Author's Note: I do apologise for the wait. I had been incredibly busy in the last year that I had little time to start a new fic, that and I had been inspired by other fandoms again. As per usual I will update as regularly as possible and only after I receive ten reviews because I'm greedy like that. Thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
The Ackerman family sat in silence when they ate some more snacks left for them by Father Dominic. The only sounds that could be heard were the desperate gulping as they refreshed their throats with soda. Reading the long entries had taken a lot out of their voices and they needed a break from talking.
They needed a break from all the emotional turmoil.
Andy and Helen were quite certain that there isn't a single parent out there that has gone through so much worry about all of their children.
Not even David was out of danger and he was the good one!
"I suppose we should start the next one," Andy said finally breaking the silence; "though I'll be honest I dread to find out what other dangers Suze found herself in."
Helen just moaned quietly to herself.
Jake reluctantly picked up the next diary and opened it.
Summer. Season of long, slow days and short, hot nights.
"Days full of surfing and girls in bikinis with nights filled with BBQs and snogging girls in bikinis," Brad said dreamily.
"What girl would want to snog you? Apart from, you know, Debbie," Jake grinned.
"SHE ISN'T MY GIRLFRIEND!"
"Brad," Andy moaned, "keep it down, and Jake don't tease your brother."
Back in Brooklyn, where I spent my first fifteen of them, summer, when it hadn't meant camp, had meant hanging out on the stoop with my best friend Gina and her brothers, waiting for the ice cream truck to come by. When it wasn't too hot, we played a game called War, dividing into teams with the other kids in the neighborhood and shooting each other with imaginary guns.
"Fun," David muttered dryly. That was the very opposite of his definition of fun.
"So cool," Brad grinned. Then his grin faded quickly as he realised he called Suze cool, but then again she was with Gina, so it was all right.
When we got older, of course, we quit playing War. Gina and I also started laying off the ice cream.
"Girls," all the boys muttered.
Not that it mattered. None of the neighborhood guys, the ones we used to play with, wanted anything to do with us. Well, with me , anyway. I don't think they'd have minded renewing acquaintances with Gina, but by the time they finally noticed what a babe she'd grown into, she'd set her sights way higher than guys from the 'hood.
Jake couldn't help but preen a little at that while Brad just drooled over the thought of Gina in a bikini.
I don't know what I expected from my sixteenth summer, my first since moving to California to live with my mom and her new husband . . . and, oh, yeah, his sons.
All three Ackerman brothers shifted uncomfortably. They tried not to show how hurt they all felt that they were the afterthought there.
I guess I envisioned the same long, slow days. Only these, in my mind, would be spent at the beach rather than on an apartment building's front stoop.
"Ha! I wish!" Brad muttered. "I haven't had a summer on the beach and nothing else since I was ten."
"You should have worked harder at school then," Andy said sternly.
And as for those short, hot nights, well, I had plans for those, as well. All I needed was a boyfriend.
"Urgh," the brothers groaned.
But as it happened, neither the beach nor the boyfriend materialized the latter because the guy I liked?
"Is dead," Brad supplied.
"Well...he's right," David pointed out, "Suze likes Jesse, and at this point in time, he is dead."
Yeah, he so wasn't interested.
"Lies," Jake said, "Jesse is far too interested in Suze for my liking."
"I would prefer it if he wasn't living in her bedroom," Andy agreed, "but for now, I think it is safe to say Jesse won't do anything untoward right now."
"Unfortunately," Helen muttered.
At least, as far as I could tell. And the former because...
Well, because I was forced to get a job.
"It's a good experience!" Andy defended himself as his children glared at him. "You're all going to be adults soon, Jake you already are, you need to learn to make a living."
That's right: A job.
"You'd think I was torturing her," Andy grumbled.
I was horrified when one night at dinner, around the beginning of May, my stepfather Andy asked me if I'd put in any summer employment applications anywhere. I was all, "What are you talking about?"
But it soon became clear that, like the many other sacrifices I'd been asked to make since my mother met, fell in love with, and married Andy Ackerman,
"A job isn't a horrible sacrifice!" Helen snapped at the book. "It's an excellent way to gain work experience, a reference, and earn a little money of your own."
Andy, however, just laughed it off. He was too used to this since he first introduced the concept to Jake when he was fourteen.
Host of a popular cable television home improvement program, native Californian, and father of three, my long hot summer lazing at the beach with my friends was not to be.
