Remembrance, p.30
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       Remembrance, p.30
 

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  But that illusion was shattered when I had to speak into an intercom in front of a private gate in order to enter. Even then I was worried—because for once I’d used my real name—that I wouldn’t be granted access, particularly since it was Kelly who answered.

  “Suze Simon?” she echoed. It was hard to tell if she was more surprised or annoyed.

  “Yes, hi, Kelly, it’s me.” I had to lean very far out the side of the car to reach the intercom, which was built into one of the colossal columns that flanked either side of the long driveway leading to the house.

  Of course the Walterses had named their abode. All the really chic properties along 17-Mile Drive had names. A plaque on one of the columns outside Becca’s house said it was called CASA DI WALTERS.

  It could have been worse, I guess, although I couldn’t think how.

  “I’ll only take up a few minutes of your time,” I assured Kelly. “I want to talk to you and your husband about Becca.”

  After a long pause, a buzzer finally sounded, and the massive wrought-iron gates swung open electronically. I’d been granted access to Casa di Walters. I felt like a commoner being allowed a visitation with the queen. Queen Kelly.

  I had to wander around the vast property for a while before I found them. There was no maid or even a housekeeper to greet me at the door (surprisingly), though I tried knocking and ringing the bell. I would have expected Kelly to have a maid, and also to have forced the maid to dress in one of those uniforms with a frilly white apron.

  Possibly Kelly couldn’t get Lance Arthur to go along with this plan. Or maybe they gave the maid weekends off. This seemed likelier to me than there being no maid.

  Finally I heard the familiar thwock-thwock of tennis balls being struck with racquets, and realized the family was in the backyard. The forecaster had not turned out to be wrong about the weather. The sun had burned off the morning fog, and was now causing me to boil beneath the black cashmere cardigan I’d thrown over the tank top I’d paired with jeans. Since it seemed clear my fiancé and I were on the outs—or something—I’d dressed for comfort rather than unleashing sexy inner demons. I even had on my second-best—and only—pair of butt-kicking boots.

  I found Kelly on the court enjoying an energetic game of doubles with her new husband. Up close, and dressed in tennis whites, Lance Arthur Walters looked better than he had in photos on the Internet. He actually looked sort of nice, for a bald, red-faced, middle-aged billionaire. When he noticed me, he halted the game—Kelly had seen me first, but made a point of pretending not to—and came rushing over, using a towel to wipe off some of his copious sweat.

  “Hello,” Lance Arthur beamed, his right hand outstretched. “You must be the teacher I’ve heard so much about recently from Becca.”

  Kelly trotted along behind him, her long blond ponytail swinging. She was not sweating at all. She wasn’t even glowing.

  “She’s not a teacher,” Kelly said sourly.

  “Suze Simon.” I shook Becca’s father’s hand. “I work in the administrative offices at the Mission Academy. Kelly and I were both in the same class there, actually.”

  Lance Arthur turned around to regard his young, pretty wife in surprise. “Were you? You never told me that, darling. Then you ought to have Susan over for Pilates, with your other friend. What’s her name? Oh, yes, Debbie.”

  “Debbie is my sister-in-law,” I said.

  Lance Arthur nearly keeled over in shock. “Sister-in-law? No! You don’t say! Kelly, why have I never met Susan before? Debbie’s her sister-in-law! Why, this is such a coincidence. And Becca speaks so highly of Susan.”

  Kelly stared at me with daggers in her eyes. “I didn’t know Susan was such a fan of Pilates.”

  “Oh,” I said, beginning to enjoy myself. “I love Pilates. I do it every day.”

  “Every day!” Lance Arthur had steered us toward a matching outdoor chair and table set on the side of the court that was shaded by a bright yellow sunbrella, beneath which someone—the absent maid?—had set a pitcher of freshly made lemonade and several glasses. He poured a glass for me, then one for Kelly and himself. “How tremendous. You must come take a class in our private studio, Susan. It’s really state-of-the-art, and we have a top-notch instructor, just top-notch. Debbie and Kelly simply adore Craig, don’t you, Kelly?”

  Kelly flopped down onto one of the yellow-cushioned sun loungers and said, “Oh, we do.”

