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The sun had not quite appeared when Max had taken off from Seattle earlier that morning, but now—two hours or so later—it was fully above the horizon. She yawned; she was not normally an early riser. Some coffee later that morning would do her some good.

Pulling into the apartment complex, she found a parking spot that was reasonably close, then got out of the car, taking her duffel bag (a small one, but enough for one night) with her, and looked around. The apartments all looked the same, but she fortunately remembered the building and apartment number. Approaching the door, she held up her fist, preparing to knock.

The door opened before she had the chance to knock, and Max found herself staring into the face of a thin, beautiful blond woman of the same age as her, whose face lit up immediately.

"You made it!" said the blonde in a borderline squeal. She made a dramatically sweeping bow, gesturing toward the inside of her apartment. "Welcome back to the castle, my lady."

Max giggled as she entered. "Why thank you, my lord."

Taylor's apartment was anything but a castle, but Max was glad to see it nonetheless. She guessed it to be about five hundred square feet or so, with a single bedroom through which one had to walk in order to get to the single bathroom. To be fair, it was still twice as large (and probably a lot cheaper) than the studio apartment where Max had been living in Seattle at the time she and Taylor had first become reacquainted several months ago; at least Taylor didn't have to choose between having a bed or having a sofa.

Max had barely set her duffel bag down on the carpet when Taylor wrapped her arms tightly around her, nearly suffocating the brunette. Max returned the hug in equal measure, and they held that pose for a while.

A moment later, Taylor relaxed her grip and looked into Max's eyes. Saying nothing, Max put her right hand on the back of Taylor's head and pulling the blonde's face toward her own.

Their lips met, and time seemed to stand still for a moment. The contact started with lips against lips, then tongue against lips and teeth, and then finally tongue against tongue. Taylor rested her hands on the small of Max's back, as Max's left hand reached up and cupped Taylor's face.

When they finally separated, Max whispered, "I'm so glad to be here."

Taylor giggled. "I can tell. Have you had breakfast yet?"

"I grabbed something before I left," admitted Max. "I could use some coffee, though."

"Coming right up!"

They went around town for a bit that day, eating at their favorite diner; this was the same one where they had caught each other up on their old Blackwell classmates the first night they had become reacquainted with one another. Later they went to the park, the same one where Max had first revealed her time traveling powers to Taylor.

Later that evening, the two women laid on their sides, with Taylor spooning Max. They had changed into their sleep clothes—Max in her shorts and t-shirt, and Taylor in her nightshirt—and were both laughing throughout the episode playing on Taylor's laptop, which rested at the foot of her bed.

Eventually, the theme music by Nerf Herder started blasting over the closing credits for the fourth time that evening.

"And that's the end of that disc," said Taylor, getting up from the bed and ejecting the DVD from her laptop. "Want to watch another?"

"Uh, maybe one more, if I can stay awake. What's the next episode like?"

Taylor thought for a moment. "Let's see...we just watched 'Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered', so that would make the next episode 'Passion'. It's a great episode, but not the happiest one to go to bed on."

Max sat up. "Then let's call it quits for tonight. 'Surprise' and 'Innocence' were great, but dark enough; I'm just glad we had that last one to lighten things up a bit. I also thought 'Phases' was cool; I totally love Seth Green as Willow's werewolf boyfriend!"

Taylor beamed as she sat down on the bed facing Max. "It always makes me happy to bring another soul into the religion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer." She gave Max a quick peck on the forehead then looked at her. "I hate that you have to go back to Seattle tomorrow morning."

"Me too," Max groaned. "I wish I could have gotten out of the afternoon shift at the store."

"Well, at least we had today. Shall we go to bed now?"

Max glanced to one side. "...Yeah, I guess so."

The blond woman frowned. "Did you want to do something else first?"

"No. It's just...well, it's just that I..."

Taylor nodded patiently as Max struggled to find the words.

Finally: "Look, Tay, there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about."

"Um...okay. What's up?"

"What would you say that...you and I are?"

"...Not really understanding the question, Max."

"What I mean is...are we dating? Are we girlfriends? Friends with benefits?"

"'Friends with benefits' would imply that we're fucking. Which, last I checked, we aren't." The blonde grinned impishly. "Yet."

The brunette woman made a face. "Hey! Not having sex was your idea. You suggested we should take it slow, and I agreed! And you're not answering the question."

Taylor took a deep breath. "I guess I haven't really thought much about it. I don't oppose the idea of eventually becoming official girlfriends, but I'll need more time."

"...What makes it 'official', Taylor?"

"You know...telling others. Being exclusive. That sort of thing."

"Have you, um, seen anyone else lately?"

"A threesome a couple weeks ago with a married couple in their forties. It was actually more enjoyable than I expected. You?"

"Went on a couple dates. A guy from work, and a brother of a friend of mine. Neither ended up leading to anything."

When they had started dating, the two women had come to a rather odd arrangement. They had agreed that their relationship would be open until either of them wanted otherwise, at which point it would be decided whether to end the relationship or commit to becoming exclusive. They were allowed to see—even sleep with—other people, so long as they were safe about it, and honest with each other and the other people, and as long as there was no commitment to the other people; in short, as long as no one was cheating on anyone else. Many would consider it ironic that Taylor, who had had many flings and one night stands, didn't want to have sex with Max yet because, unlike with all her hookups since Blackwell, she actually cared for Max and had expressed fears that sex would make things all the more complicated and painful if the relationship ultimately didn't work out.

"So where's all this talk about making it 'official' coming from?" asked Taylor. "Is that what you're wanting now?"

It was now Max's turn to take a deep breath. "A month or two from now, my parents are taking me on a trip for a few days for my birthday. We're going to Port Angeles."

"Port Angeles...that's somewhere on the northern border of the state right?"

Max nodded. "It takes about three hours or so to get there from Seattle."

"That sounds like a lot of fun. I've never been to Port Angeles, but I've heard it's pretty cool."

"It is. My parents and I went there a few times before I came back to Arcadia Bay, but it's been a while now." She took another breath. "So...the reason I was asking about us is...if you're able to get the time off from work...would you want to join us for the trip?"

"Max...I don't...I mean..." stammered Taylor. "I'd...I'd love to, but don't you and your parents want to make this a family trip?"

Max smiled. "I appreciate how considerate you are, but it was actually their suggestion that I invite you along. Being that it's my birthday and all."

"You...told them about us?"

"Not much. Just that we knew each other from Blackwell then ran into each other a few months ago. Also that you work at a bar and that your mom was having medical issues during our time at Blackwell and that she has since passed away. I hope that was okay..."

"It's fine. I've never hidden it from anyone."

"Anyway," said Max, "Mom and Dad were getting concerned when I kept going out town for overnight trips but not for photography related reasons, since I left my camera equipment behind." She shrugged apologetically. "A little more difficult to hide since I moved back home, and I'm not very good at lying to them."

"So," replied Taylor, "as far as they know..."

"We're just really good friends," finished Max.

"...I see. What would they think? Of you and me, if we did make things official? How would they handle it?"

"You mean their only daughter dating another woman? It might take some getting used to, but they'd be okay with it. It's not like either of them are religious, and their political views are pretty left of center."

"...And what would they think of me?" asked Taylor.

Max smiled. "I think my parents would love you. That's part of what I'm hoping to get out of this trip. I'm hoping maybe it will help us decide where to take the relationship going forward. So what do you say?"

"Well...I'd love to go. I'll have to check with my manager and coworkers at the bar but I think I can trade some shifts around to make it work if I have to; I should still have some unused vacation time as well. The earlier the notice, the better, so I'll need the exact dates as soon as possible."

"Totally. Do you have a passport?"

"I'll have to look for it. I renewed it during my brief time in college, so it should still be current."

"Good. You'll want to bring it with you."

Taylor smiled. "Sure thing."

A few minutes later, they had crawled under the blankets. They kissed one more time.

"Good night, Tay Tay," said Max.

"Nighty night, sweet Max," said Taylor. Then she reached over and turned off the bedside lamp.

Chapter Text

Several weeks later

Taylor arrived at the Caulfield household the night before the trip. She had taken off straight from her work, having put her packed suitcase in her car earlier that day. She was still employed at the bar where, several months ago and purely by chance, she and Max had run into each other for the first time since Blackwell, an encounter which had led to something far greater.

Max had previously lived in a studio apartment, a holdover from when she had previously worked on the marketing team for a major retailer. After being caught in a mass layoff, she had started her own photography company, Blue Morpho Seattle Photography, LLC, and had still been attempting to make a living off of it at the time of her chance encounter with Taylor. She had ultimately not been successful, even while working a part time job stocking shelves at a store to help with expenses. While the LLC still officially existed, and she still did occasional gigs, she had finally opted to move out of the studio apartment and back into her parents' place—on condition she help with chores and pay a small monthly rent, of course. She had also upgraded to a full time position at the store.

As it was rather late when Taylor finally arrived, Ryan and Vanessa Caulfield did not have much chance to get to know her yet. They laid out a sleeping bag on the floor in Max's room—Max only had a twin bed—but the sleeping bag was, of course, unnecessary.

Not that Max or Taylor bothered to mention this to Max's parents, of course.


"Are you girls doing okay back there?" asked Vanessa the next morning, glancing back at the two younger women from the front passenger seat. "Need me to lower the air conditioning?"

"We're good, Mrs. Caulfield," said Taylor. "Thanks!"

