Remembrance, p.20
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       Remembrance, p.20

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  As soon as they reached the wide stone fountain—which this early in the morning had yet to attract any adult visitors—the three living girls peeled off their shoes and socks and jumped in (exactly as I’d told them not to). Even Lucia looked tempted to follow suit. It was hard to believe she was the same spirit who, the night before last, had tried to drown me.

  “Who are they?” Becca asked, her gaze following the triplets.

  “They’re my stepnieces,” I said. “I brought them so we could talk. Last time we got interrupted, and it wasn’t by any earthquake. Those three are here to keep it from happening again.”

  Becca looked more bewildered than ever. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I do know about you, though. My stepmother told me—”

  “Yes, I’m sure Kelly had plenty to say about me.” I steered her by the arm through one of the stone archways. “Well, I’ve got a lot to say to you. But not about her.”

  Becca immediately put on the brakes, refusing to budge from beneath the chilly shade of the breezeway. “We aren’t allowed to go out here,” she balked, staring at the warm, sunny courtyard like it was the pit of a lava-filled volcano, and she was the hapless missionary I was about to sacrifice to the native gods.

  “You are if you’re escorted by a staff member. And lucky you, I just happen to be a staff member.”

  I pulled her off the smooth flagstone and onto the pebbled pathway that meandered through the courtyard’s many garden plots. She came blinking into the sunlight as cautiously as a mole person.

  It might have been November, but in Carmel, that’s one of the most beautiful months of the year—which was why Jesse and I wanted to be married in November, only a year from now. An explosion of brightly colored flowers—milkweed, bougainvillea, azaleas, wisteria, and rhododendrons—lined the paths and even the rooftops of the breezeways and buildings surrounding the courtyard. The milkweed had attracted monarch butterflies, which flew in lazy circles around the yard like low-flying, drunk hang gliders.

  Though the stucco walls were three feet thick, and the birds flitting across the clear blue sky overhead were calling noisily to one another, it was still possible to hear the organ music being played at morning mass over in the basilica.

  “Sit,” I commanded Becca when we came to an ancient stone bench in a mossy alcove, not far from the fountain the girls were marauding. The bench, coincidentally, was beneath the feet of the Father Serra statue I’d so wrongfully been accused of decapitating.

  Maybe this was why Becca looked more nervous than ever as she sat down. “I didn’t mean it about my stepmother. All she said was—”

  “I don’t care what Kelly said about me.” I sat down beside her. “I want to know what really happened to Father Dominic. But first, I want to know what really happened to your friend Lucia Martinez.”

  Becca stared at me as round-eyed as if I’d slapped her. “L-Lucia Martinez? Wh-who’s that?”

  “Come on, Becca, don’t bullshit me.” I’d had about as much as I could take from this girl. “You know exactly who Lucia is. You like the game Ghost Mediator? Well, your old friend Lucia’s ghost has been following you around for years. You want to know how I know that? Because I’m a real-life mediator, and it’s my job to send her to the next level.”

  Becca stared at me expressionlessly for several seconds from behind the lenses of her glasses.

  Then she burst into tears.

  veintiuno

  Great. Just great. You would think after all these years I’d have figured out how to deliver this kind of news without causing young girls to burst into tears.

  But no.

  It was a good thing Jesse wasn’t around. He was infinitely more tender and patient than I was, and would probably have given this particular mediation one out of five stars based on my swearing alone.

  I pulled a minipack of tissues from my messenger bag and passed it to Becca. A mediator needs to be prepared for any emergency.

  “Becca,” I said, glad for the soothing sounds of the worshippers singing hymns over in the basilica, since they would hopefully keep my voice—and Becca’s sobs—from carrying over to the girls. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be quite so . . . blunt. I know this is probably very new to you. But Lucia’s ghost really has been following you around for years, probably since the day she died.”

  Becca took a tissue and dabbed at her streaming eyes with trembling fingers. Her breath came in short, hiccupy sobs.

