Max peered out of the bedroom window, trying to see further down the street than she could. Frustrated, she quickly ran downstairs and opened the front door, letting in a blast of cold air, before heading down the short driveway to try and get a better look, but there was still nothing. Not for the first time she wished she could make time go faster, rather than backwards.
“Maxine! Either come in or shut that door! You're letting all the heat out!”
“Sorry Mom,” she called, giving one last look up the street before trudging back into the house. Her Mom was waiting for her with folded arms, pointedly staring at the open door.
“Honestly Max, we're not made of money! How many times have I told you to close the door after you?”
“Sorry Mom,” Max said again, trying to slip past her.
“And what are you doing out there anyway? You don't even have a coat on.. or shoes!” Max looked down at her socks, as if only now wondering why her feet had been so cold. “You're lucky it's dry out.”
“Sorry,” she said once more, “I was just seeing if she was coming, she should be here by now so..” Vanessa's expression softened slightly.
“Well.. just put on a coat and shoes on next time. And close the door.”
“What's going on here? Anything interesting?” Max's Dad came into the hallway, stopping to look at them and then trying to peer past the pair.
“Nothing Dad, I was just waiting for Victoria when -”
“- she forgot to close the door and she went out in her socks, Ryan, how many -”
“Victoria? Oh, excellent.” Ryan craned his neck again, as if trying to look through the closed door. “Do you think she is going to come in a different car? Did you ask her at all, Max..?”
“Dad! Victoria is not coming just so you can see one of her fancy cars. And you shouldn’t be asking that either, it’s rude. She’s my girlfriend, not your car delivery person thing.” Vanessa gave him a withering look and Ryan looked a little abashed, mumbling out an apology before heading back to whatever he had been doing.
“Your Father sometimes.. I wonder what goes on in his head.” Vanessa shook her head then looked back at Max. “Everything is OK though, Max? You know you can tell me if there’s anything that is worrying you, or..” Max went and gave her Mom a hug, letting her wrap her arms around her like she had done when she was still a child.
“Thanks Mom. Everything is all good though, you don’t need to worry.”
“Good. And you know we both like Victoria; it makes us happy that you are happy.” Vanessa gave her a squeeze before leaving to apparently go have a word with her Dad and Max smiled to herself, because she was indeed happy with things at the moment. She had only seen Victoria once since they had left school for the winter holidays, and that short time had been mainly occupied with, as Victoria had put it, fucking each other into the ground, and she was not used to not seeing her for this length of time. Both of them being at Blackwell had meant that it was almost like living together, and the time apart - while it had been nice to see her parents and have a break - had only served to remind her how much she actually missed Victoria.
Now, though, she had the prospect of Victoria staying with her and her family for a few days, before they then jetted off to New York for the New Year – a prospect that filled with her nervous excitement, it being their sort of first holiday together. Hanging over it, of course, was also going to the FBC headquarters to see Jesse; but Max refused to let that little cloud dim her excitement.
Besides, Jesse and Emily seemed nice enough. I’m sure it’ll work out fine, and if it doesn’t then that’s what I have my powers for, isn’t it?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an engine roaring down the street coupled with a strange high pitched whine over the top of it – Max had grown use to the sound of Victoria’s Aventador (she was pleased that she could at least remember the name of it now, even if it didn’t mean much to her) but she didn’t recognise this particular one. Max reopened the front door and looked out, just in time to see a blue car she hadn't seen before pull up on the driveway. The engine was given a big rev before being turned off and Max wondered what their neighbours must be thinking; but dismissed the thought when the car door opened and her stomach turned to mush.
Victoria stepped out and looked directly at her, a half smile on her face, and Max found herself captivated by the mere sight of this girl who she still couldn’t believe had decided to be with her, and at how they had both grown closer to each other the more time they had spent together, the bond between them getting stronger and –
“Victoria! It’s great to see you!” boomed a voice next to her, trampling all over her introspection. Victoria gave a wave and quickly walked over, smiling at Max but talking to her Dad.
“Good afternoon Mr Caulfield, it’s wonderful to see you again. Thank you for letting me stay with you, it's very kind.” Ryan stepped forward and held out his hand, a big grin on his face.
