Mokuba meets Joan's friends from university as they learn more about the ring's power.
|Illustration Credit: Whoever developed the virtual ring customizer on Jewlr.com
Chapter Song: Jimmy Eat World - A Praise Chorus
Chapter 46: Neverland
Tamara pulled up to the curb on Wendy Street in front of a yellow two-story house with a blue and orange dragon coiled around a tree. A table splattered with paint and several drying objects stood in the middle of a covered driveway.
Joan sprang out of the car, stretched, and pulled her backpack out of the trunk along with a case of beer they'd picked up on the way. She left the suitcase she'd packed for Japan in the bottom of the trunk along with her laptop bag. Mokuba and the bodyguards picked up their own backpacks, and Joan led her entourage up the concrete walkway. The sound of guitar, drum, and trumpet music emanating from inside the house grew louder as they approached.
Joan opened the door without knocking and headed past a small mural of an alligator and pirate ship. Several names in cursive script, hers among them, crested the tops of ocean waves, blending seamlessly into the art.
Mokuba and the bodyguards paused awkwardly at the threshold of a great room. Sunlight sparkled through a high, iridescent window. A creepy clown doll, perched on a support beam, grinned down at them.
Joan dropped the case of beer on a kitchen island alongside a fluffy orange cat. Joan exchanged eyebrow raises with three musicians before unloading as many bottles as she could fit into the refrigerator. She then grabbed Mokuba's hand and tossed her backpack behind a couch before sinking into it, pulling Mokuba down with her. Joan then sang along with the chorus of the song until it ended.
"'Sup Joan?" A bald man with a well-groomed beard put down his guitar and came over to Joan for a hug. Joan introduced André to Mokuba as they shook hands.
The drummer, the tallest of the bunch with dark brown hair and a perpetual smile over his clean-shaven face, stood next in line to hug Joan. "This the big bad billionaire from that news article?"
"One of them, yeah," Joan said. "Dimitri, Mokuba. Mokuba, Dimitri is the one who introduced me to the rest of these folks. He was my TA in calculus."
"TA?" Mokuba asked as he shook Dimitri's hand.
"Teaching Assistant," Joan clarified as she recalled Mokuba had never gone to university.
"Oh yeah," Mokuba said, "I've seen that on several job applications."
"Dude, did you just skip college and go straight to being a CEO?" André asked.
Mokuba rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, though I feel like I missed out on a lot."
"It's never too late to start," the trumpeter chimed in. The trumpeter wore round glasses, a bright yellow dress, and long, purple hair with a matching beard. "I'm Kris and I go by they/them." Kris shook Mokuba's hand and hugged Joan.
"Hi Kris. I'm Mokuba and I go by he/him. Nice nail polish," Mokuba commented.
"Thanks," they said. Kris went over to the bodyguards and introduced themself while Joan asked André and Dimitri what they had been up to lately.
The sliding door to the back yard opened, and in walked a short woman with a cloud of red hair. "Hey, Joan! Give me a minute to get this dirt off my hands." She went to the kitchen sink and began washing.
Dimitri gestured at the redhead. "That's Jessica. We're her Lost Boys."
Jessica finished washing her hands and came over to hug Joan. Jessica then rose as high as her tiptoes would take her to hug Mokuba. "So, you're one of the Kaiba brothers, huh?"
Mokuba returned the hug clumsily. "Yeah, I'm Mokuba."
Jessica drew back and nodded at the bodyguards standing against the wall. "Who are your other friends?"
"We're bodyguards," Tamara said.
Jessica's eyebrows shot up. "OK, but do you have names?"
"I'm Tamara. I train with Marc sometimes."
"Joe," Mokuba's bodyguard stated without elaboration. "You always leave the front door unlocked?"
"Yes," Jessica said. "We've got six people living here, so there's always someone home. If you think there's some sort of threat though, we could lock it tonight."
"I've had death threats," Joan admitted, "but those people probably have no idea I'm here."
Jessica pulled out her phone. "I'll text the others and make sure they have their keys."
"Wait, real death threats?" Kris asked. "How serious are they?"
Joan plopped back onto the couch, and Mokuba put an arm around her. "I don't know. I only read the first one before handing it over to Seto and letting his staff handle it."
"I wish you'd told me sooner," Mokuba said. "I need to see those records." He pulled out his phone and texted Roland.
