Max is woken up at 4am by nothing in particular.
Nothing in particular has her in a cold sweat and left a neon imprint on the backs of her eyelids. She wonders briefly if she can rewind into a dream, but doesn’t try.
Chloe dropped her off at the dorm on Sunday evening after spending most of the weekend watching her sleep and hugging her whenever she started having nightmares. She deserves some alone-time.
It still feels awful being alone.
Max gathers her things and heads to the shower stalls.
When she swings open the door, the mirrors are already fogged up and one of the showers is still running. Max feels better immediately. Company. She wonders who it is, right now she’d prefer even Victoria to solitude. But if whoever it is hit the showers at 4 it is probably not mutual, so Max shuffles into one of the stalls just as the other shower is shut off.
She undresses, listening to the sounds of her classmate getting her face on, presumably.
As she gets under the warm spray, it feels like the residual cold the storm left on her is finally washed off, down the drain in its own tiny vortex. She knows it’s not permanent, or she would not have started feeling clammy again after her shower at the Price house, but for now, it’s enough.
When she finally dries off and gets dressed, the blow drier is still going. Probably not Victoria, then. Max pushes the curtain to the side to find Kate standing in front of one of the sinks. Max realizes that it’s the first time she has seen Kate with her hair down. It looks just as nice as when she wears it in her bun.
Max smiles at her through the mirror. “Hey Kate!” She says, louder than the blow drier and as cheerful as she can manage.
Kate gives her a blank look. She switches off the blow drier briefly to say, “Good morning, Max.”
The smile she gives her is bland.
What happened with Kate?, Max asks her new memories, and they give her a thoroughly disappointing overview of this Max’ interactions with Kate – mostly run-ins in the bathroom or situations in which Max happened upon Kate and Chloe, of all people. Apparently, they are not friends here.
For a few long seconds, Max feels heavy and cold and alone. She put effort into that friendship, and now it’s just gone?
But when Kate shuts off the blow drier for good and starts putting up her hair, Max gives herself a mental shove.
What’s the best thing that could happen?
She put in effort, and she can rewind time. She saved two people’s lives already. In a different timeline, she saved Kate’s life as well. Making a friend can’t be that difficult a task.
“Kate,” she says, “do you want to come by for a cup of tea tomorrow afternoon?”
Kate lets go of the strand of hair she was holding up. “Uh, what? Sure! Is Chloe going to be there?” She picks the strand back up and twists her hair into her trademark bun. It looks effortless, but Max is sure if she tried it she would fail miserably.
“Just the two of us,” Max says. “I think it’s sad that we haven’t hung out more so far. You seem like such a great person.”
“From what Chloe says?”
“From what you say and do.”
Kate gives her a confused smile, but this time it feels actually genuine. “You, too,” she says. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Great,” Max says. “Me too!”
Chemistry is the first lesson on Monday, and Max finds out that she’s sitting round the corner from Chloe, who is sandwiched by Kate and Rachel.
Max slides Chloe a note. What happened with Kate?
Chloe responds by sliding her another stack of her letters. On top, she has hastily scrawled
Chapter Two: Don’t Let Anyone Bully Her
Max unfolds the letters, glancing at Ms Grant. She’s not looking, so Max starts reading:
September 15th, 2013
October is coming up, and you said to make sure you’ll be nice to Kate Marsh.
None of this makes any sense. You’re not even friends with Kate Marsh. I’m not sure anyone is really friends with her. Maybe that’s the problem.
I tried to prod you about it today – “Kate seems down lately, don’t you think?”
“Maybe,” you said.
“I’m pretty sure you two would get along,” I said.
And I mean, it’s not wrong. Kate is the kind of sweet that is absolutely your thing. Sweet, uncomplicated… deeply catholic. Ugh. But her drawings are really nice, I suppose.
You gave me a look. “It’s okay, Chloe. I can find my own friends.”
Well, I’m not going to risk that Kate kills herself just because you refused to make a goddamn friend.
If I have to do the dirty work myself, I will.
Make a plan, Chloe. Step one: Befriend Kate Marsh.
(It’s gonna be hilarious, I’m sure.)
September 19th, 2013
I tried to talk to Kate today.
Well, okay. I complimented one of her drawings in Chemistry, where she’s been sitting next to me since Nathan left. It was a drawing of a hedgehog and a bunny as unlikely friends, pretty cute. (Don’t read into this. I’m not a hedgehog. I’m more of a wolf person, myself.)
