Remembrance, p.7
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       Remembrance, p.7

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  “It’s okay.” CeeCee reached for her latte and took a big gulp. “It’s cool to be a freak now. Even if I do still live at home.”

  Gina bit her lip. “I’m sorry I said that, too. And you’re not a freak. It’s just . . . I can relate to Kelly’s not being able to hack it in the big city. That’s why I’m here, sleeping on Suze’s couch.”

  “That’s totally different,” I pointed out quickly. “You’re from New York, like me. You’re used to public transportation. Navigating all those freeways in LA had to suck. And you’re only taking a break from the Hollywood thing until you have some money saved up and your shit together—”

  Both CeeCee and Gina pointed at the “swear” jar, which I’d intended for them to do. I’d sworn on purpose, to lighten the mood. Whenever Gina began to dwell on why she’d taken a detour from her dream of movie stardom, and ended up in my apartment in Carmel, her voice caught, and her eyes filled. She’d been crashing at my place for several months, though none of us—not even Jesse, who was the most soothing of souls—had learned why, except that life in Hollywood had been harder than she’d expected.

  “For now,” Jesse had advised, after one late-night chat by the backyard fire pit at the house he and my stepbrother Jake shared had left her looking particularly pensive, “leave it alone. She’ll tell you what happened when she’s ready. Just let her heal.”

  So Gina was healing on my futon couch and earning minimum wage, plus tips, at the Happy Medium.

  Getting up to stuff another dollar in the “swear” jar, I went on, “I don’t think Kelly’s changed much since high school.”

  Becca’s new stepmother had barely glanced at Sister Ernestine as she’d explained why she’d called.

  “So it was just another one of Becca’s accidents?” Kelly had asked. “She’s so clumsy.” Her tone suggested, So why do you people keep calling me?

  The fact that Becca had had more than one of these kinds of “accidents” alarmed me—this family seemed to dwell a lot on the word accident.

  But before I could say anything, Sister Ernestine butted in.

  “Well, yes, Mrs. Walters, but this time you may want to take Becca to see her pediatrician. Miss Simon and I aren’t trained medical professionals, and as you can see by Becca’s uniform, there was quite a lot of blood—”

  “Becca, you keep a spare shirt in your locker for PE, don’t you?” Kelly asked.

  Becca nodded, looking cowed by her glamazon of a stepmother.

  “Great,” Kelly said. “No need for me to take her home then.” She’d given us one of her patented Kelly Prescott Look-at-me, I’m-a-real-California-blonde, capped-teeth-and-all smiles. “Well, thanks for calling, Sister. Suze, it was, uh, good to see you again. Buh-bye.”

  “Not so fast, Kelly,” I’d called just as she’d spun around on a red-soled Louboutin, her long, honey-gold curls leaving behind the delicate odor of burnt hair that had spent too long in a curling iron. “I’d definitely have a doctor look at your stepdaughter. In fact, I’d take her over to the emergency room at St. Francis in Monterey right now and ask for a Dr. Jesse de Silva. He’s excellent. Here, let me write it down for you.”

  I’d scrounged around for a pen and notepad, which hadn’t looked too professional, since all the pens and notepads had been flung to the floor by Becca’s still-absent guardian angel.

  “The ER?” Kelly had pushed her sunglasses up onto her forehead. “You can’t be serious. It was just a cut. She says she’s got an extra shirt. She’s fine.”

  “Yeah.” Becca had nodded vigorously. “I’m fine.”

  “She’s not fine, Kelly.” I’d shoved Jesse’s name and number into Kelly’s manicured hand. “Take her to see him. She needs to get that cut looked at, and by a professional. Do you understand what I’m saying, Kelly?” I’d wanted to add, You dumb cow, but of course I couldn’t.

  Kelly looked down at the hastily scrawled note in her hands.

  “Jesse de Silva,” she read aloud. “Why is that name familiar to me?” Then a lightbulb seemed to go off in her dim, beautiful head. “Oh, my God, isn’t that your boyfriend? Wait, yes. It is! I read in the online alumni newsletter you two got engaged. Marrying your high-school sweetheart. Isn’t that cute?”

