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.
“Okay.” Auntie Jo slipped into the passenger seat of the blue Beetle. “You going to tell me what this is all about?” The vents blasted, causing the photo of Ronald to flutter under the stream of hot air. Outside, thick droplets of rain attacked the roof of the car.
“The nurse called me practically when I got in the door. She said you were sick.” Auntie Jo glanced over. “Are you?”
Kassandra shook her head. “Just high school stuff.”
Auntie Jo wrenched the gear shift into first. “At least tell me you kept an eye on those cards.”
Kassandra’s breath caught in her throat. The cards. She shoved one hand into the purse as the car veered onto the main road. The wipers skittered and hopped across the windshield, hardly affecting the sheets of cascading water. Her fingers curled around the deck of cards. Still there. Pulling them out, the first one was the Magician—a blank silhouette outlined where the figure once stood.
A mental image flashed: some schmaltzy Vegas guy in a suit sporting a goatee and sawing a lady in half. That wasn’t Luke at all. The trick with the bottle caps seemed more street hustler than magician. Assuming he really was the guy from the card, which felt like her being nutzo again.
“What’s that?” Auntie Jo glanced away from the road.
Kassandra looked down. One of the fishnet gloves had gotten caught when she dove in for the cards. Now it bunched at her wrist, revealing the scarred skin underneath.
Auntie Jo swerved the Beetle to the side of the road. “No, no, no.”
Kassandra immediately yanked the fabric back over her arm as the tires crunched on the gravel shoulder. She was so stupid. No one could know.
“Show me!” Auntie Jo yanked up on the parking brake.
Kassandra shuddered as the fear, raw and cold, slithered under her skin. If she could crawl inside herself and disappear she would. But Auntie Jo fixed her with a stare that would not quit. No way to get out of this.
One thumb hooked under the elastic band, Kassandra tugged the fishnet glove down, the fabric gathering in a heap at her wrist. White scars crisscrossed the skin, along with five tiny pricks made by the pushpin.
“What?” Auntie Jo heaved a sigh. “Why did you do that to yourself?”
“It’s just…” Kassandra saw the ridges of raised flesh from the scars made by the razor blade. “It started after Dad died.”
“Oh honey. I know how it feels.” Auntie Jo stroked the side of Kassandra’s face. “You must feel so alone.” Then she glanced at the arm, crisscrossed with hashmarks. “This is serious. You’ve been hurting yourself for eight months and no one knows?”
“We need to get you to see someone right now.” Auntie Jo ground the stick shift into the gears again. “Before it’s too late.”
“No, don’t take me to a hospital. They’ll just hook me to some IV or something”
Auntie Jo shook her head, scanning the road for a break in traffic. “Someone has to look at you.”
Kassandra couldn’t see a doctor. Then Mom would know and start freaking out again. She’d find a way to blame Dad for it. Kassandra grabbed Auntie Jo’s shoulder. “You know we don’t have any insurance. Mom can’t afford a doctor.”
The car vibrated, impatient to start moving. Auntie Jo rotated in her seat, tears glistening in her eyes. A truck whizzed by on the road, sheeting the side windows with spray. She covered Kassandra’s hand with one massive palm. “I feel sometimes like you’re my daughter too.”
Something broke inside. Tears pushed at the corners of Kassandra’s eyes. It was true. Auntie Jo looked after her better than Mom did.
“You’re my second chance.” Auntie Jo’s body trembled and her voice cracked. “I can’t lose you too.”
Kassandra shook her head. “I’m not Dad. I won’t kill myself.”
“You have no idea how fast things spiral out of control.” Auntie Jo fingered the silver ankh and eyeed the photo of Ronald taped to the dashboard. Then she squeezed Kassandra’s hand hard enough to dislocate bones. “You’re so special to me. I can’t let anything happen to you.”
“It won’t.” Kassandra shrugged. “I’ll quit doing it.”
Auntie Jo knitted her eyebrows together. “No you won’t. You don’t dismiss something like this.”
“I’m not. It’s just…”
“Your mom needs to know.”
Kassandra’s whole body clenched. “She’ll freak.”
Auntie Jo gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “And how do you think I feel?”
“Please, don’t tell her.”
Auntie Jo chewed her bottom lip as rain pattered the windshield and thrummed on the roof of the car. She glanced over and Kassandra held her breath.
“I’ll leave your mom out of it for now.”
A smile forced its way to Kassandra’s lips.
“But,” Auntie Jo aimed a finger. “The cutting stops. All of it. Deal?”
Auntie Jo made a gimme motion. “Hand over what you’ve got.”
Kassandra rummaged through the purse until one finger pricked on a sharp point. She pulled out the pushpin.
“Is that it?” Auntie Jo looked questioningly the pin. “What do you have at home?”
Kassandra shook her head and answered quickly. “Nothing. I left it in Seattle.”
“How’d you make those?” Auntie Jo eyed the white scars.
Kassandra’s gut clamped into a ball. “One of Dad’s razors.”
Auntie Jo mulled this over, rolling the pushpin between two fingers. In one swift motion she reached out and locked a hand around Kassandra’s wrist.
“If I find you with anything else. Anything.” Auntie Jo stared Kassandra dead in the eyes, thumbnail digging into skin. “The deal’s off. I tell your mom and you go to see a doctor. Are we clear on this?”
“I’ll be checking your room to be sure.” Auntie Jo let go and started working the gears until the stick shift clicked into place. Seeing a break in the stream of cars, she pulled onto the road.
Kassandra stared out the window, watching droplets slither down the glass. This couldn’t be happening. She needed to rewind the day and hurl the pushpin all across the bathroom.
Arms wrapped tightly around her shoulders, Kassandra pictured the razor bundled up in a sock stuffed in a boot. She wanted to crawl deep inside that boot so no one can see her? To fade away, dissolve, and forget. Just wipe everything clean.
Auntie Jo would find the razor. Then the secret would explode into the open. Everyone would know. Kassandra’s body shivered and she squeezed her arms tighter.
She couldn’t let it happen.