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Just a Day

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I was woken up by a loud pounding. At first, I couldn’t decide whether it was on the outside of my door, or the inside of my skull. I’d just about decided that it was both, when one of them stopped. Then it was definitely just in my head – another killer hangover, something that had become depressingly common for me. I heard the door open and someone call my name in a questioning voice; my response was an unintelligible grunt.

Somebody padded softly into the room and over to where I was lying. I opened my eyes just far enough to identify Kate. “Max? Are you okay? You missed all our classes this morning.”

“Please stop shouting!” I managed to croak out. Ugh. My mouth tasted like old carpet.

“Sorry,” said Kate in what looked like a whisper but still sounded painfully loud. She gently helped me into a sitting position then, a few moments later, pressed a glass into one hand, and a few pills into the other. “Here, take these. They’ll make you feel better.”

Groggily, I took a drink, swallowed the pills, and then chased them down with the rest of the water. “Thanks, Kate.”

“Are those the same clothes you were wearing yesterday?” she asked. “And why were you sleeping on the couch instead of in your bed?”

I grimaced at her. It was far too early in the day for such difficult questions. “I dunno. I mean, yes, same clothes, but I don’t remember getting back to my room, so…”

“Well, I was up late finishing an essay,” said Kate, “and you weren’t back when I went to bed, so you must have been out past midnight.” She went over to the window and pulled back the curtains. The daylight stabbed into my eyes like red-hot pokers; I held up an arm to ward it off. “Just how much did you have to drink last night?” There was a slightly accusatory tone to her voice.

“A lot?” I guessed, shamefacedly. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know the full answer. The details of the previous evening were starting to come back to me; I didn’t really want to think about how many empty bottles there must be in Chloe and Rachel’s old hideout at American Rust.

Kate sighed, and her expression softened. “Oh, Max,” she said sadly, “how did you end up like this?”

The answer was simple: “Chloe.” Of course, Kate already knew that; we’d been down this path before, many times over the past few weeks.

“You can’t keep blaming yourself for what happened to her.”

Of course I could. “It’s my fault she’s dead!”

“No, Max, it’s not. It was Nathan Prescott who shot Chloe, not you.”

“But I could have stopped him!” My response was almost plaintive.

Kate stopped, rubbing at the bridge of her nose. “How, Max? Please, tell me. We’ve had this conversation a dozen times before but you’ve never been able to answer me that. And even if there was something you could have done, failing to stop a murder doesn’t make you responsible for it. I hardly think you deliberately chose to let your friend die.”

But the problem is, that’s exactly what I did do. I let Chloe die because she asked me to, because the alternative was to watch the whole town be destroyed. Of course, I could never tell Kate this, because that would mean explaining a week of rewinding time, and I couldn’t see her believing that.

When it became clear that I wasn’t going to answer, Kate knelt in front of me and took my hands in hers. “Please, Max, you need to get some help. Professional help. I’m trying, but I simply don’t have the training to give you what you need. I’m not going to give up on you, I owe you that much, but what if I’m not here to catch you next time you fall?”

I looked at her, the pain in her eyes, the stress lines on her face. Maybe it would be easier on her if I cut her out of my life, if I was all by myself. “I’m sorry, Kate. I don’t mean to drag you down with me. You’re the only friend I have left, but you don’t deserve this.”

She gave me a piercing look. “You’re not going to get rid of me that easily. I’m always going to be here for you, but you’re the one who’s got to pull yourself around. You need to rise above these negative emotions before they destroy you.” She stopped, and then finally played her trump card. “What would Chloe say if she could see you now?”

That simple question almost destroyed me. For a long moment, I wondered why she’d never used it before; then I realized it was a sign of just how worried she was, that she would sink to such blatant emotional manipulation. Eventually, I forced myself to answer. “She’d give me a kick up the ass, and probably not just a metaphorical one. She’d tell me to get over it, get over myself, and get my shit together.”

Kate squeezed my hands and got up. “That sounds like good advice, if a little profane. Maybe you should think about taking it.” She kissed me on the forehead, then headed for the door, stopping just as she got there. “When you’re ready to really talk things through, you know where to find me. Remember, you can tell me anything, Max. I won’t judge you.”

I managed a weak smile. “Thanks, Kate. I owe you.”

She shook her head. “No, you don’t. You saved my life; I’m just trying to return the favor.” She left, closing the door behind her.

Kate was right. I needed to stop doing that to myself. I thought back to the last promise I made to Chloe, up by the lighthouse, just before I went back to let her die. Max Caulfield? Don’t you forget about me. To my horror, I realized that my drinking was an attempt to do exactly that. To forget the pain, and therefore forget Chloe. That had to stop.

I resolved to talk to Kate, to tell her the whole truth. Maybe she would believe me – I’d never been able to explain how I knew about Jefferson and the Dark Room, or how I knew when to be up on that roof to save her. If there was anyone I knew who might be willing to take something on faith, it would be Kate. Besides, I owed her a show of trust. Whatever happened, I hoped that at least she would be able to see where my emotions were coming from. I needed that understanding from… someone.

I stripped off the dirty clothes, wrinkling my nose at the smell of alcohol clinging to them. Wrapping myself in a towel, I grabbed my toiletry bag. It was time to wash away the pain and the blame, to make a fresh start where I remembered my friend’s life rather than her death, and to honor her sacrifice rather than wanting to take it away again. “Goodbye, Chloe,” I whispered, then headed out to the showers.