“Go on then, mad Max. Kiss me. I dare you.”
Max couldn’t stop thinking about Chloe’s voice, teasingly sweet and jokey but nervous at the same time.
Dust motes spun in the bars of light that shone down onto the dirty floor, littered with cans and bottles (beer for Chloe and juice for Max, much to Chloe’s amusement). Cigarette butts and sweet wrappers and flyers. On the upturned crate that they used as a table stood a mug, forming Chloe’s make-shift ashtray. Scrawled across it in rainbow letters was the legend “no one knows I’m a lesbian!” Next to it, an open bottle of nail varnish. Chloe’s nails were bitten and chipped but she was painting them anyway; black “to match my soul,” apparently. A small stack of polaroids sat beside that, Max glaring at them critically. She was sprawled out on the sofa that they kept in their little hideout, legs draped across Chloe’s lap. It was warm, the light from the little window slanting through at just the right angle that it missed shining in her eyes, and she could hear a mosquito whining somewhere. Even taking photographs was somehow painfully tiring in this heat.
Beside her, Chloe yawned and stretched, exposing a sliver of stomach over the top of her jeans. She waved her hands, trying to dry the polish. “Wow, I’m bad at this.”
“Let me see.” Max caught her hand, laughing. “Oh jeez, yeah you are.” She had tried to pick up her drink before her nails were even dried properly, smudging the colour, and half of the time she hadn’t even got the paint on her nails in the first place, coating her cuticles. “Just. Let me do it, ok?”
Chloe huffed. “Whatever you say, mom.” She shot Max a mock-pout, and Max poked her face into a smile.
“Your mother is a lovely woman, so I will take that as a compliment.”
“Fine.” Chloe grumped, giving Max both of her hands and giving her a grudging smile. Max dipped the brush in the varnish, and painted the first nail, enjoying the feel of the smooth paint and the feel of Chloe’s hand. Her skin was so soft, her hands always icy cold even in this heat.
Chloe stuck her tongue out, but she stopped fidgeting too.
“Wow, feeling obedient, aren’t you?”
Chloe smirked. “Just wondering if this is the kind of stimulating fun that we missed out on in our childhood. Isn’t this what you’re meant to do at sleep overs?”
“We did have sleep overs!”
“Yeah, but only with each other. And we didn’t do this kind of thing, did we?” Max shook her head, laughing at the memory.
“True.” She still had the photos from some of those days when she had lived in Arcadia Bay, their life-size artworks all over Chloe’s bedroom walls and their prank wars against Chloe’s dad. She sat up, letting go of Chloe’s hand with a degree of regret.
Chloe examined her nails with an impressed nod. “Very nice. Spend a lot of time doing this with your new best buddies?”
Max elbowed her. “And just when I thought we were having a nice moment, you get mean again. I am allowed other friends, aren’t I?”
Chloe elbowed her back, enveloping her in a bear hug. “Only if you admit that I’m the best one.”
There was a pause, Max relaxing back into her arms. This was nice, she thought. She tilted her head up; Chloe’s nose was pressed to the top of her head and as she moved, their noses met. “You’re the best,” Max murmured. “No question.” She twisted round to face her, watching Chloe’s face as it moved through her reaction; surprised, confused, happy. She watched her lips curve into a smile, the corners of her eyes wrinkling and the sun shining on her bright blue hair like an exotic bird and her stupid ear piercings that she’d got explicitly to wind up David and she could hardly stop herself. Max kissed her.
It was perfect, the taste of cheapo beer and chewing gum and it shouldn’t have been but it was; she smelled like too much perfume, and the same body spray that she had used before Max left. It was perfect until Max realised that it wasn’t.
Chloe wasn’t responding.
Max pulled away, a deer in the headlights all of a sudden and the guilt hit her like a monster truck. This place wasn’t hers. It belonged to Chloe and Rachel and no matter what they knew and no matter what she did, this place was going to belong to Rachel so much more than it did to her. Her ghost was everywhere, from the flowy handwriting on the walls to the greasy lipstick print on some of the discarded beer bottles. Max felt like Rachel could see her all of a sudden, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, ruining holy ground.
She held up her hand to turn back time.
When it happened next, they were sat in a booth in the Two Whales, waiting out the long hot summer days. It was too hot to bare in the junkyard and Max needed coffee; she was working through an essay in studious silence, while Chloe scribbled doodles in a note book and tried sporadically to distract her.
“Max. Max. Max. Max. Max.” She paused, and poked her nose. “Max.”
Max sighed and put her book down. “Yes?”
“I’m bored. Can you quit being smart and pay me attention now?”
“Go put something on the jukebox.”
Chloe yawned. “It’s been broke for weeks.” She carried on with her drawing, sliding it over the table and on top of Max’s text book. “Look. It’s you!”
The doodle was of a deer, a doe, with cartoon googly eyes, holding a Polaroid camera round its neck. It had a t-shirt on, with a drawing of a tiny human. Max smiled grudgingly. “Cute.”
“I know you are but what am I?” Chloe teased, glorifying in the few seconds of attention before Max turned back to her books.
“Also cute?” Max said absently, before realising what she had said. She really needed to think things through before she said them. Bug eyed in a panic, she took a deep breath and raised her hand to turn back time.
The clock in her room was ticking too loudly. Max felt incredibly alone in her dorm room, hearing the sound of people laughing and talking in the rooms around her. Her fingers itched to phone Chloe, but she knew how that would go. She was finding herself having to rewind over and over again recently trying to keep her stupid little crush hidden.
The other day, she had slept round Chloe’s and the blue haired girl had just wandered into the bathroom while she was showering to do her hair. Max had had to rewind at least three times to get her clothes on in time, and she still couldn’t get the expression on Chloe’s face of embarrassed panicking shock out of her mind.
Chloe was fast becoming the centre of her world. That thought scared her, a lot.
Max smushed a pillow over her face and rolled over on her too-thin bed with a groan. This was getting ridiculous.
[come over im bored and also I am plotting]
[come up thru the window tho stepdouche is on patrol]
[where r u hurry up b4 I die of boredom]
Chloe’s room was one of Max’s favourite places. It was so different now compared to how it used to be, but it was so warmly lit and perfectly cluttered, every little piece of it slotting together to form the intricate puzzle that was her blue haired best friend.
When she climbed through the window on Saturday night, Chloe was lying on her bed dozing. A track was playing on her stereo, some guitar indie music. One of the tracks on the CD that Max had burned for her. “Hey,” Max said as she clambered in and perched on the edge of her desk.
“Mad Max!” Chloe sat up with a wicked grin. “I have a hella awesome plan!”
“That… is not a good sign.”
“It’s going to be the best.” Chloe stood up, wandering over to the desk and rooting through a draw, and Max watched her. She was wearing a beanie, her usual combination of skinny jeans and a white top. Her bullet necklace swung free when she leant over- Max really really wanted to go and straighten it up. Chloe’s top rode up as she spun round, waving her find in the air; pale hip bones and a tiny tattoo that Max had never noticed before. A butterfly?
“Here we go!”
Max snapped out of her staring, and looked up at what she was holding. “Paint?”
“Paint,” Chloe agreed. “We are going to paint my door. We’ll draw an outline of something, and fill it in. It is going to be awesome!”
They planned out a design, a doe standing amongst trees in the sunlight, and sketched it out on the door, nudging each other and teasing as they went along. The painting was harder than they had actually expected, but finally Max sat back to look at their work. “Damn, son,” she said, looking up at Chloe. “This is hella good.”
“Yeah,” Max nodded. Then she smirked. “You’ve got a little something, right…” She reached up and swiped a blue paint-covered thumb across Chloe’s cheek bone, giggling. “There.”
Gasping, Chloe opened her mouth in a shocked grin.
Max beamed up at her. “Matches your hair!”
Reaching to dip a long index finger in the red paint, Chloe kept her face the picture of innocence. “Remind me. Why am I friends with you, again?” As she said it, she ran her finger all the way down her nose so that paint dripped off the end.
“You cow!” Max retaliated with yellow to the chin this time, and Chloe countered with purple to the eyebrow. “I hope you’re not too emotionally attached to this t shirt.”
“No,” Chloe answered, tackling her to the floor and wiping a handful of green over her jaw and neck. “Why?”
In answer, Max ran both paint coloured hands up Chloe’s sides, laughing at her shocked expression.
“Oh, this is war!” Chloe grabbed her hands to tackle her, throwing a leg around her waist and pinning her to the floor. “You are completely at my mercy! Mwa ha ha ha!”
Max shivered, suddenly becoming incredibly aware that this could be a slightly awkward position; trapped on the floor with the girl of most of her fantasies on top of her. “Um…”
Chloe didn’t seem to register, slowing the pace of their paint wall. With a finger of red paint, she traced the line below Max’s lower lip- Max tried to hide her gasp. She tried to raise her hand, to rewind time and stop the torture but Chloe caught her arm and pressed it back down against the floor boards. “Please don’t,” she said. “Not this time.”
Then she leant forward and kissed her.
Her mouth tasted of paint, yellow and green and white and black and red but mostly blue because Chloe was overwhelmingly blue, and it tasted of nostalgia and hopefulness and time running thin and like the smell of summer and everything she had missed for so long. She pulled away for a moment to gage Max’s reaction, breathless. “Is this ok?” She let go of her wrists. “If I’ve fucked this up massively, please just use your time travel thing to go back and stop me fucking it up. Please.”
Max breathed out slowly. “It’s ok,” she said. “More than ok. Do that again. Please.”