Three Days Later
“This is much nicer than the dirty old field we used to meet in!”, Charlotte commented as her and Celine sat down on a soft, faded couch in the family room of the Trenton household.
Max decided that it would have been more comfortable for everyone to meet at the house instead of sneaking outside of town as they had in the past. Jackson took Abby out for some errands and ice skating so that Max could have a couple of hours alone with Celine and Charlotte. He sat across the room from the two blond women.
“Well let’s just get to it”, Celine started, “We will set some guidelines for you, but the Guardians have approved your request to remain a fireman once you’re at your duty station.”
Max nodded, encouraging her to continue.
“As far as Grandeur City is concerned... nothing is guaranteed but we’ll see what we can do to help you!”
Max looked confused, “What do you mean?”
“Kreios said that you’ll need to prove something to him first.”
“What do I need to prove?”
“That we don’t know”, Charlotte chimed in, “But we have faith in you! ...Even though we don’t know what Kreios is actually looking for.”
“We’ll be here to support you every step of the way!”, Celine reassured, “What do you say Max?”
Max looked over at the two women before him. Their blue eyes looked back with anticipation as if his answer held the fate of their entire world. His heart pounded in his chest; here he was about to embark on the biggest journey of his life. Maybe it was crazy and out of the ordinary to do this, but if Max has learned anything over the past several months it’s that he is anything but ordinary. And he was ready to find out why.
He grinned at Celine and Charlotte, “I’m in.”
Two Weeks Later
“You’re what?”, Alicia asked in disbelief.
“I’m going away for a while”, Max repeated.
It had been two weeks since he officially decided to join the Guardians and leave Humbleton behind. He had been given a month to tie up loose ends and say his goodbyes. Celine and Charlotte stayed in town, passing themselves off as Max’s biological cousins, until he finished up.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going with my cousins to their home out west in Boulder. They’re helping me learn more about my biological family and their grandfather has some work for me to do in the meantime.”
This was of course a blatant lie, but this was the most truthful lie he could think of to tell people.
“When will you be back?”
He paused for a moment. “I’m actually not coming back to Humbleton. I don’t know yet where I’ll end up, but I know I won’t be returning to live here.”
She almost appeared relieved and hopeful at this.
“Maybe Grandeur City?”, she suggested.
He smiled at her, knowing that Grandeur City is where she would be transferring to this fall, “Maybe.”
“I know you’ll keep in touch though! Right?”
At this Max frowned a little; these words were harder to say than he anticipated.
“Actually Alicia... I think I just need some time apart from everyone for a while. It’s nothing personal against anyone... I just...”
She put her hand gently on his arm, “I understand”, she whispered.
He smiled back at her.
“But hey, I have your number right? And make sure you leave your new address with my dad so that I can find you when I get back!”
She beamed at him, “Promise?”
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight.
Max could feel his heart fluttering between them, hoping she couldn’t feel it too.
“You know I won’t be leaving for another two weeks, right?”, he laughed.
“I know”, she said without letting him go, “But that’s so short when you’ve spent a lifetime with someone.”
He hugged her closer, enjoying this moment they were having. He silently promised her that he would do everything in his power to make sure he would make it to Grandeur City.
Max stepped through the automated doors of the local gym, scanning the wide room for his friend. Lee had been the only person that Max had a hard time getting ahold of. Unfortunately the two had grown more distant ever since that snowy December night outside of Beans and Berries. Lee no longer returned Max’s phone calls now, but Max refused to leave before saying goodbye to his old friend.
He finally spotted Lee in a corner, laying down bench pressing a heavy weight, and walked over to him.
“Lee, I need to talk to you.”
“Now’s not a good time, Max”, Lee replied flatly as he strained to lift the barbell up above him.
“Well you’re not answering your phone or returning any of my messages so you’ve left me with no choice.”
Lee ignored him and continued the slow, focused motion of lifting the barbell. When he had pushed the weight up again, Max firmly grasped the bar with both hands and lifted it easily out of Lee’s palms and set the weight down on the floor.
Lee’s arms fell down past his sides but he did not get up.
“Alright you win Max”, he said impatiently then sat up, “What’s so damn important?”
“I’m leaving town.”
Lee’s expression remained unchanged, “Really now.”
“Yeah, in about two weeks... I know things haven’t been that great between us lately but I still wanted to say goodbye. It will probably be a while until I get back.”
Lee crossed his arms. “Look man, you do whatever the hell you want.” He then got up and strode past Max, purposely letting his shoulder hit the other man.
A swell of anger suddenly rose within Max’s chest. He followed Lee into the gym’s locker room.
“How many times do I have to apologize to you Lee?”, he yelled. “Are you really going to let a few missed phone calls ruin twenty years of friendship?”
Lee ignored him again and opened his locker in silence, taking out a dark vinyl gym bag.
Max slammed his fist against a locker nearby, causing the whole row to rattle.
