“Max! I appreciate the help but you don’t have to be here. You just got off a twenty-four hour shift at the station, you should be resting at home!”, Jackson told his son as he put away a heavy cardboard box onto a shelf.
“Don’t worry about me, Dad. You’re the one who’s closing up shop today all by yourself”, Max replied while sweeping away wood chips and dead leaves at the store front.
Jackson chuckled, “Well, it doesn’t take much to close up a small carpentry shop. But if you want to help, I won’t complain!” He then picked up a broom himself, “I’m gonna go sweep up in the back real quick.”
After his father left the room, Max let out a heavy sigh and leaned back against the old panel wall. Not that he didn’t want to help out his dad, but Max did have an alternative motive for being here.
2 Weeks Ago
“Tonight, I’m here to bring you back to the Guardians.”
Max took a step back. His mouth opened to say something but the words stayed choked in his throat.
“You’ve been told about the war that’s been occurring for many years between our people, no? The Guardians are the ones who decided to come here to Earth to finally live in peace, but our enemies, the Outlanders, followed us here. Now, we’ve been spending the past twenty years fighting against them here, and you will help us finally defeat them once and for all”, Remus replied as if this was common knowledge that Max should already know.
Max stepped back on the dried grass; curled-up autumn leaves crunched beneath his boot, “Why should I even believe you? How do I know that you’re not actually my enemy?”
“Because most of us, including the Outlanders, think you’re dead. Only a select few know the story about Celeste Vaul leaving her infant son with a human family named the Trentons. You’ll just have to take my word on that.”
Max’s gaze drifted towards the ground and he subconsciously wrung his hands together, trying to dry the sweat from his palms. “I don’t understand how I can be any help to you all. I know nothing about this war...”
Remus held his hands behind his back and approached. “We have every intention of training you and helping you master the abilities - the gifts - that you have. I know that you’ve already been trying to do that yourself, but you’ll only be able to get so far. You need us to get to where you need to be.”
Max stared with disfavor at this stranger: This intruder. “Where I need to be? What makes you think you know anything about where I ‘need to be’?” He stepped forward, staring defiantly at Remus. “I don’t know what you think you know about me, but you know nothing about my life and you can’t just expect me to walk away from everything and go with you!”
“That’s not my name! My name is Max.”
“Not anymore, Oden. You’re not human, and you never will be no matter how long you live like one. You belong with us”, Remus replied cooly.
A chill ran through Max’s body and a sick feeling settled inside him as he realized those words were true. He swallowed to clear his dry throat and maintained his defiant front.
“I belong here.”
“You have to let it all go, Oden. None of this matters to you anymore. The Trenton family has done their job-”
“Their job? I’m their son! This was never a job to them! My parents have done nothing but love and protect me my whole life! You just can’t expect me to forget about them and pretend that I’ve never been apart of their family.”
Remus sighed wearily. “Oden, you were born to be a leader. It’s in your blood. Your mother made the ultimate sacrifice to protect you so that you could become one of the Tymorreans who finally lead us to an end to this war.”
Max slowed down his breaths; was he breathing that fast this whole time? “That may be true...but I also know that my mother wanted me to be happy and to have a choice.”
“There are times when we don’t get to choose our path, Oden.”
Max shook his head, “No, Remus. We always have a choice. And I want to meet our people and help you all in anyway I can, I really do. But not at the cost of letting go of my humanity.”
Remus remained still and silent. In his mind, there was no choice to be made here, but Oden is clearly thinking otherwise. This mission may be more difficult than he first thought.
“I’m not leaving this town Oden, until you come with me.”
“Well, you’ll be in Humbleton for a long time then!”, Max replied with a boyish grin on his face, as if he a kid at the playground teasing and standing up to the school bully. Then he ran off, leaving Remus standing alone on the hill with kicked-up dirt and dried grass falling before him.
For the past two weeks, Max had been doing anything he could to stay busy and not be left alone for too long. It never failed that as soon as he was alone for more than a few moments, Remus would show up demanding Max to come with him, but of course he wouldn’t budge.
This whole incident left Max disheartened. Were all his people really like this? So cold and callous? Only focused on one goal and just trying to survive? Max has re-watched Celeste’s tape many times since meeting Remus, and not once did he detect a trace of any of this in his mother’s eyes. Maybe she was just the exception...
His thoughts were interrupted by a presence that was becoming more and more familiar.
“Oden, you can’t keep this up forever. Sooner or later, you’ll have no choice but to live up to who you really are”, Remus stated.
Max was taken aback; Remus usually wasn’t bold enough to confront Max in the vicinity of other humans. He must be getting desperate now.
“You, can’t keep this up forever either! I’m pretty sure that sooner or later, there’s someone who’s going to come looking for you”, Max replied.
