Luke Seems to Know What Kassandra is Thinking

Chapter 15

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.

Drawing nearer to class, Kassandra’s pace accelerated. Every step brought thoughts of bolting for the nearest exit. But she couldn’t abandon Luke. Walking next to him felt great.

They rounded the corner and the door to Honor’s English loomed. Kassandra halted. The squeak of Ms. Beehive’s marker on the whiteboard penetrated all the way into the hall. Luke stepped forward, gripping the door handle. “It’s only high school.” 

Easy for him to say. He’d probably blink and have twenty friends.

Luke opened the door and strolled inside. Ms. Beehive paused, the marker hovering above the board. Rather than head straight to the teacher, he stepped to the side to allow Kassandra to enter. Now Lindsay and her flock had an unobstructed view. Thankfully, the socialites seemed fixated on Luke. At least Mr. Good Looks could act as a distraction. Kassandra slid into the room, dropped the tardy slip on the desk, and hauled butt to the back of the class.

Lindsay muttered, “Daddy’s girl,” just loud enough to hear.

Kassandra faltered, almost nosediving into a row of chairs. Tears built up, ready to gush. She plopped in the chair and kept her head down. Just breathe. Survive this class. 

Ms. Beehive introduced Luke. Kassandra heard some desks scooting and looked up to see Lindsay clearing a spot next to her. She banished a minion to a farther orbit to make room. Shocker.

Luke strolled down the aisle and stopped at the seat. Then winked. Not at Lindsay, but at Kassandra. She instantly looked down. What was the point in watching? Luke would get sucked into the cinnamon-scented vortex soon enough.

Ms. Beehive resumed the lesson. Kassandra tried to focus on taking notes, but instead imagined Lindsay leaning in, maybe even letting her hair brush his shoulder.

A chair screeched across the linoleum loud enough for even Ms. Beehive to stop lecturing. Oh God—it was Luke. He headed straight for Kassandra. Scanning the class showed Book Girl in attendance, so no empty seats back here. Luke stopped right in front of Kassandra’s desk. 

He leaned next to The Browless One. “Would you mind if I sat here?”

The Browless One glared at Kassandra, as if she had something to do with this. Then he bundled up his things and scuttled over to the only seats left, those ringing the social elite. Lindsay winced when the boy sat one chair over. 

Luke plunked down in the now empty seat.

“Are we ready?” Ms. Beehive folded her arms.

“Certainly.” Luke grinned.

Ms. Beehive continued the lesson.

Luke tilted his head to speak softly. “The view’s better from back here, don’t you think?”

Kassandra nodded, but didn’t dare look up. She didn’t want to encounter the laser beams of pure hate, sure to be emanating from Lindsay. 

The bell rang and the class exploded into activity. Kassandra shoved the notes into her purse. She needed to beat Lindsay to the hall. Maybe Auntie Jo had called. Luke grabbed her arm. “You said you’re new to this school. Where from?”

“Um.” How did she blow off a guy who was kind of cute? “Seattle.”

“Really?” He tossed a beaten up binder into his backpack. “I think I have you beat though.”

“I didn’t know it was a contest.”

Luke raised one eyebrow. “Of course. Everything is.” He whispered one word: “England.”

This stopped Kassandra. The boy didn’t have the slightest accent.

Luke held up one hand in defense. “Yeah, I know. I don’t sound like the Brit type. But I’m well traveled. Haven’t been back there in years.” He slung his backpack over one shoulder. The torn strap hung on by only a few threads. 

“Now, you wouldn’t know where I could find this class?” He showed a schedule with all the same classes as Kassandra’s, down to the crappy P.E. and shower just before lunch.

“I guess we’re going to the same place.”

“Lucky me.”

She frowned. Why would this guy want to spend time with her when someone like Lindsay Barker was throwing herself at him? With absolute despicable timing, Lindsay sauntered over, complete with the usual entourage. Diana was back too. This was so much fun. Kassandra wanted to charge into the halls, screaming.

“You know,” Lindsay leaned toward Luke, “you really shouldn’t associate with girls like Kassandra. I Googled her name and you won’t believe what popped up.” She flipped her bangs so they grazed her perfect eyelashes. “Let’s just say this girl will leave you hanging.”

A fluttering sensation started up in Kassandra’s stomach like she might retch. 

“Good one.” Marco high-fived Diana. Apparently he was fully recovered from yesterday’s fit of extreme boredom.

“Leslie, right?” Luke scrunched his face up, thinking.

“Lindsay.” She sounded miffed.

He waved a hand to brush off the difference. “Why are you so keen on me? Word is you’re going out with some guy named Marco.”

Diana spun on Lindsay. Her gaze burned hot enough to melt lead.

“What?” Lindsay glanced from Diana to Luke. “Who told you that?”

“Hey, I’m new here. Don’t really know everyone’s name.” Luke readjusted the strap of his backpack. “But I heard you two were making out the end of last semester.”

Diana shoved Marco. “You told me you were just tutoring.”

Marco held up his hands to fend off a punch. “It’s not true babe.”

“He’s right. You know I wouldn’t…” Lindsay said.

Diana cut her off. “I knew you were a sneaky bitch, but keep your paws off my boyfriend.”

Luke tugged Kassandra toward the exit. In moments, they escaped into the hall.

“How’d you know about that?” she asked.

“I’m good at reading people. They can say a lot without speaking a word.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He turned and gave Kassandra a look. “What you have to say is fascinating.”

“Okay? Do I want to know?” 

“Well, first off, you look like you could use a friend.”

Great, so now she gave off the desperate vibe. “Just because I’m new here, doesn’t mean I haven’t met anyone.”

Luke shrugged. “I’m just saying… it’s good to have someone to talk to, you know.” He pointed down the hall. “Is it this way? I don’t want to be late.”

Kassandra shook her head and indicated the other direction. Then they were walking. Together. To math class.

What just happened? One moment her life sucked and then Luke appeared. It felt like a movie with the credits about to roll any second.

She bit her lip. This was only one period. They’d chat and Luke would discover the real, and totally boring Kassandra Troy. Then he’d be off for someone new. Maybe not Lindsay—burned that bridge. But he was handsome, so it wouldn’t be hard. 

Kassandra’s hand slipped into her purse to grab some lip screen, but brushed up against the Tarot cards instead. The last card, the one where the image went all disappearing act in the bathroom, that was the Magician. She glanced at Luke. Was he something conjured up by the deck? He seemed a lot less supernatural than all the other cards. Cuter too.

Luke reached down and grasped Kassandra’s hand. A tingle scampered up her arm. Then this god-awful smile sprang to life. She couldn’t help it. Maybe he wouldn’t get bored. Maybe she didn’t care. Kassandra could enjoy this ride as long as it lasted.

The Magician Arrives

Chapter 14

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.”

“Kassandra.”

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.

Kassandra Faces the Music

Chapter 12

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.

Kassandra gasped for breath, straining on the pedals. She wasn’t out of shape, but with the shopping bags slung over each handlebar, the bike wobbled like a staggering drunk. The sun had set and the street lamps were flickering to life. Cold air cut through the cotton hoodie, biting into her skin. 

On the next turn, the bike threatened to veer straight into a tree. She slammed on the brakes and hopped off, letting the bike collapse in the street. One bag spilled shirts onto the asphalt. Come on! This day had been going great. It couldn’t crap out on her now.

Kassandra loaded the clothes back into the bag as a car swung around the bend. She hefted the bike up and wheeled it out of the street. The car edged closer and once she reached the sidewalk, it zoomed down the street. Kassandra walked the bike the last few blocks. The lights were on and Mom’s car sat in the driveway next to Auntie Jo’s. The gang was all here.

She guided the bike into the garage through the side door and ditched the shopping bags behind a tower of moving boxes. Hauling them through the house would be like setting off an alarm. Right now, her throat screamed for a drink.

Kassandra slipped into the house and noticed an iPhone plugged into a charger. A pink Juicy Couture case with a pair of terriers next to a coat of arms adorned the phone. So not Auntie Jo’s style. Must be Mom’s. Kassandra knew she had wrangled some kind of J-O-B, but did Mom have that kind of cash? An imaginary bell dinged. It had to be the new hunka hunka man friend. Now, he was buying her toys.

The smell of frying onions led Kassandra into the kitchen, but no one was there. The only activity came from a hissing pan and a bubbling pot of water. She tugged open the fridge and rummaged around until finding an old fast food cup from last week. The soda was watered down, but still loaded with sugar and caffeine.

“You’re late,” Auntie Jo said. 

Kassandra spun around, nearly splattering the drink on the floor. 

Decked out in a seeing eye apron, Auntie Jo delved into the pot with a pair of tongs and came up with an oval-shaped green disc.

“Is that cactus?” Kassandra asked. 

“Yup, for the cactus gumbo. I got the recipe off the Internet.” Auntie Jo pulled out two more cactus pads and set to work chopping them up and tossing the pieces in with the onions. “Don’t change the subject.” She wiped one hand on the apron and then scanned the outfit. “Are those the clothes you wore this morning?”

Kassandra’s heart sunk. Busted. 

Mom fluttered in, new iPhone in hand. “Hi Kass.” She stared at the screen but then did a double take. “Hey you look great today. You’ll have no trouble catching the boys’ attention dressed like that.”

Kassandra cringed. Skank bait wasn’t the intended look. Still, she flashed Mom a smile. At least someone in the house wouldn’t complain about the two bags stashed in the garage.

Mom opened the cupboard and snagged a box of cereal and then turned to Auntie Jo. “Listen, I know you cooked, but I’m just going to snack in my room.” She popped a handful of corn flakes into her mouth. “Thanks.” Mom trotted down the hall.

Once she was out of earshot, Auntie Jo swiveled around. “Okay, what’s going on with the clothes?”

“I can explain.”

“You better.” The onions and cactus hissed in the hot pan. Auntie Jo pushed them around with the tongs. 

Kassandra’s mind ran along possible reasons for sudden wealth—from finding the money in the gutter to getting an advance on a new job. They all sounded completely lame.

“I triggered one of the Tarot cards. Then the money sort of appeared in my bag.”

“What!” She swiveled around and stared at Kassandra. “And I suppose spending it was all right, then?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” 

Auntie Jo shook her head. “You can’t expect to have riches handed to you.” She poured a can of crushed tomatoes in with the onions and cactus. The pan crackled along the edges. “When I headed out to New Orleans, I was just as young and stupid as you are now.”

“Hey!”

One raised eyebrow was enough to hush Kassandra up.

“I thought nothing could ever hurt me. I used magic to get what I wanted and then I had to face the consequences.” She punctuated her words with the tongs. “And they were bad.”

Kassandra ran one hand along the smooth denim of the jeans. What was so wrong about a few pairs of pants and some shirts? Yeah, she’d spent way too much, but Kassandra needed new clothes. No way was she going another day looking like a panhandler.

Auntie Jo set the tongs on the counter. “If you accept what these cards give you, then they’ll have power over you.”

“You’re wrong. So far they’ve only helped me.”

Auntie Jo wrinkled her forehead. “Is this the first time the cards have done something?”

Kassandra took a slurp of the watered down soda. “Remember the card I showed you? The one that went blank?”

“Yeah?” The eyebrow shot up again.

“Well, a couple of minutes later this girl…her clothing just sort of vanished.”

Auntie Jo stared. 

Kassandra twisted the fabric of the fishnet gloves between her fingers. Why didn’t Auntie Jo freak out like Mom? So much easier to deal with. “And then today, this boy grabbed the deck off my desk and wouldn’t give it back. Another card went blank and something happened to him. Like he stopped caring about everything.”

Auntie Jo threw her hands up in the air. “You need to stop using those cards before anything worse happens.”

“You mean worse than getting some cash?” Kassandra set the cup on the counter. “Or worse than having some bullies at school get what they deserve?”

