Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
Or, worse, that there was still a part of it inside him.
If what the Book of the Dead said was true, and Paul really did tear down 99 Pine Crest Road, there was no telling what that destruction might unleash.
And it didn’t seem likely we could count on yet another miracle to save us. A person is only given so many miracles in a lifetime, and it felt like Jesse and I had received more than our fair share.
If miracles even exist. Which I’m not saying they do.
As if he’d once again sensed what I was thinking, Paul chuckled. “See what I mean, Simon? You can take the boy out of the darkness, but you can’t take the darkness out of the boy.”
“Fine,” I said. “What do you want from me, exactly, in order to keep you from tearing down my house and releasing the Curse of the Papyrus, or whatever it is? Forgiveness? Great. I forgive you. Will you go now and leave me alone?”
“No, but thanks for the offer,” Paul said, smooth as silk. “And it’s called the Curse of the Dead. There’s no such thing as the Curse of the Papyrus. Curses are written on papyrus. They’re not—”
“Just tell me what you want, Paul.”
“I told you what I want. Another chance.”
“You’re going to have to elaborate. Another chance at what?”
“You. One night. If I can’t win you over from de Silva in one night, I’m not worthy of the name Slater.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
If I hadn’t felt so sick to my stomach, I’d have laughed. I tried not to let my conflicting feelings—scorn, fear, confusion—show in my voice. Paul fed off feelings the way black holes fed off stars.
“I’m not, actually,” he said. “I told you, it’s never a good idea to joke when the forces of evil are involved.”
“Paul. First of all, you can’t win back something you never had.”
“Suze, where is this coming from? I really thought you and I had something once. Are you honestly trying to tell me it was all in my head? Because I’ve had a lot of time to think it over, and I have to say, I don’t agree.”
“Second of all, I’m engaged. That means I’m off the market. And even if I wasn’t, threatening to tear down a multimillion-dollar house and release some kind of evil spirit that may or may not live inside my boyfriend is beneath even—”
He cut me off. “What do I care if you’re engaged? If Hector doesn’t put enough value on your relationship to bother consummating it”—Paul put an unpleasantly rolled trill on the second syllable of Jesse’s given name—“which I know he doesn’t, you’re still fair game as far as I’m concerned.”
“Wait.” I could hardly believe my ears. “That isn’t fair. Jesse’s Roman Catholic. Those are his beliefs.”
“And you and I are non-believers,” Paul pointed out. “So I don’t understand why you’d want to be with a guy who believes that—”
“I never said I was a non-believer. I believe in facts. And the fact is, I want to be with Jesse because he makes me feel like a better person than I suspect I actually am.”
There was a momentary silence from the other end of the phone. For a second or two I thought I might actually have gotten through to him, made him see that what he was doing was wrong. Paul did have some goodness in him—I knew, because I’d seen it in action once or twice. Even complete monsters can have one or two likable characteristics. Hitler liked dogs, for instance.
But unfortunately the good part of Paul was buried beneath so much narcissism and greed, it hardly ever got a chance to show itself, and now was no exception.
“Wow, Simon, that was a real Hallmark moment,” he snarked. “You know I could make you feel good—”
“Well, you’ve gotten off to an excellent start by threatening to turn my fiancé into a demon.”
“Don’t shoot the messenger, baby. I’m not the bad guy here. If I weren’t the one tearing down your house, it was going to be some other filthy-rich real-estate developer.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“What the hell, Simon? You should be grateful to me. I’m trying to do you a solid. Where is all this hostility coming from?”
“This is bullshit.” Now Paul sounded pissed off. “Why should I have to respect some other guy’s beliefs? It’s called free enterprise. Since when can’t a man try to win something that’s still on the open market?”
“Did we just travel back through time again to the year 1850? Are women something you believe you can actually own?”
“Funny. I’ll give you that, you’ve always been funny, Simon. That’s the thing I’ve always liked best about you. Well, that, and your ass. You still have a great ass, don’t you? I tried to look up photos of you on social media, but you keep a surprisingly low profile. Oh, shit, wait, never mind. You’re a feminist, right? You probably think that ass remark was sexist.”
“That’s what you’re worried about? That I’m going to think you’re sexist? Not that I’m going to report you to the cops for trying to blackmail me into going out with you?”
“I’m afraid you’re going to find any wrongdoing on my part a little difficult to prove to the cops, Suze, even if you’ve been recording this phone call, which I’m guessing you only thought of doing just now. No monetary sums have been mentioned, and even if you call it coercion, I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a hard time explaining to the cops exactly how my tearing down a property I legally own is threatening you. Though if you mention the stuff about the ancient Egyptian funerary texts, it will probably give the po-po a good laugh.”
Unfortunately, he was right. That was the part that burned the most. Until he added, “Oh, and I’m going to expect a little more than you merely going out with me. Not to be crude, but virtue is hardly something I value. Unlike Hector, I’m not particularly marriage minded. But I guess being married to you might be fun . . . like being a storm chaser. You’d never know what to expect from day to day. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, our date—it will definitely have to include physical intimacy. Otherwise, how else will I be able to show you I’ve changed?”
