Identity Unknown

"Being back here made me see how much it can get to you; the training, all of the lessons, even just the environment we are in. We aren't the same as everyone else. And everyone else can never know.'

After six months of searching for her father, Charlotte Goode returns to the Gallagher Academy. Exams and eager friends await, but something is wrong. When a phone call changes everything, Zach can offer the answer - but someone will stop at nothing to keep him silent. And when a double agent is revealed, Charlotte must choose who to trust - but time is running out, and the Academy's greatest secrets are at risk.

The stakes are higher, but is she ready?

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13. Return

I was back at the Gallagher Academy ten hours later. Home. But it felt cold and foreign to me now.

Sure, I had returned physically in one piece, but my mind was a mess. Zach had been kept at the CIA base for further 'questioning'. I didn't want to dwell on what that involved.

"How are you keeping, kiddo?" Headmistress Morgan's tone was so friendly, a similar tone I had heard her use with her own daughter. The girl within me longed for a mother figure to erase my doubts and fears, but the spy within me just nodded and took a seat opposite her desk.

I'd always been the talkative one, but now I had nothing to say. I was no longer gagged, to ensure I didn't communicate with my 'allies' (ie Zach, Rick and his friends), but I still couldn't find my voice. I swallowed hard, glancing around the Headmistress's office.

"Zach won't be returning just yet," she said gently. "But Rick will be joining us for a while."

Rick? My head shot up. Everything about that boy made me uneasy, and... a little bit charmed. Whatever it was he made me feel, I didn't quite trust him yet.

"We'll keep an eye on him, of course, but I'd like you to show him around campus." 

I certainly didn't want to, but I knew I had to raise my head and ask, "When does he arrive?"

"Tomorrow." She gestured to the door. I reached for the handle tentatively, not feeling ready to leave her calm office and head off into the world of homework and chatter and a hundred girls wearing the same uniform as me, but I still didn't feel like I fitted in.

Someone pulled open the door before I got the chance to. Joe Solomon looked at me strangely, almost like he couldn't believe I was there. He nodded awkwardly, holding the door open for me. I ducked under his arm and headed back to the suite, risking a glance back. And for the first time, I saw Joe Solomon looking upset.

 

Our suite was empty when I arrived, so I could only assume that the girls were still in lessons. I plopped down into the beanbag corner and hugged a cushion to my chest. I loved this room. It was intended only for four, but I was allowed in because I was supposed to be here on a temporary basis. It's been a while now, and sometimes I feel like I don't want to leave. The four girls that stayed here had made me feel at home, but I think a part of me would always crave freedom.

I knew I wouldn't be able to tell them what had happened - it was strictly a need-to-know basis, which I hated. But at least I could see them and know that everything could still be kind of normal.

As if on cue, the door swung open, and Bex came striding in, followed by Cam, Macey and Liz. When she saw me, she stopped, her mouth open slightly. Bex Baxter looked angry, and a little afraid.

"Hi!" chirped Liz awkwardly, keeping her distance, focusing instead of laying textbooks out on her immaculately-made bed.

"How long have you been here?" Bex asked, a little acidity to her tone that stung.

"Not long," I said quietly, tracing the embroidered pattern on the cushion in my arms. Something was definitely wrong.

"You look awful," stated Macey. Liz's head jerked up.

"Macey!" she protested.

"I'm sorry, but you do," she said, crouching down next to me. "When did your hair last see a hairbrush?" she questioned, running a hand lightly through my knotted fringe.

"CIA bases don't supply you with a glass of water, let alone a hairbrush," I said, flinching at her touch. She grabbed my hand, sighing at the state of my nails.

"You need a manicure," she insisted, leaping up and rummaging through her make-up bag.

"No, she needs to leave. Now." Bex's words were like thorns in my skin. I stood up and walked towards her. She was slightly taller than me, but I wasn't intimidated by her.

"And why's that?" I asked, glaring into her golden eyes.

"Because you're crazy. You're a killer. And, you know what?" She laughed slightly, the malice gone from her voice from a second, but rapidly returning. "We thought you were a friend." She spat the last word, shoving me back with a force that I wasn't ready for. I stumbled slightly, her words throbbing in my head.

"I haven't done anything!" I cried, looking desperately at my other roommates. Macey was hunting for a nail file, Liz had her nose in a textbook, but Cam looked afraid of her friend.

"Where's Zach?" she asked suddenly, standing up next to Bex.

"He had to stay in for questioning," I said quietly, not wanting to see the fear in Cammie's eyes.

"What did he do?" she asked, her voice cracking.

"Need-to-know basis, I'm afraid," I said, trying to move past them, but Bex blocked my path.

"And if anyone needs to know, it's us!" she said loudly. I saw her fists clenched. Surely she wouldn't - would she?

I thought these were my friends.

"Back off, Bex," said Macey firmly, standing between me and her. She gently laced her fingers with mine and guided me to my bed, the duvet uncreased. She started to file my nails with a lilac polka dot file, the gentle scraping noise sounding so loud in the silent room. 

"Are you cold?" Macey asked, and I was suddenly aware that I was shaking.

"No," I said hoarsely. The door of the suite slammed as Bex left, Cam following her.

"What was that about?" I asked, staring up into the eyes of the one girl who hadn't wanted to hurt me.

"They think you killed Stevens," she said simply, applying a polish called 'Lemon Meringue' to my nails with the precision of a cosmetics heiress's daughter.

"I didn't!" I insisted. "And why would they care?"

"I know you didn't," said Macey smoothly, delicately dabbing at my nails. "But they know about Zach trying to kill him."

"What?" I assumed she meant before he actually finished the job. "The assassination attempt?" I said, my voice dropping to a whisper.

Macey nodded. "They think you talked him into it."

"I wasn't even there when it happened!" I cried. But something didn't make sense.

"I didn't try to kill him, but everyone else thinks I did. So how do they know it was Zach?"

"A source confirmed it," Macey replied.

"Who?" I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

"Strictly need-to-know basis," she said efficiently, swinging her legs off my bed and reaching for a hairbrush. I admired my beautiful new nails as Macey dragged the brush through my hair.

"Look, I wasn't here at the time," Macey continued, "but apparently Stevens had taught here before. He was a friend of Bex's dad, and applied for a job here.

"For how long?" I asked.

"Long enough to form an alliance with its students," she said, meaning Bex and Cam.

I had temporarily forgotten about Liz, who was now perched on the edge of her bed, staring at us.

"But not with me," she said, walking over to sit with us. "Something about him was... different." She shuddered. "But no-one else saw it."

I was relieved that two of my friends had seen what I had saw. Stevens had been secretive, too secretive. Of course all spies have things they can't share, but this was new. And terrifying.

"Stevens told me that he wasn't a real teacher," I mused, glad to share some information that didn't have to be kept to myself.

Liz leapt to her feet. "I'm running a search of him," she declared, grabbing her laptop and typing furiously. A comfortable silence fell across the suite, the only noise the tapping of Liz's fingers against the keyboard.

"Did you know Joe Solomon has a son?" I said into the silence. The expression on my friends' faces were priceless.

 And for the first time in what felt like weeks, I laughed. 

 

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