An Excerpt from Remembrance
About the Author
Also by Meg Cabot
About the Publisher
I can’t thank you enough for reading this, the first e-novella installment to a book series I created some time ago.
But don’t worry if you missed any of Suze Simon’s previous “progress reports.” After all, they took place in high school. And who wants to relive high school?
Except that it was in high school when Suze first encountered the love of her life, Jesse de Silva. It took a miracle to bring them together, and now that they’re adults, they’ve sworn that nothing will ever tear them apart.
Or will it?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since high school, it’s that life is full of miracles . . . and surprises, like that a book series I wrote so long ago would have had such a lasting impact on the lives of so many, especially my own. And for that, I’ll never stop being thankful.
So thank you so much for reading . . . and please keep on doing so! I promise to deliver a lot more surprises . . . and miracles.
IT WAS VALENTINE’S DAY, and where was I?
Freezing my butt off in a cemetery, that’s where. Romantic, right?
But I had a job to do, and that job required that I sit in the dark on a headstone, and wait for a ghost to show up.
Yeah. That’s the kind of girl I am, unfortunately. Not the candy-and-stuffed-bear kind. The I-see-dead-people kind.
Discomfort from the cold aside, I was actually kind of okay with the situation. Would I have preferred to be at one of those cute little outdoor bistros over on Ocean Ave, snuggling under a heat lamp and sipping champagne while dining on the Valentine’s Day surf and turf special with my one true love?
I wouldn’t even have minded being back at the dorm, hanging out at my suite mates’ anti–Valentine’s Day party, swigging cheap vodka and cranberry juice cocktails while making sarcastic comments about the rom-coms we all claimed to hate (but secretly loved, of course).
But me and my one true love? We’d agreed to spend this Valentine’s Day apart.
Hey, it’s all right. We’re mature adults. We don’t need a stupid holiday named after some martyred saint to tell us when to say I love you.
And okay, the last place anyone wants to be on Valentine’s Day is a cemetery. Anyone except spooks, I mean, and those of us who were born with the curse (or gift, depending on how you choose to look at it) of communicating with them.
But I didn’t mind. Monterey’s Cementerio El Encinal was kind of soothing. It was just me, the headstones, and the marine layer rolling in from the Pacific, making it a bit chillier than it had been when I’d gotten there half an hour ago, and a bit more difficult to see the grave I had staked out.
But who cared if my blow-out was turning limp from the humidity, or my nose red from the chill? It wasn’t like I had a date.
Well, with anyone who personally mattered to me.
And I knew this guy was going to show up sooner or later, since he’d done so every night this past week, like clockwork, to the bewilderment—and fear—of the community.
At least when I got home, I’d have a nice cocktail waiting for me.
This guy I was expecting? He had nothing waiting for him—nothing good, anyway.
I just hoped he’d show up before my butt cheeks froze to the headstone I was sitting on. I wished Mrs. J. Charles Peterson III had chosen a softer material than granite to mark her husband’s final resting place. Marble, perhaps. Or cashmere. Cashmere would have been a nice choice, though it probably wouldn’t have lasted long given the harsh elements of the Northern California coast.
When you’ve been in the ghost-busting business as long as I have (twenty-one years), you learn a few things. The first one is, spectral stakeouts are boring.
The second one is, there isn’t anything you can do to entertain yourself during them, because the minute you slip in earbuds to listen to music or watch a video on your iPod or start texting with your boyfriend on your phone (assuming he’ll text back, which, considering mine was born around the time Queen Victoria inherited the throne and thinks modern technology is dehumanizing), whoever—or whatever—it is you’re waiting for is going to show up, hit you over the head, and run off while you were distracted.
Three, if you bring along a thermos containing a delicious warm beverage—coffee or hot chocolate or hot cider spiked with Bacardi—you will have to pee in about fifteen minutes, and the moment you pull down your jeans to do so (apologies, J. Charles), you will, literally, be caught with your pants down.
These are the things they never portray in the dozens of movies and television shows there’ve been over the years about people with my ability. Mediating between the living and the dead is a thankless job, but someone’s got to do it.
I was sitting there wondering why Mrs. J. Charles Peterson III hadn’t installed an eternal flame at her husband’s grave so I could warm my hands (and butt) when I finally saw him—or it—moving through the mist like a wraith.
But he was no wraith. He was your average, ordinary dirtbag NCDP—or Non-Compliant Deceased Person, as those in my trade refer to those who refuse to cross over to the other side.
He headed directly for the grave across from J. Charles Peterson’s. He was so fixated by it, he didn’t so much as glance in my direction.
I couldn’t really blame him. The recently deceased have reason to be preoccupied. They have the whole I-just-died thing going on.
But this guy had more than the fact that he’d recently died on his mind. I knew, because his post-mortem activities had been causing me—and the entire Monterey Bay area—aggravation for days. Even the local news—and several popular media blogs—had commented on it.
