I suppose a lot of teenage girls feel invisible sometimes, like they just disappear. Well, that's me—Cammie the Chameleon. But I'm luckier than most because, at my school, that's considered cool.
I go to a school for spies.
Of course, technically, the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a school for geniuses—not spies—and we're free to pursue any career that befits our exceptional educations. But when a school tells you that, and then teaches you things like advanced encryption and fourteen different languages, it's kind of like big tobacco telling kids not to smoke; so all of us Gallagher Girls know lip service when we hear it. Even my mom rolls her eyes but doesn't correct me when I call it spy school, and she's the headmistress. Of course, she's also a retired CIA operative, and it was her idea for me to write this, my first Covert Operations Report, to summarize what happened last semester. She's always telling us that the worst part of the spy life isn't the danger—it's the paperwork. After all, when you're on a plane home from Istanbul with a nuclear warhead in a hatbox, the last thing you want to do is write a report about it. So that's why I'm writing this—for the practice.
If you've got a Level Four clearance or higher, you probably know all about us Gallagher Girls, since we've been around for more than a hundred years (the school, not me— I'll turn sixteen next month!). But if you don't have that kind of clearance, then you probably think we're just an urban spy myth—like jet packs and invisibility suits—and you drive by our ivy-covered walls, look at our gorgeous mansion and manicured grounds, and assume, like everyone else, that the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is just a snooty boarding school for bored heiresses with no place else to go.
Well, to tell you the truth, we're totally fine with that— it's one of the reasons no one in the town of Roseville, Virginia, thought twice about the long line of limousines that brought my classmates back to campus last September. I watched from a window seat on the third floor of the mansion as the cars materialized out of the blankets of green foliage and turned through the towering wrought-iron gates. The half-mile-long driveway curved through the hills, looking as harmless as Dorothy's yellow brick road, not giving a clue that it's equipped with laser beams that read tire treads and sensors that check for explosives, and one entire section that can open up and swallow a truck whole. (If you think that's dangerous, don't even get me started about the pond!)
I wrapped my arms around my knees and stared through the window's wavy glass. The red velvet curtains were drawn around the tiny alcove, and I was enveloped by an odd sense of peace, knowing that in twenty minutes, the halls were going to be crowded; music was going to be blaring; and I was going to go from being an only child to one of a hundred sisters, so I knew to savor the silence while it lasted. Then, as if to prove my point, a loud blast and the smell of burning hair came floating up the main stairs from the second-floor Hall of History, followed by Professor Buckingham's distinguished voice crying, "Girls! I told you not to touch that!" The smell got worse, and one of the seventh graders was probably still on fire, because Professor Buckingham yelled, "Stand still. Stand still, I say!"
Then Professor Buckingham said some French swear words that the seventh graders probably wouldn't understand for three semesters, and I remembered how every year during new student orientation one of the newbies will get cocky and try to show off by grabbing the sword Gillian Gallagher used to slay the guy who was going to kill Abraham Lincoln—the first guy, that is. The one you never hear about.
But what the newbies aren't told on their campus tour is that Gilly's sword is charged with enough electricity to … well…light your hair on fire.
I just love the start of school.
I think our room used to be an attic, once upon a time. It has these cool dormers and oddly shaped windows and lots of little nooks and crannies, where a girl can sit with her back against the wall and listen to the thundering feet and squeals of hello that are probably pretty standard at boarding schools everywhere on the first day after summer break (but they probably stop being standard when they take place in Portuguese and Farsi). Out in the hall, Kim Lee was talking about her summer in Singapore; and Tina Walters was declaring that "Cairo was super cool. Johannesburg—not so much," which is exactly what my mom had said when I'd complained about how Tina's parents were taking her to Africa over the summer whereas I was going to have to visit my dad's parents on their ranch in Nebraska—an experience I'm fairly sure will never help me break out of an enemy interrogation facility or disarm a dirty bomb.
"Hey, where's Cammie?" Tina asked, but I wasn't about to leave my room until I could come up with a fish story to match the international exploits of my classmates, seventy percent of whom are the daughters of current or former government operatives—aka spies. Even Courtney Bauer had spent a week in Paris, and her parents are both optometrists, so you can see why I wasn't especially eager to admit that I'd spent three months plopped down right in the middle of North America, cleaning fish.
I'd finally decided to tell them about the time I was experimenting with average household items that can be used as weapons and accidentally decapitated a scarecrow (who knew knitting needles could do that kind of damage?), when I heard the distinctive thud of luggage crashing into a wall and a soft, Southern, "Oh, Cammie … come out, come out, wherever you are."
I peered around the corner and saw Liz posing in the doorway, trying to look like Miss Alabama, but bearing a greater resemblance to a toothpick in capri pants and flip-flops. A very red toothpick.