Only a few months ago…

A nighttime's hush blanketed the country's small-town streets. The vacant sidewalks and cozy buildings, all covered in shadow with few lights shining through the blackness. The crisp air kissed the dark skin of a young boy sauntering along a lonesome boulevard though he didn't seem to mind. He was accustomed to the weather after a lifetime of living there. Sixteen years of living in a hushed, humble town that had kept to its own. Emphasis on the hush aspect. The teen found the isolation irritating, like a dog locked in a cage with the only form of entertainment being chasing its own tail. Speaking of canines, the distant sounds of howling dogs stirred some sense of adventure within him. And so it goes. It never took much to get the hounds barking. Be it a stray cat, a squirrel, or perhaps their own shadows.

Dogs were adorably stupid like that.

Activity was an oddity in such a nonentity of a town. To compound onto that fact, it was a Wednesday night. Many weren't likely to be out and about at these hours. This teen, himself, was soon to be at home with his mom. The mother who, hopefully, would do the cooking this time around. While being considerate of her busy schedule, for once he'd like to arrive back to a home-cooked meal. Though he would never request for such, he could only imagine the burden motherhood placed on a single woman. Now, it wasn't that he disliked cooking, on the contrary. He quite enjoyed it. But his mother was a picky eater; not at all the adventurous type. She didn't dare venture outside the comfort zones she had placed on herself. Perhaps, this was the explanation for the several bland, repeated dishes that the boy would often put salt on. His mother scolded him about the hazards of hypertension. At tender age of sixteen, it seemed like such an absurd thing. To worry about high blood pressure. He was only teenager, after all. To an outsider, that simple lifestyle would be enough.

But not for Asa Hugo.

Classes, girls, video games, after school clubs, porn, stress and anxiety, tests, homework, and crushing expectations. Who knows, maybe even the tasteless monotony of a part-time job to spice things up. That was the average teenage youth lineup. However, very little seemed to capture Asa's attention. Video games, movies, and books were fun and all; but swimming was were Asa's heart lay. Not only was it great exercise but excellent stress relief. The cool water lapping at his skin, rushing through his hair.

But the pool was currently closed. Not only that, but all the dishes he wished to make required far too much money for a high school student with no job to reasonably afford. Such is the trap of domestic life, wanting more than what is available. Though Asa never asked for much. The opposite in fact, he asked for relatively little, a mixture of contentment and recognition of his situation. Grades were fine, he was fit, and his mother, when not working, was readily available.

Asa had been fortunate enough to never have experience grave misfortune, having lived a nice life because of where he lived and his maternal upbringing. Though, one event stood out in his mind. A flu, a strange illness that befell Asa at the age of three. He didn't remember much of that time, only heat and pressure. A few weeks after he recovered, his ability developed. Restoration. The ability to restore both living and non-living things. He figured it out after he broke a glass. He picked up one of the shards and almost instantaneously, like magic, the glass returned to normal. Both unbroken and untouched. Ever since then, he craved something. Something more. Something indescribable. A break from the dullness. Perhaps it was selfish. Living so sheltered instilled that urge in Asa, to spread wings. A new quest to freshen life was all he wanted. Just a little taste of something brand new.

"Stop fucking struggling!"

Asa blinked in surprise. Who would be out this late in the evening. He was headed home a bit earlier than usual, but anything other than dead silence in this part of town at this hour was unusual. It sounded like another teen, and he wasn't too thrilled… or sober if his tone indicated anything. Probably struggling to get his dog to move or something.

"Stop!"

The young boy's eyes widened and stomach sunk. That voice. It was a woman. A very scared woman in fact.

"Just stop struggling!" The male teen retorted with malicious intent. The two seemed to be fighting over something. With it so quiet out, it was quite easy to pick up. Asa's bad feeling only worsened as he walked farther up the street. It technically was the way home, so he had an excuse to be nosy. He hoped this was just an argument.

"Stop it!" the female teen cried again. "Let me go!" Asa felt air catch in his throat. Her words were clear as day under the silent night. A guy forcibly holding onto a frightened girl. Asa came to a stop and glanced over his shoulder. It wasn't too late to turn back but the creeping heat on his neck and the squirming of his stomach begged him too. For good or for ill, he had to press on.

