"Thank you Mr. Zimmerman! We hope you enjoyed your stay!", the bubbly receptionist said cheerfully as she received the man's room key.
"I did. Thank you", he replied stoically. He then picked up his belongings and walked briskly out to his rental car.
When he climbed into the small vehicle he took a glance down at a receipt of his bill from Humbleton Inn. It was made out to Ramon Zimmerman.
He wasn't very fond of that name - he might have even hated it - but that was the name he had to go by during these past two weeks. It was a strict rule they had: Never go by your Tymorrean name when you're out in the field.
Ramon Zimmerman was merely a name; an alias. Who he really was is Remus of the Zar bloodline, and he had been sent to a little town called Humbleton to retrieve the Second Wave's greatest hope; Oden Vaul. Or Maxwell Trenton as he apparently goes by these days.
Kreios gave careful instructions on how to properly find and bring Oden back. Remus had to first observe Oden quietly at a distance. They had to absolutely make sure that Oden had at the very least discovered his abilities.
They really didn't know what had been going on in Oden's life for over the last two decades. Someone would check-in on the Trentons once a year to confirm their current location, but nothing else was ever observed or reported which was how it was supposed to be. It was a combination of honoring Celeste Vaul's requests as well as keeping Oden from being found out about.
Oden was one of the best kept secrets of their cause, so Remus was more than honored when he became one of the selected few to be entrusted with this secret. Not only that, he was also hand-picked to be one of the Tymorreans who would bring Oden back to his people when the time came.
Since nothing was known about Oden's life, Remus was given as much time as he needed to observe him. If one wrong step is made throughout this process, the whole plan could unravel and may even lead to their demise.
Throughout his observations and surveillance on Oden, Remus has learned that Oden in fact had discovered his abilities. He's also learned about his origins too. Apparently Jackson Trenton has told Oden the story about how he arrived here. What was most important though, was that Oden was interested in his abilities and origins. The man went out almost every night to the outskirts of town to practice and test his abilities. Jackson Trenton would even go with him sometimes. Oden has also been attempting to do research on his own about the whereabouts of his people. Of course he hasn't gotten anywhere and he never will - they had been very good at covering their tracks and remaining hidden in plain sight from the humans. If Oden wanted to make any progress on finding his people, then one of them would have to come to him.
To Remus; that was more than enough reason to make this the day that he has been preparing and waiting fourteen years for.
Max quickly closed the door to his truck and started to run towards the carpentry shop; he was supposed to be there ten minutes ago. Of course, he could easily get there in two seconds but he had to be careful. Every run, every lift, every pull, every handshake, every embrace; it was all a conscious decision now. He couldn't move too fast or carry too much; he essentially had to put on an act for everyone around him. He didn't know how to be himself, because now he's not sure who that is anymore.
Over the past month, Max has been going out almost every night to practice getting used to his abilities and testing their limits. He's also been trying to find any clues on the whereabouts of his people but has found nothing so far. He kept trying from every angle he could. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea on how to go about his search and couldn't sleep until he got on the computer to try it out, but of course it always led to a dead end.
As Max turned the corner he froze and quickly turned back around to get out of sight. He just saw Lee over across the street talking with someone. Unfortunately, Max has had to pay a price for devoting more time to learning about his Tymorrean heritage. His relationships with his best friends have become strained. Max has only met up once with Lee over the past month for their traditional run and Max purposely let his friend win by walking the trail. He felt bad that they couldn't have this friendly competition anymore since Max would always have the advantage. He's been avoiding Lee with the hopes that he'll just find someone else to run with eventually.
Max didn't want to check around the corner just yet to see if Lee was still there or not, out of fear of being seen. Now would have been a good time to know how to use his ability to become invisible. So far, all Max knows is that his one-time instance of becoming invisible was triggered by extreme emotion, but otherwise he has no idea how to control it.
