It had been a year since Chloe Price uttered her name.
Four syllables, two words, forgotten from her vocabulary.
Max had initially prodded. After their migration to Seattle, Max spent the better part of a month trying to get Chloe to talk. Asking her about her feelings. She wanted Chloe to open up about it. About anything that happened in Arcadia Bay. About Joyce, about Justin and Trevor… About her.
But the harder Max pushed, the further Chloe drifted away. And in fear of losing her friend again, Max eventually stopped trying.
And luckily for her, Max’s new Seattle friends learned very quickly not to ask about the situation at all.
They were all nice enough. Tammi, Pixie, Dwight, Dex. All entertaining enough. On the worst of days, Chloe reminded herself that at least they provided her with ample distraction from her intrusive thoughts. And being the graphic designer for their band helped. So, maybe they weren’t so bad.
But on the one-year anniversary of the storm that should’ve killed her, Chloe’s bubble of denial burst.
She was having a good day before she remembered. And she wouldn’t have remembered at all if not for the Prescotts and their stupid memorial. Granted, that “good day” had only lasted the twenty minutes that she had been awake, but it was all the same to her. Max’s parents were already off to work and had left her mail near the coffee pot. She and Max had received separate invitations. Chloe stuffed hers into her pocket and hastily wrote Max a note to text her when she woke up. They were supposed to meet their friends at some rinky-dink coffee bar in a few hours, but Chloe needed to get out of the house. Her mind was being flooded with memories of the past. Memories of her.
Three hours and one finished mural later, Chloe finally checked her phone. She had 3 texts from Max consisting of “good morning”, “meet us at the bean barn” and “dude you’re so late”. Chloe slipped her phone back into her pocket, her hand momentarily fiddling with the memorial invitation. She sighed, pushing herself up off the ground. She gathered her cans of spray paint, threw them in the bed of her truck, and off she went.
As she parked, she could see Max and the rest of their friends through The Bean Barn’s front windows. None of them had noticed her yet, but their conversation seemed joyful enough. Chloe wondered if Max had even seen the memorial notice yet, remembering that it had been near the coffee pot… and knowing Max, she probably skipped her morning ritual in favor of drinking some right now.
Chloe pushed open the door, heading towards her friends, before the voice of a news anchor sounded through her skull.
“The Prescott family, themselves mourning the loss of son Nathan to the storm, hope that this memorial service will offer a long-needed chance for goodbyes.”
Chloe whipped around to face the TV. A photo of Nathan and his family was being displayed on the screen. It featured Nathan’s parents, Nathan’s sister Kristine, and Nathan, all looking as grim as they always were. I forgot how much Kris looked like… hm, maybe that’s why that asshole… Chloe stared at the screen for a moment, lost in her thoughts and the face of a doppelganger. Anger bubbled in her, and she reached for the remote that was placed on the edge of the bar, switching the station to some game show.
As she turned back around, her friends had finally noticed her presence.
“That’s enough TV for today, kiddies,” Chloe announced, strolling over to the booth her friends had occupied.
“Nice to see you’ve decided to join us, Chloe,” Tammi responded casually drinking from her coffee cup.
Chloe shrugged, humming in agreeance, any combative words lost on thoughts of someone she used to know. As she shimmied into the empty booth behind where Max was sitting, her eyes fixated on the wall behind Dwight, Dex and Pixie, who were sitting opposite Max and Tammi. Her mind wandered back to the news broadcast, the invitation in her pocket, the way Nathan’s sister looked so similar to… that it was almost unbearable to think about. And once thoughts of… entered Chloe’s mind, she was flooded with memories of a concert, and a play… the fire, and Blackwell… her truck and bleeding and a case of mistaken identity… winks and hair and a blackeye and streetlights and a kiss that felt like home and—
“Chloe, are you even listening to her?” Pixie’s question brought Chloe out of her own mind.
“Huh? Who?” Chloe responded instinctively. They all stared at her, concern and confusion evident in their eyes. Max placed a hand on Chloe’s shoulder.
