“Vivian.” Daphne Devereaux stood in her daughter’s doorway, her face twisted in exaggerated anguish. Even in the unforgiving Reno heat, she wore a floor-length black housecoat edged in gold tassels and had wrapped a velvet scarf around her dark, unruly hair. “You can’t go. I’ve had a premonition.”
Vivi glanced at her mother, suppressed a sigh, and returned to her packing. She was leaving for Westerly College in Savannah that afternoon and was trying to fit her entire life into two suitcases and a backpack. Luckily, Vivi had had a lifetime of practice. Whenever Daphne Devereaux got one of her “premonitions,” they tended to leave the next morning, unpaid rent and unpacked belongings be damned. “It’s healthy to start fresh, sugar snap,” Daphne said once when eight-year-old Vivi begged to go back for her stuffed hippo, Philip. “You don’t want to carry that bad energy with you.”
“Let me guess,” Vivi said now, shoving several books into her backpack. Daphne was moving too, trading Reno for Louisville, and Vivi didn’t trust her mom to take her library. “You’ve seen a powerful darkness headed my way.”
“It’s not safe for you at that . . . place.”
Vivi closed her eyes and took what she hoped would be a calming breath. Her mother hadn’t been able to bring herself to say the word college for months. “It’s called Westerly. It’s not a curse word.”
Far from it. Westerly was Vivi’s lifeline. She’d been shocked when she received a full scholarship to Westerly, a school she’d considered to be way out of her league. Vivi had always been a strong student, but she’d attended three different high schools—two of which she’d started midyear—and her transcript contained nearly as many incompletes as it did As.
Daphne, however, had been adamantly against it. “You’ll hate Westerly,” she’d said with surprising conviction. “I’d never set foot on that campus.”
That was what sealed the deal for Vivi. If her mom hated it that much, it was clearly the perfect place for Vivi to start a brand-new life.
As Daphne stood mournfully in the doorway, Vivi looked at the Westerly calendar she’d tacked to the yellowing wall, the only decoration she’d bothered with this time around. Of all the places they’d lived over the years, this apartment was her least favorite. It was a stucco-filled two-bedroom above a pawnshop in Reno, and the whole place reeked of cigarettes and desperation. Much like the whole dusty state of Nevada. The calendar’s photos, glossy odes to ivy-covered buildings and mossy live oaks, had become a beacon of hope. They were a reminder of something better, a future she could carve out for herself—away from her mother and her portents of evil.
But then she saw the tears in her mother’s eyes and Vivi felt her frustration relent, just a little. Although Daphne was a supremely accomplished actress—a necessity when your livelihood depended on parting strangers from their money—she’d never been able to fake tears.
Vivi abandoned her packing and took a few steps across her cramped bedroom toward her mother. “It’s going to be okay, Mom,” Vivi said. “I won’t be gone long. Thanksgiving will be here before you know it.”
Her mother sniffed and extended her pale arm. Vivi shared her mother’s fair coloring, which meant that she burned after fifteen minutes in the desert sun. “Look what I drew as your cross card.”
It was a tarot card. Daphne made a living “reading the fortunes” of all the sad, wretched people who sought her out and forked over good money in exchange for bullshit platitudes: Yes, your lazy husband will find work soon; no, your deadbeat dad doesn’t hate you—in fact, he’s trying to find you too . . .
As a child, Vivi had loved watching her beautiful mother dazzle the customers with her wisdom and glamour. But as she grew older, seeing her mother profiting from their pain began to set Vivi’s teeth on edge. She couldn’t bear to watch people being taken advantage of, yet there was nothing she could do about it. Daphne’s readings were their one source of income, the only way to pay for their shitty apartments and discount groceries.
But not anymore. Vivi had finally found a way out. A new beginning, far from her mother’s impulsive behaviors. The kind that had led them to uproot their whole lives time and again based on nothing more than Daphne’s “premonitions.”
“Let me guess,” Vivi said, raising an eyebrow at the tarot card in her mother’s hand. “Death?”
Her mother’s face darkened, and when Daphne spoke, her normally melodic voice was chillingly sharp and quiet. “Vivi, I know you don’t believe in tarot, but for once, just listen to me.”
Vivi took the card and turned it over. Sure enough, a skeleton carrying a scythe glared up from the card. Its eyes were hollowed-out gouges and its mouth curved up in an almost gleeful leer. Disembodied hands and feet pushed up from the loamy earth as the sun sank in a blood-red sky. Vivi felt an odd tremor of vertigo, like she was standing at the edge of a great precipice and looking down into a vast nothingness instead of standing in her bedroom, where the only view was the neon-yellow WE BUY GOLD sign across the street.
“I told you. Westerly isn’t a safe place, not for people like you,” Daphne whispered. “You have an ability to see beyond the veil. It makes you a target for dark forces.”
“Beyond the veil?” Vivi repeated wearily. “I thought you weren’t going to say stuff like that anymore.” Throughout Vivi’s childhood, Daphne had tried to draw her into her world of tarot and séances and crystals, claiming that Vivi had “special powers” waiting to be unlocked. She’d even trained Vivi to do simple readings for clients, who’d been mesmerized by the sight of a small child communing with the spirits. But eventually, Vivi had realized the truth—she didn’t have any power; she was just another pawn in her mother’s game.
“I can’t control which card I draw. It’s foolish to ignore a warning like this.”
A horn honked outside and someone yelled an expletive. Vivi sighed and shook her head. “But you taught me yourself that Death is a symbol of transformation.” Vivi tried to hand the card back to her mother, but Daphne’s arms remained resolutely at her sides. “Obviously that’s what it means. College is my fresh start.”