He pulled his phone out and looked at the text Alicia had sent him yesterday. It was the same message she's been sending to him at least twice a week for the past month:
"Hey it's me! Haven't seen or heard from you lately. Just want to make sure you're doing OK. Give me a quick call or text when you have the chance :)"
He sighed and put the phone back into his pocket. He'd been avoiding Alicia too. It's not that he wants to avoid Lee and Alicia. The exact opposite is true; these are his best friends that he's grown up with and he wants more than anything to tell them what's really going on with his life. How he doesn't quite know how to identify himself anymore. How he has no idea what the future holds. Overall, he just doesn't know how to be that same friend he was before everything in his life got turned upside-down.
"Yeah Ray?", Jackson Trenton replied as he set his tools down.
"Would that boy of yours be willing to go make a quick delivery for me?"
"Ah I'm sure he can make time in his busy schedule for that! Let me just go get him, he's in the back doing inventory."
Jackson walked into the back of the shop and found his son right where he expected him to be.
"Hey Max, Ray wants you to go make a delivery for him", he explained as he walked up behind Max and clapped him on the back, literally jolting the young man out of the chasm of thoughts he was lost in.
"Sorry Max! Didn't mean to scare you!"
"It's OK Dad. I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said earlier. What did you need me to do?", he asked wearingly.
"Ray wants you to go make a delivery for him", Jackson answered. He then took a quick look-over of his son. Something seemed to be a little off about him.
"You okay Max? You seem kind of tired. Have you been sleeping alright lately?", he asked concernedly.
"Yeah Dad, I'm fine", Max absentmindedly replied as he walked past his father towards the front of the shop. "Hey Ray, where do you need me to go?"
"Oh I just got a shelf that the manager over at Beans & Berries ordered. It's all ready to go, would you mind bringing it over real quick?"
Max automatically tensed up upon hearing the name of the place, where the best friend he's been neglecting, worked.
"Sure no problem", he replied cooly. Then, without thinking, Max started to grab the heavy shelf that was standing behind Ray.
Jackson then came into the room and saw what Max was about to do.
"Hey Max! Why don't you go bring your truck around front then you can get Paul to help you carry that shelf. That'll probably make things a little easier", he interjected.
Realizing what his father was doing for him, Max agreed.
"Yeah you're probably right, Dad. Guess I'm a little out of it today."
Jackson gave a quick nod and smile towards his son, but inside he was worried about him. And he had good reason to be.
It didn't take long for Kyra to navigate her way through the politics that controlled a small-town high school. Even though she came to the school with a somewhat bad reputation, when she didn't live up to what people's expectations were, most of them backed off. Though there would always be at least a few people who had nothing better to do than spread rumors and lies.
Overall, Kyra was actually doing alright in her senior year of high school. She made good grades since she was no longer intentionally failing her classes and so far has avoided being labeled into a clique. She would hang out with a little bit of everyone, but she was careful not to form any attachments that were too deep. Mainly because she had every intention of leaving Humbleton as soon as she could and never come back.
Though she had to admit that she had a special place in her heart for the drama kids. She couldn't help it; they were the embodiment of what her passion was. Most of them even had a strong appreciation for the high quality programs she had access to at the boarding schools she attended.
Right now she had a little bit of time to kill before she had to board the bus to go home, so she was talking with Melissa, Omar and Jamie; a few of the drama kids she often hung out with at school. They were trying to talk Kyra into trying out for the fall play.
"OK, so I know that our chorus department totally sucks but that doesn't mean you can't be in the school play! We're doing An Evening of Mystery, Music and Mayhem this year, you would love it! Try-outs end next week, just go for it!", Amy implored.
"Come on it'll be fun!", the other two chimed in.
Kyra shook her head, "Nah... I just don't have time. I need to find a part-time job somewhere anyways."