“Girl, how much did you smoke today? It’s only like 11 am and you’re already tweaking,” Dwight laughed from his seat behind Dex. Pixie turned to lightly slap at his hand, staring at him with wide eyes and furrowed brows.
“I haven’t today… But come on then, what’d I miss? Concert tomorrow, right? Oh, and whose photo did you slap a sepia filter on now, Maxi-Pad?” Chloe asked, noticing the forgotten photos on the table. She grabbed at Max’s photos and flipped through them. “Okay, that was harsh, these are actually pretty rad. For you, anyway,” Chloe smiled at Max, whose attempt to return one failed miserably; but it was an effort. And that was all it took for everyone else to reevaluate their levels of concern and return to their relaxed state of being.
“Well, Chloe, before you decided to eye-fuck the wall over there, we were talking about our set for tomorrow, and what we need to do to prep,” Tammi said, bringing Chloe back up to speed. Chloe laughed at the joke and just like that it was back to pleasant conversation. The group talked about set design, songs, what to do in the event of failure, trying to cover all of their bases in preparation for their gig tomorrow. Chloe thought it was a bit overkill, but she didn’t voice this concern.
As the conversation began to wind down, Dex ordered lunch… which then led everyone else to order too. Max and Chloe shared a basket of fries and Chloe ordered a burger. Their words shifted from the talk of money and audience attention to memes and general town foolery. Their laughter filled the near-empty establishment. This lasted for a while until a waiter dropped off the bill. Everyone reached for their wallets, preparing to pay for their food. Chloe took the cue and started to fish around in her pockets.
She had difficulty finding anything in a space she knew should be fairly empty. In a hasty attempt to round up a loose bill, she emptied the contents of her pockets onto the table shared by her friends. There was her phone, her keys, cigarettes, a speeding ticket— oh! an extra 47 cents! — the memorial invitation, her earbuds, a receipt for a pack of M&Ms… and finally, at the very bottom, a $5 and two $1s. Perfect. Luckily for her, Max volunteered to pay for the fries. She handed the money off to Tammi and threw her final fry at Dex, who had taken to laughing at the audacity of the situation.
“Chloe, what is this?” Max asked from her left, causing Chloe to shift her attention.
“Huh? Oh, that. Came in the mail this morning, you got one too. Your parents left them by the coffee pot, which explains why you didn’t see yours… Just a way for the Prescotts to make themselves feel better, I guess,” Chloe explained as she started putting her belongings back in her pockets. Max continued to read the memorial invitation.
“What is it?” Pixie asked.
“The Prescott family is holding a memorial for the victims of last year’s storm. They’re the richest family in Arcadia Bay, and their son Nathan… It says here there will be a statue unveiling at the Blackwell to ‘remember the fallen’,” Max trailed off, not taking her eyes off of the crumpled piece of paper. The silence that fell caused Chloe to squirm.
“Are you guys gonna go?” Dex asked, staring more so at Chloe than Max, who ended up just staring at each other.
“…Do you want to go, Max?” Chloe finally asked, breaking the silence.
“I don’t know… If anything, it’d be more of a trip for you than me… I mean, Victoria survived, but I haven’t talked to her since last year, and we were never really friends anyway. Everyone else that I knew is… gone. Arcadia Bay was your home, not mine. Not anymore,” Max stuttered, sadness washing over her eyes. Chloe took a moment before answering.
“Well, I don’t really wanna go. I mean, I will if you end up wanting to. But daddy Prescott is gonna be there, and he’s probably paid to have Nathan’s face plastered all over town. And while I thankfully never have to see that little shit’s face again, I’d rather not risk it. And besides, his dad and I have beef. And knowing how close they were, Victoria and the rest of her family are probably gonna be there too, god help us all. And his sister Kris is gonna be there too, and she’s gonna be all whiny and sad just like the rest of them, thinking that Nathan is somehow a victim here. And she looks so much like Rachel that it makes me wanna puke, so I just don’t… think… it’d be a good idea,” Chloe said. Once she started, she couldn’t stop. But, quickly recognizing her personal faux pas, Chloe pumped the brakes like her life depended on it.