“Thanks,” she said. “I want to turn them into a children’s book, one day.”
Can she be any more of a goody two-shoes?
I mean, it’s okay. She’s sweet. I get it. And it’s not like I’m averse to the idea of being friends with her. I’m just pretty sure she would want nothing to do with me, freshly outed lesbian with the buzz cut.
Obviously, I didn’t say any of that. I just gave her a smile and said, “I can’t think of anyone better suited to illustrate children’s books than you.”
Which, for the record, is true.
I’ve never seen someone’s face transform that quickly. Within a split second, she was sporting the biggest smile. I am having a hard time believing that this girl would want to kill herself in any timeline, if it’s that easy to make her happy. (Maybe the problem is that it’s also very easy to make her sad? But who would want to make Kate Marsh sad? I already want to kick them in the groin.)
“That was the nicest thing anyone has said to me in ages.”
God, girl, you need yourself a friend.
And to be honest, I could also always do with more friends.
She turned around to me suddenly and said, “You know, what you did, with Jefferson – that was really brave.”
I froze. Technically, nobody is supposed to know that it was me who uncovered the bunker. It’s part of the deal I have with the Prescotts that I keep mum about why their precious boy had to go to a psychiatric ward all of a sudden.
“I mean, that you spoke up about him being a misogynist even when nobody else would believe it. You still fought with him, you didn’t let him get away with all the awful things he wanted to teach us. That was really – thank you.”
“It’s – ” I faltered. What do you say to something like that? “Thanks,” I said lamely. “I’m glad you appreciate it in hindsight.”
Shit, that came across a bit ruder than I intended –
“I get why you would be a little bitter that none of us supported you at the time… but I appreciated it then, too. It taught me that being placating at all times is not necessarily the right way to go, if a teacher is wrong about something. I’m sorry I never spoke up myself.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s super hard to overcome the instinct to be nice and like – non-threatening. It was difficult for me too. I wouldn’t have gone through with it if it weren’t for Rachel.”
Rachel, who must have heard her name, reached behind herself to intertwine our fingers without looking away from the board. I caught Kate staring at our hands when I looked up again.
I had to ask. “And you don’t have a problem with…?” I lifted our hands.
Kate gave me a sweet smile. “God doesn’t make mistakes,” she said.
And I swear to God, that sentence hit me like a freight train.
I had no idea that this is such a big issue to me – I don’t even believe in God. It’s like caring a bit too much about your absentee parent’s opinion. Not even that. Caring about a grandparent’s opinion who died before you were born.
Maybe I just miss being able to believe that deeply.
“You know what,” I said, “this conversation is really great and all, but Ms Grant can only politely ignore us for so long. Why don’t we meet up in the Two Whales sometime? They have great coffee, and even greater pancakes.”
“I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I’m in if they have tea,” Kate said.
“They do now.” I leaned towards Kate and whispered conspiratorially. “My mum’s the waitress. I’ll give her a heads-up that you like tea.”
“Then it’s a date,” Kate said.
I’ve got a date with Kate. How the fuck.
Chloe (the (okay fine) hedgehog)
October 3rd, 2013
I have no idea why you’d think Kate would be suicidal, Max.
She seems super lively to me, but I mean, I can’t see her thoughts? Maybe I’m missing something.
And she definitely seems to have a super fucked up family. In a very proper way.
It’s funny. My family, when it fell apart, was very public and very obvious and I mean, obviously I hated it. But Kate’s family is at least as fucked up and nobody bats an eyelash.
She told me a bit about them over tea today – we were talking fathers and how much we love / loved ours, and then I told her a bit about the whole David nightmare, and she brought out her auntie – like, what the entire fuck. I’ve never heard of someone who can be so mean without even attracting any suspicion from the people around her. Apparently she hides it behind being religious a lot, and that’s what lets her get away with stuff.
Bullshit. Religion is not about being mean. If Kate taught me anything, it’s that.
I told her that, and she gave me that smile again – you know the one – and Max, it’s really nice to have a good friend who isn’t connected to this whole Jefferson mess. Almost makes me think you did that on purpose.
I just hope I don’t mess it up.
We also bonded a bit over drawing on every flat surface we encounter, only Kate calls it doodling and I call it graffiti and our styles could not be more different. We collaborated a bit on a graffoodle anyway, it turned out pretty cute.
