Remembrance, p.11
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       Remembrance, p.11

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  To avoid ill feeling, Jesse had appointed all three of my stepbrothers groomsmen, just as I had three bridesmaids: CeeCee, Gina, and Brad’s wife, Debbie. None of us were thrilled with the last choice, but it had been a necessary evil, since my stepnieces were our flower girls, and we needed both their parents close by to help keep control of them in the basilica during the ceremony.

  Neither of us had appointed a best man or maid of honor. It seemed unwise to play favorites.

  Jake had many things to say about all of this, and it was nice to see Gina laughing at his jokes (especially given how depressed she’d been lately over her stalled career).

  But I had a hard time paying attention to the conversation. I still hadn’t heard back from Shahbaz or Father Dominic, and even though I’d showered as soon as I got to the Crossing, I could still smell the chlorine in my hair from the pool back at my apartment, and the scratches on my neck from Lucia’s attack stung (I’d hidden them beneath a high-collared sweater I’d brought along, so I could avoid having to answer any awkward questions).

  Maybe that’s why, when Gina and I finally stumbled into Jesse’s bed together—it was king-sized, and I didn’t feel it was fair for either of us to have to sleep on the couch, especially with a homicidal baby ghost potentially on the prowl—I still couldn’t sleep, even though it was after three in the morning.

  Then again, this is a problem I have most nights. No matter how soothing I try to make my sleep environment (based on advice from magazines and my therapist), I end up lying there staring at the back of my eyelids, trying not to think about my problems.

  Since most of my problems are NCDP related, however, and NCDPs love showing up for nocturnal visitations—especially bedside—this was probably the root of my chronic insomnia.

  But of course I couldn’t tell Dr. Jo, my shrink, that. Or about the discussion I’d had with her deceased husband in the faculty parking lot, next to her Mercedes sedan, after my very first appointment with her. No accredited counseling program is going to graduate a student who believes she can communicate with the dead. That doesn’t exactly look good in their alumni brochures.

  Instead, I’d told her I couldn’t sleep due to stress—school-related stress. Dr. Jo was in her late sixties, silver-haired but still spry, a lot like Father Dominic. Unlike Father Dominic, she wore a lot of bright colors, including bright red lipstick, even though she’d recently been widowed. Her husband—the NCDP who liked to hang around the school faculty parking lot—told me this was because she wanted to look cheerful for her patients.

  She’d written me a prescription for a sleep aid—thirty pills only, nonrefillable—warning me that the pills were strong, and a better way to manage insomnia was through exercise. Had I thought about taking a yoga class? The college offered several.

  I’d filled the prescription, but never taken a single pill—nor did I sign up for yoga. I could barely sit still through an entire episode of The Bachelor (Gina’s favorite show). No way was I going to be able to downward dog away my problems.

  For some reason on this night when sleep wouldn’t come, instead of patiently counting souls of the dead I’ve helped move on, like I normally do, I did something even more insane than yoga. Something that was guaranteed to be my next really bad mistake.

  But of course I did it anyway.

  The moon had come out and cast Jesse’s room—Spike, his yellow tomcat, watching over Romeo through the bars of his cage with elaborate disinterest; Gina, breathing deeply and contentedly beside me—in a blue glow. It seemed hard to believe that Egyptian curses, evil real estate developers, or demons existed.

  But they did. I had the marks around my neck to prove it. And next time, my fiancé might not be around to save me, because my fiancé might be the one putting the marks there.

  Maybe that thought was what made me lean over the side of the bed to snatch my cell phone off the stack of ancient poetry and medical textbooks Jesse used as a bedside table, then text Paul:

  Fine. See you Friday at Mariner’s @ 8.

  NOV 17 3:32 AM

  No wonder I paid not the slightest bit of attention in statistics the next morning (required core, four units), spending the entire class looking for other mentions of the Curse of the Dead on the Web (there were plenty, but only in reference to movies with mummies in them), then was such a mess when I finally rolled into the mission.

