Chapter 1: Chrysalis
In the alternative timeline where Chloe's paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, Max is asked to do the impossible. Then again, what are friends for?
“Here it is. Never thought I’d be delivering morphine to my best friend.”
Max pocketed away a photo and reached inside the closet. Her fingers found a syringe inside, their tips gently touching it before they wrapped themselves around it. A sigh blew through her nose, Max’s hand bobbed softly up and down while her eyes shifted between her reflection and the syringe. She cleared her throat and shook her shoulders in an effort to cast off her worries. With a soft gesture, her hand turned off the bathroom lights before she headed downstairs.
The living room was quiet, save the rustling of papers that William made when he shifted through the pile of paperwork he was working on. Max looked at his back, so small and overworked as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders alone. Considering how important Chloe was to him, there was probably not a better image. To hell with the global economy and world peace; to William, Chloe was his world. Carefully Max walked on quiet feet, the syringe hidden from view, over to Chloe’s room.
“Finally. Give me the blue pill…” Chloe said, she sported that faint and brave smile of hers.
Max looked over the morphine drip and she turned to Chloe with an apologetic frown on her face as she said, “I’m sorry. I’m nosy, but not precise.”
“Go ahead and plug it right in. It’s so easy. And painless.”
“Um, okay, but get ready to yell for your folks if I screw up.” Max didn’t look fully convinced as she plugged the syringe into the dripper.
Chloe allowed herself a smile, “Oh, trust me, I will.” She moaned lightly, probably from hurting somewhere. “Of course, my pain just keeps getting worse… but you caught me on a good day.”
Her head sank back into her pillow and a sense of peace slowly started to fill the room as Chloe spoke. “Max, I’m so grateful that I’m even able to hang out with you. See, I’m getting mushy.” A light chuckle escaped her lips. “I’m already high.”
Max stood patiently by her bed, a tender smile on her face as she said, “You’re so adorable. Do you want anything else?”
“Um, stop me if I’m being too emo, but can you grab one of the photo albums over there?” Chloe blinked away a tear as she turned towards the dresser at the other side of the room. “I’d like to check out some old pictures of us when we were kids.”
Max smiled and lightly patted Chloe’s hand. Her steps were light and soft, as if not to disturb the serene calm that lingered when she said, “Please. My diary is like emo ground zero.” She looked over the different albums, tenderly stroking their covers before picking one. “Plus Max Caulfield does not pass up a photo op with Chloe Price. Ever.”
She placed the album in Chloe’s lap and opened a page, adjusting the angle a little before she looked for confirmation, “Is that okay?”
Max turned a page, a large photo of the two of them as kids enjoying a day outside in the warm summer sun. Chloe’s face lit up like the sun seen in the photo, “Oh my god, look how little we are there! We look like toys!”
“I remember that day by the lighthouse,” Max nodded her head, a warm smile on her lips.
“My dad was pissed at us. He actually tried to give us a time-out!”
“And you laughed at him. My dad would have banished me,” Max reminded her and they shared a small laugh together.
Another page turned, this time both elementary kids Chloe and Max were suited up for a wild adventure. Chloe’s eyes grew distant as she said, “Whoa, awesome picture. We look so badass in our pirate gear.”
A finger traced along the edges of the photo, Max’s face faded to a sad frown that showed subtle hints of regret when she said, “We should have taken over Arcadia Bay when we had the chance.”
“There’s still time for you…”
The page turned yet again, teenage editions came around in the next photo, complete with braces and pimples “Oh man, there we are making pancakes. I love that shot of us,” Chloe said. “It’s hard to believe that my dad took that picture five years ago.”
Max nodded to herself, “Literally seems like yesterday…”
“I wish it was.”
The last page turned over and the book was closed. A quiet moment ticked by, then another. Great friends don’t need big words or long sentences, best friends can just sit and enjoy each other’s company. Though limited in her movements, it was clear that Chloe had something on her mind and it was no small matter. It could be the morphine kicking in, but her eyes seemed distant and lost whenever Max looked at them.
“Listen, Max, my respiratory system is failing and… and it’s only getting worse,” Chloe said, the way she rested her head on her pillow looked like someone who was on their last leg. “I’ve heard the doctors talking about it when they thought I was zonked out.”
A moment ticked by, Max looked carefully at her friend when Chloe said, “So I know I’m putting off the inevitable, while my parents suffer along… and I will, too,” she sighed. “This isn’t how I want things to end.”
Max shifted slightly in her seat and she took a moment to let what Chloe had said sink in before she said, “What? What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that being with you again has been so special. I just wanted to feel like when we were kids running around Arcadia Bay… and everything was possible,” Chloe said, a small tear formed in the corner of her eyes. “And you made me feel that way today. I want this time with you to be my last memory… Do you understand?”
Max felt a ball of emotion starting to swell at the deep end of her throat, getting the words out was hard without bursting into tears. “Yes, I do.”
Chloe faintly nodded at the morphine drip, a brave smile contrasted with her tear moist eyes. “All you have to do is crank up the IV to eleven…”
The brave smile persisted, faint and hopeful with a pair of gently pleading eyes. “I’ll just drift asleep… dreaming of us together… forever.”
Max sat in her chair, her fingers fidgeted around with the strap of her shoulder bag. She wanted to say something, the usual like it’s going to be alright or anything really. Deep down she didn’t want to say a single word, for Max was convinced that if she spoke now, she’d either start bawling like a baby or say something that she’d regret for the rest of her life. Instead, Max slowly rose from her seat and looked over at the controller that controlled the drip. Her thumb found a button and at first the digits ticked up a little before it raced upwards until it stopped.
“Thank you so much,” Chloe let out a sigh of relief. “I’m so proud of you for following your dreams. Don’t forget about me.”
Max stood by her friend’s bed, a sharp sniff broke the tranquil calm. “Never.”
“I love you Max,” Chloe’s words melted into a soft and gentle sleep. “See you around.”
She took Chloe’s hand and placed it on top of the album, the back of her wrist swept away a lonesome tear. “Sooner than you think…”
It was early the following morning, though William looked like he hadn’t slept a single wink the night before as he stood in the doorway.
“Max,” his voice sounded like a hushed whisper as he invited her inside.
Max’s hand clutched the strap on her bag, there was a smog of gloom inside the house. She reached out and softly touched his arm, “William, I'm so sorry for your loss.”
He put on a forced smile, the gesture and words clearly meant a lot to him. “Thank you... Truth be told, we-”
“We knew, Max. The doctors told us, that she didn't have much time left, but we were always hoping.” Joyce walked up to Max and gave her a warm hug. In her hands she held on to a crumbled piece of Kleenex, her lips curled down until the sobs caught up to her. “Praying for one more day. Oh god, I've lost her. I've lost my little girl.”
Max's eyes shied away from Joyce, instead, she turned to William for answers. “How did- was she hurting when...?”
He shook his head and folded one arm around Joyce’s trembling shoulders when he said, “They don't know. At least by the looks of it, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. They'll have more answers for us in a few days.”
“I'll come by after school. Chloe was my best friend, I can't- she was fine yesterday, a little drowsy yeah, but...”
Joyce nodded with a sorrowful smile on her face as she said, “Max, it’s okay dear. You couldn't have known.”
School passed on, as usual, nothing major caught up. A few of Max's classmates mentioned briefly about Chloe's passing, but since she hadn't attended school since the accident, few actually remembered her. Hurray for teenage attention span. Even in a small place like Arcadia Bay forgets the people that fall to the wayside.