It wasn't that Kyra didn't have time and it wasn't even because she didn't want to do it. It was because she was afraid that if she spent anymore time with these people, she might actually get attached to them and even refer to them as her friends. What if she got close enough to them to actually start confiding in them and actually reveal things about herself? She wasn't in a place right now in her life where she wanted to risk something like that. She glanced down at her phone and saw what time it was.
"Hey, I gotta peace out now. I don't wanna miss the bus!"
"OK Kyra, see you later!"
She then turned to leave but was met with the stuck-up sneer of Maggie Johansson; the school's biggest bitch and gossiper (at least in Kyra's mind anyways).
"Hey, Kyra!", the girl greeted smugly.
Kyra was sick of this girl and wanted nothing to do with her. She was a big source of some of the nasty rumors that were still going around about Kyra and her time in boarding school.
"Listen, Priss-Bitch, I don't have time for you and your bull-crap. So why don't you go find something better to do other than stalking my Facebook page and spreading lies about me and just get OUT of my face!", Kyra asserted.
"Damn! No need for the bad attitude! And you call ME a bitch? No wonder Daniel left you!"
Kyra couldn't help but flinch a little upon hearing that name, but still saved face and didn't say anything.
Maggie continued, "So it seems like you have a thing for older guys, huh? Wasn't he like five years older than you? I think that's illegal!" Her and her friends then started laughing.
Kyra had enough.
"I don't have to listen to this!", she said as she shoved past the girl and her friends. She could hear them laughing, even as she got further away from them.
She went through the crowds of kids making their ways onto their respective buses. She quickly cut out a path for herself that went through the crowd, but out and around to one of the side entrances of the school.
As soon as she entered the hallway, and saw that no one else was around, she made a sprint towards one of the girl's restrooms. She made sure that the room was empty, before entering one of the vacant stalls.
As soon as the stall door was closed and locked behind her, a few of the tears that had been burning behind her eyes finally escaped. It wasn't the trash-talking that got to her; she developed a thick enough skin a long time ago to take that sort of thing. It was that name which unexpectedly got to her after it was spoken out loud. She pressed her back against the cold hard wall of the stall, as she slowly slid down onto the floor. Her body shook as she fought off the tears and the sobs that wanted to escape.
She felt so weak right now in this moment and she hated it. It's amazing how much just one name can trigger. And he was only one year older than her; not five. Kyra didn't have to wonder where Maggie got her information from.
'I guess Ava still hates me...'
She sat there on the floor, alone, until she regained her composure. Until she could re-bury all those painful memories so deep, that she could forget them again.
When she had calmed down, she looked at her phone to check the time. Her bus left at least twenty minutes ago. She sighed and put the phone away. She picked up her belongings, washed her face at the sink, and walked out pretending nothing ever happened.
"Thanks for the help Paul! I'll be back in a little bit."
Max was making his way towards the driver's side door when he heard a pair of footsteps walk up behind him. He stopped but didn't turn around. He already knew who it was.
"Need a ride home again, Miss Hadley?"
The girl let out an aggravated sigh.
"Hey, it's not my fault the school only gives us fifteen minutes to get on the bus! It's not fair to those of us who like to take our time and actually stop every once in a while to just enjoy life! Everyone's in so much of a hurry these days!", Kyra exclaimed.
Max turned around and slightly raised his brow in response. This had become an almost weekly occurrence. Kyra, usually by her own fault, would need a ride somewhere and Max would be the one to take her there. It wasn't in his nature to refuse a favor to someone, no matter how rude or blathering they could be at times. Kyra seemed to have quickly figured this out and had no hesitation about taking advantage of it.
Kyra sighed again and confessed, "Alright. I got on the bus then realized I left my algebra book in the library so I had to run back to get it. And of course, the bus left without me!"
Without saying anything more to each other, the two got into the truck.
"If you really want a ride today, you're going to have to wait while I go drop something off at Beans & Berries", Max explained as he put his keys into the ignition.
Only a minute of silence passes before Kyra starts thinking out loud.
