It's a room filled with flashing lights, swaying bodies, and red Solo cups, but all Max sees is Rachel and Chloe dancing in the center of the room.
But it's not dancing. It's hypnotizing, mesmerizing. The way Rachel's white smile flashes in the dim lighting, the way Chloe's neck glistens with beads of sweat. Max can't take her eyes away.
And of course, neither can she keep her camera from adding to the chaotic display of strobe lights with its blinding white flash. The shutter whirrs and clicks as it joins the heavy bass emitting from the gigantic speakers on either side of the room.
Originally, Max had declined going to Rachel's end-of-the-year house party; she'd never been one for thick crowds and drunken teenagers, but Rachel and Chloe's persistence had gotten to her.
And now here she is, standing off in a corner by herself, watching her best friends party hard.
She snaps another photo, takes it and glances at it, wonders how Rachel and Chloe - regardless of where they are and what they are wearing - managed to pull off that 'always super hot' look.
Rachel's wearing a white crop top and a short skirt, baring so much skin that boys and girls alike do a double take when she walks by. Chloe, of course, is bold - she wears nothing but a black bikini top and shorts, ready for the pool at any time.
Max licks her lips, swallowing, trying to focus.
She takes another photo.
They're both just...so incredibly, wonderfully, beautiful.
Rachel's eyes meet Max's, and suddenly, Max's face is burning, but not from the heat of so many bodies crammed in one room. She looks away, trying to shrink further back in her corner, but then Chloe and Rachel are there, so close to her that she fixes her gaze on the ground.
Max isn't sure she could handle acting normal and looking at her half-naked best friends when they're this close at the same time.
"Max, you okay?" Rachel pants, fanning herself with one hand, the other flicking her hair over her shoulder.
"You gonna dance or what, hippie?" Chloe asks, reaching over to a cooler and picking up a bottle of beer.
"Y-y-yeah, I'm cool," Max stutters, clutching her camera closer to her chest.
"Cool, yeah right," Rachel huffs, reaching forward and grabbing Max's hand. "C'mon, it's fucking hot in here. Let's get some drinks."
Chloe points at her beer, one eyebrow raised, but Rachel rolls her eyes. "Like, good drinks, dumbass."
So the three of them head into the kitchen, interrupting Juliet and Logan's make-out session and shooing them out.
"Jesus Christ, I'm hot," Chloe complains, and Max has to withhold the response on the tip of her tongue. You really are.
"Just hold on, I'm gonna make us some piña coladas," Rachel says, heading over to the fridge and pulling out coconut cream and rum. "You'll cool down soon enough."
Max is left standing at the entrance of the kitchen, her mind recalling over and over how soft Rachel's hand felt in her own as Rachel led her to the kitchen, how gentle Chloe's hand had been on her back as they made their way through the cramped hallways.
Chloe takes a step towards Max, her face just inches away. "Max, hello? Seriously, you okay? You're holding your camera like you're gonna die."
Max instinctively grips her camera even tighter in her hands and turns her gaze to the ground. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking."
"Thinking? At a party? Dude, Max, you're taking this shit a little too seriously," Chloe says, hand reaching forward to tip Max's chin back up so they're looking at each other. Max stops breathing - Chloe's blue eyes are alive with a kind of energy that sends a shiver down Max's spine.
"Honestly, Max, you need to loosen up," Rachel adds, placing three glasses, each topped with a slice of pineapple, on the counter. "Bottoms up, bitches."
Chloe takes her hand away and immediately reaches for her drink, but Max blinks and swallows before tentatively picking up her own. As Rachel had promised, the glass is cold against her hand, a welcome relief from the intensity of the party raging on in the other room.
She takes a tentative sip - noting in the corner of her eye as Rachel and Chloe easily suck up their drink through the red straw - and she licks her lips again, noticing the sharp pineapple taste mellowed by the coconut cream, making it smooth with a hint of sweetness.