  I bet Debbie and Kelly adored Craig. I bet Craig adored Kelly, too, especially during the long weeks at a stretch that Lance Arthur was out of town on business.

  “I might do that,” I said. “Thanks so much for the invitation.” The lemonade tasted amazing, not too tart, and not too sweet. There were real strawberries floating in it, too. Nothing but class for Lance Arthur. “Listen, I didn’t mean to interrupt your game. I really came here to check on Becca. I’m sure Kelly told you, Mr. Walters, that—”

  “Oh, please call me Arthur! Any friend of Kelly’s is a friend of mine, Susan.”

  “Right, Arthur. Well, as I’m sure Kelly’s told you, Becca had a little problem at school the other day, and I just wanted to follow up after Father Dominic’s unfortunate visit to see how she’s doing.”

  “Wasn’t that a terrible thing?” Walters pulled out one of the chairs and sat down at the table, looking concerned. But mostly I think he was resting from the trouncing Kelly had been giving him on the court. He was still sweating profusely, especially around the man-boob area. “When Kelly told me, I was just shocked. I hope he got the flowers we sent, and the check, too.”

  So he’d meant Father Dominic’s “accident,” not what had happened to Becca.

  “Yes, it was terrible,” I said. I didn’t join him at the table. I wanted to spend as little time in Kelly’s presence as possible. “But I was actually referring to Becca—”

  “But what about Becca?” Lance looked from my face to Kelly’s. Kelly’s was unreadable, as she’d slipped on a pair of large designer sunglasses with gold frames and reflective lenses and picked up a fashion magazine from a nearby outdoor coffee table. To my amusement, she’d begun flipping through it, bored from the conversation. “I thought Becca was doing better. No one mentioned a word to me!”

  “Becca is doing better,” I assured him. I wanted to snatch the magazine from Kelly’s hands and hit her with it, but settled for saying, “I only wanted to make you aware that it’s come to my attention that Becca may have been more affected by the death of a childhood friend than she let on. I believe she and Becca used to take riding lessons at Sacred Trinity?”

  Lance Arthur Walters, to his credit, knew exactly whom I was talking about.

  “Yes, of course. Lucia Martinez. That’s the little girl who fell off her horse and died.” He looked at Kelly. “She was in Becca’s first-grade class. What a tragic accident. I know you would have been quite young when it happened, but you might have read about it in the papers, Kelly.”

  Kelly lowered her magazine, and then her sunglasses. She looked confused. Obviously she never read anything that didn’t include pictures of women wearing couture. “Oh?” she asked noncommittally.

  “In the next few weeks, some news stories might be coming out concerning someone who worked at Sacred Trinity when Becca and Lucia were there,” I said, opening my bag and digging through it. “You might want to have Becca speak to a professional about how that makes her feel. Only if she wants to; I wouldn’t force her. This person is very good.” I finally managed to locate one of Dr. Jo’s business cards, and laid it on the table beside the lemonade pitcher. “I feel confident she can help. All of you.” I stared directly at Kelly. “She does family counseling, as well.”

  Walters picked up the card. “Well, thank you, that’s very kind. But I hardly think—”

  “It’s only a suggestion. Where is Becca, anyway? I have to go now, so I’d like to say good-bye to her on my way out.”

  “Over by the pool,” Walters said, pointing in an offhanded way behind him
as he studied Dr. Jo’s card. “Family counseling. Do you really think—”

  “Well, it’s been nice meeting you. Call me about getting together for Pilates, Kelly. Honestly, I can’t wait! It sounds superduper fun.”

  “Oh, I’ll be sure to, Susan,” Kelly said acidly, and turned back to her magazine.

  I found Becca around the corner, floating on a raft in a magnificent infinity pool that looked out across the Pacific.

  Becca was completely oblivious to the gorgeous view, however, being deeply absorbed in something on her phone. She had on a red bikini and dark sunglasses, her long hair scooped into a ponytail that looked not unlike her stepmother’s. In fact, if I hadn’t been told to look for her by the pool, I would have walked right by her, she looked so un-Becca-like.

  “I don’t believe it.” I plopped down onto a chaise longue. “Can it really be Becca Walters I see before me? I barely recognized you out of your uniform.”

