Remembrance, p.21
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       Remembrance, p.21
 

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  She blinked up at me as if astonished that anyone could ask such a silly question. “But what about my dad? He can’t leave because his company is here. So I have to stay here to make sure he’s okay.”

  Of course. Indisputable kid logic. Becca could barely take care of herself, but she still considered it her job to protect her father from the man who’d killed her friend.

  “Okay, Becca,” I said. “I get it. And I understand now why you feel as if you have to punish yourself by cutting your arm. But no more, all right? Jimmy will never be able to hurt you or anyone else ever again.”

  She raised her tear-filled gaze to my face. “Really? Why not?”

  “Because,” I said. “You’ve told me. And I’m a mediator.”

  veintidos

  In promising Becca that I was going to stop Lucia’s killer from ever hurting anyone else again, I may have been slightly overreaching.

  I know that Becca had said she thought she’d seen him around town, and there was always a slim chance she had.

  But I considered it more likely that this was a symptom of post-traumatic stress, her fight-or-flight response—and Lucia, clinging to her as always like a limpet—triggering a false alarm. Becca had probably seen someone who resembled Jimmy, and, unable to distinguish if the threat was real or perceived, her body had automatically reacted, heart rate, breathing, and stress levels rising as she’d tried to avoid him.

  Enough of these kind of encounters, false or not, and anyone would start to lose it.

  It was likely Jimmy had put as much distance between himself and the crime scene as possible in the nine years since Lucia’s death. There was approximately zero chance he was still in the area, and a less than zero chance that I was going to be able to track down where he’d gone . . . not without his last name, and a whole lot of luck.

  And I don’t believe in luck.

  It was right as I was thinking this that Becca looked up from the pile of tissues she’d massacred and squinted across the sun-bathed courtyard. “Is that Sister Ernestine?”

  I followed her gaze. The nun was standing beneath the nearest breezeway with her arms folded across her ample chest, peering at us disapprovingly . . . or more specifically, peering at the triplets, who were still busy scooping coins from the fountain, their small bodies visibly more inside it than out of it.

  Busted.

  “Oh, yes,” I said breezily, giving Sister Ernestine a casual wave. “No worries.”

  Wrong. Worries. Big, big worries.

  Becca evidently sensed my unease, since she drew her hands from mine and asked, “You aren’t going to tell her anything about this, are you?”

  “Not if you don’t want me to. But I do think you ought to tell your parents, Becca. You’ve been through something really terrible, and in some ways you’ve handled it really well, especially for someone so young—” I saw her puff up a little at the praise, like a flower soaking in the sun. The poor girl’s self-confidence was in ruins, and no wonder. She’d been living in terror for years. “But you really ought to be talking to a professional mental health counselor—”

  She gave me a horrified look. “I have talked to one! You.”

  “I’m not a professional, Becca. I’m still in graduate school. I’m just an intern here at—”

  “But you’re a mediator!”

  I glanced at Sister Ernestine. “Not so loud, okay? That’s supposed to be just between you and me. And I mediate for the undead. You’re alive, Becca.”

  “I can’t.” She shook her head. “I can’t tell anyone else. I did once before, and it . . . it turned out to be a disaster.”

  “Wait a second.” Sister Ernestine had decided my wave was a little too casual for her taste, and had begun to stride across the courtyard toward us. I wasn’t sure whom she was going to yell at first, the triplets or me. If it was the triplets, and the sister startled Lucia, she was going to be in for a big—and possibly painful—surprise. I needed to head her off at the pass before that happened, but I also needed to hear what Becca was about to say, because it sounded like vital information.

  Fortunately Sister E wasn’t in the best of shape, and waddled more than she walked. It took her approximately forever to get anywhere.

  “When I asked if you’d told anyone else about this, Becca, you said you hadn’t—”

  “I didn’t. I swore I wouldn’t. But in second grade at Sacred Trinity they had us do our first Rite of Reconciliation . . . you know, confession, in the booth, and everything? And I figured since it was anonymous, and the priest couldn’t see me, I could tell him what had happened.”

  I blinked at her. “Wait. You told a priest at Sacred Trinity about Jimmy?”

  She nodded. “I thought—well, I guess I thought confessing to a priest wouldn’t be the same as telling. They aren’t allowed to report what they hear in confession to the police, right?”

  “Right,” I said, still in shock. “The seal of the confessional is absolute.” I knew this from two years of Catholic school and eight years of hanging around a priest who happened to be my boyfriend’s confessor, and wouldn’t tell me a word they’d discussed, no matter how hard I’d wheedled. “You told this priest everything?”

  “Yes. But nothing happened the way they said it would in religion class. You know how when you’re in there, you can see the priest’s face through the little screen, but the priest isn’t supposed to be able to see you, unless you want him to?”

  I’d never been to confession, not being Catholic, but I’d seen this on TV. “Sure.”

  “Well, after I started telling him everything, he pulled away the partition, so he could see my face. And then he asked my name. They aren’t supposed to do that, are they?”

  Suddenly I didn’t notice Sister Ernestine’s progress anymore. All of my attention was focused on Becca. “No, they aren’t. What happened next?”

  “Well, then, the priest told me that I was going to burn in hell for having told so many lies, and that the only way I’d be spared was if I came to his office after school so he could personally give me lessons in faith—”

  I let out a curse word so blistering Becca wasn’t the only one I shocked.

  “Miss Simon!” Sister Ernestine was just a few yards away, her wimple fluttering behind her in the breeze. “May I please have a word with you?”

  “In a minute, Sister.” To Becca, I said, “I need the name of that priest.”

  “Not in a minute, Miss Simon. Now. Mass will be letting out momentarily and I will not condone—”

  “Becca. What was his name?”

  “Oh, why?” Becca held both fists to her mouth, looking consternated. “What does it matter? I never went to the stupid faith lessons. I was too afraid. I went home from school that day and told my parents that I hated Sacred Trinity and I’d never go back because the girls there were mean, and my parents let me transfer to—”

  Thank God. Her poor, clueless parents had done one thing right, at least. “I need the name of that priest right now, Becca.”

  “Why? Am I in trouble? Are you going to go talk to him?”

  “No, you’re not in trouble. If I talk to him, I’ll keep your name out of it. Now what was his name?”

  “Father Francisco,” Becca whispered, staring down at her lap. It was covered in the strips of tissue that she’d nervously shredded. “It was Father Francisco.”

  “Thanks.” Before I stood up, I carefully plucked Becca’s glasses from the milkweed into which she’d thrown them. In a louder tone, I said, “Well, I think that’s enough for one day, don’t you, Becca? Becca and I were just discussing The Scarlet Letter, Sister Ernestine, which she’s currently reading for English class.”

  “Were you?” Sister Ernestine asked, panting as she reached us at last. “I was unaware that we were now holding tutoring sessions in the courtyard.”

  “I think it’s a refreshing change. Studies show that exposure to nature helps people feel more energized, which heightens their sense of well-
being and causes them to retain more information.”

  “That may well be true.” Sister Ernestine stared at Becca with the same laserlike intensity I’d often seen Romeo focus on a piece of fruit I was holding in front of him. “But it won’t be good for Miss Walters’s well-being if she falls behind on her studies, and the bell for second period has rung, so I think she’d better return to class.”

  “Oh, yes, of course. It was nice talking to you, Becca. Remember everything I said. You really should think about having a chat with your dad. And maybe your stepmom, too. She’s not so bad.” I wasn’t sure about that last part, of course, but it seemed like a therapeutic thing to say.

  Becca eyed me skeptically as she gathered up her things. “Okay. Maybe I will. Thanks, Ms. Simon.”

  “Don’t forget these.” I held out her glasses.

  “That’s okay,” she said. “I don’t need them.” She didn’t add the word anymore, but it hung in the air like one of the many gold-and-black-winged monarch butterflies, tantalizingly close.

  She turned and walked away. I’m sure it was only my imagination that she seemed to be standing a little taller than before.

  If so, it was probably only temporary. She’d been through so much. She’d never “get over it,” an expression some patients liked to cling to like a life raft. When am I going to get over this crippling sense of guilt I have that I’m responsible for my best friend’s murder, Doctor? There would be no getting over what Becca had been through. “Moving on” was what Dr. Jo like to call it.

  Which was funny because it’s what we mediators called it, too.

  “What,” Sister Ernestine said, speaking out of the corner of her mouth so that if Becca looked back at us, we wouldn’t appear to speaking about her, “was that about?”

  “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” This, at least, was the truth. “If I could tell you, which I can’t. She thinks of me as her guidance counselor. So I have a professional obligation to keep everything she told me confidential.”

  “Hmmm,” Sister Ernestine said as she continued to observe Becca’s progress across the courtyard. “Are you aware of your professional obligation to keep from cursing at and threatening our students and faculty, Miss Simon? Because Ms. Temple has filed a formal complaint against you for doing so. Apparently you terrified her first-period geometry class earlier today.”

  I swallowed. “I’m also aware there’s an exception to the rule of student–guidance counselor confidentiality: when the counselor becomes aware of a situation that might put other students at risk.”

  Sister Ernestine’s pale gray eyebrows rose. “Other students? What other students? Please tell me this doesn’t involve Sean Park. I know he and Becca Walters are lab partners in chemistry class. That boy is far too intelligent for his own good. I knew he was up to something. Miss Simon, we can’t afford this kind of thing, not now with what happened yesterday to Father Dominic at that girl’s house. Her father is a major donor.”

  “No, Sister. It doesn’t involve Sean Park, or this school, at all. How well do you know Father Francisco over at Sacred Trinity?”

  I had no idea what Sister Ernestine did in her personal time, but I hoped it wasn’t playing cards, because she had the worst poker face I’d ever seen. The second I said the name, her mouth twisted as if she’d just bit into the foulest tasting thing she’d ever had the misfortune to eat.

  I should have known. Even Sister Ernestine had a him. Maybe every single woman in the world has a him. Men, too. I’d had the misfortune of meeting Jesse’s him once.

  “Wow,” I said. “That bad, huh?”

  She immediately assumed a more neutral expression. “So you weren’t out here discussing books with Miss Walters after all.”

  “No. So, Father Francisco? What have you heard?”

  Sister Ernestine looked prim. “I will not discuss my personal feelings regarding a fellow educator with an intern. Especially when three of my own students are knee-deep in the waters of a fountain that’s been preserved since the 1700s—”

  I glanced at the girls. “They’re having the time of their life.”

  “It’s the fountain I’m worried about, Miss Simon, not your nieces.”

  “Look, Sister, I’m sorry about that,” I said, trotting to keep up with her as she began striding toward the fountain. When she wanted to, the sister could really motor. “But Becca’s having a really difficult time right now. She’s never told anyone, including her parents, what she just told me. I’m hoping she’s going to choose to come forward with the story herself. But in case she doesn’t, I’m going to need time to gather information before I can file a report.”

  “Report?” The nun glanced at me sharply. “Against Father Francisco?”

  “Well, he’s definitely involved. I was thinking I should go poke around over at Sacred Trinity to get more information . . . but please don’t worry,” I added hastily. “I won’t say I’m affiliated in any way with the Mission Academy. I’ll probably need the rest of the afternoon off, though.”

  To my surprise, Sister Ernestine said, “Of course,” as casually as if I’d asked to borrow a pen.

  I was so shocked I was rendered momentarily speechless. The nun used the opportunity to continue briskly, “But kindly remember that failure to report a known act of child abuse within thirty-six hours after you’ve become aware of it can result in a fine, six months in jail, or both. That’s California State Penal Code. So if that girl did say something about Father Francisco—or whoever—you’re obligated to report it. Just because the man’s good looking—and a priest—doesn’t mean we’ll be doing any covering up for him. I’m in charge now that Father Dominic is in the hospital, and what I say goes.”

  And with that extremely startling statement, she turned to shout, with impressive force, “You, there! Emily, Emma, and Elizabeth Ackerman! Get out of that fountain right this instant.”

  The girls scrambled immediately from the fountain. I didn’t blame them. I knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of the sister’s whiplike commands.

  What I wasn’t so familiar with was what it was like to be her ally. But that’s what I was, suddenly. And I had no idea why.

  But I liked it.

  “Sister,” I said. “Thank you. And you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll take care of this thing with Father Francisco, whatever it—”

  “Yes, you will. If I come back out here in five minutes and see any of you in this courtyard,” Sister Ernestine bellowed as she stalked away, “there will be no recess for any of you for the rest of the day. Is that understood?”

  Wow. Nuns are tough. But maybe they have to be.

  The girls, terrified, were scrambling to put on their shoes and socks. Lucia, who hadn’t bothered to remove her riding boots, glanced around for Becca. Not seeing her, she began to look upset . . . until she saw me, and also that Sister Ernestine was moving away, back toward the building in which the classrooms were held. Lucia raced toward me.

  “Are you and Becca done talking?” she asked when she’d reached me.

  “Um,” I said, looking after Sister Ernestine. “We are. It was a good chat. Becca told me how you died.”

  I waited to see what kind of reaction it would have on her, but aside from a slight tightening of the already small mouth, there was none. I felt it was all right to go on.

  “I’m going to try to find the man who hurt you, Lucia. I know you don’t want him to hurt Becca or anyone else. Do you have any idea where he is?”

  Lucia thought about it. Finally she said, “In the woods. He threw me down into that creek. I hurt my head.” She blinked accusatorily at me. “He’s probably still in the woods if someone would just go look.”

  If someone would just go look. Ghosts—especially if they were young when they died—often became confused about time, believing everything came to a standstill after their deaths. To Lucia, Becca would always be seven, and her killer was still at the place where she’d died, murdering her
over and over again.

  This was no way to exist.

  But this was what Paul thought Jesse should be condemned to, for no other crime than that Jesse was keeping Paul from getting what he wanted—me.

  “Okay, Lucia,” I said. “Thanks. I’m going to go find Jimmy, and see that he never bothers Becca again. Okay?”

  I had no way of knowing this was true. I only hoped it was.

  Lucia seemed to accept my assurance. She nodded solemnly. Her only focus, after all, was Becca. And, for whatever reason, the parentage of my stepnieces.

  “Here.” Mopsy deposited a large handful of sopping-wet coins into my hands, which I’d stupidly held out when she said here. “I’d say that’s about forty-five dollars.”

  “It’s not. One of you please take these away from me, they’re really disgusting.”

  “Two hundred dollars?” Flopsy asked, cupping her hands so that I could transfer the coins to them.

  “No,” I said. “Not even close.”

  “Three hundred million dollars!” yelled Cotton-tail.

  “No. Please stop shouting.”

  “It’s seven dollars and sixty-five cents,” said Lucia. “I counted already.”

  “Fine. Now go put them back. Later I’ll give you seven dollars and sixty-five cents—if you can figure out how to divide it up among yourselves, which I sincerely doubt.”

  The sisters groaned, but I overheard them grudgingly agree it was the right thing to do as Lucia steered them back toward the fountain. “Because,” the little ghost reminded them sternly, “it’s a sin to steal people’s wishes.”

  It was a sin to steal their lives, too. And I was determined to make sure that whoever had stolen hers paid for it.

  veintitres

  “I don’t see why you won’t allow me to beat a confession out of the priest,” Jesse said. We were in his car waiting in line at the visitor entrance to 17-Mile Drive. “It would be faster.”

 
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