Mom is Gaga Over Her New Crush

Chapter 18

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 blue Beetle pulled into the drive and Kassandra and Auntie Jo burst through the front door to escape the rain. The iPhone sat charging on the counter with no sign of Mom, probably holed up in her room. She was kind of like Bigfoot. There was proof she existed, but sightings were rare.

Auntie Jo kept Kassandra busy in the kitchen, cleaning up olive pits and tomato scraps, and wiping down the counter. The knife was off limits, even though Kassandra had chopped veggies hundreds of times before. Did Auntie Jo really think she’d pull down her gloves and get started right there? But there was no room to complain. At least Mom was still in the dark.

With dinner ready, Auntie Jo called everyone to the table. Kassandra cringed. Mom hardly ever joined in—usually opting for the room service option. Auntie Jo must’ve hoped for a family meal bonding experience, where everyone shared what they did that day. All smiles and giggles. Well Mom revoked her family card the day she dragged Kassandra to this crummy town. 

Mom waltzed in, phone in hand, and flopped into a chair. Not the least bit hungry, Kassandra curled one noodle around her fork and popped it into her mouth. Maybe she could chew this for the rest of dinner and not have to talk.

“The rain’s really coming down, wouldn’t you say?” Auntie Jo smiled, hooking the apron on the chair and sitting.

“Uh huh.” Mom positioned the phone next to the plate as if it were a new addition to the settings: spoon, fork, phone. If Kassandra tried the same thing, she’d find her phone locked up. Of course, she didn’t even have one to lock up. 

A new message popped up with a chirp. Mom inspected the screen and giggled. She was texting her boyfriend—Jim or Mat? Shouldn’t that be a Kassandra thing? She was the teenager here. But if Mom stayed distracted, then there was hope for surviving dinner. 

“How’s the pasta?” Auntie Jo smiled a little too wide. “I got the recipe from one of my clients.” 

Kassandra enthusiastically chewed the one noodle in response.

Mom nodded. Though she could’ve been responding to the text. Her gaze was glued to the tiny screen.

This wasn’t how dinners used to be. When Dad was around, Mom wouldn’t shut up. She’d go on and on about her day. Sometimes it really bored Kassandra, but now she missed it.

“Everything we’re eating is fresh.” Auntie Jo mixed the sauce into the pasta. “Since Kassandra left school early, we rolled by the Co-op.” 

Kassandra’s stomach twisted into new and interesting pretzel shapes and she shot Auntie Jo a look. Why had she let that slip? 

Mom surveyed the dinner table as if it were some new restaurant. “Why’d you leave school early?” She wasn’t angry yet, but a motherly tone infected her voice. “You should have called me.”

Kassandra nearly laughed. Like Mom cared. “It’s nothing. Just got sick is all.” 

“Oh. Must be this cold weather.” Mom forked an olive and popped it in her mouth. “You need to wear a jacket.”

Yeah, that was it. Because Kassandra didn’t know cold coming from Seattle. She liked Mom better when she didn’t pretend to care.

Mom twisted toward the phone, fingers making clicky noises as they tapped on the screen. 

A wave of tension crested inside Kassandra, peaking at the base of her skull. What was Mom typing? Wish you were here? No, probably the other way around. Something like: I’m stuck here with my stupid family. 

Normally Kassandra tuned Mom out, but tonight it felt like an insect burrowed just beneath the skin. Every time the phone clicked or binged, the bug dug an inch deeper. 

“Would you stop that?” Kassandra tossed her fork down. Mom whipped her head up. “It’s ridiculous. You’re too old to be all gaga over some guy. Give it a rest.”

Mom stiffened. “I don’t believe I asked your opinion.”

“Listen guys.” Auntie Jo flashed Kassandra a look. “I know no one’s feeling top notch tonight.”

Kassandra squeezed the fork until the metal dug into the skin. “It’s rude. We’re having dinner and all you can do is text.”

Mom slapped the table causing her silverware to clank against the bowl. “Why can’t I have anything for myself? I work hard…”

“Yeah right. And who bought you that new toy?” 

“Now Kassandra…” Auntie Jo tried to assume a parental tone.

Mom gave Kassandra a look that sizzled the air between them. Then the phone buzzed and Mom glanced down.

“Jesus, Mom. Did you just forget Dad?”

“Kassandra!” Auntie Jo half stood out of her seat.

“I’d sure like to get over him as quickly as you did. Can you give me your secret?”

“Go to your room!” Mom’s whole body trembled.

“Not a problem.” Kassandra shoved her chair out. “Dinner was great Jo. Save me some.”

“You’ll go now!” Mom jabbed a finger down the hall.

“What’s the point trying to talk to you? It’s not like we’re even a family anymore.” Kassandra marched down the hall and into her room. 

Leaning against the door, she sucked in a long breath. It did nothing to calm her. Kassandra’s body felt tense and jittery. The argument with Mom jabbing at her brain. 

She spied the purple Doc Martens in the corner and knelt by them, pulling out the sock. Red lines marked the places where blood had stained the fabric. She cradled the razor in her hands. Such a small thing. Yet it had caused so much trouble. The handle of curved metal was flecked orange with rust. Kassandra held the blade over her arm. No intention of actually cutting. Just a familiar action, long ingrained in her memory. The length of the razor seemed the perfect size for the scars peeking through her fishnet gloves. 

Kassandra looked at the door. Auntie Jo had been too gung-ho about dinner to search in here yet. But it was only a matter of time. Just as soon as Mom left red alert status.

“I need to stash this.”

Options around the room were limited. There was the bed, the massive trunk coated with dust, and the books lining the walls. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She should have thought of a place earlier. Everything looked so obvious. Kassandra glanced at the door, fingers rubbing the handle of the blade. Just a few minutes was all she needed.

Back to the book shelves again. Auntie Jo hardly touched them since Kassandra moved in. Though she’d probably tear the place apart during school tomorrow.

Dust caked most of the shelves, but some spots were disturbed where Auntie Jo had removed books recently. Kassandra kept scanning until finding a section blanketed in dust, and spied three books on poetry, nestled on the end of one shelf. Two were thick anthologies, but the third was a slim volume tucked into a cardboard slip case. Perfect. The case could hold the blade during inspection. Unless Auntie Jo decided to tackle the books page by page, the razor would be safe.

Kassandra gingerly lifted the book out without disturbing the dust and then slid it from the case. Flipping it open at random, Keats’ name appeared smack at the top of the page. Only the last two lines of the poem were there, but it was one Kassandra had read hundreds of times: Ode to a Nightingale.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

       Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

A trembling sensation spread into Kassandra’s arms and legs. Everything felt mixed up now, like a nightmare, except she was wide awake.  It all used to be so simple. Poems weren’t loaded with meaning. And she had been a normal girl. Back when Dad was alive.

Kassandra wedged the razor near the binding. Just before snapping the book shut, she noticed some red from the blade rubbed off on the page—a scrawl underlining the last line. She wiggled the book back into its slip case and positioned it on the shelf to match the dust footprint. 

Then the sock went straight into the purse. Kassandra couldn’t risk throwing it out here. She’d have to toss it at school. Her hand brushed the Tarot deck. In a moment, she had the deck out and found the Death card. Lying on the bed, Kassandra set the card on the pillow. It was good to see Dad, even if it was only a picture that looked like him. 

“I wish you were really here,” It felt weird saying this out loud. Kind of like she was speaking to a person and not some rectangle of paper. “When you were around, Mom was still Mom.”

Chin settled on the bed, she stared at the illustration, waiting for Dad’s head to move again. Drowsiness curled around Kassandra, willing her eyes to shut. If she was patient enough, Dad’s head would move. 

Her fingers tingled as if falling asleep. But then the tingling picked up in her toes too. She tried to shift positions, but couldn’t let go of the card. Her arms prickled as if someone had dragged a comb lightly along the skin. Sleep tugged at her eyelids. The world faded away and her mind switched off.

Just before Kassandra dissolved into slumber, something shifted on the card. The room darkened, but the illustration glowed. A bitter coppery taste filled her mouth. Then Dad turned his head to stare.

Kassandra’s Secret is Exposed

Chapter 17

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?”

Kassandra nodded.

“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?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

The Magical Pea

Chapter 16

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.

Rain pattered the cement in front of Kassandra’s feet. What genius decided to leave the strip between the cafeteria and the lunch arbor unprotected? It answered her question from before. They didn’t cancel lunch when it rained. Students simply got doused on the way to their seats.

She and Luke could’ve opted for the gym where most of the students went. But being smashed in a sweaty room, elbow to elbow with everyone else, didn’t appeal to Kassandra. She’d deal with the wind and the rain.

They dashed through the downpour, snagging a table in the mostly deserted lunch arbor. Kassandra had forgotten to pull the hood up and hair plastered her skull in curly gobs. Instead of scowling, a smile crossed her face. For once she was actually glad to be at school.

What changed? Just someone called Luke Rykell. He’d stuck close through every class. Best of all, no one said a thing about Dad the whole day. Sure, people had whispered and gawked—things that normally would’ve sent Kassandra over the edge—but they all hushed up when she strolled past with Luke. Just his presence in the room made everyone chill. 

So there they were, sitting at the same lunch table, trays butting up against each other. It felt like a dream.

“So you’re from England.” It was a lame start and Kassandra knew it, but she needed something to get the conversation going. Until now they’d only had time for chitchat between classes. Lunch was the first opportunity to really talk. 

He nodded, tipping back a bottle of Dr. Pepper. 

“Tell me again why you don’t sound English? I thought accents stuck around.”

Luke’s face tensed. Kassandra hadn’t meant it as an accusation.

“My brother and I travel a lot.”

“Military?”

He looked confused, so she tried again. “Your family. Are they in the Army or Navy or something?”

A corner of his mouth pulled out in a grin. “Not really.” Luke bit into today’s special, pizza with spongy cheese topping. “What about you? Why’d you leave Seattle?”

He would have to ask about the move. “It’s not like I had a choice.” Kassandra fiddled with the water bottle cap. “My Dad…” she started, but didn’t know how to continue. 

Should she tell him? He’d find out soon. The gossip wouldn’t stay away forever with most of the school in on it.

The rain intensified, sending the few stragglers packing for the auditorium. The wind kicked up and a sprinkle of droplets coated Kassandra’s tray and face.

“My mom just up and left everything. The house. My friends. My whole life.”

“Must be tough.” Luke used a spork to scoot around the peas and carrots on the Styrofoam plate. The meal came with a requisite vegetable side dish. She’d opted for salad. 

“Do you still keep in touch with anyone up there?” 

Kassandra shook her head. “Stuff happened and it kind of soured my relationship with friends.” She took a bite of pizza. The wind had turned the cheese topping into a rubbery varnish.

“Doesn’t sound like they were very good friends.”

She’d never though of it that way. After Dad died, Kassandra wasn’t much fun to be around. But a good friend would’ve stuck with her. No matter what.

“Hey, didn’t you say you have a brother?” 

Worry lines bunched up along Luke’s forehead. “We don’t really get along.”

“But didn’t you say you traveled with him? Is he older or something?” Maybe the parents were out of the picture and this brother supported Luke.

“I’m not going to talk about him.” 

“Okay. Just me being nosey.” Kassandra chewed on a fingernail. Now she’d gone and made him upset. Looking up, she felt a raw energy spin out of Luke. It sent goosebumps up her arms. 

“No, You’re just observant.” He reached forward, took the bottle of water, and before Kassandra could object, removed the cap. “Let’s test how observant.” 

He dropped to the ground and rummaged around, finally popping up with a second plastic cap. The Dr. Pepper cap made the third. “I’m sure you’ve seen this game before.” Luke plucked a single pea off his plate and set it on the table, covering it with Kassandra’s bottle cap. “Can you find the pea?”

“Do I have to bet money or something?”

“No, just for fun.” Luke set the two other plastic caps on either side. 

“Now this rhyme, called Magical Pea, was written by the ancient Greek Pythagoras.” He lifted the middle cap, revealing the pea for a moment. The Dr. Pepper cap on the left was red. Her water bottle cap in the center was white, and the one fished off the ground was blue. It looked like an American flag. How could this possibly merit a challenge? All she needed to do was choose the white one.

“The magical pea hides under a shell.” Luke covered it with the white cap.

 “I’ll slide it slowly, so you can tell…” He shifted the cap with the pea to the right, leaving the red Dr. Pepper cap isolated at the far left.

 “…just where it’s going, this magical pea.” Now Luke slid the red cap all the way over to the right. The pea was back in the middle again.

 “Where are you? Where are you?” He slipped the blue cap to the right. 

 “Under one, two, or three?”

Kassandra knew the pea was under the white cap on the far left. She’d kept her eyes on it the whole time.

“It’s this one.”

Luke flipped the cap back with one finger. Empty. 

“I told you the pea is magical, didn’t I.” He removed the white cap. Now only two remained. “Look, you have a fifty-fifty chance.” He slid the red Dr. Pepper cap forward.

Kassandra knew it couldn’t be the one he offered, so she touched the blue cap. “That one.”

“You sure? If you were betting money, you’d probably lose.”

“But I’m not. It’s just for fun.” She smiled and tapped it. “This one.”

Luke lifted the cap. Nothing.

Kassandra glanced at the red cap. He flipped it to reveal the pea.

“I have no idea how you did that.”

“I’d like to say it’s magic, but mostly it’s about reading people.”

He’d said the same thing before. Right after he knew all those things about Lindsay. 

Just then, the school’s speakers blared to life with a hiccup of static. “Kassandra Troy. Kassandra Troy. Please report to the front office.”

Auntie Jo must’ve called, thinking she was saving Kassandra. But things had changed. She didn’t want to leave school. In fact there was absolutely nowhere else she wanted to be.

Luke Seems to Know What Kassandra is Thinking

Chapter 15

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.

Drawing nearer to class, Kassandra’s pace accelerated. Every step brought thoughts of bolting for the nearest exit. But she couldn’t abandon Luke. Walking next to him felt great.

They rounded the corner and the door to Honor’s English loomed. Kassandra halted. The squeak of Ms. Beehive’s marker on the whiteboard penetrated all the way into the hall. Luke stepped forward, gripping the door handle. “It’s only high school.” 

Easy for him to say. He’d probably blink and have twenty friends.

Luke opened the door and strolled inside. Ms. Beehive paused, the marker hovering above the board. Rather than head straight to the teacher, he stepped to the side to allow Kassandra to enter. Now Lindsay and her flock had an unobstructed view. Thankfully, the socialites seemed fixated on Luke. At least Mr. Good Looks could act as a distraction. Kassandra slid into the room, dropped the tardy slip on the desk, and hauled butt to the back of the class.

Lindsay muttered, “Daddy’s girl,” just loud enough to hear.

Kassandra faltered, almost nosediving into a row of chairs. Tears built up, ready to gush. She plopped in the chair and kept her head down. Just breathe. Survive this class. 

Ms. Beehive introduced Luke. Kassandra heard some desks scooting and looked up to see Lindsay clearing a spot next to her. She banished a minion to a farther orbit to make room. Shocker.

Luke strolled down the aisle and stopped at the seat. Then winked. Not at Lindsay, but at Kassandra. She instantly looked down. What was the point in watching? Luke would get sucked into the cinnamon-scented vortex soon enough.

Ms. Beehive resumed the lesson. Kassandra tried to focus on taking notes, but instead imagined Lindsay leaning in, maybe even letting her hair brush his shoulder.

A chair screeched across the linoleum loud enough for even Ms. Beehive to stop lecturing. Oh God—it was Luke. He headed straight for Kassandra. Scanning the class showed Book Girl in attendance, so no empty seats back here. Luke stopped right in front of Kassandra’s desk. 

He leaned next to The Browless One. “Would you mind if I sat here?”

The Browless One glared at Kassandra, as if she had something to do with this. Then he bundled up his things and scuttled over to the only seats left, those ringing the social elite. Lindsay winced when the boy sat one chair over. 

Luke plunked down in the now empty seat.

“Are we ready?” Ms. Beehive folded her arms.

“Certainly.” Luke grinned.

Ms. Beehive continued the lesson.

Luke tilted his head to speak softly. “The view’s better from back here, don’t you think?”

Kassandra nodded, but didn’t dare look up. She didn’t want to encounter the laser beams of pure hate, sure to be emanating from Lindsay. 

The bell rang and the class exploded into activity. Kassandra shoved the notes into her purse. She needed to beat Lindsay to the hall. Maybe Auntie Jo had called. Luke grabbed her arm. “You said you’re new to this school. Where from?”

“Um.” How did she blow off a guy who was kind of cute? “Seattle.”

“Really?” He tossed a beaten up binder into his backpack. “I think I have you beat though.”

“I didn’t know it was a contest.”

Luke raised one eyebrow. “Of course. Everything is.” He whispered one word: “England.”

This stopped Kassandra. The boy didn’t have the slightest accent.

Luke held up one hand in defense. “Yeah, I know. I don’t sound like the Brit type. But I’m well traveled. Haven’t been back there in years.” He slung his backpack over one shoulder. The torn strap hung on by only a few threads. 

“Now, you wouldn’t know where I could find this class?” He showed a schedule with all the same classes as Kassandra’s, down to the crappy P.E. and shower just before lunch.

“I guess we’re going to the same place.”

“Lucky me.”

She frowned. Why would this guy want to spend time with her when someone like Lindsay Barker was throwing herself at him? With absolute despicable timing, Lindsay sauntered over, complete with the usual entourage. Diana was back too. This was so much fun. Kassandra wanted to charge into the halls, screaming.

“You know,” Lindsay leaned toward Luke, “you really shouldn’t associate with girls like Kassandra. I Googled her name and you won’t believe what popped up.” She flipped her bangs so they grazed her perfect eyelashes. “Let’s just say this girl will leave you hanging.”

A fluttering sensation started up in Kassandra’s stomach like she might retch. 

“Good one.” Marco high-fived Diana. Apparently he was fully recovered from yesterday’s fit of extreme boredom.

“Leslie, right?” Luke scrunched his face up, thinking.

“Lindsay.” She sounded miffed.

He waved a hand to brush off the difference. “Why are you so keen on me? Word is you’re going out with some guy named Marco.”

Diana spun on Lindsay. Her gaze burned hot enough to melt lead.

“What?” Lindsay glanced from Diana to Luke. “Who told you that?”

“Hey, I’m new here. Don’t really know everyone’s name.” Luke readjusted the strap of his backpack. “But I heard you two were making out the end of last semester.”

Diana shoved Marco. “You told me you were just tutoring.”

Marco held up his hands to fend off a punch. “It’s not true babe.”

“He’s right. You know I wouldn’t…” Lindsay said.

Diana cut her off. “I knew you were a sneaky bitch, but keep your paws off my boyfriend.”

Luke tugged Kassandra toward the exit. In moments, they escaped into the hall.

“How’d you know about that?” she asked.

“I’m good at reading people. They can say a lot without speaking a word.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He turned and gave Kassandra a look. “What you have to say is fascinating.”

“Okay? Do I want to know?” 

“Well, first off, you look like you could use a friend.”

Great, so now she gave off the desperate vibe. “Just because I’m new here, doesn’t mean I haven’t met anyone.”

Luke shrugged. “I’m just saying… it’s good to have someone to talk to, you know.” He pointed down the hall. “Is it this way? I don’t want to be late.”

Kassandra shook her head and indicated the other direction. Then they were walking. Together. To math class.

What just happened? One moment her life sucked and then Luke appeared. It felt like a movie with the credits about to roll any second.

She bit her lip. This was only one period. They’d chat and Luke would discover the real, and totally boring Kassandra Troy. Then he’d be off for someone new. Maybe not Lindsay—burned that bridge. But he was handsome, so it wouldn’t be hard. 

Kassandra’s hand slipped into her purse to grab some lip screen, but brushed up against the Tarot cards instead. The last card, the one where the image went all disappearing act in the bathroom, that was the Magician. She glanced at Luke. Was he something conjured up by the deck? He seemed a lot less supernatural than all the other cards. Cuter too.

Luke reached down and grasped Kassandra’s hand. A tingle scampered up her arm. Then this god-awful smile sprang to life. She couldn’t help it. Maybe he wouldn’t get bored. Maybe she didn’t care. Kassandra could enjoy this ride as long as it lasted.

The School Discovers Kassandra’s Secret

Chapter 13

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.

Silver streams of water trickled from the blue Beetle. Kassandra stood on the curb in front of Arroyo Grove High School, rain pelting her bare head. 

Auntie Jo leaned out the driver’s side window. “Remember what I told you. Don’t take the cards out of your purse.”

“Yeah, got it.” A droplet slid down Kassandra’s neck. She’d hoped, in spite of things, to show off the new clothes, but now they were soaked.

“I’m going to see if there’s something I can dig up to block or bind them.” Auntie Jo gunned the motor. “They’re still in the baggie?”

Kassandra reached into the purse and felt the slick plastic of the baggie. The seal had popped open and the corner of one card nosed out. No need to worry Auntie Jo. She nodded and said, “Yup, they’re in there.”

“Good.” Auntie Jo threw the Volkswagen into gear. Somewhere under the hood, metal ground against metal. “I’ll pick you up after school.” She cranked the window up and then looked at the dashboard. Kissing two fingers, Auntie Jo touched the photo of Ronald.

Kassandra jogged toward the main building, fending off the rain with one hand. It was a futile effort. The new zip-up hoodie and jeans were drenched. As she cruised down the halls, sneakers squeaking, kids pointed and chuckled. Nearly everyone was checking her out. One girl even snapped a photo. 

Maybe everyone was used to seeing her as a bag lady. Not today. Wet or not, these clothes were killer. Kassandra fluffed up her damp hair. Farther down the hall, Lindsay and the fashionistas lounged by a bank of lockers. Kassandra picked up the pace, adding a smidgeon of swish to her stride, daring them to look.

Lindsay squished her perfect eyebrows together, taking in the new outfit. Then Diana leaned over and whispered something. Lindsay broke into giggles and pointed. The rest of the group followed suit, tittering away.

Kassandra hustled down the hall and glanced at her clothes. Was something wrong? Had she spattered milk across her pants or what?

“Don’t forget to check your locker,” Alexxa called.

Kassandra pulled at the fishnet gloves. What did they do? Her mind ran through the possibilities. Everything from an egg splattered door to them somehow getting the combination and jacking all the books.

Sprinting around the corner, Kassandra saw a clump of students huddled around her locker. They shuffled back, revealing something strung through the vents in the door. It was a noose made out of white string with a slip of paper taped to the end.

Kassandra’s pulse slowed to a creep. She couldn’t go any closer, yet her feet inched forward on their own. A computer printout dangled from the noose—showing writing along with a color picture. It took a moment to figure it out. Then her heart hiccupped. The photo showed a man hanging from a noose. A dead man. But it wasn’t him. Wrong shirt. 

The words underneath read:

Kassandra Troy wants to die 

just like her daddy.

Fat tears struck her arms. She couldn’t breathe. 

How did they find out?

She turned and tore through the halls. Her rational mind took charge just long enough to recognize the bathroom door. Kassandra barreled through and dove into a stall. 

A kick knocked the door closed, but then it bounced back open. She screamed and slammed it shut, twisting the lock so hard it hurt. This couldn’t happen again. They left the house, the town, everything behind. 

Kassandra collapsed on the toilet seat. “Daddy.” 

Her chest heaved in and out. A thought crystallized: Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take control.

A wave of sobbing struck again. One hand responded by sliding into the new purse, feeling for the pushpin at the bottom. It closed around the Tarot deck instead. She yanked the baggie out and hurled it forward. 

“Get away from me!”

Thwack.

The baggie hit the stall door and ripped open. Cards spilled onto the floor. Kassandra attacked the purse, finally locating the pushpin in one corner. Yanking down one of the fishnet gloves revealed streaks of white along her arm. The scars rose up like little highways crisscrossing her skin. 

Kassandra hadn’t thought of them as suicide attempts. She didn’t want to die. Cutting was more of a release. No one knew about the razor hidden in the Doc Martens. Not Auntie Jo. Certainly not Mom. But Kassandra wasn’t at home. All she had was this lousy pushpin. The tip hovered over her skin. Her fingers held it with the skill of an experienced surgeon. 

This was wrong. She was a freak. But only the pain helped. She pressed down. A tiny dot of red bubbled up, screaming louder than she ever could. Everything Kassandra couldn’t control. 

She moved the pin up and started again.

A chill surged along through Kassandra as her breathing trickled to a scant inhale. Get a grip. Shove those stupid tears back inside where they belong.

It was done. Five pricks of red dotted her arm. She let the stillness spin out from the inside. The pin went back in the purse. A paper towel would blot up the blood. With the glove pulled up, no one would ever notice. She stood, ready to twist open the stall door, but found herself staring down.

What happened to the cards? They should’ve scattered all over. Kassandra inspected the whole stall, finally spotting the deck stacked just below the toilet. A single card stuck out from the neat pile. She reached for it and hesitated, knowing the card would be something bad. The gold pattern on the back looked scarred, the same as her arm. 

Kassandra grasped the card. Flipped it. The Magician. 

The figure looked like a clown with those puffy red sleeves. He had thin chicken legs, turned at a weird angle. It was ridiculous. Then the color faded from his outfit. It went from red to pink to light grey. Finally gone. He was gone. Everything else on the card remained. The table. The cup and three coins. The stained glass window. Only the figure of the man vanished.

The hairs along Kassandra’s neck prickled. She triggered it.