The Tarot Cards Can Bring Dad Back

Chapter 24

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 dreamt about the garage again. The lights were off and she could just make out the workbench a few feet away. A stale smell lingered in the air, like the place has been locked up for too long. As she walked, one shoe slipped on a smudge of oil left from Dad’s truck. The place seemed so much more real than any dream she’d had before. 

When Kassandra reached for the cord of the shop light, a fluttering sound came from somewhere off to the left. It darted around the garage, first above and then behind. She snagged the cord and the shop light flickered to life, rocking back and forth and casting crazy shadows like a lightning storm.

Kassandra scanned the garage for the source of the sound. Turning, she bumped into something. Instantly, her mouth filled with the taste of metal, cold and slimy. A pair of shoes dangling right at eye level. She jumped back. 

Dad! 

Kassandra saw him from behind, his feet tilted at an odd angle. A yellow rope cut into the skin around the neck and then ran straight up to the rafters. The body rotated. Kassandra’s arms trembled, the muscles twitching out of control. She couldn’t do this again. His face came into view—the color of blue chalk. Kassandra tried to scream, but only a throaty hiccup emerged, cut short by her terror. She needed to run—just turn and bolt as far away as possible—but her limbs had gone numb, forcing Kassandra to witness everything. Dad’s tongue jutted out, dried spittle crusting the edges. She shook, heart hammering inside her chest.

A pair of hands gripped her shoulders. “Kassie, take it easy.” 

It was Dad’s voice. Kassandra opened her eyes. (When had she closed them?) Dad stood by the workbench, the same salt and pepper hair as always. The rope and the body were gone. But she couldn’t have imagined them?

He smiled, thin laugh lines wrinkled together around his mouth, and then pulled Kassandra into an embrace. His massive arms folded around her slender frame, scenting the air with the smell of fresh cut lumber.

“It’s really you.” Kassandra collapsed into him, finally safe. 

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

Scared her? Why would he say something like that?

He broke off the embrace, holding Kassandra by the shoulders. “I didn’t know you were here.”

She frowned. “How come I can hear you? Last time you couldn’t speak.”

“All I know is that you’re here. Really here.” He gave her shoulders a little squeeze. “Before, you were more like a ghost.”

Kassandra, a ghost? It sounded strange coming from him. She wanted to giggle, but held off. One slip would tumble her into a fit of crying. She needed to hold it together.

The fluttering sound still came from the rafters—like someone flipping through pages in a book. Something small zipped around up there, but the shop light kept swaying, making it difficult to see anything for sure.

“I don’t know why you’re here, but you can’t stay.” Dad placed a hand on her shoulder. “This place isn’t for you.”

“Where is here?”

He stared at the glob of oil staining the floor. “After the rope tightened, everything went dark. Then, I just sort of woke up in this place.”

“Why am I here? I was in my room…”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra glanced up. The swinging lamp spotlighted a tiny brown bird perched on one of the beams. Washed out feathers looked like driftwood worn smooth by the tide. The bird leapt into the air, its wings creating the fluttering sound as it flew. It landed on the workbench just a few feet away, fixing Kassandra with one black eye.

Twee-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet.

The bird’s song reminded her of a tiny jackhammer, filled with whistles and trills. It was a nightingale, just like from Keats’ poem. Where exactly had she stashed all those pages from the red spiral notebook?

“It shouldn’t be in here.” Dad frowned. “The birds always stay outside.”

Outside? Did he mean out in the old neighborhood?

Dad tapped on the garage door with a metallic thunk. “The flock gathers sometimes in the meadow.”

Kassandra had no idea what he was talking about. The bird hopped around on the workbench, attracting her attention. It pecked at a small cardboard box. The side read: 100 Single Edge Industrial Blades. Her gut tightened. It was the box. The one she’d swiped the razor blade from. 

Kassandra remembered coming home from school. The house had felt oddly quiet. She’d slipped into the kitchen to fix a PB and J. Afterward, she went into the garage. There was no reason to go in there. She might have sensed it even then.