Rachel Amber's missing person posters only amplified this notion. A full week of their complete attention, then like the waves on the beach, they get eroded away and the smooth status quo is restored. Max looked at one of the posters when she was brought out of her thoughts by Mr. Jefferson when he said, “You looked a little out of it in class Max. Is everything okay?”
“I'm sorry Mr. Jefferson. A friend of mine passed away yesterday and... It’s really eating me.” She shrunk back from him ever so slightly, her gaze fixed on his face rather than his eyes.
He raised his eyebrows at the news. “Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. These things- Ah, there's no real way of saying it, is there? Words feel so insufficient in times like these.”
“It's okay. I get what you're saying, Mr. Jefferson. It's the thought that counts after all.” Max shrugged lightly and gave him a tender little smile.
Mr. Jefferson gave her a short bow with his head and as he walked past her he said, “Well, I'm here if you need or want to talk.”
Max’s smile faded away as soon as Mr. Jefferson walked away, a shudder ran up and down her spine. For now, though there were a lot of things that needed her attention and as ironic and cliché as it sounded, Max didn’t have all the time in the world to do it. She navigated through the students and teachers that sailed up and down the hallway until she came outside at the front of the school. As her eyes landed on her target, Max drew a breath and walked over to Victoria, Taylor, and Courtney.
“Hey guys,” Max gave them a feeble wave of her hand.
Victoria turned and her whole face lit up with a smile, “Maxine, hi. Why didn’t you join us during recess?” she rose to her feet before she dusted off her skirt.
“Little Vic pup is happy mommy’s home,” Courtney said, barely holding back a chuckle.
“Oh can it Courtney,” Victoria said over her shoulder, a quick glare flashed in the corner of her eye. “We- I just get a little- you know, worried when you don’t show up. Something wrong?”
“I just have a lot of stuff on my mind right now,” Max said, her eyes stole a glance at her watch. “Chloe died last night…”
“Oh my God,” Victoria grabbed both of Max’s hands with hers, squeezing them firmly. “I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”
Max pulled Victoria in for a hug, her arms gently folded around her lower back. “I’m fine- just- a lot to take in. It’s so unreal. I can’t believe that she’s gone.”
A quiet moment of serenity ticked by, just a gentle breeze rustling the trees kept the silence away. When Max pulled away from the hug, her eyes were tearful, just half a blink away from spilling over. Her lips trembled into a smile that bore reminiscence of a cracked piece of glass. Before Victoria or the others managed to speak up, Max calmed herself with a slow and deep ragged breath.
“Victoria, do- do you think… that I can borrow your car for the weekend?”
She blinked, a baffled look on her face. “Sure Maxine, anything. Let me know, okay? Let me know if you need anything.”
Max took the car keys, a sharp sniff and a smile that expressed thanks were all that she offered as payment. Victoria had her fair share of flaws and kinks, but at the end of the day, she was just a kid trying to fit in. With that in mind, Max could more easily cut her some slack. The Vortex Club was, in the grand scheme of things, just another stepping stone of groups of friends, but it wasn’t a shallow friendship. That much Max was certain of, beyond any reasonable doubt.
Soothing music leaked out from the car stereo as Max drove over to Chloe's place. Arcadia Bay's scenery in its small town simplicity flowed by like a gentle stream deep in the woods. Max parked in the driveway just behind William's car, though instead of heading inside, she remained seated. As she looked up at the house, her breathing got faster and shallower, fingers coiled around the wheel like young snakes strangling a prey and then the door flung open. Max's head spun around as she gulped up her lunch, the sour taste of vomit sticking to her tongue like a thick coat of crude oil.
She looked down on the vomit stain in the driveway, her gut twisted itself into a knot before it slowly settled back into something more normal. Max's feet wobbled for the first few steps when she walked up the driveway, the calm of normality graced her with its presence just as she was about to ring the doorbell. Joyce looked calm as she answered the door, yet there was no escaping the suffocating mood that persisted throughout the house.
“Maybe... maybe this wasn't such a good idea,” Max said as she stood in the hallway, her eyes traced over the pictures on the wall.
Joyce turned, her clouded eyes showed signs of confusion. “Honey, what makes you say that?”
“I don't know... I'm not sure what to do or say,” Max shrugged a small helpless gesture. “This is the first time someone close to me has died.”
William peeked out from the kitchen, a towel loosely thrown over his shoulder. “As cheesy as it sounds, in times like these you say it best when you say nothing at all.”
A smile, faint and forced, crossed Max's face. For now, she'd have to be courageous and strong, Chloe would probably force her to walk the plank if she ever learned that Max couldn't come out on top at the end of everything. No one messes with pirate captain Chloe and her first mate Max, terrors of Arcadia Bay. Not even the grim reaper and all of its party pooping nonsense.
“So, uh... Do you need help with anything?”
William dried his hands with the towel, a brave yet paper thin façade held him up. “Yeah, they'll come by sometime next week to collect Chloe's... bed and chair. We should start sorting out what to keep and what to-” he swallowed his own words before he disappeared back into the kitchen.
Max stepped up to Joyce and took her hand. “I borrowed a car from a friend, so I can take some of Chloe's things with me if you'd like.”
“That'd be great Max, come with me.”
Joyce and Max went to Chloe's room and started sorting out her clothes, bedsheets and various personal items. It was slow work, Joyce's hands worked slowly and she frequently stopped when her tears got the best of her. Max was patient and offered her shoulder, hugs, and Kleenex without a word, taking William's advice to heart. Though she was offered to stay over for dinner, Max declined and put the last box in the back of Victoria's car before she drove off.
The small hospital looked quiet and peaceful after sunset. Normally there would be some serious horror vibes floating about, but as far as Max was concerned, everything was A-Okay. She sat in the car, parked a good way from the main entrance and counted people as they came and went, her eyes glancing down at the car stereo watch every now and then. When a mother rolled out her son in a wheelchair, Max left her car and strolled over while she pretended to be engulfed by her phone.
Max paused and looked up from her phone. “Yes? Uh, you're talking to me right?” she looked over her shoulder just to make sure.
The mother nodded and smiled politely as a van pulled up next to her. She looked about 28 years old, with ice blue eyes and ginger hair. “Do you think you can return this wheelchair for us?”
“Sure, yeah,” Max said as she pocketed her phone. “Where, uh... where do I leave it?”
A man with dark brown eyes and blonde hair, probably the father, helped his son out of the wheelchair and into the backseat of the van. “Just by the elevator on the third floor,” the mother said.
As the sound of the van driving away faded into silence, Max stood quietly by the empty wheelchair. She rocked it back and forth a few times, the left wheel creaked a little as she did. With a sharp breath and a sigh, Max headed inside the hospital, though instead of taking the wheelchair up to the third floor, Max headed for the basement.
While the hospital, in general, wasn't exactly buzzing over with activity at this late hour, the basement was even quieter and deserted. A metallic rattling sound clattered and crashed into the concrete walls as Max pushed the wheelchair out of the elevator and into the hallway. The only sound that could be heard was the fluorescent light that flickered on and off in some distant corner.
She walked down the hallway, the wheelchair rolling in front of her. Just at the edge of a corner she paused and waited, a finger tapped the handle of the wheelchair as if counting. A door opened and a nurse along with a doctor walked out, discussing the high arts of the manual transmission on cars among themselves before they disappeared out of sight. When the metal doors on the far end clicked closed, Max rounded the corner and headed into the room where they'd come from.
The door closed behind Max just before she found the light switch. A small second alone in the silent dark, then with a plastic click the lights came on and the darkness shivered in the shadows. The morgue was far from the coziest place in town, but Max wasn’t here for the scenery or to take pictures. Now there’s a gross thought. She left the wheelchair by the door and walked along the wall, closed doors and behind them, the dead rested. One last glance over her shoulder before her hand found the handle and opened it.
