Melissa came home that afternoon with another deck from Rebecca. The very copy of the Sweeney Tarot that was used in the final tarot trump challenge. While the deck was self-published, it was easily replaceable via a print-on-demand service. When Melissa offered to reimburse Rebecca for the deck, the card reader refused any money or promise of favor for it.
“That decorated deck of yours is not a beginner’s deck, that’s for sure. You’re going to have a hard time relating the images on those cards with the average instruction you’re going to find, online or not. Here. Keep the Sweeney. It’s not a Waite Smith clone, but the imagery is close enough to carry the tone. Look up the deck online, there’s a guide book available for the cards, if you want.”
Rebecca also offered to buy the decorated deck from Melissa and offered twice as much as the younger woman had paid on the auction site. Melissa declined. Each card of that deck was now a personal token of not only the tarot challenge, but her personal ordeal in rescuing herself from Helen’s grip. While some of the details in the images would forever keep secrets, they were not alien to her anymore. They were talismans of allies she could call on for help.
Though the two women tried their hardest not to talk about tarot or tarot-adjacent matters, the conversation settled itself between the cards. Rebecca, still swearing that she was neither Melissa’s teacher nor mentor and there was no passing on of lineages or teachings, reviewed a good number of her personal “observations” regarding tarot.
Melissa asked if there was a tarot challenge for the rest of the tarot cards. Rebecca had laughed and told the younger woman to come back and ask that question after several months. “Technically, there is no such thing as a tarot challenge. It’s just paper and ink, remember?”
Yes, Melissa remembered as she set down her purse and collapsed on the couch. Just paper and ink. Looking up at the popcorn style ceiling, she remembered the alternate world she had entered, had remained, and would now be fully residing in even as she was lying on the couch being absolutely lazy.
Her stomach rumbled in ominous ways and she realized how much caffeine and sugar she had indulged in during the day. She’s going to need a vegetable heavy dinner to balance things out. As she got up to rummage through the fridge, her cellphone rang.
On seeing Marla’s name, she answered it, turned on the speakerphone, and set the phone on the counter while she started pulling out more items for another veggie ramen bowl. “Hi, Marla! Do you still need me to come in tomorrow to sign the termination papers?”
“Hi, Lisa!” Melissa winced as she realized she’s going to be correcting a lot of people for a lot of time before the unwanted nickname finally fades into the past. “Actually… no.”
“No? I’m fired, though. Excuse me. My position was made redundant and as one of the newest associates, my services are no longer required.” Melissa mocked the HR director with savage accuracy.
“Ha! About that… you’ve been put on paid vacation, starting tomorrow.”
Melissa carefully controlled the closing of the fridge door with her foot so not to make the bottles clink. While she did have a six-pack of beer perfectly chilled, she had not touched alcohol since leaving the club. “Eh… Vacation? But I didn’t have any vacation. I hadn’t been working there long enough to accrue vacation.”
“You had, but as a part-timer you don’t accrue on an hourly basis, but on a quarterly. And wouldn’t you know it, corporate made the decision to not only grant you the vacation you were due in the first place, but to also place you on paid vacation while the investigation plays out.”
Melissa placed her ingredients on the counter with a loud thunk. “What investigation? And are you in trouble? Because I’m not going to let anyone else get caught up in this bullshit!”
“Slow down, Lisa!”
“Long story made very short. I’m not going to go by ‘Lisa’ anymore. My name is Melissa, I grew up with Melissa, and the reason why people started calling me ‘Lisa’ may be why there’s an investigation in the first place. So, tell me what’s going on! Oh, and if you hear other noises, I’m at home, making dinner.”
Marla’s silence lasted a little too long for Melissa’s comfort. “Are you there?”
“Yea! I’m here, just thinking. Something really big happened since the last time we talked, huh.”
“Yea. Loud noise, I’m rinsing veggies!”
Both women waited for the water to stop running before continuing.
