Remembrance, p.13
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       Remembrance, p.13

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  I hesitated. “Well, thank you, Father. That’s very nice. But shouldn’t you still let me—”

  “Let you what?” He was putting on his black jacket, checking in the mirror to make sure his clerical collar was straight. “Let you come with me? Then who will do your job? Sister Ernestine will certainly discover Ms. Diaz and Mr. Gillarte’s affair if you are not here to make excuses for them. No, Susannah—” He turned from the mirror to look at me, not seeming to notice my astonished expression. I’d had no idea he knew about the Diaz-Gillarte imbroglio. “It’s my responsibility, not yours.”

  “But.” I had to try one more time. “Supposing she does reveal herself to you. She’s not normal. Even you admit she’s insanely strong. So if you piss her off, you could get more than drowned, or the head of a statue thrown at you—”

  “Susannah, I’ve been doing this quite a bit longer than you. I do think I know my way around a mediation by now. Besides,” he added with a grin, “believe it or not, children like me. It’s entirely possible that Becca, and even her spirit companion, will listen calmly to what I have to say. Most people do, you know.”

  I tried my hardest to stop him. In retrospect, I should have tried harder. I should have called Jesse—even though he was back at the Crossing, catching up on the sleep he’d missed over the last forty-eight hours.

  In retrospect, I should have made Gina or Jake wake Jesse up and drive after Father Dominic to stop him. Or I should have gone with him myself, especially after Aunt Pru’s warning.

  But he was so confident about it, so adamant that he could fix everything. And I was tired from my own lack of sleep, and preoccupied, I’ll admit, about what was going on with my boyfriend.

  And really, maybe it was insensitive of me to try to stand in the way of this, Father Dominic’s last mediation (or attempt at one, anyway). Ageist, even. I didn’t want to be accused of discriminating against someone because of their advancing years.

  So I said, “Okay, Father D. If you’re sure. I guess I could stay here and see what I can find out about the riding accident.”

  He nodded and said, “Good thinking.”

  It wasn’t, though. It turned out to be terrible thinking.

  Only I didn’t know it until I heard Sister Ernestine pick up the phone in her office a few hours later, then cry, “What?”

  That’s when I knew how wrong I’d been.

  trece

  “That’s how old people die. They fracture their hip, get pneumonia, then die.”

  That’s what my stepniece Mopsy assured me of as we stood in front of the main reception desk at the hospital later that evening.

  “Shut up, Emily,” I said.

  “But it’s true. And you’re not supposed to say shut up. You’re supposed to sing the listening song. That’s what Sister Monica taught us in school.”

  “I’m not going to sing the goddamn listening song, Emily.”

  “You’re not supposed to swear, Aunt Suze. You’re not supposed to swear or say shut up.”

  I took a deep breath, fighting for patience. The only reason my stepnieces were with me was because a fight had erupted between their parents over Sister Ernestine’s request to discuss the possibility of their daughters having ADHD.

  Even though we hadn’t always (okay, ever) gotten along, I considered Debbie a loving and hands-on mom, especially given the fact that she’d had all three of her babies at the same time, without the aid of fertility drugs. Multiples ran in Debbie’s family. She had an older cousin who’d had two sets of triplets, also naturally.

  One might think this would have served as a warning to Debbie to use protection, but the opposite was true. Debbie was completely opposed to all forms of pharmaceutical products, including birth control—to Brad’s everlasting chagrin—and vaccinations, despite Jesse pointing out that because of people like her, preventable (and potentially deadly) diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough were on the rise again in the state of California.

  Debbie didn’t care. She was convinced that keeping Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail (my nicknames for my admittedly adorable but somewhat high-spirited stepnieces) drug and vaccine free was the right thing to do.

  Although I didn’t agree with her (and wasn’t sure how long any school, even the Mission Academy, would keep accepting her bogus “health exemptions” from her quack doctor), in a weird way I admired her fiercely protective—if misdirected—maternal instinct.