"Definitely not," Andy grinned.
In the Ackerman household, it soon unfolded; you had two alternatives for how you spent your summer break: a job, or remedial tutoring. Only Doc, my youngest stepbrother, known as David to everyone but me, was exempt from either of these, as he was too young to work, and he had made good enough grades that he'd been accepted into a month-long computer camp, at which he was presumably learning skills that would make him the next Bill Gates, only hopefully without the bad haircut and Wal-Mart-y sweaters.
"As if Mom will let him have a bad haircut," Brad rolled his eyes.
My second-youngest stepbrother, Dopey (also known as Brad) was not so lucky. Dopey had managed to flunk both English and Spanish, an astounding feat, in my opinion, English being his native language,
"Poetry is hard!" Brad wailed. "And don't get me started on that Shakespeare guy!"
"Believe me," David muttered, "I'm sure Shakespeare feels the same."
and so was being forced by his stepfather to attend summer school five days a week . . . when he wasn't being used as unpaid slave labor on the project Andy had undertaken while his TV show was on summer hiatus: tearing down a large portion of our house's backyard deck and installing a hot tub.
"Which was instantly used as an excuse for partying and God knows what," Andy grumbled.
"Perhaps you should have paid me," Brad said cheekily.
"Don't push your luck, young man."
Given the alternative, employment or summer school, I chose to seek employment.
"As if summer school would want Suze there," Brad grumbled, "with her near perfect grades and all."
"That's because she took advantage of the study sessions I set up," David crossed his arms, "you could have passed with a B at least if you joined in as well."
I got a job at the same place my oldest stepbrother, Sleepy, works every summer. He, in fact, recommended me, an act which, at the time, simultaneously stunned and touched me. It wasn't until later that I found out that he had received a small bonus for every person he recommended who was later hired.
"Heh," Jake said sheepishly, "that was indeed the bonus but I didn't want her to end up working anywhere dangerous."
"You are a good brother," Helen praised him, "even if you are a greedy one."
"It's for my Camaro!"
Whatever. What it actually boils down to is this: Sleepy, Jake, as he is known to his friends and the rest of the family, and I are now proud employees of the Pebble Beach Hotel and Golf Resort, Sleepy as a lifeguard at one of the resort's many pools, and me as ...
Brad started to snicker.
Well, I signed away my summer to become a hotel staff babysitter.
The snicker turned into all out laughter.
Okay. You can stop laughing now.
The only reason Brad stopped was because Jake kicked him.
Even I will admit that it's not the kind of job I ever thought I'd be suited for, since I am not long on patience and am certainly not overly fond of having my hair spat up in. But allow me to point out that it does pay ten dollars an hour, and that that does not include tips.
Brad whistled impressed. "No wonder she managed to buy all those designer clothes," Helen murmured.
And let me just say that the people who stay at the Pebble Beach Hotel and Golf Resort? Yeah, they are the kind of people who tend to tip. Generously.
"Very," Jake said dreamily as he remembered his $1000 tip he received one summer.
The money, I must say, has gone a long way toward healing my wounded pride. If I have to spend my summer in mindless drudgery, earning a hundred bucks a day, and frequently more, amply compensates for it. Because by the time the summer is over, I should have, without question, the most stunning fall wardrobe of anyone entering the junior class of the Junipero Serra Mission Academy.
All the males in the room rolled their eyes.
So think about that, Kelly Prescott, while you spend your summer lounging by your father's pool. I've already got four pairs of Jimmy Choos, paid for with my own money.
"Perhaps I should teach her about the importance of being frugal," Andy muttered.
What do you think about that, Little Miss Daddy's AmEx?
"I'm too rich and spoilt to care?" Jake suggested.
The only real problem with my summer job, besides the whiny children and their equally whiny, but loaded, parents, of course, is the fact that I am expected to report there at eight o'clock in the morning every day.
That's right. EIGHT A.M. No sleeping in for old Suze this summer.
"Teenagers," Andy and Helen muttered.
I must say I find this a bit excessive. And believe me, I've complained. And yet the management staff at the Pebble Beach Hotel and Golf Resort have remained stubbornly unswayed by my persuasive arguments for refraining from offering babysitting services until nine.
"It wouldn't be good business if they did," Andy rolled his eyes.