She had said her name.
It’d been a whole damn year without her. Without thoughts of her. No new memories with her.
Chloe had actively avoided even using her name in her own mind. But there it was. Back again like absolutely no time had passed.
Rachel. Rachel Amber. Her name spilling out of Chloe’s mouth so fast, reminding her that it couldn’t be erased so easily. And that Chloe’s lips would never forget, despite what her brain had intended.
Max jumped at the sound of Rachel’s name. As did their friends. After all, they had never heard of this “Rachel” before. Nathan, Victoria, Warren, Joyce, David, Justin, Trevor, all of their other friends and family, sure. But Rachel?
Max just stared at her. Her mouth hung open slightly, and Chloe couldn’t tell if her shock was from everything else she had said, or if the effect of Rachel’s name was just that powerful.
No one moved. Max and Chloe were caught in an unspoken staring contest. Neither knew where to start. The tension was thick, and their friends seemed scared to cut it. But then Max let out a small chuckle and Chloe couldn’t control the look of that followed.
“I guess Nathan’s sister does look a bit like Rachel, you’re right… But what’s this you mention of beef with Sean Prescott? Never heard that story before,” Max wore a small smile on her face. She was trying to make light of the situation. But it wasn’t working. Hearing her name come out of Max’s mouth felt like eating ashes.
Chloe didn’t answer Max’s inquiry. Her face held its shape, a mix of shock and now betrayal. She didn’t want to talk about this. She had been avoiding facing this music since her day had started, and although this situation was probably inevitable, Chloe really didn’t want to do this here.
Everyone was silent, and Max’s slight smile was beginning to fall. But Dwight, of course, being as ignorant to social cues as he was, didn’t notice that this conversation had quickly become a taboo subject.
“So, who’s this ‘Rachel’ you speak of, Chloe? She any hot?”
His attempt at a joke drew angry eyes from everyone except Chloe, who had taken to staring at the table. It took him a moment to realize his mistake, but by then the damage had been done. He made no effort to apologize, breathing deeply as he applied pressure to the back of his neck instead.
“… So hot. The hottest, really. But. Gay. Very, very gay. And dead, so…” Chloe answered him, her voice small, but louder than a whisper. Her eyes didn’t leave the table. And still, no one said anything. A passerby could probably smell the regret seeping out of Max and Dwight right now. Max’s hand slowly reached out to Chloe’s shoulder, but she brushed it off. Everyone could feel the tension, but no one dared break it.
Turns out, Pixie was the bravest of them all.
“Chloe… do you want to talk about Rachel?” she asked, a certain warmth to her normally hyper voice. It captivated Chloe’s attention, and she looked at her.
“I- um…” Chloe stuttered, her eyes darting back and forth between Pixie and the table.
“You don’t have to. I just thought you might want to,” Pixie added, noticing that her question had made Chloe visibly more nervous than she was before. Chloe let her words sink in for a few seconds before taking a deep breath through her nose and then back out again. She tried her best to ignore the stares of her friends as she slowly lifted her hand to reach inside the left of her jacket.
“That… That’s her. That’s Rachel,” Chloe said as she placed the old piece of paper on the table. Everyone leaned in to see.
“Chloe, why do you still have that?” Max asked, her voice barely above a whisper. It was soothing, in an odd way. She was concerned.
“It’s the only picture of her I have left. My phone crapped out during the storm and my house… I found it in my glovebox a week after we got here, and I wanted to keep it,” Chloe answered, staring at the object in question. She had been carrying the last missing person poster with her, on her person, for the last year. She must have printed over 500 of those stupid things… fat lot of good it did her. Chloe never stood a chance.
“What happened to her? I mean… she went missing before the storm, right? Months before,” Tammi spoke from Chloe’s right, holding the poster in her hands, reading all the details. Her voice was soft, like Max’s. They were tiptoeing. Max’s hand returned to her shoulder, silently telling Chloe she would answer if she couldn’t. Chloe glanced at her before opening her mouth.
