Remembrance, p.27
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       Remembrance, p.27
 

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  “Sleeping pills? That’s a new low, even for you, Simon.” He reached into his jacket pocket for his own cell phone. “I should have known you never had any intention of holding up your end of the bargain. I’m texting Blumenthal to go ahead with the demo on Monday.”

  This caused Jesse to pause while making his call. “There that word is again. Bargain. What bargain?”

  “Um,” I said, my panic rising to new heights. “Nothing. Just—”

  “Oh, ho.” Paul grinned as he continued to tap into his phone. “Awkward. Sorry, Simon. But a deal is a deal. And by attempting to drug me into a stupor, you just voided ours.”

  Jesse’s dark gaze burned into me. “Susannah. What is he talking about?”

  Before I could say a word, Paul went on, “Oh, don’t be too hard on her, de Silva. You should be impressed, as a matter of fact. It’s hard to find women as loyal as this one these days—at least ones who aren’t interested only in your money, which wouldn’t be a problem for you, I know, but for me, I—”

  “Okay, that is enough.”

  I stood up, throwing my balled up napkin to the side of my newly delivered bowl of black truffle risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano, which at this point I had no interest even in trying.

  “Come on, Jesse,” I said. “We don’t have to sit here and listen to this. Let’s go.”

  But Jesse stayed where he was.

  “No,” he said. His eyes were as dark as Paul’s were light—but even darker than usual, since I saw the now-familiar shadows creeping in. “I’m interested to hear about this bargain.”

  I began to feel afraid, despite the string quartet playing lightly in the background.

  “Jesse, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s . . . he’s on drugs, remember?”

  Paul took a deliberate swig from the whiskey bottle. “Sweetheart, I’ve got news for you. I pop pills like candy. How do you think I maintain my extremely unhealthy lifestyle while looking so good? A few sleeping pills mixed into my hooch aren’t going to bother me in the least because I took four dexies before we left the bar. Anyway, what the two of you have together is really sweet, and I’m envious, especially since you both have to know by now it’s going to end.”

  “And how is that?” Jesse asked.

  “Well, there are no documented cases that I know of human and reanimated corpse copulation, but I think it’s likely such a thing would fly in the face of all physical and natural law. If you ask me, that’s what’s probably going to unleash whatever demonic entities reside within the good doctor here. But what do I know? I’m no expert. I guess we’ll find out Monday, won’t we? Oh, that’s the bargain we had, de Silva. Your girlfriend was going to let me bang her if I didn’t tear down her old house. But now that deal is off. So good luck not slaughtering the bride.”

  veintinueve

  “Jesse.”

  He didn’t respond. Instead he rose from his chair and swept wordlessly past me—but not, as I initially feared, to lift Paul Slater from his chair and hurl him through the nearby plateglass windows.

  To my surprise, Jesse walked right past Paul—who’d shrunk in his seat, clearly expecting some kind of blow—then out of the restaurant, never once looking back, though I called his name again. The last I saw of him, he was disappearing out the front door, his broad-shouldered back stiff as a soldier’s at attention.

  “Ouch,” Paul said, straightening in his chair. He reached for his whiskey bottle. “That must have smarted, Simon.”

  “Shut up, Paul.” I lowered myself into the nearest seat. Even if I’d wanted to go running after Jesse—and I didn’t see what that would accomplish—I wasn’t sure my legs could support me. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

  “Oh, please.” Paul poured pinot noir from a new bottle into one of the many glasses in front of my plate. “If you two really had such a great relationship, he’d have stuck around, no matter what I said.”

  I gave him a sour look. “He left to keep himself from killing you.”

  Paul laughed. “Probably. I bet he’s waiting out in the parking lot for you, faithful dog that he is. Woof, woof.”

  “You’re disgusting.” But I hoped he was right.

  “May I make a suggestion? Leave here with me on my jet. That guy is going to go full Satan’s spawn on Monday, especially now, seeing how much you’ve pissed him off. And as much as you’ve annoyed me, too, Simon, with your behavior tonight, I really would hate to see you die. I dislike seeing beautiful things go to waste. Which reminds me, before we go, help me finish this wine. It’s twelve hundred dollars a bottle.”

