Remembrance, p.8
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       Remembrance, p.8
 

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  Through the phone, I could hear hammering. Last time I’d watched Andy’s home improvement show, he’d been refinishing a Craftsman cottage in Santa Monica, but they don’t show episodes in order so I never know where they really are unless Mom tells me.

  “Oh, dear,” my mother said. “That sounds terribly . . . aggressive.”

  “Yeah, you think?”

  “You know, I always thought Paul had a little bit of a crush on you, Suzie. But you never had eyes for anyone but Jesse. You didn’t even apply to a single out-of-state college, which I still think was a mistake. Not that there’s anything wrong with Jesse; you know Andy and I adore him, but when I was your age—”

  “Mom,” I said, in a tired voice. “Paul Slater is a dick hole.”

  “Oh, Suzie, really, must you use that kind of language? Sometimes it’s hard to believe we sent you to private school. And I know you and Paul had your rough patches, but I always felt a bit sorry for him.”

  “Sorry? For Paul?”

  “Yes. He was one of those kids who received plenty of money from his family, but no attention or love. He always seemed a bit lost.”

  “Lost? He seems to know exactly where he’s going.” And what he wants. Namely me.

  “I think he wanted to be part of our family,” Mom said. “Only not exactly your brother, if you know what I mean.”

  “Ew,” I said. “Gross. And even if that’s true, it doesn’t explain why he thinks bulldozing our old house to build a ten-thousand-square-foot freaking McMansion over it would make us like him.”

  “No, you’re right,” my mother said with a sigh. “But I suppose to him, even negative attention from you is better than no attention at all.”

  “Huh,” I said, thinking about this. “That could be true.”

  My mom was good to come to for advice. I couldn’t tell her everything, of course, because she’d freak out. Things like tears in the fabric of the universe, ghosts, or ancient Egyptian curses were not her milieu.

  But she understood people.

  “Oh, dear,” she said. “This is going to upset Andy and the boys so much.”

  “The boys? What about me? It’s upsetting the hell out of me.”

  My mother sighed again in a weary way. “Suzie, really, do I have to keep telling you? If you expect to be taken seriously at your job, you have got to clean up your language—”

  “Sweet crippling Christ, Mom,” I said. “I’m not at work right now. And I keep telling you, it’s not a job, it’s an internship. They’re not even paying me.”

  “Well, I’m sure there are a lot more paying jobs for school counselors here in LA than there are up there. Forget the house. Why don’t you move down here? You can live with Andy and me. Jesse can join you when he’s done with his residency, and if you two are really set on getting married, you could buy a nice little condo. It would be so much easier for me to visit my future grandbabies if they were right here in town than—”

  It was going to be interesting to see what kind of grandbabies she’d have—if any—if I didn’t meet Paul and he really did bulldoze 99 Pine Crest Road.

  “Look, Mom,” I interrupted her. “We can talk about all that later. I have to go now.”

  “All right, Suzie. I’m sorry about the house. But honestly, we had to sell. Andy and I were never there, and neither were any of you. And that place was too big to maintain as a vacation home. And so drafty. You’re going to laugh, but you know, sometimes I could have sworn it was haunted.”

  This almost made me choke on my own saliva.

  I never thought I’d be thankful for an interruption from CeeCee’s crazy aunt Pru. “Suze? Is that you?”

  “Oh, hi, Pru,” I said to the long-haired woman dressed all in purple who’d wafted up. “Yes, it’s me.”

  “Is that CeeCee’s aunt?” my mother asked in my ear, sounding nostalgic. “Please tell her hello from me.”

  “Uh, my mom says hi, Prudence,” I said, lamely waving the cell phone in CeeCee’s aunt’s direction so she’d understand my mother was on the phone.

  “Wonderful. Do tell your mother how much I enjoyed the latest episode of Andy’s show,” Pru said. As usual, she had on an enormous floppy hat, as well as long silk gloves, in order to protect her skin from damaging UV rays, even though the sun had long since slipped behind the trees. Like CeeCee, Pru, suffered from albinism. Unlike Cee, Pru fancied herself in touch with the psychic world. “He’s really doing wonders with that new house.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “I’ll tell her.” CeeCee’s aunt was endlessly kind, but a bit of a whack job. True to form, she had a prediction for me.

  “Oh, Suze,” she called from the doorway of the coffee shop.

  “Yes?”

  “The child,” she said.

  I glanced around the outside of the shop, which was as whimsically decorated as the inside, festooned with twinkling fairy lights and wrought-iron café tables and potted shrubs.

  “What child?” I asked her. There were no children in sight. It was twilight, and getting a little chilly. Only an extremely bad parent would allow their kids to run around outside the Happy Medium in the semidarkness. “There’s no child here, Prudence.”

  “No, not here,” Pru said. “The one you know from school.”

  What the hell was she talking about?

  “That child is lost, and very frightened, and in so much pain,” she went on. “And lost children in pain can sometimes be very cruel. Like wild animals, you know? They lash out and hurt others, sometimes without meaning to. But sometimes on purpose, too.”

  Then she smiled her happy, dazed smile and went inside the shop.

  I stared after her, remembering too late that occasionally Aunt Pru’s predictions actually came true.

  “What was that all about?” my mother asked.

  “Nothing.”

  I hoped.

  ocho

  It had grown fully dark by the time I got home, but I told myself I wasn’t worried about Aunt Pru’s warning. Despite the impressive amount of psychic power Lucia had shown back at the mission, she’d seemed primarily concerned with focusing it on Becca, not me.

  “Lost children in pain can sometimes be very cruel.” That could easily sum up Paul, and the way he was lashing out at Jesse . . . and at me.

  My mother had also used the word lost to refer to him. He was no child, though.

  Still, even if Lucia had chosen to attack me again, the Carmel Valley Mountain View Apartment Complex—as the management company of the building in which I lived had somewhat misleadingly named it—would have made an unlikely place to do so. The so-called “mountain view” was actually only of the winery-dotted foothills of what eventually turned into the Santa Lucia mountain range, the breathtaking peaks against which the massive waves of the Pacific crashed at Big Sur, much farther down the coastal highway.

  How coincidental was it that the place where I lived looked out over the Santa Lucias, and the ghost I was currently trying to mediate was called Lucia? It wasn’t that common of a name.

  Feigning a lightheartedness I was far from feeling, I waved to my fellow tenants as I joined them in what had become a daily routine: the after-work trudge from our cars to our apartment doors, which we’d all unlock at the same time to get to our refrigerators and TVs and futons.

  Still, I like my place. It’s nothing fancy, just a one bedroom in a thirty-unit building off the G16. Kelly Prescott Walters would probably sneer at the idea of living here instead of some two-bedroom condo over in Pebble Beach with a sea view and a private hot tub (though now she probably lives in a $20 million mansion with her billionaire husband).

  But in good traffic my place was a less-than fifteen-minute drive from Carmel Beach (and my classes and place of work). Plus the other tenants—mostly young newlyweds with small children and singles like myself, either divorced or not yet married—were friendly. It was always good to be home, the one place I never had to worry about being attacked by the souls of the dead, becau
se, “Evil spirits cannot enter an inhabited house unless invited.”

  That’s what Sir Walter Scott—who’d written Ivanhoe and a bunch of other books Father Dominic tried very hard to make me read—said, and it’s (mostly) true. There are tons of ways unwelcome guests (of both the paranormal and human variety) can enter a home.

  But there are also tons of precautions you can take to keep them out. I’m not just talking about hanging crucifixes or mezuzahs on the walls or doorways, either (though trust me, I have both. I’ll take all the protection I can get).

  Before I’d moved in, I hired my own security experts to replace the unit’s dead bolts (in case any previous tenants—or their exes—had “forgotten” to return their keys).

  Then I’d installed metal braces to jam the sliding glass doors to the balcony, even though they were located on the second floor. True, it was unlikely a burglar was going to scale the balcony of the unit below to break in.

  But it wasn’t burglars I was worried about.

  Then I’d sprinkled a mixture of sea salt and boric acid (the powdered kind you can get in a box at the hardware store) across all the outside doorways and windowsills, as well as the seams in the kitchen counters. The salt was to keep out Non-Compliant Deceased Persons. The boric acid was to keep away roaches. I figured why not kill two unwanted pests in one? Like Paul had said, I’m a modern kind of girl.

  Of course, none of that stopped Father Dominic from coming over and doing a house blessing, dousing the place in holy water (which got me worried about the boric acid congealing, but it ended up being fine).

  I didn’t mention to him that CeeCee’s aunt Pru had already been over and done a Wiccan cleansing, smudging the place with sage, or that Jesse had lain a shining copper penny, head up, in each outer corner of the unit, sheepishly admitting it was something one of his sisters used to do (of course, back then it had been halfpennies, and they’d been made of solid copper. Today’s pennies are mostly made of zinc), and he didn’t really believe in it, but why not?

  Why not indeed? We all have our superstitions. I wasn’t going to begrudge anyone theirs. I have plenty of my own.

  As soon as I’d locked the door behind me, I kicked off my wedges, undid my bra, and fed Romeo, the lab rat I’d stolen from my Operant Conditioning class after successfully training him to run a maze, then press a lever to feed himself.

  The professor had warned us in advance not to grow too attached to our rats. It doesn’t pay for clinical researchers to become emotionally attached to their lab animals, any more than it does for therapists or physicians to become emotionally attached to their patients. In order for the professional to best serve their client, they need to remain detached.

  And virtually every achievement in medical history owes its lifesaving advancements to animal testing. Eventually most lab rats end up getting dissected.

  But I only took the class because it was a requirement. I no more planned on going into clinical research than I planned on becoming emotionally attached to my rat (this was becoming an upsetting pattern: as a mediator, I also hadn’t planned on becoming emotionally attached to any of the ghosts I’d attempted to mediate, but look what happened).

  As soon as the final was over, I swapped out Romeo for a look-alike I’d found in a pet store.

  Rats are a lot cleaner and smarter than people give them credit for. Romeo and I have grown to share a genuine and totally unique personal bond. He’s paper trained, and likes to sleep on my shoulder while I watch TV. No way would I have left my little buddy in that lab for some PhD candidate to experiment on—possibly even kill—over the summer.

  Paul was right: I’m probably going to be world’s crappiest counselor.

  But since his opinion isn’t one that matters too much to me, I’m not worried.

  While Romeo sat in his cage, contentedly chewing his dinner of baby carrots and unsalted nuts, I sprawled out on the couch (also known as Gina’s bed), and dialed Father Dominic’s cell and home numbers. Of course he picked up on neither. I left a message I hoped had the right tone of professionalism and yet urgency.

  “Hey, Father D, it’s me. Sister E probably already talked to you about the alleged earthquake we had today in the office . . . yeah, not so much. But don’t worry, I totally have it under control. Well, mostly. Anyway, something else kind of unusual came up . . . nothing serious. I’m just wondering if you’ve ever heard of an old curse from the Book of the Dead . . . something about resurrection and what happens when you destroy the resting place of a ghost?”

  I couldn’t say exactly what it was about, of course, because I knew the minute I did, Father Dominic would realize I was referring to Jesse. Then the old man would freak out and call him, as well. That kind of headache I did not need.

  “So, anyway, just call me back as soon as you get this,” I went on. “I’d really appreciate it. Hope you’re having fun with all the other principals at your little conference. Bye!”

  I hung up, pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting a return call anytime soon. Father Dominic was nearly as bad as Jesse at dealing with phones, although at least Jesse liked to text. Father D’s phone didn’t even have texting capabilities. It was one of those mobiles for elderly people who can’t see very well, with extremely large buttons. I’d gotten it for him out of frustration when he’d failed to return any messages at all for a week because he couldn’t figure out how to retrieve his voice mail on his last phone. At least this new one had an enormous button that flashed MESSAGE when someone left one. I hoped he’d notice, and press it.

  Checking my own phone, I saw I’d gotten several messages during my drive home. There was nothing yet from Shahbaz Effendi, the Egyptology student, but I told myself that didn’t mean he was blowing me off. He could be sleeping. He could be off on an archeological dig. He could be in a different time zone, halfway around the world. He didn’t necessarily think I was some lying weirdo.

  At least CeeCee had gotten back to me. She’d been busy since I’d last seen her, only a short time ago:

  CeeCee Do you have any idea how many women/girls/babies with the first name Lucia have died in the state of California in the past ten years? It’s one of the most common female names in the US (it means “light”).

  Unless you can give me some narrower search parameters (city/county/year/cause of death), it’s going to take me days to sort through these.

  NOV 16 5:45 PM

  I was definitely going to have to upgrade that gift card.

  One thing for sure, I wasn’t going to tell her that Adam MacTavish may have been ignoring her calls and texts, but he’d replied right away to an e-mail I’d sent him:

  To: suzesimon@missionacademy.edu

  Fr: adam.mactavish@michiganstate.edu

  Re: Your House

  Date: November 16 8:33:07 PM EST

  Hey, Suze! Great to hear from you. Glad things are going so well . . . or not so well, I guess, given the news about your old house. Sorry about that.

  Thanks for the congrats, CeeCee’s right, I did make Law Review. It’s not as big a deal as people think. Although I’ll admit I’ve been partying pretty hard since I found out ;-)

  But you managed to catch me in a sober moment.

  I looked at the attachment you sent me, and though real estate/construction law is not my specialty, as far as I can tell, your old house was purchased (along with the others around it) by Slater Industries, which is a private company, through private sales. So they aren’t in violation of the rule of eminent domain.

  The houses are also situated just outside the historic preservation zone of Carmel-by-the-Sea, in the Carmel Hills.

  You can get the place retroactively declared a historic landmark, but that will take at least sixty days. Only then will you be able to secure an injunction to stop the demolition. However, the work is scheduled to begin next week.

  In other words, Suze, I’m sorry to tell you: you’re screwed.

  I’ll be home next week for Thanksgiving break. Let’s
get together with CeeCee for a cup at the Clutch like old times!*

  Adam

  *I keep forgetting her aunt changed the name! I mean the Happy Medium.

  Well, that was discouraging, but not as bad as I’d thought. At least there was something I could do. It was better than what I’d been picturing, which was standing outside my old house facing down Paul’s bulldozers with a baseball bat.

  I wasn’t giving up hope . . . not yet, anyway.

  I rolled over on the couch so I could get a better look out my balcony’s open sliding glass door at the pool below. From where I lay, I could see that the exterior landscaping lights had come on, including the pool’s. The unnaturally blue water beckoned to me. I knew it was full of chlorine and chemicals and probably the pee of my neighbors’ children, but I didn’t care. It was kept heated in cold weather and doing laps in it was heavenly compared to forty minutes on the elliptical in the gym.

  It also helped me think. I had a lot of thinking to do.

  Because while in addition to hearing from CeeCee and Adam, I’d received a few pleasant texts from classmates at school asking if I was going to join them for happy hour (bless their boozy little hearts), as well as an invitation from my stepbrother, Jake, to join him at his place for “brews and za” (but only if I brought along Gina after she got off work. Jake was so transparent—he’d been crushing on Gina for years), I’d also been left a few concerning voice mails.

  The first was from Sister Ernestine, wanting to know how—how on earth!—I could have left the office looking the way I had, and just what I proposed we do about the triplets, my stepnieces.

  The next one was from the triplets’ mother, my stepbrother Brad’s wife, Debbie, demanding to know who Sister Ernestine thought she was, suggesting that her daughters might have ADHD, when in fact they were only naturally high-spirited and creative little girls.

  This was followed by a voice mail from Brad, asking if I could please get “that old windbag Sister Ernestine” off his back, as she was ruining his marriage. Then he wanted to know if I was joining Jake for “brews and za,” and if so, could he tag along—anything to get away from Debbie, who was driving him crazy.

 
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