Remembrance, p.32
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       Remembrance, p.32

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
“No. To inspect our new home.”

  My heart leapt. I put my arms around his neck. “Our new home? Are you serious, Jesse? You really don’t mind living there?”

  “I seem to be destined to do so. But one thing I will not do, Susannah, is sleep in the room in which I died.”

  My room. The best room in the house, with a huge bay window (complete with a window seat that my stepfather, Andy, had lovingly built for me) that on clear days had a view stretching straight down to Carmel Bay, with an attached full bath in which Jesse had once bandaged my feet. It was the first time he’d ever admitted he’d hoped to become a doctor, but his father needed him too much on the ranch ever to have allowed it.

  Now all of Jesse’s dreams were coming true.

  Maybe mine were, too.

  That’s what I came to tell you, I couldn’t help remembering Lucia had said when I’d assured her everything was going to be okay.

  “Maybe we should wait until we see what the realty company did to the room while they were staging it to sell,” I said noncommittally. “I highly doubt they kept the forget-me-not wallpaper, or those frilly curtains my mom picked out. Maybe they turned it into a craft center, like Debbie’s.”

  Jesse dangled the keys to my car in front of me. “Let’s go find out. Don’t forget your other package.”

  I glanced at the next-day-air package. “Is that my surprise?”

  He rolled his eyes behind the sunglasses. “No.”

  We swapped cars. It was good to be back in the Land Rover, though it turned out the drive to the Carmel Hills from Casa di Walters was not short, especially on the last sunny Saturday before Thanksgiving. Traffic was terrible, and though there were no stoplights, I had plenty of stops of other kinds—mainly tourist related—to examine the next-day-air package Jesse had left on my passenger seat.

  I didn’t recognize the name of the sender—a woman in Arizona—but I tore it open anyway.

  I was shocked when I saw what was inside:

  My boots. The black leather platform boots I’d lost in the online auction the other day. My perfect non-compliant deceased person butt-kicking boots.

  How was that even possible? I’d been timed out of the auction when Lucia had ransacked my office. I hadn’t been able to submit my final bid, let alone type in my name or payment information. Maximillian28 had slipped in and stolen them out from under me.

  There was a note tucked into the box, but I wasn’t able to grab and read it (since I was trying to be a good driver) until I pulled up in front of my house—our house.

  As soon as I did, I snatched up the note. It was computer generated, like a gift card from a store. The seller had sent the boots to me on behalf of the buyer. The buyer was Maximillian28, of Carmel Valley, California, which made no sense to me at all until I read the note.

  Susannah,

  Saw these and thought of you. They look just like the ones you lost. I hope they are.

  Te amo.

  Jesse

  Jesse? Jesse was Maximillian28?

  It was only then that I remembered the day I’d dragged him around the mall in Monterey, fruitlessly searching for these exact boots after my original pair had been destroyed, and how they’d been sold out everywhere in my size. He’d gamely tagged along, only occasionally pointing out that there were dozens of other black leather platform boots on the shelves. He’d never once rolled his eyes as I’d described how poorly designed and not right those other boots were. He’d paid attention, and turned out to be Maximillian28 (named for the Ackerman dog and Jesse’s age—if one counted only the years during which his physical body had been alive).

  Of course. He’d do anything to make me happy . . . anything within his power, which, not having inherited millions from his family—because they’d all died out over a century ago—was buy me the impossible-to-get boots I wanted.

  And save my life, over and over.

  I was still laughing—or something—when Jesse pulled up behind me in front of 99 Pine Crest Road.

  “Oh,” he said when he leaned in to see why I was still in the car. “You opened it. Are they the right ones?”

  “Exactly right,” I said.

  “Are you crying?” He looked astonished.

  “No. Allergies. God, I love you.”

  “You have a strange way of showing it sometimes.” He opened my car door for me. “Come on, let’s go see this place. I can’t say it looks very promising from the outside. They’ve ruined your mother’s landscaping.”

