Disclaimer: The Mediator and all its components belong to Meg Cabot. I am making no profit off of this story.
This takes place between Books 4 and 5 (Darkest Hour and Haunted, respectively).
"Hablo. Hablas. Hab- habl- oh f!"
"What a wonderful morning greeting!" I said to Brad, my least favorite stepbrother, sarcastically. We were the only two people in the kitchen that morning, my mom being at work, and Andy in the backyard putting the finishing touches on his new hot tub, which he had completed, despite there having been a body buried in that exact spot. That's where Brad, whom I prefer to call Dopey was supposed to be too, instead of sitting at the kitchen table, his head bent over- wait a second, were those books? Someone call a doctor. I truly don't think I've ever seen him do such a thing, not even during the school year. And now, at the end of the summer, of all times? I've got to say, I seriously thought he'd lost it.
"Shut the hell up," he retorted, except he didn't say hell, if you catch my drift. He'll never change.
"Sheesh, what the hell happened to you?" I asked, unable to contain my curiosity, even though I knew it wouldn't be well received. It wasn't.
"None of your fking business," he replied, just as his father walked in the room.
"Brad! How many times have I
told you to stop it with the language? Apologize to your sister."
Stepsister, I silently corrected him. For some reason, everybody keeps forgetting that first part. Even my stepbrothers themselves, which is kinda freaky. I mean, sure, Doc, David, the only one I actually tolerate (and try to call by his real name) I could understand mistaking him fro a real brother, especially recently. As my best friend Gina, who has even more brothers than I do, and biological ones too, has informed me, brothers are big privacy invaders, especially right when you've just been kissed by whom could very well be the love of your life for the first time. Well, maybe she never said that, but that's exactly what David did. Not that I blame him; it was really my meddling mother's doing, by making him needlessly worry about me after said love of life's corpse was recovered from our backyard. So I couldn't be mad at David, even though Jesse disappeared right after that and has been acting weird towards me ever since. Figures. But back to what was happening that morning.
"Sorry," Dopey mumbled, not really looking very sorry. But it seemed to satisfy Andy, who seems to have given up on his eldest sons' cursing habit. Where it comes from, I have no idea, but not from him certainly. And not from his deceased wife and Dopey's mother, Cynthia, who may scream like a banshee to get sleeping mediators to wake up, but is a nice lady otherwise.
"Now get back to studying. I didn't tell you that you could stop helping me so you could goof off you know. Your last test is on Friday, and I want to hear you did well on it. Or passed at least. I'll take what I can get," Andy was saying. He sighed, exasperated. With an idiot like that for a son, I can't really say I blame him. I didn't nickname him Dopey for no reason.
In any case, Andy's comment explained a lot about what Brad was doing studying at 7:00 in the morning. "You're failing Spanish again?" I said, the moment Andy was out of earshot. This was unbelievable. I mean, I could see failing the first semester; you can always make it up n the next one. Even the entire year can always be fixed. But summer school? Which, although I've luckily never experienced it myself (not that I haven't had close calls before) one would think would be easier. But then, this was Brad I was talking about.
"Leave me alone, you, you- Mujer!" he shouted.
I arched my eyebrow at him, trying to hold back my laughter. "I'm a woman? How nice of you to notice."
"Um," Brad couldn't think of a comeback for that one. But if that's all he could come up with to insult me, he was worse at Spanish than I had thought. Not that they really teach any curses, especially in Catholic schools, but I'm sure there are plenty of things he could've said. I happen to hear people cursing in Spanish on a regular basis, and while I don't understand a word of it, I have picked up a few things. True I happen to be rooming with a Latino ghost, who speaks in Spanish at random intervals, especially when he's angry. But still, it was a little depressing that he didn't even know the slightest insult. What's the point of learning a language, if you can't curse out a person and have them not know what you mean?
"Go away!" He flung a dictionary at me. I caught it with ease, which only aggravated him further.
"Fine. I think I'll take this with me, until you decide to be a little nicer," I laughed. Not that it made up for anything that had happened in the past few days, but antagonizing my least favorite stepbrother cheered me up considerably.
I was about to say something more, but Jake came down the stairs at that moment, heading straight for the fridge. Apparently, what Maria de Silva had done with the bugs hadn't had the slightest impact on him- he still drank straight from the orange juice carton. Honestly, I'm buying my own drinks from now on.
"What?" he looked at me confused, though we'd had this argument a zillion times before.
"Forget it," I sighed. "Come on, we have to get to work." As it was my last week as a Pebble Beach Hotel and Golf Resort hotel babysitter, I figured I'd better get there on time. It was only a matter of time before he and Caitlin broke up and his hold on her would be gone. I couldn't afford to mess up anymore.
"'Kay," Jake took a final swig and put the carton (which I'll bet you anything was empty) back into the fridge. "Let's go." I followed him to the doorway before turning back to Brad.
"Adios, amigo," I called, waving the dictionary at him. I won't tell you his response to that, but it wasn't in Spanish, that was for sure.
Brad was still studying when
Jake and I got home that night. But to my surprise, he wasn't alone: Jesse
stood over him, a very disgusted look on his face. When he saw me come in, he
headed upstairs, assuming I would follow. I did, though I had a feeling
whatever he wanted me for, it probably wasn't what I wanted him to want me for.
Know what I mean?
"What's the matter?" I asked, my voice taking on that squeaky tone that always happens when I talk to Jesse. Not all hot guys, just Jesse. It's another of those downfalls that come with being in love with him.
"I can't take it anymore," he answered. My eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. Would he finally admit that as much as he tried to fight it, his feelings for me were just too strong to fight any longer? Ha, no such luck. "You're brother is butchering my language."
"Stepbrother," I corrected automatically. Jesse ignored me. He'd gotten good at that recently.
"What kind of teachers do they have at your school, that he would do so poorly? It can't be them, it just can't be. That would really be a tragedy. How's your language teacher? Say something in French," he demanded suddenly.
"Uh, voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir," I stammered, the famous line from that Moulin Rouge song being the first thing that popped into my head. I was glad, as soon as I said it, that I took French and he spoke Spanish, and so for once he couldn't understand what I was saying. I hoped anyway. Knowing that I had just asked him to sleep with me wouldn't be very helpful in getting rid of that awkwardness we've been experiencing recently.
"See what I mean? It's got to be him," Jesse was saying. "He can't even conjugate the present tense. The present tense! I was at the subjunctive mood by the time I was two, and he doesn't even know the present tense!"
I reminded Jesse that he,
unlike Brad, was a native Spanish speaker, and it was only natural that he was
so much more adept at the language. Of course, that doesn't explain Brad's
failing English too, last semester, but whatever. My point was "What am I going
to do about it? I can't speak Spanish either, remember."
Jesse shook his head. "No, but as you said, I do. And since I can't teach him directly, you're going to have to do it for me."
"What!" As much as I love Jesse, and was even willing to die for him, I am not that crazy in love that I would spend time with Brad for him. Am I?
Apparently, I am.
"Okay," I said, slamming
the dictionary, which I'd kept with me all day, onto the kitchen table. "You
are going to learn this stuff if I have to beat it into your head."
Brad looked up at me in confusion. "But you take French."
"Well, at least you know something," I grinned, "but that wasn't what I wanted to hear. Not that it's any of your business, of course, but a good friend of mine happens to be Spanish, so I learned it from hi- her." It would be no good telling Brad it was a guy. I didn't have time for him to start teasing me about it. Especially in front of Jesse, who had taken a seat at the table and discretely pulled out a chair for me in between them. I sat, and grabbed Dopey's textbook out of his hand, scanning its pages. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be. There was a lot of English in it, since it was only Beginner Spanish. Not that that hadn't stopped my first French teacher from speaking entirely in French the first day, and hoping we would pick something up from there, but it made sense all the same. It also had nice handy charts, with examples of all the different forms, the "yo," "tú," "el, ella, Ud," et cetera. After a brief reading, I could almost understand it and thought that maybe I didn't even need Jesse's help, after all. But I wouldn't tell him that. This was his project.
"Okay. The forms of the present tense are this," he said to me, which I in turn related to my stepbrother. "Yo hablo. I speak. Tú hablas. You speak…"
It took about an hour before we got Brad to recite it perfectly without looking. And that was just that one word. It took till dinner for him to start conjugating other verbs that Jesse started throwing at him. Estudiar: to study. Andar: to walk. Amar: to love. I almost asked Jessie if he "ama" me, but of course, I couldn't in front of Brad. And those were just the "ar" verbs. We still had "er," "ir," and irregular verbs to deal with, not to mention the imperfect and preterite tenses. How we were going to teach him an entire summer's worth of stuff, I really had no idea. But I had a feeling that we were going be doing a lot of cramming that week. Brad was lucky he had gotten such a patient teacher, and by that I mean Jesse, not me. You know I have about as much patience as a, well, I don't know what. But I willingly accepted my fate, even though my mother kept shooting me funny looks after she saw what we were doing, and saying, "I really had no idea Susie spoke Spanish." After all, Jesse really wouldn't talk to me very much otherwise. I would take what I could get.
And, as an added bonus, Brad, who couldn't believe I was helping him solely out of good will, had stupidly given me the idea of charging him for my tutoring services. This suited me just fine. Jesse wasn't as pleased, but when I suggested we split the money, he warmed to the idea. I had a feeling he'd be sending me to book or pet stores as soon as we got it, to find books on the Vietnam War, or cat toys, or something like that. I myself would be putting the money towards Jesse's headstone, but if there was any left over, I was toying with the idea of using it to get better night clothes, the kind that I usually wouldn't wear since I have a male roommate. Hey, I was desperate, all right? But don't worry; Father Dom's warning about not seducing Jesse put that thought out of my head. It's not that it would work, anyway. You know, since he found kissing me so repulsive and all. Sigh. Hombres.
From morning till night, Brad didn't take his eyes off that book. As I had work, Jesse took it upon himself to make sure he kept at it. So while I was getting burgers and carrots in my hair all day, Jesse was shaking tables and rattling mirrors, every time Brad even thought of taking a break. Somehow that was effective; if I were him though, I would've thought it was the Big One and ran out of there. But that's just me. When books weren't enough to keep his attention, Jesse would turn on the TV to the Spanish stations, hoping a soap opera could get something to sink in. It took a couple of days, and a few near-heart attacks (not to mention more than a few threats from yours truly), but we finally started to get through to him. And it couldn't have happened at a better time. Before we knew it, Friday morning had come and Brad was going to his last day of summer school, and me and Jake our last day of work. As school would be starting the week after next, and most of the Pebble Beach Hotel's guests with children were going home, there was no need for a hotel baby-sitter like me or a lifeguard like Jake. It couldn't have been a moment too soon too. I needed a break. Between tutoring Brad and taking care of screaming rich brats, I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I had one more obstacle to overcome before it was all done.
"I can't do this, Suze!" My stepbrother shouted. Apparently, all the studying had gotten to him, and he was finally cracking. And it figured Jesse wasn't around to help me sooth him.
"You'll be fine," I said, in what I hoped was a reassuring tone. Really, I couldn't have cared less, but for my sick desire to please that ungrateful ghost, whom I was still trying to impress in spite of everything I'd done for him already. You'd think the guy would get the picture already, but no. Of course, I didn't tell Dopey any of this. "Just relax. Breathe into this." I handed him a paper bag off the countertop, but he didn't do as I'd said.
"You don't understand. If I fail again, I'm dead. Dead."
Please no. I can't handle you alive. "No, you won't!" Forget soothing. I was already late. "You know it, I should know, I taught you myself, remember?" So much so that I was practically fluent by now, but of course he didn't know that. "Now, I have to go." I was halfway out the door, when I ran back and grabbed his books. "Just in case you get any ideas about cheating," I said, although the truth is, I thought, for a brief second, if it would pass him and shut him up, I didn't really care. But really, I didn't doubt he knew it. We'd drilled that stuff into him perfectly.
It was too late to find a hiding spot, so I just brought it to the car with me. Sitting in the backseat was the prodigal tutor himself.
"Um, I'll sit in the back today," I told Sleepy, who merely shrugged. "What?" I snapped, not really in the mood for Jesse right then. What did he want from me this time?"
"You need to relax too, apparently" was his reply. "He'll be fine Susannah. You don't need to worry about him."
"What!" I repeated, not caring that I was raising my voice as I did so. "As if. This was all your idea, remember? I wanted no part of it. Why should I care?"
"If you don't care, than why are you so grouchy this morning?" he asked. I just glared at him.
"Because I'm tired of
being interrogated, that's why," I replied. "Now, go away."
"Susannah," he started to say, in that persuasive tone he always uses when I'm mad at him. But I turned around, intent on ignoring him as he had done me so much lately. Eventually, he gave up and dematerialized.
The truth was, the reason I was so mad was that in spite of all I'd been trying to do with Brad, which was completely and obviously for him, he still hadn't changed towards me at all since that kiss. You could tell just by the way he talked to me that morning. He hadn't called me "querida" at all. Not even once. He always used to call me that.
I sighed. Who was I kidding? I didn't even know what that word meant. It could've been an insult, for all I knew. I still didn't speak Spanish, despite all I'd been learning for the past week. How was I supposed to know what it meant?
The answer came the second we hit a stoplight. Sleepy, as I've mentioned before, is not very sleepy when it comes to driving. He was going so fast that he had to jam on the break hard to stop. I jerked forward, the books in my lap falling to the floor. When I bent to pick them up, the answer suddenly came to me. The top book was the dictionary that I'd snatched from Brad a few days before. It had the answer all along, only I stupidly didn't realize it. And I thought Brad was a dope.
I flipped through the pages, unsure of how to begin. I didn't even know how it was spelled. My first instinct was a k, but as it turns out, there is no K in the Spanish alphabet. C didn't sound right, so I went to Q. "Aha!" I shouted, causing Sleepy to go "Huh?"
"Never mind." I returned my attention to the page in front of me. Right below the word "querer," which meant "to want" and, as this dictionary said, "to love" also, there it was.
"Querida," I read silently to myself. "Dearest one, sweetheart." I nearly dropped the dictionary again as soon as I saw that. Me? Dearest one? To Jesse? I mean, I know I shouldn't get all excited about it. My mom calls me sweetheart. Even Andy slipped once and called me "honey." It didn't necessarily mean anything. Jesse had used it almost since the first time we met, which most probably meant it was something he used casually, if he said it to a complete stranger. And yet…
I couldn't help thinking, hoping really, that when he said that, he really meant it. Could it be? The chance was slim, but it was there. Now the question remaining was, when will I ever find out?
"I did it!" Brad threw himself at me the moment I stepped in the door, much to my embarrassment. "I passed!"
"What?" I couldn't believe my
ears. "Are you serious? Did you get it back?" Even after all we'd been through,
I have to admit, I really hadn't thought he could do it. It's a miracle!
"No," he said, his face falling a bit. "But it seemed really easy. And when I handed it ink, my teacher looked it over and he seemed pretty impressed," he added, cheering up. We didn't find out until a few days later that he'd gotten a B on the test, and a C in the class, which for him was a pretty big accomplishment. I think that might have been the highest grade he'd ever received, except maybe in gym. And even that I had my doubts about, since, for a wrestler, Brad is pretty easily beaten up. I should know, since usually I'm the one who does the beating.
Even without knowing for sure, Brad's excitement that night was contagious, and cause for celebration. Andy made enchiladas just for the occasion, and my mom rented a Spanish movie. I'm not sure what it was about, but it had "Mujeres" in the title. Apparently it was supposed to be very funny, but none of us really stuck around for it. Jake and Brad had dates (how he'd planned that, I really don't know, with all the time he was studying) and I was going to the Coffee Clutch with CeeCee and Adam to celebrate the end of our summer employments (CeeCee had finished her internship that day too). But before I left, I had one last thing to do.
"I have to hand it to you," I said. Jesse sat on the window seat, patting Spike. He looked up at me when I said that. "You did a pretty good job teaching Brad. Well, with my help, of course. But you actually made him less of an idiot that he is naturally. I'm impressed."
Jesse blinked at me. "Um, thanks, I guess," he said finally. He didn't seem as enthused by the victory as he should have been, even if it did make me compliment him. Men. Ghosts or not, I'll never understand them. And he still wouldn't call me "querida." Did he know I knew what it meant now? Was that why? Or did he just not like me anymore. Well, I wasn't going to get any answers from him that was for sure.
Trying to look at him with disdain, if not disgust, I said, "Well, I have to go now. Adios… canalla," I muttered under my breath. That word was something I had learned from those Spanish soap operas that Jesse had been making us watch. It meant "swine" and was the best insult I could really come up with at the time. Of course, it was totally lost on him since I'd made sure he hadn't heard it. But it made me feel a little better, for the moment at least. But all the bad words in world wouldn't fix whatever was going on with Jesse and me. It would take more than that. A lot more.