A/N: A thanks to Satellite Falling for helping me out with a little question for this story. :)
Humming dreamily to myself, I sauntered into our living room aimlessly. My stepbrothers were all present – Brad watching WWE; Jake snoozing on the couch with a slice of pizza dangling from his limp hand; and David reading a rather intimidating-looking tome on the floor.
Hearing my humming, Brad and David looked up, bewildered. They looked at me like another head had suddenly spouted from my shoulders. I barely noticed, though. Gingerly extracting the pizza slice form Jake's hand – it was on the brink of falling down and then, it would have destroyed the beautiful Oriental carpet that Mom and I had painstakingly picked out – I placed it in the pizza box on the coffee table – without lecturing him as I usually would have - and then walked over to an armchair and flopped down, staring absently at the TV.
This I, vaguely noticed, caused my two awoken stepbrothers to look even more befuddled. Finally, when I couldn't take any more of their staring – I mean, c'mon, couldn't a girl even hum once in a while? – I turned to look at Brad and said, "You know, you mustn't gape like that. It destroys every shred of intelligence that your face manages to deliver to the general audience." Because I was feeling particularly charitable at the moment, I politely refrained from pointing out that I had never seen his face even manage to deliver a single shred of intelligence.
I guess his astonishment was too great or he didn't really understand what I said, because Brad didn't even take umbrage at my quite direct insult. Instead, he said, "What's happened to you? Somebody banged your head or something?"
My dreamy mood gradually vaporising, I raised my eyebrows at him. "What makes you think something happened to me? And I assure you, I am not the one who's banged her head. It's certain other people in this room who seriously need to get checked for birth concussion."
This time it was David who spoke. "Birth concussion?" he said, his eyes narrowing as he, I presumed, rifled through his mental library. "I've never heard of that before. Is it, as the name suggests, a hereditary mental condition in which the patient shows symptoms of concussion, only there is actually no concussion since it's a genetic disease?"
Brad looked from me to David and then, deciding the conversation was way too complex for him, he turned back to the TV.
Sighing – proud though I was, of David's superior intellect and thirst for more knowledge, sometimes, he just needed to shut it – I said, "I really have no idea, Dave."
Getting up, I started to walk out of the living room and to my room. At the bottom of the staircase, I paused and looked back at my youngest stepbrother's contemplative frown. "If I were you, Dave, I wouldn't waste my time on it. Since, I'm ninety-nine percent sure that such a disease doesn't even exist. Brad's just plain st—uh…simple." With that I marched up the stairs, deciding that a bubble bath was just the thing to restore my dreamy mood.
Of course, the dreaminess was caused by my sublime evening with Jesse. The canoe ride, the extremely romantic kiss – or kisses, to be precise – beneath the willow, his soft whispers of 'querida'…
I was quite sure that even the prettiest and most popular girls hadn't experienced anything as idealistically romantic. It was too perfect to be true. It seemed like a fairytale.
Accordingly, my hopelessly besotted mind began, Once upon a time…
My thoughts were broken, however, as soon as I swung my bedroom door open, stepped inside and closed it. One moment, I just stared.
The next, I groaned loudly. I had been futilely hoping I had gotten rid of it along with my life in New York, thinking that maybe it was the city air that, in some weird way, induced it. But how could I have been so naïve? Of course it would come back to, literally, haunt me. No, not come back. It had always been there and would always be there. Because it was inside me.
It was my accursed ability to see the dead.
Yeah, I must've forgotten to mention that. You see, I'm what you call a mediator. I can see, communicate and even touch the dead. In fact, they're as good as living to me. Of course, other than the fact that I can't kill them. Duh.
In New York, my room had been a sort of Grand Central Station for ghosts. They came and went as they wished, without invitation. My job was to listen to them about what was holding them back in this world and then to fix it and so help them ascend to heaven or go on to their next life or whatever.
It was a generally troublesome job, requiring a lot of sneaking around at the dead of the night, nasty bruises and broken arms and…an occasional visit to the police station. This accounted for my lack of enthusiasm regarding the 'job' and my pleasure at not meeting a single ghost since moving to the country.
Until now. Because the curly-haired boy sitting on my bed was definitely a ghost. I had seen that slightly translucent body texture and that ethereal glow too many times before to have a doubt.
My groan interrupted his deep contemplation of the comforter and he turned to look at me. A small smile alighted on his face. "Hello," he said in a thin boyish voice. "You must be the mediator."
There goes my evening, I thought wearily. Romance was just not written in my stars.
"Yeah, I'm the mediator," I said, walking over to the other side of the four-poster bed, where he was sitting. I leaned my shoulder against the bedpost and crossed my arms in front of my chest, scrutinizing him. As was my routine with all ghosts, I was trying to place him in one of the two categories: 'Trouble' or 'Not'.
He looked up at me with big blue eyes the color of robin eggs. They were as expressive as only a child's eyes could be. His hair was a curly brown mess, the locks so tightly coiled and lush that the overall effect was like that of a hypnotizing spiral pattern. Flicking a glance over his scrawny figure, I decided he wasn't any trouble. At least for now.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Jack," he answered succinctly. "You?"
"I'm Suze," I answered, sitting down on the bed beside him. "How old are you?"
"I was eight when I"— at this point, his dark pink full lips distinctly turned down at the corners— "died," he said.
I had long since made myself immune to the unhappiness that ghosts felt when they talked about their death. Call me cold-hearted, but sympathy just doesn't work on ghosts. It makes them rely more on your aid to help them move on…and if you show any signs of failing to do so…the reaction is ten times worse. Believe me, I've learnt the hard way.
But the little boy sitting in front of me looked so miserable that I couldn't help but reach out and pat his shoulder reassuringly. He had every right to be upset. He'd been so young when he'd died, so full of life. Please, I'd had ghosts of seventy-eight year old chubby little ladies come and complain that the reason they weren't moving on was that they were too young to die!
"So Jack, tell me, how exactly did you…die?" I asked carefully, fully prepared for the usual hysterics.
It didn't come. Instead, he solemnly looked at me and said, "In a fire."
I winced inwardly. It must have been horrifying and terribly painful for the boy. Still, he had said it without making a tantrum or creating a dramatic saga of the incident. Not even a tear in sight. I looked at him admiringly.
"Oh," I replied, trying to keep my tone as light and business-like as possible. "How long ago was this?"
"Two years ago," he said, fiddling with his short pale fingers.
Suddenly, a light shiver ran through my length. Trying to ignore the sudden premonition that I was coming onto something here, I said, "Hmm. So…where did this fire take place?"
Looking directly at me, Jack answered, "Here."
I drew a breath sharply, looking at him hard. "H-here, did you say? Two years ago?"
He nodded, hopping off the bed and wandering around my room. "This room's so boring," he complained. "You don't have anything in here! Just books and magazines and nail polish and…girly stuff."
If I were paying attention to him, I would have pointed out that I was a girl thereby accounting for the 'girly stuff' in my room, but my mind was elsewhere.
The librarian, Ms. Rayner's, voice was echoing through my head: "…something happened in that house of yours a couple of years back and it was very closely connected to the de Silvas…"
A horrible feeling was dawning on me as I walked over to the open bay window and gazed out at the faint outlines of the austere curtain of trees in the distance. With another flash, my brain recovered another memory of something I had read in one of the newspapers during that morning at the library. Of an article which, then, I had just skimmed over.
Slowly turning to the boy-ghost exploring my room behind me, I said, "Jack?"
"What's your surname?"
Without turning to look at me, he answered offhandedly, "Slater. My name is Jack Slater."
A/N: It's rather short, I know. But I wanted to end it there. :)
PS: If any of you didn't notice, in Chapter 4 there was a mention of 'a Slaters' house burning down.' My little clue to the de Silva mystery and the article that Suze was thinking of in this chapter. :)