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Old in Visions

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Max hated herself.

Max hated how she abandoned Chloe when they were kids, ignored her texts, email, and calls. She hated how she used to idolize Mark Jefferson, the man who murdered Victoria, Rachel, and Chloe, and who tried to kill her. She hated how the pictures she took were pathetic and amateur, not that she found the energy to take many anymore. She hated how she abused her powers for an entire week with no regard towards the consequences.

Max hated how she sat in a bathroom and listened as her best friend died.

And she hated that her powers hadn’t gone away.

She didn’t realize they were still present until almost a week after Chloe’s funeral. Until then, she had been too tentative to even risk trying to use them, worried that she might cause another storm. But curiosity got the best of her, and she’d regretted it ever since.

Now with every mistake, every stupid comment or thoughtless action, a tiny voice in the back of her mind whispered and prodded, trying to get her to turn back time and mend her mistakes. Just one little thing, it would say. One little thing won’t do any harm will it?

But she knew better now. She had to know better. One little thing had unleashed a tornado on Arcadia Bay. She knew now that it didn’t matter how small a thing it was, it wasn’t worth it. The universe would end up trying to correct it, and disaster would come again.

At least that’s what she was supposed to believe. It didn’t stop the nagging in her head.

On one occasion, Warren playfully poked her with his pen. Before her powers manifested, she might have laughed and given him a light shove. Instead her stomach churned, and she felt bile in her throat as her thoughts reeled back to when she was tied to a chair, needle in her neck pumping a cold, unknown drug into her veins. Max screamed and smacked Warren as hard as she could, nearly knocking him to the ground.

Seconds later she realized what she’d done, and the temptation to take it back left her shaking. Poor Warren had no idea. No matter how much she apologized and assured him that it wasn’t his fault, he still blamed himself. But how was he supposed to know? If she could take it back and react better, or maybe move out of the way so she doesn’t get hit with the pen—

No.

No she couldn’t.

She couldn’t risk it.

So she let Warren blame himself, let Kate and everyone who had all seen what she did think she was crazy. All she had to deal with now were the nightmares of Jefferson and the knowledge that she had just pushed away some of the only friends she had.

She wanted to tell someone what was going on. She ached to confide in Warren, tell him everything that had happened to her. Of all the people in the world, she could depend on him to be there for her. If she could prove she hadn’t gone insane, that was. Without an eclipse or two moons or anything to rouse his suspicions, he’d probably think she was suffering from a psychotic episode.

She yearned to confess everything to Joyce. Max wanted to tell her Chloe’s death was all her fault, that she could have stopped it. She wanted to assure her that in the end her daughter loved her very much and wanted her to be safe and happy. But again, Joyce would have no reason to believe her.

No one would believe her.

All she could do was act normal and try not to show when she was having a panic attack. No problem. At least until she wanted to change something again.

Luckily, her self-control had won out so far. It had been a month since her little experiment with her powers, and since then she hadn’t used them once. It had been very, very tempting at times, but she held fast and refused to budge.

 

“Miss Caulfield? Miss Caulfield?”

Max jumped and turned back to Principal Wells. “I’m sorry, what?”

He sighed. “I understand things have been difficult, but I need you to stay focused for just a few more minutes.”

She nodded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to zone out like that.” How long had she been out of it? She couldn’t remember a thing he’d said to her since she came into his office.

He sat back in his leather chair . . . Chloe wanted that chair.

“I know these last several weeks have been a trying time,” he said. “And I understand if you still need to grieve.” Max struggled to pay attention to what he was saying. This sounded important. He was talking in the same tone he had after Kate—

No. Focus.

He went on, “But I need you to understand that Blackwell Academy cannot sit back and give you a degree while you fail all of your classes.”

Oh, that. Max hadn’t turned in a scrap of homework since Chloe died. And she’d already failed three tests.

“However your teachers and I agree that we cannot judge you based on your current state of mind. What you’re going through—” he stopped himself for a moment. “No one will think poorly on you if you need some time, Miss Caulfield.”

Max blinked slowly, not fully registering what he had said. She frowned in confusion and said, “What do you mean?”

He tilted his hand, as if motioning to something that wasn’t there, and said, “I’m offering to let you take some time off for Academic Relief. All your grades for this semester would be wiped clean, and you could start again in the Spring.”

“Oh,” she said. That seemed fair, generous even. It might be nice to not have to worry about her nightmares and her exams at the same time. “Would I still live here?” she asked.

Wells shook his head. “You would need to live off campus. You could stay with a friend or return home.” He paused, looked at his desk and fiddled his fingers, then added, “You would likely lose your scholarship as well.”

“Oh,” she said again.

For a few long seconds, silence hung over them. What could Max say to that?

Wells coughed, clearly uncomfortable with her lack of response. “I could make an appeal to the Board of Investors to award it to you again when you return. But there’s no guarantee.”

That made sense. Her grades weren’t all that great before. Why would they want to bring her back?

It struck her that this situation wasn’t really affecting her. She should be upset, right? She was going to either fail or lose her scholarship. Shouldn’t that terrify her?

It was on the tip of her tongue just to say it didn’t matter and that he should just pick one for her, but she stopped herself. Now wasn’t the best time to do something she’d regret. Again.

“Can-can I have a few days to think it over?” she asked. That seemed like a good idea. Max tried to mentally pat herself on the back. Not that it made her feel any better.

“Of course, Miss Caulfield. However I urge you to come to a decision before December. It will be much harder to file your Academic Relief after that.” Max nodded and stood up to leave. Just as she was about to step out of the door he called out, “Miss Caulfield?”

She turned back towards him. “Yes, Principal Wells?”

He was halfway out of his chair, leaning over his desk. “If you need to talk to someone, your teachers and I are here for you.” He tapped his desk with his knuckles for a moment before adding, “We may not be qualified to give you advice, but we’re here for you still.”

Max nodded again. “Thank you, Principal Wells.”

Outside his office, Warren and Kate stood, waiting for her. They both wore concerned expressions, Warren’s brows knitted together with his mouth turned down, hands in his pockets, while Kate clutched her arms and paced back and forth. When Max stepped out they made a point to perk up.

“Hey,” Warren said, stepping closer to her. “Is everything good?”

Kate nudged him gently, as if to remind him of something, and said, “If you feel alright telling us, that is.”

“Yeah it’s fine,” Max replied. “He wanted to talk about my grades.” They kept looking at her as thought they were waiting for her to elaborate. Max shrugged, “They’ve kind of gone to shit lately.”

Kate reached out and placed a hand on Max’s arm. “That’s totally normal. This kind of stuff does that to people.”

“Right,” Max said. “This kind of stuff.” Almost six weeks and people still couldn’t say it. Chloe was dead. Why dance around it, she thought? Just accept it.

Then, with a sigh, Max chastised herself. People deal with things differently. Chloe and Kate were friends too. They weren’t close, but they were friends. And Warren seemed to be feeling pain just by proximity to Max. She knew he wanted to make her feel better, and that he beat himself up over not being able to. They deserved better than her judgmental shit.

He pulled a hand out of his pocket and scratched the back of his head. “Have you, um, have you eaten yet?”

Shaking her head she replied, “No, not yet.”

“Why don’t we go grab something?” Kate offered.

“Sounds great,” Max said.

As they made their way to the parking lot, Max thought about how strange it was that Kate was taking care of her. After everything that had happened to her, everything that could have happened, the fact that her friend spent time worrying over her was reassuring. Maybe taking care of people helped her feel better. And making sure Kate was alright in turn made Max feel better.

They all slid into Warren’s car. “Where to?” he asked.

“Two Whales. I want to say hi to Joyce.” They’d been speaking together on a weekly basis. Whatever Max was going through, she couldn’t imagine what Chloe’s death was doing to her mother. Joyce’s last piece of William, her daughter, gone. The thought sickened Max. She hoped their talks gave her a little peace. Though she seriously doubted it.

As they drove, the overcast sky began to mist water down, which then turned into a soft sprinkle. Max watched the droplets slide across the window before flying off the car. The old and very-in-need-of-replacing windshield wipers squeaked in a constant beat while warm air blew somewhat erratically from the fans. It hypnotized Max, and put the thoughts of Wells and Jefferson and Chloe out of her mind. A twinge of disappointment passed through her when they pulled up to the diner and the car turned off.

They walked inside, Max going in last, and sat in the second to last table near the corner by the jukebox. She settled near the window just as Joyce arrived to take their order.

Despite the pronounced purple bags under her eyes that had appeared over the last few weeks, she managed to give off a stunning smile. “Hello Max, kids. You all doing alright today?”

“Yeah we are!” Warren said, matching her enthusiasm. He always amazed her in his ability to stay upbeat.

“Glad to hear it,” she said. “It’d be a shame if the weather brought you down.” Come to think of it, Joyce had a gift for cheeriness as well. The woman never failed to amaze Max.

They rattled off their orders and settled in to eat. The conversation stayed rather simple, so Max didn’t really pay attention, only throwing in a comment or two when something of interest popped up. A few minutes in, she saw David trudge through the doors. He gave two firm scrubs of his feet against the floor mat before marching up to where Joyce stood behind the bar. She couldn’t hear whatever they were talking about, but the man’s face was uncharacteristically soft as he took Joyce’s hand for a moment and gave it a soft squeeze.

For a short while Max had considered telling her about the surveillance cameras, the paranoid stalking, and his proclivity to hit Chloe, but at this point she figured it didn’t really matter. Well, it did. But Max didn’t have it in her to insert herself in their relationship. David made Joyce happy. For now, maybe that was all that mattered.

Someone two tables down waved Joyce over. Max caught Victoria’s voice, “I’ll pick up Max’s tab.”

“It’s fine, sweetheart, I can get it,” Joyce murmured back.

“Seriously, let me do this.”

While they hadn’t talked much, Max could tell that her classmate was still reeling from Nathan and Jefferson’s arrest. To the rest of the town it came out of nowhere. Victoria didn’t change her habits or keep from gossiping and teasing, but Max began to notice small acts of charity when she thought no one was looking. Whether she felt pity or remorse, she was trying to do the right thing, and that gave Max hope.

When they got up to leave, after several assurances from Joyce that she had their bill taken care of, she paused by Victoria’s table and muttered, “Hey, thanks for that.”

The other girl looked up. She considered her for a few moments before saying, “Yeah, whatever.” There was the Victoria she knew and couldn’t stand. Max almost missed her.

 

“So what do you think I should do, Mom?”

Her mother, Vanessa, was silent on the other line for several seconds. Max couldn’t help but feel her meeting with Wells impacted her mother more than it had for her. Then again, Vanessa worked hard to care for the things Max couldn’t anymore.

“I’m not sure, sweetheart. I think it comes down to whether or not you can get your grades back up.” She paused again. “Can you work with your teachers for some extra credit?”

Max shrugged before remembering her mother couldn’t see it over the phone. “Maybe. Probably. They’ve tried to help a lot since Chloe died.”

“Okay, there’s that,” she said. “Do you think you have the energy to work with them?”

Max chewed the inside of her cheek. Did she? “I don’t know.”

A faint sigh came over the other line. Vanessa probably pulled the phone away from her mouth to make it, but that didn’t keep Max from hearing. “Then I think you should probably take some time off. You don’t want to spend the rest of the semester figuring it out.”

“Yeah.” That left one more thing. “And my scholarship? If I don’t get it back, will I have to come home?”

More silence.

“Mom?”

Her mother’s voice returned, “Max, Dad and I will do everything we can to get you back to school when you’re ready. Let’s cross that bridge when we get there, alright?”

“Okay.”

“Are you doing okay, sweetie?”

Ugh, she hated that question. It wasn’t about her.

“Yeah I’m hanging in there,” she said. “My friends have been really great. And even some of the jerks at school have been a little nicer.”

“I’m glad you have people there for you,” Vanessa said. Max could almost see her nodding and smiling in her head. “Oh hey, Dad just got home. You want to say hi?”

“No, I think I’m going to go to sleep soon.”

“Alright. Want me to tell him you love him?”

“Yeah,” Max replied. “And I love you too, Mom.”

“I love you so much, Max. Have a good night.”

Max hung up and leaned against the wall, sitting cross-leg on her bed. She accidentally disturbed a few of the pictures that hung around her, scattering them over her covers. Letting out a soft hmm, she scooped two of them up and regarded them. The entire collage of photos around her consisted of photos she’d taken over the last two years. When she had decorated them over the wall, she remembered marveling over how the quality had changed in such a short time. It was one of the few moments Max actually felt proud of her work.

She was so caught up in the memories that she didn’t hear a soft rapping at her door. When it creaked open a bit, Max jumped.

“Hey, Max?” Kate’s voice came from the other side. “It’s me and Victoria. Can we come in?”

Kate and Victoria? They never hung out. Hell, they never even talked unless Victoria was berating her.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Max pushed the fallen photos to the side and stood up.

Her dormmates walked inside, wearing their pajamas. She glanced at the clock in surprise, not realizing how late she’d stayed up. Kate stepped close to her and looped her arm around Max’s. Victoria closed the door and leaned back against it, crossing her arms and looking down at the ground with a frown.

“What’s going on?” Max asked.

Victoria bit her lip and shook her head, as if thinking of how to say something. “I just got a text from Nathan.”

What?

“Wait, how could he—he’s in jail or prison or whatever! How was he able to—”

Victoria cut her off, “His dad got him bailed out. He’s on parole now.”

No. No that couldn’t be right. “But, but he killed Chloe! He killed Rachel! He hurt Kate!”

As if on cue, Kate rested her head on Max’s shoulder and wrapped an arm around her to hug her close. Guilt swept through her. She didn’t mean to make her friend relive that.

“I know it’s fucked up,” the other girl said. “I know he’s my friend, but—” Victoria stopped short and took a breath. “I’m not saying I’m okay with it. But I think something’s up. He’s freaking out, Max. His dad is being more overbearing than usual and he’s scared.”

A manic giggle burst from Max’s chest. “His dad’s being overbearing? After he killed two people?”

“That’s—there’s something else going on.”

Kate rubbed her back in an effort to calm her. “Victoria thinks Nathan’s dad is trying to do something else. And he doesn’t care about what Nathan’s done already.”

Victoria went on, “He’s really scared about something. He won’t talk about it, but . . .” her voice grew muffled and trailed off.

Max struggled to hear anything they were saying, and suddenly the corners of her vision began to flash orange and black. Her head grew light, and then darkness.

 

The first thing she was aware of was a familiar roar. Like a freight train surging past her, or a clap of thunder that didn’t fade away.

No.

The ground she was laying on her quaked, and the sound of splitting trees surrounded her. As she pushed herself up onto her knees she felt icy rain lashing her face hard enough to sting. The air itself seemed to vibrate and ripple.

No.

She opened her eyes to darkness with flashes of lighting every few seconds. A little ways away, there was the lighthouse.

“No,” she breathed.

This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real.

Max forced herself to stand, ignoring her wet clothes and the mud on her jeans. The air around her chilled her to the bone, gnawing at soaking skin and dragging violent shivering gasps from her chest.

She raced up the hill, grabbing at patches of dirt to pull herself further up when it grew to steep. Her lungs, already sore from shivering, began to ache and she wheezed from the effort.

A loud snap ripped through the air to her right, and she turned just in time to see a tree about five feet above her, about to crush her. On instinct, her right hand flew up, and the tree began to move backwards. The rain, which was practically blowing sideways, began to move in the opposite direction. The only thing that didn’t change was Max.

One month. One whole month of holding back, and she finally used her powers again. She figured she’d have time to guilt herself after she was safe.

When the tree was securely in place, Max lowered her hand and pulled herself further up the path. A few seconds later, it cracked again and fell.

She reached the top of the hill and looked across the bay. There it was. A massive tornado, probably a tenth of a mile from the shore. She could see buildings along the beach already beginning to tear apart from the wind.

Max desperately looked around for anything that could tell her what was going on. And there, just like in her first vision, was a newspaper flailing against the map of the area. She snatched it up and searched for the date.

November 21, 2014

The paper flickered.

December 27, 2014

February 8, 2015

January 6, 2015

December 1, 2014

The dates kept flashing and changing, until suddenly the entire page was a blur.

“What the fuck?” Max said. Then, pleading to no one she begged, “Please stop!”

The world froze. Everything was still, save for a slight shimmer. Max’s mind flashed back to when she stopped time while Kate was on the roof. Could she—was she doing that now?

Everything went black, and Max was back in her room, toppling to the ground.

“Max!” Kate cried, while Victoria breathed, “What the hell?”

Max lifted her head, dizziness spinning through her. Her room seemed to spiral around and prevent her from regaining her balance, and she became aware of something wet on her face.

“Oh my gosh, Max! Your nose is bleeding!” Kate said.

Max lifted a shaking hand to her face and looked at the redness on her fingers.

This couldn’t be real.

“It was supposed to be over,” she whimpered, tears streaming down her face.

Above her Victoria said, “Hey, what the fuck is going on with you?”

“Would you leave her alone, Victoria? She’s going through a lot!” Kate demanded.

“We all are,” she snapped back. “You don’t see my brain exploding out my nose.”

Somewhere across the hall they heard a shout, “Hey guys it’s snowing!”

Max twisted around to look out her window. Sure enough, wisps of snow drifted down outside.

Victoria threw her hands in the air. “Great. First snow of the year and I get to spend it with you idiots.”

It was happening again. How could it be happening again?

“I need to be alone for a bit!” she blurted out.

The two girls looked at her. “Max,” Kate said, “I really don’t know if you should be alone right now.”

Kate looked at Victoria for help. The other girl rolled her eyes and said, “Fine, yeah. You’ve been really messed up lately and this is super weird. You shouldn’t be alone.”

Max shook her head frantically. “Just-just give me five minutes! I need a five-minute melt-down and then you guys can come back in.”

Kate opened her mouth and closed it again, worry painted all over her face. Max silently begged her to agree.

Victoria’s voice broke through, “We’ll wait outside. Your door stays wide open so we can see you. Deal?”

With a sharp nod Max replied, “Deal.”

When she was alone in her room, albeit being watched, Max began tearing down the photos on her wall, looking at each one carefully before throwing it to the ground.

She hadn’t stopped anything. The storm was still coming. Max held herself back for nothing. Chloe died for nothing. Nothing else mattered anymore.

She ripped her journal out of her messenger bag and began flipping through it. But none of the photos were right. They wouldn’t work. She turned back to her wall.

“Max,” Victoria called from outside. “What the fuck are you doing?”

She groaned at the interruption. “Please shut up!” She didn’t bother looking to see what was likely a very offended look on Victoria’s face.

She scooped up another picture and prepared to throw it away too before freezing to look at it again. It was from Seattle, several months ago. Maybe this was too far back. She might accidentally change too much, like she had when she saved William. Then again . . . maybe she could fix two problems at once.

Max sat back down on her bed and pulled the photo up to her face. Her vision blurred and she tried to focus in on the image. Then it shimmered flickered, and light swallowed her up.

 

Max pulled the camera away from her face as the picture slid out. She stared across the city at Mount Rainier from atop the Space Needle. In the five years she spent here, this had been the only time she ever went up to the top. The picture began to drift towards the ground and she scrambled to catch it. She might need it later.

Digging her hand in her pocket, she dug out her phone and flipped through her contacts. She hit the button and listened to it ring.

It clicked, and a voice came through. “Max?”

She covered her mouth with her hand and squeezed her eyes shut before the tears could run free. Chloe. It felt like a thousand years since she’d heard her voice.

“Max, are you there?” Chloe asked.

“Chloe listen to me very carefully,” Max ordered. “I don’t have a lot of time and I’m going to forget this conversation ever happened in a few minutes.”

“Max what the fu—”

“Chloe! Please listen!” she said. “I’m so sorry I left you! I was a shitty friend and you deserved so much better. You’re the most important thing to me and I still hurt you, and I’m so sorry.”

She took a breath and continued before Chloe could cut her off again, “This isn’t going to make a lot of sense right now, but Rachel is in serious danger!”

“Wha—”

“Listen! Her teacher, Mark Jefferson, he’s a serial killer! He kidnaps girls and locks them up in a storm bunker under the Prescott’s barn. He’s got Nathan in on it too, and Rachel is his next target.” She swallowed and said, “I can’t tell you how I know this yet, and I won’t remember saying this or even knowing any of it until sometime in November. But you have to believe me!”

Chloe finally got a word in, “Max please slow down! How do you even know about Rachel?”

“I’m sorry but I can’t explain that yet. But you have to tell David! He’s the only one who will believe this right now, and he can get the police involved.” Tears finally managed to stream down her face. “I wish I could explain everything before I forget, but I’ll do that when I’m back in Arcadia Bay and I remember!”

“You’re coming back?”

“In the Fall, yeah. But I’m going to be really shitty and I’m not going to reach out to you, so you have to come find me. I won’t remember this, but I’ll still do what I can to help keep you safe!”

Chloe scoffed. “Wait, now I’m going to get hurt?”

“Yes,” Max said. “But Rachel is in more danger right now.” She sucked in a trembling breath. “Please Chloe, I know how much you love her and I know what she means to you. Even if you don’t want to believe me, please do it for her.”

Silence. Then, rustling. “Max,” she breathed. “Please, I’m need some answers here.”

Orange, black, and white began to burn away the world around Max. “Shit, Chloe I’m about to forget. I love you so much! Please believe me!”

“Max—”

The colors consumed her, and Chloe’s voice disappeared.

 

When the ringing in her ears stopped and the world came back into focus, Max found herself back in her room. Max twisted around and saw her collage on the wall. The photo she just used was still there. Good. She might need to change it again.

Then it occurred to her. She was in her room. In Arcadia Bay. Which meant it hadn’t been destroyed yet.

It wasn’t Chloe’s fault. Unless Chloe was—

“Max?” an unfamiliar voice came up. “Hey are you okay? You’re totally spacing out on me.”

She turned her head to realize that she was sitting on her bed, next to Rachel Amber.

Rachel Amber. She knew Rachel Amber in this timeline. After so long hearing all about her but never knowing her, it seemed almost alien.

“Hey?” Rachel said again. Her voice was deeper than Max expected. “You’re being hella weird, Caulfield.”

“H-hella?”

The not-so-dead-now girl snorted. “You need to stop trying to say that. It just doesn’t sound right coming from you.”

Max blinked. “S-sorry.”

She twisted her head around. Nothing else looked different.

“Max, you’re kind of worrying me.”

She shook her head and tried to focus. “Right, uh, R-Rachel this is going to sound weird, but, do you know where Chloe is?”

Rachel frowned. “Uh, probably at her house. Why?”

She was alive. Thank god.

“I think I need to go see her.”

Rachel leaned away from Max. “What brought this up?”

“It’s kind of hard to explain. I’ll tell you both everything once we can sit down and talk.”

Rachel’s frown deepened. “You know I’m not talking to her, Max.”

What?

“What?”

“Are you—do you seriously not remember?” she asked. “Max, what is going on with you?”

Shit. Shit shit shit. She must have missed a lot in the last seven months.

“Please I just—I need to talk to you and Chloe. Together,” she insisted. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

Rachel stared at her, and for a few seconds Max thought she might refuse. Then she said, “Fine. We’ll go talk to her tomorrow afternoon.”

Shaking her head, she said, “Actually, I think we should go now.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“It’s really important,” she said.

“So important that you waited two months after she yelled at you, and then suddenly remembered thirty seconds ago? And now you want to go talk to her in the middle of the freaking night?”

Holy shit what did she miss?

“It—I—yeah, kind of.”

Rachel let out an incredulous laugh. “Wow, I really hope there’s a good punchline to this.”

“Rachel, I swear to god, I’m being serious. We need to talk to Chloe. Right. Now.” She bit the inside of her cheek before adding, “I need you to trust me on this.”

With a purposeful glare, Rachel said, “Fine. Whatever.” She stood up and stepped towards the door. “Is your crazy important thing too urgent for me to get dressed?”

“Uh, no. I should probably get dressed too.” At least in this timeline she got in her pajamas on time.

“Probably,” Rachel agreed.

 

They sped down the road in Warren's car. The windshield wipers squeeked loudly as they pushed the snow out of the way.

Max wished the snow hadn’t started yet.

She scrolled through her phone to find Chloe. There were some texts from April through September.

April 14

Chloe: what the fuck was that call about?

Max: seriously, I was just calling to say hi

Chloe: this isn’t funny

Chloe: you’d better have a good explanation “when you remember”

April 20

Chloe: guess what asshole

Chloe: you fucked me over again

Chloe: so thanks for that

Chloe: hey we’re playing the silent game again!

Chloe: you’re such a fucking coward

July 14

Chloe: so i hear you’re going to blackhell

Max: yeah. we’ll have to meet up sometime.

Chloe: oh so now you say something

Max: god dammit Chloe

Max: I’m not going to talk to you when you’re blaming me for something I didn’t do

Chloe: or you’re not going to talk to me for years and then screw me over

Chloe: and then pretend you didn’t do anything

Max: fuck off Chloe

Chloe: wow

Chloe: never thought you’d grow a pair and say it out loud

Max: it’s not out loud. it’s over text. so you still have an excuse to call me a coward right?

Chloe: fuck off Max

September 20

Chloe: fuck you

Chloe: fuck Rachel

Chloe: fuck everything about you guys

Max: just leave me alone

Chloe: right i wouldn’t want to bother you

Chloe: it’s not like you’d answer me anyway

Max: I am literally answering you right now

Chloe: fuck off

Sickness swept through Max’s stomach. What did she do?

She hit call.

It picked up on the first ring.

“You’d better have a good reason for waking me up, dick,” Chloe grumbled.

“I just remembered our conversation,” Max said. “The one back in April.”

Chloe said nothing. Max could feel Rachel looking at her from the driver’s seat. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding, right?”

“I’m telling the truth, Chloe. Rachel and I are headed over right now, and I’ll explain everything.”

Her best friend replied, “Fucking go away.”

“I’ll see you in a few minutes, Chloe.”

She heard a frustrated groan. “Fine. I’ll tell the attack-David to back off when you get here.”

“Thanks.”

“Fuck you.”

Chloe hung up.

Chapter Text

Warren had been less than happy to be woken up in the middle of the night, but relented when Max begged him to let them borrow his car. It was a relief to know they were still friends in this timeline. She really needed his support. Maybe soon she’d tell him the truth as well.

When they pulled up to the curb, Chloe was sitting on the roof of her garage, feet dangling over the edge. She wore a hoodie and thick sweatpants, as well as a pair of Hawt Dawg Man slippers.

She waved them over and said, “Come on, I’ll pull you up.”

Rachel walked up like it was just an everyday thing, but Max stopped. “What happened to getting David to let us in?”

“Yeah, can’t really do that. Step-Dick is, uh, with my mom right now.”

Max blanched while Rachel grinned and said, “You mean your Stepladder?” She jumped on top of David’s car and grabbed Chloe’s arm.

“Ich, gross. Still not funny,” Chloe groaned.

“Sure it is,” Rachel said while Chloe hefted her up.

Max climbed onto the car. “I have no idea what you guys are talking about.”

The other two girls leaned down to grab each of her arms, and Rachel said, “It’s because he cli—”

“God, please don’t tell her,” Chloe cut her off. “Just knowing that it’s happening right now is scarring me for life. I don’t need to talk about it.”

“Fair enough,” Rachel laughed.

Once they all made it to Chloe’s room, Max took a seat at her desk chair while Chloe threw herself onto her bed. Rachel leaned on the closet door with her arms folded.

With a yawn, Chloe said, “Okay Max, you’ve got an hour tops before I pass out on you. And I can guarantee that’s not enough time for you to kiss ass and make up for everything.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. “Jesus, Chloe, can’t you—”

“It’s fine,” Max said. “I know I’ve put you through a lot, and I am the Queen of Assholes for it.” She turned to Rachel. “And I know you both are super confused about this.”

Rachel tilted her head with a sigh and relented, “That’s an understatement.”

“Word,” Chloe said, giving a thumbs-up.

“Okay, so . . .” Shit. How the hell could she even start this conversation? “First things first, a lot of this is going to sound crazy. But I swear, I’m totally sane, and I can prove all of it. Most of it.”

Chloe propped herself up on her elbows. “Can’t wait to hear this,” she mumbled.

“Uh,” she thought of what to say next, “Rachel, how much do you know about me calling Chloe last Spring?”

Rachel frowned. “You said you called her to say catch up, she says you called her and said Jefferson and Nathan were crazy.”

“Thanks for that,” Chloe said, shooting Max a glare.

“Right, so, up until an hour ago I probably completely believed that. The catching up part, I mean. But now . . .”

Chloe let out a beleaguered sigh. “You ‘remembered?’”

“Basically, yeah.”

Across the room, Rachel stepped away from the closet. “Wait a minute, you mean this whole time Chloe was telling the truth?”

Max nodded.

“You motherfucker!” she snapped.

“Chloe?” David’s voice vibrated through the walls. “What was that?”

“Shit!” the three girls said in unison.

Max lifted her hand and pulled them back several seconds.

“—ng the truth?” Rachel asked.

“Yes, but don’t say anything loud or David will hear,” Max said before she could yell.

Rachel fumed. “You—ugh!”

Grinning, Chloe said, “You taste that, Rachel? That’s the taste of I told you so.”

“Shut the fuck up, Chloe,” she grumbled. Then, she dropped her head and said, “Sorry, I—sorry.”

“Great, now that’s out of the way,” she turned back to Max, “What the sideways fuck? Why did you tell me Nathan and Jefferson had it out for Rachel?”

Her turn. Great. “So, this is where it gets weird,” she said. “I’m not the Max you guys have been talking to the last couple of months.”

They stared at her.

“I’m still waiting for that punchline, Max,” Rachel said.

Chloe nodded, “Yeah, you probably want to go with something other than the doppelganger excuse.”

“Trust me, it’s even weirder than that.” She swallowed. Here was the big moment. “I’m from another timeline.”

Max swore she could have heard a penny drop. Then again, that might be preferable to the occasional thump coming from Joyce’s room.

Might as well go all in. “And I can travel through time.”

“Okay, you sound high,” Chloe said.

“Yeah, this is getting a little creepy, Max,” Rachel agreed.

Looking at both of them, she said, “I swear it’s true.”

Chloe scooted towards the end of her bed. “You said you could prove it?”

Max nodded. “Yeah.”

“Okay, prove it.”

This she could handle. “Do you guys have anything in your pockets?”

“Max these pants don’t have pockets,” Chloe pointed out.

They glanced at Rachel, who shrugged. “Just my keys. We left before I could grab anything else.”

“Oh, uh, okay.” She could work with this. Max walked over to Chloe’s cabinet and pulled open one of the drawers. Outside, a car drove by, and she rushed over to the window to get a good look at it. Then, a particularly loud thump emanated from Joyce’s room. She really wished that would stop.

Max returned to her original spot and lifted her hand. Time spun.

“—rove it.”

Clearing her throat, she said, “You’ve got a postcard from Rachel, a picture we drew together, and three cigarette stubs in the left drawer of your cabinet.”

Chloe got up and walked over to confirm everything.

“In a few seconds, a yellow SUV is going to drive by the house. One of its headlights is out.”

Chloe closed the drawer, and Rachel followed her to the window.

“And David and Joyce are going to bang on the wall really hard.”

Rachel snickered and nudged Chloe. “Bang,” she laughed.

Chloe groaned, “Fuck dude, stop it.”

Sure enough, the car drove by, and the wall thumped.

Rachel and Chloe stepped away from the window and turned to Max. Both wore matching looks of shock.

“Bullshit,” Chloe breathed. “There’s—”

Max spoke at the same time as her, “—no way this is real.”

“Woah,” Rachel said. “Max is—”

“Is that some party trick or something?” they said in unison.

Chloe stepped forward and once again Max matched her, “Piss piss bang bang fuck armadillo squads.”

“Holy shit,” Rachel said.

Shaking her head, Chloe said, “That’s—how did you . . .?”

Max shrugged. “It actually took me like, five tries to get that right. I kept tripping up over my words.”

Chloe’s jaw dropped. “Five times as in?”

“I went back in time five times so I could say that stuff at the same time as you,” she said.

“Do it again,” Max and Chloe said at the same time.

Chloe threw her hands to her head and walked in a quick circle around her room. She turned back to Max and said, “So this is real? You’re like a Time Lord or something?”

“I wish I was that cool,” Max said with a smile. “Normally I just fix the stupid stuff I say.”

“Holy shit!” Chloe whispered, trying to contain herself. “You can control time?”

With a nervous smile, Max asked, “Are you awake now?”

Chloe shook her hands frantically, all signs of anger and exhaustion replaced with wild confusion. “I’m hella fucking awake, Max! How the fuck did this even happen?”

“Wait,” Rachel said, breaking her relative silence. “You’re from another timeline?”

Max nodded again. “Yeah.”

She brought a hand up to her temple and said, “One where Nathan and M-ister Jefferson kidnap me?”

“Yeah,” she said, unsure of how else to respond.

Rachel closed her eyes and took several controlled breaths. “How do you know?”

Max swallowed. “We found you.” She bit the inside of her cheek before adding, “Chloe and me.”

Another quiet breath. “Was I okay?”

The smell of her body in the junkyard, the sight of Chloe hunched over and the sound of her crying out all struck Max, and she bit back the urge to vomit.

Her silence was enough of an answer for Rachel. “Jesus Christ,” she breathed, covering her eyes with one hand and hugging herself with the other.

Chloe spoke up, “Nathan and Jefferson, they hurt her?” Her voice was low and guarded.

He killed her. He killed you. He hurt me. “Yeah,” she said. Better to just leave it at that.

“But,” Chloe shook her head, still processing everything. “But they didn’t find anything.”

Max’s stomach churned. “What do you mean?”

Chloe looked at Rachel then back to Max. “You don’t remember?”

Shaking her head, she replied, “I only remember the phone call and things from my timeline.”

Her friend swallowed slowly. “I told David what you told me,” she said. “The police found the storm shelter, but there was nothing there. Just food and blankets.”

There was nothing there. There was no proof. Did that mean?

Oh god no.

“Jefferson never got caught,” she choked. “Oh my god, is he still a teacher?”

Rachel nodded, finally uncovering her eyes to wrap both arms around herself. “You and I have his class together,” she said. “That’s how we met.”

Max almost didn’t register what Rachel said. Her ears were ringing and her skin had gone cold. The brush of her hair against her neck felt like a thousand tiny needles, ready to pierce her skin. She could almost smell the sanitized, hospital-like smell of the Dark Room.

Jefferson was still out there.

She felt a tense ball of pressure build up in her stomach, and her breaths grew shallower. The world around her seemed to narrow onto the light from Chloe’s lamp, which suddenly seemed brighter and more fluorescent than it should.

A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped.

“Max,” Chloe said.

She tried to focus in on her friend. Chloe was alive. Chloe was here. That was all that mattered.

As she struggled to get her breathing under control, she became aware that she was now sitting on Chloe’s bed with her arms and legs curled into herself. She forced herself to stretch out so the tension didn’t make her faint, and she tried to hone in on Chloe’s voice. She couldn’t make out the words, but just the sound helped slow her racing heart.
Then a new thought made her heart stutter.

“Kate,” she said. “Is Kate okay? Has anybody gone missing?”

“Hey,” Rachel sat down next to her and wrapped an arm around her. Stiffness still seeped from her body, but she’d replaced the sickened look on her face with one of comfort.

“Kate’s fine. I mean, she’s super depressed and all, but she’s not hurt or anything.”

Chloe stepped up, “And there’s been nothing in the news about anyone disappearing.”

Kate was alive, no one was gone. A stuttering breath of relief escaped her.

“He hasn’t done anything yet,” she said.

Rachel squeezed and relaxed her free hand. “Maybe he’s different in this timeline. No psycho stuff,” she said, testing their reactions.

“Or,” Chloe said, standing up to pace around the room. “Maybe Step-Dildo and I threw him off. He can’t do anything because he knows we’re onto him.”

“Does he know I know?” she asked.

The girls all went silent. Chloe swung her arms back and forth and bit her lip. “He, eh, he might.”

Max hugged arms around herself. “What do you mean?”

“I uh,” Chloe coughed. “People thought I was some crazy, obsessed fan of his, or something I don’t know. I was telling people he was, you know. They all thought—” She lifted her hands and tried to come up with some appropriate gesture before giving up and dropping them to her sides again. “I kind of took it out on you. It got . . . public.”

“You guys got in a huge fight right outside of Blackwell,” Rachel said. “Chloe kept yelling at you and you just looked terrified.”

“I sort of shouted that you told me Jefferson was nuts,” Chloe went on. “I was mad that they were treating me like shit while you got none of it.”

Rachel nodded and said, “So he might suspect you.” Max’s face paled and Rachel quickly added, “But he also might just think Chloe was trying to shift the blame.”

That explained all the texts. No wonder Chloe hated her.

Max swallowed. “We should probably treat it like he knows everything,” she said. “He might hurt one of us if he thinks we’re getting too close.”

“But he can’t do anything,” Chloe said. “People would think it was him right away.”

“He has Nathan involved too. He could make people believe it was all his idea.”

Chloe sat back down on Max’s other side and put her head in her hands. “So we’ve got a serial killer and his unstable lackey who might start killing people again and we have no evidence so if we try to stop them on our own they’ll kill us.” She tilted her head up to look at Max. “Did I miss anything?”

Now was as good a time as any to get the worst of it out. “There’s a giant tornado coming to destroy Arcadia Bay.” Max said. “I don’t know when it’s coming or how to stop it.”

Rachel pulled her hand back to hold herself again. Chloe sat back, propping herself up with her hands. “Well this is just fucking great,” she muttered.

“Hella great,” Max agreed, and Rachel groaned.

 

“I don’t really want to go back to Blackwell,” Rachel told Max. “I just, I don’t feel comfortable with that right now.

She nodded. “I get that.”

Chloe shrugged, holding back another yawn. It seemed sleep had finally caught up to her. “You guys can crash here if you want. Not like it’s the first time.”

“Won’t David get mad?” Max asked.

“He’ll get over it,” Chloe said. “Besides, I bet my mom will be happy to see you. She’s been riding my ass trying to get me to apologize.”

Rachel shook her head. “No, you shouldn’t have to deal with his bullshit right now. I’ll crash in the car.” Max and Chloe both winced at her wording and Rachel rushed to correct herself, “I mean all sleep in it.”

“We can meet up again tomorrow,” Max promised. “Two Whales?”

“That sounds good,” Rachel said. Then, turning to Chloe, she added, “Plus it might look a little weird if we all just made up out of nowhere. We can pretend you invited us there to grovel.”

“Wow. That sounds like a fantastic plan,” Chloe said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “I find out I’m right and I still have to kiss ass.”

“Hey,” Rachel moved to place her hand on Chloe’s arm, but thought better of it. “You were right, Chloe. I was a total bitch, and you were right.”

The girl took a deep breath and smiled. “Thanks, Rach.”

Max watched as the blonde opened the window and climbed out into the cold. It was still snowing, so she left footprints on Chloe’s roof. Hopefully those would be covered up by morning.

When she turned to leave as well, Chloe stopped her. “Hey, Max?”

“Yeah?”

Chloe shuffled her feet and looked at the ground. It was strange to see her so nervous. Confidence and certainty always seemed to radiate off her. “I know you don’t remember a lot of it, but I’m still not totally okay with everything.”

Giving her friend a sad smile, Max replied, “That’s okay. It sounds like I deserve it.”

With a snort and a grin, Chloe said, “Yeah you kind of do. But I just—thank you. I don’t know what I’d do if Rachel was gone, and you had to have gone through a lot to get her back. So . . . thanks.”

“Always,” Max promised. Then she bit her cheek and cautiously asked, “Can I have a hug?”

Chloe frowned and tilted her head. “I mean it’s kind of—” she stopped short. “Yeah, yeah no problem.”

Max slid her hands up Chloe’s back and buried her face in her shoulder, while her friend wrapped her lithe arms around her. She never thought the smell of cigarettes and pot would be so comforting, but now she didn’t ever want to live without it. Chloe was here. Chloe was alive. Chloe was hugging her. She hadn’t had the chance to hold her since their last kiss by the tornado. Maybe she’d get to kiss her again, hopefully without the end of the world going on.

A strong but controlled whisper ghosted through the window, “Max, come on! It’s freezing!”

Pulling back but keeping a soft hold on her waist, Chloe tried to smile once more but stopped. “Hey, are you crying?”

Shit, she was. “Uh, yeah I, uh, I just really missed you.”

Chloe frowned. “Jesus, Max. How much happened?”

“So much. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”

She slid out of Chloe’s window and dropped down next to Rachel. She almost slipped and fell in the snow, but the other girl managed to steady her. “All good?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

They piled into the car and turned the heater up as high as it would go. Rachel let out a lengthy yawn and started driving towards the town.

Max chewed the inside of her cheek and asked, “Do you mind if I stay with you?”

Rachel glanced over at her. “Sure.” A few minutes passed, and they were parked by the beach, huddling together in the back seat with a spare blanket from Warren's trunk.

Just as Max was about to nod off Rachel spoke, “Hey, do you really not remember anything from, uh, this timeline?”

She shook her head, fighting off exhaustion. “You disappeared before I ever met you. This is the first time we’ve ever talked. For me at least.”

“God,” Rachel breathed. She rested her cheek on Max’s head. “I can’t believe that’s all gone. Everything we talked about.”

Max shifted under the blanket. “Did we talk a lot?”

“A pretty good amount,” she said. “We bonded a lot over Chloe and, uh, how stupid she was being.” She turned her head to the other side. “Fuck. We treated her like shit, Max.”

“You didn’t know,” Max said, trying to console the girl.

“I could have at least heard her out.”

Max released a long yawn, her eyes beginning to slide closed. “She’s safe,” she murmured. “That’s all that matters.”

“What do you mean by that?”

She tried to open her mouth to explain, but the world went dark and exhaustion took her before she could say anything.

 

“No!” Max jerked up, sliding the blanket off and banging her knee against the cupholder by accident.

Next to her, Rachel sucked in a breath and began reaching for the blanket. “What is it?” she breathed.

Max glanced around the car to regain her bearings. No tornado. God, shouldn’t she be used to this by now?

“Bad dream,” she said. She pulled the blanket closer, the icy air of the car biting at her skin. “What time is it?”

Rachel fished her phone out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. “Just after seven,” she said.

It wasn’t as much sleep as she’d been hoping for, but it was probably the most she was going to get.

“We should probably head back to Blackwell,” Max said.

Rachel let out a long sigh and brought her hands to her face to wipe the dust from her eyes. “None of this feels real,” she breathed.

Max went to place a hand on her back but then stopped. Was Rachel a physical person? What if she didn’t want to be touched right now? Her thoughts were interrupted when Rachel leaned into her and tucked her head into Max’s shoulder. Well, that answered her question.

“I wish it wasn’t real,” she said. “But you believe me?”

Rachel nodded, still pressed against Max’s side. “I know you’re right.”

They silently moved back into the front seats and made their way back to the school. A hot shower and fresh clothes might do them both some good, and Max was anxious to see how much had changed. At the very least she still had Warren on her side. Kate was her next priority. Beyond them, she just hoped that nobody had some ridiculous vendetta against her.

 

The Sunday brunch rush was already sweeping through the Two Whales Diner when Max and Rachel arrived. Max led the way to her usual seat and sat in, not bothering to look at the menu. Before long, Joyce made her way over.

“Well here’s a sight for sore eyes,” she said, a bright smile shining from her face.

Max beamed back. “Hi, Joyce,” she said. “It’s really great to see you.”

“Likewise.” Joyce turned to the other side of the table. “And how are you, Rachel?”

Rachel returned her question with a shining smile, saying, “I’m doing well. Thank you, Mrs. Price.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Now what can I get you girls?”

Before Max could get a word in, Rachel said, “Two breakfast samplers, please.”

Joyce nodded. “Coming right up.”

As she walked away, Max sat back in her booth. “Huh, it’s been a while since I had the sampler.”

Rachel’s eyes widened. “Oh, sorry.” She set her hands on the table and nervously twiddled her fingers. “Before you and Chloe had that big fight, you and I would come here twice a week. We got the breakfast sampler every time.”

“Oh.” Max looked down at her untouched menu.

Rachel bit her lip. “So, I guess we have to get to know each other again.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed. “I guess so.”

Rachel straightened up in her seat. “Well then, Max Caulfield, I am Rachel Amber, resident theater queen and aspiring model.” She reached her hand across the table.

That brought a slight smile back to her face as she shook Rachel’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Rachel. I’m Max Caulfield, local photography geek and awkward hipster.”

Rachel gave her hand one last firm shake before letting go. “I think the only way to properly reacquaint each other is to go on some kind of adventure,” her voice dripped with dramatic surety.

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of those,” Max said. “Starting with saving the town from that freak tornado.”

“Well,” Rachel said, “I do believe our dynamic duo is up to the task.”

“You better mean trio.”

Chloe appeared next to them and slid into the booth next to Rachel.

“Hey, Chloe,” Max said with a grin. Her heart fluttered at the sight of her friend, and she took a moment to revel in the fact that she could look at her again.

“So, I hear we’re talking about saving the world from tornadoes,” Chloe said.

With a shrug Max replied, “Just one tornado, and I’m pretty sure it’s only Arcadia Bay that needs saving.”

“And I thought we were doing something important,” Chloe sighed sarcastically.

Rachel rolled her eyes, however a smirk did creep across her face. Then she turned to Max and said, “We need to try and figure out the connection between your powers and the storm. They have to be linked somehow.”

Max shrugged. “I have absolutely no idea. I thought it was because I was using them too much, but as of last night I can rule that out. Chloe thought . . .” she trailed off. “Chloe thought it was because I changed some stuff early on, but it looks like that’s wrong too.”

“What stuff?” Chloe asked.

Shit, she didn’t want to explain this part. Still, it wasn’t like she could avoid it. “You kind of . . . died.”

If it weren’t for all the noise in the diner Max could have sworn she heard a penny drop.

“What?” Chloe breathed.

“A lot,” she added. “You thought the universe kept trying to kill you, and the tornado was some reaction to you being alive.”

Chloe squeezed her hands into fists. “How did I die?”

Max chewed the inside of her cheek. “The first time or . . .”

“Holy fuck, Max,” Chloe groaned. “Fine, yeah. The first time.”

“You and Nathan were meeting in the girls’ bathroom at Blackwell. He brought a gun. He freaked out and shot you.” She sighed and said, “The first time I used my powers was to save you.”

Chloe propped her elbows onto the table and ran her hands over her face. “I died,” she said slowly, tasting the words.

“After that it kind of kept happening,” Max went on. “You accidentally shot yourself, a train almost hit you, and Jefferson shot you.”

Rachel gritted her teeth and placed a hand on Chloe’s back.

“Alright girls, here’s your—” They turned to see Joyce, frozen in place. The forks on their plates rattled as her hands trembled slightly. “Chloe!” she blurted out. “You’re—you girls are talking again!”

Chloe sat back and stretched her arm across the booth. “Yeah,” she said, forcing a calm face.

Joyce stuttered, “W-well that’s—that’s wonderful! When did this happen?”

“Today,” Rachel supplied, doing a much better job at seeming relaxed.

“We’re trying to work stuff out,” Max added. “Besides,” she said, glancing at Chloe, “Old pirates should stick together.”

“Arr,” Chloe and Rachel said in unison. If they were this in sync after a huge fight, Max wondered how much closer they could have been before everything. Then again, she knew exactly how close they’d been. And now she felt awkward. Figures.

“I’m so glad to hear it,” Joyce said. She placed the dishes on the table and wiped her hands on her apron. “You three are just too good to be fighting all the time.”

Rachel flashed her another winning smile. “Our thoughts exactly.”

Joyce made her way back behind the bar, occasionally glancing over to make sure they were still talking. While Max and Rachel dug into their meals, Chloe tried to clear the air by chatting about how her home life had been since their falling out. Between constant arguing with David and Frank, Max wondered how Chloe found any time to relax. Even then it must have been difficult, seeing how Frank had completely cut her off from his supply. Yet somehow, she still managed to find weed.

“Have you ever considered getting a job,” Max asked with a playful smile.

“Ich, not if I can help it,” Chloe said. “Anyway, enough about my shithole. Let’s get back to your superpower and me dying.”

Rachel cleared her throat. “I think we’ve established that you dying isn’t what causes the storm. So, we need to think of what else is different from Max’s timeline.”

“And we need to figure out how to put Jeffershit behind bars,” Chloe said.

Max looked at her hands while Rachel shifted in her seat. “Maybe we should focus on one problem at a time,” Rachel said. “If we do too much at once we’re going to screw something up and get caught.”

“Except we have no idea when he’s going to start kidnapping girls,” Max said, her eyes dark and unfocused.

“But he hasn’t yet,” Rachel pressed on. “He knows Chloe’s onto him, so he can’t try anything.”

“So, he comes after me first,” Chloe said. “He finds some way to make my death look like an accident, waits five months, and then gets back to his freaky murder fetish.”

Rachel squeezed her eyes shut and sighed. “Jesus, Chloe, can you just—” she stopped short, then dug her phone out of her pocket. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she breathed.

“What is it?” Max asked.

Her head shot up and she looked at them like a doe in headlights. “It’s Jefferson,” she said. “I totally forgot we were supposed to get together today for office hours.”

Max frowned. “On a Sunday?”

“He says he does professional photography stuff on Saturdays,” Rachel said. Her fingers glided across her phone before she tapped the send button. “I’m telling him I don’t feel well. That should buy us a little time.” She placed the phone on the table and slid her hands into her lap, her shoulders hunched and her face cold.

“Great,” Chloe said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “So that’s definitely something we need to deal with right fucking now.”

Chapter Text

Apparently “right fucking now” was a little harder to pull off than they had hoped.

There were several issues. Mainly, Jefferson hadn’t actually committed any crimes—none that they were aware of at least—so they couldn’t round up the authorities. Even if he had done something, he likely destroyed any and all evidence of it after Chloe’s accusations. Which left them with a murderous psychopath who had yet to murder anyone but very likely had his eyes on one of them. And Max and Rachel had class with him the next day.

Chloe’s grand plan involved swiping one of David’s gun’s, getting Jefferson alone, and shooting him in the head. Max preferred something that wouldn’t get them arrested, preferably finding proof that he had illegal intentions. Rachel had yet to choose a side. Sometimes she seemed interested in wiping the smug look off his face with a gun, and other times she wanted to keep Chloe and Max out of trouble.

They spent the whole of Sunday huddled in the junkyard with a small fire burning, clutching their winter coats tightly as they argued over which path to choose. If they spent one hour considering different ways to kill him without getting caught, they spent the next trying to figure out what he might have done that they could get him arrested for. By the time they called it quits, the sun was starting to go down and the snow had begun to pick up again. Rachel tried joking that she might catch a cold, saying it might add some credence to her lie to Jefferson, but none of them felt like laughing. Chloe dropped them off at Blackwell, and the two girls went to their rooms to think.

Max laid down on her bed, staring upside down at her door. She glanced at her phone. 6:47pm. Nineteen hours and forty-three minutes. Then she’d have to hear that voice again.

Her stomach crawled as memories of the Dark Room flooded her mind. She could hear the flicking sound of his camera, the shuffling of his feet as he searched for the right angle. Her neck prickled like a thousand needles pressed up against it. Dizziness swept through her, and she wondered whether it was due to holding her head upside-down for too long or from the thought of being drugged again.

She sat up, ignoring the slight wave of tunnel vision. Sitting alone in her room and thinking about what had happened and what could happen was only going to make her sick. Max had to do something else. She scooped up her phone and began typing.

Max: Hey I need something to do tonight. Wanna hang?

A few minutes later, a response came through.

Warren: what’d you have in mind?

Max: Movie night.

Warren: awesome! anything in particular?

Max: Nah, your choice.

Warren: i’m honored to have been granted this power

Max: dork

If anything could get her mind off everything, it was hanging out with Warren. He was very possibly the only bit of normalcy in her life.

 

Warren met Max in the library with his laptop booted up.

“You look like you’re going crazy,” he said, trying to sound playful.

Max forced a smile. “I definitely feel crazy,” she said. “I need some time to turn off my brain.”

“Say no more,” he pulled a chair out for her. “I’ve got the perfect thing for that.” His idea of the perfect thing was binging Fullmetal Alchemist until the lights automatically turned off. And then catching one more episode.

When they finally agreed to head back to the dorms it was after midnight. The air was cold, and Max was about to regret leaving her heavy jacket in her room when Warren draped his over her shoulders. She shot him a grateful smile. It made the small walk back that much more comfortable.

After handing his coat back, she turned to go back inside when Warren brushed her arm with his fingers. “Hey, I don’t know what’s up, but you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

Max couldn’t meet his eyes. “I—yeah.” What the hell was she supposed to say? Could she just tell him everything out in the snow in the middle of the night? He’d think she was crazy.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t exactly explain that fear to him. A pained look crossed his face when he realized she wasn’t going to speak. “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to push you or anything.”

“No, it’s,” she paused, trying to find the right words, “A lot started happening at once, and I’m not sure how to deal with it.”

“Oh,” he said. “I get that.” He smiled, a little bit of the hurt going away. “Well I’m here for you if you need me.”

“Thanks,” she said, breaking a soft smile. This was why she liked hanging out with him.

She turned to leave again, then stopped.

“Warren,” she said. “You’ve seen Death Note, right?”

“Of course,” he said, a grin spreading across his face. “It’s a necessary watch when you’re starting anime.”

Right, dumb question. “Do you think you could ever be like L?”

“In what way?” he asked. “The super genius way, or the crazy guy way?”

“The solving mysteries way,” she said.

“Uh, I think the only mysteries I’ll ever solve will be in chemistry,” he said, his cheeks tinged slightly red.

“Yeah but,” dear god why was she dragging him into this, “What would you do if you knew someone is going to do a bad thing, but you didn’t know when and you didn’t have any proof?”

He stared at her, his eyes widening just enough to be noticeable. Max could feel herself fidgeting. She wanted to stop but couldn’t seem to control her own body.

“Max,” he finally said, “Are you in trouble?”

She looked at her feet and murmured, “I don’t know.” Oh fuck, what was she doing? “Actually, forget I said anything,” she said quickly.

“What are—”

“Seriously, don’t worry about it,” she insisted. “I got this.” Before he could say anything else, she rushed inside and slammed the door shut.

What did she just do?

He knew something was wrong now. He might try to figure it out. He might get hurt. Why was it that every time she tried to fix something she ended up making things worse?

So much for taking her mind off things.

 

The air of his voice filled the room. The sound reverberated in her brain, though she couldn’t make out what he said. It was too drowned out by the sharp ringing in her ears. His words used to fill her with inspiration and hope. Now they weighed her down like breezeblocks on her chest. Max desperately searched for her breath. It was all she could do to keep from gasping and choking in front of everyone. If he saw, if he knew, then it was all over.

“Max.”

I see you, Max Caulfield.

Max! You fucked up my shot!

People will care when you die tonight, Max.

“Max?” Jefferson said again. Her eyes shot up as she registered his words for the first time that day. Meanwhile, his brows knitted together, and he tilted his head to the side. “Are you feeling alright? You look a little pale.”

Her stomach twisted. So much for being inconspicuous. “Uh,” she tried to say something coherent, but nothing came to mind. She was acutely aware of the rest of the class staring at her. Outside her field of view, she heard Victoria scoff. Did they know something had happened to her? Could they that she was broken? They would treat her like a victim. They would pity her. They would think she was pathetic.

Rachel, who had been sitting next to her with white knuckles the entire time, brushed her forearm against Max’s and said, “I think she has what I had yesterday. I’m sure she’ll be fine after some rest.”

“Oh. Well I’m sorry to hear that, Max.”

She nodded a little too quickly. “Thank you,” she said in a short, stilted tone.

“I can take her to the nurse,” Rachel said.

Max sucked in a breath. “Yeah, can I go?” she pleaded.

Jefferson nodded. “Of course, Max. I hope you feel better.”

Rachel put her arm around Max and helped her to her feet. They rushed across the room as quickly as they could without running. Rachel pulled her outside and threw the door shut a little to hard before practically dragging her away.

“I’m going to throw up,” Max gasped.

With a nod, Rachel asked, “Can you make it to the nurse?”

She shook her head. “Bathroom.”

Less than a minute later, Max keeled over in a stall and emptied her stomach. Her body shook and racked, still panicking at seeing Jefferson. The sheen of her sweat reflected the piercing fluorescent lights. Rachel had both hands on Max’s head, fingers threaded through her hair to keep it out of her face. She felt uncomfortably warm against Max’s skin.

Jefferson’s voice still echoed in her ears.

When she finished retching and spitting out bile she said, “I can’t do this!” She sat back, and Rachel wrapped her arms around her. “I can’t do this,” she said again.

Rachel rested her head on Max’s shoulder for a moment. As she lifted it up she said, “Why don’t you drink some water?” Max nodded, and Rachel helped lift her up, steadying her as her legs shook.

“I keep going back to the Dark Room,” she whispered after rinsing out her mouth and swallowing down some water.

Through the mirror she saw Rachel frown. “The Dark Room?”

“Jefferson’s studio,” she said. “Where he—he did everything there.”

“Oh.” She rubbed her hand in small circles between Max’s shoulders. “You’re not there, Max. You never have to go back.

Max let out a strangled sob. Her hand flew up to her face to cover her eyes as tears began to flow. Despite Rachel’s familiarity with her, it still felt like she was talking to a stranger. She couldn’t help the twinge of discomfort that ran through her when Rachel wrapped her arms around her waist and hugged her from behind. But maybe it was making the other girl feel better. Maybe it let her feel like she was doing something to help. So Max stayed silent.

“I’m here,” Rachel murmured. “I’ve got you.”

 

They stayed in the bathroom till the bell rang. At that point, Max’s fear of someone finding them got the best of her. She washed her faced and wiped her eyes, and they stepped outside. Rachel kept one hand on Max’s arm.

Across the hall, Warren caught sight of them. “Hey, Max!” he called out, turning and jogging over to them.

Rachel gave her arm one last squeeze before letting go.

“Hi Warren,” Max said when he reached them.

“Are you okay? I heard you got sick in Jefferson’s class.”

Rachel raised an eyebrow. “That got out fast,” she remarked, a heavy amount of disapproval in her voice.

Warren scratched the back of his head and shrugged. “Victoria sent out a mass text,” he said.

The girls stared at him, taking a moment to register his words. “You get Victoria’s mass texts?” Max asked just as Rachel said, “Victoria still sends out mass texts?”

“Well, uh,” he blushed. “She actually only texted, like, five people. Tops. But they forwarded it to a bunch of other people.”

“So why would you say she sent a mass text?” Rachel asked.

He shot them a bashful grin. “I like to imagine being included in stuff.” Another wave of silence fell over them, but Warren broke it with a cough. “So, uh, Max. Are you okay? Does this have to do with last night?”

Rachel spun her head to look at her. “Last night?”

“We had an anime marathon,” Max rushed out. “It wasn’t anything else.”

“Oh,” Rachel said, her ears turning a bright shade of red.

“S-sorry, I didn’t mean—I wasn’t saying,” Warren stammered. “I was talking about what you said.” He glanced at Rachel and his eyes widened. “Oh crap! Did you not want me to say anything in front of—”

“Warren!” Max cut him off.

Rachel touched her arm again. “Max?”

Max turned to see her new friend looking confused. And something else. Hurt? “Rachel—”

“Max!”

Oh god please no.

All three of their heads shot up to see Jefferson striding towards them, concern painted all over his face. “I would have thought you’d still be with the nurse. Are you feeling better?”

Rachel jumped in before anyone else and said, “We couldn’t quite make it to the nurse, so I got her to the bathroom. She just needed to get whatever she had out.” Damn, she thought fast. Max wouldn’t have thought to tell the truth, she would have told an outright lie that no one would have believed.

“That’s good to hear,” he said with a smiled that sickened her. Max tried to ignore the ringing that had returned in her ears. “Actually, if you’re feeling better, I’d like to have a word with you.”

If she’d had anything left in her stomach she would have vomited again. “I don’t know,” her mind raced as she tried to come up with an excuse. Then it clicked. “I think I should go back to my room and rest,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady.

He nodded. “Another time then.” He turned to Rachel and flashed another smile. “It’s a good thing you guys have each other,” he said. “You’ve always been quite a team.” Then to Warren, “I hope you have a good day, Mr. Graham.”

“You too, Mr. Jefferson.”

The moment he turned his back, Max began moving on autopilot. She couldn’t feel her feet or see where she was going, but she was aware that she was moving. After a few seconds, she felt the cold November wind against her skin.

“Max!” Warren grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back inside. She blinked back to reality and realized the nearby students were staring at her, mumbling to themselves. “Come on,” he said softly. “Let’s go get your jacket.”

Rachel took her other arm and they made their way to her locker.

 

Chloe’s eyes slid shut as she took a long drag from her joint. His highness the Fuhrer was still at work, so she had ample time to relax and process everything that had happened over the weekend. As crazy as everything turned out to be, there was something satisfying about knowing she was right. That didn’t fix their problems, but at the moment she was too high to worry. They’d figure something out. Who knows? Maybe she’d even get the chance to shoot Jefferson’s smug, asshole-ish face.

Her phone buzzed. It was from Rachel.

Rachel: Max had a panic attack. Can you come over?

Damn, she was getting those? Then again, she did have a few mini freak-outs whenever they talked about the asshole in question. Oh shit, she had his class today, didn’t she?

Chloe: be there in a minute

Chloe: would weed help?

Rachel: . . . Maybe?

Chloe: I got you covered

She strolled into the girls’ dorm at Blackwell, hands in her stuffed deep in her pockets to hold her keys and a tiny plastic bag.

Victoria Chase, who was walking across the hall, froze and glared at her. “What the hell are you doing here?” she snapped.

Chloe flashed her a grin and said, “Booty call. I take requests, if you’re interested.”

In her almighty bitchiness, Victoria let out a disgusted ich. “You smell like a back-end raver,” she accused. “Maybe I should call campus security.”

“You smell me a lot, Victoria?” Chloe asked.

She rolled her eyes. “As if. In any case, I’m sure your trigger-happy step father would love to hear about all the illegal shit you’ve been getting up to.”

With a shrug, Chloe replied, “I mean, that’s your call. But I could always pull the trigger on all your Vortex Club parties. I bet he’d love an eyewitness account of all the illegal shit you’ve been getting up to.”

Victoria opened her mouth, then quickly shut it. She flashed Chloe a middle finger and stormed back to her room, slamming the door shut.

Chloe smirked before heading over to Max’s room. She knocked three times and called out, “Hey, I’m here.”

The door swung open and a hand shot out to drag her inside.

“Woah, Rachel, take it easy,” she said, glancing around. Two backpacks lay next to Max’s satchel, and their jackets were strewn all over the floor. Max was sitting on her bed, hugging herself tightly, breathing way too fast. Her face was pale and covered in sweat, and her whole body trembled. Warren Graham sat next to her with an arm around her shoulder, keeping her from shaking too hard.

Shit, this was bad.

“Okay first things first, we’ve got to switch this up a bit,” Chloe announced. “Max, you need to uncross your arms and lie down, or you’re going to pass out.”

Max looked up at her. “Chloe,” she breathed out. Without warning, she launched up from the bed and threw her arms around her. Chloe staggered as Max buried her nose in her shoulder and clenched at her jacket.

“H-hey, it’s alright, Max,” she said, bringing one arm around her and using the other to balance on the doorframe.

Rachel sighed. “Well, I guess this is an improvement,” she muttered.

Warren cleared his throat and asked, “Should she still lie down?”

“Yeah,” Chloe said with a nod. “Come on, Max.”

The other two took both of Max’s arms and gently pried them from Chloe. The poor girl let out a soft sob and willingly laid down. Chloe snagged her pillow and slid it under her feet.

“Do you guys have any water?” she asked.

“Yeah, right here,” Warren said, pulling a bottle out of his backpack. He twisted off the cap and handed it to Max, who lazily tried to drink it without spilling it all over herself.

“Rachel, can you keep an eye out while I roll one?” she asked. Her friend nodded. Then, she reached a hand out and squeezed Chloe’s hand. Her heart fluttered. She’d missed this. She’d missed holding Rachel’s hand. Too bad it was such a shitty situation.

After opening the window—and wincing at the cold air—she sat down at Max’s desk and began rolling the weed into a small piece of paper. As soon as it was finished, she knelt next to Max. Warren blanched at her, and for a second it looked like he was about to scold her, but he seemed to think better of it.

“You ever smoked before, Max?” she asked, keeping her voice low and soft. Max shook her head, pinching her eyes shut as more tears spilled out. “No problem,” she said. “Just so you know, you don’t have to try this if you don’t want to.”

“It’s fine,” Max whispered. Chloe’s heart broke at how scared she sounded.

“Okay,” she said, nodding. “You just take a deep breath in. It’s totally fine if you have to cough. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Max said.

“Alright. You’re going to hold it with your lips and breathe in, okay? I’ll light it.”

And with that, Max was smoking her first joint. Chloe tried to be a little proud, despite the aforementioned shitty situation. Before she could take too much, Chloe plucked it away. She didn’t want Max’s first high to be a trip. That would just end up stressing her out even more.

She held the joint up. “Anybody else?” she offered.

Rachel stepped up and took it from her. She walked over to the window to blow out the smoke. Too bad they couldn’t do that with Max. Her room was going to stink for days.

“Warren?” Rachel asked once she was done. “You want to try?”

He shook his head quickly. “I-I don’t think—I mean thanks and all but,” he couldn’t seem to finish his sentence.

Rachel smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to.”

“Oh, uh, thanks.”

Chloe looked back at Max. It looked like she had finally stopped hyperventilating. “How ya feeling, Max Attack?” she asked.

Max opened her eyes and let out a deep breath. “Better,” she said. “My throat’s really dry.”

Rachel walked back to the bed and sat down at her feet. “That’s normal,” she said. “It’s just because of the smoke. Go ahead and drink some water.”

A cough reverberated across the room. They glanced at Warren, who was now standing awkwardly by Max’s desk. “So, is anybody going to tell me what’s going on?”

Chloe was about to shut him down when Max said, “Jefferson freaked me out.”

“Jefferson?” He frowned. “Why?”

Rachel placed a hand on Max’s ankle, and Chloe couldn’t help the twinge of jealousy that went through her. Then she wondered, which of them was she jealous of? “Are you sure you want to tell him?” Rachel asked. “You might not want to make big decisions while you’re high.”

Max shook her head and covered her eyes with her arm. “I want to tell him,” she said. Warren shuffled his feet, failing to hide the eagerness that was now mixed in with his concern.

Rachel asked, “How much do you want to say?”

“Everything.”

Chapter Text

Chloe stared on as Max finished speaking. Warren sat at the desk, taking everything in with a look of shock and doubt. Her fingers itched as she watched him, ready to jump to Max’s defense if he said anything to hurt her. A glance to her side told her Rachel would be right there with her. That was definitely a comforting thought.

To be fair, he hadn’t exactly had the same kind of buildup that she did. She’d had her fair share before Max told her everything. Her weird phone call had left Chloe guessing and desperate for answers over the last several months. Between her crazy powers and even crazier story, it all seemed to fit together. As for Rachel—okay she wasn’t totally sure why Rachel believed her so quickly. But whatever. What mattered was that they knew the truth, and now Warren did too.

“That’s,” he stopped and thought, “That’s a lot.”

Chloe rolled her eyes as if she hadn’t had the same reaction a few days ago. “It’s hella fucking crazy. You don’t need to beat around the bush.”

He winced. “I mean, yeah it is.” He scratched the back of his head After a few moments of silence where he simply stared at each of them, he finally spoke again, “You guys really aren’t kidding.”

“It’s real,” Max promised. “But I so wish it wasn’t.”

“Max,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust you or anything, but,” he scratched his head again, and Chloe tried to keep herself from teasing him for his little tick. Warren was Max’s friend. She shouldn’t make fun of Max’s friends. “Can you, I don’t know, prove any—”

“You have a deck of Magic the Gathering cards in the left pouch of your backpack,” Max said. “The one on top is a Tangle Golem, and the thirteenth is the Jasmine Boreal. In a couple of seconds, a squirrel is going to scare a blue gay and it’s going to fly past the window.” Chloe smirked as she watched Warren snatch open his bag before rushing to the window. There was something hella cool about watching her do that to someone else.

Deck gripped in a tense, white-knuckled hand, he said, “How did—that’s—you have powers?”

Rachel stepped forward and patted his shoulder. “Hella fucking crazy,” she said.

Max shrugged. “I checked all that stuff and then rewound time before it happened. It’s the easiest way to show people.” She fiddled with her hands in her lap before going on, “It was easier to explain in the other timeline. There were already these crazy freak weather events that were making reality glitch out.”

“Hold on,” Rachel’s head snapped around to look back at Max. “This is news. What do you mean reality was ‘glitching out?’”

Max listed off a series of phenomena, ranking from generally weird to straight-up apocalyptic. The whole while, Chloe kept glancing at Rachel, who looked more and more freaked out.

“And then even after everything, I started having visions again,” she said. “And right after it started snowing, just like the first time. No matter what I try, the tornado just keeps coming back. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to stop it.”

Warren’s brow furrowed. “Max, it’s November,” he said. “It’s not crazy for it to snow in November.”

Oh shit.

Chloe hadn’t thought of that.

A look of shock crossed Max’s face. She glanced down at her hands and frowned. “Oh, she murmured.” Chloe fidgeted, and she couldn’t help the tiny bit of doubt that was now growing inside of her.

Rachel took a seat next to Max and placed a hand on her shoulder. Chloe didn’t miss how her eyes widened and she tensed up. “How about we come back to the tornado stuff later,” Rachel suggested. “What do you think about everything with Jefferson?”

With a sigh, Warren said, “I-I don’t know. I mean—” he stopped, rethinking his words. Chloe stuffed her hands in her pockets and listened carefully. He was saying things she should have thought of from the start. But what did all of it mean? “I want to believe you, Max,” he said. “But if you’re wrong—I don’t want to accidentally hurt somebody if they didn’t do anything.” Chloe felt herself stiffen up. Max could travel through time and fucking reality. She’d literally seen this stuff. Maybe the tornado was up in the air right now, but if he could believe the rest of it then why couldn’t he believe there was a pretentious psychopath teaching some preppy art class?

But Max just nodded. “I get that,” she said, and Warren relaxed with an apologetic smile. She wasn’t done though. “That’s why I need someone to help me solve this. If we find proof that he wants to hurt people, then we can stop him before he does something really fucked up.”

Or they could kill him. That still seemed like the better option to Chloe. But Max did have a point. It would be hard for her to make up with Max and Rachel if they were locked up in a whole somewhere. Fuck, this whole thing sucked.

Warren shuffled his feet and scratched his head again. “I guess that’s not so bad,” he admitted. “If we could prove something, then he wouldn’t be innocent, right?”

“Right,” Max and Rachel said in unison. Max glanced at her for a nervous second, then turned back and smiled for the first time since Chloe got there. “Thanks, Warren,” she said, and he gave her a shy smile. This time Chloe did roll her eyes, and she got Rachel’s gaze. They shared an exasperated look.

“Well then, I’d say we almost have a plan,” Rachel announced before things could get any gooier. “So how about we meet up again when two of us aren’t high, and we’ll figure out the details?”

Chloe coughed and muttered, “Three.”

With a loud snort, Max began giggling. Chloe broke out in a goofy grin. She never would have taken her best friend for a giggly stoner.

 

After Warren left, Chloe sat on the bed with the other girls. Max had laid down again, resting her feet in Rachel’s lap and her head in Chloe’s. Silence fell over them, aside from the occasional content hum from Max. Seeing her begin to calm down was relieving to say the least. Chloe didn’t think she’d ever seen Max have a freakout like that. She wasn’t totally sure how she’d managed to keep her cool through the entire thing. On any other day she would have been panicking almost as much as Max. But not then, for some reason.

Chloe glanced down as Max’s eyes slid shut. This was so strange. She was cuddling with her ex best friend. Kind of. And her actual ex was there too. If they weren’t all high this might have been painfully awkward. What the fuck would she have thought of this four days ago? She would have called herself a fucking sellout, that’s what. But it was too easy to just sit with the two of them and pretend like this was how things had always been. Like Max had never left, and the three of them had gone through all kinds of crazy shit together.

She was such a sap.

“My head is buzzing,” Max said, her voice breaking through the quiet. “Like, a lot. Is that normal?”

Rachel chuckled, her thumb stroking Max’s foot. Wow. So, that was a thing.

“You’re coming down,” Chloe said before she had time to think about it. “It’s totally normal.” Then she let out a nervous laughed, “You should have seen Rachel’s first time.” Fuck, wait, reword that. “Th-the first time she got high,” she rushed out. “She smoked way too much and had a hella bad come-down.”

