Remembrance, p.12
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       Remembrance, p.12
 

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  I let out a sigh of my own. “Especially if I dress immodestly. Fine, Father, I get it. I’ll ratchet up the sensitive psychobabble in front of the nun, okay? But in the meantime we’ve got to find out who Lucia is, and who or what it is she thinks she’s protecting Becca from, before she protects Becca to death. Does it say anything in that file about horses?”

  “Horses?” Father Dominic looked perplexed. “No. Why?”

  “Lucia is dressed in riding clothes and carries a stuffed horse. You know the dead usually appear in the clothing they were wearing right before they bit the dust.” He gave me a disapproving look. “Um, in which they felt most alive. Becca wears a horse pendant. She twists it when she’s feeling nervous. Horses are the only clue I can find that links the two of them.”

  “Horses,” Father Dominic murmured, flipping through the file. “Horseback riding. There’s nothing in here about—” Suddenly, he froze as if he’d seen something in the file. “Oh, dear.”

  “What? What is it?”

  “It’s funny you should mention horseback riding, Susannah. Because I believe I do remember now a girl who—”

  His blue eyes got a far away look in them as he stared out one of the office windows at a group of middle-aged tourists who’d just pulled up on a bus outside the mission, and were now milling around the courtyard, taking photos and admiring the flowers and statues and fountains. It was strange to go to school at a place that was also a tourist destination, and even stranger to work at one, especially considering all the money those tourists were spending in the gift shop (and the school still couldn’t scrape together a salary for me).

  But Father Dominic didn’t appear to really be seeing these visitors from the Midwest.

  “You know, I think I do recall a riding accident involving a child. It was in the newspaper—the one your friend Miss Webb works for—some time ago. It could very well have been around the time that Becca’s troubles started.”

  Father Dominic glanced through the girl’s file until he saw something. Then he stopped flipping and tapped a page, speaking in a more excited voice.

  “Yes. Yes, exactly. Here it is. I remember now. It says here that Becca attended the Academy of the Sacred Trinity for first and second grades. That would have been around the same time that it happened.”

  “That what happened?” I love him like he was my own grandfather, but like my own grandfather, he drove me nuts sometimes. I had a feeling I knew what he’d say if I brought up Paul: Well, what have you been doing, Susannah, to lead that boy on?

  “The accident,” he said. “There’s no mention of it in Becca’s file, oddly enough. But I do think Becca must have known the girl. They would have been in the same grade . . . possibly even in the same riding class. Otherwise there’s nothing else to explain their intense connection—”

  “Wait,” I said. “You think Lucia was the girl in the riding accident?”

  “It would explain quite a lot. Becca would have been traumatized by such a tragedy.”

  “What tragedy?” I asked. “Not to say a riding accident doesn’t sound terrible, and it’s always awful when a child dies, but—”

  “Not an accident like this,” Father Dominic said. “This one was ghastly, which is why I remember it, even after all these years. The girl in question—who was quite young—was out riding with her instructor when her horse was spooked by something. It took off, but the little girl managed to stay atop it.”

  “Astride. I think they say astride, not atop . . . she wasn’t thrown off?”

  “Not right away. I remember the article saying she was quite a skilled rider, for her age. That’s how she managed to stay astride for so long, and why it took so long for them to find her. And then when they did . . .”

  “Yes?”

  “It was too late.”

  doce

  “I think I remember that the coroner ruled that her death was caused by asphyxiation,” Father Dominic said.

  “Asphyxiation?” I was confused. “Who strangled her, the horse?”

  “Susannah, you watch entirely too much television.”

  This is untrue. I don’t watch enough television. I don’t have time, due to my studies, budding career, romantic life, and, of course, busy NCDP-busting schedule.

  “When she fell from the horse,” Father Dominic went on, before I could argue, “I believe her spinal cord was severed, cutting off her breathing. I suppose she might have been saved if her body had been found soon enough, but she wasn’t . . . in any case, she died from lack of oxygen, which is what medical examiners call asphyxiation.”

