The Guidance
Author:Marley Gibson

chapter Two

"You were home early last night" Mom says the next morning, pouring Rice Krispies into a bowl for me like I'm not almost seventeen and can't do it myself. She's such a ... mom. "Were you able to help that woman out?"

I pour the fat-free Lactaid—no real milk in this house due to Mom's intolerance (to milk, among other things)—into my cereal and listen for the familiar snap, crackle, and pop that I've loved as long as I can remember. "Her husband's coffin was picked up by the wrong airline and sent to Eugene, Oregon, by mistake."

Across the table, my thirteen-year-old sister, Kaitlin, screws up her face. "Ewww ... that's gross, Kendall!"

"Kaitlin!" Mom fusses.

"She asked me!" I shout back to Kaitlin. For some reason, Kaitlin's bratty tendencies make me react to her in the same immature manner.

Mom sighs. "Kendall. Really."

Dad walks in and smacks Kaitlin gently on the head with the morning paper. "No squabbles first thing in the morning, girls." He pours a stream of hot coffee into his WGN mug and sits at the table with us. "What about a missing coffin?"

I put several spoonfuls of sugar on my cereal and fill everyone in on the ghost hunt last night at Mrs. Lockhart's, leaving out the part about the laughing soldier. No need to acknowledge his antics any further. Dad nods his head and listens, seemingly impressed with my abilities and how I was able to obtain the necessary information from Delaney to find his body. "The airline told us he should be here in Radisson by the weekend." I spoon in a mouthful of Krispies and munch delightedly.

Mom wipes at an imaginary spot on the counter while one of my cats, Buckley, weaves around her legs. The other two cats, Natalie and Eleanor, are under the table, waiting for my bowl of cereal milk that I've been spoiling them with lately. I can see Mom's still having a hard time with my...abilities. After all, it's only been two months and it remains a hard pill for her to swallow. See, she's really strong in her religious beliefs and doesn't quite grasp that I'm able to communicate with the dead. Not that I'm not a spiritual person. I am. Even more so now. Mom just thinks it's wrong and even evil and defiant of God's directives in the Bible. Thanks to Dad's patience and open mind, she's trying to accept me. I'll give her that. However, there are vestiges of tension between Mom and me.

"Well, I think that's fascinating, kiddo," Dad says with a smile.

"I think it's retarded," Kaitlin says with a Krispy hanging off her bottom lip.

I ignore her and continue to vacuum cereal into my mouth. Gotta get to school soon.

From behind me, Mom clears her throat. "Remember our deal, Kendall."

Oh yeah ... the Deal.

Mom let me develop my psychic abilities under the tutelage of Loreen Woods—a really awesome lady who gets me and what I'm going through because she's psychic too—and go on ghost investigations with my girls as long as, in return, I agreed to see a psychiatrist. Mom's a nurse and always has to rule out medical conditions as the first-response answer. She's afraid I've got something abnormal going on in my brain that's causing my psychic headaches or, worse, that I'm schizophrenic and that's why I'm seeing strange people and hearing voices.

I gulp down hard; the Rice Krispies nearly stick in my dry throat. "Yeah, Mom, I totally remember the Deal."

Dad reaches over and pats my hand. "We have to make sure there's nothing physically wrong with you, Kendall."

"I know, Dad." I put off the visit to the psychiatrist as long as I could, but the appointment is set for the Saturday after next. "We're going to spend a fun-filled day in Atlanta"

Kaitlin perks up. "Do I get to go? I want to go to Six Flags. Penny and me want to ride the Mind Bender."

Mom clicks her tongue. "It's Penny and I want to ride the Mind Bender, and no, you can't come to Atlanta this time. Kendall and I are going together."

I want to roll my eyes, but out of respect I don't. I know Mom's worried about me and only wants to make sure I'm not suffering from some mental ailment. Hell, I sorta want to find out as well. You know, just for confirmation.

Dad winks at me from behind his glasses. "I wish I could come. Just too much going on with the Mega-Mart project."

Part of Dad's job as city planner is to oversee the development of a huge area being created around Mega-Mart's new distribution center. It's going to include affordable housing, a school, and tons of jobs for Radissonians. Celia's dad, Rex Nichols, is the owner of Mega-Mart—Celia's a rich girl, although you'd never know it—and the development played a major part in our first investigation at city hall. A ghost was messing around with my father, and even hurt him pretty bad. So Dad knows I'm for real and that the battery of psychological tests awaiting me is more for Mom's benefit than anyone else's.

