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Pirate Photography

Chapter Text

Victoria was frustrated. What were the odds that she’d break the lens she needed for her current project? She was in Portland for only a few days, and the day she arrives, she drops the most important piece of equipment she had with her. She felt like a klutz. She could just imagine what her mother would say if she knew.

Anyways, she was in Portland for a shoot at an abandoned factory. It had taken a few phone calls to the local government offices, but she’d gotten permission to be at the site for this week. It had been frustrating that the locals didn’t even recognize her name. She was halfway famous already, and not one of them had a clue. She expected better from an area famed for its art scene.

Victoria had planned on scouting the building today and finding some good areas for pictures. Instead, she had wasted hours trying to find a good photography store. After some online research, she found a place called “Pirate Photography”, of all things. So she drove out to here, south of the city, and finally found the shop.

It was in a strip mall, of course. If the reviews didn’t mention that this store carried just about anything she could want, she’d have never even given it a second glance. She parked her BMW in the middle of the lot, away from other cars. No need for some imbecile to dent her new car.  Then she walked up to the store, which was tucked in between a coffee shop and an office supplies store.

As she approached, she could see a number of mid-grade cameras in the main window. Her lip curled a bit. This wasn’t promising. She pushed the door open and entered, a bell ringing by her head as she did so. Glancing at it, she saw an actual bell, not some electronic gadget. She was not impressed. It was a typical Portland decoration.

The interior had tile floors, bright lighting, and rows of shoulder-height shelving, running from front to back. As she walked through the aisles, her pace slowed. There were all kinds of lenses and cameras from all the major brands. Looking further, she saw a Leica sign near the back. She made a beeline towards it, her eyes getting wider and she saw several of the newest cameras, a bunch of lenses, and even a few older film bodies. Jackpot!

She knew she could easily spend hours here, just looking at merchandise. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the time to waste. She picked up a Leica 50mm lens, when she heard steps behind her.

A woman’s voice said, “Welcome to Pirate Photography! How can I...”. Then silence.

Victoria turned around, recognizing the voice. Her jaw dropped. She ended up staring at the one person she had never expected to see again.

“Max Caulfield...  umm.... hello.” Not too suave, girl.

The little hipster was looking at her, open-mouthed as well. She looked almost exactly the same as she did at Blackwell. She was wearing a hoodie, T-shirt, and jeans. At least she had on better sneakers. No ring.

Max said, “Victoria. Hi. I’m kind of surprised to see you here. Shouldn’t you be in LA or New York?”

Victoria scowled, “I’m doing a shoot in Portland, if you care. I was wondering what happened to you. You just disappeared after that whole mess.”

Victoria hated remembering the Week From Hell. Nathan murdered Max’s friend. Jefferson was some kind of sick pervert who took pictures of kidnapped girls and sold them to rich people. Both were in jail. Jefferson was also tied to several murders in Seattle a few years earlier. Sean Prescott and a few other very rich men got some bad publicity, but used their money to stay out of jail. Sean even ended up selling his properties in Arcadia Bay and moved somewhere on the other side of the country.

Worst of all, Max disappeared about two weeks after the murder. One morning, she was just gone, back to her parents. The only person who knew anything was Kate, and she wasn’t exactly friendly with Victoria.

Victoria had apologized to Kate, and tried to make it up to her through the rest of the year, but the damage was done. Victoria still blamed herself for that. How the hell could she have been so mean to everyone? She stopped being the queen bitch that week, after crying in front of Kate.

The Vortex Club was disbanded, Wells was fired, and Victoria’s parents came to the school. She got into some serious trouble with them, when they found out about her drug habits. That ended up being a good thing, in the long term, though. She didn’t even smoke anymore.

All of this flashed through her mind as Max awkwardly held her arm in front of her, gripping her elbow. Some things never changed. Max replied, “Actually, I do care. I’ve watched how well you’ve been doing. You’re becoming famous and it’s only been six years. I’m proud of you.”

Victoria grunted. That certainly wasn’t what she expected to hear. “Thanks, I guess. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s starting to pay off.”

She waved her hand to the shelves. “I see you are still working in photography, at least a bit. It’s a pretty nice store, though I have to wonder about the location.”

Max smirked. “The rent isn’t too bad, and I’ve built up a good clientele of local photographers. I even run classes for people just learning their cameras. I like it.”

Victoria nodded. She could see the appeal. She said, “I hope you still actually go out on shoots. You were really good. Not as good as me, of course, but still talented.”

Max rolled her eyes, replying, “Nice to see you still have your attitude. I don’t really take a lot of pictures anymore. It feels weird after Blackwell.”

“How so?”

Max looked down, saying, “Jefferson kind of ruined it for me.”

Victoria stopped. She knew that only a few identities of his victims had been released by the police. Had he gotten to Max somehow?

Max looked up, a strained smile on her face. “So, you want that Leica lens? It’s a nice one!”

 

Chapter Text

Victoria nodded, “Yes, Leica’s my favorite brand. Expensive, but worth it.”


Max raised an eyebrow, “So, you really like a fancy camera, eh?”


Victoria paused, “Did you seriously just make a pun about cameras?”


Max grinned, a twinkle in her eye. “Would I do something like that?”


“And you wonder why I called you Lamefield.”


“You were just jealous. I didn’t realize it then, but it’s ok.”


Victoria froze for just a second. Then she glanced down, feeling ashamed, and said, “I am sorry about how I treated you back then. You didn’t deserve it.”


“We were kids. You were trying to live up to the family name. I get it. Anyways, apology accepted.”


Victoria didn’t really know what to say, but she knew she’d been a horrible bitch to Max and so many others back then. Her actions still bothered her late at night, when she was lying in bed, trying to sleep.


Victoria smiled, grateful. She replied, “I admit I was a bit jealous of you, back then. I just wish I could go back in time and kick myself in the ass when I first started thinking I was the Queen Bee.”


Max got an odd look on her face, and replied, “I’m not sure that would have helped. Sometimes we just have to learn things the hard way. I’m glad you’ve changed, though. Kate told me you were a much nicer person, and I honestly didn’t believe her. I guess I was wrong.”


“You’re still in contact with Kate?”


“Yeah. I made her promise not to tell anyone I was still talking to her. I knew me leaving would cause a scene, considering everything that happened. She let me know that you apologized to her, and how you helped her out the rest of the year.”


Victoria’s face reddened a bit. “What I did to her was horrible. I saw the letters her mother and aunt wrote her. I thought my parents were tough, but those two women are just evil.”


Max nodded in agreement. “At least Kate got away from them. Her children’s books are doing well. I’m really happy for her.”


Victoria nodded in agreement. “Who knew the adventures of a little bunny rabbit would be so popular? It’s hard to believe she’s one of the most successful people from our school.”


“Barring you, of course.”


Victoria grinned, ignoring the sarcasm.


“Naturally.”


She then looked at her watch. “Well, I actually do have to get out to that site and scout around. How about I pay for this lens?”


Max nodded and ran the transaction for her. She then took a card from the desk and wrote on the back of it, and handed it to Victoria. “Here’s my business card. I put my cell on the back, if you ever want to call me. It was actually nice seeing you.”


Victoria looked at the card, which featured two pirate girls. She raised an eyebrow at Max, who said, “That’s me and Chloe when we were kids. We always pretended to be the pirates of Arcadia Bay.”


“She really meant a lot to you, didn’t she?”


“Yeah. I miss her.”


“Umm. Well. I’m in town all week. I’ll try and contact you to see if we can get together some time.”


“I’d like that. Have a good day, Victoria.”


“You, too, Max.”


Victoria headed out to her car. She looked back and Max waved to her. She smiled back as she got in and started up.


I can’t believe we talked, and I have her number. What a fucked up day. Did Jefferson actually hurt her, or was I reading too much into it? Should I call her? Is she just being nice? She still misses Chloe. She must hate me. I don’t fucking know.


She drove back to Portland, and spent the afternoon getting some practice shots and planning some set-ups.

Chapter Text

That night, Victoria logged into video chat with Taylor and Courtney. Taylor looked tired, and Victoria could hear a little boy running around yelling in background. She grinned as Taylor yelled, “Adam! You are supposed to be in bed. Don’t make me come get you!”

A quick reply of “Sorry, Mom!” and the noise stopped. Victoria and Courtney both laughed at that, while Taylor closed her eyes and held her forehead.

“I see that mom life is going well.”

“Ha. Ha. He drives me crazy, but I love him. I wish Mike was home. He’s on another business trip, out to Dallas. He won’t be home for three more days.”

Taylor had married Mike a couple years after high school. They’d moved to Houston for his job. She’d gotten pretty lucky, as he was an engineer and already doing very well for himself. Unfortunately, he also worked a lot. Taylor put on a good front, but Victoria could tell that it bothered her.

“Hey. He’s putting away money for Adam’s education, not to mention that really nice home you live in. I’m sure in a few years he’ll get stuck at a desk and then you’ll wish he was on the road.”

Taylor smiled, nodding. Courtney nodded, too.

“Court, how’s Saks? Still getting lots of crazy bitches shopping there?”

Courtney nodded, replying, “Yep. It’s amazing how many of them know nothing about clothes, yet they act like I’m clueless when I give suggestions. Half of them have knock-off purses, and don’t even realize it.”

Victoria and Taylor laughed. It was so true.

“Any luck with your store? I love the burgundy skirt with the hidden pockets. I’ve told a bunch of people about it.”

Courtney shrugged, “Not really. I’ve sold a few things here and there, but it’s tough. There are so many other people out there with big names already, not many people look for my brand.”

Courtney lived in LA, and spent her off time making clothes and selling them from a website she built. She’d named it Vortex Fashion, which Victoria privately cringed over. Not that she’d ever tell Courtney that. Victoria really liked a fair amount of the clothes, but fashion is a cut-throat industry. She wore a few of Courtney’s outfits when she was at shoots and events, trying to help get the word out.

“Don’t worry. You’re smart and really talented. Sooner or later, your stuff will take off.”

Courtney smiled, “I hope it’s soon. You can’t believe how much working retail sucks, even at a high end place. At least the commissions are really good.”

Victoria and Taylor nodded. They’d consoled Courtney more than once when she’d had a really bad day at work.

Victoria tried changing the subject. “So, are you and Jack still an item?”

Courtney rolled her eyes. “Hell, no. He turned into a total jerk after we had sex a few times. He acted more like my boss than a boyfriend. He’s gone. You were right, Taylor.”

Damn it. She hit a landmine.

Victoria and Taylor both nodded. They knew it might happen, but still felt bad about it. Courtney had been head over heels for the guy a few months back. She thought he would be the one. Taylor had experience with guys like Jack before, and she tried to warn her, but it didn’t help. Victoria just kind of listened and offered support, but stayed out of offering any advice. Not like she had any real experience in that department.

They spent a few minutes bitching about Jack the Jackass, as Taylor immediately dubbed him, which caused Courtney to laugh even as she looked like she was ready to cry.

Taylor then asked, “Victoria. Any fine ladies in your life? You certainly meet enough models.”

Victoria looked down, suddenly a bit nervous. Both Taylor and Courtney started talking. “Who is it? You have a new girl?”

“Well, not really. But I did run into someone we all know, that I haven’t seen in years. I don’t even know how I should feel about her.”

Now her friends look concerned. Taylor asked, “Okay… I’m guessing it’s someone from Blackwell. How about a name?”

Victoria whispered, “Max.”

“Oh shit.” “Wow! How is she?”

Chapter Text

Victoria looked up, and said, “She seems to be doing well. She has a photography store just south of Portland. It’s actually really nice. She has a Leica collection that I really want to go through some more.”

Both of her friends rolled their eyes at that. Before they could say anything, Victoria continued, “She looks almost the same as she did back at Blackwell. She was even wearing the same kind of clothes.”

Courtney jumped in, “Seriously? T-shirt and a hoodie? I showed her some different outfits that she would look good in. I thought she liked them. Why does no one ever listen to me when I’m talking clothes? Merde!”

Victoria nodded, “I remember. Of course, that was only a few days before she left, so I guess she was still too messed up for it to really stick.”

Courtney shrugged, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Heck, we were all acting like we were her friends, even though a week before we were awful to her.”

Victoria frowned. The memory was not a good one. She didn’t even apologize at the time, just acted nice and thought that would make up for what she did. It wasn’t until Max left the school that she really understood how badly she had messed up.

Taylor asked, “So, how’d it go? Please tell me you didn’t say something stupid and piss her off. I can’t handle another six months of you pining over the girl.”

“Hey! I was not pining over anyone! I just felt bad about Nathan and being mean to her.”

Both of her friends groaned at that. Ok, maybe I had been a little over the top about missing Max. It wasn’t my damn fault that my only real rival in photography had left without saying a word!

Courtney said, “If you say so. Was she mad at you?”

“No. It was kind of awkward, but I apologized for how I treated her back then. She really gives off a mature vibe now, though she did make a stupid pun about liking Leica cameras.”

Taylor snorted, and Courtney grinned.

Taylor said, “Yeah, she never misses a pun.”

Courtney asked, “So, you guys made up? Will you see her again?”

Victoria leaned back. “I don’t know. She did give me her number and asked me to call, but she also talked about Chloe. I’m not sure what to think. Nathan killed her, and at the time, he was my best friend. I still think I could have stopped him, if I had paid more attention.”

Taylor said, “Nate was a wreck, and what he did isn’t your fault. Max gave you her number. Call her.”

Courtney nodded, “Yes! She’d never do that if she wasn’t interested in talking with you some more.”

“Are you sure about that? Max was super nice to everyone. She could have just offered her number to be nice, and not really meant it. It would be super awkward if I tried meeting with her again and she really hoped I didn’t.”

Courtney said, “That’s how you act, not Max. She is really nice, but she’d never pretend to like you if she didn’t.”

Victoria scowled. “What? I don’t do that!”

Taylor and Courtney started laughing. “Ok, maybe I do. But it’s normal! Heck, I’d never have gotten anywhere if I didn’t play that game.”

Her friends agreed with her on that. Business politics was a nightmare.

Taylor said, “Max isn’t like you. She’s nice in general, but she also doesn’t try to hang out with people unless she likes them. Heck, the only people I ever saw her spend any amount of time with were Kate, Dana, and that Warren guy. Kate and Max were two peas in a pod, and once Dana decides that she likes you, you are pretty much forced to hang out with her. Warren was stalking her, but I don’t think Max realized it. At least he ended up with Brooke, who was basically stalking him. Those two deserved each other.”

Victoria scowled at the mention of Warren. What a creep.

Courtney added, “Yeah! Everyone liked Max, but she was very picky about who she actually hung out with.”

Taylor said, “I’m not too sure she actually realized most people liked her. She was kind of dense about that stuff.”

“Max wasn’t dense!”

Both of her friends looked at her silently. Why the hell did I jump to Max’s defense like that, when it wasn’t even necessary? Damn, I’m a mess.

“I guess I’ll call her. At least I’ll know one way or the other if I should worry about her anymore.”

“Great!” “Just make sure you actually call her.”

“I get it! I will. I just hope it’s not a mistake.”

Victoria glanced at the clock. “I do have to get up early tomorrow. It was great seeing you. I really miss all three of us hanging out together.”

They spent a few minutes saying goodbyes, and Victoria finally closed her laptop. She flopped onto the hotel bed, and lay there.

Should I call Max? I guess I should? Is this a bad idea? Tomorrow I’ll do it! Maybe we can at least get dinner or something.

After laying there for twenty minutes, going back and forth in her mind, she finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Victoria pulled into the factory parking lot around 5 AM. She had maybe an hour before the sun poked up above the horizon. Sunrise photos always looked better, in her opinion.

This is way too damn early. The things I do for some pictures. Why couldn’t the golden hour be at noon? Dang, this place looks haunted at night. I hope there aren’t any crazy bums around.

I look like hell. Max would probably laugh if she saw me right now. My hair is mussed up, I have barely any make-up on, and I’m wearing cargo pants. I’m a total fashion disaster. I love these pants, though! So many pockets!

She took her backpack with all of her gear and made her way to a spot that overlooked the main building, facing east. She was pretty sure she’d get some great shots here.

I think the sunrise will show around the smoke stacks. A shot of the sun between them will look really cool.

The sky started to get brighter, and had a beautiful pink tone. There were a fair amount of clouds out, and they looked amazing. She started snapping photos. About fifteen minutes later, she got a bunch of shots of the sun just clearing the woods to the east. Its rays reflected off the buildings, giving them a warm glow. Victoria was in her element. She moved to the locations she had picked yesterday, stopping at each and snapping pictures rapid-fire.

Two hours passed, with her working hard to get the right angles for each shot. Finally, it started to get cloudier and darker.

Damn, I was on a roll. Figures it would want to rain today. Guess it’s time to bust out the rain gear. Heck, this place will probably look really spooky when it’s dark and rainy. It will add a nice contrast to the other shots.

She got out her heavy rain jacket and put it on. Then she found her black umbrella hat and put it on, as well. It looks goofy, but it keeps the lens dry and I can keep working.

The rain started coming down. It was steady, but not too heavy to work in. Victoria tried some new locations, and got some shots that were actually kind of creepy. The place really did have a sinister feel to it, now that the sun was hidden and everything was gleaming wet.

After an hour, she figured she had enough photos for the day. She finished it off with her own little tradition. Selfie time!

She got out her umbrella stand and put her camera on it. Then she picked up a curved stick she found on the edge of the lot. She went back to the camera and set it up for remote pictures. Then she took a bunch of selfies of herself posing as a samurai. She looked up from under her umbrella hat and imagined herself as Ogami Ittō from “Lone Wolf and Cub”. The camera kept clicking as she faced it. After a few minutes, she turned off the remote and checked the camera. Many of her selfies were just plain silly, but a few really did make her look like some cool modern samurai.

Ok, that was fun! Definitely different from my normal selfies, but hey, no one’s here to judge me! I can do what I want!

She went back to her car and packed everything away. Then she checked her messages and saw a text from her assistant, Shanna.

Shanna: Hey, Vicky! Hope things are going well down there. It’s all rain in Seattle. Joe Riggins asked about your shoot. I told him you were on location. I’ve sent out some feelers to those mags we talked about last week. I’ll let you know if I hear anything!

Victoria: Sounds good. I’ve already got a bunch of shots this morning. I’ll forward some samples to you later. Bye.

Shanna was a recent Blackwell graduate, and she was doing a good job. Victoria had to train her on how she wanted things done, but the girl was a fast learner. She was also really good at talking with clients, and that made her invaluable. She saved Victoria a lot of phone calls.

She was a bit annoyed at Joe calling. He worked at Pacific Northwest magazine, and was the reason she was here in the first place. He had hired her for some shots for an expose on businesses that were prominent decades ago, but were now gone. It was kind of depressing, but Victoria was determined to do the best work possible.

Of course, the clown just gave me a list of names and addresses, and I had to check them all out on the internet and let him know which ones would actually be worth photographing. Nothing like doing his job for him. Well, he’s getting billed for all that time, not to mention me having to deal with the local yokels to even be allowed here.

The rain got heavier as she sat there, hitting her windshield with an increasing volume.

Looks like I got done just in time.

She shot out a text with a few of her selfies to Taylor and Courtney. A few seconds later, her phone chimed.

Taylor: Lol! You are such a cornball! You should include these in your portfolio! :-p

Courtney:  Funny! At work! ttyl!

Victoria: T, maybe when I own the Chase Space I’ll put them on display. ;P

Victoria: Court, I hope you have a great day at work!

Taylor: That would cause your parents to have a stroke. You should do it!

It probably would. Heaven forbid someone have fun photos in such an avant-garde gallery.

Taylor: Sooooooo. Did you call Max?

Victoria: Not yet! I was working! I’ll call her soon, mom!

Taylor: Ouch. Low blow! But call her, for real!

Victoria: Gonna do it right now. See ya! Don’t let Adam drive you too crazy!

Taylor: Bye! Best of luck!

I guess I have to call Max now. Damn, I hope this isn’t a terrible idea.

She grabbed Max’s business card and looked at the number. Holy hell. Her handwriting is cute.

She entered it into her phone, saving it. She huffed, closing her eyes, and then hit dial.

 

Chapter Text

The phone rang twice before Max picked up. “Hello?”

“Hi, Max. This is Victoria.” Don’t sound nervous.

“Oh, hi Victoria! It’s good to hear from you! How’s your day going?”

“I just finished up shooting for the day, and thought maybe I could stop by the store and hang out?”

“Sure! I’m here. Swing by whenever you’re free. It’ll be cool to talk for a bit.”

“Give me an hour or two. I do want to check out your inventory.”

“I’m sure you do!”

Wait… Is she flirting with me? No way!

*cough* “Au revoir, Max.”

Victoria hung up. Holy shit! Maybe she actually does like me! No. There’s no way. Fuck, I look terrible. I have to go change.

Victoria drove back to her hotel, parked, and got the bellhop to help her get her gear to her room. After tipping him, she took out the memory cards from her camera. She put one into her laptop and started copying it to the hard drive. The other she put into in a hard plastic case with lots of soft pockets, which she then stored in the room’s safe. You can never have too many back-ups.

She took a quick shower; then decided what to wear. She picked out a nice dark yellow blouse and a dark tan skirt, but looking outside at the rain, picked out some black slacks instead. No way I’m going to look like a slob in front of Max. I wish the weather was nice. That skirt would be so much better.

She got dressed; then sat down at her laptop. She flipped through a bunch of today’s photos, selecting ten that were decent but not amazing.

She emailed them to Shanna, adding, “Here’s some shots from today. Run them through Photoshop and show me what you can do.”

She liked giving her assistant some hands-on work. It gave her practice, and also let her show off a bit. Victoria would review them in a few days, and give her pointers and compliments. “A photographer is always learning, or they will fade away and be forgotten”, as Father would say.

She then closed everything up, put on some nice chelsea boots, and grabbed a jacket. She headed back downstairs, then out to her car. The rain had slowed down a little while she was in her room. She hopped in, turned on the local pop station, and drove south.

It took her about 20 minutes to reach the strip mall. The parking lot was mostly empty, but she still parked away from everyone else. It was now just drizzling a bit. Enough to be annoying, but that was it.

Victoria exited her car and walked to Pirate Photography, underneath her umbrella. She noticed the picture from Max’s business card was also on the window. She and Chloe were so close. Fucking Nathan.

She pushed open the door, admiring all of the cameras before her. The bell tingled above her. She shook her head. Of course, Max would think that is cool.

She started walking back to the Leica section, when she heard Max say, “Hi, Victoria!”

Max popped up from behind the shelves to the right, a big grin on her face.

Victoria stopped, and smiled back, replying, “Hi, Max! Trying to scare me?”

Max laughed. “Maybe a little.”

She came around the corner, still smiling. Max was wearing a dark flower-patterned blouse and jeans, along with brown clogs. She looks great. Definitely nicer than yesterday.

“No hoodie? I’m shocked!”

“I don’t wear hoodies every day. Just sometimes. They’re really comfy.”

Victoria arched an eyebrow. “If you say so. I just think you look much better in that style of outfit. Why downplay your looks? You’re really pretty.” Oh shit, did I just say that out loud? Shit!

“Err, I mean, you need to appear your best for customers.” Umm, that’s the best I could say? Dammit! Oh, no. I’m blushing!

Max laughed again. “It’s okay, Victoria. Thanks for the ego boost, though!”

Victoria noted what might be a slight blush on Max’s cheeks.

“You know what? Let’s go look at your Leica stuff. This is too damn awkward.”

Victoria turned and quickly walked towards the Leica sign, her head slightly down. Fuck. There is no way I can salvage this. She’s going to be making fun of me for years for this. I’m sure Kate will get a real kick out of hearing how I got all flustered and dumb.

Standing in front of the case, her eyes lit up. The brand new Leica SL2 was set front and center. “Oh, you have it in stock already!”

Max walked past her, her shoulder lightly brushing Victoria’s left arm. Max said, “Yep! Just came in a couple days ago. Of course, you’d notice it right away.”

Max touched me! Was it on purpose? Why am I so worked up over this? I want that camera. 47 Megapixels! It will be a nice upgrade. I need it for my work!

“How much for it?” Don’t sound too excited. You’re a sophisticated, famous photographer. It’s just a camera. You have dozens in your office.

“It’s 6,000 bucks. Not sure it will ever sell. Most locals are tapped out around the 2,000 dollar point. I probably shouldn’t have gotten it in, but it helps me keep my dealer license with them.”

“I’ll take it.” Fuck these local wannabes. That camera is mine!

“Really? You don’t have to, Victoria.”

“Oh no, I want it! I was going to order one when I got back to Seattle. Now I don’t have to.”

Yes! It’s mine! Fuck you, Amazon!

Max smiled, “Alright. Is there anything else you wanted with it? Maybe a battery and some memory cards?”

Victoria nodded. “Yes. One battery, two memory cards. Oh, and that vintage camera bag.”

Max laughed. “I guess I can close the store for today. Let me get all of that for you.”

After a few minutes, the items were paid for and in a bag, ready to go.

Victoria asked, “Mind if we leave that behind the counter? How about we get some food or something?”

Max nodded, “Sure, let’s go next door to Joe’s. He has great coffee and some really good sandwiches and soups.”

“Wait. His name is really Joe? It’s not just a marketing gimmick?”

Max nodded. “Yep. Of course, he says that just means that he was destined to make great coffee.”

Victoria laughed. “You two must get along great, with jokes like those.”

Max nodded, then led them to the entrance. She flipped the sign over to closed, and stuck a hand-written note beside it that said she’d be back in an hour or so.

They then headed next door to the coffee shop.

Chapter Text

Max went in first. The tell-tale ring of a bell sounded as the door opened. Glancing up, Victoria saw another bell, very similar to the one in Max’s shop. “Did you two buy these bells as a set?”

Max laughed. “No. The guy who owns the plaza put them in every shop. It was there when I moved in. I do love it, though.”

“Of course you would.” Wait, that was really bitchy.

“I mean, it definitely fits your style.”

Max gave her a bemused expression, then turned and waved at a big Italian guy behind the counter. “Hi, Joe! I brought a friend today!”

Joe smiled at them. He was a very handsome, though overweight, man in his thirties. Victoria felt annoyed. I hope he isn’t flirting with Max all of the time.

“Hey, bella! What can I do for you today?” Yes, he is flirting. Asshole.

“My usual coffee, and I think I’ll have a BLT with it.”, Max replied.

Victoria walked over to the counter, looking at the menu. “I’ll have a caramel macchiato, tomato soup, and a BLT as well.”

Joe nodded, “Got it! Max, here’s your coffee. Find a table and I’ll bring everything out to you in a couple minutes.”

Max led them to a table by the front window, holding a ceramic coffee mug, and sat facing her store. I guess she wants to make sure she doesn’t miss any customers.

 Victoria sat down, looking around the room. There were several other people at different tables, some talking, some working on laptops. The décor was pretty nice: wood panels and tables, a hardwood floor, and pictures of Italy on the wall. It wasn’t too big, but it felt comfy. It was also warm and dry, which was really nice after this morning’s weather.

Victoria noticed that Max was looking at her, and smiled, “Like what you see?”

Max’s eyes opened wide. “I was just thinking that you still look like you did at Blackwell. Your hair’s a little longer, but everything else is the same.”

Victoria replied, “I grew it out a little. I didn’t want to look too butch to clients. I have to say, you look almost exactly the same. You are dressed a lot better today. Courtney would be thrilled at the improvement.”

“Butch? You looked more like Audrey Hepburn than some rough bar girl.”

“Wow! Now that’s a compliment. I could only dream of looking as good as Audrey did. She was so gorgeous.”

Max grinned, blushing slightly. Does she really think I’m that good looking? No way!

They heard Joe coming towards them, and turned as he brought a tray of food to them. Victoria’s soup was much bigger than she expected, and so was her drink. The BLT looked really good, as well.

“Here’s your food! I’ll bring you a refill in a minute, Max.” With a wave, he went back to his bar.

Victoria looked at her meal. “This is a lot of food.” No way I’m going to eat all of this.

Max nodded, “You won’t go hungry here. The coffee refills are free, too, as long as you are buying food.”

“Not the macchiato, though, right?”

Max shook her head, “Nope. He has good deals, but he’s not dumb. You do get a bigger cup than you would elsewhere, though.”

Victoria nodded. She grabbed her spoon and tasted the tomato soup. Her eyes got big, and she quickly took another bite. This is really good! I wish this guy was set up next to my home office! I bet the sandwich is also good.

She picked up her BLT and took a bite. It was pretty much perfect.

Max laughed. “I guess you like the food, huh?”

Victoria nodded; then took another bite of her sandwich. Max waved to Joe and gave him a thumbs-up. He gave her one back and laughed.

Victoria said, “You two seem awfully friendly.”

Max nodded, “Joe’s a great guy. I’ve introduced him to some girls I know, and he’s been dating Christy for the last few months. I’m really happy for them. They get along great.”

“You’re a little match-maker? I wouldn’t have expected that, considering how shy you were.”

“I’ve changed. I still get nervous with people, but I’m a lot better than I used to be. Heck, I haven’t said anything too embarrassing to you, and that’s about as rough as it gets!”

Victoria stopped for a second. Max is still a little scared of me, isn’t she? Yet she is still willing to go to lunch. I don’t get it.

“Max. I may tease you a bit if you do something goofy, but I really don’t mean anything by it. To be honest, I’m nervous, too. I know how badly I acted back then, and I still feel terrible about it.”

“Yeah, I understand. It’s just hard to break old habits.”

Victoria nodded. I certainly get stuck in the past when I see you. I feel a bit differently than you do, though.

Joe came over and refilled Max's mug. Max and Victoria both complimented him on the food.

Victoria continued eating, and then asked, “Is your store doing well? It seems like it would be a hard business to be in, when everyone has a camera in their phone.”

Max shrugged. “I’m paying the bills, but I’ll never get rich. I love it, though. I get to talk to all of the local photography geeks, which is a lot of fun. There are more people than you think who still want a real camera.”

“True. It must be rough competing with the internet, though.”

Max nodded, “Yeah. A lot of people still like to be hands-on with a camera before buying it, though. It’s a big purchase. I try to teach them the basics, and people appreciate that. I know a few people keep buying from me just because I taught them what to do.”

“That’s great!” Should I open up the can of worms or no? Fuck it. In for a penny...

“So, what happened after you left Blackwell? I mean, if you want to tell me.”

Max shrugged, looking down. “I went back to my parents. I had to go to therapy for a while. I ended up just getting a GED. I couldn’t face going back to school at the time.”

“Oh. I… Hell, I wish that week had never fucking happened.”

“You and me both.”

Max stood up. “I think I’d better get back to the store.”

Victoria nodded. They went to the counter and paid for their meals.

Joe asked, “Only two cups, today? You’re slacking, Max!”

Max shrugged, “I can’t be the coffee-chugging champ every day!”

Joe laughed. He looked at Victoria and said, “You didn’t finish your soup, young lady!”

She shrugged. “It was a lot bigger bowl than I expected. It was really delicious though. Same with the sandwich!”

Joe nodded, smiling.

The girls left the shop and went back into Pirate Photography.

The rain continued.

Chapter Text

The store was empty except for the two of them. Max flipped the sign back to open and took down her note. They wandered back through the aisles, Victoria pausing to look at various pieces of gear.

Max asked, “How did the shoot go this morning? I’m guessing you changed clothes, or was it something fancy with a model?”

“I changed back at my hotel. You’d probably laugh if you saw my work outfit. It’s very practical.”

Max snorted. “I can’t believe you’d risk being seen in anything but the most recent, most expensive outfit available.”

Victoria gave her a deadpan look. “I tried that for a few months when I first graduated. It was a disaster. It kind of worked when I was shooting a model in a prepared space, but not when I’m outside taking landscape shots. This morning I was photographing an old factory for a magazine article. There’s no way I’d wear anything fancy at that site.”

“Do you have any of the pictures with you? I’d love to see them.”

“Well, I have some okay shots I emailed to my assistant, for her to practice Photoshop on, but nothing really good. I honestly didn’t think to bring them with me.”

“Let’s see!”

Max led her over to a computer behind the counter. Victoria got online and checked her email. The inbox was empty. She checked the sent folder and downloaded the photos to Max’s computer.

Max pulled them up and looked them over. “I really like how you framed the smoke stacks with the sun. And this rainy shot showing the building and all those shadows looks cool.”

Victoria shrugged, “Well, these aren’t my best work. That’s kind of why I picked them out. Shanna, my assistant, gets to try and make these look really good. It’s fun seeing what she does.”

“Cool. Are you two really close?”

“Not really. She’s a nice girl, but our relationship is strictly work. No way I’m going to risk lawsuits or anything else by dating my subordinate.”

“Dating? I didn’t realize you liked girls that way. You certainly hid it well.”

Oh, shit. That did not come out the way I meant. Fuck. Damn it. May as well scare her away now, so I don’t get my hopes up just to find out that she hates gays.

 “There are lots of things you don’t know about me. Yes, I saw the graffiti back at school, but I most certainly did not love the dick. Those clowns only wished I did. I was stuck in the closet, though. The only people who knew were Nathan, Taylor, and Courtney. They didn’t really care, and certainly wouldn’t have told anyone else.”

“Oh. I guess I never did see you dating anyone. I just heard the rumors from the parties.”

“Yeah, how many rumors do you know that turned out to be true? It’s usually just jealous assholes spreading them.”

Max shrugged, “Most of them. I should know. Enough were spread about me.”

Victoria looked down. I was the one who started most of them. Damn, I was such a bitch.

Max asked, “So, did you just go through your senior year without dating anyone?”

“Yeah. I was terrified that if everyone knew I was a lesbian, I’d lose whatever status I still had left. What with the Vortex Club being shut down and me being friends with Nathan, I was not really popular with many people. I was still rich and had my girls Taylor and Courtney, but we just became our own little clique. There weren’t any girls there that I wanted to date anyway, after you left.” Wait. I did not just say that out loud. Fuck!

 Max looked at her, then shyly looked away. “Is that why you always teased me? Did you like me but were too scared to say anything? That’s kind of grade school.”

Victoria nodded, “Tell me about it. I had never even tried to date another girl. I did have a thing for Rachel, but that went nowhere at all. She wasn’t interested. I wanted to talk to you, but you were most definitely not cool enough for the Vortex Club, and I had spent a couple years making sure I was the queen of it.”

“I think you would have been surprised how well I’d have fit in if you’d asked me to date you.”

“Umm, are you saying you would have dated me?” Is Max gay?

Max looked down, her cheeks a little red. “Yeah, maybe. Though I think I would have tried to make you act nicer. It was a total turn-off how you treated everyone like dirt.”

Victoria  nodded, “I was a huge jerk back then. I wasn’t even sure if you were into girls. I kind of suspected, but you spent a lot of time with Warren, so I thought you were straight.” Max is gay!

“Warren was just a friend. He definitely liked me as more, but I wasn’t really interested in him that way. I have dated guys before. It’s different, but I guess I like both.” Max is bi! Not as cool, but still!

“Wow. I wish I’d have known that back then. Of course, it’s probably better that I didn’t. I’d have likely made fun of you for being a hipster dyke.”

Max looked at her, hard. “I’m glad you didn’t. I’d have never forgiven you for it.”

Victoria frowned. “Yeah, I wouldn’t blame you. I couldn’t imagine someone doing that to me back then. I’d have probably freaked out and done something really stupid.” I’m so glad that never happened. I’d have probably jumped off of the roof.

Max smiled, “Luckily, that never happened.”

Victoria nodded, “Yeah.”

Max glanced down, and scratched her hair. She then looked up and said, “I know you get to meet a lot of gorgeous women, and you are really successful. Have you managed to find someone special in the last few years?”

Wait. She wants to know if I’m single? Is she actually still interested in me? After how I’d treated her? Am I going crazy?

Breathing in, just a little shakily, Victoria replied, “I’ve dated a couple girls, but nothing serious. The last girl was almost a year ago.”

Max smiled.

 

Chapter Text

They both jumped a little as the door opened and the bell rang. Fuck! I hate that bell!

Max got up and walked towards the front, as Victoria fumed a little. She heard Max say, “Hi, Tom! How can I help you today?”

He replied, “I have to get a few more memory cards. Too many weddings are happening.”

They both laughed, as Victoria sat by the counter and rolled her eyes. She grabbed her bag and pulled out her new Leica, still in the box. Several minutes passed, as she half-listened to Max and Tom talk about cameras. She was reading the box as she heard them approach.

She heard the man say, “Oh, wow.” He had stopped walking. Victoria looked up, and saw him staring at her. Oh, no.

The man got an excited look on his face as he approached, saying, “Excuse me. You wouldn’t happen to be Victoria Chase, would you?”

Somebody recognizes me! Why now?

Victoria smiled, replying, “Yes. It’s nice to meet you.”

She put her camera back in the shopping bag and stood up. Tom was a small guy with the standard hipster beard and glasses. He smiled, and said, “I saw the article on you in Photos magazine a few months ago! I never thought I’d see you here, of all places. It’s so cool to meet someone as famous as you in my neck of the woods.”

Victoria said, “Well, I did grow up in Seattle. This isn’t that far from home.”

Tom replied, “I loved the pictures you took for that big article in Traveler on the Austrian countryside. You made everything look magnificent!”

Victoria nodded, saying, “Yes, that was a fun trip. It was a lot of work to get some of those shots just right, but I think it turned out really well.”

Tom said, “Yeah! I’m surprised you found a European Mink out in the wild, and you photographed it just as it was catching a bird. That was really awesome! I’m surprised you didn’t win an award for it!”

That was a great shot! I did get a really nice check from the magazine for it. It’ll be in the Chase Space at some point.

“That would have been nice. I saw that mink a few minutes earlier; and just took a ton of pictures as it moved around. The bird landing there was pure luck.”

Victoria noticed Max standing behind Tom, with a huge grin on her face. Max said, “Hey, Tom! Let’s get a picture of you two. Give me your camera!”  What? Really, Max?

Tom nodded, pulled out a Fuji X-T3 camera, and handed it to Max. She waved to them, and Tom walked over and stood next to Victoria. She felt something on her back, and realized he had his hand lightly touching her waist, though he maintained distance between their bodies. Really? Well, at least he doesn’t hover-hand like most people.

Victoria smiled as Max said, “Cheese!” The camera flashed and the picture was over. Tom stepped back, saying, “Thanks, Ms. Chase! Max. This is so cool!”

Tom then fumbled around in one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a worn day planner.

He asked, “If you don’t mind, could you autograph this for me?”

Victoria smiled again, grabbed a pen off of the counter, and signed his book.

Take lots of pictures and best of luck, Tom!

Victoria Chase

She handed it back to him. He read it and smiled at her, “Thanks a lot! It was great to meet you!”

Victoria nodded and smiled.

Tom turned back to Max and bought his memory cards. He smiled and waved as he walked back to the entrance and left the store.

Max started laughing as soon as he was outside. “You should have seen yourself! You are really good at faking it when meeting a fan, though. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were happy to see him.”

“Is that why you suggested the picture?” You knew I wasn’t comfortable, but you had your laugh, I guess. Well, after all the shit I pulled on you, I kind of deserve it.

“Sort of. I also know that Tom is a huge camera nerd, and he’s probably going to post that picture on every website you can think of. It will be good publicity for you.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny. Though you are right about the publicity, I guess.”

The door bell rang again. Seriously? Victoria looked over and saw a man, woman, and little girl enter the building. Max went over to greet them. Victoria watched as they went over to the side wall, which featured cheaper cameras. Max talked with them for ten minutes, showing multiple cameras to the parents and the girl. They picked out a cute pink Instax Mini camera. Victoria smiled as she watched the family pay for it. The little girl looked so happy. I remember when that was me, except Father got me a nice Samsung DSLR to learn with. I hope her parents help her out a lot more than mine did.

Max walked back over to Victoria after the family left. She had a big smile on her face. She said, “I love when parents get their kids a camera. There’s always a chance they will end up being the next Bresson or Arbus.”

“I know. I hope they take the time to really teach her, and make it a lot of fun for her.”

“Yep. They seemed like a nice couple. I think they will.”

“Good. Were your parents the same when you were a child?”

“Yeah. My dad was really into it. Same with William, although Chloe wasn’t all that thrilled with photography. It was my dad’s idea to get the Polaroid. I still love those cameras.” Chloe, again. Those two were so damn close.

“Of course you do. I notice that you sold that family an instant camera. They’re not the same as the old Polaroids, but I’m sure you love them.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, the pictures are a lot smaller, but they do come out much clearer.”

“And they will have to come back to buy film from you. Very convenient.”

Max smiled, “True, but I still think it’s a great beginner camera.”

The door bell rang again. Again? I mean, I’m glad her store is doing well, but holy heck, I want to talk to her!

Max shrugged, and looked over to the entrance. It was a couple of young women. She turned back to Victoria and said, “I hate to say it, but I am getting busy. I also have a class to teach tonight for some people. I’ve really liked talking to you again. I am closing tomorrow at six. Would you want to come by then and we can go get dinner somewhere nice? I mean, if you are interested.”

That last sentence came out a bit quieter as Max looked down, appearing nervous.

Dinner at a nice restaurant? Like a date? Yes! Yesyesyesyesyes!

Victoria responded, “I’d love that. I am in town for a few more days. You’ll have to pick the restaurant, though. I don’t really know the area. Don’t worry about cost. It’ll be my treat.”

Max smiled, “If you really want to. I can afford to split the bill.” Nope! Not this time!

“Max, I want to pay. It’ll make it feel like a real date.” Was that too much? Did I just freak her out?

Max blushed, replying, “Alright. I won’t choose a really fancy place, so you don’t have to go crazy picking out a dress. After all, I have to wear my outfit to work before we go.”

Max then leaned forward and gave Victoria a quick hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Victoria. Don’t be too late.”

Victoria smiled, feeling absolutely jubilant, “Don’t worry, I won’t be. I’ll see you then. Ciao!”

She waved at Max, then grabbed her bag and umbrella and headed out to her car. The rain had stopped. This is the best day of my life!

She smiled the whole way back to her hotel.

Chapter Text

Once she arrived, she quickly parked and went up to her room. It’s kind of chilly in here.

She turned up the heat in the room and then changed into her silk pajamas. Still feeling a little cold, she pulled out her thick, fluffy robe and put it on too. Father says I pack too much stuff. Ha! I love this robe!

She snuggled into it, opened her laptop, and started sorting the photographs she’d taken today. One file was for keepers, one for maybes, and one for her selfies. Quite a few pictures went straight to the recycling bin.

After an hour of this, she ordered room service for a hot chocolate and a greek wrap from the hotel restaurant. She shivered as she went to the door to get her food. The maid looked at her funny as she brought the food in, but happily received the nice tip Victoria handed her. I wonder what she was looking at?

Victoria walked over to the mirror, but she looked fine. Her face was a little red, but that was probably from the sun and wind while working outside. Maybe she didn’t expect someone staying in a good room to be outdoors. Anyway, time to chat!

She turned on her chat program, started eating her wrap, and waited a few minutes. Courtney’s icon popped up, and Victoria added her.

Courtney smiled at her, and asked, “Hey, Victoria! How was your date with Max? I need details!”

Victoria laughed, “You’ll have to wait a few until Taylor shows up. I’ll just say it was good. How about you? Was work okay?”

Courtney nodded, “Yes, it was about normal. No really big sales, but lots of decent ones. It makes for a decent payday.”

“That’s good. I hope you get a few big spenders in before the week is out.”

Courtney nodded, “Me, too! You never know when it will happen.”

Victoria started sipping on her hot chocolate, when Taylor’s icon popped up. She quickly added her. Both Victoria and Courtney greeted Taylor, smiling.

Taylor said, “Hi, besties! How did your days go?”

Courtney answered, “Not bad. I’m dying to find out about Victoria and Max, but she wouldn’t tell me anything until you were here!”

They all laughed at that; then Victoria said, “I had a good time. We just had soup and sandwiches at this coffee place right next to Max’s store. They make the best damn tomato soup ever, and the BLT was also really good. I couldn’t even finish everything.”

Courtney said, “Sounds great! Did Max tell you what she’s been up to since Blackwell?”

Taylor nodded, looking concerned, but didn’t say anything.

Victoria said, “I feel bad about it. She went back to Seattle and ended up in therapy.”

Taylor replied, “Oh, damn. I was worried something like that happened.”

Courtney frowned, and looked down.

Victoria continued, “It’s even worse than that. She never even went back to school. She just got a GED, instead. She was really fucked up, and it’s my fault for letting Nathan be a complete asshole and not calling him on it.”

Taylor interrupted, “Victoria, stop right there. I am not going down that rabbit hole again. It wasn’t your fault; it was Nathan’s shitty father and that psycho Jefferson who made him crazy. Stop saying it’s your fault, when it’s not. Nathan pulled the damn trigger, not you.”

Easy for you to say.

“Ok, I won’t say anymore about that. She was wearing a really nice flowery blouse today. She looked so good. It’s amazing how much better she looks when she tries.”

Courtney cheered, “Yes! Maybe she did pay attention to me. Or was she just dressing up for you?”

Victoria blushed, “Maybe. I didn’t even think of that. She did invite me out tomorrow to eat at a nice restaurant.”

Taylor replied, “Wait! You’re just now saying that?”

Courtney got a huge grin on her face and pumped her hand in the air. “You go, girl!”

“Yep! I have a real date with her, not just hanging out for lunch!” Victoria smiled so hard she felt giddy. She half stood up in a cheer, but then sat back down with a thud, kind of dizzy.

Woah, that doesn’t feel right.

Both of her friends look really concerned.

Courtney asked, “Are you okay? What just happened?”

Taylor said, “Victoria, you are sick. Do you have a fever?”

Victoria shrugged, “I don’t know. I’m actually feeling really chilled.”

Taylor said, “Do you have a thermometer? I know you usually travel like you’re going on a six month trip.”

Victoria nodded, “I think so. Hold on. I’ll look for it.”

She got up and went to the dresser. She pulled out a small bag and checked it. She pulled out an electric thermometer and went back to the desk, swaying a bit as she walked. I do feel a bit dizzy.

She sat back down and scanned her forehead. After a few seconds, she looked at the readout. “Damn. It’s 101.2. I cannot afford to be sick right now!” Shit. All that time out in the rain caught up to me.

Courtney and Taylor both started talking. “Take some cold medicine! You should really log out and go to sleep.” “See a doctor!”

Victoria waved her hand. “I have some cold and flu pills. I’ll take them. I didn’t even realize I was sick. I just felt chilly.” First sign of a fever, dummy! You should know this!

Taylor nodded, “Good. Do it now. Let’s chat again in a few days. I won’t be able to tomorrow.”

Courtney looked worried, and said, “I hope it won’t be too bad. Get lots of rest! Be safe!”

Victoria nodded to them, told them good night, and shut down her laptop. She then went back over to the dresser and pulled out a box of medicine, got a bottled water from the fridge, and took some pills. She wandered over to her bed and face-planted right onto the pillow.

I’m so tired.

She was asleep within minutes.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria woke from a deep sleep. It was still dark out. The lace white curtains around her poster bed moved. A light, cool breeze wafted across her. That’s strange. I know the window was closed.

A dark shadow crossed over her. She looked up to see a tall man, with metallic gold skin and white hair. He smiled at her, revealing long fangs that extended past his lower lip even as she watched.

Her eyes bugged out and she scrambled off the back of the bed. Thumping to the floor, she raced towards the heavy wooden door. The man instantly appeared in front of her, and she bounced off of his chest. He laughed; a rich, deep baritone that terrified her.

“You’re my snack for the night, my dear. Don’t think that you can escape.”

She quickly tried crawling around him, but he kicked her. She flew through the air, landing just below the open window. Her ribs screamed in pain. She suspected they were broken. The man walked towards her. Moonlight splashed across his face, which changed and became that of Father.

He said, “You’re such a disappointment. Doing drugs and sleeping with every girl that gets close to you. Did you actually think that I didn’t know you were a sick pervert who lusted after other women? You should have been a man. At least then I could have grandchildren. Do you really believe I’m going to allow you to acquire the Chase Space? It’s mine.”

His eyes turned red, and if anything, his fangs got even longer. Victoria struggled to stand.

She screamed, “Fuck you! I’m a better photographer than you ever were!”

He laughed. In despair, she spun about and leaped out of the window. His hand barely missed her ankle as she fell, three stories onto the ground.

A few moments of blackness followed, and then Victoria was looking down at her own body. Her body’s neck and left arm were twisted horribly, and blood was splattered all around her. At least I got away from that monster.

A laugh sounded right behind her, and then strong arms surrounded her. She saw golden hands, and tried to turn. Father’s face was right next to hers, his breath hot and smelling of death. “Did you really think that you could escape me, just by dying?”

Victoria bolted straight up in bed, hyperventilating and terrified. She frantically looked around, seeing only the hotel room. She was covered in sweat, and felt dizzy.

What the fuck kind of dream was that? Holy shit, I never, ever want to have a nightmare like that ever again.

Her head throbbed. Ugh, I feel terrible.

Turning slowly, she looked at the clock. It was 1:12. Oh no! Please tell me it’s still night time!

There was way too much light in the room for that to be true, though. Shit! It’s so late already!

She stood up, determined to get a shower and get ready for her big date. The room spun, and she fell right back onto the bed. I want to vomit. It’s so hot in here. Why am I so damn dizzy? I need a few minutes to get my head straight.

Her phone was on the nightstand beside her, so she picked it up, on her second try. It was blinking. She saw a bunch of texts and one missed call. From Max. There was also a voicemail. Oh no, I hope she doesn’t think I’m ghosting her. This is terrible!

She immediately brought Max up in her contacts and hit the number. After two rings, Max answered, “Hi, Victoria. Did you get my message?”

“Umm, not really. I’m really sick, and I just woke up. I called without listening to it.” Like she’s going to believe that. Wait. She wasn’t cancelling our date, was she? Oh, God!

“Really? You’re sick? Ok. I just called to say we’d be going to an Italian place that I like, and you should just wear something semi-casual. I guess not, now?”

She doesn’t believe me! She hates me!

“Seriously, Max, I’m sorry! I have a fever and I’m cold, but then I’m hot. I want to throw up. I’m so tired right now, but I will be there! There’s no way I’m missing this!” God, I sound like I’m desperate. How To Scare Away A Girl 101, Victoria.

“That’s ok, if you are that sick. Have you seen a doctor?”

“No, this just came on last night. I think being outside in the rain and being stressed out caught up to me.”

“Where are you staying? Didn’t room service check on you?”

“I always keep a Do Not Disturb sign up when I’m in a hotel. In any case, I’m at the Curio. It’s a really nice place.”

“Never heard of it. Well, get some rest and don’t worry about tonight. I’ll cancel the reservation. I hope you feel better.”

“Wait! I’m really actually sick. I’m not blowing you off. I do want to go on a date with you, Max.”

“Alright, maybe call me back tomorrow if you feel better. Bye.”

The phone clicked, and she heard it buzzing. She lowered it to her legs, and just flopped back onto the bed. She didn’t believe me. She thinks I reconsidered and don’t want to be with her. I’m such a screw-up. Damn, I feel terrible. She crawled back up and carefully made her way to the dresser. She took a couple more pills, then went to the restroom.

Once she finished, she made it back to her bed and laid back down. My life really sucks. Victoria Chase. Amazing photographer. Always alone because every girl who talks to her for more than a day can’t stand her. Fuck. Why do I always screw up every single chance I get with a girl I like? Every fucking time.

She fell back to sleep, after a little tossing and turning and whining to herself.

After what seemed like only a few seconds had passed, she was woken up by the ringing of her phone. What the heck? Well, at least I didn’t sleep through it this time. Seven o’clock. Well, there goes my date. I hope I can fix this.

Caller ID showed her it was Max. Maybe she’s going to curse me out.

She answered softly, “Hi, Max.”

“Hey, Victoria. What room are you in? I’m in the lobby.”

 

Chapter Text

“Huh?”

“I’m in the lobby of the Curio. That is where you are staying, correct?”

“Yes. I mean, you’re really here, right now?” Oh fuck! Wow! She’s worried about me!

“Yes, and I’d like to come up to your room and see how you’re doing.”

“I’m in 823. I’m really not ready for a visitor, though!” I look terrible! I’ve got no make-up on and my hair’s a mess!

“I’ll be there in a couple minutes.” Max hung up.

No! She can’t see me like this!

Victoria jumped up, absolutely panicked, and almost fell onto the floor. The room was spinning. She realized that she was completely soaked with sweat. She walked over to the restroom, being careful not to trip. Once there, she looked into the mirror. Her shoulders sagged.

I look even worse than I thought. My hair is wet! My eyes and nose are red. This is awful!

She splashed water onto her face, which felt cold and actually really good. She ran some more through her hair, which instantly made her feel a little cooler. She grabbed her brush and tried to fix her hair, but then there was a knock on the door.

Fuck! I need more time! This isn’t fair!

She staggered over to the door, and leaned on it. There was another knock. She looked into the peephole and saw Max. Sighing, she opened the door.

She looked down at the carpet, completely embarrassed, as Max entered the room. Max said, “Damn, Victoria, you weren’t kidding!”

“No shit.” Victoria noticed that Max was carrying a container with her. She shut the door and slowly made her way back to her bed. She felt Max at her left side after a few seconds, helping her to walk.

“Thanks. What’s that?”

“Umm, I got some chicken noodle soup from the restaurant. I thought it would help.”

“I’m not really hungry.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Last night. After I got back here.”

“That’s 24 hours ago! You need to eat!”

Max opened up the container and pulled out a covered bowl and some silverware. Once she took the lid off, Victoria could faintly smell the soup. Her stomach immediately rumbled. She looked away, her face red.

“Sounds to me like you’re hungry.”

“Ok, I guess I am. I just didn’t feel like it until I smelled that soup.”

Victoria turned to Max, pulling the blankets up over her shoulders and over her lap. She took the bowl and carefully started eating. She could sort of taste the broth, even though her senses were incredibly dulled. Max looked at her, then stood up and walked over to the thermostat.

She said, “I’m turning the heat down. It’s an oven in here. No wonder you’re sweating so much. I’m starting to sweat, and I’ve only been in here a couple minutes.”

Victoria kept eating, and watched as Max turned back towards her. She had on a dark blue hip-length jacket, which she took off after a few seconds. She placed it on the chair. Underneath, she had a turquoise dress on, with a silver necklace. She had low heels on her feet, nice but something she could wear all day at work. She looks great. I wish I could take a picture of her right now.

Max sat down at the desk, after turning the chair towards Victoria. She said, “I feel really bad about this. I’d hoped for us to be sitting down eating a great meal right now, instead of you just having some soup.”

Victoria nodded, and set the bowl aside. She’d already finished it. I guess I was really hungry.

“I know. This is certainly not the perfect first date. It was really nice of you to come here, though.”

Max smiled, “Well, I didn’t want you to be alone if you feel so bad. Heck, I also get to see what the really nice hotel rooms look like.”

They both laughed. Victoria felt a head rush, and slowly laid back down. Max got up and hurried over, taking the dinnerware and putting it aside. She sat by Victoria’s side, and reached down, brushing the hair out of her face.

“Hey, your forehead is really hot! When was the last time you took any medicine?”

“After I talked to you on the phone.”

Max looked worried. She asked, “Do you have a thermometer?”

“In the top drawer, in the brown leather dopp kit.”

Max went over and found the bag. She took out the thermometer and walked back over to Victoria. She scanned her forehead and said, “It’s reading 100.9. That’s too high. You’ve been like this since last night?”

“Yes.”

Max stood up and walked to the bathroom. Victoria heard the water in the tub turn on. She came back and said, “Victoria, how about you get in the tub? I set the water so it’s cool, but not too cold. You need to lower your body temperature.”

“What? With you here? I can’t do that!” Oh my God! I can’t be naked in front of Max! We aren’t anywhere close to that! Imagine if she joined me. It would be amazing. No! Not now, when I’m sick! I bet she’s toned and has freckles all over her chest. This is wrong!

“Relax. I’m just going to help you to the bathroom, and you can close the door behind you. I won’t peek.”

I want you to peek! No, I need to be looking great before she sees me like that. This is so wrong! Why is this happening?

 “Don’t wanna.”

Max snorted, and said, “Ok. Get up.”

She reached down and pulled the blanket off of Victoria. Then she took Victoria’s hand and pulled her up. Victoria staggered a bit, but Max quickly braced her and walked her over to the bathroom. Once there, Victoria sat on the closed toilet seat while Max turned off the water.

Max said, “It should be good, now. You really need to do this. I wish you hadn’t turned the heat up so high, or you might already be feeling better.”

Victoria nodded, pouting. Max shook her head and walked out into the room, then turned and closed the door. Victoria waited a minute, then sighed and slowly stood up. She already felt a little better, just from eating. She took off her robe and pajamas and laid them on the seat. I actually slept in my robe? I didn’t even take it off? I must have been out of it.

Then she stepped into the tub. The water felt really cold, and she pulled her foot back out of it. “Hey! This water is freezing!”

She heard Max’s voice through the door, “No, it’s not. You’re just too damn hot! Get in!”

Grimacing, Victoria took a minute to do just that. She felt like she was turning into an icicle, but it also felt good. She slid down and laid flat in the water. Breath rushed out of her as the water closed over her ribs and head. She lay there for several minutes, gradually relaxing. She heard the TV in the room turn on.

I wonder what Max is watching? I’d love to sit on the bed together with her, under the blankets, and watch anime. I wonder if she likes it? She is pretty geeky. I bet she does.

She lay in the water for another ten minutes, half out of it from the fever and daydreaming about Max. Finally, she started feeling colder than before and decided to get up. She slowly stood up, unplugged the drain, and grabbed one of the hotel towels to dry off. She covered herself, cracked the door open, and said, “Hey, Max! Could you go into the middle drawer and get me another pair of pajamas? These ones are gross.”

“Sure thing!” A minute later, Max handed her some red silk pajamas.

Victoria closed the door and got dressed. She went back into the room, to see Max sitting in the chair, watching something about ghosts.

Max turned to her, smiled, and asked, “Feeling any better?”

Victoria nodded and smiled, and went back to sit in her bed. “A little. Definitely better than an hour ago. Thanks for coming over. I really appreciate it.”

Max smiled and said, “I’m glad I did. You had me a little worried. I guess you can call me Doctor Caulfield from now on.”

“Ha! I don’t think so.”

Max stood up, saying, “Well, I guess I’ll be going. Let me know right away if you feel worse. Heck, call me tomorrow when you are up.”

“I will. You’ve been great tonight. Are you sure you can’t stay a little longer?”

“Trying to seduce me already? I have to get into work early tomorrow. I have a bunch of film to develop for a customer. I kind of put it off so I could see you.”

Max put on her jacket.

Victoria smiled, “Well, au revoir, Max. I’ll call you tomorrow. Thank you.”

Max smiled, walked over, and leaned down. She kissed Victoria on the forehead and then stepped back.

“I’m not a little kid, you know.”

“Could have fooled me.”

Max laughed, then turned and left the room.

Victoria stared at the door for several minutes after it closed. Then she watched part of the documentary on poltergeists before falling back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Victoria opened her eyes slowly, the room already bright from the sun. She sat up and smiled. I feel a 1000 percent better today! Totally wasted my Wednesday, though.

She stood up and stretched. Heck, I think that’s the most sleep I’ve gotten in years. Too bad most of it probably didn’t count for much. I feel great!

She picked up the hotel phone and called room service. “This is Victoria in room 823. Could you send me up some pancakes, orange juice, and coffee please? Oh, and please send a cleaning lady later this morning. I need new sheets and a new blanket. Thanks!”

She noticed her phone was blinking. How many texts did I miss yesterday? Do I even want to look?

She went to pick it up and realized it was plugged in. Max must have done that. I certainly didn’t remember to.

She opened it up and checked. Fuck.

Courtney: Hey Victoria! Hope you’re feeling better. You should try peppermint tea if you have a fever! It will help!

At least her heart’s in the right place.

Taylor: Hi, Vic! I hope you’re fever is down. Take a cold shower. It will help.

And there’s the solid advice.

Shanna: How’s things going down there in Portland? I have a new job lined up for you in two weeks down there. It’s just a fashion model for some local magazine. Nothing major. I’ll tell you more when you get back.

Wait? I get to come back in two weeks? More chances to hang out with Max! Yes!

Mother: Victoria, don’t forget we have a dinner with the Coburn family this Saturday. You need to be there.

Yes, mother. Another boring kiss-ass session with the local rich guy, who thinks he knows art. Fuck. Mother is probably trying to set me up with his son. That is going to be torture.

Courtney: Work is so boring today! Only a few window shoppers. Feel better! Miss you!

Poor girl hates her job, but loves clothes, so she forces herself to be there. I wish I could help her out more, but she wants to make it on her own.

Shanna: Joe from PNW mag called. He was hoping to see a few photos today.

What? Fuck him! For someone who works at a magazine, he knows jack-shit about photography.

Taylor: Don’t have kids.

Uh-oh. Adam must have done something really dumb. I bet this will make a good story.

Shanna: Any word on those pics? That clown called me again. I told him we’d send something when it’s ready, so probably not today. He sounded grumpy, but whatever.

That’s it. I’m charging him extra. Fucking asshole.

Shanna: Ok, it’s the end of the day. Are you okay?

No, I was not.

Shanna: Guess you’re out partying hard ;). Please contact me tomorrow re: PNW.

I wish I was partying. If she doesn’t suggest charging that rag extra fees, I’m going to question her judgment. At least I didn’t have to talk to him on the phone. 

Max: Good morning, Victoria! I hope you’re feeling better. I’ll be in the darkroom till 11, so don’t bother calling me before then.

Of course, Max probably loves developing film. It’s almost as “good” as her old Polaroid. Seriously, how did she even keep that thing working?

Max: Do call me after that, though! Sorry if that sounded rude. Bye!

Don’t worry, I’ll be calling you! No way I’m not!

She then started tapping away at her phone.

Victoria: Shanna, I’ll get some shots that are good to you later today. Tell Joe that good photos take time.

Almost immediately, she got a reply.

Shanna: Sounds good! He’s a real jerk. If they weren’t paying so much, I’d be pissed. Seriously, though, you should charge extra for dealing with him.

Victoria: My thoughts exactly. I knew I hired the right girl!

Shanna: You know it! Blackwell alumni are the best!

Victoria: Lol! I was actually sick all day yesterday. Lost the entire day. I will have to be down here for at least Monday and Tuesday to finish up. I didn’t get to that shipyard. I need to spend at least a day there.

Shanna: Ouch! I hope you’re feeling better now. I can’t believe you actually took a day off.

Victoria: First sick day I’ve taken in two years. I’ll definitely take that model shoot in Portland. Heck, if you can find others in this general area, I’m interested.

Shanna: Wait, really? Is there something you’re not telling me?

Victoria: Not a thing.

Shanna: I did see some guy on Instagram was posting a photo of you two at some camera store…

Victoria: Oh, heck no! You know better than that! Now go do some work. Bye!

Shanna: Good luck, Vicky! Make me proud!

Victoria rolled her eyes. That girl loves to gossip. I’m sure she’ll be all over me the day I get back to the office.

She sent another text.

Victoria: Mother, I’ll be there.

She didn’t expect a reply.

There was a knock at the door. She went to it, checked, and let in room service. She tipped the man and started eating.

Chapter Text

After eating way too much, and loving every bite, Victoria got on her laptop. She sent an email to Taylor and Courtney.

[Hey guys! I was really sick yesterday. You were right. I feel much better now. Max came to the hotel last night and fed me! She didn’t stick around too long, though. Probably good, since I don’t want her getting whatever I had. I’ll tell you more later! Bye! Victoria]

She took out her new camera and set it up, and plugged in the battery. I’m going to use this thing today! Even if it’s just for some rough-in shots! I already love this thing!

She then spent an hour and picked out a group of photos that looked pretty good without editing. She emailed Shanna.

[Shanna, I’ve attached some pictures you can forward to Joe. They are not edited, and make sure he knows that. Tell him he needs to be patient (seriously, tell him this). Thanks, Victoria.]

She then took a hot shower and got ready for the day. She got in her work outfit and packed up her gear. Everything’s ready to go, but it’s time to call Max!

She pulled up Max in her contacts and hit Send. I can’t believe I’ve actually got her on speed dial now!

After the fourth ring, Max picked up. She sounded a little out of breath. “Hi, Victoria. Sorry, but I ran a little late in the dark room. Just finished up, luckily. I’m glad I didn’t miss your call.”

Victoria replied, “Good timing, then! Thanks so much for coming by last night. I actually feel a lot better now. It was really nice to see you. I hope seeing me like that didn’t scare you away.”

Max laughed, “Don’t worry yourself sick over that. I am glad I stopped by.”

Victoria paused. Lamefield strikes again. She said, “I’m going to run out to an old shipyard today and get some scouting shots. I do have to leave tomorrow, though. Family obligations, unfortunately.”

“Oh? You don’t sound too excited about it.”

Victoria sighed, “My mother is hosting a little party where she’s going to introduce me to the son of some rich snob and try to get me decently married.”

Max laughed even harder. After a few seconds, during which Victoria started to get a little annoyed, she said, “Really? People actually do that? I guess she doesn’t know you’re not into guys, huh?”

“Absolutely not. Lesbians can’t supply grandchildren to inherit the family estate. I’m not sure what my parents will do if or when they figure it out, but I’m trying to avoid that as long as possible.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. My parents were actually pretty chill when I told them. Of course, I think they kind of suspected it, considering how close Chloe and I were. I wish your parents were better about this.”

Chloe, again. Why do I feel so inferior to a dead junkie drop-out? Bad Victoria! She must have been okay if Max liked her!

Victoria said, “Well, it’s not like they hate gay people. They just want to have some kind of dynasty, since our family has been wealthy ever since my great-grandfather was alive. Of course, he was a railroad man, and I suspect was a pretty awful human being. I don’t think they’d disown me or try to hurt me in any way. They’d just be incredibly disappointed and make that very obvious.”

“That sucks. I guess the people your parents hang out with are really obsessed with appearances, aren’t they?”

“Very much so. It’s incredibly aggravating. Almost as aggravating as me missing our dinner date.” Get out of that topic! It will just depress us both! I have to sound positive for Max!

After a second, Max replied, “It’s only the best Italian food in the area! Maybe the next time you’re around we could go?”

Victoria nodded, even though Max couldn’t see her. “I’m actually going to be back next week to finish shooting. I also have some kind of gig with a model in a few weeks. We can definitely hook up then!” Wait. Did I just say hook up? Oh no! Why do I do this to myself?

Max laughed. “Oh my dog! Calm down, girl!”

Victoria froze, her face as red as it could possibly get. “I didn’t mean it that way! I’m sorry! I just want to hang out with you and get to know you better!”

“Oh, like friends?” Shit! That isn’t right, either!

“Hey! You know I like you more than that! I just meant I wasn’t trying to rush you.”

Max giggled, “I know. I’m just messing with you. You get worked up way too easily.”

Victoria pouted. “That’s not nice. I was getting really worried.”

“Don’t be. I will meet up with you. How about you come over to my shop Monday, at six again? This time, we’ll actually go to that restaurant.”

Another chance at a nice date? Yes!

“I’ll be there! This time nothing will stop me. Heck, I haven’t had really good Italian in weeks.”

“I think you’ll like it. Oh, I have a customer. I gotta go. I can’t wait to see you next week!”

“You too! Make lots of money!”

Max laughed, and they both hung up.

I have an idea.

Victoria got out Max’s business card and hopped on her computer. She added in Max’s email and saved it, then started typing.

[Max, Here are some photos I took on Tuesday. Let me know what you think. Victoria]

Should I write “Love, Victoria”? Is that way too soon? Yeah, probably. Maybe in a month or two I can do it without worrying. I hope!

She added in the factory shots she had forwarded to Shanna, and then went into her selfie folder. She picked out several of the best pictures, especially where she looked like a cool samurai. She also added in one or two of the goofy ones. I hope she likes this. Maybe it’s a bad idea? She was the selfie queen of Blackwell, though. I think she’ll love them.

She hit send, and then got up, gathered her gear, and headed downstairs to her car. It was nice out, luckily. She drove for about half an hour to an old shipyard.

This place is almost as bad as the first one. At least there are some old boats still sitting around. That will make for some great imagery.

She got out her new camera and spent hours running around, taking photos and figuring out where the best lighting would be for the morning shoot. I love doing this stuff. No one’s around. It’s just me and my camera. It’s so fun, and I don’t have to give directions to some clueless model who’s only famous because they look pretty.

After she started getting tired, she packed everything away and went back to the hotel.

Wow, I’m still not healthy. I’m exhausted, and I didn’t even work for that long.

She entered her room, which was nicely cleaned. They remembered to get me a new blanket. It’s even a different design. It’s worth paying extra for a good room.

Victoria took a few minutes to plug in her camera battery, put one of the memory cards in the safe, and plug the other memory card into her laptop. She started downloading the pictures, and went to take a shower. After getting out, she put on her pajamas, and ordered Chinese take-out from a local restaurant. It showed up pretty quickly, and she ate lo mein while she checked her email.

Max had replied to her!

She opened it, feeling a bit nervous.

[Victoria, I loved your photos! You really are great at architecture photography. Your selfies were also really good! Love that hat! You looked soaked, though. I think I know why you got sick. You should really be more careful! Here’s a few pictures I think you’ll like in return.]

Victoria quickly opened up the attachments. One photo was Max looking at the camera, with the Leica stand behind her. She was in a blue hoodie and jeans. Of course, it was a Leica joke. How did I not see that coming?

The second one was Max blowing a kiss right at the camera. Oh fuck.

Max’s hair was a little tousled, and she had a twinkle in her eye. She looked like she was really happy and was about to start grinning, even through the kiss.

Max looks amazing. How can a girl with short brown hair and freckles look so hot? She does it with almost no effort! I’m keeping this forever!

Victoria saved both photos, and then went to bed. She grabbed her phone, got to her email (ignoring the multiple texts that were on it), and pulled up the photo of Max blowing her a kiss. She lay in bed, staring at the photo, and slowly ran her hand across her body and eventually down to her pajama bottoms. It was almost an hour before she stopped and went to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria woke up and packed her stuff. She called down to the main desk and reserved a room for early next week, as well. Once she had everything ready, she called Shanna at the office.

“Hey, Shanna. I’m about to head out. I’ll call you once I get home.”

“No problem, Vicky! I am just catching up on paperwork. I forwarded those photos to Joe, and told him to calm down. He sort of apologized, but not really, the prick.”

Victoria shook her head. “At least he pays well. Anything else going on?”

“No. I shopped those pictures you sent me. Did you get them?”

“I haven’t checked my email. I’m guessing they are there, though. I’ll look at them later today.”

“Thanks! I think you’ll like what I did!”

“Yeah, I expect I will. Well, I have to go. Ciao!”

“Bye!”

Victoria hung up. She called the hotel desk again, and the bellhop came upstairs and helped her with her luggage. Once that was all done, she started up her car and headed north.

Nothing like a three and a half hour drive to end the week. At least I’ll be home, though!

She got stuck in traffic at the bridge going into Washington, but it was only for a few minutes. After that, she cruised along, only stopping once for gas and a snack.

At two in the afternoon, she finally got back into Seattle. Another thirty minutes had her pulling into her driveway in Broadmoor. She got out, happy that the drive was over. Her house was a solid red brick building, with a small yard and several trees. The back hedge ran along the neighboring golf course property.

I love this place. I wish I could actually be here more often. I travel so damn much. At least the landscaper kept it looking good.

She took fifteen minutes unloading her car and getting her luggage inside. Once that was done, she went to her desktop computer and got it running. Then she copied all of her photos from her laptop to it. As it was running, she started some tea and grabbed a granola bar to munch on.

 She called Shanna and let her know she made it home safely. Then she checked her phone. It was filled with texts from Courtney and Taylor. Victoria rolled her eyes. Guess we’ll have to chat tonight. No way I’m explaining what happened over texts.

She sent her friends a text about chatting, and then took an hour to put away her things, and got a load of laundry started. Then she sat back down at her computer. She checked her emails. Some work stuff, more emails from Taylor and Courtney, and the email from Shanna.