The lights were out. As Kassandra made the walk over to the workbench, jelly oozed from the sandwich and dribbled along one pant leg. She knelt to brush it off and heard an awful creaking—the sound of wood under too much strain, ready to snap. 

Brushing the jeans only smeared the jelly. Kassandra stepped over to the workbench and grabbed the cord with jelly-coated fingers. The only thing on her mind was how badly it might stain her jeans.

Then she’d turned on the light. 

Kassandra examined the cord over the workbench now. Bits of crusted jelly still clung to the string. A tightness filled her chest. This was no dream real. It was real.

She swiveled on Dad. “Why’d you do it? Why’d you leave me?”

He frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “I was in over my head with debt. It would have pulled the whole family down.” Dad avoided her eyes. “I thought I was helping.”

“Things just got worse. Mom changed.” Those stupid tears threatened to break out again, but she stuffed them down. “I miss you all the time.”

“I’m sorry.” 

Dad drew Kassandra into another hug. His body felt warm and most of all safe. Nothing could go wrong with him holding her.

“I’ll find a way to get you out of here.” She squeezed him. “I promise.”

Dad pulled away, gripping her face with both hands. His calluses pressed against Kassandra’s cheeks.

“There is no way out.” He spread his arms to indicate the garage. “This is all I have left. This, and now you.”

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet.

The nightingale launched into the air, shooting straight for Kassandra. She raised her hands to keep it away, but the tiny bird slipped through, diving for her chest.

Kassandra burst out of bed, rolled onto the floor, and cracked onto one of Auntie Jo’s bookcases. Her forehead throbbed. She rubbed at it with one hand and looked around. Light streamed through the window, but it was different—not afternoon light. The bed sheets were still pulled up and the Death card sat propped up on the pillow. 

“Kassandra!” It was Mom’s voice, close by. Outside in the hall. 

Kassandra snatched up the card just as Mom barreled through the door. Of course she doesn’t bother to knock.

“You’re up, good.” Mom inspected Kassandra for a moment. “You need to do something with your hair.” She breezed past, diving into the dusty trunk-closet. “Let’s see what we have.”

Kassandra shoved the Death card into one pocket as Mom pawed through the new clothes. “Wow, you actually have some decent things in here.”

“Hello, Mom.” Kassandra injected enough sarcasm to kill a buffalo. Mom ignored it, dumping more clothes onto the floor. She must’ve really be in her own world. Normally a response like that would’ve sent Mom into a frenzy. 

The light outside the window looked more like morning than afternoon. Kassandra blinked. Had she slept the whole night? It felt like only a few minutes.

“We have to get you presentable. There’s not much time.”

“Am I late for the bus?”

“You’re walking today.”

Kassandra frowned. Since when did Mom make that decision? Or even care?

Mom held up a blouse. An impulse buy. Not really Kassandra’s style. It figured Mom would choose it. Then she plucked out those eighty-dollar jeans. “This should do. Now get changed, quick.”

“What’s going on?” 

Mom’s eyes widened, barely able to contain the excitement. “There’s a boy named Luke and he wants to walk you to school.” She reached forward and caressed Kassandra’s cheek. For an instant it felt like the old Mom again. The one who actually talked with instead of at her. 

“Now hurry up before he changes his mind.” She headed out the door. 

Ouch. Did Mom think Kassandra was so pitiful?

She surveyed the blouse. A little on the revealing side, but that was Mom’s secret to recovery. Find another guy and everything turned out peachy. Well, Kassandra wouldn’t replace Dad so easily. 

After dressing, she had to submit to a Mom session of lipliner and mascara. Kassandra didn’t dislike make up. It’s just Mom wore it like a badge of honor—always perfect, never smudged. After multiple reminders of the time Kassandra finally escaped more face painting. As they tromped down the hall toward the living room, Mom adjusted Kassandra’s ponytail. 

In the kitchen, Auntie Jo leaned on the counter, sipping a cup of tea. She talked to Luke, whose back was to the hall.

“Well, here she is.” Mom flourished her arms as if presenting a prize mare at a horse show.