As he rounded the corner, the high beams of a car blinded him. It was a fancy black model, however drove this definitely had money to burn. Big money. It was parked in front of a small building where the lights began to shut out, one by one. No doubt the inhabitants wanted to stay out of whatever situation was brewing outside. They were either smarter or more selfish than Asa was, maybe both.

"Stop with the bullshit…" A white teen in plain clothes had his grip firmly locked around the wrist of a younger girl. The guy was clearly drunk as he struggled to keep upright. Oh yes, he was drunk. Drunk and angry. There couldn't be a worse combination for a woman in distress.

"Ow!" The guy took hold of the girl's shoulder. "P-please, stop!" She dragged her high heels and scratched at the guy as he attempted to lug her towards his vehicle. The worst-case scenario flashed in Asa's mind. The man scoffed and stitched gears, wrapping his arm around her waist and tried dragging her over.

"What a waste of time. You think you're worth causing me trouble? Huh?" Asa clenched his fist as he heard the utter slime that rolled of the guy's tongue.

"I-I'll call the police!" The girl replied. The threat only had a hollow effort. Seemingly, it caused the guy to laugh in her face and go on another ego-filled rant.

"Call them if you want! Hell, I'll call them for you. The police are my bitches. I own this town. They're not gonna take you seriously." His patience was surely running thin. The guy took a fistful of her silky black hair in one hand while the other grabbed her blouse and forcefully tugged. A button flew off. Her shirt opened slightly and revealed a tantalizing sight to the older guy. A view of her bra. A sinister chuckle filled the air as he took notice of her cleavage. His grip became tighter. Her arms became restricted behind her back. Thankful, the guy's ogling was cut short by the sudden echo of police sirens in the air. Asa breathed a sigh of relief from his obscured position behind the fencing. Maybe he wouldn't have to get involved after all. "Someone called the cops, huh? Get in the car! Incompetent fools like you just need to shut your mouths and follow where my dad leads this stupid town."

Not only made of money but the son of a politician as well. Explains the ego. Asa frantically searched for any sign of the police lights but judging from the sound of the sirens, they were still too far away. And from the look of it, the woman couldn't put up any more of a fight.

"Where the hell are they?" Asa thought. He hadn't been noticed yet... It wasn't too late to turn back. It wasn't too late to act like he had witnessed nothing. But at what expense? The presumed rape of an innocent girl? It wasn't right. All his life, his parents, teachers, and television had told him to speak up and say something. Granted, these lectures and seminars were all about bullies and suspicious adults. Nothing about attempted rape. The woman let out another cry as he ended up snaring part of her blouse sleeve. She looked to be on the verge of tears.

Asa swallowed his fear and finally took action.

"Hey!" Asa shouted before sprinting towards the politician's kid. Before he could turn, Asa had placed himself between the girl and the drunk guy. The swift movement caused the rich kid to stagger backward. He stared at the Asa through half-lidded eyes. Blonde hair was visible under the moonlight. He looked about eighteen, meaning he had both height and years of life lived ahead of Asa. The guy attempted to speak but stumbled in place, pointing a solitary finger threateningly at Asa. "Are you okay?" The girl nodded meekly at him.

"What're you looking at? Get outta my face!"

"Fuck off, brat!" Asa fired back. "You wanna put your hands on somebody? Put em' on me!"

"This ain't a show! Get lost, asshole! I'm not gonna tell you again…" When Asa made no sign of moving, the older guy wound his arm back and let it fly in a loose, slow right hook. Asa blocked the hit with ease and retorted with a punch of his own. His fist cut through the air with the speed of a bullet. Asa knew his punch landed when he felt the vibrations of flesh echo trough his knuckles. With a pained groan, the attempted rapist fell face first upon the ground.

"Not so high and might, now!" Asa spat on the guy. The girl behind him cupped her mouth in shock as the guy rose. Blood. A fine cut, dripping red, on his forehead that complimented the flushing of his cheeks.

"God Damn it!" The attempted rapist hissed through his teeth, pressing his hand to the gash to stop the bleeding. "I'll sue!"

