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Piece by Piece

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There’s an old science fiction show that I used to watch with my Dad back in Seattle. What just happened reminds me of a favorite quote that goes: ‘Greater love hath no man, than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, but for one person; alone, in the dark, where no-one will ever see or care.’ I can’t help but apply it to Chloe. Yes, she did it for more than just one person, but that wasn’t a sure thing. She demanded that I sacrifice her for the chance of saving Arcadia Bay; that’s got to count for something. And, at the end, she was alone in the dark, and no-one will ever know what she did. No-one but me.

I will never forget.

When I left the photograph of the bathroom, I found myself not up by the lighthouse, but back in my dorm room at Blackwell. A quick glance out of the window confirmed that the town was still standing, untouched by any mystical storm. Chloe’s sacrifice had not, I was relieved to see, been in vain. Of course, that did little to mitigate the pain I was feeling. I slumped onto the bed, curled up into a ball, and wept for my lost love until I had no more tears to shed.

I’d largely lost track of time, what with all the photo-hopping, and the storm darkening the sky, but I guessed it must be Friday evening – something a quick glance at my phone seemed to confirm; it wasn’t long after dinner. I realized that I had no idea what had happened over the last few days in this timeline. There must have been a doppelgänger Max taking my place, but I had no idea whether she had all my memories, or just those from before all this started. Presumably Nathan had been arrested, but had everything about him and Jefferson come out? Was Kate still at Blackwell? Was she even alive?

I got the answer to my last question almost straight away. There was a knock on the door, and when I opened it, there was my tea-drinking friend. Like me, she was dressed in her pajamas. “Kate!” I pulled her into a hug. “You’re alright.”

“Of course.” She gently pushed me back, with a puzzled look on her face. “Were you expecting something to have happened to me in the few hours since you last saw me in class?”

“No, of course not, I just…” I trailed off, not sure how to explain my confusion.

Kate reached up and wiped an errant tear from my cheek. “I’m sorry, Max. You’ve been holding up so well this week, being so strong for everyone else, it’s easy to forget what you went through. It was bound to catch up with you sooner or later.” She led me back into my room. “Sit yourself down; I’ll put the kettle on.”

“Thanks, Kate,” I told her, as I followed her suggestion and collapsed onto my bed. I sat quietly, trying to figure out how I could piece together what had gone on in this version of reality. I was sure that Kate could help me with that, but what reason could I give for not already knowing? The truth was, I would be the first to admit, more than a little hard to swallow. I could fake amnesia, but surely Kate would insist that I see a doctor… I was still musing on this when a hot drink was pressed into my hand.

“So, tell me what’s going on, Max,” said Kate. “Maybe I can help you.”

“I’m not sure how to explain,” I began, before being cut off by another knock at the door. “Dana?” I asked in surprise when I opened it.

“Er… yeah? You invited me over, Max. Movie night slash pajama party, remember?”

“Yes, of course,” I lied, not terribly convincingly. “Come on in, Kate’s already here.” Dana shot me another strange look, then went in and sat down next to Kate on the couch. I closed the door, then turned back to see the two of them staring at me. “So, movies? What do you want to watch?”

“You really don’t remember inviting us at all, so you?” asked Dana. “We were planning to watch Blade Runner because it was Chloe’s favorite movie.”

“Of course I do, it’s just, after this week I…”

“Cut the crap, Max,” interrupted Kate. “It’s obvious that you don’t. Are you going to tell us what the heck’s going on?”

I sat down heavily on the bed. “I could, but I’m not sure it would help much. The truth is… more than a little unbelievable, and would probably leave you more worried about me than you are now.”

“Try us,” suggested Kate in a voice that brooked no argument.

“We’re not going to judge you,” added Dana. “Not after everything that’s happened this week.”

“That’s the problem,” I said, “I don’t know what’s happened this week.”

“You mean you don’t remember?” asked Kate, “Like, amnesia?”

“No.” I decided to take the plunge. “From the time Chloe got shot, until earlier this evening, I was in an alternate reality.”

“That’s going to need a little more explanation,” prompted Dana.

I nodded. “The first time I saw Chloe get shot, I discovered that I could rewind time.”

The two of them just stared at me for a moment. Eventually, Kate broke the silence. “So, you’re saying you can time travel? Like, that Doctor guy on TV?”

I shook my head. “Not any more, and it wasn’t like that; I could only go back a few minutes.”

“Still,” said Dana, “that does sound… kinda awesome?” she finished uncertainly.

“Not so much,” I told them bitterly. “Look if I’m going to get through this story, I need you to let me finish it without any interruptions. It’s going to be difficult to explain, and I’m not sure that if I stop, I’ll have the strength to carry on.”

“Okay,” said Kate as they both nodded at me.

