CHAPTER 1: FRIDAY MORNING
"Crosses all over, heavy on your shoulders."
The morning sun threw a warm, golden glow over the Bay while Max gazed out the bus window, watching her old hometown go by her. It'd been so long since she'd been here—part of it was familiar, part of it unfamiliar. She caught glimpses of the lighthouse on the other side of the bay, its whiteness a stark contrast to the light blue sky surrounding it. Seeing it again—seeing anything here again, really—brought back memories.
Memories of her and Chloe.
The bus shuddered to a stop, and Max made for the exit, putting her earphones back in her bag. As the bus rumbled away, she glanced up at the signature Two Whales sign, and she heard herself sigh.
She'd been nervous about doing this all day, so apprehensive of meeting Joyce Price again that she'd barely paid any attention in her classes today.
Max took a few steps towards the old diner, her mind trying to come up with to figure out what she would say, how she could apologize. To apologize for never talking to the Prices after her family had packed up and left for Seattle. To apologize for not being there for the Prices after William had died. To apologize for just being…gone. She swallowed, heart beating fast. Just get in there. You'll have to meet one of the Prices' eventually.
Taking a deep breath, Max made her way to the diner doors and pushed it open, the familiar smell of breakfast and the clanging sounds of silverware overwhelming her senses. She instinctively glanced towards the counter and recognized Joyce's back—she was busy washing some dishes, hadn't noticed her arrival.
Max breathed a shaky sigh of relief, then mentally cursed herself for being relieved. Freaking social anxiety.
Making her way towards a booth in the far corner, Max sat down and took to looking out at her surroundings. Two Whales hadn't changed at all since the last time she'd been here. The jukebox rumbling out its tunes in the corner, that ancient gumball machine on the far opposite wall, the red booths—all of it was the same. Talk about fourth dimensional deja-vu. Being back in Arcadia Bay felt like she'd gone back in time.
Max was so lost in taking everything in that she completely missed Joyce walking up to her.
"Max Caulfield, back again!" Joyce laughed, snapping Max out of her reverie and she blushed.
"Hi, Joyce," Max gave a timid smile, surprised that Joyce had given her such a warm greeting.
"Look at you, all grown up—into a lovely young woman. How are you doing, Max?" Joyce chuckled, putting a cup on the table and filling it with coffee.
"It's good to see you again. You still look the same."
"Like I'm still a waitress at Two Whales after all these years?" Joyce asked, raising an eyebrow.
Max tried to backpedal as fast as possible. "No, like, you're still pretty." Shit, nice first impression, dumbass.
Joyce smiled, and Max internally gave a sigh of relief. "Nice save, kid. You're still smart. Smart enough to get into Blackwell Academy with a scholarship, I hear," she said.
"Yeah, classes started two weeks ago. I'm really excited to be there," Max said as she wrapped her hands around the warm coffee mug and brought it to her lips. The warmth of the drink was enough to relax her a little bit—Max hadn't realized she'd been so stiff and tense.
"Excited to be back in Arcadia Bay, though?" Joyce asked, her warm expression turning serious, "Considering Chloe hasn't mentioned you lately, I'm guessing you haven't gone to see her yet."
Max shifted uneasily in her seat, glancing away and biting her lip. Her silence was enough of an answer. Whatever stiffness that had gone away with her sip of coffee had suddenly come back, and Max felt herself shrinking into herself a little. Way to be awkward.
"You may look like you've grown up, but I still recognize that classic kid Caulfield shyness," Joyce sighed, leaning on the booth seat across from Max, "I'm guessing you came here to ask about Chloe."
Max glanced up and gave a slight nod, giving a shaky sigh. "I…know things were really hard for you and Chloe after my family left. I feel bad I didn't call," she said sadly, looking up apologetically. There's nothing I can say to really make up for being a dick for the past five years, Max thought bitterly, but I'm still going to try.
"Now my folks are in Seattle and I'm all alone at Blackwell. It's my karma."
Joyce's eyes softened and she responded just as softly, "You did the right thing. You moved forward with your life." Joyce took that moment to give a sigh. "I did, after William passed on. Chloe though…Chloe chose to stay angry."
Max's head jerked up at that comment, and Joyce noticed.
"Oh, she went through all the phases," Joyce said, a tired smile on her face, "Expulsion, running away, drugs, bad boys, tattoos, piercings, blue hair."
Max's eyes were wide with surprise—that did not sound like the Chloe she'd remembered.
"Maybe now that you're back, you can be a good influence on her," Joyce said, straightening up. "Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. What do you want to eat?"
After asking for a Belgian waffle, Max sat quietly in the booth while Joyce left to serve other customers, contemplating what Joyce had just told her. This sounded like a completely different Chloe—and to be honest, it sounded like Chloe had done the things that she'd never had the guts to do. Like the hair dying, or the tattoos, or the piercings. What had Chloe been doing the past five years without her?
And the last thing Joyce had said to her—you can be a good influence on her.
To Max, that sounded like Joyce wanted Chloe and her to meet up again. But did Chloe even want to see her again? After what had happened the last time they'd seen each other, she wasn't so sure anymore. Max looked down at her cup of coffee, tilting it this way and that to see the liquid swirl around.
Even now, Chloe sounded like the complete opposite of her. She was a photography nerd and Chloe…seemed like a rebellious punk. But then again, Max thought as she added some cream to her coffee, the black on white coming together to form light brown swirls, her and Chloe together again…It was so tempting. If cream and coffee can come together to form something really beautiful, why couldn't they?
She looked out the window and again saw the ever-present lighthouse on the other side of the bay. Biting her lip, Max was reminded again of her past friendship with Chloe-who apparently, was now an old Chloe. Chloe sounds like she's changed, but she's always been braver and more outgoing than me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised though-it's not like I made a lot of effort to stay in touch.
After she'd finished eating, Joyce came back to pick up her plate and mug and Max began to get up, thanking her and remarking that she was glad to see her.
Joyce responded in kind, and after Max began to take out her wallet to pay, Joyce waved it away. "Breakfast's on me kid. I hope to see more of you again around here," she said, giving Max a warm, soft hug. Max hugged her back tightly, trying to convey all of what was unsaid.
Joyce pulled back and handed Max a slip of paper, to which Max looked up questioningly for an answer.
"It's Chloe's number, Max. Chloe's changed, but I think she'd be glad to see you," Joyce said, the corners of her eyes crinkling a little as she smiled.
Despite Joyce's kindness to her today, she could see how the years had done its toll on her—probably the effects maximized by Chloe's supposedly rebellious antics. Max took the paper and pocketed it, giving a nod of thanks.
"I definitely want to see her again, but I just…don't know," Max said somewhat lamely. She wanted to add, "And considering what happened the last time we saw each other, I'm not sure she'd really be glad to see me." But she held her tongue. She definitely did not want to add any more drama to anyone's lives—especially the Prices' lives.
In response, Joyce just gave a shrug. "You never know, Max. Try and step out of your shell a little. You're all grown up now, you can do it," she patted Max on the shoulder before turning away.
Outside the diner, Max took a few moments to recollect herself as she stared down at the piece of paper. The longer I go without seeing Chloe, the worse it'll look. I have to see her eventually, now that Joyce knows I'm here in Arcadia.
Walking a few steps down the sidewalk, she turned for one last look at the Two Whales, recalling all the times her and Chloe's families had gone there to eat. Back when they were happy. Her heart ached for those times again and she bit her lip, anxiety and sadness tugging at her chest.
I should've told her the truth.
Taking out her camera, Max snapped a photo of the Two Whales sign, a memento and reminder of what used to be—and what could be, what needed to be.
She needed to see Chloe again.