"S-sue?!" Asa's tone was one of both anger and worry. "Better take care of this…"

"Fix."

It wasn't a thought, more so a command. A mental command that Asa used when he felt inclined to use his ability. A warm sensation ran through Asa's veins. A warmness that held tighter than a mother's embrace. A pink glow covered the older guy's body and within a silent minute, the broken skin has stitched itself back together and scabbed. Asa grimaced at the sight of the unsightly scab. His mood had overturned his ability's full potential.

"For what? I didn't do anything! You fell over, you drunk dickhead!"

"Leave him alone!" the woman cried, taking a step in front of the boy. He looked to be nothing more than a boy to her. Sixteen, at the very least. She was the older one between the two. It should be her protecting him. "Don't get him involved! He doesn't know what he's doing." Asa furrowed his brow and glanced back and forth between the two.

"Do you two know each other?"

"Shut your mouth, bitch!" the older guy said, taking a step towards the girl. "And you!" He pointed towards Asa once more, teeth bared. "Your ass is grass!"

"If you keep this up, then I'll…" She chewed feverishly on her lip for some sort of leverage to get him to back down. But he was near untouchable, especially for someone at her low level. "I'll blow the whistle about the money! Is that fine with you!?" Asa darted his head over to her, blinking in surprise. So there was more to this than just drunken attempts at sexual assault. Money was involved as well. Asa slowly began to reconsider what he had just gotten himself involved in.

"All I have to say is that you stole it from me, and it's all over," the older guy retorted, completely unfazed by her bluff. He was far too irritated by her resistance and Asa's interruption to garner any satisfaction from her stumbling for a rebuttal. His head was pounding from the restored injury and lack of alcohol in his system, and the police would be here any moment. He wanted this inconvenience squared away and dealt with as neatly as possible. "Hey. Make this statement to the cops. "This guy suddenly attacked me." Got it? If you even try to say anything else, you know what'll happen to you, right?"

"Huh?!" Asa interrupted. The woman looked beyond distraught at her ultimatum. Submit to him and sell an innocent man out, or risk her neck standing against him. "You can't do this!"

"Shut up!" the older guy barked, cupping his head. "You're done for."

"We'll see about that," Asa growled, glancing over his shoulder at the approaching police vehicle. Better late than never. Yet, the older guy seemed nonplussed by their arrival. Another inconvenience for him to deal with.

"You're gonna learn what happens when you cross me…"

"Excuse me, folks." Two policemen exited the car, a burlier one taking the lead. "We received a complaint about an argument here. Is something the matter-oh! It's you, Arius." The man's inquisitive and calm tone immediately took on a different direction. Much more nervous and alert.

This doesn't look good…

"So, what happened?" the older guy asked coyly. His eyes narrowed at his female "companion" with overwhelming smugness. His lips curled into a wary sneer. "Explain it to the good officer." The woman seized up. Bile leapt up her throat. All those eyes fixated on her. Arius's, the polices', and Asa's. With the police in Arius' pocket, the situation was clear. Arius and the police versus her and a lone teenager. It didn't take a genius to see how this would end…

"This guy suddenly attacked. He shoved Arius to the ground. And he… got injured…" Asa felt his vision flash over white, the breath leaving his body. His limbs locked up, skin growing cold, and the world around him went deathly silent. Like he had been punched right in the gut or shot through the heart. Now rendered completely delirious and on the verge of nausea.

"It's as she says," Arius said. More a warning than a statement. "Also, make sure you deal with this so my name isn't mentioned at all. You understand what that means, correct?"

"Y-yes, sir!" The burly officer barked, like a dog being strangled by its leash. "Cuff him!" Asa was far too stunned to process the police dragging him away. Their firm grip around his wrist as they clamped the tight metal bonds around his wrists. Each officer put the squeeze on each arm while he was escorted into the vehicle. The woman watched with great shame at his pale dumbstruck face. The utter betrayal in his face was too much to bear. Even from a stranger. Though, her attention was diluted elsewhere from the feeling of a firm hand upon her shoulder.