I told them about what happened to me since that first vision in Jefferson’s class; not everything, just the highlights. The storm. Saving Chloe. Saving Kate. The Dark Room. Discovering the truth about Nathan, and Jefferson, and Rachel. How I caused the storm. How Chloe made me sacrifice her to save everyone. How I loved her.

By the time I reached the end of my tale, I was pretty choked up. My voice was hoarse, and there were tears streaming down my face. Kate came over and knelt on the floor in front of me. “It’s going to be okay,” she told me as she took my hands into her own. Dana climbed onto the bed, and wrapped her arms around me. The two of them simply held me for what felt like a long time.

“Thanks,” I told them eventually, “I guess I needed that.”

“Any time,” said Dana, giving me a tight squeeze before returning to the couch with Kate.

“So, on a scale of one to ten, just how crazy do you think I am right now?” I asked them.

It was Kate who responded. “I don’t think you’re crazy at all. This week… it’s been like you were able to see the future; the story you told is no more implausible than any of the other explanations I’ve come up with.”

“Plus, it was way too detailed and specific to be something you just imagined,” added Dana.

“Well, that’s good to know,” I said, relieved. “So, can you fill me in on what I’ve missed in this timeline?”

“First things first,” said Kate with a grim smile, “Nathan and Jefferson are both locked up. Nathan was arrested right after he shot Chloe, obviously, and the police took Jefferson in for questioning later on Monday, based on what you told them. Presumably they found Rachel’s body and the Dark Room, because it was on the local news by Tuesday evening.”

“Well, that certainly confirms that my double had memories from the other timeline… but how are you coping with all of that?”

“Much better than I was. You came to see me on Monday night and told me about what Nathan had done; I guess it was right after you got back from the police station. I wasn’t really sure I believed you until I saw the news online, but it must have helped because I certainly never got to the point where I actually tried to kill myself. After I was sure of the truth… mostly I was angry, but feeling a lot better about life. It probably helped that Victoria was hiding from me rather than the other way around.”

“That doesn’t sound like her.”

“You remember how tight she was with Nathan,” Dana reminded me, “and her crush on Jefferson wasn’t exactly subtle. Ever since the truth came out about them, she’s been avoiding pretty much everyone, even Taylor and Courtney.”

“I’m trying not to be too joyful about that,” muttered Kate, and I grinned at her.

“Anyway,” continued Dana, “the first time we really talked was on Tuesday afternoon. Juliet had locked me in my room because she thought I’d been sexting with her boyfriend. Apparently you marched straight into Victoria’s room, dragged her out, and made her confess that it had just been her messing with Juliet because she was jealous over Zach.”

“I remember that!” I interrupted excitedly, “except in my timeline that happened on Monday. Victoria wasn’t there, so I went snooping around her room, and found an email where she was bragging about it to Taylor.”

“Yeah, well, on Monday, Juliet was far too busy playing cub reporter around the police and medics, trying to get a story,” explained Dana. “I guess relationship drama got put on hold for a day. Anyway, after you’d set her straight we had a long talk, about what happened to Chloe, and about…” she quickly glanced sideways at Kate, “about… you know.” She looked at me pleadingly.

“I think so, yeah. Victoria isn’t the only person whose room I snooped around; it’s embarrassingly easy to do if you can just rewind when you get caught after looking in someone’s bin and finding…” Realizing why Dana had censored herself, I stopped before I mentioned the pregnancy test in front of Kate. “And that actually sounds really creepy when I say it out loud – I guess it’s true what they say about how power corrupts.”

“Well, regardless of what ‘snooping’ went on, you can’t imagine how much that conversation meant to me. I was in a really shitty place right then; I was feeling terrible about what I’d done, and at the same time I was getting ready to rebound from one guy to the next and maybe end up making the same mistakes… Having a friend to talk to – a real friend, one who actually cared – you have no idea how much that helped me.”

“Okay, enough,” said Kate. “Please stop talking around me like I’m a bomb that’s going to explode if you say the wrong thing. I may not be interested in gossip, but that doesn’t mean I don’t end up hearing some of it anyway. And, honestly, I could have a pretty good guess from the things you two aren’t saying…”

We both looked at her in surprise, and then a few moments later, Dana’s eyes dropped to the floor. “I had an abortion,” she whispered at last.

Kate immediately pulled her into a hug. “And I’m sorry you had to go through that alone; I can’t imagine how scary and upsetting that must have been. If there’s anything you need, I’m here for you, okay? I’m not going to… thump you with bible and condemn you to hell.”

Dana managed a small laugh, although she was crying too. “Thanks, Kate, you’re so kind. And… I’m sorry, for making stupid assumptions about how you would react.”

“That’s okay. I do realize that probably the first word people would use to describe me is ‘Christian’, but that doesn’t mean I subscribe to every viewpoint of ‘the religious right’.” She said that last phrase with a strange mixture of bitterness and disdain. “My beliefs are my own, not just parroting some preacher or politician – and I’m not one to force them on anyone else. I believe that morality isn’t always black and white, and that we should never be quick to judge.”