  It was true. The steep, sloping yard that led up to the rambling Victorian house was still dotted with the flowers my mom had planted there, but they’d been crushed beneath the careless boots of the construction workers I’d seen outside the house the day before.

  That wasn’t the only change to the place. The trunk of the pine tree I remembered so well—because it grew beside the porch roof I used to leap from when escaping my room, or various murderous spooks—was now growing dangerously close to the foundation.

  “Slater wasted no time putting the other houses on the block back on the market, I see.” Jesse pointed. There were two men in coveralls hammering signs into the front yards of our former neighbors. Now, instead of warning that the houses were slated for demolition, the signs said:

  FOR SALE

  SLATER PROPERTIES

  CARMEL HILLS EXCLUSIVE

  PRICED TO SELL

  The only house on the street without a sign in front of it was mine.

  “Oh, how nice,” I said. “We’ll have new neighbors.” I didn’t mention out loud my next thought, which was that I hoped I wouldn’t have to mediate any of the non-compliant deceased relatives those new neighbors might bring along. This was always a problem. “Hang on, let me try these.”

  I pulled off my second-best pair of boots and tugged on the new ones. They fit perfectly, and of course looked great. The heel was sexily stacked and gave me a lot of height, while at the same time being easy to walk on. When I got out of the car and stood up, my eyes were almost level with Jesse’s.

  “Ah,” he said with the lopsided grin. “Now I remember why you liked them so much.”

  “Right?” I didn’t have to stand on tiptoe to kiss him on the lips, only tilt my head. His mouth tasted of fresh mint. Whatever he’d been doing since he’d been released from jail, he’d cleaned up nicely. I took him by the hand. “Thank you. Now let’s go see where we’re going to raise our own demon spawn.”

  treinta y seis

  It smelled the same. A combination of old wood and the faint scent of something CeeCee had always referred to as “books.”

  “You’re crazy,” I’d told her the first time she’d said it. “We have books, but not that many.”

  “No,” she’d insisted. “Your house smells great. Just like old books, in a library.”

  I hadn’t wanted to tell her that the odor she was mistaking for books was actually old souls. There are always a few of them roaming the halls of older buildings, especially libraries. The supernatural don’t have an unpleasant odor. If you can smell them at all—and you mostly can’t, unless you’re extremely perceptive, like CeeCee—it really is remarkably (and comfortingly, if you’re a reader) like old books, or vanilla.

  Instead I’d said to her, “I think the word you’re looking for is mildew. The source of it can be traced to Brad’s feet.”

  When I flung open the front door to 99 Pine Crest Road, I was shocked to be hit in the face with the exact same odor—not of Brad, but of Jesse, before I returned his soul to his body.

  I glanced back at him in surprise, speechless.

  “What?” he asked. He couldn’t smell it, of course. You can’t smell yourself. Or the way you smelled back when you were a ghost, anyway.

  “Nothing,” I said.

  It was irritating how right Paul had been. And also how bloodthirsty. Imagine if he’d achieved his goal, and torn the place down. What would have happened to Jesse? What would have happened to me? To the girls? To everyone I knew and loved?

  I shuddered, shoving the thought resolutely away. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that I’d won.

  It was startling to see the walls looking so empty without the framed photos that had always hung there, of my mom and Andy on their wedding day, and my stepbrothers and me at various celebrations; the windows so naked without curtains or shades; the rooms so bare of furniture; the wooden floors so polished (they’d always been scuffed when we’d lived there, thanks to my stepbrothers’ skateboards and Max’s claws).

 


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  The realty company that had staged the home for my mom and Andy while they’d been trying to sell it had changed nothing structurally. It was a house that had been built in the mid-1800s, after all, back when they’d known how to make things that lasted. Life on the frontier had been fraught with very different perils than life in the twenty-first century.

  “Look,” I said, touching the single defect in the molding in one wall of the front parlor. “They didn’t even fill in the bullet hole.”

