Don't Judge a Girl by Her CoverAlly Carter
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover
Gallagher Girls Book 3
[v0.9 Scanned and Spellcheckd by the_usual]
PROS AND CONS ABOUT WRITING THE GALLAGHER GIRLS SERIES: A LIST BY ALLY CARTER
For Donna Bray, the Gallagher Girl who started it all
"We're moving." The man beside me spoke into the microphone in his sleeve, and I knew the words weren't for me.
The August air was hot and thick with the smell of sea salt and bus exhaust. The roads were packed for miles, and everywhere I looked I saw shades of red, white, and blue. Everywhere I turned, I felt the eyes of trained professionals staring, seeing, recording every word, analyzing every glance within a dozen miles.
Part of me wanted to break free of the big men in the dark suits who flanked me on either side; another part wanted to marvel at the bomb-sniffing dogs who were examining boxes twenty meters away. But most of all, I wanted to lie when another man, with a clipboard and an earpiece, asked for my name.
After all, I've spent a lot of time learning how to whip out false IDs and recite perfectly crafted cover stories in situations just like these, so it was harder than I thought
to say, "Cammie. Cammie Morgan."
It was weirder than I would have guessed as I waited for him to scan the clipboard and say, "You can go right in."
As if I were simply a sixteen-year-old girl.
As if I couldn't possibly be a threat.
As if I didn't go to a school for spies.
Walking through the hotel lobby, I couldn't help but remember the first assignment my covert operations teacher ever gave me: Notice things. Lights and cameras shone from every angle. A massive net full of red, white, and blue balloons snaked through the cavernous space like a patriotic python. Up on the mezzanine level, the Texas delegation was singing about yellow roses, while a woman walked by wearing a big foam hat shaped like a Georgia peach.
I scanned the masses of old women and young girls. Husbands and wives. College kids and senior citizens. The last time I'd been in a crowd like this was in a different season and a different city, so maybe it was the hotel's frigid air-conditioning or just a memory of a chilly day in D.C., but for some reason, I shivered and fought against a serious case of deja vu as I looked around and said the name I hadn't spoken in weeks. "Zach."
Then I blinked and wondered if a part of me would always worry that he might be on my tail.
"This way," the man beside me said, but we didn't stop at the end of the line, which twisted and turned in front of the marble-covered registration desk. We didn't even slow down as we passed between two rows of elevators. Instead we turned down a narrow hall that seemed half a world away from the bright lights and tall ceiling of the lobby. Plush carpeting gave way to chipped linoleum tiles until finally we were standing before an elevator I'm pretty sure hotel guests were never intended to see.
"So, you're a friend of peacocks?" the Secret Service agent asked while we waited for the doors to open.
"Excuse me?" I asked, because even though I'd never been in a really nice hotel, I was pretty sure they wouldn't have exotic birds on the penthouse level.
"Peacock," the agent said again as we stepped into the service car that was soon carrying us, nonstop, to the top floor. "See, we use code names," he explained as if I were … a sixteen-year-old girl, "when we talk about the protectee. So you and Peacock, you're … friends ?" he asked, and again I realized that he wasn't looking at me the way a well- trained, well-armed security professional looks at a potential threat (because I know a thing or two about well-trained and well-armed security professionals!). Nope. He was looking at me like I was … a Gallagher Girl.
Of course, if you're reading this you must already know that there are two types of people in this world—those who know the truth about what goes on inside the walls of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, and those who don't. Something in the way the agent was trying to weigh my slightly out-of-style clothes against the snooty reputation of my school told me that he was definitely the second type—that he assumed we were all rich; that he thought we were all spoiled; and that he had no idea what it really meant to be Gallagher Girl.
And that was before I heard the screaming.
As the elevator doors slid open, a high-pitched "I am going to kill someone!" echoed from behind the double doors at the end of the hall.
And then I was one hundred percent certain that the man beside me didn't know the truth about my sisterhood, because he didn't draw his weapon; he didn't even flinch as a second Secret Service agent opened the double doors and whispered, "Peacock is angry."
Instead, he walked toward the screaming girl—even though she was a Gallagher Girl.
Even though her name was Macey McHenry.
Before that day, I'd never been to Boston. I'd never had a Secret Service escort. And I'd definitely never been a VIP (or the friend/roommate/guest of a VIP) at a national political convention. But walking into what I'm pretty sure was the hotel's second-nicest suite, I added another first to the list: I'd never seen Macey McHenry as mad as she was then.
"Really, Macey, I think it's an adorable little puff piece." Cynthia McHenry's cool, mannered tone could not have been more different from her daughter's. "He's the only son of a future president…You're the only daughter of a future vice president. … If people want to read about the possibility of a White House wedding eight years from now, I don't see any reason to stop them. Really, I don't know why you have to be so dramatic."
Right then I made a mental note that if Mrs. McHenry thought Macey was too dramatic then she should probably never be left alone with the better part of our junior class.
"If that boy—"
"That boy," her mother corrected, "is Governor Winters's son—"
"—tries to flirt with me—" Macey went on, but Mrs. McHenry talked over her.
"And if appearing with that boy is going to give us a two- percent bump in Ohio, then you will appear with that boy."
"Percentages." Macey gave an exasperated sigh. "You know I don't do math."
Well, I have personally seen Macey McHenry do linear algebra without a calculator (after mastering our roommate Liz's system, of course), but the girl in front of me wasn't the Macey I knew from school. She wasn't the girl on the suite's TV either, smiling and waving and holding hands with her father on the national news. Instead she was the other kind of Gallagher Girl—the kind the agent had been expecting: the snobby kind, the spoiled kind, the kind who had crawled out of her parents' limousine and into our school nearly a year before with combat boots and a diamond nose stud.
"This was the scene this morning as Senator James McHenry and his family arrived here in Boston to
join Governor Winters and officially accept the vice presidential nomination," the TV anchor was saying. But I doubt that Macey or her mother were even listening as they stared daggers at each other.
"You will do this, Macey," her mother said. "You will—"
But then my escort cleared his throat, and Mrs. McHenry turned. I expected her to gush like she had on the phone when Macey had called to invite me to join them, but instead she waved in my direction and said, "There, your little friend is here."
Something in the way her mother spoke about me made Macey draw a breath. I was relieved that no one else noticed how my roommate's fists clenched tighter for just a moment before she spun around and snapped, "We're going for a walk."
"Don't forget the rehearsal!" her mother called, but Macey was already pulling me through the double doors.
I caught the agent's eye one final time as he tried to figure out what I could possibly have in common with the girl who was pulling me along. On the TV, someone said, "Cynthia McHenry is a well-known businesswoman and philanthropist. The couple has one daughter, Macey, a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, in Roseville, Virginia."
A thousand thoughts raced through my mind before Macey slammed the doors behind us, as if trapping my worries on the other side. She smiled a mischievous smile, and for the first time that day I recognized my friend in the girl who stood before me. "So, how do you like my cover?"
Spies have covers for every occasion: aliases and phony passports, pocket litter and fake IDs. A great operative can become someone else at the drop of a hat (and sometimes, actual hats are involved), but I'd rarely seen someone as deeply undercover as Macey McHenry was then.
"Peacock is moving," one of the agents whispered into his cuff as I followed Macey through the Winters-McHenry temporary headquarters, past rows of laptop computers and screaming interns wearing business suits and campaign buttons and looking like they hadn't had a good night's sleep since New Hampshire. In fact, I actually heard one guy say, "I haven't had a good night's sleep since New Hampshire."
But Macey's black hair was as glossy as ever, her blue eyes perfectly clear. "Jeez, Chameleon, do you have any idea how hard you are to track down?" She walked on, seemingly unaware that she was like a princess, and the room was full of commoners who were there to make sure her father claimed his throne. "I mean, first I tried the school, but have you ever tried to get anything out of Professor Buckingham?" My roommate calmly rattled on as if her face weren't being broadcast into every home in America at that very moment. "Anyway, then I asked the Secret Service, and—"
"Wait," I interrupted. "The Secret Service gave you my grandparents' telephone number?"
"Well," Macey admitted, "I asked the Secret Service for the number, but I ended up getting it from more covert sources."
I lowered my voice when I asked, "The agency?"
"Liz," she whispered back, and I couldn't help smile as I thought about our tiniest/smartest roommate. "So, have a good summer?" Macey asked as we left the war room and started down another long hall.
"Yeah," I said, almost out of breath. Two months at my grandparents' ranch in Nebraska hadn't made me completely out of shape, but life moved at a different pace there, so it still felt like a struggle to keep up with Macey. "It was good. Just…"
I thought about our classmates, who seemed to scatter to the far corners of the world whenever school wasn't in session. I thought about my mother, who had put me on a plane the first day of summer break and hadn't sent so much as a postcard since. And finally, I thought about two boys: one who I hadn't seen in months and one who I seemed to be imagining everywhere, but whom I knew I might never see again.
"Fine," I said finally. "My summer was fine."
Macey knew me pretty well by then, so she just smiled and said, "Mine too."
Our footsteps were whisper-soft against the carpeting as we entered the tunnel that passed under the street between the convention center and the hotel.
Secret Service agents flanked the doors, and I heard one whisper into his sleeve, "Peacock is arriving on the scene."
"So can I call you Peacock?" I teased.
"That depends: do you want to feel safe while you sleep at…" Macey started, but then two elderly women wearing the biggest sunflowers I have ever seen passed us, and Macey smiled at them—yes, actual smileage—and said, "Well, doesn't the Kansas delegation look festive!"
