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Imaginary Max

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The door to Chloe's truck didn't close the first time she slammed it shut. Instead, it collided loudly with the doorframe and then bounced back open.

"Stupid, fucking, piece of shit," Chloe muttered as she swung the door open and then pushed it shut with everything she had. The door latched shut just as Chloe remembered her bag was still in the truck.

"Son of a fucking Bitch!" Chloe yelled at the top of her lungs, startling a couple people around the parking lot. It was, she decided, one of those days, had been one of those days for a couple months now. It was only October and Chloe wasn't sure she could take it anymore, couldn't take Arcadia Bay for one more minute. Mom was driving her crazy with her constant worrying, step-douche was pissing her off by existing, her classmates wouldn't stop dragging her into their stupid ass drama, and Rachel Amber wasn't even fucking here. She'd been the only thing that made this town tolerable and now she was fucking gone.

Calm down Chloe. She told herself as she opened her truck back up, grabbed her bag, and threw the door shut again.

It's just a year. Finish school and then you get to blow this shithole and meet up with Rachel like she promised. One more year was practically her mantra, but it wasn't helping much, not when the days were moving glacially slow. It felt like ten years had passed already and the first semester wasn't half over yet.

She sighed and shouldered her backpack before walking across the Blackwell parking lot towards another day of classes. As she crossed onto the lawn a group of nearby students suddenly fell quiet. Chloe could feel their eyes on her as she walked by. It wasn't anything new. She was used to getting attention. After all, she was Chloe Price, the nineteen year old super senior with blue hair and a tattoo, who'd dropped out of school two years ago, only to return and start dating the most popular girl at Blackwell. A lot of people talked about her, few actually talked to her. She was used to it.

She walked a little further down the lawn when she noticed Justin sitting in his usual spot down by the sidewalk. She checked her phone. No new messages and she had enough time to go say hi. Justin was one of the few people Chloe could stand to talk to at Blackwell anymore. They weren't exactly friends since they didn't hang out or anything, but Justin was a drama free dude which put him on Chloe's list of good people. He also usually had pot and didn't mind sharing which helped his case.

"Chlo-ee, how's it hanging?" Justin said with a glazed smile. Justin was one of those guys who always looked relaxed and slightly distracted. It meant you never could really tell when the kid was high or not.

"You know, same old shit, different day," Chloe said as she walked up to him.

"Well, for a shitty day it sure is nice," Justin said with a laugh as he turned to look at the horizon. Chloe frowned and looked out herself. She'd never been one to stop and smell the roses, that had been Max's...the point was she wasn't one to stare at sunrises and crap like that.

"I guess," Chloe said.

"You want to skip morning classes? I've got a fresh supply and my board's itching for some rails." Justin said.

"It sounds tempting," Chloe admitted sadly. "But you know I can't." Justin nodded.

"Probation sucks."

"Principal Wells sucks. 'Take one step out of line and you and your poor ass our out of my elitist, prick school,'" Chloe said in her best Well's impersonation. It had been one of the agreements Wells had forced on her return. Permanent probation until she graduated. No more skipping classes or she was gone. He hadn't even wanted her back, Dr. Strong and Mom had just forced him into a corner. Normally she would have just said fuck it and given up, but she wanted to rub her diploma in Well's stupid, fat face so bad she could taste it.

Plus Rachel really wanted her to finish. Even if she wouldn't wait for her and took off for Portland. Without Chloe.

"Ha, that was pretty good," Justin said with a laugh. Chloe felt her pants buzz and every nerve in her body suddenly went on alert.

"I'll catch you later Justin," Chloe said quickly, giving him a wave before turning away. She dug her phone out and checked the text.

 

    Nathan

You're making a huge mistake bitch. When and where?

 

Chloe chuckled as she read the message. Still trying to sound all macho, but he's desperate to meet. I have him.

 

   Chloe

Tomorrow after school. Girl's restroom.

   Nathan

Whatever. You don't know what you've gotten yourself into.

 

She put the phone away with a smile. He didn't know what he got himself into. She was going to make sure he never forgot what he did to her. He was going to pay her big if he didn't want the whole town to know the heir to the Prescott family was into drugging and kidnapping girls at bars. And with money like that, she would be able to get the hell out of town the second after they handed her her piece of paper.

Chloe hefted her bag and made her way to the school entrance. She pushed open the doors and caught sight of a head of brown hair disappear around the corner, heading towards the lockers. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She closed her eyes.

You didn't see anything Chloe. Nothing.

She walked forward and when she turned the corner the brown haired girl wasn't anywhere to be seen. A wave of relief spread through her, as well as a tinge of sadness she chose to ignore. She hadn't told Dr. Strong about these particular moments. They'd started popping up about a month ago, but Chloe didn't want to talk about them. Better to just ignore it. She put her things in her locker and headed to class.


After what felt like a month, classes finally let out for the day, releasing Chloe back into the world. It was hard to be entirely happy about it though. Classes sucked, but going home to an evening of loneliness and step-douche wasn't exactly thrilling either. If she didn't have some homework she needed to get done she'd probably just go to the junkyard and blaze the whole night away. But she did have homework, so she couldn't, so today was continuing to be one of those days.

That was, until, she got to her truck and there was a girl leaning against it that shouldn't be there.

She was short and had a ponytail of dirty blond hair. She was wearing a jean jacket and those ridiculous sunglasses that cover half your face. She was supposed to be in Portland.

"Rachel?!" Chloe said, dropping her bag as the girl turned to her with a smile.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Chloe asked. She sprinted across the parking lot, not even bothering to wait for an answer. She pulled the girl into a hug, lifting her up and spinning around like she was twelve again.

Rachel raised both her hands up, screaming with laughter as she spun around. Eventually Chloe's arms gave out and Rachel awkwardly came back down to the ground.

"Can't a girl come see her girlfriend?" Rachel asked as she regained her breath.

"Any fucking time you want Rachel. Everyday. Anyday," Chloe said. She pulled Rachel into a kiss and buried her lips into Rachel's. She tasted like lipgloss and cinnamon. It was intoxicating.

"How could I not come see you, you were sounding positively pathetic in your texts," Rachel said when the kiss ended.

"I was not pathetic," Chloe said. Rachel quirked an eyebrow. She dug into her purse and took out her phone. She opened it and started reading.

"Hey Rach, hope you're up to something fun. Got nothing going here, so I'll just stare at the ceiling till I pass out," Rachel read.

"I was just telling the truth,"Chloe reasoned. Rachel stared at her and then looked back down at her phone.

"Yo Rach, been awhile since I've heard from you, hope you didn't forget about me haha," she read.

"Well it had been."

"It'd been six hours. I do work you know."

"...okay, maybe a little pathetic. I really missed you though. And you know how much this town sucks."

Rachel put her phone away and gave Chloe a smile. "I missed you too." Chloe's heart soared. The fact that someone like Rachel Amber could miss her just blew her away.

"So, do you want to go hang at the junkyard, catch up on the last month?" Rachel asked.

"Hell yeah, that sounds...shit!" Chloe said, suddenly remembering her homework.

"What's wrong?"

"I have this stupid report due in history tomorrow. I kept putting it off and now I have to do it tonight."

"Skip it? It's just one report."

"It's worth, like, a fourth of our grade though. I really can't ," Chloe tried to explain. Why couldn't she have worked on it last week? Fuck past Chloe.

"Oh," Rachel said, sounding a little disappointed. "Yeah, okay. No big. We'll just hang at your room tonight. I'm here for a whole week so we have time."

"Sorry Rach…wait did you say a week?" Chloe asked, a huge smile lighting up her face.

"What can I say, I can't help spoiling you."


Rachel was bored. It wasn't exactly Chloe's fault. She had to get her report done by tomorrow and Rachel hadn't given her any warning before showing up. Chloe was trying to finish as fast as she could, Rachel could tell. Her hands were a blur on her keyboard she was typing so fast. But still, Rachel was bored.

She glanced around the room from her position on the bed, trying to think of something to occupy herself with. There had to be something, you never knew what you could find in Chloe's room. It was an eclectic mess of posters, papers, figurines, knick knacks, and DVD's. There had to be something in here to pass the time.

And then it came to her. Rachel glanced over at Chloe. The blue-haired girl was still busy typing away and not paying her any attention. Good. She scooted off the side of the bed and looked underneath. She spotted it, the small metal box she'd always been curious about. There had to be something interesting in there. She pulled it out and put it on the bed. She looked over. Chloe was still clueless.

She opened the box and rifled through. There were some CD's, a couple pictures of Chloe's dad, a picture of Rachel (that was kinda sweet) and a large journal. She picked up the journal and opened to a random page, reading the first sentence. She almost busted out laughing. Oh, this is too good.

"I had another dream about Max last night. Big fucking surprise there. This time was a little different though. She was naked for some reason?" Rachel read out loud.

At her desk Chloe's whole body tensed. Rachel smiled, anticipating some embarrassment. That's not what she got. Chloe slammed her hand down on the desk hard as she stood up.

"Where the fuck did you get that? Give it to me," she said said, her face furious.

"Who's Max? Your first girl crush? Should I be jealous?" Rachel asked with a sly smile.

"Give me the damn journal," Chloe said, completely ignoring Rachel's playful tone. Rachel sighed and handed it over with a frown. She was just trying to have a little fun. Usually Chloe didn't care when she messed with her stuff.

"If you want to hide something, don't pick a metal box right under the bed. It was practically begging me to open it," Rachel said, trying to lighten the mood.

"How about respecting my fucking personal shit," Chloe said as she walked backed to the desk.

"Fuck Chloe, it was just a joke. Chill out."

"This," Chloe said, holding up the journal, "is not a joke," she finished, throwing the journal at her desk and sending papers flying all over. "It wasn't fucking funny Rachel."

Chloe stomped off towards the corner of her room as Rachel tried to process what the hell was going on. Chloe was known to get her rage on, David walking anywhere near her was enough to get her going most days, but it was rare for her to be genuinely angry. Especially at her.

"Chloe, I'm sorry, I didn't know okay," Rachel said. Chloe tapped her foot rapidly, silently fuming for a moment. Finally she rocked to the side and turned around.

"It's fine, just caught me by surprise," she said, but her eyes looked like thunderbolts so Rachel knew she wasn't entirely off the hook.

"This Max girl must have done a number on you." Rachel carefully probed. Chloe was usually an open book with her, it wasn't like her to keep secrets. And this was starting to smell like a pretty big secret.

"You have no idea," Chloe muttered.

"No I don't, how about my girlfriend enlightens me," Rachel said, bringing out the big guns. Chloe always got weak when Rachel brought out the g word. This time was no exception. Chloe's face softened and she sighed. She walked over to the desk and picked the journal back up. She flipped through the pages and stopped, reading whatever was written there. Finally she turned back to Rachel.

"This is a dream journal my therapist convinced me to keep for awhile. Apparently I have very vivid dreams, so she thought it might help with stuff. I don't know if it did," Chloe said. She looked up at Rachel and then handed the journal back over. "Go ahead and finish the one you were on, it explains some things. I'm gonna go get a smoke."

Rachel took the journal, her curiosity winning over Chloe's obvious discomfort. True to her word, Chloe walked out of the room right after handing the journal over. Rachel watched her walk out the door, and then started reading.

June 23, 2011

I had another dream about Max last night. Big fucking surprise there. This time was a little different though. She was naked for some reason? I mean, I've never seen her naked before but apparently I have a good imagination. Okay, I just realized how stupid that sentence was.

Anyway, she was naked and so was I. No idea why, but at the time it didn't seem so strange. It was just, I don't know, natural or something, like why wouldn't we be naked together? And we weren't doing anything weird, just talking and walking around my room like normal, only with more nakedness. It was all just normal stuff, we talked about the music I was listening to, what school was like, who was being a bitch, what we wanted to do over the weekend, just stupid shit like that. Only we were naked. And I was highly aware of naked Max, let me tell you. I was watching every move she made, every bend of her body, every turn of her wrist. I don't want to sound like some creep, but I was totally being a creep.

And when I woke up I just started bawling. Like snotty nose, crying like I was thirteen again, bawling. And it's not because apparently I might be into girls. I kinda already wondered about that. When I say a girl looks cute, I'm pretty sure I don't mean it like most girls do. And even if it turns out I'm not flying the gay flag, I don't think it's that weird to have erotic dreams about the same sex. Pretty sure that's low on the list of issues I have.

No, I cried because I missed her. I still miss her. I miss Max every fucking day and I don't think I'll ever stop. If she showed up today, I'd probably tell Dr. Strong to fuck off and go right back to hanging out with her every day.

Even though I know she isn't real. Even though I know she's just some fucked up fantasy in my head, some projection of my ideal friend, someone so perfect for me there's no way they could actually exist.

But don't worry Dr. Strong, Max isn't coming back. Because I don't think I deserve her. I'm so fucked up, I can't imagine someone perfect like Max ever wanting to hang out with Chloe fucking Price. And if I can't imagine it, then there's no way she'll show up again. Pretty convenient huh?


"Chloe," Rachel said as Chloe walked back into the room smelling strongly of cigarettes. Rachel was a little surprised that's all she smoked, but she was actually relieved. Rachel was all for blazing through problems, but she wanted to talk right now.

"Interesting read?" Chloe asked with a morbid smile, the kind that doesn't touch the eyes and just makes your face look worse.

"What is this?" Rachel said, gesturing towards the journal. She'd read a couple other entries. Some of the dreams were about Chloe's dad, who Rachel never met but could tell Chloe had adored. Some of the dreams were more normal, like first day at school gone horribly wrong type dreams. None of the dreams were happy though, with the exception of dreams about Max. Those were mostly good dreams, but they seemed to make Chloe even more upset than the nightmares from what she read.

"You know how I told you I go to therapy about my dad?" Chloe asked. Rachel nodded, it had taken Chloe a long time to admit that one. It was right before they had started dating a year ago. "Well, that was only half the truth. Max is actually the first reason I went."

"Max, who doesn't actually exist?" Rachel asked. Chloe hadn't walked further into the room, electing to stay near the doorway. She shuffled her feet for a moment and then answered Rachel's question.

"Right, she was my imaginary friend I'd guess you say. Met her in elementary school. Or made up? I guess that's more correct," Chloe said.

"Your imaginary friend?"

"Kinda cute right? Chloe Price and her imaginary friend Max?"

"I guess?" Rachel said. She'd never had an imaginary friend or ever really talked to someone who had.

"Well, at first Mom and Dad thought it was cute. Little me, running around with my imaginary friend, dressing up like a pirate. I looked happy, so they didn't really worry about it."

"But then?" Rachel prompted.

"But then I got older and older and it stopped being so cute. Middle schoolers aren't supposed to have imaginary friends. Mom and Dad, they talked to other parents and they started realizing how I treated Max wasn't how most kids treated their imaginary friends. I wasn't making friends at school, I wasn't interested in sports or clubs or anything, I just wanted to hang out with Max. Dad started getting worried something might be wrong, like I could be schizophrenic or something."

"Were you?" Rachel asked. Part of her wanted to get up, go over and hug Chloe right now. Another part of her was scared though. She knew Chloe had her issues, Rachel did too, but she never considered Chloe could be insane or something.

"No. I wasn't schizophrenic," Chloe said, almost sadly. "They don't know what caused my obsession with Max. Dad got me a therapist, but just a couple weeks later the crash happened. A couple days after Dad died Max just...vanished. I never saw her again. My therapist, Dr. Strong, she says Max disappearing is a projection, that I couldn't handle the grief from Dad dying so I made Max go away because grieving over a friend was easier to handle than grieving for Dad."

"What do you think?" Rachel asked, relaxing a little now that she knew her girlfriend wasn't seeing things anymore.

"I don't know what I think," Chloe said as she finally walked into the room. She moved back over to her desk and started picking up the papers she had strewn around. "All I know is I missed Dad and I missed Max. Losing both of them sucked hard, they were the most important people to me. Without them, I didn't even know who I was anymore. I took it hard." Rachel nodded, she knew some of this. It's why Chloe was still in high school at nineteen. She'd had a complete breakdown her sophomore year of high school and missed most of it.

"Do you still miss her?" Rachel asked, but she already was pretty sure she knew the answer. Chloe paused from picking up her papers, glancing over at Rachel with a concerned look on her face.

"I...try not to think about her anymore," Chloe said. Rachel got up from the bed and bent down to help Chloe pick up the papers, which finally brought a smile to Chloe's lips. Chloe looked so sweet when she actually smiled a real smile and not that smirk she showed to most people. It's what convinced Rachel to try dating her instead of just being friends, she got to see more of them.

"Is that why you haven't told me about her?" Rachel asked. Chloe nodded.

"I don't talk about Max with anyone, well except for Dr. Strong. I don't even talk to Mom about her anymore, whenever I did it just made her nervous, like I might have another fucking breakdown all over again."

"I'm so sorry Chloe," Rachel said. She put her arms around the taller girl. Chloe leaned against her, resting her head in the crook of her neck.

"Sorry I didn't tell you earlier Rachel," Chloe said against her.

"It's okay, I haven't told you about my first crush either," Rachel said with a laugh.


Chloe didn't see Nathan Prescott at school all day. That wasn't entirely unusual, Nathan was part of the Blackwell art snob group, while Chloe was more of a general education student so they didn't really have too many classes that overlap. Just one really. History. And it wasn't uncommon for Nathan to skip that one. Hell, Chloe used to skip history all the time. But now, with her status of permanent probation, skipping wasn't an option. Just another reason it was great to be Chloe Price.

By the end of the day Chloe was beginning to freak out. She should have seen Nathan by now. She even waited outside his last class, trying to get a peek inside to see whether he was there, but she didn't catch sight of him.

Don't freak out Chloe. He said he'd be in the girl's restroom so he will. You picked the location, you have the upper hand.

She could barely focus at all during science class. Miss Grant usually was decently engaging and Chloe liked science, but today Miss Grant might as well have been one of the adults in Peanuts.

When class was finally over Chloe shoved her things into her bag and started b-lining for the door at record speed.

"Hey Chloe!" Brooke called to her as she rushed by.

"Yeah?" Chloe asked without really even slowing down.

"You want to try out my drone? You're one of the only people who'd appreciate it. " Brooke asked.

"Another day, definitely. I gotta run though, nature calls," Chloe said as she threw the door open and bolted into the hallway. She stopped herself from running the whole way to the bathroom. When she finally got close she stopped and checked the time. She was a little early. Should she wait in the bathroom or outside to see when he went in?

After a moment's consideration she decided to wait outside. That way she could make sure he wasn't bringing reinforcements or something lame like that.

Chloe took a position across from the vending machines by the door. She had a clear view of the bathroom and was out of sight of most of the hall entrances. Hopefully Nathan wouldn't even notice her before he went in.

"They really should call those things sugar dispensers right?" A soft voice said close to Chloe. Eyes focused on the bathroom, it took a moment for Chloe to even register the person was talking to her.

"Huh? Yeah, I guess. Nothing in there's good for you," Chloe said with a distracted wave at the vending machine. She didn't even look at the person, figuring her uninterest would convince whoever it was to go away. It wasn't Nathan, that's all she cared about.

"You know, I don't think it's a great idea to go in there," the voice continued. It was a girl's voice Chloe suddenly realized, and sounded vaguely familiar.

"Go in where?" Chloe asked, only half paying attention.

"The bathroom. It's a terrible idea. I should know." Chloe blinked a couple times, her brain taking a second to register what the person was saying. When she did her eyes went wide and she quickly turned towards whoever was talking to her. She looked and her heart simply stopped working.

She was small, both short and thin, just like Chloe remembered. She looked a lot older than the last time she'd seen her, but she'd always aged right with Chloe so that wasn't surprising. She was wearing a plain grey hoodie that matched her style exactly and her hair was cut a little different, but was the same color of brown. Chloe wanted to hug her. Instead she turned away and screwed her eyes shut.

This isn't real. It isn't real. You're just nervous about meeting Nathan so you brought Max back to talk you out of it. She isn't real. You're thinking about her because of yesterday. That's all this is.

"Chloe?" Max's voice asked with a measure of concern.

"No," Chloe said, shaking her head. "No Max, just go away."

"Okay, if that's what you want. Just please Chloe, don't go in the bathroom," Max said, her voice pleading. She sounded so scared all of a sudden. Despite herself, Chloe opened her eyes, feeling irrationally guilty about making her imaginary friend sad.

But of course it was just her now. Max wasn't there. She'd never really been there.

"Fuck!" She yelled. She turned and kicked the wall hard enough to send pain shooting up her whole leg. "Fuck," she said again, quieter this time. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. It was just going to be one of those days.

Chapter Text

The young girl was crying during recess. She wasn't crying in front of anyone, she had more pride than that. She'd hidden herself around the corner of the school, with her back against the school wall.

The elementary schooler had a head of long, blond hair and clear blue eyes that were just slightly slanted. She hugged her knees against her, as her tiny frame shock occasionally.

"Why are you crying?" Asked a soft voice. The girl's body tensed as she realized she was no longer alone.

"I'm not," the girl said, her voice harsh from crying and embarrassment. "Go away." Silence followed and for a moment the girl thought maybe the other person had listened to her. She peeked over her knees.

She was a girl too, smaller than the blond, maybe younger. She had a brown ponytail and her blue eyes were looking at her with concern.

"I said go away," the blond repeated, her voice filled with venom. It had no effect on the brown-haired girl, who continued to stare at her. "Are you deaf?"

"No," the brunette answered simply.

"Then go away, I want to be alone." The brunette stared at her for a moment and then bit her lip.

"I probably should," she said finally.

"Good, then…"

"But the problem is I don't know what else to do," the brunette continued. The blond scrunched her eyebrows.

"What?"

"I've already messed it all up so…" The brunette shrugged. "Plus, I don't like seeing you cry."

"I wasn't crying," the blond repeated.

"Right," the brunette said before sitting down next to the blond. She was so close their arms brushed and the blond nervously scooted several inches away from her, which the brunette ignored.

"So what were you crying about?" The brunette asked after a moment. The blonde opened her mouth to tell her for the third time that she wasn't crying, but for some reason decided against it.

"Just classmates being stupid," she said instead. The brunette nodded like she understood completely. Now that the blond thought of it, she'd never seen this girl before. It wasn't a terribly huge school either.

"Kids can be fucking pricks," the brunette said, causing the blond girl's eyes to go wide.

"Yeah," she said back, trying to sound unimpressed with the brunette's knowledge of cuss words, images of her dad's curse jar flashing in her mind.

"Did they not like your book bag? I think it's cool," the brunette said. The blond blinked in confusion. How could she know that? The blond had had the same book bag since kindergarten, a pink Jigglypuff one she'd thought was cool but now dreaded putting on every morning. Mom refused to buy her a new one, though, since it was still fully functional.

"How did you know that?" The blond asked.

"I'm in your class," the brunette said, though the blonde knew she definitely wasn't. "My name's Max by the way."

"Chloe," Chloe said, still very confused.

"Chloe, I like that," Max said with a smile. Despite herself, Chloe found herself smiling back. Max had a nice smile.


Chloe stumbled out of the front doors of Blackwell, her eyes desperately scanning the front lawn. At this point she wasn't sure if she was looking for Max or Nathan, but she was pretty sure she didn't want to see either.

Some small, rational part of her brain begged her to go back inside and head to the bathroom, but the rest of her seemed only capable of stumbling around drunkenly.

"Earth to Ms. Price," Ms. Grant said beside her. She glanced over to see the science teacher watching her with a clipboard in hand.

"Oh, sorry Ms. Grant, have a lot on my mind at the moment," Chloe said.

"You ran out of my class like a bat out of hell."

"Sorry, you know, nature called."

"Well, if you have a minute I'd like you to take a look at this petition…" Ms. Grant began, but Chloe waved her away.

"Petition? Not my kind of thing Ms. Grant."

"It's about your…Mr. Madson's plan to put security cameras around campus. Now Blackwell is a…"

"I'll sign," Chloe said immediately, taking the clipboard. Pissing off the step-douche was something she could always get behind, and he'd blow a gasket when he saw her signature on the petition. Just the thought of it brightened up her day a little bit.

"Are you okay Chloe? You seem a little on edge," Ms. Grant asked as she took the clipboard back

"I'm fine, really, catch ya tomorrow," Chloe said as she stepped away and turned towards the lawn. Her heart was starting to calm down which was good, she'd been afraid it was going to pound right out of her chest there for awhile.

"Hey Chloe," Brooke said as she passed her. She was half looking at her, half looking at the tablet in her hand.

"Hey Brooke," Chloe said back. Brooke was as much her friend as Justin was, which meant Brooke was one of the few people that talked with her at school. Brooke seemed to think that, since they were both girls who liked science, they should get along. Chloe didn't really think that made much sense, but she dug the purple streak Brooke had in her hair so she didn't argue.

"You done going to the bathroom, want to give my drone a try?" She asked. Chloe had to admit, flying a drone did seem hella awesome, and she could use a pick-me-up.

"Hand it over nerd," Chloe said. Brooke took her through a run down of the controls and Chloe was surprised how straight-forward it all was. In no time at all Chloe had the drone flying around campus.

"What kind of drone is this?" Chloe asked, wondering what it'd take to get one herself.

"A HiFly drone, model B400 EVO," Max said. Chloe jerked.

"Fuck!" She continued as she lost her hold on the tablet.

"Chloe!" Brooke yelled as Chloe ungracefully juggled the tablet for a couple seconds before getting hold of it again. "Are you okay?" Brooke asked.

"Y-yeah," Chloe managed to get out as she glanced over and found Max standing right beside her. "Just almost hit a tree," she mumbled as Max looked back at her, an innocent smile on her face. Chloe glared at her, but that only seemed to make Max smile wider.

"Well don't, it's kind of expensive," Brooke said nervously.

"Right, no problem," Chloe said, but she was barely looking at the screen anymore. Her eyes were on Max, all her senses going into overdrive as her brain desperately tried to figure out how it should be responding.

"Chloe?" Brooke asked after a moment, breaking Chloe out of her paralysis.

"Yeah?" She asked as she wrenched her eyes off Max and turned to Brooke.

'You're, uh, flying straight up now," Brooke said, pointing at the tablet. Chloe glanced down and saw only clouds on the screen.

"Shit," Chloe said. "I think you better take this back." She handed the tablet back to Brooke, who took it with a relieved look on her face. "Thanks Brooke."

"Sure," Brooke said, but Chloe couldn't help but notice she didn't offer another drone flying session. She grabbed her bag and walked away, noticing Max following behind her out of the corner of her eye. She walked further down the lawn till she was certain Brooke wasn't paying attention to her anymore. Then she whirled on Max.

"I told you to go away," she spat at the girl.

"I did," Max said. Chloe just gestured at her presence, too dumbfounded and pissed off to form coherent sentences. "Oh, well I came back of course," Max clarified.

"Why?" Chloe pleaded, desperate for this nightmare to end.

"Sorry Chloe, but I still have some things I have to do," Max said, almost sounding sad. Chloe opened her mouth, a thousand questions forming in her mind, but then clamped it shut.

This isn't real. You're better now Chloe. You don't need Max. Chloe reminded herself. She exhaled deeply, turned on her toes, and starting walking towards the parking lot. She didn't turn around to check if Max was following. She was.

"Are you going to your truck? That's a good idea," Max said beside her. She tried to ignore her, she really did, but curiosity finally won out.

"Why is that a good idea?" Chloe asked with a sigh.

"Well, you didn't meet up with Nathan. Thanks for that by the way, you have no idea. But, I don't think Nathan's going to be too fucking happy that you stood him up. Probably best to get off campus and let him cool off." Chloe glanced back at the school doors.

"Fuck, you think so?" Chloe asked. Max shrugged.

"It's possible," she said. Chloe opened her mouth, but then slammed it shut again. No Chloe, this is exactly what you were trying to avoid.

She picked up her pace. She didn't really think she could run away from Max, she existed in her head or something like that, so it was one of those 'you can run but you can't hide' kind of things. That didn't mean she wasn't going to try though.

"I'll see you later Chloe!" She heard Max call out behind her. She stopped dead in her tracks, the simple promise sending waves of panic through her. She turned around and wasn't at all surprised that Max wasn't there anymore.


By the time she made it back to the truck she was dying for a cigarette. Actually she was dying for something a little stronger but tobacco was all she had and she'd settle for it.

Her hands shook slightly as she held the cigarette up to her mouth and lit it. She breathed a small sigh of relief as the smoke smell filled her truck. Now, next stop on the Chloe sanity train.

She picked up her phone and dialed Rachel.

"Wondered when I'd be hearing from you," Rachel said when the call picked up.

"I'm ready for girlfriend time," Chloe said as she sunk into the seat of her truck.

"Bad day?" Rachel asked. Chloe silently weighed the pros and cons of telling Rachel everything and then decided telling your girlfriend you might be going insane again probably wasn't a great choice.

"No worse than normal," Chloe said.

"Well, I'm at the junkyard waiting on your ass, get over here."

"Yes ma'am!" Chloe said with a smile and hung the phone up. She put it down, buckled on her seatbelt and started her truck. When she looked up she noticed Nathan coming down the parking lot steps, his eyes scanning the cars. When he saw her truck he started heading right towards her.

No big deal Chloe, you wanted to talk to him anyway. This works out.

Is what she thought, but instead her foot hit the gas and she sped across the parking lot at record speeds. At least record speeds for a rusted, barely working truck. As she pulled away, Nathan started screaming, waving angrily at her. When he did, she noticed something metallic glint in his hands. Chloe's eyes went wide when she realized he was holding a gun.

"Holy shit, that was close," Chloe muttered to herself as she pulled out onto the street and sped away.

"Yeah it was," Max said from the passenger seat.

"Son of a bitch!" Chloe cussed, her hands squeezing tightly on the steering wheel as her heart went into overdrive. At this rate she was going to have a heart attack before the day was done and they'd probably blame the cigarettes on it.

"You need to stop doing that," Chloe said, completely pissed off. Was this just going to keep happening?

"I can't help it," Max said unsympathetically.

"Oh, don't act like you didn't enjoy it," Chloe said darkly as she rolled down her window and threw what remained of her cigarette out. Beside her Max giggled. For a moment all of Chloe's irritation and apprehension vanished as a thousand memories flooded into her mind, memories of a time when she would have done anything to hear Max laugh like that.

For a moment, and then it was gone.

"What are you doing in my car, Max?" Chloe asked flatly.

"Are you going home?" Max asked instead, ignoring Chloe's question. Chloe glanced over at her. She was staring out the window, watching the buildings as they flashed by. The smart thing to do would be to ignore her, fake it till she made it, till Max went away again.

"No, I'm meeting up with Rachel in the junkyard," Chloe found herself saying instead.

"Oh," Max said, sounding surprised. She glanced over at Chloe. "Yeah okay. Could I, maybe, ask a favor then?" Max asked. Her face didn't look too optimistic about the idea.

"You can ask, I don't promise to give it," Chloe said back. Max nodded.

"That's, yeah I understand that. Could you meet me by the lighthouse later tonight, a little before the sun sets, when it's really bright?" Max asked. Chloe blinked, completely caught off guard by the question.

"Can't you just appear wherever I am later?" Chloe asked.

"No, it has to be there."

"Alone or can I bring Rachel?" Chloe asked. Like hell she would ever consider bringing Rachel to see her imaginary friend, but she was curious what Max would say.

"Umm, alone would be better. So we can talk about some things."

"So what am I going to tell my girlfriend who just drove from Portland to be with me?" Chloe asked.

"I...don't know," Max admitted. She sounded completely dejected now and some part of Chloe's heart broke a little, but the rest of her ignored it.

"So I'm just supposed to abandon my real life girlfriend to go watch the sunset with my not real, ex best friend? And I thought I liked to get high," Chloe said sarcastically.

"Just...consider it okay? I'd appreciate it."

"You know what I'd appreciate, if you would just fucking…" Chloe paused as she realized Max wasn't there anymore, it was just her in the car. "...leave." Chloe finished, feeling more pissed off now then when Max was there.

Chloe reached down and turned on the radio. She turned to the loudest song she had and cranked up the volume.


Chloe was smoking when she walked into the junkyard. It was her second cigarette since Max vanished again, her third since leaving Blackwell. She needed something stronger. She headed through the tangle of broken metal until she arrived at the her and Rachel's shack. She walked up to the open doorway and knocked on the side of the wall.

From the coach inside the shack, Rachel looked up at her and smiled. She was as gorgeous as ever and just seeing her melted away some of the unease Chloe was feeling.

"So what has Rachel Amber been up to today?" Chloe said as way of greeting.

"Getting supplied for the week," Rachel said with a smirk. She reached down beside her and brought up a plastic baggie that was delightfully full. Chloe took her cigarette out of her mouth and threw it on the ground, stomping on it with her boot.

"I knew I loved you," she said with a smile.

"I do know the way to Chloe's heart."

They moved up to the boat, the highest part of the junkyard. They brought a blanket and pillows and made themselves comfortable on the deck, staring up at the sky.

"What else did you do? See anyone?" Chloe asked as she rolled the first joint.

"Frank, when I got us this," Rachel said.

"No one else?"

"No. I was going to you know? But for some reason I just couldn't get into it," Rachel said. Chloe flicked her lighter and held it up to the joint as she breathed in a couple times. She passed the lit joint to Rachel who accepted it gratefully. "I don't know, it just feels like my life here is just some distant dream, like it happened to someone else. Coming back here, it's so surreal. I feel like if I just pinched myself hard enough I'll wake up in my bed in Portland."

"Well, I'm glad you won't," Chloe said as she started rolling her own.

"It does feel good being with you again Chloe," Rachel said reassuringly. "So what was your day like?"

Chloe didn't have much to say about her day, at least not when she cut out all the parts that involved Max. Talking to Rachel about school made her feel like a child. Who wanted to hear about high school when you were out in the real world?

Instead, Chloe changed the subject to what Rachel was up to in Portland, a subject that Rachel quickly latched on to. She talked about her small apartment that cost way too much, her crappy job working at the salon, learning how to cook because she couldn't live off takeout forever, and her modeling gigs.

The last subject was easily her favorite. Chloe had heard most of this, but talking about it in person beat the shit out of talking about it on the phone. Rachel hadn't gotten anything big, just a couple magazine ads, but her whole face lit up as she talked about it. Chloe marveled as she watched Rachel, mesmerized by the passion in the girl. There wasn't a single thing in her life Chloe cared about as much as Rachel cared about modeling.

As the conversation continued, however, Chloe couldn't quiet a growing sense of unease. Rachel had a whole life in Portland already and it was only October. It would be months before Chloe could join her. What was she even supposed to do when she got there? She could go to college, maybe get into some kind of science program, but four more years of school seemed pretty lame compared to Rachel's life. What else could she do? She was so desperate to get out of Arcadia, but she was starting to realize she had no idea what she wanted to do once she did. Eventually she fell completely silent, just listening to Rachel talk and watching the sun slowly make it's way further and further through the sky.

"So what was Max like?" Rachel asked suddenly. Chloe glanced nervously around, almost afraid talking about her might summon her. She breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't see even one strand of brown hair.

"What are you asking that for?" Chloe asked.

"Well she was your ideal friend, you said so. Makes me a little curious. What does Chloe's ideal friend look like?" Rachel asked with a slight giggle. Chloe was still on her first joint, not finding it as appealing as she thought she would. Rachel, however, was well into her second and was starting to act like it.

"I don't know, the opposite of me," Chloe said, irritated at the conversation.

"Opposites attract, kinky," Rachel said with a wide smile.

