Diffused sunlight gave the room a dreary feel, which was just fine with Max. She sat cross-legged on the floor, various photos spread on the floor in front of her. She pulled another one from the box of memories next to her and looked at it. A faint smile curved her lips upward as she recalled the scene.
“Come on,” Chloe protested as she pulled Max’s hand. “We need to get there!”
Max looked at Chloe in disbelief. “The fair isn’t going anywhere,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s only 7 and it doesn’t close until 1 AM.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Chloe said as she continued pulling her friend. The entrance was still a hundred feet away and the sounds and smells of the county fair pulled at her. The hint of excitement and adventure and more was a strong attraction for her. “Dad picks us up in four hours and I want to see everything!”
Despite the serious look on her face, Max was secretly pleased. This was the first year their parents let them go to the fair by themselves! Of course there was the really long lecture from all four parents. Responsibility and use your money wisely and be careful of men and all sorts of other helpful tips.
Of course, Max had properly researched everything beforehand and was well prepared. It took all her willpower not to roll her eyes at their parents ‘helpful’ instruction. It was worth it though to see how happy Chloe was right now. And to finally have this adventure on their own.
“Come on!” Chloe threw her head back, mouth open, and acted like she was going to collapse. But then they were at the entrance and Max, holder of their money, pulled her wallet from her pack and paid for the tickets.
There was so much excitement in Chloe it was a wonder she didn’t explode! Max watched her from the corner of her eye, bouncing on her toes, spinning her head this way and that, oohing and ahhing over everything. Then they got their hands stamped and they were beyond the entrance.
Instead of running forward, like Max expected, Chloe stopped, threw her arms wide and basked in the noise of rides and hawkers and music and other fair-goers. The early evening light hit Chloe just right as she turned to soak it all in.
Discretely, Max slipped her camera from her pack and held it up. Chloe had her eyes closed and such a look on her face! A flutter started in Max’s stomach and she almost giggled. She stifled it in time, then returned the view finder to her eye.
She held her breath and depressed the shutter button.
The sights and sounds and smells of the memory faded as Max moved the photo toward the array on the floor. She felt again that flutter in her belly and rubbed her hand there with a sad smile. So long ago, and so many things have happened since…
That was the last county fair she and Chloe had attended together. The last summer they were together. So much had happened since. And now… nothing seemed right. It was all empty and meaningless.
She moved the picture to its own spot on the worn carpet and reached for another in the box. The new picture brought an immediate chuckle at its sight. The melancholy of her thoughts was disrupted by the memory sparked by the new photo.
“I’m gonna win the biggest toy there,” Chloe claimed triumphantly.
“If you say so,” Max said. They both grabbed the water pistols and aimed carefully at the targets opposite them. From the corner of her eye, Max saw the carny grinning at the two of them. He was a little creepy and she didn’t want to stay here long.
A loud bzzt sounded and water surged into her pistol causing Max to almost drop it! Next to her, Chloe laughed as she began shooting the targets that zoomed by.
Max growled and focused on the end of the pistol. She held down the trigger and began shooting. The focus allowed her to ignore the constant noise around them. She’d stayed close to Chloe as they wandered through the fair, the sound and people pressing at her uncomfortably.
A constant stream of dings came from Chloe’s shooting. She was really good, even though Max was sure the game was rigged in some way. All the carnival games were, it was common knowledge.
Chloe laughed and made a quip each time she blasted a target with her water. “Duck, duck, didn’t duck!” For knocking over a duck. “Thar she blows,” for the little ships and so forth.
Max almost stopped firing, so wrapped up in listening to Chloe was she. They were nearing the end of the time limit and Max redoubled her efforts. Then time was up and the water ran out. They both let go of their pistols, shook the water from their hands, and grinned at each other.
Of course, Chloe was the winner. The other kids who played went away grumbling. “Pick your prize from the second tier,” the carny said to them.
Chloe bounced and began pointing at different stuffed animals and other things. “Oh, what do you think of that one! No wait, that one is so cool! No, no, no! That dragon is awesome!” It was hard to be disappointed at losing when Chloe was so happy.
“Ok, that one!” Max wasn’t paying attention anymore. Her mind had wandered to how much time they had left, and how much money. She was calculating how much they could spend each hour to make the money last longest.
