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There was something mesmerizing about becoming someone else; Rachel Amber knew that better than anyone.

It was as effortless as slipping into an old pair of shoes. She could lose herself in someone else's skin, even if the fit wasn't always the best. Today, she could be the outgoing and bubbly future starlet; tomorrow, the brooding and moody teenage loner. They were characters, all carefully crafted to be pulled out when she needed them the most. When it got too suffocating being Rachel, she became someone brand new.

She considered it method acting. There was nothing wrong with presenting a different face to different people; it was the only way to survive. The one person that got to peel back the tape and see the gnarled, angry bits underneath was Chloe. At times, Chloe's patient blue eyes and soft tones drove her crazy. She didn't like being dissected under a microscope, even if she knew that wasn't Chloe's intention.  Every time she went anywhere, all she could feel were eyes piercing her. They stared and they whispered and they talked. Oh, they talked. She was never allowed to blend in, to disappear in a crowd. No matter which Rachel she decided to be, it was never satisfying. 100 layers and she still managed to feel exposed.

She barely flinched as the flash of a camera briefly crossed her face. She was lost this afternoon, drifting in and out of her own head, and staying focused was a struggle. Despite how much of a rush the past few weeks had been, she still couldn't shake the dark cloud that loomed over her. Nothing could change the fact that her parents were getting divorced and she'd never get the chance to meet her biological mother. Not a brand new tattoo or a million nights spent at the junkyard. It was a gnawing emptiness that nothing could fill. She'd sent countless letters, sometimes feverishly writing late into the night. None of them were ever answered.

"These are fantastic shots, Rachel!"

The trill of excitement was enough to get her attention. Evan hadn't moved from where he was kneeling in the grass, camera poised at the ready, but the awe struck look on his face was all the confirmation she needed that this was another successful photoshoot. Evan had an eye for detail that made her appreciate his work more than most and, usually, she had no qualms being his model. Right now, she wanted to leave. The camera lens winked at her under the glare of the sun and she wanted nothing more than to smash it.

"Do you think you have enough to work with?", she gave him a polite smile, one that betrayed nothing, "I hate to cut out on you but I'm meeting Chloe for lunch".

It was a total lie but it was one that she knew Evan would be willing to accept. She and Chloe were practically attached at the hip these days and nobody could question their loyalty to one another. It was her go-to excuse these days and it became easier and easier to lie each time. Why wasn't she home by 10:00? She was eating dinner at Chloe's. Why didn't she return any phone calls? She'd forgotten to get her charger from Chloe. Becoming Chloe's Rachel was the easiest role yet.

"No worries; I think I've got some good ones to work with. I'll show you once I have them finished". 

"Thanks, Evan. I'll see you around".

She gave him a warm hug before she was off , quickly putting Blackwell behind her. She didn't stop walking until she was in the parking lot, far enough away from the prying eyes of her peers to feel safe. She dug her cellphone out of her back pocket and briefly paused on Chloe's name before she dialed the numbers she knew by heart. She swallowed down the lump of guilt in her throat as it rang, trying to put Chloe's concerned face out of her head. Sometimes it was all too much and she needed an escape, no matter how fleeting. Chloe couldn't blame her for that. After all, she was doing the same.

She let out the shaky breath that she was holding once the phone was finally picked up.

"Frank, I need to see you".

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Distortion

Part Two

Frank Bowers is the type of person that nobody fucks with. 

Rachel has never thought to ask his age but he's always seemed much older than he looks. He has the kind of piercing gray eyes and permanent scowl that send most sane people running but she's never been afraid of him. She's learned enough about him to know that he's rough around the edges with the heart of a saint. He's the kind of guy who will fight for what he believes in, the kind that firmly believes in loyalty above all else. She can see some of herself in Frank; a lot, if she's being totally honest. He's lost, wandering, trying to find some sort of peace in life. He's not a bad person, no matter what the people of Arcadia Bay choose to believe. He has nothing and nobody but his rescue puppy and a beat-up old RV that serves as his makeshift home. When they're alone, she can see the sadness written all over his face. She wants to help him but she can barely help herself. Simply being there is all she can manage. She leans back in the passenger's seat and props her feet up on the dashboard, watching as the trees blur past her window. She has no idea where they're headed and, right now, it doesn't matter. 

"Don't you have class?"

Frank's voice is gruff but his expression is soft as he casts a glance in her direction. She knows that he really wants to ask her why she's there, why she even bothers with him, but he won't. She thinks maybe he's afraid of the answer. She shrugs in response before she reaches over and lightly tousles his hair. He grumbles something under his breath but she doesn't miss the flush that colors his cheeks. She almost feels bad for doing this to him, making him love her when she's not even sure who looks back at her in the mirror. It's the same feeling she gets when she's lying on the floor of the clubhouse with Chloe, fingers laced together, so close that her breath tickles her face. Thinking about Chloe now tangles her stomach and so she shakes the thought away. She'll have plenty of time to hate herself later. 

"Is it a crime to want to hang out?"

"I don't have time to 'hang out', Rach. I'm busy". 

"If you're so busy then why am I here?"

He grumbles again as he takes a sharp left and the familiar junkyard entrance comes into view. She's lost count of how much time she's spent there but it's basically like a second home. It's weird how comfortable she feels among the trash and abandoned car parts. Here, it doesn't matter that she's the D.A.'s daughter or that she's a straight-A student. This is a place without rules and without responsibilities. It is a separate universe. Frank cuts the engine and reaches over her to get to the glove-box. She watches as he pulls out a small notebook and a pen which she knows all too well by this point. It's his log book and he keeps up with it as religiously as any skilled drug dealer would. She catches Chloe's name scrawled on one of the first pages and she cringes at the amount of money she owes. It's not pocket change and she knows that Chloe will probably never be able to pay him back. 

"You're trouble", he says, more to himself than to her, "You know that?"

She leans over to him and pulls him into a kiss. His lips are chapped and his beard scratches her cheeks but it's the rush she craves. She feels weightless with him, almost invincible, and she clings to it desperately. When she thinks that she's breaking, she calls him to hold the pieces in place. It's a fleeting thrill but she needs it more than she'll ever admit. She smiles against his mouth as his hands fall to her sides, calloused fingers fumbling for purchase as they grasp at her flannel. If she tries hard enough, she can forget the ghostly blonde image of her mother. She can forget the raging fire that still burns deep inside of her, even though the real inferno is long gone. Most importantly, she can forget how badly she wants to run...forever. 


Rachel wakes up to three missed calls, two voicemails, and five texts. She groans as she rolls onto her side and squints at the alarm clock sitting on her dresser. 4:00 AM blinks back at her and she groans again before she brings her phone back into view. She doesn't hesitate to call the one person that she's been avoiding all day. Yesterday, she reminds herself as she listens to the phone ring. It takes less than a minute before it's picked up. 

"Where the hell have you been?! I was worried."

Chloe's voice is a harsh whisper, the last word stressed so it hangs heavy in the tense silence that follows. Rachel stares up at her ceiling and the stars projected there, a lasting remnant of Chloe's burst of genius. She finds it hard to hear her voice and not immediately break down. Chloe has a way of stripping away all of the bullshit and forcing her to face the ugly truth. It hurts and she hates it but it's also what she wishes she was capable of on her own. Chloe is everything that she wishes to be and everything that scares her all wrapped in one blue-haired package. As much as she wants to hold her and never let go, she's terrified of what that means. It's a thought that feels too concrete, too final, and she doesn't want her world to be that predictable. She can't let it be. 

"Rachel". 

"I heard you", she lets out a soft sigh, one that she hopes doesn't sound as damning as it is, "I wasn't feeling well. I went home early". 

Chloe chuckles but there is no joy in her tone. It's bitter and a bit sad, the exact opposite of what Rachel is so used to. 

"Bullshit. I know you, Rachel. You're hiding something from me". 

"I'm not hiding anything. I've...had a lot on my mind". 

"Like what?"

"Like nothing", she absently picks at a hole in her pillow, "I'm just stressed". 

"We don't keep things from each other". 

The events of the previous afternoon immediately pop into her head and she shoos them away. It's bad enough that she's dragged Chloe into the complicated mess that is her life; she doesn't need to pile on anymore shit. 

"I'm sorry". 

It's the only thing that she can think to say. She can almost picture Chloe's face on the other end, eyebrows knitted together as she tries to decipher the hidden meaning behind it. She tries to lessen the pain by telling herself that they're not dating, not really, but it doesn't work. Girlfriend or not, this feels like a betrayal. It is a betrayal. 

"Whatever's going on, you know that you can tell me. I'm here for you". 

She swallows hard and tries not to fall apart right there. Chloe cares and she wants that to be all she needs but some broken part of her can't let that be enough. 

"...I know. Can we do lunch tomorrow? To make up for it?"

"You're buying. I...goodnight, Rachel". 

"Goodnight, Chloe". 

She quickly hangs up the phone before tossing it to the ground in frustration. She won't be getting anymore sleep tonight. 

