The next morning, after departing from their own rooms,Andy made breakfast for everyone and sat down in the dining room table along with everyone.
As per usual, the three Ackerman boys were stuffing their mouths with Andy's food and threw the occasional glare Jesse's way which was expected , Helen was just pondering over what they had read yesterday and wondered if she really knew her daughter at all. Susannah and Jesse were trying not to look at each other too much. And Andy would throw the occasional glance at Jesse and Susannah.
Jesse about to thank Andy for breakfast, was interrupted by the man himself.
"So . . . . assuming you are Ghost Jesse . . . what are your intentions towards Susannah?"
Jesse was about to answer with god-knows what answer when a note fluttered down on the table.
Suze grabbed it an read out-loud :
Dear Ackerman family and Jesse,
Please proceed to read the books
Andy just gave Jesse a look and mouthed when no one noticed : This talk is not over.
Jesse nodded awkwardly.
Brad looked like he was about to start to whine and sulk when Jake slapped him in the back of the head and they soon bustled back into the room. Helen went by the coffee table around the couches and asked, "Who wants to read next?"
Jesse sat next David being David volunteered.
"Okay I'll start." David said when everyone was seated. (A/N : Seating Chart: ]Jesse, Helen, Susannah ] [ Andy, Brad, Jake, David]
The Junipero Serra Catholic Academy, grades K-12, had been made co-educational in the eighties, and had, much to my relief, recently dropped its strict uniform uniforms had been royal blue and white, not my best colours. Fortunately, the uniforms had been so unpopular
The Ackerman boys shuddered in mention of their past uniform.
That they, like the boys-only rule, had been abandoned, and though the pupils couldn't wear jeans, they could wear just about anything else they wanted. Since all I wanted was to wear my extensive collection of designer clothing – purchased at various outlet stores in New Jersey with Gina as my fashion coordinator – this suited me fine.
"Of course," Helen said fondly, shaking her head at her daughter's thoughts.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Suze said rhetorically, raising an eyebrow.
The Catholic thing, though, was going to be a problem. Not really a problem so much as an inconvenience.
You see, my mother never really bothered to raise me in any particular religion. My father was a non-practising Jew, my mother Christian. Religion had never played an important part in either of my parents' lives, and, needless to say, it had only served to confuse me. I mean, you would think I'd have a better grasp on religion that anybody,
"Pretty accurate for you since you guide souls onto the afterlife." David commented.
but the truth is, I haven't the slightest idea what happens to the ghosts I send off to wherever it is they're supposed to go after they die.
"How comforting," Jake added with a grimace to his face.
All I know is, once I send them there, they do not come back. Not ever. The end.
"Real informative there Suze." Brad said, sarcastically earning a smack to the back of his head from Jake.
So when my mother and I showed up at the Mission School's administrative office the Monday after my arrival in sunny California, I was more than a little taken aback to be confronted with a six-foot Jesus hanging on a crucifix behind the secretary's desk.
"That is a little overbearing." Helen nodded in agreement.
I shouldn't have been surprised, though. My mom had pointed out the school from my room on Sunday morning as she helped me unpack. "See that big red dome?" she'd said. "That's the Mission. The dome covers the chapel." Doc happened to be hanging around
"That's because you're a loser." Brad muttered, but instead echoed around the room. David's ears slowly turned red.
"Brad!" Helen and Andy chided him.
"Another comment like that no TV for a week." Andy said, warningly.
I'd noticed he did that a lot – and he launched into another one of his descriptions, this time of the Franciscans, who were members of a Roman Catholic religious order that followed the rule of St Francis, approved in 1209.
"Ughh," complained Brad covering his ears for this bit.
Andy sent him another warning look.
Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan monk, was, according to Doc, a tragically misunderstood historical figure. A controversial hero in the Catholic Church, he had been considered for sainthood at one time, but, Doc explained, Native Americans questioned this move as 'a general endorsement of the exploitative colonization tactics of the Spanish. Though Junipero Serra was known to have argued on behalf of the property rights and economic entitlement of the converted Native Americans, he consistently advocated against their right to self-governance, and was a staunch supporter of corporal punishment, appealing to the Spanish government for the right to flog Indians.