  “Ew.” I gave an involuntary shudder, thinking of Lucia’s face, which, though usually twisted in anger when I’d seen it, had still been cherubically round. She had a mouth that, unlike my stepnieces, was shaped exactly like the rosebuds in the bouquet Paul had sent me, only smaller and pink, not white.

  “That’s a horrible way to die,” I said.

  “I agree. But I doubt the girl suffered long, if at all. An injury like that would have instantly paralyzed her.” He heaved a little shudder himself. “And the girl’s soul never revealed herself to me, asking for help . . . or for justice. Apparently she’s chosen to reveal herself to you, now, though, hasn’t she, Susannah?”

  “She tried to kill me. That’s the opposite of asking for help, Father D.”

  “Spirits aren’t always aware that we have the ability to help them,” Father Dominic said. “And even then, they’re often sometimes too frightened—or stubborn—to accept our guidance. Jesse, you’ll recall, wouldn’t have dreamt of accepting your aid while he was in spirit form. He was the one rushing to your defense. And yet, in the end, it was you who—”

  “Jesse wouldn’t accept help if he were bleeding on the side of the road. It kills him that he had to accept scholarship money and student loans to pay for him to go school.” Which was another reason I couldn’t tell him anything about what was going on with Paul. He’d want to handle the whole situation himself, which would, of course, end in disaster.

  “And if the girl you’re talking about and the one I met yesterday are one in the same,” I went on, “she’d rather choke me to death than let me help her.”

  “Still,” Father Dominic said, after a beat. “You know we have a duty to—”

  “Help Kelly’s stepdaughter,” I said. “I know. And help Lucia, too.” I’d already switched on my computer and typed the words Lucia, asphyxiation, and horse into the search engine of my computer. “Oh, great,” I said when I saw the results. “Porn. Why is it always porn? Thank you, World Wide Web.”

  The priest winced. “Susannah, please.”

  “No, look, Father, if your dead girl and mine are the same, I don’t blame her for being pissed.” I began to fish my phone from my bag, intending to compose a text to CeeCee. Her investigative skills were superior to mine. “Can you tell me anything more about her death? Anything else at all?”

  “It was a long time ago, Susannah. Before you moved to Carmel. I suppose I could ask Father Francisco . . . he’s still the headmaster at Sacred Trinity. I believe the funeral was held at the chapel there. I wish I could remember her last name. I believe I heard from Father Francisco that the family moved away afterward. Well, that would be understandable. Who would want to stay in the area after a thing like that?”

  “Oh, no, who would?” I wasn’t even trying to mask my sarcasm. “Did they shoot the horse, too? Because I’m sure everyone blamed the horse. They always do.”

  Hey C.C., here’s more 411 on Lucia. Went to Sacred Trinity approx. 9-10 yrs ago. Died in horseback riding accident. Coroner listed cause of death as asphyxiation.

  PS Is everyone insane? Not counting you, of course. And Jesse.

  NOV 17 12:45 PM

  “Was Becca there when it happened?” I asked Father Dom.

  “It says right here in her file that she attended the Academy of the Sacred Trinity all-girls Catholic school in Pebble Beach for first and second grade. As I said, that
would have been around the time of the tragedy. She then switched to Stevenson School the following year. One has to assume there’s a good reason for her to have made such an abrupt transfer—”

  “Becca did mention an accident,” I said, thinking back to our conversation the day before. “She said her mom left ‘after the accident.’ ”

  The poor child.” Father Dominic shook his head. “So much sadness in her life, and in such a short time.”

  “I think Lucia’s the one who got the real short end of the stick there, Father.”

  “True. A year after, Becca transferred from Stevenson to a charter school, but that appears to have been a failure as well, because now, of course, she’s here.”

  My mind was whirling. This was a lot of information. A lot of information about which there was nothing on the Internet.

  Well, that made sense. Sacred Trinity wouldn’t want to be associated with something so sad, and they had the money to make sure any reference to it stayed off Google.

  “Do you remember where the riding accident occurred?” I asked. “Was it on Sacred Trinity grounds?”

  “I honestly can’t recall,” Father Dominic said. “I suppose it would make sense that it was Sacred Trinity. They have facilities there for students to stable their own horses.”

  “They should have facilities there for their students to stable their own space shuttles with what they charge for tuition.”

  Sacred Trinity was one of the many private schools in the Carmel area with which the Mission Academy was in competition. But with Trinity’s chic location on Pebble Beach’s exclusive 17-Mile Drive, their Olympic-sized pool, tennis courts, lacrosse and soccer fields, and, of course, horse stables and riding trails, the Mission Academy was barely in the same league. All we had to offer these days as far as extracurriculars was basketball, Mathletics, and the spring musical. It wasn’t any wonder Sister Ernestine didn’t want to piss off Lance Arthur Walters. The daughters of royalty and celebrities attended Sacred Trinity.

  The granddaughters of Andy Ackerman, the host of At Home with Andy, attended Mission Academy.

  “But Sacred Trinity is located within the community of Pebble Beach, and the resort there has an equestrian center, too,” Father Dominic said, loyally coming to the defense of a fellow Catholic school. “The accident could easily have happened along one of its riding trails, not Trinity’s. Horseback riding is such a popular sport these days, especially among the wealthy, everyone seems to be doing it, even though it can be so very dangerous. And I don’t believe there are any equestrian safety helmet laws in California.”

  I eyed him with affectionate skepticism. “Oh, okay, Father D. I’m sure that’s the reason Lucia’s been sticking around so long, trying to protect Becca, because she’s upset about California’s equestrian safety helmet laws.”

  “There’s no need for more sarcasm, Susannah. Sacred Trinity is one of the premier girls’ schools in the country. And Pebble Beach is a five-star resort. Surely what happened to the poor girl could only have been a tragic accident, not . . . whatever you’re thinking.”

  “You know one of the things I love most about you, Father D, is that you always see the best in people.” Smiling, I patted him on the shoulder. “Even in premier girls’ schools and five-star resorts.”

  “And one of the things that troubles me most about you, Susannah, is that you’re always prepared to see the worst in everyone. Didn’t you work at the Pebble Beach Resort one summer when you were in high school?”

  “I did,” I said. “That’s how I know they aren’t perfect.”

  “False modesty is not a very attractive quality, Susannah.”

  “Fine. Yes, they hired me to work as a babysitter at the resort.”

  Father Dominic brightened. “Oh, yes, of course. That’s how you met Paul Slater’s little brother. How is Jack? What’s he up to these days?”

  I smile with a nonchalance I was far from feeling at the mention of Paul’s name. “Jack? Last time I heard from him, he seemed to be fine. Much happier now that he’s not living with his parents.”

  “And does he—well, communicate very often with the deceased?”

  “I don’t think so. In fact, I think he still tries to avoid it whenever possible. He’s gotten into writing—screenplays, I think.”

  “Oh, that’s a shame,” Father Dominic said.

  “A shame? Why?”

  “Well, he had such promise as a mediator. But perhaps he was a bit too sensitive for the work. He might be better suited to the arts. Not like his brother . . . how is Paul? The two of you had your differences, but got to be on rather good terms again, toward graduation, as I recall. Have you heard from him at all lately?”

  Now, of course, was the perfect opportunity to tell Father Dominic the truth about why I’d called him last night. That my interest in the Curse of the Dead wasn’t merely intellectual, but had to do with Paul Slater, who was basically trying to blackmail me into sleeping with him.

  “I don’t know,” I said flatly. “I haven’t heard from Paul in years.”

  “Really? I’m surprised. He always seemed so fond of you. I realize those feelings weren’t returned, but—”

  “No offense, Father, but let’s stick to the subject at hand, okay? What are we going to do about Kelly Walters’s stepdaughter?”

  Father Dominic blinked. “Of course. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to seem intrusive—”

  “No worries. We just need to decide how we’re going to handle this. I know Jesse probably told you over the phone that he wants to exorcise the kid—”

  “He did, but it’s only because he’s so upset about what happened to you. Obviously it’s out of the question. She’s a young soul in torment.”

  “Who’s been tormenting another young soul for what appears to be years, and who also tried to drown me last night. As much as I enjoy sleeping in my fiancé’s bed, I’d rather not be doing it with Gina.”

  “No,” Father Dominic said drily. “Nor can I imagine sleeping with you is a particularly enjoyable experience for Gina.”

  “Wow, thanks. You know, this is all your fault. If it weren’t for the debt he feels toward you and my family and the stupid church,” I pointed out, “Jesse and I would be the ones sharing that bed, like a normal twenty-first-century couple. Any chance you could casually let him know that our souls are not actually going to be sent to eternal damnation if we make love before we’re married, Father D?”

  The priest looked amused. “I’m not the pope, Susannah. I don’t have the power to change what’s been official church doctrine for thousands of years.”

  “Well, you’ve always performed same-sex marriages off church grounds, so you don’t seem to mind bending the rules of some church doctrine—”

  I was surprised when Father Dominic’s expression changed, and he interrupted, in an animated voice, “Susannah, you’re absolutely right.”

  “Wait . . . I am?” I could hardly believe my good fortune. “You’ll tell Jesse it’s okay for us to have sex?”

  “No, of course not.” He looked horrified. “Don’t be ridiculous. I mean you’re right it’s my fault about Kelly’s stepdaughter. And it’s high time I did something about it.”

  “What? No.” I stared at him as he rose to his feet and began to rush about the office. “How is it your fault?”

  “Susannah, I officiated at her parents’ wedding and did not notice the poor, tortured soul clinging to her then, nor did I notice her at any time this semester since Becca started attending this school. So you see, it’s my fault, and my responsibility.”

  A feeling of dread closed over me. It was far different than the feeling of dread I’d felt when I’d seen Paul’s e-mail, or that the flowers on my desk were from him and not Jesse. But it was still there.

  “Father D, I agree we need to do something, but don’t you think we should probably wait until we have more information?”

  “Nonsense. Find out what homework Becca is missing in her classes
today and I’ll drive to her house with the assignments personally. That way I’ll be able to speak with her as well as her parents, as I ought properly to have done several months ago before their wedding, or at least when they first enrolled her here.”

  “Father Dominic, I get where you’re coming from. I really do. And I appreciate that once again, you’re trying to do the right thing. But I don’t think you have anything to feel guilty about. At their wedding you had no idea there was anything like this going on. You didn’t even see Lucia. Like you said, she revealed herself to me, not to you. So I really think I’m the one who—”

  “Susannah, I’m not feeling guilty. I’m simply trying to do my job.”

  “Right, I know. But remember what happened last time?”

  He glanced at me, confused. “Last time?”

  “The last time the ghost of a very angry girl tore up this school.”

  He continued to look confused for a moment, then remembered. “The girl who desecrated Father Serra’s statue? What on earth reminded you of her?”

  “You said she was the most violent spirit you’d ever seen.” And, uh, there was a rumor going around the school that I’d severed Father Serra’s head. “And look what happened when you tangled with her.”

  “That was an entirely different situation, Susannah, as you well know.”

  “Maybe. But I still think it’s a mistake to go out there. What makes you think you’ll even see Lucia today? You didn’t before.”

  “Really, Susannah, you don’t seem to think very highly of my skills, as either an educator or a mediator.”

  “That isn’t true.”

  Except of course that lately, it was.

  “I assure you, Susannah, I’ve been dealing with troubled children far longer than you have. May I point out that you were one of them once?”

  Before I could protest that I was never “troubled,” only disruptive, he went on to say, “And you ended up far exceeding my expectations for you. Except for your somewhat colorful vocabulary—and your occasionally regrettable wardrobe, of course—you’ve grown into a wonderfully mature, accomplished young woman I’d be proud to call my own daughter. Well, granddaughter perhaps would be more apt.”

 
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