"That's okay, Dad," I say with a resigned sigh. I bend down and set my bowl on the floor. Soon Natalie and Eleanor are nose-butting each other to get at and slurp up the sugary milk.

He reaches for my hand. "But everything's going to be okay, Kendall. Your mother and I both love you greatly, and we'll continue to support you no matter what."

I return his squeeze and try to cram down the emotions rising from my stomach and clenching in my throat. I'm not too thrilled about being poked and prodded, but I did make a promise.

I just wish I could see what's in store for me in Atlanta.





Monday morning's classes whiz by, thankfully. Celia and I shove our books into our respective lockers and head to the caf to meet up with Taylor and Becca and, of course, Jason. I haven't had nearly enough Jason Tillson time.

Ever since our group helped the belligerent spirit at city hall find peace and go into the light, our website (www.ghosthuntress.com) has been getting pummeled with hits. Word about us teenage ghost huntresses spread throughout Radisson and even into surrounding towns. Because of this, my weekends have been full of investigations, research, and honing my psychic skills, not so much honing my Jason skills. That's going to change this weekend, however. Friday night we're going out on a bona fide date, like normal high schoolers.

"Hey, Kendall! Celia!" Sean "Okra" Carmickle calls out to us in the cafeteria line. He's one of the stars of our football team, only he's nursing a broken leg right now. And he's one of the most popular guys in school. Behind him is Jim Roach, Student Government Association president, and Kyle Kadish, president of my class; they nod and smile at us too. A group of girls wave, wide-eyed. It's truly weird how many people at Radisson High School seem to know about and be in awe of my psychic abilities. I guess word got out. Celia and her big mouth.

"Well, wha'd'ya know," Celia notes. "Is this what it feels like to be popular?"

I signal at the girls. "I guess so. Who knew?"

Back in Chicago, I was happy to be just another face that blended into the crowd. The main thing I wanted here at Radisson High School was to get by and fit in. It's strange to have attention for this reason. I certainly didn't ask for this gift, and I wouldn't have requested it had I known everything it would entail. Loreen says it's God's plan for me, so I try to go with the psychic flow, learning about tarot and dowsing and reading up on divination and other people with psychic abilities. Being the new kid in school is hard enough without the whole talking-to-and-seeing-ghosts thing.

The cafeteria lady glops on my plate a pile of mashed potatoes, some green peas, and a formed meat mound that they dare to call "Grandma's Meat Loaf." My Grandma Ethel is rolling in her grave right now at the thought of someone pushing that gray crap as anything she might have made. It's weird that I can see almost every Tom, Dick, and Harry spirit here in Radisson, as well as Emily, my spirit guide who lives in my house, and yet I can't connect with Grandma Ethel, which would be the ultimate in cool. Loreen says it means she's at peace.

Celia motions her head toward a table. "Taylor already got us a seat. I told her to bring the pictures from Mrs. L.'s so we can decide which ones to put up on the website."

I'm about to answer when I hear, "Hey, Ghost Girl!"

I turn my head in the direction of the insult and do my best to plaster on a smile.

"Boo!" the girl yells and then laughs like it's the funniest thing ever said. "Did I frighten you, Kendall?"

This is followed by cackles and giggles from the girl's fellow cheerleaders and followers Farah Lewis, Megan Bremer, and Stephanie Crawford.

You'd think I'd be used to this after a couple of months of juvenile harassment from the likes of Courtney Langdon and her flock.

Courtney doesn't let up. "You know, I have an excellent tailor who could fashion a stylish straitjacket for you, Ghost Girl."

Whatever, beeyotch.

"Get over yourself, Courtney," Celia—suddenly my alpha wolf—says in my defense.

"Like I'm so scared, Nichols."

Courtney's clique giggles more as Celia and I try to pass. They follow us, making weird noises. Ugh. They're so immature. Well, except for Stephanie Crawford, who looks rather uncomfortable going along with the herd. I tune in to Stephanie's thoughts and pick up a sense of embarrassment for Courtney's behavior. Deep down, Stephanie thinks it's cool what I can do. She even admires me. Wow ... that's righteous. I smile in her direction to let her know I don't lump her in with the others.

