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Flash Gordon

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Kate

I’m jolted awake by Max’s distress at what must be her fourth or fifth nightmare. “It’s okay, sweetie,” I tell her softly, “I’m here.” She curls into my chest, sobbing. Last time there was some dim light filtering through the curtains, and now it’s bright enough for me to be sure that morning’s here. I decide that there’s not much point us trying to get back to sleep again.

“I hate this,” Max mumbles after a while. “I only just got rid of the last set of nightmares, and now it seems I can’t close my eyes without seeing…” She clearly can’t bring herself to finish that sentence.

“I’m sorry, my love, but it’s not real; not in this timeline. All you have to do is wake up, and I’ll be right here beside you.”

“Always?” she asks in a small voice that almost breaks my heart.

“And forever,” I reassure her.

“You promise?” I can hear the desperate need in her voice.

“I…” That’s when I see it: the future stretching ahead of us with all its possibilities, and I can’t imagine a single version of it where I could bear to be without Max. I want us to get through this trauma together, to build a life together, to grow old and grey together. I look down at my hand, at the antique silver ring on its index finger – something my Grandma passed down to me a few months ago. Slowly, I pull it off and hold it up to Max. “I promise. Do you?”

Her eyes widen as they take in the ring, then meet mine. “Kate… what…”

“Will you marry me, Max?”

“I… are you sure, Kate? It’s only been a few months since we got together…”

“I think we both know it’s been a lot longer than that,” I tell her gently. “It just took us a couple of years to admit it to ourselves.”

Max gives me a crooked grin. “I guess you’re right. Seeing as I’m hella in love with you, and I don’t even want to think about a future without you, I’m going to have to say yes to your proposal.”

The smile expands across my face until it feels like it stretches from ear to ear. Max holds out her hand, and I slip the ring onto its new home. I take the fact that it’s a perfect fit as a sign that this is meant to be. Then Max’s lips find mine, and all rational thought is swept away.

Some time later, there’s a knock at the door. “Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes,” calls Vanessa.

Max tears her mouth away from mine. “Okay, thanks. We’ll be right down.” She gives me one last kiss, then climbs out of bed to root through our suitcase. After a moment, a pair of pajamas lands next to me. “Might as well put these on for now, we can have a shower after breakfast.”

“Once your parents have left for work,” I suggest, “so we can share without it being awkward.”

“What a shocking idea!” says Max in mock surprise. “And to think you were once president of the abstinence club…”

“That was a lifetime ago,” I tell her softly.

“For both of us,” agrees Max.

“Besides, we’re engaged now, and more than a few people would agree that’s a good point to drop the whole abstinence thing rather than holding out until the actual wedding night…”

It’s not long before we’re sat around the breakfast bar while Ryan cooks us eggs. Max has her left hand resting on the counter, and actually goes so far as wiggling her finger a little. Even so, it’s a moment before Vanessa notices.

“That’s a beautiful ring,” she begins, before trailing off – clearly she’s realized the significance of which finger it’s on. “Is there something you neglected to tell us last night, Maxine?”

I wince at the use of her full name, but Max takes it in her stride. “No, but then there was nothing to tell last night. Kate only proposed to me this morning.”

There’s a loud clattering that can only be Ryan dropping the frying pan. “You’re getting married?” Max nods, and he sweeps her out of her chair and into a bear hug. “I’m so happy for you. Both of you,” he adds, glancing at me, “we couldn’t ask for a better daughter-in-law.”

Vanessa takes her turn hugging Max, while Ryan goes to rescue the eggs. “I’m thrilled for you,” she says, “and Kate, I hope you’ll consider yourself a member of the family now, rather than waiting until after the wedding.”

“I’d like that,” I tell her shyly, “I’m not sure how much of my family I’ll have left once I tell them.”

Vanessa frowns. “Because you’re marrying a Maxine rather than a Maxwell?”

“Exactly.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that. No-one should have to put up with such prejudice, least of all from their own flesh and blood.” She holds out her arms, and I surprise myself by stepping into them.