Ryan was driving the minivan. It was rented, of course—there were only three people living in the Caulfield residence, and two cars between them—but it had been Ryan's idea to rent a minivan, to make the drive a lot more comfortable for everyone, a decision for which everyone else was grateful.

"So, Taylor," began Vanessa, "Max says the two of you went to Blackwell together?"

"Yes, ma'am. We didn't know each other that well back then, but we had a few classes together."

"I see. Are you into photography, too?"

"And modeling."

"Oh? Have you gotten to do much with those?"

Taylor shook her head. "I follow them a lot online, and I go to the library sometimes to read the magazines, but haven't had much chance to actually do either in a long time though. Work and stuff."

"I understand that. Had you lived in Arcadia Bay for a long time?"

Taylor nodded. "My mom was a teacher there. In the public schools, though, not at Blackwell."

"Really? I taught public there myself for a while. What was her name?"

"Helen Christensen."

"Wait...Helen Christensen...did she teach English at Arcadia Bay High School by chance?"

"Um, yes she did. Did you know her?"

"Not that well, I'll admit, but I did see her in the teacher's lounge a lot during lunch and after school. Very sweet lady. Now that I think about it, I remember her talking about her daughter. She thought the world of you." Vanessa turned and looked back at the blonde. "I, uh, ran into a former coworker from ABHS a year or two back and he told me what happened. I'm so sorry for your loss."

Taylor gave a sad smile. "I appreciate that, Mrs. Caulfield."

No one spoke for a few minutes afterward.

This time, it was Ryan who broke the silence. "So, Taylor...Max says you work as a bartender?" Max could see his eyes and bearded face peering at her and the blonde from the rear view mirror.

"Yep, for a couple years now," said Taylor.

"What sort of place is it?" he asked. "Hotel, sports, Irish pub?"

"Um, dive, I guess," said Taylor. "It's not the fanciest. Jukebox in the corner, old wooden stools. To be honest, the clientele's not the best either."

Ryan snorted. "Sounds a lot like where I tended bar back in the day."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yep. Helped pay my way through grad school. A lot of the patrons were college kids. Frat boys and sorority girls and the like. So, so many rum and cokes, Long Island iced teas, and Budweisers."

Taylor nodded. "A lot of those orders at my place as well. White Russians, too."

Ryan thought for a moment. "Let's see...shot of coffee flavored liqueur, shot of vodka, add cream or milk?"

"That's right."

"You ever had a Colorado Bulldog?"

"Same as a White Russian, but add Coca Cola as well as cream?"

"More or less."

"Good drink. You should try a Liquid Marijuana sometime."

Max blushed as she saw Ryan raise one eyebrow at them through the rearview mirror.

"Liquid...Marijuana?"

Taylor giggled. "It's not what it sounds like, Mr. Caulfield. Basically, you take half a shot each of coconut rum, spiced rum, melon liqueur, and blue curacao, a splash of sweet and sour mix, fill up with pineapple juice."

"Not sure I care for the name, but that sounds...pretty delicious, actually,"replied Ryan. "I'll have to try one of those at some point."

Max smiled as her dad and her hopefully soon-to-be girlfriend continued to exchange drink recipes. The trip was off to a great start.


A few hours later, they had settled into the house Max's parents had rented through Airbnb. It included two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and dining area, and a washer and dryer. Additionally, it came with a TV, stereo system, and Wi-Fi. Ryan and Vanessa let the younger women have the master bedroom, as it had the larger bed (a king-size), and soon the drawers of the dresser were filled with their clothes and the top covered in keys, wallets, toiletries and various other items.

After having a lunch consisting of sandwiches the Caulfields had packed before the trip, everyone piled back into the minivan, this time taking off for Hurricane Ridge, an area in Olympic National Park that was about a forty minute drive away. Vanessa drove this time.

It was sunny that day, but thankfully not too hot. The two young women had both switched into t-shirts and denim shorts, and Taylor sported sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Max would have been lying if she had said the blonde didn't look really fucking cute in that combination.

Vanessa parked the minivan at the visitors center. After going inside briefly to have a look at the gift shop and exhibits, they then set out on the nearby hiking trail. As they worked their way up the hill, they came across a resting point with a bench. Ryan and Vanessa chose to go on toward the top, but Max and Taylor took a break.

"Meant to tell you," said Max. "My parents are glad to have you here and all, but they were hoping they might have a chance for me to have dinner with them. Just me and them...a family-only birthday celebration. It'd be the only time during the entire trip, I promise. They were thinking tomorrow night; would that be alright with you?"

"Sure," replied Taylor.

"I don't want to be a neglectful host..."

"Max, I'm a big girl; it won't kill me to have a couple hours of me time. I'll go hit up the night scene in the downtown area or something." The blonde adjusted her hat. "Actually, I did some reading up on events going on in Port Angeles during our time here. There's a special photography exhibit tomorrow night at an art gallery, on tour from out of town. I may go check that out."

"Sounds good; let me know how it is. And thanks, Tay."

As they sat on the bench, they looked around at the forests and hills stretched out below them as well as the distant mountains.

"Jesus, it's beautiful out here," said Taylor.

"The postcards don't do it justice," Max agreed.

"Some of the people may not be all that great," said Taylor. "But I do love living in the Pacific Northwest. I feel like too many take it for granted. Even me at times." She turned toward Max. "Thank you for inviting me out on this trip. It has been exactly what I needed." She put her arms around Max, hugging her tightly.

"Shall we continue, my queen?" asked Max a moment later.

Taylor smiled. "Yeah."

On their way toward the top of the hill, they passed Max's parents returning.

Finally, they made it, and Taylor pulled out her phone. "Let's get a picture together. Excuse me, sir? Ma'am?"

A couple around their late twenties/early thirties who had just started on their way back from the top turned to look at her. One was a black man who was tall and lean with a well-trimmed beard and hair; he wore a white tank top and blue athletic shorts. The other was a short redheaded woman who wore jeans and a plaid shirt.

"Can you get our picture?" asked Taylor, holding out her phone.

The man smiled and took the phone. "Certainly, ma'am."

"Can you see about getting the forests and mountains in the picture behind us?" asked Max.

"Sure." He held up the phone, and Max and Taylor leaned in close together. "On the count of three; one...two..."

Right before he said "three", Taylor turned and kissed Max on the cheek. The surprised brunette felt herself growing warm.

A moment later, the man and his wife looked at the picture that had just been taken, and started laughing. "Oh, that is cute!" said the wife. Taylor got her phone back, and she and Max looked at the picture.

The background was absolutely gorgeous...acres upon acres of forests, hills, and mountains. The foreground was a different story (or so Max believed). The camera had captured the moment of the kiss; Max's face in the picture was the comical expression of someone who seemed to be trying to balance amusement and surprise while still trying to smile for the camera. She wasn't sure, but she thought she could see the beginnings of blushing in the picture as well.

"Oh, Taylor, I look awful in that! Let's take another one!"

"Are you kidding?" Taylor closed the picture app. "I'm printing that one out and framing it!" She leaned over and whispered in Max's ear. "And don't even think of rewinding that one."

Max, Taylor, Ryan, and Vanessa returned to Port Angeles in time for dinner; on the way, they stopped for groceries, and Ryan made tacos back at the Airbnb house. Afterward, they decided to stay in for the evening; everyone was too worn out from all the hiking and driving that day. They could go see the Port Angeles downtown tomorrow. As the sun set, all four of them sat out in lawn chairs on the back porch, sipping wine and talking. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

As Max and Taylor snuggled up in their king-size bed that night, neither had any idea of what was to go wrong the next day.

Chapter Text

The downtown area of Port Angeles—near the harbor—was only a couple miles away from where Max and her parents and Taylor were staying, so they all drove there the next morning. Buying muffins and coffee from a stand, they took a walk on the trail that ran adjacent to the beach in the pier area. They could see cruise ships coming and going in the harbor, as well as the ferry that made approximately three round trips (give or take, depending on the time of year) every day.

Due to how tiring yesterday had been, it was decided that they would stay around town that day. At Vanessa's suggestion, she and Ryan parted ways with the younger women, joking that "the kids don't need Mom and Dad following them around everywhere." It was a mile or two back to the Airbnb house—not exactly a convenient distance, but certainly close enough that Max and Taylor could walk.

The blonde and the brunette continued to explore the downtown and harbor area. They spent a while in a local bookstore where Max bought a fantasy novel that someone had recently recommended her (Nevernight by Jay Kristoff). They walked out on the Ediz Hook, a three mile long sand spit that extended out from the shore; if one looked it up on Google Maps, it did indeed look like a long, thin hook. For lunch, they stopped at a local restaurant that specialized in crepes. They split two—a chicken pesto one from the lunch menu, and a blueberry and brown sugar one for desert. Afterward they walked back to the Airbnb house. They showered and then relaxed in the living room, turning on the TV for a while—as it turned out, cable was provided; daytime television admittedly did not make for the most compelling viewing, however.

Eventually, it was time for Max's birthday dinner with her parents. Taylor changed into a pair of black denim shorts (ones that came up really high on her legs), a white shirt, black boots, and a blue denim jacket. While Ryan and Vanessa prepared dinner, Max, at her own insistence, drove Taylor to the downtown area to see her off.

"Don't hesitate to call if you need me to come get you!" said Max.

