I’d made this hike countless times. The trees overhead, the birds auditioning their best songs to us, the glimpses of deer staring at us in the tree line, and the ocean crashing on the rocks below us off in the distance. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the nature around me, it always had brought me a sense of peace; and I was praying for that peace right now.
Chloe was ahead of me, walking towards the Lighthouse with her hands in her pockets. She hadn’t said anything since we got out of the truck, and hardly even looked back at me as we walked. I was so worried about her, I didn’t say anything. I wanted to talk, to see what was going through her mind, to know how she really felt. If only my powers were, like, ‘super empathy’ or something, so I could just know how Chloe truly felt.
We finally reached the Lighthouse’s summit, and I walked up to Chloe as she stood near the cliff and watched the water rolling about the beach. I stood a few feet from her, my hand on my arm and all I could do was watch her. She was guarded, as usual, but I knew that prying when she wasn’t ready would only make things worse. So, I waited, silently and patiently.
Chloe rustled into her jean pockets and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. With a jerk upward, one rose up and she placed it between her lips and shoved the pack back into her jeans. Her free hand reached into her other pocket, withdrew a lighter and lit the cigarette. She took a few long drags of it, blowing the smoke so it wouldn’t waft near me (considerate) and then turned to look at me. Our eyes met, and she smiled around the cigarette.
Her smile was always infectious, competing with the sun for the title of ‘most illuminating’. I smile back and Chloe’s shoulders seem to relax.
Taking a final drag of her cigarette, Chloe walks towards the lone bench on the perch of the cliff and snuffs out her cigarette as she sits. She waves a hand over to me, and I follow, sitting several inches from her. I wanted to make sure Chloe knew I was going to give her space, physically and emotionally if she needed it. Her eyes lock with mine and she gives me a small smirk, before raising an arm and reclining it on the spine of the bench. Her gaze moves to the ocean, and it grows pensive.
“Well. Guess we should just start, huh?” she says, softly, her words almost swallowed by the ocean. I look at her and give a small nod, my hands moving to rest on my lap and clasping each other.
“Whenever you’re ready. No rush.”
It’s another moment before Chloe speaks again. She rubs the back of her neck gently, exhaling a long breath through her nose. “I think we need to end our little, uh, arrangement.” Was all she said, and I felt my heart fall into my stomach. Was it something I had done? Was I not good enough--?
No. Wait. This is my fault.
“I just think there are too many feelings going around, ya know?” and there was my confirmation. I’d brought feelings into this, and it made Chloe uncomfortable. I was sad to hear it, my head dropping slightly. But, I couldn’t really fault Chloe.
“Sorry,” I say, my fingers fidgeting with one another as I drag my gaze away from Chloe, “I shouldn’t have said anything. I—I’m sorry—“
“Max, just—“ Chloe says, holding her hands up, trying to pause me, “Let me say something first, please?” I look at Chloe, pulling my bottom lip between my teeth. Chloe takes a deep breath and lets it out before she continues, “You didn’t do anything wrong. I did. I was such a fucking bitch to you. Like, I, what’s that term? Gaslight? I gaslit you? I should never have said that your feelings mean nothing. They did mean something, they do mean something. And, I mean,” another long breath falls from Chloe’s nose, “It isn’t just you, Max.” that stopped me in my tracks. I furrowed my brow and ran her words through my mind a few more times. When I looked up at Chloe, she was looking at me with a heavy gaze.
“Wait, what are you saying?” Chloe chewed her lip for a moment and readjusted her beanie.
“I’m just going to come out and say it.” She said, a small growl in her throat, “I—I love you, dude.” She looked at me and my eyes blew up like saucers. “Like, love you. Not in that way girls just, ya know, say it to each other. I fucking mean it.”
This was, wonderful! Chloe feels the same way about me! We’ve got the same feelings! We can be together! But, then why did Chloe look so sad?
“You already know I feel the same way, Chloe. But there’s more, isn’t there?“ I give her a moment, looking at her expectantly. Chloe gets the memo I’m sending and just drops her gaze down to the dirt for a few seconds. There were so many cogs turning in Chloe’s mind, and I could tell, but I didn’t want to push. I still felt like I was on thin ice, and I didn’t want to give a push too far and ruin everything.
“I was scared. I am scared. Of my feelings. Of telling you. It’s not an excuse, and I’m still shitty for what I did, but, I’ve just got something I can’t get over.” Chloe moves her hand to rub along her exposed tattoo sleeve; is she picking up habits from me?
“Scared? Of what, Chloe?” I ask, reaching a hand to rest on one of her slumped shoulders. “What’s in your head that’s got you so wound tight?”