  What had I done?

  My horror at myself is probably why it took me a few moments to notice the huge vase of white roses waiting for me on my desk. That, and the fact that the custodial staff had obviously been in to clean since I’d left the night before. The blinds had been screwed back into place—though as usual, they’d been pulled open to let in the sun that had burned off the morning marine layer—and Sister Ernestine must have had some student helpers come in to give a hand with the filing.

  That’s how I finally noticed the roses. There had to be at least two dozen of them, along with some white lilies and a few other blooms so exotic I had no idea what they were, sitting in an enormous—and undoubtedly expensive—crystal vase on my desk.

  No one else was around—no tourists to be seen outside the windows overlooking the courtyard, no student aides, everyone’s office doors shut, meaning they’d already left for lunch (I was running even more late than usual, due to having stopped by the hardware store after class to purchase salt. They hadn’t had very much. I was going to have to hit up the grocery stores, as well).

  Stunned, I leaned forward to inhale the flowers’ fragrant scent, something I definitely wouldn’t have done at work if anyone was looking. I didn’t want people thinking I was a big softie who went around sniffing flowers.

  I couldn’t believe Jesse had done something so unbelievably sweet and extravagant, especially after I’d told him last night I didn’t need material things.

  But sending me roses the morning after an attack on my life?

  That was exactly the kind of thing he would do. No wonder I was marrying him. How could anyone think there was an evil bone in his body?

  There was a card tucked inside the waxen petals. I plucked it out and peeled open the stiff, expensive envelope, eager to read whatever amazing, romantic message Jesse had written.

  But when I saw the message on the card, I realized it wasn’t amazing, much less romantic. The flowers weren’t even from Jesse. All my excitement drained away, and I was filled with cold, hard dread instead.

  Counting the hours until tomorrow night.

  Thanks for saying yes.

  You won’t regret it.

  Paul

  I dropped the card as if it had burst into flames in my fingers. “What the hell?”

  I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud until the door to Father Dominic’s office was thrown open and he came hurrying out.

  “Susannah, is that you? Oh, good, you’re here at last. I thought I heard your voice.”

  I jumped nearly out of my skin.

  “Oh, hi, Father D.” I scrambled to find the card I’d dropped where it had fallen upon the floor. “I didn’t realize you were here.”

  “Yes, of course. I wanted to wait to leave for lunch until after I’d spoken to you. Oh, I see you got the flowers.”

  “Yes, I did.” I swallowed. “When did these arrive?”

  “First thing this morning,” Father Dominic said. “They caused quite a stir. I assured everyone that they were most likely from your fiancé, and not a grateful parent. People around here get jealous so easily.”

  A muscle in my face must have twitched, since Father Dominic raised a snowy eyebrow and asked, “They are from Jesse, are they not, Susannah?”

  “Yes, of course, they are.” I crumpled the card into a ball, then threw the ball into the trash can beneath my desk. “Wasn’t that sweet of him? He shouldn’t have.”

 


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  “After what happened last night? Of course he should have.” Father Dominic must have noticed my dumbfounded expression, since he said, “I just hung up the phone with him. He told me what happened at your apartment. What a frightening experience. Thank goodness you’re all right.”

  “Yeah, thank goodness.” Thanks, Jesse. “Did you, uh, mention the flowers to him?”

  “No, why would I? You know I dislike involving myself in your personal affairs, Susannah.”

  When I couldn’t resist a snort at this, he added, “Any more than I already am, of course. Susannah, what on earth are you wearing?”

  I looked down at myself. “What, this? It’s a skirt.”

  “The length is very immodest.”

  “Are you kidding me? This length is not immodest. And these are leggings I’ve got on underneath. You might be familiar with them, they’ve been around since you were born, also known as medieval times.”

  “Nevertheless, you’re probably going to have to change. Sister Ernestine isn’t going to like it one bit.”

  “Change? Into what, Father D? I barely made it out of my apartment alive last night as it is. I don’t have anything to change into. Plus, when Jesse sees me in this, there’s a chance he might change his mind about that whole abstinence-until-marriage thing of his.”

  Father Dominic rolled his eyes. “Why can’t you stop bedeviling that poor boy, Susannah? He’s suffered enough for one lifetime, let alone the two he’s been granted.”

  Me, bedeviling him? Yeah, right.

  “So that’s why you skipped lunch today, Father D, so you could not get involved in my personal affairs?” I headed over to the chair behind my desk so I could sit down and hide my too-revealing skirt. “You’re doing a heck of a job of it already.”

  “You know perfectly well why I skipped lunch today. We need to talk about this spirit that attacked you.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Well, first things first. Did you get my message about the—”

  “Susannah, I want to apologize to you.”

  That got my attention.

  “Apologize? What for?” I couldn’t remember the last time Father Dominic had apologized to me. Possibly never. “About not returning my message?”

  “About what happened last night.” Father Dominic lowered himself into the same mission-style chair across from my desk in which Becca had sat the day before, while
I’d bandaged her arm. He had to lean at an odd tilt to see me behind the enormous bouquet. “Jesse gave me quite the earful about it, and I can’t say I blame him. Sister Ernestine gave me her version, too, earlier this morning, but as you know, Sister Ernestine doesn’t know the full story. I simply don’t know how I could have missed it. I gave a welcome speech a few months ago to the entire student population. I stood in front of each grade and addressed them personally. How I could not have seen that Becca Walters was being victimized by a—”

  I interrupted before he could go on further. “She’s a lurker, Father. A real little pilot fish of a ghost. She hides until she decides Becca’s in trouble, and then she attacks. I barely noticed her at first myself, and I was in this office alone with the kid. I had no idea how powerful she was until she got me alone, at home, in my own pool.”

  Father Dominic shook his head “But who is she? What could so young a child possibly have to be so angry about?”

  “I don’t know, Father. Only that her name is Lucia. CeeCee Webb is working on the rest. The key to all of it, I think, is Becca. Did you know Kelly Prescott is married to Becca’s dad?”

  “Of course. I was the officiant at their wedding last summer, which makes my blunder even less forgivable. Don’t you read the alumni newsletters, Susannah? Your friend CeeCee writes them, I believe.”

  I picked up one of the stacks of files the student workers had left behind and, in order to avoid making eye contact with him, began to sort it. “Uh, I must have missed that one.”

  I didn’t think it was worth going into the fact that I’d been invited to the wedding and bailed. That was my own business.

  What was more concerning was that he’d officiated at their wedding, and still not seen the ghost kid? I wasn’t going to say so out loud, but it seemed like Jesse might be right, and Father D was slipping. I’d only been trying to make the priest feel better when I’d assured him Lucia was hard to miss. But a ghost, at a wedding?

  Hard to miss. Really hard to miss.

  Maybe he wasn’t the best person to consult about the Curse of the Dead after all . . .

  For a man of his advancing years, Father Dominic would still physically be considered quite a catch on the senior circuit (if it wasn’t for the vow of chastity he’d taken shortly after losing the love of his life, a young woman who, like Jesse, had been dead at the time. Unlike Jesse, however, she’d remained so). His snow-white hair was neatly trimmed without a hint of a bald spot, and at six feet tall, he didn’t stoop or need a cane, thanks to good, clean living (except for his not-so-secret cigarette habit).

  But he was hopeless when it came to electronics (and current Top 40 hits) and any joke remotely smacking of sexual innuendo embarrassed him.

  And now it appeared that he wasn’t quite as in touch with the spirit world as he used to be.