“Well, it might be related so I’ll tell you the gossip and the change. So, what’s known and documented, is that Bébé settled with corporate about the embezzlement and is on some sort of probation. The gossip is that some suit tried to get her to name you as an accomplice and she not only refused but filed a counter complaint against corporate claiming entrapment or something. So now corporate is under investigation about how your position was made redundant, and now I’m supposed to be calling you telling you not to come in tomorrow because you’re on paid vacation until the investigation is complete.”
Melissa fnished chopping the carrots halfway through Marla’s gossip. She thought about the implications and what her sister Jean would be saying, no, screaming right now.
“So. Like. Is this safe to talk about? We’re not recorded or anything.”
“Huh? NO! I mean, no, we’re not being recorded! I’m using my personal phone and I’m not at work! I just wanted to catch you up. I mean, I’m sure that you knew this already, right Lisa… uh… Melissa!”
Melissa sucked on a thin piece of carrot as she chose her words carefully. “No. Like you noticed, something really fucking big has gone down and the pieces are still falling. I don’t run with the crowd I used to, and to be honest Marla, I have been examining everything I’ve been involved with very closely. The changes aren’t done, yet.”
“I hear that, Li–, Melissa. Your given name, huh. There’s a whole lot that has to happen to prompt someone to change their name. I mean, you’re really not changing it, but changing what people call you, and that’s even bigger in a way. Lemme ask before your ship makes it into orbit, did I help last weekend?”
Melissa scooped the veggies into the boiling water and turned the heat down to simmer. “Yea. You did. You helped me see some things straight and what decisions I had to make for myself. Thank you.”
“You’re not coming back to work, are you?”
“I didn’t say that! I mean, if they want to pay me to stay away, I’ll take that. For now! Right now, I can’t promise what tomorrow brings. You’re good to work with, Marla, and you’re a fair boss no matter how many times I stomped my feet at you and said otherwise. What you said to me Friday and Saturday night has been a bigger help to me than you’ll ever know and I appreciate it.”
“Cool. That makes putting up with your shit somewhat tolerable.”
Marla’s laughter brightened the mood. “Okay. I hear you clanking pots in there so I’ll let you go. Just remember, don’t come in tomorrow. You’re on paid vacation for at least a week. I’ll call you next Thursday with an update.”
“Alright. Good night, boss lady, and thank you.”
“Yea, whatever you little shit.”
They both laughed as the call ended but Melissa’s humor did not remain for long. She knew her prospects for working with Marla after the investigation ended was very slim. Corporations don’t like employees with delicate connections. Even if Aunt Helen failed to get her fired under false pretenses, the scrutiny may make HR skittish about working with her again.
Melissa finished preparing her dinner and sat down at the table. The call reminded her of Jean’s request and of Rebecca’s insistence that Melissa already knew all she needed to turn the court’s favor. She did it once before when Aunt Helen was trying to have her committed, maybe she can do it again.
She reviewed her notes during dinner, and after cleaning up she took out her decorated deck. She pulled out the Empress, Justice, and Fortune. After a moment of thought, she pulled out the Hierophant card as well.
“I am the Empress and I am in control of my life.” She laid the Empress on the table. “I am assisted by my sister, Jean, who knows the rules and how to use them.” She laid the Hierophant card beside the Empress. “The court will respond to Jean’s use of the rules, and rule in favor for us.” She laid Justice beside the Hierophant.
“And may Fortune favor us, the brave who have prepared for this moment.” She laid the Fortune card on the table over the first three cards as if it was an illuminating star. She stared at the scene until she could see the cards as afterimages, then closed her eyes and focused on the cards and her intent until the only sound she heard was the rushing of her steady pulse.
After some time longer than a moment but short enough to keep doubt away, she opened her eyes. “Welp. No vision of the court. It’s not in session anyway, so I guess this will have to do and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The rest of the evening was spent in comfort and with active dispelling of her fears of what was upsetting her sister. Going to bed and falling asleep was as easy as turning off the light.
