We all have to make some difficult decisions in our lives, but I think I can make a fair claim to have had one of the hardest. I had to let the person I loved most in the world die, even though I could have saved her. Of course, that would have led to a giant tornado destroying our home town, along with hundreds of innocent – and not so innocent – lives. Save the girl, or save the world; the traditional hero’s dilemma – except I don’t want to be a hero. Like I said, a difficult decision.
It was three weeks later, and I still wasn’t convinced that I could live with that choice. Sure, morally and ethically what I did was a no-brainer, it was the right choice, but such concepts become fuzzy when it’s the life of the woman you love at stake. I’m not saying that it would be easy to live with all those deaths on my conscience, just that it might be easier having Chloe to hold me when I wake up from my nightmares, instead of her playing a starring role in them every night.
I wish that I could turn the clocks right back, but three-weeks-ago me was smart enough to know I’d have second thoughts, and tore up the photo. A fact that a certain blue butterfly oh-so-kindly showed up at Chloe’s funeral to remind me of. Anyway, enough with the waffly backstory and on to this week’s episode of ‘Max Meddles With Time, But Things Don’t Go Quite the Way She Expects’. Hmm. Need to work on that title.
The package from my parents had turned up the day before, but what with school and then the Halloween party, I hadn’t got a chance to open it until that morning. An album with a bunch of my photos in, everything from after we moved to Seattle until just before I came to Blackwell. A possible treasure trove of time traveling mischief – if it was my past I wanted to mess with. As my powers only seemed to work on photos that either I’d taken or was in, I had no way to travel back to Arcadia Bay in the five years I was away.
I leafed through the album looking for anything that I might be able to use, but it was only when I got close to the end that I found a possibility. It was an artsy shot of a street near our house in Seattle, and featuring prominently in it was a mailbox. I pulled the photo out and checked the date on the back – April 14th, 2013. I glanced at the copy of Rachel’s missing person poster pinned to my wall. This photo was taken just over a week before Rachel disappeared. With luck, I could save more than one life.
I went over to my desk, found a pen and paper, then sat down and began to write.
I know I’ve left this far too long. It wasn’t my choice to leave Arcadia Bay, but that’s no excuse for how completely I abandoned you. All I can do is say how sorry I am, and how much I wish I could go back and do things differently. I’m not writing this to ask for forgiveness, though. It’s about something far more important.
Rachel is in danger. I can’t explain how I know this, but please trust me. On Monday, April 22nd, Nathan Prescott is going to drug and kidnap Rachel so he can take photographs of her unconscious, but he’s going to end up accidentally giving her an overdose. I don’t know exactly when and how it will start, but it ends that night at American Rust. Only you can save Rachel’s life.
There’s more: Nathan is just a pawn for Mark Jefferson, the photography teacher at Blackwell. This is his sick little hobby, and he’s using Nathan for protection, and for his money. There’s a bunker under an old barn the Prescotts own, and they’ve converted it into their own private studio for unwilling models. Expose that, and you’ll be saving lots of other girls too. I know you hate David, but your Step-Douche should be able to help you with that.
I wish I could explain more, but it’s not really something I can put in a letter, and I’m not even going to remember writing this once it’s posted. Come see me at Blackwell on the evening of November 1st, and I’ll be able to explain everything.
Tempting as it was to re-write the letter a few dozen times, I folded it up and slipped it into an envelope. I hesitated, worried at what Chloe’s reaction would be. Quickly, I wrote a second letter.
I’m so sorry for what my leaving has done to Chloe, and for how much harder that must have made your life at such an awful time. I’m asking a favor, not for my sake, but for Chloe’s and Rachel’s. Please get her to read the enclosed letter; I worry that if I send it directly to her, she’ll just ignore it or rip it up, and what’s in there is too important, and too urgent for that.
Thanks, Max Caulfield
I put that, and the letter for Chloe, in a second envelope, then addressed it to Joyce and stuck a stamp on it. I grabbed my camera and took a Polaroid of the letter next to the picture of the mailbox – insurance so that I could undo this if things went horribly wrong. Then, I grabbed the letter, focused on the photo and…
…found myself standing on that Seattle street. I hesitated for a moment, then dropped the letter in the mailbox. Almost immediately, the world dissolved around me and…
…I was back in my dorm room. Blackwell was obviously still standing, so presumably I hadn’t caused the storm to come back. I looked around nervously. No drastic differences, except for the absence of the missing person poster. I hurried over to my laptop and nervously Googled first Rachel, then Chloe, then Kate. I didn’t find any news stories about disappearances, or shootings, or suicides, so I started to believe that I’d actually succeeded. Then, there was a knock at the door.
I rushed over and opened it, revealing the two girls I was so desperately hoping to see. Without a second thought, I threw my arms around Chloe and buried my face in her shoulder. “You’re alive!” She was somewhat taken aback, but quickly returned the hug.
“I sure am, and thanks to you, so is Rachel.”
I reluctantly released her and turned to the other girl. “Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you.” I was about to awkwardly offer a handshake when she pulled me into a bear hug.
“Thank-you, Max. Without your warning, Chloe would never have found me in time.”
“You should come in, I’m guessing you have some questions.”
“Hella questions,” Chloe clarified.
I sat down on my bed; Chloe and Rachel cuddled up on the couch. Cuddled. Like, they were a couple. That dialed back my elation a little bit, but I tried not to show it. “First, could you give me a quick recap of what happened after you got my letter?”