"Roland showed us," Tamara said. "There were six threats in all. Nobody from this area, but better safe than sorry."
"Roland the guy who got arrested?" Jessica asked.
Mokuba slipped his phone back into his pocket. "Yes, but we bailed him out the next day. He's been working for Seto and me for over a decade."
"Good to know you take care of your peeps," Dimitri commented.
A slight blush crept into Mokuba's cheeks as he thought of how his only friends over the past five years were the ones he paid. Still, when it came to learning about new people, work seemed like the most logical place to start. "So, what do you all do?"
The Neverlanders made their rounds explaining their occupations. Dimitri and André both lectured at the local university while Kris worked towards a bachelor's degree in physics. Meanwhile, Jessica pursued a master's degree in social work.
As they got better acquainted with one another, Mokuba began feeling some of what Joan had mentioned earlier about home being wherever the people you love are. He didn't know if Joan had any romantic connection with these people, but he could tell she loved them like he loved Seto. Neverland was a second home to her. Maybe someday, it could be his as well.
Chapter Song: World of Broken Dreams – David Rovics
Chapter 47: Medication
As Mokuba learned more about the Neverlanders, he began asking more questions about university life, wondering if it was anything like the few movies he'd seen. Dimitri and Jessica shooed the fluffy orange cat, whom they called Toad, off the counter and bustled around the kitchen while they chatted about some of the finer points of campus culture. Joan waited for a lul in the conversation to ask the burning question on her mind. "Hey, have you two set a wedding date yet?"
Toad climbed onto Joan's lap and sniffed Mokuba.
Jessica cracked some eggs into a bowl. "No wedding. We're just happy being engaged right now."
Dimitri opened a can of black beans. "Yeah, no need to ruin things with the big M-word."
Mokuba extended a hand to pet Toad, and Toad climbed partially into Mokuba's lap, sprawling across both laps as if he owned them.
Joan nodded as she recalled the trauma Dimitri had experienced after his first marriage fell apart. "You can always throw a party without it being a legally binding thing, you know."
"But we throw parties all the time anyway," Dimitri pointed out.
"That's true," Joan agreed. Dimitri's first wedding had been such a spectacular affair that it would be hard to top without a rich bride's father footing the bill. The parties Jessica and Dimitri threw on a regular basis, by contrast, were far more intimate and also more fun. We can find more meaning in a campfire's glow than we ever learned in a year or so, Joan thought.
"So, what about you?" André asked. "What's with that Mrs. Kaiba stuff going around the internet? Some people say you're getting a divorce, but I don't believe it."
Joan laughed. "Michael says that when we get married, we should get divorced every day. After all, his name is on the ring too." She held out her hand and let André examine the ring.
"The plan is to throw a big party and simply change Joan's last name," Mokuba said. "I know it's weird, but in theory that will satisfy Seto."
André frowned. "No offense, but it looks like this ring came out of a Cracker Jack box."
"It's electronic. Activate random glow," Joan said. The holographic mask dissolved, revealing the full beauty of the gems.
André's jaw dropped. "Oh. How'd you manage that?"
"Trade secret," Mokuba said.
"I wanna see!" Jessica set her cutting board and knife aside. She dashed over to the couch and nudged André aside. "So pretty!"
Dimitri and Kris took turns looking and fawning as well.
"Hey, y'all still atheists?" Joan asked.
Dimitri pulled out a large skillet and set it on the stove. "Yeah, why?"
Joan considered telling them about the magic but decided to hold off. "Being in love activates the same feelings in my brain that religion used to."
"Girl, you got some wires crossed in your brain," André said.
"I've never denied that. We all do."
"Have you figured out what medication you're supposed to be on yet?" Dimitri plopped some patties into the skillet.
Joan grinned, remembering Dimitri's theory that everyone, without exception, needed to be on some sort of medication. "Sure. It's called lots and lots of hard cock."
"Wouldn't want you going without that tonight," Jessica said. "We can pitch a tent for you in the back yard. You want the air mattress or the crash pad?"
"What do you say, rich boy?" Joan asked.
"Air mattress, I guess."
Jessica nodded at the bodyguards. "How about you two? Crash pad or couch?"
"Either way, I'm not picky," Tamara said.
"Joe, any preference?"
"No," Mokuba's bodyguard replied.
Jessica slid a cutting board full of tomatoes into a bowl. "OK then, I guess you can hash it out later tonight."
"You need help with anything?" Joan asked.
"Nah, we got it." Dimitri pulled a few beers out of the fridge and used a wall-mounted bottle opener. The caps clattered on the counter. He kept one beer for himself and passed the rest around.
Jessica put the finishing touches on a salad while Dimitri flipped the patties and pulled out plates. "Ever had black bean burgers?" Jessica asked.
Mokuba's eyes grew wide. "No. Are those . . .?"
"Yep! You're in for a treat."
A few short minutes later, everyone was chowing down. Although different from his usual favorite food, Mokuba marveled at how good the meatless meal tasted. He lost himself in the variety of textures the various ingredients provided, so much so that he missed the Neverlanders' foray into the politics of prostitution.
A little squeeze from Joan stole Mokuba's attention away from the food. "Of course he's paying me."
Jessica swallowed. "OK, but you . . . you're different. You do a lot of things most people wouldn't normally do. You're technically an escort anyway though, right?"
"Technically, but that's just the word we're using to avoid legal issues since escorts don't guarantee sex. Call it whatever you want, but copulation is part of my job description, especially when I'm working for Seto."
"Sex should never be a guarantee," Dimitri said.
"If I may weigh in," Mokuba said, "My brother would have gone crazy years ago without consistent access to sex. It never really made sense to me until recently, but he never wanted a girlfriend. This whole love thing just sorta happened to us."
"So how long have you been a, uh, client?" Jessica asked.
"Just a couple of weeks, but Seto has been at it for more than a decade. It stabilizes his mood, and I've found it beneficial too."
"Kinda like your weed," Joan pointed out.
"You know that's for PTSD, right?" Kris said.
Joan nodded, but Mokuba twitched. "What do you think my brother has? Our parents died when we were really little, and we were adopted by one of the most heartless men on the planet. Seto sheltered me from that man and many others who tried to take advantage of our vulnerability as kids. He couldn't afford to go soft or numb his mind with substances. I don't know what your experiences were, but don't think for a second that growing up rich made our lives easy."
A tense silence settled over the group before Dimitri said, "Thank you for sharing."
"How about we go play a board game?" Jessica suggested.
Joan smiled with relief. "Great idea. Got anything new?"
André and Kris went back to playing music while everyone else headed upstairs, past a mural of a tropical jungle with Wendy and the Lost Boys painted on both sides of the stairwell. The stairs opened up to a spacious game room with two couches and shag rugs. Shelves with games and textbooks lined the walls, and a chalkboard displayed an eclectic combination of drawings and equations.
Toad followed them up the stairs and plopped himself on the coffee table. He meowed until Joan petted him. Jessica let Mokuba pick out a game, and they played around the cat. Tamara joined in the game as well, but Joe simply stood watch.
Later that evening, Jessica and Tamara helped Joan set up the tent in the back yard. Having never set up a tent before, Mokuba merely watched the ladies handle it. Once finished, Joan and Mokuba bid the others goodnight and got settled.
Mokuba and Joan inflated the air mattress with an electric pump, zipped up the tent, and enjoyed a leisurely fuck. The scent of reefer floated through the thin nylon as André and Kris enjoyed an evening smoke. Joan and Mokuba stifled their moans, but the two Neverlanders still noticed.
André waited until the moans subsided to call out. "Yo Joan! Got your daily dose of cock?"
"Yeah, but I could always use more," Joan replied.
"I thought you told Seto you weren't taking on anyone new," Mokuba hissed.
"Yeah, well André isn't exactly new to me. Jessica had a dream about us hooking up, and then we did that just for fun."
"Girl, if you'd asked me earlier, I'd be all up in you, but this shit makes me soft," André said. "Let me know if you're still down for it tomorrow."
"OK," Joan called back.
"I'm not ready for another threesome," Mokuba whispered. "Seto and Marc were one thing because I've known them longer than I've known you. Plus you've got your IUD out."
"How about I just give him a quick blowjob tomorrow while you chill with the Neverlanders? André has the best-tasting cum I've ever had."
"Even with the marijuana?"
"Maybe because of it. Tobacco, on the other hand, makes cum taste downright toxic. Michael used to smoke, and his cum got so much better after he quit."
"I'll keep that in mind," Mokuba said.
