"Something's different," Bex said, easing past me into the room.
The beds were made. The curtains were open. Everything was exactly as it was supposed to be, except . . . it wasn't. There were shoe prints on the freshly vacuumed rug, the faint smell of coffee and strong cologne.
I was stepping toward the dark bathroom, reaching for the light, when Bex yelled,
But it was too late. A strong hand grabbed my wrist. I saw the shadow in the bathroom mirror, looming in the dark. And I didn't hesitate: I stepped back and grabbed the arm that grabbed me, spinning, using my attacker's own momentum to fling him through the open bathroom door and to the other side of our room.
He smashed into a dresser and sent a lamp crashing to the floor. Then Bex was there, lunging forward with a textbook kick. The man quickly, avoiding her foot my inches.
He held out his hands and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say a word, a Louis Vuitton suitcase came flying into our room, struck the man squarely on his face, and dropped him to the floor like stone.
"Hey, Macey," I somehow managed to mumble through Bex's hair as my best friend pressed me into the corner of our suite. "That was a nice -"
"Don't move," Macey warned. I wasn't sure if she was talking to me of the man who lay at her feet with blood pouring from his swelling nose. Macey McHenry is one of the most gorgeous girls in the world, but the expression on her face wasn't beautiful in that moment. It was terrifying.
And yet, the man at her feet didn't tremble. Didn't fight. He just shook his head and sai,
"Now, I wouldn't do that if I were you."
I followed his gaze to the corner of the room, where Liz was trying to decide whether or not to punch a big red button on the wall marked PANIC BUTTON: TO BE USED IN
EMERGENCIES ONLY. I'd never seen it before, but I was fairly certain that pushing it would bring the full force of the Gallagher Academy down upon our suite.
"A strange man is in our room, Liz. Push it!" Bex ordered (Sounded a tad irritated that she hadn't been the one to hit him with a suitcase).
"No," I blurted. I looked past the blood and swelling nose and focused on the blue eyes that I'd last seem staring at me across a cold, metal table.
"That's right." The man almost smiled as he stared up the four of us and said, "I'm not a stranger. Am I, Ms. Morgan?"
So okay, technically I had seen him once before, but he was still a total stranger. After all, he hadn't given me his name in London - no rank, no serial number. I knew he had high enough clearance to be in a top secret MI6 facility and an equally top secret school.
But if I didn't know Joe Solomon, then I didn't know any man.
Unfortunately, knowing something and convincing Liz of something are two different things.
"But why is he doing the security check of our room?" she pleaded after we'd changed into our uniforms and stared downstairs. "Is he on the security staff?"
"I'm not sure, Liz, I admitted. "He's just an agent I met in London."
Liz was practically jogging to keep pace beside me, her hand on the banister. "So he was on your protection detail?"
I looked at Bex and shrugged. "Not exactly."
"Did you met him?" Liz asked whirling on Bex.
"No," Bex said truthfully. "I didn't."
"You left her alone?"
I'd almost forgotten that Macey was there, to tell you the truth. She'd been so quiet, walking ahead of us, but now she was standing at the bottom of the staircase, glaring up at Bex.
"I thought we agreed . . ." Macey started, then stopped suddenly.
"Agreed to what?" I asked, but got nothing. "What?" I asked again. "Did you guys get together before break and agree to never let me go someplace by myself? Or was it more like and agreement to monitor my mood and behavior so you could warn someone if I was about to crack up and do something stupid?"
My three best friends in the world looked at each other as if they'd all forgotten how to speak English. Finally, Bex said, "Both."
The big double doors of the Grand Hall were standing open. I smell fresh bread and heard the voices of a hundred girls talking, laughing. I was home. After weeks of running and hiding, I was finally home; but looking at my roommates, I remembered that being a Gallagher Girl sint about a building. It's about a sisterhood.
I remembered that I'd never really left.
"She didn't leave me, Macey," I said. "They hauled me in for questioning one day, and he's the one who did it." I stepped toward the Grand Hall, with one last smile back at my friends. "She didn't leave me."
* * *
Four things came to mind as I took my regular seat at the junior table. 1) Being on the run in a foreign country is enough to make a girl seriously miss our awesome chef's cooking.
2) The windows of the Grand Hall had been upgraded to a substance that could probably survive a direct hit from a missile. 3) The packets of sweetener on the table now bore the words "The contents of this packet have been certified psychoactive-free."
But it was the fourth thing that I hadn't really been expecting: silence. As soon as I sat down, it felt like the entire table - the entire hall - stopped talking.
Only Bex seemed to be immune to the silence as she threw one leg over the bench and took her place next to Macey. "Everyone have a good holiday?" She reached for the pitcher of water at the center of the table and filled her glass. And still the silence drew longer.
"I said," Bex repeated slowly, "did everyone have a nice holiday?"