Victoria opened that up, and downloaded the attachments. She took twenty minutes to review them. They all looked good, which didn’t surprise her. Shanna knew her stuff. One photo was interesting. Shanna turned one of the photos of the factory stacks and made it look like a 1970s psychedelic art piece. It had very bold colors, some areas turned wavy, and heavy outlines for the stacks and building.

This looks really cool. Not usable for work, but a fun art piece. I should have had her submit it to Joe. I bet his head would explode.

She wrote up an email, reviewing Shanna’s work. She did point out a few things that needed a defter touch, but told her that it was well done. She pointed out the artsy piece and recommended that if she really liked doing that stuff, that she should start up a portfolio of similar work.

 After messing around for another hour, watching videos and reading her favorite photography forum, Victoria opened up her main chat program. Courtney and Taylor were already there.

Victoria: Hey girls!

Taylor: Hi, Victoria!

Courtney: Hi! We were just talking! What’s the scoop on you and Max? She fed you?

Victoria: I was really sick. I had a bad fever, and was stuck in bed. I had to cancel our date at an Italian place Max likes.

Taylor: That sucks.

Courtney: Ouch! Are you feeling better now?

Taylor: It looks like you’re back home, at least.

Victoria: Yeah, I drove home today. I really hate the interstate. I do feel a lot better today.

Both of her friends nodded, but didn’t say anything.

Victoria: Anyway, I called Max and told her I was too sick to go out. She ended up driving to my hotel and got me chicken noodle soup from the restaurant. I felt so awful, but she made me eat. Then she made me take a cold shower. I guess I had the heat turned up really high in the room, but I felt cold and sweaty at the same time. I didn’t even think that it would make the fever worse.

Taylor: Victoria! You’re lucky you didn’t get even sicker. I thought you knew better than that.

Victoria: I normally do, but I guess I was so sick I couldn’t even remember that I needed to cool myself off, instead of trying to warm up.

Courtney: So, Max made you take a shower?

Victoria’s face got red. Her friends both looked a lot more excited.

Victoria: Yes, but I made her wait out in the room. She just got the water started and made me actually do it. Nothing weird happened.

Courtney: I can’t believe you were in the same room as Max, naked in the shower, and nothing “weird” happened.

Taylor: Hahaha! This is great! There’s no way you weren’t completely flustered and acting shy and scared.

Victoria: Shut up! As I said, nothing happened. I am really glad she came over, though. I think she actually really likes me, even after seeing me sick, with no make-up, and completely out of it.

Courtney: True. Not that you need a ton of make-up.

Taylor: Yeah, you are naturally very pretty. I bet Max is all hot and bothered, getting to play nurse for you!

Victoria: What? There’s no way. You don’t think she’d be into that, do you?

Her friends started laughing again.

Taylor: Well, it looks like you are, at least!

Courtney: Oh nurse! I have a fever! I need you to cool me down! Or am I too hot for you?

Victoria: Hey! Stop that! Oh my God, I’m going to die from embarrassment.

Victoria: I just had an idea. Give me a second to email you two.

She quickly opened up her email and forwarded the picture of Max in front of the Leica stand. No way they will ever see the one of her blowing me a kiss.

She waited a few seconds for them to receive it.

Taylor: Damn, you weren’t kidding. She looks great.

Courtney: If I wasn’t straight, I’d be jealous. Max really does look good. Shame about her clothes, though.

Victoria: She does dress up really nice, though. She had on this amazing turquoise dress when she came over to my hotel. Well, I guess it was kind of a normal dress, but she looked amazing in it! I wish I had a picture of her in it.

Taylor: Calm down, girl! You’re going to start drooling, soon.

Victoria: Gee, I seem to remember a certain somebody getting all worked up over some guy named Mike. How many hours did we hear about him, Courtney?

Courtney: So many! “He’s so dreamy! He has great curly hair! Look at this picture of him with no shirt on! He has such amazing abs!”

Taylor: Ok, ok. Sorry. I’m glad you two seem to be hitting it off, though.

Courtney: Me, too! Max will be good for you!

Victoria: Good for me?

Courtney: She’ll keep you grounded, and less bitchy.

Taylor: Definitely less bitchy.

Victoria: Hey! Anyway, I’m going back to Portland next week for work, and Max and I will have our dinner date on Monday. I can’t wait!

Taylor: Great! I hope you have a good time!

Courtney: Me, too! Enjoy yourself! You deserve it!

Victoria: I’m kind of nervous. Even with what’s already happened, it will be our first fancy date. I mean, I know that I’d have to do something really dumb to scare her away, but I have done that in the past.

Taylor: Just relax. Max invited you, remember?

Courtney: Yep! I bet she’s at least as nervous as you are.

Victoria: Maybe… Anyway, Taylor, what was that you were saying about “Don’t have kids”?

They spent another half an hour talking, with Taylor telling them about how Adam found a can of paint in the garage and proceeded to finger-paint the walls. Mike had come home to her trying to clean up the mess. She then started gushing about her husband for a few minutes. Courtney talked about her job and her website, but not much had changed there.

Victoria finally closed the chat and got up. She put her clothes in the dryer and went into the kitchen. She ended up cooking a burger for dinner. Then she relaxed, cruised the internet for a while, and finally went to bed.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria got up, took a shower and dressed, and spent a few hours on the internet looking at news and posting on the photography forum. As she was thinking about lunch, her phone rang. It was her mother.

“Hello, Mother. How are you today?”

“Just wonderful! Are you ready for the dinner party? It will start at six.”

“Yes, I will be there.”

It’s not like I have an option.

“You must be. The Coburns are a major philanthropist in the area. Their son, Edward, will also be there. He’s only a few years older than you. He’s a very nice man, and very handsome!”

And very rich, of course.

“I’m sure he is, Mother. I’ll wear a nice dress and be on my best behavior.”

“Victoria. You don’t have to be rude. I think you’ll like him! You’re not getting any younger, you know!”

You’d think I’m an old maid. I’m only 24!

“I’m sure he’s a lovely person. I’ll be there.”

“Very well. Don’t be late!”

Victoria hung up. The day was going so well. Guess I’ll have to pick out a dress.

She picked out a nice lavender dress (made by Courtney!), with a gold necklace and amethyst earrings. She also got out matching high heels. I hate wearing these damn things, but I have to look good.

She set everything out and then ate a bagel for lunch. I want to eat more, but I know there will be a ton of food at dinner. That’s one thing Father insists upon. “If your guest leaves hungry, you are a bad host, and they will remember it.”

She relaxed for a few more hours, then exercised, and finally got cleaned up and dressed. Her parents were close by, in Denny Blaine, so it only took fifteen minutes to drive over. A large car she didn’t recognize was parked in the driveway. I guess the Coburns are already here.

The house was very big, veering on mansion territory. Victoria’s childhood was spent there, and it brought back a lot of memories. Too bad I only saw my parents once in a while. They were far too concerned with work.

She parked and walked up to the main door. As she approached, it opened, revealing an older woman in a dark blue dress.

“Hi, Cathy! It’s good to see you!” She’s more of a mother to me than Mother is.

Cathy smiled, “You, too, Victoria! It’s been two months! Have you been hiding from me?”

Victoria laughed, “No, there’s just too much work. I have to travel a lot lately. I guess that’s the curse of being mildly famous.”

Cathy rolled her eyes. “You’re just like your parents, I see.”

Ack! No way! Oh, who am I kidding? I guess I really am. That’s fucking depressing.

“Low blow! It’s good to see you, though. Are you still doing well?”

“Other than my back, I’m just as good as I was when I was twenty!”

They both laughed again. “You’ve been complaining about your back since I was a little girl. It never slowed you down, though.”

Cathy shrugged. “Maybe a little more, these days. Anyway, let me take your coat. I have to make sure everyone has a drink.”

Victoria nodded, taking off her jacket and handing it over. “Lemonade for me, please.”

Cathy nodded, and walked off with the coat.

Father came around the corner, champagne in hand. He’s smiling, so the dinner started off well.

“Victoria! You’re here! Fashionably late, though.”

 “I’m actually right on time. Everyone else is just early.”

Father nodded, and tilted his head towards the living room. “Come in and meet our guests.”

Victoria followed him to the living room. There were several large couches and chairs, upon which were seated Mother, an older couple that had to be the Coburns, and Edward, their son. He stood up as she entered, straightening his jacket. He was tall, an obvious athlete, and had short brown hair and a beard. He’s really handsome. I bet Courtney would melt.

He smiled and nodded, saying, “Hello. You must be Victoria. It’s nice to meet you.”

Victoria smiled back, saying, “That’s me! It’s nice to meet you, as well.”

He continued, “My name’s Ed. My parents dragged me here to try and get me married.”

Victoria burst out laughing. Both her parents and the Coburns looked shocked.

Holy shit! I wish I could have said that so many times!

“Well, it seems like we have something in common, at least.”

I think Mother just had a stroke.

Father started laughing then, and Mr. Coburn joined in. Both Mother and Mrs. Coburn looked scandalized and unsure of what to do.

Ed smiled, “Great! You look wonderful, by the way.”

Of course I do. I’m a Chase.

“Thank you. You are also very handsome.”

Mother stood up. “Well, I guess we should all go to the dining room now that everyone’s here.”

Damn. She must be flustered. Usually she has a whole script worked out before we leave the living room.

Mother led them all to the dining room. Father sat at the head of the table with Mother to his right. Victoria sat to his left. Ed sat next to her. His mother took the seat across from him and his father the other end.

Cathy started bringing out plates with ham, potatoes, broccoli, and gravy. It looked and smelled delicious.

Ed said, “Wow! This is the kind of meal I could have every day!”

Mother nodded, saying, “Our chef is fantastic. His name is Jean. He’s from Nice in France. We’re very lucky to have him.”

Mr. Coburn said, “The food certainly looks good.”

It looks like everyone has champagne except for me.

Mrs. Coburn bowed her head, saying, “Let’s pray.”

Both her husband and Ed were already in position. Father and Mother paused for just a second, before bowing their heads.

This isn’t normal for the kind of guests they usually have over.

Victoria bowed her head, as well. Mrs. Coburn gave a short prayer thanking God for the food and for the health and happiness of everyone at the table.

That’s really nice. Maybe Kate was right about that stuff.

They sat and ate for half an hour, making small talk. Father told a few stories about when he was a young photographer, roaming Europe. Mother and Mrs. Coburn quizzed Ed and Victoria on their lives. Cathy brought out apple pie and removed their empty plates.

Once the meal was over, they adjourned to the living room. After a few minutes, Victoria excused herself and went to the restroom. When she came back out, Ed was waiting for her.

He smiled, “It’s been a great night. I’m not sure about the whole marriage thing, but I’d definitely like to see you again.”

Victoria smiled, replying, “I’ve had fun. I don’t know about us dating, though. You’re a very nice guy, but not really my type. I’m sorry.”

Ed looked a little surprised, and even disappointed. “Damn. At least you let me know already. I’d have hated to go on several dates and you weren’t actually interested.”

Victoria nodded, “I’ve learned that it’s best to make things clear early, otherwise the guy gets way too invested. I’d rather not hurt your feelings like that.”

“Thanks for that. Well, I guess we can at least just hang out for the evening. No worries about dating, so it’s definitely less stressful for me.”

Victoria smiled, “Me too. I will say that I think you’ll make some girl really happy. I’ll see you back in the living room.”

Ed nodded, and then entered the bathroom. Victoria saw her mother give her a look when she came back alone. Yes, Mother, I shot him down. Are you really surprised?

After another hour of art talk, the Coburns got up to leave. As they went out the front door, Victoria saw their driver come out of the house’s side door to meet them. When their car pulled out onto the road, Mother turned to Victoria and asked, “So, I guess you weren’t interested in Edward? I thought for sure that you’d like him. He’s about as good of a catch as any girl could want.”

Victoria nodded, “He is a really nice guy. I’m sure he’ll be an amazing husband for the right girl.”

They went back in. As they entered the living room again, Father said, “Mary, I told you this wouldn’t work out.”

“Yes, I know, David. I don’t understand why. Edward is just about perfect for her.”

“Apparently not.”

He turned to Victoria, and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about boys, even when you were a teenager. Is there something you’re not saying to us?”

Victoria’s jaw dropped. Oh shit. Am I really that obvious? How did Father know? What will he do?

Father nodded, saying, “That’s what I thought.”

Mother asked, “What? What’s going on?”

Father said, “Victoria. It’s okay. You can tell us.”

Shit! Shit! Shit! Father knows! How? What do I do? Mother will freak out! Hell, she’ll probably call me a freak! How is this happening? It’s nothing like how I planned to tell them!

Mother said, “Victoria, what’s going on?”

Victoria’s shoulders slumped. Am I going to the executioner? I hope this doesn’t blow up in my face. I know I told Max that my parents wouldn’t do anything drastic, but I don’t actually know that. I was just hoping for it so, so much.

Victoria felt her father’s hand on her shoulder. He leaned in and said, “I suspected it for a while. Tonight just confirmed it. It’s alright.”

Victoria looked up, and felt wetness on her cheeks. Why the fuck am I crying?

She said, “Okay, I guess it’s time. It looks like you already figured it out, Father.”

He nodded, stepping back and putting an arm around Mother. She looked confused and worried.

Victoria continued, “Mother, I’m not really sure how to put this so that it won’t disturb you. I like girls. I mean that I really just want to date girls, and would love to marry one.”

Mother looked like she was about to fall down. Father gripped her tightly and walked her over to a couch, where they sat down.

Mother said, “How? I mean, I had no idea. Why didn’t you say something before? I spent so much time trying to find the perfect guy for you, but they were never good enough!”

I know. I feel terrible about it, but I couldn’t tell you.

“That’s because I was scared to tell you. I’m sorry. I just didn’t want you to think I’m some kind of weirdo.”

Both of her parents shook their heads. Father said, “It’s alright, Victoria. I wish you’d said something a long time ago. It would have saved me from so many of these dinners.”

Mother looked at him, and gave him a soft elbow in the stomach. “I had them for Victoria! I thought she was just shy!”

Father snorted, which Victoria had never heard him do before. Wow. Is this what they are like when they are alone?

Mother turned back to her, “You should have said something. Heck, the Morettis have a gay daughter that I could have introduced you to!”

Whoa! That was fast! Mother, the super match-maker! But seriously, I can’t believe this has gone so well. I half thought they’d hate me.

Victoria held her hands up, “That’s really not necessary. Honestly, I’d rather it was just us getting together for actual, real family time, instead of these fake dinners.”

Mother replied, “They’re not fake! I worked hard to arrange all of this! I just wanted you to find someone you could love!”

Father laughed, “She did put a lot of work into these meals. You don’t know how many get-togethers we’ve had with people just arranging for you to meet their sons.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I never really thought about it that way.

Mother asked, “So, if you don’t want me to arrange any more dinners, does that mean you already have a girl in your life?”

Damn it. She’s way too quick to pick up on that already.

Victoria shrugged, “Not really, but I did just start seeing a girl I really like.”

They spent another hour just talking about Max, other girls Victoria had dated in the past, and even some of her recent photography work. Victoria also got really embarrassed when Mother brought up in vitro fertilization, so that she could be a grandmother. Finally, Victoria stood up, yawning. Cathy was there a second later.

Cathy asked, “Would you like to stay over, or go back home?”

“I think I’ll stay here tonight, if that’s okay?”

Her parents happily agreed. Victoria headed upstairs to her bedroom, which was still set up as if she lived here. She even had half a wardrobe’s worth of clothes still in the closet.

This turned out so much better than I could have ever hoped. Heck, I think that’s the longest conversation I’ve ever had with my parents. I can’t believe it was actually that easy. I’m so happy!

She slept soundly that night.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria woke up fairly early as she heard her parent’s cars leave the house. Already going to work, this early on a Sunday. I hope I never get that tied up in my career.

She got up, showered and dressed, and headed downstairs. A nice breakfast was waiting for her. Cathy had made eggs, bacon, and toast. She also supplied coffee and orange juice. The two sat down at the table to eat. Just like when I was little.

Cathy said, “Last night went very well. I’m glad you finally told them.”

“You act as if you knew about me.”

“I basically raised you. I knew a long, long time ago.”

 “Wait. You did? You never said anything.”

“Because I knew you were scared to tell your parents. At first, I wasn’t sure how they’d react, either. I eventually realized they’d be okay with it, but since you rarely saw them, you never got a chance to figure it out for yourself. Of course, don’t ever tell your parents that I’ve known about your secret. I helped set up all of those little date dinners you went to. If your mother knew I’d known about your sexual preferences while doing so, she’d be furious.”

Victoria laughed, “Yeah, she’d blow a gasket. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. Heck, I owe you, since you kept mine.”

Cathy smiled, saying, “Oh, really? I’ve always wanted to go on a trip to the Caribbean…”

They talked as they ate, enjoying each other’s company. After almost an hour, Victoria headed back upstairs as Cathy gathered their dishes. She saw her phone was blinking on the nightstand. She picked it up, seeing texts from Max, Taylor, and Courtney. All three of them were asking about the “hot date” arranged by her mother.

Shaking her head, she sent a group reply:

 Victoria: Hot date cancelled. Also, I’m officially out of the closet with my parents. It went surprisingly well.

Replies came back very quickly.

Max: Yay! I’m glad to hear that! Well, at least that your parents were okay with you. Our hot date is still on for Monday, right?

Oh, yes! Were you worried, Max?

Courtney: Congrats! I told you they would be fine with it! At least now you won’t have to worry about hiding from them. Or those crazy dinner dates. I mean, who does that?

You’re right, Courtney. I was too worried about it. You know my mother, though. She does that!

Taylor: Good. It’s about time. You should have told them years ago, but no, you wouldn’t listen to me!

I was wrong. You were right. Rub it in.

Victoria: Max, I will definitely be there. I’m driving back later today. Will work in the morning, then see you at six. I can’t wait!

Victoria: Courtney, thanks for cheering me on. Also, you know how my mother is. She’s in her own world when it comes to arranging a marriage for me.

Victoria: Taylor, just keep gloating. Don’t worry, I’ll get back at you!   ;)

Max: Great! I’ve already got the reservations in! See you tomorrow, and have a safe drive today!

Taylor: Me, gloat? When the ever-so-perfect Victoria Chase admits I was right? You’re damn right I’m gloating! Lol!

Victoria: Max, sounds great! Thanks! I’ll drive safe!

Victoria: Taylor, you’re digging yourself a deeper hole!

Courtney: Thanks, Victoria! I bet she’s already asking around to see who has a daughter that would like to date you!

Victoria: She was all over that, within minutes of finding out that I’m gay. It was kind of scary. She even had a prospective girl ready to go.

Courtney: Lol! I’m not surprised one bit! I’m happy for you, though. I’m glad they were nice about it. I’ve definitely heard some horror stories from some girls I know down here in LA.

Victoria: Me, too. I was really nervous. Father figured it out on his own. I had to tell Mother. That freaked me out. They were both really nice about it, though.

After that, she went back downstairs, said goodbye to Cathy and Jean, and drove back over to her house.

She spent about five hours working on the photos she’d taken in Portland, sending out a large batch to Shanna when she got tired. Then she made a small lunch of broccoli and cheese and some noodles. After she finished eating, she re-packed all of her stuff back into her car, and drove south to Portland. After an uneventful trip, she was back at the Curio hotel.

She got a new room, unpacked, and worked for another hour on some more pictures. Finally, she closed her laptop and went to sleep.

Chapter Text

Victoria woke to her alarm going off at 4:00. Ugh. I seriously hate having to be on site for the sunrise.

She got dressed and gathered all of her gear. She picked up some coffee and a cream cheese bagel in the lobby, and then drove out to the boat yard. Technically, I shouldn’t be here today. I really only had permission for last week. Oh, well. I doubt anyone would actually care.

She parked her car and got all of her camera gear ready. She already knew where she wanted to be for the sunrise, so was ready to go when it started. Some of these boats look gorgeous in this lighting, even though their paint is falling off and there’s rust everywhere. This is going to look great!

She spent a solid six hours photographing the site, taking care to show how it used to be really busy but was now deserted. She took photos of the half-finished boats, the large shipping dock where trucks hauled away finished boats, several piers sticking out into the river, and a big construction building right by the piers which still had chains and old, rotting ropes hanging from the roof. I kind of wish it would rain today. I did like that effect on the factory last week. Then again, I really don’t want to get sick again or have our date messed up.

She finally finished up and packed her gear. This area is actually abandoned. I haven’t seen anyone today, other than some kayakers going down the river.

She drove back to her hotel and backed up all of her photos to her laptop, and put the extra memory card in the safe. I still have a lot of time. Guess I’ll order some food and work on the photos.

She called down to the lobby and ordered a salad and some iced tea. Then she started sorting the photos from today. I’ve got a lot of keepers for this site. It’s going to be tough to decide which ones are worth submitting to the magazine.

Room service delivered her food, and she ate as she picked out a bunch of photos for Shanna to work on. She emailed them around three.

She then spent thirty minutes answering work emails. Shanna replied and said she’d fix up the pictures tomorrow.

After that, Victoria took a shower, fixed her hair, and picked out a light green blouse with a dark green skirt, along with a pair of brown leather Miranda shoes. Max said not to get too fancy. This should do.

Completing her outfit with a gold necklace, emerald earrings, and an overcoat, Victoria smiled at the mirror and headed out to her car. She drove carefully, and arrived at the strip mall ten minutes early. Am I too early? Will she think I’m desperate? If I hadn’t planned out this outfit yesterday, I’d have taken longer to get ready. I have to wait. I don’t want her to feel rushed as she closes her store! I knew I should have driven around the block to kill more time!

She sat there for a few minutes before she realized that the sign on the door already said “Closed”. Shaking her head, she got out of her car and went up to the door and looked in. Max was only a few feet away, and waved at her with a big smile. Max walked over and let her in.

As Victoria stepped inside, Max smiled at her, and said, “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve already got everything shut down, so we can head out soon. You look really nice, by the way.”

Max was wearing a red dress, with black flats. She had a gold necklace on, though she wasn’t wearing any earrings. She looks amazing.

“Thanks! You look great, yourself! Courtney made this blouse. I really like it!”

“Thanks! I didn’t know that Courtney designs clothes. That’s pretty cool!”

“Yes, she does it in her off time. She even has a website. I’m hoping she’ll make it big one day.”

Max smiled, “Me, too. I guess I’m not surprised that she’d be doing that. Does she have an online catalog?”

 “Yeah, it’s called Vortex Fashion.”

Max’s eyebrows went up. “Really?”

Victoria started giggling, “Yes. I didn’t have the heart to say anything to her about it. You know how she was about the Vortex Club.”

Max started laughing, too. “Holy cow! I knew she was really into that stuff, but it’s been years since we were at Blackwell.”

“I know! She does love that school, though. She got to be a major trendsetter for a while, and I think she misses that.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, I could see that. She was one of the popular people. Sadly, the real world doesn’t care how cool you were in high school.”

Victoria agreed, “It’s probably better that way. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this restaurant! I’m hungry!”

Max smiled, “Let me get my coat. I’ll be back in a second.”

She went back into a room behind the sales counter and emerged seconds later with the same dark blue jacket she wore last week, when she visited Victoria at the hotel. Victoria walked outside, and Max locked up her store, setting an alarm code before closing the door behind her.

Victoria asked, “Am I driving, or are you?”

Max nodded towards a green Subaru Outback, “I’ll drive. Your car will be safe here. I don’t think there have ever been any serious criminal incidents around here. At least, not since I opened up my store.”

Victoria nodded, but made sure her car’s security system was turned on. They walked over to Max’s car. It was a few years old, and had definitely seen some use. It’s clean, though.

They got in and Max started the car. Max looked at her sideways and said, “Wow. You really have changed. I can’t believe you got in my old car without making a fuss.”

Victoria rolled her eyes. “Yes, I figured you wouldn’t want any rude comments, though. It was really, really hard for me not to bust on you. I’m seriously struggling to control myself.”

Max grinned, and then put the car into gear and drove out of the lot. The restaurant was only ten minutes away.

It was a fairly standard-looking place with an antique sign labeled “Tony’s Ristorante”. The pair went inside, where they were greeted by a young girl in a red outfit. She led them to a table on one side of the main dining area. Each table had a couple electric candles, and there were a few small chandeliers hanging from the roof. There was a large wooden flag of Italy on the wall facing the entrance. Light Italian music was playing.

Victoria said, “It’s kind of dark in here. Very atmospheric, though.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, but I like it. You almost feel like you’re alone, even though there are probably forty other people eating right now.”

“True. Is there anything you’d recommend?”

“They have several types of linguine with different fish that are just great. Their lasagna is also amazing. I haven’t tried everything on the menu, though, but I think it’s safe to order anything they make.”

A waiter arrived. Max ordered a coke while Victoria ordered iced tea. He gave them menus, which they read over. After he came back with their drinks, Max ordered linguine with clams, while Victoria ordered manicotti.

Victoria asked, “How was your day at the store?”

“Pretty good. I sold a few cameras, fixed a guy’s camera, and sold a bunch of film. I love that film cameras are cool, again. A lot of younger kids are using them.”

“Really? I’m kind of surprised by that. Digital is so much easier.”

“In some ways, yes. Using a film camera means that you really have to think about the shot before you take it, though. You can’t just click out ten photos and only keep one.”

Victoria nodded, “True. I just thought most kids would be more interested in posting to social media.”

“A lot of them are. There are still a decent amount of people who actually think you can make a good living as a photographer, though.”

They both laughed at that.

I’m really lucky. I bet if my parents didn’t have the Chase Space, I’d be stuck at some office job. I hate to admit it, but I could actually afford to learn the skills I needed because of them. Their connections in the industry certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Max asked, “How did your shoot go this morning?”

“It went really well. I got some great shots early on. It’s almost criminal how easy it is to make old boats look good during the golden hour.”

“Arr, ye will have to walk the plank, criminal scum!”

“Huh? Wait, you’re talking like a pirate?”

Holy shit. How does she do that on a first date? Fucking Lamefield!

Victoria snorted, and covered her mouth with her hand. Max laughed nervously at first, but then clearly after a few seconds.

Victoria waved her hand, “No more pirate talk allowed. I can’t believe you said that.”

Max sat there with a big grin, but didn’t say anything else. They heard someone approaching, and then the waiter was there with two large plates. He placed their food in front of them, and a dish with garlic bread to one side. They thanked him and he left.

The next half hour was spent eating, while they chatted about cameras and their work. Victoria was actually impressed with the food, and thanked Max for recommending the restaurant.

“How do you manage to find all of the great food places near you? Half the time I go out, I just get average stuff, even if the restaurant was recommended to me. The few really good places I like are not even close to my home or work in Seattle.”

Max shrugged, “One of my customers told me about this place, and I just got extremely lucky having Joe right next door to my work.”

“I’ll say. I’m really glad we came here. I’ll definitely be coming back the next time I’m in town.”

“That’s in a few weeks, right? Some model shoot?”

Victoria nodded, “You remembered. Yeah, though I don’t actually know much about it yet. Just that it’s in Portland. My assistant set it up.”

“Cool. I hope you’ll stop by then.”

“Definitely. I’m really glad I ran into you last week. This has been really fun.”

“Same for me. I can’t believe it’s been six years already. We certainly get along better now than back then.”

“I’ve grown up. You were already pretty cool. I was just acting like a spoiled kid. While it feels like lost time for us, I needed it, at least.”

Max shrugged, “I was a mess, too, just a different kind of mess. I would never have had the confidence to talk to you like this when I was younger.”

“Confidence is sexy. I like the new you.”

Max’s face got red, but she smiled, “Same to you, except you were sexy even at Blackwell.”

Victoria’s face also got red. She thinks I’m sexy! She thought I was sexy even back then! Yes!

“Umm, by the way. I loved that picture you sent blowing me a kiss.”

Max looked down, clearly nervous. “I wasn’t sure I should have sent that. I hope it wasn’t too forward.”

No way! I will keep that picture for the rest of my life! You are so beautiful!

“Not at all. I wish I’d sent you a similar picture back. I should have, now that I think about it.”

“That would be nice.”

She wants a picture of me blowing her a kiss! I want to kiss her right now!

The waiter arrived with their check. Victoria paid it and gave him a good tip.

Horrible timing! I guess we have been sitting here for a while not eating, though.

They finally got up, put on their coats, and went back to Max’s car. She drove them back to her store. She’s been quiet the whole trip. Should I ask her if we can go back to her place? It’s only our first date! It’s too soon! I want to get in bed with her, though! Damn it!

They parked by Victoria’s car, and got out. Max walked over to Victoria.

Max said, “I had a great time tonight.”

“Me, too.”

Max leaned in and hugged Victoria tightly. She didn’t look up for a kiss, though.

She’s just saying that! She doesn’t want to kiss me! I’m not good enough for her!

After a few seconds, Max stepped back. She said, “I really want to see you again. I know you have to go back to Seattle tomorrow.”

“Unfortunately. Isn’t there anything else we can do tonight?”

Max shook her head, “I do have to open my shop in the morning. I don’t want to go too far, too fast. This past week has been great. You’re coming back in a few weeks, so I don’t want to do anything I regret later. I’m sorry if I disappointed you.”

“No, it’s fine! I’m just not used to girls who aren’t looking for a one night stand. Not that I would ever think of you that way! I want this to go right, even if that takes longer.”

Max smiled at her, but still looked sad.

Victoria said, “Seriously, I will keep in contact with you until I come back. I really like you. Don’t blame yourself if you want to go slow. I can wait.”

“Okay. I just feel like I got your hopes up and now I’m sending you off with nothing.”

“No! Absolutely not! I’m happy to wait for you. I loved our date, and I want to do it again.”

Max smiled wider, and nodded, “Okay. I’m glad. Please call me when you get home tomorrow, so that I know you’re safe.”

“I will. Umm, I guess I’ll head back to the hotel now. I’ll call you tomorrow, for sure. Good night, Max.”

“Good night, Victoria.”

Victoria got back in her car and drove out of the lot. She saw that Max was watching her go. The drive to the hotel took seemed to take forever.

I fucked up somehow. I shouldn’t have asked her to do anything else. I probably scared her away. Damn it! Way to go, Victoria.

She lay in bed for several hours rethinking the entire date before she finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria got up, showered, and had some breakfast.

She hopped online and opened her chat channel. She sent a quick text to Courtney and Taylor to let them know she was on. Taylor popped in a minute later.

“Hi, Taylor! Good morning!”

“Hi, Victoria. How’s it going?”

“Pretty good. I had my first real date with Max, last night.”

Taylor laughed at Victoria’s happily grinning face. Courtney popped in just then.

“Hey girlfriends! Good to see you, though it’s way too early in the morning!”

They laughed, and greeted Courtney back.

Taylor said, “Victoria was just telling me she had her first big date with Max last night!”

Courtney smiled, “I thought it was then! I’m guessing it went well, considering Victoria’s face.”

Victoria nodded, “It was pretty good. We had some amazing Italian food. Max looked great.”

Taylor said, “So, did you do anything really fun to end the night?”

 Victoria looked down, and her friends immediately stopped talking. “I think I might have scared her off. I mean, she did say she wanted to see me again, but she avoided kissing me at the end of the date. She just hugged me, but I just couldn’t let it be at that.”

Taylor said, “Please, tell me you didn’t grope her or something.”

“No! I’d never do that! I did ask her if she wanted to do anything else, even after she avoided the kiss. I knew I shouldn’t do it even as I said it. I don’t know why I did it.”

Taylor shrugged, “You never had a lot of self control. If all you did was ask her that, I’m sure she’s not angry. She didn’t say anything mean to you, did she?”

“No. If anything, she was apologizing to me because she didn’t want to go too fast. I just couldn’t stop myself from trying, though.”

Courtney nodded, “I think you’re okay, then. It sounds like Max is even more worried than you are. I bet she doesn’t have a ton of experience dating, and she was scared that you would think she’s lame.”

Taylor nodded.

Victoria said, “I don’t think she’s lame. Well, maybe some of her jokes are, but Max is great!”

Courtney replied, “We know you think that, but I bet Max doesn’t.”

Taylor said, “She did say she wanted to see you again, so stop worrying. I swear, you make me nervous, and I’m not even there.”

Courtney nodded, “True. You don’t usually get this worked up over a girl, but I guess Max is different.”

She’s fantastic. Funny, beautiful, talented. Of course she’s different. I think she actually wants to get to know me, and not just be a fling. I don’t know how to handle this!

 Victoria smiled, “You’re probably right. I wish I didn’t get so damn flustered over her. I hope she doesn’t think I don’t like her. I mean, I’ve told her a bunch of times that I do. I don’t think I went overboard on that.”

Her friends started laughing. Ha ha. Very funny. Make fun of the girl who is nervous about her first big crush maybe actually liking her back.

Courtney said, “I think you’re going to be fine, Victoria. Max was never super confident, so I’m sure she’s just being cautious.”

Taylor agreed, “Yep. Knowing Max, she’s probably waiting for you to turn into super bitch rich girl who’s just playing a prank on her.”

“I wouldn’t do that!” Well, I might have back at Blackwell, but not now!

“We know. I’m sure she does too, deep down. I mean, you already know she wants to see you again. Be happy!”

Victoria smiled, even bigger. “You’re right. I’m not sure why I worry so much. I’m sure this will all work out.”

They spent another ten minutes just talking about their lives before Victoria said her goodbyes.

Then she packed all of her clothes and gear up. Well, back to Seattle. For the first time in years, I’d rather not rush home. Imagine if I had a home down here, and Max was living with me. That would be so awesome!

Once she had everything ready, she got help loading her car. Then she checked out, and started driving. North of Portland, it started raining. Of course it would rain. I swear it rains every other day around here.

The rain started getting really heavy as she neared the bridge to Washington. Then she saw numerous brake lights flashing on in front of her. Damn it.

Victoria started applying her brakes, slowing down carefully. Then she heard loud screeching behind her and looked into the mirror. It was filled with the grill of a truck. Oh fuck!

Everything went black.

Chapter Text

Victoria was confused. She heard some kind of loud saw. Then she blinked and some men were kneeling over her, and something was covering her mouth. She tried to grab it but they held her arms and were saying something she couldn’t understand. Her legs hurt. What the hell is going on?

She blinked again and she was lying down on her back, rolling along, with what appeared to be nurses above her. It was very bright. Am I in a hospital?

Max waved at her. She was smiling, sitting out on the porch as Victoria walked up to their home. She was wearing a cute yellow sun dress, along with sandals. She’s so pretty! How am I so lucky to have her?

Max asked, “How was work? Did you take any really cool shots?”

“Of course! I’m not one of the most sought-after photographers in the world for no reason!”

Max laughed, got up and ran to her. They kissed, standing in the grass. The sun felt warm on her shoulders. Victoria stepped back, smiling, after a few seconds. A light breeze ruffled Max’s hair.

Max said, “I baked us some brownies. I know it’s been a while since we’ve had them, and I know you love them!”

“Not as much as I love you!”

“Tease!”

They laughed and walked into the house, Max lightly pulling on Victoria’s hand. It smelled wonderful. Max brought out a covered plate, and picked up the lid, “Ta da!”

It was covered in gooey, brown, gorgeous brownies. Victoria did a little fist pump, “Yes!”

She picked out a big one. It was still warm. Smiling happily, she took a big bite. It was delicious. “I’m going to have a chocolate overdose! These are so good! I didn’t know you could bake like this, Max!”

Max smiled, “I can if it makes you happy!”

“Have some yourself!”

Max did just that. They each ate several more, until Victoria just couldn’t take it. It’s too rich! I don’t want to stop. They’re so good!

Max smiled and walked over to her, placing her arms around Victoria’s neck. She pulled Victoria down, saying, “I bet kisses taste even better with chocolate.”

Victoria tested that theory immediately. They stood there for what seemed like forever, kissing softly. Victoria’s hands roamed a little bit, and Max giggled.

Victoria felt Max’s hands start to roam over her body, as well. Smiling, Max stepped back. “Let’s go up to our room.”

They quickly made their way upstairs, and entered their bedroom. Max pulled her over to the king-sized bed, still smiling.

This isn’t right. Something’s wrong.

Victoria paused, frowning. Max immediately froze.

Max asked, “Did I do something wrong? I thought you would love this.”

Victoria shook her head, “I do love this. It’s perfect. I mean, it’s too perfect.”

“It should be. You deserve it. You’re a good person.”

Victoria shook her head, “Then you really don’t know me. I’ve done horrible things to people, that I still regret. I don’t deserve to have anything this nice.”

“That’s not right! You asked forgiveness from those you wronged, and they gave it. The only person who hasn’t forgiven you is yourself. It’s not your fault. You do deserve happiness.”

“Bullshit. Kate almost killed herself because of me. Max had a mental breakdown because I helped Nathan. I threw myself at Jefferson every day after class, and he was just pure evil.”

Max shrugged, “You’ve done a lot of good to counteract it. You’ve repented, knowing what you did was wrong. You’ve earned the right to be happy.”

Yeah, something is really, really wrong.

Victoria crossed her arms, frowning, and said, “Who are you? You’re certainly not Max, and this is certainly not our house.”

Max shrugged, “Well, I guess you could say I’m here to reward you for being a good person in your life. This was going to be it.”

Victoria cocked an eyebrow, “What does that mean?” Oh fuck, I hope it doesn’t mean what I think it means. I’m too young!

Max smiled, sitting down on the bed. She patted the bed beside her. Victoria dropped her arms, then walked over and sat on the bed next to Max.

Max looked at her, and said, “You were hit by a truck. Right now, your body is in a coma. I’m here to see that you get the afterlife you deserve.”

Wait! Fuck! This isn’t real! What the fuck? It can’t be!

“Is it really bad? There’s no chance I can go back?”

Max asked, “Do you want to go back? You can stay here, if you like.”

“I want to go back! I want a real chance with Max! I want to hang out with Taylor and Courtney again! Heck, I even want to see my parents again!”

“Your body isn’t in the best of shape.”

Oh.

“Is it really bad?”

“It’s not good. Your life will definitely be a lot different if you go back.”

Victoria swallowed. Everything was going so well. Some idiot was going too fast in the rain and now I have to pay for their mistake? This isn’t fair!

Max put her hand on Victoria’s thigh. She asked, “If you stay here, you will meet your friends and family again, although it may be a while. Are you sure you want to go back? It’s your choice.”

Victoria felt tears in her eyes. She nodded.

Max and their home faded away. She heard a steady beeping noise, which started to increase in rate. Voices started shouting around her. She couldn’t see anything except soft blurry movement.

It hurts! Oh fuck, it hurts so much!

 

Chapter Text

A bunch of people in white coats were around her, taking readings. One guy shined a light into her eyes, which made her flinch and turn her head. She tried to move her arm up but it wouldn’t budge. Looking down as best she could, she saw that it was in a cast. Her whole body hurt.

A balding man with glasses spoke to her, “Hello, Victoria. I’m Doctor Russo. Do you understand me?”

Victoria said, “Yassssssshhh.”

Then she just nodded. I can’t speak right.

He nodded, “Good. You’re in the hospital. You were in a motor vehicle accident. You’ve been in a coma for two days. I’m happy to see you awake.”

A coma? That wasn’t a dream?

“Are you in any pain?”

She nodded yes. My feet are killing me. My chest feels tight. My arm is throbbing. I have a massive headache.

“Okay, we’ll increase your dosage.”

He nodded to a nurse, saying some kind of numbers, who then did something to a tube hanging beside Victoria’s bed.

“Your parents are just outside, as are a few of your friends. Once we’re done talking, I’ll let them in.”

Good. I’m surprised my parents are here. It must be bad.

She nodded, so he continued. She already felt a cool wave coming up through her arm, reducing the burning sensations as it went.

“You suffered a number of injuries. In layman’s terms, your right arm had multiple compound fractures. We were able to save it, but there was a lot of damage. You will only retain partial use of it, after you complete physical therapy.”

“Uuuuurrrrrr?”

Victoria’s eyes got huge. How can I operate a camera if my arm doesn’t work? What the fuck am I going to do? I guess I’m going to have to learn how to use it left handed? Do they even make left-handed cameras? This is fucking horrible!

The doctor frowned, then sighed. “There’s more. When your car was hit, your pelvis and both femurs were also broken in multiple places. Fortunately, your spine was okay. Still, you are going to have trouble walking for the rest of your life. With luck, you will only need a cane.”

Victoria just sat there, silent, staring at the doctor.

He noticed her look, and said, “If you don’t take your physical therapy seriously, or things just don’t work out right, you may have to be in a wheelchair.”

Tears filled her eyes. My God, I’m going to be limping terribly if I’m lucky? I’ll be stuck in a wheelchair forever if I’m not? How is this happening? I mean, I was just driving home. I even drove safely. He must be lying.

She tried to sit up and see her legs. Several sets of hands immediately pushed her back onto the bed. Her ribs screamed in pain. They’re probably broken, too.

She screamed. She didn’t even realize she was doing it. She heard a door slamming open and running feet. The doctor stepped forward, attempting to calm her. Her father appeared beside him, and quickly took her left hand. Her mother came around the other side, and lightly put her hand on Victoria’s shoulder.

Her father said, “Victoria. We’re here for you. We’ll help you. I know it looks really bad right now, but Doctor Russo is one of the best doctors in the world. You can beat this.”

Her mother smiled at her, even as she was crying. “We love you, Victoria. I know we weren’t around much to show it, but we’ll do anything we can to help you.”

Victoria slumped back. She just felt tired. This sucks. Holy shit, I’m a cripple. I was going to be a great photographer. My fucking life is over.

She watched as the doctor and most of the nurses left the room. Her parents stayed with her, talking to her, though she was only slightly paying attention to them.

The door opened again and Cathy, Taylor, and Courtney entered the room. Wow, I’m surprised they came all the way up here on such short notice. Heck, how could Courtney afford it? I have to get Father to pay for her trip, even if it pisses her off. I hope Taylor has someone to watch Adam.

She watched her friends come over. It was obvious that all three of them were really worried. They’re all crying. Damn it, I hate this. I don’t want any of them to cry because of me.

She gave her friends a smile, and said, “Haaayyy, guurlllssss.”

Okay, no more talking. I sound like I’m high on some crazy drugs. Well, I probably am, but still.

Cathy wiped her eyes and said, “I’m glad you’re awake, Victoria. You had us all really scared.”

Victoria nodded, so Cathy continued, “I just want you to know that we’ll do anything we can to help you. I hate that this happened to you.”

Cathy started crying harder, and stopped talking. She then turned and said, “I’ll wait outside for now. You don’t need to see me crying like this. Just know that I love you.”

You were basically my mom.

Victoria said, “Sssshhtttaaayyyy.”  You belong here.

Cathy turned, nodding, and walked over to stand by her mother.

Taylor and Courtney walked over to the foot of the bed. Don’t look at my legs! They must be awful!

Taylor said, “I’m glad you woke up. The doctor had told us that a lot of coma patients never do. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you telling me about what’s going on in your life. My life is so boring compared to yours.”

Victoria smiled at her. My stories are going to suck after this. What the hell am I going to do? Certainly not travel the world to meet models.

Courtney smiled, her face red and tears still rolling down her face. She said, “I’m so glad you’re still alive. You’re one of my best friends, and I can’t imagine how my life would be without you here.”

Victoria nodded to her, still smiling. I wish I’d taken a few more trips to LA to hang out with you. You really are a great friend. Better than I deserved.

Taylor added, “Just so you know, Max and Kate were here earlier. I’m sure they’ll be back as soon as they know you’re up. They’re both really worried about you.”

Kate was here? Wow. I didn’t expect that. Wait. Max saw me like this? Oh no! I wanted a real chance with her. There’s no way in hell she’ll want to be with me now! Fuck! Maybe I should have just died.

The look on her face must have been bad, because everyone there started talking.

Cathy asked, “Are you alright?”

Her mother said, “Do we need the doctor?”

Her father said, “Nurse!”

The nurse came over, as Taylor said, “It’s okay, Max was just happy to see that you were alive. Don’t freak out.”

Courtney nodded, “She’s really worried about you, and I’m certain that she has a giant crush on you. Don’t put yourself down!”

Easy for you to say! Look at me. I’m a mess.

The nurse said, “Alright, everyone. I think Ms. Chase needs a break. Could you all please step out of the room?”

After a bunch of goodbyes, Victoria was left lying there in her bed, her only companion a beeping monitor.

This fucking sucks.

After a few minutes, she drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Victoria was woken up several times during the night by nurses who took readings from the equipment hooked up to her, and who asked her if she was feeling any possible side effects from her injuries. By the time morning came around, she was still tired and a little grumpy.

A nurse came in with a tray of food. She walked over to Victoria’s bed and then pressed a button that raised up her back. For the first time since she woke up from her coma, Victoria could see her legs. She looked under the blanket and saw that her hips all the way down to her knees were in a cast.

Holy fuck, no wonder they didn’t want me to see that yesterday. I would have freaked out even more than I did.

While she was staring at her legs, the nurse pulled over the bed’s built-in tray and put her food on it. Victoria immediately felt very hungry, and started eating right away.

Apple sauce, apple juice, a couple eggs, and some toast. None of it very good. Blah.

As she finished up her meal, she heard a knock at her door. Then Cathy and Shanna came in. The nurse took her empty tray and left the room, after saying hello to her visitors.

Victoria smiled at them, and said, “Good morning.”

Hey! I didn’t slur my words!

Cathy replied, “Good morning, Victoria! You look much better today! I’m so happy!”

Shanna said, “Hi, Vicky. I just got here last night. I’m glad you’re up and still kicking!”

“Thanks, both of you. It’s great to see you.” I am not going to be kicking anything ever again.

Her visitors came over and sat down in chairs beside her bed. Cathy started talking, while Shanna got a laptop and a phone out of her bag.

Cathy said, “Your parents had to leave for work last night. They were really happy to see you wake up yesterday.”

Of course. I’m honestly surprised they were still here when I woke up.

Victoria rolled her eyes, and Cathy quickly said, “Victoria! You should be happy that you have them. They made sure you have a fantastic doctor, and a private room. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but without Doctor Russo you would have lost your arm and wouldn’t even have a chance at walking again. He was in the operating room with you for almost twelve hours. You really do owe him for even being alive right now.”

Damn. I didn’t realize it was that bad. Well, I guess I did, but it feels weird hearing Cathy say it.

“Okay, I’m sorry. It was strange having them here being so nice to me.”

Cathy shrugged, saying, “I admit that they do work too much, but without them, your experience right now would be much worse. Enough of that, though. You seem to be a lot more awake today. Are you feeling much better?”

Victoria nodded, “I’m not in as much pain. I am kind of tired, but that’s because the nurses kept waking me up to check on me. I guess they have to, but it sucks.”

Her friends nodded, and Shanna said, “Yeah, I was in the hospital a few years ago. You probably won’t get a full night’s sleep for a while.”

Cathy added, “It’s for the best, though. You don’t want to have a complication in the middle of the night and no one knows about it.”

Victoria and Shanna both nodded at that. Victoria looked at the laptop Shanna was holding, and raised an eyebrow.

Shanna said, “I brought it for you. I know you’re going to be bored out of your mind in a couple days. I also have a new phone for you, with the same number you already use. Oh, the emergency crew at the accident did manage to save the drive with all of the photos you had taken, though most of your gear was pretty much trashed.”

“Even my new Leica?”

Shanna grimaced, and nodded. Fuck. I didn’t even have it a week.

Shanna continued, “Your dad has an attorney at the office. You’d be amazed how many journalists who cover photography have called in the last few days. He’s been handling all of their questions.”

Wow. I never even thought about that. I guess I am pretty famous, though.

Victoria nodded, and smiled.

Shanna continued, “I realize that you might have some trouble editing, so I started working on the photos you haven’t already finished. They’re on here, so please let me know what you think.”

With that, she carefully handed over the laptop where Victoria could use it. I never even thought about that. I probably can’t even run photoshop without my right hand, or at least not good enough for professional work. Damn it!

Victoria said, “If you two don’t mind, can I take a few minutes just to check the work? I know it’s due soon.”

Her friends nodded, and quietly sat back in their chairs. Victoria quickly went to the PNW folder and opened it. She saw a new folder marked Shanna’s Edits. She opened it and started looking through the pictures.

After a few minutes, she smiled and looked at Shanna, “Most of these are really good. I do have a couple things you could fix on some of them, but I’d say most are ready to go.”

They spent some time going over her suggestions, and Shanna used the laptop to write herself an email about it.

While Shanna was doing that, Cathy said, “It’s really nice seeing you jump right into work like that. I was worried that you might not be able to do that kind of work for a while.”

Victoria shrugged, “That’s me. I at least want to make sure this job is finished correctly. Oh, right. Shanna, what about my upcoming schedule?”

Shanna replied, “I’ve cancelled everything for the next few months. Honestly, that cleared you up for the year.”

“Thanks, though it really does suck.”

Shanna hesitated; then added, “Vicky, I hate to say this, but once this last magazine job is finished, what am I supposed to do? I mean, we have maybe a week’s worth of work left. With your injuries…”

Victoria frowned. Crap. Shanna depends on me. She won’t have a fucking job if I can’t work, and it’s obvious I’m off the scene for months, at least.

“I’ll talk to my father. He might have a position for you at the Chase Space. If nothing else, I will give you the best damn recommendation possible if you want to work for someone else. You’ve been a great assistant. I’ll also make sure you get paid until you can find something else.”

Shanna smiled at that, but still looked sad. She said, “Thanks. I really like working for you. I feel terrible for even bringing this up, right now.”

“It’s okay. You have to take care of yourself. I certainly liked working with you.”

Cathy said, “Wow, you’ve really matured, Victoria. I’m proud of you.”

A warm glow spread throughout Victoria’s chest. She said, “Thanks, Cathy. I really appreciate you saying that.”

They spent another hour visiting, before they got up to leave. They told Victoria they’d both be heading back to Seattle, and would keep in touch.

I’m so glad they visited me. This day is so much better now.

Maybe ten minutes later, there was another knock and Taylor and Courtney came in.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria perked up, smiling, and said, “Hi girlfriends! It’s great to see you!”

Taylor and Courtney smiled back, obviously thrilled at her response.

Taylor said, “Hi, Victoria! You seem much better today!”

Courtney agreed, adding, “Yeah, it’s great to see you smiling for real again!”

Victoria shrugged, “I mean, I guess I do feel a little better. Seeing you definitely helps.”

Her friends nodded. Then Taylor brought up a bag and waved it at Victoria. She said, “Guess what I brought you? Real food!”

“Yes! You are my hero!”

Her friends came over to her bed, and Taylor pulled out a container and put it on Victoria’s tray. It had a sausage muffin sandwich, tater tots, and some bacon on the side. Victoria wasted no time, grabbing the sandwich and taking a bite.

It’s so good! I needed this! Why is the hospital’s food so bland?

Her friends both laughed. Taylor said, “I remember how bad the food was when we visited my mother in the hospital. I expect this place is no better.”

Victoria nodded her agreement, and took another bite. Courtney found an empty cup, filled it with water, and brought it over. Victoria set her sandwich down, grabbed the cup, and took a sip. Her friends both sat down in the chairs on the left side of her bed, smiling.

“Ugh, trying to eat with only one hand really sucks.”

Oops. I don’t want to upset them. I have to act positive!

“I mean, I guess I have to get used to it. It’s just different. I’m really glad you both came today. I really love this food! How are you two doing?”

They chatted for a while about Taylor’s husband and little boy, and about Courtney’s job, while Victoria finished her meal. Then Taylor asked, “Did the doctor tell you what to expect? He didn’t really say much to us. I know he told your parents, but they didn’t fill us in.”

Courtney nodded, looking worried.

Victoria grimaced, looking down. Fuck. Well, there goes being positive. I hate even thinking about this.

“Well, it’s not good. I really don’t want to worry you guys, though.”

Courtney reached out and held her hand, “It’s okay, Victoria. We want to know. We’re going to support you, no matter what.”

Taylor added, “Yeah, don’t worry about that. If anything, not knowing is scarier than if you tell us what the diagnosis really is.”

Victoria sighed, and closed her eyes. Oh well, they deserve to know the truth. I wish it was better.

“You see my arm, here? Apparently, the only reason I still have it is that my doctor is really good.”

Her friends gasped. Courtney tightened her grip on Victoria’s hand, and Taylor leaned in and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Even so, I’m only going to get partial use out of it even after therapy. I suspect that’s code for ‘it’s going to be nearly useless’.”

Courtney said, “Don’t be so negative! Maybe it won’t be too bad.”

Victoria smiled at her, and blinked. Damn it! I’m crying again. When did I turn into such a crybaby?

She continued, “Then there are my legs. If I’m lucky, I’ll only need a cane to walk for the rest of my life. If I’m not, I’ll be in a wheelchair.”

Shit, how will I use a camera if I only have one good arm, and it’s holding me up with a cane? I won’t be able to carry anything! I never even thought of that!

Victoria’s head fell back onto the pillow, her eyes staring at the ceiling.

Taylor asked, “Victoria?”

“I can’t be a photographer anymore. I won’t be able to move around and take pictures. What the hell am I going to do?”

She heard sniffling, and looked over. Courtney was crying, although she was trying to hide it. Taylor just looked sad.

They know it’s true. My life is over. The only thing I’m even good at is taking pictures, and now I won’t be able to do that. Hell, I can’t even use photoshop if I’m stuck with just my left hand. I’m not even going to be useful as an assistant to someone else. Seriously, I don’t even know what I’m going to do after I get out of this fucking hospital. What are my choices? Walmart greeter? I want to fucking die.

Victoria turned her head away from her friends, and just started crying. Her shoulders shook, and that made her ribs hurt a lot, and she just cried harder.

I’m fucking useless now. A total failure. I knew I wasn’t good enough.

Taylor took her chin and turned her head towards them. She said, “Victoria, snap out of it! You are a great person! You’ll find something to do. I know you. This is just a setback that you will work around.”

Courtney nodded, “Yeah! If there’s anyone who can figure out what to do, it’s you! Don’t be too hard on yourself. It will just take time.”

Easy for you two to say. You’re not the one stuck in a worthless body.

Taylor shook her head. She said, “I know you think we’re full of shit, but don’t give up on yourself. If I even think you are, I’ll kick you in the ass.”

Victoria started laughing, even through her tears. Of course, Taylor would say that. Hell, she probably would actually do it. I love her so much.

Courtney smiled, and said, “I’ll help you any way I can, even if it’s just as a cheerleader. I know you will work through this and come out even better than before.”

“I don’t deserve you two. You’re the best friends ever.”

Taylor said, “You’re damn right, we are. You helped me out when my life was going to shit, and I’m not going to stand by while you’re having problems.”

Courtney nodded, “Me, too!”

“Okay! Okay! Sorry for getting so sad. You two being here is really great. I needed this.”

Her friends nodded.

“Speaking of you being here, don’t get angry but I’m going to make sure your stays are paid for. Hell, my father can afford it.”

Taylor and Courtney laughed, and Courtney said, “Don’t worry. Your father already forced us to allow him to pay for our trips and hotel rooms. He wouldn’t listen when we said no.”

“Really?  Wow, I’m surprised, but also really happy about that.”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah, he cornered us the first day we were all here. He can be very persuasive when he wants to be.”

“So he gave you no option to refuse?”

Her friends both nodded, and then started laughing. Courtney said, “He was almost offended when I said no. Same for Taylor. It was kind of funny. I certainly didn’t expect it.”

Taylor nodded, “Me, either. I can afford this trip easily, but he wouldn’t even listen to me. I don’t know what’s going on, but he’s seriously mellowed out in the last few years.”

Huh. I’m really glad to hear that. I’m also happy I don’t have to argue with them about it, either. I’m kind of tired.

Victoria yawned. Her friends looked at her, and Taylor said, “I’m guess you’re getting tired. I hope you keep getting better. We’ll stop back in later.”

Victoria waved her hand, and said, “Wait! Have you guys seen Max? Or Kate, even?”

They nodded, and Courtney said, “They came back later yesterday, but you were asleep. Max is running her store right now, and Kate’s helping her.”

“Oh, okay. I guess that makes sense. I’ll see you guys later.”

Victoria fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Around an hour later, a nurse woke her up to give her lunch. Victoria ate it, but was not impressed. She also had to experience her bedpan being changed and getting cleaned up. She knew they’d done it before, but she hadn’t been awake at the time. She hated every second of it.

This is so fucking embarrassing. I know the nurse probably does this for hundreds of people, but I just feel gross.

She fell back to sleep.

She woke to the sound of two people talking. She was still woozy, and they didn’t realize that she could hear them.

“Victoria looks so frail. Look at those casts, too. I feel terrible for her.”

“I know. I wish there was something we could do for her. Things were going so well, even though I kind of botched the end of our date.”

That’s Max! Is Kate with her?

“Max! I already told you that it was okay. Even Victoria told you so, remember?”

Max told her about our date? She shouldn’t be worried about me being upset!

“I know, but it was obvious she wanted more.”

I’m just really happy you’re willing to be here now. I’m certainly no catch anymore.

Victoria made a show of yawning, and turned her head towards them, so that they would think she just woke up. They both looked at her, obviously worried.

Max crossed her left arm over to her right elbow, and looked nervous but also sad. Kate sat there, and gave Victoria a big smile, “Good evening, Victoria!”

“Hi Kate, Max”

Max smiled, and said, “Hi, Victoria. It’s great to see you awake and talking again.”

Victoria felt her face heating up. She still wants to talk to me. I wish I didn’t look like this.

She smiled at them and said, “I feel like all I do is sleep. I wonder if it’s the drugs they’ve got me on?”

She waved at the tubes and bottles hanging around her bed.

Kate and Max nodded. Kate said, “Probably. Also, your body heals when you sleep, so it’s a natural reaction.”

Max added, “You probably need it. I’m just really happy you’re still here. When I heard the news, I kind of panicked. I called Kate to talk about it and she ended up flying here the next morning.”

You panicked because I was hurt? Wow. Kate flew out right away? Was it for you or me?

“I’m happy to be here, though not really in one piece anymore. I’m honestly a bit surprised you’re here, Kate.”

Kate shrugged, and said, “Max has been my best friend for years. I’m also worried about you. I’m really happy you’re still alive.”

That’s what I thought. Still, if anyone deserves to see me suffer, it’s Kate.

“It’ll take more than a stupid truck driver to stop me.”

Victoria gave them a big smile.

A really fucking fake smile, but I’m not going to make Max worry.

Max smiled sadly, failing to pretend that Victoria was funny. She said, “Victoria, it’s okay. Taylor and Courtney filled us in on what the doctor said. I just wish I could make the whole accident go away. Sadly, it didn’t work out anywhere near as well as I’d hoped.”

Huh?

The look on her face must have alerted Max, who quickly added, “Umm, what I meant is that I just daydreamed about saving you somehow, but it always ended terribly, even worse than this. I don’t know. I guess that doesn’t make any sense.”

No, it really doesn’t. Then again, I might do the same thing for you. Just wishing I could save you even though I know I couldn’t, because I’m me.

Kate said, “We’re hoping that your rehab will go well, and that you’ll be back to your old self. I know it will be hard, but I’m praying for you.”

“Thanks, Kate. Honestly, I’m starting to think you’re right, that there is some kind of God up there watching over us. When I was in a coma, I had someone offer me an amazing afterlife. I didn’t take it, though, because I still wanted to be here. I don’t know if I was just dreaming, or if there really was some kind of angel watching over me.”

Please don’t think I’m crazy.

Kate grinned, and replied, “That’s interesting! I’d love to talk about it more with you, once you’re feeling better.”

Max looked at Victoria with a surprised face. She said, “Wow! I never expected to hear that from you. I didn’t think you were the spiritual type.”

“Thanks. It definitely made me want to re-evaluate my life, though.”

Max blushed, and said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“It’s okay, Max. I was obviously more interested in being famous than being a saint. My viewpoint’s different now that I’m never going to use a camera professionally again.”

Shit! Why did I say that? I need to be positive!

Kate said, “Don’t give up! You don’t know what can happen with therapy.”

Max said, “It might not be too bad. I believe in you.”

“Sorry. I’m just really worried about all of this. I let it slip out sometimes.”

Max nodded, “I know the feeling. We’re here for you, though. If you need any help, just ask.”

Kate added, “Definitely. You didn’t deserve for something like this to happen. If there’s any way we can help, we will. Just don’t give up.”

Victoria smiled, saying, “I’m really happy you two are here. It is nice to know people actually care.”

The sound of the door opening caused them all to look. Taylor and Courtney walked in, and waved.

Chapter Text

Taylor said, “Well, I guess Victoria finally woke back up. I hope she wasn’t too grumpy!”

Max and Kate smiled back, and Max said, “No, she was just getting her beauty sleep.”

Whoa! Was that Max attempting to flirt with me, even though I look terrible?

Courtney laughed, and said, “Down, Max! Victoria needs recovery time before you jump her!”

Max and Victoria’s face both got beet red. Victoria turned her head away from the group, after giving Courtney a glare.

Taylor and Courtney started laughing, and Kate said, while giggling, “That wasn’t very nice, Courtney.”

Courtney shrugged, “I’m just saying Max is very interested in Victoria.”

Max ducked her head, and said, “Okay! Okay!”

Victoria rolled her eyes and turned her head back to face the group.

“Obviously, if I don’t say anything, Courtney will just keep going. I’m glad you’re worried about me, Max.”

Max looked up at her, still red-faced, and smiled, “I am. I just wish someone wouldn’t go out of her way to embarrass us.”

Taylor and Courtney laughed harder at that, and even Kate started laughing.

Ha. Ha. It’s so funny making fun of the newly dating couple.

Taylor stopped laughing after a few seconds, and said, “Well, at least we can stop avoiding the subject of you two dating now. I, for one, think you two will be great for one another.”

Courtney nodded, “Yes! Victoria will make Max get out of her shell and Max will keep Victoria grounded.”

“Wow, am I in some kind of romance novel or something? Could you two get any cheesier?”

Kate said, “They’re right, though. You two complement each other very well.”

Max said, “It’s gouda be hard doing anything with all of you watching us, although it’s nice that you support us.”

Victoria sighed, closing her eyes, as her friends all started laughing again.

I guess bad jokes just come with the territory.

Victoria made a show of groaning and putting her arm over her face.

“Make the puns stop! Please!”

Max smiled, and said, “Okay, but only because you said please.”

Her friends kept snickering for another minute, and Victoria smiled. I’m really happy they are all here. I just wish it was for a better reason.

Taylor said, “Hey, Max, would it be cool if me and Courtney stopped by your store tomorrow? Victoria told us about it, and I’d like to check it out.”

Max nodded yes and said, “Sure thing! It’s not that impressive, to be honest, but I know you liked photography. I guess you’ll like looking around.”

Taylor nodded, “Yep! I haven’t really done much with a camera lately, except take pictures of my family. Still, it will be cool to see all of the new stuff available.”

“You should buy a real camera, Taylor. I know you love using your phone, but you could get even better pictures with one.”

I have a few I could give her. Well, I’ll ask her later if she doesn’t find one she likes at Max’s store.

Taylor shrugged and smiled at Victoria. She said, “You’re right. Of course, my phone is better than that old camera I had in school, so I just never bought a new one.”

Courtney said, “I’m going to look around, too! I’m not a photographer, but I’d get better pictures of my clothes. It might actually help my sales.”

Okay, I’m definitely giving Courtney a camera. Her heart is in the right place, but she can’t afford to buy one. Why the heck didn’t I think of that years ago? I’m so damn selfish.

Kate said, “Max’s store is actually really nice. I’m sure you two will love looking around. I was tempted to buy a camera, and I don’t even need one.”

Victoria nodded, and said, “Yes, she does have a great selection. Taylor, she can also guide you to a camera you’ll actually use.”

Victoria saw Max look at her. She noticed that.

Max turned back to Taylor and said, “I have a couple ideas already. I’m sure we can find you something nice.”

Courtney is just standing there, smiling. Fuck, I know she hates this. You’d never know it to look at her, though.

“Hey, Courtney, before I forget, I saw that new dress you made last week. It looks amazing.”

Courtney looked at her, and nodded, “Yeah. I really like it. I’m half tempted to just keep it for myself.”

Kate asked, “You make clothes? I didn’t know that.”

Courtney nodded, and said, “Yeah, I have a small clothing line. I sell things online.”

She turned and looked at Victoria, “Mind if I use your laptop and show my stuff to Kate and Max?”

“Sure. I know they’ll love it.”

For the next hour, they looked through Courtney’s catalog, talking about the different dresses, skirts, and blouses. Kate and Max made fun of her calling it Vortex Fashion, but they did it so that even Courtney laughed about it. Kate actually ordered a matching green scarf and skirt while they were sitting there. Max ordered a light blue blouse.

It’s the same blue as her eyes.

A little later, and a nurse came in and informed everyone that visiting hours were over. Her friends all said their goodbyes and wandered out of the room.

Victoria still felt wide awake.

She grabbed her new phone and sent a text to Courtney:

Victoria: Don’t feel like you have to buy a camera tomorrow. I’ll give you one of my old ones. Maybe mention this to Taylor, although I expect she’ll just buy one from Max anyway.

After a few minutes, she got a reply:

Courtney: That’s really nice of you! I feel bad, though.

Victoria: Don’t. I have a ton of cameras I don’t even use, that are still really good. I’m happy to give you one.

Courtney: Okay. You’re the best! Ciao!

Victoria: Take care.

I guess I can actually do something constructive.

Her laptop was sitting on a table right by her bed, where she could easily reach it. She opened it and went to her emails. There were a few business emails, a few from people she knew in the industry asking how she was doing, and one from Shanna.

She opened that one up.

[Vicky, I’ve gone through all of the photos you had. I made the changes you suggested when I was there at the hospital. They’re on our server so you can download them and let me know what you think. I hope you’re feeling better!  Shanna]

She went to the Chase Photography website and logged in. She found all of the pictures on their private server and downloaded them to her laptop. She then spent four hours just going through them all. She made notes on changes she wanted, and then forwarded them back to Shanna. She also added in a note to have Shanna mail a Pentax camera she no longer used to Courtney, as a gift.

That took longer than it should have. I wish I could do the edits myself. Still, I’m glad she’s there. I bet she’s getting buried in phone calls from clients. At least she doesn’t have to deal with reporters.

The nurse came in and checked her vitals. Victoria noticed that it was after 2 AM. She was feeling pretty tired, so she shut down her computer and went to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Once again, she was woken up a few times during the night. She still felt pretty tired when Taylor and Courtney came in around ten. Taylor handed her a bag, which had a large burrito in it.

Taylor said, “Eat up! It’s a breakfast burrito from a local Mexican place. We had some earlier, and they’re really good!”

Courtney nodded, “Yeah, I think you’ll love it!”

Victoria started eating while her friends sat down. After taking a few bites, she smiled at her friends and said, “You were right. This is fantastic!”

She already had a cup of water at her tray, so she took a sip of it.

“I wish I could drink some coffee, but I’m not allowed. Something to do with the drugs.”

Her friends nodded. Courtney said, “We asked the nurse about that. She said definitely no. Sorry.”

Victoria shrugged, grimacing a tiny bit as pain shot through her ribs from the movement.

I don’t think they noticed that. I hope not. I don’t want to worry them.

Taylor smiled and said, “By the way, thanks for the offer of a free camera, but I’m going to get one from Max. She’s been great the last few days, and I’d like to support her store.”

Courtney looked down, but then back up and smiled at Victoria. She said, “Yeah, thank you. I really couldn’t afford to buy one. It will be nice to actually get some pictures of my clothes using something other than my phone.”

Victoria paused eating, saying, “I’m really happy I can help you out. Honestly, I should have given you one years ago. I feel bad about not offering you one till now.”

Yep. I’m filthy fucking rich, and I never even thought about giving you something that you obviously needed.

Courtney shook her head, “No, don’t feel bad. I never asked, and it’s not like you have to buy me stuff just because we’re friends. I do want to prove that I can make it on my own.”

“True, but LA is expensive. It won’t be easy, if you don’t have the right tools to do your work.”

Courtney shrugged, and then Taylor jumped in and said, “Anyway, it was really nice seeing how well you and Max are getting along. I know we teased you a bit, but maybe it will get you two to relax a little more.”

Courtney laughed, “You two sure do get embarrassed easily.”

“Very funny. I guess it did help break the ice yesterday, though. I really had fun just hanging out with everyone.”

Too bad I’m stuck in this damn bed. Imagine if we could all get together and actually go somewhere? Maybe once I’m out of the hospital we can all do something.

Taylor said, “It’s too bad you couldn’t hang with all of us the last few days. You should hear some of the stories Kate has been telling. She says she writes and draws around five or six hours every day, and ends up only keeping a small amount of her work. She says she has boxes of stuff that she hasn’t used. She also teaches Sunday School at her local church. She’s really a nice person.”

One I treated like shit.

Courtney agreed, saying, “She’s also helped all of us after your accident. We were all so worried when we first heard about it, and then we got here and you were in a coma. It was so scary.”

Taylor nodded. “I honestly didn’t know what to do. Kate sat with all of us and just asked us to tell our best memories about you. We all ended up crying like crazy.”

Courtney smiled, “Max and Kate may have heard a few embarrassing stories about you. One involved you passing out at a play, where you were supposed to be the star.”

Victoria frowned, “Rachel drugged me. Heck, she wasn’t even supposed to be in the play after she ran off with that girl.”

Taylor said, “That girl was Chloe Price.”

Shit. It was? I didn’t even realize that.

“Did you tell that to Max?”

Please say no! Please!

Taylor shook her head no. “No way was I going to mention her name. Max was already worked up. I didn’t want to make it worse.”

Victoria relaxed. She then took a few minutes to finish her burrito. Once she finished, she gave the bag and wrapper to Taylor, who threw it away.

Courtney asked, “So, can we sign your cast? You know it’s a tradition!”

Taylor added, “Oh yeah! I have a marker. Give me a second to find it.”

She dug through her purse, and walked over.

“Just don’t write anything really embarrassing, please. My parents will see it.”

Taylor smiled, and took a minute to write a message. Once she stepped back, Victoria tilted her head up but couldn’t see what she wrote.

“Okay, what did you write?”

Taylor said, “It just says ‘Get better soon! This cast stops trucks!’”

Victoria giggled, “Of course it does.”

Courtney came over with a big grin on her face, and also took a minute to write. She put her message up where Victoria could read it. It said ‘Wishing you all the best! Friends4Life!’

Victoria smiled at her friends, and said, “Thanks, guys. You two being here really does mean a lot.”

Taylor and Courtney sat back down. They chatted for almost an hour before Victoria started getting really sleepy.

“Sorry, but I need to take a nap. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

Taylor said, “Yeah, it’s starting to show. I guess we’re going to head over to Max’s store.”

Courtney nodded, “We’ll let her know you’re doing well. Do you want us to tell her anything?”

“I’m just really glad I ran into her last week. Let her know she can stop in any time she wants.”

Her friends headed out, and a few minutes later, Victoria fell asleep.

*click* *click* *click*

Huh? What’s that noise? Is someone taking pictures? What’s going on?

Victoria woke up slowly, and saw a camera pointing at her, clicking away. Some guy in a cheap suit was taking pictures.

What the fuck? Who the fuck is this?

Alarmed, Victoria woke up and hit the button to raise her bed. The man lowered his camera and grabbed a small microphone.

He asked, “Ms. Chase? I’m from The National Gossip. Could you tell me how bad your injuries are? You look pretty bad. Were you at fault for the accident? Why were you driving in the rain like that? Did you stop in front of the truck on purpose?”

“What? Who are you? Why are you in my room? Some truck hit me. Why are you asking me these questions?”

The man said, “Half of your body is in a cast. Will you walk again? I see your arm is also in a cast. Will this affect your ability to take photographs?”

“I don’t know! Go away!”

He said, “Just answer a few questions, and I’m gone.”

“Get out of my room! Nurse!”

Victoria reached for the button that called the nurse. The man grabbed her hand, preventing her from reaching it.

He said, “Just tell me. Is the damage severe? How soon until we can see you back in action?”

Victoria yanked her hand out of his. Her ribs jabbed hot needles into her. She gasped, losing her breath.

He continued, “Damn, it looks severe. How bad are your injuries?”

“I’m really fucked up, you asshole! Can’t you see that? Get out of here!”

The door banged open and a nurse came in. The man quickly stepped back, then turned and pushed his way past the girl and left the room. She ran over to Victoria, and asked, “Are you okay? That man should not have been in here!”

“Get away from me! What the hell is going on?”

More people in hospital gowns came in. One got on the phone and called security.

Victoria noticed a loud beeping noise that kept getting faster and faster.

Is that one of the monitors?

As more nurses gathered around her, the edges of her vision went black, and then she passed out.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria woke up to the sound of some men talking. She turned her head and looked at them. One was Dr. Russo, another was a guy who looked like he was right out a television cop show, and the third was a short man in a really nice suit. He seemed familiar.

They turned towards her, and the doctor said, “Hello, Victoria. How are you feeling?”

“Tired. Also, my chest is sore.”

Dr. Russo nodded, “You strained your ribs, which were already broken, when you were reacting to that intruder and the nurses. Luckily, there was no real further damage. You’ll just have to be careful.”

“I guess I’m not surprised. What a creep.”

The man in the nice suit nodded at Victoria, “Hi. I’m glad you’re okay. My name is John Stambaugh. I’m an attorney for your father.”

I knew I’d seen him before.

“Hi. I bet I know why you’re here.”

The other man stepped forward, saying, “I’m Detective Ron Miller, with the Portland PD. We’re already looking into this.”

John nodded, “Yes, that intruder should never have gotten into your room. I’ve already discussed this with the hospital administration, and they now have security at your door. You don’t have to worry about anyone else bothering you. Did that man hurt you in any way?”

“Not really. He did grab my wrist when I tried to press the button to get the nurses. I yanked my hand out of his and it really hurt my ribs when I did.”

Detective Miller scowled, “That’s assault. Did he reveal his identity?”

“He said he was with The National Gossip, but who knows if he really was? He was paparazzi, for sure. They lie all the time. I guess you could check with them and the other rags to see if he’s contacted them.”

Miller asked, “Did he say anything to you, or do anything physical, other than grabbing your hand?”

Victoria shivered. I hope he didn’t feel me up or something while I was asleep.

“When I woke up, he was taking pictures of me.”

John muttered, “Shit.”

The other men looked concerned, and Detective Miller started writing notes in a pad.

Miller asked, “Were you still covered, or did he remove any of your clothing?”

“No! I was still mostly under my sheet, but it was really obvious I’m in these damn casts. I really hope he didn’t do anything weird while I was still asleep.”

All three of them nodded.

“Once he realized I was awake, he stopped photographing me and said he was from that paper. Then he started asking me about the wreck and if I was seriously injured.”

John asked, “What did you say?”

“Mostly I just yelled at him to get out of my room. I did say I was hit by the truck and that I was obviously really messed up, though. He kept asking so many questions in a row, and I wasn’t really awake, so I didn’t think to just not talk at all. I was really freaked out.”

John nodded, and said, “It’s not your fault. You should never have been in that position to begin with.”

He looked over at the doctor when he said it.

Dr. Russo nodded and turned to Victoria. He said, “I am really sorry that happened. I never expected anyone would try such a stunt. We will make sure it never happens again.”

Too late, doc. I guess it’s not really your fault, though. It’s not like I asked for any protection or anything.

“That’s good. Please make sure my friends are all okay to visit, though! I don’t want any of them kept away.”

The doctor nodded, saying, “Yes, we’ll make sure they can all visit with you. The nurses here know all of them, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Detective Miller asked, “Victoria, do you remember what the man looked like?”

She described him as best she could.

The detective then turned to the doctor, and asked, “Do you have any camera footage I can review? Maybe we can get some clear shots of this guy’s face and ID him.”

Dr. Russo nodded, saying, “We should. Security was notified as soon as the incident occurred.”

The doctor and the detective said their goodbyes and left the room, off to check the cameras.

John sat down next to Victoria, and said, “Victoria, I hate to say this, but it’s going to get a little rough this next week. I suspect those pictures are going to get out.”

Fuck! That can’t happen!

“Isn’t there anything you can do? Maybe call the papers and threaten them with lawsuits if they publish?”

John shrugged, “We’ll certainly try, but you do realize that won’t stop these types of papers. They stand to make much more money than they will lose to us.”

“Everyone will see them. There’s no way I’m going to be able to continue working if this gets out.”

John nodded, “I understand that, but there’s only so much we can do. I’ll put as much pressure on them as I can, but I’m not sure it will work.”

Everyone will know. I’m finished.

“What did my parents say?”

John smiled at her, “They will support you any way they can. Me being here is just the start. They just want you to get better.”

Even if I fully recover, I’m just going to be that girl who was in a wreck, and “Did you see her in that hospital? How awful! How did she let anyone take her picture looking like that!”

“You and I both know how this industry works. If those photos get published, I’m done. Damn it! I just wish it never happened!”

John grimaced, and said, “I realize that it seems really bad now, but once you’re back behind the camera, people will forget about this. You just need to do a couple good shoots and all will be forgiven.”

That’s a big if. Who knows if I’ll ever be able to work again, anyway? Maybe this will actually make it easier in the long run. All of the gossip and bullshit will work its way out of everyone’s system while I’m still here, so by the time I’m free from this hospital, no one will even care if I’m crippled. At least I won’t have to explain myself then. Hell, why am I so upset about what those people think, if I’m probably never going to work with them ever again, anyway?

“Okay. Please do your best. I think I need to be alone. Good luck.”

John nodded, and stood up. “I’ll try to stop this. If nothing else, I’m going to do my damndest to make sure that the guy who took your pictures ends up in prison.”

“Now that I would be very happy about! Fuck him over.”

John said, “Don’t worry, he will regret ever bothering you. I’ll see myself out. I hope you get better soon, and fully recover.”

“Thanks. Me, too.”

John left, and Victoria lay there and just thought about what a disaster this was.

After an hour or so, the door opened and all of her friends entered the room. They all looked a little confused.

Well, explaining this is going to be fun.

 

Chapter Text

Courtney said, “Hey, Victoria! What’s going on? Are you okay?”

Max, Taylor, and Kate also looked at her, obviously worried. They stood by her bed, waiting for an answer.

“Some creep was taking pictures of me while I was sleeping. He’s probably going to sell them to a gossip rag.”

Max said, “Fuck!”

Courtney and Taylor said, “Oh, no!”

Kate closed her eyes and sighed.

Taylor said, “We came back last night, but no one was allowed into this hallway. There were cops checking everyone’s IDs. It was crazy.”

Why am I sleeping so damn much? I had no idea it was the next day. Is that why the doctor knew my ribs weren’t hurt worse?

“Wait, it’s morning? What about your store, Max?”

Max shrugged, “It’s okay. I put up a sign that I’m closed. I’m just glad you’re alright. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“Not really. It was just really scary seeing a camera in my face as I woke up. He asked me a ton of questions about the accident and my injuries. I’m still pretty freaked out about it.”

Max looks seriously pissed. Heck, Kate looks as freaked out as me. I guess this is what Jefferson did to her. Now I know how it feels. Taylor and Courtney just look so worried. I feel bad.

Max said, “Did they catch the guy?”

“No, but they’re looking for him. A detective is checking the hospital cameras now. My father has a lawyer here, who’s trying to keep the photos from being published. We don’t have much hope for that, though.”

Courtney asked, “No one would seriously publish them, would they? They’d get sued!”

“They’ll make a ton of money and get free publicity if they publish them. Unless the police catch the guy really soon, I’m pretty much screwed.”

Taylor frowned, “This really sucks. It’s bad enough that you have to deal with your injuries. Now this asshole is going to make it worse.”

I deserve it.

Taylor squinted at Victoria and said, “You’re making that face. You do not deserve this! Don’t you dare believe that!”

Courtney nodded, while Kate and Max looked at them, surprised.

Kate asked, “Victoria, you don’t blame yourself because of what happened to me, do you?”

Victoria turned her head away from her friends.

Of course I do. Even though I know I shouldn’t, how can I not?

Kate put her hand on Victoria’s shoulder, and said, “It’s not your fault. Don’t you dare blame yourself. There’s no point in me having forgiven you if you still do.”

Victoria sighed, and looked at her.

“I know. I even just told myself that, but I guess I don’t really believe it. I’m sorry.”

Kate closed her eyes, and then opened them and said, “Victoria. Don’t be the victim. You’re better than that. You are so talented and hard-working. You deserve every good thing that happens to you. Putting yourself down constantly just makes all of us tired of dealing with you. We know you’re better than that, but you can’t seem to get it through your head, even though we’ve all told you this dozens of times.”

Victoria and her friends all stopped and stared at Kate.

Max said, “Damn, Kate. I never expected that from you.”

Taylor nodded, saying, “Yeah, you’re tougher than I thought. Good for you!”

Courtney nodded at Kate, but looked at Victoria and said, “It’s true, Victoria. We all love you, but watching you act like this is so sad and depressing. We all really support you and you need to realize that. You will get better and life will go on. We’ll be here to help you.”

Damn, I don’t deserve these people as friends. They’re right, though. I need to stop being such a whiny bitch. Hell, I’m acting just like the kind of people I can’t stand.

Victoria smiled at them, and said, “Thanks. Kate, I guess I really did need to hear that. I promise I’m going to stop acting like this. It’s not my fault some asshole thinks he can make money selling pictures of me. Heck, maybe I should beat him to the punch and sell some myself. That would be a great joke on him.”

Max said, “Don’t you dare!”

Taylor laughed, and said, “It’s okay, Max. This is just Victoria’s way of dealing with it. It looks like she’s going to be fine, now.”

Damn straight! Why the hell was I so worked up over that clown?

Courtney laughed, “Yeah, it seems we’ve gotten her angry enough to get over it. Good work, Kate!”

Kate shrugged, blushing, “I just said what I felt. I guess she needed some tough love.”

“Thanks, again, Kate. I do feel better now. Here’s hoping the police catch that jerk and throw him in jail for ten years.”

Her friends all smiled and agreed.

Max said, “I know I do work a lot, but if you ever need anything, or just really want company, call me. If it’s not too busy, I’ll be happy to close my shop and visit.”

She’s so sweet.

“Thanks, Max. You can’t really afford to do that too often, though. I might actually do it.”

Max shrugged, “I’ll make do. You being safe is way more important than me being open for a day.”

Courtney said, “Aww. Look at the cute little lovebirds!”

Taylor and Kate laughed, while both Victoria’s and Max’s faces got red.

Max asked, “Seriously, guys?”

Taylor said, “You know it! Of course, you two will have lots of alone time now.”

Taylor and Courtney both looked at Victoria.

Taylor said, “I’m going to be flying home tonight. I’ve been away from my family for a week. I’m really happy you’re okay, but I need to get back to them.”

Courtney looked down, nodded, and said, “Me, too. I can’t afford to miss any more days, or I’ll be looking for a new job. I’m sorry, Victoria.”

“It’s okay. I’m so happy both of you came up here on such short notice. I really appreciate it. I’m going to miss all of us just being in the same room talking, though. I miss this.”

Taylor nodded, “Me, too. I mean, we still chat on the regular, but it’s different being here.”

Courtney said, “Yep! Oh, wait. Max and Kate, you need our chat room info. It will be great if you can join us sometimes.”

Max and Kate looked at Victoria and the others.

“You should get it. It’s a lot of fun. We just talk about our lives and stuff. Nothing too serious.”

Kate said, “Send the info to our phones. I’d love to join in, when I can.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, it sounds like fun. I’m going to miss hanging out with you two. We’ve done so much this week.”

Really? Well, I guess I was probably sleeping through most of it. I’m glad they are all getting along. Imagine if they didn’t.

Taylor grinned, “Just don’t tell all of our secrets to Victoria.”

“Hey! That’s not fair!”

Everyone laughed at that. Her friends stayed for a few more hours. They talked about all kinds of stuff, ranging from Kate’s books to Courtney’s clothes to Max’s store and Taylor’s family. They did stay away from anything regarding the creepy camera guy, or Victoria’s injuries, which Victoria appreciated.

Finally, everyone got up to leave. Courtney and Taylor looked like they were going to cry, since they were heading back to their homes, and might not get back for months. Max gave Victoria a soft smile and squeezed her hand. Then they all wandered out.

I want out of this damn hospital! How long until I can get out of these casts and start therapy?

Victoria spent the rest of the day reading emails, doing a few edits that Shanna requested, and lurking her favorite photography forum, after making sure she was logged out. She didn’t want anyone knowing she was there, so they didn’t start asking her tons of questions she would just refuse to answer. She noticed several large threads about her accident. After reading only a few of the posts, she studiously avoided any other threads about it. Some people were very supportive, but there were a few trolls that she kind of wanted something horrible to happen to.

Other than eating some bland meals and having the nurses check up on her, the rest of the day was pretty tame. She did ask one of the nurses if the police had found anything, but they didn’t know.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, after Victoria had breakfast, her phone rang. She picked it up, seeing that it was Shanna calling.

“Hi, Shanna. What’s up?”

“Hi, Vicky! I just wanted to let you know I forwarded the finals to PNW. Joe will never bother me ever again!”

Victoria laughed, “Good. I really appreciate you dealing with him. There’s nothing worse than a bad client.”

“You got that right! That being said, that was our last job on the books. I have already cancelled everything else, and forwarded a few jobs to some people I trust. Now I’m just hanging out at the office with nothing to do.”

“Write yourself a really good resume. You should try the Chase Space, if you’re interested. I’ll definitely recommend you. If there’s someone else you have in mind, let me know.”

“I’ll happily apply there! It would be interesting working at a gallery. I bet it’s a lot different than working for a field photographer.”

“Yeah, it is. You’ll also be able to make a lot of contacts, and don’t be afraid to submit your own work, once you’re ready. The worst they can do is say no.”

“I will! Thanks for this! I’ll send them my resume this afternoon. Anyway, are you feeling any better? You certainly sound better on the phone than when I was there a few days ago.”

“Yes, thanks. Of course, I’m going to be stuck in this damn bed for weeks. I want out of it so bad!”

“I’m cheering for you. Hell, if you do get back to work, keep me in mind. I’ll happily come back and work for you again.”

“You’ll be one of the first people I call. Thanks, Shanna. Good luck!”

“Bye, Vicky. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me!”

“Au revoir.”

Victoria hung up the phone.

Damn, I’m going to miss working with her.

She dialed her father, who actually answered.

“Hello, father.”

“Victoria! I trust you’re doing well. I’m sorry to hear about that man who broke into your room.”

“I’m feeling a little better. That guy was a real scumbag. Thanks for sending down Mr. Stambaugh. He has already gotten the hospital straightened out.”

Her father laughed, “Yeah, John is good at that. Still, we’re going to make sure you don’t have to worry about anyone else bothering you.”

“Thanks. By the way, my assistant, Shanna Clark, is going to be sending you a resume. She is a really good worker and photographer. She’s done most of my paperwork for the last year. She finished up my last job today, and I don’t have any more work for her to do. She’s a fast learner. I told her to apply to the Chase Space. If you have any positions open, I think you’ll really like her.”

“I’ve dealt with her over the phone this last week. So has Mike Williams, the attorney I sent to your office to deal with journalists. He’s also said she’s a good worker; and a nice person in general. I’ll let my people know that’s she a good choice if they need someone.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it. I hate that I’ve basically left her out to dry because of this accident.”

“Sometimes life happens that way. Luckily, you know some people who can help her out. I like that you are worried about your employee. You’ve really grown, Victoria.”

“You helped. I haven’t said this before, but thank you for coming down so hard on me at Blackwell, and forcing me to stop the drugs and partying.”

“I was worried about you. I’m glad you took my advice to heart. I know I haven’t said this often enough, but your mother and I are very proud of you. You are a remarkable young woman.”

Okay, that was the first time ever that you’ve said that you were proud of me. I love it, though!

Victoria sniffled, and said, “Thanks! I really needed to hear that. Well, I better be going. Bye!”

“Goodbye, Victoria. Be safe and hang in there. You’ll be back on the go in no time.”

Victoria hung up. She ended up just pulling the blanket over head and softly crying.

I never thought that him saying that would mess me up this much. I tried so hard for so long, and this is what it takes for him to be proud of me. Damn. I’m such a wreck.

After ten minutes, she felt better, or at least good enough to come out from under the covers. She grabbed her laptop and logged into her favorite anime site. She started up episode one of My Blueberry Knight.

Nothing like re-watching my favorite badass secret agent fighting the forces of evil! Time for a binge watch of all 48 episodes! Hell, I’m even going to watch the movie after that!

Halfway through the fourth episode, she fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria woke up some time later, and noticed Kate sitting by her bed. Kate was drawing in a sketch pad, and not really looking at her.

Victoria waited. After a few seconds, Kate glanced up at her, then stopped drawing and smiled. She said, “Good afternoon.”

“Hi. Drawing something interesting?”

Kate nodded; then turned the sketchbook so that Victoria could see it. It was a picture of a yellow cat in a hospital bed, with a rabbit sitting next to it. The style was cartoony, and looked like it came out of one of Kate’s published books.

“So, the cat and bunny are finally friends? That’s nice.”

Kate nodded, “If you don’t mind, I would like to use this for my next book. It will be about the two becoming friends, even after their previous history.”

In Kate’s first book, the cat had bullied the bunny. The bunny had stood up to the cat, and the two stopped fighting. Her next few books had the bunny as the hero, but the cat was always around, as either the antagonist or a haughty neighbor who helped the bunny in small ways.

“This would be a big change in their relationship. I like the idea. Feel free to use it.”

Kate grinned, “Thanks! I do feel kind of bad, using our experiences together for my books.”

“It’s alright. They’re good books. I know a lot of people love them.”

“So, you’ve read them? I didn’t really think you would.”

“I have a copy of all of them. I love how you write and draw. It’s kind of relaxing to read through them, even if I’m the villain.”

“Hey, you were only the villain in the first book! Well, you were also kind of a villain in the second one, but you’re not a bad cat in the other three.”

“Meow.”

Kate snorted, then covered her face and started laughing harder. After a few seconds, Victoria started giggling, but quickly stopped, as her ribs let her know it was a bad idea.

Bad idea! Stupid broken ribs!

Kate stopped laughing, and looked at Victoria, obviously concerned.

“It’s okay. My ribs hurt a little when I laughed.”

“Sorry. I guess I won’t be telling you any jokes today.”

“Thanks. Yours would probably be funny, at least.”

“Compared to Max’s puns? I’d hope so.”

“Yeah, where the heck does she get them? And she uses them all of the time. It’s actually fun just waiting for her to make one up.”

Kate nodded, saying, “Yeah, it can be. Sometimes, she has some great ones. A lot of times, I just tell her she should try dad jokes.”

Victoria laughed again, for just a second. Then she held her ribs, and blew some air out to help ease the pain.

“Sorry! I didn’t really think that would make you laugh.”

After a few seconds, Victoria nodded. “It’s okay. I think I’m going to use that on her sometime. They can’t be any worse.”

They chatted for a few minutes about Kate’s life, when Kate said, “You had mentioned before that you had some kind of experience while you were in a coma?”

You could say that. I still wonder if I should have just stayed there.

“Yeah. I’m not sure if it was just a dream, or if I really met some kind of angel or something.”

“Really? Could you tell me about it? I mean, if you want to. I’m really curious.”

“Well, I had a really nice home with Max. We were apparently together in some way. Max made me the best brownies in the universe. Then we kissed.”

“You kissed? Really?”

“Yep! We even went upstairs to our king-sized bed. Of course, I realized something was wrong. Max noticed it, and told me that living with her in our dream home was my reward for living a good life. I objected, because I insisted that I was a terrible person, but Max said I wasn’t. She also said that eventually I’d meet all of my friends and family, if I decided to stay with her.”

“Wow. So you were like married to Max, or at least an angel that looked like her, as a reward? Your own personal heaven or something?”

“I mean, I guess we were. At the very least, we were living together and sex was definitely an option.”

“Huh. Well, that makes me want to rethink a few things.”

“Hey, it doesn’t mean your faith is wrong. Maybe heaven is just not the way you think it is.”

Kate nodded, “True. It just kind of goes against a lot of what I’ve been taught.”

“Maybe I just got the extra-special lesbian heaven.”

Kate paused, and then just started laughing for a minute. When she finally stopped, she said, “Who knows? Maybe you did. It does give me hope that people my mother would consider bound for hell actually aren’t. That makes me very happy.”

“Kate, your faith is great. You do a lot of good in this world because of it. Don’t you dare start thinking that it’s wrong.”

Kate shook her head, and said, “Oh, don’t worry about that! I believe Jesus would forgive all of us, if we just ask. I’m just really happy that you have a guardian angel of some kind, and that means I might, too.”

“If anyone has one, it’s you.”

“Very funny. I’m not as pure as you think. I’ve had a serious relationship, which went farther than my family or old pastor would approve of. It didn’t work out, but I’m not the girl I was at Blackwell.”

“None of us are, luckily.”

Kate nodded.

Victoria asked, “So, I guess it’s just you today?”

“Max was really busy at her store. Some guy brought in a bunch of rolls of film he needed developed and transferred to discs. She’s going to be working late.”

“That’s good, at least for her business. I’m still surprised so many people are using film cameras.”

Kate shrugged, obviously not in the know. She then said, “I’m going to be heading home tomorrow, so I wanted to see you today. I’m glad we got to talk, despite the circumstances. I’ll be praying for you every day. Just make sure you do all of your therapy and I’m sure things will work out.”

I really hope you’re right.

“It was good seeing you again. We kind of fell out of touch after Blackwell. I am happy you’ve done so well for yourself. I hope to see you again once I’m out of this place.”

Kate nodded, “Me, too. I hate to say it, but I’m not a fan of hospitals, at all. They kind of creep me out.”

You should try being stuck in one for weeks.

“Me, too. If I never have to go to another one, I’ll be very happy.”

Kate stood up. “Hey, once I finish this book, I’ll send you an autographed copy. I wish I’d known you were buying them. I can always sign your others, if you want.”

“Thanks! That would be cool. I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Well, I’ll be going. Fair well, Victoria. I truly hope you’ll be back to one hundred percent when this is over.”

“Thanks. Take care.”

Kate left. After a few minutes, Victoria loaded up episode four of My Blueberry Knight. She ended up watching seven more episodes before she closed her laptop for some more sleep.

 

 

Chapter Text

Victoria spent most of the next day watching anime and reading the photography forum. She actually felt pretty awake.

Maybe I’m getting better. At least I’m not constantly tired today.

Towards evening, Max came in to visit. She smiled at Victoria as she got close, waving a bag at her.

Max said, “I brought you some lasagna from Tony’s”.

“Really? You’re my hero!”              

Max laughed and opened up the bag, setting out a covered dish and some plastic ware on Victoria’s tray. She took off the lid, revealing a large slab of lasagna. The room instantly started smelling better. Victoria had a huge grin as she looked up at Max and said, “Thank you! I really needed this!”

Max smiled back at her. As Victoria started to eat, she grabbed her cup and went into the bathroom, filled it with water, and brought it back. After placing it by Victoria’s dish, she sat down.

This is so good! Damn, I should just order food every day from now on. I wonder if the hospital would let me?

They chatted for ten minutes, as Victoria ate. They mainly just talked about Max’s store, and how it was doing. Victoria set her fork down eventually, with almost half of the lasagna still there.

“There’s way too much food here. I can’t eat any more. You can eat the rest, if you want.”

Max looked at her, asking, “Are you sure? You can save it for tomorrow.”

“No refrigerator. Please, eat some.”

“Well, I won’t pasta that up!”

Victoria just looked at her, but Max laughed and grabbed the fork and dish, and started eating.

“I guess Kate left today. She stopped in yesterday and said hello.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, I dropped her off at the airport a couple hours ago. It’s too bad she couldn’t stay longer. I really miss hanging out with her.”

“In a perfect world, we’d all be neighbors”

“Yeah, that would be cool. Too bad real life gets in the way.”

“Well, even if we were neighbors, I was on the road so much that I wouldn’t have seen any of you except maybe every two weeks or so.”

“Wowzers! That’s too much travel, Victoria. You need to have some time at home, just to recuperate.”

“You know how the photography world is. If I didn’t travel like that, I’d end up being some no-name wedding photographer. That’s not me. I refuse to settle for that.”

“Victoria, with your family connections, you were never going to just be a wedding photographer.”

“I was trying to make it on my own. While I know I had some big advantages because of my parents, I still wanted to prove that I didn’t need them. Besides, if I took the easy way out, I’d have just ended up being a curator at the Chase Space. While I know how to do that, I am not willing to spend my life kissing up to rich investors and being dependent upon my parents.”

Max shrugged, “I understand that, but if you really think about it, at some point you will be taking over the Chase Space. I mean, I assume your parents are going to leave it to you.”

“Probably, but I wanted my own life before I got stuck running that place. Then again, considering what’s left of me now, I will probably be working there a lot sooner than I wanted to.”

Hell, I’m not sure I’m even going to be able to do that. I won’t impress anyone if I can’t walk the gallery with them.

“Victoria. Don’t be down on yourself. You’re a tough girl, and I know you’ll do the therapy. You’ll get through this.”

“I guess. I really haven’t thought about the Chase Space much. I have to wonder what my parents think, because knowing them; they’ve already talked about it.”

“From the conversations I’ve had with them, they are more worried about you than their art gallery.”

“That’s nice to hear. Ah, well. I can’t think about it too much now.”

“Even if they do get weird, you still have me and the others. We’ll help you out.”

“Thanks.”

Victoria sat quietly, letting Max eat the lasagna. Finishing up, Max took the bag and dishes and threw them in the trash. After that, she sat back down.

Victoria sighed, and then looked at Max. “I’m really happy you’re here. I mean, it’s absolutely amazing to me that you are taking the time to visit, considering that we really just met again last week.”

Max smiled, “Well, we have actually gone on a date. I don’t want to just run away because of the car accident.”

“Really, Max? I mean, look at me. I’m a total mess right now. You don’t have to feel tied down just because we went out to eat. I mean, don’t think I’m telling you to go away! I do really like you. I just don’t want you to feel forced to be here.”

Max scowled, replying, “Stop being so negative. Seriously, Victoria, if I wanted to ghost you, I wouldn’t be here right now. I do like you, and I want you to get better, so we can go on some more dates and get to really know each other. I’m not forced to be here! I want to be here.”

Victoria paused, “I’m sorry. I’ve been around so many people that would have run that it just freaks me out that you didn’t. I guess I’m just not used to it.”

“If you didn’t notice, Taylor, Courtney, and Kate also came to visit you, along with your family. I know the people you deal with at your job are flaky, but we aren’t. We won’t abandon you just because you were hurt. If anything, we are all a lot more determined to help you.”

“Thanks. I guess I was worried for no reason. Too much time sitting here, with nowhere to go.”

“That’s okay. I understand how it feels. Luckily, I had a therapist help me work my way through it. Maybe you should talk to one.”

“I guess. I mean, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

Max nodded, saying, “I’ll talk to my old therapist in Seattle, and see if she can recommend anyone down here. Or, if you go back to Seattle, you could see her. She’s very good.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I’m really glad you visited today. At least we can talk without everyone else making fun of us.”

Max smiled, “True. Courtney was ruthless. I think she was just trying to see which one of us would blush the most.”

“You’re right. Then again, Taylor and I have done that to her when it comes to the boys she meets.”

Max laughed.

Victoria’s phone started buzzing. She glanced at it, and Max nodded. She looked at the Caller ID. It was John Stambaugh.

“I should probably answer this. It’s my dad’s lawyer.”

Max nodded again, so Victoria hit the green button.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Victoria. This is John Stambaugh. I’m calling to inform you that The National Gossip printed the pictures, along with an article about your accident.”

“Fuck.”

“We have a prepared statement that we’re going to release. Do not talk about this to anyone. Don’t even mention it online, if you are on social media; or with your friends, if you can avoid it. I also strongly recommend that you do not look up the pictures yourself.”

“Crap. I guess it was bound to happen, but this sucks.”

“I know. I’m sorry. We tried to stop the magazine, but their attorneys were ready, and so we will have to go to court. I think the best thing you can do is just stay away from any gossip websites, and keep a low profile. Articles like this will make a big splash for a week or two, but then everyone will move on to something else. As long as we don’t fan the flames by doing something stupid in public, it will die down.”

“It will be out there, forever.”

“True, but after a while, people will forget. Just remember that and don’t do anything drastic.”

“I won’t. Thank you.”

“Be safe, Victoria. Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

Victoria hung up, and looked at Max, a lost expression on her face.

Max asked, “Victoria. What is it?”

“Those photos that creep took of me while I was asleep got published.”

“Damn it! What the hell is wrong with people?”

“Max, these are the same type of people I work with every day. They’re mostly horrible.”

“Fuck. I’m really sorry, Victoria.”

“It will be okay. I just have to stay here and avoid doing anything really stupid online, and it will blow over.”

Yeah, right. The first time I step foot outside of this hospital, I’m going to get mobbed by paparazzi.

“You know it doesn’t work that way.”

“Shit, yes, I know! I’m just trying to not fall apart here. Max, I’m sorry, but I need to be alone right now.”

Max stood up, obviously worried and maybe just a tiny bit angry. “Alright, I’ll head out. Just don’t do anything crazy. You have a lot of people who really care about you.”

Victoria smiled at her, “Thanks for understanding. I’ll see you next time.”

Max smiled, and said, “You bet you will! Good night, Victoria.”

After Max left, Victoria lay in her bed for hours, trying to sleep. All she could think about was all of the elites she used to run around with and how they’d view this whole incident. If the wreck wasn’t bad enough, the gossip article was the nail in the coffin of her career.

Why the fuck did this have to happen?

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria finished her breakfast and hopped online. She checked the photography forum, and saw multiple threads about the magazine article. Most of them were locked, thankfully. She switched over to her email and saw a lot of normal stuff. She did notice an email from a photography forum admin, so she opened it up.

[Ms. Chase:

I’m very sorry about what happened to you and that your hospital photos were published. I know you’ve been a regular on our forum for years. I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to allow anyone to post the photos. I’ve also handed out some warnings and a couple bans for a few trolls. I’m doing what I can to contain the issue. I hope you get better soon.

Regards,

Jessie, Photography Forum Admin]

Well, that’s nice of her.

Victoria drafted a reply and sent it out. Typing with only my left hand sucks! Seriously, why did it have to be my right hand in a cast?

[Jessie,

Thanks for your efforts. I’m still browsing the forums, but I plan on staying incognito, at least until this is all over. Bye!

Victoria Chase]

She then watched a couple more episodes of My Blueberry Knight. After a nurse brought her lunch, she took a break. She checked the news, and saw an article about her.

You know what? Let’s see what that bastard actually published.

She found a news aggregator and the article. She clicked on it, making sure it did not lead to The National Gossip’s website, because fuck them getting her views.

She saw the photos. After a minute, she just shut her laptop and laid back, staring at the ceiling. She didn’t even bother reading what they had written about her.

I look awful. I mean, I knew it was bad, but holy shit, it’s worse than I thought. My eyes are black. My skin is greasy yellow. My hair is just a mess. The prick even got a photo after raising the sheet, showing my legs in the cast. I look like I’m almost dead.

Everyone has been seeing me like this. I mean, I guess that means they really care about me, since they made sure to not say anything. I can’t believe Max hasn’t bolted. Oh, damn, I wish she hadn’t seen this.

Fuck! I want that bastard photographer dead! What a piece of shit. How could he think this was okay? What’s fucking worse is that the photos are actually really well done. The fucker has skill. Why the hell is he wasting it on shit like this? I hope to God he ends up in prison.

After fifteen minutes, she shook her head. I can’t waste my life worrying about this. It happened. What-the-fuck-ever. I’m Victoria Chase and I’m not going to let this prick end me.

She noticed that her phone was blinking. I didn’t even check it today. Wow.

She saw two voicemails. One was from Taylor, the other from Courtney.

She listened to them. Both of her friends were outraged about the article, and told her not to let it get to her. They also both wished her well.

I miss them already. Damn, I wish we could all still be together. I’m so lucky to have met them.

As she was about to call them back, her door opened. Max came in.

Max smiled at her sadly, but handed over a bag.

She said, “I brought you a burger and fries.”

“Thanks, Max. I really appreciate you coming here today.”

Max nodded, grabbed Victoria’s cup, and brought her some water. She got the food out, including putting some ketchup on the wrapper for the fries, and Victoria started eating.

“Feel free to grab some fries. I won’t be able to eat them all.”

Max reached over and grabbed a few. They ate together in silence for a while. Once they finished, Max threw out their trash, and then came back and sat beside Victoria’s bed.

“I’m surprised you’re here at this time of day. Shouldn’t you be at your store?”

Max sighed, “Remember that photo you got with Tom while you were at my store?”

Victoria nodded.

“The wedding photographer guy? Yeah.”

“Well, a few paparazzi found it and figured out where my store is. I had several of them waiting for me this morning.”

“Fuck. I’m so sorry!”

“It’s not your fault! They’re scum. I had to call the police. Sadly, they only prohibited them from coming into my store, so they are just sitting out in the parking lot. I think Joe was going to go out and beat them up.”

“I wish he could, without getting into trouble.”

“You and me both. I still had a few customers, but then they got questioned by those clowns when they left my store.”

“Are you kidding me? Fuck! I know. Just tell them I was a random customer, and not anyone you actually know.”

“I tried that. They did their homework. They know all about Blackwell, and started asking me about Jefferson, you, and what happened to Chloe. I had to get out of there.”

Those fucking pricks. Why are journalists allowed to do this kind of stuff without any consequences?

“Damn it! I’m really sorry, Max. You don’t deserve to be dragged into this crap, or to have them bringing up all of those old memories.”

Max nodded, “I know, but what can I do? At least they won’t be able to get back in here and hurt you again. You should see the guard at the door. He’s big. He’s really nice, but I wouldn’t want him mad at me.”

“Oh. I honestly haven’t met him.”

“Maybe the hospital’s mad because they have to have him there.”

“For what they are charging, they can’t complain.”

“I can only imagine.”

“At least the insurance company is covering most of the costs, although I know my father will still get a hefty bill.”

“True. At least he has the ability to pay it.”

“Yeah. Are you okay, though? Bringing up Chloe’s murder was a really shitty thing for them to do.”

Max shrugged, “I mean, I guess. I’ve gotten used to the fact that she’s gone, even though I still miss her a lot.”

“I know you only mentioned this in passing last week, but they also talked about Jefferson. Did he hurt you?”

Max stiffened.

Shit. He did.

Max said, “Sorry, but I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Sorry! Forget I asked. Just know that if you ever need to talk to someone about it, I’m here. Oh. I guess maybe you and Kate have already talked about it.”

Max nodded, “We kind of helped each other out. But seriously, let’s talk about something else.”

Oops! I just couldn’t resist saying more.

“Okay, have you ever watched My Blueberry Knight? I’ve been re-watching it over the last few days. I’m not sure if you like anime, but it does seem like a hipster thing to be into.”

Max snorted, saying, “You’re the girl who’s a big fan of it! Are you secretly a hipster?”

“No! Absolutely not! It’s just one of the greatest shows ever made, so I’m naturally interested in it.”

“Okay, secret agent girl. I have the show on DVD. I really like it. Does that blue your mind?”

Victoria smiled, really happy.

“This is great. Do you want to watch some with me? I’m up to the arc where she’s going after the APHID clones.”

Max scooted her chair so that she could see the laptop, and Victoria fired it up.

They spent the next few hours watching the show, often quoting the lines as they happened.

This is fantastic! I can’t believe we can just sit here and watch my favorite show like this! Even Courtney and Taylor would only watch it with me one time.

Eventually, Victoria started yawning, so Max stood up.

Victoria said, “This was a lot of fun. I’m really glad we got to do this. I hope those reporters leave you alone.”

Max nodded. “Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Chloe and I used to do this kind of stuff all of the time. I’d love to watch more shows with you like this.”

“That we can do! Bye, Max.”

“Good night, Victoria.”

Max left. Victoria shut down her laptop and went to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria was watching the news when John Stambaugh and Detective Miller came into her room.

“Umm, hello.”

Not the visitors I’d prefer. What’s going on?

John and the detective nodded, and John said, “Good morning, Victoria. I wanted to let you know that the man who took the photos has been arrested.”

“Really? That’s great!”

John smiled, replying, “Yes, it is. He’s being transported to Portland as we speak. Detective Miller has to interview you about what happened. I’m here to advise you, if necessary.”

The detective glanced sideways at John, but then nodded at Victoria. He asked, “Ms. Chase, I just need a deposition for the court. I already have the information you provided earlier, but I may ask you to repeat some of it.”

Victoria nodded, saying, “That’s fine with me.”

The detective took out a recorder and turned it on. He also took out a notepad and started reading from it.

He said, “This interview will be recorded and entered into court proceedings. Please state your full name for the record.”

Victoria glanced over at John, who nodded.

“Victoria Maribeth Chase.”

John then added, “I’m also present. I am John Stambaugh, an attorney representing Ms. Chase.”

Detective Miller continued, asking, “Victoria, were you photographed in your hospital room?”

“Yes.”

She started to say more, but John held up his hand and shook his head no.

Miller asked, “Here’s a picture of the photographer. Is this the man who took the pictures?”

Victoria looked at the photo, replying, “Yes, that’s him.”

What a fucking jerk. I won’t forget that face any time soon.

“Let it be known that Ms. Chase identified the suspect Ray Johnson, photographer for The National Gossip. Do you know him, or did you know him before the incident here at the hospital?”

“No, I’ve never met him before.”

“Does that include references by other people, or contact by the internet or phone?”

“Yes. The first time I’ve ever seen or talked with him was when he was here in this room.”

“Okay. Did he ask for your permission before taking the photos?”

“Absolutely not! He also didn’t ask for any type of permission after taking them!”

“Have you seen the photographs?”

John started to say something, but Victoria nodded, “Yes, I looked at them after seeing the story online.”

She saw John give her a concerned look.

Sorry, but I had to.

Miller asked, “Did you give permission for him to remove your sheet and blanket to take the photograph of your legs?”

“No! I didn’t even know he took that photo until I saw the article. He must have done it while I was asleep.”

“You were asleep when he started photographing you?”

“Yes. I woke up to the sound of his camera clicking.”

“So he entered your room without permission.”

“Yes. I woke up and he was already here.”

“Did he physically touch you in any way?”

“When I tried to reach for the call button for the nurse, he grabbed my arm and prevented me from pressing the button.”

“How did you react?”

“I yelled at him to leave and I yanked my arm out of his hand.”

“What did he do then?”

“He kept asking me questions about the accident and my medical condition. I kept telling him to leave. I did say I was hit by a truck and that I was seriously hurt.”

“Did he do anything else at this point?”

“No. A nurse came in and he left the room.”

“Is there anything else you can remember that we haven’t already covered?”

“Not really. I just can’t believe he thought it was okay to sneak into my room and photograph me while I was sleeping.”

“Alright, I think that’s it. Thanks for your time.”

Detective Miller turned off the recorder and put his pad away. He looked at Victoria and said, “I’m sorry you had to go through this. I hope that you get better soon.”

John smiled at Victoria and turned to the detective. He said, “Thanks. I think that covers everything that the court will need from her.”

Victoria asked, “What are you going to charge him with? I really hope he isn’t just going to get a fine and be let go.”

Miller shrugged, “I have a good case for trespassing, unlawful surveillance and invasion of privacy for the photographs, and physical assault for him grabbing your arm; and I suspect John will be able to go after the magazine, since you did not give permission for the photos and they were taken by illegal means.”

Victoria frowned, “That doesn’t seem like much, considering what he did.”

Miller nodded, “As we interrogate the suspect, more charges might be added. I’m sorry to say that he’ll probably face minimal jail time. It’s more likely that he’ll just get a short sentence and then parole for a few years.”

John added, “At the very least, he’ll also be facing a civil suit, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be bankrupted.”

“Well, that’s something. Thank you both for letting me know. Oh yeah, before I forget, there are paparazzi harassing one of my friends because of this. Max has a photography store south of here, and they are camping out in the parking lot. She did call the local police, but the only thing they would do was tell the reporters to stay out of her store. They’re also harassing customers leaving her store.”

Detective Miller frowned, “I’ll look into that. I’m not sure if anything else can be done. Do you have her name and the store’s address?”

Victoria gave it to him. He took the information and said, “I’ll call some guys I know down there. I’ll at least have them go over and tell the reporters to stop bothering the customers.”

“Thanks.”

With that, the two men left the room.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria spent the rest of the day browsing the internet. Towards evening, she opened up the chat program and sent texts to everyone to join in. After a few minutes, Courtney and Taylor showed up. They were saying hi to each other when Max joined in.

Victoria’s phone beeped, so she checked it.

[Kate: Sorry, Victoria, but I’m working on edits from my publisher. I can’t join in. Tell everyone I said hi! I hope you feel better soon! Praying for you!]

[Victoria: That’s ok. Thanks!]

Damn, she’s still working. I know how that is, though.

Victoria said, “Hi, everyone! I just got a text from Kate, and she can’t join in tonight.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, she said she was behind on her work, so she’s going to be busy for a while.”

Taylor nodded, and Courtney said, “That’s too bad! It would have been cool for all of us to be here together again.”

Yeah, it’s only been a few days since everyone left and I miss them.

Victoria saw Adam’s head pop into the screen. He said, “Hi, mom’s friends!”

Everyone laughed at that. They took a few minutes to talk to him before Taylor took him off-screen to watch a show he really liked. She was back after a few minutes.

Taylor smiled, “Well, he’ll be occupied for a while. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay! It’s nice to see him. He’s really growing fast!”

Taylor nodded, “I know. He’s going to be going to kindergarten next year. I can’t believe it.”

“Well, he is almost five. It just feels like it’s only been a couple years.”

Courtney added, “He did come along a year after we graduated. You definitely didn’t wait!”

Taylor replied, “I’m glad I didn’t. I’ll still be young when he’s out of high school. You shouldn’t wait too long yourself, Courtney!”

Courtney said, “Well, maybe when I find a guy who’s worth keeping. You got really lucky!”

Taylor nodded, a smug look on her face. She said, “Yes, I did. I told you that you should check out some of his friends, but you wouldn’t listen. Now they’re all married, too!”

Courtney rolled her eyes, “Whatever. Anyway, Victoria and Max, have you done anything fun since we left? I see that Max isn’t at the hospital with you.”

 Max said, “We watched My Blueberry Knight together.”

Both Taylor and Courtney started laughing, hard.

What’s so funny?

Taylor finally said, “Of course you did. She makes everyone watch that dumb cartoon.”

“Hey! It’s not dumb! It’s a work of art!”

Courtney laughed harder; then added, “Sure it is!”

Max said, “I actually really like it. We had a lot of fun quoting it to each other.”

Courtney’s eyes got big, and she said, “Wait! You quoted it to each other? Merde!”

Taylor said, “These two are perfect for each other. Of course Max is a fan.”

Victoria frowned, “I don’t see what’s so funny. You both watched it with me.”

Taylor replied, “Because you made us.”

Courtney nodded, still smiling.

Max said, “Well, it shows me that Victoria has great taste. How could anyone not love Agent Blueberry?”

Victoria smiled, “Exactly. I can’t help it you two are probably goons from APHID.”

Max said, “Yeah, they really bug me.”

Courtney and Taylor started laughing again.

“Not helping, Max.”

Max just grinned.

Courtney said, “Seriously, I’m glad you two enjoyed yourselves. It has to be really hard coming up with fun things to do at a hospital.”

“That’s no lie. At least I have good internet access here.”

Courtney looked down, then frowned and asked, “I kind of wanted to avoid this, but I don’t think that would be a good idea. Did you see the article?”

Fuck.

“I didn’t read it. I just saw the pictures.”

Max said, “Victoria! Why?”

Taylor said, “Damn it! I’m really sorry, Victoria.”

Courtney closed her eyes and said, “I really wish it hadn’t happened. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. I guess I do have some good news about it, though. The guy who took the photos was arrested. I gave a deposition to the police this morning.”

Max said, “Really? Are you okay?”

Victoria nodded, even as her friends got really worried looks on their faces.

“Yeah. The detective said he’s probably only going to get a little jail time and then parole. My father’s lawyer said he’s going to sue the man for everything he can.”

Taylor said, “Yeah, screw that guy.”

Courtney asked, “That’s all they can do?”

Max said, “At least it’s something. I just wish he’d never made it into your room at all.”

“Me, too, Max. Oh, did the police come back to your store? I told the detective about what was going on.”

Max nodded, saying, “Yes, they did. Some of those idiots left. At the very least, they’re a lot quieter now, and they don’t bother me when I go outside.”

Taylor and Courtney both asked what they were talking about. Max explained the situation.

I can’t believe they’re harassing Max. This really sucks. I wish there was something more I could do.

Both Taylor and Courtney got pretty angry, but the only thing they could do was tell Max everything would work out in the end and that they supported her.

Courtney suddenly got a bright smile and left her computer for a few seconds. She came back and showed off the Pentax K-1 II that Victoria had sent to her.

She said, “Look what came in the mail this morning! Thanks a ton, Victoria! I’m going to be updating my catalogue all this week! I really appreciate it.”

Max whistled, “That’s a nice camera, Courtney. You’ll love it.”

Courtney replied, “I know! I’ve already been playing around with it and it’s so awesome!”

“I’m glad you like it. I bet you’ll get a lot of great pictures from it. Feel free to call or text me if you need help with the settings.”

Courtney nodded, “I will! Thanks again!”

Taylor smiled, “That was really nice of you, Victoria.”

She’s my friend. I wish I could do more for her.

Max said, “Yeah, it was a great idea. Taylor, why did you buy one from me?”

Taylor shrugged, “I bought one from you because I can afford to, and I like helping you out. Also, I got to pick exactly what I wanted.”

“I did ask her, Max. She basically told me the same thing.”

Max smiled, “Well, thanks Taylor. I am happy to see both of you with new cameras, though. Everyone should own one!”

“Taylor, you should teach Adam how to use it in a couple years.”

Taylor nodded, “Oh, I will. Just not yet. I doubt it would last five minutes before he broke it.”

They all laughed again. They spent another 30 minutes talking about random stuff before they finally shut down the chat.

 

Chapter Text

A few days passed by, and no one, including Max, had visited. Victoria still emailed and phoned her friends, but the only people she saw were the nurses. Victoria was getting bored, and lonely.

She had checked Courtney’s Vortex Fashion site, and noticed that a number of her outfits had new pictures. The clothes looked both brighter and sharper in the new photos, compared to the ones Courtney had taken with her phone.

They look a lot better. I hope she gets more sales.

She glanced at the cast on her arm, and then looked under the sheets at the one covering her hips and legs.

I need to get out of here so bad. I just wish I had someone here with me. I can’t drag everyone away from their lives. I know Max would visit more often, but she has her store to run and bills to pay. I can’t ask her to stay here longer, if it means she could risk losing her livelihood. It’ll be at least another week before I can get this cast off of my arm, and probably months before the one on my legs. Ugg.

As if on cue, the door to her room opened and Max came in. She was smiling, and held up a big bag for Victoria to see.

“Hi, Max! It’s great to see you!”

You don’t know how much I miss you, already. It’s only been four days, but it feels like forever.

Max replied, “Hi, Victoria. I wish I could have come sooner. My store has gotten really busy, since I’m now sorta famous. Everyone wants to see the girl who’s friends with you. I’ve had people show up that I haven’t seen in a couple years. It’s kind of crazy.”

“That’s nice, I guess. I hope they’re all buying something, and not just wasting your time.”

“Actually, most of them have bought stuff. It’s been a good week for sales. Also, there’s only one guy still hanging out in the parking lot. I’m guessing he’ll get bored soon. At least, I hope so.”

“That’s good. What’s in the bag? Please tell me it’s food!”

“It is! Joe made us some takeout BLTs and tomato soup, since you liked them so much last time. He also said to tell you he hopes you get better soon, and that you have to visit again, once you’re out of the hospital.”

“I will! Now please give me some of that. I’m starving for good food!”

Max laughed, and set up her tray and made room for herself. They each had a small bowl of soup, and a sandwich.

“It’s still hot.”

Max nodded, “Joe let me borrow an insulated bag. It works really well. Now lettuce eat!”

Pointedly ignoring the pun, Victoria took a bite of her sandwich.

It’s so good! I should hire Joe to send me food every day!

Max looked up, and then set her sandwich down and got a cup of water for each of them.

She said, “I almost forgot. We’ll need something to wash this down with.”

“I wish it was coffee.”

“I called the nurse earlier, and she said you’re still not allowed to have it. I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s not your fault. Just tell Joe his food is delicious and I’m definitely coming back to eat at his shop when I can.”

Victoria drank a little water after taking a few bites of her sandwich, and then started eating some of the soup.

“It’s better than I remember! I think next time I’m going to get a grilled cheese, so I can dip it in the soup.”

Max laughed, saying, “How sophisticated of you.”

Victoria smiled at her, saying, “Just don’t tell my mother.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t. I might try that, myself. I haven’t done it since I was a kid, hanging out with Chloe.”

Of course.

“So, have you got a camera with you? I’d like a picture to remember this.”

Max raised her eyebrows, and shrugged. “I only have my phone on me, right now. My camera’s down in my car.”

“Well, take one of your patented selfies. Just make sure you send me a copy.”

Max nodded, got out her phone, and leaned over by Victoria, their heads almost touching.

Max said, “Say cheese!”

Victoria smiled and the phone clicked.

Max sat back, looking at her phone. She then turned it so that Victoria could see the photo.

We look so happy. Max has such a beautiful smile. I look pretty bad, but she kept my cast out of the shot. I wish I could get my hair and make-up done. Damn, she’s so good at photography.

“That looks great! You’re so good with the camera. Thanks for taking the picture.”

Max nodded, then hit a few buttons on her phone. Victoria’s phone beeped. She reached over and checked her messages. She pulled up the photo, and then glanced at Max, who was watching her. Victoria smiled, pressed some buttons, set her phone back down.

Max looked at it, obviously curious.

“I set it as my wallpaper. I hope you don’t mind. I love the photo.”

Max smiled, “Thanks!”

“Hmm, how about sending it to Taylor, Courtney, and Kate? I bet they’d get a kick out of it.”

“Are you trying to get Courtney to start teasing us, again?”

Victoria laughed, “She’d do that, anyway. At least this will be for a good reason.”

Max grinned, and sent the picture out to their friends.

They started eating again, Victoria savoring every bite.

It’s so much better than hospital food. I really didn’t appreciate this before.

Both of their phones started beeping. Grinning, Victoria checked her messages.

[Courtney: You two are sooooo cute! Have you asked for her hand in marriage yet?]

What? Oh damn, I hope she didn’t send that to Max, too! No way I’m letting Max see this message!

[Taylor: You two look great together! Looks like you’re having a great lunch! Hope you’re feeling better!]

[Victoria: Courtney! We’re just having lunch! Max is beautiful, though, isn’t she?]

[Victoria: Taylor, thanks! Food is great!]

[Kate: Looks like a great lunch date! Have fun, you two!]

Lunch date? I never even thought of it like that. Is it a date? Oh, crap!

[Victoria: Kate, Max just brought me some food. I don’t think it counts as a date.]

[Kate: If you say so. ;) ]

[Courtney: l’amour est dans l’air]

Of course, she’d say love is in the air in French. She’s so cliché. I miss her.

Victoria set her phone back down, shaking her head. She glanced at Max, who’s face was red.

What did they say to her? Never mind. I’m not going to ask.

“I think we should just finish eating, and let them talk amongst themselves.”

Max nodded quickly, saying, “Good idea.”

They sat quietly, eating for another twenty minutes. Then Max threw out their trash, while Victoria opened up her laptop.

Victoria said, “I’m about to start a new anime. Would you like to watch it with me?”

“Sure. What is it?”

Kino’s Journey.”

“The original, or the newer version?”

“Umm, I guess it’s the original. I just heard it was good. I haven’t watched any of it yet.”

“I won’t spoil any of it, then. I think you’ll really like it.”

Max pulled her chair over so she was sitting right next to Victoria. They watched half of the first season before Victoria had to stop. She loved the show, but she felt really tired.

Max noticed, and smiled. “We can finish this up next time. Just promise you won’t watch any more before we do.”

Victoria nodded, “I won’t. I love it, though. I’m not sure how I missed this before.”

“It’s a great show. Well, I’m going to head out. I’ll see you, Victoria.”

“Bye, Max. Thanks for bringing the food and hanging out with me.”

Max gave her a soft smile, “I’m glad I can. Bye.”

Max left; and Victoria went to sleep, pretty damn happy with the day.

 

Chapter Text

Over the next week, Max visited several more times. They ate a meal and continued watching the anime Kino’s Journey together. Victoria really looked forward to Max’s visits. They talked about the show in detail, and also about Max’s store. It was still pretty busy, although it was slowing back down to normal.

Victoria had chats with her friends in the evenings. Taylor and Courtney were back to doing their normal routines. Kate showed up a few times, but looked tired. Everyone told her to slow down on her work, but Victoria knew she wouldn’t. Kate did show them some drawings from her next book. The bunny was definitely becoming good friends with the cat, which Victoria liked a lot.

It’s too bad the cat had to go to the hospital before they realized that they could be friends.

On Saturday, Max came in wearing a light blue blouse.

It looks familiar.

Max smiled and said, “I got this from Courtney! I washed it, and wanted to show it to you. What do you think?”

“It matches your eyes. You look great in it.”

Max blushed, saying, “Thanks! I really like it. Courtney is very talented.”

“I know. I’ve been telling everyone about her for years.”

Max nodded, “I’m glad you do. I know I plan on ordering from her again.”

“Now be a model and show it off. Spin around so I can see the back.”

Blushing more, Max slowly spun around. She had on dark blue jeans which fit her very well. Victoria had a hard time looking at only the blouse.

Smiling, Max asked, “Well, what do you think?”

“You look amazing. Err, I mean the blouse looks amazing!”

Max laughed. Then she sat with Victoria and watched some more of the show, after getting some chicken fingers out of a bag for them to munch on. They watched four episodes before Max had to leave.

Cathy and her mother visited her on Sunday. They stayed for several hours, just talking about life in Seattle and the art world. They also started reminiscing about when Victoria was a little girl. Most of the stories were from Cathy, since Mother wasn’t around much. Victoria could tell this actually bothered her mother, after hearing the third funny story in a row from Cathy. Her mother mentioned that Shanna had started working at the gallery, and seemed to be fitting in well. They eventually left, after promising to visit again.

On the next Wednesday, Max showed up and got a shocked look on her face.

Max said, “You got a haircut.”

Grinning, Victoria replied, “You know it! I needed one.”

“It’s the pixie cut you used to have. You look really nice.”

“Thanks! I thought you’d like it.”

Do I still look like Audrey Hepburn to you?

Max nodded, smiling, “I love it! You should really consider keeping it this way for a while.”

“I will. Thanks!”

During that week, they finished both seasons of Kino’s Journey. Victoria was a serious fan-girl now. On Tuesday in the following week, Max showed up and noticed new figurines by Victoria’s bed. Kino was standing next to the motorrad, Hermes.

Max laughed, saying, “Nice! I didn’t expect that. How’d you find them?”

Victoria smiled, saying, “Online. It wasn’t cheap, but I wanted them.”

Max pulled a camera out of her bag. She said, “Hold them for a picture!”

Victoria set the figures in front of her, smiling.

“Sorry, Max, but I can’t really hold both of them up.”

Max looked embarrassed, saying, “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s okay. You can still take a picture of me with them. Heck, I want you to!”

Max moved over to the foot of the bed, squatting down. After a few seconds, Victoria heard the camera click. She picked up Hermes and pretended to drive him. The camera clicked again.

Crap! I didn’t think she’d take more pictures!

Face red, she quickly put the figurines on the stand by her bed.

Max walked over and showed her the pictures. The first one focused on the figurines, with Victoria’s smiling face just slightly out of focus behind them.

It looks great. She doesn’t even need Photoshop for this. It’s a shame I still look so bad.

The second picture showed Victoria moving the little motorrad across her tray. She looked really happy.

Heck, I look like a little kid. It is fun to drive Hermes around, though!

Victoria said, “These pictures are great! Make sure I get copies.”

Max nodded, saying, “I’ll email them to you when I get home. You do look really nice in them.”

She said I look nice!

“That’s you with your camera skills. Anyway, I also tried to find a figurine of Photo, but I couldn’t. I want one so bad! I’m half tempted to hire one of those guys who makes exclusive figurines.”

“Victoria, those guys are really expensive. I know you’re wealthy, but I’m not sure that’s a great idea.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I didn’t actually contact them. I’m still tempted, but I’m holding off for now.”

“That’s probably a good idea. Have you heard any news from the doctors, lately?”

“Well, my arm cast should come off in a few days. Then I’ll have to start therapy for it right away. I’m kind of excited, but also a little scared. I know therapy is going to be rough.”

Max nodded, “I think you’ll do okay. Remember, a lot of us are cheering for you.”

“Thanks, Max. Maybe I’m just worried over nothing.”

A few days later, Doctor Russo came in with some nurses. One of them was pushing a cart with a big mechanical arm over it.

Doctor Russo said, “Good morning, Victoria. We’re going to x-ray your arm today, and make sure it’s safe to remove the cast.”

Victoria nodded, worried. “Sounds good, doctor. Is there anything I need to do?”

The doctor shook his head, and said, “We’ll put a lead sheet over your body and head, to limit the exposure. It should be pretty straightforward. Your arm and ribs aren’t in any pain, are they?”

“No, they haven’t bothered me much over the last few days.”

Doctor Russo nodded, saying, “Good. Well, let’s set you up.”

After a few uncomfortable minutes, Victoria found herself under the heavy lead sheet. Her arm was out over the top of it. Most of the others left the room, and a nurse ran the x-ray. Once she finished, they came back in and removed the sheet.

The doctor was looking at a screen on the machine. After a few minutes, he looked at Victoria, smiling. “It looks like the breaks are fully healed. We can take off the cast.”

Victoria nodded, asking, “Is it going to be okay, then?”

He looked at her, saying, “The bones are lined up correctly. There will still be scarring and possible muscle damage. If we’re lucky, you’ll be able to use it fairly well, if you do your physical therapy. I can’t guarantee anything, though. Honestly, I’m just happy we didn’t have to amputate your arm. You’ve got a chance that many other people would love to have.”

Damn. I thought doctors were supposed to be really cheerful and tell you everything is going to be fine.

“Well, I guess now’s a great time to get this thing off of my arm.”

The doctor came over with a small saw. Seeing the look of alarm on Victoria’s face, he said, “No worries. This saw will only cut the cast. It won’t cut skin. It’s designed for this. You might feel it tingle a little, but that’s all.”

“Wow. Okay. I’m still going to close my eyes.”

He chuckled, and then started to remove the cast. Victoria kept her word and closed her eyes, turning her head away. The whine of the saw and the sound of it tearing through the cast filled her ears.

That thing sounds like it’s going to chop me up!

She did feel pressure from the doctors hands, and even a slight tingle at a few points along her arm, but that was it. After a few minutes, she felt the cast being removed and air actually touching her arm again.

She quickly looked at it.

Oh fuck. Damn it!

Her arm had started curling towards her chest. It had large scars from above her elbow all the way to her hand. Her hand was scrunched up, with the thumb and pinky almost touching. She tried to push her arm out straight, but it just kept curling up.

She felt a small throb of pain from it. It looked like it was swelling up a little, and was turning red.

The doctor looked at her and said, “It’s okay. It will swell a little. You may feel a little pain from the swelling, but it’s normal. Don’t scratch it, even if it itches. Just let a nurse know, and they’ll wash it for you.”

He stepped back, and a nurse stepped in, holding a wet cloth. She started wiping Victoria’s arm down. It hurt a little, but it wasn’t terrible. After a while, everyone left the room again. Victoria tested her arm, but it barely moved at the elbow. She couldn’t move her fingers at all.

Please tell me I’ll be able to move my arm again. It’s covered in scars. It’s so ugly! I can’t do anything if my arm is like this for the rest of my life.

A few hours later, she saw Max entering the room, bag of food in hand. She quickly pulled her blankets over her right arm, hiding it. Max was smiling, but stopped when she saw what Victoria was doing.

“Victoria, what’s the matter?”

 

Chapter Text

“Nothing! Hi, Max. It’s nice to see you.”

Max gave her a concerned look. She came over to the bed, opening the bag.

Max said, “I got Joe to make us tomato soup and grilled cheese. I thought it would be fun. We can dip our sandwiches and figure out what anime to watch next.”

Victoria noticed that Max looked at where her arm used to sit, when it was trapped in the cast. Max didn’t say anything. She pulled out a couple lemonades from the bag, opening one bottle and setting it on Victoria’s tray. Then she got out the bowls of soup and some wrapped sandwiches.

“It looks wonderful, Max. Thank you.”

Max nodded, and sat down.

Max said, “I got each of us two sandwiches. I don’t think one will be enough.”

Victoria nodded, happily.

“Yeah, two is better.”

Victoria reached out with her sandwich and tapped Max’s. “Bon appétit.”

Max replied, “Merci” in an absolutely awful accent.

Victoria laughed. They started eating.

Victoria happily dipped her sandwich into the soup and took a big bite. Max laughed, and then did the same. They each finished one sandwich this way.

Max asked, “Do you have any shows in mind?”

“Not really. I thought you might like to pick one.”

Max asked, “Hmm. I assume you’ve seen Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Alchemist?”

“Of course. They’re both great. Same with Brotherhood. I think I’ve seen all of the classics.”

Max nodded, “I figured. Are you in the mood for a long show, or just something short?”

“Well, I’m going to be here for at least a few more months, so a long show would be fine.”

“Have you seen Natsume’s Book of Friends? It’s really good, but there are five seasons and a bunch of specials.”

“No, I don’t know that one, which is weird, since it’s had so many seasons.”

Max said, “I think it’s really popular in Japan, but not the US.”

“Let’s try it, then. It sounds like you’ve watched it?”

“Actually, I’ve only seen the first season. I really liked it, but I haven’t had the time to continue.”

“Well, that works out for both of us, Max. Let me find it.”

Victoria searched the anime site she subscribed to and quickly found the show. She read over the synopsis.

“It looks interesting. A kid who can see spirits, and he’s got a book that has their names in it.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, there are a lot of great characters. It can get a little sad at times, though, if that’s okay.”

Victoria nodded, “I’m fine with that. Let’s begin!”

They started watching the show, eating their soup and sandwiches. After three episodes, Max stood up to stretch.

Max said, “I think I’ve had enough for today. I hope that’s okay. I’m a little tired from work.”

“It’s fine, Max. I’m just really glad you came to visit.”

Max nodded, smiling. She collected their plates and threw out the trash.

She hasn’t asked about my arm. She really is leaving it up to me. I know I shouldn’t be hiding it. She must think I don’t trust her.

Victoria sighed, and said, “Max, I know I should have said something right away, but I was embarrassed. They took off the cast today. My arm is a mess.”

Max grimaced, saying, “It’s okay, Victoria. I suspected it must have turned out worse than you wanted, since you hid it right away. You don’t have to show it to me if you’re not ready.”

“Max, you’re the nosiest person I’ve ever met. I know it’s driving you crazy.”

Max snorted, and covered her mouth, laughing. “Okay, maybe I am a little curious, but still, you don’t have to show it to me until you’re ready.”

Victoria shook her head. She huffed a little; then pulled the blankets down, revealing her arm.

Victoria saw Max’s mouth drop in shock, but she quickly recovered, hiding it.

Max said, “Victoria, I’m so sorry. What did the doctor say?”

“He said that I need to do my physical therapy, and I might get a lot of use back. Sadly, I’m not so sure. I can kind of move my arm at the elbow, but my hand and fingers don’t move, no matter how hard I try.”

Victoria tried to move her arm and hand as she said this. Her arm slightly straightened a little, but there was no reaction at all from her hand or fingers.

Victoria felt her cheeks getting wet.

Fuck, I’m crying again. I’m so tired of this!

She looked at Max, and noticed that her eyes were wet. Max came over and sat on the bed next to her; then she bent down and hugged Victoria. She didn’t hug too tightly, but it felt great.

Victoria started crying harder, and Max just held her. Victoria’s head was above Max’s, and she clumsily put her good arm around Max’s shoulders. They sat there for a while.

Victoria stopped crying after a few minutes. Max sat back up, sadly smiling at her. Then Max got up and grabbed some tissues, handing them to Victoria.

Victoria started wiping her eyes and nose. She noticed that Max had a few tissues and was wiping her own.

“Thanks, Max. I’m sorry for crying like this. I really needed it, though.”

Max said, “It’s okay, Victoria. I just wish you weren’t hurt like this.”

“Me, too. Still, I really appreciate you being here. You give great hugs.”

Max laughed, even as she wiped her eyes.

“Thanks. I was worried I’d hurt your ribs.”

“No, they seem to be fine, now. As long as you don’t try to give me a lumberjack hug, I’ll be okay.”

Max laughed again. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So that means you plan on hugging me again?”

“If you don’t push your luck, I might.”

“Great!”

Max smiled at her, saying, “Well, I do need to head out. I have an early morning again tomorrow. Lots of film needs to be developed!”

“It’s crazy how often you end up doing that.”

Max shrugged, “Yeah, but it really helps keep my store afloat. I think I get almost as much money from developing film as I do selling cameras.”

“Wow. I didn’t think it would be that profitable.”

“Not many people can do it anymore. It works out great for me, since so many people are using film cameras again.”

“Hipsters.”

“True, but they’re my best customers.”

“I guess. Sleep well, Max, and thanks again for visiting.”

“I’m happy to. Just make sure you do your therapy. It might work a lot better than you think.”

“I hope so. Good night.”

“Good night, Victoria.”

Max left. Victoria lay there for a while, thinking about Max, her arm, and what if the yokai were real, before falling asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria woke the next morning, ate a breakfast of oatmeal and eggs, and browsed the photography forum.

After an hour, a nurse she didn’t know came in. The woman nodded to her, saying, “Hello, Victoria. I’m Nancy Hughes. I’m the physical therapist that will be helping you with your recovery.”

“Hello. Nice to meet you.”

I hope you can work miracles, because I need one.

Nancy smiled, “You, too. Now let’s look at your arm.”

Victoria pulled the covers off of her arm as Nancy walked over to the right side of the bed. Nancy took her arm in her hands, lightly running her hands over it. She frowned; then went to the sink. She came back with a cloth and a jar of oil.

My arm is pretty red, and the skin is flaking pretty badly. The nurses cleaned it up a few hours ago, but it still looks like crap. The scars certainly don’t help.

Nancy lightly wiped off Victoria’s arm. Victoria flinched a little, as her arm was pretty sore.

Nancy said, “Sorry, but I need to clean this up. Your skin is really dry from being in that cast, and it’s pretty swollen. I’ll put some oil on it to help keep it from flaking so much.”

“Okay.”

Damn, it hurts just from her wiping it.

“Can we wait a day until you start doing any major stretches? It kind of hurts.”

Nancy shook her head. She said, “No, that’s the worst thing you can do. We need to get your muscles flexing, or they’ll continue to atrophy.”

Nancy then put oil on her hands and carefully held Victoria’s arm. She started massaging it from above the elbow, and then worked her way down. She pulled it straighter as she did so.

Holy fuck, that hurts!

“Oww! Stop, please!”

“Sorry, but you need this. It will only be for a few minutes.”

Nancy kept kneading the muscles in Victoria’s forearm, and stretched her arm out straighter.

Victoria gritted her teeth, trying not to cry.

Damn, it hurts! Hell, she can’t even pull it fully straight. Is my arm stuck in a bent position forever?

Nancy worked her way down to Victoria’s hand, and started working with it. She pulled the palm flat and interlaced her fingers with Victoria’s, working them. She formed it into a fist, and flattened it several times. Victoria could barely feel it.

This doesn’t hurt at all.

Nancy frowned, and asked, “Can you feel that? I know you felt me working on your arm.”

“No. I mean, I feel a little pressure where your hand is, but it’s like when I’m really cold. I know you’re hand is there, but there’s no sensation other than pressure.”

“Really? That’s not good. Is your doctor aware of that?”

“No, I haven’t spoken to him since yesterday. At the time, I didn’t really notice it. I just knew I couldn’t straighten out my arm or fingers.”

“Alright. I think we’re done for now. I’ll come by again in the afternoon. If you can, try and move your arm occasionally. Don’t push it, but just try to get it used to movement again.”

“Okay, I’ll do that. Is there something really wrong with my hand?”

Nancy shrugged, “I’m not sure. I’m going to inform Doctor Russo. I suspect he’ll drop by and look at it.”

“It isn’t something really serious, is it? I mean, I know it’s serious, but is it worse than it looks?”

“I’m sure the doctor will have a better idea than I do. I’ll see you later, Victoria.”

Yeah, she totally avoided answering that. I think my hand’s fucked, but she doesn’t want to tell me. Oh crap, this sucks.

Victoria nodded, “I guess I’ll see you then.”

Nancy cleaned off her hands in the sink and left.

An hour later, Doctor Russo came in. He nodded at Victoria, while looking at a computer tablet in his hand.

He said, “Hello, Victoria. Therapist Hughes informed me that you don’t have much feeling in your right hand. Is that correct?”

“Yes. When she worked with my arm, it really hurt, but not when she worked my hand. I just felt pressure from her fingers, but not really any other sensation.”

He nodded, and wrote something on his pad with a stylus. He came over to her, and said, “I’m going to touch your arm and hand. I need to test them.”

“Okay. If it’s something really bad, please tell me. Also, Nancy couldn’t straighten my arm out the whole way, in case she didn’t mention that.”

“Hmm. She didn’t. Maybe that’s only temporary.”

I hope so!

Doctor Russo took her arm in his hands, and slowly worked his way down it. He pressed at various points, which cause Victoria to almost scream.

He said, “I’m sorry. I am just seeing which nerves are working correctly. How bad was the pain, on a scale of one to ten?”

“Ten.”

Breathing heavily, Victoria closed her eyes. She felt sweat on her brow.

The doctor continued down to her hand, finding several other points that really hurt and a few that seemed normal. He also pulled her arm mostly straight, feeling the muscles around her elbow as he did so.

Victoria saw stars.

I think I’m going to pass out. It hurts so much!

She heard a whining noise, and realized that it was her.

This is so embarrassing! I sound like a dying animal.

The doctor let go of her arm, nodding to himself. Then he took her hand into his and worked each finger, the palm, and the wrist. The wrist hurt a little, and also wouldn’t straighten fully. She could barely feel his hand with hers, though.

He asked, “Did your wrist hurt?”

She nodded, saying, “A little, though not as much as my arm. I can barely feel you with my fingers or palm, though.”

Doctor Russo frowned, shaking his head. He wrote some notes down on his pad. Once he finished that, he looked at Victoria and said, “It looks like you sustained nerve damage in your hand. I was worried that might happen. I think the best thing you can do is keep up with your therapy, and maybe it will fix itself.”

“What? Isn’t there anything you can do that would definitely fix it?”

Doctor Russo shook his head no. He replied, “Not immediately. We could try surgery once you’re arm is healed, but if your wrist is badly damaged, it may not be feasible. I’m worried about your elbow and wrist. You appear to have lost some range of motion with each. Again, this may go away with therapy, but I can’t guarantee it.”

“You’re saying I’m probably going to have a crippled arm for the rest of my life.”

He shrugged, “You likely won’t get full use back, but it’s possible it will recover enough that it won’t be too much of a hindrance.”

“You can’t fix the nerve damage in my hand. That sounds like a big hindrance to me.”

He sighed, saying, “Victoria, there’s only so much we can do. The best chance you have for recovery is to maintain a positive attitude and just keep working with your therapist. If you won’t do that, I guarantee you that your arm will not get better.”

Victoria closed her eyes, laying her head back. She said, “I’m sorry, doctor. I know you did your best. Like you said yesterday, at least I didn’t have my arm cut off. I won’t quit.”

He nodded, “That’s good. While recovery can be hard, you can do it as long as you keep working at it.”

“Thanks. Sorry for being a bitch.”

He laughed, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

With that, he left the room.

A few hours later, Nancy came back and worked with Victoria’s arm again. It still hurt like crazy, but Victoria just let her do her job and didn’t complain.

The rest of the day passed slowly. Victoria did a few small stretches every once in a while, though she didn’t push it nearly as hard as the therapist or doctor did.

Towards evening, her phone beeped. She checked her messages.

[Taylor: Max said your cast is off, but that we had to let you tell us about it. Let’s have a group chat in an hour.]

[Victoria: Damn her! Lol. I guess we can do that. Let everyone know. I’ll be there.]

 

Chapter Text

About half an hour later, Max came in, bearing a bag of food. She smiled as she got close.

“So, you told everyone my cast was off.”

Max paused, a worried look on her face. She replied, “Taylor asked me how you were doing. I told her about your cast being removed. I did not say what condition your arm is in.”

Well, I guess that was unavoidable. Of course, now I’m going to have to show it to everyone.

“We have a group chat in thirty minutes. Taylor is setting it up.”

“Oh. I heard my phone beep, but I didn’t check it. I was driving.”

“That’s okay. What’s in the bag? I am kind of hungry.”

Max smiled again. She brought out two lemonades, and two big burritos. “There’s a good Mexican restaurant owned by a family near me. I thought you’d appreciate some authentic food.”

Victoria nodded, “Yes! You might have to help me with it. Those things are huge.”

Max nodded, digging some forks out from the bag. “I expected that. Heck, I’m going to need a fork myself.”

After Max set up their plates, they started eating. Victoria’s burrito was still pretty warm, and it tasted great.

“You know all of the good places to eat. I’m getting jealous.”

Max laughed, “It took some trial and error. When I first moved here, I definitely found out which restaurants weren’t very good.”

“Well, your sacrifice to the culinary gods is appreciated.”

“Thanks. Oh, let me get your laptop set up.”

Victoria kept eating while Max opened her laptop and set it where they could both see. Victoria had an icon for the chat right on the screen, so Max clicked it. After a few seconds, they were looking at the site. They could see that Taylor, Courtney, and Kate were already on and waiting.

Victoria sighed, “Well, let’s get this over with. Click the join chat button.”

Then she took a big bite of her burrito as her friends faces came into view. All of them started laughing as Victoria puffed out her cheeks and chewed.

If I can get them to laugh, maybe it will ease the tension a bit. I don’t want them to get too worked up over this. It’s not like they can do anything to fix my arm.

She noticed that Max was looking at her, covering her mouth and with her shoulders shaking.

Oops! I didn’t think about her seeing this. Oh well.

After a few seconds, Victoria finally swallowed. Her friends were still laughing, so she grabbed her lemonade and drank some of it.

As Victoria put the bottle down, Taylor said, “Damn, I miss you doing stupid stuff like that when we were alone together.”

Courtney added, “Yeah. I don’t think anyone would have believed us if we told them.”

Kate was quiet, just looking at the screen with an amused expression.

Max asked, “Wait, Victoria does this stuff a lot?”

Victoria’s face got red as both Taylor and Courtney said, “Yes!”

Courtney continued, “She is actually a lot of fun, when she’s not trying to impress people. It’s really too bad you guys didn’t get to see her like that back at Blackwell.”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah, Victoria’s a much better person when she’s with friends. She was always trying too hard when she was around other people. She worried too much about what they thought of her.”

Kate arched an eyebrow, and said, “In that case, she’d have been much better off just being nice to everyone, instead of acting the way she did.”

Fuck, tell me about it. I still regret how I treated everyone there.

Courtney said, “She had this idea that she had to be better than everyone. I hate to say it, but Taylor and I bought into it, as well.”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah, I still regret the things I did back then.”

Kate nodded, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. You are all much nicer people now.”

Max said, “It’s okay, Kate. You’re allowed to say what you think. Anyway, you don’t look as tired tonight. That’s good.”

Kate replied, “I finished up the first draft of my book. I’m letting it sit for a few days before I go back and edit it. I’m definitely getting more sleep.”

“That’s good. We were getting worried about you. You looked so tired the last time we saw you.”

Taylor said, “Speaking of being worried: how’s your arm, Victoria?”

Victoria rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s been better.”

She sat up and set her arm out in front of her laptop. All three of her friends gasped, and looked shocked.

“Okay, that’s not making this any easier.”

Victoria leaned back, letting her arm fall back out of sight. Then she took another, smaller, bite of her burrito as her friends started talking. She noticed that Max was just looking down, not saying anything.

Courtney said, “Oh my God, Victoria! Is it going to get better?”

Taylor said, “Damn. I’m really sorry about that. I’m guessing you started physical therapy already? Will it really help?”

Kate said, “I’m so sorry this happened to you!”

After a few seconds of chewing, Victoria swallowed and said, “Well, it did. I started physical therapy this morning. It is not fun.”

Courtney asked, “Does it hurt?”

Taylor snorted, and said, “Of course it does.”

Courtney looked really embarrassed, quickly saying, “I’m sorry! Forget I asked that.”

Victoria replied, “It’s really sore. When the nurse and the doctor worked with it, it hurt a lot. Like, I almost passed out.”

Max looked at her, obviously concerned. The others all reacted similarly.

“There’s more. My arm and wrist don’t open the whole way. I also have nerve damage in my hand. I can’t feel much of anything with it.”

Max asked, “What? When did this happen?”

Taylor, Kate, and Courtney just sat, silent. Courtney looked like she was crying.

“They figured it out today. I may get feeling back in my hand, but maybe not. The doctor was really worried about my elbow and wrist. He said it’s likely they won’t fully recover.”

Max said, “Are you sure? There’s nothing else they can do?”

Victoria shook her head no. “I just have to do my physical therapy, and hope it works out. I hate to say it, but I’m probably never going to use a camera professionally again. I just can’t see how it would work.”

Courtney said, “Don’t say that! I’m sure they can fix it!”

Kate nodded, “Never give up. Miracles can happen.”

Taylor added, “Just keep doing your therapy. You can make it work.”

Victoria felt Max’s hand on her own. She set her fork down, and squeezed it. Max said, “I’m here for you. Don’t even think that you can’t take pictures again.”

Victoria sniffed, let go of Max’s hand, and quickly wiped her eyes.

Damn it! What the hell is it with me and crying lately?

 Courtney asked, “Do you want me to come back up there and visit some more? I hate sitting here, not being able to help you.”

Victoria shook her head no, saying, “No, it’s okay. Heck, you can’t afford to take off again. I’ve got Max here, so I’m not alone. Thanks for asking me, though. I really appreciate it.”

Courtney nodded, obviously upset.

Taylor said, “Max, take good care of her, okay?”

Max nodded. She said, “I’ll be visiting her regularly.”

Kate said, “I have faith in you, Victoria. You won’t let this get you down. Remember that you have a guardian angel, and this is your second chance at life.”

“I remember. I’m glad you have faith in me. I certainly didn’t deserve it before.”

“You’ve changed a lot since Blackwell, for the better. Just remember that you chose to still be here.”

“Thanks. I won’t forget.”

Max said, “Guys, I think that’s enough for tonight. Victoria’s still not healthy, and we shouldn’t push her.”

I’m okay to chat! Well, I guess I am getting worked up. It’s probably not a great idea to keep talking about this.

Taylor said, “Okay, I guess you guys can log out. Just keep doing your therapy, Victoria. I know you won’t quit.”

Kate said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

Courtney said, “I hope everything works out for you, Victoria. Max, please help her as much as you can!”

Max replied, “I will! Good night, everyone!”

“Good night. I miss you guys.”

After everyone said good night, Max shut down the chat.

“I’m pretty sure they’re going to keep talking about me for a while.”

Max shrugged, “Probably, but that’s because they care about you.”

“I know. I’m lucky to have you guys.”

Max nodded, smiling. She said, “Let’s finish our dinner. It’s probably cold by now.”

It was, but it was still really good.

 

Chapter Text

Over the next week, Victoria continued having sessions with Nancy, the physical therapist. The pain decreased a little by Friday, but it was still pretty bad. Her arm was returning to its normal color, where it wasn’t covered in scars. The swelling was almost gone. It would not quite straighten out at the elbow, and her wrist appeared to be bent in a little. She still had no feeling in her hand, and the fingers were stuck together.

I guess I can make Snake style kung fu attacks, at least.

Max was busy at work, and couldn’t visit. She did call Victoria every night and they’d talk for a while about Max’s store and how Victoria was doing.

She also had a video chat with everyone on Thursday night. That took several hours. Everyone was happy that her arm was at least looking a little better than it had the week before. Taylor and Courtney both scolded Max for not visiting. Max really couldn’t help it, though. Courtney once again offered to come back, but Victoria told her no. After that, they just chatted about their lives.

I’m getting used to being stuck here. I’m so bored! It’s not fair that Max bailed on me right after starting a new anime! I want to watch more of it, but I want her here with me when I do!

She looked under the covers.

I can see my ribs. I’m not eating enough. I look like a skeleton. I wonder if that’s why everyone was always bringing me food when they visited?

She opened her laptop, noting that it was already August.

My birthday is only a few days away. I really don’t want to be stuck here! This sucks so much! I’m so lonely!

She was checking the news when her door opened up and Max came in.

Yes!

Max was carrying a small folding tray and a bag of food, smiling, and said, “Hi, Victoria! Sorry I was out for so long. I hope you’re doing okay.”

Victoria nodded yes, saying, “I am now! We can finally watch some more episodes of Natsume!”

Max nodded. She said, “I picked up a tray stand so that we can have more room when we eat.”

“Good idea. Feel free to leave it here. We’ll need it again, I’m sure.”

“That’s the plan. Here’s your lemonade.”

Max handed her a bottle, after opening it. She put a bottle of iced tea on her own tray. Then she got out a couple medium pizza boxes.

“Pizza! I haven’t had any since I got here! You’re my hero, Max!”

Max laughed, “Relax, it’s nothing fancy. I got a pepperoni and mushroom pizza, and a sausage and green pepper pizza.”

“If you don’t mind, can I have one of each?”

Max nodded, “Of course!

Max set out some paper plates, and then put a slice of pepperoni out for each of them. She said, “Let’s just do one at a time. These trays aren’t really big enough.”

Victoria quickly connected to her anime site and started up the next episode. They ended up sitting there, eating pizza and watching the show, for several hours.

After watching five episodes, Victoria closed her laptop. Then she and Max just sat and talked about the show, the characters, and the yokai for another hour.

Finally, Max yawned and stood up. She said, “This has been a lot of fun. I’m definitely not going to wait so long until I’m back.”

“Promise? You have no idea how boring this place is. I can only cruise the internet for so many hours before I have to stop. Heck, you need to be here so that I can keep watching this show!”

Max laughed, “I will be! I know it was pretty rude of me disappearing for a few days. I won’t do that again.”

Max cleaned up their plates and put her folding tray up against the wall behind Victoria.

I wonder if she’s actually okay? She was gone for almost a week. Maybe she’s having second thoughts about us?

Victoria asked, “Are you still getting bothered by the paparazzi?”

“No, the last guy left yesterday. I’m not really sure what he was expecting. I have to wonder if he even got paid for standing out there for over a week.”

“From what I understand, probably not. He just hoped to get some good shots so he can cash in a big payday.”

Max nodded, “Good. I hope he can’t pay his rent this month.”

Victoria laughed, “Me, too! Those guys are leeches. They make the rest of us photographers look bad.”

I’m not a photographer any more. Look at my fucking hand!

Max noticed that Victoria got quiet. She leaned over, putting her arm on Victoria’s shoulder. She said, “You’re the best photographer I know. Don’t even start thinking you’re not.”

Victoria looked up at her, “I wish I could believe you.”

Max smiled, “You better. Now, I really do have to go.”

Before Victoria even realized what was happening, Max leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. Then she stepped back with a huge smile, waved, and walked towards the door.

“Uhhh.”

She just kissed me! I mean, it was only the forehead, but so what? She kissed me!

“Bye, Max!”

She barely managed to call out before Max left the room. She lay back in her bed, a smile planted firmly on her face.

I wish Max would do that every night! Imagine if we lived together? She could! I can’t believe she actually wants to kiss me! I’m a huge mess. I look terrible. She kissed me! I wish it was on my lips! Her lips were so soft. Oh damn, I think I’m in love, and we haven’t even really done anything yet. This is bad.

Victoria lay there for another hour, thinking about Max, before she fell asleep. Despite her situation, she was smiling.

 

Chapter Text

Saturday morning, Victoria was sitting in her bed when her parents entered the room. She raised the bed so that she was sitting up, and said, “Good morning.”

Her parents smiled at her, and her father said, “Good morning, Victoria. You are looking much better.”

Her mother nodded, smiling, adding, “Yes! You’ve improved a lot since last time. It’s nice to see.”

Victoria nodded, “Thanks. It doesn’t really feel that way to me, but I guess that’s because I’m stuck here.”

Her father replied, “That should only be for a few more months.”

Her parents came over and sat in the chairs by her bed. Her mother brought out a small, gift-wrapped box and handed it to Victoria.

She said, “Here’s your birthday present. I know it’s not until Friday, but I wanted to give it to you in person.”

“Thanks! I appreciate it.”

Victoria carefully unwrapped the box, using her bad hand to hold the box in place while removing the ribbon and wrapper with her good hand.

They’re trying not to look at it. This is so embarrassing.

Once she got the wrapping off, she opened it. Inside she found a braided gold bracelet with a small camera design on it. It was very pretty, and probably really expensive.

I love it! It’s perfect.

She smiled at her parents, saying, “Thanks! I love it. I didn’t even know they made bracelets like this.”

Her father nodded, smiling. Her mother said, “We had it made for you. It’s one-of-a-kind. I know you love cameras, and you’ll be able to wear this with any of your outfits.”

Well, this is one of the better gifts they’ve ever gotten me. They actually put some thought into it. Still, I can’t believe they’d drive here just to give me a present. I mean, I understand that they actually do care about me, but it’s odd that Father would make a special trip.

As if on cue, her father said, “Happy birthday, Victoria. I wish it was under better circumstances. I wanted to let you know that I spoke with Doctor Russo yesterday. It’s really unfortunate that you are having issues with your arm. He told me that he’s not confident that your hand will recover.”

Wait, what? He didn’t tell me that! Well, I guess he did, but he was a lot more positive about the outcome. My hand might still be okay, and I’m doing my physical therapy!

Her father continued, “He also mentioned that your leg casts will be removed in another month.”

“He did? That’s great!”

I’ll hopefully be able to move around on my own! Even if it’s in a wheelchair, I can get out of this damn bed! It won’t be too long after that I can start walking again, even if I need a walker!

Her father shook his head, and continued, “He said that he is very worried about your ability to walk. He told me that you will have a hard time doing physical therapy for your legs if your arm is still having these issues. It will cause complications that could prevent you from fully recovering the use of your legs.”

“Wait. What? He hasn’t said anything of the sort to me! He just tells me to do my therapy and I’m probably going to be okay! Why is he telling you this and hiding it from me? Where is he?”

Victoria’s voice was getting louder with each word.

What the fuck? You mean he told my father I’m going to be in a wheelchair? Why the hell is he telling me something different?

Father raised his hand, saying, “Watch your tone. He’s telling me this because I’ve known him for years, and he’s the best damn surgeon in the area. He knows that I have to make some major decisions and he is giving me the best information he has available. He is going to make sure you have the best treatment possible, so you have a chance to recover. You have to work as hard as you can so that you will get better.”

“Why the hell are you telling me this?”

Her mother said, “Victoria, we’re worried about you! A lot. We want you to get better, but we have to be prepared for the future. A lot of people depend upon us.”

It’s just a fucking business decision for them.

“I see.”

Her father said, “No, you don’t. We are concerned about your future. A lot of changes will have to be made if you require a wheelchair after you leave this place. We’re just trying to get things prepared if that happens.”

“What do you mean: prepared?”

He sighed, “I’ve talked to some contractors about renovating your house for accessibility. I am concerned about how you’ll get around. We have accounts set up so that money shouldn’t be an issue, but I’m worried about what you’ll actually be able to do professionally. We can certainly have you work at the gallery, but I’m not sure in what capacity.”

Victoria shook her head, closing her eyes. She said, “How did I know this was about the Chase Space? I already know that I won’t be able to do all of the things you two do, travelling and meeting with artists and clients all over the world. I can still be at the gallery, making sure everything is set up correctly and running efficiently. Hell, I’m not even sure I want to work there. Just hire someone who’s really good at that stuff to do it.”

Her father replied, “I wanted you to run it. Like you say, maybe it would just be in a more limited capacity than I’d thought. If you’re truly not interested, I could just sell the place once we retire. You need to think about what you want to do as a career. I can’t imagine you would just sit at home for the rest of your life, with no real goals.”

“If the doctor is wrong, and I fully recover, I’d want to go back to being a photographer. I am really good at it, and I love doing it. If he’s right, I honestly don’t know what I want. In any case, I won’t know for a few months what my options are. I’d also need to talk them over with Max, and see what she thinks.”

Her mother said, “She is a really nice girl. I guess you’re pretty serious about her, if you want her advice.”

Victoria smiled, “Yeah, I kind of am. I mean, it’s way too early for me to get any big ideas, and who knows how she’ll react if I do get stuck in a wheelchair. I’d hope she’d be okay with it, but I’d also understand completely if that was a deal-breaker for her.”

Her mother asked, “She’s still visiting you, right? If so, I think you’ll be okay.”

Victoria nodded, “Yeah, she is. It’s really nice. We also have a lot of the same interests. I really like hanging out with her.”

Her father smiled, “So she’s really into anime and photography?”

Victoria’s face got red. “Yes, though I didn’t think you knew I like anime.”

He nodded at the figurines beside Victoria’s bed.

“Those look like anime toys to me.”

Oh shit, I forgot they were right there. Oh well.

 Her mother said, “David, you’re embarrassing her. It’s perfectly fine if she likes cartoons.”

Oh damn. Why me?

Her father laughed, “Yes, I guess it is. Anyway, Victoria, please keep in mind that we want to help you with your future. If you have any ideas of your own, let us know. Maybe I was a little too blunt, but you really do need to complete your rehab. Just work hard and hopefully everything will work out fine, and you can tell me how wrong I was.”

“I’ll do that.”

You’re damn straight. I’ll prove that fucking doctor wrong if it’s the last thing I do.

They continued talking for another hour about Seattle, a few artists that her parents liked, and their last trip to France. Then her parents got up to leave, and wished her a happy birthday one more time before leaving.

Victoria put the bracelet back in its case after they left, setting it by Hermes.

I appreciate the gift, but I’m not going to wear it here. Hell, I think I won’t wear the damn thing unless I can actually walk again. If I am stuck in a wheelchair, then that thing can just sit in its case for the rest of my life.

 That evening, Max stopped by. She brought a couple cheese steaks and fries for them to eat. As Victoria was setting up her laptop, Max noticed the jewelry case.

Max asked, “Did someone buy you some jewelry?”

Victoria nodded, “Yes, my parents were here this morning. They got me an early birthday gift.”

“Oh, when’s your birthday?”

“This Friday. You can look at it, if you want.”

Max opened the case, and her eyes got wide. She said, “Wowzers! This is really nice!”

“It is, isn’t it? I’ve decided that it will be my reward for when I’m done with therapy and I can walk around on my own.”

Max nodded, “That’s cool. It would definitely make me want to get better faster. Neat idea!”

“Thanks. Well, are you ready for some anime?”

“Always!”

They ended up watching the rest of season one of Natsume’s Book of Friends that evening, and talking about it for a while, before Max headed home.

No kiss tonight. I guess I can’t get greedy.

Victoria didn’t tell Max what her father said.

 

Chapter Text

Every day that week, Nancy worked with Victoria. Her arm was still sore, and it really hurt on certain stretches, but it was definitely getting better. She was pretty sure that she’d never extend it fully again, or that she’d be able to straighten out her wrist, which bothered her.

I wish my arm was okay. Heck, even if was stuck in a wheelchair, I could still take great photos if my arm wasn’t hurt. I hate this.

Max had stopped in several nights that week, and they finished season two of Natsume. She really liked the show, and spending time with Max was just great.

On Friday morning, she woke up to sunlight and an oatmeal and bacon breakfast, along with some apple juice.

Well, happy 25th birthday to me! What a way to celebrate. At least Max promised to visit me this evening. I hope she gets me a cake for my birthday. I did just so happen to mention that I really like pineapple upside-down cake to her on Wednesday.

After she finished eating, Nancy came in. Victoria smiled at her, even as she dreaded the next hour. Nancy first started working with her elbow, and then moved down to her wrist.

Victoria asked, “Give me your honest opinion, please. Is there any chance my arm will straighten out with this therapy? I won’t stop doing it, even if it won’t. I just hate not knowing what’s coming.”

Nancy looked at her for a few seconds, and then said, “I think we’ve reached the range limits of your elbow and wrist, barring further surgery. I’m not even sure that’s possible. You’d have to ask Doctor Russo.”

Victoria’s shoulders slumped, “Thanks. I thought as much. At least it doesn’t hurt as much as it did when we started.”

Nancy nodded, and then started working with Victoria’s hand. Nancy’s hand was warm, and Victoria’s fingers tingled as they were moved around.

Wait. This isn’t the same. I can feel Nancy’s fingers!

Victoria sat up quickly, smiling and looking at Nancy. Nancy leaned back, letting go of Victoria’s hand and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Grab my hand again and work it a little, please.”

Holy shit! I think I could feel her!

Nancy nodded, a nervous smile on her face, and started working Victoria’s hand again. Victoria definitely felt warmth again, and more tingles where Nancy was moving her thumb around.

“I can feel you! I can feel you! Holy shit, I think my hand is starting to work!”

Nancy smiled, and then said, “That’s great! Let me try a few things and tell me if you feel them.”

She moved her fingers lightly over Victoria’s palm. It barely registered, but Victoria did feel it.

“I feel that a little, though it’s pretty faint.”

Nancy started rolling up Victoria’s fingers into a ball. That actually hurt a little bit, but she definitely felt it.

“Ow! Okay, I can feel that fine. It hurts a little. Your hands are warm!”

Nancy nodded, and then pushed against Victoria’s fingers, pushing her hand back. That hurt a lot, but Victoria almost didn’t care, because she actually felt it.

“Ow! Ow! Stop! That hurts!”

Nancy instantly stopped and sat back, smiling.

She said, “I think your nerves are finally repairing themselves. Congratulations!”

Victoria felt like her mouth was stuck in a huge smile, and she didn’t care.

“Thanks! It’s from your help! Thank you so much!”

If I hadn’t had her here doing therapy with me every day, who knows if I’d have ever felt anything with this hand ever again?

Nancy smiled back, also really happy. She said, “You did the hard part. I was just helping you. I’ll make sure the doctor knows that your nerves are starting to work again. Okay, we do have to finish up, but I’m really happy for you.”

They spent another forty minutes doing all of the physical therapy routines Victoria had gotten used to, but she was so happy, she didn’t care when it hurt. Finally, they finished up and Nancy left the room, headed to speak with the doctor.

Victoria even enjoyed the turkey and broccoli she had for lunch, despite the fact that there wasn’t nearly enough salt used to cook them.

Near five, her door opened and she heard multiple people coming in. She looked over and saw Max, Courtney, and Taylor. Max was carrying a cake, and her friends also had bags in their hands.

Holy hell, I didn’t think Taylor and Courtney would show up! What are they doing here?

Her friends came over to the bed, and Max set the cake in front of her. It was a pineapple upside-down cake, with a plastic “25” sticking in the center.

This is amazing! How did they all get here?

Her friends laughed at her surprised face, and then sang happy birthday to her.

This is the best birthday of my life. I’m so happy!

After they stopped singing, Taylor said, “Your dad paid for me and Courtney to fly up here. He said he didn’t want you to be alone on your birthday.”

Courtney nodded, smiling, “Yeah! I’m so glad to see you again! Surprise!”

Victoria laughed, saying, “I can’t believe you guys are here! This is so awesome!”

Max said, “You don’t know how much I wanted to tell you last night, but they made me promise to keep it a secret.”

“Wait, when did you guys get into town?”

Taylor said, “This morning, but we called Max yesterday. We wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you did! This is great!”

They all laughed, and then Max said, “Let’s cut the cake! I bet Victoria’s hungry.”

They spent an hour eating the cake, which Victoria thought was delicious, and just talking about their lives. Taylor was trying to teach Adam his ABC’s so he’d be ready for school, and Mike was actually home for two weeks. Courtney had a new guy she was dating, though she said it wasn’t serious, just fun. Max told them about her store and watching anime with Victoria, which got Taylor and Courtney laughing. She also told them that the paparazzi were gone when they asked her about it, which made Taylor and Courtney both give her high fives.

Finally, as Max and Taylor finished cleaning up their plates, Victoria said, “I didn’t mention it before, but this morning, while I was doing physical therapy, my hand started working! I could feel Nancy’s hand with mine, and it even tingled when my fingers were stretched.”

Max asked, “Wait! You’re just now telling us?”

Courtney said, “That’s great!”

Taylor said, “Good! I guess the therapy is paying off.”

“Well, I wanted you guys to have fun while we ate cake and talked. I am really happy about this, though!”

Max asked, “Can I hold your hand?”

Taylor and Courtney both got quiet, watching.

“Okay. Here.”

Victoria extended her arm as best she could. Max reached over and took her hand in hers.

It’s warm, and soft. Oh, I love this!

Max asked, “Is that okay? It doesn’t hurt, does it?”

Victoria shook her head no, saying, “No, it feels great.”

Courtney and Taylor busted out laughing. Max took her hand out of Victoria’s quickly, her face deep red. Victoria’s face felt pretty warm, too.

“Thanks, guys! We were having a moment.”

Taylor said, “You two are worse than high schoolers, if that’s possible!”

Courtney said, “Yeah! It’s really cute, though!”

Max said, “Geez, thanks.”

“I did like that, Max. It’s great to actually feel your hand. I was worried I’d never feel anything with that hand again.”

Max looked at her, smiling, “Yeah, it was really nice. I’m happy for you, Victoria.”

Taylor and Courtney both said, “I am, too!” at pretty much the same time, which got all of them laughing again.

Then Courtney said, “It’s time for gifts! I’ve heard you’ve been a very naughty girl, Victoria. Are you sure you should get any?”

Victoria laughed, saying, “Yes! Hand them over, bitches!”

Everyone laughed, and Courtney handed over a red box. She said, “We didn’t wrap them or put ribbons on them because of your arm. Sorry.”

“That’s okay. Thanks for thinking about me.”

 Victoria opened the box, finding a dark green cashmere sweater. She got it out and held it up as best she could. She smiled at Courtney, and said, “Thanks! I really like this.”

Courtney smiled, saying, “I made it for you. I know it’s not a really fancy brand sweater, but I thought you’d like it.”

“I love it! Your clothes are just as good as those fancy brands, so don’t even put yourself down. I’ll definitely be wearing this when it gets colder.”

Courtney nodded, “Great! I’m really glad you like it.”

Taylor then stepped forward, handing over a small blue box. Victoria opened it, finding several bottles of Chanel nail polish.

She looked at Taylor, saying, “Thanks! I needed more of this. Heck, I might even be able to do my nails now. I haven’t done anything with them since I got here.”

Taylor nodded, saying, “I know you love this stuff. I remember how you used to always find their ads when we talked fashion.”

“They’re still my favorite! Thanks!”

Max then handed over a big red box. Victoria opened it, and immediately broke out into a big grin. She pulled out a stuffed Madara doll. At the confused looks from Taylor and Courtney, Victoria said, “It’s Nyanko-sensei! He’s from the anime Max and I are watching!”

Taylor said, “It’s a weird-looking cat.”

Courtney just grinned.

Seeing Max looking a little nervous, Victoria said, “I love it, Max! Thank you!”

Max nodded, “I hoped you would. It’s not very fancy, but I know you like him.”

“It’s perfect! I haven’t had a stuffed animal since I was a kid. I love him!”

Victoria put the stuffed cat right beside her, still smiling.

Everyone cleaned up the boxes, setting Victoria’s other gifts on the table beside her.

“Since it’s my birthday, you all have to watch some anime with me!”

Taylor and Courtney jokingly groaned, but everyone sat around Victoria’s bed. She picked the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. Max had already seen it, of course, but neither Taylor nor Courtney had. They watched it, with a short break while Taylor went and got everyone some juice and a sandwich from the hospital cafeteria.

After the movie finished, her friends all stood up to leave.

“I wish you guys could stay here with me.”

Max said, “It would be nice, but we’ll have to wait until you’re out of the hospital.”

Taylor nodded, “We definitely will next year. Next year’s party will blow this one away!”

Courtney added, “You know it! Hey, Victoria, we’re all going to stop back in tomorrow. We don’t fly out until Sunday.”

“That’s great! I can’t wait to see you guys then.”

Everyone headed out, talking with each other. Victoria lay in her bed, staring at the door for almost an hour after they were gone.

I wish I was out there with them. I hate being here. Still, it was easily the best birthday party I’ve ever had. I’ll have to thank Father for flying Taylor and Courtney out.

She finally fell asleep, Nyanko-sensei held in her right arm.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria woke up early and had breakfast. She got yogurt with berries, a granola bar, and an orange juice. She was pretty happy about it, and was really looking forward to her friends visiting.

The girl who filled in for Nancy on her days off showed up, and they worked through her physical therapy for an hour. Victoria definitely had more feeling in her hand today than yesterday. She could make her fingers move a slight amount, but not much.

“Is there any chance I can start opening and closing my hand by myself?”

The girl nodded, “Now that you have feeling coming back, I think it’s a matter of time. Just keep working your hand and eventually you’ll be able to get some more motion back.”

“I’ll definitely do that. Even if I can’t straighten my elbow and wrist, I’d like to be able to use my hand for other things, like eating or even writing again.”

The therapist nodded, “Yeah, I think you will be able to do that in another month or two. Just don’t push too hard and strain something.”

“Oh yeah, I guess I could overdo it. I’ll be careful.”

Once therapy was finished, Victoria checked her email. She sent an email to her father thanking him for giving tickets to Taylor and Courtney, and told him it was a fantastic surprise birthday present. She replied to a few emails from people she had worked with in the industry, being careful not to talk about her injuries. Only a few of them seemed to actually care about her. Many of the emails were kind of rude, asking if she’d ever work again. She did not reply to those people.

After that, she killed some time on the photography forum. There were still a few threads about her accident and the magazine article, but they were pretty tame.

I guess the mods really did hammer down on the trolls. Good for them!

After that, she researched cameras that would work better for someone with only one hand.

Fucking hell. No one makes a camera for left-handers. I mean, I was pretty sure that was the case, but still, it would have been nice to have a real option. Everyone says just hold the camera upside-down, or use a cell phone camera. Neither one is a real option for me.

A little after noon, Taylor and Courtney came in. Taylor waved a bag at Victoria, and both girls were grinning.

No Max? I guess she’s at her store.

Taylor said, “Lunch time! I hope you’re hungry!”

“I’m starving! What did you bring me?”

“Something I know you love!”

Courtney nodded, setting up the folding tray Max left in the room, and pulling out three lemonades from the bag.

Taylor got out several smaller containers, as well as some plates and plasticware. Opening everything up, she revealed roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and peas.

It smells amazing!

Victoria’s stomach growled, and her friends laughed.

“Well, it’s nice to see that you know my favorite meal. Thanks so much!”

Taylor said, “You’re welcome. In any case, you need to eat more. I figured you couldn’t resist this.”

Courtney nodded, “Yeah, Victoria. I know being thin is chic, but you’ve gone overboard since you got here.”

“Gee, thanks. I know I’ve lost weight, but it’s not that bad. If it was, I think the nurses would say something.”

Taylor nodded, “True. I’ll talk to them once we leave.”

“Hey! That’s not what I meant!”

Courtney replied, “Too bad, so sad! We didn’t say anything before, but all of us are getting worried. The nurses don’t know you well enough, or they’d have realized you’ve lost a lot more weight than you should.”

“Hmph. Well, it’s not like they can weigh me. Whatever, let’s eat. The food will get cold!”

They spent the next hour eating, and talking about their lives. Courtney did say that Max was working, which wasn’t really a surprise. After they finished and cleaned up their garbage, Courtney pulled out a few magazines from the bag.

She said, “I have all the latest fashion magazines! We haven’t had a good fashion session since Blackwell! It’s time to fix that!”

Taylor nodded, “Yes! I miss this.”

“Me, too. You don’t know how many times I wished we could just go back in time and read through Vogue and Elle, and talk about everything in them.”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah, I do miss those days. Heck, this is the first time I’ve even really looked at them since I had Adam.”

Courtney said, “Wow! I guess that makes sense, though. Oh yeah, Taylor, you get to hold the magazine and show it to Victoria. I’m going to do her nails!”

Victoria laughed, “I knew you couldn’t resist seeing those bottles on the table.”

“You know me well.”

Courtney got up and grabbed some paper towels and water from the bathroom. She came back and sat down, and said, “Left hand first. I have to wash your hands before we start.”

While Courtney washed Victoria’s hands, Taylor opened up the Vogue magazine and started flipping through it, showing anything interesting to both of them. Victoria was really embarrassed when Courtney cleaned her right hand, and put polish on her nails, but her friends just said it was okay and that she shouldn’t worry about it. Courtney finished up her nails in about thirty minutes.

My nails look great! I haven’t even tried to do anything with them since I got here.

“Thanks, Courtney! You did a great job. And thank you, Taylor, for getting me the nail polish.”

Her friends thanked her back, happy to make her feel better about herself.

They spent almost three hours reading through the different magazines, talking about the outfits, hair styles, and make-up. Some of it they really liked, and some of it they made fun of. Courtney took notes on some of the clothes, saying she could make outfits with a similar cut or fabric.

I miss this so much. I forgot how fun it was. I wish they could stay here with me!

Eventually, her friends got up to leave.

“I had a great time today. I really appreciate you coming to visit me again.”

Courtney said, “I’m glad we came up! I had so much fun today!”

Taylor said, “Yeah, it really brings back memories. Now I want to go shopping, even though I don’t need any new clothes.”

“You can always buy new clothes!”

Courtney said, “Yeah! Clothes are important! You have to look good for your husband!”

Taylor smiled, “He likes me as I am. Heck, he’d probably get worried if I showed up with a bunch of new outfits. He’d think I was trying to find a new guy.”

“He should know better than that.”

Courtney said, “Yeah! You are too crazy in love with him to try something stupid like that.”

Taylor nodded, “True, but I don’t want to worry him. Heck, any extra clothes budget I have goes to Adam. You wouldn’t believe how expensive children’s clothes are! And he destroys them.”

Victoria and Courtney laughed at that.

She can afford to buy a new outfit now and then, but I think she’s settled in and doesn’t even want them anymore. Not that she’d ever admit that to us.

Taylor said, “Well, Victoria. It was nice seeing you again. Take care of yourself, and start eating!”

Courtney added, “Yeah. We are definitely talking to the nurses on the way out. I miss hanging out with you, and I don’t like worrying about you not eating. I’m not sure when I’ll get back up here, but I hope it’s not too long. Just do what the doctor says and get better!”

“I will! Thank you both for coming.”

Taylor nodded, “Goodbye, Victoria. Just keep doing your therapy and you’ll be out of here and back at work before you know it.”

Courtney said, “I’ll miss you! Au revoir!”

With that, her friends left. Victoria lay back in her bed, looking at her nails again.

They really do look nice. I love those girls. I wish they could have stayed longer. It’s too bad Max couldn’t have been here.

She spent the rest of the day on the internet, before finally going to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria noticed that her breakfast was larger, and included more options than before.

They really did tell the nurses. Too bad they didn’t tell the cooks that you need to add salt to food for it to taste good.

She dutifully ate it all, though. She actually felt full when she finished, which wasn’t normal for the hospital meals.

A little while later, Nancy came in to help her with her physical therapy. Upon seeing Victoria’s nails, she laughed and they ended up talking about manicures, nail salons, and other stuff. Nancy also asked about her new stuffed cat, Madara “Nyanko-sensei”. Victoria told her about her birthday celebration. It made the therapy a lot more fun; and the hour ended before Victoria expected it.

After lunch (again larger than previous meals), Doctor Russo came in. Victoria scowled at him, which made him pause.

He asked, “Is there something wrong?”

“Well, I’m not sure what you’re telling me and what you’re telling my father, so yes, there is something wrong.”

He sighed, replying, “I’m sorry about that. Mr. Chase was very insistent that I give him as accurate of a diagnosis as possible. I didn’t think you needed to hear the bad parts, because it might interfere with your recovery.”

“Isn’t that nice? I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but I have feeling in my hand again, and I can even move my fingers a little. I guess you’ll have to call him back and tell him that maybe I’m not doomed to be in a wheelchair forever.”

Doctor Russo closed his eyes for a second, then opened them and said, “I really am sorry. I didn’t think he’d tell you about that.”

“Well, he did. Now he’s trying to renovate my home and plan my future, based upon me being in a wheelchair. I personally don’t plan on staying in one for long. I will walk again, even if I need a damn walker. Don’t you dare go behind my back again. I will find out. I thought you had to have confidentiality with your patients.”

“He is your father, and he is paying the bill. He has a right to know. In any case, I have heard about your hand, and I’m here to do some tests with it. I agree with you that your chance of successfully completing therapy for your legs is much higher now.”

“Well, at least tell me what you tell him. I don’t like being surprised by my parents with news like that.”

“I will. Okay, now let me look at your arm.”

The doctor once again performed a series of tests on Victoria’s right arm, pressing various points and extending the elbow and wrist. It didn’t hurt very much, but she could not fully extend either. He had her hold a pen, and she tried to move it around. She managed a few half twirls with it, before dropping it.

After he finished his tests and writing things down on his computer tablet, he said, “I’m very happy to see your hand is recovering. I believe you’ll have full recovery of your thumb and fingers in a few more weeks. Unfortunately, your elbow and wrist haven’t improved very much. I hate to say this, but I think that you have reached their full extent of motion.”

I was afraid of that. I guess it could be worse, though.

“Thank you, doctor. I expect you will be updating my father, as well?”

 He nodded, looking a little sheepish. “I will. Don’t worry, I will inform you if I have any further conversations with him about your health.”

With that, he left the room.

I can’t believe my father has a spy here, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. At least now I’ll know the whole story, and not find out how bad it is from Father.

She watched the news and browsed the internet until evening, when Max came in. Max smiled at her, and held up a bag of food.

“Geez, I know I was getting skinny, but you don’t have to feed me every time you visit.”

Max stopped smiling for a second, and then said, “I like getting food for us. I eat my dinner here with you when I visit. Also, you were losing too much weight. You need this.”

Oops! I don’t want to piss her off, just because I’m in a bad mood.

“Sorry, Max. It’s just been a rough day. Well, it started out great, but got worse.”

Max frowned, “Oh, are you okay?”

“Yeah, let’s eat. I’m just being grumpy.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

Max set up their trays, and then out containers of rice and pepper steak, along with wonton soup and egg rolls. She also brought out a couple cans of fruit punch.

Max said, “I hope you like Chinese take-out. This is one of my favorite meals.”

“Absolutely! I’m guessing it’s going to be really good, since you picked it out.”

Max smiled, “Yeah, I like this place. It’s halfway between my home and my shop. I stop there every week. There’s an older Chinese couple running it. They’re really fun.”

“That’s nice. Do you have chopsticks?”

Max nodded, pulling out several pair, along with some forks and spoons.

Victoria went to use them, and then realized that she couldn’t. She froze for a second, and her face got red.

“I’m sorry, Max. Could I have a fork instead?”

“Oh, yeah! Here you go.”

Victoria started eating.

It’s really good! I’m glad Max let that slide. I can’t believe I asked for chopsticks when my fucking hand doesn’t work. I’m so stupid.

“It’s really good! You’re spoiling me with all of these awesome meals.”

Max nodded, “Thanks! I was hoping you’d like it. I wasn’t sure if you’d like take-out.”

Victoria gave her a look.

“I like good food of any kind. I’m not snobby about it. Now, my parents are another story. They even have a chef from France working at their house.”

“What? Really? Holy cow. I guess that’s cool. I just never even considered that.”

“It’s how they live. I personally love Jean’s food, but not every day. Thanks for bringing this. I loved it.”

“You’re welcome.”

When they finished eating, Max threw out their trash. Then she sat down and asked, “So what was bothering you when I got here?”

“Well, while my hand is definitely getting better, the doctor says my wrist and elbow will likely be stuck like this.”

Victoria held out her right arm, attempting to straighten it. It only opened about 75% of the way at the elbow, and the wrist was still pointed mostly down. Her fingers did move a bit, as Victoria tried to wiggle them.

Max took Victoria’s hand in hers, looking at her.

“Your fingers are moving! They weren’t doing that when I was here before!”

Her hand is so warm. Wait! She’s holding my hand! Oh wow!

Max looked at her funny, and asked, “Victoria? Are you okay?”

Victoria blushed again, saying, “Sorry! I just got lost for a second. Yeah, I can feel your hand fine. It’s warm! My doctor said he thinks I’ll be able to use my hand normally again in a few weeks. I just wish my elbow and wrist would work right.”

“It’s progress. I’m really happy for you. Who knows? Maybe everything will work out alright.”

“I wish. But thanks, Max. You know what? We need to watch some anime. Season three is waiting!”

They spent a few hours watching Natsume’s Book of Friends. They talked about the characters, the spirits, and the exorcists. Max was just as surprised about what was going on as Victoria, which made it even more fun.

Eventually, Max got up to leave. She held Victoria’s hand again for a few seconds, saying, “I’m so glad your hand is getting better. I’ll see you tomorrow. It’s been a lot of fun just hanging out and watching anime.”

“Yeah, it has been. I’ve never really done this with anyone else. I love that you are still visiting me.”

“Hey, I like visiting you! I look forward to seeing you, especially when I’m stuck at work and it’s slow. I can only dust the shelves so many times a week before it drives me crazy. I guess it won’t be long until your leg casts are off, so we can have a lot more fun then.”

“Yeah. I know physical therapy for that is going to suck, but there’s no way in hell I’m not going to walk again.”

“Great! Well, I have to go. Good night, Victoria.”

“Good night, Max.”

Max left go of Victoria’s hand, and it immediately felt colder. She wrapped it around Madara as Max left the room.

I wish I could go with her. Hell, I don’t even know where she lives. I wonder if her home is really nice? I’ll have to ask. I wish I still had her card. I’d look up her home on the internet.

An hour later, she fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Another week passed. Max visited several times, and they would watch anime and eat dinner together. Victoria was gaining a lot more control and movement with her hand, which she was really happy about. It was still turned downward, but now she could actually pick things up and not drop them immediately.

It was Monday evening when Max visited next. She held up two bags. Victoria had asked her to pick up a few items, and it looked like she had.

Yes! Just what I was waiting for! Well, dinner is also great!

 Max came over and set up their trays. She brought out some containers, saying, “Joe made us dinner. You get French onion soup, a baguette, and some cheesecake!”

“Sounds great!”

Victoria looked at the other bag, but Max pointedly ignored her doing so. Max got out a small insulated bag and said, “I have an even bigger surprise!”

Oh? I wonder what that could be?

Max pulled out two large cups. She said, “I’m not sure how well these held up, but how would you like to have a vanilla latte?”

“I’d love one! Is it okay?”

Max grinned, “I asked the nurses yesterday. You can have a small amount of caffeine now.”

Shit yes!

Victoria took one of the cups, popped the lid open, and took a drink.

So good! I miss these so much! I don’t care if it’s a little flat! It’s fantastic!

Max laughed as Victoria drank half the cup in just a few seconds.

“Calm down, Victoria! That’s all you get, so you should savor it.”

Victoria set the cup down, pouting a little.

“I want more.”

“Not today. Nurses orders.”

“I never even thought to ask for coffee or a latte. Thanks, Max.”

“You’re welcome. Now let’s eat.”

The baguette was cut into pieces, so Victoria had no trouble handling it. She dipped it into the cheese-covered onion soup, and then took a bite.

“Oh wow, this is great! How is Joe such a good cook?”

Max finished chewing before she answered, “He tells me it was his Italian mama who taught him. I’m really jealous.”

“Of course he said that. He is a great cook, though.”

Max winked at her, saying, “I was tempted to ask him out just for his cooking.”

He’d certainly have said yes, going by how he flirts with you.

“I’m glad you didn’t. Sadly, I can only cook a few meals that I like to eat at home.”

Max laughed, “Same here. I have some cookbooks, but I’ve only learned a few recipes from them.”

“Maybe I’m going to have to learn. I need a way to keep you interested.”

Max looked down, her face a little red. She said, “That would be nice, but I’m interested even if you can’t cook.”

Whoa! I was just joking, but she is serious.

Victoria quickly took another bite of her baguette, feigning interest in her food. Max started eating, as well. Neither said anything for a while, just eating their meals.

After a few minutes, Victoria said, “Max, I’m glad you’re here. You bring me food, hang out and watch anime, and are really sweet. I don’t know what I’d be doing right now if I was stuck here alone. Thanks so much for this.”

Max smiled at her, “I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Yes, but at least we’re together right now.”

“Yeah.”

After a while, they finished their meal and Max cleaned up their plates. Then she brought over the second bag.

Finally!

Max reached in and brought out a leather-covered journal, an artist’s pad, a set of pencils, and a few nice pens.

She set them out for Victoria, who grabbed the artist pad and the pencils.

“I’m not a great artist, but I’m not terrible. Now I want to see what I can do.”

Max nodded, sitting back. Victoria took out a 4H pencil and fitted it into her right hand. She could hold it fairly well. Then she looked at Max for a few seconds.

“This is probably going to be awful, but would you mind if I drew you?”

Max nodded, “Sure. Don’t feel any pressure from me. I know you really just want to exercise your hand again.”

Let’s see how this goes.

She started drawing a basic outline of Max. The pencil was hard to hold straight, and the lines ended up being pretty jagged.

Fuck. Well, at least I didn’t just drop the pencil as soon as it hit the paper. That would have sucked.

She kept going, redrawing the lines a few times to make them a little better.

It looks terrible. Hell, it barely looks like a person.

Then she switched over to a B pencil, and started darker lines and a little shading.

Wow, this may have been a bad idea. I know I need to work my hand, but I probably should have waited until I was alone.

After another ten minutes of drawing, she stopped. She looked up and saw Max was just watching her.

She hasn’t talked since I started. Was she staring at me the whole time? Oh hell, at least this drawing looks like a girl, although it’s something I’d expect from a little kid.

 Max asked, “Can I see it?”

“I guess. It’s not good, like, at all.”

Max shrugged, and looked at the picture after Victoria turned the drawing pad towards her. She said, “It’s nice. I could see how hard you were concentrating. Considering you just got your hand working again a week ago, you did really well.”

“Thanks. You don’t really have to humor me, though. I’m a big girl.”

Max snorted, “Yeah, you should have seen how you stick your tongue out a little and stare really hard when you’re drawing. It was cute.”

What? I do that? Oh, heck, no wonder she was staring at me!

“Thanks, I guess. Maybe in another few weeks, I’ll actually be able to draw something that actually looks like you.”

“I’m sure you will. I’m glad that you decided to do this.”

“I’m hoping it will help with my recovery. I asked Nancy and she said it was a good idea.”

“I agree. Do you want to keep drawing?”

“I think I’m done for now. How about we start season five of Natsume?

“Sounds great! We’re getting to the end already. I kind of don’t want to stop. I really love this show.”

“Yeah, I know. It will be weird when we finish. I’m not sure I want to yet.”

They ended up watching two episodes, and then talked about the show for another half hour. Finally, Max got up to leave. She helped Victoria put all of her new supplies by the bed where she could reach them easily.

She looked at Victoria and said, “I had a lot of fun. I’ll see you next time. Good night.”

“Good night, Max.”

After Max left, Victoria lay in bed, slowly falling asleep.

Wait, she said I looked cute earlier! How did I miss that? Oh damn, I should have told her she was even cuter! It was nice having an excuse to look at her so closely, though. She’s so pretty. I can’t believe she likes me! Wow.

She fell asleep a little later.

 

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Victoria continued drawing. She tried drawing her favorite anime characters, clothes she liked, and a few pictures of Max. Her control was definitely improving, as was her speed.

I’m still nowhere near where I should be, but at least I can handle a pencil again.

She’d also started a journal. Mostly she just wrote about how she was feeling, both physically and emotionally. She maybe included a few very sappy poems about Max in it, that she’d never, ever let Max see. She also wrote about her dreams, and all about the visits from her friends.

I don’t want to forget all of this. I just wish someone had taken pictures of all of us together. So far, I only have the photos Max took of me with Kino and Hermes.

Her handwriting was just bad, but she was determined, and it was slowly getting better. She was careful not to spend too much time writing and drawing, because her hand did get tired and it sometimes cramped, and she didn’t want to injure it with too much strain.

On Friday, her mother and Cathy arrived. Victoria wasn’t expecting them, but they both came in smiling. Mother had a bag in her hand.

Okay, I hope this will be a nice visit. Father isn’t here, so I don’t think they’re going to tell me something awful about my legs.

She smiled at them, saying, “Hi! This is a nice surprise.”

Mother said, “Well, we wanted to cheer you up.”

Cathy nodded, saying, “It’s good to see you, Victoria. You’re looking much better.”

“Thanks. I’m feeling a lot better, too. My right hand is working again, and I’ve been drawing. It’s still not great, but I was really worried that I’d never use it again.”

Mother said, “That’s wonderful! I’m glad that you’re getting better so quickly!”

“Thanks. Have a seat. It’s nice to see both of you.”

They sat down and talked about Seattle, the art crowd, and how it was raining almost every day. Victoria showed them her art pad, explaining that it was mainly just for exercising her hand. They complimented her on her drawings, even though she knew they were awful.

Mother then held up the bag she’d brought. She said, “It’s not much, but I brought some things you might want.”

She got out a little rack with spice bottles on it, saying, “I wasn’t sure about the food here, so I thought this might help.”

“Thanks! I’ll definitely be using these! I’m pretty sure the hospital cooks are having a competition on who can make their food the blandest.”

I’m surprised Mother would think of something like this.

She glanced at Cathy, who winked at her.

Oh, Cathy told her. Still, it’s a great gift.

Her mother said, “I’m sorry to hear that. I could have someone local cater your meals?”

“While that is a nice idea, I’ll pass. I think it would just cause too much commotion.”

“Very well. I also have something else you probably want.”

She held up a familiar Leica camera, one that Victoria had left in her room at their house.

Fuck. I mean, I love that camera, but what am I supposed to do with it? Look at it and get angry? Sad? I don’t even fucking know!

Her mother noticed. She said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought this. I know how much you loved this camera. I thought you’d want it here.”

Victoria sighed, “I am glad you brought it. You can set it on my stand. Once I’m doing better, I can even try to use it again.”

Why didn’t she think about my arm? Or does she think it will make me want to try harder to recover? I don’t get her.

 Cathy said, “You can have your friend take pictures with it. I’m sure you want to keep some memories with her.”

True. Max would love that camera. I can ask her to take lots of pictures for me, since it’s right there.

Her mother nodded, saying, “Yes! Max would probably like some pictures of you two, as well.”

Victoria nodded, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Thanks.”

Her mother then looked at the sheet covering her legs. She said, “I was talking with David, and I was wondering if you’d want to transfer up to a hospital in Seattle? There’s a very nice clinic not far from our homes that you would like.”

What? Max is here! I can’t just leave!

“I’d prefer to stay here. I know it’s out of your way to visit, and I’m sorry for that, but Max has been visiting me a lot, and we really like each other. There’s no way she could travel to Seattle to see me, except maybe a few times, before I’d get out of the hospital.”

Her mother frowned, saying, “I understand you like her a lot, but I think you’d be better off closer to home.”

I like her more than you!

“I plan on staying here until I’m better. I am not going to sabotage my relationship with Max when it’s been going so well. I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”

Her mother shrugged and then smiled at her. She said, “Very well. I’m glad you’ve found someone. I guess I can’t complain, considering how many dates I set you up with.”

Cathy laughed, “Yeah, if you broke up Victoria’s relationship after all that, I think David would have a fit.”

Her mother looked at Cathy, saying, “You’re supposed to be on my side!”

Cathy shrugged, “Sorry, Mary, but it is kind of funny.”

Mother shook her head, saying, “I guess. Well, at least I know Victoria’s serious about her. It makes me feel better about her being stuck way down here.”

“I actually am very serious about her. She stuck with me even though I’m stuck in this bed, my arm is all scarred up, and she has to drive half an hour just to get here.”

Her mother looked at her curiously, and said, “She must really like you, too. I don’t want to offend you, but are you sure it’s not because of your money?”

Fuck! She did not just say that!

“Max doesn’t give a damn about my money! Hell, she avoided me at Blackwell because of how I acted, even though she thought I was really pretty. She’s not like that! If anything, I think me being rich kind of scares her.”

Her mother held up her hands, and leaned away from Victoria. She said, “I’m sorry! I’m just worried about you. I didn’t mean to insult you or Max. I just think you should consider these things before you get too invested in her.”

“Mother, thank you for visiting, but I would like to be alone.”

Her mother and Cathy stood up, looking sad and upset. They headed to the door, with Cathy’s arm around her mother’s shoulders. Cathy looked back and nodded at her before they left the room.

Damn it! Why would she say that shit! I know she means well, but I think I know how to spot a gold digger! Max is the opposite! She isn’t trying to fleece me for money. Hell, she’d probably get pissed if she heard my mother say that. What the hell is wrong with my parents?

She was still going over the conversation in her head hours later when she finally fell asleep. Max was working and hadn’t visited, which was probably for the better, considering Victoria’s mood.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, after Victoria had eaten lunch and completed her physical therapy, she just sat and watched the rain coming down outside. The sound of it drumming against the windows was relaxing.

It’s kind of nice to just sit here, with nothing to do but relax. I could take a nap.

Then her phone rang. Checking it, she saw that her mother was calling.

Ugh. I don’t want to talk to her, but I guess I should.

She clicked the green button, saying, “Hello.”

Her mother said, “Good afternoon, Victoria. I’m calling to apologize about yesterday. I was out of line and I shouldn’t have said that Max was after your money.”

“No, you really shouldn’t have. I am still pretty angry about that.”

Her mother sighed, “I’m sorry. I’m just worried about you. I know that it’s not my business, but I can’t help thinking people want to take advantage of you.”

“I’m sure they do, but I trust Max. She’s the best thing to happen to me in the last few years. Don’t you dare say anything insulting to her.”

“Oh, I’d never do that! She does seem like a very nice girl. She’s also very pretty, so I can see how you’d be attracted to her.”

Victoria heard a nurse coming into the room, so she turned away for a little privacy as she talked.

“Yes, I am. I’m also not pretending that’s she’s perfect, just because I think she’s gorgeous. In any case, I like Max a lot and I’d appreciate it if you would treat her like you treated some of those boys you made me have dinner with.”

Her mother paused for a second, before saying, “Very well, I will. Again, I’m sorry for what I said. I hope your recovery will go quickly and please take care of yourself.”

“I will. Thank you, Mother. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

Victoria hung up and put her phone down. She looked up at the ceiling and sighed, closing her eyes.

She heard Max say, “So, I’m gorgeous?”

Victoria bolted upright, turning to see Max looking at her with a huge smile.

“Uh, hi Max! I didn’t know you were there.”

Max laughed, “I just came in. I’m flattered to hear what you think about me. Thanks.”

Oh, damn. Is there any way to salvage this? Probably not. Fuck it. Time to be daring.

“Well, that’s how I feel. I’m happy to see you, even if it’s a surprise.”

Max replied, “Thanks. I closed the shop. I haven’t had any customers today, thanks to this storm. I know that Portland gets a lot of rain, but this is a little overkill.”

“Are the roads safe? I don’t want you to get into an accident just to see me.”

“They’re okay. I drove carefully, and it’s not like I was on an interstate. I bet we’ll have some flooding by tonight, though.”

“Your house is safe, isn’t it? Honestly, I don’t even know where you live.”

“My place is safe. I’m up on a hill. I guess I haven’t said anything about it. I live south of Oregon City, almost five miles from my shop. It’s nothing fancy, just a small house in the woods.”

“Oh, that sounds nice. Once I get out of here, can I see it?”

Max nodded, “Sure. In any case, I brought you a coffee and a chicken sandwich from Joe’s.”

With that, Max set up their trays. She laid out a sandwich for each of them, along with some sugar and cream packets. Joe had cut Victoria’s sandwich into two triangles, so it was much easier for her to handle.

“Could you put two creams and sugars into my coffee?”

Max nodded, and also added some to her own cup. Victoria drank it slowly, savoring the flavor. Then she started eating.

I could get used to this. Max bringing me good food every day is almost like paradise.

 After they finished, Max cleaned up and sat back down. She asked, “Are you and your mother okay? You sounded upset when you were on the phone.”

Victoria looked at her for a few seconds.

Should I tell her what Mother said?

“She visited me yesterday. We had an argument. While I know she’s worried about me, she has a terrible way of showing it.”

“It’s not because of me, is it?”

“Well, I’d rather not go into it. I let her know exactly how I feel, so the issue should be over now. She was just calling to apologize.”

“Hmm. Well, that’s good. I’ll try not to upset her.”

“Max, don’t worry about what she thinks. I like you a lot, and that’s all she needs to know about it.”

Max smiled, “I’m gorgeous and you like me, like, a whole lot! I’m glad I made this trip.”

Victoria’s face got deep red and she turned to pick up her laptop, so that Max couldn’t look at her.

Crap. How does she do this to me so easily?

“Let’s finish up Natsume. We only have a couple more episodes to go.”

“Sounds good.”

They sat there, watching the show until the ending. Then they sat and talked about it for a while.

“I really liked this show. I’m glad we watched it. I’m going to miss it.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, I feel like I know them all in real life. The characters were great.”

“Other than Seiji, I loved them all. He was just a prick, though.”

“Agreed. Then again, they made me dislike him so much and he was only in a few seasons. It was really good writing.”

“Yeah. It’s funny how he thought he was the good guy.”

Max laughed. She got up and stretched.

Wow. She looks amazing in that pose, even if her face is scrunched up.

Then Max looked at Victoria’s desk and asked, “Is that a Leica I see?”

“Yes. My mother brought it. She thought it would make me feel better, since I really loved it when I was younger.”

 “Oh. Can I take a picture of us with it?”

“Yes! That would be nice.”

Max picked up the camera, turned it on, and then leaned down next to Victoria. She said, “Cheese!” and took a photo.

She stood back up and looked at the camera, then turned it to show Victoria.

They were both looking at the camera, smiling.

Max looks so nice. I should have combed my hair. Oh well, I love it!

Max said, “I think I have a cable in my bag.”

She dug around in it for a minute; then brought one out. She hooked up the camera to Victoria’s laptop and downloaded the photo.

Several other photos also downloaded into the new folder. Victoria opened it up, and saw a bunch of pictures she’d taken before Blackwell.

Max smiled, asking, “Can I see them?”

“Sure. Hopefully there’s nothing too embarrassing in them.”

Max went through them slowly. She said, “I never thought you’d wear a ponytail.”

“Yeah. I liked it at the time. I played tennis, and my friend also had one.”

“Aww. Were you twins?”

“No. we were not. We had a lot of fun, though. I miss her.”

“Did something happen to her?”

“She moved to Florida with her family. I haven’t really talked to her since then.”

“That’s too bad. Maybe you should contact her? I bet she misses you, too.”

“I’m over it. I’ve heard she’s married, so I’m happy for her. We were really just tennis buddies, anyway.”

“Okay, if you say so. I’m going to email myself our photo.”

“Sounds good. I’d say send it to the others, but they’d just call and harass us.”

Max laughed. “You’re right about that.”

After another twenty minutes of talking, Max got up to leave.

“I’m glad you stopped in, Max. I really look forward to seeing you.”

Max nodded, “Thanks. I like seeing you, too. I’ll see you next time.”

“Bye.”

“See ya later, gorgeous.”

Uhh.

Max left.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, it was still raining, although lightly. Victoria did her therapy, drew some pictures (which were improving a lot), and cruised the internet for most of the morning.

After she ate lunch (much better with the spices she added from her mother’s gift), her phone rang. She picked it up, and saw that it was John Stambaugh calling.

I guess this is about that trial for the creep who photographed me.

She answered, “Hello.”

“Hello, Victoria. It’s John Stambaugh calling. I wanted to let you know that the guy who photographed you took a plea deal.”

“Oh. Did they actually do anything to him?”

“He got fined $10,000 plus court fees, and he’s going to be on parole for a year. He’s also not allowed to come near you, so call the police if he tries.”

“Oh, I will. At least he got parole, although I think he should be in jail.”

“I agree. However, this will help with our civil suit against him. I’ve also had The National Gossip contact me. They’d like to settle out of court.”

“Of course they would. Have they made an offer?”

“Yes. $500,000.”

“Hmm. I guarantee they made a lot more than that from the story. Who knows how much the big networks paid them for rights to use those photos?”

“A lot, I’m sure. I wanted to ask you if I should just give them a bigger number and take the money, or if you would like to pursue the issue further. If we do go to court, you will probably have to take the stand.”

Fuck. That would be an even bigger circus than the article they published. I need this to go away, not make it bigger.

 “That’s not going to happen. Come up with a nice figure and let them pay it.”

“I will. Sorry for bothering you about this, but I wanted you to be in on the decision process.”

“Thanks. Honestly, I just want this to be over. Feel free to take your fee and let my accountant handle the rest.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Thanks, John. Goodbye.”

Victoria hung up.

Damn it. I was trying to forget about that whole mess. What a way to ruin my fucking day. At least that prick is on parole.

Victoria spent some time on the photo forum. There were several threads about the jerk getting parole, and people were talking about her still being in the hospital. Some people were saying she was near dead, while others said she was just avoiding the press by hiding. A fair amount of people were actually defending her, which was really nice. After a couple minutes of reading through the posts, she exited the site.

Fucking vultures. I mean, a lot of them are actually really worried about me, but holy hell, some of them are just trolls.  

She decided to check out Vortex Fashion. She hadn’t looked at it in over a week. Courtney had a new dress on the main page. It was a lilac tea dress.

It looks really nice. I wouldn’t mind wearing it.

Checking through the back catalogue, she saw that a lot of clothes which had been available were now marked as sold. She checked the reviews section, and there were several new ones. All of them were very positive. She noticed that both Max and Kate had left positive reviews, along with a number of other people.

This is great! Maybe she’ll finally take off! I hope so!

She grabbed her phone and sent a text.

[Victoria: Hey Courtney! I was checking your site. You’re selling a lot of clothes! Yay!]

About twenty minutes later, she got a reply.

[Courtney: Yes! Once I put up new pictures for everything, I started getting some sales. Thank you so much for the camera! It’s really helped me a lot!]

[Victoria: I wish I’d given it to you sooner. Still, you’re doing the hard work. I’m really happy for you!]

[Courtney: Thanks! Going through those catalogues with you and T gave me a lot of ideas. What did you think of my newest dress?]

[Victoria: Love it! I bet it sells really fast. You’ve also gotten some really good reviews. Max and Kate left two. You might need to go full time into dress-making, if this keeps up. ;) ]

[Courtney: I hope so! You don’t know how much I want to leave this job. It was really nice of them to leave reviews. Kate even posted about her scarf and skirt on her website. I think that also helped with sales. Oh, I gotta go. Customer. Ciao!]

[Victoria: Take care!]

Victoria set her phone down, and looked up at the ceiling, smiling.

It would be amazing if Courtney ends up becoming a big name fashion designer. She deserves it. She works so hard. Her outfits are amazing.

Remembering what Courtney had said, Victoria looked up Kate’s website. It was designed to look like one of her books, filled with drawings of her characters. Checking through it, she found a picture of Kate wearing the green scarf and skirt, along with a yellow sweater and a green knit cap.

She looks really cute.

Kate had written a short review of the clothes in her news section (which was mostly about her book signings). She also included a link to Courtney’s site.

That was really nice of her. She has tons of fans, so if even a few of them buy from Courtney, it will be a huge help. Kate really does like to help people out.

Victoria then noticed the latest article, which she’d skipped over. It was the picture Kate had drawn of Alice the bunny sitting next to Tori the cat, who was bandaged up in a hospital bed.

Beneath it she’d written, “I’m working on a new book!”

She saw that there were several hundred responses.

Damn. I knew she was popular, but this is really cool.

She started reading through them. A lot of people were surprised that Tori got hurt and that Alice would visit her. Most of the comments were happy about it.

Smiling to herself, Victoria made her own comment.

“Meow.”

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria was drawing in her notepad. Her phone started buzzing, so she picked it up.

Oh, it’s Kate!

She answered the phone, “Hello, Kate!”

“Hi, Victoria. I saw your message. That was pretty funny.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

“I did. You probably shouldn’t have used your normal account, though. My website blew up. Everyone and their brother is asking about you.”

“Oh. Shit, I’m sorry, Kate. I wasn’t even thinking about that.”

“Well, it looks like it was the first time you’ve posted online since that guy took pictures of you. Now I’ve got all kinds of people asking me about you.”

“Fuck. Oh, sorry about that. I was in such a good mood, I forgot I need to stay incognito.”

“It’s okay. If nothing else, it’s gotten more people interested in my new book, so thanks!”

“You’re welcome, I guess. I’m excited about your new book, too! Oh yeah, thanks for leaving a review for Courtney’s clothes. I really appreciate it, and so does she.”

“You’re welcome. They’re really good quality, so I hope it helps her out.”

“Her sales have definitely jumped.”

“Good. Well, I do have more work to do, but I wanted to give you a heads-up. I’ve even had a journalist call my agent to ask about you. I just told him to say that I’m happy you like my books.”

“Thanks for that, Kate. I’ll see you around.”

“Bye, Victoria.”

Kate hung up.

Damn it! I never even thought people would notice I was posting there! I better check the damage.

Victoria opened up Kate’s website, and scrolled to her comment. A few of the following comments were just normal stuff from Kate’s fans, but someone realized who she was and basically freaked out. That got other people asking if it was really her or just some fake account.

I am so fucking stupid. How did I not realize that I was logged in to my normal account? I never even thought about it. Poor Kate. Now she has to deal with my screw-up.

Victoria left Kate’s site, then went to the photography forum. Someone had already posted a screenshot of her comment, and there was a decent-sized thread going on. Most of the people there were happy that she was apparently still alive, which was nice. Some wondered why she was reading children’s books, and then someone figured out that she and Kate were both Blackwell alumni. Then they started talking about how she must be Tori the cat, and Kate was Alice the bunny. That got people saying she was a bully, but others defended her, saying that she’d obviously changed if the books were accurate.

Then someone posted a screen capture of katesvid.com. They also included a link to a new mirror of the video she’d uploaded so long ago.

I’m dead. How is that shit still floating around? Fuck! Now everyone knows what an evil shit I am!

That got everyone started on how she was a cyber-bully, and then they started saying that she deserved what happened to her in The Daily Gossip, because she’d done the same damn thing.

They’re right. I deserve to be ruined. I don’t care that Kate forgave me, that video is still fucking out there, and now a whole new group of assholes are going to watch it, and it’s my fault! Kate doesn’t deserve this! She’s been amazing since then. These fucking vultures are going to drag it all back up and make her deal with it again.

Victoria exited the site. She quickly typed up an email.

[From: Victoria Chase

To: Kate Marsh

Subject: I’m sorry

Kate, I was on the photo forum. Someone found the old video that I posted of you. They know all about what happened. I’m really sorry, but I think you’re going to be getting questioned about the whole incident all over again. Feel free to place the blame on me, I deserve it. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry.

Victoria]

A minute later, her phone rang. It was Kate.

Fuck. That was fast. I really don’t want to talk to her in person. I’m such a coward.

Closing her eyes, she sighed and answered the phone.

“Hello, Kate.”

“Victoria. I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later. I can handle these people. Compared to some of the publishing agents I know, they aren’t that bad. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t blame yourself! You don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud again. I’ve already forgiven you. These… people can just go pound sand!”

Victoria snorted, “Okay. I just saw this and I wanted to warn you. I’m really sorry, but I think you’re going to be getting a lot more calls really soon.”

“I’ll warn my agent. They all have to go through him anyway. I guess I’ll have to clean up the comments on my website, too. I bet they’re already saying really bad things there. Thanks for warning me. It’s really not your fault. That was years ago, so don’t be worried. I’m a big girl, and I can handle this.”

“If you say so. I’m sorry, Kate. Goodbye.”

“Bye, Victoria. Be safe.”

Victoria hung the phone back up. She felt the urge to throw it at the wall, but just set it back on the stand. After a few minutes, she sent out another email.

[From: Victoria Chase

To: David Chase, John Stambaugh

Subject: bad news

I need to let you know that someone found the old video I’d posted about Kate Marsh at Blackwell. They’ve posted it online, and now a lot more people are aware of what I did. They also are talking about how it was the same thing that that creep did to me here at the hospital. I’m not sure how this will affect anything, but you need to be aware that it is going to be out in the open. (Link added to the photo forum discussion).

Sincerely, Victoria Chase]

Well, that’s going to cause some problems. I’m such a fucking moron. I made it so easy for the vultures to get me, after I’d put all of that crap behind me.

A few minutes later, she received a reply.

[From: John Stambaugh, Esq.

To: David Chase, Victoria Chase

Subject: re: bad news

That is unfortunate. Call me immediately if any police or journalists attempt to contact you. Do not talk with them unless I am present. I’ll have someone look into this immediately. Again, do not talk to anyone about this unless I am there.]

Damn. I really fucked up again.

A short while later, she received another email.

[From: David Chase

To: Victoria Chase

Subject: re: bad news

This is disappointing. Listen to John, and stay off of the internet. I have to warn Mary and our receptionist.]

And I disappointed Father once again. I’m such a fuck-up.

Victoria put her laptop away, and pulled the blanket up over her head. She hugged Madara to her chest as she cried.

 

Chapter Text

Almost two hours later, Victoria was lying in bed, hugging Madara, and feeling exhausted. She had stopped crying a while back, and now she just stared at the ceiling.

I can’t believe this came back out into the open. How the heck did someone manage to figure out my connection to Kate so fast? This sucks so much. I don’t know what to do.

Her door suddenly opened and Max came rushing in. She looked out of breath, but immediately walked over to Victoria’s side.

“Umm, hi, Max.”

“Hi, Victoria. Kate called me and told me what happened. She was worried about you. I wanted to see you and make sure you’re okay.”

“Well, I’m pretty upset right now. I’m glad you came to see me, though. Thanks.”

Max took her left hand in both of hers. She said, “If you need to talk about it, or just vent, you can tell me. I know it’s really shitty that that video got brought back up again. You really don’t need to deal with that right now.”

“Yeah, it sucks. My father isn’t happy, either.”

“Oh?”

“I emailed him and my attorney about this whole thing, and he let me know that he’s disappointed in me.”

“Fuck. I’m really sorry, Victoria.”

“It’s not your fault. I was a complete bitch to Kate. I did actually post that fucking video. It’s not like I can pretend I didn’t do it.”

Max shook her head, saying, “It happened years ago. Both you and Kate have gotten past it. Hell, I know you still get copies taken down whenever you find them online.”

“Yeah, but it keeps popping back up, no matter how many times it’s deleted. Now everyone knows exactly who posted it originally, and I’m worried that it might cause problems for Kate, too.”

“I don’t think it will.”

“Well, it does show her making out with a bunch of people at a party. She writes children’s books. I know at least some parent’s groups are going to freak out.”

 “Well, fuck them. Kate actually already dealt with this a few years ago. Maybe you missed it, since I think you were in Europe that summer. She was on a morning show where they asked her about it. She explained what happened, and even mentioned Nathan and Jefferson. The news recapped everything, and at least for her, the issue is old news. Her fans know that she was the victim.”

Victoria sighed.

Thank God, I couldn’t live with myself if that video ruined Kate’s career.

“That’s good to hear. I didn’t know she had already talked about it on TV. I guess that means all of the shit is just going to be thrown at me.”

“You have me to help you out. Heck, I’m sure the others will also give you any support you need.”

“Thanks, Max. I’m really happy to hear that. I feel like I’m dragging you down.”

“Hardly. I’m not going to abandon you just because you are in trouble. You know what? We need a new anime to watch. I think it’s your turn to pick.”

Okay, I guess we can do that. At least watching anime with Max is really fun. I’m not sure what to pick, though.

“Hmm, you really like pirates. Have you watched One Piece?”

Max nodded, saying, “Yarr! You know it! I love that show!”

“Of course. Have you seen Black Lagoon? I haven’t yet, but I’ve heard it’s good.”

“I have, but I’d love to watch it again. I think you’ll love it! Oh yeah, we have to watch the dub.”

“Really? I usually watch subs. Most dubs are just tragically bad.”

Max laughed, “This dub is up there with Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star. I think you’ll love it. They do swear a lot, though, so it might hurt your ears.”

Victoria laughed. “Sounds great! Let’s watch it.”

Max handed over the laptop, and Victoria found the show and started it up. They watched the first episode, which was filled with betrayals, explosions, and lots of swearing. As it ended, Max stood up.

“What’s up?”

“Mind if I grab some food from the cafeteria? I didn’t have supper yet.”

“Oh, sure! Could you get me a chicken sandwich while you’re there? And some lemonade? Just tell them to charge it to my room. I’m paying.”

“You don’t need to.”

“Well, I can and I want to. You’ve gone out of your way to be here with me, so I want to treat you. Pick whatever you want.”

“Okay. Thanks, Victoria.”

Max headed out.

After she left, she saw a new email was waiting for her. She opened it nervously, after seeing who it was from.

[From: John Stambaugh, Esq.

To: David Chase, Victoria Chase

Subject: The National Gossip

I wanted to inform you that The National Gossip has withdrawn their offer for a settlement. I suspect they’ve seen the video and know Victoria’s connection to it, and are going to run with it. Be prepared for some bad press. My firm will do what it can to mitigate the damage. Do not talk with the press by yourselves. Have an attorney present, or say “No comment” if questioned.]

Fuck! I can’t believe this. I bet they’re going to publish a whole fucking new article explaining just how evil of a bitch I am. Why is this happening? Isn’t this fucking hospital enough punishment?

Another email popped up in her inbox as she was sitting there.

I really don’t want to open this. I am in so much trouble.

[From: David Chase

To: John Stambaugh, Victoria Chase

Subject: re: The National Gossip

John, keep the Chase Space out of it. Go with the story of an out-of-control teen who now regrets her actions, and is currently suffering in the hospital. Speak with Ms. Marsh’s attorneys to see if they will help us out. We settled this issue years ago, so they should.

Victoria, we will try to help you but you will have to face any fallout from this. Your actions do not reflect well on our family name, and while I will help you out, you must be on your best behavior from now on. Do not talk with anyone about any of this.]

Holy fuck, he’s pissed. I’m half surprised he didn’t just disown me. What the hell am I going to do?

She heard the door open, and saw Max carrying in several bags. Victoria quickly exited her email and loaded up episode two, while Max got their food set out on their trays.

“Ready for some more crazy pirate action?”

Max smiled, “Hell, yeah!”

They watched another episode as they ate. Victoria really did like the show, but she was distracted and knew she was missing stuff.

Max noticed. She asked, “Not feeling it tonight?”

Victoria shook her head no. “Sorry, but I’m not really in the mood. I feel bad, because I do like the show. I’m just distracted.”

“Hey, that’s okay. Is there anything else you’d want to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not really tired, but I’m completely exhausted, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, it’s a horrible feeling. I know all about it. Here’s an idea. Find one of the youtubers that plays anime songs on piano or violin and play that.”

“Okay. There’s a few I already follow.”

Victoria quickly brought up one of her favorites, and soon the sounds of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” on piano filled the room.

Max said, “Scoot over.”

Oh? Okay.

“I can’t really scoot too far.”

Victoria slid slightly over to the right side of the bed. Max hopped in beside her. Max had to lay on her side, and it was a tight fit, but her small frame made it fairly easy for her.

Okay. I really like this, but it’s kind of awkward. Is she going to kiss me? That would be really nice!

Max smiled at her, and just held her hand.

It’s really warm! We’re both kind of sweaty, but who gives a shit! Max’s eyes are so pretty!

Max looked down for a second, then up again at Victoria.

Oh hell! It’s really going to happen!

Max moved in, and Victoria met her halfway. They kissed.

Oh wow! I feel fucking sparks! My whole body is tingly! This is so much better than anyone I’ve ever been with! Oh, her mouth tastes like mustard and roast beef. Damn, mine must taste like chicken and mayo. I should have had mints here! Fuck it! I love it!

Max ran her hand through Victoria’s hair after a few seconds, then leaned back. Her face was flushed, and she had a huge grin on her face.

“Wow.” “Wowzers.”

That was amazing! I love the feel of her fingers going through my hair!

Victoria laughed, and shortly after, Max joined her.

“Well, I wasn’t really expecting this to happen tonight. I’m not really prepared.”

Max replied, “Me neither, but I’ve wanted to kiss you for a while. You really needed cheering up today, and I think we both are kind of falling for each other, so I figured now’s a good time to do it.”

“Well, it worked! Let’s do it again!”

They kissed again, and Victoria ran her hand through Max’s hair, lightly scratching her scalp. Max froze for a second, but then kissed her even harder. Then Max did the same thing right back to her.

Oh fuck! I love that!

After another few seconds, they broke apart. Victoria couldn’t stop smiling, and neither could Max. They ended up lying there for an hour, just talking quietly to each other and occasionally kissing.

I’m pretty sure I told her she’s amazing and that I really, really like her about fifty times. I don’t care, she said it right back to me!

A nurse entered the room. Max quickly got out of the bed, embarrassed. The nurse just shook her head, and waited as Max got her things and headed home for the night.

Wow. I guess the day wasn’t a complete disaster after all.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria went through her morning routine of breakfast and physical therapy with a smile. Nancy, her therapist, noticed, and asked her about it.

“Things are finally looking up for me and Max. I think it’s safe to say that she’s my real, actual girlfriend now.”

Nancy smiled, nodding, “That’s good! I’m happy for you. I’ve only met her a few times, but she seems like a nice girl.”

“Yeah, she is. I feel really lucky right now.”

“Great! You deserve it.”

They finished up therapy, which no longer hurt Victoria’s arm or hand when Nancy moved them around. She couldn’t extend her arm fully, and her hand was still turned down a little, but she could use her thumb and fingers pretty well now. Her art was also improving, and so was her handwriting. She was pretty happy about that.

After Nancy left, Victoria had lunch, which consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It wasn’t bad, thanks to some extra spices, courtesy of her mother. After that, she just looked out the window for a while, thinking. Then she started looking at her arm.

I wish my arm wasn’t scarred to hell and back. It’s disgusting. I know Max isn’t too bothered by it, but that’s here where it’s private. Will she want to be seen in public with me? I can just imagine the stares we’ll get. It’s bad enough that we’re lesbians, but I’m also crippled. People will wonder why Max is with a handicapped girl. Fuck. She doesn’t deserve to go through that.

Maybe I should just break it off with her? I don’t want to! I know it will suck having people stare at me, but I’ll be okay if I’m with Max! I just wish I wasn’t hurt like this. People will think there’s something wrong with her, if she is stuck dating me.

Hell. What about my legs? I don’t even know if they’re going to work. I will do anything I can to make sure I’m not in a wheelchair, but what if I am? There’s no way I will make Max have to deal with that. I’d fucking just take a bunch of pills first and let her move on with her life. I know she’d be pissed at me, but I can’t force her to stick with me if she’s just going to be a nursemaid.

Okay, I need to get my mind off of this. Max is amazing and I love her, and I don’t need to think about doing something terrible, especially if it would hurt her.

Looking around, Victoria noticed her old Leica. She picked it up, and turned it on.

Let’s see if I can actually get any decent shots with this.

She decided to take some photos of the machines near the door to her room.

They’re the only things I can see from here that might stand out.

She tried to use her right hand to work the dials, and had no luck. She then set everything the way she wanted it with her left hand, and held the camera back up. She pressed the button to shoot with her right hand, but it pushed the camera down as the photo was taken.

Fuck! I don’t have enough control to use my right hand. I can’t hold my arm up correctly.

She then flipped the camera upside-down, trying to use her left hand to do everything. It was really hard to hold, and all of the buttons were now on the bottom of the camera. Again, the camera tilted a little as she pressed the button to take the picture.

Damn it! This is so awkward. I can’t position the lens correctly and press the button at the same time. Why the hell doesn’t someone make an actual left-handed camera?

This really fucking sucks. I can’t take a damn picture that doesn’t look like something a three year old would take. What the fuck am I going to do? My whole life is photography. Without a camera, I’m useless.

Victoria sighed, and put the camera back on the shelf next to her bed.

I guess that’s it for my career. I mean, I already knew this was going to happen, but this is the first time I’ve actually tried to take a picture with a real camera since I got hurt. I don’t know what to do.

She heard a number of people approaching the door to her room, and straightened up, looking at it.

Now what? I really don’t want to deal with anyone right now.

She watched as Doctor Russo and a group of nurses came in, followed by the x-ray machine they had used on her arm.

He smiled at her, saying, “Hello, Victoria. We’re going to check on your hips today. I want to make sure we can take off the cast next week.”

“Next week? Wow, I hope so!”

Yes! I want to get out of this damn bed! The sooner I can start walking again, the better!

The doctor asked, “How are you feeling? I’ve heard your physical therapy for your arm is progressing very well.”

“It doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’ve been drawing and writing. I’m pretty happy about it.”

“Good. Do your legs, hips, or back hurt?”

“Not really, other than sometimes they start itching under the cast. I just try to ignore that.”

He nodded, saying, “That’s a good sign.”

While they were talking, the nurses set up the machine over Victoria’s bed.

Doctor Russo said, “We’ll have to cover you up for a minute while the machine is working.”

Victoria nodded at him.

Been there, done that. Hopefully, everything will be okay.

The nurses put a lead blanket over her chest and head. She heard most of them leave the room. Then the machine buzzed and clicked a few times. She heard everyone come back in, and then the blanket was removed.

The nurses stood by while Doctor Russo looked at the screen on the machine. After a minute, he looked at her and said, “It looks like the bones are healing straight, so that’s a very good sign.”

Victoria asked, “Could I see it? Is that allowed?”

 He nodded, smiling. He said, “Let me send it to my tablet.”

He did something on the machine, and then stepped back. The nurses stepped forward and started pulling the machine out of the room.

Victoria watched them for a few seconds, before the doctor turned his tablet towards her.

She could see the bottom of her spine, her hips, and all the way down to her knees. There were multiple bolts in each leg and both of her hips. There were thicker white spots and lines around each.

Doctor Russo pointed at a few of those areas, and said, “That’s where the bones are healing back together. It’s actually looking pretty good.”

“I didn’t realize you had to bolt my bones back together.”

Holy shit. They weren’t kidding when they said he had to do a lot of work on me.

He nodded, “It was necessary, but it looks like it worked great. I will have to get you a card so that you can travel. You’re going to be setting off metal detectors from now on.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense. Umm, is my spine supposed to look like that?”

Victoria pointed to the lower part of her spine, which looked like one big bone, compared to the vertebrae just above it.

“Well, I had to fuse several of the vertebrae there. The discs were all crushed together. I was trying to prevent pressure on your spinal cord. Hopefully, this worked and you’ll be able to walk again. It’s my biggest concern.”

Fuck. I shouldn’t have asked. At least know what’s going on, though.

“I plan on walking again, if it’s even remotely possible. I guess I should thank you again, though. I knew you’d worked hard to save me. This really makes it obvious.”

“Hey, you’re welcome. I actually love helping people out. It’s why I became a doctor.”

“Well, I’m glad you did. Thanks.”

Doctor Russo nodded, and then gathered his things.

He said, “From the looks of things, I think we can remove your cast late next week. I’ll let you know more once it’s scheduled.”

“Thanks, doc. I can’t wait.”

He nodded at her, and then left the room.

Victoria looked down at her hips, still encased in the cast.

Wow. I look like Frankenstein’s monster under there. I really hope I can walk again.

 

Chapter Text

A few days later, Victoria had just finished lunch. Max had visited last night, and they were officially halfway through the first season of Black Lagoon. Victoria loved the show. She’d re-watched the first two episodes, and then she and Max watched four more over the last few nights.

Victoria wasn’t sure who her favorite character was. Rock was kind of lost, but was definitely getting tougher. Revy was just crazy. Dutch and Benny were pretty cool, although definitely side characters. The show felt like an 80s action movie. There were some stupidly over-the-top stunts, but it worked.

They kill a bunch of fucking Nazis, too, so that makes it even better! Damn, I wish Max was here so we could watch more of it. Of course, we’d probably just end up kissing. Then again, I’d rather kiss her than watch anime. She could show up right now and kiss me and I’d be really happy!

She was reading the photography forum when she saw a new thread pop up. “Victoria Chase exposé in The National Gossip!”

Oh, no. I can’t believe this.

Victoria immediately searched for the article. It was right at the top.

I really shouldn’t read this, but I guess I need to, so I can at least see what the fuck they said.

She opened up the link.

Victoria Chase: The Woman Who Tried to Ruin Kate Marsh

By: Olivia Sherman September 10, 2020

Readers may remember the story published in The National Gossip on March 3, 2018, following Kate Marsh’s interview on national television about the video where she was at a party kissing a number of fellow students (boys and girls!). She revealed that she had been drugged by the currently imprisoned Mark Jefferson and Nathan Prescott. She was their last victim, before they were captured by the Arcadia Bay Police.

Actually, I didn’t read your stupid article. I just wish this title wasn’t so accurate. I’m so fucking evil. I still can’t believe I did that. Kate’s had to deal with so much shit because of me. If I hadn’t protected Nathan, maybe he would have been saved before he killed that bitch Rachel or Max’s friend Chloe.

Mark Jefferson was a famous photographer, with a signature dark style. He apparently became a mentor for Nathan Prescott, son of millionaire real estate tycoon Sean Prescott. The two men kidnapped young women, photographed them, and then sold the photographs on the black market. Both are now serving long prison sentences for multiple counts of murder, in addition to kidnapping, rape, and other charges. (See issues from October through December 2013 for much more information about what happened, along with follow-up issues in April 2014, June 2015, and March through May 2018).

These vultures made millions reporting on that evil fuck Jefferson. I can’t believe I used to throw myself at that prick. Thank God he never took me up on it. I might have ended up in his little dungeon. Fuck, he’s the only man I’ve ever met that I actually wanted to have sex with. What the hell is wrong with me?

Recently, I uncovered a screen capture of the original website that featured the video of Ms. Marsh at the party. Here it is, in all its disgusting glory:

[high definition image of Katesvid.com]

Fuck. That’s an even better picture than was linked on the photo forum.

We have not included a link to the original video with Ms. Marsh, due to her being the victim of two crazed psychopaths. Do note that the name “Victoria Chase” is located right at the top of the site. She was the original person who put this video out onto the internet for the whole world to gawk at. It’s her fault that Ms. Marsh has been continually reminded of what happened to her, and even had to explain it on national television (after several stations played a short clip showing her kissing several people).

Yes, I know it’s my fault! Why do you have to keep reminding everyone! Now Kate will have to go through this hell all over again! Why the hell would the news play that video? They’re no better than this gossip site!

Victoria Chase was featured in the last few issues of The National Gossip (following her car accident). She is currently still recuperating at Portland Hospital. Readers may recall the photos we published of her. She is obviously seriously injured (and, dare I say, unlikely to ever hold a camera again).

Yeah, you dared. Of course, you’re right, which really pisses me off.

She called the police on our photographer, who is now serving parole just for being a journalist. This seems very hypocritical to those of us at this magazine, as going by this result, shouldn’t Ms. Chase have faced a court date for posting that video? Why did she never have to face possible jail time, or parole? It seems there are two sets of laws: one for normal journalists, another for the rich and famous.

True, there really is. Kate did get a nice chunk of change from my father, though. She deserved that and more.

I attempted to contact Ms. Kate Marsh regarding this information, but was refused comment. I did manage to conduct an interview with her mother, which should give us all much-needed insight into what hell Victoria Chase caused for the innocent children’s book author. Click the link to watch it:

[video interview]:

Olivia: Hello, Mrs. Marsh. It’s nice to chat with you.

Elizabeth Marsh: Thank you.

Olivia: You are the mother of Ms. Kate Marsh, famed children’s author, correct?

Elizabeth Marsh: Yes, she is my daughter.

Olivia: My magazine, The National Gossip, is currently doing an article about what happened to her at Blackwell.

Elizabeth Marsh: Yes. She went to a party with drugs and alcohol, against my specific instructions, and God punished her.

Olivia: Oh. Umm, you do realize that she was drugged and kidnapped by Mark Jefferson, a man currently in prison for that crime and many others?

Elizabeth Marsh: Yes, I do. If I hadn’t let Kate go to that demon-infested school, she would never have been subjected to such torment.

Olivia: Blackwell is actually one of the premier art schools in the United States. You should be honored that Kate was accepted there. It isn’t her fault that Mark Jefferson fooled everyone, and was kidnapping girls.

Elizabeth Marsh: There’s no excuse for what she did. I saw the video! Kate is a harlot and is damned to hell! She even kissed girls! I couldn’t believe it! I know it’s because of the influence of that evil school! Artists are all lesbians and homosexuals! All of them are damned!

Olivia: Ma’am, I think you should calm down. There’s no reason to shout.

Elizabeth Marsh: Are you one of those demon worshippers? I’ve heard of you types! Spreading gossip and filth in the service of Satan!

[end video]

Holy fuck, that woman is insane! Thank God Kate got away from her.

As you can see, the interview did not go well. I feel badly for Kate Marsh. In addition to being raised by that woman, she then had what happened to her broadcast all over the internet by Victoria Chase.

Yes, we know. I’m a horrible person. Stab me again.

I found another Blackwell student who graciously allowed me to interview him. This video has some really big news in it, so be sure to watch it!

Ok, what is she talking about?

[video interview]:

Olivia: Hello, Mr. Robertson.

Logan Robertson: Yo.

Olivia: You were classmates with Victoria Chase?

Logan Robertson: Yeah, she was a stuck-up bitch. Thought she was the queen of Oregon or something, just because her daddy’s rich. I heard she got in a car wreck, but not much since then.

Olivia: She was a mean girl?

Logan Robertson: Ha! You could say that! She treated everyone like they were trash, other than her boy-toy Nathan. What a piece of shit he was.

Olivia: Wait. Nathan Prescott was her “boy-toy”?

Logan Robertson: Oh, yeah. Those two were together all of the time. I bet they were banging. He was nuts, though. Can’t believe he killed Rachel, or that crazy chick in the girl’s bathroom.

Olivia: This is really big news! I don’t think anyone knew that Victoria Chase was really close with the murderer and kidnapper, Nathan Prescott!

Logan Robertson: You talk weird. Yeah, she was all about him. Those two ran the Vortex Club. We all thought we were big shit because we were in it. We were dumb-ass kids.

Olivia: I heard the Vortex Club was disbanded, following Nathan’s murder of Chloe Price.

Logan Robertson: Yeah, it was. Victoria tried to be some kind of martyr after that. She just hung out with a couple of her friends, and even ran around trying to be nice to Kate Marsh, after making fun of her for the first month of school.

Olivia: She was nice to Kate Marsh?

Logan Robertson: Yeah, I just said that. If anyone even looked at Kate funny, Victoria was all over them. It would have been a lot more impressive if she was still running the Vortex Club. Instead, it was just kind of lame.

Olivia: Hmm, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Logan Robertson: Here’s to my kid, Michael! I miss you! Dana, I’m sorry!

[end video]

Holy shit! Nathan was not my boy-toy! We weren’t anything like that! Logan’s such a meat-head.

As you can see, Victoria may have changed her ways after posting the video. However, she was also extremely close with Nathan Prescott. They may have even been lovers. Is there a chance that she was working with Nathan and Mark Jefferson? After Nathan was arrested, maybe she was just covering up her actions? Or maybe she really did try to become a better person. In any case, by releasing that video, she caused untold harm to Kate Marsh. Make of that what you will.

.. end story ..

I don’t even know where to begin with this. Of all the fucking people they could interview, they chose Kate’s mom and Logan? The two biggest idiots connected to that school? I can’t believe this actually got published. This fucking rag has no standards.

Everyone is going to think I helped Nathan. I had nothing to do with it! Father is going to explode. Damn it!

Victoria closed her laptop and set it aside. She just laid back and kept thinking about the whole mess. About an hour later, her phone started buzzing, but she ignored it.

 

Chapter Text

That evening, Max entered the room, looking a little angry but also upset.

Uh oh. I guess I shouldn’t have just ignored my phone all day.

“Hi, Max.”

“Hello, Victoria. I guess you’re just sitting here being depressed and avoiding all phone calls from your friends?”

Ouch. True, I was, but did she really have to say it that way?

“Sorry. I just didn’t want to deal with anyone. I’m guessing there are messages from my father and his lawyer, along with any calls from you.”

“Yeah, calls from me, Kate, Courtney, and Taylor. Get your laptop set up. We’re having a group chat.”

Wow, she’s bossy. I must have really pissed her off. I didn’t really think everyone would be calling me all at once. Oh well, at least they care.

Victoria set her laptop on her tray and turned it on. Max took a seat beside her.

Max said, “I’m sorry. That was a bit harsh, but you’ve got all of us worried.”

“Yeah, I know. I didn’t really know what to do, so I just kind of shut down.”

She turned on the chat program and saw that all of her friends were already on. She sighed, and then clicked ‘Join Chat’.

Everyone looked at their screen immediately.

Courtney said, “Hi, Victoria, Max!”

Taylor said, “Hey! It’s great to see you!”

Kate said, “Hello, you two.”

“Hi, everyone.”

Max said, “Hey, guys. I got here finally. You were right. She wasn’t even looking at her phone or computer when I arrived.”

Taylor said, “I knew it. Victoria, you can’t just hide in your room if things go wrong. You have all of us really worried about you.”

Courtney added, “Yeah! I called you three times, and you didn’t answer! I can’t believe that magazine did that to you! They’re awful!”

“Sorry about that. Kate, I’m really sorry you got dragged into this again.”

Kate shook her head, saying, “Don’t blame yourself. I forgave you long ago. These people are just vindictive. I’m actually talking to my publisher about putting out a press release saying that we are friends now, and that article was completely unnecessary.”

“Thanks. I still feel terrible. I am really angry at your mother, though. She should not be talking about you that way.”

Kate shrugged, “I don’t really care what she thinks anymore. My father is already having a long talk with her about this. He certainly wasn’t happy about it, when I talked to him earlier today.”

I bet. From what I’ve seen, the only reason he hasn’t divorced that woman is because he truly believes marriage is for life.

Courtney said, “Kate, I know we already talked, but I still think you should confront her about this.”

Taylor said, “Me, too. You can’t let her get away with that.”

Max added, “Kate, I agree with them. We’ll support you, no matter what choice you make, though.”

Kate shrugged, saying, “Thanks. I know I need to have a serious talk with her, but the last time I tried, we just ended up yelling at each other. My father is much better at dealing with her, and he is actually very angry with her because of this. I’m going to ask him about it in a few days. We’ll see, then.”

Max said, “If that’s what you think is best. Let me know if you need someone to talk to, if you do decide to have a talk with her.”

Kate replied, “I will. Enough about me, though. Victoria, how are you doing?”

“I’ve been better. I knew they were going to do something, but I didn’t think it would be that bad.”

Courtney said, “I can’t believe Logan! He knows damn well you weren’t sleeping with Nathan. He’s such an asshole!”

Taylor said, “Yeah. I don’t know why he said that. He’s such a fucking child. And then he finished the interview begging Dana to take him back, after he cheated on her.”

“That didn’t surprise me at all. He probably thinks it’s her fault that he had to cheat.”

Max said, “What? I know Logan isn’t the smartest guy, but I hadn’t heard he cheated on Dana.”

Courtney said, “It happened a couple years ago. He hooked up with a girl at his work. It got back to Dana, and she kicked him out.”

Taylor added, “Yeah, and Dana tells me that he calls her every week, trying to get back together. She’s pretty sick of it. I’m pretty sure she’s actually going to divorce him. Who knows, though? She’s the type that might end up taking him back.”

Max said, “Wow. Okay, I guess I’m not really surprised either, but it’s too bad.”

Kate said, “They should get a marriage counselor. I’m not sure it would help, but it might.”

“Maybe. In any case, he really pissed me off.”

Courtney said, “I’m worried that they said you might have been working with Nathan and Jefferson. We know you weren’t, but I guarantee you’re going to be asked about it.”

“I know. I wish I had known what they were doing. I could have gotten it stopped before anyone was hurt. Now, everyone is just going to think I was either helping them, or just too stupid to realize that my best friend was a kidnapper and murderer.”

Taylor said, “No one knew! I’ll be happy to back you up on that, in any interview you want to give.”

Kate, Courtney, and Max all said, “Me, too!”

“I really appreciate that. I’m not sure my story is going to be big news, once I get out of here anyway. I haven’t said anything, but I tried to use my Leica to take some pictures. My arm is nearly healed, and I can’t hold the damn camera correctly. Once everyone realizes that I’m no longer going to be a famous photographer, I expect I’ll be forgotten pretty quickly.”

Max said, “Victoria! That’s not true. You’re amazing. I know we can figure out a way for you to use a camera again.”

“Thanks for the support, Max, but you know as well as I do, that if I can’t hold the camera right, I’m done as a photographer. I literally can’t even aim the lens and press the button at the same time.”

Max replied, “Oh. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to upset you. It’s bad enough that I’m here, I don’t need you fussing over me about photography.”

Max gave her a look, but didn’t say anything.

Taylor asked, “There’s really no way you can take good photos anymore?”

“Not really. Look at this.”

Victoria held up her right arm, trying to straighten it and point. It was still angled at the elbow, and her hand just pointed down.

It looks fucking gross. I hope Max isn't staring at it.

She glanced over at Max, who was looking at the arm, but looked sad instead of disgusted.

Is pity worse than disgust?

“That’s about as good as it’s going to get. Honestly, I’m lucky they didn’t amputate it, so I’m not really complaining.”

Courtney asked, “They can’t do another surgery and fix it?”

“No. The only surgery they even considered was if the nerve damage didn’t go away. Since it did, I don’t know if another operation would improve my arm enough to be worth trying.”

Courtney said, “I’m really sorry! I wish I could fix it for you.”

“Thanks.”

Kate asked, “If you really can’t be a photographer, do you have any plans for the future? I’m sure Max would like to know, too.”

I hope we can just be together!

“Umm. I’m don’t know. It really depends on how my legs heal. If I can walk, I might end up working at the Chase Space. Or maybe not. That’s up in the air now. Honestly, I’m not sure. I kind of wanted to see how things were going here before making a big decision.”

Max said, “We have time. No need to rush.”

Victoria smiled at Max.

Courtney said, “Ohhh! Get a room, you two!”

Kate and Taylor started laughing.

Max gave Victoria a huge smile, then leaned in and kissed her. After a couple seconds, she sat back, her face a little red, but she was smiling like crazy.

Wow. I can’t get enough of that.

Courtney said, “Merde! You’re kissing!”

Taylor said, “Yeah! You go, girls!”

Kate laughed, and said, “I’m happy for you both!”

Max said, “She’s a great kisser!”

What? Oh God.

Victoria’s face got beet red, and all of her friends laughed.

I’m so embarrassed. I didn’t think she’d do that. Or say that! Oh damn.

Courtney said, “I’m glad you two are getting along so well!”

Taylor said, “Max, you animal!”

Everyone started laughing again. Victoria joined in. Max got embarrassed this time.

Kate said, “Well, it looks like you two are definitely supporting each other. I guess we really shouldn’t get too worried.”

Taylor said, “Yeah, don’t let these creeps get to you. Max, if you even think Victoria is withdrawing into herself, call me. I’ll kick her ass.”

“Hey! No fair!”

Courtney said, “Victoria, it’s okay if you are really upset. Just talk to us. And answer your damn phone!”

A chorus of “Yeahs!” followed that.

They ended up talking for another half hour before Victoria closed her laptop. Max smiled at her, leaned in and gave her a kiss, and then stood up.

She said, “I’ll see you again tomorrow. Take care of yourself.”

“I will. Thanks for stopping in and making me talk to everyone.”

“You’re welcome. Good night!”

“Night.”

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria was browsing the photography forum again.

Why the hell do I even check this site anymore? I’m no longer a photographer. Am I really that desperate for attention that I’ll look for any mention about me at all? I mean, at least these people actually kind of care about me, I guess.

She refreshed the page, and saw a new entry at the top.

“Kate Marsh says that she’s friends with Victoria Chase. National Gossip is full of crap!”

Oh! Kate already published a reply about this whole mess?

Victoria opened the thread. The user, SillyLifePhotographer, included a link to the letter on Kate’s website, as well as a copy of it in the post. Victoria clicked the link to read it on Kate’s website in a new tab.

The letter was posted front and center, with a picture of the Alice the bunny and Tori the cat standing together at the top.

[Dear Friends and Fans,

I saw the awful article published about Victoria Chase and myself yesterday in that magazine. I wanted to clear up a few things.

Victoria and I are friends. I know this may shock some of you, but after everything that happened at Blackwell, Victoria did her best to remove the video of me at that party. Unfortunately, it keeps popping back up, no matter how many times she’s had it taken down. She has apologized to me numerous times, and I forgave her years ago. For the rest of our senior year, she really did look out for me.

Well, I tried. Like Logan said, it didn’t really help much. At least everyone was willing to target me instead of her.

It’s true that she wasn’t a very nice person when I first arrived at Blackwell, but I wasn’t exactly making it easy for the other students to like me. I was a strong proponent for abstinence (and I still think everyone should wait until they meet a special person!). The other students were just trying to have fun, and I was a bit of a Debbie Downer.

Don’t say that, Kate! You were a great person, and we were all fucked up kids.

I had many friends, of course, but the students who were more into partying obviously were annoyed by my actions. I certainly preached at some kids who really weren’t interested in what I had to say.

True, I won’t deny that. Still, we shouldn’t have bullied you for it.

After the murder of Chloe Price and the subsequent arrests of Nathan Prescott and Mark Jefferson, Victoria was one of the first people to find me and apologize for what she did. I was still quite angry with her at the time, but I appreciated that she felt remorse. Over the next few months, I forgave her completely and Victoria did their best to help me out if I needed it.

I was so scared you’d hate me. Knocking on your door that night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can’t believe you didn’t just slap me and kick me out of your room. I would have done that to you. Damn, I was such an evil bitch.

I can also safely say that she was merely friends with Nathan, and was certainly not helping him kidnap me or any other girl. Anyone who says otherwise is making up stories (and not the fun kind).

That’s for damn sure. I can’t believe Nathan fooled me so easily. I’m so damn stupid.

Victoria is currently going through a very difficult time, and I would hope that everyone will stop harassing her and let her get better. I certainly pray for her every night.

Thank you. I hope it’s helping.

I’ll end this with a Bible quote: Psalm 34:13: Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

Sincerely,

Kate Marsh]

Of course she quoted the Bible! Still, it was really nice of her to publish this, and she even defended me. I hope it kills that magazine’s sales, when everyone reads this and realizes they are full of shit!

Victoria switched back over to the photography forum, and saw that people were replying to the article. Most of the replies were positive. After reading a couple comments, she exited the site and picked up her phone. She pulled up Kate’s number and hit Send.

Kate answered, “Hello?”

“Hi, Kate. I read your letter. Thank you so much for posting it.”

“You’re welcome, Victoria. I feel terrible that I even had to. I can’t understand what is wrong with those people.”

“I was just like them when I was younger.”

“Yes, but you changed, a lot. You are so much better than any of these reporters. They even think the man who snuck into your room shouldn’t have been punished, because he’s a journalist. How can they be so full of themselves?”

“It’s just how they are. I’ve dealt with them for years. Of course, they were usually just sucking up to me so that they could get interviews. Now, they’re sharks who smell blood.”

Kate replied, “Hmph. My agent has already called and let me know that several reporters want to talk to me about what happened at Blackwell again, and about today’s letter. I told him I’m not interested. If they want to know anything from me, they can just read that letter.”

“I hope they leave you alone. I’m really sorry, Kate.”

“Don’t be. It’s over. I’m glad you called me, though. You shouldn’t be afraid of talking with your friends when you’re in trouble.”

“Max made sure I learned that lesson, but thanks.”

“Oh, yeah. You and Max. That was quite the show you put on yesterday.”

Victoria’s face got a little red, even though she knew Kate couldn’t see her.

“I didn’t really expect her to do that.”

“But you liked it, didn’t you?”

“Um, yes. Yes, I did.”

Kate started laughing. She then said, “Good. I was starting to think you two would never get past holding hands.”

Ouch.

“We had our first kiss last week. It was great.”

“Oh? You mean you two stopped watching anime long enough to kiss? I’m surprised!”

“Hey! It’s bad enough when Courtney and Taylor say that to me. Don’t you join them!”

Kate started laughing again.

“Okay, very funny.”

Kate then said, “You do realize that Max’s birthday is in two weeks, right? September 21st.”

“Yes, I’m aware. I’m not sure what I can do to help her celebrate it, though. You wouldn’t happen to know if she wants anything, do you?”

“She loves pirate stuff, so anything with that would be good. She’s also a big fan of chocolate cake.”

“It sounds like I’ll be shopping for a little kid.”

“Not quite! She also plays acoustic guitar. Maybe look into that?”

“Oh, that’s an idea! Thanks!”

“You’re welcome. I’m happy for both of you.”

“Thanks again for everything, Kate. You’re a great person.”

“So are you, Victoria. Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

Victoria hung up.

You know what? Screw those reporters. It’s not like they can ruin my photography career.

She hopped online and started searching for information on guitars.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria was sitting in bed, listening to music, when the door to her room opened. John Stambaugh walked in.

Oh crap, I know what this is about.

He nodded to Victoria as he walked over to her bed.

“Hello, John.”

“Good afternoon, Ms. Chase. As you probably already know, I’m here to talk with you about The National Gossip, along with some matters regarding your accident.”

“Yeah, I figured. Have a seat.”

He sat down, and opened up the briefcase he had been carrying. After a minute of shuffling papers, he looked up at her and said, “Your father has calmed down. He said to tell you that he is sorry for the tone he used with you.”

He needed his lawyer to tell me that?

Victoria raised her eyebrow, and John shrugged. He said, “You know how he gets. Anyway, the letter published by Kate Marsh really helped us out. After it was released, inquiries from the different media outlets has dropped back down to the standard fare we usually receive. She really saved us a lot of hassle.”

“She’s my friend. She’s at least as upset about this as I am. I feel terrible for putting her into that position at all.”

John nodded. He replied, “You’re lucky to have such a friend. Regardless, she defused the whole issue. While we won’t win any court case against The National Gossip, I suspect they will move on to other topics. That story was the last incriminating thing they could hold against you, wasn’t it?”

Victoria nodded, “Yes, it was. I was worried that they would push the whole bit about me helping Jefferson or Nathan, but I guess Kate’s letter even stopped that. There’s nothing we can do about them trying to implicate me like that, is there?”

John shook his head no, saying, “They worded that very carefully. While we could complain about it, there’s no legal way we can go after them. They posed it as a possibility, not as a fact. I think we’d be better off just dropping the whole thing.”

“If it makes them go away, I’m all for it.”

Yeah, I’d love to sue those bastards into bankruptcy.

John nodded, “Alright, on to the next topic. I’ve been dealing with the trucking company’s insurance, and all of your bills are going to be paid by them. In addition, they’ve offered to pay an additional two million dollars for your pain and suffering. Is that acceptable?”

“I guess. I probably would have made a lot more money if I could still take photographs, but at least I won’t be poor. What do you recommend?”

“I’d take it. You might be able to get more from them, but it would be a hassle in the courts.”

“Okay. What does Father say about all of this?”

“He thinks they should pay more, but said it was your decision. Your hospital bill alone will be several million dollars, so I think it’s a pretty good deal.”

Of course he’d say that, but Father is pretty damn ruthless when it comes to getting payback.

“Very well, take their offer. Could you make sure my accountant handles all of the fees and taxes?”

“Of course. Could you sign this paper, then? It gives me permission to accept their offer.”

John handed over a paper and pen. Victoria carefully signed it. It took her several seconds and she had to concentrate in order to make her signature legible.

It kind of looks like my old signature. I guess I’ll have to work on that.

She handed the paper back to John, who put it in his briefcase.

He then looked at her and asked, “Have the police approached you about the article?”

“No. I’m not sure why, but maybe they talked with Kate and she wasn’t interested in pressing charges. That’s my guess, at least.”

John said, “That would make sense. The last issue I wanted to talk to you about is if you had made a decision regarding transferring back to Seattle.”

“I’m staying here. Honestly, I’m thinking about telling Father to sell my house. I’m still not sure about that yet, though.”

“I won’t say anything to him about it, then, just that you prefer to remain here for now.”

Victoria nodded to him. With that, John started putting everything back in his briefcase.

He stood up and said, “Thanks for your time, Ms. Chase. I hope you will recover fully.”

“Thanks.”

He left the room.

Victoria leaned back, closing her eyes and blowing air out from her mouth.

Fuck. I hate this bullshit. At least Father has calmed down. If I hadn’t tried to be cute on Kate’s website, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened. I still can’t believe I did something so stupid. I deserve to have everyone mad at me. I can’t believe Kate hasn’t just told me to go fuck myself and stay away from her. Every time I do anything with her, I end up hurting her. She’s so nice. She shouldn’t have to deal with me. Really, none of them should. Taylor has her family, Courtney has her clothes, and Max has her store. They’d all be better off if I was gone.

She pulled her covers up, grabbed her stuffed cat Madara, and turned up the music a little louder. She just laid there listening to music for the rest of the day.

 

Chapter Text

The next evening, Max stopped in. She was wearing a nice red blouse, tan slacks, and brown leather flats.

She looks really good.

Max smiled at Victoria, and waved her now standard insulated bag.

“Oh! What did you bring?”

Max smiled, “A super secret surprise dinner!”

Okay, Ms. Mysterious.

Max set their trays. She set out a bottle of lemonade for each of them. Then she got out two covered plates. She took the lids off, and Victoria saw prime rib, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Another small plate had strawberry cheesecake on it.

I’m not really hungry, but this looks amazing!

She looked at Max, and asked, “Wasn’t this really expensive?”

Max nodded, replying, “Yeah, but your cast is coming off on Tuesday! We need to celebrate!”

“True. I can’t wait! Let’s eat!”

Max held up her lemonade, and Victoria picked up hers. They lightly clinked the bottles together and said, “Cheers!”

The food is delicious!

After eating several bites, Victoria asked, “So, where did you get this from? I really like it!”

Max finished chewing, and replied, “There’s a steakhouse I pass on my way here every day. I decided to try it out. I’m glad it’s good! It would have been pretty embarrassing if it wasn’t.”

 “Ah, I’m glad it worked out. You’ve been spot-on for every choice you’ve made, so far.”

“Well, this time I was just lucky. But thanks!”

After a few more minutes of eating, Max said, “I saw that letter Kate wrote. It was really nice of her. She really defended you.”

Victoria nodded, replying, “Yeah, she’s great. I feel terrible that I put her into that position. That article was horrible, and her mother is just crazy. Now everyone knows what that woman is like because of me. Kate’s probably going to be asked about it by a ton of people, even if they’re just curious fans.”

Max set her fork down and said, “Victoria, it wasn’t your fault. That magazine was looking for a reason to attack you. They blame you for what that creepy asshole did while you were trapped in this bed. None of that is your fault.”

“That’s easy to say, but I can’t make myself believe it.”

“What’s that? You want me to call Taylor and have her kick your ass?”

Victoria laughed.

Holy shit, I didn’t expect that.

“No, I don’t want that. I’m sorry. I just feel responsible for everything. If I hadn’t taken that stupid video in the first place, Kate wouldn’t have had nearly as much shit to deal with back then or right now.”

Max scowled, “Well, it happened. It’s over and the only one still upset about it is you. Seriously, Victoria, you need to stop being so negative. I don’t really know what else to say, other than I’m here for you.”

Shit. I know Max means well. Why do I let myself get so down? Any time I’m alone for too long, I just start ripping myself apart. Does she really need to be around someone like that?

Victoria set her fork down, and stared at her plate.

I’m just ruining everything. Max brought me this amazing meal and I’m sitting here whining and making her miserable.

Max stood up. She said, “You know what? We need some anime. You need to stop thinking about things so much.”

Oh. I thought she was going to yell at me or leave.

Max grabbed Victoria’s laptop and set it where they could both see it, but still eat. After a minute, the next episode of Black Lagoon started playing.

Victoria picked up her fork and started eating again. The sounds of explosions, Shenhua’s terrible accent, and Revy’s mad laughter filled the room. They finished up their food during the episode. Max cleaned up their plates once it ended.

This show is really good. I needed this.

They watched another three episodes. Between Rock’s planning, Revy just killing stuff, the gun-toting nuns, and the Chinese and Russian mafias, Victoria relaxed and had fun. After Max turned off the laptop, they spent another hour talking about the show.

“Shenhua is straight up my favorite character. I’d watch a show that was just her and Sawyer.”

Max replied, “Yeah, she’s pretty cool, but I still like Revy the best.”

“Shenhua would kick her ass in a fight.”

Max smiled, saying, “Yarr! That girl be down in Davey Jones’ locker if she even tries!”

Victoria snorted, “Yeah, Shenhua would shove one of her knives right up where it counts.”

“Ouch! That’s gross.”

Victoria laughed. Max joined her after a few seconds.

Victoria looked out the window. It was already dark.

“I guess it’s pretty late already.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, visiting hours are almost over.”

“That stinks.”

Max smiled at her, and then leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips.

That will never get old. I wish we could just kiss all day.

“I wish you could stay.”

Max nodded, “Me, too. Look on the bright side. In two days, you’ll have that cast off. I’m hoping you’ll be walking really soon.”

“That would be nice. I really loved the dinner. Thanks for bringing it.”

Max smiled, “I was happy to. If you start to feel sad, just remember how Revy would react! Tell them to fuck off and blast them with both guns!”

“Yeah! Fuck those fucking fuckers! Fucking fucks made me fucking sad. They can fucking go to fucking hell!”

Max laughed, and said, “Don’t get too carried away, but you do sound just like her!”

Victoria laughed with her. After a few seconds, Max waved goodbye, picked up her bag, and left.

Victoria lay there, hugging Madara and staring at the door for an hour, before she fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria went through physical therapy for her arm. There really hadn’t been any change for the last few days.

I think my arm is as good as it’s going to get. Fuck. My biggest worry is about tomorrow, though.

She asked Nancy, “My leg cast comes off tomorrow. What should I expect?”

Nancy looked at her and said, “We probably won’t do much of anything tomorrow. They’ll get the cast off and clean you up. It will probably be swollen and painful, although the doctor will probably give you painkillers. I expect you’ll be pretty hairy, but we won’t shave that for a few days. Your skin needs to heal first. It’s going to be pretty flaky.”

“That sounds awful.”

Nancy shrugged, “It happens. At least for the next few days, a nurse will wash the entire area to help everything heal. They’ll also keep your legs up on pillows, so they are supported. Whatever you do, don’t scratch your skin. You’ll just make it worse and it will take longer to heal. Your muscles are going to be atrophied after lying here for so long, so don’t be surprised if they look weird.”

“Damn. I had a great butt and my legs were awesome. Everyone I have ever been with told me that.”

Nancy laughed, “Well, once we have you up and walking, you can get that back. It won’t be right away though. They’ll be testing you to make sure your back is okay, and hopefully we’ll have you doing real therapy by Friday.”

“Do you really think it will be that soon?”

Nancy shrugged, “Assuming your nerves are okay, I think so. I do have to warn you that it’s possible you won’t actually be able to walk, but I’m really hoping you’ll be fine.”

Yeah, I do, too. I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m paralyzed. That would be horrible.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to walk again. You don’t have to worry about me slacking.”

Nancy nodded, “Good. Just don’t overdo it.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“Good. Well, it looks like we’re done for today. I’ll check in with you tomorrow afternoon. I’ve heard your cast is coming off around nine, so that should be plenty of time for you to get settled.”

“See you tomorrow!”

Nancy left. A few minutes later, another nurse brought in lunch, which consisted of a chicken sandwich, steamed broccoli, applesauce, and a small coffee. Victoria spiced up her food and ate it. Then she hopped onto the internet and browsed some fashion sites. After that, she spent a few hours looking into high quality wheelchairs, and compared a bunch of them to each other, trying to decide which one she liked best.

Later that evening, Max showed up carrying her insulated bag.

“Hi, Max!”

“Hi, Victoria. Joe made us dinner, and said to tell you he’s happy your cast is coming off, and he hopes you’ll be up and running around in no time.”

“That’s nice. Tell him I said thanks.”

Max nodded; then got their trays ready. She said, “We have two vanilla lattes, French onion soup, and some baguettes.”

“Sounds great!”

Victoria took a sip of her latte.

It’s really good, even though it’s only warm now.

Max handed Victoria a baguette, and then immediately dunked her own into her soup.

Good idea.

Victoria did the same, and took a bite.

“It’s so good! Thank you for bringing this!”

Max smiled, “You’ll have to thank Joe once you get out of here. It was his work.”

“I will. Are you sure I can’t just hire him to be my personal cook?”

Max shook her head, “No, you can’t! He’s my coffee hook-up. I’ll die without him next door!”

Victoria laughed. Max joined her.

Once they finished eating, Max cleaned up, and then sat down beside her.

Victoria looked at her, and said, “I’m kind of scared. By this time tomorrow, I might actually know that I won’t be able to walk again. I really hope not, but it might be the truth.”

Max smiled softly at her, and took her hand into her own. She said, “I’m sure it will work out, Victoria. You’re a tough girl. You have the best doctor in the area. Even if you’re not up and running in a few weeks, I know you’ll keep trying, and sooner or later, you’ll be fine.”

Yeah, if only it was that easy.

“I hope you’re right, Max. What will we do if I can’t walk, though?”

Max sighed, replying, “I’m not really sure. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually. I am not going to run away, if you’re worried about that. I care about you a lot.”

“I know, I just don’t want to hold you back. You deserve – ”

Max shook her head, “Stop. Don’t even think about saying whatever you were about to say. You deserve to be happy, and I want to be with you, even if you can’t walk. That will make me happy.”

Max, do you really mean that?

“Okay, I’m sorry. I just wish I could go back in time and not be anywhere near that bridge on that day.”

Max nodded, “Me, too. Then again, maybe something else would have happened. We can’t change it, and at least we’re both here together.”

“True. Max, I am really happy that you’re here. I’ve been so damn miserable since Blackwell. You’re the best thing that’s happened to me.”

Max smiled, “Thanks! I kind of really like you, too.”

Victoria smiled, and said, “Oh yeah? Prove it!

Max grinned, and then scooted over to the bed. She leaned down and kissed Victoria. It started off soft, but after a few seconds, Victoria ran her hand through Max’s hair. Max pressed in harder, and Victoria pressed her tongue into her mouth.

This is so amazing! I love her so much! I can’t wait to get this cast off! We can do so much more!

After a few minutes of this, Max leaned back.

Ah! I want to keep going!

Max laughed, saying, “How about we watch some more anime? I don’t want to get too worked up and have some nurse catch us doing something naughty. I might get banned from visiting.”

“Really? Damn it. I guess that’s okay.”

Max set up her laptop, and they ended up watching a few more episodes of Black Lagoon. Both of them were glued to the screen. It felt like no time had passed before Max got up to leave.

“Do you have to leave already? I want you to stay!”

Max shook her head, replying, “I have to get up early tomorrow. I have a load of film to develop, and it’s the best time to do it. I’ll be back tomorrow evening. It will be great to see you out of that cast.”

“I can’t wait. No peeking for you, though! My therapist said my legs are going to look pretty bad for a few days, because they’ve been in the cast so long. No way I’m letting you see that.”

“Aww. Well, I guess I can live with that. I want you to get better. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Max leaned in and gave her a soft kiss, before leaving the room. Victoria grabbed Madara and hugged him.

I’m so scared. What if my legs are horrid? What if I really can’t walk?

 

Chapter Text

Victoria lay in bed all night. She couldn’t sleep. She stared at the ceiling, her thoughts going one hundred miles an hour.

What if I can’t walk? What if I’m deformed? What am I going to do now that I know I can’t be a photographer? Will Max actually stay with me, or will she realize that I’m not worth it? I treated so many people so horribly. I really deserve this. Max is so pretty. What does she see in me? Is Kate okay? I hope she isn’t being harassed by anyone because of what I did. I’m so fucking scared. Why haven’t my parents called? They said they cared about me, but they really suck at showing it. Maybe Father is still angry. Hell, maybe they’re in Europe talking with some art collectors. I don’t even know. I hope Taylor and Courtney are doing okay. I wish they were here.

She finally passed out as the sun was rising, only to be woken up a few hours later by a nurse for breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, a sliced orange, and a small coffee. Victoria ate slowly, still pretty groggy.

I am so damn tired.

Shortly after she finished eating, Doctor Russo and some nurses entered the room.

Oh fuck. It’s time. I’m not ready for this. I want out of this cast so bad, but what if it’s just to find out I can’t be fixed?

Doctor Russo smiled at her, saying, “Good morning, Ms. Chase. You finally get to have this cast off today!”

“Good morning. I guess it’s time.”

He nodded, saying, “No need to be nervous. I’ve removed hundreds of casts. Do you have any questions before we start?”

“I talked it over with my physical therapist yesterday. I guess I’m ready.”

He nodded; then waved to a couple nurses, who brought over a curtain that they placed above Victoria’s waist.

“Is that really necessary?”

He shrugged, “It will be easier for you. You won’t have to see all of us working down there, and they can clean you up. I think it might help you from any embarrassment.”

“Okay. Well, I guess you can get started.”

He nodded to her, and then they got to work. Victoria closed her eyes, trying to think of anything else.

She heard the saw cutting through the cast after a few minutes, and her torso was twisted a few times as the doctor and nurses worked.

Damn, I’m sure they’re all getting a real nice view. I hate this.

The cutting continued for what felt like forever, but was probably only twenty minutes. The saw finally stopped, and Doctor Russo stepped to the side and looked at her.

He said, “I’ve cut through it. We’re going to remove the cast now. We’ll have to lift you. Let me know immediately if it hurts.”

“I will. Thanks.”

A few seconds later, the whole bottom half of her body was lifted up.

I can’t feel them. Oh fuck. Please tell me that doesn’t mean what I think it means.

She could hear them dragging the cast off to the side, as her body was lowered back down.

I can’t feel their hands at all. Oh God.

Doctor Russo stepped back again, and asked, “How are you doing?”

Victoria started crying. “I can’t feel any of you. Not even a little.”

His face went blank for a second, and his mouth opened a little. Grimacing, he nodded, “It’s still early. We’ll have to wait a few days before we can do any therapy, but that might jump-start your nerves. Don’t lose hope. You’ve already faced one hurdle with your arm. This is the same kind of thing.”

“I hope you’re right. Fuck, I don’t know what to say.”

He nodded, “It’s okay. Just keep working like you have been, and I’m confident things will work out for you.”

“Why do I think you’re bullshitting me?”

He stopped for a second; then said, “I don’t want you to give up. I’m serious. Our bodies work in strange ways, and it’s entirely possible you’ll regain feeling in a few days.”

“Alright, I’ll believe you. Just don’t say something else to my father. Tell him what you tell me.”

He nodded, “I’ve already told you I’d do that. Don’t worry.”

Victoria heard water splashing, and her torso shifted from left to right. The doctor said, “They’re washing you up now. We’ll be all done in a few more minutes. Don’t be alarmed once you look at your legs. It’s perfectly natural for them to be thin. You haven’t been walking on them. I suspect your therapist also warned you about the hair?”

Victoria nodded.

I’m not sure I want to see them. I’ve kept my legs clean-shaven for so long. They were so toned. All that walking and jogging I did, they should have been.

He nodded, “I’ll also warn you that there is significant scarring. It was more imperative to save your legs than to take extra time to minimize the skin damage. I’m sorry, but it was really dicey.”

“Fuck. Well, I guess there’s nothing we can do about it now. Are they done?”

“Another minute or two.”

Victoria closed her eyes, waiting.

She finally heard the curtain moving. Opening her eyes, she saw the nurses leaving with a cart that included her used cast, the curtain, and other equipment.

She looked down, but the sheet was back over her legs.

Doctor Russo asked, “Do you want to look?”

Victoria frowned, but nodded yes.

He pulled back the sheet.

Oh my God. It’s so much worse than I thought it would be.

Her legs looked like bright red twigs, and they were definitely very hairy. Way more than she thought they’d be.

That’s not even the bad part.

She leaned up. Scars covered her right leg. They were long and thick, and criss-crossed each other at several spots.

Victoria glanced at Doctor Russo, who turned away. She checked her crotch. A large jagged scar ran right above her vagina.

Oh fuck. Even if I can walk, I look gross.

Feeling convulsions in her stomach, Victoria started waving her hand. The doctor grabbed a can and held it by her head. She immediately vomited up her breakfast.

I can’t believe this. I’m a sideshow freak. Any girl who sees this will run away screaming. I’m so sorry, Max!

Doctor Russo said, “It’s okay, Victoria. The scars will shrink over time. We might be able to fix some of them with plastic surgery. You’ll be okay.”

“Fuck you! I will not be okay. You saw what’s there. I’m disgusting!”

“No, you’re not. You were seriously injured. You will get better.”

Victoria started hyperventilating. She looked around, feeling panic settling in.

The doctor yelled for a nurse, and the next thing Victoria knew, they were putting a needle in her arm. A few seconds later, she laid back, incredibly tired. She fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria walked slowly along the beach. She was wearing a bikini, which showed off her body to great effect.

Yeah, all of those workouts were definitely worth it. I look amazing!

The sun was hot, but a light breeze kept it from bothering her. She looked out over the ocean. Gulls flew overhead, squawking to each other. She watched a blue crab scuttle away from her, sideways.

What’s going on? Where am I?

“This is a really nice place, isn’t it?”

Victoria turned around. Max was sitting on an old swing, slowly rocking back and forth.

That thing is completely out of place.

“I’m going to guess that you’re not actually Max?”

Max smiled, nodding, “You win a prize!”

“What’s happening? I’m not about to die again, am I?”

Max shook her head no, replying, “No. I’m just talking with you in a dream.”

“Okay. So, do you mind telling me why?”

Max said, “I think you’re forgetting why you stayed. You have a wonderful chance with a girl you’re really in love with. That’s what you asked for, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but I don’t think it’s good for Max. You know what I look like now. She deserves someone better.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Gee, I don’t know! I’ve got scars all over my body! I look awful! If she sees me like this, it will disgust her. There’s no way I could look in her face and watch her be disappointed when she finally gets to see me naked. I’d just gross her out. Hell, she’d probably throw up just like I just did. Can you just imagine me lying there, with Max puking all over me, because I am so disgusting?”

Max’s eyebrows rose up, “Wow. You’ve got a really strong imagination.”

Victoria waved her hand at her current self. “A month ago, I actually looked like this. Now I look like a freak! Hell, I couldn’t even stand here talking to you if I was in my real body!”

“You really care about appearances a lot.”

Victoria paused, “Yeah, I do. I have spent my life looking at people through a camera lens. Most of them were models. Do you have a problem with that?”

Max shook her head no.

“I’m not just being superficial! I want to make Max happy, and I can’t do that if I gross her out when she looks at me.”

“You do realize that you will both age, and at some point, you’ll both “gross each other out”, right?”

Victoria shook her head. “That’s not the point. Max deserves someone so much better than me!”

Max tilted her head, scowling a little. She replied, “Why do you hate yourself?”

Victoria froze.

That’s the fucking question, isn’t it?

“I’m evil. I’ve been so horrible to so many people who didn’t deserve it. I thought it was fucking funny when we bullied Kate. I had most of the kids at Blackwell terrified of me, and I loved it! I’d have happily destroyed every single one of them if it would have helped me even a little bit to get accepted by a gallery. Hell, I’d have probably helped Jefferson myself if he’d promised to let me win that stupid fucking contest! I got off on hurting people. You should know that.”

Max nodded, replying, “Yes, you did, but then you realized what you were doing and you changed. If you were actually evil, you wouldn’t be worried about hurting Max right now. You’ve spent a lot of nights crying because of what you did. I’m not sure Kate or Max have any idea how upset you actually were. That doesn’t strike me as you being an evil person. It makes me think you’ve repented and are worthy of salvation. There’s no reason for you to hate yourself.”

“Fuck you! You don’t get to say that to me!”

Victoria turned away, utterly furious.

How dare this fake-ass Max judge me like that?

She collapsed, barely catching herself in the sand.

I’m in my real body! My legs don’t work. I look awful. How many scars do I actually have? Why the fuck am I still in a bikini?

She rolled over, and saw Max standing over her, looking pretty damn angry.

Max said, “I’m getting tired of you acting like this. I know you had a shitty childhood, but you need to grow the fuck up and stop acting like the world hates you. If you didn’t know, most of the people that know you admire you for your work. You have it so much better than most other people in the world. Stop acting like everyone hates you and that you don’t deserve happiness. You have a chance right now that anyone would beg for. You should be dead. Instead, against my better judgment, you’re still here. I wanted you to get to experience love, but you’re just throwing that in the trash, because you’re too busy crying about how terrible you are. Should I take my gift back? Do you want to go to your dream home and wait for Max?”

The sky had darkened during Max’s speech. Lightning flashed behind her, causing her to appear as a dark silhouette. Victoria heard thunder.

Holy fuck! I’m so stupid! I’m going to fucking die for real now!

Victoria frantically shook her head no.

“Don’t! Please! I really do want Max!”

Max scowled at her, “I’m not sure I believe you. Whatever. This is your last warning. Stop blaming yourself for the world’s problems and actually try and be worth Max’s time.”

Max walked over and kicked Victoria’s legs, once each. It hurt, a lot.

“Ow! What the hell?”

Max shook her head, not even looking at Victoria anymore. “Wake up, little baby.”

Victoria’s eyes popped open. She was lying in her bed. A nurse looked up at her, from the tablet she had been reading.

Damn, my legs hurt.

 

Chapter Text

The nurse stood up and walked over to her, saying, “Good morning! How are you feeling?”

“Morning?”

Did I actually sleep that long?

The nurse nodded, replying, “Yes. You’ve been asleep for almost 24 hours.”

“Really? How? I mean, I guess they knocked me out, but I didn’t think it would be that long.”

The nursed shrugged, saying, “I guess the dosage was a little heavy? I’m not sure why you slept so long. Maybe you just needed it?”

I didn’t think that dream was very long, or did I just black out after it was over?

“Did I have any visitors last night?”

The nurse nodded, smiling, “Yes. A very nice girl named Max stopped by. She left you those flowers.”

Victoria looked around, and saw a bouquet of mixed flowers to her right, by the window.

She got me flowers! I slept through her visit. I hope she’s not mad. Oh shit, I hope she didn’t look under my blanket!

 Looking down quickly, Victoria saw that her lower body was covered.

Well, I don’t think she’d actually peek, but I really wish I’d been awake for her visit.

The nurse hit the call button, and said, “Please inform Doctor Russo that Ms. Chase is awake.”

The nurse gave her some water to drink, as they waited for the doctor.

Wow! I’m really thirsty.

Victoria drank the glass quickly, and kind of wanted more, but didn’t ask.

The nurse started typing on her tablet after a few minutes.

Victoria lay back down and sighed.

Was that dream real? Or just my imagination? Heck, I don’t know.

After a while, the door opened and Doctor Russo entered the room. He nodded to the nurse, and smiled at Victoria. He said, “Good morning, Ms. Chase! I trust you’re feeling better now?”

I was drugged and knocked out. I guess I kind of needed it, but still, that’s a pretty shitty question to ask right now.

Victoria shrugged, “Well, I lost a whole day. My legs are actually really sore, right now.”

The doctor’s eyes opened up wide. “They are? Let me run some tests quick!”

He walked over to the bed, nodded to her, and pulled the sheet and blanket down.

Victoria looked for herself.

Ugh. My legs look awful! I really hope Max could contain her nosiness. Why the heck can’t they shave them already? I know it would hurt the skin, but I don’t care!

The doctor started touching her left leg around the knee.

“Ow! Be careful!”

He looked at her, surprised. He said, “I think I’m going to have to start calling you the miracle girl. I really didn’t expect this. I’ll try to be gentle, but it will still hurt.”

Victoria nodded, huffed out some air, and closed her eyes.

I just have to let him do this. I can take it!

He started slowly moving her legs, pressing at different points and lifting each and pushing them closed. He’d ask her if she could feel it each time.

Victoria felt every single touch, and they all hurt. After a few minutes, she was crying.

Fuck, that hurt! I can’t let him keep going!

“Doctor, stop! If you have to continue, you need to give me some actual pain-killers. I can’t take this!”

He shook his head, saying, “I’m sorry, but that would defeat the purpose. I wish I could do this so you didn’t feel any pain, but I’m just about done.”

“Okay. Just let me know.”

She closed her eyes tight, and just tried to ignore the pain. After another minute, he stepped back and said, “I’m done. I’m sorry I had to do that. The good news is I think you have full feeling in your legs. The bad news is that there is a lot of atrophy, and you don’t have full range of movement in either of them. Your right leg is worse than your left, but neither one is completely undamaged.”

Victoria sat up, saying, “All of the scarring is on my right leg, though.”

The doctor shook his head, replying, “Your left leg is scarred on the back, from your hamstring down to your calf. You just didn’t see it because you’re lying on it.”

“What? I thought it was just my right leg!”

“I’m sorry, but both of your legs sustained a lot of damage. Your right was just worse than your left. The good news is that I’m confident that you’ll be able to walk, once you complete your physical therapy. I could not say that yesterday, after we first removed the cast. In the future, we can probably fix the worst of the scarring with another operation. You’ll still have some even then, but that will shrink over time.”

“Damn. I used to have amazing legs. This sucks.”

The doctor shrugged, saying, “I’m just happy that you should be able to walk again. Once you’re up and moving, you can always work on toning them up again.”

Victoria nodded, “I probably will. It’s just too bad. I’ve had a lot of compliments on them before. I don’t think that’s going to happen again.”

The doctor replied, “You never know. If you find the right person, they won’t mind. Just be confident and that will help a lot. That’s all I can say about that.”

“I hope you’re right. Is there anything else for today?”

The doctor said, “I’m going to have you take some mild pain-killers for the next few days, so that when the nurses clean you up, it won’t hurt. I expect you’ll be doing therapy in another day or two, depending on how things look.”

“Okay. Thanks, doctor.”

He nodded, filling out information on his tablet. After a few minutes, he waved to her and left. The nurse then came over and gave Victoria some pills. She took them, and after a while, the throbbing in her legs mostly went away.

An hour later, a nurse came and washed her legs down. It hurt, but not too much.

I might be walking in a few days! Even if it’s with a walker, I’m so happy! I thought I’d never walk again. I can’t wait to tell Max tonight!

 

Chapter Text

Victoria checked her phone. She saw missed calls from Taylor, Courtney, and her parents. She decided to send out some texts.

[Victoria: Hi Taylor, Courtney! Sitting here in the hospital. All casts are off! My legs are really sore, but hopefully I’ll be up and walking in a couple days! :)]

After a few minutes, she got some replies.

[Courtney: Yay! I’m glad you’re up and feeling better! We all got scared when Max told us they had to sedate you yesterday!]

Wait, Max told them that? Crap.

[Taylor: Glad to hear from you! I hope you’re doing better today.]

[Victoria: Max seriously told you they had to sedate me? What else did she say?]

[Taylor: Calm down, girl! She was really worried. She chatted with us last night.]

[Courtney: We’re just really happy you’re ok. What happened?]

Fuck. Guess I’ll tell them.

[Victoria: When they took the casts off, I couldn’t feel anything. I thought I was going to be paralyzed. I kind of freaked out. I’m much better now, though! Thanks for worrying about me.]

[Courtney: That’s great! I wish there was some way I could help you.]

[Taylor: That’s good. Don’t be mad at Max. She looked at least as worried as she was while you were in a coma. She really cares about you. I’m really happy that you can be walking soon!]

 [Victoria: Thanks, you two. She doesn’t know anything yet. Let me tell her, please.]

[Taylor: Are you sure you want to surprise her like that?]

[Courtney: Yeah, Vic. I think you should let her know now. At least she won’t be ruining her day worrying about you, while you’re actually doing much better.]

Good point. Max deserves to know now.

[Victoria: Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll text her. You two take care of yourselves!]

[Taylor: I’m happy you’re doing better! Listen to your doctor! I miss you! Bye!]

[Courtney: Be careful and get better quick! Hope we can get back together soon! Ciao!]

[Victoria: I really miss both of you! Best friends forever!]

Victoria looked at her phone for a minute.

I really miss those two. I’ve seen them more in the last month than I have in the last five years, and it’s still not enough. Getting older really sucks. Once I’m out of here, I’m going to make a point of us getting together at least once a year. No excuses!

I better let Max know I’m doing better.

She started texting again.

[Victoria: Max, I’m up and feel much better. I love those flowers you got me! My legs hurt, but I should be up and walking in a few days! Thanks for worrying about me.]

Not very long after, she got a reply.

[Max: Yay! You had me so worried! What was wrong? The nurses wouldn’t tell me, but I heard them saying that they had to sedate you. Are you really okay?]

[Victoria: Yeah. When I got the cast off yesterday, I couldn’t feel anything at all. The doctor and nurses were moving me around, and I didn’t feel them even a little. I freaked out. I really thought I was going to be paralyzed. Then today I woke up and my legs really hurt, but that’s a good sign. Doctor Russo said I can start therapy in a few days!]

[Max: Wow! I would have been super scared! I’m glad you’re doing a lot better today! I’ll stop by later. Dinner is on me!]

Victoria laughed at that.

Once I get out of here, I’m taking her somewhere really nice. She’s bought me so many meals. I feel kind of bad.

[Victoria: Ask Joe to make us something. He’s the best cook around! I could use a strong coffee, too. Thanks!]

[Max: ;) I’ll do that! I’m glad you liked the flowers. I’d hoped for us to have a little party last night, but I guess it will be tonight instead! See you around six!  :hugs and kisses:]

[Victoria: Yay! :kisses you right back!:]

After that, she checked her voicemail. She saw one from her father, so she listened to it.

[“Hello, Victoria. I hope you’re doing much better when you listen to this. Doctor Russo told me what happened. Be strong. Your mother and I will do anything we can to make sure you get better. Let me know if you need anything. Goodbye.”]

Hmm. No apology, but that’s not a surprise. At least he’s acting like he cares again.

She called him back, and got his voice mail.

Of course.

“Hello, Father. I just wanted to let you know I’m awake now. My legs are hurting, but the doctor said that’s a very good sign. I will be starting therapy for them in a few days. Thanks for calling. Bye.”

I can be nice and impersonal, too.

Victoria set her phone down, and then grabbed her laptop and went online. She spent a few hours watching videos and reading the photography forum.

No big threads about me anymore. I hope that lasts. I should just post and tell them all I’m done in photography, and they don’t need to worry about me anymore. That would probably piss off Father, though. It would definitely be in the news.

It might make it a lot easier on me once I finally get out of here, though. I doubt the paparazzi would want to photograph a normal person anymore. I can just see those vultures trying to film me leaving this place in a wheelchair. They’d love it. If everyone already knows I’m no longer going to be a photographer, it would steal their views and they’d probably lose interest, especially if I’m not out of here for another month.

She decided to send out an email.

[From: Victoria Chase

To: John Stambaugh, Esq.

Cc: David Chase

Subject: Press Release?

It’s become evident that due to my injuries, I won’t be able to be a photographer anymore, at least not professionally. I think we should send out a press release stating this soon. It would allow that information to circulate (and become “old news”) by the time I get out of the hospital. As is, I expect that my release date will be a circus, with many paparazzi trying to take advantage of the situation. If everyone already knows I’m no longer going to be working with a camera, a lot of the impetus for them to be there would go away.

Please let me know if this is feasible, and if so, I think we need to do it by Monday at the latest. Thanks for your time.

Victoria]

I bet that will rile up Father, but in the end, I think it’s the best move available. Now I just have to wait and see if those two approve.

She put her laptop away, and then played around with her Kino and Hermes figurines for a while, until the door finally opened, letting Max enter.

 

Chapter Text

Max was wearing the turquoise dress she had on when Victoria had been sick at the hotel.

She looks amazing!

“You look great, Max!”

Max smiled, blushing just a little. She said, “Thanks. I thought you might like it. I did get us some food; and a coffee for you.”

Max waved her insulated bag as she walked over and started setting up her tray.

“Wait. Before you do anything else, I want a picture.”

Victoria set up the camera on her phone as Max stepped back and struck a slightly dorky pose.

“You’re ready for the runway, Max.”

Okay, that was a lie, but I don’t care. She’s adorable!

Victoria giggled as she took a few pictures. Max changed her pose a few times, and Victoria got several nice shots.

Max finally started laughing, and Victoria snagged a couple candid shots of her looking embarrassed but happy, before she set her phone back down.

Max walked over, leaned down, and kissed her. After a few seconds, Max stood back up and said, “I’m so glad your casts are off! Let’s eat and watch anime!”

Victoria smiled, and said, “Yeah! I need coffee! Gimme!”

Max set up their trays. Victoria started drinking her coffee as Max revealed bowls of tortellini soup, baguettes, and slices of cheesecake.

“Wow! This looks great! Joe really made this?”

Max nodded, “Yeah. He was a little flattered when I told him you wanted to hire him as a personal chef. Of course, he said he’s never leaving his shop, so you’ll just have to settle for visiting him there.”

Victoria laughed, replying, “That’s too bad! Then again, that gives me an extra reason to visit your shop.”

Victoria had to shift her weight a bit, and pulled her pillow lower behind her back, before she started eating.

After a few seconds, Max asked, “Are you alright?”

Victoria nodded, “I have to keep my legs elevated, so it’s a little uncomfortable sitting up too straight. Luckily, this is only for a few days.”

Max looked at her blanket, and asked, “It doesn’t hurt, does it? I don’t want you to be in pain just to eat with me.”

Victoria shook her head, “Nah. They gave me painkillers, and my legs are healing, so as long as I don’t bump them against anything, I’m fine. Thanks for worrying, though.”

“I didn’t mean it to pry.”

“It’s okay. I’m just really glad you’re here. By the way, this soup is amazing! Have you tried it, yet?”

Max nodded, “I’ve had it a bunch of times. I like it a lot. I thought you would, too. Joe says it’s his mom’s recipe. I’m pretty sure it’s one of his most popular items.”

“I can see why. I love it!”

Victoria dipped her baguette into it, and took a bite.

It’s so good! Heck, if Max keeps bringing me this stuff, I’m going to get fat. I’m going to have to be careful. Maybe next time I’ll tell her to bring less.

They ate quietly for a few minutes, finally finishing up the main course. Then Victoria took a bite of her cheesecake.

It’s so rich! So good! I can’t eat this all, at least not right now.

She took two more bites before setting her fork down.

“I really can’t eat any more, Max. It’s good food, but I’m full.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, I can believe that. You definitely look better than you did a few weeks ago, though. I’m glad you're eating better.”

“If I eat too much better, I’m going to get fat. You need to explain portion sizes to Joe.”

Max laughed, “I doubt he’d listen. Let me clean this up.”

Max got up and cleaned up their trays, tossing their empty containers. She set the cheesecake on Victoria’s table, and said, “Just eat that later. Don’t waste it.”

“Okay, I will, but only because it’s delicious.”

Max laughed. She put the laptop on Victoria’s tray.

I’ve seen her glance at my legs several times now. She must be dying to ask.

“Max, my legs are much better, if you’re worried. They don’t hurt right now.”

Max sighed, “Sorry, I didn’t think you’d notice me looking.”

“It’s okay. I’d do the same. I’m not going to show them to you, at least not tonight. One of the things they don’t tell you is that your leg hair keeps growing while your legs are in the cast. They won’t be able to shave them for another day or two, after the skin heals. I’d prefer you not see that.”

“Oh, I never even thought of that. I can’t imagine what my legs would look like if I didn’t shave them for over a month.”

“Hopefully, we’ll never find out.”

They both laughed.

Victoria sighed, “There’s something else. I have a lot of scars down there. It’s even worse than my arm.”

Max looked at her for a second, and then said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything they can do for them?”

Victoria shrugged, “Maybe they can fix some of it later on, but I’m not sure how much. In any case, once I’m actually up and walking, I’ll let you see.”

Did I really just say that? Now I have to let her look at them. She’s going to give up on me. I know she will.

Max nodded, “Okay. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m not going to leave you because of scars, so you don’t have to sound so scared.”

I sounded scared when I said that? I didn’t even realize it. She said she won’t leave, though! She’s so amazing.

Max pointed at her laptop, and asked, “Shouldn’t you have already started Black Lagoon? We’re almost to the end of the first season. You’re going to love it. Wait until we get to Roberta’s Blood Trail. It’s even crazier than this season.”

“Okay. Let’s do it.”

They sat there for several hours, finishing season one and the first episode of season two.

“Damn, this show is filled with awesome, bad-ass women. Someone needs to make the clowns in Hollywood watch this. We might actually get some good movies, then.”

“I know! Revy is so much cooler than just about anyone I’ve seen in movies.”

“Hah! Shenhua is better, but they’d never, ever allow a character like her on screen. When did our side turn into the Puritans?”

Max shrugged, “Beats me. I don’t even bother talking to people who say they’re progressive online anymore. More than one of them has told me I’m not a real gay, because I also like guys.”

Victoria rolled her eyes, “I’ll never understand people who say that. They really piss me off.”

“Tell me about it. That rainbow flag just means bi’s aren’t really welcome.”

“Well, if you stick with me, you can just tell them all you’re now really, really gay.”

Max laughed. Victoria joined her. A few seconds later, Max got up and came over. She sat on the side of Victoria’s bed, being careful not to bump her legs, and leaned over. They kissed.

Max slowly pressed her tongue against Victoria’s lips. Victoria quickly opened up, and they pressed their tongues into each other’s mouths.

Max’s mouth tastes like cheesecake. Interesting. Also, delicious!

Victoria ran her nails through Max’s hair, causing her to softly moan into the kiss. Max returned the favor. Victoria jumped a little, causing Max to lean back.

“Hey, don’t stop! I loved that.”

Max smiled, and ran her fingers through Victoria’s hair again. After a few seconds, she leaned back in and they continued kissing.

A few minutes later, Max sat back up. Her face was flushed, and she was breathing a little heavy.

Wait! I want more!

 Max stood up, swaying a little. She smiled at Victoria, and said, “I think that’s enough for tonight. You really need to get out of here soon. I can’t take too much more of this.”

“We can fool around a little more. Come on.”

Max shook her head, “I’ve already had a nurse walk in on us once. I’m not doing that again. I’m really happy that you’re doing better. Hopefully, you’ll be up soon. Then I can take you around the building when I visit. They have a nice courtyard, and we can sit out there in the sun. I think you’ll like it.”

“I guess. Being in a wheelchair would at least get me out of this room, but I’m way more interested in actually walking.”

Max nodded, “Sure, but at least we won’t have to wait until then.”

“True. It’s weird, but this room almost feels normal to me, now. I think I’ve been here too long.”

Max nodded, “I’d say so. In a few more weeks, you should be able to check out.”

“Hopefully. Would it be okay if I stayed with you, at least for a while?”

Max smiled, “Sure. I was going to ask if you wanted to stay myself. I’d like that a lot.”

Yes! She wants me to stay with her!

“Great! I guess that means I have to get better faster! Thanks, Max.”

Max nodded, “Just don’t change your mind and take off for Seattle.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t. I’m sure my parents will freak out, but I’m in no hurry to go back.”

“That’s good. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night, Victoria.”

“Good night, Max.”

Max left.

I’m going to be moving in with Max! Yes!

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria was in a fantastic mood.

Max wants me to move in with her! Even if it’s just for a while, that means I have a chance to move our relationship straight into hardcore girlfriends! I’ve wanted this for so long! I can’t believe it could really happen! I’m so damn happy!

The nurses came in, pushing a cart. They had buckets of warm water and a bunch of washcloths. They removed her sheets and washed her up. Looking down, she saw that her legs were a lot less red now. They were still really thin and way too hairy, but the swelling was gone. It also didn’t hurt when they ran the washcloths over her skin.

“Is there any chance you will be able to shave my legs soon?”

The nurse nodded, replying, “I think we can do it tomorrow. You’re looking a lot better now. Does it hurt when we wash you down?”

Victoria shook her head no, replying, “Not really. I can’t wait to get all of this hair gone. I’ve never looked this bad.”

The nurse nodded to her, saying, “It’s pretty common for this to happen. Don’t worry. We’re good at shaving, so you will look a lot better once we do it.”

“Thanks. That’s really good to hear.”

The nurses finished up and headed out. They also dumped her bedpan while they were at it.

I hate that thing. It’s so gross. I know Max never mentions it, but she must smell it when she comes in here. Then again, there’s so much disinfectant in the air she might not notice it. I need to walk again just so I can use a real toilet.

An hour later, Nancy came in. She walked over and said, “It’s good to see you up and smiling. I plan on working with your legs a little today. Not much, but I want to start stretching them. In another day or two, you’re going to have to start walking. I’ll warn you that it will be tough, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine. You’ve certainly improved your arm a lot.

Victoria had been drawing and writing every day. While her art and handwriting weren’t as good as before the accident, they had both improved a lot over the last week or two.

Nancy started massaging her legs. This did hurt a little, but not really bad. Then she pushed the right leg up, getting the knee up even with Victoria’s waist.

“Ouch! Okay, that hurt.”

Nancy nodded, “Sorry. I’ll try to be gentle, but we need to do this.”

The therapy continued for another thirty minutes. Whenever Nancy pushed her legs up, it hurt, especially along her scars. Victoria just gritted her teeth and waited for it to end.

It’s the only way I can walk again. A little pain now is worth it.

Nancy spent the last ten minutes working with her arm, but that was pretty much as good as it was going to get. At this point, Victoria figured she was just making sure that it got regular use, so they didn’t lose their progress.

Finally, Nancy stood up, saying, “That’s it for today. You did really well. A lot of other patients would be complaining and even swearing at me. I’m impressed.”

“I know you’re just helping me. If we didn’t do this now, I’d regret it later. I need to walk again. I’ll put up with any twisting and turning you put me through, if it will help.”

Nancy nodded, replying, “Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

Victoria watched her leave; then grabbed her phone.

[Victoria: Hey, Max, I hope work’s going well. I just had therapy. My legs are sore, but I’m happy about it.]

A few minutes later, Max replied.

[Max: That’s great! It’s a little slow today. I’ve sold some film and one camera. Now I’m just dusting the shelves.]

[Victoria: Oh. I never really thought about that, but I guess you are your own cleaning lady.]

[Max: Yep! I don’t mind dusting. The restroom’s another story. Still, it has to be done. I’m glad you’re feeling better.]

[Victoria: Thanks! They said they can shave my legs tomorrow! I can’t wait!]

[Max: I should take a picture of them before they are shaved! I bet it would go over great online!]

[Victoria: No way, bitch! I’d seriously beat you down if you did that. I can’t even look at them. I can just imagine what the internet weebs would say.]

[Max: Lol! I’d never do that to you. Though you should send it to Courtney and Taylor. Can you imagine what they’d say?]

[Victoria: Now that is an idea. Tell them it’s a fun pic, and then show them that. I think Courtney would have a stroke. Taylor would just laugh.]

[Max: Lol at Courtney. She’d flip out. She’d probably fly up to give you a fashion intervention.]

[Victoria: True! Damn, now I actually want to do it. I won’t, though! They’d probably drag that picture back up every year just to tease me about it.]

[Max: Yeah. Heck, you won’t even let me see them. :( ]

[Victoria: That’s for your own protection! I don’t want you to have to burn your eyes out.]

[Max: Haha! I doubt it’s that bad. Oh, customer. Gotta go. Loved chatting with you! Be safe! :kisses:]

[Victoria: :kisses: right back at you! Make lots of money! Sell them some ancient-ass film camera that only you know how to develop!]

[Max: Always! Bye.]

Victoria set her phone down. A nurse came in, carrying a large package.

“Thanks! You can set it over by the window.”

The nurse carried it over, and carefully set it down.

Max’s gift is here! I hope she loves it! Her birthday is next week already! I can’t believe I actually get to give her a gift this year. I lost so much time since Blackwell. Still, she deserves this and so much more. I’m so lucky.

 

Chapter Text

 

Victoria looked over at the box the nurse just dropped off.

I really should have thought ahead. I need someone to come and open it and wrap it. I wish I still had an assistant. At least Shanna is doing well at the Chase Space, though.

She called the nurse’s station. Once the nurse answered, Victoria said, “Do you have anyone who can open up a box of birthday gifts and wrap them for me? Or can you check locally if someone would do that?”

The nurse replied, “I think we have someone who can do that for you. I’ll get a hold of them. It might be tomorrow until they can come. Is that okay?”

“Yes, that will be perfect. Thank you.”

Victoria hung up. Then she hopped online. There were two emails she saw immediately.

Well, I guess we’ll see what Father has to say.

[From: David Chase

To: Victoria Chase

Cc: John Stambaugh, Esq.

Subject: Re: Press Release?

If you think that’s what you really want to do, I guess I can’t say no. I strongly recommend you leave yourself an out in case you change your mind, later. You don’t people saying that you made this up later.

Sincerely,

David Chase]

He took that better than I thought he would. He’s right, though. Who knows how I’ll feel once I actually get out of this damn room?

She then opened up the email from the lawyer.

[From: John Stambaugh, Esq.

To: Victoria Chase, David Chase

Subject: Re: Press Release?

If you have both decided that this is necessary, we can do it. Victoria, please forward me a copy of what you want to say. I’ll double-check it, and then let you know of any changes. How would you want to release this? Anyone in particular?]

Okay, guess I’m doing this. I think I have a really fun way to do the release myself. It might also help out my favorite site.

Victoria took a few hours, writing multiple drafts, before she was satisfied. She sent it to John, and then waited. About an hour later, he replied that it looked fine. He did suggest one edit; that she included. She let them both know what she planned. Her father said it wasn’t very professional, but it would be effective. John asked if it would actually work. She assured him that it would.

She logged into the photography forum. Taking a deep breath, she started a new thread, and copied her announcement into it. She hit Post and waited.

She saw several replies popping up, but then it stopped. Frowning, she backed out and renewed the page. Her thread was gone.

What the fuck? What’s going on?

Then she saw that there was a notification for her. Opening it, she saw that the admin had sent an email to her private address, and included a link to the thread she had just posted, but which was currently on hold.

Victoria quickly opened her email up. She saw the email and opened it.

[From: Photography Forum Admin

To: Victoria Chase

Subject: Suspicious Activity

Ms. Chase:

A new thread was just posted from your account (Link HERE). I wanted to confirm that this is actually from you, and not some troll trying to cause problems. Please let me know ASAP. If it is from you, I’m sorry to hear about your situation, and I truly hope you get better and can start photography again.

Regards,

Jessie, Photography Forum Admin]

Well, at least she cares. Considering everything that’s happened, I can’t blame her for being cautious. Her server is about to get slammed.

Victoria replied immediately

[From: Victoria Chase

To: Photography Forum Admin

Subject: Re: Suspicious Activity

Jessie,

It was indeed posted by me. Please reinstate the thread. Thank you for your concern. I expect you’ll be getting a lot of traffic over this. I hope you get lots of new users!

Sincerely,

Victoria Chase]

She waited a few minutes, and renewed the page. Her thread was now pinned to the top of the site.

Wow, I guess this is really big news. It’s already gotten 24 replies.

She clicked the link.

[I’m retiring.

Victoria Chase, September 16, 2020

I am officially announcing my retirement from photography effective immediately. While I realize that posting this on a photography forum isn’t standard practice for a press release, I’ve been using this site for years. I feel closer to all of you than to any news outlet. I wanted you to know first.

I would like to take this time to thank all of my fans and co-workers. Without you, I would never have gotten the chances that I did.

Unfortunately, due to the severity of my injuries from the automobile accident, I am currently unable to work to the standards I expect from myself. While I could work on some projects, my physical abilities are limited and I can’t see myself doing the type of photography that I really like.

That being said, if medical or photographic technology improves enough, I might be able to restart my career at a later date, but to be honest, I think that is at least a decade away, if it’s ever possible.

Again, I offer my thanks to all of you, and I wish you all well.

Sincerely,

Victoria Chase]

She started reading the comments. The very first one was from the admin, Jessie.

[It’s real.

AdminJessie, September 16, 2020

I just wanted to confirm to all of you that this is real, and that Victoria is actually retiring. I personally wish her the best. I expect all of you to be civil. Trolls will be banned. This is your warning.

Jessie.]

Well, that will hopefully contain the idiots. I’m glad she put in that confirmation, so that half the thread isn’t people asking if it’s real.

The next few posts were all supportive, which made her feel really good. Then there was a deleted post, with a note that the user was banned. This mix of positive and negative posting continued for a while.

Victoria finally stopped reading and exited the site. After only thirty minutes, the thread already had almost 300 replies, with at least one from a journalist.

Victoria shot an email to her father and John Stambaugh, so that they could see the show.

Then she emailed the link to Max, Taylor, Courtney, and Kate. It didn’t take long for them to respond.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria’s phone buzzed. She picked it up, and saw a text from Courtney.

[Courtney: Hey everyone! We need a group chat now!]

Victoria shook her head.

Of course, Courtney is the first to freak out. It’s not like I haven’t warned everyone that I was considering this, though. Guess I’ll hop online.

She clicked over to the chat site.

Courtney and Max are already here. Damn.

Taking a deep breath, she clicked join.

Courtney immediately said, “Hi, Victoria! Is it really true?”

Max was silent.

Victoria nodded yes, and then saw Kate join in.

“Hi, Kate. Maybe I should wait for everyone?”

Kate said, “Hello. I think it’s wise to wait for Taylor.”

Courtney shrugged, replying, “I guess. Did you know, Max?”

Max said, “I suspected, but I was hoping Victoria would change her mind.”

Of course Max suspected. She knows that I can’t use a camera well, and what that means.

Taylor popped in, saying, “Hey, girls. Victoria, I’m really sorry that you have to do this.”

Well, the gang’s all here.

“Thanks, everyone. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything to you earlier, Max.”

Max nodded, “It’s okay. I know it was a really tough decision. After last night, I had a feeling you were considering retirement.”

“Really?”

Courtney interrupted, “Last night? What happened?”

Kate and Taylor didn’t say anything, but it was obvious that they were really curious.

Wow, just a hint of gossip and they’re all ears.

“Max, do you want to tell them, or should I?”

Max grinned, replying, “You can tell them.”

“Well, Max visited me last night. She had on this amazing turquoise dress. She was so gorgeous. I’ll have to send all of you the photos.”

Max’s face got really red.

“She brought this delicious tortellini soup and cheesecake. We ate it, and I couldn’t even finish. The soup was just perfect, and the cheesecake was so rich! Then we started watching anime…”

Taylor said, “Okay, Victoria! We get it! What happened?”

Victoria started laughing, and Max joined in a second later. After a few seconds, Victoria finally answered, “I asked her if I could move in with her once I get out of the hospital. She said yes!”

Courtney said, “Holy shit! Really?”

Kate asked, “Max?”

Taylor smiled, saying, “Good. You two are actually getting serious.”

Max said, “It’s okay, Kate. We haven’t really gotten into any particulars yet.”

“I mean, for now, it’s just until I heal up better. I don’t want to just run off to Seattle and disappear, now that Max and I are dating.”

Max nodded, “Yeah. I didn’t tell you before, Victoria, but I have a small ranch house. There’s only one floor, so you won’t have to worry about going up or down any stairs.”

“Oh, that’s good to know. I never thought about it.”

Taylor rolled her eyes, “Of course you didn’t. This sounds like it will work out well for you two, though.”

Kate asked, “Are you going to be using the same bedroom?”

Courtney quickly added, “I hope you have a decent-sized bed, Max!”

Max blushed, and then replied, “Well, I actually have a small guest room that I thought Victoria could use. I wouldn’t feel right making her sleep with me, just as she’s getting better.”

“Eh? Oh, I guess that makes sense.”

Of course, you fucking idiot. Max doesn’t want to actually sleep with you! What the fuck were you thinking? Hell, just look at yourself!

 Courtney asked, “Really, Max?”

Taylor nodded, adding, “I think you and Victoria had very different ideas about what this meant.”

Kate looked down at her lap. Victoria wasn’t sure, but she thought Kate whispered, “Shit, I messed up.”

She didn’t push the point.

After all, it’s not like Max wants me the way I want her. I really thought she did, though!

Max said, “I mean, I like you a lot, Victoria! Don’t take it the wrong way! I just thought you might want more privacy.”

“Well, that’s nice of you to worry about me that way.”

Taylor said, “Stop that! Max, Victoria’s just being a bitch. Believe me, she wants to spend the night with you. Now she’s just mad because she assumed you’d already planned to get freaky with her the very first night she arrived.”

Did you really have to say that?

Max snorted, and asked, “Really, Victoria? I mean, if you want me that bad, I’d be happy to have you stay in my bedroom!”

Courtney and Taylor laughed. Kate looked up, her face a little red.

“Okay, okay. I’d love that, Max. Sorry I got all upset. I really need to work on that.”

Taylor said, “Yeah, you do!”

Courtney nodded, adding, “I hope Max is ready for you. You’re like this all of the time!”

I am not!

Kate laughed, and said, “Max, you must have a lot of patience. You’re going to need it.”

“Hey! Not you, too!”

All of her friends started laughing.

After a few seconds, they started calming down.

“Well, this has been a huge sidetrack. I just thought we’d be talking about my retirement.”

Everyone got pretty quiet.

“You all know what my arm is like. My legs are just as bad. I can’t use a camera while I’m moving around. Yes, I could use mounts and timers, but there’s no way I’m going to catch most of the shots that really stand out. I’d only be good for portrait work, and I honestly hate that. Sure, I met lots of gorgeous models, but everything is planned out to the last T. I’m good at that, I admit, but it’s really damn boring.”

Courtney giggled, “Ever so humble.”

Kate laughed, while Max and Taylor got huge grins on their faces.

“Anyway, while I could do portrait work, the type of people involved in it would not treat me fairly, and many of them would straight up be rude to me, because of my injuries. I can tell you right now a number of companies would refuse to hire me, just because of the scars I now have. If I’m also limping and can’t even take simple shots without a tripod, I’m pretty much unemployable.”

Max said, “Hey, that’s bullshit! They can’t refuse to hire you because you have physical problems!”

Courtney said, “Max, they wouldn’t tell her that’s why. They’d just hire someone else. They might interview her, but in the end, they’d always find someone more ‘qualified’ to do the job.”

Taylor added, “Even worse, they might hire her, just so that they can tell the news how progressive they are that they use disabled photographers. They wouldn’t even give a shit if her photos were any good. They’d be taking pictures of her while she’s photographing the model. Hell, she’d be the actual story, not the model.”

Kate said, “That’s evil! They wouldn’t actually do that, would they?”

“Kate, that’s exactly how they think. It’s depressing as fuck. I honestly won’t miss that work at all. I will miss going out and doing nature shots. I would love to go back to the Alps again. It’s probably not going to be possible, now. In the end, I thought it would be better to just retire.”

Max said, “That really sucks. I’m sorry you’ve had to work with people like that for so long, Victoria.”

“It’s part of the biz. I got used to it. Another benefit about me putting this out now is that I won’t be all that interesting in a month or so when I leave here. I can’t see the paparazzi chasing me around if I’m no longer famous.”

Taylor said, “I think you’re underestimating how desperate those people are. There are still going to be a few of them waiting at your release.”

“Maybe, but it won’t be a total zoo, like it would be if everyone thought I was going right back to work.”

Kate said, “I can see your point, and I hope you’re right. It’s too bad people like that are allowed to harass us.”

“Oh, that’s right. Have they been bothering you, Kate? I hope not.”

Kate shrugged, “Not too much. I was more upset by my mother than any of the reporters that called. I guess I’m used to it.”

Max said, “That’s terrible, Kate. Please call me if you ever need someone to talk to about it.”

Max! You’re mine! Don’t be flirting with Kate!

Courtney said, “This really stinks. If they’d just leave you both alone, everything would be so much better!”

Taylor said, “That’s not how they work. They make money by making other people miserable.”

Max said, “It’s stupid! I guess there’s nothing we can really do about it, though. In any case, I have to go. My shop’s still open, after all. I can’t make it tonight, Victoria. One of the local photographers just dropped off a load of film about an hour ago. It’s going to take me a long time to finish it up.”

“That’s okay, Max. I’d just like to tell all of you that I’m really happy you’re here for me. Thanks so much for this.”

Taylor nodded, “Any time, Victoria. Be safe. See you all later.”

Kate added, “Yes. I hope everything works out well for both of you. Good evening, everyone.”

Courtney said, “I hope you two have lots of crazy sex when you get out! Bye, everyone!”

Everyone busted up laughing, and Victoria and Max’s faces both got pretty red.

Victoria exited the site.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, after breakfast, the nurses came back in. The lead nurse held up a razor, and said, “Guess what?”

“Yes! You’ve just made my day! Thank you!”

The girl laughed. Then both nurses washed her legs. It didn’t hurt much. Then they got out a couple cans of shaving cream.

The nurse said, “We will have to move your legs around to do this, and we’ll try to be careful. It may hurt.”

Victoria nodded, “That’s alright. Just don’t twist me into a pretzel.”

The nurses laughed, and then went to work. The shaving cream was nice and cool. Victoria felt a few sharp jabs of pain as they moved her legs around, but other than a couple quick breaths, she didn’t say anything. The razors felt cold.

I know they know what they’re doing, but I really, really hope they don’t cut me. I can’t believe someone else is running a razor along my thighs. This is scary! They’re even edging around my bush. I can’t look!

After about twenty minutes, the nurses started washing her legs off. They cleaned up a few spots they’d missed, and then stepped back. The nurse said, “All done! You look much better now!”

Victoria leaned up and looked. Though her legs were still extremely thin, at least they were hairless again.

The nurse held up a bottle and said, “We’ll use witch hazel as an aftershave. It doesn’t burn.”

“Thanks! It looks a lot better.”

The nurses rubbed the witch hazel into her legs; then cleaned up their gear. The smiled and waved as they left.

I really need to start walking. My legs look like twigs. I just know it’s going to hurt like hell, though. I wonder how it’s going to work?

An hour later, Nancy came in. She was pushing a wheelchair. She said, “I’m going to massage your legs again. We’re also going to take a short trip to the rehab room. You’ll be taking a few steps today!”

Already? Yes! I know it’s going to hurt, but I need to do this!

Nancy spent about fifteen minutes moving her legs around and rubbing the muscles. It hurt like hell. Victoria did her best to hide it, but she could tell that Nancy saw through her act.

Then Nancy buzzed in some more nurses. As they gathered around her, one of them held the wheelchair. Nancy and another nurse turned Victoria and carefully slid her into the chair. Then they lowered her legs onto the footrests.

The entire process was very painful, and Victoria felt some tears going down her face. She rubbed them away.

It hurts! Fuck. I wish I didn’t really need to do this. How the hell am I actually going to stand when just putting me into the chair almost made me pass out?

Nancy started pushing her chair towards the door. Another nurse opened it. As Victoria was wheeled out, she saw an older black man in a uniform sitting a few feet away. He looked like he might have been a boxer when he was young. He had a book in his hand. He looked up at her, smiled, and nodded.

Victoria smiled back at him, and said, “Hi! I guess you’ve been stuck out here for the last few weeks. I’m really sorry about that.”

He shrugged, replying, “I don’t mind. I’m getting caught up on all of my reading!”

Victoria laughed, and the others joined in.

“Seriously, thank you. I really appreciate it.”

He smiled again, and nodded, “I’m happy to hear that. I just wish I’d been here the first time. That guy would never have gotten by me.”

“I bet. Thanks!”

With that, Nancy started wheeling her away. They came to a door that said, “PHYSICAL THERAPY” on it. As they entered, Victoria saw lots of horizontal bars, ropes, and other equipment that looked like it belonged in a gymnastics training room instead of a hospital.

Several other patients were working with nurses at some of the equipment. Nancy wheeled her over to where two parallel bars were set about waist height, and lined her chair up at one end.

The bars aren’t very long, especially compared to most of the others. I guess that’s all I can expect, though.

Nancy squatted down beside her and looked her in the face. She said, “We’re going to raise you up. Grab the bars and hold yourself up as best you can. Mary and I will be on each side of you. We won’t let you fall. It’s going to hurt, but you need to try and walk to the other end of the rails. It’s only maybe five steps. I know you can do it.”

Victoria nodded.

I’m not ready for this. I need to do it, though!

Nancy and Mary put their arms under Victoria’s and carefully raised her up. The other nurse pulled the wheelchair back. They moved forward, and shifted so that Victoria left hand was holding onto the bar.

Nancy stood on her right side, and was still holding her up. Her right arm wouldn't actually stretch far enough to reach the bar.

Damn it! I was hoping I could use that arm better than this!

Sweat broke out on her forehead. Her left arm started trembling.

Holy hell, I know I’m not very heavy, but it feels like I’m holding up a ton of bricks.

The nurses on her left loosened her hold, and more weight went onto Victoria’s arm. The last nurse got behind her and set her legs straight beneath her.

As soon as Victoria felt the weight on her legs, her nerves started burning. She grunted, closing her eyes.

Nancy said, “Take a step, Victoria, even if it’s just a small one. You can do it.”

Her legs wouldn’t cooperate. She focused on them.

It hurts so much! How can this be so painful?

She stared at her right leg really hard, and tried to walk the way she always had. Her leg might have shifted a few inches.

Fuck! Oh damn, that hurt! It barely even moved! What the hell?

Nancy said, “That’s a good try. Now try your left leg.”

Victoria huffed. She felt sweat dripping into her eyes.

Why is this so hard?

She stared hard at her left leg, willing it to move. She rolled her hip into it, and the leg swept forward almost a foot.

White light flashed in Victoria’s vision.

Oh fuck!

She felt herself falling forward, before several sets of hands grabbed her. She was then pulled backwards and lowered into her chair.

Victoria was breathing heavily. Her legs were on fire. Sweat dripped into her eyes, and down onto her chest.

I can’t even take a full step without passing out. I can’t believe this. How is it possible that I’m so damn weak? This is so embarrassing.

Nancy lowered herself down and said, “It’s okay, Victoria. You actually moved your legs! I know it hurts right now, but in a few weeks, you’ll be walking the longer bars a lot easier. You did really well!”

Bullshit.

“Can we go back to my room?”

Nancy stood back up, nodding. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but Victoria closed her eyes and leaned her head forward.

I don’t want to talk to anyone right now. Just stop.

The nurses wheeled her back to her room. The guard smiled and nodded, and Victoria smiled back at him. Of course, she was also crying, so it didn’t have the effect she wanted.

Once in the room, the nurses carefully put her back into her bed. It hurt a lot. Victoria didn’t say anything. She just gritted her teeth and forced herself to not scream.

Once they left, she rolled on to her side and cried.

 

Chapter Text

An hour later, she had recovered and eaten lunch. A nurse she’d never seen before came in, pushing a cart with different wrapping papers sticking out. She said, “Hi! I’m Tina. I was told you needed some presents wrapped.”

Victoria nodded, replying, “Yes. They’re in the box by the window. My girlfriend’s birthday is this coming week, and I wanted them ready for her.”

Tina nodded, saying, “I can do that for you!”

She walked over and moved the box over to the counter. She grabbed a knife and opened it up. Then she asked, “Have you looked at this yet?”

“No. There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

“Nope! I thought you might want to see them in person before I wrapped them, though.”

“That’s a great idea. Thank you.”

Tina took the time to show everything to Victoria before she wrapped it. She asked, “I guess your girl likes guitars?”

“Yeah. She plays acoustic. I haven’t heard her play in a while. I really hope she likes this stuff.”

The last time I heard her play was Blackwell. I wasn’t even sure if she still had a guitar. I hope Kate was right.

“I’m sure she will. She’s lucky you put this much thought into her gifts.”

“Thanks.”

Tina let her pick out a wrapping paper. Victoria selected a fancy blue and white paper which had “Happy Birthday!” written on it. After a few minutes, Tina had already wrapped several items. She gave some labels to Victoria to fill out while she was working.

Victoria took her time, filling out each one. She made them look as neat as she could.

It’s not as nice as my old handwriting, but it’s definitely better than it was a couple weeks ago.

She looked up, and saw that her gifts were already wrapped.

“Is there an empty cabinet or something where you could hide them? If Max sees them, I know she’s going to try and peek.”

Tina laughed, and found a cabinet by the wall that was mostly empty. She put the gifts inside it.

“You’re a really fast wrapper, and it looked really nice.”

“Thanks! I spend most of my time in the children’s ward. I throw little parties for them and give them gifts on the holidays and for their birthdays.”

“Oh, that’s really nice.”

“I’m just trying to cheer them up. They’re my little angels.”

“That’s wonderful. I know they probably love seeing you.”

Tina shrugged, “I try. Thanks for the compliment, though. Have a great day!”

“You, too.”

Tina left, pushing her cart ahead of her.

Victoria hopped online and checked the photography forum. The thread about her retirement was now at 4,329 posts.

Holy shit. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. I think I just won the record for biggest thread ever on this site.

She spent a little time reading it. A lot of people were posting support for her.

Considering that whole mess with katesvid.com, I half expected everyone to say they hated me. Of course, there are a fair number of bans early on. I guess everyone figured out they can’t just be really mean without losing their account. I’m really glad I disabled personal messages when I created this account. I can just imagine what some of them would be.

After a few minutes of this, she switched over to her favorite music site and turned on her Japanese music channel. She laid back, listening to the music and almost falling asleep.

I really could use some actual speakers for this laptop. Still, I could listen to SHISHAMO, Girlfriend, Ueda Marie, and Polkadot Stingray all day, every day! Hell, I don’t even know what they’re saying, but it’s so much better than the radio.

An hour later, a nurse brought in dinner, which consisted of lemonade, ham, russet potatoes, and steamed broccoli. Victoria spiced it up a little and enjoyed the meal, still listening to the music. The nurse came back a little later and took her tray.

An hour later, Max showed up, bag in tow.

“Hi, Max!”

“Hi, Victoria. I picked us up some beef lo mein.”

“Sounds good. I do have to ask that you bring less food. I really like it, but I’m already eating dinner here before you arrive.”

Max looked down for a second, then back up and smiled, “I can do that. I just thought it was a fun thing for us to do, and I like eating with you.”

“Oh, don’t stop completely. Just bring me small portions. I like eating with you, too!”

“Alright. I guess you did mention it before. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be sorry! Heck, set us up. I’ll get Black Lagoon ready to go.”

Max got their trays ready. She also gave Victoria a can of iced tea. They watched several episodes, talking and eating as the show played. They got into a small argument when Revy and Shenhua were working together. Both were convinced their favorite girl would win when/if they finally squared off against each other.

This went on for several hours, before Victoria closed the site. She yawned, saying, “Sorry, I’m a bit tired.”

Max nodded, saying, “That’s okay. I had a lot of fun!”

Victoria nodded, replying, “Me, too. I’ve never really had someone to do this with. I like it a lot.”

Max nodded, saying, “Yeah, it makes watching the shows better. Umm, I know this is bad timing, but did they start rehab for your legs yet?”

Victoria grimaced, and she replied, “We did today. It didn’t go very well. It really hurt. I’m hoping that will go away. It was really hard to even take two steps.”

“I’m sorry. I wish I could do something to make you better.”

“Thanks, Max. It would be nice, but life happens. I’ll get through this. I just have to work at it.”

“Alright. You sound a lot more determined than you did before.”

“Well, I want to get better so we can go back to your house and sleep in the same bed.”

Max stuttered for a second, saying, “H-H-Hey!... Okay, that would be nice.”

Max’s face was really red. Victoria was pretty sure hers was, too.

Max stood up, leaned over, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. She said, “It’s been great hanging out with you tonight, Victoria. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You, too. Good night, Max.”

Max headed out of the room. As the door was closing, she stuck her head back in quickly and said, “Revy would so kick Shenhua’s ass!”. Then she shut the door and was gone.

Really? That’s how you leave?

In her best imitation Shenhua voice, Victoria said, “You bitch.” to the door.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria had eaten breakfast and was just staring out the window, when the door opened and she saw Nancy come in.

Fuck. I guess it’s time. I feel bad. She’s really nice and is trying to help me, but half of the stuff she does just hurts so damn bad. I actually dread seeing her now, and she doesn’t deserve it.

Nancy smiled and said, “Good morning, Victoria.”

“Hi, Nancy.”

“I’m going to start the same as before. I’ll massage your legs and then we’ll go to the rehab room.”

“Okay.”

Nancy nodded, and started her work. Despite how careful she was, several times her actions caused Victoria to involuntarily hiss. After she finished, the other nurses came in with the wheelchair. Victoria was already sweating, just trying to hide the pain.

The nurses got her into the wheelchair. Her right leg bumped the handrail as they moved her, and Victoria saw stars. After a few seconds, she realized she was already sitting in the chair. The one nurse said, “I’m sorry about that. I lost my grip for a second.”

Victoria just nodded and tried to smile.

If you can’t even lift my skinny legs, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this for a living.

They wheeled her out of her room. The guard nodded to her as she went by. She smiled and waved at him. Soon, they were entering the rehab room. Several other patients were working with nurses in the room.

They wheeled her back over to the bars.

The right one is a little higher now.

Victoria looked up at Nancy, who nodded and said, “I adjusted them before I came to your room. I probably should have done that yesterday. This way, you can use your right arm to help support yourself.”

“Sounds good.”

“Are you ready?”

Victoria nodded. She felt the nurses lifting her up and she grabbed the bars.

I can hold the right bar this time!

The nurses carefully released their hold, with one pushing her legs forward, until they were directly under her.

She immediately lurched towards her right. Her arm caught her weight, but it wasn’t strong enough. She was falling when three sets of hands grabbed her and held her up.

Ouch! Fuck, my legs hurt. At least my arm doesn’t hurt. It just gave way beneath the weight.

She was breathing hard, and sweat was already dripping into her eyes.

I should not be in this bad of shape! What the hell?

The nurses carefully raised her back up, with Nancy supporting her on her right side again.

“Sorry about that. My arm just kind of folded up.”

Nancy said, “It’s okay. I think I’m going to have you do some new arm exercises, to build up your strength. First, try taking some steps. Don’t swing your hips. Baby steps are okay.”

“Thanks. I learned that lesson yesterday.”

She looked down, staring at her right leg, and willed it to move. After a few seconds, she managed to shuffle it forward a few inches. The nerves all along that leg and her hips started screaming at her.

Ignoring that, she tried moving her left leg, carefully this time. After a second, she managed to step forward another few inches. This leg didn’t hurt as bad as her right one, but it was still pretty bad.

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, regaining focus. Both of her legs felt like they were on fire, but she was standing.

I can take this! I don’t care how much it hurts, at least I’m walking!

Looking back down, she took a deep breath and then took another step with her right foot.

Fuck! It hurts!

She realized that she was breathing fast, and shallow.

Nancy said, “You’re doing great, Victoria. Take your time. We’re right here to catch you.”

Saying nothing, Victoria focused and took another step with her left foot. It moved several inches.

I’m starting to think the floor is actually lava. Fuck, this hurts.

She moved her right arm forward, trying to support herself.

I must look like a freaking clown show to everyone else in here. Fuck them.

She took another step with her right foot.

Everything went black.

The next thing she knew, she was in her wheelchair halfway back to her room.

“What happened?”

Nancy replied from behind her, “You passed out. It’s alright. You went a lot further today.”

“I’m not supposed to be passing out every time, am I?”

“No. Maybe I need to ask the doctor to increase your pain meds a little, until you are doing better.”

“I’ll pass. I do not want to get addicted to painkillers.”

“You’re under observation here, but I understand.”

Victoria smiled at the guard, who waved at her, as she went back into her room.

I want to tell that nurse not to bump my leg again, but I’ll be nice.

The nurses lifted her back into her bed, with no real problems. It still hurt a lot.

Two of them left, while Nancy fixed up her sheets. Nancy then said, “I’m going to have some exercise rings brought in. You need to use them to do pull-ups. You need to build up your arm strength.”

“Okay. I definitely need it. Thanks.”

Nancy nodded, and then left.

Victoria had just finished lunch when one of the nurses pushed in the exercise set-up. They put it around her bed, around shoulder height. It was just a bar in the air, with rollers to make it easy to move. The nurse locked them in place. It reminded Victoria of a clothes rack. Two rings hung down from the bar. The nurse adjusted their lengths, having Victoria grab them so they’d be at the right height. Then the nurse helped Victoria do a few pull-ups, making sure she was doing them correctly and safely.

The nurse left. Victoria tried doing more pull-ups every so often. Usually, she could only do one or two. Her right arm barely held any weight, which wasn’t helping.

At least my arm sort of works. It could be worse.

Max showed up that evening. Walking in, she saw the bar and said, “Woah. I guess you’re really working hard.”

“Yeah. I have to build up my arm strength so that I can do the walking exercises.”

“Did that go any better, today?”

“A little. It’s going to be a long time until I’m doing my morning jogs again, though.”

Max smiled, and then set up their trays. She gave Victoria a couple eggs rolls and an iced tea. She was eating orange chicken and rice.

“Chinese two days in a row?”

“Yeah, I’m just in the mood for it.”

“Sounds good to me.”

They watched several more episodes of Black Lagoon.

“I really don’t like Roberta. I thought I would.”

Max shrugged, “I’m kind of the same way. She feels more like a terminator than some pissed-off maid.”

“Exactly. I love that this show is over the top, but she’s too much.”

They talked about the show for another ten minutes.

Max got up to leave.

“Hey, before you go, you beetch, I shove my knife up you assho if you think you going to run out of here saying Revy is better.”

Max started laughing, and even snorted a little.

“Holy hell, Victoria. You sound just like her!”

“I pure-blood Taiwaneeese, you beetch.”

Max lost it, and just laughed for several minutes. Victoria joined in after a few seconds.

Finally, Max stood back up, wiping her eyes.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”

She bent over and gave Victoria a quick kiss, then went home.

 

Chapter Text

The next few days were more of the same. Victoria kept working her legs with the help of the nurses. It still hurt a lot, but she was doing better. She also did pull-ups every hour or so, even if it was only a few. Her arms were getting a little stronger, which helped a lot with her using the bars to walk.

She lay in bed, having finished lunch and her therapy for the day.

It’s Saturday already. Only two more days until Max’s birthday. I hope this works out. Where’s the damn mail at?

She looked at the door for the tenth time this hour. Then she looked down at her legs.

I actually made it the full five feet today! The nurses helped a lot, but I made it, damn it! My legs didn’t hurt quite as bad, either. Still, I really hope all this soreness goes away soon. Just bumping one of my feet hurts like crazy. Maybe I should get more pain-killers? I don’t know. It’s probably a bad idea. I can just see myself getting hooked again, like I was at Blackwell. I can’t do that to myself.

Her door opened, with a nurse carrying an average-sized box.

Yes! It’s here!

“Hi! Could you bring that over here and open it for me, please?”

The nurse brought it over, then went to the drawers and found a knife. She opened the box, and pulled out its contents.

Shenhua! Yes, you’re mine! Max is going to be so jealous!

The nurse raised her eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.

Fuck you if you think this is just a toy. Don’t even think of saying anything.

Victoria had the nurse put everything else away and take the box from the room.

She carefully opened up her figurine’s box and pulled it out. She spent some time looking it over.

They did a fantastic job painting it. Her skin looks real. She’s so pretty. I love her knives and her cheongsam. I should have bought one and worn it to the Chase Space for events. They are such gorgeous dresses.

She set it next to Kino and Hermes.

Damn, I’m getting a little collection going here. I should buy another Agent Blueberry figurine. Mine is still back at home. Maybe I could get Cathy to mail it to me? Nah, I’m going to be out of here in a month. I can wait.

An hour later, the hairdresser came in. Victoria got her hair trimmed up, her eyebrows thinned out, and her nails done.

I look a lot better! I can’t wait for Max to see me. Too bad she’s in Seattle today and tomorrow. She’s visiting her parents. Monday she’s mine, though!

Thinking about it, she grabbed her phone.

[Victoria: Hi, Max! How’s your visit going?]

A few minutes later, Max replied.

[Max: We’re having fun! Today we just went to the pier and ate at Elliot’s Oyster House. It’s soooo good.]

[Victoria: Oh yeah. I’ve eaten there a few times. Loved it.]

[Max: How are you doing?]

[Victoria: Good! I walked the whole five feet today! It hurt, but I made it!]

[Max: Wow! That’s great! Keep working hard! I’m really happy you’re walking!]

[Victoria: Me, too. I’ll let you go. Have fun! I miss you!]

[Max: I miss you, too! I’ll see you Monday afternoon!]

[Victoria: You’d better!  ;) ]

[Max: Bye!]

Victoria set her phone back on its tray. She grabbed Madara and hugged him to her chest.

I can’t wait for Max to get here! I hope her parents are giving her a great birthday.

She was lying there thinking about Max when she finally fell asleep.

The next morning, she did her therapy and walked the full five feet again. After that, she got the nurses to shave her legs. Once they left, she looked them over.

My legs are a little better-looking now. Still, I need a lot more work before they’re not twigs. At least they’re not bright red anymore. It didn’t even hurt when they shaved, so maybe it’s going to be a lot better from now on. I really hope so.

She did a few pull-ups.

That’s getting a little easier, too. I can do four now. My right arm is still really weak, but it’s getting better. My left arm is even getting a little toned. I just have to keep working and things will work out.

Later that night, she hopped on chat with Taylor and Courtney.

After saying hello to each other, Victoria said, “I walked the whole five feet today.”

Taylor said, “Good job!”

Courtney said, “That’s great! I’m so happy for you!”

Victoria nodded, saying, “Thanks. It really sucks, but I need to do it. I’m hoping my legs stop hurting so much really soon.”

Taylor asked, “They didn’t drop your leg again, did they?”

“No, but just moving around is really scary sometimes. I bumped the pole that holds up the bars this morning with my right foot and that hurt a lot.”

Courtney said, “I’m really sorry to hear that. At least you’re walking, though!”

Taylor added, “Yeah. I hope that doesn’t happen to you anymore. Just keep working and you’ll be fine.”

“Thanks. I keep telling myself that over and over. I’m actually kind of believing it now. Anyway, how are you two doing?”

Taylor said, “I’m busy chasing Adam everywhere. I love him, but he doesn’t slow down. It’s really hard to keep going late in the day.”

“Ouch.”

Courtney said, “You love it, though!”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah. Mike’s out on the road again. He was home the last two weeks, and it was really nice. He helps a lot with Adam.”

Courtney added, “Don’t forget all that sexy time you get in the evenings!”

They all laughed.

Taylor shook her head, saying, “Yeah, that is nice. We’re being really careful, though. We decided that we don’t want any more kids. One is enough.”

“Oh. Have you talked to your doctor about it?”

Taylor shrugged, “I might get my tubes tied. I don’t really mind. Mike isn’t sure that’s a good idea, though. He’s such a worrywart.”

Courtney said, “He cares about you! I’m glad he’s worried.”

Victoria nodded in agreement, then asked, “How about you, Courtney? Anything major going on?”

Courtney smiled, “My store is doing a lot better now, thanks to you guys and Kate! I cut back to only three days a week at Saks! I had to, so that I can fill orders. I love it!”

“Oh, wow! That’s great!”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah! I’m glad it’s working out for you! It’s about time!”

“Yeah, Courtney, you deserve this!”

Courtney beamed at them, replying, “Thanks! It’s a lot of work, but I’m having fun. I almost want to close my site for new orders just so that I can catch up. I’m getting a backlog, and I can only make clothes so fast.”

“Maybe you should charge more? That way you can afford to quit Saks altogether.”

Courtney said, “I’m not sure about that. Maybe if this keeps going. I don’t want to get too involved in this and then people stop buying my stuff.”

Taylor said, “Your clothes are all really nice, and high quality. I think you’ll get a lot of repeat customers. At least consider price hikes, even if you don’t do them now.”

Courtney nodded, “Okay, I’ll look it over. Maybe I will.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re being careful, though. I’m really happy for you.”

Courtney smiled, saying, “Thanks, you two. I’m not sure I’d have even had the nerve to do this if I didn’t have you as friends.”

They chatted for another hour about random stuff before Taylor had to go to sleep. Victoria shut down the chat program.

Things are going well for both my girls. I wish I could do more for them.

She watched a few episodes of My Blueberry Knight again.

I know this show by heart, but it’s fun to watch when I just want to relax.

She finally fell asleep, worrying about the next day, when Max was going to show up and she’d have her own little party.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria ate breakfast and completed her physical therapy. Once again, she made it the whole five feet, though it was not easy. She had a small lunch and then waited.

Max is going to be here around three. I have a caterer coming at two. I’m so nervous. I really hope she likes her gifts.

Her phone buzzed. Picking it up, she saw a text from Max.

[Max: Just got home. Going to get cleaned up and I’ll be there. It might be a little after 3. Sorry.]

[Victoria: That’s okay! I’m just glad you got home safe. Bring your appetite, and no food! I have stuff ready!]

[Max: Cool! Thanks! See you in a bit!]

Victoria set her phone back down. It was getting close to 2:00 now. As if on cue, the door opened and a couple women came in pushing a cart laden with covered dishes.

Victoria sat up and waved at them.

“Hi! I hope you didn’t have any trouble getting here.”

The older woman nodded, saying, “It wasn’t bad at all. Getting through the hospital itself was tougher than the drive.”

“I can believe that. Did you already drop off the food for the nurses and the guard?”

“Yeah. They were really happy to see us! It was very nice of you to order for all of them.”

“They deserve it. Thanks.”

“How many nurses were there?”

“Six. We actually brought a couple extra meals, so they’ve got some spare food. I’ve made more than a few trips to this hospital for my mother, and wanted to make sure there was enough for everyone.”

“Wow! Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

That’s just earned you a very nice tip.

The caterers set up Max’s tray, as well as a few extra, upon which they placed the dishes. The woman pointed to the biggest one.

She said, “That’s your cake, so you might want to leave it covered until you’re done with the regular meal.”

“Good idea. Thanks again.”

Victoria pointed to the corner cabinet.

“There are some presents in that cabinet. Could you get them out and set them on the counter there?”

The woman smiled and nodded. It took her a few minutes to get everything ready. Victoria looked at the clock. It was almost three.

“Max should be here soon. Thanks for doing all of this. Could you come back around maybe five?”

The two women nodded and smiled, then left the room.

Victoria looked around again, making sure everything looked right.

I guess it’s too late to fix anything now. I’m really nervous.

About five minutes after three, Max came in. She was wearing a white top, blue skirt, black belt, and black pumps. She stopped after taking a couple steps into the room, her eyes widening. She was carrying a tin in her left hand.

She looks great!

“Happy birthday, Max!”

Max smiled, replying, “Thanks!”

“Come on over! We have food to eat!”

Max walked over slowly, still looking around.

Ha! She definitely wants to peek at those presents!

Max stopped, and said, “Damn, Victoria, you went crazy for this.”

Oh. I did too much. Fuck.

“I just wanted to make sure you had an amazing birthday, Max.”

“I have. I just didn’t expect all of this. Thank you. Oh. Did you get your hair done?”

“Yeah. It needed it anyway. Let’s eat.”

She noticed! I hope I look good enough for her.

Max said, "It looks really nice. I like it!"

"Thanks. You look really good, yourself. You're so pretty when you dress up."

"Only when I dress up?"

"Okay, you always look pretty, but now you look extra pretty!"

Max laughed, then nodded and sat down. She put the tin she was carrying to the side.

I wonder what’s in that tin? I told her not to bring any food.

Max tilted her head for a second, looking at the table beside Victoria, and then said, “Shenhua, huh? It’s a really nice model.”

“Thanks. I love it.”

Hah! I knew you’d see her! Jealous, Max?

Smiling, Max took the lid off of her plate while Victoria took the lid off of hers.

Max said, “Wow. This looks great.”

“I ordered prime rib, roasted green beans, potatoes, and baguettes. I hope that’s okay.”

Please tell me I didn’t order something you don’t like.

Max looked at her, “It’s more than okay! This looks fantastic. How much did it cost?”

Of course, she’s worried about that.

“I can easily afford it. Hell, you’ve brought dinner a dozen times. This is nothing compared to what you’ve spent for me.”

Max looked down, saying, “I guess you’re right. Sorry about that. Thanks.”

They started eating.

The food is fantastic! I don’t even need a knife to cut this beef. I miss eating like this!

They sat there eating, and Max told her about her trip to her parents. She’d had a lot of fun, and told Victoria she actually missed being at home with them.

“I’m surprised, considering you live down here now.”

Max shrugged, “I love them in small doses. I know that if I was up there for a few months, I would start getting annoyed. Still, they have been great to me. They helped me out a lot over the last few years. Without them, I’m not sure I’d still be around.”

Wait, what does that mean?

“Hey, don’t be like that. I’m really, really happy you’re here. I guess I’ll have to thank them myself.”

Max laughed, “Sorry. It’s just after I went back home from Blackwell, I was in a really bad place. They supported me completely and found me an amazing therapist. I ended up closer to them than I ever was when I was younger.”

Fucking Blackwell ruined everything for Max. Damn you, Nathan.

They finished up the main entrées, and Max cleaned up their trays, putting everything in the cart the caterers had left near the bathroom.

“I’d say turn down the lights so we can light the candles, but they won’t let me have any fires in here.”

Max laughed, and Victoria joined in. After a few seconds, she took the lid off of the cake. It was a fairly small chocolate cake, and had a plastic 25 on top.

Max said, “My favorite!”

“Good! Now make a wish.”

Max closed her eyes for a second, smiled, and then picked up the knife sitting by the cake. She cut them each a large slice.

Okay, that might be too much. What the hell, it’s her birthday.

Max sat back down and they ate their cake.

It’s really moist and so chocolatey! The icing is also really good. Damn.

After a few more minutes of eating, Victoria sat back.

“I’m stuffed. How about you?”

Max nodded, “Me, too. Everything was really good. Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome. By the way, what’s in that tin?”

Victoria pointed at the tin Max had brought with her.

Max smiled, “I brought some cookies my mom made. I think you’ll like them.”

“Homemade cookies? I bet they’re really good.”

“Yep. I have a tin for myself back home. My mom just wanted to give you some, too.”

“Tell her I said thanks.”

“I will. Let me clean this up.”

Max again cleaned up their plates. She put the remaining half of the cake into a fancy cardboard box the caterers had left on the tray.

“If you want, you can open your presents.”

Max grinned, and walked over to the small pile of gifts.

She opened a large, flat package first. Inside she found a large, wire-bound book.

“It’s sheet music for a bunch of songs that I think you like. I got a guy to make it for you.”

Max whistled as she flipped through the pages. She looked up at Victoria and said, “This is great! Thanks a lot! I didn’t know you knew I still played guitar.”

“I asked Kate for ideas.”

“Well, she was right. Thank you.”

“Hurry up and open your other gifts!”

Max laughed, and then picked up a square box. She opened it, revealing a plastic jar filled with guitar picks.

“I hope that’s okay.”

Max nodded, “Yeah, this is really nice. I think I’m set for picks for the rest of my life. Thanks!”

She then picked up a small box. Opening it, she found ten packs of guitar strings.

She said, “Hey, I can always use these. Thanks again!”

I kind of think those two gifts are lame. I hope she isn’t just being nice.

She then picked up the last box, which was rectangular and wrapped differently from the others. She shook it a little, looking at Victoria. Victoria waited, not revealing anything. Max finally laughed and opened it.

It was a figurine of Revy, with her standing above a broken chair and holding a pistol.

Max’s eyes got big. She said, “Woah! I did not expect this! Thanks! I really like it!”

“You’re welcome! You need to stop ogling her daisy dukes like that, though.”

Max laughed, setting it with her other gifts.

She said, “Maybe I should get a pair and wear them for you?”

“Uhh. I mean, if you want to.”

Victoria started daydreaming for a few seconds before Max said, “Earth to Victoria. Are you there, Victoria?”

Victoria’s face got really red, but then Max walked over, leaned down, and kissed her.

Max said, “Thank you, Victoria. I think I can safely say this is the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

Max stayed there for a few seconds, and they traded short, sweet kisses. Then Max straightened back up. She said, “Let’s watch some more anime!”

“That’s a great idea. I think the caterer is going to be back really soon, so let’s just wait for them.”

“Okay. That’s probably a good idea.”

They sat there for ten minutes, just talking about Max’s store, Victoria’s rehab, and Max’s trip to Seattle. The caterers finally came back and collected their stuff. They also took the trash with them. Both girls wished Max a happy birthday before they left.

Victoria took a minute to hop online. She sent a really nice payment to the caterers, with a note that their food and service were both perfect.

Max played around with her Revy figurine until Victoria set up her laptop. Victoria grabbed her Shenhua figure and they ended up watching four more episodes of Black Lagoon.

After Victoria closed her laptop, Max sat down beside her and leaned over. They kissed for several minutes, running their fingers through each others’ hair and along their sides and backs. Victoria felt really hot, and her chest and face both flushed.

Oh wow, this is amazing! I just want to do this for hours!

Just as she was willing to risk doing something really blatant, Max stood back up. Max was also pretty flushed, and breathing heavy. She said, “I really, really like you Victoria. I’m not sure what to say, but this was a fantastic birthday. Thank you.”

“I like you just as much! Stay! Screw the nurses, we can just tell the guard not to let them in.”

Max laughed, “I don’t think that would work, even if it’s really tempting. I better go. Good night, Victoria, and thanks again.”

Max collected her gifts and cake, and left. After a few minutes, Victoria grabbed the tin and opened it. She sat there munching on cookies for a while before finally going to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Nancy was stretching out Victoria’s legs again. It didn’t hurt too much, even when she bent them.

This is so much better, even if it hurts once in a while. At least my skin feels normal. I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes when it doesn’t feel like I’m getting jabbed with a curling iron just because someone touched me.

Victoria could actually pay attention to what was going on, instead of just closing her eyes and waiting for it to end. She pulled herself up a little by her exercise handles and watched.

Damn, my right leg doesn’t bend as far as my left. I know I was taking longer steps with my left leg, but this looks worse than I thought.

“Hey, Nancy, is my right leg not working as good as my left?”

Nancy paused, looking at her for a second. She nodded, saying, “Yes, it doesn’t bend as far. I thought you had already realized that.”

“Well, I’ve had my eyes closed every other time you’ve done this. I guess I wasn’t really thinking about it.”

Nancy nodded again, “That’s fair. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I think it might be similar to your right arm. You might end up with a permanent limp.”

“Fuck. Damn it!  …Sorry. I’ve been so focused on just walking that I hadn’t picked up on that. I knew my left steps were longer, but I was concentrating so hard on just taking a step, that it didn’t sink in.”

“It’s okay. You’re already making a lot of progress. I think in another few days, we’ll leave a wheelchair in here for you. If you continue as you have been, you should be able to get into it yourself. Don’t hesitate to call a nurse if you need help, though! I don’t want to hear that you’ve fallen onto the floor.”

“Oh, that will be great! I’d love to get out of this room, even if it’s just to wander the hallways.”

Nancy shrugged, “You might have to limit that, or at least make sure your guard is with you.”

“True. Then again, I do want to move around. I’ve gotten way too used to this room.”

Nancy nodded, “We do have some interior garden spaces you can visit. I think being out with the flowers and trees would help you a lot.”

“Yeah, that does sound really good.”

“Maybe you could ask your girlfriend to push you out to them? I bet that would be nice for both of you.”

I’d love that! Heck, I think Max already talked about it once. I have to let her know!

Victoria smiled, saying, “That’s a great idea. Thanks.”

Nancy nodded, saying, “I’m glad I could help. I think it’s time to go to the rehab room.”

Victoria nodded.

Damn, I hate that room. I need to do this, but actually standing on my legs still hurts like crazy.

The other nurses came in with the wheelchair, and carefully moved Victoria into it.

Okay, that’s definitely getting easier.

The nurses took her to the room, where she got set up using the parallel bars again. She was really paying attention, and she saw that her right leg was slightly tilted in, and even when she tried to stand up straight, it didn’t quite extend the whole way.

Damn it! I don’t want to be like this! Why did I have to get hit by that fucking truck driver? Where the hell was he going in such a damn hurry? Asshole probably doesn’t even give a shit that I’m here. Fuck him!

She carefully marched her way forwards, staring at her legs instead of the wall before her.

My leg is fucked. Look at those scars. It’s still so thin. I can’t give up!

Looking up, she stared ahead and finished the walk. She was breathing heavily, and her arms burned. Her feet, knees, and hips felt like they were on fire. She sat in the chair after the nurses helped her get into it for almost a minute, and then looked at Nancy.

“Can you take me back to the start? I want to try to go another round.”

Nancy smiled, saying, “Sure thing. Just be careful. Don’t overdo it.”

The nurses wheeled her back around and helped her stand again. Sweat dripped into her eyes and her palms had a hard time getting a grip on the bars. Gritting her teeth, she started forward again.

She made it another five steps before the nurses grabbed her and helped her back onto her chair.

Nancy said, “You did a great job! I love seeing you doing this. Just keep it up and you’ll be checking out of here in no time.”

Victoria smiled back at her, saying, “That’s the plan. I need to get better. This is the only way it’s going to happen.”

Nancy nodded, and the nurses took her back to her room. Victoria waved at the guard as she went by.

He’s got a new book. I really hope he isn’t too bored.

He looked at her and said, “Thanks for the dinner last night, Miss! I really enjoyed it. So did the nurses!”

“You’re welcome! You deserve it!”

He waved as she was pushed into her room.

The nurses got her back into her bed with no issues. The two helpers then said, “We’d like to thank you, too. It was a really nice gesture.”

“You’re welcome.”

Seeing Nancy looking at everyone, Victoria said, “I got the nurses dinner last night. I guess you weren’t here. Sorry about that. I’ll make sure you get something today.”

She shook her head, “That’s not necessary, but thanks. It is really nice of you to offer. I’m on a special diet, so I can’t eat certain foods.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, but thanks again.”

With that, the nurses all left, taking the chair with them.

Soon, it will be staying in here with me! I can’t wait!

A few hours later, Max called.

“Hi, Max! What’s up?”

“Hi, Victoria. I’m doing okay.”

She doesn’t sound okay.

“Are you sure about that? You can tell me if anything is wrong.”

Max paused a few seconds, and then sighed and said, “I’m just really tired. I have a bad headache and got a nosebleed. I finally got it to stop. I’m really sorry, but I don’t think I can make it tonight.”

“Oh. That doesn’t sound good. Maybe you should come up here and I can get a doctor to check you out. I’m sure one of them will be available.”

“It’s okay. I get these every once in a while. I’ve had it checked before. It’s nothing really serious, so don’t get too worried.”

“Too late, Max. I’m really worried. Random nosebleeds are not normal, especially with a headache. Did they check you for any kind of brain damage?”

Max snorted.

“Okay, that didn’t sound right, but I’m serious. That could be a tumor or something.”

“It’s not. They gave me a scan for that a few years ago. There weren’t any signs of damage. I’m surprised you know that, though.”

“I credit it to watching ER when I was a kid.”

“So Dr. Chase it is, then. Good to know!”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny, Max. Still, please be careful and if it gets bad, please call 911 right away. I can’t let you die on me, after I’m doing all of this to get better.”

“I will. Thanks for worrying, Victoria. I think I’m going to go to bed. I wish I could be there with you. Good night.”

“Good night, Max.”

Victoria waited a few seconds until Max hung up the phone. She set her phone on the tray and lay back, staring at the ceiling.

I really, really hope she was telling me the truth. If she’s really sick, she wouldn’t hide it, would she?

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria ate her bacon and eggs breakfast, and then went online. She started searching for headaches and nosebleeds.

Hmm. It could just be allergies, or it might be a tumor, leukemia, or a bad heart. What the fuck? How the hell can it be so many things, and half of them aren’t any big deal? Maybe I am just getting too worried about this. Max did say she had it checked out before, but she didn’t say it was something like allergies. I don’t know. I guess I’ll let it be for now. I don’t want to piss her off by questioning her again.

A little while later, Nancy and her helpers came in, and Victoria went through her physical therapy routine again. She almost finished the second walk this time.

After they got back to the room, Victoria asked, “Does this hospital have a pool, or something like it that I could use to work my legs?”

Nancy shook her head no, saying, “I’m sorry, but we don’t. There is a clinic just south of Portland that has a full set-up for that kind of therapy, though. Would you be interested in it?”

“Maybe. Would I stay there overnights?”

“I’d definitely recommend it. You’re not really ready to go back to a normal house, yet. It might work out better for you. It would also be cheaper and would free this room up for other patients.”

Of course they’re worried about that. I guess it makes sense, though.

“Do you think they do good work there? I mean, would you personally recommend it?”

Nancy nodded yes immediately, saying, “They’re very good. I think it would do you some good.”

Then she grinned and said, “Their food is also a lot better than here.”

“Okay, can you get me their information? I’d like to check it out.”

Nancy nodded, saying, “I’ll be right back.”

Victoria only waited a few minutes until Nancy returned with some pamphlets. Victoria thanked her, and she left.

Victoria read through the material.

Hmm, it definitely looks nicer than here. It’s smaller and has lots of trees around. I wonder how their security is?

Victoria grabbed her phone, and dialed John Stambaugh. His secretary answered, “Stambaugh & Sharp, Attorneys at Law. How can I help you?”.

“Hello, this is Victoria Chase. Could I speak with John, please?”

“One moment, Ms. Chase.”

It pays to be really rich sometimes.

A few seconds later John answered, “Hello, Ms. Chase. How can I help you?”

“Hi, John. I’m thinking about moving to a rehab center south of Portland. I was hoping you could look into it for me.”

“I can have one of my people do that for you today.”

“Great! It’s called Rock Creek Rehab. It has swimming facilities, which I think will help a lot with my recovery. My physical therapist said they’re very good. I’d be staying there. I was hoping you could check into its security and if everything looks good, let me know and set up a transfer.”

“I can do that, Ms. Chase. I’m glad you’re already considering the security. If we do this, I’ll arrange things with the hospital so that the press won’t know you’ve left.”

“That’s a great idea.”

Victoria took a minute to give John the information on the center.

“Please let me know what you find out, and thanks.”

“Will do. You’re welcome, Ms. Chase.”

“Bye.”

Victoria hung up after he said goodbye.

I hope this place is legit. I’d love to get out of here. I’ll also be a lot closer to Max, so she won’t be spending so much time driving here. Damn, she must be so tired. She runs her shop and then comes all the way up here to visit me. If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to tell her to cut back to one or two times a week. I should have thought of this already. Why don’t I ever think of what I put other people through until it’s too damn late?

After lunch, Victoria called Kate.

“Hi, Kate. It’s Victoria.”

“Hello, Victoria. Is everything okay?”

“For me, yeah. I’m getting better every day.”

“That’s great! I hope everything works out well for you.”

“Thanks. Okay, I guess I’ll get to why I’m calling. Has Max ever talked to you about getting headaches and nosebleeds before?”

“Why? Did that happen to her?”

“Yes. Last night. She said she had it checked out a few years ago, but I’m really worried about her.”

Kate paused, and then answered, “She had this happen before. I won’t say any more than that, though. If you want to know more, you really need to talk to her about it. I’m sorry, but I can’t really say anything else about this.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, Kate. I guess it was pretty shitty of me to ask.”

“It’s alright. You’re worried. Just talk to her the next time you see her. I’m sure she’ll tell you more then.”

“Thanks, Kate. Sorry about that. Anyway, how’s your book doing?”

“Oh, it’s doing well. I am already working on a third draft. My publisher really likes it.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

“Yeah, the art is already done. Now I’m just changing how things are worded. I’ll make sure you get a copy. I think you’ll like it.”

“Thanks, Kate! I’d love that.”

They talked for another ten minutes about the books and a new hat that Kate bought from Courtney. Kate sent her a picture of her wearing it. It was a wool hat that kind of looked like a floppy baseball hat.

She looks really good! That hat really works for her.

Kate said, “I put a couple pictures of me wearing it up on my website, with links to Courtney’s site. She called me and said she’s getting hammered. I guess I need to stop advertising for her for a little bit.”

Victoria laughed, “Thanks! You’re really helping her out a lot. I’m sure she’s really happy about you’re helping like this.”

“Thanks! Well, I have to go. Have a good afternoon, and thanks for calling, Victoria. I’m praying for you!”

“Thanks, Kate. Bye.”

Victoria hung up the phone, and set it on her tray.

I really shouldn’t have tried to go behind Max’s back like that. I hope Kate doesn’t tell her. Fuck, I hope Max is okay.

 

Chapter Text

A few hours after talking with Kate, Victoria’s phone buzzed. She picked it up, seeing that it was from John’s office.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Victoria. This is Mike Agnello at Stambaugh and Sharp.”

“Hi. I’m guessing you’ve already checked out the rehab center?”

“Yes. Rock Creek Rehab is actually a good choice for you. They’ve had several high profile patients in the past, and maintain on-site security. It also has large accommodations for those who can afford it. I’m pretty sure you’ll like the place. I took the liberty of asking them if they have any spaces available, and they said you can move in Friday, if you want to.”

“That sounds great. Could you set it up for me? Also, could you notify my parents and the hospital?”

“Yes. I’d be happy to do that.”

“Thank you. Also, we need to set up a way for me to leave here without too much commotion.”

“I already have a plan for that. I’ll make sure everything is ready.”

“Oh, thank you. Have a good evening.”

“You, as well.”

Victoria hung up. A few minutes later, a nurse brought her dinner, which consisted of roast chicken, peas, and sprouts.

Victoria thanked her and ate her meal.

It’s actually really good tonight. I didn’t need to add anything. Maybe they have a new chef? Of course, that would happen right before I leave.

An hour later, she was reading the photography forum when Max entered. Max was wearing old jeans, a t-shirt with some hot dog cartoon on it, and sneakers. She wasn’t carrying any food, for once.

She looks tired, and maybe even a little upset?

 “Hi, Max. How are you feeling?”

Max smiled, saying, “I’m better tonight. Thanks. It’s nice that you are so worried about me.”

“Of course I am! I hate to say it, but you still look really tired. Are you sure you should be driving up here?”

Max nodded, saying, “Yes. I wanted to see you. I feel bad for not showing up last night.”

“It’s okay. Are you sure I can’t call a doctor for you? I’ll pay the bill.”

Max shook her head no. “Thanks, but I should be fine now. How about you?”

If you say so. You don’t look it.

“I’m doing alright. I’m going to leave the hospital on Friday. I’m moving to a rehab center in Rock Creek. It should be a lot closer to you.”

“That’s good. I guess that means you’re doing better?”

Victoria nodded, saying, “Yeah, I’m definitely walking further every day. This new center has swimming pools, though, so I should be able to do a lot more therapy, and it should be a lot lower impact.”

“Good! I’m happy for you.”

Max sat down, smiling. She picked up the Kino figurine and looked at it, slowly turning it around in her hands.

“Do you want one?”

Max looked up, a little surprised, saying, “No. I just felt like holding it. I guess I’m spacing out a little. I just don’t know how to start.”

Start what? Is she mad at me? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?

Max said, “Heck, I guess… I mean… Umm, I’m not sure how to say this, but when you leave on Friday, please just go out the main door like a normal patient. I think trying to hide your release might be a bad idea.”

“Oh? How’d you know I was going to do that?”

Max shrugged, “It’s just a hunch. I just think that if you try to sneak out, it would look bad, especially if you were spotted by paparazzi.”

She might be right, but I’m really surprised she thought about it at all.

“My people are already setting up a way for me to exit. They’re very good at their jobs.”

Max looked right at her. It was a little unnerving.

She said, “I just have a bad feeling about it. If you leave out the front, you’ll get pictures taken, but it won’t seem like it’s such a big deal.”

“Excuse me? I’ll be in a wheelchair, with all of these damn scars for them to see. I’m not sure how that would help my situation.”

Really, Max? I want to get better without being on the front page of all the fucking gossip rags. If they see me like I am now, they’ll have a field day.

Max looked down, and said, “I just think that if you try to go out a different way, someone might be waiting. It could be a lot worse.”

“Are you sure you’re not over-thinking things? I’ll have guards and a nurse with me. They might even stop anyone from getting near me at all.”

Max sighed, “Please, just promise me you’ll go out the front door. I really think you should.”

Why is she so damn worried about this? I guess it would look pretty crazy if someone took pictures of me being sneaked out of the building, though. That really might look worse than just going out the front. Hell, if I go out the front, I can just tell those bastards to fuck off. It’s not like these scars are going to go away. Maybe it would be better to just let them see me out in the light of day.

“I guess I could go out the front. Why are you so worked up over this, though?”

Max closed her eyes, and then said, “You know that creeper who broke into your room? Ray Johnson?”

“Was that his name?”

“Yeah. I found out they already let him out of prison. I’m just worried he might try something. He’s crazy.”

“Wait! He’s out of prison already? How the fuck did that happen?”

Max shrugged, saying, “I have no idea, but if he already broke into your room once, who knows what else he might do?”

“Holy fuck. Why the fuck wasn’t I told about this? Does the damn hospital even know? Does my father?”

Max shrugged, looking upset.

Victoria jabbed the nurse call button. A few seconds later, a nurse came in.

“Hello. I just wanted to let you know that the man who broke into my room a few months ago is apparently out of prison. Please let the guards and other nurses know as soon as you can.”

The nurse’s eyes widened for a second; then she nodded and quickly exited the room.

“Max, I’m sorry, but can I make a phone call?”

Max nodded, looking a little relieved.

Victoria dialed John Stambaugh’s number. It went to a beeper, so she hung up and waited. A minute later, her phone rang.

“Hello, John?”

“Yes, Ms. Chase? Is something wrong?”

It sounds like he’s at a restaurant.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I just found out that the man who broke into my room is apparently out of prison already.”

“Oh. I’ll inform everyone. Thank you for letting me know.”

“What was his name, Max?”

“Ray Johnson.”

Victoria repeated the name to John, and then added, “Please make sure everyone knows what he looks like. It might not be anything, but I’m worried. I already told the hospital staff.”

“Thank you, Ms. Chase. I’ll take care of everything.”

“Thank you, John. I’m sorry for bothering you this late.”

“No worries, it’s my job. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Victoria hung up, and looked at Max.

“I think you might be right. He won’t try anything if I’m right out in the open. How did you find out he was loose, anyway?”

Max shrugged, looking away, “I just kept tabs on him. Ever since Blackwell, I keep track of anyone like that in case something happens.”

She’s not saying something. Damn it. Well, at least she warned me. I hope Blackwell didn’t fuck up her head too much. She doesn’t deserve that.

“Max, I really appreciate you warning me. Thanks.”

Victoria reached over and held Max’s hand.

Max smiled at her.

She looks exhausted. Maybe she’s a lot sicker than I thought.

Victoria hit the nurse’s buzzer again.

Max looked at her, surprised.

When the nurse entered again, Victoria asked, “Could you bring a cot for Max? I really don’t think she should drive home tonight. She doesn’t look well.”

The nurse paused, looked at Max, and then nodded.

Max shook her head, saying, “That’s really not necessary.”

“Yes, it is. I am not going to let you try to drive home and get in an accident. It’s bad enough that I got in one, I don’t want you to get hurt, or hurt someone else, because you fell asleep on the road.”

Max sighed again, looking down. “Okay, you’re right. Thanks, Victoria.”

They started talking about anime, killing time until the nurse came back with a helper and a portable bed. Max and Victoria thanked them, and they left.

Max climbed into the bed and fell asleep within minutes. Victoria lay in her bed, watching Max sleep for almost half an hour before she fell asleep herself.

 

Chapter Text

A few hours later, Victoria woke up.

Why the fuck am I awake at one in the morning?

Then she heard Max, tossing around in her bed. A low moan came from Max’s bed.

Umm, she’s not doing what I think she is, is she? I’m right here in the room. Oh hell, what do I do?

Then she heard Max say, “You killed Chloe and Rachel!”

Wait! What? Is she having a nightmare?

Max groaned. After a few seconds, she said, “You’re a psychopath!”

She’s dreaming about Nathan. Fuck. She hates him so much. I was his best friend. How can she even stand looking at me?