The shift in her had been effortless, as if her thousand- watt smile was attached to a switch that the fates kept flipping off and on. Sure, I might have been the CIA legacy, but right then it was obvious that Macey knew as much about secret identities, hidden agendas, and covert alliances as anyone I'd ever known.
"So," I started, "what's new with you?"
She pulled a neatly typed piece of paper from her pocket. "Six a.m.: appear on national morning shows. Nine a.m.: get fitted for navy suits." Macey leaned closer and added in a whisper, "Evidently, red makes me look trampy." She resumed her usual posture and walked faster, the sloping ramp leading us closer and closer to a pair of metal doors at the end of the tunnel. "Eleven a.m.," she continued, "fun, family bonding with Mom and Dad."
Macey stopped. She rested her hands on the metal handles.
"So, you know," she said as she pushed open the doors of the single largest room I've ever seen, "the usual."
Chairs—thousands of empty chairs—spread across the arena floor. Signs bearing the names of all the states hung above them. We started out in Oregon, then walked through Delaware and past Kentucky. Stands rose high before us. I craned my head upward, scanning the skyboxes that circled the arena, boasting the logos of every news outlet known to man.
Macey and I stood there for a long moment, alone for the first time. Maybe that's why she felt safe to whisper, "Thanks for coming, Cam."
Her father's face was on the cover of every magazine in America. She was about to be the belle of the country's biggest ball. Probably every girl in the country would have traded places with her, but I saw the misery in her eyes as she stood lost inside that massive space, and I knew why I was there. I remembered that a Gallagher Girl is only as good as her backup.
"Let's get this over with and get back to school, okay?" I said.
"Okay," she replied. I could have sworn she almost smiled.
And she might have if we hadn't been interrupted by the sound of footsteps from behind us and a voice saying, "Hello, ladies."
I don't know about you, but there are certain assumptions I tend to make about a teenage boy who insists on calling teenage girls "ladies." You expect him to be handsome. You expect him to be slick. The kind of guy who owns more hair styling products than you do.
But Preston Winters was…not.
He was about Macey's height, but I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say I'm pretty sure Liz could have taken him in a fistfight. His tailored suit hung from his thin frame like he was a kid playing dress-up, which wasn't much of a stretch considering the fact that he was wearing a Spider-Man wristwatch.
"Quick question," Macey whispered. "When your mom said that we weren't supposed to use any Protection and Enforcement moves this summer, that didn't apply to presidential candidates' sons, did it?"
"I think it might apply especially to them."
I'm not sure if it was the presence of the Secret Service or the classified nature of our sisterhood, but something made Macey take a deep breath and smile (and whisper a really bad word in Portuguese).
"You're looking very…patriotic…, today, Ms. McHenry," Preston said, looking Macey up and down.
I glanced at Macey's red, white, and blue sweater set (I know…Macey was wearing a sweater set!) and bit back a laugh.
"I don't believe we've met," the boy said, turning to me and holding out his hand. "I'm Preston. You must be—"
"Busy," Macey said, trying to pull me away.
I finished, resisting my roommate's pull long enough to shake Preston's hand. "The roommate," I offered.
He bowed slightly forward at the waist and said, "It's nice to meet you, Cammie the roommate—"
Before he could finish I heard a shrill voice cry, "McHenry family, stage left!" A trim woman was walking onto the stage, Macey's mom and dad following closely behind her. She had a clipboard. And little horn-rimmed glasses hanging from a chain around her neck. And not one but two pencils stuck in the massive pile of hair on the top of her head.
"Winters family, stage right!"
As the governor of Vermont and his wife took their places, I couldn't help but notice that one of the most powerful men in the country looked absolutely terrified of the woman with the clipboard.
"McHenry family!" the woman called again. "We're missing—"
"Here I am," Macey said, dashing toward the stage.
Her mother rolled her eyes. Her father checked his watch. But Clipboard Lady just said, "Excellent! We can't have a new Camelot without our young people. Just look at those bright shiny faces."
"Actually, I owe my complexion to your company, Mrs. McHenry." The entire group seemed surprised to hear Preston speaking—especially Preston. But instead of shutting up, he rambled on. "That new blemish reduction cream is…wow. Good job," he added with a self-conscious nod. Clipboard Lady glared at him, and it was pretty obvious that the shining faces were supposed to be seen and not heard. "I'll be standing over here now," Preston said, taking his place beside his parents.
The candidates took turns behind a podium draped with what looked like every red, white, and blue piece of fabric east of the Mississippi. Macey stayed in the center of it all, never shrinking from the spotlight, while I eased to the back of the arena and took my place among the shadows.
Number of times Clipboard Lady made Governor Winters and Macey's dad practice shaking hands and then turn to wave at the imaginary crowd: 14