The School Discovers Kassandra’s Secret

Chapter 13

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Silver streams of water trickled from the blue Beetle. Kassandra stood on the curb in front of Arroyo Grove High School, rain pelting her bare head. 

Auntie Jo leaned out the driver’s side window. “Remember what I told you. Don’t take the cards out of your purse.”

“Yeah, got it.” A droplet slid down Kassandra’s neck. She’d hoped, in spite of things, to show off the new clothes, but now they were soaked.

“I’m going to see if there’s something I can dig up to block or bind them.” Auntie Jo gunned the motor. “They’re still in the baggie?”

Kassandra reached into the purse and felt the slick plastic of the baggie. The seal had popped open and the corner of one card nosed out. No need to worry Auntie Jo. She nodded and said, “Yup, they’re in there.”

“Good.” Auntie Jo threw the Volkswagen into gear. Somewhere under the hood, metal ground against metal. “I’ll pick you up after school.” She cranked the window up and then looked at the dashboard. Kissing two fingers, Auntie Jo touched the photo of Ronald.

Kassandra jogged toward the main building, fending off the rain with one hand. It was a futile effort. The new zip-up hoodie and jeans were drenched. As she cruised down the halls, sneakers squeaking, kids pointed and chuckled. Nearly everyone was checking her out. One girl even snapped a photo. 

Maybe everyone was used to seeing her as a bag lady. Not today. Wet or not, these clothes were killer. Kassandra fluffed up her damp hair. Farther down the hall, Lindsay and the fashionistas lounged by a bank of lockers. Kassandra picked up the pace, adding a smidgeon of swish to her stride, daring them to look.

Lindsay squished her perfect eyebrows together, taking in the new outfit. Then Diana leaned over and whispered something. Lindsay broke into giggles and pointed. The rest of the group followed suit, tittering away.

Kassandra hustled down the hall and glanced at her clothes. Was something wrong? Had she spattered milk across her pants or what?

“Don’t forget to check your locker,” Alexxa called.

Kassandra pulled at the fishnet gloves. What did they do? Her mind ran through the possibilities. Everything from an egg splattered door to them somehow getting the combination and jacking all the books.

Sprinting around the corner, Kassandra saw a clump of students huddled around her locker. They shuffled back, revealing something strung through the vents in the door. It was a noose made out of white string with a slip of paper taped to the end.

Kassandra’s pulse slowed to a creep. She couldn’t go any closer, yet her feet inched forward on their own. A computer printout dangled from the noose—showing writing along with a color picture. It took a moment to figure it out. Then her heart hiccupped. The photo showed a man hanging from a noose. A dead man. But it wasn’t him. Wrong shirt. 

The words underneath read:

Kassandra Troy wants to die 

just like her daddy.

Fat tears struck her arms. She couldn’t breathe. 

How did they find out?

She turned and tore through the halls. Her rational mind took charge just long enough to recognize the bathroom door. Kassandra barreled through and dove into a stall. 

A kick knocked the door closed, but then it bounced back open. She screamed and slammed it shut, twisting the lock so hard it hurt. This couldn’t happen again. They left the house, the town, everything behind. 

Kassandra collapsed on the toilet seat. “Daddy.” 

Her chest heaved in and out. A thought crystallized: Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take control.

A wave of sobbing struck again. One hand responded by sliding into the new purse, feeling for the pushpin at the bottom. It closed around the Tarot deck instead. She yanked the baggie out and hurled it forward. 

“Get away from me!”

Thwack.

The baggie hit the stall door and ripped open. Cards spilled onto the floor. Kassandra attacked the purse, finally locating the pushpin in one corner. Yanking down one of the fishnet gloves revealed streaks of white along her arm. The scars rose up like little highways crisscrossing her skin. 

Kassandra hadn’t thought of them as suicide attempts. She didn’t want to die. Cutting was more of a release. No one knew about the razor hidden in the Doc Martens. Not Auntie Jo. Certainly not Mom. But Kassandra wasn’t at home. All she had was this lousy pushpin. The tip hovered over her skin. Her fingers held it with the skill of an experienced surgeon. 