  Except that this latest tiff between her and my stepbrother over the subject had resulted in a communications gap so vast that neither of them had remembered to retrieve the girls after school. That’s how I’d been forced to corral them into the backseat of my embarrassingly dilapidated Land Rover, then take them with me to the hospital when I’d heard the news about Father Dom.

  Hospitals are the last place you’re supposed to take children—especially ones who haven’t had their vaccinations.

  But what other choice did I have? I had to see Father Dominic as soon as he got out of recovery. They’d decided it was best to operate on his hip right away, as the “accident” he’d allegedly suffered at the Walterses’s home had completely shattered it.

  So it was to St. Francis that the four of us went.

  I’d realized belatedly what a horrible idea this was not only when Mopsy opened her mouth to ask, “Why is your car so old, Aunt Suze?” (it had been in the family for ages until I’d inherited it, and there was no point in my buying a nicer car, since it was only going to be abused by my terrible driving, the triplets, and, of course, mediation-resistant spirits), but when she’d followed that up by declaring, in the hospital lobby, that Father Dom was going to die.

  Even worse, the redhead at the hospital’s main reception desk turned out to be someone new, who didn’t recognize me as either Jesse’s fiancée—I’d been to the hospital many times to visit him during his breaks—or a member of the clergy and therefore “family” of Father D’s, and so wouldn’t tell me the exact extent of his injuries, how he was doing, or which floor he’d been taken to.

  “Look,” I said to the redhead, pointedly ignoring Mopsy, the most outspoken of Brad and Debbie’s daughters, “I get that you can’t give me any information about what room Father Dominic is in for privacy reasons. But can you at least tell me his status? He was supposed to have been out of surgery an hour ago.”

  “I really couldn’t say. It’s against hospital policy.”

  The redhead—her name tag said to call her Peggy—didn’t even glance at me. All her attention was focused on my stepnieces, who look like total angels to strangers, especially when wearing their school uniforms. In their matching navy blue plaid skirts, white short-sleeved blouses and knee socks, and French braids Debbie insisted on twisting their hair into every morning (which, by the end of day, like now, were always destroyed, looking like dark, wavy mushrooms around their cherubic faces), they resembled mini-Madonnas.

  What they actually were was little hellions.

  “Oh, my gosh, are you girls triplets?” Peggy said to them from her imitation mahogany tower. “You could not be any cuter!”

  The girls ignored her, as they did everyone who asked if they were triplets, then commented on how cute they were. Flopsy poked Mopsy.

  “Old people don’t die of fractures.”

  “Yes, they do. Mommy’s grandma died that way.”

  “Grandma’s not dead. We saw her on the first day of school, remember? She gave us stickers.”

  “Not Grandma. Mommy’s grandma. Mommy’s grandma is dead from a hip fracture. Remember? She told us.”

  Mopsy kicked Flopsy. “Shut up!”

  Mopsy kicked Flopsy back. “You shut up!”

  Flopsy screamed at the top of her lungs, causing everyone in the waiting room to look at us.

  “If you both don’t shut up,” I said, “I’ll make you go sit in the car.”

 


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  “You can’t do that, Aunt Suze.” Cotton-tail was the practical trip. “Mommy says it’s against the law and if you do it again, she’s going to tell the police on you.”

  Peggy overheard this, and stared at me in horror.

  “It was an emergency,” I explained. Though there was no way I could explain to her that the emergency had involved an NCDP who’d unexpectedly shown up at the park while I was babysitting them, and that they’d been safer in the car, as he’d been trying to resist mediation by way of pelting me with a municipal trash can. “And I left the windows cracked.”

  “It was so exciting,” Mopsy said. “Especially when you threw that garbage can against the windshield, and it exploded!”

  I most definitely could not explain that the NCDP had by that point been inside the garbage can.

  To the girls I said, “Could you please cut Aunt Suze some slack? I’m trying to talk to the nice lady.”

  Behind me, I heard the sliding doors to the hospital’s main entrance whoosh open, and I whipped my head around, half hoping to see Brad coming to rescue me from the girls, but mostly hoping it would be Jesse.