‘Rachel?’ I think, ‘What does Rachel Amber have to do with--?’ but then it hit me. Of course Chloe still loved Rachel. The constant snooping, the investigation, nearly fighting Frank over her bracelet, the unbridle horror on Chloe’s face as we dug in the junkyard. I guess, for some reason, I just didn’t think about that as I was pining for my best friend.
“I get it.” I say, and that brings Chloe’s gaze back up to me. “You and Rachel were so close. She helped you through the darkest times in your life when I abandoned you. She raised you up, made you happy, made you smile at a time you never thought you would. Even after the stuff she did with Frank, you still remembered those times with her.” It hurt a little, I wasn’t going to deny that to myself, but, I wasn’t the only one here. Stop being selfish, Max.
Chloe sat back up and leaned against the bench, exhaling a breath. She rubbed her forehead for a moment and took her beanie off, holding it in her hand.
“I knew-“ she said, lifting her gaze out towards the ocean. “I knew, the last time we were here, staring out at the tornado,” she continued, and an involuntary shiver rolled down my spine at the memories of that terrible time in my life. Chloe really was one of the few things I had in my life that brought me joy during that horrible week. “I knew that no matter what you chose to do, you were doing the right thing. I learned that week, that there was always one person in my life who really cared about me, who I could trust implicitly.” I look at Chloe and can’t help but smile. I’m glad she thought of me that way.
“I’ve been the happiest I’ve been in years when you came back. Never would I thought in a million years how things would be when I nearly ran over you in the Blackwell parking lot.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “And, I can’t stop thinking about you. No matter what I do, you’re always there, in my thoughts.”
“But, you still love Rachel.” I say, trying to keep the strain out of my voice.
“I love you, and her. And, I just—“ she sighed, “This is what I was afraid of. Of getting close to you, falling for you, but not being over all my shit and ruining everything because of it. And, I think I almost did when I lashed out at you.” She puts her beanie back on and lets her hands rest on her knees in front of her. “I just don’t think it’s fair to you. If I’m with you, but I still think about Rachel.” If only Chloe knew that I couldn’t stop thinking about two people at once. Would it help her? Would it make her feel less guilty? No, no. I know that would just make things worse. That is still something I need to deal with, that I need to figure out. If Chloe is admitting her feelings for me, and she knows how I feel, I need to figure this out as soon as I can; my own conflict could tear Chloe and I apart.
I move my hand over to Chloe’s, and gently grip it. This brings Chloe’s gaze to look at me, and I offer her a small smile. I give her a squeeze, and she smiles back at me.
“I know you still love her. I understand why. And, honestly, I still feel the same way about you.” I say, my smile infiltrating into my words. “She was important, had such an impact, and, it wouldn’t surprise me if you still love her for a long time.” I shrug a little, “From what I know of Rachel, she was amazing. For all her faults.” Chloe glanced down and nodded a little.
“She was. Amazing.” Chloe nearly whispered, and I gave her hand another gentle squeeze.
“I don’t-“ I say, words seemingly appearing in my throat before I can stop them, “I don’t feel like you’re betraying me. Or, anything like that. I know your feelings for her are real, like your feelings for me.” Where was this coming from? “To me, it doesn’t seem like you’re cheating, or giving me less of your love. It seems like, honestly, that your heart has enough room for two people at the same time.” Was I saying this to comfort Chloe, or was I just finally explaining what was going in my own head?
Chloe looks at me, and I notice her brows creasing slightly. She turns her head away slightly and presses her mouth into a thin line. “I—I, uh, never thought about it like that.” She said, tilting her head from side to side slightly. “I just, never thought you could love more than one person.”
“We do it all the time.” I said, still telling on myself, apparently. “We love our friends and family, you know?” fishing for an excuse for validating my feelings.
“Yeah, but, like, romantically.” Chloe said, her tone of voice making seem like I was being kind of dumb. And, maybe I was. Was it dumb to have feelings for two people at the same time?
“If everyone’s okay with it. Why would it matter?” I ask, and that seems to make Chloe think once again.
“You—“ she began, “You wouldn’t judge me, if I still loved Rachel? Talked about her? Thought about her?” true worry was forming in Chloe’s voice, I could tell as it began to leak into her face. I give her a few small shakes of my head, my eyes locked with hers.
“You love her, Chloe. I don’t want to ruin that.”
“I know it’ll pass one day,” Chloe said, sadness in her voice, “But, I’m not ready to let her go, yet.” I give her hand another squeeze and inch closer to her. She turns her head to acknowledge me and smiles a little as I get closer.
