"There they are." Grover nodded toward a couple of younger kids arguing in the bleachers. "Bianca and Nico di Angela"
The girl wore a floppy green cap, like she was trying to hide her face. The boy was obviously her little brother. They both had dark silky hair and olive skin, and they used their hands a lot as they talked. The boy was shuffling some kind of trading cards. His sister seemed to be scolding him about something. She kept looking around like she sensed something was wrong.
Annabeth said, "Do they… I mean, have you told them?"
Grover shook his head. "You know how it is. That could put them in more danger. Once they realize who they are, their scent becomes stronger."
He looked at me, and I nodded. I'd never really understood what half-bloods "smell" like to monsters and satyrs, but I knew that your scent could get you killed. And the more powerful a demigod you became, the more you smelled like a monster's lunch.
"So let's grab them and get out of here," I said.
I started forward, but Thalia put her hand on my shoulder. The vice principal, Dr. Thorn, had slipped out of a doorway near the bleachers and was standing near the di Angelo siblings. He nodded coldly in our direction. His blue eye seemed to glow.
Judging from his expression, I guessed Thorn hadn't been fooled by Thalia's trick with the Mist after all. He suspected who we were. He was just waiting to see why we were here.
"Don't look at the kids," Thalia ordered. "We have to wait for a chance to get them. We need to pretend we're not interested in them. Throw him off the scent."
"We're three powerful half-bloods. Our presence should confuse him. Mingle. Act natural. Do some dancing. But keep an eye on those kids."
"Dancing?" Annabeth asked.
Thalia nodded. She cocked her ear to the music and made a face. "Ugh. Who chose the Jesse McCartney?"
Grover looked hurt. "I did."
"Oh my gods, Grover. That is so lame. Can't you play, like, Green Day or something?"
"Never mind. Let's dance."
"But I can't dance!"
"You can if I'm leading," Thalia said. "Come on, goat boy."
Grover yelped as Thalia grabbed his hand and led him onto the dance floor.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing. It's just cool to have Thalia back."
Annabeth had grown taller than me since last summer, which I found kind of disturbing. She used to wear no jewelry except for her Camp Half-Blood bead necklace, but now she wore little silver earrings shaped like owls—the symbol of her mother, Athena. She pulled off her ski cap, and her long blond hair tumbled down her shoulders. It made her look older, for some reason.
"So…" I tried to think of something to say. Act natural, Thalia had told us. When you're a half-blood on a dangerous mission, what the heck is natural? "Um, design any good buildings lately?"
Annabeth's eyes lit up, the way they always did when she talked about architecture. "Oh my gods, Percy. At my new school, I get to take 3-D design as an elective, and there's this cool computer program…"
She went on to explain how she'd designed this huge monument that she wanted to build at Ground Zero in Manhattan. She talked about structural supports and facades and stuff, and I tried to listen. I knew she wanted to be a super architect when she grew up—she loves math and historical buildings and all that—but I hardly understood a word she was saying.
The truth was I was kind of disappointed to hear that she liked her new school so much. It was the first time she'd gone to school in New York. I'd been hoping to see her more often. It was a boarding school in Brooklyn, and she and Thalia were both attending, close enough to Camp Half-Blood that Chiron could help if they got in any trouble. Because it was an all-girls school, and I was going to MS-54 in Manhattan, I hardly ever saw them.
Yeah, uh, cool," I said. "So you're staying there the rest of the year, huh?"
Her face got dark. "Well, maybe, if I don't—"
"Hey!" Thalia called to us. She was slow dancing with Grover, who was tripping all over himself, kicking Thalia in the shins, and looking like he wanted to die. At least his feet were fake. Unlike me, he had an excuse for being clumsy.
"Dance, you guys!" Thalia ordered. "You look stupid just standing there."
I looked nervously at Annabeth, then at the groups of girls who were roaming the gym.
"Well?" Annabeth said.
"Um, who should I ask?"
She punched me in the gut. "Me, Seaweed Brain."
"Oh. Oh, right."
So we went onto the dance floor, and I looked over to see how Thalia and Grover were doing things. I put one hand on Annabeth's hip, and she clasped my other hand like she was about to judo throw me.
"I'm not going to bite," she told me. "Honestly, Percy. Don't you guys have dances at your school?"
I didn't answer. The truth was we did. But I'd never, like, actually danced at one. I was usually one of the guys playing basketball in the corner.
We shuffled around for a few minutes. I tried to concentrate on little things, like the crepe-paper streamers and the punch bowl—anything but the fact that Annabeth was taller than me, and my hands were sweaty and probably gross, and I kept stepping on her toes.