Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
I knew, and not only was I as scared as Becca—my heart felt as if it was about to jackhammer out of my chest—I couldn’t have been more mad at myself. I’d been so distracted by the potential curse on my boyfriend I’d forgotten one of the most important rules of mediation:
Never, ever underestimate a ghost.
“I’m sorry,” I shouted at Lucia’s spirit. “I swear I was only trying to help—”
“Shut up!” the little girl thundered in a voice that seemed to come from straight from the depths of hell itself. “Shutupshutupshutup!”
Each syllable was emphasized by another jolt to the floor and walls, sending drawers from the file cabinets slamming wildly, files—as well as the pages within them—flying like a blizzard of eight-by-eleven-inch paper snowflakes, and the wooden Venetian blinds that had never in my memory been lowered over the windows suddenly came crashing down.
“What’s happening?” Becca shouted. It was hard to hear anything above the tinkling of the glass and, above our heads, the groaning of the rafters in the pitched wooden ceiling that tourists loved snapping photos of so they could tell their architects back home, I want the living room to look just like this. “Is this an earthquake?”
I wished it were an earthquake. A geological explanation for what was happening would be so much simpler than, Actually, it’s a ghost. No one ever goes for that one.
Instead I said, “Crap,” because I noticed my computer had begun to slide from my desk. The huge monitor—not a flat screen because the school couldn’t afford anything that fancy—was sliding in our direction.
Becca, hearing my curse, followed the direction of my gaze, then screamed and ducked her head. I hunched over her so my back would take most of the weight of the computer if things didn’t work out, then kicked backward, relieved when I felt the sole of my platform wedge meet with a chunk of hard plastic.
This is why I needed a new pair of boots. You never knew when you were going to have to keep a ghost from using your computer to crush you (and a student) to death.
The shaking stopped.
Sister Ernestine raced from her office, clutching the only adornment to her otherwise sensible attire, a plain silver crucifix that gleamed against her massive chest.
“Good heavens,” she cried. “What happened?”
“Uh,” I said. “Earthquake.”
I looked around for the NCDP. She was gone, of course. What would she stick around for? Her work was done for the day. I imagined she was off wherever baby ghosts go after hours, enjoying some Disney Horror Channel, learning some snappy new rude comebacks and ways to dispose of the living.
“Are you all right, dear?” Sister Ernestine asked Becca solicitously, not giving me so much as a glance.
Becca nodded, looking uncertain. “I . . . I th-think so.”
Oh, sure. Ask the kid who just tried to off herself with some school supplies if she was okay. Don’t worry about me, the girl doing the splits to keep a piece of computer equipment from killing us both.
Slowly, I lowered my leg, steadying the computer monitor with my hand. The only reason it had stayed in place was because of the cord, still plugged into the wall—and the fact that I was holding it. I shoved it back to its proper position on my desk, straightening my in-box and penholder as well. Not that it did much good. They’d disgorged their contents all over the floor.
The pavers beneath us were back in place, though, not a crack in them. The glass in the windowpanes was fine, too.
The office itself, however, was a mess, which was truly upsetting since I’d only just gotten it organized after the chaos Ms. Yoga Pants Carper had left in her wake. It was going to take me hours—no, days—to get all those folders back into alphabetical order, and then refile all the papers that now blanketed every surface like snow.
When I got my hands on Lucia, however tragically she might have passed, I was going to kill her all over again.
“Oh, dear,” Sister Ernestine said as the phone began to ring—not just the one in her office, but the one in Ms. Diaz’s, the one half hanging off my desk, and the cell phone in my back pocket, as well.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Jesse.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and pressed Ignore. Jesse was going to have to wait a little while longer to find out what was going on. I knew he’d understand. That’s the nice thing about soul mates.
Well, for as long as he continued to have a soul, anyway.
“Oh, dear. This is a disaster. I can only imagine what’s going on in the classrooms,” the nun was murmuring. “I hope there aren’t any injuries—”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure we got the worst of it right here.” I leaned down to retrieve the first-aid kit, which had also spilled all over the floor. “I’m guessing this was the epicenter, in fact.”
Sister Ernestine threw me a curious glance as she hurried back into her office to answer the phone. She knew my BA was in psychology, not seismology. “Becca, I spoke to your stepmother. She said she’s on her way, but now with this quake, who knows how long it will take her to—yes, hello, this is Sister Ernestine.”
I peeled the back from a large stick-on bandage and held it toward Becca. “Arm out, please.”
She looked up at me, still dazed from the “earthquake.” “What?”
“We should probably cover that up before your stepmom gets here.” I pointed to her arm. “Don’t you think? Unless your near brush with death just now caused you to change your mind, and you’ve decided to take my advice about fessing up to the ’rents about what you’ve been doing to yourself. Parents can surprise you, you know.”
She glanced down at her arm. “Oh. No. Thanks.”
She held the wounded limb toward me, and I applied the large bandage as gently as I could . . . not because I was afraid of her little banshee friend coming back, but because I really did feel sorry for the kid. I knew what it was like to be sent to the principal’s office, and also to be picked up by a stepparent—though with Andy, I’d lucked out in that department.