“I’m not going to rush you, Chloe. I want you to take as long as you need.” Chloe’s smile widened at that.
“Thanks, Max. You’re—“ she laughed a small laugh and looked over at me, “—you’re perfect.”
Victoria’s face flashed before my eyes. Our kiss, our night together, the way she pulled my hair and screamed my name. The guilt stabbed me through the heart. It didn’t feel wrong to be with Victoria, but not telling Chloe is what got to me. But, I just couldn’t. Not now. We were doing so well.
I felt my hand squeezed tightly and it shakes me from my guilty memories. I look at Chloe and she’s beaming a smile at me, holding my hand firmly, and my heart fluttered. I didn’t want to think about the future, or the past. I didn’t want to worry about anxieties, I didn’t want to muck around with the timeline anymore trying to find the right words to make Chloe happy. I just wanted to enjoy this moment, right here and now. With Chloe.
“Well, I have, like, so much more to think about, now.” Chloe said, patting her knee with her free hand, “We sure did dump some stuff, huh?” she cocked a grin and me and stood, still gripping my hand. She pulled me up gently, and I couldn’t help but giggle as she pulled me closer to her. “Let’s take a break from emotional garbage and thinking, eh? At least for a little while.” she chuckled, and I can’t help but laugh louder at her. “Come on, let’s do something! I haven’t seen my best friend in a few days, I wanna do something fun!”
I take my free hand and cover my mouth, trying to hinder my growing laughter. This is so Chloe. I just nod at her, and when I finish laughing I clap my hand on her hand.
“Okay, okay. Yeah, that sounds great. What would we do?” Chloe looked around and her brow furrowed for a moment. I was a little confused as to why she went quiet and began looking about. But, I didn’t have to wait long when I saw Chloe crack a wide smile.
“Hey, didn’t we bury some treasure around here?” she looked down at me, that beautiful smile warming my heart. I look around and squint my eyes at the trees surrounding us. A memory sparks in my head and I widen my eyes.
“Wait, yeah! Our ‘super-secret treasure chest’!” I smile, remembering a trip Chloe’s family and I had to the lighthouse. We brought a shoebox full of our ‘treasure’ to bury and uncover sometime in the future. It would obviously be chock full of stuff our tweenage selves would love, but the idea of hunting this old relic sounded more fun than most would probably think. “Do you remember where we put it?”
Chloe’s eyes narrowed and she began to walk around the bench, her hand squeezing mine as she led me around to the fire pit. Some junk would signal that the youth of Blackwell still like partying up here, but it might have been a few days. I look up at Chloe as she scans the tree line.
“It was near our pirate hideout, yeah?” she asked and I followed her gaze. She was looking between two trees on the far end of the cliff. I thought for a moment, seeing past images of an old blanket with a crudely painted skull on it hung between two branches of separate trees. I tilt my head, narrowing my gaze and chewing on my bottom lip.
“Yeah,” I say, raising my hand and pointing between the two trees. “There. I think, yeah?” I look back up at Chloe for confirmation of my foggy memories. She’s already looking at the spot, hard, and then her face explodes into pure joy.
“Yeah! There! Come on, Max!” she shouts, pulling me along as she bounds for the bones of our old pirate fort. I can’t help but laugh as I’m pulled along, Chloe’s enthusiasm becoming so infectious even I’m excited to find a decaying box of garbage. We bounded through the underbrush, well, Chloe bounded, I was just dragged through like some dead weight, but we made it to the clearing nonetheless.
Memories begin to flood back as I look through the clearing. The blanket that shielded us from the views of normal visitors, the small clearing for our own fire pit (a place to put the gas lantern my folks still have), our ‘sleeping quarters’ and I look up and even see our makeshift ‘crow’s nest’. The branch looked a lot thicker and solid when I was thirteen. Chloe lets go of my hand and I blink back to the present. She was crouched near the edge of the fort, brushing back some loose leaves and pine needles, looking with incredible intent at the area she’s cleared.
“Found any clues, Captain Bluebeard?” I ask, smiling at Chloe as I crouch next to her.
“Arrr, Long Max Silver, I believe I be findin’ more clues ta find our long lost treasure, arr!” Chloe says in her best pirate accent and I can’t help but cackle upon hearing it. I hook my forefinger and close an eye.
“Yarr, Cap’n. I’ll be lookin’ too!” I say, my accent far worse than Chloe’s and she barks a quick laugh at my attempt. Despite my pathetic pirating skills, I move further from Chloe and begin scuffing the dirt with my feet. I don’t expect us to find anything, if I remember correctly, we didn’t bury our treasure very deeply. So, with like, what, five or six years of rain and wind would definitely have revealed our treasure and slung it down the cliff. I can’t imagine what the storm did to it—
“Dude! Uh, Long Max Silver!” Chloe barked, dipping into her accent. I turn and walk over to her, but after a few steps, Chloe stands up, her chest bent forward. I walk up to her, tilting my head and I try to see around her. Seeing me trying to sneak a peek, Chloe turns her body and grins, “Ah-ah-ah! No peekin’ Long Max Silver.” I shake my head and take a step back.
“Okay, okay,” I say, bringing my hands up and covering my eyes. “I’m not peeking.” I hear Chloe’s boots rustling in the leaves and dirt, and soon she taps my forehead with, what I presumably think is the treasure chest. I open my eyes and see a moldy old shoebox in Chloe’s grip, and Chloe’s absolutely beaming smile.
“Let’s crack it open!” Chloe exclaimed, sitting down in the dirt and holding the old shoebox like it was a real treasure chest. I suppose it was, a real time capsule of Chloe and I’s friendship, and our past. I sit down across from her, my hands on my ankles as I sit cross-legged. I look over at the moldy old shoebox, and Chloe tenderly opens the lid and tosses it aside. I lean forward and try and peek inside, and Chloe’s squeals of happiness made me smile.
“What’s inside?” I ask.
“Dude! Look!” she says, reaching into the box and pulling out a well-worn and folded piece of paper. She began unfolding it to reveal a damaged posted of three young, stylish looking men. “Ha! It’s your old Jonas Brothers poster!” Chloe cackled. She held it up and grinned a wide grin as she put it up to her face. I laughed, placing a hand across my face, trying to hold in my embarrassment.
“Oh, Dog!” I shout, laughing so hard my stomach began to hurt. Chloe looked at it, examining the three boys intently, before she turned and looked at me.
“Hey, remember when I said Nick wasn’t the best singer of the three?” she said smirking at me with a knowing look in her eyes.
“Ugh, don’t remind me.”
“Don’t remind you of what? That you cried when I said Zane was a better singer?” I laugh and push Chloe a little, in which causes her to chuckle. I remember that being such a big deal back then, so much so I almost decided to not talk to Chloe for an entire weekend. Jeez, I kinda wish I could go back to such simple times. But, with Chloe, I almost feel like those times are still here. We just mesh so well, it’s like no time had passed between us. I smile at her pilfering throughout old treasures and I feel so at peace, I feel warm and content; I feel as if nothing could really disrupt what we have together.
“Aw, gross!” Chloe shouts, tossing a bag of a baggy away full of something with hair on it. I reel from it, and Chloe makes an exaggerated face of disgust. “That was our candy hoard, I think.” I reel from it too, sticking out my tongue and faking a gag. Chloe seems to follow suit and then we both can’t help but laugh after we recover.
“Black licorice,” I begin, smiling at Chloe.
“Now-and-Laters!” she shouts.
“Toblerones!” before I can say my next candy, Chloe jumps in.
“Junior Mints!” we both shout at the same time, before we share a laugh. It really was like we were still kids, remembering out favorite candies, talking about boy bands. It was a great escape into nostalgia, into a better past without superpowers, without Dark Rooms or storms. I wanted to enjoy every second of it.
“This is hella awesome, Max.” Chloe says, her voice soft as she rummages through the treasure chest. “My brain is bursting with memories.” She smiles, picking up what looks like an old magazine. “Pffft. ‘Teen Beat’? Damn, can’t believe we ever read this.” Chloe shakes her head and puts the magazine back into the chest.
“You loved those old quizzes though.”
“How else was I supposed to know if my proper spring shade was ‘Blossom Pink’ or ‘Floral Red’?” Chloe said in a mock tone, and I snickered at her. I gave her a shrug, I actually did like those silly quizzes.
“Alright, Long Max Silver,” Chloe said, putting the lid on our treasure and beginning to stand, “Let’s head out. I’m starting to get hungry.” I rose alongside her and looked down at her free hand. Slowly, I move mine to grip hers, squeezing gently. Chloe looks down at me and smiles, returning my little hand hug. We breach the tree line and Chloe stops, looking out at the bench and horizon. I stop and look up at her, leaning in closer to her and that knocks her out of her stupor. She just smiles down at me before jerking her head towards the bench.
We walk over there, hands locked together, and when we reach the bench Chloe places down the shoebox treasure chest and lets my hand go. She walks a few steps forward and turns around.
“Do me a favor, Max?” she asked and I just nod at her, “Take our picture. I want to remember today.” She beams, and I can’t even imagine a world where’d I’d say ‘no’ to her.
I reach into my bag, pulling out my camera and Chloe walks over to me and places her arm around my shoulder, pulling me in close. I shiver at her contact, but I hold the camera up to take our picture. Before I can, Chloe grips the camera and takes it from me, raising it up higher.
“Gotta get my whole face, Max. It’s the best part, ya know?” I chuckle and look up, offering a smile as Chloe snaps the photo. She hands me the camera and as I put the photo and camera back into my bag and she puts her hands in her pockets. “Can I get a copy? When it’s all processed and junk?”
“Totally.” That causes Chloe to grin and she turns to start down the trail. I linger for a moment, my brows furrowed slightly. I jerk my head up and jog to catch up to Chloe.
“Hey, uhm-“ Chloe halts, turning to look down at me. “-can you do me a favor?” I say, my hands gripped around my messenger bag tightly. She turns to fully face me and nods.
“Of course, Max. Anything.” She says with more severity in her tone than I thought she’d have. I swallow and fidget with my shoulder strap. I look at my feet for a moment and exhale a breath.
“Can you,” I begin, tightening my lips, “Can we work on our, like,” I try and say, having trouble trying to cobble a diplomatic response when I put myself on the spot like this. I feel Chloe’s hand on my shoulder and I look up at her. Her gaze is sympathetic and I wilt a bit under it.
“On our junk?” she says, and I weakly nod, “Yeah.” She states, “If we want this to work, if it even starts, I gotta work on some stuff too.” A small shrug was her follow up and I placed my hand on hers. She looked at it momentarily, and then looked at me.
“I’m here for you. I’ll help you if I can.” That causes Chloe to smile. She claps my shoulder before turning and walking down the trail.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, Max.”
Twilight rays stream into my window and light up my room with a warm light. I should be soothed, comforted even. But, I’m still conflicted. Chloe’s not mad at me, we patched everything up and I feel like our relationship has grown stronger than ever. But. I can’t shake this anxiety. I made a promise to Chloe to work on my own junk, and here I am. Working on it. Kind of.
I couldn’t deny that I had feelings for Victoria and Chloe. But, I keep thinking it’s wrong. It doesn’t feel wrong, like, in my heart, but why am I so hung up on this? The best I can think of is, it’s just kind of taboo to have more than one partner. It’s a big Alpha fantasy, to have multiple Omegas at your beck and call, and that thought made me sick to my stomach. This isn’t like that though. I don’t think of Victoria or Chloe as trophies, or toys. They’re people. People who I love so much for just being themselves. Victoria is so smart, creative and she really engages me on such a level that inspires my creativity. And Chloe, what more could I say about my best friend? We’ve rekindled our friendship, we trust each other and we both are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. I love them both. And, I don’t think I can be happy without them both in my life.
But, would they feel the same way? Chloe was thinking about it, but, loving a dead person isn’t the same as loving a living person. I just don’t know and am too scared to even ask…
I’m holding my two newest photos in my hands, one in each hand. My eyes drift between both of them lazily. Victoria and I smiling with our messy bedheads nearly obscuring our eyes and Chloe and I grinning atop our lighthouse perch, windswept hair flying. I’m at once happy, and conflicted. Both of them make me so happy, two halves brought together to make me feel whole.
‘Oh, hey—‘ I think, noticing something I hadn’t before, ‘Just bring them together like this, and…’
I bring the photos together, obscuring myself in one of the photos and-
Although the lighting is slightly different between the two images, I can imagine, even for just a small moment that we’re all together. Two halves come together to make me feel whole. My smile stretches wide as I scan along the makeshift panorama. Victoria, Chloe, and me in the middle; all smiling, all happy. My guilt returns, I wouldn’t be selfish; I’d fought against the idea of being a ‘typical’ Alpha my whole life, I wouldn’t start now. It’s not like I’d ignore them for another, or have some kind of preference; I’d love them both equally. I’d have to choose one, though. Just, just one. No matter how much that thought broke my heart. I’d—I’d need to, to choose one. I—I-I haav—
I shake my head, my vision becoming more and more blurry and clouded. What was going on? I blink and look back down at the photos. The pictures, the images, they’re pulsing. No, wait, this was just like before, with Chloe and I’s childhood photo. I try and break my concentration, but the images are distorting so quickly, so suddenly. There’s a sharp pain in my head, like my skull was splitting at the seams. Hot blood gushes out of my nose and I feel my eyes rolling back into my head as the images violently shake, crack, distort, and shatter.
‘WHAT IS HAPPENING--?!’