Remembrance, p.9
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       Remembrance, p.9

         Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

  Great. Just great.

  This was in direct contrast to his youngest brother, David (known to me privately as Doc, since he was also the most intelligent of my stepsiblings), who texted me a photo of himself in his dorm room at Harvard, wearing—for reasons he did not explain—a woman’s bustier and full makeup.

  I wasn’t certain if he was coming out of the closet or purposefully challenging gender stereotypes for some class assignment. Knowing David, it could be either, both, or none of the above.

  But I responded to his message immediately—as opposed to the ones from his older brothers, which I ignored—with a thumbs-up sign.

  Last—but never least—there was a text from Jesse:

  Jesse Quieres jugar al médicos?

  NOV 16 5:47 PM

  Medico meant doctor. I was pretty sure jugar meant play, as in jugar al tenis.

  Was he teasing? Was he actually asking if I wanted to play doctor?

  I was busy replying:

  Mucho gusto!

  NOV 16 6:15 PM

  when my cell buzzed, indicating I was receiving another text. I eagerly clicked on the screen, hoping it might be Father Dominic (or the Egyptology student) calling with the answer to all my problems (or, even better, Jesse on a break from his rounds at the hospital, simul-texting me), when my smile froze on my face.

  It wasn’t Jesse.

  El Diablo Go ahead, don’t text back. I know I’m going to see you on Friday @8.

  Don’t make me do something we’ll both regret, Suze. Well, that YOU’ll regret.

  NOV 16 6:42 PM

  El Diablo was the nickname I’d assigned to Paul in my phone. It seemed appropriate, given that I was pretty sure he was Satan.

  After that I felt a little sick and knew I couldn’t stay in my apartment a second longer, no matter how homey it felt with my pet lab rat chewing on his carrot stick and my boyfriend playfully propositioning me in Spanish.

  My boyfriend who might cease to exist in a few days.

  I needed to let off steam. I needed to clear my head. I needed to shake off the feeling that I’d been touched by something slimy.

  Suppertime is the best time to hit my building’s pool. Everyone else is using the gym or heating up their microwave dinners, huddled around their Ikea dining tables, watching Jeopardy or the nightly news or Netflix.

  I’m not an exercise freak, but I have to stay in shape, not only so I can fit into my clothes, but so I can kick the butts of all the dead people (and sextortionists) in my life who keep pestering me.

  I left my apartment, went down the stairs to the pool area, kicked off my flip-flops, and peeled off my T-shirt and yoga pants, leaving them on a chaise longue with my towel. Then I slid into the brightly lit, heated water, dunking my head under (even though my hairdresser, Christophe, begs me to wear a swim cap. He says I’m ruining the highlights for which I pay him a small fortune).

  But swim caps are ugly, and squeeze my head so I can’t think. I do my best thinking when I’m doing my laps.

  Under the water, I couldn’t hear the sound of the light traffic over the G16, or the crickets chirping in the decorative plantings the apartment management company had put all around the pool. I couldn’t hear the tinkling of silverware in unit 2-B (they keep their balcony door open at dinnertime, just like I do).

  Soon all I could hear was the sound of water splashing and my own breathing as I began to swim.

  After my laps were finished, I decided I’d dry off and drive to the hardware store—there was a Home Depot open until ten in Monterey—and buy every bag of rock salt they had in stock (they’d probably think I was a lunatic. It snowed so rarely in Carmel it was considered an apocalyptic event).

  Then I’d sow every inch of 99 Pine Crest Road with it, and the soil around it, too. I’d even salt the yards of the neighboring houses.

  I had no proof this would work, but what other choice did I have? My apartment was salted to keep troublesome spirits out. Wouldn’t salting the ground of a place where dark acts had been committed keep that evil in?

  That probably wouldn’t stop a demon for long, but if I also got Father D over there to perform another one of his house blessings—and maybe, while he was at it, bless Jesse, too—it could help.

  Not that I believed for one minute that Jesse was going to sit still for a blessing—at least not without an explanation. He went to mass every Sunday, and on holy days of obligation, as well. If there was a demon living inside him, it was going to take one hell of a blessing to drive it out. I was probably going to have to come up with an imam, a rabbi, and a Wiccan high priestess in addition to Father Dom to get rid of this curse.

  If only I’d kicked Paul in the throat instead of the groin on graduation night. If I’d broken his hyoid bone and killed him, I probably would have gotten off on self-defense. If I offed him now that he was so well known—thanks to Los Angeles magazine and his own parents suing him—the case might garner a lot of publicity, and if convicted, I’d probably get some jail time . . . though still way less than Jesse, seeing as how I’m white, and a woman.

  But any jail time is too much for a girl who can only sleep with three down-filled pillows on 100 percent cotton sheets.

  Oh, what was I saying? I could never kill another human being . . . at least not one that I knew.

  Or could I? In order to protect everything—and everyone—that I loved?

  When did everything become so complicated? If it wasn’t some jerk from your past showing up to blackmail you into having sex with him, it was a baby homicidal spirit wrecking your office. Non-compliant persons, both living and deceased, seemed always to be popping up from out of nowhere, ruining my life. Was I never going to be able to kick back and enjoy myself for a change?

  It’s unconscionable—to use one of Sister Ernestine’s favorite terms—that I was thinking this exact thought when an NCDP appeared in the water beside me.

  But I was so absorbed in my dark thoughts about Paul, listening to my own breathing and heartbeat, watching the shadow my own body made on the floor of the pool as I did my laps, that I didn’t notice, despite Pru’s warning not an hour earlier.

  I didn’t notice until its clawlike hands were wrapped around my neck, and it was shoving me under the bright blue water.

  And suddenly, I was the one about to die.

  nueve

  I flailed in the water, swallowing deep gulps of it, while clutching at the sharp little fingers digging into my throat.

  “Don’t you hurt Becca,” an all-too-familiar voice hissed into my ear when I managed to surface for one all-too-brief gasp of glorious air. “Don’t you come near her again!”

  There was nothing I could say in response. Even if there had been, I couldn’t speak. Her grip on my throat was so tight I couldn’t utter a sound, nor could I dig my fingers beneath hers to loosen her grip. Besides, she’d plunged us both to the bottom of the pool, her body—which should have been weightless—suddenly heavy as a refrigerator.

  And I was the stray dog someone had decided to cruelly chain to that refrigerator for kicks before shoving both into the bottom of the lake.

  All I could do was fight my way back to the surface against the weight inexorably bearing me down. But when I finally did reach the glorious air, instead of taking it in, I could only cough out the burning chlorinated water I’d swallowed.

  And she continued to cling to my neck like a thousand-pound weight. How was that possible, when she was only the size of a doll, and a ghost besides? For someone whose name meant “light,” she was anything but.

  Once, in my quest to find the most effective cardio I could do in the shortest amount of time, I’d read that treading water vertically while bearing a heavy weight was the way to go. It’s an integral part of U.S. Navy SEAL training: they tread water while holding a dive pack above their heads.

  That had sounded way too brutal to me, but now I realized it was exactly what I should have been doing all along. Who knew U.S. Navy SEALs and school counseling interns had so much in common?

 


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  The next thing I knew, the kid had me strung up in midair like a salmon on a fishing line. I dangled there by my neck, still struggling to unloose her fingers, gasping for air, wondering in the distant part of my brain that could still register thought what I would look like to any of my fellow tenants who might happen to glance down at the pool from their balconies. They wouldn’t be able to see the NCDP that was holding me by the neck above the water level. Would they think I was performing some kind of odd water ballet? Suze Simon, amateur mermaid. Perhaps they’d applaud, and compliment me later . . . if I lived until later.

  Then she plunged me back into the deep end, and I wondered how I could have been so smug—and stupid—to think that she hadn’t followed me home.

  She’d not only followed me home, she’d watched me get out of my car, wave good night to my neighbors, then go inside to check my messages.

  Sure, my apartment was ghost proof.

  But it had never occurred to me to sprinkle a protective layer of salt around the pool. It wasn’t even one of those environmentally safe saltwater pools that Andy goes around recommending on At Home with Andy. It was filled with human-harmful—and extremely foul-tasting—chlorine and other chemicals that were currently burning my throat.

  “Lucia,” I croaked when I’d finally managed to sip enough air to allow speech. “I don’t think you understand. I’m on your side.”

  “No, you don’t understand,” she hissed in my ear, her long fingernails scraping at the skin of my cheek in an almost loverlike caress. This wasn’t at all creepy. “Becca’s mine. My friend. No one will ever hurt her again.”

  Okay, okay, I wanted to say. I got it already.

  But I couldn’t say anything more, because it hurt too much. My lungs were too full of water and my hair was plastered over my face (why hadn’t I listened to Christophe about that swim cap?) and she still had hold of my throat. She’d pulled me well away from the sides of the pool, so I couldn’t grab anything—except handfuls of water—to hit her with or find anything to push against. Where were my boots when I needed them? Oh, right, with Maximillian28.

  There was only one thing I could think of to do, and that was to grab her.
I needed to get her to loosen the iron grip that was cutting off my oxygen and causing the lights around the pool to slowly dim.

  But my arms were feeling strangely heavy. Lifting them felt like lifting the two-hundred-pound weights Brad kept in his garage and was always challenging everyone to try to bench. I’d sapped too much vital energy fighting to stay afloat to be able to land a good punch, even if I’d felt okay punching a dead kid in the face, and I was really starting to, considering this particular dead kid was being such a pain in my ass.

  But I could still grab. I thrust my arms up over my head until my fingers closed around something wet and stringy. At first, in my state of near unconsciousness, I thought it was seaweed. But why would there be seaweed in my apartment complex’s swimming pool?

  Then I realized I’d managed to grab twin chunks of her blond curls.

  Hair pulling is dirty business—it’s what toddlers and drunk girls on reality shows always resort to. But this was different. It was her or me, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me. I had a wedding scheduled to Dr. Hector “Jesse” de Silva for next year in the basilica at the Carmel Mission. I had no intention of missing it if I could possibly help it.

  I pulled with all my might, and to my utter relief, the clawlike fingers disappeared from my throat. Lucia’s tiny, tenaciously strong body flipped over my head and shoulders and went splashing down into the water in front of me.

  She landed on her back, so I could see her face. Her expression was priceless, one of utter surprise, like, How did I get here?

  I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so busy trying not to die.

  For a moment we simply floated in the deep end of the pool, me busy choking up pool water, the dead girl appearing stunned by her defeat, even though it was only temporary. A spirit with that much power would quickly regather her energy—while I had none left. I had vastly underestimated the depths of her rage and determination to keep anyone from interfering with Becca. I had no idea what was going on with her and her human host, but whatever it was, Lucia wasn’t going to let anyone part them.

  Still, in those few seconds, her long blond hair circling us like a golden halo (oh, the irony), I couldn’t help being struck by how incredibly sweet and vulnerable she looked. She was still clutching the stuffed horse she’d been carrying earlier that day, still dressed in her riding jodhpurs and boots, looking every bit like a pony-loving cherub who’d happened to trip and fall into the pool.

  Then tried to drown me.

  That was it. I was out of there.

  I turned and began swimming away from her with everything I had left of my strength. If I could only reach the gleaming chrome ladder I saw a few strokes ahead of me, then pull myself up, I knew I’d be all right.

  Of course I was only fooling myself. But I had to believe in something.

  I kicked hard for the ladder, beginning to think I was going to make it—though my heart was pounding as if it were about to burst—when an icy cold, sharp-clawed hand clamped down around my ankle and attempted to yank me back into the crystal depths.

  No.

  Then at almost the exact same moment, a similarly steel-gripped, but also similarly familiar warm hand wrapped around my wrist and began pulling me toward the side of the pool. What was happening? Was someone trying to rescue me?

  Oh, dear God, no. Not one of my do-gooding fellow tenants from the Carmel Valley Mountain View Apartment Complex, thinking I’d gotten a muscle cramp. Lucia would pull him into the water, too, and then the pool guy would find both of us facedown at the deep end tomorrow morning.

  Could this day get any worse? I couldn’t save myself and a civilian, too. I didn’t have the strength left.

  “Stop,” I begged, pulling on my wrist, preferring to be drowned by Lucia than allow her to take out an innocent bystander as well. “I’m fine. Please go away.”

  But the grip on my wrist only tightened. I floundered as I tried to stay above the surface, pulled in two different directions by two entirely different but equally determined—and seemingly preternaturally strong—forces.

  “You’re not fine, querida,” I heard a deep voice rasp.

  My heart began to pound in a different way than before. Jesse.

  I saw him kneeling by the side of the pool, his hands grasped tightly around my wrist. His expression was hard to read since his back was to the bright security lights, but I was sure he must be furious. The shirt and tie he was required to wear to work were both soaked.

  “And sorry to disappoint you,” he said, “but I’ll never go away.”

  diez

  I began to think I might actually have a chance of getting out of this thing alive.

  The same thought seemed to occur to Lucia, since the cold, tentacle-like fingers wrapped around my ankle loosened. I heard her let out a last, furious hiss, and then, with a final burst of bubbles, as if the entire pool had suddenly turned into a churning cauldron of witch’s brew, she was gone.

  Then the crystal blue pool water turned as still as it had been before I’d slid into it. Except for the lapping of the water filter, the sound of the crickets, and my own heavy breathing, it was completely silent in the Carmel Valley Mountain View Apartment Complex pool.

  Until Ryan, my neighbor in unit 2-B, called from his balcony, “Hey! You guys okay down there?”

  Jesse was still holding me by the wrist, keeping me suspended half in, half out of the water.

  “She’s fine,” he shouted up to Ryan. “Just a cramp.”

  “Tell her that’s why she’s supposed to wait half an hour after eating before going for a swim,” Ryan said in a teasing voice before turning back to the television show he was watching inside.

  Jesse didn’t wait another moment before pulling me out of the water, soaking his shirt and tie even further, then carrying me to the closest chaise longue.

  “Susannah, it’s all right,” he said, his expression an adorable mix of anger and anxiety. “She’s gone.”

  “I know she’s gone,” I said. My teeth had involuntarily begun to chatter. “Stop being so dramatic. You’re getting your work clothes all wet.”

  “Damn my clothes,” he said. It was unusual for him to swear, at least in English. I’m the gutter mouth in our relationship.

  He’d grabbed my towel from where I’d lain it on top of my clothes, and was bundling me in it. The chaise longue groaned a bit under our combined weight. The building management hadn’t exactly forked out the big bucks for their poolside decor.

  “You’re shaking,” he said. “Did she hurt you?”

  “No. She’s just a kid.”

  “A kid?” He laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. “A kid who nearly killed you. We’re going to find out who she is and then we’re going to—” Now he was swearing, fluidly, in Spanish.

  “Jesse, stop it. What’s the matter with you? Your specialty’s pediatrics. You’re supposed to suffer the little children.”

  “Not this one. This one has no chance of getting into the kingdom of heaven. She’s getting exorcised by me straight back to hell, where she came from.”

  “She isn’t from hell. She’s frightened, and in pain.”

  “I think you’re getting her confused with yourself, querida.”

  “No, I’m not. CeeCee’s aunt Pru said so. She tried to warn me about it tonight outside the café, but I didn’t pay attention.”

  Jesse uttered a few highly descriptive oaths about Aunt Pru. Even though he spoke in Spanish, I caught the gist.

  “She was only trying to help,” I said, in Pru’s defense. “And you know she’s right. Why are you doing that?” He was rubbing my skin through the terry cloth of the towel.

  “You’re in shock,” he said. “You’re cold, and you’re wet, and you’re shaking. I’m attempting to restore warmth and circulation to your extremities. Don’t argue with me, I’m a doctor.”

 
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