“I’m still mad about that, Price,” Rachel said with a smirk, and Chloe couldn’t help grinning back.

Not wanted to back down from a challenge, she laughed and said, “No one told you to take four drags in a row, Amber.”

“You only let me do two,” Max retorted.

“And you’re taking it like a champ.”

They fell back into a soothing silence. Chloe found herself occasionally running her fingers through Max’s hair, and in turn Max would let out a soft hum of satisfaction. Rachel watched them closely, still running her thumb back and forth. By nine, Max had dozed off. The other two girls maneuvered her around so they could tuck her in. Chloe managed to get her out of her hoodie while Rachel ran to the bathroom to refill the water bottle. When they had her settled, they switched off the lights and went to Rachel’s room next door.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Rachel murmured, “Thank you.”

“Yeah, no problem,” she said. Not knowing what to do with her hands, she scratched the back of her head and—shit. This is what she gets for hanging out with Warren.

“I mean it,” she insisted. “Seriously. You didn’t see how bad it was at first. I mean you walked in and she just,” Rachel held up her hands before immediately dropping them in defeat. “It was like she wasn’t even there until you walked in.”

Jesus fuck. What the hell happened to her?

“Can I—” Rachel froe for a moment, biting her lip before saying, “Can you just hold me for a second?”

Her heart clenched, and she breathed out, “Yeah.” Without another word, Rachel stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Chloe’s waist. She pressed her forehead into her shoulder and squeezed tight. Chloe rested her cheek on top of her head, and her thoughts began to race. Holding Rachel in her arms again, smelling her stupidly expensive shampoo again, fuck, just being in the same room again felt so much more precious than it had a year ago. And it hurt like fuck.

“I’m sorry,” Rachel said. She gripped at the material of Chloe’s shirt, her fists pressing into her back. “I’m so, so sorry. I should have believed you. I shouldn’t have shut you out.”

There it was. Had she been waiting for them to have a moment alone to say everything? “Why did you?” she asked. “Out of everyone, I thought you would have believed me.”

Rachel sighed. She squeezed Chloe one more time before stepping back. “Is it petty if I say it’s because you went after my favorite teacher?”

A small flare of pain rippled through her chest. “I’d say it’s more than petty,” she said, trying to keep her voice even. This was an apology. Rachel was apologizing. Chloe couldn’t fuck this up.

Rachel nodded in understanding. “Jefferson was—he was like a mentor. After everything with my dad,” she squeezed her eyes shut and let out a deep breath. “He was always really supportive. And he has connections in the industry. He knows actual models who talked to me.” A quiet but anxious laugh burst through her lips. “He’s the one who convinced me to stay for Wells’ scholarship program. I thought he was trying to help me, but I guess he just needed to keep me around.”

Right, this was her fifth year at Blackwell. She could have graduated, but Principal Wells set up a new program with a few universities. Well-performing students would get a full-ride through college if they stayed an extra year at school, taking only college level courses and keeping their grades up. Rachel was one of three other Blackwell students in the program.

She went on, “When you started saying he wanted—that he wanted to hurt me, I freaked out.” Her shoulders sank. “I thought maybe you were jealous or something.”

Chloe snorted, and a small spark of anger flickered inside her. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“I’m sorry,” Rachel said again, more rushed and frantic this time. “People were spreading these rumors—they said he and I were—I thought you heard about it and got mad.”

“So you believed some douchebag, hipster-fuck teacher over me,” she said with a deadpan. “I had my whole fucking life planned around you, Rachel! I thought you just stopped caring!”

She shook her head. “I didn’t. I swear to god, Chloe.”

Her nostrils flared. “Wells almost fired David. Guess who he took that out on.” Rachel’s eyes teared up, but Chloe kept going. “My mom didn’t talk to me for a fucking week! I owe Frank three fucking grand because I was trying to save up money for you, and now he’s breathing down my god damn neck!”

Rachel slumped down on her bed and rubbed her eyes. “What can I do to fix this?”

“Do you have three thousand dollars in your pocket?” she scoffed?

She bit her lip again, then said, “I might actually be able to help with that one.”

Really?

“Really?”

“Frank likes me,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye before it could fall. “I can talk to him. And I might be able to snag some money from my parents. And,” she tried to meet Chloe’s gaze, “I’ve kind of been stealing from Jefferson for a few months.”

Holy shit. “Seriously?”

“Just five or ten bucks here and there,” she explained. “I can’t do it too often, and I can’t take more than he would miss. But I have about two hundred from him.” Chloe gaped at her and Rachel tried to smile. “I was saving up for you too.”

“Oh,” she breathed.

After everything, Chloe had assumed that she loved Rachel more than Rachel loved her. Maybe she was wrong. She hoped she was wrong. An imaged she had tried to forget flashed through her mind. She saw herself and Rachel sitting side by side on the Santa Monica pier, eating hot dogs or churros or something unhealthy and delicious. Could that still happen?

Would Max be a part of that life?

As if sensing Chloe’s shift in thinking, Rachel said, “So, Max mentioned something earlier.”

She tilted her head. “Yeah?”

Rachel nodded. She had finally regained some of her composure, and her eyes had grown dark and stern. “About the Dark Room. Know anything about it?” Chloe shook her head. “She said it was where Jefferson ‘did everything.’ She felt like she was back there.”

Chloe thought for a moment. “Nathan’s bunker. She talked about it when she called me.”

“Yeah,” Rachel agreed. “I think Jefferson hurt her there, Chloe.”

Ice filled her veins. Was that why Max fell apart today? Because he did something to her? Oh god, what did he do to her? “I’ll kill him,” she hissed with fervor. “Fuck getting caught, I’m going to fucking kill him.”

Rachel chewed at her lip again, holding Chloe’s stare for several long seconds. Then, in a voice that was equal parts soft and determined, she said, “Let’s do it.”

Holy fuck. She didn’t hear that wrong, did she? “Really?”

With a dark smile, Rachel stood up and took Chloe’s hands. She held them close to her chest and said, “Chloe Price, will you do me the honor of becoming the co-murderer of my favorite teacher?”

This was insane. This was fucking insane. But Rachel had her back. They could be a fucking team again. Hell yeah. “Let’s tear him apart.”

Rachel nodded. “Okay. Now if we’re going to do this, we need to do this smart.”

“What happened to not making plans when we’re high?”

“I needed to talk to you about this alone,” she said. “And I’ve had a few ideas since yesterday.”

Oh god they were really doing this. “Yeah?”

“There’s no way we can do this alone,” she said. “If we try, we’re going to fuck it up somehow and get arrested. We need outside help.”

“I don’t think we can find a hitman in Arcadia Bay,” Chloe retorted.

She shook her head. “We don’t need one. Frank’s killed before. If we can convince him to help, we’re all set.”

Okay, that was a better plan than anything she could have come up with, but there were still a few problems. “I don’t think he’ll want to help us kill someone. Even if I didn’t owe him thousands of dollars.”

“That’s why I’ll be the one asking him, and I’ll do it after we find a way to pay him.”

“Are we paying him for killing Jeffershit or for the money I already owe?” she asked.

Rachel replied, “Both.”

Okay. Well, not totally okay. They couldn’t get all that money overnight, but it was definitely a start. “Max won’t like it,” she said.

“No she won’t,” Rachel said. “So, we don’t tell her until after it’s done. We’ll pretend to go along with her and Warren for now.”

“You are an evil fucking genius,” she said. Lying to Max wasn’t ideal, but if it got her away from that fucking psychopath maybe it was for the best. “And they might find some useful shit on him too.”

“Useful shit that could help cover our tracks,” Rachel agreed.

“Okay, we pay off Frank, scope out as much as we can on Jefferson, and kill him before he can kill anybody else.”

“Sounds about right,” Rachel said. “And we’ll have to get all of this done without Max knowing. Oh, and we can’t leave any kind of trail. So no texting or calling each other about it.”

Chloe nodded. “Right. We’ll all be getting together anyways to talk about Max’s plan. We can probably work on ours after that.”

“We just say we’re making up for lost time,” Rachel said, continuing her train of thought. She smiled again. “Well then, I’d say we have a plan.

 

Ugh, her room stank. Max hadn’t noticed it when she woke up, but after coming back from her shower she recoiled at the heavy scent of pot. And she didn’t have any air spray. She shook her towel over her head, desperately trying to dry it off before trudging over to her window and yanking it open. After messing around with her box fan and a few scented dryer sheets, she had fresh—albeit freezing—air flowing throughout her room. She bundled herself up in a hoodie and stepped out into the hall.

She glanced at her phone. There was still time before her first class, but to be honest she didn’t feel like sitting around in an empty classroom or at the library. Rachel would probably let her hang out in her room. Her cheeks tinged red as she thought back to the night before. Then again, Rachel would probably want to talk about everything that had happened. And Max really didn’t want to talk about it.

Okay, so Rachel was off the table. There was Kate. They hadn’t talked yet in this new timeline. Were they even friends now? Either way, she hadn’t spent the night shaking in Kate’s nap. Awkwardness with her sounded better than awkwardness with Rachel.

She knocked three times. “Hey Kate,” she called in a soft voice.

There were a few footsteps, then the door cracked open. “Hey Max,” Kate said. She didn’t smile.

“My room is kind of, uh, well I can’t really stay in my room right now. Mind if I stay with you before class?”

The door opened wider. “Sure,” she said. “Come on in.”

Like in Max’s original timeline, the curtains were pulled shut, and the only bright thing in Kate’s room was the cold, harsh light from her computer. However unlike before, the mirror had yet to be covered up, and she didn’t see any disturbing sketches or disapproving letters from her family lying around. At least things hadn’t gotten too bad yet. Did this mean Kate was never drugged at the Vortex Club party? It made sense. If Jefferson and Nathan weren’t kidnapping people yet, then they’d have no reason to hurt Kate. And if they had no reason to slip something into her drink, then she never lost control at the party.

“So, what’s wrong with your room?” Kate’s question startled Max out of her own thoughts.

“Uh—” Crap what should she say? “I spilled some air freshener and it’s kind of hard to breathe,” she said.

Kate frowned. “It smells more like you were smoking weed,” she said, her voice heavy with judgement.

Double crap. Max lifted her arm and rewound time. As the world reset itself, she thought back to the day before. When Rachel lied to Jefferson, she used a piece of the truth. Maybe she could try that.

“—ng with your room?”

Max fought to keep her voice steady as she lied, “Rachel and I have been trying to fix things with Chloe. She came over last night to talk and decided to start smoking in my room. I’m still trying to get the smell out.”

“That was really rude of her,” Kate said. “She could have gotten you in huge trouble.”

“No kidding,” Max said, pretending to agree. “I think next time we talk, it’ll be off campus.”

“You’re a really nice person if you’re giving her a ‘next time,’” she said. There was still a hint of disapproval in her voice, but Max could live with it.

Kate asked, “So why come here? Why not stay with Rachel?”

Max thought quick and said, “She can be super intense. Sometimes it helps to be around someone quieter.”

Kate considered this for a moment, then said, “She can be a lot sometimes.”

Okay she bought it. Well, it was still sort of true. Max glanced around the room. “So, am I interrupting anything, or do you maybe want to have a cup of tea?”

Shaking her head, Kate replied, “I was just working on a paper. I have a kettle in my closet if you want.”

“Cool.”

The two girls set up the kettle and chatted. Max made sure to dodge questions about having to leave Jefferson’s class. Pulling Warren into all of this was one thing, but she didn’t want to add any stress to Kate’s life. They were interrupted once by a frantic text from Rachel asking where Max was, but she assured her new friend that she was totally fine. After that, she couldn’t help but notice that Kate never seemed to carry on any of the conversations they started. It was like she would say just as much was expected of her, and then shut down again. At first, Max passed it off as her depression, but as things went on she couldn’t help but wonder if it was something more.

When it came time to go to class, she invited Kate to hang out again. At first, Kate seemed to like the idea, but when Max tried to press her for a specific date she said, “I don’t really have much free time right now. But I’ll tell you when I do.”

She could tell it was a lie but decided not to press her further. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll ask another time.” Kate smiled, but Max could see a small flash of disappointment on her face. Maybe they weren’t friends in this timeline. Maybe Kate just didn’t like hanging out with her. But they’d just spent all that time talking. Was she only humoring Max? Her heart sank, and she saw herself out of the room.

Chapter Text

Tuesday was almost worse than Monday. If Max had been scared of seeing Jefferson before, she felt petrified now. She’d known being near him would be bad. She didn’t realize that meant falling apart altogether. All through English class she couldn’t focus. Not when she knew she’d have to go through that all over again in an hour.

God, she wished Chloe were there. At least she’d have Rachel. A complete stranger. Who already knew her and was very affectionate toward her.

Max pinched her eyes shut and reminded herself that things were already better than they were before. Everybody was still alive. She had Chloe again. Warren was going to help them stop Jefferson. And they had time to figure out how to save the town from the tornado—which may or may not be coming.

She almost didn’t hear the bell ringing. Stella had to come and nudge her out of her seat before she actually got up. For a few moments, she debated skipping her photography class. No Jefferson, no judgmental classmates, no Rachel looking at her like—

No! She had to stop thinking like that. Rachel was just trying to help.

With a sigh, she shook her head and trudged over to the classroom. If she started skipping just his class, then he’d know something was wrong. And if Jefferson thought anything was wrong, he might do something to stop her. Or worse.

Like a magnet for her discomfort, Rachel appeared and latched onto her. She slid her arm through Max’s and led her into Jefferson’s classroom. Max could have sworn she was whispering something in her ear, but she was too tired and stressed to understand. They took their seats, and she worked hard to zone out. She couldn’t stress out over Jefferson if she couldn’t see or hear him.

The whole time, she knew he was talking. And every so often someone else would say something. But she kept her gaze fixed on her desk and let the ringing in her ears take over. At one point, Rachel nudged her, and she looked around and realized that Jefferson had asked her a question. Seeing no point in figuring out what he’d said, she simply shrugged and said, “I don’t know,” then looked back at the desk. She knew Jefferson was still pressing her for another answer, but she couldn’t bring herself to pay attention.

Wasn’t she supposed to act normal? Why was this so hard?

The rest of the class stretched on and lasted longer than she imagined it would, but then it was suddenly over. If she tried to, she couldn’t remember anything that had happened in the last hour. And she was grateful for it.

She heard a muffled sound.

Then it came again.

Then, “Max?”

For the first time in the last two hours, she blinked back into awareness. Jefferson was right in front of her. Rachel stood behind him, shooting her a nervous look. One that seemed to say, Are you alright?

Before she could figure out to do, Jefferson was talking again. “Can I cut into your lunch for a second? I’d like to have a word with you.”

Crap! “I, uh . . .” How was she supposed to get him off her back?

Like the day before, Rachel was quick to jump to her rescue. “We actually had some plans together,” she said. “We wanted to go to Two Whales, so we kind of have to go now.”

Jefferson turned to her and said, “I’m afraid this is rather important, Ms. Amber. I need to speak with Ms. Caulfield privately.”

Rachel held his gaze for several long seconds, and Max could have sworn she saw her throat bob.

Looking back at Max, Jefferson said, “It’ll only take a moment.”

She’d already acted suspiciously for two classes in a row. If she said no, he’d know she was trying to keep away from him. There was no way out. “It’s fine,” Max said to Rachel. “We can do Two Whales tomorrow.”

With a nod and an effortless smile, Rachel replied, “Sounds good. See you tonight?”

“You bet.”

The door clicked shut. Her head started buzzing again, and she struggled to keep her breakfast down.

“Max,” he began, his voice deceivingly soft, “I’m starting to worry about you.”

Her palms felt sticky with sweat.

“I know you tend to be,” he paused, “On the quiet side. But this just isn’t like you. I’ve never seen you pay so little attention in class. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she rushed out. Ah crap, she sounded defensive.

Jefferson sighed. “You know Max, if I’m being honest, it’s not just today.” Was she that obvious? “Ever since the contest—” Wait, what? The Everyday Heroes contest? “You’ve been losing focus. You’re not participating, you’re not doing any homework, and your grades are slipping.”

Oh. That was news.

“I’m wondering—is there something going on?”

What was she supposed to say? The Max from this timeline should have no reason to fall apart. So why was she? What caused this? “I . . .” she shrugged, unsure of what else to do. She couldn’t give a good lie if she didn’t know what was going on.

“Max I—” He stopped and looked at his feet. His eyebrows creased together as a pained look crossed his face. “Did I do this?” he asked weak voice. “Am I adding to your stress?”

Oh fuck. What did he know? What the fuck was going on? Max said nothing, silently begging him to elaborate, to give her some kind of context. But he seemed just as adamantly quiet as her, his eyes desperate for an answer. She’d never seen him so distressed. Not even when David caught him in the Dark Room.

But she had to say something. “I just—I have a lot going on. With home and school and stuff.”

Jefferson nodded, pursing his lips. “I’m happy to talk about it with you. If you’re comfortable with it, that is.” His eyes were filled with concern and worry, and if she didn’t know better she’d have thought he was truly trying to reach out and help.

Okay, so what did she say to that? This whole conversation felt like a puzzle where half of the pieces were invisible. “I’m working on it,” she said. “I just need to figure out a better way to do that.” It was a little vague, but maybe that would be enough to get him to back off.

“Okay,” he sighed. “Just know that I’m here for you. If you want me.” Her stomach twisted at his words. She wanted to scream in his face, tell him to leave her alone, say tell him she’d never want him around. But she had to keep it together. Especially since she’d been doing a terrible job at that so far.

Instead, she forced herself to say, “Thank you, Mr. Jefferson.”

He winced, as though she’d hurt him. Then he said gently, “Of course, Max.” He leaned back and slid his hands into his pockets. “I’ll let you go. If you and Rachel leave now, you might be able to make it to the diner in time.”

“Yeah,” she said, her feet already carrying her to the door.

 

As soon as she was outside, Rachel ambushed her.

“Are you okay?” she demanded. “What did he say?”

“Uh,” she tried to keep from spacing out again. She couldn’t have a panic attack like she did yesterday. “I guess my grades are bad. He wanted to talk about that.”

Rachel frowned. “Oh.” She crossed her arms and looked away. “I didn’t know your grades were falling,” she said. Max couldn’t help but notice the accusatory tone in her voice.

“It’s not like I knew,” she said. Well, she didn’t know why in this timeline. In the last one, it was because she’d just stopped caring. So why was it happening in this one?

The contest.

“Hey Rachel, who won the Everyday Heroes contest?”

Rachel tilted her head. “You did.” Then her eyes widened as she connected the dots. “Oh my god, you went to San Francisco alone with him.”

Max felt like there was a lump of lead in her stomach. “Did anything change after that?” she asked. “He mentioned that’s when it all started.”

She held Rachel’s gaze, her friend staring at her with a look of shock. “I-I don’t know,” she stammered. “You said it was really boring. You said nobody at the gallery noticed your photo. You—” she bit her lip and looked away. “You started coming to Vortex Club parties with me,” she said. “And you drank at them. You never drank before that. Not even with me.”

Max hated alcohol. She had no clue why anybody liked it. But something happened that trashed her grades and got her to party. What the hell—

“Max!” Warren called after her and jogged over from across the hall. A few wandering students glared at him as he pushed past them. He stopped in front of her and grinned. “Hey Rachel. So, what are you guys doing for lunch?”

The two girls glanced at each other. Seeing as he was in on everything now, they could probably get his opinion on things. “I guess we’re going to Two Whales,” Rachel said. “Want to come with?”

As the three of them piled into Warren’s car, Max dug her journal out of her messenger bag.

 

They’re lunch break was almost over, and Max hadn’t touched her food. The thick, greasy scent of the burger—which normally had her mouth watering in anticipation—left her ready to vomit. Joyce had already passed by three times, asking once if it was alright and then just throwing her worried looks. Max couldn’t bring herself to reassure the woman.

She was so sick of feeling sick.

“So, this has been really weird,” Warren said. “Do you guys want to tell me what’s going on?”

Rachel hadn’t told him about their realization. Maybe she was waiting for Max to do it.

Well, she had to do it at some point. Better to rip off the band aid, right? “I spent a weekend alone with Jefferson in San Francisco,” she said.

Warren leaned back in his seat, his eyes widening. “Oh.”

“And,” she added, “I stopped writing in my journal in the middle of the trip.”

Repositioning herself so her body was facing Max, Rachel said, “You stopped?”

With a nod, Max went on, “The last entry is me gushing about the gallery. I mentioned him wanting to take me out for dinner after.”

Rachel pressed, “Did he do something—”

“I don’t know!” Max cut her off, struggling to keep her voice level. “I don’t know anything about this timeline! Don’t you get that?” I don’t know you. Max literally bit her tongue to keep from saying that out loud. Frustration and anger filled her body, heat raging through her chest as she held back a tirade of things she desperately wished to say. “There’s so much going on, and I’m so confused, and I just don’t know.”

Silence fell over the three of them. A few people around them had turned to try and figure out what they were talking about. Max tucked into herself as best as she could at the table. Her face flushed red at the unwanted attention. She didn’t have any answers, but she was supposed to. She was the one who’d traveled across time. Shouldn’t she of all people know what to do? At this rate, she was just going to get people killed. And she had a whole audience of people ready to judge her failures.

Amidst her anger, self-loathing creeped its way back into her mind. All the times Chloe had died, all the people who died when the tornado hit the town, it was her job to stop it. And if she couldn’t, then that meant all their deaths were her fault.

“Max,” Rachel’s voice cut through her thoughts. “We’re going to figure this out.”

Warren coughed. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this in public,” he murmured.
The three of them fished money out of their pockets, none of them speaking a word. Joyce placed a styrophoam box on the table without being asked. Rachel thanked her and packed away Max’s undisturbed food. They quietly left the diner as a few people still watched.

Packed in Warren’s car, heading towards the school—always five miles under the
speed limit—he finally spoke again. “We should start looking into this San Francisco stuff.”

Rachel glanced at him. “Yeah?”

He nodded, his eyes still fixed on the road. “Yeah. I mean, best-case scenario, nothing happened and we can stop worrying.”

“And the worst-case scenario?” Max asked.

He took one hand off the wheel to scratch the back of his head as he hesitated. “Something bad happened. And we have proof against him. We can put him away.”

Rachel looked out the window. Max fidgeted in the back seat. Dark clouds began to cover the sky, and a light spattering of rain began to hit the windshield. It reminded her of the day before she saved Rachel.

“What do you want to tell Chloe?” Rachel asked.

God, what was she going to tell Chloe? She bit the inside of her cheek, accidentally drawing blood. “It’ll make her mad,” Max said. “She might do something and get hurt.” The taste of copper filled her mouth like shame and regret.

“Do you want to lie to her?”

She refused to meet Rachel’s eyes as the girl twisted around in the front seat to try and look at her. Even Warren turned his head just the slightest bit to catch a glimpse. Max deliberated. How many people had disappointed Chloe? How many times had she felt betrayed? She’d spent the last seven months thinking Max screwed her over. What would she think if she found out they’d lied? But if she tried to do something to Jefferson, what would happen? She could mess up and go to jail. Or worse, Jefferson could kill her. Either way she’d be throwing away her life for Max. And Max didn’t deserve that. She deserved Chloe’s anger and hate. If it protected her, if it kept her alive, then losing their friendship would be a small price to pay. Besides, Chloe had Rachel. She wouldn’t be alone. But Chloe still deserved to know the truth. Maybe they could just delay it a bit.

“Yeah,” Max said. “Just until Jefferson is caught.” She thought more and added, “Besides, maybe nothing happened.”

She waited for several heavy seconds as Rachel mulled over her words. Max was asking her to lie to her best friend. Would Chloe feel betrayed by both of them? The girl bit her lip and frowned, before looking back up and saying, “Okay. I’ll respect that.”

Oh thank god. A sigh of relief escaped her. Then she looked at their driver. “Warren?”

He nodded. “I’m on your side, Max,” he said. “I’ll follow your lead. But how are we going to get her help looking into this if she doesn’t know?” Crap, he was right.

“There might be a pattern,” Rachel suggested. “If he really is a serial killer, then he probably has a history of hurting people. If he was confident enough to do something when you two were alone, then he might have done something to other girls in the past.”

How was it that she always managed to come up with ideas when Max couldn’t think of any? Not that she was complaining, it was super helpful. And it spurred her mind into action. “In the Dark Room, he had this whole bookshelf full of binders,” she remembered. “They all had photos of different girls. There were way more binders than just Rachel and Kate.”

“So he’s definitely done this before,” Rachel said.

Warren scratched at the back of his head again, before quickly placing his hand back on the wheel to make a turn. “Sorry to play devil’s advocate, but that doesn’t mean he kidnapped all of them,” he pointed out.

“Maybe,” Rachel said. “But if he was comfortable enough to start, then he might have gotten more . . . forceful over time. If any of those girls are around, they might have a few horror stories.”

Warren nodded, conceding to her point. “Okay. So, on the one hand, we have to figure out what had Max freaked out after San Francisco. And on the other hand . . .”

“We need to find those binders,” Max finished. “That’s what we’ll focus on with Chloe.”

With a dark smile, Rachel said, “I think she’ll like the idea of stealing from him. We should meet up and go over this after school.”

Warren then said, “By the way, if you need help with your grades and stuff, I can, you know, do that.”

Max looked at the two of them. Things were a mess. Warren didn’t believe her about half this stuff. Rachel was still a stranger. But they had her back. Max managed to smile. “Thanks, Warren.”

 

After they’d finished their classes, the three of them headed over to Chloe’s house to go over the plan. When Rachel sent her a “heads up” text, she replied asking them to bring a cheeseburger. Max decided she wasn’t going to eat her left-over burger anyway and offered to give it up, so they wouldn’t have to spend any more money. Rachel was especially thankful. “Seriously Max, I am so broke. “I can only spend money, like, once a week. And buying lunch kind of took up a lot.”

Max had no problem giving up her food, although learning that Rachel was stretched thin financially added to her guilt.

Wait, didn’t she say the other day that they went to Two Whales twice a week together? Max shook her head, banishing the thought. Money problems could come up out of nowhere. Rachel was probably just trying to pull back.

They arrived at Chloe’s door and were greeted by a grinning face with messy blue hair, as though she hadn’t gotten out of bed all day.

“Sup hippies?” Chloe asked. Max breathed a sigh of relief as she looked at her friend. Just being around her made calmed her down.

“Oh, you know. We were in the neighborhood,” Rachel said with a wink, and Max went from feeling calm to clenching her stomach when she saw Chloe blush. This was a totally different timeline. It hurt a little to realize that she wasn’t the center of Chloe’s world anymore. But she couldn’t be selfish. Chloe deserved someone who could make her happy, and Rachel seemed to fill that role very well. As long as Max could stay in her life, that would be enough.

Chloe spoke up, “Well, we have about an hour before David gets home, and another two for Mom.” She wiggled her eyebrows and said, “We can plot in peace till then.”

Rachel stepped inside first, followed by Max and a hesitant Warren. Right, he’d never been here before. Maybe she shouldn’t keep forgetting that he was more out of the loop than any of them.

As Chloe got ready to plop down on the couch, Max remembered David’s surveillance cameras. “We should probably go up to your room!” she blurted out.

Raising an eyebrow and not so subtly glancing at Warren, she said, “I don’t know, Max. I don’t have the best track record with guys in closed spaces.”

“I wouldn’t do anything!” Warren protested. Then he shrank into himself and said, “But I don’t want to, I don’t know, invade your space or something.”

“Look at that! He understands consent. Congratulations kid, you’ve officially reached a painfully low bar.” Rachel let out an amused snort.

Under her breath, Max said, “David has security cameras all over the house.” She had no idea if they could record sound, but that wasn’t a chance she was willing to take. Chloe’s room was the only one that hadn’t shown up on the screen when she first saw it. It was the only place they could “plot in peace,” as Chloe put it.

Chloe’s eyes widened. “What the fuck?” she whispered back.

Max held up her hand before her friend could say anything else. “Wait till we’re in your room.”

She let out a frustrated huff and said, “Fine. Warren, you’ve got special clearance, I guess.”

“Oh, uh, okay,” he replied.

Upstairs, Chloe shut and locked the door. Then she turned around and yelled, “What the fuck!”

Rachel sat on the bed. “Jesus, that’s messed up. I mean, I knew he was paranoid, but holy shit.”

Warren tried to add something meaningful to their outbursts, saying, “Yeah. What kind of stepfather spies on his own house?”

“He’s not my stepfather!” Chloe snapped. “He’s a step-douche, but he’ll never be my stepfather.”

Max’s mind flashed back to the lighthouse with Chloe, as her friend cried and begged Max to let her die. Even my step . . . father . . . Would she ever believe that there was a timeline where she accepted David? Even if only for a little bit? But none of that had happened here, and Max had no idea what kind of man he was no. Still, she didn’t think she’d ever forget the stinging smell of gunpowder when he killed Jefferson, how he cried over Chloe’s death, how small he seemed when he slumped to the ground and sobbed.

Bile rose up in her throat.

She couldn’t think of that now. She needed to keep it together. For Chloe.

“Fuck,” Chloe went on. “Are you sure he didn’t 1984 my room too?”

Max shook her head. “I don’t think so. And I don’t think he did the bathrooms either.”

“Thank fuck,” she breathed. “He’d be a fucking pervert if he did.”

Rachel said, “We could sabotage the cameras. Keep him from watching you for a little while.”

“Or we could tell Joyce,” Max suggested. “We told her in my timeline and she was super mad at him.”

“Why not both?”

The three girls turned to look at Warren, fidgeting next to Chloe’s closet.

He lifted an arm to scratch at the back of his head as he said, “I mean, that gets him off your back and gets your mom on your side, right?”

An impish grin stretched across Chloe’s face. “I think we’re going to get along, Warren.”

He shot her a shy smile.

“Alright,” she said. “So, we’re adding that to the list of shit we need to do. But what’s up for real? Did you guys come up with something?”

“Yeah,” Rachel said, taking the lead in explaining the plan. Max would need to thank her later. If she was the one trying to tell Chloe, she worried that she might let something slip and Chloe would find out the truth. This saved her a lot of trial and error and messing with her powers to figure out how to say the right thing in the right way.

While Rachel spoke, Chloe took a seat in her desk chair, turning it around to rest her arms on the back. She held Rachel’s gaze, never once looking away. Max didn’t think she’d ever seen Chloe so focused. At least, not when she was talking to someone other than her.

“Any ideas where he’s keeping these binders?” she asked after her friend finished.

“Hopefully in his house,” Max said. “He’d probably want to keep them close, so nobody could find them.”

Chloe nodded. “Which means we get to break into his house.”

“Sounds like fun, right?” Rachel said with a smirk.

“Hella fun,” she replied, her grin widening.

“This won’t be a game,” Max cut in. “We need to get in and get out without getting caught.”

With a shrug, Chloe said, “So, that’s where your powers come in. If we fuck up, you can rewind, right?”

“I guess,” she said, feeling a heavy weight in her gut. She’d already used it so much in this timeline. Was it really safe to keeping relying on it? “Can we not do it too much?” she asked.

Rachel leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and clasping her hands together. “We can plan out when we’ll need to use it and go from there. That way we can keep it to a minimum.”

It came down to four key steps: find a way to get Jefferson out of the house, break inside using Max’s powers, search the place for the binders, and get out before anyone could find them. Rachel suggested they do it on Sunday morning, when she had her study sessions with him. She’d keep him distracted for as long as she could, and if he left she’d send them a warning text. Max, Chloe, and Warren would work together to try and find the binders, and Max would rewind if they started to run out of time. If she could push herself to go back far enough, she believed that she could keep it to three rewinds.

The front door slammed shut with a loud thud. “Chloe?” David’s voice echoed through the house. “Whose car is in the driveway?” His footsteps thumped on the stairs. “If you’ve brought a drug dealer into my house—”

“It’s not even your house,” she called back in irritation. “And it’s just some friends.”

He threw open the door with force and control. His mustache was perfectly groomed, as always, and his cheeks and chin were clean shaven. He wore his neatly pressed security uniform. Immediately, his eyes began shifting between Max, Rachel, and Warren, frowning at the girls in particular.

“Joyce mentioned you all were talking again,” he growled, accusing them of some imagined crime. Granted, in a few days they’d be committing an actual crime.

Chloe snorted, “Yeah. I’m changing my ways and shit. Apologizing, making up for my mistakes, reforming for the sake of society.” Her voice was laced with sarcasm and disdain as she glared at him.

“Don’t give me that tone, young lady!” he snapped.

Warren winced.

“We were just talking, Mr. Madsen,” Rachel said, trying to ease the situation. “We’re really trying to fix th—”

“I don’t want to hear another word from you,” he said, turning his gaze towards her. “I know for a fact that you’re not the innocent little princess everyone thinks you are.”

“Literally no one thinks that,” Chloe said, rolling her eyes.

He looked at Warren. “And who the hell are you?” he demanded.

The boy cleared his throat, immediately standing up straight. “Warren Graham. Mr. Madsen. Sir.” He looked around the room, trying to find some way out of all this. “I’m, uh, I’m a student. At Blackwell.”

“He’s my friend,” Max said. There were so many things she was struggling with, but at least she could handle David. After everything she’d seen, she knew exactly how to deal with him. “He’s here to keep us from fighting. So that we can make up.” Short and to the point. He wouldn’t listen to anything else.

David narrowed his eyes at her. Across the room, she could see Chloe seething with rage. Max prayed to anything that might listen that she didn’t bring up the cameras.

“Joyce speaks highly of you,” he said. “I’m not convinced yet.”

How much did he know about the phone call back in April? Max knew that he’d been furious with Chloe, but did he suspect that she’d told her to go after Jefferson? She had to calm him down now.

He liked to think he was protecting Joyce and Chloe. Maybe appealing to that would help. “I don’t want to do anything bad to you or your family,” she said. “I just want my friend back.”

“Hmph,” he grunted. “I’ll be keeping my eye on all of you.” Then he turned and slammed the door shut.

Max let out a sigh of relief.

 

Chloe threw herself down on her bed as Rachel said, “You guys can head out. I want to hang with Chloe for a little while.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride?” Warren asked. “It’s getting late, and it’s crazy cold out right now.” Stupid, thoughtful little shit.

“I’ll bring her back,” Chloe said.

Max glanced between the two of them. She opened her mouth, then shut it quickly. Chloe couldn’t help but think she looked a little worried. There was no way she could no what they were doing, could she? No. Absolutely no way. They were fine. They were going to kill Jefferson and keep Max safe. They were fine.

“Okay,” Max finally said. “See you tomorrow, Rachel.”

Smiling warmly, Rachel replied, “See you, Max.”

They waited until the front door clicked shut.

“So, we need to figure out how to pay off Frank,” Chloe said. “I’ve got one-sixty-four, and you said you’ve got how much?”

“Two-seventeen from Jefferson, and another thousand in my savings account,” she said. “I’ve started pulling cash from it so it doesn’t look suspicious.”
Chloe nodded. “So, we have to turn that into three grand plus interest.”

“I think we should make it six, to be safe. We are asking him to kill someone after all.”

She laid down and sighed. “Six fucking thousand dollars,” she breathed.

Rachel pulled herself next to Chloe, crossing her legs so she could sit closer. “I bet I could steal some from my dad. He’s got hush money hidden all over the house.”

Holy fuck. “Seriously?”

She nodded. “I started snooping around after all that stuff with my mom. He thinks he’s doing it for the greater good, or something, but he’s just another corrupt asshole.” Rachel looked away as she spoke, snarling out the words and glaring at nothing.

“I really hate your dad, Rachel.”

A melancholy laugh slipped out of her. She let out a long sigh and looked up at the ceiling. “Me too.”

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best topic right now. What else? “I bet we could get some more off of Nathan,” she said. It’d serve him right for all the shit he did in the other timeline.

“Yeah,” Rachel agreed. “He’s got a hella big crush on me. We could use that to distract him.”

Fucking creep. A twinge of jealousy swept through her. But she had to focus.

“He’s probably got some hidden in his room.”

“Good idea,” she said. “There’s a Vortex Club party on Friday. I can keep him there for a while if you can get into his room.”

“Easy,” she replied with a smirk. “What about Wells? I bet he’s got loads of cash.”

Rachel shook her head. “He’d definitely go to the cops. We can’t risk that.”

Fuck. Fine. “Okay, well where else can we get money?”

She bit her lip, then said, “Let’s see how much we can get from them first. Then we’ll go from there.”

Okay.

Okay. She could work with that.

Chapter Text

“So, I was thinking,” Rachel said as she lounged in Max’s bed while the young photographer desperately tried to do some homework after months of avoiding it. “There’s a Vortex party on Friday. You and I have been going to a bunch of them, so it might help keep up appearances.” Maybe the Max from her timeline had, but this Max hated the idea. The only Vortex party she’d ever been to had ended disastrously. “Plus, we’d be able to scope out Nathan. Figure out if he’s a part of Jefferson’s plot.”

That . . . was a good point.

With a beleaguered sigh, Max leaned back in her chair. “I don’t really know how to do parties and stuff. I might give myself away.”

“Maybe,” Rachel said. She propped herself up so she was sitting cross-legged while Max turned to properly look at her. “But it’s not like anyone’ll guess that you’re a time-traveling badass with a side of PTSD. And I can coach you through it! It’ll be like acting!”

“Acting’s not really my strong-suit. I can barely tell a lie.”

Rachel leaned forward, her hazel eyes practically glowing. “Acting is just another skill. And any skill can be taught.”

Wowsers she was eager. But Max couldn’t help but continue playing devil’s advocate. “Three days isn’t a lot of time to learn, especially with school in the way.”

“It’s all about getting into the zone,” Rachel insisted. “Relaxation, concentration, communication. Acting is just working off another person or thing.”

“How do I relax and concentrate at the same time?”

Shrugging, she replied, “Probably the same way you do when you’re taking pictures. You’re totally focused, but also completely chill. We can work on getting you there with some improv games. And, I won’t make you do all the work. I’ll be there helping you the entire time.”

It wasn’t a terrible idea. Well, Max trying to act was a terrible idea, but if Rachel was carrying the load it could work. She’d already been doing that for the last two days to help cover up her panic attacks. “I guess it can’t hurt to try,” she admitted.

A grin broke out on Rachel’s face. “Awesome! We should probably get started right now.”

Oh crap. “Really? Now?”

“You said we only have three days. We need to get started!”

“Well, I guess,” she said. This was going to be painful.

Rachel uncrossed her legs and sat up straight. “We’ll start with something easy. I’ll be Warren and you can just be yourself.”

Max nodded. “Okay.”

“The only rule is you have to say ‘yes’ to everything. If I say we just went skydiving or something, you have to go along with it. You can’t say ‘no we didn’t do that.’ Got it?”

That sort of made sense. “Yeah, got it.”

“Okay.” Rachel closed her eyes and took a breath in. The moment she opened them, she slouched her shoulders and gave a goofy grin. “So Max, what’d you think of that chem test? I think that’s the first time I’ve ever bombed one,” she said in a comically deep voice that Max had to keep herself from snickering at.

Right, what would she say if Warren failed a test? “Oh, uh, that sucks.”

“Yeah, but it’s my own fault,” Rachel said. “I was up all night playing World of Warcraft.”

“I didn’t know you played that.”

Rachel shrugged. “It’s a new hobby. But I think it’s starting to take over my life.”

“You should probably stop playing then.”

Rolling her eyes, Rachel said, “Okay cut. You’re too stiff, Max. You have to imagine you’re having a regular conversation with Warren.”

She knew she was going to suck at this. What else was new? “You saying I’m stiff is just going to make me more stiff.”

“It’s okay!” Rachel laughed gently. “You just need to be yourself!”

“But I don’t know how I am in this timeline,” she protested. “I don’t drink, I don’t go to parties, I don’t hang out with Rachel Amber!” Max looked at her hands which lay fidgeting in her lap. “I feel like your Max is a totally different person.”

Rachel smiled with a sad look in her eyes. Max noticed her playing with her fingers the same way she was. “You hang out with me now,” she offered. “And even if you don’t remember anything about it, you are my Max.” Her cheeks suddenly felt hot.

The actress stood from the bed and walked over to her. She placed her hands on her shoulders, and Max had to turn her head to look out the window. For some reason, holding eye-contact felt a little too difficult. “My Max,” she went on, “Is quiet, nervous, but really funny when you get her talking. She loves photography, and if you get her drunk she’ll talk about it for hours. She might not look like it, but she’s extremely passionate, and loyal as fuck. And she was there for me when I needed her to be.”

Max made the right decision in looking away. If Rachel couldn’t see her face, she couldn’t see how embarrassed she was. Was this how she made Chloe and Frank and basically everyone in Arcadia Bay fall for her? Well, everyone except Victoria. Still, it definitely put things into perspective.

“Uh, do you want to try again?” Max asked. Improv suddenly seemed a lot easier than this.

She heard a chuckle right next to her ear. “Sure thing, Max,” she purred.

Max turned her whole chair around this time, and Rachel stayed standing. “Remember,” she said, “I’m just Warren. Talk to me like you’d talk to him.” With a deep breath, Max nodded. Rachel smiled, then slouched her shoulders and stuffed her hands into her pockets. “So Max, there’s a special screening of Vertigo coming up. Wanna go see it with me?”

Warren. She was talking to Warren. Just talk normally. “Yeah, that sounds awesome!” she said. What else could she say? She’d talk about photography, right? “It was so cool how they used the dolly zoom into the movie.” Good, that sounded like something she’d say.

Rachel nodded along. “Hitchcock did some innovative stuff,” Pretend-Warren agreed. “And I was thinking after we could uh, grab a bite to eat or something?” Pretend-Warren pulled one hand out of his pocket and scratched the back of his head as he said this.

This time Max couldn’t help the laugh that burst out of her chest. Maybe all the heavy feelings in the air intensified how ridiculous it was.

Pretend-Warren cleared his throat with a nervous laugh. “Damn, Max. Shooting me down so quickly?”

“No, it’s just,” another giggle escaped her, “He does that all the time!”

“What?” Rachel laughed along.

“That thing with his hand!” Max scratched her own head to demonstrate. “He’s always doing that!”

Rachel ran a hand through her hair and tossed it to the side. “What can I say? I like to commit to my characters.” With a more genuine smile, she said, “And that was a lot better, Max! You added to the conversation instead of just reacting. That’s awesome!”

“Thanks,” Max replied, having to avert her eyes again. Maybe this really could work.

 

“Alright! Lights! Camera—”

“Okay, Rachel,” Max cut her off with a smile.

She smirked. “Spoilsport.” Then, smoothing out her the leather jacket over her thin blouse, she asked, “Everybody remember their roles?”

“You get Nathan drunk and talking, but you stay close in case he tries anything,” Max said. “I ask around and try to find out from the Vortex Club members if he’s been acting weird lately.”

“And I break into his dorm room and see if I can find anything suspicious,” Chloe said.

And,” Warren added, “I wait outside with the getaway vehicle in case anything goes wrong.”

Rachel beamed. “A director could ask for no finer ensemble. How’s the dress feel, Max?”

She shuffled her feet and crossed her arms. Since the funeral, she hadn’t worn a dress at all. And she’d definitely never worn one with such a low skirt. At least Rachel had let her borrow one that wasn’t too tight. “It’s fine,” she said.

Rachel gave her a soft look. “You’ll get used to it pretty quickly.”

“And hey! It looks pretty good on you, Max,” Chloe offered. “You’ll have the smashed high school losers drooling at your feet.”

“Yeah! It’s great!” Warren said.

Chloe grinned. “Case in point.”

Not long after Warren got over being offended by Chloe’s comment, the four of them were packed in his car and leaving Chloe’s house. The party had already started an hour ago, but Rachel and Chloe insisted that showing up later would be better. Apparently it made them look less desperate, or something.

As Warren blasted the soundtrack from Space Dandy—which she was pretty sure he got illegally—Max resisted the urge to look at Chloe and Rachel in the back seat. They kept whispering to themselves, and occasionally Rachel would let out a snort of laughter. She wondered what her friend kept saying that was so funny. Probably something inappropriate. Maybe worrying over their conversation was better. Feeling nervous about their kind-of-relationship kept her mind off feeling nervous about stalking Nathan freaking Prescott. To be fair, it was probably normal to worry about spying on the violent son of the most powerful man in town.

Wait. Relax. Focus. This would be fine. Rachel would be the one talking to him, and Nathan couldn’t do anything to her around other people. Besides, he was in love with her. Or in lust with her. Or something.

Max squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath as Warren stopped the car in front of the school. She and Rachel would get out here, while Chloe would wait a while in the parking lot before sneaking into the dorms. Thank goodness David never tried to get security cameras installed in this timeline.

They could do this.

They would do this.

Before she knew it, they were out of the car. Her right arm was linked with Rachel’s left as they walked toward the gymnasium. According to the mastermind of this plan, this was the biggest party the Vortex Club had held since the End of the World back in October. If they were lucky, everyone would be too drunk to remember the two of them interrogating people.

They breezed through the entrance as the overwhelmingly loud music drummed through Max’s body. Rachel easily got them into the VIP section, flashing Courtney a winning smile as the stepped through the curtains. And those curtains must have been made of some super-insulated material, because she was immediately struck with the stench of beer and pot. How did none of the smell make it to the rest of the gym?

Whatever. They had a job to do.

“Ready, Max?” Rachel yelled over the music.

With a nod, she said, “Yeah.”

“Awesome! If you need me, come get me. I’ll stop everything if I have to.”

“Okay,” she called back.

Then, Rachel planted a quick kiss on Max’s cheek. “For luck,” she explained, before striding toward Nathan. Max was grateful for the flashing lights that hid the heated blush on her cheeks. Rachel was probably this flirty with everyone. That was probably it.

She wondered what Chloe would think.

 

The locks to the campus dorms were way too tough for Chloe to crack. Luckily, Rachel had managed to snag some keys from Samuel just a few hours before. They’d hide them back in his storage room before the end of the night. She crept toward the boys’ floor, hiding the urge to glare at the fluorescent lights. They were inanimate objects. It wasn’t their fault they were left on at 10 in the fucking night.

No one wandered through the halls when she finally opened the main door, just as she’d hoped. Part of the reason she and Rachel wanted to arrive late was so that everyone who’d be going to the party would have already left. Everyone else would be sleeping. Hopefully. Chloe really hoped she wouldn’t get arrested for anything less than murder. Getting caught before the good part would be anti-cli-fucking-mactic.

Chloe made her way to Nathan’s room, pausing only to glance at another door. Eliot’s old room. Instead of some lame pop culture reference, there was messy writing saying, “SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME.” Someone was butthurt. It took a few guesses, but in the end it wasn’t hard to miss the foreboding message of “THE PRESCOTTS RULE THIS TOWN.” Jesus, what was his damage?

Before he’d left, Nathan locked the door tight. Of course, being a pretty-boy with tons of cash and secrets made him a prime target for thieves. Badass thieves like Chloe. She grinned to herself, reveling in the twisting of her stomach and how fucking great it felt to get away with shit like this.

Focus, she scorned herself. She hadn’t gotten away with it yet.

She fished out the lock-pick set she kept in the pocket of her dad’s old shirt. This was the actual tricky part. When they’d been planning everything out, she may have exaggerated her lock-picking skills to Max and Rachel. She knew the basics, but she never really got any chances to practice. Drugs and alcohol were one thing, but she didn’t break into people’s houses. But she had plenty of time. She could figure this out.

Crouching down, she slipped her pick and torsion wrench into the lock. After all of this was over, she decided she’d tell Max and Rachel that she picked the lock in thirty seconds flat. Not the reality that it took her ten fucking minutes. The temptation to just grab the fire extinguisher next to his door and smash through almost got to her at a few points, but when the stupid fucking thing finally clicked, it was all worth it.

“Boo yah!” she whispered. She slipped inside the room and locked the door behind her, just in case anybody got a little to curious.

She had to turn on her phone’s light to see anything at all. With the lights off and the shades drawn—and, you know, being night and all—she couldn’t see a thing. But when she managed to illuminate the room she wished she hadn’t. It wasn’t disturbing or anything, just embarrassingly edgy. Bondage pics on his wall, purposefully gross movies like A Serbian Film and Eraserhead, and porn that was badly hidden under his bed. It was like the psycho was trying really hard to prove to himself that he was actually psycho.

“Ugh, moron,” she muttered to herself.

But she was here on a mission. One, get the money she needed to pay off Frank. Two, find any proof that he was working with Jefferson to hurt girls. And three, piss him off and scare him. If everything went well, he’d be freaking out for weeks over someone stealing from him.

So, if she were a spoiled rich sociopath, where would she hide her cash? Chloe rifled through his dresser drawers, checked his mattress for holes, looking at the files on his computer, and of course, looked through his wallet. Everything she touched or moved, she was careful to put back, exactly where it was. They were stealing from him, sure. But they were trying to steal drug money and any other illegal shit. Things that, if he reported to the school or police, would get him in trouble. That meant there couldn’t be any evidence that someone had gone through his room.

Unfortunately, anything he had was well-hidden. She’d spent over thirty minutes going through his things. Hell, she opened up every fucking DVD on his god damn shelves. There had to be two-hundred of those fuckers! This little shit had to have something in his room. Chloe was about to give up and text Rachel to call it off, but when she looked down at her phone she noticed something by her feet. Scratch marks, arching away from the sofa that sat against the wall. She grabbed the arm of the couch and pulled it out.

Taped to the back, was a plastic bag with a phone, some notes, a few bottles of what looked like medicine as well as syringes to go with them, and a wad of hundred-dollar bills. Which was great and all, but it sure as hell wasn’t what stood out the most. Next to the bag, there was a heavy looking gun, and a box of ammo just beneath it.

“Holy shit!” Chloe breathed. “Nathan is hella fucking crazy!” There was no way she was leaving any of it behind. The money and drugs were an obvious choice, but what would happen if he left the gun? Max had said he shot her in the girls’ bathroom back in her timeline. Was this what he used?

An eerie sense of déjà vu swept through her as she pulled the gun and bullets off the couch. She wasn’t going to let that maniac shoot her in this timeline. Not if she could shoot him first.

Her phone buzzed.

Rachel: Tacos are tasty

Oh fuck.

Chloe stuffed the bag and bullets into her pockets, checked to see if the gun was loaded—it was not—and shoved it in the back of her pants. Then, she pushed the couch back and rushed out the door, making sure to lock it behind her.

She was almost at the door when she heard a firm, “Hey!”

Double fuck! Turning around, she saw Evan rocking collared fuzzy pajamas. She bit back the urge to say, “Nice outfit, dude.”

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

Right off the bat, a lie rolled off her tongue, “I got an invite to the party tonight if I could snag some weed from Hayden’s room.”

Evan narrowed his eyes. “Oh yeah? And who invited you.”

If she said Hayden, then Evan would ask him the next day. The only person she could say was someone who would back up her story, and that meant putting either Rachel or Max at risk. Unless . . .

“Okay, real talk here,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Can you keep a secret?”

He let out a snort. Pretentious prick. “Depends on the secret,” he replied.

Chloe bit her lips and looked around. She also pretended to swallow nervously. It helped make a good show to sell her lie. “The truth is, one of the teachers chaperoning the party wanted it.”

A wave of satisfaction filled her as Evan blanched. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “They said if I could get some good stuff for them they’d let me in. I told them I couldn’t really ask my dealer right now, so they said to get something from one of the students.”

Now, Evan was the one glancing around, barely able to contain his excitement at her juicy fake-gossip. “Which teacher?” he asked.

“Dude, I’m already in deep shit for telling you any of this,” she shot back.

“Was it Jefferson? I could totally see him doing that!”

Holy fuck it would be great if he believed that. But she had to keep the lie going, and giving away too much would make him suspicious. “Seriously, Evan. I can’t tell you. If you want to believe it’s Jefferson or Wells or Mr. Fucking Keaton, I couldn’t care less. But you’ve got to promise me you won’t say a word to anyone.”

Evan smirked. “Yeah, sure. But you know I’m going to do some digging so I can hold it over their head.”

What a fucking dumbass. “Long as you don’t tell them I snitched.”

“Don’t worry, Chloe. Your secret’s safe with me. Besides,” he shrugged, “I know you’re an alright person. You were the only one who gave a shit about fires when I was telling people about them. And look what happened because no one listened!”

Yeah, he could believe that too.

“Thanks, Evan.”

With that, she slipped out the door and raced to the parking lot. What went wrong on Rachel and Max’s end?

 

“I’ve been thinking about asking Nathan to let me try some of his—you know,” Max called out over the music in a desperate attempt to steer the conversation toward what she needed to know. She and Hayden sat on a couch, the scent of pot swirling around them. He had his arm around her shoulders, and she tried not to flinch away every time he stroked her with his thumb.

He cocked his head and said, “Yeah, he’s got some killer stuff. Whatever it’s laced with makes it absolutely insane.” Then, he turned to look her in the eye. “I didn’t know you were getting into this shit, Max!”

She shrugged and stuttered out, “I-I just think, you know, I’m uh, I’m only in high school once. I want to have a little fun, you know.”

“Ah, man, totally,” his words practically oozed out. “Girl, this is going to be so awesome for you. I’m so glad you started partying with us.”

In this timeline, Max’s relationship with the Vortex Club was way less volatile. She had no idea how she’d managed to be friends with Warren and still stay on their good side. She glanced at Rachel, who was laughing with Nathan and touching his shoulder. Well, she had some idea.

“You know, I’ve got some amazing stuff of my own back in my room,” Hayden said right into her ear. “We could go try a bit, if you really want to experiment.”

Her stomach churned at the idea, and she immediately wished she had Chloe or Warren there to help her.

“Max!”

Her head shot up. Rachel was grinning at her with one arm resting on Nathan’s shoulder. With her other hand, she beckoned her over. Max never thought she would be so relieved to go stand next to Nathan Prescott. “Sorry, Hayden. I gotta go.”

He shrugged and took his arm off her. “Another time, I guess.” She didn’t respond, just rushed over to Rachel and Nathan.

Her savior in skinny-jeans pulled her into a playful hug. “You looked like you needed some saving,” she laughed.

Rachel released her, and Nathan clapped her on the back. “You’d think he’d stop flirting with girls who don’t like him when he’s high, but I guess that’s just his thing.” Bile rose in her throat. No one would ever even miss your punk-ass would they? The last time she’d heard his voice was in that bathroom, over a month ago.

She forced a smile and a nod.

“So, Rachel has a game,” he said.

“Yeah?”

Rachel nodded, putting one of her arms around Max’s waist. For once, she was able to relax into the contact. It felt a lot more familiar and safer than Hayden or Nathan. “So, I would model for you guys,” Rachel explained, “And whoever takes the best picture wins!”

They were playing Rachel’s improv game. She was feeding Max information and inviting her to go along with it. “What do we get if we win?” she asked.

“We haven’t decided yet,” Nathan said. “I told her if you’re going to be a part of it, we should ask you.”

Whatever she said, it had to be something he wanted. But she couldn’t say anything that would make Rachel uncomfortable or put her in danger. What was she supposed to say?

“I think,” Rachel cut in, saving Max yet again, “Whoever wins should get a kiss.”

Nathan laughed. “So even if I lose, I still win?”

Rachel shot him a flirtatious smile. “I never said you could watch, perv.” She turned back to Max. “What do you think? Would you be comfortable with that?”

She was giving her an out. They were playing a game where they had to say yes to everything the other said, but Rachel was still giving her a way to say no.

“I think I should decide when I’m not drunk,” Max replied. She hadn’t had anything to drink, but Nathan didn’t need to know that.

He let out a snort and said, “I make my best decisions when I’m drunk.”

“Well, I think,” Rachel said, “We’re not drunk enough.” She took both their hands and led them to the punch table. “What’s in this?” she asked.

“You watching your figure or something?” Nathan teased.

“I want to go all night,” Rachel replied. “That means I can’t go too hard right at the start.”

“Dude, I’ve been pregaming since we got out of class.”

Rachel let out another laugh. If Max hadn’t spent the last several days around her constantly, she wouldn’t have noticed the slight twitch of Rachel’s nose and how it was just a little too cheerful. Without missing a beat, Rachel turned and filled a cup with punch before thrusting it into Nathan’s hands. Max took her own cup, but there was no way she or Rachel were drinking anything. They both needed to stay clear-headed for the entire night. Still, she brought it to her lips and pretended to take a couple sips.

Nathan mussed her hair, and this time she couldn’t help flinching away. He didn’t seem to notice though, and he said, “Damn, Caulfield. Have you been drinking without us? I thought you’d be choking on this shit.”

Fuck, she had to think of a lie fast. “Rachel’s been teaching me about alcohol and stuff.”

Nathan teased, “‘Alcohol and stuff,’ Jesus you’re like a twelve-year-old.” He turned to Rachel and asked, “What have you been giving her?”

With a shrug, she replied, “Mainly vodka and tequila. We tried whiskey once, but that didn’t go over well.”

“I threw up,” Max said quickly.

“Ah, nasty,” he laughed.

“It totally was,” Rachel said. “So, Mr. Jefferson has been driving me crazy. I swear to god, if Max wasn’t helping me I’d be failing his class.”

Rolling his eyes, he said, “Have you ever failed anything?”

“No, and that’s why it’s freaking me out!”

“Well,” he scratched at his nose, “He’s got the hots for you, doesn’t he? Can’t girls use that to get a good grade?”

She shrugged. “He’s into pretty much every girl in class. I’ve seen him staring at Kate and Victoria.” And Max, although she didn’t say it. Instead, she tried to focus on what Rachel was trying to do. Was she pushing to get Nathan to talk about Jefferson? Would he even say anything if he knew something? “Anyway,” Rachel went on, “I was thinking you could give me some advice. Max is fantastic, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to notice that I’m basically copying her.”

“So you want to copy me?” he asked, lifting one eyebrow.

Smirking, she said, “I was thinking more along the lines of combining your styles.”

“Well, I don’t know how well that would work,” he said. “We’re pretty different. The stuff I’m into is way darker.”

“I’d love to see it anyway.” That’s what she was doing, Max realized. Rachel was trying to get him to talk about exactly what he was photographing, to see if he was already working with Jefferson. And if Max got to see the pictures too, she could pick out major similarities between their work. She knew what Jefferson was looking for in a photo, and she could find out if Nathan was already mimicking him.

But they had no time to figure anything out.

A loud crash, loud enough to be heard over the music, pounded throughout the VIP section. All heads turned to see Kate lying on top of a now broken table. Her hair was down and frazzled, the small touches of mascara she wore had bled over her face, and her modest blouse was torn on the side and covered in bright-red punch that had spilled all over her when she fell. Hayden stood over her, champagne colored lipstick spread over his face—the same color that Kate was wearing—and small splashes of punch on his shirt. Had she fallen off his lap?

Hayden bent over, bracing his hands on his knees, and started giggling. As Kate struggled to stand up, the people around them followed suit. Including her. When she finally got herself to her feet, she wobbled back and forth, quickly stumbling onto the nearest boy while laughing hysterically. She planted a messy kiss on his face, her lips sliding close to his, before throwing herself off him and trying to stand straight again. Nearby, Victoria had pulled out her phone and was filming the whole thing.

Max’s stomach turned to ice. Though she’d never watched the video in her timeline, she knew this was exactly what had led Kate to attempt suicide before. And it was happening again.

Grabbing Rachel’s arm, she yelled over the noise, “We have to help her!” The girl nodded, and they began to push through the other party-goers who were still staring and laughing. Behind them, Nathan had his phone out too and was taking a series of pictures with a sadistic grin on his face.

Chapter Text

As Max and Rachel guided a barely-conscious Kate to the parking lot, Chloe came running out to meet them, her pockets noticeably fuller than before. Rachel had sacrificed her own coat and had her arms wrapped around Kate to keep the wavering girl warm in the biting November cold.

“What happened?” Chloe panted when she reached them. “What’s wrong with Kate?”

Max’s pulse pounded in her ears like the rapid shuttering of a camera. “Nathan drugged her,” she said. In the intervals when the streetlights managed to work, she could see Chloe’s face drain of all color.

The dazed girl stirred, and slurred out, “Why’s it s’cold?”

Rachel readjusted her weight to keep her from stumbling and said, “It’s because we’re outside, hun.” Turning to Max and Chloe, she said, “We have to get her to a hospital.”

Right, a hospital. They could get Kate the help she needed this time around. Maybe if they did, she wouldn’t try to kill herself in this timeline. Max grasped the line of hope tight, praying it might keep their ship from sinking. “We just have to get to Warren,” she said. “He can drive us. We’ll get her help.”

“What’s going on over there?” a stern voice called out. Suddenly, every pump of Max’s heart felt like a bullet to the chest as Mr. Jefferson strode toward them. The flickering streetlights created an eerie image of him blinking forward, as though he could move without walking. Under her breath, Chloe whispered, “Fuck!”

“What are you doing with Kate?” he demanded, and Max watched as he registered that Chloe was there too. Shock spread over his face, and before he could compose himself a dark look flashed over his face.

Max had seen that face before. His enraged cries echoed in her ears. How? How did you know that?

What is going on?” he asked again.

“She started acting way too drunk way too fast,” Rachel said, holding his gaze while Max and Chloe turned away. “We’re going to take her to a hospital, just in case.”

Max could practically hear his next words before he said them.

“In that case, I should probably take her. As her teacher, I feel responsible.”

He couldn’t touch her. He couldn’t get near her. If he did, she might never recover. Max wanted to scream in his face to get away. She wanted to run as fast as she could until he couldn’t get her.

Rachel insisted, “Our ride is just over here. It’ll be faster if we take her.”

“My car is right there,” he said, pointing to a sleek black car at the edge of the lot. “You can all follow behind me. If anything happens, I’ll take the blame.” Acting noble to save face, pretending to be the dependable adult, Jefferson was working hard to get Kate alone with him. They couldn’t leave her alone with him.

“We can ride with you,” Max blurted out. Her ears started ringing. Rachel and Chloe both shot her cautious glances. “We can all take care of her.” This was for Kate. This was for Kate.

He couldn’t kill all of them.

Jefferson eyed Chloe one more time before saying, “That seems fair. Let’s go.”

This was for Kate.

He was going to kill them.

Max had to protect her.

He was going to put her in the Dark Room.

Chloe and Rachel had her back.

They’d die just like before.

Her stomach churned and tossed in an ocean of fear as Jefferson took Kate from them. When his back was turned, she felt a hand in her own and jumped. But Chloe squeezed it tight and whispered, “Do you need to rewind?”

Did she? They could avoid him if she did. No. He must have been looking for her, waiting for Nathan to lead her out. Nathan might have even told him when they left. There was no getting away from this.

“There’s no other way,” she murmured, struggling to breathe evenly.

Another hand touched the small of her back, and she turned to see Rachel tearing Jefferson apart with her eyes. “We’re with you,” she said.

“Yeah,” Chloe agreed. “We’ve got you.”

They had to do this. Max closed her eyes and focused on the pressure from their hands. She had Chloe. She had Rachel freaking Amber. They could keep each other safe. They could keep her mind clear. When she could finally think straight, an idea sparked in her head. “I’m going to text Warren to let him know where we’re going,” she announced so Jefferson could hear.

She made sure to type it out before getting into the car.

Rachel took the front seat, and Max and Chloe sat in the back, holding Kate between them. Jefferson turned the heat up to its top setting and drove over the icy roads. For several minutes, there was no sound but the tires crushing the snow and slush on the ground.

“So,” his voice cracked through the air like a broken bone. “Max and Rachel, I understand why you’re here. But I’m a little confused about you, Miss . . .”

“Chloe,” the girl gritted out, her nose twitching.

“Right, Chloe,” he said, his voice echoing his tone in the Dark Room. No one will know. Or care. “I take it you’re all getting along then?”

“We’re . . . working stuff out,” Rachel said. “And Chloe has something to say to you, right Chloe?” She turned and stared at her friend with wide eyes and furrowed brows, silently begging the rebellious girl to play along just this once.

Though she kept her gaze fixed on Kate’s face, Max could see Chloe’s hand turn white as she squeezed the door handle too hard. “I’m really sorry,” she growled. “What I did to you was really fucked up.”

“Well,” he scoffed. “I suppose the fact that you’re acknowledging it is an improvement.”

Chloe fidgeted in her seat. “I was really high,” she lied. “And I had a really bad trip, and my brain started making shit up.”

Max saw his eyes narrow through the rearview mirror. “Is that supposed to excuse dragging my name through the mud?”

Looking out the window, she replied, “I just figured you might be wondering why.” He didn’t respond. The car engine hummed as he pressed down on the gas pedal. Rachel looked down at her hands. Max stared at Kate.

After a few miles of tense silence he asked, “So, what do you three get up to when you’re not at parties?” He suspected something. Did he already know they were trying to stop him?

“Mostly just hang out and try not to yell at each other,” Rachel said. “We’re getting better at that second part.”

Nodding, he said, “I’m sure. And Max, how do you feel about all of this?”

“What kind of question is that?” Chloe snapped.

Max swallowed down some bile. “It’s fine, Chloe.” Looking at Jefferson through the mirror, she said, “I just really missed my best friend.”

He glanced at her, holding her gaze for a few moments, then looked back at the road. “That’s fair.”

Cutting in, Rachel said, “I know I’m thrilled to have my two favorite people in the world talking again. It’s like a new adventure for all three of us.” Did she sound too eager? Would he know she was lying? Was she lying?

Whether she was or wasn’t, Jefferson laughed at it, saying, “I certainly miss that part about being a teenager. Everything’s an adventure to live and explore.”

“Except when it’s not,” Chloe muttered.

Either he didn’t hear her or he was ignoring her as he went on, “You know, Mark Twain once said that ‘twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.’ And I’m so glad that you girls are taking advantage of this opportunity, rather than letting it turn into another disappointment.”

All his fake-inspirational bullshit turned a small part of her anxiety into seething rage. He must have felt so pleased with himself for having the best random quote for any arbitrary subject. But she knew it was all an act. The wise and worldly mentor. The “cool teacher” her parents always warned her about. “They’re always after something,” they’d told her. Max wished she’d listened to their advice and seen through his façade before the world fell apart.

He interrupted her thoughts, saying, “You’re awfully quiet tonight, Max,” and she nearly bit her tongue.

Unable to meet his gaze a second time, she looked out the window. “I’m just really worried about Kate.”

At that he hummed. “I understand. If it makes you feel any better, I’m worried too.” It didn’t, and he wasn’t. She bit back the urge to spit in his face. “But we’ll get her taken care of. She’s still awake. At this point, I’d say the worst-case scenario is that she gets her stomach pumped.

As if on cue, Kate’s head slumped over.

“Kate?” Max gasped. She began patting the girl’s cheek. “Kate! Wake up!” She collapsed forward. Max grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back up, yelling, “Chloe help!”

Unbuckling her seatbelt, Chloe dropped down in front of the passed-out girl and pressed her hand up against her forehead. “Kate? Hey, can you hear me?” She ripped her phone out of her pocket, turned on the flashlight, and lifted one of Kate’s eyelids to look at her pupils. “Her eyes are moving all over the place but she’s barely breathing!”

Kate’s chest seized up and she began to vomit. Chloe winced as the bile hit her clothes. She pulled her down so she was throwing up onto Jefferson’s seats and started smacking her back. She didn’t want Kate to choke. Max pulled her hair back. It was all she could do.

Jefferson switched gears. “Hang on, girls, I’m about to do something very illegal!”

Max’s back hit the seat and Chloe was thrown into Kate’s body as the car surged forward. “Shit!” Chloe yelled. Max grabbed Kate’s hand and squeezed it tight. She lifted her right arm. If they got into a wreck, she needed to be able to rewind fast. Chloe jumped back into her seat and nearly tore the seatbelt out of its retractor trying to put it on.

The town flew past them as they sped down the streets, and Max felt uncomfortably lucid. She could see every building, read every sign, even catch a glimpse of the pinching muscles in a stray dog that ran down the road. Despite the darkness around her, she could see the colors clearly. But it wasn’t her powers, it was . . . something else. Was she going crazy?

Every second that passed on their way to the hospital was recorded in her mind. As soon as they arrived, all four of them poured out of the car, with Jefferson and Chloe trying to ease Kate out as quickly as possible. The serial killer scooped the girl up and raced inside the emergency room, yelling for help. Within seconds, he was surrounded by nurses who took the unconscious girl from him. He began listing off her symptoms, marching down the halls with them as they took her back in a gurney. The three girls were left standing in the lobby.

 

The last time Max had been in a hospital was right after Kate tried to kill herself. She didn’t think she’d be back again for almost the same reason. Granted, it was the first time in this universe.

She and Rachel curled up on a bench, the other girl huddling close and shivering. Max wondered if she regretted giving her coat away. Probably not. Maybe it had helped Kate.

Chloe stood a nearby, stinking of vomit—a morbid little part in her took pleasure from the fact that Jefferson’s car probably smelled just as awful. They’d told her they didn’t mind if she sat with them, but she declined. But Max doubted it was out of embarrassment. Her friend wanted to keep watch.

Jefferson returned to the lobby just a few minutes after he’d left. None of them were family, which meant none of them could stay with her. At the very least, the charge nurse promised to keep them informed of Kate’s condition. After three hours they hadn’t heard anything.

After pacing on across the room for an hour straight, Jefferson finally gave up and sat down on a bench. Max avoided looking directly at him but kept him in her peripheral vision. Part of her didn’t trust any of this and was waiting for him to make a move. The other part was just grateful he’d actually taken them to a hospital. Whatever state Kate was in now—and she hoped it was a good one—she probably would have died if they’d taken Warren’s car.

When he’d first returned, he spent over an hour trying to get in contact with Principal Wells. None of them knew how to reach her parents, and she’d set up a lock on her phone that kept them from looking up their contact numbers. But no matter how many times he called, Jefferson couldn’t get through. They wouldn’t be able to tell her parents that she might be dying until Wells woke up and saw all his missed messages, and that wouldn’t happen for several hours. Jefferson seemed genuinely distraught at this. For just a moment, it made Max wonder if he was different in this timeline. But only for a moment.

Rachel sucked in a deep breath and jerked upright. Had she fallen asleep? “What time s’it?” she murmured.

With a yawn, Jefferson checked his watch. “Just after two in the morning.”

Nodding to herself, she asked, “Did they say anything?” Max shook her head, and Rachel shared a desperate look with Chloe.

Frustration finally breaking through, Chloe declared, “We should ask what the fuck’s going on.”

“I agree,” Jefferson said. “They’ve kept us waiting long enough.” He stood from his chair and made his way toward the reception desk, his movements stiff and lethargic from exhaustion. He leaned against the desk while the young man running it called for the charge nurse.

After a few seconds, the man hung up the phone and said, “I’m sorry sir, but it looks like she’s working with another patient right now.”

“Dammit!” Jefferson snapped, slamming his fist down on the desk, startling the receptionist. Max winced. His shout echoed in her ears like a beating memory. Flattening his hand on the spot he’d hit, he cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t your fault. I’m just very worried about my student.”

The receptionist gave a slow nod and said, “I understand, sir. I’ll try to get ahold of her as soon as possible.”

“Thank you,” he breathed. He moved away from the desk and made his way back toward the three of them. Out of the corners of her vision, Max could see that Rachel had woken up very quickly. “I’m sorry, girls,” he sighed. “I don’t mean to lose my cool like this.”

“It’s fine,” Rachel said.

Chloe cleared her throat and said, “I think we’re all on edge.”

Jefferson glanced at her and considered her words for a moment. Then with a nod, he said, “You’re absolutely right.” He looked at each of them and said, “I hope you know I’m very grateful to all of you. I don’t want to think about what might have happened if you weren’t there for Kate.”

Biting her lip and glaring at the ground, Chloe said, “Same to you. We probably couldn’t have gotten her here as fast.”

He gave a morbid chuckle. “Well, I hope you girls never drive like I did.”

Rachel shifted in her seat before looking directly at him and asking, “What were you doing there, Mr. Jefferson?” Max’s heart stopped. That was too direct! He’d know they were on to him!

A look of confusion crossed Jefferson’s face. “I was one of the teachers chaperoning the party,” he explained.

Chloe scoffed. “Good job at that. Did you even see what was happening?”

Returning her glare, he replied, “I don’t believe in ruining a young person’s life over a few stupid mistakes. Honestly, I thought someone like you would appreciate that.”

Chloe had no witty retort.

Rachel went on, “It’s just, we didn’t see you anywhere. At least, not until we went outside.”

“Right, ah,” he cleared his throat again. “I was put in an . . . uncomfortable position by one of the students. I felt it would be better to step out than to let it go on.” Victoria was probably hitting on him, Max figured. “As it is, I didn’t see any of you either. I assume it’s because you came in late?”

“I don’t believe in arriving on time to a social function,” Rachel with a nervous grin, as though she were telling a bad joke.