“Thank-you,” I tell her, my voice heavy with emotion. I can’t remember the last time my own mother hugged me.

Our little surprise means that Max’s parents end up in a rush to get off to work. Once they’re gone, we take our shower, not leaving it until all the hot water is gone – and our engagement appropriately celebrated.

It’s my first time in Seattle, so Max insists that we do some sight-seeing. “We’ll start with the Space Needle,” she says, “since you already have my head in the clouds.” I groan at that. “Plus, I haven’t been up there since I was thirteen.”

“I suppose it’s less exciting when it’s part of your skyline every day.”

“Exactly. First, though, I need some more coffee, and that’s something this city is famous for.”

“Fine, as long as we aren’t going to a certain well-known Seattle-based chain.”

“Of course not; Starbucks was created to convince the rest of the world that Seattle has terrible coffee, so we can keep the good stuff to ourselves.”

“That explains so much…”


By Tuesday, we’ve pretty much run out of things to do, and Max’s nightmares are already back down to once a night. With the Ninja’s foe in the hands of the FBI, there’s nothing preventing us from returning home. There’s a stop I want to make on the way, though. “I’d like to visit my Grandma on the drive back to Portland,” I tell Max. “She’s the one adult in my family who’s never judged me in any way, and I don’t want to hide our relationship from her any longer. I think she’ll be okay with it, but…”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Max says, cutting me off. “You’ve been visiting her at least once a month for as long as I can remember, so you must have a pretty good read on her. If you think she’ll be okay with this, then you’re probably right.”

“Thanks, sweetie,” I say, giving her a quick kiss. I call Grandma to make arrangements; she’s excited to finally meet my ‘roommate’, and already planning lunch for us. That done, I call Yasmin to confirm we’ll be back the following evening. Knowing that there won’t be any food in our apartment, she insists that we stay for dinner at her place and, after checking with Max, I gratefully accept.

Since we aren’t in a hurry, we don’t bother with packing until the next day, after we’ve had breakfast with Ryan and Vanessa and said our goodbyes. It’s mid-morning by the time we hit the road, and it takes us a couple of hours to reach Castle Rock. I pull up outside of Grandma’s modest bungalow just after noon.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Max asks me nervously.

“Sure? No,” I tell her as we get out of the car. “But of all my family, Grandma’s the one I’m most confident will be okay with us.” I lead Max up the path and press the doorbell. It’s only a few moments before the door opens.

“Katie! It’s so lovely to see you again.” She pulls me into a hug and, as always, the strength in her seemingly fragile body surprises me.

“I’m glad to find you in good spirits and good health, Grandma,” I tell her. She releases me and turns to my fiancée.

“And you must me Max,” she says.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Marsh.”

“Please, call me Beverley,” she says, taking Max’s hands. “Katie has told me all about you; thank-you for looking after my favorite granddaughter.”

“I think you’ve been misinformed,” Max tells her with a smile. “Kate’s the one who looks after me.”

Grandma lifts up Max’s left hand, studies it for a moment, then looks at me with a sly grin. “I see the ring I gave you has finally made it’s way to the proper place.”

“Wait…” I sputter, “what?”

“That was my mother’s engagement ring; why did you think I gave it to you?” I simply gape at her in stunned disbelief, and allow myself to be led through to the kitchen, where the three of us sit down.

“You always talked about Max when you came to visit me; her name was sprinkled liberally throughout our conversations. It became clear to me that you were in love with her, even if you hadn’t admitted it to yourself. I gave you the ring because I wanted you to be prepared when the time came.”

I smile at her. “You were right, and if I hadn’t been wearing it, then I might not have been inspired to propose. So, thank-you for that, and for accepting me; I know that a lot of our family won’t.”

“How could I not?”

