Abby's smile was soft but sad. She swallowed hard before she said, "Sixteen."
How To Return To School
(A list by Cameron Morgan and Rebecca Baxter)
· Do laundry. This is far easier , by the way, when you're at your grandmother's house and not an MI6 safe house (because, while the latter might have far cooler defense mechanisms, the former has a way better laundry room).
· Pack. Which is where living in a series of safe house comes in handy, because you've never actually unpacked.
· Set alarms. Because even a Gallagher Girl's internal alarm clock has a tendency to get wonky when you're dealing with vast amounts of stress and jet lag.
· Dress in layers. Because planes are always cold. And also, it's far easier to change your appearance and lose a tail if you can also lose your sweater.
· Double-check that you have the essay you wrote for Culture and Assimilation, the codes you broke for Practical Encryption, and the research paper I did for Covert Operations.
· Take the CoveOps paper out of the bag. Stomp on it. Kick it. Throw it in the trash.
· Take it out of the trash and pack it again. Just in case.
It took three planes, two SUVs, and at one point a very questionable-smelling VW van, but sixteen hours later I found myself staring through bulletproof glass at the bare trees and patches of half-melted snow and ice that lined Highway 10 as it cut through the forest like a snake. After three weeks of living like a gypsy in a foreign land, it felt especially strange to be coming home.
"Whatcha thinking about, Cam?" Bex poked me and smiled.
"Oh, you know . . . the usual," I said as calmly as possible while sitting in the back of a limousine that was as unusual as possible. (I'm pretty sure it used to belong to the president.)
"Have you covered vehicular surveillance yet?" Aunt Abby asked.
Bex shook her head.
"Really?" Mrs. Baxter said. She sounded genuinely surprised. "I thought you would have covered that in . . ."
She trailed off, but I knew what she was going to say: Covert Operations. CoveOps. Mr.
"Oh, well. I guess there's no time like the present." She crossed her legs. "Tell me, Cammie, What do you see?"
Two cars ahead of us."
"Lead cars, yes." Mrs. Baxter nodded her approval, then turned to her daughter. "Bex?"
"One tail vehicle."
"Right," Mrs. Baxter said. She went on, citing the origins of moving surveillance and protection, something about the chariots of ancient Rome and the death of Caesar, but my mind was drifting. I was watching the dozens of other cars - limousines just like ours (though slightly less bulletproof) that filled the road, waiting to carry my classmates back through our towering gates.
"I've never seen the line so long," Bex said, and I'd been thinking the same thing. "Guards must still be on vacation time," she joked.
Aunt Abby shifted in the seat beside me, but she didn't say anything. I expected the car to slow and wait its turn in line. But instead, Mrs. Baxter asked, "What's the second rule of countersurveillance?"
"Resist routine and expectations," Bex and I replied just as Mr. Baxter jerked the limo into the passing lane. I felt the car moving faster and faster, flying by the long line of cars waiting to carry my classmates back to school.
Mrs. Baxter sounded just like Bex when she said, "Exactly."
I know the Gallagher Academy. I mean, a person doesn't ruin as many white blouses as I have without spending a lot of time crawling through filthy sewer lines and secret passageways. So as we flew farther and farther from the gates, I felt pretty certain that we were actually speeding toward . . . nothing. Or so I thought until Mr. Baxter jerked the wheel again and we found ourselves on a narrow lane that, I swear, I'd never seen before.
The good news was that the car was bulletproof and missile proof and had tires that were filled with solid rubber instead of regular air, so they could never, ever go flat.
The bad news was that I was starting to figure out why Bex was such a bad driver, because the rougher the road got, the harder Mr. Baxter pressed on the gas.
"Shortcut," Aunt Abby offered."
"To where?" Bex and I both asked.
The car was barreling down the narrow path, tires plunging in and out or rough gorges, mud slamming against the undercarriage. Barren limbs scraped against the sides of the car, and it felt as if we were being swallowed by the forest, driving straight toward an electrified stone wall and at least a dozen of the most highly calibrated security cameras in the world.
"Now?" Mr. Baxter asked from the front seat.
"This'll do," Abby told him."
Mr. Baxter pushed a button on the dashboard and floored the accelerator.
And for the second time during my winter vacation, I saw my (relatively short) life flashed before my eyes. I gripped my best friend's hands, waiting for a crash that never came.
Believe it or not, I've never actually been in the Gallagher Academy lade. Well, I hadn't been. Until then.
I still don't know what was the most shocking - the feeling of the car hitting some kind of ramp at eighty miles an hour, the sensation of flying through the air and soaring over the fence in a limousine, or the sudden splash that comes when a two-ton car dives nose first into water, seat belts snapping, holding us into place.
I felt the heavy car sinking. Water was over the hood and rising above the windows, but not a drop was seeping inside as we sank below the surface, into the murky darkness of the lake. Fish swam past the windows as if limos drop out of the sky every day - and neither Aunt Abby nor Mrs. Baxter seemed the least bit concerned that our bulletproof car was sinking.