“I see,” he said. Max’s heart pounded. He had to know. He had to know they knew. Why else would they all come together at the same time? Jefferson was there because he was planning to kidnap Kate. There was no way he believed that they just happened to find her, not after everything Chloe had accused him of. He knew. All that was left now was their war of attrition.

“Excuse me?” All four heads turned to see the charge nurse. She seemed slightly more disarrayed than before, with strands of her hair coming out of her ponytail and a few discolored stains on her scrubs. “Sorry to keep you waiting. We had an emergency and I couldn’t step away.”

Max pleaded, “Is Kate . . .?”

The nurse gave them a warm smile and said, “Your friend is going to be fine.” A collective sigh of relief stretched across the empty lobby.

“Do you know what happened?” Rachel asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” she replied. “Not unless you’re a family member or registered emergency contact, which I doubt any of you are.” Max wondered if Jefferson felt relieved by that. “For now, Ms. Marsh is just resting. When she wakes up, if she’s willing, I’m sure she’ll tell you herself.” She already knew that Jefferson would stick around for that. Whatever his plan was—and she had a pretty good idea what it was—it had gone wrong. He needed to do damage control and make sure Kate didn’t give away too much. That meant they needed to get Kate alone.

She spent the rest of the night thinking of ways to create an opportunity. Jefferson wouldn’t want to spend time alone with her, so he was going to linger. They might not get a chance to talk at all, at least not at first. Maybe it was safer to play along with Jefferson and visit her on another day. But there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t be checking up on her too. If Kate mentioned them snooping around he’d go on the defense. They’d have a harder time finding any evidence on him. But what if everything that had happened already put him there? He was probably already thinking of how to cover his tracks.

Max’s mind turned these thoughts around over and over until the sun came up. She barely even felt the sleep in her eyes when the charge nurse came to tell them Kate was awake. Max glanced at each of them. They all shared the same determined gaze. As Jefferson knocked on the door to Kate’s room, Max knew the fight was on.

“Kate?” her attempted murderer called out. From outside the room, Max could see her perk up her head and smile. Her face was pale, her lips gray, and her eyes heavy with faint purple bags. Whatever happened to her must have completely exhausted her body.

“Come on in,” she said in a wavering voice. “The doctor told me you all brought me here. He says you probably saved my life.”

Rachel chimed in, “We couldn’t leave you alone like that.”

“Not in a million years,” Chloe agreed.

Jefferson stepped forward and sat on the foot of Kate’s bed. Max wanted to tear him away almost as much as she wanted to stay far away from him. “I just can’t believe how serious things got,” he said. “Everything that happened . . . it didn’t seem like you were drunk.” So, this was how he was playing it. Pretending to come to the conclusion that she was drugged, even though he instigated it.

A pained look crossed Kate’s fatigued face, and she looked so small and fragile in her hospital bed. “I had one sip of punch,” she said, “And I didn’t even like it. But I got so dizzy. I kept seeing these bright colors and—” she stopped. Then, taking a deep and shaky breath, she said, “My doctor thinks I was drugged.”

They all met her with silence, each watching each other’s reactions.

Kate went on, “They had to put me in this dark room with no lights or sound. But after a little bit everything went back to normal, and I was just confused. I kept remembering everything in pieces, and all out of order.”

“Do you remember who did it?” Rachel asked. Max tried to watch Jefferson without him noticing, but his eyes seemed fixed on Kate.

The girl shook her head. Jefferson must have been relieved, but he did a good job at not showing it. “Do you think,” she frowned, a few tears slid down her cheeks, “Do you think I should tell the police?”

What should they say here? Max remembered her asking the same thing about Nathan, back in her timeline. But Nathan hadn’t been sitting over their shoulder then. What would Jefferson think? If he wanted to avoid suspicion, he would tell her to report everything even if that might make things harder for him. But he wasn’t responding. He was waiting for one of the girls to say something. Max’s mind raced. Would he suspect them more if they told her to go to the police or not? Would he guess they were trying to keep his attention off them if they told her to keep it to herself?

Rachel came to a decision before Max could, “I think you absolutely should, Kate. You deserve to feel safe.”

For a moment she looked hopeful, but then fear overtook her eyes and she said, “But what if they don’t believe me? They’ll say I was just drinking! They’ll say I’m making it up!”

“Kate,” Jefferson placed his hand on her foot and Max finally had to look away. “We believe you. We’ll stand by you, no matter what anybody says.” He was going along with what Rachel said, but what was going on in his head? Maybe he was already planning something.

Kate stared back at him for several long seconds as he gave her the gentlest of smiles. With a nod, she said, “Okay. If you guys will support me, I think I can do it.”

A sharp rap on the door caught their attention, and they turned to see a tall woman in a white doctor’s coat. “Hi, Kate,” she said.

“Hi, Dr. Olivie,” Kate replied.

The doctor stepped inside. “I heard you were awake and wanted to check on how you were feeling. Do you want them to step out while we talk?”

She shook her head. “No, they can stay.”

“Alright.” She walked over to the other side of Kate’s bed, glancing at Jefferson who quickly removed his hand. She gave a quiet hmm before turning back to Kate and saying, “It’ll probably be a week or two before your blood tests come back, but we are able to speculate what happened to you based on the symptoms you displayed.”

Jefferson interjected, “Do you have any thoughts on what might have done this to her?”

“A few things come to mind,” she replied. “If she’d had some kind of trauma to the head, I’d say it was a concussion. But haven’t found anything to indicate that. It’s also possible that she had a seizure, however, given that she has no history of them, we doubt that’s what happened. We’re leaning on a drugging because of how quickly her symptoms manifested, and her behavior before she fell unconscious.”

He nodded. “So what kind of drugs could cause this?”

“I’m thinking either an overdose of a hallucinogen or a date-rape drug.”

Chloe blanched. “Someone roofied her?”

“Kind of,” Dr. Olivie said with a shrug. “Although I doubt it was Rohypnol, the ‘roofie drug.’ Based on her symptoms, I think it might be something like ketamine or methamphetamine. But we’ll know more when we get the tests back.”

Whatever blood was left Kate’s face immediately drained. “Someone might have given me meth?”

Dr. Olivie said, “That’s only a possibility. At least for right now, I just don’t know enough to give you a proper answer. My advice is to try not to stress about what it might be until you know for sure, and talk to your physician about any new symptoms you’re experiencing.”

Kate nodded, shock still covering her face. After that she wasn’t really able to talk. She gave short answers and kept losing focus. She didn’t seem to notice when the four of them finally left. Max’s heart clenched like a fist gripping a gun. Was this what it was like for her before? No, couldn’t be nearly as bad. In that timeline, she was all alone and had no idea what was happening to her. Here, she knew she had people taking care of her. Even if one of those people was the one who caused all of this.

They had to make things better for her this time around. Max hadn’t been able to stop it from happening, but she would make sure that Kate was protected from now on.

Out in the lobby, Jefferson asked, “Would you girls like me to take you back? Max and Rachel, I’ll bring you to Blackwell. And . . .”

“Chloe,” the punk growled, her nose twitching.

“Right, Chloe. I can drop you off at your house afterwards.”

There was no way Max could let him get Chloe alone.

Rachel jumped in, “I actually already called Warren to pick us up. He was hella worried after last night, and I figured we could fill him in.” She did? Wowsers, she thought of everything.

“I see,” he clipped. “Well, please be careful on the roads out there. I think I made it seem easier than it actually is to drive on ice.” Of course he was bragging, the arrogant prick. “And please, try to respect Kate’s privacy. I know she shared everything with us, but she might not want other people to know.”

“Right,” Rachel agreed. “We’ll keep quiet.” Whether she actually meant it or not, Max wasn’t sure.

To their shared frustration, Jefferson chose to stay until Warren showed up. He probably didn’t want them going back to talk to Kate. But he couldn’t stop them from talking once they closed the doors and drove away.

In the car, Warren drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, asking, “What the heck happened, you guys?”

With Jefferson getting further and further away, Max finally found her voice and said, “Nathan and Jefferson drugged Kate.”

Warren whipped his head around to stare at Max in the front seat. “H-holy—holy shit!” he said as if he had a hard time cursing. “How do you know?”

“It happened before,” she said. “He did it to her, just like he did to Rachel.” Just like he did to Max.

And I found this in Nathan’s room,” Chloe piped up, digging her hands into her pocket to show a small glass bottle. “Ten thousand bucks says this is what that piece of shit used on her. Nathan drugged her, and Jefferson tried to pick her up outside the party.”

Warren’s fingers tapped faster. “Oh my god,” he breathed. “Oh man, this—this is real.”

“So you believe me?” Max asked.

He nodded rapidly. “Yeah. Yeah, I believe you. Should we tell the police?”

“Uh, are you kidding me?” Chloe scoffed. “What are we going to tell them? ‘Hey, I was sneaking through this kid’s room and found the drugs used on this girl. No officer, I totally didn’t do it myself.’”

“What if we planted it somewhere?” Rachel suggested. “Or we could say we found it in the bathroom, or something.”

That could be a good idea. And if the police were sure that Kate had been drugged, they might be able to protect her and any other girls Jefferson went after. “I think we should show the police,” Max said. “It can’t hurt to have them on our side.”

“You know the Prescotts are paying them off, right?” Chloe said. “They won’t let their little fuck-nugget get arrested.”

“But we might be able to make a paper trail,” Rachel said. “That way when we prove Nathan did it, they’ll have to arrest him. Besides,” she pulled out her phone and started scrolling through her contacts. “There’s one more thing we can do.”

Warren glanced at her through the rearview mirror. “What?” he asked.

Rachel gave a dark smile. “We’re going to find out where he got those drugs. We’re going to call Frank.”

Chapter Text

Max sat against her bed on the floor of her room, her hair still wet from the shower. The clock read just after 8:30 in the morning, and sunlight was beginning to light up the world. The snow had finally started to melt, which meant the air felt wet, slushy, and just plain heavy when the three students finally returned to their dorms. After Rachel texted Frank, they agreed to meet up around 10. Till then, Chloe had gone home to change out of her soiled clothes, while the rest of them tried to get their bearings back at the school.

As Max stared at her wall of photos, anxiety welled up inside her. In all the commotion over the last few days, she hadn’t thought of Frank once. But in hindsight, she should have known that there was no way to avoid interacting with him. So, the big question was: did he and Rachel have their affair in this timeline?

No matter how she looked at it, they must have. Rachel had originally gone missing around late April to early May—Max was ashamed to say she didn’t know the exact date. Max warned Chloe in the middle of April. And from what she and Chloe found back in her timeline, the two of them had been sleeping together long enough to be familiar with one another. It had to have been at least a few weeks. Then there was the fact that Frank had responded almost immediately to Rachel’s text so early in the morning. Even if he were already awake, it seemed a little strange to Max that he would get back to her so quickly, and even stranger that he agreed to meet so soon.

But underneath it all, Max silently begged for it to be untrue. That maybe everything she had found before was all a big misunderstanding. Chloe had been devastated to find out that Rachel had cheated on her. Their relationship was already rocky as is in this timeline. What would happen if Chloe found out? And did this mean that Rachel was keeping even more secrets from her? What might she be keeping from Max?

There were just too many questions, but Max had a strong suspicion she knew the answers to all of them. Which meant that there was only one question that mattered: what was she going to do? Letting things sit as they were could only lead to disaster when things eventually came out, but telling Chloe without knowing for sure could have the same result. Max could only see one choice.

She had to confront Rachel freaking Amber.

The realization hit her at least ten minutes ago. She spent her time hyping herself up since then. After everything she’d gone through, this should be nothing. She had solved a mystery. She had faced down a serial killer. She had saved both Chloe and Rachel’s lives. So why did this scare her?

Max admonished herself for being such a coward. Everything she did, she did for Chloe. There shouldn’t have been any question about this. Her bones felt stiff as she forced herself to stand. The lack of sleep and stress over Kate sure wasn’t helping, but if her exhaustion made her say something stupid at least she could rewind.

Rachel peeked her head out a few seconds after Max knocked. “Max, hey!” she said with a tired smile. “I was just about to take a nap. What’s up?”

“Can I come in?” Max asked.

Without hesitation, Rachel pulled the door out wider and beckoned for Max to enter. Max stepped inside and looked around. A bright, lit up star and several dramatic masks hung over Rachel’s neatly-made bed. Posters of different travel destinations and a few rock concerts decorated the walls, and an array of textbooks and romance novels sat orderly on the hutch on her equally orderly desk. Unable to resist the urge to explore, Max slid open the top desk drawer. Inside was a polaroid photo of her and Rachel, grinning widely. Rachel had some kind of stage makeup on, and Max was wearing a button up collared shirt and some mascara. Wowsers, it always amazed her at how different she seemed in this timeline. Underneath that picture was the same photo of Rachel and Chloe that the latter girl had used for her missing person’s poster. So, Rachel still cared about her.

“Max?” the girl interrupted her thoughts. “Care to tell me why you’re snooping through my desk?”

Right, that did seem weird. But Max didn’t really feel like making excuses for her nosiness, so she lifted her hand to abuse her powers a little bit. The drawer next to her slid shut as the world around her whirred and Rachel retraced her steps and walked backwards until she was closing the door again. When she dropped her hand again, Rachel jumped and looked around.

“Holy shit!” she gasped. “How did you get there?”

Max shrugged. “Sometimes I use my powers to save time,” she lied. Woah. That was the first time she managed to fib without thinking about it. Maybe Chloe and Rachel were starting to rub off on her.

“Huh.” Rachel shifted her weight till she was leaning against the door and crossed her arms. “So, last night. That was pretty insane.”

“Yeah.”

“Is that stuff, like, normal for you?” she asked.

Memories of Chloe dying, Kate nearly jumping off a building, traveling through different timelines, and horrifying supernatural weather phenomena flashed through her mind. “I wish it wasn’t,” Max muttered.

The other girl chuckled. “Yeah, it’s been a while since I had a night like that. I think the craziest for me was this one time that I set a park on fire.” What the actual heck? Rachel smiled at Max’s shocked face. “Yeah, that was one hell of a week.” She motioned for them to sit on the bed together. Max dropped down, hyperaware of how close Rachel was. “But what’s up? You look nervous. Did the night just get to you or something?”

Max sighed. “No, that’s not—I mean yeah, it did. But that’s not why I’m here.” She had to get to the point. No beating around the bush. “So, you and Frank. Are you guys . . . close?” Okay, maybe a little beating around the bush.

Rachel gave her a concerned frown. Max could tell she was considering her words. “I mean, kinda. He saved my life a few years ago, and I got to know him more whenever I bought weed off him.” She shrugged and said, “He had a rough life. It was hard not to bond with him.”

“It’s just . . .” She had to say it. She really had to say it. “Back in my timeline, when we were looking for you, Chloe and I found some stuff.” It was the slightest little tick, but Max noticed Rachel’s nostrils flare. Time to drop the bomb. “You were sleeping with him,” she said.

“Get out.”

Crap-baskets. “Rachel I—”

“Get. Out.”

Time for take-two. Max lifted her hand and rewound to just after Rachel had finished speaking. She started again, “Back in my timeline, Chloe and I looked into a lot of different places when we were trying to find you. We investigated Frank.” There was the nostril flare. “Rachel,” she paused for a moment and thought, then said, “I’ve gone through so much to try and protect Chloe. I don’t want her to get hurt anymore.”

Rachel held her gaze with a calm demeanor, but Max could tell that her jaw clenched tight. “I don’t want Chloe hurt either,” she said. Okay, so she hadn’t kicked Max out yet. This was already better than her first attempt.

She went on, “I already feel awful not telling her about what Jefferson did to me. I don’t want to keep any more secrets from her.”

At first, Rachel didn’t respond. Max forced herself to stay still as the girl studied her with calculating eyes. It was like she was trying to solve a puzzle with invisible pieces. Then she said, “I did a lot for Chloe too, Max.” She leaned back to rest her weight on her arms, sinking into the bed a little. “We’ve been trying to get out of here for a year and a half. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes for that.”

“Even if that means hurting her?”

Rachel closed her eyes, giving Max a moment of relief from her firm eye contact. “Max I—” she started, then stopped short. What Max wouldn’t give to know what she was thinking. “You chose to come here. You wanted to come to Arcadia Bay. Chloe and I didn’t have that choice. I didn’t get a say when my dad decided to move us out here, and Chloe’s been in this shithole her entire life.” Max thought back to all the times Chloe yearned to escape. Even when they were kids, they were always plotting to explore the world, far away from their hometown.

Rachel went on, “I’m doing whatever it takes to give us a new life. Away from all this,” she waved a hand, “All this crap. Me and Frank . . .” She bit her lip, then looked back at Max. “He knows I’m trying to get out of here. He knows this isn’t permanent. What he doesn’t know is that I’ve been skimming cash off him for months.”

Oh. Wowsers. The memory of Frank pulling a knife on Chloe, of Pompidou charging at them flashed through her mind. “What happens if you get caught?” she asked.

With a shrug, Rachel replied, “I just don’t get caught. I’ve worked really hard to get him to trust me, so I think I’m safe on that front.” She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “Besides, I’ve been keeping him off Chloe’s back. Do you know how much debt she’s in?”

Max nodded. It almost got Chloe killed.

“Every time Frank wanted to crack down on her I got him to back off. Even when we weren’t talking, I wasn’t going to let him hurt her.”

It was comforting to know she still cared, but there were still some things Max didn’t understand. “I found a letter from you to Chloe,” she said. “You said you were running away with some guy you met. That you fell in love with him.”

Rachel snorted. “Yeah, no. I don’t know what you found, but I sure as hell don’t love Frank.”

So why did she write that letter?

“Max,” she said, before any more thoughts went through her mind. “I know what I’m doing is fucked up. But I’m doing what I need to survive. I want to give you and Chloe the lives you deserve.” Wait, Max was part of these plans now? That was . . . news.

Max let out a shaky breath and realized her heart was racing. “I don’t want to keep this from Chloe,” she said. “I hate lying to her.”

“We don’t have to keep it to her. Not forever, at least,” Rachel insisted. “But we can’t tell her now. Not with everything going on. It’ll tear her apart and we won’t be able to work together.”

“But if we can’t keep hiding stuff from her,” Max said. “It’s all going to come out eventually.”

“So let it come out once Jefferson’s—once all this stuff with Jefferson is over.”

This was a horrible idea. This was the absolute worst idea. It was just . . . it was too much. “I can’t,” she said. “I’m not keeping anything else from her.”

“Max please—”

“No,” she lifted her hand up. It felt like a brick wall between the two girls. “I’ll wait a couple of days, but if you don’t tell her, I will.”

Max liked Rachel. She was kind, she stood up for Max, and she had the sharpest wit of anybody at Blackwell. But Chloe came first. Even if it ate her up inside to hurt Rachel.

 

After a shower and a change of clothes, Chloe drove to Blackwell to pick up the other two girls. Rachel greeted her with a shining smile that put butterflies in her stomach—god, she kept getting worked up like a twelve-year-old—but Max was quiet. More so than usual. This Kate thing must have really fucked with her. Chloe hoped that killing Jeffershit would help her feel safer. She would have given her left arm to have done it the night before, but there was no way they’d have gotten away with it. Murdering a man in the middle of a school parking lot after everyone at the party saw them leave probably wasn’t the smartest idea.

“So, ten bucks says Frank tries to twist my arm,” Chloe laughed.

Rachel nudged her playfully. “Figuratively or literally?”

“Literally. He’s hella pissed about the money.” She tried to play it off as a joke, but in truth the thought of Frank getting forceful made her want to throw up. He’d always been so chill when they first met, but over the years he became a lot more . . . Damon-y. Maybe killing someone really did change a person. Chloe would find out soon enough.

The snow blanketing the junkyard had iced over, making it difficult to step over, even in their boots. They made their way to the clubhouse while avoiding slippery patches and sharp objects before settling down. In a few minutes Frank would be there, but until then they could take stock of everything.

“So, I brought the drugs I found in Nathan’s room,” Chloe said, pulling the vial out of her pocket. “It looks like he scratched off the label.” She held it out so the other girls could see.

Max frowned. “It wasn’t like that in my timeline.”

They glanced at her. “You saw it back then?” Rachel asked.

With a nod, Max went on, “Jefferson had some in—” she froze and took a breath, “In the Dark Room.”

Chloe wished she had mentioned that before she spent half an hour looking for it. “Do you remember what it was?” she asked.

Shaking her head, Max replied, “It was so long ago, and so much happened since then.”

“Well then let’s hope Frank knows what it is,” Rachel said. Chloe noticed Max wince at her words.

“Are you okay?” Chloe asked.

“I, uh,” Max looked at her feet. “I don’t have a lot of great memories with him. He pulled a knife on us once, and the last time I saw him was when I told him Rachel had died.”

Chloe’s stomach clenched at that. She already knew that it was a thing that happened from where Max came from, but hearing about it, knowing that they had narrowly avoided it, and knowing that it might still happen did nothing to ease her nerves. For now, she could distract herself by focusing on Max. “We won’t let him hurt you,” she promised.

“Yeah,” Rachel agreed, although her voice seemed quiet and lacked its usual determination. That was hella weird.

The ground outside crackled as ice and trash were crushed, and Chloe heard an engine approach and then die down. Frank had arrived. The three of them stepped outside to greet him. He trudged out of his RV wearing a ratty leather jacket with a fleeced hoody underneath, as well as a skull-cap beanie on his head. Chloe didn’t think he pulled the look off as well as her, but he did look intimidating.

“I heard the three amigos were back together,” he said in his gravelly smoker voice. Glancing at the brown-haired girl, he said, “You must be Max. Rachel talks about you a lot.”

She met his eyes, though Chloe took notice of the pained look on her face. “Nice to meet you, Frank.”

He gave a harsh laugh. “Yeah, sure. And Price,” he turned to Chloe, “You know I don’t like to wait. I’m trying to be nice here, but you’re really testing my patience.”

Of course, it was the first thing that came up. “I’m working on it,” she growled.

“You’ve been ‘working on it’ for half a fucking year.”

“The difference,” Rachel cut in, “is that I’m helping her now. You know I’m good with my debts.”

Frank’s nose wrinkled as he scowled at them. “You’re really borrowing money from someone else to pay back the money you borrowed from me?” he said. “That’s low, Price.”

“I’m in a low place,” she retorted.

“Yeah, no shit.”

“Frank, I know the money is really important to you,” Rachel interjected before things could escalate. “But something big happened. We need your help.”

Crossing his arms and giving her a stern look, he said, “Look, I know you’re a decent person and all, but I’m not exactly inclined to help someone who owes me three fucking grand.”

“Frank, please” Rachel stopped him again. “This is really serious. A girl was drugged last night.”

Chloe watched as he processed Rachel’s words. His jaw clenched, but other than that his face didn’t change. Her stomach churned. This would be where they found out if he still had a piece of the man he used to be in him.

He crossed his arms. “What about it?” he demanded. “Whatever the hell people do isn’t my problem.”

At that, Chloe bristled. So, he was going to be a piece of shit about this. “She almost died, you fucking prick!” she snapped.

“That’s not my problem,” he snarled back. “I don’t control people. If they’re fucking around with the stuff I sell them, that’s on them. Not me.”

“Don’t you give any shits about what happens?”

“Nope. I don’t. Now, why don’t you,” he shoved his finger at her face, “Worry about paying me back? I’m not gonna keep asking nicely.”

Time to push her luck. “Oh yeah?” she taunted, “What are you going to do? Cut off my hand or something? Guess you’re the new Damon after all!” Immediately, she regretted saying it. Especially after what Max told her. But it was the best thing she could think of to push his buttons.

And it was a dumb choice.

Frank stepped forward and towered over her. With him so close, Chloe suddenly felt a sense of danger. She fought as hard as she could to keep her chin up and hold his gaze. “Maybe I am,” he hissed. “Let’s face it, Price, there’s a reason Damon’s not around anymore. And,” he looked her up and down, “I think there are definitely some parts you could live without.”

Her hands were clenched so tight they felt numb. Before she could give a biting remark about why he killed Damon in the first place, Rachel shoved herself between them and pushed them apart. Damn, she had balls.

“Will you two cut it out?” She gave them one final thrust. Chloe stumbled back a little, but Frank was barely budged. Rachel stepped back again so she could glare at both of them. “We have a serious fucking problem, and we don’t need you two having a pissing contest. Frank,” she looked at the drug dealer, “We will get you the goddamn money. I promise. So can you stop acting like a mad dog and fucking listen?”

“Oh-ho, come on!” he nearly shouted. “Rachel, I get that you two are close, but I’m not going to let some wannabe punk steal from me just because you asked me to.” Chloe saw her friend’s nostrils flare at that. Damn, that must have really pissed her off. “Now then, Chloe,” he said, his tongue curling around her name like a threat, “You are going to give me my money by next Friday, or I will cut something off.”

As Chloe froze and said, “You can’t do that!” Rachel barked, “No you’re fucking not!” And then they were all shouting at each other. Chloe’s voice, for all the fear running through her, didn’t shake or crack once. Next to her, Rachel was yelling like she hadn’t seen her yell in ages. Chloe hadn’t seen her this pissed since she learned the truth about her mother. Frank pointed his finger at Chloe’s face again, and Rachel shoved him back. But he grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the way so he could crowd Chloe yet again, his voice only growing louder.

Then a fourth voice, louder than all three of theirs echoed around them, screaming, “Shut up!” They all twisted around to look at Max, who stood there, looking small with her shoulders hunched, her head bowed, and her arms locked stiff against her sides with white-knuckled fists. And she was shaking. Her posture didn’t reflect the firmness in her voice at all.

Still refusing to look at them, she said, “We think Nathan Prescott drugged Kate Marsh so he could hurt her. And we think he’s going to do it to other girls. Every girl at Blackwell—including Rachel—is in danger.”

Frank didn’t respond, but when Chloe glanced at him, she could see the veins in his neck popping out. He looked her up and down, then walked over to her. Chloe stepped between them, and Rachel touched his arm and whispered, “Frank, don’t.” He eyed her for a moment, then stepped back.

How was she able to put her hands on him without him freaking out? How was she able to get him to listen to her? Chloe had seen first-hand the level of control Rachel had over other people, but this was something else. Was Frank really so enamored with her?

Crossing his arms, he nodded to Max and said, “Care to explain, kid?”

Chloe watched as her shaking friend let out a deep breath and finally met Frank’s eyes. “Nathan is obsessed with Rachel. He also likes me and Victoria Chase. He was trying to see if he could get away with drugging someone by testing it on Kate, but we found her in time.” That was a lie. A well-told lie, but Chloe knew the truth. Unfortunately, even if Max didn’t want to tell him about Jefferson’s role in things, Chloe and Rachel were going to have to.

“How do you know it was him?” Frank asked.

“We found the drugs in his room,” she said. On cue, Chloe pulled the vial out of her pocket and held it so he could see.

With a snort, he said, “And what? He gave you a tour of is fucking dorm and showed you the damn thing? You probably had to break in to get that. Do you have any idea how shady that sounds?”

“You do shady shit all—”

“Chloe!” Max interrupted her.

“Yeah, Chloe. Shut your fucking mouth,” Frank growled. Chloe wanted so badly to say something snarky, but one look at the stress on Max’s face told her that was a bad idea. Besides, she probably shouldn’t argue with the time-traveler.

“Frank,” Max started again. “You ne—” Her words caught in her throat and her facial expression snapped to neutral. Oh fuck, did she just rewind?

Across from her, the frown on Frank’s face deepened. “The fuck was that?”

“Sorry, I have this twitch when I get nervous.”

Chloe looked back at Frank, the sweat on the back of her neck starting to slide down in the frigid air as she silently begged him to believe Max’s lie. After a moment of staring at her, he licked his chapped lips and said, “You’ve got some weird friends, Rachel.”

“Yeah, well, they put up with my crazy,” she sighed. In any other circumstance, Chloe would have laughed.

Max started again, “Kate’s going to go to the police, and they’re going to wonder where the drugs came from. We just want to know if he bought them from you, and if he has any more of it.”

“Oh, yeah, great plan,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Bring up the police and then ask me about drugs.”

“Please, Frank,” Rachel tried. “We’re not going to tell anybody else.”

For several long seconds, he regarded her, seeming to weigh her words in her mind as intensely as he would weigh a soul. Finally, he huffed and said, “Look, I like you, Rachel. Price, I don’t like you.”

“Right, yeah, kick me while I’m down,” Chloe muttered. She crossed her arms, and without looking at him she said, “The feeling’s mutual.”

“The point is, I don’t know her at all,” he nodded toward Max. “I get that you’re serious about this, but I’m not going to start giving up my secrets to someone I’m not sure about.”

Fucking fuck, they couldn’t have met up with him for nothing. Chloe’s mind raced as she tried to think of a way to convince him otherwise, but there was no way he’d ever listen to her.

“I get it,” Max said, cutting through Chloe’s thoughts. “Could you just . . . could you be careful with Nathan? With everything going on,” she stopped for a moment, considering her words, then said, “He’s getting really dangerous.”

He uncrossed his arms and shoved them in his pockets as he said, “The Prescotts have always been dangerous, kid. Sorry if this is news to you.”

Max opened her mouth to speak but seemed to think better of it. Chloe wondered what she was going to say. She’d have to ask about it later. Then, Max simply said, “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Frank said with a nod. “Anything else?” he looked at each of them. “No? Good.” He turned back to Chloe and said, “My money. Friday. Or I start getting serious.” Then, before any of them could say anything else, he walked back to his RV and slammed the door shut. The three of them waited as it started up, their eyes locked on the vehicle until it drove out of sight.

With Frank finally gone, Rachel touched Chloe’s hand. “Are you okay?”

She looked at Rachel and realized how fast her heart was racing. That was . . . a lot. She had known Frank would be mad, but for him to be that violent? Even after Max’s warning—well how was she supposed to expect that? “I—yeah no, uh, I mean—” Fuck, maybe she wasn’t okay.

Rachel took hold of her hand and squeezed it. “We’ll figure something out.”

Chloe sucked in a stuttering breath and squeezed back. Then she turned to Max and asked, “How ‘bout you? Are you okay?”

Max stood frozen, staring blankly at the other two girls.

Rachel turned to look at her too and said, “Max?”

Jumping slightly, Max seemed to come back to reality and said, “Sorry, uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” Of all the lies she’d told so far, Chloe believed that one the least.

“How many times did you rewind?” she asked, trying harder to take her mind off her own fears and focus on Max’s.

With a shrug, the girl simply said, “A few?”

“Did anything happen?” Rachel prodded.

“Not really. I was just trying to get him to talk longer.” She was lying again. But Chloe would have to wait to ask her about it, because before she could get a word in Max said, “Come on. Let’s go talk to Warren.”

Chloe tried not to show her disappointment. Luckily, Max had already started heading toward the truck. She felt Rachel rub her thumb across their joined hands, and the two shared a look. After a beat, Rachel wrapped herself around Chloe’s arm and leaned into her shoulder, resting her head in the crook of Chloe’s neck.

“I’m glad you’re safe,” she murmured.

A last little wave of courage took her, and she kissed the top of Rachel’s head. “Thanks, Rach.”

Chapter Text

When the three girls arrived back at Blackwell, they made their way to a secluded corner of the library. Max settled down in a stiff, hard-edged wooden chair and propped herself up against the table, her head in her hands as she fought off exhaustion while they had all crowded around her. Warren joined them a few minutes later, and they filled him in on the details. Rachel did most of the talking, as Max was too tired and Chloe was too shaken for either of them to speak. To be fair, Rachel looked like she was about to pass out as well, but out of the three of them she held it together the best.

Warren had a few questions for them. Rachel answered them with ease, and occasionally Chloe managed to offer a word or two. But Max was barely aware of anything. She just couldn’t even make out her friends’ words. Every now and then she would catch herself dozing off. Her eyelids weighed down against her cheeks, and the cold that seeped through to her bones had numbed her to the world. She knew the general gist of the conversation, and she knew Warren was horrified at everything that transpired with Frank.

Max kept herself from telling them what happened when she rewound.

The sight of Frank charging at Chloe, of Rachel tearing at his clothes as she tried to stop him, of how the wind picked up and howled in a way that didn’t happen when Max reset the conversation, it was all too much to think about. And it was more than she wanted to think about.

She wasn’t sure how many times Rachel called her name, but she jumped awake when she realized she was expected to speak. “What?” she breathed.

Rachel, who was diagonal to her on the other side of the table, reached over and gave her arm a sympathetic rub. “I think we could all use some sleep,” she said. “I was just asking if there was anything else you wanted to do.” Max caught herself leaning into the contact for a moment, but before she could react Rachel removed her hand.

The thought of staying awake for another second physically hurt. She shook her head and said, “I can’t even think straight.”

With a nod, Rachel said, “Okay. Let’s all go rest and figure things out later.”

A loud sigh split the air as Chloe leaned back in her chair. “Fuck me, dude. I hope I don’t pass out on the road.”

“You can crash with me, if you want,” Rachel offered. Chloe smiled, and Max looked away. She wished it didn’t hurt so much that Chloe loved Rachel more than her. Having her alive meant more to Max than anything, but she wished they could have had more time together, in both her timeline and this one.

She scolded herself for her selfish thoughts. Chloe was alive. Rachel was alive. Arcadia Bay was still standing—for now. If saving all those lives meant losing her happiness, it would still be worth it.

“Max?” Rachel interrupted her thoughts. “You’re welcome to join too.”

“Oh, uh, thanks, but I need some time alone.” While staying close to Chloe—and even to Rachel—tempted her, being their third wheel didn’t sound appealing.

As the four of them made their way out, Chloe stopped Max at the door of the library. “Hey,” she said in a low voice. “Are you good?”

What she wouldn’t give to tell Chloe everything. “I’m just tired,” she said. “I’ll be better after some sleep.”

“I hear that,” her friend replied. Then, without warning, Chloe slid her hands around Max’s waist and pulled her into a warm hug. Max’s eyes slid shut as she reveled in the feel of Chloe’s body. “If you’re not okay,” Chloe whispered, “I’ll be right next door. Promise you’ll come get me?”

Max nodded into her shoulder. “I promise.” They stayed in their embrace for a few moments longer. Max tried to breath in Chloe’s scent without her noticing. She smelled like cigarettes, pot, and sweat, but also like fresh rain on a hot pavement. Max remembered running through a summer downpour with Chloe as kids with bathing-suits and goggles on—although the goggles actually made it harder to see. She wondered if Chloe cherished those memories too.

 

Max’s dreamless sleep ended all too soon. A quick glance at her phone told her only two hours had passed, and she ached for just a little bit more. But she knew she wouldn’t fall back asleep for a long while. She could go see if Chloe and Rachel were awake, but on top of not wanting to be there while they pine over each other she didn’t think she could face Rachel yet. Not until she told Chloe the truth about her and Frank. Till then, she would only interact with her when she had to.

The thought made her feel guilty. She didn’t want to avoid Rachel.

For now, she had time to kill. Maybe Warren would be up to hang out. She could use some time away from all the craziness, and he was the perfect solution.

Max: just woke up. can i come hang out with you?

A few seconds later,

Warren: sure thing! wanna watch more anime?,

Max: sounds perfect

Twenty minutes later, she found herself huddled under a pile of blankets on the floor in Warren’s room, watching some more Fullmetal Alchemist. Warren occasionally made a few comments, praising or critiquing different elements of the show, comparing it to the new version, but Max focused more on the sound of his voice than what he was saying. It was a pointless conversation, they both knew that, but the pleasure of talking, the pleasure of simply enjoying one another’s company meant more to her than he could ever realize. In his room, for just a while, there was no Frank, no Jefferson, no storm, no lies. There was just a good friend and a quiet moment.

 

Chloe looked out at the twilight sky over the bay. She sat on the bench by the lighthouse. On her right, Max lounged with a smile on her face. On her left, Rachel lay fast asleep. Her father, William, stood at the edge of the cliff, watching the darkening world with them. Above all of them, the lamp from the lighthouse spun in a hypnotizing rhythm, a slight hum emanating every time the light passed over.

“God,” her father breathed, his voice laced with awe. “I know you don’t really care for it, sweetheart, but I’m always blown away by this view.”

Chloe smiled. It had been so long since she last saw him. Having him back again . . . warmth spread through her chest as she enjoyed his presence. “I don’t know if the view makes up for the shitty people,” she sassed. Even if she hated this place, her father always held a sense of fondness for it. And she couldn’t blame him. He didn’t have to live through the loss she felt, the crushing loneliness, the poverty of having a single parent in the service industry. Instead, he had nothing but good memories there. He started his marriage with Joyce in Arcadia Bay. He raised Chloe in Arcadia Bay. He got to be Super-Dad in Arcadia Bay. Chloe couldn’t fault him for loving it.

“Well,” he said, startling her out of her thoughts, “I doubt you’ll have to stay here too much longer. You’ve got some really good people trying to get you away from the bad ones.” William glanced at Max to emphasize his point. The other girl stared blankly at the sky. On Chloe’s other side, Rachel wriggled closer while she slept. With a smile, she wrapped one arm around Max and laid her other hand on Rachel’s head. What a perfect moment.

Silence took them, with only the sound of the humming light above. It passed round and round, thrumming like a heartbeat. Chloe closed her eyes and felt her own pulse match up with it.

She heard a rustling. Her dad must have turned around. “But you know, it will get worse before it gets better.” The light passed over.

Chloe opened her eyes. “What do you mean?” The light passed over. The world around them grew dark.

“I mean a storm’s coming, kiddo. You’re going to need to hunker down, hold onto everything you care about, or you’ll get blown away.” The light passed over.

A storm? “Do you mean the tornado?” The light passed over. Chloe looked at Max. “Is that what he’s talking about?”

Max didn’t answer, just looked straight on with a neutral face. The light passed over.

“Dad?”

The light stopped.

Then, slow, painfully slow, it aimed down at Chloe. William stepped back into the darkness and disappeared. Chloe pushed herself to her feet, vaguely aware of the bench and the other girls disappearing too as she reached for where her father had been.

The light blinked once, twice. A second one opened.

 

Warren must have picked up on Max’s mood, because he didn’t mention their plot once. He smiled and offered his blankets, and he set up his laptop on the floor, so they could watch anime without the awkwardness and intimacy of being on his bed. One of these days, Max would thank him for that. Maybe she relied on him a little too much, or maybe she took advantage of his crush on her. She hoped she didn’t. But his quiet friendship soothed her, and she needed it.

“So,” he said after the episode ended. “Ms. Grant’s homework is actually killing me.”

Max chuckled. “Yeah?” she said. “How has she stumped the mighty Science-Lord?”

He shrugged. “She’s making us look at the molecular make-up of cells. I’m a chemistry kid. Biology always throws me off.”

Max thought back to Chloe making tiny home-made bombs to blow up their toys, and she would always explain the science behind it. Max never understood it, but she loved how animated Chloe got.

“Anyway,” he went on, “I kinda get the basics, like how lipids in the membrane keep too much water from getting into the cell, but then we get to bigger stuff and I just get lost. Like, what does the mitochondria even do?”

“I hear it’s the powerhouse of the cell.”

He snorted, “Oh, ha-ha. But how the heck does that work? Cells are weird.” He huffed and crossed his arms. “This is worse than stupid physics.”

What a dumb conversation. Max loved it.

Warren went on to complain about how this was a chemistry class, and they shouldn’t have to worry about biology. According to him, it didn’t matter if all science was connected, because he didn’t want to study living things anyway. Apparently, they were too gross for him. Then, somehow, they began talking about his fixation with scary movies, and how that made no sense if he didn’t like biology.

As Warren vehemently defended his love of fictional gore and bloodshed, Max’s head began to hurt. Then, she felt something drip onto her upper lip.

Mid-sentence, Warren stopped short. “Max?” he said. “Are you okay? Your nose is bleeding.”

She touched her face, and sure enough there was blood. Her headache began to throb inside her skull.

Oh no.

The world around her turned dark, and before she lost consciousness, she was aware of her body going limp and collapsing onto the floor. Somewhere far away, she heard Warren cry out her name.

 

A pair of giant, piercing, oval-shaped, silvery-blue eyes split through the starry night sky and peered down into Chloe’s soul. Despite the feeling of dry grass under her feet, her body felt weightless. As she stared harder, she realized the eyes belonged to some silhouetted animal that looked like some kind of owl-cat-thing.

“Is this real?” she asked when she finally found her voice.

“Yes,” the thing rumbled. Its androgynous voice both echoed around her and came silently from within her.

What else should she say? “What are you?”

The voice came forth again, “Me.” Well that wasn’t helpful at all. As she tried to think of a question that would bring a straight answer, it said, “Little creatures are coming, and they are not knowing what is real and what is dreaming. And they are asking what I am and I am asking why they ask. And they are nowhere and I am here.”

God dammit, was this one of those things where it would only speak in riddles? “Okay, well if this is a dream and I’m nowhere, then this isn’t really real.”

“Little creatures are telling me what is real but they are not. But I am telling them I am real and they are a dream.”

She wished she could feel her arms so that she could cross them. “Well this is my dream, so I’m saying you’re not real. And if you’re going to keep being a dick about this then I’m not going to talk to you.” Chloe tried to see where she was, tried to figure out how to wake up, but all she could see where the stars and the eyes, and the dream would not let her wake. Fuck it then, “How do I wake up?”

The creature said, “I am asking how little creatures speak without talking.” Great. She meets an Eldritch Horror, and it’s a smartass. “Little creatures are asking me how to wake from dreams and I am telling them they are a dream. And I am telling them that a dream will wake when it falls asleep.”

God fucking dammit. Of course she’d have a hella confusing dream in the middle of everything. Then, the lucidity of everything struck her. Chloe remembered everything from the past several hours perfectly. She knew this was all a dream. So, why did it feel so eerily real? She’d stopped having these sorts of dreams well over a year ago. Hell, she’d stopped seeing her father over a year ago. Why was this happening again?

“Why am I here? What’s happening?” she asked.

“Monstrous existence.”

“Yeah, fine, but what is here? Why am I seeing this? Where did my dad go?” If she could get something—anything that meant even a little sense, then Chloe would walk away happy. Or, wake up happy? This was all too confusing.

The creature did not answer.

Chloe sighed, “Are you going to just—”

“Little creatures are walking beside time. They are not seeing where moments are going but they are touching moments. Moments are bending and a beast will break them,” it said. “It burrows through the ground and it fills the hole with nothing and nothing is overflowing. It is wanting all the nothing. It is wanting to be the only thing. And all are nowhere and you are here.”

She had to make sense of it all. Somehow, she had to. “What hole? What beast?”

“Little creatures are falling down the hole. And they are clinging to shadows of nothing that is not theirs. And they are dreaming about what is not real.”

There had to be a way to understand this thing. “Please,” she tried, “I need you to explain this. I’m so fucking confused.”

It seemed to pause, as though it were considering what she said. If she didn’t understand it, then maybe it didn’t understand her either. Either that or Chloe was looking for something that didn’t make her feel small and useless.

Then it said, “I am going to tell you something, little creature. You are swimming further and further out to sea. And beyond are things blind and terrible. And I am showing you now.”

The air in her lungs was torn out—had she even been breathing?—and the stars around her faded as the eyes closed. A crushing weight filled every part of her until she was ready to burst, and the taste of salt and metal coated her tongue. Images began to appear around her, shapeless masses with too many eyes and too many legs, crawling and swimming and shrieking around her, looking everywhere and seeing nothing, looking nowhere and seeing Chloe. There was a roaring—like a jet engine—but it was spinning and churning. Something thin and sharp scraped down her back. She was all alone, surrounded by monsters, surrounded by weight, surrounded by nothing and by everything. And she was nowhere.

In an instant, it was all gone, and she broke through the surface of whatever had held her down. Chloe gasped and clawed at the air until she had the strength to scream. Collapsing on the ground, she curled up into a ball and began to sob. Hot, glowing tears slid down her face, and snot began to drip from her nose. Every part of her shook, her bones, her veins, her brain. Those things, their eyes, their horrible eyes had seen her.

The stars came back into view, and the creature’s glowing eyes opened—they were both a comfort and a frustration. Its voice filled her body as it said, “They are blind but they are seeing you. And you are coming to them.” Chloe’s muscles ached and froze at the thought. “After this you are not returning here,” it told her. “I am climbing into the ground and closing the earth.”

Chloe forced herself to sit up and ask, “Closing the earth?”

“Yes.”

She gave up trying to understand.

“I will tell you a second thing,” it said. “There is a hole at the center of everything.”

At the center of everything? “The same hole full of nothing?” she asked.

“No.”

Chloe wiped the tears from her eyes, trying to regain some dignity. Although it probably didn’t care if she had any. “Oh, okay.”

“There is a hole at the center of everything,” it said again. “And it is always growing. Between the stars I am seeing it. It is coming. And you are not escaping. And the universe is forgetting you. And the universe is being forgotten. And there is nothing to remember it. Not even the things beyond. And now there is only the hole.”

“If,” she breathed, “if everything is being forgotten, then nothing matters.”

“This thought is not worth thinking,” it said.

“But,” she shook her head, thinking desperately. “What about my home? And my friends? What about my mom and my dad?” She knew her dad had died for nothing. There was never any reason behind it. But when he was alive, he mattered. He mattered to her.

“Soon they are dying. Soon they are rotting. You are atoms. And your atoms are not caring if you are existing. Your atoms are monstrous existence.”

“Then why am I here?” she begged. “Why am I seeing any of this? Why does anything exist if nothing matters?”

Its eyes remained unblinking. “Little creature, it does not matter if nothing matters. There is no one to make it matter.” It paused, then said, “This is going nowhere. We are not meeting again. And the universe is forgetting you and I am remembering you. But not because I am caring. The beginning is moments ago. The end is moments away. There is no time to forget before all is forgotten.”

But something grasped her shoulder and cupped her face. “But even if it doesn’t matter,” the new being said, “it happened. And it matters to you. So you are making it matter. Even if just for now.” Chloe knew that voice. Her dad had come back for her. Something soft touched her forehead, and the fear in her gut grew smaller.

The glowing eyes blinked. “Dead creatures are wrong,” it said. “Goodbye, little creature.”

 

A furious roaring sound—like a jet engine—enveloped Max’s body. Icy rain and sleet struck her face like needles shot from a gun, and the wind threatened to tear her from the ground. She forced herself to her feet.

There was no time to waste. Max had to use her time in this vision to gather information. When was this? Did the storm change at all? Would the doe appear and lead her somewhere?

Max began to rush up the trail but slipped in a patch of ice and mud. Ignoring her now soaking clothes in the freezing rain and wind, she kept going. She was further down the trail this time, so climbing the hill took more effort than before. Around her, trees cracked and split. Dirt and stray branches shot through the air. Sometimes they would strike her, and by the time she broke through the trees her body was riddled with bruises, scratches, and scrapes. The skin on her palms was raw from falling into the ice and rocks so many times. But she felt no pain.

And there she was.

Max saw her but didn’t want to believe it. She was there, wandering through the wreckage. She was there, bending time to look out over the ledge and see the tornado. She was there, being crushed by the lighthouse as it fell on top of her. She was there, crying at a newspaper which kept changing in front of her eyes.

And she was there, kissing Chloe one last time before leaving to let her die.

All these different versions of herself were there at once, distressed and confused, unable to see each other. But now she could see them. Maxes from multiple timelines all overlaid together. Sometimes they walked through each other. They would seem to occupy the same space at the same time, but somehow the Max watching them could see all their parts. Two Maxes walked through her. She felt their bodies, felt them fill hers, and for the moment before they passed through, she couldn’t breathe.

Then they were gone. Time froze. And there was one Max staring straight at her.

This Max was as gray as death. Her hair clung to her face, her eyes were red, and the tips of her fingers were blue from the cold. She wore no winter clothes, only a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

And she was bleeding from a small hole in the center of her forehead.

She felt something behind her. Someone else was watching her. On a visceral level, Max knew that this was the person who had stopped time. A small, sexless voice, whispered into her ear, “I didn’t mean to do it.”

 

Chloe’s eyes opened on their own accord. She was still in Rachel’s room, and Rachel was in her arms, looking at her. As she tried to blink a few burning tears rolled down her face.

“Hey,” she murmured, her voice heavy with sleep. “Are you okay?”

She was awake. Rachel was here. Rachel mattered. “Yeah,” she said. “It was just a nightmare.”

Rachel wrapped her arms around Chloe’s waist and squished her nose into the crook of Chloe’s neck. “Me too,” she said. “Can I do anything?”

Chloe closed her eyes and breathed in Rachel’s hair. The familiar scent of her jasmine shampoo filled her nose and soothed her buzzing mind. “Just . . . stay like this? Please?”

Humming against her neck, Rachel said, “I can do that.” She began rubbing small circles into Chloe’s back, and they both tried to catch a few more minutes of rest.

Chloe wished Max was there with them.

 

Max jerked back to the present. When she became aware of her body, she realized that Warren was shaking her. Tears stained his face, and he nearly shouted before she murmured his name.

Immediately he stopped and said, “Max?”

She sat up and leaned into him. The blood from her nose had stained her mouth and jaw. Despite the warmth of the room, despite the warmth of his body against hers, she felt freezing. She began to shiver and shudder, and before she knew it, she had begun to cry as well.

Max buried her face into his shoulder, and he wrapped his arms around her. “I don’t want this,” she sobbed. “I want it to stop.”

“I’ve got you,” he promised, squeezing her so tight it almost hurt. “I’m here, Max. I’ve got you.”

She brought a hand up and clutched at his shirt. “Nothing I do works,” she gasped. “I don’t know what to do! The storm keeps coming! I keep trying to stop it, and it keeps coming!”

“Max, what can I do?” he asked, desperation in his voice. “I don’t know how to help you!”

It was coming. She’d let Chloe die, and it was still coming. She’d saved Chloe and Rachel, and it was still coming. Nothing she did would ever stop it. No matter what she changed, it still came. Horror filled her soul as the realization dawned on her: there was nothing that would ever stop the storm. It was never in her control.

“I don’t want anyone to die,” she cried into his shoulder. “I just want to keep them from dying.”

“Max, please!” he begged. “You’re scaring me! What can I do?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I can’t get away from any of it. People keep dying, and I can’t save them.”

Warren rested his cheek on top of her head and cupped the back of it with one hand. He swore to her, “No one’s going to die. We’re saving everybody. We won’t let anyone die.”

Max knew he was wrong, but she clung to him anyway.

She wished Chloe and Rachel were there with her.

Chapter Text

The police came that afternoon. Rather than forcing everyone to come to a station or the hospital, the held the interviews in an empty classroom in Blackwell. When they asked who wanted to go first, Max jumped at the chance. She needed to get it over with as fast as possible, rather than sitting and stewing and second-guessing.

They questioned her about the night before, about the party, about Kate. When did Max first see her? What was she doing? Was anything or anyone around her odd? Max kept it short and simple. Kate started acting weird. Jefferson drove them to the hospital. Kate passed out.

She didn’t mention Nathan’s drugs. Rachel promised her and Chloe that she would cover that part.

Throughout the process, an unexpected loneliness gripped her. Her latest vision replayed in her mind. It drowned out the officers’ voices as they rattled off their questions. Max couldn’t wait until this was over. She needed to tell Chloe and Rachel about the tornado. She’d gotten so fixated with Jefferson that she’d almost forgotten it. How could she have ignored it?

If she could just be near them, Max would feel better.

Poor Warren had no way of comforting her while she cried. His whispered promises that everything would be alright meant nothing. Not when she couldn’t believe them. Not when he didn’t believe her. If only he were right. If only the storm would just disappear for good.

Part way through her interview, she stumbled on a question and the officers started eyeing her with suspicion. With a heavy sigh, Max rewound and tried again. She had relationship problems, she had school problems, she had a serial killer coming after her, she had a supernatural tornado threatening to destroy everything she loved. The last thing she needed was to be followed by the police.

After a grueling hour of questions and struggling to stay focused, they finally allowed Max to step out of the classroom into the quiet halls of Blackwell. The penetrating fluorescent lights stung her weary eyes, piercing through to her skull like freezing-hot needles.

Max settled onto one of the chairs they’d dragged out into the hall. Chloe, who had been waiting for her with Rachel, sat next to her. The latter girl went inside for her round of interrogation.

With a gentle bump against her arm, Chloe asked, “How’d it go?”

“Fine.”

“Ms. Price, Ms. Caulfield,” Principal Wells’s voice cut through the still air. “I would like to remind you that you are not to discuss the content of your interviews.” The police had asked to interview him as well, and until his turn came, he waited in the hall with the girls, ever-vigilant, ever the harsh faculty-member. He had taken the self-appointed role of their overseer. Max suspected that grasping for control was his way of coping.

Chloe rolled her eyes. “Relax, man. I was just asking her how it was.”

“Be sure you keep it at that, Ms. Price.”

“Dude, you’re not in charge of me anymore. So chill out already.”

Wells let out a hmph and crossed his arms, pursing his lips as he eyed the expellee.

Max said, “It’s fine, Principal Wells. We won’t talk about it.”

He rocked back and forth on his heels, his gaze shifting over to Max. “See that you don’t.”

At some point, Max’s eyes drifted shut, and she caught a few extra minutes of rest. Chloe shook her awake—Max had apparently claimed her shoulder as a pillow—letting her know that Rachel had finished, and it was now the punk’s turn. Despite every desire to make her stay, Max let Chloe get up and go inside.

Rachel settled down next to her, and this time Max forced herself to stay awake. She couldn’t let herself fall asleep on Rachel like she did with the other girl. Not when she was supposed to be mad at her for cheating on Chloe. Oddly enough though, Max wanted to let go of her anger and relax with her. She thought back to just a few days ago, when any physical contact with Rachel felt wrong. Now she craved it. What had changed in such a short amount of time?

Neither of them made any effort to break the silence. As always, Max wondered what she might be thinking. Surely, about everything with Frank. Her argument with Max. Their disastrous night trying to save Kate. Rachel must have felt some guilt or anxiety. Or maybe not.

But Max’s thoughts about Rachel were quickly overshadowed by her latest vision. If only these stupid interviews would go faster so she could talk to the other girls about it. But even then, how would they begin to decipher it?

“You okay?” Rachel said. She was staring at Max with wide eyes and clenching her hands in her lap. They held each other’s gaze for a moment before Rachel seemed to grow embarrassed or ashamed and looked away.

Max let out a hmm and said, “Just thinking.” She couldn’t say anything with the police in the other room and Wells right there. Rachel didn’t try for conversation after that.

When Chloe eventually exited the room, the three of them left. Principal Wells didn’t need them to wait for him during his interview, and they had a lot to talk about. They trudged through the slush to get back to the dorms, the scent of mud and water filling the air. None of them spoke, and Max sensed they were almost as tired as her. They closed the door behind them and kicked the ice and dirt from their shoes before making their way upstairs to the girls’ floor.

Halfway through the hall on their way to Max’s room, Victoria stopped them.

The high-class girl wore maroon silk pajamas—how late had she slept in?—and she appeared to be heading toward the showers. At the sight of the three girls with their heads hung low, she smirked and said, “Who dragged you through a wood-chipper?”

Rachel responded first, “Nice to see you too, Victoria.”

Chloe snorted and said, “Someone should put those clothes through a wood-chipper.”

“You’ll be dead if you do,” Victoria said, crossing her arms. “They probably cost more than your house. And at least my wardrobe doesn’t scream white trash.” She held her chin up high, reveling in her jabs. “So, were you guys slutting it up with Kate last night?”

Underneath all her exhaustion, fear, and confusion, Max felt anger bloom inside her. “What the fuck is your problem, Victoria?” she snapped. All three girls looked at her in surprise. For once, she didn’t care. She felt emboldened by the same courage that took her in the Dark Room, when she snarled and snapped at Jefferson. “Are you so insecure about yourself that you have to go after Kate? Are you going to put a video of her online or something?”

Victoria shot daggers at Max. “You wanna talk like that again?” she said. “Stay in your fucking shy-hipster corner, you selfie-obsessed freak. And yeah, while you’re at it, go ahead and check out the video. All of Blackwell’s already seen it.”

“Are you serious?” Chloe bristled. But before she could say anything else, Max jumped in again.

“Someone tried to hurt Kate,” she said. “While you and everyone else were being assholes and getting high, she almost died. We were at the hospital all fucking night.” That caught Victoria off-guard. Taking advantage of the shocked look on her face, Max went on, “You and everyone else treat her like shit because you’re so scared of what would happen if she stopped caring about what you say. So maybe you should stop obsessing over making someone miserable and actually do something useful with your fucking life.” With that, she marched forward toward her room, shoving past Victoria and slamming her door shut.

Outside, she heard Chloe and Rachel’s say a few words and then walked over to her room. They gave her door a tentative knock, and Max sighed. “Come in,” she said.

They stepped inside and clicked the door shut behind them. “Holy shit, Max!” Chloe laughed.

“That was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen,” Rachel said. “You should have seen her face.”

Max sighed and collapsed onto her bed. “I don’t even care,” she breathed. “I’m just so tired.”

Chloe sat down next to her and placed a gentle hand on her head. “Well, we can chill out a little while. We don’t need to do any plotting for a few hours.”

Her heart panged, and she wished that were true. “No, we really can’t,” she said. “I have to tell you guys something.”

 

Max collapsed on her bed after she finished telling them about her dream. Staying awake was one thing, but her body couldn’t hold its own weight anymore.

Rachel slumped down on her desk chair. “Holy shit,” she breathed. “And I thought I had a bad dream.”

Across the room, Chloe stuffed her hands in her pockets and said, “Did we all have nightmares?”

“It wasn’t a nightmare,” Max said. “It was another vision. They show me things about the storm.”

Chloe coughed into her shoulder, looking bashful and afraid. “So, uh, I might have had one too.”

Rachel’s head spun around to face her ex. “What do you mean, Chloe?”

Ice filled Max’s gut as Chloe took her turn to explain her dream. Nothing she’d experienced so far could compare to what her friend was describing. An all-seeing cat thing, time bending and breaking, monsters . . . if anybody else had listened to her they would have called it a fever-dream. But Max had gone through too much to brush it off. She thought back to her dream on the beach, as Chloe had been dragging her off to the lighthouse before their final kiss. Before, she’d attributed it to her exhaustion and stress, but what if it was something else? It didn’t seem like anything Chloe saw. Still, maybe there was more to it than she had originally thought.

As Chloe finished, Max found herself looking at Rachel. A moment later, she realized that Chloe was as well. “What?” the girl asked.

“I mean,” Chloe said, “Max and I had these weird dreams—visions—and you mentioned you had a nightmare too. Maybe they’re all connected?”

Rachel wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the ground. “I was dreaming about my dad. And Damon stabbing me—” Max’s throat caught. When had that happened? Who the hell was Damon? “—Frank saving me. And finding out everything about my mother. I didn’t see any storms or monsters.”

There was a lot to unpack there, but Max tried to focus her tired mind on anything that might be connected. “Maybe we should write this stuff down,” she said. “We can compare and contrast. I can try to remember all of my other visions too. See what’s different.”

A soft hmm came from Rachel. “We know one thing that’s different,” she said. Max and Chloe turned their focus to her again. “The weather’s been normal. No eclipses, no double moons, no dead animals. And Warren might have been right about the snow. I mean, it is November.”

Max’s mind flashed back to a few hours before, with Frank. “The weather did change,” she said. “But I rewound, so you guys didn’t see it.”

Chloe frowned, and Rachel tensed up. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“We said something that made him mad, and he went after Chloe. He tried to grab her, and Rachel, you were trying to stop him. Then out of nowhere, wind got crazy, and there were clouds everywhere.” Max flopped onto her back. “When I went back, everything stayed the same.” There was too much evidence to deny it. Even if they had their doubts, Max knew it was true. “I don’t know what happened,” she said, “But the tornado is coming.”

“I’m not saying it isn’t,” Rachel said. “I believe you, Max. I do. But something about this is strange. Has anything like that ever happened?”

Max shook her head. “I’ve never been able to mess with the weather. And whenever Chloe was in danger, nothing around us changed. This is all new to me.”

Rachel nodded. “Something about this timeline is different from all the other ones you’ve been to.” She sighed and rubbed a hand over her eyes.

“You’re alive,” Chloe said. “That’s pretty different.”

Max thought that was obvious from the start. “How does Rachel being alive affect the storm?” she asked. “Why is that the thing that changes everything?”

“There may be more to it,” Rachel said.

Chloe nodded. “Like, some kind of chain reaction.”

Warren’s words from ages ago drifted through Max’s mind. “The butterfly effect,” she breathed.

“Yeah,” Chloe agreed. Turning to Rachel, she said, “When you died, maybe that had to do with something else. And that something else was what caused the storm.”

“And if we can find whatever that thing is, we can figure out the storm,” Rachel said.

Maybe. They still didn’t know anything. Max pressed her arm over her eyes. The other two girls rustled around the room, finding papers and pencils to copy down everything they’d seen. Max stayed lying down. She trusted her memory to stay intact long enough for her to sleep a bit more. A few minutes later, she noticed Chloe and Rachel sitting down on the floor and leaning against her bed. Chloe, being the taller of the two, set her head all the way back till it was next to Max’s knee.

They still had so much to figure out. The storm and Rachel’s connection to it, Jefferson and Nathan, Frank, Kate . . . crap-baskets, and school. But for just a moment, Max needed to sleep. Maybe with Chloe and Rachel there, she’d be able to get some real rest.

 

When Chloe’s eyes slid open it was already dark. The other girls were still fast asleep, Max curled up on the edge of her bed—as if she needed to be as close to Chloe and Rachel as possible—and Rachel had her head slumped on the punk’s shoulder. A quick glance at her phone let her know it was almost eleven, and she had a missed call from her mom and a text asking will you be home tonight? She stuffed her phone back in her pocket, figuring she could worry about that later. For now, she wanted to cherish the tiny bit of peace she had. Who would have thought she’d have her two best friends back? Things weren’t perfect, but then when were they ever?

She was struck by the urge to kiss Rachel—not unsurprising—but also to kiss Max. That was new. And . . . weird. It was Max. Plus, Rachel was right there. And Chloe also wanted to kiss her. Ugh, her stupid fucking feelings. Of god damn course, on top of everything else, Chloe wanted two people. Two very different people.

Rachel was a hurricane that burst into her life and swept her off her feet. Her enthusiasm and confidence infected Chloe’s heart and mind, and when they were together Chloe felt unstoppable. And when things slowed down and Rachel’s energy faded, Chloe loved holding her and being her anchor.

Max was a sunny day that Chloe could bask and relax in. Being with her was being home. Chloe never felt lonely or anxious around her. And every so often when Max stood up for herself and fought back, Chloe could see a little bit of herself in the girl, and pride would fill her soul. Whenever she felt stressed or afraid, Max was her anchor.

When she was with Rachel, she ached for Max. When she was with Max, she ached for Rachel. And for those long months when she had neither, every moment was pain. She couldn’t imagine going the rest of her life without them. But did they feel the same way about her?

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes and letting out a heavy yawn, she tried to push the thoughts from her mind. She didn’t need anymore hella complicated bullshit.

Rachel began to stir next to her. She let out a gentle hmm and curled closer into Chloe’s side for a moment before sitting up and stretching out. “Well crap,” she said, looking outside. “Probably not going to be able to sleep tonight.”

Chloe rolled her shoulders back a few times, working out the stiffness in her joints. “Just smoke a quick joint and lie down. That always works for me.”

Her ex gave a low chuckle. “I smoked the other day,” she said. “If I do it in the dorms too much I’ll get caught.”

“You getting soft, Amber?” Chloe teased.

With a smirk and a quick elbow to Chloe’s arm—not too hard, just enough to make a point—Rachel said, “Some of us actually want to graduate.”

“They’ll never expel you,” she retorted. “You could kill someone and Wells’d still be trying to lick your feet.” As the words left her mouth, their plan to kill Jefferson flashed through her mind.

If Rachel was thinking the same thing, she didn’t show it, instead saying, “Ah, Jesus, don’t put that image in my head!” They snickered and kept joking for a few minutes, keeping their voices low. When things died down a little, Rachel twisted around to look at Max. “She’s really out, huh?” Chloe hummed in agreement. “I guess it makes sense,” Rachel continued. She reached up and brushed Max’s bangs out of her eyes. The girl stirred but didn’t wake. Chloe’s wide eyes locked in on the contact. What exactly was there between them? And how did she feel about it?

Rachel said, “She’s gone through so much shit.” She dropped her hand and looked down, a pained expression covering her face. “She’s still going through shit.”

Chloe took one of her hands, which had been resting on her crossed legs, and squeezed it. “We’ll keep her safe.”

Their fingers interlaced—Chloe’s heart skipped a beat—and Rachel said, “Yeah. Fuck Jefferson, fuck the storm, fuck weird monsters. You and me, we’ve got her.” They held each other’s gaze for an extended moment—and fuck, it was so hard not to look at Rachel’s lips—before Chloe broke and looked away. Rachel brought Chloe’s hand to her chest and clutched it with both of hers. “Max and I have you too, Chloe. We’re not letting you go ever again.”

Her heart ached and filled with warmth. She still loved Rachel so much. And she had her best friend back. Nothing could ever hurt with them around, no matter how confused she felt.

Time to get shit done.

 

Max woke up early in the morning to find Chloe and Rachel still there. No wonder she’d actually slept well. They greeted the budding Sunday morning together by sitting on the floor and going over the notes they’d made.

No matter how they looked at it, they couldn’t figure out the catalyst for all of Max’s visions. They were so infrequent and random that the girls couldn’t find a single unifying factor. But Rachel’s enthusiasm and Chloe’s determination kept Max from backing down from the wall. Instead, they tried to inspect it from a different angle.

Chloe told them about her cryptic dreams in the years following her father’s death, which only grew stranger when she met Rachel. They noted that the tornado had only been stopped—or at least postponed—when Rachel and Chloe were both alive. Or when they were both dead.

Max noticed the look on Chloe’s face as the girl said, “I’m going to get some water,” and disappeared for a moment. She looked that way every time they talked about either of their deaths. It was like she’d swallowed something foul and spoiled and was fighting to keep it down. Max couldn’t fault her for it. She probably wore the same face every time she thought about it. Hell, she probably looked worse, given the number of panic attacks she’d had at this point.

When Chloe came back, she and Rachel asked Max about when she’d rewound the day before and all the things that changed when she rewound. They pressed her for as many details as she could recount.

Did he say anything before lunging at Chloe? Max said, “He didn’t.”

What were each of the girls doing when it happened? “Rachel grabbed him and I . . . I froze up.”

How exactly did the weather change? “The wind started going crazy and there were so many clouds that everything got dark.”

More than anything, they tried to find any connection to the other weather events from before. Nothing like that had ever happened in Max’s previous timelines. In the midst of her describing it, inspiration seemed to strike Chloe, and she piped up about a fire Rachel had started a year and a half ago. When she was in the hospital, after Rachel had been stabbed—Max demanded a lot of clarification on that—Chloe had overheard some firefighters talking about how the fire magically stopped in its tracks.

They each picked out details from every story, until all of them reached the same point. Unless there was some outside force that they were unaware of—which they readily admitted there could be—Chloe and Rachel were somehow related to the weather phenomena.

The same conclusion Chloe came to before Max let her die.

She kept from voicing that thought. Her friends already knew about that. There was no need to bring up bad memories.

As the sun began to rise in the sky, Rachel leaned back on her elbows and said, “I think that’s about as far as we’re going to get for now, so we should probably spend some time thinking about our other problems.”

“Jefferson and Frank,” Max breathed, and Chloe nodded with her.

Rachel said, “We need to get dirt on Jefferson before he can hurt anyone else, and we need to pay back Frank before he goes all psycho on Chloe.” Her eyes turned dark and a devilish grin spread across her face. “I think I have a plan to do both.”

Her plan was dangerous. It was a huge risk. And it was going to need one hell of an alibi. Rachel would have to get Jefferson alone and keep him distracted. Meanwhile, Max and Chloe would break into his home—thoroughly abusing Max’s powers to do so—and look for any evidence to bring to the police, as well as money or valuable items they could fence to Frank to cover Chloe’s debt. But Max wasn’t worried about getting inside or rooting around. Her attention turned to the two biggest details: how they would cover their tracks, and how Rachel would stay safe.

Chloe came up with an alibi almost on the spot. She had a few friends in Max’s year, some students named Steph and Mikey, who she used to play DnD with. Steph was still a student at Blackwell, and although Mikey had transferred out of Blackwell due to family troubles, he still lived in the area. And Chloe said he owed her a favor.

Their story: Chloe would invite Max to a DnD session with her friends so she could learn to play. They’d also bring Warren along. Any extra “witnesses” would help their credibility. When the game began, Chloe and Max would slip out and head to Jefferson’s place, where they would get inside and find whatever they needed. In case anything went wrong, Max would take a picture before they left the game so that she could go back to that moment and stop everything before it happened. If everything went well, they’d leave with the evidence and as much money as they could find. And if Jefferson went to the police and pointed them in the girls’ direction, Warren, Steph, and Mikey would claim they were playing DnD the entire time.

That just left Rachel.

They couldn’t be sure that Jefferson wouldn’t hurt her, especially now that he might suspect them. And if for whatever reason Nathan showed up? Max’s stomach twisted and churned at the thought. There were too many ways that could turn south.

“I have to get him in a public place,” Rachel decided. “He can’t try anything if there’s a bunch of people around.”

“Okay, but how do you do that without tipping him off?” Max asked. “He has to know we’re onto him by now, so he’ll know if we’re trying to distract him.”

“But,” Rachel lifted a finger, “he has a soft spot for me.”

“He’s pretending to have a soft spot for you,” Max pointed out.

Rachel said, “And he’ll have to keep pretending as long as there are people around. Everybody knows he likes me. They think we’re sleeping together,” Chloe made a point to gag at that, “So if he starts giving me the cold shoulder out of nowhere, he’s the one who looks suspicious.” She sat up straight and looked at both girls. “We’re stuck trying to look normal to everyone, but so is he. Even if he knows what we’re doing, he can’t show it. It’s a war of attrition.”

Chloe leaned forward, frowning and fidgeting. “So how do we play this?” she asked.

Rachel gave the same malicious grin from before. “I approach him on a school day and ask for advice. You know, play on his older-man-bullshit-mentor-urges. And I make sure people notice me talking to him, that way he doesn’t try anything. I say all the stuff with Chloe and Kate and the general bullshit in my life is getting to me. If he doesn’t know we’re after him, he thinks I’m a stressed high school girl who needs an adult.”

“You are an adult,” Chloe muttered.

Rachel rolled her eyes and went on, “If he does know, he can’t do anything, and nobody around us suspects a thing.”

The fear in Max’s gut wouldn’t go away. “What if he tries to get you alone?”

“I don’t let him.”

Chloe laughed and said, “It’s like those stupid Stranger-Danger assemblies in elementary school,” she said. “You’re making sure he doesn’t take you to a ‘secondary location.’”

At that, Max let out a snort. Leave it to Chloe to lift her spirits in a shitty situation.

Rachel leaned over and took one of Max’s hands. “It’ll be okay, Max. I know how to handle him. And I know what to look out for this time.”

Blue eyes met hazel as they stared at each other for a few seconds. This was so dangerous. So much could go wrong. But something about Rachel’s equally gentle and firm look eased her worries. Max squeezed Rachel’s hand—noticing how the girl ran her thumb over it—and said, “Okay.”

Chapter Text

They decided to do it on a Tuesday. Chloe insisted that “Nobody ever does shady shit on Tuesdays. It’s the perfect cover!” Max wasn’t sure it worked that way but voiced no complaints. It was as good a day as any. The only downside was that she’d have to go through Jefferson’s class again on Monday. Rachel would be there with her, but seeing him was always a trial of courage, one that Max felt she kept failing.

Beyond their initial planning, they had a little more preparation to get through. First, they filled in Warren on everything. He would only play a small role in their scheme, but it was important that he played it well. Next, Chloe would not-so-subtly say in front of David that Rachel had a stalker following her around school. With any luck, his watch-dog instincts would kick in, and he’d trail her when she was around Jefferson in case anything went wrong. Chloe then recruited Steph and Mikey for an impromptu game of DnD, insisting that they had to do it during school hours. It might look suspicious if just Max and Warren skipped, but if a Steph joined in with Mikey, who would be skipping from an entirely different school, it would draw enough attention off their plot.

Chloe’s two friends were confused by the lack of information and the overall suddenness, but the favor Mikey owed her played to the girls’ advantage. Max wasn’t sure of the details, but Chloe said it had something to do with his brother and father. After that, she didn’t elaborate.

Monday took its toll. Max spent her time dreading the final class of the day. When she finally entered the room, the now-familiar ringing in her ears vibrated through her skull. Rachel kept close at all times. Even when they sat down, she pulled her chair in close so their arms and thighs could touch. She pushed away her frustrations with Rachel and leaned into her, grateful for the small comfort.

