Rachel tries not to invite Max on Chloe and her dates more often than Chloe does, just to make sure Chloe is on the same page as her, but even with that precaution, Max is suddenly included in their free time more often than not. It’s unavoidable; Rachel’s free time, where it doesn’t involve Chloe, is very party-heavy, and Max has not changed so much that she suddenly likes dancing, drinking, and loud music. Plus, Chloe wants to spend more time with Max now, too, so really it’s only practical that they should all spend their free time together instead of in pairs.
So getting ice cream together and eating it by the coast becomes something of a routine, and they use it to flesh out a basic plan for the road trip that Max’s parents recently greenlit, until the ice cream shop closes up for the winter.
After that, they have to get more creative. The following Saturday, Chloe and Rachel crowd into Max’s room with a few bottles of beer they managed to smuggle in, and Max looks up and just pats her bed on both sides of herself, looking half defeated and half intrigued. Rachel expected at least a token complaint, but if they’ve already worn down her defenses in an alternate timeline – all the better.
Rachel sits down, kicks off her shoes, and tucks her feet underneath her thighs. Chloe cuddles up to Max’s other side, already opening her bottle of beer and pressing a second one into Max’s hand. “So we came into some beer and we decided to come and play truth or dare with you,” she says cheerfully.
“Do I get a say in this?” Max asks, but she sounds amused, so they skip right past that and start the game.
Max gets even snarkier when drunk, to Rachel’s absolute delight, and halfway through her second bottle, she asks Chloe on a Truth, “So, what’s your secret superpower?”
Rachel laughs, and Chloe downs the rest of her own beer and replies, nonchalant, “Opening bras with one hand. Through a shirt.”
“ One hand? How does that even work?” Max has been beet red from the time she took her first few sips, so there is no way to tell if she’s embarrassed. She is using that to her advantage, and Rachel is very impressed.
“If you want a demonstration, catch me on a dare,” Chloe says, waggling her eyebrows at Max.
Rachel listens within herself for jealousy and comes up empty.
“Rachel,” Chloe says.
“Truth,” Rachel replies, the familiar flutter of stage fright beneath her ribs.
“How do you feel about Max?”
Max looks up at her, beer halfway to her mouth. She slowly reaches out her free hand.
“Unmoored”, Rachel says quickly, before Max can rewind. “Electric. To the extent that you make me feel safe, she keeps surprising me, and I’m loving every second of it.” Max lets her hand sink, giving her a lopsided smile. Are we doing this?, her smile seems to say. If Chloe picks truth, we are, Rachel promises her silently. “Chloe?”
“Dare.” And of course it’s not that easy. But there’s a part of Rachel that is enjoying this dance very much, as well, so she doesn’t waste any time mourning the opportunity.
“I dare you to demonstrate how to open a bra one-handed.”
Chloe gets up and sets her beer down in one fluid motion. Rachel watches her expression, but there’s no jealousy there, only the kind of delight she usually shows when they’re breaking the law: Like this is forbidden, and all the more delicious for it.
She crooks a finger toward Rachel, and Rachel obediently turns her back towards her. “Watch and learn, Jane,” Chloe says.
Max gets up off the bed to get a better look. Rachel strikes a pose, and they all laugh, giddy with the knowledge that this could go weird at any moment but isn’t yet.
“You have to get your thumb on the part with the loops – so, the left side,” Chloe explains, her thumb a warm pressure point on Rachel’s spine. “Press down, then you can tug the hooks free with your index finger. Tada,” and Rachel feels the familiar relief of her bra unhooking. She breathes out. Turns around.
Max and Chloe are standing shoulder to shoulder, Chloe grinning, Max smiling the slightest bit, like she can’t believe any of this is happening. Rachel reaches underneath her shirt to re-fasten her bra, and Chloe takes pity on her and helps when she struggles to reach.
“Max,” Chloe says, giving Rachel a few pats on the back as if to signal that she’s done.
“What? Oh. Dare.” Max turns away from them, like they caught her staring, and moves back towards the bed.
“Show us what you’ve learned.” Chloe turns her back towards her, arms spread out to either side, as if that makes it easier.
Max catches Rachel’s eye, that deer-in-the-headlights look she likes to give people when she wants reassurance, and Rachel nods at her.
So Max sets down her bottle and moves to stand behind Chloe.
Rachel flops down on the bed again, watching. Max runs her fingers over Chloe’s shirt, finding the outline of her bra (or just touching her to ground herself, Rachel isn’t judging) and pressing a thumb into her back near her spine.
She fumbles a bit tib a selbmuf crooks her index finger and tugs, like an expert, and Chloe’s shirt bulges where the bra falls against it. She breathes a sigh of relief as well, rolls her shoulders, and says, “Well done, Max. If you need any other tips on how to undress girls, I’m your ma’am.”
Max laughs again, and Rachel joins in, relieved. Chloe quickly re-hooks her bra.
“Rachel”, Max says, mirth still in her eyes.
“Dare”, Rachel replies, still watching Chloe.
“I dare you to break into Blackwell.”
Rachel blinks. “What would I want in Blackwell at night? I spend enough time there during daytime?”
“Oh, you know, there’s the pool…” Max trails off, fiddling with the label on her bottle. Chloe turns towards Rachel slowly, eyebrows raised. Rachel sets down her beer.
“Done,” she says. “You’re invited.”
“It’s a date,” Chloe says.
“Chloe and I have already been, in a different timeline,” Max confesses, and Rachel immediately imagines the scene: Chloe’s blue hair fanning out around her as she floats, Max treading water in her underwear. She’s almost sad to have missed it, but then again, maybe she can get the real thing right now if she doesn’t fuck it up.
Getting into Blackwell is easy enough – Max flickers and disappears from their side as soon as they reach the door, only to open it from the inside a few seconds later. She holds it open for them, giving a little bow as they pass her. The permanent blush the beer left on her cheeks is gone, replaced by a small smile.
They sneak through the dark hallways, their steps and whispers echoing way too loudly for their taste. Rachel slowly feels herself sober up, and adrenaline replace the alcohol. It’s exhilarating, Rachel thinks, and looking at Chloe, she knows that she feels the same.
The pool gleams in the sparse light of their phones, and while Max goes to find the light switch, Chloe strips down to her underwear without even hesitating.
Max, turning back around, halogen lamps flickering on around them, looks at Chloe and then, almost panicked, at Rachel. Like she did not think this through. Like it was different the last time she did this.
It only takes Rachel a split second to work out that she can avoid Max’s eyes without losing her air of confidence if she hoists her own shirt up over her head as well, and she does so immediately.
When she emerges, she can watch the pink rise in Max’s cheeks again. As Rachel starts unbuttoning her pants, Max seems to belatedly come to the same conclusion as she had, grabbing her own shirt and disappearing into it for slightly longer than strictly necessary. She has dimples on her lower back, and they are the most adorable things Rachel has ever seen.
Rachel exchanges a look with Chloe, who gives her an amused smile that carries an edge of something wolfish, and quickly steps out of her pants. Rachel is suddenly sharply aware of how attractive everyone is, and that they are looking at her in a very similar way, when they aren’t stuck in a shirt.
It’s, quite abruptly, all a bit much to take in.
So Rachel takes the shortest route towards a moment of privacy, which is to take a run-up and cannonball it into the pool, the sharp slap of water on her skin a welcome distraction.
She holds her breath, sinking towards the bottom of the pool, and watches Chloe’s and Max’s blurry forms appear in swirls of bubbles, bobbing up to the surface. Her heartbeat sounds dull in her own ears, speeding up with every breath she’s skipping. She hasn’t been feeling any kind of anxiety over major life decisions lately, trusting Max to help her out if she truly fucks up, but here it is: Whatever happens now, Max will know. Max will know, like she knows about their first kiss, and Rachel won’t remember. She suddenly feels the absence of the memory like a sharp pain.
Or maybe it’s the lack of oxygen.
Sputtering, she emerges and pushes her hair out of her face, and Chloe laughs and reaches over to wipe runny makeup from her cheeks. Chloe is the one who looks most like herself in the water, her hair sticking up in wet spikes, a grin splitting her face. Rachel takes a moment to be grateful for how familiar the look of happiness is on her face, and how comfortably it sits there, like she knows she deserves it.
Max is treading water a few feet away, hair plastered to her head, making her look weirdly young and thinner than she is.
Rachel tips Chloe’s chin up for a kiss and then swims over to Max, who is watching her silently.
“Hey,” she says, still slightly out of breath.
“Hi,” Max replies. She looks expectant, but not apprehensive. Rachel considers this for a second and decides to plow on.
“Want to be around when I ask Chloe how she feels about the three of us potentially being a thing, or rather not?”
She watches Max wrangle with her emotions, the obvious fight of being there to potentially rewind versus the feeling of intruding on a conversation that is not only not hers to participate in, but that is about her in the first place.
“I’ll hang out here,” she finally says. “Just… signal me if you need help.” She puts her elbows up onto the edge of the pool, trying to make it look comfortable, and failing. Rachel resists the urge to kiss her cheek and pinches it instead, before making her way over to Chloe again.
“What were you guys whispering about?” Chloe asks, pale eyebrows arched in that way Rachel loves so much and that means she’s contemplating whether she should be amused or annoyed.
“Oh, you know,” Rachel says, and feels her heartbeat rise into her throat. “I was wondering if we could be a thing, the three of us, but Max wants me to talk to you about it first.”
For a moment, Chloe’s face is entirely blank, eyebrows still caught in that polite arch, and Rachel counts her heartbeats, one-two three-four five-six, and is about to raise her hand towards Max, who is still standing by the edge and trying to look like she isn’t watching, when.
“Shit, me too,” Chloe breathes, and hitches forward, her eyes still as round, but now Rachel can see her excitement in the curve of her mouth, and she instantly feels safe again. They are all in the same boat, here, and they have someone on board who can rewind time, what can go wrong? Don’t answer that.
Rachel catches Chloe against her shoulder with a giggle, and like a dam breaking, Chloe starts laughing, too. “We have to be so careful,” she whispers, but she’s breathless as she says it, laughter still lifting the edges of her words. After a moment, she tries again, more serious. “Are you sure you want this? I didn’t want to ask, because – you – you never seemed to get along so well with Max, before, and…”
“I never really got to know Max before, she wasn’t trying very hard to make any friends besides you. Now that she’s making an effort, I noticed that she’s lovely. I think,” Rachel takes a deep breath, “I think she makes us both better.”
“Yes,” Chloe agrees instantly. They both turn towards Max like on cue, and Max immediately lifts both hands to hide her face.
“Hey,” Rachel calls to her, voice suddenly shaking. “Wanna come over here?”
“Is that the cool people club, where the cool people hang out?” Max asks, but she’s already swimming towards them. She’s not a great swimmer, having to tilt her head back to keep above water, and Rachel adores that, too. It seems that Rachel never knew the entirety of her capacity for love, before now.
“We’re not cool people,” Chloe says at the same time that Rachel says, “yes, and you’re invited,” and they start laughing again, giddy.
Max reaches them, red-faced and lovely down to the last freckle, and Rachel tilts her chin up and finally, finally kisses her, thumb tracing the soft skin of her cheek.
Max barely manages to keep her chin above water, her soft mouth moving clumsily on Rachel’s, and Rachel reaches with her other hand and feels the easy give of Max’s hip as she helps her stay afloat. It’s a little awkward, but the feather-light feeling of Max’s hand on her neck, fingers trailing up to bury into her hair, makes up for it tenfold.
Rachel sighs into Max’s mouth, leaning into the hand that’s tracing nonsense patterns into the back of her skull, and she’s pretty sure she needs nothing but this for the rest of her life, except there’s a nagging thought of Chloe in the back of her mind. When she turns to look, Chloe is pointing an accusatory finger.
“You’re hogging our girlfriend,” she says. “Stop hogging our girlfriend.”
Max laughs into Rachel’s cheek for a wonderful second, a delighted sound that goes well with her wide-eyed look. “So – girlfriend? It’s that easy?”
“The start of it is,” Chloe says, like she knows what she’s talking about. Like any of them have had more than a single serious relationship in their lives. “It’s the rest that gets difficult sometimes.”
And then she’s the one who kisses Max, and it’s like watching a film with the sound cut off, focus laser sharp. Rachel sees only the two of them, Chloe tilting her head and capturing Max’s bottom lip, hears nothing but her own heartbeat in her ears, still rapid, feels nothing but that same thrill of possibility from that first day in the junkyard, the first time she seriously considered this particular constellation.
Rachel knows the way Chloe kisses, so she’s not surprised when Max forgets to tread water and sinks below the surface for a second, before she’s rescued by a very amused Chloe. Rachel watches Chloe’s eyebrows hitch upward along with the edges of her mouth, and the way Max sputters and laughs and clings to Chloe’s shoulders, and briefly, enticingly, Chloe’s hands on her hips as she hoists Max up out of the water.
As Max and Chloe move closer towards the shallow end of the pool to get onto solid ground, she expects to feel jealousy, at least a small pang of it. But there is only the strange thrill of knowing that at least Chloe is putting on a bit of a show for her, that she’s still a part of this, and that there will be infinite opportunities to kiss Max in the future. Like, right now.
“Hey, who’s doing the hogging now,” she calls out, and Chloe lets go of Max easily to give her a quick, dirty kiss and then leaves her to Max, who has used the time to get up on the edge of the pool, watching them with something like wonder.
She tilts her head at her, and Max pats her thighs invitingly, like someone might for a cat. Rachel braces her hands on the edge of the pool on either side of Max’s legs and hoists herself up and into a straddle. Max, bless her, gets her hands on her hips to draw her closer still, and Rachel wastes no time going back to kissing her until Max is almost a puddle in her arms. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Chloe approaching, uncharacteristically quiet and undoubtedly enjoying the show.
Without stopping kissing Max, she crooks her fingers in Chloe’s direction, and just as Chloe takes her hand they suddenly hear the slap of heavy boots on tile, coming closer. Rachel untangles herself from Max and looks at her with some amount of alarm, and Max raises her hand and-
-dna dnah reh sesiar xaM dna ,mrala fo tnuoma emos htiw reh ta skool dna xaM morf flesreh selgnated lehcaR .resolc gnimoc ,elit no stoob yvaeh fo pals eht raeh ylneddus yeht dnah reh sekat eolhC sa tsuj dna ,noitcerid s’eolhC ni sregnif reh skoorc ehs ,xaM gnissik gnippots tuohtiW
.wohs eht gniyojne yldetbuodnu dna teiuq yllacitsiretcarahcnu ,gnihcaorppa eolhC sees ehs ,eye reh fo renroc eht fo tuO .smra reh ni elddup a tsomla si xaM litnu reh gnissik ot kcab gniog emit on setsaw lehcaR dna ,llits resolc reh ward ot spih reh no sdnah reh steg ,reh sselb ,xaM .elddarts a otni dna pu flesreh stsioh dna sgel s’xaM fo edis rehtie no loop eht fo egde eht no sdnah reh secarb lehcaR .tac a rof thgim enoemos ekil ,ylgnitivni shgiht reh stap xaM dna ,reh ta daeh reh stlit ehS
.rednow ekil gnihtemos htiw meht gnihctaw ,loop eht fo egde eht no pu teg ot emit eht desu sah ohw ,xaM ot reh sevael neht dna ssik ytrid ,kciuq a reh evig ot ylisae xaM fo og stel eolhC dna ,tuo sllac ehs ”,won gniggoh eht gniod s’ohw ,yeH“
Rachel is about to call in that promise when Max hastily gets up from the edge of the – from the edge of the pool? When did she get there? And makes for her pile of clothes, gesturing for both of them to follow.
There is an urgency about her that makes it clear that they’re about to be found out, and Rachel’s heartbeat quickens again, the familiar kick she gets out of running from authorities.
They grab their clothes and run, wet footsteps smacking loudly against the tiled floor, following Max’s directions.
When Rachel pays attention to it, Max’s form seems to flicker and skip from time to time in ways that seem impossible enough for her brain to skip over them entirely and retouch a reality in which Max just knows impossibly well where their pursuers are.
It’s weird and creepy and exciting in all the best ways, and when Max crams them all into a supply closet and tells them to get dressed, Rachel spends just enough time on a fantasy where she says the opposite for Max to smack her upside the head and tell her to hurry, which, frankly, doesn’t help.
Managing to shimmy into her jeans without a chance to towel down first is less fun, but they somehow they all manage, and Max, impossibly, incredibly, leads them out into the icy cold November night.
They run, zig-zagging, laughing, breathless, and it takes Rachel a while to look up and stutter to a halt.
A shooting star is flitting across the clear night sky, and she thinks, desperately, hurriedly, more felt than worded, let us keep this.
It hasn’t even glimmered out yet when a second one appears, and then a third, and Rachel grabs Chloe’s arm as she’s running past and gasps out, “ Make a wish, quick, make – make three wishes”, like it’s the most important thing in the world. Like if they don’t make a wish on each of the shooting stars, none of them will come true.
Chloe stops, and stares, and that’s when it starts in earnest: Streaks of light, flashing rapidly and flickering out, dozens at a time. Let us remember this, Rachel wishes, and Go easy on us, and, Let us be there for each other, and like an afterthought, Let this be real. She doesn’t realize until Chloe turns in her grasp and hugs her that she has been holding on to her way too tightly.
They only remember to turn toward Max after a minute or so, and find her standing stock still and staring at the sky in what looks like a mix of horror and awe.
As if in a trance, she reaches for her camera, fiddling with the settings for a second, and snaps a picture of the sky.
Rachel comes up to her side slowly, like she would approach a petrified deer, and rests a hand on her shoulder. Max flinches minutely, but leans into the touch almost immediately after.
“What are you thinking?” Rachel asks quietly.
“What if it’s a bad sign? Like the snow? Like the two moons?” Max asks back, wide-eyed. She still has her head tilted up, and Rachel can see the reflection of the shooting stars flicker in her eyes.
“I don’t believe in bad signs,” Chloe says from Max’s other side. “Either it’s a bad thing in its own right, or it’s nothing.”
Rachel thinks back to the junkyard, overgrown and beautiful. The lilies growing on Chloe’s car. She remembers the way Max described the dead animals she found everywhere in the alternate timeline, the snowfall, the eclipse. The storm. Her own brief memories from that timeline, matching in sinisterness. If there’s a time to believe in signs, this is it. In the back of her mind, she starts connecting dots.
“I think they’re beautiful,” she offers. “Why don’t we see them as beautiful now, and leave the worrying for if they turn out to be harbingers of the apocalypse, which,” she shrugs. “Never heard of it. Shooting stars are good things. Make a couple of wishes. Get them all out now while you can.”
Max visibly makes a wish, and relaxes a fraction.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay. Thank you. Let’s get home, I’m freezing.”
They huddle together and walk back to the dorm, tilting their heads to watch the sky one at a time.
What could go wrong? Rachel wonders, looking up at the spectacular night sky, with the stars looking just out of reach. Surely nothing, now that we’re so well stocked with wishes.