Kassandra Buys Herself a New Life

Chapter 11

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.

Riiip!

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.”

“Uh, thanks.”

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. 

San Diego Comic Con Shopping Spree

Even though I live in the same city as the San Diego Comic Con, I still treat it as a vacation. Thus, vacation spending. I give myself a budget and then spend every penny of it. Here are some stand out items (and where to find them) on the Exhibition Floor.

The first booth I plopped cash down was “Fuzzy Balls Apparel”. Yes, clever name. They were responsible for the hand sewn apple and the “eye” flower (which is actually a hair clip). You can find them at booth 4839. Another of my favorite booths is Conduct Happiness (booth 4832), home of the Pea, as in “pea in the pool” or the “pea pea dance.” I picked up another hair clip for my daughter here. The stuffed Frankenstein was from The Bijou Collectibles (booth C-01). I can’t recall where I picked up the stuffed kitty.

I’m always a sucker for steampunk and no one does it better than Weta (booth 3513B). I picked up yet another fabulous book from Dr. Grordbort. This year, it was Triumph, Unnecessarily Violent Tales of Science Adventure for the Simple and Unfortunate – written and illustrated by Greg Broadmore. I grabbed the last Berry Ninja apron (for kids). I can’t recall the booth, but I do know it was right next to Fuzzy Balls Apparel. Finally, the small book you see is “Wonderland Alphabet” giving each letter an Alice in Wonderland twist. This was from Archaia Entertainment (booth 2635). I just read this book to my daughter. It really goes deep into both Alice Books (Wonderland and Looking Glass).

I’m love T-shirts, but I detest the standard black or white fair. Snap T-shirts (I can’t locate the booth number, but it was near artist’s alley). This guy hand screens the shirts himself. Hard to see in this picture, but the shirt is a burgundy color. The book is called “So Good for Little Bunny” by Brandi Milne. This was from a combo booth with Griz Grimley and other artists (this might be booth 501). Finally the Frankenstein is a “Kooky Kans” from Mixo (booth 4633).

Enjoy the comic con and remember, there are ATMs in the lobby.

Tim Kane

Life Without Amazon

My New Years’ resolution is to shop, as often as possible, away from Amazon. Why? As an author, I’ve noticed some less than savory practices from this corporate giant lately. It seems that the fellas over at the longest river bookstore are leveraging their power to crush and manipulate consumers and authors.

Amazon launched its KDP Select program for authors selling ebooks through its site. They threw out offers like a $500,000 pool of cash. Also a monthly income of $7,500. It all sounds great until you read the fine print. By signing up, the author cannot sell his/her book anywhere else (including a personal website). Also this pool of cash is based on the percentage of sales of all ebooks that month. So, unless you’re a top ten author, your take could easily be pennies. Plus, you’ve cut off any sales from other websites. Add to that the fact that Amazon has moved the link to opt out and you’ve got a massive ebook collection for them and a lot of starving writers.

Now, let’s look at Amazon’s price check app. This little goodie was a one day rollout where customers were encouraged to enter a brick and mortar store, take a picture of a product, and then buy it through Amazon. The incentive…?  Amazon gave customers a $5 price break.

As both a customer and a writer I was maddened. Yet, why did I continue to shop Amazon? Mostly, it boiled down to laziness. Amazon’s site was just so easy to use. I made it a priority to branch out. Inconvenience myself a little bit.

Fist off, books. I admit, I had already downloaded some ebooks through the kindle app. Loved it. But it turns out there are plenty of other sites out there willing to sell an ebook. I just bought a Nook and I have to say, the reading experience is superior. For dead-tree-books, I have to rely on the Barnes and Noble chain (as it’s the only bookstore in my city).

Then came the wish list. Now I tried other sites like wishlistr. Frankly they sucked. Amazon simply has the best wish list. Even Barnes and Noble was cumbersome to use. So I decided to work in reverse. I’ll keep my lists up in Amazon, but buy from other stores. I use the wish list mostly as a bookmark anyway.

So if you’re trying to quit Amazon, it is possible. Yeah, you might pay a bit more. Plus you’ll have to say toodle loo to the $25 free shipping. No one said supporting authors would be easy.

Tim Kane