Covered under a blanket and shadows, the outline of someone resting inside could be seen. Max grabbed the handle and gave it a few solid yanks before the pull out shelf cracked in protest and rolled out from the wall. One last look at the watch and then it came. A gasp, hollow and bone chilling as if the breath scraped across a blackboard. Chest heaved upwards, the blanket sunk down around the mouth and the outlines of a gaping, shocked face could be seen. Max pulled the blanket aside, revealing that Chloe was alive.
Chapter 2: Out of Bed
Chloe is back from the dead, scared and confused. Max comforts her as best she can. Their friendship is put to the test when Max refuses to let Chloe return to her family.
Chloe coughed and gagged as she rolled over to her side. Max's hand found her naked back, a tender touch of concern followed by a worried massage. Half broken, foul words limped out of Chloe's mouth between coughs and heavy gasps while Max glanced at the door. They were being awfully loud and the naked, flat walls did little to muffle their ruckus.
Max darted over to the door and rolled the wheelchair over to the shelf bed. “Oh God, it feels like I need to puke,” Chloe stuck her tongue out and made a face.
“Oh no you won't,” Max slipped her hands underneath Chloe's armpits and pulled her down, into the wheelchair.
“My eyes... everything's so fuzzy,” she pulled the blanket around her shoulders as a shiver ran down her spine, “and cold. God, it's freezing in here.”
“Hang on Chloe, I'll get us out of here.”
Max checked her watch again and took a breath to calm herself before she rolled Chloe out into the hallway. Rather than taking the same elevator up, they followed deeper into the hospital basement and through several doors marked authorized personnel only. After a while, they came outside on the back side of the hospital where Max circled around to come back to where she'd parked Victoria's car.
The next challenge that presented itself was to get Chloe, fresh from the dead and not familiar with using her limbs for a couple of years, out of the wheelchair and into the car. Preferably in a manner that didn't cause alarm to any bystanders. It wasn't easy, a practically limp spaghetti version of teenage Chloe was bad enough, and the fact that Max was no powerhouse was just the icing on the cake. With a lot of huffing, puffing and a long list of apologies, Chloe ended up in the passenger seat and they drove off.
Victoria’s car rolled in for a quiet stop and as the engine died down, Chloe looked around and said, “Where are we?”
“Welcome to American Rust. Our home away from... well, everything,” Max leaned over the wheel and looked up at the cold stars above.
“I can… I can move,” Chloe looked at her hand as she turned it around and bent her fingers, “I can ev- even feel my legs. What the hell Max?”
Max put her arm around Chloe’s shoulders and pulled her close, their foreheads gently touching one another. She smiled with relief and tears started to trek down her cheeks. An odd mix of crying and laughing filled the car. Outside a quiet night waited, the surrounding junkyard was reduced to shadows and silhouettes.
“Let’s get you dressed,” Max patted Chloe on the shoulder before she turned to the backseat and fished out some clothes a cardboard box, “and I guess you’re pretty hungry too.”
“Yeah… yeah, now that you mention it I’m starving. But how… what’s goi-”
Chloe’s question got interrupted by a t-shirt being plopped over her head. Like a loving and reliable older sister, Max helped Chloe get dressed. The somewhat cramped space in the car was bad enough, with Chloe’s deteriorated muscles adding another challenge to an otherwise basic task. Spaghetti limbs seem to be the best way to describe how Chloe was slipped into her clothes. Sadly this was something she was all too used to and Chloe sort of just zoned out into autopilot mode.
Finally, Max puffed her bangs out of her way, “That should do for now. Now let’s get some food going.”
“Seriously Max, slow down,” Chloe put a wobbly hand on her arm, “tell me what’s going on, please?”
Max sunk back in her seat and sighed. Her face was lost in thought for a long moment as if weighing her options before she said, “I didn’t give you morphine, like you asked me to. Instead, I gave you an experimental drug that could fix you,” she swallowed at the sight of Chloe’s eyes widening. “The drug shuts you down completely in order to do the… uh… repairs, so everyone thinks you’re dead.”
Chloe blinked her eyes, her mouth appeared stuck in the gaping position while she slumped back into her seat. Max gave her a soft smile and a few fingers found her cheek, stroking it tenderly before she walked out of the car. Chloe watched on as Max got busy with literary setting up camp. Apparently, she either borrowed or shopped for some basic camping gear and it didn’t take long before Max had some sort of hot pot going on.
Max opened the door and offered Chloe her hand. As they hobbled over to the primus stove Chloe said, “So why are we out here and not at the hospital or at home?”
“People don’t come back from the dead all that often Chloe, there would be all sorts of questions and it wouldn’t end well for either of us. This is for the best.”
Chloe got lowered into a camping chair and offered a bowl of hot pot. “This is so messed up.”
“It’s a lot to take in, but it’ll be alright,” Max said while she poured herself a bowl. “I promise.”
Morning came about, the chirping of the early birds got interrupted by Max’s cell phone alarm. She let out a sleepy grunt while her hand blindly patted around for the troublemaker. A long sigh leaked out of her, like a deflating weather balloon the moment the alarm fell silent. By her side, Chloe slept soundly, all curled up inside her sleeping bag. Joints cracked a little as Max wiggled herself out of the sleeping bag. In the corner of her eye she saw that Chloe's arm was starting to strain against the sleeves of her t-shirt. Likewise, the sleeping bag she'd been swimming in the night before was just a tad too small.
“Hey... time to wake up sleepy pants,” she gave Chloe's shoulder a light shake.
Her hand flopped around aimlessly, “In a minute mom...”
Max sighed and shook her head slightly before she bent down and started tugging at Chloe's sleeping bag, “Chloeeee, c'mon.”
She rolled over and yawned loudly while stretching in her sleeping bag, “Okay, okay. Jeeze Max, you're like a Duracell powered version of mom.”
“I'll take that as a compliment,” Max smiled and walked over to the car. “How are you feeling? Slept well?”
She sat up, a string of her hair stood out at an odd angle and Chloe tried her hardest to blink out the last traces of sleep from her eyes. When she tried to stretch again she noticed that her clothes were oddly enough restricting her movements. Puzzled she looked herself and her clothes over, but couldn't find anything amiss beyond that they were somehow smaller.
“This is so unreal,” Chloe said, tracing the movement of her arm with her eyes. “It's like someone decided I deserved a second shot, you know?”
“Yeah, better not waste it right?”
“Oh you said it, Max,” Chloe let out a soft laugh. “All those long hours alone, thinking what I'd do on this sunny, windy or even rainy day if I wasn't stuck in bed. Now all of the sudden I'm... here, and I'm at a loss. Like what the hell, I can walk Max. For reals.”
Max came over with a cardboard box in her arms and she dropped it next to Chloe with a loud thumb. She hummed lightly to herself a soft, tender tune while browsing through the content of the box. Occasionally she’d pull a piece of clothing up and look it over before dismissing it and resuming her search. A few minutes later she’d collected a decent set of clothes and finally fished out a pair of scissors from the box.
“Okay, let’s get you a change of clothes,” she clapped her hands a few times as if it would make Chloe move faster.
Chloe got to her feet, wobbling a little on shaking knees before finding her balance and started to tuck at the sleeves. The t-shirt would not budge an inch, even when Chloe pulled so hard the fabric started to snap and tear in protest. With quick feet, Max stepped up and put an assuring hand on her shoulder as Chloe’s distress became more and more apparent.
“Here, let me help you out.”
