I still remember that rough hand dragging me back home when I was sixteen after I ran away for the first time, two voices lecturing me for several hours afterwards. Mom’s was understandably concerned but David’s was furious; loud and demeaning and carrying a wrongful sense of superiority that no one should use on their child. Except he wasn’t my dad and I hated when he pretended to be. My real dad died to a goddamn drunk driver two years ago and that would never change.
My best friend, Max, subsequently abandoned me for the Seattle art-holes and I haven’t heard a word from her since, regardless of the messages I sent her. I had to deal with step-douche and my hopeless future in Arcadia Bay all alone.
I didn’t deal well with being alone.
I self-harmed that night. Not on my wrists because I refused to be labelled as a hipster-emo, but rather I dragged a blade over my right arm where my black jacket would conceal the angry wounds. It wasn’t for attention; I just wanted to… feel something other than isolation.
I snuck away at dawn, a bottle of sleeping pills in the pocket of my ripped jeans, and followed the train tracks to the junkyard I noticed while on the run yesterday but didn’t take the time to explore. Mostly it was filled with rusted cars and plumbing appliances; nothing too interesting, though there was a boat stranded high over a vehicular graveyard and the sight reminded me of all the times Max and I used to play pirates. I was the Captain and she was my First Mate, with that adorable eye-patch of hers, and we would mock swordfight with sticks and speak with ridiculous accents and swore we would make the world bow to us someday.
Now, alike to that stranded boat, I’m without a crew.
I found privacy in a small shack on the outer edge of the junkyard, the wooden enclosure surrounded by various scrap. The inside was relatively bare other than a worn-out couch and some empty bottles on an end table, but those items were enough to prove that someone used to frequent this place. Judging by the layers of dust, however, that person probably wasn’t coming back anytime soon.
Which was perfect. That meant nobody would happen across my body for a long time.
I played with the small bottle in my pocket, fishing it out and briefly shaking around the white tablets. These things normally put David asleep until morning. They could put me asleep for much longer. Would it take long? How much would it hurt before I passed out?
Honestly, it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that my dad and my best friend abandoned me here in the backwash hickhole of Arcadia Bay, where no one else cared about me and any foreseeable future for me, if any at all, was bleak and pitiful. I was gonna be stuck in Arcadia Bay forever unless I found a way to escape.
And right now, these pills were the only way.
I unscrewed the plastic lid and popped a few pills into my palm, nervous but ready to gulp them down my throat, but a foreign hand on my shoulder startled me so intensely that the appetizer of my suicide tumbled to the ground. I looked up to address the intruder and I felt my heart stop because the first thing I noticed was a pair of hazel eyes that shimmered with warm, undeniable concern.
Eyes that reminded me so much of Max.
But after several blinks to rid myself of the image of my ex-best friend, I realized the girl standing in front of me wasn’t Max, despite their frighteningly similar expression. She looked around my age, with fair, blemish-free skin and golden hair that cascaded down to her mid-back, a much prettier shade than my dirty-blonde. She was skinny but not unhealthily so, wearing a black crop top that exposed her midriff and belly-button piercing and ripped dark blue skinny jeans that hugged all of her generous curves.
Other than her average height, she looked like she could be a runway model.
“Don’t,” she spoke softly, a honeyed voice laced with quiet conviction. “I guarantee that whatever the problem is, this is not the way to fix it.”
“What do you know?” I growled before I could stop myself, tears behind my eyes. I always jumped to anger too quickly, especially when people tried to help me; a poor defense mechanism that stopped me from forming any meaningful relationships.
“Enough,” she answered simply, long legs strutting forward to plant herself on the couch beside me. “Do you want to talk about it?” I bared my clenched teeth, but my silent answer only succeeded in making her smirk. “I figured as much, but thankfully I have a backup plan.”
I watched in bewilderment as she pulled some weed and paper out of her pocket and started rolling a joint.
Then my brain registered the last part of her sentence.
“Back up plan? The hell? Were you following me or something?”
She glanced at me before resuming her illegal craftsmanship. “I hang here regularly enough, so when I saw a girl who looked like she lost everything wandering around my turf I was hoping I could help. And if words won’t suffice, candy normally does.”
She finished her work and flicked a lighter against the joint, taking a long drag before blowing out the smoke with a dopey grin. She passed me the doobie and I hesitantly accepted, my fingers trembling as I brought it to my lips. I’d never done drugs before but I was literally about to kill myself so who gives a shit anymore? She lit up the end for me and I sucked in, almost immediately hacking and sputtering and shoving the joint back at her. She laughed but the sound wasn’t mocking.
“Damn girl, is this your first time? I’m honored to pop your drug-virginity.” Her smirk turned soft. “Just relax. Your body will get used to it and then start feeling really good. Trust me, I got the grade-A stuff here. Will have you feeling colours in no time.”
She brought the joint to my mouth again and I relented. I took enough drags that eventually I wasn’t coughing anymore and soon the material of my clothes felt comfier than before and the green sky was so pretty and this stranger’s shoulder brushing against mine felt like an angel was spreading warmth all over my body.
But maybe that’s exactly what she was to me. My angel. A stranger with a heart as gold as her hair who talked to me like a person and saved me from the worst mistake I would have made in my life.
“Y-You’re like Supergirl,” I slurred, not really sure what I was saying but it felt nice leaving my tongue. “Saving people and shit.”
She laughed and it was alike to a harpist fingering my heartstrings. “Nah, just a regular girl trying to make something with her life and have fun while doing so. Oh damn, look at that!” She swiped at a blue feather earring under the end table that practically looked like it was glowing. “I’m stealing this. Shame there’s only one, but I can make it work. I’ll disinfect it and try it tomorrow. God, this colour of blue is so pretty. You know what else would look good with this colour? Hair. Your hair, honestly.” She ran her fingers through my chin-length dirty blonde strands and I’d never felt such pleasure. “You’d look sick with blue hair. I know a place that sells great dye if you want.”
