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 bus pulled to a halt in the school parking lot, brakes squealing. Kassandra’s stomach gurgled from the mound of junk food crammed in there. Then there was the upcoming ride—two hours stuck in a rolling heat trap, trundling around town dropping kids off.
Luke sidled up. “Let’s skip it.”
“Walk?” Kassandra didn’t know which way home was, but knew it was far.
“Well, not right away.” He shrugged. “I know you can’t be hungry, but I thought we might grab some coffee.”
After lunch she doubted she’d ever eat again. When Kassandra had left, food tumbled off the table, the mound was so high. The janitor must despise her.
Luke raised an eyebrow, waiting for an answer.
Was he asking her out? Kassandra hooked a lock of hair over one ear. “Sure.”
“It’s done.” He grabbed her hand, zooming across the parking lot.
They only had to travel a few blocks before running into Arroyo Grove’s diminutive shopping district, ending up at the coffee shop Kassandra had changed clothes in after the spending spree. She ordered some drinks using the last of the magic money and headed outside for a table. The courtyard sported massive wooden planters, each holding assorted roses, foxgloves, and poppies. It made the place feel like a miniature English garden. They snagged a table surrounded by sunflowers and magenta snapdragons.
“So I’ve been meaning to ask you…” Kassandra stirred the whipped cream into her mocha. “How’d you get…you know…stuck in a deck of cards?”
Luke plucked a quarter from the change left on tray and deftly rolled it over his knuckles. “It was over a girl.”
“Really?” Kassandra cocked an eyebrow.
“Long time ago.”
“How long is that, exactly?” She took a slurp of the mocha, coating her lips with whipped cream. Luke reached forward and brushed it off with a thumb.
“Six hundred years.”
Kassandra sprayed her drink all over the table, a few drops spattering Luke’s T-shirt. “I’m sorry.” She started dabbing at the fabric with a napkin.
“It’s all right.”
“I know, but I made a mess.” She switched to mopping up the table.
“It’s hard to take in all at once. I should have warned you.”
Luke removed the soaked napkins and tossed them in a nearby trash can. Speckles of brown stained the white T-shirt, but at least the table was clean. He slid back into his seat. Only a few other customers dotted the cafe. Still, when she spoke next, it was almost a whisper.
“So you’re really six hundred years old?” Kassandra scanned his face. He didn’t look much older than a typical high school student.
“That’s just when I was born. I’ve been trapped in the cards most of those years. I’m actually closer to twenty.”
“But how’d it happen? I mean, I can tell those cards aren’t normal.”
“They were designed by Gabriel, my brother.” Her mind flashed to the picture of the Hanged Man card. “He was jealous of my relationship with Ezabell, that’s the girl I told you about.” Luke sipped from his mug. His eyes had a far away look. “Gabriel created the cards as a sort of prison and trapped me there.”
Kassandra scrunched up her face. “But I saw him there too.”
“I told you, the cards have a mind of their own. They tricked Gabriel, and now he’s stuck there too.” Luke set the coffee cup on the table. “Do you know what the Hanged Man signifies in the Tarot deck?”
She shook her head.
“The betrayer.” A wicked smile spread across his face. “I find it poetic that the cards placed him there.” Luke saw Kassandra watching, and the smile vanished. “Ezabell died hundreds of years ago. Though sometimes I think I can sense her spirit in the cards.”
“You do?” Kassandra had dreamt of Dad these last few days. Almost like was nearer to her. Maybe Luke felt the same. She reached down and ran a thumb along the edge of the Death card, still secure in her front pocket. Kassandra didn’t trust putting it back with the deck. She wanted to be able to find it anytime.
“Ever since I found these cards, things are different.” She slurped some more mocha. “Or maybe it’s not them at all. Maybe it’s meeting you.” Luke listened to every word. Those eyes seemed to hold an entire world. “Today…standing up to Lindsay. I would’ve never said anything like that before.”
Luke leaned forward and gripped her chin with one hand. And then they were kissing. His soft lips pressed against hers.
There should have been fireworks. This was the third time she’d kissed and Luke was most definitely the best looking of the bunch. But there was nothing. It felt like pretend kissing her hand. Why didn’t she feel anything? This guy was cute, plus he the only real friend she had in this town.
He pulled back, the corners of his mouth twisting into a frown.
Kassandra cringed. Was she so easy to read? She slapped on a happy smile and planned to say something about how great the kiss was.
“I should get you home.” Luke stood up.
“I’ll take care of these.” He set the mugs back on the tray, both still halfway full, and toted them inside the coffee house.
Kassandra fidgeted in her seat. Why had she been so weird back then? Luke probably laid himself bare and she sat there like a dead mackerel.
Something caught the corner of her eye. Kassandra turned and saw a woman staring through the line of sunflowers—Clerk Lady from the Psychic Mind shop, the one who’d sold Auntie Jo the cards.
Kassandra circled the planter. Lines of panic wormed their way across the woman’s forehead.
“I need to talk to you.” Her gaze bounced between Kassandra and the coffee shop.
What was with this lady? She’d hustled Kassandra out of the shop, but now she wanted to chat? “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but these cards are really strange.”
“That’s what I wanted to tell you.” Clerk Lady fidgeted with a blouse sleeve. “You have to stay away from him.”
Him? Did she mean Luke? Kassandra turned and looked at the coffee shop.
“Luke is playing with you. He only wants the cards.”
“Wait. How do you know his name?”
Clerk Lady backed away, gaze fixed on something. Kassandra spun and saw Luke exiting the coffee shop. When she turned back, Clerk Lady had dashed across the street to the Psychic Mind and was frantically working the lock on the front door.
She knew Luke’s name. And the Tarot cards, they used to belong to her. Maybe Clerk Lady summoned Luke out of the deck too. Then a thought occurred to Kassandra. When she found the cards, the illustration of The Magician had still been there. So if Clerk Lady did pull Luke out of the deck, then maybe she was the one who’d put him back.
“Who was that?” Luke asked, appearing at Kassandra’s side.
Across the street, the door to the shop swung shut. One corner of the blinds shifted. Clerk Lady was spying on them through the window.
“I don’t know.” It was a lie. Kassandra didn’t know why, but she couldn’t tell him the truth yet.
“Of course. I understand.”