Proposal (The Mediator #6.5) by Meg Cabot

Uno

IT WAS VALENTINE’S DAY, and where was I?

Freezing my butt off in a cemetery, that’s where. Romantic, right?

But I had a job to do, and that job required that I sit in the dark on a headstone, and wait for a ghost to show up.

Yeah. That’s the kind of girl I am, unfortunately. Not the candy-­and-­stuffed-­bear kind. The I-­see-­dead-­­people kind.

Discomfort from the cold aside, I was actually kind of okay with the situation. Would I have preferred to be at one of those cute little outdoor bistros over on Ocean Ave, snuggling under a heat lamp and sipping champagne while dining on the Valentine’s Day surf and turf special with my one true love?

Of course.

I wouldn’t even have minded being back at the dorm, hanging out at my suite mates’ anti–Valentine’s Day party, swigging cheap vodka and cranberry juice cocktails while making sarcastic comments about the rom-­coms we all claimed to hate (but secretly loved, of course).

But me and my one true love? We’d agreed to spend this Valentine’s Day apart.

Hey, it’s all right. We’re mature adults. We don’t need a stupid holiday named after some martyred saint to tell us when to say I love you.

And okay, the last place anyone wants to be on Valentine’s Day is a cemetery. Anyone except spooks, I mean, and those of us who were born with the curse (or gift, depending on how you choose to look at it) of communicating with them.

But I didn’t mind. Monterey’s Cementerio El Encinal was kind of soothing. It was just me, the headstones, and the marine layer rolling in from the Pacific, making it a bit chillier than it had been when I’d gotten there half an hour ago, and a bit more difficult to see the grave I had staked out.

But who cared if my blow-­out was turning limp from the humidity, or my nose red from the chill? It wasn’t like I had a date.

Well, with anyone who personally mattered to me.

And I knew this guy was going to show up sooner or later, since he’d done so every night this past week, like clockwork, to the bewilderment—­and fear—­of the community.

At least when I got home, I’d have a nice cocktail waiting for me.

This guy I was expecting? He had nothing waiting for him—­nothing good, anyway.

I just hoped he’d show up before my butt cheeks froze to the headstone I was sitting on. I wished Mrs. J. Charles Peterson III had chosen a softer material than granite to mark her husband’s final resting place. Marble, perhaps. Or cashmere. Cashmere would have been a nice choice, though it probably wouldn’t have lasted long given the harsh elements of the Northern California coast.

When you’ve been in the ghost-­busting business as long as I have (twenty-­one years), you learn a few things. The first one is, spectral stakeouts are boring.

The second one is, there isn’t anything you can do to entertain yourself during them, because the minute you slip in earbuds to listen to music or watch a video on your iPod or start texting with your boyfriend on your phone (assuming he’ll text back, which, considering mine was born around the time Queen Victoria inherited the throne and thinks modern technology is dehumanizing), whoever—­or whatever—­it is you’re waiting for is going to show up, hit you over the head, and run off while you were distracted.

Three, if you bring along a thermos containing a delicious warm beverage—­coffee or hot chocolate or hot cider spiked with Bacardi—­you will have to pee in about fifteen minutes, and the moment you pull down your jeans to do so (apologies, J. Charles), you will, literally, be caught with your pants down.

These are the things they never portray in the dozens of movies and television shows there’ve been over the years about ­people with my ability. Mediating between the living and the dead is a thankless job, but someone’s got to do it.

I was sitting there wondering why Mrs. J. Charles Peterson III hadn’t installed an eternal flame at her husband’s grave so I could warm my hands (and butt) when I finally saw him—­or it—­moving through the mist like a wraith.

But he was no wraith. He was your average, ordinary dirtbag NCDP—­or Non-­Compliant Deceased Person, as those in my trade refer to those who refuse to cross over to the other side.

He headed directly for the grave across from J. Charles Peterson’s. He was so fixated by it, he didn’t so much as glance in my direction.

I couldn’t really blame him. The recently deceased have reason to be preoccupied. They have the whole I-­just-­died thing going on.

But this guy had more than the fact that he’d recently died on his mind. I knew, because his post-­mortem activities had been causing me—­and the entire Monterey Bay area—­aggravation for days. Even the local news—­and several popular media blogs—­had commented on it.

Which was why, of course, I was spending my Valentine’s Day sitting on a headstone waiting for him, instead of hanging with my homegirls back at the dorm, drinking Cape Codders and tearing Katherine Heigl a new one.

I watched as the guy—­only a few years younger than me, but dressed about the same, in a black tee, leather jacket, and black jeans and boots, as well—­bent and removed the fresh flowers that had been lovingly placed on the grave in front of him. Today’s batch were red, and, in honor of the holiday, arranged in a heart shape.

True, as floral arrangements went, they weren’t to my taste. I’d have gone for something more classic—­a dozen long-­stemmed roses, perhaps. Definitely nothing Valentine’s themed. That seemed a little gauche to me.

Of course, I hope not to be dead for a long, long time, and when I am, I doubt I’ll care what anyone puts on my grave. Also, I want to be cremated, so it won’t be an issue.

But I still wouldn’t have done what that no-­good NCDP did, which was rude, regardless of how objectionable he found the floral design:

He lifted the heart arrangement off the grave, tossed it in the air, then drop-­kicked it, causing it to explode into a gentle hailstorm of petals.

“Nice,” I said. “Very nice, mature behavior. I’m sure your mother would be proud.”

The NCDP whirled around, startled.

“What the hell!” His eyes were as round as if he, not me, were the one seeing a ghost. “What are you—­how can you—­who are you?”

“I’m Suze Simon,” I said. “And you thought being dead was bad? Buddy, your eternal nightmare’s only just begun.”

Dos

EVERYBODY’S GOT A secret.

Maybe you’ve told a lie. Maybe you cheated on a test. Maybe—­like the Non-­Compliant Deceased Person standing in front of me—­you’ve killed someone (I really hope not, for your sake).

The thing about secrets, though, is that they get out. And trust me, if you’ve got a secret, eventually, it’s going to get out.

And when it does, things are probably going to turn out to be okay . . . well, after some counseling, or at worst, some jail time, or—­if you’re a celebrity—­maybe a tell-­all book with a ­couple of talk show appearances thrown in, to apologize to your disappointed fans.

Not this guy’s secret, though.

And not mine, either. All the counseling, jail time, and TV talk shows in the world are never going to make my secret okay. My secret is the kind that religious leaders in every culture in every society in the world have railed against at one time or another, claiming that it’s an abomination, unnatural, the work of the devil. Throughout history, women with my secret have been burned at the stake, drowned, or pelted with stones until they were dead. The scientific community has declared my secret “incompatible with the well-­established laws of science,” and therefore nonexistent.

Which is why, of course, writers (and producers, and movie and television audiences) love my secret. In the past decade alone there’ve been scores of books, television dramas, movies, video games, and even reality shows based on ­people who have my secret ability. Most of them have scored pretty decent ratings, too.

None of them have gotten it right, though. A few have come close. Startlingly close.

Close enough that lately I’ve had to work harder than ever to appear like the cool, collected, fashion-­forward twenty-­something girl I seem to be . . . on the outside, anyway.

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