Melissa opened her eyes. She was seated in a visitor’s chair in a hospital room. The curtains around the two patients’ beds were closed. It was night, and while a silver light was seen between the window curtains, the monitoring machines in the room had enough bright LED status lights to provide enough illumination for her to see by. She sat herself up fully in the chair. As she looked around, she realized that she had been in this room before.
A child started coughing in one of the beds. In between gasps, they weakly cried out how afraid they were and called for their mommy.
From the other bed came a small voice with a large answer. “I’m coming!”
Something large and fluffy fell out of the other bed onto the floor with a soft phlumph. Someone small and thin followed with a more controlled descent. Melissa watched as her much younger self picked up the bigly and ginormous teddy bear and moved from the curtains surrounding her hospital bed to inside the curtains surrounding her roommate’s hospital bed.
“I pressed the nurse button! It won’t be your mommy or mine but they can help!”
The weaker child gasped again and tried to cry.
Melissa held her hands to her mouth for fear that any noise she made would shatter the memory. This felt like someone else’s memory to her, even though she knew it was hers. She surmised that like the taking back of her name, she had to take back what else had been removed from her.
The curtain remained closed, blocking Melissa’s point of view, but she knew what was silently happening within the space. The weaker child had tubes and wires poked and taped to her arms, making it difficult for the animate child to give her a hug like her older sister did when she was sick and afraid. But teddy bears don’t need to be held in any special way, and her mommy had brought her the teddy bear to keep her company.
But her mommy and daddy came to visit her today and yesterday and she had many hugs to keep her warm at night. She had not seen anyone come to visit the crying girl, and she thought that the crying girl needed the teddy bear more than she did.
“Here, you can hold the bear like this.” She had moved the crying girl’s arm, so that it rested on the bear. “There. Now the teddy bear can give you imaginary hugs!”
The crying girl cried less and breathed hard more. This worried the animate child. “I’m going to press your nurse button and then press my nurse button and then I’ll be right back to hold your hand. Okay?” Melissa heard a soft click from behind the curtain and a blue light came on over the bed.
The animate child came from the second set of curtains back to the first. Melissa heard another soft click and a blue light came on over that bed as well.
The animate child raced back to the softly wheezing girl. “Hey. It’s going to be okay. That’s what Mommy tells me when I don’t feel good. Oh. You’re sleep. You hold the bear and I’ll lay down here so when you feel alone you’ll know I’m here.”
Melissa had covered her face with both hands and was rocking back and forth forcing herself to keep her eyes open, to keep watch, again. She remembered this moment. She had been admitted for observation for two days after a suspected allergic reaction. She would be going home in the morning if nothing else had happened.
The girl had been in some kind of accident. She never found out what happened. Her father would later tell her that the girl had many inside ouchies and they needed more care than he could explain. But she didn’t know that in the middle of this night. She only knew that the girl was afraid and alone and her mother always said that being kind is the reason why we’re here so this was her chance to be kind to someone.
“Honey. Hi. It’s really nice that you’re keeping her company, but you need to be in your bed, okay?” The nurses had rushed in but by the time one of them was waking her up, they weren’t in a rush anymore. “Isn’t that your bear, sweetie?”
“Yes, but it’s hers now. She needs hugs more than me. Will you keep her company? She was crying and she doesn’t want to be alone.” The nurse had helped her off the silent girl’s bed and was walking her back to her own. Another nurse interrupted and took her hand.
“Of course, we’ll keep her company. I’ll tell your parents that she’s keeping the bear. I think that would make her very happy. But listen, your bed is broke so we’re moving you to another room, okay? We don’t want you sleeping on a broken bed. You don’t have slippers so you get to ride in a wheelchair. I promise I won’t race anyone!”
“It doesn’t look broken, but okay! Can we go a little fast?”
Melissa remained seated in the visitor’s chair, still rocking herself back and forth as her adult mind realized what her childish memory had not understood.
The nurses turned off the blue lights and all the machines. They gathered the silent girl’s belongings and brought them from outside the curtain. The large brown teddy bear had a large spreading red and yellow stain on its head and chest.
