I stopped in the middle of a busy sidewalk as people flowed past me. They jostled my lean frame around, nearly pushing me to the ground, but I was adamant. I wasn’t going anywhere until I figured out who was stalking me.
“Move, boy!” One man growled as he knocked into me.
“Go around,” I growled back.
He cursed and shouldered me aside as I looked throughout the crowd. Those people had things to do and places to be—me included. I had to get back home from a long day of school. But my skin kept crawling and I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder. I wasn’t going to stand for it. I’m almost eighteen years old now—a senior in high school and a grown man. No one’s gonna stalk me and get away with it.
My dark blue eyes raked the crowd of people and I swept a strand of black hair out of my face. No one looked out of the ordinary… just regular Washington D.C. citizens in a regular Washington D.C. city. My hand went to my side where I kept the pocketknife Dad had gotten me for my tenth birthday along with a can of Mace. I don’t have all those things because I’m scared of being abducted (which I am, by the way) but because my dad is an FBI agent. He’s a high-ranking one too and the threat of kidnapping is always there for my two twin sisters and me.
I blew a puff of air into the cold February sky and turned around. There was no sense in waiting for whoever was stalking me to show themselves. I walked a while until finally I made it home, which was actually just a rundown hotel until my family could find an apartment or house.
Finally, the prickling sensation of someone watching me faded away as I entered the building. A young man, a few years older than me was behind the front desk. Jayden looked up as he caught sight of me.
“Max! Hey, man!” Jayden hooted and I slapped his hand and pounded his back.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothin’ much. Just got a new phone.” He held it up. “6s.”
“Sweet,” I admired. “Is my mom home?”
“Yup. Just got the keys from me.” Jayden settled back into his seat. “Oh, yeah, she wanted me to tell you that your cousins will be comin’ in soon.”
I perked up. “Which ones? Caleb, Josh and Bree or Ben and Natasha?”
Jayden shrugged as he texted. “Whichever one is the hot chick with red hair.”
“That’d be Natasha,” I clarified.
He gave a half smile. “Get her number for me, will ya?”
I rolled my eyes. “That is NEVER happening.”
Jayden waved me off and I trotted up the stairs, feeling lighter than air, all thoughts of the stalker absent from my mind. It seems like forever since I’ve seen Natasha and Ben. They lived in New York so I rarely saw them.
The door was locked so I knocked and a voice called out, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Max.” I said back.
There was shuffling and then a different voice said, “How do we know you’re really Max?”
I groaned as they giggled but I couldn’t help smiling. “Katelyn Grace Hawkins,” I hollered threateningly. “You open this door.”
“Or what?” The original voice called back.
“Katherine! Why are you helping your sister?”
“’Cause it’s fun!” Katelyn shouted back and both twins collapsed into giggles.
“Girls!” A different voice entered the conversation. “Open up that door,” Mom said.
“Yeah,” I added. “Show a little respect for the birthday boy.”
There were identical gasps and someone rushed to the door and unlocked it. I stepped in to see Katelyn and Katherine bouncing up and down.
“I forgot it was your birthday tomorrow!” Katelyn exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Katherine added. “If we had remembered, we wouldn’t have locked you out.”
Katelyn elbowed her. “Of course we would have!”
Katherine lowered her voice. “I know that,” she hissed. “I was just trying to make him feel better.”
I smiled at the twins, amused, then walked past the identical skinny forms, brown hair and dark eyes. Both were in the spitting image of their mother. I looked up at Mom and she gave me a hug.
I paused, hope bubbling inside me. “Hey, is Dad gonna be here soon?”
Mom paused, sighing. “I don’t know, dear. You know how it is.” She faltered. “I’m sorry.”
I tried not to feel disappointed. Dad was gone so often… He had a big job, though. He was an FBI agent and he had to work. Dad couldn’t let things like family occasions distract him from working for the government. Still… I wish he were here for my birthday. There was still tomorrow, though. He might come home then. After all, that was when my birthday arrived. February thirteenth.
We sat down, prayed and started to eat.
“Oh,” Mom said as she wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Did Jayden tell you? Ben and—"
“Natasha are coming,” I finished. “Yes he did.” I smiled at the thought of seeing my cousins again.
“I wish Bree was coming,” Katelyn said glumly.
“And Caleb and Josh,” Katherine added.
“Those three are closer to your age,” Mom said understandingly. “But Max hasn’t seen Natasha and Ben in a long time so they’re coming for his birthday.”
“Natasha IS pretty cool,” Katelyn said cautiously.
“And Ben IS pretty strong,” Katherine added.
“Hey,” I interrupted. “Benny’s not as strong as me, though, right?” I grinned and flexed my bicep.
The two twins exchanged a glance. “You’re right,” Katelyn said finally. “Ben’s nowhere as strong as you.”
I couldn’t help letting my chest swell with pride, but their next statement knocked the wind out of me.
“’Cause you’re way weaker!” Katherine blurted. Both girls collapsed into giggles and I smacked one of them upside the head—not hard. I couldn't help smiling as they stuck their identical tongues out.
I have a great family, I thought as I looked around the table. I’m never letting any of you go. I’ll find out who was stalking me. I’ll stop anyone who dared to threaten my family. My eyes went from my mom, to Katelyn to Katherine. There was an empty chair beside the table and it was painfully obvious who was missing. If only my dad were here, my family would be complete.
I shut the door, silencing the television’s muted words. It was the next day and I planned to find out who kept giving me the creeps. As I walked down the stairs, Aaron, one of the sixteen-year-old workers, rushed up.
“Max,” he gasped, panting for breath. “Someone came to the hotel, looking for you.”
I narrowed my eyes, instantly alert. I had woken up early to find out who was stalking me and Aaron had just seen him!
“You did?” I pressed. “Who was he? What’d he look like?”
“There were two people,” he said, breathing heavily. “Came in about twenty minutes ago. Both were wearing all black and sunglasses. I thought they were agents, or something, working with your dad, but they asked for your information. I didn't give it to them, since it’s illegal, and when I asked if they had a permit for that, they just turned around and walked out.”
My heart was racing. I had to find out who was stalking me. Today. Before it was too late and they struck.
I thanked Aaron and rushed out the door, looking around wildly. My eyes raked the clearing for anything unusual. It looked like a fairly normal Saturday, just busy people walking around and tourists drinking the sights in.
There! Right there! I caught a glimpse of a blurred movement—like someone running away back into the alley across the street. I sprinted over, running through the road, not bothering to wait till the light turned red.
I made it to the other side in one piece and I sprinted to the alley. As I entered, my feet slowed yet my heart rate did not. Blood pounded in my ears as I stared down the dank and dark alley. The prickling on the back of my neck only got fiercer as I felt the stare of someone watching me. I kept on glancing behind and around me, sure that someone was about to jump out. My fingers went to the can of pepper spray.
Suddenly, a cold hand clamped on my shoulder and a deep voice behind me said, “Hello, Maxwell. We’ve been looking for you.”
I whipped around and sprayed the mace at my attacker’s eyes. The stalker let out a short scream and fell to the ground. I stepped back and saw the two black-clad figures clearly. Adrenaline rushed through me so fiercely I almost didn’t recognize the people and when I did, the fight drained out of me.
“BEN AND NATASHA?!” I exclaimed. “You’re the ones who’ve been stalking me?”
“Stalking?” Ben yelped as he rubbed his tightly shut eyes. “We were just trying to surprise you for your birthday! Jeez!”
“We were,” Natasha said and I looked at her for the first time. Her fiery crimson hair had grown longer; to the bottom of her rib cage and her dark blue eyes were identical to mine. “Until you went all secret agent on Benny, here.” Nat said, gesturing to Benjamin who was still on the ground trying to open his watering eyes.
Ben wiped his longish black hair out of his face and slid the bangs across his forehead. He huffed and puffed as Natasha helped her brother to his feet.
“So,” Ben said as he pried open his hazel eyes. He gave a lopsided smile. “Surprise! Happy birthday!”
I sat at the head of the picnic table, looking around. Natasha and Ben were to his left while Mom and the twins were on his right and friends crowded near me. Here were people that loved and cared for me than anyone else in the whole world. They had poured their life out for me and I was so grateful. But deep down, sadness overwhelmed me. Dad hadn’t shown up for my birthday. And not just any birthday; my eighteenth one. I legally became a man today. And my own father hadn’t shown up. What I wanted for my birthday wasn’t a new phone, like Jayden had gotten. Or a nice pair of running shoes I’d been begging for. What I really wanted, really, truly, honestly… was one day with my dad. Just one. A few hours would be more than sufficient.
I sighed as my heart ached with longing.
Just then, a familiar black van drove up and a man got out. As if in a dream, I stood up slowly as the figure walked forward. I saw his face clearly and fought the urge to cry. The man in front of me had graying black hair and electric blue eyes. Wrinkles cut into his face around his eyes and mouth, showing a lifetime of smiles and hearty laughter. P.J. Hawkins was his name. But I knew him as one word; Dad.
My eyes moistened as I ran over to him and tackled Dad with a hug, not caring who was watching. He gripped my back tightly and after a few moments, took a step back. He pulled something out of his pocket and my mouth dropped. It was an open black wallet; the top had a golden badge pinned to it and stitched letters read: FBI. On the bottom part, instead of being Dad’s photo and information, there was MY photo and MY information and MY name.
“Congratulations,” Dad said with a wide smile. “You’re finally of age.”
This time I didn’t hold the tears back. Now, I would be able to spend all the time in the world with Dad; I would be working with him; would be working FOR him.
I would be an FBI agent.