Taylor rolled her eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "Sure thing, mom."

The first place Taylor went was a tavern the two women had spotted earlier that day. It had a hunting lodge décor to it—wood-covered walls and floors, mounted deer heads, and employees that wore plaid shirts. She sat at the bar, ordering one of the local craft beers—a double IPA. As she sipped it, she took out her phone and browsed online; this place thankfully had the the network and password for the customer wifi listed on a sign behind the bar.

A while later, a young woman with long, curly, strawberry blond hair—Taylor would have guessed her to be around college age or so—approached the bar.

"Excuse me, Mr. Bartender, sir?" asked the curly-haired woman in a rather shrill voice. "Do you have anything with cranberry juice in it? I don't see any on the menu."

The bartender, a young man with platinum blond hair tied back in a ponytail who appeared to be around the same age as the curly-haired woman and whose experience in bartending seemed to match his age, blinked. "We, um, have cranberry juice here. Are you wanting that?"

"Yeah, but like with other stuff in it."

"So...a mixed drink?"

"Sure. What do you have?"

"Er...depends on your taste. Is there a particular recipe you're wanting?"

The curly-haired woman shrugged. "I don't know any recipes. What's something that people like?"

"I'll, uh, have to look some up."

The curly-haired woman's voice grew even more shrill. "Look them up? You're a fucking bartender, how do you not know any fucking recipes?"

"Redheaded slut," blurted out Taylor, looking up from her phone.

Two different faces with two different expressions both turned to stare at her: the bartender with one of confusion, and the curly-haired woman with one of indignation.

The curly-haired woman's somehow grew even more shrill. "...Excuse me?"

"Redheaded slut," repeated Taylor. "Take one part Jägermeister, one part peach schnapps, add to a glass of ice, fill up with cranberry juice, stir. Alternatively, you could have a sea breeze, which uses vodka, cranberry juice, and grapefruit juice. Or a sex on the beach—vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, and cranberry juice. It's all a matter of personal taste."

The curly-haired woman said nothing for a moment, then turned back to the bartender. "I'll have the redheaded slut."

A moment later, the bartender handed the curly-haired woman her drink. She took a sip.

"Mmm, not bad." She turned and walked back to her table, and the situation was defused.

The bartender looked at Taylor, hands clasped in front of him in a gesture of gratitude. "Thank you. It's my first week here, and the lady who's been training me is out sick today."

Taylor waved him off. "Don't mention it; I've been there before. And I didn't feel like listening to that fucking annoying voice of hers for a second longer than I had to."

"Damn, Taylor," said another woman's voice to the blonde's right. "I can see why you chose bartender as your occupation."

Taylor turned and saw a smiling woman with green eyes and blond hair—much shorter than Taylor's hair however—sitting at the bar a couple seats down. She wore a rather expensive-looking dress...a dark red with thin straps holding it on her shoulders, a plunging neckline, and a slit on the left side that ran up high on her leg.

Taylor's mouth dropped open and eyes grew wide. "Holy shit...Victoria?!"

Victoria eased off of her bar stool and walked up to Taylor then squeezed her from the side in a rather tight hug. Taylor was neither expecting nor really desiring the hug, so she initially froze before finally reaching up and giving Victoria a couple pats on the shoulder. She was surprised to feel her hand meeting bare flesh; the dress was backless as well.

Not a bad perfume V's wearing, she thought. Vanilla with a couple other things mixed in.

Victoria finally released her former best friend. "Oh my god, how long has it been?"

"Since...high school graduation, I guess. I don't even want to try to do the math on that one."

Victoria smiled. "Well, we're here now."

Taylor looked down. "You're a bit overdressed for this place, aren't you?"

"I'm here to promote the Chase Space gallery—that's the one my parents own in Seattle, as I'm sure you remember—with an exhibit going on for a few days; it's at the art gallery a couple doors down from here. Thought I'd stop in for a drink after finishing up for the night. What brings you to Port Angeles?"

"I'm...on vacation. With a friend of mine."

"Oh yeah?" Victoria looked around. "Are they here with you right now?"

"No, she, uh, had some things to take care of. I came here to see some of the downtown."

"I see. Have you had dinner yet?"

"Um, no, actually."

Victoria grinned. "If you have time...since I'm done with the exhibit for the day...I'm thinking we go to my hotel. They have an onsite seafood place that does room service. What do you say?"

The longer-haired blonde opened and closed her mouth as she worked to formulate a response.

"C'mon!" said Victoria. "It'll be fun. We'll reminisce and catch up. My treat."

Taylor regretted her words even as she said them. "Sure. That does sound like fun."


Later that night

Max tried to continue her book (based on the few chapters she had read earlier that day, Nevernight was really good so far) but couldn't due to her anxiety over Taylor. The blonde should have arrived back a while ago. At least she'd had the decency to send a text letting Max know that she was going to be a little later getting back than planned; unfortunately she had not provided any details as to why. Max had replied back "OK" but had not texted any further as she didn't want to seem overbearing.

Finally, Max sighed and put the book down. Pulling out her phone, she pulled up her text conversation with Taylor and texted "Hey u ok?"

A few minutes passed as Max paced anxiously about her and Taylor's room. Finally, her phone chirped.

Taylor: "Im out back"

Max: "Behind the house?"

Taylor: "Yeah"

Walking out of the bedroom, Max quietly crept toward the back of the house; her parents had gone to bed earlier. She slowly opened the back door and then crept out onto the patio.

"Taylor?" Max said quietly, turning on her phone's flashlight. Turning to her right, the light revealed a pair of tanned legs and black boots resting on one of the large wooden reclining chairs. She moved the light further up, revealing a black pair of denim shorts and a white shirt.

The shirt had red stains on the front of it. Is that...blood?

"T-Taylor? Are you o-okay?" Max moved the light further up, revealing disheveled blond hair and a blotchy face, with mascara streaks running from the eyes. Taylor squinted and held up her hand to shield herself from the light. Turning off the camera light, Max reached back inside the house and flipped on the back patio light then closed the back door behind her as she approached Taylor.

"Taylor, what's wrong? What happened?"

The blonde slowly turned toward her and whispered to her hoarsely. "Max...I've made a terrible mistake."

Chapter Text

"Wait, Victoria Chase is here?" said Max. "In Port Angeles?"

Taylor nodded, wiping at her eyes. "Yeah. Like I said, it turned out her gallery was part of that special photography exhibit I mentioned to you yesterday."

"And you went with her to her hotel room?"

"Yeah."

"I thought you told me you two weren't speaking anymore."

"We weren't."

Taylor had told Max several months ago—the morning after their chance encounter—that she had grown distant from Victoria after realizing that Victoria was too toxic of a person to be around. The final straw had happened when Taylor had revealed to her now former best friend that she had accepted an offer to go to a different college from her. Since then, they had hardly spoken (until tonight, that is), and any news of Victoria was filtered through Courtney Wagner, who worked for Victoria as both her assistant and as the supervisor of the fashion exhibits, and with whom Taylor had kept in communication via text. The blonde had neither been sure nor cared what, if anything, Courtney relayed to Victoria about her.

"Okay," said Max. "So what happened next?"


 

"Mm, that hit the spot!" Victoria wiped her mouth with her napkin and pushed her plate toward the center of the table, where it joined the remainder of the salmon and crabcakes they had divided between them.

"It was really good," said Taylor, smiling as she took another sip from the red wine Victoria had ordered with the meal. Music from Victoria's phone played through a Bluetooth speaker resting on top of the dresser; the short-haired woman had chosen an eclectic mix of music from different genres and eras ranging from classical to fifties-era oldies to modern day pop. They were largely songs of the slower, calming variety.

Taylor had no doubt that the room wasn't cheap, but she found it to be surprisingly modest for Victoria. It only had one queen-sized bed, as well as a single sofa chair big enough for one large person. To be fair, as it was for a business trip, the room was probably being paid for by Mr. and Mrs. Chase—or technically, by the Chase Space—and they probably had not felt like splurging on the fanciest suite solely for one person, even if that one person was their daughter. The room did, however, have one great luxury: a breathtaking view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which could be seen through the currently open balcony doors. Taylor remembered seeing the the hotel the morning after she and Max and the latter's parents had arrived in Port Angeles, as the trail running parallel to the beach ran in front of the hotel.

They had caught up a bit, though neither offered up any news that was particularly new to the other, thanks to their former classmate Courtney being their longtime middleman. They had certainly been estranged for years, but perhaps that was all water under the bridge now. The topic of Maxine Caulfield had thankfully not come up in the conversation; while Taylor was not ashamed of her relationship with Max per se, she did not feel like answering the barrage of questions that would inevitably follow if Victoria learned about it.

Victoria stood and walked over to the dresser, opening one of the drawers. "Peppermint?" she asked.

"Sure."

The short-haired woman tossed a piece to the longer-haired woman before unwrapping one for herself. Right then, the song that had been playing at that moment—"Piano Sonata No. 14" by Beethoven—ended and transitioned to the 1984 single "Time After Time".

Victoria's eyes grew wide as she sucked on the peppermint. "Oh my god, I forgot I had this on my phone! This brings back so many memories!" Walking back over to Taylor, she took her by the hand and pulled her up from her seat at the table. "C'mon, Sweet-T, it's our song! It's a rumba, if I remember!"

Taylor tried unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. "V...it's been like nearly a decade since that ballroom class at Blackwell, and I'm pretty rusty."

