Max flumped herself down onto the sofa, feeling very happy and content with life. She was at home, surrounded by her family and slowly bringing her girlfriend – girlfriend! – into this precious circle. Things could not have been going better for her; any darkening clouds on the horizon seemed far away and unimportant in that moment.
“Do you want a cup of tea, Grandma? Or I could get some coffee?”
“Tea? Your father is supposed to be getting me a gin. Now just sit there and tell me how you are.” Max happily began to tell her about her term and life at Blackwell when Ryan entered the room holding a glass.
“Here you go, Joan. A shot of tonic topped up with gin.” Max could smell the alcohol wafting out of the glass as her Grandma accepted it and immediately took a gulp.
“Ah, that's much better, thank you Ryan. Where's that daughter of mine got too?” Ryan pulled out his cell to check the time.
“She has gone to the store to get a few last-minute things with Victoria. But if you'll excuse me I need to go turn the roast.” Max watched as he disappeared back into the kitchen, aware of the good-humoured gaze of her Grandma on her.
“So Max,” she said. “Victoria.” Max squirmed a little; she had been dreading the forthcoming interrogation.
“Does she treat you right? Are you happy?”
“Yes, I am, and yes, she does.” Her Grandma patted her gently on the arm, smiling.
“Good. Then I'm happy for you.” She leaned back and took another drink, an amused look on her face at Max's surprised expression. Max had been expecting a much more thorough examination, and at the very least a ribald comment or two. Further conversation was cut short, however, by the front door opening and her Mom’s laughter echoing down the hallway.
“Hello! We're back! Max, can you come help with the bags?”
Max found her Mom and a visibly excited Victoria weighed down with numerous bags, both of them giggling about something.
“What's so funny?” Max asked, relieving her Mom of a bag full of vegetables.
“Oh, Victoria was just telling me a tale about you, nothing important. Is your Grandma here?”
“She's just in the lounge,” Max said with a jerk of her head. “What tale?” Vanessa didn't answer and just walked off, so Max tried again with Victoria. “What tale? And you seem to be in a good mood.”
“I never knew that grocery shopping was like this! I've learned so much! Did you know there's like whole aisles of cereals? And you can push this little cart thing around with wheels that go in all directions and there's a seat on it and everything.”
“Yeah it’s called food shopping. Are you seriously telling me you've never done that before?”
“Of course I have,” answered Victoria, carrying a bag through to the kitchen. “There's a nice artisanal market I've been to in Barcelona that sold fruit and vegetables and I went and bought some with real money and everything. I've just never been to a common grocery store before, I mean why would I?” Max followed her carrying the bag of vegetables and shaking her head in bemusement.
“Common? How nice. But I've seen food in your house, remember? We had that amazing lunch with the cheese and everything, so how did that get there?”
“That's what the housekeeper is for. They make sure that there is plenty of food available; there's one at every house we have. The one here in Seattle has been with the family for years, so she knows what we like and what we expect.” She went back into the hallway to get another bag, seemingly enjoying the novelty of it all. Max followed a little bit more reluctantly, still questioning her.
“But you eat at Blackwell, so..?” Victoria paused, looking at her with a questioning expression.
“Yes? I get take-out, or use that godawful cafeteria. Or Taylor or Courtney will cook something. Why is this so difficult for you to understand? I bet there's lots of people who have never been grocery shopping before.” She picked up a bag of oats, reading the label with interest before looking back at Max, who was still watching her with a look of bewilderment. “Are you going to help? Although you have reminded me to sort out the food at Blackwell, I had forgotten that was still on my list.” Max half-heatedly picked up a can of beans, tossing it from hand to hand.
“Somehow I doubt that there are lots of people who have not been to a grocery store. But I'm glad you had fun.”
“Yes I did, me and your Mom had a great time. She was really nice, and she kept telling me stories about you when you were younger.”
“All lies. Don't listen to her.”