I also knew what it was like to be haunted. The only difference between Becca and me, really, was that I’d been able to see my personal specter, and he’d turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Becca didn’t notice that I was trying to be nice to her—or if she did, she gave no sign. She gave no sign of noticing that her otherworldly albatross was gone, either. She slumped in the chair, looking as defeated as ever, except for one thing: she pulled a silver chain from inside the collar of her too-big white blouse and began to finger the pendant hanging from the end of it in much the same way Sister Ernestine had fingered her cross for comfort a moment earlier.
Only Becca’s pendant wasn’t a religious icon. It was shaped like a small rearing stallion.
Hmmm. Lucia had been holding a stuffed horse and was dressed in riding clothes. Becca wore a silver pendant of a rearing horse that she twisted when she was nervous. The two girls didn’t look too much alike. The dead one had blond hair and a Spanish first name.
But that didn’t mean they weren’t related somehow. Stepsisters, maybe? Or cousins? It would explain the strong bond.
This mediation was going to be a snap—well, except for the part where the kid had tried to kill me. Too bad that wouldn’t count toward my practicum.
Sister Ernestine came bursting from her office.
“Susannah, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be answering the phone.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Sister.” Gritting my teeth, I lifted the receiver. “Oh, gee, it’s dead. The quake must have knocked out my line.” I’m certain when I die, if there actually is some kind of higher power sitting in final judgment of all our souls, mine’s going to take a really long time to read off all my sins, considering all the lying I’ve done, especially to people of the cloth.
But I like to think most of those lies were for a higher purpose. I’m sure whoever (or whatever) is in charge will understand.
“I’d better go check on the kindergarten,” Sister Ernestine said, not sounding too happy about it.
“Oh, no. I hope the children are all right.”
The nun glared at me. “The children are fine. It’s Sister Monica who is in hysterics, as usual. And I’m certain you can guess why: the girls are acting up again.” There was an accusing note in her voice.
I tried to look innocent, but it wasn’t easy. “They’re not related to me by blood.”
“Sometimes I find that very hard to believe,” Sister Ernestine said, and looked pointedly around the office at all the student reports and files scattered on the floor—as if the “earthquake” had been my fault. Which of course it had been, but she didn’t know that. “Please stay with Becca until her mother arrives.”
“Stepmother,” Becca quickly corrected her.
“Sorry, dear, of course.” Sister Ernestine gave her the kind of smile I’d never earned once from the nun in all the years I’d known her. “What a day for Father Dominic to be away,” she muttered as she exited the office.
As soon as the nun was gone, I whirled back to my computer, but it was no good. It had fritzed out, and I couldn’t get it to turn back on. Now I was going to have to call IT. Which at the Junípero Serra Mission Academy meant getting Sean Park, the most tech-savvy of the tenth graders, over to look at it, because there was no budget for an IT department.
I guess I must have verbally expressed my disappointment over losing the online auction for my kickass boots, since Becca said, “You sure do swear a lot.”
I shrugged and pointed at the swear jar. “I’m supposed to put a dollar in it every time I curse. But I don’t think I’m that bad.” I didn’t add that at the apartment my roommate, Gina, and I shared, she’d installed a swear jar, too.
“You’re that bad,” Becca said. “You said the F-word, like, five times in a row.”
I tried not to sound indignant. “Swearing is a proven stress reliever. You should try it instead of doing that to yourself.” I nodded toward her bandaged arm. “When I’m under a lot of stress, dropping a couple of f-bombs makes me feel a lot better.”
“What have you got to feel stressed about?” She looked around the office. “This doesn’t seem like such a hard job.”
“Oh, yeah? You don’t know the half of it.” My job wasn’t the problem. It was my personal life that was currently going down the toilet. “I’m not even getting paid for this.”
“What?” Becca came out of her daze a little, seeming genuinely surprised, but not enough to let go of the horse pendant. “How come?”
“Because there are, like, nine hundred applicants with way more experience than people my age for every job that comes available. We all have to work for free just to get some experience so we can put it on our résumés so we can maybe get a paying job someday, but there’s no guarantee we will. Oh, right. I forgot they don’t mention this in high school. You’re still brimming with hope and joie de vivre.” I looked at her. “Well, maybe not you, particularly.”
She didn’t seem to get my meaning.
“What did Sister mean by ‘the girls’? Do you have kids in this school?”
“No, I don’t have kids in this school.” I stared at her, horrified. “Seriously, how old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know. About thirty-sev—”
“Forget I asked. The kids are my brother Brad’s. Stepbrother’s, I mean.” Brad and I were actually the same age, but had always had vastly different tastes and attitudes. “He knocked up his girlfriend with triplets right after high school, and now their daughters are in kindergarten here. See what can happen if you don’t practice safe sex?”