And so it is that every morning (I can't even sleep in on Sundays, thanks to my stepfather's insistence that all of us gather around the dining table for the elaborate brunch he prepares; he seems to think we are the Camdens or the Waltons something)
"IT'S FAMILY TIME!"
"Dad, we love you, we love your food, but we love to sleep as well," Jake said exasperated. He really sympathised with Suze on the sleep issue.
I am up before seven...
Which has, I've been surprised to learn, its advantages.
Although I would not list seeing Dopey without a shirt, sweating like a pig, and gulping OJ from the carton as one of them.
"Urgh," Jake and David groaned. It certainly wasn't the prettiest sight first thing in the morning.
"Brad, I've told you not to drink straight out of the carton!" Helen snapped.
"Sorry," Brad mumbled.
There are a lot of girls who go to my school who would, I know, pay money to see Dopey, and Sleepy, too, for that matter, without a shirt, sweat or no sweat. Kelly Prescott, for instance. And her best friend, and Dopey's sometime flame, Debbie Mancuso. I myself do not understand the attraction, but then I can only suppose that these girls have not been around my stepbrothers after a meal in which beans played any sort of role on the menu.
Helen shuddered, Andy looked revolted, and the three brothers just smiled sheepishly.
Still, anyone who cared to see Dopey do his calendar pinup imitation could easily do so for free, merely by stopping by our house any weekday morning. For it is in our backyard that Dopey has been, from approximately six in the morning until he has to leave for summer school at ten, stripped to the waist, and performing rigorous manual labor under the eagle eye of his father.
"Slave driver," Brad muttered.
On this particular morning, the one where I caught him, once again, drinking directly from the juice carton, a habit of which my mother and I have been trying, with little success, to cure the entire Ackerman clan, Dopey had apparently been doing some digging, since he left a trail of mud along the kitchen floor, in addition to a dirt-encrusted object on what had once been an immaculate counter (I should know: it had been my turn to 409 it the night before).
Helen glowered at Brad but didn't say anything since she had him clean it up when it had actually happened.
"Oh," I said, as I stepped into the kitchen. "Isn't that a lovely picture."
Dopey lowered the orange juice container and looked at me.
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of a wrist.
Helen grimaced. Whatever happened to manners?
"Of course," I said. "But I was hoping that before I left, I could enjoy a nice glass of calcium fortified juice. I see now that that will not be possible."
Dopey shook the carton. "There's still some left," he said.
"Yes but it is now mixed with your saliva," Helen shuddered.
"Mixed with your backwash?" I heaved a shudder. "I think not."
Andy looked down at his wife amused. "Like mother, like daughter," he grinned.
Dopey opened his mouth to say something, presumably his usual suggestion that I chew on some piece of his anatomy, but his father's voice called from outside the sliding glass doors to the deck.
Andy shot a warning look at Brad. He hated it when his middle son and stepdaughter fought, and he had hoped he instilled some better manners in his son. Apparently not.
"Brad," Andy yelled. "That's enough of a break. Get back out here and help me lower this."
"Slave driver," Brad muttered again.
Dopey slammed down the carton of OJ. Before he could stalk from the room, however, I stopped him with a polite, "Excuse me?"
Because he wore no shirt, I could see the muscles in Dopey's neck and shoulders tense as I spoke. "All right already," he said, spinning around and heading back toward the juice carton. "I'll put it away. Jeez, why are you always on me about crap like- "
"Because its hygienic," Helen frowned at her stepson.
"I don't care about that," I interrupted him, pointing at the juice carton, although it had to have been making the counter sticky.
Helen shuddered. Her poor clean counter.
"I want to know what that is."
Dopey looked where I'd moved my finger. He blinked down at the dirt-encrusted oblong object.
"Oh! It's the letters!" David leaned in interestedly. He had been so disappointed when he had found out he missed out on the historical artefact found in their own garden. In the end Suze and Jake had taken him to the museum so he could examine them. Though it did take a lot of persuading.
"I dunno," he said. "I found it buried in the yard while I was digging out one of the posts."
"Lucky," David muttered jealously.
I gingerly lifted what appeared to be a metal box, about six inches long by two inches thick, heavily rusted and covered in mud. There were a few places where the mud had rubbed off, though, and there you could see some words painted on the box. The few I could make out were delicious aroma and quality assured. When I shook the box, it rattled. There was something inside.
"What's in it?" I asked Dopey.