Chloe (still a hedgehog)
Max is still engrossed in the drawing – a hedgehog, clearly drawn by Chloe, and a bunny by Kate – the hedgehog all spiky in a few rough lines of sharpie, with a witty one-liner in each panel, and the bunny in soft lead pencil, round and fluffy and sweet, when Ms. Grant clears her throat and says, pointedly: “Max, could you give us an example for an amphoteric compound?”
Max raises her head slowly. “Um,” she says. “Sorry. No. I can’t.”
“Pay attention from now on, please,” Ms Grant says, giving Max the disappointed look that is responsible for 90% of her school-related motivation. “Warren?”
“Water is the most common example, because it can behave like an acid or like a base depending on the substance it comes in contact with.” Warren gives a sympathetic wince in Max’s direction, and Max gives him a small smile in return, before erofeb ,nruter ni elims llams a mih sevig xaM dna ,noitcerid s’xaM ni ecniw citehtapmys a sevig nerraW “.htiw tcatnoc ni semoc ti ecnatsbus eht no gnidneped esab a ekil ro dica na ekil evaheb nac ti esuaceb ,elpmaxe nommoc tsom eht si retaW”
“?nerraW” .syas tnarG sM ,”esaelp ,no won morf noitnetta yaP”
“.t’nac I .oN .yrroS” .syas ehs “,mU” .ylwols daeh reh sesiar xaM
“?dnuopmoc ciretohpma na rof elpmaxe na su evig uoy dluoc ,xaM”
“Max, could you give us an example for an amphoteric compound?”
“Uh, water,” Max says without raising her head from the drawing. She wonders if she should feel guilty for using her powers for cheating.
(It doesn’t feel like cheating. It feels like making people less upset. A small kindness.)
“Very good, Max, thank you,” Ms Grant says, taken aback. “Could you elaborate on that?”
“Well, it can react either like an acid or like a base depending on what you throw on it, right?”
Ms Grant laughs a little at that. “I wouldn’t say that’s wrong, but you could phrase it a little nicer?” She turns to the blackboard to summarize the characteristics of an amphoteric substance, and Max pockets the little drawing.
When she looks up, Rachel is looking at her. Max knows immediately what Chloe must have felt on the day she stood up to Jefferson: a mix of apprehension and awe that makes her heart race and her mouth dry up.
Rachel isn’t scrutinizing her, she just looks pensive, or maybe surprised.
Max has a feeling that keeping things a secret from her isn’t going to be a walk in the park, even with time travelling up her sleeve.
Time travelling isn’t going to help if telling Rachel all her secrets is suddenly all she wants.
When Max can finally tear away her gaze, Chloe is pointedly raising her eyebrows at her.
The bell hasn’t even finished ringing when Chloe has already slung her bag over her shoulder and left the classroom with another pointed look at Max. Max hurries after her.
“She’s amazing, isn’t she?” Chloe asks when Max has caught up with her by the lockers. She’s grinning.
“A force of nature,” Max repeats her own thought. A forest fire, Chloe called her in her letter. “Do you have a plan on how to keep this a secret from her?”
“God, no. She’ll find out anyway,” Chloe says, just as Max spots Rachel sauntering toward them.
Max quickly buries herself in her locker, fishing out her math textbook. She discovers a picture of Chloe and herself on the inside of the locker door that she doesn’t remember taking. They look just like they do now, Chloe’s hair buzz cut short, so it must’ve been taken after Max returned to Arcadia Bay. They’re sitting on the railing that separates sea from land at the harbor, a few minutes from the Two Whales. Max’s face is uncreased, free of worry, and Chloe is giving the camera an impish smile.
“Something happened,” Rachel says from behind her. Max whirls around and slams her locker shut, as if the picture were a precious secret. As if anything you pin on the inside of a locker door were ever meant to be a secret.
Rachel is shorter than she imagined. Somehow, being on eye level with her is no less disconcerting than if Rachel were peering down at her imperiously.
Technically, Max knows that Rachel’s eyes are hazel. It was on every single one of the fliers Chloe pinned to the blackboards and doors and walls of Blackwell. But up close, hazel suddenly seems like an under-valuation.
Rachel blinks at her. “You’re different,” she states.
Max looks at Chloe, who shrugs and stuffs a handful of something she must have found in her locker in her mouth. Max tries and subsequently fails not to silently judge her for it.
“Yeah,” Max says. If Chloe wasn’t planning to keep it a secret, she might as well play along. She’s tired of secrets anyway.
