This isn’t the last day that they’ll spend together. Max knows that. Still, it’s hard to avoid the sensation that everything’s changing.
The dead leaves that crunch under their feet as they walk from the bus stop toward the beach feel like proof of that. Chloe runs ahead of her to gleefully stomp the brown, crackling leaves that litter the walkway, turning around from time to time to give Max an enthused grin.
Max follows more slowly, trying to soak it all in. The leaves, the sounds, the smells. Chloe’s smile. She wishes it felt more like summer. It’s the last day of summer vacation that she gets to spend with her best friend. Probably forever. It should be summer-hot: blue skies, bright sun, ice cream trucks chiming Pop Goes the Weasel down every street, sweat making their hair stick to the backs of their necks. Instead, it’s barely even shorts weather.
Normally, Max loves autumn. Thinks it’s the prettiest season of the year. The leaves bursting into color like nature’s own fireworks display. The moody gray skies and bare branches when it edges closer toward winter. All of it practically begs to pose for her camera. Plus her birthday’s at the end of September, so why not love autumn? But this year all autumn means is that she’s closer to saying goodbye to Arcadia Bay and goodbye to Chloe. Farewell to the only home she’s ever known and the only real friend she’s ever had.
“Hey, slowpoke!” Suddenly Max’s vision is filled with the blue of Chloe’s eyes. She can feel the cold tip of Chloe’s nose pressing against her own. Chloe’s breath smells like the watermelon they’d been devouring until Chloe’s mom chased them both out of the house. Max is startled to an abrupt halt by her closeness. Chloe cackles and pulls back. “Dude, your face! You went all…” Chloe opens her eyes wide and crosses them, tilting her head to one side and letting her mouth gape open vacantly.
“Did not,” Max protests, shoving Chloe’s shoulder and trying to hide her face. She can feel a blush building and can’t do anything to stop it. She’s always blushed easily, and over the years Chloe has figured out hundreds of ways to exploit this weakness.
“Uh-huh. Sure.” Chloe grabs at Max’s arm and pulls her forward. “Come oooooonnnnnnn,” she groans. “We’ve gotta be back in time for the barbeque or Mom’s gonna lose it. And I want to actually have time to have some fun first! So quit dragging your feet, and come on!”
Max struggles to keep up with Chloe’s long strides as she’s tugged along, giggling helplessly as she’s forcibly dragged out of her melancholy reverie. Chloe’s always been good at pulling her out of herself.
What is Max going to do without her?
Sand pours into her shoes as she runs onto the beach, scratchy against the soles of her feet. She shakes the thought out of her mind and focuses instead on the warmth of Chloe’s hand wrapped firmly around her wrist. Be present, she reminds herself. Hold onto these moments. So many things could happen between now and the end of September. Maybe her dad’s job offer will fall through. Maybe they won’t be able to get the house her parents put an offer on. Maybe her parents will decide to let Max stay behind in Arcadia Bay with the Prices. Maybe her parents will take her aside again and this time they’ll be laughing that it was all a joke, or a misunderstanding, or something like that, and everything will stay the same as it’s always been.
Well, except for school, of course. Tomorrow, Chloe starts at Blackwell Academy. Even if it’s all a big misunderstanding and Max isn’t really moving to Seattle after all, that’ll still be different.
Max has always known that Chloe’s really smart, but it wasn’t until she got her acceptance letter to Blackwell Academy that it fully sank in that Chloe is Really Smart. Which is super cool, but it does make Max feel... stupid? Lonely? Apart from actually being pretty excited about the start of the school year, Chloe hasn’t been acting any differently, but Max still feels sort of different. It’s not like they were ever equal, really: Chloe’s always been smarter, older, braver, stronger, cooler, taller, prettier. But Chloe never made a big deal about any of that stuff, so it was easy to pretend that it didn’t matter. The letter from Blackwell Academy was sort of like the universe finally came to its senses and realized that Chloe’s special and Max isn’t.
And then Max’s dad got that job offer in Seattle, and everything started happening so quickly…
“Dude, hippie, what’s up with you?” Chloe stops so abruptly that Max crashes into her and nearly bowls them both over. Chloe rocks with the movement, keeping them both on their feet. She chuckles. “Space cadet.”
“Are too. What planet were you on, Caulfield?”
“Uranus,” Max scoffs.
