Spoiler Time

December 6th, 2004

Okay, hi, sorry, I just have a minute because I'm trying to finish Princess Diaries 7, so I have no time/creativity left to write a real blog entry. So instead, I'm posting another sneak peek at TWILIGHT, Mediator 6. All of the Mediator series–about a teenaged girl who can see and speak to ghosts–Shadowland, Ninth Key, Reunion, Darkest Hour, Haunted, and the last book, TWILIGHT, will be in stores December 28, 2004! Just in time to use that gift certificate to Barnes and Noble your grandma got you! Hint, hint!

Enjoy this peek at Twilight: Chapter 5
(see http://www.megcabot.com/mediator/mediator6-excerpt.html to read the first chapter if you haven't already):

Chapter Five

Mr. Walden held up a stack of Scan-Tron sheets and said, “Number two pencils only, please.”

Kelly Prescott's hand immediately shot up into the air.

“Mr. Walden, this is an outrage.” Kelly takes her role as president of the junior class extremely seriously…especially when it has to do with scheduling dances. And, apparently, aptitude testing. “We should have been given at least twenty-four hours notice that we'd be undergoing state testing today.”

“Relax, Prescott.” Mr. Walden, our homeroom teacher and class advisor, began passing out the Scan-Tron sheets. “They're career aptitude tests, not academic. Your scores won't show up on your permanent record. They're to help you–” He picked up one of the test booklets lying on his desk and read from it aloud. “–'determine which careers are best suited to your particular skills and/or areas of interest and/or achievement.' Got it? Just answer the questions.” Mr. Walden slapped a pile of answer sheets onto my desk for me to pass down my row. “You've got fifty minutes. And no talking.”

“'Which do you enjoy more, working while a) outdoors? or b) indoors?'” I heard my stepbrother Brad read aloud from across the room. “Hey, where's c) heavily intoxicated?”

“You loser,” Kelly Prescott chortled.

“'Are you a 'night person' or a 'day person'?” Adam looked mockly shocked. “This test is totally biased against narcoleptics.”

“'Do you work best a) alone or b) in a group?'” My best friend CeeCee could hardly seem to contain her disgust. “Oh my God, this is so stupid.”

“What part of no talking,” Mr. Walden demanded, “do you people not understand?”

But no one paid any attention to him.

“This is stupid,” Adam declared. “How is this test going to determine whether or not I'm qualified for a career?”

“It measures your aptitude, stupid.” Kelly sounded disgusted. “The only career you're qualified for is working the drive-through window at In and Out Burger.”

“Where you, Kelly, will be working the fryer,” Paul pointed out, drily, causing the rest of the class to crack up….

Until Mr. Walden, who'd settled behind his desk and was trying to read his latest issue of Surf Magazine, roared, “Do you people want to stay after school to finish up those tests? Because I'll be happy to keep you here, I've got nothing better to do. Now, shut up, all of you, and get to work.”

That had a significant impact on the amount of chitchat going on around the room.

Miserably, I filled in the little bubbles. My misery didn't just stem, of course, from the fact that I was operating on zero sleep. While that didn't exactly help, there was the more pressing concern that career aptitude tests? Yeah, they don't much apply to me. My fate is already laid out for me…has been laid out for me since birth. I'm destined to be one thing when I grow up, and one thing only. And any other career I choose is just going to get in the way of my true calling, which is, of course, helping the undead to their final destinations.

I glanced over at Paul. He was bent over his Scan-Tron sheet, filling in the answer bubbles with a little smile on his face. I wondered what he was putting down as fields of interest. I hadn't noticed any entries for extortion. Or felony theft.

Why, I wondered, was he even bothering? It wasn't like it was going to do us any good. We were always going to be mediators first, whatever other careers we might choose. Look at Father Dominic. Oh, sure, he had managed to keep his mediator status a secret…a secret even from the church, since, as Father D put it, his boss is God, and God invented mediators.

Of course, Father D isn't just a priest. He'd also been a teacher for years and years, winning some awards, even, until he'd been promoted to principal.

But it's different for Father Dom. He really believes that his ability to see and speak to the dead is gift from God. He doesn't see it for what it really is: a curse.

Except…

Except of course that without it, I never would have met Jesse.

Jesse. The little blank bubbles in front of me grew decidedly blurry as my eyes filled up with tears.

Oh, great. Now I was crying. At school.

But how could I help it? Here I was, my future laid out in front of me…graduation, college, career. Well, you know, pseudo-career, since we all know what my real career was going to be.

But what about Jesse? What future did he have?

“What's wrong with you?” CeeCee hissed.

I reached up and dabbed at my eyes with the sleeve of my Miu Miu shirt.

“Nothing,” I whispered back. “Allergies.”

CeeCee looked skeptical, but turned back to her test booklet.

I'd asked him once what he'd wanted to be. Jesse, I mean. You know, before he'd died. I'd meant what he'd wanted to be as a far as a career went, but he hadn't understood. When I'd finally explained, he'd smiled, but in a sad way.

“Things were different when I was alive, Susannah,” he'd said. “I was my father's only son. It was expected that I would inherit our family's ranch and work it to support my mother and sisters after my father died.”

He didn't add that part of the plan had also included his marrying the girl whose dad owned the farm next door, so that their land would be united into one super-sized ranchero. Nor did he mention the fact that she was the one who'd had him killed, because she'd liked another fella better, a fella her dad hadn't exactly approved of. Because I already knew all of that.

Things were tough, I guess, even way back in the eighteen fifties.

“Oh,” was what I'd said, in response. Jesse hadn't spoken with any detectable rancor, but it seemed like a raw deal to me. I mean, what if he hadn't wanted to be a rancher? “Well, what would you have liked to be? You know, if you'd had a choice?”

Jesse had looked thoughtful.

“Back then? I don't know. It was different then, Susannah. I was different. I did think…sometimes…that I might have liked to be a doctor.”

A doctor. It made perfect sense—at least to me. All those times I'd staggered home with various parts of me throbbing in pain—whether from poisoned oak, or blisters on my feet—Jesse had been there for me, his touch soft as cashmere. He'd have made a great doctor, actually.

“Why didn't you, then?” I'd wanted to know. “Become a doctor? Just because of your dad?”

“Yes, mostly that,” he'd said. “I'd never even dared mention it to anyone. I could barely be spared from the ranch for a few days, let alone the years medical college would have taken. But I would have liked
that, I think. Medical school. Though back when I was alive,” he'd added, “people didn't know nearly as much medicine as they do today. It would be more exciting to work in the sciences now, I think.”

And he would know. He'd had a hundred and fifty years to hang around and watch as inventions–electricity, automobiles, planes, computers…not to mention penicillin, vaccines for diseases that once routinely killed millions–changed the world into something unrecognizable from the one in which he'd grown up.

But rather than clinging stubbornly to the past, as some would have, Jesse had followed excitedly along, reading whatever he could get his hands on, from paperback novels to encyclopedias. He said he had a lot to catch up on. His favorite books seem to be the non-fiction tomes he borrows from Father Dom, everything from philosophy to explorations on emerging viruses–the kind of books I'd have given to my dad on Father's Day, if my dad wasn't, you know, dead. My stepdad, on the other hand, is more the cookbook type. But you get my drift. To Jesse, stuff that seems dry and uninteresting to me is vitally exciting. Maybe because he's not used to it, the way I am.

Sighing, I looked down at the hundreds of career options in front of me. Jesse was dead, but even he knew what he'd wanted to be…would have been, if he hadn't died. Or not been, considering what he'd said about his father's expectations for him.

And here was I, with every advantage in the world, and all I could think that I wanted to be when I grew up was….

Well, with Jesse.

“Twenty more minutes.”

Mr. Walden's voice boomed out across the classroom, startling me from my thoughts. I found that my gaze had become fixed on the sea, not quite more than a mile or two from the Mission, and viewable through most of the school's classroom windows…to the detriment of students like me. I hadn't grown up, like most of my classmates, around the sea. It was a constant source of wonder and interest to me.

Kind of, I realized, like Jesse's fascination with modern science.

Only unlike Jesse, I actually had a chance to do something with my interest.

“Ten more minutes,” Mr.Walden announced, startling me again.

Ten more minutes. I looked down at my answer sheet, which was half empty. At the same time, I noticed CeeCee shooting me an anxious look from her desk beside mine. She nodded to the sheet. Get to work, her violet eyes urged me.

I picked up my pencil and began haphazardly to fill in bubbles. I didn't care what answers I chose. Because, truthfully, I didn't care about my future. Without Jesse, I had no future.

Of course, with him, I have no future, either. What was he going to do, anyway? Follow me to college? To my first job? My first apartment?

Yeah. That'll happen.

Paul was right. I'm so stupid. Stupid to have fallen in love with a ghost. Stupid to think we had any kind of future together. Stupid.

“Time's up.” Mr. Walden pulled his feet from the top of his desk. “Lay your pencils down, please. Then pass your answer sheets to the front.”

I wasn't all that surprised when Paul came up to me after Mr. Walden had dismissed us for lunch.

“That was pointless,” he said, in a low voice, as we made our way towards our lockers. “I mean, we have our career paths cut out for us, don't we?”

“Well, you can't really make a living doing what we do,” I said, then remembered, too late, that Paul certainly seemed to have managed to.

“An honest living,” I amended.

But instead of feeling ashamed of himself, as I'd meant him to, Paul just grinned.

