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.
“We need another fork.” Gabriel arranged the silverware on the table. He was dressed in one of Kassandra’s oversized T-shirts and a pair of Mom’s jeans. They didn’t have any real clothes for him—not in a house of girls.
“Got it.” Kassandra hustled into the kitchen.
The scent of cactus gumbo filled the room. Auntie Jo stirred the pot on the stove.
“You sure it’s going to taste good?” Kassandra frowned as she peered at the brown sauce.
“Trust me child, your stomach won’t be large enough.”
“I’ll take that on faith.” Kassandra took the fork back to the dinner table, placing it at the fourth setting.
Mom swept in, munching on a carrot while typing one-handed on the phone. Maybe texting Comb Over.
Kassandra didn’t know and didn’t care. “We’re eating in fifteen. No phones allowed.”
Mom flashed a look and then retreated to the counter to finish the text message. Kassandra shrugged. As long as Mom stowed the phone before dinner.
“Gabe, come over here.” Auntie Jo backed away from the stove. “I’m in need of some of those muscles.” He headed into the kitchen to help wrestle the massive pot off the burners.
With everyone occupied, Kassandra slipped down the hall, sneakers padding softly on the carpet. She shut the door and plopped on the bed. The Tarot deck only barely fit in the front jean pocket, but she managed to wriggle it out. The same card sat at the top—Fortitude.
“Where did you go?” Kassandra stroked the empty space next to the lion.
Maybe Lindsay had escaped and was wandering the deck. At least Kassandra hoped so. The alternative was a lot more bloody. She wanted to examine every card, to spot Lindsay in one of them, but there wasn’t enough time right now.
The next card lay face down for a reason. Kassandra took a quick peek. Luke was dressed in the red monkey suit, stuck in his stained glass castle. His illustration somehow looked sullen. She flipped him back over. There was nothing he could say worth listening to.
The third card was Death, still showing Dad’s face at the bottom. “I may not be able to bring you back, but at least I can visit.”
Kassandra closed her eyes and summoned up an image the garage. She wanted to focus on something positive, like all those times Dad worked with the table saw or just puttered around. But that wouldn’t be enough. Instead, she focused on the ladder tipped on its side. The yellow rope stretched taut. His feet above the concrete, the laces of one shoe dangling. There was a twinge at her gut. Then a flutter, like wings beating. The air grew colder. Kassandra felt something mash her chest flat. A spike of pain jabbed at her with each breath.
Then, all at once, the pressure vanished. She was back. The nightingale flapped over to the workbench. Dad stood at the open garage door, staring out at the grassy meadow. Sunlight streamed in, coloring the concrete floor golden.
He turned and smiled. She ran over and hugged him.
“I waited for you.” Dad gave a final squeeze before letting go. He glanced over a the meadow. “It’s time.”
“No.” Kassandra grabbed his arm, but he shook his head.
“I need to do this.” He gripped the side of her face, one calloused finger rubbing her cheek. “As long as I’m stuck here, you will be too.”
“I risked too much to get you back. Can’t you just enjoy that we’re together?”
“I am.” He wiped a tear from Kassandra’s face. “I made the choice to leave you and Louise. Now I have to see it through.”
The tears gushed down Kassandra’s face. She seized his hand, squeezing hard enough to crush bone. “This isn’t fair.”
“I love you.” Dad somehow managed to pull free. Or maybe Kassandra had let go. She couldn’t tell.
He stepped into the meadow and a burst of warm air washed into the garage. The wind picked up, sending dried leaves spiraling into the air.
Kassandra edged closer, yearning to rush after him.
Part of Dad’s shirt peeled away, transforming into a leaf and fluttering into the meadow. Gradually the color of his skin darkened, turning brown and brittle. Then piece by piece, he was blown away, his body splitting into hundreds of leaves, until only a small brown bird remained.
“Don’t fly away. I still need you.”
The horizon darkened, stained by a massive flock. Their squawks and chirps emanated from across the meadow. Dad’s nightingale hovered for a moment, looking back. Kassandra reached out with one hand, her fingers quivering.
“I won’t ever forget you.”
The bird darted away, flying toward the flock.
Kassandra stood at the edge of the grass, her breath raspy and uneven. Dad’s nightingale shrunk to a black speck among the thousands of other birds.
Finally, she marched to the workbench. The box of razors sat in the same spot as always. Kassandra snatched them up and returned to the meadow. The box felt so small now, like a kid’s toy. She hurled it in. The box flew a long arc and then disappeared in the tall grass.
Kassandra backed up and pressed the button. The garage door shuddered, squealing as it lowered. She kept watching until the last of the sunlight vanished and the door thumped into the concrete. Only her own nightingale remained, staring from the workbench.