Melissa could bear no more and closed her eyes.
“I… I didn’t know!”
“Of course you didn’t. You were a child. It wasn’t until later when your father explained why he wasn’t mad that you gave the teddy bear away that you learned she had died. And even then, he didn’t tell you that she had died with you in the bed with her.”
Melissa opened her eyes. The apparition of Death stood in the empty hospital room before her. She appeared identical to the crying girl in every way except for the lack of color and eyes. She held the ghostly teddy bear tight to her.
“Everyone sees me a different way. Some people don’t see anything and can only feel me around them. Some people, who have seen death, see the dead they were with, like you. This is the closest I will be to who she was, by embodying your memory of her. But I can tell you, that she did feel the teddy bear under her arm, and she felt your warmth at her feet, and she was not lonely when she passed. That was very kind of you, Melissa. You did your best under those circumstances, and all was well for it.”
Melissa silently nodded and sobbed.
“Why…” She sighed and shuddered. “Why are you showing me this?”
“Because you have taken yourself back, and there will be other memories that come back to you as well. Because I like you, and I want to be kind to you and help you as best as I can.”
The answer should have been comforting, but Melissa heard a chill weave between the apparition’s words. “Because one day, you will not be this kind.”
The apparition nodded.
“Because one day, I will try to be this kind to someone else, and they will not be well for it, and it will not be this… soft.”
The apparition nodded again.
“Because sometimes, the way that a person needs to be helped is not the way they want to be helped, and they will feel angry and alone when it happens.”
The apparition held the teddy bear close to her face, closed her empty eyes, and nodded yet again.
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to do the best that we can and hope that all is well for it. Is this another current that I’m getting my feet wet with?”
“Yes, Melissa. But only as far as you’re willing to go.”
Melissa looked at the empty beds. “Tonight, I’m not willing to go any further. I have to settle what is already in my hands before I can pick up something new.” She stood up and held her hand out to the apparition. “Come on, let’s go greet the Sun. It’s a new day dawning.”
The apparition took her hand and together they walked out of the dark room into a blindingly bright light that enveloped them and removed them from the dream.
Melissa woke up gently. The blankets were very warm, but the chill of the dream remained with her. She wanted to remain in bed for a few more hours, but her alarm sounded just as she started to warm up again.
As the coffee gurgled into manifestation, Melissa made the conscious choice not to dwell on the recovered memory from her childhood. Every time the scene tried to force itself into her focus, she would repeat to herself that she did the best she could at the time and that all was well for it.
By the time she was dressed for court, she had shifted her concern to Jean’s request for occult assistance and the complete lack of communication from her sister since the odd missive. Just as she picked up the phone to text Jean that she was ready to be picked up, Jean texted her to tell her she was in the underground garage ready to pick her up.
“Hey.” Melissa entered the car and buckled herself in tightly.
Jean looked her over, approved of what she saw, and put the car in gear. “Hi, Lisa. Ready for what will be the strangest day in our lives and maybe the first day of our new lives?”
“Melissa. And it may be the strangest day for you, Jeannie, but I think I already got that beat three times over.”
Jean put the car in park and physically turned to look at her sister in silence for a few minutes. “Really?”
Melissa smiled at her disbelieving sister. “Yea, really.”
“Now and forever, Jeannie. Dad named me and that’s my name. What Aunt Helen thinks of it no longer matters.”
“You have changed. Okay. Melissa. Debbie?”
Melissa now understood why Rebecca took the tone of voice that she did twelve days ago. “Melissa.”
Jean leaned back at the gentle rebuke. “Melissa.” She smiled as bright as the sun. “Okay. Let’s go see if today is the day we get the rest of our life back.” She faced forward, put the car in gear, and left the garage.
Along the way to the courthouse, Jean explained that this was the day that the court was going to review the terms of their parents’ trust and whether Aunt Helen would continue to be the trustee on their behalf. Both of them were over the age of twenty-one now and Aunt Helen’s attempt to have Melissa declared unable to care for herself was her attempt to keep partial control over the assets.
