October 9, 2015 - [7:48 AM]
Arcadia Bay, Oregon
Living in Seattle, especially during the fall months, means accepting that there are going to be cold, damp, generally crappy days that make you resent anything that forces you to go outside - but since none of us live in Seattle, none of us have to give a damn about that.
On the Oregon Coast, where we’re camping this week, the early fall months have some of the best weather of the entire year. Sure, it gets a little chilly at night, but between a warm campfire and my Chloe-shaped personal heater, I’m not complaining.
Although we managed to talk Victoria’s dad out of hiring a bunch of gun-toting thugs this year, it ended up not mattering. Things now aren’t the same as they were the first time. Arcadia Bay and its population weren’t mysteriously wiped out in this timeline. To the rest of the world, nothing supernatural happened here. It was just a really bad storm that destroyed a bunch of buildings and killed some people too stupid to leave.
There’s no hint of the Arcadia Bay Believers that Victoria and I remember, and we’re perfectly happy about that. A bunch of people will probably be coming out on Sunday - the actual anniversary of the storm – but we’re here early because we’ve got a couple anniversaries of our own to celebrate.
Yesterday we walked up to the shattered remains of Blackwell for the second anniversary of the moment Kate stepped back from the edge, celebrating by engulfing her in a giant hug. We wanted to make her feel better, but before we knew it she was the one comforting us.
Kate just started the second year of her bachelor’s degree in psychology, and none of us were surprised when she told us her plan to get her master’s degree in trauma and crisis counseling. She already finds time to volunteer at a non-profit suicide prevention hotline and an at-risk youth shelter. Of course she’d want to help people like that for a career.
It can be a little intimidating to look at her, happily toasting a marshmallow over our crackling campfire, and realize that she’s basically the best person we know.
“How close are we?” Victoria asks, drawing me out of my thoughts.
Pulling my phone from my pocket (which requires Chloe to very reluctantly un-snuggle me for a second), I check the time. “Pretty close. About ten minutes.”
“Nice,” she murmurs, looking up into the slowly lightening eastern sky. The sun is going to appear over the hills any second now and her eyes are bright with anticipation, like they always are when she sees something worth capturing on film. I might've left photography behind, but Victoria certainly didn't.
When she’d told me she wanted to go to USC, I’d assumed (we all had, actually) that she wanted to be Hollywood’s next great director. Instead she’s on track to become Hollywood’s next great cinematographer. She’s got an amazing gift for lining up a shot, capturing light and shadow and motion in a way static photography never could. She’s even working on a short film with Kristen, who it turns out can run a film crew like nobody’s business.
“The camera stays in the backpack, babe,” Taylor says, gently pulling Victoria’s hand away from the bag between her feet and laughing at her girlfriend’s slightly petulant expression. “There’ll be other sunrises to film.”
Taylor’s been different since Arcadia Bay was lost, or so Victoria tells me. Calmer, for sure. It seems like the more stress she’s under, the more driven she gets. I’ve seen it up close more than once on the disc field. That’s why, when she decided she wanted to become a Coast Guard Search & Rescue pilot, it actually didn’t seem that unbelievable.
She just started in the pre-commissioning program at UCLA, has her eyes set on going to flight school right after she graduates, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that she’ll get there. I mean, Kate's always said that Taylor earned her wings back in Arcadia Bay.
“Hey, if Vic wants to stare at the sun, I say let her.” Chloe shrugs. “It’s the only way she’ll learn.”
“Said the future Dr. Price,” Kate murmurs, giving Chloe a sly smile.
“You’re being pretty sassy considering the graham crackers are over here,” Chloe fires back, trying not to show how happy being called ‘Dr. Price’ makes her, even if it’s only a joke. She’s dead set on getting into medical school - so much that she’s already started studying for the MCAT exam – and recently told us that she’s thinking of going into oncology. She’d already made one cancer her bitch, she explained, and now she had to go do it to all the other cancers.
She’s been in remission for a little over a year now, but the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is only about 50%. I’m determined to stay positive, though. She’ll make it, because she’s brilliant and strong and amazing and because the universe probably knows better than to fuck with me on this.
“Come on, babe,” I say. “If you hold the graham crackers hostage, Victoria will just start withholding chocolate and then nobody gets to have s’mores.”
“She’s right,” Taylor agrees. “Nobody wins that standoff.”
“Of course Max is right. She’s a bestselling author, you know,” Chloe points out, as if she doesn’t take literally any opportunity to say so.
We Were Pirates, a book I only wrote to help myself process some of my emotional baggage from the old timeline, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for two months now. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that and working really hard to stay humble, which is why I’m so lucky to have Victoria as a best friend. She’ll always be there to set me straight if I start to get a big head about it, which is really easy to do when my creative composition professor tells me that my writing is grossly underdeveloped and all I want to do is smack him on the head with a copy of my bestselling novel.
Yeah. Humility good. Assault charges bad.
I haven’t told anyone yet, but I’ve actually started working on a new book. I’ve got ideas for a couple more, too. They’re all on the backburner until I graduate, but I’m feeling pretty good about them.