Luke spun around. He wore another white T-shirt and jeans. No wait. The spatter of brown had to be the coffee from yesterday. So he didn’t change his clothes. That seemed a bit grungy.

“Hi,” Luke said and hit her with his grin. “Sorry to barge in, but I thought I could walk you to school.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Mom flashed a smile. “She’s excited to go.”

Kassandra winced. Maybe Mom should ask him out. She seemed eager enough. 

Luke gave an uncomfortable chuckle. “We should get going.” He started toward the door. 

As they left, Kassandra caught a glimpse of Auntie Jo, who gave a weird look. Was there something she needed to say? 

But Mom hustled the pair to the door. “Bye kids. Be careful walking to school.” 

“Yeah, Mom.” Kassandra power-walked around the curb, putting distance between her and super-mom.

“You have a sweet family.”

“Don’t get me started.” Kassandra glanced back. Once they were far enough away, she slowed to a reasonable pace.

“Your mother seems to really look out for you.”

“And then some.”

“What about your father? What’s he like?”

Kassandra stopped, recalling last night’s dream. The details still clung to her like Mom’s cigarette smoke, everything vivid in her mind—the oil stain on the floor, the smile on Dad’s face. It felt like traveling back in time. Back home to Seattle. 

“You don’t have to say it. I can already tell.” Luke turned to face her. “You have that look.”

“What do you mean?”

“The look of someone who’s lost everything.”

Kassandra stared into his eyes. They were distant and detached—the copper flecks in his irises seemed dulled in the morning light. He’d lost someone too. 

“He doesn’t have to stay gone, you know.” Luke looked her dead on. “We can bring your father back.”

Kassandra Won’t Let Go of Her Dad

Chapter 23

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.

Luke accompanied Kassandra on the long walk home. They didn’t speak and didn’t hold hands. At first she thought it was the thing with Clerk Lady, but the farther they traveled, the more Kassandra realized it was probably her. 

He had opened up and risked everything with a kiss. And how did Kassandra respond? A big old blank expression. Yeah, she really blew it.

They turned a corner, Auntie Jo’s blue Beetle visible a few houses down. If Kassandra didn’t say something now, she might never get the chance. 

“Hey, I’m sorry about before.”

He shook his head slightly. “I pushed too quickly. It’s been a long time since I met anyone like you.” There was this strange quality in his eyes. A kind of sorrow. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned and walked back the way they’d come.

Kassandra wanted to shout something like they did in those movies. Make him come running back to her. But she couldn’t think of a single thing. Luke kept moving farther away, rounded the corner, and disappeared. She wouldn’t be seeing him tomorrow. Except maybe sitting next to Lindsay. 

Auntie Jo’s was the only car in the drive. Mom was out with Bill or Frank or whatever his name was. Or maybe at the part time job. The smell of cooking filled the entire house. Auntie Jo was going for the fabulous family dinner idea, part two. Maybe Kassandra could pretend to be sick. It wouldn’t be too hard considering how last night’s dinner went. 

Kassandra carefully closed the front door and snuck down the hall. Her backpack thunked on the bed. She needed to get cracking on homework. The assignments were piling up. 

The book of poetry sat tucked on the shelf—razor wedged between the pages. A grin popped onto Kassandra’s face. She hadn’t thought about cutting. Not once. Not since… Kassandra furrowed her brow. Not since Luke arrived. She didn’t care what Clerk Lady said. Kassandra felt better around him, the kind of person she always dreamed of being.

Taking the Tarot deck out, Kassandra searched for the Magician, but it was still missing. Where had it gone? She racked her brain. Auntie Jo! Kassandra had given the card to her. Luke said the cards stayed with people who held onto them. It might explain why the card wouldn’t zap back.

In the kitchen, Auntie Jo hummed while zipping from counter to stove, where a pot simmered, bubbling up fantastic smells. Maybe Kassandra wouldn’t skip dinner tonight. She’d just keep her mouth full of food to avoid speaking.

“I didn’t hear you come in.” Auntie Jo tasted the simmering concoction with a wooden spoon. 

“Do you still have the card I gave you?”

She nodded. “I dug into my library for you.”