“She um… It’s complicated. Like, very complicated. She was… complicated… One minute she was ‘just popping in’ at a Vortex Club party, and the next, no one had seen her in over 2 days. And then days turned into months.”
“What happened?” Dex asked. Chloe didn’t look at him. Her eyes were focusing on wood lines in the table.
“Well,” Chloe started, taking a long pause before speaking her next sentence. She spared a quick glance at Max, who looked nervous enough to bite her hand off. “She died. Looked for her that whole time, and she was right there under my nose. But then the storm happened, so…”
“What about her parents?” Pixie asked.
“No idea. They moved back to California a year after I met her. Her dad took a job down there, but she didn’t want to leave. So, she didn’t… When she went missing, I called them, but, well, they never really liked me that much… or her, if we’re being honest. I sure as hell haven’t talked to them since, so I doubt they know. But, I don’t think telling them that Nathan Prescott killed their daughter with drugs that he bought from her girlfriend’s dealer would really bring them any closure, so it’s probably best to keep that can of worms unopened,” Chloe answered, the cadence of her voice speeding up the more she spoke.
Everyone always told her she had a big mouth.
“Hmm… probably shouldn’t have said that last part out loud, huh?” Chloe murmured as her friends stared at her with wide eyes and slack jaws. Max had taken to running her hands through her hair, sighing deeply. Chloe reached for Rachel’s poster, which Tammi had returned to its previous position on the table while she had been talking. She played with the worn edges, blankly staring at anything but Rachel’s picture.
“Nathan Prescott? Isn’t that—
“And you’re saying he—
“Yep.” Chloe’s voice was flat. Her friends kept asking questions, but Chloe stopped paying attention. Max took to answering, but the sound of her voice couldn’t beat the deafening volume of Chloe’s inner thoughts. She finally let her eyes drift over Rachel’s picture. The original had looked better, both the picture and the person. But they were both now gone, lost forever. And Chloe felt like years of her life had gone straight down the toilet along with them. Every day had been with Rachel, for Rachel. Gone. Taken before either of them had the chance to do anything about anything.
She missed her best friend… her girlfriend… whatever that was. She missed her and wanted her back. The first day she had met Rachel, she warned her not to be surprised if one day she just disappeared… but god, Chloe never thought that this is what would happen. A world without Rachel Amber wasn’t one she wanted to be in, not anymore.
Chloe’s eyes started watering as she carefully folded the poster back up and put in back in her jacket pocket. Right next to her heart. Always with her.
Chloe slowly pushed herself out of her booth and stood up, her back to her friends.
“Chloe, where are you going?” Max asked, turning and preparing to scramble over Tammi and out of her booth. Chloe turned back to face her friends, and looked at Max. Everyone looked like they had just watched a dog die in a movie. There was nothing any of them could do for her.
“I just… Max, I’ve gotta go for a bit, okay? I can’t deal with this. She’s gone, and I don’t know what to do, because everyone else is gone too, y’know? I… I’ve put this off for a year because I just can’t do it anymore. Dad’s gone, Mom’s gone, even fucking David the fucking asshole… But she wasn’t supposed to leave. She… She just went and died on me, like everyone else Max. She left. She was supposed to be different. And I just… I just need to be alone right now,” Chloe answered, choking on her words as her eyes watered further. No tears had fallen, but her nose had begun to run and her face was red.
“Let me come with you, you shouldn’t be alone right now,” Max responded, moving to climb over Tammi if need be.
“Max I never should’ve been left alone in the first place, but you did a pretty good job at doing that the first time someone died, so maybe it’d be better if you just let me figure this one out by myself like the last time,” Chloe snapped. Max stopped moving and stared at her, crestfallen and hurt. The rest of their friends were making eye-contact with everything but them.
