A few days later
“Thanks for agreeing to talk with me”, Celine said as Max approached her.
She took a deep breath and exhaled. “Max... Remus is getting antsy. He’s concerned that we’re all wasting our time in trying to help you make a decision. And as much as I hate to admit this, I have to say that part of me knows he’s right.”
“OK...”, he replied tentatively.
“Sooner or later, a decision has to be made. The reality is that we’re still fighting a war that started decades ago, and the Guardians are starting to take drastic actions to stop it - with or without you.”
Max nodded slowly as he listened to her words. “And what exactly will happen if I do say yes?”
“Well...the four of us would leave Humbleton and report back to Kreios. Kreios will then educate you more about our people and where we came from. He’ll then assign us all to the base where you’ll continue your training; eventually you’ll start carrying out missions with us.”
“What do you mean by ‘base’?”
“The Guardians have bases scattered around the world. Though in order to protect our identities, our bases are often under the guise of something else - a business, someone’s house, a medical center, anything really. There’s actually a base close by to here in Grandeur City.”
That last sentence in particular peaked Max’s interest, but he didn’t reveal as much.
“Will I have to give-up my family?”, he asked.
“No but... you won’t be able to interact with them nearly as much as you do now. It’s for their own protection really.”
Celine hesitated for a moment then continued, “You would have to be careful with Alicia too.”
He gave her an irritated look, as if he had just discovered Celine snooping in his diary or something, “Why would you say that?”
“Max, I wasn’t born yesterday. Charlotte and I know how much you care about her... And that’s OK! It’s only natural-”
Max quietly put up his hand to stop her. “What happens if I say no then?”, he asked, changing the subject.
Her eyes became sad, “Then the three of us will simply leave without you.”
Kyra volunteered to clean-out her aunt and uncle’s attic that day. Well, she only volunteered because both her older cousin and Alaina’s parents were in-town for Christmas. She couldn’t stand any of them. For as long as she could remember, she always held a grudge against her cousin, Isabelle. Isabelle was a constant reminder to Kyra that she was the family outcast; the product of a irresponsible woman who ended up killing herself and dumping Kyra onto Kenneth and Alaina’s perfect family.
Alaina’s parents made her uncomfortable too. She couldn’t explain it but she always felt as if they looked down at Kyra because she wasn’t one of them. They weren’t her grandparents anyways, so she felt no remorse in not joining the family for pre-Christmas festivities downstairs.
So here she was, sitting on the dusty wooden floor of the attic looking through old photo albums by a flickering light bulb. As she was continuing with trying to ignore the stench of must and mothballs, something suddenly caught her eye. A cardboard box with the name, “Amie”, written in faded black marker.
She scooted over to the box and brushed off a layer of white dust on-top. Hesitantly, she carefully opened the box and peaked in at the contents inside.
It was a bunch of random stuff really; pictures, report cards, an old admissions ticket to some museum in Washington DC, a graduation tassel. A typical box of memories and keepsakes.
She looked through a couple of the items that made-up small pieces of her mother’s life. She couldn’t help but smile at some of the notes left by friends in a high school yearbook, along with a weathered photograph of her mother and her uncle as kids at a birthday party. Their arms were around each other with toothy grins and chocolate cake smeared on their faces.
She then picked up a solid green folder and opened it up. She was nearly startled by the unexpected discovery of what was in it: Her mother’s death certificate.
She immediately closed the folder and threw it back into the box. She already knew what it said. Nothing changed the fact that her mother was dead. What was the point in reading any more about that?
But after a few moments, an uncomfortable curiosity got the best of Kyra and she grabbed the folder back out and opened it. Her eyes skimmed down to the Cause of Death box, and no surprise, she saw the word “Suicide”. But when she read further down about the manner of her mother’s death, she was surprised by what she found.
“Gunshot wound to the chest.”
Something about those words didn’t seem right; why would someone kill themselves by shooting themselves in the chest? It wasn’t entirely impossible, but if you are going to kill yourself with a gun wouldn’t you try to aim somewhere else that would guarantee instant death?
Kyra didn’t know what was going through Amie Hadley’s mind right before she died. Maybe she just wanted to hurt herself but ended up dying in the process. Maybe she felt that she deserved a slow, painful death. There were several possible explanations.
But Kyra just couldn’t shake the nausea she was feeling that something wasn’t right here. And she needed to find out the truth.
Jackson picked up another piece of wood and turned the cutter back on. He carefully, but seamlessly, ran the board through the sharp blades. Wood scraps flew out like popcorn and the scent of sawdust filled the air. He almost didn’t hear Max approaching over the machine’s screech.
He turned the machine off and lifted his safety goggles to look at his son. “Hey Max!”, he smiled, “What’s up?”
“I need to talk to you”, he replied.
“OK...”, he took his gloves off and sat on a nearby bench, “What about?”
Max quietly rubbed his palms together and replied, “How would you feel if I told you I decided to leave?”
“What do you mean, Son?”
“I mean that I might be leaving here... this house, you and Abby, Humbleton. I’m thinking about going with those three Tymorreans after all.”
Jackson paused for a moment before continuing, “...What’s making you change your mind?”
Max sighed and ran his hands through his hair as he walked over to a window, settling his palms on the wooden sill.
“I think it’s what I need to do... Not just for their sake but for my own too.” He turned to look at his father. “I’m starting to realize that I’m never going to go anywhere if I continue to stay here... I need to do something more with my life than deliver cabinets and scrub bathrooms. Dad, I have the power to really save people’s lives! And I’m not good to anyone if I continue to hide away here in my past...”
Jackson slowly stood up and walked over to his son and set his hand on the young man’s shoulder, giving him a firm reassuring squeeze.
“Max, I’m going to support you no matter what. Don’t worry about me when you’re trying to make this decision.”
