Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
These were the thoughts with which I was torturing myself when I realized I was not alone in my room.
I knew who it was before I opened my eyes.
I rose up on one elbow and stared at her. Even though I’d sensed her presence, my heart was still thumping.
“You can’t keep doing this,” I said. “You’re going to give me a heart attack.”
Lucia didn’t reply. She just stood there at the side of the bed, a soft aura glowing all around her, looking at me with those huge dark eyes. She wore the same somber expression she always wore, her mouth the same pink rosebud of disapproval.
What had I done wrong now? Maybe she didn’t like that I slept in the same room as a rat, or in an old black tank top and yoga shorts.
Or maybe she didn’t like that I hadn’t tried very hard to keep her murderer from offing himself. He was never going to get his day in court. At least, no court on planet Earth.
“How did you even get in here?” I looked around. She shouldn’t have been able to enter my apartment, the place was so barricaded against evil spirits, between the salt and the house blessings and the crosses and the mezuzahs.
On the other hand, Lucia wasn’t exactly evil.
“What can I do for you, Lucia?” I asked her. Talking to this kid was like talking to the stuffed animal she clutched in her hands, she was so unresponsive. “Is it about Jimmy? Er . . .”
I realized, belatedly, that only Becca had ever called Lucia’s killer by his name, and even she didn’t like to. Lucia herself had been too traumatized by what he’d done to her ever to mention him by anything other than “he.”
“Is it about the, um, bad man?”
I sat up in bed, careful to move slowly so as not to alarm her. There was no sound in the room except my voice, and the gentle grunts of Romeo, who’d woken and immediately begun cleaning himself in his cage.
“Because he’s gone, Lucia.” This seemed a fitting euphemism for what had happened to Delgado. Gone. He was gone. “I found him and made sure that he’ll never hurt you, or Becca, or anyone else ever again.”
Lucia only continued to stare at me in silence, her eyes gleaming as luminously as the rest of her. I couldn’t read her expression. Was she apprehensive, or reproachful?
“Tomorrow I plan on taking care of the priest who hurt Becca, too. Okay?” My voice broke a little. “Not in the same way as Jimmy, but . . . he’ll never be able to hurt anyone either. I’m sorry things got so messed up, and that they took such a long time to fix. Not that they’ll ever really be fixed, but . . . well, you know. This was a tough one, Lucia. This one was really hard.”
I reached up to move some hair from my eyes and found, when my fingers came away wet, that I was crying. Me, who never cried.
All the signs were there. My cheeks were damp. My throat had closed up. My eyes stung.
This wasn’t allergies. I was crying. Crying for Lucia.
For Lucia, or for Becca, or for me? Maybe for the triplets, too, and a little bit for Jesse. Crying for all of us.
Lucia only continued to stare at me owlishly.
I reached for my cell phone, which I kept on the nightstand, and scrolled through the photos I’d stored on there.
“Look, Lucia. I found your family. They’ve moved away from here, but not too far. They have a vineyard north of San Francisco. It looks really nice. They don’t have horses, but they have llamas. See, here’s a picture.” I held the screen on my phone toward her so that she could see. The glow lit up her face even more brightly than her own spectral radiance. “There’s your mother, and your father, and your brothers. And look, see here? After you died, they adopted two little girls.” This caused her to lean in closer. I finally had her attention.
“I’ve been wondering about it,” I went on. “Why did they adopt two girls? And I think the reason they had to adopt two is that one little girl wouldn’t have been enough to replace the hole in their hearts that you left behind. That’s how much they loved you.”
Lucia glanced from me to the photo then back again, her eyes wider than ever.
But I still couldn’t tell if she understood. I could hardly see anything myself, because of my tears.
How could I get through to her?
“Please, Lucia,” I said. “You just have to be patient a little bit longer, and then everything will be all right, I swear. Well, maybe not all right. Nothing will ever be all right for you, I know that. But I swear I’ll make things right for Becca. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
She did something then that shocked me, and I’ve been working with the souls of the dead for a long time. I didn’t know I could be shocked anymore.
