Chloe had been ignoring her phone all evening.
It had been buzzing with notification after notification — tagged photos and videos, messages from people who wanted to reconnect. Eventually she’d just logged out of Facebook. It was … too much.
They had held a wake for Arcadia Bay that night, and everyone all of a sudden wanted her to be involved. Why should she? That stupid storm was her fault, a hundred lives just … just gone, all to save her fucking shit show of a life. What right did she have to mourn with them, when those deaths happened because of her?
She sat huddled up on the sofa, staring at the Caulfields’ fireplace. It was warm. Comforting. Good place to be alone with one’s thoughts.
The wake wasn’t official or anything — that one had happened Thanksgiving weekend. No, a bunch of the former Blackwell kids were in the area during the holidays and decided to meet back up, “to remember & pray for our friends who died in the tornado,” as the Facebook event read. A bunch of others followed — convinced their parents, decided to drive down for a day, whatever.
They were … good kids. Fuck, admitting that just made her feel like screaming with guilt.
Chloe was still in a daze at it all. The last two months hadn’t helped her figure shit out at all. Despite what she had told her, what she had wanted at the time, Max still chose her. Chloe was… still not sure how she felt about that. How she should feel. Grateful that she was alive, that Max still cared about her that much? Angry that Max chose her shit life over an entire town’s? Guilty? Did she owe Max a hundred lives’ worth in gratitude?
For sure, Chloe had been … incredibly touched. But still —
Fuck. She didn’t want to think about that right now. Or ever.
She had to be there for Max, she had to be strong. Whatever Chloe was going through, Max was taking everything way, way worse. Chloe got it — kidnapped by Jeffer-shit, experiencing all those fucked-up timelines, seeing people die again and again in the storm. Fuck, seeing her die again and again. It totally made sense that all that shit had messed Max up something fierce. At least Chloe only had to deal with the memories from one timeline.
Chloe looked up towards the stairs, towards where Max was, sleeping in the room she’d grown up in. She hoped Max would be okay without her, long enough that she could clear her head a bit.
The last two months had been … complicated. No mistake, it was fucking amazing having her best friend back — they’d gone from not talking a word to each other in five years to spending every day together. But it wasn’t the same as before. After that week in October, there was just … too much between them. Stuff Chloe didn’t even know how to talk about.
Stuff she couldn’t talk about with Max. Not right now. Not with all the shit she was going through.
Man. Thinking alone really wasn’t helping much.
She looked at the joint she’d brought down with her. Lit it. Took a long, deep drag.
Sometimes she just … wanted to move on. To forget any of this happened, put it behind her. To live out a new life.
… with Max.
A confused pang of guilt and anger twisted in her stomach. Wasn’t that exactly what she’d wanted with Rachel, not even a year ago? Had she already moved on, already forgotten her? Even if Rachel had … betrayed her, Chloe had loved her. Right? Was this … okay?
And the town — could she really put that place behind her, after all the shit her life had caused?
… fuck. Being alone with her thoughts: once again, a stupid idea. She took another slow, deep drag. Stared at the fireplace. Tried to focus on something … happier?
She was out of Arcadia Bay. She and Max were back together again. No matter what other shit was going on, that wouldn’t change. And for once, she was … looking forward to the future. In spite of it all, of the pain and the guilt, she felt the bonds that held her back in Arcadia Bay had been cut. She … she wasn’t sure what the future had in store for her, but she was actually looking forward to it. It wasn’t like with Rachel; it wasn’t all about escape.
They’d get through this shit. Together. Maybe they would go back to Arcadia Bay and help rebuild everything — not that either of them was any good at physical labour. Whatever, they’d figure it out.
She looked up, squinted at the clock on the wall. It was midnight.
Merry Christmas, Bat-Max.
She brought the joint back to her lips, closing her eyes as she inhaled and watching the glow of the fireplace through her eyelids. Her mind drifted towards Max, huddled up under the covers right now. She thought back to all the times she’d whispered in her ear when she was having nightmares. Waking her up, holding her tightly and comforting her, Max burying her face in her shoulder, their bodies close together …
… no. Not the time for that.
Maybe it was about time for her to go back up and check on —
Right on cue. She heard a shuffle upstairs, hurried footsteps, the irregular noise of stumbling. A voice calling out, “Chloe?!” Almost, almost an indoor voice this time.
She hopped off the sofa, darted to the stairs, and hissed upwards, “Max! I’m right here!”
A thud. A yelp.
Sighing, Chloe sped up the stairs, trying to keep light on her feet. The Caulfields were already worried enough without needing to know about every time Max had a panic in the middle of the night.