Which was why, of course, I was spending my Valentine’s Day sitting on a headstone waiting for him, instead of hanging with my homegirls back at the dorm, drinking Cape Codders and tearing Katherine Heigl a new one.
I watched as the guy—only a few years younger than me, but dressed about the same, in a black tee, leather jacket, and black jeans and boots, as well—bent and removed the fresh flowers that had been lovingly placed on the grave in front of him. Today’s batch were red, and, in honor of the holiday, arranged in a heart shape.
True, as floral arrangements went, they weren’t to my taste. I’d have gone for something more classic—a dozen long-stemmed roses, perhaps. Definitely nothing Valentine’s themed. That seemed a little gauche to me.
Of course, I hope not to be dead for a long, long time, and when I am, I doubt I’ll care what anyone puts on my grave. Also, I want to be cremated, so it won’t be an issue.
But I still wouldn’t have done what that no-good NCDP did, which was rude, regardless of how objectionable he found the floral design:
He lifted the heart arrangement off the grave, tossed it in the air, then drop-kicked it, causing it to explode into a gentle hailstorm of petals.
“Nice,” I said. “Very nice, mature behavior. I’m sure your mother would be proud.”
The NCDP whirled around, startled.
“What the hell!” His eyes were as r
ound as if he, not me, were the one seeing a ghost. “What are you—how can you—who are you?”
“I’m Suze Simon,” I said. “And you thought being dead was bad? Buddy, your eternal nightmare’s only just begun.”
EVERYBODY’S GOT A secret.
Maybe you’ve told a lie. Maybe you cheated on a test. Maybe—like the Non-Compliant Deceased Person standing in front of me—you’ve killed someone (I really hope not, for your sake).
The thing about secrets, though, is that they get out. And trust me, if you’ve got a secret, eventually, it’s going to get out.
And when it does, things are probably going to turn out to be okay . . . well, after some counseling, or at worst, some jail time, or—if you’re a celebrity—maybe a tell-all book with a couple of talk show appearances thrown in, to apologize to your disappointed fans.
Not this guy’s secret, though.
And not mine, either. All the counseling, jail time, and TV talk shows in the world are never going to make my secret okay. My secret is the kind that religious leaders in every culture in every society in the world have railed against at one time or another, claiming that it’s an abomination, unnatural, the work of the devil. Throughout history, women with my secret have been burned at the stake, drowned, or pelted with stones until they were dead. The scientific community has declared my secret “incompatible with the well-established laws of science,” and therefore nonexistent.
Which is why, of course, writers (and producers, and movie and television audiences) love my secret. In the past decade alone there’ve been scores of books, television dramas, movies, video games, and even reality shows based on people who have my secret ability. Most of them have scored pretty decent ratings, too.
None of them have gotten it right, though. A few have come close. Startlingly close.
Close enough that lately I’ve had to work harder than ever to appear like the cool, collected, fashion-forward twenty-something girl I seem to be . . . on the outside, anyway.
Only a couple of people have figured out what a weirdo super freak I am on the inside. And those people all have reason to keep my secret, because . . . well, I’ve helped them resolve their own secrets.
One person especially. Miraculously, he fell in love with me.
Don’t ask me why. I think I’m fabulous, but I’m not entirely sure what he sees in me (except the fact that I’ve saved his life a few times. But he’s returned the favor).
The only reason we aren’t spending this February fourteenth together is because he’s currently enrolled in medical school four hours away, and he’s doing rotations (and also still interviewing for residencies).
Yeah, my boyfriend’s in medical school. He wants to be a pediatrician. He’s hoping to get a residency at St. Francis Hospital nearby (the medical school residency “matching program” is this whole big thing. He finds out where—and if—he’s been matched next month), but I’m not optimistic. We’ve already been so lucky simply finding one another, it seems selfish to wish for more.
What a guy like him is even doing with a girl like me, I still can’t figure out . . . but then again, Hector “Jesse” de Silva has secrets, too. And some of them are even darker than mine.
Not darker than the guy’s with whom I was spending my Valentine’s Day, though, that’s for sure.
“Let’s just say I’m your fairy godmother,” I said to him, lowering myself from J. Charles Peterson’s grave. I’d like to say I did it gracefully, but I’m afraid I did not, due to butt freeze. I tried not to let it show, however. “And I’m here to make you sure you get to the ball on time. Only in this case, the ball is the afterlife. Come on, if we hurry, you can still make it before midnight. Only I’m not sure Cinderella”—I pointed at the grave the NCDP had just desecrated—“will be there waiting for you. Or that if she is, she’ll be too happy to see you.”
The NCDP still seemed startled. He wasn’t exactly my idea of Prince Charming, but his girlfriend—a pretty, popular, honor student—had evidently found something in him to love.
“Y-you can see me?” he stammered, his eyes narrowing behind his black-framed glasses. He had the whole look down—whatever look it was that he was going for, some kind of tortured artist/Steve Jobs thing, except that this kid was black. I dress in dark colors for night jobs so as not to be noticeable to security guards. He seemed to be wearing it to express the darkness of his soul. “No one—no one has been able to see me since the accident.”
Accident. That was a nice touch.
“Obviously I can see you, genius,” I said. “And I’m not the only one.” I jerked a thumb over my shoulder at the towering oak tree just beyond J. Charles Peterson’s grave. Cementerio El Encinal meant Cemetery of Many Oaks (I’m taking Spanish so that when Jesse and I have kids, I’ll understand what he’s saying when he yells at them in his mother tongue). “Your girlfriend’s family got tired of finding all of their floral arrangements kicked to bits, so they installed a security camera three days ago. Your little antics have gone viral. They even made the nightly news.”
He stared in the direction of the video camera. “Really?” But instead of looking ashamed of his disrespectful behavior toward his beloved’s grave, his face broke out into a grin. “Cool.”
The contempt I’d been feeling for him kicked up a couple of notches, which is never a good thing in a mediation. We’re supposed to feel nothing toward our “clients”—nothing except compassion.
But it’s hard to feel compassion toward a cold-blooded murderer.
“Uh, no, not cool,” I snarled. “And don’t go waving to Mom just yet. For one thing, I disabled the camera for the night. And for another, you’re dead, in case it still hasn’t sunk in. You have no physical presence anymore—at least to anyone but people like myself. All that camera records when you show up is static. People think it’s a—”
“Ghost?” He smirked.
God, this kid was a pill.
“Some of the less reputable news outlets speculate it might be a ghost,” I admitted. “Others think it’s a pair of vandals working in tandem, one destroying the flowers while the other messes with the camera. Others think the family is trying to perpetrate a hoax on the media and law enforcement, who take grave desecration seriously. That’s not a very nice thing to do to people who are going through a period of mourning over the death of a beloved daughter.”
That, at least, sunk in. He stopped smirking and scowled at the grave he’d just vandalized. It had a brand-new headstone over it, in pink marble, the kind with a photo etched beside the name.
Jasmin Ahmadi, the epitaph read. Beloved daughter, sister, friend. Too soon taken, forever to be missed.
The photo showed a dark-haired girl laughing into the camera, a twinkle in her eyes. Jasmin had been seventeen years old at her time of death.
His headstone was a few rows over, but it was much simpler, flat gray granite with an epitaph listing only his name—Mark Rodgers—and dates of birth and death. There was no photo. The year of his birth—and date of his death—was the same as Jasmin’s.
“Ultimately it doesn’t matter what people think,” I said. “Ghost, vandals, whatever. Because it’s going to stop tonight, Mark.”
Instead of apologizing—or offering an explanation—for his behavior, Mark only looked more disgruntled. “If they don’t want me taking the flowers off her grave, they should stop leaving them. Especially him.”
This was not the response I was expecting. “Him? Him who?”
“Him. Zack.” Mark’s mouth twisted as if the name was distasteful.
I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Look, Mark,” I said. “I hate to be the one to break it to you, but people are going to leave flowers on your girlfriend’s grave. She was very popular and died tra
gically at a young age.”
“I died at a young age,” Mark snapped, jabbing a thumb at his own chest. “And you’ll notice no one is leaving flowers on my grave!”
He pointed accusingly in the direction of his final resting place. I couldn’t see it, given the darkness and the fog, but I’d taken a look before assuming my post on J. Charles Peterson’s headstone, so I knew he was right. No one had left so much as a pebble on his grave to indicate that they’d visited there since he’d been buried.
“Yeah,” I said. “Well, maybe that’s something you should have thought about before you killed your girlfriend, and then yourself, because she said no when you proposed.”
MARK SHOOK OFF the hand I’d placed on his shoulder, his gaze wild.
“What?” he cried, appalled. “No! That’s what people think, that I killed her? But that isn’t what happened at all. I would never hurt Jasmin!”
“Sure,” I said, in my most soothing tone.
As a psych major—did I mention that I’m in school, too? Not medical school, like Jesse. I’m still only an undergrad.
But I’m majoring in psychology. And after graduation, I’m going for a master’s in counseling. I want to help kids like I was, kids who have secrets they feel like they can’t tell anyone. Since I was one of those kids, I’ll know how to recognize them, and hopefully be able to help them.
Well, except the ones I’m too late to help, like Jasmin. And Mark.
“Look,” I said to him, as he continued to stare at me in disbelief. Sometimes it takes a while for it to sink in to spirits, especially young ones, that they’re dead, and how they died—even when they’re the ones responsible for said death. “What’s done is done. You can’t go back and change it. You can only move forward. Jasmin has, which is why she isn’t here. And now it’s time for you to move forward, too, Mark.”