“You’re acting like an addict. You’ve had your first taste, and now you want more.”

“No. You don’t get what it’s like for me.” The muscles in Kassandra’s neck bunched up. “I didn’t ask to move to this crappy little town and have no friends.”

Auntie Jo shot a hand out. “Give them to me.”

“Why? They’ll just come back again.”

“I’m not taking them away. I just want to look at them.”

Kassandra pulled the cards out, but hesitated, running a thumb along the gold patterned backs. The cards chose her. 

“Today,” Auntie Jo said. Kassandra blinked and passed them over.

“Which card brought you the money?”

“Seven of coins.”

Auntie Jo took out the card and then wrinkled her forehead. “It’s blank.”

“When the card gets activated or whatever, the whole picture disappears.”

“There are a lot of blank cards in here.”

“I only triggered three. The one with the two coins on it, then the four cups card, and then that one.”

Auntie Jo fiddled with her silver ankh necklace. “So far you’ve only activated suit cards. I’m concerned about what a major arcana will do.”

“What are those again.”

Auntie Jo pulled a card out and laid it on the counter. The picture showed a lanky guy in a bright red suit standing in front of a stained glass window. The bottom read: The Magician. “The major arcana are more potent than the suit cards.” 

Kassandra peered at the card. Did the guy in the illustration just move? The Magician’s hands hovered above a table filled with some coins, a knife, a cup and a wand. But she could have sworn he’d been holding the wand before.

“Maybe I need someone else to trigger these cards.”

“What do you mean?” 

“I tried to make the seven of coins work, but nothing happened. Not until…” Kassandra looked at the tile floor. No getting around it. She’d have to tell it. “There’s this girl at school. I ran into her in the halls. She took my purse and dumped all the cards on the floor. When I picked them up, the seven of coins was blank.”

A glance back and the Magician was holding the wand again.

“Why do you keep looking at the card?” 

“I don’t know.” Except she did know. Kassandra had seen this guy somewhere before.

“Hold on,” Auntie Jo said, leaning over the card. “This card came up in your reading yesterday.”

A cold chill scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. “Why would you choose the same card again? Do you think we triggered it or something?” She gazed at the illustration, expecting it to vanish any moment.

Auntie Jo spun around and opened a cabinet door. “Let’s not stand here staring at it all night.” She pulled out a plastic zip bag. “Put the cards in here.”

Kassandra reached for the deck, but then hesitated. Was the Magician guy looking at her? 

Auntie Jo sighed and flipped the top card over, hiding the illustration. “There. Now put them in.”

Kassandra shoved the deck into the bag and sealed it.

“We know the cards can’t leave you. But you don’t have to keep using them.” Auntie Jo pointed to the baggie. “Don’t look at them or touch them from now on.”

Kassandra nodded, but her thoughts still lingered on The Magician. What if she already activated him? Would the card be blank the next time? All Kassandra wanted to do was yank those cards out and flip over The Magician. Just to check. 

The card had been in Auntie Jo’s reading, representing the near future. Which meant soon. What did the card stand for? Love? Kassandra suppressed the urge to chuckle, but the desire wasn’t as strong as the first time. Maybe soon was about to be now. Was she ready for this?

The Tarot Cards Keep Coming Back to Kassandra

Chapter 7

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.

Thick curtains blotted out the sunlight, transforming Auntie Jo’s living room into a cavern. Kassandra squinted at the books lining the shelves opposite the couch. It felt almost like night in the room. 

Auntie Jo leaned forward on the couch, staring at the two of coins card as if it might hold a secret message. One free hand tucked her afro under a blue scarf.

“And you’re sure it wasn’t already blank?”

Kassandra shifted on the couch, causing the cushions to creak. “It had a picture of some naked chick on it.” She pointed to the empty area. “Then poof. Gone.”

Auntie Jo set the card on a coffee table already cluttered with incense burners, candles, and crystals.

