Max forms a plan. But first she has to say goodbye.
Maxine eyed the canvas with a glimmer of hope.
This could be the solution.
Her hand traced the edges of a blue-winged butterfly, smiling fondly. “It has to be.”
Chloe, standing behind her, still looked dubious. “Are you sure, Max? You’ve only been able to do that thing on photos, so you tell me.”
She shook her head. “Not photos, Chloe. Memories.”
The house, as expected, was destroyed. It was still recognizable, but certainly not habitable.
As was the rest of Arcadia Bay. Recognizable, but not habitable.
As morbid as the thought was, the first thing that came through her mind as Chloe drove through the town was that the Dark Room may be the only place left completely intact.
She shuddered, and shook her head. At least this made it. The evidence board. Removing the tape and pushpins, it was one of Chloe’s most cherished artifacts – the drawing board.
“So you really think you can use it,” Chloe wondered, having her reservations, but even she had to smile at the drawing they had done.
Her and Max, walking along the beach – more floating, really – hand in hand, into the sunset, that also had a rainbow. It was cluttered with a bunch of other things, including a typical palm tree-covered island, but she marveled at the focus of their painting; her happy ending the two had drawn a decade ago, almost like an omen.
And Max could see them painting the canvas like it was still happening, her hands gliding over the board triggering echoes of girlish laughter in her mind. This had to be it. “I’m positive. Doubtful?”
Chloe shook her head, crossing her arms. “No. Fucking terrified. You have no idea how much I’d panic if I see so much as a nosebleed from you again. I don’t want to see reality rip apart, Max. But if you’re saying we can save everyone…”
“This has to work, Chloe. I had to have been given these powers for a reason. It can’t all have been a stupid lesson on love and sacrifice.”
It was left unsaid by the both of them, that it was more a matter of love or sacrifice.
The punk girl kneeled down next her girlfriend. “Babe, I believe you. You know I do. But I also really think that my life’s not so certain if you go into the past. I know it’s a burden on you… making that choice. But I also have to live with the fact that it should be me, instead of everyone else.” Her hands tightened on the brunette’s shoulder. “The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that it’s a choice you made, and you chose me to comfort you. You did this for me. And nothing would make me happier than to be here for you. We’re all that we have.”
She leaned into Chloe’s hand. “Yeah. We are. And I still wouldn’t change a thing. But if I could…”
“Rachel could be here. With us. And your mom. And your dad. And everyone.”
She leaned her head on Max’s. “Rachel would have loved you. If she wasn’t so hooked on Frank, she might’ve… we might’ve…” she shook her head. “It probably would’ve ended bad, anyway. You’re a hard one to get over, Max.”
She felt a warmness inside that she hadn’t felt since their first kiss, the dare that seemed so long ago. “Since when?”
It was so quiet, that Chloe almost couldn’t hear her. “I never really understood why you said that thing. Until you told me last night. That day my dad walked out for the last time, you told me to be strong; that I would never be abandoned, that you were always there for me. And even before I thought you had those powers, I thought of you as my guardian angel. All the shit I’ve been through. I had to hold on to something. Told myself it could’ve been worse. Part of me thought you sent me Rachel. And even then, I thought ‘Goddamn, I wish Max was here. If only to give me her blessing.’” She placed a kiss on the side of Max’s resting head. “But when you practically tried to form a blood bond with me that day, I developed a crush in a major way.”
The brunette smiled through her unshed tears, remembering her impassioned speech she tried to get through to an utterly confused younger Chloe. “It was a dick move, though, knowing that my parents were gonna move me soon, and I’m automagically skipping through those years.”
“That’s another problem,” Chloe remembered. “Even if you use this painting, what’s stopping you from jumping forward again, with no control of what happened after five minutes?”
“I think I’ve figured it out.” She stared at the butterfly. “I don’t think I could do it again. I think, if this works, it stops. This has to be the end of it.”
“I don’t think real life works like that, Max.”
“Better than the apocalypse starting because I want you alive. It’s how the powers started. It’s a fitting ending. The Butterfly Effect.”
“In my honest opinion, that kinda looks more like a moth.”
She tapped her best friend on the back of her blue-haired head. “Thanks for the vote.”
Chloe chuckled. “You know I’ve got your back, and my offer still stands. Whatever you choose. I just hope I’m still here, or there, or wherever you land. I just wish that I could remember this. All of it. This journey.”
“It’ll feel like I’m losing you all over again.”
“Yeah,” she quietly admitted, “b-but you’ll get me back pretty quickly. Really, if you could Skype me anytime in those five years, you really just have to ask for it. I practically could’ve been a booty call for you.”
“It’s the asking part I’m scared of.”
“Come on, you know I’ve never had a serious boyfriend, nor did we ever talk about boys much. These past five years have been a mess, but I never even considered… you know, getting a cheaper deal from Frank like Rachel did, or … do I really have to spell it out for you?” She then waggled her eyebrows. “Come to think of it, how come we never talked about boys much?”
“We did talk about boys. It just never went beyond how stupid they were. It wasn’t until Warren when I found out that no matter how smart, or great they are… it just wasn’t gonna happen with us. I loved him like a brother, but something kept telling me that he should be more than that. He really should’ve. But I could never tell him that, ’til I told myself why he never could.” She let out a low sigh. “Too late for that. He doesn’t even remember the hug I gave him.”
Chloe looked downcast. “And I won’t remember anything.”
Max wrapped her arm around her girl. “So there will be new memories. Better memories. No hiatus, I promise.”
“And you really think you can do all of that? Relive your childhood, grade school… girl things… all over again?”
“You love me, right?”
Chloe couldn’t help but smirk. “Always will. Always have.”
“And that’s what I’m banking on.”
“And hey, look… if you can’t save my dad, I understand, okay? Don’t overdo it, if you still have your power.”
“Only if I have no other options.”
“And I doubt I’ll ever know Rachel, either.”
“I know.” Chloe didn’t know who she was in the alternate timeline, even when she went missing again. “But I’ll still try something. The Prescotts and Jefferson are going down. And Kate… well, I’ll see what I can about Kate. She took the bullying harder than everyone else, but the whole school is fucked. No Prescotts means no Vortex Club.”
“But it could also mean no Academy. Not if their biggest backer is in jail.”
“Even with seized assets that go to the city?”
“Devious. I knew there was a reason you’re in school.”
“Another reason to go back. If I’m stuck with a life of mediocrity, I need a roommate.”
Chloe tilted her head. “You’re lucky you’re you, Maxine. Only you could make me look forward to my new life sentence.”
“For my sake, I hope you never change.”
“I hella hope so.”
Memories – unwritten, unarchived, unreliable moments in time. Memories fade away every day, with every second, every time a stronger memory makes an imprint in your mind. And Max Caulfield had been through a hell of an adventure.
So why could she remember drawing every single part of that board with Chloe, laughing, smiling with her, sharing happiness together?
Chloe was happy. That’s why she remembered.
“I’ve been selfish,” Chloe admitted, an arm draped over her pondering girlfriend. “I don’t want to let you go. And you’re going to fall in love with another me, and I won’t be able to remember it. I can’t cherish that. I’ll just be… gone.”
Max held her tighter to herself, pressing her lips to the older girl’s exposed neck. She was still asleep. So Chloe kept talking.
“You’ll fall for a better Chloe. An untainted Chloe. One that didn’t piss away everything she had, bitching about everything she lost. And while part of me wants to blame you for leaving, it’s easier to blame everything and everyone else. Joyce for not walking. The other driver. Some part of me even blames William. And I don’t even know what to blame him for. That’s how fucked up I am. I have so much baggage, and you’d still give everything up for me.” She sniffed. “You’re going to rock little undamaged Chloe’s world.
“I just hope I’m worth it.”
“You are,” Max whispered, and once again, Chloe was rendered speechless. That happened a lot around Max. That happened only around Max. “You always have been. You’re worth everything to me, Chloe. I won’t lose you. Whatever version of you I have, I can’t lose that again. At least you had a reason to be depressed. I just have teenage angst. I couldn’t even tell you what loss felt like. William was like a father to me, but I could never truly feel the brunt of it. I never could lash out. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. For five years. ‘She needs her space,’ I tried to say. ‘What the hell could I say to her to make her feel better?’ ‘The last thing I ever want to hear is an angry Chloe. That would break me. What kind of fool would I be, calling her now? I wasn’t there for her then. Why would she let me back in her life?’”
“I would have never pushed you away, Max.”
But she almost did, one week ago.
“And now I know. And that’ll make a difference.”
“…What if it doesn’t?” She ducked her head and kissed her before she could protest. “Hear me out. Please. I get it. This could be the last time. But what if all of this – all of Arcadia, the storm – what if it happens again? What if, in any reality, that storm follows me everywhere? What if, if you stayed here, with this me, Los Angeles goes through the worst earthquake it’s ever gone through, and the second I fall through a fault line, everything’s back to normal?”
Max didn’t even pause. “Then it’d be a more literal definition of going through hell for you.”
Chloe wrapped her arms around her friend’s bare torso. “Don’t fucking talk like that, Max.”
She looked into the older girl’s eyes, reaching up to slip the blue strands behind her ear. “I want you alive, Chloe, and we’re both going to have to live with that.”
“Oh my God,” Chloe whispered, craning her head to kiss her palm. “You’ve fucking lost everything for me, Max. I could never win an argument against you, ever.”
“Welcome to your new hell, babe.”
“And I guess we can never have a post-coital talk about how you owe me one.”
Max, in her ever-reaching knowledge, kissed her girlfriend again, and slowly slipped under the sheets.
Powers be damned, she made sure Chloe knew just how generous she liked to be.
“… You know… you’re going to hear this a lot. Hopefully, from me. And whatever shit I try to pull, I hope you set me straight. And if shit goes awry again, because I somehow fuck it up, or we fuck up together, know this; you’re my fucking angel, Max. Even without powers, you saved my life in so many ways, in so many metaphors. I want you to be by my side, forever. But more than that, I want someone who thinks they’re good enough for you. Because I just can’t see it. I love you, Maxine Caulfield. But the old me loves you so much more. And this one’s just too damaged to not worry about what’s around the corner, or too haunted by what we just got ahead of.
“So… I guess I’m saying this is goodbye. Goodbye, Maxine. Get me, get famous, and get the fuck out of Arcadia Bay. For us.”
“Max? You okay? You spaced out there for a second.”
Max laughed to cover up her tears, and smeared paint on her cheeks from her messy fingers. “I’m just surprised you know how to draw a butterfly so well. We just drew ‘V’s to make the birds.”
The strawberry-blonde looked loosely at the still-wet rendition of the blue creature, and used her black-covered fingernails to smear in antennae. “Huh. I was going for Moth. I’ve got work to do.”
Max smiled. “We’ll work on it.”
“Good. Because you’re the artist, here. Can’t wait to see how the deer turns out.”
“Okay, Maxer Splatter, now you’re just messing with my head.”
“You have no idea, Chloe.”
“Max, Chloe, dinner’s ready!”
“Just a little more time, dad! We’re almost done with the canvas!”
“It’s not going anywhere! Actually… you know what? Bring it down here! Your mother and I would like to see what you’ve done so far!”
“Bill! Are you serious? I just vacuumed!”
“Just don‘t spill anything on the carpet! That better, honey?”
“We’ll let it dry first!” Chloe promised, beaming with pride. “Come on, Abstract Max, let’s move this thing!”
In the moment she turned away to pick up one side, Max gently ran her finger under her own pre-pubescent nose.
Good. No blood. No tears in space. No double moons. No dream sequence. No cyclone. No jump-aheads.
It worked. It totally worked, and there were going to be no flash-forwards this long stretch.
Super Max fucking Caulfield to the rescue. For the final time.