"Now get in the car…" With her betrayal had all the resistance left her, and she resigned herself to her fate. Arius shoved her into the car and slid right in afterward. While he poured himself another glass of scotch, the girl burst into tears. Pitiful sobs resonated within the black vehicle as it drove away from the scene of the crime. "Oh, stop the waterworks bullshit. You're lucky my head hurts too much."

"How could you do that?!" she shouted, balling her fists. Arius merely snickered at her meager attempt at defiance.

"I didn't do anything. You made your choice all on your own."

"You set me up! You had the police in your pocket and blackmailed me! This is all your fault!" As Arius downed his glass, he merely huffed. His breath fogged up the interior of his now emptied drink.

"And you made your choice to side with me over some brat. You could've tried to fight the system and stick up for the kid. Instead, you looked out for your own self-interests." Arius delivered a harsh swat to the side of her face with the back of his palm. "There are two types of people in this world, and you better learn that fast if you want to become anything more than a secretary. There are soldiers, and there are fixers. And you'd best adjust your attitude before I'm standing on your neck instead of your back, you understand?" The woman cradled her face in her palms and leaned towards the opposite car window. Her soft muffled sobs irritated him, but the booze was putting enough of a buzz on to make it more tolerable.

"He was just a kid…" she said, barely above a whisper.

"Everyone has to grow up sooner or later. Some people just need to learn the hard way about how the world works. And he's gonna learn harder than anyone…" Arius licked his thumb and ran it along his scab. Other than the scab, his face was perfectly fine. The kid better pray that the unsightly sore healed. If not, he'd pull some strings and double down on the kid's punishment. "He'll learn to never cross me again..."

The guy and the inconvenience he caused became a forgotten memory in the man's mind. But Asa himself was not so lucky. Everything seemed like a complete blur the second the woman had sold him out. The inside of the jail cell, the argument with his mom, the tears shed in frustration, fear, and pain, the court date. It was sometimes hard to process; it had all occurred in the span of two months. Some things were hard to recall exactly, and others he remembered vividly. But one thing had been made abundantly clear for him that night.

Be careful what you wish for.


4/9/17 – Saturday

Asa parked himself before an apartment door, sulking the whole way. The past few months seemed like years with all the inner turmoil and outer distress. All sixteen years of his life, he had been lectured about the importance of doing the right thing. Don't be a bully, stick up for people. See something, say something. His mom, teachers, the police. And what did he get for his good deed?

Expelled. Alienated by his friends, alienated by the town, and his attempts at reason with the judge fell upon deaf ears… at least his mom believed him. He had been steamrolled in court. The lawyer the court had selected for him had handed the case over, not even bothering to fight. With this being his first offense, the punishment was at least somewhat lenient. Expulsion and put under the watchful eye of his uncle, a police officer. A man named James Hugo, apparently. That was the extent he was told.

Pain in the ass…

Royal Woods was way different from his hometown. Much more alive and colorful. Had the circumstances for his arrival been different, he might have garnered some joy out of the sights. But this was no pleasure cruise. He had been exiled to reside in the city until March.

Next year.

The only actual good out of everything was that his mom promised to call every night. It felt good to have at least one person on his side...

Out of everything, Asa never thought he'd miss school. Classes, reading, notes, friends, and swimming.

Swimming.

He was heartbroken to learn that Royal Woods lacked a swim team. All the trophies on his shelf back home were dead weight now. All the things that had once instilled a sense of belonging in the boy were now reduced to mere trifles. But hey, it beats juvenile detention.

What bullshit.

When he finally mustered the resolve to knock and was greeted by a gruff, "It's open". When Asa entered, he was met with a warm and cozy atmosphere accompanied by the pleasant aroma of foam and coffee beans. It was a small apartment. A television droned on in the living room, with the station set to the local news. With his luck, Asa wouldn't be surprised if the story of him assaulting that man was broadcast to the world. Instead, it reported on some sort of charity. Asa had caught a glimpse of the same story while riding into the city. He wasn't quite sure what it was and quite frankly didn't care.

Standing in the kitchen was a bald older looking gentleman with a thick beard and clad in a police uniform. He seemed woefully disinterested in everything going on around him as he read the paper in his hands. Perhaps this was the James Hugo he had been placed under the care of.