But Lucia managed, by climbing onto the bed and crawling toward me, her arms stretched to reach around my neck.
Not to strangle me this time, though.
To hug me.
Even more shocking, I put down my phone and hugged her back, a dead seven-year-old who shouldn’t have even been in my room in the first place.
This was a violation of every ghost-mediator—and patient-therapist—protocol in the book. Lucia needed to cross over to the other side to be with the people she belonged to—the grandmother who’d claimed she’d been such a happy girl, and had since passed on herself, and was probably waiting impatiently for her granddaughter to hurry up and join her. Ensuring that this happened was my job.
But here I was, hugging her instead of letting her go, allowing her to lay her cheek—cold and smooth as marble—against mine, holding on to her as tightly as she was holding me. Her sadness, deep and dark as a grave, seeped into me . . .
Or maybe the only sorrow I felt was my own. Maybe it had been there all along, neatly boxed away. Maybe that’s what had been keeping me awake at night for so many years, but I’d never allowed myself to feel it, until the touch of that cold cheek to mine caused the box to open, and all the emotions I’d packed so tidily away in there came rushing to the surface.
“It’s okay, Lucia,” I whispered, rocking her a little. “Everything’s going to be okay. I promise.”
She pulled away from me slightly, then laid a hand upon my own cheek, which, unlike hers, was not cold and smooth as marble, but hot and wet.
“I know,” Lucia whispered back, gazing into my eyes. For the first time since I’d met her, she smiled. “That’s what I came to tell you.”
Then, in a burst of golden light that lit my room like a sun shower, she was gone.
treinta y dos
For the first time in a long time, I slept. I didn’t wake until nearly nine in the morning, when my cell phone buzzed. It was my stepbrother Jake calling.
Jake. Jesse. Jail.
“Oh, my God, how is he?” I cried, snatching up my phone. “What’s happening?”
“He’s out.” Sleepy sounded extremely pleased with himself.
“He is?” I sat bolt upright in bed. “Is he all right? Where is he? What happened? Can I speak to him?”
“All charges dismissed. See, it pays to have the very best criminal attorney on your side. Got a DUI? Call the DUI Guy. Not that that was applicable in your boy’s case, but—”
I didn’t want to burst Jake’s bubble, since I knew it wasn’t his high-powered attorney’s skills, but my slick mediating that had gotten Jesse off the hook.
“Thanks so much, Jake,” I interrupted. “I really appreciate it. I’m sure Jesse does, too. Where is he? Can I speak to him?”
“He’s right here in the car with me. I’m driving him back to the Crossing because he says you have his car? Boy, that’s good, because if Five-Oh looked inside the BMW and found all that, er, contraband, even the DUI Guy wouldn’t have been able to get him off—”
“Jake, can I speak to Jesse?” Sometimes I wondered if all of my stepbrothers, with the exception of David, had been dropped repeatedly on the head as newborns.
“Uh . . .” I heard a slight murmuring, and then Jake came back on the line. “Sorry, Suze, maybe later, all right?”
“Listen, Suze, don’t worry, nothing bad happened to him, he’s just a little worse for wear. I mean, come on, Suze.” Jake’s tone dropped to a whisper. “The guy spent the night in jail. No one wants to talk to their fiancée first thing when they get out of jail.”
“I would,” I said. I swung my legs over of the side of the bed. “I would want to talk to my fiancé first thing when I got out of jail. In fact, I thought we were going to head over to the arraignment together and I was going to serve as a character witness and—”
“Well, Suze, you know what? Sometimes there’s stuff men don’t want their lady involved in, and this is one of those things.”
“What lady? I’m not anyone’s lady. What the hell are you even talking about? And how could Jesse possibly not want me involved? I’m already involved. What happened? Did he get beat up in jail? Is there something he’s hiding? Put him on the phone right now, Jake, or I swear to God, I’ll—”
“I think it would be better if I got him home first and rested and fed and showered up,” Jake said in a more normal tone. “Then you can come over later and the two of you can talk. All righty, Suze?”
“All righty? Don’t you all righty me. Who are you, his new life coach?”
“See?” Jake was whispering again. “This is exactly why I didn’t want you down at the courthouse. You’re too emotional.”
“Emotional? Me? What about him? He’s the one who—”
“Picking up the groom from the courthouse after he’s spent the night in jail isn’t the job of the bride. It’s the job of the best man. Which is another reason why you guys should have appointed me as best man, and not groomsman. And I don’t know what’s up with this Paul guy, but do not, and I mean do not, ever bring up his name again around Jesse. Every time they mentioned it in court, this muscle in his face started twitching—”
“Don’t worry, I have no intention of mentioning Paul, not now, or ever. But listen, you’ve got to tell me. Is it me Jesse’s mad at, or just Paul? Because honest to God, Jake, if he calls off the wedding, I’m going to lose it. That dress has been hanging in my closet for so long I think it’s got more cobwebs than my vagina.”
“Uh-oh,” Jake said. “I’m starting to lose you. I think I’ve just hit an area where there’s no cell service.”
“There aren’t any of those on the way from Monterey, you moron.”
“See you later this afternoon, Suze. Bye, Suze.” Jake hung up.
I lowered my cell phone and then sat there, feeling like punching something. Lucia had said everything was going to be all right, but as far as I could tell, her prediction was about as accurate as the local weather forecaster’s. It had called for sunshine, but as usual a thick marine layer hid the “mountain” view—and just about everything else, as well—outside my windows.
Gina was already up and out of the apartment—a text she’d left on my phone said she’d gone to an audition (Carmel-by-the-Sea’s outdoor theater was always putting on musicals), then to run errands.
This was fine with me. I had plenty of errands of my own.
“What’s this?” CeeCee asked, looking at the laptop and cashbox I set down on the table between us at the Happy Medium an hour later, after I’d showered, dressed, and met her for a breakfast of grits (her) and pancakes with extra tofu bacon (me, and only because the Happy Medium is vegetarian).
“Oh,” I said, swallowing a large gulp of coffee. “Just everything you need to break the story of the decade. Well, maybe not the decade, but the year, at least. Your editor is going to love you. You could probably get a job at the San Francisco Chronicle with a story this big.”
“I don’t want to work at the Chronicle.” CeeCee opened the cashbox. It was easy to do so, since the lid was broken, and hanging sadly on its hinges. “I just want off the police beat. Geez, Suze! How much money’s in here, anyway?”
“Fifty grand. Don’t look at what’s on the thumb drives around here, or in front of anyone under eighteen.” I glanced around the café, which was bustling. It did some of its best business during the breakfast hour, which was why Gina was dying to snag the Saturday morning shift. CeeCee’s aunt had assured her she’d get her chance, but only after she’d “paid her dues” with the less busy night shifts. “It’s pretty gross.”
“Oh, yeah?” CeeCee, unfazed, was already working on deciphering the password on the laptop. “What’s up?”
“Pretty soon a guy is going to walk into the Delgado Photography Studio over on Pine and find his boss, James Delgado, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That stuff you have there was locked inside his desk. When you get a look at what’s on it, you’ll know why he chose to off himself. There are two client lists—one for his regular photos, and one for photos he was distributing illegally according to U.S. federal child exploitation laws.”
CeeCee made a face. “How charming.”
“Yeah. I think a good thing for you to say in the story you write about it—before you turn all this stuff over to the police—is that you found it in a padded envelope on your doorstep this morning. You have no idea who could have left it there, but you assume it was Jimmy himself, out of shame and remorse for all the terrible things he did. But that’s for the police to determine, of course.”
One of the many things I liked about CeeCee Webb was that she didn’t waste time asking stupid questions. Her sense of morality was well honed, but highly flexible. And she was professional to the core.
She also knew a good thing when it walked up and was presented to her at the breakfast table.
“Great,” she said, her gaze never leaving the screen in front of her, even as she occasionally reached over to consume a mouthful of grits. “No problem. One thing, though. What if they ask me for the envelope?”
“Sadly,” I said, “you threw it away, and it already got taken to the dump. How could you know it contained something so incredibly important?”
“True. So I take it, since you’re involved, this Delgado didn’t really commit suicide?”
“Oh, no, he really did. Maybe you could mention in your story how there’ve been a number of studies suggesting people like him would rather die than face the social stigma of having their crimes exposed—or quit committing them.”
“Nice line, thanks, I’ll use it.” She continued to type. “What was that other thing you mentioned you wanted to speak to me about?”
“Oh, yes. Well, considering I’m giving you this truly enormous story, I was wondering if you could stifle another one.”
Now she did look up from the screen, her violet eyes playful. “Susannah Simon, are you trying to impede the freedom of the press?”
“Absolutely. Since you write the local police beat, could I ask you not to report in it that Jesse got arrested last night for assaulting Paul Slater?”
The look in the violet eyes went from playful to gleeful.
“He did? How delish! Were you there? Did you see it? Tell me everything. Was the carnage extensive? What did Paul say to get him so angry? What in God’s name were you even doing with Paul in the first place? And why didn’t you invite me?”
“If I promise to tell you everything,” I said, “in excruciating detail, will you promise to do everything you can to make sure the whole thing stays off the Internet and out of the paper? I think it would mortify Jesse if his colleagues at the hospital found out.”
“Cross my heart.” She made a slash with her finger across the faded gray Mission Academy sweatshirt she wore. “And hope to die. Are you going to eat your tofu bacon?”
“No. It’s disgusting. Why can’t they serve turkey bacon here, at least?”
“Aunt Pru won’t allow animal by-products in her establishment. That’s soy milk you’re putting in your coffee.”
I uttered a four-letter word, nearly dropping the metal pitcher.
“Hello, girls.” Aunt Pru swooped down on our table, her many bangles jingling. “Did I hear my name?”
CeeCee slammed down the cover to Jimmy Delgado’s computer. “Good morning, Aunt Pru.”
“Busy working, I see.” She kissed the top of her niece’s head, which was turning pink beneath CeeCee’s snow-colored hair. “She’s so industrious, isn’t she, Susannah?”
“Like a busy little bee,” I said, standing up and gathering my messenger bag. “Which reminds me that I, too, have work to do, and must run.”
“Oh, how sad.” Pru looked regretful while CeeCee scowled, angry that I was escaping without having shared the tale of Jesse’s arrest. “But it all turned out the way I said it would, didn’t it?”
“What did, Prudence?” I was busy digging through my wallet for cash. I figured treating CeeCee to breakfast was the least I could do.
“With the little girl. She never meant to hurt anyone. She was only frightened, and in pain. But you helped her, didn’t you?”
I froze, staring at her, then finally managed a smile. So “the lost child” had been Lucia all along. I ought to have known. Paul Slater had never been lost a day in his life. He’d always known the exact path he was taking.
Too bad it was the wrong one.
“I think so, Pru,” I said. “Thank you. But I didn’t do it alone. I had a lot of help from my friends.”
treinta y tres
I don’t know what I was expecting when I pulled up in front of the house where Becca Walters lived. I knew the Walterses were wealthy, of course.
But I didn’t think the Walterses’s domicile would be one of the $20 million mansions on 17-Mile Drive that Jesse and I had made fun of on our way to Sacred Trinity the day before, joking that it was the kind of place Dr. and Mrs. Baracus would live in.
With the Pacific as its “private” beach, stunning oceanfront swimming pool and spa, ten bedrooms and baths, and multiple “guest cottages,” Becca’s house looked more like nearby Pebble Beach Resort than a private home.
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes