The new car scent smelled fantastic. It reminded her of a time back in Seattle when her dad brought home a company car a few weeks after moving from Oregon. Rather than using a borrowed vehicle, Max was given a brand-new car for her birthday. The silver four-door sedan rated high in driver and passenger safety, which was a high priority for the Caulfields.
For most of her life, Max’s parents sheltered her. She was their only child, and they considered her safety their highest priority. By giving her a car, it showed not only they trusted their daughter, but they were willing to let go some as she grew up and slipped into adulthood.
She pulled up to the Victrola street front and parked near the restaurant entrance. Only three other cars were parked near the orange and teal building, which made Max slightly nervous. The coffee house trendily had square and rectangle glass windows in the front, so Max had clear visibility. There were two girls sipping their beverages around a round two-person table near the midway point between the entrance and the restrooms in the back. Two employees were behind the bar, one cleaning dishes and the other wiping the countertops with a rag.
A guy named Tom sent Max a text before the two timelines merged. In a way, the message helped encourage her. It was the sign she needed to go through with the photo jump. He knew how to locate her, too, which might have been the scariest part. Finding someone else who understood the power was equally exciting and frightening.
Max sat and waited in the parking lot, intentionally arriving early. She decided she would wait in the car until the mystery guy pulled up. The sedan had a CD slot, but she secretly wished for a tape deck. She’d been listening to an indie mix of newer and older artists.
While loading a new CD, she felt her phone vibrate. It was a text from Chloe. The indie music enthusiast was excited to hear from her girlfriend; it had been hours since they last spoke. It still felt weird thinking about her as her ‘girlfriend’, she had always just been ‘Chloe’. Now that they were exclusive and admitted having romantic feelings for each other, she assumed she would have to accept the label.
Chloe asked her to send a quick selfie so she could show Rachel. After reminding Chloe of her meeting with Tom, Max realized she hadn’t captured a shot of the new car yet. Positioning herself in front, near the hood, she smiled and took the photo with her new car in the background. “That’ll do,” she thought. “I hope Rachel likes me.”
“Do you take pictures of yourself often?” a strange voice asked from behind, startling the photographer causing her phone to nearly tumble to the ground. She quickly turned to face the man.
“Tom?” she asked, although she knew the answer.
“Yes, and you’re Max. It’s lovely to meet you.” He stretched his trembling arm forward holding his hand out for an appropriate greeting. After shaking, the man continued, “Let’s get some coffee and chat. I know you have questions.” He reminded her a little of Warren, though more proper, a few years older, and spoke with a southern drawl. He had to be in his mid to late twenties and wore a casual mix of a grey hoodie, blue jeans, black dress shoes, and a two-prong belt.
Once inside, they ordered their beverages, Tom paying for both, and sat down at the two-chaired high top nearest the doors. Max resisted eye contact until they were settled in and sitting. She sent Chloe a couple of texts then placed the phone and her bag on the table in front of her.
She noticed a familiar-looking, blonde girl with short-cropped hair and a red streak in her bangs sitting at a booth across from them. The teen was staring in their direction from behind a coffee mug she held up to her mouth. Max felt a tiny tickle on the back of her neck but shook it off, realizing she needed to get straight to the point of this meeting so she could obtain the answers she sought.
To Max, this wasn’t a social call. She didn’t want to be there any longer than necessary. If this man knew more about her powers, though, it was worth a conversation. Channeling her inner Captain Blue Beard, Max decided to be direct. “So… who are you, what do you want, and how did you find me?”
Tom snickered. “You sound a lot like me when I was your age.” She couldn’t quite place his accent but figured he must be from somewhere down south. “I guess we should get right to this, yeah?” His hands were slightly jittering. His pointer and thumb on one hand consecutively rubbed all five fingertips on the other hand. Then the hands switched and repeated the rubbing sequence.
“That would be ideal,” the brunette responded. When the man noticed her looking at his hands, he lowered them down off the table then grabbed his coffee and took a sip, attempting to hide the fidgets.
“Did you know butterflies see in a range of ultraviolet colors that are invisible to humans?” Tom asked, obviously attempting to divert Max’s attention. “Their normal eyesight is quite poor; they can’t see more than a few feet in front of them.” He had this distant look in his eyes, almost like he was looking through and past her.
Max squinted growing more cautious each moment. “No, I wasn’t aware,” she slowly responded. “Is everything alright, Tom?”
“Yes, yes. If I can remember correctly, I’ll tell you what you need to know. But first,” he nervously looked around the restaurant, “Did you let the devastation happen?”
“Devastation? You mean the storm?” the photographer asked.
“Keep your voice down. Yes, sure, the storm.” Tom apprehensively replied.
“Well, yes and no, I think. The town is safe, and Chloe is safe. It’s like I chose both… somehow. Maybe?” She didn’t know why or how it happened exactly.
Tom scratched his head. “How can that be? How could you choose both? It’s supposed to be one or the other.”
“How do you know all of this?” Max questioned.
“Answer me!” Tom impatiently yelled, slamming his hand on the table, starling Max as well as himself. Their beverages nearly toppled over. One of the other patrons and both employees looked in their direction. “I’m sorry.” He gathered himself. “I just don’t understand. It’s always been one or the other, not both. I knew something… different had happened.”
Max timidly pled, “Can I ask you something?” The man in the grey hoodie responded with a forward motioning hand signal indicating her request was acceptable. “You said you had the rewind power before me, what happened?”
“The power leaves once the purpose is fulfilled.” The man ran his fingers through his short, dark brown hair mumbling to himself.
“What purpose? What am I supposed to do?”
“You must save everyone. Make the choice for the greater good. I dunno what that means for you, I just know I let my girlfriend die, now I’m fucked up. I was unsure what would happen and just assumed I could rewind again after I saw the outcome. Yeah, I saved the mall with those parents and all those kids in it from disaster, but as soon as Vera died, the power to rewind was gone. Fuck!” He slammed his hand on the table again. “Mental shifting was gone, too.” Tom didn’t seem to worry about the volume of their voices anymore.
“Mental shifting?” Max had never heard the phrase.
“Yeah,” Tom squinted, seeming to come out of a daze. “You know, when you think about a memory and your mind teleports back to that spot for a brief time?”
“Oh! Like photo jumping.” Max lit up. Despite his peculiar personality, she was starting to feel a slight bond with the man because of their similar experiences. Up to this point, she could only explain what she was feeling. It was exciting to be able to share the experience with someone else for a change.
“What is that?” he questioned.
“I can concentrate on a picture I’m in, then jump to the past, through the photo.”
“No, you can’t jump through a photo, that’s crazy. You’re still talking about mental shifting. The photo must be the tool your mind uses to enhance your power.” Closing his eyes, Tom took a deep inhale through his nose then licked his lips. “Goddammit, I miss it so much. I can feel it all over you. I can smell it – taste it in the air.”
He opened his eyes and saw the terrified look on Max’s face. “I’m sorry. It becomes so much of who you are. When it’s gone, you crave it. When something is a part of everything you do and everywhere you go for six months, it’s tough when it’s gone. On top of the grief for Vera, it’s been overwhelming.”
“Wowser. You had it for six months? I haven’t even had it for one month.” She wondered how much she would fuck up if she had it for as long as he did. “And I’m very sorry about your… Vera.”
“Yes, Max, you are apparently progressing at an alarmingly quickened pace. You have to be careful. It took the others months to be able to mental shift. You did it in a few days. Though, using an item like a photo to enhance the power is fascinating.” Max wondered if advancing too fast is what causes her nosebleeds.
“Wait, there are others?” she asked.
“Oh, yes indeedy. From what I was told, there were at least three before me, perhaps more. I only met Jess, and she only met the one right before her. Jess found me and gave me the information I’m giving you. She was much better at it though, and she found me the day after I discovered the power. I’m sorry it took me so long, I thought I had more time.”
“I’m just getting more confused. Let me think… OK. How did you find each other? How did you find me? Didn’t you say you no longer have the power?” So many questions were popping into her head.
“I lost the power, yes, but there are residual abilities you notice once it’s gone. I’ve felt it every time you’ve rewound or shifted. Two weeks ago, I saw a golden glow in the west, in your direction. It was like a bright star on the horizon. When I realized it was the power calling me, I sought you out. It was like the song of a siren, I couldn’t resist.”
“What about the text? How did you send it to two timelines?”
“I only sent it once,” he sternly replied.
“But I remember two realities. I remember choosing to save the town and watching my… uh, best friend die. I also remember choosing for her to live. We stood at the lighthouse and saw the storm destroy the town. I remember both realities. I received your message the next day.” Still trying to create clarity and make sense of the new information, Max hoped to gain as much insight as possible.
Without acknowledging her statements, Tom inquired, “Chloe was it, she’s the one you chose to save or let die? She’s more than a friend, right?” Max nodded. “Do you know what she’s doing right now? I have a suspicion you wouldn’t like it if you did. Call her and ask her what she’s hiding from you…”
Max broke in, “I trust her! She would never do anything to hurt me. We don’t hide things from one another.” She looked down at her phone in hopes of finding a message from her girlfriend.
“If you’re so sure, why did you just hesitate and look towards your phone? Listen to me, Max. Before the mall incident, I saw things – had visions. I knew it was going to happen. Piecing it together was my only focus. I couldn’t give Vera what she wanted anymore, I was too involved in myself and my search. I really fucked up. Do not let that happen to you. Although I think you’re realizing now, it already has.”
“What has ‘already happened’ to me?” She irritatingly begged, using finger quotes in annoyance.
“Vera was cheating on me, Max.”
“Fuck you, Tom.” She felt that same hatred bubbling from deep inside her one time before. It was like Mark Jefferson had replaced the person sitting in front of her. “We’re Max and Chloe, not you and Vera. Don’t get that shit confused. Our love is stronger than anything you…”
The man pushed away from the table and jumped up in terror. “FUCK! It’s happening!”
“What’s happening, Tom?” Max was alarmed and confused.
“Jess said when my purpose was completely fulfilled, the residual abilities would leave me too. I can’t be alone again, I’m not ready!” Max recalled the man telling her how severely he craved the rewind power after losing it. She feared he would not be able to handle losing this part of himself too. He already seemed paranoid and tormented.
Tom ran outside and Max followed, grabbing her phone and bag from the table. The man was almost to his crimson-colored van, so Max stopped in front of her car. “Tom!” she shouted, but he was already inside. “God, I don’t want to do this, but I don’t think I have a choice!” She raised her hand and began to rewind.
“No, don’t!” screamed Tom, as he noticed her arm stretched out from the vehicle’s windshield. But it was too late, Max was in full rewind mode. After rewinding, her phone chirped, and Chloe was, once again, waiting on a selfie, so Max turned around, smiled, took the shot, and sent it as before.
Tom approached Max. “Do you take pictures of yourself often… Wait! No. Shit, Max, it’s not gonna work! They’re gone. I can’t feel you anymore. I can’t…” Beginning to sob, the man turned and, once again, ran towards his van.
“Tom, wait!” Max called after him.
“You’re on your own, Time Master!” The wheels squealed as he sped away and out of sight.
Stunned, Max went back into the restaurant, purchased a coffee, responded to her texts, and sat in the booth alone. A thousand thoughts twisted around in her brain. “Chloe loves me. She does.”
Wanting to take her mind off the information dump she just received, Max pulled up a book on her phone, popped in her earbuds, and started reading. After a few hours, she couldn’t shake the feeling Tom could be right about Chloe and Rachel. The doubts and insecurity came flooding back. She hated the helpless feeling of being so far from her girlfriend, so she decided to call. When calling didn’t work, she decided to text.
Max: Arrrr, Captain! <3
Max: Please pick up
Max: Call me! :****(
Max: I’m worried, Chloe. I’ve called several times
Max: Should I call the police?
Max: Please be OK!