“Don't listen to who?” asked Vanessa, entering the room. “How are you two getting on? Thank you for your help Victoria, you didn't have to come - you are our guest after all.” Victoria gave her a brilliant smile, which to Max actually seemed largely genuine.
“It was my pleasure, Vanessa. It was all very exciting.” Vanessa chuckled, taking some things from Victoria's hands.
“Well I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. Now you both run along and I'll finish up here.” Max needed no further bidding and dragged Victoria away to the lounge.
“Grandma, this is Victoria, Victoria this is my Grandma.”
“Delighted,” said Victoria, extending her hand which was shook with some amusement.
“Nice to meet you, Victoria; I’m Joan, Max’s best Grandma. Why don't you sit down and tell me what you are doing to my Max,” her Grandma said. Victoria blinked in surprise as Max facepalmed.
“Shh you, I need to interrogate your girlfriend here. Now, sit and tell me about yourself.” Much to Max's surprise Victoria promptly sat down and waited politely for her Grandma to speak again. Max, somewhat at a loss, gestured futilely and then sat down next to her.
“So, now we are all settled,” Joan said, sitting back in her chair and steepling her fingers as if she was a Bond villain, “please, go on Victoria – and Max don't you interrupt her.” To Max it seemed as if Victoria slipped a mask on, confidently giving her Grandma a very brief overview of her life and interests, as if it was a job interview. There was a moment of silence before her Grandma leaned forward, took a swig of her gin and then tapped Victoria gently on the knee. Victoria flinched slightly but did her best not to react.
“Well Victoria,” Joan said, “thank you for that summary, but this isn’t an interview. I have run across you Chase’s before – yes, I recognised the name, Max. We have a little history together, do me and the Chase’s.” Victoria looked a little distraught but managed to sputter a reply.
“I'm sorry? What do you-”
“Grandma!” interjected Max, feeling she had to rush to her defence. Her Grandma waved her off.
“Both of you calm down, dearie me. No need to get excited – as I said, I recognised your surname, Victoria. I’ve encountered it – and your family - before.” She picked up her glass and settled back comfortably into her chair.
“When I was younger - before I had your mother, Max, and before I met your Granddad - I was in love with a young guy called Marcos. Well I thought it was love at the time, maybe it was just infatuation – you know how it is when you are young. He was tall with dark hair and brown eyes; a stomach you could crack a walnut on. He had such stamina too, could go for hours-”
“Grandma, please!” Max said, mortified and covering her ears.
“Oh come Max, I was also young once; just like you are now. Although I guess you both aren't interested in what he had to offer in that department. Which was a lot, believe me.” The matter of fact way she said this made Victoria blush and look down, while Max slowly died inside.
“Anyway, it was the mid-sixties and I was young, idealistic; we had such lofty ideals - social change, equal rights, nuclear disarmament, all that sort of thing. We used to sit up for hours debating within our group, planning on changing the world one cause at a time, before going to bed and -”
“Grandma, please stop.”
“What? It's probably not that different to what you both get up too, and at least you can't get-”
“Did you go and join all those protests then?” asked Victoria quickly, coming to Max's aid. “I remember seeing a documentary about all the different things that were happening then.”
“Yes, we did Victoria. Mainly in Oregon, but we also headed down to California and joined some Civil Rights demonstrations. Exciting times they were, there was a real feeling of change in the air. One time someone had the idea of protesting against the armaments manufacturers - the Vietnam War was going on and all of us disparate groups were beginning to centre around that as a focus, a real call to arms, if you excuse the terrible pun.”
“And the manufacturer you protested against was Chase Industries,” Victoria said slowly, as if putting things together in her mind. “I see.”
“Yes, very astute of you Victoria – it was somewhere down in New Mexico, I can’t remember exactly where now. There was six of us and we took an old camper van, joining others along the way. We made quite the convoy, it was all tremendously good fun.” She paused a moment and smiled to herself, as if thinking of a fond memory. “Anyway, we ended up camping outside the gates of this large set of buildings, protesting against the workers who were coming in, waving placards, singing songs – all that sort of thing. We even had the local TV news turn up, which was very exciting for the time – we didn’t have the internet or anything back then, so any coverage was tended to be seen by the locals and sometimes nationally as there was nothing else to do.”
“But what does this have to do with Victoria, Grandma? She wasn’t even born then, was she!” Max wrapped an arm around Victoria’s waist and pulled her close, as if trying to protect her.
“Let me finish and I will tell you, Max. Don’t be so impatient. Now, apparently this was not good news for whoever was running the place as the State Troopers turned up, and then someone clearly had a word with someone higher up as the National Guard came along to clear everyone out, which was a thing they did back then. Some of us were arrested; I was lucky and managed to escape that, but those who weren’t were prosecuted for trespassing, criminal damage – you name it, anything that the lawyers could make stick.” She stopped and looked at Victoria, scrutinising her carefully as if gauging her reaction - Victoria met her gaze and didn’t falter.
“That would have been my Grandfather’s time, when he was running the company. I.. I didn’t know him that well, he was always busy and then he died when I was still young. Heart attack. I’m sorry if -”
“Oh don’t be silly,” Joan interrupted. “It’s not your fault that we were young and reckless; it’s just meeting you stirred up those old memories of when I was young, like you are now. You have to allow an old woman her indulgence in remembering her past, it’s practically my duty to bore you all.” She took a final swig of gin and inspected her empty glass, as if a little disappointed it was empty. Max was feeling a little annoyed that Victoria was being put on the spot and went again to defend Victoria, but Victoria beat her to the punch.
“What happened to Marcus?” she asked. “Are you still in touch with him?”
“Oh good lord, no,” Joan laughed. “He was arrested trying to assault a Guardsman – playing the hero like he always wanted to do. We lost touch after that; I came back up to Oregon and ended up meeting Max’s Grandad, but I still had an interest in what was happening in the world, and with Chase Industries - at least for a little while. But the last I heard – about twenty years ago - he had become an insurance salesman with 3 kids, and was on his second wife.”
“Some rebel he turned out to be,” Max laughed. “You’ve never told me this before Grandma, why bring it up now?”
“You’ve never had a girlfriend who was the granddaughter of someone who had my friends arrested.” Joan had a twinkle in her eye as she said it and looked at Victoria with a kindly smile.
“She’s never had a girlfriend full stop,” Victoria said, earning a jab from Max. She looked at Max’s Grandma, chewing her lip a little as if deciding the best way to respond. “But then, neither have I. This is all new to me, er, Max’s Grandma -”
“Please, call me Joan.”
“Joan, yes, right. This is all new to me as well, and I’m a little nervous meeting you all as I want to make a good impression. Max means the world to me and, and I don’t want you all to think less of me because of who my family is.”
“Unbelievably enough, I trust Max’s judgement,” Joan said. “If she is happy with you, then that is enough for me.” Victoria smiled and glanced at Max, who pecked her on the cheek. Joan watched the pair of them then rubbed her hands together as if having made a decision.
“So now you know how I have heard of your family, Victoria; why don’t you tell me what you actually enjoy doing, and not just to Max.”
Max spent an enjoyable hour with Victoria and her Grandma; they both seemed to get on like a house on fire, delighting in making Max as uncomfortable as possible with as much innuendo as they could think of. Mixed in with this Max was aware that her Grandma was gently probing Victoria, as if trying to see how much she was involved with Chase Industries, and what she knew – clearly her protesting spirit was still alive and kicking. Victoria fielded all her questions easily enough and didn’t seem put out by it; if anything she seemed happy to talk – although Max noted that any questions regarding Victoria’s parents or family life were quickly avoided by her.
Ryan, who had been relieved of cooking duties had joined them, informing them that more people were due to arrive soon enough and that Max would have to help prepare the table in due course, much to her complaints. Victoria was about to offer to help when her cell rang, and she glanced at the screen with a frown before with an apology leaving the room to answer it. Max watched her go still feeling very happy with life and she smiled to herself at the thought of where things were now compared to where it had been just a few months prior.
“Well, she clearly makes you happy,” her Grandma observed. “I don’t think I’ve seen you smile so much for such a long time.”
“She’s done well, hasn’t she,” observed Ryan. “I was beginning to give up hope that she would ever find anyone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Max protested. “You never thought any such thing. And I only told you a few months ago that I was gay, so -”
“Max, it was obvious for years,” he retorted. “I’m your father, it’s my duty to notice these things to prepare to defend the family honour.”
“She’s very nice,” her Grandma said. “Not quite what I expected, which is a good thing. I hope that she stays like this when she ends up running that evil corporation.”
“Evil corporation?” asked Vanessa, bringing in a fresh glass of gin for her Mother. “Wait – you haven’t been interrogating Victoria and going on about your youth, have you?” Joan looked a little embarrassed and concentrated on her drink, seemingly suddenly fascinated by it.
“Mother,” Vanessa groaned, “why would you do that? Why can’t either of you -” She jabbed a finger at Ryan and her Mother – “just be normal with her? She’s Max’s girlfriend, you have to be nice to her. That’s an order.” There was a general grumbling and Max looked gratefully at her Mom – the last thing she wanted was them to scare Victoria off, even inadvertently.
“Huh, that's odd - it's snowing,” remarked Ryan looking out of the window to change the subject. “I thought it was quite mild today, that’s unusual.”
“Climate change,” Max said offhandedly. “It's only going to get worse too. I saw a thing about how the change in temperature is affecting the migration of whales.” There was a pause while everyone digested the information.
“Well that's odd, it's not snowing out the front,” said Vanessa. “Well, at least it wasn't a moment ago.”
“Must be the whales,” her Dad said, making Max roll her eyes. Something was poking at the back of her brain, trying to get her attention.
It's a big problem, I don't know why they think it's funny. Freak weather like snowstorms could be a harbinger of much bigger changes.
Snowstorms in this weather though is not exactly rare, but -
Wait, where's Victoria?
Max leapt out of her chair and ran through the kitchen and out into the garden. Snow was gently falling despite the clear skies, coating the garden in a pleasing blanket - but Max could feel a wave of cold wash over her, a cold emanating from a figure sitting on her old swing and surrounded by ever growing piles of snow and ice. Without a moment's hesitation she froze time and ran over to Victoria, her feet slipping away from under her on the slick surface.
Victoria looked up at her as soon as she touched her, quickly realising that Max had stopped time. She didn't say anything but just looked at her with an anguished expression, a mixture of anger and sadness.
“Victoria,” Max said, kneeling down in front of her and wrapping her arms around her waist. “What is it? What's wrong?” Victoria laughed bitterly, staring out at the winter scene she had created, snowflakes suspended in the air.
“Just me being fucking stupid as always. Look at me, the slightest thing and here we are, me fucking everything up again.”
“What slightest thing? What's happened?” Max grabbed her hands in concern, catching her breath at how cold they were. She wished she had thrown on her jacket before coming out as she could feel the cold slowly creeping into her. Victoria shook her head and just stared into the distance, looking thoroughly miserable. Max could feel Victoria's power still swirling around inside of her, and her head was beginning to dimly throb with the effort of holding time still for them both.
“Vic, you really need to tell me, this is starting to hurt a little and I can't have you freezing me and my family to death, can I.” Victoria sighed heavily and closed her eyes, before speaking in a quiet voice that wavered a little.
“Family,” she said. “That was mine who called. They wanted to know where I was. What I was doing, why I wasn't at home.”
“Well that's good isn't it? What's wrong with that?”
“They are not supposed to be there! They were supposed to be out of the country. And they wanted me to go over for lunch today but I told them I couldn't. But I have to go tomorrow.” Victoria was clearly becoming agitated and Max stood up and wrapped her arms awkwardly around her as Victoria sat on the swing.