I was so stunned, I was temporarily unable to form a reply, even a four-letter one, which for me was unusual.
“Don’t worry,” he said soothingly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve touched Goldschläger. I’ve vastly improved my technique. I won’t throw you against another wall.”
“Wow,” I said, when I could finally bring myself to speak. “What happened to you? When did you become so hard up for female company that you had to resort to sextortion? Have you ever thought of trying Tinder?”
He laughed. “Good one! See, I’ve missed this. I’ve missed us.”
“There was never any us, you perv. What happened between you and Kelly, anyway?”
“Kelly?” Paul hooted some more. “Kelly Prescott? I guess you haven’t been reading the online alumni newsletters, either.”
“No,” I admitted guiltily. The guilt was only because my best friend, CeeCee, wrote the newsletter for our graduating class, and I paid no attention to it.
“Well, let’s just say Kelly and I weren’t exactly meant for each other—not like you and me. But don’t worry about old Kel. She’s rebounded with some guy twice her age, but with twice as much money as I have—which is saying a lot, because as I mentioned, I’m flush. Kelly Prescott became Mrs. Kelly . . . Walters, I think is what it said on the announcement. She had some huge reception at the Pebble Beach resort. What, you weren’t invited?”
“I don’t recall. My social calendar’s pretty full these days.”
I was lying, of course. I’d been invited to Kelly’s wedding, but only because I’m related through marriage to her best friend Debbie, who’d been the maid of honor. I’d politely declined, citing a (fake) prior commitment, and no one had mentioned missing me.
Weddings aren’t really my thing, anyway. Large gatherings of the living tend to attract the attention of the undead, and I usually end up having to
My own wedding is going to be different. I’ll kick the butt of any deadhead who shows up there uninvited.
“So when are we having dinner?” Paul asked. “Or, more to the point, what comes after dinner. And I’m not talking about dessert.”
“When Jupiter aligns with planet Go Screw Yourself.”
“Aw, Suze. Your sexy pillow talk is what I’ve missed most about you. I’ll be in Carmel this weekend. I’ll text you the deets about where to meet up then. But really, it doesn’t sound like you’re taking anything I’ve just told you about the potential threat to your boyfriend’s life very seriously.”
“I do take it seriously. Seriously enough to be looking forward to seeing you as it will allow me to fulfill my long-held dream of sticking my foot up your ass.”
“You can put any body part of yours in any orifice of mine you please, Simon, so long as I get to do the same to you.”
I was so angry I suggested that he suck a piece of anatomy I technically don’t possess, since I’m female.
It was unfortunate that Sister Ernestine, the vice-principal, chose that particular moment to return from lunch.
“What did you say, Susannah?” she demanded.
“Nothing.” I hung up on Paul and stuffed my phone back into the pocket of my jeans. I was going to have to deal with him—and whether or not there was any truth to this “curse” he was talking about—at another time. “How was lunch, Sister?”
“We’ll discuss how much you owe the swear jar later, young lady. We have bigger problems at the moment.”
Did we ever. I figured that out as soon as I saw the dead girl behind her.
I’ve been seeing the souls of the dead who’ve left unfinished business on earth for as long as I can remember. I “mediated” my first ghost—mediate is what we pros call it when we help a troubled spirit cross from this world to the next, which, unless you happen to be Paul Slater, we do without charge—when I was just a toddler.
I can remember it like it was yesterday: I think that old lady ghost was more frightened of me than I was of her.
But this was the first time I’d ever seen a ghost clutching a wad of paper towels to a wound to staunch the blood flowing from it.
Forgetting to keep my cool, let alone my secret (that I see dead people), I leapt from my office desk chair, crying, “Oh, my God!”
It took me a few seconds to realize that if she was recently deceased, this girl wouldn’t still be gushing blood.
Nor would the full-bosomed, gray-haired figure of the vice-principal be steering her toward me, saying with forced cheer, “It’s all right, Becca, dear. Everything’s going to be all right. Miss Simon will get that little cut bandaged up, and this will all be straightened out.”
In that instant I knew:
This girl was very much alive.
Also that Sister Ernestine was crazy. That “little cut” on Becca’s arm didn’t look so little to me, judging from the amount of blood pumping out of it. It looked like a full-on gusher. And none of this was going to be “straightened out” anytime soon, especially since the phone in my back pocket was buzzing.
Paul was calling back, of course, to make sure I’d be showing up for our “dessert.”
“Susannah.” There wasn’t the faintest trace of cheer in Sister Ernestine’s voice when she addressed me.
This was not unusual. I’d never been one of Sister Ernestine’s favorite students back when I’d attended school here, and six years later she’d been appalled at the idea of hiring me. She had preferred the former full-time administrative assistant, Ms. Carper, but due to cutbacks, dwindling enrollment, Father Dominic’s insistence that I’d make a fine, read: free, intern, and Ms. Carper’s sudden decision to run off to India with her married Bikram Yoga instructor, the nun had had no choice.
“Where is Father Dominic?” Sister Ernestine demanded.