"Dr. Strong thinks Max represents everything I wish I could be. Like I'm always upsetting people, can't keep my mouth shut, but Max was always real reserved and quiet and would try to get me to see the best in people."

"Mhmm, what else?" Rachel asked.

"She was artistic. Like, I'd walk out back and I'd just see the backyard, barely even notice it. But Max would stop me and tell me to bend this certain way and look right at this angle and suddenly I'd see this blade of grass or some shit with a drop of dew on it that was reflecting the both of us with the sun behind us and it would just be like fuck, that's beautiful. Like, that just made my whole fucking day and not in a million years would I have noticed it."

"She sounds pretty awesome," Rachel said.

"She was," Chloe said quietly. The sun, she noticed, was getting pretty low. Another hour and the sun would start setting. "Have you seen your parents?" Chloe asked. Beside her, Rachel's smile faltered.

"No," Rachel said, sounding a little annoyed.

"They're going to find out you're in town if they haven't already. You should probably stop by before they get pissed," Chloe said.

"Is Chloe Price giving me parent advice?" Rachel said, getting closer to angry than irritated now.

"I'm just saying, you could get it out of the way. I'll get all my homework for the week squared away, then we can spend the rest of the week just doing shit like this," Chloe said. It wasn't a lie, she really would do all her homework tonight even if she had to go without sleep. It felt like a lie though and part of her hated it the moment it left her lips.

Rachel glanced over at her and then got up to her feet. "If that's what you want to do," Rachel said coldly as she flicked what was left of her joint out and over the boat.

"Rachel…" Chloe said, getting up on her feet as well.

"I'll see you tomorrow Chloe," Rachel said. Chloe went in for a kiss, but Rachel shook her head and walked across the plank and off the boat.

"You're a fucking idiot Price," Chloe said to herself as Rachel walked down the hill and out towards the exit. "Big surprise."


"There's a sunrise and a sunset every day Caulfield. They aren't that special," Chloe said as she reached the top of the lighthouse trail. Max was seated at the lighthouse bench, her eyes glued to the horizon.

"Some are, because the day they rise and set on are special," Max said as she turned to look at Chloe, her face lit up with a smile as radiant as the sun behind her. It was almost enough to make Chloe not feel like a pile of worthless shit. Almost.

"What? You think today is one of those special days?" Chloe asked as she walked around and sat down on the bench beside Max.

"Of course, today I got to be with my best friend again," Max said, turning back towards the sea. Chloe glanced over at her, a thousand thoughts running through her mind.

"If you were a real friend, and not…whatever you are, I'd be pissed at you right now," Chloe said. Max looked over at her.

"Well…don't give me a free pass just because I'm imaginary," Max said.

"You sure you want to get into this, didn't you have something you wanted to talk about?"

"This is what I wanted to talk about. Us. I think...it might get busy after this."

"Okay," Chloe said, nodding her head rapidly like an engine revving for a big race. "Okay, fine." Chloe slammed her hands on her legs and then stood up. She pointed a finger at Max. "Fuck you Max," she said. Max stared back at her impassive, as if expecting it. It just pissed Chloe off even more.

"No, seriously, fuck you. You were there, for every shitty thing that ever happened to me, you were there, and you always knew exactly what to say." Chloe turned away from her and walked out towards the cliff. "I mean, of course you did, because you have access to my brain. But still, you helped me through everything. But then when Dad…" Chloe paused, the rest of the sentence sticking in her throat. She whirled around.

"I needed you Max! If there was a time I needed someone, that was it. I was lost, and all of a sudden I was completely alone. You can't...you can't make somebody need you and then...fucking walk out of their life like it's nothing."

"It wasn't nothing Chloe, I…" Max began.

"You don't understand!" Chloe screamed. She turned and kicked a rock, sending it flying out into the ocean below. She advanced on Max, getting right in her face.

"You don't understand what that did to me. If you could walk out on me, if my own imaginary friend thought I was worth so little, then how could a real person ever want…" Max reached out and took hold of Chloe's wrist, the small warmth of her hands radiating through her. It took her breath away. When was the last time Max had touched her? She didn't even realize how much she missed it.

Chloe's anger drained away, consumed by the hole inside her that never seemed to go away. She sat down on the grass, her legs suddenly not strong enough to support her anymore. She looked over at Max as her vision blurred. Max carefully got off the bench and sat down beside her. She didn't met Chloe's eyes, but her hand didn't leave her arm.

"Chloe, I was a shitty friend. That's on me. Me leaving, that says how worthless am. You are amazing Chloe Price. I don't deserve…I don't deserve to be here talking to you. You're worth the world Chloe. And this week, I'm going to prove it to you okay? I don't want you Chloe, I need you too," she said. She raised her face to look at Chloe, her eyes filled with tears.

"If that, if you needed me, then why did you leave Max? How was I supposed to make friends after I had you? How could anyone understand me the way you did? You...ruined me Max. Why couldn't you stay?"

"I won't make excuses Chloe. I've made mistakes, so many mistakes. I don't get the luxury of choices anymore. I need you to understand that. But I never, ever, mean to hurt you."

"Max, what are…" Chloe stopped as something cold tickled her nose. Her eyes scrunched in confusion as she looked up at the sky. "What the hell?" She said as she watched the snowflakes lazily falling down. She stood up and held out both her hands, catching flakes in her palms. "Its like 80 degrees out here, how is it snowing?" She asked. Max stayed seated on the ground, her eyes watching Chloe's face with a sad smile on her lips.

"Max, are you seeing this?" Chloe asked, eyes turned upward towards the heavens. Max watched as the snowflakes peppered Chloe's face, melting into droplets that reflected the bright orange of the setting sun.

"Yeah, it's beautiful," Max said softly. Chloe paused and then looked down at Max, their eyes meeting. A small blush formed on Chloe's cheeks as they stared at one another, the snow falling between them.

Chloe's pants buzzed and she cussed quietly as dug her phone out of her pants, the moment, whatever it was, passing.

"Its Rachel," Chloe said as she looked at her phone.

"Better answer it, she's probably freaked out about the snow," Max said.

"Max?" Chloe asked, not even sure what her question was.

"Go ahead, tomorrow morning at the Two Whales before classes, I'll be there if you want to talk."

They stood there for awhile, Chloe, not knowing what to say, Max, patiently waiting, Rachel, buzzing in Chloe's hand.

"Okay," Chloe said. Max nodded, a small smile on her face. Then Chloe answered the phone and turned away.

"Rachel? Yeah. I know!" Chloe said as she started walking down the path. "It's snowing here too. It's completely batshit, it's hot as balls outside. Yeah."

Chloe paused as she reached the map of the town, their pirate fort crudely drawn in permanent marker catching her eye. She turned back towards the lighthouse, expecting Max to already be gone.

She wasn't. She was standing now, right next to the cliff edge with her back to Chloe, staring out at the bay before her. Against the sun she looked like nothing more than a pale, thin shadow, as if the breeze could dissolve her into mist.

"Huh? Yeah, where are you?" Chloe asked as she watched. "Okay, stay there, I'm on my way." She hung the phone up.

She watched a moment more.

Then she turned and walked back down the path.

Chapter Text

Audio Recording Chloe Price Session 11-17-2008

"Did Max ever ask you to do something Chloe?

"Well yeah, she'd want to watch movies or swing or whatever."

"Like any friend would."

"Right."

"But did she ever ask you to do something you didn't want to do? Did she ever talk you into doing things?"

"Well sometimes I'd want to go outside but she'd say we had to play inside or vice versa. Or she'd want to go to the lighthouse or something. She could be bossy sometimes."

"But not too different from a normal friend."

"Yeah. Well, I guess there was this one game we played a couple times that she was insistent on."

"Yes."

"She'd write letters."

"Letters?"

"Yeah, and she'd have me deliver them."

"Deliver them?"

"Like, I'd steal stamps from Mom and sneak them into the mailbox. She'd dare me to. Kind of a weak dare if you ask me."


October 8 2013

Chloe woke up and immediately knew something was different this morning. She lay awhile, her eyes closed, trying to figure out what it was. She felt good, really good, and not just 'I got stoned last night' good. When was the last time she'd woken up this happy? Then she heard breathing, someone else's breathing. Oh, of course, that's what was different. She wasn't alone.

Chloe rolled over and looked at the woman sleeping soundly beside her. Rachel Amber might be the definition of perfection when she was awake, but when she was sleeping it was a different matter entirely. Her mouth hung open, her covers were haphazardly scattered around her, and the way she was sprawled out didn't look comfortable at all. Despite all that, she still managed to look unbelievably attractive in a girl-next-door kind of way. The fact that she was currently topless and the sheets were pulled down to her stomach definitely helped out.

Chloe smiled to herself. The night had started out rocky. As predicted, Rachel's parental visit did not go well. Rachel's dad didn't get along with Rachel's mom, Rachel's mom couldn't stand to be in the same room as Rachel's dad, and both of them thought Rachel was throwing her life away trying to be a model.

Luckily, the excitement of a freak snowstorm and some stoned sex helped mend the bridges. It's what made their relationship work so well, both of them liked running away from problems so they hardly ever fought.

Chloe watched as Rachel's chest rose and fell. The early morning sun shone through the tattered American flag, giving the whole room a red glow. It was easily the best morning Chloe had had in months. And yet something was still off.

Despite everything, despite how good Rachel looked in her bed, Chloe's mind wandered to a brown-haired girl standing beside a lighthouse. Chloe groaned and leaned up until she was sitting upright, her head cradled in her hands. Max was back, back in a big way and Chloe couldn't stop her. To be honest she wasn't even sure if she wanted to. That was the scariest part.

Chloe's mind was spiraling. Her whole life there had only been three people Chloe could really count on, who could talk her down from the cliff when life was more than she could handle. One was dead, one didn't exist, and the other was lying here beside her.

But Max was the problem and she couldn't talk to Rachel about it. She wasn't naive, she had seen the look Rachel gave her when they talked about Max. She had been terrified. And she'd looked way too relieved to learn her girlfriend wasn't schizo. The last thing Chloe wanted to do was change that opinion.

The easy answer was to blow off Max. There were a million reasons why meeting her was incredibly stupid, not the least of which was it meant lying to Rachel. And if she screwed up the only good thing that'd happened to her in the last five years...

But then she thought of the way Max looked at her yesterday during that crazy snowstorm. Not even Rachel had ever looked at her that way. She had to see Max. It wasn't because she was falling for her imaginary friend, not that. But some part of her had decided she needed Max back, had needed Max to look at her that way. She had to understand. She had to know why Max was back. And she couldn't tell Rachel about it. That meant there was only one option.

Fuck Chloe, what the hell are you doing?

At least one part of her plan was easy. She didn't have morning classes because the English teacher had had some kind of mental breakdown so she had plenty of time to meet up with Max. She felt for Mrs. Hoida, she knew all too well about breakdowns, but it was helping her out today.

She sighed heavily and rolled out of bed. She moved over to her drawer and pulled out a bra as she heard Rachel stirring behind her.

"Now what are you doing that for?" Rachel asked as Chloe hooked the clasps of her bra together.

"Because I have to go to class," Chloe said with a glance back at Rachel. She was leaning up on her hands and staring at Chloe, the angle doing very generous things to her chest. Chloe didn't know how Rachel did it. When Chloe got out of bed she looked like it, but Rachel had gone from a drooling, snoring bum to breathtakingly gorgeous in mere moments.

"Right, forgot my little high schooler has class in the morning," Rachel said, her eyes dancing.

"Okay, that just sounds so wrong," Chloe muttered as she turned around and grabbed one of her abundant t-shirts. She quickly checked the front to make sure there weren't any cuss words and then threw it over her head.

"Wait, does that mean I had sex with a high schooler last night?" Rachel continued.

"You're enjoying this way too much you sick perv," Chloe said as she moved on to her pants drawer.

"Just be thankful you're so good at spooning, I've almost completely forgiven you for last night," Rachel said with the perfect amount of pout in her voice.

"Whatever, you're hella going to regret this when I have to spend the rest of the week doing nothing but homework," Chloe said as she pulled on one of her several pairs of black pants.

"Oh, I don't think you're going to get all of that homework done," Rachel said as Chloe heard her slide out of bed. Arms slid down the front of her shirt, tanned and perfect, until they came to rest on the edge of her jeans. "I can be very persuasive," Rachel whispered in her ear as she played with her jeans button. To say it had an effect on Chloe would have been a vast understatement. Rachel was good at what she did, last night proved that. But damned if she was going to let Rachel win.

"Yeah, well, you're going to have to step up your game Rach, I want grade A seduction, nothing less is getting you in these pants," Chloe said as straight as she could manage when her whole body was saying something very different. She turned to the side and slid out of Rachel's arms.

"You're no fun Chloe Price," Rachel said. She took a step towards Chloe. Chloe took a step back.

"Oh, I'm a fucking blast, don't lie to me. At least when I don't have classes. Which I believe you convinced me to do," Chloe countered. Rachel put her arms behind her back and swayed slightly. More of Chloe's resolve crumbled away.

"In hindsight, I may have made a mistake," Rachel said with a smile that could convince the fucking Pope to give up his vow of chastity.

"There should be some leftover breakfast in the fridge for you if you want, I'll see you after classes okay?" Chloe said, surprising even herself with her
willpower. Rachel sighed, admitting defeat.

"Yeah yeah, get to class little girl," Rachel said as Chloe turned and practically bolted down the stairs. Rachel smiled to herself, it was always cute when Chloe got amped up like that. She may act like the uncaring punk, but there was still an excitable little kid buried beneath that black and blue. Rachel turned to go fetch her clothes when she caught sight of Chloe's class schedule taped to the side of her blue desk. She paused a moment, reading the Tuesday line-up, her eyes lingering on the crossed-out morning class. The smile on her lips died as she frowned in confusion.


Chloe's eyes quickly scanned the booths and she spotted Max instantly, over on the right in their usual spot. They'd sat there so many times she'd have been stunned to find her anywhere else. Chloe closed her eyes a moment and tried to swallow all the doubt, nervousness, and guilt that came welling up inside her. She failed horribly. She opened her eyes again to find Max staring at her with a confused look on her face.

Fuck it.

"Chloe, how's it hanging?" Chloe suddenly heard beside her. It took everything in her not to jump out of her skin. She'd been so
focused on Max she hadn't even noticed Justin sitting there with Trevor.

"Pretty good, see you're making the best of the free morning," Chloe said with what she hoped passed as her normal smirk.

"You know it, bacon's almost as good as a morning bake."

"Like you haven't already done that today," Chloe said evenly as she brought her hand up.

"Ah, you know me too well," Justin said, smacking her hand as she walked by.

"Trevor," Chloe said with a nod. "Make sure he gets to class on time."

"I'll try Chloe," Trevor said with a laugh.

"So, Maximus, what brings us to this fine establishment today," Chloe said as she sat down across from Max in the booth.

"Maximus, that brings me back," Max said with a laugh.

"Well, if we're hanging again you better get used to it," Chloe said as she leaned back in her seat.

"So, we're hanging again?" Max asked.

"I'd call this hanging, wouldn't you? Not like I had much better to do today," Chloe said, though her mind instantly thought of Rachel topless in her bed. Fuck did she have better things to do today. But here she was.

"So, what did you want...fuck," Chloe said as she saw her mom heading towards their booth. How in the mother fucking world did you forget Mom was working here this morning? How did this never cross your mind?

"Chloe, good to see you up and out of bed before class. Where's Rachel?" Joyce asked as she reached the table.

"Uh, still at home," Chloe said.

"You left her at our house while you came here to sneak a free breakfast?" Joyce said, her face instantly turning sour. Across from her,
Max watched her and Joyce with a strange expression on her face. Chloe couldn't quite place it, but she didn't look happy.

"Well, I…"

"Because I'm sure you don't mean to pay for any of the food you're about to ask for?"

"I thought that was just one of the perks of the job, free food for the family?" Chloe said with a winning smile. Joyce leveled her best Mom glare in return.

"Toast and some bacon, that's all you get," she said finally and walked off.

"Whatever," Chloe muttered.

"I kinda miss the days she'd pretend to talk to me when you were younger," Max said after she left.

"Feeling nostalgic?"

"I suppose I am. I've missed Arcadia Bay, missed you."

"So, what does that mean? You're in my head or something right, does that mean I'm feeling nostalgic?"

"You're nineteen now, that's the first year you get to feel nostalgic," Max said with a smirk, some of her melancholy draining away.

"Nineteen, but still in high school. Pretty sure that disqualifies me."

"It's good you're finishing now though, I was happy to hear that."

"Oh yes, it's been a blast," Chloe muttered.

"So, Rachel spent the night?" Max asked suddenly. She put her hands on the table and glanced out the window, trying to look uninterested. Chloe knew better, she knew Max too well for that. What she didn't know was why Max cared.

"That's what girlfriends do," Chloe said.

"Sorry to drag you away from her," Max said with a glance her way.

"Hey, a promise was a promise, not a big deal," Chloe said as she glanced over at Joyce. Luckily Joyce still had her back turned to them, but this was getting dicey. If she saw Chloe talking to an empty booth seat…

"Did you have to pick this diner though? It couldn't be more obvious I'm talking to myself," Chloe said.

"Some people say talking to yourself is a sign of intelligence," Max countered.

"My therapist would disagree with you, and so would my Mom," Chloe said meaningfully as Joyce turned back towards them with a plate of food.

"Here you go, make sure you're not late for class," Joyce said as she put the plate down. True to her word there was only a slice of toast and two lonely strips of bacon.

"Thanks," Chloe muttered unconvincingly.

"You're welcome," Joyce said firmly and then walked away.

"Look, Chloe, I know I'm causing you problems being here. Imaginary friends don't usually stick around into adulthood," Max said sadly as she watched Chloe slowly eat her bacon strips.

"Well that's very considerate of you Max," Chloe said a bit more irritable than she meant to. The whole situation was making her uncomfortable.

"I know, and everything you said last night was true. I've not been the best of friends to you, and I know I did a number on you when I left."

"These are facts."

"But everything I did was for a reason. This week, it's the reason." Chloe sucked the grease off her fingers, staring at Max with a blank expression. She picked up her piece of toast.

"Oh, this should be good," Chloe said.

"Chloe, I have to tell you something and you aren't going to believe it." Chloe waved her hand impatiently, prompting Max to continue.

"I can predict the future," Max said. Chloe paused, toast half in her mouth.

"You can…"

"Predict the future," Max finished for her confidently. Chloe stared at her for a moment and then sat the toast down on her plate.

"Seriously, that's what you went with? Five years and that's the best you could come up with? And what does predict even mean? Isn't it supposed to be tell the future?"

"I can predict. I've already changed some things so it doesn't always go how I think it will."

'So, you finally get the chance to explain everything and you go with 'I can kinda sorta tell the future maybe'?"

"Yes?" Max said with an apologetic smile.

"Huh, I really thought my imagination was better than that," Chloe said with a shrug. She glanced back over at Joyce and noticed she was walking back towards her booth again. She picked up her toast and shoved it into her mouth, trying her best to look like someone who wasn't having a conversation with herself.

"You never believe me, not at first," Max said with a smug smile. "But you will." Chloe kept her mouth shut as Joyce walked by and waved at her. She was already regretting this decision. This was the reason she skipped out on Rachel, so she could come here and confirm she was losing it?

"The trucker bumps Joyce as she walks by, breaks the mug," Max said suddenly, her eyes on Chloe.

"What?" Chloe asked with a mouth full of toast. Behind her came the crash of broken ceramic followed by a masculine "Oops." Chloe's eyes scrunched in confusion.

"Did you break another cup? Really? No refill for you!" Joyce said as Chloe turned towards her with a look of horror.

"Max?" She asked while she watched Joyce move on.

"Police's radio goes off. His partner leaves without him," Max continued, still watching Chloe.

"Shit, now I gotta take this call and leave my breakfast," the police officer said as outside the police car's sirens went off. Chloe's head whipped around to look out the window as the car took off onto the street. Her mouth gaped open as half-eaten toast fell into her lap.

"Trevor and Justin get in a fight, your Mom has to break it up," Max said. Chloe turned to Max, staring at her like she'd just sprouted tentacles out of her head.

"You're a dick," came Trevor's voice.

"Don't slap me bitch!" Justin retorted. Chloe didn't turn around this time, her eyes were on Max who stared back at her in utter calm.

"Take your fight club outside!" Joyce said, breaking the two up.

"Max, how are you…" Chloe began

"A roach crawls on the jukebox," Max interrupted. She didn't turn around, continuing to stare at Chloe. Chloe's eyes flicked to the jukebox. "The song switches...now," Max said as the music suddenly lurched into a country ballet.

"Good, none of that changed. I'm a little impressed I remembered it all. It's been awhile," Max said quietly as Chloe slowly turned back towards her. "Well, what do you think? Still say kinda predicting the future is lame?" Max asked with an innocent smile.

Chloe jerked up to her feet as if struck by lightning. Using the pole beside the booth to steady herself, she slowly backed away from Max, her eyes bugging out of her head.

"You're causing a scene Chloe, you should probably sit back down," Max said calmly. Chloe shook her head before glancing around. Most of the diner was staring at her now, including a concerned looking Joyce. Chloe looked back at Max. She had a concerned look on her own. She slowly gestured towards Chloe's seat, inviting her back into the booth. Chloe turned and ran for the door.


March 24 2008

"Hey Max?" Chloe asked as they lay back to back in Chloe's bed. They'd already spent most the day together, but tonight Max said she could spend the night. Chloe loved it when Max spent the night. Her bed always felt so empty when Max wasn't there.

"Yeah, Chloe?" Max asked. Chloe could hear her breathing slightly behind her, feel her warmth pressed against her back, could feel the girl's toes as they lightly brushed her leg. There wasn't anything weird about it, it was how they'd slept for as long as Chloe could remember, but for some reason the sensations tonight were keeping her up. Not that she would complain, the last thing she wanted was for Max to stop.

"I was thinking, about stuff Dad said to me yesterday."

"Oh?" Max asked, sounding curious. Max had always liked Dad a lot. Sometimes she'd talk to him, tell a joke Chloe just knew he'd love, and then almost look sad when Dad walked right past her. When Chloe was younger she'd tell him what Max had said and he'd always find it really funny and say something like 'Max is pretty clever' and that'd cheer Max up a little. These days Chloe didn't tell him. She tried not to bring up Max at all.

"It's just, I know I've asked you before, but are you sure you're not real?" Chloe asked, already knowing the answer.

"...What do I always say?" Max asked after a moment.

"You're a real friend even if you're not a real person. That's still lame as hell by the way."

"I thought it was clever…"

"It's just...you feel real. Right now. I feel you laying here with me. You're my best friend. I just…it would be so much easier if you were."

"Hey Chloe," Max said, shifting in the bed beside her. Chloe turned over and looked into the younger girl's blue eyes. Just for a moment, then she glanced down. For some reason making eye contact with Max lately made her feel nervous.

Max leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her. Chloe couldn't feel it though; Max might as well have been air. That was the weird thing about her, sometimes she felt so real, and other times she felt like a ghost.

"I'm sorry I can't be more real for you, Chloe. I really wish I could. You hella deserve it." Chloe laughed softly at Max's hella. She said it so often even Chloe had started using it.

"It's okay Max, you're real enough. And you're still my best friend, no matter what."

"No matter what huh?" Max said softly, sadly for some reason. Chloe pulled back from her and gave her a stern look.

"Of course, I hella love you, idiot," Chloe said with a laugh.

"I love you too Chloe Price," Max said, only she said it a lot more seriously than Chloe. Chloe felt her cheeks burn and thanked God it was dark right now.

"Whatever Maxipad, now quit with the mushy stuff and let me get some rest," Chloe huffed out before laying back down.

"I think you started this conversation," Max said with a laugh before settling down beside her. It took another hour before Chloe fell asleep, with the feeling of Max's toes on her leg.


October 8 2013

Chloe wasn't surprised when she heard the sound of crunching feet approaching her junkyard hideout. It was only a matter of time before one of them showed up. The only question was would it be Rachel or…

Max peeked her head around the open doorway. Her eyes scanned the room slowly before settling on Chloe. She waved her hand shyly. She stayed by the shack entrance, looking nervous. She was a smart girl.

Chloe took one last drag off her joint, Rachel had hidden their stash here so step-douche couldn't find it, before putting it out in the ashtray.

"I see you're processing," Max said. She talked slowly and quietly as if Chloe was a deer that might run off at any minute. Which, all things considered, Chloe guessed was fair.

"I thought you couldn't follow me," Chloe said finally.

"I didn't, but I hoped you'd be here," Max replied. Max waited, her eyes avoiding Chloe as they combed over the room. Chloe sighed. Whether she meant to or not Max was blocking the only exit so it wasn't like she could run again. And…maybe she'd had enough time to process everything, or maybe the weed had dulled her sense of fear and self-preservation, but she really was curious.

"Fine, fuck, just come in," Chloe said as she slumped against the ruined couch. Max nodded in appreciation, a small smile brightening her face, and she walked in.

She moved slowly around the room. She didn't touch anything, just looked over everything, taking it all in. She stopped at the graffiti sign across from Chloe, the one that read 'Chloe was here. Rachel was here.' She stared at it for a long moment as if considering something. Finally, Chloe couldn't take it anymore.

"This spot is kinda Rachel and I's hide-a-way, a spot only for us," Chloe said. Honestly, it felt a little wrong having Max here, like she was breaking some kind of covenant. Not just with Rachel, but with herself. This was the one place she could run from all her problems. Blackhell, step-douche, mom, she could run away from all of them here. And Max. Max had never come here, the one place in Arcadia Bay she didn't have memories of her. Until today.

"Sorry for intruding," Max said quietly. She turned away from the graffiti and back to Chloe. She looked a little shy, maybe a touch uncomfortable to anyone else, but Chloe knew her well enough, even after all these years. She was close to crying. Chloe could tell from the way she was drawn in on herself, the way her eyes stayed glued to the floor, how her hand clawed anxiously at her elbow.

"It's, it's fine okay? Don't worry about it. Would have shown it to you eventually anyway. Can't keep the coolest place in Arcadia from you," Chloe said gruffly. God, one puppy dog look and I fold over like a damn paper crane.

"Really? Thanks Chloe," Max said, her whole face lighting up. The smile on her lips dispelled the last of Chloe's reservations.

"Yeah, yeah, sit the fuck down so we can talk Caulfield," Chloe said with a wave at the chair. Max walked over and sat, looking a little too innocent for this
trashed out den.

"I do like this place Chloe, it suits you," Max said.

"A junkyard suits me? I'm not sure how to take that."

"Says the girl with the skull and butterflies tattoo."

"Hey, I like my tattoo!"

"I do too,"Max said with a smirk. A suggestive smirk. Wait, was that a suggestive smirk? Fuck, Chloe did not need this right now.

"So, spill, what the fuck happened in that diner?" Chloe said, moving away from the increasingly uncomfortable banter.

"I predicted the future," Max said simply.

"Yes, I understand that. But that can't happen. You can't do anything real and you sure as fuck can't predict the damn future."

"But I did." Chloe worked her mouth a few times and then leaned forward.

"Max, you're not real," she said to Max, practically pleaded it.

"I know," Max said.

"But if you can predict the future, then that means...you have to be real, right?" Chloe slumped back into her couch, her hands covering her eyes. "Or I'm even more fucking crazy than I thought," she muttered.

"What if I can't predict the future? What if you can and I'm just a way for you to tell yourself?" Max said. Chloe brought her hands back down and leveled a glare at her.

"Is that supposed to make me feel better? Either way, I'm the crazy girl talking to herself," she said.

"I'm just saying, the way of it doesn't matter. We don't have time. I wasn't being dramatic. This week matters, things are going to happen. I need your help to stop them."

"What? What's so special about this week? What happens?"

"Not just happens, happened. I've already changed things, it's why it's getting harder to know what will happen."

"Changed? What did you change?" Chloe asked. She was pretty sure she wasn't nearly stoned enough to make this conversation make sense.

"The bathroom. I stopped you from going there to meet Nathan remember?"

"Yeah, so?"

"So? You saw Nathan. He had a gun," Max said, giving Chloe a look that Chloe found a little offensive.

"Wait, do you mean?" Chloe asked, unable to even say it out loud.

"You were supposed to die in that bathroom, Chloe. I've seen it. I couldn't let that happen," Max said. The way she said it was strange. There was steel in her voice. Chloe had never heard her talk like that before.

"So, what, you came back to save me?" Chloe asked, trying to follow all the implications of what Max was saying.

"Kind of," Max said evasively.

"Kind of? Wait," Chloe said as something finally clicked in her brain. "How long have you known about this? How long did you know about the bathroom?" Max paused. It was all Chloe needed to see. She flew up from her seat and started walking towards the door.

"Chloe, wait!" Max called out behind her. Chloe whirled around.

"Why? Why didn't you tell me something? Why did you leave for five years if you knew what was going to happen?"

"I didn't have a choice Chloe. I couldn't tell you," Max said. She pulled her knees up onto the chair, hugged them against her body as tears started streaming down her face. Chloe was too pissed to care.

"Like hell you couldn't tell me! You just told me now!"

"I could only tell you afterward."

"Oh, how fucking convenient for you Max. It was only my life on the line. But I'm sure that…"

"I couldn't tell you, Chloe!" Max screamed suddenly. She looked up at Chloe, her eyes puffy and shining. Chloe could feel them boring into her, pinning her where she stood. Max stood up and advanced on her.

"Do you think I liked keeping that from you? Do think I enjoyed ten years of torture waiting for this to happen? Every day I wanted to tell you but I couldn't. Because I knew about the bathroom. I knew if I didn't tell you anything then you'd most likely end up there. And I could be in the right place at the right time to make sure you survived."

"I don't understand," Chloe said quietly, her body in complete shock. Max had never yelled at her. Hell, she'd never even raised her voice at her. Max looked at her and instantly her face relaxed. She reached out and put a hand on Chloe's shoulder, which Chloe couldn't feel at all.

"I'm sorry Chloe, I'm not mad at you. This isn't your fault. I'm just...I'm trying my best. What don't you understand?"

"Why would it matter if you told me about the bathroom beforehand? I could have skipped it entirely, even without your help." Max nodded as if expecting the question.

"It's hard to explain Chloe. This week, something about it is fucked. I don't know what. I was afraid if I warned you about the bathroom and you didn't go there, something else would take its place. I wanted the disaster I could prevent instead of the one I didn't see coming."

"Wait, are you saying it was like Final Destination or some shit? Like I was destined to die?"

"I don't know Chloe. I don't have any answers. I'm doing the best I can, which frankly isn't all that great anymore. It's why I need your help now."

"My help?"

"Yeah, why do you think I'm telling you all this?" Max asked.

"Because you're my friend and friends tell each other everything?" Chloe retorted. Max paused. Then she smiled, some of the tension draining from her tear-streaked face.

"Touché. Does that mean we're still friends?"

"Well you did save my life, I suppose I can give you a shot."

"Thanks Chloe."

"You're damned welcome. It's not every day I let people swoop in and rescue me. Feel privileged."

"I am truly honored, never has such a gift been bestowed unto me," Max said, bowing deep and causing both of them to start cracking up.

When the laughter died down Max glanced over at the door. Chloe followed her gaze but didn't notice anything.

"What's up?" She asked Max.

"Nothing, just thought we might have a visitor. Looks like I took care of that though. Fancy a walk?"

"What?" Chloe asked. Every time she felt like she got a handle on this conversation Max switched directions.

"The train tracks. Let's go for a walk Chloe," Max said with a smile. She held her hand out. Dazed, confused, high, and completely out of her depth, Chloe took it. It felt warm in hers.

Chapter Text

"I don't know why, but train tracks always seem to calm me down," Chloe said as she walked along the rail, Max's hand in hers. Max walked on the opposite rail with their hands held in between. They didn't hold hands for balance, it wasn't hard to walk on a train track. No, they held hands just for the sake of touching each other.

"Oh, I know this…okay. Keroauc, the romance of travel and movement," Max said confidently, sounding proud of herself.

"Makes sense, me and Rachel used to come out here all the time to watch the trains go by," Chloe said, lost in memories for a moment. It was weird, but it seemed like everything Max and her were doing today weirdly mimicked things Rachel and her used to do. She wasn't really sure what that meant. "Sometimes we'd jump on them too, ride a way. We used to play this game, it was kinda like chicken, where we'd see who'd be the first to suggest jumping off. We'd just keep riding till someone couldn't take it anymore. This one time, back when I was expelled, we rode it so far it took us two days to walk back. Step-shit was furious."

"Sounds like you and Rachel had a lot of fun. I'm glad you have her," Max said. She sounded genuinely happy for Chloe, and genuinely sad.

"Rachel is…its intense with her," Chloe said after a moment. "It's never quiet like this. She's always moving, always doing, I don't know, it's hard to explain."

"Sounds like someone I know," Max said with a chuckle.

"Hey, I'm a thinker too," Chloe said. "Everyone just seems spontaneous compared to you."

"Still, I can see what you like about her," Max said. She kept her eyes down, watching her feet as she walked along the rail. Chloe frowned and gave Max's hand a reassuring squeeze. Then Chloe looked forward, watching the train tracks disappear into the horizon.

"We always planned to run away," Chloe said. "Seattle, Portland, LA, we made so many plans. It never seemed like the right time. We'd run away for a couple days, but we always ran out of money or…" Chloe died off and shook her head. "Then Mom and Dr. Strong got me back into school. Still, when Rachel left all I wanted to do was drop everything and go with her. Rachel was against it though. Surprised the shit out of me. Maybe some part of her knew I needed to finish."

"It's just one year, and then it'll make the rest of your life easier."

"What if I had though? There was nothing stopping me. What if I wasn't here this year? Would have put a kink in your bathroom plans," Chloe said.

"I don't know what would have happened. Could have been good, could have been much worse," Max said absently, most of her focus still on her feet. She'd never been as coordinated as Chloe. She could barely make a bike work.

"Some time-predicting, imaginary ghost friend you are. Barely know anything," Chloe said with a smirk. Max glanced over at her and glared.

"Just trying my best, which has never been very good. I had a feeling you'd be here though."

"Yeah? I do always fuck up so what were the odds right? I'll probably be stuck here until I die," Chloe said. She felt a tug on her hand and Chloe glanced over to see Max had stopped walking.

"You're not a fuck up Chloe. You're the most incredible person I know. I mean it, no one else even comes close," Max said, her face deadly serious. What could Chloe even say to that? Such an earnest face on such a cute person.

"Why does my mom even bother with therapy? Just have to have my Super Max around to cheer me back up," Chloe said and tugged her forward so they started moving again.

"I'm just telling the truth. And I don't think it's your fault you're still in Arcadia Bay. There's something about this week."

"So you've been saying, which is why you need my help."

"Yes, in a big way."

"You know, imaginary friends asking you to do stuff, that's like the first red flag," Chloe said, arching an eyebrow at her.

"I know, it's why I tried to never ask you for things when we were younger. Just when it's really important, like now. I didn't want to make you think you're crazy," Max said matter-of-factly.

"Well, I can't say you were one hundred percent effective." A grimace of pain flashed across Max's face.

"I know, I am sorry Chloe. For all the pain I've caused you."

"Get over yourself Caulfield, I do just fine at fucking up my own life, thank you very much. Stop trying to take all the credit," Chloe said.

"Still, I really need your help today Chloe. I'm going to have to ask you to do things, things that will sound crazy. So I'm going to need you to trust me."

"Well…either you can tell the future or I'm crazy. Like seriously, lock me up and throw away the key, crazy. What do I have to lose?"