"How do you know so much?" Jake asked David, shaking his head.
When Doc had finished this particular lecture, I just looked at him and went 'photographic memory much?" He looked embarrassed. "Well" he said. "It's good to know the history of the place where you're living." I filed this away for future reference. Doc might be just the person I needed if Jesse showed up again.
Everyone's heads snapped (except Suze and Jesse's of course) towards him.
David was starting to feel uncomfortable with all the staring so he asked, "What?"
"Did you, when he showed up?" Jake said, pointing a finger towards Jesse looking somewhat uncomfortable.
"That's for me to know and you to find out." David said cryptically, with a smug smile on his face.
I couldn't understand it. Where were all the ghosts?
"You know I'm starting to think you like this mediator business."Jake said, looking thoughful for once.
"I don't." Suze said with a glare that should've have smoldered him to ashes.
Maybe they were afraid to hang around the place. I was a little afraid, looking up at that crucifix. I mean, I've got nothing against religious art, but was it really necessary to portray the crucifixion so realistically, with so many scabs and all?
Everyone cringed and the answer to that was crystal clear , and yes even to Brad.
Apparently, I was not alone in thinking so since a boy who was slumped on a couch across from the one where my mom and I had been instructed to wait noticed the direction of my gaze and said, "He's supposed to weep tears of blood if any girl ever graduates from here a virgin."
Jake, Brad, and David suddenly burst out laughing hysterically.
"What?" Helen questioned, looking a bit mad.
The boys started laughing even harder, their faces turning diffrent shades of red.
Andy finally had enough so he individually slapped each on the back of their heads and started looking innocent when the boys turned to him glaring and rubbing the backs of their heads.
"Honestly, it's not even that funny." Suze puffed out, looking indignant while Jesse bore an expression of approval at her statement.
"Yeah, have some respect." Helen said firmly, half-playfully glaring at them.
I couldn't help letting out a little bark of laughter. My mother glared at me. The secretary, a plump middle-aged woman who looked as if something that ought to have offended her deeply only rolled her eyes and said, tiredly. "Oh, Adam."
Adam, a good looking boy about my age, looked at me with a perfectly serious face. "It's true," he said gravely. "It happened last year. My sister," he dropped his voice conspiratorially. "She's adopted."
The Ackerman boys started chuckling again but decided to stop when they caught nearly everybody's expressions.
I laughed again, and my mother frowned at me. She had spent most of yesterday explaining to me that it had been really, really hard to convince the school to take me, especially since she couldn't produce any proof that I'd ever been baptized. In the end, they'd only let me in because of Andy, since all three of his boys went there. I imagine a sizable donation had also played a part in my admittance,
"Yep. That's the only you'd be able to get in anyways." Brad snickered, quietly but loud enough for Suze to hear.
"What did you say?" Suze rose up from her seat, trying to act mad & raising a balled fist.
Before Brad could say Helen had chimed in ," Susannah Simon! Sit down right this instant. What did I tell you about fighting?" she chided.
Suze sat down and mocked her half-heartedly under her breath but it was apparent that from her mother's expression that she heard her.
But my mother wouldn't tell me that.
"Of course she didn't."
All she said was that I had better behave myself, and not hurl anything out of any windows – even though I reminded her that that particular incident hadn't been my fault. I'd been fighting with a particularly violent young ghost who'd refused to quit haunting the girls' locker room at my old school. Throwing him through that window had certainly gotten his attention, and convinced him to tread the path of righteousness ever after.
"What kind of ghosts have you ran into Suze?" Doc asked with this curious look on his young face.
Of course, I told my mother that I'd been practising my tennis swing indoors, and the racket had slipped from my hands
"That one was rather unbelievable don't you think but at least more uncomplicated than the actual truth."
– An especially unbelievable story, since a racket was never found.
It was as I was reliving this painful memory that a heavy wooden door opened, and a priest came out and said, "Mrs Ackerman, what a pleasure to see you again. And this must be Susannah Simon. Come in, won't you?" he ushered us into his office, the paused, and said to the boy on the couch. "Oh, no, Mr. McTavish. Not on the first day of a brand-new semester."
Adam shrugged. "What can I say? The broad hates me."