The court had already declared that Jean was capable of being an adult, but also declared that until Melissa was of age, another adult needed to comanage the trust with Jean. Jean had spent the past three years frustrating and slowing down Aunt Helen’s attempts to siphon the assets from the trust by refusing to cosign any legal document. This had meant the loss of a few of the immediately available assets and cash but preserved all the long-term investments in property, art, and stocks.
“All this time, I thought you were working with her to break me.”
“I know. But I couldn’t risk telling you the truth. Not until these past two weeks.”
“So… what spooked her? Having me declared incompetent with no proof was an amateur move. Aunt Helen doesn’t make amateur moves.
“I haven’t told you what the judge said that night! Called her lawyer a second-year counselor! His name is on the fucking building! Fucking crackers! But, yea, she was spooked. I don’t know what made her jump like that, but I hope you have your calendar clear today. We could be at the courthouse all day.”
Melissa had laughed at the comment like she had never heard it before. She recalled Marla’s call yesterday evening about the paid vacation and not coming in today. It felt to Melissa that more strings were being pulled behind the scenes, but this time to her advantage.
They arrived at the courthouse an hour ahead of schedule and met with the out of town lawyer that Jean had been discreetly employing to get the case through the courts. He explained that he just received word that while the case was still confirmed as being reviewed today, someone had filed a petition regarding the case and the interruption was placing their review on hold.
Jean and Melissa looked at each other. “Aunt Helen,” they said in unison.
“No,” said their lawyer. Whoever had filed had done so in secret claiming that prior knowledge by the sisters and their aunt would be detrimental to the case. They won’t know who had filed the petition until after it was handled and the judge began the formal review.
“Is Aunt Helen going to be here?” Melissa’s voice held no sense of panic which worried Jean more than if it did.
“She shouldn’t. Her decisions aren’t under scrutiny here, mine and yours are. And yes, the judge’s comments and decision from the other night will be reviewed by this judge today. So that’s huge on your side.”
An hour after the scheduled start time of their review, a clerk was sent to the hall to call for them. Quietly, the two sisters and their lawyer entered the large courtroom. Melissa noted that she smelled the same courtroom scent as during the vision, but with a lot less body odor getting in the way.
Off to one side of the gallery, several stern-faced suits sat with two veiled women. The sisters glanced at each other with the same unspoken question and answer. They had no idea who the women were, why they were here, and how they were connected to Aunt Helen.
The judge called the room into order and began the review without any mention of the sealed petition or the presence of the others. There was some interrogation by the judge of Melissa’s relationships and how well documents those relationships were on social media. Melissa answered his questions without shame or guilt, though she did express regret in some of her choices for partners.
The judge noted his peer’s decision regarding Aunt Helen’s attempt to have Melissa declared unable to care for herself and Jean’s statement that Melissa had begun to mature independently of her and other familial influences. After some pontification and paternal advice from the judge’s bench, he declared that he was ready to give his judgement regarding the trust.
“Miss Jeanette Arroyo has been very careful and judicious with the assets that have been placed in her care. The court only wishes that Mrs. Helen Winston had been as mindful of those assets that she was granted to maintain on behalf of Miss Melissa Arroyo. For all of Mrs. Winston’s concern that Miss Melissa would squander any assets released to her, it is the opinion of this court that Miss Melissa is far better equipped to handle the demands of her personal lifestyle without being beholden to the restrictions of someone entirely removed from her life as Mrs. Winston is of Miss Jeanette and Miss Melissa Arroyo.”
The two sisters stood close together and tightly held hands behind them. A motion that was overlooked by the judge but noticed by the two veiled women seated on the far side of the court.
Jean held her breath and Melissa felt weak at the tone of the judge’s connecting word.
“The court will not be able to release the trust to the care of the Arroyo sisters at this time.”