  My heart sank when it was neither, just some young guy with a goatee carrying balloons for a patient he’d come to visit.

  I couldn’t understand it. I knew Jesse had worked two back-to-back shifts straight through (which is technically illegal, but most residents do it, not out of choice so much as out of necessity), so I wasn’t surprised he’d slept through the ringer on both his cell and the house phone when I called to let him know what had happened to Father Dom.

  But he usually felt it when I was upset about something, even in his sleep, and came running.

  So where was he? Why hadn’t he called me back?

  “Why do we need to cut you some slack, Aunt Suze?” Flopsy wanted to know.

  “Because she’s worried about Father Dominic, and you should be, too, stupid,” Mopsy informed her. “He’s probably going to die.”

  “I’m not stupid, you are.”

  “I’m not stupid, you are.”

  “Aunt Suze, she called me stupid.”

  “Hey, kids,” I said brightly, reaching for my wallet. “Are you thirsty? Why don’t you go get a soda? I see some machines over there.”

  Shrieking with joy at the prospect of sugar, which they were not
allowed at home, the girls snatched singles from my hand and tore from the reception area at top speed, nearly crashing into several people who were waiting to see the triage nurse.

  “Be sure to get lots of candy bars, too,” I called after them. “The kind that rot your teeth. And don’t talk to strangers. Look.” I turned back to Peggy, leaning in very close and lowering my voice so that only she could hear me. “I am not in the mood for this right now. You’re going to tell me where they’ve taken that priest, or I’m going to let those three unholy terrors you think are so cute get all hopped up on sugar, then turn them loose in your ER. I’m going to let them touch everything, and you do not want that, because guess what? They haven’t had any of their shots. Who knows what kind of weird diseases they’re carrying without even showing symptoms? Mumps. Polio. Whooping cough. Measles. Did you know that measles is still one of the leading causes of death in children worldwide? That because it’s so infectious, nine out of ten people who haven’t been vaccinated against it who come into contact with someone who has it will catch it. Is that really what you want? All those vulnerable, unvaccinated babies in your maternity ward to come down with measles in a matter of hours?”

  Peggy’s eyes widened to their limits, and she scooted her wheeled chair away from me. “I’m . . . I’m . . . I’m . . . I’m going to go get my supervisor.”

  “You do that,” I said. “But remember, the longer you make me wait, the more contagions are festering on those little girls’ hands. I hope you have a vat load of antibacterial lotion nearby.”

  While she was gone, I pulled out my cell phone to try Jesse again.

  Four missed calls from him, and three texts!

  For once, the texts weren’t in Spanish, which indicated how dire he considered the situation. He spoke in English only when he was feeling calm, texted in it only when he was not.

  Jesse Got your messages. I’ve been trying to call you, but you aren’t picking up.

  NOV 17 4:20 PM

  What? I studied my phone more closely. Of course. The ringer had been switched off. Not only that, the screen saver had been changed from a photo of my pet rat, Romeo, adorably asleep on my fiancé’s shoulder as Jesse read one of his medical textbooks, to one of all three of my stepnieces in the backseat of the Land Rover, leering into the camera.

  I glanced at the vending area, where Flopsy and Mopsy were now fighting over a bag of Skittles. A favorite trick of the triplets was to sneak electronic devices out of the bag or pocket of whatever adult was nearby, then completely reset them and slip them back without the person ever suspecting.

  When they were older they were going to end up either in prison or working for the NSA.

  I sighed and scrolled to the next text.

  Jesse Don’t worry, querida. Everything is going to be all right. I’ll take care of this.

  I swear.

  NOV 17 4:25 PM

  “I’ll take care of this.”

  What was he talking about? What was there that he could take care of that I didn’t have under control?

  His next text was only slightly more illuminating.

  Jesse No one’s at your office. You must be at the hospital. I will see you there.

  I stopped by the church to pick up a few of the father’s things.