“I’m not sure I understand…”

The doorbell rings, and Grandma gets up to answer it. “You will. There are a couple of people I’d like you to meet.” A minute or so later, she returns, accompanied by two other women who look to be of an age with her. “Kate, I’d like you to meet by big sister Anna, and her partner Justine. Anna, this is my granddaughter Kate, and her fiancée Max.”

“It’s so lovely to finally meet you,” says Anna. “Beverley has told me so much about you.” I simply gape at her for a few moments. I have a great aunt that none of my family have ever told me about – and she’s gay too!

Finally, I find my voice. “It’s wonderful to meet you too, although I’m afraid I’ve never heard of you at all!” I manage, wincing inwardly at my clumsy words.

Anna smiles sadly. “I know. My parents, your parents, your aunt… they all prefer to pretend that I don’t exist, like I’m some shameful secret.” Justine puts a comforting arm around her, then guides her to a chair.

“I’m worried that they’ll do the same to me,” I admit.

“It’s certainly possible,” Grandma tells me, “but we’ll stick by you, and I very much doubt that Lynn and Ruth will want to let their big sister go any more than I did mine.”

“There you go, five people for your side of our wedding guest-list already,” says Max encouragingly.

“That’s more than I expected,” I admit. “Assuming you’ll all come, of course?”

“We’d love to,” Anna tells me.

There’s a ringing noise from the counter, and soon Grandma has me setting the table while she pulls a casserole dish and some baked potatoes from out of the oven. The smell makes my mouth water, and reminds me of all the happy times I had here; we visited frequently while I was growing up. Grandma serves the food, and I ferry plates to the table.

“So, how did you two ladies meet?” Max asks.

“It was our first year at university,” says a misty-eyed Justine. “Anna was the most beautiful girl I’d ever set eyes on, so I made it my business to get to know her.”

“Your memory must be playing up again,” laughs Anna. “You were the beautiful one.” She turns to Max and me. “I was never interested in boys at high school like all my friends were. I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Then I took one look at Justine, and I realized why.”

“It still took six months to persuade her to go on a date with me, though, thanks to her parents’ influence.”

“I know what that’s like,” I mutter.

Anna reaches out and rests a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Kate. From what Beverley has told me, your parents were even worse than ours. I’m proud that you managed to find your way. I’ve had more than fifty happy years thanks to Justine; I wish you and Max the same.”

“Thank-you,” I tell her, a little embarrassed.

“Anyway, your turn: how did your romance begin?”

Max and I share a look, and by unspoken agreement we give them an edited version of our friendship and relationship, leaving out any reference to Max’s time powers. The five of us chat happily for hours, and it’s late afternoon by the time we leave. Max makes a quick call to Yasmin to let her know we’re on our way, while I say my final good-byes, along with the promise that we’ll visit again soon.

An hour and a half later, we arrive at the address Yasmin gave me; it’s a row of townhouses in a leafy suburb. Max raises an eyebrow at me. “I sure as hell don’t begrudge firefighters getting a decent salary, but this seems a little excessive.”

I get out of the car and take a quick look. “It’s just the basement unit,” I tell Max.

“Okay, that makes more sense.” I roll my eyes at her, lead the way downstairs, and knock at the door. A moment later, it springs open and I find myself enfolded in a hug.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Yasmin tells me. “Both of you,” she adds, giving Max a hug too. “Come on inside.”

“So… please tell me you live in your Mom’s basement,” Max begins, clearly trying to relieve the tension.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but no. My landlady is an old family friend though, so she doesn’t gouge me on the rent, and trusts me with access to the garden. A good thing too, or I wouldn’t be able to have Rajah here.”

I look down to see a large ginger cat prowl across the room and butt his head against my leg. I immediately get down on my knees to pet him. “Well, aren’t you gorgeous?” I say. Then, giving Yasmin a knowing look, “Rajah?”

She grins back at me. “I couldn’t resist.”

Max is sporting a confused expression. “You have seen the Disney version of Aladdin, right?” I ask her.