“Sure,” said Chloe. “Because I’m a stubborn ass, it took until the Monday evening for Joyce to persuade me to read it. I freaked out at first, ’cause I had no idea where to find Rachel and she wasn’t answering her phone, but then I calmed down and headed over to American Rust. I got there about five minutes before Nathan; he wasn’t expecting anyone, so I just clocked him while he was trying to get Rachel out of his truck, then drove like a lunatic to the hospital.”
“Thankfully, the little shit had left his stash in the truck, so the docs were able to figure out what drug he used and counteract it, but it was touch and go. If I’d put off reading your letter any longer…” She trailed off, visibly distressed. Rachel just pulled her close and gently kissed her, then took up the story.
“Chloe took your advice, and told David everything while the docs were working on me. He went and picked up Nathan, then tracked down the bunker before the Prescotts’ dirty cops could do any damage control. They’re both going to be locked up for a long time – Jefferson in jail, and Nathan in a mental hospital. Good riddance!”
I smiled. “I’m just glad that you’re both okay.”
“So, spill. How’d ya do it? And why have you been avoiding me ever since you got here?”
I take a deep breath. “This is going to sound totally crazy, but I have time travel powers. I would give you a demonstration, but it turns out that rewinding time too much causes a big giant tornado to come and totally trash Arcadia Bay. I ended up having to completely undo everything to save the town. Which really sucked, because the first time I used my power, it was to stop Nathan from murdering you. In my timeline, Rachel just disappeared back in April, so him and Jefferson never got found out until we tracked them down a couple of weeks ago.”
Chloe and Rachel just sat there slack-jawed, staring at me. “I couldn’t live with the fact that I had to let you die, so eventually I figured out a way to send you that letter. I only just wrote it, maybe a couple of hours ago. When I change the past like that, I always come straight back to where I started, and there’s a copy of me that basically runs on autopilot until time catches up with me; she wouldn’t have known any of this which is why she’ll have been avoiding you.”
“I… I believe you,” said Rachel eventually, “I mean, yeah, you could have somehow found out what Nathan and Jefferson were doing, but there’s no way you could have known exactly when he was going to kidnap me, or where he was going to take me, or about the overdose.”
“You… you just let me die?” asked Chloe, clearly conflicted.
I looked away. “It was either you, or the whole town. I was ready to do it, too; to let thousands of people die just to save you again. I saw you die so many times that week it was like you were Kenny from South Park. I couldn’t bring myself to let go, but you insisted; you weren’t willing to let all those people die just to save yourself.” Finally, I forced myself to look her in the eye. “I may have the superpower, but you’re the real hero.”
Chloe considered that for a moment, then smiled. “I can live with that. I think I’d like to hear the full story, though. Just how many times did I die?”
“Let’s see… Nathan shot you. Jefferson shot you. You got hit by a train – twice. The storm got you at least once. Oh, and there was that time you shot yourself…”
It ended up taking a couple of hours to tell the full story, thanks to a constant stream of questions and interruptions. When I was done, I finally worked up the nerve to ask the question that, much as I didn’t want it, I needed an answer to. “So, about you two. I picked up a vibe off Chloe, but then we found out about Rachel and Frank, so…”
Thankfully, Chloe saved me from my awkward self. “Oh, I had it hella bad for Rachel since, well, not long after we first met.”
“Me, not so much,” continued Rachel, “I was still in serious denial about the fact that I’m bi. I think the fact that I was starting to feel something for Chloe was why I latched so strongly onto Frank; one last attempt to prove to myself that I was straight. Don’t get me wrong, I really did like him, but after Chloe saved me… Seeing her there when I woke up, the relief, the joy, the pure love shining from her face. I realized I couldn’t lie to myself any more.”
Chloe smiled. “A couple of weeks later, she asked me out, and we’ve been together ever since.” She kissed her girlfriend, and I fought down a surge of jealousy. If it wasn’t for that damned tornado, that could have been me. Except then Rachel would still be dead, and I didn’t really want trade my love life for her actual life.
Chloe excused herself to go to the bathroom. Rachel immediately turned to me. “You fell in love with her, didn’t you?” she asked without preamble.
“Yeah.” I didn’t see any point in lying about it.
I shook my head. “Honestly, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that she was still in love with you. We did kiss, once, right before the end, but I guess I’ll never know what it meant.”
“I’m sorry. You bring me back from the dead, and I repay you by stealing your girl.”
“Hey, none of that. She’s not my girl.” I smiled. “She’s far too independent for either of us to lay claim to her. All I wanted was to bring her back, and I’ve done that. Plus she’s so much happier and better adjusted than she was before. Obviously you’re good for her, so I’m just happy for both of you.”
I could sense that she saw through my half-truths, but Rachel had the good grace not to say so. “Thank-you,” she said simply.
“Of course, if you ever hurt her, I’ll use my superpowers to make your life a living hell.” That earned me a laugh.
“What did I miss?” asked Chloe as she burst back in.
“Not much. Listen, telling you all that dredged up a bunch of unpleasant memories, and I could really use some alone time to sort through them.”
“Sure thing, Super-Max. We’ll see you again soon.” She and Rachel both gave me hugs before leaving.
I lay back on my bed and let the tears flow. Fate, as Morpheus said, was not without a sense of irony. It looked like I’d finally got Chloe back for good, only to lose her in a different way. It was probably for the best, I decided in the end. This Chloe never went through that week with me; she’s not quite the person I fell in love with. This was how it was supposed to be.
At least, that’s what I told myself. Hopefully someday I’ll actually believe it.