The first time Minna holds someone’s fortune in the palm of her hand it feels like a living, breathing thing trembling against her palm. As though she’s holding a small animal instead of a deck of cards.
“I want to know if he likes me,” the girl sitting across from her says. “Can the cards tell you something like that?”
“Of course,” Minna answers, with more confidence than she actually feels. She’s never done a reading for anyone else before, but there’s something heady about the way the other girls are looking at her. Like she has the power not only to read the cards, but to make them say what they want to hear.
She shuffles the deck, hands it to the girl and asks her to do the same. When the cards reach Minna’s hands again, she imagines they hold the echo of someone else’s desires, pulsing under her fingertips.
The sensation is strange. It makes her want to hold her breath. The deck is a world in her hand, and Minna knows, knows, with sudden clarity, that the pattern they form is not one that will make the girl sitting cross-legged in front of her happy.
So Minna shuffles again, rearranging possibilities with her hands until the cards she lays out are exactly what everyone wants to hear. She does the same for the other girls, picking out futures for all of them, the same way she’d chosen nail polish colors earlier that night.
Minna doesn’t think about it much afterwards. All girls go through a witch phase, that’s what her mother had said when she asked for the cards, and Minna supposes that’s all that night was. A persona tried on and then just as easily discarded.
And then, one by one, every future she told comes true.
The thing about shaping people’s futures for them is that you have to be careful. Do it all the time and people start treating you like a Magic 8-Ball—something to be shaken and tipped around until you give them the answer you want.
Minna learns this quickly. The hard way. By the time she graduates high school, she knows better than to play at being everyone’s lucky penny. That’s why she doesn’t tell Aubrey about the cards at first, even though Minna still carries them with her.
They meet working part-time at a little café. For Minna, the job is something she does when she’s not in school. For Aubrey, it’s something she does when she’s not making music. She plays guitar. Has tattoos on her knuckles and a voice that sounds like it’s been scraped over pavement, but in a good way.
Minna can’t imagine Aubrey ever going through a “witch phase,” but they become friends.
The first time they hang out outside of work, Aubrey takes her to see a show. The bass from the speakers makes Minna’s whole body thrum—almost the same sensation she gets from doing a reading. Not the kind she does lately, but the kind she’s capable of doing.
“Do you like it?” Aubrey asks. She has to put her mouth very close to Minna’s ear to be heard, so that when she speaks the shape of the words are felt as much as anything else.
“Yes,” Minna answers. “I like it.”
She also likes standing in the parking lot afterwards while Aubrey smokes and talks about her own band. When she talks about being on stage her whole face lights up. Minna promises she’ll come watch her perform sometime, just to make Aubrey smile, and then they stand shoulder to shoulder and talk until the parking lot is empty and both their hands are cold from the night air.
Minna always thought that falling in love started with a spark, but being with Aubrey is like sitting next to a roaring fire right from the start.
Minna likes going to Aubrey’s house—the one she shares with her bandmates. Her room is painted dark blue and she’s got black and white pictures of Johnny Cash and Elvis on her walls. The overhead light doesn’t work. Instead, Aubrey’s draped a string of Christmas lights around the edges of the room. College chic, she calls it jokingly.
She’s not joking tonight. Hardly anyone showed up to the last gig she played and then she and her drummer got in an argument. It’s put her in a dark mood.
“I wish I could just look into the future and see if I’ll be anything,” she says, staring at the ceiling.
Minna thinks Aubrey already is something. When she watches her perform, it sometimes feels like she’s listening to Aubrey from a great distance. Like she’s already so far ahead of where Minna’s at. When Aubrey’s voice breaks, like it’s doing now, her insides break too.
“I can tell you that,” Minna says.
Aubrey smiles at her. “It doesn’t count when you say nice things. It’s like my mom saying she thinks I’m great. You both love me too much for it to mean anything.”
Minna flushes to hear it explained so casually, then she shakes her head. “That’s not what I meant. Here, I’ll show you.”
She reaches for her purse and digs through until she finds her deck. It’s a rough way to treat the cards, but she likes having them close, even when she has no intention of using them. Like a security blanket.
Aubrey chuckles. “Tarot cards, Minna, really? I didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.”
“I dabble,” Minna says airily. “Actually, I’m pretty good at it.”