"You're not crazy Chloe," Max said quietly. Chloe shrugged, uninterested. "You're not crazy," Max said again, this time firmly. Chloe paused, glancing over at Max. Max stared back at her, her blue eyes scrunched in determination. Chloe laughed, if this was what crazy looked like she was fine with it.

"Honestly, I don't care Max. I don't care. I'm just glad to have you back." Max huffed an acceptance.

"Still, I'll prove you're not crazy. I have a prediction!"

"A prediction?" Chloe said excitedly. "Impress me Mad Max, make that diner stunt look like a parlor trick."

"Easy, after school today there will be a solar eclipse." Max said with a flourish of her arms.

"A solar eclipse? Haven't heard about that."

"Because it's not supposed to happen. But it will, and the whole town will see it. Then you'll know you're not crazy." Chloe smiled and squeezed Max's hand.

"Whatever you say Maximus."

"I'm serious," Max said, annoyed.

"I am too," Chloe said, looking over at Max. "I believe you Max. I'm your best friend after all, I got your back whether you can see the future or not. So lay it on me, what do you need me to do?" Max looked over at her, her eyes widening in disbelief. She blinked once, and then broke into a smile.

"Well, for starters, I need you to take me back to Blackwell," Max said.

"Have truck, will travel. Could have just stayed in the junkyard if we were heading back there though Max."

"Don't tell me you didn't have fun," Max said with laugh as she let go of Chloe's hand and jumped down from her rail. Chloe stood there a moment, looking down at her hand.

""I wish…" Chloe started, a rush of emotions running through her as she squeezed her hand shut. Max paused and looked over at her. "I wish other people could see you Max," Chloe finished.

"What?" Max asked, her face looking concerned.

"I wish I could show you off, show everyone how fucking awesome my best friend is. I wish I could introduce you to Mom without her freaking," Chloe said.

"You make it sound like we're dating," Max said with a laugh, getting a small pink blush to appear on Chloe's cheeks.

"It's not like that," Chloe said hotly. "It's just...you're amazing Max. I wish other people knew that too."

"It's okay Chloe. Don't worry about me." Max turned back towards the junkyard, but Chloe couldn't let it go just yet.

"It's not just you Max. Today, walking with you, everything just feels so right. It's like, this is how it's supposed to be you know? I just want to hang out with my best friend without it being...I mean my hand still feels warm," Max paused and then looked back at her. Staring into her eyes, Chloe suddenly felt like her friend had aged two decades. Her eyes just looked so much more worn out then she could ever remember them being.

"I don't want you to mistake this for something it's not Chloe. This right here, it's as real as I can be. Don't expect more from me, I don't want to disappoint you."

"Max…" Chloe began, but just like that, Max's face returned to normal and she beckoned Chloe over.

"It's time to turn around. Come on," Max said. Eager to change the subject, Chloe bounded down after her.

"We're not walking on the tracks? Sounds lame."

"A train's coming before we get back. Best to just get off the tracks now."

"There's always a train coming Max, that's what makes walking on the rails fun, the sense of danger."

"I've had enough danger in my life. We're walking by the forest," Max said, her voice serious.

"Aye aye Captain Maxipad! Getting bossy today," Chloe said as she joined Max by the edge of the forest.

"Oh, I'm only beginning, I'm going to keep you hella busy today."

"You know, Rachel says hella too. It completely threw me off at first. I thought it was some sign from you when I first met her."

"Is that so?" Max said without a hint of surprise.

"Fuck, you already knew that didn't you?"

"Don't doubt my powers," Max said with a wiggle of her fingers.

"So what's next?'

"Well, do you have any paper in your truck? We need to write a note."


"Okay, take me through what you need to do," Max said as Chloe drove. They'd spent most of the walk back going over it. There wasn't a lot yet, Max was keeping a lot of information back till later, but she was insistent Chloe knew it all by heart.

"First, take our note and tape it to the door to the roof at the girl's dorm," Chloe said. The note was a Bible verse, one of those 'God is always with you' deals. Why Max wanted a Bible verse taped to a door was beyond Chloe. She was being maddenly unforthcoming.

"Good, what's next?"

"Meet you in the hallway before Chemistry Class," Chloe said. She paused as a thought hit her. "Wait, how did you know my last class was Chemistry?" Max turned a little pink and coughed awkwardly.

"I might have checked out your room while you weren't home. I saw your class schedule."

"You always were an incurable snoop," Chloe said.

"Yeah, well, I had to do something to occupy myself."

"So, you've been pretty mum on details. Mind telling what I'm meeting you in the hallway for?" Chloe asked. She knew Max wouldn't tell her. Max wasn't telling her anything, but Chloe couldn't help trying one more time. As expected Max shook her head.

"I told you, need to know basis, the less I change the better. After today it shouldn't matter anymore, but for now I need to play things close to the chest. Besides, I need you to stay in class so you don't get expelled."

"Well that's true but...wait how do you know about that?" Chloe asked. She glanced over at Max who gave her a guilty smile. "Fuck, how much snooping did you do?"

"Enough?"

"So what you're telling me is, if I knew about this stuff you're trying to do I could screw it all up? Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"It's not just you, it's anything I change. I might have already screwed everything up, I won't know till we get closer to the event. I'm not even sure what I want you to do in the hallway will happen. It's all up in the air. Just…"

"Trust you. I got it Max."


Chloe wasn't a runner. Punks don't run, it just didn't match the aesthetic at all. Apparently, most of the student population at Blackwell seemed to agree because she got a lot of stares as she raced across the lawn. She really thought Max and her had made good time, but class was starting in just twenty minutes and she still had to make it to the top of the girl's dorm first.

When she turned around path to the girl's dorm she saw Victoria and her two bitchettes standing in front of the doors. They were huddled around Victoria's phone, watching something and laughing. Chloe didn't slow as she raced towards them and Victoria looked up at her and grimaced.

"What the fuck are you doing here, this is…

"I know, I'm poor and have no style. You're a bitch," Chloe said as she ran by. "Nice conversation!" Chloe yelled before flinging the dorm doors open and racing inside.

She tried running up the stairs. She didn't make it. Her chest was heaving by the time she got to the door and taped the note to it. She took a moment to try to regain her breath and failed. She needed to work out more, especially if Max kept giving her assignments. She sighed and started towards classes.


Chloe spent the rest of the day barely paying attention to classes. Instead, her mind kept wandering to the morning. No matter how she looked at it, she simply couldn't believe her morning had actually happened.

In just a few hours her entire life had been turned upside down. She knew she should be scared. She had almost died apparently. She could still die if what Max said was true. And whatever Max was up to today, it was serious. Chloe had never seen her so worked up before.

But despite all of that, the only thing Chloe felt was relief. For the first time in years Chloe felt like her life was starting to feel complete. She had Max back. That was supposed to be a bad thing, she'd trained herself to think that way, but the truth was her had life felt empty without her. And now she had her back, only this time she had super powers. Beyond that, Chloe was now 70% sure she wasn't just in her head, which meant Chloe might not be a complete loser.

But most important of all, it meant that this time Max might stick around. If Max was real, there was no reason she had to leave. And Chloe desperately hoped that was true, because she wasn't sure she could go through losing Max all over again.

Chloe skipped lunch to do some research in the school's computer lab. It didn't take long to confirm that there was no solar eclipse scheduled to happen anywhere in the world, let alone in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. A little more digging confirmed Chloe's other suspicion, solar eclipses were easy to see coming. The likelihood that a solar eclipse would catch NASA off guard was abysmally low. If Max called this one right than she really was far more than an imaginary friend.

But what did that make her? Chloe wasn't at all sure and Max was completely unhelpful on the subject. It didn't change the fact that no one else could see her. Was Max right, was she just a way for Chloe to understand her own powers? That seemed extremely unlikely, not to mention depressing as hell. Was she a ghost? A ghost of who? And since when do ghosts know the future?

Chloe sighed as the lunch bell chimed. She wasn't going to find the answers this lunch break. Half an hour wasn't enough time to solve all the mysteries of the universe.


Max smiled and waved as she walked up. Chloe felt a smile spread across her own face as she returned the wave. She glanced around, there were few people in the hallway by Ms. Grace's classroom, and none of them were paying attention to her.

"Max, Captain Chloe reporting in as promised." The smile on Max's face widened.

"Good to see you Cap'n."

"So what's the scoop? What are we doing here?"

"Get your phone out. Get your camera ready." Chloe pulled out her phone and flipped on her camera. It wasn't a terribly great one. Hopefully Max didn't expect crystal clear details.

"Ready."

"Okay, angle the camera at Jefferson," Max said. Chloe glanced over to the photography class doorway where Jefferson was standing. She turned the camera his way. "Be discrete about it, he can't know. Kate should come up to talk to him soon. I want you to videotape their conversation." The way she said Kate was intimately familiar, kind of how Chloe talked about Rachel. It caught Chloe off guard, she barely even knew who Kate was. She was pretty sure she was the Christian girl. Why did Max know her? One more mystery to throw on today's pile.

"Didn't know you were into voyeurism. Kinky," Chloe said.

"Gross Chloe. What happened to the innocent schoolgirl that blushed when I cussed?"

"She emerged from her hella awkward teenager phase as a badass punk. You know you love it," Chloe muttered as she tried to angle her phone towards Jefferson without being extremely obvious about it. "If you have a crush on Jefferson you could have just told me," Chloe joked. Half the school had a crush on Jefferson, wouldn't surprise Chloe if Max did too. He seemed her type. If imaginary friends could have types.

"I do not have a crush on that asshole," Max spat. Chloe's eyes went wide.

"Wow, what did Jefferson do to you, I mean I think he's a self-absorbed, washed up, hipster…"

"Just watch Chloe. You have no idea."

It didn't take long for Kate to make her appearance. Chloe angled her phone as best she could while looking the other way. Luckily, she had years of experience with the 'don't give a shit' look.

"Mr. Jefferson, I was wondering if I could have your help with something?" Kate asked as she walked up. Chloe never paid much attention to Kate, but even she could tell something was wrong with her. She didn't remember her hunching over this much.

"What's wrong Kate?" Jefferson asked.

"There's this video…"

"Ah, yes, I've seen it. I know it must be embarrassing, but I don't want it to affect your work."

"Embarrassing?" Kate said, pulling back from Mr. Jefferson slightly.

"You're young Kate, I know you made some mistakes but…"

"I didn't...that wasn't me Mr. Jefferson! Something...happened to me, I don't do that!"

"Please Kate, let's not throw stories around. You have to own your mistakes," Mr. Jefferson said in a lecturing tone that reminded Chloe way too much of step-fuhrer. He reached a hand out to put on Kate's shoulder, but she pulled back from him.

"What do you want from me?" Kate asked.

"I want you to be honest," Mr. Jefferson said firmly.

"Nobody believes me anyway," Kate said quietly. Chloe didn't understand what the heck was going on, but she could tell whatever it was was breaking Kate.

"Stop acting so brittle," Mr. Jefferson said. He seemed annoyed for some reason, which Chloe couldn't understand. What she could understand was that Jefferson was being a major dick.

"Being on a viral video does that," Kate countered.

"Maybe this is your way of getting attention," Jefferson said. The knuckles on Chloe's hand turned white as she applied dangerous levels of pressure to her phone.

"That's really mean Mr. Jefferson. You just don't get it! Just leave me alone."

"You have to talk to me."

"Why? It's all over, like me," Chloe looked over at Max who gave her a sad look back. That was a serious red flag.

"Stop this martyr crap!" Jefferson shouted, once again getting annoyed. Chloe straightened up, she couldn't keep listening to this. She turned and Mr. Jefferson glanced at her, a look of worry crossing his face. Kate didn't notice however.

"So you can't help me?" She asked.

"I'm trying," he said, which seemed to only piss Kate off because she turned away from him and began walking away. "You have to understand my position!" He called after her.

"What the fuck," Chloe muttered under her breath.

"That's good Chloe, save the video and we should be able to...where are you going?" Max asked as Chloe shoved her phone in her pocket and took off after Kate. "Chloe! You can't miss class!"

"Just give me a minute," Chloe said. There was no fucking way she could just watch Kate walk away like that. Chloe didn't need to know much about the girl to realize the state she was in. After all, Chloe had been there.

"Hey Kate, wait up," Chloe said as she caught up to her. Kate stopped and turned to look at her. There really wasn't a nice way to put it, she looked awful. Her hair stuck out of her bun in odd places, her mascara was running, her eyes were puffy, and she was glaring daggers at Chloe.

"Do I know you?" She asked in a tone that was anything but friendly. It didn't phase Chloe, she knew all about lashing out and if that was the best Kate had, she had a lot to learn.

"Uh, not really. You might have heard of me. Chloe Price." At the name Kate's eyes went wide. Her eyes flicked between Chloe's tattooed arm and her blue hair, as if noticing for the first time. Chloe gave her a reassuring smile. "Looks like that's a yes."

"I'm sorry, but I'm very busy right…" Kate said as she started to back away from Chloe. Chloe took a step forward.

"Look, I heard what Jefferson said. He's a total fucking prick."

"You heard that?"

"Yeah, dick was completely inappropriate. Where does he get off getting mad like that?"

"T-thanks," Kate stammered, looking more confused than anything.

"Listen Kate," Chloe began. Kate looked at her while Chloe searched for the words to say. She didn't find any, she wasn't Max, but she had to try. "If you ever, if you ever need to talk about shit. It's just, I've been there you know? You can talk to me." Kate stared back at her for a moment. She opened her mouth. She paused. Her mouth pressed back together, holding back whatever she had been about to say.

"I'm…I'll be okay," she said instead.

"...Right." Chloe said, not believing her in the slightest. Kate turned and started to walk away. She paused and looked over her shoulder.

"Chloe? Thanks."

"No prob Kate."

"You're a good fucking person Chloe Price," Max said as she walked back to the classroom entrance.

"Don't spread it around."

"Couldn't if I tried," Max said with a laugh. Chloe cracked a smile, but her heart wasn't in it. She couldn't stop thinking about Kate.

"I don't know Max, I'm worried. Kate's not in a good place. I'm afraid what she might do. Maybe I should follow her."

"It's okay Chloe. I'll look out for her. You need to get to class."

"How can you…"

"Get to class before you're late. Just trust me," Max said. Chloe looked at Max.

"I trust you," Chloe said. She didn't have any other options. "Max, the note on the door to the roof?" Chloe asked, afraid to say any more. Max glanced at her and nodded.

"If class gets interrupted, head there quickly," she said and then turned to walk into Jefferson's class for some reason. Chloe turned and walked into chemistry.


When Zachary burst through the door, Chloe jumped to her feet. By the time he said "There's a girl on top of…" she had shouldered past him and was out the door before Ms. Grant could even chastise her. Ms. Grant was cool for teacher, Chloe doubted she would turn her into Wells. Especially considering the number of students already making their way out.

For the second time that day Chloe raced across the Blackwell lawn, barely even noticing that it had started to rain. This time she didn't feel tired, out of shape, or silly. All she was thinking about was the look on Kate's face. Please Max, don't fail me now.

There was already a small crowd of people by the dorm when she got there, and judging by the amount of people she'd ran past, it was only going to get bigger. Students gathered by the entrance, gaping up at the roof. Chloe didn't waste time, she ran by them and straight towards the door.

When Chloe reached the top of the stairway she stopped, her mind struggling to process what she was seeing. Kate stood near the door to the roof, her drenched clothes making her look even smaller than Chloe remembered. Max stood beside her, one arm wrapped around Kate protectively. And a couple steps down was none other than David Madsen, step-ass extraordinaire.

"Come here, step away from the door," David said in a tone that was anything but comforting. Kate didn't elect to come down, instead she kept one hand on the door handle. She looked like she might bolt at any moment.

"Chloe! Do something! Get David out of here." Max said as she caught sight of her.

"Calm the fuck down. You trying to scare her back onto the roof?" Chloe said, causing David to jump slightly.

"Chloe, get back down…"

"You've got a mob of curious teenagers blocking the exit, get them out of the way. I'll make sure Kate gets down okay."

"No you're not, I'm…"

"Just look at her dude, you're scaring her. You need to leave. Kate will come down with me. Won't you Kate?" Kate looked at Chloe with wide eyes. Please Kate. Please.

"Y-yeah. With Chloe," she said finally. David looked between the two of them and then turned and walked back down the stairs.

"Get her down Chloe," he said quietly as he reached her.

"Like I'd do anything else," Chloe said and shouldered past him.

Kate watched her closely as she closed in on her. For a moment Chloe thought she was going to run still, but then Max pulled her in for a hug and she visibly relaxed. When Chloe was just a step away from Kate she held out her hand.

"Come on Kate," she said. Kate stared at her hand. Then, slowly and carefully, she reached her own hand out and placed it in Chloe's. It was cold, wet, and delicate. Chloe wrapped her fingers around it and gave Kate a smile.

"Come on." Kate took a step forward as Max released her. She fell into Chloe, who wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

"Chloe, I…" She started, but then broke down. She pulled herself against Chloe, burying her face in Chloe's neck and covering her in tears. Chloe pulled her in close and held her for a moment, thankful for how tall she was. It definitely had its advantages.

"I know Kate. I've been there too. I'm just glad you didn't," Chloe said as Kate calmed down. Chloe glanced over at Max who stood close by. Max was crying too, though it looked more from relief than anything. Chloe shot Max a questioning look, but then Kate started talking again.

"I was going to, I really was. But, there was someone up there," Kate said against her. The hairs on the back of Chloe's neck stood straight up. Could she see Max?

"Who?" Chloe asked. Kate pulled away from her and looked into Chloe's eyes.

"Do you promise not to laugh?"

"I won't. On my life Kate." Kate bit her lip. Then she hesitantly opened her mouth.

"...I think it was my guardian angel." Whatever Chloe was expecting to hear, that wasn't it. It took her a moment to process.

"Your guardian angel?"

"I know it sounds crazy," Kate said quickly. She tried to pull away, but Chloe held her tight.

"I don't think it sounds crazy, I believe you." Kate stopped and glanced up at her.

"You do?" Chloe looked up at Max who silently looked back down at her. She smiled and turned back to Kate.

"I do Kate. Tell me what happened." Kate nodded and Chloe helped her stand on her own.

"When I got up here my favorite Bible verse was taped to the door," Kate started with a wave at the door. "I thought it was a weird coincidence, but when I got up there it…felt like someone was there with me. I thought I was going crazy. But then, when I stepped up on the ledge, I felt these arms wrap around me and pull me into hug. It was so warm…" Kate said, wandering off slightly. Eventually she shook herself and continued. "I couldn't do it after that. I felt like I'd be letting her down."

"Her?" Chloe asked. Kate blushed and nodded.

"It...felt like a female hug," she explained. Chloe looked back up at Max again and arched an eyebrow, which earned her a blush.

"Well, I'm no angel Kate, but I give some hella good hugs. When you get time I'll take you out for some hamburgers and all the hugs you need," Chloe said.

"That...that sounds really nice Chloe," Kate said, glancing down at the floor. Damn she's cute.

"Come on Kate, let's head down," Chloe said. Kate nodded and the two started down the stairs, hand in hand.

"So, I doubt they're going to let me go back to my dorm now," Kate said as they walked.

"Uh, probably not Kate. But, I'll be waiting when you come back. And I'll come visit you!"

"You promise?"

"On my life Kate."


David had driven the students away from the entrance, but not by much. Chloe saw the flashes of light as phone cameras went off and she felt Kate tense beside her.

"Hey shitheads, turn off your fucking cameras!" Chloe shouted at them as she moved in front of Kate. A couple of them lowered their phones, but not all. Chloe strode across the grass towards the nearest gawker, Chloe couldn't remember her name, Courtney maybe, and grabbed her phone out of her hand and chucked it into the crowd.

"What about 'no fucking cameras' didn't you understand?!" To the left Victoria opened her mouth. Chloe turned and stared at her, daring her to say a word. Victoria's mouth slammed shut and she quickly put her phone away. Chloe's eyes swept the rest of the crowd. Phones disappeared left and right. Chloe turned and walked back to Kate, who gave her a small smile. Max had an even bigger smile.

"Fuck I love you," Max said with a laugh.

"You know it," Chloe said under her breath before wrapping her arm around Kate again as David walked up to them.

"Ambulance is on its way Ms. Marsh. Right this way," David said with an obvious attempt at sounding nicer.

"I'll walk with you Kate," Chloe said.

"Thanks Chloe, for everything."

"Don't thank me, just make sure you keep your promise. Hamburgers at the Two Whales, you and me."

"It's a promise."


"Did you just ask out Kate Marsh?" Max asked after Kate was safely on her way. Chloe had exchanged phone numbers with Kate so she could come visit her later. It was strange, start a day as strangers and end it as close friends. A close friend she had definitely not asked out on a date.

"What? No! It's just a friend date. I mean friend neutral meeting. Platonic friend neutral meeting."

"You're cute when you're flustered." Max said with a laugh.

"Fuck you," Chloe muttered.

"I'm surprised though, I thought loyalty was your highest quality. But here you are, making moves on every girl in Blackwell. Going on a date with me."

"When did I…"

"Dating Rachel."

"Exclusively."

"And now you're asking out Kate," Max finished.

"Drop it 'guardian angel.'" Chloe said.

"Okay, I asked for that one," Max admitted.

"What was that about? She could feel you couldn't she? You hugged her and she could feel it." Chloe said. Max glanced over at her and Chloe could instantly tell she was hiding something from her.

"Chloe, we don't have time…"

"Oh, you are seriously not giving me that line right now. You're not getting out of this one."

"I'll explain Chloe, I will, but I really do need you to do something and it has to be right now." Chloe frowned, but shook her head. She couldn't really argue, so far listening to Max had saved someone's life. Who knew what was next.

"Okay Max, I'll let you off for now. What's next?"

"I need you to go talk to David before he gets pulled into Well's office. Show him the video you took. I need him to implicate Jefferson in all this."

"Oh, that I can do. Fucker won't know what hit him."

"That's the plan, I'll see you in a little while. After the eclipse okay? Stay on campus until then, by the building entrance," Max said. Chloe nodded. She'd forgotten all about the eclipse. She took off running for the main building. She really should have worn something other than boots.


"David!" Chloe shouted as she saw the back of his uniform about to vanish inside the school.

"Chloe!" David said as he turned around, sounding surprised. He probably was, Chloe couldn't remember the last time she'd used his real name. "I don't have time right now. I have to get to the principal's office," he said as she reached him.

"I'll ignore how incredibly lame that sounds. Listen, I saw Jefferson picking on Kate right before she went to the roof," Chloe said. David's eyes narrowed.

"Pick on, what do you mean?"

"I got a video. I'll just...text it to you. Watch it before you meet with Wells okay. Okay?"

"Okay Chloe, I'll watch it. And...thanks for your help earlier," David said.

"Whatever, just watch it. It's your turn to help Kate," Chloe said as she sent the video.

"Got it," David said.

"Good, just, don't let him get off," Chloe said and turned away before he could respond.


"Chloe Price," a voice said from behind Chloe, interrupting her thoughts. For a moment she was confused. Then she was terrified.

"Rachel! Fuck!," Chloe exclaimed, jolting to her feet. She was sitting on a picnic bench on the Blackwell lawn, waiting for an eclipse that wasn't supposed to happen.

"Rachel fuck indeed. What happened to calling me when classes ended?" Rachel said as she walked over to Chloe. Something seemed off about her. Chloe couldn't quite place it, but it made her stomach fill with butterflies, and not in the good way.

"Rachel, I'm so sorry. Today's been absolutely, hella crazy. You have no idea," Chloe said as she moved over to Rachel. Rachel crossed her arms in front of her and stared Chloe down. Chloe stopped, feeling as if a physical barrier had been erected between them. Something was very wrong.

"Well. Enlighten me," Rachel said.

"Kate Marsh tried to commit suicide."

"The Catholic girl?" Chloe nodded.

"Yeah, she tried to jump off the girl's dorm," Chloe said, her mind going back to the image of Kate standing on top of the stairwell. If Max hadn't been there...

"Fuck, who stopped her?" Rachel asked.

"Huh?"

"You said tried? I thought that meant someone stopped her," Rachel said. Chloe could have kicked herself. How to explain this without sounding crazy?

"Oh, uh, she said an angel did?" Chloe said finally. Rachel arched an eyebrow.

"Wow, it's always the quiet ones," she said. Chloe almost opened her mouth to defend Kate, but then Rachel pressed on. "So what, you've just been sitting here ever since, forgetting about your incredibly beautiful girlfriend?"

"Y-yeah, sorry. Just really affected me ya know?" Chloe said. She wasn't good at this 'telling half-truths' kind of thing. She was used to blurting out whatever she was thinking. It took a lot of energy to think through every little sentence. She didn't know how Max did it.

"Didn't know you were that close to her," Rachel said, her voice a little cold. Chloe was confused. Yeah she screwed up by not calling, but Rachel seemed really pissed off.

"I'm not. At least not yet. It's just, I kinda know what she's going through." Rachel frowned and nodded, and for a moment Chloe thought she might be in the clear.

"Okay. Okay, I'll give you that one," Rachel said.

"Give me that one?" Chloe asked, confused.

"You lied to me Chloe," Rachel said simply. The butterflies in Chloe's stomach caught fire. She knew. Chloe wasn't sure which lie she was talking about, but it hardly mattered. They were all in a tangled not, expose one and the rest came tumbling with.

"I did," Chloe said quietly.

"What were you doing this morning?" Rachel asked.

"Do you want the truth? You might not like it," Chloe said.

"I'm a big girl Chloe, I can handle it."

"I was meeting Max." Rachel looked confused for a moment. Then she dropped her arms.

"Max? As in, the girl that doesn't exist?" Rachel asked. Chloe hated the look on her face. It was the same look her mom had whenever she talked about missing Max, a mixture of pity and fear.

"Yeah, I've been…seeing her again. Ever since we had that talk yesterday."

"Did I...trigger it? I'm sorry Chloe, I didn't mean…"

"I don't think that's it. Just a weird coincidence." Rachel stared at her for a moment.

"Chloe...you need to see someone. Like your doctor or something," Rachel said. She took a step towards Chloe, but Chloe shook her head.

"You don't understand Rachel. I don't want to stop."

"Chloe…"

"This...this isn't like the other times Rachel. She's doing things, things I can't explain. I...don't think she's just in my head." Rachel took another step forward. She reached out and put a hand on Chloe's shoulder.

"Chloe, you know she's not real. You told me she wasn't remember?"

"I know," Chloe said. "But everything is different this time. She...she knows things. Things that haven't happened yet. Like Kate. She knew what was going to happen with Kate today. I think she saved her life." Rachel bit her lip and looked down.

"I thought you were cheating on me Chloe," she said quietly. Chloe instantly reached up and cupped Rachel's face with her hand.

"Never Rachel, I'd never do that to you."

"I wish you were." Chloe's hand froze.

"What?" Rachel pulled away from her, leaving Chloe's hand floating in the air.

"I wish you were cheating Chloe. I could understand that. Long distances, it's hard. We could work through that. This though, I don't understand this Chloe. I don't…I don't know what to do," Rachel said as she slowly backed away from her. A spark went off in Chloe's mind, a flash of anger driven from years of isolation, years of people treating her like some tragic nutjob. Not this time. Not from Rachel. Not from the one person who always had her back. Chloe's hand curled into a fist as she advanced on her.

"How about just believing me Rachel?" She said.

"Believing you? Are you even hearing yourself? Imaginary best friends and predicting the future, you sound like you're from A Beautiful Mind for fuck's sake," Rachel said, reacting instantly to Chloe's change in attitude.

"You've been my friend for years, how about giving me the benefit of the doubt!"

"This has nothing to do with friendship Chloe, this is serious."

"Can't you just…"

"No I can't Chloe!" Rachel shouted. "You don't need me to believe you, you need help. Help I can't give you." Chloe opened her mouth, but then the world went dark. Chloe froze.

"Holy shit," she said.

"Chloe, what the hell is…" Rachel asked, but Chloe already knew the answer. She turned towards the sun.

"Turn around and look Rachel. It's happening, it's actually happening," Chloe said. Part of her couldn't believe it, but the larger part of her wasn't surprised at all.

"What…is there supposed to be an eclipse today?" Rachel asked.

"No, no there's not. But Max knew. She knew Rachel. You want proof I'm not crazy, there it is, for the whole fucking town to see."

Chapter Text

Chloe stared out at the sky, watching as the sun returned to its normal state, the unplanned eclipse at its end. She watched alone. Rachel Amber had left mere moments ago.

Chloe wasn't angry with her, not anymore, that had faded along with the eclipse. She wasn't disappointed either, that wasn't quite it. It was more like...resigned. Chloe's universe had shifted, and she wasn't sure where that left her. For the first time in five years, Rachel didn't have her back. She felt like it had been building for a while, that distance had already been splintering their relationship, and it just hadn't been strong enough to handle today.

Which Chloe thought was a load of shit. All her life, ever since her father, Chloe had been walking away from things. But walking away from Rachel didn't seem right. But what could she do about it? How could you fix something that took two people to build? Chloe sighed, a problem for another night she supposed. Tonight was going to be busy enough.

"I'm sorry Chloe," Max said, suddenly sitting on the lawn beside her. Chloe didn't jump this time, she only felt relief. She needed something to distract her.

"You saw that?" Chloe asked without turning towards her friend, her eyes still on the setting sun.

"Yeah sorry, some of it. I didn't mean to intrude." Her voice was enough to tell Chloe she was embarrassed. Chloe didn't blame her, she'd be uncomfortable watching her best friend arguing with her girlfriend because of her.

"I know you didn't mean to," Chloe muttered darkly.

"I'm sorry Chloe," Max said again, softly. Chloe sighed. It wasn't Max's fault she got to witness Chloe blowing it with the one person who'd ever wanted to love her. Hell, Chloe probably shouldn't even be surprised, that was pretty much the story of her life. How long till she screwed up whatever she had going with Max? Again.

"Sorry, that came off more bitter than I meant it. It's not your fault," Chloe said, glancing over at Max. The setting sun made her hair look almost burgundy as she sat with her chin resting on her knees. Out of reflex, Chloe went to give Max a hard pat on the back, which resulted in her awkwardly tipping off balance as her hand went flying through her. Max watched as she quickly sat back up straight, and a small smile broke across her face.

"That never gets old," Max said with a laugh, finally breaking the sour mood. Well, that didn't go as planned, but Chloe was happy it at least seemed to work.

"Not my fault I forget, it just comes naturally," Chloe said with a huff.

"You know, you shouldn't have mentioned me to Rachel. Then you could have avoided the whole thing," Max said, switching back to the exact topic Chloe had been trying to get away from.

"I'm not doing that this time," Chloe said. Max gave her a puzzled look.

"Doing what?"

"I was thinking about it, about everything that's happened today. About you and me and our past, all of that shit. I'm not hiding you this time."

"Hiding me?" Max asked. Chloe was silent a moment.

"Did you know I blamed myself when you left?" Chloe asked suddenly as she turned towards the sunset. Max's eyes widened.

"Chloe, that wasn't your fault. I…"

"I know it was irrational," Chloe said, interrupting before Max could get on a roll. "But I couldn't help feeling like, if I'd treated you better that last year, maybe you wouldn't have left."

"Treated me better? You were amazing Chloe, what are you talking about?"

"Mom and Dad started to not like that I was hanging out with you. So I stopped talking about you, just pretended you weren't there, even when you were in the room with us."

"Which I suggested," Max said forcibly. "I shouldn't have put you through that."

"And I shouldn't have listened to you," Chloe retorted. "What kind of friend does that, just acts like they're not there?"

"It wasn't a normal friendship Chloe. You didn't have a choice. It was selfish of me to stay."

"Fuck that, this is what I'm talking about," Chloe said, rising to her feet. She looked down at Max. "You might not blame me, but I do Max. I shouldn't have done that, make you feel like you weren't wanted. And I won't do it now. You're my best friend Max, and I'm going to do it right this time. You hella deserve it. No more hiding, if people want to be with me they're just going to have to deal with it, Rachel included. Chloe and Max are a package deal from here on out. I'm an adult, if I want to fucking talk to myself then they'll just have to accept it."

"Chloe, that's sweet, and you know you're my best friend..." Max started.

"I can feel the gravitational pull of the but coming, it's that large," Chloe said warily. Max smiled the slow, patient smile of someone used to being interrupted by smartass best friends.

"I can't give you what Rachel can," Max said simply.

"What, because you're not gay?" Chloe said with a smirk. She expected to get a blush or widening of the eyes. Instead Max stared back at her, her face expressionless. She stood up and walked forward, coming right up to Chloe's face. Instead of Max, Chloe was the one to break out into a blush, one that only deepened as Max continued holding eye contact. This close, Chloe could make out every freckle on her face and see the lines of her irises. Max raised a hand and placed it on Chloe's check. Even though she couldn't feel a thing, Chloe's face felt like it was on fire.

"Max?"

"I can't touch you when I want to Chloe. I can't hold you when you need it. I can't even go...don't throw away something real for...whatever this is. I don't want to do that to you," Max said, her eyes looking deep into Chloe's, pleading with her. She dropped her hand and backed away, freeing Chloe's brain to start working again.

"The only thing you're doing is being my best friend Max," Chloe said. Max face fell slightly, her eyes going to the ground.

"I might not even be here…"

"Don't," Chloe said, her mouth opening before she could even process. "Don't you fucking dare. You said you were going to prove I was the most important person to you this week. That doesn't mean a damn thing if you just leave afterword. That doesn't work. Do that and I...I won't make it Max." Max looked up. She stared at Chloe, her face unreadable as silent moments stretched by.

"I'm never leaving you Chloe, as long as I can manage. As long as I'm me, I'll be with you."

"Good, glad we got that fucking settled," Chloe said, moving away from the topic. "What was that favor you were going to ask?" Max exhaled and then opened her mouth.

"I don't know if this is a good idea or not Chloe, but it's all I could think of. It's dangerous, for you. I don't like that. But I'm afraid the consequences of not doing it are too great, and I...I can't do it. Which means all I have is you."

"Well, spill the beans, stop dragging it out," Chloe said.

"We have to stop Mr. Jefferson." Chloe gave her a confused look.

"I thought we did that."

"It goes beyond that conversation with Kate Chloe, far beyond. I only had you make the video so he'd be busy tonight. Now the real work begins."

"Okay, color me intrigued."

"Mark Jefferson is a kidnapper. He drugs and kidnaps teenage girls, takes them to his private studio, and takes pictures of them while they're half unconscious." It took a moment for Chloe to process everything Max was saying.

"Wait," she said as it sank in. "What the fuck?!"

"I'm completely serious Chloe. He's done it multiple times before and he's not going to stop. Sometimes he returns the girls, leaving them with this sense of violation without any memories of why, but he's not above murder. And Nathan Prescott helps him." Chloe's blood ran cold.

"Nathan?"

"He helps Jefferson, does the dirty work. He gets the drugs they use from Frank, leaving Jefferson's hands clean. He also supplies the money from his family to build the studio they use, and buy the equipment."

"Why would...why would anyone do that?" Max shock her head.

"I don't know Chloe."

"We have to...we have to stop him! No way I'm letting either of those pissheads get away with that!" Max smiled, watching her friend get worked up.

"Thanks for believing me Chloe."

"Of course I believe you Max. I never liked that pretentious jerkwad, and Nathan has always been off. Still, I never would have believed...wait. What about Kate?" Chloe asked, the dots connecting in her mind. She looked over at Max and the devastating look on her face was enough of an answer. "Kate…" Chloe said, her heart breaking for her new friend all over again.

