"Cammie can never know what?" I asked.
Bex was sitting beside me, the two of us in the hard, straight-backed chairs, looking up at her parents and my Aunt Abby. Bex's hands were rope burned. My elbow was bleeding.
But my only concern was what had brought my mother's only sister to England and, most important . . .
"Cammie can never know what?"
"See?" Abby said, gesturing at the two of us. "This is exactly what I'm talking about."
"It's true." Mr. Baxter crossed his arms and eyed us both. His voice wasn't even a little bit playful as he finished, "They are a liability."
"What cant Cammie know?" Bex asked, choosing, I guess, to let the liability thing slide for the time being.
"Go to bed, Cammie," my aunt ordered, sounding exactly like my mother.
"No," I said, sounding exactly like my aunt.
I was pretty sure there was about to be a hole in the space time continuum, when Abby snapped, "Cameron!"
I was already on my feet. "So you know what you would do if you were me, and you knew this big secret . . ." I leaned across the table, almost daring her as I finished, "Now, imagine what you'd do if there was something you didn't know."
As threats go, it was a good one. I could see it in Abby's eyes. After a moment, she pulled out the chair on the other side of the table and sank into it. I tried not notice the stiffness in the movement or the way she held one arm carefully by her side. I tried not to think about the fact that she'd almost died.
She'd almost died.
She'd almost died.
"We caught one of them." Abby's voice brought me back. "Election night . . . you were out, and I was . . ." She trailed off.
She'd almost died.
"From the grab team that came for you, we caught one." My aunt gestured to the place where she'd been shot. "We caught the one who did this. A week ago he decided to start talking."
Beside me, I felt Bex shaking, her impatience coming to a boil. "What's this have to do with Mr. Solomon?"
Her father warned, "Rebecca," and Abby carried on.
"The Circle works in cells - small, isolated groups. Two Circle operatives could be sitting right beside each other and not know it. So the man in custody has some knowledge of cell operatives, but he doesn't know much. He doesn't even know why they want you, Cammie."
She looked right at me, and I felt my heart fall.
"He only knows the people he's worked directly with and . . ."
As my aunt trailed off, I saw Mrs. Baxter tense. Mr. Baxter brought his hand to his mouth as if he couldn't bear to say the words aloud.
"And he knows the people he was recruited with," Abby said slowly. Her gaze fell to the floor. "When he was Blackthorn."
For days I'd wanted answers - I'd begged and pleaded for the truth. But now we were there and I didn't want to hear it.
"No. That's just what MI6 thinks, for some reason, but they're wrong. There's been some kind of mistake." I tried to push away, but Abby leaned closer.
"Joe's a double agent, Cam. He was recruited by the Circle a really long time ago."
"How could you say that?" I snapped back. "He's your friend."
"He was also friends with the man who did this!" she yelled, pointing to her injured shoulder. She looked so angry and betrayed, and when she spoke again her voice was more like a plea. "We have to believe it, Cammie. You of all people need to believe it."
"But . . . he was CIA . . ." It sounded childish, and yet I had to say it. I was, after all, still a child. "He was our teacher. He couldn't have been working for the Circle."
Mrs. Baxter was calm as she took the seat next to Abby. "Think about it, girls. You know having operatives deep inside the Agency would be a high priority for the Circle. And an operative at the Gallagher Academy - an operative with so much access to Cammie . . ."
"You're wrong," Bex said.
"It's an old and effective practice," Mrs. Baxter said softly. "Recruit operatives who are young, encourage them to spend their breaks training with the Circle, working with the Circle. And then send them back to school." She was so poised - so good and wise and beautiful that it was almost impossible to doubt her as she looked at us both and said,
"But make no mistake, girls. We know what Joe Solomon did over his summer vacation."
"What if he's changed?" Bex challenged. "People change. Maybe he's not working with them anymore."
"It's not the Boy Scouts," Abby answered. "It's not that easy to just walk away."
We sat in silence for a long time before I finally turned back to my Aunt Abby. "Why did you come here tonight?"
"I was worried about you, Squirt. I was - "
"Where's my mom?" I heard my voice rising, but I didn't try to stop it.
"She's fine, Squirt." Abby looked at me. "She couldn't come herself, so I came. She's fine."
"Why couldn't she come?" I blurted. "What's so important that -"
"All right, then." Mr. Baxter pushed up from the table, signaling that the Q&A portion of our night was officially over. "It's best you two get some sleep. Big day tomorrow. We'll have to get up early to get you back to school.
Tomorrow. School. Bex and I looked at each other. Wordlessly, we both stood and started for the door. Roseville felt a million miles away.
"Abby?" Bex stopped and turned in the doorway, waited for my aunt to look up. "How old . . . When he joined them . . . how old was he?"