“What’s the worst thing that could happen? I leave? I fling myself off the nearest cliff? My mother is dead, Max. My father is dead. Rachel Amber, the best person I will have ever had the pleasure of knowing, is dead, Max. I haven’t said her name in over a year. I don’t have the guts to call her parents and tell them that their daughter is never coming home. Nathan Prescott and Mark Jefferson murdered her, and no one knows. The last feeling she ever felt was fear, and there’s nothing I’ll ever be able to do about that. I loved her, Max. I was in love with Rachel fucking Amber. She picked me up and put me all back together again, and now she’s dead and I have to pretend she never existed in the first place, because it’s easier than dealing with the truth. So, excuse me if I want to be by myself for a while as I try to cope with the fact that this is as good as it’s ever gonna get for me. That I’m never getting any of them back. That I will have to live the rest of my life without the one person who made it infinitely better in every way,” Chloe said. She was breathing heavily now, and her tears were replaced with anger.
They had wanted her to open up. And there she stood, exposed for the world to see. The broken girl from a broken home with a broken heart and a broken mind. Broken. Irreparable.
Chloe sighed. She rubbed her hands over her face. “I- Look, I… You know I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. I just need to be alone, Max. It’s what helps me. I- I’ll text you or something in a while. I’m sorry,” Chloe struggled to form any coherent thoughts. She had just pushed the one person left that cared about her out of a moving train. Chloe sighed again and headed out the door, opening the door to her truck and shoving the key into the ignition.
Chloe hated being right about this, because the last thing she needed to see right now was Nathan Prescott’s face every block and a half.
The drive out of Seattle and back to Arcadia Bay had taken hours. She had hit the end of day rush hour and had been stuck in traffic forever before she could finally start moving. By the time she had arrived in Arcadia Bay, it had been dark for ages.
Chloe didn’t mean to drive back to Arcadia Bay. She didn’t even intend to leave the state of Washington, but once she did, there was no use in turning back yet. Her mind was still wandering, and her soul had business to attend to. Whatever would help her sleep at night.
Driving down the once-familiar streets, now completely rebuilt and foreign, was intimidating. Arcadia Bay suddenly felt emptier than it ever had in the last five years. Every house and storefront was different. Yellow tape and orange cones lined every inch of damage that had yet to be repaired. And the Prescott name had been slapped onto every piece of property that had recently found itself without an owner.
Chloe nearly crashed into a light pole as she drove past Blackwell again. The same Prescott family portrait that she had seen on the news earlier that day was printed on a huge banner, hung between the trees near Blackwell’s main entrance, advertising the event to come in a few days. Nathan’s face made her want to break something. His sister’s face made her want to crawl into a hole and never return. Chloe had met Kris a few times in her life, and the resemblance between her and Rachel really was striking when one thought about it… Their personalities couldn’t be farther apart, but everything else was a match.
Chloe gave a final angry glare at the sign before pushing her foot down hard on the accelerator. She had somewhere more important to be.
Her truck wasn’t up for off-roading as much as it used to be, and the quarter-mile hike felt harder than it used to. But, thankfully, the lighthouse hadn’t changed.
It was dark out and Chloe was staring at the sky. Oregon had always had such an impressive view. Leo wasn’t out and wouldn’t be again until at least March. A pity. It was the only constellation that Chloe ever cared to look at anymore. What a shame that it was already dead… just like the Leo that she knew. They had both died far too early. She wondered if she would ever care about any of the other constellations ever again… Rachel had given her the stars, and just like that, they were gone again, a distant memory. That’s all they’d ever be any more. Memories of another life, of another time, when Rachel Amber was Chloe’s girl, and there was nothing that could stop them. Maybe one day, she’d get to do it all over again. She’d get to see her again and do everything differently. But until that day, all that Chloe had was an old wrinkled poster and a constellation trillions of miles away.
Somewhere far away Rachel Amber was standing behind Chloe with a hand on her shoulder. She’d stay until Chloe didn’t need her anymore. She’d always stay. Chloe Price was someone worth staying for. Until hell was empty and the stars all blinked out, Rachel Amber would never leave Chloe Price’s side.