"She called me her guardian angel…" Max said suddenly. She sat down on the grass, her eyes disappearing in a well of tears.

"Max," Chloe said, rushing over to her. She wanted to take the girl into her arms, but she knew how impossible that was.

"How fucked up is that!" Max shouted suddenly, causing Chloe to jump. "I didn't save her from anything. All I did was catch her before she came crashing down." Max broke down into sobs, pulling her legs against her.

"There wasn't anything you could do," Chloe said, desperate to do anything to stop Max from crying.

"There should have been, but I couldn't think of it. I hoped with everything I changed maybe it would go different…but it didn't. And I just let it happen. I had years to try to think of a way to help her, but I couldn't think of anything. If I'd been smarter or tried harder, if I hadn't already screwed up so much...but that's all I can do. All I do is fuck things up," Max said quietly as her body shook slightly.

"Max, what did you screw up? You saved me, and you saved Kate. We're both still here." Max's body shook one last time, then she hugged herself tight and stood back up. If Chloe hadn't just seen her she would never have known she was crying, she looked more pissed off than sad.

"There's no time for a pity party," she said as she waved away Chloe's concern. "I've already wasted enough. I need to go over what you have to do," she said as she wiped the tears from her face.

"Max, it's okay, we can…"

"I need you to go to his studio Chloe," Max said, interrupting her. Chloe froze.

"The kidnap studio?"

"The Dark Room, yes," Max said. The way she said it raised the hairs on Chloe's arms, making it sound almost mystical.

"Why?"

"We need evidence, enough to make any charges against Jefferson stick without fail."

"Why do I have to go there, why not just call the cops with the location?" Max shook her head.

"Not the cops, I don't know how many of them are on Prescott's payroll. They could easily overlook an anonymous tip with little evidence to back it up. I need this to work flawlessly. Jefferson is already set things up to look like Nathan's fault. If we give him any warning, he could walk away scott free." Chloe swallowed.

"Okay, looks like I'm going then," Chloe said, sounding way more confident than she felt. Max gave her a sad look.

"I'm sorry Chloe, this is my fault all over again. David should have been able to do this, but he's barely started investigating this time because Rachel didn't…" Max cut off, her eyes going wide with panic.

"Rachel didn't what?" Chloe asked. She didn't have any clue what Max was talking about, but she knew a secret when she heard it. Max sighed.

"I'll tell you, I promise, but right now isn't the time. We have to do this quickly before Jefferson gets released. We have to do this while I know where he is." Chloe stared at her a moment, a thousand questions going through her mind. Finally, she sighed.

"You promise?"

"Promise."

"Okay, what do I do?" Max sighed in relief.

"Thanks Chloe. Okay, I know where the Dark Room is. I'll need you to go there and I need you to take some pictures."


Chloe pulled her truck up into the driveway and raced inside. There were just a couple things she needed and then she'd be ready.

She ran upstairs and threw open her closet. She grabbed an old sweatshirt, a newer one, and a zip up jacket. She tucked them under an arm before heading to her desk. She grabbed her phone cord and crossed the hall into her mother's room. She took out a pair of David's pants and one of his ugly sweaters and added them to the pile. Then she dug back further into his winter gear and drug out a ski mask and some gloves. Just a couple more things to go.

Chloe ran back down the stairs and into the garage. She dug through piles of tools until she found what she was looking for. She knew he would have it, just like she promised Max. Finally, on the way back out she snagged his keys off his desk.

Chloe walked out of the garage with an arm full of dark clothes and a pair of bolt cutters. She turned the corner of the living room and ran into her mom, standing with arms crossed by the front door.

"Didn't know you were home," Chloe said with a smile, as if a smile could hide the fact that she looked like she was about to break into someone's house.

"Obviously," Joyce said with a significant look at the bolt cutters. "Are you going to make me ask what the hell you're getting up to?"

"Just going to do some stuff with Rachel," Chloe said, which sounded like a lie even as she said it.

"Stuff?" Joyce asked with a disappointed shake of her head. "You always were a terrible liar Chloe, it's your best trait. Rachel's already came and went."

"She did?!" Chloe said, her heart squeezing in her chest. Things with Max wouldn't slow down so she kept forgetting about Rachel. Something Rachel didn't deserveeven with everything. When this is over I'm going to have to convince her. Somehow.

"Yes she did. Packed up her things and told me she wouldn't be staying tonight," Joyce said. She looked at Chloe. "Is there something you want to tell me?" Okay Chloe, time to lie like your life depends on it.

"Okay, there's this girl at school, Kate, who's in the hospital right now so I was going to get in her locker, so I could bring her a couple things," Chloe said.

"Why don't you just text her for her combination?" Joyce asked reasonably. Fuck, I really am bad at this.

"I was going to just get her a new lock, not bother her about it," Chloe said desperately. One look at Joyce, and Chloe knew her mom didn't buy it. Joyce sighed.

"Why don't you just talk to me Chloe. I saw you at the diner this morning, you ran out of there like you'd seen a ghost. And Rachel said there might be some things we need to discuss," Joyce said.

"Oh, she did?" Chloe said. She tried not to get angry, Rachel was just trying to help. At least it showed she still cared to some degree. It made sense, but Chloe still felt her heart burning.

"Chloe, I'm just worried. I want…" Joyce said.

"Why don't you just say it?" Chloe interrupted, fed up with trying to convince her. If lies weren't working, then the truth was all she had left.

"Say what?"

"Max," Chloe said. Joyce flinched back as if Chloe had physically struck her. "That's what this is about right? You're worried I've lost it again, but you're too afraid to just fucking say it."

"Chloe, I never thought you lost it. Losing your father was hard on all of us. We all had different ways of dealing with it."

"Good, glad that's settled, I'll see you later Mom," Chloe said coldly as she walked towards the door. Joyce moved forward and Chloe stopped, even if Joyce wasn't exactly blocking her way. No matter how mad she got at her mom, Chloe could never shut her down like she did almost everyone else. How could she when she was the only person who lost Dad too?

"Chloe, I'm not attacking you, I'm trying to help."

"I'm nineteen, I don't need your help anymore Mom."

"You're still in high school and I'm still your mother."

"You just have to trust me," Chloe said through clinched teeth. Why was no one trusting her this week?

"Chloe, you're holding bolt cutters and running out of my house at eight thirty," Joyce said exasperated. Okay, Chloe had to admit she had a point there.

"We'll talk later Mom, I promise. I have a lot to tell you. In the meantime, I promise I'm not up to anything illegal," Chloe said. At least she was pretty sure it wasn't illegal. Was it illegal to break into an evil lair? No one ever seemed to get in trouble for it in the movies. Joyce sighed and then held her arms out. Chloe rolled her eyes and then hugged her, at least as best as you can hug someone with three sweatshirts and a pair of bolt cutters.

"Just tell me you're okay," Joyce said as they parted.

"I promise Mom, I'm more than okay."


Chloe stopped the truck a street over from where she needed to be. She killed the engine and gathered her things. She pulled on the extra pair of pants, a couple sweatshirts, and finally pulled down the ski mask over her beanie. "I am the night," she muttered as she threw her hood over her head.

This was the first part of the plan. Super-secret lairs probably had super-secret surveillance cameras, at least that was what Max was afraid of. She didn't want Jefferson, Nathan, or anyone else to know Chloe was the intruder. So, it was time for secret agent Chloe to bring down the bad guys. She hummed the 007 theme song while she put some gloves on and tried to ignore the fact that her hand shock as she picked David's Maglite up.

She got out of the truck and started walking perpendicular to the road, towards a large, spooky barn silhouetted in the distance. She didn't turn her flashlight on, she could make it across the field by moonlight. It was another of Max's directives, she didn't want Chloe to give away her presence at all until she was sure no one was at the Dark Room.

"No problem Chloe, this is just like the two hundred horror movies you saw. And look how those turned out! Absolutely nothing to worry about," Chloe muttered to herself as she stomped across the field. At least she wore her boots like always, they were actually coming in handy here.

After what felt like two decades, Chloe finally arrived at the barn. She walked up from the back and carefully, quietly snuck around the corner and looked for any signs that someone else was there. Jefferson should still be occupied with the police, and maybe Nathan too. Max had told her what their cars looked like just in case though. She didn't see a black car or a red truck, or any car for that manner. She held still, listening for any signs of other people. Not that there was much to hear if they were already inside.

Chloe glanced over at the ramshackle barn. It was hard to imagine that this beat up looking thing was hiding a state-of-the-art kidnapping den. But, she supposed that was kinda the point. She took a breath in, then released it. Now started the moment of truth. She turned the corner and walked into the barn.

Nothing immediately jumped out and murdered her, which was something. Though really, it'd be a terrible horror movie if she didn't at least make it into the Dark Room before she was brutally murdered.

With that cheery thought, Chloe dug out her flashlight.

"Dear Jesus, please let this not be a terrible mistake," she muttered before turning it on. Just like Max described it, there wasn't much inside. Lots of straw thrown around, a rafter full of random wooden beams, and a box which Max had said was filled with old Prescott crap.

Chloe walked across the floor, heading to the middle back. She stomped, locating the metal plate she was looking for. She dug through the straw and pulled back the plate, revealing the concealed door complete with padlock.

At least this meant the Dark Room was probably empty, it's pretty hard to lock and cover-up a door after going through it. Chloe sighed and pulled out her bolt cutters. Now or never.

She expected it to be harder to snap off a lock, she wasn't known for her upper arm strength, but the it came off in just a quick snip. She pulled off the latch and opened the door. After a quick moment of hesitation, she decided to bring the bolt cutters with her. You never know when a sharp object might come in handy.

Chloe took a breath and then stepped inside. She closed the door behind her, hoping if someone else came she'd hear the door open to warn her. She moved into the room, strangely reminded of her garage. There were enough emergency rations in this room to feed someone for a year. What were they expecting? She shook her head and moved on quickly. Max had told her exactly what they needed pictures of and where it should be. The name of the game was speed. Get in and get out.

She moved through the room and down the hallway, ignoring everything else despite her curiosity practically screaming at her. At the end of the hallway was a door. Chloe hadn't really believed Max when she described it, obviously she had been exaggerating, but no, the door looked like a straight-up bank vault. How much did this cost? Chloe wondered as she moved up to the door. All so Jefferson can kidnap people and take creepy, violating pictures. What is wrong with people? Why can't they just buy a private jet like normal people?

Chloe moved over to the keypad, quickly entering 542. She heard the door click and breathed a sigh of relief. The code worked. She opened the door and froze for a moment.

Max had described it as extravagant, but after seeing the rest of the bunker Chloe had been expecting something more military. But a plush, white coach sat in the middle of the room, dark pieces of art hung on the wall, light stands and tripods were scattered around, and a wooden desk sat in the corner surrounded by printers.

Quickly Chloe quickly. Chloe reminded herself. She moved across the room, going towards the side where a selection of needles and a roll of duct tape sat on black boxes. She shuddered as she took out her phone and snapped a couple pictures. Next, she moved over to the desk and searched through various letters to Nathan from his father, finally finding the building contract that Max had talked about. She snapped pictures of the that and replaced everything. She did a quick 360, taking pictures of the entire room. Finally, she turned towards the most important piece.

She located the stack of red binders and took a picture of them. One said Victoria, Chloe quickly inspected it and confirmed it was empty like Max said. That was good, she might greatly dislike Victoria on an active basis, but no one deserved this.

She replaced the binder and pulled down the one that said Kate, her heart caving in as she laid it on the table and flipped through. It took everything in her to take the pictures, storing them on her phone. Her knuckles turned bright white as all her fear burned away into a rage. No one did this to Kate. No one did it and lived to talk about it. If she saw Jefferson again she wouldn't need the police, she'd handle him herself.

Deciding she had enough photos, far more than she could stomach, Chloe stuffed the binder back in the cabinet. All that was left was to leave. Chloe turned to go and then froze.

She turned back to the cabinet. One of the names seemed familiar. Stella. Chloe was pretty sure there was a Stella at Blackwell. She pulled the binder down and flipped it open. Chloe's eyes went wide. Yes, she knew this girl, had seen her on campus. Why hadn't Max mentioned her? The binder was filled with the same kind of sadistic shots Kate's had.

Chloe grabbed her phone, took a couple shots, and then put the binder back. She took one last look around. Everything in her wanted to grab one of those tripods and smash this place out of existence. Her fingers itched, desperate to leave every piece of equipment a smoking ruin. She could feel her lighter in her pocket. It'd be so easy to make sure those pictures were gone for good.

But that wouldn't help anyone. To put an end to it, to make sure Jefferson couldn't hurt anyone else, she'd have to drag all of this into the light. And Kate would be put through yet another ordeal. Chloe hated it, hated knowing she was going to hurt her friend to stop something even more vile. Chloe screamed, loud enough it echoed through the entire bunker. She screamed herself hoarse, until she felt better, at least a little bit. Her mind cleared and her heart suddenly started racing. Okay Chloe, that was the stupidest thing you could have done. Time to get out of here.

Chloe took off running, dropping all attempts at stealth, and left the Dark Room behind her.

She reached the barn and decided to just leave the metal grate off the door. She'd already snapped the lock, it's not like she'd been subtle. She turned and ran outside, making her way back to the truck.


"Chloe!" Max called out, suddenly beside her as she walked across the Blackwell lawn. Chloe turned, her arm flying out and passing right through a relieved looking Max.

"Did you just try to backhand me?" Max asked with a laugh, a couple of tears forming in her eyes.

"You scared the shit out of me dude, I told you to stop doing that!"

"Consider it revenge."

"Revenge for what?" Max just shook her head before giving Chloe a ghost hug. Chloe held still while she did it, it ruined the moment if Chloe accidently walked through her.

"I'm just glad to see you're okay," Max said as she pulled away, wiping away her tears.

"Of course I'm okay, a little kidnapping den isn't going to do me in. Not only that, but I got the pictures. Behold our new weapon!" Chloe said, holding her phone aloft.

"All hail the queen," Max said with a little bow. "Come on, let's head inside. You brought David's keys, right?"

"Fuck yeah, time for some breaking and entering," Chloe said excitedly as she moved towards the school building.

"It's not breaking and entering if you have the keys, it's just entering" Max said with a chuckle.

"Good, because I promised Mom I wasn't doing anything illegal today."

"Why would you do a silly thing like that?" Max asked as they reached the door. Chloe quickly whipped out the keys and picked out the one she needed without any trouble. Within moments the front door to Blackwell came open.

"Keymaster Chloe strikes again," Max said.

"Hmm?" Chloe asked, confused.

"Nothing, just feeling nostalgic tonight. Come on," Max said as she walked into the building. Chloe followed as Max turned towards the Main Office. She opened the door and walked into the receptionist area and headed straight towards Well's office.

"What are you doing?" Chloe asked, not even bothering to be surprised Max could open the door. Things never made sense with Max, she was just coming to terms with it.

"We need to use Wells' computer."

"Why?"

"How about you find out," Max said with a smirk, and then she vanished. Chloe whipped around, but couldn't see her anywhere. Right when she was about to yell out for her, the door to Well's office swung open from the inside, revealing a smiling Max.

"Okay...what the hell?"

"There are still many things you don't know young Padawan," Max chimed mysteriously.

"Yeah, fuck that, I repeat, what the hell?" But Max only laughed.

"Come on, we have to use his computer." Max walked over to Wells' chair and gestured to it. "Have a seat, I think you'll like it."

Chloe walked to the chair, muttering something about unhelpful ghost friends, and sat down. She hated to admit it, but it was a pretty fucking comfortable chair. It almost seemed a shame to waste it on Wells.

"Chloe Price, you're expelled for good this time. Because you smell like weed and wasted revenue," Chloe said in her best Wells' impersonation. Max arched an eyebrow at her. "What? I just wanted to know how it felt. It's nice sitting on this side of things for once." Max rolled her eyes.

"Did you bring your phone cord? We need to put the pictures on his computer. And put your gloves on, I don't want your fingerprints on the keyboard."

"I'm starting to feel like this is a one-sided relationship," Chloe muttered as she pulled her gloves on again. She took out her cord and plugged her phone in.

"And you thought I was joking when I said I was going to keep you hella busy today." The girls watched as Chloe slowly downloaded all the photos onto the computer.

"Okay, now what?" Chloe said as the download finished.

"Check to see if Wells stays logged into his email." Chloe clicked a couple times.

"Yep, what a tool."

"Okay, send the photos to David's email from his. Tell him about the kidnappings and the location of the Dark Room. Let him know you're a third party scared to go to the police, but you trust him. Then tell him the location of the barn." Chloe paused.

"Why are we telling David?" Chloe asked. "Why not just send it to the police?"

"I still can't leave this to chance. The police are used to cleaning up Nathan's messes, and this is a big one. I don't think they'd just turn a blind eye to this, but we can't trust something this big to them alone. We need a neutral party involved."

"Still, the doesn't explain why rent-a-douche has to be the one to turn it in. I mean, I could just go to the police now. Why all the run around?"

"No, Chloe. I don't want you involved. I have no idea how all of this will go down, and the last thing I want to do is drag you into something that could go south. I've already put you in enough danger, let someone else handle it from here on out."

"So, David takes the fall if something goes down? That's...cold Max, and that's coming from someone who doesn't like the guy," Chloe said, glancing over at Max. Max turned to her, meeting her eyes.

"I've done worse," she said simply, her eyes showing no sign of emotion. The hairs on Chloe's arms stood up as a chill went through her body.

"Max?" Chloe asked. "I think we need to talk soon." Max looked at her, a flash of sadness running over her face.

"I said we would. Now please, write the email."

"Yeah," Chloe said with a frown. She turned back to the computer. She wrote out the email with a couple suggestions from Max and then started adding photos.

"Wait," Max said, her eyes widening as the pictures zoomed by. "Wait, is that Stella?"

"Yeah, I thought it was weird you didn't mention her. I figured we could use them too, so I took pictures."

"There wasn't supposed to be a Stella Chloe," Max said. She stood up and walked away from the computer, her hand going to her head.

"Wasn't supposed to be? I'm not following Max."

"Stella never went to the Dark Room, at least I've never seen her go there," Max said quietly, back turned to Chloe.

"Okay, so this happened 'cause you changed something? Is that what you mean?" Chloe blurted out before she realized what that sounded like.

"Yes," Max replied before Chloe could take it back. "No matter what I do, someone always pays the price. Save one person, doom another. Why did I think this would be any different?"

"Max, it's okay, we're getting him now. No one else will suffer." Max stood there a moment and then waved her hand back at Chloe.

"Send the email Chloe. I'm done." Chloe paused, unsure what to say. In the end she couldn't think of anything, so she hit the send button.

"It's done."

"Good, you should go on home. I'll be there in a little bit and we can talk," Max said, her back still to Chloe, her shoulders slumped. Chloe stood up.

"I'm not going home," she said. Max turned towards her, her eyes full of hurt and confusion.

"What?"

"Not yet at least. You said you'd be there later. Where are you going now then?"

"Chloe…" Max began, her voice telling Chloe she was about to start a lecture.

"Fuck no Max, my best friend is hurting. I'm not leaving her like that. That's not what friends do."

"Chloe, I don't want you to…"

"Nope," Chloe said, interrupting her again. "I've done everything you've asked today Max. I raided a kidnap den literally called the Dark Room for fuck's sake. I'm asking one thing in return. Let me go with you. Let me hang out with my best friend." Blue eyes met, one full of determination and the other empty. Finally, Max sighed.

"Okay Chloe, follow me. And make sure you have David's keys, you're going to need them."

Chapter Text

Chloe followed Max across the Blackwell lawn. The sparse lighting cast long shadows across their path giving the familiar area an eerie feeling.

They walked in silence, one Chloe was eager to break, but she wasn't sure how. She didn't exactly understand what was wrong with Max, but she could tell it was something big. Some part of her was terrified it was too big, bigger than she could fix. But here she was, against Max's will, so she hoped that counted for something. Even if all it had accomplished so far was an awkward walk across a spooky lawn.

Max walked up to the entrance of the pool building and then stopped. She turned to Chloe, her face expressionless.

"You're up Keymaster Chloe," she said with a flourish towards the door. Chloe stared, taking a moment to process what Max was implying.

"You were going to the pool and you weren't going to invite me?!" She finally managed to get out.

"I…had a lot on my mind. Wasn't really in the mood for a pool party," Max said, at least having the decency to look a little guilty.

"I won't forget this Maxipad, you've disappointed me," Chloe said with a shake of her head. She waited a moment to see if Max would respond to her favorite nickname, but Max didn't seem to notice. She was still somewhere else, barely paying Chloe any attention. Chloe sighed and moved forward, quickly unlocking the doors despite the impressive amount of keys on David's keychain. This wasn't her first late night pool visit. She pulled the door open and gestured for Max to walk inside. She was starting to think this whole thing had been a terrible mistake. If Max didn't open up to her there wasn't much she could do.

Max walked forward and a sullen Chloe followed. Suddenly, Max stopped, almost causing Chloe to walk right through her. Max turned to her and Chloe was surprised to see a small smile on her face. She held her arms out.

"Boys…or girls?" Max asked, gesturing towards the two separate locker rooms. Chloe rolled her eyes.

"Duh, girls, thought that was obvious," Chloe said without hesitation, a smile of her own breaking out. This was more like it.

"Hmmm...I guess that's true," Max said with a laugh. She turned and walked into the girl's locker room and Chloe hurried to follow after her.

"So what's the plan exactly?" Chloe asked, bouncing slightly as she walked.

"Swimming, what else?" Max said like it was obvious.

"Really?!" Chloe asked. She ran ahead of Max and then turned around to look at her, walking backwards. "Max Caulfield just asked me to break into a school building so we could go swimming?! Is this really happening?" Max actually laughed before shaking her head.

"I had a lot of inspiration," Max said as Chloe turned and raced forward, heading for the pool.

"Come on slowpoke!" Chloe called back to her. Max smiled, big and carefree, but didn't increase her pace.

"Okay Chloe, I'll go get the lights," Max said as she emerged from the locker room to see Chloe standing right at the water's edge. "Strip and I'll catch up to you!"

Chloe froze a moment as Max walked into the pool office, thrown off by the sudden request. Chloe didn't even know what underwear she had on, the morning felt like ages ago. She was pretty sure she'd just thrown on whatever was on top of her dresser. She'd been in a rush to get to the diner with as few questions from Rachel as possible. Shit, hard to imagine that was today.

Chloe quickly pulled the front of her pants forward and took a peek at her underwear. Sure enough, it didn't match her bra at all and was less than inspiring. Great, this will make a fine first impression.

Chloe paused at the thought. Why was she worried about impressing Max? They'd been friends for ages, Max had seen her in her underwear countless times.

Of course that had been years ago, and now…

Now what? What was happening now? Why did it feel like things were different? And why was she thinking about the fact she was still technically dating Rachel? And why did that seem disappointing?

The lights to the pool suddenly sprang to life, bringing Chloe back to reality. Fuck it. Chloe thought. There's a pool and I'm going to enjoy it. Nothing more to it. She tugged her shirt over her head, kicked her boots off and pulled her pants down as quick as she could.

Not even bothering to look behind her, Chloe leaped into the pool. The lukewarm water felt amazing. She'd felt a little gross after sweating in God knows how many sweatshirts. Pool water wasn't exactly a shower, but it was an improvement.

"I don't think you have a future on the swim team," Max said as Chloe broke the surface of the water. Chloe swallowed her nervousness and turned to Max with as much confidence as she could muster.

"Neither do you from up there. Come on hippie, or was this all just a ruse to get me in my underwear?"

"Why can't it be both?" Max asked with a straight face. Chloe didn't know how to take that, didn't really know how to take Max at all. One minute she was talking about how Chloe shouldn't get too attached and the next she seemed like she was flirting with her. That was flirting wasn't it?

Suddenly Max turned slightly to the side, her eyes avoiding Chloe as she reached down to the edges of her shirt. Chloe could hear the blood pounding in her ear drums as Max pulled her shirt up over her head.

Chloe's mouth went dry, no doubt from the chlorine, and she couldn't stopped herself from watching the sight of the shimmering water reflecting off Max's pale stomach.

Chloe, stop ogling your best friend! You're getting creepy. Not to mention you already have a girlfriend! Sorta…

With more effort than Chloe would like to admit, she managed to tear her eyes away from Max just as her friend was about to pull her pants off. She awkwardly stared at the water until she heard a loud splash and looked up to see Max's head break the surface.

She looked...cute with her hair plastered to her head. There really wasn't another word for it. The light reflecting off the water made her freckles darker and Chloe's stomach fluttered at the sight. Fuck. Chloe thought desperately. There wasn't any way she could argue against it anymore. She had a crush on Max. And it was only getting worse. The only questions was, what the hell should she do about it?

"Should I ask about the logistics of why you actually get wet?" Chloe asked, putting aside her feelings for now.

"No, what you should be asking is why I can do this." Max said, and then flung her arm out, sending a wave of water to hit Chloe smack in the face.

"Okay yeah, how the hell does that work?" Chloe coughed out as she spit water.

"Mysteries," Max said as she laughed.

"And what if I'm fucking tired of mysteries," Chloe said. Max's laughter died as she saw the serious look on Chloe's face. "We've got time now Max, I think it's time you talked."

Max sighed and leaned back into the water until she was floating on the surface. Chloe waited, but Max didn't say anything. She just floated there, staring at the ceiling. Chloe looked up, sighed, and leaned back to float herself.

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours," Chloe said as they both floated along the pool water.

"Gross Chloe," Max said halfheartedly. Chloe ignored it.

"Just, tell me what's bothering you and I'll tell you what's bothering me. Seems silly for us both to be here brooding in silence." Max didn't respond for a moment, just long enough that Chloe thought she was going to ignore her again, before she suddenly piped up.

"Do you ever wish you could never grow up?" Chloe snorted and sent a splash of water over at her.

"You just turned eighteen and you're already tired of being an adult? Depressing much?"

"Hey, you told me to tell you what's bothering me, you don't get to make fun of me for it!"

"Uh, yeah I do dude, that's the best friend rite." Chloe said as she stood back up and looked over at Max. Max glanced at her and then stood up herself.

"Maybe I am tired of being an adult. I wish I could stay in our childhood forever Chloe. We could be pirates for all eternity, never have any responsibility and the worst we could do to the world is spill some wine," Max said, her eyes on the water. Chloe frowned and swam closer to Max.

"Hey, what's up Max?"

"Everything after William, all of it…I'm so sorry Chloe," Max said quietly. Chloe reached out and placed her hand near Max, floating just hairs away from her.

"You don't have to be sorry you idiot, we've talked this to death already. But it's not all bad you know, you look a lot better in your underwear now. I mean, you're still tiny but it's a bit of an improvement," Chloe said with a smirk. Max finally looked back at her, shooting her a glare.

"I'm serious Chloe."

"I understand that Max, you know I do. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've wanted to go back, be with you again, have Dad, just...be simple and happy…" Chloe shook her head.

"It's just that, there's some things that aren't that bad now you know? Like the way I feel right now." Chloe stared into Max's eyes as all traces of playfulness disappeared from her face. Max stared back, unable to look away. "The way I feel about you, about Rachel, it's a lot more complicated now. It's confusing and scary and...hella amazing. It's not simple, its not playing pirates, but I wouldn't want to go back. I think, I think some things are supposed to be complicated."

"The only thing I've done since growing up is make mistakes," Max said.

"You're talking to the super senior on academic probation who's currently trespassing. I think I own mistakes."

"You don't even know Chloe," Max said as her eyes dropped back to the water's surface.

"You're missing the point Max. I'm an adult, been one a year more than you thank you very much, and I don't have shit figured out. And you know what, I don't think anyone else does. Look at Frank for fuck's sake. Or Wells. Do you think he knows what the hell he's doing? Or my wonderful step-shit? Or my Mom for marrying that walking tool? I think that's the secret Max, you don't ever stop screwing up. Everyone's just making it up as they go and hoping no one notices. And when you're kids they just lie to you so you don't freak the fuck out."

Chloe took a step back from Max, standing up tall and getting into her full lecture mode. Despite herself, Max couldn't help but crack a small smile. No one could accuse Chloe of not being animated enough.

"And the people who do think they have it figured out? That's the people you have to watch. Just look at Jefferson, self righteous little ass. No, stick with the screw ups Max, you're in good company."

"Yeah, but when most people fuck up they don't kill people, or send them to the Dark Room." Chloe arched an eyebrow and then bobbed in front of her. With her couple extra inches it felt like she towered over Max. She looked down at her with eyes that made her look way too much like Joyce for Max's comfort.

"You killed people?" Chloe asked.

"I did."

"Like, you picked up a knife and stabbed them in the heart?"

"What? No, I…"

"You choked the life out of a dude?"

"No…"

"Smothered an old man in his sleep?"

"Chloe!"

"Shot someone in the stomach?"

"No!"

"Then how did you kill anyone?"

"Because I know things Chloe. I know when I do something people could die. And I do it anyway. Doesn't that make me a murderer?"

"There goes Super Max, putting the world on her shoulders. Get over yourself Caulfield," Chloe said. She fell backwards into the water with a splash before swimming away from Max. Instantly Max felt like a weight had been lifted, Chloe really was intimidating when she wanted to be.

"What?" Max asked, slightly irritated Chloe was just brushing her concerns off like that.

"Talk about a Jesus complex," Chloe's voice rose out as she drifted farther away.

"I don't…"

"What if you hadn't stopped me from going into the bathroom?" Chloe asked suddenly as she got back to her feet. She was halfway down the pool now so Max had to speak up for Chloe to hear her.

"Chloe, there's more to it…"

"I'd be dead, and you know who's fault that'd be?" Max opened her mouth, but Chloe pressed on.

"Sure not the fuck yours that's who. You didn't force me to threaten Nathan or go into a bathroom alone with him. That was my brilliant idea thank you very much. You didn't give Nathan a gun, tell him 'Oh hey, why don't you go shoot that Chloe girl for me, bitch hella deserves it.' At least I sure hope you didn't. And what about Kate? You didn't drug her, kidnap her, bully her. None of that is on you. You tried your best to help people. You can't blame yourself when it doesn't work out. At least you tried, more than most people do," Chloe finished. She splashed back down into the pool, lazily floating back towards Max. Max remained quiet as she did, waiting till she was right beside her before speaking up.

"They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions," Max said as she watched the reflections of the water dance across Chloe's face.

"Now you're just spouting cliches at me, give up Caulfield, you lost."

"It's a cliche for a reason Chloe. I told myself I was doing what I thought was best. I tried to help people. But at the end of the day, the only person I'm helping is myself. I help the people that are important to me, and I damn the rest."

"You and everyone else on the planet Max. It's basic human nature."

"That doesn't make it right," Max said stubbornly.

"Doesn't make it wrong either," Chloe said back. She got back to her feet and gave Max a smile. "Would you take anything back?" Chloe asked her. Max chewed her lip.

"No," she said quietly.

"Then don't agonize over it. Accept it and move on. It's all anyone can do," Chloe said. She walked over to the side of the pool and rested her elbows on the concrete.

"You know, you're pretty good at this. You should be a therapist or something," Max said as she walked up to join Chloe, leaning on the concrete beside her.

"Nah, I've just absorbed a lot from Dr. Strong. Years of therapy will do that to you," Chloe said as she glanced over at Max. Max was already staring at her. Chloe didn't turn away, just returned the stare.

"I'm serious Chloe, you could be a hella good therapist."

"Don't know if therapists are supposed to have imaginary friends who can see the future. Might look bad on my resume."

"I think it just shows you have first hand experience," Max said with a smile. Chloe shrugged but couldn't help but smile herself. "So…" Max said, one eyebrow arching up. "I've told you a lot of about what's on my mind. What about you?" Chloe sighed.

"Suppose you did," Chloe said. There was still more she wanted to talk about with Max, a lot more, but she guessed it was her turn.

"I'm…kinda hung up on Rachel," Chloe said.

"O-oh," Max said, turning away from her.

"It's not exactly what you think," Chloe said. She leaned forward and put her chin on the concrete side. She felt more comfortable staring at nothing while talking about her shit. It's how she always did it with Dr. Strong. "I'm not surprised she broke up with me or whatever. I've seen it coming I think, I just didn't want to admit it. I was being overly needy, she was being distant, I half wonder if she came here to break up with me." It felt weird to just admit it like that. She'd been anxious ever since Rachel said she was visiting. She thought it was just jitters from not seeing her for so long, but part of her had wandered.

"But…even if we aren't dating, which I'm not even sure on, I still want her in my life. She's one of my best friends, we were inseparable for years, I can't just throw that away. I won't."

"You're a good friend Chloe, better than me," Max said simply.

"I just suck at letting go," Chloe said.

"I like that about you," Max said firmly. Chloe cracked a smile before moving on.

"But I'm afraid we don't know how to be friends anymore. We were barely friends before we started dating. What does it mean to be friends with Rachel Amber? I'm not sure I know anymore."

"Well, I'm not an expert, but you could start by telling her that. She's scared, but if you let her know you still want her in your life she'll probably listen. The last thing you want to do is sit on something and never tell the one person who needs to hear it. Trust me." Chloe turned towards Max and looked at her.

"Did you know? That you were going to leave?" Chloe asked, the question bursting out of her. It was a question she'd been sitting on since this morning. She hadn't asked it, because she was afraid of the answer. Max looked over at her

"Yes," she said simply. She didn't turn away, she met Chloe's gaze. "I did, I didn't want to, I don't ever want to leave you again, but I had to. It doesn't change the fact it was my fault, though."

"The whole time?"

"Before I ever even talked to you, before you even knew who I was." It felt like a knife, white and hot, stabbed right into Chloe's lung. She tried to take a breath, but it just wouldn't come.

"Why didn't you tell me Max? I would've understood," Chloe said quietly. Max blinked, a couple of tears running down her face.

"At first I rationalized it. You were too young, you couldn't understand. Then I figured the time wasn't right. We needed to be close, so close you had to believe me. And then we were best friends and it was only a year away and I still wasn't telling you…" Max paused. She was looking past Chloe now, though whether she was stuck in the past or the future Chloe couldn't guess. "I was too scared. Again. I didn't want you to hate me."

"That worked out well," Chloe said darkly before she could stop herself. Max blinked, coming back to the conversation.

"I know it's not an excuse, but I didn't know how. How could I explain without doing more damage? And what if telling you broke something? I thought it was the best way."

"It wasn't Max," Chloe said simply.

"Chloe I…I didn't think you'd take me back. If you knew. I thought you'd be done with me." Max said, her voice practically pleading now. Chloe sighed. It still hurt, she didn't forgive Max, but she didn't see what continuing to hold onto it would achieve. She just wanted to be happy. After five years of suck, that didn't seem like too much to ask for.

"We all make mistakes Caulfield, I won't damn you for yours."

"Chloe…"

"Tell me about Rachel," Chloe said, turning the conversation. Max froze, taken off guard. She looked at Chloe a moment before nodding.

"I changed things already. I told you that. I did it little by little over the years, that's why I'm not always sure what will happen. Do you remember the letters we wrote together as kids?"

"Yeah," Chloe said, the implications suddenly dawning on her.

"That's how I did it. I sent letters to people, letters with information they shouldn't have. One of those letters, the most important one, I sent to Rachel."

"What was in it?"

"I won't drag out Rachel's business. But it worked Chloe. Because, according to the future I saw, Rachel shouldn't be here right now. She should have died six months ago." Chloe stiffened, a chill running down her spin.

"What?"