"That's okay, I'll take the lead. I started up lessons again a few years back. Just this one song, pleeaaase?" Victoria batted her eyelashes.

Taylor's grin deepened. "Sure."

As Cyndi Lauper's vocals floated through the room, Victoria assumed the lead position (traditionally the man's in ballroom dancing), taking Taylor's right hand into her left and placing her right hand on the longer-haired woman's left shoulder, while Taylor placed her left hand on Victoria's right shoulder such that her left arm gently rested on top of Victoria's right. If Taylor remembered her dance terminology correctly, this was called the closed position.

"So, as you may or may not remember, the rhythm is slow quick quick, slow quick quick." Victoria said slow in a drawn out matter. "Each slow is two beats and each quick is one."

They started off with Victoria leading the basic box step, where she would step forward on her left foot (for Taylor, this meant stepping back on her right) on slow, step to the side with her right on the first quick, and then close her left to her right on the second quick. Then she would repeat the steps but in the reverse directions, placing her and Taylor approximately back at where they started; hence why it was called a box step.

They danced in place for a moment, slowly rotating counterclockwise as they did so, before Victoria began adding in some other steps, starting with a cross body lead, then later an open break accompanied by an underarm turn, and then a fifth position break. Taylor would have been lying if she had said that she wasn't loving the moment. Victoria wasn't a bad lead, and while it had been a while since Taylor had danced, she hadn't forgotten how to follow. In the closing seconds of the song, Victoria lowered Taylor into a dip, leaning the longer-haired woman back so that her torso was nearly parallel to the ground and her long hair nearly touched the carpet. This elicited a shriek of laughter from Taylor.

"Wow, that was actually really fun!" said Taylor as Victoria brought her back up into standing position. "I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed ballroom."

Victoria moved behind Taylor and placed her hands on the other woman's shoulders. "I'm so glad we ran into each other tonight. It's such a shame we lost contact." Then, slowly, gently, she began massaging the longer-haired woman's back and shoulders.

"Oooh," moaned Taylor after quickly getting over her initial surprise. "Oh wow, that feels good. I guess I'd also forgotten how much I enjoyed your back rubs."

Victoria smiled. "Good to know I haven't lost my touch."

The massage grew more vigorous.

Taylor closed her eyes in ecstasy. "Oh...oh yeah, like that. A little lower...ooh!" She could feel Victoria's breath on her.

"I don't think I realized just how much I missed this...us...until now," whispered Victoria. Then she gently placed her lips on the back of Taylor's neck.

"Victoria," said Taylor slowly as she turned toward her, "I..."

The sentence went unfinished as their lips met.


 

Max was incredulous. "Wait...you and Victoria had just barely reunited for the first time in years, and you kissed?!"

"It gets more insane," regretted Taylor.


 

The kiss lasted a few seconds, with Victoria even slipping her tongue between Taylor's lips once or twice, before the longer-haired woman pulled back.

"Wait, Victoria...what...what are we doing?"

"What does it look like we're doing?" She leaned forward but Taylor pulled back again.

"Just...wait a moment, V! Where is this coming from? For...for either of us?"

Victoria looked at Taylor, her hands on the longer-haired woman's shoulders. "C'mon, Sweet-T, you can't tell me you don't want this. We might not have been willing to acknowledge it back at Blackwell, but there's always been something between us...you know it." She leaned forward to whisper in Taylor's ear. "You think I didn't notice those glances you used to give me in the girls' locker room? Or how you would linger whenever we hugged?"

Taylor grew red. "V...I don't...I didn't..."

"Shh...it's okay. Most girls wouldn't like it, but I didn't mind...not when it was you. I actually loved it; it made me feel wanted, and beautiful. And don't forget the time we kissed."

Taylor recalled the incident; it had happened at one of the many Vortex Club parties they had attended at Blackwell. They had both drinking alcohol and smoking pot that night. She had told Max about it several months ago during a game of Truth or Dare.

"As I recall," said Taylor slowly. "You were the one who kissed me. And it never led anywhere. You never even brought it up again after that night. Until now."

"As recall, you didn't raise any objections; we even made out for a few minutes. As for it leading nowhere...well, now's the time to make up for that." She grasped Taylor's hands. "You can't tell me you weren't thinking of me at least a little bit whenever you were with Logan, or Steph, or Hayden..."

Taylor blinked. "Wait, what?"

Victoria cocked her head. "I said you were thinking of me when—"

"You mentioned Steph."

Victoria shrugged. "Yeah. You two dated for a while, didn't you?"

"Um, yeah, for several months actually during junior year before we broke up. You never said anything..."

"I figured if you wanted to talk about it, you would have talked about it...Was I wrong?"

Taylor processed Victoria's words. "No...no, it's okay. I'm just a little surprised is all. How did you know?"

"One of our classmates told me."

"Who?" asked Taylor. "I know I never told you—I never told anyone back then—and while Steph had her flaws, not being able to keep a secret wasn't one of them."

"It was...what was her name...Sarah Johnson, I think. Dyed orange hair, often guarded the entrance to the VIP section at the Blackwell parties, remember?"

"I...see. And did she by chance tell you how she found out?"

Victoria pursed her lips. "Well...if I remember correctly, she said she heard the two of you talking behind the Blackwell dormitory. She was outside taking some photos for a class assignment, and overheard voices, and...well, she came straight to me about it; she was always a bit of a suck-up, and thought she could get in good with me if she gave me some juicy gossip about my best friend."

"...And what did you do?"

"I told her to mind her own business, and that if she ever brought it up again to me or to anyone else, I'd have her kicked out of the Vortex Club. It wasn't anyone else's business who you dated."

A pause as Taylor looked at Victoria, attempting to discern the truth of what she was saying. Behind the Blackwell dormitory? She and Steph had gone there at least a few times, so it was certainly possible.

Finally, Taylor said, "Okay. That makes sense, I guess. Sorry for getting us sidetracked."

"It's okay. Are you...seeing someone now?" asked Victoria.

"I am..."

Victoria dropped Taylor's hands. "Ah, I see. Sorry, I didn't know."

"No, it's okay, it's...it's not exclusive," admitted Taylor.

"Then what's the problem?" asked Victoria. "Look, if you're not comfortable doing this...I'll drop it right now and we'll never speak of it again. But I'm not asking for a relationship—more like friends with benefits. Or even just a one night stand. At the very least, we can get it out of our systems...so what do you say?"

A long pause. Taylor dropped her eyes to the ground, as she contemplated Victoria's offer.

Finally, Victoria turned away, sighing. "It's okay, Taylor, we can talk about something else—" She was silenced as Taylor grabbed her arm, pulling her back so that they once again faced each other. Then, Taylor reached up and placed her hands behind Victoria's head, pulling it toward her own, and for the second time that hour, this time in a far more intense manner, they kissed.

Chapter Text

"I don't want to hear anymore of this," said Max.

"You're mad?" asked Taylor.

"To be honest...yeah, I am kinda mad!"

"I guess I can't blame you. But I'm not finished." Taylor held up her hand just as Max opened her mouth again. "Please, Max. Just hear me out."

Max closed her mouth. After a moment's pause, she slowly nodded and then gestured for the blonde to continue.


Earlier that night

Wearing her most devilish smile, Victoria took Taylor by the hand and led her to the bed, where Taylor sat up against the headboard as Victoria pulled off her boots. Then, stepping back from the bed, Victoria removed her own shoes (white open-toed flats). Hiking up her dress slightly—the same dress she had been wearing when she and Taylor had run into one another earlier that evening—she reached up through the slit which ran up high on the left side. A quick tugging motion followed, and a moment later, she stepped out of the black pair of Victoria's Secret (aptly named, Taylor would think later) panties which had appeared around her ankles.

Returning to the bed, Victoria hiked up her dress again and straddled Taylor, sitting on her lap while facing her. The strap had fallen off of her left shoulder, and Taylor could see the top of a pink areola peeking out from the top of her dress.

After easing Taylor out of her denim jacket, Victoria tugged the strap down off of her own right shoulder then pulled the dress entirely down to her waist, allowing Taylor to see the short-haired woman's small breasts in all their glory. Then Victoria grasped Taylor's hands and placed them on her thighs before easing them up higher on her legs. Taylor took the hint and continued to move her hands that direction, until they crept under the folds of the dress and soon were resting on Victoria's ass.

It was at this point that a rather vivid memory—the first but certainly not the last of that hour—suddenly flooded Taylor's mind.


It's a cloudy Autumn day during junior year, and Taylor can no longer hold back. Excusing herself from her group of fellow Vortex Club members, she walks hurriedly to the other side of the Blackwell campus, before resting against a tree. Then she bursts into tears.

"Is...is everything alright?" asks a voice from in front of her.

The blonde looks up sharply and sees her: auburn hair, blue eyes, slightly dark complexion. Sneakers, jeans, a red Arcadia Bay t-shirt, and a white beanie with a small yellow and orange flame sewn onto it. Across from her sits a thin black boy with large-rimmed glasses. Taylor recognizes him as the little brother of a former Blackwell football player, though perhaps "little" isn't so accurate anymore; he has grown a few inches in the past year. Of course those two geeks would be here. They're always here. Playing Dungeons & Dragons or whatever it is that geeks like them play.

"Yeah," chokes out Taylor. "Everything is alright...I just like to...to stand around...crying for fun...you know?"

The wincing auburn-haired girl winces. "...That was pretty stupid of me to ask, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, it really was!" snaps Taylor, still sobbing.

The auburn-haired girl looks across the table at the black boy, who only shrugs. Then, looking at Taylor again, she holds up her hands, palms facing outward. "...Sorry."

Taylor sniffles. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry," sniffles Taylor. "I shouldn't take it out on you."

"...Do you want to talk about it?" The auburn-haired girl pats the part of the bench right next to her. "Why don't you sit down for a bit?"

"I...I don't want to interrupt your game," says Taylor; the sobs seem to have started subsiding at least a little .

The auburn-haired girl looks down at the character sheets, manuals, models, and various other tabletop RPG paraphernalia scattered about the picnic table. "This? Don't worry about it. Mikey and I can play anytime. Speaking of which...Mikey? To be continued?"

Mikey nods. "See ya around." He slides off of his bench and then walks away.

"You...you didn't have to do that," says Taylor a moment later, now sitting at the table next to the auburn-haired girl, still weeping.

"I figured it would be more comfortable for everyone if it was just us girls for now. Mikey understands. Now tell me...what's wrong?"

"It's...it's my mom," blubbers Taylor. "She...she's been having back pain for a few months now. Really bad some days...like, a couple times she couldn't even get out of bed without my help. She had an appointment with her doctor—her regular one. He gave her a couple prescriptions...pain killers, muscle relaxers, that sort of thing. They helped but the pain still didn't go away. He referred her to a specialist who had some tests done. Mom just got her test results back yesterday...oh god, it's fucking terrible. The specialist thinks it can be beat, but, like, it's not for sure, and she's in so much pain right now. She's going to have to use up all her sick time from the school where she teaches, and—I'm sorry!" She turns and buries her face into the shoulder of the auburn-haired girl, who consoles Taylor, patting her on the back as the blond girl bawls.

A few moments later, Taylor says, "I feel a little better now. Thank you. Sorry about your shirt." She gestures to the wet spot on the auburn-haired girl's shoulder. She notices for the first time the necklace she's wearing as well; it has a dragon symbol on it.

The auburn-haired girl smiles. "Don't worry about it. Look, class is about to start. Are you gonna be okay for now?"

Taylor nods.

"Cool. Glad I could help; feel free to talk to me again if you want. You should hang out with me and Mikey sometime."

Taylor wipes her face with one sleeve. "That's sweet of you...but we don't even know each other. I mean, I know your name and I'm sure you know mine, but we've never talked before now."

"Well, maybe we can change that. Let's start by introducing ourselves."

Taylor nods again and holds out her hand. "Taylor Christensen."

The auburn hair girl takes Taylor's hand and shakes it as blue eyes meet blue eyes. "Steph Gingrich."


"Where'd you go, Sweet-T?"

Taylor looked up at Victoria. "Huh?"

"You just suddenly froze. Is everything alright?"

Taylor looked down. Victoria was still sitting in Taylor's lap facing her, and Taylor's hands were still on Victoria's ass. "Yeah. Yeah, sorry, just spaced out for a minute there." Where had that flashback come from? Why was she thinking of Steph at a moment like this? Sure, the topic had briefly come up in conversation earlier that evening, but still...

"Okay, then," said Victoria. Leaning forward, she gave Taylor another kiss, filling the longer-haired woman's mouth with her tongue. Pulling back, she took Taylor's hands into her own and eased them up onto her breasts. Taylor absentmindedly grazed one nipple with her thumb, eliciting a soft moan from the short-haired woman.


Taylor and Steph sit on the bench near the lighthouse overlooking Arcadia Bay. While she knows in her head that it's scientifically impossible, Taylor believes in her heart that Steph's smile could light up the darkest place on Earth at midnight during a new moon. She reaches out and grasps the auburn-haired girl's hand as they watch the sunset.

"It's so beautiful here," says Steph, turning toward Taylor. "I can't believe I've never been out here my entire time in Arcadia Bay—"

She is cut off as Taylor kisses her; the kiss is a very brief one that catches the corner of Steph's mouth. The auburn-haired girl raises one eyebrow questioningly at Taylor as the blonde pulls back.

"I—I'm sorry," stammers Taylor, who starts feeling her cheeks burn.

"What for?" whispers Steph.

"...Wait, does that mean what I think" This time it's Taylor's turn to be cut off as Steph returns the kiss, this time a little longer and with better aim.


"Seriously, what's going on?" asked Victoria. Taylor had let her hands drift down to the bed.

Taylor shook her head, as if trying to shake the memories out. "I—I don't know. It's not you." She was not entirely certain this was the truth. "I guess I've just had a lot of stuff going on lately. You remember my anxiety issues, right?"

Victoria nodded. "I do. Hmm...you do seem really tense right now. Tell you what...why don't you lay back and let me take the wheel for a while? I don't mind."

"...Sure."

Victoria got off of Taylor and out of bed. As Taylor scooted forward until her head was resting against the pillows, Victoria turned her back to Taylor. Dropping her dress to the floor, Victoria—now without a stitch—looked back over her shoulder and winked at Taylor.

Returning to the bed, Victoria sat next to Taylor, and proceeded to pull up Taylor's white shirt until it came over her head; the blonde cooperated by holding up her arms, and she was soon left in her pink bra. Victoria kissed Taylor on the lips, then on the neck, before proceeding down her chest.


Bing Crosby softly croons "Silent Night" over the stereo system. A large tree, decorated with ornaments, tinsel, and colored lights and topped by a gold-colored star, resides in the far corner of the room.

Taylor rests her head on Steph's shoulder. They lie on the floor of the living room in front of the fire, wrapped in blankets.

"You're leaving tomorrow morning, right?" asks Steph, gently running her fingers through Taylor's hair.

"I don't want to go," replies Taylor.

"Taylor...I know it sucks that the medical center your mom is staying at is out of town, but you have to go, she needs you, and—"

"I will go, don't worry. I know I have to, and I know she needs me, and I know it'll be good for both her and me, and I know that I'll regret it if I don't, but still...I want to stay here. Not just in Arcadia Bay. Here in this room in front of this fire in these blankets with you. No time passing at all, no world outside. Just you and us in this room forever and ever."

The auburn-haired girl smiles. "Me too." She leans down and kisses the top of the blonde's head.

A moment later, Taylor sits up and looks at Steph. "How long until your parents get home?"

"A few hours at least."

Taylor grins mischievously. "Well, guess we'd better enjoy the time we do have."

Their giggling carries softly through the room as they disappear under the blankets.


Victoria was now kissing Taylor's stomach, her hands tugging at the longer-haired woman's belt. After successfully undoing the belt, she unbuttoned and then began unzipping the black denim shorts.


Max and Taylor sit side by side on the edge of Taylor's bed. Taylor is naked, while Max is clad only in her sleeping shorts. The brunette's t-shirt and the blonde's nightshirt both lie rumpled on the carpet. Tears are running down Taylor's face.

"Oh my god, Taylor! I'm sorry, I didn't—I didn't mean to—"

"You didn't do anything wrong," says Taylor. "It's just that...well...I haven't...since Steph..."

"Oh! Well, that's okay...I haven't had much experience myself, and never with another woman—"

"I'm not talking about that...Let me explain." Taylor wipes her face with one hand. She launches into a brief summary of her sexual history, largely consisting of one night stands with various men and women. The discussion briefly grows a little heated, as Max misunderstands and thinks that Taylor only wants to use her.

When Max finally calms down and lets Taylor speak, the blonde says, "What I'm trying to say is the opposite—I don't want to use you, or hurt you. I realized something...I haven't felt this way about someone...well, since Steph."

Max's expression softens. "You mean...?"

"I think...I might be falling in love with you, Max. And that scares me. So my first question is...do you...feel the same way?"

Max looks down at the floor, stunned. "I...don't know...I hadn't really given it much thought before tonight..."

Another moment of silence follows before Max looks up again. "But yeah, I think I might feel the same way."


Taylor blinked. That last memory had only been months ago. It was the first night she and Max had realized they were attracted to one another. They had started to have sex but had not gone through with it after that discussion. Lifting her head up, Taylor looked down at Victoria, who was now pulling Taylor's shorts off of her feet, leaving her in a pink bra, matching pink panties, and white socks.

"Hey, V...?" she whispered.


"I think my parents would love you," says Max. "That's part of what I'm hoping to get out of this trip. I'm hoping maybe it will help us decide where to take the relationship going forward. So what do you say?"


Victoria began working her way back up Taylor's legs, planting kisses on each in turn, and soon had reached her thighs.

"V...?" said Taylor again, slightly louder this time. "Victoria...I can't go through with this. I'm sorry, but we're going to have to stop."

Chapter Text

"Wait," said Max. "So you and Victoria didn't actually..."

"No," replied Taylor. "We went way further than we should have, but not all the way."

The brunette took a breath. "Okay...is that the end of the story, then?"

The blonde slowly shook her head. "I wish."


Earlier

"Victoria...stop!"

The short-haired blonde looked up; she had just hooked her fingers inside the top of Taylor's panties, preparing to remove them. "What's wrong?"

"V...I can't do this," said Taylor. "I'm sorry."

"...Seriously?"

"Yes, seriously. Now get off of me."

Victoria removed her hands and did as Taylor asked. "Alright, fine. Sorry."

Sitting up on the side of the bed, Taylor leaned down, gathered up her clothes and starting putting them back on, starting with her shirt and then her shorts.

"...Do you mind explaining?" asked Victoria.

Taylor put on one boot. "Huh?"

"I'm a little concerned that you suddenly decided to stop. Did I do something to hurt you?"

"No, you're fine," replied Taylor. She gestured toward the other woman. "You mind putting on some clothes?"

Rolling her eyes, Victoria walked over to the closet and pulled out a blue satin robe.

"It's nothing you did," continued Taylor. "It's just that I've realized something. I believe I mentioned earlier tonight that I was seeing someone."

"And I believe you said it wasn't exclusive," replied Victoria.

"It wasn't...isn't, I guess, but I've realized now that I want it to be."

"...You decided this while we were starting to have sex?" Victoria raised a skeptical eyebrow. She loosely tied the belt on her robe, which came down to a few inches above the knee.

Taylor started on her other boot. "I know how weird it sounds, but I was thinking about it quite a bit, and having these crazy flashbacks—that's the reason I seemed to be spacing out earlier—and then I realized that I really want to be with this person and only them. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but this person I've been seeing...I wasn't sure before, but now I am sure...I'm in love with them. It's the first time I've been in love since high school, since...since Steph."

Victoria furrowed her brows. "You cared that much for Steph?"

Taylor nodded slowly. She stood and picked up her denim jacket. "I did. Our breakup...did not go well. That's why I was so hesitant to commit to this person I'm seeing now; I didn't want to hurt them the way I did Steph."

"Interesting, I didn't think you were all that bummed out at the Valentine's Day dance that year," muttered Victoria.

Taylor froze.


"Are you bringing this up because of the Valentine's Day dance that's in like a couple weeks?" asks Taylor. They're standing out behind the Blackwell dormitory, one of the few places on campus they can talk privately.

Steph scoffs. "I don't give a shit about the Valentine's Day dance. I'm bringing it up because we've been together for months now, we've discussed it in detail, talked thoroughly about the upsides and downsides, addressed any concerns you've had. I think I've been more than patient."

"You're still asking, like, a lot of me," replies Taylor. "I just don't feel ready to come out yet."

"It's the twenty-tens, Tay! And no, I'm not asking a lot of you. I'm not asking you to hold my hand in front of the school or anything. Not yet. I'm saying start out small...you know, come out to my friends, or at least to my family."

"Your family?"

"Yes, my family. I told you, they already know I'm gay, and they're cool with it! My mom's active in PFLAG, my dad marched with me in the Pride Parade last summer; shit, even my grandma who plays the piano at her church and bakes cookies every time I come to visit keeps trying to set me up on dates with other girls!"

Taylor looks down and sighs. "I...just don't know, Steph. It's not so much the gay thing I'm concerned about...it's Victoria finding out and how she would handle the news...she's my best friend, and I don't want to lose that."

Steph purses her lips and says nothing for a moment. Then: "I didn't want to have to do this, Taylor."

The blonde looks up sharply. "Do what?"

"I can't keep doing this, Taylor. I'm sorry."

Taylor's mouth drops open in disbelief. "Are...are you breaking up with me?"

"Not yet. I'm giving you one last chance. Don't speak to me again unless the next time is to tell me that you're ready to start telling others." The auburn-haired girl holds up her index finger. "One week. If I don't hear from you by the end of the day one week from now...it's over."

Taylor's voice is starting to crack. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I'm tired of feeling like the fucking side chick! I am not going to be your dirty little secret, Tay!"

"Keep it down, okay? I don't want, like, the entire campus hearing us!"

Steph lowers her voice. "I'm sorry, but if this relationship isn't going to work, I have to know so that I can move on. Again, I am not asking you to do a big public coming out, just something, anything. A gesture of good faith." She holds up her index finger again. "One week." Then she turns and walks away.

Much like how their relationship began, it will end with Taylor crying.


Taylor turned slowly to stare at Victoria. "How did you know Steph and I broke up before the Valentine's Day dance?"

"You told me, remember? Earlier this evening."

Taylor slowly shook her head. "No. No, I'm pretty sure I just told you we broke up during junior year."

She couldn't be certain, but Taylor thought she caught a very brief, subtle twitch in Victoria's otherwise neutral face.

"You sure? I could have sworn you said it was right before Valentine's Day," said Victoria.

Taylor was now staring skeptically at Victoria. "You told me earlier that what's-her-face—Sarah?—told you she overheard us. What exactly did she tell you?"

Victoria glanced off to her left, biting her lower lip. "She, um, said that you and Steph were together. I don't recall her saying much besides that."

"Victoria. I can tell that you're lying to me right now. Now look me in the eyes and tell me: What. Did. She. Tell. You." Taylor ominously punctuated each of the last five words.

Victoria sighed in resignation and looked back at Taylor. "She said that Steph was threatening to end things with you. Because you didn't want to come out as a couple."

"What else?"

Instead of answering, Victoria turned away and walked over to the dining table. She poured herself another glass of red wine. As she prepared to take a sip, Taylor walked up to her and knocked it out of her hand, causing wine to fly everywhere and sending the glass shattering against the wall.

"What else?!" Taylor nearly screamed in Victoria's face, causing the latter to flinch.

"She...Sarah...she said that..." began Victoria, shaking. "She said that you didn't want to come out with Steph because..." She looked away as she trailed off.

"Because...?"

Victoria sighed. "Because you were afraid of me finding out about the relationship."

And there it was. The truth which Taylor had suspected—if only at a subconscious level—since Victoria had informed her that she knew about Taylor and Steph's relationship.

"...You knew?" Taylor's voice was now shaking with anger. "You knew days in advance that my relationship with Steph was going to be end because of my fears about you? And you said or did nothing?"

"Why are you attacking me?! It was you who chose to allow it to end. It was you who refused to come out to anyone!"

"Yeah, you're right," spat Taylor. "I am to blame for that. But you could have helped prevent it!"

"And what was I supposed to have done?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe come up and say, 'Hey Taylor, I know about you and Steph, I think that's totally cool and I support you, like a good friend should'. Or fuck, maybe you should have disowned me and thrown me out of the Vortex Club instead. Either way, it would have made my choice easier and revealed who you really were, and it would have been better than doing absolutely nothing!"

Taylor turned from Victoria and walked around the room, running her hands over her face and hair. "But maybe I'm being unfair to you." She turned and looked back at her former best friend. "Was there a reason for it? And don't say it was because it was my 'business'; you never gave a shit about whether someone's 'business' was their own or not."

Victoria mumbled something.

"I'm sorry," said Taylor, bending her right ear with one finger. "I didn't catch that."

"She wasn't right for you," said Victoria quietly. "She wasn't one of us."

"One of us...? You mean one of the Vortex Club?"

Victoria nodded. "Steph never hid her hatred of the Vortex Club. She criticized us all the time, bitching and moaning about it had started out back in the Reagan era as a left-leaning group for outcasts, and Nathan Prescott and I had turned it into a social club for Blackwell's elite." Victoria sighed. "I didn't want you to be with her because I was afraid of losing you as a friend. Look, what do you want me to say? It was a long time ago; it's not like it would have lasted long with Steph anyways. How often do high school relationships last longer than a couple years anyway?"

"That wasn't for you to decide, V! I still would have liked the chance!" Taylor wiped at her eyes. "Jesus. I always knew you were selfish. You bullied and belittled people who you thought beneath you, or anyone you perceived as even the smallest of threats. Even other vortex club members—you would act all nice to them while planning to stab them in the back. I can't believe I was stupid enough to think I was the exception to the rule."

"I wasn't trying to stab you in the back, Sweet-T—"

"Whatever." Taylor threw up her hands. "I can't have this conversation anymore. I'm done." She turned and walked toward the door.

Victoria quickly ran past her, grabbed the door handle, and turned toward Taylor, blocking her way out.

Taylor scoffed. "Get out of my way, Victoria."

"Please don't go," begged the short-haired woman, standing with her back to the door knob. "We can't end the night like this...we were having such a good time before."

"Get out of my way," repeated Taylor, whose voice was still growing colder by the minute. "I'm not your prisoner; you can't keep me here against my will."

"Look, Taylor...I'm sorry, okay? For Steph...for everything, okay?"

"Good, you should be sorry. Now get out of my way. Last warning."

"Please, Taylor, let's just talk this over..."

"I said, get out of my WAY!" Lunging forward, Taylor grabbed Victoria by the front of her blue satin robe and yanked the short-haired woman toward herself.

"Whoa!" Victoria protested. "What are y—!"

Rotating to her right, Taylor shoved as hard as she could, sending a yelping Victoria flying away from her. Victoria hit the bed with the back of her legs, and a split-second later was sprawled all over the bed, robe in disarray.

Victoria sat up, leaning on one arm. "Ow, that hurts, what the fuck, Taylor!"

Taylor replied by opening the door and walking out. She closed the door behind her, but it opened again a few seconds later.

"That's right, just walk out!" said Victoria. "Abandon me again, just like you did before!"

Jesus, she's following me? Taylor didn't turn to look at her. "You don't know when to quit, do you? And what do you mean 'like I did before'?"

"Near the end of senior year? After the Vortex Club was shut down, and nobody wanted to hang out with me anymore? And you...you just fucking abandoned me."

