back.”
“The first time you said hello, I knew it was forever.”
“Max, I will share laughter with you, and I will kiss away every one of your tears. I’ll be by your side and dream in your arms. I’ll keep you safe and happy with every bit of my strength. We’re Max and Chloe, dude. We’re finally here, together. Forever.”
Like a gorgeous azure sky after a storm, it all became perfectly clear. The town that took so much away from them, also supplied the girls with the greatest gift of all time: each other. Like the sun peaking through thick, dark clouds, the uneasiness of returning to Arcadia Bay lifted and Max felt refreshed and full of vigor. It would still be tough to go back, but the brunette’s attitude about the whole thing had changed. She no longer viewed it as some dreadful destination that she couldn’t wait to return from. Now, it was just another journey. She and her Captain Bluebeard would set sail once again and successfully add another conquest to their list of victories.
“Chlo,” Max began after they finished their showers and everyone was making final preparations for the trip, “let’s wear our nice dress clothes. I mean, if we’re going back to that shithole again, let’s face it with confidence and class. Show those fuckers we’ve moved on and we’re not the little girls we once were. We have a successful business, a family, and we’re happy.”
“Great idea, love, we look sexy as hell in our business suits.” Chloe put her green blazer on and twirled around with self-assuredness. “Feels good to look good.” Des politely refused to change her outfit, but she giggled and rolled her eyes several times while watching her moms goof off as they continued to get ready.
The teenager needed to use the bathroom one last time before they hit the road, so Max sat on the couch and her wife joined her. Chloe took the opportunity to surprisingly slide her lips across her partner’s neck and ear while they had a brief moment alone.
“Damn, babe. Don’t get me all turned on right before we leave. That’s not fair.”
“It’s called teasing, Maxter. It’ll make you want me more. Plus, I can’t help it, you look damn hot right now. I mean, you always do, but the assertive business-woman look is getting me fired up.”
“You’re such a hornball,” Max giggled.
“If you were me and you saw how sexy you are, you would be too, dork.” The married couple kissed one more time as their daughter sauntered back down the hall and into the living room. The three women piled into the Subaru and hit the road. A few hours from then, they’d be back in Arcadia Bay for the first time in several years.