The Unexpected

Season Two of One More Time, a Life is Strange Tale.

“She makes me happy. I know there’s something more there. There has to be, Max. So why do I feel this huge weight on me? Sorry for being a drama queen.”

Maxine Pricefield took a sip of her tea. Had her friend not been in such a state of distress, she would’ve asked her to write down the blend.

Love advice was something she could do. In fact, advice of any type was her forte. She was a girl years beyond her youth. ‘A lifetime ahead of everyone else,’ as her dear wife would say. So, starting a column in the State Capital’s newspaper was something that she felt she could handle. Some had felt that she wasn’t qualified enough to give ‘worldly’ advice, considering her almost immeasurable wealth, but once the reviews came in, she had carved out yet another niche in Oregon. It was becoming more impossible to leave this beautiful town every day, and she didn’t want to brag, but it was totally her fault. She just made the damn place too livable. There were certainly more blue-jays around than she remembered.

Of course, if it were any other person, she would have preferred to be anonymous. The paper didn’t see it that way, so the pride of Arcadia Bay, Max Pricefield, had a steady job in the newspaper as a personal advice columnist. Ask Max even had its own website, to offer free advice to anyone that wasn’t desperate to put their life on the third page of the Salem News. Daniel was very helpful with that, and Chloe enjoyed running the site, even partnering up to give advice most days. Her wife had enjoyed the Big Brother and Sister Program as much as Max had.

And while she was good at giving sound advice, Max’s biggest criticism was that she almost never gave an actual direction, merely laying out the possible choices, and giving a pro/con list of following each path. Meanwhile, her readers loved the advice – it didn’t make them feel like they were cornered, like the answer shouldn’t be too obvious or simple, like they were idiots. Her advice made them consider wisely, and follow what they deemed was best in the most logical step on the path before them.

Graduation was approaching fast, and Max had found a pattern in life to keep her busy, while Chloe posted her artwork alongside Max’s photos on their website. Really, it was amazing how responsive the art community was. Partnering with several Art Productions across the United States, they began a business of having prints ordered for their own works, and distributed throughout many museums. Hipster Instagram, Chloe called it, and Max couldn’t help but agree, and considering she owned part of actual Instagram, this was a natural progression for them. The success of their work was staggering, and Max couldn’t have been happier with the way their lives had been, and were going.

Still, she couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of Déjà vu, sitting across from her best friend while she aired her personal woes. Her first ever real advice was another lifetime ago, the meek girl who felt challenged to go to anyone else.

“You’re the only one I can talk to about this.”

“And that’s the problem, Kate.” In so many ways. “You’re going to have to tell your parents soon. At least your dad, and your sisters. You can’t keep this from them for too long, trust me.”

“Your parents were okay with you,” Kate whispered, “you know… you and Chloe.”

“Kate, look at me. Don’t be embarrassed. We’ve never had a problem talking about my relationship with Chloe before. You were there, with me, the first time we walked into the school together. You even offered to hold my other hand. I can’t… I just can’t stand to see you looking so ashamed about this. Not now.”

Kate gave a soft smile at the memory, but looked up swiftly at the last statement. “No, Max! That wasn’t what I was trying to do at all! I’m sorry! It’s just, I’m not too used to this – being on the other side, I mean. Wait, that didn’t come out right. I mean…” she stopped her rambling to take a deep breath. “She’s my friend. I love her. But I don’t know if I love her like you and Chloe.”

Max shook her head. “That’s the main problem. You don’t have to be in love with her. You just have to be interested, and go from there. As it would be with a boy, would you wonder if you were in love if you find them attractive?”

Kate pondered the thought. “It’s so much more than that. It’s just the way she… y’know, her. The way she holds herself, her confidence, her compassion for whatever she does, that look in her eye when something gets in her way, the smile on her face when she gets what she wants. Her laugh, her smile, the way she looks at me… please help me, Max.”

Max hid her smile behind the cup of tea. “My personal, professional advice: I can’t tell you you’re in love. Only you can decide that. But I can tell you the choice I made when I met a girl that made me feel like that.” She wiggled her ring finger along with her extended pinkie, letting the small silver band glint in the sun. “I never let her go. I can never live my life off of maybes and missed chances. If you can find someone that brings you happiness, boy or girl, don’t ignore it. At least give the idea a good looking into. Befriending a lesbian got us here today, didn’t it? Imagine what the Meals on Wheels program would be if we never joined forces. Look at the people we’ve helped; I don’t think any bible could be against that. Imagine what I wouldn’t be today if I was still searching for that someone, who I was convinced had to be the opposite gender.”

Kate’s lip trembled. “Some part of me wishes that were the only problem. But part of me is accepting who I could be, and who I’m attracted to, and I have you to thank for that. You and Chloe are so happytogether. Happier than most, quote, ‘normal’ couples I’ve seen. And no amount of reading could convince me that it’s some kind of abomination. If anything, it’s the people that live a loveless marriage. I could never live a lie.” Her smile was distant, but Max could see it. “I choose to be happy.”

“Not a bad choice. I certainly haven’t regretted it. So, will you tell her?”

Whatever smile was left, disappeared in an instant. Not the right thing to say. “I can’t. You know Victoria. How do you tell her that you’re gay for her?”

“You have no idea how big of a compliment that is, Kate. And yes, I know Vic. You do, too. She’d never judge you.” Once again, she had cut the ties between the Victoria of now and yesteryear. This Victoria was a beautiful soul, and really made her consider their relationship in the other alternate reality. When Victoria of that time thought she was avoiding her, it was a genuine panic in those text messages. Far beyond the treatment of Courtney and Taylor. “Think about it, Kate. What would you do if your friend came to you and admitted how they felt? If it was a boy, you’d be flattered, but turn them down. If it was a girl, you’d freak out a little, but you turn them down all the same, maybe even more politely. Your best girl friend? You’d tear yourself apart, like you’re doing now.”

She looked confused. “Do you think I’d be torn apart if you ever asked me out, Max?”

“No. Because, barring Chloe, you already knew ahead of time who I would be asking. You know you’d be an option, and be prepared should that occur. I’ve gone way public about it, Kate. If Victoria asked you out today, it would be more than unexpected. She’s probably never dropped any hints before.” Except Victoria rejecting Trevor’s advances, or never going to a Vortex Club party without checking on her non-partying friend, or being absolutely ecstatic when said friend decides to leave the dorm to join the more rambunctious crowd, and never leaving her side. Max couldn’t point out all of that, yet. She didn’t want to get the girl’s hopes up. Again. “So maybe introduce the concept? Tell her that you’re very open minded. Bring up me and Chloe. Ask her what she honestly thinks, and if she would ever think about someone that way. Just make sure she knows that not only would you be okay with it, but that you’re really not sure how you feel about certain people.” She bit her lip. “Honestly, telling her that you wanther would be more direct, and probably works just as well, but baby steps.”

That gave her a laugh, and it was still one of the most beautiful things Max had heard. Not a day went by did she ever take her smile, or her laugh, for granted. “Thanks, Max. I really needed to talk about this to someone.”

“I’m really glad I could help, Kate. But I wish you could have first brought this up to Victoria.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for that. Not yet.”

“If not now, when? It may be a cliché, but it’s tried and true; don’t wait too long, or it could be gone before you realized what you had.”

“Maybe. But so is our friendship. I can’t lose that.”

“Now would be the perfect time to see how strong that friendship is. Above everything else, honesty is your best choice.”

“You’re a good friend, Max.”

“I’m flattered, Kate. Unfortunately, I’m already taken.”

The two girls laughed, and it felt like everything was back to normal.

“You realize she was Max’s Maid of Honor at our wedding, right?”

Victoria was silent for a long, unsure moment as they walked down the hall, wading through the decent crowd of art enthusiasts. “I know, I know, it’s stupid, but… she’s really comfortable with you two. Like, really comfortable. She knew you two were together, in a sort, way before you two said anything to each other. Maybe it took her time to adjust? Maybe you two are the exception to the rule?”

Chloe was already shaking her head. “You know her about as well as Max and me. You really think she would be two-faced about her friends?”

“Not two-faced. Just, I don’t know, she accepts that part of your life. She doesn’t judge you for it, it came in the packaging. But don’t you think a little part of her would judge me? Or even herself?”

Silently, Chloe conceded to that point. If her wife hadn’t told her about their regular chats at the café, she would’ve had a hard time believing Kate would consider her orientation at all. “Maybe. But you know she’d be completely honest with you. You’ve earned that with her.”

“Yeah.” She rubbed her own elbow as she walked with her friend. “Maybe it’s the truth that worries me.”

If Max hadn’t specifically asked that she be tactful, Chloe would have blurted out the girl’s confessions in a second. For now, she could only level the girl’s misery, rather than scare her into inaction. “I know your circumstances may be a bit different, but did you consider how afraid I was confessing how I felt to Max? She was actively waiting for me to figure it out, of course, but it was terrifying as hell to put myself out there. It was the fact that I was confessing to my best friend, that makes it both exhilarating and terrifying. I was afraid of her rejecting a date. I was never afraid of her rejecting me, or our friendship.”

The pure blonde’s mouth twisted into a smile. “You two were best friends since, like, four. I’ve known Kate for a year.”

“And yet,” Chloe reminded her with a sideways grin, “you’re contemplating the rest of your life and wondering if you can live it without her.”

She blushed, like a grade school girl, and Chloe saw a mirror image for a moment. “Shut up! Jeesh, it’s not like that!”

“Jeesh?” Chloe repeated, and Victoria put her face in her hands. “Trying not to say the Lord’s name in vain, are we?”

She mumbled something, and Chloe let out a low whistle. “That’s not very Christian-like, Vic. You’ve got a long way to go.”

She wrapped her arms around herself. “She’s worth it. Even with her as just a friend, I can tell you that.” She sighed in frustration. “What bothers me is how much further I’d go to change for her.”

“You have no idea how much she adores you,” Chloe said bluntly, and Victoria looked up in surprise at the slightly taller girl. “She loves how you’re not afraid to speak up, or how loyal a friend you are, and how you pursue your dreams with no mercy. And let’s not get started on that sassy attitude…”

“I’ve never been hit on by a married woman before,” she muttered, but she smiled wide at the compliments. “What would your wife say?”

Chloe shrugged. “Unlike you, she’s not afraid to tell you what she feels.”

“Low blow.”

“Good. Maybe that should get your pale ass in gear.”

“And now you’re looking at my ass?”

“Well, Max says so many good things about it. I have to peek every now and then.”

Victoria paused and inspected the girl, not sure if she was being toyed with or not.

Chloe returned the stare with a smirk. “You totally got a little excited when you heard that, didn’t you?”

“Of course not,” she played it off coolly, but Chloe wasn’t having it.

“Oh, little Vicky; Max and I would break you so good.”

“W-what?” she stuttered, and scowled when the strawberry-blonde laughed. “Not funny!”

“Oh, I wish I could frame that reaction and hang it right there,” she pointed over to an empty space. “Right in the Priceless Gallery.”

Victoria scowled, crossing her arms. “I see that Schadenfreude is a hobby of yours.”

“She said to Big Sister of the Year, 4-time running Co-champion.” She stopped in front of one of their more popular exhibits. “I clearly can’t tell you how to run your life, Vic. But don’t be selfish enough to think that Kate doesn’t care about you. Even if she’s not interested, she’d want to know, because she’s your damn friend. It’s clearly eating you alive for you to come to me.”

“No,” Victoria assured her, “I knew you could help. Max would be too subtle about it. You’d heavy-hand me into action.”

“Oh, Jeesh. And I thought I was a gentle soul.”

“About as gentle as your hair.”

“Blue is calming.”

“I meant the… arrangement.”

She shrugged, reaching up to finger some of her blue streaks. “You did this hair, Victoria. Maybe this is a reflection of your muddled emotions?”

Her jaw snapped shut. Chloe took that opportunity to inspect the large photograph beside her.

Max’s gift to the people of Arcadia Bay was, as Chloe had once deemed it, ‘Like France giving America the Statue of Liberty.’ She had outdone herself on this one, and Chloe’s work had only extended the piece’s timelessness. It was the crowd photo taken during the high school graduation, and true to her word, it was probably the best yearbook photo ever. ‘The People of Arcadia Bay.

After the fact, in a fit of inspiration, she had sent out a newsletter requesting a selfie photo with a signature on it, and within a couple of weeks, she had managed to get everyone’s clear face. Max had probably known from the beginning that the blown up picture probably wouldn’t look the best, and she improved upon it by pasting each selfie photo over each original face. She then asked Chloe to draw over the entire spread, and the two were transported back to the time they worked on their dream board, when she had asked her best friend why she had spaced out….

The large canvas looked beautiful, in her professional opinion. And their added renditions only accentuated the art piece. Now it stood proudly, taking up a majority of the wall, the happy faces of Arcadia Bay.

From what Max had told her, this never could have been made in her past life. People being… happy.

“If you find a chance at happiness, take it.” Chloe glanced to her left, and Victoria looked like such a lost puppy, it hurt her. “Always take it. The worst thing that can happen? A couple of awkward months. The best?” She casually brushed her hair with her left hand, showing off her most precious jewel. “Well, Max and I are the exception to the rule; you’re right about that. But hey, you might get a lifetime of joy out of it.”

Victoria pouted. “Trust me, if I let myself think that far ahead, I’d be jumping off the roof right now. Right now, I just want to see if she wants to be with me. If she would be with me. You’ve seen how frosty her mother is towards you. Do you think she would even have a choice?”

“Doesn’t matter,” she responded, crossing her arms. “She doesn’t live with them. Her father and sisters were cool with us. Majority votes, if they had a choice at all. Kate can live her life the way she wants. All she needs is a window. Who’s to say that she isn’t curious about the idea? You two look real comfortable on our road trips to Seattle, sitting on each other’s laps. Don’t think you’re the only one who enjoys it.”

She blinked rapidly. “She never said anything about it.”

“Now you know the feeling. Try being honest with each other for a change.”

Chloe let the blonde reflect on her words, tilting her eyes towards the painting opposite the large mural. ‘The Spirit of Arcadia Bay,‘ a companion piece to the mass portrait. It was a gift from Kate, and it made Chloe’s heart melt. It was the other side of the photo – Her and Max standing behind the podium on stage, their locked lips hidden behind her phone, taken seconds after Max’s graduation speech. It didn’t win any awards in the now bi-monthly contest, due to favoritism, but since they made the rules, some strings were pulled, and the painting remained anonymous. Maybe years later, when Kate’s drawing style was recognized nationally as a children’s book writer, the golden plate beneath the painting would have a deserving signature, rather than ‘Donation’.

“If she was able to draw this,” Chloe remarked, drawing Victoria’s attention, “then why the hell do you think she won’t support you every step of the way?”

She gave the older girl a soft smile. “Thanks, Chlo. I needed that. I know I’ve been a bitch about this, but I appreciate your advice.”

The strawberry-blonde waved it off. “Anytime, Drama Queen. Really, once you get married, topics become a lot less stressful to talk about with your best friend. Years down the road, this will be a trivial thing to laugh about.”

Victoria kept her thoughts to herself, willing to see the positive side for once. “I suppose marrying your best friend helps.”

“Take. The. Hint.”

“Well noted.”

“Does part of you, you know… miss him?”

She tilted her head to the side, across the school grounds to the boy in question, before finally shaking her head. “He was so nice to me, in a place filled with demons. I found a kindred spirit in Warren. He brought out the uber nerd in me, and embraced the weird. And even though we were friends for barely more than a month, he was a constant companion.” Throughout her monologue, her eyes were firmly on Chloe’s. “There’s no reason for me to get to know Warren. This Max doesn’t need that kind of support, and really, I’d just be shoehorning myself into his life. He saw a strange, confused, nervous girl sitting by herself in the science lab and decided to help out. He’ll see none of that this time around. Still; I never returned the favor last time. I owe him big.”

“Think a threesome with a couple of billionaires would be payment enough?”

She let out a snort, reaching up to swat her wife on the shoulder. “I don’t owe him that considerably, thankyouverymuch.” She looked up to the sky, seeing the small drone float by them. “We should totally get one of those.”

Chloe looked up from her lap, where Max’s head lay, up towards the sky, shielding her eyes from the sun. “I’m sure the Fundraiser Drive would like a few.” She held up the ‘peace’ sign and Max followed suit, knowing the drone had a camera built in. She also knew that it didn’t have a microphone.

“Don’t want to spend all that money at once,” Max joked, and Chloe rolled her eyes.

“Doe Eyes, we could buy the company that makes those things and it’d be a drop in the bucket.”

“Fair point.” She was silent for a few moments. “How about a partnership?”

“Hooking up Warren with the girl flying that contraption? Brooke, you said her name was?”

“Maybe. I was thinking more along the lines of a drone company and the toy fund. That would make a good Holiday drive present.”

“Or we could do Christmas presents by drone delivery.”

She laughed, looking up at her wife, thankful for the tree shade. “You’re insane.”

“Better than every kid in Arcadia having access to a spy drone. Besides, you love me for my insanity.”

“I love you because I’m insane. You just help me cope with it.”

“True, true. Can’t argue that, time-traveler.” Chloe crossed her arms behind her head as she leaned back against the tree, and closed her eyes. “This is nice.”

Even under the shade of the large tree, Max could see the sunlight reflect off her pinkish, blueish hair, giving her a nice halo effect. Her angel, firmly earthbound. “Perfect.”

“Look at them,” Kate whispered, watching the couple together from her table. “They’re beautiful.”

Victoria smirked. “Real subtle, Kate.”

She blushed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I hope not. Getting married isn’t exactly ‘taking it slow’.”

She leaned forward and fiddled with her thumbs. “How slow?”

“As slow as you want. I’ve got time.”

“You’ll be going to Paris after graduation.”

“For a few weeks, yes. If I want a future as Max’s partner in her photography ventures, then I need to do my part, and I have connections in France. It shouldn’t take long. What, you ready to move on without my every day influence?”

She looked away from Victoria’s fluttering eyelids. “I was actually, ah… hoping….”

“I have another ticket. Paris is a big, beautiful place. It would be nice to show you around.”

Kate blinked at her new girlfriend’s sincere tone, and smiled brightly. “I’d like that.”

Victoria gave into her infectious smile. “I thought you would. I’m new at this, but no date of mine is saying no to Paris.”

“Did I pass some kind of test?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ve invited you to Paris before. Technically, you’ve already failed a while back.”

“I never thought it appropriate to go.”

“I take Max and Chloe and Dana and Taylor all the time with me. How is it not appropriate?” Her mask of confusion slowly morphed away. “Oh. Afraid to be in the city of love with little ol’ me, all to yourself?”

Kate’s face burned, and she just wanted to hold it in her fingers, and take it against her own. “A girl has… temptations.”

“Don’t I know it,” she muttered in a low growl, and the long-haired blonde’s eyes widened at the implication. “Miss Marsh, if you can barely resist it, what makes you think I stand a chance?”

“Vicky, you’re stronger than me.”

“If that were true, I would’ve brought up ‘us’ first.” She sat back and crossed her arms. “How ‘fun’ do you want Paris to be?”

“As fun as we can make it.” She said it with a certain cheer that made Victoria both smile, and cringe.

“You are so innocent, Kate.”

“Maybe.” She nibbled into her bottom lip. “But giving in to temptation might be fun, no?”

That shocked her into silence, and her face showed how unexpected that comment was. Kate smiled innocently. “We’ve got time. I don’t want to rush anything. But why don’t we just… let whatever happen, happen? City of love, right?”

“Yeah,” she murmured, and she felt the overwhelming need to pull at the cashmere scarf around her neck. “The city of love.”

Hazel eyes met brown, and the two gave each other nervous smiles.

They had all the time in the world.