“Find something you’re good at and stick with it.”
Wise words from his father, to be sure, though Kyle was pretty sure neither of his parents had ever intended for him to be … well, saying a con artist felt a bit harsh. He was giving people exactly what they paid him for, in a basement room he rented for cheap that smelled like even cheaper incense, drowning out the world outside with thick walls and a white noise generator. It was better than a lot of alternatives.
It started with the tarot cards, in more ways than one.
Kyle knew a handful of ways to read—“read”—a person’s fortune, from palmistry to tea leaves to knucklebones to scrying. Saying he was just interested in “magic” meant no one thought much of it when he was learning sleight of hand as a kid, so it had just made sense to cast a broad net. In the end, though, picking the pockets of other people at the bus stop just meant he was picking the pockets of people who were in the same shit puddle as him. He managed it once before deciding he didn’t like the taste it left in his mouth. So he’d compromised.
Tarot readings had always been Kyle’s favorite. Memorizing the meanings of the cards had been easy. Most people had enough tells to make it easy to give them an answer they would accept for whatever question they wanted an answer to, regardless of how random the cards were, and they were always random. What’s that? The endless supposed cheer of the Sun combined with the dour omen of the Tower? Well, you’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.
There was nothing about that day that said anything would be different. No sign on the door. No neon lights. It was supposed to be just any other appointment. It was one of his regulars. She came in every month just to see what fate had waiting for her and Kyle never had any trouble throwing her a softball about how the future looked bright, even if there might be a roadblock or two. She always seemed to leave in a good mood.
Kyle shuffled and cut the deck like normal and his client picked her cards. As he flipped them over to reveal them—The Chariot, Death, and the Knight of Cups—he felt a pull in his chest, as if someone had tied a string around the back of his sternum and tugged.
The cards and his client stared back at him. All of them were waiting for him.
When Kyle finally spoke, his words didn’t feel like they were his. Like a doll with a pull cord, it felt like someone else had stuffed the words into him and now was simply the time for them to come out.
“You’ve been comfortable,” he said, still staring down at the cards. “Stagnant,” he settled on instead. “You’ve been avoiding something in order to maintain that comfort, but it’s finally time for that to come to an end and for you to acknowledge what is waiting for you. If you never harvest a field, the crops don’t just go away; they sit and they rot, but there’s no reason for you to let the rot sink in.”
He dared a glance at his client, and she had leaned forward in her seat, staring at him with rapt attention. His gaze darted back down to the cards.
“Maybe what’s waiting for you won’t be as comfortable as avoiding it was, but if you embrace it, you’ll fit better in your shoes than before, and there is nevertheless heroism in the small and quiet moments, if you’re ready to accept them.”
Like the string had been snipped, the tug behind his sternum abruptly vanished, and Kyle sagged back in his chair. At last, the cards lost their fixation and he looked up at his client across the table.
Neither of them spoke for a very long moment, until eventually she offered a quiet, “Huh,” and traced a finger in a circle in the dust. “You know, I think that might have been your best reading yet.”
What was he even supposed to say to that? ‘Thanks, I have no idea where it came from.’ He didn’t fancy looking like he’d lost his mind.
After another moment of quiet, she left a few bills on the table, pushed her chair away from the edge, and got to her feet. It had been maybe ten minutes since she stepped into the room, and even that was probably a little generous. Even so, Kyle felt like he’d just run an obstacle course.
But the moment was ending as she headed for the door back out of the basement, whether he wanted to relinquish it or not.
He was standing before he realized it, chair sliding back and hands on the table. “Cheyenne,” he called as she reached the door.
She paused, one hand on the knob, and turned to look at him over her shoulder, quiet but expectant.
“You don’t seem surprised about any of…” He trailed off, instead silently waving a hand over the cards still spread out on the table.
She smiled at him, tiny and hardly even noticeable. She smiled at him like she knew things she wasn’t supposed to know—not necessarily about him, but maybe.
“Sometimes the things that sneak up on us are just the things we’ve spent most of our time trying to ignore,” she said, and she shrugged one shoulder, as if that was that.
She turned away from him and finally pulled the door open, the noise from the street and the sidewalk pouring down the small flight of stairs and into the basement, overpowering the ocean rumbling of the white noise maker until the door closed once again with a heavy thump.
Kyle stared after her long after she was gone.
Slowly, he pulled his attention back down to the table and began to gather up his cards. The deck was warm in his hand.