Nathan sat on the smooth, cold concrete of the upper level of the recreation building. One arm and both his legs hung through the bars to the lower level while his other hand was busy drinking back a packet of Skittles. It was something to chew on while he tetchily awaited Max’s arrival.
If she showed up, that is.
Several pieces of sound equipment and rental furniture were shoved into corners of the lower level along with streamers, cups, and other forms of garbage. The smell of overloaded wires, spilled liquor, and other party favors hung in the air, mixing with the pool’s fresh chlorine and strong cleaning supplies of the janitor, Samuel.
The enigmatic, spectacled man was below, mopping and scrubbing away at the tiled floors and walls. He tried his best to free them of crude messages and doodles students had made the night before. In the meantime, he swept or picked up said garbage, throwing it into a bin he dragged behind him with an unseen resolve.
Pushing a mop and dragging a bin. Nathan sniffed with a sideways smile. “C’est la vie,” he said under his breath, dipping his head back to pour more candy bits into his mouth. His legs wriggled back and forth. Waiting on other people was not his forte.
Earlier, Nathan finished the layout of his portfolio, printing the final pieces in the school’s computer lab to show Jefferson. The results awaited his return to the dorms. With that completed, and Max beleaguered to the point of agreement—or so he hoped in a rather hypocritical reluctance—he slipped on his jacket to head out.
He immediately felt a horrible heaviness under the red material. He stripped off the coat with a panicked breath and threw it on his bed. From Pompidou’s paw prints to that smear of blood from Max’s nose, to the amount of times Nathan wore it in general, he inferred it was in need of a wash. Those were his biggest excuses—legitimate ones, he might add—to shed it for now. It wasn’t because he had sudden feelings of strangulation by relation to the events he’d witnessed in it this week. Not at all. That would be silly. He wasn’t that weak.
He knew he was lying to himself. Sean would be disgusted. He tried not to think about it as he opened his closet in search of a replacement jacket. He owned one that was similar, but it was a deep blue. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn it, but he needed something to battle the evening’s cold.
“Fuck it.” It would have to do. He pulled the coat out of his closet, fluffed it, and slipped it on. A perfect fit, and it actually went better with his black jeans and white sweater.
He roughly slid shut his closet door, proceeding to move the contents of his old coat into the new one. He gazed again at the photograph from the envelope before jamming it into his pocket. Out of sight, out of mind.
He had a couple more hours to kill. Futzing about his room, he organized his desks, his DVDs, and the other clothes in his drawers. That didn’t take long; they were already organized as they were. He always made sure of that. He then dug under his bed, bypassing some magazines and other junk to discover a hacky sack. Dr. Jacoby had given it to him to help him focus or calm down, but he barely used it. In fact, it was quite dusty. He guessed now was as good a time as any to try it out. Nathan lay down and tossed it up and down for several more minutes, the beans interrupting the quiet with a jarring psh every time the toy landed back in his palm. Up to the ceiling, from hand to hand, even from foot to foot upon a whim to stand, but that got old fast. He then decided to have some ‘private time’ to himself, and though it helped with some of the stress, it didn’t relieve his boredom. In fact, it may have made things worse with the mixture of everything—especially Max—on his mind. He closed the libidinous website he was browsing, headed over, and fell back on his bed, burying his reddened face in his pillows.
‘It’s pretty sad when a guy can’t even crank one out properly. Goddamn it.’
When he calmed and returned to his computer, he figured he would check his emails. A few from Blackwell he skipped over, one from Dr. Jacoby he made note of to read later, and one that made his lip rise in annoyance.
Subject: Just checking in
To: Nathan Prescott
From: Kristine Prescott
“Fuck you.” He said to the screen with a hefty sigh.
About a month ago, Kristine had sent him another email. She was living it up in Brazil with her Peace Corps comrades, of whom she bragged him up to all the time. Or so she said. How she missed his pictures, she also said, and hoped he was well. Then, of course, she had a nice little lecture in that email about how their ‘mother’ said he’d been in trouble and how their father has been on his ass. About how Sean was a bully who inherited power and not wisdom and not to change who he was to fit the family legacy and blah-blah-blah. Nathan had heard it all before. Now, after current events, he wondered if his anger should be directed at himself rather than her.
Do I have to send that jaguar to your dorm like I promised?
Oh, yeah. There was some kind of juvenile threat like that in her previous email. It was ridiculous, but it made him genuinely laugh when he first read it. He could feel tears begin to well in his eyes, and he wiped them away before they could fall.
Just kidding, Nate. Didn’t mean to get so preachy in my last message. Just wanted to check in on you again. You doing okay? Keeping on track with your medicine and your therapy visits? I can only imagine how much of a pain it is trying to keep focused on all that plus the stress of Blackwell.
“Yeah,” he said.
Are you making any new friends at school by the way?
Of course Victoria crossed his mind. Jefferson, too, much to his own surprise. But not many others. Then, he let Max’s pissed-off, freckled, baby face come to mind. He couldn’t help but snicker, shaking his head at his own reaction. The humor soon faded, replaced with a stiffening sadness.
“No. Not really,” he answered his invisible sibling.
You’ll have to send me some pics of you and them, too! I haven’t seen you in so long. It was four years this July, wasn’t it? I mean you’re an adult now! It’s so hard to believe you’re already eighteen. I owe you some cake for all those missed birthdays! Or an ice cream cake instead. I know how you love those. Well, you used to. Maybe your taste buds have changed.
“I could totally go for an ice cream cake right about now.”
Anywho, now I’m rambling. You know how I can get. I just wanted to check on you again. We had a pretty bad rainstorm the other day. Thunder and lightning and crazy winds! Had to help keep things in order, and for some reason I couldn’t help but think of you. I hope you’re safe.
Back to the grind. Love you.
“Love you, too…” he trailed off, his words garroted at the end.
In his shadowy, soundless room, Nathan was alone, having a one-sided conversation with his computer screen like an idiot. The email had ended. It couldn’t answer back. He sniffled and cleared his throat. It was mysterious how his sister always had an uncanny ability to be there, even when she wasn’t physically. Most of the time, anyway. But he didn’t write back. Or call. And he no longer took pictures for her. It wouldn’t make a difference. It didn’t matter. She was the one who left in the first place.
Still, there was so much he wanted to ask her. Especially now.
But he wouldn’t. Instead, he continued to reread her emails in silence. Over and over, feeding off her words of encouragement, despite them often making him upset with their truth. Time passed quickly then.
Now, as the clock clicked over to six, Nathan sat in a false hope under the pool’s dimmed lights. The reflections of water bounced and flickered across the walls and windows as white snakelike streams of unpredictability. Samuel never noticed him. Or he was purposefully avoiding him. That was the likelier route. It wouldn’t have gotten the man anywhere if he tried to kick him out of the vicinity anyway. All Nathan would have to do is threaten him with his father’s presence, or tell that drunkard Principal Wells that the Prescotts would cut off Blackwell’s flow of money, and he’d get his way. A dickish ploy, and one Nathan would use constantly, but Nathan didn’t give a damn. Not anymore. Not after all the shit this town put him through. Fuck them. Not that Samuel was the kind of person to report him in the first place. He was weird, cryptic, and more of an observer than a talker. A lot like Max, now that he thought about it.
He rolled his shoulders. Scratch that. An observer, yes, but she wasn’t that weird or cryptic. She was just different. He hummed, swallowing the mass of sugar he built on his tongue. Not a bad different. Just…different.
His mind had then slipped to the night prior, and, against himself, he let the memories in. Though it was Rachel’s clothes she was wearing, the ensemble somehow fit her, showed another side to her. Hell, the whole night showed another side to her. Or maybe he was assuming the least about her. After all, he may have been tipsy, but they willingly danced together. And they had fun. At least, he did. She looked like she was having fun. That was sure…something. Though she probably found that courage after she downed half the glass of that Long Island. Regardless of everything else, it was obvious she wasn’t a drinker. Admittedly, not even he could get past one of those without feeling the effects straight afterward.
Nathan groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. He hated second-guessing himself, and tried to keep his thoughts in order. He then glanced at his fingertips as he brought them down. He flexed his digits, recalling the moments afterward, when the crowd pushed them together. It was fuzzy, but there were some things he would never forget.
A rush of blood went to his head, straight up his neck, and played at his ears. His inner conscious scolded, ‘Yeah. Maybe she did have fun, but you also took her on a damn joyride, slaughtering a fucking deer, and you made yourself look like an ass in front of her friend. Plus everything else that you’ve said and done to her. Wake the fuck up!’
Right. Back to Earth he crashed. That rainy drive back to Blackwell. That was the whole point of this, as much as he wished it wasn’t. They both saw the doe. They were both in that painting. This itch had to be scratched once and for all.
It came back to earlier. He would have had the chance to talk if not for her frie—if not for Chloe. His legs twitched and he began chewing at the corner of his nail. He still couldn’t believe that blue-haired girl was Chloe. The girl that apparently he hurt, according to the babbling Max Caulfield. Her backwards explanations and actions at the lighthouse still perplexed him. Pissed him off, more like.
Nathan exhaled, the end tipped with another frustrated growl. He had enough on his mind, and he needed to think straight if he was going to have any semblance of a normal conversation with the girl he almost—Nathan swallowed hard—kissed.
But with a nebula of constellations peppering her soft skin, the alluring dark depths of her eyes catching him once again in their undertow, and her inviting, magnetic glow of tranquility and peace…
A harsh jolt spread through his body, left a bad taste in his mouth. He had an amount of intoxicated idiocies behind him, but this one was pretty high on the list. For one, he had been sober enough to remember it. His head fell against the bars with that final embarrassing divulgence of self.
‘Jesus. Just…don’t think about it. Don’t. Think. About it. Christ, you really fucked up this time, Nate.’
Nathan groaned. He really couldn’t blame her if she didn’t show up after everything that happened between them thus far. But at the same time, the fire within him would dictate his directed fury if she dare not. He gasped at the violent thought, slightly crumpling and releasing the bag in his palm, telling himself to stay in control.
Would it have been unreasonable to say he was sometimes afraid of himself?
‘It’s not her fault. She was even nice enough to bail you out with Victoria. If she doesn’t come, she doesn’t. Quit being a damn pissbaby.’
Nathan cleared his throat again and looked at the ceiling. Only a few of the fluorescent lights were lit, the pool shut down and the vicinity emptied for the day. It was rightfully so that the school needed an extra day to clean the building. It was a hell of a party. They all were. All the same. Always. It was exhausting, trying to keep up and make each one more elaborate and fun than the last. He dare not mention that, though. That’d be taboo, especially if he said anything like that around Victoria. They had to represent, after all. Whatever that truly meant anymore.
His logjam of thoughts were beginning to physically hurt, and he could only distract himself with chewy, sugary candies raking back and forth across his teeth and tongue.
As the minutes continued to tick by after six, Nathan began to lose what little hope he had left. Samuel finally exited the area, lingering in the outer hall for a few moments from what Nathan could spy from above.
In was then that another figure entered in exchange, and Nathan’s stomach plummeted. All his assurance collapsed in seconds like a game of Jenga. He had prepared for disappointment, as always, and the opposite had just come through the door.
Stepping forth in a remote state of caution, Max Caulfield’s whispered echo reached his thrumming ears.
“You, uh, r-really hit your head, didn’t you? Come on, Max. Seriously. Let’s go sit down.”
“Chloe. Please. Listen. I know I sound like a lunatic, but it’s true. I can reverse time.” She continued to talk while letting Chloe guide her to the sofa. They sat down and sank in. “I don’t know how or why o-o-or where I got this power, but I can.”
“Okay. No. This isn’t anime or a video game, Max. People can’t have those powers! Just…relax for a second. I’m going to—”
“No!” Max grappled her wrist. She wanted to tell her about the lighthouse, about Nathan, but was still afraid. “I can’t explain it. But please. Trust me. There was a photo of you and me. William took it before he—he—! But now it’s gone! I went through it, like, inside it, a-and went back to that time andthereweresomanyofmeand—”
“MAX!” Chloe pulled herself away to grab hold of her arms. “Calm. Down. Your nose is bleeding again.”
With a grumble, Max wiped the cloth across her upper lip and sat back. She stared ahead, not at anyone or anything in particular. She could see that she was worrying Chloe, but she didn’t know what to say or how to say it. Not without revealing what happened with Nathan. And with Chloe’s current disbelief and position, especially with Rachel’s ambiguity as of late, she dare not let any of that information slip. She didn’t want Chloe to think she had betrayed her in some way. She closed her eyes and laid back to let her headache ease.
Chloe said, a hidden fear in her tone, “That time in the junkyard, your constant zoning out. Like, worse than you’ve ever been before. And now rewinding time? Max, what the hell’s going on?”
She felt the flow of blood heat and cool her every move, and shook her head. It was like it was full of water. “I don’t know where to start with everything. I know I’m not crazy. I’m not.”
Chloe scooted over and nudge Max’s leg with hers. She made a hesitant sound, an indication that she was afraid to indulge in her friend’s otherworldly story. “I guess…start from the beginning?”
“It’s difficult to explain. I don’t know if I can.”
“Just try. I’m here.” Chloe’s warm hand fell on her shoulder. It was soothing, if a reluctant action.