Max spent the class staring at her clenched fists. Jefferson seemed to have given up on calling on her at all. He must have thought it had something to do with their trip to San Francisco—Max pushed back the bile in her throat when she thought about it—and chose to avoid pushing her.

She was vaguely aware of Victoria’s occasional glances in her direction. Whether they were out of judgment, regret, or just confusion, Max wasn’t sure. But after months of anxiety over it, she’d just stopped caring. If Victoria wanted to become a better person, great. If she didn’t, she could go fuck herself. Either way, how she acted no longer mattered to Max.

That night, Chloe called her. “Hey,” Max said when she answered the phone.

“Hey.” Silence. That was okay. Even if neither of them spoke, Max felt connected to her. But Chloe decided to break the quiet, saying, “Are you thinking about tomorrow?”

“Hmm.” Chloe was worried about her. Chloe wanted to call her. A small bit of happiness eased its way between Max’s fear and anxiety. “Are you?” she asked.

“Yeah.” More silence. Wowser, this felt good. The only thing that could make it better would be if Chloe were in the room with her. “You’ll like Steph and Mikey. They’re super nerdy, but really cool.”

Max smiled. “Anybody who hangs out with you has to be cool.”

Chloe gave a nervous laugh. “Guess that makes you hella cool, dude.”

“Thanks.”

“Hey Max?”

“Yeah?”

Chloe paused, then said, “We got this.”

Max had her doubts but didn’t say anything.

 

Tuesday morning came, and Rachel gave Max a tight hug before splitting off to go to class. As the students of Blackwell piled into the school, she met Chloe in the parking lot. “Doing good?” the punk asked.

Max nodded and said, “Yeah. Let’s do this.”

“Hell yeah,” Chloe said with a confident grin that reminded her of Rachel.

The car ride to Steph’s house felt both long and short. Max couldn’t remember what they talked about, but she could remember the sound of Chloe’s voice. Confident and snarky, laughing without a care in the world, as if they weren’t about to commit a major crime. It drowned out her fear and worries over Jefferson, what he might do, what he’d already done. She’d spent the last day and a half stressing and hearing his voice pounding through her skull that this sudden quiet filled her with relief.

At some point, Chloe leaned up against the window, keeping one hand on the wheel as the morning sun lit up her face. Max was struck by the bright contrast of the image to the setting sun that had silhouetted her on the first day they reunited in the original timeline. With the hindsight of everything that had happened and the foresight of what could happen, Max made sure to memorize her features this time. The cheeky grin on her face, the glint in her eyes, how her hair peeked out of her beanie and sat on her face. To Chloe’s amusement and embarrassment, Max pulled out her camera and took a picture, wishing their trip could go on forever.

They parked outside a brick townhouse wedged in the middle of a complex. Warren had already arrived, and next to him stood two other kids, about Max’s age. There was a girl, a little bit tanner than Chloe with short brown hair and a playful smile, and a short black boy with glasses and a sheepish look about him. Chloe high-fived the boy and fist-bumped the girl.

“It’s been way too long, nerds!” she laughed.

The girl—Steph—rolled her eyes and said, “You’re the one who got kicked out of Blackwell. We never get to see you anymore.” She cocked her head, looking at Max and saying, “You’re Chloe’s friend, right?”

With a nod, she said, “I’m Max Caulfield. Nice to meet you.”

Steph crossed her arms and gave Chloe a sardonic look. “Isn’t this the same Max Caulfield you played DnD with as a kid? I thought we were supposed to be teaching her the rules.”

Chloe shrugged and said, “We never used any rules. We just did whatever the hell we wanted.”

“That’s how a lot of people start out,” Mikey said.

“I’ve also never played,” Warren piped up.

Steph led them inside, talking about how her parents were supposed to be at work all day so they shouldn’t catch them playing hooky. In the cramped dining room, she had laid out a DM kit and five sets of blank paper and dice. A pang of guilt ran through Max as she wondered how much time they must have spent planning everything out. And at the last minute too.

Chloe ended up breaking the news to them. “So, Max and I actually can’t stay,” she said with an apologetic look.

Steph froze, then spun around to look at them with a deep frown. Mikey’s shoulders dropped and he looked at the floor. “What the hell, Chloe?” Steph demanded.

“I swear, this is an emergency,” she said. “Someone drugged Kate Marsh at the party on Friday.”

“What?” Mikey gasped, just as Steph said, “Holy shit!”

Max spoke up, “We’re trying to catch whoever did it, but that means we, uh . . .”

“We’ve got to break a few laws,” Chloe finished for her. Steph and Mikey stared at them with dropped jaws. Max couldn’t blame them. She and Chloe did just drop a huge bombshell on them.

Warren cleared his throat. “But I can still play. I really do want to learn.”

“But,” this time it was Mikey’s turn to frown, “What was this all about? Why set up the game at all?”

“Well, uh . . .” Chloe lifted her hands and gave a careful smile. “You guys are kind of our alibi.”

Steph’s nose flared. “Nice, Chloe. Real nice,” she deadpanned. “Ugh! I can’t believe this!”

“We’re really sorry,” Max said. “We wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t important.”

There was a shift in the air as Steph froze, her eyes widening. “Wait, is this about Jefferson?” She looked at Max. “Didn’t she fucking scream you out over that?”

Her stomach churned. Chloe’s public outburst was still having consequences. “We can’t tell you too much,” Max said. “But we’re doing this for Kate. Will you help us? For her?”

Steph opened her mouth like she was about to snap at Max, but then stopped. She groaned and crossed her arms again. Mikey stepped over to her and touched her arm. “Hey, it’s Chloe,” he said. “She’s always had our backs.”

The two of them shared a look, and after a few heavy moments, Steph sighed. “Fine.”

Chloe placed her hands onto Steph’s shoulders and said, “Thank you. Seriously.”

Steph looked away, and Max noticed a slight blush on her cheeks. Huh, maybe everyone was a little in love with Chloe. “But you owe me one,” Steph said.

Chloe grinned and said, “I’ll let you smoke some of my weed.”

At that, Steph let out a snort and smiled back.

As Max and Chloe stepped outside, Max heard Warren’s voice, saying, “So, uh, how are you guys?”

The two girls stopped at Chloe’s truck. Max pulled out her camera and held it up for a selfie. Chloe threw herself onto Max’s side and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, laughing out, “Photobomb!”

Max rolled her eyes and said, “Photo-hog.” She looked into the lens and snapped the picture. They had their backup. And Rachel would be calling just before she walked in with Jefferson. She would have her phone on speaker, and Chloe would listen in with her side muted. If things went wrong, if they got caught or Rachel got hurt, Max would come back to this point and tell Chloe to cancel the plan.

 

This was bad. This was so bad.

Jefferson’s house was about a mile off the main roads, isolated within the forests outside of town. From the outside, it looked like a postmodern museum, with boxy sections connected by smooth curves. The house itself was made of bright concrete-like stone, that shined like silver in the sunlight. The doors were all made of dark gray wood with curved black handles. Security cameras hung to almost every corner. A large wall of windows exposed the living room, giving it a view of where the sun would rise over the trees every morning, and many of Jefferson’s most famous works decorated the pristine white walls.

And there were people walking around inside.

As soon as Max realized they could probably be seen by both the cameras and the people, she walked back to where the truck was hidden and rewound to when Chloe was closing her door and pulling out her phone to answer Rachel’s call.

“We have a problem,” Max said before explaining the defenses Jefferson had set up. “He must have known we’d try and get into his house, so he has people there to watch it for him.”

“Shit!” Chloe hissed. She answered the phone, hit mute. “How are we supposed to get in?”

Max’s hands curled into fists at her sides. It was a long shot, but she could only think of one thing. “We can use my powers to get in and avoid being seen,” she said. “Once we have what we need, we can come back here, and I’ll rewind to this point.” The problem lay in how far back she’d have to rewind. She’d never been able to go over a few minutes, and this could take hours. Would her powers work through that? Would her body handle the strain?

“But if you rewind, won’t you lose anything we find?” Chloe asked?

Shaking her head, she said, “If I’m touching something, my powers don’t affect it. I can take pictures and hold anything we find.”

“Anything you touch?” Chloe bit her lip and frowned. “Does that include people?”

Did it include people? “I’ve . . . I’ve never tried,” she said.

Chloe held out her hand. “Worth a shot.”

“I don’t know what it would do to you.” Going back in time might hurt Chloe in the same way it hurt Max. She could get headaches, nosebleeds, or worse. Taking back more than one person might sap too much of Max’s strength.

But Chloe’s determination pushed forward. “We won’t know until we try. Worst case scenario, you jump through the photo to Steph’s place and tell me not to do it.”

Max’s stomach twisted. Her fear remained, but Chloe had a point. She could do this. She could do this. She took Chloe’s hand and squeezed it tight. “Tell me if anything feels wrong,” she said, and Chloe nodded.

Max held up her right hand and rewound.

As the sound and air around her shifted and whirled, she kept her eyes fixed on the doors of the truck. If she timed it right, they’d closed them about a minute or two before rewinding. That should be right at the limit of what she could do. But as time went back, she couldn’t feel the familiar signs. Her vision didn’t go red, her head didn’t ache, and there was no urge to double over in pain. By the time the doors opened, she felt no different than she did when she started.

And Chloe hadn’t moved from her spot.

Max asked, “How do you feel? Do you remember what we were doing?”

Chloe clenched her hand tighter. “Holy shit,” she breathed. “Holy shit! Max, we went back in time!” She grabbed Max’s shoulders and grinned, a stream of giggles bursting from her chest. “That was incredible! You do that every day?”

It worked. It really worked. Chloe was okay. Max was okay. Actually, Max felt great. Rewinding didn’t take its toll this time. Somehow, Chloe had eased the burden. Maybe . . . maybe this could work

Hand in hand, they crept toward the house. Every thirty seconds or so, they’d rewind back, just to stay closer to their start time. They didn’t worry about the cameras, because all record of them would be erased once they were done. The bigger issue was the people in the house. Max would have a lot more trouble rewinding if she was being physically restrained. She remembered how difficult it was being tied up in the Dark Room. Flexing her hand had taken so much effort.

But at a certain point, they would have to be seen. Standing up close to the living room window, they could see two people. The first was a tall, thin woman with blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun, and with harsh eyes who was dressed in a very expensive-looking black dress pants and a white button-up shirt. The second was a big, burly man with a buzz cut. He wore similar pants and a teal shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms. If Max had to guess, she’d say they were some kind of security or bodyguards.

“What’s the plan, Max Attack?” Chloe whispered, eyeing the inhabitants. “We could probably break in through the window and rewind a couple times.”

They could do that, although that held a huge risk. But inspiration struck—her inner-Rachel Amber must have been shining through—and she led Chloe to the front door. The door-bell was connected to an intercom. Perfect. Max pressed the button.

A few moments later, a voice crackled out, “Who is this?”

Max glanced up at the camera watching them. “We’re students from Blackwell,” she said. “There’s a strange man following us, and we need help.”

The speaker was silent for a few moments, but then, “I’ll be right there.”

An electronic lock clicked, and the door swung open to reveal the bulking bodyguard. He said, “Come on in. I’ll call the police for you.”

The moment they were over the threshold, Max held up her hand and rewound about three minutes. More than enough time. The man reversed back out of the foyer and disappeared into another room—likely the living room.

Chloe gave a low chuckle and said, “You’re a genius, Max.”

A smile broke through her anxiety, and she said, “Occasionally.” She looked at the clock on her phone. They were five minutes past their start time. Max could rewind a little further here, but there was no way of knowing if anybody passed through this area. “Come on. Let’s find a closet or something.”

Chloe snickered, and Max could tell she was holding back a joke. They moved through the house, taking in the high ceilings and the smell of some fragrant wood. In addition to Jefferson’s art, there were abstract sculptures and glass awards, as well as magazines with his face or one of his photos on the cover. He sure was full of himself.

A heavy growl snatched her attention. Down the hall, a large, muscular rottweiler stared them down. It’s black and orange fur bristled, and the snarl on its face revealed long, yellow teeth that were begging to sink into an intruder’s flesh. In another room, one of the bodyguards called out, “Something wrong, boy?”

Before they could blink, the dog began barking and charged at them. “Run!” Chloe yelled, grabbing Max’s hand and pulling her through the house. They slipped into another room with another bodyguard right there. He lunged at them and grabbed Max’s right wrist, but she managed to flex and rewind till he was far enough away for them to keep moving.

They pulled out of the room, but the dog rounded a corner and stopped them in their tracks. It leaped forward, but before it could grab either of them, Max shoved Chloe out of the way and lifted up her hand to rewind again. She pushed time back until the dog was out of the room, and Chloe was several feet behind her.

“Max?” Chloe said in surprise.

Max turned around and ran back into the room with the bodyguard, grabbing Chloe’s hand along the way. The man went for them again, but the time traveler rewound at the last minute. As she let time start up again, he yelled out, “What the hell?” From his perspective, it must have looked like they were teleporting across the room.

She pulled Chloe back into the foyer and ran to where the dog had originally been. They passed a staircase and—

A closet! They slipped inside and Max pulled them all the way back to their start time.

The world grew quiet again. Both girls labored to keep their gasps and panting as silent as possible. Once they were sure there was no one around they stepped back out. “Okay,” Max whispered. “I’ll keep us rewound so it doesn’t find us again.” Chloe nodded. Then Max said, “Jefferson has to have an office or something. Let’s focus on that, then the bedroom.”

“Got it,” Chloe said. As they made their way through, trying to stay out of the dog’s path, they caught sight of two more security guards. Max’s powers helped them slip past each time, until they found themselves standing before a set of glass French doors that led into a wide room with another window-wall and a smooth metal desk. Max pulled them inside and rewound again for good measure.

The closed and locked the door so the dog wouldn’t be able to smell them. “Look at everything,” Max said, forcing her nerves down and trying to calm her speeding heart. “If you see any red binders or weird photos, let me know.”

They pored over the entire office. Between the two of them, they were able to flip through every book on his shelves, search through the files and email on his desktop, even pry open the locked drawer on his desk—thanks to Chloe’s lockpicking and especially Max’s powers. But there was nothing. The books were just books, his computer had no incriminating evidence, and the drawer was filled with student files, not unlike the ones Max had seen at Blackwell.

Then, they decided to look behind the pictures on the wall. Lo and behold, he’d installed a safe. It had a numbered keypad sticking out of the door and a heavy metal handle, and Max didn’t want to think about how many combinations there were. And unlike the lock at the Dark Room, there was no sign of wear or damage to the keys. They wouldn’t be able to guess.

“How do we get in?” Max asked.

Chloe placed a hand on her chin. “I could do it if I had a crowbar,” she said. “But it’d make a shit-ton of noise.”

Max shook her head. “We can’t risk it. There has to be another way.”

“Maybe Warren will know,” she suggested.

Max took a picture of the safe and set her phone onto the desk while Chloe kept watch on the door.

Max: we have a problem.

She sent the picture.

Warren: yeah that looks pretty bad.

Max: any thoughts Science-Lord?

Warren: can you get it out of the wall? i know a trick that might work.

“Chloe,” she said, “Do you think we can get the safe out of the wall?”

With a hmm, the girl walked toward the safe. She stuck her fingers in the crevices and pulled a few times, before shaking her head. “No dice. This thing’s bolted in.”

Damn.

Max: we cant get it out

Warren: no worries, i have a few other ideas.

Warren: can you pull the keypad off?

They gave it a try.

Max: nope

Warren: okay gimme a minute

Max checked the time again. They were ten minutes past their start point. It was only going to get harder and harder to go back. After another few moments, Warren texted them again.

Warren: if you had a really strong magnet that would do the trick

Max: where would we get that?

Warren: there are some in electronic door locks and some cars

“The door,” Max said. “We might be able to get a magnet from the door.”

Chloe turned to her and frowned. “We have to break a lock to get into another lock?”

“If we do it from inside the house it might work,” she said. “We can probably find a hammer to do it in the garage.”

With a sigh, the punk replied, “If you say so.”

Max took her hand again and rewound until the entire conversation with Warren was erased. Then, she pocketed her phone, and they made their way to the garage. And of course, the rottweiler was lying down at the door. Shit, what were they supposed to do?

Chloe murmured in her ear, “Get us back to the office. I’ve got an idea.” Once inside, she scooped up a heavy glass trophy from the desk. They snuck back into the hallway, and Chloe hurled it across the corridor. It shattered against the wall of the staircase, and right away the dog started barking. “Let’s go!” she said, pulling Max into the garage.

They grabbed a heavy, metal mallet, rewound to right when the trophy shattered, and rushed out.

It took a few more rewinds before they were able to get back to the front door with the dog back near the garage, sleeping through it all. Max raised the mallet high above her head, then brought it down on the door handle with all her strength. The entire handle popped off—and a chunk of the door came off too—and the security in the house immediately started yelling. Max scooped up the contents of the handle in one hand and rewound before they could reach her and Chloe.

“Does it have the magnet?” her friend asked.

“Hang on.” Max placed the pieces on the ground and rifled through them. There was a thick, circular metal piece among them, and when she placed her phone near it, they snapped together. A quick rewind saved the device from being destroyed, and Max picked up the piece and set time back to when the door was still intact. “Let’s go,” she said to Chloe.

Back in the office, Max pressed the magnet up against the keypad and moved it in a circle a few times. The panel flashed red twice, then let out a loud click. She bit her lip and moved to turn the handle—and it was open!

“Hell yeah,” Chloe said with a grin. “You are officially Hacker-Max.”

“You can thank Warren for a lot of that,” she said.

Inside the safe were several tax documents and Jefferson’s social security card. Chloe rifled through those and blanched at how much he’d made in the last several years. Max didn’t even want to know. They also found a rather fat stack of hundred-dollar bills. Chloe snatched it up and counted, before choking out, “There’s almost seven grand here!”

Wowsers. “You can pay off Frank!” Max said.

“And then some!” With a nod, Max had Chloe hand over the money so she could put it in her messenger bag in case they couldn’t rewind together.

There was no evidence of any implicating photographs or drugs, so Max took Chloe’s hand again and rewound till the safe was fixed and the picture covering it was back in place. She glanced at her phone. Six minutes past their start point. With Chloe’s help, that would be manageable.

Hopefully.

“Okay, let’s find his room now.”

 

Chloe had refrained from saying anything about it, but something strange happened every time she rewound with Max. As the world whirled around her and she felt the air on her skin shift back, out in the distance she could hear voices. Well, one voice. Her own. But she was saying things that Chloe couldn’t remember saying.

Welcome home, Max.

I miss her, Max.

That’s okay—we will. Forever.

I double dare you. Kiss me now.

Max had never mentioned hearing voices when she rewound. Maybe she could, and she’d just grown so used to it that she didn’t notice it anymore, although Chloe doubted that was the case. The voice was hers, it was unmistakable. But when had she ever said those things? Was she peeking into another timeline? Whatever was happening, it was hella crazy.

Considering everything that was happening, she didn’t have time to ask Max about it. After this was over, she’d bring it up, but for now, she needed to focus.

They found the bedroom one story up—after having to run past the dog again. Once inside, Chloe couldn’t help but stare. She would have sworn that this single room was the size of the entire second level of her house. Without thinking, she sat down on the king-sized bed, running her hand over the fine comforter, her shoes sinking into the throw rug. Like the rest of the house, the room had a minimalist design. There was a single photograph opposite the bed, with two wide windows on either side of it. Next to the bed was a small nightstand with a pot of white and orange lilies, and next to that was a mini-fridge filled to the brim with water bottles. On the other side of the bed were an ebony dresser and a matching bookshelf with thick shelves and an entire row of antique books, a stark contrast to the white walls and bed. Besides that, the room was relatively empty.

Chloe couldn’t imagine how someone could enjoy living with so little. Hell, this wasn’t a little. This was a lot pretending to be a little for a shitty aesthetic. This bastard had probably never known what it was like to be hungry.

So far, Rachel’s conversation with Jefferson hadn’t hit any bumps. Although to be fair, they’d only been talking for about four minutes in real-time. Chloe had heard the same few sentences so many times she could recite them from memory.

Jefferson would say, “Rachel? What can I do for you?”

Then Rachel would say, “Can we talk? I just—so much has happened. I need to get it off my chest.” She sounded so nervous, so unsure of herself. Damn she was a good actress.

There would be a few seconds of rustling around, and Chloe could hear a steady tapping. Jefferson must have been patting a spot for Rachel to sit. he said in his bullshit gentle voice.

Rachel would spend about two minutes ranting about the past few days. She talked about Kate, Max, the party, her reconciliation with Chloe—she added a bit where she was still struggling to trust Chloe, which kind of cut deep. So far, nothing really notable had happened.

“I don’t see where he could hide anything,” Max said, calling Chloe back to reality. She shook off her dazed thoughts and helped Max check behind the painting, under the bed, behind the dresser. But there was no sign of any other safes or hiding spots. Chloe could see her friend growing frustrated. “I—I don’t understand! He has to have something! He wouldn’t have gotten rid of it!”

Chloe continued to absentmindedly run her hand over the bed as Rachel and Jefferson talked in her ear. “Maybe he has it in a storage shed or something.”

Max shook her head and said, “No. He would have wanted to keep it close. If he can’t use the Dark Room it has to be here.”

“Okay,” Chloe said, trying to come up with something. “We could check the other rooms. Or we could go back to the garage and look there.”

The bed sank as Max sat down next to her. “What if he thought of all this?” she asked. “What if he knew we’d try and look here, so he hid them where we could never find them?” Her shoulders slumped and she stared at her hands.

Crap, this was really getting to her. Chloe could see Max’s eyes starting to glaze over. She had to do something. A spark of courage took her, and she reached out for Max’s hand. “Hey,” she said, trying to get her friend to look at her. “Max, we’ll figure this out, okay? Maybe Jeffershit planned for us to break in, but there’s no way he could plan for fucking time travel. We’re already one step ahead.”

Max squeezed her hand like a lifeline.

Rachel and Jefferson reached a point that Chloe hadn’t heard before. “I’m just so tired,” Rachel said.

“Hey,” Jefferson said, and Chloe heard more rustling. “It’s going to be okay. I know you’ve gone through so much, but you’re handling it so well.”

Rachel sniffed. She was probably working some serious tears. Her devious ability to cry on command to manipulate others kind of impressed Chloe. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course, Rachel.”

“I’m really worried about Max. She keeps spacing out, and I think something’s really bothering her. But whenever I ask, she just shuts down.”

There was a beat of silence, then Jefferson said, “I’ve been noticing that too.”

“I feel like a terrible friend. Like, I should know what’s going on with her.”

Chloe heard the sound of a creaking chair. “Well, I feel like a terrible teacher. She’s been dealing with an incredible amount of stress this semester.” He quickly clarified, “You all have. But I haven’t been able to get through to her.” He paused again, then asked, “If she says something to you, would you tell me?”

Rachel let out a shaking sigh, and Chloe could imagine her gazing at him with glassy eyes and nodding. “Of course. You know I’d tell you anything.”

Woah, what the hell did that mean? Chloe’s mind went blank as the two of them went back to venting and talking about nonsense. She’d tell him anything? Since when did they have that kind of relationship?

No, now wasn’t the time to doubt Rachel. Jefferson was a father figure, or something similar. It made sense after all the bullshit with her real dad. That was why she said something like that. It had to be.

Chloe’s thoughts raced as she looked over the room, looking for a distraction from that conversation and a solution to her and Max’s problem. Something had to be off. A seam in the wall, a door under the rug, something behind the nightstand. Her eyes fell on the bookshelf . . .

They’d already flipped through the books and found nothing, but something about the actual piece of furniture was drawing Chloe’s eye.

The shelves.

They looked thick. Really thick.

“Hang on,” she said to Max before standing up and walking to the shelves. She ran her fingers over the smooth wooden edges, both on top and underneath, until they hit a bump. There was a thin latch in the center that she couldn’t even see. Chloe tugged at it, and a drawer popped open. “Boo yeah!” she cheered, making sure to keep her voice quiet.

Max jumped off the bed and ran over. “Chloe you’re amazing!” she said. At that, Chloe blushed.

Inside the drawer was a set of four binders. Max scooped them out and set them on the floor while Chloe checked the other shelves. There was a total of three hidden drawers with four binders each. The binders had the names of different women on each of them. Inside were various monochrome photos of the women with notes scrawled on separate pages. In eight of the binders, the models looked totally conscious, all of them giving the camera the same pouty gaze. Jefferson had notes of frustration about their inability to emote.

In the other four binders, the women were all asleep or about to pass out. Jefferson’s notes were far more disturbing.

I tried having Ashley sleep on a couch I set up in the studio. Results were better, but she still has resting-bitch-face, even in her sleep. Still, I should play with my options here.

Tira didn’t notice the melatonin I slipped in her drink. She was out of it after about thirty minutes. This is definitely a step up, but I’m still not sure how happy I am with her.

Lily has given me some major progress. It took a little experimentation, but I’ve discovered that GHB keeps her asleep no matter how I move her. I was able to pose her how I wanted without worrying over waking her. But something is still missing. I just can’t figure out what.

Inspiration has finally struck. I’ve seen the light, and her name is Carol-Ann. I finally have a model with the perfect features for my work. She has such an innocence to her, I almost feel bad. I wonder how she’d react if I woke her up.

Chloe’s stomach churned. He was drugging his models. They had proof that he was drugging his models.

Next to her, Max was shaking. Chloe placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?” she asked. The memory of what Rachel told her flashed through her mind. If they were right, this was what Jefferson did to Max. What he did to Rachel. All this time, Max had refrained from giving all the details about the girl’s death, but that only left Chloe’s imagination running wild. Every worst-case scenario went through her head, over and over, every single day. This is what he did to innocent girls. This was why he had to die.

Max cleared her throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s take these and get out of here.”

“Right.”

Through her earbud, she heard music. Someone’s phone was ringing. Jefferson cleared his throat and said, “I’m so sorry, Rachel. I have to take this.” A few footsteps, then, “Hi, give me one second. Look, I’m not alone, and I’d rather not go over about sensitive matters in front of other people.” Whatever he was talking about, it didn’t have anything to do with Rachel or Max. Chloe returned her focus to what they were doing.

Before they gathered up the binders, Max took out her polaroid camera and snapped a few photos, just for good measure. Chloe heard her say under her breath, “Always take the shot.” Then, she took Chloe’s hand and rewound.

Like before, the world twisted around them as time moved back. Chloe watched in awe as the binders on the ground seemed to float back up into the drawers, which then clicked themselves shut. And like all the other times, her own voice echoed through the back of her head.

Get in, Max!

Or did you just rewind because I tried to steal the chair?

Why, look! An otter in my water!

Then she wasn’t much of a friend, huh?

Seeing you after all of these years feels like—

Time started up again.

Jefferson and Rachel’s conversation resumed from a previous point, and Max said, “Let’s go.”

Chloe nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

They tip-toed downstairs, intending to make a beeline for the door—

A familiar growl emanated from the bottom of the steps. The rottweiler was waiting for them.

Shit! Had it smelled them? Chloe thought they’d covered all their bases and rewound far enough.

“Something wrong, boy?” the bodyguard in the living-room called.

Max lifted her hand to rewind again, but it was too late! The dog sprung towards them, towards Max. Chloe pushed her out of the way and threw her arm up out of instinct. A hot, stabbing pain shot up from the tips of her fingers all the way to her shoulder as the beast clamped down on her forearm and began to shake its head back and forth. Chloe let out a scream and began punching and kicking. She lost her footing on the stairs and fell backwards. The dog kept a firm grip on her, and the resulting tuck let its teeth tear deeper into her skin.

Out of the corner of her eye, Max lifted her hand.

 

A familiar growl emanated from the bottom of the steps. The rottweiler was waiting for them.

Shit! Had it smelled them? Chloe thought they’d covered all their bases and rewound far enough.

“Something wrong, boy?” the bodyguard in the living-room called.

Chloe realized that Max was several steps in front of her. Had she rewound?

“Chloe, jump!” her friend cried before vaulting over the handrail. Chloe followed suit, praying that the ten-foot drop didn’t do too much damage.

When she hit the ground, she felt a shocking pressure in her knees, but no pain. Adrenaline was a hell of a thing. The two of them shoved their way through the door and sprinted outside. Chloe heard furious shouts and more barking behind them. The rottweiler was practically on their heels when they reached the truck, but it was too late. The girls practically rammed into the car, and Max snatched up Chloe’s hand before lifting hers to rewind once more.

This time, they went back much further. Chloe knew she was trying to get them back to the point where they started. She didn’t mind at all. It gave her more time to get her bearings and listen to the Chloe from another timeline.

I miss her, Max.

Rachel straight up lied to my face!

What kind of world does this? Who does this?

Welcome home, Max.

As long as you’re my partner in time.

Chloe’s head began to ache. Her vision grew red, and the voice grew louder. They began repeating, Welcome home, Max.

Welcome home, Max.

Welcome home, Max.

The doors of the truck swung open, and Max dropped her arm.

Both of them collapsed on the ground. Chloe felt her phone buzz as Rachel started the call, but she was too tired to answer. She looked at Max, trying to make sure she was okay. Her friend’s eyes were bloodshot, and her nose was straight-up bleeding. Like, all over her face.

“Max,” she panted, “You . . .” She couldn’t get the words out. Her voice felt too weak. Chloe touched her own nose to try and explain. But when she brought her hand back, she realized that her fingers were bloody. Holy shit.

“Chloe,” Max breathed, reaching her hand out. Chloe grabbed it without a second thought.

“I . . . I got you . . . Max, I’m . . . I’m here.”

Max’s eyes rolled back, and Chloe fought to stay conscious. They had to get out of there before someone found them. The world spun as she pushed herself to her feet, and she had to lean on the truck for a few minutes to keep from falling over. Her muscles shook and the joints in her knees ached as the shock of everything finally hit her. Her body was going to be hurting for a while.

As soon as she could, she pulled Max up and maneuvered her into the vehicle. After that, she gave it another moment before doing anything else. Her world was still spinning, and this would all be for nothing if they just crashed into a tree on their way back.

It felt like for-fucking-ever, but once Chloe could see straight, she started the car and got them the hell out of there.

Chapter Text

Max and Chloe had to sneak back onto campus so that no one saw their bloodstained faces. Rachel came to greet them only to be horrified at their state. She smuggled them into the bathroom and helped them wash off, and they filled each other in on everything that had happened. When Chloe hadn’t answered her phone call, she aborted the plan to talk to Jefferson. Which was fine. There wouldn’t be any proof that they’d broken into his house, so there was no need to distract him. And they had the evidence they needed.

When they told Rachel about how they’d gone back in time together, shock overtook her. “Did you know you could do that?” she asked Max, who shook her head. “Can . . . can you try it again?” Rachel had an eagerness to her voice and a glint in her eye.

“Not yet,” Max said. “I kinda overdid it, and I need to rest for a little while.” She hadn’t pushed her powers this far since she saved Kate from jumping off the building, and she had a sneaking suspicion that if she tried anything, she’d pass out again.

But she didn’t miss the look of disappointment and irritation on Rachel’s face. Was she jealous? Jealous of what? Of Chloe?

Wowser, okay, Max didn’t have time to think about that development.

Once they were all cleaned up, Max, Chloe, and Rachel called Warren in, and they all sat on the floor of Rachel’s room looking over the binders. Well, Chloe, Rachel, and Warren were looking over them. Max sat slightly apart and avoided the sight of the photographs. There was no point for her to see them. In fact, why were any of them looking? It was a waste of time. They had what they needed. All that was left was to go to the police.

So what was stopping them?

“This is just . . . oh my god,” Warren breathed, interrupting her thoughts. “Why would anybody do this?” It had finally hit him. He’d known it was true after what happened to Kate, but some part of him hadn’t accepted it beyond the cognitive level. Now it was real. Now he had to face it.

“He’s a psychopath,” Max said, her gaze fixed on the weaning sunlight in the window. She tried to push away her memories of the Dark Room, the sound of a fluttering camera, the harsh white and red lights.

Chloe crossed her legs and rested her weight back on her arms. “There’s something I don’t get. He says he’s using GBH, but that’s something you slip in somebody’s drink. I’ve never heard of using it with a syringe.”

“I’m sure it’s possible,” Rachel said. “And it does make sense with a lot of Kate’s symptoms.”

Warren scratched the back of this head. “So, should we, uh, should we tell the hospital?”

“We could also ask Frank about it,” Chloe said. “You know, after I pay him off.” Max’s stomach churned at the mention of the man, and she couldn’t help but think of Rachel’s affair with him.

“Speaking of which, we should probably take care of that before going to the police,” Rachel said.

This was getting frustrating. Max stood up and glared down at the three of them. “Why?” she demanded. “Why can’t we do both? We have everything we need to lock Jefferson up. Why can’t we do that now before he hurts anybody else?” They had what they needed, so why were they waiting? Max just wanted to get it over with. She wanted to never see Jefferson’s face again.

Warren shrank under her gaze. Chloe clenched her jaw. But Rachel appeared unfazed.

“Well, I don’t see why we can’t,” Warren said. “This was the goal all along.”

Chloe shifted her weight and looked away. Rachel stared Max dead in the eye and said, “What are we supposed to tell the cops, Max? We broke into his house and stole these. They’re going to think we’re making everything up.”

“But—”

“And if they don’t,” Rachel went on, “they’re not going to be able to do anything about it. Not without a warrant.” A warrant? Oh god she was right. They couldn’t make their move yet.

No. No, they couldn’t have done all that for nothing. “I-if you knew about that then why did we do any of this in the first place?” she demanded.

Rachel stood up so she was level with Max. “We have proof. We might not be able to take it to the police right now, but we can plant it somewhere once we know how to get their attention. Frank might know how to do that. And we still have to take care of Nathan, in case they’re working together.”

It made sense. If she was being honest with herself, Max should have thought of all this before. But it still hurt. She had thought they were close to being done. She’d gotten so eager to be done with everything, to not have a serial killer watching their every move. She wanted so badly to have justice against him and Nathan. And now she had to deal with them even longer. The tips of her fingers and toes started to go numb, and a familiar ringing echoed through her skull.

“I . . . I need a minute,” she said before trudging out the door.

Behind her, she heard both Rachel and Chloe call out, “Max!” but she ignored them.

Did she need to lie down, or did she need to throw up? Her dizziness told her to find a bed, but her nausea told her to head to the bathroom. But someone could bother her in the bathroom, and she didn’t feel like making up an excuse for throwing up again. Max decided she could just clean up any mess she made and pushed open the door to her room. She closed and locked it behind her, then turned off the ringer on her phone. The others would be worried about her, but she couldn’t face anyone. When they came and knocked on her door, she put her headphones in and turned the volume up. She just needed to have her panic attack in peace.

Time passed outside of her awareness. She knew the sun had gone down, but she didn’t bother to see how long she’d laid there. It could have been a few minutes, or it could have been a few hours. Her understanding of time was so warped at this point. It didn’t matter, because she felt the same dread the entire time.

In the end, she didn’t throw up. After the ringing in her ears finally went away and the room was no longer spinning, she checked her phone. There were two missed calls from Rachel, three from Chloe, one from Warren, and fourteen total texts from all of them. She skimmed them. They mostly said the same thing, that they were worried about her and wanted to talk things over. The last text from Chloe caught her eye.

Chloe: im right outside if you need me

She pushed off the bed and peeked out the door. Chloe was sitting against the wall with her hands resting on her knees and her beanie pulled over her eyes. Max was surprised she hadn’t stayed in Rachel’s room. And she was a little touched.

Her friend perked up at the sound of the door opening and pushed up her hat so she could see. “Hey,” she said in a soft voice that reminded Max of the time they were lounging in bed together. Every great artist gets rejected before they get accepted, Chloe’s words echoed in her ears. In every timeline, she was always trying to lift Max up.

“Hey,” she said back. “Wanna come in?”

Chloe nodded, but then froze and said, “Only if you’re okay with it.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”

Once inside, they both sat down on the bed. Max kept her hands in her lap, fiddling with her fingers, while Chloe grasped the edges of her sheets. Max wanted so badly to take her hand and hold on tight, but it wasn’t her place. Chloe wasn’t hers. Not in this timeline.

Chloe cleared her throat. “So, do you, uh, do you want to talk about it?”

God no. Max shook her head.

“Okay. Do you want to talk about anything, or just chill?”

Wowser, everything Chloe said made Max love her even more. “We can talk,” she said. “Just . . . not about that.”

“Right, no problem.” Chloe clenched and unclenched the sheets. She cocked her head and grinned. “So, once everything’s taken care of, we need to do something. Take a week off and just fuck around.”

That brought a smile to Max’s face. “We could go to Portland,” she said, remembering their conversation in Wells’s office.

“Oh, hell yeah!” Chloe laughed. “We’ll stock up on tats, beer, weed, and donuts!”

“And books from Powell’s,” Max hummed.

“And strip clubs . . . kidding! But you never know.”

She never would have guessed that they would repeat what they said word for word. Max loved that she could do it again. “What kind of tattoo should I get?”

Chloe propped her feet up so her legs hung straight off the bed. “Maybe a clock, with the hands moving backwards?”

“Or a butterfly,” she suggested. “For the butterfly effect.”

“That’s pretty good!”

Too bad she didn’t have the butterfly photo from the bathroom. But she could probably draw it from memory.

“You could do my face,” Chloe said with a shit-eating grin. “Have me with a little speech-bubble saying ‘fuck.’”

Max snorted. “As long as it’s not photo-realistic. Those are always super-creepy.”

“Ah, you don’t want to stare into my eyes every day?”

Max would love that, but it hit a little too close to home. She wracked her brain for a way to avoid answering. “I think I’ll stick with the butterfly.”

Chloe’s hand flew to her chest, pretending to grip a wound. “Max,” she gasped. “I’m hurt! How could you do this to me?”

Max forced herself to roll her eyes, her chest still feeling raw at Chloe’s off-hand joke. Revealing how she felt in the middle of everything would only lead to disaster. They had enough to deal with, and with Rachel around there was no way Chloe felt the same way. Better not to rock the boat.

Chloe stared straight ahead, her fingers fiddling with the sheets again. “What if we all got matching tattoos? You, me, and Rachel?” Did she sound nervous? It made Max nervous. She mulled the idea over. Something all three of them could share. Something showing their bond. Something to remind her of Chloe and Rachel for the rest of her life—not that she’d ever need reminding. This whole ordeal . . . it was about them. And getting a physical reminder of their connection? Max could see the appeal.

But.

First they had to deal with their baggage. It wouldn’t feel right to do something like that with so many lies in the air or with so much danger on the horizon.

Still. “That would be nice,” Max said. The beaming smile that grew on Chloe’s face brought a little bit of hope to her heart. She had no idea how they could win against Jefferson or stop a supernatural tornado, but imagining life after with Chloe and Rachel made her feel a little better.

“Then we could think about getting out of here,” Chloe said. “Rachel and I wanted to go to California. You could totally come with us.”

Max pressed her lips together. A connection was one thing. Being near the two of them was one thing. But watching them love each other from the sidelines? “I don’t know, I’d feel like a third wheel.”

“Max,” Chloe nudged her with her elbow, “You’re not—we’re all better together. And I,” she paused and bit her lip. “You’re my first mate. I’ll always need you.”

Her heart ached. Chloe wanted her around. Chloe needed her around. Even if they couldn’t be together, maybe . . . maybe that would be enough. Max grasped at a little bit of courage and leaned closer till their arms were touching, then she rested her head on Chloe’s shoulder. “I missed you so much,” she said.

Chloe shifted and wrapped her arm around Max’s waist. “Yeah. Me too.”

Max wanted to say more. You were dead. I let you die. I abandoned you again. But what if Chloe hated her for it? It was selfish. It was awful. Max hated that she was still so weak.

Instead, she said, “I’m so glad you’re my partner in crime.”

“As long as you’re my partner in time.” Max didn’t groan like she did in the old timeline. “Does this make Rachel our mastermind?” Chloe asked, wiggling her eyebrows at how it almost rhymed.

Max ignored the twinge of guilt at the thought of Rachel and all the lies she’d told. The lies Max was telling with her. “Can’t I be the mastermind? I’m the one who pulled us all together.”

“You’re the idea guy. Rachel’s the planner.”

“Okay, and what does that make you?”

She could practically feel Chloe’s grin. “I’m the muscle.”

Max let out a snort. “You’re like a twig.”

“Yeah, but I also have that gun from Nathan’s room. I won’t let anyone fuck with us.”

“I just hope you don’t have to use it.”

Chloe gave her a gentle squeeze. “I won’t,” she promised. “Not unless it’s an emergency.”

“Seriously, Chloe. Not unless it’s life and death.” Max remembered all their mishaps in the last timeline. Chloe shooting herself in the junkyard, killing Frank and Pompidou before Max could rewind. Even if Max had fixed it with her powers, in some timeline it did happen. She didn’t want her friend to hurt herself or do something she’d regret forever. Max knew what it was like to have someone’s blood on her hands. Letting her love die assured it. She didn’t want Chloe to go through that.

“Okay. Not unless it’s life and death. Besides, we still have your superpowers.”

Max nodded as best as she could with her head on Chloe’s shoulder. “Right.” She didn’t want to talk about guns or her powers. They reminded her too much about the horrors she had to face. Time to change the subject. “When were you and Rachel planning on leaving?”

Chloe took a deep breath and straightened her back. “We were shooting for last summer, after she graduated. We were going to take Frank’s money and skip town before he could do anything. Just cut ties with everyone and everything. Then . . . we had that big fight. And Wells got her to sign up for that fifth-year program at Blackhell. After that,” she shrugged, bumping Max’s ear, “I didn’t really know what to do. There wasn’t any reason for me to leave anymore.”

Max hummed. “What about now?”

“Now? I guess next summer is the best bet. You and Rach can finish school. I know she was looking at Berkeley, so we’d probably go there.” Berkeley would be a hard school to get into, but then Blackwell had a good reputation. And Rachel had one of the best records in the school. A 4.0 GPA, the darling of all the teachers, and a ridiculous amount of recommendations? Max had no doubt she’d make it.

“I bet there are a bunch of photography jobs there,” Max said. “I could save up some money and find a good community college while I do freelance shooting on the side.”

“You’d kick ass. All your photos are amazing.”

Another smile stretched across Max’s face. “I’m starting to believe it.”

Chloe let out a short laugh and said, “Rachel and I could be your models. I’d be the hardcore, edgy badass, and she’d be the beautiful babe that wins people over. Then,” Chloe poked her finger at Max’s forehead, “you could be the mastermind. But only for pictures and stuff.”

“Would you get a job?” Max asked.

Her friend let out a groan. “Yeah, I guess. I’m good with cars. Or I could find a good dealer and work for them.”

“Just don’t get arrested.”

“But then you guys could break me out of jail! It’d be hella cool!”

Oh dear god, Max didn’t want to break any laws ever again. “Ugh, Chloe, I’m trying to be responsible,” she said, stretching out Chloe’s name.

“Fine. You be the responsible one, and I’ll be the fun one.”

“Rachel’s going to want to be the fun one too,” Max retorted. “I can’t be responsible enough for both of you.”

Chloe looked at the ceiling for a moment. “Okay, how about you be responsible for me, I be responsible for Rache, and then both of us help you break out of your shell?”

Max flopped backwards onto her bed. “How are you supposed to keep Rachel down?”

“What do you think I’ve been doing for the past two years?”

Max lifted an eyebrow. “Enabling each other.”

“Damn, Max! You’re coming out guns blazing tonight.” Chloe laid down next to her. “But we did get you to smoke weed, so we’re kind of enabling you too.”

“That’s . . . a decent point.”

Chloe went on, “Next time you need to do it when you’re not freaking out. Really get the full experience.”

Max closed her eyes and smiled. “Okay. Next time.”

For a few long minutes, neither of them spoke. Max reveled in the feeling of Chloe’s body next to hers, the slight smell of pot and cigarettes—normally she’d hate those scents, but as she gradually began to associate them with Chloe, she’d started to enjoy them. For whatever reason, she started thinking of Rachel and how she smelled, despite her efforts not to. She had no idea what Rachel used, but there was some kind of fruit and spice to it. It was practically the opposite of Chloe. The punk smelled like youth, rebellion, and storms. The actress was maturity, cleverness, and sun. And they were both equally comforting.

Chloe began bouncing her knee, drawing Max out of her thoughts. “So, I’ve got a question. About time travel.”

That didn’t surprise Max. The first few times she’d used her powers, she’d had a lot of questions. She still had a lot of questions. “Go ahead.”

“When you rewind, do you ever hear voices?”

Oh. That was new. “No, I—did you hear voices?”

Chloe nodded. “I mean, it was just my voice. But I was saying stuff I don’t remember.”

Max’s mind played through all the possible things Chloe could have heard. “Like what?”

“Welcome home, something about a chair, an ‘otter in my water,’ stuff like that.”

Her heart clenched. That . . . those were things she’d said back in the original timeline. Chloe was . . . was she . . . did Max have a link to the Chloe that had loved her? Why was it happening? To be honest, she didn’t care. A piece of her Chloe was peeking through.

“You—” she stopped, thinking of how she should say it. “Do you remember anything?”

Chloe shook her head. “I just heard myself saying that stuff. I don’t know what it’s about.”

Max tried not to let the disappointment sweep through her. She shouldn’t ask for more. Chloe was alive. Rachel was alive. Weren’t those things more important than how Max felt? She had no right to want more. Not after letting her best friend die in another timeline.

“What do you think it means?” Chloe asked.

That felt like a loaded question, though Max wasn’t sure how. “I’m not sure,” she said. “We should try it with Rachel and Warren.” Memories of Rachel’s body passed behind her eyes. “Actually, maybe not Rachel.” They were lucky Chloe hadn’t heard any of her many deaths. There was no guarantee that Rachel would be so fortunate, not when she’d been dead for—how long had she been dead for?

Chloe flopped back so she was lying on the bed. “This is hella weird.”

Max laid down beside her. “Yeah.”

Silence took them for an extended moment. Max fought the urge to take her hand. She had no right. Chloe wasn’t hers. Chloe deserved better than her. Chloe deserved someone who wouldn’t abandon her or lie to her. But didn’t that disqualify Rachel as well?

“Hey, Max?”

She hummed back.

“Some of the stuff I heard . . .” the words caught in Chloe’s throat. Max looked to see her friend biting her lip and frowning. Chloe turned to meet her eyes. “Is Rachel lying to me about something?”

Oh no. The pit in Max’s stomach began to spread again, and she felt the floor disappear from under her feet. She knew Rachel hadn’t told Chloe yet. Max was planning on telling her. But now that she had to do it . . . what was she supposed to say?

Chloe would know she’d kept it from her. She’d be hurt all over again, only this time there were two people betraying her. She’d hate Rachel. She’d hate Max. Max was going to lose her again.

“Max?” Chloe’s stare held concern, fear, and suspicion. It was too late now. The look on Max’s face had already given away too much. Now, Chloe knew something was wrong. Max had no choice. She had to reveal the truth.

She dropped Chloe’s gaze and tried to sit back up, but her back hunched over against her will. She wrapped her arms around her own waist and clenched at her shirt. “I wanted her to tell you. I asked her to tell you.”

Chloe sat back up as well. “Tell me what?” Max squeezed her eyes shut and tried to fight the pained scowl that had formed on her face. “Max?”

She had to say it. She had to say it. She had to say it. “Chloe,” she took several deep breaths, forcing her beating heart to stay calm, “Rachel cheated on you.”

Chapter Text

For a few seconds, Chloe didn’t say anything. She didn’t even breath. She played Max’s words over and over and over again. Rachel had . . .? No. No that couldn’t be right. She must have misheard. Or—or maybe there was some kind of mistake. She tried to fight the stiffness in her bones as she said, “She wouldn’t do that.”

Tears dripped down Max’s cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut. Oh god, she was serious.

Vertigo washed over her, and she struggled to stand and step away from the bed. This time, Chloe practically begged, “You’re . . . that’s not it! Rachel wouldn’t do that! She wouldn’t—” she froze, and her breathing picked up. Her eyes widened and she locked her gaze on the floor, keeping her back to Max. She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t look at Max’s face.

“You and I—we found pictures.”

Chloe lurched over and grasped her knees with her hands, squeezing them so tight that it hurt. This couldn’t be happening. Why would Rachel do that? How could she—who did she—

“Who?” Chloe growled.

Max took a deep breath and said in a shaky voice, “Frank.”

Chloe’s shoulders and knees begin to shake. Frank. Rachel slept with Frank, of all people. Did she think he was better than Chloe? Would Rachel have run away with him in his fucking RV?

Chloe stood upright and stalked towards the door. She balled up her right fist, punched it as hard as she could, and screamed, “Fuck!” Out of the corner of her eye, Max jumped.

There was a rustling in the next room and several hurried footsteps. Seconds later, her door swung open as Rachel rushed inside. “Are you alright?” she asked in alarm.

Hatred and disgust filled Chloe’s insides. “Get out!” she snapped. “Get the fuck out!”

Rachel’s eyes widened. “Chloe, what—” Realization dawned on her, and she glanced at Max in panic. She looked back at Chloe. “Listen to me. I never meant—”

“I don’t want to fucking hear it!” Chloe’s hands flew to her head and she grasped the locks of hair sticking out of her hat. Her heart pounded in her ears. Bile rose in her throat. “What the sideways fuck is wrong with you? You fucking slept with Frank,” she pointed at Max, “You fucking left me, Mom married a fucking Nazi, and my dad fucking died on me! Is every fucking person in my life playing a game of who can fuck me over the most?”

Max and Rachel winced. “Chloe,” Rachel started again, “I wasn’t trying to—”

“I don’t care what the fuck you were trying to do! You fucking stabbed me in the back, you fucking liar!”

Before Rachel could get another word in, Chloe marched out into the hall. A small crowd of students had gathered around her door. Dana, Juliet, Alyssa, and Victoria all stared on in shock. “What the hell are you looking at?” Chloe snapped as she shoved past them. She had to make an effort to keep from running toward the exit. If she moved any faster, she might collapse.

When Chloe slammed the metal doors at the end of the hall behind her, she could just barely hear Rachel snapping out, “Do you fucking mind?”

What a bitch.

Fuck. Fuck! Fucking fuck!

Frank likes me, she had said.

Frank, please, she had said.

Frank, don’t, she had said.

Now Chloe understood why that piece of shit hung off Rachel’s every fucking word.

All this time. All this fucking time. When had she done it? Was she ever planning on fessing up? Max said she talked to Rachel about it. Would Max have ever said anything if Chloe hadn’t asked? Fuck!

It was always the same. There was always someone letting her down.

Before she knew it, Chloe found herself in the parking lot, slamming the truck door shut. She gripped the wheel so hard that her now-swollen knuckles turned white. They hurt, but Chloe didn’t care. “Fuck!” she screamed again.

It probably wasn’t smart to drive when she was so fucking pissed, but who gave a flying shit anymore? Chloe flicked on the ignition and sped out of the lot, leaving a stark set of skid-marks. Where did she want to go? Where could she go? Every fiber of her body said get out of Arcadia Bay right fucking now. But she couldn’t do that. Not with Jeffershit on the loose. She didn’t want to go home. Her mom would be there, David would be there, and they’d just poke and prod and piss her off even more.

The junkyard was a safe bet. Max and Rachel might eventually look for her there, but Chloe had a feeling they wouldn’t go near her for at least a few hours. If they did, she’d bite their fucking heads off.

The stench of garbage and rust rested in the air when she got out of the truck. The mud on the ground had frozen over, and it crunched when Chloe stomped through it with her boots that did nothing to keep her feet warm. It didn’t take long to find a heavy metal pole. Her hand ached even harder, but who gave a fuck? She just wanted to beat the shit out of anything and everything in sight.

“Fuck!” Chloe yelled again, shattering the glass on a broken-down car. “Fuck!” she yelled as she stomped on a pile of empty beer bottles lying around a dead bonfire. “Fuck!” she yelled as her heart tore in two.

“I’m the same as everyone else!” she wailed, her voice echoing into the night sky. Rachel lied to everyone. She manipulated everyone. All this time, Chloe thought she was different. But she wasn’t. Was she just another stepping stone for Rachel to get out of the town? That bitch was probably going to ditch her the moment they got to California. That betrayal hurt the most.

“You goddamn liar! You fucking piece of shit!”

Chloe stormed into their clubhouse and began ripping everything apart. She grabbed the fraying blanket hanging on the wall and began tearing it up in her hands. She hurled the chair out the window. She kicked over the makeshift table, shredded the posters on the wall.

She turned and looked at the graffiti on the walls. Chloe was here. Rachel was here. Dammit. Chloe gripped the freezing pole in her hands and began to scratch at the letters with it, ignoring the shivers that went down her spine as the metal scraped across the stone. Chloe couldn’t get rid of the words entirely, but she could brutalize the fuck out of them.

One last look over the wrecked space led her to a scrap of paper on the ground. The pictures from the photo-booth. They were scratched up and warped after all the cold and the snow from the last few days, but the images were still clear. That had been such a good day. And Rachel had probably already started sleeping around.

Chloe dropped the pole and grabbed the pictures with both hands, preparing to tear it up like everything else. She squeezed the paper so hard that it crumpled up, but she couldn’t bring herself to destroy it.

“Dammit,” she hissed, shoving it into her coat pocket.

It must have been an hour before Chloe began to notice the cold. By that time, it had seeped into her bones, and she was a shivering mess. But she didn’t want to leave. Not yet. She yanked a cigarette out of the pack she kept in her back pocket and lit it up. The hot smoke filled her lungs. Maybe these things would give her lung cancer and kill her before she had to face Rachel again. Wouldn’t that be lucky.

Her chest clenched as all the thoughts began to race through her head on repeat. It was all fake. Rachel never loved her. Chloe crumpled onto the icy ground, barely managing to keep the cigarette from falling out of her mouth. She drew it away as burning tears dripped down her freezing cheeks and let herself sob.

It took a hell of a long time before she managed to stop crying. Even then, she sat there for as long as she could. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was her swirling emotions—either way, Chloe didn’t want to move. But in the end, she couldn’t stay out in the cold. If she did, she’d get sick, and she might actually die. Chloe forced her stiff bones to stretch out as she picked herself up. She dropped the now-dead cigarette to the ground and stepped on it without any force at all. All the rage, all the energy she’d had just a few minutes ago was gone. Now, there was only pain.

Chloe didn’t take her eyes off the road once as she drove home. It was well after midnight, so she wouldn’t have to worry about her mom or David being up to see her like this. She could just go home, smoke a joint, and try to forget everything for a few hours.

 

Max struggled to wake up that morning. The moment a semblance of consciousness reached her, tightness gripped her chest.

Oh. Right. She had just broken Chloe’s heart. All through the night, she tried to convince herself that it was the right thing to do. It was going to happen sooner or later. And the longer they waited, the more it was going to hurt Chloe. Besides, Max had warned Rachel. She should have told the truth at some point.

Despite the temptation to stay in bed, she knew she had to get up. She’d already skipped school the day before, and if she wanted to keep up appearances then she couldn’t do it twice in a row. And first thing in the morning, she had quite a surprise.

Max shared a World History class with Nathan, so she was used to seeing him every Wednesday morning. What she wasn’t used to was him sitting on her desk looking as cool, comfortable, and condescending as ever. He glared at a passing sophomore that sat nearby before he turned and noticed her.

“Yo, Max!” he said with a grin.

Right, they were friends in this timeline. Max didn’t really like the idea of being close to such a violent and unstable person, but she couldn’t show that. Instead, she smiled back and said, “Hey, Nathan.”

“So I heard Chloe Price went all psycho on you again. What’s she bitching about this time?”

Of course he was going to be an ass about Chloe. But she had to keep playing it off. “Where did you hear that?”

He shrugged. “Victoria was texting me about it.”

“Oh.” Leave it to Victoria to gossip about anything. Well, Chloe shouting at Rachel in the middle of the dorms wasn’t just anything, but still. “It’s a long story. There’s a lot that went into it.”

Nathan scoffed. “Sure, like that trash needs a reason to scream at you and Rachel.”

Max clenched her fist and tried not to let her anger show on her face. “It’s complicated, Nathan. Don’t worry about it.”

He regarded her for a few moments before snorting, “Whatever. Anyway, there’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Somebody broke into my room a few days ago and took some of my stuff. Know anything about it?”

Shit. Did he suspect anything? Max had to play it cool. She couldn’t give anything away. “No,” she forced a gasp. “Holy crap, Nathan! What did they take?”

“A few personal items,” he said, lifting his eyebrows. He wanted Max to know about the drugs. “Just be careful, okay? Some of the shit they took is dangerous.”

Was he just talking about the gun? Or was this a warning that Jefferson was coming after her? Would he even care enough to tell her?

“Okay,” she said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah. Keep an eye on that bitch, Price.” He rolled his shoulders and leaned back. “Anyway, I can’t remember much from the party, but I remember you and Rachel had a pretty interesting idea.”

“We did?” Crap, she couldn’t remember much of Friday other than what happened with Kate.

Nathan snickered, “You know, the photo-shoot? I kinda want to lose that bet, you know? I wanna see you and Rachel make out.”

Oh god, they did say something like that didn’t they? Would they have to follow through? It would be a good way to gauge his state of mind, but Max had a feeling that Rachel wouldn’t be as comfortable with that anymore. Heck, was Max even comfortable with it?

Either way, she had to think of how to handle it fast. “Sorry, I completely forgot. All the stuff with Kate kinda got to me.”

Nathan laughed—making Max want to smack him—and said, “Yeah, I heard the little church-whore got alcohol poisoning."

Max had to make a strong effort not to react to that. If he was already in league with Jefferson, then he knew it wasn’t alcohol-poisoning and was trying to cover it up. If he didn’t know, then he was just mocking her for the sake of mocking her. Either way, it made him a terrible person.

If only she could make him rethink his words. But she couldn’t say she knew about the drugs—in part to protect Kate’s privacy, and in part to keep him from suspecting her. Still, she had to say something. “I don’t know if it was the booze. She didn’t have enough to be acting like that.”

He scoffed and said, “Yeah, sure. If you ask me, she was just too tightly wound and let it all out and partied too hard. Anyway—” his throat caught, and his jaw hung open as he stared at her. His eyes widened and the tendons in his neck twitched.

Max’s stomach churned. “Nathan? Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah,” he said. He closed his mouth and gulped. “Just, uh,” he cleared his throat, “uh, watch out. There’s some weird shit going on.”

What the heck? Okay, that had to prove he knew something. He was absolutely working with Jefferson. But why was he giving so much away?

Nathan looked away, jumped off her desk, and made a beeline to his seat on the other side of the room. He stared straight ahead, and his stiff shoulders and hunched neck screamed tension and fear. What was that about?

For the rest of the class, Max kept her eye on him. He continued ignoring everything. He didn’t bat an eye when a freshman accidentally knocked their textbook off their desk making everyone jump. He didn’t pay any attention to Hayden every time the stoner leaned over and tried to joke with him. He didn’t look at their rambling teacher. As soon as class was finished, he darted out the door. Something was off with him, more than the stuff with Jefferson, and Max had the worst possible feeling about it.

But she didn’t have time to think about it. She had her Photography Lab with Jefferson just after lunch, and she needed to start mentally preparing herself. She spent her entire Algebra class with clenched fists and a ringing in her ears. But it would be okay. Rachel would be there.

Oh god, Rachel. She was probably still pissed about the night before. Max didn’t have the energy to face both her and Jefferson. Despite the cold classroom air, she began to sweat.

 

Chloe didn’t want to get out of bed. Her body was sore, and her eyes were still raw and tender. Her throat felt dry and rancid from smoking right before falling asleep. If only she could just sleep forever. But by noon her nerves had decided that they were going to continue to drive her crazy. She had to do something.

She trudged downstairs and began rifling through the fridge. With both her mom and David at work for the day, she had the house to herself. Too bad she was too stressed to enjoy it. Maybe she needed to smoke some more. As her stomach growled, she decided that could wait until after breakfast.

Flopping down on the couch with her cereal and a Pot-Tart in hand, she flicked on the old TV. The station was already on the weather channel.

“Now some of you might have noticed how much warmer it got overnight,” the forecaster said. “We’re looking at a fifteen-degree rise that absolutely none of us saw coming, and with this warm weather comes all the wind that we’ve been getting. Now we’re looking at gusts of over thirty miles per hour, and—”

Chloe leaned in and stared at the screen with stern eyes. It was no eclipse or double-moon, but the weather did change out of nowhere. Maybe it meant something. She’d have to ask Max about it when she didn’t feel like absolute garbage.

The sound from the TV began to muffle, and dizziness seized her head. What the fuck?

Now we’re totally bonded for life!

Chloe jumped at the sound of her own voice.

It was nice that you sent me actual letters.

Oh shit, this was from another timeline. Wasn’t it only supposed to happen when she rewound with Max? Whatever. None of them knew how this worked. Besides, maybe this time she could learn more. Chloe tried to focus. What did she want to know about? Rachel and Frank? It would only piss her off more, but she was dying to know.

Dude get off her ass!

Rachel and Frank. She needed to know about Rachel and Frank.

It makes me ill that Rachel posed like this for Frank . . . or wrote him love letters . . .

Chloe’s stomach churned. This must be it! She didn’t want to hear it, but she had to.

I can’t believe she was banging Frank! Rachel straight up lied to my face! Why didn’t she say anything?

Silence.

Then she wasn’t much of a friend, huh? Just another person who shits all over me. Why does everybody in my life let me down? My dad gets killed, you bail on me for years, my mother gloms onto step-fucker . . . Now Rachel betrays me.

Silence.

Bullshit, who hasn’t?! Fuck everybody!

Her voice faded out, and the noise from the TV grew clearer.

Chloe put her head in her hands. Her eyes burned, but she didn’t cry. Maybe she’d used up all her tears the night before.

 

Rachel wasn’t there yet when Max entered his room, but Jefferson was. And the moment Max walked through the threshold, his head popped up, and he shot her a flawless smile. How he could hide his cruelty and twisted tendencies so well, she’d never know. When she avoided his gaze, he took a step toward her.

“Max—”

“Mr. Jefferson,” Victoria’s voice cut through. “I was wondering if you could help me set up my portfolio after school.” Max had never been more grateful for Victoria’s jealousy. As long as she wasn’t getting hurt, she could have all the attention from Jefferson that she wanted.

But Jefferson was having none of it. “We can discuss it after class, Victoria, but unfortunately I’m pretty booked today.” He moved past her, ignoring the look of disappointment on her face, and walked over to the table Max had retreated to. “I will be needing to see you after class,” he said to her. “I know you don’t want to, but we need to talk about your performance.”

Max barely noticed the sneer on Victoria’s face. He was too close. Way too close. And she had no way of escaping. Oh god, what could she do?

“Max.”

Equal parts relief and dread swept through her as Rachel entered the room and made her way over to Max. Rachel looped their arms together and gave Jefferson a smile. “I didn’t think I was going to make it in time,” she laughed. “Mr. Weiser was kind of hogging me to himself.”

Jefferson returned her gaze and matched her attitude. “He does have a weakness for anyone who manages to pass his class, so I think it’s fair to say it’s your own fault.” Rachel pretended to laugh at his joke.

The bell rung out, and Jefferson was forced to leave them alone and begin class. The two girls sat down together. Max didn’t miss the tightness in Rachel’s jaw, or how unwilling she was to look at Max. Oh boy. They were going to have to talk about this sooner or later. Why not do it in the middle of her least favorite class in front of all the people who made her life hell? At least most of them would be paying attention to Jefferson’s lecture.

“Thanks for that,” Max murmured.

 Rachel looked down at the desk with tired eyes. “Yup.”

Max bit her lip. “Rachel I—"

“We can talk about this later,” she snipped. “Let’s just get through class.”

Ouch.

As Jefferson spoke, Rachel avoided leaning into Max or giving her the occasional nudge to make sure she was okay. To everyone else, it looked like she was just focusing. But it had become such a regular thing for Rachel to do that Max hadn’t even realized how much she did it. She only knew that it was unusual for Rachel to be so physically distant. And it kind of hurt.

Max tried to console herself. It could be worse. Rachel could have left her alone with Jefferson. Her intervening to help showed that she still cared, even if she was angry. Besides, it wasn’t Max’s fault, right? So why did she feel guilty?

No! She had to keep reminding herself: she was doing this for Chloe.

Without Rachel’s comfort, class felt twice as long. But it did eventually end. One more class after this, then she’d be free for the afternoon. She cleared her throat. “Should we, uh, should we meet up, or—”

“Max,” Rachel stopped her, “I can’t. I’ve got some stuff to do with the Drama Club, so I’ll be pretty swamped for a few days.”

Oh. “Okay.”

When classes ended, Max stood outside the building and stared ahead without looking at anything. She didn’t want to go to her dorm and sit alone until she fell asleep. She could hang out with Warren, but he’d inevitably ask her what was wrong, and it wasn’t really her place to tell him. Maybe Chloe would be up for hanging out. It was a slim chance, but Max had to take it.

Max: hey

She sat down on the steps of the school and waited for a reply. She clenched the phone tight in her hand as the minutes passed. Then, it dinged.

Chloe: hey

Max: can I come over and hang

Crap, that sounded too dismissive of everything that had just happened. Max was in the middle of typing out, unless you need some time alone, when Chloe texted back.

Chloe: yeah fine

Max released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

But her relief didn’t last long.

“Max.” Oh no. She twisted around to see Jefferson holding one of the doors open. “I really do need to talk to you. Can we have a minute?”

Fuck, she had to get out of there. “I was just about to—”

“It’ll only take a minute.”

If she said no it would look suspicious. And no one was there to save her. Could she rewind? Should she rewind? He must have had some reason for trying to get her alone. If Max played this right, she might learn something important.

As long as she didn’t throw up first.

Her hands began to shake of their own accord, and she had to squeeze them tight to keep it from showing. “Okay.”

Jefferson motioned for her to walk in first. Crap! She had hoped to stay behind him so she could text Chloe to come get her in case things went south. Now she really was on her own.

The walk to his classroom felt eternal. As each second passed, she felt the temptation to rewind and run. But she had to focus. Rachel wouldn’t hesitate. Max couldn’t either. That didn’t stop the heaviness in her arms or the numbness in her hands.

She wanted to cry when he shut the door. No one would see them. No one would hear them. He could do whatever he wanted. Max tried to force herself to calm down. He couldn’t actually do whatever he wanted. He couldn’t hurt her. He couldn’t risk anyone finding out about him.

As she stared at the ground, he leaned against his desk. “Max, I know we talked briefly about it last week, but your grades are becoming a serious problem.”

Her grades didn’t matter. Not when he was trying to kill her.

“I know you might not want to hear it from me, but I’m afraid you have to.” He paused, as if waiting for her to say something. Her throbbing head almost managed to distract her. “Max, look at me.” She fought the urge to wince. Slowly, she forced her eyes up. His brows were pulled together, and his mouth was locked tight. He looked stern. Frustrated. “I know these last few weeks have been extremely stressful. What happened with Kate was . . . unfortunate.”

You caused it, she wanted to scream.

“I know that I haven’t done a good job at making life easier for you,” he went on. “And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I’m sorry for putting you in such an uncomfortable situation.”

Wait, was he admitting to what he’d done? Was he just telling her that he drugged Kate?

“But your lack of performance in class is getting out of hand.” He slapped his desk and exclaimed, “You’re blowing it, Max!”

This time she did wince.

“I’ve talked to your other teachers, and we all see the same thing,” he said. “If you keep this up, you’re going to be kicked out of school.”

All the more time to focus on taking him down.

“Max,” he sighed and lifted a hand out, “I feel like I understand better than anyone what you’re going through. I want to—”

“You don’t understand,” she hissed, her eyes snapping back toward the ground.

He froze mid-gesture. “What?”

Oh god, what was she doing? “You don’t understand,” she said again, stronger this time. “You have no idea what I’m feeling!” She was yelling now. Her mind screamed at her to rewind and take it back. She was giving away too much!

Before she could do anything, Jefferson stood up, marched toward her, and placed both hands on her shoulders. Max stiffened and tried to jerk away, but he gripped her tight. “Max. I know you’re upset. I know I fucked up. But I don’t want you to lose everything because of my mistakes. And the sad truth is you’re going to have to push through this.”

What the hell was he even saying? Was he talking about San Francisco? For fuck’s sake, she didn’t even know what had happened between them!

“Max!” He squeezed tighter. “I’m sorry. But you have to keep going. You can’t let this ruin your inno—” he caught himself, “Your future.”

She turned her entire head away from him. His voice echoed inside her skull. He was holding her too tight. She could smell his cologne. She wanted to throw up.

Jefferson released her. “I think you should stop hanging out with that Price girl.”

There it was. Max gritted her teeth. “Why?”

“She’s a bad influence. And I think she’s making this worse for you.” He took a deep breath and said, “And someone broke into my house yesterday.”

No.

How did he know that? They hadn’t left any proof! Unless . . . unless he checked for the binders or the money. Fuck, they shouldn’t have taken them! They should have settled with taking pictures and left everything else! Did he know that Max had helped? Was he gauging her reaction?

“You . . . you think Chloe did it?”

He finally released her. “I’m not sure. But she has one hell of a grudge against me.”

She had to throw him off their scent. What could she say? Their alibi! “Chloe was with me,” she said. “We were playing DnD with some of her friends. We were—they can tell you. Chloe didn’t do anything.”

Jefferson cocked his head. “I thought you were sick yesterday.”

Could he see how much she was sweating? “I-I needed a day off. I’m stressed—I’m tired—I’m—” Every breath felt less filling. Oh god she was going to suffocate. She needed more air.

“Max,” he said. Why couldn’t he stop saying her name? “I’m having a hard time believing you.”

No. She had to convince him. “I have proof—I took a picture!” She shot her hand into her messenger bag and ripped out her journal, flipping through the pages until she found the selfie from Steph’s home.

The serial killer took it from her hands and peered at it, as if analyzing every part to see if it was fake. He hummed, “Alright.”

He didn’t believe her.

“But this just says you’ve gone from not doing your homework to skipping school,” he said, handing the photo back. Max gripped it tight. “Either way, this girl is leading you to misbehave.”

Her whole body had pins and needles running through it. Her head slammed in her chest. Her vision went blurry. “I . . . I won’t do it again,” she swore.

“Good,” he said with a nod. “Now, I’m going to give you a personal assignment that should help you make up your grade. And I’m going to try and convince your other teachers to do the same, so that you don’t fail out of school.”

She opened her mouth to say something like “okay” or “thank you,” but nothing came out.

Jefferson smiled, sickly-sweet and sadistic. “Okay. I think you’ve had enough from me. I’ll go over your assignment with you later.” He patted her cheek and opened the door for her.

Max had no memory of walking out to the front of the school. She had fallen into a daze, and when she blinked out of it, she was there, standing at the top of the concrete steps. The early afternoon sun had done almost nothing to warm them up. Max would have given anything for some natural warmth, but the world was as cold as her insides.

Her throat caught, and she gritted her teeth to keep from breaking down in front of everyone. The entire conversation was worthless. He hadn’t given anything away. But Max had let herself lose control. She had to fix it.

Always take the shot.

Her hands shot up to her head as tears streamed down her face. “Shut up!” she whispered to her own thoughts.

She lifted her hand and began to rewind. It was going to hurt. She’d spent a little too much time with Jefferson. But she couldn’t risk stopping in the middle of their conversation. The only thing that could make all of this worse would be if she disappeared right in front of him. If he started to suspect something supernatural, he’d only be more dangerous.

As time moved back, she watched the people of Blackwell retrace their steps. Her head throbbed. Blood dripped down from her nose. Orange and black crept into the corners of her vision. But she had to keep going.

Keep going.

Keep going.

Right when she was on the brink of passing out, the door behind her opened. She saw a hazy version of herself move backwards and sink back down to the ground.

Just a little bit more.

The last few moments seemed to stretch on as she waited for Jefferson to disappear back into the school. But the door finally closed, and she dropped her arm.

Her muffled ears barely registered the sounds around her as she turned and sprinted toward the parking lot. She had to get out of there before Jefferson could find her. A few people turned their heads and gasped at the blood on her face as she rushed by. Max ignored them.

She made it to the lot and collapsed onto her knees. Her entire body erupted in shivers. Max dug her phone out of her pocket and flipped through her contacts before making the call. The other end picked up. “Chloe? I need you to come pick me up.”

Chapter Text

Chloe cradled a sobbing Max to her chest, holding her head in one hand and rubbing her back with the other. Her tired old bed creaked as they rocked back and forth every so often. Chloe’s shirt collar clung to her skin, stained and damp with Max’s tears, and her arms had begun to ache from holding her friend for so long. She thanked her past self for having the foresight to prop them up against the wall before Max’s composure shattered.