  I wasn’t sure how to handle this. They haven’t yet isolated the genetic chromosome to tell if you’re a carrier for mediatorism, though anecdotal evidence seemed to indicate it was an inherited trait. Scientists aren’t eager to admit there’s such a thing as ghosts, so it’s not like any of them are rushing to formulate a test they can administer to someone to tell if they have my “gift.” You either see dead people or you don’t, kind of like how you’re either gluten-sensitive, or you’re not.

  Father Dom used to see them. Now, apparently, he doesn’t. At least, not when I need him to.

  “Um, anyway,” I said, deciding it was best to drop the subject, “I think I really established a rapport with Becca yesterday, so . . .”

  “Oh, that’s evident,” Father Dominic said drily. “Especially by the look of this place when I got in this morning.”

  I glared at him. “What year was it you graduated from college? And how many counseling accreditations did they require for the job back then?”

  He ignored this jab at his complete lack of formal counseling training. “How do you propose we handle this situation then, Susannah? I will admit that though your methodology has sometimes differed from mine, you’ve usually been on the mark. Jesse, on the other hand, seems to have what I’d call a less-than-helpful view on things—”

  “Oh, I’m sure he does,” I said, remembering the look on my boyfriend’s face when he’d dragged me from the pool. “I was thinking of pulling Becca out of her fourth-period class and bringing her back here to the office for a friendly little one-on-one. Nothing threatening, though. I don’t want to alarm Lucia.”

  “That would be an excellent plan if it weren’t for the fact that Becca isn’t in school today.”

  “Wait . . . what?”

  He tapped the file he’d been holding tucked beneath one arm.

  “Kelly Prescott—er, Walters—called early this morning to say that her stepdaughter wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be in school today.”

  This was deflating. “Oh.”

  “Sister Ernestine left this on my desk this morning.” Father Dominic removed the file from beneath his arm and waved it at me. “Becca Walters’s transcript. I’m not quite certain how the sister found it in all that mess, but she managed. I don’t suppose you had a chance to review it.”

  “I must have missed it while I was busy applying much-needed first aid to Becca’s arm and also keeping her friend from trying to murder me.”

  I knew there wasn’t any point in telling Father D that even if I’d had a chance to read Becca’s file, I wouldn’t have put much stock into what it said. I have a ton of respect for teachers, who are some of the hardest working (yet worst compensated) people in the world.

  But one of the reasons I was attracted to the counseling field in the first place is that it would allow me to help kids like the one I’d been—kids who have gifts that can’t be measured on an aptitude test, or scored with a letter grade.

  Another reason is that the more people I can help resolve their issues now, while they’re still alive, the less work I’ll have to do for them later, when they’re dead.

  It also made sense from a financial point of view. As a therapist, I’ll get paid for the work I do—by living clients, who have things like insurance and credit cards. Taking money from the deceased is something I’m opposed to (though Paul’s never suffered from this moral dilemma).

  “Four different schools in the area in ten years,” Father Dominic was saying as he slipped a pair of wire-rimmed glasses from his shirt pocket onto his nose, then flipped through Becca’s file. “The latest being this one. She gets good grades, and is quite bright—that’s why we accepted her, of course.”

  “Her father’s sizable donation probably didn’t hurt much, either, I’d guess.”

  He glanced at me over the rims of his spectacles. “I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, Susannah. We treat all of our students the same, as you know, regardless of whether they’re on scholarship or pay full tuition. But it does appear that Becca’s had emotional problems. It looks as if there might have been some bullying at her former schools. ”

  “It’s not hard to guess why.”

  “More sarcasm? The other children can’t see that the poor girl is haunted.”

  “Of course not. But she tried to carve the word stupid in her own arm with a compass in the middle of class. They may not be able to see Lucia, but they can definitely tell there’s something wrong with Becca. The less enlightened among them are naturally going to tease the crap out of her for it.”

  Father Dominic sighed. “If you talk like this about our students in front of Sister Ernestine, it’s going to be extremely difficult for me to convince her to hire you full time, with pay. You do realize this, don’t you, Susannah?”

 
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