Tenderly, like a soft and timeless melody, Max slipped the scissors inside the sleeve and started snipping away the fabric. It bolted away with each snip, revealing more of the gentle and smooth skin underneath. Chloe started to shrink together with arms and shoulders as the clothes became looser and looser, her eyes looked away and down on the ground. Meekly she got out of the torn remains, covering herself as best she could in the cold morning air. Max pulled the sleeping bag over her shoulders and wrapped it around her for a quick makeshift solution.
“So… you’ll be swimming in the cool fashion of yesteryear,” Max said as she held up the clothes she’d selected.
Chloe frowned skeptically at the second-hand clothes, trying to place them. In the end, she shrugged it off and got dressed, her mood lightened as she got more and more control over her movements. The clothes consisted of a simple sweater, a pair of jeans and some sneakers. Max had not been lying when she said Chloe would be swimming in the clothes, for they were all a few sizes too big. If anything she looked more like Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with the jeans way past her ankles and her hands deep inside the sleeves of the sweater.
“I guess my folks won’t complain too much about my appearance,” Chloe rolled back the sleeves a dozen times over until she finally found her hand, “they’ll just be happy to have me back. Walking no less.”
Max paused and looked over her shoulder. “You can’t go back, Chloe.”
“I don’t… why not?”
Max turned and gave her a quick, forced smile as her hands restlessly fiddled with the scissors. “They’ll take you away Chloe, you’ll be miserable.”
“What? Excuse me?” Chloe walked up to Max, her footing still a little wobbly, “Max, who are they and how will that make me miserable? Hell, how can you be so sure of this? Do you have some magic eight ball or something?”
“Kinda…” Max shrunk back, clutching the scissors. “Chloe, please you have to understand. Trust me, okay? I just… know, alright? If we go back now you’ll send your parents through an emotional rollercoaster you’ll later regret and as they take you away from your family, from Arcadia Bay, from me… you’ll be more and more miserable.”
“Max, stop fooling around okay? Yeah, I’ll admit that this is some really weird shit, but we can work it out, right? C’mon, let’s head back.”
Chloe took one of Max’s hands and started towards the car, except Max held her back with a light tug before her hand slipped through Chloe’s fingers. She turned around and looked her friend over, puzzlement melted into denial on her face as Chloe realized Max was not simply pulling her leg. Max looked so timid and small where she stood, like a scared little bird that nonetheless stood firm in its belief, as if protecting its young ones from a much larger predator.
She started to cry, sharp sniffs and heavy tears trekked down her cheeks. “I’m sorry Chloe, I really am.”
“Stop goofing around and give me the keys,” Chloe reached out with her hand, “I’ll drive back home myself.”
Max took a step back, “I can’t…”
“Max, give me the goddamn keys you, you dimwit.”
She shook her head sharply, her lips contorted to a narrow and firm line. For each step Chloe took towards her, Max took another step back until the tension between them exploded and she chased Max around on the junkyard. Max's heart raced inside her chest, her lungs burned with each breath she took and every time she glanced over her shoulder, Chloe’s staggering chase hurt her more than anything else. The scissors were discarded, thrown aside as she rounded a bus that had seen far better days. She suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and looked towards the early sun as it had started its journey across the sky before throwing away the car keys as high and far as her arm allowed.
“Max, no!” Chloe finally caught up with her, but it was too late. The keys disappeared into the bushes and out of sight. “Why. Did. You. Do. That,” she clung to the collar of Max’s shirt with one hand and weakly punched her shoulder with the other.
Chloe’s knees trembled and she started to tumble downwards, her whole body screaming in protest to activities it hadn’t participated in for years, miracle drug or not. Max came down with her, folding her arms around her friend in a warm, supporting hug. For a small hour, she held her tight and they cried together, Chloe asking why over and over again, with Max apologizing as frequently as her sobs would let her. Something was exchanged between them, some unspoken understanding had been reached between the tears, snot, questions and apologize. Chloe was not happy still, yet she knew that Max had her best interest at heart and she knew how hard this was on Chloe. Max was hurting too, hurting so bad because she couldn’t let her best friend in the whole wide world do what she wanted the most.
While Max sat by the primus stove, waiting for dinner to be done, her phone rang. The display said Victoria and Max drew a breath, steeling herself before answering the phone.
“Hey Victoria, what’s up?”
“Oh my god, Maxine are you alright?” Victoria sounded quite distressed on the other end.
“I’m- I’m fine,” she assured her, her eyes found Chloe who was exploring her newfound mobility by climbing the junkyard, “why?”
The pot bubbled and steamed underneath the primus, carrying the rich scent of spices and fish along the air. A gust of wind ran over the junkyard, broken and half open car doors groaned as their hinges were put to the test while the trees swayed and their leaves rattled softly. Shifting bushes gave away the hiding spot of a doe, whose eyes interlocked with Max’s. Its ears shifted and wiggled before it quietly tip toed deeper into the woods and out of sight.
A sigh of relief scraped out of the speaker, by the sound of it Victoria felt like a gazillion tons lighter. “Listen, Maxine, don’t freak out on me, but someone has stolen Chloe’s body from the morgue.”
“Rea- wait, what? Seriously?”
“Yes,” the word came out like a snake’s hiss, sick with worry. “The police are all over the place and- and where are you?”
“Out and about, just cruising around to take some landscape and nature photos outside Arcadia Bay,” Max stirred the pot a little, crossing her legs.
“Oh my god, Maxine. This isn’t a time to be camping.”
She leaned backward, trying to keep a track of Chloe as she disappeared behind the wrecked bus. “Your concern is mighty appreciated Victoria, but I think I’ll be just fine.”
“Please, please, please Maxine. I am seriously begging you, come back home.”
“I’ll be-” Max squeezed her phone between her cheek and shoulder while juggling with the pot in an attempt to keep it from boiling over, “-darn it, stupid pot. I’ll be back for class Monday morning Victoria, promise.”
“No, Maxine you ca-”
“Sorry, I’ve got a pot that’s boiling over, gotta go.”
Max hung up and put her phone on silent. It didn’t take long before it started humming in silent vibration. Rather than answering it, she waved Chloe over, signaling that dinner was finally served.
Later that night, when they tucked in for bed Chloe rolled down the sleeves on her sweater before undressing when she suddenly paused. The very same sleeves that had swallowed her hands earlier was now a good couple of inches too short.
“Uh… Max? Is this like... normal?” she turned and showed her the sweater sleeve.
Max squinted in the last traces of light coming from the setting sun, “Yeah… the thing is Chloe- that wonder drug I used? It kinda gives you a growth spurt as it repairs your body.”
“Oh-kay… it kills, heals and inspires growth. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be ready for the NBA.”
She walked up to Chloe who now was a good head taller than Max, “Don’t worry. It’ll stop eventually, besides you’ll make a better big spoon than I ever will.”
“Oh, spooning. We haven’t done that since sleepovers.”
Max smiled and nodded, “Yeah, back when we were chasing dreams and pirate treasures.”
They tucked in for the night, both sleeping bags opened wide and used as quilts rather than actual bags to sleep in. It didn’t take long before Chloe snuggled up to Max, hugging her back and gently pulling her closer. There was something soothing about feeling Chloe’s warmth close on her back, along with the sound of her steady breathing. With her friend zonked out, Max checked her cell phone and as she looked on the date and time, she sighed. They made it through day one, somehow. She was worried about the days that would come up ahead, though sleep found her before those future troubles managed to keep her awake.
Chapter 3: Endogenous Growth Theory
“Max, Max,” Chloe's voice sounded distant at first, but it cut through the fog of sleep like an arrow. “Wake up, you've gotta wake up!”
Something big pushed and shoved on her shoulder, enough to make her roll over from side to side. She squinted with tired eyes, waving with her arm to make the shaking stop and as her vision adjusted to the early morning sun, Max saw Chloe squatting over her. The first problem with this picture was that Chloe was butt naked. A second problem was that even squatted down she stood a good five feet tall.
“Someone's been eating their vegetables,” Max said before a yawn swallowed her words.
Chloe ran frustrated fingers through her strawberry blonde hair, ruffling it violently while a growl rumbled in the back of her throat. “This isn't some joke Max! Look at me. I'm- I'm- what am I?”
“No shit,” Chloe rose to her full height before she shrunk back a little, hugging herself in the cold morning air. “I didn't know Captain Obvious sailed in Arcadia Bay.”
Max got up, most of last night’s sleep now gone from her face. “Chloe, don't be like that. We'll- we'll work something out, okay?”
“How?” she crossed her arms across her chest, giving Max half a shrug. “How can we- you and me- possibly work out something with- with- this...”
They shared a long moment, lock in a stare down. Finally, Max yielded, opting to collect her clothes and get dressed rather than to drag out a small argument into a hurtful screaming contest. She checked her phone, Victoria had sent her a small torrent of texts and left a truckload worth of voicemail. Some other time, right now Max had bigger problems on her hands. Literarily.
“First step would be to get you dressed. It'd suck for you to get sick, not to mention rather anti-climactic after coming back from the dead.”
Chloe scoffed and started pacing around on the spot restlessly. “Right, and where are we going to find shoes in the size 500+ around here?”
“We'll follow the train tracks,” Max said as she collected her trusty shoulder bag. “We might get lucky and find some tarpaulin we could use.”
Max walked close to the train tracks, with Chloe sticking behind the tree line and constantly looking around. Whenever a sound out of the ordinary caught her attention, Chloe hunkered down and tried her best to cover herself while her eyes searched for the source of the sound. At every turn Max waited patiently for her friend to settle down, she never said or did anything to pressure Chloe to get a move on.
Well down the train tracks, past an intersection, they came over a set of wagons that appeared to have been left to their own devices some years ago. The tracks themselves only carried on a hundred or so feet before coming to an abrupt halt. While one wagon was just a flat platform with train wheels attached underneath, the other looked more promising with its wooden cargo wagon look, complete with rusted hinges and locks.
Perks of being a giantess was the strength that came with having a large body. Chloe made short work of the rusted locks and Max climbed inside, fumbling with her phone's menu before she found the flashlight function. The wagon was for the most part rather empty, some large plastic barrels were tucked in one corner and on the opposite side was an array of sailboat equipment.
Perhaps it was a leftover from one of those weird Prescott requests. Max wouldn't put it past them to own a yacht or a sailboat at one point or another, only to get bored of it and toss it aside because why not. She pulled on what looked like a sail and glanced over her shoulder. Chloe had to bend down a little to get her head through the wagon door.
“How about this? Better than being naked, even if it's not the latest from the French catwalk.”
“Whatever, can you please hurry up?” Chloe restlessly looked over her shoulders. “Feels like the whole world is looking at my butt.”
Max and Chloe became partners in crime as they both tugged and pulled at the sails, drawing them out from the creepy shadows of the train wagon and into the sunlight. The good news as that they had material enough to make clothes for ten Chloe's, and it wasn't in all that bad of a shape, to be honest. The bad news was that neither of them knew how to make clothes and even if they did, they didn't have the tools required.
“Well, shit...” Chloe said when the realization hit her.
She made a snipping gesture with her fingers, “Got any king size scissors in that bag of yours, Max?”
“Oh, right... I'll head back to town, maybe there are some fishermen that have some things we can use.”
Chloe picked up one of the sails and wrapped it around her shoulders before squatting down. “How? You threw the car keys away, remember?”
Max groaned and bumped her forehead with the palm of her hand, “Thanks for reminding me. I guess... I'll just have to manage somehow.”
Back at Arcadia Bay, Max parked the car at Two Whales diner and asked around the various fishermen for tips and tricks when it came to shaping sails. When they gave her puzzled looks and wondered why on earth she'd wanted to cut up and stitch perfectly good sails, Max wiggled around the subject, claiming it was a school project that encouraged the students to think outside the box.
Thankfully the fishermen who knew a thing or two about sails bought her little white lie and offered her some pointers. Armed with this new knowledge, Max went on a small shopping round for the things she'd need to get Chloe dressed. She ended up with 1 each 1 oz. spool V-92 White and Black Thread, 1 roll 1/4" seam stick, 1 roll 3/8" seam stick, Ace Clipper Stapler, Ace Clipper Staples, staple puller, seam ripper, C-Thru ruler, and 10 mushroom pins. The salesman was so happy with Max that he put it all in a ditty bag, on the house.
She turned in the direction of the voice calling her name and saw Mr. Jefferson rounding the corner of Two Whales diner. For a brief second, Max looked around, possibly for a way out, but resigned and put away her supplies in the back of the car. The last thing she needed was answering more questions.
Max put on a smile, hollow and fragile. “Hello, Mr. Jefferson.”
“Out shopping are we? Anything particular you're looking for?”
“Not really,” her hands found the strap on her shoulder bag while she shrunk away ever so slightly, “just some stuff I might use for some pictures.”
He nodded, crossing his arms and looked at her from head to toe, his eyes seemed to shine with admiration. “Working hard, even on your days off. You'll go far Max, I can tell you that much.”
“I don't think- it's just something that I fiddle with as a way to... cope.”
Mr. Jefferson's eyebrows climbed upwards with confused curiosity before his face became downcast as the dots connected in his head. “Oh... right.”
“I- uh, once heard that- no, never mind. I should get going, see you at school, Mr. Jefferson.”
He might have something more to say, but Max turned on her heel and purposely made noise with the car door before she climbed inside. There would be a time to deal with Mr. Jefferson, for now, though Max needed to keep her priorities straight. Chloe first, Mr. Jefferson second. With that in mind, she drove back to the junkyard, the speedometer needle trembling just beneath the speed limit.
“Chloe?” Max called out louder this time, hugging the ditty bag close while the trees stood tall and silent around her. “Creepers, all that's missing is torn overalls and a hockey mask to make a slasher flick come true. Chloooeee.”
She circled the train wagon a fifth time, looking through the bushes and trees in hopes of finding her friend. This was absurd. How do you lose someone that's ten feet tall? Yeah, they were out in the butt end of nowhere, but even so. Max tried to think, to remember what she was overlooking. There was so much to keep track of.
The air flew out of her in a sharp gasp before she spun around and looked in the direction of the voice. Chloe stood half hidden behind a tree, hunched over with worry painted all over her face. As Max walked over to her, Chloe looked around to either side and threw a couple of nervous glances over her shoulders.
“Chloe, what's wrong?” she offered a gentle hand, stroking her leg.
She sighed and squatted down, “Some shady dude came by, walking his dog I think. Guess it caught my scent or something 'cause it freaked out.” Chloe pulled the sails tighter around her shoulders, whether it was due to the cold or a need to make herself smaller was hard to tell. “Nothing happened though, but holy shit... it scared me.”
Max looked around, but neither saw or heard anyone. Her hand found Chloe’s little finger and held it while she smiled an assuring smile. It was going to be okay, somehow Max would make sure of it. First things first though, Chloe needed some clothing, even if it was just an emergency makeshift solution.
“We should get started with making some clothes for you,” Max said as she held up the ditty bag.
Chloe scoffed lightly, “Right, this is going to be fun. Neither of us is particularly good with needle and thread.” She moved her arms about, the sails shifting around over her movements. “Some pirates we are, huh? Can’t even use sails properly.”
“We’ll pull through Chloe, just trust me, okay?”
Many hours later and they’d managed to make some basic pants and a crude sweater for Chloe. Shoes proved a bigger challenge since the sails weren’t sturdy enough to do the job on their own and they couldn’t find anything nearby they could use as soles. Not to mention that the supplies Max had bought were running low. While Chloe had done most of the actual work, she’d done so under Max’s careful instructions.
Taking crude raw materials and changing them, building and creating something with them was a major boost to Chloe’s spirits. Of course, it was a massive bonus that what they were making was directly beneficial to her. Sure Chloe wouldn’t win any major fashion awards and they weren’t working with quality silk either, but it was something. In the end, that’s all that seem to matter.
“Holy shit Max, this is awesome,” Chloe twisted and turned on the spot, looking herself over.
“Captain Chloe, fearful pirate that wears the sails of conquered ships for clothing,” Max clapped her hands in a light applause.
“I don’t think we ever conquered any ships,” Chloe frowned as if her mind traced down long lost memories. “Weren’t we both the ‘plunder and sink her’ type?”
“Oh yeah,” Max nodded her head before leaning against a tree with her arms crossed, “you’re right. We sunk every last one of ‘em.”
“But, uh… what are we going to do about food? I’m starving.”
Max bit down on her lower lip. Of course, there had to be something she’d forgotten about. There's never been a perfect run sort of speak. She could tell by the look on Chloe’s face that she’d lowered her guard enough to make her worry. This trust she’d spent the last couple of days building up was so darn brittle Max couldn’t afford mistakes like this. Mental note to self, screw up quota has been more or less depleted. Get your head in the game Max, or you’ll have to start all over. Again.
“We’re pirates Chloe, so of course we’re going out on a raid,” she tried to force out a cheerful tone, though it came out like a guitar out of tune.
Chloe’s eyes went wide and she waved her hands about in a clear abort, abort gesture, “Are you kidding? We can’t do that.”
“The school cafeteria has enough for both of us and then some,” Max started to walk, “and a large kitchen to boot.”
Thanks to Chloe’s size they left the car behind and took the long route towards the school, through the woods and over streams. All the trees and bushes with their golden brown autumn colors helped to keep her large frame hidden. As the sun set, its orange streaks of light painted the sails in a similar color, making Chloe blend in even further. At least from a distance, which was their main concern. If someone spotted them hobbling through the woods like a pair of trolls from the freeway, they’d be screwed. As for close encounters of the third kind? It was highly unlikely that there would be people in these parts of the woods at this hour.
“This is some adventure,” Chloe said, her arms held out wide to either side to help keep her balance over the uneven ground.
“Yeah, takes you back doesn’t it?” Max said, glancing over her shoulder. “When we were kids, fighting off the British, stealing their treasure and burying it.”
A heart-warming chuckle escaped Chloe, “True, though the so-called treasure was just cheap plastic jewelry that had fake gold paint on it.”
“Awh, c’mon Chloe,” Max hopped over a gurgling stream, “at least they had pretty stones in them.”
“Coloured glass if I recall.”
“Diamonds and sapphire.”
“You’re no fun…”
They shared a laugh and carried on walking in silence until they reached their first major obstacle; the school fence. Of course, they could walk around it until they reached the front gate and parade in like the bosses they obviously were, but that would increase the risks of getting caught. Chloe with her ten or perhaps twelve feet height could easily just hump over it like a bar counter. Max, on the other hand, was not so lucky.
“Should we split up? Meet you inside?” Chloe scratched the side of her cheek.
“No silly, lift me over.”
“What? No, I can’t do that,” again Chloe made the abort gesture with her hands.
“Don’t be such a stick in the mud. Why not?”
“You- just don’t- you know, lift people.”
Max rested one hand on her hip and tilted her head as she looked at Chloe, “Really?”
Chloe looked around and leaned down for a whisper, “Isn’t it degrading?”
“No you dork,” she slapped Chloe’s nose lightly with her hand. “It’s practical.”
“Oh… okay then,” carefully Chloe’s large hands folded themselves around Max’s torso. “Let me know if it hurts, okay?”
Both of Max’s arms hugged closely to the back of Chloe’s hands since this was one ride that didn’t come with safety belts. When Chloe lifted her, it felt much like a one of a kind roller coaster ride. The rush of movement, the ground vanishing underneath her feet, air ruffling through her hair and darting past her ears and that small second when she was weightless before settling in Chloe’s tender hands. Then came the sideways tugs and pushes when Chloe turned around before her stomach felt the need to rush up to her lungs as Chloe lowered her on the other side of the fence.
“Uh, I can’t quite reach… it,” Max was a couple of feet over the ground when Chloe realized the limits of her range. “Damn fence is cramping up my style.”
“Just drop me, Chloe, I’ll be fine.”
With a soft plop, Max landed on the grass, staggering a little to either side before finding her footing. She looked up at Chloe and made a short little ta-da gesture to assure her friend that she was alright. Chloe joined her on the other side after some huffing and puffing while climbing over the stone fence.
“Okay so,” Max clapped her hands a few times, “cafeteria is... this- this way.”
“Wouldn't it be faster to cross over here?” Chloe pointed in the opposite direction.
Max stopped and looked down the way Chloe was pointing, “The dorm is over there, we shouldn't risk it. Come on.”
“Oh right, been a while since I was around here,” Chloe hunched over and followed Max. “This place looks so different at night.”
Max asked Chloe to be on a look out while she fiddled with the door. By the time she turned back to check on her, Max was already inside with a smug little smile on her face.
“Just how did you-”
Max brushed it away, “Details, details. C'mon, you must be starving.”
They navigated through the dark and deserted hallways of the school, Chloe first tried to walk with a serious hunch on her back, though in the end, she ended up crawling on all fours. It was the lesser of two evils, especially since she had to crawl through the doors anyway. After looking around for a good ten minutes they found the cafeteria. While Max prepped some proper food, Chloe helped herself with some fruit as an early appetizer.
“Wow, you certainly know your way around in the kitchen,” Chloe said while she munched on apples that compared to her size, had the size of green grapes.
Max just shrugged and gave her a smile, “I picked up a few things here and there.”
“Huh, more than picking up,” a short scoff escaped Chloe, “you're far more resourceful than I'll ever hope to be. Here I thought you were still a kid with a camera, but no... Little Max grew up.”
She put some pizza in the oven and turned down the heat on the sauce, stirring it slightly. “I guess I did. Not going to leave you behind though, Chloe.”
Max wiped her hands with a towel, leaning on the kitchen counter. “Yeah, you're my partner in crime after all.”
“I'll drink to that,” Chloe looked around, trying not to bump her head on the ceiling, “if I could find something to drink from.”
Chapter 4: Dark Room
Max had just put away the last of the dishes when she heard a thud. Looking over at Chloe she was almost as surprised as her large friend. Chloe seemed to have another growth spurt, her improvised clothes already looking embarrassingly small and the thud was from her bumping her head on the ceiling while sitting on the floor.
“Maaax...” Chloe looked like she was on the verge of tears.
She collected her things quickly and opened both of the double doors to the cafeteria. “We've got to get going Chloe, hurry.”
Although quite upset and understandingly so, Chloe crawled through the door and into the hallway. With Max leading the way, Chloe followed as best she could. Her shoulders and back kept brushing up against the lamps in the ceiling, which put a damper on how fast she could move. The last thing they needed was to leave a trail of broken lamps, they've already pressed their luck enough with their little cafeteria dinner.