“But whatever,” Chloe continues. “I can be the taller person here.”
“I think you mean bigger person,” I point out.
“Says you, shorty,” Chloe quips, winking down at me as she tosses the graham cracker bag to Kate. “Hey, Taylor?”
“Do you know what I was just thinking?”
“What were you just thinking?” Taylor asks, smirking.
“I was just thinking about the best part about today. You know what that is, Taylor?”
“Oh, please tell me what that is, Chloe!”
Next to Taylor, Victoria takes a slow sip from her travel mug, rolling her eyes and trying (unsuccessfully) not to smile.
“I will tell you what that is, Taylor. The best part about today is...” Throwing her arm around my shoulders, she pulls me tight to her side and shouts into the pre-dawn sky. “No more time traveler bullshit!”
“God damned fucking right!”
“Taylor...” Kate says, a little reproachfully.
“Gosh darned fucking right!”
Smiling, Kate reaches over to pat her on the knee. “Thank you.”
“Hilarious, both of you,” Victoria comments. “Absolute comedic geniuses.”
“Easy with the yelling next to my ear.” I give Chloe’s side a gentle poke but don’t make any attempt to move away from her warmth. “I need it. For hearing stuff.”
“Oh, whatever,” Chloe laughs. Prodding the fire with her ‘fire-pokin’ stick’, she eyes it thoughtfully for a second before adding a fresh piece of wood. “You’re just feelin’ cranky cause you and Vic don’t get to be all ‘I know the future’ anymore.”
“Are you kidding?” I laugh. “That’s going to be amazing. There’s going to be new music again!”
“And new movies!” Victoria adds. “TV shows we haven’t already binge watched!”
“Aren’t you two nervous at all?” Kate asks, slowly moving the marshmallow she’s been toasting away from the flames and over to Victoria.
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “Kind of?”
“It does feel a little weird to be all caught up,” Victoria comments, gingerly pulling the golden-brown marshmallow off the skewer. “Two years went by really fast.”
“But after spending four years living through the same two, it’s nice to know we’ll finally be moving forward.” The sun is peeking over the eastern hilltop now, and I glance down at my phone again. “It’s almost time. You ready, Taylor?”
“One sec.” Twisting around, she reaches into the cooler behind the log she and Victoria have been sitting on and pulls out a bottle of champagne. At the same time, Kate walks over to the car and returns with five plastic champagne flutes. She hands one to each of us and she makes her way back to her folding chair.
“Gimme.” Chloe reaches for the bottle, but I pull her hand back.
“No chance, babe. You've shot me with a cork two New Year’s in a row.”
“The second time you weren’t even facing me,” I remind her. “Let Taylor do it.”
“Fine,” she grumbles, kissing me on the head. “But I’m doing it because I want to. Not cause you told me to.”
“Whatever you say.” Smiling, I cup her cheek and draw her down for a proper kiss.
Shaking her head, Taylor goes through the motions of opening the champagne, popping the cork easily into her hand. “See that, Clo? Skills.”
“Yeah, yeah.” She holds out our flutes. “Just pour the drinks, ya big showoff.”
Laughing, Taylor fills all the glasses before returning to her girlfriend, who happily folds her back into the blanket they’ve been sharing.
I check my phone again. “Just under a minute left. Did everyone think of something to say?”
They all nod, a little hesitantly.
“Who wants to go first?” No one volunteers and I fight the urge to frown. “Come on. I know it’s a little corny, but this is a special occasion. Now, someone has to go first, and I already called going last, so...”
They all stay quiet for another second, glancing at one another, then Victoria clears her throat, smiles, and raises her glass. “To two years gone, and two years spent living without regret.”
Kate takes a breath, then lifts her own glass. “To falling down. And to getting back up.”
“To providence, dumb luck, and scared heroes,” Taylor says, grinning as she does the same.
“To...uh...” Chloe hesitates, her knee bouncing a little nervously. Looking at me, she smiles and raises her glass, too. “To everything we’ve lost, and everything we’re still ready to fight for.”
She finishes just as my phone’s alarm goes off. It’s 8:01 AM, October 9th, 2015 - two years plus a minute since the moment I went back in time to change the world. Since I defied fate to save the woman I love more than anything else in the world.
I can still remember that morning, when I thought I was abandoning Victoria in a soon-to-be-erased timeline. Now she’s sitting across from me next to the love of her life. It’s pretty awesome that she can say the same thing about me. Our eyes meet over the campfire, and we share a smile. We made it. We’re finally here, with all the things we dreamt of and our whole lives to enjoy them.
I don’t know if I’m still able to rewind, but sometimes I think I might be. It’s a difficult feeling to describe; a faint whisper at the edge of my consciousness, telling me I could undo a speeding ticket or un-spill a coffee. I’m proud to say that I’ve never been tempted, though. This is the furthest in time I’ve ever been, and I refuse to move even one second back.
Pushing the notion away, I raise my glass to the four strongest people I’ve ever known and take the first deep breath of the rest of my life. “To yesterday, tomorrow, and the really important stuff in between.” I can’t help but grin when I feel Chloe’s hand gently squeeze mine. “Welcome to the future.”