“Please, call me Ryan.” He pumped Victoria’s hand but Max could see his gaze sliding over to the blue car. “Isn't that a Shelby GT500?” Max’s eyes felt like they were rolling out of her head, and she mouthed ‘suck up’ at Victoria from behind Ryan’s back. Victoria ignored her and fixed Ryan with what Max now recognised as the smile she used when trying to ingratiate herself with someone.
“Why yes it is, Ryan, you really do know your cars. I thought that as I was coming again to see you that you might like to try something different. I mean personally I think it’s a load of American junk and not even in the same league as say, even a 911, but don’t let me put you off, ha ha ha.” Victoria guided him away towards the car, before looking back at Max and sticking her tongue out. Max responded with a scowl to which Victoria blew her a kiss, before turning her attention back to Ryan.
Max watched them for a moment before going back inside, slamming the door to try and make a point before breaking out into a grin – Victoria was trying her best, in her own way particular way, to get on with her parents, and that made her realise that Victoria was properly in this; that this was not just some little thing that would peter out when she got bored, or found some other plaything.
No, this was the real thing – and if it meant that if she had to wait a little while longer to get the affection she wanted, then that was perfectly fine by her.
“So how was Christmas?” They were sitting in the garden on a bench while Max's parents busied themselves with preparing lunch, with both of them having brought a present for each other which were safely stowed away at their feet. It was cold out and Max had wrapped herself in a big comfy coat which she peeked out at the world from, while Victoria made do with just a thin top. As a sop to anyone asking questions she had a thin jacket besides her, and Max was feeling a little envious again about her resistance to cold.
“It was great actually,” she replied. “We had my Cousins and Uncles over, and my Grandma who you met if you remember, and we had lots of food and presents and even some wine which was nice. My Dad drank too much beer and fell asleep in a chair, so we played a game where we tried to see how much stuff we could pile on top of him before he woke. Wait, I took a photo.” Max fished in her pocket for her cell to show Victoria, who looked at it then smiled in response.
“That looks.. fun.”
“Oh yes, it was. Although normally there'd be some snow and we'd make a snowman together or have a snowball fight. I used to make snowman out the front on the porch, like little families who I used to make up stories about.”
“Weren't you too old to be doing that?” Max smacked her gently on the arm.
“Don't you dare say that, you are never too old to make snowman.” She glanced up at the stubbornly clear sky and sighed. “Shame there's none this year though, you could have marvelled at my snow skills.” Victoria snorted.
“The only one with snow skills is me, Caulfield. Stop trying to steal my thing or I'll.. I'll.. buy lots of clocks or something.” Max wrinkled her nose in confusion.
“How does that even work?”
“Oh just shut up and kiss me.”
After a minute they broke apart, much to Max's dissatisfaction, but she watched as Victoria pulled up a package from the bag next to her; it was expertly wrapped in gold coloured paper with a little tag attached to it.
“Here, I got you this. Merry Christmas Max, it's not much but.. I hope you like it; if you don't I can always get it changed or something, or -” Max bopped her on the nose to quieten her and grabbed the package with both hands.
“Gimme! I love presents!” Max hurriedly tore the wrapping off; being so eager she did not even register how thick the wrapping paper was in comparison to the stuff she was used too, before holding up what Victoria had bought her.
It was a bag, shaped like her messenger bag and made up of different shades of the softest leather she had ever felt, all expertly stitched together in a way that just oozed quality. She carefully opened it and saw that it was divided internally into compartments, which she saw were designed to be big enough to hold various things she used like her camera, film or notebook. On the inside she saw that a message had been stitched, winding its way along the top of the bag.
“To my little hipster, at least you have something fashionable now. VC xx,” she read slowly, aware of Victoria's anxious expression.
“Do you like it? Is it OK? How's the colour? If it's no good I can get them to make another, just say, I can-” Max put her finger against Victoria's lips to quieten her, before, still clutching the bag in one hand, she pulled Victoria's head towards her and expressing how much it meant to her by the intensity of her kiss. Max eventually broke away when she needed to breathe, leaving a red-faced Victoria with some hair decidedly out of place.
