Authors: Meg Cabot
I can't thank you enough for reading this, the first e-Ânovella 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 .Â .Â . 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 .Â .Â . and please keep on doing so! I promise to deliver a lot more surprises .Â .Â . and miracles.
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-Âand-Âstuffed-Âbear kind. The I-Âsee-Âdead-ÂÂpeople 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' antiâValentine's Day party, swigging cheap vodka and cranberry juice cocktails while making sarcastic comments about the rom-Âcoms 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-Âout 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 bewildermentâÂand fearâÂof 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 himâÂnothing 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-Âbusting business as long as I have (twenty-Âone 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), whoeverâÂor whateverâÂit 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 beverageâÂcoffee or hot chocolate or hot cider spiked with BacardiâÂyou 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 Âpeople 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 himâÂor itâÂmoving through the mist like a wraith.
But he was no wraith. He was your average, ordinary dirtbag NCDPâÂor Non-ÂCompliant 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-Âjust-Âdied thing going on.
But this guy had more than the fact that he'd recently died on his mind. I knew, because his post-Âmortem activities had been causing meâÂand the entire Monterey Bay areaâÂaggravation for days. Even the local newsâÂand several popular media blogsâÂhad 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 guyâÂonly a few years younger than me, but dressed about the same, in a black tee, leather jacket, and black jeans and boots, as wellâÂbent 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 classicâÂa dozen long-Âstemmed 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-Âgood 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-Âkicked 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 round as if he, not me, were the one seeing a ghost. “What are youâÂhow can youâÂ
who are you
“I'm Suze Simon,” I said. “And you thought being dead was bad? Buddy, your eternal nightmare's only just begun.”
VERYBODY'S GOT A
Maybe you've told a lie. Maybe you cheated on a test. MaybeâÂlike the Non-ÂCompliant Deceased Person standing in front of meâÂyou'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
to get out.
And when it does, things are probably going to turn out to be okay .Â .Â . well, after some counseling, or at worst, some jail time, orâÂif you're a celebrityâÂmaybe a tell-Âall book with a Âcouple 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 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-Âestablished laws of science,” and therefore nonexistent.
Which is why, of course, writers (and producers, and movie and television audiences)
my secret. In the past decade alone there've been scores of books, television dramas, movies, video games, and even reality shows based on Âpeople 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-Âforward twenty-Âsomething girl I seem to be .Â .Â . on the
Only a Âcouple of Âpeople have figured out what a weirdo super freak I am on the
. And those Âpeople all have reason to keep my secret, because .Â .Â . well, I've helped them resolve their own secrets.
One person especially. Miraculously, he fell in love with me.
Don't ask me why.
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
. 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 whereâÂand
âÂhe's been matched next month), but I'm not optimistic. We've already been so lucky simply
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 .Â .Â . 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”âÂI pointed at the grave the NCDP had just desecratedâÂ“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 girlfriendâÂa pretty, popular, honor studentâÂhad evidently found something in him to love.
“Y-Âyou can see me?” he stammered, his eyes narrowing behind his black-Âframed glasses. He had the whole look downâÂwhatever 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 oneâÂno one has been able to see me since the 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 Âcouple of notches, which is never a good thing in a mediation. We're supposed to feel nothing toward our “clients”âÂnothing except compassion.
But it's hard to feel compassion toward a cold-Âblooded 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 anymoreâÂat least to anyone but Âpeople like myself. All that camera records when you show up is static. ÂPeople think it's aâÂ”
“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 Âpeople 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-Ânew headstone over it, in pink marble, the kind with a photo etched beside the name.
, the epitaph read.
Beloved daughter, sister, friend. Too soon taken, forever to be missed.
The photo showed a dark-Âhaired 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 nameâÂMark RodgersâÂand dates of birth and death. There was no photo. The year of his birthâÂand date of his deathâÂwas the same as Jasmin's.
“Ultimately it doesn't matter what Âpeople think,” I said. “Ghost, vandals, whatever. Because it's going to stop tonight, Mark.”
Instead of apologizingâÂor offering an explanationâÂfor 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
This was not the response I was expecting. “Him? Him who?”
. 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 Âpeople are going to leave flowers on your girlfriend's grave. She was very popular and died tragically at a young age.”
died at a young age,” Mark snapped, jabbing a thumb at his own chest. “And you'll notice no one is leaving flowers on
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.”