Chloe’s eyebrows shoot up and she laughs. “Ew, what? Hope you brought some toilet paper, at least.”
Max rolls her eyes, feeling another hot sweep of blush crawl over her skin. “You’re so immature.” She tugs her wrist free from Chloe’s hand and gives her a small and ineffectual push.
“Oh, says the girl making jokes about Uranus.” Chloe hipchecks her, making Max stumble. She quickly wraps one long arm around Max’s shoulders, pulling her steady.
At least from this angle, Chloe can’t see Max’s blush as clearly. Max wraps her own arm around Chloe’s waist as they walk closer to the water and leans into the familiar softness of Chloe’s favorite sweatshirt.
“So, really,” Chloe continues, “what’s up?”
Max shrugs. “So… You had that Blackwell Academy orientation thing the other day.”
Chloe stiffens slightly but keeps walking. “Uh-huh…”
“How was it? It all looked... pretty awesome in the brochure.” Max manages to keep from sounding envious, but she still sounds a bit wistful.
“Yeah, it did…” Chloe’s voice is oddly flat. “Hmm. It was cool, I guess. Really big and, like, kinda weirdly fancy. I’m glad I don’t have to live there.”
Chloe shrugs. “I dunno. I like my house better. More… normal. The science teacher seems nice. The students are…” She pauses and Max cranes her neck to look up at her face. Chloe looks surprisingly serious and more than a little disgusted. “They’re rich.”
Max furrows her brow. “...Okay?”
“Just… I don’t know. It’s weird. I’m used to normal schools with, like, normal students. Not rich kids. I dunno, they seem kinda snobby and stuck-up.” She squeezes Max’s shoulder and grins. “They’re not cool like you.”
Max chuckles. “I am so not cool, Chloe.”
“Pffft, like I’d be friends with someone who wasn’t cool?” Chloe shifts to trap Max in a headlock and starts giving her noogies. Max squeals and struggles, laughing as she tries to shove Chloe’s knuckles away from her head.
Max finally breaks free and runs several feet away before stopping. “If I’m so cool, why’re you giving me noogies?!” She squeals again and dodges when Chloe lunges toward her.
“Because you may be cool, but I’m still the coolest!” After a few more successful dodges from Max, Chloe puts up her hands in a placating gesture. “Truce?”
Max eyes her suspiciously, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to contain her giggles. Finally, she succumbs to the puppy dog eyes Chloe’s giving her. “Okay, truce. But you were the only one attacking.”
“Fair enough.” Chloe settles her arm back around Max’s shoulders, to Max’s pleased and somewhat anxious surprise.
“Anyway, maybe the rich kids won’t be that bad. Maybe they were just nervous to be starting a new school, too.”
“Hm, maaaaybe... But, ha, who says I’m nervous?”
Of course Chloe’s not nervous. Max is nervous. Chloe may be starting a new school, but it’s a school for smart people like her. She’s bound to make lots of new friends. Smart friends. Friends who can actually keep up their end of a conversation about science instead of just listening in awe like some type of boring groupie. Chloe’s still going to be living in Arcadia Bay, and nothing’s really going to change that much for her. She’ll still live in the same house, ride the same bus around the same town, swim in the same bay, eat at the same restaurants. Max is the one whose whole world is about to be turned upside down.
Max is startled when Chloe stops on a dime and lets go of her, swiveling to face her. Max’s abruptly empty arm hangs suspended for a moment before slowly drifting down to her side. “Huh?”
“Let’s battle the Kraken!”
Max blinks in surprise. “Battle the… Are you cereal?”
Chloe rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I’m Captain frickin’ Crunch. C’mon! We haven’t battled the Kraken in forever! That jerk probably thinks he owns the bay, now.”
“Chloe, we didn’t even bring our bathing suits. Plus it’s kinda cold…”
“Like you’re actually even gonna go in the water? Here.” Chloe pulls off her sweatshirt and pushes it into Max’s hands. “You can wear this. It’ll keep you warm.”
“What!? I totally go in the water!” Despite her protests, Max slips off her small backpack and pulls on the proffered hoodie. It’s warm and smells like Chloe’s sweat. She wrinkles her nose at Chloe. “Have you washed this shirt? Like, ever?”
“It’s about to get washed by the bay, if you’re not too chicken.”
“I’m not chicken!”