“What the hell’s your problem, Lee?”, he shouted.
Lee threw down his bag and walked up toe-to-toe with Max.
“It’s not just these past few months that I’m mad about Max - you’ve been doing this for years!”
“What do you mean?”, Max asked annoyed.
“Where do I start? I’ve always been the last to know about what’s going on in your life! I was never your best friend - we’re only friends because your parents felt bad for my poor single mom whose kid had no friends to play with! You and I have always been opposites Max - you can’t be surprised that we would drift apart one day!”
Max calmed down a bit; he never realized Lee had felt this way for so long.
“This is just what happens Max”, Lee continued, “We grow up and turn into different people than we were when we were kids. I’m just sick of pretending that you and I are still friends.”
“You’re right that we’re different”, Max replied, “But that’s what strengthened our friendship - you always had what I lacked.”
Lee had calmed down as well, “That was then but this is now.” He then bent down to pick up his gym bag and slung it over his shoulder. “Good luck with whatever the hell it is you’re doing with your life right now. But I don’t need your goodbyes.”
He walked away leaving Max behind to wonder if they would ever see one another again.
Kyra hugged her arms to herself as she walked briskly through the cold night air. It was almost March and spring was approaching but the winter brought in one more bitter cold snap before its’ final retreat.
It was late on a Friday night and she had just gotten off of work. However, the cold air was not the only reason why she walked so fast.
“C’mon baby! Just one kiss - I know you’ve been thinking about it all night!”
The voice came from a senior boy from her school named Trevor Mills. He had come into the cafe’ that night - clearly drunk - and had been hitting on her nonstop ever since. He had made passes at her on and off over the past couple of months, but she usually ignored him or told him off which usually did the trick. Tonight though, he was being unusually persistent.
She focused on just getting home - she was only a mile away now. He had never become violent in the past and besides, he was just a drunk right now so she wasn’t too concerned. More annoyed than anything else.
She then heard footsteps running behind her, she turned around and to her shock Trevor was now chasing after her. She then broke into a full run; their footsteps echoing against the sidewalks and filling the empty streets.
He caught up to her and grabbed her arm, making her scream.
She tried to wrestle out of his grip, “Get off me!”, she yelled.
He grabbed her other arm and pushed her into the brick wall just behind them.
She struggled to get out of his grasp, but he was much stronger than her despite his drunken state.
“You act all straight-laced now but I heard you were quite the slut at your old school!” , he slurred. He shoved her again as she started to wriggle free, making her cry out. “I bet you though that you’re still doing it with all sorts of guys behind the scenes... Come on now all I want is just a taste!”
She couldn’t breathe then; fear had tightened her throat and made her stomach nauseated. A cramp had formed in her side from running away. She clenched her eyes as she felt Trevor’s hot breath over her lips, reeking of alcohol.
She then felt the sudden release from his grip and the cold, nippy air on her face again. She opened her eyes and was astonished to see Trevor lifted off the ground and shoved against the same wall. The man holding him was Max Trenton.
“What the hell man?!”, Trevor cried out.
Max shoved him against the wall again.
“Look dude it’s not what you think-”, Trevor stammered.
Max threw the boy onto the ground, who looked terrified now.
“You have ten seconds to get out of my sight”, Max stated.
The boy immediately got up and bolted off in the other direction, going quickly out of sight.
Kyra stood there watching Max; he was still facing the direction Trevor had ran off to, his chest rising quickly up and down from anger. He then turned towards her with a genuine concern in his eyes.
“Are you OK, Kyra?”
She felt a lot of emotions just then. She trembled from the cold air and the adrenaline that was still coursing through her body. She could still feel the hotness on her wrists where Trevor had forced his grip onto. She felt violated and disgusted. But most of all, she felt ashamed.
Part of her thought that she had this sort of thing coming to her and she deserved to have suffered through it. And now she felt even more ashamed that she was saved by this man - this man that she had snubbed over and over again, yet who had never stopped coming to her aid in the times she needed it most.
She reacted the only way she knew how in that moment.
“You didn’t have to do that!”, she said angrily.
Max looked dumbfounded at her.
“He’s just some stupid kid from school, trying to be all macho”, she continued, “He would have ran off on his own eventually!” She started to turn away.
“He was hurting you”, Max stated.
“So?”, she cried out facing him. She held back a torrent of tears that were burning at her eyes, not knowing what else to say.
Max took a step towards her, “Let me take you home”, he said gently.
“No!”, she exclaimed and she turned away again to start walking.
“Please!”, she turned around again, “Please just leave me alone!” Her voice quivered and she could feel the warm tears flowing down her cheeks.
She quickly turned away one more time and resumed her brisk walk, keeping her fist over her mouth to muffle her sobs.
Max stood there in the quiet air, not knowing what to say. He still felt that anger, that rush he had felt when he saw this boy holding Kyra against her will. He shuddered to think what could have happened if he hadn’t drove by.
He was driving home from meeting with Celine and Charlotte. They had talked late into the evening discussing their upcoming plans to leave Humbleton. He was at a stop sign in his truck when he saw Trevor pushing Kyra into the brick wall of a closed shop across the street. He had never felt such a rage as he did in that moment and he acted on instinct as he quickly shut off the ignition and ran across the street.
The boy had been too easy for him to pull off. The adrenaline rush had made him not care that he was using more strength than necessary to detain that kid.
Now as he watched Kyra quickly walking away from him, refusing his help, he didn’t know what to do. He still felt genuinely concerned for her safety and a responsibility for making sure she made it home alright. He wished now more than ever that he had mastered his ability to become invisible.
He ducked into a nearby ally to calm himself. Maybe if he just focused, he could do it. He took a few deep breaths and closed his eyes, thinking only of becoming unseen. He slowly opened his eyes and looked down at his hands. To his great surprise, he could no longer see them. He then looked up into a nearby window and couldn’t see his reflection. He didn’t know how he did it, but he somehow willed himself to become invisible.
Staying focused, he came back out of the ally and quickly, but quietly, caught up with Kyra. He could hear her occasional sniffles but her sobs from earlier had quieted down. She looked over her shoulder every now and then, appearing fearful that another threat was following her and oblivious that she had a silent guardian instead.
Max kept a safe distance behind her until she finally reached her house. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw her unlock the front door and enter into its’ safety. He then turned around and walked back to his truck that was still sitting at the stop sign, keeping himself out of visibility.
Kyra dropped her things unceremoniously to the floor of her bedroom and sat down on the edge of her bed. She was still trembling from the events of her walk home and her eyes were moist from the outside cold air as well as her tears. She pushed down the bad feelings she had from Trevor’s earlier attack until all she felt was just a hard, thick knot deep in her gut.
She was already shaken even in the hours before Trevor stepped foot into Beans and Berries earlier that evening. She looked over at her dresser where a plain, manilla envelope sat. Her mother’s autopsy report had been in her possession for three days now and she still hasn’t brought herself to open it.
It had been fairly easy to get. She could have had it mailed but the wait could have been long as six months, which she didn’t have the patience for. Besides, she didn’t want her uncle to have any suspicion of what she was up to. So what she did instead was hitch a ride with some kids from school over to Creekville, where all the records of her mother were kept. Creekville was where her mother and her uncle Ken had grown up; it was her birthplace as well.
After obtaining it so easily, she waited with anticipation to return to the privacy of her room to open it. But on that day when she returned, she suddenly found herself too paralyzed to even touch the envelope.
It had ate away at her over the last few days now; what was she doing? Why did it matter how her mother died anyway? No matter what Kyra would find out, none of it would change the fact that her mother was dead. Suicide or not, her mother had died under tragic circumstances and Kyra needed to accept that.
But right now in this moment, she felt as if nothing could make her feel worse than she already did. Without thinking, she grabbed the envelope and ripped the top off. She reached inside and took out the neat pile of white papers that lay inside.
The envelope slipped onto the floor as Kyra gazed down at the information in her hands; her eyes widening as she read through what they contained.
One Week Later
Alicia yawned as she drove through the unlit backroads leading back to Humbleton. She had taken a day-trip to Grandeur City to speak to an advisor at the university where she was planning to transfer to in the fall. It had been a productive visit but it had also taken her a little longer than she planned. To save some time, she took a short-cut through these country roads to get home.
She had her high-beams on, carefully watching the road before her. She hummed to the music of the Sugarland CD she had put on. There was a slight cramp in her ankle from the day’s driving. She felt tired, but also content.
It was then that she saw what appeared to be dark footsteps running into the road right before her. Without thinking, she slammed on her brakes and turned the steering wheel sharply to the left to avoid hitting what or whoever it was in the road. She quickly lost control of her car as it veered off the road and into the blackened clearing. The car bounced violently over the rocky ground below it. Alicia was jostled around in her seat for what seemed like forever. Then the car finally stopped.
A thick silence fell around her as she tried to get her bearings. She peered out through the cracked windshield but only saw blackness and the occasional outline of a few distant trees. That was when she felt the throbbing pain in her left arm and cried out when she tried to move it. She also couldn’t feel her legs from the knee down. She tried to move them but found that they were pinned underneath the dash.
There was no need to panic just yet she thought to herself. She looked around for her purse where her cell phone would be. She saw that the phone had been thrown out onto the floor of her back seat. She strained behind her to try to reach it but couldn’t touch it no matter how far she stretched. She was trapped.
She then heard a popping noise from the hood of the car. She turned and now saw white wisps of smoke coming out the front. She also smelled oil and other vapory fluids.
The car’s hood then exploded with bright red and orange flames that quickly grew towards the dash. Alicia screamed but no one was around to hear her.