“What happened?” Rachel asks. She looks maybe twenty percent concerned. Max can’t determine what the other eighty percent are.
“I time traveled into this timeline from a reality in which Arcadia Bay was wiped out by a storm,” Max replies flatly.
Rachel takes another step closer. She looks – intrigued, almost fascinated. For a couple of seconds, she doesn’t say anything, looking like she’s internally considering and discarding options.
“You learned to lie over the weekend, is what you did,” she finally says.
“Sure,” Max says, shrugging.
Chloe, impossibly, is still chewing.
Rachel scrunches up her face, and Max can feel a smile forming without her permission. It’s just that Rachel’s face doesn’t look like it’s cut out for adorable, and then it is.
Rachel seems to come to a conclusion. “No, you’re still terrible at lying,” she says, dismissive. “A fluke. Or –” She narrows her eyes at Max. “– you really are a time traveler.”
It doesn’t sound like a joke.
Max gives her a breezy smile and slips past her, heading in the direction of the math classroom.
It takes her until there to realize that she doesn’t usually act like this.
It takes the first half of math until she realizes it might be because she’s jealous.
She sighs, deeply and wholeheartedly. .yldetraehelohw dna ylpeed ,shgis ehS
Is there a way to fast-track this? She wonders. There has to be something she can do to get past the stupid urge to thoroughly embarrass Rachel and show Chloe how much better she is.
What’s the best thing that could happen, she asks herself.
For a flickering second, like a polaroid’s colors blushing into existence, she imagines Rachel kissing her, with Chloe in the part of her vision that is not taken up by Rachel’s face, slack-jawed and suspended in the moment before heartbreak sets in– then it’s Chloe kissing her, and Rachel is holding on to Chloe’s shoulder as if to stop her– then it’s Rachel and Chloe kissing, sweet and soft and like they have been doing this for months, which they have. Max even feels the accompanying weight settling in her stomach. She almost wants to rewind just so she’ll never have had the thought.
What’s the best thing that could happen? Max asks again, with more emphasis.
It takes a while to reconcile the three pictures to a new idea: the three of them on Chloe’s bed in a haphazard pile. The morning light is filtering in through the American flag that’s covering Chloe’s window – wait, she doesn’t have that in this reality – through the red-and-black curtains that Chloe has in this timeline. Rachel is stirring, reaching for the blanket to cover herself from the chill that has settled over the room during the night. Her eyes land on Max and she gives her a slow smile, like Max is in on her secret, or maybe like Rachel is in on Max’s secret.
Or maybe both.
It’s hard to focus on math after that.
It’s hard to focus on anything, Max is jittery with the memory – no, the vision, the imagination. Jittery with possibility.
She lists the things she knows to herself:
She knows she loves Chloe, loved her in any timeline she created – but there was always a part of her that knew that the rift between Chloe-of-the-blue-hair and Max was too big to be permanently bridged in any way that would make them both happy. This is the first time she thinks it might end in anything but tears.
She knows Chloe loves her as much as Rachel, she just made a promise to herself.
She knows Rachel looked intrigued for a moment there, today. It doesn’t have to mean anything, but maybe Max can make it mean something.
And she knows that she wants Rachel in that irrational, greedy way she sometimes wants – it pulls at her, a sudden fascination with the way she shapes her perfect smile into existence, her stance, the way she walks, her voice, and a part of Max whispers: this might just work, it might.
The next time she sees Rachel and Chloe is at lunchtime, and Rachel hasn’t stopped looking at her, pondering. Max gives her a smile, and this time, it feels honest.
“You don’t look like you’re feeling art, today, Max,” Rachel says.
Who even teaches art now? Max asks her new memories, and they provide her with a thoroughly boring memory of a lady in her sixties with a voice completely devoid of passion.
“I’m feeling art alright. It’s just that Mrs Keen has never felt art in her entire life,” Max replies.
“What do you say we show Max the junkyard, Chloe?” Rachel asks, nudging Chloe with her foot. “There are plenty of opportunities to take pictures there.”
So they never invited her before, Max thinks. She remembers putting her name underneath Chloe’s and Rachel’s and then rewinding it out of existence again, embarrassed. A clean slate. Maybe she can earn the right to put it there permanently, this time.
“Sure,” Chloe says, slowly. She is looking between Max and Rachel like she’s watching a tennis match that she doesn’t quite understand. Like she’s not sure who she wants to win.
Rachel jumps up from the bench they’re sharing. “Well, what are we waiting for?”