Chapter One

The white noise machine whirred softly in the background by my office door. My client Mary let out an extended, slow exhale with her palms on her knees as she looked at the tarot cards lying before her.
“So… you think I should go for the job?” she asked.
“If you want the change, then, yes. If not, well…” I gestured toward the 8 of swords and 5 of cups in the card spread.
“Misery,” she muttered.
“Could be. These cards seem to say that if you stay, you’ll feel trapped by your own decisions, and that would take a toll on your emotions…your relationships, even. Unhappiness at work spills into the rest of our lives.” She nodded quickly, lost in the pictures. I suddenly felt a tickle in the pit of my stomach. It was the sensation I got when someone wasn’t being honest.
She was withholding information. I turned over the tarot deck to see the bottom card. King of Swords.
“Who is this?” I asked, placing the card on the table. Beneath it was the Two of Cups.
“Your boss?” I asked, looking from one card to the other. She looked up at me, her eyes darting off to the right.
“Oh, I see,” I said. “A relationship.”
“H-how did—how did you know?” she asked, her mouth agape.
“Mary, you were holding out on me!” I said with a smile. It was rare for me to get such a strong accurate feeling, but I rolled with it.
“Dammit, I’m—I’m sorry, Krystal, it’s just…the situation is kind of ridiculous.” I waved my hand and chuckled.
“Nothing is ridiculous, love. Emotional involvement is always a tricky situation. So…” I leaned forward, placing a hand under my chin.
“Now that we see the whole picture, what does the 5 of Cups mean to you if you stay?” She stared at the spread for a while, looking repeatedly at the King of Swords, back to the 5 of Cups.
“That what we have wouldn’t last if I stayed. No matter how convincing she might be.” I nodded.
“She’s got a way with words, right? Tells you everything you want to hear?”
“Yeah.” I watched her posture slowly droop into the La-Z-Boy that was already threatening to swallow her small frame. Her lower lip quivered as she dug her chewed nails into her knees. I handed her my tissue box.
“Happens to the best of us, love. No need to be ashamed. High five for bonin’ the boss, though, amirite?” I asked, holding up my hand. Mary snorted, and erupted into a mix of laughter and tears.
“You’re terrible, Krystal,” she said, wiping her eyes and nose. “But thank you. I needed that.”
“Look, I’ve had plenty of my own unsavory judgment calls, and I turned out all right. You will too. Hell, you already have a great job offer. And it seems like they’re just waiting for you to say yes,” I said, pointing back down at the cards. As we turned our attention back to the spread, the chimes on my phone alarm went off. We both stood, and Mary pulled a hundred dollar bill out of her purse. She took my hands, placing the bill inside.
“You’re totally right. And you have a true gift with these cards, Krystal. Call it a gift from God, or whatever, but don’t ever stop.”
I thanked her, and we said our goodbyes. Once she left, I gathered my things and locked my office door behind me. Ramona, the office manager and owner of the building, was shutting down her computer in the main entryway. While I waited for her, I switched off the “Open” sign and set the door alarm.
“You had quite the busy day today,” Ramona said as we walked out the front door together.
“Yeah, must be the full moon tomorrow. Everyone wants to be a little less messed up,” I said.
I had really lucked out with this job. I only had it for about four months, but things were much better than I ever could have imagined working as a tarot reader. Normally I was reading out of small rooms in yoga studios or back corners in metaphysical shops, but Ramona wanted to offer true alternative therapy in a professional setting. This building housed Reiki, massage and tarot services for any client looking for something non-traditional. I was simply walking by the building one day, when I saw a sign on the front lawn that they were seeking a tarot reader. I applied for the job, and had paying clients within a week.
“Oh that’s right! And since you’re taking the day off tomorrow, Happy Birthday!” Ramona said, handing me a slim and tall purple gift bag.
“Oh, geeze, Ramona, you didn’t have to do thi—”
“Shut up and accept my gift, Krystal. It’s not a big deal.” She shoved the bag into my hands.
“Enjoy the big Three-Oh. It gets better for a few years, then it all goes to shit after 35. Trust me,” she said, winking at me. “Now go home and drink a whole bottle of wine, dammit!”
The next morning, I woke up to my phone buzzing nonstop. I groaned and placed the pillow over my head. It was my birthday; I should be able to sleep in and wake up around 10am, completely refreshed like a damn princess. Last night I had done as Ramona requested and drank an entire bottle of wine while watching reruns of Murder She Wrote. It may not have been the most glamorous way to kick off my birthday, but it was quiet, and didn’t involve other people or their problems.
The phone continued to buzz. I tossed the pillow to the side, and leaned over to my nightstand to check my phone.
“Six Fucking Thirty?!” I whispered, my voice too sleepy to get any louder. The Caller ID showed my brother, Liam. Wasn’t he in another another country…Turkey? London? Or maybe it was China. I could never keep up. I answered the call and balanced the phone on the side of my face.
“Liam, do you know what time it is…..?” I croaked.
“Yeah, dude. Six thirty. So?” The buoyancy of his voice trampled my nerves.
“So be courteous, dammit. This is an auspicious day for me.”
“Yeah, I know! How are you feeling? Any different?”
“Just sleepy, Liam,”
“No, I mean, anything else? Anything… special?”
“Oh my god, ask me that in about 3 hours. When I want to be awake.” There was a brief pause, and my eyes began to close of their own volition when his voice cut in again.
“Well, I just wanted to call and wish you a Happy Birthday! I’ll be showing up at a really inconvenient time so I can come bother you for a while,” he said.
“You know, most people ask if they can crash on my couch instead of making assumptions.”
“Anyway, I gotta go. See your old ass soon!” and he hung up. Typical Liam. He was my older brother, but he had the courtesy and energy of an 18-year-old.
I set my phone on the nightstand by my bed and closed my eyes, trying to go back to sleep. After about twenty minutes of rolling around–unable to block the sound of the goddamn chirping baby birds outside my window–I got out of bed, grabbed my robe from the hook on my bedroom door and dragged myself down the hallway to my kitchen. I was never good at going back to sleep once woken up.
I filled and started the coffee maker, then sat down at my kitchen table reading the assortment of birthday wishes I had already received on my social media accounts. As I scrolled through, I received a phone call from one of my regular clients, Paul. I smiled as I answered the phone.
“Aw, Paul, you didn’t have to wish me a Happy Birthday by phone,” I said, but then I heard sniffling on the other end.
“Oh no, it’s your birthday? I’m so sorry!” he said, sounding like his sniffling might crescendo into a wail at any second. My face fell, and I yanked the full coffee cup from the coffee maker.
“It’s okay, Paul,” I said through clenched teeth. “You sound pretty distressed this early in the morning. What happened?”
“Well…if you’re available, I need an emergency reading today. I’ve just hit an all time low, and I don’t know what to—but I don’t want to bother you on your birthday!” I closed my eyes tightly and sipped my coffee. This was a perfect opportunity to set a boundary and say “no”. Paul needed an emergency reading every other month, it seemed. And I enabled his behavior by agreeing to it every time. But it was my birthday this time. I had to put my foot down.
“Paul, I was really hoping to take this day for myself.”
“I’ll double the pay,” he said quickly.
“Paul, we talked about this. You can’t put a price on my personal ti—”
“I’ll triple it, Krystal. I just…really, really need a reading right now.”
“Meet me at my office in an hour,” I said, kicking myself for answering so quickly. But it wasn’t every day someone paid $300 for an hour long tarot reading. I mean, that was basically birthday money. I could take myself out to a nice dinner and get a relaxing massage.
Paul was pacing in front of the building when I pulled into the parking lot. He was normally a smart dresser, but this morning he was in flip flops, a pair of joggers and a hoodie. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard myself. I had even put on makeup.
“Oh Krystal, I’m so sorry to do this,” he began as I unlocked the front door. “But some shit went down, and I’m not even sure what to think or what to even DO right now, and I’m so livid…” he rambled on even after I opened the door to my office, and he sat down on his designated chair. I lit my stick of palo santo, and circled the room to cleanse the space. His energy was much too intense for such a small room; it felt like a space heater had been turned on high.
“Paul, I need you to stop talking for a moment, and take some deep breaths, okay? Let the palo santo do its work. Breathe it in,” I said, pulling a deck of tarot cards out of my bag. He nodded, and placed his shaking hands on his knees, inhaling and exhaling slowly. After a few moments, the room began to feel a little cooler, and I shuffled my deck.
“Okay, now calmly explain what happened.”
He clasped his hands together and let out a ragged breath.
“I was going through the laundry this morning, and I found a pair of Alfani boxer briefs in the hamper. It’s not a brand that either of us wear – I’m a Hilfiger man, and Louis prefers Adidas – and there was only one pair, so they had to belong to someone else.” He took another breath and exhaled sharply.
“So I held them up in Louis’ face and said, ‘who the fuck do these cheap ass underwear belong to?!’ and he said he didn’t know, that maybe they were mine. So I told him that he’d better try to think of a better lie than that, and he said, ‘Maybe I picked them up by accident at the gym,’ and I called him a fucking cheating-ass liar, and he told me that I was paranoid and crazy, and then he walked out the door.” He paused for effect. “What the hell am I supposed to think? Am I being unreasonable? Am I just paranoid?”
I stopped shuffling the deck, and pulled three cards, keeping them face-down. I felt a tug at the base of my skull, and words suddenly rushed into my head.
He has also been with another man.
I looked over at Paul. Was that right? Did I just…hear that? Or was that my own guess? But the words remained in my head. I had never experienced this before, but it had to be true. It felt…like fact.
“Paul…have you been with another man?”
Paul froze. His wide eyes darted up to mine.
“You need to come clean. To Louis,” I continued.n
“How did…” Suddenly, the tingling at the base of skull felt more intense, and more words rushed into my head. I couldn’t help but say them out loud.
“And you should tell him about your “sometimes” coke habit. That’s getting to be a problem.”
“But of course, he could probably cut back on all that vodka he sneaks in after you’ve gone to sleep.”
“Wh-What?” Paul leaned forward and gripped the edges of the chair.
“And please get that mole checked on your right hip, Paul. It could be a problem down the line.” I slapped my hand over my mouth, hoping the sting might get me to stop talking.
He pointed a shaky finger at the table between us. “You didn’t even flip over the cards! What the hell was that?”
I was just as surprised as he was.