Chloe’s toothy smile was subdued, and even that threatened to break little Max’s little heart. “Alright, spill. What’s up? You were acting pretty weird at dinner. You didn’t even try to feed Bongo. I had to double up. What’s wrong?”
Max shook her head, resting her hand on her temple. She’d read about this once – her mind getting acclimated to her new body, being in it so long. The adjustments were being made. She hoped. It could be in the process of violently rejecting her, or taking away her old memories forever, but she was more on the optimistic side. “Sorry, just… headache. I’m trying to remember what happened. It’s kinda fuzzy right now.”
“You need a doctor?” Chloe slipped out of her bed, and crossed the room to hers. “I can’t have you getting sick on me, Max. This is our first sleepover! Your parents will never let you come over again!”
She winced in mid-chuckle. “My parents love your parents. It’s not your fault. Maybe it was the paint fumes?”
She slipped onto the bed, and sat over her friend’s covered stomach. “We’ve been working on it all day, and a lot of days before that. And it’s not even in this room. Don’t make me tickle the truth out of you, Maxine.”
Just yesterday, Max was in this same position with Chloe. And this was a Chloe that was going take a lot of getting used to. At least the hormones were still there – mentally, at least. “You trust me, Chloe?”
The girl’s eyes were curious, but they were the same piercing blue she was determined to keep so bright and full of adventure. “Of course, Max. Where did you bury the body?”
“I’ll tell you later tonight.”
“You better, dude. I don’t like being teased.”
When the strawberry blonde leaned down and rested her crossed arms against the younger girl’s chest, in only her undershirt and panties, Max Caulfield could say the same thing. Wisely, she didn’t. “I’ll wait. You’ve got a lot of splainin’ to do, Maxy.”
Naturally, this would have normally lead to Max blushing embarrassingly and pushing the girl off, and the two having a long, goofy laugh.
Instead, this time around, she took on the challenge with open arms. In case of apocalypse, don’t look away from those blue eyes for a second.
It wasn’t so much a staring contest – though the other smirked when one blinked – but it was a fierce looking contest. Two sets of blue eyes unflinchingly matched each other in intensity, and even though Chloe was the one on top, she felt herself whimper after several minutes.
Max felt a little adventurous. Time to play the rebel. “You trying to send me a message, Chloe?”
“Nope. Just waitin’ for yours, Max.”
“I could tell you on the other bed.”
“Not comfy enough on this one, my little doe?”
“No. I’m exactly where I need to be. A Doe, Chloe?”
“You’re so freakin’ innocent, you got big doe eyes. It’s cute, in a creepy way.”
She smirked. “Innocent, huh? Miss ‘I drew a butterfly today’ Price? You’re the one staring into my pretty, doe eyes.”
Chloe blinked. “Actually, I didn’t notice if they were pretty or not. But now that you mention it…”
And the staring began again.
This time, it wasn’t as fierce a battle, for when Max was armed with the knowledge of her ‘innocence’, she used it to her advantage.
“Holy crap,” Chloe laughed, almost rolling off the bed when Max’s eyes suddenly opened wide while she bit her lower lip. “I didn’t think you’d go full doe-eyed! You’re hardcore!”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve never seen blue doe eyes. And if we were going for an awkward contest, I’m pretty sure I won.”
“This round, Caulfield. You owe me a rematch.”
She scooted out of her covers to press her back against the headboard. “So, you sure you want to know?”
The older girl quickly sat next to her. “Spill. Whatcha thinkin’?”
She smiled at her general exuberance. “I had a dream.”
“What about? Come on, dude, spare no details! Was I in it?”
“Of course you were, Chloe.”
She waggled her eyebrows. “Didn’t know you thought so much about me.”
“Oh, shut up,” she gave her a playful shove, and even with her advanced mind, she blushed, as her young self would have done. “You were the one about to fall asleep on me, staring into my eyes like that.”
“And miss the chance to see you drool? No way!” She leaned against her friend’s shoulder. “So what was it about?”
Max gave a light shrug. “The end of the world.”
Chloe lifted her head and blinked rapidly at the calm girl. “Wow. You dream big.”
“Well,” she slowly admitted, “it’s not really the end of the world. More like the end of Arcadia.”
“Horsemen? Great flood? City swallowed whole?”
“Dream’s getting real small, Max.”
“Yeah. But you still want to know more, right?”
“…” She crossed her arms, and Max felt like this was, technically, the very first time she rendered the girl speechless.
“It was you and me, fighting evil,” she continued, and Chloe perked up. “It started with a kidnapping, then a murder, then a drug dealer, then an evil teacher. And we kicked major butt.”
“Evil teacher. No surprise, there. Us kicking butt together? Tell me something I didn’t know, Super Max.” Even without her alternate memories, Chloe sat with a satisfied grin, smug in her accomplishments. “So what made you so spaced out during dinner?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
“I’m older than you, Max.”
“And yet, still not old enough. Go figure.”
She wasn’t expecting a swift pillow to the face, but that’s what she got. And it was on.
She knew she couldn’t tell Chloe everything. In fact, she was relatively sure she shouldn’t have said anything.
But she also knew that trying to keep this big a secret from her best friend, for the rest of her life, was going to destroy her. And she wasn’t so good at keeping her lies straight. So, half-truths. For now. She had a very long time to figure it out.
But, for the moment, Chloe had pulled a declaration of war, and it was time for retaliation. And that was the only problem she could handle right now. A wonderful change of pace.
If there was anything that she learned from messing with her past, present, and future, it was planning. Long-cons and careful planning, that’s what she had to do.
She and Chloe were tight, as they should be. Their relationship, in her opinion, was even stronger this time around. They hung out more, they talked more, Chloe didn’t hesitate to ask for more sleepovers, and she definitely fell asleep faster as they cuddled, watching the movie of the night.
And that did happen, Max clearly remembered. It happened often. And every time, she woke up alone, and Chloe was back in her bed. Less awkward, they both silently agreed, once upon a time. It was only in the worst-slash-best week of her life that they actually had the chance to wake up in each other’s arms, and the bitter-sweetest days that followed.
So when she felt strawberry blond hairs tickle her nose that very morning, her only regret was that it wasn’t combined with the rich blue she was familiar with.
And maybe that was what she used to mainly separate the two. One was her soulmate; a girl she’d embrace an eternal nightmare for. Chloe Price, the punk girl with tattoos and piercings in strategic places, and a love for baking after waking, a penchant for danger and adventure, who rebelled against the world and almost suffered the ultimate consequence for it, who never thought twice of sacrificing herself – twice – for the sake of the people who cared about her, and even the people who didn’t.
That Chloe was, days after they were back in each other’s lives, her lover. And perhaps it was their fault for opening Max up to that possibility, only to have to wait another decade for that potential conversation. But when faced with the likelihood of not seeing that Chloe ever again, Max desperately wanted her first time to be the girl that was – in her mind – always meant to be.
This Chloe, for all the potential she had for at least the best traits of the woman she loved, was still just a little girl, and would never turn into the Chloe of before. And still, Max’s equally little form couldn’t tell the fucking difference, and it was ripping through her like a cyclone. She could only imagine how hellish puberty would be.
She loved this girl, and she couldn’t know, for now. She could only hope that the OG was right, and they didn’t have to go through a week of really close calls and a savagely broken heart of another crush to notice what was in front of her.
“She didn’t even tell me,” Chloe tried to explain, giving clarification to Max, who didn’t ask for it, but was overwhelmingly curious about. “Frank was an acquaintance, and maybe before we tried to shoot him, a friend. And she didn’t tell me about him. At all. She didn’t tell me about the photoshoots. Maybe she was sleeping with him to score weed? Maybe she was fucking helping Jefferson, and that little shit Nathan got jealous being the second seed? This entire part of her life was one big secret, I can’t even guess what happened there. But she never wanted me that way. I don’t even think she wanted Frank, but he could actually give things to her. I could never really trust her. I could only wish, and hope she was telling me the truth that she wouldn’t leave me behind. I may have liked her, but above everything else, I needed to get the fuck out of that town. I had to believe that. But I never… ne-ver. You were in my head for a long time, Max. Maybe not realistically, but it was there. This will be our first time. No one’s taken that away from us. And, if you so choose, I won’t even take that away from my alternate self. My… deserving self.”
Max had always known that Chloe would never intentionally guilt anyone to her advantage, especially when it made her look vulnerable. So when she spoke those words, she couldn’t not rip off her girlfriend’s cut-up shirt and showing her, in not so many words but in so many ways, why she was just as deserving.
And it was memories like those that made her partially regret having strawberry blond hair clouding her vision that morning.
She looked so comfortable, resting like that. And Chloe – her new Chloe – probably wouldn’t say it, and Max had no way to prove it, but she was pretty sure that her nights were a lot more restful when her best friend was cuddled beside her.
At least, this time around, Max decided she wouldn’t find herself swallowing her teddy bear’s eye and going to the ER because of it. She really was a klutz, sometimes.
Of course, she needed a new journal. Something to organize her thoughts, as they began to overlap each other. Possibly digital. She was beginning to realize how old school she was, barely missing any future technology, sans her smartphone.
Someone who appreciated and loved a trend, or an item before it was a ‘thing’. There was a term for that. However, she wasn’t exactly sure if even that was a term, yet.
Still, she needed a computer. And for that, she needed money.
Thankfully, she was a tad smarter than Biff Tannen. Time to visit an old friend. And she didn’t mean to sound cynical, but Max hoped that person was still there.
“Sup, Doe Eyes?”
“Hm? Oh, sorry. Just thinking about something.”
Even in the crowded cafeteria, they always managed to find two empty spaces. And even if they couldn’t, they weren’t afraid to simply lean against the wall, out of the general view of the students. Typical preteen gossip and rumors be damned. “What about?”
“If you wanted to get a teacher in trouble, how would you do it?”
“Depends. Who’s our target? Last I checked, our grades were pretty bangin’.”
A lovely understatement, and a small smile was the only indication of Max’s pride at that little victory. “Not our teachers. Hypothetical.”
She smirked. “What are you planning?”
“Nothing too crazy. I know a friend who’s illustrating a book, and she asked me about it.”
“Oh. Umm…” she pondered the scenario for a moment, wracking her brain. “You could plant drugs or bloody knives or something. That usually works. But when you say sabotage…”
“Getting them fired or getting them arrested? I don’t know, she didn’t go into too much detail. But I’ll pass it along. Thanks.”
“No prob. Always here to help. Now give me your apple. Need to replenish my thinking tank.”
Max absently handed over the fruit, still mulling it over. Evidence? Easier said than done, trying to find that. But fake evidence? That, she could work on.
There were a lot of tapes in the metal cupboard. And she wouldn’t be able to stop most of those tapes from being made. But that Darkroom was gonna burn.
Now there was an idea.
“So, I was thinking; what say you try to teach me how to play a guitar?”
Max winced, minutely. That didn’t end well the first time. “Uh, sure. Takes a lot of patience, you know.” On her part, at least.
“You don’t give me enough credit, dude. I’m not gonna disappoint you, Max.” She said it all in a light tone, but it wasn’t something she said the last time around.
This Max could handle it. She had to.
“Max! Max! Wake up!”
‘Oh, no,’ was her first thought as she sat up, the tears fresh on her face. She looked over to the reddish-blonde, standing at the edge of her bed, looking over her friend with nothing but concern. “Chloe, I can explain – !”
“What the hell was that all about? Who’s Jefferson?”
Max took a deep, calming breath. If she were asthmatic, she’d be wheezing right now. “A bully I knew.”
“You had a bully?” Her fists tightened against the sheets. “When?”
“It’s a… recurring dream. I don’t think he was ever real.”
“Max… you should’ve told me about it. I could’ve kicked his ass for you.”
For a slight, meaningful second, she saw a red splatter in the middle of Chloe’s beautiful forehead, and it disappeared just as quickly. “I know. But you’re not a dreamcatcher, Chloe.”
Wordlessly, the girl hopped into her bed, and pulled the covers around her. “The hell I’m not. I’ve got you, Max. You’re good.”
She sniffled, a grateful smile on her lips. “I don’t think I can sleep right now.”
“Oh.” She grinned mischievously. “Want me to sing a lullaby?”
Max chuckled. “If you think it’ll help.”
“It won’t. So, you wanna just… talk?” She reached up tentatively, and used part of the sheet to wipe the tears away from her friend’s face. “That nightmare must’ve worried you pretty bad. It happens often?”
She shook her head. “Not as often as you’d think. It was just… scary. But thanks. For having my back.”
“Dude, you always got mine. Even in my dreams. Just picture me with a flamethrower, and we’ll take the monsters down.”
“Done. Chloe and Max versus the world.”
“I like those odds.”
Really, the man couldn’t stop talking about the lottery win in their own seaside town, the ultimate jackpot going to one of their own, so it didn’t take much pestering William to get a hold of his analog camera, and after taking a few shots of the neighborhood for her own selfish needs, she made sure to keep one of them for herself.
A selfie checkpoint. If she messed this up, she had a restart picture.
She hoped against hope that she didn’t have to use it, but it was there, just in case. Really, since she had discovered she didn’t exactly need a photo at all to get to that moment, this was a completely unnecessary step. Still, she wasn’t taking any risks.
Speaking of which – anonymous tips. She should’ve thought of that earlier.
She planned it carefully. Last night was one of the Vortex Club’s old parties, something she had learned from a flyer outside the Two Whales Diner. She paced back and forth that night, waiting exactly one hour after the party’s start time, and used the payphone outside the diner to call the police.
She had considered telling them the truth; a sick fuck with a hard-on for mind-raping innocent girls had a secret bunker with a shitload of snuff films. Well, not snuff films, but it would grab their attention more.
Instead, she came up with something with a bit of truth, but it was all immediately provable and believable; the old barn not only failed to meet regulations, but was lived in. She was just overly curious about the girls that kept coming there to sleep and do drugs. “I don’t even know what GHB is,” she innocently told the operator. She was invited once, but turned the nice man down. “I’m sorry, but I’m really afraid of needles. And anyplace underground just looks creepy, you know? Oh, I have to go. The bus is here.”
And she hung up, just as the school bus pulled up near the diner, ready to drop off and pick up the party-goers for the all-nighter.
Of course, Prescott would be implicated, having financed the Dark Room, and owning the barn. But it would probably take more to put him down.
Only the next day, the newspaper had something far more expectant of her, and genuinely more pleasing. The news of Mark Jefferson, world-famous photographer and highlight of Arcadia Bay, having been caught in the deed, had Max wishing she was there, yet again, to see him get hauled out. That was a memory she wouldn’t mind reliving.
And even though it was kept from the news, gossip about the Prescotts’ role in the scandal spread quickly; after all, it was the Patriarch who owned the barn, and it was heavily implied he paid for the insanely expensive studio equipment, and possibly even the drugs. She really didn’t know if anyone in the family knew about the more sinister uses of that room. It could have actually been a storm shelter and studio room. Still, they had to go down for something.
Max once believed that some instances should be able to wrap themselves up into a little bow at a certain point, but she felt that she needed to do some hand-holding until everything was resolved. The fact that Sean Prescott wasn’t mentioned in the news told her that someone was paid off.
Still, this was a nice first step. Chloe would be proud. Granted, it was a lot less violence and telling off involved, but it worked out for the best – no one was dead, yet. She chalked it up as a win.
It was haphazard of her to take this many liberties in the timeline, not knowing what the future could hold for her and Chloe this time around, but she was positive she could handle it. Either good or bad can come from it. She had learned that there was never any middle ground.
No one batted an eye at the thought of Max wanting to work as Joyce’s assistant in the diner for the summer. She couldn’t handle the food distribution for legal reasons, however, so the next logical step would be to help maintain the cleanliness of the diner.
And when she got older, presumably, she would be in charge of managing the invoice of the food product that was trucked into town on a weekly basis.
It was left unsaid; that included groceries needed for the house.
As said before, no one blinked at the idea of Max wanting to help. But it was quite the surprise that Chloe jumped at the opportunity as well.
And the two were left, sweeping the floor of the near-spotless diner, kid-sized aprons and all. “Ugh, we could totally be watching Spirits Within right now.”
Max hummed a tune. “You wanted to help.”
“Well, yeah, but I thought we’d be having, you know, fun?”
“Cleaning a diner?”
“I was hopeful.”
“At least we get free lunches, now. No more cereal for breakfast, amirite?”
“Cuz mom’s too cheap to pay us.”
“At least we can go outside whenever we want to.”
“Yeah, and spend all that money we don’t have.”
“Oh, come on, Chloe. Isn’t spending some time with your best friend enough?”
“… You’re lucky you’re you, Maxine Caulfield.”
“I know. I get you for a friend.”
Joyce, leaning against the partially open door to the back, decided for once to not make her daughter give to the swear jar. She smiled wistfully at the two, and especially the good influence that she was sure her daughter needed, and couldn’t live without.
She had always seen Max as a daughter. That day was only a confirmation of facts.
Being a lonely child meant having a lot of lonely nights. Her parents understood that easily, and tried spending time with her as much as they could, and she embraced it. Her parents truly loved her, but their schedules were pretty hectic. She was partially thankful for it, as it gave her more time with Chloe.
So when their schedule was free for at least half the day, at the same time, a trip to the Arcadia Bay Amusement Park was an almost necessary vacation. Of course, Chloe came along.
Chloe didn’t love Max’s parents nearly as much as Max with Chloe’s parents, but they got along really well; they just weren’t around enough at the same time to have the girls roam their house all day, or play unsupervised in the backyard pool, or watch television with parental blocks Chloe could easily disable. So they made it a priority to get to know the girl that made their daughter smile like nothing they’d ever seen before.
Hands firmly clasped, the two explored the park, checking out the exciting rides, the less exciting lines, and, of course, the photo booth.
As the adult couple watched the photo strip print out, they could hear the laughter inside the booth, and wished the pictures could be blown up and framed. If they were surprised at one of the last frames being Max placing a tentative kiss on a surprised Chloe’s cheek, Max never saw it. She was only looking at her friend for a response. But her worry about theirs’, and Chloe’s reactions faded quickly as she returned the favor on the very next frame.
Her laugh of joy probably made up for the shocking event, she hoped. With their arms around each other, they left the booth, and skipped in unison to whatever was in their way – completely forgetting about the photo strip they had taken, only focused on having as much fun as they could.
At the end of the night, Ryan Caulfield reluctantly withheld the season pass to the Oregon Ducks games. They both agreed that it would be a much bigger surprise if they presented the gift in a pair.
And Max, after thanking and hugging and kissing her parents the next day, reflected on that as Chloe began to thank them for the gift. That didn’t happen the last time around. Going to the Ducks games was always something she and her dad shared. Now, Chloe was coming with them.
And as paranoid as she was about everything else, she was going to mark this up as a good thing.
Even Max couldn’t understand how it all went down. Apparently, a nice little bow can tie itself up once in a while.
Sean Prescott, the upstanding father that he was, went on a business trip, and never returned, leaving his wife, daughter and son without so much as a cell phone number. In response, his account was locked, and opened up in a new name after months of legal business that never made it to the papers. Blackwell Academy, the elite Arts and Science School, took on a completely unexpected upheaval, under the watchful eye of freshly divorced (or, divorce-pending) Katherine Prescott.
With any luck, maybe it wouldn’t even have any graffiti by the time she got there. If she was accepted, this time around.
That part, she wasn’t so worried about. There was plenty of time to worry about that.
“Oh, Max, could you pick up some groceries for me?”
“Sure, Joyce. Can I get a list?”
Chloe peeked in through the door to the back room. “You going to the store? Can I go with?”
“How’s the kitchen area, darlin’?”
“Spotless, mom. C’mon, you stick me in there all day, there’s bound to be some improvement.”
She tapped her chin, smiling. “Alright. Besides, I couldn’t stop you anyway. Max, I swear, she’s worried that if you escape her sight, you’re never coming back.”
“Never gonna happen, Joyce. Ready, Butterfly?”
She only grumbled as Max took the list from Joyce, and the two walked out of the diner, Max joking if she should be escorted with handcuffs.
Some part of her couldn’t even fathom it. But the rest of her knew. This was what she had built towards. This was what made it that damn simple.
Chloe’s family was as strong as ever, with William able to live another day. And she made it a mission, as she did when she first arrived, to stay a part of it.
Of course, it was still a fierce battle.
Right before her mom got a nice job promotion, Max Caulfield officially got a job, graduating to an actual paycheck from Joyce.
Months before that, she volunteered in the Big Brothers and Sisters Program. Before that, she signed up for a position in editing the school paper. And the week before, she stepped up as the Lead Editor at Arcadia Bay Junior High’s Newsletter.
Her parents supported her career choice, and having that kind of job only strengthened their want to see her succeed, seeing how great of an influence and ego booster that was. They couldn’t take all of that away from her.
And Chloe. Oh, Chloe. That was just something they couldn’t touch. It was a downright refusal to mess with the destiny of those two, together. Only under a microscope could they see the absolute adoration when they questioned her, during one of those girl talks Vanessa felt it pertinent to have with her daughter. Most times, it didn’t even seem like she needed those talks. She was a very knowledgeable girl. So very outspoken, and kind, and even confident in her attitude, but so very loyal.
They couldn’t betray her. They could never take her away from Chloe.
So an argument on Max leaving Arcadia Bay didn’t happen at all. That was a rather silly and esoteric fight, and was only argued in the Caulfields’ heads.
The real battle was Max deciding within herself, on whether or not she could let her parents go without her.
The two sets of parents found it all incredibly simple. Enough dinner dates over the years had led to an understanding between them; they were each other’s substitute parents. Chloe and Max, after school, freely had a choice on which house they were spending the afternoon at. Sleepovers were far more than a common occurrence, it was practically the norm. And, thanks to Chloe being separated by a grade and in a new environment as a Freshman, the two were silent, but vocal, in their need to see each other more after their respective school sessions were over.
They never pictured Chloe to be in the Big Sisters program, but it happened. They also didn’t realize that the program would allow package deals, for two big sisters to take on a little ‘sibling’, but it did. They also didn’t expect the local paper to interview the two for their hard work and dedication to the community, just a few weeks ago.
There were far too many things that weren’t expected out of the girls. But the result was something else entirely.
The two were inseparable, and chaotic, and unstoppable, and most importantly, better, as long as they had each other.
So it was with a great amount of tears that she hugged her parents, and almost to her non-surprise, Chloe’s eyes were as moist as she hugged her surrogate mother and father at the airport.
Max’s parents said one last goodbye to Chloe’s parents, and just like that, she had a new, but very familiar, home. The first thing she had volunteered they all do, as they turned to her? She suggested that they buy some fresh, blue, paint.
She was not going to live in a half-finished house.