“Here you go.” A fuzzy white blur appeared close to her face.
“Ah!” Max yelped and moved her head away. A largish white teddy bear looked at her with its one blue eye. It wore a blue ribbon as a necklace and an eyepatch. A little pirate hat was on its head.
“Take it,” Chloe said softly, her words almost lost in the tumult of the fair around them.
“What is this?” Silly question, Max! It’s a teddy bear!
“It’s to remember our conquest of the mighty ship battle,” Chloe said airily and flipped her long, blonde hair back.
Cautiously, Max accepted the bear. They had given each other plenty of gifts over the years but somehow this seemed different. “Thanks!” The pirate bear was too cute, and seemed perfect.
“Do you like it?” The way Chloe asked the question made Max look at her. The way she stood, with her eyes darting to Max then way, the slight angle to her body and tilt of her head. It was uncertainty, which was rare to see in her friend.
“I do,” Max said and gave the bear a hug. “How about I take a picture of you and Mr. Bear.”
“Mr. Bear,” Chloe said dubiously. “That’s too simple a name for him. How about Second Mate Teddyous Pawsome.”
“Second Mate? Not first? Or captain?”
Chloe shot a look at Max, then just as quickly looked away. “Well, there can only be one Captain and that’s me.” Her fingers played with one of the ears while her eyes flicked again at Max. Damn! Why am I getting awkward of a sudden! It’s Max. I’ve know her for years and we’re best friends. She cleared her throat and said, “And you’re my first mate.”
That made the best thing in the universe happen! At least the best thing in Chloe’s opinion. Max smiled at her comment and her face lit up and sent weird tingles through Chloe. How to get that smile more often?
“First Mate Long Max Silver reporting in,” Max said with a salute.
“No saluting among pirates,” Chloe said and stepped closer to her friend. The dusting of freckles made the smile so much cuter. Max stuck her tongue out at her and Chloe blinked rapidly. “Glad to see I’m rubbing off on you, Max.”
Max held up her camera and said, “Picture with Second Mate Teddyous Pawsome?”
“Absolutely!” Chloe held the bear in one arm and struck a dramatic pose.
The smile broadened as Max placed the photo of Chloe and ‘Second Mate Teddyous Pawsome’ next to the other photo. Teddyous had become lost sometime after the fair and before she moved. She suspected one of the kids in the neighborhood had stolen the bear but she could never prove it.
The memories were giving her mixed feelings. Of course, that was true of most photos she had from before her move and William’s death. But this was more than nostalgia. The last few days and weeks she’d begun questioning what she was doing and why life was the way it was. That questioning made her memories and feelings a bit more poignant.
The box contained a lot of photos from that time and it had been years since she’d looked at them. In fact, she’d avoided doing that. Being overwhelmed with feelings, either good or bad, wasn’t something she wanted right now. But she did want to remember. And she did want meaning.
Another picture came before her eyes and there was no way she could prevent the laugh it brought.
The two stumbled from the ride laughing and helping each other remain standing. “That,” Chloe panted, “was fucking amazeballs!”
“Oof,” Max said, leaning on Chloe. “It was great, but I need a break. Ten rides in a row!”
“And tickets for twenty more!”
Max groaned at Chloe’s words. “Don’t remind me.”
“Hey, food!” Chloe grabbed Max’s hand and took off toward a row of food stands. Max groaned again and did her best to keep up with her energetic friend with her longer legs.
“This. Is. Awesome!” Chloe declared as she took in all the food vendors with one look. “Without mom and dad here, I can finally eat what I want!”
“Chloe,” Max said in her best ‘consider what you are about to do before you do it’ voice.’ But Chloe didn’t even glance at her as she began listing the things she wanted to eat.
“A corn dog, because those are awesome at fairs. A deep-fried snickers, deep-fried pickle, funnel cake and oh, look! They have deep-fried cheeseburgers!” Chloe took off at a run toward one of the stalls.
“Chloe,” Max tried again, “if you eat all that you’ll get sick!”
“But it’ll be fun!”
“Not if I have to carry you out of the fair!”
That made Chloe stop and look at her. “Carry me? You?”