The details had evaded her so far. When she found Max sitting on the curb of the parking lot, clinging to the sleeves of her shirt, she could barely get a word out of her. All her friend said was, “Jefferson,” and, “I rewound.” Chloe’s nerves had been going crazy since then, especially since Max’s entire mouth and chin were covered with blood. She must have pushed herself really hard. What had that motherfucker done?

After an hour with no end to her panic attack, Chloe offered her some weed to help calm down. But Max shook her head and pressed closer into the crook of her neck. “Just like this,” she said, “Please, just hold me.”

Chloe hated her inability to help. Max always did so much. For her, for Rachel, for the town. But Chloe was too weak to do anything. She could only hold her loved ones as close as possible and pray they didn’t leave her.

Speaking of loved ones, “Where was Rachel during all this?”

Max sniffed hard and hiccupped. “She had something to do. I was—” she hiccupped again, “—I was going to give her space. I was going to give—” hiccup, “—give you both space.” She clung tighter, stretching Chloe’s shirt. “I’m sorry,” she whimpered. “I’m so sorry, Chloe.”

A pang shot through Chloe’s heart. Leave it to Max to think about others when she should be thinking about herself. Chloe felt a twinge of guilt at how she’d doubted Max earlier, how she thought her friend had been hiding the truth about Rachel and Frank on purpose. How long had it been eating her up inside?

Chloe raked a hand through Max’s hair and massaged the back of her head. “I’m—I’ll be okay, Max. Don’t worry about me.”

“I’ll always worry.”

A few minutes later, Max had managed to stop crying. Her body relaxed as Chloe continued to play with her hair. It was thick and smooth, not unlike Rachel’s, but very unlike Chloe’s, which had grown coarse and brittle after being subjected to so many dyes and chemicals. The fraying hairs on the back of her neck tickled her fingers, and she felt soft goosebumps on the skin underneath. Soon, playing with her hair turned to running fingers up and down the back of her neck. Max hummed a bit, and she took it as a sign to continue.

“Chloe?” Max lifted her head to look into her eyes. Chloe couldn’t help the stutter in her heart. “I’m sorry about this.” She turned away again. “I’ve been feeling kind of stressed.”

Chloe chuckled at that. “I think ‘kind of stressed’ is understating it.”

She sat up straight. Chloe missed the contact. “Still, I’m sorry I worried you. I think I’ll be okay now.”

“It’s fine if you’re not,” Chloe said, taking her hand. “It’s okay if you need to break down for a little bit. I’ll be right here.”

Max took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay. But I’m going to try to save the rest of my meltdowns for after everything is over.”

Chloe gave her hand a squeeze and rubbed her thumb over Max’s knuckles. As she did this, Max’s cheeks, already crimson from crying, reddened even more.

It’s so weird talking to you about this insane crap.

With a shudder, Chloe closed her eyes and listened. She heard Max’s muffled voice calling her name, but the sound of wind caressed her ears and skin, and she felt a rigid pressure on her back and neck. Like she was lying down on something. The smells of wood, grass, and metal filled her nostrils.

We haven’t hung out this much since we were tweens . . . and it’s like no time has passed.

“I’m hearing things,” she tried to say, but she had no way of knowing if her mouth was working.

I wish Rachel was here to meet you . . .

Her granite-heavy heart weighed down in her chest. She should be focusing on Max, not looking into other timelines and thinking about Rachel. But she couldn’t stop it.

Do you . . . Rachel . . . friends?

Shit, that wasn’t her voice! That was . . . Max? “It’s different this time.” She hoped Max was hearing what she was saying.

You’re not that different. She had—has a great eye for images and for art. Plus, she’s a smartass like you. We would all be hella “best friends forever.”

I know she must be as cool as you are.

Her senses returned to normal as she found herself back in her room, Max’s hand clutching hers tight. Chloe inhaled a stuttering breath, taking in the familiar smell of pot and dirty laundry, and opened her eyes.

“I’m back,” she said.

Max brought her eyebrows together. “Back? Where did you go?”

Chloe cleared her throat. “So, uh, I’ve started hearing into other timelines on my own. Without rewinding.” With her free hand, she scratched the back of her neck. Shit, she was mimicking Warren again. “And I heard your voice this time. And I could . . . feel and smell stuff.”

Max’s swollen red eyes drilled into her. “What did I say?”

“We were talking about Rachel. And, lying down in the junkyard, I think? Or maybe the woods.”

“Did it have anything to do with my powers, or the tornado?”

Shaking her head, Chloe said, “I don’t think so. I think what I hear has to do with what I’m thinking about, or my mood, or, I don’t know, something. I made myself hear something about Rachel and Frank earlier today.”

Max let out a full-body sigh and collapsed back onto the bed. “Every time I think I figure out how this works it keeps changing.” Chloe moved to lay down next to her, propping her feet up against the wall. Max threw her arm over her eyes. “How are we supposed to do this?”

“I mean, I think we’ve been doing okay so far,” Chloe said with a gentle nudge.

“No, I mean,” Max put her hand down and looked up at the ceiling, “what are we supposed to do now? You, me, and Rachel?”

Yeah, that was going to be a hella bad problem. “I guess we just have to keep going with the plan. I’ll put off the rest of my shitstorm once Jefferson’s locked up and we’ve stopped the tornado.” How she and Rachel were supposed to conspire behind Max’s back was a whole other story. Coordinating a murder when they couldn’t work together was going to be tough.

Fuck, and they were banking on Frank’s help to kill Jefferson. Could this be any worse?

Chloe didn’t want to think about it, so she forced a change of subject. “Maybe we should take a few days off. Jefferson can’t try anything right now, and there haven’t been any crazy weather events, so the tornado can’t be coming yet.” She tried to catch Max’s eye. “We can get our heads together and jump back in when we’re ready.”

“I . . . I don’t know,” Max said, turning her head the other way.

“Hey,” Chloe said. This time, Max looked at her. “It’s going to be okay.”

Chloe hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt.

 

She waited until Max was fast asleep before stepping out of her room and pulling out her phone to shoot a text.

Chloe: can i call? something happened

While she waited for a response, she walked downstairs to grab a snack from the kitchen. Her mom sat at the dinner table, looking over a series of bills.

“Waddup, Mom?”

“Evening, Chloe. Is Max alright? She was cryin’ awful loud.”

Yeah, they’d been less than subtle. “Some shit went down at school. She’s taking it pretty badly.”

Her mother set down the papers in her hands and sat up straight. “Well, I won’t pry. But is there anything I can do to help?”

Chloe snagged a donut from the fridge and leaned against the counter. “I dunno. I think I’m going to take her to Two Whales tomorrow and treat her to something.”

“With all the money you have from your non-existent job?” her mom said, lifting a skeptical brow.

“Hey, I do some jobs on the side.” Like robbing Nathan. “I mow lawns.” Or robbing Jefferson. “I walk dogs.” Or taking money that Rachel stole from her father. “I babysit.”

“Forgive me if I can’t imagine you taking care of a child.”

Chloe took an affronted bite of her donut. “Yeah, well, what if I started working for a mechanic?”

At that, her mother tilted her head. “Oh?”

“I,” ugh, this was so embarrassing. “I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about the future, and . . . other stuff.” She shrugged. “I thought it might be a good idea.”

A shining smile spread across her mom’s face. “I think that’s a wonderful idea, Chloe.”

Chloe’s insides swirled. But, in a good way? Huh, it’d been a while since she said or did anything that made her mom proud. It felt kinda nice.

Her phone buzzed.

Rachel: is something wrong???

“It was just a thought. Anyway, I gotta take this.”

As she was on her way out of the kitchen, her mother called, “I love you, sweetheart.”

Chloe stopped in her tracks. “Love you too, Mom.”

She shut the garage door behind her—grateful that David wasn’t there—and called Rachel.

The phone picked up right away. “Chloe? What happened? Is anyone hurt?”

“Nobody’s hurt, but Max had a major freak-out.” She shoved her free hand into her pocket. “She didn’t tell me much, but Jefferson did something. She says she rewound, but whatever it was it must have been bad. I picked her up almost four hours ago and she only just calmed down.”

For a moment Rachel said nothing. Then, “Fuck, I’m such a selfish idiot!”

Chloe snorted, “I mean, you are, but care to elaborate?”

“I ditched her so I could have some time alone. I didn’t think he would—fuck, what did he even—is she okay?”

“She’s fine now. She’s asleep in my room.” As much as she would have liked to enjoy guilting Rachel, that wasn’t why she called. “I need to pay off Frank by Friday. And you need to be there so we can talk about our other plan.”

“What happened to not talking about this over the phone?”

“I’m not laying out every fucking detail, I’m just saying we need to talk about it,” Chloe said with a roll of her eyes. “We need to meet up either tonight or tomorrow and go over everything.”

“I can be outside the dorms in ten minutes if you want to pick me up.”

“Sounds good.”

“And Chloe?” Rachel paused, and Chloe could hear her taking several careful breaths over the line. “I really am so sorry.”

She fought the urge to throw her phone onto the ground. “We’re not talking about this right now,” she growled before hanging up.

 

Being in a car with Rachel was so much worse than talking over the phone. On the one hand, her heart still fluttered like a drunk hummingbird every time she looked at the girl who’d swept her off her feet. On the other hand, her guts churned and ached when she saw the lying cheating bitch who’d taken all of her happy memories of them and torn them up.

When Rachel got in the truck, she’d asked, “Does Max know you came to see me?”

“I told her I was going out to buy cigarettes.”

That was the only thing they said to each other during the entire trip to the junkyard.

Rachel let out a gasp when she saw what Chloe had done to their clubhouse. Right, Chloe hadn’t told anyone she’d gone there after everything went down. Rachel stepped inside and ran a hand over their abused names on the wall. Chloe hoped it hurt to look at. It hurt to do it.

“Jesus, Chloe.”

“Don’t fucking bother,” she snapped, kicking at some of the wreckage on the ground. “At least when I trash stuff, I don’t do it around other people.”

Rachel winced.

Chloe leaned against the wall opposite to her. “Now, we need to figure out how we’re going to get Frank to kill Jeffershit.”

“I found about a thousand dollars in my dad’s bribery stash,” she said. “Plus the two hundred I stole from Jefferson.”

Chloe nodded. “I have two thousand from Nathan’s room, and a little under seven thousand from Jefferson’s house.” A twinge of pride went through her at the thought of how she’d managed to get more money in a few days than Rachel got in over a year.

“Okay, so we have around ten thousand dollars. Minus the three you owe Frank, and that’s a seven-thousand dollar bribe to get him to help us.”

“Then we kill Jefferson, and he takes care of the body.”

Rachel ran a hand through her hair. “That part might change, depending on what Frank says. He might have a better way of doing things.”

Yeah, I bet you know all about how he does things, she almost muttered.

When Chloe didn’t say anything, Rachel cleared her throat and said, “So, uh, should we meet up with him tomorrow, or on Friday?”

“I don’t care,” she said, trying not to speak through clenched teeth. She was going to have to sit by and watch Rachel suck up to him. Would they flirt? Would she play the scared, innocent girlfriend to him? No, that would never work. Frank probably knew she was nowhere near innocent.

Rachel was clearly trying to take her silence in stride. “Friday might be cutting it close with what you owe, but it might be better for Max. I don’t want to leave her alone after class tomorrow.”

Chloe snorted, “Like leaving her alone on Friday isn’t just as bad.”

“It isn’t,” she said. “If today was as bad as you say then she needs time to recover. We can’t leave her alone tomorrow. Besides,” Rachel shrugged, “She knows you have to pay him off by Friday. We can plan it out so she’s ready for when we’re gone. Maybe have Warren keep an eye on her.”

It made a lot of sense, but Chloe hated the idea of leaving Max with that suck-up. She knew he wouldn’t try anything, but having to watch Rachel and Frank while knowing some prick was pining over Max was just the icing on this shit-cake.

“The only problem is that she might want to come with us. So, how do we make sure she stays out of it and doesn’t find out what we’re really doing?”

For once, Chloe felt prepared about something. “I told her to take a few days off from everything. We can try to get it done while she’s staying out of it.”

Rachel gave an impressed hm. “That’s hella smart, Price.”

“Don’t push your luck, Amber.”

The lying cheating bitch let out a groan. She recomposed herself, then said, “In the meantime, I’ll keep a better eye on Max. I won’t let Jefferson get near her.”

“Yeah, don’t fuck that up again.” Chloe began to pace back and forth. “What about Nathan? We haven’t really thought about him, and it’s not like we can just off him and hope his family doesn’t get involved.”

“He won’t try anything,” she said. “I know him. Even if they’re already working together, if Jefferson dies Nathan will be too scared to kill anyone.”

Chloe let out a scoff.

With a deep sigh, Rachel asked, “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” she said, turning away.

“For fuck’s—” Rachel thought better of it and stopped. “I didn’t sleep with him, Chloe!”

Chloe kicked some more junk. “Cause that makes me feel so much better,” she grumbled.

“Chloe,” Rachel sighed, rubbing her temples, “can’t we get this over with and actually talk about it?”

You don’t get to talk about it,” Chloe said, jabbing a finger toward her. “I get to take as many pot-shots as I fucking want.”

“That . . . seems fair.” She set her head back against the wall. “But you can’t avoid it forever.”

“I’ll avoid it as long as I fucking want! That’s what you were doing right? You were going to keep avoiding it till Max told me,” she snarled.

“I was going to, I just—ugh!” Rachel dragged a hand down her face. “I wanted to wait until after everything with Jefferson and the tornado was all over. Because I didn’t want this to happen when we still have to work together.”

“And then you’d just keep putting it off. You’re just like your fucking dad.”

It was a low blow, and she knew it. Saying it out loud almost hurt. When Rachel’s eyes switched from shock to hurt to rage, it absolutely hurt. “That’s not fair!” she snapped.

Chloe laughed to cover up the guilt and pain. “And what? Any-fucking-thing you did was fair? How the hell am I supposed to trust you if you’ve been lying to me about something this huge for so long?”

“Which is exactly why I wanted to wait. We have to trust each other if we’re going to commit a fucking murder together.”

“Well hey, why don’t you meet my friend here? His name is Shit Sherlock, first name No.” Chloe kicked another piece of trash on the ground. “But what did you fucking expect? You keep talking about trust, but how am I supposed to believe anything you say now? I mean, next thing I’m going to find out is that all the rumors about you and Jeffershit are—”

Chloe stopped pacing.

You know I’d tell you anything.

“Why does he think you’d tell him anything?” she demanded.

Frowning in confusion, Rachel said, “What?”

“When Max and I robbed his ass, you were talking to him and I was listening on the phone. You got all flirty with him and said you’d tell him anything.”

She shook her head. “Chloe that never happened!”

“Because Max rewound! But you had a whole conversation with him that I fucking heard! So why does he think you’d tell him anything?”

“Chloe, I never slept with him! Okay? I only cheated on you with Frank!” Rachel crossed her arms and looked away. She bit her lip and pinched her eyes shut. “But, if we’re having a full-on honesty-hour . . .” Oh fuck, what was coming now? “He tried to kiss me once.”

“What?” she hissed.

“I didn’t let him!” she rushed out. “We always had this weird, flirty relationship, and when we had our study sessions he told me to call him ‘Mark,’ and, I don’t know, I figured it’d be a good way to use him if I needed to, but then he tried to kiss me and I was like ‘oh shit this has gone too far,’ and I told him to stop and that I couldn’t and—”

“What the fuck, Rachel?” Chloe yelled.

“I swear, I didn’t let him do anything!” she insisted. “I just . . . let him think I was more into him than I actually was.”

“So you had me, Frank, and a fucking psychopath in your pocket? Are you trying to pour salt on the wound?”

“We didn’t do anything!” she said again. “And if you want me to be honest, wouldn’t you rather I tell you now instead of waiting six months and hurting you all over again?”

Throwing her hands in the air, Chloe broke into a hysterical laugh. It just kept getting worse, didn’t it?

“Fuck you!” she said, trying to hold back the agonizing giggles. “How the fuck do you live your life lying to every person you meet? Do you just not process guilt? Do you feel any kind of shame for all the fucked up shit you do?

“I didn’t say I was proud of it,” she snapped back. “I was doing what I had to do to get us out of here!”

“Oh, come on, it was to get you out of here. What, were you going to drop me the moment we got out of town? Just like you were going to drop every other fucking boy-toy you have?”

“It wasn’t like that! I never wanted to leave Arcadia Bay without you!”

“Bullshit,” Chloe snarled.

“I mean it! Why do you think I signed up for that stupid fifth-year program? My fucking dad could have paid for my college if he wanted, so it’s not like I needed the scholarship money.”

“Because your fucking sugar-daddy told you to stay!”

“Because I was trying to figure out how to fix things with you!”

Chloe started to say something, but the words never made it out of her mouth. Rachel was what?

“I spent the whole goddamn summer trying to call you. Yeah, I thought you were lying to me about the Nathan and Jefferson shit, but I still wanted to talk to you! And then school started, I met Max, you freaked the fuck out on her, and I didn’t know why any of it was happening! I was angry, and confused, and frustrated as hell. But this whole god damn time, I just wanted my friend back!”

Fuck. That did sound like something she would do. But she had lied to Chloe before. There was no way to tell if she was lying now. “You—then why did you stop talking to me?” she demanded.

“Because, one: you ignored me all fucking summer, and two: you went after Max. She was really fucking hurt by that, and I was worried about her. So I got angry and stopped trying to talk to you.”

The tension in Chloe’s clenched fists spread all the way up to her shoulders, making her arms ache like hell. “That wasn’t my fault!” she said. “Max told me they were going to hurt you! Then everyone said I was lying for attention, they all hated me, and she was ignoring me, and—”

I know, Chloe! And I’m sorry I didn’t believe you. But Max—the Max from our timeline—had no idea why you were screaming at her like a fucking maniac. And I felt like I had to choose who to believe.”

Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit. “So you picked her side.”

“So I picked her side.”

No one ever picked Chloe’s side.

Except Max.

“You still fucked Frank.”

Rachel took a tentative step toward her. “I know,” she said. “And I am so, so sorry, Chloe. I will never stop being sorry in my life.”

She reached out to place a hand on Chloe’s face. But it was still too soon. Too raw. Chloe took a step back. “I can’t do this right now,” she growled. “Let’s just meet up on Friday and pay off Frank.”

Chloe stormed out of the clubhouse with every intention of heading straight to her truck, when the frigid air seemed to smother her ears. God dammit, why did she have to have a vision now?

Chloe, slow down! Wait for me!

Max’s voice. Alarmed and urgent.

I know exactly where I’m going!

Her voice. Desperate and afraid.

There was silence for a few seconds, then Chloe heard their voices in the distance, though she couldn’t make out the words. They seemed to be coming from somewhere else, but it was somewhere close by. She trudged, forward, trying to follow the sounds, and ended up in a secluded corner of the junkyard.

The voices had already disappeared, but she registered the faint smell of rotting meat.

It made her insides twist with anxiety, though she didn’t know why.

“Chloe?” Rachel’s voice brought her back to reality. “What are you doing?”

Eyes locking on an eerily empty spot on the ground, Chloe released a breath she’d been holding. “Nothing,” she mumbled. “Let’s just get out of here.”

The thought she’d resisted for the past twenty-four hours cropped up in her mind. Would she be able to handle living the rest of her life without Rachel? After all of this, did she still want that?

She’d have time to decide later on, but for a moment, standing there with the ghost of her and Max’s voices, the sickening and sincere concern in Rachel’s eyes, and the faint, rancid smell that wasn’t going away, she couldn’t help but imagine having that choice stolen away from her.

In another time, Jefferson had killed her. Should she be grateful that Rachel was alive, or pissed off at her betrayal?

Chloe had no idea what to feel. All she knew was that everything hurt so fucking much.

Chapter Text

Max got texts from Rachel and Warren saying they were going to skip class to spend the day with her. As comforting as it was to know they’d drop everything at a moment’s notice, she couldn’t push back a gut-wrenching feeling: Jefferson knew Chloe had broken into his house, and he suspected that Max helped. Constantly playing hooky would only garner more suspicion. But when she voiced her concerns to Chloe, the punk shrugged it off.

“We didn’t leave behind any evidence,” she pointed out. “As long as he doesn’t know about your powers, he can’t do anything.”

That failed to settle her stomach.

The four of them crammed into a booth at Two Whales, with Chloe and Max sitting on one side and Rachel and Warren on the other. Max noticed the other two girls avoiding eye contact with each other.

Warren, confused by the tension in the air, cleared his throat and asked, “So, uh, what are we, uh . . . what’s the plan?”

“The plan is to take a little time off,” Rachel replied. “We’ve been going at it really hard for the past week and a half, and I think we’re all a little burnt out.” Max knew it was actually just her, but she appreciated Rachel not singling her out.

Warren scratched the back of his head. “Oh. Okay. So then we’re just chilling?”

“Yep,” Chloe clipped, stretching her arms across the top of the booth.

After a beat of silence, Warren asked, “Did I miss something, or—”

“Nope,” Chloe cut him off.

The boy glanced between the three girls. “Are . . . are you sure? Because I feel like I missed something important.”

“It’s fine, Warren,” Rachel said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you or the plan.”

Max shrank into herself, wishing she was back at Chloe’s house.

By some act of cosmic mercy, Joyce strolled over to their table with an adoring smile. “How are you kids doing?”

If anyone had seen Rachel’s glowing face, they never would have guessed how uncomfortable the four of them felt. “We’re doing great, Mrs. Price.”

“Are you enjoying your day off?”

Max drew a blank. “Day off?” Chloe, Rachel, and Warren looked just as confused as her.

With a warm laugh, Joyce said, “Of course, sweetheart! Did you forget it’s Thanksgiving?” They all stared at her with shocked faces. “Goodness gracious, did you all forget?”

If it was Thanksgiving and school was out, then they weren’t skipping class! Jefferson wouldn’t have an extra reason to suspect them! Max let out a sigh of relief.

“Well, if you four didn’t remember, then I’m guessing you don’t have any plans.”

Warren coughed and said, “I was probably going to order Chinese food and skype my parents.”

“And I’m going to be avoiding my parents,” Rachel muttered.

Joyce gave her a sympathetic look before turning to her daughter. “And what about you, Chloe? Will you be joining me and David tonight? The diner is closing early enough for me to bake a turkey. It’ll have to be a late dinner though.”

Chloe’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, I mean . . .” She turned, and Max caught her gaze. “I wasn’t really thinking about it,” she said, not breaking their eye contact. “Were you going to do anything?”

Max wriggled in her seat. “I guess I should call my parents. I don’t know about dinner.”

“You’re always welcome to join us,” Joyce invited. “That goes for you as well, Rachel.”

Max didn’t miss how Chloe stiffened. Rachel managed to stay unfazed. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” she said. “I’m sure you have enough to cook as it is.”

“If that’s what you’re worryin’ about you could always lend a hand.”

Rachel bit her lip and glanced at Chloe. The punk let out a sigh and said, “It’s fine, Rachel. The more the merrier, and all that shit. You, me, and Max can all hang out.”

Max could tell that was a bald-faced lie. There was no way Chloe would want to spend time with Rachel. Not yet anyway. So why was she letting her come over?

But when Rachel touched her foot to Max’s shin, it clicked. Oh. They were worried about her.

For a moment she wondered when Chloe had even told Rachel, but the thought was quickly overshadowed by the guilt in her stomach. She didn’t think either of them wanted to be near each other for a while, but they were putting aside their feelings to take care of her. If Max weren’t such a useless mess, they’d be able to work through things at a normal pace.

Once their dinner plans were secure, Joyce took their orders and went back behind the counter. From then on, Warren and Rachel carried most of the conversation—though Rachel refrained from engaging with Chloe. Max could tell they were making an effort to avoid broaching the subjects of Jefferson or the storm. And it was kind of driving her insane. She knew Chloe had told her to take some time off, but the dread in her stomach told her they had to finish things as quickly as possible.

Halfway through their meal, Max’s phone rang. She sucked in a breath when she saw the caller. “It’s Kate!”

They all froze—Warren mid-bite—as Max answered.

“Kate! How are you feeling?”

“Hey Max. I’m doing okay.” Kate sounded far less tired than the last time they spoke. That had to be a good sign, right? “The doctors figured out what I was drugged with.”

Max’s body locked up, and her three friends stared at her with hesitant alarm. “Are you okay talking about this? I mean, I don’t want you to feel forced or anything.”

“It’s fine. I’ve already told the police, and I kind of feel like I owe it to you, since you’re the one that saved me. I think I’m going to tell Mr. Jefferson too.”

Oh god no. He couldn’t know they were closing in on him. If he thought the police were catching on, he’d be more careful than ever. And if Kate told him that Max and the others knew, he’d be more dangerous than ever.

“Maybe you should wait before telling anyone,” Max suggested. “If we all know, it’s more likely that one of us would let something slip, and that might get you in trouble.” She’d be sacrificing knowledge that could help them catch Jefferson, but it was better than him figuring out how much they knew.

But she must have said something wrong, because she heard a frustrated sigh through the other line. “I thought you’d care more about this. I thought I could trust you with this,” Kate said in an accusatory tone.

Max had to either salvage this, or rewind and try again. “I do care, and I want you to trust me,” she backtracked. “I’m just worried about how many people know about this.”

“If you don’t want to help, you can just say so,” Kate said, her voice laced with tension and a touch of fear. Crap, did she think Max didn’t want to help?

“No, it’s not that, Kate, I just—”

“It’s fine,” she resigned. “It was too much to ask for anyway.”

Okay, this conversation was a bust. Max held up her hand and rewound.

“—ell Mr. Jefferson too.”

Time for take-two. “I think you should only tell one of us,” Max said. “It’ll make it harder for the police if too many people know.”

“Why? It’s not like you guys’ll say anything to anyone else.” The irritation in her voice was back.

There wasn’t much of a choice. If Kate was going to trust Max, then she had to feel like Max trusted her. And that meant Max had to reveal some of her hand. “I know, but something feels really weird. I can’t really explain it, but this whole situation is making me nervous.” She paused, trying to gauge how much she could say. “I don’t think you should tell Jefferson.”

Kate’s silence twisted Max’s insides. When she spoke, her voice had hints of confusion and mistrust. “You . . . you don’t think he had something to do with it, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Max lied. “But I’ve got a really bad feeling about him, and I’m not sure why.” What else could she say? “If that sounds weird or sketchy, then you don’t have to tell me either.”

There was a rustling on the other end, then Kate said, “Okay, Max. I’ll trust you.”

She pulled the mouthpiece away from her face so Kate couldn’t hear her sigh of relief. “Thanks, Kate.” Time to change the subject. “How are you feeling?

“A lot better. I think I’m going to start coming to class again. And Principal Wells is letting me take my exams in January, so I don’t have to force myself to catch up.”

Holy cow they had exams coming up. Max had a feeling those wouldn’t go well for her. Whatever. As long as everyone was safe, she didn’t care if she flunked out of Blackwell. “That’s great!” she said. “And it’ll be awesome to have you back in class. It’s not the same without you.”

“Thanks, Max. My parents wanted to bring me home, but I really want to push through. I want to show whoever did this that I’m stronger than they think.”

Max found herself nodding, even though Kate couldn’t see it. “You totally are. And if you ever need help, I’ll be in your corner.”

“I’ll remember that.” Kate inhaled deeply and said, “Anyway, I should probably get some rest.”

“Yeah, okay. Call me if you need anything.”

“I will.” She paused. “It was ketamine.”

Max squeezed her phone tight. “What?”

“Whoever drugged me used ketamine.”

“Oh.” What was she supposed to say to that?

“I won’t tell anyone else.” More rustling, then, “Bye, Max.”

Chloe, Rachel, and Warren were still staring at her when she placed her phone face-down on the table. “What was that about?” Chloe asked.

Max’s thoughts swirled as she went over everything Kate said. In Jefferson’s notes, he said he used GHB on his subjects. So why would he switch to ketamine? What even was ketamine? “Kate knows what Jefferson used to drug her,” she said.

After she relayed everything to them, Rachel leaned back in her seat. “Jesus,” she breathed.

“We need to talk to Frank again,” Max said, her mind racing over everything they needed to do. “If he knows where Jefferson got the drugs, he could give us the evidence we need to lock him up! We can tip off the police and plant the binders somewhere and—”

“Max,” Rachel cut her off. “You need to slow down. The whole point of today was to relax.”

Max scowled. “We don’t have time for that!” she protested. “The longer we wait, the more likely he’ll—”

Rachel held up her hand to stop her again. “Let me rephrase that. You need to take a break. You’ve been pushing yourself way too hard, and if you keep going like this, your body’s going to shut down on you. Or worse.”

Max clenched her fists and gritted her teeth. “But . . . we have to . . .”

“Hey,” Chloe placed a hand over hers. “I have to see Frank to pay off my debt anyway. I can ask about the drugs once I’m there.”

Right. Right, they needed to see him anyway. “Okay,” she said, nodding, “We can talk to him about it when we’re doing that.”

“Chloe and I will handle that,” Rachel said. “But you still need to rest.”

Dammit, why weren’t they listening? “You can’t go alone! Last time, Frank tried to—”

“Last time I didn’t have the money,” Chloe pointed out. “He won’t do anything once I pay him off.” She gave Max’s hand a squeeze. “Let us handle this.”

No! No, they couldn’t do this alone! They’d get hurt without her! Max was useless if she wasn’t there with them!

“Warren,” Rachel turned to the boy next to her, “do you mind staying with her tomorrow while Chloe and I get everything done?”

Max barely even heard him agree. They must have planned this ahead of time! They wanted to keep her out of it! They knew how useless she was! But if she could just stay near them, she could be helpful! At this point, using her powers to save people was the only thing she was good for!

“Hey,” Chloe’s voice broke through her thoughts. The punk leaned into her, and at the same time Rachel touched her foot to her shin again. “If it makes you feel better, why don’t you take a picture before we go? If things get ugly you can jump back and tell us.”

They had already decided without her. Nothing Max said would change their minds. Her shoulders slumped as she conceded.

 

As grateful as she was for being able to spend Thanksgiving with Chloe and Joyce, Max didn’t exactly enjoy the tension around the table. Between Chloe, Rachel, and David, it felt like the entire house was on pins and needles. Through it all, Joyce fought to keep a civil conversation going.

“So Max, any plans for your winter break?” she asked, ignoring how David and Chloe kept glaring at each other.

Max shifted in her seat. “Uh, not really.”

“Will you be goin’ home to Seattle?”

“I haven’t talked it over with my parents.” Crud, she needed to tell them she couldn’t go back. There was no way she was going to leave Chloe and Rachel alone in Arcadia Bay. Not when they were in constant danger.

Joyce gave a gentle smile. “Well, if you decide to stay, make sure you come and visit. The house is always so much brighter with you around.”

“And also it gives my step-dick a reason to behave,” Chloe muttered.

David set a clenched fist on the table. “But apparently we can’t say the same about you,” he growled.

“Now you two stop that right this instant!” Joyce snapped. “We are going to have a nice, polite family dinner.”

They all took a moment to chew on their food. Rachel cleared her throat and said, “This cranberry sauce is really good, Mrs. Price.”

“Why thank you, Rachel. And I must say I do appreciate your help with the turkey.”

Rachel beamed. “Of course! Thank you for letting me help.”

Max didn’t miss how Chloe’s nostrils flared as she put extra vigor in slicing the meat.

David glowered at her. “Do you have a problem with your food, young lady?”

“What makes you think that, old man?” she snarled, shoving a particularly large bite into her mouth. “I’m just having so much fun. Can’t you tell how much fun I’m having?”

“Now you listen here,” he pointed at her from across the table, “your mother worked hard on this meal, and you are going to appreciate it.”

“And what about you? I don’t see you worshiping the ground she walks on.”

Rachel stretched out a tentative hand, trying to calm her friend. “Chloe, maybe you shouldn’t—”

“You stay out of this.”

Placing her hands flat on the table, Joyce said, “Chloe Elizabeth Price, is that any way to speak to Rachel?”

Chloe snorted, “Gotta love how no matter what’s going on, everybody takes Rachel’s side instead of mine.”

“What sides? What is going on?”

“How ‘bout it, Rach? You wanna—” Chloe froze when she caught Max’s gaze. What did she see in Max’s face? Whatever it was, it got her to close her eyes and take a deep breath. When she opened them, she said, “Forget it. Let’s just eat.”

Max tried to hide the relief that swept through her, while next to her Rachel stared at the table with a blank look. God, this whole thing was a terrible idea. And the fact that Chloe and Rachel were sitting through this for her only made it worse. Her stomach churned as she wished she could be back in her dorm room.

Cutting through the beat of silence, David said, “Whatever little spat you two are having, it should wait until after dinner. This is inappropriate behavior.”

A tiny, snarky piece of Max’s mind wanted to point out that almost nothing he did was ever appropriate. This was the man who harassed Kate, hit Chloe, and threw temper tantrums when he didn’t get his way—at least in another timeline anyway. Still, Max tried to remind herself that he also saved her from Jefferson and wept when he found out Chloe had died. He was on an ego trip, but somewhere deep down, he cared.

Unfortunately, his caring side didn’t seem to want to make an appearance, as he went on lecturing Chloe, “You’re lucky these two even want to talk to you. So why don’t you show some gratitude and act like an adult for once?”

“Fine. Can we drop it?” Chloe spoke through gritted teeth. How many times had she had to swallow her pride and let people treat her like shit in the past two weeks?

David still didn’t seem to notice her efforts to stay calm. “I’ll drop it when you stop attacking everyone that tries to care about you. Your mother, your ‘friends,’ who’ll you have left when you drive them all away?”

Max held up a nervous hand and said, “She isn’t driving us—”

But before she could finish, Chloe finally snapped, “Well maybe if I drive everyone away, I won’t have to deal with your fascist ass anymore!”

“Chloe!” David slapped the table, and both Joyce and Max winced.

“Please, everyone,” she pleaded. “Can’t we just have a nice dinner?”

But Chloe and David had just gotten started, and they showed no sign of stopping. They kept poking, trying to goad each other into breaking composure and losing it so they could pretend to take the high road. At some point, Joyce placed her head in her hands and avoided looking at anyone.

Max hated how upset she looked. She must have worked so hard on this. “Joyce, I’m so sorry,” she said, reaching across the table.

Joyce met her eyes and placed her hand over Max’s. “Thank you, Max. But I suppose I should have known this would happen.”

As Chloe and David continued to snap at each other, Rachel nudged Max’s arm. “Want to go get some air?” she asked.

Sit in silence while Chloe and David yelled or be alone with Rachel Amber? Max wasn’t sure which option scared her more.

“Because everybody knows school security guards have nothing to compensate for!” Chloe jabbed.

Okay, Rachel it was.

The two of them took a seat on the steps of the porch outside. Three days ago, Max would have expected Rachel to all but cuddle up against her. Now, there was at least a foot between them, and they both seemed to hold themselves tight within invisible frames. And Max missed the contact. She tried to tell herself that it was just because the air was so cold and Rachel was so warm, but the pit of dread in her insides made her wonder if there was something more she was feeling.

She was doing this for Chloe. Max had to keep reminding herself, everything she did was for Chloe. There couldn’t be any distractions.

“Just so you know,” Rachel broke through her thoughts, “I’m not mad at you.”

She . . . what? “You’re not?”

“No. I mean,” she paused to bite her lip. “I am mad. But it’s not directed at you.” She curled into herself. “I’m trying not to direct it at you.”

“Oh.” Max wrapped her arms around herself. “I thought you would be.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I still wish we’d waited until after all of this was over.” She sat back on the heels of her palms and said, “But I kind of knew this was always going to happen.”

Out of the corner of Max’s eye, she saw Rachel reach out to her before thinking better of it and pulling her hand back.

Rachel said, “My point is, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Max glanced over at her to see a sorrowful smile on her face. “Chloe needs someone who’ll put her first.”

Max mulled over her words before asking, “Do you not want to be that person?”

“I do. I really do. I just . . .” Rachel’s eyes slid shut and she let her head drop back. “I think I’m just bad at loving people.” A pained laugh escaped her lips. “Chloe was right. I really am like my dad.”

What was Max supposed to say to that? She didn’t know anything about Rachel’s dad. Heck, she still felt like she barely knew Rachel. But despite everything she’d done, Max wanted to make her feel better. She grasped at some courage and placed her hand on Rachel’s shoulder. In turn, Rachel placed her hand on top of Max’s and squeezed.

“I’m sorry for wrapping you into my drama,” she said.

Max said, “This might sound weird, but I’m actually glad I got to be a part of it.” Rachel opened her eyes and gave her a puzzled look. “Back in my timeline, I never got the chance to meet you. And now that I have,” she dropped her hand and shrugged, “I’m just . . . I don’t know, I like knowing you.”

Rachel’s eyes were unreadable for several long seconds, before a bittersweet light took over them and she dropped Max’s gaze. “God, Max, you always . . .” She sighed and wrapped her arms around her knees. “Sometimes you sound so much like my Max.”

My Max. Those words echoed in her mind. “Are we really different?”

“She was a little more confident than you. I guess it came from having less baggage.” Rachel began to play with her fingers. “Sometimes I really miss her.” She bit her lip. “A lot of times.”

No matter what happened, Max decided she’d spend the rest of her life carrying some kind of guilt. “I’m sorry.”

Rachel sniffed hard and wiped her eyes of tears Max hadn’t even noticed. “Don’t be. You’re the one who saved me. And I guess . . . you are sort of the same person. It’s less that I miss her—you—and more that I miss what we had.”

That had been the question lingering in Max’s mind for nearly two weeks. “Rachel, what did we have?”

Resting her head on her knees and looking at Max, she teased, “It wasn’t romantic or sexual, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Max blushed at her tone. Was she relieved at that? Honestly, she wasn’t sure.

“But,” Rachel paused, then said, “sometimes it felt like it was headed that way.”

Max’s heart stuttered.

Oh.

“We were—uh, what?”

Rachel’s eyes turned away. “I flirted a lot. I kind of just do that with everybody. But with you . . . I don’t know. I felt super calm. It’s like you slow down the crazy in my world.” She smiled. “And I think I got the sense that you liked me too.”

She ran her fingers through her hair, and her eyes glazed over as she thought back. “There was this one time I dragged you along to a Vortex Club party. I could tell you didn’t want to do it, but you came anyway. Everyone was dancing and drinking, and you just hung out in a corner. When I checked up on you, you were super nervous.

“So we went outside, and you stayed with me while I smoked a bit. And we just started talking.” Rachel smiled and went on, “About Chloe, photography, art, and just life in general. And it was kinda weird, and kinda refreshing. I’ve always been a go-go-go kind of person. There’s so much stuff I want to do, and I feel like I don’t have enough time to do it. But you made me want to just sit down and breathe.”

Rachel closed her eyes and smiled. “And then you took my hand and we got quiet. We just sat there till the party was over. I was so proud of how brave you were, and so happy that you could feel that way around me.” She opened her eyes and said, “It was the first time in months that I felt normal. Like, everything felt wrong without Chloe. But when I met you, things started to feel right again. Not fixed, but . . . right.”

Sadness swept over her face. “Then you went to San Francisco, and when you came back you were really distant. You started drinking and partying harder with us, but it didn’t feel like you were comfortable with it. I wanted to ask you about it, but I didn’t know how. And when I finally tried, I lost the chance. One second I’m working up the courage to ask what happened, and the next you don’t remember anything about me.”

Max’s fingertips went numb, but not in the same way they did when she was panicking. That was fear and alarm. This was confusion and . . . and what? Guilt at what Rachel had lost? Regret for not remembering something so important? And longing?

She didn’t want to think about it. This whole thing was already so . . .

“Th—this is hella crazy,” Max breathed.

Rachel let out a snort of laughter. “God, that still sounds terrible coming from you.”

Max released a nervous giggle. Then, silence took them once more.

Rachel liked her. And in this timeline, Max liked Rachel. But Max loved Chloe, and Chloe loved Rachel. Did Chloe still love Rachel? And what did Rachel feel towards Chloe?

“Hey,” Rachel interrupted her thoughts. “You don’t have to figure anything out. I’m not asking you for anything. Or to be anything.” She smiled, and Max couldn’t help the fluttering in her chest. “I’ve seen how you look at Chloe. I look at her that way too.”

Wowser, that only confused Max even more.

Then Rachel said, “I don’t really care about having a relationship with either of you anymore. As long as I get to be a part of your lives.”

That was all too familiar. This whole time, Max had been telling herself that. It didn’t matter if Chloe didn’t love her, or if Chloe loved Rachel. As long as Max could be near her, could be near both of them, she could live a happy life.

And all along, Rachel was thinking the same thing.

“W-why do you want that? Why are you telling me this?”

With a shrug, Rachel said, “Because if I’m going to be honest with Chloe, I should be honest with you too. And why I want it,” she smiled again, “I just do.”

Images of the three of them traveling together flashed through Max’s mind as fears of Jefferson and the tornado melted away. Driving down to California, taking pictures of Chloe and Rachel at the beach. Going back up North to Seattle and walking through the city. They could visit New York, Paris, Amsterdam, anywhere they wanted. Rachel could be a model, Max could be a photographer, Chloe could be happy. Together, they would do anything they wanted. Like their own, strange little family. Max could spend a life of peace with them.

Unsure of how to communicate all those thoughts, she simply said, “Okay,” and they sat in silence as they waited for Chloe to come get them.

Chapter Text

Chloe’s fists ached as she gripped the wheel of her truck. She might as well have been holding knives in her hands. Frank’s trailer was already parked at the junkyard. Rachel sat in silence beside her.

They had promised Max things would be okay, that they would be safe, but Chloe couldn’t deny the pit in her stomach. The last time they met with Frank, Max had to rewind because he got physical. And now they didn’t have her with them. What would they do if things went wrong? What if he really was the next Damon?

Maybe they should have taken a photo with Max before coming. But their fear of tipping her off kept them from going through with it.

Having to rely on her own wits and Rachel’s charms didn’t exactly ease her mind. Frank was used to both of them. He might know if they tried to manipulate him. And even if he didn’t, Chloe would have to watch while Rachel flirted to get what she wanted. Sure, she did it with almost everyone, but now that Chloe knew there had actually been something between the two of them it made her sick.

“You okay?” Rachel asked.

“Yeah.” Chloe held back her nerves and anger. Now wasn’t the time. “Let’s get this over with.”

As they started to walk up, Frank stepped out of the trailer. Chloe noticed how he glowered at her while avoiding eye contact with Rachel. They all stopped in front of each other.

Frank crossed his arms, his nostrils flaring. “Well?” Chloe pulled the money out of her back pocket and handed it over. He flipped through the bills to count. After getting through the initial three thousand, he paused. When he finished, he looked up and said, “There’s a hell of a lot more than you borrowed here, Price. Not that I’m complaining, but what the fuck?”

Rachel stepped a little closer, and Chloe had to look away. “We need your help,” she said. “Last time we talked, we mentioned that Nathan Prescott was drugging girls.”

He eyed her with care and gripped the money a little tighter. “Yeah?”

“It’s bigger than that. He’s getting help from our teacher, Mark Jefferson. And he’s coming after me.”

At that, Frank’s eyes widened. “He’s what?”

“Jefferson’s targeting the girls in his class. He drugged Kate, he hurt our friend Max, and we’re almost a hundred percent sure that I’m next.”

For a few long moments, he stared at Rachel in shock and alarm. Then he choked out, “H-how do you know all that?”

“We got most of this money from his house,” Chloe said. “He had a bunch of binders with pictures and notes on all these girls that he drugged.”

“And he’s always flirting with the girls at Blackwell. He goes all white knight with Kate whenever she’s around, and he’s tried to kiss me before.”

“He fucking what?” he snarled, his voiced laced with venom and jealousy. At least Chloe wasn’t the only one pissed off at that. “Are you hurt? Did he—are you—”

Rachel shook her head and said, “I’m fine, but he’s already hurt our friend Max. Between all of that and Kate getting drugged out of nowhere, he has to be responsible.” She bit her lip as she finished, and they waited for Frank to soak everything in.

The man almost dropped the money as he whirled around and started pacing. He grabbed his forehead with his free hand. Chloe hadn’t seen him this tense since Damon stabbed Rachel. With any luck, he’d get the same murderous intent he had back then.

“Jesus Christ!” he breathed, turning back around to look at them. “And he’s in on this with the Prescott kid?”

Chloe nodded. “They have some weird father-son thing going on.”

“Fucking hell!” He ran his hand through his hair before dropping it to his side. “Why the fuck are you coming to me with this shit? Why haven’t you told the police?”

Rachel said, “One: we broke into his house, two: so far Max is the only one who knows he attacked her, and three: between him and the Prescotts it will absolutely get covered up.”

“And didn’t you want to avoid the cops?” Chloe grumbled.

“To keep them out of my fucking business!” he snapped back. “If there’s a fucking rapist on the loose that’s a different story!” He froze. Then he looked at the money in his hand. “What are you paying me for?”

Chloe watched and felt her insides twist as Rachel gave him an earnest look. She gently said, “Frank, we don’t just want to lock him up. We want to make sure he can’t hurt anyone ever again.”

Frank gawked at her. “You want me to fucking kill him.”

“We want you to help us kill him,” Chloe said. “I’ll feel better if I do it myself.”

Panic spread over his face. “Are you fucking kidding me? You—you want me to—”

Rachel took a step forward. “We need to do this, Frank. I won’t feel safe until he’s dead.”

“Rachel,” he breathed. “You don’t—” He glanced at Chloe and sighed. “You don’t want to kill someone. Trust me, it fucks with you.”

“He hurt my friend,” she said. “I want to hurt him back.”

“You don’t get it,” he insisted. “This kind of shit changes you.”

For a moment Chloe felt a pang of sympathy. Did Frank regret killing Damon? Did he regret becoming like him? But she shook the thought from her mind and said, “Jefferson has to die.”

He turned to Chloe, and his eyes hardened. “Did you talk her into this?”

“It was my idea,” Rachel said. Chloe ignored the lie. It was necessary to convince Frank.

“It’s a bad fucking idea!” he snapped. “Go to the fucking cops or something. Don’t jump straight to killing him.”

“He hurt one of our best friends,” Rachel said. “He needs to pay.”

Frank shook his head in disbelief. “Do you fucking hear yourself? Who do you think you are? Mad fucking Max?”

“Frank,” Rachel said again, placing a hand on his arm. “I’m really fucking scared right now. I’m scared for my friends. I’m scared for myself. I’m terrified of this man.” She traced her fingers over his jaw. Chloe looked away again. “Please. We can’t do this without you, but if we have to, we’ll try.”

He looked back at her. Fear and sadness still filled his eyes, but with a heavy sigh he said, “What did you have in mind?”

A relieved smile broke across her face, and she dropped her hand. “We have proof of what he’s been doing. We can kill him, but make it look like a suicide. Then we put the binders around him and make it look like he felt bad for everything he’s done. The truth comes out, and he dies. Even the Prescotts can’t hide a body.”

Chloe wondered how true that last part was. Still, as long as the bastard was dead, she didn’t care what got covered up.

“You really want to do this,” Frank remarked.

“Yeah. I really do.”

“But you don’t actually know what to do.”

Rachel frowned, her jaw dropping slightly. “I just said—”

“You’ve got an outline and a goal. Not a real plan.” He crossed his arms and said, “Have you even thought this through?”

Chloe tightened her jaw, and she saw Rachel’s fists clench at her sides. “Of course we have,” she growled. “We didn’t just wake up and decide to kill a guy. I need to protect my friends.” She loosened up and took another step closer to him. “I need to protect myself. Please, Frank.”

At that, Chloe had to look away. It was an act. She’d known Rachel long enough, learned enough about her, to know that she was using Frank’s feelings for her as a tool. It made Chloe wonder again if Rachel had been doing the same with her. Then, she remembered Rachel mentioning that what she and Frank had wasn’t serious. Was that a lie too? Based on how he was looking at Rachel, Chloe was starting to think it was.

He breathed in deeply and nodded. “We’ll have to get him alone. It needs to be somewhere he’d actually go to do something like that. Somewhere private.”

“That’ll be tough,” Chloe said, pushing the creeping thoughts from her mind. She needed to focus. “He has security all over his house. Plus there are cameras everywhere.”

“He could give David a run for his surveillance money,” Rachel said. Then she perked up. “What about at Blackwell? Wells shot down David’s plan for all the security cameras, and Jefferson stays late all the time.”

“Yeah, fuck that. Someone’ll see him. If we do this, we’re not doing it in public.”

Rachel shook her head and said, “I’ve studied with him after school before. Security usually leaves him alone. Besides, if we make it public then it’s harder for the Prescotts to hide it.”

“And it’s easier to get caught,” he pointed out. “You want to fucking kill a guy in the middle of a god damn school.”

Rachel shot back, “That’s why we make it look like a suicide. We can use the drugs we found in Nathan’s room. We get him alone, team up on him, drug him, and leave.”

Chloe crossed her arms as Rachel spoke, envisioning everything she said. “What if he starts screaming?” she asked.

“I can distract him long enough for you guys to come in.”

Frank said, “And how are we supposed to drug him without leaving any marks? If he bruises, or someone finds our DNA on him, we’re fucked. It’s not like we can just come in and hold him down.”

“Can we keep him from moving around without making any marks?” Chloe asked.

“Probably not. And if we try gagging him, we could leave something in his mouth that the cops could find.”

Rachel bit her lip. “Okay, so both of you are going to hate this, but hear me out.”

Chloe’s veins turned to ice. What was she thinking?

“He’s got a thing for me. So what if I let him . . . get close, and then I drug him?”

Oh fuck no. “You want to let him screw you?” Chloe snapped.

“Hell no!” Frank snarled.

“No! I’m saying let him kiss me and get physically close, and then I stick him with the syringe.”

Frank shook his head. “No way! That’s way too dangerous!”

“You guys can always hang back nearby in case something goes wrong.”

“And what? Shoot him then? That brings us back to square one!”

Chloe placed a hand on Rachel’s shoulder, her anxiety at the idea overtaking her frustrations with the girl. “What if he already suspects us? He’ll know something’s wrong.”

Frank snapped his head toward Chloe. “Wait, now he suspects you guys?”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Rachel said. “And we’ll still be in a semi-public place. He can’t do anything, and he won’t be expecting me to do anything.”

“That’s a huge fucking leap in logic,” Frank said. He rubbed his temples. “Why does it have to be in public? It’s not smart. We could kill him somewhere private and hide the body. Then we don’t have to worry about leaving any marks.”

Chloe nodded. “That makes sense to me.”

“But that doesn’t take care of Nathan,” Rachel protested. “We can’t scare him off if he doesn’t know Jefferson’s dead.”

“You’re trying to kill him and blackmail a kid?” Frank muttered in frustration. “Look Rachel, you can’t do too much at once. Not when you’re committing a fucking murder.”

“We can always deal with Nathan after,” Chloe said. “It’s safer for us if Jefferson just disappears.”

She noticed the slight tension in Rachel’s jaw and a single moment when her nostril twitched, though to an outsider she would look totally composed. But Chloe knew her well enough to see what it meant. Rachel wasn’t just mad. She wanted to humiliate Jefferson. To tear him apart in every possible way. The thought was appealing.

Still, if they were going to do this right . . . “We can’t show people what he’s done, but we can make his death as painful as possible,” Chloe said.

Rachel turned to meet her gaze, and Chloe tried to look determined. With a resigned sigh she said, “It’s too bad we took the binders from his house. The cops probably would have found them if he went missing.” A cruel grin spread across her face. “Let’s make that fucker hurt.”

 

The plan was far from intricate or elegant. Rachel would pull Jefferson aside and ask to meet with him after school. She would keep him busy till it was dark out. Then when he was heading to the parking lot, Chloe and Frank would corner him. They’d knock him out, drive him in his car to the woods, and do the deed.

They spent the weekend with Max. She seemed to have mostly recovered from Wednesday and insisted on working on “the plan.” Chloe and Rachel played along and tried to stall her from any actual action. With any luck, Max wouldn’t have to worry about the plan after Monday night.

On Sunday, when the three of them and Warren were hanging out at Chloe’s house, she pulled the boy aside.

“Stay with Max tomorrow,” she said.

Warren gave her a confused look at her cryptic instruction. “Is something wrong?”

She shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong. But we need you to stay with Max tomorrow.”

After a long pause, he agreed.

The day came.

Chloe holed up in her room while Max and Rachel went to class. She and Frank weren’t needed for several hours, so she just had to kill time. As she lay on her bed with Nathan’s unloaded gun resting on her chest, it finally began to hit her.

Chloe Price was going to kill someone.

This was real. This was happening.

What would her mom think? What would her dad have thought? Her hands felt numb, and her arms and shoulders ached. When she moved, it felt like her body was submerged in a thousand gallons of water. She wanted to toke up and relax, but Frank had told her not to take anything. If she was going to do this, she needed a clear head.

Through it all, one thought brought her comfort. Rachel would be with her. She was a lying, cheating, friend-abandoning piece of shit. But she’d be with her all the same.

She placed her hand on the gun and ran her finger over the trigger as she stared at the clock next to her bed.

12:01

Chloe forced herself to eat something. She couldn’t remember what she ended up getting, but it tasted like ash.

She ached to talk to someone about everything. More accurately, she ached to talk to Rachel. Was she feeling the same anxiety? Would she want to talk about it too? Chloe couldn’t help but feel grateful that Rachel was in school. If not, she might have given in and called her.

2:43

She paced around the room and practiced aiming the gun, mentally yelling at herself for not practicing with it earlier.

No, it was fine. She could do this. She could do this. It’d be easy. Frank would help. Rachel would be there. Chloe could do this. She raised the gun and aimed it at a poster on the wall, imagining it was Jefferson’s head. All it would take is a squeeze of her finger, and she’d blow his fucking brains out. That’s what she wanted. She could do this.

3:37

Time to go.

Rachel’s class with Jefferson ended at four. It would be night-time a little after six. Most people would have left the school by six-thirty. So Rachel would have to stall him for two and a half hours. All the while Chloe would be listening with the same strategy they used when they robbed his house. Rachel had her phone on speaker and Chloe had hers muted. If anything went wrong, she and Frank could get there in an instant.

Chloe loaded the clip into Nathan’s gun—her hands shaking so much that she kept missing the slot—and stuffed it in the back of her pants, then pocketed a copy of Blackwell’s keys that she’d swiped from David. Her hands shook on the car ride over.

She parked next to the handicapped section right as Frank pulled into the lot. Once they were both settled, she got into his RV.

“Price.”

“Frank.”

“You have the gun?”

“Yep.”

“Is it loaded?”

“Yes, Frank. I’m not a fucking moron.”

“And I’m not doing this for the first time. You are. So don’t sass me for making sure you don’t fuck it up.”

Neither of them said a word after that. Chloe set her phone on his table so they could both listen.

“Thanks for helping me set up a portfolio, Mark,” Rachel said.

“Of course! I’m so pleased you’re taking the initiative with it. Too many people wait until the last minute and aren’t prepared.”

“Well, considering I’ve had a whole extra year here, I don’t think I have any right to be unprepared.”

“Very true. You know, Samuel Coleridge once said, ‘He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.’”

Oh god, they were going to have over two hours of this shit.

Time passed. They kept talking. Chloe paced around the RV, and Frank snapped at her for being annoying.

The sun began to go down.

They were so fucking close.

Frank spoke up, “Okay, now we just wait for Rachel to lead him to the parking lot. I’ll grab and gag him, you hit him on the head to knock him out. We’ll tie him up in the RV, take him to the junkyard, then you can fill his fucking skull with bullets.”

Chloe nodded.

They were so fucking close.

“Everyone’s probably gone now,” Jefferson remarked.

“Oh shit, really? Fuck, what time is it?”

He laughed, “You know you should really watch your language. Not everyone is as forgiving as me.”

“I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.” Chloe could imagine her saying that with a wink. “Anyway, do you want to keep going? Because I’m game if you are.”

“I will in a second, but I want to pause for a bit. I’ve got a few questions.”

“Yeah? Shoot.”

Jefferson chuckled, and something about his tone made Chloe’s blood curdle. She braced her hands on Frank’s table and paid attention. “I was just wondering how much Max knows about this.”

Chloe’s heart stopped.

“This? Like, you and me?”

“Among other things. Is she listening right now? I’m sure your wannabe-punk friend is.”

“We need to go right now,” Chloe snarled. Frank leaped to his feet, and they both stumbled out of the RV.

“What are you talking about?”

They sprinted across the parking lot.

Time seemed to slow.

“I won’t lie, I’m genuinely impressed. I still can’t figure out how you got into my house without anyone noticing.”

Chloe’s shoes skidded on the brick steps as she slammed into the door of the school.

Her heart pounded in her ears.

“M-Mark, you’re scaring me.”

She fumbled with David’s keys.

“Did you do it for Kate? For Max?”

The door clicked.

“I didn’t do anything! What the fuck are you talking about?”

Chloe threw it open.

“Rachel,” his voice turned sickly-sweet, “you really are a wonderful actress, but you can’t lie to me.”

Chloe and Frank bumped into each other as they shoved through the doorway.

A rustling, then, “What are you doing with that? Jesus Christ, Mark! Put that away!”

They raced through the halls. Why weren’t her legs moving faster?

“Mark! Stop!”

They reached the classroom door.

“Don’t make another sound.”

Chloe and Frank burst into the classroom. Jefferson spun around. He had Rachel pulled up against him, her back to his front, keeping a hand around her throat, and holding a gun to her head.

Chloe fumbled to pull out Nathan’s gun, but Jefferson said, “If you do anything, I’ll shoot her right now.”

She and Frank froze.

“If you try to hurt me, I’ll shoot her. If you try to call for help, I’ll shoot her.”

“You’ll get caught!” Rachel gasped.

“No I won’t.” He nodded toward Chloe and Frank. “Let’s take a walk.”

 

Max wriggled in her booth at Two Whales. Chloe and Rachel were supposed to be meeting up with her at any minute. She wondered if they were coming together.

The moment school ended the day before, both of them had gone radio silent. Rachel told her that might happen, but that only made Max’s nerves even worse. At least Warren had provided her some comfort during the evening.

The waves of relief that had swept through her when Rachel texted her at almost eight at night asking to get together nearly overwhelmed her. Whatever they were doing, they were safe.

She absentmindedly traced her fingers over some of the photos she’d pulled out of her journal and laid on the table. Max at the Space Needle before she called Chloe back in April, Chloe and Max at Steph’s house, one of her and Rachel that the Max from this timeline had taken.

“Yo, Max!” Her head shot up to see Nathan sliding into the booth across from her. “Waddup, hipster?”

“Hey, Nathan. I’m just waiting for Chloe and Rachel.”

“Cool, cool. Tell Rachel I said ‘hey’ and Chloe I said ‘fuck you.’”

What an asshole. “What are you doing here?”

“Figured I’d grab some pancakes before class. Want me to get you some?”

She shook her head. “I’m going to wait for Rachel and Chloe before I order.”

“Whatever,” he scoffed. “Anyway, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

The restaurant bell rang as the door opened. David stepped inside, his eyes raw and puffy and his nose dripping with snot. What the heck?

“So like, have you ever seen some weird shit, or had any weird dreams or something?”

David stepped up to the counter where Joyce was. Max could barely hear his low voice as he said, “Joyce, I need to talk to you in private.”

“David? What happened? Are you alright?”

Max leaned out of her seat, trying to catch what was going on.

“Max?” Nathan asked.

“Huh? Oh, I mean, I don’t know. What kind of weird stuff?” Crap! This seemed important too! But what was going on with David and Joyce?

She watched as the security guard stepped behind the counter and led Joyce into the kitchen.

“Like, I don’t know, man. Weird animals.”

“Animals?” She was ready to jump out of her seat and run to the back of the restaurant. She could always rewind so it didn’t look weird, but something in her gut told her she had to hear what David was telling Joyce.

In the end, she didn’t need to.

Max had never heard anyone scream the way Joyce screamed. Ever. Not even when she and Chloe found Rachel’s body. Joyce screamed as though someone had ripped out her heart and held it in front of her. She screamed so hard that every head in the restaurant turned.

In an instant, Max shot out of her seat and into the kitchen. Joyce was crumpled up in a ball on the ground, rocking back and forth. David had crouched down and wrapped his arms around her. Tears streamed down both of their faces.

“Joyce! What’s going—”

“Chloe!” the woman wailed. “No please no! No God, not her!”

No.

The room spun around her.

No.

Her shaking knees gave way.

No.

Bile forced its way out of her throat.

Chloe was—she couldn’t be—she was fine just the other day!

“Joyce,” she breathed.

“My girl! My baby girl!”

“Joyce! What happened?”

David sat down and pulled Joyce into his lap. They clung to each other and sobbed.

“Max?”

She twisted her head around. Nathan was standing in the doorway with a police officer next to him. He walked over to her and tried to help her up.

Max slapped his hands away. “Don’t touch me!” She looked at the officer. “What happened?”

The cop knelt down next to her. “I’m sorry, miss. I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Like hell, you’re not!” Nathan snapped. “Do you think you’d be at liberty if my father got involved?”

The officer frowned. “Excuse me?” she said, taken aback.

“Yeah. My father. Sean Prescott.”

The woman paled. “Chloe Price and Rachel Amber died of drug overdoses last night,” she choked out. “Their dealer called it in and then fled town.”

Oh god no. It was Chloe and Rachel.

“What?” Nathan breathed, his mouth hanging open. He shook his head and stumbled back a bit, his vitriol gone. “No! Rachel wouldn’t—this isn’t—you’re wrong!”

Joyce let out another haunting shriek.

A crowd had begun to form around the kitchen door. The officer stood and started waving them away.

Max’s world went dark, and she collapsed on the ground.

 

Roaring.

Unearthly roaring.

Chloe and Rachel were gone. The tornado was here.

Chapter Text

Max awoke to a teary-eyed Nathan shaking her.

The roar of the tornado tearing through her skull had disappeared, and all she could hear was Joyce’s muffled sobbing as she smothered her face into her husband’s shoulder.

She let Nathan help her up and together they stumbled out of the kitchen. Outside, dark clouds hovered over Arcadia Bay, but there was no tornado in sight. It wasn’t even raining.

Was it another vision? Why now? Why couldn’t the universe just let her breathe?

“M-Max?” Nathan choked out, his face flushed red and his nose running. “Rachel wouldn’t—she wouldn’t do that! She’s smarter than that!”

Rachel.

Chloe.

They were dead. An overdose. On what? Oh god they were dead. Oh god. No, no they couldn’t be. Why did they have to die?

No. This wasn’t permanent. This wasn’t the first time Max had lost Chloe. This wasn’t the first time Rachel had died. Max could save them. She could stop it from happening. It was fine. They’d be fine.

Max could fix this. She had to fix this. But first she needed information.

“I know,” she said, fighting to keep her voice even. This was fine. There was no need to grieve yet. She could fix this. “Chloe wouldn’t either. But Frank—”

Nathan’s entire body clenched up. “That fucker! I’ll fucking tear him to pieces!”

“We have to find him first,” Max said. She needed to figure out how Chloe and Rachel died before she could stop it. Then everything would be fine.

But Max’s words seemed to catch Nathan’s attention. “You’ll help me?” he hissed with murder in his eyes.

With a nod she said, “I’ll help you.”

Nathan twisted his head around to look at all the people in the diner. They seemed too focused on Joyce to have heard their conversation. And even if they had noticed, no one would dare challenge a Prescott.

He wiped his nose and looked ahead. “Come on. Let’s talk about this at my place.”

The moment they slid into Nathan’s truck Max pulled one of her photos from her bag. The selfie of her and Chloe outside Steph’s home. As the most recent picture she’d taken, this was the one she’d have to go back to. And it was a week old. She cursed herself for not thinking to take more throughout the week. She should have known something would go wrong!

“My dad’ll have every cop in town plus the fucking state troopers looking for Frank,” Nathan said, more to himself than to Max. “But I want to find him first. He has to give me that.”

Max turned to him and frowned. “Frank?”

“What? No, my dad! He has to let me at Frank before anyone else! It’s my fucking right!”

His right? What the heck did that even mean? How entitled was this boy? “Will you let me talk to Frank first?”

Nathan laughed, and his manic grin and wide eyes matched hideously with his red and puffy face. “What, you want to know why he did it? Are you gonna get him to change his ways?”

“I do want to know why. After he tells me you can do whatever the hell you want to him.”

With Nathan’s resources, Max had no doubt they’d be able to track Frank down. But she’d need to get him to talk before Nathan came in like a wild animal.

They passed a private-property sign, and after several long minutes of driving through a secluded forest, they stopped in front of what Max could only describe as a mansion. A tall, asymmetrical structure plucked from the 19th century, with overhanging eaves, columns standing by the front door, and steep-sloped rooves. It was the opposite of Jefferson’s home, and probably way more expensive.

Nathan cut off the engine but didn’t get out.

“Max—” he stopped and looked down at his lap. “Can’t you—” he cut himself off again and shook his head. “Never mind. If you could have stopped it you would have.”

Squeezing her messenger bag close to her body, she said, “I’m sorry, Nathan. I wish I was with them last night.”

This was fine. She could fix this.

Nathan charged through the front door and through the spacious foyer, giving Max almost no time to take in the funeral-like décor or the heavy scent of wood and oil. “Dad!” he called out. Then, even louder, “Dad! Where are you?”

“Lower your voice!” snapped an unfamiliar man. His own voice was high-pitched, but with a low timber, nasally, and he enunciated every word abnormally hard. Max heard the click of heavy shoes on the polished hardwood floors as the stranger marched through the house and into the living room.

Sean Prescott stood before her. Max had seen his image before on a photo in Nathan’s dorm room months prior, but now that she saw him in person, he seemed underwhelming. Aside from his tall stature, he had no remarkable traits. A plain, chubby face and plain, narrow glasses, plain khaki pants and a plain button-up shirt. His hands were small, and graying sandy hair sat atop his balding head. He was not at all the daunting lord of Arcadia Bay that Max had always imagined.

“Why are you not in school?” he growled. “And who is this?”

Nathan ignored his father’s questions and said, “Rachel Amber is dead.”

The man went rigid. He stared at his son with wide eyes and an open mouth. “You didn’t . . .”

“What? No! I would never hurt her!” Nathan spat back, appalled. “Her drug dealer killed her and that Price bitch.”

“Chloe,” Max corrected.

Mr. Prescott switched his gaze to her. “And who are you?” Max found herself at a loss for words at his scrutinizing eyes. Then he snarled, “Answer me!”

Immediately, she said, “Max Caulfield. I’m Rachel and Chloe’s friend.” In the corner of her eye, Nathan’s crimson face paled. A moment later she added, “And Nathan’s.” That was technically true in this timeline.

Mr. Prescott lifted an eyebrow and glanced at his son, then back to Max. “I see. And tell me, why are you here?”

“I want to find Frank,” she said.

“Why?”

“I want him to tell me why he did it. And how he did it.”

He let out a low, hmm. His eyes seemed to pierce her mind as he scrutinized her, and his expression screamed doubt and mistrust. “Two of your friends are dead, yet you don’t seem too distraught by this. Tell me why.”

“I—” Max caught herself before the words tumbled out, struggling to think of a way to phrase it. She couldn’t lie, not to this man, not to his tone, but she couldn’t give anything away either.

“What are you waiting for? Tell me.”

Crap. She rewound to erase her suspicious silence at his question. “I can’t think about that right now,” she gasped. Why did saying that take so much effort?

He peered at her for several long seconds before turning back to Nathan. “I need a word with you.”

The boy, now shaking, nodded and followed his father into another room.

Once they were out of earshot, Max sucked in a deep breath and followed after them. After a few minutes of searching through an absurd amount of rooms—how big was this place?—she heard their voices behind a closed door. Max lifted her hand and rewound until the moment the door clicked shut. She wiped away the light trickle of blood leaking from her nostrils and pressed her ear up against the door.

“How did this happen?” the older man asked.

“Frank Bowers drugged her and she—”

Smack!

“How did you let this happen?”

Max heard Nathan sniffling and struggling to breathe evenly. “I-I don’t know! It shouldn’t have—Rachel is too smart—Frank must have—”

Smack!

“What did you do wrong?”

Nathan was whimpering now. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to let this happen!”

“Answer the question!” the man snapped, loud enough that Max winced. The last time she’d heard a man with that kind of tone, she’d been surrounded by white light and the smell of chemicals, and it was followed by the shutter of a camera.

Nathan sobbed, “I wasn’t paying attention! I should have kept better track of her!”

“That’s right,” his father said, his voice softer now. “I hope you understand the gravity of this situation. You have failed generations of our family. My family.”

“I’m sor—”

“Do not speak unless I ask you a question.”

Nathan fell silent.

Rustling, the sound of footsteps as Mr. Prescott paced around the room. “There is too much at stake for us to give up now. I haven’t spent all this time waiting only for you to trip at the finish line. The forces that keep this town moving aren’t going to stop for us to catch up.” He stopped walking. “Now, there may still be a solution to this problem. A way to mend your shortcomings. Can you guess what that is?”

“Dad it won’t—she would have already fixed it!”

“Well, we won’t know unless we ask her, will we? But first, be quiet.”

More silence.

When Mr. Prescott spoke again, Max could tell it wasn’t to Nathan. “I don’t care if you’re busy right now. Step outside if you have to.” A pause. “Have you heard what happened to that Amber girl? Don’t play dumb, it insults me. This is too convenient for you not to know anything. If you’re not willing to tell me now, I will come there myself and make you speak. I see. Well then, we’re going to have words later. No, that’s all for now. But expect me there this afternoon.”

More rustling, then, “Why don’t we go attend to our guest?”

“Dad please—”

“Be quiet, that was rhetorical.”

Max sped back to the living room and rewound for good measure. What the heck was that about? Nathan’s father seemed way too interested in what happened to Rachel. And her dying ruined some plan of his. Why? And who was he planning to ask to “fix it?”

Before she had time to finish the thought, the Prescott men returned.

Sean Prescott stood tall with an eerie smile on his face. “Now, the three of us are going to think of a way to correct our course.”

Max shuddered at how he seemed to press his “s” sounds with vigor. “Are we going to find Frank?” she asked.

“Not quite yet.” He slipped his hands into his pockets and stepped forward until he was leering over her. “Now Miss Caulfield, do you think you can undo this?”

Her heart stopped.

“Speak up young lady.”

“I don’t know,” she blurted out before she could stop herself.

“And if Nathan could do what you do, would he be able to—”

“No!” Nathan broke his silence. “I won’t do it! You can’t make me! I-I won’t! I won’t!”

Mr. Prescott held up a hand and said, “Be quiet.”

“I won’t!” Nathan yelled.

“Be quiet!” his father snapped back.

Nathan choked and seemed to struggle with his breathing. Max’s wide eyes darted between the two of them. What the hell was going on? Did Nathan’s father know about her powers? How?

“Now then, young lady, we’re going to get a few things straight. Stay quiet and listen to everything I have to say.”

Max’s jaw locked shut. She desperately wanted to lift her hand and rewind. But for whatever reason, she felt like he would know if she did it, and she couldn’t risk his wrath. So instead, she soaked in every word that came out of his mouth.

The hairs on her neck raised as she heard Nathan’s faint voice in the back of her skull, desperately whispering, “Don’t listen to him!” No, that couldn’t be right. He was standing on the other side of the room and hadn’t spoken once since his father told him to be quiet. So how was he repeating it over and over in her head?

Sean Prescott’s voice cut through the noise. “Tell me, do you understand?”

She nodded and squeaked out, “Yes.”

“Excellent. Forget everything about your time here, except for what you need to know to fix what has happened. Don’t tell anyone about any of this. Now get to work.”

 

Max sat in Nathan’s car and stared at the photo in her hands. The last hour was a blur in her head, but she didn’t care. She needed to go back. She needed to save them. She needed to fix this.

 

The polaroid photo slid out of her camera. Chloe’s arm was around her shoulder. Max sighed with relief and leaned into her friend. She could fix this.

“Alright!” Chloe announced with a grin that didn’t hide her anxiety. She released Max and began walking toward her truck. “Let’s do this!”

“Chloe.”

At Max’s gentle tone, Chloe stopped and turned around. “Max? Holy shit what’s wrong?”

Oh. Max was crying. She barely felt the tears on her cheeks. Well, at least she wouldn’t have to fight to get Chloe’s attention.

“Don’t go see Frank on Monday,” she said.

Chloe placed tense arms on Max’s shoulders. “Did something happen?”

With a nod, Max said, “Frank kills you and Rachel. You can’t go to him.”

For a moment Max could have sworn Chloe wasn’t breathing. “Fuck,” her friend gasped. “I knew he was a dick, but I never thought—shit!” She stepped away and covered her mouth. Then, her eyes went wide and she asked, “How am I supposed to pay him off?”

How had it happened before? Max thought for a moment, then said, “Nothing happens when you pay him off this Friday. But you and Rachel go to see him on Monday, and he kills you both.”