  She gave a start. She’d been so wrapped up in her phone she hadn’t noticed my approach.

  “Oh, my gosh,” she said. “Ms. Simon! What are you doing here?”

  Incredibly, she paddled over to the side of the pool, got out, and ran over to give me a shy, drippy hug.

  I don’t know what came over me, but I hugged her back, just as I had Lucia the night before, though I didn’t hold Becca quite as tightly. And I didn’t cry this time.

  I could see why Becca liked hanging out by her family’s amazing pool. The sound of the water trickling over the infinity edge into the catch basin was almost as relaxing as the pound of the surf on the beach a hundred yards away. There was a nice breeze. I peeled off my cardigan to feel the sunshine on my arms. A person could really escape their problems in a place like this.

  Unless, of course, their problems haunted them no matter where they went.

  “You look good,” I remarked to Becca as she pulled a pair of khaki shorts and a T-shirt over her wet suit. “Did you do something to your hair?”

  Becca reached instinctively for her hair, embarrassed. I saw that she was still wearing the horse pendant, but now it was outside her shirt, instead of hidden inside it.

  “Um, yeah. Well, I washed it, and stuff. Some of the things you said to me the other day in the courtyard made sense, about living for Lucia by taking better care of myself.”

  I tried to hide my surprise. “Oh. That’s good.”

  “Yeah. It’s hard, though.” She picked at the bandage on her arm. I noticed it was a new, waterproof bandage, not the one I’d put on her. “It doesn’t make me feel any less guilty.”

  “Well, sometimes you have to take it day by day. Maybe even minute by minute.”

  “Yeah,” she said. “I guess that makes sense.”

  Now that I could see so much more of her bare skin, I noticed that Becca’s arms and shins bore many faint white scratch marks, scars from previous attempts to punish herself.

  But those would fade with time and—with enough love and support from her family and friends—eventually maybe even go away forever.

  “I don’t know if this will help, Becca.” I figured I might as well get it over with. “But I came to tell you in person that I checked on Jimmy Delgado—that’s the full name of the man who hurt you and Lucia—and he’s dead. He committed suicide.”

  Becca looked at me much as Lucia had done, without expression.

  I felt encouraged to go on.

  “There’ll probably be some stuff about it in the local papers, and maybe even on the local news, since it happened kind of recently.” Uh, like last night. “Later on, there might also be some stuff about Father Francisco getting arrested. But your name will never be connected to either of those stories, unless, of course, you want to come forward. But that’s totally up to you. I told your dad just now that you were very close with Lucia Martinez, closer than he knew. I’m sorry, Becca,” I added, since I sensed by her lowered eyebrows that this had upset her, “but I had to tell him. He loves you a lot, you know.”

  I clutched the mattress of the lounge chair I was sitting on, waiting to gauge her reaction. It was a long time before she replied.

  “Okay,” she said finally, reaching up to twist the horse pendant. “I’m glad, I guess.” She was gazing out across the pool, toward the Pacific.

  “Uh . . . glad? That your dad loves you? Of course he loves you, Becca.”

  She looked at me. “No. I mean I’m glad he’s dead.” Then she tensed up, biting her lip in dismay. “Wait . . . that’s wrong, isn’t it? It’s wrong to be glad someone’s dead.”

  I had to repress a smile. “I don’t think so. Not if you’re glad he’ll never hurt anyone again. I’d sure be glad if I were you.”

  “Oh. Okay.” Her shoulders relaxed. “Because I don’t want to be a bad person. For a really long time, that’s how I’ve thought of myself.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “About that. I gave your dad the name of someone I think you should go talk to if you start wanting to hurt yourself again. Or maybe just in general. She’s very good to go to for advice.”

  The look of relief was replaced with one of anxiety. “Why can’t I just keep talking to you, like this?”

  “I already told you, Becca, I’m not a licensed therapist.”

  “Oh, right. You’re just a mediator. You only help ghosts.”

  “Right. But I’m happy to talk to you anytime you want . . . as a friend.”

  “Maybe you could give me some pointers.” She indicated her phone, which she’d thrown on the chaise longue. “I was just playing your game.”

  It took me a couple of seconds to realize what she meant. “Ghost Mediator? I told you, that game is completely—”

  “Stupid, I know.” She rolled her eyes, smiling, but then the smile faded a little. “How’s . . . how’s Lucia doing? I haven’t—is she around right now?” She glanced furtively over her shoulder. “I wanted to say . . . I wanted to ask if you could tell her I’m trying—really trying this time—to live for the both of us. I’m actually going to try to have fun.”

  There was something sweetly pathetic about a sixteen-year-old girl assuring me that she was going to try to have fun. I had to hide my smile behind my hand, pretending I was scratching my nose.

  “Becca, I think that’s a great idea.”

  Encouraged, she went on, “I got invited to a party tonight at Sean Park’s house—it’s not a real party, a bunch of us are going to have a Ghost Mediator ultimate showdown—but I said I’d go, and Kelly said she’d drive me. She’s going to take me to the mall later this afternoon to buy a new outfit, and we’re going to get our nails done.”

  This time I didn’t bother hiding my reaction. “She is?”

  “Yeah. She got really excited about it. She knows a lot about clothes and girlie stuff, and said anytime I need help, to just come to her.”

  I was stunned, even though I knew I shouldn’t have been. Of course Kelly was finally bonding with Becca. For one thing, Becca had finally expressed an interest in something that interested Kelly, as well—fashion and beauty products. And for another, Becca was no longer haunted by her ghostly guardian whose presence Kelly might actually have been able to sense. Kelly wasn’t stupid. She’d managed to snag Becca’s father, after all.

  “You know,” Becca went on, thoughtfully, “it’s really weird, but ever since I talked to you, and you told me ghosts are real and that Lucia has been watching over me, I don’t feel . . . I guess I don’t feel afraid anymore. Even before you told me he—Jimmy—was dead, I’d decided to go to Sean’s party. Would you tell Lucia that, please, Ms. Simon? Not only that I’m going to have fun for the both of us, but that I don’t feel afraid anymore?”

  The sun poured down across the turquoise water in the pool, casting golden flickers of light across the travertine tiles of the pool deck and the undersides of the palm fronds above our heads. I couldn’t see Lucia—I knew she’d moved on last night, and was happy wherever she was now.

  But it almost felt as if she were
there . . . enough so that I was inspired to take Becca’s hand and do my best imitation—I’m ashamed to say—of the lady from the ghost mediator TV show.

  “She knows, Becca. She already knows. And she says thank you. Oh, wait . . .” I gazed at a point just left of Becca’s shoulder, near an outdoor kitchen that included a state-of-the-art grill and wet bar. “It’s hard to hear because she’s starting to fade. Lucia is . . . yes. It’s true. She’s stepping toward the light.”

  “Oh!” Becca pressed a hand to her mouth. “Is Nana Anna there with her? Lucia loved her grandmother so much.”

  “Um, yes. Nana Anna is calling to her. It’s time for Lucia to go to Nana Anna.”

  “Is Taffy there, too?”

  I hesitated. “Who’s Taffy?”

  “Her horse.”

  Crap. I’d forgotten about the horse. “Yes. Taffy, too. Lucia is surrounded by and filled with love, especially her love for you, a little of which will stay with you always.”

  Oh, God, this was so corny. How did the Ghost Mediator live with herself?

  But then again, it wasn’t entirely untrue. And it was clearly helping Becca. There were tears of happiness trembling at the corners of her eyes. Shows like Ghost Mediator brought people joy, which was a good thing (though the fact that the star charged for her services off camera still made me furious, since of course she was a total fake).

  “Lucia will always be with you, in your—”

  Suddenly the warm wind gave a particularly strong gust, rustling through the palm fronds overhead and causing the surface of the pool to ripple. It lifted Becca’s ponytail and blinded me for a moment by sending a thick dark wave of my own hair across my eyes.

  When I’d brushed it aside, I could see that all the flickers of light reflected from the surface of the pool had shifted, and instead of dancing on the pool deck or the undersides of the palm fronds, they’d centered on Becca, glimmering across her face and legs and arms, like dozens of golden butterflies coming to rest their wings on her . . .

 
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