  Te amo, querida.

  Nov 17 5:05 PM

  An ordinary person reading that text would have thought, “Oh, how sweet! Her boyfriend stopped to pick up the old man’s toothbrush, a change of underwear, and maybe some pajamas and slippers and the priest’s latest copy of Catholic News.”

  No. No way. Knowing my boyfriend, I suspect the things Jesse probably stopped to retrieve were the good father’s Bible, crucifix, rosary, Virgin Mary medal, and holy water and sacramental wafers pilfered from the tabernacle on the altar inside the church.

  Because those are the things you needed to perform a good, old-fashioned exorcism.

  Great. Just great. While I completely agreed that no spirit should be allowed to attack a sweet, innocent old man like Father Dominic, who’d only meant to help her, that didn’t mean I thought her soul should be cast into eternal damnation, especially now that I’d learned some of the details about Lucia’s death from Father Dominic—and even more from her obituary, which CeeCee had managed to find and send to me earlier that afternoon.

  I was wondering what to text back—I can’t believe you’d steal holy bread and wine from a church, but you won’t have sex with me didn’t seem right somehow—when suddenly a new message popped up on my screen. I was assuming it was from Jesse until I clicked on it.

  El Diablo What did you think of the flowers?

  NOV 17 5:05 PM

  Really? Was he kidding me? He really was the devil.

  I was stabbing at my phone to delete all trace of him when something awful occurred to me, something that chilled me even more than Paul’s text or the thought of my fiancé exorcising a baby banshee:

  Jesse had been by my office to look for me. That meant he’d seen the flowers on my desk.

  Damn!

  And what had I done with the card Paul had written to me? With everything that had happened, I couldn’t remember.

  I was so screwed.

  “Susannah?”

  I started at the sound of the voice coming from behind me. Peggy had returned with a nurse I recognized from the many times Jake and I had dropped by to visit Jesse when he was working in the ER. The nurse recognized me, too, but fortunately not as the stepsister of the long-haired dude who liked to prank the hospital’s volunteers by asking them gravely to please page, “Dr. Butt. Dr. Chafe Butt” (it was shocking how often they fell for this).

  “Susannah, I thought that was you,” Sherry said with a smile. “Peggy told me there was a crazy woman out here who was threatening to infect the maternity ward with measles. But then I saw who it was.”

  “Hi, Sherry.” I almost melted with relief. “Yes, it’s me. Sorry about the theatrics. They brought my boss in here a little while ago, Father Dominic from the Junípero Serra Mission Academy?”

  She stopped smiling, which was never a good sign. “Yes, of course.”

  “Um, he’s okay, right? I really need to get upstairs to see him, the sooner the better.”

  “Of course.” Sherry used that soothing tone that nurses employ to make you feel better, even though you suspect they don’t really believe a word you’ve said. You don’t drink more than three alcoholic beverages a week? Riiiiight. “Peggy, this is Susannah Simon, she’s engaged to Dr. de Silva.”

  I saw Peggy give me a quick look, as if she was appraising me in a whole new light.

  “Oh,” Peggy said. “Really?”

  It was evident from her flat tone that she disapproved.

  I wasn’t surprised. Jesse was extremely popular with the mostly female nursing staff (and some of the males, as well) because he was not only easy on the eyes, but also charming, good-humored, and occasionally brought cookies for everyone in the staff room.

  Cookies I’d made, thinking it wouldn’t hurt for him to get into the good graces of the staff.

  I thought about grabbing Peggy by her copious red hair and smashing her face into her computer screen, but only briefly. I’d never have done it. Probably.

  Instead I said, “It’s really nice to meet you, Peggy. Sorry if I seemed, um, abrupt before. I’m just really concerned about my boss.”

  “No worries,” Peggy said. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Everyone here really likes Dr. de Silva, even our older patients. They always start out complaining he’s too young to be a doctor, but then they look into his eyes. After that, they shut up about it.” She laughed. “They say he has an ‘old soul,’ whatever that means.”

 
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