“That's doesn't sound too bad, does it? I mean they clearly want to see you and spend some time with you.”
“Ugh. You don't understand it. It won't be a nice thing like.. like it is here, where I actually feel welcome.” Victoria looked back at Max's house, a slightly wistful expression on her face. “They are going to interrogate me about everything, and then demand that I do what they want regardless of what I want, and.. and..”
“And?” Max was really beginning to feel pain creeping up on her, a stabbing sensation behind her eyes that was becoming ever more painful the longer she held time still.
“And they will go on about my life and choices and how I'm not living up to their impossible standards, and I can't even tell them about you.” Max closed her eyes for a second, willing herself to go on for a bit longer.
“Why not? I mean you can just say I'm your friend, at least.”
“I don't want to lie about you!” Victoria said with some passion, and she looked at Max, her face earnest. “Would you want me to hide you from them like I'm ashamed? Also, are you feeling OK? You're looking a little pale.”
“I feel like my head is about to explode and I'm getting really cold, but it's OK - I want you to be calm enough when I restart time that we can just go back in without anyone asking questions, or me having to rewind. Actually I can't rewind anyway without suddenly disappearing from the lounge, so this is the next best thing. It's all I could think of.”
“Oh fuck, I'm so sorry. I didn't think, I.. I just..” She stopped and looked around herself once more. “I just fucked up. Again.” Max smiled, her teeth beginning to chatter and a tingling sensation in her nose warning her of an onset nosebleed.
“Maybe, but you're my fuck up. Times nearly up though, I'm going to have to restart or I will pass out and then die of hypothermia.” Before Max could react Victoria pushed her away and immediately froze as the link between them disconnected, and Max felt the pressure began to ease a little - she was still pushing herself but it was not so painful now. It was always so much harder when she had to do things with Victoria; taking her back was one thing, but holding time still with her seemed to be the hardest of all. With a sigh of relief she let time flow, checking her nose wasn't bleeding.
Just in time, good.
Victoria stood up from the swing and hugged her, apologising as she did so. Max gladly accepted the embrace, trying to scavenge whatever heat she could from Victoria who was rapidly warming up.
“I’m sorry Max, I didn’t mean for this to happen. But I have to go tomorrow, I can’t avoid it. And I’m worried - what if I end up doing something like this? Could you imagine?”
“Well don’t then. Or – if you do, send me a message and I’ll rewind then text you to warn you. So you’ll know to control yourself.” Victoria looked at her, a smile creeping across her face.
“That’s.. that’s brilliant. Of course, you can just undo it then warn me. I’ll make sure I’ll have my cell on so I know.” Max grinned and gave her some finger guns.
“See – I’m clever.” Victoria grabbed her fingers and scowled.
“Don’t ever do that again. We can meet up somewhere afterwards, what do you think?” Max tried to free her fingers, but Victoria was holding on tightly.
“Sounds great, we can go on the waterfront, or maybe a museum, or oh I know, a bookstore! Plus we don’t have to be back to Blackwell until Sunday, so we can stay as long as we need. I’m sure my parents won’t mind.”
“I’ll buy them a thank-you present,” Victoria said, twisting on the spot as Max contorted to get her fingers back.
“Aha!” she said with a triumphant shout, getting one hand free and pretending to shoot Victoria again who quickly tried to grab it, causing them both to dissolve into a fit of giggles as she tried to grab Max’s hand while she kept shooting and making pew-pew noises. The sound of the kitchen door opening made them both turn around – luckily the snow and ice was already melting away, making it look more just like a sudden snowstorm rather than anything untoward.
“Max – can you come help lay the table?” her Dad called.
“Coming!” Max answered, before looking back at Victoria. “Better?”
“Better.” Victoria gave her a kiss, which Max prolonged for as long as she could before breaking away, both of them smiling happily. Max grabbed Victoria’s hand and pulled her along.
“Come on, let’s go back inside. Oh, and before I forget – I apologise in advance for my Uncle, too.”