Chloe grasped at her head. “Shit. Okay. I’ll make sure we don’t do that.”

Thank god. It would be fine. Chloe and Rachel would be safe. As soon as Max got back to the present, she was going to find them and never let go. Without thinking, she threw her arms around Chloe and buried her head in her shoulder. Her vision began to bleed orange and black.

“I’m about to forget. I’ll see you both on Tuesday.”

Chloe returned the hug. “I’ll keep us safe till then.”

 

Chloe felt Max’s body go limp for just a moment before she twitched. “Chloe? What’s going on?”

Pulling back, she said, “Super-Max from the future came with a secret message.”

Max’s eyes went wide. “Did something go wrong?”

Crap, should she tell Max the truth or keep her calm? Chloe bit her tongue for a moment. “She just had some advice for dealing with Frank. I’ll tell you more later.” For now, Chloe would be vague. She couldn’t stress Max out before they robbed Mark fucking Jeffershit.

 

The job went well, aside from their heads nearly exploding after they rewound for ten fucking minutes. And Chloe replayed what she’d heard from the other timelines over and over in her head. It was just another fucking mystery on their hands. Whatever. She couldn’t think of that now. They had the proof that Jefferson was drugging girls. They had the money to pay off Frank.

And Chloe had the uncomfortable truth that Frank would turn on them.

That night, Chloe told Max, Rachel, and Warren about future-Max’s warning. “I still need to pay him back, but obviously something goes wrong,” she said once she concluded.

Warren shuddered. “Yeah, that’s really bad.”

Rachel frowned and leaned against the wall of her room. “But why does it go wrong? Frank isn’t the type to drug people. And if we manage to pay him back, he shouldn’t have any reason to.”

She and Chloe shared a look. It must have had something to do with the plan to kill Jefferson. Would Frank turn on them for asking him to help commit murder? Or would something happen when they were actually doing the deed? Either way, this was going to change everything about their approach.

Fuck.

“We need to pay really close attention to him on Friday,” Max said with a firmness in her voice that had been lacking over the past week-and-a-half. “We’ll give him the money and get out of there fast.”

As much as Chloe was happy to see Max speak with such confidence, she had been hoping to keep her friend out of the entire Frank situation.

Wait, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t confidence in Max’s eyes, it was tension. Discomfort.

“Hey,” Chloe moved to where Max was sitting at Rachel’s desk. “It’ll be okay. We know what’s coming now, so we’ll be prepared.”

Max didn’t meet her eyes. What the hell?

“It’s just—” she stopped and pinched her brows together. “I think I know why Frank might have gotten mad. Or, is going to get mad.” She looked toward Rachel, and the girl immediately stiffened.

“Max,” she breathed. “Now’s not the time.”

“Uh, guys?” Chloe interrupted. “What are you talking about?”

Max spared her a glance before looking back at Rachel, her gaze heavy with judgment. “What if it happens at an even worse time, Rachel? What if that’s why Frank hurts you two?”

A sinking feeling spread through Chloe’s gut. Something about this was very wrong. “Rachel? What’s she talking about?”

Rachel took a moment to close her eyes and take a deep breath. “Hey Warren? Can you give us the room?”

The boy standing awkwardly in the corner looked between the three of them and said, “Uh, yeah, okay,” then rushed out the door.

The truth came out.

Chloe listened as Rachel spoke, but at first she couldn’t make out the words. When she managed to process them, she didn’t believe them. When she saw the look on Max’s face, she knew it was true. Rachel had lied. Max had known.

As Chloe fled the room with numb fingers and muffled ears, she felt her heart split in two.

 

The next day, Chloe got a call from a hysterical Max. Jefferson had cornered her and given her another panic attack. Which meant Chloe had to put her own problems on hold. Hey, why take the time to process this shit when she could just bottle it up?

Once Max was safely tucked in bed, Chloe called Rachel. They met up in the parking lot. They fought. Chloe’s heart broke all over again.

But in the end, they came to an agreement. If Frank was going to turn on them, they couldn’t rely on him to help with Jefferson. They were on their own. So they would keep Max company on Thursday, the three of them would pay off Frank on Friday, and then Chloe and Rachel would murder Jefferson on Saturday.

As they were leaving, Chloe heard her own voice crying out in pain. Was it another vision from a different timeline? She thought she could only get those when she rewound with Max. Why couldn’t anything be simple?

Thanksgiving with Rachel and her step-dick was brutal, but at least Max wasn’t alone.

On Friday, they got to the junkyard, gave Frank the money, and got the hell out. All the while, Chloe watched him for any hint in his eyes that he wanted to hurt him. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t see it. He was a bastard, but with the heart-eyes he kept making at Rachel there was no way he’d hurt her. So what the hell happened in the other timeline?

Saturday came.

They didn’t have a good plan. Way too fucking much could go wrong. But it was the only thing they could think of. Rachel would call Jefferson and exercise her acting chops. She would tell him that Frank hit her, and that she was terrified and needed his help. They’d lure him to the junkyard, and Chloe would fill his head with bullets.

And just in case, they took a selfie with Max the night before. It was a risk that might end up tipping her off, but if things had already gone wrong once before they couldn’t afford to go up against Jefferson without it.

As she listened while Rachel sobbed to the psychopath over the phone, she couldn’t help but notice how personally the girl addressed him. Had she fucked him too?

Another problem for another time. They had to survive this first.

Rachel stood in the most noticeable spot she could find in the junkyard while Chloe hid in the decrepit old bus. She fought against the freezing air that cut into her skin, against the bile in her throat, against the way her hands shook as she held Nathan’s gun. Why hadn’t she practiced with it before this? Hopefully all those YouTube videos she watched would help.

An hour had passed since Rachel made the call, and Jefferson still hadn’t shown up. Rachel was pacing back and forth, hugging herself to keep the cold away, occasionally glancing toward where Chloe waited in the bus.

Each moment ticked by with an agonizingly slow pace. Chloe’s nerves, which had at first been on edge, had eased up so much that she felt herself switching between boredom and agitation. Where once her eyes had snapped to see the smallest bit of movement around her, now she found herself searching for anything to hold her attention.

Where the fuck was he? Why hadn’t he come yet? Did he suspect that they were setting up an ambush? Fuck, maybe they needed to rethink this.

Chloe sighed and stood up. But when she turned to leave, she felt the bus shift as someone stepped inside. She scrambled to aim the gun.

The last thing she heard was the sound of thunder.

 

Max shuddered as she returned to the present. She was sitting on her bed in her room, and the sun was still high in the sky.

Chloe.

Rachel.

She tore her phone from her pocket and called Chloe.

No answer.

She called Rachel.

No answer.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!

Warren.

He picked up on the fourth ring. “Hey Max? How ya feeling?”

“Warren, I just got back from jumping into the past. What happened?”

“Oh jeez, you really don’t remember anything.” Why was his voice so mournful? “Max I—I don’t know how to tell you this. Rachel and Chloe left town.”

“What?” That couldn’t be right. They wouldn’t do that! “Why—when?”

“Chloe texted you on Saturday and said everything was too much to handle. She and Rachel decided they were done with it.”

Something went wrong. They wouldn’t do that. First they died, now they disappeared? Fuck! She needed to find them fast!

“Okay, Warren. I’m going to figure a few things out.”

She hung up before he could say anything else and began scrolling through her contacts. She hit call.

“Hey, Max,” Nathan picked up. His voice was tight, tense. It reminded her of how he sounded in her original timeline. “You’re lucky I’m already skipping class. What’s up?”

“Nathan, I need you to help me find Rachel and Chloe.”

He sucked in a sharp breath. “Max I can’t—just let it go! They left us!”

She shook her head, even if no one could see it. “Something’s wrong and I think they’re in trouble! I need to find them!”

“Why are you so stressed about it, huh? They fucking ditched us! They’re gone! Let’s just fucking move on! It’ll all be okay if we just move on!”

This wasn’t right. He sounded more unstable than he had been in this timeline. He sounded like he did in the bathroom before he killed Chloe.

He knew something.

Max saw red.

“Where are they, Nathan?” she demanded. Fuck maintaining appearances. Fuck sounding normal. This was life and death.

“I don’t know!” he insisted. “Stop asking me! I don’t know! It’s okay! They’re—it’s okay!”

“You’re lying!” she yelled. “Where are they? Did Jefferson have something to do with it?”

Nathan started breathing heavily over the phone. Was he hyperventilating? “Max, you don’t—it’s fine. I don’t know anything about Jefferson! So leave me alone!” He paused for a moment, then screamed, “What the fuck are you looking at?” Someone must have noticed his meltdown. Good. Max hoped the world saw how fucking messed up he was.

“Tell me where they are right now, Nathan! Are they in the Dark Room?”

“I don’t know what that is? You’re fucking crazy!”

“I’m trying to keep them alive!”

“It’s alright! Rachel’s fine! She’s—” he choked on his own words.

He knew. But why wasn’t he helping her? When they heard that she died, he was the one leading the charge to take revenge. So what had changed?

And what did he know this time around?

“Where is she?” Max asked.

“I-I can’t! I can’t!”

“Are they alive?”

“R-Rachel is! She’s alive, she’s—”

“What about Chloe?”

Nathan was gasping for air now. “I don’t know! Max, I can’t—I can’t—I don’t know!”

Rachel was alive, but Chloe was missing. Max pushed the worst-case scenarios from her mind. It didn’t matter. She was going to fix it anyway. But there was one last thing she needed to know.

“Was it Jefferson?”

Nathan’s heavy, irregular breathing halted. “You—” He gasped and coughed. “I can’t! I fucking can’t!”

“Yes or no! Was it Jefferson?”

Nathan was breathing so hard Max thought he might pass out. He began to say, “Ye—” before he erupted into a full-blown coughing fit.

Max heard what she needed to know.

She hung up, grabbed her camera satchel, and emptied it onto the bed. As soon as her diary landed on the mattress, she snatched it up and started tearing out the pictures till she found one she didn’t recognize. Her, Chloe, and Rachel, all looking awkward and uncomfortable. Someone had scribbled Friday’s date at the bottom.

She wouldn’t have to jump as far back.

Take two, as Rachel would say.

 

The polaroid photo slid out of her camera. Chloe’s arm was around one of her shoulders, and Rachel’s was around the other. This time, Max felt her relaxed body tense up.

“Cool,” Chloe gritted out, sliding away from the two girls. “I’m gonna head home now.”

“Chloe,” Max breathed.

Her friend spun around at her tone. Concern spread across her face. “Max? Oh shit, did something happen? You look hella serious.”

“Hey,” Rachel placed a hand on her cheek. “What happened?”

Okay, she had to say the right thing fast. She didn’t have a lot of time.

“Sometime between Saturday and Monday, something happens between you guys and Jefferson. Or Frank. I’m not sure. I’ve jumped back twice now. The first time, you both died on Monday and Frank ran off. The second time, Chloe disappeared on Saturday, and Jefferson kidnapped Rachel.”

Chloe’s eyes went wide as she took in the information. “Shit,” she whispered.

“Whatever happens this weekend, you have to keep me with you! I can protect you with my powers!”

Chloe took a nervous step back. “Max, I—”

“Promise me!”

The world began to bleed orange and black.

Max heard Chloe’s faint, “Okay,” and Rachel pulled her into a tight hug as her vision began to fade.

 

Before she could see again, she smelled it. The sharp chemicals assaulting her nose. She heard it. The rapid clicks of a camera echoing in her ears. She felt it. The hard chair beneath her and the thick tape against her wrists.

“Hey, is something wrong, Max?”

Max opened her eyes to see Jefferson photographing her.

Chapter Text

Chloe gritted her teeth as Rachel released Max, whose eyes went blank before she twitched back to the present. She and Rachel shared a concerned glance as they came to the same conclusion. They had no choice now. If they wanted to kill Jefferson, they had to include Max in the plan. If they were going to survive, they had to force Max to face him.

“Guys?” Max said, her eyes switching between them. “What happened? Did I jump back and tell you something?”

With a deep breath, Rachel took the lead. “Yeah. You did. And I think we know why things kept going wrong.”

Max closed her eyes and gave a shaky nod. “Okay. Okay, so we can avoid it now. We can stay safe until Tuesday.” She opened her eyes, a new determination lit in them. “What exactly did I say?”

“I go missing and Jefferson kidnaps Rachel,” Chloe said. “It happens tomorrow.” She hated how Max tensed at her words.

“Fuck,” Max breathed. She squeezed her eyes shut and clutched her own arms. Then, she shook her head, and said, “But now we know. All we do is avoid Jefferson, and then we’re safe.”

“Max,” Rachel placed a gentle hand on her arm, “We have to tell you something.” She glanced at Chloe, as if searching for permission. When Chloe nodded, she said, “We’re trying to kill Jefferson. We’ve been planning it since the beginning.”

Max stared at them like they’d already shot someone. Chloe’s insides churned, and she had to break eye contact. If only she could smoke some of the weed waiting back home. Then maybe this crushing guilt wouldn’t bother her so much.

“Y-you . . .” Max couldn’t even start a sentence. From the corner of her eye, Chloe saw Rachel turn away as well. “But we had a plan. We were going to the police, we—” Max stumbled backward and almost tripped on the camera bag she left on the floor.

“I’m sorry we hid this from you,” Rachel said. “I think we both are.”

Chloe nodded and forced herself to meet Max’s gaze. “Yeah.”

“But we’re worried about you, Max. We just wanted to make you feel safe.”

Anger lit up in Max’s eyes. “So you lied to me? You let me spend all that time figuring out how to put Jefferson away, and you were going to kill him all along?”

Rachel said, “We didn’t want to bring you into this. How could we when every time you’re in the same room as him you can barely function?”

“You lied to me!” Max snapped. “I told you weeks ago that I didn’t want to do this! Do you not give a shit for how I feel?”

“We’re doing this for you!” Chloe said.

“I never asked you to!”

“Max,” Rachel tried again, softer this time, “This is the best chance we have. If Jefferson gets arrested, there’s a chance his lawyers will get him out. He hasn’t technically killed anyone yet.”

Chloe took a step forward and placed a hand on Max’s cheek. “You’ll feel safer once he’s dead, Max. I promise.”

But Max slapped her hand away, and Chloe winced. She hadn’t seen Max this animated in . . . fuck, not since they were kids.

Max turned her attention to Rachel, “How do you lie to everyone without a thought? How are you okay with hurting people?”

Rachel’s eyes went wide, and she stumbled back. “I . . . I’m not.” A look of confused horror momentarily crossed Rachel’s face, her chin just barely quivering.

Max’s hands flew to her head, and her eyes welled up with tears. “I can’t fucking believe you! Either of you! You lied to me! You fucking lied to me!” Her eyes unfocused and she shook her head in disbelief.

“Max . . .” Chloe said.

Rachel closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. “Max,” she said opening her eyes, “I’m so sorry.”

Max’s face twisted in disgust, making Chloe’s insides hurt. “You’re sorry? No you’re fucking not! You’re sorry you had to come clean! Don’t you ever think about how people feel when you lie to them? Do you actually care about anyone, or is it all some fucking game?”

Every word that flew out of Max’s mouth had gone through Chloe’s mind three days prior, when Rachel told her the truth about Frank. Chloe could see herself saying the exact same thing. What did that say about how Rachel treated them?

But Rachel stayed calm. “We led you on. We tried to make you feel safe, but we betrayed your trust. And I understand if you feel like we don’t respect you.”

“Of course you don’t!” Max snapped. “I saved your life!” She spun around to look at Chloe. “And I’ve saved your life a million times! But you treat me like I’m useless! I’m the reason we’re all standing here! I’ve done everything to protect you both!”

“Max, we—” Chloe tried again to step in but stopped. For once in her life, she didn’t know what to say. Her usual wit had frozen, the fear of making a wrong move petrifying her.

Rachel took a step forward. “I know,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I know that you’ve saved us. I know that you’re protecting us. I know that you’ve seen us get hurt in the worst ways, and I know that you want to keep us safe.”

Max stared at her, eyes filled with pain, and Chloe wished she could wrap her arms around her and take away all the hurt. But she was part of the reason Max was hurting in the first place.

The time traveler shook her head again and fell back against her bed. She propped herself up and pulled her legs in close to her body. “If you know all that then why did you do it?”

With another step forward, Rachel crouched down and placed her hands on Max’s knees. “You’ve done so much for me, for both of us. You’ve saved us so many times. We wanted to be the ones to save you for once.” She reached up and stroked one of the tears off Max’s cheek. “It’s not that we think you’re useless to us, it’s that we wanted to be useful to you.”

Max shook her head. “And you lied to me. You keep talking about how much you care, and you just keep lying.” Then to Chloe, she said, “And you did too. I don’t think you’ve ever lied to me before. Then the biggest thing I’ve ever asked for, the most important thing we’ve ever had to do, and you—” she choked on the last word as tears streamed down from her eyes. “After everything I’ve seen . . . I’ve done everything I can to keep you safe. But you don’t care.”

“Max,” Chloe dropped to her knees next to Rachel, “I care so fucking much. I care so much that every time you break down, I swear to fucking God I can feel it too. That’s why I want to kill him. I don’t want you to feel that way ever again.”

“What about how I feel now?” she shot back.

Chloe had no response to that.

Rachel did. “I know I’m a bad friend. To everyone. I don’t think there’s a single person I’ve met that I haven’t fucked over somehow. I don’t know why I do it. And I don’t know how to stop. But Max, I’m trying. I’m trying so fucking hard. For you and for Chloe.”

“How are you even trying?” Max said. “If you know it’s wrong, how could you do this?”

Rachel gave a pained, twisted smile that broke Chloe’s heart. “What do you think?”

Max looked away from both of them and stared at the wall. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”

Rachel placed a hand under Max’s chin and turned her face back to look at her properly. “I don’t know how to do it right, but I love you both more than anything in this whole fucking world. I love you so much that I’d kill for you. I love you so much that I’d die for you. I love you so much that I’d change everything about myself for you.” She took Max’s hand and squeezed. “Please love me enough to give me the chance.”

Chloe could hear her heartbeat in her ears as it hit her: she was watching Rachel in action, doing what she did best. She was playing on Max’s emotions to get what she wanted. Chloe had watched her do it to so many people at so many different times that she recognized the tells. She wondered if Rachel had ever done it to her. Was it right to do it here? They needed Max’s help to stop Jefferson, there was no denying that anymore. But did Rachel actually believe what she was saying, or was she twisting the truth to manipulate Max? Did she love Max? Did she love Chloe? Was everything a lie?

And was Chloe just as guilty for letting it happen?

Max opened her mouth, but no words came out. Her hands shook. Her breath hitched. Chloe could see the conflict going on in her best friend’s mind. She knew how much Max must have wanted to believe Rachel. And she knew how impossible it must be after such a betrayal.

Finally, she gave a hard sniff. “I told you I didn’t want to kill him,” she said, her voice as low as Rachel’s. “You said we wouldn’t kill him. And you were going to do it anyway.”

Rachel smiled sadly. “I know,” she said again. “But I think this might be the only way.” She moved to sit next to Max, their thighs and arms touching, still holding her hand. “You know that Jefferson isn’t only a threat to us. He’ll hurt Kate, and Victoria, and every other girl in school if he can.”

Chloe could practically feel Max’s tension as she closed her eyes, clenched her fists, and gritted her teeth. “Yes,” she said.

“You know that he has the money and resources to get out of trouble. And even if he didn’t, the Prescotts would do it for him.”

“Yes.”

“You know that the police would rather listen to men with money than to the girls those men hurt.”

Another pained look crossed Max’s face. “Yes.”

Tension radiated from Max’s body as she squeezed Rachel’s hand with an iron grip, while her free hand flexed and unflexed. Chloe took a seat at her empty side and took the shaking hand. It was only so much, and it might actually make Max even madder. But it was the only thing she could do that felt right.

“Rachel and I are scared too,” she said, cautiously brushing her thumb over the back of Max’s hand. In some miracle that she did not fucking deserve, Max squeezed her hand. Maybe it was the right move after all.

“I know that you don’t want to do this,” Rachel said. “We didn’t want to make you do this at all. But no matter how I look at it, this is the best option I can see. It’s the only one that’ll stick. So we’re going to do everything we can to stop him.” Rachel pressed her forehead against Max’s shoulder. “I know you don’t want to do this. I know we can’t make you help. But I also know that if we all work together, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

Chloe held her breath, and she had a feeling that Rachel was too, as they waited for Max to speak. “You lied to me.”

Rachel leaned into her, and with her free hand she placed Max’s head against her shoulder. “I am so, so sorry, Max. For everything I’ve done. To both of you.” Chloe closed her eyes at that. Rachel went on, “But if you can’t trust how I feel about you, then trust how much I want to kill Jefferson.” She dragged her fingers across Max’s cheeks. “And I hope that someday you realize that all of it stems from how much Chloe and I love you.”

Max said nothing. Her body sagged against Rachel’s, her limp arms lay on the mattress, her vacant eyes stared straight ahead.

Rachel turned and pressed her lips to Max’s crown. Not quite a kiss, but not quite not a kiss. “I understand that this might be too much for you.” She released Max, stood, and walked to the door. “I’ll give you some time to think it over, and no matter what you decide, I’ll follow your lead.”

As pretty as Rachel’s final words sounded, as she left the room Chloe couldn’t help but wonder if she’d ever stop in her crusade to kill Jefferson.

Chloe gave Max’s hand one last squeeze, intending to follow Rachel’s suit and give Max time to stew, but as she started to get up Max said, “Please stay.”

Her heart stuttered. “Okay.”

She settled back down, and Max leaned against her.

For several stone-veined minutes, neither of them said a word. What did Max think of her anymore? What did it mean that she wanted Chloe to stay with her?

Max broke the silence and Chloe’s thoughts. “I watched Jefferson die once.”

Jesus fuck. “You did?”

Nodding, she said, “After he killed you. David saved me from him. I told him—” she tipped her head back and scowled at nothing, “I told him Jefferson killed you. So he shot him.”

David killed Jefferson for killing Chloe? That fascist fucker actually cared about her? Fuck. Fucking fuck. Everything was so messed up.

“I could have stopped him,” Max said. “I could have rewound and pretended you were still alive. I was going to bring you back anyway.” She bent over and placed her head in her hands. “But I wanted him dead. When I saw his body—God Chloe, his fucking brains were on the floor—it felt good. I wanted him dead.”

What was Chloe supposed to say to that? For her and Rachel to want to someone dead—that at least made sense in her mind. But Max? Hearing it, hell, imagining it felt wrong. On a universal level. The Max she knew was never that kind of person. That was how much Jefferson had fucked her up.

Chloe wrapped an arm around her friend. “What changed?”

“You were dead. Rachel was dead. Nathan and Victoria were dead. I kept watching people die. Random truckers, Alyssa, your mom and Warren. And I kept going back, over and over, trying to get it right. But nothing worked. I—” she shuddered and choked on her words, “I let you die, Chloe.” Max shrank into herself, all the fire from before completely gone. “You told me to. So you didn’t have to hurt anymore. So we could stop the tornado. And I did.”

She pressed her face into Chloe’s shoulder. “I don’t want anyone to die anymore, Chloe. Not even him.” She began to tremble. “And I don’t want to feel the way I did when I saw him die.”

Then, everything was spilling out of her. The tears, the sobs, the shaking. All the while, Chloe just sat and held her. What else could she do? How was she supposed to process any of this? She’d known Max had seen her die. She’d known Jefferson had screwed Max up beyond be-fucking-lief. But how could she have known everything else Max had seen?

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Max let out a particularly violent sob. “I th-thought you would hate me. I did so much fucked up shit. And I left you behind. Again.”

She did, didn’t she. But Max also said that Chloe told her to. There were way too many layers. Way too much that Chloe didn’t know to actually figure things out. “I’m . . . I don’t hate you, Max. I don’t really know what to think right now. I’ll probably be mad after all this is over, but now I’m just—” She was just what? Nothing made sense anymore. “I don’t know, Max.”

“Everything hurts so much,” she breathed, pressing deeper into Chloe’s shoulder. “I think this is my punishment for letting you die. For letting myself feel good when Jefferson died. For using these stupid fucking powers in the first place.”

“No one’s trying to punish you,” Chloe said. “We’re making our own decisions. We’re not trying to hurt you.”

But Max didn’t seem to hear her. “If I let anyone die, it won’t mean anything anymore. Everything I’ve done will just . . . not matter.” Her hands clawed at Chloe’s shirt. “It’s been so long. I’ve tried so many times. I’ve gone back so many—” she stopped.

“Max?”

She pulled back. “I’m not.”

“What do you—”

“I’m not Max. Not the real one. I’m a . . . I’m one of the Maxes she leaves behind. I’m not real.”

Chloe’s stomach dropped. “O-of course you’re real! Max, I promise you’re real.”

She shook her head. “Once she gets back, I’ll be gone. I won’t remember any of this.”

Oh fuck.

She wouldn’t.

Chloe and Rachel were going to have to break her heart all over again.

“I’d throw everything away, and she’d deal with the consequences.”

As tears continued to streak down Max’s cheeks, a sickly smile spread across her face and made Chloe’s insides crawl. “Rachel’s right,” Max breathed. “There’s no other way. No matter what we do, Jefferson will get out of it. We have to kill him.” Max looked up, and the despair in her eyes only made her smile seem even more wrong. “Besides, I’m going to disappear soon anyway. What does it matter if I do this?”

Max’s face glazed over, her eyes flickering back and forth as she swallowed hard and tightened her fists. “If you lie to me again—”

“We won’t. We’ll never lie to you again. Not for anything.”

Max took a long, stuttering breath. “I don’t like it. I don’t like any of it. And when I’m gone, I don’t think the real Max will ever forgive you.”

Chloe could take it. She probably deserved it. “As long as you’re safe.”

Max took Chloe’s hand and squeezed it, squeezed her eyes shut, squeezed her whole body into itself. Finally, she said, “Okay.”

 

They called Rachel back in and agreed to stay together for the night. Despite everything, Chloe got the sense that Max wanted both of them there that night. They could make a new plan in the morning.

All three of them climbed into Max’s bed, with Chloe in the middle, Max pressed up against the wall, and Rachel curled up as far as she could on the opposite side. The hours passed, and Max drifted to sleep first. But Chloe could feel that Rachel was still awake.

Chloe murmured into the untelling night, “Rach? Are we bad people?”

Rachel stiffened, her back to Chloe, and curled tighter into herself. “I think we might be.”

“Oh.”

The girl rolled over to face Chloe and reached out a hand without touching her. “But I think I’m worse.”

“Rach,” Chloe crooned. The hurt and rage she felt toward Rachel was still there. But she couldn’t help the fact that her love for Rachel was there too. And now that Chloe had been on the other side of things, now that she’d hurt someone she loved, she felt like she understood Rachel a little bit better. Besides, something about the silence of the night made her want to set aside her anger.

She turned to face the girl and took the outstretched hand. They laced their fingers together.

Rachel wriggled forward and pressed her head against Chloe’s chest. “I wish this wasn’t real,” she whispered. “I wish Jefferson was just some normal teacher. I wish the three of us could just be normal friends. I wish I’d never fucked everything up between us.” Her body curled into itself. “I miss doing crazy shit with you, Chloe. I miss doing calm shit with Max. I miss it so much. And I’m scared I’ve lost you both.”

Her heart ached to forgive Rachel and dive back into the best of times. To take Max far away from Arcadia Bay, where the three of them could forget everything that happened and start over. Where Max didn’t have to feel so guilty all the time, where Rachel didn’t have to do bad things to get by, where Chloe could get away from all the pain of the past.

But there was still the tornado. There were good people in this shithole. Her mom was in this shithole. And even if that didn’t matter, she’d never be able to forget what Rachel had done. Even if Chloe could, Max would never be able to forget what both of them had done.

But still. “I’m scared too, Rach,” she said. “I don’t want to lose you either.”

Rachel burrowed even closer, and Chloe brought up a hand to cradle her head. “God,” Rachel said, “life is . . . hella fucked up.” She paused, then said, “After all this is over, I promise I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you both. Forever if I have to.”

Chloe ignored the pang in her chest and wrapped her arm around Rachel. As Max slept on the other side of the bed, the two girls held each other, and Chloe said, “Okay.”

 

If what Future-Max told them was right, this would be their third try at killing Jefferson. Which meant whatever their first two plans were, they’d failed. Problem was, none of them could remember how those two plans failed, so they had no idea how to avoid the same mistakes.

Chloe wracked her brain for what might have gone wrong as Rachel went over the general ideas that they were working with. Plan one: get Frank to help make them kill Jefferson. Plan two: lure Jefferson into the junkyard and shoot him. And that was it. That was all they knew.

But Chloe thought she might have the solution.

“We could rewind together,” she told Max. “I hear things from other timelines. It’s kind of random, so I don’t know if I can do it myself, but if we rewind then I’ll definitely hear it.”

Max, who sat on the edge of the bed, clutching her knees, said, “How will you make sure you hear the right thing?”

Chloe shrugged. “I kinda did it last time. Right after we—” she paused and bit her lip, casting a glance at Rachel, “right after I found out about Rachel and Frank. I heard things I said about them in another timeline.”

Rachel leaned against the wall by Max’s closet and looked at the floor. “You didn’t mention that.”

Her words got a bit of anger to flare up in Chloe’s chest. The tenderness they shared the night before felt like it happened forever ago. Crossing her arms and avoiding Rachel’s gaze, Chloe grumbled, “We’re not exactly in a ‘sharing things’ place right now.”

Rachel let out a sigh and said, “Fair.”

But Max didn’t seem satisfied. “No,” she said firmly. “We need to share everything right now. No more lying.”

As much as she would rather keep to herself, Chloe had to admit Max was right. Look where lying had gotten them. Chloe had already died twice, Rachel died once and then got kidnapped, Max was heartbroken, all because they hid the truth.

“No more lying,” she agreed. Then, she held up her hand and said, “You ready to do this?”

Max stood and nodded. As she took Chloe’s hand, she turned to Rachel and said, “You should rewind with us too. You might hear something Chloe doesn’t.”

Rachel immediately perked up. “Oh, uh, alright!” She claimed Max’s other hand and asked, “Does it . . . feel weird?”

“I mean,” Max’s face bent a little as she bit the inside of her cheek, “I don’t really think about it. So I don’t know.”

Chloe chimed in, “Everything feels super stiff, and your eyes are going to hurt. Other than that it’s fine.”

“Right. Yeah. I can deal with that.”

“Squeeze my hand when you’re ready to stop,” Max said before her grip tightened on Chloe’s. Then the world began to blur. She could feel the air shift on her skin, hear the ambient noise she hadn’t paid attention reversing unnaturally. Then the voices came.

Then let’s bail. Nathan can’t hide anymore. Her own voice.

So you made it, Max. That was Jefferson.

Oh, hey, Mr. Jefferson . . . Max. But she didn’t have the same tension she usually did when she was around the fuck-face. Was this before she knew about him?

No! She had to focus! Chloe forced herself to think about the plot to kill him. What happened when they tried it with Frank? What happened when they tried it alone?

You have the gun? Yes! That was Frank! We’ll tie him up in the RV, take him to the junkyard, then you can fill his skull with bullets.

Everything faded for a second, then she heard a muffled Jefferson. Is she listening right now? I’m sure your wannabe-punk friend is.

The phone thing. They did the same phone thing as when they robbed his ass.

Okay, that was the first plot. What happened the second time?

Jefferson’s voice faded as Chloe tried to think of something else. Rachel. What had she and Rachel done the second time?

Then, she heard Rachel’s beautiful, fearful voice. I’ll stand where he can see me while you hide. When he’s not paying attention, shoot him.

I’ll need to get close. Her own voice. I don’t want to fuck up and shoot you instead.

I’ll make sure you get the chance to sneak up behind him.

Okay. That should be enough. Chloe squeezed Max’s hand, and the world resettled around them.

Rachel gasped and doubled over. “Holy shit! Holy fucking shit! I traveled through time! We traveled through time!”

Chloe reached out to touch Rachel’s shoulder but stopped. Was she ready to comfort Rachel at this point?

Max didn’t seem to have the same conflict though, and she placed a kind hand on Rachel’s back. “Are you okay?” Leave it to Max to care about the people who fucked her over.

Standing up straight and letting out a nervous laugh, Rachel said, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. That was just hella freaky.”

Chloe snorted and said, “Now imagine doing that five thousand times while being chased by a dog.”

Max cut to the heart of it and asked, “Did you hear anything?”

“No, nothing.” She looked between them, dropped her head and said, “I’m sorry.”

What? That . . . was weird. If Chloe could hear the other timelines, why couldn’t Rachel?

Before Chloe could continue to confuse herself, Rachel said, “We can figure that out later. Did you hear anything Chloe?”

Right, she had to concentrate on why they did this in the first place. “Yeah, I did.”

 

Their new plan was balls-to-the-fucking-walls crazy. But if they stayed on track, it would give them the edge they needed. From what they could tell, the last two plans failed because they left too much control in Jefferson’s hands. Both times, they used Rachel as bait and gave him too much time to prepare. This time, they weren’t going to make that mistake.

The middle of the night on Monday morning. They all slept in late on Sunday and chugged energy drinks in the evening. Rachel canceled her study session that day with Jefferson for the third time in a row. It would look way too suspicious for comfort, but they couldn’t risk leaving her alone in a room with him. Not again.

Minutes before midnight, Chloe parked her truck outside Blackwell and made her way to the dorms. Rachel let her in, and they headed toward Max’s room. They knocked as quietly as possible.

“Come in,” Max said through the door.

They stepped inside to see Max with her face buried in her phone, typing furiously.

“You good, Max?” Chloe asked.

She didn’t respond at first.

“Max?” Rachel tried.

The time traveler took another second to finish whatever she was writing before shoving the phone into her pocket. “Sorry, tying up one more thing.”

“Letting Warren know we’re up to something nefarious?” Rachel said with an unsure playfulness.

Max nodded without looking at them, her eyes slightly glazed over. “Yeah.”

The look on her face made Chloe uneasy, but she shook it off. Max was probably afraid. God knows Chloe was. They were about to do this. They were going to kill a man. There’d be no going back.

None of them spoke in the truck. Chloe knew they should have been going over the plan one more time, but none of them seemed to have the courage to do so.

They could do this. They had Max this time. It’d be alright.

Chloe parked in the foreboding woods. The creaking pine trees watched them as they crept along, ignoring the way the hairs on the back of their necks stood on end. The cold air was moist, and thick clouds blocked out the moon and stars. Every time they heard a sudden sound, the snapping of a branch or rustling of an animal, the wind would pick up. None of them could ignore how fucking wrong the world felt.

Then, there they were. At Jefferson’s house. There was no turning back.

Break in. Sneak past security. Shoot him while he slept. Then Max would grab the body and rewind. He’d stay dead, but no one would hear the gunshot.

Then this would finally be over.

They didn’t bother tricking any guards to get inside. Instead, they shattered the large window facing out and climbed in. Chloe and Rachel grabbed onto Max while she rewound, and the three of them watched the window fix itself.

They slithered through the house, checking every corner, listening as hard as they could. They didn’t run into anyone. There had been so much security last time. Where were they now?

Whatever. This made it easier on them. Chloe squeezed the gun.

Up the stairs.

Through the hall.

Into the room.

Toward the bed.

He wasn’t there.

“What the fuck?” Chloe hissed. “Where the hell is he?”

Rachel ran both hands through her hair. “His car is here,” she pointed out. “He has to be here.”

Something was wrong. Chloe’s instincts were screaming danger. “I think we need to get out of—”

“Chloe—”

Thump.

Chloe spun around. Max was on the ground. There was a dark figure above her. Chloe raised the gun. She felt something small and sharp and powerful kick into her chest. It felt hot. Too hot. She fell.

“No!” Rachel shrieked, running forward. Through the ringing in Chloe’s ears, she could hear a sudden booming and howling outside. Lighting cracked. She could have sworn she heard a tree fall.

Thump. Thump!

Rachel hit the ground.

The heat in Chloe’s chest was spreading out, spilling out, pooling around her.

She was dying.

Oh god, she was dying.

She tried to turn her head and ended up yanking it to the side.

Jefferson stood, tall and menacing, a syringe in one hand and a gun in the other. Max and Rachel lay unconscious at his feet.

He stepped toward Chloe. His socks muffling his steps both on the bright wood and the dark rug.

“Max! Rachel!” she struggled to speak.

He loomed over her.

“Mom!” she begged, as though her mother could hear her.

He pointed the gun.

“Dad!” Her last word came out in a strangled choke as she lost control of her voice.

Chloe never heard the gun.

Everything went dark.

Little creatures are a dream. The world will forget them when it wakes.

 

“Hey, is something wrong, Max?”

Max opened her eyes to see Jefferson crouching in front of her, camera in hand.

He tilted his head. “You look like you spaced out for a second.”

She breathed, “Chloe . . . Rachel . . .”

Jefferson smiled, soft and kind, and stroked her cheek with one hand. “We’ve been over this, Max. Your little bitch of a friend isn’t coming to save you. And I promise, I won’t do anything with Rachel until her bruises heal. They’d make for some hideous photos.”

Max twisted her head around to take in her surroundings. It wasn’t the Dark Room, but it was some kind of studio. Jefferson’s equipment surrounded her, the harsh lights made calmer by softboxes, the stinging chemicals designated to a nearby cabinet.

And Rachel, tied up and unconscious on a couch at the opposite end of the room. Her tangled hair splaying across the cushions and over her face almost hid the black and blue bruises that littered her cheek. Her usually creamy and bright skin was dull and pale, and she was breathing in faltering gasps.

Max tried to shift her weight—her stiff muscles screaming against any kind of movement—but the duct tape gripped her harshly against the cold metal chair bolted to the ground.

Jefferson had them.

Max couldn’t help herself. The situation was too absurd to suppress what she was feeling. She tilted her head back and began to giggle. Her giggles turned into deep-gutted laughs. Her laughs turned into hysterics. Tears streamed from her eyes, but she didn’t feel any pain. After all their fighting, after all their planning, after all her fear, she was back in his clutches. It was funny, wasn’t it?

Jefferson dropped his hand, and Max heard a few clicks from his camera.

Through her outburst, she heard him say, “You have such wonderful expressions. I don’t think you have any idea how lucky we both are to be here.”

Her laughter turned into cackling, and between it all, she managed to say, “Fuck you!”

With a disgustingly sweet grin, Jefferson stood and rocked back on his heels. “That’s the spirit,” he crooned, his voice an octave lower.

Why had she ever wanted to let him live? After everything he’d done, didn’t she deserve to kill him? And wouldn’t it would feel so good? Max felt no trepidation, no hesitancy, as she smiled back and said, “You’re going to fucking die.”

“Someday. Eventually. And I can promise you, Max, you won’t be the one to kill me.”

“Wanna bet?” She stretched her smile out and flashed her teeth.

Jefferson regarded her for a moment, then held up his camera again and took another shot. “God Max,” he breathed without really talking to her. “You can show such a wide range of emotions. I never would have guessed it before.” The camera shuttered some more. “The difference between you now and the timid little girl from just a few days ago is . . . it’s astounding.” A few last clicks, then he lowered the camera. “I wonder what changed.”

A loud buzzing filled the room. Jefferson’s phone vibrated against a coffee table near the couch. He let out a disappointed sigh. “Duty calls,” he relented. “I’ll be back as soon as I can though. I have so little time with you and Rachel. I have to use as much of it as I can.”

Across the room, Rachel began to stir. A thunderous boom shook the walls. Jefferson grinned and said, “You should see it out there. I’ve never seen the weather go so crazy. It’s all over the place.”

He paused, and his eyes drifted to the waking girl on the other side of the room. “Maybe some makeup to cover the bruises,” he thought out loud. “Otherwise I won’t get any time with her. What do you think, Max?”

She craned her neck and spat as hard as she could, aiming for his glasses. But he was standing too far away, and it didn’t get near him.

Jefferson crouched down and reached across the distance between them. He patted her cheek with a little too much force as another boom dug into her ears. “That’s what I thought. I’ll see you tomorrow, Max.”

Chapter Text

“Rachel,” Max called. “Hey, can you hear me?”

The girl across the room stirred. “Max? Zz’at you?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Max,” Rachel breathed. “Max . . .” She was barely audible over the thunderous booming from outside.

Max strained against the metal chair. The sticky tears on her cheeks had begun to dry, but her grin had yet to fade. If anything, hearing Rachel say her name widened her smile. She struggled to hold back her laughter as she asked, “Can you move?”

Rachel sucked in a deep breath and jerked her body forward. She tumbled off the couch and curled up on the carpet beneath her. Max nodded to herself. That was good. If Rachel could still move, that made life way easier.

“Hella easy,” she giggled to herself. Too bad Rachel was so out of it. Max would have liked to hear the girl groan at her comment. Oh well. They’d have time for that later.

“Try to come over here,” she said. “Do you think you can make it that far?”

With a dense hum, Rachel tried to unravel her arms from her body, only to realize they were tied behind her back. She let out a frustrated whine and settled for inch-worming across the floor. When she moved from the gentle shade of her end of the room into the stinging white light of Max’s end, she winced.

“Max,” she whimpered.

“I’m right here,” Max said. “It’s okay, Rachel. I’m right here with you.” She believed it too. That seemed strange. She could feel herself freaking out inside, but she also felt good. Like, really good.

Holy fuck, she might die.

Her chest shook as she tried to hold back another side-splitting outburst.

“Max,” Rachel said again before she continued dragging herself closer. After several minutes of struggling against whatever drug Jefferson had given her, she managed to settle herself on the floor in front of the chair, pressing her forehead into Max’s sneaker. “Max.”

“You did so good, Rachel,” she said. “I know that wasn’t easy.”

Rachel groaned, “Mm’ r’lly cold.”

Another cracking boom shook the room. The tornado. It had to be the tornado. Last time it had come because Chloe was alive. Now it had come because Chloe was dead.

Whatever.

The tornado didn’t matter anymore. Chloe and Rachel mattered.

“How did we get here, Rachel?”

The girl on the floor managed to focus her dazed eyes on Max. “What?”

“I just got back from the past. I need to know how Jefferson got us.”

She let out a hmm and turned her head back and forth a few times. “Killed him. Tried t’kill him. But he knew.”

It was going to take some time before Rachel was conscious enough to give the full story. But Jefferson had said he wasn’t coming back until the next day. There was no telling how far away that was without knowing the time, but that had to be at least a few hours. And Max could rewind if needed.

It was a difficult balance of letting Rachel wake up gradually and using Max’s powers to save time. But little by little, she started putting the pieces together. Chloe and Rachel had been planning to kill Jefferson all along, and after Max’s last warning they chose to let her in on it. The three of them broke into his house to catch him off-guard, but he’d known they were coming. Now Chloe was gone, and Max and Rachel were trapped. Here and now, Max didn’t give a shit about how they got there, but she knew as soon as things calmed down and she was thinking straight, she was going to have some words with them.

Something about their situation made the back of Max’s brain itch.

That had been on Saturday, and Max knew that today was Tuesday. Jefferson had probably done something so that no one would look for them, like sending farewell texts from each of their phones. So unless Warren could figure out that something was wrong, find where they were, and save them all by himself, they were on their own.

Once she had the full picture, Max sat back in the chair and ran through their options while Rachel kept trying to think herself into coherence, both of them occasionally mumbling to themselves.

She could try to get him to show her one of her pictures so that she could jump back, but there was no way to make sure he gave her the right one. If he gave her a photo from three months ago, she still wouldn’t be able to do anything. Besides, was her diary even in the room? Max couldn’t see her camera bag at all. She might not have even brought it along when they broke into his house.

Where even were they? This wasn’t the Dark Room—at least, not as Max knew it—so was this his home? Or had he set up a completely different location so no one could find him? It couldn’t be too far away from Arcadia Bay. Jefferson would have to keep teaching at school, otherwise it would look suspicious.

Max thought about the last time Jefferson had kidnapped her. She hadn’t been able to do anything until David showed up, and the chances of that happening again were pretty fucking slim. But there was one huge difference: Rachel was with her. Sure, at one point Victoria had been in the Dark Room too, but she’d been next to useless; maybe Rachel would be different.

So, her first goal had to be getting Rachel lucid.

“How do you feel right now?”

“‘M cold. Tired.” Rachel pinched her face and nuzzled closer to Max’s leg. “St’m hurts.”

“What hurts?”

With a groan, Rachel repeated, “Stuhmoch.”

Okay. Max had a few things to work with. What had they done when Kate was drugged? What had Chloe and Rachel done when Max was having a panic attack?

“Rachel, I need you to lie down and prop your legs up on the chair.” Rachel rolled around a few times before she managed to stretch herself out on the floor, clearly uncomfortable with her hands behind her back. After a couple of tries, she kicked her legs up so they were resting on top of Max’s thighs. “Okay, now focus on breathing.”

Rachel hummed again and started taking deep breaths. Every so often, she would start to stutter or fade out. When that happened, Max would speak up and remind her to keep going. It was slow work, but at the very least it was work. She passed the time by counting Rachel’s breath. Each inhale was about three seconds, and each exhale was about five. As time went on, the noise outside began to gradually calm down.

Max had counted almost seven-thousand breaths when Rachel opened her eyes again. “Max?” she asked, her voice clearer now.

“Hey, Rachel,” Max beamed. “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit. Where are we?”

Max tapped her fingers against the arms of the chair. “Jefferson brought us to some studio. I don’t know where.”

“Jefferson?” Rachel took a long moment to register Max’s words before her whole body stiffened. “Oh, God! Chloe!” Tears welled up in her eyes, which had looked painfully dry up to this moment. Beyond the bone-white walls, something heavy roared. The wind? Or had something hit the ground?

That didn’t matter. Max had to focus.

“Rachel, hey, hey, Rachel, it’s okay! It’s going to be fine!” Max cracked another grin and said, “It’s not like this is the first time it’s happened.” Another giggle bubbled out of her.

The girl on the floor stared at her. Her mouth dropped open for a moment, her eyes widened, then her brows knitted together in a confused frown, and finally her mouth turned down into an enraged scowl. “What the fuck, Max? Chloe is dead! How the fuck can you be laughing?”

With a roll of her eyes, Max snorted, “Because she’s died, like, a million times by now. In a million different ways. And I always end up bringing her back.” She managed a shrug. “I’ll pull something out of my butt.”

The look in Rachel’s eyes slowly shifted to horror. “Max, you’re scaring me.”

Max laughed, “It’s fine! We’ll get out of this and I’ll jump back to fix everything.”

Rachel closed her eyes and hissed, “Fuck!” She turned her head to the side and pressed her cheek against the floor. “I’m so fucking stupid.”

“Yeah, you are. And Chloe is too. And the me that agreed to kill Jefferson with you—well, I guess she’s just me. We’re all stupid. But now I can go back and stop us from fucking everything up.” She wriggled around again and flexed her fingers. “First, we need to get out of here. Before Jefferson gets back.”

“Max,” she breathed, opening her eyes. “This is wrong! I’m not okay! You’re not okay! I mean you keep laughing, and your fucking face is so—Jesus Max, this is really bad!”

“It’s fine, Rachel.”

“No, it’s really not! Do you even hear yourself?”

Max rolled her eyes. “Rachel,” she half-groaned, half-sighed. “You need to calm down. You’re not thinking clearly.”

I’m not thinking clearly? Are you fucking kidding me? Max, wake the fuck up! Chloe is—” she choked on her words. The thunder outside boomed. That was getting really annoying. “Chloe is dead!” Rachel finally gasped. “We’re going to die! And you can’t even—you’re not even here! I’m going to die alone, and you don’t care!”

Why was this so hard for Rachel to get? What the hell did she even know? She wasn’t the one who jumped through timelines and saw all this shit. Max was.

Rachel didn’t know anything. But Max knew so much.

She was the only one who’d done this before.

She was the only one who could fix this.

So why the fuck wasn’t Rachel listening?

Max shook her head. “You don’t get it!”

“Max, I’m—”

“No!” Max snapped, making Rachel wince. “You keep fucking things up. Every problem you’ve had to deal with, you’ve managed to ruin! Every problem I’ve had to deal with, I’ve gotten out of! I saved Chloe! I saved you! I stopped the tornado before! And I’ll do it again! I’ll do it as many fucking times as I have to! If you can’t handle that, then shut the fuck up! But if you actually want to be useful, then listen to me for once in your god damn life!”

The girl on the floor stared at her, eyes wide, mouth agape, arms shaking. Max grinned again. It felt good to render Rachel fucking Amber speechless. It’s not like Max wanted to hurt her or anything. She was just tired of Rachel brushing her off and not listening.

But Max wouldn’t take it anymore.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Max said. “You’re going to bite through the tape on my wrists. Then I’ll untie you and we’ll get out of this room.”

Rachel squeezed her eyes shut, pushing more tears down her temples. She took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”

Max smiled and sat back in the chair while Rachel pushed herself onto her knees. She leaned forward and tried to snag the edges of the duct tape under her teeth, accidentally biting Max and eliciting an “ow!” With a quick hum of apology, Rachel tilted her head and tried another angle. She managed to catch a piece of tape. She pulled her head to one side. Then another. No luck. The tape didn’t tear or unravel at all.

Max hummed and let her thoughts race while Rachel worked. There had to be something Jefferson missed. So what was it?

 

What?

 

What?

 

What?

 

What?

 

Wait. Her nose and jaw felt stained and sticky. Rachel was no longer in front of her but curled up against the wall to her left, hunched over with her head buried in her knees. When did that happen?

“Rachel?”

Her head shot up. “Max?”

“How did you get over there?”

“Jesus Christ, Max! You haven’t said anything in hours!”

Well that didn’t sound right. “Hours?”

“You went quiet and I couldn’t get you to say a word! I thought—” Rachel fell to her side and gasped for air. Outside, the wind howled and raged. “Max, I can’t do this!”

Dammit, were they back to square one? That couldn’t be right. There was no way Max had zoned out for hours. Maybe Rachel was hysterical.

But what about the sticky stuff on her mouth? Did Max have another nosebleed? That pointed to Rachel telling the truth.

Max let out a snort of amusement—a chunk of something red flying out of her nose and landing on her knee. Gross. She glanced down at the tape on her wrists. There were new wrinkles on the one Rachel had been trying to bite through, but no evidence of wear or tear. Damn, Jefferson used some good stuff.

“The good shit,” Max muttered, imagining it was Chloe speaking. “No problem. We can figure this out.”

“How?” Rachel asked, her voice cracking.

“I . . .” She frowned. Maybe this was the end. Maybe her powers couldn’t get them out of there. Maybe she and Rachel were going to die. “I guess I don’t know.”

Rachel leaned back and set her head against the wall, letting out a pained laugh. “That’s the first thing you’ve said that makes sense.”

“Wow, Rachel. Way to be a bitch.”

“Max,” she said. Something about her tone stopped Max’s thoughts. It was quiet, defeated, yet still caring. “How are you not scared right now?”

How was that even a question? Max shrugged as best as she could with her wrists tied down. “I mean, what’s the worst Jefferson can do? Kill us? I’ll just come back and try again.”

Rachel scrutinized her for a few seconds before saying, “Max, can you even—how do you know you’ll come back?”

Max shook her head. “But that’s the thing. I always come back. No matter what, I always find some way to fix things.”

Another pause. Then, “I don’t think this is something you can fix, Max.”

“It’s just—” How did she say this when she didn’t even know what she was saying? It felt like someone else was talking for her, but she didn’t really mind that. “It’s fine. I’ll get us out of here. I’ll keep us alive. I’ll keep you alive.”

“I don’t think I can believe you anymore.”

“No, I—” Max had to keep her alive. She always found a way to take control of the situation.

Except when she didn’t.

She always saved the people around her. Kate on the roof; Warren, Joyce, and Frank in the diner; Alyssa and all those random truckers on the street during the storm.

But not Chloe.

She had powers! She could bend time! No one else could do what she could! Why else would she be given these abilities if she wasn’t supposed to save people?

Having powers didn’t make her a hero.

A familiar numbness began to spread from her fingers and up her arms. Was the duct tape too tight? Then why was she shaking? Why were her ears ringing? Why did the white lights sting so brightly?

Oh.

Max didn’t feel afraid, didn’t feel anxious, didn’t feel alone. But her body didn’t care. She was having a panic attack.

“Jesus, Max,” Rachel said at her silence.

Another laugh escaped Max, still wild, but also much sadder.

“I don’t want to die without Chloe,” Rachel whispered.

Chloe.

A sharp pain wrung through Max’s chest.

Maybe she’d been looking at this the wrong way. Maybe Rachel was right, and Max couldn’t just take control. Maybe the only way to get out was to sacrifice some control.

Her brain itched.

Keep her alive.

It wasn’t easy, but Max did her best to put on a comforting smile. “No matter how this turns out, we’ll all be together. You, me, and Chloe. I swear, Rachel.”

“God, that’s morbid.”

 

A thump broke the silence they had fallen into. For the first time in ages, the door across the room opened, and Jefferson stepped inside. He carried a square box by the handle in his left hand, and a camera in his right. His eyes fell on Rachel, clearly irritated that she was no longer on the couch.

“I guess I didn’t use a strong enough dose,” he muttered. “How long have you been awake, Rachel?”

“Fuck you,” she hissed back.

“Hey now,” he crooned, “it’s always so ugly whenever you curse.”

“Fuck you!” she yelled this time.

Jefferson let out a deep-gutted sigh and said, “If you’re going to be like this, I’ll just give you another dose now.”

“Don’t you fucking touch me!”

“Hey,” Max cut in. “She’ll probably pose better if she’s awake.”

The man flashed his teeth in a dark grin and strolled over to where Max was sitting. “Now you’re thinking like a photographer, Max.” He traced a hand over her cheek. “But you still have a lot to learn. There are so many things I can do with an unconscious subject.”

Rachel’s eyes went wide. “You fucking rapist!”

With a short, barking laugh, Jefferson said, “Hardly. I don’t need to fuck someone to feel in control.”

“You know, it’s always so ugly whenever you curse,” Max bit back, matching his smile.

“Well, luckily I’m not the model in this situation. I don’t need to worry about looking pretty.” He ran his thumb over Max’s lips. “Although, I’m not surprised you thought that I was some kind of predator.”

“Because you are!” Rachel yelled.

“Kissing legal adults is not against the law,” he retorted. “And I stopped when you pulled back. Both of you.”

That shut them up. For the first time since she got to the present, Max felt a sense of dread in her gut.

Rachel shook her head back and forth, breaking eye contact to stare at the ground. “You tried to kiss her?”

Jefferson cocked his head and grinned. “She didn’t tell you? I thought this was the whole reason you started believing that blue-haired bitch in the first place.”

Max’s skin felt on fire. Felt freezing. Felt numb. “San Francisco,” she breathed.

Jefferson’s loafers clicked as he walked across the linoleum floor to stand next to Max. “Exactly,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder as if they were announcing something together. “Would you like to tell the story?”

This time, Max looked away. What could she say? What could she do? What did he do? He said he’d tried to kiss her. He said he’d pulled back. How far had it gone before that happened?

Jefferson moved his hand to cup the back of her head, his fingers knives against her skull. “I know it’s a touchy subject,” he crooned. “I admit, I completely misread your feelings for me. I take full responsibility for that.” If she could have mustered enough awareness, Max would have scoffed at that. “And my god, the amount of damage control I’ve had to do! I swear, every day I thought you were going to march into Wells’s office and tell him everything!”

Rachel yanked her head up to stare her hatred toward him. “What did you do?”

Max felt a thumb rub behind her ear. Her stomach curdled. “I took her out on the most romantic night of her life,” Jefferson said. “An expensive restaurant, a moonlight stroll down the pier, escorting her back to her hotel room.” Oh god. What next? “But when I kissed her, she jumped away.” He leaned down and brought his face next to hers. “I guess you weren’t ready, were you Max?”

Jefferson kissed her.

And nothing else.

As disgusting as it all was, a wave of relief swept through her. All this time, Max had thought the worst. That he’d . . . done something to her. But it was just a kiss.

Max tried not to mourn the fact that Jefferson had stolen her first kiss in this timeline.

“I’ll kill you,” Rachel’s voice came through, quiet, soft, afraid. But the fear began to melt away as tears began to stream down her face. Not the desperate and uncertain tears of before, but wild, hateful, murderous tears. “I’ll fucking kill you, you son of a bitch!”

Jefferson released Max’s head and stood tall. Now free from his hand, she leaned back and let out a satisfied sigh. “Holy fuck,” she laughed. “You’re fucking insane!”

A grim smile spread across his face. “Au contraire, Max. I’m so sane, that—”

“Nobody knows what’s happening to me right now,” Max cut him off. “Yeah, I’ve heard it before.” She had no idea why the crisp memory popped up in her head, but she didn’t care. She was over his bullshit.

Jefferson’s face didn’t change, but his silence told her she’d caught him off guard. Max fought off the giddiness inside her as she formed a plan. It wouldn’t get her or Rachel out of here, but it would fuck with this monster.

She might as well use her powers one last time before she died.

He started again, “You thi—”

“Think I’m so clever?” she stopped him again. “Yeah, I might be getting there.”

His nose twitched. “Cute. But you—”

“Couldn’t manage to kill you,” she finished his sentence again. “Give me a minute, I’ll figure it out.”

“I don’t—”

“Like the tone of my voice. It sucks when someone doesn’t treat you like a fucking god, doesn’t it?”

“Ho—”

“How am I doing this?” By abusing the ever-loving-fuck out of her powers. “I’m good at reading people.”

Jefferson surged forward and grabbed her face, pinching her cheeks between her molars. Rachel screamed for her.

With a flex of her hand, everything reversed. Jefferson released her and moved back. Max moved her head out of the way and released time. When Jefferson’s hand shot out, it missed her head and crashed against the metal chair.

“Fuck!” He yanked his hand back. Max could see the redness on his knuckles as they began to bruise.

Before she could react, his other hand was around her throat. She tried to rewind and twist out of the way, but every time he found his mark. He squeezed. Hard. Max opened and closed her hand, ready to take back her taunts if he went too far.

“You’re so fucking lucky, Max,” he hissed. “I had all kinds of plans for you. For Rachel.” He gave a firmer squeeze for emphasis, then said, “But you’ve got a guardian angel watching over you. Thank Kate’s non-existent god for that.”

The moment he let go, Max sucked in as much air as she could. Her throat ached as she forced it to work.

Jefferson stepped away and adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves. “I’ll have to settle for her once you two are gone.” He glanced at the girl against the wall. “She’s no Rachel Amber, but I’m sure she’ll make a wonderful subject.”

Rachel began to scream, “You motherfu—”

A loud beep blared through the room.

“What?” Jefferson twisted his head toward the door.

Bang!

The door shook with the impact.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” he snarled. He raced toward a cabinet and grabbed a gun.

Bang!

Holy fuck, someone was trying to break in!

Jefferson took two strides across the room and yanked Rachel to her feet.

“No!” Max cried. All the fear that she’d been numb to before came rushing into her body at once.

“Let me go!” Rachel howled.

“Shut up!” He aimed the gun at the door.

Rachel. He was going to kill Rachel. Oh god! Oh god please no!

Keep her alive.

Max rewound. Again, and again, and again. More, and more, and more. She tried everything she could think of to distract him. But the alarm caught his attention every single time.

There was nothing she could do.

She stopped trying to rewind.

The door slammed open.

Jefferson shot.

Max heard it hit a wall.

A bullet missed both Jefferson and Rachel’s heads.

“Fuck!” the shooter yelled.

That voice. Max knew that voice.

David had come for them! Would he always do that no matter what timeline they were in? Maybe destiny was real.

Jefferson brought the gun to Rachel’s head. She cried out as the boiling barrel dug into her temple and sizzled against her skin.

“If you move I’ll kill her!” Jefferson yelled. Max’s brain itched.

“Don’t!” Another voice. Warren! Warren had found them!

“Let her go right now!” David ordered, the soldier in him coming out.

“David Madsen!” Jefferson laughed. “You want to take this risk?”

“You’re not getting out of this, Jefferson!” David said. “Let her go and come quietly!”

“What is this? You’re playing cop now?” He pulled Rachel tighter as she struggled against her bonds. “Go ahead and try it. You’ll get a real bullet.”

Max’s brain itched. Her ears itched. The back of her eyes itched.

Keep her alive.

Rachel couldn’t die.

Max had to save her.

Wait.

The gun. Jefferson’s finger. It wasn’t on the trigger.

I have so little time with you and Rachel.

I had all kinds of plans for you.

You’ve got a guardian angel watching over you.

Did Jefferson’s brain itch too?

Keep her alive.

Holy fuck, he couldn’t kill her.

“You’re fucking pathetic,” Max sneered.

Jefferson’s eyes darted towards her for just a second, but it was long enough for David to run into the room. Jefferson refocused, and shot at David again. But David must have been ten feet away, and Jefferson was aiming with only one hand. The bullet hit the door. Warren cried out in fear. David froze again.

Jefferson hadn’t tried to shoot Rachel.

Max was right.

Keep her alive.

Max would. No matter what.

“Hey, Rache?” Max called. Rachel looked at her, terror in her eyes. “I’m really sorry about this, but I promise I’ll make it better.”

Confusion passed through everyone’s faces.

“David,” Max forced a grave look onto her face, “Jefferson killed Chloe.”

Shock. Denial. Fear. Rage. They passed over David’s face in a matter of seconds. His lips pulled back into a snarl. His hands shook. Then stilled.

He shot.

The bullet went through Rachel’s shoulder and into Jefferson’s. They both screamed in pain. Jefferson released her, and as she crumpled to the ground he stumbled back.

Rachel was bleeding like crazy, but she was alive.

David shot again.

Jefferson’s torso caved in as the bullet hit his chest.

He fell.

David dropped the gun and sank to the floor. Heavy tears dripped down his face, which was still frozen in an enraged expression.

“Max!” Warren finally entered the room and raced toward her. He tore at the duct tape with his fingers, struggling to find the ends, but after a few minutes he managed to tear it all off. Max stood and groaned at her aching muscles and crackling bones.

The storm outside boomed.

Rachel grasped at her shoulder, crying out in agony. She needed help, or she would bleed out.

Keep her alive.

Max should have felt awful, but she didn’t. She was about to fix everything.

Keep her alive.

She walked over to Jefferson’s body and took the gun in her left hand.

She held up her right hand to rewind.

She went back.

And back.

And back.

Before the alarm blared out.

When Jefferson was still facing the chair.

She released time.

“What?” Jefferson jumped as Max disappeared from the chair.

“Max!” Rachel gasped as the time traveler appeared beside her.

“Me,” Max smiled as she took the gun in both hands and pulled the trigger.

For the third time, she watched Jefferson die.

Chapter Text

Max couldn’t figure out why her hands were shaking as she untied Rachel’s bonds. The tight knots mixed with her sudden lack of coordination made the task perplexingly hard.

Her hands had been so steady when she pulled the trigger. Her grip had been so strong. So why did the rope keep slipping from her fingers?

Jefferson’s body lay on the ground by the metal chair. When he fell, he had twitched and grasped at the ground, his breath coming in stuttered, moaning gasps for about thirty seconds. Then it stopped. Then he stilled. Max had no idea how long she stood staring at him, only that it took Rachel whispering her name to break her out of her stupor.

After Max finally got one of the ends loose, Rachel asked, “How did you do it?”

Max was saved from having to clear her head enough to think straight when a loud bang came from the door.

“David,” she said.

The two of them stared at the door. A few seconds later, it flew open.

“Jefferson!” David barked. He jumped inside, rounded the corner, and saw the body. He registered Max and Rachel, then the gun Max had dropped. A few cautious steps forward. Toward Jefferson and the girls. He nudged the body with his foot. Jefferson didn’t move.

David lowered his gun and peered at Rachel, scanning her with trained eyes. Then he turned to Max and eyed her the same way. “Are you hurt?” he asked, his voice firm but lacking its usual harshness.

Max shook her head.

David sighed and smiled. “Good. You’re safe now.”

Rachel stared at the man, her eyes wide and her lips parted. A few tears dripped down her cheeks as she breathed, “Oh my god!”

“We’re fine,” Max said, but the words struck her as odd. How many times had she said it since she got back to the present? How confident had she been every time? Why did it now feel like she was lying?

“Max! Rachel!” Warren’s voice came from the other side of the door. “Is it safe for me to come in?”

David glanced at Jefferson’s body before pursing his lips. “Don’t. This isn’t something you should see.” He made his way over to the two girls. “This isn’t something any of you should have seen.”

Max stepped back as he took over untying Rachel—grumbling as he did, “Of all the days to not bring my knife.”

Once her hands were free, he helped her to her feet, only for her to waver and stumble. David caught her and asked, “Are you alright?”

Bracing her hands on his arms, she said, “Dizzy. Hungry. Thirsty.”

“How long have you been here?”

Rachel managed to steady herself. “I don’t know. A couple days?”

“I have some water in my car. We’ll get you girls to a hospital and get you taken care of.” He cleared his throat and looked around the room. “Where’s, uh, where’s Chloe? She’s not—”

“I don’t know,” Max said. “Jefferson came after us in the junkyard. We haven’t seen her since.” The lie came easily. It had to. The last thing she needed was for David to break down. They had to focus on finding her diary. Her eyes fell on the box Jefferson had carried in. She walked over and flicked the latch. It was makeup. Right, Jefferson had wanted to cover Rachel’s bruises. She glanced around the room. It wasn’t on the table, the couch, or the bookshelf. And there were no drawers Jefferson could have hidden it in.

“Then he could have—” David caught himself before he continued that line of thought. “But she might be okay! There’s a chance—we just have to find her!” He ran his hands over his face and released a shaking breath. “Did Jefferson say anything about her? About where she was?”

Max thought about what he must have done with her body. Chloe was probably in the ground, rott—

No! This time she caught her own thoughts. It was fine. It wasn’t permanent. She’d fix everything.

“He didn’t say anything,” she said, stepping away from the box. “But we’ll find her.”

She looked at Rachel, who was staring at her with an expression she couldn’t decipher. Did she know why Max was lying? Did she approve? Was she mad? Was she okay?

Rachel’s shoulder. Max couldn’t see any blood on her neck or shirt. That’s right, Max stopped Jefferson from shooting her. That was why she rewound after David had already killed him. To help Rachel. It wasn’t about hurting Jefferson. It wasn’t. She needed to spare Rachel the pain.

That was why.

Max placed a hand on Rachel’s back as the three of them made their way out of the room. Just before they reached the door, Max spared one last glance at Jefferson. A wave of paranoia told her he was still breathing, but she squashed the feeling down. It was over, at least in this timeline. She had bigger things to focus on than a corpse.

Warren rushed forward to hug Max, and she took in the surroundings of the new room. It was a large space with white-painted brick walls and fluorescent lights and dark metal pipes hanging off the rafters on the tall ceiling. Wide sheets of plywood leaned against the far side of the wall with a pile of pale wood lying beneath it. On the other corner was an open garage door. David’s muscle-car sat outside with the headlights on as rain and wind pelted it. Freshly torn-up ground surrounded the car, and through the darkness and storm outside Max could barely see a tree line about a mile away.

“Where are we?” Max asked.

David led the way to his car and said, “Some new warehouses the Prescotts built.”

“It’s always the Prescotts,” she sighed. Did Nathan know where they were? He’d been out of the loop in the first timeline but had known something in the second one. Why was that?

“How did you find us here?” Rachel breathed.

Warren trotted up to her other side and placed a hand on her shoulder to help Max guide her. “Max always said Jefferson and Nathan were working together. I figured if they couldn’t use the Prescotts’ bunker that there must be a different place set up nearby. And Mr. Prescott had this place made over the summer. Apparently, he’s getting ready to overhaul pretty much everything in Arcadia Bay.”

“It makes sense why Chloe went after Jefferson and the Prescott boy last spring,” David said. “And your friend here swore left and right that you’d never up and leave like that.”

“Up and leave?” Max asked. “Did he make it seem like we ran away?”

Warren nodded. “All three of you texted everyone and said you were leaving.”

“Chloe and Rachel, I get,” David said. Rachel’s eyes hardened at that. “But I’ve had my eye on you, Max. And this boy’s right. It doesn’t make sense for you. Besides, Jefferson’s been skittish around you for weeks. Then there was that mess with Kate Marsh. Everything was off.”

Max let out a huff of relief. Leave it to David, the most paranoid man in Arcadia Bay, to realize Jefferson was a psychopath. Even after being embarrassed after Jefferson outsmarted him last spring. “You’re amazing,” she laughed.

David stopped in his tracks and spun around, eyeing Max with confusion. “Are you . . . why are you laughing?”

“She’s been like this for a while,” Rachel said. “All this shit’s getting to her head.”

Max opened her mouth to snark back but found she didn’t have the energy to. Now that the threat of dying was gone, unease filled Max’s chest. Before, laughing at everything was a relief. But now it just felt uncomfortable.

Whatever. She could deal with that later. Right now, Max had to get Rachel to—

Wait, she had to get Chloe back first.

Get Rachel to

No. Not without Chloe.

Max pushed back the itching in her brain and said, “Hey Warren, you haven’t seen my diary anywhere, have you?”

“Um, no,” he said. “Why—oh right!” He scratched the back of his head and looked around. “I mean, Jefferson’s car is outside. We could look in there.”

“Do you really think he’d be dumb enough to keep evidence in his car?” Rachel said, half-irritated and half-tired.

Max rubbed her friend’s back. The bitchiness was annoying, but it made sense. After everything, this was probably her way of coping.

Was that what Max was doing? Coping?

She shook her head. She had to focus right now. “He’s full of himself,” she said. “And he has a weird thing for my pictures. It’s worth a shot. And we can always go back and look in the studio.”

Rachel gripped Max’s arm and squeezed. Outside, the wind picked up. “For Chloe,” she said.

Max leaned in close and said, “For Chloe.”

Rachel pinched her eyes shut. “Okay.”

Outside, rain and ice stung Max’s cheeks. She and Rachel pressed close together. Neither of them had a coat. David glanced at them and removed his own. It was big enough that it could wrap around them both.

“Let’s get you to a hospital,” he said.

“We have to look in Jefferson’s car first,” Max said.

He frowned. “We can do that later. You girls need—”

“It could help us find Chloe.” That was technically true.

With a sigh, he hugged himself to fight against the cold and said, “Alright.”

David led the way to Jefferson’s sedan. “Stand back,” he said, grasping his pistol from the barrel. He pulled back, then slammed the grip against the driver-side window. The glass cracked, and as soon as he hit it again it shattered. He reached in and unlocked all the doors. Max and David poured in and began looking while Rachel and Warren stood back.

There was a portable safe in the passenger’s seat. At David’s command, Max got out of the car, and all of them covered their ears so he could shoot the lock. Max then grabbed the safe and peered inside.

A handful of her pictures. She released a laugh. Had she been holding her breath? Fuck it, who even cared? She flipped through the photos. Her Everyday Heroes entry, a picture she took in the mirror, a selfie of just her and Rachel . . . there! The selfie of her, Rachel, and Chloe from Friday.

“I’ve got it!”

Max stepped out of the car, still holding the picture inside so it didn’t get wet. The last thing she needed was to destroy the photo before she could fix everything.

The wind and rain slowed down a bit.

“What is it?” David asked, peering over her shoulder.

“I think I have an idea where Chloe went,” she lied.

A pair of arms wrapped around Max’s waist. She turned her head to see Rachel resting against her shoulder. “Rache—”

“Shut up for a second,” she said. “Can you guys give us a minute?” she asked.

David grunted and Warren shuffled his feet, then the two of them walked a few feet away.

“Rachel, it’s okay. I’m going to fix everything.”

“I know,” she said. “I know, it’s just—” Rachel pressed her forehead into the crook of Max’s neck. “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, Max.”

“What are you talking about?”

“All of this. I know it’s my fault. So when you go back, tell me I told you to take it back. Tell me I said to stop it.”

Max pressed her cheek against Rachel’s crown and reached back with her free hand to cup the back of her head. The world around them was so cold. But when Rachel held her close, Max could grasp at a sliver of warmth. And she didn’t want to let go. She didn’t ever want to let go. “Okay.”

“And tell Chloe I love her. I’m so in love with her and I’ll do anything to fix things with her.”

“Okay.”

“And I love y—”

A shot pierced the air.

A few feet away, David hit the ground.

Max and Rachel spun around.

Another shot.

Rachel crumpled into herself and collapsed.

The wind howled and spun, then stopped. Everything stopped. The rain, the ice, the wind. The air seemed to still. Max’s ears rang as she saw Rachel unmoving on the ground.

Jefferson stood in the doorway, gun in hand, clutching his bleeding chest.

He’d shot Rachel. He’d killed Rachel. But how? What about the itching in his brain? How was he ignoring it when it was so loud?

Jefferson’s voice broke through the silent air, and Max could hear him whisper, “Told you . . . you wouldn’t kill me.”