All I could do was nod and smile dumbly.
She walked me home and didn’t introduce herself until we were at my doorstep. “I’m Rachel Amber by the way. What’s your name?”
“Uh… I’m Price. Chloe Price. Bang!” I shot her with duel finger-guns and sent myself into a laughing fit that she joined in on.
“Well, Chloe Price,” she drawled, snatching my phone out of my pocket and inserting her contact information. When I reached to take it back she rested her warm hand over mine and looked at me like Max used to and it made my heart stop. “If you ever feel like doing this to yourself again, call me, okay? Or text me. Whatever works for you. I promise I’ll be there.”
The next day was particularly brutal. When I came home yesterday step-douche immediately noticed I reeked of weed and forcefully searched my room to make sure I wasn’t hiding any. Mom scolded me similarly, saying David could lose his job as an officer if non-prescription drugs were found in their home. Then David flew off the handle when he noticed his sleeping pills missing and immediately accused me of stealing them. Which was true, of course, but I couldn’t tell him that. He already caused me enough suffering; if he found out I was suicidal I’d probably lose any sense of freedom I still had.
They essentially grounded me but named it a ‘lesser form of grounding’ since they couldn’t find any weed on me. I was confined to the loneliness of my room the whole day. Normally this was my only safe haven but now it felt like a prison. I wanted out. Out of this room, this town, and this life. I hated myself and everyone around me.
Except… except for one.
I shakily sent a text to Rachel. I was too nervous to call her and I felt so messed up I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk properly anyways.
Hey, it’s Chloe from yesterday. Sorry to bug you, but… I’m not in a good state of mind right now. Do you have some time to talk?
I never got a text back. I waited five minutes. Then ten. Then fifteen. I felt everything around me crumbling. Life was cruel and unfair and everything hurt and everyone always left me and now the one person I thought would be there for me abandoned me as well.
This was why I didn’t trust anyone. Everybody lies. No exceptions.
At least… that’s what I thought until I heard a tap on my window.
Confused, I watched as a small rock hit my window and made the same noise so I rushed over and opened it. In the centre of my driveway in the middle of the night was Rachel, sporting her new feather earring, pausing as she prepared to toss another pebble. Her hair was messy, cheeks were rosy, and she was heaving, as if she had just ran all the way here.
… Did she?
“Rachel?” My voice sounded broken. “What are you doing here?”
“I promised, didn’t I?” She smirked up at me and my heart felt heavy. “Can I come up? We can talk about anything you want while blazing through the good shit I got from Frank yesterday.”
She used David’s car as leverage to climb to my window. She held me and I cried like a wuss on her shoulder but I didn’t care because I had two years worth of bottled up emotions to release. She let me vent and lit my joints the whole night.
We were inseparable ever since.
We made that shack in American Rust our hideout; our haven; our home. Decked out with graffiti, a dartboard, makeup, mix-tapes, empty beer bottles, photos; it was a work of art our friendship created and we cherished it every day.
It was also Rachel who convinced me to get my colourful sleeve when I was eighteen.
“It’ll cover your scars,” she told me. “It’ll prove that part of your life is over, and a new Chloe, a badass Chloe, is reborn.”
Her words struck a chord with me so I got the tattoo. If Rachel tells anyone I cried like a little bitch I’ll never forgive her, but she earned pot-brownie points for holding my hand the whole time and getting a black dragon on her calf the same day. Our ink represented us, the new us, and how far our friendship had come.
Not a day later Rachel helped me dye my hair blue, the same colour as the feather earring she found in our hideout years ago. And she was totally right. I looked super punk-rock. The appalled looks of Joyce and David the first time they saw the new ‘do was a tasty bonus.
But even after everything I went through with Rachel, even though she literally saved my life, I still could never get Max off my mind.
“You were murmuring Max’s name in your sleep again,” she whispered as she stroked my azure hair in the early morning hours as she lay beside me in my bed, her red flannel and ripped jeans forgotten on the floor. “Why don’t you just call her, Chloe? I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.”
I scoffed. “I have you now, Rachel. I don’t need her.” She didn’t look impressed with my retort, nor convinced.
“Who says you can’t have both of us? Is there some mystical force stopping Max and I from being friends with you at the same time?”
I struggled for words because I knew nothing I could say would be good enough. All I could do was stare into her eyes and caress her hand. I loved Rachel. I really did. She was my angel. But deep down I never stopped wishing she was Max. Or that Max was here as well.
But Max wasn’t here.
After my dad died she vanished like a ghost, leaving me all alone and not replying to any of my messages. But despite all this hurt, anger, and betrayal I felt towards her… I missed my best friend. I wanted her here. I wanted her to meet Rachel. I knew they would get along so well.
But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Max was never coming back. So, instead, all I could do was focus on how the way Rachel looked at me reminded me of Max. Not enough to be Max, but enough to keep me alive. Enough to keep me in this town.
I should’ve known that Rachel would leave me, just like everyone else. Just like Dad. Just like Max.
But for the three years I had known her until her disappearance, Rachel kept me alive. So I was gonna use this life she gave me to make sure she stayed alive too, no matter how long that kept me in Arcadia Bay.
So as I taped Rachel’s missing persons posters all over Blackwell Academy I accepted that maybe, no matter how much I fought it, my real destiny was to be trapped in Arcadia Bay forever. But if that fate allowed me to reconnect with my best friend, then I’m hella ready.