"First time in ages she had spoken me without an insult," Brad mumbled in awe.
He shrugged. "How should I know? It's rusted shut. I was gonna take a -"
I never did find out what Dopey was going to do to the box, since his older brother Sleepy walked into the kitchen at that moment, reached for the orange juice carton, opened it, and downed the remaining contents. When he was through, he crumpled the carton, threw it into the trash compactor, and then, apparently noticing my appalled expression, said, "What?"
"Revolting," Helen shuddered.
I don't get what girls see in them. Seriously. They are like animals.
"WE ARE NOT!" Brad and Jake wailed simultaneously.
"That's just an insult to animals," David muttered.
And not the cute fuzzy kind, either.
"So only the ugly ones have to suffer such discrimination?"
"David!" Jake cried out.
Meanwhile, outside, Andy was calling imperiously for Dopey again.
"Imperiously?" Andy raised an eyebrow.
"I say it again – slave driver!"
"Then pass English and Spanish this year!"
Dopey muttered some extremely colorful four-letter words beneath his breath, then shouted,
Andy glowered at his middle child.
"I'm coming, already," and stomped outside.
It was already seven forty-five, so Sleepy and I really had to "motor," as he put it, to get to the resort on time. But though my eldest stepbrother has a tendency to sleepwalk through life, there's nothing somnambulistic about his driving. I punched in at work with five minutes to spare.
"Didn't what happened with Michael teach you anything about speed?!" Helen shrieked.
"Mom!" Jake protested. "I kept within the limit! I learned my lesson, trust me!"
The Pebble Beach Hotel and Golf Resort prides itself on its efficiency. And it is, in fact, a very smoothly run operation. As a staff babysitter, it's my responsibility, after punching in, to ask for my assignment for the day. That's when I find out whether I'll be washing strained carrots or burger fixings out of my hair after work. On the whole, I prefer burgers, but there's something to be said for strained carrots: generally the people who eat them can't talk back to you.
When I heard my assignment for that particular day, however, I was disappointed, even though it was a burger-eater.
"Problem kid?" Andy asked sympathetically.
"A bit," Jake said, "but Suze sorted him out."
"Simon, Susannah," Caitlin called. "You're assigned to Slater, Jack."
"Slater?" Brad repeated. "As in-"
"Yeah, Jack is Paul's little brother," Jake interrupted.
"He better not be like his older brother," Brad muttered.
Paul had been a jackass from the beginning, stealing Kelly, trashing their house, hurting Suze...Brad had a burning desire to punch that smug git's face in.
"He isn't," Jake reassured him.
"For God's sake, Caitlin," I said to Caitlin, who was my supervisor. "I was stuck with Jack Slater yesterday. And the day before."
"She shouldn't complain too much or she will get fired," Andy fretted.
Caitlin is only two years older than me, but she treats me like I'm twelve. In fact, I'm sure the only reason she tolerates me is because of Sleepy: she is as warm for his form as every other girl on this planet ...except, of course, me.
"Thank God," Jake murmured, it would be a nightmare if Suze – his little sister – fancied him too. Although he didn't like the idea of someone patronising Suze, because he could foresee them receiving a punch from her, he did like Caitlin. Not as much as Gina, he has never liked a girl like he liked Gina, but enough to be relieved as well that Caitlin and Suze got on somewhat well.
He would like it if every girl he dated got on well with his family.
"Jack's parents," Caitlin informed me, without even looking up from her clipboard, "requested you, Suze."
"That's a good," Andy said cheerfully, "it means she's well liked and can be hired again next year."
"Couldn't you have said I was already taken?"
"Come on, Suze!" Andy said, "It's a good thing. She needs to work on her behaviour or she will never keep a job."
"I'm sure she'll be more pleasant when she's doing something she wants to do," Helen reassured Andy.
Though to be quite honest she was starting to think her husband took work ethics too far.
Caitlin did look up then. She looked at me with cool, blue contact-lensed eyes. "Suze," she said. "They like you."
"Good, she'll sort Suze out," Andy said satisfied.
I fiddled with my bathing suit straps. I was wearing the regulation navy blue swimsuit beneath my regulation navy blue Oxford T-shirt and khaki shorts. With pleats, no less. Appalling.
Jake rolled his eyes. Girls.
I mentioned the uniform, right? I mean the part where I have to wear a uniform to work?
Every day. A uniform.