Max puts the drink down, moving to put her camera in her bag - but Rachel suddenly bursts out laughing, and she jumps a little.
"Shit, Max, you been taking photos all night?" Rachel asks cheekily, playfully poking Max on the arm as Chloe rolls her eyes.
"Got any good pics of me and Rachel?" Chloe grins, turning and leaning against the counter as Max goes red in the face.
To answer Chloe's question, yes, she has a ton of good pics of Chloe and Rachel. Shit, all of them are good pics of Chloe and Rachel. The two of them have the uncommon ability to look amazing in anything - or maybe that's just Max's thoughts drifting into a haze of want.
"Yeah, I got a few," Max says, and her friends lean forward on either side of her, eager to see Max's photos as she pulls them from her bag and places them on the counter.
As the drinks in their hands steadily disappear, and their words become a little slurred, Max wonders if Rachel's hands have always been that soft; the way their hands brush when Max gives her a photo makes her heart beat a little faster. Then she wonders if Chloe's smile and laugh has always been that bright and warm, and it lifts her spirits and makes her breathless to see her best friend so beautiful.
"Aw, man, Max, this is really sick," Chloe says eagerly, pointing at a photo of herself bedecked in numerous glowstick bracelets, a splash of neon green and purple light playing across her pale chest as her face hides in a dark gray shadow. "Love the lighting."
"Max, you're incredible," Rachel continues, and she holds in her hands several photos of herself, all of her flashing her bright smile amidst the neon lights as she dances forever in the white frame. "Like, dude, your stuff's a thousand fucking times better than Jeffershit's."
Max isn't sure what to do with all this praise - then again, Rachel and Chloe seem to take every opportunity to compliment and flatter her when it arises. She doesn't know why they do this, since it always makes her even more flustered and uncertain, but she does her best to try and take it in stride.
"Oh, um, thanks, guys," Max says, a little red in the face; but whether it's from the alcohol or from embarrassment, is uncertain.
"Max, seriously, your photos are incredible," Rachel repeats, and Chloe nods vigorously in agreement. "Like, it's the best shit," Chloe adds.
"You guys are what make the photos incredible," Max says, wondering why neither Chloe nor Rachel had pointed out that almost all her photos are of the two of them. There's a few selfies scattered here and there, but they pale in comparison to the perfect moments of when either of her friends shines brighter than the sun, each a brilliant star amongst the dark blackness of the shadowed bodies dancing around them.
"You don't give yourself enough credit, Max," Rachel says gently, putting down the photos, expression soft.
Chloe reaches forward and holds Max's hand, thumb rubbing small circles across the back of her hand. "You're incredible, Max, and you always have been, like ever since we were kids."
Rachel does the same as Chloe, her hand sliding next to Max's. She leans in close just as Chloe does, with Max stuck in the middle.
Though Max's face is red and burning, a part of her revels in the attention of the prettiest model in Blackwell and the hottest punk in Arcadia Bay.
Rachel continues, "Honestly, Max, you could do professional photo shoots. You're that good."
Chloe bursts out laughing, leaning on the counter. "Would you photograph me and Rachel, Max?"
Without thinking, Max suddenly blurts, "I'd do the both of you."
There's a split second of silence where the three of them comprehend what Max just said.
A devious, broad grin erupts across Chloe's face just as Rachel squeezes Max's hand, her expression a mixture of surprise and eagerness -
A loud, drunken voice suddenly swore behind them, "Fuck - "
And then the three of them are drenched in the spilled contents of several flying red cups.
Chloe immediately whipped around, face contorted with rage, "What the fuck, Hayden?"
Hayden stumbles away, his glazed eyes a sign that he dimly registers what is happening. "Shhiit, I'm sssorry - "
While Chloe brutally rips into Hayden, Rachel grabs a few paper towels and tries wiping off the worse of the beer on their clothes, muttering vicious curses under her breath, brow furrowed with irritation.
