It was an odd little scene, a pocket of stillness in the middle of the cafeteria shuffle and noise: two boys at a corner table, watching a silver coin flip end over end. The girl across from them called it in the air, "Heads" or "Tails," her voice indicating it was far less interesting than their bug eyes suggested. She'd called it correctly thirteen times in a row. She could've called it a hundred more.
"How are you doing this?"
"Magic," Cassandra Weaver replied. The coin spun. "Tails."
Aidan Baxter caught it and slapped it down against the back of his hand. He showed it, tails side up; the silver eagle shone under the glare of the fluorescent lights.
One of the boys held his hand out.
"Let me see it. Is it weighted?"
They studied it curiously, turning it in their fingers, scratching the edge, tapping it on the table. They flipped it themselves a couple of times. But it was just a quarter.
"There's got to be something," the taller boy muttered. He looked at Cassandra like it might be her. Something that she was doing.
But there was nothing special about her. No mystical tell, no ethereal eyes. Just normal, brown, blinking ones. He looked at her brown hair, hanging down around her shoulders. Too average. Not even a streak, no punk-rock pink or gypsy ribbons. He turned toward Aidan.
No one ever bought the magic. They always thought it was a trick, or an angle. Some boring explanation so their world could keep its dimensions and still be explained by the ABCs. By laws and math. That was the way they wanted it. If they learned the truth, they wouldn't look at her with wonder. They'd be disappointed. Maybe even have her stoned to death.
"Seriously. What's the trick?"
"Seriously?" She watched the coin spin and called it again. She could tell them she was counting the spins. That it wasn't much different than scamming a game of poker. They'd believe that. "Seriously, I'm a genuine, bona fide psychic. Always have been."
He smirked. "Right."
She glanced at Aidan, and he smiled.
"It's true," he said as Cassandra called "Heads" almost before the quarter left his fingertips. "Pretty annoying, actually. I could never cheat on her and get away with it. And don't get me started on the things she sees before they happen."
Cassandra stifled a laugh. Mentioning her visions was farther than they usually went. But it wouldn't matter. The skeptical muscles in the freshman's face just clenched harder. They were muscles she knew well.
Aidan snatched the coin back. "So. Think you can beat her?"
For a second the boys' mouths opened and closed like fish and Cassandra thought they might try. Sometimes they did. Once, a girl managed to call it right five times before she missed. Maggie Wegman. Just a petite blond girl who sang in the choir and played volleyball. Cassandra watched her sometimes in the halls, wondering if the five times had been a fluke, or if Maggie might be a little bit psychic too.
Might be nice if she was. We could start a club for freaks. I could be like Professor X.
She smiled to herself, and shook her head when Aidan gave her a weird look.
"Don't waste your time." Sam Burress winked at her from across the table, his brow arched beneath his black stocking cap. She hadn't thought he'd been paying attention. "Nobody beats Cassandra. Half the school's lost money to these two." He gestured between her and Aidan with a carrot stick before biting through it. "Better just pay up. Get your friends to play and she'll give you a cut."
The boys opened their wallets and forked over ten dollars apiece.
"This isn't hard-earned allowance money or anything, right?" Cassandra asked as she took it.
"Nah," said one of the boys with a shrug. He had a sweet face and a mop of brown hair. "It's a really cool trick."
"Thanks. I stayed up for three days watching Criss Angel to figure out how to do it."
His face lit up, relieved by the explanation. "I knew I saw this somewhere." He picked up his plastic lunch tray and nudged his friend to leave, back to their own table. Before he left, he winked at her. No hard feelings, and now when they passed each other in the hall, they'd nod.
"Why'd you say that?" Aidan asked after they'd gone.
Cassandra shrugged. To make them feel better maybe. Or maybe just to get the wink. Some goodwill instead of wary glances later on.
Aidan shook his head.
"Your showmanship is slipping. Do I need to get you a crystal ball and a bunch of gold jewelry?" He slid closer to her on the bench, blue eyes dark and devilish, then picked up her hand and kissed it. "They're going to start thinking it's me. That I've got a trick to tossing it. Maybe you should breathe heavy, or roll your eyes back in your head."
Cassandra snorted. "What am I? Some guy at a carnival?" She shoved him with her shoulder. "You really love this about me, don't you?"
"I really do." He kissed her temple, like that was where it came from. "Amongst other things." He turned away to take a bite of bland lunchroom burrito and to scoop the cherries out of his fruit cup into Cassandra's. The hood of his gray sweatshirt was over his head, covering his golden hair just like it always was at school unless a teacher made him take it down for class. He looked like a street urchin, sitting there with his knee tucked up, scarfing his food.
But a good-looking street urchin.
Cassandra reached to touch his cheek.
"No PDAs while I'm eating." Andie Legendre swung her leg over the bench opposite, disrupting Sam and the rest of the table. They clucked and rustled like birds disturbed on the roost as they moved down. "You'll appreciate that rule when I have a disgusting boyfriend of my own."
"Yeah, we will," Aidan said, too enthusiastically for Andie's taste if her expression was anything to go by. "Besides, when are you ever going to get a boyfriend?"
"Whenever I find one who's more manly than I am." She threw a carrot at him.
"So never, then."
Cassandra punched Aidan lightly in the shoulder, but he and Andie both laughed. It wasn't exactly untrue. Andie had been named cocaptain of the varsity girls' hockey team that fall, even though she was still a sophomore. And she was taller than most boys. And stronger.
"Trade you?" Andie scooped Cassandra's burrito off her tray and deftly swapped it for a tri-cut potato. Half the burrito disappeared in one bite.
"Tuck your hair back." Cassandra reached forward and slid Andie's black hair behind her ears. "You're going to eat it otherwise."
Andie snorted. "So what? It's clean. You guys been scamming freshmen again?"
"How'd you know? Are you psychic now too?"
"Yeah. I used my magical ability to see you from the lunch line."
Cassandra's eyes drifted through the cafeteria. It was always so loud. Pervasively loud. A constant, multitone buzzing interspersed with the clack and clang of trays and silverware and chair legs dragged against the floor. At least fifty conversations going on at once, and everyone had at least one ear or one eye on someone sitting at a different table.
Cassandra crunched through her tri-cut potato and tuned out the noise. There were worse things to be than psychic. A mind reader, for example.
"Hide me." Andie ducked low.
Cassandra turned. An auburn-haired girl with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheekbones was headed their way with an imperious look on her face.
"If she tells me one more time how captains need to set an example I'm going to fling rice in her hair."
"Andie!" Christy called. "What are you wearing tomorrow?"
"My jersey," Andie replied with a curled lip as Christy breezed past.
"Good. Because captains set an example."
Andie's spork hovered dangerously above the rice, but in the end she just threw the spork. It bounced off Christy's shoulder harmlessly. She didn't even acknowledge it. Captains set an example.
"You guys coming to the game tomorrow?" Andie asked.
Cassandra cocked her head regretfully. "History test Friday. I have to study."
"I have to help her."
"You guys are lame." The roll of Andie's eyes confirmed the point. Andie never studied. And not because she was a natural scholar, but because she couldn't be bothered to give a shit.
Cassandra nudged Aidan. "Friday night's open," she said. "Bonfire party at Abbott Park?"
"That's better." Andie grinned. "I'll spread the word."
* * *
Studying might've been a mistake. Two hours in, it was clear that Cassandra already knew everything, and Aidan was bored. He reclined on pillows stacked against her headboard and slid farther down them by the minute. He was never really any more interested in studying than Andie was.
"You wish we were at the game?" he asked.
"A little." Or a lot. Watching Andie's game with a hot chocolate and a long piece of red rope licorice sounded ten times better than what they were doing. Notebooks and textbooks and loose-leaf handouts lay strewn around them in carefully organized circles and piles, the pages exposed so the words could whisper "U.S. History" into the air like a cloud. She glanced at the clock; it was too late to turn back.
"Are they going to win?" Aidan asked.
"Yes," Cassandra replied sulkily.
Aidan took a drink of his soda and set it on the nightstand. Then he started discarding books and papers, casually dropping her carefully ordered stacks onto the floor. Each moved pile opened up space between them on the bed. He shrugged out of his zip-up hoodie and crawled toward her.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't worry. You'll like it."
"Are you sure?"
He paused. "Fifty, sixty percent sure."
Laughing, she let him take the last notebook out of her hand and heard it hit the carpet as he laid her on her back. The room was quiet as they kissed, the bedspread and walls grown used to their antics. They'd been making out in her bedroom for almost a year. Sometimes, when he wasn't there, the air seemed full of him still, imprinted with a thousand memories of things they'd done. Everything inside the walls was tied to him somehow, right down to the walls themselves. He'd helped her paint them white six months ago, when she'd finally had enough of the lavender of her girlhood. But they'd been lazy, and distracted, and they'd left roller marks. In a certain light, the lavender still showed through at the corners.
"My parents will be home any minute," she said.
"Yeah. So disentangle your hands from my bra."
Aidan smiled and rolled onto his back with a groan. "Ow." He pulled a textbook out from under his shoulder and tossed it onto the floor. "We study too much."
"You know why I study so much."
He looked at her and held out his arm; she rolled closer and rested her head on his shoulder.
"The future, the future, I know. You don't know where we're headed. A little weird for a psychic."
"Shut up." She nudged him in the ribs.
"I'm kidding. But I'm telling you. It'll fill in. It's the only thing it can do."
Cassandra said nothing. They'd talked about it before. The dark spot waiting up ahead, somewhere around her eighteenth year. The day when she'd no longer be able to foresee things. It was a strange thing to foretell, her own lack of foretelling. But she knew it, just as surely as she knew on which side a coin would fall. She wouldn't be psychic forever. One day it would be gone, like a light going out.
It'll fill in, he always said. And she supposed he was right. But since they wouldn't be able to scam freshmen for cash forever, they'd better have a backup plan. Like college.
Cassandra listened to Aidan's heartbeat, the hot rushing of blood so strong beneath her cheek. When she'd first told him she knew her gift would disappear, she'd asked if it would make her less. If it would make her boring, or ordinary. He said no, but sometimes when she made a prediction the look in his eyes was so intense. Almost proud.
"Do you think I'll feel stupid?" Cassandra asked.
"After I can't see anymore. Will it be like a blank? Like words on the tip of my tongue that I can't quite remember?"
"No." He kissed the top of her head. "I don't think it'll be like that."
"What do you think it'll be like?"
"I think it'll be like … life," he said after a few seconds. "Like other people lead. I think you'll go to college, and I'll go to college, and we'll get a place together. That's what you want, isn't it?"
It was. Despite a few misgivings, most of her couldn't wait. It might be nice to not know for a change. More of an adventure. Aidan said that some people would kill to have her ability, but she didn't know why. It never came in any particular use.
"Yes, that's what I want. That's why I study."
"Not a good enough excuse. I'm the richest orphan in the tri-state area. We don't need scholarships."
"You don't need scholarships," she corrected. "Not all of us get to live out a reversal of the musical Annie." She remembered how curious she'd been three years ago, when she'd heard that Ernie and Gloria Baxter, neighbors for as long as she could remember, had adopted a teenage son. A trust-fund-rich teenage son.
Aidan grinned. "I guess it was a pretty hard-knock life. Living in all those group homes."
Cassandra lay quiet. He joked, but it was probably more true than not. Part of her still didn't understand why he'd chosen to live in state-run facilities and group homes instead of with whatever remained of his family. A family as wealthy as his had to have surviving members. A drunk uncle, at least. But she knew better than to ask. He shut down whenever she brought it up. "You worry too much." He sounded drowsy. She'd have to rouse him soon, or they'd wake to a vision of her dad's extremely annoyed face. "You and I will be together, Cassandra. You don't have to be psychic to see that."
Copyright © 2013 by Kendare Blake