"I don't know why she's even there. She hates all of the students and I mean, that's basically everyone." Jake commented, fiddling with a fabric on his shirt. "Excluding Father Dominic, the monsignor, and the sisters. Why she doesn't leave I'll never understand." he added thoughtfully.
"You're just pissed because she caught you sleeping during Mass and in class." Brad said, smirking when Jake turned red.
"Shuddup." Jake said chucking a pillow at his face.
"Kindly do not refer to Sister Ernestine as a broad, Mr. McTavish. I will see to you in a moment, after I have spoken with these ladies."
We went in, and the principal, Father Dominic – that was his name – sat and chatted with us for a while, asking me how I liked California so far."
"Father Dominic's such a nice, caring and gentle man don't you think?" Helen asked brightly.
Everyone of course agreed, having been acquainted him with some time.
"I can't imagine him being involved in anything dangerous."
"What an oxymoron. If only you knew..." thought Suze.
I said I liked it fine, especially the ocean. We had spent most of the day before at the beach, after I'd finished unpacking. I had found my sunglasses, and even though it was too cold to swim, I had a great time just lying on a blanket on the beach watching the waves. They were huge, bigger than on Baywatch and Doc spent most of the afternoon explaining to me why that was.
I forget now since I was so drugged by the sun, I was hardly even listening.
I found that I loved the beach, the smell of it, the seaweed that washed up on shore, the feel of the cool sand between my toes, the taste of salt on my skin when I got home. Carmel might not have had a Bagel Bob's but Manhattan sure didn't have no beach.
"I know right." commented Helen, looking wistful.
Father Dominic expressed his sincere hope that I'd be happy at the Mission Academy, and went on to explain that even though I wasn't Catholic, I shouldn't feel unwelcome at Mass. There were of course, Holy Days of Obligation when the Catholic students would be required to leave their lessons behind and go to church. I could either join them, or stay behind in the empty classroom, whatever I chose.
"And of course, I stay behind." Suze said smiling, not noticing Jesse looking at her.
I thought it was kind of funny, for some reason, but I managed to keep from laughing. Father Dominic was old, but what you'd probably call spry, and he struck me as sort of handsome
"See I knew it! You're crushing on Father D!" Brad exclaimed gleefully, pointing an accusing finger at Suze.
"I have no such thing." Suze said, half of her expression looking disgusted.
The rest of the room just rolled their eyes fondly at the banter.
In his white collar and black robes – I mean handsome for a sixty-year-old. He had white hair, and very blue eyes, and well maintained fingernails. I don't know many priests, but I thought this one might be all right – especially since he hadn't come down to hard on the boy in the outer office who'd called that nun a broad.
After Father Dominic had described the various offences I could get expelled for – skipping class too many times, dealing drugs on campus, the usual stuff.
He asked if I had any questions. I didn't. Then he asked my mother if she had any questions. She didn't. So then Father Dominic stood up and said, "Fine then. I'll say goodbye to you, Mrs. Ackerman, and walk Susannah to her first class. All right, Susannah?"
"That's really thoughtful of him, since he seemed occupied at the time."
I thought it was kind of weird that the principal, who probably had a lot to do, was taking time out to walk me to my first class, but I didn't say anything about it. I just picked up my coat – a black wool trench by Esprit, très chic (my mom wouldn't let me wear leather my first day of school) – and waited while he and my mother shook hands. My mom kissed me goodbye, and reminded me to find Sleepy at three, since he was in charge of driving me home – only she didn't call him Sleepy. Once again, a woeful lack of public transportation meant that I had to bum rides to and from school with my stepbrothers.
"Maybe a bike or something like a school bus would be useful." Andy agreed, nodding his head.
Then she was gone, and Father Dominic was walking me across the courtyard after having instructed Adam to wait for him.
"No prob, Padre" was Adam's response. He leered at me behind the father's back.
"Eeew." Brad and Jake both chorused with scrunched up looks plastered on their faces.
Jesse's face just turned into one of stone, cold and hard.
It isn't often I get leered at by boys my own age.
"What so old guys leer at you?" Brad snorted.
I hoped he was in my class. My mother's wishes for my social life just might be realized at last.
