Remembrance, p.31
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       Remembrance, p.31

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  Or hundreds of flickering candle flames, sweetly circling her head like Saint Lucia’s crown.

  But that was impossible. What was going on?

  “Oh!” Becca cried, raising her arms to gaze at the dazzling light show. “It’s Lucia! I see her. I can feel her! Ms. Simon, she’s here!”

  Becca was right. Someone was there.

  But it couldn’t have been Lucia, since Lucia had crossed over the night before. It was someone else—someone with paranormal powers every bit as strong as Lucia’s—someone who wanted to give Becca the kind of celestial farewell that her friend would have, if she’d still been around.

  Someone who smelled suspiciously of smoke from a wood fire, suede, vanilla, hospital soap, and just a tiniest hint of cigarettes.

  Jesse.

  treinta y cuatro

  “Who’s here?” Kelly appeared from around the corner of the outdoor kitchen, carrying a tray with the lemonade pitcher and her magazine on it. “It’s only me. What’s wrong with you two?”

  The lights vanished just as suddenly as they’d appeared, the wind dying, the surface of the pool going still. Above our heads, the palm fronds ceased to rustle, and the only sound that could be heard was the rumble of the Pacific and the rattle of the ice in the pitcher as Kelly approached.

  But I could tell from the joyous smile on Becca’s face that that split second of warm, sunny contact had been enough. She would remember it for the rest of her life.

  “Nothing’s wrong,” Becca said to Kelly, still smiling. “We were talking about a friend of mine. Weren’t we, Ms. Simon?”

  “Yes,” I said, hastily gathering my bag and standing up. The distinctive Jesse scent vanished, and all I could smell was the ocean and the crisp sharp scent of the chlorine from the Walterses’s pool. Where was he? Nearby, obviously. “A good friend. Well, it’s been nice visiting with you, Becca, but I have to go now.”

  “Do you really?” Becca asked, disappointed. “Can’t you stay for lunch?”

  “No, she can’t,” Kelly said. She set the tray of lemonade in the exact spot on the chaise longue where I’d been sitting so that she could ensure I wouldn’t rejoin them, then lowered herself onto the chaise beside it. “Debbie’s here. I’m sure you’ll want to say good-bye to her on your way out.”

  “Debbie?” It took me a second to figure out who she meant.

  “Yes, your sister-in-law?” Kelly gave me a dirty look. “Surely you remember her. She and I are taking Becca to the mall to get a new dress and a mani-pedi because she’s got a party tonight. Don’t you, Becca?”

  Becca glanced at her stepmother. “Yeah, I do. I mean, I do have a party. I didn’t know Mrs. Ackerman was coming over—”

  “Well, she’s here. We’re having lunch first on the veranda. I’d invite Ms. Simon but Paolo didn’t prepare a large enough salmon. I’m sure Susan will understand.”

  “Oh, I do.” I was already turning to go, thankful for the heads-up. Debbie was the last person I wanted to run into, especially if Jesse was somewhere on the premises. “I’ll see you guys later.”

  “Bye, Ms. Simon!” I heard Becca calling after me. “And thank you!”

  I waved over my shoulder as I hurried down the side steps to the driveway, not even glancing back.

  Debbie, I was certain, would enter through the house, not the yard. There was no chance I’d run into her and have to make awkward small talk. Fortunately I’d driven Jake’s BMW, so she might not even have recognized it in the driveway—at least not as readily as she would the dilapidated Land Rover, about which she—and her father—constantly complained. Why wouldn’t I allow the Mercedes King to sell me a nice E-Class sedan? Leases started at only $579 a month.

  I peered over the security gate leading from the pool to the Walterses’s sprawling front yard, which sloped all the way down to a thick stone wall to 17-Mile Drive and from there, the sea.

  There was definitely a male figure leaning against a car by the beach, across the street from the stone columns leading to Casa di Walters.

  I couldn’t tell, at that distance, who it was, but the car I recognized by sight. It was a Land Rover. My Land Rover.

  My heart somersaulted inside my chest.

  The steps from the pool down to the driveway were quite steep and zigzagged a bit, and I was taking them at something of a clip so I didn’t even see that there was someone coming up them until I nearly collided into him—or her, as it turned out.

  “Jesus!” Debbie yelled. “Watch it! Oh, Suze. What are you doing here?”

  “Oh, hi.” Debbie was wearing a long yellow maxi dress and clutching a large turquoise beach bag and hat. She looked great, and, from the smug expression on her face, she knew it. “Sorry, I didn’t see you. I was just . . . I came by to see Becca’s dad about some issues she’s been having at school.”

  “Wow.” Debbie’s tone was flat. “I guess the Mission Academy offers special services to some of their students, the ones with fathers who are huge donors. If my dad coughed up a hundred thousand donation, would my girls get special home visits, too?”

  “I did pay your girls a home visit this week, Debbie, remember? No hundred thousand donation necessary.”

  “Right.” She snorted. “That was for some class you’re taking. Don’t pretend like it was because you or anyone else at that school cares about the girls.”

  I reached out and grabbed her arm before she could move past me on the stairs.

  “Actually, Debbie, I do care about your girls.”

  I was anxious to get down to Jesse, but I knew I had to attend to this little matter first. It was another one of Paul’s messes I felt obligated to clean up.

  “That test I conducted at your house showed that your girls are gifted—really gifted, Debbie. And I was wondering if you’d be interested in enrolling them in this new program I heard about through the school I go to.”

  Debbie stopped trying to continue up the stairs and lowered her sunglasses so she could stare at me over their gold frames, intrigued. There was nothing most parents loved hearing more than the word gifted, especially when applied to their own child.

  “It’s really exclusive—and very expensive,” I went on quickly. Debbie had to lean in to hear me above the pound of the surf. “But I think I can get the girls a scholarship, so it would be free.”

  Lord help me if she ever found out I was the program.

  But Debbie’s interest sharpened perceptibly at the other magic word. “Free? Are you sure?”

  I nodded. “Positive.”

  “What test was it that showed that the girls are gifted? I mean, their father and I have always thought they’re gifted, but Sister Monica and especially that cow Sister Ernestine seem to think the opposite.”

  “Their father? You mean Brad.” I studied her reaction carefully.

  “Of course I mean Brad, Suze.” She whipped off her sunglasses to squint at me in the strong sunlight. “Who else would I mean? What is wrong with you? Have you been sampling Jake’s wares? You know you should lay off that stuff, especially if you’re going to be driving.”

  She wasn’t bluffing. Debbie truly believed that Brad was the father of her children, and that I, as usual, was the one with the problem.

  And who was I to disabuse her of that notion? Wasn’t it better for everyone that she—and Brad—go on believing this? I thought so, at least for now. Baby steps. One secret at a time.

  “It’s a new test,” I said with a shrug. “Sometimes highly creative and intelligent children can be a challenge, especially to educators who are already overburdened with so many other students. But I think this program could really help the girls. It’s after school.”

  “Wow.” She smiled, slipping her sunglasses back into place. Smiling, Debbie actually looked like a nice person. “That sounds really great, Suze. You know, I’ve been thinking for a while about going back to school myself. But it’s been so hard with the girls and all.”

  “Well,” I said with a smile. “Maybe now you’ll have the time. There’s only one small problem.”

  The smile disappeared. “What’s that?”

 


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“In order for the girls to qualify for the scholarship, you’ll have to show proof that they’ve at least started their vaccinations. This program doesn’t allow for medical or religious exemptions from immunizations. Something about wanting to stop the spread of disease to unvaccinated newborns and those with compromised immune systems?”

  Debbie scowled. “Oh. That.”

  “Yeah. That. I’m really sorry. It doesn’t seem like such a huge compromise to me, though, since you’re going to have to do it anyway—unless you plan on taking them out of the Mission Academy entirely and homeschooling them.”

  She’d been gazing out toward the sea until I dropped the H-bomb. Then she whipped her head toward me. “Homeschool? No. No, I don’t think so. I’ll have to talk to Brad.” She fumbled in her tote for her cell phone. “But I think he’ll agree. Keeping them at the academy and then enrolling them in this gifted thing would probably be best. Oh, no, look at the time. I gotta motor. Kelly’s hired a personal chef, and he made salmon.” She lifted the skirt of her maxi dress and began to run up the steps. “Thanks, Suze, for all the help. By the way, I think I saw Jesse waiting for you, down at the beach.”

  “Yes,” I said with a smile. “You did.”

  treinta y cinco

  I never in a million years thought I’d be so happy to see my nearly twenty-year-old Land Rover.

  Of course, it was more the sight of the figure leaning against the utility vehicle that made my heart beat a little quicker. His fingers were tucked loosely into the front pockets of his formfitting jeans, his dark hair tossed a little by the strong wind from the beach. He was perfectly unconscious of my approach (the soles of my second-best butt-kicking boots were rubber). He seemed transfixed by the sight of the sea.

  Or maybe he was napping behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses. He’d had a long night, after all.

  “How on earth did you know I was here?” I asked after I’d pulled up beside him and was getting out of the BMW.

  Jesse turned his head, then gave me one of those slow, drowsy smiles I’d come to love so much.

  “An app,” he said. “Jake in
stalled tracking systems in all his cars in case they were ever stolen.”

  “Oh.” I was slightly disappointed. “I thought you were following me via our fiercely strong mind-body-spiritual connection.”

  “Well, that, too.”

  I joined him against the side of the car. The view was impressive. The sea was a deep, azure blue, the sky as cloudless as the forecasters had promised it would be. Seagulls wheeled in circles overhead, their cries lost in the pound of the surf. An occasional car went by, sightseers ogling both the surf and the expensive homes along 17-Mile Drive.

  “So that was you a little while ago, and not Lucia, stopping in to say good-bye to Becca?” I asked.

  “I may have helped Lucia give Becca a proper good-bye.” He hadn’t removed his fingers from his pockets, but we were standing close enough, our backs pressed against the car, that it felt as if we were touching.

  “Bullshit,” I said. “That was all you. I’d recognize your romantic touch anywhere. Besides, the cigarette smoke gave you away.”

  “I don’t smoke.”

  “Not anymore, you don’t.”

  His grin caused something to shift inside me. “You’re right, I don’t.”

  For a long time I’d suspected there was an electric current passing between us. It had always been there, even when he’d been an NCDP, and hadn’t wanted to admit he loved me, a living girl whose job it was to rid the world of people like him.

  In the years since his heart had begun to beat again, that current had only grown stronger. When we were apart, it stretched. I wondered if there was anything that could truly break it. Even death, it seemed, hadn’t been able to.

  “So Paul wasn’t completely wrong,” I went on. “There is something left over from the grave inside you. But I don’t think it’s darkness. In fact, I think it’s light.”

  Jesse swore in a very unangelic manner and strode away from the side of the car to lift a rock and hurl it at the waves. “Why, even on a beautiful day like this, do we still have to talk about him?”

  “Because if we don’t talk about it I’ll never understand it, Jesse. And I want to. I really, really want to.”

  “Why? Why is it important? Why can’t it simply be?”

  “Well, for one thing because you nearly killed him last night.”

  “I wish I had.”

  “If you had, you wouldn’t be standing here on the beach with me right now, throwing rocks at the waves. You’d still be locked up somewhere.”

  “But I’m not, querida.”

  “Right. You’re not. Instead, you can give—and apparently receive—messages from the spirit world. Don’t get me wrong, I get them, too, but not the way you do. I talk to ghosts, but not all the ghosts, all the time. And I can’t do magic tricks like the one you performed back there. It’s a little spooky that my boyfriend—the mild-mannered physician—can do light shows with his mind. But then again, you used to be a spook, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

  “Well, if it doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t bother you,” he said, coming back to lean beside me against the car. “It would be nice, however, if you’d trust me enough to let me in on your little secrets once in a while. And also check your cell phone.”

  “Me? What about you? You’re the one who didn’t want to see me after getting out of jail.”

  “Because there was something I wanted to surprise you with, something I didn’t know until I got out and the police returned my phone. But I wanted to tell you properly, in person, after I’d showered off the not very romantic odor of prison from my body. So please check your phone.”

  “If you want to see my reaction, then why didn’t you just—”

  “Susannah, I love you, but you are the most frustrating woman in the world. For once in your life, don’t argue. Just do it.”

  I opened my bag and pulled out my phone. I’d received several new texts, mostly from classmates wondering at my absence from happy hour the past few nights. There was one that particularly piqued my interest, however.

  Jesse Me dieron la beca.

  NOV 19 1:10PM

  “I have no clue what that means,” I said.

  He looked thoughtful. “Perhaps you have that mental block that prevents otherwise intelligent people from learning new languages,” he suggested.

  “No, because I can speak French. If this were in French—”

  “It’s all right, querida. You’re good at many other things. And at least you have your looks.”

  “I’m seriously going to kill you. Just tell me what it says. What’s the surprise?”

  “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.” He was enjoying himself. I could tell, since he was smiling as he walked around to the passenger side of the Land Rover. This was his way of getting me back for not telling him about Paul. “I will admit, in addition to picking up your sad excuse for a vehicle, I made a stop at your place. These were waiting outside the door for you. Saturday delivery? They must be important.” He pulled a couple of packages from the front seat.

  “Seriously,” I said, staring at the text. “Is beca bacon? If you’re offering to take me out for breakfast, the answer is yes, even though it’s already lunchtime, because I had a really disappointing breakfast today.”

  “Bacon is beicon,” he said. “Here, open your packages.”

  “We should get out of here,” I said. “Kelly wasn’t exactly thrilled to see me, and neither was Debbie at first, though I think I won her over.”

  I glanced at the packages—both addressed to Ms. Susannah Simon. One of them was a large next-day air priority box, the other a legal-sized padded envelope, stamped “Deliver by Hand”; return address, “Slater Properties.” It felt lumpy, as if there might be something small and jagged—such as keys—inside.

  I looked up at Jesse in wonder. “No,” I said, hardly daring to believe it. “So soon?”

  He shrugged again. “One of us must be very persuasive.”

  “Or intimidating,” I said, tearing open the envelope.

  Sure enough, there was a set of keys inside, attached to a plastic key fob marked “99 Pine Crest Road.” There were also a number of documents requesting my notarized signature. But one of them was a deed, with my name typed in as the owner.

  Finally, there was an astonishingly brief note from Paul, scrawled in his execrable handwriting on Carmel Inn stationery.

  Suze,

  Here are the items you requested.

  No matter how much you might hate me—or who you marry—I will always be here for you. You know how to reach me if you need to.

  You’re a worthy adversary, Simon.

  I suppose that’s why I always have, and always will, love you.

  Paul

  Jesse stood reading the note along with me over my shoulder. I’d seen no reason not to let him, since I’d had no idea it would contain anything like the sentiments it did.

  As soon as I got to the last lines, I began to blush.

  I reached out to crumple the note into a little ball, but Jesse stopped me, tugging it from my hand.

  “No, why?” I asked, attempting to snatch it back. “He’s such a—” The words I used to describe Paul were ones I doubted Miss Boyd had ever uttered, much less heard of, even during her undoubtedly rough and memorable ride from Boston out west.

  Jesse, shaking his head, tucked the note into the back pocket of his jeans.

  “It’s good to hang on to things like this,” he said matter-of-factly. “You never know when they might come in handy later.”

  “Oh, and you accused me of being possessed by the dark side?” I said. “And if this is the surprise, it wasn’t a very good one. I already knew he was sending this stuff over.”

  “That wasn’t the surprise. You still aren’t thinking very hard. Shall we go?”

  “Go where? Breakfast?”

 
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