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.
Rain pattered the cement in front of Kassandra’s feet. What genius decided to leave the strip between the cafeteria and the lunch arbor unprotected? It answered her question from before. They didn’t cancel lunch when it rained. Students simply got doused on the way to their seats.
She and Luke could’ve opted for the gym where most of the students went. But being smashed in a sweaty room, elbow to elbow with everyone else, didn’t appeal to Kassandra. She’d deal with the wind and the rain.
They dashed through the downpour, snagging a table in the mostly deserted lunch arbor. Kassandra had forgotten to pull the hood up and hair plastered her skull in curly gobs. Instead of scowling, a smile crossed her face. For once she was actually glad to be at school.
What changed? Just someone called Luke Rykell. He’d stuck close through every class. Best of all, no one said a thing about Dad the whole day. Sure, people had whispered and gawked—things that normally would’ve sent Kassandra over the edge—but they all hushed up when she strolled past with Luke. Just his presence in the room made everyone chill.
So there they were, sitting at the same lunch table, trays butting up against each other. It felt like a dream.
“So you’re from England.” It was a lame start and Kassandra knew it, but she needed something to get the conversation going. Until now they’d only had time for chitchat between classes. Lunch was the first opportunity to really talk.
He nodded, tipping back a bottle of Dr. Pepper.
“Tell me again why you don’t sound English? I thought accents stuck around.”
Luke’s face tensed. Kassandra hadn’t meant it as an accusation.
“My brother and I travel a lot.”
He looked confused, so she tried again. “Your family. Are they in the Army or Navy or something?”
A corner of his mouth pulled out in a grin. “Not really.” Luke bit into today’s special, pizza with spongy cheese topping. “What about you? Why’d you leave Seattle?”
He would have to ask about the move. “It’s not like I had a choice.” Kassandra fiddled with the water bottle cap. “My Dad…” she started, but didn’t know how to continue.
Should she tell him? He’d find out soon. The gossip wouldn’t stay away forever with most of the school in on it.
The rain intensified, sending the few stragglers packing for the auditorium. The wind kicked up and a sprinkle of droplets coated Kassandra’s tray and face.
“My mom just up and left everything. The house. My friends. My whole life.”
“Must be tough.” Luke used a spork to scoot around the peas and carrots on the Styrofoam plate. The meal came with a requisite vegetable side dish. She’d opted for salad.
“Do you still keep in touch with anyone up there?”
Kassandra shook her head. “Stuff happened and it kind of soured my relationship with friends.” She took a bite of pizza. The wind had turned the cheese topping into a rubbery varnish.
“Doesn’t sound like they were very good friends.”
She’d never though of it that way. After Dad died, Kassandra wasn’t much fun to be around. But a good friend would’ve stuck with her. No matter what.
“Hey, didn’t you say you have a brother?”
Worry lines bunched up along Luke’s forehead. “We don’t really get along.”
“But didn’t you say you traveled with him? Is he older or something?” Maybe the parents were out of the picture and this brother supported Luke.
“I’m not going to talk about him.”
“Okay. Just me being nosey.” Kassandra chewed on a fingernail. Now she’d gone and made him upset. Looking up, she felt a raw energy spin out of Luke. It sent goosebumps up her arms.
“No, You’re just observant.” He reached forward, took the bottle of water, and before Kassandra could object, removed the cap. “Let’s test how observant.”
He dropped to the ground and rummaged around, finally popping up with a second plastic cap. The Dr. Pepper cap made the third. “I’m sure you’ve seen this game before.” Luke plucked a single pea off his plate and set it on the table, covering it with Kassandra’s bottle cap. “Can you find the pea?”
“Do I have to bet money or something?”
“No, just for fun.” Luke set the two other plastic caps on either side.
“Now this rhyme, called Magical Pea, was written by the ancient Greek Pythagoras.” He lifted the middle cap, revealing the pea for a moment. The Dr. Pepper cap on the left was red. Her water bottle cap in the center was white, and the one fished off the ground was blue. It looked like an American flag. How could this possibly merit a challenge? All she needed to do was choose the white one.
“The magical pea hides under a shell.” Luke covered it with the white cap.
“I’ll slide it slowly, so you can tell…” He shifted the cap with the pea to the right, leaving the red Dr. Pepper cap isolated at the far left.
“…just where it’s going, this magical pea.” Now Luke slid the red cap all the way over to the right. The pea was back in the middle again.
“Where are you? Where are you?” He slipped the blue cap to the right.
“Under one, two, or three?”
Kassandra knew the pea was under the white cap on the far left. She’d kept her eyes on it the whole time.
“It’s this one.”
Luke flipped the cap back with one finger. Empty.
“I told you the pea is magical, didn’t I.” He removed the white cap. Now only two remained. “Look, you have a fifty-fifty chance.” He slid the red Dr. Pepper cap forward.
Kassandra knew it couldn’t be the one he offered, so she touched the blue cap. “That one.”
“You sure? If you were betting money, you’d probably lose.”
“But I’m not. It’s just for fun.” She smiled and tapped it. “This one.”
Luke lifted the cap. Nothing.
Kassandra glanced at the red cap. He flipped it to reveal the pea.
“I have no idea how you did that.”
“I’d like to say it’s magic, but mostly it’s about reading people.”
He’d said the same thing before. Right after he knew all those things about Lindsay.
Just then, the school’s speakers blared to life with a hiccup of static. “Kassandra Troy. Kassandra Troy. Please report to the front office.”
Auntie Jo must’ve called, thinking she was saving Kassandra. But things had changed. She didn’t want to leave school. In fact there was absolutely nowhere else she wanted to be.