"It could be so much worse," Andy rolled his eyes, "I wore some terrible uniforms when I did summer work. The colours would be bright and clashing. I looked like a clown.
The boys snickered and Helen couldn't help but laugh a little either.
If I'd known about the uniform beforehand, I never would have applied for the job.
"Drama Queen," Jake muttered.
"I would have forced her, uniform or not," Helen said firmly. "It's no excuse to not work."
"Yeah," I said. "I know they like me."
The feeling isn't mutual. It isn't that I don't like Jack, although he's easily the whiniest little kid I have ever met. I mean, you can see why he's that way, just take a look at his parents, a pair of career-obsessed physicians who think dumping their kid off with a hotel babysitter for days on end while they go sailing and golfing is a fine family vacation.
Andy looked disgusted. A family holiday is supposed to be a family holiday. If he could afford such a vacation he would have family dinners, family trips to historical sites, family athletics, and to relax together by the pool.
It's actually Jack's older brother I have the problem with. Well, not necessarily a problem ... More like I would just rather avoid seeing him while I am wearing my incredibly unstylish Pebble Beach
"Urgh," Brad groaned.
Hotel and Golf Resort uniform khaki shorts.
Yeah. The ones with the pleats in them.
Everyone rolled their eyes at Suze's vanity.
Except, of course, that every time I've run into the guy since he and his family arrived at the resort last week, I've been wearing the stupid things.
Not that I care, particularly, what Paul Slater thinks about me. I mean, my heart, to coin a phrase, belongs to another.
"Vanity thy name is Susannah," Jake muttered.
Helen just silently squealed in excitement over Suze's admittance for her feelings for Jesse. Andy smiled down at his wiggling excited wife, indulging in her childish joy.
Too bad he shows no signs whatsoever of actually wanting it. My heart, that is.
"He does," Helen said firmly, "he's just too honourable."
Still, Paul, that's his name; Jack's older brother, I mean: Paul Slater is pretty incredible. I mean, it isn't just that he's a hottie.
"Urgh," the three brothers moaned.
Oh, no. Paul's hot and funny. Every time I go to pick Jack up or drop him off at his family's hotel suite, and his brother Paul happens to be there, he always has some flippant remark to make about the hotel or his parents or himself. Not mean or anything. Just funny.
"Somehow I doubt that," Andy said sceptically.
And I think he's smart, too, because whenever he isn't on the golf course with his dad or playing tennis with his mom, he's at the pool reading. And not your typical pool book, either. No Clancy or Crichton or King for Paul. Oh, no. We're talking stuff by guys like Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard.
"Show off," Brad muttered.
Seriously. It's almost enough to make you think he's not from California.
"HEY! WHAT'S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?!"
And of course it turns out, he's not: the Slaters are visiting from Seattle.
So you see, it wasn't just that Jack Slater is the whiniest kid I've ever met: there was also the fact that I wasn't really all that enthused about his hottie brother seeing me, yet again, in shorts that make my butt look roughly the size of Montana.
Once again everyone rolled their eyes.
But Caitlin was totally uninterested in my personal feelings on the matter.
"We're not interested in your personal feelings on the matter," Jake murmured, "and we're your family."
"Suze," Caitlin said, looking down at her clipboard again. "Nobody likes Jack. But the fact is, Dr. and Mrs. Slater like you. So you're spending the day with Jack. Capeesh?"
"Exactly!" Andy exclaimed.
I sighed gustily, but what could I do? Aside from my pride, my tan was the only thing that was really going to suffer from spending yet another day with Jack. The kid doesn't like swimming, or bike riding, or Rollerblading, or Frisbee tossing, or anything, really, to do with the great outdoors. His idea of a good time is to sit inside the hotel room and watch cartoons.
"Sounds like a normal child to me," Helen murmured. Suze hadn't been interested in going out unless she was with Gina.
In fact when Helen thought about it, it becomes obvious until she was ten, Suze had been rather fearful in going out to play on her own. It must have been the ghosts taking an affect on her. Could Jack also...? Helen shook her head, no, not every socially challenged child is a mediator.
I'm not kidding, either. He is, without a doubt, the most boring kid I ever met. I find it hard to believe he and Paul came from the same gene pool.
"I know," David agreed, "I find it hard to believe Brad and I came from the same gene pool."
"David," Andy said warningly.
"Besides," Caitlin added, as I was standing there, fuming. "Today is Jack's eighth birthday."
"How can his parents abandon him on his birthday?!" Helen shrieked.
"What douches," Brad grumbled.
"That poor kid," Jake murmured.
I stared at her. "His birthday? It's Jack's birthday, and his parents are leaving him with a sitter all day?"
"Despicable," Andy growled. He had always gone out his way to make every birthday of all of his children was a special day for them.
Caitlin shot me a severe look. "The Slaters say they'll be back in time to take him to dinner at the Grill."
"A child at the Grill?!"
The Grill. Whoopee. The Grill is the fanciest restaurant at the resort, maybe even on the entire peninsula. The cheapest thing they serve there costs about fifteen dollars, and that's the house salad. The Grill is so not a fun place to take a kid on his eighth birthday. I mean, even Jack, the most boring child in the world, couldn't have a fun time there.
"Are all rich people incompetent at parenting?" Helen groused under her breath. Kelly, Bryce, Heather, Tad, and now these two poor boys. All ruined by the spoiling of their parents and in some cases emotional neglect.
I don't get it. I really don't. I mean, what's wrong with these people? And how, seeing the way they treat their youngest child, had their other one managed to turn out so...
Andy face palmed, Brad gawked unattractively at the book, David looked up disbelievingly, and Helen wondered where she went wrong in her own parenting.
"Good looks have nothing to do with personality," Jake shook his head, "unless someone becomes egotistic because they were told constantly how beautiful they are."
"Or the opposite," David said softly, "But honestly...?"
"Oh Susannah," Helen murmured, "What am I to do with you?"
At least, that was the word that flashed through my mind as Paul opened the door to his family's suite in response to my knock, then stood there grinning down at me, one hand in the pocket of his cream-colored chinos, the other clutching a book by someone called Martin Heidegger.
"Ooh I wonder if its Being and Time?" David said with keen interest. "I must question his views on whether or not philosophy has become distorted since Plato."
"Of course you read it," Brad muttered.
Yeah, you know what the last book I read was? That'd be Clifford . That's right. The big red dog. And okay, I was reading it to a five-year-old, but still. Heidegger. Jeez.
"How does she know Heidegger?!"
"Because she and I have had intellectual discussions about it," David shrugged, "she only skimmed it for an essay so she didn't fully take it in."
"All right. Who called Room Service and ordered the pretty girl?" Paul wanted to know.
"Urgh," everyone groaned. That was just...well sleazy.
Well, okay, that wasn't funny. That was actually sort of sexually harassing, if you think about it. But the fact that the guy saying it was my age, about six feet tall, and olive-complected, with curly brown hair and eyes the color of the mahogany desk in the hotel lobby, made it not so bad.
"Oh for Christ sake!"
"We're having a word with her how sexual harassment is not okay, no matter who it is and how they look," Andy said sternly.
Not so bad. What am I talking about? The guy could sexually harass me anytime he wanted to. At least someone wanted to.
Helen's eye twitched. "I agree," she said to Andy's command, "I hate to think what sort of situation she could put herself in because of this attitude."
Just my luck it wasn't the guy I wanted.
"Thank God Jesse has Victorian values," David said, "Or Suze would have been-"
"Please David," Helen interrupted, "I really don't want to think about what could have happened."
I didn't admit this out loud, of course. What I said instead was, "Ha ha. I'm here for Jack."
Paul winced. "Oh," he said, shaking his head in mock disappointment. "The little guy gets all the luck."
He held the door open for me, and I stepped into the suite's plush living room. Jack was where he usually was sprawled on the floor in front of the TV. He did not acknowledge my presence, as was his custom.
His mother, on the other hand, did acknowledge me: "Oh, hi, Susan. Rick and Paul and I will be on the course all morning. And then the three of us are meeting for lunch at the Grotto, and then we've got appointments with our personal trainers. So if you could stay until we all get back, around seven, we'd appreciate it. Make sure Jack has a bath before changing for dinner. I've laid out a suit for him. It's his birthday, you know. Okay, buh-bye, you two. Have fun, Jack."
"First," Helen hissed through gritted teeth, "my daughter's name is Susannah, Susannah, not Susan, not Susanne, but Susannah! Second of all, how are personal trainers more important than your own child?! And lastly, how can your child's birthday be such an afterthought?!"
"How could he not?" Paul wanted to know, with a meaningful glance in my direction.
And then the Slaters left.
Jack remained where he was in front of the TV, not speaking to me, not even looking at me. As this was typical Jack behavior, I was not alarmed.
"Poor kid," Andy muttered.
I crossed the room, stepping over Jack on my way, and went to fling open the wide French doors that led out onto a terrace overlooking the sea. Rick and Nancy Slater were paying six hundred dollars a night for their view, which was one of the Monterey Bay, sparkling turquoise under a cloudless blue sky. From their suite you could the see the yellow slice of beach upon which, were it not for my well-meaning but misguided stepfather, I would have been whiling away my summer.
Andy grinned at that.
It isn't fair. It really isn't.
Andy then playfully rolled his eyes. Honestly, his children...
"Okay, big guy," I said, after taking in the view for a minute or two and listening to the soothing pulse of the waves. "Go put on your swim trunks. We're hitting the pool. It's too nice out to stay inside."
Helen couldn't help but smile. She had a feeling Suze would make a wonderful mother one day.
Jack, as usual, looked as if I'd pinched him rather than suggested a fun day at the pool.
"But why?" he cried. "You know I can't swim."
"That's not good at all!" Andy cried out. "I ensured all my children learnt by the time they were eight! What on earth are those parents doing?!"
"Which is exactly," I said, "why we're going. You're eight years old today. An eight-year-old who can't swim is nothing but a loser. You don't want to be a loser, do you?"
"Susannah!" Helen cried out.
Jack opined that he preferred being a loser to going outdoors, a fact with which I was only too well acquainted.
"Jack," I said, slumping down onto a couch near where he lay. "What is your problem?"
Instead of responding, Jack rolled over onto his stomach and scowled at the carpet. I wasn't going to let up on him, though. I knew what I was talking about, with the loser thing. Being different in the American public, or even private, educational system is not cool. How Paul had ever allowed this to happen, his little brother's turning into a whiny little wimp you almost longed to slap, I couldn't fathom, but I knew good and well Rick and Nancy weren't doing anything to help rectify the matter. It was pretty much all up to me to save Jack Slater from becoming his school's human punching bag.
"Knowing Paul Slater," Jake growled, "I doubt he did very little to help his brother."
"Is it me, or does Suze have a need to rescue everyone?" Brad asked. "There always seems to be someone that she rescues in these diaries."
"My child has a hero complex," Helen groused.
Don't ask me why I even cared. Maybe because in a weird way, Jack reminded me a little of Doc, my youngest stepbrother, the one who is away at computer camp. A geek in the truest sense of the word, Doc is still one of my favorite people. I have even been making a concerted effort to call him by his name, David ... at least to his face.
David beamed at this while his brothers glared jealously at him. They weren't that bad! They cared about Suze too!
But Doc is, almost, able to get away with his bizarre behavior because he has a photographic memory and a computer-like ability to process information. Jack, so far as I could tell, possessed no such skills.
"I don't think there is anyone who has the same skills as David," Jake said.
In fact, I had a feeling he was a bit dim. So really, he had no excuse for his eccentricities.
"Some could argue the same with you," Helen raised an eyebrow.
"What's the deal?" I asked him. "Don't you want to learn how to swim and throw a Frisbee, like a normal person?"
"You don't understand," Jack said, not very distinctly, into the carpet. "I'm not a normal person. I - I'm different than other people."
"Of course you are," I said, rolling my eyes. "We're all special and unique, like snowflakes. But there's Different, and then there's Freakish. And you, Jack, are going to turn Freakish, if you don't watch out."
"Susannah!" Helen shrieked. "Honestly, did I not teach you anything about tact?!"
"I -I already am freakish," Jack said.
"God that poor kid," Andy said, "I don't know how often I said it but my heart really does go out to that little guy."
But he wouldn't elaborate, and I can't say I pressed too hard, trying to find out what he meant. Not that I imagined he might like to drown kittens in his spare time, or anything like that. I just figured he meant freakish in the general sense. I mean, we all feel like freaks from time to time. Jack maybe felt like one a bit more often than that, but then, with Rick and Nancy for parents, who wouldn't? He was probably constantly being asked why he couldn't be more like his older brother, Paul. That would be enough to make any kid feel a little insecure. I mean, come on. Heidegger? On summer vacation?
Everyone smiled or sniggered at Suze's little inner monologue there. She was entirely correct but her wording was just amusing.
Give me Clifford, any day.
