Madame Cassandra, as all the signs and her customers called her, was just considering closing up for the day when someone walked into her door with a loud thunk. A moment later the bell chimed, and four people walked in, the oldest rubbing her nose. "You alright, dear?"
"Fine, happens all the time," the woman said absently, looking around. "Listen, I know this sounds crazy, but have you been at this address long? Only I came to a fortune teller's here once, when I was a kid, and I was hoping..."
Madame Cassandra had worked at this address for twenty years. Miraculous, in her field of work, but she had always had a talent for being, if not correct, near enough to inspire return visits, and sensible enough to only share good news, to avoid embarrassed bad-mouthing. And not that she recognized the woman, with her mousy brown hair and plain, somewhat sad face, but she knew what to say here. "Ah, yes, I did think your aura looked familiar. Come in, come in."
The woman brightened, but stepped back, waving an arm towards the others. "Oh, not for me, thanks. I've already found the man you read for me."
"But has he found you?" A shadow crossed the woman's face, and Madame Cassandra knew she'd read her right. No one could be that sad with their love requited.
The woman's chin tilted up stiffly. "He will."
"As you say. So, which of you would like to be read first?" The three younger visitors had drifted into opposite corners to stare at her merchandise, reluctant to be here, or to look each other in the eye. Madame Cassandra smiled at the woman. "Perhaps just one in the shop at a time? There's a cafe around the corner where the rest of you could wait."
The woman glanced between her three companions, and seeing the same tension there that Madame Cassandra had, nodded, and, dropping a few pound notes on the counter, pulled the two boys out of the shop. "Come on then, you two." They protested weakly as they followed her out, leaving the girl staring at an assortment of scented candles arranged along one wall.
"There's no need to be embarrassed, dear," Madame Cassandra said gently. "It's one of them, isn't it?"
The girl stared at her, shock and dismay on her face. "Is it that obvious?"
"Not so obvious that I know which one, I'm afraid," she said, "but there is a tension there." When the girl still looked uncertain, Madame Cassandra added, "We don't even need to use the cards, you know, if you don't really want your fortune read. Sometimes, just having someone listen is all you need." After a moment of fidgeting, it all came out in a rush. The initial infatuation, countless failed attempts to talk herself out of it - how rude he could be, how inconsiderate, how he only ever saw her as a girl at the absolute worst time - how it had slowly turned into this awful heartache she could barely think around. How all they did these days was fight, or worry about their friend. How absolutely clueless she was here, and how foreign that feeling was to her.
When she had finished, Madame Cassandra took her hand and squeezed it consolingly. "You may not want to hear this, but he is just a boy. And boys can be a bit stupid and mean, and sometimes they're too stupid and mean to be worth your attention. Other times, it may take a few years for one to grow out of that meanness, but if you're willing to wait, he could grow into somebody worth waiting for. And if you're not, there's no shame in that. You'll find someone worth your time soon enough, I'm sure."
Still a little red faced, the girl thanked her quietly, offering money that Madame Cassandra refused; she didn't make her living as a counselor, after all, and she wouldn't be paid to act as one.
A few minutes after the girl left, the taller of the two boys walked in, the tips of his ears as red as his hair. He sat down stiffly and stared at something on the wall above her head. Madame Cassandra held back a sigh. "Now, I'm going to say the same thing to you that I did to your friend: there's no need to be embarrassed. Anything you or I say here doesn't leave this room. Alright?"
"Right, but you don't - I mean," he looked away, "this is all rubbish, innit? You can't really see anything, you're just making it up."
"That's what a lot of people believe."
"Then what's the point?" he demanded. "Why should I even bother?"
"Aren't you curious? Even if I am making it up, a lot of people come just to see what I'll say. Like - here, give me your palm." She reached for his hand; he allowed it warily. She traced the creases of his palm until his fingers relaxed and his shoulders lost their stiffness. "You have a long life ahead of you, a great life, a happy one. A wife, children, grandchildren - a very large family. That's good, family is important to you." He jerked slightly, surprised, but she continued as if she hadn't felt it. "Family and friends, and you'll have plenty of both, including a number of friends who will become family." She let go of his hand, watched it absently curl up, his fingers following the path she'd traced. She looked up, and when they made eye contact his hand jerked back, a fist at his side.
"But you don't know," he said helplessly.
"You don't know that," she countered. "And would it be so awful if I did?"
After a moment of silence, he left the shop with a gruff word of thanks, and the last one walked in. He sat down in the open chair, looked her in the eye and said, "I really don't want to do this, if it's all the same to you."
"Well." Madame Cassandra pushed down the laughter that threatened to come out. How surly. "Alright. Romance not your thing?"
"Don't see much point in it right now, given what I've got on my plate."
"Sounds very serious," she said, unsurprised when he didn't offer more information. She was getting the full spectrum of teenaged emotions today, wasn't she? "Alright, then, how about we do a set of cards for your future, hmm? See if what's on your plate is truly unsurpassable." He scowled for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. Madame Cassandra pulled out her favorite tarot set, shuffled it, and offered it to him. "Cut the deck, please." She flipped the top card over, and the two of them stared down at a hooded, skeletal figure.
"Well, guess that answers that question," he muttered.
"Death represents an ending, but not always of life. Everything ends; it's moving forward that's key, allowing change to happen."
"Right, I'll do that." He stood to leave, but in a fit of annoyance at such teenaged faux indifference, Madame Cassandra grabbed his arm, made him really look at her. He stared her down, and she realized that underneath that indifference was a sadness waiting to drown her. Whatever his concerns, they weren't the usual issues for someone his age. They were serious and real, maybe even dangerous.
So, instead of the lecture she'd intended, all she said was, "Change can be for the better. Remember that, please."
Though he left without another word, she felt - hoped - that he'd listened.