Kassandra froze. What if she’d looked at the books in her bedroom? She couldn’t recall if the dust on the shelf had been disturbed. Glancing up, Kassandra saw Auntie Jo stirring the pot on autopilot. This meant safe. If she’d found the razor, she’d be all over Kassandra by now.

“Let me show you.” Auntie Jo headed into the living room where several books covered the coffee table. Multiple holes dotted the shelves along the wall. She pulled The Magician card from one pocket and pointed to the border. “See this pattern.” A gold ribbon wound around the edges of the illustration. “It’s unusual. I haven’t seen it in any other Tarot design. And look here.” She pointed to one of the corners. “What do you see?”

Kassandra peered at the border and noticed a tiny wine glass woven into the design. “Hey, there’s a cup.”

“There’s a symbol for each of the four suits hidden in the border.” She pointed to each corner in turn. “Cups, wands, coins, and swords.”

“But that’s not a sword.” Kassandra pointed to what looked like a shovel in one corner.

“It’s a spade, just like on a regular deck of cards. It also stands for a sword.” Auntie Jo set the card on the coffee table next to a gob of melted wax. “It’s good to see you showing an interest in the Tarot.” She lifted one of the books off the table, which wobbled from the shift in weight. “Cards like these can center you. They let you work through your problems.” Auntie Jo hummed a tune while flipping through the pages. “This is how most decks portray The Magician.” 

An illustration showed a man in robes holding up a candle burning on both ends. He looked a lot more like the wizard type than the figure in Kassandra’s deck.

“Now look here.” Auntie Jo grinned and turned a page to a woodcut illustration depicting a group of people surrounding a small round table. One guy performed a trick with three cups and a ball while the others watched. Kassandra zeroed in on the cup game, mind flashing with the image of Luke scooting around the bottle caps.

“The card was originally called the Thimblerigger or Juggler. The kind of person who performs street magic, sleight of hand… that sort of thing.”

Kassandra wanted to compare this picture to the one in The Magician card, but when she turned back to the table, it was gone. Lifting various crystals and the covers of books revealed nothing.

“Where’d you leave The Magician card?”

“Right on the table.” Auntie Jo turned around to look. “Why?”

“No, it can’t be…” Kassandra pulled out the Tarot deck and thumbed through. Third card down. She held up The Magician.

Auntie Jo scratched her chin. “Puzzling. The card was in my pocket the whole day. This is the first time I’ve set it down.”

“It makes sense. You put it on the table. You didn’t possess it anymore.” The same thing had happened with Lindsay taking the lion card. At lunch, after everyone passed it around, it fell on the ground and zapped back.

Auntie Jo took the card and inspected it. “Let’s try an experiment.” She propped the card up on a chunky crystal. “Okay, turn around and don’t look at it.”

“What’s this going to prove?”

“Hush up and turn around, girl.”

Kassandra spun to face away from the coffee table.

“Now I’m going to go check on dinner. You stay right there.” Auntie Jo trudged off to the kitchen.

Kassandra’s mind drifted back to the woodcut illustration. Luke had been able to make the pea appear under any bottle cap. Then there was the quarter he made dance along his knuckles. It all seemed like magic, but it was only sleight of hand.

“Who-wee, it worked.” Auntie Jo clapped her hands. “Take a look.”

Kassandra turned around. The card had disappeared again. 

“Go ahead, check the deck.”

The Tarot deck had been in Kassandra’s hands the whole time. She turned over the top card—The Magician. She hadn’t felt a thing. Kassandra snapped the edge of the card with her thumbnail. This was no sleight of hand. This was real magic. 

Auntie Jo walked over. “I don’t think it works if you’re looking at the card. So long as I stared at it, the card stayed put. But the minute I turned and stirred the pot, wham, back to the deck it went.”

“Out of sight, out of mind.” Kassandra passed the card back to Auntie Jo. 

“Why are you giving this to me?”

“Call it a continuation of your experiment.”

Auntie Jo slid the card into the apron pocket. Then she eyed Kassandra. “We haven’t had a chance to talk yet about what’s going on with you.” 

Kassandra nibbled on a fingernail. This was the reason she’d snuck into her room. “I’ve been feeling a whole lot better.” She grinned. “Haven’t even thought about…you know…for days.”

“It’s not so simple.”

“Yeah, I know I won’t wake up and it’ll all be gone. But I do feel better.”

“You’ve never dealt with what happened to your father.”

An icy chill crackled through Kassandra’s limbs, frosting her heart. Why was Auntie Jo getting on her about Dad? At least she remembered him. “I’m not the one who isn’t dealing. Look at Mom.”

Auntie Jo waggled the spoon. “You refused to talk to Dr. Sheldon. Mom did and recovered.”

“No. She just dumped everything from our old life, like Dad didn’t matter.”

“You’re wrong. I know how much Louise misses your father. Before you moved down, she’d call me almost every night. Mostly just to cry about him.”

“Well, if forgetting Dad ever existed is recovered, then I’m just fine where I am.”

“You’re not. Can’t you see? You have all this pain inside you and you use the cutting to get it out.”

Auntie Jo was actually turning on her. Kassandra’s neck tensed up. She wanted to scream and cry all at the same time. 

“You have to come to terms with your father’s death.”

“But he’s not dead! I’ve seen him.” Kassandra stomped down the hall. 

“Honey…”

“Leave me alone!”

Kassandra kicked the door shut and then fell on the bed. Tears gushed out, slithering down her cheeks like serpents. She hated crying. One hand jammed into her pocket and pulled out the Death card.

“See? I’m not crazy. You are alive in there.” As if in response, the illustration of Dad’s head turned. One tear trickled around her lips, tasting salty and sweet. 

“Dad, you hear me, right?” Kassandra mopped her face with the bed sheet. “I need your help. I need you back here, in the real world.” She propped the card up against the pillow. “Or some way for me to get to you.”

Laying her head on her hands, Kassandra stared at the card. 

“I just need you.”

The First Day of School Always Sucks When You’re Crazy

Chapter 4

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.

Outside, the street was abandoned. Mostly retired folks lived in this neighborhood. No kids. Kassandra strolled to the corner where the bus was supposed to pick up. The morning mist rolled in from the ocean, chilling her knees through the holes in the jeans. 

Arroyo Grove High School was the only show in town, which meant a couple hundred kids who’d all known each other since kindergarten. Yeah, this was going to be a killer junior year. She might as well be a freshman again.

Kassandra checked the watch clipped to the purse: 7:22. The bus was supposed to pick up at 7:20. Had it already come? Walking was out of the question. She didn’t even know which direction to go. A breeze picked up and Kassandra hugged herself to keep warm. 

An engine gunned in the distance as a yellow bus chugged down the road. At least it wasn’t a short bus. Now, her mission was simple—avoid awkwardness at all costs. No tripping and don’t getting trapped in the back. 

The bus hissed to a stop and the doors cranked open. A heavyset woman with a short haircut sat behind the wheel. The bus was about three-quarters full—mostly single kids taking up a whole seat. The only open spots were near the back. 

Kassandra trudged down the aisle. A few riders flicked gazes up, though most seemed to be in an early morning daze.

The bus lurched forward as Driver Lady stepped on the gas. Kassandra’s arms flew out to grab the seats, but too late. She stumbled to the floor, purse sailing down the aisle. A slew of giggles erupted. One boy shouted out, “Nice one.”

As Kassandra stood, her jeans pulled away from a sticky goop splattered across the floor. This morning was going so well.

Someone slapped her arm. It was a brunette girl with square rimmed glasses. “The driver always does that. You have to pick a spot in a hurry.”

“Thanks.” Kassandra clenched the seat tops as the bus swung around a turn. The girl looked harmless. Kassandra could probably scoot into the same seat. But the escaped purse was still sliding along the floor in the back.

“I need to grab my purse.”

The girl shrugged, propped a knee against the seat and dove into a paperback book, folded nearly in half.

Kassandra teetered along the aisle and located the crocheted bag under the last seat. She debated trekking back to Book Girl, but that risked another fall and giggles from the bus riders. Maybe the girl was just being polite. She was busy reading and probably didn’t want some stranger butting in.