I widened my eyes at Becca dramatically, but she didn’t look very scared. The truth is when you’re a girl who’s miserable enough to carve the word stupid in your arm with a compass, the idea of having three kids in kindergarten by the time you’re twenty-five probably seems like awesome sauce . . . or maybe so unimaginable, it’s not even in the realm of possibility.
I decided to change the subject.
“Do you have siblings, Becca?”
I eyed the horse pendant she was clutching again. “None at all? Ever?”
“Not even stepsisters? Half sisters? Adopted?”
She gave me a look that made it clear she thought I’d not only jumped aboard the train to Crazy Town, I was the engineer. “No. Why?”
This mediation might prove to be even tougher than the one that had ruined my boots. The problem with my job is that in reality—unlike on TV shows such as Ghost Mediator, which are completely scripted while purporting to be “reality”—if you simply come out and say, “Oh, hey, I’m in touch with the spirit world and your dead relative wants you to know such-and-such,” people do not really burst into tears of gratitude and thank you for setting their conscience at ease.
They run away, and then sometimes, if they’re of a litigious nature, they come back with a team of lawyers and sue you for causing them emotional distress.
“No reason. I notice you like horses—”
She instantly dropped the pendant, then tucked it away inside her shirt. “Not really.”
“Oh. I thought maybe you did because of that necklace. It’s pretty. Did someone important to you give it to you?”
She shrugged, looking away. “No. I saw it in a store in New York this one time. My mom moved there after . . . after she and my dad split up. I said I liked it, so she bought it for me.”
“That was nice of her.” One of the things they’re always drumming into our heads in class is when in doubt, look to the patient’s home life, especially the mother. It always goes back to the mother. Thanks, Freud. “Are you and your mom close?”
She shrugged again, looking out the office windows at the sunshine. “I guess.”
“Do you get to see her very much?”
Another shrug. “A few weeks in the summer. Holidays.”
I could tell there was something going on with the mother. Why else had she moved all the way to New York from the West Coast? It wasn’t unheard of for a father to get primary custody, but it wasn’t the most common thing, either, even in kooky California.
And what was with the horse thing? Who was Lucia to her? Her bond with Becca had to be a strongly emotional one. I hadn’t seen a reaction that violent from a spirit in a long, long time, not since . . . well, a certain spirit I’d laid to rest by putting it back in its living body, which wasn’t something I was ever, ever going to do again, thanks to apparently having stirred up the ire of some ancient Egyptian gods . . .
I really needed to get my computer back up and running, so I could look up the veracity of Paul’s threat. I never had much success looking things up on my phone.
I tried again, keeping my voice cheerfully neutral. “It must be hard not having your mom around. How long has she been gone?”
“It’s fine,” she said. Thank God she didn’t shrug again, or I might have knocked over a few file cabinets myself in frustration. “Why are you asking me all these questions? She left when I was little, okay, right after the accident—”
She broke off after the word accident as if she’d said something she shouldn’t have, then looked down at the bandage I’d put on her wrist. “How long will I have to wear this thing?” she whined. “It’s starting to itch.”
I ignored the question, pouncing on her previous statement. “Right after what accident, Becca?” This was it, I knew. In therapy, they called it the Breakthrough. In Non-Compliant Deceased Person mediation, we called it the Key. “What accident? Did something happen to your mother?”
But before Becca could reply, my cell phone rang once more. “Someone Saved My life Tonight.”
I couldn’t hit Ignore a second time. Jesse would abandon his patients, get in his car, drive over, and strangle me. Well, not literally, but metaphorically.
“I have to take this,” I said to Becca. “It’s i
“Whatever,” Becca said with another one of her infernal shrugs. “It’s no big deal. I don’t know why you’re asking me all this stuff. I said I’d never do it again, and I won’t, okay? God.” Then she dug out her own phone, slumping even further in her chair as she began to text someone.
So she had friends. Interesting.
“Hey, Jesse,” I said, swiveling around in my desk chair so my back was to the haunted girl. “How’s your day going?”
“How’s my day going?” He sounded incredulous. “What’s happening over there?”
“Here?” I asked casually. “Nothing. It’s work. You know. Boring. Why?”
Susannah. Susannah. Susannah. I loved the way he said my name. The truth was, I loved everything about him.
“You know I can tell when you’re lying. Even over one of these things.”
Except the way he always knew when I was lying, and his impatience with modern technology. Those things I didn’t love so much.
This had made our separation when he’d gone away to medical school and me to college—though we’d only been four hours away from each other—extremely challenging. He’d insisted on letters.
“We may no longer have a mediator-ghost connection, Susannah,” Jesse went on, “but I can still tell when you’re feeling something strongly, and earlier, you were afraid. I felt it. I was dealing with a four-year-old with a bee in her ear, or believe me, I’d have driven over there.”
“And what, precisely, would you have driven over here to do?” I lowered my voice so Becca couldn’t overhear me. “Spank my naughty bottom? Please do not get my hopes up.”
I found that joking often worked as a means to distract him when he was being a little too extrasensory perceptive.
“Susannah.” He didn’t sound very amused.
“You know it gets me hot when you’re mad. What are you wearing right now under your stethoscope?”
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes