Out of Sight, Out of Time (Page 6)

Abby nodded slowly. She gripped my hands tighter. “Maybe now things can go back to normal.”

Normal. I liked the sound of that. Sure, as the daughter of two secret agents, a student at a top secret and highly dangerous school (not to mention someone who’d spent more than a year as the target of an ancient terrorist organization), I didn’t really know what normal meant, but that didn’t matter. Normal was my new mission. Normal was the goal within my sights.

Unfortunately, as soon as I reached the Grand Hall, I realized that normal was also a moving target.

“Hi,” Zach said, because, oh yeah, evidently Zach now had a regular place at our table in the Grand Hall. Then I looked up and down the crowded benches and realized that his new place was my old place.

“Hi,” I said back to him, because, honestly, what else can you say in that situation? You can’t really yell at your boyfriend for stealing your seat and your best friend. You also can’t yell at your best friend for stealing your boyfriend. Or…you can…but Hi seemed like a much easier way to start the morning.

“Welcome back, Cam,” Tina Walters said, after what seemed like forever.

“So what did you…” Eva Alvarez started, then stopped herself as if she’d already said the wrong thing. “I mean, did you have…Or…It’s good to see you,” she finally blurted.

“It’s good to see you too, Eva.” I forced a smile. “It’s good to be back,” I said, even though it totally felt like I had just left.

“Here.” Liz pressed closer to Macey. Together, the two of them were about as wide as a regular person, so I was able to squeeze onto the bench.

“Thanks,” I told her, pushing a few of her books aside, skimming over words like neurosurgery and cognition.

“Doing some light reading?” I asked.

Liz grabbed the books and shoved them into her backpack.

“You know, the brain is totally fascinating. Of course, it’s a myth that we only use ten percent of our brain function.”

“Of course you use more,” Zach and Bex said at the same time. They gave almost identical laughs, and I flashed back to what I’d heard the night before. I saw the way Bex and Zach sat together on the other side of the table, and my head hurt for reasons that had nothing to do with blunt force trauma.

“So where were you?” Macey asked, looking at me over the top of Liz’s head.

“Macey!” Liz hissed. “You know we’re not supposed to bother Cam with questions. Her memory will return if and when she’s ready.” She sounded like she was quoting someone or something verbatim.

“Last night,” Macey clarified, with a smirk in Liz’s direction. “Where were you last night?”

“Hospital,” I said, and risked a look at Zach and Bex—wondered what it would have been like to return to our suite after overhearing the two of them together. “I had to spend the night in a hospital room.” (Totally not a lie.)

“Are you…” Liz started.

“I’m fine,” I said, maybe too quickly. “Tests. They ran a bunch of tests.”

“Good,” Liz said with a decisive nod. “They did an MRI, didn’t they? What about an EEG? PET scan? We really need to get a baseline assessment. The Barnes theory says that memory is—”

“That’s enough, Liz,” Bex said softly, and for a second, no one had anything to say.

Well, no one but Tina Walters.

Tina seemed exactly like her old self as she pushed aside a bowl of strawberry jam, leaned on the table, and lowered her voice. “Well, I heard that while they were looking for you, they found someone else.”

She stopped and let the silence draw out. If she wanted someone to ask who it was, she was disappointed, but didn’t show it as she whispered, “Joe Solomon.”

Sure, Joe Solomon was two flights of stairs away, but judging by the looks on the majority of faces at the table, no one besides my roommates, Zach, and I seemed to know it.

Tina gestured with a piece of extra-crispy bacon. “He’s alive and well and working for the Circle in South Africa.” She took a bite. “Maybe he’s the one who had you?” she asked, turning to me. “Or maybe the Circle kidnapped you, but Mr. Solomon is really a triple agent and he—”

“I don’t know who was holding me, Tina,” I said.

“Really,” Tina started, “wouldn’t that be something? Mr. Solomon out there. With you and—”

“I’ve heard enough.” Bex stood, shaking her head.

“Bex—” I started, but she wheeled on me.

“What?” she snapped. “What do you have to say?”

It was a really good question. And I’m sure I totally had answers, but right then my reasons for leaving, for running, for chasing the Circle halfway around the world were gone, lost, like the rest of my memories. So I just sat, looking at my best friend in the world, and the only words that came to mind were “I’m sorry.”

The look she gave me was one I’d never seen before. Was she mad or hurt, terrified or indignant? Bex is the most naturally gifted spy I know. Her eyes were impossible to read.

“Oh, Cameron, here you are!” Professor Buckingham’s voice sliced through the crowded hall.

“Yeah,” Bex said at last. “Here she is.”

When Bex turned and left, I wanted to go after her, but Buckingham was standing too close for me to follow. Besides, despite everything, there was really nothing left to say.