This was wrong. She was a freak. But only the pain helped. She pressed down. A tiny dot of red bubbled up, screaming louder than she ever could. Everything Kassandra couldn’t control. 

She moved the pin up and started again.

A chill surged along through Kassandra as her breathing trickled to a scant inhale. Get a grip. Shove those stupid tears back inside where they belong.

It was done. Five pricks of red dotted her arm. She let the stillness spin out from the inside. The pin went back in the purse. A paper towel would blot up the blood. With the glove pulled up, no one would ever notice. She stood, ready to twist open the stall door, but found herself staring down.

What happened to the cards? They should’ve scattered all over. Kassandra inspected the whole stall, finally spotting the deck stacked just below the toilet. A single card stuck out from the neat pile. She reached for it and hesitated, knowing the card would be something bad. The gold pattern on the back looked scarred, the same as her arm. 

Kassandra grasped the card. Flipped it. The Magician. 

The figure looked like a clown with those puffy red sleeves. He had thin chicken legs, turned at a weird angle. It was ridiculous. Then the color faded from his outfit. It went from red to pink to light grey. Finally gone. He was gone. Everything else on the card remained. The table. The cup and three coins. The stained glass window. Only the figure of the man vanished.

The hairs along Kassandra’s neck prickled. She triggered it.

Kassandra Faces the Music

Chapter 12

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra gasped for breath, straining on the pedals. She wasn’t out of shape, but with the shopping bags slung over each handlebar, the bike wobbled like a staggering drunk. The sun had set and the street lamps were flickering to life. Cold air cut through the cotton hoodie, biting into her skin. 

On the next turn, the bike threatened to veer straight into a tree. She slammed on the brakes and hopped off, letting the bike collapse in the street. One bag spilled shirts onto the asphalt. Come on! This day had been going great. It couldn’t crap out on her now.

Kassandra loaded the clothes back into the bag as a car swung around the bend. She hefted the bike up and wheeled it out of the street. The car edged closer and once she reached the sidewalk, it zoomed down the street. Kassandra walked the bike the last few blocks. The lights were on and Mom’s car sat in the driveway next to Auntie Jo’s. The gang was all here.

She guided the bike into the garage through the side door and ditched the shopping bags behind a tower of moving boxes. Hauling them through the house would be like setting off an alarm. Right now, her throat screamed for a drink.

Kassandra slipped into the house and noticed an iPhone plugged into a charger. A pink Juicy Couture case with a pair of terriers next to a coat of arms adorned the phone. So not Auntie Jo’s style. Must be Mom’s. Kassandra knew she had wrangled some kind of J-O-B, but did Mom have that kind of cash? An imaginary bell dinged. It had to be the new hunka hunka man friend. Now, he was buying her toys.

The smell of frying onions led Kassandra into the kitchen, but no one was there. The only activity came from a hissing pan and a bubbling pot of water. She tugged open the fridge and rummaged around until finding an old fast food cup from last week. The soda was watered down, but still loaded with sugar and caffeine.

“You’re late,” Auntie Jo said. 

Kassandra spun around, nearly splattering the drink on the floor. 

Decked out in a seeing eye apron, Auntie Jo delved into the pot with a pair of tongs and came up with an oval-shaped green disc.

“Is that cactus?” Kassandra asked. 

“Yup, for the cactus gumbo. I got the recipe off the Internet.” Auntie Jo pulled out two more cactus pads and set to work chopping them up and tossing the pieces in with the onions. “Don’t change the subject.” She wiped one hand on the apron and then scanned the outfit. “Are those the clothes you wore this morning?”

Kassandra’s heart sunk. Busted. 

Mom fluttered in, new iPhone in hand. “Hi Kass.” She stared at the screen but then did a double take. “Hey you look great today. You’ll have no trouble catching the boys’ attention dressed like that.”

Kassandra cringed. Skank bait wasn’t the intended look. Still, she flashed Mom a smile. At least someone in the house wouldn’t complain about the two bags stashed in the garage.