“Whatever you say, landlubber.”
“Landlubber!?!” Max musters up as much of her wounded pirate pride as she can. “I’ll show ye who’s a landlubber, ye scurvy dog,” she growls in her best pirate voice. Which mostly just sounds like she’s got a sore throat, but it’s enough to show Chloe that she’s in the game. She starts marching toward the water and Chloe lets out a whooping cheer.
“Hell yes, Long Max Silver!” Chloe drops her own voice into a gravelly attempt at a piratical accent. “Arrrrr, let’s show that Kraken who rules these Bays of Arrrrcadia!” She starts running at the bay with a pirate yell.
“Woah, Captain Bluebeard! Hold on!”
Chloe reluctantly skids to a stop and looks at Max expectantly. “What be the matter, matey?”
“We shouldn’t get our phones wet.”
Chloe snorts. “You brought your phone?? Dude, why?” She rolls her eyes. “Oh, wait, nevermind. I forgot your mom’s a total paranoia queen.”
“She is not,” Max argues defensively as she unzips her backpack and removes the phone from her pocket to put it inside. She wishes Chloe wouldn’t tease her about this because, honestly, she's not wrong but Max still feels a need to stick up for her mother.
“Uh-huh. Did you remember to text her when we got off the bus so she knows you didn’t crash or get abducted? Oh, and did you remember to text her when we got on the bus so she knows you survived the horrors of the bus stop? Did you remember to text her when we left my room so she knows I didn’t kidnap you? And don’t forget to--”
“Chloe, c’mon, knock it off.” Max’s jaw is clenching and her heart is thudding with something that’s not quite anger but is near enough to it to make little difference. She zips up her backpack and looks around for a safe place to stash it.
“We could bury it for safekeeping,” Chloe suggests. “Just like real pirates! We could have actual buried treasure!”
“Uhm…” Despite Chloe’s sudden enthusiasm, Max has major reservations about her suggestion. “I think maybe it’d be better to hide it in the trees. I don’t really want sand getting in my… everything.”
Chloe sighs. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Mom.” Before Max can object, Chloe’s enthusiasm returns. “Hey! We can look for cutlasses!” She make a few dramatic sword-swinging gestures in the air.
Max starts walking toward the treeline. “That’s a good point. Can’t battle the Kraken unarmed, right?”
Chloe snorts. “Speak for yourself, Max.” She puts up her fists and cycles them in the air like an old timey boxer preparing for fisticuffs. “I can take that sucker bare-knuckled.”
“Oh, can you, now?” Max asks in an amused tone as she searches for an appropriate hiding place for her backpack. She doesn’t want it to be too visible from the beach, since it’s bright pink and yellow, but she also wants to be able to find it before they get back on the bus.
“Sure I can! Captain Bluebeard can do anything! Why, I could take ‘im with one arm tied behind my back!” Chloe puts one arm behind her back to demonstrate.
Max wedges her backpack between a mossy rock and a broad, crooked tree. There’s a patch of mushrooms growing on one side of the tree that’s pretty distinctive-looking, and somebody carved their initials into the bark just a hair below Max’s eyeline. Perfect. She turns to look at Chloe, who’s searching the ground for good sticks even with one arm still held behind her back. “Then why are you looking for a cutlass?”
“Hey, just ‘cause I can doesn’t mean I have to.” Chloe snatches up a stick and gives it an experimental swing. She follows up her satisfied nod with a wink at Max. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to show off.” She shoulderchecks Max lightly. “Don’t wanna make you too jealous of my pirate prowess.” She offers the stick to Max. “This one’s pretty good. You want it?”
“Apparently I’m the one who needs it, Ms. One-Arm-Tied-Behind-My-Back.” Max takes the stick and hefts it appreciatively. It’s got just the right amount of curve to it to look vaguely like a cutlass, and it’s a nice weight, neither too heavy nor too light.
“That’s Captain One-Arm-Tied-Behind-My-Back,” Chloe corrects her. She picks up several sticks and starts testing them exuberantly against the side of a tree. Both friends wince as one of the sticks shatters. Chloe smiles sheepishly. “Guess that one wouldn’t stand up to the Kraken.”