"I really need to get a job around here! I'm so sick of not having a car! Don't take this too personally Max, but you're kind of a bore to be around! I think you're a nice guy and all that, but a conversation with you is about as fun as watching a 24-hour CNN newsreel!"
"Thanks...", Max dryly replied.
Fortunately for him they just pulled up to Beans and Berries.
"OK, just wait here for a minute", he said as he got out of the truck. He then stopped and reached back into the cab to take his keys out of the ignition, while giving a quick look towards the mischievous young girl sitting in the passenger seat.
"What? I pranked you just that one time and now you're all paranoid!", she said sarcastically.
"Rather not take my chances", he replied flatly.
He preceded to the back of the truck to take the shelf out and then remembered his father's "suggestion" to him earlier in the shop about moving it. Even though he was capable of moving the object himself, it wouldn't hurt to go get someone to "help" him. He could never be too careful.
He walked into the coffee shop, wanting to get in and out of there as quick as possible, and approached the first waitress he saw.
"Hi! Um, Marge ordered a shelf for the shop a little while ago and I'm here to deliver it. I was wondering if someone can come out and help me bring it in?"
"Sure! Let me go get someone for you!"
Max impatiently bounced on his heels a little bit. He was nervous about seeing Alicia and had no idea if she was working today-
He turned around to face the beautiful young woman who had just called out his name. And when Alicia gave him that smile of hers, all of Max's worries and anxieties left him for just a brief moment.
"I haven't seen you lately! How are you?", she asked gently.
"I'm fine! I'm sorry I haven't replied to your texts, I've just been pretty busy with work lately."
She searched his eyes for a moment, "So, you're doing okay?"
He looked back at her.
'No. I'm not okay. I just found out that I'm from another planet. I can run faster than a speeding car and I can lift the size of a small plane with no effort. My skin is impenetrable and I have the ability to make myself invisible. My parents kept this from me my whole life. I woke up one day thinking I was just an ordinary human-being, and I wake up the next to find out I'm anything but. I don't know how to be me anymore. And now I have to lie to you and everyone else around me at every moment of the day. No. I'm not okay.'
"Yeah. I'm okay!"
She gave a small smile in response but still looked back at him as if she knew deep down, he wasn't telling her the truth.
Max wanted more than anything to tell her what was really going on. To actually tell her everything. But how could she ever accept the truth? He could never expect her to fully believe the details about who he really was and where he came from, but maybe the day will come where he can put himself in a place where he was ready to tell her. As his best friend, she at least had the right to be given the chance to hear everything and decide for herself on what to make of it.
He opened his mouth to say something to her in regards to all this, but never got the chance when-
"Hey! What's up? Are there any job openings here?"
Max, slightly taken aback by Kyra's sudden interruption, could only give the girl a look of mild irritation. Kyra looked at him and, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking (which she didn't), she turned towards Alicia and extended her hand.
"I'm sorry! That was so rude of me! The name's Kyra Hadley. I'm still kinda new around town."
Surprised by Kyra's quick appearance and introduction, Alicia carefully took the girl's hand. "Oh, it's nice to meet you Kyra!"
Max's body tightened up and he shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
"Kyra Hadley is Chief Hadley's niece, and she's staying with them while she finishes up her senior year here.", he explained.
Alicia's expression brightened and she smiled back at Kyra.
"That's so nice for you to be able to stay with your uncle! He's a good man, I've met him a few times before." She then turned to Max, "So, how do you two know each other?"
Max started to respond, "We-"
"Funny little story actually!", Kyra interrupted. "See, I kind of crashed my car into a tree and totaled it the night I was moving into town. Which wasn't COMPLETELY my fault by the way! It was raining, it was dark, and the roads weren't even lit! I mean seriously! What kind of road doesn't have streetlights these days? But getting back to my story. So I crash my car and thanks to a slight seatbelt-malfunction, I knock myself out! So Mr. EMT here was just driving along minding his own business when he saw poor little ole bloody-and-unconscious me, and then of course he has to scuttle in and save the day! Well, long story short. I have no car now, so Max gives me rides around town sometimes."
