Chloe catches Kate easily enough, because Kate is an actual angel who lights up like a Christmas tree every time she sees Chloe and never passes up an opportunity to talk to her.
When Chloe passes her by in the hallway on the way to math, she almost stumbles over her own feet in her haste to stop and backtrack to say, “Hi, Chloe! How are you doing?”
There’s still that thrill she feels when Kate shows any interest in her at all – like pride, mixed in with the warmth Chloe is certain Kate inspires in everyone she talks to, because she has an insanely nice voice. She gives her a smile.
“Eh, kind of tired. But like in a good way,” she says. “How about you?”
“I’m great. What’s wrong, do you have trouble falling asleep?”
Chloe decides to take the opportunity then.
“It’s a bit of a longer story. Why don’t we meet up one of these days? We could do a proper tea party, Max and Rachel want to come along, too.” Even as she says them, the words feel fake, but it’s as close to the truth as she can get without spilling it all right here in the hallway, with Victoria lingering suspiciously at the edge of her vision.
Kate looks confused, but not outright rejected, which Chloe considers a victory. “Sure. We’ve still both got that free period on Wednesday, right?”
They do, but Rachel doesn’t. Sucks to be her, Chloe decides, she had to invite herself along, now she has to face the consequences.
Wednesday finds Chloe awake at 6, because fuck her, apparently this is important to her. Last time she woke up in the dark was because she’d slept away the entire day after Max had had a particularly bad night.
She gets up and is already halfway to the stereo when she realizes that maybe it’s not the wisest choice to wake up Joyce on the one day of the year that she’s awake before her.
Instead, her feet take her to the bag she keeps her love letters in. It’s a mess, because of who Chloe is as a person, so she doesn’t even try to find a particular one. Taking one out at random and reading it has become a habit, and sometimes she takes them with her to Blackwell and lets Max or Rachel read them, or she throws them out if they’re just too embarrassing.
This one is actual ink on stiff paper, but that doesn’t have to mean anything. Chloe writes on whatever is available, with whatever is available. She sits down on her bed and unfolds it.
August 21st, 2013
Oh man, Max. Why am I this way.
To catch you up on your life: You moved back to Blackwell like a week ago. I didn’t think we could pick up right where we left off given our history (and given that I got instructions from you but you don’t remember, and given that I’m constantly writing love letters to you that I can’t let you see) but fuck it, we fucking did. Fewer pirates and more ice cream, but not much else changed. With Rachel gone for the summer, it feels a lot like you just never left.
You’re a pretty damn good friend, Max. When you let yourself.
And it’s not like it came out of nowhere. I’ve been noticing the way you look at me. I hear what you say. And maybe I’ve never seen this kind of smile on you but I can extrapolate from incomplete data just fine.
So why didn’t I do anything?
Why didn’t I fucking tell you about Rachel Amber like a normal best friend?
(Because I don’t know how. I don’t know where to start. It already took you a week to cope with the gay thing.)
(Because it’s flattering. Because a part of me doesn’t want you to stop flirting.)
We went for ice cream today (as we do almost every day since you’ve come back – we have a lot to catch up on) and you know: it was one of those days where everything seems possible, with the cloudless sky, the wind tugging at us. I was so grateful to have you. It felt almost like being whole again – it’s almost over, I just have to hold out until October. I just have to not let the world end. Easy. (It felt easy then.)
We were talking about – I want to say inconsequential things, but I know it wasn’t. It was banter, old in-jokes we had dug up because we could, but there was so much love in the air that it felt significant, somehow.
And then you kissed me. In between two bites of ice cream, just like that. Like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
I wish I could say that I gently pushed you away, that I explained to you why we couldn’t. That I was nice about it.
But I just stood there, like an idiot.
It’s not even that I didn’t see it coming. I knew where you were going with this as soon as you turned towards me. Something about the set of your mouth. You can be very determined, when you set your mind to something.
Here we were, and this was an option, had always been an option, and me too blind to see it.
(And then there’s Rachel, and I know that I love her.)