When they’re both suitably armed to confront their legendary (and imaginary) foe, they leave Max’s backpack behind and head for the shore. Several yards away from the water, Chloe suddenly kicks off her shoes and starts running toward the waves, brandishing her makeshift sword and letting out a wild banshee scream: “YYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
In a mild panic, Max looks toward the lifeguard to see if Chloe’s screaming is going to earn them a lecture. To her relief and moderate concern, the lifeguard is busy picking at his fingernails and appears to be completely unmoved by the screaming and thrashing of a teenage girl in the waves. “Good thing she’s not drowning,” Max mutters under her breath. Chloe’s stick, dripping saltwater, smacks the sand in front of Max’s feet, snapping Max back to attention. She looks up to find Chloe grinning at her.
“Ahoy there, matey!” Chloe growls, and holy crap she is drenched. Water is absolutely pouring off of her. She’s even got bits of seaweed in her hair. She’s panting and covered with goosebumps and her eyes are bright and full of glee. “Arrrrr ye gonna stand there and let yer cap’n battle this fearsome beast of the Bays alone? Or arrrr ye gonna raise yer cutlass and join the fight like the salty sea dog that y’arrrr?”
Before Max can even form an answer, Chloe is running headlong into the waves again. Max winces as Chloe meets a powerful wave head-on and is swallowed up and flipped head over heels before being dumped roughly into the sand. Chloe pulls herself back up quickly with a giddy laugh and charges in again, waving her stick and yelling made-up pirate insults.
“Come an’ get me, ye scurvy squid! Ye grog-swillin’ son of a barnacle! I’ll send ye back to Davy Jones, ye tentacled tarnation!” It happens over and over in an unchanging pattern: Chloe charges fearlessly into a swell - yelling and flailing her makeshift weapon - before getting swept up and bullied onto the shore, then gleefully getting up and doing it all again. Her energy seems to be without limit, as does her courage.
Max’s heart fills with… something. Admiration, maybe. But admiration shouldn’t make you feel queasy, should it? Like your stomach’s all full of butterflies? So maybe there’s some envy mixed in there, too. Or… something. Something as confusing as it is powerful. Max wraps her arms around her stomach. Chloe’s hoodie really does smell like her. It’s like Chloe’s essence is embedded in the very fabric of it. She tugs the hood around close to her face and sniffs. It smells like Chloe’s shampoo, sweet and comfortingly familiar. It occurs to Max suddenly that that’s probably an extremely weird thing to do - smelling your best friend’s hoodie - and she drops the hood and gives her cutlass a couple of awkward swings to try to chase away the feeling that it leaves behind. She shuffles off her tennis shoes and ankle socks and digs her toes into the damp sand, letting the resulting thrill of cold dispel the lingering cloud of weirdness.
“Arrrr ye a pirate, or arrrr ye a cowarrrrdly landlubber?!” Chloe demands breathlessly as she stomps toward Max once more. This time she waits for a response, cocking her head to one side expectantly. Her hands are empty, her play sword lost somewhere in the bay. The waves behind her are daunting in their ferocity.
Max swallows hard. Soon the weather will be too cold for even the bravest of pirates to want to play in the bay. This might be the last time they get to do this together. Does she really want to spend the whole time watching Chloe nervously from the beach? Sniffing her hoodie and feeling like a huge freak? The waves might be terrifying, but are they any scarier than what she’s feeling right now? She raises her stick and Chloe’s grin brightens. “I be a pirate, Cap’n!” she declares.
“That be the fightin’ spirit!” Chloe crows, raising an imaginary sword in her empty hand.
Max doesn’t charge into the waves with wild and careless abandon, but after taking a deep breath to steel herself she does stride toward the receding edge of the water with grave determination. Chloe doesn’t charge in either, this time. She follows Max’s lead, watching her friend with undisguised amusement. They watch the waves gather and grow before they rush toward the shore. Max holds her ground until the waves slam against the sand several feet in front of her. She hops back with an involuntary squeak and jogs backward, eyes squeezed shut, as a thin wash of cold saltwater races toward her bare feet.
Max waits for Chloe to tease her for her cowardice. When no taunts are forthcoming, Max dares to open one of her eyes. Chloe’s still standing where Max left her. The water is not quite up to the tops of her feet, and then it’s lower, then lower still, and then gone. Max strides again toward the water’s edge and watches the waves gather. She holds out her cutlass and tries to brace herself. She can feel it when Chloe steps up to stand next to her. The taller the waves grow, the faster Max’s heart races. When they break, she yelps and darts back again. When she opens her eyes, Chloe is where Max left her, the water rising over her ankles. Chloe’s quietly looking back over her shoulder at Max. Not teasing. Not quite smiling. Watching and waiting.