There's really no point in giving Courtney the time of day, let alone the satisfaction of knowing that she continues to hurt my feelings. A lot of kids at school stop me in the hall or talk to me at lunch and share their own ghostly encounters. But not Courtney Langdon. She's your stereotypical high school bitch: cheerleader, blond, skinny, head of the RHS ruling class. I know good and well that she's been making nonstop nasty-ass comments behind my back, so I do my best to take a deep breath and hold my head high.

"I don't know why she hates me so much," I mutter.

Celia snorts. "Hello. You're psychic and you don't know? First off, you're stealing her thunder. She's supposed to be the most popular girl in school, but suddenly you are."

"I'm not—"

"And, dude, you're dating her ex-boyfriend."

True. That was more than likely the cause of the friction. Jason and Courtney had dated about a year ago, until he called it off. Or came to his senses, as Taylor likes to say. However, my psychic senses tell me there's more to Courtney's hatred than merely a cute boy. (And what a cute boy he is!)

Speaking of said cute boy, Jason slides up to me in all of his blond, blue-eyed gorgeousness and takes my tray from me. "Celia's right, Courtney. Get over yourself and leave Kendall alone."

Not missing a beat, Courtney bats her eyelashes. "I don't know what y'all are talking about," she says in a Southern simper.

"I heard you," Jason says in an authoritative voice. "Just piss off, okay?"

She stamps her Steve Madden-booted feet. "I won't have you talk to me like that, Jason Tillson. You don't own me anymore!"

"Thank God for small miracles," Celia mumbles to me.

Courtney signals to her posse that they're leaving now. "Don't be fooled, Jason. She's just using you."

His eyebrows lift in a mischievous manner. "How so?"

"Just to get popular."

There's that word again.

"Whatever, Courtney. Come on, Kendall. Let's go eat," Jason says with the brightest smile on his face. Those Dasani-bottle-blue eyes of his literally make my knees weak. I can't believe a guy this fine is with me. It's worth it to put up with the Courtneys of the world if I get to spend time with Jason.

"She's a fake, you know," Courtney tosses over her shoulder. "She's just playing at being a psychic to get attention. It's all a ruse."

Taylor joins the fray all of a sudden, and, boy, is she ticked off. "Leave my friend alone. She's the most genuine person I know. I can't say the same for you."

Courtney dismisses Taylor with a flip of her hand, which only makes Taylor's resentment boil more.

"She's not worth it, Tay," Jason says to her.

To complete the circle of friends, Becca Asiaf walks up in her black sweater, camouflage pants, and combat boots and plants herself directly in Courtney's path. "Shouldn't you be on your way to the bathroom instead of bothering my friend? You don't want to accidentally digest any of your lunch, now, do you?"

It's a well-known fact at RHS that Courtney chooses to splurge and purge on most days, although it's the great unsaid. I love that Becca metaphorically punched her in the face with that one.

But Courtney steels her gray gaze at me so hard that I can feel the energy of her disdain bouncing around like radio waves. "All y'all can kiss my perfect little ass."

With that she turns around and dashes out of the caf, Farah and Megan in her wake. Only Stephanie shrugs an apology before running off to catch up with her friends. There's something in her eyes that reads like a light sadness. If she reached out to me, maybe I could help her.

We sit down in silence to eat. I'm trying not to tremble over the verbal assault. Quite frankly, I'd rather have a ghost try to take over my body than deal with another scene like that. Thank heavens the school day's almost over and I can avoid her, for the most part.

Jason holds my hand under the table and leans close. "I think you're awesome, Kendall Moorehead."

"Me too," Taylor pipes up.

"Ditto" from Becca.

"Yeah," Celia says with a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "Besides, you have a much better ass than hers, hands down."

And with that, I almost pass out from laughing so hard.

***

Physiology Class.

The good thing is I love the teacher, Ms. Pritchard, who's young and hip and really makes the subject interesting. I mean, I want to be a city planner, like my dad, so the human body and how it works is the farthest thing from my academic interest, but Ms. Pritchard is a great teacher and makes the class actually enjoyable.

The bad thing is Courtney Langdon takes physiology with me. (She does sit all the way across the room though!)

"Good afternoon, y'all," Ms. Pritchard begins. "We're starting a new project today that we'll be working on for a few weeks. It will make up forty percent of your final grade for the semester. It's going to entail completely dissecting a fetal pig and cataloging all of the parts."

Ewwww ...

"All right!" one of the guys shouts from the back.

"That's jank!" another says.

"That'll play havoc on my manicure," Courtney quips.

Yeah, it's going to be really gross, but I'll just concentrate on the same mental exercises I use for tuning in to my intuition and try not to see the baby pig as something that was once living and is now a science project. Even though I deal with the dead, they were people once and still are. What if the pig has a spirit that won't like what we're doing to it?

Kendall, you're just being silly now, Emily whispers in my head.

It's like having my mother with me twenty-four/seven sometimes! Emily, be quiet!

Ms. Pritchard grabs a sheet of paper and continues. "You'll be working in pairs on the assignment. I'll just go down the class roster and match you up alphabetically."

As she's calling out pairs of names, I quickly run through the ABC song and want to do a Homer Simpson "D'oh" when I realize that L and M are next-door neighbors. (Okay, that's how Mom always said it.) Oh no, say it's not so. Pleeeeeeease!

"Langdon and Moorehead," the teacher says.

Son of a ... well, a bitch. What else is there to say?

Courtney glares icy gray eyes across the room at me. Like I planned this!

I don't know whether to move my stuff over to Courtney's area or wait for her to join me. I'm sure it'll be a cold day in hell before she makes the first move, so I decide to be the bigger person.

Plopping my backpack down at her lab table, I force a smile. As if anyone could be pleased to be matched up with her. "So, we're partners on this, huh?" I say, sitting on the stool.

Without acknowledging my presence, she sings out, "Such a freeeeeak ... such a freeeeeak."

"Look," I say, wanting to touch her arm but afraid of how she'll react. "We're going to have to work together, so you might as well call me by my name. It's not Boo. It's not Ghost Girl. And I don't remember seeing Freak on my birth certificate either. It's Kendall. Got it?"

My leg quivers on the high stool a bit. I can put up a good front with difficult people when I have to. (Oddly enough, I don't have any problem dealing with aggressive spirits.) Loreen has been teaching me lately about auras that come from our chakras. According to yoga principles, the human body has seven centers of energies, or chakras. It's a whole metaphysical thing that I can't really explain right now. Since I'm new to reading auras and not completely trained yet, I'm mostly seeing white hazes around people. However, suffice it to say that Courtney is emanating an amazing red glow that signifies possible anger (duh), a high emotional state (double duh), or conflict in the air (ding, ding, ding ... we have a winner!).

"I don't care what your name is." Her voice is laced with venom. "You're obviously delusional and you've got this whole town thinking you're something special. You're not, though. You're just some outsider who wormed her way into my boyfriend's life with this little scheme of yours. Why don't you go home and take your meds?"

Courtney's words hit hard, stabbing me in the chest with the sharpness of their delivery because they're so similar to ones uttered by my own mother. I pick up more from my enemy, though, as I sit here with her. The rest of the class adjusts seats to pair up with their new partners—no big deal. Courtney's threatened by all the positive attention I'm getting. Like it's taking something away from her?

It's lessening her popularity, Emily tells me.

Geez, conceited enough?

I really don't want to start thinking of my abilities in any negative light. It's taken me a couple of months to accept and embrace what's going on with me. Not that I've fully embraced it or understand, but I'm doing my damnedest. Instead of playing into Courtney's hands, I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to calm my nerves. I'm mentally in Chicago, standing on the edge of Lake Michigan, smelling the air and listening to the birds squawk as they circle overhead. This is a happy place for me. A place where no one—especially Courtney—can hurt me. I also think of the lessons I've learned from my parents about loving your enemy and treating people the way you want to be treated. Father Massimo Castellano at the Episcopal church has reiterated the same mantra to me in his own guidance of my gift.

So, fine. I'll kill Courtney with kindness.

"Look, I'm really good in science and you're a wicked smart girl, right? We can easily ace this assignment if we work together."

She tosses her long blond hair over her shoulder then turns her attention to an apparent chip in her fingernail polish. "Whatever."

I look at the handout Ms. Pritchard gave each team. "So, what do you want to do first ... I mean, once we get the fetal pig?"

Courtney leans across the lab table and points her index finger at me. "Don't think that because I'm forced to work with you in this one class we're all of a sudden going to be all palsy-walsy and BFFs. You are the enemy."

"Of what?"

"Me. Everything I know. You're nothing but a sicko who wants attention. I'll be damned if you get any from me."

I hear Emily laugh inside my head and I'm tempted to join in. Instead, I smile and say, "Whatever you say, Mean Girl."

I think I won this round.