They lay in silence for a while, listening to Kris and André chat about theoretical physics. The words flew over Joan's head as usual, but at the same time she found them comforting coming from such familiar voices. The whistle of a nearby Coast Starlight train as it approached a station brought a nostalgic smile to her lips. She drifted off to sleep on Mokuba's chest, surrounded by more love and friendship than she could fairly ask for in a world of broken dreams.
Chapter Songs: "Roots" and "Grow Down" by Audiafauna
Chapter 48: Mystic Talismans
The next morning, Joan donned a tie-dyed shirt, cargo pants, and hiking boots while Mokuba slipped on a "Monsters of the Duel" shirt.
"Are you sure that's such a great idea?" Joan asked. "I'm sure a few hardcore fans are bound to recognize you regardless, but do you really want to make it obvious right now?"
"Shit, I didn't think of that, but it's the only clean shirt I brought."
"Just wear yesterday's shirt. Nobody here is going to care, and you'll still smell better than half the people at the festival."
"If you say so." Mokuba changed into his purple and black T-shirt from the previous day.
As promised, none of the Neverlanders commented on Mokuba's attire or body odor as they lounged around the great room eating pancakes and hash browns that Kris and Morgan, who had been absent the previous evening, had cooked.
Once finished with the meal, they all headed out walking through the city. Cyclists filled the streets, and pedestrians filled the sidewalks. They squeezed past several groups of young adults as large or larger than their own. Although slightly older than the average herd of undergrads, Joan's group dressed casually enough to go unnoticed among the other denizens of the college town.
Mokuba relished the illusion of belonging to this place. He imagined himself as just another university student out for a well-earned break from his studies.
As they neared campus, the crowd grew denser and included a wider range of age groups. The Blooming Planet Festival tradition predated Woodstock, and many old hippies kept returning year after year. A drum circle on a grassy field pounded out a lively beat, and people swung fringe-trimmed hips to the music as they crossed the street that separated campus from the rest of the city.
Joan pointed out a red brick lecture hall. "That's where I met my first love. And Dimitri. And that other TA I dated for a month. He was one of my four virgins."
"Don't you mean five now?" Mokuba asked.
"Oh yeah, true. You're just so good I keep forgetting." Joan rubbed her face on Mokuba's bicep before settling into a more natural walking position.
They strolled arm-in-arm onto the campus quadrangle, where white canopies stood in long rows. Under the canopies, various vendors offered pottery, jewelry, candles, apparel, and more.
A booth called "Mystic Talismans" caught Joan's attention, but she knew she had to ditch her atheist friends before they could properly scope out the place. "Hey guys, I'm going to go show Mokuba the best make out spots. We'll catch you later."
Joan pulled Mokuba away from the quad and down a gently curving path. The bodyguards followed at a respectful distance. The path led past the front entrance of a grand four-story library with rows of white metal benches on which students and families sat. Mokuba stared at a sculpture of an egg-shaped head with its nose in a book as they passed.
Joan led Mokuba all the way around the library, past more funky sculptures, until they reached the rear of the library. They paused in the middle of a whimsical footbridge that reminded Mokuba of those found in Japanese tea gardens, except surrounded by young redwood trees. Instead of crossing a waterway, a bicycle path dipped under the bridge. "Very pretty, but why are we here?"
"Mainly to put some distance between ourselves and the Neverlanders so we can do more research on the ring. This place has a little story, though. Upperclassmen like to stand here during the first few days of the school year and watch freshmen crash their bicycles as they go under. There's something about how the path dips so sharply and then goes right back up that causes inexperienced cyclists to lose their balance."
"Oh. So the upperclassmen provide first aid to the freshmen?"
"Only if they really need it. The point is to laugh at them and feel superior. Also to bond with others of the same social standing. Back when I was a freshman, I showed up to watch with the upperclassmen because my parents tipped me off. Being a daughter of alumni had its perks." Joan beamed as she recalled the years before her internship disaster.
Mokuba's eyes bulged. "Your parents went here too?"
Joan leaned on the wooden rail of the bridge. "Yeah. Why is that such a surprise?"
"It's just hard to imagine your mom among all these hippies."
"Well, they weren't her crowd. She was, however, a charter member of one of the big sororities here. I considered joining, but the girls there were way too snooty."
"And your dad?"
"He cooked for a frat house, and they met at one of their mixers."
"That sounds like the perfect romance."
"It is. Monogamy works for them."
"So your parents are still together?"
"Why wasn't your dad at lunch with us?"
"He probably had to work. Despite his university degree, he wound up as a wage monkey like Michael."
"Oh." Curiosity tugged at Mokuba's mind, but if Joan's dad was anything like Gertrude, meeting him would make for another awkward experience. "But you and your mom wound up using your degrees, right?"
Joan laughed. "No. Mom majored in animal science because she wanted to be a veterinarian, and she wound up doing some really boring office thing instead. I came here knowing that social connections mattered as much as grades. I showed up to watch freshmen crash to see if I could score any upperclassmen friends. They were nice to me, but I didn't really connect with them. I wound up hanging out with grad students and professors instead." Joan pointed at a slim nine-story building peeking over the top of a hulking lecture hall. "That's where I had tea on Tuesdays with the Religious Studies Department. Top floor. They joked about being closer to God than anyone else on campus."
"That really puts the 'high' in high society. No wonder you swept Seto off his feet."
Joan smirked. "I'd say the element of surprise is what really got him. You're the one who's impressed by my social connections."
Mokuba blushed. "I, uh . . . yeah."
Joan stroked his cheek and kissed him softly. Mokuba returned the kiss, and it quickly grew zealous. Their tongues tangled for several minutes until they came up for air.
"All right, let's get back to the festival." Joan gave Mokuba one more peck before they strolled off the bridge and completed their circuit of the library.
Once back on the quad, Joan located the Mystic Talisman stall and ogled the crystal pendants until she caught the attention of the shopkeeper. "Is there anything in particular you're seeking?" a man decked in several of his own crystals asked.
"I was wondering how these things work," Joan said.
"All crystals vibrate at a certain frequency, and these vibrations help you attract things like luck, wealth, courage, love, or whatever you need in your life."
"How about answers?"
"For that, I recommend lapis lazuli. It symbolizes truth. People who wear it say that it helps them understand others better."
Joan leaned in close to the shopkeeper and lowered her voice. "That's not what I meant." The hustle and bustle of the festival around them assured Joan that she would not be overheard, as Mokuba also had to draw close to stay in the loop. "Have you ever seen any of these stones glow?"
"Glow? A crystal would have to be vibrating at a very high frequency with lots of energy to do that. It would also have to be a high-quality specimen with no flaws to hold up to that sort of stress. I've heard rumors of that happening, but only for precious crystals like emeralds and diamonds."
Joan slid her ring hand out of her pocket and presented it to the shopkeeper. "Activate random glow."
"Holy smoke! Is this a joke?"
"Yes," Mokuba chimed in, "but let's pretend it's not for a moment."
"I should really get back to my customers."
Mokuba pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and pressed it into the shopkeeper's hand. "We're doing research for a new game concept and would really appreciate your insight."
"OK. Well, um . . ." The shopkeeper took a closer look at the couple before him. "Have I seen you two somewhere? I think maybe there was some meme on the internet."
"That's not important," Mokuba said. "We need to know whatever you can tell us about these gems."
"OK, so it appears you have an opal, a sapphire, a ruby, and an emerald."
"It's peridot," Joan corrected.
"Now that is strange. Peridot is only a semi-precious crystal, but it is used for channeling, so it could have something to do with why the ruby is lighting up."
"They all light up, but we're not completely sure why."
The shopkeeper took a closer look at the names engraved in the metal. "Huh. This is out of my league. I've got a few friends who might know more, though. I can ask around."
"Cancel all glow effects." Joan pulled a business card out of her purse and handed it to the shopkeeper. "Let me know if you come across anything."
Mokuba handed the man another hundred dollars. "But keep this as confidential as possible. We don't want our next game concept getting out too soon."
"Right. Um . . . I'll see what I can find. Here, take a lapis just in case it helps." The shopkeeper reached over to a nearby rack and pulled off a leather cord from which dangled a blue stone in the shape of a lotus. He handed it to Mokuba.
"Thanks." Not wanting to be rude, Mokuba donned the necklace, hoping it wouldn't wind up fused to his body like Joan's ring. With that, they left the Mystic Talismans stall. As soon as they made it out of the shopkeeper's line of sight, Mokuba took off the talisman and pocketed it. "I don't want to take any risks."
"I think you're being paranoid," Joan said. "It's probably too weak to do anything to us, but better safe than sorry, I guess."
Chapter 49: Purple Tent
Mokuba and Joan, trailed by their bodyguards, wandered a little farther amidst whiffs of patchouli and boisterous festival goers until a psychic reading booth caught Joan's attention. Unlike the uniform white canopies that dominated the quad, this one consisted of dark purple fabric elegantly draped over ornate poles.
Joan squeezed Mokuba's bicep and nodded at the purple tent. "Hey, I've always wanted to try one of those but figured it would be a waste of money. Under the circumstances, though, it could be exactly what we need."
"Maybe. Can't hurt, I guess."
They approached the purple tent. Inside stood a little round table with a purple tablecloth and three pillar candles. A wrinkled woman with a coin-fringed scarf over her hair and even more jewelry than the Mystic Talismans shopkeeper sat in a folding chair behind the table. "Welcome! You seek answers to what is hidden?"
"Yes," Joan said.
"Allow me to say, my dear, that you have an absolutely stunning aura of light; the answers will not remain hidden from you for long. My name is Drina, and it will be a pleasure to read your cards."
Oh boy, again with the light thing, Joan thought. All the same, she put on a smile and entered the tent. "I'm Joan, and this is Mokuba."
Drina stood and shook their hands. "Good to meet you, Joan and Mokuba." Drina saw that Mokuba radiated purple and green energy: a good spender. She also noticed a swirling of energy between them. Definitely a couple. A protective field of blue extended around them, and Drina traced it to two more people standing a few paces behind them. "And your friends?"
"Oh. Bodyguards," Joan clarified.
Drina's eyebrows shot up. Like most people at the festival, she didn't follow mainstream media, so why this young couple needed bodyguards baffled her. "Oh? Must they stand so close? Sometimes, I need to reveal things to my clients privately."
Mokuba turned to Tamara and Joe. "Take a little break, but don't go too far. I'm not sure how long this will take."
Drina settled back into her chair and began laterally shuffling a deck of tarot cards. "Is this your first reading?"
"Yes," Mokuba admitted.
"Would you like a couple's reading? I'm sensing a very powerful energy between you two."
Joan and Mokuba exchanged glances.
"Forgive me if I'm wrong," Drina said quickly. "Sometimes, especially at festivals, with so many people excited to have a good time, I mistake that energy for romantic energy."
Mokuba sat down at the table. "No, you're right. A couple's reading sounds good."
Joan pulled up a second chair. "Sure, but we have something else we're wondering about."
"I sense a secret, one that you are keeping from people close to you."
"How'd you know?" Mokuba asked.
"Forgive me if I'm wrong, this is a rather unique case, but the energy I'm sensing from you is very similar to what I've seen in pregnant couples who aren't ready to share the news yet."
Mokuba shivered. "Uh . . . I don't think . . ."
"Probably not. It's possible," Joan said, "but that's not why we're here. We have another issue, one we don't know who we can trust with."
"So, you both have the same question?"
"Yes," Mokuba confirmed.
"That's good. In that case, we'll do a Celtic Cross spread. Is that all right with you?"
Joan and Mokuba nodded.
Drina passed them the deck of cards. "Focus your attention on your question and cut the deck twice, once for each of you." They did, and Drina shuffled them once more. She then laid out ten cards facedown in a complex pattern. Drina turned over the first card, which reminded Joan of a Catholic pope. "This card, the Hierophant, represents your current situation. He stands for tradition, conformity, and religion."
"You're kidding," Joan blurted.
"Ah, but he is reversed. This tells me that you two have a very unconventional relationship based on something most people would not approve of. Are you at odds with your family over your relationship?"
"Yes," Joan said, "my parents don't approve, but they have no control over me at this point."
"And Mokuba, what about your family? I sense they might have more influence over you."
"No. My parents are dead."
Drina closed her eyes. "I'm seeing a very tall man with blue eyes. He's very protective of you but has strange ways of showing it. Your older brother, perhaps?"
Mokuba's eyes rolled. "Everybody knows that."
Drina remembered the bodyguards and tried not to let Mokuba's rudeness faze her. "I'm getting a celebrity vibe here. I sense you're used to being recognized everywhere you go, but I assure you that's not the case here. I see your brother on a spiritual level, and he's very happy about your relationship. However, there's still some tension between you, and that tension plays a role in your question."
"Fair enough," Mokuba admitted. However, his suspicions smoldered.
Drina turned over the next card featuring a man carrying five swords and looking at two more impaled in the ground. "The Seven of Swords, reversed. You're keeping a secret from your brother. This is an obstacle for both of you. You need to talk to him, but you're afraid of how he'll react. You can't move forward until you've overcome this obstacle."
"We'll have to tell him eventually," Joan agreed.
"He's not ready to accept it," Mokuba added.
"I see. This reading is a guide to help you think through possible paths. It is ultimately up to you to make the right choice with the information you have." Drina flipped over a card with eight straight sticks across a blue sky. "The Eight of Wands. This is what brought you to your present predicament. This card symbolizes rapid change, often travel." Her eyes closed once more. "I sense that you have traveled a lot recently, but there's more. I see Mokuba's brother traveling too, and all of this travel has caused things to move very fast, creating a sense of urgency that transformed both of your lives and . . . oh my! Your brother is involved in this romance too?"
"Seriously?" Annoyance edged Mokuba's voice. "Everyone knows that. Tell us something we don't know."
Drina's eyes snapped open. "Patience. Understanding your situation is the first step to answering your questions."
Mokuba turned to Joan. "We're wasting our time here. She's only telling us what she read on the news." He rose to leave.
Chapter 50: Predictions
Joan grabbed Mokuba's hand. "Hold up." She addressed Drina. "You mentioned my aura earlier. How do you see auras?"
"It's all about intention. One needs to desire a deeper understanding of others. Most people only focus on the physical, but if you tune your awareness to the spiritual plane, you can see so much more. This takes practice, and many people feel an aura long before they can see it."
Joan focused her attention on Drina, and Mokuba felt electricity shoot through his head. Joan sensed honesty, curiosity, and compassion surrounding Drina. "She's legit. Let's finish this reading."
"And there is your first answer," Drina said. "Joan has access to a very powerful source of energy that's accelerating her spiritual growth. Mokuba, you are tied to it as well. In fact, there's one ray of light from you and three from more distant sources. It's absolutely incredible to witness. Of course, I'll keep all this in confidence."
Unable to argue with Drina's perception this time, Mokuba sighed and sat back down. "What's the next card?"
Drina revealed a card with a warrior holding three swords. Two more lay on the ground. In the distance, two people walked away. "Five of Swords, reversed. You've fought battles in the past, ones that didn't end well. You may have lost faith in yourself for a time, but in this position in the spread, it means those influences are coming to an end. Joan, I sense that you experienced some career-related trauma. Ultimately, you chose love over your career. It held you back at times but also left you free to seize other opportunities working more independently. Mokuba, you chose your career over love and friendships. It was an especially difficult choice for you, and you've second-guessed yourself many times. You've both carved a path through darkness, and now that you've found each other, you can fill the voids in one another's lives and move on."
"OK, now that's something you couldn't have read in the papers," Mokuba said.
Joan sat back and grinned.
"The next card will show me your goals." Drina flipped over a card portraying a nude male and female gazing at an angelic figure in the sky. "The Lovers. No surprise. You stand for unity and harmony. Your goal is to build a home with not only each other but with all the people you love. This will require strong communication as well as sacrifice. Joan, you strike me as prepared for these sacrifices, but others may find them more difficult. Honesty is the way forward."
Joan liked what she heard, but she didn't see the connection to the ring. Perhaps it would reveal its secrets another time.
"This next card will reveal your future." Drina revealed a hand holding a chalice overflowing with five streams of water descending into a lotus pond. Above the chalice, a dove held what Joan recognized as a communion wafer. "This is a very good sign, one of the best you could hope for. It aligns with the energy I sensed in you when we first met. Are you sure you're not pregnant?"
"Pretty sure. I mean, my husband and I did try recently, but it was rather late in my cycle to expect anything."
Mokuba held his tongue.
"Well, if not now, it seems you will be soon. The Ace of Cups often signifies birth, sometimes the birth of an idea rather than a person, but it could even be both."
Joan smiled. "That's good then."
"Keep in mind that this reading is about the two of you." Drina looked meaningfully at Mokuba. "The next card will reveal more about who the two of you are together." Drina turned over a card depicting a woman with a rounded belly and a crown of stars sitting on a cushy throne in the middle of an orchard. "The Empress. A symbol of abundance, nurturing, growth, and most definitely birth. Again, this could be the birth of an idea, perhaps your blossoming spiritual awareness."
"Or both?" Joan asked.
Drina gave a warm laugh. "Certainly. It could always be both."
Worry lines creased Mokuba's face, but Joan failed to notice, caught up in the beautiful artwork on the cards before her.