Taylor stopped in her tracks and turned to stare at Victoria. "abandoned youYou told me to get out of your life after I told you about choosing to go to a different college from you! And you still had Courtney as your faithful lapdog."

"It wasn't just the college thing; you were growing distant even before then! And I didn't want Courtney, I wanted—I needed—you!"

"News flash, Victoria: I'm not your fucking slave; my life doesn't revolve around you! And forgive me if I don't feel sorry right now for what you went through back then, after everything you'd done." She turned and began walking down the hallway again.

"Oh, please!" said Victoria, following Taylor. "Like you didn't do some shitty things too."

"You're right," replied Taylor. "I did do shitty things. Some of which I did to please you, like humiliating Kate Marsh, or bullying Max Caulfield. And many more I did on my own without your help. But at least I'm not still trying to justify it or make excuses.

"I 'abandoned' you, as you put it, because I realized you were a toxic person to be around. I was shitty enough on my own, but being around you made me worse! I don't know why you're even acting all mad about being 'abandoned'. You seem to have done just fine without me."

Victoria scoffed. "My life's not as great as you think it is."

They arrived at the elevator.

"Oh please, what could you have to possibly complain about?" replied Taylor, pressing the down button.

"Let's see...well, for starters, I have no friends—no real ones, I mean, ones who like me for me, not my money or my position. Even Courtney these days is more just a coworker...sure, we'll talk sometimes at work, but we never go out for drinks or anything anymore, not when she has a husband and baby at home. I work like sixty hour weeks, and that's if I'm lucky. Work-related trips like this are the closest thing I've had to vacation the last few years!"

Taylor waved her arms dramatically. "Oh no! Poor you! You're being kept busy by a six-figure job that Mommy and Daddy so generously gave you in a field you love!"

"At least my parents didn't fucking abandon me, which is more than you can say about yours!"

Victoria clapped her hand over her mouth as soon as the words had escaped, but the damage was done.

Taylor's mouth dropped open. "...What did you just say to me?"

"Taylor...I don't know why I said that...I—I didn't mean—I'm sorry..."

Taylor raised her arm up behind her, palm facing forward and stepped threateningly toward Victoria. The short-haired woman flinched; then, slowly, she stood up straight and turned slightly to her right, offering up her left cheek to the longer-haired blonde, whose eyes were now beginning to show tears.

A long moment passed, both women frozen in place.

The elevator dinged behind Taylor.

Then, slowly, Taylor let her hand drop.

The elevator doors slid open, and without another word, Taylor turned and entered, sparing only one more glance at a now shaking and crying Victoria.

Chapter Text

"...And then I came straight here," finished Taylor, gesturing toward the back door. "I forgot the key code, and I thought all of you had gone to bed, so I figured I'd sleep out here. Until you texted me."

"Wait," said Max. "Just to be clear, nobody got hurt? Physically, I mean?"

"Uh...I mentioned earlier that I threw Victoria against the bed when she wouldn't let me out of the room, but I don't think she was too hurt by that...maybe a bruise or two. Why?"

Max gestured toward Taylor's shirt. "You've got red stains."

Taylor looked down. "Oh. I guess that must have happened when I knocked the wine out of Victoria's hand."

Max exhaled. "Jesus. I was getting scared toward the end; I thought you were going to tell me you'd beaten Victoria to death or something."

Taylor let out a bark of laughter. "Seriously?! Well, not like I haven't fantasized about it once...twice...or a few times...tonight."

"I'm not sure I wouldn't have restrained myself the way you did if she had said something like that about my parents."

A moment of silence followed. Then Taylor sighed. "I guess it goes without saying that you're angry at me?"

Max pursed her lips. "I'm sorry about your bad night, but to be honest...yeah, I am kinda angry at you. I know we didn't put too many conditions on our 'open relationship', but still...during our trip together? And with fucking Victoria?"

Taylor nodded. "That's fair. Look...do you want me to go?"

"Huh? Go where?"

"I can get a motel room tonight, then find another way home tomorrow."

"...Are you serious?"

"You and your parents should be allowed to enjoy the rest of your trip, and I'll go if that's what it takes."

A long paused followed.

"Did you mean what you said?" asked Max.

"Yeah, I can rent a car, or take a bus, or—"

"Not that. When you told Victoria that you didn't want to have sex because you wanted to commit to someone you were seeing...I assume you were you referring to me?"

"Of course."

"And did you mean it when you said it, or was it something you just said in the heat of the moment, an excuse to get out of the situation?"

"I meant it, Max, but you don't have to—"

"Look at me, Taylor."

Taylor did.

"Did you mean it?" asked Max softly. "And do you still mean it now?"

Taylor nodded slowly, still maintaining eye contact. "I meant—and I mean—every single word. But I don't want you to feel obligated...I understand if you want to end things after tonight."

Max sniffed. "I'm going to need time to think about this. For now...it's late, and the alarm clock is set pretty early."

She turned and walked softly back toward the back door. She opened it, paused, turned back.

"Are you coming in or not?"


Early the next morning, the four occupants of the Airbnb house drove over to the downtown area. After parking the minivan, they grabbed coffee and muffins and then started walking toward the harbor.

"Remind me, what are we doing today?" asked Max sleepily, rubbing her eyes with one hand and raising her coffee to her lips with the other.

"Victoria!" replied an unusally cheerful Ryan.

Max and Taylor simultaneously choked on their coffee and looked at each other before frantically looking around.

"You know, Victoria, British Columbia? As in Canada?" said Ryan, puzzled. "We're taking the ferry over today, remember?"

"Oh...oh, right. Victoria. That's why you told us to bring our passports." said Max. She put on her best smile. "That should be fun."

"Everything okay with the two of you?" asked Vanessa. "You seem really quiet today."

"We're fine, Mrs. Caulfield," said Taylor, donning her own smile. "We just stayed up a little too late talking last night." This was not entirely accurate. She and Max had had their heated discussion out back, and they had both had trouble getting to sleep. However, they had not spoken after coming inside and going to bed, and the blonde had slept on the floor. They had hardly spoken to one another this morning.

Eventually, they made their way to the ferry terminal, where Ryan purchased tickets for all of them. As they waited, a crowd soon formed. Eventually, boarding commenced, and the crowd shaped into a rough line. They showed their passports, and finally found themselves aboard the ferry.

The MV Coho had been in operation since 1959, and was currently the only ferry operated by its parent company, making multiple trips between Port Angeles and Victoria nearly every day, with each crossing covering twenty-three miles and taking approximately ninety minutes. It was over 340 feet long, with a carrying capacity of 110 vehicles and up to 1000 passengers.

Max and Taylor hardly spoke during the trip. At one point, Max was sitting by herself in a chair up top, observing the wake as Port Angeles disappeared into the fog. Taylor came up and sat down next to Max, only for the brunette to immediately get up and go back down below. Taylor did not follow her this time and stayed by herself for nearly the rest of the ferry ride.

Eventually, the blonde made her way toward the front of the ferry, where she finally saw Victoria—B.C., not Chase—coming into view.

"Mom and Dad said to tell you we're arriving soon," said a voice behind her. Taylor turned and saw Max standing there.

"Come on, we need to all get in line together." The brunette spoke in a discouragingly neutral tone of voice.

A while later, the married couple and the two younger women had made their way off of the ferry and through customs with relative ease. They started out by heading over to the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, a humongous mansion-like (or perhaps palace-like) structure which dominated the Inner Harbour area of Victoria. Topped by numerous blueish green domes, the central of which was topped by a statue of Captain George Vancouver, the building had been constructed in the late nineteenth century.

The four posed for pictures at various places on the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings, making sure to get the central dome in the background in several of them. Max and Taylor at one point posed together, putting on their best fake smiles. The picture had them standing such that the large bronze statue of Queen Victoria was between them. The irony was lost on neither of them.

Afterward, they headed back to the harbor area for lunch, grabbing fish and chips from an outdoor stand. Next to the water; they grabbed seats overlooking the docks, watching and boats came in and out. Taylor pointed out an otter frolicking about in the water right in front of them. While Max said nothing to her directly, Taylor was pleased to notice her expression of delight at the sight of the creature.

After lunch, they called a taxi and went to the Butchart Gardens, which consisted of 55 acres of blossoms, theme gardens (such as Japanese and Italian), ponds, bronze statues, and many other breathtaking features. It had been started in 1904, and had been designated a National Historic Site of Canada a hundred years later.

At one point, Ryan and Vanessa stayed behind to take a closer look at one of the ponds in the Japanese garden while the two younger women strolled on.

"It's beautiful here," said Max, admiring the maples overhead, which were starting to shift into vivid red and orange colors.

Taylor glanced in Max in surprise. At least she's talking to me again, she hoped. "Yeah, it is. I love autumn."

Max said nothing, but Taylor did not fail to notice the momentary smile that crossed her face.

Eventually they caught a taxi back. By then, several hours had passed, the ferry had made another round trip, and it was time for them to head back.

Taylor sat again on a chair up on top of the ferry and observed the wake, watching the city of Victoria slowly fade into the distance.

Max came up a short while later, and they briefly made eye contact before Max looked down. Taylor expected the brunette to turn around and go back inside the ferry, but instead Max took a seat near the blonde—though not right next to her. Then they sat in silence for most of the rest of the trip back.

A couple hours later, the ferry had returned and the four adults were back in the Airbnb house. Ryan and Vanessa ordered in pizza which the four of them ate out on the back patio. Eventually Max and Taylor each showered and changed into sleep clothes. They read in silence afterward—Taylor looked up some articles about new photography art that was coming to Seattle soon, while Max was now over halfway through Nevernight.

Finally, they went to bed—Max on the bed, and Taylor again on the floor.


As Taylor snored softly from where she lay next to the bed, Max stared up at the ceiling, unable to sleep, her brain too busy processing the events of the last couple days. Finally, she made a decision. Getting out of the bed, she walked over to Taylor, who was sleeping on her side. Max gently shook her by the shoulder.

"Hmm—oh—" Taylor shook her head as she woke up. Then, tugging her hair out of her face with one hand, she turned and looked up at Max. "What's wrong?"

"Get up," said Max. "I'm not letting you sleep here tonight."

Sitting up, Taylor leaned over and picked up her phone from where it was charging nearby. "It's 2 a.m! You want me to leave now?"

"What? No, why would you…?" It took a moment for Max to process what Taylor was asking. "Oh! No. I meant you weren't sleeping here. As in, on the floor. I want you to come back to bed."

"Does..." Taylor hesitated. "Does that mean what I think it does?"

"That I'm no longer mad at you?" Max smiled in a wry manner. "Not sure I'm ready to say that yet."

"I guess I'm not sure what to think after the way you've been acting today," said Taylor. "Early on, I got the impression it might be over."

"Like I said, I needed some time to think things over. But now I have thought it through, and I've decided."

Taylor narrowed her eyes. "Decided...?"

"That I want to give this relationship a try," replied Max.

The blonde sat up. "Wait...relationship...as in, you and me?"

The brunette nodded.

"I—I don't know what to say, Max—that's great!"

Max held up one finger. "But I want this to be a commitment. Just you and me. No more dating or sleeping with others."

"Agreed," replied Taylor.

"And..." Max swallowed. "I would like to be...intimate eventually. Not yet, but soon."

Taylor nodded slowly. "Of course. As long as you need."

A short while later, they had crawled under the covers in the the king-size bed. They fell asleep almost immediately.

Chapter Text

"I want to apologize to you for the other night," said Max.

They had decided to spend their last morning in Port Angeles walking the trail in front of the Strait again, and had turned around and were now heading back toward the pier area.

Taylor glanced up at her. "The night with me and Victoria and all that mess?"

"Yeah."

"Why? You didn't do anything wrong."

"I didn't think of what you might be going through yourself," said brunette. "After everything you'd found out about Steph, what Victoria said about your parents. I was so angry that I didn't really bother to see how you were doing after all of that."

The blonde nodded. "It was a very emotional night for everyone."

"Even so...I'm sorry."

"Max..." Taylor hesitated. "There's something else I need to tell you."

"Uh oh..."

"Yeah, that sums it up pretty well. So...you know that thing that Victoria said about my parents abandoning me? Well...let's just say it wasn't entirely inaccurate."

Max frowned. "You've never talked about your dad, but I thought you said that your mom died from her illness."

"My dad...I don't really talk about him...ever. Let's just say he's been out of my life for a long time now. My mom...well, I didn't exactly say that it was her illness that killed her...I implied it, and that's not entirely inaccurate, but it doesn't tell the full story either."

"...What happened?" asked Max.

"I told you before about how I dropped out of college to take care of her," replied Taylor. "We were lucky she had health insurance—we would have been fucked otherwise—but premiums and deductibles aren't cheap either, and it wasn't like she could work anymore. I often had to work two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. My main job was as a server at a restaurant a few blocks from where we lived, but I sometimes worked fast food, convenience stores...other jobs as well."

"You did some modeling too, right?" recalled Max. "For photography?"

Taylor smiled weakly. "Among other things. For all the shit that has gone wrong in my life, at least I was blessed with good looks. I figured, why not make money with them?" Her smile faded. "Anyway...it wasn't easy. My mom's pain got worse and worse. If she wasn't in pain, it was often because she was doped up on medication. She often lashed out at me during her more painful episodes. I loved her and knew it wasn't really who she was, but it still hurt.

"To make a long story short, it finally happened one day that I got a call while I was at the restaurant...it was from one of our neighbors. She told me that Mom's house was surrounded by ambulances and police cars. I immediately jumped into my car and drove home. It...it turned out that my mom..." Taylor took a breath, let it out slowly. "She was gone. She...she had...taken matters into her own hands."

Max let out a gasp. "You mean, she...?"

"Yeah."

"Taylor...I—I don't know what to say."

"That's okay...Neither did I. This wasn't long before my own attempt...you remember me telling you about that?"

Max nodded. "Did you—did she—were there any signs before?"

Taylor shrugged. "Nothing obvious. She had told me that her doctors had informed her she didn't have long to live—I wasn't in the room with her at those appointments—so I thought she was going to die soon from her illness. She talked about getting her affairs in order, talking with her lawyer about the will, making sure I had access to her accounts, that sort of thing. I had no idea she was planning to do what she did—I mean, she was a devout Catholic, you know?" Taylor took another breath. "I was going through her stuff after she...passed. It turned out she had requested a prescription from her doctors to end it."

"Death with Dignity?" asked Max, recalling the controversial Oregon law.

"Yeah."

"And that's how she went?"

Taylor slowly shook her head. "No. As I understand it, in Oregon, you have to be sick where you'll be dead in six months or less. Her request had been turned down on the grounds that it couldn't be determined how long she had."

"Did she leave a note?"

"A short one...less than a page. Basically said that she believed it was better this way, that she didn't want to be a burden anymore, and that she loved me and that I shouldn't blame myself. I won't lie, Max...I was devastated, of course, maybe also a little relieved...but more than anything, just angry. Not so much at what she did—I can't say for sure I wouldn't have done the same myself, if I was living in constant pain like that—but that I didn't have the chance to say goodbye. I just wasn't ready. Maybe I never would have been ready. I guess she was afraid that if she told me, I would have either tried to stop her, or gone to prison for helping her instead."

"Oh my god...Taylor, I'm so sorry."

A long pause followed before Taylor looked up at Max. "You know that I've never told anyone this before?"

"...Really?"

"Yeah. I'm telling you because...because I think you deserve to know what you're getting into in this relationship...the kind of person you're dating and how they've been shaped by the things that have happened in their life."

Max looked at her now. "I...I appreciate that, Taylor."

"Well...you didn't run off screaming, so I guess that's a good start."

The brunette only smiled, then reached out and took the blonde's hand.


A few minutes later, as they were reaching the pier area, Max suddenly pointed. "Hey, is that who I think it is?"

Taylor looked where Max was pointing.

A short-haired young woman was sitting on a bench on the right side of the trail, facing toward the Strait. She did not seem to have noticed Max and Taylor.

"Oh god, it's Victoria!" whispered Taylor.

"What's she doing here?!" whispered Max back.

The blonde pointed to the left. "That's the hotel she was staying at, the same where she and I...you know."

"Well," said the brunette quietly, "she hasn't seen us yet. We could probably just walk quietly by."

Taylor thought for a moment. "Actually...I have a better idea."


"Hey."

Victoria looked up. "Taylor?!"

"Yep, still my name."

"...I'm surprised to see you here, after...you know," said Victoria uneasily.

"Yeah."

"...So, how much longer are you in Port Angeles?"

"We're taking off this afternoon. You?"

"Leaving tomorrow." Victoria looked back down at the ground then back up at Taylor. "Look, I just want to say...I'm sorry for the other night. I mean, really sorry. For Steph, for the lying, for...everything. And I understand if you don't ever want to forgive or see me again."

Taylor sighed. "We both did things we weren't proud of. I'm sorry, too...for throwing you on the bed, mocking you about your parents and job...for overreacting I guess."

Victoria shrugged. "I kinda had it coming."

Taylor smiled on one side of her mouth. "We really are shitty people, aren't we?"

Victoria choked out a laugh. "Yeah, we really are."

The short-haired woman hesitated for a moment. "Hey, look...if you ever happen to be in Seattle, come by and see me at the museum. I'll get you in for free. Or if you've got some artwork you want displayed, just let me know and I can see about pulling some strings."

"I appreciate that. I think it might be best if we had some distance between us for a while though."

Victoria nodded slowly. "Sure."

"Although I am dating a photographer now who might be interested in having some work displayed..." added Taylor. Then she glanced off to one side, giving a brief nod.

Max walked up and stood next to Taylor. "Hey, Victoria."

Victoria's eyes widened. "Max Caulfield?! What are you doing here? Is the Blackwell class of '14 having a reunion here or something?"

Max turned toward Taylor. "Ready to head on back, Tay Tay?"

"'Tay Tay'?" asked Victoria. "Wait...is this the 'friend' you said you came here with, Taylor?"

Taylor took Max's right hand into her left.

"Yeah. My friend," said Taylor. Then she and Max turned to each other, and kissed each other briefly on the lips before turning back to Victoria. "Among other things."

Victoria's mouth dropped open, and she gestured back and forth. "You and her—she and you—how?"

"It's a long story," said Taylor, grinning. "I'll tell you about it someday. See you around, V." Then she and Max turned and headed back toward the pier, still holding hands. Victoria remained frozen on the bench, still struggling to process what she had just seen.

"You think we went too far?" asked Max after they were out of earshot.

Taylor grinned wickedly. "She'll get over it. Eventually."