Mom opened the cupboard and snagged a box of cereal and then turned to Auntie Jo. “Listen, I know you cooked, but I’m just going to snack in my room.” She popped a handful of corn flakes into her mouth. “Thanks.” Mom trotted down the hall.

Once she was out of earshot, Auntie Jo swiveled around. “Okay, what’s going on with the clothes?”

“I can explain.”

“You better.” The onions and cactus hissed in the hot pan. Auntie Jo pushed them around with the tongs. 

Kassandra’s mind ran along possible reasons for sudden wealth—from finding the money in the gutter to getting an advance on a new job. They all sounded completely lame.

“I triggered one of the Tarot cards. Then the money sort of appeared in my bag.”

“What!” She swiveled around and stared at Kassandra. “And I suppose spending it was all right, then?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” 

Auntie Jo shook her head. “You can’t expect to have riches handed to you.” She poured a can of crushed tomatoes in with the onions and cactus. The pan crackled along the edges. “When I headed out to New Orleans, I was just as young and stupid as you are now.”

“Hey!”

One raised eyebrow was enough to hush Kassandra up.

“I thought nothing could ever hurt me. I used magic to get what I wanted and then I had to face the consequences.” She punctuated her words with the tongs. “And they were bad.”

Kassandra ran one hand along the smooth denim of the jeans. What was so wrong about a few pairs of pants and some shirts? Yeah, she’d spent way too much, but Kassandra needed new clothes. No way was she going another day looking like a panhandler.

Auntie Jo set the tongs on the counter. “If you accept what these cards give you, then they’ll have power over you.”

“You’re wrong. So far they’ve only helped me.”

Auntie Jo wrinkled her forehead. “Is this the first time the cards have done something?”

Kassandra took a slurp of the watered down soda. “Remember the card I showed you? The one that went blank?”

“Yeah?” The eyebrow shot up again.

“Well, a couple of minutes later this girl…her clothing just sort of vanished.”

Auntie Jo stared. 

Kassandra twisted the fabric of the fishnet gloves between her fingers. Why didn’t Auntie Jo freak out like Mom? So much easier to deal with. “And then today, this boy grabbed the deck off my desk and wouldn’t give it back. Another card went blank and something happened to him. Like he stopped caring about everything.”

Auntie Jo threw her hands up in the air. “You need to stop using those cards before anything worse happens.”

“You mean worse than getting some cash?” Kassandra set the cup on the counter. “Or worse than having some bullies at school get what they deserve?”

“You’re acting like an addict. You’ve had your first taste, and now you want more.”

“No. You don’t get what it’s like for me.” The muscles in Kassandra’s neck bunched up. “I didn’t ask to move to this crappy little town and have no friends.”

Auntie Jo shot a hand out. “Give them to me.”

“Why? They’ll just come back again.”

“I’m not taking them away. I just want to look at them.”

Kassandra pulled the cards out, but hesitated, running a thumb along the gold patterned backs. The cards chose her. 

“Today,” Auntie Jo said. Kassandra blinked and passed them over.

“Which card brought you the money?”

“Seven of coins.”

Auntie Jo took out the card and then wrinkled her forehead. “It’s blank.”

“When the card gets activated or whatever, the whole picture disappears.”

“There are a lot of blank cards in here.”

“I only triggered three. The one with the two coins on it, then the four cups card, and then that one.”

Auntie Jo fiddled with her silver ankh necklace. “So far you’ve only activated suit cards. I’m concerned about what a major arcana will do.”

“What are those again.”

Auntie Jo pulled a card out and laid it on the counter. The picture showed a lanky guy in a bright red suit standing in front of a stained glass window. The bottom read: The Magician. “The major arcana are more potent than the suit cards.” 

Kassandra peered at the card. Did the guy in the illustration just move? The Magician’s hands hovered above a table filled with some coins, a knife, a cup and a wand. But she could have sworn he’d been holding the wand before.

“Maybe I need someone else to trigger these cards.”

“What do you mean?” 