As we walked, Father Dominic explained a little about the building – or buildings, I should say since that's what they were. A series of thick walled adobe structures were connected by low-ceilinged breezeways, in the middle of which existed in the beautiful courtyard that came complete with palm trees, bubbling fountain, and a bronze statue of Father Serra with these women – your stereotypical Indian squaws, complete with papooses strapped to their backs – kneeling at his feet.
On the other side of the breezeway were stone benches for people to sit on while they enjoyed solitary contemplation of the courtyard's splendour, the doors to the classrooms and steel lockers were built right into the adobe wall. One of those lockers, Father Dominic explained to me, was mine. He had the combination with him. Did I want to put my coat away?
I had been surprised when I wakened Sunday morning to find myself shivering in my bed. I'd had to stumble out from beneath the sheets and slam my window shut. A thick fog, I saw with dismay, had enshrouded the valley, obscuring my view of the bay. I thought for sure some horrible tropical storm had rolled in
Suze then blushed at the reminder of her running to the kitchen so fast as to make sure everything was secure then to run into Andy explaining her panic. Andy then calmly replied to her with a reassuring grin on his face the weather around here. Then she had run into Doc, also reassuring her by explaining the weather patterns.
Andy snickered into his hand clearly remembering it making her blush harder.
but Doc had explained to me, quite patiently, that morning fog was typical in the Northwest, and that the Pacifico – Spanish for passive – was so named because of its relative lack of storms. The fog, Doc had assured me, would burn off by noon, and it would then be just as hot as it had been the day before.
And he'd been right. By the time I returned home from the beach, sunburned and happy, my room had become an oven again, and I'd prised the windows back open – only to find that they'd been gently shut again when I woke up this morning, which I thought was sweet of my mom, looking out for me like that.\
"I didn't close that window." Helen said, drawing out each word slowly.
"Neither did I." Andy confirmed.
"Then who did?" asked Jake looking thoroughly confused.
Suddenly as if a lightbulb echoed through each of their heads, their necks snapped towards Jesse who was trying to squirm under their gaze.
"You have better not been back in that room." Brad threatned along with Jake.
At least, I hope it was my mom. Now that I think about it ...but no, I hadn't seen Jesse since that first day I'd moved in. It had definitely been my mom who'd shut my windows.
"Oh, if only that was true."
Anyway, when I'd walked outside to get into Mom's car, I'd found that it was freezing out again, and that was why I was wearing the wool coat.
Father Dominic told me that my locker was number 273, and he seemed content to let me find it myself, strolling behind me with his eyes on the breezeway's rafters, in which, much to his professed delight, families of swallows nested every year. He was apparently quite fond of birds – of all animals
"He's a very delighted, enthusiastic people kind of person."
, actually, since one of the questions he'd asked me was how I was getting along with Max, the Ackerman's dog – and openly scoffed at Andy's repeated assurances that the timber in the breezeways was going to have to be replaced thanks to the swallows and their refuse.
268, 269, 270. I strolled down the open corridor, watching the numbers on the beige locker doors. Unlike the ones in my school back in Brooklyn, these lockers were not graffitied, or dented, or plastered with stickers from heavy metal bands. I guess students on the West Coast took more pride in their school's appearance than us Yankees.
"Nope." Jake said making a popping sound. "The broad would have mutilated us if we'd dare pollute the lockers with a small sticker."
271, 272. I stumbled to a halt.
In front of locker number 273 stood a ghost.
"What?" Everyone seemed to echo( except well you know who)
"Ah. The moment of truth." Doc said, rubbing his hands together similar to a scientist's.
It wasn't Jesse, either.
It was a girl dressed very much like I was, only with long blonde hair, instead of brown, like mine. She also had an extremely unpleasant look on her face.
"Wait ... is that who I think it is?"
"What," she said, to me, "Are you looking at?" then, speaking to someone behind me, she demanded, "this is who they let in to take my place? I am so sure."
Ok, I admit it. I freaked out. I spun around, and found myself gaping up at Father Dominic, who was squinting down at me curiously.
"Ah," he said when he saw my face. "I thought so."
And it seemed at that moment that the whole room exploded into yells.