But for a split second, I saw this possibility too, like people see their lives flash before their eyes just before they die, I saw a possible future, in bits and pieces:
More of these vaguely sticky ice cream kisses. Stolen moments in between lessons. Your voice, finally as full of love as it was during that one phone call years ago, but with none of the longing. Being enough – finally, finally being enough for you, and having your full attention on me. I know how that feels: electric. Thrilling.
But then, when you come back, what? Would we just carry on? Would you even know what happened? Would you even love me like that? And in any case: where would Rachel be, in this scenario? Quietly furious? Of course she would be. I know she said she’d back off if it turned out the one I’d been waiting for loved me back, but I also know by now that she’s not that indulgent.
You pulled back and went back to your ice cream, like you do. Made me think of displacement activities.
“I’m seeing Rachel,” I blurted out.
“Oh,” you said. It sounded small. You were probably comparing yourself to her in your mind right now. (It’s what I would have done. Nobody holds up against Rachel terribly well.)
“I’m sorry,” I said.
I stood there for a second wondering if I should hug you, and then I decided, to hell with it, this is as good a moment as any to grow a spine, so I just did.
You do that thing when I hug you where you kind of scratch at my back a little bit – never figured out why, but it’s very you – and you did that then, and I knew that we would survive it. It may be painful, but our friendship would be stronger for it.
Man, Max. I’m sorry. This could have gone so much better. And there’s a chance I’ll have to do it again in a few weeks’ time.
I promise I’ll be better about it then. Quicker, if nothing else. Like a bandaid.
Huh. Been awhile since she’s thought about that one. She pockets it, not sure if she wants to show it to anyone, yet. Maybe once Kate knows, she can talk to her about it. Minus the time traveling.
Chloe makes her way downstairs in the dark. It feels weirdly fitting that she keep the house dark as well as quiet.
She doesn’t spend a lot of time without listening to something or someone, usually, so the dark and silent house feels almost eerie, the fridge the only source of light when she opens it.
She prepares breakfast for Joyce, too – if you can call an empty bowl and a spoon preparation – and eats hers in record time. She feels like she’s racing someone, or something, possibly her heart on its way into her throat.
Joyce comes downstairs when Chloe is rinsing her bowl, hair sticking up in different directions and a bewildered look on her face. It sits weirdly on yesterday’s makeup.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, and Chloe tries a disbelieving laugh.
“What, I can’t wake up on time once in my life?”
“Not without a good reason. I know my daughter. What happened?” Joyce makes her way to the table, takes in the clean bowl and spoon Chloe set out for her, and gives her a smile that does nothing to diminish the question hanging between them.
Chloe sighs. “I’ve got a – talk coming up. With a good friend. That I’m not sure how it’ll go.”
“Max?” Joyce asks, pouring herself some cereal. Chloe pulls a face; it feels like Joyce has been pointedly calling Max her friend much more often lately. “No.”
“What’s with that face? Did you get into a fight with Max?” Joyce immediately asks, somehow apparently seeing Chloe’s frown through her turned back. She sounds worried. She’s always loved Max a ridiculous amount.
“No, we’re still getting along like a house on fire, don’t worry.” This time, Chloe actively tries to transfer her eye roll into her voice as she stows the bowl into the dishwasher. “We’re still on for the road trip. She’ll be there for the talk today, too, as like emotional support.”
“Oh, good,” Joyce slurs through a mouthful of cereal. “No reason to worry, then.”
Sometimes, Chloe is terrified of what would happen if Joyce realized what Max really is capable of. She might build her an actual shrine. Other times, she thinks she would probably just shrug and say she knew it all along. It would be nice to have that kind of blind faith aimed at herself, sometimes.
She goes back upstairs to scrub her face and throw on some clothes, grabs her bag and heads out.
Joyce catches her on the way to the door to give her a hug. “Don’t worry,” she says again, into Chloe’s shoulder. Somehow, it actually makes her feel calmer.
“Ugh,” Chloe replies, but she gives Joyce the smallest smile as she extricates herself. “Have a good day at work,” she calls back into the house just before the door closes.
When she gets out of the truck, she has a new text from Joyce that just reads Thank you, have a good day at school!!!!
She sighs loudly, even though there is nobody to fool.
There’s nobody really around on the school grounds – both Max and Rachel have perfected the art of being exactly on time, even though it seems like more of a feat with Rachel – but when Chloe heads over to the Biology classroom to see if it’s already open, she finds Kate sitting in front of it with her feet pulled up and a notebook on her knees, doodling away.
Chloe remembers vaguely that Kate is a morning person, she’s just never seen the peaceful expression on her face in person before. She sits down next to her heavily and heaves a deep, weary sigh to announce her presence. “Oh my God, Kate, how do you do this shit every day. I’m already exhausted.”
Kate looks up smiling, then sets down her pen and leans into Chloe for a sideways hug. Chloe pats her head a few times. “I just like mornings. It’s so nice and quiet and unhurried.”
Only through the sheer force of Kate’s personality does the statement not sound pointed, and Chloe grins. “Well, say goodbye to all that, because for some reason I woke up at six today and I have never met any of those adjectives.”
“That’s okay, I get to spend more time with you instead,” Kate replies instantly, because she just says shit like that , and immediately tilts her notebook towards Chloe when she tries to sneak a peek. It’s owls and deer today, rendered in soft pastel hues.
“Awww,” Chloe says, and leaves it to Kate to assign it to the drawing or the compliment.
There’s something about Kate that makes it hard to worry about whether she will still like her when she knows. Perhaps her particular brand of affection, unconditional and absolute.
Maybe things will be awkward for a while, but ultimately Chloe knows in that moment, leaning into Kate’s shoulder as she continues coloring her sketches, that she doesn’t need to worry.
Rachel and Max, true to form, show up about two minutes before the bell rings. They stroll into the classroom arm in arm, and Chloe feels a sharp pang of something. She leans over to Kate to pencil the tiniest hedgehog onto her desk.
Kate doesn’t waste any time doodling her a bunny into the very corner of her notebook page in return. Its hilariously long ears shape a heart around it.
Kate rips out the page and hands it over, and the feeling eases a bit.
When she looks up, Rachel is looking at her, head tilted sideways. She has put her hair up today, an artfully disheveled bun that she knows Chloe loves and that makes her earring stand out even more than usual. Rachel catches her eye and then blows her a kiss with an exaggerated gesture. Chloe makes a show of snatching it out of the air and stuffing it into her mouth, which in turn makes Max shake with silent laughter.
Don’t worry , Joyce said. Chloe makes an effort not to. Life’s good. She’s got the two most stunning girlfriends in the world, and that they also have each other is a feature, not a bug.
She breathes through the last of the jealousy and blows kisses back to her girlfriends just as the bell rings.
Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Kate watching her, but when she turns to face her, there’s only mild curiosity on her face. She angles a wide smile at her, and Kate smiles back before focusing on the lesson.
“So,” Kate says after handing them all their teacups, “What’s been happening in your lives lately?”
This time, it does sound pointed, but it is almost an amused point, not an annoyed one.
Rachel looks from her to Chloe to Max in rapid succession, and then back at Kate with a conspiratorial smile. Chloe isn’t sure what’s happening but she’s reasonably sure it means good things.
“Uhhh well about that,” Chloe starts, and Rachel grins widely enough to make her falter. Not that she knows what she was about to say.
When she looks back at Kate, she’s also smiling, although she makes it look more encouraging and less smug.
She shares a shrug with Max, who looks as clueless as she feels, and decides to move on. What the hell. Max can rewind it if it doesn’t come out right, and take over herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Max slightly raise one hand in a gesture that Chloe recognizes as ready to rewind . It’s both weird and weirdly comforting.
“I’m starting to get the feeling that you already know where I’m going with this,” Chloe ventures. Rachel nods at her to continue. “Um,” she says, “we’re a thing. The three of us. We’re in a relationship toge—”
“ — egot pihsnoitaler a ni er’eW .su fo eerht ehT .gniht a er’ew“ ,syas ehs ”,mU“ .eunitnoc ot reh ta sdon lehcaR
Rachel nods at her to continue, but Chloe’s peripheral vision snags on something her brain has come to interpret as a warning sign: Max is raising her hand to her nose.
Chloe turns around to her: She rewound, something must have gone wrong, but Max isn’t doing anything to course-correct –
Max shakes her head at her, motioning for her to move on with the hand that isn’t currently digging for a tissue in her jeans pocket. She looks – embarrassed.
She must have rewound on accident, out of sheer stress. Chloe shakes her head back at Max, grinning.
Max finishes wiping the blood off her upper lip and subsequently exes her cup of scalding hot tea in an effort to avoid eye contact. Chloe winces in sympathy, but Max doesn’t even pull a face, so the embarrassment must hurt worse.
When she looks back, both Kate and Rachel are looking at her – Kate with something like worry, Rachel with a fondness that almost hurts for how undiluted it is.
“Um,” she says with a laugh. Out with it. Like a bandaid. “Sorry. This is all super embarrassing and I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page. But I think we are. So. We’re a thing. The three of us. We’re all in a relationship.”
There’s a part of Chloe that doesn’t want to wait for the judgment after the end of that sentence. That’s also the part that wants to set down her cup of tea, and to laugh, and to get up, and to sneer.
It’s a very loud part of her, but, Chloe realizes in that moment, it’s also very small. The rest of her is much stronger, and it wants to take a sip of tea and take in everyone’s faces because honestly, they are priceless.
Kate’s face is trying to look like I knew it all along but it’s also still halfway to holy shit wow.
Max’s expression is suspended in that moment before relief sets in, not quite daring to yet – as if this is the first time she’s seen this. Apparently some things you don’t get used to. Apparently this is one of them.
Rachel’s face is just pure glee. When their eyes meet, her smile, impossibly, widens. Chloe leans back and crosses her legs and waits out the silence: something, she realizes, she doesn’t do enough.
Kate, very slowly, sets down her cup of tea. Her expression has managed to leave holy shit wow behind. “I was thinking something like this might be happening,” she finally says. It sounds delicate, and Chloe usually hates when people talk to her like this – like she will explode if they don’t, almost making their discomfort her problem. It makes her want to explode on principle.
Chloe breathes through the instinct, because Kate is just trying her best to be the absolute kindest version of herself she can be.
Then Kate laughs for a few seconds too long, and while she watches Rachel’s smile twitch into something sharper, something in Chloe flips like a switch.
Whatever assumptions Kate was harboring had never been verbal, never had she been under any obligations to put a word to it, and now that Chloe made her, she’s overwhelmed .
She’s going to be nice about it, but she will shut the door behind them when they’re gone and breathe a sigh of relief.
She’s going to stop texting her when she’s sad.
There won’t be any more graffoodles.
It’s going to be like this every goddamn time they come out to someone, Chloe suddenly realizes.
This is their life now.
She gets up.
“God, what’s even the point? Let’s leave,” she says, and Kate’s eyes snap to her face, hurt obvious in her expression, and how dare she. How dare she make her pain Chloe’s problem, when Chloe always takes such care to conceal her own, keep it to herself-
-flesreh ot ti peek ,nwo reh laecnoc ot erac hcus sekat syawla eolhC nehw ,melborp s’eolhC niap reh ekam ehs erad woH .ehs erad woh dna ,noisserpxe reh ni suoivbo truh ,ecaf reh ot pans seye s’etaK dna ,syas ehs ”,evael s’teL ?tniop eht neve s’tahw ,doG“
.pu steg ehS
.won efil rieht si sihT
.sezilaer ylneddus eolhC ,enoemos ot tuo emoc yeht emit nmaddog yreve siht ekil eb ot gniog
“That’s okay. Take your time,” Max says. Kate stops laughing and hides her face in her hands for a moment. “You get to take all the time you need to get used to this. No need to rush yourself through the steps.”
She’s still holding her empty teacup, but her other hand is suddenly resting on Chloe’s thigh, palm up. Chloe rests her own hand on top of it, palm down, careful not to hold it. It’s weird, she thinks, how Max apparently got away with this rewind, when she got a nosebleed for her troubles earlier. Almost like there’s an opinion attached to it, like whatever benevolent entity granted her these powers also has ideas about how she should use them. (What a strange theory. Her inner scientist wants to test it out immediately.)
Kate, when she emerges, is bright pink and very obviously looking at their hands on Chloe’s lap. “No, I want to,” she says. “You deserve it. I shouldn’t let my upbringing stop me from telling you,” she takes a fortifying breath, “how cute you all are together.”
And the thing is.
There’s a strain to it when she says it, but Chloe knows there’s love behind it.
So she decides, for once in her life, to leave it.
“Thanks!” That’s Rachel, who has decided no such thing. She kisses Chloe, then Max on the cheeks, big showy smacking kisses, leaning across Chloe to reach Max. And Chloe knows that Rachel always knows exactly how carefully to tread with people. This smells like a tiny amount of spite. Possibly more than a tiny amount.
There’s a dangerous sparkle in Rachel’s eyes, one that says: I’m willing to burn down this building for my love, and how dare you be delicate about it.
“Yes, thank you,” Chloe says. There’s an uncomfortable realization sitting in the back of her mind – that Max won’t jump in this time, she doesn’t know how. It takes time to stop saying yes and thank you to every decision Rachel makes. “I know how hard this must be, getting rid of all the stereotypes that everyone has taught you all your life in such a short time. Thank you for making the effort.” It sounds stilted as she says it, but it’s the best she can do: Chloe is not used to talking feelings. She usually tries to make do with jokes and affectionate insults.
Kate, in an unexpected turn of events, turns around and throws her arms around her.
“No, of course I’ll put in the effort. You’ve been so kind and so patient with me about all this, it’s time I returned the favor.”
Chloe has never really seen it as an effort, but it’s starting to make sense now: checking in with Kate on a regular basis, inviting her for tea at least once a week no matter if Kate returned the favor. Making sure to shower her in compliments to prevent her from getting sad. Inviting her to text when she did get sad, and talking her through it. She has been a good friend to Kate. But more importantly: Kate has seen this and knows what it means and she’s willing to work on getting over herself to keep Chloe as close as they have been.
Awkwardly patting her back, Chloe says, “You’ve got some time to get used to the idea, with the Christmas break coming up.” Over Kate’s shoulder, Chloe makes a face at Rachel that hopefully says reel it back in with some amount of sternness. Rachel dims her smile from outright threatening to vaguely concerning in response. It’ll have to do.
“Oh? Are you guys leaving?” Kate asks.
Chloe leans out of her embrace and puts her arms around Rachel and Max’s shoulders. “Road trip to Max’s parents.”
“Oh that’s right, they’re in…”
“Seattle,” Max provides, sounding weirdly flat. “Are you gonna find someone to feed Alice while you’re gone?”
Kate pauses at the mention of her pet rabbit, clearly not expecting Max to remember her name. “Seattle, right, I’m so sorry for forgetting. Um, I’m going to stay here this year.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Max asks, immediately. “Is it your mom?”
Kate turns to her, surprise on her face. She gives it a few seconds of silence, but Max doesn’t make a move to backtrack. Finally, she nods. “Yes. To both. She’s been – kind of cold, lately, and hanging out with you guys – “ she includes Rachel in the smile she gives them at that, which brings Rachel’s expression down to normal levels of intensity. She’s not immune to flattery at all, Chloe knows this well. “ – just kind of made me realize that showing your love isn’t that hard. Even if you’re not the type to show love with words or physical affection.”
With that, she looks straight at Chloe. Chloe, true to form, finger guns her. “That’s my secret superpower. Showing my love without getting all mushy about it. Watch and learn, kiddos.”