My father’s lips droop more and more into a worried frown. “Are you sure you’ve kept your protective gears in?”, he asked for the third time, watching me push my suitcase close to zip it up.
“Yes, father dear”, I repeated with a sigh. Concentrating on the task at hand is almost impossible when your father is scrutinizing your every move to be ready to point out how unfit you are for the job just because he doesn’t want you to go. “Hasn’t Hayden arrived yet?”
“Well, look at that. My daughter is in such a hurry to leave me”, he tried again, making a sad face to appeal to my emotional nature.
“Daaad”, I whined, drawing out the ‘a’. “I’m going to be just fine! I’ll be sure to walk in your footsteps and never stray from the path. Before you know it, I’ll be back, a little older and a little wiser. Isn’t that what we all want? And besides, Hayden and Carly will be there with me. They’re good friends of mine.” If you call glaring at me at every chance they get a sign of sweet friendship, I added silently. Father seemed a little convinced though.
He sat down on my bed with a resigned sigh. “Hayden is a nice boy so maybe you’ll be fine on your first job. But I’ll be worried about you, honey. Text me at least once everyday, okay?”
I was about to deny but agreed after giving it some consideration. I wouldn’t want to upset father for no reason.
He stood up, ready to leave, but I had a request for him that I’d been afraid to ask of. “Dad”, I called hesitantly, not knowing how he would react.
“Yeah?”, he asked as he pushed the duffel bags lying on the floor to the side to make way for walking. “Such a mess you’ve got. I don’t know how you’re going to survive there. Hayden’s a boy after all so he’ll be messy as well and-”
“Can I take one of mom’s photos?”, I blurted out, unable to wait any longer. The last time we talked about her was two years ago and he’d been upset that we’d had even thought about bringing up the topic. That is why I was pleasantly surprised when he took one look at me and smiled.
“I was worried that my stupid behaviour from a few years ago forced you all to not think about her”, he told me before walking out of my room. He returned a few seconds later bringing a small pile of photographs. “Do you remember these?”, he asked sitting on the bed once again while I sat beside him. “You took these when you were seven. You were such a big fan of photography back then, even though you hand shook like that of a scared kitten. Look at your mother, she looked like an angel back then… ”
It felt nice to hear him ramble about mother, reminiscing all the sweet and bitter memories instead of trying to hide them under a bulk of other thoughts in his mind. His eyes twinkled in the same way they used to do when he used to look at mother. Their love is part of the reason that I haven’t given up on fairytale love stories and wished I had the same luck as them. Death took them apart but he still loved her dearly.
I was listening to another one of Leo’s and mine childhood stories when we heard a car roll into the gravel driveway. Soon, I heard voices inside the house.
“That’s my ride”, I said, standing up and smoothing out the wrinkles on my outfit. Ironing an outfit never works when the person herself is a messy one. But at least the outfit was comfortable. Stretchy blue jeans, red checkered button-up and red Vans just screamed Megan, and I felt satisfied as I gave myself a last look in the mirror, tugging lightly on my ponytail to make it neater.
“Hey”, Hayden greeted as soon as he entered my room without my permission. He was clad in a plain blue t-shirt with sleeves folded halfway, black jeans and white and spotless white canvas sneakers. I didn’t know much about fashion but he wouldn’t be on my worst dressed list if I were a critic.
He then proceeded to put on a dazzling smile, as if we’d been best friends for years, and greeted my father with a handshake. I frowned at that. He’d never smile at me.
“You’ve become an excellent young man”, father commented with a pleased grin. “I am trusting you with my daughter, Hayden. Oh, I’m already so emotional, I can’t even think of what I would feel when she gets married and moves away from us forever.”
They both chuckled at my horrified face and I shook my head at them before carrying my surprisingly heavy bags and walking towards the stairs.
“No, let them be”, Hayden stopped me before I could get out of the room. “I’ll carry them. You can just go downstairs and I’ll be there soon.”
I raised an eyebrow at that. “No, it’s fine. I can carry them. I’ve carried them before.”
He narrowed his eyes at me discreetly, showing me that he was not pleased. “No, please. I can’t let a lady carry her bags while I’m there.”
Now he was getting on my nerves. “Look, I-”
“Leo!”, father called out abruptly. An unintelligible yell sounded from somewhere in the house as a response. “Carry Megan’s bags to the car!”
“Right now?”, Leo asked, his voice now a bit near, with a grumbling tone.
“Yes”, father replied, leaving no room for argument, and left the room. As soon as he walked out, Hayden and I turned to each other.
“You don’t get to push me around”, I hissed. “I can do all my works without your help!”
“Yeah, if you had the strength of a mouse at the very least”, he threw back, pursing his lips.
“What’s that supposed to mean!? I have trained as much as you, you… scoundrel!”
“Do you even know what that means? Anyway, let me make this clear, you are not allowed to fight in this job, alright? It’s a man’s job and so, if you go on doing what you’re not supposed to, you’ll only make this difficult for us. You’re supposed to stay at home and try not to cause a ruckus-”
He groaned in pain, clutching his foot, and I felt a wave of satisfaction. I didn’t even know when I stomped on his foot but, boy, did it feel good.
“Alright, everything in?”, my father asked.
I gave an affirmative nod before subtly stretching my back. The bags apparently were a bit heavy, but I wasn’t going to admit that to the boy with a grumpy face who was a few steps away.
I hugged my father and then my brother, the latter a little forcefully, and then got into the passenger seat. I’m not going to lie, the car was fancy as hell. It wasn’t the one that he’d used before. This one even had foot rest below the seat and springy cushions to rest my butt on. Perfect.
“Remember to give me a call!”, my father told me for the umpteenth time. I only waved and grinned as a response as Hayden got in and drove the car away.
I took out the town map of the designated area from my bag again. I lightly swung my legs as I looked at all the names, though I’d probably memorized them all already, after looking at the town map every ten minutes. No, I wasn’t that interested in the town map. I was just doing that to busy myself as the silence in the car was too distracting.
Hayden hadn’t spoken a word to me, his mouth set in a hard line. I know we’d have to talk eventually because we were working on a mission which would be a disaster without cooperation, but I refuse to give in so easily. It’d be like wrapping my independence in a box and gifting it to him. So I switched on the car radio and quietly sighed in relief when voices from it filled the car.
The car stopped, abruptly, in front of a house. Carly came up to the car with a duffel bag. I guess I wasn’t paying attention to where we were. Her girly floral dress and bronze wedges surprised me. I wouldn’t openly admit it but she had beauty and knew how to flaunt it. I looked at my own outfit and sunk deeper into the seat.
She opened the backseat door and threw her bag in before opening the passenger door and looking at me. “Do you mind sitting in the back? Hayden and I have some important stuff to talk about.”
“What? No, I won’t-“, I stopped myself before I could say anything further. Yes, it was rude of her to just ask that but it’s not like I sit in the front and prolong the already uncomfortable silence. I had no reason to. “You know what? No, I don’t mind. Go on”, I told her and got out of the car before getting in the back and laying down comfortably.
“Hey, what’re you doing?”, Hayden asked with wide eyes. “I just got her serviced a few days ago!”
“Her?”, I asked amusedly, not budging from my position. “So you’re one of those, huh? Well, at least now I know how to make you talk.”
“A person doesn’t normally talk to someone who attacked him”, he replied.
I scoffed. “It was barely an attack. And you deserved it!”
“I don’t see how-“, he’d started to say when he was cut off by the sound of Carly clearing her throat.
“You can’t let an immature person turn yourself into the the same, Hayden”, she said, loud enough for me to hear. I frowned but didn’t speak anymore. I didn’t agree with their patriarchal so there was no need to entertain them. Hayden started driving as soon as Carly locked her door. “We’ve bigger concerns. Apparently, the man suspects our involvement already. He’d been seen upgrading his security. He’ll keep an eye out for us. Maybe check every visitor that enters the house. The mailman, milkman, newspaper boy, the tutors of his children. Everyone. So you two have to get information through the way that he’d least suspect-”
“Wait, what about you?”, Hayden asked. I listened intently at that part.
“I won’t be joining you two”, she replied. ” As much as I want to, someone has to do the tech work and hack into his security.”
I rejoiced silently. I respected her abilities and her skills. But her attitude? Not so much.
“So what do we do now?”, he asked.
“You two have to befriend some not-so-nice people. His children, more particularly. You’ve read the information sent to you, right? Leah Emily Braxford and Alexander James Braxford, children of Arthur Braxford and Emilia Johnson. The parents had a divorce six years ago when the two were 12 and 13 years ago and, as you both know, they’re both living with their father. They’re both quite into the relationship game so I won’t be surprised if either of them had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Now here’s what important information I’ve acquired. Leah loves archery and, even though she knows that her father doesn’t like her playing that sport, she sneaks off at every chance she gets to visit the local target area. Alexander, however, has no interest in sports or other activities but he sure does like to spend his time checking out new bars with his friends, Aaron and Nolan. I couldn’t find out what their last names are so you are going to have to figure that one out yourself. ”
“Impressive”, Hayden commented and I couldn’t help but nod. Did she constantly stalk them, physically or virtually? “What’s the situation with the apartment?”
“Pretty good. It’s not a big apartment because we don’t want to arouse suspicions. Three teenagers won’t be able to earn enough to pay for a grand apartment anyway. It’s not a bad area so the neighbours are most probably nice people. We have to constantly hang out with them to have them as our alibis when the time comes.”
“You mean ‘if’?, I asked, not liking the idea of using the neighbours for our own purposes.
“No, I mean ‘when’. I have no doubt the time will come”, she said and suddenly sat right up. “Stop right here.”
“Here?”, Hayden asked, pushing on the brake, with a confused expression. “Why?”
“I have some information to exchange here. I’ll get to the house on my own. Will see you there.” With that, she got her duffel bag out and walked away on a deserted street.
“Will she be safe… ?”, I asked, slightly worried without reason.
Hayden looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be happy she’s gone? She wasn’t particularly nice to you.”
I scoffed. “Oh believe me, I’m happy. It’s just my humanity randomly acting out.”
“Yeah, okay… ” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, sit in the front now.”
“I don’t want to seem like a chauffeur driving you around.” I chuckled at that and he groaned. “Forget I asked you”, he said and started driving again. His lips were pursed and his face was grumpy but it was fun to tease him instead of him tease me for a change.
Well, that was until, five minutes later, I decided to grant his wish and squeeze through the gap between the front seats to get to the passenger seat. Apparently, that surprised him as he swerved heavily to the right when he felt my elbow brushing against his. At least it was a long straight smooth road with no vehicles on it.
“You’re crazy!”, he exclaimed but I just grinned in response. I think he secretly appreciated my action.