"Uh-huh," everyone hurried to say, but the eyes of my classmates . . . the eyes still stayed on me: Cameron Ann Morgan, Chameleon no more.
And then, just as quickly, their gazes passed to Tina Walters.
"So, um . . . Cammie," Tina started, "how was your break?"
"Our holiday was lovely, Tina," Bex answered for me. "Thank you for asking."
Her back was perfectly straight as she said this. She gently shook out a linen napkin and laid it across her lap. Madame Dabney would have been so very proud, but of course Madame Dabney wasn't there - none of our teachers were - so maybe that's why Tina felt safe putting her elbows on the table and leaning closer.
"But did they . . . you know . . . catch them?" she asked, maybe because she's the daughter of both a spy and a gossip columnist and she wasn't going to rest until she heard the full story. Or maybe she was just hoping for a different story from the one that should have obvious to every girl in the (recently reinforced) Grand Hall.
"No, Tina," I said carefully, "they didn't. Not yet."
"But they have a lot of good leads, don't they?" Eva Alvarez asked.
"Of course they do." Bex's gaze found mine, the unspoken words coursing between us: And his name is Joseph Solomon.
"Yeah. I bet your mom and Mr. Solomon are going to find something any day now,"
Anna Fetterman said, and I glanced around the Grand Hall, processing, thinking, realizing that no one had heard a rumor. Not a single one of my classmates had overheard their moms and dads whispering about a rogue operatives and sleeper agents in the middle of the night.
"Yeah," Anna said again. "Mr. Solomon will catch them."
She nodded and smiled and sounded so sure.
I nodded and smiled and wanted to cry.
To them, Mr. Solomon wasn't a sixteen-year-old boy who had joined the Circle. He was still was man who had walked through the double doors at the back of that very room a year and a half before.
I turned and looked at the doors and almost jumped out of my skin when they swung open - as if I'd willed it to happen, traveled back in time. I half expected to see Joe Solomon among the long line of teachers making their formal entrance down the center aisle. I felt the room around me changing as, one by one, my classmates counted heads, scanned the line, and realized someone was missing.
I was staring down at the table, unable to look, as Tina asked, "Hey where's Headmistress Morgan?"
Buckingham had said she wasn't back yet. That she was detained . . . delayed. And delayed meant running late. Delayed meant "back in a flash."
Buckingham hadn't said gone.
"She's got to be here," I said flatly, certain Tina had missed her. "My mom has to be back by now," I said, despite that fact that Professor Buckingham was moving to my mother's place behind the podium at the front of the room.
I was standing, desperate for a better look, when Buckingham asked, "Women of the Gallagher Academy, who comes here?" and every girl in the room stood there too.
The hall echoed. "We are the sisters of Gillian."
"Why do you come?"
"To learn her skills. Honor her sword. And keep her secrets," my classmates replied, but I didn't say the words. I was too busy staring at Professor Buckingham, who as standing proudly behind the Gallagher Academy crest as if that were her place - her job.
"Welcome back, ladies. I have a few announcements," she said with no more emotion than when we'd stood in the Hall of History and she'd told me my mother had been detained.
"Headmistress Morgan is not able to be with us tonight, so it's my duty to inform you that Joe Solomon will not be teaching our Covert Operations courses this semester."
She said it just like that - no excuses, no explanations - as a gasp went through the room.
"Fortunately, the Gallagher Academy has a long list of alumni and friends from which it can choose its faculty. Therefore, I am pleased to welcome an operative who has excelled on many continents, working in some of the most challenging circumstances that one can experience in the clandestine services."
I knew what she was going to say, of, course. A part of me had known it as soon as I had felt the hand on my arm and heard the voice - long before Liz asked her questions. When I turned, I saw those blue eyes staring back me. I heard Professor Buckingham say,
"Please join me in welcoming Agent Edward Townsend."
Watching the man from London make his way down the center aisle, a hundred thoughts rushed through my mind: Who is this guy, really? What does he want with us? Can a suitcase really do that much damage? But Liz was the one who asked what my roommates and I were all thinking.
"We don't like him, do we?"
"No," Bex answered for me as our new CoveOps teacher made his way to the front of the room. "I don't think we do."
He looked directly at me as he passed, but he didn't wink - didn't smile. (Of, course, technically, he probably just didn't want to turn his back on Macey.)
"This is probably a good thing, Cam." I could feel Liz staring at me. "The only way your mom and Mr. Solomon would miss the start of school is if they're really close to finding something big. They'll find it and then they'll be back."
"I bet Mr. Solomon is this close to catching the Circle." She looked at me. "Right?"
I know this is going to sound crazy, but when you're a spy, your life isn't defined by the lies you tell, but by the truths. A lie wouldn't change anything. I sat there, numb, knowing that the truth . . . the truth could set me free.
And that was how I found the strength to whisper, "Mr. Solomon is the Circle."