“No!” Warren cried, running toward the man.

The psychopath laughed, blood dripping from his mouth. “I can do it! I couldn’t before, but I can now!” He laughed, more blood flying out. “Fuck you, Sean!”

Jefferson aimed at Max.

Max held up her hand to rewind.

The muzzle of the gun flashed. A deafening crack split the air.

Max turned back time.

As far as she could. She had the picture in hand. She just needed enough time to focus in on it and go back.

Max released time just as Rachel went to hug her.

Max stumbled and fell to the ground.

Heat rushed from her stomach. She looked down to see blood staining her shirt. A lot of blood.

She hadn’t rewound fast enough.

Holy fuck.

“Max!” Rachel screamed. The wind around them whipped and howled and began to form a cyclone.

Ignore the heat! Ignore the shaking in her hands! Ignore how hard her body was fighting to block the pain!

Max squeezed the photo as hard as she could so it wouldn’t fly away. Focus. Ignore everything else. The world around her blurred, the sound of the storm drowned out, and she began to hear Chloe and Rachel’s voices in the distance.

 

The polaroid photo slid out of her camera. Chloe’s arm was around one of her shoulders, and Rachel’s was around the other. The heat in her stomach was gone.

“Cool,” Chloe gritted out, sliding away from the two girls. “I’m gonna head home now.”

Max dropped the camera in her hand and snatched at Chloe and Rachel’s shoulders.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t do it.”

Her friend spun around at her tone. Concern spread across her face. “Max? Oh shit, did something happen? You look hella serious.”

“Hey,” Rachel placed a hand on her cheek. “What happened?”

“Don’t try to kill Jefferson,” Max said as firmly as she could. All the relief, all the giddiness, all the discomfort in her stomach had disappeared. All that was left was the sight of Rachel’s body on the ground. “He kills all of us,” she said. “We can’t beat him. He keeps killing us.”

Chloe and Rachel stared at her, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Chloe breathed, “Max, we—”

“I know what you’re planning. It doesn’t work. Nothing we try works. We have to stop.”

Rachel traced a thumb across Max’s jaw. “Hey, we can—”

“Don’t,” Max cut her off. “You told me to tell you not to do it.” She closed her eyes and took several long breaths. “I don’t want to see you die again.” Max opened her eyes. “He knows what we’re trying. He always knows. So we have to just stop. Hole up here for the weekend. Fuck class, fuck everything else. We just have to stay safe.”

The world around her bled orange and black.

“Just stay safe,” she repeated. Then everything went dark.

 

The first thing to come into focus when Max returned to the present was her sense of touch. The air was pleasantly warm, not eerily cold like Jefferson’s studio, and not wet and freezing like the storm outside. And Max was sitting on something soft and familiar. Her bed. She was in her room.

Sound and sight came next, painfully slowly. Max couldn’t see shapes, but she could see colors. And she was aware of someone talking.

Chloe. And Rachel.

They were alive and in her room. They were all safe.

Chapter Text

Max flopped back onto her bed and sighed. She released in her breath all the tension and fear and absurdity she’d felt over the past few days. It was over. She was safe. Chloe and Rachel were safe. Nothing else mattered.

“Hey,” Rachel said, sitting down next to her. “Are you . . . are you back?”

Max rubbed her eyes, trying to scratch out the exhaustion. But the Max in this time didn’t have any fatigue in her eyes, so the motion brought no relief. “Yeah. I’m back.”

She felt the bed shift on her other side as Chloe sat down. “So, what the fuck even happened? How did Jefferson get us?”

“I don’t fucking know,” she sighed. “But it happens every time. He knows what we’re planning.” She moved her hands off her face and looked at Chloe, then Rachel. “He knows what you guys are planning.”

Chloe squirmed while Rachel fiddled with her hands.

“Did you tell me what was happening after I jumped back?”

“What?” Chloe asked.

Sitting up, Max demanded, “Did you tell the me in this timeline the truth? Did you tell her about killing Jefferson? About lying to me? About how you kept dying over and over and over?”

Rachel placed a hand on Max’s back, rubbing her thumb back and forth. “We didn’t want to scare you.”

Of fucking course. Max knocked the hand away and stood up. “You fucking idiots!” she hissed.

Chloe stood up and reached out, but Max stepped away. Wincing, Chloe tried, “Max, we were just—”

“Rachel already told me everything,” Max said. “After Jefferson killed you, locked us up, and spent three days drugging us.”

That shut them up. A horrified look painted Chloe’s face, and Rachel wrapped her arms around herself, tensing her shoulders and digging her painted nails into her flesh.

Max crossed her arms. “You were trying to protect me, right? Good fucking job.”

Neither Chloe nor Rachel said a word. They both looked away. A myriad of emotions played out in their expressions. Shame, fear, pity, guilt. Max hoped they felt the full force of everything. They couldn’t remember what had happened, but they knew what it meant.

At least they were alive.

“I need some fresh air,” she said, grabbing her coat and camera bag. Even as she yanked open her door, she couldn’t hear any movement from Chloe or Rachel. With a sigh, she asked, “Are you guys coming or what?”

Both girls jumped to their feet and followed suit. Rachel said, “Let me just—” before running next door to grab her own winter jacket.

None of them spoke as they made their way outside. It was night. A blanket of clouds knitted the sky, but what stars she could see were shining bright. Max’s mind drifted to the storm, but she pushed the thoughts away. It didn’t matter anymore. Chloe and Rachel were all that mattered. They were stupid, selfish, lying assholes, but they were all that mattered.

Once outside the dorms, Max turned left and headed past the school. Past the parking lot. Into the woods. Deeper. Thirty minutes passed. Deeper. An hour. Deeper.

Here.

Max hadn’t been here in over five years.

The fort made from plywood and sticks from the forest had crumbled and molded over. The soggy mattress that Joyce had given them would no longer protect anyone from the autumn chill. The tattered pirate towel that Max’s mom got her still managed to hang on from a leaning stick they’d driven into the ground—Max wondered if Chloe had her matching towel.

Max and Chloe’s old pirate fort was in better condition than Max expected.

Max stepped forward and pushed against one of the walls, pressed harder, pushed her whole body weight against it, but it held fast.

With a smile, she pushed herself off. She was going to miss these places. These memories.

“I get why you did it,” she said.

Chloe walked up beside her and placed a hand on the fort as Rachel said, “You do?”

“Mhm.” Max moved around to the other side of the fort, continuing to inspect it. “I feel like you guys only see me being useless and depressed all the time. No wonder you think I can’t help.”

“Hey,” Chloe came around the other side, but Max moved away again. “Max, you’re not useless.”

“After all of this, I think we’re all useless. Why the hell would you leave me out of your plans? I can travel through time! Besides, you shouldn’t have been planning to kill Jefferson in the first place. The whole thing is just stupid. So fucking stupid.”

She came around the other side of the fort and stopped, looking directly at Rachel. Chloe walked around to her other side so the three of them were facing each other in a triangle.

“But I think I’ve figured it out,” Max said.

Her friends frowned. “Figured what out?” Rachel asked.

With a deep breath, Max reached her arms into the air to stretch them out. Then she collapsed them and stood on the tips of her toes so she could do the same with her legs. Her body felt loose, not stiff or painful like in the last timeline. But stretching still helped.

“I’ve spent all this time trying to get everything right. But I finally know how to fix things.” She relaxed her legs and swung her arms back and forth. “And you guys are going to go along with this plan. You’re not going to lie or sneak around and get us all killed again.”

Rachel gave her a tentative nod. “We won’t. I don’t . . . whatever he did to you, we won’t let it happen again.”

“And you’re going to do it by listening,” Max said. No more taking Rachel’s half-truths. “But I get it now. Everything I’ve seen in every timeline has been leading me here. And I’ve decided. Chloe. Rachel.”

Her heart hammered as she looked at each of them. Her brain itched.

“Yes,” Chloe breathed.

Max reached her hand out to both of them. “Let’s run away.”

The moment she said it, her brain itched so hard it hurt—a sharp, poisonous weed that had snaked its roots through her skull.

Get Rachel to—

No.

She was done.

Rachel said, “What?”

“Let’s run away,” Max repeated. “We’ll get out of Arcadia Bay and go as far as possible. We’ll keep going till we’re safe.”

Chloe stepped forward. “Max—”

Max dropped her hand and said, “We can go to California, like you guys wanted! That’ll be kind of nice too, since it’s supposed to be warm all the time. I’m so sick of the cold.”

Chloe tried again. “But—”

“I know we have a lot of stuff to work out. And I’m mad about stuff, and you’re mad about stuff, and I know this is really sudden. But if we get on the road now—”

“Max, wait!” Rachel cut in.

As soon as Max stopped speaking, she realized she hadn’t taken in a breath since she started her tirade.

Chloe took another step forward. “Look, I’m not opposed—I mean I hate Arcadia Bay as much as the next guy—but where is this coming from?”

Rachel stepped up as well. “I understand getting away from Jefferson, but what about the tornado? I thought you wanted to save everyone here.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore, Rachel.”

Max looked at the ground and clenched her fists. She’d shocked them into silence. And she’d do it again if it made them understand.

“I can’t stop this. Any of it. Even with my powers, there’s nothing I can do.” She hunched over, her stomach roiling. “That’s what I’ve figured out. So run away with me, Chloe, Rachel. We can’t stay here. That’s what everything’s been telling me. I didn’t want to believe it but . . . .” A pained smile stretched across her face. “I get it, guys. I’m only making things worse.”

Rachel reached out a tentative hand. “That’s not—”

“It’s true!” Max snapped, stepping back from them. Her smile bent into a snarl, and she couldn’t look at either of them. “The universe keeps spelling it out right in front of my face, and I keep ignoring it . . . but now I just want it to end. Everything I try will just lead to a dead body or worse.”

With as much effort as she could muster, she forced herself to raise her head. “I’ve had enough. I’m tired. So let’s run. We can’t stay here! We shouldn’t be in this fucking town!”

Get Rachel to—

Her hands flew up to grasp the sides of her head as she tried to shake away the itching. Rachel flinched, and Chloe stared at her with helpless despair.

“Max,” she heard Chloe’s voice through the pain. “I—I know this probably makes sense for you, but for us—for me this is coming out of nowhere.”

Rachel stepped forward again. “What did Jefferson do?”

They couldn’t understand! Max didn’t want to think about it.

“Please! We have to go! I’m sorry it’s so sudden, I really am!” She clasped her hands over her chest, grasping at her collarbone. “I really, really am.” She felt Chloe’s hand on her back. It felt nice. “But we have to do this. Let’s take the truck and go South. We’ll buy a house or an apartment or something, and we’ll all live together! And even if bad things happen, if I have you guys with me, I’ll be okay! If I know you guys are there for me . . . .”

Max stood up straight. “If we do this, I promise I’ll do whatever I have to for you guys. So please, just—just run away with me!”

Chloe looked down at Max’s wavering hand, the air so cold she’d lost feeling in the tips of her crooked fingers.

“I have thought about it,” Chloe breathed.

Rachel stepped up next to them. She placed one hand on Chloe’s shoulder and took Max’s hand with the other.

Chloe closed her eyes and smiled. “We could go to Santa Monica and get some place way too small for the three of us. We’d all probably have to get jobs, since you two would be dropping out of school. But we could work while you got your GEDs.” She looked at Rachel. “And knowing you, you’d find good work right away.”

Max imagined it. She wanted it.

“Once things aren’t crazy,” Chloe went on, “maybe we could find a house. One of you could go to college and get a better job. Maybe both of you, if we can get the money. California’s full of artsy fucks, so it’d be hard for you to stand out. But you’re both so amazing that I know you could do it.”

“I know it wouldn’t be easy. There’s so much fucked up stuff between us that . . . and when does anything go according to plan, right? Plus there’s all my fuck-ups. And all the lying. And everything you’ve been through.”

“Chloe,” Max murmured.

“But you’re right! We’d all have each other! All our neighbors would be so jealous of us! We’d be some weird little family, living together and being normal for once.”

“Chloe . . .” Max’s heart ached. Her brain itched. She wanted it so bad.

“I’d feel bad about it, but I’d probably always be jealous of you two. Sometimes I’m worried you guys’ll leave me out. But whenever I feel like that, one of you comes to me, and everything’s okay again. Both of you do. I’d be able to live my life and feel happy with you. I’d be so happy.”

Max began to shake. Tears stained her eyes. It sounded so perfect. The three of them together. “I-if that’s what you want, then—”

Rachel was staring at Chloe. Her eyes were watery too. Chloe turned to her and smiled. “And if you guys wanted something like that too, I could say fuck it to the world. I want it. I want it so much, Max.

“But I’m worried you don’t.”

No.

Her brain itched. It was unbearable. The tears she’d been holding back finally streamed down her face.

“She’s right, Max,” Rachel said, squeezing her hand. “This isn’t like you. Let’s sit back for a while and calm down. If you still want it, then we can go.”

Chloe nodded. “Yeah, Max. It’s not that I’m saying no or anything, it’s just that you’re freaking the fuck out. And we shouldn’t make a decision when we’re this stressed.”

No!

Max broke away from them. Her back hit the fort. “I’ve already thought about this! I’ve tried! But I can’t save anyone!”

“You saved Chloe, and Kate, and me,” Rachel said. “And we’re going to help you, no matter what. But let’s sleep on this before we do something this crazy.”

What was she supposed to do? The longer they stayed here, the more her brain would itch! They had to leave! She needed to tell them! She wanted to tell them!

Could she tell them?

Tell them what?

Max opened her mouth to speak, desperately trying to remember, trying to put her thoughts into words, but nothing worked. As soon as the memory formed in her mind, her mouth slammed shut. And as soon as she managed to pry her lips open, her mind went blank.

She gasped, “I can’t—thinking isn’t—the words won’t come out! Somethings wrong, it’s—” The air ripped itself out of her lungs, and she exploded into a coughing fit.

“Hey!” Chloe surged forward and placed her hands on Max’s shoulders. “You’re having a panic attack.”

“This whole thing is scaring us too, Max,” Rachel said. “But you’re not okay. It’s not good to do something this big right now.”

Get out of Arcadia Bay.

Why did she need to leave? Get Rachel to—

Get Rachel where?

Keep Rachel and Chloe safe!

Get out of Arcadia Bay!

Why did she even want to leave? Just get Rachel to—

No!

Max had to stop thinking about it and do something! She couldn’t waste her energy on anything else.

“Rachel,” Max whispered. Say something. Say anything. Get out of Arcadia Bay. “I’m too tired for this. I have to give up.”

“Max,” Rachel stepped forward and placed a hand on Max’s cheek. It felt so warm, and Max couldn’t help but lean into it. “With everything you’ve been through, I know it’s easy to give up, but—”

“Easy?”

Max felt a disgust unlike any other. It was like her body was rejecting everything about the word. The itching in her brain surged, then disappeared as her attention wrapped around Rachel.

Shoving Rachel and Chloe away, she pressed her back against the wall of the fort and yelled, “Shut the fuck up! There’s nothing easy about giving up! You think I’m just cutting everything off and throwing it away? Like that’s all it takes? I gave up before, and it almost killed me! I gave up what I loved, and nothing changed! I let you die! I let Chloe die! And the tornado still came!”

She squeezed her eyes shut and saw Chloe in the rain at the foot of the lighthouse, the tornado in the distance.

Max, this is the only way.

And then Chloe died.

But it hadn’t changed a thing.

She snatched at fistfuls of her hair. “It’s not easy to give up! It’s so much easier to think there’s something I can do! But there’s nothing I can do! There’s no way out! The only thing everything leads to is giving up!”

What had she been trying to do? She wanted to go somewhere, didn’t she? Why did that matter anymore? All that mattered was how useless she was.

Useless.

Pathetic.

Needy.

Her knees gave out, and she hit the frozen ground. “If there was something I could do, I would. I swear I would.”

They couldn’t understand. They didn’t remember a thing. But Max did. She remembered how their limp bodies looked. How their blood smelled. How the air escaping their lungs sounded. And she had to remember it alone.

Rachel sank down to her knees and took Max’s hands. Chloe came forward and took Max’s head in her hands.

“Max,” Rachel said. “It’s okay if that’s what you want. We’re not saying we won’t go. We’re not saying we don’t understand what you’ve been through. But we know you.”

“Rachel,” Max breathed.

“You’ve always been nervous, and indecisive, and quiet. But when we’re together, you kick more ass than everyone in Arcadia Bay combined. You’re scared of the future, but when you’re with me and Chloe, you open up and know exactly what you want.”

Max shook her head. This conversation wasn’t about leaving anymore. Maybe it hadn’t been from the start. “You’re wrong . . . I’m not—”

“She’s not wrong,” Chloe said. “Ever since you got here from your timeline, you haven’t given up on any of us. Not Kate or Warren, not me or Rachel, not anyone.”

“I have given up! It was all too much, I let you—”

“I asked you to do it,” Chloe said. “I know I did. You weren’t giving up, you were doing what you had to.”

She had to be lying. But Chloe’s eyes were firm and honest. How could she know?

Her visions.

How long had Chloe known?

Max shook her head. “You can’t—you—what would you even know?” Her voice shook as she began to yell again. “What do you know about me? I’m weak! I hurt people! I don’t know anything.” Her shaking breaths escaped her lungs in ragged, erratic gasps. “I . . . I hate myself!

“I think I can fix everything because of my powers, but I just make things worse! How fucking high-and-mighty can I be to think I can mess with time and not fuck it up? The tornado is my fault! I can’t stop it! And pretending I can is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done! I have to live with that!”

Max wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m empty. I know that. It’s the only way I could—” The words caught in her throat. She didn’t want to say it. But she had to. “Do you know how I got away from Jefferson? David and Warren found us, and Jefferson was using Rachel as a hostage.” She turned to Rachel, her eyes too blurry to see clearly, and said, “So I got David to shoot you both! I hurt you! And then I rewound after Jefferson was already dead just so I could shoot him myself! But I didn’t even do that right! I fucking missed! I hurt you! I tried to kill him! And I fucked it all up and got you killed again!”

It was out. She’d let Chloe die. She’d gotten Rachel killed. And now they knew.

Max slumped down as Chloe carded her fingers into her hair. “I’m broken,” she sighed. “I thought it was okay because I could rewind, but it’s not. And I knew it. This is all my fault. I hate myself.”

Rachel stared at her for an extended moment, soaking up all of Max’s words, her expression unreadable. She closed her eyes, frowned a bit, and let out a heavy sigh.

Then, she sat up and wrapped her arms around Max. “I don’t know what it feels like to be kidnapped. But I know what hating myself feels like. I know what being broken feels like. Max, you and Chloe are so good, and I keep hurting both of you. But for whatever fucking reason, you haven’t left me. I don’t deserve any of it, but when you two stick by me I feel like that doesn’t matter.

“I love whenever you hug me,” she said. “It makes me feel like you understand me. I love your voice. You always sound so nervous, except when you’re with me and Chloe. You get confident out of nowhere, and it makes me feel so proud. I love your eyes. Normally you don’t focus on anything, but when you see something beautiful you hone into it and know just how to frame it. I love when you look at me that way. Like I’m something worth framing. I love the way you smile. You always look sad or scared, and it makes me worry about you. But when you smile, it’s like you’re a brand new person.”

“Don’t,” Max tried to say.

Chloe knelt down and hugged both of them. “I love your hands, Max,” she said. “I love how you run to catch up with me when I walk too fast. I love how much of a dork you are when you talk about art. I love how cute you look when you sleep. I love playing with your hair when I know you won’t notice.”

Rachel gripped them tighter. “I love how you put other people before yourself. I love how brave you are when other people are in trouble. I love how you don’t let anything stop you, even when you’re scared out of your mind.”

Chloe went on, “I love how you’re always trying to help us. I love how you don’t take our bullshit, but you still stay by our side. I love how no matter what you think about yourself, you’ve shown us over and over that you’re a good person. And I swear, Max, even if you used to have something that you screwed up, you’ve more than made up for it.”

Rachel stroked Max’s cheek. “Whenever you feel like you hate yourself, just tell us, and we’ll tell you all the things we love about you.” She traced her thumbs over Max’s eyes, wiping away the tears. We’ve fucked up too, Max. We’ve done bad things. But you’ve stuck by us. So let us stick by you. Through anything and everything.”

Max buried her head into Chloe’s shoulder and clutched at Rachel’s back. She struggled to register their words. “I . . . I don’t get it. I don’t understand.” She shook her head against them. “That’s . . . why do you even like me? I’m broken. I’m useless. I’m scared. So why do you care?”

Rachel took Max’s face in her hands. “Max,” she breathed, “how are we supposed to help it?”

“You’re not broken,” Chloe’s fingers carded through her hair. “You’re perfect. And you’re my best friend in the whole world. That’s what makes me love you.”

“I love you too, Max. I’m in love with you, and I’ll tell you every day if I have to,” Rachel said, pressing her lips against Max’s temple.

Max’s heart stuttered. They loved her?

 “You see me like no one else does,” Rachel said. “You feel so much and you care so hard, and you make me want to be better.”

“When you called me and told me you remembered last April,” Chloe continued, “I was fucking pissed, but I was also really happy. I wanted you back, because the world doesn’t hurt as much with you there. And you brought us back together. We’re here. You’re here. And we’re not just sticking around because you keep us alive.”

Rachel pressed her crown against Max’s cheek. “When I’m with Chloe, I miss you. And when I’m with you, I miss Chloe. I don’t feel right unless you’re both with me. I need you with me. I love you both more than anything in this fucking world.”

“Rachel,” Chloe breathed. Max felt Chloe’s tears on her own cheek.

“Even when I fuck up, even when I do terrible things, I’ll love you both. And when you two think you can’t go on, I swear I’ll believe in you,” Rachel promised.

How was this real? How were they talking through the itching in her brain? How had Max ever given them anything?

But they said that she did. They wanted her around. They wanted her.

They loved her. They loved each other. And she loved them.

Max relaxed into their embrace. “Is this real? Is it okay?”

“It’s okay, Max,” Chloe said. Both girls pulled back. Rachel and Chloe placed one hand each on each other’s shoulder, and the other on both of Max’s. “Let’s just calm down and love each other, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Let’s go back to the dorms and sleep everything off,” Rachel said.

“Okay.”

“We’ll talk about everything in the morning. And if it’s the right thing for us, we’ll leave Arcadia Bay and never come back.”

“Yeah,” Chloe agreed. “But first, we’ll make sure it’s something you won’t regret.”

Max closed her eyes. She vaguely remembered something that had seemed so urgent. But it didn’t feel important anymore. Chloe and Rachel were here. They were real. They loved her.

“Okay.”

“And then we’ll make a life together,” Chloe said.

Max smiled. It was a tired, defeated smile. But she’d never been happier to lose. “That sounds perfect.”

As they trudged back to Blackwell through the icy woods, the clouds parted and the crescent moon shone down on them. The itch was long gone. It, the tornado, and Jefferson were all a distant memory. Chloe and Rachel took her hands as they walked, and Max wondered why she’d wanted to leave Arcadia Bay in the first place.

Chapter Text

The blueish-peach light of dawn creeped into Chloe’s room as the morning came. A soft winter breeze drifted through the window, fluttering the American flag on the wall. As Chloe began to wake, she could hear the mailman’s truck sludging down the road and the predictable click of each mailbox on the street.

Chloe had drifted in and out of sleep with Max in her arms and Rachel on their other side. She and Rachel clasped their hands over Max’s body, and Max had buried her head into Chloe’s shoulder and thrown an arm awkwardly over her shoulder to touch Rachel’s face.

Chloe had never felt more at ease.

Staying at Blackwell had seemed off to all three of them. And Chloe got the impression that Max didn’t want any of her dormmates seeing her so distraught. So, Chloe drove them back to her house to crash in her room.

The musky scent of cigarettes, dust, and pot had finally grown too overwhelming, and she had agreed to crack open the window for the night. While the crisp, winter air cleared out the smell, it brought the cold with it. All the more reason for them to huddle close together. Max’s nose felt freezing against Chloe’s neck, but she refused to budge. There was no way in hell she was going to mess with this moment.

Sometimes throughout the night, she and Rachel would stir awake at the same moment. Chloe would have never known if Rachel hadn’t rubbed her thumb over the back of Chloe’s hand every time. The slow, hypnotic movement, the texture of her fingers, their warmth always caused her to doze off again.

Chloe breathed in the air they shared. Max smelled like dust and snow. Rachel smelled like jasmine and rain. And they all reeked of sweat, despite the frigid air. Max and Rachel breathed with the same cadence, music to Chloe’s ears.

When the sun finally rose high enough to shine into Chloe’s eyes, she felt more rested than she had in months, despite experiencing every lazy second of the night.

As she stretched and peered around through squinted eyes, the soft dusting of frost on her windowsill and desk told her it was time to close the window. The bitterness that swept through Chloe’s chest as she pushed herself out of bed died down when Max clung onto her—still asleep, but eager to stay close. Rachel in turn, groaned a bit and pressed her face into Max’s hair.

A smile spread across Chloe’s face. They were here, together. This was real. Whatever the fuck “this” was. Chloe forced herself to climb out of bed and deal with the cold while her mind ran through the events of the last few weeks. After last night, were they all together together? All three of them dating or something? How would that even work?

Her grin widened as an obvious question appeared. How would sex work? Chloe had a few ideas, but she’d wait on them for a while. At least until Max was feeling better. Then, Chloe could work on flustering the fuck out of her. But till then, she didn’t want to stress Max out. Besides, they hadn’t even kissed yet.

I dare you to kiss me!

What?

I double-dare you! Kiss me now!

Chloe’s stomach lurched as she heard her and Max’s voices. Then, there was a pressure on her lips. Oh. Oh fuck. Max had kissed her before.

“And that little shit never said anything,” she snorted. To be fair, things had been pretty weird between all three of them. Weird. That was the word she was going with.

Weird didn’t really cover Rachel. The whole Frank situation still hurt. A lot. Chloe wondered if it would hurt for the rest of her life. But Rachel had seemed so sincere the night before. Chloe wanted to believe her so bad.

Maybe . . . maybe it would be worth trusting Rachel one last time. Maybe the happiness that could come of it would overshadow the risk of another heartbreak. She knew she could survive the worst. But she didn’t know if she could sacrifice their last chance together. She was in love with Rachel. She was in love with Max. And she would give anything to have them both in her life.

Chloe shook her head. This was too deep for—Jesus it was six in the morning. First, she wanted to see Max and Rachel wake up in her room. Hopefully they’d end up doing this a lot.

Rachel was the first to open her eyes. She sucked in a deep breath, nuzzled close to Max for an extended moment, then rolled over and stretched out her limbs. Then she winced. “Jesus, it’s freezing.”

“I just closed the window,” Chloe said.

“Thank fuck,” she sighed.

Max hummed next to her and curled into herself, still partially asleep. Rachel beamed and ran her knuckles over Max’s cheek.

“I guess we have a lot to talk about,” Rachel said.

Chloe smiled. “I say we save it till after breakfast.”

Rachel snorted, keeping her voice low so she didn’t wake Max. “We should probably wait for her.”

“Yeah,” Chloe said with a nod. “She shouldn’t wake up alone.”

Chloe returned to her place on the bed and slid her legs under the covers. Max’s eyes opened partially, and she reached out to grasp Chloe’s shirt before falling back asleep. Holy fuck, she was cute.

Every second that passed was incredible. Max’s legs were warm against hers, and slightly stubbly. Rachel’s golden hair seemed to glow in the morning light. This sure as hell was something Chloe could get used to. She wouldn’t change anything about it. Hell, she didn’t even feel like getting high. It would only cheapen the experience. That was a first.

When Max finally opened her eyes, Chloe’s heart was ready to burst out of her chest.

“Chloe,” she breathed. When Rachel raked her fingernails down Max’s back, she twisted her head around and said, “Rachel.”

“Morning, babe,” Chloe said.

Max whipped her head back to stare wide-eyed at Chloe, her cheeks blazing red.

Chloe laughed, “Too much too soon?”

“No it’s—it sounds kinda weird.”

“Yeah,” Rachel agreed. “Max doesn’t seem like a ‘babe.’ Maybe a ‘sweetheart?’”

Max hid her face in the pillow. “That sounds weird too,” she said, her voice muffled.

Rachel smiled and ran her fingers through Max’s hair. “Well, we have plenty of time to come up with something better.”

Max groaned.

“Come on,” Chloe said, flinging the covers off all of them. Max and Rachel flinched away from the cold. “Mom’ll probably be up soon. She can make us breakfast.”

“Or we could be functioning adults and make our own breakfast,” Rachel teased.

“I’m 19, I dropped out of high school, I live at my mom’s house, and I don’t have a job. What part of that says ‘functioning adult’ to you?”

Max laughed, and Chloe’s heart warmed. It felt like forever since she’d heard that laugh. Chloe was going to make sure she heard it every day from then on.

In the end, Rachel agreed to make breakfast. Chloe and Max sat at the dinner table as she got to work on the stove. Before long, the smell attracted others.

A series of thumps reverberated through the house as someone made their way downstairs.

“Chloe?” her mom called. “I didn’t expect to see you up this—oh!” She stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, glancing back and forth between the three girls. “Rachel! Max! Well I had no idea y’all were here!”

“I hope we’re not intruding,” Rachel said, throwing on a winning smile.

“W-why not at all! How are you girls?”

“Great!”

Max waved from the table. “Hi, Joyce.”

“Mornin’ Max,” she replied. “Were y’all here overnight?”

Rachel nodded as she took a steaming frying pan off the stove. “I have enough bacon if you want some,” she said. “I’m going to make eggs next.”

“Why that’s mighty kind of you, Rachel. But I can make the eggs, if you’d like. I need to cook enough for David as it is.”

“I’ve got it,” Rachel insisted, sliding the bacon onto a plate. “You’re at Two Whales all the time. You’re probably sick of serving people food.”

“Plus, how many times does someone else make food for you?” Chloe asked. “If I were you, I’d jump at the chance.”

“Well not to offend Rachel or nothin’, but wouldn’t a home-cooked meal mean so much more coming from my only child?” She laid a dainty hand on her chest, pretending to be hurt.

“You can always adopt me,” Rachel laughed. “You’re a thousand times better than my dad.”

“Well, I’m not one to bad-mouth someone behind their back, but I won’t argue with you there.”

Max sat back in her chair and said, “You’re like a super-mom, Joyce.”

Said super-mom rested a hand on her hip and raised a playful eyebrow. “Something about all these compliments makes me think y’all are butterin’ me up for something.”

“What? We’d never,” Rachel teased in mock-innocence. She opened the fridge and pulled out the eggs, but before she could fetch a bowl, Joyce snatched them out of her hands.

“Now I mean it. You girls sit down while I finish this.”

As Rachel took her seat, Chloe leaned over and whispered, “So much for being functioning adults.”

Once the meal was ready, her mom took a seat with them, eating slowly while Chloe tried her best to inhale her food. Hopefully, Max and Rachel would do the same. She wanted to get out of the house before David woke up.

“Chloe, you’re gonna choke,” her mom sassed.

“I’m a growing girl!” Chloe shot back through a mouthful of eggs.

“Well if you don’t mind pausin’ before you eat the whole table, I need your help. I want to salt the driveway, but I can’t find the bag in the garage.”

Chloe groaned.

“Oh now you hush. I’ll be helpin’ you as it is.”

“I was going to take the time to enjoy my food,” Rachel said, nudging her upper arm. “So you have time.”

With a roll of her eyes, she sighed, “Fine,” and pushed herself up from the table. Her mom followed her out.

The first thing Chloe saw when her mother closed the door behind her was a giant bag of salt sitting across from David’s car.

“Really? You needed my help finding that?”

Her mom crossed her arms and cocked her head. “I figured you’d prefer a more tactful way to leave the room for this conversation.”

Oh boy. That sure sounded serious. “Uh, what conversation?”

“Those girls are awful fond of you.”

“. . . Yeah?”

“And you’re awful fond of them.”

Chloe frowned. “I’m aware.”

“So, y’all are, well, y’all are happy then?”

Oh.

Oh.

How the fuck had her mom figured all that stuff out before any of them did?

“Yeah, we’re—uh, yeah we are.”

For a few seconds, her mother closed her eyes and sucked in her lower lip. Chloe’s heart thudded with uncertainty. She hadn’t expected to have to talk about their relationship so quickly. Especially since she barely knew what it meant.

Finally, her mother opened her eyes. “I won’t say I fully understand it,” she said, “And it’ll certainly take some . . . some getting used to. But Chloe, I—” she paused and sighed. “You’ve been so miserable lately. And all I want is for you to be happy. So I want you to do whatever you need to do to get there. You understand me?”

Chloe stared in shock. Her mom was just okay with it? No buildup or arguing or anything?

Well, shit. That was . . . shit.

“Okay, Mom.”

“Are you girls gonna leave the town?”

Damn. Let it never be known that Joyce Price was oblivious. “We aren’t sure yet.”

“Well, I know that’s somethin’ you and Rachel had your hearts set on. Now that things seem patched up between y’all, I was wonderin’ . . .” She looked down and tapped her fingers against her arm.

Chloe clenched and unclenched her fists, scratched at her jeans, and shifted her weight a few times. “Max is having a really hard time here. We’re planning to talk everything over and figure it out.”

Her mom nodded. “I got the impression when she came over cryin’ the other day. How much do her parents know?”

“Nothing, I think.”

“Make sure she has a good long chat with them. There’s nothin’ more terrifyin’ than not knowin’ how to help your child.”

That made Chloe’s chest hurt. “Yeah. I’ll talk to her about it.”

“Well alright then.” With a big sniff and a suddenly straightened back, her mom announced, “I suppose we’ve kept those girls waitin’ long enough.”

Once inside, Chloe threw on her usual bravado and sauntered over to the kitchen table. She scooped up her plate, not even bothering to sit down, and began shoveling the remains of her breakfast into her mouth.

“I should get going soon,” Max said. “I need to shower and change before school starts.”

“Yeah, me too,” Rachel said, as if she didn’t have piles of clothes stashed up in Chloe’s room. Even after their huge fight in April, Chloe hadn’t had the heart to get rid of them.

“Well, I won’t keep you. Besides, I’m sure Chloe is tryin’ to get out of the house before David comes down.”

At that, Chloe did choke.

 

Chloe fiddled her fingers over her steering wheel as Rachel pulled the passenger door shut. Max sat between them.

“So,” Chloe said. “Are you really going to school today?”

“We skipped on Monday and yesterday,” Rachel said. “I know you probably don’t remember because of the whole time-jump thing.”

“I want to meet Warren in the junkyard,” Max said. “I think all of us should talk about Jefferson and the tornado. And . . .”

“And whether or not we leave,” Chloe said.

Max nodded, her eyes glazed over.

“We one hundred percent do need showers though,” Rachel said. “Let’s get into some fresh clothes, and then we’ll get this sorted out.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to knock the poor kid out with our stink,” Chloe said.

Max clenched her fists in her lap and closed her eyes. Chloe’s stomach churned.

“Hey,” she said, placing a hand on Max’s shoulder. “It’s okay. We’ve got time.”

Max looked up at her and blinked slowly. “Yeah. You’re right. We have time.”

Rachel looped her hands around Max’s arm and leaned against her as they drove back to Blackwell. Chloe’s mind began to race. Part of her was hoping Max still wanted to leave Arcadia Bay. Hell, most of her was hoping for it. But she’d have so many regrets. They’d be abandoning all the girls at Blackwell to Jefferson. And if the storm ever came, everyone could die. Her mom could die.

Jesus Christ, her mom could die.

Would it be worth it if it meant getting Max and Rachel as far from danger as possible? If it meant getting to spend the rest of her life with them?

Maybe she really was a bad person. Or maybe she was just tired.

Chloe parked the car in front of Blackwell. “How’s abouts we meet up at ten?” she asked. “Do you guys want me to pick you up or do you want to drive with Warren?”

“I want to drive with you,” Max said without a second of hesitation. Chloe couldn’t help but feel smug at that.

“You could come in and stay with us while we get ready,” Rachel said.

“Thanks, but I need to shower too,” Chloe replied. “I’ll come pick you up when it’s time to go.”

Rachel nodded. “Okay. I’ll see you then.” She opened the door and stepped out. “I love you!” Chloe’s heart thudded a little harder than normal.

“You too,” she breathed.

“Chloe,” Max said.

“Yeah, Maximus?”

Max leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Chloe. “I love you.”

Holy fucking fuck! This was real! They’d both just said it! Holy shit!

Chloe slid her hand up Max’s back to hold her tighter. “I love you too.”

She wanted to stay there forever, but then Rachel whistled at them from outside the truck. “Come on, lovebirds. We can all cuddle later.”

Chloe grinned as she felt Max’s face heat up against her.

“I’ll see you guys in a bit,” she said, pulling away.

 

Chloe re-parked in front of the school at 9:45 sharp. Max ran up and piled into the truck first, with Rachel not far behind.

“Warren’s going to meet us there,” Max said, clutching her phone to her stomach.

“He’s not going to follow us?” Chloe asked.

Shaking her head, Max replied, “He’s in class right now.”

“Shit, that fucking sucks,” Rachel said. “I had an early class when I was a freshman. They’re the worst.”

“Yeah,” Max said, short and terse. Was she nervous? She’d seemed okay when they woke up.

Chloe chased the thought from her mind. It was probably nothing. They’d just go to the junkyard, talk everything out, and then hopefully Max would still want to leave town. They could pack their bags and disappear before lunch.

A minute or two into the drive, Max’s phone started buzzing with her text-tone. The screen was dim, so she held it close to her face. “Warren just got out of class.” She typed and sent something. Her phone buzzed again.

“I hope he doesn’t text and drive,” Rachel laughed.

Chloe coughed. “Yeah, cause we’ve never done that.”

Max didn’t laugh. She just kept typing.

Chloe wished she would say something.

 

The sun hung high over the junkyard when they finally arrived. Chloe pulled her beanie all the way over her ears before stepping out into the frigid air. At least it was dry.

“How you feeling, Max-attack?” she asked.

“I’m good,” she said. “Just not sure what I’m going to tell Warren.”

“We can go chill in the clubhouse while we wait,” Rachel said.

The little brick building was still trashed from the last time Chloe had been there. Now that things had calmed down between all of them, she felt guilty for it. She ran her fingers over the scratched-up writing on the wall. Max didn’t say anything about it.

Warren sure was taking a while. An annoying while. Chloe never thought she’d want him around so much, but fucking hell she sure did now.

All three of their phones buzzed.

Speak of the devil, it was Warren on a group chat.

Warren: hey guys, i know youre skipping today, so i wanted to let you know that jefferson and nathan called out sick

Chloe frowned and typed back.

Chloe: thanks for the heads up

Chloe: where are you?

Warren: . . . school?

Chloe: we’ve been waiting for you

Warren: . . . what?

Chloe: at the junkyard?

Warren: when did we decide that?

Chloe’s head shot up. “Max? What’s going on?”

Max stared back with wide eyes and tense shoulders. “Chloe—”

A piece of rubble next to Chloe’s head exploded.

“Jesus!” she yelled, ducking down. The air echoed with a fading bang.

Crack!

A second shot rang out as Chloe dove down. This time, the bullet hit a piece of rubble above her. Sharp pebbles struck her crown. Chloe heard two screams: hers and Rachel’s.

Max disappeared from where she was standing and reappeared next to Chloe. “Come on!” she cried, grabbing Chloe’s hand before rewinding. The blood rushing through Chloe’s ears covered up the sound of the world in reverse. The pounding in her chest distracted her from paying attention to how far back they went.

The moment Max released time, she gave Chloe’s arm a firm yank, and the two of them jumped to Rachel on the other side of the clubroom.

“We need to go!” Chloe yelled.

“Wha—” Rachel couldn’t get a word in before Max grabbed her with her free hand, and the three of them charged toward Chloe’s truck. They stumbled through the trash-heap. Rachel tripped, and Max rewound while pulling her to her feet.

“Max, what’s—”

The three of them froze.

Standing between them and the truck was Jefferson.

Chloe froze up. She knew she froze up. But she couldn’t get her body to move. All four truck tires were slashed. He had a gun in his hands. And he was staring at Chloe.

“Don’t move!” he snarled, pulling the pistol to aim at Chloe. The gentle breeze from before began to whip against her skin.

Max saved Chloe from the fear rushing through her. She rewound to before he’d raised the gun. She pulled them back several steps. Rewound again. Stepped back. Rewound. Stepped back. Rewound. Stepped back. Rewound. Stepped back.

As soon as Jefferson was out of sight, Max dragged Chloe and Rachel toward the train tracks.

“What the fuck!” Rachel gasped. “What’s happening? Why is he here?”

“I don’t know!” Max yelled back.

Chloe’s mind raced. Jefferson. He’d called out sick. Warren wasn’t here. Warren didn’t know. Jefferson knew they’d be there. How did Jefferson know?

Oh god.

Who was Max texting?

No! That wasn’t right! That didn’t make sense!

Chloe shook her head as she ran. She could think about this later.

Somewhere behind them, she heard racing footsteps. Had Jefferson seen them? “Get back here!” his voice rang out from the junkyard. Yep, he’d seen them. But he wasn’t shooting. He probably wanted to save bullets.

Just run! Keep running! Get Max and Rachel somewhere safe!

“Stop!”

A new voice rang through the newly overcast sky. All three girls stopped running so suddenly that they tripped and fell over each other.

Why did they stop? They had to keep running!

But that voice sounded so important. So familiar. Chloe had to listen to it.

Jefferson would kill them!

The voice was so serious though.

Serious calm menacing forgettable otherworldly plain.

Listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen.

Chloe felt needles poking through her skull. The more she tried to fight the command, the more they hurt. Her eyes flitted around. Rachel was curled up in a ball, seizing and twitching. Max was totally limp.

What the fuck?

The needles jabbed harder.

“All of you come here,” the man called.

Chloe knew that nasally voice. Where had she heard it before?

The girls pushed themselves to their feet and began trudging back. Chloe walked in stilted, jerking movements, trying with every ounce in her being to get away. She felt something trickle down her nose and tasted blood on her lips.

“Max!” she hissed through gritted teeth. “Rewind!”

At first, the time traveler said nothing. She walked calmly, her eyes cast to the ground. What was wrong with her? Finally, she said, “I tried. It doesn’t work.”

“Fuck!” Chloe gasped.

They walked toward the voice back at the junkyard. Three figures stepped out from the treeline onto the train tracks.

Mark Jefferson. Nathan Prescott. And Sean Prescott.

What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck!

When they were about fifteen feet away, Sean Prescott said, “Stop right there.”

The three of them froze.

The wind around them picked up harder. The clouds above them darkened and began to rumble. The air felt charged and moist.

“You,” Mr. Prescott said, staring at Rachel. “Calm down.”

The fire in Rachel’s eyes began to dissipate, she took several deep, slow breaths.

The wind slowed down, and the thundering clouds fell silent.

Chloe’s heart raced faster.

What had Mr. Prescott done? What did Rachel just do? Was Rachel controlling the storm? Was Mr. Prescott controlling Rachel? Was he controlling Max?

What was happening?

Monstrous existence.

Chloe didn’t know why the words from her surreal dream came to mind.

“Nathan,” Mr. Prescott said.

Nathan tensed up. Chloe realized for the first time how terrified he looked. He was hunched over, his fists were clenched, and even through his thick, expensive parka, Chloe could tell he was trembling. Meanwhile, his father stood straight, face firm, clothes pressed, sparse hair combed.

“Now that you see them both, which is more dangerous?”

“Hold on,” Jefferson snapped, his grip around his gun tightening. “We had a deal. You told me I would get them for—”

Mr. Prescott’s nose twitched. “Mark, shoot yourself in the head.”

“Dad no!” Nathan cried.

“Be quiet!” Sean snapped. He turned back to Jefferson, who had begun to violently shake and twitch. “Shoot yourself. In the head.”

Jefferson relaxed his body, stood tall, and held Sean’s gaze with a blank stare as he lifted the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger.

The muzzle flashed.

The shot rang out.

All four of the teenagers screamed.

Jefferson’s body hit the ground. The side of his head was opened up, and spilling out of it was—

Chloe keeled over and emptied her stomach. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god! They were fucked! They were fucking fucked in every fucking way! Oh god they were going to die!

“Stand up and be quiet,” Sean said.

Chloe straightened up and stared at him, vomit dripping down her chin. For a brief moment, her vision grew hazy, and she saw behind Mr. Prescott a shapeless mass made of twisted legs and sightless eyes. Then she blinked, and the mass was gone. Sean Prescott stood, unimposing but totally in control.

“Nathan,” he said. “Describe how dangerous each of them is.”

Nathan, seemingly against his will, looked away from Jefferson’s corpse and toward Chloe, Max, and Rachel. He stared into each of their eyes. He passed over Chloe briefly, but spent over a minute on Max and Rachel.

“Chloe’s the weakest, Rachel’s the strongest, but Max is more refined,” he said.

Mr. Prescott hmmed. His gaze switched back and forth over Max and Rachel. He crossed one arm over his chest and stroked his temple with the other. “We should address the greater threats first, then move our way down.”

“Dad, please—”

“Be quiet.”

“Da—” Nathan exploded into coughs, gasping, wheezing, choking for air.

Then he stopped breathing entirely.

Mr. Prescott took several steps closer to the girls, still staring at Max and Rachel. “I’ve been working toward you for so long,” he said to Rachel. Then he turned to Max and said, “But you have the ability to reverse all of this.”

He turned around and walked back to Nathan. “Kill the Caulfield girl first.”

Nathan wailed without words.

Rachel’s face twisted with hate. “Don’t you fucker!”

Chloe fought off the needles just enough to jerk forward.

“Everyone stop!” he roared.

Chloe’s muscles locked up entirely. Rachel fell silent behind her. Nathan trembled as though he were a sandcastle in an earthquake.

Sean stepped over to Jefferson’s body and picked up the gun. Nathan had no choice as his father thrust it into his hands. “Do as I say.”

The shaking in Nathan’s body stopped. He raised the gun. Chloe reached out, silently begging him to stop.

Max stared on, her eyes glassy and unfocused. “I love you, Chloe. I love you, Rachel.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Chloe couldn’t hear anything but Max’s voice as she whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Nathan shot.

Max fell.

Rachel screamed.

The storm broke loose.

Chapter Text

The wind snapped against Chloe’s skin, howling and shrieking, grasping at the trees and ripping their limbs from their trunks, yanking so hard that the ground beneath heaved and sighed. The swirling air threatened to tear Chloe off her feet. Icy pellets of rain shot down, more ripped from the sky than simply falling. And those clouds above cracked with thunder so loud that Chloe’s head shook.

And at the center of it was Rachel. Screaming. Her voice carried through the wind, so loud that Chloe could hear it over the fray.

Across from them was Max, and beyond that were Jefferson’s body, Nathan, and Mr. Prescott.

Chloe’s knees unlocked and her spine loosened as she regained control over her body. Ignoring the gun in Nathan’s hands and whatever Mr. Prescott was trying to shout over the storm, Chloe raced to Max’s side.

Max’s skin was quickly turning gray. Her hair clung to her face, her eyes were red, and the tips of her fingers were blue.

At the center of her forehead was a small hole with blood trickling out. Scattered on the ground below them were chunks and shards of things Chloe didn’t want to think about. She knelt down and wrapped her arms around Max’s, pulling her torso onto Chloe’s thighs.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement. Mr. Prescott had grabbed Nathan by the collar of his shirt and was dragging him away, fighting against the wind to move in a straight line. Nathan stumbled with his father, arms limp, hands still squeezing the pistol, eyes locked on Max.

Chloe didn’t care.

She’d rip their hearts out later.

But right then and there, nothing mattered except Max’s glassy eyes.

Something slumped down next to her. Rachel. She shook, tears were streaming down her eyes, but she’d stopped screaming. And suddenly they were at the center of the storm, the eye of the hurricane, and there seemed to be a sphere around them blocking all but the lightest spray of rain.

“Max,” Rachel breathed, taking the dead girl’s face in her hands. “Please, no!”

Chloe took one of Max’s hands and squeezed. “Max, they’re gone,” she said. “You can rewind now.” No response. “Max, they’re gone! It’s safe now! You can rewind!”

Nothing.

“Chloe, she’s—she can’t—”

“No!” Chloe snapped at Rachel. “She’s not! She can rewind and fix everything! She’s not go—” her throat caught. “She can’t be! She’s not!” Chloe leaned over and pressed her face into Max’s neck. “I just got her back! I can’t lose her again!”

Without warning, hundreds of images flashed behind her eyes. Nathan shooting her in the bathroom. Seeing Max leaning on the hood of her car after being absent for five years. Swimming in the Blackwell pool in nothing but their underwear. Kissing Max the next morning. Max plugging too much morphine into her body. Finding Rachel’s corpse. Being shot by Jefferson. The storm. Their final kiss. Nathan shooting her in the bathroom.

Chloe saw it all. She remembered every timeline Max stumbled into. She finally understood what Max had gone through.

And now Max was gone.

Had this been how she felt after leaving Chloe for dead?

Chloe didn’t want to exist in this universe. She wanted one where they were happy. But this was . . . monstrous.

Chloe pressed her forehead against Max’s, feeling the hot blood as her own hot tears painted her freezing face. One of Rachel’s hands slid through her hair as she pressed against Chloe.

 

They stayed like that for longer than Chloe knew. Time didn’t feel real anymore. All that she knew was the storm around them continued to rage.

Then, a faint voice made its way over the wind. Chloe wasn’t sure she heard it at first. But then it became clearer. It was a boy’s voice. It was Warren.

“Max!” he cried. “Chloe! Rachel! Where are you?” His voice was hoarse. How long had he been calling for them?

Chloe ought to have done something. But she didn’t want to let go of Max. And Rachel seemed inclined to do the same.

“Max?” he called again, closer this time. Then with alarm, “Max!”

Warren’s uneven footsteps crunched through the dead leaves on the ground as he struggled to push his way through the storm. Chloe released her gaze on Max to spare him a glance. He was soaking wet from the rain, his shaggy hair whipped around his head like a moving halo, and even with his heavy jacket, his skin was pale from the cold. His eyes were darting back and forth between Jefferson’s body and the three girls on the ground.

Finally, he reached them.

“Max! Is she okay? I found—the storm got stronger toward here, so I followed and—what happened—” He saw the bullet wound in her head. “No . . .” he shook his head slightly. “No, that’s not right, it’s . . . no!”

He reached a hand toward her face. Rachel slapped it away. “Don’t touch her!” she snarled.

Warren winced. “What happened?”

Chloe forced herself to speak. “Nathan—and his dad, they, they came here. But Jefferson came first. He was going to kill us, but—then Nathan and his dad came out. And they—Jesus Christ, I don’t even know what they did.”

“And how did the storm get here? Did Max . . . did she bring it somehow?”

“No, it’s—” What was Chloe supposed to say? Was it even her place?

But Rachel made the decision. “It’s me,” she said. “Somehow I’m controlling it.” She pulled Max closer to her body, and Chloe released some of her grip to make it easier. “I don’t know how to make it stop.”

Something clicked in Chloe’s head. Rain and dead bodies weren’t a good mix. They had to get Max out of there. “We have to move,” she said. “We need to get her inside somewhere.”

Warren’s throat bobbed. “I parked near your car,” he said.

“Okay.”

Chloe stood first, then, with some reluctance, Rachel. Warren tried to help them lift Max, but Rachel snapped at him again. Chloe didn’t miss the look of anger mixed in with the hurt on his face.

As much as she would have liked to carry Max with some grace, she and Rachel had to heave her along by her legs and shoulders. It wasn’t what Max deserved. But it was all they could do.

Wherever Rachel went, the eye of the storm seemed to follow. It was as if there was a forcefield around her that kept the worst of it out.

It took ages to even reach the junkyard. The three of them had managed to run pretty far while fleeing from Jefferson. And even with two people, carrying a limp body was hard. Part of Chloe thought that they should have let Warren help. But another part of her agreed with Rachel. It didn’t matter that her freezing muscles were screaming against the effort; it wasn’t his place. Not when Max was theirs.

They finally reached Warren’s car—which looked eerily like Chloe’s father’s car, but she couldn’t think about that—and he opened the back door for them. Rachel climbed in first to maneuver Max’s upper body inside while Chloe held the rest. Once the Max was finally inside, Rachel sat up straight, and Chloe could see the blood on her belly from where Max’s head had been leaning. With the thick clouds blocking out most of the light around them, it looked black.

Chloe instantly forgot about the pain in her arms.

Once she had climbed into the back seat with them, it was even worse. Chloe could smell the thick, rusty scent of it. Memories of another life where she found Rachel’s dead body flashed through her mind, and if she had anything left in her stomach she would have thrown up.

Warren slid into the front seat, clicked the door shut, then just sat there for several long moments. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t start the car, he didn’t even scratch his head. He just sat there. Rain pelted the car as the wind pushed and pulled at it. The three girls were covered in mud and blood. The stench wafted through the car, made worse by the lack of airflow.

It was clear neither Rachel nor Warren knew how to handle this. Rachel had seen violence before, but never death. And Warren wasn’t used to any of this at all. Which left Chloe as the one to lead the way. Even though she’d rather sit and do nothing but mourn.

“We need to do something,” she said. It wasn’t a good start. Of course they needed to do something. But she doubted that the other two had even thought of it. “This is . . . whatever’s going on with Nathan and his dad is way more than we can handle. We need help.”

“So what, we go to Frank?” Rachel almost spat.

“Actually, I was thinking the police.” Chloe wished they had done it as soon as they found Jefferson’s binders. But they were too stupid and proud and angry. And it had cost them. “We have witnesses. We have Max. And Jefferson is still back there. They have to believe us.”

Rachel stared at her with dead eyes. “And what if Nathan’s dad does . . . whatever the fuck he was doing?”

“We have to try,” Chloe said.

“What did Nathan’s dad do?” Warren asked, finally turning to look at them.

“I don’t . . .” Rachel breathed. “He just . . . told us to do things, and it was like we had no choice. It felt like I wanted to do it, even though I didn’t. And then he told Nathan to kill us, and he—” she couldn’t finish.

Warren looked down at Max again, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. “You said you were controlling the storm,” he said. “And Nathan’s dad did,” he rolled his hand, “that. So maybe you guys have powers, just like Max.”

Chloe sighed. “Let’s think about that later. First we need to go to the police.”

Warren nodded and started the car.

They made their way towards the town in silence. Rachel stripped Max of her drenched jacket and did what she could to get her dry. Chloe took the time to force herself to think. Maybe they should call Frank. And maybe they should tell David too. It wouldn’t hurt to have some backup in case the Prescotts came after them again. And they needed some way to keep Nathan’s dad from controlling them. Her mind wandered back a bit, and she forced herself to relive Max’s death. What happened next? Rachel started the storm, and Nathan and his dad ran away. Why hadn’t they tried to stop Chloe and Rachel?

She remembered seeing Mr. Prescott try to yell over the storm, but she hadn’t been able to hear what he said. Was he trying to command them? Maybe they had to hear him for it to work. So if they could block out whatever he said, they might stand a chance.

“Shit!”

Warren shouted and swerved the car off the road, Rachel and Chloe lost their grip on Max, and the limp girl fell to the floor of the car.

“Warren, what—” Chloe stopped as she saw what Warren had swerved away from. In the middle of the road stood Nathan Prescott.

Nathan stared into the car. Chloe, Rachel, and Warren stared back.

Nathan took a step toward them.

With a wild look on his face, Warren shifted the car into reverse and pulled out of the side of the road, before shifting back into drive and charging toward Nathan.

“I’ll fucking ki—”

Nathan disappeared. Warren drove right through where he had stood.

“What the fuck?” Chloe shouted.

Warren slammed on the brakes, and they all looked around.

“There!” Rachel said, pointing to their left.

And there Nathan was, hands up in surrender. Warren turned the car and tried to hit him again, but Nathan disappeared a second time.

“How the fuck . . .” Chloe trailed off.

They searched again and saw Nathan standing further down the road, hands still up. He shouted something over the storm. Chloe couldn’t hear him, but his lips mouthed I just want to talk!

“Hold on!” she said before Warren could try a third time.

“Are you kidding me?” Warren yelled. “He killed Max! He’s gotta—I have to . . .”

“We can kill him later,” Chloe promised. “But we need to figure out what’s going on, and he’s the only one who knows anything.” She hated the words coming out of her mouth. She ached to beat the shit out of him, shoot him, destroy his body and piss on the grave. But she had to think straight.

It’s what Max would do.

Warren scowled. His dull fingernails dug into the leather steering wheel, his chest shook as he breathed, he bit his lower lip so hard that a droplet of blood appeared, and Chloe could almost feel the heat radiating off his skin. Then he dropped his shoulders. “Fine.” He flickered his high-beams at Nathan, indicating for him to come forward.

Chloe’s mind flashed to the gun Nathan had taken with him when he ran. Did he still have it? Was this a trap?

They had to be smart about this.

Chloe shifted Max’s legs off her thighs and unlocked her door. “Stay in the car,” she told both of them. “If things go wrong, just fucking run.”

“Chloe,” Rachel breathed, reaching for her.

If only she could smile and make Rachel feel better. But she didn’t feel physically able to do that. “I can’t lose both of you.”

Rachel’s fingers brushed against her arm. “I don’t want to lose both of you either.”

“I’ll be okay,” Chloe said, not really believing it.

She stepped out of the car, and the moment she was a few feet from Rachel she could feel the full force of the storm. Ice and snow had mixed in with the rain, and they stung her cheeks and hands like needles. Her ears were numb through her wet beanie. She looked Nathan in the eye, and a gust of wind nearly knocked them both off their feet.

It must have been because Rachel was upset.

Nathan moved to stand perpendicularly to the car so that Warren couldn’t try to hit him. He was about ten feet from Chloe.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” he called over the storm. “I swear!”

“Yeah? And how long did you know it was going to happen?” Chloe yelled back.

Nathan dropped his head.

The little motherfucker. He did know. He knew all along.

“I didn’t want to,” he said. “I tried to get my father to change his mind, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“And why the fuck did he want that? Why is Max fucking dead?”

Nathan took a breath, his mouth twisting as shame passed over his face. “He wants me to take all of your powers.”

What? What the fuck? Nathan could take people’s powers? “What the fuck do you mean?”

“That’s my power,” he said. “If I kill someone, I absorb their abilities.” He hugged himself and looked back and forth frantically. His voice was beginning to waver, to sound almost angry. It reminded her of when he shot her in the bathroom.

“My father wants me to take all of your powers,” he repeated. “But I don’t know what he wants them for.”

Jesus Christ. “And he made you do it? He has his own power?”

Nathan nodded without meeting her gaze. “He makes people want what he wants. And the more he wants it, the harder it is to keep from doing it.” He squeezed his eyes shut and bent over as if in pain. “But I didn’t want to do it! I didn’t want to! But he used me! Everybody fucking—” his words caught in his throat as a sob escaped.

Chloe wanted to say that was insane, but even if she hadn’t experienced it herself, she’d seen multiple universes now. She’d seen Max control time. She’d seen Rachel control the weather. The shit Nathan was saying didn’t sound nearly as crazy as that.

“How did you get away?”

Nathan’s eyes looked hollow as he stared holes into Chloe. “I didn’t want to listen anymore,” he said. “I wanted to stop more than he wanted me to obey. After I—after Max, I just . . . I can’t. I didn’t want to hurt anybody.” He hugged himself tighter and hunched over. “He can’t make me hurt anybody. Not again.”

Fuck.

What was she supposed to say to that? She wanted to say that if he could resist now, he should have resisted then. But she’d felt Sean’s power herself. A thousand needles pressing into her brain, hurting her when she didn’t think the way he wanted her to think. And she hadn’t been able to do a thing even when Max’s life was on the line. She had no room to talk.

Nathan was a prick and a psycho, but he was still a victim. A victim who did more than Chloe could.

“We’re going to the police,” she said. “You should probably come with us.”

His head shot up, fire in his eyes. “Are you fucking stupid? My father has them in his pocket! They have to do what he says! He’ll just make them think that we’re all guilty!”

Fucking shit. What were they supposed to do?

Sit down and think. They needed to sit down and think.

“Well we’ve got to do something,” she said. “Come on.”

 

They didn’t know where to go, so they just drove. All the while Nathan explained everything he knew, and Chloe, Rachel, and Warren listened. Powers ran in his family. There was his power and his dad’s. But before them was Nathan’s grandfather. He could apparently look at people and understand exactly how their powers worked. When he told Mr. Prescott what Nathan’s was, Sean ordered Nathan to kill his grandfather and take his power, just to see if it worked. And it did.

No wonder Nathan was so unstable all the time.

All the while, Mr. Prescott had been planning for some kind of earth-shattering event.

“Then there was that fire in sophomore year,” Nathan said. “It came out of nowhere then just disappeared a couple of days later. My father thought it was supernatural, so he told me to use my power to look at everyone around me. That’s when I found out about Rachel.”

Chloe thought back to the fire. The night that it started the wind had had strange timing. And then after Damon stabbed Rachel, the firefighters in the hospital said the it seemed to magically stop. Because she almost died.

“My father’s been trying to have me kill Rachel without it actually leading back to me,” he said. “He could try to use his power to convince people I had nothing to do with it, but it has limits. He can only control about twenty people at a time, and if they want something more than he does then they can fight back.”

So Mr. Prescott had looked for someone to pin the blame on. And he found Jefferson. A high profile name with a dark secret. Nathan’s dad got him hired at Blackwell and let him do most of the work to kidnap and have Nathan kill Rachel.

“So you could start the storm?” Chloe asked.

“I guess,” he said. “If that’s what Max was trying to stop from the last timeline, that must be what he’s planning. But I think he needs me to control it. Direct it.”

“But Max said you died before the storm started in her timeline,” Rachel said. “Jefferson killed you.”

Nathan shook his head. “I don’t think what you’re doing now is what my father wants. The way he talked about it seemed bigger than this. And to do that you have to start early. Like a bunch of dominos. If you knock down a small one and give it time, let it build up, eventually it can take down a bigger one that you couldn’t do on your own.”

“Shit,” Chloe breathed. That was why him killing her in the bathroom stopped the storm. He couldn’t knock over the first domino or whatever, because he got arrested before he could try. And then months later when his dad got him out of jail, they started over, and Max saw visions of the storm again.

Nathan glanced at Rachel. “But you’re not strong enough for that. Not yet at least. My dad wanted to take you somewhere, force you to get stronger, then have me kill you.”

Until Chloe threw a wrench in his plans back in April.

“He couldn’t do anything to you,” Nathan said to Chloe, “not right away, or else people would start looking at me and Jefferson. So he had to delay everything and think up something new. He got Jefferson to make Rachel stay at Blackwell another year so he’d have time. Then three weeks ago, weird shit started happening. My father told me to keep an eye out for anyone at school who might be doing something, and I found out about Max’s time travel. So my dad decided to kill all of you and have me take your powers.”

“Max’s time travel, my dream thing, and Rachel’s weather powers?”

“What?” Nathan looked back at them from the front seat, making a pointed effort to not look at Max. “That’s what you think you guys have?”

“Don’t be a dick, Nathan,” Rachel growled. “Just explain it.”

Nathan’s nose twitched, but he said, “Price, you can see all kinds of supernatural shit. The future, the past, and anything else going on around here. And Rachel you . . .” he paused. “You can change reality.”

Rachel’s grip on Max’s shoulders tightened. “I can what?”

“You can literally change reality. Not just the weather. Energy, light, life. You’re insanely powerful.”

Rachel closed her eyes slowly and took several deep breaths. Then she asked, “What do you mean by that?”

“It’s . . . hard to explain,” Nathan said. “It’s like, you mess with small pieces of reality, and it ripples into bigger things.”

“It knocks over dominos,” Chloe said.

“Yeah. You knock over one and you’re fucking with the weather. Another and you make an eclipse without moving the moon, or you suck the life out of a bunch of living things.”

Chloe rubbed a hand over her face. “Like making it snow, killing a bunch of whales and birds, and making it look like there’s two moons instead of one?”

Nathan nodded. “Exactly.”

For a moment, Rachel closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. “Can I bring someone back to life?”

Chloe and Warren held their breath as they waited for Nathan’s answer.

“I don’t think so,” he said. Chloe’s heart dropped.

Rachel slid her teeth over her lower lip, not quite biting so much as dragging the skin. “So you killed Max because of me?”

Nathan winced. “My father would have done it whenever he found out about her powers, so even if you weren’t around it would have happened.”

Chloe couldn’t help but notice Nathan didn’t mention his own part in it. Maybe the fucker was hiding something, or maybe this was his way of compartmentalizing. Either way, she’d be keeping an eye on him. “So now you have Max’s powers?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. So you can go back in time and stop her from dying.”

Nathan twisted around and faced forward again. “I already tried,” he said. “But I can only go as far back as right after she died. I can’t change it.”

Rage welled up inside Chloe’s chest. “Bullshit,” she snapped. “You can do a photo-jump then.”

“A what?”

“Max could go farther back in time by jumping through pictures. You can do that and save her.”

“Oh, that’s how she did it,” he said. Chloe waited as Nathan took in the rest of her words. “I guess it’s worth a try. But I don’t have any of my photos with me.”

“So let’s go to Blackwell and get them,” Warren piped in, still sounding tense and pissed.

“Have you not been listening to anything I’ve said?” Nathan snipped. “My father’s going to round up as many people as he can control and come after us! Now that he’s gone this far, he’s not going to care about subtlety! You think he’s not going to have people all over Blackwell?”

“Well why can’t someone else bring your photos to us?” Warren asked.

All of them fell silent. Chloe was suddenly so glad the boy was with them.

Nathan rubbed a hand over his jaw. “I can call Victoria.”

“Won’t your dad think of that too?” Chloe asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t really talk to him about my friends. Even if he figures out we’re getting help, he won’t know who we’re going to. Not right away, at least. He’d have to ask around.”

“Well hurry up and do it, then,” Rachel said, the wind howling with her voice.

As Nathan flipped through his contacts, Chloe reached out and took one of Rachel’s hands. The girl squeezed back. Max had saved them so many times. Now they were going to save her, no matter what.

 

Chapter Text

Chloe drummed her fingers against the car door, Max’s legs resting in her lap. Nathan had texted Victoria, then called her, insisting that it was an emergency. Thankfully, she believed him. He told her to meet them by the burned-down mill outside of town. Now, Chloe, Rachel, Warren, and Max all waited inside the car while Nathan went inside to talk to Victoria.

“What do we do if Mr. Prescott already got to her?” Warren asked.

Chloe grimaced. Between all of them, they could definitely take her on. But there was no guarantee she didn’t bring backup. “We get the fuck out of here,” she said.

“This is such a bad idea,” Rachel murmured.

“I know,” Chloe said. Shit, why did they let Nathan go alone? For all they knew, he was still under his dad’s influence. “I’m going to go check on them,” she decided.

“Please be careful,” Rachel said.

Chloe reached over and cupped her cheek. “I will,” she promised.

She stepped out into the rain, which had since slowed from a hurricane into a steady downpour. Keeping her footsteps as light as possible—and hoping the storm would mask any noise she made—Chloe crept into the mill.

She took in the charred and collapsing structure around her. The last time she was here was when Damon forced Sera to—

Chloe swallowed at the memory. It had burned a scar into her brain. When Frank came in, bleeding and desperate; when Damon attacked Chloe and gave her a concussion; when Sera told Chloe to lie for her.

When Chloe swore to take care of Rachel.

She’d failed in previous timelines. But she was never going to lose Rachel again. Together, they were going to get Max back, leave Arcadia Bay, and have a stupid, happy, normal polyamorous life together.

Chloe shook the thoughts from her head. She didn’t need any distractions as made her way through, mindful of the creaky floorboards, and listening for Nathan and Victoria.

She heard Victoria first. “—riously Nathan, it’s like the entire school is looking for you and Rachel. There are a bunch of cops everywhere! What the hell happened?”

“I don’t want to get you involved,” the boy said. “My father . . . he’s trying to hurt us. If he finds out you helped me, he might hurt you too.”

“Shit.” A few beats of silence. “Well, what do your pictures have to do with anything?”

“I can’t explain. And you don’t want to know too much anyway. Just hide in your room for a few days. Hell, get out of town if you can.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Yeah.”

Well, unless they knew Chloe was listening, it didn’t sound like they were plotting anything.

Then, because the universe had to fuck her over, one of the floorboards she was standing on snapped. Her foot crashed through the splinters and hit dirt.

“What the fuck was that?” Victoria said.

“Who’s there?” Nathan demanded.

Chloe sighed. So much for being sneaky. “Chill, you guys, it’s just me.” She walked out to where they were standing, holding her hands up to try and come off as non-threatening.

The prissy rich girl bristled. In one hand, she held a bag—with Nathan’s photos in it, if Chloe had to guess—and in the other she kept an umbrella balanced on her shoulder, shielding her from the rain that fell through the rafters. “What the hell are you doing here?” Her eyes fell on the stains on Chloe’s chest. “What . . . is that blood?”

Shit, Chloe hadn’t thought this through. She wracked her brain for a quick response. “His dad is trying to fuck me over too. This is . . . what happened.”

“But where did it come from? You’re not bleeding, and there’s so much. Who—”

“It’s none of your business,” Chloe snapped. “Just give Nathan the pictures and stay out of the way.”

“Are you kidding me? Nathan, why are you with her? What’s going on?”

Nathan stepped toward her. “Victoria, you shouldn’t get involved. This is—”

“This is crazy, is what it is,” she said, shoving a bag into Nathan’s arms. “If you want me to leave so bad, then fine.” She stormed away. Toward where Warren was parked. Shit. When she got outside, she said, “What the—is that Will Grant’s car? He’s in on this too?”

“Victoria don’t—” Nathan pleaded, but it was already too late.

The girl walked around the car to get a look at the back seat. “And there’s Rachel fucking Amber, of fucking course. And you even got Max Caulfie—” She paled.

Oh fuck.

“Get the fuck away!” Chloe snarled, catching up and shoving Victoria away from the car. She stumbled back further than Chloe had pushed her.

“That’s not—she isn’t, right? She’s not—” Victoria’s hands started shaking. “Nathan?”

The boy raced to her side and turned her to face away from the car. “Please, just go somewhere safe and hide for a few days! Forget this and just get out of here!”

Victoria turned her gaze toward the ground, shaking her head as the rain pelted the three of them. “She . . . your dad, he did this?”

Nathan swallowed and nodded. Chloe ignored the lie. The truth was too complicated anyway.

“Just get out of here for a while,” Nathan said. “Get out of town where no one will follow you, and I’ll call you when this all blows over.

Ring.

They all jumped at the sound. Victoria pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, angled her umbrella so the rain wouldn’t hit it, and clicked to answer. “Hello?” A beat of silence. Then, her grip on the umbrella tightened. “No, I haven’t,” she said. “N-no, I was, I was just—going to the store. I don’t know where he is.” She nodded, even though the person on the other line wouldn’t see it. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Another beat of silence. “Goodbye.”

She lowered her phone, not bothering to keep it out of the rain. “Nathan,” she said, looking back up at him, “that was the police. Some lieutenant named Chris Rossi. They’re looking for you.” She stared down at the phone in her hand. “He asked me to come into the station. He said you were dangerous.”

Fuck! Chloe’s stomach twisted. So Mr. Prescott had already gotten to them. She clenched her fists. “You need to get out of Arcadia Bay. Now.”

Nathan shook his head, staring on blankly. “The first cop who sees her will just pull her over and arrest her. My father will make sure of it.”

“Well what are we supposed to do?” Chloe yelled. “It’s not like we can bring her with us!”

Nathan didn’t respond.

Oh Goddammit. “No!” Chloe snapped. “We’re not bringing her along!”

“Will you two shut the fuck up!” Victoria screamed. “What is happening? Why are they going to arrest me? Why do they want to arrest you? Why do they want Rachel? Why is Max Caulfield dead in Walter Grimes’s car?”

At that, Rachel rolled down the window of her seat. “Chloe,” she said. “My dad just called. I think . . . I think they got to him.”

Fuck fuck fuck!

“Fine!” Chloe barked, throwing her hands in the air. “Get in the back seat. Take the other window.” She walked around the other side of the car and slid into the middle seat, propping Max’s thighs up onto her lap. Rachel rolled her window back up.

Outside, Nathan said something Chloe couldn’t hear. He put his hands on Victoria’s shoulders and begged with his eyes. Whatever he said had the right effect. The girl deflated and gave him a nod before walking around to join Chloe and Rachel in the back seat.

Chloe felt her phone buzzing in her pocket. She pulled it out. It was her mom.

Her stomach lurched. Her chest tightened. Sweat gathered on her palms. Had Mr. Prescott gotten to her mom? Was she already mind-controlled?

She answered.

“Mom?”

“Chloe where are you? Are you safe?”