"Um, excuse me, sir?" His exploitation might have made him a touch more bitter and jaded, but by no means did he forget his manners. The older man looked up from his paper, and the already ever-present frown upon his face deepened further.

"Oh. Right. She did say that was today."

"Good to see I'm not wanted here either," Asa thought dryly to himself..

"It's been a while, nephew. You know who I am, right?"

"Yes, sir," Asa responded kindly. Perhaps his uncle would be more lenient on him if he was respectful.

"You'll be in my custody over the next year. I was wondering what kind of unruly kid would show up, but you're the one, huh?"

James had to admit that Asa was not at all what he expected. For a supposed criminal, he didn't look the part; curly black hair and pure hazel eyes, a simple white shirt with red accents and a nurse's cross, and black jeans with two keychains hanging off a belt loop. A peace sign and a heart hung off the teen's waist. James rambled to himself before leading the youth down the hall.

"This is your room." Asa couldn't mask the shock on his face to find his room. It boasted plenty of room, no doubt. But required some cleaning.

Lots of cleaning.

Trash bags, cardboard boxes, a ladder, a dead houseplant, and dozens upon dozens of books. And of course, a fine layer of dust coating it all. His box of clothes sat in the center of the room, though to an outsider looking in, it easily blended in with the rest of clutter. It seemed nobody had tended this mess in months.

"I'll at least give you sheets for your bed." A bed was nestled in the far right corner of the room beneath the windows. A mattress and a thick red comforter sheet formed his sleeping arrangements. Such meager arrangements, but they seemed comfortable enough. Asa wouldn't need much. "You look like you wanna say something."

"Oh, it's just bigger than I thought it would be. Thank you. I'll just need to do a bit of cleaning." He deemed it wise to watch his wording, lest he offend James and make his stay in Royal Woods even more of a chore.

"I'll be leaving after I lock up each day. You'll be alone at night, but don't do anything stupid. I'll throw you out if you cause any trouble." Asa gulped nervously before tugging at his collar. The prospect of homelessness had never really occurred to him at his age. But James looked like he meant business. As though his stay in Royal Wood wouldn't make him anxious enough.

"Y-yes, sir." At this point, all he wanted to do was sleep. The trip and the mental anguish he put himself through by constantly reflecting over the past two months had worn him out. Though there was no way he'd sleep in this mess. "So how much did they tell you? About me?"

"I got the gist of your situation," James stated. "You protected some a girl from a guy forcing himself on her. What you didn't know was that the guy you punched was a mayor's kid. He got injured, then sued you. Right? That's what you get for sticking your nose where you don't belong. You did injure him, yeah?"

Unbelievable…

All the shit he had been raised to believe. All he had been taught. Those lessons seemed like complete lies. Honesty, truth, justice. Sticking up for others and defending the weak. He was now here, being told he should've kept his mouth shut and looked the other way. It was demoralizing, baffling, humiliating. As though his heart was drained and his soul was crushed. James didn't help the situation by continuing to rattle off Asa's backstory.

"The courts ordered you to transfer and move out here, which your mom also approved."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Asa thought to himself. "I was there myself. Can we get to the point already?"

"In other words, they got rid of you for being a pain in the ass."

All the wind and vigor – what little there was – leapt out of Asa's body. The mocking smirk plastered on James's made the verbal gutting even worse. His uncle had cut him where his pride ached the most. Granted, Asa had told himself the same thing constantly when the transfer was announced. But it hurt even greater coming from the outside. The police officer continued on about keeping out of trouble, heading to Royal Woods High tomorrow, and other subjects Asa was only half listening to. What he wanted most at that moment was to clean up and be alone. After making the room somewhat presentable and being grilled by James some more, he was finally granted such a courtesy. The bed and the prospect of sleep felt the closest to serendipity he had tasted in months.

Asa had never been sure of what life had in store, but this was certainly not at all what he wanted nor what he envisioned. Sleeping in the spare room of an apartment owned by a cynical police officer while his mom was miles away outside of Royal Woods without him. He was stuck here for an entire year, with the eyes of the law on him. One slip up, and it's straight to a juvenile correctional facility. All his years of being raised to be respectful and a good attentive student, and this was his just reward.

The monkey's paw had curled hard and left only the middle finger at full mast.