'More like takes them', Max thought to himself.
Alicia smiled amusingly at Max, as if she could pick-up his irritability right now.
"Well, that definitely sounds like the Max I know!"
Max just gave her a quick look that seemed to say, "I know you're mocking me right now and you're enjoying this."
Alicia turned her attention back to Kyra, "If you need a job, I'm sure I can ask Marge if we have any openings. I don't mind putting in a good word for you!"
Max tried to say something, but Kyra beat him to it.
"Really? Oh, thank you so much! That would be great!", she exclaimed. She then smiled triumphantly and turned towards Max, who knew that he just lost this battle.
They actually had a few minute of silence before Kyra decided to break it.
"So, how long have you had a crush on Coffee Shop Girl?"
"Excuse me?", Max asked, taken aback.
"Oh, don't play dumb and pretend you don't know what I'm talking about! I saw the way you were looking at her!", she teased.
Max let out a sigh of frustration before countering, "Alicia and I are just good friends. We've lived on the same street our whole lives and grew up together."
"Ohh so she's the Girl Next Door, huh? That's cute. No really, it is!"
"We're just friends."
"Just ask her out! Where's the harm in that? You'll never know until you try!"
Max pulled off to the side of the road and turned in his seat, looking hard at her.
"Miss Hadley, I have no problem with dropping you off right here. Then you can walk the rest of the way home and I can get back to work!", he said firmly.
Kyra threw her hands up in surrender, "OK fine! I can take a hint! No need to get all touchy about it. I've obviously hit a nerve with you, so I'll just shut up about it then!"
She put her hands back down and grinned, clearly amused at the moment.
"But you should know that your insistence on you two being 'just friends' only convinces me more that I'm right!"
Max only rolled his eyes and continued with driving the girl home.
Max allowed himself to push the limits of his body as he ran under the clear night sky. He let the world fly by him and enjoyed the freedom that came with knowing nobody could see him right now. He didn't stop running until he came to his usual spot; a wide open field on the outskirts of town. It was out of the way enough that it was difficult for the average person to find. He came here not only to test his abilities and practice getting used to them, but also just to be completely alone.
He laid down on the cool grass and stared up into the stars, trying to wrap his mind over the fact that he was born on a different world somewhere out there. He picked up a stone laying next to him and started casually tossing and catching it with one hand. After a few minutes, he stood back up and used every ounce of strength he had to quickly crush the smooth stone in his hand into a fine powder.
"Well done!", a strange voice praised, catching Max off-guard.
How did someone else get here? Did they follow him? Did they see him use his abilities?
He then saw another man approaching him from the shadows. He was shorter than Max, but had a lean build, dark hair, and cold blue eyes. Max started to slowly back away, not trusting the stranger.
The man continued speaking with his smooth, stiff voice, "I'm glad to see that you've discovered your extraordinary abilities and are practicing using them. That is a very good thing."
Max narrowed his eyes at the man, "Who are you?"
The man let out a small chuckle and picked up a large stick off the ground. He held it firmly in front of him and seemed to concentrate on it. The stick then suddenly burst into flames and quickly turned to ashes in the man's hands. Max could only stand frozen to the spot he was standing in while a sinking feeling came into his stomach.
"I am Remus Zar and I'm just like you, Maxwell Trenton", he answered, walking past Max. He then stopped and turned back around, "Or should I say, Oden Vaul."
Max suddenly turned around to face Remus, upon hearing that name.
"Are you saying that you're..."
"Yes. You and I are of the same world, Oden. The same race."
He then walked right up toe-to-toe with the dumbstruck, young man.
"Tonight, I'm here to bring you back to the Guardians."