  I’d felt myself turning red.

  “Yes,” I’d said. “Jesse is my fiancé. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a terrific pediatrician—”

  Kelly had crumpled the note in her fist, then thrown it to the floor with all the other detritus. It was apparent her Isn’t that cute? had been sarcastic.

  “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she’d said, her perfectly made-up eyes flashing. “Using your job here to drum up business for your boyfriend. I know things are bad in the medical industry, but honestly, Suze. I’d think you of all people would know better. Funny how I used to think you were sort of smart, coming from New York City, and all. I remember some of us in school even looked up to you, once upon a time, and thought you were going to go places. Well, that was a long time ago, obviously.”

  She’d smirked, then stepped over a collapsed Venetian blind and added, “Sister Ernestine, you might want to rethink hiring this person. My husband is a major donor to the academy, you know. I doubt you’d want to do anything to upset him.”

  Then she’d tossed her hair and left, her high heels ringing on the mission paving stones.

  siete

  “Geez,” CeeCee said, after I’d relayed this story to her and Gina—not the part about Lucia, of course, or the details about Becca’s wound. That would have been a violation of student-counselor—and mediator-NCDP—privilege.

  “So basically what you’re saying is that this Kelly Prescott is the worst person in the world to be parenting a child.” Gina tugged on one of her short black dreadlocks. “Worst. Person. In. The. World. Got it.”

  “Well,” I said. “Maybe worst stepparent. She could just be having a hard time bonding with a kid who isn’t her own.”

  I felt a little bad for Kelly, since I knew she’d dated Paul. If he’d treated her in any way like the way he was treating me . . .

  That wasn’t any excuse for the way she was treating her stepdaughter, though.

  CeeCee had sunk her chin into her hand and was regarding me dejectedly. “I’m good with kids, you know. But God forbid a guy—even an old dude like Lance Arthur Walters—would go for a girl like me. No, they always go for girls like Kelly. Girls with pigment.”

  Gina had had to get up then because, true to CeeCee’s prediction—though her aunt was the only one in the family who professed to be psychic—customers had begun coming in, as it was after six.

  So that left only me to say, “Oh, come on, CeeCee. You wouldn’t want to be married to some old rich dude anyway. Isn’t it better to wait until you can be with someone you actually like, and support yourself?”

  “Like you, you mean? Yeah, well, too bad I don’t have your luck,” CeeCee grumbled, her tone only slightly bitter. Then her violet eyes widened. “Not . . . I didn’t mean—with your dad . . .”

  I smiled at her. “No. I get it. It’s true. I am lucky, in a way.”

  CeeCee didn’t mean I was lucky because my dad was dead. He went out jogging one day when I was very young, and never came back (at least, not physically. He hovered at my side spiritually for years, offering unsolicited advice).

  CeeCee meant what happened after that.

  I didn’t find out about it until after my college graduation. That’s when Mom told me she’d invested all the Social Security benefits the government had been sending to me in Dad’s name, in addition to my portion of his surprisingly hefty life insurance policy. Mom hadn’t needed the money to raise me, since she’d had a great job as a local television news journalist, and now she’d gotten herself named as an executive producer of my stepfather Andy’s dorky home improvement show.

  Or maybe it wasn’t so dorky, considering it had gone into international syndication and you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Andy’s big handsome face on the side of a bus, urging you to try his new brand of drill bits.

 


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  After I’d graduated from college, I’d inherited the money. Mom said I could do whatever I wanted with it, except spend it “on drugs, designer clothes, or a boob job” (which I found insulting: I don’t do drugs, designer clothes are for people lacking in fashion imagination, and my boobs are as amazing as my hair).

  “And don’t even think about spending it on a wedding,” Andy had added. “I know you and Jesse want to get married soon, but we’ll pay for it.”

  I’d decided the wisest thing to do was keep the money where it was, invested in a combination of bonds and blue chip stocks (it turns out there is something about which I’m almost as conservative as Jesse: finances).

  I did cash in a little to use for grad school, and to rent my one-bedroom apartment in Carmel Valley, not too far from where my oldest stepbrother, Jake, had bought a house with the money he’d made off an entrepreneurial venture of his own, the house he shares with Jesse.