And so, Max told her friend of the toils of that week. She omitted everything with Nathan to the best of her ability, especially the vision she had at the lighthouse. The butterfly, the bathroom, her getting shot—she didn’t know where to start with that one, let alone everything else. Though, afterward, she began to see just how much her position relied on Nathan’s presence. After all, she presumably rewound for the first time on their rainy drive from the diner. But the visions had started even before that. It all truly seemed to start with that illusionary blue butterfly.
Max felt too much conflict swirling in her head. It was like a hurricane.
“Holy shit, Max.” Chloe’s mouth fell ajar, and she was speechless. It still wasn’t any less weird to see her as such.
“I know. I sound completely…” She trailed with a long sigh.
“Insane.” Short, sweet, and to the point. It couldn’t be said any other way.
Max let out yet another shorter sigh mixed with a, “Yeah.”
Another moment of contemplated silence blossomed between them. It wasn’t an uncomfortable moment, but rather one of necessity. It felt like everything was starting to come to an over-boiling head, but she felt relief with her confiding.
“But…a cool kind of insane?” Chloe added. “I mean, if you’re not just fuckin’ with me.”
Chloe’s squinted. Not out of suspicion, but out of that childish curiosity Max recognized a mile away. Eventually accompanying it was a slow-spreading smile and the crossing of her legs and arms as she squished backwards into the old sofa.
“Hm. Okay, Long Max Silver, my frantic first mate. Let’s experiment!”
Max’s blinked, her eyes widening after. “Doing what, exactly?”
“Well, if you can rewind time, impress me! Do something…rewind-y!”
‘Oh-kay,’ she enunciated in her head. ‘But what?’
Max gave the room another lookabout, wondering how she could prove her prowess when Chloe piped up with an idea.
“Oh! I hella got this! If you can rewind time, what number am I thinking of right now?”
Max’s mouth twisted, “I can rewind time, not read minds, Chloe.”
“So, I guess you gotta tell me what the number is first.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “La-a-a-ame.”
“It might be like I read minds when you tell me and I go back, though?” Max tried to hold her cool factor.
“Yeah, yeah. It was sixty-nine, by the way.”
Now it was Max’s turn to roll her eyes. “Dude. Seriously? Too…”
“Ah-ha. All right then. Fair enough. Now I’ll be thinking of…fifty-three! That’s random enough, right? Show me what you’ve got, Max!”
Max paused, preparing. This was really happening. Time to go big or go home for Chloe Price. She took in a long breath and held out her hand, summoning the force of gods to her will. The world slowed and blurred into a mixed vision of reds and oranges, like a developing photograph. She was getting used to it now. Chloe’s movements unnaturally contorted in reverse. Outside, a bird on the fence that had flown away unwillingly returned to its perch. The leaves in the wind redid their dance.
And then, she was back.
“Ah-ha,” Chloe began just as before. “All right then. Fair enough. Now I’ll be thinking of—”
Chloe literally took a step back. Her head tilted as she stared Max down, her expression widening. “W-what?”
“Fifty-three. Right?” Max smiled, her chest puffing outward with her somewhat-hidden smug façade.
As intimidating as Chloe appeared with her newfound look, she suddenly reverted back to her younger self, completely out of her element. “What the fuck? O-okay. No. You had a lucky guess! Fine then. Uh, now I’m going to think of eighty-one!”
So, Max rewound once again.
“…now I’m going to think of—”
Holding Max’s gaze, Chloe’s eyes widened once again, and then she squinted. Her mouth formed words of surprise, but no sound came out.
Max gave her a sheepish, if proud, grin. The giddiness she felt with her friend’s expressions was a new kind of high, and she wasn’t going to deny she liked it.
“No. Fucking. Way.”
And it continued like that for a while. More number guessing, messing with the TV guide and giving an entire day’s worth of shows that would be on that afternoon, even guessing what was in Chloe’s pockets after she emptied them on the dining table. Max rewound and gave her what she wanted every time. However, now Max was feeling the effects, and she had to stop. She held her head with a groan, the feeling of blood beginning to loosen in her nose.
“Hang on. Oh, shit! Sorry.”
“What are you sorry for? You can rewind time, Max! That’s fucking insane! We have to play!”
A chord was struck within her. What Chloe just said, she had heard it in the voices before. Her body tensed before stuttering, “I-I mean. This isn’t a-a toy, Chloe. It sort of,” she wiped her upper lip, “takes a lot out of me.” Max held up her bloodied finger, blinking away the pain.
“So you get a little nosebleed! Big deal! Of course this is a toy! Like, hello? Rewinding time? You know how much you can fuck with people?! Then BOOM!” she exclaimed and smacked the coffee table to drive her point home. “Go back like nothing ever happened! And we could—” Chloe let out a little gasp. It was filled with relief and excitement. “We could find out what’s been going on with Rachel.”
Max deeply frowned. “Yeah. Nosebleeds, headaches, and literal blackouts. Plus the visions and my crazy ghost clones? Have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”
“You scared?” Chloe gave her a sideways stare.
“Scared? I’m fucking terrified! Wouldn’t you be?”
“Aww,” Chloe’s tone dropped to a cooing babble with a pout to her lip, “that’s so cute. Max is afwaid of a widdle nightmawre.”
Max scowled. “Seriously, Chloe. I don’t want to overdo this. Whatever this really is. I mean, what if something happens? I don’t want to fuck myself up or…” she trailed off, fearing the worst if she even uttered it.
So, Chloe did it for her. “Die?”
Physically wincing, Max tilted her head to the side as her palm met the back of her neck. She could feel the muddy earth slip beneath her feet, the lighthouse’s metal clang, and the salty air try to snatch her away. “Yeah. Die.”
Chloe’s went through a multitude of facades: boredom, annoyance, and finally to one of utter penitence. With her reflective break, Max let out an internal breath of relief. At least Chloe had the mind to think of her wellbeing, but there was still a deep unnerving current coursing through her veins.
Or…was there a fate worse than death with this power?
Chloe regained her stance, if with a softer edge. “Don’t worry, Max. You’re totally strong. Stronger than you think you are. You’ve got this. We’ve got this. I know you’ve got my back. And I’ve got yours.”
“But,” Max started with another fear surfacing, “These powers,” she stopped again, another short breath leaving her lips. “They might not last.”
Chloe gave her a small smile with bright eyes. “That’s okay.” She slung a light arm around her shoulder. “We will. Forever.”
Max couldn’t suppress the large smile that came with those calm and reassuring words. Even though it felt like the world was against her, she was glad that she still had her best friend on her side.
As the hours passed, and the girls experimented more with Max’s ability—making sure to take ample breaks for Max to recharge, they did things they hadn’t done together in years. Drew pictures, played video games, even dug out some old-school board games and more photo albums, reminiscing over days gone by. It sort of made Max feel like an old woman, but it was a good feeling, and the best kind of reintegration. Arcadia Bay, Chloe Price, and an afternoon for only the two of them…
Max was home.
Despite it all, Nathan hung over the moment like a spider in its web, waiting for its prey. Waiting for her. And when Chloe finally drove Max back to Blackwell Academy, the darkening skies aglow with the bruising sunset, Max felt the weight of her descent into the web’s sticky depths.
And yet, she thought in secret, if it weren’t for Nathan, she may never have discovered her powers.
Max gave Chloe a wave and a secret snapshot with her new camera as she pulled out of the lot. Chloe called back, demanding to see the picture later. Max, of course, agreed with a wave and another smile, one that quickly faded once the blue-haired girl was out of sight.
She fingered William’s camera with nervousness. ‘Who am I kidding?’ she said to herself. ‘If it wasn’t for Nathan, I’d be a washed-up corpse on the sands of Arcadia. But, what do I say to him this time? What do I do?’
Slowly, in rhythm, Max’s feet fell on the sidewalk up to the school. The sun had almost set by now. Max was brought back to the present with a sudden blast of cold wind. She held her ground and looked up at Blackwell’s courtyard. Small bunches of students and professors were in their associated cliques as they awaited the start of the football game. Across the street, at the field, the floodlights lit up the stadium. Faint cheering and the school’s marching band could be heard. Max took out her new camera and snapped another photo.
“Ahh. That feels good,” she said, shaking the Polaroid in familiar fashion. At this point, she needed something to take off the edge. She wondered if Nathan had done the same with his drug of choice. There was another second of hesitation on her end. Another evening with an inebriated Nathan was something she definitely didn’t want. Still, she pushed forward.
The pool doors were still as intimidating as ever, even more so now that the Vortex Club’s harsh, rhythmic beats weren’t mixing with her pounding heart. The cold, an acquainted friend to Max by now, accompanied her as she took a deep breath and entered the first hall.
As she did, Samuel met her halfway, wheeling an overflowing garbage bin from behind with one hand and pushing a mop bucket by its handle with the other. He looked both uncomfortable, yet in control with his own balance. Max felt for him. It had to be hell to have his job with the club’s parties.
“Hey, Samuel. Uh, need some help?” She reached out and pulled the handle of the mop.
“Ah. How do you do, young Max? Samuel thanks you, but I’ll be fine.”
“You sure?” She wheeled it to the side and wiped some moisture from the handle on her sweater with hidden, mild disgust.
The elder man nodded with a light smile before looking as though he had a thought. “Oh. Did you ever find your picture?”
“Oh, yeah! I, um, well…I found it. All in one piece. Thanks for keeping an eye out for me. Sorry I didn’t let you know sooner.” She gave an uneasy laugh. ‘Found’ was one way to put it.
Samuel shook his head. “No worries. I’m glad. I am also glad you seem to have found some relief your way.”
“You seem less…chained down. More confident, if I may say so.”
The muscles in her lips gave a tug. She couldn’t hold back a tiny smile, even if Samuel’s manner was giving off mysterious vibes.
“I feel a little more confident.”
Samuel’s expression waned, as if he were holding something back. He pulled the garbage can and set it against the wall, looking through the set of doors he’d already come through. His face was alight from the vending machine’s colorful backlit logos.
Max gripped the strap of her bag, a cold sweat breaking out at the base of her neck. “Um. Was there something else you wanted to say?”
Samuel re-gripped the garbage bin and pushed the bucket forward once again. “There’s a different kind of chill in the air tonight.”
Silence pierced the hall. Max shivered. “W-What kind of chill?” She was afraid to ask. The atmosphere tightened.
“One of change. For better or worse, Samuel doesn’t know. It’s too…muddled. The squirrels have been more fidgety. Restless. As have I.”
Max didn’t know whether to laugh or shudder. She was stuck at an odd interval between. Samuel often spoke of the fauna of Arcadia Bay, having an affinity for it. The squirrels in particular, she noted. But that statement sounded nothing short of alien.
“I guess the animals have a way of sensing things. Unlike us.” Max admitted.
“What do you think they’re trying to say?”
“To get our shit together, if I may be frank,” Samuel responded whilst staring ahead, right through Max and to the outdoors. “But that’s another conversation for a later time.”
She half-nodded, forced a smile. She was getting more uncomfortable by the second.
“And Max? Be careful.”
She froze. “Wh-What?”
“I feel as though—”
He abruptly cut off. So, Max waited, the shudder violently drowning her urge to laugh by then.
“Your aura,” he continued, staring past her still. “Though its stronger, somehow it feels as though it’s…fading. Anyway, you should finish your business here and head back. The pool is closing for the night.”
She never thought to make an excuse for her being there that late, never thought about the pool’s official hours, or running into Samuel. Now she couldn’t think of anything let alone a concise excuse. Her mind was a terrified blank.
She had to snap out of it. “Uh! I—right! Just gonna…um…gonna grab a c-couple things. And maybe a-an application for the swim team, too.” She sounded and felt like she was fumbling a well-thought play.
“Tread carefully, young Max.”
Her heart skipped. More sweat pooled at the back of her legs and under her arms. The shudder had turned into full-blown goosebumps. Samuel only nodded a goodbye before stepping forward, pushing his way through the exit doors and leaving Max alone in an isolated disquiet. She squeezed her bag strap harder, the moisture now moving into her palms. She shook her head, breathed out, and heaved forward in her own direction into the room.
‘Okay. Officially freaked out now. Let’s just get this over with and get the hell out of here.’
As the space opened up, she immediately realized the difference in comparison to the morning hours, especially compared to last night. Now a calm, enveloping warmth hung in the air from the heated water. New chlorine made the place smell fresh. The stream-like reflections of water bounced on the tiles. Hypnotizing. Sedative. It was so serene that she actually jumped when her shoes gave a squeak on the clean floor. She looked around. From the unmoving remains of the party, to the listless ripples of the pool’s surface, everything was quiet.
Afraid of her own echo, she whispered in urgency, “Nathan?”
It then hit her that this might be the setup to a horrible joke. That possibly Nathan, Victoria, and the rest of the club were waiting to ambush her, to push her back in the pool, to make an even bigger fool of her on their recording device of choice. But then, would Nathan have tried to stop her in the lot earlier? Would he have sounded so desperate in that message? Max pushed away her conflicting thoughts. Confidence. She had to remember that she had that about her right now, and to own it. So what if that was fading? If that’s what Samuel meant. She hoped that’s what he meant.
She moved to the opposite side, underneath the upper level’s overhang. “Come on, Prescott, enough screwing around! I’m here, so what do you want?”
That felt better, even if it ground against her withdrawn tendencies. When only her reverberating voice answered, again she called, “Nathan!”
She then felt something small bop the top of her head. Max felt where it hit with a sound of exclamation and proceeded to watch its haphazard pattern turn into a roll off to her side. It fell to the floor with a tak! Her brows scrunched and she leaned down to pick it up. It was a purple, oblong thing, smaller than a marble, complete with a white imprinted S.
Max felt another bop to the head, and another similar piece fell to the floor. She snapped up to a figure sitting behind the guardrail above. A small grin greeted her, the boy’s body reflecting boredom, but his face reflecting familiar complacency.
“Taste the rainbow.” Nathan greeted, flicking another piece that Max promptly dodged. It rebounded into the pool.
She placed a hand on her hip, feeling her nerves twitch at the very sight of him. Of which gave her quite a shock. He blended into the darkness of the upper level, almost to a creepy degree. The blue jacket he now sported in place of his red one helped him with the camouflage. The rest of his darker ensemble further pushed him out of existence. She wondered if the red one was still wet from when he let her borrow it. Or maybe, because she had worn it for a moment, it was no longer worthy of him. She cringed at her hidden nihilism, but she wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
“Very funny.” She had to clear her throat and balance on false courage. It took all she had to choke out those two words. She’d have to do better than that. She couldn’t think of last night. She couldn’t. Not now.
“I thought so,” he answered, his voice almost as shaky.
“Of course you thought so,” she muttered.
Nathan was having his own troubles. He thought seeing her now, in her normal attire and in a normal setting, he would be able to keep his cool. That wasn’t the case. That actually worried him. ‘Motherfucker…’
He kept his inner voice under lock and key. “Though, I just noticed I wasted a few cherry pieces on your ass.” Nathan stuck his legs through the bars and let them dangle with an uneven chuckle.
Envious of his assumed fortitude, Max adjusted her arms to a cross with a scoff. “Throw a grape one then, why don’t you?”
He put another in his mouth. “Fuck off. Grape’s good, too.”
Max stopped herself before she could snap back. She wasn’t about to have an asinine argument about candy flavors. She just wasn’t. She switched subjects. “Okay, how you get my number? Because, seriously, not cool.”
He let out a short chord of a conceited laugh. “Your dumb ass really doesn’t get the concept of ‘The Prescotts own Arcadia Bay,’ does it?”
And again, she was on the receiving end of an insult. All this just to have another bicker session with him? Not today. She wanted to put all this behind her and move on.
“Yeah, I get it, Nathan. But, despite what you said the other day, you don’t own me.”
“With the right price, I’m sure I could change your mind for a night or two.” He said, the side of his mouth crudely twisting upward with the lewd joke.
Max shot him a disgusted look. “Ugh! Can you not? I’m so done with all this shit! First with Chloe in the parking lot, and now blowing up my phone? You’ve made it pretty clear that you don’t want to talk, or have anything to do with me. So, what the hell do you want?”
Nathan’s brows rose and the sneer he had dissipated for a look of guilt. The situation was a cruel, karma-filled irony. He expected her to be fed up as much as he was, and he was tired. So tired. After everything that had happened between them with the addition of the events at the estate, he wanted to cut to the chase as much as she did. He stood up and leaned over the bars, resting his head on his arms.
“Look,” he huffed, “I want to talk. I do. All right?”
She wasn’t letting her guard down that easily, and she became nervous with his sudden calm. “Really. After all that, why now?” She paused, waiting for a punch line, waiting for club members to pop out of designated hiding spots, waiting for…something. “What’s the catch?”
Nathan straightened and ground his jaw, his voice growing in a crecendo. “Catch? For the love of—Would you chill the fuck out for two seconds? Jesus! Give me a minute.”
He figured this ordeal wasn’t going to go well, but his own impatience was getting the better of him. Nathan swung around and headed down the set of stairs to meet her on the ground floor, hovering in the stairwell’s doorframe before edging himself forward in an adrenaline-filled rush. His body tensed with every step.
Max’s vision fell to the floor, right along with her nerve. His approach was fast and with purpose. She couldn’t meet his intense, ice-like stare, her conviction at a rapid decline, and her blood at a rapid increase. She continued to curse herself out as his footsteps mimicked booming thunder in the room’s acoustics, all becoming a muffled drum in her ears. He came to a halt mere inches in front of her with another squeak from the freshly-mopped floor. Again, she jumped, feeling pathetic.
And Max would be damned if he wasn’t wearing that same scent of his again, taking her right back to last night—lights flashing, a barrier of people’s legs enclosing them, the uncertainty in his eyes as they leaned into one another. She wished she could shut off all her senses as her hands fidgeted with a button on her bag. With her voice stuck in her throat, her earlier fumble with Samuel continued, twisting into a tumultuous nosedive. She contemplated rewinding, but it quickly passed.
Nathan plunged his hands in his pockets and grimaced. “Look, Caulfield, I…I just…” He brought out and ran one of his clammy palms through his hair, struggling to find words himself.
Max was still messing with the button on her bag, her chest pounding so hard she was afraid he could hear it. She thought, like this, maybe she could get through the meeting without becoming a babbling train wreck. That is, until Nathan’s stiffened fingers pressed into her shoulder, followed by an irritated growl.
“Look at me so you know I’m being serious!”
There it was again. The same desperation in his voice like in the message he left. She slowly looked up to meet his softened blues, the ice melted once again. While she counted in her mind, trying not to look like the doe in his headlights all over again, Nathan began to play a familiar game of connect-the-dots with her speckled face.
Nathan started, breaking out of their accustomed awkwardness, “About—” he pulled in his lower lip for a second, “About last night…”
‘Oh, hell.’ All of Max’s joints locked, and she knew the blood dam she tried to create had failed her, and a blush began to surface.
He felt her shift and tried not to follow, tried to keep talking to keep himself on track. “And not just the party. Also with what happened at the diner. The lighthouse. The drive back to—” He stammered as he gained a faraway look, not unlike Samuel moments before. “When I hit the—” It went back to determination with a breath. “The doe.”
She stayed still and patient, becoming lax with his opening.
“I—” He shifted his feet, looking down and locking his knees.
He just couldn’t seem to finish his sentence. Max’s face dropped before Nathan eventually completed the impossible.
Max took a literal step backwards, her whole expression widening. The week’s events rushed by like a blur in her mind. She didn’t know how to respond. She must have clearly been exhibiting her disbelief, as Nathan now looked like the one stuck in the high beams.
He rolled his widened, nervous eyes and shifted his feet, looking like jittery toddler, visibly trying to keep his frustration at bay. “I’m sorry! I—” he caught himself mid-sentence and returned to a more serious tenor. “I’m sorry, Max. For…everything.”
The silent seconds ticked by. He let them as the ‘everything’ he mentioned began to drive the knife of guilt deep in his chest. However, much to his—and her—surprise, Max had a slow, genuine smile start to spread from ear to ear. One of her brows rose when she spied Nathan’s face beginning to shimmer a rosy pink like hers in the dim, blue light. It could only be magnified with the lack of his red jacket. Now, he was having trouble regaining eye contact with her.
Max felt like giggling. He looked so flustered. She had to get in a last dig. But she would remember to keep herself in line with the candidness he expressed. For her, it was a miracle he apologized in the first place. Even more of a miracle that he actually sounded like he meant it.
“Wow. Nathan Prescott, the King of Blackwell, apologizing to a lowly peon like me? That’s one for the papers.”
Nathan turned more away with a scoff. He hated that given title, and it made him squirm. “Ha-fuckity-ha. Like I haven’t heard that one before. If you actually knew me, you wouldn’t be saying stupid shit like that.”
Unexpectedly, to herself once again, Max stepped forward to lay a calming hand on his arm and shook her head. “Relax, Nathan. If you knew me, you’d know I was just kidding.”
She let go after her statement, realizing her unnecessary action wasn’t helping matters. His strained expression was also telling her to step back. Her hand then retreated to her neck, and she cleared her throat.
When he stayed quiet, scratching at the spot where she touched, she couldn’t help but continue to ask, “So, does that mean you did accept my ‘shitty apology’ from that time?”
His eyes snapped back to hers. “Whu—? Uh. Yeah. I guess.” His hands returned to his pockets and his jaw did its trademark slide. He wasn’t expecting that response. “Whatever.”
Max emphasized with her own lazy eye roll. “Jeeze. Then, I accept yours. I guess,”
He lowered his vision to slits and locked his steely blues with hers. Their stances bolstered their own inner strengths as the rapids around them evened to a serenity that could mimic that of the pool. There was a fresh harmony between the two, but they wouldn’t admit their relief.
Before long Nathan closed his tired eyes with a sigh. “Barbs and sarcasm as always, aren’t you, Caulfield?” he said in a drone, hiding his emotions.
“As much as you are broody and hotheaded, Prescott. Also…I win.”
“Don’t call me broo—wait, what?”
Her lips curled, smug. “You blinked.” She wavered, but then sprinkled the addition she wanted with bravado. “Loser.”
Nathan should have been annoyed, should have snapped back at her without delay. It was in his nature. But he didn’t. In fact, like Max, he felt a smile begin to form. It was a strange, but welcoming feeling. And though it was played up as half-assed with a dash of derision—something he figured he deserved—Max’s acceptance to his apology helped.
“What-the-fuck-ever.” He dragged, his tone betraying his hard words, the smile broken through.
Max let out a breath of laughter. “So, um…besides that, you wanted to talk?” she asked mildly, a new blush forming over her nose. She didn’t want to egg him back into a state of anger; the rare sight was a victory she wanted to bask in a little while longer.
Right. That. With his mildly-wounded pride, Nathan straightened and edged himself into the next step of the conversation. The image of the painting hung in the back of his mind, haunting him. He felt the photograph in his pocket.
“We both saw that…thing.” He gulped, his throat feeling like sandpaper. “But I don’t know how, or where it came from. I mean, it was—” He stopped abruptly this time, furrowing his brows before continuing. “It was dead.”
He wanted to say, ‘I killed it,’ like before, but this time the words got stuck. It hurt.
Max nodded, her weight shifting, her hand squeezing her opposite arm. There were a lot of things that she thought were impossible. Like seeing that specter. Like Nathan apologizing. Like rewinding time. If anything, she was getting used to impossible. She didn’t think she should be this comfortable with impossible, but fuck it. Here she was.
“What about you?” he asked, his voice rushed, obviously looking for answers as well. Answers she didn’t have any more than he did.
Though, maybe she did know something, but didn’t know it herself. Maybe it had something to do with her power. But how could she even begin to explain that to him?
She shook her head. “I have no idea. And I’m telling the truth. I thought maybe you would have known…I dunno. Something.” Now she was trailing.
Nathan bit the inside of his cheek. “How the hell could I? It fucked me up as much as you!”
Max’s face fell. “Then…how…?” She was at a new loss for words.
A swarm of curses ran through Nathan’s head. She was with him in Joseph’s painting. So was that apparition. There had to have been some kind of connection. He had an overwhelming urge to tell her about it all—the journal, the painting, even his nightmares—but the immediate fear of castigation stopped him. He wasn’t about to sound any crazier than what everyone already thought he was, especially not to her. Not after he’d done so well to get this far. Yet the urge hung, and he could only splutter.
Nathan dragged his cold hands to he back of his hot neck. His body twisted, and he retreated slightly with a sharp exhale. “Shit!” He bent his head up and closed his eyes, repeating himself. “Shit.”
Max stepped toward him in response. Her stomach flipped. Something about all this didn’t feel right. “Nathan?”
“So, you don’t know anything? Nothing?”
She frowned and shook her head again, gnawing at her lower lip. She, too, wanted to tell him everything. Hiding the truth from him hurt more now than she wanted to admit, especially seeing him like this, so gallingly open and honest.
“Me either.” He repeated, his voice tighter, “Me either…”
Max suddenly felt completely useless, unable to help, unable to find something to say. So absorbed into the moment, she realized she was still in the recreation building, alone, with Nathan Prescott. But…there was no cruel prank waiting for her, Nathan had legitimately apologized, and now all she could do was stand there as she saw him struggle to find logic in madness. She knew how he felt. There was an invisible weight bearing down on him that was transferring to her, and hers to him, creating a distorted balance in the chaos. Nevertheless, she knew no more than he. And it began to dawn on them both that they were equally lost.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her gaze dropping back to her shoes. Her hands squeezed her bag strap. They were clammy again.
“What the hell for? You didn’t do shit.”
“I know, but…”
“All of this is just—” He couldn’t find a word to finish.
Tilting his head up, he shook his head, nodded, and rubbed his face with a whine all at the same time. Max’s brows knitted, wanting to do the same. As his hands came up from being once more placed in his jacket, something fluttered out of his pocket. Max stopped and leaned down to pick up the piece. Nathan continued to pace, his form now at a constant shift, unaware.
The composition consisted of a couple on a beach. They looked happy. Max’s skin felt electrified with the energy that filled the picture’s edges. Nathan was still muttering to himself as Max looked it over. The echo of the room seemed to grow.
“Um, Nathan? You dropped th—” Her eyes never left the picture, studying it and taking it in. She couldn’t tear away. And then she realized the echo wasn’t just growing. The photograph was moving, blurring.
Just like the one of her and Chloe.
There was a flash before Max could fully realize what was happening. She then heard the voices in full. Their laughter mixed with the cry of seagulls and the whitecaps against the shore. The salty air, the bright sun, the whisper of the trees. It was like she had been sectioned off from Nathan. It was like she had been whisked away to…
Max looked up. “Oh.” Max said aloud. Her voice sounded far away. She swallowed, paralyzed in fear. “Oh, no.”
She wasn’t in the recreation building anymore. She was on the warm beach from the picture—Arcadia Bay’s beach—staring down the couple in the photograph who were coming to life with their jubilance. The lighthouse winked at her in the distance with the sun’s evening glow. But the sky…
‘Fuck! What’s happening now?! Where am I?’ She gasped. ‘WHEN am I?’
While the lighting reflected dusk, the sky itself was a mass of red, bloody wisps. A boundary containing the unknown. They resembled the streams of the pool, only inverted. Haunting and mystical in their own way. Was the flashback with William like this? She couldn’t remember, couldn’t think at all in her panic.
The woman from the photograph leaned forward, holding the top of her sun hat with a loud laugh. Some of her thin, shoulder-length locks whipped into her mouth as she dramatically spat it out and put it behind her ear after the gust.
“Whoa! That was a big one!”
The man holding her up ran his hand through his wavy hair after he helped catch her balance. An airy chuckle left his peachy lips. “Better tie some weights to your ankles, Susan, or you’re bound to blow away!”
“Well, if I hang on to you, Arcadia will have to reconsider its weather forecast, won’t it?” the woman named Susan replied, a tentative smile behind her words.
“I…won’t always be around to be your anchor.” The man sounded like he forced his lack of empathy, a despondent look in his eye rather than firm.
Susan pursed her lips. “Oh, of course. Excuse me while I,” she picked up some of the sand beneath their feet, “stuff some of this in my pockets. Hold on.”
“No! Don’t—Susan!” The man broke down into a fit of laughter as she did. It was a warm, pleasant sound. A better fit for him.
Grainy bits leaked out and down her dress. She didn’t seem to care her ensemble was getting ruined. “There! No worries, Joseph. At least now your grandfather can say I’m weighed down enough to keep my head out of the clouds, right?”
“Ha! Very true.” Joseph wrapped an arm around Susan’s waist and kissed her cheek. In turn, she dragged a sandy hand against his with another upsurge of her own.
Max didn’t move. She dare not even breathe as another flash came and went. She then heard a familiar procession whirr. ‘A camera…?’
“Are those for your client as well, Lorraine?” Max heard a harrowing voice from behind. The person sounded derogatory and cross, even though there was lark at the end of their quip.
Another answered, their speech honeyed and sanguine, sounding like it came from the very spot in which Max stood. “Don’t worry, Sean. I’ll get my work done when I can. Let’s just relax for the day, okay?”
‘Sean?’ With the thought of the photograph she held and its current proprietor, Max found a correlation. ‘Sean Prescott?’
Her fear became her strength as she peeked through her peripherals. There was another man, more robust and paler than the other, clean-shaven with a tamer, slicker hairstyle. He wore a pair of square glasses that he pressed up on the bridge of his hawk-like nose. The khaki pants and crimson vest he wore fluttered in the wind. He looked displeased, crossing his arms with a frown. It was indeed Sean Prescott. There was no mistaking him. But he was much younger than the tyrant she glimpsed on the day of the assembly. A rather meek-looking young adult he was, very different than the intimidating powerhouse that had Arcadia Bay under his thumb present day.
Finding her courage, Max finally took a second to look down at her hands. She was transparent once again. Now she understood why they were paying her no mind. Her suspicious were true. She had gone back in time. This time through Nathan’s photograph. But how far? Surely before she was ever conceived, a fact made more apparent when there were no other phantom Maxes in sight. She felt zaps across her skin that turned into dreadful weights.
She was alone.
Sean gave a grunt of disapproval. “Susan needs to be at home, in bed. And you need to focus on your work. And Kristine—”
“—is fine with Dad and Grandad,” the smooth voice that was Lorraine finished for him. She swerved around and held him by the shoulders. “Everything’s fine.” She dropped to a whisper, leaning into Sean’s ear. “Susan needs this. Joseph, too.”
Lorraine, the one whose voice seemed to overlay Max’s presence for the longest time, had stepped forth and out of Max’s position to get to Sean. Her long, sandy hair fluttered with another building breeze, its natural wave bouncing with her step. When she turned, her features more prominent for Max’s gaze, they struck her. Max felt her mouth slightly come ajar. The woman had a softer jawline, but her eyes, her nose, her lips…
Everything about her resembled Nathan.
“Look! Look, there’s one! There! See? Lorraine, get the camera ready!” Susan waved one of her arms and pointed at the water.
There was a loud fizzing blast on the horizon. Breaking the surface of the waves was a whale. It sang out an evocative cry. Another followed with a cry of its own. They melded together as their dorsal fins grazed the world above only to revert below within seconds. Lorraine stood a ground, readying the instrument in her hands. It gave off several more flashes before she let it droop around her neck once again.
“Those are going to be awesome! Can’t wait to see them developed! Good eye, Susan!” Lorraine complimented with a large grin.
“More like good timing. Joseph said they’d be around right about now.” Susan fondly gazed at him. “He was right. Though, you were always good at predicting things,” she said to the motionless man.
Joseph gave off a strange expression before pushing through it with a light smile. “Well, when you’ve lived here all your life, you start to see patterns. Right, Sean?”
Sean responded not with words, but a rather threatening glare. Max felt another imaginary icicle slide down her back.
Susan chuckled, a nervous tick behind it. She then relieved her pockets of sand, brushing her palms together and any remaining grains away from her dress. “Let’s go up to the lighthouse then! I’d love to see it at sundown. I felt like we haven’t been there since we were in high school.”
Joseph bobbed his head with an expression of agreement. “That’s more than likely the case. We’ve been so busy that…” He stopped. “I’ve been so busy that…” Joseph then cleared his throat with a hand to his mouth. He was having troubles articulating himself. “Anyway, you sure you’re up for the climb?”
“Always.” Susan skipped over to Lorraine and took her hand, an attractive blush adorning her contours. “We can all go. Right?”
Lorraine cast Sean a look of compromise to which Sean sighed and firmly nodded. Sean lagged behind as the two girls went ahead. He glanced back to Joseph. They shared looks of disparity.
“If Grandfather finds out we’ve been mucking about on the beach—”
“Dad can keep him quiet for now.”
“Dad can’t keep anyone quiet! Not anymore! You have responsibilities, Joseph. So do I. But here I am again, cleaning up your mess! Covering your ass! All for the sake of—”
Joseph’s jaw locked before he bit back, “All for the sake of what, Sean? The Prescott legacy? For fuck’s sake! Missing one goddamn conference at the library changes nothing! All we’re asking for is a little time.”