"Nathan Prescott and Mark Jefferson. Chloe, Rachel was supposed to end up in the Dark Room. But unlike Kate, she would never come back." Chloe's eyes widened.

"That's what you meant. You saved Rachel from the Dark Room, but Stella went instead." Max nodded.

"Now you know. I saved the person important to me, and damned the one that isn't."

"You didn't know Max, drop it," Chloe said tensely. Max frowned but didn't press the issue.

"But Stella didn't die, why did Rachel?"

"I don't know. It was an accident, that's not really the right word, but it wasn't intentional. Nathan was inexperienced and I think he took Rachel earlier than Jefferson wanted. He used the wrong amount of Frank's drug and Rachel ended up dead instead of unconscious. He felt awful about it, but that didn't stop him from taking pictures…"

"Max!" Chloe yelled, cutting her off. Her hand clinched as her mind raced. Nathan Prescott killed Rachel. For some reason that made Chloe ten times more pissed than when she learned the shit killed her.

"Sorry, sorry," Max said. "I've never talked about this stuff before, it just started coming out."

"What is this Max? You say it's a future you saw, but you talk like you lived it." Max glanced at her and then sighed.

"Say there was a time when Max Caulfield was a real person," Max said.

"I fucking knew it!" Max cracked a smile.

"Don't jump to conclusions, that time is dead and gone. Me along with it."

"But you were real, so that means…" Max shook her head, hard and sharp.

"No Chloe, its why I didn't want to tell you. Don't get your hopes up, don't wish for things that won't happen. I was real, but that's done with. This…" Max reached up and slowly brought her hand up to Chloe. She pushed forward and her fingers passed right through her face. "Is all I have left."

Chloe could never get used to that, she tried so hard to avoid reminders about Max. But even still...she couldn't let Max go.

"I don't care about shit like that, you're real Max. You have thoughts, you have opinions, you're fucking real."

"Agree to disagree." Chloe frowned.

"This isn't done. Tell me what happened? How did you get like this?"

"So say this Max Caulfield lived in a world very much like this one. She was best friends with a girl named Chloe Price. They dreamed of adventures and grew up together. Then Chloe's father died and Max moved away and they didn't talk for five years. She came back to attend Blackwell Academy. And then she met her best friend again, in a bathroom, where she saw her die." Chloe's eyes went wide, but Max continued. "And it was then she learned she could rewind time."

"Rewind…time?" Chloe leaned up, pushing off the pool wall." You can rewind time?"

"Could. I could rewind time." Chloe furrowed her brow.

"So what, you rewound your way out existence?"

"Kind of. So much stuff happened that week. I tried to fix it all. Tried to save you, Kate, stop Jefferson, undo Rachel's fate. It was too much, and I messed up so many times. I could never get it right."

"So how did you…end up like this?" Max got up and waded over to Chloe.

"I tried to change too much. Tried to go back too far. I made a mistake and suddenly Max Caulfield didn't exist anymore."

"Why did you…"

"I was trying to fix everything. I thought I could make it perfect," Max smiled. "And look how that turned out."

"Maybe we could…" Max shook her head.

"That story is over Chloe. It's not all bad, I never got everything right. But this time, with your help, we can make sure it works out. That'll make everything worth it."

"Max…"

"Better go put your clothes back on," Max said suddenly as she turned towards the pool entrance.

"Hey, I'm not done talking!"

"I know, but David's about to come break up the party."

"What?!" Chloe asked, suddenly remembering the fact that she was in her underwear. And fucking David was the last person she wanted seeing her like that.

"Yeah, he should be storming the place any minute," Max said calmly as Chloe raced past her.

"And you waited till now to tell me?!" Chloe complained as she pulled her way out of the pool. Max took her time, slowly wading after Chloe. She paused a moment as Chloe got out of the pool, watched as she bent over to pick up her clothes, a small smile cracking her lips.

"Hey, I was going to have you stay home, but someone insisted on coming. I can't be blamed," Max said as she pulled herself out of the pool.

"Fuck, mother fucking Fuck Fuck!" Chloe muttered as she tried to pull her pants over wet legs.

"Nice vocabulary, I see why you focus on the sciences," Max commented as she walked over to Chloe.

"Fuck you! Fucking invisible, cheating, can't believe…" Chloe cut off as she heard the echo of a door opening.

"Don't put your boots on. Get moving, I'll tell you where to go," Max said calmly as she picked her clothes up. Chloe's eyes went wide as she quickly pulled her shirt over her head. She turned towards Max, her eyes panicked and questioning.

"Head towards the boys locker room. Now," Max said. Chloe grabbed her boots and took off running just as the back entrance door started to open. Max ran after her.

"Put some clothes on," Chloe hissed as she saw that Max was still carrying her clothes.

"Why? They can't see me. I'll do it later." Chloe opened her mouth, but Max suddenly hard stopped as they entered the locker room. "Head to the bathroom and hide in the last stall. I'll tell you when you can come out," she said. Chloe nodded and quickly turned into the bathroom just as a beam of light lit up the room in front of them. She opened the stall door as quietly as she could and moved inside.

She stood in the stall for what seemed like hours, listening as the steady footprints of David or whoever drew steadily closer. Please don't come down here. Please don't come down here. She wasn't sure on the rules, but she was sure Wells would find a way to get her expelled for trespassing if he could.

"Okay Chloe, I can't stress this enough, quietly and slowly come out of the stall," Max said from outside. It made Chloe jump. Calm your tits, they can't hear her you idiot.

Chloe slowly pushed open the stall door, thanking God the hinge wasn't squeaky. She moved out into the bathroom and almost had a heart attack when she saw a security guard standing near the bathroom entrance, his back turned towards her as he looked into the pool area.

"Come on, hurry," Max said, beckoning to her. She was standing right next to the guard and, thankfully, was fully dressed now. Chloe swallowed hard and then moved forward.

Thank God Max had told her to wait on the boots.

"Okay, keep coming, he's about to call out and move a little forward. That's your chance to get past him," Max said. Chloe moved up and was just a couple feet from him when he rocked forward and yelled into the pool area.

"You see anything?" Chloe rushed around the bathroom entrance and into the locker room.

"Okay, you're in the clear. Just don't make any noise and head for the entrance." Chloe nodded and padded her way across. True to her word, no one else was blocking her path. She pushed open the pool door, walked through, and then caught it and quietly pushed the door close.

"Okay then, let's run for the truck," Max said.

"Oh fuck yeah," Chloe breathed out. They ran across the parking lot and Chloe ripped open her truck door, throwing her boots on the middle seat as she jumped in. She pulled out her keys, hit the ignition, and wheeled out of the parking lot just as beams of light started heading down the steps.

Chloe throw a middle finger back as she pulled into the street and Max started laughing in the seat beside her.

"Oh, I still haven't forgiven you Max," Chloe said darkly as she drove.

"Oh come on, you have to admit it was pretty badass," Max said, still laughing. Chloe glanced at her and then back to the road. She had to admit, the whole point of staying with Max was to put her in a better mood. Looking at the carefree expression on Max's face, the way her eyes narrowed into slits as she laughed, Chloe had to admit the adventure had been a success. Even if she almost had to get expelled to get there.

"We were kinda badass," Chloe admitted with a smile.

"You were like a ninja, sneaking past that security guard," Max said.

"Because I had an invisible sidekick showing me the way. Felt like I was playing Legend of Zelda or some shit."

"...you did not just compare me to Navi."

"Hey, you're small, you're invisible most the time, you're bossy, and you know everything. I don't think it's a comparison as much an observation."

"...I have never regretted the fact that I can't punch you more than I do right now."


"Hey Max," Chloe asked sleepily as they lay in her room. She hated to admit it, but the day was finally catching up to her. There was still so much stuff she wanted to know, wanted to understand, but her brain was refusing to cooperate.

"Yeah?" Max said beside her. It was so nostalgic having Max right here. She could hear her breathing, feel the weight of her in her bed, could feel her toes barely brushing against her.

"I'm fucking glad you came back man."

"Me too Chloe."

Before long, Chloe's gentle snores filled the room. Max rolled over, watching her friend's peaceful face in the glow of the computer screen. She raised a hand and brought it close to Chloe's face, stopping just short of her cheek. "I'm so sorry," she said quietly. "Please Chloe, when all of this is done, please forgive me. I tried so hard, you have no idea how much I tried. I'm sorry I lied to you. Don't hate me. You're all I care about anymore, never doubt that. Don't hate me."


Chloe woke up and the first thought she had was that Rachel was in her bed. It didn't take long for something to feel off about that. It didn't seem like Rachel, it didn't smell like her either. But if it wasn't Rachel...

She turned over and her heart caught in her chest as she saw Max, seated in the bed beside her and staring at her closet. For a moment she felt like crying. How many times over the years did she beg for this? How many times did she go sleep hoping to wake up to find Max right beside her again. It seemed as unlikely as walking downstairs and finding Dad.

But here she was. Yesterday hadn't been a dream. Her best friend was back.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Chloe said as she leaped across the bed and landed beside Max. Max didn't even bat an eye, which really wasn't fair.

"Was just wondering when the sleepyhead was going to wake up," Max said calmly, if a bit distracted.

"Seriously, being a friend with a time traveler sucks sometimes," Chloe muttered.

"Nah, I just know you too well," Max said as she stood up and walked over to Chloe's closet. She reached out and opened the door and started to glance around inside.

"Uh, Max, what are you doing?"

"Just checking on something. Mind your own business."

"That's my closet, so I think that makes it my business."

"True," Max said with a little laugh. Chloe frowned, that wasn't her normal laugh. It sounded strained. Max pulled the closet shut and then grabbed her other arm. She walked towards Chloe's old blue desk, avoiding Chloe as she moved.

"Max, what's up, you're like a ball of nerves right now."

"No I'm not," Max said stubbornly. Chloe slid off her bed and walked over to Max. Max glanced behind her and her eyes went wide as she saw Chloe coming.

"What are you doing?!" Max asked, recoiling from her.

"Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Nothing." Chloe took a step forward and Max jumped to the side, clearing the blue desk so she couldn't be cornered.

"Okay, what the fuck? Wait…is this some future thing? Do you know something?" Chloe demanded. Max quickly glanced down and that's all Chloe needed.

"What could possibly happen in my bedroom?" Chloe demanded.

"I don't want to hurt you…" Max whispered.

"How could you hurt me?" Max looked up at Chloe, and her face was a mess. Tears streamed from her eyes and she wouldn't meet Chloe's gaze. Chloe halted, completely confused.

"Max? What the fuck is going on? Just tell me." Max finally locked eyes with Chloe. She was debating something Chloe could tell, agonizing over something. Finally she swallowed and seemed to make up her mind.

"Chloe, I-I want you to understand something. I wasn't going to tell you, it's a horrible idea. I spent all morning coming to that conclusion, decided I shouldn't do this. But now that it's here…" Max took a step forward and suddenly it was Chloe who felt like taking a step back. Max's eyes were still puffy, tears still sat on her checks, but she looked determined now. "This is so stupid. The timing is terrible…but it's the only time I have."

"Max?" Chloe asked, but then Max was right next to her. She leaned forward and Chloe realized what was happening a moment before it actually did. Her mind asked a million questions, got zero answers, then Max's lips were on hers.

It was barely a kiss, it didn't last hardly a second. Compared to the stuff she'd done with Rachel, it shouldn't have even registered.

And yet…

It was Max's lips. She'd felt them, soft and gentle against hers. She'd felt Max's hand brush against her face, tentative but loving.

Chloe stared at Max as she pulled back. Their eyes met. Chloe saw something in that moment, a love she hadn't seen since her dad died. But she also saw sadness, deep and profound. It shook her. How could Max be sad about a kiss? Chloe was feeling a lot of things, but sadness wasn't one of them.

"Ma…" Chloe started.

"Chloe?" It wasn't Max who said her name. It was a voice she knew all too well. She turned to see Rachel standing by the now open door. She looked absolutely terrified, which made Chloe's heart sink. Chloe had wanted to try to explain things, get Rachel to understand, but this was not how she wanted that conversation to start. She could only imagine what she looked like right now.

"Rachel, just try to…" Chloe died off as Rachel walked into her room, moving not towards her, but towards Max. She was looking right at her. "Wait, can you…"

"Max?" Rachel asked. Max didn't look surprised, nothing surprised Max it seemed. She did look exceedingly embarrassed and guilty though.

"Hey Rachel," she said with a nervous smile. "N-nice to finally meet you."

Chapter Text

"You're Max?" Rachel asked, leveling a glare at Max as she advanced. Chloe knew she should step in. Rachel wasn't one to pull punches, and Max didn't really like confrontation. The least she could do was say something, but she couldn't make her mouth work. Nothing was working really, she hadn't even recovered from Max kissing her and now Rachel was back and could apparently see Max. And she hadn't even had breakfast yet.

"Yeah…" Max said, drawing back a little at the intense look Rachel was giving her. Rachel moved forward again, her glare going from icey to positively murderous. Max stepped back, her eyes going to Chloe, wide and pleading. Chloe took a step forward, trying to push her confusion aside for a moment before her girlfriend (exgirlfriend?) murdered her best friend.

"You can see her?!" Chloe repeated uselessly. At least she'd managed to say something. Rachel froze a moment before whirling to face Chloe.

"Of course I can fucking see her, she's right there!"

"Rachel, you don't understand! Calm down for one damn minute and…"

"No! You had your chance to explain and you lied to me," Rachel said. She paused a moment, meeting Chloe's eyes, then she abruptly turned and headed towards the door.

"Damnit Rachel," Chloe said as she followed after her. "Just wait a sec, I'll explain."

"At least have the decency not to insult my intelligence," Rachel said, but she stopped as she reached the door. She glanced back at Chloe, and the look on her face made Chloe freeze. She hadn't seen Rachel look that raw in...fuck it must have been when her parents got divorced. "Why couldn't you just tell me the truth Chloe," Rachel said quietly. "That used to be who we were for each other." She blinked, clearing away tears that were just starting to form. "Good luck Max, you'll need it," she muttered darkly and then turned the doorknob.

Chloe rushed forward, slamming her hand into the door above Rachel's head so she couldn't pull it open.

"Just calm down, it's not what you think it is."

"Like hell it's not! What were you thinking Chloe? You made up a whole story just so you could cheat behind my back? I was worried about you! How could you…"

"Do you really think that sounds like me?" Chloe said as Rachel started tugging on the door with all her might. Chloe swore as the door started opening. She moved her hand and then charged forward, slamming her shoulder into the door and crashing it shut.

"What is going on up there?!" Chloe heard her mom calling from the first floor.

"Let me out Chloe!" Rachel said, not letting up on the door.

"Not till you listen!"

"I've heard enough from…"

"Why don't you tell Chloe why you left Arcadia Bay so quickly," Max said suddenly. She wasn't loud, she was far quieter than either of them, but her voice shook Rachel and Chloe out of their moment. Neither one moved away from the door, but at least they weren't threatening to rip it from its hinges anymore. For now.

"What did you say?" Rachel asked as she turned back towards Max. Max hadn't moved, she was still standing by Chloe's blue desk. When it came to the fight or flight response, Max generally went with 'freeze in place.'

"You left Arcadia Bay right after you graduated is what I heard. Why'd you leave so fast?"

"I was anxious to get out," Rachel said, but her voice had a strange edge to it. Chloe frowned.

"What's going on?" Chloe asked.

"You probably were anxious. I mean, I wanted to make sure you were," Max said as she walked closer.

"You did?" Rachel asked, sounding as confused as Chloe felt.

"After all, I did tell you you might die if you stayed." Max stopped just a couple feet away from Rachel as Rachel's eyes widened.

"You?" She asked.

"Me."

"What…" Chloe started and then it clicked. "Oh! The letter, that's what you're talking about." Rachel jerked towards Chloe.

"How do you know about that?!"

"Max just told me last night, though she didn't tell me what she wrote."

"Rachel, Chloe didn't tell you the whole truth because she didn't know it. She didn't mean to hurt you. And...she didn't kiss me, I kissed her. She was as surprised as you. So please, don't be mad at her. I'm the only one who hurt you."

"She said you weren't real," Rachel said. She leaned back from Max, a worried look on her face. Now Chloe really wanted to read that letter. Whatever Max had written in it had really messed her up.

"I'm not technically, not like you and Chloe are."

"I don't…"

"Hold out your hand," Max said. Rachel looked at her hand, stared at it as if debating. Finally she frowned and thrust it out. Max reached out and put her hand over Rachel's, hovering above it. Then her hand went down and passed right through.

Rachel gasped and quickly pulled her hand back, cradling it against her chest like it had just been burnt.

"Chloe wasn't lying to you. I'm not real, and most people really can't see me. I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth."

"What do you mean most people, I thought I was the only one?" Chloe asked. Max shook her head, her face darkening as if remembering a painful memory.

"Not the only one Chloe, there are some other people too."

"Who? Because you've been with me all over this whole fucking town and no one else has ever even glanced at you."

"No one else in town," Max said, but then she frowned. "At least I think so."

"Why? Why can I see you?" Rachel asked. She still held her hand against her chest, but she seemed to be recovering quickly. Chloe had to hand it to her, Rachel was always quicker on the uptake.

"You were supposed to die six months ago Rachel. But, because I gave you some information you shouldn't have had, that didn't happen. I altered your timeline, just like I've altered Chloe's. That's why."

"Six months…" Rachel whispered. Max smiled.

"I'm glad you're here Rachel, you have no idea how good it is to see you. I sorry about the...circumstances," Max said. Her eyes shifted, looking towards the back of Chloe's room with an annoyed expression. "I have to get downstairs."

"Now? You can't just drop that bomb on Rachel and then leave," Chloe said.

"I don't have a choice," Max said with a sigh. "I'll be downstairs for a little while. You two should...talk in private probably," Max said, her voice catching slightly.

"Max, just stay, it's alright…" Chloe said.

"I'll be downstairs, try not to take too long," Max said quickly, and then walked through them and the door.

"What the fuck?" Rachel said with a shudder.

"Welcome to my madness," Chloe said tonelessly. Truth be told, she was pretty shook up too. Max hardly ever walked through people, she normally went out of her way to avoid it.

"No seriously, this can't be happening!" Chloe glanced over at Rachel. She looked a mess, which was a very un-Rachel thing to do. She obviously was having a hard time with everything, which, honestly, Chloe couldn't blame her for. Unfortunately, Chloe wasn't in the mood to take it easy on her.

"So you left me alone in this shithole because a letter claiming to be from the future told you to. And you call me crazy?!" Chloe said instead. Rachel glanced at her and a slight blush formed on her checks.

"It was just a precaution."

"A precaution you followed without telling me," Chloe said stubbornly.

"And what was I supposed to tell you, I had a letter from the future that says to pack my bags before I die? You'd think I was crazy."

"Gee, wonder how that would feel?" Chloe said as she kicked off the door and started pacing her room. Rachel breathed out a sigh.

"Chloe, I don't want to argue right now, my brain is struggling enough as it is." Chloe ground her teeth, but didn't say anything. Honestly, she was arguing more out of general frustration than anything Rachel had done. They'd both kept secrets. Now they were paying the price.

"So what did your letter say exactly?"

"Mostly it just had movie releases," Rachel said with a shrug.

"Movie releases?" Chloe asked, pausing in her pacing.

"Yeah," Rachel said. "It took me awhile to pick up on it, but it had a whole list of movies and when they would release. Years worth of releases. At first it wasn't that surprising, but it just kept going. I got the letter when I was fourteen. That's four years of movie times." Chloe blinked and then burst out laughing.

"God, she's such a nerd. Saving lives with movie releases." Rachel stared at her for a moment and then a smile broke her face.

"Okay, but it was kinda freaky at the time. I mean, I had a letter from a legit time-traveler and she was warning about my impending death."

"So what, you had to leave Arcadia Bay after you graduated and then you wouldn't die?" Chloe asked. Chloe did some quick counting in her head. Max had said Rachel died six months ago which would be...April. So leaving in May shouldn't have saved her.

"It...said some other things. Said there was some people and activities I shouldn't get involved with."

"Like Nathan Prescott and Mark Jefferson?" Chloe asked before she could stop herself. Rachel's eyes went wide, and then narrowed in suspicion.

"She already told you," Rachel whispered, her voice as sharp as a knife. Chloe shook her head.

"No, she didn't, but she did tell me how you were supposed to die so I could make some guesses."

"You know how I die?" Rachel asked. Chloe slammed her mouth shut, cussing herself out in her head. That was a topic she did not want to talk about, not right after seeing the Dark Room in person.

"How you were supposed to die," Chloe clarified.

"Tell me," Rachel said. She moved closer to Chloe. It made Chloe feel uncomfortable, which was a weird reaction. She couldn't remember ever giving a shit if Rachel was in her personal space, that's usually right where she wanted her.

"Not yet," Chloe said. She reached out and stopped Rachel from getting any closer. Rachel looked down at Chloe's hand on her shoulder and frowned. Chloe let go and walked back towards her desk. "We'll get into that with Max but…Mark Jefferson and Nathan Prescott, why would you even want to get involved with those pricks?" Rachel turned towards her, but thankfully stayed where she was.

"He's a world famous photographer and he liked my work. You know what a good word from him could have done for me?"

"Get you killed," Chloe said flatly.

"Allegedly," Rachel retorted.

"But you followed the letter. You barely talked to the guy."

"Yep, I listened to the crazy letter, and now I'm living in a crappy apartment in Portland, alone, taking part-time jobs and wondering if I've already ruined my life."

"Oh boohoo, things didn't go easy for you. As if kissing that douche's ass would have been worth it."

"I won't fail Chloe. I won't prove my parents right," Rachel said. Chloe glanced at her. She wasn't looking at Chloe now. Her mind was somewhere else. Chloe liked Rachel's drive, it was probably what attracted Chloe to her so much in the first place. Most of the time it was hard for Chloe to care about...anything really. She admired people like Rachel. But sometimes...sometimes it felt like Rachel's goals were more important than anything else in her life. Or anyone.

"So what, everyone's just a tool to get you higher?" Chloe asked. Rachel frowned and then looked over at her, her eyes hard.

"If that's what it takes."

"What about me? What did I give you?" Chloe asked. Rachel's eyes widened, her face softening as she looked worriedly over at Chloe.

"Chloe…"

"Breakfast is ready girls!" Joyce called out, her voice carrying from downstairs.

"Don't want to leave her waiting, you know how she complains if the food gets cold," Chloe said.

"Chloe, you were never…"

"It's fine Rachel," Chloe said as she walked over to the door. She flung it open, blocking Rachel as she moved towards her. "Lets get breakfast, I'm starving."


"What was going on upstairs? Nothing better be broken," Joyce said as Chloe and Rachel entered the kitchen.

"We were having…a discussion," Chloe said neutrally. Joyce raised an eyebrow at her and looked between the two of them.

"Well next time have your discussions outside," Joyce said with a sigh. "Now sit down and eat. And no fighting at the table."

"Yeah yeah," Chloe said. She grabbed a plate and made for the table. Rachel grabbed her own plate and looked around, trying to figure out where Max had gone. She couldn't see her anywhere, and after Joyce gave her a questioning look, she decided to just make her way to the table too. Usually she sat across from Chloe, but that didn't feel right at the moment. She made her way to the other corner and sat down. Chloe didn't even glance at her.

"School's canceled today," Joyce called out from the kitchen.

"What? Why?" Chloe asked, perking up instantly.

"Well there was that girl on the roof yesterday, and now something else has come up. I can't say much, but you should be proud of David. He did an amazing thing last night." Chloe just snorted.

"I'm sorry, proud? David? Are sure you're making complete sentences here? I can't process."

"You will be proud, mark my words Chloe. He's going to be a town hero."

"Oh yeah, so proud he could take all the credit," Chloe muttered as she started into her pancakes. Rachel arched her eyebrow, but Chloe ignored it.

"Oh good, you made it downstairs. We have to go soon," Max said from behind Rachel.

"Holy shit," Rachel said through clenched teeth, her heart racing in her chest. Chloe actually laughed, which almost made the minor heart attack worth it.

"I'm sorry, I walk quietly," Max said apologetically. Rachel opened her mouth to say something, which was when Joyce walked into the room.

"What's wrong Rachel?" She asked as she sat down across from her. Rachel glanced from Max to Joyce to Max, but Joyce didn't give any indication she could see the girl.

"She really can't see me Rachel. Or hear me. Just you and Chloe," Max said.

"You okay honey? Chloe, what did you do to the poor girl?" Joyce asked.

"I didn't do anything," Chloe said irritably. She shot Rachel a glare and Rachel tried her best to ignore the girl standing right behind her.


"How do you do it, just act like she's not there? I couldn't stop staring at her. I'm pretty sure your mom gave me a few weird looks," Rachel said quietly to Chloe as they walked out the front door.

"You get used to it, not a big deal. You should try being Max," Chloe said with a nod toward the girl. She was standing next to Chloe's truck, waiting for them to catch up. Apparently whatever she had planned involved Chloe chaperoning.

"I can't even imagine…" Rachel said to herself as Chloe walked ahead to met up with Max.

"So where to now Maxaroni?" Chloe asked as she pulled the truck door open and climbed in. Rachel paused as she walked up. Usually she would jump into the side seat, but Max was standing there. One of them would have to ride in the middle. If Max even rode in cars. Wouldn't she just fall through a car? Wait, how was she even standing on the ground? Fuck, this was not how Rachel imagined today going.

"To the diner, for a little bit at least. Sorry, today has a lot of movement to it," Max said as she climbed into the truck. That answered Rachel's questions. Max in the middle. Which would put her next to Chloe. Rachel sighed as she got into the truck.

"And you're going to explain why we have to keep moving when?" Chloe asked as Rachel climbed in. Chloe glanced at her, her look less than accommodating. For a moment Rachel thought she was going to be kicked out, but then Max started talking again.

"I want to do it in order, now that Rachel's here. I want to at least try to make this possible to understand," Max said quietly. Rachel was starting to think she said everything quietly. She had a soothing kind of voice, one that was naturally inclined to compliments and apologies. Rachel could kind of see the attraction, and she was cute in a defenseless kitten kind of way.

"That reminds me, what the hell were you doing here anyway Rachel?" Chloe asked suddenly, interrupting Rachel's thoughts.

"Is it a crime to visit my girlfriend?" Rachel asked, matching her tone to Chloe.

"After you break up with them for being crazy? Fuck yes," Chloe said as she jerked down hard on her gearshaft and backed out of the driveway. Between them, Max shifted uncomfortably. It seemed like Max wasn't a fan of conflict. How'd she get to be Chloe's friend then? Chloe breathes out conflict and mayhem. Rachel thought.

"I didn't say I broke up with you…" Rachel began, but Chloe interrupted her.

"No, just heavily implied it. Multiple times. And then acted like you were leaving town without so much as a goodbye."

"Like lying and sneaking around with other women is so much better."

"It wasn't like that…"

"Oh yeah, then what exactly did I interrupt this morning?"

"Again, that was entirely…" Max began.

"Well maybe you shouldn't have ran out on me last night. Then I could have explained everything to you," Chloe said.

"I was worried about you! I wanted to help you get better, not enable you."

"Yeah, because abandonment is a great way to help," Chloe said, her voice practically dripping venom. She glanced over at Max who hurriedly looked away. "That goes for you too, time wizard." Max settled back into her seat, her face a mask. Rachel looked over at Chloe, but didn't have anything else to say. She wasn't sorry exactly, she still believed she did the right thing with the information she had, but there was no explaining that to Chloe. She was too fucking stubborn.

Usually when Chloe got like this, Rachel would let her blow off her steam for a couple days and then some weed and a good makeout session would put them back together. But that was before there was a Max. That...complicated things.

"So what, you came back to make up?" Chloe asked after a moment. At least Max looked just as miserable as Rachel felt.

"I came back because of the eclipse," Rachel said as she looked out the window, watching Arcadia Bay flash by.

"Huh?" Chloe asked.

"I checked into it Chloe, Arcadia Bay is the only place in the world that had an eclipse last night. Whatever was covering up the sun, it wasn't the moon," Rachel said as something caught her eye. A bird, laying dead in someone's front lawn. For some reason it made her shiver.

"And…you wanted to come talk about the moon with me?"

"I…was going to ask you to come to Portland with me," Rachel said with a sigh.

"You...what?!"

"Not for long term, I still want you to finish school, but…" Rachel turned towards Chloe, her face serious. "Chloe, something's happening in Arcadia Bay, the snow, the eclipse, it's all centered here. Everyone might be acting like it's some fluke, but I know it means something." Chloe glanced over at Rachel and then looked at Max. The girl was practically fidgeting in her seat. Chloe arched an eyebrow at her.

"Got something to add Max?" She asked.

"It...might not be a bad idea, going to Portland." Max said evasively. Chloe frowned.

"It might not be a bad idea?" Chloe repeated. "You do realize how maddeningly vague that is?"

"We're almost to the diner, I'll explain there."


"On Friday a storm will form out in the bay, a massive tornado," Max said after the waitress brought drinks for Rachel and Chloe. Rachel felt kind of weird drinking in front of Max, apparently she didn't eat or drink go figure. It just seemed like they were rubbing it in her face. If it bothered Max, however, she gave no sign.

"And that's what the eclipse and everything is about? Some tornado?" Rachel asked. Max nodded.

"It looks like a tornado, but it's more like...a time storm," Max said.

"Time storm? God you're a nerd," Chloe said before slurping loudly on her straw.

"Oh, we're just getting started. I haven't even begun to nerd!" Max declared and Rachel tried to hold back a groan.

"Focus. Time storm. Explain," Rachel said between clenched teeth. It was already a struggle to get Chloe to stay on a topic, if Max was just as bad Rachel foresaw a massive headache in her future.

"It's something I didn't understand before. I couldn't, until I could look at it from a different…perspective. The storm is just part of a larger event, the part we can see here. But it's more like a…tear. A rip in…"

"She's going to say space-time," Chloe said quickly.

"...space-time," Max finished right with Chloe.

"Jinx!" Chloe called out as she slammed her fist down on the table.

"Seriously?!" Rachel said, every last one of her nerves snapping.

"You're just jealous I'm getting this faster than you," Chloe said with a smirk as Max continued laughing on her side of the booth. Behind her, Rachel happened to catch a glimpse of the TV. The newsman was talking about last night's eclipse. Max glanced at her and then over at the TV and her face sobered up some.

"Anyway, the storm reaches through the tear. It's like…a release of tension that helps put everything back in balance," Max continued.

"And why aren't things balanced?" Rachel asked.

"That...would be me," Max said a little sheepishly. Rachel stared at her a moment. She glanced over at Chloe, who shrugged and then nodded.

"You? You…ripped space-time and summoned a giant tornado?" Rachel asked.

"Yes."

"How?"

"Max can rewind time. Could rewind time? She's from a different timeline," Chloe said matter-of-factly, as if commenting on the weather.

"You're from a different timeline?" Rachel asked. She felt like all she was doing was repeating everything they said, but she was struggling to keep up.

"Guilty," Max said with an apologetic smile.

"And…in that timeline you could…rewind time?" Max nodded. "God I'm going to need therapy after this," Rachel muttered as she picked up her drink, more out of a desire for something normal than because she was thirsty.

"Try living it," Chloe said, a small smile on her face. She was definitely enjoying this Rachel knew. She probably saw this as poetic karma.

"So what, you played with time and now some tornado is coming to make you pay?" Rachel asked.

"Yes, that's pretty much it."

"Pretty much it?!" Chloe broke in. "Dude, you weren't 'playing with time.' You were saving people!"

"Regardless," Max said with a shake of her head. "This is my fault."

"Hey, I'm tired of this martyr shit, its not your fault Max. If anything, it's mine."

"How is it your fault?" Rachel asked, interrupting before Max could continue the blame taking game. Rachel looked at Chloe for an answer, but for some reason she pointed at Max. Max frowned but started talking.

"I saved Chloe's life. In my timeline. She was supposed to die in the Blackwell bathroom on October 7th. I...got my powers then. I unconsciously rewound time and undid it."

"But you didn't use your powers to save me this time. You just…told me not to go into the bathroom. So why is the tornado still coming?" Chloe asked.

"It doesn't matter what I do in this timeline. It was always going to come," Max responded.

"Huh?" Chloe asked. Rachel was glad she wasn't the only one not following any of this.

"It took me so long to understand this, you have no idea. The storm isn't tied to any one timeline. It's a tear in time itself, I can't use my powers to escape it. No matter what I do, no matter what timeline I create, the storm still comes."

"Wait," Rachel said. "I don't understand. How are you creating timelines?"

"Actually yeah, you never told me," Chloe said.

"Eventually I discovered I have another power, beyond just rewinding time. Actually, I discovered it today, the today of my timeline that is," Max said.

"Because that wasn't confusing," Chloe said dryly.

"Right," Max said, blushing slightly. "Anyway, I discovered if I look at any picture that has me in it, really look closely at it, I can travel back to the moment that picture was taken. Once I'm there, I have to stay in the location of the photo, and I only get a few minutes, but I can do anything I want, change anything I want. After the moment passes, I zoom back to the present, only it's not my present anymore. The changes I make, it creates a different timeline."

"That...is both really powerful and really limiting," Rachel said.

"Tell me about it," Max said, giving Rachel a smile. Rachel considered, and then smiled back. Rachel didn't know too much about her, and she did kiss Chloe, but it seemed like she was stuck with her for now. Rachel figured you might as well have the time-traveling, ghost girl on your side. And she didn't seem like a bad person, for a girlfriend-stealing cheat.

"So...if I'm thinking of this right...that would mean you're from the future? How far?" Rachel asked. Max's eyes widened slightly.

"Y-yeah, that's right. At this point...a little over a week. About a week after the storm."

"So why didn't you zoom ahead this time? And I assume you weren't a ghost originally. How did that happen?" Rachel asked.

"She erased herself," Chloe said darkly, glaring at Max.

"It's not important…" Max began, but Chloe slammed her hand down and stood up.

"Like fuck it's not important! I don't give a damn about this storm, we should be talking about how to help you!" Rachel grabbed Chloe's arm and yanked her back into her seat.

"Quieter you idiot," Rachel whispered into Chloe's ear. Already half the diner was staring at them. Chloe looked around and grimaced.

"Still, I meant what I said."

"And I meant what I said. There is no helping me, let's focus on what we can help. Arcadia Bay. Where, it just so happens, your mother lives Chloe. And Kate," Max said forcibly, glaring at Chloe. Rachel had to admit, she was a little impressed. She was beginning to think Max was a bit of a push over, but it seemed she had more steel in her than Rachel gave her credit for.

"Wait, there's something else I wanted to know," Rachel said, cutting into their argument yet again. And she thought Chloe and her had a lot of tense moments.

"What?" Chloe asked, clearly irritated at the interruption.

"You mentioned you had to come here, why's that?" Chloe blinked, and then turned her attention back to Max. Apparently this was an interruption she was okay with.

"You know how I mentioned when I photo jump through time I can't move far?" Rachel and Chloe nodded. "Well, that's my entire life now. I'm tied to that other timeline still, stuck on what happened there. Picture a TV, I can move around the scene, but I can't move beyond the edges. And when the camera moves, I have to move with it. Wherever I went then, I have to go now."

"What happens if you don't follow? Do you just get drug around?" Rachel asked.

"Kinda. I'm, I don't have a physical body to drag, but my mind follows."

"But I don't get why. You erase yourself from this timeline so you have to follow your past timeline?" Chloe asked. It was a good question, Rachel didn't get it either. Max shrugged.