  Jesse gave me a tolerant smile. “I thought you hated that bullet hole.”

  “Well,” I said with a shrug, swinging on the newel—it needed tightening, I noted—as I headed up the stairs. “It started to grow on me over the years.”

  The midday light was shining through the stained-glass window at the top of the staircase, making a blue, red, and yellow pattern on the floor of the hallway outside my old bedroom. I stepped around it, noticing through the open doors to my stepbrothers’ old rooms that they’d been left relatively unchanged, except that this was the cleanest I’d ever seen them.

  The door to my old room—the room that sat above the front parlor, the only bedroom in the house with an ocean view, the room in which I’d first met Jesse, and changed my life forever—was open, as well.

  I stepped across the threshold.

  Everything was different. Gone was the cream-colored wallpaper dotted with blue forget-me-nots, as were the frilly curtains, caught up with ruffled tiebacks. The walls were painted a deep, dark blue. The white paint on the wainscoting had been stripped, the wood returned to its original deep mahogany color to match the rest of the paneling throughout the house, then covered in a high gloss.

  Even t
he window seat Andy had installed—though still there, and still covered in the cushion my mother had custom fitted—was now paneled in a dark cherry wood. The cushion was deep blue, to match the walls.

  “Now this,” Jesse said as he came up behind me, “is a bedroom.”

  I slammed my messenger bag onto the highly polished wood floor. “Shut up.”

  “Susannah, you used to complain about how much you hated the way your mother decorated this room, though you loved her too much ever to tell her so.” He crossed the room to test the cushion on the window seat by sitting on it. “You said it in no way reflected your personality. Now it does.”

  “Since when does navy blue match my personality? Have you ever seen me in navy blue? This room looks like an L.L. Bean catalog threw up in it.”

  “I meant dark,” Jesse said. “You have a tendency sometimes to be a little dark.”

  “Said the ghost to the mediator.”

  “Former ghost. And I like it. Both you and the room.”

  “Ugh, you would. You probably want to throw a few hunting prints on the walls.”

  “That would look very nice, actually. Anyway, the window seat is still the same.” He bounced on the cushion once, then stretched a hand toward me. “Come here. There’s something I’ve been wanting to try since the day I first met you.”

  There was no doubting his meaning by the decidedly sinful twist to his lips.

  “What, now?” I slipped my fingers into his, and he pulled me down onto the window seat beside him. Our thighs were touching. This time, neither of us pulled away.

  “The timing was never right until now,” he said. “And you had your rules, remember?”

  “What rules?”

  “From when we lived here together.” He slid a hand along my waist, his fingers curling beneath my tank top, even as his lips dipped to kiss the skin along my collarbone. “Rule number one, no touching.”

  I felt myself flush, and not because the press of his lips had caused goose bumps of pleasure to rise all along the backs of my arms.

  “Oh, right,” I said. “Those rules. Jesse, that was when you were undead, and I was in high school.”

  “I’m not undead anymore.” He kissed me below my ear to prove it, the hand beneath my shirt rising. “At least, mostly not. And you haven’t been in high school in a long time.”

  “You never followed my rules anyway. I always had to follow yours.” I seized his wrist before his fingers could dip beneath my bra. “But I’m not going to do it anymore.”

  “Oh,” he said with a laugh. “I think you are.”

  “Really? What about waiting until we’re married?” I hated to spoil the moment, lovely as it was, but I didn’t think I could take another stroke of his fingers, let alone another kiss, without leaping onto him and tearing his clothes off. “Do not promise me something you have no intention of delivering, Dr. de Silva.”

  “Have I ever, Miss Simon?” he asked, the eyebrow with the scar through it rising. “You’re not the only one who’s been keeping secrets.”

  I was so surprised by this answer that I forgot to hold on to his wrist, giving him the momentary physical advantage. He took it by yanking my tank top over my head.

  “Jesse!” I cried, shocked. His training in dealing with uncooperative patients was in high evidence. “What are you—”

  He silenced me by lowering first his mouth over my lips, then his entire body over mine, pressing me back against the window-seat cushion.

