“Eh, Chloe?” Max whimpered half-conscious, half-asleep. This time it didn’t feel like a typical photo jump return, though she didn’t know if she’d jumped enough times to realize what ‘typical’ felt like. The photographer was groggy and drowsy, and her thoughts twisted like a knotted rope through her disoriented head. Normally, her mind cleared up pretty quickly once consciousness swirled back in, but this time, her thoughts floated between timelines, or realities, or whatever the different existences were called.
After lying there for several moments, Max realized she was in a bed. Relieved she was somewhere safe, she pushed up and looked around the room and noticed she was at her parent’s house in Seattle. Forcing herself to a stand, she slinked over to the white-framed vertical mirror hanging on the back of her bedroom door. “Zombie face,” she whispered to no one, realizing it was the first coherent thought that surfaced from the depths of her confusion. Then she noticed the dried crimson stripes beginning at her nostrils and ending just above her chin and all over her lips. The sight of her own blood had ceased to shock her anymore, and a taste of metallic iron drowned out any morning breath she might have had. She was surprised but glad no headache accompanied the blood as it usually did.
In the bathroom, Max splashed cold water on her face rinsing her chin and below her nose. The brunette stared at her reflection as her reflection blankly stared back at her, but something felt different. A deeper awareness of reality was starting to set in, while memories and experiences began to cross-mesh like inner-woven lattice. A sinking, dreadful feeling splintered through her veins and a deep worry made her breathing hitch.
She fully remembered choosing to save Chloe, allowing Arcadia Bay to get ravaged by a cosmic storm. She remembered squeezing her best friend, jumping back to a Christmas memory, and Chloe actually coming with her. She also recalled saving Arcadia Bay, allowing her soulmate to die at the hands of that bastard Nathan Prescott on the cold, hard Blackwell bathroom floor. She remembered the funeral and seeing the blue butterfly again. She had used the same Christmas-time photo to jump without Chloe while desperately yearning to hold her pirate captain once again. “What the fuck is happening?” she wondered aloud. Memories melded together like a dripping ball of hot wax loosely stringing the different threads of reality together.
Suddenly, like being hit in the gut with a sack of bricks, a deep and primal panic arose within her. “Chloe!” Max ran faster than she ever recalled running before, back to her room in desperate search for her phone. After a frenzied scramble, she found her cell in the hamper in the back pocket of the jeans she must have been wearing the previous day.
The lock screen was a selfie of her and the azure-haired goddess, which allowed her to breathe a momentary sigh of relief. “So far, things seem to be in order,” she assumed, like she was narrating her own life. “Of course, they are, we did it right… I hope.” She knew she could search through her messages and piece new details together, but all she wanted was to make sure Chloe was safe. Her best friend’s safety had become her main concern as of late. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she phoned the girl as her hands trembled with excitement.
It only rang once before the voice Max longed to hear came through. “Max! Goddammit, Max, what the fuck took you so long?! Doesn’t matter. Are you safe? Say something!” With no breath in-between sentences, Chloe hadn’t given Max a chance to speak but was clearly too excited and overjoyed to stop talking.
“Chloe.” Max calmly broke in, though her heart was thumping at what she imagined to be an unhealthy frequency. “I-I’m at my parent’s house. Wh-where are you?” Her head was swimming and her words came out a bit jumbled and in a stutter.
“Oh, Max, Fuck! I’m in Arcadia Bay.” The younger girl heard a lighter ignite and the pull of the first drag from a freshly lit cigarette. After an airy exhale, Chloe continued, “If I know my bony-butt hipster as well as I think I do, the first thing you did was call me, Yeah? But Max, I’ve been waiting hours for you to call, what the hell have you been doing? Resting, I hope.” She seemed irritated, yet her voice sounded velvety and soothing to Max’s ears.
The photographer glanced at the digital clock on her nightstand and noticed it was 11:15am, and she couldn’t remember the last time she slept that late. “It’s hella awesome to hear your voice, Chloe. But why are we apart? I need to see you.” She didn’t even attempt to hide the anguished yearning in her voice. “I can’t stop thinking about kissing you again and holding you, and…” There was a momentary silence after Max’s last words, as she trailed off. She knew Chloe wanted an answer to her question, and she still wasn’t sure about their relationship status. They were, and always would be best friends, but recently, her feeling grew more fierce, and she thought she loved the girl in a deeper way than ‘just friends’. “Chloe, my memories are, uh, strange. I remember two totally different realities. I guess that last photo jump took a lot out of me.”
“I’m sorry, Caulfield. I shouldn’t sound pissed off. I just miss your ass so bad, and I’m glad you’re okay. But, yeah, me too. I remember some fucked shit. Clear as day I can see the storm wiping out the damn Bay. I can feel the wind and the rain soaking my hair and clothes and holding your hand as the shit went down.” She took a deep breath, noticeably swallowing hard. “Max, I remember what it felt like to get shot. I remember…” she paused and took a drink of what Max assumed was a bottle of beer. After sending the gulp down her throat the girl continued. “I-I remember dying, dude.”
Max shivered at the thought. “You’re here Chloe Price; you’re not dead. You’re alive and nothing can change that.” She considered for a moment, then continued, “But why are we apart now? It doesn’t make sense. We should be together.” Max feared the worst as she had grown accustomed to doing after rewinding several times to save her best friend’s life the prior week. “Did something terrible happen? Did I fuck up again? Goddammit, I just can’t get it right! Is… Is… Arcadia Bay safe?”
“You’re so cute when you worry. Have I ever told you that before?” Max could tell the girl had that patented Chloe Price smirk on her face and it enticed a slight smile on her own. “You’re on fall break from Blackwell and wanted to visit your parents. Maxter, we have a lot to talk about. While I was waiting for you to call, which was over three hours, cough cough, I connected some dots. Dude, you remember we jumped together, right? No matter what happened while we were, eh, away, we are still Max and Chloe. We are always together even when we’re not!”
At those last words, which had sort of become the pair’s mantra, Max let out a tiny coo. “Chloe…” she began but was cut off.
“This is amazing, Maxi Max. Fuck, you’re perfect. I have no idea what I did to deserve you, but this feels like…” Max didn’t let her partner in crime finish her sentence. This time she was the one who cut Chloe off.
“Destiny,” the brunette said without hesitating. “I need to see you so badly, Chl…”
“You’re a goop, Maximus. We’ll see each other soon, but right now, you’re hours away, and I need to tell you what I learned. Are you sitting down for this?”
“You’re such a dork. Yes, I’m sitting on my bed.” She wished more than anything her favorite person was sitting there beside her. She closed her eyes for a second and could almost feel the girl’s warm radiating outward and embracing her body.
“Okay, well, I think we should start with the biggest piece of intel I’ve learned. The, um, the ‘other’ Max and Chloe did most everything the exact same way we did. So, we didn’t fuck up too much, at least from what I can tell anyway. By the way…” she bounced around with her thoughts, clearly unable to focus because of the situation. “How come you didn’t tell me your parents were the reason you stopped messaging me after you left when my dad died?” She didn’t even leave enough space for Max to respond. “Doesn’t matter.” The brunette heard the sizzle of a cigarette being snuffed out. “Your mom came through! She sent your letter and wrote her own note explaining why they kept us apart. She felt very bad about that, dude. Like terribly bad. I still don’t think that shit was right, but at least she did what we needed her to do.”
Max sat there attentive to every syllable that left the blue-haired girl’s soft lips, imagining them as they once were pressed against hers. Then, a new thought crossed her mind. As soon as she had it, she almost wished she hadn’t. “Chloe, what about R-Rachel? Did she make it?” After all, that was one of the main reasons she decided to go back.
“That’s the other part, Max, it’s why you needed to be sitting.” She appreciated Chloe’s direct approach, and if she didn’t know her best friend as well as she did, she might believe the girl took enjoyment in arousing her anxiety. It was just her way, though, and she loved that about her friend. “The good news is the Bay’s alive and well. Your plan worked, you selfless bitch! You saved everyone! You saved… Rachel, too. You put your happiness on the line to save someone who I loved before we reconnected. I just…”
Max responded, “Chloe, you don’t understand. Saving Rachel is the most selfish thing I could have done. I knew we could never be happy if we didn’t try. I’m very selfish. All I want is to be around you and… with you. I think I want us to be together, like… together together. But your happiness is the most important thing to me. Nothing else really matters.”
“No, Max, even now, you are too humble to even see it. You are amazeballs, dude.”
“Chloe, what is the bad news?” Max needed to know, even if she suspected the answer might hurt.
“Ok, I’ll just tell you.” The punk seemed to have been delaying this part of the conversation. “Rachel’s safe in L.A. I apparently helped her leave before anything bad happened to her thanks to that damn letter your mom sent. The other me kept in touch with her. We texted and spoke on the phone pretty much every day.” She briefly hesitated then went on. “Sh-She asked me to come visit, and… I’m gonna go, Max.”
The brunette’s heart sank. The happiness she experienced just moments prior at the sound of Chloe’s voice, was replaced with a deep worry. For the first time, her jealousy seemed more than appropriate, even though she hated herself for it. She didn’t want to speak but knew she should. “I don’t wanna believe this is happening.”
“It’s a lot, I know.” The only relief the younger girl found from the information that was just dropped on her was the tenderness in Chloe’s voice. The gentle way she delivered the information was nothing short of caring and sensitive. “And it’s so weird because the other Chloe was me, I guess, but I am me, ya know? I don’t remember anything. Fuck. Max, how are you doing with this? I just wish I could tell you in person and hug on you the rest of the day. We could hunt down clues and make sense of everything else together. Just like we did before.”
Max realized she was sniffling into the phone, holding back tears as best she could.
“Please don’t be sad. I am head over heels in love with you, hippie. You are my Max. You are my perfect person, and we are… well, we are… us. Nothing will ever change that. Not even death for fuck’s sake. Do you hear me?” Max didn’t realize how much she needed to hear those words. Chloe must have sensed her nodding in the phone’s direction as confirmation. It was the first time either one of them had verbally admitted romantic feelings for the other.
“I’m gonna go meet her, Max. The other me encouraged her to go, leave Arcadia Bay, with the help of your awesomely worded letter, of course.” Her tone suddenly shifted a bit. “I forgave you the moment I saw you again in the Blackwell parking lot, even if I gave you shit. The truth is, I felt so abandoned by you and my father at the time, even though that wasn’t totally fair to either of you. Especially now, knowing what I know about your parents and all.”
Chloe obnoxiously slurped another sip of her beverage and continued. “Rachel saved me. I’m not sure if I would have made it if she hadn’t come into my life. I was in a dark place, and we… we… got very close. Closer than I ever thought possible with another person since, well, since you. Max, we cared so much about each other. And yes, she ended up loving other people too, because she was a free spirit or whatever, but she was the first person I truly loved. Like… romantically loved. Yeah, I guess I was in love with her. Then she was gone. I didn’t know her as the girl who escaped Arcadia Bay. I knew her back when we had only planned to leave together. It’s all I wanted, at least at one point. But we had a falling out, though we still loved one another. Then you came back to me, and we dug up her fucking body. It still hurts thinking about it. Flash forward to now. I-I have a chance to see her alive again. It’s something I have to do, Max. Fuck, I have to. You gotta understand.”
In a way, Max was in shock. She knew Chloe needed this, though. After everything they’d been through, she didn’t think it would actually happen. They were Max and Chloe; they should always be together. Then she remembered the most important part of their mantra, “Even when we’re not.” In a strange way, the last part gave her a sense of tranquility and hope.
“I’m leaving today. I need to get out there as soon as possible, Max. I need closure. It’s something I was never able to get before. Thanks to you, I have this new opportunity. Fuck, please say something! Your silence is kicking me square in the ass.”
“I don’t know what to say, Chloe. My heart feels ripped out. I need you with me so badly, but that’s not going to happen, and I’m afraid of what might go down between you two. I’m sad and scared. It’s like you’re choosing her over me.” She cringed at the hopelessness in her words but was proud of herself for saying how she felt. As much as she loved the girl, sometimes Chloe could be a little intimidating to open up to. “I know that’s not really fair. But… I dunno…”
“Maxi Max,” the girl at the other end of the line lovingly responded, “I’ll get out there and be back as soon as possible. Don’t you dare be afraid, please trust me. I miss you too, ya know. We only have to be apart for a little while. But just imagine how intense it’ll be when I get back. I have some things I want to, um, show you now that we know how we feel about each other. If you think our kisses have been hot wait until…” she paused a moment for dramatic effect. “God, the things I’m going to do to you.”
“You’re such a perv, Chloe Price.” The younger girl couldn’t help but giggle, even if her eyes were still a little misty from the earlier conversation. She felt hopeful for the first time since their Rachel talk began, and she started to get the sense they might really be a couple… eventually.
“It’s the company I keep? Ok, no, that doesn’t really work for you. But Max, if you knew how fucking hot you are, you’d be a perv for you too.” She was quickly growing warm and was thankful Chloe couldn’t see her red-faced. “Dammit I wish I could see your cute face turning red right now?”
“I was just thinking,” Max welcomed any chance to change the subject, “why didn’t you call me after we jumped? You were awake for hours before me?”
“I wondered when you were gonna ask about that. Well, when I jumped back, I found myself lying in bed. David and Mom were standing over me asking a thousand questions. I was all like, ‘fuuuuuuck!’. It took half an hour to get them out of my room without seeming like I just crossed through fucking time and space. When I realized it was morning, I figured you needed your sleep. It was tough not to call, but I want really to do the right thing now.”
“I’m changing, Max. I could feel it when we were at the lighthouse that last time, or times. Damn, I don’t know anymore. The point is your big dork-shaped heart is changing me so much. It took too long for me to realize it, but you’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. I never thought I was deserving of an unconditional love like yours, but shit, I fucking love you! Sorry, I’m talking so much. I’m a goop now too, Maximus.”
The younger girl giggled, “I love hearing you talk, Chloe, always have. Your voice is soothing and, well, it’s all I want to hear. Dammit, I wish you were with me.” Max wasn’t a big fan of cigarettes, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the girl’s smoky scent… and taste.
“Soon, my dear, soon. But for now, I need to pack. It’s a long drive and I need to stay the night, maybe two. I’ll quickly head straight for you when I return. OH SHIT, MAX!” She almost screamed. “I just remembered, it’s your parents. They got you something for your birthday. You should probably go check it out right away. Like, now! You’re gonna love it.” She could practically see the ear to ear grin on Chloe’s face through the phone.
“Please call and text me the entire time.” Max worried that her request made her seem too possessive or clingy, but the only thing she couldn’t think about was the road trip and not being able to see Chloe. After all they’d been through, she wanted to be with her friend more than anything.
“Max! They got you a fucking car, dude! A car! Go check your bag.” She clutched her navy blue and tan messenger bag, unstrapped it, and found a set of keys inside. “You were so excited last night, you texted me over and over again. You fucking cute bitch, I love when you get all excited. Ha!” The blue-haired girl cackled maniacally.
“Wowser,” the Max whispered. She rewound briefly to check and see if she still could, but also to hear Chloe call her a ‘fucking cute bitch’ again. She felt terrible using the power in that way, but the girl she loved was going to visit her ex-girlfriend soon, if she wanted to hear those affectionate words again, she would gladly do so. Although, it did send a chill through her soul knowing she could still rewind. She hoped it would go away once things were fixed.
“I’ll finish packing, you check out your new ride. I’ll call you when I hit the road, you damn dork. Deal?”
“Deal. And Chloe? Every second we’re not together, we’re wasting time. Sooooo, hurry your freakishly tall ass back! Talk soon.” Max couldn’t tell if her manufactured confidence fooled the girl, but she assumed probably not.
“Oh, a tall joke? Never thought you’d stoop to that level, Caulfield.” She made a puckered air-suck sound as if kissing the phone. “I love you, Long Max Silver.”
“I love you, Captain Bluebeard. Forever.”
After ending the call, the freckled girl decided to take her new wheels for a spin.