Driver Lady’s gaze flashed in the rear view mirror. “Sit down back there,” she barked.

Kassandra plopped onto the nearest seat. A giant rip covered most of the vinyl. Someone had gouged out chunks of yellow foam, leaving a deep crevice. A hint of silver metal peeked through.

Kassandra reviewed the scorecard so far—tripped and stuck in the back. At least she was consistently lame. Yanking the spiral out of her purse, she pressed it flat. White creases from the constant folding and unfolding spread like roots along the red cover.

The spiral stored all the snippets of poetry she loved, mostly lines from Romantics like Keats, Byron or Wordsworth. Scribbled notes and mind dumps inhabited the margins. On one page, she discovered part of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known

What a joy it’d be to fade away. Just toss the past and move on. Mom took the idea to extremes. If something reminded her of Dad, she sold it, gave it away, or trashed it. Kassandra chuckled. The only thing Mom couldn’t toss out was her. At least not legally.

The bus swerved into the school parking lot. Kassandra placed a hand on the window to keep from sliding into the foam pit. Everyone grabbed their backpacks and jackets. She jammed the notebook into the purse, but spotted a flash of gold peeking from behind some wadded up tissues. She reached for the mystery object.The Tarot cards from the psychic shop. Except they were on the table in the kitchen. Kassandra had seen them. Something unraveled in her brain and one thought floated to the surface—I must be going crazy

The Secret Hides in the Boot

Chapter 3

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 goal of the first day at school was to dress hip enough to not get picked on, but not so over the top to put you on the radar. 

Kassandra cracked open the dusty trunk that served as a closet and inspected the prospects with a sigh. This would’ve been so much easier with some real choices. Sure, there were plenty of shirts and accessories for the top half. But from the waist down, she was screwed. The prospects were limited: the jeans with the holes in the knees, but she’d worn those yesterday; a pair of old black jeans, now a size too small; and two shorts. Kassandra eyed a pair of the shorts. Everyone would gawk at her white thighs. Not a great first day impression. Besides, the shorts were a Mom purchase. Once upon a time, she had some kicking Capris, but Mom tossed them because they were one of Dad’s gifts.

Resigned, Kassandra chose the jeans with the ripped out knees. Better to have some holes than to pop a seam with the black constrictor pants. She snatched a not-too-girly top, slipped on the fingerless fishnet gloves and laced up the red Converse chucks from the secondhand store. They didn’t match the outfit, but they were paid for, so on they went.

The front door to the house swung shut and moments later Mom breezed past the room, blouse wrinkled and riding up in the back. Kassandra glanced at the clock, nearly seven in the morning. So Mom was using the house as hotel now—checking in and checking out.

Kassandra scooped up the crocheted purse. She needed to make a run for it before Mom figured out something to blame her for. 

“Kassandra!” Mom hollered from down the hall.

Too late.

Mom stormed into the room. A few strands of dyed black hair escaped her ponytail and dangled over her forehead like stalactites. One hand clutched the empty nail polish bottle. 

So she could spot something in all that mess.

“I found this in the trash.” Mom shook the bottle accusingly. “Were you in my room again?”

Kassandra clenched her jaw. “It’s not your room, you know.” The words came out like bullets. “Our house is still up in Seattle. At least until it sells.”

Dark blotches ringed Mom’s eyes and the corners of her mouth turned into a frown, yet not a smudge marred the immaculately drawn lipstick. 

“Okay. I can’t do this right now.” Mom waved a dismissive hand and headed back to the hall. 

Kassandra stepped forward. “So who were you shacked up with this time?”  

Mom spun around. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

“You’re so right.” Kassandra’s neck muscles tightened until they felt like guitar strings. “I guess I don’t deserve to know.”

A vein in Mom’s forehead quivered. Condition red. Hands clenched into fists. Then she took a deep breath and smoothed the creases in her blouse.

“His name is Sam.” 

Kassandra heard a distant shout, deep in her brain. Let this go, it said. This was just Mom’s way of dealing. But the guitar strings quivered—everything pulled too tight.