“Oh God Chloe you were — Jefferson — and I — I couldn’t do anything — that fucking chair — you-weren’t-in-bed-don’tdiepleasedon’tdie —”
“Shh, I’m right here, Max,” she said, taking her into her arms. Max whimpered into her shoulder. “Breathe. I’m here for you, Max. Jefferson’s dead. You’re at your folks’ home, I’m right here, and I’ll always be here for you.” She stroked her hair, giving Max a moment to process, to ground herself back in the present. After a while, she stopped sobbing and relaxed a bit in Chloe’s arms. “Come on, I had a fire going downstairs.”
Chloe started back down the stairs, leading Max by the hand. She hopped onto the sofa, patting the spot beside her. Max scooted in.
“Here. Just a puff?” She extended the joint.
Max looked at her for a moment, startled. “Y-you were smoking in here? Chloe, you know my parents —”
“Don’t worry about it, Maximus. You have a prescription anyway, so…”
“You know they don’t want me smoking inside.” Max stared at her with those puppy-dog eyes of hers, still wet with tears. Chloe really wanted to tease her right now, but …
“Okay, fine. Sorry, Max. I’ll freshen the place up before your parents wake up.” She offered the joint again. “Just a puff? Deed’s already done anyway.”
“… sure.” She reached out to take it, her hands still shaking a little bit, and inhaled deeply before handing it back. Chloe put it out on a decorative ashtray — the Caulfields didn’t smoke, but still had that crystal ashtray lying around for some reason. It was nicer than the one she’d made Joyce as a kid, at least.
Max leaned over onto Chloe’s shoulder, hugging her arm close to her. “God, Chloe, I’m sorry.”
“I-It’s fine, Max.” She leaned in to kiss her head. “Sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up.” She felt a wordless squeeze on her arm.
They stared at the fire for a while, entranced by the dancing flames. Chloe was … getting used to this. Recognising Max’s moods, comforting her, knowing how she could help her handle her freak-outs. She’d been reading up a lot on PTSD since Max mentioned it and that helped a ton. It felt … weird being responsible for someone else — and Chloe was the only person who could be there for Max, who knew about all the time-travel shit. What would her shrink say if Max starting talking about all the times she’d seen Chloe die?
“So,” said Max eventually, surprising Chloe, “what were you doing down here?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Came down here to clear my head.”
“Mm. Did you … were you checking Facebook?”
“N-Not really,” replied Chloe. “I — I didn’t really want to — I mean, I’m still — the storm —” Max nudged her shoulder, stopping her. Chloe knew she hadn’t been keen on checking in with the wake, either. Probably the reason both of them were having rough nights.
“I was chatting with Kate and Dana a bit earlier. They said it went well, a lot of Blackwell students showed up. Even a bunch of teachers. S — seems like Arcadia Bay’s less of a mess, too. Rebuilding.”
“That’s — that’s good.” It was nice knowing that the town was recovering, at least — that the storm hadn’t been as apocalyptic as they had both thought. Not that she wanted to think about the town at the moment …
“Hey,” said Chloe, “so … Merry Christmas, Super Max.”
“Is it already…?”
“Yeah. Like fifteen minutes ago. You… you woke up just after midnight.”
“Oh… God. Great start to Christmas, I guess.”
“Hey, can only go up from here, right?”
Max paused. Chloe thought she sensed Max… hesitating for some reason?
“I… I think it’s gone up already,” she said, scooting in closer. “Right now’s pretty nice, right?”
“Yeah. This is nice.”
Their conversation fell silent again. Max’s breathing relaxed a little bit more, and Chloe found herself just staring into the fireplace. Her mind was … blank, right now. For once. Just kinda filled with a shapeless … contentment?
She hadn’t felt like this in years. Even with Rachel, everything had been exciting, spontaneous, passionate … but never just calm. Never certain.
She leaned over and kissed Max on the head again.
There was a lot she wanted to say to Max right now. But it could wait. Chloe’s life had turned a corner last October, and she could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’d work through all this crap together. They’d figure out a way to make amends.
“Chloe?” whispered Max, looking up at her with her doe eyes.
Max craned her neck up and gave her a quick peck on the lips. “Love you.”
She — Holy shit, Max. That — that made one less thing on her mind. Chloe looked over at her. She saw her cheeks flushing profusely, and felt that burning heat rising in her own face.
“I l —” Wait. She — she couldn’t resist. “I-I know.”
Okay, not as smooth as she’d have liked.
Max snort-giggled. “Damn it, Chloe Price. You’re a dork.”