“So it's OK then?” Victoria asked, as if still needing further reassurance.
“It’s perfect,” Max said, holding the bag up and admiring it. “Makes my present seem really rubbish in comparison.” Max had really struggled with getting a present for Victoria – what do you get the girl who could literally own anything she wanted? With some trepidation she reached down to the bag by her side and pulled out a rectangular package, wrapped as neatly as Max could manage in wrapping paper covered with cartoon snowmen and reindeer. “Here, I got you this, it’s not much but.. I hope you like it.” Victoria took the package from her hands, trying to not smile too much.
“Thank you, Max, I didn’t expect anything. You didn’t have to get me anything, I know this must have cost you -”
“Shush you, you’re my girlfriend; I have to get you a present it's practically the law. And I wanted too.” Max watched as Victoria carefully pulled the wrapping off, revealing a hard-backed black book. Victoria turned it over in her hands; the cover had ‘Victoria and Max’ written in gold across it and she looked a little puzzled, before opening the first page. Right at the top was the number ‘84’, and underneath was a copy of the picture they had taken during that first week together in Max’s room. She turned the page and the next page was titled ‘83’, and there was a picture of them at a restaurant after they had made up from the argument that week. Max watched as Victoria flicked through each page, each one counting down and with a picture she had taken of them underneath – at the party, hanging out at Blackwell, together in her room. Victoria slowed flicked through until she came to ‘73’, and looked expectantly up at Max.
“That’s for this week; I was thinking maybe we could take a photo now and put it in. I.. I.. I know I said I wouldn’t worry about it, but in case it doesn’t work out I wanted you to have memories of everything we’d done, and.. and..” Max stopped as she could feel a lump in her throat at the thought of everything she had right now suddenly disappearing, of her disappearing, leaving Victoria behind with.. what?
Victoria didn’t say anything for a moment and just stared at the book in her hands, and Max began to panic.
She doesn’t like it, it was a stupid idea I knew I should’ve got her that glass winged horse with the –
“Well, we'll need to get another one when this is full, won't we?” Victoria said, her voice faltering a little as she held tight to the book. “And we'd better make sure we fill this one with the best photos we can, we are photographers after all.” She looked up at Max and she saw that Victoria's eyes were bright and shimmery, as if she was holding back tears. Max reached out and her fingers grasped her cold arm, which immediately seemed to warm to her touch and Victoria let out a little sigh, much to Max's alarm.
“I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to upset you, it was a stupid idea and -” It was Max's turn to be cut off by a kiss, but it didn't last long before Victoria broke off to speak, punctuating each word with a kiss.
“Don't be silly, it's perfect.”
“Are you sure?” Max managed between kisses, “I know it's not as expensive as what -”
“I said it's perfect Caulfield; shut up and don't ruin the moment.” Max shut up immediately and happily kissed her back, letting her hands wander down Victoria's back and to the top of her trousers, a finger slipping in to the top of the band. Victoria squirmed away from her with an amused look.
“Steady on Max, I don't fancy your parents catching us at it, even with your rewind. There's plenty of time for that later. And then I'm going to make you scream so fucking loud you'll have to use it.”
“That a promise, Chase?”
“I'm going to bury you, Caulfield.” They looked at each other then burst into giggles, Max leaning in against Victoria who wrapped an arm around her. They sat there contentedly for a few minutes, while Max ruminated on life.
“Oh, I forgot to ask – how was Christmas with your parents?” She felt Victoria stiffen slightly, then relax a little.
“It was.. fine. We had a few relatives over, the usual Cousins and Uncles and Aunts, bunch of fucking duplicitous sycophants. Can't wait for me to keel over, or get disinherited. Fucking vultures, the lot of them.” She paused and stared moodily at the house, and Max sensed she just needed some silent support and cuddled up closer to her. Victoria rested her chin on the top of Max's head, and they rocked together slightly before Victoria continued.
“I did have Christmas dinner with my parents though, just the three of us. And we didn't have it in that fucking ridiculous dining room, but the one we had lunch in – do you remember? It actually felt.. like old times. Like when I was younger.” She fell silent again, and Max was once again content to let her speak in her own time, if she wished.
“Anyway, it was better than it has been, let's put it that way. No screaming at each other, slamming doors.. I mean that's not exactly a high bar, but even so. Oh, and here's something funny, I bumped into one of my old friends – well not friend, more like an acquaintance I guess, we used to go to the same parties – you know those ones where someone would hire out a house for the weekend and there's loads of drinking and random sex and someone would have brought some drugs, and..”
“Oh. Well, one of those anyway. Not of course that I got any of the sex, but.. yeah. So um, this girl was someone I used to go with, and I bumped into her because her Father wants to stay on the good side of my Father, and oh my god but I never knew how annoying she was, so vacuous and boring with nothing interesting to say, and she had this really fake way of speaking and throwing in random phrases like she was from Cali -”
“You throw in random bits of French now and again, you know,” Max said mildly, cutting Victoria off mid-flow.
“What?” Max carefully snuggled in further, grabbing hold of Victoria's hand to ensure her own safety.
“Well you know, throwing in a random au revoir, or bonjour, or où est la banque. I mean you've stopped doing it as much, but when I first met you it was like you were trying to be a French exchange student.” The arm around Max started to squeeze, and she could feel Victoria's hand gripping hers tighter and tighter.
“What? No I didn't – that's not the same – I'm not – oh shut the fuck up, Lamefield. It's totally different.”
“Oh yes I'm sure it is. Completely different. Not the same at all. And can you stop trying to break my hand?” Max pulled it free and waggled her fingers a bit, before pulling Victoria’s arms tight around her again, causing Victoria to grumble a bit and shift to be more comfortable.
“I actually know French, Maxine, and I am French as well.” Max sat up out of Victoria’s embrace, and looked at her sceptically.
“You told me you were born in Seattle!”
“I was, but I told you my family are from France. I’m French American. France is the land of my people.” Max waved her hands around, as if at a loss as to what to say.
“That’s.. utterly ridiculous. It was like over two hundred years ago, you’re as American as me. Might as well say I’m Irish because my great-grandfather came over from there. You don’t see me waxing on about the ‘Old Country’, do you? Uggghh.” Max always felt a little annoyed about people claiming heritage from other countries due to some distant ancestor - why couldn’t they just be happy to be American? She was American, and proud of it – she didn’t need any borrowed heritage, or to pretend to be from somewhere she wasn't. It all just seemed really disrespectful.
“Yeah, but you forget the fact that I actually still go back there, and we have our old house still,” replied Victoria smugly. “And anyway, I have a French passport as well. So there. Face it Maxine, I’m right and you’re wrong. You can call me Mademoiselle Chase de Entrechaux from now on.”
“God I hate you. And what do you mean you have a house there? Another one? I thought that it was just the place in New York and that place in Spain.” Victoria gave a sigh, as if she was disappointed by the lack of attention Max had been paying.
“You really don’t pay any notice of what I tell you, do you. That ‘place in Spain’ as you call it, is Barcelona, and I’ve told you lots of times about our house back in France. It’s this big old Château on top of a hill overlooking the village; my parents have spent a fortune bringing it up to modern standard as previously it had been neglected a bit, especially after the war. We couldn’t exactly maintain it during then, even if we were dealing with both sides at the same time.” She paused and seemed a little unhappy about something.
“Never let morality get in the way of a good profit,” she eventually said softly to herself, as if repeating something she had been told before. Max looked at her, then kissed her on the cheek in an attempt to get her out of her suddenly sombre mood.
“So you have a big old house on top of a hill? Sounds awesome.” Victoria smiled a little, wrapping her arms around Max again and clasping her hands together in Max’s lap.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool I guess. You’d like it, it’s really rustic and twee, right up your street.” Max didn’t rise to the bait but instead looked at her own house which was tiny in comparison to Victoria’s, but was her home. She wondered if she would be so fond of it if it was one of many, or even if that mattered at all.
“Well I guess it would be nice to see it sometime, then. We could go to France, given you are now apparently French. Although I don’t have a passport, or any money so..”
