BACK IN TIME
By Miguel Ruiz
Chloe sits on the floor in front of her bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, almost too pissed off to cry but occasional tears crept down her cheeks regardless. Her dad was dead, and her ‘best friend forever’ moved a million miles away with barely a goodbye. Her mother was trying to be there, but Chloe never felt more alone. She looks to her phone, quietly resting on the desk across the room, imagining it ringing and seeing ‘Max’ on the screen. Of course, that hadn’t happened since even before she left.
“I could just call her… Fuck!” she shouts, “Why even bother…”
She wants to call her, talk to her best friend, just to talk about anything with her again. Maybe ask her if Seattle is as cool as they thought, or if she’d come and visit during break. But, every time she thought of her a terrible pain struck her heart. She left when Chloe needed her most.
Max may as well have died too.
Max takes a seat on her bed in her new room, surrounded by scattered boxes and bags, feeling out of place and almost lost. She looks down at the phone in her hands, scrolling through her contacts she stops at the icon of a certain pirate-hat wearing friend just to stare at the call button. She wants to call Chloe, ask how she’s doing, but how stupid of a question is that? How do you even talk to someone who just lost their dad? William was dead, just the thought of him being gone forever sent a pang of sorrow through her core. He always treated her like family, but Chloe was his real daughter and Max left her.
“I need to call her,” she says to herself, “but…what do I say? Should I wait for her to call me or… Maybe she’s pissed at me…”
Chloe finally stands and nearly stomps over to her phone, grabbing it off the desk. She’s about to open it and call Max but instead stares at it.
“Why won’t she call?” She asks herself desperately, “I need…her…”
She grits her teeth and throws her phone in one of the desk drawers, almost certainly breaking it. She sees a black sharpie next to her phone and takes it before slamming the drawer shut.
“Max? Honey, it’s time for dinner,” her mother calls from outside the door.
“Kay,” Max no more than whispers.
“Okay mom,” she says a little louder.
She gets up from her bed, waiting a moment to put the phone on one of the boxes, but decides to pocket it instead.
Just in case Chloe calls, she thinks.
Making her way outside of her room and down the hall, she joins her mom and dad at the dining room table. There were various boxes around them but not as much as in Max’s room.
“Once you’re finished you should unpack your clothes,” her mom suggests, “I know you’re tired but you should at least get some of those boxes out of the way, and you need something to wear tomorrow of course.”
“Okay mom,” is all Max replies with, picking at her food while her parents look on worried.
Her dad speaks up, “Any word from back home?”
“No,” Max says quietly.
He clears his throat, “That’s too bad Max, it’s pretty late though maybe tomorrow?”
They continue their dinner in near silence, Vanessa and Ryan Caulfield occasionally talking about their plans for tomorrow and starting work in the coming days. Max didn’t say a word for the rest of the meal.
Chloe took the marker to a height chart on one of her walls, leering at it in anger. Her dad would measure her height there, and Max too when they first became friends. She starts to scribble it out, writing hateful things like ‘Fuck all shit life’ and ‘Dad is gone’ as if it were a timeline of things she wanted to forget. At first it made her feel better, but the ache in her heart was ever growing.
Wiping away some stray tears she looks at her almost macabre artwork that was once a height chart and scoffs, shaking her head. Deciding it made her feel the least bit better about things she took the marker to the rest of her walls.
She’s never leaving me, she remembers saying not long ago.
That makes all of us, her dad added.
‘Everybody lies. No exceptions.’ She writes near her door.
You would totally come with me, Max told her one day. I need a bodyguard for our adventures.
‘Just Gotta Let Go.’ She marks above her bed.
She’s about to write something obscene across a poster when she hears a knock at her door.
“Chloe? I made dinner… Come on out and eat something you’ve been in there all day.”
Chloe doesn’t say anything, staring at the door instead.
“It’s your favorite… Chloe, please come out.”
She’s about to shout through the door, tell her mother to leave her alone, but decides she’s too tired and hungry to argue.
“I’m coming,” she says, almost angrily, and leaves her room.
Joyce is already walking down the stairs before her, looking dejected and depressed. Chloe follows in her wake, doing her best not to seethe. Her mother is going through enough, Chloe knew, but so is she.
Max finishes what she can of her food and starts to leave the table. Usually her mother stops her to help and clean up, but instead her dad speaks up.
“Max, hold on,” Ryan says, and she does. “I know you didn’t want to leave Chloe behind, and I’m sorry but…”
Vanessa picks up for him, “There was nothing left for us in Arcadia Bay, sweetie. You know we wouldn’t have left otherwise, we loved it there too but we can make a new home here.”
Max doesn’t want to hear what sounds like ‘adult excuses’ to her, but tries to understand.
“Your mother’s right,” her dad says, “it’ll be better for us here. You can always call Chloe, and if she doesn’t call back you can make new friends. Sometimes we have to let things go and move on honey.”
“Yeah,” Max says quietly, not really agreeing.
Ryan goes on, “And who knows, maybe someday, you’ll see each other again and things can be like they used to.”
“…Yeah, thanks dad,” she says, thinking about seeing Chloe again made her feel a little better at least. “I’m pretty tired, gonna go to bed, goodnight.”
Chloe doesn’t really want to spend time with her mother right now, but one bite of her cooking and she was nearly attacking the plate of food in delight.
“It’s good to see you out of that room,” Joyce says, “How is it?”
“Good,” she says, not wanting to talk, and keeps eating.
Joyce picks up on her daughter’s lack of conversation and decides to eat in silence as well. Chloe has almost cleared her plate of food when Joyce speaks up again.
“Have you heard from Max yet?”
Chloe slams her fork on the table hard enough to shake the plates on it.
“No,” she says, almost choking on the last bite of food.
Joyce leaves the discussion at that, startled at first by the outburst but not wanting to start another argument with her daughter. Chloe felt like screaming. She wants to blame her mom for letting her dad die. She wants to yell at her ‘You could have just walked from the store and he’d still be here!’ but seeing the tear-stained cheeks on her mother was enough to stop her. Instead she picks up her plate and drops it in the kitchen sink.
“I’m going to bed, thanks for dinner,” she says, not quite fuming, and goes upstairs before Joyce can reply.
Before she can say anything she’ll know she’ll regret.
Back in her room, she picks up the sharpie from where she left it and looks around. Still pissed off at the world, she remembers something Max told her, it was just before Chloe’s dad died.
Chloe, I’m so sorry. I tried to make things different for you. I… I did try. I’m sorry…
She didn’t know what Max was talking about, but now those words bring her more comfort than confusion. She takes her sharpie to a wall next to the window.
You have made things different, like, my whole life. Chloe said, I got you, and a great family, what’s to be sorry for? We’ll be best friends forever!
“Forever,” Chloe whispers to herself, and begins to carefully write on the wall.
‘I’d rather have a life of “Oh wells” than a life of “What ifs”’
Max was acting weird back then, but the more Chloe thinks about those last words the better she feels. She lies down on her bed and stares up at the ceiling.
Listen, whatever happens, I want you to be strong. Max told her, nearly crying, Even if you feel like I wasn’t there for you. Because I will never abandon you, Chloe. I’ll always have your back.
Always. Chloe thinks, falling asleep.
Always. Max echoes, drifting into sleep, miles away.