“WHY!” Jean grabbed her lawyer’s sleeve with her free hand.
“It’s not fair.” Melissa held tightly to Jean’s hand in an attempt to hold her sister up, hold herself up, or both.
The judge waited for the two sisters to recover their decorum. “Because, the court has received key information that modifies who is eligible to maintain the trust created by your parents.”
Jean muttered to herself in quick phrases and breaths. “But the trust was made by our parents, and they are the initial trustees, and we are the successor trustees, and Dad is gone and Mom has been missing and the statute of limitations for her absence… oh no.” Jean looked up at Melissa. “Was I off by a year?” She looked at the judge. “Your Honor?”
The judge folded his hands on the bench in a way that reminded Melissa of Rebecca. “Ladies. I suggest you sit down. Please be seated. Now.”
Melissa sat down quietly but had to pull Jean to sit next to her. They gripped each other’s hands tightly as their lawyer awkwardly chose to remain standing as if to guard them.
“I suppose there is no subtle way to do this, and no better time than the present. Miss Jeanette Arroyo, Miss Melissa Arroyo, I have received information about your mother, Mrs. Deborah Arroyo. She is alive.”
Both sisters squeaked in surprise and started crying. “Where is she!” “Where’s our mother!” “We want her, right now, Your Honor please!”
Jean tried to jump to her feet to storm the bench, but for once, Melissa had more presence of mind. She kept Jean seated beside her. “Your Honor, forgive my sister, but to be blunt, we’ve been through some shit. And at this point, I think I can speak for us both when I say that if we have to choose between money and our mother, let us be broke as hell but with our mother! We can always start over again!”
The judge looked at Jean who was still struggling to contain herself. “Miss Jeanette Arroyo, do you share your sister’s opinion?”
“I do, Your Honor!”
“Then, this will be easier than I thought.” He turned to the veiled women. “Mrs. Deborah Arroyo, your presence is requested. Would you please be seated with your daughters?”
One woman stood and assisted the other to her feet. Together, they maneuvered down the pew to the central aisle. The first handed a cane to the second, who walked the few steps to the front of the gallery. With her free hand she pulled back her veil.
The worn woman had Jean’s eyes and Melissa’s cheeks and Jean’s hair and Melissa’s smile. She held out a hand to the sisters. “Hello, my dears, oh, how I have missed you!”
The judge looked politely away as Jean and Melissa discarded all decorum and ran to their mother for the first time in a terribly long time. The bailiff discretely brought several boxes of tissues to the sister’s lawyer and Deborah’s assistant for them to not so discretely stuff into any crook of hand or finger of the three embracing women.
After the sobbing settled to a chorus of sniffs, the judge banged his gavel lightly. “I will not deprive the three of you of any further joy with each other, so I will be quick. Remain as you are, or sit where you are, whichever is more comfortable to you.”
“It is the decision of this court, that the trust will remain in the hands of the primary trustee, Mrs. Deborah Arroyo, to be maintained and distributed as she sees fit, to include, the elevation of her successor trustees to be co-trustees, the distribution of trust assets, the resignation of her position as the primary trustee, and whatever other functions as she so declares. Mrs. Helen Winston will be relieved of all duties regarding the trust and will have no further involvement nor authority with it.”
“Of those present, are there any who finds fault with the court’s decision or has other information to present?”
Three silently sobbing heads shook in unison.
The sister’s lawyer stepped forward. “Your Honor, I have it on good assurance that my clients will accept the court’s decision without appeal.”
The judge dabbed at his eyes and blamed the dust for his discomfort. His bailiff nodded in agreement.
“Then this matter is closed, and the case is dismissed. Because I had expected this matter to be much more painful and protracted to settle considering the family history of all involved, this room is booked for another two hours. Please, feel free to take that time to collect yourselves before departing. And when you do depart, go in peace.”
The judge and bailiff exited the courtroom to the music of Melissa, Jean, and Deborah uniting the past and the present. Deborah stated that she knew of her husband’s passing and of some of her elder sister’s attempt to destroy their legacy and steal their assets. All she would say of where she had been was that she had been falsely imprisoned in Europe and it was only by chance that her case was reviewed last year and the errors unmade.
When she initially attempted to make contact with her family, she discovered how tightly Helen was controlling the family legacy and most of the relatives that remained tied to her. Helen had blocked all attempts by Deborah to prove her identity and reunite her Melissa and Jean.
However, she still had friendly research contacts in Europe, some of whom had been hosting her and helping her recover from her ordeals after her release. When they learned of Helen’s interference, they used their personal contacts to arrange for a separate investigation into Helen’s abuse and to attempt to make contact with the Arroyo sisters.
But Helen’s grip was too strong, so the most that could be done was a privately held social event where a large group of seemingly unconnected people would be invited under the goal of a masquerade ball. It would be there that Deborah had hoped to meet her daughters face to face.
Which she did and chose not to reveal herself at that time. She was not sure if entering their lives at the time would have been good for them, as Jean was the reflection of Helen and Melissa was self-destructing. She was advised by her peers that it was better to work in silence and secrecy to secure her daughters’ future first, and then present herself for a reconciliation.
How fortunate, Deborah said, that one of her state-side contacts was able to establish a friendship with Melissa at the masquerade ball and keep a close eye on her and be some type of beneficial influence to counter Helen, especially in these last two weeks when everything suddenly accelerated in movement and consequence.
Jean and Melissa looked at each other then back at their mother.
“Rebecca is very good at keeping secrets, isn’t she.”
A clerk entered the court room and announced that their scheduled time was up, and it was time to vacate the room.
The group left the courtroom together and took their separate vehicles to the apartment where Deborah was staying. The rest of the day was a flood of tears, revelations, and reconciliations.
Sunday afternoon, Melissa sat down in front of Rebecca with a mix of anger, resentment, and gratitude in her heart and on her face.
“You knew she was there.”
Rebecca did not look up from her latest version of tarot solitaire. “Yup.”
“And you said nothing.”
Rebecca laid a card at the end of a column. “And what would you have done six months ago? Throw a tantrum?”
“That’s not fair.”
Rebecca looked up. “Is it?” She looked back at the spread of cards as she drew another card. “You were not ready six months ago.”
Melissa looked at the spread as well. She pointed to where she thought Rebecca’s held card should go. “You could have given me the cards six months ago.”
“Oh hell no. I would have given you the last push you needed to cut your own throat if I had then. And thank you.” Rebecca laid the card where Melissa had pointed. “You weren’t ready for anything six months ago. You still thought everything was fine, six months ago. How angry would you have been to your mother, six months ago? How much would you have blamed her for what happened to her, for what Helen did to you? I can tell you even without cards. All of it. Deborah asked me to keep an eye on you if I could. Neither one of us thought you’d actually hang around me.”
Rebecca drew another card and tilted it so Melissa could see it better. She saw the proper place before Melissa did and drew the next card.
Melissa kept her face pointed towards the cards. “You know, if we were having this conversation before last week, I wouldn’t be as mad as I am now. But we’re having this conversation after last week, after knowing that there are two people in my life who could manipulate me at will.”
Rebecca put her card down and emptied her hands. “Out with it.”
Melissa looked up at the card reader, at the magician. “Rebecca, did you work your will on me? Did you pull me to your table? Did I ever have anything as honest as a choice at all?”
Rebecca relaxed and smiled. “Did I work my will on you? No. Did I pull you to my table? No. Did you ever have anything as honest as a choice at all? Well, that’s a question for the philosophers. But I will tell you this much, once I found out who Helen had in her pocket as a pet diviner and magician, it was my moral duty to fuck his shit up as much as possible. And it so happens, that a side effect of my interference with him, allowed you enough clarity to seek my table as a harbor in a storm when you didn’t even know your ass from your head. No, Melissa, all that followed the masquerade ball between us, was your choice to make and your will to follow through.”
Melissa looked back at the table. She picked up Rebecca’s abandoned card and laid it in place. “Does Mom know? About me and the tarot, that is.”
Rebecca picked up the next card to play and resumed scanning the table. “She knows you have an interest in it as a collection of art like your father did and because it spooks old people. But she’s not stupid and she knows what I do. The risk that I infect you with my expensive hobbies is worth the cost if it meant helping you keep your humanity and not turn out like Helen or worse.”
“Ya.” Melissa pointed to the next place to play the card. “I want to be angry with you, I really do. Because you knew all this time. But, I have to admit, the person I was two weeks ago wasn’t the person I was six months ago. And the person I am now isn’t the person I was two weeks ago. So, I guess this is a long way of asking, can we still be friends?”
Rebecca started to lay the card where the younger card reader had pointed but lifted the card when she saw it didn’t match the theme. “And by friends, you mean can you pester me to thumb through my decks to goggle over them instead of building your own collection? Sure!”
“Listen, it’s not my fault that you have a diverse set of decks! They’re all so interesting!”
“If you thumb through mine any further, you’re going to grind the ink off! Buy your own!”
“But yours are out of print and I’m not doing the online auction thing!”
“Not my problem!”
The two women raised their faces to each other and attempted to stare rudely and threateningly. Instead, their expressions melted and they both laughed.
“So does this mean you’re not going to let me buy the Red Magician deck off you?”
“Melissa, I am going to dig a lake and throw you in it, you impudent child! No!”
“But I like collage decks!”
“Make your own!”
Tuesday morning, Melissa was escorted to Bob Leifert’s office at quarter to nine in the morning. His assistant attempted to chat her up about her social media use and romantic partners, but Melissa quietly and neatly shut down her inquiries. When she was escorted into Bob’s office, she saw that Bob, a representative from HR, and an upper level manager was already present for the meeting.
“Lisa! Glad you could make it. I would have thought that the miracle you received last Friday would still be distracting you!” He offered his hand to her for a firm but friendly greeting.
“That miracle still hasn’t completely settled in that it’s real, Bob, but I do have one request before we go any further. I know you have known me with the nickname of Lisa, but I would like… no… I am going forward with using my given name from now own. Please, call me Melissa.”
The manager immediately refused, saying that ‘Lisa’ was easier for him to say and that having a simple name would be better for everyone involved, just like Bob did.
“Okay, Melissa. I will remember not to call you by that other name anymore and to keep it to Melissa as your given name. Thank you for correcting me.” Bob turned to the HR representative and asked what name was printed on the paperwork. When it was confirmed that Melissa’s legal name was already in use, he turned back to Melissa happily.
“Great! Then we can get started at once! So, we are gathered here today because two weeks ago we were all having a bad day and our troubles just intersected in uncomfortable ways. Today, we are starting the matter over. So, Melissa, I will skip the pretense and come to the question. Would you like to begin employment with my company as a paid, part time intern? The company does provide benefits, and your schedule will be flexible to accommodate any needs you may have. You will be assigned on a roving rotation with the departments within the company until you find a specialty that suits you. When that happens, we’ll have a different discussion about training and advancement. But first, I need to know if you are interested.”
Melissa smiled as warm as the image of the Sun card in her purse. “Yes, Bob, I am interested. I’d like to begin employment immediately, if you please.”
“Then allow me to take over the proceedings. This tablet will play a short video about the company while I make sure your paperwork is properly addressed. Please save your questions for after the video ends.”
As Bob pulled the other manager aside and the lights were dimmed to accommodate the tablet screen, Melissa thought she saw a small girl’s reflection in the screen. The face was grinning from ear to ear and the joy in the visage was a reflection of the joy in Melissa’s heart.
There was still much more work to be done to finish the tearing down of her old world and the building of her new. But Melissa felt herself in the grip of a current that was hers to explore and she intended to ride it for as far as it would take her.
The “torn list of catchphrase meanings” are from Noxporium’s “78 Cards“.
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