“Easily fixed,” Victoria said airily. “I mean I’ve got my plane, and accommodation costs would be free obviously so it’s quite simple.” Max rolled her eyes; everything seemed to be simple when you had money.
“Yes, so simple. But you know I’m not sure how environmentally friendly it is having a plane and flying about the place, Victoria. Air travel is one of the leading polluters in the world and a big contributor to climate change.”
“Thanks for the lecture during this little romantic time we are having; you can walk to New York then.” Max smacked Victoria’s hands, wanting her to take these things seriously.
“You know what I mean. We could take a scheduled flight, for example, cut down on -” Victoria abruptly got up, dislodging Max from the bench and then stood in front of her, hands on her hips and glaring angrily at her.
“You ever fucking dare suggest again that I take a fucking economy flight on one of those fucking dirty death traps with all those disgusting, fucking annoying people who burp and dribble and fucking breathe all over you then we’re through. Understand?” Victoria looked entirely serious, but Max couldn’t quite help smirking at the ridiculousness of it all. Before she could say anything the back door opened.
“Girls! Lunch is ready!” Max used the diversion to scramble past Victoria with a cackle.
“Come on Mademoiselle, I’ll try not to breathe on you too much.”
Lunch was a pleasant affair involving the reuse of some of the left-over food from Christmas which Vanessa had expertly made into a variety of dishes; coupled with some fresh breads and cakes she had rustled up. Max was tucking in with gusto, enjoying the easy banter that ran around the table. She was pleased to see that Victoria was willingly holding her own; it was if she had seamlessly become a part of her family already. She watched her out of the corner of her eye as her Dad regaled her with tales of Christmas’ past, which mainly seemed to be stories featuring Max going through every embarrassing moment they could think of, and she delighted in the way Victoria’s laugh would turn into that little snort she never realised she did.
“Has Max told you about how she used to build little snowman on the front porch?” Ryan said, looking at Victoria with a sidelong glance at Max. “She likes to pretend that she was all original, but she stole the idea from Calvin and Hobbes.”
“No I didn’t!” Max retorted, “I’ve never even read that. And it was lots of fun, so I don’t care. I’d do it right now if I could.” Victoria gave her an odd look from behind a glass of water and then turned towards Ryan.
“I’m sure it was just the start of her creative career; did she take Polaroid’s of them as well?” Ryan raised a finger as if struck with an idea.
“No, but that reminds me – I did dig out some old -”
“Dad! Victoria didn’t come all this way just to see old photos of me.” Victoria smiled politely at Ryan, avoiding a kick from Max under the table as she did so.
“That sounds wonderful, it’s always nice to see those sort of memories, isn’t it. Isn’t it, Max?” Max just glared at Victoria.
“I hate you; we are so taking economy,” she muttered under her breath. There was a brief moment of confused silence until Vanessa cleared her throat.
“Max told us that you are off to New York for the New Year, Victoria.” Victoria nodded and gestured at her plate.
“The food is wonderful, Vanessa, thank you for having me stay. Yes, we are – I thought we could go to Times Square for the countdown, I don’t think Max has ever been to New York so I thought it would be fun for us both.” Vanessa fired a look at Ryan that Max only just caught, and she wondered what it meant.
“No, she hasn’t been before. Are you staying in a Hotel? How are you travelling there? Max hasn’t told us anything, so..?” Max gripped her fork tightly, feeling a little annoyed at the direction the questioning was taking.
“Because -” she began, but Victoria spoke over her.
“We are staying in my apartment, so there is no cost there,” she said smoothly. “And we’re using my plane, so that’s covered too. It’s all taken care of, so no need to worry.” She finished with a bright smile and looked at Max, giving her a little nod. Max, however, was too busy trying to discern the meaning of the silent communication that seemed to be passing between her parents.
“That’s.. very generous of you, Victoria,” Vanessa said. “But we can’t let Max impose on you like this; at least let us help towards the cost of something, it would be wrong for us not too. We don’t want you to think that we are taking advantage.”