  “How . . . how can that even be possible?” she asked. “Lucia? Here?” She glanced furtively around the courtyard, as if expecting a ghoul to leap out from behind a nearby rhododendron. “I don’t believe you. This is some kind of trick.”

  “It’s not a trick, and she’s not there. She’s over by the fountain, playing with my nieces. You can’t see her. But trust me, she’s there. She’s dressed in riding clothes and carrying a stuffed horse.”

  Becca inhaled sharply. Something I’d said had struck a chord. I wasn’t sure what, but she was squinting toward the fountain. “How come you can see her but I can’t?”

  “It’s a genetic thing. But trust me, she’s there. She’s the one who tore up the office the other day.”

  Becca was so startled she stopped crying. “Wh-what?”

  “You heard me. That was no earthquake. Lucia didn’t like it when I tried to touch you, even though I was only trying to help.” Becca’s eyes, behind the lenses of her glasses, had gone as bright and shiny as the coins the girls were fishing from the fountain and holding toward the sun. “What can you tell me about how Lucia died? She hasn’t exactly been illuminating on the subject. She seems to be mostly concerned about you.”

  For the first time since I’d met her, Becca smiled—really smiled, with her whole face. It transformed her, turning her from an average-looking girl to a very much above-average, almost startlingly attractive girl.

  “I can’t believe she’s worrying about me. I don’t understand why, since she’s the one—” Becca broke off. The smile hadn’t lasted long.

  “Yes, I know, Becca,” I said, gently. “She’s the one who died. But the dead aren’t always known for their logical reasoning skills. If they were, I’d be out of a job. Why is Lucia so worried about you, especially now, so many years after her death?”

  “I don’t know,” Becca said, her eyes filling once more with tears. She reached up to clutch her horse pendant. “Or . . . or maybe I do. What happened to her was my fault.”

  “Your fault? How was it your fault? I know you went to school together, but you were little when—”

  “She died because of me,” Becca said, the sides of her mouth trembling. “That’s why I wear this necklace. To remind me that it’s my fault she’s dead, and that I . . . that I have to live life for the both of us. She was my best friend.”

  “Okay,” I said skeptically. “But you told me the other day that you hate yourself. If you really want to live life for Lucia, you might want to start by living it for yourself.”

  Her fuzzy eyebrows furrowed. “I am living life for myself.”

  “I don’t think so, Becca. You don’t treat yourself very kindly. Did you get your stepmom to take you to see a doctor for that cut? I know you didn’t, since you’re still wearing that nasty old bandage.” She attempted to hide her wrist in embarrassment, but there wasn’t really anyplace she could put it, except folded under her opposite arm. “That thing is going to get infected if you don’t keep it clean, you know. And what is with these glasses? They’re filthy.” I plucked them off her face before she could stop me, then peered through the lenses, getting a surprise after I did so. “Becca, these aren’t even prescription! What are they, a disguise?”

  She snatched them back. “No. Why are you saying all these mean things? I thought you were supposed to be helping me. These glasses make me feel more comfortable.”

  “As what? The girl no one will ever notice? Look, Becca, I get it. Your dad married a woman who’s barely ten years older than you and looks like a supermodel. I’d feel insecure, too. But don’t expect me to believe this bullshit about you living life for Lucia when you barely live at all. Now how exactly did Lucia die because of you—which, by the way, I highly doubt?”

 


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  Fuming, Becca threw her glasses into some nearby milkweed, disturbing a pair of butterflies, which took off into the air in indignation. “Why don’t you ask her, if you really can communicate with ghosts . . . which, by the way, I highly doubt?”

  “I already told you, the dead aren’t known for their logical reasoning skills. Lucia will barely speak to me. And I’m pretty sure when Father Dominic tried, she tossed him down a flight of stairs.’ ”

  Becca blanched. “Oh, my God. Wait, he—”

  “Yes. Father Dominic is also one of us—and it almost got him killed. See why being a mediator isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Lucia’s dangerous, Becca—not because she’s evil, but because she’s afraid. Afraid for you. Now you’ve got to tell me why, so I can keep her from hurting anyone else.”