Max shakes her head, quietly whispering that it's fine, it's not that bad, but she'd gotten the brunt of the hit - the back of her jacket is soaked through to her shirt underneath, not to mention that her jeans are drenched in cheap beer.
"Go fuckin' play beer pong somewhere else, dumbass," Chloe hisses, and Hayden feebly raises his hands in front of him, hunching over and mumbling slurred apologies. Chloe glares at him as he leaves the room, shuffling backwards - bumping into the counter and door frame on his way out.
"Fuck my ass," Rachel huffs, tossing a few balled-up paper towels into the trash can.
Max again has to resist saying the words lying on the tip of her tongue.
Rachel continues, "Sorry that I can't get much more out of your clothes, Max." She's apologetic, reaching out and holding onto Max's hand again - but there's a spark in her eyes that seems to catch fire in Chloe's as the two look at each other, a hint of an identical smirk tugging at the corners of their lips.
"You have some extra clothes that'll fit Max, right, Rachel?" Chloe asks innocently, face suddenly composed.
It begins to dawn on Max about where this is going. About where they're going.
"Yeah, let's go up to my room, Max," Rachel flashes another dazzling smile, one fit for the cover of Vogue. Max wants to snap a photo. "Is that okay?" Rachel asks.
Max blinks. Her heart's pounding, and she's slightly tipsy, but she understands the double meaning behind Rachel's words.
"Yeah, yeah, that's okay," she says, and Chloe grins as she too reaches for Max's other hand.
Rachel guides them through the cramped and dim hallways, Chloe trailing behind; Max feels secure with their hands in hers, and she's comforted in knowing that her friends keep close to her, almost shielding her from the drunkards and delinquents that party hard around them.
As the three of them head up the stairs and into Rachel's room, Rachel turns and says, "We'll get you into something better, Max."
The door shuts behind them and Max hears Chloe whisper in a low voice next to her ear, "Or nothing at all."
A shiver runs down her spine, and both Rachel and Chloe are smirking as they walk towards Rachel's dresser.
Rachel's already whipped off her crop top, revealing a strapless bra underneath - Max looks away, doing her best not to permanently ingrain the image of Rachel in her mind.
It doesn't help that Chloe's thrown off her shorts, and she again is wearing that ridiculous tropical sunset underwear.
Max is left standing near the door - again - mind in a haze of desire and want, but also of hesitation and fear.
She's awoken from her thoughts when she hears Chloe say in a playful voice, "Max, need some help getting out of your clothes?"
"We'd love to help," Rachel adds, and the two of them give Max another sly smirk, and Chloe even goes so far as to add a wink.
(Somewhere in Arcadia Bay, Kate Marsh feels compelled to pick up her bible and cross herself, multiple times.)
In her mind's eye, Max sees her shoulder angel and devil whispering in her ear, murmured words that tell her what she should do; but there's no disagreement between the two, and instead they're urging her to choose both, choose the angel and the devil, choose yes and yes, choose Rachel and Chloe -
But Max's hesitation seems to register on her face as uncertainty and discomfort, and the smirks on Chloe and Rachel's faces fall away.
"Shit, sorry, we don't have to," Chloe says hurriedly, quickly turning around and opening one of the drawers.
"Max, we don't mean to make you uncomfortable," Rachel bites her lip, and she reaches out to pick up a crumpled jacket on the floor. As she puts it on, she says quickly, "You don't have to - "
Her heart's beating loudly in her chest and her palms are trembling, a thin layer of sweat coating her skin, and goosebumps ride up her shoulders and then down her spine. There's adrenaline - or is it alcohol? - running through her veins and she knows she can't lose this.
Cartier-Bresson said it best. 'Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.'
"No, no, I want to," Max blurts, taking a step forward, closer to her friends. "I want to."
Chloe and Rachel exchange a look.
"Max, you really...want to do it, with us," Chloe says slowly, carefully.