“Mom..” Max groaned, “that’s not -”
“That’s very nice of you Vanessa, but it is no trouble at all, Max is not imposing. Completely the opposite in fact.” Victoria gave them a reassuring smile, but an awkward silence had descended over the table. Max glowered at her food and her parents, various conversations running through her mind which all seemed to descend into full on rants. After a few moments Victoria politely excused herself to go to the bathroom, and Max watched her go before rounding on her parents.
“What the hell is your problem?” she demanded. “Why did you say something like that?” Ryan frowned at her tone.
“Max, don’t use that tone with us, young lady – you are still in our house and we are your parents.” Max rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth.
“Fine. Whatever. Why did you make our trip have to be about money, like I’m taking advantage of her? Just.. ugh, you’ve probably gone and really upset her now.”
“Max, that was not our intention,” Vanessa said, “but we have to make sure that everything is OK, as -”
“No, you don’t,” Max said with a bravery she never knew she had. “It’s my relationship, not yours, and I don’t want you to spoil it.” She could see her Dad beginning to raise an objection and she quickly spoke again. “Look, I get that you are looking out for me but I’m eighteen now and need to make my own way in life and just learn how to do it without you always trying to fix things for me. And that includes with Victoria.” Max looked at her parents and could feel her power just itching to burst through and undo it all as their stares were becoming unbearable, but it gave her some comfort (as always) that she could have another go at this if she needed.
“Max, maybe we sound like we are being overly protective, but we do worry about you. And when we hear you are being flown to New York by someone you only met a few months ago, you can see why we might be.” Max gawped at her Mom, slightly at a loss before her brain kicked into gear.
“What, you don’t trust her? Or me? What happened to the whole liking her and welcoming her into the family? You do realise that Victoria using her plane is no different to you using your car to drive to work? It’s just how she is, it’s nothing special to her nor is staying in her apartment.” Max paused, thinking about it. “Which I know sounds crazy, but it’s just what she is used to, even if we are not. And Dad, you don’t seem to mind when you get to have a go with whatever car she turns up in, do you?” Ryan looked a little abashed, before looking at Vanessa and muttering about taking some dishes through to the kitchen, leaving Max and her Mom alone staring at each other across the table. Eventually her Mom sighed, and held up a hand as if in a peace offering.
“Look, I'm sorry Max. I didn't mean to upset you and I forget sometimes that you are growing up so fast. You've changed so much since going to Blackwell that it is like you are different person, and you are no longer the little girl we worried so much about. It's hard for us to see you grow up, we can't help but worry about you.” Max did her best to keep her expression neutral, despite a desperate urge in that moment to confess everything to her Mom. She debated with herself whether to tell her, knowing that she could just rewind and take it away again – but then what would be the point in that?
“It's started to snow,” her Dad announced, walking back into the room. “It's coming down quite thick.” Max looked out of the window and saw that snow was indeed falling into their back yard, gradually becoming thicker and thicker – although the sky appeared to still be clear a little further away.
“Odd,” Vanessa remarked. “The weather forecast said it was going to be clear all day. Still, makes a nice change.” Max was hit by a sudden sinking feeling in her stomach, and she quickly stood up with a clatter of dishes.
“Sorry,” she said in answer to the questioning look she received, “I, er, just wanted to check on Victoria, see if she is OK.” Without waiting for a reply she left the room and sprinted up the stairs, heading for the bathroom. Fear was coursing through her; a fear that something had happened to Victoria, that she had upset her or something far worse. She could already feel her power welling up through her, as if preparing herself for anything that could happen.
The bathroom door was closed, and as she put a hand out to open it she could feel the cold emanating from it making her making her fear the worst; it resisted her attempt to open it so channelling her power she slowed time and pushed hard against the door, causing it to suddenly fly back against the wall in a shower of ice.
Victoria was leaning against the wall, eyes blazing with a brilliant fire and a bright trickle of blood running down from her nose to her chin. Max quickly rushed over to her, slipping on the wet floor, and grabbed hold of her, wincing at the cold that was already eating away at her.
“Victoria, what is it? Are you OK? What's wrong? Speak to me, please!” Victoria looked at her, a sheepish smile on her face.
“So.. do you wanna build a snowman?”