Kate released Dana, and sat back. “When it comes to abortion… there are people who quote the Bible to support their view that life begins at conception, but I could also find quotes to support a view that life begins with a baby’s first breath. So, while I don’t think it’s something I could ever consider myself, and yes, if you’d talked to me before-hand, I would have tried to persuade you not to do it, I still support your choice. Ultimately, I don’t believe it’s any more ‘moral’ to force a woman to go through with an unwanted pregnancy.”

“You’re awesome, you know that, right?” I told Kate, and she blushed a little.

“I’m not sure what you mean. I just try to be the best person I can, and to help the people around me.” Kate shrugged. “I’m not sure what’s ‘awesome’ about that.”

“It’s awesome because far too many people aren’t like that, they’re just out for themselves,” explained Dana, “and because not many people put that much thought into their belief system and sense of morality.”

“Just take the compliment, Kate,” I suggested.

After a moment, she smiled shyly. “Thank-you. And thanks for being there for me this week. After our long talk on Monday, you stopped by for a chat every evening, making sure that I was okay – and letting me help you as well. For someone who’d seen her oldest friend murdered in front of her, you seemed to be doing far too well, and I was worried you were simply repressing everything.”

Fresh waves of grief shook me, and I found myself blinking back fresh tears. Seeing concern on my friends’ faces, I tried to reassure them. “I’m sorry, it’s just… for me, it’s only been a couple of hours since I saw Chloe die. And yet, because I’d seen it before, and knowing that Chloe chose to make that sacrifice, and after… everything else I’ve been through in the last five days, I just feel like…” I trailed off, before concluding in a pleading tone, “I loved her. I shouldn’t be this okay.”

“Oh, Max,” began Kate, “there’s no rulebook that says how you are or aren’t supposed to feel after someone you love dies. No-one is going to judge you on whether or not your grief is enough. You need to mourn Chloe in whatever way feels right to you.”

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

“And we’ll both be there for you tomorrow,” said Dana. She must have seen my baffled look because she added, “at the funeral.”

“Um… I should probably tell you that you mentioned Joyce had asked you to say a few words about Chloe’s childhood,” Kate told me. I felt a brief flash of terror. Simply going to the funeral was something I wasn’t at all sure I was ready to face; the idea of speaking publicly… was something I would have to do. I couldn’t let Chloe down, even if I couldn’t talk about all the reasons why. I looked at my two friends; at least I wouldn’t have to do it alone.

“Thank-you, both of you. I was worried that I’d come back to this timeline without a single friend, instead a find that I have not one, but two great friends.” Sensing the beginning of an awkward silence, I hurried to fill it. “So… what else did I miss?”

“I can’t really thing of anything,” said Kate.

“The End of the World party was cancelled,” added Dana, “so, yeah, things have been pretty quiet the last couple of days.”

“That’s good to know. So, do you guys still want to watch the movie? I could really do with getting my mind off things.”

“Sure,” replied Kate, as Dana nodded. I grabbed my laptop and, tossing the comforter to my friends, set it on the bed. I cued up Blade Runner – the Director’s Cut, of course – then climbed onto the couch and squeezed myself in between Kate and Dana to watch.

I woke up just as the end credits were rolling. I’d obviously dozed off and somehow found myself curled up with my head in Dana’s lap, and my legs across Kate’s. The comforter was wrapped around me and tucked up under my chin. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I said sleepily, “I guess I’m not much of a hostess right now.”

“That’s okay,” said Dana fondly, “you obviously needed the rest.”

“Still, you should probably head to bed,” said Kate as she stood up; then, yawning, “and it seems you’re not the only one.”

“’Night, Kate,” I told her, echoed a moment later by Dana.

“Goodnight,” she replied, then slipped out of the room.

“C’mon, let’s get you to bed,” said Dana. She got up, and reached out her hands. I took them, and allowed her to pull me up, but my body responded sluggishly. We stumbled across the room, twisting, and both ended up on the bed in a tangle of limbs. For a few moments, we just lay there with the breath knocked out of us. My arms had instinctively gone around Dana as she fell, and I only moved them aside when she pushed herself up off me.

“Sorry about that,” she told me, looking mildly embarrassed.

“No problem.” I vaguely missed the feeling of her weight pressed down on me, but quickly pushed that aside. Dana retrieved the comforter from the couch and gently laid it over me. I smiled up at her. “I don’t think anyone’s tucked me into bed since I was a little girl. Thanks for looking after me.”

“It’s the least I can do after all the support you’ve given me this week. Goodnight, Max.”

I closed my eyes and snuggled down into the bed. “’Night, Dana.” I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I could swear I felt a pair of lips brushing my forehead. A few moments later, I heard the door softly closing, and drifted off to sleep.