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.
A gust of wind swept through the open doorway, chilling Kassandra’s skin. She shivered, staring down at the cards piled neatly at her feet. Why hadn’t they scattered? Luke dropped them on the carpet. But there they sat in a tidy stack, ready to be plucked up and used again.
The damned things would come to her sooner or later, so did she really have to pick them up? Kassandra tightened her hands into fists. Auntie Jo was trapped in there. Lindsay too. And who knew how many other innocent people. Leaning down, Kassandra reluctantly scooped the cards up. They felt heavy as if weighted down by all the trapped souls.
“What’s going on?” Mom eyed the splintered wood clinging to the hinges. Gabriel ran up from behind. The door wobbled as she stepped on it, and Mom was forced to throw out arms for balance.
Kassandra clutched the cards and stood.
“Where’s Joanna?” Mom glanced around, looking for someone to blame.
Auntie Jo! Kassandra’s fingers flew through the cards. She didn’t want to examine them too closely and risk triggering a random one. The Wheel of Fortune was buried nearly at the bottom of the deck. A blindfolded angel stood in the sea, holding a massive golden wheel. Auntie Jo sat in a purple chair at the top.
“Are you listening to me?”
Kassandra shut her eyes, blocking Mom out. An image of Auntie Jo sprang to mind. Rain thrummed on the roof of the blue Beetle. Kassandra’s left arm lay bare, the scars plainly visible. Auntie Jo had flipped out because she blamed herself for Ronald’s death and saw Kassandra heading toward self destruction too.
A thought snuck in. What if the cards only triggered when Luke was around? She squelched the idea. Kassandra had released Luke from the deck. She could do the same for Auntie Jo.
“You need to start talking young lady!”
Kassandra peeked at the card. No change. The illustration was still there.
Gabriel tugged Mom back by the arm. “Let go.” Mom wriggled, but he wouldn’t give. “Who are you?”
Kassandra swiveled away from both of them and dredged up every memory of Auntie Jo. Roasting cactus pads in the kitchen. Wedging Amazon-sized hips into the tiny Beetle. The seeing eye apron and ankh necklace. Even those times Kassandra rolled her eyes when Auntie Jo claimed to be the reincarnation of Nefertiti. Something had to click.
A muffled thud came from the doorway. Kassandra looked at the card and her heart sank. Same illustration.
“Kassandra!” Mom stood directly behind her.
“What!” Kassandra spun around. “Can’t you see I’m trying to fix things?”
Mom’s expression shifted. She hadn’t expected shouting. “Who is that guy and what did he do to our door?”
Gabriel gripped his foot with one hand. Mom must have nailed him with a heel.
“I can’t explain right now.” Kassandra glanced down at the Wheel of Fortune. “Just give me a second to concentrate.”
“No, you’ll talk to me right now.” Mom aimed a finger. “You show up at Sam’s house. No explanation. Then run out into the streets.” She reached forward and gripped Kassandra’s wrist. “And what about these? Tell me what happened to you.”
“Really?” Kassandra yanked away. “Six months, and you didn’t see?” She whacked her arm, the skin beneath the scars reddened. “A real mom would have noticed.”
Mom’s hands quivered, forming and reforming fists—full out red-alert mode. Kassandra braced for another slap, but it didn’t come. Instead Mom glanced at the carpet. “Dad was the strong one. He held everything together. When he left…It all fell on me. Now I need to be the strong one.”
Kassandra shook her head. “I need you to be Mom. That’s all.”
Tears dribbled down Mom’s cheeks. Wetness filled Kassandra’s eyes too. She drew Mom into a hug. They both shook, squeezing each other.
“I’m listening.” Mom broke the hug and stepped back. “Whatever you have to tell me.”
Kassandra didn’t know where to start. Mom had never actually listened before. Kassandra glanced at the card. A blank spot appeared in the center the wheel. It worked. She’d triggered it without even thinking. Auntie Jo stood in the hall. Kassandra rushed forward and gripped her in a fierce bear hug.
“I heard you the whole time, calling me.” Auntie Jo pulled away, eyes distant and detached. “But I couldn’t say a thing.”
“Joanna, maybe you can tell me what’s going on here?”
Auntie Jo scanned the room, finally stopping at the front door.
Kassandra said the first thing that popped into her head. “Home invasion.” They both turned to look at her. “It was Luke. He wanted to rip us off.” Mom’s face twisted into an expression of utter confusion. Was she buying it? “Look what he did to our door.”
Kassandra jumped when Auntie Jo ran a finger along the scars. “We need to deal with this.”
Mom stepped forward. “Did you know this was going on, Joanna?”
Auntie Jo glanced down, not wanting to meet Mom’s gaze. “I was going to tell you.”
Kassandra marched over to the table and knocked over the teacups, locating the razor hidden underneath. As she returned, Auntie Jo’s gaze darted to the blade.
“Yes, I lied. This is the last of it. I don’t need it anymore.” Kassandra placed it in Auntie Jo’s hand.
“It’s not as simple as all that.”
“I know.” Kassandra looked at the Tarot deck. The nicks and scratches along the cards reminded her of the scars. She ran a hand over one arm, feeling the ridges. Memories leapt through her head. Facing the lion. The hall of mirrors. The paper doll girl. “I don’t want to be that person again.”
Auntie Jo touched the razor’s metal grip, flecked with rust.
“Don’t worry, I won’t end up like Ronald.”
Anger flashed in Auntie Jo’s eyes, but then she nodded. “Alright.” She curled her fingers around the razor and pocketed it.
Mom gripped Kassandra’s arm again, twisting it so the scars faced up. “Kassandra, I’m here now. Tell me. What made you do this?” Her voice was edged with genuine concern.
Fear seeped through Kassandra, cold and bitter. She stared into Mom’s eyes. “Dad did.” Her whole body tensed. “I did. I don’t know anymore.”
Mom drew Kassandra close. “There isn’t a second that goes by where I don’t think of him.”
“Listen, I know I don’t seem like the greatest of mothers some of the time.”
“All the time.”
Irritation flickered across Mom face.
Why did Kassandra say that? Mom was opening up. She didn’t need a snarky response.
Then Mom cracked a smile. “Yeah, the last couple of months haven’t been my best.”
“You threw everything away. Everything of Dad’s”
Tears collected along Mom’s eyes. “I couldn’t look at it anymore. Everything felt too much like Douglas.” She whisked one finger, brushing away the tears. “You know it hurts just to say his name.”
Kassandra nodded. “I know.”
“He loved us both so much.” Tears dribbled down Mom’s cheeks. More than she could wipe away. There was a real person inside there.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t cry.” Mom swept the tears away. “I need to stay strong.”
Kassandra pulled her into a hug. “No. It’s all right. We both miss Dad.” The two squeezed each other. Mom clenched Kassandra’s shirt and shuddered. Then gradually the crying subsided.
Mom pulled away, wiping her face clean. “Now, would someone mind telling me who he is?” She pointed at Gabriel.
He was dressed in one of those flouncy shirts and leggings, the type of clothes that went out of style with Columbus. Kassandra bit her lip. How could she explain Gabriel?
He stepped forward. “I am Luke’s brother. I was brought here to help.” Mom surveyed him, taking in the crazy attire.
Luckily Gabriel hadn’t mentioned being locked up for centuries. But what was going to happen to him? He didn’t have a clue about the world today. And there was no one alive who even knew who Gabriel was. Kassandra was it.
“Mom, he needs a place to stay.”
“Absolutely not.” Mom jabbed a finger at the door lying on the carpet. “Look at this place. How do we know he isn’t going to end up like his brother and rob us?”
At least Mom bought the home invasion story, though at this point Kassandra wished she’d thought of something better. “This isn’t your house.” Kassandra turned to Auntie Jo. “He deserves our help. You know what it’s like in there.”
Auntie Jo fingered the silver ankh. “Luke’s brother.”
Kassandra leaned close and whispered, “He helped me escape.”
“Do you trust him?”
Auntie Jo stood up straight, rubbing her chin. “Well, he’s not staying in Kassandra’s room.” A smile played at her lips.
“Joanna, you can’t be serious.”
“We can work something up in the garage. Meantime he can sleep on the couch.”
Kassandra rushed over and grabbed Gabriel’s hand. “You’re staying.”
“Joanna, is this a good idea?”
Auntie Jo shrugged. “I took you two in, didn’t I? I think we can handle one more stray.”
Mom tugged on her ponytail, inspecting Gabriel again. Then she slowly shook her head. “The clothes have to go.”
This was one of the few times Kassandra totally agreed with Mom.
Auntie Jo stepped into the center of the room. “Lord, this place is a mess. It’s going to take a whole lot of fixing to get things up and running again.” She grinned, turning toward the kitchen. “But we can’t do a thing on an empty stomach.”