Root Cause, Part 1

Thunder and rain fall around us. Here by the lighthouse everything leading to this moment.

Somehow she is holding herself together, “No Max, you are the only one who can.”

How can she ask me this, there must be another way. I want to speak up, to shout. My body feels so heavy.

“Max… it’s time…” Chloe managed to get the words out. She starts backing away from me on the verge of tears.

“Chloe… I’m so, so sorry… I… I don’t want to do this.” She hugs me. Why does it have to be this way. How can I go through with this. Why is this happening to us.

“I know, Max. But we have to.” Chloe’s voice starts to crack. “We have to save everybody, okay?”

Everybody means you too Chloe. All I can do is stare, it finally sinking in what I am about to do.

“And you’ll make those fuckers pay for what they did to Rachel.” Chloe starts to move away from me.

Don’t go. It’s too soon.

“Being together this week… it was the best farewell gift I could have hoped for.” Another step away. “You’re my hero Max”

I move forward and kiss her. She wants to save everyone, how can I leave her now. It seems like forever, but finally she starts to move away again.

“I’ll always love you… Now, get out of here, please! Do it before I freak.” Her voice finally breaks. “And Max Caulfield? Don’t you forget about me…” She starts backing away again.

“Never” The words leave my mouth dry. I want to just sleep. What am I missing. I am so tired. Is this really the only way. Can I really let everyone down there die… Just for her.

I look at the photo she gave back to me. A blue butterfly on a bucket. It all started with that moment when we were first torn apart.

I start to focus.

I see the room coming into focus. That time, where all this started.

The sounds of the storm fade away. Where my life… our lives finally were brought together again.

I feel the cool still air of the bathroom. Our lives together, only to be pulled apart now.

I start to fall into the photo.

Lightning crashes nearby and breaks my concentration.

“Max! Are you ok!” She screams over the wind and starts to come over, looking at me concerned. “Come on Max, I know you can do this.” She yells trying to be heard.

Deep breaths Max, you have to focus, I straighten up and look around trying to calm myself. My head won’t stop pounding.

Chloe had backed away again but was now half turned away. She is afraid of seeing what I was about to do, but looking over her shoulder every other moment not wanting to lose sight of me. Watching over me.

Our time together has been torn apart so many time. I stare at the tornado getting closer. Everything keeps trying to keep us apart. That first time in the bathroom I didn’t even realize it was her.

My mind stopped. That first time…

“Max, I know you can do this. Please.” She look at me with fearful but pleading eyes.

The first time we were forced apart. My mind raced with an idea. Was it possible, and what would happen if I did. Saving William changed so much. I look at Chloe again, remembering her in that chair.

Will this even fix things. I look at the tornado again, it was almost to the shore. Will anything fix things.

I look at the photo again trying to focus. Not on it, but on a idea. This all started because of some event. With shaking hands I pull my bag around. But what if we are wrong about what event. I put the photo away and pull out my journal.

“Max, what are you doing” She starts to come towards me.

All these photos, these memories. I quickly flip to the start and the first photo I put in it. The first photo from when I started at Blackwell Academy. Not a photo I took, but my Father did five years ago. Standing in front of our house here in Arcadia Bay.

“Max!”

I focus.

*Flash*

Dad walked to the camera and picked up the photo. He waves it around for a moment before looking at it. “That’s a keeper. Now it’s time get some of the house itself. Need to make it look its best.” He hand me the photo before walking off to the side.

I’m dry and warm. The sun feels so strange after being in that storm for so long.

“Are you sure dear, you don’t know yet…” Mom put a hand on dad’s shoulder and then looked at me. She puts on her best smile, “Oh, ignore me Maxine, I am sure everything will turn out great.”

I’m back. I start looking around and almost stumble from how tired I am.

“Whoa there sweety, you ok.” Mom said coming over looking worried, “Maybe you’re getting too much sun today and you should lie down for a bit. We can talk later about what’s going on.”

What’s going on. I quickly recover, “Uh, no. No I am fine. It was just… the flash.” She doesn’t look like she believes me. Still after a second and seeing me acting more normal she goes back to helping dad.

I start looking around and see the edges of the photo, the bounds of this world. Now, where was… is it.

I continue to look around frantically while my mother occasionally looked over with a concerned look on her face.

*Flash*

Dad is taking photos of the house. Right, dad is getting pictures so they can put the house up for sale. I think he took five. I remember sitting with him later, helping to choose the best ones. Did I realize we were going to leave Arcadia Bay then?

Dad starts moving to a different angle and lines up another shot.

That is not why you are here Max, focus. Find the mail box.  Looking to where it should be I only see the white edge of the photo memory.

*Flash*

“No!” I cry as I reach out to where it is supposed to be.

“Ok, now I know something is wrong. Come on, lets get you inside.” Mom tries to lead me inside. Dad is looking at me a little concerned as well, but seeing mom taking care of me, he goes back to finishing off the photos. “Should we call Chloe and tell her you are not coming over tonight?”

Chloe… I feel all the strength leave me, falling to my knees. There was no point, I can’t do anything here.

Mom helps me up and we slowly start walking towards the house. I will have to go into the butterfly photo. I will have to just sit there and let it happen.

I feel tears forming. I will have to leave her again.

Something blurry catches my eyes through the tears. Blue, right at the edge of my vision, what was it.

*Flash*

A strong gust of wind suddenly comes out of nowhere. “Whoa” I cry almost falling over.

Mom had let go of me to try and hold on to her hat, but the wind was too strong and it flies off. “I will be right back, ok Maxine. Just sit here for a moment.” She starts walking away to find it wherever it went.

A sound grabs my attention, but I can’t place it. Dad lowers the camera and goes to get more film from his bag on the pathway to the front door.

What is that sound… paper? I start to look around curious despite my exhaustion. Where did it come from.

“Only two left huh.” Dad looks a little concerned. “I will have to go out and get more later.” He turns to the house and…

*Flash*

Its coming from dad’s bag? There, on the ground under his bag. A pile of letters trapped under it fluttering in the wind.

He must have just gotten them. I try and remember that day. I remember he looked at them over lunch. I had gone upstairs to get ready for the sleepover.

I stand on shaky legs start to move towards them, Which one was it. My head aches with stabbing pain.

I step closer, What would he do if I try and mess with them. He was so looking forward to this.

“One last photo.” Dad starts backing up. “Hey Max, can you move to the side for a second?” He lines up a shot right over his bag, looking at the front of the house.

There is no way to get to them with dad just standing there. I start to raise my hand, I have to try..

Mom comes back holding her hat, brushing some dirt off of it. “Are you sure about this dear?” Mom looks a little worried.

I lower my hand, Wait, did she not want to go? I stop, looking at them both. I know she loved it there in the end… but she was lonely at first wasn’t she. I look down at the ground, Am I trying to justify things.

“I know, and they are taking so long to get back to me.” Dad lowers the camera and just looks at the house we had all lived in all my life. “But work is having trouble out here, you know that.”

“We have just been here so long.” She sighs, “I know, I know” She walks over and they hug briefly. “One more you said right, then lunch.”

He was so happy with that new job… but it was so hard. He came home so late some nights. I look away. More justifications.

He nods, “All the inside photos are good, just one more shot of the outside and we can look them over later.” He raises the camera to his eyes. “Come on over here Max.”

Blue, out of the corner of my eye. Chloe…. wait, what is…

I see a blue… no the blue butterfly, just sitting on ground nearby. Why is it here? I remember the storm, the town. Chloe… no, I have to try.

“Dad!” I try and whisper as loud as possible to dad.

“Huh, what’s up Max?” He lowers the camera.

“Can you take a photo of the butterfly?” I keep talking in a loud whisper, as if I am not trying to spook the butterfly while gesturing frantically towards it.

“Well, this is the last shot I have,” He pauses and looks at me, “and these might be important soon.” A sad smile crosses face.

“Oh, I have never see such a blue butterfly here in Arcadia before.” Mom places her hat back on, “Must be a sign of good things to come.” She smiles and looks towards dad.

Dad briefly looks back at mom and I.

“Please dad, it’s soooo beautiful and you take amazing photos.” I try and put my best pleading face on, hoping he does not see my desperation.

“Ok, ok.” He sighs, but a happier smile crosses his face, “The three I took should be fine.” He turns towards the butterfly and takes up a crouched pose, acting like he was hunting something. “Let’s see what your old man can do.” He says in a really bad Australian accent. He start to moving towards the butterfly, away from his bag.

The butterfly just flaps its wings and but doesn’t fly off. Like it is waiting for something. I start to move to the letters as quietly as possible.

Dad stops suddenly and straighten up. Looking back at us I try and act normal. “Tell you what, if they don’t get back by the end of the week, I will take another look around town.”

Mom just smiles, “I am sure things will work out, no matter what happens.”

He looks towards the pile of letters. “Anyway, I feel like something good is going to happen today.” He flashes me a silly smile and then returned to his silly accent, “Now then, lets see if we can get closer to this critter.”

He really wanted that job. What am I doing to them. I look at my hands. All the memories of my time in Seattle. My new friends, Kristen, Fernando.

“Just a little closer now” Dad takes another step forward.

The butterfly flaps its wings. Blue… “Chloe” I whisper, and I start to move again.

Dad raises the camera to his eye and begins to focus on the butterfly. I am almost at the pile.

“And now what are you doing Max.” Mom looks at me a little quizzical.

Shit… I raise my hand to try and rewind.

“Ah!” My head lances with pain. I touch my nose, blood.

“Maxine!’ Mom rushes over. Dad hearing the noise looks over and then rushes over as well.

“Here Maxine,” mom places a tissue under my nose and has me hold it there, raising my head a little. “I am just going to get some more from inside, just sit here until I get back ok?” She helps me to the ground, right by dad’s bag.

I nod a little. I can’t even rewind. Have I done too much.

Dad sits down beside me and puts a arm over my shoulder. Camera on the ground beside him. “Max, is everything ok? You seem nervous today. You know you can talk to me, right.”

He seems so happy, so sure of things. Is this right? I finally sigh, “Everything is fine, just a long, long day.” He is not convinced. I am sure of it.

The butterfly is still there, waiting. No, I have to try. I am sure this is the answer. I try and look as normal as possible as I look towards dad. “I am fine dad, can you try and take the butterfly photo again, please?”

He looks at me concerned, “Are you sure you are ok?” I nod as best as I can holding the tissue to my nose still. “Alright Max, but lets talk more later ok.” He stands and grabs the camera again, walking back towards the butterfly, no silliness this time. “Sure is a great model though isn’t it. Just waiting for us and all”

The pile is right beside me… I pick them up as quietly as I can. Bill, bill….. no…. wait, there, a letter from Seattle. Dad’s new job that he loves… loved… I hold the letter in my hand and just stare at it for a second. Can I really do this to them.

How can I not do this for her.

“And….” Dad looked to be about to take the photo.

I shove the letter down a sewer drain beside me and return the rest of the letters to under dad’s bag as best as I can.

*Flash*

Dad comes over shaking the photo. I try and act excited to see it.

“Here you go Max, how did it turn out?”

He perfectly framed the butterfly, like a jewel in a sea of grass.

How will this turn out. I start to cry.

“Hey Max, its going to be ok.” He hugs me.

As I look at the photo I feel light, floating, leaving the photo memory.

——————————————————-

Where am I now.

I feel numb from everything. I am in a room, but it is so dark. I turn my head and look around but I can’t see much of anything. I can’t hear any sound of a storm. My head still hurts, but I touch my nose and there is no blood.

It’s so quiet, and warm. I feel safe here. I can barely keep my eyes open. The storm is gone, and I am already in bed. Might as well get some rest and tomorrow I can figure things out. I pull my blanket over me.

“Ummmgm” I jump as a voice beside me make a sound.

I toss the blanket off and try to jump up, but something catches my waist. A arm… Flowers and butterflies. Blue out of the corner of my eye.

“Something, wrong?” That familiar voice, sounding so sleepy. That beautiful voice.

“Chloe!” I almost jump while hugging her.

“Hey there, not that I am complaining but is everything OK.” She tries to rub the sleep from her eyes.

“You’re here, so everything is perfect.” I hug her as close as I can. Here, in a bed…. Her arms around me.

“Nice blush you go going on there.” She smirks for a moment, “You sure you are OK?” She looks at me concerned.

The moon comes out from behind some clouds. Her blue hair shining in the moonlight. “You said you had a long day and needed to sleep but want to talk about it now?”

I look around, we are in her room, but different. A queen sized bed. Her posters, and mine on the walls. Photos all over in a mural around a drawing we did as kids. Two computers, hers on her desk… and mine on a second desk in the corner. Science books on her desk.

“What is…” my mouth stops working and I just stare.

“OK, now you are freaking me out Max.” She places a hand on my head, checking my temperature. “What’s wrong, something happen at the party?” Her hand starts to strokes my hair.

Deep breaths, calm down Max. I steel myself for what I was about to say.

“Chloe, this is going to be really strange, but please here me out.” I look her right in the eyes.

“Sure Max, whatever you need, you got it.” She sits up in front of me looking concerned, but trusting. She holds one of my hands in hers. I blush again.

“Chloe, I need you to tell me everything that has happened.”

“What, about tonight? I thought you said you didn’t drink anything?” She chuckles for a moment before looking concerned and confused.

I hold her gaze, “About the last five years.”

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