  Becca shook her head hard enough to cause her hair to whip her cheeks.

  “I can’t. Don’t you see? I told Lucia about him, and she died.”

  “Him?” I was confused. “Him who?”

  “Him,” she whispered. Her eyes weren’t only tear filled anymore. They were fear filled. “He killed her, just because she was going to tell them what he did to me. If I’d done what he said and not told anyone, she’d still be alive today. That’s why it’s all my fault.”

  And then I did understand. Of course. Him.

  Wasn’t there always a him? I had a him. Why wouldn’t Becca, as well?

  Only Paul Slater was just a manipulative creep, not a child killer.

  “Becca, it’s okay.” I laid a hand on her non-injured arm. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Tell me who it is. He can’t hurt you any—”

  “What are you talking about?” She wrenched her arm away. “Of course he can. He made what happened to Lucia look like an accident. He could do the same to you or me just as easily.” Her voice was ragged from tears and desperation. “Do you think I haven’t been hearing it my whole life, practically? ‘Accidents happen.’ But what happened to Lucia was no accident. I can’
t prove it, but I know.”

  “Then tell me. Tell me so I can fix it.”

  “You can’t.”

  “I can, Becca.”

  I heard a bell ring, and beneath the breezeway, students began to file from their classrooms, switching from first period to second. I hoped Becca didn’t notice.

  “I can’t bring Lucia back to life, Becca,” I whispered urgently. “But I can maybe bring her some peace, and help you live the life you deserve. But only if you help me. Please.”

  She wasn’t looking at me. She was staring off at the fountain, fingering the horse pendant around her neck.

  “He had to have spooked that horse on purpose, then rode after Lucia and killed her when she was far enough away from the group that they couldn’t see.” Becca’s tears spilled down her cheeks and onto her white uniform blouse. She made no move to wipe them. “She was a good rider, the best of us, but her horse was scared of snakes—all horses are, but hers especially—and if someone left something across the trail that looked like a snake—” She shuddered. “That’s how I think he did it. Then all he had to do was follow her . . . and . . .”

  “Why, Becca?” I asked. “Why would he do that to Lucia?”

  She nodded, aware of the tears now. She’d lifted a tissue from the pack I’d given her to dab at her eyes and blow her nose. “That’s why it’s my fault. It was so stupid. It just slipped out. She saw that I had a candy bar, and she wanted to know where I’d gotten it, because we weren’t supposed to have candy in school, and like an idiot I said he’d given it to me. And then she said she wanted candy, too, and that she was going to ask him for some. And then I realized what I’d done, because of course he’d told me horrible things would happen if I told anyone. So I got scared, because I didn’t want him to do to her what he’d done to me, even if afterwards he did give me candy. So I told her that she couldn’t say anything to anyone about it, not even him, and she wanted to know why, and so—”

  “You told her.”

  “Y-yes.”

  I should have been used to it by now. It was so tragically ubiquitous, you’d think it would fail to surprise me.

  But even now, sitting in one of the warmest, sunniest, most peaceful places on earth, touted all over the Internet for its beauty and highly meditative benefits, as I listened to the laughter of my stepnieces and the sound of hymns playing inside the basilica, I felt suddenly cold.

  This must have been what it was like for Jesse, living in the valley of the shadow of death. Cold, dark, and no sunlight ever to warm him. I fought an urge to reach for my cell phone and call him, just to hear his voice. I couldn’t do that in front of Becca. She had no one to call.

  “So Lucia said she was going to tell on him?”

  “Yes,” Becca said, looking as wretched as it was possible for a human being to look. “She was like that, you know. She always took charge of things. Not really bossy, but . . . well, kind of.”

  I thought of how Lucia’s hands had felt around my throat. Bossy was one word for it.

  Becca’s eyes were overflowing. “I was so stupid. I remember feeling relieved. I remember thinking, ‘Well, Lucia will tell, and then everything will be all right.’ But instead—” She broke off.

  She didn’t need to go on. I knew what had happened instead.

  I reached out to lay a hand on her fingers, which were nervously shredding the tissue in her lap. “What was his name, Becca?”