“It’s not just about today’s conference! And you know that! And there is no time!” Sean hissed, his final exclamation carrying a melancholic heft.
Brows rising before placing his hands in his pockets, Joseph scoffed. “Wow. You sound just like Grandad anymore, you know that?”
“And anymore, you sound just like our father.” He said it through his teeth.
Sean then whirled around. He was done talking. He left the sand and met the boardwalk as he and the girls faded into the veiny distance. Joseph stayed behind, watching them go, his kind, soft features becoming hard as stone. It was like he gained ten years within ten seconds. Max felt a deep sense of emptiness wash over her as Joseph rubbed his temples.
When he did so, it was as if he was soothing Max’s headache as well, of which was starting to affect her ability to see straight. She was beginning to lose her hold on the memory. Groaning, she squeezed her eyes shut to recoup.
However, when she opened them, they widened, bulged.
Joseph was looking right at her.
The wind whistled and the trees’ leaves hissed like a thousand snakes. A flock of seagulls fluttered above, some heading down to land nearby and pick at the trash in the sand. Their gazes held.
His powerful stare tore through her every fiber, not unlike the boy’s she left behind. With it, she turned to ice.
There was another cry from the ocean, more melancholic than the others. A lone whale, so much louder than the others. It was deafening. It filled her ears until they felt like they were going to burst.
She was bathed in blue light and awoke to impatient fingers snapping in her face. She yelped and jumped back. Her eyes adjusted, pupils dilating to the darkness as she looked up to a bewildered Nathan.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” he asked, masking his breathless concern with one of his trademark pissed-off expressions.
All Max could do was stare ahead in utter confusion. The light of the water bounced across the room, across their persons. She was back again. Dumbfounded, she held up the photograph.
“Y-you dropped this,” she said, her voice a weak croak. She felt as foolish as she sounded, but her position was stacked against her. What could she possibly say to defend herself now?
The corners of Nathan’s mouth lifted, his brows knitting tight, confirming her exposure. He stepped up and snatched the photo, glancing at it and then back to Max after thumbing its edge. Something more about her got his immediate attention.
“The, uh, weather getting to you again?”
“W-what?” She was still in space.
Nathan pivoted, leaning in close. He hesitated for a split second, but then took his thumb and ran it under her nose. She gasped, reminded of that rainy night in his truck, and snapped back to reality as he held up the bloody digit for her to see. His expression matched the intensity of Joseph’s. It only served to make her feel worse.
Max took her sleeve and wiped the remaining blood away. She then noticed that Nathan had earlier smeared a drop off the photograph. She swallowed, tasting the harsh tang of copper and iron.
“What the fuck is going on, Max.” Not a question, a demand. Like in the diner. He was abruptly all business again. It was a stab to her chest. One step forward, a hundred steps back. She just couldn’t keep up.
“I…I don’t know…” Thrown from one confusing moment to the next, she could feel the surge of tears threatening to flow over.
He was sincere with her. For once in his miserable life he was open and…no. He had been that way many times. Before now, before her. Nothing had changed then, either. It only got him here, kicked to the floor with them laughing at his naivety, laughing at how stupid he was. She was no fucking different, sitting there acting innocent, like her trance was something he didn’t notice.
Nathan had turned to see why she addressed him, but by then she was out of it. He examined her silent form, and Nathan thought he’d gone into cardiac arrest with the shot of terror it gave him.
Her eyes had glazed over with a silver film, as if she were dead.
Her breathing was normal, her balance fine, but when he tapped her shoulder…nothing. He grabbed it and gave it a shake. No response. Even calling her name resulted in silence. She was hiding something, and he’d had enough secrets. He’d had enough, period.
His face began to scrunch ever so slowly. He then barred his teeth, and like the predator he resembled, he roared.
“QUIT FUCKING WITH ME!”
His rage was as earsplitting as the whale’s cries, and equally matched their sadness. As his echo resonated off the dead space, and Max’s form slumped in defeat. She, too, had had enough secrets.
“Quit fucking with me," he repeated with a whimper. "Not now,” Nathan continued, his head falling forward. The animal was gone, replaced with a frightened child. “Please…just…not now.”
Max’s lip trembled. She didn’t retreat from his grip. She understood, feared the worst as she found her voice. “That man…in the picture…”
She swallowed hot bile. The amount of adrenaline threatened her system to purge. It all rested in her stomach, refused to let her continue. She felt if she said his name, he would reach out of the photograph to strangle her where she stood.
Nathan released one hand, looked down at the now-wrinkled picture in his palm, and his face softened only to change to one of pure horror. He dropped the photograph to the floor as if it were ablaze with a cry. Max could only be reminded of how the one of her and Chloe had literally gone up in smoke. Was that the case now? Her eyes fell to the piece, locked on it with Nathan’s.
The holographic effect was still present. The red veins slithering across its surface, a portal to another time. They stared for a while, watching, waiting, until they faded. The piece returned to normal. The teens’ jaws dropped, their eyes saucers as they regarded one another once again. Both had lost the ability to speak.
All of a sudden, a sharp pain hit Max right in the chest. Her arms instinctively wrapped around herself and she fell forward with a hard gasp. It spread…and spread, and spread! Her body was on fire! She curled in further, only vaguely hearing Nathan call her name through the agony. There was pressure on her shoulders. Nathan was shaking her in a harried fashion.
She ignored him, looking down at her hands, and for a second, she could once again see through them, could see the tiles below.
But she was in the present. She was right there! She was here!
She was…she was…
He squeezed her arms harder. Like the night before, it grounded him. This wasn’t a dream. His chest tightened.
It was then that she reciprocated his action, grabbing his arms in one swift motion. She further balanced herself and brought her head up to meet his. His presence grounded her as much as hers did him. Though the hot pain resonated, her limbs had solidified. Like the photo, the effect had come and gone, and Nathan was none the wiser, never noticed her moment of disappearance. Perhaps that was for the better, but…
Fate. Destiny. Whatever it was that brought them together wasn’t letting them part so easily after all.
Her expression caught him off guard, her eyes wild pools of resolve. “What?” Nathan couldn’t hide his emotions anymore. He was scared. More than scared. His mind screamed for him to run, but his body was like a rock. “H-How did you—?”
She shook her head before he could ask any more questions. “Who is he?”
Nathan broke their shared vision only to drop it to the photograph on the floor.
“Who is Joseph Prescott?”
Nathan felt like he had been stuck in a rowboat in the middle of the Arcadia’s ocean. One in which he paddled through through a thick, suffocating fog. But there was a familiar flicker of light guiding him. Such was the duty of the lighthouse. And he decided to follow.
“I don’t know, but I think I’m going to find out. Whether I want to or not.”