Before Remus could respond, Jackson came out from the back having heard a third voice in the room.
“Sir, I’m afraid we’re closed for the day but is there something that I can help you with?”, Jackson asked.
Remus quietly turned towards the man, “No there isn’t. Please excuse me”. He then left abruptly out of the front door.
“What was that all about?”, a perplexed Jackson asked.
When Max didn’t reply, Jackson looked over and saw his son staring at the front door, wringing his hands together.
“Max, who was that gentleman?”
“I don’t know”, Max replied quickly, averting his gaze to a lone beige wood peeling left behind on the floor.
“Don’t lie to me, Max. Is there something going on?”
Max shifted his weight uncomfortably. He never told his father about Remus.
After some hesitation Max replied, “He’s a Tymorrean, Dad.”
Jackson stood there dumbfounded. “What? How do you know this?”
Max breathed in deeply and slowly started walking away from the store front and past his father.
“His name is Remus. He approached me two weeks ago saying that he was here to bring me back to a group called the Guardians. He told me about the war that’s been going on, but most importantly he told me about how he knows the story of Celeste bringing her son to be raised by a family named the Trentons.” He hesitantly turned around to face his increasingly-upset father. “But Dad, he wants me to walk away from it all. You, Abby, Alicia, Lee, my job at the station; everything that makes me human.”
Jackson strode up to Max and confronted him. “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner, Max? You can’t keep trying to figure this all out by yourself!”
Max scoffed and threw his hands up the air. “You know Dad, I don’t know. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything to you. Honestly, there’s not too much that I’m sure of anymore these days.”
He crossed his arms and looked his father in the eye. “All I know, is that I never asked for any of this. But it’s happening to me and I don’t know how to deal with it anymore!” He hesitated for a moment, trying to find the right words. “I care about you Dad, but you and I both know that you can’t understand what I’m going through right now. You just can’t.”
Jackson sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets. He absentmindedly turned his gaze down and his head slowly nodded up and down, trying to process the right words to say that weren’t there. No matter how much he loved Max or how often he tried to put himself into Max’s place, he would never be able to fully comprehend the challenges and the burdens his son now had to carry. How do you cope with suddenly learning that you’re not the person you thought you were for your entire life?
“Max...”, he spoke softly, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be you. I can’t imagine trying to deal with the things you have to deal with now, day-in and day-out. You have no idea how much I wish there was a way that I could make all this disappear for you.”
He pulled his son into a tight embrace, putting one hand through Max’s thick, dark hair to pull him closer. He remembered, when Max was still a small boy, how he would go into his son’s room on nights he came home after the boy was asleep. He would sit quietly on the edge of the bed and marvel at the simple beauty of watching your child sleep away; oblivious to utility bills and car payments, breaking up with a girl through a piece of folded notebook paper, learning that your neighbor died in a drunk driving accident, or any other inconveniences and tragedies that life never fails to hand over. Jackson would then gently push his son’s hair back to give him a soft kiss on the forehead. He always smelled like dirt and powdered sugar; just like any other normal little boy.
Jackson then pulled away, putting his hands on the young man’s broad shoulders. “I’m sorry for getting so angry with you earlier. I just want to be here for you as your father. It’s all I know how to be.”
Max was silent, avoiding his father’s gaze and instead focusing on a small rack of rusty tools mounted on the wall.
“You know Dad, I think I’ll go pick-up Abby today. I’ll let you finish closing up. See you at home”.
He walked past Jackson and out of the store without looking back, because he didn’t want to see the disappointed look on his father’s face.
“Miss Hadley! Table Six has been waiting ten minutes already for their lattes! Pick up the pace, please!”
“Agh, sorry! I’ll get that taken care of right away!”, Kyra responded as she struggled with an over-stacked tray of dirty glasses and mugs.
“Is it always this crazy?”, Kyra asked Alicia after approaching the bar and trying to catch her breath.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it! I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as de-caff coffee when I first started out”, Alicia reassured as she handed Kyra the tray she was supposed to have already delivered.
“Well if I can just manage to not break any more trays, I think I’ll be good to go!”, Kyra said as she rolled her eyes. Alicia chuckled in response as the other girl walked away. She then smiled as she saw who just walked in and was now approaching her.
“Hey stranger! What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
Max returned her smile. “I had some extra time to kill before I have to go into work, so I thought I’d stop by. You know, like a good friend does”, he teased.
Though, he was actually there to avoid Remus. He hasn’t had any encounters with him since Remus showed up at the shop two days ago.
“I’ve never been the one to accuse you otherwise, Max!”, Alicia giggled.
The two turned abruptly towards the source of the loud sound that echoed across the café to see Kyra looking down with horror at a pile of broken glass on the floor that was once a customer’s order.
She made a quick recovery. “Sorry about that! We’ll have this cleaned up in a jiffy!”, she told the crowd of people staring at her, as if nothing happened.
Max turned back towards Alicia. “You’re the one who recommended her, you sure you’ll still have a job here by this time next week?”, he joked.
“It’s still her first week, everyone makes mistakes. We might not have to rush into burning buildings or pull people out of smashed cars, but waitering here is tougher than you think!”, she responded.
Max grinned and admired the strands of sand-colored hair that escaped the messy bun tied at the nape of her neck, shaping her oval face. He almost failed to see Kyra, breathless and tired, coming up behind the woman who captured his gaze.
“Hello, Miss Hadley”, he said dryly, “I see you’re getting used to your new job here.”
She sneered at him, “Looks like someone finally grew a sense of humor overnight!”
“Miss Hadley! Can I speak with you for a moment?”
Kyra cringed and sucked in her breath. “I’m in big trouble. Aren’t I?”, she said looking towards Alicia.
“Not necessarily, I mean that was only your fourth tray that you broke...”, Alicia said sympathetically.
“Way to stay positive Sister, keep it up!” Kyra said confidently as she backed away from the two of them. “I’ll catch you lovebirds later!”
Max rolled his eyes and shook his head a little.
Alicia noticed the look on his face. “What? She’s just teasing.”
“I know. She just tries my patience a lot. That’s all.”
“She’s not that bad! She’s just a bit feisty. There’s nothing wrong with that!”
Max scoffed a little. “Well that’s easy for you to say. You haven’t gone out of your way to help her countless times only to be insulted in return!”
“Be careful what you say about her Max, she could be the love of your life someday for all you know!”, Alicia teased.
Max rolled his eyes, “I highly doubt that”, he replied dryly.
“Hey Alicia! Would you mind helping me out for just a second? I have a large order I need help carrying over to Table Seven.”
“Sure thing, Melissa! I’ll be right there”, Alicia answered. She then turned back towards Max. “It looks like I need to get back to work. I’ll catch you later?”
Max nodded in reply, “Of course!”
Alicia started to walk off, but turned back around. “Max? It was really good to see you. Please don’t be a stranger, OK?” she beamed.
Max couldn’t help but smile in return, “I’ll always be around for you if you ever need me.”
She let her gaze and her smile linger, before turning around and going back to work.
Max looked down and smiled to himself; forgetting for just a moment about Remus and the problems he’s been struggling with lately.
“Just ask her out! It’s not complicated!”
Max turned to see Kyra right next to him with a mischievous grin on her face.
“My love life doesn’t concern you”, he stoically replied.
“I’m not trying to pry! I just hate it when I see a guy making something more difficult than it needs to be. Especially when it comes to an awesome girl like Alicia! I don’t want to see her getting strung along like this.”
Max pressed his lips together and sighed as if he were trying to gather his patience. He then turned toward the girl, who stepped back a little upon seeing his hard expression.
“Miss Hadley; I’ve had it with the constant criticisms and insults, and the prying into my personal life. I don’t know what I’ve done to offend you because all I’ve ever done for you is help you out. If you’re going to keep up this childish charade - then I’m done with it!”
Kyra crossed her arms and just looked at him. To be honest, part of her was impressed - this was the most emotion she’s seen this guy express in the past two months that’s she’s known him. She started to say something in response but was interrupted by the disapproving tone of her supervisor,once again.
“Miss Hadley, first you break several of my trays, then you get behind on your customers’ orders, and now you’re upsetting this gentleman!” She then turned towards Max. “Sir, how can I be of assistance to you?”
Max turned towards her, “Actually, I was just on my way out, but thank you anyways ma’am”.
“Have a great day, sir!”, she replied as Max left. She then turned her attention back to Kyra. “You’re on very, thin ice young lady. I’m putting you on cleaning duty for the rest of the day. You can start by wiping down Table Three”, she said as she shoved a damp towel into the girl’s hands.
Kyra closed her eyes and took a deep breath after the stern woman walked away. She just couldn’t get anything right, could she? And she genuinely wanted to get things right this time around.
Maybe she’s just doomed to fail, she thought bitterly to herself.
Kenneth Hadley looked down at the small silver-framed picture he was holding between his hands. Today was just one of those days where he was filled with nostalgia of the past. He remembered forts made out of fresh, brown cardboard and old, plastic tablecloths. He remembered roasting marshmallows over a pile of coals to make S’mores. He remembered falling asleep in the backseat of the car, on the way home from a family excursion that lasted all day. He also remembered the pain he felt on the day that he realized that these were all just memories now and nothing would make them real ever again. The pain never went completely away, even after all these years. His thoughts were interrupted by a light knocking at his door.
He turned the picture upside down in his hands and shouted at the door, “Come in!”
Max Trenton stepped inside. Kenneth smiled upon seeing the young man. “Max! What can I do for you?”
“Just wanted to get your signature on these work order forms if you wouldn’t mind, Sir.”
“Not a problem!”, Kenneth replied as he set the picture face-down on his desk and clicked open a pen. “Here you go!”, he said handing back the forms.
“Thank you, Sir.” Max turned to leave but was stopped by Kenneth.
“Max! While you’re in here… I wanted to thank you.”
Max paused. “For what, Chief?”
“For helping Kyra out over these past couple of months. I really appreciate it. I know she can be...difficult at times, to say the least.”
‘That’s an understatement, if I’ve ever heard one’ Max thought to himself.
Kenneth subconsciously stroked his thumb over the old picture frame laying on his desk. “This isn’t an excuse for her behavior, but Kyra’s had a difficult life. She can really use someone such as yourself, looking out for her. So, once again, thank you Max.”
Normally Max would take such words to heart; especially coming from a man, like Kenneth Hadley, whom he looked up to so much. But with everything that had been going on presently in his life, Max was just not willing to listen, but kept up his polite front.
“It’s no trouble at all, Chief. Just glad I can help out.”
Kenneth smiled at him, “Thanks, Max. The world’s a better place with you in it”, he said sincerely.
“Thank you, Sir”, Max replied as he left. He still couldn’t help feeling the weight of guilt though.
Dawn had nearly reached its’ peak by the time Max finally decided to go home. He stood up from the dew-ridden grass and brushed his hands of the stuck, wet blades. He knew he was taking a risk in running into Remus by choosing to be here for so long, but he didn’t care. He took one more glance at his mother’s grave; flat and hard against a soft sea of grass, aligned with the other headstones like stepping stones down an unknown path.
He wondered what he would say to her if she was actually here. Would he tell her about how he wishes he never found out about himself; how he can’t look at his father in the same way any more; how he took for granted for all these years to just be human. Even though he couldn’t hear or see her, there was something about just being near her that brought him that special comfort that only a mother could give.
Max slowly made his way down the hills and across the wide fields that spanned across the cemetery, taking in the crisp, Autumn air and the thickening silence. As he neared his truck, he saw something out of the corner of his eye about six feet away. Upon a closer look, he realized it was a young teenaged girl in a navy blue jacket hugging her arms close. Not wanting to disturb her, he quietly continued on.
A twig then snapped and crackled under his boot. The girl suddenly jumped and turned around towards Max with tired, startled eyes.
It was Kyra. She appeared speechless and surprised to see him here just as much as he was surprised to see her.
Max cleared his throat. “What brings you here this early, Miss Hadley?”, he asked.
Defensive; she scoffed and rolled her eyes, “Can’t a girl visit her dead mother without being asked any questions?”
Max took notice of the name engraved on the small, granite headstone Kyra was kneeling in front of: Amie Hadley. He looked back at Kyra, who clearly wanted him to leave. He could see bitterness and pain in her eyes; the type that’s been buried deeply and seldom comes to surface. It was obvious that she was angry, but not necessarily at him.
Before he could say anything more she abruptly asked, “What are you doing here?”
Max was silent for a moment and stared down at the ground before him. He turned his head to look back at the reason why he came here.
“Visiting my dead mother.”
Something subtly changed in her eyes. It was the change in realizing that the person you believe you have nothing in common with, suddenly shares your most painful burden. They stayed that way for a while, knowing that from this moment on the two would have an unspoken regard for the other.
Kyra finally cast her eyes away and looked down. “I’m sorry”, she replied softly.
The two quietly stared onto Amie Hadley’s headstone with a quiet reverence.
After several minutes, Max quietly asked, “Do you need a ride home?”
Without turning around she replied, “No. My uncle let me borrow their car to come out here.”
“OK then. I’ll be seeing you around I guess.”
Kyra only nodded, while still keeping her gaze on the gravestone in front of her.
Max took in that image of her one last time before quietly continuing back to his truck with a strange comfort of knowing that just when he thought he was completely alone in this world; he suddenly wasn’t.
Remus paced around the room with his phone jammed up to his ear. This was the fifth time he’s tried to make contact over the last twenty-four hours. There’s no reason why it should take him so long-
“Finally, you pick-up!”, he barked impatiently into the phone. “I have no time to make idle chatter, this is important...That’s exactly what I’m calling about - it’s not going well...He refuses to come back with me...He’s too attached to his meager existence here. He refuses to leave this town, his pathetic and small occupation, and most of all he refuses to leave the Trenton family...What do you think I’ve been trying to do all this time?...He needs more convincing; that’s where you come in...Yes. Very good. Arrive here by day-break.”
He turned the phone off and smiled. Oden will be going back to where he belongs soon. Whether he liked it or not.