Out of Sight, Out of Time (Page 5)
I felt myself creeping closer to the cracked door, and peeking into the nearly abandoned classroom, listening as Zach told her, “You’re going to have to talk to her eventually.”
“I can’t do it,” Bex said.
Zach laughed. “I find that hard to believe. I’m the guy who was with you and your parents all summer, remember? I was in Budapest. I saw you in action in Greece. So don’t pull that on me. I know exactly what you’re capable of.”
“Budapest was an exception,” she told him, but then she laughed too. She was sitting next to him on top of a desk, her bare leg pressing against his khakis, and I thought I might be sick.
“What about Macey and Liz?” Zach asked.
“They think we have to act like nothing’s wrong—that we have to pretend so maybe she’ll get her memory back or whatever.”
My breath was coming so hard I feared it might betray me as I stood there realizing that Liz and Macey had been pretending. Pretending what, I didn’t know. Not to hate me? To be happy I was home? That my mother was right and it was over? Whatever it was, they were good at it. Bex, evidently, wasn’t even going to bother.
“She looks so different,” Zach said, and Bex leaned against his shoulder, closed her eyes.
“She is different,” Bex said.
And then, despite everything I’d been through, I wanted to forget what I was hearing. What I was seeing. Amnesia seemed like a welcome release, so I turned as quickly and quietly as I could and rushed back the way I’d come.
Halfway down the hall, I heard a door slam. Zach and Bex were in the hall behind me, talking and coming close. So I pushed down a narrow corridor, groping for a light fixture I’d first discovered in the seventh grade, praying it would still work, just as the bookshelf in front of me slid aside and I darted through the opening, disappearing into the dark.
Here’s the thing you need to know about secret passageways: they’re…well…secret, so that means they don’t exactly get cleaned. Ever. At the Gallagher Academy, I was the only one who used them, and I’d been gone for months. The bookcase closed behind me, blocking Bex and Zach away; but I had to keep moving, so I pushed farther and farther down the dusty corridor until I realized…Wait.
It wasn’t dusty.
Usually in the first weeks of school, my uniforms were covered with grime, my hair full of cobwebs. But that narrow passage was totally free of all the things that were supposed to be there—no dust or spiders, just a well-worn path that led to a door that I had never seen before.
For a second, I wondered if my memory of the mansion was as broken as my memory of the summer, and I stood listening for a long time. There were only the faintest sounds of humming and beeping, so I took a deep breath and opened the door, steadied my nerves, and stepped inside.
There was a couch and a cushy chair, some flowers in a vase. Curtains hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. I eased forward, pulled them aside, and looked down at Joe Solomon, who lay perfectly still on a bed.
His bruises had faded, and the stitches were gone. The burns he’d sustained in the explosion at the Blackthorne Institute last spring were almost entirely mended—nothing but a few almost unnoticeable scars. My favorite teacher looked like he was just sleeping and might wake up at any moment, tell me that my vacation was over, and I was going to need my strength for whatever he had planned for CoveOps the next morning.
“I’m home, Mr. Solomon,” I said, easing forward. “I’m back.”
But the only reply was the sound of the machines that buzzed and beeped. The room was an eerie kind of quiet. I leaned down and kissed the top of his head, enjoying the company of the one person who wasn’t mad that I’d left and even madder that I’d been so late in coming back.
Standing there holding Joe Solomon’s hand, I heard the music in my mind again, louder. Clearer. And all of a sudden I couldn’t think of anything else—not Bex or Zach, not the Circle or the convent.
The couch was just a few feet away, and it felt good to finally sit—to rest. If Mr. Solomon said anything, I didn’t hear it. I was already fast asleep.
I jolted awake in the dim room. My neck hurt and my eyes burned, and it took a moment for me to realize that whoever was speaking, she wasn’t talking to me.
“There are waffles for breakfast, Joe. Do you remember that little place outside Belfast? What was its name? The cook had a crush on you, and she’d make waffles every morning even though they weren’t on the menu.”
I watched my aunt Abby sink into the chair next to Mr. Solomon’s bed, reach for my teacher’s hand just like I’d done the night before.
“What was the name, Joe? Wake up and tell me it’s sloppy of me not to remember the name.”
She wasn’t asking—she was pleading. She sat for a second, waiting for an answer that never came. Then she leaned closer and straightened the blanket that covered his legs.
“Cam’s home, Joe,” she said. “She’s back. Of course, you know already know that, don’t you? Because even in here you know everything.” She gave a quick, easy laugh. “Well…that and because she’s sitting right behind me.”
The thing you need to know about Abigail Cameron is that not only is she an awesome operative, but also, when her hair is down and the light is right and she spins around like she did that morning, she kind of looks like the star of a shampoo commercial. Her eyes didn’t carry the shocked relief of my mother’s. Her face was totally missing the detached anger of my friends. There was nothing but pure happiness in her when she looked at me and shrugged.
“What? No hello for your favorite aunt?”
It sounded like she was teasing—she looked like she was teasing. But my homecoming so far had been so totally not tease-worthy, that I guess I just sat there feeling dumbstruck.
“So. .. were you ever going to say hello?” Abby asked with a pout. “I thought I wasn’t even going to see you until class.”
“Oh, yeah.” She smiled. “I’m your Covert Operations teacher, didn’t you hear? And I have to say I kind of rock at it. Of course”—she turned back to the bed, leaned close to Mr. Solomon—“I only agreed to fill in until this guy decides to go back to work.”
She was daring him, taunting him, challenging him to wake up and say otherwise, but it didn’t happen. Joe Solomon wasn’t going to be dared into doing anything, and Abby gave a sigh as if deep down she knew it.
“I didn’t know,” I told her. “I mean, if I had known, I would have come to see you, but I didn’t. I found this room last night when the doctors were finished with me, and then I saw Mr. Solomon and…I must have fallen asleep.”
“We knew where you were, Cam.” All the tease was gone from her voice. “From this point on, we will always know where you are.”
It was harder to look at her then, so I looked at Mr. Solomon.
“He’s stable.” Abby smoothed his hair and pinched his cheek. “Isn’t he a cutie when he’s sleeping?” she asked, and leaned closer. “Get mad, Joe. Roll over and tell me to shut up. Do it.”
“Has he been here the whole time?”
Abby nodded. “We have everything we need to care for him. Dr. Fibs spent the whole summer developing a device that will keep his muscles from atrophying. Our medical staff is able to monitor his condition far more closely than a regular hospital would. And, of course, it’s significantly safer. Plus”—she smoothed the blankets—“everyone he loves is here.”
I thought of the way my mother had sat for days at his bedside, holding his bandaged hands. Everyone he loves.
“Who knows that he’s…”
“Not dead? Or not really a double agent working for the Circle of Cavan?” Abby guessed, but then she seemed to realize that the two questions would have the exact same answer. “As few people as possible. The academy faculty, of course. Bex’s parents. Agent Townsend—you know he had the nerve to send me a class syllabus?” She gave a short, mocking laugh. “He gave me notes for a proper course of study for young ladies in the clandestine services,” she said in a spot-on English accent.
It sounded just like the man I’d met last spring, and I had to laugh. Then, just that quickly, I had to stop. It felt wrong, there, in Joe Solomon’s hospital room, with my missing summer looming like a shadow in the back of my mind.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Abby. I’m sorry for…everything.”
“I’m not.” She reached for the dead flowers in the vase by the bed and threw them in the trash. “Oh, I could have killed you if I’d gotten my hands on you a week ago, but now…”
“You’re glad to see me?” I tried to guess, but my aunt gave a shake of her head.
“Now we’re just glad you’re home.”
Maybe it was the medicinal properties of a good night’s sleep, or the power radiating off of my aunt, but I felt stronger, surer. And I forgot all about my mother’s warning from the day before.
“Don’t worry, Abby. I’ll take all the tests and do all the exercises. I’ll do the work—I’ll do…anything. And I’ll remember. I’ll get my memory back and I’ll—”
“Don’t, Cammie.” Abby was turning, shaking her head. “Just don’t…push it.”
“I’m ready to push it. I’m ready to work and…What?” There was something in her expression, a sort of hopeful peace as she gripped my hands and searched my eyes.
“Don’t you see, Cammie? The Circle might have had you.”
I heard my voice crack. “I know.”
“So maybe they got what they wanted.”
For almost a year I’d lived with the knowledge that the Circle getting what they wanted was a bad thing. But right then Abby was looking at me as if she didn’t care about that.
“My mom said…” I choked and tried again. “Mom said I shouldn’t try to remember.”
“You shouldn’t,” Abby said.
“Cam, look at this.” She gently turned my hand so that I had no choice but to see the long bandages that covered the gashes on my arm. “Do you know what makes marks like this?”
I wanted to scream that that was the point, but I stayed speechless.
Abby let my arm fall. “Do you really want to know?”
I thought about the marks and the words and the terror in my mother’s eyes as she told me there are some things we don’t want to remember.
“Torture?” I said, but it wasn’t really a question. The answer was already there—in Abby’s eyes and on my skin. They thought I’d been tortured.
“Whatever it was, Cam. Whatever you lived through, it’s over. So maybe now the whole thing is over.”
“You mean maybe the Circle doesn’t want me anymore?”