  She shook herself, seeming to come out of whatever dark shadow that she’d temporarily slipped into. “Wh-what?”

  “His name. The man who . . . gave you the candy.”

  “Oh.” She had to think about it. She thought for a long time, watching a couple of butterflies flit by. “Jimmy, I think. That’s what everyone called him. Jimmy.” She said the name apologetically, like it was a vulgarity she felt sorry for having been forced to utter in front of me.

  “Do you remember his last name?”

  “I’m sorry. I don’t . . . I can’t . . . He was tall. I remember that. But I can barely remember anything else about him.”

  She did, but she wouldn’t allow herself to. She’d have blocked it out, along with his name, the way we all try to block out our worst childhood memories.

  “That’s all right, Becca. Did you tell anyone—anyone besides Lucia—about him?”

  Her eyes widened. “No, of course not. Not after . . . not after what happened to Lucia. I didn’t . . . I couldn’t . . .”

  “I understand.” She didn’t want to be his next murder victim.

  “I’d quit riding after that, so I wouldn’t see him anymore,” she said quickly. “He worked in the stables. I think he was some kind of handyman or something. He did other odd jobs, too, around the school.”

  He. She wouldn’t say his name.

  “I tried to avoid the stables as much as I could. But then one day after . . . it happened, Sister Regina Claire made our whole class go down there to lay a wreath for Lucia. And he was there. He came up and asked if he could speak to me and I had to say yes, you know, because it would have looked weird for me to say no. But I knew he couldn’t do anything, because they were watching. Anyway, he whispered that it was a shame what had happened to Lucia, and to her horse, and it would be an even bigger shame if I ever told anyone else about . . . about what we’d done, because then the same thing that happened to Lucia might happen to my parents, or Shasta—my horse.”

  I felt a spurt of rage when she mentioned the horse, even though this wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a thing. Abusers often threatened to injure family members and pets in order to control a victim. They know that children worry more about loved ones than they do their own personal safety, and that pets are often as beloved as any human family member.

  “What else did he say?” I asked, having a hard time keeping my voice steady.

  Becca shrugged, picking at the bandage I’d affixed to her wound, attempting to peel it up from one side where the adhesive had come loose. “Just that he knew where I lived. He said it would be a shame if one day when my dad was driving to work, or my mom to the store, and their brakes didn’t work, and one of them had a terrible accident—”

  I reached out and laid a hand across her fingers, stilling them before she could tear the bandage off completely, revealing the gouge marks she’d created earlier in the week.

  “It’s all right, Becca,” I said, as gently as I could. “I completely understand why you didn’t tell anyone.”

  “I should have.” Her voice was small. “If I had, Lucia would still be alive today.”

  “Maybe,” I said, holding her hands more tightly. “Or maybe you’d both be dead.”

  “That might be better,” she said matter-of-factly, looking down at the bandage. “That might be better than this.”

  “No.” I held firmly to her hands, thinking of the shadows in Jesse’s eyes. “It wouldn’t. Trust me.”

  “I’m a coward.” The tears fell again, hot and fast, dropping onto our clasped hands. “A stupid, weak coward. I made my parents sell Shasta. I told them I didn’t like horses anymore, which isn’t even true. I love them. I just . . . I thought Shasta would be safer living somewhere else. I even . . . this is going to sound crazy, but I still think I see him sometimes downtown, you know? I barely remember what he looks like, but I still think I see him, everywhere I go. And you know what I do when I think I see him? I hide. Even if it’s just behind a wall or a parked car. I’m so stupid!”

  She tried to laugh at herself, but there was a sob in her voice. My heart wrenched for her as I remembered the word she’d carved in her arm.

  “You’re not stupid, Becca,” I said. “You were a little kid who was traumatized and then did your best, given your limited resources, to protect yourself and the people you love.” I gently squeezed both her hands until, finding them finally still, I released them. “What I don’t understand, Becca, is if you kept thinking you saw him, why did you stay? Why didn’t you move away to New York with your mother, where you’d be safe?”

 
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