Aubrey rolls her eyes. “You going to tell me I’ll meet a tall, dark stranger?”
“No,” Minna says quickly.
“That I’m going to be famous? That all my dreams will come true?”
Minna thinks that over, heart in her throat. Those are bigger wants than she’s ever shaped before, and it’s been a while since she used the cards for anyone.
But Minna has big wants too.
“Let’s see what the cards have in store for you,” she says. As though she’s not going to make sure that each card she lays across the sheets gives Aubrey everything she’s ever dreamed of.
A month later, Aubrey’s band goes on tour.
“Come with us,” Aubrey says. “We need someone to run the merch table. And you’re my good luck charm now. I’ll miss you if you’re not there with me.”
For the first time, Minna feels like she’s managed to shift her own fortune, instead of just everyone else’s. Like their futures are tangled together, and by making Aubrey’s dreams come true, she can maybe grant her own as well.
Minna goes with her. Of course she goes with her.
It’s strange to be there to see her work play out, but she takes a certain amount of pride in it: the full venues. The crowd looking up at Aubrey the same way Minna does. The satisfaction gleaming in her eyes.
They get tattoos in a city Minna has never been to before. Aubrey asks what she wants and Minna points to the swallows. Afterwards, with birds inked on opposite arms, they stumble back to the hotel and Aubrey leans against Minna in the elevator. Then, against the door of Minna’s room, Aubrey kisses her.
“I think we did this backwards,” Aubrey says. “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to kiss someone before you get matching tattoos.”
The next day when they show off their tattoos to the band, Wyatt, the drummer, gives Minna a strange look.
“What made you choose swallows?” he asks.
“I thought it looked nice.”
He nods, thinking it over. Then he says, “Did you know it’s a myth that swallows are loyal to each other? They can get distracted from their mate. They’re always drawn to brighter plumage.” He clears his throat before finally looking Minna in the eye. “Just a fun bird fact I’ve picked up over the years.”
Something changes towards the end of the tour. Aubrey gets quiet. Starts going through more cigarettes than usual, like she’s hungry for something in the smoke.
Minna knows better than to be surprised when she asks for another reading, but she still feels the request like a pinprick.
“I don’t know what comes after this for me,” Aubrey says, flicking her lighter again and again. Minna can taste her urgency in each nicotine-laced exhale. “I’m afraid I’m going to burn out after this summer. I don’t want that. Tell me that doesn’t happen.”
Minna’s cards are never far. Sometimes she offers readings to the sound crew. To the bartenders. To anyone with an interest and a little extra cash to spare. She doesn’t twist their fortunes, but she’s good enough with the cards that most people seem to appreciate the readings anyway. These readings don’t give them exactly what they want, but they offer a thread of truth most people find soothing.
Minna doesn’t think that’s the sort of reading Aubrey’s looking for.
Aubrey shuffles the cards roughly, impatiently. The energy is still in the deck when Minna takes hold of it—little jolts against her fingertips like static electricity. Minna knows the spread isn’t going to give Aubrey the answers she seeks, but there is advice there all the same. Maybe even good advice.
“Please, Minna,” she whispers.
Minna shuffles the cards, letting them run through her fingers like water. The image she holds in her heart of Aubrey is so bright that it’s not difficult to infuse that into the reading. To form the cards so that they see what she does.
The next tour is bigger. Aubrey’s name is lit up on marquees. Her face is on the front of posters, the rest of the band in the background.
Minna can’t go with them this time; summer is over and it’s her last year of college.
“I’ll miss you,” Aubrey says when they kiss goodbye. Then she’s gone and it’s like a light has gone out. They’d been attached at the hip so long that Minna forgot what being alone was like. She’d grown so used to being breathless in Aubrey’s presence that now she doesn’t know what to do with full lungs.
Aubrey calls from the road, the magnificence of her voice dulled over the phone.
“I think I could live in Nashville,” she says one night. “I feel like they get me here.”
“Wyatt’s being a dick,” she says a different time. “He and the others are mad they didn’t get asked along for an interview.”
She seems surprised when Minna says she’s gone back to work at the café.
“It seems like so long ago that I was there, you know?” There’s a lull sprinkled with static before she asks, “Hey, do you still do readings?”
“Sometimes,” Minna says.
Aubrey’s voice goes lower. It cracks a little, intimate as a bone breaking. “But not like you do for me, right?”
Minna wasn’t entirely certain before, but now she knows: Aubrey doesn’t think the cards are coincidence. She sensed Minna’s hands shaping her fortune.
“Not like with you, no,” Minna says.
When Aubrey comes back it’s like the first warm day of spring, if spring smelled like tobacco and coffee.
“I keep hearing you on the radio,” Minna tells her. “It’s better to hear you like this.”
The guitar calluses on the tips of Aubrey’s fingers are rough against the back of her neck when she draws Minna in close, enveloping her entirely.
“I’m sorry I stopped calling,” Aubrey says. “The road got overwhelming and things with the band got rough. I didn’t want to have to say it all out loud. I’m saving it for songs, you know? Gotta hold some stuff back.”
Minna hasn’t held anything back in a while, but she nods anyway, vaguely remembering what it was like to save things for yourself.
Aubrey says she’s back to write a new album, but she doesn’t spend much time at her house with the band. Instead, she stays in Minna’s apartment most of the time, shutting herself away with a notepad and her guitar.
It’s a few weeks before she asks.
“Things with the band are falling apart. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen. I need to know if I can make it on my own.”
“Of course you can,” Minna says soothingly.
Aubrey’s hand stills in her hair. “That’s not what I meant,” she says. “I need to know.”
“Right,” Minna says. Then she gets up to fetch her cards. To lay out her certainty before Aubrey like a gift. To make her believe the words she couldn’t hear from Minna’s lips.
She leaves again, after, and Minna wonders what would have happened if she’d said no and just let the future unfold without taking it into her own hands. Would Aubrey still have left?
What if, instead of giving her new heights to climb to, Minna had read a future where she stayed?
She feels selfish and a little sick as soon as the thought forms, but it’s hard to banish the idea entirely. It sticks around, like a sliver of glass, wiggling under her skin.
Every time Aubrey’s face appears in a magazine photo or on the television screen, Minna feels like she’s seeing double—what she made happen, and what could have happened. She thought she knew which one she wanted, but she’d also thought she was shaping a future with room for her in it.
Aubrey doesn’t call, but her mail still shows up at Minna’s apartment.
Sometimes Minna sits down with the cards and tries to lay out her own future, but she never gets very far. She wishes there was someone there to shuffle the deck for her. Give her exactly what she wants. But the only person who seems to have that talent is Minna, and she’s never tried to use it for herself before.
She starts to wonder why.
Aubrey calls in the middle of the night. She’s been calling during the day too, but Minna hasn’t been answering. It’s only because she’s half asleep that she picks up this time.
“Minna.” The sound of that voice saying her name wakes Minna the rest of the way up so quickly she experiences a headrush.
Her palms are already tingling, like they know what’s coming. Like fortunes are already curling there. Waiting to be groomed.
“Everything is falling apart,” Aubrey says. “I need you to tell me it will be okay. You’re the only one who can make everything okay.”
There in the dark, Minna wonders if Aubrey has ever considered that she might be able to do the opposite. She could take her cards out now and lay them on the bed. She could ensure that nothing is ever okay for Aubrey ever again. Or she could just weave a future where Aubrey understands what the sound of her voice does to her, better than any words could explain.
Just because Minna has never twisted the cards this way before doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand how it could be done. It’s an instinct. A skill. A gift.
Minna gets to decide who receives it.
“Alright,” she says, and reaches for the cards.
It doesn’t take her long to shuffle, listening to Aubrey’s breathing over the phone.
“Three-card spread. Past, present, future.”
Minna lays the first card down, already knowing what it will tell her.
“You’ve experienced great success,” she says. “It has not come without cost or effort.”
She lays the second card down more slowly, even though this one isn’t a surprise either.
“Someone is leaving your life. There is a chance for you to grow from it, if you choose.”
“Wait,” Aubrey says, just as she plucks the last card from the deck. There is the sound of a dawning realization in her voice. “Minna, don’t do this.”
Minna rests their fortunes in the palm of her hand, fragile and trembling, entwined for the last time.
Then she lays the final card down.
“Goodbye,” she whispers, and lets the future take shape.