“Cameron, you are, of course, responsible for any and all work you missed during your absence—none of which is insignificant during the Gallagher Academy’s senior year.”

Professor Buckingham cut her eyes at me, expecting me to argue, I guess, but all I could think was senior year. I don’t know if it was the head trauma or the fatigue, but I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I was a senior. I looked around at the girls who filled the hall, and for the first time it occurred to me that none of them were older than us, more trained than us, more ready than us for the outside world.

Even without the Circle, that fact would have terrified me.

“Now, if you don’t feel up to the task quite yet—”

“No,” I blurted, reaching for the course schedule in Professor Buckingham’s hands. “I want to. I want to work—for things to get back to normal.”

And I meant it—I really did. But then Buckingham turned and strolled toward the doors, past my best friends, who didn’t know how to act around me, younger girls who were staring at me, and Zach—yes, Zach. Who was at my school. Who had spent the summer with my Bex. Who was sitting in the Grand Hall like he’d been there for years.

And I remembered “normal” might never be the same again.

Chapter Seven

I remember everything that happened that morning. Or, well, almost everything.

Madame Dabney talked for a long time about how lovely it was to have me back, and then she handed me a beautifully lettered condolence card on the loss of my memory. Mr. Smith had a lot of questions about the Alps and the nuns (one of whom he was pretty sure he might have dated during a bad operation on the Hungarian border in the early eighties).

Routine is good, the doctor had told me. My memory would come back if and when I was ready. So when Mr. Smith handed me a pop quiz from the week before, I told myself I’d only missed it because I’d been sick and confined to bed, and I didn’t let myself obsess about the details.

At 10:20 exactly, the entire senior class grabbed their things and headed downstairs. When we reached the main floor, Liz and the rest of the girls on the research track peeled off and started for the labs in the basement. But at the last second, Liz stopped short.

“Bye, Cam.” She looked afraid to let me out of her sight. “See you later?”

“Of course you will,” Macey said, looping her arm through mine as if I couldn’t possibly run away again on her watch.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll see you at lunch, Lizzie.”

“Okay,” Liz said, then turned and headed for the labs. She was almost gone before I realized that Macey was still beside me.

“Macey, don’t you have to go with her?”

“Nope,” she said, and flashed me a sly smile.

“But…” I started, my foggy mind doing the mental math, because even though she was our age, Macey had come late to the Gallagher Academy. Aside from one or two subjects, we’d never been in the same classes before.

“She caught up,” Bex said, her voice frigid as she started down the dark hall behind the kitchen.

Students never went down there. There were no classrooms or cool places to study. The light was bad and sometimes the hallway smelled so much like onions that my eyes watered. I’d never—not in five years—seen Bex show any interest in that hallway, but she was disappearing down it as if she walked it every day.

“Hey, Bex!” Zach yelled. He barreled down the Grand Staircase, running after her. I don’t think he even saw me as he fell into step with Bex, the two of them turning a corner, out of sight.

“Where are they going?”

I couldn’t hide the bitterness in my voice, but Macey didn’t seem to hear it. She just looked at me as if maybe I’d been knocked on the head even harder than she’d realized.

Her voice was full of mischief when she cocked a hip and said, “Sublevel Three.”

Okay, not to sound braggy or anything, but after five full years, I was pretty sure I knew every part of the Gallagher Academy. I mean, seriously—all the parts (including the ones that got condemned due to an unfortunate uranium incident in 1967).

So I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. After all, Sublevel One was all research books and classrooms, massive training stations comprised of steel and glass and secrets. Sublevel Two was more like a maze—long spiraling corridors filled with our most precious artifacts and dangerous files. The first sublevel looked like something straight out of the future; the second looked like it had been ripped from the past. But as soon as the elevator opened into Sublevel Three, I knew I’d found my way into a place far older than the school itself.

Shadows and stone stretched before us. Dim, old-fashioned bulbs hung from a low ceiling. There was nothing but the sound of footsteps and the drip-drip-drip of falling water coming from somewhere I couldn’t see. We weren’t just in a different part of the mansion—it felt like we were in a different part of the world. And yet when I touched the wall, there was something so familiar about the feel of the stone beneath my fingers, the smell of the musty air.

“The classroom’s this way.” Macey started down a narrow hallway, and I followed slowly behind. But with every step, I found it harder and harder to breathe. My gut was telling me, Run. Fight. Flee. Get out of here before it’s too late, before—

“It’s okay, Cammie.”

Zach was alone in the corridor behind me. How long he’d been standing there, I couldn’t say, but it must have been long enough to know, or at least guess, what I’d been thinking, because he said, “You’re not crazy.”