“I tried to make the seven of coins work, but nothing happened. Not until…” Kassandra looked at the tile floor. No getting around it. She’d have to tell it. “There’s this girl at school. I ran into her in the halls. She took my purse and dumped all the cards on the floor. When I picked them up, the seven of coins was blank.”

A glance back and the Magician was holding the wand again.

“Why do you keep looking at the card?” 

“I don’t know.” Except she did know. Kassandra had seen this guy somewhere before.

“Hold on,” Auntie Jo said, leaning over the card. “This card came up in your reading yesterday.”

A cold chill scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. “Why would you choose the same card again? Do you think we triggered it or something?” She gazed at the illustration, expecting it to vanish any moment.

Auntie Jo spun around and opened a cabinet door. “Let’s not stand here staring at it all night.” She pulled out a plastic zip bag. “Put the cards in here.”

Kassandra reached for the deck, but then hesitated. Was the Magician guy looking at her? 

Auntie Jo sighed and flipped the top card over, hiding the illustration. “There. Now put them in.”

Kassandra shoved the deck into the bag and sealed it.

“We know the cards can’t leave you. But you don’t have to keep using them.” Auntie Jo pointed to the baggie. “Don’t look at them or touch them from now on.”

Kassandra nodded, but her thoughts still lingered on The Magician. What if she already activated him? Would the card be blank the next time? All Kassandra wanted to do was yank those cards out and flip over The Magician. Just to check. 

The card had been in Auntie Jo’s reading, representing the near future. Which meant soon. What did the card stand for? Love? Kassandra suppressed the urge to chuckle, but the desire wasn’t as strong as the first time. Maybe soon was about to be now. Was she ready for this?

Kassandra Buys Herself a New Life

Chapter 11

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra kept one hand jammed in the purse the whole bus ride home, silently counting to seven-hundred, in increments of twenty, over and over. At the stop, she speed-walked down the block. An extra car sat parked in the drive next to the blue Beetle. Probably a client hoping to hear how she was Marie Antoinette in a former life. Kassandra still didn’t see why people paid Auntie Jo for made up nonsense. 

Slipping into the garage, she wrangled her bike from between two stacks of moving boxes, still unopened after months. Before anyone could notice, Kassandra hopped on and pedaled away. Wind gusted down the street, tossing a McDonald’s wrapper along the curb. Arroyo Grove didn’t have a shopping district. More like a two block area with some retail stores and a strip mall. They only had one Starbucks.

Riiip!

The hem of her jeans caught in the gears. The bike veered toward someone’s front yard. Squeezing the brakes stopped the bike short, catapulting Kassandra into a bush. Leaves poked everywhere. Perfect. A spider was probably crawling on her somewhere. 

She wrestled free of the bush but almost fell flat on the sidewalk, one pant leg still tethered to the gears. Pulling away, the last of the hem tore off. Now one side of the pants was higher than the other. It looked like she was leaning.

The fabric had wrapped itself around the chain and gears and she had to crank the wheel a few times to pull it out. In moments black grease coated her fingertips. Kassandra wiped them on the jeans. What did it matter now? The pants were beyond ruined.

After reaching Arroyo Grove’s downtown, she hit the first store on the block, a boutique selling designer jeans with those pre-faded sections. The clerk flicked an annoyed look, focusing on the shredded jeans and second hand shirt. 

Kassandra grabbed the first pair on the rack and headed toward the register. The size was wrong. Way too small. She swapped them for a pair the right size, but her mouth dropped open at the price. Nearly eighty dollars. She could buy a pair at the thrift store for fifteen. And with those, the faded sections would be authentic.

Still, Kassandra handed the clerk four twenties. The girl held one to the light. Shoot, the watermark. Those twenties definitely wouldn’t have the ghostly picture of Mr. Jackson. Any minute now the girl would confiscate the whole wad. Maybe even call the police.

The cash register rang as the girl made change. The money was real. Real enough anyway.

Kassandra asked for a changing room. The clerk raised an eyebrow, but then pointed at the back. With the curtain closed, the old tattered jeans came off. Kassandra inspected the new eighty-dollar pants. She should have tried them on before buying. What if they didn’t fit?

She wiggled into the pants and found they hugged her hips perfectly. A glance in the mirror showed no bulges or lumpy seams. Snatching up the Swiss cheese jeans, she headed out.

“Hey.” the clerk said.

Kassandra’s heart kicked up its tempo. The clerk discovered something wrong with the money. Had to be it.

The girl smiled. “Those jeans look killer on you.”

“Uh, thanks.”

Outside, Kassandra spied a garbage can. Bunching up the grungy jeans, she shoved them in. “Adios. Even Goodwill wouldn’t want you.”

Once they were out of sight, Kassandra felt different, as if recovering from a long and nasty flu. Running her fingers along the fabric of the new pants, they felt like they’d been worn forever.

She used to love shopping. Dad would just hand over twenty or forty dollars and say: “Go buy something fun.” Ducking into a store, Kassandra would emerge with a new skirt or top. Dad never complained. He waited outside, no matter how long it took. When she asked what he thought of the new clothes, he’d always say the same thing: “If you love it, then so do I.”

Mom considered of all those clothes gifts. One day everything was gone. Donated or dumped in the trash. Who knew? The clothes reminded Mom of Dad and no amount of screaming would bring them back. Only a couple of items survived, all bought with summer job money.

She stared at the stores lining the block. It was time to build a new Kassandra. Every clothing shop seemed to have just the thing. Perfect pinstriped skinny jeans. A zipper hoodie, cut to fit her curves. Even a new pair of Converse Chucks without any scuff marks along the rubber edging. By the end, she toted two enormous bags loaded with enough clothes to put together a dozen outfits. All new. No one else had worn those clothes. Ever. 

Kassandra slipped into the bathroom at the local coffee shop and suited up in a cami top, the zipper hoodie, and the new Chucks. She felt a bit like her old Seattle self. 

The sky had darkened to a deep blue, the wisps of clouds highlighted with an orange glow. She was tempted to linger and watch the sunset, but Auntie Jo would chew her out if she wasn’t home before dark. As it was, Auntie Jo was going to wonder where the new outfits came from. Should Kassandra admit to cash appearing in her bag? Speaking off… 

She plunged into the new red and black tartan purse. The crocheted bag held the old T-shirt and secondhand shoes. The new purse was teeny in comparison and barely held the Tarot cards and the rest of the mad money. Eighteen dollars and some change.

Jeez-us. Kassandra had burned through nearly seven-hundred dollars in a couple of hours. How was that even possible? She shook the Tarot cards. “Anymore money in there?” Of course nothing happened. 

She pawed through the shopping bags, trying to tally up the purchases. There had to be a mistake somewhere. Maybe an overcharge. Except Kassandra hadn’t even glanced at the prices. I was all buy, buy, buy. She cringed, neck muscles tightening. Auntie Jo was going to kill her.

Maybe a gift? Bribery always works, right? The Psychic Mind bookstore was across the street. A breeze picked up, dragging the briny scent of rotting seaweed from the beach.

Dropping the bags on the sidewalk, Kassandra caught her refection in the glass of the shop and smiled. She zipped up the hoodie and twisted to the side to admire her butt. There was nothing Lindsay could say about this.

Reaching for the door, Kassandra found it locked. A glance at the window showed a sign reading CLOSED. What sort of hours did they keep? She rattled the door, but it wasn’t going to open. The hours on the window read: 10 am – 8 pm. But it was only six. What was the deal with this place? She jerked on the door handle again. 

With nothing for Auntie Jo, Kassandra faced the long trek home. How could she hide all these clothes? Impossible. Plus her old jeans were gone, which meant waltzing in all decked out. Auntie Jo would fire up the stove and grill her, wanting to know where the money came from. 

Too bad it wasn’t just Mom. She flitted around like Kassandra was a ghost. Which usually got on her nerves, but now she’d pay for it. 

Kassandra Hits the Motherlode

Chapter 10

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra’s heartbeat resonated, vibrating even her skin. And yet she wasn’t able to move. 

“Hey, what’s the rush Seattle girl?” Lindsay sauntered over, heels clacking on the linoleum floor. “I saw what you did to Marco.”

The other two girls fanned out to either side. Left Girl was chubby, wearing the same designer clothes as Lindsay, but the shirt rode up on her plump belly. Right Girl was lanky with chicken legs, short cropped brown hair, and thick eyebrows.

Kassandra finally spit out words. “I didn’t do anything. He’s the one who took my card.”

Did she actually say “my?” Kassandra was already thinking of the Tarot cards as hers. 

“Let’s see them.” Left Girl yanked the purse away. 

Kassandra clutched for it, but Left Girl held it out of reach. 

“Dump it, Alexxa.” Lindsay smirked.

Alexxa flipped over the purse. Everything tumbled out: the red spiral notebook, coins left over from the Retro shopping, lip screen. The Tarot cards fell out too, but instead of scattering, they landed in a neat pile on the floor.

Lindsay scooped up the deck, glanced at the top card and then tossed it over one shoulder. Kassandra cringed, waiting for something to happen, but it drifted to the floor harmlessly.

“Look at this.” Lindsay flipped over Death showing the skeleton dancing above the three severed heads. “Wow. You are such a little death freak.”

Okay, now Kassandra wanted a card to trigger. One causing a rash or something.

Lindsay sifted through the deck—jeweled nails clicking lightly on the paper—and displayed cards marked The Devil and The Tower to the other girls.

“This is so twisted.”

A throbbing grew in Kassandra’s temples. One hand darted for the deck, but Alexxa shoved her back.

“Easy, Seattle.” Lindsay grinned, showing off a set of perfectly polished teeth. “I’ll tell you when I’m done.”

“Come on.” Right Girl fidgeted. “We’re supposed to be going to the bathroom.”

Lindsay ignored the comment and instead flicked out another card showing a lion with a blank area next to it, as though something had been scrubbed away. 

“What do you think?” Lindsay showed off the card.

“Cute.” Alexxa tugged her shirt over her belly.

“Can we go?” Right Girl twisted her legs together.

“I think I’ll keep this one.” Lindsay slid the card into the Coach bag. “You don’t mind, do you Kassandra?”

Hell yes she did, but the thought remained trapped in Kassandra’s mind.

Lindsay tossed the rest of the cards and they clattered to the floor. Her gaze traveled up and down Kassandra’s body. “You should really check out a mirror before you come to school. You look like something my dog chews on.” Both girls giggled and the trio swept down the hall.

A sinking feeling filled Kassandra’s chest as she viewed the scattered remnants of the purse. Tears built up, but she held them in. No crying. Not here. Kneeling down, her skin touched the bare linoleum through the ripped jeans. Scooping together the stray coins and lip screen, she dumped them in the purse. When Kassandra had bought the crocheted bag, it was all kinds of hip. Now the frayed stitching barely held the straps on. 

Her fingers brushed the red spiral notebook. It lay open, one sheet dangling by the last sprocket hole. She slid the book across the floor. Scribbled lines from Romantic poets meandered across the page. What good were these? Just words written by a bunch of guys who’d never met the likes of Lindsay Barker. Or felt passing kids stab them with their eyes.

With a sudden jerk, the page flew out of the spiral. It came out too easily. The second sheet popped as the sprockets ripped free. She wrenched out more—three and four sheets at a time. All those hours of writing and words, torn out in seconds. Finally done, notebook papers littered the floor. A hole occupied the center of the spiral. Her body quivered as tears dribbled down, nothing to stop them now. Kassandra bunched up the discarded pages along with the husk of the notebook, stuffing everything into the potato sack bag.

There it was, lying on the hallway tile: a pushpin. A shiver rippled through her, fingers closing around the plastic grip. The metal point was sharp. She needed this to get back in control. A glance behind showed no sign of Lindsay or the other girls. Except, they could return any second. 

Kassandra reached for the Tarot cards, but then stopped. Why bother? They’d only zap into her purse or locker again. Even the one Lindsay snagged would find its way back. Yet her hand worked on its own, gathering the cards into one pile. A few of the blanks were face up: two of coins, Wheel of Fortune, seven of coins. Kassandra paused. The seven of coins wasn’t supposed to be blank. It was the same one she’d tried to activate in the library. Except now the seven gambling guys had vanished. The table too. Only the title and the border stayed behind.

Lindsay triggered a card.

Kassandra couldn’t wait to see what happened this time. Maybe her clothes would fall off again or she’d sprout hair all over her body. Wait. Didn’t the seven of coins have a positive meaning? Money and riches? Kassandra glanced at the blank card. So not fair. Lindsay didn’t deserve good luck.

Arroyo Grove High School featured an outdoor lunch area, as if the kids needed to absorb more sunlight like plants. Coming from a rainy climate like Seattle, Kassandra thought this ridiculous. An overhang jutted out, but this hardly covered half the tables. What did they do when it rained? Cancel lunch?

Lindsay and her entourage settled at a table in full sunlight, each member donning brand name sunglasses. Kassandra slinked around the fringe tables, wanting to be close enough to overhear the conversation but still able to blend into the crowd. Of course the plan didn’t work out. The only empty seat was a table on the outskirts. There might as well have been a neon arrow pointing to her—social outcast, right here.  Plus, Lindsay’s table was so far away, Kassandra couldn’t hear them over the lunch chitchat.

The clique passed the Tarot card around, each girl giggling. Alexxa was the last one to ogle it, snorting out a laugh and setting it on the table. Kassandra turned her attention to Lindsay. Waiting. And waiting. They just kept jabbering and giggling like a reality TV show with no editing. Wouldn’t they have run out of things to say by now? Something fluttered to the ground. It was the card Lindsay had taken. No one in the group seemed to notice.

Eventually students cleared out, heading to sixth period. Lindsay and the socialites abandoned the table, traveling in a pack to better intimidate weaker students. Kassandra looked away, staring at the sack lunch Auntie Jo made. When the area cleared out, she dashed over to the table and peered underneath. A beat up Coke can and a spork. No card. She kicked the can away, just to be sure it wasn’t concealing anything. 

They couldn’t have picked it up. Then another thought pinged. The card went back to the deck again. Kassandra yanked open the purse, but her fingers tangled up in all the ripped spiral pages. Flipping the purse, she dumped everything on the table. The pages spilled out along with money. Tons of it. All twenty dollar bills.

Her eyes devoured the cash. Picking a rumpled twenty up, it smelled like dirt and grease. Maybe this belonged to the guys gambling at the table.

A tingling feeling scampered along her skin. There was something wrong with this. The money couldn’t be real. Any second Andrew Jackson would turn his head just like Dad did on the Death card. Still, she counted through the pile of cash. Twice. There were thirty-five twenty dollar bills. Seven-hundred dollars.

Seven.

Hundred.

Kassandra giggled. She was freakin’ loaded.

The Cursed Tarot Deck Claims Another Student

Chapter 9

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra snatched the cards away, but Marco didn’t react. Not even a snide remark. He simply stood there, staring into space. 

“All right people.” Mrs. Beehive clapped her hands. “Back to your desks.”

Diana grabbed his hand, tugging him away. He shuffled along. 

Kassandra shoved the deck into her purse, but left the blank card out. The title at the bottom read: four of cups. 

Mrs. Beehive asked for examples of tone and mood from the story. Kassandra pretended to take notes but her gaze was fixed on Marco. Diana did the same. He seemed to be the only one of the three even remotely interested in what Mrs. Beehive had to say, staring at the board as if it offered salvation. 

Diana whispered something in his ear. He shrugged, prompting a scowl from her. “Marco,” she said loud enough to reach Kassandra. No response. His eyelids hung at half-mast.

Mrs. Beehive’s face scrunched up, eyeing Diana. The girl flashed another “I’m innocent” smile, though this time it looked forced. 

It was the cards. They did something to him. Kassandra glanced around the room. Lindsay scrutinized her, perfectly formed eyebrows bunching together.

Once Mrs. Beehive turned back to the board, Diana spun on Marco. “Are you even listening to me?” He blinked, but still stared forward. 

By this time, most of the class had tuned into the Diana and Marco show.

“Talk to me!” She shoved and he slid off the chair, slumping to the floor. Chuckles rippled through the room. One boy whipped out a camera phone. 

Even Mrs. Beehive couldn’t ignore this. “Marco Hernandez. Please take your seat.” He scrambled back to the desk. 

Diana stood and leaned into Marco’s face, her whole body quivering. “What is wrong with you!” Her voice crescendoed, leaving whisper mode and venturing into class disrupting volume. 

Mrs. Beehive frowned, hands on hips. “Diana Davis, please escort yourself to the office.”

Diana gripped Marco by the hair, twisted his head, and planted a big sloppy kiss. When she pulled away, he tilted to face the whiteboard. Diana swiveled and glared at Kassandra. The class turned to look. “He was fine before messing around with you and those cards. You did something to him.”

“The office, Miss Davis!” Mrs. Beehive said. “Before I call security.”

Diana marched into the hall. 

The moment she vanished, the chatter began. Camera Phone Guy typed away, sending the picture across the mobile teen network. 

Kassandra slunk lower in her seat, avoiding Lindsay’s gaze. Marco was the one who grabbed the cards. Maybe the deck was just being defensive.

“Pretty cool,” someone said.

She glanced over and saw The Browless One looking her way through a mop of tangled hair. At least one person supported her. 

When class ended, Kassandra headed toward the door. Students scooted away from her, creating a path. Marco remained fixed at the desk, the same dopey look on his face. 

Kassandra needed to figure these cards out. Right now. She located the library and rushed inside. Rows of shoulder-high shelves loaded with books crammed the space. The room was deserted except for the librarian stamping books. Kassandra spied a bank of computers against the far wall and made a bee line. She nearly jumped at seeing Book Girl hiding between two shelves, the same book propped on her knees. 

The girl glanced up and put a finger to her lips. 

Kassandra paused mid-step and turned toward the librarian, still working through one of the stacks of books. When she looked back, Book Girl was reading again. How the heck did she make Honors English anyway if she skipped classes?

Kassandra picked the nearest computer terminal and clicked open the Internet, searching for “Two of coins Tarot Card”—the one that spurred Lindsay’s wardrobe malfunction. The computer spewed up pages of links. The first one gave a list of meanings: Embarrassment, obstacles, obstruction, emotion, confusion, difficulty, hindrance, unrest.

The first word, embarrassment, caught her attention. Nothing could be worse than appearing naked in high school. The site also listed a picture of the card. It showed a juggler holding two oversized coins in his hands. Nothing like the one in Kassandra’s deck.

She ran a search for the four of cups. Marco’s card.: Ennui, Displeasure, Discontent, Dissatisfaction, Boredom.

Well, Marco certainly looked out of it, which was a type of boredom. Although his was the industrial-size variety. Again the picture on the website didn’t match the picture she’d seen on the card. What if these Tarot cards were some special deck nobody knew about? 

The bell rang. Time to hustle.

Before closing out the web browser, Kassandra scanned the site one last time. Not all the cards were bad news. Many of them talked about success or money. She could sure use a little good luck.

She noted the seven of coins because the website said it represented money and riches. Locating the card, she slapped it on the counter. The illustration showed five guys gambling at a green table. Seven ginormous coins hovered around them. 

Thunk. 

The librarian dumped a stack of books onto a cart. Kassandra glanced at the clock. Two minutes late to her next class. She shut her eyes and concentrated. Money. New jeans. A nice writing journal. A peek showed the five guys still whooping it up at the green table.

Perfect. So the cards did their freaky mojo at the worst possible time, but when Kassandra really need something…zip. 

She stuffed the deck back in the purse and raced through the deserted halls. Rounding a corner, Lindsay Barker strolled down the hall, flanked by two other girls. Kassandra must’ve looked like an injured gazelle because Lindsay smirked, pinning her with a gaze that said, “I’m ready to rip open your throat.”