  My mind spun. The sensations I was experiencing were not at all unpleasant—the lean weight of his body; the quick, light touch of his tongue and hands; his clean, soapy man smell (no trace of the Monterey County Jail that I could tell)—but I couldn’t understand why they were happening here, now.

  Then again, why was I wasting time thinking? How many nights had I lain in this very room, dreaming of this happening (though admittedly never on the window seat)?

  And now it was happening, and I was questioning it instead of simply enjoying it, like the fact that he’d managed somehow to peel off my bra, and was tracing a hot trail with his mouth from my throat toward what the cups of the bra had revealed.

  But what, I couldn’t help wondering, in the part of my brain that could still think and not feel, if those things about the curse were true?

  Then his fingers were undoing the zipper to my jeans, and I remembered what I’d said to Jesse the night before. I wasn’t afraid of ghosts . . . especially this one.

  I reached for the fly to his own jeans, and the sound of it popping open might have been the most satisfying thing I’d ever experienced in my life . . . at least until I felt, when he’d thrown his shirt aside, the sensation of the bare skin of his chest meeting mine. Then I decided no, that was the most amazing thing I’d ever experienced. He kissed me deeply, but after he peeled my jeans away from my hips, kissing wasn’t ever going to be enough. We’d both seen and felt—for the first time—all of each other’s secrets, and now nothing was going to stop us from fully exploring them, no matter what rules we ended up breaking.

  A few heart-pounding, breathless seconds later, our clothes were in a tangled heap on the floor, and he was inside me. It was exactly how I had always imagined it would be, and yet unimaginably better. If evil was being unleashed, I couldn’t see it, or feel it, either. What I felt was the opposite. I was flooded with playful joy, as if the dark blue walls around us were sweeping us up and rolling us into the peaceful blue Pacific beyond my windows, full of warmth and light. It washed over us again and again, leaving us spent and happy and full of gratitude and love. How could there be evil in that?

  There couldn’t. Only good.

  Perhaps this was what Paul had somehow known and feared us discovering most of all.

  Oh, well. Too late now.

  I was so tired afterward I felt as if I could barely raise my head, but I did manage to notice something.

  “Goddammit, Jesse. You didn’t even give me a chance to take off my boots.”

  His head was resting on my shoulder as, with one finger, he drew lazy circles on my thigh. “I did try to remove them at one point, but you seemed more interested in my doing other things.” His tone was teasing. “I was only trying to appease your wishes.”

  “Ha! If that were true, we’d have had sex a long time ago. What’s changed all of sudden?”

  His dark eyes gleamed. “You still don’t know?”

  “No, I still don’t know. I mean, besides proving that you didn’t turn into some kind of homicidal demon just from having sex with me, what happened to how we have to wait until we’re married out of respect for what you owe to me and my family and the church and all of mankind? All this time you and Father Dominic—”

  Jesse stopped drawing circles on my thigh and lifted his head to give me a disapproving look. “I really wish you wouldn’t bring him up at this particular moment, Susannah.”

  “Well, I don’t want to talk about him, either,” I said. “But you’re the one who dragged me to all those boring Pre-Cana classes. I’m certainly not complaining about how things have turned out, but what was the point of waiting if the entire time you were going to abandon all your religious scruples when—”

  “I haven’t abandoned them. I merely decided there was reason to be more flexible about them.”

  I grinned. “Would one of those reasons have to do with a certain person from our past who came roaring into town this week to declare his undying love for me, so you wanted to mark your territory?”

  “It would not,” he said, “though I feel as if I should add ‘highly active imagination’ to the list of your many assets.”

  “You can’t blame me for thinking it after what happened last night.”

  “My reasons have more to do with what happened this morning. That’s why I spoke to Father Dominic.”

  All feeling of postcoital lethargy left me. I sat up so abruptly I banged him in the head with my shoulder.

 
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