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Distortion

Part Three

Two Whales isn't the only diner in town but it might as well be. It's a town staple, as ingrained in the people of Arcadia Bay as fishing and the hatred of the Prescotts. Rachel has been eating at the Two Whales since before she can remember and it's a popular spot for most of Blackwell Academy. Thankfully, she doesn't see any of her classmates as she slides into an empty booth on a dreary Saturday morning. She isn't surprised that Chloe is still MIA. As much as she wants it to be, this won't be a pleasant date. She can almost picture Chloe flopped down on her bed as she smokes a joint, purposefully letting the minutes tick by as she psyches herself up to leave the house. She can't find the energy to be angry; it isn't her place. She lazily thumbs across the sugar packets placed in the center of the table as she thinks of what she'll say when Chloe finally does arrive. The usual excuses feel forced and she doesn't want to go through the same rehearsed routine today. Maybe it's the rain or maybe it's the lack of sleep but she can't stomach lying to Chloe right now. She desperately tries to summon up one of her other faces, one that's crafty and resourceful enough to handle this, but she's nowhere to be found. 

"Rachel, it's nice to see you again". 

The warm voice belongs to none other than Joyce Price. She's just as put together as ever and she offers up a smile that immediately makes Rachel feel ten times worse. Joyce is always happy, always kind, and she doesn't feel like she deserves it. Would she be so nice if she knew what her life was really like? Or so welcoming if she could see the truth? She doesn't ask these questions, instead she offers up a smile of her own and accepts the warm mug of coffee she's given. 

"You too, Joyce. Been busy today?"

It's a dumb question considering how packed the place is but small talk feels good. It's easy and she doesn't need to think too much. Joyce shrugs as if it's nothing but another day and Rachel supposes that it is for her.  

"Nothing I can't handle. You must be waiting for Chloe". 

She wants to ask if Chloe's mentioned their conversation from the night before but she already knows the answer. Chloe almost never talks to her mom about anything. Rachel understands some of Chloe's frustrations but she often wishes she had a mother like Joyce. It would be nice to have someone truly care, to have them stick around and listen to all of her trivial problems as if they're the most important things in the world. It's a fleeting thought but it hurts just the same. 

"Yeah. She's late". 

"Could never get that girl to be on time for anything. The usual today?"

She always gets the waffles and a side of bacon, without fail. It, like everything else here, is a tradition. She nods and gives Joyce one last perfect smile before she's left alone again. She sits and listens to the bits and pieces of conversation going on around her and she's so engrossed in the noise that she doesn't even notice when the bell over the front door chimes. It's the flash of blue that catches her attention when Chloe finally jumps into the other side of the booth. 

"Yo", she says breezily, "Sorry I'm late. Truck wouldn't start again". 

Even after all this time, looking at Chloe still gives her awful butterflies. She quickly diverts her attention to the ever-darkening sky outside and tries to organize her thoughts. Talking is easy, it always is with her, but that's the main problem. She can't filter herself when they're together and she always ends up saying more than she means to. It's scary how easy it is to be open. She likes to keep some doors shut. 

"It's a wonder that thing runs at all". 

"Don't doubt my skills. You look..."

"Like shit?"

"That's putting it bluntly", she reaches over and grabs her hand, "Look, I was thinking about what you said last night and...I know things have been kind of rough but we're getting there. I've been saving up some cash and I'll have what we need soon". 

The hope in Chloe's voice hits her hard. She can feel the need to escape burning as brightly within her as it does within herself. They've made a pact with each other that they'll leave Arcadia Bay behind, together. When she first found out about her mother, it was the only thing she could cling to. Once they left, none of her past would matter. She could leave it behind and start a new identity in a new city where there was a whole other world to discover. Chloe would be her much needed companion, the one person she could always trust to have her back. It sounded like such a great idea but, the more time passed, the more the image started to disintegrate. They didn't have the funds to pack up and leave and, with how much Chloe owed to Frank, they wouldn't be getting away anytime soon. She wants to believe her but it's nothing more than an empty promise. She's tired of hearing those. 

"Chloe...I don't know", she squeezes her hand, "We'll need a lot of money". 

A frown crosses her face for a brief moment before it slips away, "I know. I promise you that I'm working on it. Is that what this is about?"

"No. Not really". 

Before Chloe can ask more questions, Joyce is back with her food. She's never been happier for a distraction. If Joyce notices how tense things are, she doesn't say so. She barely bats an eye at their clasped hands as she places the plate in the center of the table. She sets down two forks before she heads back to the kitchen. Rachel doesn't have much of an appetite but she eats so she doesn't have to acknowledge the awkward tension in the air. After a minute, Chloe follows suit and it's not long before they've both polished off the waffles and half of the generous portion of bacon. 

"Let's get out of here". 

Chloe is standing up and tugging her to her feet before she can even think to protest. She reaches into her pocket and places a twenty on the table, even if she knows that Joyce probably won't take it. She feels bad for how many free meals she's gotten here and Joyce deserves every penny. Chloe doesn't comment on it as she leads her towards the door and out into the rain.


Rachel has always enjoyed the quiet serenity of the lighthouse. The image of it was briefly tainted by the discovery of her father's 'mistress' but she's since come to love it again. There's something about the majestic structure that resonates to her core. It's dependable, an image of Arcadia Bay as much as the Two Whales, and that makes her nostalgic. Arcadia Bay is and always will be a sleepy, seaport town, no matter how much madness ensnares her own life. 

She sits on the same park bench that she always does, staring out into the sea as the storm picks up. For some reason, it's oddly beautiful to her. Chloe sits by her side, again the same as always, though there is no joyful conversation to be had. Chloe's staring just as intensely as she is, her eyes piercing through the water's surface to some unseen object below. It's a look that's unsettling to her but she doesn't want to disrupt the silence. There's a reason they're sitting here, even if she's not sure why yet; Chloe never does anything without a purpose. 

"I don't know why you've been acting so weird lately". 

Rachel looks up at the clouded sky and then back towards the winding path. It always feels like there's an energy here that she can't place. It's almost like there's a barrier and if she pushes hard enough, she can break free to the other side. 

"You're mad". 

"Yeah, I am", she bites her lip as if to stop herself but it's not long before she barrels ahead, "...Sometimes, it feels like you're a totally different person. You shut me out and it pisses me off". 

"Chloe, you know everything about me". 

"Do I?"

The comment stings but she doesn't let it show on her face. Chloe gives her a hard look, one that instantly reminds her of Joyce, before her gaze softens. It's a face that Rachel knows well, once that she sees mirrored back at her from everyone. It's such an intense longing that it almost burns her to be this close. It's a look that fills her with joy and dread all at once. She can't understand how she can ignite such passion in those around her and be devoid of it herself. It seems cruel somehow, twisted. Maybe this is her punishment for trying to squeeze too much out of life. 

"I'm sorry, Chloe. I'm sorry that I'm such a..."

"Terrible girlfriend?", she waits a beat before she smiles and it's enough that Rachel can't stop herself from blushing, "I guess I can forgive you".

"Girlfriend?"

It's a word that has never left either of their mouths before but it's always been there, waiting in the air for one of them to take notice. It makes sense for them to give...whatever this is...a name but she can't help the weird feeling that settles in her stomach. She loves Chloe but she knows it won't be enough. Chloe deserves more, so much more than she's capable of giving. She wants to tell her to go, to leave her alone. It will be better for her if they stop seeing each other. But the happiness in her eyes makes it so hard to push her away and, before she knows it, she's kissing her with all the energy she can muster. 

It's different than kissing Frank. There's an intensity with Chloe, like someone's pushed the fast-forward button and everything's going full speed. It's a chaotic energy that drives them together and it's kept them around each other for this long. It's in moments like these that she understands how alike they truly are. Chloe may be louder, bolder, but they're both scrambling for something. She knows that she won't be able to find it in the softness of Chloe's lips or the wiriness of her arms but she'd be a lot worse off otherwise. The moment can't last longer than a few minutes but when they finally separate, she feels like she's been underwater. She wants to say something but it's then that her phone starts to buzz.

She expects it to be one of her parents but it turns out to be someone else entirely. She quickly pockets her phone again before Chloe can get a good look at the screen. The last thing she needs is another blowout because of Nathan Prescott. 

Chapter Text

Distortion

Part Four

Monday comes around faster than Rachel would like. 

She does extremely well in school but it's not because she particularly enjoys it. She knows that excelling at Blackwell is her one-way ticket to the life she often dreams about. It's a means to an end; nothing more, nothing less. She thinks about this as she sits in English class, listlessly tapping her pen against her notebook. The lesson today is a grating one and she can barely focus on what it is that Mrs. Hoida is teaching. She glances to her left where Victoria Chase is busy in what appears to be a very engaging text thread on her cell. It's behavior that would be called out if done by anyone else but Victoria has just enough money and status to get away with almost anything. It's a fact that annoys Rachel but that she doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on. If she gives Victoria any real attention, she'll only drive herself crazy. As if on cue, Victoria looks up before she can divert her eyes elsewhere. She gives her a sneer before she angles her body towards the door, effectively hiding her phone from view. She rolls her eyes before she turns to the other side, towards the person she hasn't called back. Nathan is staring at the ceiling rather than at the front of the classroom, the bored expression on his face one that she recognizes from countless other shared classes. It's a trait that angers both their teachers and Principal Wells alike but nobody dares to truly discipline him. The Prescotts practically own Arcadia, much to the dismay of everyone else. There was a point where she felt the same but everything changed once she joined the Vortex Club. 

Vortex Club. Even the name sounded stupid but she found her interest piqued anyway. There was something alluring about the exclusivity of it all and she kept finding herself drawn to their posters plastered up all over campus. The mystery of it persisted until she was finally whisked to a party by Dana. She never thought she would feel the most 'real' when she was surrounded by other people under pulsing lights and deafening music. The parties truly did feel like a vortex, a swirling whirlwind of laughter and dancing that always ended far too soon. For the first time, she felt connected to people in a way that she always wanted to. It was the same feeling she had on stage when she was commanding the attention of an audience with the power of her words alone. It was because of this that Nathan became her unlikely friend. 

He was an asshole to most, cocky and arrogant in a way that turned most people off, but he became a new person when they were together. He was sensitive, always attentive and willing to listen. It was the same concentration she often saw during The Tempest rehearsals, where he would sometimes go over his lines dozens of times. At times, he was nervous and jumpy but it was easy to overlook when he cracked a joke or spun her around the dance floor. She can see some of that person now as he drums his fingers against his desk and bounces his knee, restlessness coursing through him like static. He senses her staring and cuts his eyes in her direction. His mouth twitches slightly and she doesn't know if he's fighting a smile or a scowl. It's always hard to tell with him. 

This back and forth continues for most of the period and she's no closer to figuring out if he's angry or not by the time the bell rings. She gathers her books and prepares to exit the classroom but she's stopped not too far up the hall. Predictably, it's Nathan who blocks her path. Up close, she can see the dark circles under his eyes. 

"Why didn't you call me back?"

There's a sharp edge to his voice but she doesn't take it personally; this is how Nathan is. She catches Victoria glaring at her as she sidles up the hall and she doesn't have to wonder what her issue is. Victoria and Nathan are close and she doesn't take too kindly to him spending time around her. It seems she has a knack for getting on people's bad side. 

"I was busy. What is it?"

He mutters something that sounds like a bunch of swears before he gestures for her to follow him. She falls into step beside him as they walk through the hall and she can't help but notice the way his hands shake. She wants to hold him still and make him tell her about the monsters that make him so shaky but they keep walking. He stops abruptly in front of his locker and she almost runs right into him. He chuckles at her stumble before he opens his locker and rummages around inside. She's about to ask what he's searching for when he moves close enough to her that their shoulders are almost touching. Held tightly in his hand is a small bag full of pills. The sight of it is enough to give her pause but the way her heart races tells another story. She casually looks around the hall but nobody is paying them any attention. 

"Are you crazy? If anyone catches you-"

"Like who?", he scoffs, "Don't say I never did you any favors". 

"You saw Frank yesterday?"

The question catches him off-guard and he scowls, hazel eyes narrowing. His grip tightens further, knuckles white. She takes a tentative step back even if she doubts he'll actually hurt her. The nature of Nathan and Frank's relationship is cut and dry: Frank supplies and Nathan distributes to the lovely students of Blackwell. They aren't friendly by any means and she's heard Frank call him a "pain in the ass" more times than she can count. It's not unusual for them to meet up before a Vortex Party but there is no party this week. 

"What does it matter? Do you want in on this shit or not?"

She wordlessly takes a handful of pills from him which she secrets away in a pocket inside her bag. The shame starts soon after. She's no stranger to drugs, Chloe is the biggest stoner she knows, but this is a different ballgame. If Chloe knew, she'd be furious. It's just one more lie she'll have to tell, one more layer she'll have to build around herself. Each one seems to drag her further and further away. 

"Rachel!". 

She looks up to see Nathan staring at her in annoyance. He's been talking and she hasn't heard a word. 

"Huh?"

"I asked if you wanted to chill later". 

She tilts her head as she observes him, still not totally sure what Nathan really wants. Sometimes she thinks she can see something in his eyes but it's always so brief that she's not sure it's really there at all. He treats her with more respect than most, which is something, but it's not a lot to go off of. A part of her wishes they were closer because there's a darkness surrounding him that intrigues her but she doesn't know if she can handle being pulled in any more directions.  

"Victoria already wants to kill me; I don't think I need to give her another reason". 

"She doesn't own me". 

"I'll see you, Nathan". 

She barely notices the dejected look on his face as she turns and heads for her next class. 


A loud knock on the door rouses Chloe from her fitful sleep.

She's not sure when she dozed off but one look at the sliver of sunlight outside lets her know that the day is almost over. The knocking persists, loud and steady, and she's forced to drag herself out of bed. She kicks aside a pile of dirty clothes that have migrated from the overflowing hamper, sending them under her bed to be dealt with later. Her stereo is still blaring some old metal mix CD she found hiding in a shoebox and she doesn't switch it off as she unlocks her door and yanks it open. Standing out in the hall is none other than David Madsen.

There's a dark look on his face, which is either red from anger or exertion, and she already knows this will not be pretty. She stares right back at him, finding nothing but contempt for the man who has forcibly inserted himself into her life. 'Step-douche', as she lovingly likes to refer to him as, is a constant thorn in her side and she'd give anything for him to disappear. She leans against her door frame, effectively blocking his view of her room before he can get a good look inside.

"What?"

"How many times have I told you to turn that music down?"

"Today? Zero".

She gets a small bit of satisfaction out of the way the corner of his mouth twitches in annoyance but it's short lived. He isn't so easily deterred, unfortunately for her.

"Don't get smart with me. Turn it off. Now".

"Why?"

"Because, I need to talk to you".

"We're talking now".

She doesn't want to give David the satisfaction of following his orders even if she knows it'll only create more problems. Something about his military mindset grates on her nerves, probably because it reminds her of how different he is from her father. Her dad was always the picture of calm, never forcing her to change who she was just to meet some unrealistic ideal. He understood her in a way that David never will, or probably ever care to.

"Chloe, I don't have time for this. Your mother's working late tonight and I promised her we'd manage to get along".

That's enough to give her pause. She silently curses her mom for leaving her to deal with this on her own before she reluctantly goes to switch off the stereo. The room is plunged into abrupt silence and she tries not to let it bother her as she returns to the door. She barely makes it two feet before David is making his way in, eyes scanning every available surface. She finds herself bristling immediately. She hates that he so easily invades her space, simply waltzing in without ever asking for an invitation. It's her room, her sanctuary, and he treats it like he owns the place.

"What is this?"

She mentally braces herself for the argument that's about to ensue as she watches David manhandle her stash box.  While she normally takes great care to hide it, she was too zoned out earlier to pay much attention. Today is not a good day and the last thing she wants to do is fight with David but apparently the universe isn't on her side.

"None of your business".

"Chloe, we've talked about this. As long as you live in this house, no drugs. Your mother and I want better for you".

This makes her roll her eyes. She doesn't need a lecture from him about drugs and she definitely doesn't want it to be under the guise of his love and understanding. She smokes because she has to but she doesn't expect him to get it. She can feel the anger blooming inside her chest and she turns away from him, the sight of his face only making things worse.

"This isn't your house".

"Chloe, I don't want to fight with you today. I've had a long day at work and I'm not in the mood for this".

She imagines David patrolling the halls of Blackwell much like he parades around here, like a bloodhound on the hunt. At least there, he has more than one target. She fights the urge to lunge at him but she still clenches her fist tightly enough that her nails bite into her palm. This is the feeling she hates, where she gets so mad that she can barely think straight. She likes to think that she'd never hurt anyone but sometimes she's not so sure.

"Great, neither am I. Now, we can both go our separate ways".

"I want to see you downstairs for dinner. No buts".

She can't remember the last time they ate dinner as a 'family' and she doesn't intend to start again now. Before she can tell him to kiss her ass, he's stalking off...with her stash box in hand. She watches him disappear downstairs and she waits until he's completely out of sight before she slams the door shut. Her hands are shaking as she fumbles to grab her phone and it takes her three tries to punch in the right number. It rings for a long time before Frank finally picks up. He probably already knows why she's calling and she feels badly for doing this to him, again, but she doesn't have any  other options.

"I need a favor".


 

It's easy for Chloe to sneak out of her bedroom window, she's done it countless times before, but she still takes great care to be as quiet as possible as she creeps out to the driveway. She hops into her car and backs out, keeping her headlights off. She doesn't care that much about David but she doesn't need him getting in her way. She flicks on the radio, more as a distraction than anything else, and heads down the road.

Frank wasn't happy to hear from her and she doesn't exactly blame him. She owes him a ton of money and he's never going to see any of it. It's awful of her but she can't afford to give up one cent of what she's saved up. Operation 'Get the Fuck out of Arcadia Bay' is her top priority and she owes more to Rachel than she does to him. Frank is a good guy, a great guy even in some instances, but he's not going to be her ticket out. He'll be stuck here like everyone else, unable to move forward. She can't live like that, not anymore.

She spots Frank's RV sitting beside the hollowed out shell of a school bus and she parks a few feet away. The junkyard always gives her a creepy feeling at night, no matter what. She can't help but think back on all the visions she's had of her father here and the thought is enough to send a shiver of fear through her. It's not her dad that she's afraid of but how real the visions feel. She quickly bangs on the door, eager for Frank to show up so she can get the hell out of here.

Instead of Frank, she's greeted by Rachel. It's odd enough to throw her off and she finds herself standing there like an idiot with her mouth hanging open. Rachel laughs at the expression on her face before pulling her into a tight embrace. Chloe hugs her back, even if she's not so sure what's going on. Rachel pulls her inside and there she finds Frank, sitting at his small table. As much as she doesn't want to face him, she sits across from him anyway. He barely looks up at her as he slides her a small baggie but, when she reaches for it, he pulls it back.

"The only reason I'm giving you this is because of her", he nods towards Rachel, "I'm sick of playing games with you, Price".

"I'll get you your money, okay? I'm just...broke right now".

"Yeah, you said that the last time and the time before that".

"Give her a break", Rachel looks at the both of them, "She's dealing with a lot, okay?"

Frank looks like he wants to press the issue but he relents, handing over what she came for. Chloe is grateful for Rachel's help but she still wonders what she's doing there in the first place.

"What are you doing here?"

Rachel shrugs before she sits down next to her, close enough that their knees knock into each other, "You're not the only one that smokes around here".

"Uh, yeah, so you just come over my place. You don't have to ask Frank".

"Maybe I get tired of mooching off of you. It's no big deal".

Something about Rachel's comment doesn't sit well with her but she shakes it off. Rachel is the one person in her life that makes her happy and she doesn't want to drive a wedge between them. Frank eyes the two of them closely before he retreats back to his bedroom.

"I guess Mr. Head-of-Security was on a rampage?"

"What else is new?", thinking about David makes her angry all over again, "He acts like he's doing me a favor by living with us. Every day, it's the same old bullshit".

Rachel nods knowingly as she rests her head on Chloe's shoulder, "You should see him at school".

"I can imagine. How is Blackhell anyway?"

Rachel hasn't talked about school in awhile, at least never with much enthusiasm. It's a complete shift from how excited she was during The Tempest. She's decided not to join the Drama Club again this year, for whatever reason, and Chloe hasn't brought it up. 

"I think you answered your own question", she says with a heavy sigh, "It's boring and I hate it. You're lucky you don't have to go anymore".

"Hm, I think my mom and step-douche would beg to differ. Guess they think I'm 'squandering my potential'. Like I have any".

"Hey, you're Chloe Price. You can do anything".

Rachel sounds sincere but it doesn't make her feel much better about herself. The truth is she feels like a loser. She's gotten herself kicked out of one of the most prestigious private schools on the East Coast and she spends all day smoking weed and sleeping. She's like the poster child for deadbeat slackers. As much as she wishes she had anything going for her, it's just not true. Whatever her mom and Rachel think they see, it isn't there.

"Right".

"What's wrong?"

"Everything?", she scoffs as she turns to look out the window, "I need to get out of here".

"So, let's go".

Rachel easily grabs her hand and then they're heading outside. Chloe doesn't even notice she's holding her car keys until she's already starting the engine. It's such a natural feeling, the two of them riding whatever whim one of them can think up. Sometimes, they end up in reckless situations, stealing vodka from convenience stores or breaking old TVs in the junkyard. Sometimes, it's nothing more than sitting out at the lighthouse and talking until 3:00 AM. That's the fun part about life with Rachel; there are never any rules and the potential is endless. 

"Where to?"

Rachel smiles at her before she gestures to nothing in particular, "Anywhere".

That's the only motivation Chloe needs. She peels away from the junkyard and heads up the road towards a destination unknown. The roads are clear this late at night and a little bit of speeding gets her to the highway in record time. She's not sure how far they'll get before sunrise but that's the real fun of it all. Rachel leans over to press a kiss against her cheek, her lips cold but soft. It's a small gesture but it's enough to make Chloe say something that she immediately wishes she hadn't. 

"I love you". 

Chapter Text

Distortion

Part Five

In that instant, Rachel feels everything and nothing. Chloe is the best thing that's ever happened to her and yet all she can imagine are walls closing in. Love is a concept that eludes her. There's lust and need, maybe even obsession, but love? Love is nothing but a fairy tale. She instinctively grasps Chloe's hand and squeezes her fingers gently, anything to distract herself from the whirlwind of emotions that's raging inside of her. The road stretches out endlessly before them, beckoning them towards an unknown that's tantalizing and new. That's what she wants to think about: the places she's never seen before, the people she's never met, the talent she has yet to discover. Those thoughts lead her away from the familiar comfort of Chloe's truck, away from Arcadia Bay, away from herself. She pictures a girl that's happy and carefree, one that dances in the rain and laughs at every joke. She pictures the girl she desperately wishes to be.

It's the crackling of Chloe's ancient radio that brings her back to reality. She's fiddling with the dial, dark eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she tries to pick up a station. Rachel understands that she's potentially ruined the rest of the night. Chloe says nothing as she settles back into the driver's seat but the stony silence speaks volumes. Her eyes are a storm of confusion and anger and Rachel has to turn away to escape the intensity of her gaze. She glances out of the passenger side window as the dark forms of trees blur past.

"Where are we going?"

She doesn't really care but she needs to say something to alleviate some of the awkward tension. Chloe shrugs her shoulders and Rachel realizes that's the only response she's going to get. She's seen Chloe angry before, livid even, and this is somehow worse. She can handle the yelling; she can't take the silence. She sinks down into her seat and let's her eyes fall shut, hoping that a few hours of sleep will be long enough to fix this.


It's morning by the time Rachel finally stirs.

Chloe has spent the night driving, too wired to sleep. She's been trying and failing to move past the conversation but every attempt only worsens her mood. Why is it so easy for her to admit her feelings and such a struggle for Rachel? To her, there is no question. Chloe is her angel and she's never felt more alive than when they're together. She thinks back to the time before she met Rachel, to the miserable years at Blackwell where she had no friends and nobody to turn to. She was alone then, and so angry, but Rachel managed to break through all of that. She can't remember the last time she's felt so close to someone. Max's face forces its way into her head and she pushes it away, back to the darkest recesses of her mind where it can continue to be forgotten. Max is just another person that's abandoned her. Deep down, she wonders if Rachel will too.

"Where are we?"

Chloe doesn't really know where they've ended up. It's a town but it's one that's so small that it probably doesn't even exist on a map. She's parked the car outside of a sleepy looking diner in the hopes that a good meal will help. In the harsh light of the morning, their adventure feels stupid. Now, she has to think about how worried her mom will be and how much trouble they'll both get into with their parents. She has to think about how she has no money and how she'll have to spend the last of it buying gas to get back home. She realizes, soberly, that it's really the harsh light of reality that's blinding her.

"Do you love me?", she asks in response, her voice so small that she feels like a child again.

She's used to not caring about anything but this feels like the most important moment in the world. She tells herself that she won't be devastated if Rachel doesn't reciprocate her feelings but she knows that she'll be crushed. Rachel's eyes are full of all the fiery passion that they always are but there's a sadness there too and Chloe feels badly for pressuring her.

"I do", she finally says, "But I don't want things to get weird between us".

"Weird how?"

"You know...", she trails off, clearly embarrassed, "All that typical relationship stuff. I just..don't want that to be us".

"Rachel, when have I ever pulled any corny shit like that?", she's almost offended but she can see that Rachel's serious about what she says, "Don't worry, I'm not going to start buying you chocolates and getting roses sent to your house. I just...needed to hear it".

What she doesn't say is that she's been desperate for some sort of validation. She's dealt with enough lies and heartbreak to last her a lifetime and all she wants is a little reassurance that this is different.

"Okay", Rachel's stomach starts growling shortly after and Chloe has never been more thankful for an interruption.

"Guess we should get some food".

They've already gone this far; they might as well make the most of it. 


 

The day goes by quickly and it's not long before Rachel is back home. She expects an earful from her parents about personal responsibility and maturity but none is forthcoming. Her dad welcomes her home as if she never left and her mom tells her that dinner will be ready in an hour. She wants them to wake up and stop pretending but normalcy has always been their one saving grace. Even when life got crazy, they refused to break from the mundane. Maybe that was their way of keeping it all together.

Rachel lies in bed and agonizes over what the next year will hold. She'll be graduating in the Spring and she's not totally prepared for it. On one hand, she still feels like a kid. She doesn't feel like she has the skills to make it on her own and the prospect of college makes her nervous. On the other, she's ready to leave everyone behind. Life around Blackwell has only been getting more and more complicated and she's not sure she can untangle herself from the web she's created. Going far, far away is the only way she'll be able to move forward.

"Rachel, dinner's ready!" 

Her mom's voice cuts through the silence and, as much as she'd rather stay in bed, she stands. She looks around her room at all the things that she once loved but has now come to despise. All of her astrology charts, her posters, her maps. Looking at them makes her feel like she's become another person. Everything was once so certain, so easy. She wants to get her inspiration back but she's not sure how to do it. Drama Club has long since been X-ed off the list; she can't bear to go back after all that's happened. But she hasn't given much thought to anything else. Compared to most high schools, Blackwell offers enough activities to satisfy even the most picky and there's no reason that she can't find something else to fill the void.

"Rachel!"

Tomorrow, she'll give it a try.

 

 

Chapter Text

Distortion

Part Six

 

Art isn't her strong suit, it's definitely more Chloe's area of expertise, but Rachel is curious about Mark Jefferson. 

She's only vaguely familiar with his work but she's heard enough excited murmurings from her classmates to realize that this is a Big Deal. A new teacher doesn't pop up often at Blackwell, least of all someone so famous. She catches Victoria gushing over his portfolio with Courtney and Taylor out in the courtyard. 

"I've been dying for an opportunity like this", she sighs as she swipes through a catalog of magazine covers on her cellphone, "I mean, he's even more perfect than I imagined". 

It's enough to solidify her decision, even if she doesn't exactly value Victoria's opinion. She easily finds her way to the guidance office and then she waits. She briefly glances over the posters of encouragement plastered on the walls and wonders if they truly believe that kind of stuff helps. It certainly didn't help her when she was dealing with the stress of her father's lies. It wasn't fair to blame anyone else but she couldn't help but wonder what would've happened if she didn't have Chloe's help. How would she have ended up?

"Rachel, it's great to see you".

Her guidance counselor, Mrs. Rich, is young and spritely with a short-crop of golden hair and an eager smile. She's always happy or at least Rachel can't remember ever seeing her sad. She wonders if that's a requirement for the position. She follows Mrs. Rich back to her office and sits down in the worn armchair across from her desk. She's been here many times before, usually to discuss her insane course load or her college prospects. She used to appreciate the meetings but now she can only think about how forced it all feels. They're planning out her future but it somehow makes her feel more anxious.

"What can I do for you today?"

"I'd like to add a class to my schedule".

The look Mrs. Rich gives her confirms her suspicions that the request is unusual. Classes are already in full swing and most people have already switched out what they're unhappy with.

"Are you sure? You're already a month into the semester. You'll be behind".

If she wants this to go her way, she'll have to be smart about what she says.

"I can manage. I've just really been inspired to broaden my horizons. Art would look great on my transcripts, right?"

She's not sure if her transcripts will even matter since she's not sure she wants to apply to college but, again, that's information best kept to herself. As far as Mrs. Rich is concerned, she's going off to Julliard to pursue an acting career.

"I'm sure it'll be useful for you", she turns to her computer to pull up Rachel's student file, "I just worry about you getting burnt out. It'll be a lot of work".

"I know but I'm prepared".

Mrs. Rich types away on her computer, eyebrows furrowing for a brief moment, "...You're in luck. There is one spot still available. This class has been very popular, as you can imagine".

"Yeah, I've heard good things about Mr. Jefferson".

"He's a phenomenal instructor. I think you'll learn a lot", Mrs. Rich prints off a copy of Rachel's new schedule before handing it to her, "If it becomes too much, don't hesitate to let me know".

"Thank you, Mrs. Rich. I really appreciate it".

Rachel feels almost giddy with excitement as she leaves the office, eager to see what all the fuss has been about. Hopefully, it's as enjoyable as everyone says.


Halloween has always been Chloe's favorite holiday. Or, at least, it used to be. She can remember decorating the house with fake spiderwebs and carving jack-o-lanterns on the back porch, all while her dad tried and failed to be scary. Usually, Max would be right by her side in a costume that complimented her own, laughing just as hard as she was at her dad's lame vampire get-up. Those are the memories that make her want to lie in bed all day. They're a bitter reminder of what the world has taken from her and she still hasn't fully recovered from it. She tries not to scowl as her mom flits about the kitchen, humming along to Monster Mash, while she bakes bat shaped sugar cookies. It would be cute if not for the fact that it's only happening because of David.

He's not there yet, thankfully, but it's only a matter of time before he comes waltzing through the door. She's already gotten chewed out for sneaking out of the house and she can only imagine what asinine thing he'll bitch at her for today.

"Oh, Chloe, don't look like that", Joyce slides her a cookie on a napkin and smiles. She's trying but it's not enough.

She breaks off one of the wings and pops it into her mouth, savoring the sweetness. Her mom has always been a phenomenal cook and, no matter how annoyed she is, a bit of food is usually enough to soften her a bit. It's not her mom's fault that today sucks, it's nobody's fault really, but that realization doesn't make it any easier to deal with. She wishes that there was a switch that she could flip to make herself happy but, unfortunately, nothing is that simple. She fishes her phone from her pocket and briefly scrolls through the contacts. She isn't exactly Ms. Popularity so there aren't many options. She stops on Max's name, despite her better judgment, and sends off a quick 'Happy Halloween' text, complete with pumpkin emoji. It won't be answered, just like the countless others, but she hopes that maybe her old best friend is feeling just as nostalgic as she is.

"Are you going to sit around and mope all night?"

"Why? Would that mess up your date plans?"

Joyce shakes her head as she sticks another cookie sheet in the oven, "Why don't you invite Rachel over? She loves helping me bake".

It's true and, as dumb as it is, the sight always fills Chloe with joy. Her mom likes Rachel and she's never questioned the nature of their relationship, not outright anyway. She always expected a big talk or some sort of fanfare but that isn't her mom's style. Rachel makes her happy and that's all that matters in the Price household.

"She's busy".

Rachel is, annoyingly, going to a Vortex Club party. She grudgingly gave her the news after a lot of poking and prodding on her behalf. She hates how easily Rachel fits in with all the people that she can't stand. They're terrible people and Rachel is so opposite of them that it's almost comical. She can't imagine how spending the night around them could be any sort of fun. She's asked Rachel countless times before but she's never been able to explain it.

"Well, I guess you'll just have to make do with me", Joyce easily sticks a pirate hat on Chloe's head, an old relic from her childhood years, and continues on towards the TV. She switches it on and Beetlejuice immediately pops up on the screen.  Without really thinking about it, she heads over to the couch and flops down. Soon after, her mom starts humming again.

The night might not be what she wanted but she can enjoy it while it lasts.


 

"You stay away from Nathan". 

Rachel is keeping to herself tonight, riding the high of a pretty decent buzz, when Victoria decides to make her unwelcome appearance. The loud thump of pop music pulsing through invisible speakers makes it difficult to focus on her words. The pensive look on her made-up face is the only cue Rachel needs to understand that this will be an unpleasant conversation.

"What?"

Victoria's perfectly glossed lips pull downwards into an even deeper frown as she regards her, "He doesn't need to be around a slut like you, okay? So just back off".

It's a hilarious accusation from someone like Victoria but Rachel isn't in the mood to laugh about it. She's trying to lose herself and Victoria's presence is making that doubly hard. She has no designs on Nathan and, even if she did, she wouldn't flaunt it. She's not the type of person to air her dirty laundry for the world to see. There's an art in secrecy, something that Victoria probably knows nothing about.

"I don't care about whatever you have going on with Prescott".

"Don't act like I don't know what you're doing", Victoria wears a scowl that would send a shiver of fear through most other people. Rachel doesn't flinch, "You just have to be Little Miss Perfect all the time and make sure you're always the center of attention. Nathan is too good for you".

"Are you going to try and dose me again if I don't listen?"

It's enough to make Victoria wince but she recovers just as quickly, "I think you do enough of that yourself. He's told me all about your little pill problem".

Rachel maintains her outward disinterest but, inside, she's freaking out. She has no idea if Nathan has really been blabbing to his friends or if Victoria's only trying to see her shaken but it's not cool. She knows that Victoria is no saint and she's done just as many drugs herself but that doesn't make her feel any better. She's supposed to be different than them....isn't she? She's not another popularity obsessed leech, she couldn't care less about her standing in the social hierarchy. Victoria's icy glare says otherwise.

"Don't you have someone else to annoy?"

"Shouldn't you be with your little girlfriend? Or have you gotten bored with her already?"

She doesn't care if Victoria wants to rag on her but she doesn't like anyone talking badly about Chloe. She's been shit on enough by the people at Blackwell and Rachel won't sit and listen to any more.

"Why? You interested?"

Her comment hits its intended mark and Victoria is left stammering while a flush colors her cheeks. Rachel gives her a cold smile before she leaves the comfort of the couch she's lounging on and heads out into the fray. The dance floor is a surge of bodies and it's easy to blend into the crowd. She sways along to the music, half there and half not. She's fully entranced by the music when a pair of arms find their way around her waist. The woodsy cologne is familiar to her even before she hears the voice.

"Didn't think you'd show up".

"Nice to see you too, Nathan", she briefly cuts her eyes over to where she left Victoria but she's nowhere to be found, "Have I ever told you how good you smell?"

She's not sure if it's the alcohol or her anger towards Victoria but she feels bold enough to go for it. Nathan isn't her type, she doesn't tend to go for the clean cut look, but she's willing to change her mind for the evening. He's not as stupid and arrogant as Zach or the other idiots from the football team and he has enough of a mystery surrounding him to appeal to her. She could do much worse, plus, Victoria really shouldn't have pushed her.

"Yeah?", he holds her close enough that his breath tickles her neck, "Too bad you blew me off the other day".

He sounds annoyed with her, angry even, but his actions say otherwise. Clearly, Victoria was actually on to something. His hands start to wander but she easily reels him in.

"Brief lapse in judgment", she cranes her head to look at him, the playful smirk on his lips clear even under such dim light, "We can hang out now, if the offer still stands".

It's Halloween; she's allowed to be a little mischievous. 

Chapter Text

Distortion

Part Seven

 

There's already idle chatter going on when Rachel heads into the classroom. A few people turn to look in her direction; some smile, others don't. Victoria is near the back of the room, all of her supplies laid out on her desk like the model student. There's an expensive DSLR sitting pretty beside her notebook, clearly her pride and joy. Rachel hasn't seen Victoria's work but she can tell that she's at least serious about it. A part of her feels badly for what she's done but then she recalls all the scathing words Victoria has thrown at her over the years and, suddenly, sleeping with Nathan is nothing but a minor blip on the radar. She settles into an empty desk near the windows, pulling out her own supplies while she waits.

"Hey, Rach!"

The cheerful voice belongs to Dana Ward, one of the few people that she happily calls her friend. She sits down in the desk next to her before pulling her sandy hair into its trademark ponytail.

"Hey, feels like I haven't seen you in forever".

She and Dana don't share many of the same classes and, the ones they do share, they rarely speak in. It's less a matter of disinterest and more of a matter of lack of time. Dana is genuinely sweet and Rachel would love to hang out more; her life just gets too chaotic.

"I know; it sucks. How've you been?"

"Good", she lies, not sure what else to say, "You?"

"Okay. Classes have been killing me already. This is, like, the only one I actually like".

"It's that good?"

"Oh yeah", Dana beams, "You're gonna love it. It's definitely your speed".

The door opens before the conversation can continue and everyone turns to focus their attention on Mark Jefferson. Rachel isn't sure what she expected but it's certainly not the man standing at the front of the room. He's sharply dressed in a black blazer and dark jeans, the thick-rimmed glasses he's wearing stylish yet simple. He has the smart look of a man that knows about his craft and there's a seriousness in his dark eyes that draws her in. His very presence commands attention and she's more than willing to give it.

"Good afternoon, class", he begins before he perches on the edge of his desk. It's a comfortable position, one none of her other teachers ever dare to adopt, "Today, we're going to talk about portrait photography, about capturing the true human spirit".

Rachel has never taken a 'real' photo but that doesn't mean she's any less intrigued. If anything, it makes her even more excited to try it for herself. The classroom is well decorated with much of Jefferson's own work and Rachel can tell that he knows a lot about capturing someone's real nature on film. His photos are stunning and the women in them have a vulnerability that captures the eye.

"It's more than just snapping a photo; it's about truly understanding your subject. No great portrait is great simply based on composition alone. No, it's the essence of the individual that still lingers on that's going to grab your audience. You can never forget that your subject is more important than any piece of equipment".

Rachel finds herself quickly jotting down notes, one of which is to break out her old camera. It might not be up to par with the one that Victoria owns or probably what some of her other classmates have but it'll be a start.

"This week, I want you guys to really focus on a subject. It can be a friend, a family member, anyone that really inspires you. I'm not looking for studio quality work here but I want to see effort".

Jefferson stands up to head over to the projector and he starts rifling through his lesson folder, clearly ready to really start the lecture. For the first time in awhile, Rachel is inspired.


Chloe drowns in the warmth of Rachel's skin as they drift in a sea of twisted sheets. She runs her fingers through her hair and muffles her sighs with a kiss as she holds her as tightly as she can manage. They are crashing at full-speed and she gladly welcomes the destruction. She wants this to be enough to scare away the demons that plague Rachel's dreams and it's all that she can think about as Rachel shudders beneath her. There is so much that she doesn't know, so much that she doesn't understand, and all she wants is the truth. She won't be hearing it today. Rachel lets out a cry that is partially muffled by the punk song that's currently blaring over Chloe's stereo. A smile curls the corner of her mouth as she rolls over, eyes following the patterns of light that are cast across her ceiling. This alone doesn't solve anything but she allows herself to enjoy the moment.

The click of a camera shutter is enough to disrupt things. She turns to see Rachel sitting up, a digital camera held at the ready. Chloe can't bring herself to respond, the absurdity of it enough to give her pause. Rachel isn't exactly an award winning photographer and seeing the seriousness written on her brow makes Chloe crack a smile. She moves to strike a sultry pose and Rachel sighs before lowering her arm.

"These are supposed to be candid", Rachel chastises her but there's a smile in her voice, "Just do what you were doing before".

"What was I doing before?"

"Nothing. That's the beauty of it".

"You're not gonna send these in to Playboy are you? I haven't even done my makeup". 

Rachel playfully shoves her shoulder before leaning in to place a light kiss on her nose. Things have been tense between them lately but it's easy to forget all about that here. Whatever has been bugging Rachel seems to have disappeared.

"No way. These are for me", she quickly continues before Chloe can make a lewd joke, "Nothing weird. It's art".

"Oh?"

Chloe is flattered, even if she's not sure where Rachel's sudden interest in photography has come from. Rachel's always clambering for the next creative outlet and photography seems as good a choice as any.

"Yeah", she places the camera back on Chloe's cluttered nightstand before she flops back onto the bed, "It's kind of weird, having the house to ourselves".

Chloe can't remember the last time that Rachel has been over. It must have been ages ago because her mom's been asking about her pretty frequently. Chloe stretches to grab the cigarettes perched on the edge of her desk, quickly lighting one up.

"Aren't you worried about pissing off Wells?" 

It's a dumb question considering all the shit Rachel has gotten up to before but she's still a phenomenal student. Starting fires and getting wasted won't stop her from studying until 1:00 AM to ace every test. Rachel leans her head against her chest before she responds.

"...Not really".

"What's up?"

"Just people", she mumbles, clearly not itching to elaborate, "Stupid, annoying people".

Chloe lightly strokes her hair, not sure of what else to really do, "Anyone I need to talk to?"

"Please, Price, you're about as threatening as a puppy".

"Hey, I'm at least like a very annoyed bird".

Rachel laughs, "Either way, I'm fine. It's nothing I can't handle".

Chloe considers asking more questions but everything feels so weightless and light that she doesn't want to bring up the weight of the past. For now, the present is good enough.

Chapter Text

Distortion

Part Eight

 

Autumn chill hangs heavy in the air of Arcadia Bay as November presses onwards. It is finally cold enough for Chloe to wear her leather jacket which she does with pride as she hurries outside. It's barely 9:30 in the morning, way too early for her, but she's running out of excuses. She could see that stern look in her mom's steely eyes when she piled pancakes on her plate - the look that said that she'd better get off her ass and do something. That look has always been enough to scare Chloe into giving a damn and it's still effective now, even at eighteen. She swears under her breath as she fumbles to unlock her truck, not in the mood to try and impress a bunch of strangers. Today is no ordinary Wednesday morning; today is the day she looks for a job.

She's never given it a shot before. She's briefly browsed the internet for positions but the thought of filling out an application feels too soul-crushing to go through with it. She's seen the toll working long hours has taken on her mother, how each day seems to bring a new line to her face. She doesn't want to waste away working as a wage slave forever. She thinks about how amazing it would be to make a living from her art as she heads down the road. She pictures herself as a badass tattoo artist, working out of a shop in San Diego. She'd have steady clients and a catalogue big enough to make people travel hundreds of miles. Rachel would be there too, probably modeling or acting or anything. Rachel is so talented that she can do whatever she wants and blow everyone out of the water.

The sight of Arcadia Bay's meager shopping plaza puts a halt on her fantasy. There's the Shop N' Go grocery store, the same store that her family has been buying food from for ages, and the place she's currently going to ask about a job. As a recent high school drop-out with no workplace skills, her options are limited. She can't see herself lasting long working fast food and she refuses to work with her mom on sheer principle. This is the best she's got. She steels herself for the worst as she heads through the automatic doors. There aren't many people around which at least spares her the embarrassment of running into an old classmate. They already think badly of her, this would just be the icing on the shit cake. She'll prove them wrong...just as soon as she can get out of town.

The first employee she sees is a portly woman with dark skin and kind eyes. She's familiar, Chloe's pretty sure she knows everyone in town by this point, but she doesn't know her name. Thankfully, a name tag identifies her as Angela. She approaches her with minor hesitation, suddenly feeling self-conscious about her blue hair and ripped jeans. Will they make her dye her hair? Or change her clothes? She's always prided herself on standing out and she can already feel the pressures of society pushing her to change before she even says a word.

"How can I help you?"

Angela sounds friendly enough and she's not giving her that look, like she's no better than trash. At least that has to be a good sign.

"Uh, hey, my name's Chloe. I saw your sign. About needing cashiers. I kind of need a job".

'Kind of' is an understatement. The money she does have is slowly starting to dwindle thanks to not having a steady source of income. She's still given an allowance but it's taken a severe hit. Both her mom and David are pushing her to assume more responsibility and that was the first thing to change. She can't get too angry at them; she doesn't really do much to help. The only reason she's busted her ass around the house lately is so she can show Rachel how much she's saved. It's selfish and her mom definitely deserves more.

"Do you have a resume?"

"Uh...that's the fancy piece of paper, right?"

She thinks that might ruin her chances but Angela laughs heartily, "Yes, that. Have you ever worked in a grocery store before?"

"No but I've helped organize the stock at the Two Whales".

At that, recognition lights in Angela's eyes, "Ah, you're Joyce's daughter! I knew I recognized you. Your mom's been cooking the best omelettes I've ever had since 2005".

"She's good at that".

"Well, Chloe, you seem like you've got a good head on your shoulders. What's your schedule look like? We could really use someone during the mornings, like today".

Mornings are the bane of her existence but she can't shoot herself in the foot. She puts on a cheesy grin and tries to seem eager.

"That works for me".

"Great. Come back tomorrow around noon and we can get your paperwork started and get you squared away. Welcome to the team, Chloe".

This isn't the first time that her mom's good nature has gotten her ahead but it's the first time she'll have to prove herself. The task seems daunting and she knows the hard part hasn't even started yet. It's not going to be fun but she has seven months before Rachel's graduation which means she needs to get serious. A few months in retail hell will be worth every penny.


 

"Rachel, can I speak with you a moment?"

Rachel hesitates as she starts to collect her books. Most of the class is already gone and the ones who are left aren't paying much attention. She lingers at her desk, ignoring the piercing stare that Jefferson is giving her. She already knows what this is about. Her performance today has been lackluster across the board. She stumbled on questions and could barely get through her daily assignment. She was normally one of the people that participated the most and so her behavior was more noticeable. It was at times like these that she wished she could blend in. After the last straggler leaves the room and she can't stall any longer, she approaches his desk.

He doesn't look upset but Jefferson isn't the type to rant and rave. Still, the idea of him being disappointed makes her feel worse. He's easily become her favorite teacher and she doesn't want him to think she's slacking off. She's been trying, she really has, but she's been dealing with a lot. Her parents' divorce has been finalized and she's more upset about it than she thought she would be. They have always been this unwavering beacon of love and support and now that's all over. Her mother has opted to move out which feels like she's losing her mom for the second time. She knows, deep down, that her mom will never disappear on her like her biological mother has but it's still a scary thought.

"I wanted to speak with you about your last photos".

She's been experimenting a lot lately with shadow and light, not entirely sure what she's doing but loving it nonetheless. Chloe has been one of her consistent subjects along with Frank and Pompidou, though she's kept those first set of photos to herself. Dread knots up in her stomach as she wonders what Jefferson will say next. He has her photos set out on his desk and his expression remains unreadable.

"I know, they're not the greatest,but-"

"Rachel, you've got a real talent".

"...I do?"

"You've shown marked improvement in such a short amount of time. I can see that you've really got an eye for this. Your photos have a whimsical quality to them, just like you".

Her stomach is doing flips against but not for the same reasons. She tells herself to stop being crazy; Jefferson is only being nice, not flirting. Is he? She's too nervous to say anything so she stands there like an idiot, staring.

"This may be a bit unconventional but I'm working on a new series that I'd love to have you shoot for", he smiles, "I've seen the work you and Evan have done and I can say you really have a knack for modeling".

Again, she's floored.

"You want me to be one of your models?"

"It's strictly voluntary, of course".

She imagines herself being the focus of one of Jefferson's own creations, sees her image gracing billboards and the front cover of magazines. If he sees potential in her then maybe she has a real chance of making it. If she can get out of Arcadia Bay, get back to California....

"Of course, I'd love to", she smiles, "Thank you, Mr. Jefferson".

She tries to compose herself as she exits the classroom even though she wants to jump for joy and run around like a madwoman. She never would've thought in a million years that she'd be good enough to model for someone like Mark Jefferson. He hasn't told her to keep quiet about it but she understands it wouldn't be good if word got out. She wants to share the good news but she can't exactly tell any of her friends at school. She can just see Victoria seething with rage if she even heard so much as a whisper about it. There's Chloe but she knows that she won't be happy about it. She doesn't really know Jefferson and, to her, it'll sound weird. No, she'll have to keep this one to herself too, like everything else.

She's halfway up the hall when she gets the strange feeling that someone's watching her. She casually glances over her shoulder and, a few feet away, she notices David prowling around. The two of them don't get along but, then, he doesn't really get along with anyone. Her relationship with Chloe makes him treat her like a criminal and so she stays away from him as much as possible. She thinks nothing of it as she continues to head towards the courtyard, at least she does until she notices him trailing her. She even takes a sharp left down a different hall, taking a much longer route than necessary, to see if he'll go in the opposite direction. He doesn't. Whatever he's doing, she doesn't like it. She quickly rushes through the double doors and heads outside, taking the steps two at a time.

She races by people as she hurries to the parking lot. She's never been more thankful to have someone waiting for her. She manages to make it to Frank's RV before David can make heads or tails of where she's gone. She hops into the passenger's seat and slams the door with a loud BANG. It's enough to make Frank swear.

"Just drive", she answers, ready to get the hell out of there.


 

It's late but Rachel is in no hurry to get home. Frank's RV is surprisingly comfortable given the limited amount of space and she'd have no qualms about spending her days there. It's kind of cool. No one place to be tethered to, just the open road and whatever you can fit inside. 

"Can I stay here?"

Frank cuts his eyes over in her direction while he rolls a joint with all the precision of a surgeon. She can practically see the gears turning in his head.

"Why the fuck would you want to do that?"

It sounds crazy, maybe it is crazy, but it would be nice to get away from it all. Even if it's just for a few days. Frank is someone she can always rely on to help her forget about all the things that bug her. He never judges, never questions, he just listens.

"Because, I like it here", she leans against his back, "I like you, too".

He coughs to hide his embarrassment but she can see the flush coloring his face. 

"You're too much".

"Too much or just enough?"

He shrugs as he reaches for his lighter, "You tell me".

She manages to slip the joint from his fingers as soon as he lights it, earning her a death glare. She scrambles to her feet before he can react and then she's jumping on the bed behind him. Anyone else would expect Frank to be pissed with her but she knows him better than that. He likes that she's always challenging him; she thinks it's because she's the only one that will. He reaches for her but she easily dodges him.

"Too slow, Frankie".

He grumbles something under his breath before he stands up and stalks over to the opposite side of the tiny bedroom. She's curious as to what he's planning on doing and she's immediately startled by a camera flash. She almost forgot about bringing that with her.

"Think you're a better model than I am", he laughs deeply, "Better everything than I am".

It's not true and she wishes he didn't think that. She's not perfect, she's far from it. She thinks she's her most honest with him but now she worries that all he knows is another persona. She takes a long drag from the joint to drown out that voice. She's trying to enjoy herself, not dwell on her mistakes. There are too many to count and the sheer force of them all will crush her if she lets them.

"You still haven't answered my question".

She easily slips off her bra and tosses it to the ground to be dealt with later. Sex has become another quick escape for her, another rush. The feeling never lasts but that doesn't stop her from trying to hold on. Frank lowers the camera and she already knows his answer before it escapes his lips.

"...Ah, what the hell, whatever".

She doesn't notice her phone screen light up as she beckons him over.

Chapter Text

Distortion

Part Nine

 

The brief 'honeymoon' period of the first few days quickly devolves by day six. Rachel discovers that being cooped up inside an RV makes her stir-crazy. It's not something she's happy to learn about herself. Frank isn't too happy about it either. Tension has been building between them and she's done nothing to fix it. If anything, she's been making it worse.

Rain is thudding dully on the roof of the RV and, while she normally finds this relaxing, right now it only irritates her. Frank is meticulously weighing pills out on a small scale, baggies and labels at the ready. He has the tendency to lick his lips every so often which drives her crazy. She can go home, she knows that, but it won't be without issues. She's been ignoring calls all week and her voicemail is full of frantic messages from her parents and Chloe alike. Her parents have gotten increasingly more frustrated and the last voicemail is a threat of sending her off. She's done this before and they're sick of her games. She knows that they won't really do anything, especially with her so close to graduation, but it still sucks. Chloe's messages are harder to listen to because she's done nothing wrong. She is the one that's been selfish...as usual. 

"Don't you get sick of sitting here?"

Frank doesn't look at her, "Nope".

It's the way he says it that pisses her off, as if she's bothering him. The anger has been brewing for awhile now and she guesses now is as good a time as any to let it out.

"Don't you ever want to do something? You hate it here so much but you haven't left. You can go whenever you want, it's not like you have anything holding you back".

"Life ain't that simple, Rach".

"Why not? You have money, you have a car. What are you so scared of?"

He chuckled but the sound was anything but pleasant, "You're such a damn kid, sometimes".

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"It means you've got no idea what the real world is like".

Without thinking, she stands up and crosses over to him, easily knocking the bag he's holding out of his hands. The pills go scattering across the floor, most of them rolling into unreachable territory to never be reclaimed.

"Are you crazy?"

"I don't know what the real world is like? I'm not the one hiding from it".

"I don't hide", he stands up but he doesn't come near her, "I know what shit is out there and I don't want to be involved. You'd be smart to learn that yourself".

It's a deep jab and she almost physically recoils from it, "So now I'm some stupid little brat, is that it?"

"Right now? Yeah, you're acting like a real fucking prize".

"Like you're any better! Look at yourself!"

He turns to storm off but she catches the hurt flash across his eyes before he does. She follows after him, heading straight into the room behind him.

"When people leave, it's usually because they're done talking".

"You don't get to make that call".

"Yeah, I do", he glares up at her, "I'm such a loser then why are you even here? What is it that you want from me, huh?"

She wants him to make the world stop spinning so fast. She wants him to hold her and never let go. She wants to escape with him, run and never stop. Her eyes trace over the scar against his throat, the one he got defending her. He could've died but here he sits. She has a million thoughts racing through her head but they're all stuck in her throat.

"I thought so", he mutters as he turns to face the wall, "Are we done here?"

"No, we're not done".

"Rachel, you're pissing me off. And you don't want to piss me off".

She's not afraid of him even if part of her should be. She's never really been afraid of anyone, mostly because she's too stubborn to back-down.

"You're pissing me off".

"You know what? I'm sick of this".

He gets back up and, this time, he slides on his boots. He's making his way for the door and she is about to stop him again when she takes notice of Pompidou, hiding in the corner. She let's Frank go, listening as the front door to the RV slams shut. She waits a few minutes before she checks on Pompidou.

"Hey, buddy", she says softly, not wanting to set him off anymore than she already has, "I'm sorry".

He looks up at her and, cautiously, he inches a bit forward. He's gotten big now but she will never stop seeing him as that feisty and energetic puppy. She's one of the only people that Pompidou trusts and she doesn't want to ruin that. She reaches out to pet him, lightly scratching behind his ears. It takes that one moment for him to sit down in front of her and she wishes she could be forgiven by everyone so easily.

She's not sure when she dozes off but, when she wakes up, the rain has stopped. Pompidou is still asleep himself and she quietly sneaks out of the room. There is no sign of Frank. She thinks that maybe it's time for her to go home. She busies herself with setting out food and water for Pompidou, even if she knows that Frank would never leave him for long. She's really stalling for time, nervous about what will happen once she goes. She doesn't want to leave things on a sour note but she can't exactly leave Frank treats and expect him to be happy again. She pauses near his fridge, where there is a notepad sitting. She tears off the unfinished grocery list and starts on a fresh page.

She's not always the best with words but all she can do is be sincere. Once she's done, she leaves the note on his steering wheel where he's sure to see it. Hopefully he's in a better mood in the morning.


 

Thanksgiving at the Price household is always a whirlwind of chaos. Her mom spends nearly all day cooking as if she's going to be catering a luncheon. Her dad would work on the turkey and rattle off Thanksgiving day facts for her and Max. She and Max would run around thinking up pirate adventures until they were finally called inside for dinner.

Chloe barely makes it two feet inside before her mom is ushering her into the kitchen to help set the table. There are only four of them and Chloe can't see why they need to bother but she knows better than to test her mom when she's in the midst of a cooking frenzy. While her mom is frantically stirring a pot on the stove, David is periodically checking the oven. For once, he doesn't hound her about anything. Rachel is equally as preoccupied with assessing the turkey resting on a platter.

Chloe wordlessly gathers plates and silverware, setting them on the table which is still cluttered with everything from bills to bobby pins. She does her best to push all the odds and ends off to one side, not finding the point in putting them away when they'll only find their way back later.

"Did you get the green beans?"

She knew that she forgot something.

"...No...."

"Chloe".

One word is enough to convey her disappointment. Chloe has no real excuse; she was so eager to leave work that she forgot about nearly everything else.

"It's okay, Joyce", the voice belongs to Rachel, who has already made her way to the freezer, "I found some broccoli".

"You're a lifesaver".

Rachel smiles before she pops the bag into the microwave. Chloe can't help but watch all of them as they bustle around the kitchen, somehow managing not to run into each other or knock anything over. It makes her wish things were always like this. Even David seems to be acting normal for once, no angry scowl on his face or annoyance creasing his brow. He even whistles a nice tune as he carries the turkey over to the table. He is followed by her mom and finally Rachel, each of them adding something new to the feast of items. Chloe hasn't seen a spread this impressive in a long time. It's bittersweet; she's happy that her mom has found the urge to prepare for holidays again but it feels odd without her dad around. David, even in his best mood, is a poor substitute. She puts this out of her mind as she takes her seat and the thought becomes nothing but a whisper as Rachel shoots her a bright smile. 

"Isn't this nice?", Joyce says with only minor trepidation. She's expecting another blowout but Chloe, for once, will try her best to keep things civil. 

"It is", she answers as she piles her plate with mashed potatoes, "Everything looks great". 

"Wouldn't have managed it without my helpers. It's a shame your parents couldn't make it, Rachel". 

Rachel doesn't appear to be too upset, "It's alright. I kind of needed a break from them anyway". 

Rachel has only just escaped the confines of her home after her parents grounded her for a week. She's probably sick of them by this point, especially if she's gotten into trouble. Rachel still hasn't really told her where she disappeared to but she's starting to think she left town. A full week of no calls and no texts just screams escape. Chloe is about to dig in to her food when David clears his throat, stopping her from shoveling down a forkful of stuffing. She worries that he's going to make them say grace, something she hasn't done since she was a child, but he doesn't. 

"Why don't we all say something we're thankful for? I know I couldn't be more thankful for having this beautiful woman by my side", he pauses for a moment to meet Chloe's gaze, "And a step-daughter, even if she hates my guts". 

She wants to offer up a rebuttal but she settles for a brief head nod instead. After a few minutes of silence pass, she realizes that everyone is expecting her to go next. She's always hated these kinds of conversations, the ones where everyone expects her to make some sappy, heartfelt statement. There was a time when she enjoyed things like this but, these days, they just remind her of the past. To be fair, her life hasn't been as miserable as it was before and, despite the shit she still has to deal with, she's content. She looks from David to her mom to Rachel, the last three people that are constants in her life. They are her family, as unconventional as it may be, and she does care about them. 

"Uh, I'm thankful to have such talented chefs to keep me well-fed and happy", she smirks, "I'm thankful that Mom still brings me pancakes for dinner when she works a closing shift. And that she still does my laundry when I forget even though she doesn't have to and I should know better". 

Joyce smiles back, "Don't think that lets you off the hook". 

"I'm thankful for David for always keeping me on the straight and narrow", she lets a hint of sarcasm seep into her voice but not enough to anger him, "And, of course, I'm thankful for a girlfriend that not only puts up with me but voluntarily comes over my house during Thanksgiving dinner to deal with my weird family". 

"You guys don't want to hear me get teary-eyed", Joyce says once Chloe finishes talking, "You all know how much I care about you. I'm just happy to have this again". 

Chloe feels the sentiment the most as she again takes in the fact that they have a full table for the first time in ages. They are without Max or her dad but it doesn't feel like they've found replacements. It's more like they've started a new chapter. 

"Well...", Rachel pauses for a second before she seems to collect her thoughts, "I'm thankful to have a second family. I'm thankful for all you've done for me and I thank the heavens that I didn't burn Joyce's famous pumpkin pie". 

At that, everyone starts to eat. Conversation continues to flow easily with nobody stepping on anyone else's toes. Chloe thinks an argument is about to break out when she makes an off-color joke about the military but David takes it in stride. Once she's had two full servings, a slice of pumpkin pie, and the last remnants of a container of vanilla ice cream, she's ready to relax. She and Rachel end up sitting on the sofa, half-watching the game show on TV and half trading whispered conversation. Her mom and David are still in the kitchen, barely cleaning in-between their own chat. Chloe turns her head towards the backdoor and takes in the blazing sunset outside. It's a calm time, completely tranquil, and she wishes she could freeze this one moment. Tomorrow will be another day but she already knows it won't compare to this. 

She and Rachel are both asleep when Joyce drapes a throw blanket over the two of them and they barely stir when Joyce and David snap a photo.