  That child is lost, and very frightened, and in so much pain, Aunt Pru had said. And lost children in pain can sometimes be very cruel. They lash out and hurt others, sometimes without meaning to. But sometimes on purpose, too.

  Maybe she really had meant Paul, and not Lucia.

  “Paul,” I said, ignoring the wine and reaching into my bag. “Do you recognize this photo?”

  Paul glanced briefly at the screen saver on my cell phone, then shrugged.

  “Sure. You showed it to the dirtbag earlier. Why?”

  “They’re my stepnieces.” I scrolled through the photos of the triplets on my phone, giving him a brief slide show. “Brad and Debbie Ackerman’s triplets. Only you knew her as Debbie Mancuso, of course.”

  “That’s fascinating, Suze. How come you’re not trying the wine? You really shouldn’t miss it. It’s got some nice earthy undertones.”

  “Brad and Debbie’s daughters are mediators, Paul,” I said. “That’s why I’m showing you their photos. Do you know how rare that is? That there should be so many mediators in the Monterey Bay area? Think about it. There’s you, Paul. And your little brother, Jack. And Father Dom, of course. And now Jesse. And then Debbie Mancuso’s triplets, which she conceived very shortly after graduation night.”

  Paul had taken a sip of the twelve-hundred-dollar wine he’d ordered. But when I said the words graduation night, he choked. He managed to get everything down except a little trickle that dribbled out of the side of his mouth. He wiped it away with his napkin, glancing down to make sure none had gotten on his precious suit.

  “Really?” he asked. “Like I said, fascinating. But why are you telling me all this? I’m not a huge fan of kids. I’d rather talk about us.”

  “This has to do with us,” I said, resting my elbow on the table and my chin in my hand as I regarded him closely. “You, me, and Jesse, and what’s going to happen on Monday if you tear down my house. If that curse is real, and Jesse does start going after everyone he loves, that’s going to include those kids. Those kids who see ghosts. How do you think Debbie Mancuso ended up with triplets who see ghosts? Especially since she’s never shown any sign of being a mediator, and neither, as we all know, has my stepbrother Brad. I was hoping you could shed some light on the matter.”

  “Me?” Paul pointed at himself, his eyebrows raised as high as they would go. “What would I know about it? I don’t know anything about kids.”

  “To my knowledge, lack of information about children has never medically impeded anyone from having them.”

  “Look, I know what you’re getting at, Simon, but they can’t be mine,” Paul declared. “I don’t care what Debbie’s been telling you. I have never not used a condom in my life, and for very good reason. Do you have any idea how much I’m worth? Do you think I’m not fully aware that there are desperate women all over this country who’d love to trap me into fathering some snot-nosed brat so I’ll be paying them gold ducats until the kid is eighteen? No, thank you.”

  “Paul, please,” I said, looking around at all the diners who were now staring at him. “No one is trying to trap you into paying anything, particularly not Debbie. She’s never said a word about this to me—”

  “I should hope not!” He pointed at me. “I am a very, very careful guy.”

  “Paul, I don’t like this any more than you do. I love those girls, and I would give anything fo
r Brad to be their father. He is their real father, in my opinion. But not genetically. You yourself admitted to me that you weren’t too careful graduation night. You said you barely remembered what happened. You used your drunkenness, in fact, as an excuse for what you did to me. But you weren’t too drunk,” I went on, “to remember that later on that evening, Debbie Mancuso, and I quote, straddled me like she thought I was a damned gigolo, unquote.”

  Paul dropped his head into his hands. “Oh, hell. Fine. One time. I may have forgotten to use a rubber one time. But how could she have gotten knocked up with three kids from one time?”

  “Teens and women over the age of thirty-five are more likely to give birth to twins and triplets than women aged twenty to thirty-five.” When he stared at me in disbelief, I shrugged. “It’s called science. Look it up.”

  “Well, if you think you’re getting a cheek swab out of me for a paternity test, you’re—”

  I leaned forward and lifted the wineglass from which Paul had been drinking. I poured its remaining contents into the floral centerpiece, then wrapped the glass loosely in my napkin and tucked both glass and napkin into my bag.

  “They can lift DNA for paternity suits from all sorts of things these days, Paul,” I explained. “It costs a bit more, and takes a bit longer, but they can do it.”

  Paul looked as if he was about to have a coronary. “You can’t . . . I’ll . . . My lawyers will . . .”

  “No, they won’t. Because the test’s going to come back positive. Those girls are your daughters, and they’re already starting to need special care. They can’t tell the dead from the living.”

  “What do you want from me, Suze?” he asked, spreading his hands wide, palms up. “I think it’s pretty clear I’m not going to be any help to them. I’m not mediator material.”

  “No, you aren’t. Fortunately they have a doting aunt who’ll help teach them those skills, now that I know that’s what they are.”

  He looked relieved. “Fine. No problem. You did a great job with my kid brother, Jack. He doesn’t even speak to me, but whatever. So what do they need, then? Money?”

  “No. They already have parents—and grandparents—who love them and will provide all they need in that department . . . for now. But you still need to step up. I don’t think it’s ever occurred to Debbie that you’re the father of her children, or if it has, she’s never seriously considered pursuing it. But she may now that you’ve been going around buying up property all over Carmel. Things aren’t going so well between Brad and Debbie. A chunk out of your wallet would probably go a long way toward helping her with some of the stress of raising rambunctious five-year-old triplets who see dead people. Then suddenly you’ll be saddled with them. And with Debbie, of course. Maybe I should mention to her that—”

  He blanched. “You’re bluffing. Brad’s only your stepbrother, and you know he’s a chump, but you still love him. You’d never put him through something like that.”

  “Wouldn’t I? I’m not so sure. Maybe he has a right to know. And I’m sure Debbie Mancuso’s father, the Mercedes King of Carmel, would be delighted to find out his granddaughters are yours and not Brad Ackerman’s—”

  “Fine, Simon. I get it, okay? If you promise not to tell anyone about me possibly being the father of those kids, I won’t tear down 99 Pine Crest Road.”

  “Oh,” I said. “You’re definitely not tearing down 99 Pine Crest Road. Do you want to know why? Because you’re giving it to me.”

  treinta

  Paul was right about one thing. Jesse was waiting for me outside the restaurant.

  I almost walked right past him . . . not because I wasn’t expecting to see him. I was. Or at least, I’d hoped he’d be there . . . but because when I noticed the dark figure standing in the shadows of the porte cochere, there was a red glow coming from its mouth.

  “Jesse?” I nearly dropped my bag in astonishment. “Are you smoking?”

  “Susannah.” He leaned forward to stamp out the cigarette in one of the fairy-lit planters. “I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”

  “We decided to skip dessert. Well, I decided to. Since when do you smoke?”

  He shrugged, looking embarrassed. “I don’t. Well, I do, obviously, sometimes. But not often. It sets a bad example for the patients.”

  “Now who’s been keeping secrets?”

  I studied him in the dim lighting. It was late, and so cold out the valets had gone inside to keep warm. We were alone in the cool night air. Now that he’d put out the cigarette, he had his hands shoved into his jacket pockets to keep warm, and was regarding me with a look I could only describe as wary.

  “Well?” he asked, finally. “Where is he?”

  “He’s paying his four-thousand-dollar dinner bill,” I said. “We’re leaving. Here.”

  He looked down at the decorative plastic sack I held toward him as if it might contain explosives. “What is that?”

  “It’s a homemade banana nut muffin. Mariner’s makes them for all its dinner guests. You’re supposed to have it for breakfast tomorrow. You left without yours.”

  His mouth twisted into a grimace. “That’s all right. You can have mine.”

  “What’s the matter, Jesse?” I asked lightly, dropping the muffin into my bag. “Don’t you care to remember your dining experience at Mariner’s?”

  “I do not.”

  “I don’t particularly want to remember it, either.” I held out my hand. “I’m sorry.”

  For a few agonizing heartbeats, we stood there beneath the porte cochere, my hand stretched toward him across the red carpet. There was no sound except for the waves crashing against the beach a few dozen yards below.

  What was happening? Was he going to just let me stand there forever with my hand out? Did he have any idea how hard it was for someone like me to apologize?

  He did. Finally he lifted one of those hands from his pockets and wrapped his strong fingers around mine.

  “You have nothing to be sorry for, Susannah,” he said, his voice as warmly reassuring as his hand. “None of this was your fault. It was his.”

  “Thanks, Jesse. You still should have had heard about it from me, though. I wanted to tell you, I was just—”

  “Afraid I’d get angry,” Jesse said. “Yes, I know. But I should have trusted you, as well. Let’s just say we both made mistakes—not only tonight—and leave it at that.” He’d begun steering me toward Jake’s BMW, which I saw parked a dozen feet away. “Susannah, do you actually believe it?”

  “What?”

  “This curse. That—”

  “Of course not,” I interrupted. “I don’t believe there’s a murderous bone in your body . . . toward anyone but Paul, any-way. But even if it’s true, we don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

  “What?” He looked startled. “David said there was no way to break the curse. He said he’d been looking into it with some friend who—”

  “It doesn’t matter. Ninety-nine Pine Crest Road isn’t getting torn down.”

  His voice didn’t sound so warm anymore all of a sudden. “Why?”

  “Because I own it.”

  We’d reached Jake’s car, but Jesse didn’t move to pull the keys from his pocket. He did drop my hand, however. “You own it? How do you own it?”

  “Well, I don’t own it quite yet,” I explained. “There’s still some paperwork I’ll have to sign. And apparently there are going to be some tax issues. I suspect I’ll get slammed pretty hard. But Paul’s going to sign the house over to me in exchange for my never revealing that he’s the triplets’ real father, and for my giving them mediator lessons there when they’re older.”

  Jesse stared down at me in silence for several beats. It was a little hard to see his face, since the lighting in the parking lot wasn’t that great and the moon was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. But I had the impression that he wasn’t too happy.

  This was confirmed when he let out a blistering curse (in Spanish, of course), and said
, finally, “You’re the one who is possessed.”

  “What?” I stared up at him. “What are you talking about?”

  “Everyone is so worried that I have a dark side? You’re the one I think we should be worrying about.”

  “Oh, come on, Jesse. You want us to be honest with each other? Then let’s be honest. You had to have suspected.”

  “No, Susannah, the possibility of Paul Slater being your nieces’ father never entered my mind, and I’m wondering how you knew.”

  “Because Lucia told me,” I said, before I could think.

  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I saw in his eyes the betrayal I’d inflicted. But it was too late to undo the damage.

  “Lucia told you?” Jesse looked as if he’d been slapped. “And you never said a word to me?”

  I backpedaled at once.

  “I wasn’t going to say a word to anyone,” I insisted. “It seemed like the kind of thing that ought to be kept a secret—”

  “From me? We’re supposed to be getting married!”

  “What do you mean, supposed to be?” My heart twisted. “Jesse, I can understand you being angry with me, but don’t you think it’s a little extreme to get this angry—”

  “I’m not angry with you, Susannah.” He dragged a hand frustratedly through his thick dark hair. “I . . . I don’t know what I am.”

  “Use your words.” It was a phrase we’d employed frequently with the triplets.

  “Fine.” He glared at me. “I’m disappointed.”

  “Disappointed?”

  I don’t think he could have chosen a word that hurt more. Lord knew Jesse and I had argued in the past, but he’d never before trotted out that particular weapon from his arsenal. It pierced my heart like the blade of a stiletto, the pain causing in me a wild desire to hurt him back.

  “Are you kidding me? Oh, excuse me, Dr. de Silva. I didn’t mean to disappoint you. God knows I’ll never be as elegant a lady as your precious Miss Boyd. I thought I was doing you a favor tonight—”

  “I’ve told you before I don’t want favors from you, Susannah,” he snarled. “I’ve never expected any and I’ve never asked for any. All I’ve ever wanted from you is the truth.”

 
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