She nodded, even though her mom couldn’t see it. “Yeah. I’m safe.”

“Oh thank heavens!” the woman sighed in relief. “Where are you? The police are here! They’re saying that Max is hurt! They’re saying you tried to kill Sean Prescott!”

Chloe’s stomach churned as possibilities raced through her head. It had only been about two hours since they saw Mr. Prescott. There was no way he’d have gotten to all of their parents and the police, right? Unless the police brought their parents to him. God, what if he was in the room with her mom, telling her what to say, listening to everything Chloe said? What if he didn’t even need to brainwash her to convince her?

Her mind turned to all the arguments she’d had with her mother over the years, all the times she’d fucked up.

When had she ever given her mom a reason to believe she was innocent?

But even if her mom didn’t trust her, even if it was too late, Chloe had to try. “Mom, I know this sounds crazy, but you can’t listen to what the cops are saying. They’re all in Mr. Prescott’s pocket, and he’s coming after us.”

“What? Chloe, why on earth would he—”

“It doesn’t matter why!” Chloe snapped. “He hurt Max, and now he’s coming after us. And he’ll use you to do it.”

“Chloe . . .”

The nineteen-year-old woman suddenly found herself feeling like a small child begging her parent to listen. “Please, Mom, don’t listen to them. Don’t let Mr. Prescott get near you. Leave town for a while.”

“Chloe, I need more than this. I need to know that you’re not going to do something reckless. Please, just come home and talk to me.” Chloe could hear the desperation in her mother’s voice. It made her heart ache.

“Just go somewhere safe.” She paused, thinking of what else to say. This might be the last time they ever spoke. “I love you, Mom.” It didn’t feel like enough. On a whim, Chloe said, “I’m sorry.”

And she hung up.

Rachel touched her thigh. “Are you alright?”

Chloe squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. Behind her eyelids, she felt a few tears left over from crying over Max. But she refused to cry. She could let it all out once Max was safe. Till then, she had to stay focused.

“No,” she said, deciding to be honest.

Victoria opened the door to get inside, and Chloe and Rachel pulled at Max’s legs so they wouldn’t touch the startled girl.

“We need to get rid of our phones,” Chloe said as Victoria settled in.

“Are you kidding me?” Victoria bristled.

Chloe glared at her. “Between the cops, Rachel’s dad, and Nathan’s dad, we’re fucked if they track us. So yeah, we need to ditch them.”

“If we turn them off completely, they won’t be able to track us,” Warren added, glancing at them in the rearview mirror.

With a nod of thanks, Chloe said, “Good call. Let’s turn them off and stick them in a bag or something.”

“What the fuck . . .” Victoria breathed as Warren and Nathan collected everyone’s phones.

“Wait!” Rachel reached out a hand. “Warren, let me borrow yours first.”

“What are you doing?” Chloe asked.

“Getting us some backup,” Rachel replied. “Nathan, how much does your dad know about Frank? “Are we safe to go to him?”

“He knows about him, but I don’t think they’ve ever talked. I was always the go-between,” Nathan said. “So he should be safe.”

“Awesome. He should know how to stay away from the cops too.” Rachel sent out a message then handed the phone back to Warren. Once all the phones were crushed, she said, “We’ll meet Frank at the beach. If we’re going up against the police, he can help us.”

“Right,” Warren said with a nod.

Once they were on the road, Chloe turned to Nathan. “Alright. Use your pictures and try to jump back.”

Victoria interjected, “Jump back? What the fuck is even going on? Are you all fucking crazy—”

“Shut the fuck up!” Warren snarled. The whole car went into shocked silence. “Just do the photo-jump and save Max,” the boy growled.

Nathan nodded, still taken aback by the outburst. He pulled a binder full of photos out of his bag. They were dark, glossy, and detailed. Some of them took up entire sheets of paper and some of them could fit in Chloe’s palm. But they were missing the personality of Max’s polaroids.

He made his choice. Chloe could see from the back seat that it was from the End of the World party back in October. That wasn’t as long as Max’s furthest photo-jump, but it was still a while back. Before the Max from the original timeline showed up. How would he fix things all the way back at the party?

Chloe hated that she had to place her faith in Nathan.

“Do you know how Max did it?” he asked.

Chloe tapped her fingers against Max’s knee impatiently. “She just stared at them and zoned everything out. Then she woke up back when the picture was taken.”

Victoria stared at them like they had lobsters crawling out of their ears.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” He stared at the picture. Chloe’s heart thudded in her chest. Would she remember all of this once everything was fixed? Would Nathan even save them, or would he try to weasel out of it?

This was such a bad plan.

A few moments went by. Then a minute. Then two.

Warren, whose hands were squeezing the steering wheel so tight Chloe thought it might snap, finally snapped, “Are you doing it or what?”

“Fuck off, freak!” Nathan snapped. “I’m trying to figure out how this even works!”

“It’s not that hard,” Chloe said.

“How would you even know? It’s not like you’ve ever done it!”

Rachel’s nose twitched. “I thought you could see everything about our powers.”

“Just because I know what you can do doesn’t mean I know how you do it!”

Victoria interjected, “What fucking powers? Are you all on crack or something?”

Chloe threw her hands up in the air and snapped, “We have superpowers, alright! So does Nathan’s dad, and now he’s trying to off us for it.”

“Bullshit!” Victoria snarled back. “You’re all insane!”

“It’s true, Victoria,” Nathan tried.

She shook her head and pressed back against the car door. If they weren’t driving, Chloe guessed she would have tried to jump out. “Are you off your meds or something, Nathan? This isn’t real! We’re sitting in a car with—” she cast her eyes down at Max, “with her! And you’re all talking like this is a fucking comic book or some shit!”

Rachel lashed out, “I’ll fucking prove it then!” She squeezed her eyes shut and gripped at Max’s wet hair. Outside the car, the wind picked up. Shards of ice began to mix in with he already freezing rain, pelting Warren’s car with an alarming amount of force. In the distance, thunder began to rumble. Then it came closer.

Crack!

A bolt of lightning struck the road next to them. All of them—save for Rachel—shouted in surprise. Warren swerved the car for a moment before regaining control. The blinding light of it left spots in Chloe’s vision, and the booming sound left her ears ringing.

Crack!

Another bolt struck, hitting the car this time. The words “Faraday cage” shot through Chloe’s mind. They’d be safe in the car, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

“Jesus! I get it, you can stop now!” Victoria shrieked.

Rachel slumped forward and opened her eyes. The wind slowed down, the ice and thunder disappeared, and even the rain slowed to a light drizzle. Rachel’s skin was flushed, and though it had begun to dry from being out in the rain, beads of sweat left a thin sheen over it. She smoothed a hand over Max’s forehead and rubbed her thumb back and forth, dragging it slowly over the bullet hole. “Great. Now you can shut up.”

 

Frank’s RV was waiting for them on a secluded spot on the beach. In the distance, the lighthouse loomed high on the hill, its spinning light passing over them with a menacing gaze. The now faded memory of Chloe’s strange dream disturbed her thoughts. So much had happened since then.

But she didn’t have time to dwell. Frank stuck his head out of the RV door, gently pushing his dog back with his heel, and waved for them to come inside. Victoria shot out of the car and rushed inside, and a tired-looking Nathan shambled after her.

Warren gripped the wheel and made an effort to loosen his tense shoulders, rolling and flexing them a few times. “What should we do with Max?”

Chloe dragged her blunt nails across Max’s stomach. “I think we should leave her in here for now.”

“Yeah,” the boy sighed as though he’d already been considering it.

Rachel leaned down and pressed her lips to Max’s brow, and Chloe reached out to cup her lifeless face.

Chloe didn’t miss the tinge of jealousy and grief in Warren’s eyes.

“Jesus Christ!” Frank gasped when the three of them stepped inside the RV. His eyes were fixed on the blood all over Chloe and Rachel. “You said it was an emergency—what the hell happened?” He jerked his thumb to where Nathan and Victoria were leaning against the kitchen counter. “And why is he here?”

Rachel clicked the door shut behind her and slid down to the ground, bringing her knees into her chest. “His dad killed our friend, Max.”

“Max . . . you mean that girl from the other day? She’s fucking . . .”

“Yeah,” Chloe said, not bothering to hide the fatigue in her voice.

Frank took a few steps back and sat down on the bench by the table. His dog—Pompi-something, if Chloe remembered right—jumped up against his knees, begging for attention. Frank absentmindedly placed his hand on its head.

“Prescott,” he breathed. “Fuck.” He looked around at each of them. Chloe had sat down next to Rachel, and Warren found a spot for himself closer to the driver’s seat. “And all you guys are involved?”

“Not by choice,” Victoria huffed.

“That’s usually how it goes,” Frank said. “Shit, and now you’re bringing me into it.”

Rachel leaned her head back against the door. “I’m really sorry, Frank. I didn’t know where else to go.”

He ran a hand over his greasy face. “Yeah, this’s pretty fucked.” He dropped his hand and crossed his arms. “I don’t know what I can do for all of you though. Fake IDs aren’t my thing. And I don’t know how we’re getting all five of you out of town.”

“We don’t want to get out of town,” Chloe growled. “I mean, maybe we can get Victoria out of here, but the rest of us are staying.” She glanced around the tight space. Warren and Rachel met her eyes and nodded in agreement. Victoria and Nathan made no indication that they’d heard her, but they didn’t argue.

Frank gave Pompi-something one more pat before pushing him away. “That’s not a good call, Price. A bunch of kids playing Scooby-Doo isn’t enough to take down Sean Prescott. That’s not how the world works.”

Chloe knew that if they were trying to uncover dirt on how Mr. Prescott was breaking the law, Frank would be right. But this went so far beyond that. If they could find a way to fight him on equal terms, they had a chance. And at least in the field of superpowers, they outnumbered him.

“I’ve got a few ideas,” Chloe said.

“That doesn’t give me a lot of hope,” Frank snorted.

“Agreed,” Victoria said.

Chloe ignored the pit of irritation that spiked in her chest. “Point is, it’s better than nothing. If you guys want to split and get as far away from here as possible, that’s fine. But me, Rachel, Warren, and Nathan are staying. We’re doing this.” She wasn’t going to waste time arguing when they could be saving Max.

Frank chewed on his upper lip for a few moments. His eyes turned toward Rachel. “If shit goes south, I’m gone.”

She swallowed and nodded. “That’s fair.”

“Great. Now what are these ideas you have?”

Chloe took a deep breath, not even trying to hide her relief. “We need burners in case we split up.”

“I’ve got two,” he said.

“That works. Next we need to get to the Prescott’s barn.”

“What’s at the barn?”

“Evidence, maybe.” If her memories of the old timeline were right, there might be clues to Mr. Prescott’s plans there. Clippings and letters of things which that version of Chloe had shrugged off. She prayed to the universe that they could help now.

“What about me?” Victoria asked.

“We’ll hit up an ATM so you can get some cash. Then you’ll take Warren’s car and leave.” Warren didn’t have a direct connection to Nathan, and his only connection to Rachel was through Max. With any luck, the police wouldn’t think to track him for a while.

“The cops will see that she’s used the ATM,” Frank said.

“Yep,” Chloe said. “So we don’t park where a camera can see the car, and she leaves on the back roads.” Not to mention, if Nathan used Max’s powers to get the money, they wouldn’t even leave any traces behind.

He nodded. “That could work.”

Chloe’s mind raced as she tried to think of all possible blind spots. But with so many people working against them, there was no way they could plan for everything. All of their thinking would have to be on the fly. The only advantage they had was Nathan’s knowledge of his dad, and Chloe’s memories of all their failed plans from the other timelines.

They’d still need to do something with Max’s . . . body. Chloe shuddered at the thought of those words. She doubted Frank would be too thrilled to keep her in the RV, but there was no way in hell they were letting Victoria take her or, God forbid, leaving her somewhere.

It was a shit start, but it was a start.

Chloe nodded, more toward herself than anyone else. “Let’s not waste any more time, then.”

Chapter Text

A pit formed in Chloe’s stomach as Nathan slowed the car to a stop. “We’ve got a problem,” he said. He made a U-turn and started back towards town. “There’s a group of people barricading the road. My father knew we’d try to leave.”

Chloe gritted her teeth. “Shit,” she hissed.

Victoria leaned forward from the back seat. “H-how do you know?”

“I can rewind time,” he said, not mentioning that he stole that power from Max. Chloe let it slide.

It had only been thirty minutes since they’d split off from Rachel, Warren, and Frank. Everyone had agreed to keep Max in the RV—Frank argued vehemently, stating that his room would look like a murder scene for weeks, and then Rachel raised her voice and ended the conversation. Then, they’d set off.

Chloe, Nathan, and Victoria had already hit up an ATM at a gas station on the edge of town. Nathan took Victoria’s credit card to withdraw as much money as the machine would allow, then did the same with his. Once he got back to the car, he rewound to erase the evidence. Victoria was supposed to drive away on one of the back roads with $600. Once she was out of sight, Chloe and Nathan would have contacted Frank with their burner, and they’d all meet up and head to the barn.

And now they were fucked.

Nathan slammed his fist against the inside of the car door. “I should have fucking known!”

If Chloe were being honest with herself, she should have known too. The Prescotts had ruled the town for generations. At this point, they had to know every nook and cranny. Why did Chloe think they could just sneak out through the back roads without getting caught?

“So what do we do now?” Victoria asked.

Chloe’s nostrils flared as she tried to think of anything other than bringing her with them. But of course, she was drawing a blank.

Max would have known what to do.

Chloe took off her still-damp beanie and ran a hand through her knotted hair, her fingers pulling at the tied up clumps. What she wouldn’t give for a dry set of clothes.

“Chloe?” Victoria asked. “What are we supposed to do?”

“I’m thinking!” she snapped back. Why did everyone have to look to her for guidance? Rachel would have been way more level-headed. Hell, even Frank would have better ideas. But Chloe knew that wouldn’t work either. Rachel was too shell-shocked by Max’s death, and Frank didn’t understand enough about everyone’s powers. So she was stuck.

Fuck.

She had to do something. She couldn’t just sit around trying to think her way out of it. Making a decision, even a bad one, was better than stagnating.

“Let’s meet up with the others,” Chloe said. She twisted around in the front seat to look at Victoria. “We’ll get you out of here later.”

Victoria turned her mouth down in a scowl, but not out of anger towards Chloe. She looked more like a scared kid.

Hell, Chloe could relate.

“Let’s go,” she said, masking her fear. She shot Frank a text through their burner as Nathan took as many twists and turns as he could.

 

They rolled up to the barn to see that Frank and the others had made it there first. Frank’s RV stuck out in front of the building, an imposition on the scenery with no one standing outside to justify its presence.

While the thick clouds still darkened the world around them, the rain had finally stopped, and the temperature outside had actually warmed to a manageable point. Either Rachel had calmed down very quickly, or she was starting to get control over her powers.

The six of them stepped out of their vehicles.

Frank cleared his throat. “So, uh, superpowers?”

Chloe glanced at Rachel and Warren. “You guys broke it down for him?”

“I did,” Warren said, raising his hand awkwardly.

Rachel wrapped her arms around herself. “I figured it was his turn to explain things,” she said. Chloe’s heart ached. Rachel was trying to make a joke, but her dead voice and glazed eyes overshadowed her words.

“I’m not totally sold,” Frank said. “But it would explain the weather. And why the richest fucker in town is so interested in a bunch of kids.” He took off his trucker hat and scratched an ear. “And all that shit about your teacher was . . . wow.”

Victoria perked up. “Wait, teacher? What teacher?”

“Oh yeah,” Chloe sighed. “Jefferson was a serial killer working for Nathan’s dad. But he’s dead now too.”

“You can’t be . . .” Victoria took several steps back and leaned against Warren’s car. “This can’t be real! This has to be a dream!”

Chloe ignored her mini-breakdown and turned to the others. “We need to go through everything here. There’s all kinds of stuff the Prescotts have stored inside over the years. We might be able to find something about what they’re planning.”

Warren and Nathan nodded. Frank shoved his hands in his pockets. Victoria managed to stand up straight. And Rachel stared on blankly.

Chloe led everyone around the side of the building and pulled aside the loose sheets of metal to let them in. A sense of unease struck her, one that hadn’t been present the first time she came here. This was where Nathan killed Rachel, where Jefferson tortured Max. And it was where Mr. Prescott could very easily catch them if the cops blocked the road. And beyond Chloe’s innate desire to get the fuck out of there, they were also on a time crunch.

Chloe bit her tongue and pushed the thoughts from her mind. She literally didn’t have time to think about that. She had to delegate. “Okay, most of the stuff is in this chest right here,” she said, pointing to her left. “Nathan and I will go through it. There’s some photos and scraps of paper over there, so Rachel and Frank can look at those. Warren, you search the area for anything else. We’ll check the bunker last. Victoria, you can just stand around or something.”

The girl glared at her.

“Yeah, that’s a negative from me, ghost rider,” Frank said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “I’m going to stand lookout. If the Prescotts or the cops show up, we’re fucked.”

Chloe nodded. “Sounds good.”

Everyone split up and started searching. Nathan and Chloe knelt down in front of the chest and lifted the lid. Chloe recognized the files from the old timeline. “You’ll know if these are useful,” she told him.

He nodded and started flipping through the various folders. “Right.”

The chest held files and notes ranging from a few months back—presumably when Mr. Prescott built the storm bunker—to a hundred years prior. Chloe found a letter commissioning the barn’s construction from 1955, addressed from one Daniel O’Connor to a Henry Aaron Prescott. Her eyes flitted over to Nathan. Was this the grandfather he’d killed?

She skimmed the letter. Most of it was financial jargon from decades ago—aka she could barely understand it—but one part stuck out to her.

As requested, I have surveyed the area of interest. You were right in your concern: much of the land in this town is in danger of collapsing should it be faced with a catastrophic force. This plot in particular is sufficiently far from the coast and neighboring hills that, should the worst happen, the ground will endure. I commend you for the suggestion; you and your father clearly have insight in these matters. However, I must warn you that even with these specifications, should your fears of such a storm come to pass, the structure itself will not last. If there is something you wish to protect in that event, I highly recommend you dip your toes into the bunker industry. The land is perfect for it.

“Shit,” Chloe breathed.

“Did you find something?” Nathan asked.

“I think so. Check this out.”

He scanned the letter. A moment later, his eyebrows drew together in a frown. Then he wrapped his hand around his mouth and jaw. “Fuck.”

“Yep. So either your family was very paranoid, or . . .”

“They knew about the storm,” he finished. “They knew about Rachel.”

“Great.” Chloe leaned back to sit on the ground, grateful that it was dry. “So we can add ‘seeing the future’ to the list of shit your family has that’s fucking us over.”

Nathan shook his head, still staring at the letter. “Maybe someone used to, but there’s no one who can do that now. I would have seen them.” He pinched his lower lip with his thumb and index finger. “My father always talked about our family legacy, how we were destined for greatness. Maybe he meant that literally. Like someone saw into the future and figured out how to make us powerful.”

“Max had visions of the storm. Could it be like that?”

He released his lip and sighed. “I have no fucking clue, Price. Unless I see someone in person, I can’t read their powers.”

“So this might be something, but we’ll never know for sure unless you can turn Max’s power up to hyperdrive and go back to talk to your grandpa. Which I doubt you can do.”

“Yeah no, that’s a dead end. This power doesn’t work like that.”

Chloe stood up and brushed the dust off her legs. “Figures. I don’t suppose your dad left some diary or manifesto or whatever with his whole evil plan in it?”

“He wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that. Hell, I bet the only reason he never got rid of these is that he didn’t think anyone could get anything out of them.”

From what Chloe could see, the others were having similar luck. Rachel had gone through all the clippings on the wall at least once. Warren was aimlessly digging through the straw on the ground to no avail. And Victoria was sitting against a wall with her knees pulled into her chest. Which meant digging around this place was only going to give them more questions and no answers. Fuck, so they were just wasting their time.

Chloe took off her beanie and tossed it between her hands as she tried to think. There had to be a better way to get information. They could try breaking into Nathan’s house and going through his dad’s stuff, but the risk of getting caught was way too high. Nathan might have been able to escape his father’s control once, but there was no guarantee he could do it again. And until he was used to Max’s power, they couldn’t rely to heavily on that either.

“It’s too bad we can’t go that far in the past,” Chloe muttered.

A thought struck. Her beanie fell to the ground.

“Hey Nathan, how does my power work again?”

He looked up at her from the ground. “You’re keyed into Arcadia Bay. You can see things that affect the town and the people from all over the timeline. You’ve probably only noticed that stuff that happens to you, but you can—” he stopped. For a moment he said nothing, staring wide-eyed at the wall. Then he dropped the letter back into the trunk and said, “You can look into the past!”

She could look into the past.

Fuck yeah.

“How do I do it?”

“I don’t fucking know,” he snipped. “How do you normally do it?”

“I don’t know, it just sort of happens.” She bit the inside of her cheek and thought. “I can see other timelines when I rewind with Max. I don’t know how to get the dreams to work though.”

“They’re dreams,” he said. “So we need to get you to fall asleep.”

Well that wasn’t going to work out. Chloe doubted she’d be able to sleep for the next eighty-six fucking years after everything that had happened in just a few hours. Then again . . .

“Yo Frank,” she called.

He looked away from window where he’d been keeping watch. “What?”

“I need to get my superpower working. Do you have anything that’ll knock me out?”

He frowned. “Uh, yeah. How long do you need to be out for?”

“No idea.”

“I need to know, Price. Are we talking minutes or hours?”

“I guess something that’ll let me wake up fast if I need to.”

He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Yeah I might have something.”

Snap!

Out in the distance, the branches and debris on the ground echoed out as something crushed them. Someone was driving towards them.

Blue lights began to flash through the darkened woods.

“Everybody out, right now!” Frank ordered.

All of them rushed toward the exit, forced to leave single-file through the tiny opening. Chloe went first, then waited to the side for everyone else to follow. Frank brought up the rear, and then the six of them sprinted towards Frank’s RV and Warren’s car.

Nathan disappeared.

Then reappeared in front of them, waving his arms for them to stop. Frank and Victoria looked back and forth from where Nathan had been a second ago to where he now stood. He cried, “There’s already cops in the RV, and they’re barricading the road!”

Shit!

Chloe’s mind raced while the others frantically paced. The cops got there first! They’d run out of time!

The pieces clicked, and Chloe thanked every experience she’d had with Max for how quickly she thought of it.

“Everyone grab onto Nathan!” she instructed. She turned to him. “Then you have to rewind as far as you can!”

The panic that lit up his eyes was momentarily replaced by confusion. “That’ll work?”

Chloe nodded. “It’ll work.”

“What’ll work?” Frank demanded.

“Just grab on, Frank!” Rachel yelled.

Five hands took hold of Nathan’s shoulders and arms. He closed his eyes. Time turned back. The air around them shifted in the opposite direction. Sound became muffled and disjointed. Chloe’s eyes hurt.

Nathan rewound and rewound and rewound, until finally, he released time and collapsed onto the ground. Blood trickled out of his nose. If Chloe had to guess from how long they’d been rewinding for, they’d gone back at least a few minutes.

“Jesus Christ,” Victoria breathed, stumbling back. Frank pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. Warren keeled over and threw up.

“Come on!” Chloe ordered. She grabbed Nathan by the shirt and heaved him onto his feet. “We gotta go now!” The six of them stumbled toward their vehicles. Warren started towards his car, but Chloe snatched his arm and said, “Leave it!”

Everyone piled into the RV. Frank threw himself into the driver’s seat, Chloe into the passenger’s. Rachel stood between them, bracing a hand on either side. Frank switched on the engine and hit the gas. The massive vehicle skidded through the mud for a few seconds, then lurched forward.

They didn’t even clear the property before they saw the flashing lights of two cop cars. They were up the dirt road by about a quarter of a mile. And they were getting closer.

“Shit shit shit!” Frank hissed.

“Keep moving!” Rachel shouted.

“Are you crazy?”

“Just do it!”

Chloe twisted around in her seat. “Everyone hang onto something!”

Rachel sucked in a deep breath, blew it out, breathed in again, closed her eyes.

Her entire body tensed up.

The wind howled. Thunder crackled. Lightning began to strike all around them.

The cops ahead of them swerved on the road. The wind roared even louder. Then, a powerful gust pushed out from in front of the RV and struck their pursuers. Their tires screeched against the force for an extended moment before lifting off the ground. The cars flew several yards through the air before landing on their hoods on either side of the road. Chloe watched, somewhat horrified at how the cabins collapsed under the weight of the cars, wondering if the drivers were okay. Wondering if they’d died like her dad.

“Holy fucking shit!” Frank screamed, speeding past the now grounded cars.

Rachel shouted, and the exertion of using her powers forced her to her knees. Sweat glimmered on her face in the uneven light around them. Chloe grabbed her hand and squeezed.

 

Warren took the wheel while Frank dug through his stash. The RV was pretty fucking crowded with six people plus a body all cramped up inside. Max lay on the bed with the sheets tucked around her chest and her head turned to the side so they couldn’t see the bullet hole. Chloe uneasily laid down next to her, heart still racing from the chase.

“Alright, so this is called Zaleplon,” Frank said, holding out two turquoise capsules. “I sell it for a fast high and comedown, but it’s meant to help people sleep. Technically you’re supposed to go a full eight hours after taking it, but soldiers use this clock out quickly when they need to, so you’ll probably be alright waking up fast.”

Chloe’s stomach churned. Probably. Weed was one thing, but this was a total unknown. She was about to put something she didn’t understand inside her body and hope to whatever was listening that Frank would take care of her. It wasn’t like he had any reason to hurt her, but what happened if her body rejected it or had some kind of bad reaction? Would he know what to do? And what would happen if the cops came back while she was still asleep?

But she had to do it. For Max. For Rachel.

“Okay,” she said, taking the capsules from Frank.

Rachel knelt down next to the bed and handed Chloe a glass of water. Then, she turned to Frank. “Can you give us a minute?”

Frank opened his mouth but stopped before anything came out. He glanced between the two girls. His fingers curled into fists, and his nose twitched. “Whatever,” he growled, walking away.

Chloe swallowed. “Are you gonna be alright with him?”

Rachel sighed, but nodded. “I’m going to try not to argue about it right now. But he needs to know that he and I are over.” She placed a hand on Chloe’s cheek. “I’m choosing you and Max. Forever.” Chloe took her hand and laced their fingers together. “So I need you to stay safe. If I lose you both I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Chloe pulled her hand in and kissed it. “We’re getting out of this. All three of us. I swear to god, Rach.”

Rachel held her gaze for a long time. Then, she leaned forward. Cautiously. Waiting for permission. Chloe leaned in and pressed their lips together. It was a soft kiss. A quiet kiss. Vastly different from the kisses they were used to. But much needed. Much missed.

They parted, and Rachel said, “I’ll be right here.”

With a nod, Chloe knocked back the drug. She reached out one hand to hold onto Max while Rachel squeezed the other.

Okay.

The past. She had to see what Mr. Prescott was planning. Chloe closed her eyes and tried to focus on only that as her head grew heavy.

 

Chloe opened her eyes as a ray of sun crept through her bedroom window and into her eyes. It smelled like rain. It smelled like cold. But her skin felt warm, and the sky outside was shining. There was a weight on both of her arms. Chloe looked to her right. Rachel was curled up next to her, her eyes closed, her lips parted, her hair gently draped over her cheek. She was beautiful. Chloe looked to her left.

Max lay flat on her back, eyes wide and bloodshot, lips almost blue, hair soaking wet and plastered to her face. And a bullet hole in the center of her forehead.

And then Max blinked.

“Chloe?”

Fuck. Chloe’s heart skipped a beat. “Max?”

Chapter Text

Chloe’s heart thudded uncontrollably as Max sat up and looked around the room.

Max grasped at the sheets of Chloe’s bed, the dampness of her skin seeping into the cloth. “Where . . . weren’t we at the junkyard?”

Possibilities raced through Chloe’s mind. Had she fucked up with getting her powers to work? Was this a dream? Or maybe this was the start of a vision. But if that were the case, was this Max a figment of her imagination or . . .

Real or not, there was so much Chloe wanted to say. And she had no idea how to say it. It had only been a few hours, but already she’d missed Max so much. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she threw her arms around her best friend.

“Chloe?”

“Max!”

Max’s hands nervously wrapped around Chloe’s body. “What’s going on? That felt so real—or did we just wake up now?”

Then, a sound as warm as the air around them floated through the dream-house. Someone downstairs was singing an old country song that Chloe had forgotten the name of. Her heart ached harder as she realized who it was.

“Dad.”

Max pulled away and stared in shock, taking a moment to listen to the sound. “William? That can’t . . .” She brought a hand to her head as if to think harder, but then her fingers brushed against the wound in the center of her forehead. Her eyes went wide. “Chloe—did I—are we—”

“You are,” Chloe said. “I’m not. Me and Rachel got away.”

For an extended moment, Max looked away, processing Chloe’s words. She brought a hand back up to her head.

Her fingers brushed the bullet-hole again.

Max jerked her hand away with a gasp. “Fuck!”

Footsteps thumped on the stairs, startling them both from their thoughts. A knock came at the door.

“Chloe? Max? Are you slackers up and about yet?”

“Dad?” Chloe asked, right as Max said, “William?”

“Well? Am I alright to come in, or are you kids . . . indecent?”

Max turned back to look at Chloe. “What’s . . . what is this?”

Jesus fuck. Chloe swallowed. “I’ll explain in a bit.” Then, she faced the door and called, “Decent.”

“Well alright then,” his warm voice came through. William swung open the door and stepped inside. He wore the same white t-shirt, gray flannel, and jeans that he had on the day he died. The same clothes he wore every time Chloe saw him. “Great to see you lovely ladies have decided to grace the morning with your presence,” he laughed. “I’ve got some food for you downstairs.”

“Rachel . . .” Max breathed.

“Oh she’s going to sleep through all of this.” He gave them a comforting smile. One that squeezed at Chloe’s heart. “She’ll be alright. Promise. Cross my heart, and all that jazz.”

Chloe shot Max a nervous glance before sitting up all the way and crawling over Rachel to get off the bed. Their sleeping love didn’t even stir. The sheets rustled behind her as Max slid out as well. When Chloe approached the door, William swung his arm over her shoulder. She leaned into his body, and he twisted around to ruffle Max’s dripping hair before the three of them started downstairs.

“By the way,” her dad said as he walked, “I want to thank you for trying to save me, Max.” Chloe’s thoughts drifted back to the timeline where he lived and she ended up paralyzed. Part of her, and a big fucking part at that, would rather be paralyzed and dead if it meant her dad could live. But in that timeline, Rachel still died.

As if reading her mind, her dad continued, “Although if I had to choose, I’d much rather let Chloe live her life. But it means the world that you cared enough to try and fix things for us.”

“Uh, yeah.” Max didn’t respond past that. Chloe wondered what she was thinking. Maybe about injecting morphine into her veins. Killing Chloe with her own hands. The memory of the cool liquid flowing through her body swept through the living girl’s mind. So cold, and then so, so warm. As if the air itself was hugging her. What a way to die.

Chloe shuddered. She hoped she never had to feel like that again.

Her dad squeezed her shoulder and smiled.

Chloe and Max sat at the kitchen table as her dad brought forth several plates with bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Then he brought three glasses of orange juice and sat with them to eat. The girls eyed the food nervously. Would dream food help at all?

“Eat up,” Chloe’s dad prodded. “You’ll need your strength for what’s to come.”

Chloe clenched her teeth. “And what is to come?”

With a shrug, her dad said, “Well, I’m not entirely sure. But it’s important to face it head-on with full tanks.”

Chloe and Max traded a look before the two of them started stacking their plates with food. As they did, her dad folded his hands, bent his head down, and closed his eyes, praying to something. It only lasted a moment before his head shot back up and his grin returned.

“Eat up,” he said again.

Chloe brought a forkful of eggs to her mouth. And she almost cried. Her mom’s cooking was delicious. It always had been. But it had been years since she’d tasted her dad’s recipes. And his food always had a strange touch, something special that made it taste different. He’d always insisted it was love, but Chloe knew he’d added something to make it taste unique.

Max seemed to taste it too, as she closed her eyes and scrunched her brows together.

After their first bites, they wolfed down the rest of their food, both suddenly famished. Chloe’s dad watched, almost protectively. A guardian in the chaos.

As they ate, something remarkable happened—Chloe almost dropped her fork when she saw it. The hole in Max’s head slowly knitted itself closed, her clothes and hair seemed to dry, and her pale skin and blue lips regained their natural color. Max didn’t seem to notice at first. Not until she saw Chloe staring. She blinked for a moment, touched her now-dry hair, touched the smooth skin over her forehead.

Chloe murmured, “How—”

“A little help with adjusting,” her dad said. “I don’t know if you remember, Chloe, but the first few times you saw me, I always reeked of gasoline.”

“But you were never . . . you died in a car crash, but you never looked—like that.”

“I did, though. A few times, actually. Though it was quite a bit ago.” Then he cocked his head and said, “You never saw me after the crash. And it was a closed-casket funeral. So I look, smell, and sound like you imagine me. And since you saw Max the way she was before coming here, she looked, smelled, and sounded like you remembered her.”

Max set down her fork and licked her lips. “So, are we real? You and me?”

Chloe’s dad rested his head on his hands. “Who’s to say? We’re definitely aware. And we have a certain say over things in here. As for whether we’re the real Max and William? I don’t know. Never did.”

As she took in his words, Chloe chewed the corner of her tongue. There was a lot to process from that. But first, something else. “You’re being way less vague than usual.”

With a hearty laugh, he said, “Yeah it’s nice to finally be straightforward with you. I can only say as much as you’d understand. Properly, you know? Now that you know where you are and what’s going on, I can be a lot clearer.”

“But where are we? What’s going on?” Max asked.

Chloe’s dad nodded toward her. Right. It was probably her turn to explain things. “We’re in my dreams—or visions, or whatever. Out in . . . the real world, we jump-started my power. We were trying to—” Ah shit. “Fuck! I need to look into the past!” Then she blinked. “Do I have to put a dollar in the Swear Jar, Dad?”

A look of alarm painted Max’s face. “Wait, what about the past?”

“Right! The Prescotts! They’re behind everything! But Nathan’s trying to help us now, and, uh . . .” Fuck, there was so much to explain and no time to explain it.

“Never fear, Super Dad is here!” William announced. He leaned forward and poked Max in the head. Her body jerked hard, her eyes glazed over for a moment, and then she came back to herself, panting.

“What did you do to her?” Chloe asked in fear.

“Nothing dangerous,” her dad said. “I’m only jump-starting a few things. We’re here because you’re sustaining this place, Chloe. So anything you need us to know, we know.”

Max managed to get her breathing under control. “Holy shit.”

Chloe’s dad cleared his throat.

“Right, Swear Jar,” Max said.

He laughed again. “It’s definitely a lot. But,” he stood from the table, “now you girls are at one hundred percent.”

In the blink of an eye, the three of them were standing by the front door. The hazy orange light from the sun shone through the windows, though Chloe couldn’t see what was outside.

“Now you two be safe,” her dad said. “Don’t be afraid if people in here look at you but think about what you say before you talk to them. And make sure you stay together, no matter what.”

The door closed behind them before Chloe was even aware they’d stepped outside. She turned back to look at her house. It stood in a sea of darkness, lit by some unseen source. Her dad stood on a ladder propped up against the side, continuing the paint job he’d never had the chance to finish in life. He gave the girls a friendly wave before turning to focus on his work.

Aside from the house and the lawn, there was nothing. Just blackness.

“Where do we go?” Max asked.

Chloe opened her mouth, prepared to say she had no idea, when a pale asphalt path appeared, stretching out from the driveway into the empty void. “That way, I guess.”

Max took Chloe’s hand and squeezed so hard it almost hurt.

Everything in her chest ached. “Please don’t leave me.”

“Never,” Max breathed. “I’m never leaving you.”

They took their first step on the road. It stretched on past Chloe’s vision with no landmarks in sight. Occasionally it curved and bent, but it seemed to be heading in one general direction. That only made Chloe wonder what it could be bending around.

She absently kicked a stray rock off the path. Chloe didn’t know what she expected to happen. Maybe to find the bottom of whatever it was that surrounded them. Instead, the moment the rock fell from the road, it vanished.

“Jesus,” she muttered, pushing herself and Max toward the center of the path.

“Any idea where this goes?” Max asked.

Chloe shook her head. “No fucking clue. I’m kinda shooting from the hip here.”

“Your dad warned us about people here, but I don’t see anybody.”

“I know.” Was there some logic to this? Chloe had been trying to picture the Prescotts in her head, but nothing was happening. At this rate she’d even take the weird cat-owl thing from her last dream-trip. Then again, it’d probably be cryptic and unhelpful.

“Did you hear that?”

Chloe whipped her head around to look at Max, who stared out into the darkness with wide eyes.

“Hear what?”

“Shh!”

Chloe bit her tongue to stop any other words from escaping.

“. . . ʎǝɥʍ uoɔ ǝɐɹnɐ. . .

Fuck. They definitely sounded like words. But she couldn’t make them out.

. . . ɥʇoן ɥbnoɥʇ ǝsıʇobǝ . . .

Chloe risked a step closer to the edge, straining her ears.

. . . ǝsnoɥʇɥbıן ǝɥʇ oʇ ob . . .

Wait, did it just say—

—go to the lighthouse . . .”

Max gripped her hand. “Did you hear that?”

With a nod, Chloe said, “Yeah. Yeah I did. But,” she looked around, “where’s the lighthouse?”

A light in the distance pierced through the darkness. And the road seemed to lead to it.

“Okay then,” Chloe said.

The two kept going. Whispers drifted through the air, but neither of them could make out what they said. Beyond that, there was nothing but the lonely darkness.

Until—

The air creaked and groaned like an old wooden boat heaving through heavy seas. The road beneath them shook, pebbles falling off into the nothing. Chloe released Max’s hand and grabbed her arm to hold her close.

A massive shape of fur and flesh and arms and eyes lifted over the road and drifted back beneath it. The eyes turned toward the girls for a few extended moments before looking away toward some unseen destination. Chloe stumbled back and fell, pulling Max down with her. Somehow, being closer to the ground felt safer. It was an illusion of safety, but it helped.

The thing moaned and breathed, then disappeared into the night.

Both girls released their held breaths, and Chloe noticed that her skin was covered in goosebumps. “What the fuck was that?” she breathed, not daring to speak any louder.

“I think . . .” Max paused. “I think it’s from the town. Before the town was here, I mean.”

“Like—”

“Something that lived there before people came along.”

Well that wasn’t unsettling at all. “How can you tell?”

“I just have a feeling,” Max said. “I understand.”

“Does it want to hurt us?”

“Not that one.”

Chloe gritted her teeth. That one.

“Come on,” she said, pulling them both to their feet. “Let’s keep moving before another one shows up.”

“Right,” Max nodded.

They continued. The closer they got to the light the more things began to appear. Some were like whales swimming up above them, surfacing from some invisible sea as they drew lower and sinking back up. Others flew around them and the road in dark shapes with a dozen wings. One with several deer-like ears and six thin limbs pranced through the dark as though it weren’t an empty space that swallowed everything up. None of them paid the girls much regard. And none of them stepped onto the road.

Don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with you, they seemed to say.

And then the road turned to dirt and grass. And then there were trees sprouting up from the black, their roots extending down into the void. And then they were at the foot of the lighthouse.

Chloe chewed on her tongue for a moment before stepping up and trying the door. Locked. She looked around. A few paces away sat the bench that would have looked over the bay if the bay were there. Chloe walked over and sat down, half-expecting something to appear out in front of her. But nothing did. She then looked up at the lighthouse, half-expecting the owl-cat thing from her old dream to come. But it didn’t.

A flash and a snap from behind her. She turned around to see Max holding a camera that she didn’t have before, a polaroid sliding out. Chloe stepped up and around to come to Max’s side and look. The image formed. There was Chloe, facing the darkness, and nothing ahead of her. Nothing at all.

Max gazed into the photo with panicked intensity. What was she looking at?

“Chloe, I think—”

Chloe swallowed.

“I think this is a trap.”

The air shattered under the weight of the lighthouse’s horn call. The girls grabbed at their ears before the force of it could do any damage. The lighthouse reared back as though it were a curling spine, then shot forward, uprooting itself from the ground. It curled up and around, unnaturally bending and twisting to get a better view of its prey, until its light faced Chloe and Max. The spinning light hummed and buzzed every time it passed by them.

It pulled back, stone and wood groaning at the effort.

“Oh my God,” Chloe breathed.

It was going to come down on them.

There was only one direction to run. The girls took off back down the road in a mad dash.

“Fuck!” Chloe yelled.

“I know!” Max called back.

The lighthouse lunged down. The road was too small. It couldn’t fit all three of them.

There was nowhere else to go but down.

“Max, jump!” Chloe yelled. She braced her feet on the edge of the road and plunged into the abyss.

She heard Max cry out, “Chloe wait!”

Darkness swallowed her.

 

She was standing in the girls’ bathroom.

 

She was lying in a wheelchair.

 

She was staring down Jefferson’s barrel.

 

She was shoving at Nathan’s shoulders.

 

She was laughing at Max’s jokes.

 

She was raising David’s gun.

 

She was pushing Nathan away.

 

She was asking Max for death.

 

She was watching a bullet come closer.

 

She was crumpled on the ground.

 

She felt morphine through her veins.

 

She felt it touch her brow.

 

Chloe Price was dead.

 

Chloe Price was alive.

 

Chloe Price persisted.

 

Chloe Price found Rachel Amber.

 

Rachel Amber found Max.

 

Rachel and Max found Chloe.

 

Chloe Price was alive.

 

She was lying on her back. Nothing below her. Nothing above her.

“What am I?” Chloe asked the abyss. “How many times have I fucked up?”

The abyss did not answer.

“Am I just a fuckup? Do I die no matter what?”

The abyss did not answer.

“Max is always saving my ass. Am I unable to do anything without her?”

The abyss did not answer.

“Am I that useless?”

The abyss did not answer.

“And now Rachel’s fucked too! She was always the one leading me around. How am I supposed to do that for her?”

. . .

“I should just give up.”

. . .

“I’m going to get us all killed again.”

. . .

“Max is dead. If we keep going, Rachel and I will die again too.”

. . .

“Just like always.”

. . .

“How will this be any different?”

The abyss considered.

“I mean, all three of us are together now, aren’t we?”

This was true.

“But Max is dead now.”

This was also true.

“But I’m alive.”

Exactly.

“Because Max brought me back.”

She did.

“Because she thinks I’m worth something.

You are.

“Because she thinks I can do something.”

Perhaps.

“And in a world where I’m alive, we’re guaranteed to win.”

And that’s why

“Which was why Max brought me back.”

She knew you could do it.

“Because she knew I could win.”

Because she knew that when she’d inevitably lose

“So I have to win.”

Chloe Price would persist.

 

Chloe Price was alive. She sat on a chair in the darkness. Max sat on a stool across from her.

“Are you Max?” Chloe asked.

Max nodded.

“Are you the Max I was with before?”

Max smiled.

“I see.”

Max stood up.

“You needed to see some things?” Max asked.

Chloe nodded.

“Then you can see them.”

Chloe stood up.

“Because Chloe Price can win.”

Chloe reached into the darkness. It became like a fog that her hand passed through.

“Because Chloe Price is so headstrong.”

Chloe stepped forward.

“That not even the universe could keep her dead.”

Chloe stepped inside.

 

She was standing in an old, ornate room. The furniture was expensive and fancy. Chloe thought it looked like something out of a Gatsby movie. In a chair by a fireplace sat an old man. Across from him stood a younger man.

“And the entire land and people will be destroyed?” the younger man asked in alarm.

“Unfortunately,” grunted the older man.

“Unless we torture and kill some poor girl?”

“I know, son,” the older man said.

“And force our own boy to die?”

“I told you, I know.”

The younger man leaned against a wall and placed his head in his hands.

“It could work,” the young man breathed.

“It might.”

“It just might work.”

 

The young man was now an old man, looking at a familiar boy.

“Our family has a destiny,” the old man said.

“I know, Dad,” the boy said.

“We have a great dream.”

“I said, I know.”

 

The boy was now an old Sean Prescott, looking at a young Nathan Prescott.

“Our family has a destiny,” Sean said.

“I don’t understand,” Nathan said.

“I have a dream.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

The now-old man, Sean Prescott, and little Nathan stood together. Nathan was holding a gun. And he was sobbing.

“Our family has a destiny,” Sean said.

“Dad, please!” Nathan begged.

“I have a dream.”

“Son, you don’t have to do this,” the old man said.

“Nathan—”

“Stop!” Nathan screamed.

“Sean!”

“Kill your grandfather.”

 

I have to torture and kill some girl.

And let my own boy die.

It just might work.

 

They stood in front of Chloe. The old man, the young man, Sean, and Nathan. Sean and Nathan’s eyes were closed. The other two looked into Chloe’s soul.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“To save Arcadia Bay,” the old man said.

“From what?”

“From decay,” the young man said.

“What does that mean?”

“The heart of the land will die soon,” the old man said.

“And when it does,” the young man said.

“A hole will open up.”

“A hole of nothing.”

“Other beings will come for the nothing.”

“Things that will consume the land—”

“—the town—”

“—and the people.”

“Unless we take it first.”

“It will be ours.”

“It will thrive off our will.”

“It will be a monstrous existence.”

“And we shall reap its rewards.”

 

She was standing on a road.

It was asphalt and gravel. And it stretched forward. Out and out and out. Farther and farther and farther away.

Chloe walked forward.

She was alone this time. No Max. No creatures. No lighthouse.

Only Chloe. And the road.

There was nothing to do but walk. There was nowhere to go but forward. But Chloe soon realized that forward did not mean straight. The road was bending, curving ever so slightly that she hadn’t noticed at first. But why did it curve?

Chloe looked further ahead. She could see the bend more clearly now. But the end of the road was not in sight. It disappeared behind something hidden in the void.

Ah.

The road was wrapping around something. Something massive.

Chloe stopped in her tracks and looked off the side.

There was nothing to see. But she knew it was there. And it was looking at her.

Chloe reached out her hand. Her fingers faded in the darkness as she stretched them forward. They brushed against something smooth.

There was the town. There was the hole in the town’s heart. There was the massive darkness inching towards the hole. Thunder cracked, though there was no light. The air around Chloe roared and howled and whipped.

She was standing at the foot of the lighthouse. Where the town should have been, there was the darkness. And in the bay was a tornado. It ripped at the darkness like a violent animal, clawing and tearing at it until there was nothing left. And when they both were gone, the hole remained.

With Sean Prescott looking over the edge.

 

Chloe Price wouldn’t let that happen.

Chloe Price would persist.

Chloe Price would win.

 

Chloe’s head buzzed as she struggled to open her eyes. Someone was holding her hand. And something was rumbling around her.

The bed jerked. Max’s body pressed into hers.

The RV. They were moving.

With a herculean effort, she managed to peel her eyes open. Rachel was still at her side, gripping her hand tight. But she was looking toward the front of the vehicle, worry staining her face. In the other room, Chloe could hear Victoria’s muffled voice.

“Rach . . .” she murmured, struggling to find her voice in her exhaustion.

Rachel whipped her head around to look at Chloe. “Hey,” she breathed. “Guys, she’s awake.”

“Fucking amazing,” Frank yelled from the opposite end of the RV. He must have been driving.

Chloe fought back her grogginess and managed to sit up. “What’s going on?” she rasped, her throat still dry from the drug.

“Yours truly just saved all your sorry asses,” Victoria announced, walking into the bedroom and making a pointed effort to not look at Max. She had an old flip phone in hand—one of the burners. “You can thank my parents for that.”

“What?”

“Nathan’s dad isn’t the only one with money,” she said with maximum smugness. “I told my parents that the richest asshole in town was trying to use me to get to his son, that he had the police in his pocket and was coming after us in full force. My dad got on the phone with our lawyer so fast that all those cops will be out of a job by tomorrow. Take that, Chris Rossi.” She dramatically flipped the phone shut. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Right, like I didn’t do shit,” Frank yelled back. “Not like I’ve been driving a maze through town for the past thirty fucking minutes.”

Nathan and Warren stepped inside.

“But—” Chloe frowned, fighting against the haziness in her head to put her thoughts in order, “can’t his dad mind control them into stopping?”

“He has to do it in person,” Nathan said.

“And my parents are in Seattle,” Victoria added. “I’m sure they’ll come here as soon as they can, but until then they’ll tie up Nathan’s dad in so much red tape that he’ll discover a bondage kink.”

“Can’t he just keep coming after us and cover his ass later?”

“Not if he wants to stay out of the limelight,” Nathan said.

Victoria crossed her arms and cocked her hip out. “My parents are making a scene. Everyone on the West Coast is about to learn the name Sean Prescott.”

Nathan nodded. “And the more people learn about him, the harder it’ll be to control anybody. He uses his power to get what he couldn’t legitimately. But he tries to make it seem like he’s just flexing his cash, because he can only control so many people. If too many find out what’s going on in Arcadia Bay, they’ll put two and two together and see he’s buried in illegal shit. Then the only way out would be to use his power on everyone above him. People will figure out he’s not normal. They’ll figure out he has powers. So he needs to ‘cover his ass’ now before things spiral out of control.”

“He could still weasel his way out of it, though,” Chloe said. “He could get himself out of trouble, get people to erase his record, and then make them forget.”

“Not if there are more people who know than he can control,” Nathan rebutted.

“Our only way out of this is to overwhelm him with numbers,” Victoria said.

“And the more people know about him, the more likely he’ll have to go up against someone with stronger will,” Nathan said.

Oh shit. It had happened before, even if only briefly. When Max shot Jefferson in the other timeline, it was enough to break him out of Sean’s control. And then there was Nathan. I wanted to stop more than he wanted me to obey. He’d already overpowered his dad once. If he could do it again, and if more people did the same, Mr. Prescott would be powerless.

“We can beat him,” Chloe breathed.

Rachel looked at her and swallowed. “Did you find what we needed?”

Chloe cocked a grin. “Yeah. I did. And Sean Prescott had better watch out.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m going to fucking win.”

 

A furious roaring sound—like a jet engine—enveloped Max’s body. Icy rain and sleet struck her face like needles shot from a gun, and the wind threatened to tear her from the ground. She forced herself to her feet.

She was surrounded by Maxes at the lighthouse. A Max kissing Chloe in the rain. A Max being crushed by the head of the lighthouse. A Max staring at a newspaper in confusion. A Max staring at the newspaper while crying.

A single Max standing at the edge of the trail stared into her eyes.

Something hot trickled down from her forehead to her nose.

Chapter Text

The blood from Max’s bullet wound slithered down to her chin. It burned against her face, a biting contrast to the hellish cold that sank into her bones. Everything else had frozen in time. Rain and ice were suspended in the air. The trees from the path were bent at violent angles. And out of the corner of her eye, the tornado lurked. Waiting.

All other Maxes disappeared except for the one staring at her. The other Max’s mouth hung open in shock, her eyes wide and her brows scrunched. And Max realized what was going on.

She was a dead woman looking at her past self.

Max tried to move, tried to say something, but her body didn’t work. She couldn’t breathe, her eyes were fixed on the other Max, and the only thing moving in the entire world around them was the trickle of blood that had now begun to drip onto her shirt.

And then suddenly they weren’t alone.

Two figures appeared behind the other Max. One was yet another her, glancing between the other two versions with sad eyes. She wore the same clothes as the dead Max—it even had bloodstains on the shirt—but the wound on her head was missing.

The other was a gray, faceless person, totally naked, with breasts on its chest and a penis on its groin. If Max could move at all, she was sure she would gawk in surprise. This being was reminiscent of the creatures she’d seen along the path with Chloe, but more humanoid.

I didn’t mean to do it, came a sexless voice filled with guilt and regret. Max knew immediately it was the hermaphroditic person in front of her. She had no idea how they were talking without a mouth—the words themselves weren’t actually audible. But she could hear them plain as day in her head.

Past Max tried to turn her head to see who spoke, but as soon as she moved, she disappeared.

The third Max placed a hand on the being’s shoulder and said, “I know you didn’t.” Then she turned to the dead Max and said, “You just need to hold on a little longer.”

Hold on for what? she wanted to say, but she still couldn’t move.

“Rachel and Chloe are coming for you. But you have to go where they can find you and—”

The world began moving again. Everything around them shrieked and howled in the wind. The tornado began making its way back toward the town.

The lighthouse horn bellowed. It began to slide out of the ground like a snake emerging from its den.

“Shit!” the other Max shouted.

Dead Max collapsed. She could finally move, only to realize that she couldn’t hold her own weight.

The other Max raced to her side and heaved her to her feet. “You have to run!” she called over the fracas. “You can’t let them catch you!”

Dead Max opened her mouth to ask what was after her, but her voice refused to work.

“Rachel and Chloe are coming! Just avoid these things for a little bit longer!”

Dead Max grasped at her arm to steady herself.

“When the lighthouse rings for the third time, get to the—” A second blast covered what she said. “She’ll find you there!”

I can’t hear you.

But she didn’t have the chance to say it. The other Max twisted around to look for the being. They were walking toward the edge of the cliff, facing the tornado. They reached their arms out, then paused. They turned and looked up at the lighthouse, which was beginning to twist and coil around itself.

The other Max grabbed her and yanked her away from the building. “Run!”

 

Chloe knocked back some Tylenol to ease the lingering headache. She had no idea if it was from waking up so fast, the drug Frank gave her, or just plain stress. But it didn’t matter. Now that she was high on life, she wasn’t going to let a fucking headache get in her way.

They were getting well into the afternoon now, although with the cloud cover it was hard to tell. Chloe should have been hungry, considering she hadn’t eaten in hours, and what she did eat she threw up in the junkyard. But she felt comfortably full. It was as if her dad’s dream food was still in her stomach.

The others were—understandably—less enthusiastic. But then, none of them had gotten a hype-up from the universe or God or whatever in the last hour. They still had a mountain to climb and a girl to resurrect, so she didn’t blame them. That just meant it was up to her to pick up the slack.

After she’d managed to gather her thoughts and stop constantly falling over from dizziness, they all went into the kitchen and she broke down what she saw of the Prescotts—avoiding her more personal revelations, which she planned on telling Max and Rachel in private once this was all over. Nathan sat quiet and stern as she talked about his family, closing his eyes when she got to the part where he killed his grandpa. Chloe got through that faster than the other bits out of pity for the guy. He was a piece of shit, but he was on their team now. And he didn’t deserve what his dad put him through. Or his grandpa and great-grandpa for that matter.

Right as Chloe finished, Victoria got a call on her burner. Her parents had caused enough of a shitshow to get the cops off their backs for the time being, blowing Chloe’s expectations out of the water. This was probably the worst day in all of their lives—except for Nathan’s, maybe—but they had people in their corner.

“So we know what Mr. Prescott wants now. Where do we go from here?” Victoria asked.

“It sounds like me and Nathan are like the linchpins in this,” Rachel said.

Chloe nodded. “The two of you probably want to avoid him till he’s taken down.”

“Or altogether,” Warren said.

Frank parked the RV. Now that the cops were off their tail, they were pausing in the park near town. It was still scarred from the fire that raged through two-and-a-half years ago. The townsfolk had raised some money to replant bushes and trees where some of the old ones had burned away, but it hadn’t really made a dent. Aside from patches of grass and weeds that had pushed through the ash, much of the land was still scorched and damaged.

Evidence of Rachel’s anger.

Frank plopped down a few feet from Nathan. “If all this shit is real, then it sounds like there’s some voodoo going on that Prescott isn’t controlling.”

“Right,” Chloe said. “There’s a hole. The town is decaying.”

“But what does that even mean?” Victoria asked, her voice carrying a not-insignificant trace of annoyance.

“I mean, everything’s been going to shit these last couple of decades,” Frank said. “Folks who can have been leaving. Those who can’t fall into a rut.”

Chloe thought about her mom’s worsening finances. It didn’t take a genius to see that their family wasn’t the only one suffering. It seemed like every year the townspeople were worse off than they were before. Only the Prescotts remained untouched. And Blackwell.

“That’s not a sign of the supernatural though,” Victoria insisted. “Small towns die off all the time.”

Chloe piped up, “Yeah, but that’s not all that’s going on. Unless there’s some giant conspiracy going around rural America, other small towns don’t pop out kids with superpowers. It’s like . . .” she paused and thought. “It’s like whatever the thing under the town is, it’s getting unstable. And we’re feeling the effects of it.”

“You said Max was there?” Warren asked.

“I think so,” Chloe replied. “But there were two different versions of her. And I don’t know if either of them was real.”

“But if she was real, then that could mean she’s still . . . around?” he said.

“Maybe? But I don’t think it’s a physical place or anything. So it’s not like we can just pop in and out.”

Rachel hummed at that, her eyes glassed over in thought.

“What about those eldritch monster things?” Warren asked. “Are we talking beholder types or Cthulhu types?”

Chloe chuckled, “Steph and Mikey really got you into DnD, didn’t they?” She chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment, then said, “I guess they’re somewhere in between. I don’t know about all-powerful god status or anything, but they’re definitely more cosmic horror than monster-of-the-week.”

Rachel leaned up against the counter. “So the one you talked to a few weeks ago is leaving or dying or something, and new ones are coming to take its turf. And Mr. Prescott wants Nathan to kill them.”

“That’s what I got from it, yeah.”

“So are we supposed to stop Mr. Prescott and keep these monsters from killing the town?” Rachel asked.

Chloe snorted, “Remember when it was just ‘kill Jefferson and stop the tornado.’ We’d be so prepped for that by now.”

Victoria shivered. “I still can’t believe what he was doing.”

Frank barked out a laugh. “Well, it ain’t like it matters now that he’s dead. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

“Maybe literally,” Chloe muttered, thinking of all the bizarre creatures she’d seen in her dream.

Nathan ran his hands through his hair. “So, for what my family was planning, I had to kill Rachel, and then I had to die?”

“I have a feeling there were at least twenty steps between those two parts, but your grandpa and great-grandpa were really vague,” Chloe said. “The tornado is meant to kill the big monster thing that comes for the town. I don’t know why you need to die for that.”

“Maybe Mr. Prescott was going to wait till after you killed that thing and then kill you,” Warren said. “Like, his whole thing is control, right? He’s gotta hold his power over everyone around him. Maybe he doesn’t want anyone stronger sticking around in case they fight back.”

“He wants to stay top dog,” Frank said with a nod.

“His own son though, Jesus,” Rachel said.

“I got the sense that Seany-boy’s dad and grandpa were nailing into his head that this is how it’s supposed to be since he was a kid,” Chloe said.

“He never saw me as a person,” Nathan said.

They all went silent.

Nathan pinched his lower lip. His eyes were watery and his face was red. “All my life he’s just been using me. Everybody uses me.” He closed his eyes and gave a pained laugh. “No wonder he never paid attention to my big sister. She never fit his plans.”

“Nathan,” Victoria sat down next to him, leaning her body up against his. “You have other people who care about you. You don’t have to rely on him.”

“He’s still my dad.”

“I know, but—”

“There’s no ‘buts’ in this, Victoria,” Rachel growled. “You don’t just flip a switch and stop caring about your shitty family just because they’re shitty. They’re a piece of you. Part of you wants them to be, part of you doesn’t. But they are. And you carry them with you forever.”

Nathan placed his hand over Victoria’s. “Thanks, Vic. I appreciate it anyway.”

Another awkward silence fell over them. Chloe stepped next to Rachel and leaned against her, and she in turn rested her head on Chloe’s shoulder.

Frank cleared his throat loudly. Chloe smugly hoped her and Rachel’s PDA made him uncomfortable. “Anyway, we need to figure out our next move. Which comes first? Prescott or Lovecraft’s wet dream?”

“I think Nathan’s dad is the more immediate threat,” Chloe said. “As long as he’s around we’ll be second-guessing everything we do.”

Rachel hummed in thought. She turned to Nathan. “Does your dad have to be heard for his power to work, or does it just make people obey no matter what?”

“You need to hear him,” Nathan replied.

“Then I might have an idea.”

 

“I hate Rachel’s idea.”

Chloe peeked around her neighbor’s house to view her own.

“You know we need that gun,” Rachel had insisted before Chloe left. “Besides, Nathan will keep you from being seen.”

Nathan waited behind her, still wearing the same scowl he always had around Chloe. And he was sweating bullets. This would be his first “mission”—Chloe didn’t count saving them at the barn because fuck him that was her idea.

Step one of their new plan involved getting the gun Chloe had stolen from Nathan out of her room. With what was to come, they needed every bit of protection they could get. Nathan had been pissed when Chloe and Rachel revealed they were the ones who robbed him, although he hadn’t seemed surprised.

At the moment, Frank and the others were waiting about a half-mile away—far enough from the house that the cops wouldn’t notice them, but not so far that they couldn’t come and help if they needed it.

And thanks to Victoria’s parents and how thinly-stretched their already small police force was, there was only one cop car on her curb.

“We can go around the back and get a look inside the kitchen and living room. If we can see where the police are, then we’ll know which way to go in.”

Nathan nodded, and the two of them skirted around the neighborhood. When they reached the back of the Price house, they peeked over the edge of the fence. Chloe’s mom sat at the kitchen table—even from a distance, Chloe could tell she was distraught—while David and an officer stood on the other side. As always, David was stiff, his arms crossed and his face set stern, while the cop rested his hands on his belt and seemed somewhat spacy. Probably mind-controlled.

“Front door it is,” Chloe said.

They circled back—checking to make sure no one on the street could see them—and stepped up to the front door. Chloe slid her key into the lock and pushed it open.

“Chloe?” her mom’s voice rose in alarm and concern.

They raced upstairs, then Chloe grabbed Nathan’s shoulder. “Do your thing,” Chloe said, and he rewound time.

“Okay,” Chloe breathed as she led him into her room. The entire space had been ransacked. Even Chloe’s normal chaotic mess was nothing compared to this. The sheets had been torn off the bed, and the mattress had been ripped open. The drawers from her dresser had all been taken out and their contents removed. Her closet was turned inside out. And all the knick-knacks and books under her bed had been pulled out and pilfered.

But the dumbasses left one thing untouched.

“Leave it to a bunch of dudes to not check the makeup,” Chloe chuckled to herself, picking up the box that had been opened and then haphazardly thrown on the ground. She emptied the contents onto her bed and removed the false bottom to find where she’d hidden the gun and ammo. She stuffed the weapon in the back of her pants and shoved the bullets in the pocket of her winter coat.

“Alright. Let’s get out of here.”

They went back downstairs, rewinding again to reverse their noise, but before she opened the door, Chloe paused to listen.

“I’m telling you, it makes no sense,” her mother said from the other room. “I know Chloe’s had her troubles, but she’d never go so far as to hurt anyone.” Chloe’s mind flashed back to the plan to kill Jefferson and her murderous intent toward Nathan when he killed Rachel in the old timeline. That was a conversation her mom probably wasn’t ready for.

“I’ve told you, ma’am, we have witnesses,” the cop said, shuffling his weight. “I can still trust in your cooperation, right?” There was the hint of a threat in his voice.

“You’ll have it,” David said. “But Chloe will get her due process.”

“Of course.”

That was probably the closest David would come to standing up for her. But . . . he’d fought Jefferson for her in two separate timelines. He was selfish and paranoid and violent, but he’d also saved her friends’ lives on multiple occasions without asking for anything. Chloe cast her eyes down for a moment. The longer this went on, the more timelines she remembered, the more complicated her feelings toward David and her mom got.

But there wasn’t time for that.

The two of them slipped back outside and rewound once more before meeting back at the rendezvous. Frank started up the RV and they got moving again. Warren sat at the kitchen table with his eyes glued to Frank’s laptop. Victoria leaned against the wall next to him, glaring at a bowl of beans that she’d inexplicably poured for herself. And Rachel had been waiting by the door for the others to come back.

“I’m not feeling this next part of the plan,” Nathan growled, sauntering next to Victoria.

“Yeah, there’s like eight different ways we get fucked if things go wrong,” Victoria said. She placed the beans down next to the laptop Warren was still fixated on, probably deciding that she hadn’t even wanted to eat them in the first place.

Rachel stepped up to Chloe and gave her a once-over to make sure she was alright. “If you have any better ideas for how to deal with mind-control, I’d love to hear them,” she retorted, not even looking at Nathan and Victoria. She rubbed her hands down Chloe’s arms, sending butterflies through her stomach.

Chloe glanced up at the driver’s seat. Frank was glaring at her through the rearview mirror. In any normal situation, she would have smirked back. And a big part of her was reveling in how handsy Rachel was being in front of the others. But until everything was dealt with, Chloe had to stay focused.

She turned to Nathan, who was still pouting in a corner. “You should head up to the passenger’s seat and show Frank where to go,” she said.

He half-grunted, half-humphed before making his way up. He was probably jealous of her and Rachel too, which gave Chloe quite a bit of satisfaction.

Other than that, there wasn’t much the rest of them could do till they arrived. So she slid next to Warren and looked over his shoulder. “What’s got you so focused?”

He sat back and pushed the laptop down the table so she could have a better look. “Just trying to get us some ammunition in the form of information.”

“Oh really?”

Rachel leaned against the table so she could see too.

“Okay, so—” Warren pulled up one of the open tabs, “—Max told you these monster things have been around since before the town, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I figured if they’re that old, then people must have run into them at some point. There’s no way it just happened to start with us.”

“So you’re looking through the town history to see if anything stands out?” Rachel asked.

“Not just the town, this whole area. Stories the Native Americans who lived here used to share. Environmental and geological history. Heck, I’ve even been looking at where the Prescotts come from.”

“Anything interesting there?” Chloe asked.

“Honestly, they were pretty boring before they came here. A bunch of failed businesses in the early 1900s, Nathan’s great-great-however-many-great grandpa fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. And we all saw how that turned out.”

“So the fact that Nathan doesn’t go around saying the n-word means he turned out well?” Rachel snorted coldly.

“I don’t know if any of him turned out well,” Warren growled so only they could hear it. “Anyway, they didn’t even have any money until the 30s, right after the Great Depression really hit. But that’s also when they moved to Arcadia Bay.”

“So they’ve been mooching off this thing since they got here,” Chloe said.

“And what I’ve been trying to figure out is what ‘this thing’ is,” he said.

Chloe nodded. “Okay, so what have you got?”

He scrolled down the page till they were looking at PDF scans of old, hand-written documents.

“This is a transcript of a bunch of the stories the Native Americans told the first European explorers who came here. It’s in French, but there’s a translation underneath.” He clicked through the scans and stopped on one titled, The Great Emptiness. “So according to this story, this place goes through these cycles. Sometimes things are awesome and sometimes things suck. Like, the land is unlivable kind of suck. The storyteller describes it like first the resources dry out, then it says people’s ‘souls and minds fade away,’ and then all the plants and animals and people die.

“And here’s the thing,” he pulled up a new tab, “this lines up with the geography. About six hundred years ago, there was this, like, minor extinction event. Everyone and everything died. And it keeps going the further back in history you go. First it was tens of thousands of years between each event. The last one had a thousand years between it and the one before it. And now it’s six hundred years.

“It’s speeding up,” Rachel said.

Chloe shook her head. “It’s decaying.”

“And going by your dreams, this bubble is about to pop,” Warren said. “Whatever all this has been leading up to for the past giga-thousand years is about to happen.”

So it was the end of the world, but only for one small town in Oregon. Weren’t they just the luckiest people alive?

“We’re in way over our heads,” Rachel breathed.

Chloe took her hand and squeezed it. “It’s gonna make for a hell of an underdog story though.”

Rachel squeezed back and gave a hint of a smile.

Warren leaned back in his chair, clearly pleased with his work. “I don’t know how to beat it yet, but this is so much more than we had before.”

“Yeah, it really makes me wish we’d hit up the library sometime between all our plotting,” Chloe agreed.

“There’s a lot we should have done differently,” Rachel sighed. She stepped away from the table and stood straight. “I’m going to check up on Max.”

Chloe nodded, and without waiting for permission, she stood to follow. Rachel’s faint smiled deepened. She appreciated the company.

Max’s body still laid where it had been for hours. Truth be told, there wasn’t anything for them to check. She wasn’t going anywhere, and they had some time before she started to decompose. Well, fully decompose.

Her skin had turned to pale blues and purples, her limbs were now locked in place with rigor mortis, and her body was a little bloated. And she stunk. Like fruit left in the hot sun for days. The thought of Max with rot and mold forming from her bullet wound and spreading throughout her body played through Chloe’s imagination, just disturbing enough that it broke through some of the leftover high from her dream. She had a feeling Frank was going to want a new RV after this.

Rachel sat on the bed and ran her fingers down Max’s neck. Her eyes were stern and focused, intense enough that Chloe could tell her mind was whirling. “What are you thinking?” she asked

Her hand slid from Max’s neck to her shoulder, and she bit her lip. “I’m not sure. I think . . . I think I might have an idea. About her.”

“Yeah?”

She nodded. “I need to figure out my powers first, though. It’ll take more than messing around with the weather.”

Rachel turned to meet Chloe’s gaze with firm determination in her eyes. Chloe smiled. It might not be one hundred percent, but her girl was back in action. “Well I get the feeling you’re about to get a lot of practice,” she said.

 

Frank parked the RV in the woods. They had a quick debate about how they were going to do things. Rachel and Nathan had their powers, and Chloe and Frank had guns. Warren and Victoria would only end up in the way. But they were in enemy territory. And if the two of them were caught and arrested, or worse, mind-controlled, then the others might not be able to save them.

So—to Chloe’s reluctant admittance—it made the most sense for the two of them to come with the rest.

Frank, it just so happened, was a very light sleeper with an ungodly supply of earplugs. So, they each got their mind-control repellent.

They set up the marching order. As the most powerful of the group, Nathan and Rachel took the front. They would be the only ones wearing earplugs the entire time. If Mr. Prescott showed up, Nathan would rewind and tell everyone to put theirs in.

Frank followed up behind them with his handgun. Like, immediately behind them. The good thing about them wearing earplugs the whole time was that Frank could lean over their shoulders and shoot without worrying about destroying their eardrums.

Finally were Warren and Victoria, with Chloe taking the rear. She figured that Frank was probably the better shot, so it made sense for her to cover their backs and him the frontlines.

They set out through the forest—Victoria stumbling in her impractical wedges. Nathan told them when they reached private property. Then when they got close.

They arrived at the Prescott estate.

Outside the front of—what Chloe could only describe as one step away from being an old-money mansion—were a gaggle of police cars, and one antique muscle car.

Chloe’s heart sank.

Mixed in with the handful of cops by the front door was David Madsen, his revolver holstered on his hip.

Chapter Text

Update to the update: I moved this "chapter" out of the middle of the fic so the actual chapter numbers make sense. But as a result, it shows up at the end. This is not the final chapter, this was from July 2020. Also I just posted a new chapter on June 19, 2021! So if you haven't read it yet go check it out!

 

What's up everybody? I wanted to let you guys know what's been going on with me and why I haven't posted in approximately 10 years. Like the title says, I'm not dropping the fic. I've just had the absolute worst case of writer's block for the longest time now.

Long story short, I've had a series of big-as-fuck events over the last few months, even before I posted the last chapter. I've been dealing with some mental health issues since March, and then some physical health issues cropped up in April and May. I've also had some big stuff going on in my family that's taken up a lot of my attention. Couple that with starting a new job and this whole Covid mess, and I've just been really drained.

Then there's the fact that I'm really proud of how the last three chapters turned out, which should be a really good thing, but I'm not really sure how to follow them up. So much of this fic has been leading up to those chapters, and while I still have more to show you guys I'm kind of at a loss for how to do it while still maintaining the quality and tension. I'm worried that this fic has hit its peak and that I won't be able to keep you guys as interested now. Not only that, but the fandom has been slowing down a lot over the past few years, and I don't get as much traffic as I did in the beginning. And every time I have one of these long hiatuses between chapters, I'm scared that more people will lose interest. That's why every chapter I ask you guys to comment. I'm genuinely desperate for your feedback. I want to know that someone is still reading, that someone still wants to see this through. And you guys have been absolutely phenomenal with the comments. But for whatever reason, I still feel like I'm not doing enough. Like my writing isn't as good as it should be.

That's essentially what I'm struggling with right now. A lot of outside stuff, and a lot of internal stuff. But I'm not giving up. I know what I want to do moving forward, I'm just having a hard time getting words on paper. But I've sent a first draft of the next chapter to dwarrow, and together we're going to brainstorm how to keep going.

I'll probably delete this update once I post the next chapter. If anybody wants me to go a little more in-depth about what's been going on, I can post more on my tumblr.

Thank you to all of you who are reading this story. I'm sorry for how long this latest chapter is taking. I promise I'm not done and that I will show you more. I hope you can be patient with me, and I hope to give you a new chapter soon.