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My colorful digital watch wildly blinked as I reached into the emptying chip bowl. Sarah, Cassie, Gina, and Greg all noticed. I lied, “My stupid watch never works properly. I have to get this thing replaced.” I rolled my eyes as I was warned of an incoming message.
Greg chuckled. My heartrate accelerated. Was that an amused laugh? Was he amused by my transparent excuse or my “malfunctioning” wristgear?
I excused myself from the rest of the party as soon as I could; promising to be back in time for the chess game Greg had challenged me to. Briskly, I tap danced down the metal staircase to the cellar lair my grandparents had built in the basement. I stood in the dark for a few seconds, letting my breathing return to its normal speed. My composition regained, I tiptoed through the small, dark archway in the far corner of the room, passing through cobwebs as I went. As I pressed my hand against a cold, blue sensor on my side of the doorway, a concrete slab covered either side of the opening.
Turning quickly around, I pulled a bright pink lever that I’d cleverly disguised as a broom handle. The rocky wall in the back of the room shed its holographic shield and morphed into a flat screen HD TV.
My best friend’s face lit up on it. “Madison, what’s wrong?” he asked when he saw my red hot face.
“Jimmy,” I whined, “this whole mission is a flop! There’s absolutely no possible way that I can actually do this!! I don’t know why I ever thought I could. You know me. I can’t control my own thoughts and they expect me to save the country from some sort of invasion? It’s never going to happen—“
“Maddie, calm down. Take a few deep breaths.”
As always, I did as he instructed. Jim was one of the few people who could talk sense into me.
“Alright, now what’s going on? Is Greg onto you?”
I shook my small brunette head, curls from my updo falling into the sea-colored eyes I was so proud of because they resembled my mother’s. “I don’t think so, but that’s not the problem. Jim, I’m falling for Greg.” By now, he was used to me having crushes, but this time it was different. “His smile, his laugh, his deep blue eyes. Even his cute English accent. He’s cute, charming, and clever: everything I ever wanted but could never find in a guy. And he’s so much better than the losers I usually end up with. Only one major problem….”
“No kidding!” he yelled. I was so thankful he’d installed soundproof walls in my private little chamber. “Maddie, he’s a British spy! He was sent here to start an invasion of our country! How can you even consider him a possibility?”
“I know, I know. I’ve been keeping tabs on him ever since the war started. My brain knows better, but my heart doesn’t care!”
“Maddie, I know this is weird coming from me, but I fell for you years ago.”
I stepped back in shock. Jim had fallen for me? Jim Allen, the boy I’d been best friends with since forever? Interrupting my awkward moment was an echoing knock sounding from the door. Who could that be? I wondered. From the outside, my secret door appeared to be just another part of the wall.
I pushed the lever to its original position, dissolving the television back into the fake cobblestone wall. I walked up to my mother’s old bookcase. Her dusty copies of Pride and Prejudice and Emma were lying on top as they’d always been. I pushed a few small, round buttons behind the shelves before opening a cabinet to view tiny screens lit up with video surveillance from my hidden cameras. I literally jumped to see Gregory Mason looking straight into my main camera, which was right outside my lair.
“Maddie, I know you’re in there,” he laughed. “Could you open this door for maybe just a second?”
Deciding that hiding would do me no good, I pressed an orange intercom button. “What do you want?” I asked, knowing this could be a trap. The most unexpected was to be expected at this point in the game.
“I just want to talk. On my honor, I won’t touch a single thing of yours. I won’t hurt you, and there’s no one with me. I promise you.”
For some reason I actually believed this. Did he know I liked him? Was he manipulating me to his advantage? Part of me wanted to stay strong and deny him entrance, but the me with feelings for him overpowered the other half. Pressing my hand against the sensor for the second time, I permitted him to join me in my private room.
He locked the door after himself, directing my fingers back to the blue lockboard by gently pressing my wrist forward. I felt my heart jumping around like a small creature trying to free itself from my ribcage. A red tint returned to my face. What was he doing? What did he want?
I’d argued with my superiors over accepting this mission. Greg was a ten in skill level, I a mere five. Whether or not I’d shown potential, there was still no way I could outdo him in an all-out brawl.
“Calm down,” he laughed at my nervousness. He picked up an empty plaster bucket, flipped it open side down, placed it in front of the only exit, and sat on it. “Why, Madison, are you scared?”