When they reached the back door another problem presented itself; this was a single door and with her upgraded size it would be a though squeeze for Chloe. Max walked back and forth through the door, examining the door itself as well as the door frame. They could double back and gamble on the front door which was larger, though if memory served her right, Max was quite certain that it was rigged with an alarm.
“Maxine? What are you doing out here so late?”
Max spun on her heel, her heart clogged high up in her throat when she saw Warren and Stella. “I was errr-” she noticed them holding hands “-rrright back at ya. What are you guys doing here?”
They looked at each other and stopped holding hands while at the same time taking half a step from one another. The dim street light was a nice cover, but Max was certain that both of them were blushing like mad. Thank god for awkward teenage romance, their relationship hadn't cemented itself enough for them to brush off such sudden and unexpected confrontations.
Inside Chloe inched backwards slowly, letting the shadows swallow her whole. Discreetly Max pushed a small rock in the doorframe using her foot and let the door close, kept slightly ajar. Warren and Stella stuck around for some chit-chat, though it was obvious it was just a smokescreen to cover up their own embarrassment. Thankfully it didn't take much of a hint for them to go about their business and leave Max to herself. Regardless of how smooth sailing it had been, it was still a handful of nerve wrecking minutes.
“Chloe?” Max opened the door, her eyes having trouble adjusting to the dark corridor, “coast is clear.”
A hand large tenderly pushed it aside, it almost covered the top half of the door. Max had to take a few steps back not to get swatted by one of Chloe's fingers as they bent around the door. An arm and the top of her head was all she could manage to get through the doorframe. It was neither tall nor wide enough to let Chloe's shoulder slip through.
Chloe's grunts as she shifted around for a better angle started to crack with sobs. Her nails dug into the ground, scraping up chunks of grass and earth as she tried to drag herself through. In the end her hand went limb and Chloe lowered her head in defeat. The skin on her shoulder was red and scraped, though Max couldn't tell in the dim light if she'd drawn blood.
“It's okay, it's okay Chloe,” Max said, her hand stroked Chloe's hand with slow, broad brushes. “We'll work something out.”
Chloe didn't raise her head, instead muffled her sniffs into her arm, “How?”
“Just give me a moment. Uhm, can you shimmy back or are you stuck?”
A deep sigh that trembled with emotion washed over Max's face like a warm breeze before Chloe gave it another go, this time in the other direction. After a few minutes of shifting about, the last trace of her large fingers slipped back inside and was lost in the shadows. Max followed, closing the door behind her with a soft clack.
Chloe sat with her head tilted to the side since even when seated and hugging her knees, the ceiling was still a few feet too low. The growth spurts might not be particular large, but their frequency was ramping up. If they didn't do something quickly, there would be a whole lot of explaining to do with the school administration, local fire department and whomever else decided to show up.
Max frowned and pinched the bridge of her nose as if trying to squeeze out a brilliant idea. She blinked and looked Chloe up and down a few times. It could work, exiting through the school pool. There were some double doors there that should be large enough for her to fit through. It might be a squeeze, but it was their best shot.
“Chloe, c'mon. I've an idea.”
The light, hopeful tone of Max's words seemed to be enough to get Chloe moving again. Chloe's hands made slow and heavy clapping sounds as she followed Max around on all fours, hunched down so even her elbows touched the floor to avoid bumping her forehead into the ceiling lamps.
“What's the plan, captain?”
“We're going to th-” Max was cut short by the sudden and loud sound of thick fabric being torn. They both stopped dead in their tracks, looking at each other like a pair of scared kittens. Well one kitten and one large, oversized tiger. “It's just your clothes... we're safe Chloe, we're safe. The pool is this way.”
The double doors leading to the pool opened wide and fast with a loud bang. Like an airport worker guiding a cargo plane, Max gestured to make Chloe's entry as smooth as possible. With her attention firmly fixed on her best friend, Max failed to pay attention to her own footing. Consequently she ran out of floor and toppled butt first into the pool.
“Max!” Chloe's hand shot out like a viper, the sudden stretch shredded her restricting clothes even further. Tenderly her large fingers bent around Max's body, forming a spacious yet protective cage before she hoisted her out of the water.
“You know,” Max said before spitting out some pool water, “I can swim.”
“Yeah, but...” Chloe blushed and looked away as she put Max down on the pool side. “Thi- this is the deep end of the pool y'know and- and if- if something happened to you, I don't know what I'd do.”
Max smiled at her friend, “Appreciate it Chloe, I really do. It'd take more than a school pool to keep me away from you.”
Free from the door frame, Chloe got herself seated on the edge of the pool. She dipped her legs inside for a much needed stretch after crawling around on all fours for so long. Her eyes seemed to shine at the marvel that she could move as the water sploshed and swirled around her legs.
Max started to strip out of her soaked clothes, leaving them in a soggy pile. With a curious interest, Chloe picked up some of the Max's clothes. They were like clothes for a toddler in her hands as she tenderly traced their outline with her finger. Her hand curled together into a trembling fist, water dripping out from between her fingers.
“Damn...” she let out a frustrated grunt. “Guess I'm not strong enough to properly squeeze your clothes dry.”
“Don't worry about it,” Max said as she fished out her cell phone and wallet from her bag. “If I recall, there should be some left over clothes in the boy’s wardrobe.”
Chloe's eyes widened, “You can't go in there!”
“Uh... why not?”
“Well, uhm... school regulation and- uh...”
Max dismissed her concerns with a wave of her hand, “I'll be fine.”
Max's wet feet pitter-pattered across the tiled floor, through the showers and into the boy’s wardrobe. She hummed a light little tune to herself as she opened and closed one locker after the next. Just as she'd set her eyes on a hoodie and sweatpants, a large splosh was heard from the pool. A cold bolt of fear shot down her spine as she slammed the locker door shut and darted into the pool.
Despite being in the deep end of the pool, Chloe seemed to be barely able to touch the floor and still keep her head above water. Initially Max was pale with worry as her gut knitted itself into a tight bundle. Her worries did start to melt away at the sound of Chloe's rich laughter and seeing that she could handle herself in the water without too much trouble. People have a tendency to float after all, and thankfully giantesses aren't an exception.
“Having fun?” she teased.
“Max,” Chloe spun around and sent her a smile almost as warm as it was wide, “you have no idea. This is like a million-billion times better than sponge-bath. And look! I'm even standing in the deep end. How cool is that?”
They shared a good laugh between themselves, waves of water washed over Max's ankles as Chloe move about with childish delight. The large heap of Chloe’s makeshift clothes sagged and melted down when they drank in the water. As the moment between them grew, Max stripped down before she dived in and swam over to Chloe. When Chloe caught her in the corner of her eye, she settled down almost immediately.
There was a silent fascination on Chloe's face as she carefully tracked Max as she swam around her. When Max came up to her shoulder for a short rest, her large hand reached up and touched Max’s arm. A tender, gentle touch. Both warm and cold at the same time. Their eyes met and for a brief, almost everlasting moment they held it before Chloe looked away. The tip of her ears turned red and her lips disappeared into a thin, tight line.
With threads of pale blue light reflected from the pool trekking across her face, Max seemed lost in deep memory as she looked over Chloe. Words seemed so insufficient to express what they had. Instead Max pressed her naked self against the back of Chloe’s shoulder. She felt her large friend draw a sharp, shuddering breath that heaved and bellowed underneath her skin.
Chloe’s head half turned, hesitant and shy, she stole a glance or two at Max from the corner of her eye. “Max, uhm…”
“Hm? What is it?”
“I’ve been thinking… It’s just- probably silly, but…”
With both of Max’s arms hung over Chloe’s shoulder, she rested her cheek against Chloe’s wet skin. It took a moment but she felt her warmth seeping through. The deep, soothing sound of Chloe’s breathing rumbled with a distorted twist through her body. Her lips parted, a word ready to follow her breath when the sound of someone opening a nearby door stopped both of them in their tracks.
“Max... what- what do we do?”
She wasn't really listening to Chloe, her eyes tracked from one door to the next. Main entrance, boys wardrobe, girls wardrobe or the emergency exit. Which one would it be? When Chloe sank down in the water, the swirling current tugged and pulled at Max's nimble frame. A mouthful of pool water slipped past and had her coughing and spitting.
“Grab your clothes,” Max said, her tone was stern and commanding as she swam away towards the pool edge, “take a deep breath and dive.”
Even if she didn't look back as she hoisted herself out of the pool, Max certainly heard Chloe go for her clothes. Her gut tightened into a firm knot at the thought that the guard might hear it and investigate. On quick, yet quiet feet Max darted into the boys wardrobe, hastily slipped on her underwear and snatched the spare clothes from the locker. Her ears strained, trying to catch the faintest hint of what would come next.
A moment ticked by, the next slithered on like a snail. All Max could hear was her own heart beating like a drummer on crack. Ever so quietly Max inched her way towards the door and peeked into the pool area for any sign of the night guard. The thick, dark shadow that was a submerged Chloe eventually surfaced. Thankfully she had the wits to do so slowly, as not to stir the water any more than she had to. As soon as her nose and lips breached the surface, she let out a gasp before swallowing more air and sinking back down.
Nothing came of it, the night sank back to its dead silence. Collecting her phone and wallet, she tucked her hand into the water and splashed the surface to get Chloe's attention. Again she emerged from the water, solid waves washed against the edges of the pool, spilling over to the floor. Max tip-toped back a step or two to avoid getting wet as she gestured to Chloe to get out of the pool and follow her.
“Well that was a terrible idea,” Chloe said as she hugged herself for warmth.
Max looked over her shoulder, the lights of the now distant school shaping out Chloe's massive silhouette. “Yeah- well, we had some fun too right? And- and you're not hungry any more either.”
“Still feels like a bad deal when,” Chloe sniffed deeply, “we traded fun and food for being wet, cold and naked. Besides, where are we going?”
“There's an old barn we can use for shelter.”
The two of them walked on in silence. Normally there'd be a subtle background silence to the forest at night. Little things like insects buzzing, wind rustling trees and bushes, or even the occasional animal cry. For some reason this gentle buzz was absent tonight. Maybe Max didn't hear it because there was a million things to keep track of. Maybe it was because she tried so hard to navigate a pitch black forest in the middle of the night. Or maybe it was because Chloe made so much noise when she walked through the woods.
When the clearing came into view, the tall shadow of the barn scraped out a dark hole against the star lit sky. Max bent down and rested her hands on her knees, taking a moment to catch her breath. Behind her Chloe sank slightly behind a tree. Whether it was because she was shy of her nudity or just keeping out of sight in case someone came by was anyone’s guess. Her eyes peered forward, searching for something unseen before they landed on Max.
With a nod Max collected herself and walked into the clearing. Her hand reached out to her side, a subtle gesture to make Chloe wait among the trees. On a night as dark as this one, it’d take some time to make sure that the coast was indeed clear. In front of Max the tall barn towered over her, an odd mix of vanishing into the sky above and threatening to drop down on her.
Inside was even darker than the clearing. Whatever light the stars offered did not reach the floor and walls of the barn. Vaguely Mac could make out the outline of crates and beams that were scattered about. The shadowy figure that hunched down in the back, however, slipped by unnoticed. As she slowly turned around, looking up at the tall ceiling the shadow creeped ever closer on silent feet. Max used her hands and fingers to make a rough guess of just how large the barn door was. It looked like Chloe might have to mind her head, but it was hard to tell in the dark.
She was about to take her first step towards Chloe and call her over when a hand swept in over her from the corner of her eye. It landed flat over her mouth and a second later a strong arm folded around her. Max’s eyes flared up, she tossed herself around and tried to scream. For all her most sincere efforts, they proved futile against the shadow. Sure, it struggled and wobbled around, but its arm tightened around her slim frame and it got a better footing. There was no way Max’s muffled sounds would carry all the way out of the barn, across the clearing and into the trees beyond.
Pressure came against her chest as the shadow hoisted her up and backwards. She kicked and flailed with her feet in protest, but there was very little her nimble body could do but come along for the ride. Deeper into the shadows of the barn did they sink. In the corner of her eye, Max saw the large front door of the barn. It looked so small now, like it was a million, billion miles away.
“Feisty one, aren’t you?” Mr. Jefferson’s voice tickled into her ear like an insect, scratching and poking along the way.
Max growled a muffled protest. Her struggle, no matter how fruitless, remained in full vigour. She’d come too far to fail now. Mr. Jefferson’s grip on her loosened a little, she felt how he regained his footing and seemed to reach for something beyond her sight. Whatever it was, it was most certainly bad news for her. Finally her elbow got enough room to smack into Mr. Jefferson’s ribs. It wasn’t much, but the sudden jolt of pain made his fingers part. Without hesitation, Max opened her mouth, latched on and bit down. Hard. The warm, iron taste of blood splattered behind her lips and her tongue retreated into the back of her mouth at the sensation of biting down on flesh sank in.
“Owh! You little bitch!” Mr. Jefferson pulled his hand away and shoved Max forward, down the stairs into even deeper darkness.
As she tumbled down, Max tried to relax. For some reason the line spaghetti arm from Dirty Dancing came to mind. The fall, rolling over and constant assault of stabbing edges seemed to go on forever. Finally Max came to a halt, at the bottom of the stairs. For a moment she lied still, just barely twitching her fingers and toes to test if those were still working. She tasted blood, though was unable to tell the difference between her own and Mr. Jefferson’s.
When Max pushed herself up, her arms trembled like dirt dry straws of grass. Gallons worth of adrenaline was surging through her whole body at turbo speed. It felt like she could run for miles for the better half of an eternity. Running wouldn’t do Max any good though, the dark room was a dead end and Mr. Jefferson was blocking the only way out. The bastard even had the high ground as he stood on the top of the stairs.
It was a long shot, little Max at the bottom of some basement stairs in the back of a barn. Some trees, a clearing and a whole empty barn between her and help. Still, can’t blame a girl for trying, right? Mr. Jefferson hesitated and looked around, straining his ears. Nothing. When he turned to face Max again, she could see the leer on his face, even if he was utterly swallowed in shadow. He climbed down one step, then another. Max’s feet scraped against the cold, naked concrete floor. She was so jittery that she couldn’t find her footing. Her hand reached into her pocket, tightening around her wallet.
A rhythmic thunder sound grew closer and closer until the silent night exploded into a barrage of breaking wood. Thick clouds of dust engulfed the shadowy silhouette that was Mr. Jefferson. He screamed as something large hit him. It sounded like it had knocked him off his feet and into a wall. Pounding, heavy and hard punches landed again and again. As the calm and steady silence of the night began to sink back down, a trembling breath remained. It washed and waned like waves on a sandy beach, pushing back the clouds of dust.
Max staggered on her feet, her knees shook more than Elvis’ hips and felt like overdone marshmallows. From the pale, misty dust a hand reached out. Large and bloodied, its skin torn and pieces of splintered wood stood out like grotesque toothpicks. It flinched at Max’s touch, retracted a little before it softened and welcomed her. Carefully it folded its battered fingers around Max, the thumb gently feeling its way to her hair. She rested her cheek against Chloe’s finger, gently stroking it with all the assurance she could find.