Victoria sat up, and yelled, “Max! Max! Wake up!”

Max stilled, then Victoria could hear her breathing heavy. After a few seconds, Max mumbled, “Victoria? Where am I?”

“You’re sleeping in my hospital room. I think you were having a nightmare.”

A few more seconds passed, and Max replied, “I guess I was. I don’t really remember, though. Did I wake you?”

“Yes. It was kind of scary. I just yelled so that you would wake up. I’m sorry about that.”

I’m sorry you have to dream about Nathan. I wonder how many times you’ve dreamed about him tormenting you?

The door opened, and a nurse walked in, turning on the light.

Victoria quickly put her hand up to protect her eyes.

The nurse asked, “Are you two alright? I heard someone yelling.”

“I’m sorry. Max was having a nightmare. I yelled to wake her up.”

“Oh, okay. Do either of you need anything?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Max said, “No. Sorry for bothering you.”

The nurse looked around for a second, before nodding and turning off the light before she left.

“Well, Max, I think she’s the same nurse that saw you lying in bed with me a few weeks ago. I bet she’s telling the others we’re up to something.”

Max giggled, saying, “I can only imagine. Here I am, getting frisky with you only a few days before you leave. She’s probably telling them you were yelling for another reason.”

I wish.

Victoria laughed, “Probably. She’s just jealous if she does, though.”

Max yawned, “I think I’m going back to sleep. Thanks for waking me up, Victoria.”

“Sweet dreams, Max.”

Within five minutes, Max was asleep again. Victoria sat there, looking at her.

It’s because of me and Nathan that she can’t even sleep anymore. It’s been six years, and she’s still messed up. Damn it! I wish I could go back in time and just slap the shit out of myself, and maybe Nathan too. Fuck. I'm so sorry, Max.

She flopped back onto the bed, just staring up at the ceiling. She spent an hour just thinking about all of the crap she had pulled on people back then before finally falling asleep.

Victoria woke up with the sun shining in the window. Max was sitting in a chair beside her. The portable bed was gone.

Max smiled, saying, “Good morning, sleepyhead.”

Victoria blinked, and then wiped her eyes with her good hand.

“Morning.”

She sat up slowly, using one of the hand rings to pull on. She saw that Max had two cups sitting in front of her.

“Coffee?”

Max nodded, “Yep. I thought you might want some.”

“You’re an angel.”

Victoria took one cup and sipped it. It was still pretty hot, and it tasted good. Max drank from the other cup.

“How are you feeling?”

Max replied, “Much better, now. I really did need the sleep. Thanks for making me stay.”

“You’re welcome. Please promise me you won’t try driving to see me or anyone else when you’re that tired ever again. I really can’t imagine what I’d do if you got into an accident.”

Max looked down, then back up and smiled, “You’re right. I won’t. I just really needed to talk to you yesterday, so I drove here anyway.”

“That’s really cool, but was it that necessary to risk getting into an accident?”

Max nodded.

Victoria sighed, and said, “Don’t worry. I’m definitely going out the front door. I really don’t know why you’re so worked up over it, but you convinced me.”

“Good. Well, I do have to go. I have to get cleaned up and open my store.”

“Really? Well, I guess that’s okay. Be safe.”

“I’ll stop in tomorrow and see you when you leave.”

“That would be nice.”

“Bye, Victoria.”

Max leaned in and kissed her gently on the lips.

Oh, I love that! Can’t she stay?

Victoria started to put her hand up into Max’s hair, but Max quickly stepped back, saying, “Sorry, not today! I really do have to be going. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Ahhhh. Stay! …Well, I’ll see you then. Goodbye!”

They waved to each other as Max left. Victoria sat back, closing her eyes. She could still feel Max’s lips on her own.

I could really get used to doing that every single morning. Does she even remember that nightmare? She seems fine now.

 

Chapter Text

After Victoria finished breakfast, she checked the local news. She didn’t find anything on Ray Johnson being released from prison.

I guess they don’t think he’s important enough to write about. I mean, he probably isn’t compared to some of the other things going on right now. Still, I wish the police would have informed me.

Her door opened, and Nancy came in.

“Hi, Nancy.”

“Good morning, Victoria.”

“I’m not sure if anyone has told you yet, but I’m moving to that rehab center tomorrow.”

Nancy smiled, “I hadn’t heard about that. Thanks for letting me know. I think you’ll like it.”

“I hope so. The hospital was told I was moving out, but I guess they haven’t informed the nurses yet.”

Nancy nodded, “If there’s one thing that never changes here, it’s the amazing communication skills from management.”

They both laughed at that.

“Well, I guess this is our last session. I’ll miss working with you.”

Nancy nodded, “I’ll miss you, too. You’re really doing well. I think the rehab center is a better choice for you, though. I recommend you use their swimming pool as much as you can.”

“I will.”

Nancy spent about twenty minutes stretching Victoria’s legs. It still hurt at certain points, but not as bad as a few days ago.

The other nurses then came in, and they went to the rehab room. Victoria was set into position with the nurses help.

I can definitely hold myself up better now. My arms are at least getting stronger.

She started walking forward. Her steps were shuffling, and she had a very noticeable limp every time she used her right foot. Her feet, legs, and hips burned, but she was walking. She finished the five foot run, and then did it again. Sweat covered her body.

That really fucking hurt, but I might be able to go for three today.

She started to ask Nancy about it, but Nancy shook her head no, saying, “You did very well, but I don’t want you to injure yourself on your last day here. Let’s go back to your room.”

“Okay. You’re right. I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough.”

Nancy shook her head no, saying, “You’re doing better than a lot of other patients would, this soon. I’m impressed. You do have to be careful, though. If you try to do too much too soon, you’ll end up hurting yourself. Please remember that once you’re at the rehab center. The swimming pool will feel easy, but you can easily strain yourself if you’re not careful.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. It would be the kind of dumb move I’d pull if someone wasn’t watching me.”

Nancy shook her head, and the nurses started pushing her back to her room.

Victoria smiled and waved at the guard. He nodded and smiled back at her, saying, “Good afternoon, Ms. Chase. You look much better today.”

“I feel better. Thanks.”

He continued, “I guess tomorrow is my last day watching your room. I hope you get well soon.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate that you sat out here so long.”

He nodded, and she was pushed into her room.

I guess he got the word while we were in the rehab room. I feel bad that he got stuck sitting out there for over a month. I’ll have to make sure he gets something extra. Same with Nancy.

The nurses helped her back into her bed, and then left. Nancy put her hand lightly on Victoria’s shoulder, and said, “Victoria, I just wanted to say don’t give up. You’ve come a long way already. I have no doubt you’ll be fine as long as you keep at it.”

“Thanks, Nancy. You’ve been a huge help. I won’t forget you.”

Nancy smiled, and then left the room, after they said goodbye to each other.

Victoria waited a few hours, and then started up a group chat. She waited until Taylor and Courtney both showed up. Kate and Max both sent messages that they were tied up.

Victoria said, “Hey, girlfriends” in the cheesiest, fakest hood accent she could muster, and waved her left hand snapping her fingers as she said it.

Taylor and Courtney immediately laughed for a few seconds.

Victoria waited, and then said, “Hi, you two. I just wanted to let you know I’m moving to a rehab center tomorrow.”

Taylor said, “Oh? I guess you’re doing a lot better!”

Courtney said, “Yeah! That’s great to hear! I’m happy for you!”

“I am. It’s called Rock Creek Rehab. It’s supposed to be very nice, and has swimming pools. It should help me a lot. It’s also a lot closer to Max, so she won’t have to drive as much.”

Courtney said, “That’s great!”

Taylor added, “Yeah. It’s a rough trip from her place to the hospital. That will help her out a lot.”

“I hope so. Heck, I made her stay last night. She drove up here, and she was obviously exhausted. I got scared.”

Taylor said, “That’s not good. I hope you told her not to do that.”

“Oh, I did. I really couldn’t believe she thought she was going to drive home after visiting me, when it was really obvious that she was out of it.”

Courtney said, “She probably didn’t realize how tired she was. It’s easy to do, once you’ve gotten used to no sleep.”

How many nights have you not slept, Courtney?

“Well, I don’t like it. The last thing I want to hear is that she got into an accident.”

Taylor said, “That would be awful.”

Courtney added, “Yeah. Hopefully, you making her stay made her realize what she was doing.”

“I hope so.”

Courtney said, “By the way, did you two do anything while she was sleeping with you?”

“What? Damn it, Courtney. I got the nurses to bring a portable bed for her. She didn’t sleep with me.”

Taylor laughed.

Courtney said, “Too bad. Well, there’s always tomorrow!”

That would be amazing.

“So, how are you two doing?”

Taylor said, “Same as always. Mike is still out. Adam is still wild and crazy. I need a vacation.”

“I wish Mike could be there more often. Still, you’re lucky to have him.”

Courtney added, “Yeah, you hit the jackpot.”

Taylor nodded, “I know. I just miss him.”

 Courtney said, “I’m sure he misses you, too.”

“Yeah. He’s working like crazy because he loves you and Adam.”

Taylor smiled, “Thanks. How about you, Courtney?”

Courtney said, “My store is super busy. Kate showed off some of my clothes again, and I’m having a hard time keeping up. I honestly have too many orders to fill now.”

“Kate did tell me she showed off your hat on her site. She said she wasn’t going to advertise for you for a while, unless you want her to. I think she realizes that you’re getting overwhelmed.”

Courtney replied, “I did kind of say that I was really busy now when I talked to her. I’m glad she’s helped me out, though! Without her, I’d still only be selling a few things every month. I’m seriously considering quitting Saks altogether and just working on clothes.”

Taylor said, “That would be cool, but I think you should wait for at least another month or two.”

Courtney nodded, “That’s the plan. I’m already down to three days per week. I’m using the other four to work non-stop on filling orders.”

“Don’t burn yourself out. Make sure you take a day for yourself.”

Courtney shrugged, “Maybe. Right now, I want to do as much as I can.”

Taylor said, “Courtney, Victoria’s right. If you don’t take time for yourself, you’ll be miserable and your work will suffer. You don’t want to send out clothes that don’t fit right, or have bad sewing or loose strings, just because you were too tired to notice it.”

Courtney paused for a second, “You’re right. That would be a disaster. I’ll make sure I have some free time.”

Taylor said, “Good.”

Victoria cleared her throat, and said, “There’s something else I wanted to tell you about. The guy who broke into my room and took pictures of me is out of prison. Max and I are both worried about him.”

Taylor said, “What? How the fuck is he out of prison?”

Courtney said, “That’s stupid! What the hell is wrong with the police up there?”

“It wasn’t the police who let him out. Still, I only found out because I guess Max was tracking him. She said she always keeps an eye out for people like that, if she meets them.”

Courtney sighed, “Blackwell.”

Taylor nodded, “Yeah. Fucking Nathan.”

“He’s such a fucking bastard. At least he’s not getting out of prison anytime soon. I can’t believe we were best friends.”

Taylor said, “No one knew he was that messed up.”

Courtney said, “Don’t blame yourself about his sick ass.”

“When Max stayed over, she had a nightmare about him.”

Courtney said, “Shit. Really?”

Taylor said, “That’s fucked. I thought she had put that crap behind her now.”

“She seemed okay in the morning. I’m not even sure she remembered having the dream.”

Taylor said, “That’s good, I guess.”

Courtney nodded.

Taylor asked, “What about that stalker, though?”

“I let my people know about him, and I told the hospital. I hope that will be enough to keep him far away.”

Courtney said, “It should. I mean, you do have guards and stuff. Just be careful.”

Taylor added, “Don’t go out alone, until you’re sure it’s safe. The guy might not even be in Oregon anymore, but you never know.”

“I’d love to find out he moved to Maine and I’d never have to see him again. Anyway, I’ll make sure to give you two all of the details once I’m moved in tomorrow. It was great talking with you.”

Taylor smiled, “You, too! Be safe!”

Courtney said, “Ciao! Get better and be careful!”

“Bye, girlfriends. I miss you.”

Victoria shut the program down, and then spent the evening reading the photography forum and watching j-pop videos.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria had finished breakfast when Doctor Russo came into the room.

“Good morning, doctor.”

“Good morning, Victoria. I just wanted to do a check-up on you, since you’re leaving today. I wish you had consulted me before setting up the move, though.”

Victoria shrugged, “At this point, I’m just keeping this room from being used by another patient, who could be in worse shape than me. I thought a regular rehab center makes more sense.”

He nodded, replying, “You’re right, of course, but I’m the one responsible for you while you’re here.”

“Okay. Well, what do you need me to do?”

“I’m just going to check your readings, and how well your arm and legs are doing. I understand that you’ve been making progress, which is great to hear. You’re really working hard.”

“Yeah, I’m definitely doing better than I was a few weeks ago. I wish I could do more, though. That’s the biggest reason I want to move to the center.”

He nodded, while taking notes in his tablet. Then he inspected her arm and legs. He checked their ranges of mobility, as well as when she felt pain.

After ten minutes, he finished up. He said, “I’m sure you’re already aware of this, but you’re going to have limited movement. I think you’ll be able to walk unassisted at some point, but it will be with a limp. You might still need a cane if you’re going to be out extended periods, but hopefully that would be all.”

“Yeah, I figured, but I won’t be stuck in a wheelchair, so I’ve got that going for me.”

Damn. I really, really wish he could just say I’ll be perfectly fine, other than some scars.

He smiled, saying, “I’m glad you see the good in this. A lot of people would not take this news very well. You’ve definitely gotten a better attitude towards this than I feared.”

Victoria shrugged, “I was really upset about it for a while, but I realized that the only chance I have is to just keep working at it. If I let myself get too hung up on what’s wrong, I won’t get better.”

He nodded. He picked up his tablet; then said, “Well, I think you’ll do fine at the rehab center. Just so you know, the nurses are going to bring you some sweats to wear while you move, since you don’t have any clothes here. They’ll help you dress. I understand that you also have some people waiting out by the nurses’ station to help you move. I’ll let the nurses know you’re ready.”

“Thank you, Doctor Russo.”

He nodded and left the room. A few minutes later, two nurses came in pushing a wheelchair.

They spent about fifteen minutes helping Victoria get dressed, and getting her into the chair. Once they left, an overweight Italian man and a long-haired brunette wearing glasses came in, both in suits. They had a suitcase and some boxes with them.

“Hello.”

He looks like he walked off the set of the Sopranos. She’s pretty, but looks like a dominatrix.

The man said, “Hello, Ms. Chase. I’m Mike Agnello from Stambaugh and Sharp. We spoke on the phone a couple days ago. My partner here is Susan Katz. We’re going to help you get your things together and move you to the rehab center. We’ve already completed the check-out papers, although you need to sign them once we get to the nurses’ station.”

“Thanks. I’m mostly ready to go. I have some stuff there on my table. I don’t have any clothes here. That fold-up table also goes with us.”

He nodded, and the two carefully put her things into one of the boxes, which they’d thoughtfully had packing material in already.

This is the easiest move I’ve ever done in my life. I only have a camera, some figurines, my stuffed cat, and that spice rack.

As they were getting ready to leave, Max walked in. She was dressed in a nice blue blouse and jeans. She looked nervous.

Wow! I really didn’t think she’d show up just to help me move. That is really nice of her! Or is she that worried about me?

“Hi, Max. How are you doing?”

Max said, “Okay. I guess it’s time for you to move.”

“Yep. I’m really looking forward to this new center.”

“Good. I just wanted to see if I could help you move.”

“I think everything’s already packed. We do have your tray. I was planning on keeping it in my room at the center for when you visit.”

Max smiled, “That would be great.”

A nurse came in, and walked over behind Victoria to grab the wheelchair handles.

“I guess I can go check out now.”

Mike nodded, and said, “We have the car down in the parking garage. We shouldn’t have any trouble avoiding the few guys I saw outside with cameras.”

Oh, I guess I never told him the plan.

She saw Max starting to say something, but shook her head.

“I actually want to go out the front door. I think it will be better to just let them see me. It’s not like I can hide my condition forever. I’ll be in the rehab center for weeks, and they won’t even know where I’m at.”

Susan frowned, and said, “I’m not sure that’s the best course of action.”

Mike added, “I agree. We’re already set up with the hospital. No one will know you’ve left.”

Victoria shook her head no, “I’m sorry, but I want to do this. In any case, there are a lot more people out front, so I think that would be the safest route.”

Mike said, “We’re aware that Ray Johnson is a potential threat. You shouldn’t allow your fear of him to affect your decisions.”

Max said, “It’s not you he’s after.”

Mike turned to her, eyebrow raised, asking, “I’m sorry, but I’ve dealt with these types of cases before. Our plan is solid.”

Victoria interjected, “I’ve already decided we’re going out the front. If you disagree, I’ll find someone else to escort me to Rock Creek Rehab.”

Don’t you dare treat Max like that!

Mike paused, then turned back to Victoria and said, “Very well. Susan will bring the car around while we go check out.”

Susan nodded and left the room. The nurse started pushing the wheelchair. Max grabbed the box of stuff while Mike carried the suitcase and tray.

Once outside of the room, Victoria saw the hospital guard waiting. He nodded to her, saying, “I’ll help escort you to your vehicle, ma’am. I hope you get well soon.”

“Thank you.”

They all went to the nurses’ station, where Victoria spent fifteen minutes signing various forms.

I’m really, really glad these lawyers filled out most of this stuff. It must have taken them an hour.

The group then went to the front doors. Looking out, Mike said, “Damn, the car’s not out there yet. What is Susan doing?”

Max said, “Maybe we should wait here until it shows up.”

Mike nodded in agreement.

After a few minutes, they heard sirens in the distance. They steadily got louder.

Those don’t sound like ambulance sirens.

The guard’s walkie started squawking. Victoria wasn’t listening to it, until he said, “There’s something happening in the parking garage! I have to go. Stay here! Heck, go over by the nurses’ station and wait!”

He ran off to a stairwell.

What the fuck is going on?

Looking back outside, she saw several police cars drive past, lights on but with their sirens now off.

Mike pulled out his phone, and started dialing.

Holy shit. Is Susan okay?

 

Chapter Text

Mike walked away from the group, talking on his phone.

Is he calling Susan?

Victoria felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw Max looking at her, a sad look on her face. Max said, “You’re safe, Victoria. Let’s just wait here.”

Why do I get the impression that she’s feeling guilty about something?

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere until I know it’s okay. Heck, I can’t even if I want to.”

Max smiled softly, then looked towards the staircase door that the guard had run to. She said, “I think things will work out this time. We just have to be patient.”

“Yeah, though I’m seriously freaked out. I have a really bad feeling that psycho is involved somehow.”

Max nodded, saying, “He is…  Umm, the timing just feels right.”

Why the hell is that guy even worrying about me? Wait. He probably blames me for getting arrested, even though he’s the sick fuck who broke into my room. He probably can’t believe that he’s being held responsible for what he did, so it must be my fault. Damn it! Why did they even let him out of prison?

She saw another police car driving past, but its lights weren’t on. She also saw several cameramen moving up, taking pictures of the car.

Well, there goes any chance of me leaving unnoticed. Maybe whatever’s going on is already over? I hope Susan isn’t hurt.

Mike turned and walked back to them, holding his phone. He’d been talking into it while they waited. He said, “That was Susan. She’s being tended to by a nurse right now. When she went to the car, Ray Johnson was waiting near it. Luckily, she recognized him immediately. He attacked her with a knife when she confronted him. She has some cuts on her arms, but he is now in the custody of the police.”

“Wait, she was stabbed?”

Mike shook his head no, saying, “Not really. She’s a trained bodyguard. She told me she’s going to probably need surgery, but it won’t be serious. Apparently Ray was waiting for us. She managed to take him down and called for help.”

“That’s awful! Is she really okay?”

Max squeezed her shoulder, but didn’t say anything.

Mike nodded, saying, “Yeah. She even joked about it a little, saying she hated knives, because you almost always get cut.”

“Tell her I’ll pay for whatever the insurance doesn’t cover.”

Mike shook his head no, “Don’t worry. I’m sure the hospital isn’t going to charge her for this. She got attacked on their property. You forget that we’re attorneys. They don’t want to piss us off.”

The nurse standing behind Victoria said, “How did that guy even get down there? There are guards.”

Mike said, “Good question. I’m sure the hospital will be looking into it, as will the police. It’s definitely negligence on the hospital’s part, especially considering what happened to Ms. Chase in her room.”

Victoria shuddered, thinking about it. Max said, “It’s alright, Victoria. He won’t be bothering anyone now. There’s no way he’s getting back out of prison anytime soon, after what he just did.”

“What about five years from now, when they let him out again?”

Max didn’t say anything. She just squeezed Victoria’s shoulder again.

I don’t know why, but I love when she does that. I feel calmer already.

Mike said, “I’m going to do what I can to make sure he doesn’t bother you again. At the very least, we’ll keep tabs on when he gets out and make sure there is a no-contact order issued so that he will go right back to jail if he even tries to contact you.”

That’s great. Crazy killers always obey restraining orders.

“Shit. I need to call my father.”

Victoria dialed him. He didn’t answer, as usual. Once the voice mail picked up, she said, “Father, I wanted to tell you that the guy who broke into my room was here at the hospital again. He attacked one of the lawyers who were here to escort me to the rehab center. I’m okay. She’s hurt, though. Please call me back.”

She hung up. She saw that Mike was also on the phone.

He’s probably calling John. I bet they’ll have a nice lawsuit being set up against this hospital within the hour.

Max squatted down, looking her in the eyes. She said, “You’re okay. So is the lawyer. Don’t freak out. Now you just have to worry about getting out of here.”

“Yeah, I know. Heck, is Mike going to have to get the car now?”

She looked over at him, but he was still on the phone, walking away again.

I guess I won’t be leaving for a while, now. Fuck. I don’t want to just be sitting out here for an hour.

Victoria turned a little, trying to see the nurse behind her. She said, “Can you get us a car? I don’t think we’re going to be able to use the one Mike brought.”

The nurse paused a few seconds, and said, “I think we can get you something. Let’s go over by the nurses’ station.”

She turned Victoria around, and started pushing her to the desk. She saw the nurses were all looking out the window, or on their phones.

I guess they want to know what’s going on, too. This girl behind me is going to be super popular as soon as we leave. She has all of the news.

Once there, the nurse said, “Can we get a car for Ms. Chase? It looks like she can’t use the car they planned on using.”

One of the other nurses nodded, and started dialing a number. She said, “We have a van that you can use, with a driver on staff. He’ll get you to the rehab center safely.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

The nurse talked to someone for a few minutes, and then turned to Victoria and said, “He’ll be around front in five minutes. Please go back to the entrance and wait for him. I’m sorry about this.”

“That’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.”

They all went back to the door. Mike walked over.

Victoria said, “The hospital is providing a van for us to use. I don’t think your car is going to be available any time soon.”

He shrugged, saying, “You’re probably right about that. I’ll ride along with you. My company has a few men going to the rehab center to check if it’s safe. I suspect it will be. The center was informed that something happened here.”

“I hope that didn’t scare them away from letting me stay.”

He shook his head no, and said, “They’ve already had a few patients with stalkers, and know how to deal with them. Now they know they have to be a little more careful, at least. I’ve also got someone coming here to check on Susan.”

A few minutes later, the van pulled up.

Max asked, “Are you ready?”

There are probably ten photographers out there right now, all trying to figure out what happened in the garage. If I’m really, really lucky, they won’t even notice me.

Mike opened the door, and led the way towards the van. They were almost to it when Victoria heard someone yell, “Ms. Chase! How are you feeling? Can you walk? Are you okay?”

Flashes started going off.

Holy fuck. This sucks.

A different nurse came outside and walked towards the paparazzi, saying, “Please leave our patients alone. This is private property.”

Max, the driver, and the nurse helped Victoria get into the van. Mike did his best to stand in the way so that they couldn’t get any good pictures. After what seemed like an hour, everyone got in the van. The driver shut the door, and jogged around to the other side. He got in and wasted no time in pulling out of the parking lot, leaving a trail of cameramen following them.

At least they didn’t have time to get into their cars and follow us to the rehab center. I hope this wasn’t a mistake. I’m sure the pictures they just took make me look absolutely awful. They’re going to have a field day printing them.

 

Chapter Text

Max sat next to Victoria in the van, holding her right hand.

Ugg. Why is she holding that twisted thing? Isn’t she grossed out?

Victoria really wanted to yank her hand out of Max’s, but she didn’t.

I’m not going to stop her if she wants to hold my hand. It feels nice.

Mike was sitting in the front passenger seat, on his phone again. He was talking to someone about their van entering the center incognito.

Victoria closed her eyes, trying to calm down.

That crazy fucker was waiting for me. I’m really lucky we didn’t all go to the garage. He might have hurt me before anyone could stop him. I hope Susan kicked his ass.

Max whispered, “You’re okay. That man will never hurt you again. No one even knows where you’re going now.”

Victoria sighed, and said, “You’re right. Thanks Max. I owe you.”

Max smiled, and said, “No, you don’t. I’m just glad you’re not hurt. Now you just need to focus on getting better.”

Victoria’s phone buzzed. She looked at Max, who nodded. She saw that it was her father calling. She clicked the green button.

“Hello, Father.”

“Victoria! Are you okay? I just got your message!”

He actually sounds worried. Wow.

“I’m fine. We’re currently driving to the center. I’ve got Max with me.”

Her father replied, “Oh, that’s good. How is the lawyer who was with you?”

“She got cut a few times. That crazy fu-… man had a knife. Luckily, she’s trained for that and he’s been arrested.”

“Damn. I’m going to call John and tell him to call in any favors he has to make sure that bastard is stuck in prison forever.”

“I don’t think they can do that, but I appreciate you saying it. Thanks.”

Her father said, “Are you really okay? Even if you weren’t hurt, make sure you talk to someone. Don’t try and hide it.”

“I won’t. Thanks, though. Oh yeah, there were paparazzi outside, and they definitely took pictures of me in my wheelchair. I’m sure you’ll hear about it soon.”

Her father paused, and then said, “Fuck them. Damn it. Just be safe, Victoria. That’s what matters now.”

He didn’t freak out about bad press? That’s new.

“I will. I’m sorry about worrying you.”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault. I have to go. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Father.”

Her phone clicked as her he hung up. Victoria put the phone back in her pocket and sighed.

Max leaned against her, and asked, “Are you okay?”

Victoria nodded, “Yeah. I’m just not used to him actually sounding so worried about me. Hell, I’m still freaked out about what happened. How the hell did he know we were leaving?”

Max said, “I honestly don’t know. Maybe he talked with someone who works at the hospital. I’m really surprised that he managed to sneak in again.”

“Yeah. What the hell were the guards even doing? Or is he some kind of ninja?”

Max giggled, and said, “He probably climbed up out of the sewer. That’s how she spotted him. The smell.”

Victoria laughed, “Yeah, I bet he’s got shit all over him.”

Max grinned, and said, “He’s a super-villain. Pooparazzi.”

Victoria laughed again. Max joined her. They calmed down after a bit, and then just sat in the van, leaning against each other and watching the buildings go by.

Eventually, Mike said, “We’re almost there. We’ll be entering the building from the back. I already have two people waiting, along with a couple nurses to help Ms. Chase get out of the van.”

“Thanks, Mike.”

Once they got to the center, they went in through a gate. There was a large lawn around a stylized brick building. The place actually looked pretty up-scale. The van drove around the building on a smaller road, which ended in a tree-lined parking lot. The aforementioned lawyers and nurses were waiting on the sidewalk, near some glass doors.

The van pulled up, and one of the nurses opened the sliding door as Mike and the driver exited. Max hopped out, and then stepped back. The two nurses carefully helped Victoria out, setting her into a wheelchair. Max held the handles for them.

Once they were situated, Max took Victoria’s box of stuff, while one of the lawyers carried her fold-out tray. They entered the center.

It was well-lit, and there were a lot of windows. It took a few minutes for them to reach a desk, where the nurses handed some paperwork to Victoria.

Mike said, “I can fill everything out. Just sign each page, please.”

Paperwork never ends. This is worse than school.

Victoria spent about fifteen minutes signing different forms. Mike was also reviewing them, filling in any additional information required.

Finally, the nurses took them to Victoria’s new room. It was pretty large, and had a big window looking out over the front lawn. The nurses helped her into the bed. One of them said, “We’ll change you once everyone leaves. Oh, and don’t worry about the window. No one can see in.”

That’s nice. I’d hate to give anyone a free show.

Victoria nodded to her. Both nurses checked a few things in the room, making sure everything was okay, before they left. Max helped Victoria set up her figurines and gave her Madara.

Mike set the tray beside her bed. Then he said, “I think everything will work out better for you here. My men were pretty impressed with the center’s staff.”

“That’s good. Thanks, Mike. Tell Susan I hope she gets better fast.”

He nodded, and said, “I will. Thanks.”

He then turned to Max and said, “I can give you a ride back to the hospital. I’m sure your car is still there.”

Max smiled, and said, “Thanks.”

Mike nodded to the pair and walked out of the room.

Max then turned to Victoria and said, “You’re going to be okay, Victoria. Don’t be afraid to tell me or Taylor or Courtney if you are upset about all of this. We’re here for you.”

Victoria smiled at her, “I will. Thank you for being here, Max. If everything wasn’t so fucked up, I’d say it was perfect. I guess you need to get going, though. Be safe getting home.”

Max nodded, smiling, and said “I will.”

She then leaned over and gave Victoria a quick kiss. Victoria closed her eyes, savoring the feel of Max’s lips and the slight minty flavor of her breath.

Oh, I love that so much!

She opened her eyes as Max stepped back, smiling again.

“Good night, Max.”

“Good night, Victoria. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Max left. A few minutes later, the nurses came in and helped Victoria change back into a hospital gown.

Well, I guess this my new home for the next month or two. Yay.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria spent the next few hours getting her things set up just right, and then browsed the web. She was checking the photography forum when she saw a post titled: [Victoria Chase leaves the hospital! Photos inside!].

Fucking hell, that didn’t take long.

She didn’t bother reading the text; she just looked at the photos. One was her being pushed by the nurse towards the van.

Well, that one is okay, even though it’s really obvious my arm and leg are twisted in. I guess everyone now knows I’m actually handicapped.

The next photo consisted of her being lifted into the van by everyone.

Her arms were flailing in the air, her face had the goofiest expression ever seen, and the nurse looked like she was straining hard to lift her.

Oh God. Why the fuck is that the picture they published? I look awful. Hell, it’s almost funny how bad this looks. I’m sure the trolls are laughing their asses off. Maybe I should have died in that accident. At least I wouldn’t be remembered like this.

The last picture showed Max getting in, with a worried-looking Victoria leaning out towards her.

Shit. I hope the assholes leave Max alone. I’m sure she’ll be a hot topic again because of this. She should have just stayed at her store. Now she’s going to get harassed again because of me.

She started reading the comments. Most of them actually said they felt bad for her, but more than one said she deserved all of it.

What the fuck? I don’t even know these people. How can they say that? Of course, after what I did to Kate, maybe I really do deserve this… You know what? Fuck these assholes.

Victoria started typing.

[Yes, that’s me.

Victoria Chase, September 25, 2020

This is why I retired. Now you all know. I wish they hadn’t picked the worst possible picture they had for this, but that’s what the paparazzi do. I just want to thank all of you who support me. The rest of you can go fuck yourselves, you sick pieces of shit.

Sincerely,

Victoria Chase]

She deleted the last line before she posted, but she really had to force herself to do so.

If I actually posted that, Father would be furious. As much as I hate it, I have to be nice, even to these fucking assholes getting off on other people being hurt.

She left the site, switching over to a Japanese site to watch jpop videos.

Maybe I should just delete my membership. It’s not like I’m a real photographer anymore. Hell, most of the threads about me just hate on me anyway.

A nurse came in, bearing a tray of food.

Okay, I am hungry. This smells great.

Victoria sat up, clearing room for the nurse to put her tray down. She thanked the woman, and started eating. The meal consisted of sliced roast chicken, peas, buttered potatoes, and iced tea.

It’s so fucking good! Why couldn’t the hospital have food this good?

She closed her eyes as she chewed, savoring the flavors. All too soon, she was finished.

Wow. I needed that.

She actually felt better, now that she had a full stomach. The nurse came back a little later and took the tray and glass.

Not long after, her phone buzzed. She checked it, and saw a text from Taylor:

[Taylor: We’re having a group chat in ten minutes! Be there! Don’t let everything get you down!]

Well, I guess I should have expected this. I’m sure everyone has already seen the photos. I wonder if they know about that crazy fucker who waited for me in the garage?

Victoria got her laptop and opened the chat program.

Well, I’m the last one here.

She saw that Max, Taylor, Courtney, and Kate were already there. She hit the enter chat button.

As soon as she logged in, Courtney asked, “Victoria! Are you okay?”

Taylor asked, “Are you safe? The news said that stalker guy attacked your bodyguard.”

“It was on the news?”

Holy shit. I didn’t even think to check the TV.

All four of her friends nodded yes, and Max said, “Yes. They had a short clip of us getting into the van, and then a clip of that asshole being hauled away by the police.”

Victoria froze for a second.

All of that must have been released while I was eating dinner. I’m surprised Father or John hasn’t called yet.

Courtney said, “You’ll be okay, Victoria. We’ve got your back!”

The others all nodded in agreement. Taylor said, “I guess you didn’t watch the news then.”

Victoria shook her head no, saying, “I did see some photos of me leaving the hospital, but that was over an hour ago. I was trying to unwind and just listened to music and ate my dinner.”

Kate said, “I’m sorry this happened to you. You shouldn’t have to be worrying about the press with everything else that’s going on.”

Tell me about it. I used to love being in the news.

“Thanks, Kate. Courtney, I’m really glad you’re there for me. I wish we could all be together again, but maybe at Max’s house instead of a hospital.”

Everyone laughed at that, and Courtney said, “That sounds like a great plan. Max, what do you think?”

Max nodded, smiling, “I definitely think we should arrange something for later this year. I miss you guys, too.”

Courtney said, “How about for Halloween?”

Taylor shook her head no, saying, “I can’t do any of the big holidays. I have to be here for Adam and Mike.”

Courtney replied, “Oh, yeah. Umm, then maybe early November?”

Kate said, “That works for me.”

Taylor said, “Me, too.”

Max said, “Yeah, that gives me enough time to get everything fixed up.”

“As long as I’m out of here before then, I’d love it.”

Max said, “I thought you’d be out in less than a month?”

“I probably will. In any case, we can plan for it no matter what. Even if I’m not technically out of here, I’m going to be at your place for this.”

Max smiled, and Courtney said, “Yeah! Let’s all get our flights planned. Do you have room at your place for everyone, Max, or should we get hotels?”

Max said, “I have room, though it will be more like a slumber party than a hotel stay. It might be a little cramped.”

Kate said, “I think it will be great!”

Courtney said, “Me, too! I can’t wait!”

Taylor nodded, smiling.

“All of you need to send me your flight details. I’m paying for you.”

Taylor scowled, “Victoria…”

“No complaining! I want to do this. I’m not going to have any of you hurting for money right before the holidays because you came to see me. I mean it!”

Taylor rolled her eyes, “Okay, if you really must insist.”

Courtney said, “Thanks, Victoria. I really appreciate it.”

Kate shrugged, “I don’t really need you to do that, but I don’t want to argue with you.”

“Good. It’s decided.”

Max said, “It’s nice to see you taking charge like this again.”

“Someone has to.”

Her friends all started laughing.

“What?”

Taylor said, “Oh, nothing. I can’t wait for us all to get together again, though. Thanks.”

Courtney said, “It’s going to be so much fun!”

Kate and Max grinned, nodding.

“I’m glad you girls set this chat up. I love talking with you.”

Courtney said, “We really should do this more often, instead of waiting for something bad to happen every time.”

“No kidding.”

Taylor said, “So, are you really okay? I’d be completely freaked out if some guy was trying to attack me with a knife.”

“…Yeah, I think so. It was really, really scary. If Max hadn’t told me to go out the front, that guy might have hurt me instead of Susan. I hope she’s okay.”

Courtney said, “Some guy that works with her was on the news. He said she’s fine.”

“Yeah, the attorney told us that before. I hope he was being honest. I don’t know. It is really freaky that someone is that obsessed with me.”

Max said, “Victoria, you’re safe now. There’s no way anyone else is going to get close to you. Mike and I talked about it on the way back to the hospital. He really does think the center you’re at is top-notch.”

“That’s good, then. I will say their food is way better than the hospitals’.”

Her friends laughed at that. They talked for another twenty minutes before everyone finally logged off.

Victoria saw that there was a missed call on her phone from her father.

I never heard it buzz. I guess I was too wrapped up in our conversation. Oh well, it can wait until tomorrow. I’m tired.

She turned the lights off with a switch on her bed and went to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria checked out of the hotel and started driving. North of Portland, it started raining. Of course it would rain. I swear it rains every day around here.

The rain started getting really heavy as she neared the bridge to Washington. Then she saw numerous brake lights flashing on in front of her. Damn it.

Victoria started applying her brakes, slowing down carefully. Then she heard loud screeching behind her and looked into the mirror. It was filled with the grill of a truck. Oh fuck!

Everything went black.

She slowly came to, lying in a bed. A bunch of people in white coats were around her, taking readings. One guy shined a light into her eyes, which made her flinch and turn her head. She tried to move her arm up but nothing happened. Looking down, she saw bandages wrapped around the stump where her right arm used to be.

Oh my God! What the hell is going on? Where the fuck is my arm?

Sitting up quickly, she looked down. Even as several pairs of hands pushed her back, she saw that the sheets below her right knee were flat against the bed.

My leg! It’s gone!

She screamed. Looking wildly around the room, she saw Max standing in the corner. Max looked at her sadly, and then blood started pouring from her nose.

+++

Victoria checked out of the hotel and started driving. North of Portland, it started raining. Of course it would rain. It rains every other day around here.

The rain started getting really heavy as she neared the bridge to Washington. Then she saw numerous brake lights flashing on in front of her. Shit. Now it’s going to take forever to get home.

Victoria started applying her brakes, slowing down carefully. Then she heard loud screeching behind her and looked into the mirror. It was filled with the grill of a truck. Oh fuck!

Everything went black.

A bunch of people in white coats were around her, taking readings. One guy shined a light into her eyes, which made her flinch and turn her head. She tried to move her arm up but it wouldn’t budge. Looking down as best she could, she saw that it was in a cast. Her whole body hurt.

Was I in an accident?

She sat up, ignoring a doctor that was talking to her. Several hands started pushing her back down, but not before she saw that the sheets around where her knees should be lay flat against the bed.

My legs! They’re gone!

She screamed. Looking wildly around the room, she saw Max standing in the corner. Max sighed, looking really tired, and then blood started pouring from her nose.

+++

This happened several more times, with different limbs missing each time.

Why is this happening? It must be a dream.

+++

Mike walked beside her into the garage. He said, “Susan is starting the car. We’ll be there in a minute. You don’t have to worry about any cameras down here.”

A roaring scream erupted to her left. Turning her head quickly, Victoria saw the photographer who broke into her room rushing at them, brandishing a kitchen knife.

The nurse behind her screamed as Mike started to run around the wheelchair, but he tripped. The man reached her. Hot pain sliced through her mouth. Several of her teeth felt like they were crushed. Blood covered everything. Her vision turned white for a second. She groaned in pain. Her tongue felt like some of it was missing.

He laughed, saying, “No one will ever want to see a picture of you now, you evil bitch!”

He raised the knife again, but Mike tackled him to the ground. Victoria’s clutched at her face. She could feel her fingers go right into her mouth, through the area where her cheeks should be.

My cheeks! He cut them wide open! Oh my God! Why?

She started choking, as blood poured down her throat from the mess that was left of her mouth.

She looked up and saw Max running towards them, her right hand held out. Blood covered her face and the front of her shirt.

Was she stabbed before me? What is going on?

+++

She was standing in a fenced-in back yard, behind a blue house. Max was sitting on an old, beat-up swing, slowly moving back and forth.

I’m still dreaming. It’s fake Max.

Max smiled at her, and said, “Hi, Victoria. I’m sorry you had to experience that.”

“What the hell was that? Those were the worst nightmares of my life!”

Max nodded, and said, “It’s just things that happened to you but you don’t remember.”

“I sure as hell don’t remember any of that shit. What are you talking about?”

Max shook her head slowly, and looked down. She said, “Max saved you, each time. She can do that.”

“How?”

Max shrugged, “She has powers. She hasn’t used them in a long time, but she thinks you’re worth it.”

“Powers? What do you mean by that? Max doesn’t have any powers. This isn’t a superhero movie.”

Max smirked at her, saying, “Oh, really? And you talking to me is normal?”

“Umm… Okay…”

Max looked at her, and said, “Tell Max that the next time she uses her powers, she will face serious consequences.”

“How serious?”

“Max has angered the fates. If she uses her powers even one more time, that “benign” tumor that she has in her head will kill her.”

“Tumor? What? Holy shit! Why didn’t she tell me about this?”

Max shrugged, “She probably doesn’t want to scare you away.”

“Damn it! I just wanted her to tell me the truth. I don’t care if I get hurt, she can’t die!”

Max nodded, “And that’s why I’m telling you now. I’m doing my best to make sure you’re happy, and even though I’m kind of breaking the rules again, it’s for you. Tell her tonight when she visits. I don’t foresee any reason to panic and call her right after you wake up. That would cause other problems.”

“You’re telling me I have to sit around all day worrying about this and not tell her?”

Max nodded, “Exactly. You’re getting smarter, I see.”

Oh, fuck you.

“I’m going to be freaking out all day. What if something happens?”

Max sighed, shaking her head in an irritated fashion. She said, “I just told you she’ll be fine. She’s been dealing with this for years. Today won’t matter. And here I was just complimenting you.”

“What should I even say? She’s going to think I’m insane.”

Max shrugged, and said, “You figure it out. Now wake up.”

Victoria’s eyes popped open, taking in the plain white ceiling above her.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria lay there, breathing heavily. She felt really sweaty, and gasped for air. Her heart was racing.

Holy fuck, was that even real? Is she just a figment of my imagination? If I actually tell Max about her, will she think I’m crazy?

Victoria sat up, and picked up her phone. She pulled up Max in her contacts.

Wait. I can’t call her, even though I really, really want to. Fake Max said I shouldn’t. Damn it! Is any of this even real?

She put her phone back down, after checking the time.

It’s only six. Even if I did call her right now, she’s probably still asleep.

Shaking her head, she grabbed her laptop and turned on the news. Most of it was the standard bullshit, but then they showed Victoria being pushed to her van, followed by a shot of that crazy asshole sitting in the back of a police car as it left the hospital. The announcer gave a brief rundown about her leaving, and how Ray Johnson attacked Susan Katz in the garage. They then said how he had been the photographer who broke into her room, and was the center of that scandal. Finally, Mike Agnello spoke to a reporter, saying that Susan was okay and that any further questions would have to wait.

Victoria turned it off. She looked at her twisted right arm.

Well, now everyone knows about this.

She picked up her phone again, remembering that her father had left a voice mail. She saw that she actually had several in queue. She started listening without bothering to see who called.

Her father said, “Hello, Victoria. I saw the news story. I’m sorry about what happened. I hope you are doing well. I wish you had told me you planned on going out the front door, in front of the cameras. I guess it worked out for the best, though. My secretary said you had commented on your photography forum about what happened. I read it. Please continue being careful about what you say. Anyway, let me know if you need anything. Your mother is also really worried. You should call her.”

He hung up.

Of course he has his secretary monitoring me online. Why am I surprised? If Mother is truly worried about me, why didn’t she call?

The very next message was from her mother.

Damn, guess I spoke too soon.

She said, “Victoria! I’m so glad you’re okay. I can’t believe that awful man was trying to hurt you again. Please be careful. I’m in London right now, but I saw what happened on the news. Call me back if you need anything at all. Goodbye.”

I’m surprised this was even on the news over there. It must be a slow news day.

The next call was from a salesperson at Tiffany’s.

What the fuck? Just because I haven’t shopped there in a few months doesn’t mean they should call me.

She quickly deleted the voicemail without listening to it.

She put the phone back down, and then turned on her favorite anime song playlist. She lay there listening to the music for a while before a nurse brought in her breakfast.

The woman said, “Good morning, Ms. Chase. Welcome to our center.”

“Good morning. What’s for breakfast?”

“I brought you an omelet, toast, orange juice, and an apple. I also have a menu for you to pick out your lunch and dinner. Our cafeteria is very well equipped, and I’m pretty sure you’ll like anything that you order.”

Victoria sat up as the nurse put the food tray in front of her.

It does look good.

The nurse put a menu on the table beside her bed, within easy reach.

“I have a friend that is going to visit me regularly in the evenings. Can she order what she wants, as well, and put it on my room tab?”

The nurse nodded, “Of course. Here’s an extra menu that you can give her when she visits next.”

Great! Now Max won’t have to waste so much money on buying us food. I’ll let her know today, after…  Damn. This is going to be so awkward. What if all of this is just in my head? Will Max dump me if she realizes I’m actually crazy? Or will she just pity me and stick around? Fuck. I wish I was worth her time.

A second menu was added to the table. Victoria thanked the nurse as she left, and then started eating.

This is really good! I mean, it’s hard to mess up eggs, but these are way better than the hospital’s.

Almost two hours later, several nurses entered the room, pushing a wheelchair. The lead woman, who looked fairly young and had curly brown hair, waved and said, “Hi! I’m Tracy. I’m going to be your physical therapist.”

“Hi, Tracy. It’s nice to meet you.”

She’s pretty. It’s too bad I’m already taken.

Tracy said, “I spoke with Nancy about your progress so far. She mentioned that you were interested in using the pools. We both think that’s a good idea. I have a swimsuit here for you, and we can change you before we go.”

“Umm, okay.”

The nurses spent ten minutes getting Victoria dressed. Victoria’s cheeks were bright red, and she stared at her legs.

Oh my God, that was so embarrassing. I swear they all touched me in every place possible. Putting on a damn swimsuit should not be so hard. I look terrible. They all saw every scar I have. Hell, anyone walking by right now will see most of them.

Tracy then spent ten minutes working her through some stretches. By the time she was done, Victoria was a little sore, but also felt better. The nurses then helped her into the wheelchair.

I wish she didn’t see me like this.

Tracy squatted down in front of her, and smiled, “It’s okay, Victoria. This is part of our job. You don’t need to be embarrassed. I’ve got a blanket to cover your legs, if you want.”

Victoria smiled at her timidly, “Thanks. I’m still not used to this.”

She waved her hand at her legs as she said that.

Tracy nodded, looking more serious. She said, “I’m sorry about what happened to you, but you are getting better. Just keep working hard and things will work out.”

Victoria nodded, sighing, and said, “I know. Thanks. I guess we should get going.”

Oh shit, what if Max visits and I’m wearing this? She’s going to be grossed out. I just know it. Then again, maybe I won’t see her again after tonight.

After putting the blanket over Victoria’s legs, the nurses wheeled her out of the room and down several hallways. They passed several other patients on the way. Victoria nodded at each, but didn’t talk.

One of them was as messed up as me, but most look normal.

They finally got to a door with “Private Therapy Pool” written on it. As they entered the room, Victoria looked around.

It was pretty small, and the floor and walls were tiled. A small pool was located at the far end. As they got closer, she saw an underwater treadmill up against the wall facing the door, in the center. The rest was just open water.

Tracy hopped out of her scrubs, revealing a one-piece bathing suit similar to the one they put on Victoria.

Victoria looked away, after staring for a second.

Damn! She looks amazing. She must exercise a lot.

Another nurse also stripped down to a swimsuit. The third pushed Victoria over by the pool. All three helped her get out of it and sit on the pool’s edge. Tracy and the other nurse used the steps to get in, and then came over to where she was sitting. With their help, Victoria slowly got into the water.

The water was a little cooler than the room, but it felt good. It came up to her chest. With the two nurses’ help, she got onto the treadmill.

It’s definitely easier to move around with water holding up my weight. I just have to be careful and not bump my foot.

Tracy spent a few minutes showing her how to use the controls. She set a slow pace, and held the handlebars as she carefully made a few steps.

She nearly went off the back of the machine. She almost screamed when her right foot caught the edge of the treadmill, but she managed to hold it in. She just grunted a little.

Tracy and the nurse caught her. Then Tracy set the machine to its absolute slowest pace.

Victoria’s cheeks burned but she pretended that she didn’t just fall off a really slow treadmill. She started forward again. It was more of an awkward shuffle. She tilted to the right, since her arm couldn’t hold her up very well. Tracy helped brace her, straightening her out. Her feet hurt, but she managed to go for almost two minutes before she had to stop.

She had trouble catching her breath. Her legs burned, and she couldn’t hold herself up anymore. She stopped, and the nurses helped her back to the edge of the pool, where all three of them helped her back up onto the edge.

Tracy asked, “How are you feeling?”

“My feet hurt. I’m so out of shape, even my arms are burning. Still, I went a lot further than I ever did when I was just using the bars at the hospital.”

“Good. We’ll do this every day. While we were here, I also had them put in some pull-up rings over your bed. They should be like the ones you had at the hospital.”

“Thanks.”

They carefully got Victoria back into her chair, and then used some towels to dry her and themselves off. After putting their scrubs back on, the nurses took her back to her room. They spent another ten minutes getting her into bed and changing her back into her hospital gown.

Well, that was definitely easier than putting the suit on. Still, I wish I could do it myself.

Tracy worked with her to set the grab circles to a height she could use, and then spent twenty minutes massaging her legs and arms.

Oh, I like this. She can do this every day. Shit. This is bad. She probably doesn’t even think of girls that way. What the hell is wrong with me? I’ve got Max coming over soon. I shouldn’t even think about other girls! What am I even going to say to Max tonight? “I’m sorry, but don’t use your super powers any more or you’ll die?” She’s going to laugh in my face.

Tracy finished up, and covered her with the bed sheets. She said, “You did really well for your first workout here. I’m impressed. I’ll see you again tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate your help.”

Tracy smiled, waved, and the nurses all left.

Victoria looked through the menu.

They really do have a lot of different stuff to eat. It’s like a real restaurant.

She called the nurse and ordered. About thirty minutes later, the nurse brought her lunch. It featured a tuna sandwich, barbeque chips, a couple pickles, and lemonade. After the nurse left, Victoria put some of the chips on her sandwich, and started eating.

It’s so good! I’m hungry. I’m going to have to be careful, or I’ll eat too much. I can’t get fat.

After she finished, the nurse picked up her tray. Another came in and cleaned the bedpan.

I need to be able to get into a wheelchair myself, so I can use the toilet. I hate this!

Victoria waited until the nurse left before she opened her laptop and listened to a Japanese pop station online.

Maybe I’ll just ask Max about how she’s feeling? She might even tell me the truth about her tumor. Hell, does she even have a tumor? Maybe all of this is just in my head. What if it is? Am I really going insane? Maybe I shouldn’t even say anything. That would be the safest thing to do.

It was getting into the evening when the door opened up and Max came in, smiling and bearing a bag of food.

 

Chapter Text

Max was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a plaid long-sleeved shirt.

She’s dressed like Rachel. She actually looks good like that.

Max smiled and said, “Hi, Victoria! I brought food!”

“Hi, Max. It’s good to see you. Come on in.”

Okay, play it cool. Do not bring up super powers or dream angels, at least not until we’ve finished eating.

Max walked over and got her tray out. She pulled out two containers and a couple cans of iced tea.

“You look nice.”

Max paused, and said, “Thanks. I wasn’t sure if you’d like this look.”

Victoria grinned and said, “Well, it does remind me of how Rachel used to dress, so I’m a bit conflicted.”

Max smiled, and replied, “Chloe told me that, too. Still, it’s actually really comfortable. It’s starting to get a little chilly at night.”

Of course Chloe would mention that. It’s not like she didn’t follow Rachel everywhere. Damn, why is Max connected with the only two women at Blackwell that I actually kind of liked but also hated? I would have loved to hop in bed with Rachel, for sure, but those two assholes dosed me with something so I didn’t even get to be in the Tempest, after I had worked so hard to learn my part.

“It does look good on you.”

Max smiled; a little more genuine this time. She said, “Thanks. Joe made us dinner. He saw the news, and said you needed some real Italian comfort food. He made us gnocchi, roasted eggplant, and some meatballs. He said he hopes you are doing well.”

“Tell him I said thanks. It was really nice of him.”

Max took the lids off of their containers, which were still pretty warm.

It smells great! Damn, I’m not even very hungry but now I want to eat!

They both took their time eating. Joe made far more food than Victoria actually wanted, but it was worth it. They talked about Black Lagoon, which had kind of been put on hold over the last week or two. Victoria was still convinced that Shenhua would take Revy in a fight, but Max was positive she couldn’t. They argued over it a little, but mostly just joked around and enjoyed each other’s company.

This food is amazing, and I could talk anime with Max every day. Everything would be perfect if I was still healthy.

After they finished eating and Max cleaned up the containers and put them back in her bag, Victoria grabbed a menu and handed it to her.

“Max, you can just order from the cafeteria here whenever you visit. Their food is really good, and you won’t have to pay anything. Of course, it’s not as good as what Joe made for us, but I think you’ll really like it.”

“Well, I guess that’s okay. Are you sure?”

“Yes. You’ve already spent a lot of money on gas and food since this started, not to mention how much time you’ve lost driving back and forth. It’s my treat.”

Max frowned, “I wanted to do that.”

“I know. I want you to do this, too. Please.”

Max rolled her eyes, and said, “Okay.”

Wow. Now I feel like some mom scolding her teenage daughter.

“Thanks. I know it’s annoying, but I really want to do this for you.”

Max shrugged, “It’s okay. I get it.”

Fuck. I need to stop pushing. Why do I do this?

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be… Dammit… Umm, how’s your store?”

Max looked at her for a second, maybe a little amused.

Oh, don’t give me that look.

Max grinned, and said, “It’s doing alright. I sold a few nice cameras this week, as well as developing more film.”

“That’s good. I was a little worried, since you were with me a couple days.”

“It’s fine. As long as I get a few good sales each week, I can cover my bills.”

“That’s good.”

Hmm, maybe I should just forget about that dream. If I do tell her, she might think I’m having a nervous breakdown or something. I don’t want her to think I’m a mental case.

They talked about the store for a while, with Max filling her in on some of her regular customers and what they talked about. Unfortunately, Victoria’s story was pretty big news, and a couple of them asked her about what happened, since she’d also been on the news.

“They seriously asked you about that?”

Max shrugged, “Yeah, they were curious. I can’t really blame them. I’d probably do the same thing. I just told them that we missed everything, since we never went into the parking garage.”

“I wish that you hadn’t been on the news with me. It’s made you a target.”

Max said, “I knew that before we went out the doors. I’m okay with it. Heck, it might even be good for my business. People will shop at my store just for a chance to talk to me.”

“I guess, though it should be for a better reason.”

Victoria sighed.

Fuck it. I have to say something. At least she’ll know.

“Max, this might sound really weird, but have you ever had dreams that seemed real? Like you have a guardian angel and they’re trying to help you out?”

Max froze for a second, but then shook her head no. She replied, “I haven’t had any dreams like that. Why?”

Okay, did I already freak her out? Well, it’s too late to stop now.

Victoria looked down, tugging at a string on her gown. She said, quietly, “When I was in a coma, I was visited by a being who gave me the choice to live or die.”

Max inhaled, asking, “What? For real?”

Still looking down, Victoria continued, “Yeah. I’ve dreamed of talking with her twice since then, after I got my leg casts taken off and last night. I’m not sure if it’s just some weird reaction to stress, or if maybe I’m actually talking to something real.”

Max paused, and then said, “The world is a really messed up place. I think there is a lot of stuff going on that most people don’t even know about.”

Victoria looked up, hopeful. Max was looking at her with a very worried expression.

Victoria looked back down again, and just kind of froze.

She thinks I’m crazy. She’s just humoring me because she doesn’t want me to spaz out on her. Oh shit, I think I just lost her.

She felt Max’s hand on hers. She realized that she was breathing really fast. She didn’t look up.

Max said, “Victoria, calm down. It’s okay. Tell me what happened.”

“Are you sure? Fuck, I think I’m crazy. If I actually tell you, you’ll probably agree.”

Max squeezed her hand, saying, “I won’t. Seriously, tell me. It’s okay.”

Victoria breathed in and out a few times, trying to calm down. Then she said, “Last night she told me that you saved me. Not just from that crazy bastard, but after the wreck. I saw myself. I was missing my arm and my legs. That nutcase stabbed me in the face. It felt so real. She said you used some kind of superpower to protect me.”

Max’s hand froze. She was gripping Victoria’s hand really tight.

“Max? That kind of hurts.”

Victoria looked up at Max. Max looked at her with wide open eyes, her mouth hanging open.

“Max?”

Max blinked, quickly withdrawing her hand.

Damn.

“Max, don’t worry about it. I was just having a crazy dream. It wasn’t real. Please just forget I said anything.”

Max shook her head no. She asked, “Did she say anything else?”

Wait, what kind of reaction is that? I know Max is one of the nosiest people in the world, but this doesn’t feel right.

“Seriously, it was just a dream. I’m sorry I said anything.”

Max shook her head, leaning forward and putting her hand on Victoria’s shoulder. She asked, “Was that all that happened?”

“Well, I know this is bullshit and please don’t freak out, but she said you had a tumor and if you ever used your powers again you’d die.”

Max looked like she was going to collapse. She flopped back into her chair with a dazed expression on her face. Her right hand reached up and rubbed the back of her head. She asked, “Are you cereal?”

She stood up, and kind of wobbled as she walked towards the door.

“Max. It was just a dream. I’m sorry. Please don’t leave!”

Max looked at her with a sad, sort of confused, expression. She said, “I’m sorry, Victoria. I think I need to go home. I have to... I need to think about this.”

“Max!”

Max shook her head, staggering rapidly towards the door. She bounced off of the door edge as she half-ran out of the room.

She hates me. I’ll never see her again. Why the fuck didn’t I keep my fucking mouth shut? What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m such a piece of shit failure. Fuck, she deserves someone better than me anyway. I should have known better. I’m so fucking stupid.

Victoria broke down, crying her eyes out. She crushed Madara to her chest. She gulped for air as her body shuddered with sobs. After about twenty minutes, she looked around. Max was gone.

She left her containers here.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria slowly woke up as sunlight shined into her face.

I forgot to close the blinds. I don’t want to even move. There’s no point.

After about ten minutes of just looking out the window, she rolled over and grabbed the menu. She called in her order and waited.

It’s beautiful outside. I wish I could be out there photographing some abandoned building or maybe some boats. I miss that so much. Imagine if I was doing that and Max was working with me. Hell, she’d probably be the real photographer and I’d be her assistant. She was so much better than me.

Soon enough, a nurse brought her breakfast.

Coffee, scrambled eggs, and toast. That will do.

She half-heartedly ate her meal, paying more attention to some clouds outside than what she was putting into her mouth.

What am I going to do now? Will I ever even see Max again? If she stays away, I guess I’ll just go back to Seattle and forget about all of this. I wonder if I can even meet anyone else? Fuck, I might only have a chance with the other cripples after I get out. One look at me will scare away almost every woman I’d even be interested in. It’s not like any of them would even compare to Max, anyway. I guess I could become celibate. Kate would just love to hear that…

She eventually finished eating. The nurse came back and took her tray. There was still food on the plate. They made small talk, but it was really obvious that Victoria wasn’t interested in any company.

She popped open her laptop and checked out the photography forum. There were multiple threads about what happened at the hospital. She read a few posts in each of them. The pictures and the news video were both there. Lots of links were also posted to what had happened before. Most of the people just commented that they felt bad. A few were a little rude. A number of posts were deleted by the admin. Shaking her head, she left the site.

That was a waste of fucking time. I’m sure a bunch of them are laughing their asses off. They made sure to dig up all of the trash on me again. I really needed everyone to read that story about me harassing Kate one more time.

She turned on her favorite j-pop channel and sat back, listening. Normally, it would calm her down and she’d relax, but it just made her think about Max. After a few minutes, she turned it off. She searched for “most powerful sleep aids” and “painless death?”. She bookmarked a few informative sites, ignoring several automated warnings.

The door opened up and Tracy and her nurse cohorts came in, smiling and ready to go.

They all look chipper.

Victoria shut her laptop and nodded to them. They spent ten minutes getting her into the swimsuit. Then Tracy put her through a few stretches, after which they got her into the chair. She stayed quiet and stared ahead as they wheeled her to the swimming pool.

She noticed a few of the same patients she saw yesterday. Most of them were a good deal older than her. One guy was about her age. He was also in a wheelchair, and was missing a leg. He nodded at her, and she nodded back, before staring straight ahead again.

Once at the pool, Tracy and the one nurse stripped down to their swimsuits. Victoria didn’t bother to look. All three of them helped her into the pool.

Round two. Even if Max is gone, I need to be able to walk. I guess.

Her feet hurt as she made her way to the treadmill. Tracy helped hold her up as she slowly hobbled along at the treadmill’s slowest pace. She only lasted a minute.

It hurts. I feel like something is pulling on the back of my leg. I guess it’s the scar? Why am I even trying? This is a waste of time. There’s no point. I’m just going to go back to Seattle and sit in that damn house alone.

She shook her head and said, “I can’t do any more today.”

Tracy looked at her, concerned.

Victoria shrugged, not really giving a shit.

Tracy shook her head, obviously disappointed, and the nurses helped Victoria back to the pool edge. Victoria was sitting on the pool’s edge when Tracy hopped up beside her.

Looking down at the water, Victoria said, “Sorry.”

Tracy said, “You were doing a lot better yesterday. You didn’t strain anything, did you?”

“No. I’m just having a bad day.”

“Did something happen?”

Victoria sighed, staring at the water.

Why the fuck does she even care? Whatever.

“I had a fight with my girlfriend last night. I’m not sure if she’s coming back.”

Tracy scooted away from her, just a little bit. She said, “That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear it.”

Victoria just closed her eyes, deflating.

“Yeah, shit happens. Can I go back to my room?”

The nurses helped her back into her chair, and dried her off. After they were all dressed, they pushed her back. Victoria just stared at her feet the whole time. She knew they had passed several other people, but didn’t bother looking up.

Once in her room, they got her back into bed and into her hospital gown. Tracy massaged her legs and arm again. Victoria just kept her eyes shut and waited for it to be over.

It does feel good, but she’s probably freaked out now. She tries to hide it, at least.

Once Tracy finished, Victoria nodded at her and said, “Thanks.”

Tracy nodded, wiping her hands off on a towel, and said, “Hopefully, you’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Maybe.”

If Max comes back, I will.

Tracy nodded and left.

Victoria ordered a salad for lunch, along with a lemonade. She ate about half of it before she was full.

A few hours later, she got a nurse to close the blinds and went to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

She heard someone saying, “Victoria… Victoria… Wake up.”

“Go away. Sleeping.”

I’m so tired. Why is someone bothering me?

“Finally. Wake up. We need to talk.”

Uh oh.

Victoria finally recognized Max’s voice. She sat up, wiping her eyes.

Max slowly came into focus. She was sitting beside the bed, holding her right elbow with her left hand. She looked both nervous and concerned.

Victoria yawned, which caused Max to giggle. Max said, “I didn’t really expect to find you sleeping already. It’s only seven.”

“You’re here.”

Yes! I can't believe she's here to see me! I thought she was gone forever!

Max nodded, saying, “Yeah. I’m sorry I left so fast yesterday. You didn’t deserve that.”

Yes, I did.

“If you say so. It’s great to see you again, though. I’m really sorry I told you about that dream. Please don’t worry about it.”

Max shook her head no, and said, “Hey, I like seeing you, too, and I really shouldn’t have run out like that. I was pretty freaked out, but I’m glad you told me. You might not believe this, but I think your guardian angel is real. She definitely knew stuff that you wouldn’t.”

“What?”

Max shrugged, “I can rewind time. It’s how I saved you.”

“Wait. What?”

Max actually has superpowers? Or maybe we’re both crazy? I hope she isn’t fucking with me. No, she wouldn’t do that. Is she for real?

Max looked down, obviously a little nervous, and said, “I’ve been able to rewind time since Blackwell. I haven’t used it in years, though. I’d promised myself I’d never do it again, but then you were hurt in the accident, and then by that crazy paparazzi.”

“For real? I mean, you can just fix things by going back in time?”

How amazing would that be? I mean, if it’s even possible. It must be. Look what’s happened to me. I’ll just have to believe her.

Max shrugged, “Kind of. If it’s something really bad, everything just goes wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

Max sighed, and said, “Chloe.”

Fuck. She tried to save Chloe but couldn’t. That’s awful.

“I’m sorry. If I had stopped Nathan…”

Max shook her head, saying, “No. It wasn’t your fault. A lot of shit happened that week that only I know about. You couldn’t have stopped him.”

Bullshit. I knew he was acting fucked up and I didn’t say anything. Hell, I encouraged him.

“What happened?”

“I saved her, but it caused a massive tornado that wiped out Arcadia Bay.”

“Really?”

Max nodded, saying, “I’m not making this up. I wish I was. By the end of that week, Jefferson had killed Nathan and you, and Kate almost killed herself.”

“What? Kate almost killed herself?”

That was all me.

Max said, “I talked her out of jumping off of the roof.”

Oh my God. I’m a fucking monster.

Victoria turned, looking at the closed blinds.

Max reached over, touching her shoulder. She said, “It didn’t happen in this timeline. You didn’t cause her to do anything.”

“Yes. Yes, I did. I’m horrible.”

Tears filled her eyes.

I can’t believe I almost killed Kate. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Max’s grip tightened a little. She said, “No, she was okay. Heck, you went out of your way to make everything up to her. Don’t blame yourself for something that never happened.”

Victoria spun around, facing Max. She said, “But it did! Just because I don’t remember it doesn’t mean I didn’t do it!”

Max sighed, and said, “Not in the real world. Kate’s already forgiven you, and she knows all about this.”

“She does?”

Max nodded, saying, “I told her everything a few years ago when I was in the hospital. She had flown out just to be with me.”

“For the tumor? It’s real?”

Please tell me it’s not.

Max touched the back of her head, and nodded again, saying, “Yes, but it’s benign.”

“No, it’s not! You heard what Max said!”

Max looked at her funny, and asked, “The angel is named Max?”

“Yes, but why didn’t you tell me about the tumor when I’d asked you before?”

Max looked down, her face getting a little red. She said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to worry you. I didn’t think it was really an issue after what the doctors had told me.”

“That’s bullshit, Max. You lied to me about it.”

Max sighed, “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just… really hard to talk to anyone about. You already had enough to deal with without having to worry about me.”

“I was worried about you anyway. You should have told me.”

Max shrugged, and said, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, whatever. At least I hope you listen to what I said, then. It’s not benign.”

Max nodded, saying, “Yeah, it looks that way. Thanks for warning me.”

“Please promise me you’ll never use your powers again, especially if you’re trying to save me. I’d rather take the hit than have you die for me.”

Max shrugged, saying, “I can’t promise that.”

“Max. Don’t you dare kill yourself trying to save me. I mean it.”

Max shrugged, “I’ll try not to.”

I guess that’s all I’m going to get.

“Fine. Umm, you said Jefferson killed me?”

Max nodded again, saying, “He had both of us in the Dark Room. I had tried to warn you to stay away from Nathan, because I didn’t know he was the actual monster we were trying to stop. He caught you. He ended up killing you while I was drugged.”

Fuck. I was murdered by that evil bastard? I actually idolized him.

“He took you prisoner, too? Do you remember it?”

Max looked down, rubbing her right wrist, and said, “Yes. He photographed us, while keeping us drugged up. I don’t remember everything, but he was sick.”

“I’m so sorry, Max.”

That should never have happened to her, or Kate. How the fuck is anyone even capable of doing that to people?

Max shrugged, saying, “It’s old news, now. He can’t hurt anyone ever again. My therapist helped me out a lot.”

“You told your therapist about him?”

Max shook her head no, “I couldn’t. It didn’t actually happen in this world. I just told her about being in the bathroom when Chloe was killed. She helped me deal with that, and it helped with everything else.”

“That’s good, I guess.”

Max looked at her sideways, and asked, “So, the angel is named Max? That’s pretty interesting.”

Victoria’s face flushed red, and she quickly looked down. She said, “She wanted me to be happy, so she became you.”

Max’s eyebrows raised, “Her being me makes you happy?”

“Umm, well, it started when I was in the coma. She offered to live with me in a really nice house as a reward for being a good person.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I figured it out, though. I wanted to come back and have a real chance with you.”

“Wowzers. I guess I’m pretty flattered, Victoria. I knew you liked me, but not that much.”

“Well, I do. I have, for a long time.”

She felt Max’s hand touch her shoulder. Then Max shifted over to sit beside her on her bed. She looked up, and Max was staring at her.

Her eyes are so blue.

Max leaned in. Victoria closed her eyes and kissed her. It was a soft, tender kiss. Max just rubbed her back, not pushing at all.

I love her so much.

After a while, Max sat back. She said, “I’m glad you came back.”

“Me, too.”

Chapter Text

Max stayed for another two hours. She told Victoria the entire story, as best as she could remember it. By the time she finished, she was sitting beside Victoria, and Victoria was hugging her as she cried.

I feel so bad for her! So much horrible shit has happened to her. I wish there was a way I could help her.

Eventually, Max stopped crying. Victoria rubbed her back, just holding her. Max finally looked up, her face wet from tears and puffed red. She looked into Victoria’s eyes and cautiously asked, “Do you believe me?”

“I do. Hell, after what’s happened to me, it would be stupid of me not to. I just wish it didn’t happen to you. It wasn’t fair.”

Max shakily smiled at her, trying not to cry again. She said, “I don’t know why I even got these powers. What was the point? Chloe’s gone.”

Damn, I wish she loved me as much as she loved Chloe. Wait… What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m such a selfish bitch.

Victoria hugged Max tightly. After a few seconds she said, “I’m sorry about that. You really did love her. It just feels like the universe wants to fuck with you. I don’t know why.”

What gives with that, anyway? At least fake Max is actually helping me. It’s bullshit.

Max sniffled, gradually calming down.

Victoria asked, “The only thing that I don’t understand is why there wasn’t a storm after you saved me.”

Max sighed, saying, “I think it’s because you didn’t die. I kept an eye on everything for weeks after the accident. Nothing happened.”

“What if it did?”

Fuck, Victoria. That wasn’t a fair question.

“Never mind, don’t answer that. I’m just happy we’re here together right now. Thank you.”

Max hugged her back. They sat there for a while, just holding each other and leaning into each other. Eventually, Max started pulling away.

No! Stay!

Max said, “I have to be going. Thanks for being here for me, Victoria. I really appreciate it.”

“Any time. I wish you could stay.”

Max shook her head no, saying, “I can’t. I have to open up my shop tomorrow. I’m sorry I bailed on you, yesterday. Are you really okay?”

Victoria nodded, “I’m doing a lot better now. Thanks for coming back, Max.”

Max leaned in and hugged her again. Victoria clutched at her, squeezing tightly. Then Max stood back up and smiled at her.

“Well, good night. Drive safe.”

“I will. Good night, Victoria.”

Max leaned in and gave her a quick kiss, and then left, heading home.

I need to get out of here. I want to live with Max.

Sighing, she flopped back into her bed. After a few minutes, she turned on her j-pop station. She relaxed, listening to the music.

I’m awake now. Hell, I’m hungry. I doubt I can order food this late, though.

She picked up the menu and looked through it.

They stopped serving at seven. Fuck.

She picked up her phone. She saw there were some missed calls from Kate and John Stambaugh.

Damn. I’d love to call Kate right now, but it’s late. I’ll call her back tomorrow.

There was a voicemail, which Victoria decided to listen to.

[“Hi, Victoria. It’s Kate. I just wanted to talk with you. Max told me what you said, and how she reacted. She really cares about you. Don’t worry about her leaving you. I can’t say more until you talk with her, but I’m really glad you told her what you did. Call me back once you’ve talked with her, please. I hope you are getting better. Be safe. Bye.”]

Kate knows everything. Wow. She’s like our own little therapist. I guess I have to be careful what I tell Max if I don’t want her to find out, though. At least I can trust Kate not to screw me over with anything she finds out.

Victoria pulled up the local restaurants and ordered pizza. She buzzed the nurses and told them to expect the delivery.

She was just vegging out, listening to the music, when her food showed up thirty minutes later. She tipped the guy, and started eating.

Damn. I haven’t had a good pepperoni pizza in a while. I needed this!

She took her time, enjoying it.

It’s a little greasy, but I like it! I better save the other half for tomorrow. I shouldn’t eat all of it at once.

She finally put the box to the side, still half full.

I guess that will be breakfast. Heh. So much for eating healthy.

She sat in bed, listening to music for another hour, before falling back to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, she had cold pizza, coffee, and orange juice for breakfast. The nurse who brought her the drinks laughed, and they joked around a little about it. After resting for a bit, Victoria did some pull-ups. Then she waited for Tracy and her crew to show up.

An hour later, the nurses came in. Tracy worked her through her stretches, and then they changed her into her swimsuit. After putting the blanket over her legs, they wheeled her to the pool. Once there, Victoria got on the treadmill with their help. She took her time, and walked for almost ten minutes.

Damn, my foot hurts. I guess I have to stop.

She shut off the machine, and got back to the pool edge. As she was sitting there, Tracy said, “You’re doing a lot better, today. I’m glad! You had me worried.”

Victoria nodded, and said, “Max visited me last night. It turns out I worry too much. She stayed with me for a few hours.”

Tracy nodded, giving her a strained smile.

Well, she definitely doesn’t like gay people. She must think I’m perving over her. I guess I kind of was, though. Too bad. Max is better, anyway.

The nurses got her back into her chair and wheeled her back to her room. She passed several of the same people she saw yesterday. The guy with the missing foot waved at her, smiling. She smiled back, and nodded.

I have to be careful. He might think I’m hitting on him, especially since we’ve both got messed up legs.

He wheeled over to her and said, “Hi. I’m Alex.”

“Hello, I’m Victoria.”

He winked at them, and said, “I guess you’re new here. I hope Tracy is treating you well.”

“She’s doing a great job.”

“Just so you know, several of us get together after dinner and hang out, if you’re interested.”

“Sorry. My girlfriend usually visits me then. Thanks for the offer, though.”

He shrugged, and said, “That’s cool. I hope everything works out well for you. See ya.”

“Thanks. Goodbye.”

He spun his chair around and went back to the guy he had been talking to earlier.

Tracy said, “Alex hits on every girl here. I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him shut up and leave.”

Victoria laughed, saying, “I’m not surprised. He looks like he was a jock.”

Tracy laughed, and said, “You got that right. He’ll tell you all about his wrestling and football days if you let him.”

“Oof. I had enough of that back in high school. At least he has good memories, though.”

“Yeah. I feel bad for him. He lost his leg in some kind of hiking accident. He fell into some rocks. It must have been horrible.”

“Oh, that is bad.”

At least he’s acting positive. I hope he isn’t just faking it.

They got back to her room and changed her back into the hospital gown. Tracy spent another twenty minutes massaging her legs and arm, and then left for her next patient.

Victoria checked over the menu, and ordered a Greek salad and some lemonade.

I guess I’ll have to eat a small lunch and dinner. Who knows how many calories were in that pizza?

After she ate, she checked the news.

Not much is happening today. At least my story’s already out of the headlines.

She picked up her phone and dialed Kate’s number.

Kate answered on the fourth ring, “Hello?”

“Hi, Kate, how are you doing?”

“Great, Victoria. How about you? Did you talk with Max yet?”

“Yes. She told me everything. She said you know what happened at Blackwell?”

Kate paused a second, and said, “Yes. She had a truly terrible time. I wish I could have helped her more.”

“Me, too. I can’t believe she had to let Chloe die.”

“I know. Then, after all of that, she ended up having a brain tumor. I sometimes wonder if she just imagined the time travel. Maybe she just hallucinated everything? It’s definitely a possible side effect.”

“I mean, I guess that’s possible, but I think it really happened to her. It makes sense. I mean, there’s no way my guardian angel could show me all of the things that happened to me that she stopped, or warned me to tell her about the tumor, if she was just making it up.”

Kate said, “Your guardian angel showed you something? Max didn’t say anything about that. She just said that you warned her not to use her powers anymore.”

“Oh, yeah, she did. I guess in some timelines I actually lost my arm, or my legs. Also, that creep really hurt me in the garage, but Max fixed it.”

Kate said, “What? That’s awful. You had to see that?”

“Yeah, in a dream. It felt like I was really there. My angel said it did happen to me, but Max went back and changed it. I guess this is the best result she could get.”

Fuck me. I’m still a mess.

“I’m so sorry, Victoria. It’s bad enough what you’re already going through, without experiencing something worse.”

“Tell me about it. At least it’s given me some perspective. It really sucks to be crippled, but at least I still have my arm and legs. Even if they don’t work perfectly, I can kind of use them.”

Kate went silent for a few seconds; then said, “I am praying for you. Just don’t give up hope. Have you said anything about this to Taylor or Courtney?”

“No, and I’m not planning to. They’re worried enough without me telling them this story. They might think I’m going crazy. Hell, I sometimes wonder if I am.”

“You’re not. God sent an angel to help you. Just believe that and things will work out.”

“If you say so. Thanks, though. I really appreciate you worrying about me. Did Max tell you everything about that week, including what happened to you?”

“Yes. I’m really glad it didn’t happen to us, though. She saved me.”

“She did. I’m really sorry about that.”

“Victoria. It didn’t actually happen in this world. There’s no reason for you to apologize.”

“Yes, there is. If you had killed yourself, I don’t know what I would have done.”

“Damn it, Victoria! I said I’m okay. Please let it go.”

Holy shit! I made Kate swear. She must be really pissed.

“You’re right. Sorry about that. I just have a hard time with this whole thing, especially after everything got put back into the news.”

Kate said, “I know, but it’s old history. Please stop blaming yourself. It’s actually getting irritating.”

Fuck. I didn’t realize I was coming across like that. Kate’s the only one to really tell me like this, though. Well, Taylor would, if I whined too much.

“Sorry. I won’t bring it up again.”

“Good. Anyway, in better news, I sent out the second draft of my latest book. I think you’re going to like it.”

“That’s great! I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks! I think it will actually be ready for print in another month or so. I’m going to send you a copy, so don’t buy one.”

“Okay, that’s really nice of you. Thanks!”

“You’re welcome. Anyway, how do you like the rehab center?”

“Well…”

They chatted for another thirty minutes, with Victoria telling Kate about Tracy and Alex, along with how the pool was set up.

Once Kate hung up, Victoria ordered dinner.

 

Chapter Text

She was watching cat videos online when Max showed up. Max had on a blue hoodie, jeans, and old sneakers. She had a container from the cafeteria in hand, along with a bag with drinks.

“Hi, Max. How are you tonight?”

Max grinned, saying, “I feel pretty good. The store was busy. Also, it was beautiful outside. Cool but sunny.”

“That’s nice. I see you dressed up for me.”

Max laughed, saying, “Sorry, but I just wanted to be comfortable today. I hope you don’t mind.”

Victoria smiled, replying, “No, I guess it’s just your style, or lack thereof. I’m used to it.”

“Hey! Hoodies are cool!”

“If you say so.”

“Hmmph. I was going to give you an iced coffee, but I guess not.”

Victoria laughed, “Okay, I’m sorry! Give me coffee!”

Max walked over, grinning. She grabbed her tray and put the container on it, and then got out a can of iced coffee and an iced tea. She handed the coffee to Victoria as she sat down.

Max sat down and opened the container. Victoria glanced over. Max had waffles and sausage.

Victoria snorted a little, “Is that really your dinner?”

It does smell good.

Max replied, “You bet! Nothing beats waffles!”

“Well, I can’t really disagree with you. Hmm, how about we actually continue watching Black Lagoon? I really do want to know the ending.”

Max nodded, her mouth full.

She’s so cute. She kind of looks like a chipmunk right now.

Victoria set up her laptop, and started playing the next episode.

I kind of forget what’s happening now. It’s been weeks since we could do this.

They sat there for hours, actually finishing the second season. Max finished up her dinner during the first episode, and cleaned up her tray before they started the second one. They took breaks between each episode to just chat about what happened, and Max pointed out a few things that Victoria had forgotten.

After the final scene, Victoria closed her laptop.

“Well, I wasn’t really expecting that. I loved it, though.”

Max said, “Me, too. Rock and Revy really are made for each other. I just wish there were more seasons. Balalaika and Chang are just scary. I wonder what would happen if they went to war with each other?”

“Somehow, Revy would be in the middle of it. Shenhua would probably have to save her.”

“As if! Honestly, I think they would actually have to fight each other in that situation. That would be rough.”

“True, I don’t want either of them to get killed. But to answer your question, the nuns would win.”

Max laughed, “You’re probably right about that.”

“Oh yeah, how many times did Revy say fuck? I lost count.”

“I’m pretty sure it was over 150 times. We can look it up online. I know there’s at least one video of it.”

Victoria grinned, and did just that. After several minutes, they were both giggling.

“So, someone said fuck at least 230 times, and Revy was probably 190 of them.”

Max said, “She has a great fucking vocabulary.”

“You fucking know it!”

“Fuck yeah! I fucking know every fucking word in the fucking dictionary!”

“Oh, really? How well do you know fucking?”

Max’s face instantly went red. She stuttered, “Umm, like, uh… Victoria!”

Victoria laughed again. Then she snapped a picture with her phone.

Max’s eyes got wide, and she reached for the phone. Victoria pulled it back, hugging it to her chest.

“Now that is a great picture.”

She actually looked at it as Max said, “That’s not fair. I didn’t even see you grab your phone.”

Holy shit. She looks like a tomato.

Victoria’s shoulders started shaking as she tried not burst out laughing.

“I did it while you were coming up with that line of fucks.”

Max giggled. She said, “Okay. Let me see it.”

“Don’t try to take my phone. You can only look at it, not erase it.”

Max’s shoulders slumped a little. Victoria turned it so that she could see.

Max reached out, trying to take the phone, obviously panicking.

Victoria snatched it back, laughing.

“It’s a great picture! I want to keep it.”

“No! No way! That’s awful!”

“I wonder what our friends would think if they saw this?”

“Victoria! Don’t you dare!”

Victoria actually did start laughing, then. Max got a devious look on her face.

What’s that look?

Max said, “Well, if you really want to laugh, I’ll help.”

She leaned over and started tickling Victoria’s ribs. Victoria almost leaped out of her bed.

“Stop! I’m really ticklish.”

Max’s eyes glinted, and her smile got bigger. She said, “Oh, you are? That’s good to know.”

“Max, stop!”

Max started tickling her some more. Victoria was flopping around in her bed, hoarse from laughing. After a bit, Max stopped.

Victoria was breathing heavy, and looked at Max, who now had her phone and was pointing it at her.

“No, Max!”

Max laughed as the flash went off. Victoria flopped back onto the bed.

Max was looking at her phone, with a huge grin on her face. She asked, “Do you want to see it?”

Victoria pouted, “Not really.”

Max turned it so that she could see. It showed her reaching towards the phone, her face red and her eyes wide in alarm.

I look totally freaked out. Somehow, it’s still a really good photo, though. I mean, it’s almost art. How the hell does she do that with a camera phone while she’s just goofing off?

“Max, that’s really good. I’m serious.”

Max shrugged, “It’s just a fun picture. I thought you’d hate it.”

“Well, it is embarrassing, but it’s also fantastic.”

Max looked down, suddenly shy.

Why is she so self-conscious about her photography? She’s so good at it.

“Max, give me my phone. I won’t erase the pictures.”

“I want to erase them.”

Victoria shook her head no, holding her hand out. Max carefully put her phone into her hand, and then stepped back, her right arm crossing over her stomach to hold her elbow.

Victoria quickly started tapping into her phone, and then set it down.

Max looked at it, obviously curious. She asked, “What did you just do?”

“I sent both pictures to Taylor, Courtney, and Kate. I think they’ll get a kick out of them.”

Max’s face went white, and her eyes got big. She said, “No, you didn’t!”

Victoria smiled, looking like a satisfied cat. “Yes, I did. Even if they are embarrassing, I think it will let our friends know everything’s going well. I certainly don’t want to forget tonight.”

Max looked at her, saying, “I don’t either. I just kind of wish you didn’t do it that way.”

Victoria almost laughed again as Max’s phone started buzzing.

Max shrugged, saying, “See?”

Victoria’s phone buzzed a moment later.

 

Chapter Text

Over the next week, Victoria exercised as much as she could. She did pull-ups all of the time. She did crunches while she was lying in bed. She walked as long as she could in the pool, and got Tracy to really push on the stretches. On Saturday morning, she pulled back the sheets and looked herself over.

I’m starting to get toned. Well, at least my arms are. It’s hard to tell with my right one, thanks to all of these damn scars. I’m definitely getting stronger. My legs still have a long way to go, though. At least they aren’t twigs anymore. I wonder what Max would think if she could see me right now?

She’s visited me several times this week. I guess we need to pick a new anime, because the last few days we just talked about her store, our favorite restaurants, how Joe made a total fool of himself Thursday for his girlfriend’s birthday, and planning everyone’s visit in November. Well, we also had a few make-out sessions, which I really liked.

She was smiling to herself, lost in thought, when the door opened up and some nurses filed in, pushing a chair.

Hmm, I don’t know any of them.

One girl waved at her and said, “It’s Tracy’s day off. I’m Michelle. I’ll be your trainer for today and tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s cool.”

Michelle nodded, and then came over. She said, “Let’s get your stretches done. It definitely looks like you’ve been working hard.”

“Yeah, I need to get back into shape.”

Michelle started working with her, stretching her arm and then both of her legs.

It only hurts at the extremes, now. I’m definitely doing better. I just wish I could straighten my limbs out completely. Too bad that’s not in the cards.

The nurses then got Victoria into her bathing suit.

“Do you mind if I try and get into the chair by myself? So far, I haven’t really had a chance.”

Michelle nodded, smiling, “Sure! We’ll stand by if you need help.”

The nurses gathered to each side of her. Victoria used the grab rings to pull herself up. She twisted her waist, and slowly moved her legs to the side of the bed. Two of the nurses held her feet as she turned fully to the side.

“Thanks.”

The nurses nodded, and one of them pulled the chair up where she could reach it.

Yeah, I’m not sure I couldn’t have stopped my feet from just falling down, and maybe hitting something. I’m glad they’re here.

Victoria leaned over, grabbing onto the chair with her left hand. Then she carefully put weight onto her feet.

Ouch! That still fucking hurts. Not too bad though. I can do this!

She stood up into a crouch, turning herself slowly as she did so. The nurses hovered around her, but didn’t hold her up.

They’re actually letting me do this. I half expected them to grab me.

She shuffled around, and let go of the chair by accident. She instantly flopped backwards. Luckily, she landed into the chair’s seat. Several of the nurses were holding her even as she touched the seat, making sure she didn’t get hurt.

Holy cow, I’m breathing hard. I shouldn’t be just from that. Hell, I don’t get that worked up from walking in the pool.

She looked up at the nurses, who stood beside her, looking a little worried.

“Thanks. I guess I still need help with this, but at least now I know I can mostly do it on my own.”

Michelle smiled at her, and said, “You did really well. It won’t be long until you won’t need any help with this.”

“That’s the plan. Thanks.”

The nurses took her to the pool, where she walked for a little over ten minutes again. Michelle stood to her right, helping to hold her upright.

I wish I could use my right arm better. I just tilt over on the machine if no one helps hold me up. At least it’s a lot easier to walk in this water. My feet definitely don’t hurt as much.

The nurses helped her back into her chair and started pushing her back to her room. They passed several patients that Victoria had seen before. Alex was talking to a couple older guys and waved at her. She waved back.

He rolled his chair over, and said, “Hi, again. Victoria, wasn’t it?”

She nodded, saying, “Yes, that’s me. How are you doing today?”

He shrugged, saying, “I’m kinda bummed. Tracy isn’t working today.”

Michelle laughed, and said, “I’m pretty sure she told you she’s already got a boyfriend, Alex.”

He nodded, saying, “Yeah, but I still like talking to her. She’s fun to tease.”

Michelle said, “She gets worked up easily, that’s for sure. You should stop embarrassing her, though. I have to hear about it later. If you’re not careful, she’ll get mad. I’d hate to find you stuck in a hallway somewhere with your chair locked.”

He laughed, “I could see her doing that. It would be pretty funny.”

At least he can laugh about this. Wait, I didn’t know they could lock the wheels on the chair. That would suck.

“If the wheels do get locked, can I unlock them?”

Michelle said, “Yeah, you can unlock these ones. You’d actually be stuck with the old chairs, though. They locked behind the seat.”

I wonder how many patients had that happen to them?

Alex looked at her and said, “Don’t worry. We all just mess around. The nurses here would never do anything like that to you. If they would, I’d have been a goner months ago.”

He pointed to a lever below her right arm. “That unlocks the chair, in case it somehow gets stuck.”

Victoria reached down, looking at the lever. She could barely touch it.

I’d have to twist half out of the seat to actually pull it.

She sighed, looking up. She saw that Alex had a sad expression on his face, which he quickly hid. He nodded at them and said, “Well, I guess I’ll be off. See you guys around.”

He spun his chair around and went back to his friends.

They went back to Victoria’s room, and pulled the chair up to her bed. She managed to get into bed by herself, after a lot of straining. The nurses stood by, ready to help, but she didn’t want it. It took her a while but she made it in.

The nurses changed her back into a hospital gown. Michelle massaged her, taking extra care with her legs.

I seriously need to hire a personal masseuse once I get out of here.

Once Michelle finished, the nurses left. Michelle let her know they’d be back the next morning. Victoria thanked them.

Once she got set up, she ordered a burrito and lemonade for lunch. She hopped online and checked out Vortex Fashion.

I haven’t looked at this in a couple weeks. Courtney really is doing well. There are several new blouses, a nice skirt, and a knit hat I actually want. A lot of her stuff is marked as sold. How is she doing so much?

She quickly ordered the hat. She sent an email to Courtney with the order.

[From: Victoria Chase

To: Courtney Wagner

Subject: Hi!

Hi, girlfriend! I ordered that awesome yellow hat you made. Don’t you dare sell it to anyone else! Lol. I’m really happy your store is doing so well. It looks like you’ve sold even more stuff than before. Just don’t burn yourself out. Take care of yourself. I miss you. Love, Victoria]

Maybe ten minutes later she got a reply.

[From: Courtney Wagner

To: Victoria Chase

Hi, Victoria! I made that thinking about you. I’m glad you wanted it. I’ll ship it out tomorrow. I’m not going too crazy, though it’s definitely a lot of work. I have to say again that I loved those pictures of you and Max! It looks like everything is going great between you two! How soon until you actually move in with her? Ciao! Court]

Of course, she’s only worried about me moving in with Max. I should have expected that. I do really like the hat, though. It will fit with several of my winter outfits. I can’t wait until November when everyone comes to visit us.

A nurse brought in her lunch. She took her time eating it.

This burrito is fucking huge, and it tastes great!

After she finished eating and the nurse took her tray, she sat back and watched some anime music videos.

 

Chapter Text

That evening, Max showed up, bearing a container and a bag of drinks again. She was wearing dark slacks, a blue sweater, and her sneakers.

She’s so pretty.

“Hi, Max!”

“Hey, Victoria. You’re in good spirits, tonight.”

“Well, I managed to get into a wheelchair mostly on my own today, and I did get back into bed completely by myself!”

I sound so proud of myself. It’s amazing how something so simple can be such an accomplishment now.

Max smiled, “That’s great! You’re really doing well. I guess coming here was a good idea.”

Victoria nodded, “Yes, it was. I can walk a lot further in the pool than I could ever do just using the bars at the hospital. It’s really helping me get back into shape.”

“I bet. You are definitely looking better.”

“Oh, you’re checking me out?”

Max blushed a little, and said, “If you were a library book, I’d have filled you with date stamps.”

Victoria half choked at that.

I can’t even reply to that. I don’t know if I should laugh or be embarrassed.

Max grinned nervously, and then grabbed her tray to put her food on. She said, “I got you lemonade today. I know you like it.”

“Thanks. What did you get yourself for dinner?”

“Chicken and mashed potatoes.”

Max sat down and opened the container. Victoria closed her eyes for a second, inhaling the aroma. Then she reached over to her menu.

“I hope you don’t mind, but now I’m hungry again. That smells amazing.”

Max nodded, saying, “I don’t mind at all. Should I wait?”

“No, go ahead and eat! It might be twenty minutes until my food gets here.”

Victoria called the cafeteria and ordered chicken and green beans for herself.

Max asked, “No potatoes?”

“No, I’m trying to eat healthier.”

“But you can boil’em, mash’em, and stick’em in a stew.”

“Sure I can, Samwise.”

Max snickered, and took a big bite of her mashed potatoes. She started making funny faces at Victoria with her mouth completely full.

Victoria started laughing, and had to turn away to get herself to stop.

After a few seconds, she turned back. Max was grinning ear to ear.

“Okay, I give. That was funny.”

Max nodded, saying, “It never fails! Max one, Victoria zero.”

Victoria scowled at her, saying, “I’d say we’re even. That library joke was awful.”

“Humph. You just have bad taste in jokes.”

“Sure I do.”

Max looked like she wanted to reply, but her mouth was full of chicken. Victoria’s shoulders started shaking a little, as she started giggling.

“You look like an upset chipmunk.”

Max coughed, rapidly covering her mouth with her hand.

Oh shit, don’t choke!

Victoria leaned forward, alarmed. Luckily, Max waved her off and took a drink of her iced tea.

“Are you okay?”

Max nodded, saying, “Yeah, I’m fine. I didn’t expect that.”

Victoria sighed, “Sorry about that. I should know better.”

Max shook her head no, saying, “It’s okay. It was actually pretty funny.”

“That’s good, then. Oh, my food’s here already.”

The door opened, and a nurse brought in a tray. She set it up for Victoria, said hi to Max, and then left.

Victoria started eating, as Max was finishing up her own plate.

It is really good! I should have ordered this before.

Max pointed at the laptop, and Victoria nodded to her. Max asked, “Do you have any anime sites bookmarked”

“Yeah, just check the top folder.”

Max did that, and then pulled up the site. She started flipping through the list of shows as Victoria finished up.

Once Victoria was done, Max handed the laptop to Victoria and took their trays and put them on the counter. She sat back down, and said, “I think we need to start a new show.”

“Me, too. It’s your turn to pick.”

Max leaned back, thinking. Then she asked, “Have you seen Bloom Into You?”

“The lesbianest anime ever made? Of course. Have you?”

Max nodded yes, a grin on her face. Then she said, “I want to watch something slower. I liked Black Lagoon a lot, but I feel like chilling out.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Hmm. There’s a show I’ve heard a lot of good things about, but I haven’t seen it yet. Have you watched Laid-Back Camp?”

“No, I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s about girls who go camping together. I’ve heard it’s a really good show. Oh, and before you ask, there’s no sex or anything like that. They’re all just good friends.”

“I’ve never been interested in camping.”

Max’s shoulders slumped a little as she replied, “Okay, then maybe something else.”

Shit, that sounded way too bitchy. Damn it! Why do I always say things the wrong way?

“Max, I’m sorry. If you want to watch it, we’ll watch it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll love it.”

Max looked at her, eyes bright, a smile on her face. “Well, if you’re okay with it…”

Victoria shook her head. She found the show, set up her laptop so they could both see it, and started episode one.

They watched three episodes that night. It was a cute, fuzzy-feeling show. Victoria felt relaxed; and oddly attached to the characters already.

This show is great! I think both of us needed this. It’s so weird after everything that happened last week. I really thought she was gone. I know I worry about shit I don’t need to, but I can’t help it. I just want her to be happy; and just chilling like this seems to be working. Maybe she feels the same way about me?

“I’m glad you found this. I love all of the girls. They’re so fun.”

Max grinned, “Me, too! I sort of want to buy a motorcycle and a tent, now.”

“Maybe wait on that one. I don’t want you to wander off and get eaten by a bear.”

Max laughed. She stayed for a while longer, and they just talked about the show, camping, and how good their dinners were. Finally, Max got up to leave. She leaned in and gave Victoria a short kiss on the lips, before smiling at her, waving, and heading home.

I can’t wait to get out of here. Heck, we’ll be living together. We might even be in the same bed…

Chapter Text

The next day, Victoria managed to get into the wheelchair all on her own, without falling. She walked almost fifteen minutes on the treadmill. She felt pretty damn proud of herself. Once she got back to her room, she made it into bed by herself, as well.

The nurses congratulated her before they left. She was sitting there with a huge grin on her face, when her phone buzzed.

I wonder who that is?

Picking it up, she saw John Stambaugh was on the line.

“Hi, John.”

“Hello, Ms. Chase. I wanted to check in with you, after everything that’s happened.”

“Thanks. I’m doing great. Therapy is much easier here, with the pools. I’m glad you checked this place out for me.”

“That’s good to hear. Your father said he talked with you about what happened at the hospital. How are you holding up?”

I really don’t want to talk about all of that. Hell, I can’t even tell him everything I know.

“I’m fine. How is Susan?”

John said, “She’s doing well. She’s currently on paid leave at home, while she’s healing up. From what she told me, she isn’t hurt too badly. I think she’s more angry about the incident than anything.”

The incident. You can tell he’s a lawyer.

“I’m glad to hear that. Tell her I wish her the best, and thanks for protecting me.”

John replied, “I will. In regards to what happened, I have filed suit against Ray Johnson and the hospital.”

“Oh. I guess that’s to be expected. I don’t really blame the hospital, though.”

John said, “They let a known stalker sneak into the garage. Somehow he knew we were leaving that day. I can’t prove it, but I suspect a hospital employee let it slip. I’m not going to let them off the hook.”

“I understand that. Honestly, I just want to make sure you go after that creep Johnson and ruin his life. Help the prosecutors any way you can to make sure he gets put in prison forever this time.”

John laughed, “I rarely get to help the prosecution. I like that idea a lot.”

“Good. Also, while we’re talking, can you arrange for something nice for the nurses and the guards who watched my room while I was there? It doesn’t have to be anything really fancy, but I wanted to thank them. I know my therapist, Nancy, has diet restrictions, but I’d like them to get a catered meal or something.”

John paused, and then said, “I’ll have someone work on that. It might be a day or two, but I’ll make sure it’s done.”

“Thanks. Is there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I wish you the best, Ms. Chase. Get well soon.”

“Thanks. Bye.”

Victoria hung up.

I feel bad for the hospital. I really don’t want it to get sued, but I guess John is right.

She spent some time online, intentionally avoiding the news or what used to be her first stop, the photography forum. She ended up watching music videos. She had just finished her lunch when the door opened.

Her mother and Cathy walked in.

Fuck! I didn’t know they were coming today!

Victoria sat up, quickly checking her hair.

My food tray is still right in front of me. Oh well, that’s what she gets.

She put on a smile as they approached, and said, “Hello, Mother, Cathy. I didn’t expect you today.”

Cathy nodded, as her mother said, “Victoria, I just wanted to check on you after what happened. It was such an awful scene.”

“Well, I’m doing better now.”

Her mother said, “That’s wonderful!”

She looked around the place, and said, “I love the window! You have a great view. Oh! That’s such a cute teddy bear you have, too!”

Fuck! Madara is right beside me! Shit!

Victoria’s smile strained, and she looked at Cathy. She felt her cheeks getting red.

I want to shrink down into the floor. How could I let her see me with a stuffed cat in my bed?

Cathy said, “I’m just happy you’re okay. This is a much nicer place than the hospital. How do you like it?”

“I like it a lot. They have a swimming pool with a treadmill that I can use to walk with. I’m doing a lot better because of it.”

Her mother said, “That’s good to hear. I was really worried about you.”

She looked at the tray in front of Victoria, and added, “I guess we should have called ahead.”

“That would have been nice.”

Her mother looked a little surprised, but Cathy started grinning. Cathy said, “How about we take our seats.”

Her mother nodded at her, saying, “That’s a good idea.”

The two women sat down as a nurse came in. The nurse came over and took Victoria’s tray. She said hello to the two visitors after Victoria thanked her, and then left.

They chatted for a while about the Chase Space and a dinner party that her parents held a few weeks ago.

Finally, Victoria asked, “Mother, I appreciate you coming here, but is there something you wanted to talk with me about?”

Her mother paused, and then said, “Have you thought about what you are going to do when you leave here? Will your house be adequate for your condition?”

My condition. Holy fuck.

Just as Victoria was about to say something, Cathy interjected, “We’re really concerned for you. I know you wanted to talk with that Max girl before you decided anything. Have you done so?”

Her mother sat up a little, watching her face.

Victoria shook her head, a little annoyed.

“I did talk with Max. I’m going to move in with her once I leave here.”

Her mother’s eyes got really big, and she said, “You are? Isn’t that a big commitment?”

“Yes. Yes, it is. I really care about her. I want to do this. I want to make our relationship work.”

Cathy said, “That’s good! She did seem like a really nice girl. I’m guessing she still visits you?”

Victoria smiled, for real this time, and said, “Yes, she’s here several times a week. We’re getting along great.”

Her mother asked, “Is she okay with your… I mean, she doesn’t mind?”

Why don’t you just ask me if “She doesn’t care that I’m a cripple”?

Victoria sighed. She said, “No, she doesn’t care about my injuries. She’s been nothing but supportive, when any other girl I’ve dated would have been gone a week after I went into the hospital.”

Her mother blinked, before saying, “I’m happy for you. I know we’ve argued about this in the past. I hope it works out for you.”

Me, too.

Cathy smiled, saying, “It’s nice to see you opening up about this. A year ago, we had no idea what your love life was like, no matter how much we pestered you.”

Her mother laughed, and Victoria just grinned at them.

That was on purpose. I guess I should have just told you back then.

Her mother looked at her slyly, and then asked, “Do we need to get a U-Haul ready for you when you leave here?”

Victoria coughed, quickly covering her mouth, as both her mother and Cathy started laughing.

Please tell me how they know about U-Haul lesbians?

Cathy said, “We did a little research. I thought it was really funny, and Mary did too. We flipped a coin to see who got to say it to you.”

Really?

Her mother smiled and said, “We weren’t sure if you were still with Max. I’m glad that she’s sticking by you. You got lucky finding her.”

“Yeah, I know. I just am kind of really surprised at how well you’re taking this.”

Her mother shrugged, and said, “I’ve been trying to get you someone for years. I’m happy for you.”

Cathy added, “We also haven’t had to go crazy finding people with eligible sons and planning dinner parties for you, either!”

Mother scowled at Cathy for a second, but then shook her head and said, “I have to admit that I don’t miss doing all of that work anymore. However, once you’re out of here and moved in with Max, I expect the both of you to visit your father and I. Don’t even think of saying you can’t.”

I should have known that was coming.

“Well, I’ll have to set it up with Max, because she’ll have to close her store for a few days.”

Her mother nodded, saying, “Yes, you should.”

“Okay, okay. I promise we’ll visit you once I get out of here. I can’t say when before I talk to Max, though.”

Cathy said, “Great! Just let me know ahead of time. Honestly, I hope you can make it for Thanksgiving. We can wow your girlfriend with a real feast!”

I wonder how Max would react to that? We always have enough food for twenty people that day, and it is all really good.

“I’ll ask her for Thanksgiving, then. I’ll let you know what she says. I don’t know how she plans her holidays.”

Her mother nodded, saying, “Wonderful. I hope she agrees.”

They ended up talking for another two hours about lots of stuff, none of it serious. Victoria purposefully avoided any mention of the hospital incident, which her mother and Cathy picked up on, so they also avoided it.

Finally, her visitors stood up, wishing her well. Her mother actually leaned down and hugged her. Cathy did, too. Then they left.

I think that’s the best visit I’ve ever had with her in my life. I am actually happy she came.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria woke up to the sound of rain hitting the window by her bed.

Wow, it’s coming down really hard. I hope Max is careful going to work. It’s too bad she couldn’t visit last night. I hope she’s not sick again.

After a few minutes, she was awake enough to order a coffee, eggs, bacon, and toast. Then she turned on her laptop and checked the weather.

We’re supposed to get a lot of rain today. Maybe some thunder. It’s nice just being able to sit here and look out at it.

She found an old album by Hako Yamasaki and turned it on low.

Her voice is amazing. I don’t even know what she’s saying and I love listening to her. Hmm. Now that I have a lot of free time, maybe I should actually try and learn Japanese. I’ve wanted to for years, but I was always too busy. It would make watching anime and listening to music a lot better.

She was sitting in her bed, staring out into the yard, when a nurse brought in her food.

Alright! This smells great!

She thanked the nurse and started eating.

It’s so good! I needed this to start the day.

A flash of white illuminated the room, and a loud bang of thunder sounded a second later. Victoria jumped a little in her bed, and spilled a little coffee on her chest.

Ow! Ow! Ow! Hot!

She quickly set the cup back down and used a napkin to dab at the coffee on her gown.

I’m glad this isn’t a really nice shirt. That’s going to stain.

She looked back outside.

The rain is coming down even harder. It’s drumming on the windows pretty loud now. It’s actually pretty relaxing. I just want to sit here and not have anyone bug me for a few hours.

Another flash illuminated the room, and Victoria set her fork down just as the thunder hit.

I might call Max in a bit, just to make sure she’s safe. I think she opens her store at ten. It has to be scary trying to drive in this.

A sudden image flashed in her head of stopped traffic, bright lights behind her, and she could have sworn she heard screeching brakes. She froze, closing her eyes really hard and breathing fast. The sensation went away.

Holy fuck. What was that? I felt like I was back at that damn bridge again.

Her heart felt like it was beating a hundred times a minute. She took some deep breaths, clutching her right arm. Her whole right side was aching.

I feel like I did when I first woke up from the coma. Well, not that bad, but close.

She looked around the room, half expecting to see Fake Max.

Nothing. I guess that was just my imagination. I hope this isn’t going to happen every time a big thunderstorm hits.

She took a while to finish her breakfast, spending a lot of time just looking outside. She didn’t have any more flashbacks, and started to enjoy the atmosphere again. After she was done eating, a nurse came in and took her tray.

A little while later, Michelle came in with her helpers and a chair.

“No Tracy today?”

Michelle shook her head no, saying, “She called out. I guess the storm knocked out the power and she’s watching her dad. You’re stuck with me again.”

She said the last sentence with a grin.

“Sounds good. I hope she’s okay.”

Michelle put her through their regular stretches, though both of them jumped a few times when the thunder shook the room. After they put her swimsuit on, Victoria managed to get into the chair, but she did slip a little. The nurses caught her before she went anywhere, but Victoria’s face got red.

I just want to get into a damn chair without falling the fuck over. Why can’t I do this?

Michelle said, “You’re doing really well. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Yeah, I keep telling myself that, but I don’t always believe it.”

“Trust me, you’re doing a lot better than a few other patients I’ve had. Some people don’t even try. I wish they had half your spirit.”

“Thanks. I guess I’m ready.”

They went to the pool and Victoria got on the treadmill. She started walking, not in a rush. One of the nurses held her up on her right side, while Michelle talked with her, keeping her focused. She lasted almost twenty minutes before she had to stop.

They got back to the room. Victoria used the pull rings to get herself back into the bed.

It’s getting easier. I guess doing all of those pull-ups is helping. I just wish my right arm was as strong as my left one.

Michelle massaged her legs and arms again, and then they changed her into a new gown. Then the nurses left.

Victoria ordered a cobb salad and lemonade for lunch. While she was waiting for her food, she called Max. Max answered on the second ring, “Hi, Victoria!”

“Hi, Max. I just wanted to talk with you, and make sure you made it to your store safe.”

Max replied, “Yep! This weather’s a little crazy, but my Subaru can go anywhere. Thanks for asking, though!”

Victoria sighed, a little relieved.

I guess I really was worried for nothing.

“That’s great. I’m guessing your store won’t be really busy today, will it?”

“Probably not. You never know, though! In any case, I guarantee Joe will have chili ready today. He always makes it when the weather’s bad, and it’s really good.”

“I bet. I think that man can cook anything.”

Max laughed, saying, “Don’t tell him that! He’s already a ‘kitchen maestro’, as he puts it.”

Victoria snorted a little, “Of course he’d say that. Oh, I wanted to ask you, even though it’s pretty far away, but are you planning anything for Thanksgiving?”

Max paused, “Well, I usually visit my parents in Seattle. Why?”

“That works! My parents have invited us for Thanksgiving, and by invited, basically demanded that I bring you.”

Max laughed again, saying, “We’ll have to figure it out. I’m not even going to try to eat two big meals in one day. I’ll ask my parents if they’d want to have our meal the day before. That way you get to meet them, too.”

Oh yeah, that’s going to be awkward. I hope they like me. At least my parents have met Max already.

“That works for me. My parents do put out a lot of food. I hope we both don’t get sick of turkey.”

“Gobble gobble!”

Max giggled.

After a few seconds, Victoria said, “Okay… Just let me know what they say, and I’ll inform my mother what we’re planning.”

“I’ll do that! How is your therapy going?”

They talked for another twenty minutes before Max had to help a customer. Victoria set her phone down, smiling at it.

It feels like we just talked for a minute. She’s a goofball, but we just click so easily. We even have the same hobbies. Even if I wasn’t gay, I’d want her to be my best friend. I better not say that to Taylor or Courtney…

 

 

Chapter Text

Victoria spent a little more time watching the storm outside, before she hopped online and started searching for online Japanese courses.

Fuck it. At least I can learn something while I’m trapped here.

She picked a course with very good reviews, paid for it, and downloaded it. She then started working through the first lesson.

Damn, I need a tablet and a pen. I want to learn how to write kanji and hiragana. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be good practice for my hand. I should probably start drawing again. I haven’t drawn anything since I transferred here. Maybe I’ll mix that up with writing practice.

She hopped back online and ordered a tablet, after checking a few reviews and seeing which ones supported the language course she was using. She had to ask a nurse for the address to the center, and to make sure it got to her room.

At least I’ll have it tomorrow. I’ll just try to learn some basic vocabulary for now.

She spent several hours working through the first few lessons, repeating them multiple times so that she memorized them.

I’ve heard half of these words watching anime. Still, it’s cool to really understand what they mean now.

She took breaks periodically to do a few pull-ups and crunches. The rain had turned into a drizzle by late afternoon, and the lightning show was over.

She was taking a break when her phone buzzed. Picking it up, she saw that Max was calling.

She answered, “Hi, Max.”

“Hi, Victoria. I just wanted to tell you that I’m closing early today. I’ve only had a few customers. Also, Joe made us dinner, so I’m going to bring that over.”

“Oh, that sounds great! Tell him I said thanks! Be careful driving.”

Max replied, “I will. Luckily, it’s not too bad out now. I’ll be there in an hour or so.”

“I’ll see you then.”

Max hung up.

Just be safe, Max.

Victoria looked outside. It really wasn’t that bad out. Still, she could far-too-easily picture the bridge in her mind.

Maybe I should tell her not to come over. I don’t want her to get into an accident trying to visit me.

She picked her phone back up, but then shook her head and set it back down.

I can’t be afraid every single time it rains. This is ridiculous.

She hopped online and checked the news, and then spent a little time perusing Vortex Fashion.

Wow, Courtney’s stuff is selling well. She has hardly anything in stock now. I hope she doesn’t try to overdo it.

She grabbed her phone and sent a text.

[Victoria: Hey, Court. I just checked your site. You’re doing really well!]

A few minutes later, Courtney replied.

[Courtney: Hi! Yeah, it’s been really busy, but I love it! I mailed out your hat! I had to look up the address and just put your name on it. If it doesn’t get to you in a few days, start asking the nurses about it.]

[Victoria: Crap. I didn’t think about that when I ordered. I’m sure they’ll get it to me, though. Just be sure you don’t overwork yourself.]

[Courtney: I won’t! It’s hard not to, though, but you guys were right. I can’t afford to make a mistake and send out something that isn’t perfect.]

The door opened up, and Max walked in, carrying her insulated bag. She was wearing a yellow raincoat, which she started to take off after setting down her bag.

She looks cute!

“Hi, Max! I’m texting with Courtney. Take your time.”

Max smiled, and said, “Tell her I said hello!”

[Victoria: Good! Well, Max just came in bearing dinner. She says hello!]

[Courtney: Oo, la la! Sexy time! Lol! Tell her I said hi! Hope everything goes well for you two!]

[Victoria: Me, too! Bye!]

[Courtney: Ciao!]

Victoria set her phone down, as Max revealed two large cups and two large containers, along with some biscuits.

“Courtney said hi.”

Max smiled, as she opened up the containers and set up the plasticware.

She said, “We’ve got chili, corn bread, and for you, a vanilla latte! Courtesy of Joe’s Coffee Shop.”

Victoria smiled, breathing in deeply to smell the aroma.

“This smells wonderful!”

She took a sip of her latte, and then a bite of the chili.

“Damn, he’s a good cook. Tell him I said so.”

Max laughed, “I will. I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear it.”

“How was the drive?”

“Not bad. It’s definitely easier to get here than the hospital.”

“That’s good. It’s one of the reasons I moved here.”

Max smiled, saying, “It definitely makes my life a little easier. Thanks.”

They spent twenty minutes eating, talking about her store and the weather. After they finished, Max cleaned up.

Victoria got her laptop out as Max sat back down. Max said, “By the way, my parents are fine with eating the day before Thanksgiving. They’re eager to meet you.”

“Oh. Umm, that’s good. I hope you said nice things about me.”

Max looked down, and then said, “They knew about you from Blackwell, but I’ve filled them in on everything that’s happened the last few months.”

Shit. I really don’t know if I want to meet them now.

“Well, I guess that’s okay. What did you tell them back then?”

Max looked back up, obviously nervous. She said, “They know you were bullying me and Kate. It came up when they were making me get a therapist.”

Fuck! Oh damn, they probably hate me. They probably think Max is in some kind of abuser/victim relationship now. Fuck!

“Umm, so they actually want to meet me? They’re not just going to interrogate me when I visit?”

Max looked worried, “I don’t think so, but then again, maybe? I’m pretty sure my dad will be fine with you after everything I’ve told them, but I’m not sure about my mom.”

“You’re not giving me any confidence, Max.”

Max shrugged, “I mean, I’m pretty sure everything will be fine. I just don’t know. My mom was really, really mad at you back then. Well, my dad was too, but he’s more forgiving than she is.”

“Damn.”

Max shrugged, “I don’t think she’ll make a big deal out of it, after she meets you.”

She’ll probably just pity me. ‘Oh, look at the poor crippled girl!’

“Okay. I guess it’s planned, then. It’s still six weeks away. Heck, it took me a day just to arrange everyone’s flights for our sleepover next month.”

Max said, “Yeah, I can’t wait. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“Me, too! While I’m thinking about it, make sure we have a few games, as well as food and drinks. I know Courtney and Taylor will want some wine.”

Max nodded, saying, “I’ve already planned everything. I even got them to pick out a couple bottles.”

“Oh, that’s good. They can be surprisingly snooty about what they drink. If it was expensive, let me know. I’ll pay.”

Max smiled, “It actually wasn’t. They just wanted a few California wines.”

“Wow. That’s interesting. I guess they’ve changed.”

Max shrugged, “Don’t ask me. Still, I’m pretty sure we’re all going to have a great time.”

“That sounds great! On a completely different topic, are you ready for some more Laid Back Camp?”

Max nodded, “You bet! I really like this show.”

“Me, too. I didn’t think I would, but I’m glad you picked it.”

“It’s definitely fun, and easy to relax while watching. I kind of wish Blackwell could have been like this.”

“Hmm, true. Imagine if we all were just having fun and not so damn worried about who was the most popular? Hell, I’d just like to re-do everything without touching any drugs or booze.”

Max nodded, “I guess that’s why it’s a cartoon. Real life isn’t that easy.”

“True. Still, I can’t believe you just called this show a cartoon!”

Max grinned, and said, “You do know anime is just ‘cartoon’ in Japanese, don’t you?”

Victoria crossed her arms, pouting, “It’s different.”

Max started laughing. After a few seconds, Victoria just shook her head.

“I can’t believe I’m dating someone who thinks cartoons and anime are the same.”

Max leaned over and squeezed her shoulder, saying, “I’m just teasing you. Even if anime are just cartoons, they’re definitely a different style than American shows.”

“That’s not helping you…”

Max smiled and gave her a quick kiss before sitting back to watch the show.

It’s really hard to be angry when she can do that to me so easily…

They watched four episodes before Max left for the night.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, the weather looked really nice outside. Victoria ate her bowl of oatmeal and peaches, and sipped her coffee, while looking out her window.

It won’t be long until I can actually get out of here. I can’t believe how much I miss just going outside. It’s so weird. It definitely looks like a great day to just sit on the porch.

She spent another ten minutes eating and relaxing, before a nurse came in and took her dishes. After that, she got out her laptop and started practicing Japanese again.

I’ve learned some really basic stuff so far. I wish I could just be like Neo and inject it into my brain. This is going to be tough.

After almost an hour of reading and repeating phrases, the door opened up and Tracy and her helpers came in.

“Hi, Tracy.”

I’d comment about her being off yesterday, but who knows how she’d take it? I don’t want her to think I’m hitting on her. She already hates being near me.

Tracy smiled, and replied, “Hi, Victoria. I hear you’ve been getting into your chair by yourself. That’s great news!”

Victoria smiled, actually a little proud of that.

“Yes, though I still need a little help. I have a bad habit of slipping when I turn into the chair.”

Tracy nodded, “You’re still working hard, though. We’ll make sure you don’t fall.”

The nurses changed her into her swimsuit and Tracy did their normal routine of stretches. After that, Victoria carefully got into the chair again. Her right foot slipped as she turned, but the nurses caught her and set her into the seat. Pain shot through her leg, but she just grimaced and ignored it.

Shit! I wanted to impress Tracy, and show her I can do it myself! Fucking stupid foot. I hate this.

She slouched down into her seat as she was pushed to the swimming pool, crossing her arms and scowling.

I just want to walk again. I hope that fucking truck driver is happy with himself. He ruined my damn life.

Tracy said, “Cheer up, Victoria. The way you’re going, I bet you’ll be out of here in a few more weeks.”

Victoria looked up at her and said, “I certainly plan on it.”

Tracy smiled, “That’s good. As long as you keep a goal in mind, you can reach it.”

They got to the pool, and Tracy and the other nurses helped Victoria into the water. She carefully made her way to the treadmill, making sure not to bump her leg into it. Once on it, she started walking. She made it a little over fifteen minutes before she had to stop.

Her right leg was shaking as she was lifted out of the water.

That’s new.

Even after she got into the chair, her leg kept jumping.

Tracy frowned, and said, “I think I’m going to limit your time walking for a day or two. You’re muscles are getting strained too much. Does it hurt?”

“Not really. I just can’t make it stop. I guess it’s some kind of muscle spasm?”

Tracy nodded. They quickly got her back to her room. As Victoria started to get into bed by herself, Tracy stopped her, saying, “Not today. I’m worried about your leg. I don’t want you to injure yourself.”

Victoria huffed, and her shoulders slumped.

I am not a fucking cripple. I can do this myself.

Before she could actually say anything, the nurses were already lifting her into her bed. She wanted to yell at them.

I hate this! They’re treating me like I’m helpless. I’m not! Who gives a damn if my leg shakes a little? It’ll go away.

She kept her mouth shut and just closed her eyes as they changed her back into a hospital gown.

I shouldn’t be angry at them. They’re just doing their job. Heck, they’re trying to help me, even though it makes me feel worthless.

Tracy said, “I’m going to massage your leg. Just keep breathing nice and slow.”

“Okay.”

Victoria stared at the ceiling as Tracy rubbed up and down her right leg, turning and twisting it occasionally. A couple times her breath caught as a spike of pain shot up into her. The second time, Tracy said, “I’m sorry about this. It is helping, though. I’ll be done in a few more minutes.”

I used to love being massaged like this. Now I’m just waiting for it to hurt. This sucks.

Tracy kept working her leg muscles, and luckily, there wasn’t any more pain. Finally, she stood up and said, “All done! Tomorrow I’m only going to let you walk for five minutes. Then we can see about extending the time.”

“Okay. That doesn’t seem like very much, though.”

Tracy shrugged, “What we think we can do isn’t always the same as what we can actually do. In any case, you’re walking really well. I know a lot of other people who wouldn’t be as far along as you.”

Victoria nodded, “Thanks. I’m not going to give up, that’s for sure.”

Tracy laughed, “I didn’t think you would.”

The nurses gathered up their things and left, taking the chair with them.

Hopefully, I’ll get to the point where they can leave the chair here in the room for me when they go soon.

Victoria was eating her lunch of roast chicken, green beans, and orange juice when a nurse came in, carrying a box.

“Hi! Is that my mail?”

The nurse nodded, “Yep! I can open it up for you if you want, so you can keep eating.”

“Sounds good!”

The nurse quickly opened the box, revealing a computer tablet and pen. Victoria had her unbox everything and plug the tablet in. The nurse chatted with her a little while she finished eating. Once she was done, the nurse took her tray and left.

Victoria then grabbed the tablet and logged in, getting her initial set-up to complete, along with some updates for the system. Once that finished, she installed the Japanese program she used, along with an art program she owned.

She then spent some time just practicing some basic hiragana. She had a tough time holding the electronic pen correctly, but she was managing.

This is really hard. I wish my hand wasn’t so messed up. Maybe I should try learning this with my left hand?

Switching over to her left hand didn’t really help much.

I can hold the pen better, but I am seriously not left-handed at all. I’m not sure which is better. Still, I think I’m going to keep going using my left hand, at least for Japanese. If nothing else, it will help my coordination.

She spent another half hour writing, before her hand started cramping up.

Damn. Well, I guess I’m done with this for the day. Let’s try drawing something.

She opened up the art program, and tried drawing Max with her right hand. It was actually turning out pretty good, though it was taking her a lot longer than it used to.

I shouldn’t have stopped drawing every day once I moved here. It’s so easy to break a good habit.

She spent the rest of the day watching shows online, listening to music, and occasionally doing some pull-ups and crunches. Max wasn’t able to visit, which was disappointing, so she ended up going to sleep a little early.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria woke up and ordered an omelet, coffee, and orange juice. As she was eating, she checked the news online. She almost dropped her juice when she saw the story.

Fuck! That’s why Max couldn’t visit last night! It’s the week from Hell, all over again. I managed to completely block it from my mind. How is it here already?

The Fall of Mark Jefferson

Maggie Smythe    October 7th, 2020

Six years ago today, the protégé of Mark Jefferson, Nathan Prescott, murdered a local girl at Blackwell Academy, located in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Following his arrest, a hidden bunker was found near the town. Up until this point, Mark Jefferson had been a celebrated photographer, famous for his dark portraits. After the authorities searched the bunker, he has forever been branded a kidnapper and murderer.

I contacted Blackwell Academy, but they had no comment on what happened. Mark Jefferson and Nathan Prescott also refused interviews. Both are currently being held in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon.

Mark Jefferson is serving a life sentence, with no parole. He is charged with kidnapping up to 40 girls, and three murders. It’s likely he committed more, but they were the only charges with enough evidence for the authorities to use in court. Nathan Prescott is serving a 30 year sentence for his actions, involving kidnapping and the accidental overdose of one of his victims.

A number of people were implicated in Jefferson’s illicit activities, as he was selling inappropriate photographs of his victims to them on the dark web. A few are also now in jail, though many of the more famous or wealthy accused “collectors” never faced trial.

If nothing else, Mark Jefferson’s activities caused many school districts to re-evaluate their hiring practices. Hopefully, nothing like this can happen again.

-----

Damn it! What a fucking scumbag. I hope he rots. Nathan managed to avoid a life sentence, but I’m not even sure that’s justice. I can’t believe we were best friends. I was such an idiot. His fucking father is living it up somewhere on the east coast, the bastard. I bet he never even calls Nathan, much less visits him.

Victoria looked at her half-eaten omelet, and shook her head.

I’m not even hungry now.

She pushed the plate away, and finished her juice.

I can’t do this shit today. I really don’t want to talk to any of these nurses. At all. I shouldn’t be here.

Scowling, she pushed the call button. A nurse came in.

“Could you please take my tray? I’m not hungry anymore. I’m also taking a day off. Tell Tracy not to bother coming.”

The nurse blinked, and said, “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Yes! You can. I’m paying to be here, and I’m taking the damn day off. I have some personal shit I need to deal with.”

The nurse raised an eyebrow, but then shook her head and took the tray.

I bet Tracy shows up anyway. I guess I’m just going to piss her off, too.

Victoria grabbed her phone and called Max. Max didn’t answer.

Once the voicemail picked up, Victoria said, “Hi, Max. It’s Victoria. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about this yesterday, but if you want to talk to me about anything that happened, just call. I’ll answer.”

She hung up.

I hope Max is okay. She shouldn’t be alone today. I bet she’s still in bed. I wish I had could get out of this damn place! I’d go check on her.

She got an idea, and looked up the number on her phone. Then she dialed.

On the second ring, a familiar voice said, “Joe’s Coffee Shop. How can I help you?”

“Hi, Joe. This is Victoria Chase. I’m just calling about Max.”

“Oh, hi! I’ve heard lots of good things about you lately. Max really likes you. Is she okay?”

“Well… I don’t know how well you know her, but today is the anniversary of the day her best friend, Chloe, was murdered. I was hoping you could check on her. I can’t leave the center.”

“Damn. I didn’t know that. I’ve heard a ton of stories about Chloe. This is awful. Max doesn’t usually open her store for another few hours. If she comes in, I’ll definitely talk with her and let you know if she’s alright.”

“Thanks. I’m not even sure she’ll open her store today. I guess it is a little early, yet.”

“Yeah, Max is not a morning person. You take it easy, too. Don’t do anything foolish.”

“I can’t, even if I wanted to. Thanks, though. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye. I hope you get well soon. I’m saving some soup for you!”

“Thanks! Bye.”

Joe’s a good guy. I hope he sees Max and helps her out.

Victoria hung up. She flopped back into her bed, and stared at the ceiling.

I’m not sure what to do. I can only imagine what’s going through Max’s head right now. I feel so helpless.

Her phone buzzed. She sat up quick and grabbed it.

Taylor.

“Hi, Taylor.”

“Hi, Victoria. I’m just calling to talk to you. I’m guessing you forgot what today is.”

“I know what day it is! I feel awful.”

“You checked the news, then?”

“Oh, shut up… Yes, I did.”

Victoria could almost feel Taylor’s disappointment through the phone.

Taylor said, “This is probably the worst day of the year for Max. You can’t forget it. Have you talked to her?”

“I left a voice mail. She didn’t answer her phone.”

“Hmm… She might just stay in bed. I know I would. You should try calling her again in a few hours.”

“I will. I also talked with Joe, the guy who runs the store next to hers. If she comes in, he’ll let me know. He’s also worried about her.”

Taylor replied, “That’s good. I guess I can’t blame you. I hate even thinking about that week. Our senior year was ruined. That poor girl Chloe got murdered, and I know half of the students thought we were in on it.”

“We may as well have been. At least I should have known what was going on, even if you two didn’t.”

Taylor said, “I knew Nathan was getting a little crazy, but I thought he was mostly harmless. You and Courtney agreed with me. I just hope Jefferson is having a really bad time in prison.”

“Me, too. I actually flirted with that evil bastard. He was the only man I’ve met that I even considered doing anything with.”

“Every girl there wanted him. You can’t blame yourself for that… Hold on…”

Victoria heard Taylor yelling, “Adam! What are you doing? How… Victoria, I have to go. Just call Max, okay?”

Victoria giggled, and said, “I will. You go, super mom!”

Taylor hung up, not bothering to reply.

Adam is going to drive her nuts. Goofy kid.

She was looking back outside when her door opened. Turning around, she saw Tracy walking in.

Crap. I fucking knew she’d show up.

“Hi, Tracy.”

“Hi, Victoria. I heard that you were going to take the day off? Is your leg okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s just a really bad day for me personally. Things happened a few years ago that really messed me and my friends up back at school. I’m probably just going to be on the phone all day.”

Tracy didn’t really look like she believed her, and said, “We can still do your stretches and I can massage your leg. I think you need that, at least.”

“I’m not really in the mood.”

“Victoria, if you start doing this, you’ll never be in the mood, and you’ll never get better.”

Fuck, leave me alone!

Victoria sighed, closing her eyes. After a few seconds, she said, “Let’s just do the stretches and massage. I don’t want to go out of the room, though. I’m expecting an important call.”

Tracy nodded, “Good. Lay back and I’ll start.”

Tracy spent an hour going through all of the stretches and massages. There were a few times when it hurt, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as yesterday.

Once she finished up, Tracy stepped back and said, “I’m glad you listened to me. I don’t really know what happened in your personal life, but you can’t just stop your rehab, or your future will be a lot tougher.”

“I know. Thanks.”

Tracy nodded, looking a little miffed, and left.

Oh well. I’m definitely on her shit list now. Too bad, so sad.

Victoria picked up her phone again.

No calls.

She called Max again, but it went to voicemail.

“Max, it’s after ten. I don’t know if you went to your store or not, but if you did, Joe is going to check in on you. Please let me know you’re okay. Bye.”

Damn. Is she still in bed? I can’t say anything about that, though. I’d be buried in my blankets if I was her.

She called Courtney. Courtney answered after a few rings, “Hi, Victoria! Are you okay?”

“Hi, Courtney. Not really. It’s the anniversary of Blackwell. I can’t get a hold of Max.”

“I’m sure she’s alright. I bet she’s just staying in bed, watching movies. It’s what I’d do.”

Victoria laughed a little, “You, me, and Taylor. I guess I shouldn’t be too worried. Still, it’s a horrible day for her. I wish she’d answer her phone.”

“When I get really depressed, I usually turn my phone off.”

“Oh? Well, don’t. Call me if you’re feeling down.”

Courtney replied, “Ma’am! Yes, Ma’am!”

“I’m not a drill instructor.”

“You sound like one!”

“Very funny. Anyway, I just wanted to talk with someone. You’re not busy, are you?”

Courtney paused, “Well, actually… I’m at work.”

“Damn. Sorry. You should have said something.”

“It’s alright. There aren’t any customers here.”

“Still, I’ll go. Take care of yourself.”

“You, too, Victoria. Ciao!”

“Bye.”

Victoria hung up.

Still no word from Max. Where is she?

 

Chapter Text

Victoria only ordered a small salad and a coffee for lunch. She ate it, without really tasting it.

Why haven’t I heard from Max yet?

She called Joe again. He answered, “Joe’s Coffee Shop. How can I help you?”

“Hi, Joe. Has Max showed up today?”

“No, I haven’t seen her. She didn’t leave a sign on her door, but she also didn’t come in.”

He sounds as worried as me.

“Okay. Well, my friends think she’s probably just sleeping in and not doing anything. It sounds like they could be right.”

Joe said, “I guess that’s possible. I’ll keep an eye out. Take care of yourself.”

“I will. Thanks, Joe.”

She hung up.

Max, where the hell are you?

Victoria tried calling her again, and was immediately sent to voice mail.

Fuck. She did turn off her phone.

“Max, I hope you’re okay. Please call me. I’m worried.”

Victoria set her phone down and sighed.

If she’d at least call me back, I could relax.

Victoria turned on some music and fell back into her bed.

I guess there’s nothing I can really do. It’s not like I can drive to her house and knock on the door. Of course, I don’t even know where she lives. I should have gotten her to tell me her address.

She did a quick search online, and found the likely location.

I feel like a stalker. I probably shouldn’t have done this. I wish there was something I could do. I’m going to go crazy sitting here.

She hopped online and checked the photography forum, reading the titles of the highest rated threads.

“Mark Jefferson: Genius or Insane?”

Insane. No question.

“Blackwell Academy: Still worth going to?”

Fuck if I know.

“Mark Jefferson: A Story of Hubris”

Yeah, he really did love himself.

“I wish I could be like Mark Jefferson!”

What the fuck is wrong with you?

“Where is Victoria Chase?”

I’m not going to tell you.

She closed the site.

Half of them hate me. If they actually found out where I’m staying, they’d sic the paparazzi on me again. Bastards.

She grabbed her tablet and tried practicing hiragana, but quit after ten minutes.

I want to learn this, but I just can’t focus. I wish Max would call.

She pulled up her photos on her laptop, and found the picture of Max blowing her a kiss.

Fuck. She’s so pretty. I can’t believe she sent me this. I want to kiss her.

She was staring at the picture when a commotion sounded outside of her room.

What the hell?

Max staggered in, with a nurse grabbing her arm saying, “Miss. You can’t just barge in here like this!”

“Nurse, it’s okay! Let her in.”

The nurse let go of Max’s arm, looking at Victoria with raised eyebrows. Victoria nodded.

Max almost fell as she tried to walk to Victoria. The nurse quickly grabbed her arm and supported her to the chair nearby.

Max flopped into it, red-faced and grinning. She said, “Hi, Vicky! Err, Victoria. Hi.”

Oh my God. I’ve been so worried about her all day…

“Max, you look drunk.”

Max giggled, saying, “Maybe a little. I was sitting at home and had a… umm… what? I called a taxi and came to visit!”

The nurse went over to the sink and filled a cup of water and gave it to Max. She said, “Max, dear, I think you should drink this.”

Max looked at her, owl-like, “Huh? Is that gin? I like gin!”

The nurses shoulders shook a little as she tried not to laugh, and she said, “It’s water. I think you need some right now.”

Max slumped, “Okay. I guess so.”

She took the cup and started sipping it. The nurse looked at Victoria and said, “Just hit the call button if you need help.”

Victoria sighed, holding her head in her hands. “I will. Thanks.”

Max sat up quickly, waving, and said, “Thanks!”

The nurse smiled, and left, shaking her head.

I guarantee her friends are going to get a good laugh out of this.

“Max, just how much did you drink?”

Max smiled, looking proud of herself, and said, “I finished off the last third of my bottle of gin! I didn’t think I could do it!”

Holy shit. How? She’s tiny.

“I can order us some burgers and fries, if you want.”

Max nodded rapidly, “That sounds great!”

“Okay, hold on.”

Victoria took a few minutes to order, and also got two coffees.

She looked over at Max, who was staring at her shoes, turning them this way and that, obviously extremely interested in them.

Oh boy.

“Max, I’m going to call Joe and tell him you’re okay. He’s worried about you.”

Max looked up, obviously surprised, “Huh? He is?”

“Yes, he is. I called him earlier. He said you never opened your shop today.”

Max nodded, “Duh. I’m here!”

“Just hang out for a minute…”

She dialed Joe’s number. He answered, “Hi, Victoria. Any word?”

“Yes, Max is here with me now.”

“Oh, that’s good!”

Max shouted, “Hi, Joe!”

Joe laughed, “She sounds okay, at least.”

“Well, she’s had a few drinks…”

“Wow. Well, tell her to be safe. Good luck!”

“Thanks.”

Victoria hung up. Max was staring at her. She said, “Victoria, you’re so pretty…”

“Max, you should finish your water.”

Max scowled, “Why are you being so mean?”

Victoria shook her head, “I’m not trying to be. I’ve just been worried all day, and now you’re here, but you’re drunk.”

“So?”

Okay, we are not going to have our first fight right now.

“I’m glad you’re alright.”

Max smiled, “Thanks.”

The door opened and a worker brought in two trays. He said, “Your food’s here!”

“Thank you.”

Max fist pumped the air. She said, “Great! I’m hungry!”

He laughed and set up their trays, once he realized that Max was completely unable to do it herself. Then he paused for a second before bringing over a large trashcan and setting it next to Max. He said, “If you don’t feel good, just use this.”

Max’s face got red, and she said, “Sorry.”

He shrugged and said, “Don’t worry about it. Just please don’t make a mess.”

Max looked at him with big puppy dog eyes and said, “I won’t. Thanks.”

He waved and left.

Max grabbed her burger and started eating. After a few seconds, Victoria started eating, as well.

It is really good. I needed this.

They spent about fifteen minutes eating, with neither person talking. Victoria wasn’t really sure what to say, and Max was having a hard time keeping her food on her tray.

I’m so embarrassed for her. I can’t even watch.

Luckily, Max was too involved in keeping her burger together to see Victoria looking away.

Once they finished, Victoria hit the call button. A nurse came in and got their trays, and made sure they were okay. As she was getting ready to leave, Victoria asked, “Could you bring in a portable cot? I think Max is going to have to stay the night.”

The nurse nodded.

Max said, “I can get a taxi home again.”

“Maybe tomorrow. I just want you to hang out tonight.”

“Okay.”

Max went into the restroom. The nurses brought in a cot and set it to the side, where it was out of the way but easy for Max to get into. Max came back out, still weaving a little bit, and saw it.

She said, “We did this before!”

“I remember. How are you feeling?”

“I’m full. The food was great.”

“Yeah, their cafeteria really is good.”

Max nodded, “Yeppers!”

Max pulled her chair over close to Victoria, and sat down. Victoria reached out and held her hand. After almost a minute without moving, Max started shaking. She looked up. Her eyes were puffy and wet. She said, “Chloe’s gone.”

“I’m sorry.”

Max shook her head, violently, “It’s not your fault. It’s mine.”

Victoria squeezed her hand, and said, “No, it was Nathan’s fault. He had a damn gun at school. Chloe would have been okay if he didn’t.”

Max started crying, looking down. Her shoulders started heaving a little. Victoria sat up, leaning as best she could, to hug her. Max scooted her chair as close as she could, and leaned over onto Victoria. Victoria wrapped her in her arms.

“Max, you’re a wonderful woman. Chloe would be proud of you.”

Max shook her head, “I should have jumped in front of Nathan. Then Chloe would be okay, but I was too scared.”

“Max! Don’t ever say that again!”

Shit! She can’t think like this!

“Why? Chloe’s gone!”

Victoria squeezed her, and kissed her forehead. Max looked up at her, crying.

Victoria whispered, “Hey, you’re awesome. Chloe would tell you that. Well, she would probably ask you why the hell you’re dating me, of all people, but she’d still support you.”

Max giggled a little, sniffling, and said, “Chloe would freak out if she saw us together. I can only imagine.”

“I’d love to hear her opinion on it.”

Max smiled sadly, “Me, too.”

She buried her face into Victoria’s chest. Victoria just held her, feeling Max’s ribs and shoulders shake occasionally as she cried.

Fucking hell. I should have stopped Nathan. I knew he was crazy. Max doesn’t deserve this.

Eventually, Max stilled. Victoria looked down at her.

Well, this is awkward. I can’t even see her face.

She gently shook Max, saying, “Hey, sleepyhead. You should hop into your bed.”

Max squeezed her tight for a few seconds, before sitting back up. Her face was still red, and she was blinking, obviously not totally aware of what was happening.

“Max, your bed’s right there. Hop in it.”

Max nodded, smiling, and stumbled over to the cot. She climbed into it. After a few seconds, she stilled and Victoria could hear her breath slow down.

Victoria hit the call button. A nurse came in, and Victoria had her put the trash can by Max’s head. She thanked the woman and then turned out the lights. She watched Max for almost an hour before she fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Victoria woke up still tired and hungry. Looking over, she saw that Max was still asleep, with her arm hanging over the bed right next to the trash can.

Eww. It looks like she used it last night…

Shaking her head, Victoria grabbed the menu and looked through it. She ordered eggs and bacon for herself, and sausage and waffles for Max. She also got both of them coffee and orange juice.

She heard Max start mumbling a little, so she said, “Max! Good morning!”

Max groaned, and Victoria heard her mumble, “Victoria? What? Where am I?”

Max slowly sat up, holding her head with one hand. She looked around slowly, and then saw Victoria sitting there, smiling at her. Max’s eyes got big, and she said, “Woah! Um, hi Victoria…”

Victoria smirked, and asked, “I’m guessing you don’t remember showing up here in my room last night?”

Max’s face got red, and she stammered, “Uh… not really. I was watching Bladerunner and drinking some gin and juice. I kind of remember riding somewhere?”

Victoria laughed, replying, “You said you got a cab and came to visit me. We had a burger and fries together. You were really drunk.”

Max looked down, and noticed the trash can. She leaned over and looked into it, and her face blanched. She looked at the floor near Victoria’s bed, and said, “I’m really sorry.”

“Max, it’s okay. I was worried about you. While I’d have preferred that you just answered your phone and stayed home, I was happy to see that you were alright.”

Max looked up at her, replying, “I’m sorry about that, too. I saw your calls. I just didn’t want to talk to anyone.”

“I know. I’m sorry about what happened to Chloe. I wish you’d have just come to visit me and we could have hung out together all day.”

Max shook her head, “Every year, I just watch Bladerunner and drink. It’s kind of become a tradition…”

“That’s a pretty shitty tradition.”

Max scowled, “Fu-… Whatever.” She sighed, “I’m sorry I barged in here last night. I should have called you back.”

Okay, I need to dial it back. That’s a really touchy subject.

“It’s alright. Anyway, I ordered us breakfast. It should be here soon. I think you need it.”

Max nodded, “Thanks.”

“By the way, Joe is probably going to have something for you at lunch. We talked yesterday, and he’s also worried about you.”

Max’s eyes widened, “Really?”

“I called him in the morning, looking for you. I told him why you weren’t around.”

Max scowled, “That wasn’t any of his business.”

“I’m sorry, alright? I was just worried, and I mentioned it. He’s a good friend of yours. He’ll help as best he can.”

“Still, I don’t need everyone knowing about Chloe. It’s bad enough when some reporter asks me about Blackwell. I don’t need my friends hovering around me every October.”

You actually do. Trying to hide away and get hammered is not the right way to cope.

“I won’t tell anyone else.”

Max was about to respond when the door opened and one of the cafeteria workers pushed in a cart laden with food.

“Oh, that smells great!”

He nodded at them, smiling. Max crawled out of bed and got her chair and tray set up as he put Victoria’s breakfast in front of her. He nodded at Max as he set her food out. Max smiled up at him and said, “Thanks!”

After he left, they started eating.

This bacon is sooo crisp! I love it!

 Victoria took a sip of juice as she looked over at Max, who was shoveling a fork full of waffle into her face. Victoria giggled, causing Max to look up at her.

Damn, she’s so cute!

“How’s the food?”

Max smiled, chewing, and nodded, waving the now-empty fork at her. Shaking her head, Victoria turned back to her own tray and took a few more bites.

Max said, “They make really good waffles.”

Victoria nodded, “I’m not surprised. I’ve yet to have a bad meal here.”

Max continued, “Thanks for ordering this. I needed it.”

“You’re welcome.”

They continued eating in silence. Victoria heard Max typing on her phone, and looked over. Max said, “I just ordered a taxi. I do need to get back home this morning.”

I wish you could stay.

Victoria had finished her food and was drinking her coffee when Max asked, “How are you doing, Victoria? I mean, is your rehab going well? Have you had any more dreams?”

Victoria paused, and replied, “No dreams since I told you about them. I’m glad. They really mess with my head.”

“Oh.”

Victoria shrugged, “There’s not much I can do about it. I am doing well in rehab, although I definitely pissed off my trainer and some nurses yesterday.”

Max looked at her, surprised, “You did?”

“I told them I was taking the day off. I couldn’t get a hold of you, and I was pretty upset. I may have been a little bitchy when I said it.”

“Victoria…”

“Well, Tracy ended up making me do the stretches. She wasn’t interested in hearing any excuses. I was pretty angry about it at the time, but I’m glad she did it.”

Max nodded, “That’s good. I should have answered the phone.”

“That’s water under the bridge now. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

After a few more minutes, the cafeteria worker came back in and took their trays. After he left, Max moved the trash can back over to its normal place. Then she used the restroom. When she came back out, she said, “Thanks for being here for me, Victoria. Unfortunately, I need to go home and get a shower, before I go into work.”

She came over and hugged Victoria.

Damn, I want a kiss!

Victoria started to pull Max’s head towards hers, but Max jumped back, waving her hand. She said, “Sorry, I don’t have any toothpaste. I don’t think you want to taste my mouth right now.”

“I don’t care.”

“I do. I’ll see you later. Have a great day, Victoria. I’ll be thinking about you.”

“Me, too. Be safe getting home!”

Max laughed, “Tell that to the taxi driver! Bye!”

Max waved and headed out.