“Don’t give me that”, Max replied glancing behind him at his father. He straightened up to face Jackson at full height, “Don’t give me the standard Jackson-Trenton-supportive-father answer. I need to know what you really feel!”
Jackson stood silently and taken aback.
“Please Dad”, Max pleaded, “I can’t make this decision until you’re honest with me.”
Jackson sighed, “You want to know how I feel Max? I feel like I don’t know my own son anymore... And it’s only because he doesn’t know himself anymore. Max, if you leave I would miss having you here, everyday. But if you stay, then I wouldn’t feel like a very good father.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that it’s selfish of me to keep you here. Sure, you would be safe and comfortable for the rest of your life if you chose to stay here. But that’s all you would ever amount to, Max. Safe and comfortable.”
Jackson turned around and walked back over to his saw bench to unplug it.
He looked back at his son, “Max, if you want me to be honest with you then I think you should go. You deserve the chance to know yourself. As much as it pains me to say this; I believe you’ll regret it if you stay here.”
Max stood there in stoic silence; his expression unchanged. He then let out a sigh, “Thank you, Dad.” He then turned and walked away.
Jackson turned back to his saw bench, using his palms to steady himself against it as the tears clouded his vision.
“So, that’s one grande mocha soy cappuccino no sugar and a blueberry muffin. That will be $5.79 please!” Alicia chimed to her customer at the register. “Thank you and have a nice day! Next, customer please?”
“Well, if it isn’t my lucky day? I get to have my coffee order taken by the beautiful and legendary Alicia Anderson!”
Alicia smiled sarcastically, “Hi Lee. What can I get for you?”
“I’ll just have a regular black coffee.”
“Really? You don’t want your usual vanilla creamer and extra sugar?”
He grinned, “Nope! I drink my coffee straight like a real man, now!”
Alicia gave him an amused look.
“And I’m trying to cut back the sugar and fat in my diet”, he relented. “I have a physical test to pass for police academy this upcoming summer and I need a head start on whipping myself into shape.”
He was referring to his application to join the police force in Grandeur City.
“I admire your discipline!”, she smiled, “And it’s not even New Years yet!” She tapped a few keys on the register, “That will be $2.50.”
He dug around in his pocket and handed her three wadded up dollar bills.
“So have you talked to Max lately?”, he asked as she handed him his change.
“Yeah! We hung out for a little bit at karaoke the other night. We missed you!”
Lee scoffed in reply.
“What?”, she said irritably.
“Nothing. It just surprises me to hear that Max was actually making time for his friends, that’s all”, he said sarcastically.
Alicia shoved the register drawer closed, “What are you talking about, Lee?”
“Alicia, you know exactly what I’m talking about! Max has been different lately. He’s not talking to us. He doesn’t return our calls. It’s like he’s avoiding us most of the time! Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”
“Yes, Max has been different lately but it’s not that he’s avoiding us. Something’s just really bothering him-”
“Come on Alicia! Don’t tell me you’re falling for his silent-brooding-routine. I understand that the guy usually needs a couple of days when something’s wrong, but not a couple of months! He should have come to us by now.”
“Lee, we’re not in high school any more. You need to stop being so immature and taking everything so personal-”
“Oh I’m the one being immature? The man still has feelings for you Alicia and you know it. Yet you’re still dragging the poor guy along and letting him think that there’s still hope that the two of you can have a relationship!”
“Don’t change the subject Lee!”
“Fine Alicia”, he replied putting his palms up, “If you want to drag yourself along with Max’s self-pity party that he’s been having with himself for months, you go ahead. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep moving forward with my life!”
He grabbed the cup of coffee that was waiting for him on the counter. “I don’t have time to stay friends with a guy who can’t make a damn decision for himself!” he said over his shoulder as he walked out.
Alicia sighed as the wooden paned door crashed against its’ frame, making the attached silver bell dance and ring in a fury.
‘I’M moving forward too…’, she thought to herself.
“I don’t know what you said, Celine, but whatever you said to Oden must have worked!”
“We don’t know yet what he wants to talk to us about, Charlotte.”
“Well it’s gotta be something. I mean he asked for all three of us! And Max doesn’t even like Remy.”
“I can hear you”, Remus said.
“OK Listen!”, Celine stopped and turned around to face the two of them, “We need to be prepared. It’s obvious that he’s made his decision and as much as we want him to come with us, we need to be prepared for the worst.”
“And what would that be exactly, Aelia?”, Remus asked dismissively.
“Well obviously if he doesn’t come with us...”
“Actually, I’m not so sure that we even want that anymore. He’s been nothing but weak and reluctant so far! He’ll do nothing but slow us down at this point-”
“OK both of you shut up!” Charlotte interjected. “We’re almost there so I don’t even understand why we’re debating this already.” She turned to Celine, “YOU are just panicking that Oden is going to say no and that our mission will essentially fail.” She turned to Remus, “And YOU are just being a jerk right now. How many times do I have to tell you - the man has been raised as a human his whole life! He’s not like us. He isn’t going to be changed overnight. So just give the guy a break already!”
“Fine”, they both muttered. The trio continued their journey in silence.
When they came up over the last hill they could see that Max was already there, sitting silently gazing out over the horizon.
He got up immediately as they approached, “Thanks for meeting me” he said.
The three only looked at him in anxious (or in Remus’ case, irritated) silence.
“Right, well I’ll just cut to the chase”, Max said, “I’ll go.”
“...Wait. What?” Celine asked.
“I want to go with the three of you. I’m ready to join your cause.”
Celine let out a sigh of relief as Charlotte embraced her excitedly. Remus only crossed his arms.
“But I have conditions”, Max interrupted.
The two women looked at him puzzled, while Max smiled in return.