The pattern repeats again and again. Max musters up her courage and steps up to the oncoming waves only to be driven back when they smash into the shore. Her borrowed sweatshirt grows damp and cool with ocean spray. Her feet are sandy and wet. Her heartbeat in her ears is almost louder than the waves. She gets a little closer to the water every time, and Chloe stays where she leaves her. The water is halfway up Chloe’s shins, then below her knees, then above, then nearly to her hips… Chloe is never afraid, no matter how deep the water or how strong the waves. She doesn’t tease, but Max is embarrassed anyway.
Eventually, Chloe reaches out a hand to Max as they wait for the next giant wave to come in. Holding hands with Chloe is the most natural thing in the world - they hold hands all the time, always have ever since they were little - so why does the feel of Chloe’s cold fingers in her own suddenly make Max’s heart leap into her throat? It scares her, the way she feels, but it also makes her brave.
The water is ice cold and it strikes her shins with enough force to sting. Max is knocked back a few staggering steps, dragging Chloe along with her. Their wet hands still cling together. Max starts to laugh, and Chloe follows suit a few seconds after.
When Chloe leads Max further into the water, she follows with little hesitation. Soon the waves are strong enough that when they come crashing in they sweep both friends up and tumble them head over heels before depositing them on the sand. The water grows too strong for them them to keep holding hands, but Max’s fear doesn’t return; she’s as in tune with the pulse of the bay as Chloe is now. When they get dumped into the sand, they both laugh and clamber back to their feet and charge in again. Max whacks her stick at the waves to beat them back until eventually the stick is ripped from her fingers and lost in the bay. She’s freezing cold and soaking wet and sure to be covered with bruises and she can’t stop laughing. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. Max is one with the salt and the strength of the waves. The water flows through her and Chloe both: they’re all connected, all bound together. Max is the water, is Chloe, is everything.
For the first time in a long while, being upside down and tossed all around like a rag doll feels okay. Max doesn’t know where she’s going or what she’ll do next, but it’s all okay. She’s got everything she needs. She and Chloe are together. They are forever. They are eternal. They are always.
They are blue and beautiful and strong and perfect and one.
Max isn’t sure how much time passes before her body reaches its limits. She’s shivering and so tired she can barely breathe and honestly feeling pretty queasy from being tumbled about so much. She lays down on the wet sand out of reach of the waves until she can catch her breath. Her ribs are sore. Chloe’s got to be wiped out by now, too; she’s been doing this for longer than Max has. Max expects her friend to drop down beside her any moment. She waits and waits.
Eventually, Max drags herself into a sitting position. There’s Chloe, still charging into the waves. “Hey!” Max calls out to her when she can draw enough air into her aching lungs. “Chloe!”
Chloe runs at another wave, swinging her fists at the water and yelling at the top of her voice.
“Chloe!” Max calls again. “Captain Bluebeard!” she tries when that doesn’t work.
If Chloe can hear her over her own yelling, she doesn’t show it. She runs into wave after wave, punching and kicking until the water rips her from the ground and swallows her whole.
Max’s chest feels heavy, as if the weight of the entire ocean were bearing down on her ribs. She shivers and draws her arms around her knees. She’s still wearing Chloe’s sweatshirt. It’s completely drenched, like all of Max’s clothes underneath it, and holding in more cold than warmth. Unthinking, she sticks the end of its drawstring between her lips and starts anxiously chewing it and sucking the saltwater from it.
Chloe looks angry. The way she pounds her body against the waves like she’s trying to hit them harder than they hit her… Max isn’t sure she’s ever seen Chloe look so angry.
She’s seen her mad, of course. Chloe’s got a short fuse; Max has seen her go flying off the handle more times than she can count. She spews steam like an overheated kettle, and then after a few minutes it’s all out of her system and she’s done.
Max hasn’t seen this before.
This is white hot rage that just keeps burning and burning. This is a full-bodied assault against the ocean itself.
And all that Max can think is: she knows.
She knows that Max is leaving her.
She knows about Max’s… “confusion.”
She knows everything.
Somehow, she knows.
Max can’t breathe. She’s sitting on the shore, but she’s drowning. Chloe isn’t touching her, but she feels every lash of Chloe’s fist, every kick of her feet. Chloe’s sweatshirt feels like a hundred pound weight on Max’s chest, an ice-cold straitjacket holding her in place. She trembles uncontrollably. “Chloe,” she chokes out weakly. The word is lost beneath the sound of the waves and Chloe’s ceaseless screaming.
Chloe doesn’t stop. Maybe she can’t stop.
“Chloe,” Max pleads, her voice shaking but louder. She tastes salt on her lips and doesn’t know if it’s bay water or tears.
Chloe is gone. She’s lost. She’s the force of the waves as they pound the shore. She’s the relentlessness of the tide. The strength of the currents. Chaos, fury, destruction.
“Chloe!” It’s a gasp, a cry, salt-wet and warm, tears running down Max’s face cutting hot through the cold of her skin. Every time Chloe is swallowed by the waves Max holds her breath until she surfaces again. She’s going to disappear. She’s going to be taken into the body of the water and Max will never see her again. “CHLOE!!!”
Max moves without thinking, without really even feeling it. Her bare feet churn the sand as she runs faster than she ever has in gym class. Her arms, normally so weak, are impossibly strong as she wraps them around Chloe and holds her safe, drags her - screaming and squalling - away from the waves.
“What are you doing??” Chloe demands. Max doesn’t have an answer. She wrestles Chloe to the sand, her legs rubber, and holds her there until she stops resisting. Holds her until Chloe’s breathing calms.
Max’s breathing doesn’t calm. She shakes. She gulps down air like each breath might be her last.
“Hey…” Chloe doesn’t sound angry anymore. She sounds embarrassed and maybe a little scared. She asks again, gently this time, “Max… Dude, what’re you doing?”
“I thought I was going to lose you!” Max can barely recognize her own voice, raw and shuddering and wet against Chloe’s shoulder.
Chloe freezes and is silent, and again Max thinks: she knows. She should pull away, but then Chloe will see how much she’s crying and it’ll only make things worse. After a long while, much too long, Chloe rests a hesitant hand on Max’s back. “M-Max, hey… I wasn’t really gonna…” Her voice stutters out, uncertain. She lets out a heavier sigh than any fourteen-year-old should be capable of. Her arms wrap around Max, thin and cold, skin prickling with goosebumps. “I wasn’t,” she promises softly. Her breath, at least, is warm. She nuzzles her cold cheek against the side of Max’s head and squeezes her tightly.
Max’s heart is imploding. Her stomach is twisting tighter and tighter. She doesn’t know if she’s going to laugh, or cry even harder, or scream, or throw up. Her chest fills with a boiling hot wave of guilt and shame, spreading out into her arms until she can’t feel her fingers anymore.
She remembers the giddy feeling of clinging to Chloe’s shoulder months ago, the smell of gingerbread, her cheek smarting from the impact of an off-target mistletoe kiss. She remembers the long drive to her grandparents’ house hours later, the way her giddiness settled into nausea and dread. She remembers tiptoeing downstairs for a glass of water that night, an overheard conversation between her parents: “It’s that Price girl. She’s confusing her.”
Maybe it’ll be easier in Seattle. Maybe she won’t be “confused” anymore.
Somehow, that thought only makes Max feel worse. A lump catches in her throat. Chloe’s arms tighten around her again. Comforting words are whispered into her ear, that familiar voice.
They could run away, Max thinks wildly. They could get on the bus and go… somewhere. Anywhere else. She doesn’t have to go to Seattle. She doesn’t have to leave Chloe. The two of them could run away, today, right now. Together. No separate schools, no separate cities. She’d be scared, probably, but Chloe would protect her. They’d find someplace to live, get jobs, be like grown-ups, and just live happily ever after.
But girls don’t do that.
Girls don’t make homes together. They don’t come home after work and talk about how their days were and cook dinner together and laugh. They don’t adopt pets together and name them after characters from their favorite movie. They don’t raise kids together, have backyard barbeques with the whole family, invite the neighbors over…
Girls don’t do any of those things together. Any of the things that Max catches herself daydreaming about. Wondering about. Wishing about.