“I believe you. I’m only asking because it’s not the only blank card.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are six others.” Flipping through the deck, Auntie Jo tossed out card after card empty of illustrations. “The Fool, The Lovers, Justice, The Hermit, Fortitude and finally my card.”

“Your card?” Kassandra picked the last one off the coffee table. It read Wheel of Fortune. The illustration depicted an angel grasping an enormous golden circle while standing in the ocean. But then there were blank spots where someone had forgotten to paint. Only the outlines of four people—one on each side of the circle—were there. 

“There’s always one card in the deck that represents you. Typically girls would have a female card like The Popess, or one of the queens, but mine has always been the Wheel of Fortune because I deal in people’s fortunes. Or at least I used to.” She hooked a cup of tea with one meaty finger.

Kassandra wrapped both hands around her own cup and slurped. The concoction of herbal spices and grenadine shocked her tongue with sickening sweetness. Auntie Jo always changed the subject when the subject of New Orleans came up.  Her son had died in some sort of battle, but everyone was short on the facts. Kassandra guessed it was something in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Auntie Jo tapped the Wheel of Fortune card. “You have to understand—Tarot cards, runes, the I Ching—most of it is psychological. Pure hogwash.” She pinched the tiny tea cup between two fingers and sipped. “You read into it what you want.” 

This coming from a woman who thought she was Nefertiti in a previous life. 

“What can you tell me about these cards?” Kassandra scooted forward on the couch.

Auntie Jo set her cup on a glob of melted wax. “They’re hand made. Not off the Waite Rider illustrations either.” Half standing, she stretched across the coffee table to nab a book off the shelf. The couch shuddered when she flopped back down.

Kassandra stared at the blank two of coins and remembered Lindsay’s terrified expression. The truth about what really happened was too impossible to tell. But hadn’t she messed around with the cards right before the bizarre disintegrating clothes? Maybe this whole thing was her fault.

She pointed at the blank card. “Why did the picture disappear?” 

Auntie Jo reached for the silver ankh around her neck, rolling it back and forth. “I guess Arroyo Grove isn’t far enough away to avoid the jumbi.”

“What’s that?” A cramp jabbed Kassandra’s side, a result of staying in one position too long. 

Auntie Jo let the necklace drop back down. “Bad magic.”

“Well then which is it? Are the cards stuffed full of mumbo jumbo or are they just cards?”

“Let’s find out.” Auntie Jo collected the deck. “A few blank ones won’t ruin the whole batch. They still have their titles. We should be able to do a reading.”

“I thought you said the cards were bad.”

“No. The Tarot cards aren’t bad or good. It’s how you use them.” She shuffled the deck. “Now these cards chose you for a reason.”

Again with the choosing thing. Cards couldn’t think. They were only pieces of paper.

“Clear some space.” Auntie Jo waved her hands over the table. 

“Do we need to light incense or something?”

Auntie Jo stared, the only sound in the room the tap of the cards against the table.

“Just asking.” Kassandra grabbed a handful of crystals and candles, placing them on the carpet.

“This is a simple three card spread. Past, present, and future.” Auntie Jo set the cards in the clear spot on the table. “You need to shuffle the deck.”

“Nuh uh. I’m not touching those things.”

“You have to. It’s your reading. Holding the cards lets them attune to your thoughts.”

“Fine.” Kassandra snatched them up and shuffled. With seventy-two of them, they were hard to manage. A couple of times one wanted to shoot out.

Auntie Jo lit a stick of incense and soon the whole room filled with the scent of sandalwood. 

Kassandra set the cards back on the table. “Now what?”

Auntie Jo dealt the top card face up. It showed a guy wearing what looked like some kind of pajamas. He dangled upside down with a rope tied around one foot. The title read: The Hanged Man.

“Major arcana.” Auntie Jo tapped her chin. “Interesting.”

Kassandra shrugged. This was all new to her. 

“Most of the Tarot deck looks the same as regular playing cards.” Auntie Jo tugged on her necklace again. “Coins for clubs, cups for hearts, swords for spades, and wands for diamonds.” She touched the card lying on the table. “But there are twenty-two extra cards, called the major arcana. They have illustrations of things like Death, The Devil, and this one, The Hanged Man.”

Kassandra climbed off the couch and knelt by the table for a closer look. The drawing had all sorts of random pictures added to it—a sheep bleeding from the neck, grapevines twining up two poles, some tongs and nails.

“What’s with the sheep and the bunches of grapes?”

“All symbols of sacrifice.” Auntie Jo pointed. “See? The grapes ooze juice just like blood.”

Kassandra wrinkled her nose. “So the lamb’s dead then?” 

Auntie Jo nodded. “A sacrifice.”

“What does it all mean?”

“It’s your past. I think you know what it means.”

A shiver scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. She would not think about Dad right now. Grasping the teacup with both hands, she let the heat warm her palms. 

“Is that my whole reading?”

Auntie Jo plucked another card off the top and flipped it: The Magician. This showed a guy in a red medieval shirt with puffy sleeves and a ginormous hat.

“Another major arcana.”

Kassandra looked up from the cards. “Is that special or something?”

“Just highly unlikely.”

Kassandra examined this illustration. A massive stained glass window dominated the background. The man stood at a table with various objects strewn about—a cup, three coins and a dagger. He also held some sort of stick.

“Hey, aren’t those all the symbols on the cards? Like coins and cups and what not?”

“Very observant.”

“So what’s The Magician mean? Does it have something to do with the weird stuff that’s been happening?” Auntie Jo eyed her, one eyebrow shooting up. “I mean with the illustration vanishing and all. Sounds like a Vegas trick to me.” Kassandra took a sip of tea so she wouldn’t have to say anymore.

Auntie Jo shook her head. “It means you’re going to fall in love.”

Kassandra shrieked and tea sloshed out her nose. “You know I’m not paying for this. You can cut the crap.”

Auntie Jo passed over the book on Tarot. “Here, read for yourself.” 

Kassandra flipped to the description for The Magician. 

It stated that the focus of this card was on new beginnings, manifesting your desires, and new romance. “Okaaaay. So this is supposed to be happening now? ’Cause it’s news to me.”

“It represents the near future.”

“You mean like tomorrow?”

“The timing is not exact.” Auntie Jo pulled a third card from the deck. “Let’s see your future.” Flipping the card revealed the dancing skeleton again.

Kassandra jumped. “This is messed up.”

Auntie Jo scrunched her face, mumbling, “Three major arcana. Together.”

“Does this mean I’m going to die?”

“No, no. Calm down honey.” Auntie Jo fiddled with the ankh again. “Death isn’t literal. It means a change. A new life.”

Kassandra’s heart amped up for a major drum solo. She didn’t buy it. This card had popped up all day long. And here it was again.

“Okay.” Auntie Jo leaned over to the bookshelf, her fingers brushing the titles. “Let me just check something.”

Kassandra stared into the flat circles of the skeleton’s eyes. Somehow they seemed to gaze back. Even though the skull had no lips, it appeared to be grinning. Then there were the trio of severed heads below it, with one looking exactly like Dad.

“Screw this.” She snatched up the cards and started for the kitchen.

“Wait.” Auntie Jo sprang off the couch.

Kassandra shoved the screen door open, flipped up the lid of the trash can, and dumped all the cards in. 

“What are you doing?” Auntie Jo’s face was worked up as if Kassandra had just tossed out a wad of cash.

“I don’t want anything to do with these damned things.” She marched down the hall, stopping at her door. Throwing those cards out felt good. Like she finally did something right for once. 

The sound of the trash cans clunking together carried down the hall. Auntie Jo was dumpster diving for the Tarot cards. Kassandra pushed open the bedroom door, her gaze falling on the bed. 

“JO!”

All she could do was stand there, staring.

The kitchen door slammed. Then Auntie Jo jogged up the hall, wheezing the whole way. “What is it honey?” she managed to get out, clutching the door frame for support. Then she saw them. The Tarot cards sat in a neat pile on top of the covers.

Auntie Jo clutched her necklace. “Holy shit.”