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 screeched to a stop at the curb and the doors hissed open. Kassandra and Gabriel climbed on board. He had real boy clothes now. Auntie Jo had driven them by the Retro and Gabriel found some things that fit. They weren’t stylish—money was still tight—but at least he wasn’t wearing Mom jeans anymore.
Kassandra had ditched the Tarot-bought clothes. All of them into the trash. She was forced to pick up a pair of used jeans along with Gabriel. They were worn at the knees, but not ripped yet.
Scooting down the aisle, Kassandra tugged Gabriel along. “Okay. We have to go over your cover story.”
“Am I supposed to be your cousin?”
“Ew, no. That was Auntie Jo’s idea.”
Book Girl sat in the usual spot, her legs wedged against the seat in front with a paperback balanced on top. She glanced up, eyeing Gabriel a little too long.
Kassandra continued heading toward the back of the bus. “I’m pulling the plug on the whole cousin thing. I mean, what if I turn out to like you later?”
He scrunched up his face in confusion.
“Kiss. It means what if we end up kissing.”
“Oh.” Gabriel looked a bit embarrassed. “Courtship between cousins was not entirely uncommon in my day.”
“Well, these days it’s disgusting.”
The bus lurched forward. Kassandra managed to half sit, half fall into the seat, but Gabriel wasn’t so lucky. He stumbled to one knee before making it onto the seat.
“Sorry, I should have warned you about Driver Lady.” She pulled out the battered crocheted bag, searching for a pen and some paper. Next to the other purse, this thing was a cavern. “Let’s get some notes down so we both know your story.”
Something squirmed past her fingers and launched into the air. Gabriel snatched the slip of paper before it fluttered away.
“I should never have made this for you.”
“I like it.” Kassandra took the paper back. It was a drawing he’d made of the nightingale. She’d cut around the edges of the pencil sketch so it could move its wings. Even stuck back in the purse, the paper wings flapped back and forth, trying to fly. “You’ll have a heck of a time in Science class. Maybe let me do the drawings for cellular mitosis.”
“Do you still have them?” Gabriel eyed her purse.
He was asking about the cards. The way he did every five seconds.
“Don’t be so paranoid. Where are they going to go?”
But when Kassandra reached into the purse, they weren’t there. She started pulling things out, searching for the cards. The bus braked, throwing her forward.
“Where are they?” She stood and searched the seat, even stuffing one hand down the foam rip. Nothing. “They can’t disappear. They just don’t do that.”
Some of the kids twisted around to see what was going on. Kassandra had one final idea. She pushed past Gabriel and leaned down, scanning the floor under the seats.
“Sit down back there,” Driver Lady hollered, putting the bus back in gear. Kassandra balanced by bracing against the seats. Backpacks littered the floor. There was a forest of legs. Even if the cards were down there somewhere, she couldn’t see anything. Gabriel yanked her back into the seat.
“They’re gone.” Kassandra stared blankly forward.
She should be relieved. She’d wanted rid of those things since day one. But what about Luke? If someone let him out, he’d come straight for her. Just like Carol, the Clerk Lady at the Psychic Mind. Then another idea slipped into Kassandra’s mind. The first day she’d found the cards. Carol seemed so shocked. Maybe they’d vanished from her pocket.
Kassandra turned to Gabriel. “The cards. They’ve chosen someone new.”
Margaret hiked her legs up, squashing it against the seat in front. What were these seats stuffed with—wood? It was impossible to get comfortable on one of these. She propped the book on one knee. With any luck, Ms. Sammers wouldn’t ride the brake all the way to school.
Cracking open the paperback, Margaret dug in. The hero, Billy, was shoved in a boxcar with plenty of other prisoners of war. The place seemed filthy and cramped. It reminded her of the bus ride.
After only a page, she swayed forward as the bus stopped to pick up more passengers. Great, here came the new girl. It looked like she traded boyfriend number one for a new model. Margaret watched them pass, poking her glasses up her nose. The first guy was cuter, though this one wasn’t half bad.
She tried to steer her mind back to the book and the boxcar rumbling through Germany, but the new girl kept chattering. The girl was way too perky today. Margaret liked her better before—all mopey and quiet. The bus lurched forward, sending the new girl on her ass. It served her right. If she hadn’t learned about how Ms. Sammers drove by now, she was hopeless.
Margaret snugged down in the seat, creasing the book open, but her heart wasn’t in it. The new girl would make an easy scapegoat, but truthfully, it wasn’t only her. Everyone on this bus wore Margaret down. They all went on and on, believing every word they said was vitally important when all it really amounted to was jabbering. These people didn’t know the first thing about life and how to live it. Margaret cracked her knuckles. She’d so like to educate them.
The bus jerked forward again and her face nearly mashed into her knee. The book tumbled to the floor. Mrs. Sammers was riding the brake again.
Margaret groped between the seats, but one hand brushed a stack of cards. She did a quick glance of the bus passengers and then scooped them up along with the book. The cards were oversized, meant for meaty hands and not her slender fingers.
A commotion erupted from the back of the bus. Twisting around, she saw the new girl was having a hissy fit. Enough with the drama already.
Margaret flipped over the top card and saw a stone pillar towering above an ocean. A single rose sprouted from the center of the rock. She tapped the person-shaped empty space right in the middle.
“It’s like someone forgot to finish the picture.”
The bottom read The Fool. “Now who on the bus fits this description?” She giggled. “Take your pick. Most of these folks tread water in the shallow end of the pool.”
Margaret flipped through the rest of the cards. The Emperor, Judgment, The Tower. This was clearly a Tarot deck. But the illustrations looked different from any deck she’d seen before. They had more life to them. Why were some of the cards blank, like The Fool? Had the artist skipped out before the end?
She paused at an illustration of a man wearing the most ridiculous red suit. The bottom said he was The Magician, but the guy looked more like a clown. Margaret was about to move on when the figure shifted. She blinked. It wasn’t her imagination. He really moved. One minute he was staring at the table. The next, he looked at her.
“Why do you look so familiar?” She tilted the card. “This some kind of hologram?” The image didn’t change this time.
The bus lurched, the wheels klunking into a pothole. Ms. Sammers was aiming to hit them all this morning. Margaret glanced back at the card. The man looked at the table again. Maybe it was only her imagination.
Margaret flipped the card back onto the pile and slid the Tarot deck into her backpack. She might as well keep them. They could be good for a laugh. The image of the Fool card popped into her head and she grinned. The blank spot was so begging to be penciled in. And Margaret knew plenty of candidates.