Everyone chuckled at that.
I told Jack that worrying so much was going to make him old before his time. Then I ordered him to go and put on his swimsuit.
"Kid doesn't stand a chance," Brad muttered sympathetically.
He did so, but he didn't exactly hurry, and when we finally got outside and onto the brick path to the pool, it was almost ten o'clock. The sun was beating down hard, though it wasn't uncomfortably hot yet. Actually, it hardly ever gets uncomfortably hot in Carmel, even in the middle of July. Back in Brooklyn, you can barely go outdoors in July, it's so muggy. In Carmel, however, there is next to no humidity, and there's always a cool breeze from the Pacific...
Helen sighed blissfully. She loved summer in Carmel.
Perfect date weather, actually. If you happened to have one. A date, I mean. Which of course I don't.
Everyone rolled their eyes again.
And probably never will, at least with the guy I want, if things keep up the way they've been going...
Anyway, Jack and I were tripping down the brick path to the pool when one of the gardeners stepped out from behind an enormous forsythia bush and nodded to me.
This wouldn't have been at all odd, I have actually gotten friendly with all of the landscaping staff, thanks to the many Frisbees I have lost while playing with my charges, except for the fact that this particular gardener, Jorge, who had been expected to retire at the end of the summer, had instead suffered a heart attack a few days earlier, and, well ...
"Died," everyone finished.
"Please don't let him be a homicidal spirit," Helen added pleadingly.
Yet there was Jorge in his beige coveralls, holding a pair of hedge clippers and bobbing his head at me, just as he had the last time I'd seen him, on this very path, a few days before.
"I think it is safe to say Jorge is a decent guy," Andy said reassuringly.
I wasn't too worried about Jack's reaction to having a dead man walk up and nod at us, since for the most part; I'm the only one I know who can actually see them. The dead, I mean. So I was perfectly unprepared for what happened next...
Which was that Jack ripped his hand from mine and, with a strangled scream, ran for the pool.
Everyone's eyes widened. "No way..." Brad murmured, "No freaking way!"
This was odd, but then, so was Jack. I rolled my eyes at Jorge, then hurried after the kid, since I am, after all, getting paid to care for the living. The whole helping-out-the-dead thing has to play second fiddle so long as I'm on the Pebble Beach Hotel and Golf Resort time clock. The ghosts simply have to wait. I mean, it's not as if they're paying me. Ha! I wish.
"It would have to be a very well paid job, like six figures at the minimum," Andy muttered.
I found Jack huddled on a deck chair, sobbing into his towel. Fortunately, it was still early enough that there weren't many people at the pool yet. Otherwise, I might have had some explaining to do.
"I'm too used to weird things happening round Suze," Jake shook his head.
But the only other person there was Sleepy, high up in his lifeguard chair. And it was pretty clear from the way Sleepy was resting his cheek in one hand that his shutters, behind the lenses of his Ray Bans, were closed.
"You better not sleep when you're on duty!" Andy chided his eldest.
"Jack," I said, sinking down onto the neighboring deck chair. "Jack, what's the matter?"
"I ... I t-told you already," Jack sobbed into his fluffy white towel. "Suze . . . I'm not like other people. I'm like what you said. A ... a ... freak."
"Jeeze, that poor kid."
I didn't know what he was talking about. I assumed he was merely continuing our conversation from the room.
"I doubt it."
"Jack," I said. "You're no more a freak than anybody else."
"No," he sobbed. "I am . Don't you get it?" Then he lifted his head, looked me straight in the eye, and hissed, "Suze, don't you know why I don't like to go outside?"
"We have an idea," David said.
I shook my head. I didn't get it. Even then, I still didn't get it.
"Oh come on!" Brad shouted. "Even I have an idea what's going on!"
"Does he realise-"
"Let him work it out himself," Jake grinned at David.
"Because when I go outside," Jack whispered, "I see dead people."
"And there we have it!" Andy said sadly, "Another mediator. That poor, poor kid."
"How curious," David said thoughtfully, "so far Suze is the only female mediator we have encountered. I wonder if it's a genetic trait more commonly found in males like hair loss..."
"We've only met four mediators though," Jake pointed out, "as far as we know there might be hundreds of females and Father D and the kid are a rarity."
"True," David conceded, "I must question Suze about this when we finish the diaries."
"And on that note," Jake said handing the diary to Brad, "that was the end of the entry."