“Hey,” Max protested and struck her own dramatic pose, “don’t dis the short person!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dare dis you, Max,” Chloe said with a mischievous gleam in her eye. “More like, you just challenged me!” And she took off again. Max groaned and ran after her.
Many minutes later they sat at a wooden picnic table with a pile of food in front of Chloe. Only a simple hotdog, ketchup and mustard only, and a soda were in front of Max.
“Mount Food-a-lot,” Chloe said as she eyed her food. Her eyes were huge. And beautiful. Max started and dropped her eyes to look at her food.
“Wait,” she said suddenly. “Let me take a picture!” She opened her pack and pulled out the camera. Chloe’s huge eyes were fixed on the food. And such a smile! Beautiful! Max paused, her eye to the view finder. Yes, Chloe was quite beautiful. And now she’d have a picture to remember this scene forever. She pressed the button and the photo slowly ejected from the camera. Both were set aside, far away from the food.
All the food Chloe wanted, and more, was in front of her. “I shall start with the noble corn dog,” Chloe said in her best imitation of a cultured person’s accent. She dipped it into the mustard and took a bite.
Minute after minute passed, and the pile of food became smaller and smaller. Several times Max urged her to stop, or slow down, that she’d get sick. But Chloe didn’t listen. Concern for Chloe grew in Max, worried that her friend really would be sick.
Empty plates were scattered in front of Chloe. One hand held a partially eaten breaded cheeseburger. “Oof,” Chloe muttered. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
There was a temptation to say ‘I told you so,’ but Max pushed that away. It was apparent Chloe felt bad enough. Why make a friend feel bad or worse than they already are? Instead, she picked up her camera and framed Chloe. Behind her, blue and purple lights on a ride provided a wonderful backdrop.
Max pressed the button and took the picture. Chloe let her head fall onto the table, and the rest of the cheeseburger fell on her. “Oh, no,” Max cried. She swiftly set the camera and developing photo in a safe spot, then rose and went around the table to Chloe.
She picked the cheeseburger off Chloe’s head and put it on one of the plates. There were no napkin dispensers nearby, but she spied some near one of the food stands. “I’ll be right back,” Max said, then turned and hurried away.
How many napkins will I need? The dispenser wasn’t attached to anything and after a few moments, Max grabbed the entire container and ran back to Chloe.
It took a lot of napkins to clean up her friend’s hair. She also had to buy a bottle of water to wash out the grease and ketchup. The entire time, Chloe groaned and moaned about how she was going to explode. “Fuuuuuck! Don’t let me do that again,” Chloe moaned.
“You know that the next time, you’ll ignore my warnings and rush straight into danger,” Max said warmly.
Chloe groaned. “Damn. Do you have to know me so well, Caulfield?” Her hand flailed, an attempt to gesture while she spoke, and managed to land on Max’s. She didn’t move it and Max froze. A strange tingling started in the back of her hand where Chloe touched it.
“I have to go throw the trash away,” Max said. The tingles were warm and mysterious and inviting and raised questions without words in her mind. She hesitated before she stood and took the pile of napkins and plates and forks to the nearest trashcan.
When she returned, she sat next to Chloe, who immediately leaned against her. “So full,” Chloe whispered. Max raised her hand and, after a brief pause, began rubbing Chloe’s back. “Mmm,” Chloe murmured, “So good. You take good care of me.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
“Shit! I’m gonna throw up!”
That had ended their night at the fair. After cleaning up Chloe again, Max had called William for early pickup. It was a long walk from the food area to the entrance; a walk where Chloe clung to Max instead of the other way around. The next week, both girls had returned to school and their summer of freedom was over. Their last summer together.
Max placed the photo with the other two. She needed to keep them separate. Maybe I can get one of those frames that holds several photos for displaying them.
There were a few other photos of that night that Max pulled from the box and placed with the others. That’s enough for today. With that thought, she gathered the other photos, stacked them neatly, and placed them in the box of memories. The lid was a nice, snug fit, and she tied it closed with the blue ribbon.
Wait! Isn’t that the ribbon from Second Mate Teddyous Pawsome? It certainly looked like it.
The memories the box contained were weightier than the objects inside. It pulled at her hand and heart as she picked it up and stood. The photos of the night at the fair were in her other hand. Those, she placed on the counter while she returned the box to its place.
The rest of her afternoon she spent running errands and doing some shopping. She found a picture frame that was the perfect fit for the photos.
As evening approached, all was ready. Soft lights. Her best meal. I hope this is awesome! Please let it be awesome!
Chloe pulled into the parking spot at the apartment complex. Two years. It had been two or more years since they’d moved here and started a new life together. She turned off the engine but sat in the cab a while. A small picture of Max was taped to her dashboard and she lost herself in it.
Time had past quickly since they left Arcadia Bay. Max no longer had her rewind power, but she didn’t need it. And today Chloe had been rather introspective, something more fitting to her girlfriend, not her. The days since moving here had turned into weeks then months and now years and what did they have?
Was this the life they wanted? Were they doing all they wanted to do? Sure they’d spent two or more years criss-crossing the country, working odd jobs, sleeping in the back of the truck or in the cab when they were awakened by rain.
And now they were what? Settled down? Chloe frowned as that word danced through her mind. Settled. Like we aren’t reaching out for what we want in life but are making compromises.
A couple of years in one place and they had fallen into a routine. How many nights had they both come home from their jobs, made and ate the quickest dinner possible, then gone to bed. Both too exhausted to even talk, let alone do anything else.
No. This life was breaking them and Chloe didn’t like that. Breaking life’s rules is more my style. But Max…? No, she knew Max.
Chloe was tired, and it wasn’t from work. But the thoughts running through her head right now pushed that tiredness far away. She grabbed the bag on the seat next to her, opened the door, and got out of the truck. After she locked the door, she set off for their apartment.
A key sliding into the lock grabbed Max’s attention. She stood and shook the wrinkles from her clothes. It was just her regular t-shirt and jeans that she wore, but she wanted to do this properly.
The door opened and Chloe saw Max standing a few feet away, a small smile on her face. She wore her pink Jane Doe t-shirt and blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up. Red, blue, and black jelly bracelets dangled from her wrist as she held her left elbow. Damn she’s hella cute!
Max’s eyes lit up when she saw Chloe standing on the other side of the open door. Blue hair cut short and spiky, t-shirt and jeans, necklace and bracelets. Everything about her pulled at Max’s heartstrings. She opened her arms and said, “Happy anniversary!”
The announcement startled Chloe. “Anniversary,” she questioned as she closed the door and plopped the bag on the floor. “Of what?”
Max stepped into Chloe’s space and looked up into her eyes, the small smile still playing about her mouth. “Of us,” she whispered. “Of us being friends, knowing each other, for twenty years.”
Chloe stepped backward to get a better look at Max, and ran into the door. She rubbed the back of her head with a rueful grin. “Twenty years huh? More like twenty seconds!”
Max grabbed Chloe’s hand and pulled her into the apartment. “Is that a real meal I smell,” Chloe asked.
“Yep,” Max said. “I took off work early today and cooked for you.”
“You didn’t have to,” Chloe said as Max led her to the chair at their small table.
“I wanted to,” Max said. “We’ve been so caught up in our routines we haven’t spent time with each other or for each other.” She pushed gently on Chloe’s shoulders until she seated herself.
Chloe looked at Max’s retreating back in surprise. Just what I was thinking! Did you trade your rewind for mind reading, Caulfield! To test that, she pictured Max in a scandalous way. Well, scandalous to Max. If she could read minds, Max would blush or be embarrassed in some way. Either way, it gave Chloe a wonderful picture that spread a smile across her face.
So she was surprised when Max returned to her with her face bright red. Fuck! She did! She reached for Max so she could turn the mental image into reality but Max stopped and held out a picture frame.
“Look what I found!” A mixture of nostalgia and teasing and happiness layered Max’s voice.
“Not just any pictures ah-!” Max had stepped closer and Chloe pulled her onto her lap.
Max found herself angled against Chloe, perched on her lap, and leaning back against Chloe’s arm. A sly grin was on Chloe’s face and a rush of emotions churned through her. For a moment she felt again the flutter in her stomach she’d felt so many years ago. Chloe Elizabeth Price, still making me twitter-pated after all these years.
“These pictures,” Max said throatily and angled the photo frame so Chloe could see them. Good thing Chloe’s arm held her up.
Chloe glanced at the pictures then burst out laughing. “Our last fair together,” she said. “Oh, fuck! That’s when I got sick.”
Max smiled as she watched Chloe touch the photo of herself holding the fried cheeseburger. “You were so sick because you had to eat everything.”
“I didn’t eat everything,” Chloe whispered. Another smile tugged at her lips. That was when Max had that adorably cute pony tail. I wonder if I can get her to grow it again. And braid it. She pictured herself running her fingers through Max’s hair.
“True, you didn’t finish that cheeseburger.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Chloe took the frame from Max and placed it on the table. Her eyes studied Max’s, flicking between her eyes and lips. An expectation formed in the air around them, a wanting and giving and more.
They met in a kiss they both wanted and didn’t move away from for a long time. Hands went to hair and shoulders and other places. When they did part, both with flushed cheeks and pounding hearts, they did so they could look into each others eyes. Max had wrapped her arms around Chloe’s neck and looked up at her.
“I… uh… made dinner for us,” Max said.
Chloe grinned. “My dinner’s right here.” She watched Max’s face darken from the blush then kissed her nose. “Ok, you can be dessert. I don’t want your hard work to go to waste.” She let Max rise and move to the stove, but she kept her eyes on Max the entire time.
Wait for it…
And there it was. Max always quirked her butt to the side when she cooked. Each time she saw it happen, Chloe wanted to grab it. She didn’t know why. She’d watched Max do many things over the years, and she only did that move when she cooked.
Max turned around to find Chloe staring at her with a look she could only describe as hungry. “Good thing I cooked,” Max said as she walked to the table with the plates. “You look famished.”
“You could say my hunger is to the Max.”
Max groaned and set the plate in front of Chloe. Her face was on fire, again! “That… that was a real stinker of a pun.” Chloe laughed.
Glasses of water, silverware, and napkins soon joined the plates and then Max seated herself across from Chloe. The photos were in between, angled toward Chloe.
Chloe couldn’t get that night out of her mind. Staring at Max and the photos didn’t help. A tingling formed in her core and she coughed. The night of the fair so long ago had been one of the first times she’d began to think there was something more between her and Max.
And now there is. But there isn’t.
Her eyes fixed on the picture of herself with the pile of food in front of her. She recalled the words Max spoke to her that night: “You know that the next time, you’ll ignore my warnings and rush straight into danger.” You knew me so well even then. Here we go!
“How would you like to blow this popsicle stand and do a road trip,” Chloe asked between bites. Mmm, Max is a good cook. This food is delish! She kept her eyes focused on the photos because she didn’t want to see how Max would react.
Max froze, fork halfway to her mouth. In an instant her mind summoned forth the two plus years she and Chloe had lived on the road. Beautiful sunsets. National parks. Two women on their own, independent and free. Sure there were discomforts, like finding a place to take a shower and wash clothes. But she’d liked the experience.
The reason they had stopped traveling was because she’d wanted a home. She looked around the apartment. The walls were bare and their furniture was ramshackle second hand. Cute, but barely serviceable and mismatched. And it didn’t match them. She’d wanted a home and what did she get?
The fork clinked as she set it on her plate. She picked up her napkin and dabbed her mouth. Across from her, Chloe was busy not looking at her. But she was looking at Chloe and realized something. All that time they’d spent finding the perfect apartment. A search for a place she could call home. She’d searched in all the wrong places.
Home had been with her all along.
“How about we make it permanent,” she whispered. That caught Chloe’s attention, who looked at her with raised brows. And a gleam of hope in er eyes.
“Really,” Chloe asked in disbelief. That answer was more than she’d hoped for. “But what about the home you wanted?”
Max rose from her seat, stepped around the table and swung a leg over Chloe’s lap. For a moment she saw again that fourteen year old girl at the fair, her eyes wide as she looked at all the food. Now her eyes were wide again as they looked up at her. Eyes that devoured her.
Her fingertips traced along Chloe’s jaw and into her hair as Max lowered herself. Right before they kissed, Max said, “When I’m with you. I’m home.