Max knows girls don’t do those things together. She’s known it for years. Ever since that time when she was eight and let some of those thoughts slip to her mother, not thinking there was anything wrong or strange about it. About how she wanted to live with Chloe forever when they grew up, and build a house with her, and have a family with her. A dog, two cats, an Arabian horse, and (if Chloe had her way) an otter. Three kids: a boy and two girls. She had names for all of them and everything.
Girls don’t do that. A boy and a girl do that, when they grow up and get married. When girls grow up, they live apart. Even best friends.
She’s known since that time, and hundreds of other times since. Hundreds of overheard conversations, hundreds of subtle comments dropped to remind her.
She’s known it for so long, so why is it impossible to remember sometimes? Why is it so hard to believe it when Chloe’s holding onto her? This was bound to happen sooner or later. They’d grow up and they’d have to live apart. It’s what girls do. Max had hoped that they’d have a few more years together before the inevitable happened. Or maybe forever.
Instead, they have one month.
One month of separate schools, of Max sitting through classes that won’t matter soon with no best friend by her side. One month of crying as she packs her bags in secret, too chickenshit to tell Chloe the truth. One month of swallowed words, of not knowing what to say even though she needs to tell her best friend - her only friend - she’s leaving.
One month of sleepovers. One month of pillow forts and staying up too late, of watching bad movies together and whispering secrets in the dark. One month of meeting up the second they get out of school so they can spend as much time together as possible, because otherwise the day would be wasted. One month of autumn walks together, taking pictures of Chloe trampling leaves, laughing together, holding hands. One last month of having a best friend.
If they only have this one month of friendship left to them, Max doesn’t want to waste one more second.
“I think,” she whispers into Chloe’s shoulder, “I think we got him.”
Max rubs her face against Chloe’s shoulder. Chloe’s t-shirt is too wet to dry Max’s tears, but at least it can wipe them away so they’re not so obvious. “The Kraken. I think we got him. Showed that overgrown squid who rules these Bays of Arcadia.”
“O-oh. Yeah. Yeah, we did.”
“We should celebrate with a feast.”
Chloe chuckles. “I wonder if Dad’s ever grilled a giant squid.”
Max crinkles up her nose. “Ew. Too slimy.”
“What, you don’t want to eat our fallen foe and consume his power?” Chloe scoffs. “Okay, fine, ya wimp. We’ll make do with burgers and hot dogs, I guess.”
Max cheers, “Hooray!”
Chloe abruptly squeezes her so hard Max worries that her ribs will bruise. She doesn’t worry too much, though. She squeezes back just as hard. She wishes time would stop. That it would freeze right here, her and Chloe on the beach holding each other with all of their strength for all eternity. But the moment ends mere seconds after it began. They loosen their grips on each other and get up from the sand. Chloe’s far sandier than Max is but she cares less, hardly bothering to wipe the wet sand from her legs. “Ugh,” she grumbles, “Mom’s gonna throw a shitfit when she sees these clothes.” She reaches over to Max and wrings some water out of the hood of her sweatshirt. “Man, this thing’s drenched,” she chuckles.
“She’ll probably make us get changed before we can eat any barbeque.”
Chloe nods thoughtfully. “True.” Her eyes sparkle as she grins. “If she catches us before we get our food, that is. You up for a stealth mission, Long Max Silver?”
Logically, they should really get cleaned off and changed first. Max is freezing in her borrowed sweatshirt, heavy with cold brackish water. She’s covered with sand. She can taste it between her teeth. But Chloe’s grin is just so irresistible. How could she possibly turn down an adventure with her best friend now? “You bet, Captain Bluebeard.”
As they walk toward the trees to reclaim Max’s backpack, Chloe slings an arm around Max’s shoulder and starts plotting their daring mission to sneak behind enemy lines and steal barbeque undetected. Max slides her own arm around Chloe’s back and nods along with her plans. She knows it’ll never work: Chloe’s mom has a sixth sense for detecting mischief. They’ll probably be spotted halfway down the street and immediately be sent upstairs to shower and change into dry clothes. Chloe obviously knows it too, since her plans grow increasingly elaborate to the point of impossibility, involving superpowers and explosives and all sorts of ridiculous things.
But whether the plan will work or not doesn’t matter in the slightest. All that matters in this moment is that Max is spending time with her best friend, planning their next adventure. Chloe is safe and calm, and Max is still here with her. And she’s going to hold onto her for as long as she can.