The question alone sent icy tingles up my spine. His blue eyes were more amused than dangerous. I didn’t answer. My voice would betray me, even if I attempted a lie.
“You don’t have to answer that; I can already read it in your face. Maddie, I know what’s going on.”
“What’s going on?” I asked almost defiantly. I wasn’t as nervous as when he’d first walked in but my heart was still pounding.
He tilted his head at me and sighed. “Do you think I’m bluffing? Lying? I know that that mop is real, but the broomstick next to it is a secret lever. Your friend James has had the biggest crush on you since sixth grade, but you were always too caught up in your schoolwork, theater club, band, and sports teams to notice. There’s a huge television screen behind you. It’s behind the holographic wall. Your mother designed the skillfully made cobblestone pattern you’re using right now. You make contact with headquarters every other day to update them on my whereabouts, but you haven’t used this particular room for quite a while now. That’s not all I know, and trust me, I know more about you than you do about me. But you don’t have to look so deathly pale. I’m not here to kill you or anything.”
“No? Then what do you want?” I asked, not fully at ease. He had learned more about me that I could even guess about him.
“Maddie, you’ve known Sarah for six years now?” I could tell by the way he asked that he already knew the answer. “But she doesn’t tell you much about her personal life. She’d rather engage in senseless conversations centering on boy bands and shoe sales than be straight with you. Where did she tell you her father was?”
“Dead,” I wondered where this conversation was going.
He let out a strange, unreadable laugh at my response as I stared in bewilderment. “Dead?” he asked. “Well he most certainly isn’t that! Her father is a Japanese spy in an American military prison. I can tell you his exact location and list his crimes.”
“Sarah’s one of my closest friends. Okay, even if that is true, which I doubt I believe, what does it have to do with us? Why are you watching me?”
“Simply because you’re watching me, of course. I’m extremely competitive, Maddie. I’ve gotten where I am today by being able to one-up my opponents. And you became one of them when you started spying on me. You should have stayed out of the espionage business. You’re young, smart, and talented. You could’ve had any career you wanted, but you had to follow in your parents’ footsteps. If you continue this way, you’ll end up at the bottom of the ocean like them.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” I snapped at him. My chest grew cold and my heart seemed to stop at the thought that he might be right. “They’re not dead, they’re prisoners of war!”
“I’m sorry, Madison, but you’re wrong. I truly am sorry, and I wish that it hadn’t been so, but it’s the honest truth.”
“You’re wrong! You can’t possibly know where my parents are. They disappeared on a mission to the Marshall Islands!” I barked. I was deliriously crying on the inside, but I put forth an offensive front.
He dropped his eyes and head and took a deep breath before he continued. “I do know where your parents are, Maddie. They didn’t disappear. They were captured by Japanese spy Goro Kawahara—Sarah’s father.”
“Wait. What are you saying? Are you trying to tell me that my friend’s dad killed my parents? That’s ridiculous! You’re just trying to confuse me and it won’t work.” I begged myself not to believe him, but the pieces were slowly falling into place. The awkward lies Sarah had told me, the letters from her father that she’d tried to hide from me, and her secretive tendencies. How could I trust a friend who’d never been truly honest with me?
“Madison, you’re in denial. I know you don’t want to believe me, but I’m telling you the truth. I see you don’t trust me. But do you really think we’d be having this conversation if I wanted you dead? I don’t intend to do you any harm. And what reasoning could I have for fabricating this entire story?”
I didn’t like it, but at this point it was clear that Greg was the only one telling me the truth. “Then tell me what you’re really here for. Does it have nothing to do with the war?”
“Nothing. I’m here to find and kill the man who took the lives of your parents, along with over a hundred English soldiers and dozens of our best men. Your involvement is purely coincidence. I typically prefer to work alone, but seeing as you may have personal interest in the case, why don’t you join me?”
The me I thought I knew would have said no immediately. She was kind, quiet, and musical. She’d never wish other people harm. She was into saving animals and trees. How could she hurt another human being?
But a dark, hateful person I’d never known before crept up from the depths of my blackening soul, crying out for vengeance for my parents’ murders. “I’d love to,” her smooth voice came with a sinister curl of her blood red lips.
I joined my new friend as we returned to the party. We’d wait until the rest of the guests left to discuss the details of the modified mission.