“Once, a long time ago…”

“Princess Jasmine has a pet tiger called Rajah,” I explain, delighted to have, for once, picked up a pop culture reference that Max had missed. “Come say hello, he won’t bite.” She sits down next to me and starts stroking him; he purrs loudly at all the attention he’s getting.

The doorbell rings, and I look up to see Yasmin letting Izzy in. Once they’ve said hello, I get up and give her a hug. “Yasmin filled me in on what happened,” she tells me quietly, “I’m sorry you had to go through that. How are you coping?”

“I’m okay. Glad it’s over.”

“And your girlfriend?” She nods to where Max is scratching behind the ears of a blissed-out cat.

“Not great, but she’ll get there – and she’s not my girlfriend any more.” Izzy gives me a concerned look as I continue, more loudly, “hey, sweetie, show the ladies what I gave you.” Max looks up, confused for moment, then grins and lifts her left hand for Yasmin to inspect. “She’s my fiancée now,” I tell Izzy with what I imagine is a pretty goofy grin.

“Congratulations!” she says, with a huge smile, “I’m so happy for you.” Yasmin is holding Max’s hand, examining the ring, and then pulls her into another big hug. “And I think you ‘put a ring on it’ just in time,” Izzy adds with a laugh.

I smile back at her. “Oh, I trust Yasmin not to try anything – and I trust that Max isn’t interested in anyone but me.”

Izzy sighs. “I envy you that.”

“Trouble in paradise?” I ask.

“Maybe,” she admits, “and it would be good to talk about it, but this isn’t the time or the place.”

“Okay, let’s grab a coffee sometime soon, then.”

“I’d like that.”

I glance back at the others, and Yasmin catches my eye. “You’ve reeled in quite the catch here, Kate. You’re a lucky woman.”

“Yes, I am.”

“We both are,” agrees Max, coming over to put an arm around me.

“I’m looking forward to getting my wedding invitation,” says Yasmin.

“Whoa there, we haven’t even started to think about that yet, and Kate needs to finish university first. So we won’t be sending invites out any time soon… and do we even need to send them to members of the bridal party?”

“Wait, what?”

“I’m going to need a maid of honor…” Max tells her.

“…and so will I,” I add, turning to Izzy. “What do you say?”

She blinks. “Surely there must be people who’ve know you longer than me…”

“Perhaps, but they’re all either casual acquaintances or too far away. Max and I discussed this on the way down; my back-up choice is my former high-school bully.”

Izzy cracks a grin. “Well, we certainly wouldn’t want that.” I look round to see Max and Yasmin emerging from the kitchen with some wine glasses and a bottle of Champagne. “Were you expecting this?”

“No,” Yasmin replies, “but I always have a bottle of bubbly in the fridge in case of emergencies.”

“I like your thinking,” Izzy tells her as she carefully works the cork out.

“Unfortunately my parents didn’t, the last time they visited. While they’ve actually been pretty tolerant of my choice not to practice, they ‘don’t appreciate me rubbing it in their face,’ as my mother said when she found it.” She hands out glasses, then holds hers up. “To the future brides.”

“To Kate and Max,” adds Izzy as well all clink our glasses together. “So,” she begins after taking a drink, “wedding plans aside, have you thought about the future of the Portland Ninja?”

“I have,” answers Max, “and after a few weeks off for my arm to heal, the Ninja will be back in action.” We discussed this at length while we were in Seattle, and after a few misunderstandings, we’d agreed that we both wanted her to do it – and that we’d both try not to worry too much about the other. That last part is probably going to be easier said than done, but I know Max is doing the right thing, and I there’s no way I’m going to put my peace of mind above other people’s lives.

“Brava,” says Yasmin. She looks like she’s about to say more, but is interrupted by a buzzer from the kitchen. Instead she gestures for us all to sit down at her small dining table. It’s a bit of a squeeze with four of us, especially once Yasmin comes back with a huge dish of enchiladas, but somehow we manage. And so I spend the next couple of hours with the woman I love and our two best friends; eating, drinking, laughing, and talking about our future together.

Life is good.