Max nods, and she takes off her bag, placing it on the floor next to the door.
"You sure, Max? You don't have to, we don't want to do anything you don't want," Rachel says cautiously, and she zips up her jacket just as Chloe pulls a white v-neck over herself.
"I want to, I really want to," Max repeats, but she turns her gaze to the ground again. "I mean, like, who wouldn't want to, you're both just, so pretty and I just, I'm...not," she finishes.
Max finds herself taking a step back, but she silently curses herself and tries to keep her feet in the same place. She doesn't want to back down from this.
"I just don't get why you'd want to be with me," Max whispers, but suddenly Rachel and Chloe are on either side of her, and she's guided towards Rachel's bed; the three of them sit down at the end, and Rachel and Chloe are so close to her that Max's breathing becomes a little more shallow, her face a little more red.
"Max, who wouldn't want to be with you," Rachel murmurs in Max's ear, one hand holding onto Max's, the other moving to slowly take off one side of Max's jacket while Chloe does the other side.
"Yeah, Max, you're so talented," Chloe whispers, her lips leaving a trail of light kisses along Max's jawline.
Max shifts out of her jacket, and her friends toss it on the ground. She feels like she's in bliss, but from the way everything's on fire, her skin, her face, the air around them - Max thinks she wouldn't mind sinning a little more so she'll never have to leave this heavenly hell.
"And you're really smart and clever," Rachel adds, her breathing light on Max's neck as she presses a kiss to Max's skin.
Chloe's hand turns Max's face to hers, and the two look at each other, blue meeting blue. "And you're really pretty, Max," Chloe murmurs, and her eyes dart down to Max's lips, silently asking.
Max leans forward, all hesitations gone, and she feels Chloe's mouth is warm against her own; she parts her mouth slightly, feels Chloe tentatively slide in the tip of her tongue, and God, there's still a hint of pineapple and rum -
Rachel shifts so she's kneeling in front of Max, her hands slowly sliding up Max's drenched jeans, ghosting over her thighs and up to her hips. "You're so pretty, Max," Rachel adds, her hands coming to a stop at the top button.
Chloe pulls away, murmuring, "So pretty," and Max pants, blinking; Rachel tugs questioningly at one of the belt loops on Max's jeans.
Rachel and Chloe are so careful with her, so gentle. Something twinges in Max's heart.
Rachel moves herself up slightly, and Max eagerly meets her lips with her own; she feels Rachel's hands easily unbuttoning and unzipping her jeans just as she tastes a bit of coconut, and Max savors the sweetness of Rachel Amber's mouth on hers.
As Chloe helps to slide Max's jeans off, she says, "You've always been one of the most smartest, most talented people I've ever known." Chloe's hands trail up to the bottom of Max's tank top, and Rachel leans away to pull down the rest of Max's jeans before she tosses that away as well.
Max swallows, breathing hard. She doesn't know if she's died and gone to heaven (Rachel Amber and Chloe Price, here, with her), or if she's died and gone to hell (like, wow, it's really hot in here and every touch seems to burn her skin), but either way, she wants to stay here forever.
And the way her best friends are looking at her; there's hunger, desire, want, a kind of longing and yearning in their eyes that makes Max, for a brief moment, understand why the two of them always complimented her.
They want her to feel loved.
Max gives another nod at Chloe, and soon enough, her tank top's on the ground too.
Rachel shifts forward again, kissing down the column of Max's throat and to her collarbone; her words come out low and soft. "You're seriously the most talented person I know, Max."
Chloe moves to sit behind Max, and she kisses Max right in between her exposed shoulder blades, two fingers tapping on the clasp of Max's bra.
"We want you, Max," Chloe says softly.
Rachel tugs gently at the waistband of Max's underwear, and Max wonders if this is what it feels like to be high.
"We really do," Rachel murmurs in agreement.
Max doesn't hesitate this time.
"And I want you both."