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 kept one hand jammed in the purse the whole bus ride home, silently counting to seven-hundred, in increments of twenty, over and over. At the stop, she speed-walked down the block. An extra car sat parked in the drive next to the blue Beetle. Probably a client hoping to hear how she was Marie Antoinette in a former life. Kassandra still didn’t see why people paid Auntie Jo for made up nonsense.
Slipping into the garage, she wrangled her bike from between two stacks of moving boxes, still unopened after months. Before anyone could notice, Kassandra hopped on and pedaled away. Wind gusted down the street, tossing a McDonald’s wrapper along the curb. Arroyo Grove didn’t have a shopping district. More like a two block area with some retail stores and a strip mall. They only had one Starbucks.
The hem of her jeans caught in the gears. The bike veered toward someone’s front yard. Squeezing the brakes stopped the bike short, catapulting Kassandra into a bush. Leaves poked everywhere. Perfect. A spider was probably crawling on her somewhere.
She wrestled free of the bush but almost fell flat on the sidewalk, one pant leg still tethered to the gears. Pulling away, the last of the hem tore off. Now one side of the pants was higher than the other. It looked like she was leaning.
The fabric had wrapped itself around the chain and gears and she had to crank the wheel a few times to pull it out. In moments black grease coated her fingertips. Kassandra wiped them on the jeans. What did it matter now? The pants were beyond ruined.
After reaching Arroyo Grove’s downtown, she hit the first store on the block, a boutique selling designer jeans with those pre-faded sections. The clerk flicked an annoyed look, focusing on the shredded jeans and second hand shirt.
Kassandra grabbed the first pair on the rack and headed toward the register. The size was wrong. Way too small. She swapped them for a pair the right size, but her mouth dropped open at the price. Nearly eighty dollars. She could buy a pair at the thrift store for fifteen. And with those, the faded sections would be authentic.
Still, Kassandra handed the clerk four twenties. The girl held one to the light. Shoot, the watermark. Those twenties definitely wouldn’t have the ghostly picture of Mr. Jackson. Any minute now the girl would confiscate the whole wad. Maybe even call the police.
The cash register rang as the girl made change. The money was real. Real enough anyway.
Kassandra asked for a changing room. The clerk raised an eyebrow, but then pointed at the back. With the curtain closed, the old tattered jeans came off. Kassandra inspected the new eighty-dollar pants. She should have tried them on before buying. What if they didn’t fit?
She wiggled into the pants and found they hugged her hips perfectly. A glance in the mirror showed no bulges or lumpy seams. Snatching up the Swiss cheese jeans, she headed out.
“Hey.” the clerk said.
Kassandra’s heart kicked up its tempo. The clerk discovered something wrong with the money. Had to be it.
The girl smiled. “Those jeans look killer on you.”
Outside, Kassandra spied a garbage can. Bunching up the grungy jeans, she shoved them in. “Adios. Even Goodwill wouldn’t want you.”
Once they were out of sight, Kassandra felt different, as if recovering from a long and nasty flu. Running her fingers along the fabric of the new pants, they felt like they’d been worn forever.
She used to love shopping. Dad would just hand over twenty or forty dollars and say: “Go buy something fun.” Ducking into a store, Kassandra would emerge with a new skirt or top. Dad never complained. He waited outside, no matter how long it took. When she asked what he thought of the new clothes, he’d always say the same thing: “If you love it, then so do I.”
Mom considered of all those clothes gifts. One day everything was gone. Donated or dumped in the trash. Who knew? The clothes reminded Mom of Dad and no amount of screaming would bring them back. Only a couple of items survived, all bought with summer job money.
She stared at the stores lining the block. It was time to build a new Kassandra. Every clothing shop seemed to have just the thing. Perfect pinstriped skinny jeans. A zipper hoodie, cut to fit her curves. Even a new pair of Converse Chucks without any scuff marks along the rubber edging. By the end, she toted two enormous bags loaded with enough clothes to put together a dozen outfits. All new. No one else had worn those clothes. Ever.
Kassandra slipped into the bathroom at the local coffee shop and suited up in a cami top, the zipper hoodie, and the new Chucks. She felt a bit like her old Seattle self.
The sky had darkened to a deep blue, the wisps of clouds highlighted with an orange glow. She was tempted to linger and watch the sunset, but Auntie Jo would chew her out if she wasn’t home before dark. As it was, Auntie Jo was going to wonder where the new outfits came from. Should Kassandra admit to cash appearing in her bag? Speaking off…
She plunged into the new red and black tartan purse. The crocheted bag held the old T-shirt and secondhand shoes. The new purse was teeny in comparison and barely held the Tarot cards and the rest of the mad money. Eighteen dollars and some change.
Jeez-us. Kassandra had burned through nearly seven-hundred dollars in a couple of hours. How was that even possible? She shook the Tarot cards. “Anymore money in there?” Of course nothing happened.
She pawed through the shopping bags, trying to tally up the purchases. There had to be a mistake somewhere. Maybe an overcharge. Except Kassandra hadn’t even glanced at the prices. I was all buy, buy, buy. She cringed, neck muscles tightening. Auntie Jo was going to kill her.
Maybe a gift? Bribery always works, right? The Psychic Mind bookstore was across the street. A breeze picked up, dragging the briny scent of rotting seaweed from the beach.
Dropping the bags on the sidewalk, Kassandra caught her refection in the glass of the shop and smiled. She zipped up the hoodie and twisted to the side to admire her butt. There was nothing Lindsay could say about this.
Reaching for the door, Kassandra found it locked. A glance at the window showed a sign reading CLOSED. What sort of hours did they keep? She rattled the door, but it wasn’t going to open. The hours on the window read: 10 am – 8 pm. But it was only six. What was the deal with this place? She jerked on the door handle again.
With nothing for Auntie Jo, Kassandra faced the long trek home. How could she hide all these clothes? Impossible. Plus her old jeans were gone, which meant waltzing in all decked out. Auntie Jo would fire up the stove and grill her, wanting to know where the money came from.
Too bad it wasn’t just Mom. She flitted around like Kassandra was a ghost. Which usually got on her nerves, but now she’d pay for it.