  And of course when I found the perfect couture wedding gown (but with a vintage feel) while on a girls’ weekend in San Francisco with CeeCee and our mothers two summers ago, I’d thought it worth the splurge. It’s been sitting in my closet ever since, already fitted and ready to go.

  Jesse, of course, won’t let me use a penny of it to help him with his debt. He has too much pride (or overprotective nineteenth-century macho man bullshit, as I like to call it, often to his face).

  CeeCee was right: I am lucky—if you can call losing your dad at a young age lucky. Yeah, I lost him, but I still got to visit with him for nearly a decade afterward.

  And now I support myself while working an unpaid internship at my alma mater.

  But when Jesse and I get married next year, my dad won’t be there to walk me down the aisle. I’m not a sentimental girl, but that seems kind of unlucky. I’d give all the money back if I could have my dad alive again, just for a few hours.

  Or Paul dead. Either one would be great.

  “What about your career?” I asked CeeCee, trying to change the subject. “At least you’ve got your dream job. Not many new college grads can say that.”

  CeeCee snorted. “Oh, right. I’m
finally full time at the paper, and they’ve stuck me on the police beat. Do you know what that’s like around here? Some old lady over on Sandy Point Way says this is the third day in a row tourists have taken pictures of the front of her house. She called the cops because tourists keep stopping in front of her beachfront bungalow to take photos of it! What does she expect them to do, not look at it? It’s her own fault, for living in such a freaking adorable house.”

  “Be careful what you wish for, CeeCee,” I said. “You don’t want juicier crimes around here to report on, believe me. Speaking of the paper, I was wondering if you’d mind—”

  “Oh, no,” CeeCee interrupted with a groan. “Not again.”

  “—searching the archives,” I went on. “I tried to do it myself, but—”

  “—the search function on the paper’s online edition only lists obituaries by last names,” she finished for me in a bored voice. “And you only have the first name. Or wait, let me guess: You don’t know what year the person died.”

  “Um . . . both?”

  “Really, Suze? Because I have nothing better to do all day?”

  “CeeCee, I wouldn’t ask, if it weren’t really, really important. Her first name is Lucia, and I’m pretty sure she died in the state of California in the past ten years.”

  “Oh, that narrows it down,” CeeCee said, sarcastically.

  “She’s six to ten years old, tops. And I think she liked horseback riding, if that helps.”

  CeeCee stared. “Wait . . . she’s a kid? Oh, Suze, I didn’t know. That’s terrible.”

  I’d never explained my gift to CeeCee. Over the years, however, she—and my youngest stepbrother, David—had caught on. It had made my job a little easier, though the ludicrous story Father Dominic made up to explain Jesse’s sudden appearance in Carmel—that he was a “young Jesuit student who’d transferred to the mission from Mexico, then lost his yearning to go into the priesthood” after meeting me—nearly blew my credibility.

  My mom and Andy fell for it, though, hook, line, and sinker. It’s amazing what people will believe if they want to enough.

  “I know,” I said. “It’s so sad. Don’t you want to help now, Cee? Especially knowing you might keep the restless soul of a child from wandering aimlessly between life and death for centuries. And maybe even get to meet the man of your dreams, Mr. Lance Arthur Walters.”

  CeeCee slammed down the lid of her laptop.

  “Excuse me, but I thought I made it abundantly clear that I am not attracted to Kelly Prescott’s husband. What does he even have to do with any of this?”

  I realized I’d just violated my mediator-NCDP confidentiality. “Uh . . . nothing. Sorry. I’ve had way too much caffeine. How’s Adam anyway? Have you heard from him lately?” I always used my most soothing tone, the way we’d been instructed to in our counseling practicum (part of our required core, worth three whole units), when bringing up CeeCee’s on-again, off-again boyfriend.

  “Adam?” CeeCee laughed bitterly before folding her arms and slumping down in her chair. “Whatever. We hooked up a few times over the summer, and he said he was going to try to stay in touch, but that things were going to be super busy for him at school this year. And yeah, I get that he just made Law Review, and yeah, I’m happy for him. But it’s like he’s forgotten I exist. He never returns my texts or even likes my status updates anymore.”

  She looked as sad-eyed as a puppy in one of those late-night commercials asking for donations for starving and abandoned animals.

  “Well, he’s a jerk,” I said loyally, even though Adam was my friend, too, and there are always two sides to the story. “Screw him. But honestly, Cee, you can’t expect a guy to like all your status updates. Come on. If we held everyone to that standard, there’d be no hookups ever in the history of mankind. You know Adam. He adores you—”

  CeeCee shook her head at me sadly. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. You found the perfect guy. You and Jesse don’t have a problem in the world.”

  “Uh,” I said. Where to begin? “That is so far from true, CeeCee, I can’t even—”

  Fortunately, at that moment, my cell phone chimed.

  “I have to take this,” I said, getting up from my seat. I’d hoped it was the blogger, Shahbaz, since I’d given him my cell number in my e-mail, but it was someone almost as important. “It’s my mom. But hold that thought, CeeCee. I want to talk about this. Your feelings matter to me. They really do.”

  CeeCee rolled her eyes and reopened her laptop. “You think I can’t tell when you’re using your stupid thera-speak on me? Say hi to Mrs. S from me anyway.”

  My mom had kept my dad’s name, instead of taking Andy’s, because Simon was the name under which she’d become known professionally. More important, it’s my last name. It rocks.

  On the other hand, de Silva rocks, too. If I changed my name when Jesse and I get married—if we get married, which was beginning to look less and less likely unless I figured out a way to stop Paul—I won’t have to change my initials, as CeeCee had pointed out, just add a de.

  “I’ll tell her,” I assured her. “And thanks in advance for anything you can do regarding the, uh, dead kid situation.”

  CeeCee gave me the finger, which caused more than a few people in the café to raise their eyebrows. You don’t often see an albino in an asymmetrical haircut giving a hot brunette the finger.

  I was going to have to do better than a mere thank-you. A generous gift card to CeeCee’s favorite online store was probably going to be in order to placate her for this one.

  I stepped outside the café—CeeCee’s aunt Pru doesn’t allow cell phone use inside the Happy Medium since she’s convinced the electromagnetic radiation they give off interferes with her psychic flow and also kills bees—and answered my cell. “Mom?”

  “Oh, Suzie.”

  My mother is the only person in the world who’s allowed to call me Suzie. When I was a kid, I didn’t like the name Suzie because I was a tomboy who saw dead people, and didn’t think a name ending in a babyish ee sound suited me. Then as I got older, it reminded me too much of the old song “Suzie Q,” which my dad liked to sing to me. It’s a perfectly good song, except for the part where my dad was dead, and hearing it always makes me a little sad for what might have been.

  “How are you, honey? Listen,” Mom went on, before I could reply. “This isn’t really the best time. We’re at a shoot. But you sounded so frantic in your message. I hope there isn’t anything wrong.”

  “Well, there is. I need to—”

  “If it’s about Thanksgiving, Andy and I are still planning to be there next week. We’re staying at the Carmel Inn downtown, by the beach. Debbie says she’s making dinner, but God only knows how that’s going to turn out—I’m sure you remember the fight she and Brad had last time—so I managed to get a table for all of us at Mariner’s, just in case. Oh, did Jesse get that grant he applied for?”

  “Uh, no,” I said. “Not yet. I didn’t call about Thanksgiving. I’m wondering why you guys didn’t tell me that you sold the old house to Slater Industries?”

  “Slater Industries?” Mom sounded confused. “We didn’t sell it to Slater Industries. We sold it to a man named Mitchell Blumenthal. He seems like a wonderful—”

  “Mitchell Blumenthal is the president of Slater Properties, a subsidiary of Slater Industries, which is owned by Paul Slater,” I interrupted her. I’d looked it up earlier in the day, after my computer was fixed. “I got an e-mail from Paul today saying his company bought the place. He’s got it scheduled for demo later this month.”

  “Oh, honey, that’s terrible.” My mother sounded genuinely upset. “Are you sure? The same Paul Slater from your class? I didn’t think you two kept in touch.”

  “Yes, I’m sure, and we don’t.”

 
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