“He’s at that conference in San Luis Obispo,” I reminded her, my fingers hovering over the phone. Not my cell—I let Paul’s call go to voice mail—but the office phone. “He won’t be back until tonight. Sister, I really think we should call 911, don’t—”
The nun cut me off, her gaze darting to the open doorway to the guidance counselor’s office on the other side of my desk.
“Becca’s fine. Put that phone down. Where is Miss Diaz?”
“Lunch,” I said. “Ms. Diaz said she’d be back in half an hour.”
What Ms. Diaz actually said was that she was going down to Carmel Beach to “split a footlong” with Mr. Gillarte, the track coach and PE instructor, but as they were trying to keep their sizzling affair with cold cuts and one another on the down-low from the higher-ups, I obviously couldn’t mention this.
What I also couldn’t mention to Sister Ernestine was the second emergency I could now see blooming on the horizon. That’s because my initial assessment of the situation had been correct:
There was a dead girl in the room.
It just wasn’t Becca, the student Sister Ernestine had escorted into the office, who was barely managing to keep the blood flow from her left wrist under control with paper towels someone—I was guessing the good sister—had seized from one of the restrooms.
Younger than Becca by about six or eight years, the dead girl was peeping out from behind Becca’s skirt. She seemed to be trying to make herself as transparent and unnoticeable as possible.
It wasn’t working, though. Her otherworldly glow was bright enough that I could see it even with the sunlight streaming through the office’s tall, wide casement windows. It was as noticeable to me as the blood on the living girl.
No one else could see it, however. No one but me.
There wasn’t time to deal with a dead girl, though. Not when there was a living one in the same room, dripping blood down her own shirt.
I went into Ms. Diaz’s office and grabbed the first-aid kit. Since the Junípero Serra Mission Academy lacks not only a full-time (paid) administrative assistant but a school nurse, I’ve been filling in as both.
My cell phone chimed again. I knew without looking that this time it wasn’t Paul, but Jesse calling from St. Francis, the newly renovated medical center in Monterey where he’d been lucky enough to win his fellowship . . . although I sometimes wondered, in spite of Jesse’s being a brilliant medical student, how much luck had to do with it. St. Francis had at one time been a Catholic hospital, and Father Dominic’s influence over the local archdiocese is considerable.
The ringtone I’d assigned Jesse was Elton John’s oldie but still goodie “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Jesse had saved my life so many times—and I his—that it was pretty much a no-brainer that this was our song, especially given the line about butterflies being free to fly away. We’d given each other the freedom to fly away, but we’d chosen instead to stay together, despite what had seemed, at times, like insurmountable odds against us.
Now, even though Jesse and I no longer shared a mediator/non-compliant-deceased-person bond, he still always seemed to know when my life needed saving, or even when I was merely feeling uneasy . . . like because there were a couple of very distressed girls—one living, one not so much—standing in my office.
I told myself that’s why he was calling, anyway, and not because he’d sensed, from a half dozen miles away, that Paul Slater was trying to sextort me.
“Hi,” I whispered into the phone. “I can’t talk right now. Things here at work are a little crazy. Can I call you back?”
“Of course, querida.”
Simply hearing that deep, smooth tone made the tight muscles in the back of my neck loosen, my shattered nerves begin to heal. Jesse’s voice was a soothing elixir, whipped cream floating on rich steaming cocoa on a cold winter morning.
“I wanted to make sure you were all right,” he said. “I got the strangest feeling a few minutes ago that something was wrong. I’d have called then, but I was with a patient.”
What was I doing? Jesse and I were engaged. We were supposed to be completely honest with each other.
Except I couldn’t afford to be honest with Jesse. Not about one thing. Well, one person, anyway.
“Sister E brought a student in here who’s a little banged up, that’s all,” I said. “Everything else is totally copacetic.”
Don’t let him sense I’m lying, don’t let him sense I’m lying, don’t let him sense I’m lying . . .
“I see,” Jesse said. “Well, you know where you can bring her if it gets to be too much for you to handle. Not that there’s much you can’t handle, Susannah.”
Jesse’s always insisted my nickname, Suze, is too ugly and diminutive for a girl of my strength and beauty. With Jesse it’s always been Susannah or—later, when he got to know me better—querida, which means sweetheart or my darling. It still sends a thrill through me when he says it, just like when he says my name.
Let’s face it, I’m warm for the boy’s form. Which is good, since I fully intend to marry that form. I don’t care how many Egyptian curses I have to break in order to do it.
“I think I’ve got things under control for now,” I said. “I’ll call you later when I can talk more.”
“Yes, you will. Because there is very definitely something going on that you’re not telling me. Am I right, Susannah?”
“Damn, Jesse,” I said, hoping my lighthearted tone would disguise the fact that I really was unsettled by his seeing through my lie. “You may not be a ghost yourself anymore, but you sure as hell can sense when one’s around. How do you do that?”
“A ghost? Is that all? I thought at the very least you’d found out you’d won the Powerball.”
“Ha! I wish. I’d buy you that cool new PET scanner you’ve been wanting.”
I knew Jesse was only acting as if he wasn’t concerned. He’s protective by nature, and when it came to the supernatural, he’s more than simply protective. He was what we call in the counseling trade hypervigilant.
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes