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.
The first bell rang and Kassandra slipped into the health office, the only place she could think to go. Adults still roamed the halls, so running home wasn’t an option.
After clutching her stomach in a pitiful attempt to appear sick, the nurse guided Kassandra to the patient bed. The paper liner crackled under her butt. Of course there was no spike in temperature. No fever. Though Kassandra must have looked pathetic because the nurse dialed home.
Rain plip-plopped against the window outside, tracing squiggly lines along the fogged up glass. The cards tumbled around in her purse, the plastic baggie lost somewhere in the bathroom. What was the point really? The things wanted out.
When the nurse started speaking on the phone, Kassandra realized the cavalry wasn’t going to ride in. Auntie Jo must’ve been working with some client, desperate to find out who she was a century ago. Like that mattered. Kassandra needed help now.
She couldn’t face this school. Not the halls. Not the classes. Certainly not Lindsay Barker. Imagining the sign and the noose sent a shudder through her. No, Kassandra wasn’t going to think about it. She was better now. In control. The fishnet gloves almost completely hid the pinpricks underneath. Still, when the nurse turned around, Kassandra hid her arms.
“Sorry, but your mom can’t pick you up right now.”
“She’s not my mom.”
“Okay, well, you don’t have a temperature, so I’ll have to send you to class.”
Tears welled up in Kassandra’s eyes, imagining everyone staring at her.
“Hey, it’s all right.” The nurse slipped into genuine concern.
Kassandra wiped her eyes. It was stupid to let all her real emotions through.
“Do you want me to get you in to see a counselor?”
“No!” That came out too loud. “Can’t I just wait here?” She clasped her stomach. “I’m feeling kind of queasy.”
The nurse raised her eyebrows, probably used to the same excuse every day. But then, one corner of the woman’s mouth cocked up in a half smile.
“I’ll give you fifteen minutes. You’ll have to wait in the office. I need this area clear for anyone who comes in.”
Kassandra nodded. Maybe Auntie Jo would call back in time.
Three uncomfortable-looking chairs lined the hall connecting the office to the nurse’s area. The place was deserted except for the secretary, who clacked away on the computer with fake nails. Good. Kassandra needed to fly under the radar. No more embarrassments.
Was it too late to be home schooled? Mom would never go for it, but Auntie Jo might. Kassandra could learn the astrology and past-life regression ropes. Which was pretty much a way to get paid for telling people what they wanted to hear.
The front door swished open and a boy sauntered to the desk. All Kassandra could see was the back of his head. He talked for a moment with Ms. Nails and then turned toward the chairs, revealing slicked-back blond hair. Had to be another social climber like Lindsay, except… the white T and blue jeans didn’t fit the uniform requirements. He was older, too. Maybe a senior, or at the very least a junior.
The boy plopped down on the adjoining chair and flashed a smile. Kassandra scooted as far as the chair arms would allow.
He leaned over. “Excuse me.”
She twisted a little his way, only to be polite, and caught the odor of citrus—some sort of orange flavored cologne
“Did you drop this?” He held up some a quarter.
Kassandra shook her head.
“You sure? Because I found it right down here.” Bending over to point to a spot on the carpet, he twisted his hand. The coin vanished.
Kassandra sat up. Did he just make the coin disappear?
The boy grinned and there was a devilish glint in his eyes.
“You know…” He reached toward Kassandra’s face and seemed to pull a quarter from the air. “You collect enough of these and you’ll be rich.”
Kind of a lame trick, but he had her attention.
The smile sprang up again and he rolled the quarter along his knuckles. It flipped, end over end, to the pinky where it disappeared, only to reappear at the thumb.
“I travel around a lot. You pick things up here and there.” This time when the coin slid under the pinky it didn’t show up again. Instead the quarter materialized in the other hand and he started rolling it across those knuckles. “Tricks help pass the time.”
Kassandra followed the coin as it skipped along. When she finally glanced up, he was looking straight at her, his eyes a dull hazel as if the color had been washed out. Only tiny bits of copper flecked the surface, gleaming in the light.
Kassandra caught herself staring back. An awkward shiver rippled through her. She needed to look away. But the boy broke the contact by glancing down.
“I just started here. I don’t suppose you could show me around?”
Kassandra shrugged. “It’s my first week too.”
One eyebrow flicked up. “I guess we have something in common.”
He grasped her hand. Kassandra’s first instinct was to jerk away, but something about the heat of his skin was calming. He pressed the quarter into her palm and closed the fingers around it. “I’m Luke.”
Just then Ms. Nails barked up. “Luke Rykell.”
He stood, letting go of Kassandra. Warmth lingered in her hand. Luke headed toward the counter and picked up a packet of papers. Kassandra uncurled her fingers only to find the quarter gone. She flipped her hand over as if the coin might have been glued to the back. Nothing.
Luke had one corner of his mouth hooked up in a smirk. “Try your pocket.” He pointed and then turned toward the front desk.
When he wasn’t looking, Kassandra shoved both hands in her pockets. The quarter was nestled in the front right pocket. How the heck? Something about the trick with the coin bothered her.
The nurse popped her head out. “Time’s up. You need to go back to class.”
Kassandra’s lungs froze in her chest. No. Auntie Jo would call. She had to.
“Amy,” the nurse called to the front counter, “can you make sure this young lady makes it back to class?”
Ms. Nails nodded.
No, no, no! Kassandra was not going. Lindsay was waiting. Her and the pack of color coordinated piranha. Not going to happen.
“You wouldn’t know where Honors English is?”
Kassandra almost jumped. Luke stood right next to her.
“What?” Her mind still flitted through possible escape routes.
“Honor’s English,” he said again more slowly. “Could you show me the way?”
Wait, he had the same class as her.
Luke leaned forward, dipping into her field of vision. He cocked one eyebrow. “Is that a yes?”
“Uh, no. I mean, it’s not you.” How could she explain this? Guys didn’t have this sort of trouble. “I just can’t go to class right now.”
“You know, I always find if a person’s hassling you, it’s easier to face it with someone else.” He smiled. “Like me.”
Kassandra scrunched her eyebrows together. “Are you usually this corny?”
“Always.” He held out a hand. “Shall we?”
Who was this guy? With all the coin tricks, he felt like the Magician from the cards. Except without the dumb red suit. A quiver coursed through her body—a sensation she liked. No, no more crazy talk. Luke is just a normal teenage guy.
Kassandra grasped his hand.
“Lead the way,” he said, grinning.