“That's why I've decided on a career in the legal profession,” he said. “Your dad was a lawyer, right?”

I nodded. I don't like talking about my dad with Paul. Because my dad was everything that was good. And Paul is everything that…isn't.

“Yeah, that's what I thought,” Paul went on. “Nothing's black and white with the law. It's all sort of grey. So long as you can find a precedent.”

I didn't say anything. I could easily see Paul as a lawyer. Not a lawyer like my dad had been, a public defender, but the kind of lawyer who'd defend rich celebrities, people who thought they were above the law…and because they had limitless funds to pay for their defense, they were above it, in a way.

“You, on the other hand,” Paul said. “I think you're destined for a career in the social services. You're a natural born do-gooder.”

“Yeah,” I said, as stopped beside my locker. “Maybe I'll follow in Father D's footsteps, and become a nun.”

“Now that,” Paul said, leaning against the locker next to mine, “would just be a waste. I was thinking more along the lines of a social worker. Or a therapist. You're very good, you know, at taking on other people's problems.”

Wasn't that the truth. It was the reason I was so bleary-eyed and tired today. Because after I'd left Jesse the night before, I'd driven home and gone up to bed…only not to sleep. Instead, I'd lain awake, blinking at the ceiling and mulling over what Jesse had told me. Not about Paul, but about what Paul had made me read aloud earlier that day: The shifter's abilities didn't merely include communication with the dead and teleportation between their world and our own, but the ability to travel at will throughout the fourth dimension, as well.

The fourth dimension. Time.

The very word caused the hairs on my arms to stand up, even though it was another typically beautiful autumn day in Carmel, and not cold at all. Could it really be true? Was such a thing even possible? Could mediators–or shifters, as Paul insisted on calling us–travel through time as well as between the realms of the living and the dead?

And if–a big if–it were true, what on earth did it mean?

More importantly, why had Paul been so intent on making sure I knew about it?

“You look strung out,” Paul observed, as I stowed my books away and reached for the paper bag containing the lunch my stepfather had made me–tandoori chicken salad. “What's the matter? Trouble sleeping?”

“You should know,” I said, glaring at him.

“What'd I do?” he asked, sounding genuinely surprised.

I don't know if it was my exhaustion, or the fact that that the career aptitude test had got me thinking about my future…my future, and Jesse's. Suddenly, I was just very tired of Paul and his games. And I decided to call him on the latest one.

“The fourth dimension,” I reminded him. “Time travel?”

He just grinned, however.

“Oh, good, you figured it out. Took you long enough.”

“You really think shifters are capable of time travel?” I asked.

“I don't think so,” Paul said. “I know so.”

Again, I felt a chill when I shouldn't have. We were standing in the shade of the breezeway, it was true, but just a few feet away, in the Mission courtyard, the sun was blazing down. Hummingbirds flitted from hibiscus blossom to hibiscus blossom. Tourists snapped away with their Instamatics.

So what was up with the goosebumps?

“Why?” I demanded, my throat suddenly dry. “Because you've done it?”

“Not yet,” he said, casually. “But I will. Soon.”

“Yeah,” I said, fear making me sarcastic. “Well, maybe you could travel back to the night you stole Mrs. Gutierrez's money and not this time.”

“God
, would you let it go already?” He shook his head. “It was two thousand lousy bucks. You act like it was two million.”

“Hey, Paul.” Kelly Prescott broke away from her clique–the Dolce and Gabbana Nazis, CeeCee had taken to calling them–and sauntered over, fluttering her heavily mascaraed eyelashes. “You coming to lunch?”

“In a minute,” Paul said to her…not very nicely, considering she was his date for next weekend's dance. Kelly, though stung, nevertheless pulled herself together enough to send me a withering glance before heading for the yard where we dined daily, al fresco.

“So I don't get it.” I stared at him. “What if we can travel through time? Big deal. It's not like we can change anything once we get there.”

“Why?” Paul's blue eyes were curious. “Because Doc from Back to the Future said so?”

“Because you can't…you can't mess up the natural order of things,” I said.

“Why not? Isn't that what you do every day, when you mediate? Aren't you interfering with the natural order of things by sending spirits off to their just rewards?”

“That's different,” I said.

“How so?”

“Because those people are already dead! They can't do anything anymore that might change the course of history.”

“Like Mrs. Gutierrez, and her two thousand dollars?” Paul's glance was shrewd. “You think if you'd given it to her son, it wouldn't have changed the course of history? Even in some small way?”

“But that's different than entering another dimension to change something that already happened. That's just…wrong”

“Is it, Suze?” A corner of Paul's mouth lifted. “I don't think so. And you know what? I think this time, your boy Jesse is going to agree. With me.”

And suddenly, it seemed to get even colder than ever under that breezeway.

More later.

Much love,

Meg