Drina noticed Mokuba's discomfort but chose not to confront him after the earlier friction between them. "Next we have the people in your life – your family and friends." Drina flipped over a card with a bearded man on a throne adorned with rams' heads. "Oh my! The Emperor. What are the odds?"
Joan's excitement grew. "Forget the odds. What does it mean?"
"Simply put, he's a father figure. Under normal circumstances, I would say this means your child will have a lot of support from friends and family, but since you also mentioned your husband . . . there's so much more here. I can't separate the energies I'm seeing right now. It's blinding."
"Blinding?" Joan asked.
"Your aura, their auras overlapping. I can't tell what's at the center."
Mokuba let his breath out slowly. Everything Drina said seemed to confirm his sneaking suspicions. He couldn't tell if this was good or bad, and two facedown cards still remained on the table. He wondered if he should call off the rest of the reading, but what excuse could he give this time?
Drina's eyes met Mokuba's as her fingers lingered over the next card. "Are you ready to face your hopes and fears?"
Mokuba gulped and nodded.
Drina revealed the card, a youth dressed in bright colors and holding a chalice containing a single fish. "The Page of Cups. In this position in the spread, this card means you are very open-minded, yet you still fear surprises. The thing you secretly hope for may be the exact same thing you fear. The Page of Cups also tends to signify birth. You have high hopes for your future offspring, but you also have fears. In your unique case, I sense . . ."
"Go on," Joan urged.
"I sense you may fear having a child with the wrong father."
"Shit," Mokuba blurted.
"Calm down. This position in the spread is about your emotions, not reality. Plus, the card is upright, and that indicates a pleasant surprise. Your fears might be unfounded."
Joan took Mokuba's hand and turned to him. "Would it really be so bad if it's yours? Before Michael and I got married, he told me that if I accidentally got pregnant with another man, we could work through it depending on the circumstances. We can test its DNA before it's born and, worst case, we can start over."
"Start over?" Although Joan's terminology was vague, Mokuba had a feeling she meant an abortion. "No. It's just that you trust Michael, but I don't even know him." Mokuba began rambling. "What if he changes his mind and murders me in my sleep? Or worse, what if you wind up with Marc's baby and Laura murders you in your sleep? She gets really violent in her writing and it scares me sometimes. I mean, have you read the lore about the doll part monsters?" Mokuba shook with nervous energy, still not ready to admit his real suspicions.
Drina noticed the change in Mokuba's aura. "Remember the Seven of Swords. Secrets are an obstacle to you, and the sooner you tell the truth, the sooner you can remove that obstacle."
"We know, we know," Mokuba said, "but we need more time."
"If you're sure. The cards are only a guide, and it's up to you to make the right call in the end. Now, let's see your final outcome." Drina flipped over a card with a castle in the background. In the foreground, a man and a maiden danced under a garland of flowers held up by four golden rods. "You lucky ducks! It's the four of wands. It stands for stability and comfort in the home, a happy reunion and celebration. With the four rays of light I've seen converging on Joan, I sense something truly spectacular in your future."
"That's good to hear," Mokuba said.
"See?" Joan said, "Things will be fine. You've got to stop worrying so much."
Mokuba smiled for the first time since they sat down. "Yeah, it probably won't be that bad."
"Well, we got that question answered, but it's not really the question we had in mind," Joan said.
"Actually, it is." Mokuba texted the bodyguards. "Thanks, Drina. This has actually been quite helpful." He stood and handed a wad of cash to the psychic.
"It has?" Joan asked.
"I have a theory I'll explain later. Come on, let's go." Mokuba spotted Joe walking towards the tent and pulled Joan away from the table.
Author's Note: I've been directing y'all to Wattpad for full illustrations. Well, I've been kicked off Wattpad. Apparently, someone went on a crusade against my story and reported every chapter, and their automated system took down my entire profile. I've been asking them to review my content again because I believe it does fall within their content guidelines, but it has been more than a month now, and they have not gotten back to me.
If you still want to see the art, I've been posting this on several other platforms, and I found a new one called Scribble Hub that I'm having a lot of fun with. Unfortunately, Scribble Hub's rating system allows users to rate a story without even reading it, so the first few people gave me a one-star rating. I decided to have some fun with it and take pride in having the lowest-rated story on Scribble Hub. If you'd like to join the one-star party, here is another place where you can view my story with full illustrations: