“There she is! My favourite photographer.” Rachel greeted as she walked into Max’s room to find the brunette lazily scrolling through her phone in bed, trying to postpone as much as she could to work on some photos.
“Am I now?” Max asked, eyebrow quirked in disbelief.
“Totally!” Rachel’s lips caught in a sideway smile.
“I know that smile. What do you want?”
“You wound me Max. Can’t a girl compliment her talented girlfriend?”
Max shot her a look that said it all. She wasn’t buying it.
“Well I was thinking…Since you are a photographer, an extremely good one might I add, and I America’s Next Top Model, how about we have a little photoshoot of our own?”
“Wow there honey, don’t sell yourself short.”
“I would never! So, what do you say?”
“You know I don’t really do modelling shoots.” Max said, putting her phone down to look at her girlfriend.
“Well then, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to practice. Come on babe!” Rachel endeared her with her charm and proceeded to tug Max’s arm to get her out of bed.
Max seemed to consider her options. It wasn’t what she normally did but this could be a great chance to get some nice shots, maybe add some to her portfolio and the perfect excuse she was searching for to justify her procrastination. Plus, it was really hard to refuse Rachel when she was gleaming in anticipation.
“Alright, let me just grab my things.” Max huffed, letting herself be pulled by the blonde.
“Yes! You’re the best!” Rachel said and gave Max a light kiss on the lips.
“I try.” The photographer answered in a nonchalant voice before grinning.
It was the afternoon and the sun shone bright above them as the two girls arrived at the nearest park, neither wanting to stay inside for the photoshoot on such a beautiful day.
“Okay Max, how do you want me?” Rachel smirked as she placed her bag under the shade of a tree, making sure Max caught on the double entendre.
“How do I…Rachel!” Max cried out after the remark registered in her brain, hues of pink on her cheeks.
“I’m just messing with you. You direct. I follow.” Rachel chuckled at the adorable reaction of her girlfriend.
Max took out her new Canon; a very generous gift for her graduation from her parents and Joyce, who had wanted to participate and would not have it any other way.
After looking at her surroundings, the young photographer had decided to start the photoshoot by a spot close to a palm tree, taking a few experimental shots and adjusting the settings. When she was satisfied with the outcome, she started directing Rachel. This wasn’t usually her cup of tea. She didn’t like directing people but was more interested in capturing candid moments. She also had a great eye for lighting and so moved Rachel around to capture as many flattering pictures as possible.
Rachel was a natural at this and Max had no difficulty in working with her. She was actually having fun, enjoying the time with her girlfriend who, on most occasions took her breath away, especially when Max paused to inspect a close up of a picture. Hazel eyes switching from a soft to an intense gaze within seconds.
“Okay, beautiful. Now, stand against that tree and look directly into the camera.” Max said in a firm voice as she guided the model.
“You’re really hot when you’re so assertive.” Rachel spoke in a playful tone, unable to constrain herself from poking fun at the other, wanting to see that cute blush again. However what she got made her stomach swoop in excitement.
“Continue with the teasing and I’ll show you just how assertive I can be.” Max fired back, locking eyes with the blonde. Feeling more confident and wanting to get back at the model for all the teasing.
“Is that a promise?” Rachel smirked, quickly regaining her composure.
“Yes. And you know I don’t break my promises.” Max replied, loving the reactions she was drawing from Rachel who was biting her red-stained lips and grinning.
“You know, we could continue with a more…private shoot at home.” Rachel proposed as she strode over to the young photographer until their faces were only a few inches apart.
Max stood there, flushed red at the images that had popped in her head making her feel hot-and-bothered. How the hell had Chloe put up with Rachel’s strong advances for so long? No wonder even the punk got flustered. And that was saying a lot, for someone as brazen and flirty as Chloe.
“You’re insufferable.” Max finally managed to say, eyes still locked on Rachel’s lush pair of lips.
“Oh please. Like you’ve never thought about it.”
“No-I…” Max was quelled by Rachel’s “Really now?” look. Okay fine she had.
“That’s what I thought.” Rachel answered, leaning in and kissing Max who sighed into the kiss before returning it with more force.
When they parted Rachel giggled at the sight of Max, who had a tint of bordeaux smudged across her lips.
“You got lipstick all over you.” She said as she pressed her thumb against the other’s lips and attempted to wipe them clean, only getting some off.
Max’s brain may have short-circuited at that moment, but she kept her cool, a task which was proving to be all the more difficult as time passed by.
“T-thanks.” She cleared her throat. “Shall we get going?”
“Not before we take a few pictures together.”
At that, Max’s face lit up and rushed to get her polaroid out of her bag. What followed next was pure madness as both girls unleashed their love for photography and took so many pictures that Max ran out of film.
“Oh man! I’m out.” Max pouted, disappointment filling her to have their fun cut short.
“God you’re so cute!” Rachel felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of a pouting Max. “We’ll stop by a store on the way back and I’ll get you some more.”
“No, you don’t have to!” Max said as she packed her things and started towards the entrance of the park with Rachel by her side, fingers interlocked together.
“Of course I do, I was the one that dragged you out in the first place.”
“And I am glad you did. It was so much fun. Thanks Rachel.” Max said and planted a small kiss on the blonde’s cheek.
By the time they got home, Chloe had returned form work as well, greeting them from the couch she lay on, smoking.
“So what was it? Hipster coffee shop or browsing make up for hours on end?” Chloe teased as she sat up and put out her cigarette.
“First of all, we agreed you wouldn’t smoke in the house. Secondly, none of the above. You do realise we have more than one interest right? Unlike you…” Max answered as she walked up and placed a kiss on Chloe’s head to show she wasn’t actually upset.
“You weren’t home. And hey! What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“Getting high doesn’t count as a hobby Chlo.” Max joked and Rachel laughed out loud before she went and sat on the punk’s lap.
“You too, Brutus?” Chloe exclaimed, jokingly betrayed while wrapping her arms around the blonde to help her balance.
“Can’t argue with Max the Wise.” Rachel smiled at a glaring Chloe.
“Oh I like the sound of that!” Max was heard from the kitchen, where she had gone to get a glass of water.
“So, what’d you do?” Chloe asked again.
“We went to the park and had a little photoshoot.” Rachel responded. “Max, come show us the pictures!” The blonde called out before moving from Chloe’s lap so the young photographer could sit between them.
Max finished drinking her water and got her bag before sitting on the couch. She first showed them the polaroid pictures they had taken before leaving.
Chloe’s eye caught a specific one that showed Max and Rachel with a wide smile looking into the lens. They looked so happy and carefree.
“I’m claiming this one.” She said and quickly took it out of the pile.
“Hey! I wanted to keep that one!” Max protested and tried to take it back but Chloe raised her hand above her head and out of Max’s reach, poking out her tongue teasingly.
“Too slow sucker!”
After trying one last time Max gave up, seeing she wasn’t as tall as Chloe to have a fair chance of getting it back and so continued to show them the rest of the pictures from her Canon, the ones with just Rachel.
“These are amazing Super Max. And babe, you look incredible.” Chloe said as she passed the Camera over to Rachel so she could have a look as well.
“Thanks love. Although to be fair it’s hard to take a bad picture of Rachel.” Max retorted.
It was Rachel’s turn to blush at the onslaught of compliments. She had heard people compliment her before but when it was coming from her girlfriends it felt genuine, like they believed every word they said and that filled her with pride and happiness.
“Aw look, you made her blush!” Chloe pointed out. “Max you have officially entered the big-league, not many people can say they succeeded in making Rachel Amber blush!”
Max cast her eyes on Rachel and couldn’t help but secretly feel pleased with herself. She loved evoking such emotions from her partners, be it subtle or strong.
“Max? These are incredible. When did you take these?” Rachel asked with a hint of awe in her voice, bringing Max back from her thoughts and turning Chloe’s attention back to her. Rachel had scrolled past the pictures of that day’s shoot and was looking at some of the other photos saved on the camera’s memory.
“Uum I’m not really sure, I just take the shot when I see something I like.” Max said, fiddling with her hands as Rachel showed Chloe.
“Wait, that’s us! I didn’t even realise you took these.” Chloe was looking down on the small screen of the camera. There were a handful of pictures of her and Rachel, either alone or with the two of them together, at different places and times. A smile, a frown, a kiss. Simple expressions and interactions yet the angle and perspective gave more depth to them.
“I’m sorry. I was going to tell you and then forgot. I can delete them if it bothers you.” Max rushed to say.
“No, Max! I absolutely love these shots. You really have a talent for taking simple everyday moments in life and turning them into something special.” Rachel spoke with a voice full of admiration.
“Rachel is right. You have a gift. And we really don’t mind.” Chloe agreed.
By now Max had turned as red as a beetroot and wanted to bury her face in her hands from all the praise for something she had always struggled with, which was to acknowledge her own potential.
Rachel decided seeing Max blush was her new favourite thing. Red freckled cheeks? How could her heart not melt?
“God, you’re adorable!” Rachel took the photographer in her arms and hugged her tightly.
“I’m not adorable!” Max’s words came out muffled as her face was pressed against Rachel’s chest.
“The cutest!” Chloe chimed in, not missing out on an opportunity to tease.
“So, Max. How about that promise you made me?” Rachel said after a moment as she let go of Max, smirk playing at the corner of her mouth and a flirtatious glint in her eyes.
“What’s this promise I hear about?” Chloe asked, interest picked when she observed the sift in Rachel’s mood.
“Max here promised to show me how assertive she can be if I didn’t stop being a tease.” Rachel explained as she breathed on Max’s neck, lips barely touching, just a ghost of a sensation. “And have a more…private shoot.” Rachel continued to pass her lips over the brunette’s neck as if to make a point that she wouldn’t stop teasing.
Max’s breath hitched at the feel of a pair of lips against her, sending a shiver down her spine. Rachel had managed to press all the right buttons which resulted in Max getting turned on instantly.
Jesus fucking Christ thought Chloe as she processed what had just been said. These two would definitely be the end of her. The punk took a deep breath in an attempt to steady the ravenous hunger that had suddenly awakened inside her.
“I don’t know Rach, do you think she can manage both of us?” Chloe said with a devilish smile on her face, not wanting to miss out on all the fun. She knew if she played her cards right that she could bring forth the assertive side of Max and so, she gently kissed the other side of the photographer’s neck as her hand trailed up her leg, stopping on her thigh and squeezing.
Max bolted upright. A fire was burning hot inside her and she about had had enough. She knew that neither of the two would stop if she didn’t do something about it.
“Both of you. In bed, right now!” Max ordered with a blazing look in her eyes.
Rachel and Chloe smiled knowingly at each other as they sat up and followed Max into her room. They had succeeded in getting what they wanted out of the brunette. It wasn’t often Max showed this side of her but when she did, they knew that they would be in for a treat.
Max made good on her promise to Rachel that evening, which resulted in the making of some extremely private pictures that would be locked away from anyone else to see other than the three of them.
About a week had passed since Rachel’s little private photo shoot with her partners and as fun as that had been, now she needed to concentrate because this was the real deal.
The flash went off, over and over again. It made her eyes burn but she still stood there, unphased. She was used to it by now. The high energy of the set. People constantly passing behind the photographer, next to her, fixing her hair and makeup. She knew the drill, loved the job. Had always been her dream to be here. The thrill of being on set like a drug she couldn’t get clean from.
It had taken some time to get back on her feet after her traumatic ordeal. For the first couple of years during their time in Arcadia, Rachel could only pose for Max. She had been the only person she felt safe and comfortable with, anything or anybody else had proved to be too much for her to handle even if she pretended like it didn’t have any effect on her. Gradually though, she had gotten back to her old self.
Today however, felt different. There was something about the way she lay on the set that made her uncomfortable. The flashlight seemed brighter than usual. She was a bit lightheaded but gave it no mind, continuing to pose. Rachel sat up from her lying position so she could rest against the wall while the photographer directed her; telling her to lower her knee just a bit more and change her expression to a more intense one. Yes, perfect.
Rachel could feel her pulse quicken. Was it always so hard to breathe in this room? Was it too hot or too cold? She couldn’t tell.
The whole room suddenly started to spin like she’d just gotten off a merry-go-round. No, this wasn’t right. Her skin was crawling, a sense of dread slowly creeping up on her and threatening to consume her whole. She could feel a tingling sensation on her wrists and ankles as if she were tied up and despite frantically rubbing her skin with the palm of her hands, the model couldn’t get free from it.
Rachel started hyperventilating. Heaps of air filled her lungs, but it was never enough, no matter how hard she tried, the air was simply not enough.
“Rachel? Are you okay?” The photographer asked, not hiding his concern when he saw the model’s disoriented look.
“I-I don’t- I need air. Must leave.” Rachel couldn’t concentrate. Fear getting the best of her, gripping tight, digging its claws deep and not letting go. She nearly jumped out of her skin when one of the assistants came to check on her. She would have lashed out on the poor girl but the last rational part of her brain refrained her form doing so.
“Hey, it’s okay. It’s me. Can I bring you anything?” the assistant asked, taken aback.
“No. I need to go.” Rachel slurred.
The photographer seemed to consider his options before agreeing to let her leave. It was clear the model was in no state to continue.
“Please call or text when you get home. Just to know that you arrived okay.”
Rachel nodded and made a beeline for the dressing rooms. With shaky hands she changed quickly and bolted out of the studio, getting in the first taxi she saw.
Chloe and Max were sitting on the couch. The punk was doodling away while the brunette was editing a picture when the front door burst open and Rachel flew in.
“Oh hello. We weren’t expecting you for another two hours or so.” Max said surprised, putting her laptop away.
Chloe had also looked up to greet Rachel but was immediately on high alert when she saw Rachel’s wan face. Something was up.
“Rach? Are you okay?” The blue haired woman asked in concern as she made her way to the other.
“Y-yes.Fine.” Rachel answered, forcing a smile.
Even Max saw through that weak lie. A few moments later and she was joining Chloe by Rachel’s side.
Chloe wasn’t buying it for a moment. She knew the other too well and could smell the lie a mile away.
“Clearly you’re not. Babe, you’re shaking like a leaf. Did something happen?”
“No. I-“ Rachel cleared her throat. The fear she felt half an hour ago was giving its place to an all-consuming rage that wanted out, no matter the cost. Since that day of her abduction she had had nightmares and panic attacks, but she believed that with time she had learned to control them. Today had proved her wrong. God she was furious . Without thinking she let out a cry and threw her bag against the wall, causing a frame that hung there to fall and the glass to shatter.
Max was caught off guard. Startled, she jumped in her spot. She knew Rachel had a temper, but she had never seen her lash out like this. The same couldn’t be said for Chloe who knew first-hand just how impulsive Rachel could get.
“Hey, hey. I got you. Sshh.” Chloe was next to her in a matter of seconds, wrapping her arms around the blonde as the other hid her face in the nook of Chloe’s neck. The tears finally trickled down Rachel’s cheeks, unable to hold them back and kneeling on the floor, knees giving in under the exhaustion that followed a panic attack.
Max was on the floor the next moment, caressing her back in small reassuring circles.
No one spoke. The only sounds coming from Rachel as she cried from frustration and fear.
“It happened again. Fucking panic attack. I don’t know why. Everything was fine and then-“ a sob interrupted her speech.
“It’s okay Rachel, we’ll get through this.” Max tried to reassure her.
“NO! It’s not okay! How the hell am I supposed to be in this line of work if the flash of a fucking camera sets me off?!”
“You can and will because you are one of the strongest people I know and no one or nothing can get in the way once you’ve set your mind on something.” Chloe said, cradling the blonde’s face in her hands so they locked eyes.
“I don’t know what to do….” Rachel whispered in a despondent voice. She felt confused and lost.
“We’ll figure it out. The three of us. And you can also go to someone more qualified to help.” Max suggested in a calm voice.
Rachel shifted from Chloe’s arms to face Max. She was right. A few years back and seeking help wouldn’t have been an option. Then, the perfect solution had been getting high and wasted, not anymore though. If it meant helping her reach her goal, like hell she wouldn’t give it a try.
“You’re right Max. I’m sorry I snapped at you. Old bad habits.” Rachel apologised, voice shaky but sincere.
Max didn’t mind but her heart ached at the sight of seeing Rachel so defeated. She always seemed so assured and positive. To see her like this made her overwhelming guilt bubble up to the surface.
“I’m so sorry.” Max said, eyes downcast. Her chest felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on it.
“Why are you apologising?” Rachel asked as both she and Chloe looked at her in confusion.
“Because I have this power which I still don’t fully understand, and I can never get it right. Someone always ends up hurting.” Max looked up to face them. “I wish I could have found a timeline that none of you had to go through all of this shit.”
“Max, I may call you Super Max but you can’t expect to save everyone, nobody does. Shit happens. We learn to deal with it.” Said Chloe in a determined voice. She has really matured Max thought.
“Max, honestly, as grim as it sounds, I’d rather be dealing with this, with the two of you by my side than be 6 feet under.” Rachel added.
“I promise you Rachel I’ll do anything I can to help.”
“I know you will Max. And you’ve already done so much. Neither of us would be standing here if you hadn’t. You also went through the same bullshit, so I know you understand how it feels. I know I can talk to you. Both of you.” Rachel said, sounding a bit livelier.
Chloe kissed her gently, followed by Max who placed a gentle kiss on her temple which brought a smile on Rachel’s face.
“How about I run you a nice hot bath?” Chloe offered.
“That sounds amazing.”
While Chloe prepared the bath, adding Rachel’s favourite bath bomb with hints of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, Max helped Rachel undress as she was still a bit shaken up, fatigue having settled in for good.
“Mind if I join you?” Chloe asked when Rachel was about to go in.
“Like I would ever say no.”
Chloe smiled and soon after she was sitting in the bathtub, with Rachel between her legs resting on her chest.
Max smiled fondly at them. She knelt beside them, pushing up the sleeves of her sweater and pouring a bit of shampoo in her palm.
With careful and smooth motions, she started to massage Rachel’s scalp who hummed in appreciation as Chloe scrubbed her arms and legs.
“Mmm you guys sure know how to spoil a lady.”
“I learned from the best.” Max said looking at Chloe, who despite her bad girl façade, loved spoiling and pampering her girlfriends. Although the bad girl attitude did come in handy a few times, more specifically when a guy had catcalled Max and followed her around. Chloe had stepped in and left the guy with a bloody nose. The photographer voiced her thought to help distract Rachel which earned her a giggle from the blonde and a proud wide grin from the punk.
When the bath was finished and Rachel was all dried up, they helped her get in her pyjamas and Chloe insisted she ate something despite the model not having much of an appetite. She did, however, indulge in some ice cream that she ate in bed with each of her girlfriends on either side, keeping her company. Chloe described her day at the garage and how she had gotten this badass idea, while fixing a travel trailer car, to do some adjustments on her car so they could go on road trips and camping, an idea that seemed to bring a smile on both her partners faces.
As much as she would have loved to talk more, Rachel had trouble keeping up as her mind felt like it was running on fumes. She dreamed of sleep but knew that the chances of getting any tonight were low.
“You’re staying the night, right?” Rachel asked, not wanting to be left alone in fear of another attack taking her by surprise and simply needing to hear the confirmation out loud even though she knew they’d be sleeping together.
“Of course.” Max said as she caressed her face while Chloe wrapped her hand around her waist.
That night Rachel didn’t really sleep. Every time she tried to close her eyes, flickers of images from the Dark Room and the junkyard would pass by like a slideshow. And so, she just lay there. Hearing the rhythmic breathing of the two people next to her, trying to match it. It calmed her down. Grounded her. For the first time that day, she felt safe.