"Don't look at me, time travel doesn't come with a manual. I'm just trying to piece it together too. Best I can figure is that, since the photo jump didn't complete, I'm stuck in endless photo jump. What I do know is that I can drag that timeline into this one momentarily. Make them touch. It's why I can do things sometimes. If it's something I did in the other timeline, I can make it real here. So I can hug Kate on the top of the girl's dormitory for instance."

"Or kiss me," Chloe said, her eyes going wide.

"I...yes," Max said with a nervous glance at Rachel. Rachel's stomach felt like it was full of acid for a moment. She pushed the feeling aside and pressed on.

"Why can I see you? I mean, I know you said you saved my life, but why does that mean I can see you?" Max blinked, thrown off by the sudden question, but she quickly recovered.

"I changed the course of your life Rachel. Me, personally. There wasn't an outcome where you escaped the Dark Room until I directly interfered. You can't feel it, but that marked you. I changed you, moved you in a direction people aren't meant to go," Max said.

"Well that...sounds ominous," Rachel said. "And what's the Dark Room?" Max smiled.

"Don't worry, the Dark Room doesn't matter anymore. Fuck does that sound good to say. As far as the rest of it, it's not as weird as it sounds. It's just...man where's Warren when you need him?" Max muttered.

"Warren? Warren Graham?" Chloe asked, confused. Max waved the question away.

"Okay, you know how time is it's own dimension?" Rachel nodded. "Well, normally people are affected by time, but they don't interact with it. The storm and me, we do, we're fully part of that fourth dimension. When I saved you and Chloe, I made you...I don't know, more like me. It's like we exist near the same level now. You're not fully three-dimensional anymore, you're puesdo fourth dimensional."

"And this Storm is...fourth dimensional too?" Rachel asked. Max nodded enthusiastically.

"It looks like a normal storm, but it's more than that. It's bigger than that, broader. All the signs you've been seeing? They're the windup, the preparation. And there's going to be more. Dead whales, two moons Friday night. It's all part of this buildup. And this time I can feel it. I didn't understand before, couldn't understand really. But I'm more than I was, or less. This time I can do something about it"

"Do what exactly?" Rachel asked. Max opened her mouth, but then grimaced.

"We need to move outside. Out to the parking lot," she said with a sigh.

"I'll pay real quick," Rachel said, getting up. She glanced over at Chloe. "I'll pay for you too, at least one of us has a job," she said with a wink and moved to the cash register before Chloe could respond.

Once Rachel was gone Max slumped against the back of her seat.

"Holy fuck she's intense. I feel like I'm being grilled," Max said with a groan.

"You have no idea. You should try playing twenty questions with her. She's a master," Chloe said. They didn't look at each other, Max starred up at the ceiling and Chloe down at her drink. Chloe opened and closed her mouth a couple times, chewing on a question that had been building inside her.

"So...you...kissed me in that other timeline huh?" She managed to get out. Max's face went beat red as she glanced over at Chloe, her eyes wide.

"You dared me to," Max said in a rush before turning away from her again.

"I dared you to kiss me?"

"Yes." Chloe chewed on that for a moment.

"But then you felt the need to do it again. I don't remember daring you this time," Chloe said carefully. Max glanced at her and then back at Rachel, who had already paid and was heading back towards them.

"I did," she said simply. Chloe looked up at her, locking eyes with Max.

"Okay, let's head out...what'd I miss?" Rachel asked, looking between the two of them.

"Nothing," Chloe said quickly. "Let's head outside."


"So, you said you think you can save us all from time-tornado destruction?" Rachel asked as they walked across the parking lot.

"Yeah, like I was saying, the storm is on another level. I didn't realize that at first. I tried everything I could think of to stop it, but no matter what I changed it still came. As long as Chloe is alive, as long as I have my powers, the storm destroys the town."

"Couldn't you just jump back in a photo, warn me about the bathroom, and then jump back? Then you don't have to save me in the bathroom so you won't get your powers. Crisis averted," Chloe said. Max shook her head.

"That's what I was saying, it doesn't work like that. Even if I use a photo jump, it still departs from the original timeline and I still have my powers. Only reverting to the original timeline can stop the storm. Which I wouldn't do even if I could," Max said forcibly. Rachel glanced over at her, a thoughtful look on her face.

"But you don't have your powers now right? Maybe it's not coming," Chloe said hopefully.

"It's coming Chloe, there's no doubt. I might not have my powers, but I've definitely made a mess of this timeline."

"So what's the plan? How do you stop it?" Rachel asked.

"Well, it happens because of an imbalance right? And I'm that imbalance. The problem isn't Chloe, it's me saving Chloe, my powers. I'm a walking bundle of paradoxes. If I just...go to the tear myself before the storm comes and go through, I might be able to balance it out. Hopefully enough that things won't explode." Chloe froze, stopping in place.

"No," she said. Max glanced back at her, pausing in her steps. Chloe met her eye. "You're talking about killing yourself. That's your grand plan, sacrifice yourself to the storm."

"It's the only way. I can't fix the timeline, but I can relieve some of the tension," Max said, her face impassive.

"That's not a plan!" Chloe yelled at her. Instead of responding, Max turned and kept walking. Chloe suddenly realized she was headed for Frank's RV instead of her truck.

"Get back here Max, I'm not done. Nowhere fucking close to done."

"I have to go inside, we'll talk when I'm done," Max said calmly as she walked up to Frank's RV.

"You have to go inside Frank's nasty drug den? Why?" Chloe asked.

"It's not important. I'll be right back," Max said.

"Well how fucking convenient," Chloe said through clenched teeth. Max paused for just a moment, and then walked right through the door. Chloe turned and kicked Frank's tire so hard her foot started throbbing. From inside the truck she could hear Frank's dog starting to bark.

"Oh shut up!" Chloe screamed, loud enough her voice went a little hoarse. She turned and spotted Rachel staring at her.

"What are you looking at?" She asked darkly, turning away from her.

"You kissed Max," Rachel said as she walked in front of her.

"We've been over this," Chloe said, pushing past her.

"I could tell you were crushing on her in your journal. So what, you're crushing on her again?" Rachel called after her as she walked away. Chloe froze.

"I don't know Rachel. She keeps telling me to let her go, don't get attached, then she turns around and kisses me. And now she wants to kill herself and leave me all alone again."

"She's crushing on you too, I can tell," Rachel said. Chloe turned around. Rachel looked blurry standing by the RV. Chloe wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

"Then why does she keep pushing me away? Why won't she just trust me?"

"Because she loves you, you dense idiot. That's what you do when you're afraid you're going to hurt someone you love, you push them away," Rachel said as she walked over to her. Chloe sighed and then sat down on the asphalt.

"This is so messed up, I'm getting relationship advice about my imaginary friend from my girlfriend."

"So we're still girlfriends?" Rachel asked as she sat down beside her.

"Fuck Rachel, I have no clue. Leaving yesterday, that felt final. And now with Max…"

"I meant what I said Chloe, we can work through you kissing another girl. If that's what you want." Chloe sighed.

"I can't just...go back to how it was before. I'm not like that."

"I know," Rachel said quietly. The two lapsed into silence, watching the RV. "Just to warn you, once I'm done figuring out everything, I might punch her in the face."

"Won't do anything you know?"

"It'll make me feel better…"


"Into the truck," Max said after walking back out of the RV.

"God damn it Max, you can't keep avoiding this," Chloe said as she stood back up. "Think of a new plan, this isn't happening."

"Drive Chloe. Back to Blackwell," Max said as she walked past her. Her face was a mess, and her checks were specalled with tears.

"No, not till you answer," Chloe said, stepping in front of Max and blocking her way to the car. At least in theory, in reality Max just walked right through her.

"I'm going there regardless, do you want to come along?" She asked as she walked up to the passenger door.

"No, I'm tired of you ignoring me when it's convenient for you! Think of another fucking plan! Or fuck this town, because I won't lose you. Not now."

"There isn't another plan Chloe! I'm dead no matter what happens!" Max burst out. Chloe paused, confusion and fear deflating her anger.

"What are you talking about Max?" Chloe asked, her voice coming back down to normal levels. Rachel watched from where she sat on the asphalt as Max suddenly broke down entirely, tears streaming from her face. Chloe rushed over, awkwardly standing near Max. It hit Rachel then, Chloe couldn't even touch her to reassure her. What would a relationship like that be like?

"You know how I said I'm from the future, from just a few days from now?" Max asked when she'd calmed down somewhat.

"Yeah," Chloe said
"And that I'm following that other timeline, moment to moment." Chloe nodded.

"Think about it Chloe. Next Friday, there won't be anymore moments to follow. After next week, I have nothing to tie myself here anymore. What happens to the character on the screen when the TV turns off? Worst case scenario, I drift through time, unconnected for the rest of eternity. Best case, I simply cease to exist. That's the only two options Chloe. Either I try to save Arcadia Bay, or I let it be flattened and disappear a couple days later anyway. That's it. There isn't another ending."

"No," Chloe said, her voice quiet. "There's another way. We'll find it. You haven't even told us what made you like this. You might not be able to think of anything, but me or Rachel might be able to. I'm not giving up Max."

"There's nothing you can do," Max said, a sad smile crossing her face. "And...I think we missed our window," she said as she looked past Chloe. Chloe whipped around, as if trying to see this edge thing Max talked about. Of course, she couldn't see a thing.

"It's fine, I'll meet you at Blackwell and we can start working on something. Just tell me where to find you."

"It's okay," Max said. "I photojump for the first time back at Blackwell. I'm not really sure what will happen to me while that happens. But I know for certain I'll be in your room in a couple hours. Meet me there and we can talk."

"Max…" Chloe said, unsure what else to say.

"It's okay Chloe, thank you so much for caring. After everything I've done…"

"Max, you haven't…" Chloe started, but Max wasn't there anymore. Chloe starred for a moment, and then walked around to get inside her truck.

Rachel blinked a couple times before registering that Chloe's truck was her only ride out of here. At least the only ride she was interested in at the moment. She picked herself off the asphalt and hurried over to the truck before gingerly opening the door.

Chloe sat on her seat, her head slumped against the steering wheel. She didn't say anything so Rachel slid inside and buckled herself in.

"So what now?" Rachel asked after a few awkward moments. Chloe's first instinct was to snap at her, work some of her frustration out, but she held back. It wasn't Rachel's fault, none of it really was. That said, she still didn't have a fucking clue what to do. So instead of answer, she just growled in frustration and started hitting the steering wheel.

"I suppose we could go back to your house and wait on her…" Rachel mused, remaining calm despite Chloe's meltdown, she'd seen enough of them. Going home did not sound like a good idea to Chloe. Sitting and waiting was not one of her strong suits, especially when she was just waiting to restart an argument that she wasn't sure she could win. But she had to. She wouldn't lose Max, not again, not after all her feelings for her had been ripped back open.

"Fuck!" Chloe screamed out, slamming her arms down so hard on the steering wheel they started tingling painfully.

"Take that as a no?" Rachel asked.

"No," Chloe agreed. She needed something to take her mind off things, calm her down. "I've got an idea," Chloe said and she took her keys out of her pocket.


"Chloe!" Kate called out excitedly as Chloe walked into the room. It had barely been a day since Kate Marsh had tried to jump off a roof, but the difference was already stark. She had a smile on her face as she sat by the window, the most beautifully free smile Chloe had seen in a long time. The last time Chloe had seen her she'd been a wet, frazzled mess, but now she looked warm and fresh.

It wasn't perfect of course. She still had dark circles under her eyes. Her hospital gown and the stark white walls didn't let you forget for a moment why she was here. But, maybe, in a couple weeks, all of that would be in the past, and Chloe could meet the real Kate Marsh.

Arcadia Bay. Where, it just so happens, your mother lives Chloe. And Kate.

Chloe pushed the thought aside and walked into the room.

"Hey Kate, how's it hanging?" She asked.

"Hanging well," Kate said with a laugh. The laugh dried up when Rachel walked into the room.

"O-oh Rachel Amber…" Kate stammered out.

"Yeah, sorry, she's visiting this week and she insisted…"

"Hey Kate," Rachel said, interrupting Chloe. Chloe huffed in annoyance, but moved aside so she could walk in.

"H-hi," Kate managed. Chloe forgot this sometimes, the effect Rachel had on people, especially since she'd been gone for so long. Chloe didn't blame Kate, she hadn't faired much better when she first started hanging out with Rachel. She was intoxicating.

"I know you don't know me, and I won't stay long, I just wanted to say that I'm so glad I got to meet you. Chloe just wouldn't stop talking about you so I wanted to say hi." That was a bit of an exaggeration. Chloe had just wanted to stress how awesome Kate was so Rachel would understand she was so much more than 'that Christian girl.'

"Oh, uh, hi. It's, uh...very nice to meet you," Kate said, holding out her hand. Rachel took it with a firm, yet feminine, shake and a warm smile. She turned to Chloe. "I'll be outside, take as long as you like."

"Yeah," Chloe said, and the other two girls watched as Rachel walked out of the room.

"So she's your girlfriend?" Kate asked as Chloe walked over to her table.

"Girlfriend is a strong word. We're…going through a rough patch," Chloe said as she sat on the chair across from Kate. "Oh! I didn't even ask, are you okay with the whole...you know, gay thing?" Chloe asked.

"After what you've done for me, I'd be your friend if you said you just committed murder," Kate said with a smile.

"I'm not sure being gay is really comparable to murder," Chloe said, already regretting the comment before it was done leaving her mouth. Kate's face flushed as her eyes widened with terror. Way to go Chloe, pick on the depressed girl.

"No, I didn't mean...I'm not really...I don't think…" Kate shoulders slumped in defeat. "I don't have much experience with stuff like this," she said quietly.

"I didn't think so," Chloe said. She reached across the table and gave Kate a hard slap on her shoulder. "It's okay, not everyone can be as awesome as me." Kate gave a weak smile, but Chloe could tell she still felt bad. Couldn't just let it go this once? The girl's got enough on her plate.

"I don't know if being gay is a sin. I'm not God," Kate said suddenly before Chloe could think of what to say. "But...I don't know how He could be against love and...you are who you are Chloe, and I'm so very appreciative of that."

"Oh, uh, well thanks," Chloe said with a smile. The God talk still made her uncomfortable, but she knew Kate meant well.

"So...is Rachel the reason you look so down?"

"I look down?" Chloe asked, surprised. She thought she'd been hiding it better.

"You look more depressed than me and I'm the one on suicide watch," Kate said. "That...was supposed to be a joke…" Chloe laughed.

"Jokes are good. Jokes are very good."

"So?" Kate prompted.

"No, it's not Rachel. At least not entirely. It's just…" Chloe waved her hand in the arm, desperately trying to conjure some way of telling Kate her imaginary friend turned out to be real right after Chloe had fallen in love with her, but now she wanted to sacrifice herself to save the town. Preferably in a way that didn't sound completely crazy.

"It's just…" Chloe said again. "Okay, so hypothetically, let's say I have this friend. And she's in the hospital because she's got this disease. And she's not doing well, we're talking weeks left to live at the most. And there's some other people in the hospital who could, like, really use her organs. And now she wants to pull herself off life support right now so she can help all these other people before it's too late. But I don't want her to because I want those couple weeks with her. I want all the time I can get."

"Wow," Kate said, obviously not expecting that.

"Yeah."

"And...this is real? Your friend?"

"Well...it's a little more complicated than that but...yeah."

"Chloe that's...that's really hard. I'm so sorry," Kate said. She reached across the table and took Chloe's hand in hers. Her hands were smaller than Chloe's, not that that was surprising. Chloe had big hands for a girl. It was soft too, kinda like Max's was just yesterday at the railway. Chloe gave Kate a smile.

"You don't have to be sorry, it's just...what it is."

"Did you tell her this?"

"I did. It...did not go well. I was going to try again." Kate frowned, her other hand going to her chin as she thought. It was cute, Chloe didn't think people actually did that outside TV shows.

"I...can I be honest Chloe?"

"Of course Kate, hit me up."

"If it were me...I think I'd want to do it too." Chloe felt the pit of her stomach harden.

"...why?" She asked.

"I would...want my life to mean something. Better to be remembered for something hopeful, than to waste away in a hospital bed. Sorry, I know that's not what you wanted to hear."

"No," Chloe said as she quickly rubbed a sleeve against her eyes. "It's good to get some perspective. Sorry, I shouldn't have bothered you with this. That's not why I came here."

"I'm glad you did," Kate said as she squeezed Chloe's hand. "It's the least I could do."


"How'd it go?" Rachel asked as Chloe walked out of the hospital room.

"Peachy," Chloe said as she walked past her.

"Have you been crying?" Rachel asked, sounding surprised.

"Why would I do that?"


Chloe stared at her computer, trying to drag her eyes away from the clock on the desktop and failing. Chloe didn't think Max would be back any time soon. It'd only been an hour and a half, earliest Max would be back was probably in half an hour. And Chloe watching each second tick by was definitely not helping.

"How can they not see how weird this is…" Rachel muttered to herself behind Chloe. She was glued to the news on Chloe's old TV. Chloe didn't know why she bothered, they just kept saying the same unhelpful things.

Chloe grabbed her mouse and opened the web browser, desperate for something to distract herself. She opened up Google and tried to think of something.

She typed in Max Caulfield into the search bar. Because apparently she wasn't able to think of anything else.

As expected, the search got her nowhere. There were a lot of Max Caulfield's, and about 80% of them were male. She went up to close the browser.

Instead she changed the search to Maxine Caulfield. She had no self control.

This time the search at least came up with females. That's about all she could say. She wasn't sure what she was hoping for anyway, there shouldn't be anything. Max had erased herself, there wouldn't be any record of her.

But maybe some part of her hoped there was because she typed Arcadia Bay, Oregon in front of Maxine and hit the enter button. She wasn't expecting anything. Which is why she skipped over the article at first, her brain taking a second to process.

Her whole body jolted awake as she read the title for a second time. She clicked on it, her hand shaking as she hurriedly started reading.

"Holy shit," she said.

"What?" Rachel asked, glancing over at her.

"Holy fucking shit!" Chloe repeated.

"What?" Rachel asked again. Chloe didn't even know where to begin so she just vigorously pointed at the screen until Rachel came over. Rachel's eyes widened.

"What...the fuck?"

"Max's been lying to us," Chloe said. "She's lying Rachel. She's fucking lying."

Chapter Text

As Chloe starred at the computer she felt warm arms wrap themselves around her. She jerked in surprise, but quickly settled into the embrace, letting Max's touch relax her. For a moment she forgot everything going through her mind, just let herself drift away as her best friend held her. For a moment. Then it was over.

"Sorry Chloe, I know we didn't part on the best of terms but I wanted…" Max said behind her, but her words died as Chloe shifted to the side, giving Max a clear view of her computer screen. "What is…" Max started as she looked in confusion, then her eyes widened in recognition.

It hurt, seeing the panic on Max's face. Some part of Chloe had been hoping Max didn't know.

"Why don't you tell me," Chloe said quietly. Max quickly glanced between the computer screen and Chloe.

"I don't know what you're thinking Chloe, but its not…"

"Don't lie to me!" Chloe said sharply, louder than she meant to. Max jerked away from her, her mouth snapping shut. "Don't lie to me," Chloe said again, quieter, as she turned her chair around to look at Max. "Not this time. Please. For once just tell me the truth," Chloe said, her voice practically a whisper now.

"...you weren't supposed to find out," Max said quietly, backing away from Chloe.

"It's the age of the internet Max, no one has secrets," Chloe said.

"Please Chloe," Max begged, moving beside her so neither were facing the computer. "Just forget this. Trust me." How many times had Max asked Chloe to trust her? How many times had Chloe blindly followed? It was almost embarrassing how easy she must have been to fool.

"I can't do that Max. You lied to me," Chloe said, turning away from Max.

"...I can't Chloe. Please…"

"It says the hospital you're at Max, in Seattle," Chloe said, pointing at the screen. "Tell me, or I'll find the answers there." Max turned her head away, her eyes squeezed shut as if trying to block out everything that was happening. Chloe waited, but Max didn't say anything. Chloe slumped in her chair and absently scrolled up and down on her screen causing the name of the article to appear and disappear at the top. It read "Father decides to stop feeding tube after more than a decade." Behind her Max walked to the edge of Chloe's room and collapsed by the closet, staring at the ground. Chloe waited. Max remained silent. Eventually Chloe couldn't handle the disappointment anymore. She stood up.

"I wanted to give you one last chance, but I guess that was stupid…" She said as she started for the door.

"Chloe!" Max called out behind her. Chloe stopped.

"Just tell me Max," Chloe said. She turned around to face her. Max's face was streaked with tears, but Chloe ignored it. "How about we turn this around? How about you try trusting me for a change?"

Max gaped at her. She looked so vulnerable, her eyes bloodshot as she held herself on the ground of Chloe's room. Chloe's heart tore itself apart as the desire to kick Max in the face intermixed with her desire to hold the girl and tell her it would be alright. She loved and hated Max right now, and neither emotion subtracted from the other. It was a feeling she was all too familiar with, something she had felt every moment since her dad died. She didn't know if she was up to going through it again.

And yet.

She walked over to Max and sat down beside her.

"There was an accident. When you were a kid," Chloe prodded. Max looked at her and Chloe could see the hesitation in her eyes. She waited, hoping Max would trust Chloe like Chloe had trusted her.

"It wasn't an accident," Max said finally, her voice barely above a whisper. Chloe's stomach turned, but she wasn't surprised to hear her say it. She just hadn't wanted her too.

"You were six, there was a car. You wandered into the road…" Chloe tried to rationalize, but Max shook her head.

"It wasn't an accident," she repeated. Chloe stared at her, saw the emptiness in her eyes.

"...why?" Chloe managed. Max's eyes stopped watering, the emotion draining out of her face.

"I talked about this with you. Partially. I couldn't find a solution Chloe. No matter what I did everything ended up broken. Either I let you die, or I killed an entire town and watched the guilt destroy you anyways."

"Which was why you tried going back further," Chloe said, still clinging to a hope she knew wasn't there.

"At first," Max said. Her voice was so cold. Unattached. It sent a shiver down Chloe's spine. Had this always been inside her friend? Had she just been too naive to see it? "I tried going back, but it didn't matter. The storm still came. People always died. Because of me."

"It wasn't because of you Max, how many times do I have to…"

"I couldn't save everyone Chloe. And I couldn't make your life right. No matter what I did, I always took something from you. Always hurt you. Which is the last thing I want to do."

"But Max...that doesn't mean you had to...I mean...why Max?" Chloe asked again. Max's eyes flashed as something dark crossed her face.

"What else was I supposed to do Chloe?!" Max burst out. She stood up, suddenly towering over Chloe.

"I was eighteen! I hadn't even graduated high school! And the world expected me to…" Max stopped as she saw the look of fear on Chloe's face. Max grimaced before turning away from her. "I couldn't choose Chloe. I couldn't. I just...wanted it to end. I couldn't do it anymore. I thought, maybe if I wasn't there, then…"

"No!" Chloe said firmly, interrupting her. She stood up and walked over to Max. Her arms went up, and then awkwardly hung there as she realized there was nothing she could do with them. All she wanted was to hold Max and she couldn't. All she could do was stand there like a dumbass and try. "Max don't, don't say those things. Never."

"I did it Chloe," Max said flatly. She turned to look at her friend, but her eyes were far away. "We were going to the park, Mom had taken a picture of me and Dad walking. I was six. I thought if I...it was before we met so maybe without me everything would…" Max paused, and then she smiled at Chloe, tears streaming down her face. "But I fucked it up. I didn't die. I ended up like this and now we're doing this damn week all over again. And I'm not sure how much more I can take."

"I can't…" Chloe began, the words dying off as soon as they formed. She wished she could shake Max, force that lost look off her face. She didn't know what to say. She only had an inkling of an idea what Max was going through. Living through her father's death had almost killed her, and she only had to do that once. But what she did know was that she wasn't going to lose Max too.

"I don't have the answers Max," Chloe said. "All I know is I'm going to fix it, no matter what it takes. And saving you is the first step."

"Chloe, what are you doing?" Max asked as Chloe started towards the door.

"I'm going to Seattle Max. I'm going to stop your father from pulling the plug. And then I'm going to wake you up and get us out of this mess."

"Chloe, no, you can't do that," Max said, her voice sounding almost scared.

"Actually I can, it's remarkably easy to drive to Seattle. People do it all the time."

"Chloe! Stop!" Max yelled as Chloe reached the door. She paused for a moment. And then she turned the doorknob. "He's doing it because I asked him to," Max said. Chloe froze, her eyes going wide.

"...What?!" She asked as she rounded on Max.

"I'm stuck in a limbo, I didn't lie about that. And as long as I'm stuck like this then I have to follow the path it sets, the one that leads to the storm. I have to break the pattern. I have to cross into the tear Chloe. That hasn't changed." Max breathed in deep before looking Chloe in the eye, her face determined. "But to do that I can't be tethered here. As long as I exist in this timeline, I won't be able to cross. I have to sever the connection."

"Sever the…" Chloe began, but then her eyes widened as the implications set in. "You're talking about killing yourself Max! That's your grand fucking plan?!"

"The plan hasn't changed Chloe."

"That isn't the same fucking thing. That isn't what we talked about! How has it not changed?! You said you were going to die anyways. You promised there was nothing else we could do!"

"Because it doesn't change anything," Max said sternly.

"Fuck that, it changes everything. You're alive, you're a real person, and I'm not watching you die. Not if I can do something about it."

"I'm not alive Chloe. That Max, she's been in a coma for twelve years. This isn't like the movies, you don't get up from that. You have to accept that."

"You think I don't know that?" Chloe asked, tears starting to stream down her face. "You think I haven't spent all last night reading every fucking fact on comas and vegetative states and everything? I know how hard it will be. I know what the chances are. But there is a chance. And you lied about that. You tried to take that from me. Fuck that."

"Because I knew what you'd do! You can't throw away everything, let this whole town be destroyed for some slim chance I might live. You can't do that."

"Fuck you Max Caulfield," Chloe said quietly as she turned away from her.

"Chloe?"

"Fuck you Max. You can't stop me." Max's eyes went wide.

"No Chloe."

"It's not your decision anymore. This time, you don't have to choose. This time, it's all on me," Chloe said as she turned the doorknob.

"Chloe...No! Chloe stop! You don't know what you're doing, what this can do to you! Please listen to me. Chloe!" Max yelled, but the door slammed shut. She ran to it, desperately pushing against it, trying to push through, but it might as well be made of stone. The harder she pushed the more her mind started to blank until she couldn't push anymore.


"I thought I heard you yelling upstairs Chloe, everything okay?" Joyce asked carefully from the kitchen as Chloe reached the bottom of the stairs. She could tell by her voice that Joyce must have heard everything. She couldn't care less. None of that mattered now.

"I'm going to Seattle," Chloe said as she tried her best to ignore Max's screams echoing from upstairs.

"Excuse me, no you aren't," Joyce said, her gentle demeanor disappearing. Good, Chloe preferred this. She hated being treated like she had 'fragile' taped all over her.

"I'm nineteen and there's no school for at least a couple days, what's the harm?" Chloe asked as she walked into the kitchen. Joyce stopped fiddling with the dishes and leveled a look at her.

"The harm? I'm not blind Chloe, I can tell you're not doing well. I'm not letting you drive across the whole damn state."

"You should come with me then if you're so worried," Chloe said with a shrug. Joyce blinked, clearly thrown off by the sudden invitation.

"Come with you?" She asked.

"Yeah," Chloe said carefully, trying not to sound too interested. "It could be a daughter/mother bonding thing, like you see in those shitty family comedies."

"Chloe that's...sweet actually, but I have work. If you'd said something last week…I know you didn't know but, I'm sorry Chloe maybe we could plan for another day?"

"Maybe," Chloe said. So much for that plan. It'd been pretty weak anyway.

"Anyway Chloe, I want you in town. Just for this week, we can see about something later. There's just so much going on right now." Joyce said as she turned back to the dishes, apparently thinking the conversation was finished. Chloe sighed. She hated doing things the hard way, no matter what people thought.

"I'm going to Seattle Mom, I'm serious."

"Chloe," Joyce said as she dropped her sponge into the water. "Just one time could you not…"

"Max is in Seattle Mom," Chloe said. She stated it calmly, but the way Joyce jerked made it look like she'd yelled.

"Chloe, Max is…" Joyce said slowly as she turned back towards her. "You know she isn't...I thought you were over this?" Chloe didn't answer, instead she dug a printout out of her pocket and held it out to her mom. Joyce frowned and wiped her hands on her apron before taking the paper.

"She's at the University of Washington Medical Center. She's a real person, she always has been." Joyce looked at the page and then furrowed her brow.

"There must be hundreds of Max Caulfields in the world Chloe. This doesn't make her your Max."

"They're going to kill her Mom. I can't let them do that."

"You're not going Chloe. I don't know what's got into you this week, but I'm worried."

"You don't understand Mom, I'm not asking. I'm going and I want you to come with me."

"That's not happening Chloe. What we are going to do is call Dr. Strong. It's been too long since your last session." Joyce said as she walked towards her purse. Chloe grabbed her arm to stop her. Joyce looked at her in shock, but her face softened somewhat when she saw the tears on her daughter's face.

"I'm trying to help you Chloe." Chloe flinched. Too many damn people wanted to 'help' her lately. Why didn't they understand that it was everyone else who needed her help?

"If you want to help come with me."

"I can't honey, I know this must be hard…" Joyce cut off as Chloe's grip tightened.

"You don't understand Mom. You can't stay here. You have to come with me."

"Chloe, you're scaring me," Joyce said calmly.

"Good!" Chloe burst out, letting go of Joyce. "You should be scared! You should be fucking terrified! You don't even understand what's at stake here!" Chloe said as she paced around the kitchen.

"Listen to me Chloe, you need to see Dr. Strong. Please. For me. Then we can talk about Seattle." Chloe paused, looking over at Joyce.

"Just...just trust me one fucking time Mom. Trust that I know what the hell I'm talking about."

"You know I love you Chloe…"

"Just…" Chloe stopped. Joyce wasn't going to go with her, and it wasn't like she could kidnap her. Chloe had known this was how it was going to go. She hadn't even entertained the idea she'd convince her mom to drop everything and travel to Seattle. But still...

"Do me a favor then Mom."

"A favor?" Joyce asked, clearly confused.

"Watch the news tonight. It's really important."

"The news? What does that...Chloe!" Joyce called out as Chloe walked out of the kitchen. "Chloe!" She called again as she started after her.

"Just watch the fucking news!" Chloe said as she yanked the door open and then slammed it shut behind her.


Chloe walked out of the only gas station in Arcadia Bay with a receipt for a full tank of gas, a Planter's can of peanuts, a way too big can of Arizona sweet tea, and a pack of cigarettes. She opened the truck door and threw her bag onto the passenger seat before climbing in herself. She slammed the door of her truck shut as she slid in. The door collided and then bounced back, slightly agar.

"For the love of fuck, not now fucking…" Chloe muttered as she tried again. "Not today, fuck!" Chloe screamed as the door bounced again, the latch not catching. She slammed her forehead against her steering wheel, the pain relieving some of her frustration. Not bothering to raise her head off the wheel, she reached into her pocket and took out her phone. She barely needed to look at it to call the only number she had on speed dial.

"Rachel," Chloe said as she heard the phone answer.

"Not go well?" Rachel asked. Of course Rachel could already tell. She could read Chloe like an open book. Too bad Chloe had never been able to do the same to her. And here she'd thought Max had been different.

"No, not with either of them. Max is pissed at me and Mom thinks I'm crazy all over again," Chloe said.

"We...kinda figured that's how it was gonna go," Rachel said sweetly.

"Still wasn't fun," Chloe grumbled. "How'd it go on your end?"

"Perfectly," Rachel said proudly. "I guess that's an advantage of small town living. There was literally nothing better to put on the news tonight."

"Good, at least I convinced my mom to watch it."

"Was that before or after you convinced her you're crazy?" Chloe groaned.

"After. And after I told her I was driving to Seattle."

"So let me get this straight, you crazied up the place, admitted you're running away, and then told her she had to watch the news tonight?"

"...Okay, I could have handled that better, but the point is she'll be watching."


Mom 8:30am 10-10-13

Chloe, are you okay?

Chloe please respond

This isn't funny Chloe text me

I'm worried.

 

Chloe 9:45am 10-10-13

Just got to Seattle. I'm fine. Don't worry.

 

Mom 9:51am 10-10-13

Come home.

Where are you even going to stay?

You have no money

Call me


When Chloe pulled into the parking lot of the University of Washington Medical Center she immediately realized that she definitely could have benefited from thinking through this a bit more.

She had thought about it, constantly, unendingly, the whole drive here. But it hadn't been the 'lets plan out my next course of action' kind of thinking. No, it had been more the 'Oh shit my imaginary friend is real, but she's in a coma and I have to save her, but she doesn't want me to save her, and her dad probably doesn't want me to save her, and how can I even possibly save her, but I have to save her, oh fuck oh god oh fuck oh god oh fuck fucking shit fuck…." kind of thinking. Emotionally cleansing, but not terribly helpful.

And one thing she definitely had not thought of was the fact that she'd never been in a hospital before.

Well, she had been in the tiny building Arcadia Bay had passed off as a hospital, but that was like saying she'd been to the White House because she'd stepped into a house one time that happened to be white.

The University of Washington Medical Center was huge. The Arcadia Bay Hospital could have fit in the parking lot of this thing. How was she supposed to find Max in all of this? For starters it was a fucking center. Which meant it had more than one building, any one of which was bigger than anything Chloe had ever stepped foot in.

As Chloe walked towards what she hoped was the main building she spotted some protesters standing in the parking lot. Her eyes almost bugged out when she saw the words "Save Max" blazed on the front of a sign held up by one of them. Her first instinct was to run over and high five every fucking one of them, but something held her back. These people were on the outside, and while she appreciated the effort, it wasn't likely they'd actually be achieving anything here. It'd probably be better if Chloe wasn't associated with them for now.

Chloe walked into the main building and stopped. She glanced around, trying to find some kind of clue how to start. In front of her was a large desk with several staff pounding away at computers. She shrugged. As good a place as any.

"Can I help you?" A lady behind the desk asked as Chloe walked up.

"Uhhh…I'm looking for a patient," Chloe said.

"Which wing are they in?" The lady asked in a completely reasonable voice. She made it sound like Chloe should understand the question. Unfortunately Chloe did not. She knew there were, like, baby wings and...other wings. Was there a coma wing?

"I...don't know," Chloe said unhelpfully. The lady sighed slightly.

"Well what are they here for?" The lady asked. It was a much more reasonable question, and one Chloe actually knew. Chloe just didn't want to answer it. She's here to die wasn't something she felt like saying out loud.

"Coma," Chloe said instead.

"Patient name please," the lady asked.

"Maxine Caulfield," Chloe replied. The lady paused from typing and looked up at Chloe.

"What is your relationship to the patient?" The lady asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"Uhhh...cousin. I'm a cousin," Chloe said, cringing even as she said it. The lady's eyes narrowed even further, which Chloe hadn't thought was possible.

"Close relatives only I'm afraid," the lady said evenly.

"We're close!" Chloe insisted. "We're practically sisters!"

"Well, I'm sure her parents can arrange a visit then. I can't give you her information though I'm afraid," the lady said before turning back to her computer.

"Wait!" Chloe said. The lady looked up at her. "I don't have a way to contact them."

"I thought you said you were close?" The lady asked, her voice slightly mocking.

"We are, it's just that I don't talk to her parents much. Please, you got to help me." The lady paused before leveling Chloe with a glare.

"Ms. Caulfield is in a very delicate situation. The last thing her family needs is to be bothered right now. Now please, unless you have actual business with this hospital step away from the desk."

"Please, could you just…" Chloe began, but the lady was politely ignoring her now. She ground her teeth in frustration and tried to resist the urge to crawl over the table and beat the information out of the lady. She took a couple breaths, letting her anger die down. Unfortunately, the only thing to replace it was a hollow emptiness she was all too familiar with.

"Nurse, could you, could you just relay a message for me? Please, you have no idea how much it would mean to me," Chloe said, her voice low. The nurse looked up, her eyes searching Chloe. Something she saw must have quieted her suspicions because she sighed and nodded.

"I'll see what I can do. What did you want to tell them?"

"Tell Mr. Caulfield not to listen to Max. Tell him he doesn't know the whole truth. If he wants the full story, I'll be here in the lobby."

"Uhhh…" The nurse said as she clearly was struggling to understand her.

"Just tell him. Please." Chloe begged.

"I'll...see what I can do," the nurse promised. In a calming manner. Like she was talking to a crazy person. Which Chloe sounded like right now. Fuck, this is fucked. Chloe thought to herself.

"Please do," Chloe said sadly.


Rachel 2:32pm 10-10-13

How's it going?

 

Chloe

At the hospital.

 

Rachel

And?

 

Chloe

And nothing. I'm sitting in the waiting room.

 

Rachel

Well do you have a plan? We don't have much time.

 

Chloe

I sent a message. Now I'm waiting.

 

Rachel

Do you have time to wait?

 

Chloe

I don't think you understand how big this place is. I'd die of starvation before I ever found her on my own.

 

Rachel

So you're just waiting?

 

Chloe

For now. I'll save breaking and entering for tomorrow.


"I honestly haven't had a tremendous amount of success with my modeling quite yet, though I'm not letting that discourage me," Rachel said with a shy smile. In the hospital waiting room Chloe rolled her eyes at her phone. Rachel hadn't been shy a day of her life. The news host was eating it up though.

It had been Rachel's idea of course. She'd contacted the local station and requested a TV interview. She had also greatly exaggerated the success of her Portland modeling career. Chloe didn't think it would work. Rachel thought the news team would eat it up, a native coming home to share their success. She seemed certain it would be a great feel-good piece after the last couple days of more serious stories. Of course she'd been right.

"Of course you aren't, we here at Arcadia Bay know you'll make it," the news host said with a friendly smile. "And we'll be rooting for you the whole way."

"Thanks," Rachel said, reaching across and patting the man's leg. "That means a lot to me." The man practically beamed at the attention.

"Could you be more pathetic?" Chloe muttered darkly as Rachel continued talking.

"But I don't want to take up all your time talking about my little life, I'm not that conceited," Rachel said with a laugh. The anchorman laughed as well, though his laugh seemed a touch confused. He glanced to the side, his eyes questioning. It seemed Rachel was going off script.

"Of course not. We'd never…" The anchorman said, but Rachel mercifully interrupted him.

"No, there's something far more important I wanted to talk about," Rachel said with an inviting smile. The smile said to trust her. The anchorman, fool that he was, did.

"Oh, w-well then. What was it you wanted to talk about Rachel?"

"I just wanted to add some clarification to some of the stories you've been airing lately. Namely to explain some of the stranger things that have happened the last couple of days," Rachel said sweetly. The anchorman's face furrowed in confusion.

"Oh? Well I know that's on everybody's minds these days so I'm sure they'd love your take on it."

"Of course, who couldn't have noticed. The snowstorm on Monday. The eclipse on Tuesday. The abnormally large number of dead animals yesterday. It's quite the mystery. Thankfully I have a perfectly sound explanation."

"You do?" The anchorman asked. He looked slightly afraid now. Chloe almost felt bad for him.

"Of course. It's because Arcadia Bay is about to be destroyed." She said it so matter-of-factly that it took the anchorman a moment to process.

"Pardon me?" He asked. Rachel's smile disappeared as her face went blank. She turned so that she was facing the camera, staring directly at Chloe.

"Tomorrow a tornado will come from the sea," Rachel began. Her voice had changed as well, there was a rhythm to it, a cadence Chloe associated with telephone fortune tellers. "It will raze Arcadia Bay to the ground and any who stay in the city will be flattened with it," Rachel continued eerily.

"What the fuck?" Chloe said to herself. They'd never talked about this. She was supposed to just state the facts not end up sounding like Miss Chloe!

"I'm...Rachel?" The anchorman sputtered, and then went silent as Rachel turned to him.

"Of course I don't expect you to take my word on it," she said regally, like the way Ms. Grant talked to Chloe sometimes when she used to skip her class. "You want proof of course. Luckily, I can provide it. The signs will continue just as they have, today being no exception. A double moon will rise tonight. All who see it will know the truth of my words. And any who wish to live…" Rachel paused and turned towards the camera again, earning a groan of embarrassment from Chloe.

"...will leave." She finished dramatically. Chloe gaped at her phone's screen, looking very similar to to the anchorman. An awkward amount of time passed as Rachel stared at the camera and the anchorman struggled to think of some way to save the situation. Finally, right when he looked like he was going to say something, Rachel turned back to him.

"Thank you so much for having me Chris," Rachel said with one of her winning smiles. "It's been a pleasure." She reached across and patted him on the leg, appearing unconcerned with the look of horror on his face. She stood up and started to walk off of the stage.

As she reached the edge of the stage she paused and turned, looking back at Chris. "And remember, if you want to live, don't be here on Friday!" She said chipperly and then sauntered offstage.


Chloe 6:30pm 10-10-13

What the fuck was that Rachel, you came off like a crazy person!

 

Rachel

Chloe, I was going to come off as a crazy person no matter how I spun it. This way they'll at least remember it.

 

Chloe

Not a single person is going to believe you Rachel. I don't believe you and I know you're speaking the truth.

 

Rachel

You'd be surprised Chloe. People respond to confidence.


"Wake up," a voice said. Chloe groaned and rolled over. Waking up was the last thing she felt like doing.

"Wake up," the voice said again, gruff and masculine. This time the command was followed by a soft kick to her side and it woke Chloe just enough that everything came crashing back.

She bolted upright, groggily looking around the waiting room. It was dark now. It hadn't been when she fell asleep. What time was it? She started looking for a clock, which was when she noticed the stout, grizzled man staring down at her.

"Gah!" She screamed intelligently as she involuntarily jumped back into her chair. At least she was awake now.

"You slept here, is that even legal?" The man demanded. Luckily for Chloe, she was used to middle-aged men judging her life decisions. She didn't even need to be fully conscious to have this conversation.

"It's not not legal," Chloe said as her heart started slowing into its usual rhythm. "Who the fuck are you?"

"Look, I appreciate what you're doing for my daughter. I know you probably don't believe me, but I really do. And I appreciate you being more civil about it, but you need to go home. Go to school or work or whatever it is you'd normally be doing on a Thursday night. Just leave my family alone," the man said. It took a moment for everything to click.

"Mr. Caulfied?" Chloe asked.

"Go home," the man said without answering. Chloe narrowed her eyes.

"No," Chloe said. The man exhaled in frustration.

"Don't know why I bothered," he muttered under his breath before turning to walk away. Chloe quickly got up to follow him.

"Because you don't want to do this either," Chloe called after him. She didn't know why she said it. Maybe she just refused to believe he would. He didn't stop. "But you have to, because she asked you to didn't she?" Mr. Caulfield slowed. Not stopped, but he definitely slowed down, so Chloe pushed on.

"You've talked with Max, I know you have!" Chloe cried out. This time he did stop, frozen in place. "You've talked with her. I know because she told me, because I've talked with her. She's been with me my whole life, ever since I was eight. You have to believe me Mr. Caulfield. There's more to your daughter than the girl laying in that hospital bed. And I know you know that."

Mr. Caulfied stood there for a moment, long enough that Chloe was able to catch up to him. Though now that she had she wasn't sure what she should do.

"I've never told anyone about that," he said suddenly without turning. He wasn't walking away though, so Chloe counted that as a small victory.

"You didn't have to. Max told me," Chloe said.

"That's not possible," he said quietly.

"I think you know it is," Chloe said. He paused, long enough that Chloe started to feel like she needed to say something, but then he turned and sat down in one of the waiting room chairs. Chloe sat down beside him. He didn't look at her, in return she didn't look at him.

"I've seen her three times," Mr. Caulfield said. "The first was the night the accident happened." 

"I was running home real quick, grabbing some things so we could stay at the hospital. Clothes, her teddy bear, things like that. I was in her room when I heard her voice behind me. I thought I was going crazy, but when I turned around there she was. She was in her pajamas like nothing had happened, real as you or me."

"Spooks ya, when she just appears like that," Chloe said. Mr. Caulfield nodded.

"She just kept saying 'I'm sorry' over and over again. I didn't know what to do so I told her she had nothing to be sorry about. It scared her for some reason, me talking to her. It was almost like she didn't expect me to. And then she just...wasn't there anymore."

"She probably didn't know you could see her. Not many people can I guess."

"But you can?" Mr. Caulfield asked. He turned towards her and they made eye contact. It shocked her, to see Max's blue eyes in someone else's face. "Why?" He asked.

"I'll explain, but it might take awhile. Please, finish your story. It's important," she said. She didn't expect him to listen to her, so she was surprised when he nodded and then looked down at his hands. She kinda understood though. It felt good, talking about something you thought you'd never get to say out loud.

"The next time I saw her was right before we moved to Seattle. I was packing up the house when I heard her voice. She looked the same, but...different. I know that doesn't make sense. Something about her was off though. She looked so serious, so grown up. I ran to her this time, tried to pull her into a hug but…" His hands reached out and he swooshed them together. Chloe nodded, she knew that feeling all too well.

"She told me that I had to keep her alive. That no matter how hard it got I couldn't give up on her. She said there was something she needed to do after she turned eighteen. I tried to ask her what she meant but she just said she was sorry and she was still trying to figure everything out. And then she was gone." He exhaled and shook his head. "The first time made sense, I was stressed and grieving so I thought I saw my daughter. But that second time…

I tried to forget about it, rationalize it. I was just grieving and trying to find meaning in something meaningless. But it stuck with me. For ten years I held on to that conversation. If I could just make it till she was eighteen then maybe I'd get to talk to my daughter again. Some days it was the only thing that got me through." Chloe opened her mouth, but found that her throat was too dry to speak. She worked up some spit as quick as she could.

"And the third time?" Chloe asked hoarsely. She already knew what he would say, and part of her didn't want to hear him say it, but she had to.

"I got a letter in the mail. It was a couple years ago. No return address. The letter claimed it was from Max. She brought up some details, little things to convince me it was her. She told me she loved me and that she needed to talk to me again. She wanted to meet with me, at a park in Seattle months from when I got the letter. It listed a very specific time and place. She stressed how important it was I show up at that exact time. Then she ended the letter by saying that she needed me, more than ever." Chloe closed her eyes, fighting back the wave of repulsion that ran through her. It was cold, cruel even, what Max had done. She didn't want to think she was capable of it, but she knew better. Ten years and she'd never guessed how much desperation was hiding in her best friend.

"I thought I was crazy," Mr. Caulfield continued. "But how could I not go? I wanted it to be real so bad. So I went, and there she was. For some reason I expected her to still be six, but she looked just like the Max in the bed back at home. She was a little different, her hair was cut better and she looked healthier, but it was her. Just to see her with her eyes open was such a shook. And when she smiled at me…

You know what she said don't you?" Mr. Caulfield asked. There was a plea in his voice, begging her not to make him say it.

"I know what she told me, but I'd like to hear what she told you. Please Mr. Caulfield, I know it's hard," she said, even though it made her sick to her stomach. He stared at her for a moment, his eyes wide.

"She wanted me to kill her," he whispered finally. "I'd kept her alive this whole time so she could die at just the right time. How crazy is that?"

"Did she say why Mr. Caulfield?"

"Some...tornado in Arcadia Bay. She tried to explain it, but I could only understand half of what she was saying."

"But you agreed to it?" Chloe asked. She tried to sound neutral, but she couldn't quite manage it.

"She asked me to, begged me to. What was I supposed to do?"

"How about telling her no?" She said. Mr. Caulfield stood suddenly, wiping his eyes. He turned and Chloe cussed under her breath. She'd pushed him too hard. She stood up.

"I'm not telling you you're a bad person Mr. Caulfield. I'm not saying that you're a bad parent or that you aren't following Max's wishes. You are. You're doing exactly what she wants, and she's so thankful. What I'm asking is, would you like to be a good parent, or would you like to see your daughter awake again?" They both stood there, frozen as Chloe's heart hammered in her chest.

"That's not possible," he said.

"She said it's not right? She told you there's no chance for her to wake up? It was a lie. I know, because she's lied to me too. She's manipulated both of us because she doesn't want to be saved. But we can save her."

"You can promise that?" He asked finally. "You can promise she'll wake up?" Chloe's eyes went wide. The temptation was huge but...she couldn't do that to him. She couldn't take his choice away.

"No," Chloe said, the word tearing at her heart. "I can't promise anything. But there's a chance." Mr. Caulfield nodded and walked away.


Chloe 9:13pm 10-10-13

Is this Kate? This is Chloe.

God I hope this is Kate.

Sorry

 

Kate

Chloe? How'd you get my number?

 

Chloe

Oh thank God!

Rachel got it for me

 

Kate

How did Rachel get it?

 

Chloe

Being Rachel? Fuck if I know.

Heck if I know

Is heck better?

 

Kate

You're fine Chloe. What's up?

 

Chloe

Have you been watching the news?

 

Kate

You mean the thing with Rachel and the moon? It's all anyone is talking about. Half the nurses want to leave town but I think they feel bad about abandoning us.

 

Chloe

Shit, I'm so sorry Kate. Some friend I turned out to be. I didn't even think of that until now.

 

Kate

Think of what?

 

Chloe

Listen Kate, I'm already in Seattle. I should have grabbed you before I left, but I'm sending Rachel to bust you out

 

Kate

Bust me out? Do you mean Rachel was right?

 

Chloe

Every word. Don't worry, Rachel's going to take care of you.


"Chloe," Chloe heard a voice say right beside her. Her eyes snapped open as she turned towards the source.

"Mom?" Chloe asked as she stood up.

Joyce looked at her daughter with a sheepish expression, which was almost more surprising than the fact she was here. Chloe couldn't remember her mother ever looking like she'd done something wrong.

"Hey Chloe," Joyce said softly. She looked like she wanted to say more, but was interrupted as Chloe pulled her into a hug.

"Careful sweetie, you're going to bruise my ribs," Joyce said with a laugh.

"I'm so glad you're here, you have no idea," Chloe said, hugging her harder. "You have no fucking idea."

"I brought some of your stuff, some clothes and things. You haven't let me in your room in years so I wasn't sure what you would want. There's some more stuff in David's trunk, I just tried to grab what I thought was important, it's amazing how much crap doesn't matter when you only have a trunk and a back seat to fill."

"Mom," Chloe said, interrupting her ramble. "What are you doing here?" Chloe asked as they sat down.

"Well...I had a talk with Rachel after her little episode on the news."

"You did?" Chloe asked. Rachel hadn't mentioned that.

"It's just...I'm not sure what I believe Chloe. I don't know what's happening in Arcadia, and I'm not sure who is in this hospital. But when I saw that moon…I'm not saying you're right. But I am saying I don't know you aren't," Joyce finished. Chloe arched an eyebrow.

"It's a start," Chloe said with a shrug.

"That's it?" Joyce asked with a laugh. "I was expecting at least an 'I told you so'." Chloe chuckled, but it was short and bitter. She glanced around the hospital room.

"I don't really feel like an 'I told you so'." Chloe said with a half smile. Joyce looked at her daughter.

"Oh Chloe," Joyce said quietly. She reached across and brought Chloe into another hug and Chloe started to cry.


"Chloe," Joyce said, nudging her daughter. Chloe glanced at her and she pointed. Chloe turned and saw Mr. Caulfield walking straight towards them, a concerned look on his face. Not that that was notable, so far the only two emotions she's seen the man use were concerned and irritated. Not that she blamed him.

"Hello," Mr. Caulfield said as he got close. He eyed Joyce, not being subtle about it.

"Relax dude, this is my mom."

"It is?" He asked, looking between the two of them in apparent disbelief.

"Yes it is," Chloe said flatly.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Joyce said as she held out a hand, years of diner experience making it easy to ignore his less than gracious introduction. Mr. Caulfield frowned, but took her hand. "I can't imagine what you're going through," Joyce said as she shook his hand.

"Yeah," Mr. Caulfield said as the handshake ended. "Me either." He turned back to Chloe.

"It's done," he said. Chloe's heart leapt up into her throat.

"What?! You fucker, after everything I told you…"

"She's on the feeding tube again," Mr. Caulfield said with a cock of his eyebrow. Chloe's mouth slammed shut as her face went a little red.

"Right," Chloe said with an awkward smile.

"Just...wanted you to know," Mr. Caulfield said with a nod. Then turned to walk back.

"Hey dude, wait!" Chloe called out. He stopped and turned. Then gasped in surprise as Chloe rushed forward to pull him into a hug. Apparently she was in a hugging mood today.

"Thank you," she said as she held tightly to him, more to block everyone's view of the tears starting to well in her eyes..

"...don't thank me," Mr. Caulfield said after a moment. He pulled back and looked into Chloe's eyes, tinted pink from the tears she was quickly wiping away. He looked like he wanted to say something, but instead he merely clapped Chloe's shoulder and then turned and walked away.


Chloe 1:30pm 10-11-13

I saved her!

 

Rachel

What?!

 

Chloe

I saved her!

 

Rachel

Details Chloe!

 

Chloe

Mr. Caulfield agreed to put Max back on a feeding tube! She's not going to die.

 

Rachel

And you saw him do it?

 

Chloe

Oh come on, he promised to my face. He did it.

 

Rachel

Just saying.

 

Chloe

How's it going there?

 

Rachel

Crazy. My phone's going off the hook. My parents have pretty much disowned me. And there's still plenty of people here. At least most of the Blackwell students have left.

 

Chloe

Its fine, they just want to stay and see if you're right. Once it gets later in the day they'll bug out.

 

Rachel

I hope you're right.

 

Chloe

How's Kate?

 

Rachel

Terrified. Every time she sees a police car she thinks they're coming for her. You'd swear the girl has never crawled out of a window before.

 

Chloe

Thanks Rachel. I don't know what I'd do without you.

 

Rachel

You'd be a mess Chloe Price. We can talk compensation later.


She was sitting by herself the next time Mr. Caulfield came into the waiting room. After the initial euphoria of saving Max wore off, Chloe quickly realized she didn't know what she should do now. Should she still be waiting? She never asked Mr. Caulfield if she could see Max. And even if she did, she didn't know why he should let her.

She almost left with her mom when Joyce had decided to go see about getting a hotel room. Joyce wasn't keen on sleeping in the waiting room and David was still out in the car waiting. Chloe thanked her mom profusely that she hadn't brought him in.

She hadn't gone with her though, and not having to see David was only part of the reason. She wanted to be here when Max woke up, even if she wasn't in the room with her.

"I never asked you your name," Mr. Caulfield said as he sat down beside her.

"Chloe Price," she said.

"Well Chloe, let me ask you this. Were you telling the truth when you said you've talked with my daughter?"

"She's my best friend Mr. Caulfield. She has been for years. I swear to you," Chloe said, looking over at him.

"I should call you crazy and have you kicked out of the hospital," he said dryly.

"If I'm crazy, what does that make you?" Chloe countered. To Chloe's surprise he actually cracked a smile.

"Tell me about her," he said. Chloe frowned, thinking how to answer.

"She goes by Max because she hates the name Maxine," Chloe said, and then cringed. "No offense," she said quickly.

"Go on."

"She's quiet but funny. She's quick with a comeback, though she usually pulls her punches. She's an artsy type, little bit on the hipster side. She still thinks pirates are cool. What did you want to know?"

"Would you like to see her?" Mr. Caulfield asked instead.

"Yes," Chloe said, trying not to sound too desperate.

"Good. Come with me." He stood up and walked towards the far exit. Chloe quickly leapt up and followed after him. She didn't know what was racing faster, her mind or her heart.

He walked quickly, he obviously knew his way around the hospital well. Chloe, however, quickly got lost as they took turn after turn, eventually ending up in an elevator.

"Are you okay visiting with her on your own for awhile?" Mr. Caulfield asked as the elevator started climbing.

"What?" Chloe asked, confused.

"Would you be okay by yourself, once I get you to the room?"

"You're going to let the girl you just met sit with your daughter by herself?"

"You'll be fine. If you wanted to hurt Max then you wouldn't be here. I would have taken care of the rest on my own. Plus she's hooked up to every kind of monitor imaginable with nurses on standby, you'd never get away with it," he said. Chloe cracked a smile.

"Okay, next question. Why are you leaving your daughter with a complete stranger?"

"I...need to talk to someone who just got to the hospital. I'd prefer to do it with just the two of us. This might sound sad, but I don't have many other people to stay with Max. No one really. I'd feel better leaving her with you then leaving her by herself," he said as the elevator doors opened. He immediately started walking again.

"Wow, yeah that is sad. What about Max's Mom?" Chloe asked as she rushed after him.

"That's who I'm meeting," Mr. Caulfield said as they walked past a large nurses station. A couple of the nurses greeted Mr. Caulfield and he nodded back in response.

"I take it you aren't…"

"My wife and I haven't been on the best of terms lately," Mr. Caulfield finished for her.

"She hasn't been here?" Chloe asked.

"She's...come and gone a couple times. It's hard for her."

"Does she...does she know? About Max and, you know," Chloe asked. Mr. Caulfield glanced at her, his face hard. Chloe involuntarily paused a moment, falling behind Mr. Caulfield to escape his glare.

"She doesn't," he said, a note of finality to the statement. "And we're going to keep it that way.

"But she agreed to having Max...to removing the feeding tube? Even without knowing everything?" Chloe asked as she fell in step beside him again. The fact that Max's Mom didn't even know about Max did not leave a good taste in her mouth.

"She did. Because I convinced her it's what Max would have wanted. She didn't take it well."

"And does she know you changed your mind?"

"She does now. It's what I need to talk to her about," Mr Caulfield said as he stopped in front of one of the rooms.

"And you're going to explain things to her now?" Chloe asked, giving Mr. Caulfield a look of her own.

"No," he said simply.

"That's a fucking dumb thing to do dude," Chloe said.

"She's through there," he said, pointing at the door. "I'll be back. Don't touch anything," he said and started walking back the way they'd come from.

"Just tell her!" Chloe called after him. If he heard her he gave no sign.

It took Chloe eighteen minutes to open the door. Not that she was counting.

It seemed ridiculous to doubt at this point, all the evidence was lining up, but some part of Chloe was terrified at what she'd see on the other side of this door. What if she walked in there and it wasn't her Max? What if she really was crazy?

Finally Chloe grit her teeth and pulled open the door.

She was frailer than the Max Chloe knew. She wasn't exactly skin and bones, but that's about all Chloe could say.

As Chloe walked to the edge of the bed she could see her hair was longer. Max had always kept it above her shoulder, but this girl's hair settled down below her collar bone. She looked peaceful, laying there, more peaceful than Chloe could ever remember her. Max always had a serious side to her. Now Chloe knew why. Chloe couldn't imagine living every moment knowing exactly when you were going to die.

Chloe shoved the thought away as she stared down at Max. She wasn't going to die, she was right here. A real, living, breathing human being. And that's the way Chloe was going to keep her.

Chloe's hand reached out towards Max, hesitant and shaky.

"...oh this is beyond creepy, let's not touch the non-responsive and in no way consenting sleeping person," Chloe muttered, but her hand continued to inch forward. She stopped just centimeters from Max's face. Her heart hammered in her chest. She couldn't remember the last time she felt this terrified, even the Dark Room hadn't been this bad. She couldn't even say what she was scared of.

She swallowed and reached forward. Her finger lightly graced Max's forehead as she brushed her hair to the side, tucking it behind her ear. It was soft and warm and Chloe realized with a start that this was the first time she'd ever touched Max's ear. And she could do it again, any time she wanted.

Except she wouldn't, because, again, not a consenting human being. But she stood there a moment, her finger just barely touching Max, afraid to break the contact.

Chloe had no idea how long she stood like that. I could have been moments, it could have been half an hour. Eventually, though, it ended.

"It's so hard, fighting alone, feeling like the rest of the world doesn't care anymore ," a voice said from behind Chloe, causing her to jerk back. She turned towards the door and eyed the women standing there, her hearting beating so fast she couldn't even keep track of it. For her part the women didn't even glance at her, her eyes were on Max "I'm so tired of fighting, I'm just so tired…" The women continued, more to herself then anything.

"And then some blue-haired teenage girl comes out of nowhere and convinces my husband to change his mind after one conversation…" The women paused and Chloe expected her to turn towards her. But she didn't. She just kept staring at her daughter by the edge of the room. Finally, after Chloe couldn't take the silence anymore, she opened her mouth.

"Your daughter isn't alone Mrs. Caulfield. She won't be, ever," she said, the words pouring out of her. Finally Mrs. Caulfield glanced towards her. To Chloe she looked worn out. It went beyond the bags under her eyes, it was a blankness in the way her face set, as if all emotion had been drained out of her.

"I hope you're right," she said quietly. And then she turned and walked away.


"I told my wife the news," Mr. Caulfield said as way of greeting when he entered the hospital room a few minutes later. Chloe sat in the chair against the opposite wall, facing Max. She didn't dare walk up to her again. All of her willpower had been used up and spent. All she wanted was to run her hand through Max's hair till the day she died. But she also didn't want Mr. Caulfield to kick her out of the hospital for groping her daughter, so sacrifices had to be made.

"I know, she stopped by," Chloe said dryly.

"Then you probably know how that went," he said as he walked into the room. He didn't glance at Max at all, just looked down at his hands.

"You could, I don't know, try actually telling her the truth. Lord knows you'll have some evidence soon," Chloe said darkly. Mr. Caulfield shook his head.

"No, no, she's already been through enough. I don't want to...when we get Max back she can start to heal, move on from all of this." Chloe eyed him.

"I think I know where she gets it," Chloe said with a sigh.

"What?" Mr. Caulfield asked, looking over at her in confusion.

"You tried bottling up all that guilt the first time and it sounds like it's almost cost you your marriage. What the hell do you think is going to happen the second time? Maybe try talking to the person you supposedly love," Chloe said with more venom than he probably deserved from her.

"I do love her," Mr. Caulfield said quietly. "Which is why I want to keep this from her. I can't do this to her, make her feel this way. "

"Tough shit, that's life," Chloe said.

"Excuse me?" Mr. Caulfield said, his voice lowering as he leveled a look at Chloe that reminded her way too much of David. Part of her was alarmed at what she was about to do. Yelling at Max's Dad didn't seem like a good long term investment. But another part of her, a larger part of her, was tired and frustrated and scared to death and was fucking tired of Caulfields making stupid ass decisions. Chloe stood up.

"It's a marriage. For better or for worse right? What did you think that meant? For better or for slightly less than better?"

"You're an expert on marriage now are you?" Mr. Caulfield growled. "Life isn't perfect Chloe, and neither is love."

"It's not going to be if you don't fucking try! If you love someone then you help them through their shit. And if they love you then they help you through yours. That's the point of a relationship, so you have someone to help you through the bullshit and be there to listen to you complain. That's it."

"It's more complicated then…" Mr. Caulfield began, but then Chloe moved forward, getting in his face.

"Fuck that! That's all you hear when you're a kid. It's complicated. It's fucking complicated. No it's not!" Chloe held her ground, weathering Mr. Caulfield's glare and returning one of her own. Chloe wasn't good at a lot, but glaring, that was one thing she excelled at.

Mr. Caulfield blinked and then looked down. He exhaled heavily before looking back up.

"I don't want to hurt her. You can understand that," he said.

"You already are," Chloe said back as she folded her arms in front of her. For a moment Mr. Caulfield stared at her. Then all of a sudden he started laughing.

"What the hell dude?" Chloe asked, at a complete loss.

"You're annoying you know that?" Mr. Caulfield said as his laughter calmed down.

"Some people would agree with you," Chloe said warily.

"Good, don't change," Mr. Caulfield said as he started for the door.

"Where are you going?" Chloe asked.

"To find my wife. It seems we still have some things to talk about." Chloe blinked in surprise. Did she just win? Since when did that happen?

"Oh, Mr. Caulfield!" Chloe called out as he opened the door.

"What?" He asked.

"Don't forget to mention the tornado. She probably won't believe you, but when that sucker levels Arcadia Bay she'll have to listen." Mr. Caulfield paused by the door.

"That's really happening?" He asked. Chloe nodded.

"Max wasn't lying." For the first time Mr. Caulfield glanced over at his daughter, a frown forming on his face.

"You're going to have to sit down and tell me the full story."

"I'll try, but I barely understand it. Go find your wife."


Chloe 5:30pm 10-11-13

Rach, u still in Arcadia?

 

Rachel

I'm on my way to Portland. Got Kate and a carload of Blackwell students who don't have rides.

 

Chloe

Fucking tell me next time!

 

Rachel

Awwww, worried about me

 

Chloe

Of course I was

 

Rachel

How's Max?

 

Chloe

No change.

 

Rachel

I stayed as long as I could. Tried to convince people who were still there.

 

Chloe

You did amazing Rachel. I knew you would.

 

Rachel

There's still so many left…

 

Chloe

They'll leave Rachel. They'd be an idiot not to.


Mr. Caulfield looked up at the clock as the time clicked down. Beside him Mrs. Caulfield held on to his arm.

"Is it happening?" He asked. He'd seen her checking her phone constantly for the past half hour, but he hadn't commented on it yet. Apparently he couldn't hold back anymore.

"It is."

"Is it bad?"

"...it is," Chloe said. She put her phone away.


Chloe 9:30pm 10-11-13

Fuck Rachel, I never asked. Did your parents leave?

Rachel

No fucking clue. I blocked their number

Chloe

are you okay?

Rachel

It's like you said Chloe, we did what we could. Either they believe me and I'll see them again some day, or they didn't.

I got bigger things to worry about

Like how to get these high schoolers the fuck out of my apartment.


Chloe was talking with Joyce in the food court when she saw Mr. Caulfield running towards them. Five days had gone by. Nothing had changed in Max's condition. None of them were admitting it yet, but there was a tension in the air that was building constantly between them. It had been Joyce who had suggested eating in the food court today, to get some air. Chloe hadn't left Max's room since Friday.

Chloe watched, stunned, as Mr. Caulfield approached. It seemed one way or another that tension was over.

"She's awake," Mr. Caulfield said as he reached the table, his eyes world's away.

"She's awake!?" Chloe yelled, jumping to her feet. Beside her Joyce stood as well. Chloe turned toward her. "She's awake," she said to her mom as if she hadn't just heard. Joyce smiled, tears coming to her eyes.

"She's awake," Joyce agreed and then Chloe pulled her into a hug, squeezing her hard.

"She can't...uhhh…" Mr. Caulfield continued, a smile on his face as he watched the two of them. "She can't...talk really. Or do anything. Her muscles are too weak even if she wanted to do something so we aren't sure how much of her is there, but she's awake."

"She's awake," Chloe said with a smile of her own. Then she pulled Mr. Caulfield into a hug.


"Would it be okay if I went in by myself?" Chloe asked as they reached the door. Mr. Caulfield hesitated, but then nodded. Chloe slapped him on the back.

"Thanks man." Mr. Caulfield cracked a smile.

"Least I could do."

Chloe pushed the door open slowly and then walked in. Nerves flared up inside her. Her palms instantly started to sweat and Chloe rubbed them on her jeans as she tried to look around the room as nonchalantly as possible.

All her cool evaporated as she locked eyes with the girl sitting in the bed.

She didn't expect that for some reason. She thought Max would be lying down still, maybe staring blankly at the ceiling. Instead she was staring at her.

"H-hi," Chloe blurted out. Max blinked, but otherwise didn't react. She still looked frail. Chloe suddenly felt ten years older than her.

"Max?" Chloe asked as she walked towards the bed. Max's eyes didn't follow her and she gave no indication that she knew Chloe was there.

"Do you...do you know who I am? It's Chloe," Chloe said as she reached Max's bed. No response. Chloe didn't know why she expected her too, she hadn't responded yet. Chloe guessed, despite everything, she really had thought she'd find her old best friend here.

"Right…" Chloe said, trying not to sound disappointed. "Well hey, I should, uh, let your dad in and…" Chloe managed to get out as tears starting forming in her eyes. She turned, ashamed at her own weakness, but as she started to walk away she felt a small hand take hold of her arm. It wasn't a strong grip, the hand was more laying on top of Chloe's arm than actually holding it, but the touch sent a jolt clear up to Chloe's ears.

She turned, her eyes widening as they met Max's again. Max didn't say anything, just stared at her blankly.

"Don't worry," Chloe said softly. "I'm not going. Never Max. I'm right here."


Chloe 2:13pm 10-18-18

She's awake Rachel

 

Rachel

Holy Fuck! Does she remember? Is she still mad?

 

Chloe

She's...unresponsive. She's got her eyes open but that's about it

 

Rachel

So are we not celebrating then? She's going to get better right?

 

Chloe

The doctors don't know. They don't know anything really. We're all just waiting.

 

Rachel

She'll pull through

 

Chloe

Of course she will.


Chloe, Max is asking for you.

Chloe read the text. She read it three more times before her brain let her believe it. For the past three days Chloe had been with Max, and while everything physically seemed to be progressing well, mentally there had been no headway.

She what?

Chloe typed quickly as she stood up in the bathroom stall. In moments the reply followed.

She wrote it on a piece of paper. Where's Chloe? Now we can't get anything else from her. Get your butt back here now!

As soon as its clean!


They were looking at her when she walked into the room. Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield. Three doctors. And Max.

Max's eyes relaxed as they found her. She didn't smile, but Chloe recognized the look of contentment on her face. Chloe glanced at everyone else, but they weren't much help. They looked as unsure as Chloe.

Chloe walked forward, coming to Max's bed again. There was a pad of paper sitting in Max's lap. She could see the crudely written "Where's Chloe?" scribbled on it. She looked back to Max.

"Do you know who I am Max?" She asked. Max looked at her. Then, slowly, she shook her head.

"You don't?" Chloe asked again, confused. Again Max shook her head.

"Okay, that's okay. Thanks for answering Max," Chloe said. Max scrunched her eyes and then tapped on her notebook. Chloe glanced down at it as Max started writing.

When I look at you I feel really sad. But also happy? Or. I don't understand. Chloe laughed as the girl finished writing. Laughed harder than she had in over a month. She curled up and laughed until all the emotions bottled up inside her came leaking out, warm tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

Again she felt the warm hand take hold of her arm. Chloe looked up to see Max watching her with a concerned expression on her face.

"I don't either Max, not one bit," Chloe said as she wiped her eyes. "But I'd like to figure it out."


Rachel 9:14am 10-22-13

Kate went home today. I'm actually going to miss her. It feels weird going to bed and not hearing her praying from the other room. It was kinda calming.

 

Chloe

Told you she's cool.

 

Rachel

How's Max? Is she writing more?

 

Chloe

Very rarely. Most of the time it's like no one's home, but then sometimes the light turns on and she's there again.

 

Rachel

You think it's your Max in there?

 

Chloe

I don't know Rachel. It's like she recognizes me but she doesn't remember me if that makes sense.

 

Rachel

It doesn't but that seems to be the new norm.


When Mrs. Caulfield entered the room Chloe was tangled in the sheets with Max. It sounded worse than it was. Max just slept better if Chloe was nearby. Sometimes she wanted to touch her and would get agitated if she couldn't, almost like if she couldn't touch Chloe she was afraid Chloe would disappear. It was a feeling Chloe very much understood. It didn't make it any less awkward though.

Mrs. Caulfield glanced at the two of them but didn't say anything further. She walked up and looked down at Max as she lay cradled against Chloe.

"You know, I haven't been a mother for over ten years," she said quietly. Chloe had no idea how to respond to that one. She'd never been a mother, let alone the rest of it. Instead of answering Chloe decided to keep quiet, which seemed the correct choice because Mrs. Caulfield quickly started talking again.

"We'd only ever planned to have one child. And after...what happened with Max, we kept hoping she'd recover. We kept hoping, and by the time we lost hope we just...another child felt like we were admitting Max was gone. I'd given up ever being a mother again. A real mother anyway." She paused as she looked up at Chloe. She made eye contact with her, which terrified Chloe. This was completely out of her depth. "What do I do now?" Mrs. Caulfield asked. She waited a moment, but when Chloe was too petrified to answer she smiled and looked away.

"Sorry, I shouldn't lay that on you."

"It's okay, I know what it feels like to be out of your depth," Chloe said before she released how rude that sounded. "I mean, I don't think you're…" She quickly corrected, but Mrs. Caulfield started laughing.

"It's okay, you're completely right. I am out of my depth. It's almost a relief to admit it," she said as she reached out a hand. She brushed it through Max's hair with a small smile on her face.

"Did she look like this, the Max you knew?" Mrs. Caulfield asked suddenly. The question brought all of Chloe's other thoughts to a crashing halt.

"He told you?" She asked. She'd thought he had, but Chloe had never asked. She'd been too preoccupied. Mrs. Caulfield nodded. "And you believed him?"

"I have no idea. I've been numb for so long it doesn't register really. It might sound terrible, but I don't care. I really don't. I have my daughter back. That's all that matters." Chloe nodded. That was something she could easily relate to.

"She looked pretty similar," Chloe said. "She was a little less skinny. Though honestly she's always been a bit of a bean pole." Not that I can talk. Chloe thought bitterly. "Her hair was shorter, that's probably the biggest difference. She had it above her shoulders the last time I saw her."

"Above her shoulders huh?" Mrs. Caulfield asked as she ran a hand through Max's hair slowly. "I always liked her ponytail."

"Maybe that's why she cut it," Chloe said with a laugh. Mrs. Caulfield frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. It's just...sometimes teenagers are assholes. It's our nature." Mrs. Caulfield continued to frown. Then, suddenly, she burst out laughing.

"I suppose that's true. I'm the mom of a teenager now."

"Good luck," Chloe said with a smirk. Mrs. Caulfield smiled back before frowning at Chloe.

"Did she have as, uh, colorfully interesting hair as you?" Chloe quirked an eyebrow.

"Nice save," Chloe said. "No worries, your daughter had perfectly normal, boring, beautiful brown hair."

"Oh thank God."

"We're leaving the hospital tomorrow," Mr. Caulfield said as he entered the room. He didn't even bat an eye at Chloe resting in Max's bed.

"Oh," Chloe said, trying to think about what that meant. She hadn't really thought about what would come next. She disentangled herself from Max, careful not to wake the girl. "Does that mean Max is getting better?"

"Yes. She doesn't need help breathing and she's capable of feeding herself. Her condition isn't serious. It's time for her to move into a rehab center," Mr. Caulfield said. Chloe rolled that info around in her mind.

"She's not going home?" Chloe asked.

"Not yet. She's going to need a lot of physical therapy. It'll be easier on everyone, including Max, if she stays at the center at first. At least until she can move around in a wheelchair," Mr. Caulfield said.

"A wheelchair?"

"Her muscles are really weak Chloe. I've done my best over the years to keep her muscles stimulated, but there's only so much I can do. She's got a long road ahead of her," he said.

"She'll make it," Chloe said firmly. Mr. Caulfield nodded.

"I know she will. So I'm getting all the arrangements set. She'll be moving in tomorrow afternoon."

"Right," Chloe said, trying not to sound upset. Here at the hospital she could see Max all the time. She thought she'd be here for everything, until they took her home. She really should have done more research.

"Look Chloe, I'm pretty sure the staff at the rehab center isn't going to let you sleep in the room and steal all their food, but I'll make sure you're on the approved guest list. You'll be able to come and go as you please," Mr. Caulfield said, giving her a reassuring pat.

"Thank you Mr. Caulfield! Seriously, thank so much," Chloe said, sitting up in excitement.

"Don't thank me Chloe. You've more than earned it. Plus," he said with a glance towards his daughter. "Max seems pretty attached."


Mom 7:33am 10-25-13

We have a new hotel room. Insurance is covering for it for now.

 

Chloe

Is it any bigger?

 

Mom

A little.

 

Chloe

That sounds promising. I think I'll sleep in the truck.

 

Mom

You will not. If nothing else, consider the smell. You'd kill the poor girl.

 

Chloe

I do not stink. I have a healthy musk.

 

Mom

I know you don't believe that. How's Max adjusting to the center?

 

Chloe

Seems to be doing okay. She's doing well at the therapy. Better than I would at least. They're pretty much dictating her whole day.

 

Mom

Its for her own good Has she said anything yet?

 

Chloe

No. She's starting to write more though.

 

Mom

She'll get to it.


"Hey Chloe," Chloe heard a soft, hoarse voice say behind her. Chloe choked on her coffee and then spilled it all over her lap as she wiped around. From her position seated at the foot of the bed she looked up at where Max was sitting. The girl smiled down at her.

"Max?!" Chloe said as she quickly got to her feet.

"Yeah," Max said simply as she watched Chloe stumble her way to her.

"You're talking?! Dude, you're talking!" Chloe said as she grabbed Max and pulled her into a hug.

"Too hard, let me breath," Max gasped out with a small laugh.

"Fuck man, you have no idea how good it is to hear your voice again," Chloe said as she let Max go. Max smiled weakly.

"Sorry," Max said as she looked down at her hands resting on her blanket. Chloe reached out and took one of them, causing Max to look over at her again. Max's face flushed as they made eye contact, but Chloe stared hard at her, forcing Max to stare back.

"Say sorry again and I'll pull you out of this bed and beat your ass myself," Chloe said, her face deeply serious.

"O-okay," Max said, her eyes widening slightly.

"Good," Chloe said with a nod. She stood up so she wasn't as close to Max anymore, though she didn't let go of her hand. Max glanced down at it and then back up at Chloe.

"Thanks Chloe," she said.

"No need to thank me dork, that's what best friends are for," Chloe said with a shrug. Max paused a moment, her eyes dropping away from Chloe.

"Are we?" Max asked quietly.

"Best friends?" Chloe asked. She leaned forward and flicked the girl hard on her freckled nose. "Of course we are Max." Max rubbed her nose thoughtfully.

"Even if...I don't remember anything?"

"Dude, we're best friends. No matter what. It's a fucking cosmic fact Max. Doesn't matter what happens, it's you and me," Chloe said as she sat down on the bed beside Max.

"Thanks," Max said.

"You don't need to…" Chloe began, but let it drop. "So, what do you remember? No pressure, just trying to understand," Chloe said as she looked over at Max.

"Not much. It's like...someone shoved cotton balls inside my brain. Everything is so fuzzy. It makes it hard to think."

"Then don't," Chloe said as she settled down beside Max. "Don't worry Max. Just concentrate on recovering and we'll make the rest up as we go." Max nodded slightly and then leaned against Chloe, settling into her. Chloe blushed slightly, but quickly adjusted herself so Max would be more comfortable.

"I know there's this whole...history between us. I can feel it. I look at you and I know you're important. But I don't know why," Max said quietly beside Chloe's head.

"I don't know all of it either Max. It doesn't matter. We're here now. We'll make some new history, and it'll blow that old dumb history out of the water." Max nodded and curled into Chloe's chest.

"Sorry, hard to talk," Max mumbled.

"Y-yeah, no worries. Doctors said your throat would be weak. Don't push yourself," Chloe said as she tried to ignore the feelings Max was causing to bubble up.

"I like this," Max said quietly as her eyes closed.

"Me too Max. Me too."


Chloe 10:53am 11-5-13

How's it going Kate?

 

Kate

Good. As good as it can at least. Mom's trying. And they got me into therapy with my old priest.

 

Chloe

Yeah? How's that going?

 

Kate

Well actually. It's helping get some perspective on things.

 

Chloe

I understand that. Hey, if you ever need rescued you just let me know. Have truck will travel.

 

Kate

Rachel said the same thing. Thanks. It's really nice having someone looking out for me.

I've never had that before.

Chloe

Anytime Kate.


"How's your hotel room holding up? Must be unpleasant cramming all three of you in there," Mr. Caulfield said.

"You have no idea," Chloe muttered under her breath, earning a elbow from Max.

"We're making due just fine, thank you for asking. Our house never was very big. We'll manage," Joyce said with a smile.

"Manage to almost choke to death on David's rancid socks," Chloe whispered, causing Max to burst out laughing.

"Sorry," Max said, turning red as the whole room turned towards her. "It's Chloe's fault," she said quickly.

"I'm sure it is," Joyce said with a smile.

"Is your house...do you think you'll be going back?" Mrs. Caulfield asked.

"No. Arcadia Bay was already on its last legs. This tornado...even if they rebuild it it won't be Arcadia Bay," Joyce said sadly.

"I'm sure the Prescotts will see to that," David muttered darkly.

"Now there's a name I haven't heard in awhile. Hard to forget that one," Mr. Caulfield said.

"Actually, I have an interview tomorrow," Joyce said with a nod to Mr. Caulfield.

"Oh, so you're thinking of settling in Seattle then?" Mrs. Caulfield asked, sounding surprised.

"Seems as good a place as any, especially with Chloe having to start school next year," Joyce said.

"Are you starting college?" Mrs. Caulfield asked Chloe.

"Nope, high school. Third time's the charm," Chloe said with a forced smile. The very thought of starting high school yet again was enough to murder any good mood.

"School trouble?" Mr. Caulfield asked.

"She…" Joyce began.

"It's okay Mom. I had a complete breakdown my sophomore year of high school. Had to take a break. I wasn't handling my dad being dead or Max disappearing or David..." Chloe glanced at David. "No offense," she said to him. "Being around very well. That's what therapy's for right?"

"Max disappearing?" Max asked. Chloe ran through a stream of cuss words in her mind. Fuck she needed to think things out. Every eye in the room turned from Max and then back to her.

"It was...my...imaginary friend Max," Chloe said.

"Imaginary friend?" Max asked, staring at her. A thousand possibilities ran through her head, but there was really only one thing she could do.

"It was you Max. Kind of. You've been my imaginary friend for years, ever since you got in that coma. That's how I know you. I think it's why you kind of know me. Some part of you remembers I think," Chloe said. Max scrunched her eyebrows as her eyes bored into Chloe's.

"Chloe, Max isn't…" David began, but was swiftly interrupted by Mr. Caulfield.

"I don't know about you guys, but I'm about ready to call it a night," Mr. Caulfield said.

"That sounds like a good idea. Are you coming home with us Chloe?" Joyce asked.

"No, Max and me were going to have a movie night," Chloe said without turning away from Max. "That is, if you're still up for it?" Chloe asked. Max blinked a couple times, the question seeming to catch her off guard.

"Of course," Max said.

"Well...don't overstay your welcome," Joyce said as she made her way towards the door.

"Okay, I'll go score some vending machine popcorn. I'll be right back Max, okay?" Chloe asked as she stood up.

"Don't be long," Max said absently as her eyes lost their focus.

"No worries," Chloe said slowly, already not heeding her own advice.

"Come on Chloe, I could use a coke before I head out. I'll meet you in the car honey," Mr. Caulfield said to his wife.

The two walked in silence all the way to the vending machine. Chloe, lost in thought, barely noticed. She was far too worried about the conversation she was almost certainly about to have. How was she even going to remotely explain things to Max? And how was Max ever going to believe her? She'd wanted to wait a bit longer, until Max was doing better but she just had to open her stupid mouth.

When they reached the machine Chloe fumbled in her pockets for a couple bucks, the last of her pocket money. That was going to be a problem real soon. One she was definitely going to worry about another night.

She bought a couple cokes and a bag of popcorn, then almost jumped in surprise as Mr. Caulfield moved forward to use the vending machine himself. She'd forgotten he was still there.

"You're good for her you know," Mr. Caulfield said as he reached down and grabbed his own drink out of the machine.

"Huh?" Chloe asked.

"Max. She tries harder when you're around," he said as he straightened up and popped his coke open. "She talks more, moves more, thinks more. I think being with you is her main motivation for getting through all this."

"She's amazing on her own, doesn't need me," Chloe said, not sure how to react. She wasn't used to people praising her.

"I wouldn't sell yourself short," Mr. Caulfield said matter-of-factly. "You drove across the state and saved her life. I'd call that pretty amazing."

"I've always been good at arguing," Chloe said with a shrug. Mr. Caulfield smiled. He was doing that more now. Chloe was actually getting used to it.

They walked back down the hallway, sipping their cokes in peace before Mr. Caulfield paused suddenly.

"You must really like her, going through all this," he said, giving her a curious look.

"Of course, she's my best friend. That's what you do."

"I've had plenty of best friends in the past Chloe. I'm no expert, but when I look at the two of you I don't see best friends," Mr. Caulfield said before resuming his walk. Chloe stared at his back a moment in stunned silence. Then she ran to catch up with him.

"What the fuck does that mean?" She asked as she fell in step beside him.

"It means," he said without turning towards her. "Take good care of my daughter. Break her heart and I'm contractually obligated to hate you, no matter what you've done."


"Imaginary friend huh?" Max asked as she entered the room, still reeling from what Mr. Caulfield had said. Today seemed to be the day for conversations she didn't want to have.

"...yeah," Chloe said. She closed the door behind her and then turned around to lean against it. "I guess we've never really gotten into it have we?" Chloe asked as she looked down at the unopened bag of popcorn in her hand.

"I never really asked," Max said with a small reassuring smile. Chloe smiled back, relieved that Max wasn't freaking out or mad at her.

"The whole time you were in a coma, some part of you wasn't. And I don't mean like the normal 'Just Like Heaven' Hollywood kind of way. It...was a little more complicated than that," Chloe said as she walked over to Max's bed. She sat down on the edge of it, looking back at Max.

"So we grew up together?" Max asked.

"Pretty much, yeah. Well, I grew up with you and you grew up with me, but we didn't do much growing together I guess," Chloe said with a frown. "Sorry, like I said, complicated."

"So you keep saying," Max said. "Maybe you could try to explain it a little bit?" Chloe nodded.

"I'll try dude, but this goes beyond what I even understand," Chloe said as she ripped the plastic off the popcorn bag. "The Max I knew, the one that was my imaginary friend, she was a time traveler. But she did it by jumping into past versions of herself. She went back in time, into the six year old you, and got hit by that car. It changed the timeline into this one, and you got trapped here. Normally, I guess, after you change something you zoom back to the present day. But that didn't happen this time. You stayed her as like a ghost or something, until the timeline caught up. And now it has, which is why you woke up I think. I think you were supposed to get all your memories back, but the coma kinda screwed that one up, at least for now. That's...the straight of it," Chloe said as she stood up.

"How'd I get time travel powers? Why'd I go back to in time to when I was six? And why did I get hit by a car?" Max asked as Chloe opened up Max's microwave.

"All that's my fault. You got time powers when you saw me get shot. You used them to save my life but the universe didn't like that much and threw a hissy fit. Then you went back in time to try to fix everything and keep me from dying," Chloe said as she punched in the numbers and started the microwave. She turned to look at Max. The girl was silently contemplating her navel. Chloe waited. Behind her the microwave dinged. "Max?" Chloe asked.

"Yeah," Max said, looking up. "Sorry."

"No need for sorry Max," Chloe said. "What are you thinking? Are you actually buying all this? I know it makes next to no sense."

"Yes," Max said. "It's just…" Max continued, looking down again. "It doesn't seem...surprising. Any of it. It's like, I know you're telling the truth because it all seems familiar but...when I try to come up with the details on my own my mind draws a huge blank."

"That's...got to be hella weird," Chloe said.

"Majorly. And I want to know, I want to understand, but some part of me is terrified. Just listening to you talk about it makes my whole heart squeeze up and I feel like I'm going to be sick and I don't know why." Chloe swallowed, her mouth going dry at the words. She remembered the last time she'd seen Max, the other Max, the empty look in her eyes. She'd give anything to never have to see that again.

"Then I'd suggest we say fuck it and watch a flick like we're supposed to be doing," Chloe said as chipperly as she could manage. She turned and pulled the microwave door open.

"You have to tell me Chloe, there's so much I don't remember. So much about us. I know it's important."

"No, what's important is what we're doing now. We have a fresh start, here and now. I say let's make the best of it," Chloe said. She pulled the popcorn bag open and the smell of butter and salt filled the room.

"It's not the same though. You still remember everything. There's whole conversations and experiences that are so important to you and I don't remember them. How is that fair to you?"

Chloe threw a kernel of popcorn at Max's nose.

"Honestly, most of it wasn't too different from this, shit talking and wasting time. Only now you can eat the popcorn with me. And the other stuff? I don't even know. I don't think Max...I don't think you liked talking about it much. I guess being a time traveler mostly sucked balls so…" Chloe shrugged and sat down on the bed beside Max. "I think it might have worked out for the best. Just don't forget who your best friend is and we've got this."

"Still, there's some stuff I can't help but feel sad about. Like your dad, I wish I remembered him," Max said as she moved over to make room for Chloe.

"You two would have got along," Chloe said. She paused a moment before pulling up the covers and crawling under them. "You two were so much alike. I think you guys must have met each other at some point, in whatever time Max came from. You always seemed really sad about Dad."

"But who am I now Chloe? I'm not that Max. I'm not...anybody. I mean, you talk like you know all this stuff about me, like what I like and how I act, but is that really me? What if I turn out nothing like her? What if...what if I'm not really the girl you're friends with?" Max asked, not looking at Chloe. Chloe almost wanted to laugh, but she knew that'd probably be too insensitive.

"Dude, everything about you right now is Max Caulfield. All your deep, useless questions. All your doubts. The way you look at your hands when you're nervous. The way you shrink into yourself when you're unsure and sad. You're you. Trust me, no one is a bigger expert than me." Max glanced over at her, her eyes filled with a mix of doubt and hope.

"How can you be sure? What if I change?"

"How come you want me around? Why was I the first person you talked to? I don't have all the answers Max. I don't know what the fuck is going on and I certainly don't know what's going to happen, but if there's one thing in this world I do understand it's you. You're still Max Caulfied. I'm still Chloe Price. And we fit together. That's all there is," Chloe said.

"But..."

"No buts, only movie," Chloe said as she picked up the remote. "Come on Max, or we won't have time to watch this. We have a shit ton of movies we need to catch you up on." Max frowned at her.

"I know what you're doing," she said. 

"And you love it," Chloe said with a smirk. Max watched her, her eyes taking in every detail on her face.

"Yes I do," she said with a small smile. "Fine, start it up. Just feel fortunate you have such great taste in movies."


It wasn't till after the movie that Max brought it up again.

The movie had ended a while ago and Chloe was sure Max had fallen asleep. Chloe should have left by now. She'd fallen asleep in Max's room a couple of times and the nurses had kindly reminded her that it was a room meant for one. Chloe wasn't sure how many more kindly reminders she had, but she knew she shouldn't push it.

She hadn't left though. Max just seemed so comfortable and she didn't want to disturb her.

Plus she was feeling pretty comfortable herself.

She was almost asleep when Max spoke.

"Chloe," she said.

"Whats up Max?" Chloe asked with a yawn.

"Why did I get hit by a car?" She asked. Chloe's tiredness went away.

"What brought that on?" Chloe asked, trying to sound uninterested. It wasn't that she wanted to keep it from her, she knew she had to tell her eventually, she just didn't want to tell her now. That was future Chloe's problem.

"You never did say," Max said. Chloe sighed. She she sat up some and looked over at Max, but couldn't really make out her face in the darkness.

"It's a lot to take in all at once," Chloe said.

"It's okay Chloe. I, I don't think I can sleep until I know."

"You were trying to fix something," Chloe said after a moment.

"I did it to myself," Max said. It wasn't a question and she didn't sound surprised.

"You did," Chloe said.

"What happened to your hometown Chloe?" Max asked in the darkness. Chloe looked out towards the window.

"We did Max," she said simply. "You saved me and put the town in danger. I saved you and stopped you from fixing it." Max was quiet a moment, long enough Chloe started to wonder if she'd fallen asleep, but then she started to talk quietly.

"Sometimes, when I look at you, I get really sad. I've never understood it."

"There's nothing to be sad about Max."

"But...what I did…your town..."

"There's nothing Maximus. I meant what I said. This is a new start. All that stuff, who knows? It happened literally a world away, with another Max and another Chloe. We did what we had to do. The world tried to fuck us over and we didn't let it. That's not something to be sad about."

"But I feel like its...in me somewhere, that she's in me somewhere, just out of my reach. If I try a little harder…"

"Max, whether you remember or you don't, it doesn't change anything. It's the past. I'm more interested in the future."

"Chloe, I think I owe it to…" Chloe didn't let her finish. She reached out and pulled Max to her, burying her face in Max's hair. It was almost crazy, her best friend had a smell. She'd never known that.

"My whole life all I've ever wanted was to be able to hold you like this," Chloe said eventually, talking into Max's hair. "To be truly and deeply here for you, to take you places and be with you for every moment without fear. I wanted so badly for us to be real Max. Now that I have that the only thing I'm interested in is seeing where this goes." Against her Max shifted slightly. She moved in closer, settling in to Chloe.

"I'd like to too," Max said, her breath warm against Chloe's chest. "To...see where this goes." Chloe's eyes went wide. It was only after hearing Max say it that the phrase sounded important. Suddenly Max's closeness meant something different, something more. Chloe's instinct was to pull away.

Instead her arms wrapped around Max tighter, holding her firmly against her.

"I don't understand what's happened Max. I don't know exactly who you are or what you might become. That's life, people are constantly changing. But I do know what's important is this, right now. Fuck the rest, okay?"

"...okay," Max said. She sighed, relaxing against Chloe. "I think...I'll try Chloe."

"We both will Max."


"Yo," Chloe said as she walked into Max's room. Her friend was already out of bed sitting in her wheelchair reading a book. It brought a smile to Chloe's face. It seemed a small thing, but it was amazing how far Max had come in just a couple months.

"Chloe," Max said with a tiny bit of disapproval in her voice. "I told you not to come today. You've been here way too much! Go do something fun, you got to have something better to do than watch me hobble around an obstacle course."

"Actually...I don't. That's just a sad fact," Chloe said as she closed the door behind her. "I'm nineteen, I have no job, my high school is rubble, and I'm sleeping in a one room hotel with my mother and step-fuhrer. I'll take Maximus' day of hobbling over another lecture about my inability to put away dirty laundry any day."

"Gross Chloe."

"What's the floor even for if you can't throw your shirt on it?"

"Standing maybe?" Chloe snorted in disbelief as she walked over to Max.

"And besides," Chloe said as she leaned against Max's table. "Who would sneak you crappy hotel pancakes if I skipped on you?" Chloe asked as she dropped the napkin-covered plate of lukewarm pancakes on the table.

"How you eat this is beyond me," Chloe said as she glanced over to look at the book Max was reading. It looked like some kind of romance book from the cover.

"Do not make fun of my love of syrup. I can't help it if I have an addiction," Max said as she put her book down. She tore the napkins off and started adding the crappy prepackaged syrup. Chloe shook her head.

"Why I enable you I'll never understand."

"You do spoil me, that's a fact," Max said as she lifted her fork.

"Damn straight. And don't you forget it Max."

"Aye aye!" Max called as she shoved a bit into her mouth. "You know, I think my nurse knows. She's made some comments about the importance of a balanced breakfast a couple times."

"So that's why she keeps giving me dirty looks! I was starting to think her face just always looked like that."

"Someday I'll have to try your Mom's pancakes since they're apparently so much better than this," Max said.

"The fact you can say that sarcastically makes me weep for your taste buds," Chloe said as Max finished her breakfast.

"Okay, help me up. I want to try walking across the room. I think I can almost can do it with some help," Max said after Chloe threw the plate away.

"Up you go Max," Chloe said as she grabbed Max's hands and helped to pull her forward onto her feet. She moved to pivot beside Max, but right as she did Max tumbled slightly. Chloe moved forward, catching Max and holding her against her so she wouldn't fall down.

"Take it easy Max, you're still getting…" Chloe cut off as Max suddenly grabbed her shirt tightly and looked up at her. Her face was different, softer somehow, as she stared up at Chloe with large blue eyes. Something about the closeness of her face and the press of her hand against Chloe's chest made Chloe feel extremely self conscious. She wanted to move back, get some space to clear her head, but she couldn't. Not unless she wanted Max to topple over.

She opened her mouth to say something, anything to break this sudden tension, when Max pushed forward. She had just enough time to close her lips before Max kissed her for the second time.

Chloe's eyes widened as her body stiffened. The reaction caused Max to pull back, the soft warmth of her lips retreating before Chloe even got the chance to appreciate it. Chloe looked down at Max and suddenly realized Max was standing on her own. For a moment, then she was falling.

Max's face went from worry to pure panic as she fell. Chloe reached out and grabbed her. It was too late to stop the fall, Max had way too much momentum, but she could at least stop her from cracking her head on the desk.

Chloe threw herself to the side, keeping hold of Max. She easily tugged the smaller girl in her direction.

Slamming into the floor of Max's room hurt. Max landing on her directly afterward didn't feel much better.

"Damn Caulfield, why did I feed you pancakes every morning? I think you bruised my ribs," Chloe said with a groan.

"Chloe!" Max said as she rolled off on to the ground beside her. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. Are you okay? Shit, did I break anything? Let me call a nurse. NUmmrgl," Max cut off as Chloe held her hand over Max's mouth.

"Just a joke dude, calm down," Chloe said with a laugh. A laugh that ended with a wince. She let go of Max's mouth and laid back down on the ground. Truth be told, she was hardly thinking about her ribs, her mind was too busy replaying the events that led up to her fall in endless repeat. After an awkward moment of silence Chloe turned her head to look at Max.

The girl was still laying beside her. Her face was a dark shade of red and the look of worry had returned to her face.

"Max…" Chloe began.

"I'm so sorry Chloe, just forget about everything okay. Just forget that I...I'm still really confused. My feelings for you are just really strong and sometimes they're so overwhelming and I get these thoughts in my head and I'm not sure where they're coming from, but I don't want you to think, I mean you're my best friend Chloe and I don't want to…"

"Max," Chloe said again, interrupting the girl. Max quieted down and looked at her. She looked so scared. It made Chloe want to scoop her up and never let her go. "Look Max, you are still confused. We're still working a lot of stuff out."

"Right, I understand, don't worry…"

"You're not understanding me. I'm not complaining that you kissed me, not at fucking all. You hella surprised me, sure, maybe give a girl some warning next time," Chloe said with a smile. Max's eyes perked as she looked up at Chloe's face.

"You mean…"

"I mean, I understand how you feel. I got...hella feelings for you too dork. But, what's most important to me is you. So I don't want you to rush into something you don't understand yet."

"What if…" Max said, her voice just slightly breathless which really wasn't fair because Chloe was trying her best to be the responsible one here. "What if I feel really sure. What if you make me so happy and just the sight of you fills me with so much comfort and anxiety its like my whole body is vibrating when you're around me. What if I don't understand these feelings, but I understand how I feel and I can't see that going away. What if all I want to do is kiss you again?"

Chloe's mouth dried as she watched Max's face. If someone else had said that, if Rachel had said that, Chloe would have assumed it was a tease, a ploy to break down Chloe's defenses. But looking at Max's face, Chloe knew it wasn't. She was being honest.

In answer Chloe reached forward and put a hand on Max's check. She gently cupped Max's face, pulling her forward until their lips touched again.

For the first time Chloe actually kissed Max back. Her lips pressed and urged Max to kiss back. Max's own hand came up, warm against Chloe's check as they both turned and pressed against each other. Chloe reached her hand back, running through Max's hair, as she pulled her into a deeper kiss. It felt like over a decade of separation was being made up for in this one moment. Chloe suddenly worried it would be too much, but Max's hand shot up, grabbing on to the back of Chloe's jacket as she pulled against Chloe just as hard. The taste of syrup filled Chloe's mouth. Which was when the door opened.

"Miss is anything…" Chloe shot away from Max just as quick as Max rolled away from her.

"Uh, everything's all right," Max said breathlessly as her face flushed. "Just fell over by accident, nothing to…"
"Of course! I'll just...step out. Sorry for the, the intrusion," the nurse said as she fumbled with the door and quickly made her retreat. Max looked over at Chloe and the two...well best friends probably didn't cover it anymore...stared at each other.

"I don't think her opinion of you is going to improve much," Max said finally. Laughter erupted out of Chloe, and just like that the tension passed as the two girls laughed together.

Chloe rolled back over to Max as the laughter died down and Max quieted as Chloe reentered her personal space.

"Okay Max. You win. But let me get one thing straight. This goes slow. Like molasses slow. Like Catholics would get frustrated with how slow we're going slow."

"Really?" Max asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"Really," Chloe said firmly.

"So that kiss was slow?" Chloe glared at her.

"That was a preview. You're welcome. From here on out you get nothing but chaste pecks from me Caulfield!"

"Really?" Max asked, her eyes dancing with mischief.

"No, don't even think about it Maxipad, you keep…" Chloe started, but Max rolled on top of her without a moment's hesitation. "Dirty tricks!" Chloe called out as she disappeared beneath Max.


"Well dude, the last prison walk. After tonight you go home," Chloe said as she pushed the wheelchair across the lawn of the rehad center.

"Oh yeah, and by go home they mean sleep in my own bed, but I still have physical therapy here practically every day," Max said, her voice still soft as the breeze. Weeks later, and it was still the sweetest sound Chloe had ever heard. And it probably always would be.

"Granted, but six more months and then you get to go back to school! Yay for new prisons!" Chloe said.

"School…does not sound fun," Max said with a sigh.

"Hey, just two years. You tested into your junior year, not bad for someone who hasn't gone to school since elementary. Frankly, I don't think you have a right to complain. That's like, what, four years of school total?"

"If only I had tested a little better…" Max said mournfully.

"Hey, they're already calling you a medical miracle. Do too well and they'd think you just faked that whole coma thing."

"I almost wish Dad hadn't turned down all those interviews. How much do you think Ellen would have paid? Maybe I could have skipped school and gone straight to retirement."

"Oh no dude, no way I'm going back to high school without dragging your ass with me. I'm gonna be fucking twenty Max. In high school. I'm not living that shame without you." Max laughed as Chloe pushed her farther down the lawn towards the line of trees that marked the edge of the property. Beyond the trees the sun was setting against the tall buildings that marked downtown Seattle.

"I think it drives them crazy you know," Max said as she watched the sunset.

"What does?" Chloe asked.

"That they can't explain any of it. Every doctor has their own theory, but I can tell none of them actually believe it."

"Well I can't really blame them. Time traveling and mind swapping aren't really in their area of expertise. Or anyone's really," Chloe said as they stopped at their usual spot. Ever since Max could go outside they'd been watching the sunset together here.

"I'm not even sure I believe it," Max said suddenly.

"Well thanks for the vote of confidence dude," Chloe said as if she was offended.

"No, it's not like that," Max said quickly, giving Chloe a reassuring squeeze on her hand. "Its just...I can't imagine how I did it."

"By being a badass idiot," Chloe said with a light smack to the back of Max's head. "I don't date down Max. So you have to be at least be as badass as me, and we know how badass I am." Max's face flushed red at the mention of dating which made Chloe smirk.

"Sometimes…I remember stuff, just a little," Max said.

"Yeah?" Chloe asked.

"Yeah. Like I'll wake up in a cold sweat after a nap and I'll be so scared for some reason. And I feel like I can almost remember why...but then its gone," Max said slowly, as if in a trance. Chloe couldn't help but notice the way her hands ran over her wrists. It was something she'd seen Imaginary Max do a few times but she'd never really thought about it. Now she did have thoughts about it. They weren't good thoughts. Not for the first time she wondered how much of Max's story she never got to hear.

"Maybe it's a good thing you don't remember this stuff," Chloe said, taking Max's hand in her own. It broke Max out of her thoughts and she looked up. "Let's focus on stuff that actually matters, like how fucking awesome this sunset is."

"It is pretty awesome," Max said with a laugh, watching the orange light color the face of her girlfriend.

"Oh that reminds me! I got something. Hold on a sec," Chloe said as she walked behind the wheelchair and started rummaging through their bag. She grabbed something and walked back around to Max, holding it behind her.

"What?" Max asked as Chloe smiled mischievously. She swung her hands around and revealed an old Polaroid camera and a pack of film. The sight of it sent a strong jolt of familiarity through Max. That seemed to happen a lot with Chloe.

"Do you like it? I mean, it's just an old camera my dad used to have. My mom grabbed it from my old room when she was leaving. I remember you used to stare at it a lot. You don't…"

"Chloe," Max said, interrupting her. She held her hands out. "It's beautiful." Chloe smiled and put the camera in her hands.

"I don't know how you work it so I hope you have some…" Chloe started, but Max was already opening the camera and loading the film. "Damn, that was quick."

"It just feels right," Max said happily as she whipped the camera around and snapped a picture of Chloe. "Like a couple other things in my life," Max said with a sly smile at Chloe.

"Yeah, well, those things cost a fortune so try taking pictures of things worthwhile," Chloe said with a shake of her head.

"What do you think I'm doing?" Max asked with a cock of her eyebrow. Then they scrunched in confusion as she looked past Chloe. "Is that her?" She asked. Chloe turned around and saw the long dirty blond hair flying in the breeze.

"Yeah that's her. I'll go grab her and bring her over. Don't move."

"Hilarious," Max said sarcastically as Chloe chuckled to herself.

"Rachel," Chloe said as she walked up to the girl.

"It's been awhile," Rachel said with a smile.

"We've talked on the phone countless times," Chloe said dismissively.

"It's not the same," Rachel said, her smile turning just a touch sad. But then it was gone just as quick as it came. "Well don't just stand there, take me to her."

"Only if you promise not to scream at her this time."

"Haha," Rachel said as they started towards Max.

"Still doesn't remember anything?" Rachel asked.

"Bits and pieces. Not a lot. The doctor says her brain isn't done rewiring itself so there's no telling what will happen. She may never remember. Or it could all come back tomorrow."

"Well that sounds fun," Rachel said.

"Honestly…I'd kinda be okay if none of it came back. I mean, yeah it sucks she doesn't remember all the childhood shit but...I don't know Rachel…there's a lot of stuff I hope she never remembers." Rachel nodded.

"Up to forty two the last time I checked," Rachel said. Chloe knew. She checked almost every day.

"That little shit, she's taking our picture!" Chloe said suddenly before racing over to Max. The girl was looking at the picture in her hand as Chloe and Rachel reached her. She looked up at them and turned the picture towards them with a smile.

"Rachel Amber, it's nice to finally meet you, I've heard a lot about you," Max said. Rachel took the picture and looked at it for a moment, her face a mask. Then she looked up at Max and held out her hand.

"Max Caulfield," Rachel said as Max took it. "It's a pleasure."