“Does this one even know your name, or does he call you babe?”

Mom slapped Kassandra hard enough to whip her head to the side. 

“This is why I don’t come home at night.” Mom had one finger pointed like a laser.

Kassandra’s cheek burned but she refused to rub it. “Go off with your stupid boyfriend. He’s not going to replace Dad.”

Mom glared, but then faltered, wrinkles grooving her forehead. The roots of her black hair showed tufts of grey intertwined with the natural auburn.

Her shoulders sagged. “No one will replace Dad. But it’s not about him anymore.” Mom trundled down the hall and shut the door to her room. 

Something wet struck Kassandra’s hand. She mopped up the tears but who was she fooling? Crying was pathetic. A sign of complete weakness. Kassandra whacked one of the packing boxes, over and over, the same thought replaying in her head—I’m so stupid. Finally a cardboard flap tore off and sailed to the corner of the room. It landed near her pair of purple Doc Marten boots.

Auntie Jo glanced in before continuing on to Mom’s room. The argument echoed down the hall.

“I’ve had enough of that girl. It’s always the same.”

“Maybe if you spent more time…” Auntie Jo said.

“I can’t be around her. I just can’t.”

Kassandra edged closer to her door, pulse beating erratic and hot.

“I should have left her in Seattle. Then we’d all be better off.”

Kassandra filled her lungs to bursting, not daring to exhale. Breathing would make this real. And it wasn’t. She wanted everything all at once, to march in there and scream, to crawl into a corner and whimper, to run as fast and as far away as possible.

“I’ll shower at the gym.” Mom stomped down the hall, shooting past without a single glance. The keys jingled and then the front door slammed.

Auntie Jo came in, wrapping her arms around Kassandra. “I’m so sorry, darling.”

Kassandra shivered. Everything felt numb, like watching the world from somewhere outside her body. 

Auntie Jo gave her a little squeeze. “I know you may not feel like it, but breakfast will do you a world of good.”

“Sure.” Kassandra managed a nod before Auntie Jo disappeared down the hallway.

The room fell into silence. It hurt for Kassandra to breathe, like a fist pressing against her chest. She rubbed a raised section of flesh under the fishnet glove. Kassandra needed to get things under control. 

What she needed was shoved in the toe of the Doc Martens. Kassandra pulled out the sock and unrolled it. Lines of red streaked the inside of the fabric. She picked up the razor blade, flecks of rust dotting the grip. It used to be one of Dad’s box cutters. 

One nudge, and the fishnet glove slithered down her left arm. Scars crisscrossed the pale skin—tiny stripes of white. Kassandra brought the blade down but a reflection flashed along the metal. She turned the razor flat to inspect the side and saw something in the shiny surface—chestnut brown. Then the image moved.

Dropping the razor, she scooted away. A coppery tang filled her mouth. In a moment, the metallic taste vanished.

The blade seemed normal now. It lay on the floor next to the lump of sock. The same kind Dad used a thousand times to scrape gunk off the windows. Kassandra crawled closer. Nothing reflected in the metal. She could hardly make out her own silhouette.

“Honey?” Auntie Jo called. Not at the door yet, but close. Coming down the hall.

For a second Kassandra’s mind felt heavy and sluggish. She imagined the floor splitting and the earth swallowing everything: the razor, the boot, the blood. Then reality snapped back. No one could see this. Everything went into the boot—the blade and the sock—no time for fancy wrapping.

Auntie Jo reached the door and scanned the room, a frown forming on her lips. “Are you okay?”

Kassandra glanced down at her left arm, still bare and displaying the patchwork of scars. She jerked her arms behind and tugged the glove up.

“Totally.”

Auntie Jo gave a weak smile. “I’ve got toast and bacon waiting.” She spun around. “Thy feast awaits you.” 

Kassandra paused at the door and gave the purple Doc Marten’s one last look. 

Had she really seen anything or was it just more loopiness on her part? The color burned into her brain—chestnut—so familiar. Goose pimples sprouted along her skin.

Those were Dad’s eyes. But that wasn’t possible. Not ever.