Remembrance, p.2
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       Remembrance, p.2
 

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  “Go ahead,” I said, lifting my heels to my desk and crossing my feet at the ankles. “Laugh it up, Paul. You know what Jesse’s doing right now? His medical residency.”

  That hit home. Paul abruptly stopped laughing.

  “That’s right,” I went on, beginning to enjoy myself. “While you’ve been out being named one of LA’s most eligible bachelors for doing nothing but inheriting your grandfather’s money, Jesse passed the MCATs with one of the highest scores in California state history and got a medical degree at UCSF. Now he’s doing a pediatrics fellowship at St. Francis Medical Center in Monterey. He just has to finish up his residency there, and he’ll be fully licensed to practice medicine. Do you know what that means?”

  Paul’s voice lost some of its laughter. “He stole someone else’s identity? Because that’s the only way I can see someone who used to be a walking corpse getting into UCSF. Except as a practice cadaver, of course.”

  “Jesse was born in California, you idiot.”

  “Yeah, before it became a state.”

  “What it means,” I went on, tipping back in my chair, “is that next year, after Jesse’s board-certified, and I’ve gotten my certification, we’ll be getting married.”

  At least, if everything went according to schedule, and Jesse won the private grant he’d applied for to open his own practice. I didn’t see the point in mentioning any of these “if’s” to Paul . . . or that I didn’t know how much longer I could go on swimming laps in the dinky pool in the courtyard of my apartment building, trying to work out my frustration about my fiancé and his very nineteenth-century views about love, honor, and sex . . . views I’m determined to respect as much as he (unfortunately) respects my body.

  Things have gotten steamy between us enough times for me to know that what’s behind the front of those tight jeans of Jesse’s will be worth the wait, though. Our wedding night is going to be epic.

  Unless one of those many “if’s” doesn’t work out, or something happens to get the groom thrown in jail. Of all the obstacles I’d envisioned getting in the way of our very much deserved wedding night, Paul popping around again was the last thing I’d expected.

  “But more important, it means someday we’ll be opening our own practice, specializing in helping sick kids,” I went on. “Not that helping other people is a concept I’d expect you to understand.”

  “That’s not true,” Paul said. There was no laughter in his voice at all now. “I’ve always wanted to help you, Suze.”

  “Is that what you call what you did to me graduation night, when you said you had a present you had to give to me in private, so I followed you outside and you threw me up against the mission wall and shoved your hand up my skirt?” I asked him, acidly. “You consider that helping me?”

  “I do,” he said. “I was trying to help teach you not to waste your time on formerly deceased Latino do-gooders who consider it a sin to get nasty without a marriage license.”

  “Well,” I said, lowering my feet from my desktop. “I’m hanging up now. It was not at all a pleasure speaking to you again after all these years, Paul. Please die slowly and painfully. Buh-bye.”

  “Wait,” Paul said urgently before I could press End. “Don’t go. I wanted to say—”

  “What? That you won’t tear down my house if I take lessons from you in how to be a more effective mediator? Sorry, Paul, that might have worked when I was sixteen, but I’m too old to fall for that one again.”

  He sounded offended. “The thing with your house is just business. I only told you about it as a courtesy. What I wanted to say is that I’m sorry.”

  Paul Slater had never apologized for anything before . . . and meant it. He caught me off guard.

  “Sorry for what?”

  “Sorry for what I said about Jesse just now, and sorry for what happened that night. You’re right, Suze, I’d had way too much to drink. I know that’s no excuse, but it’s the truth. Honestly, I barely remember what happened.”

  Was he kidding? “Let me remind you. After you tried to nail me against that wall, I gave you a present. It was with my knee, to your groinal area. Does that refresh your memory?”

  “A man doesn’t forget that kind of pain, Simon. But what happened after that is a bit hazy. Is that when Debbie Mancuso came along?”

  “It was. She seemed eager to tend to the wound I gave you.”

  “Then you should be the one apologizing to me. Debbie’s ministrations were far from tender. She straddled me like she thought I was a damned gigolo—”

  “Watch it,” I growled. “Debbie’s married to my stepbrother Brad now. And obviously I didn’t knee you nearly as hard as I should have if you were still able to get it on with Debbie afterward. The last thing you’re ever going to hear from me is an apology.”

  “Then accept mine, and let me make it up to you. I have a proposal.”

  I barked with laughter. “Oh, right!”

  “Simon, I’m serious.”

  “That’ll be a first.”

  “It could save your home.”

  I stopped laughing. “I’m listening. Maybe.”

  “Give me another chance.”

  “I said I’m listening.”

  “No, that’s the proposal. Give me another chance.”

  dos

  The school office was air-conditioned, but the shiver I felt down my spine had nothing to do with the fact that my supervisors (some of whom dress in religious habit) liked to keep the thermostat at a crisp sixty-five degrees.

  “I’m sorry,” I said, glad the shiver didn’t show in my voice. “I’m actually very busy and important and don’t have time for rich jerks from my past who want to make amends. But I wish you luck on your path toward transformative enlightenment. Bye now.”

  “Suze, wait. Don’t you want to save your house?”

  “It isn’t mine anymore, remember? It’s yours. So I don’t care what happens to it.”

  “Come on, Suze. This is the first time in six years you’ve actually called me back when I’ve reached out to you. I know you care—about the house.”

  He was right. I’d been upset when Mom told me she and my stepdad, Andy, were selling it—much more upset than Jesse when he heard the news.

  “It’s only a house, Susannah,” he’d said. “Your parents haven’t lived there in years, and neither have we. It has nothing to do with us.”

  “How can you say that?” I’d cried. “That house has everything to do with us. If it weren’t for that house, we’d never have found one another!”

  He’d laughed. “Maybe, querida. Then again, maybe not. I have a feeling I’d have found you, and you me, no matter where we were. That house is only a place, and not our place, not anymore. Our place is together, wherever we happen to be.”

  Then he’d pulled me close and kissed me. It had been hard to feel bad about anything after that.

  I guess I could understand why the big, rambling Victorian on 99 Pine Crest Road meant nothing to him. To Jesse, it’s the house in which he was killed.

  To me, however, it was the house in which we’d met and slowly, over time and through many misunderstandings, fell in love—though it had seemed for years like a doomed romance: he was a Non-Compliant Deceased Person. I was a girl whose job it was to rid the world of his kind. It had ended up working out, but barely.

  While the so-called “gift” of communicating with the dead might sound nifty, believe me, when a ghost shows up in your bedroom—even one who looks as good with his shirt off as Jesse does—the reality isn’t at all the way they portray it in the movies or on TV or the stupid new hit reality show Ghost Mediator (which is, I’m sorry to say, based on a best-selling video and role-playing game of the same name).

  The “reality” is heartbreaking and sometimes quite violent . . . as my need for new boots illustrated.

  Except, of course, that in the end it was my “gift” that had enabled me to meet and get to know Jesse, and even help return his soul to his corporal
self, though my boss and fellow mediator, Mission Academy principal Father Dominic, likes to think that was “a miracle” we should be grateful for. I’m still on the fence about whether or not I believe in miracles. There’s a rational and scientific explanation for everything. Even the “gift” of seeing ghosts seems to have a genetic component. There’s probably a scientific explanation for what happened with Jesse, too.

  One thing there’s no explanation for—at least that I’ve found so far—is Paul. Even though he’s the one who showed me the nifty time-jumping trick that eventually led to the “miracle” that brought Jesse back to the living from the dead, Paul didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart. He did it out of a desire to get in my pants.

  “Look, Paul,” I said. “You’re right. I do care. But about people, not houses. So why don’t you take your amends and your fancy new housing development and your private jet and stick them all up your external urethral orifice, which in case you don’t know is the medical term for dick hole. Adios, muchacho.”

  I started to hang up until the sound of Paul’s laughter stopped me.

  “Dick hole,” he repeated. “Really, Simon?”

  I couldn’t help placing the phone to my ear again. “Yes, really. I’m highly educated in the correct medical terms for sexual organs now, since I’m engaged to a doctor. And that isn’t just where you can stick your amends, by the way, it’s also what you are.”

  “Fine. But what about Jesse?”

  “What about Jesse?”

  “I could see you not caring about me, or about the house, but I think you’d be at least a little concerned about your boyfriend.”

  “I am, but I fail to see what your tearing down my house has to do with him.”

  “Only everything. Are you telling me you really don’t remember all those Egyptian funerary texts of Gramps’ that we used to study together after school? That hurts, Suze. That really hurts. Two mixed-up mediators, poring over ancient hieroglyphics . . . I thought we had something special.”

  When you’re a regular girl and a guy is horny for you, he invites you over to his house after school to watch videos.

  When you’re a mediator, he invites you over to study his grandfather’s ancient Egyptian funerary texts, so you can learn more about your calling.

  Yeah. I was real popular in high school.

  “What about them?” I demanded.

  “Oh, not much. I just thought you’d remember what the Book of the Dead said about what happens when a dwelling place that was once haunted is demolished . . . how a demon disturbed from its final resting place will unleash the wrath of eternal hellfire upon all it encounters, cursing even those it once held dear with the rage of a thousand suns. That kind of thing.”

  I swore—but silently, to myself.

  Paul’s grandfather, in addition to being absurdly wealthy, had also been one of the world’s most preeminent Egyptologists. When it came to obscure, ancient curses written on crumbling pieces of papyrus, the guy was top of his field.

  That’s why I was swearing. I’d been wrong: Paul wasn’t calling to make amends. This was something way, way worse.

  “Nice try, Paul,” I said, attempting to keep my voice light and my heart rate steady. “Except I’m pretty sure that one was about mummies buried in pyramids, not ghosts who once haunted residential homes in Northern California. And while Jesse was never exactly an angel, he was no demon, either.”

  “Maybe not to you. But he treated me like—”

  “Because you were always trying to exorcise him out of existence. That would make anyone feel resentful. And 99 Pine Crest Road wasn’t his final resting place. Even before he became alive again, we found his remains and moved them.”

  I couldn’t see Jesse’s headstone from my desk, but I knew it was sitting only a few dozen yards away, in the oldest part of the mission cemetery. On holy days of obligation, it’s the fifth graders’ job to leave carnations on it (as they do all the historic gravestones in the cemetery), as well as pull any weeds that might have sprouted from it.

  The fact that there’s nothing buried under Jesse’s grave—since he happens to be alive and well—is something I don’t see any reason to let the fifth graders know. Kids benefit from being outdoors. Too much time playing video games has been shown to slow their social skills.

  “So tearing down the place where he died isn’t going to hurt him,” I went on. “I’m not personally a fan of subdivisions, but hey, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it. Anything else? I really do have to go now, I’ve got a ton of things to do to get ready for the wedding.”

  Paul laughed. Apparently my officious tone hadn’t fooled him.

  “Oh, Suze. I love how so much in the world has changed, but not you. That boyfriend of yours haunted that crummy old house forever, waiting around for . . . just what was he waiting for, anyway? Murder victims are the most stubborn of all spooks to get rid of.” He said the word spooks the way someone in a detergent commercial would say the word stains. “All they want is justice—or, as in Jesse’s case, revenge.”

  “That isn’t true,” I made the mistake of interrupting, and got rewarded by more of Paul’s derisive laughter.

  “Oh, isn’t it? What was it you think he was waiting around for all those years, then, Suze? You?”

  I felt my cheeks heat up again. “No.”

  “Of course you do. But that love story of yours may not have such a happy ending after all.”

  “Really, Paul? And why is that? Because of something written on a two-thousand-year-old papyrus scroll? I think you’ve been watching too many episodes of Ghost Mediator.”

  His voice went cold. “I’m just telling you what the curse says—that restoring a soul to the body it once inhabited is a practice best left to the gods.”

  “What are you even talking about? You’re the one who—”

  “Suze, I only did what people like you and me are supposed to—attempt to help an unhappy soul pass on to his just rewards.”

  “By sneaking back through time to keep him from dying in the first place so I’d never meet him?”

  “Never mind what I did. Let’s talk about what you did. The curse goes on to say that any human who attempts to resurrect a corpse will be the first to suffer its wrath when the demon inside it is woken.”

  “Well, that’s ridiculous, since there’s no demon inside Jesse, and I didn’t resurrect him. It was a miracle. Ask Father Dom.”

  “Really, Suze? Since when did you start believing in miracles?” I hated that he knew me so well. “And when did you start believing that you could tinker around with space and time—and life and death—without having to pay the consequences? If you help to create a monster, you should be prepared for that monster to come back and bite you in the ass. Or are you completely unfamiliar with the entire Hollywood horror movie industry?”

  “Fiction,” I said, my mouth dry. “Horror movies are fiction.”

  “And the concept of good and evil? Is that fiction? Think about it, Simon. You can’t have one without the other. There has to be a balance. You got your good. Ghost Boy’s alive now, and giving back to the community with his healing hands . . . which makes me want to puke, by the way. But where’s the bad? Have you not noticed there’s something missing from this little miracle of yours?”

  “Um,” I said, struggling to come up with a flippant reply.

  Because he was right. As any Californian worth his flip-flops could tell you, you can’t have yin without yang, surf without sand, a latte without soy (because no one in California drinks full dairy, except for me, but I was born in New York City).

  “I assume the bad is . . . you.” This was weak, but it was the best I could come up with, given the feeling of foreboding slowly creeping up my spine.

  “Very funny, Suze. But you’re going to have to come up with something better. Humor doesn’t work as a defense against the forces of evil. Which are dwelling, as you very well know, inside your so-called miracle boy, just wai
ting for the chance to lash out and kill you and everyone you love for what you did.”

  Now he’d gone too far. “I do not know that. How do you know that? You haven’t even seen him in six years. You don’t know anything about us. You can’t just come here and—”

  “I don’t have to have seen him to know that he didn’t escape from having lived as a spook for a century and a half without having brushed up against some pretty malevolent shit. De Silva didn’t just walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Simon. He set up camp and toasted marshmallows there. No one can come out of something like that unscathed, however many kids he’s curing of cancer now, or however many wedding-gift registries his girlfriend’s signing up for in order to assure herself that everything’s just fine and dandy.”

  “That’s not fair,” I protested. “And that’s not fair. You might as well be saying that anyone who’s ever suffered from any trauma is destined never to overcome it, no matter how hard they try.”

  “Really? You’re going to fall back on grad school psychobabble?” His voice dripped with amusement. “I expected better from you. Can you honestly tell me, Simon, that when you look into de Silva’s big brown telenovela eyes, you never see any shadows there?”

  “No. No, of course I do, sometimes, because he’s human, and human beings aren’t happy one hundred percent of the time.”

  “Those aren’t the kind of shadows I’m talking about, and you know it.”

  I realized I was squeezing my phone so hard an ugly red impression of its hard plastic casing had sunk into my skin. I had to switch hands.

  Because he was right. I did see occasional glimpses of darkness in Jesse’s eyes . . . and not sadness, either.

  And while I hadn’t been lying when I’d told Paul about Jesse’s desire to help heal the sick and most downtrodden of our society—it was an integral part of his personality—I did worry sometimes that the reason Jesse fought so desperately against death when he saw it coming for his weakest patients was that he feared it was also coming back for him . . .

 
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