Making Connections (The Magician, the Major Arcana Series) by Francesca Burke

white on purple text reading 'Major Arcana Series The Magician Francesca Burke'

When booking a session at an exclusive life coach’s ‘wellness centre,’ Natalie anticipated a white sofa, ambient music and mineral water in glass bottles. She thought the life coach would wear loose fitting, neutral clothes and use phrases such as ‘staying present’ and ‘checking in with the soul.’

  She did not expect the lifestyle coach to be psychic.

  Not that she looked remotely magical from the outside, of course. The headquarters of the Eupraxia Centre were predictably achromatic. A smiley receptionist booked Natalie in for her session and gestured to a plush cream couch and coffee table. According to a little piece of card, the table’s wood was reclaimed from a tree destroyed by a storm, carved by workers from an initiative that retrained ex-convicts in life skills. Natalie, wearing Primark polyester and uncomfortably aware that she’d ignored a homeless man on the journey in, squirmed slightly. She hoped life coaching didn’t require a commitment to ethical living and regular charity donations. The last twenty quid in her purse was earmarked for a trip to Aldi on the way home. Natalie’s phone buzzed:

  Are you coming to dinner on Sunday?

  She put it back in her cardigan pocket. It buzzed again.

  It’ll just be you, me and Simon. Nadine didn’t answer my call.

  She put it back in her pocket. It buzzed again.

  We can’t wait to hear how college is going! I’ve told your nan you’ll be able to do her taxes for her next year 😊 Enjoy your day at the wellness centre 😊

  ‘Natalie Ronson?’

  Natalie blinked. Tamsin Nguyen, the therapist whose face took up most of the Eupraxia Centre’s website, emerged from a doorway, smiling brightly and holding out a manicured hand. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you. Follow me! Anne, do you have Ms Ronson’s notes? Ah, thank you—do bring your water—we’re just through here.’

  Tamsin looked exactly as her photos advertised: tall and built, with dark skin and a mane of poker straight black hair, tied in a neat ponytail. She was wearing canvas shoes and a long-sleeved cotton tunic and trousers. Any makeup was so well applied that Natalie couldn’t see it. She held herself exactly as Natalie imagined a lifestyle coach would, gliding through the corridor with the posture of someone who enjoyed a healthy relationship with everyone with whom they interacted on social media.

  ‘So, Ms Ronson,’ Tamsin said when they were settled on another set of cream couches, surrounded by cheery indoor plants and unlit candles. Natalie noticed a tiny hole in her trainer. How long did she have until it became too big to ignore? Maybe a couple of months. She’d look in a charity shop for a pair, or maybe have a browse on Depop. The postage fees, though. Tamsin was still talking; Natalie was still staring at her feet. ‘I see from your application that you’re here to… “reconnect with yourself and your goals.”’

  ‘Um, yes.’ Natalie was suddenly nervous. There had been a tick list on the website—had she clicked the wrong box? ‘I had, um, a difficult year and I just—I wanted to—treat myself. My mum bought me a session for Christmas,’ she added. ‘I couldn’t—I couldn’t afford it myself. This isn’t—it was this or a pedicure. I thought this might be more useful.’ She stopped, flushed. She wondered if she had a sign over her head: ‘FINANCIALLY AND MENTALLY UNSTABLE.’ She wondered if Tamsin had noticed the hole in her trainer.

  Tamsin nodded, although Natalie wasn’t sure what at. ‘Do you mind if I…’ she gestured at Natalie’s face and stood up.

  ‘Oh, um, no.’ Natalie wasn’t sure what she was agreeing to and got to her feet, aware she was sweating slightly. She wondered if this was why the website suggested she wear loose fitting clothes and a sports bra. She’d expected some yoga, or mild cardio, or a back massage. The website’s reviews alluded to all three. Tamsin smiled gently, like she knew what Natalie was thinking, and took one of Natalie’s hands in her own. She pressed a thumb into Natalie’s forehead and closed her eyes, humming slightly. Then she gripped Natalie’s shoulders, feeling along the knots in Natalie’s neck.

  ‘Prolonged stress?’

  ‘What gave it away?’

  Tamsin flashed a smile, eyes still shut. The sleeves of her tunic hitched up, revealing spindly, indistinct tattoos. Hm. Natalie had expected a heart on the inside of the wrist, perhaps, or the word ‘acceptance’ on the ankle. Maybe something in Sanskrit behind the ear. She had not expected full black-and-white sleeves on both arms.

  ‘How long was she in hospital for?’


  ‘Your grandmother. I can’t tell if I’m looking at a hospital or a hospice or both.’

  ‘I don’t… I think it was… a bit of both. I don’t remember. How did you—’

  ‘We can’t look at the future until we’ve respected the past,’ Tamsin said briskly. Her eyes were open now, and she sat back down. Natalie followed suit, feeling slightly dizzy.

  ‘I didn’t put that on the form.’

  ‘I wouldn’t have expected you to. It was twenty years ago. The same year you broke your… wrist?’

  ‘Elbow.’ Natalie winced at the memory. ‘That’s when I had to stop gymnastics.’

  ‘Hm. Now, when was it you realised your parents had separated?’

  Natalie felt dizzy again. Had Tamsin researched her?  None of the reviews mentioned anything quite so personal. ‘Um, I was twenty-three. No, younger. I’d not long stopped university. They came separately to my sister’s engagement party.’

  ‘And the person who threw the glass was…’

  ‘My sister, the night before her wedding. When they finally admitted they’d been seeing other people since we were children.’

  This was not the analytical goal-setting experience Natalie signed up for. She sipped water for something to do with her hands.

  ‘I hope you don’t think this is too forward,’ Tamsin said, more gently. She was reaching into her pocket for something. ‘You did book a wellness session.’

  ‘I was expecting a conversation about career aims and sleeping patterns. I thought you might recommend me a nutritionist.’

  ‘Yes, some of my colleagues do do that. I follow a more holistic school of thought.’

  ‘Does that mean there’s an organisation of wellness coaches who are… who are…’ She couldn’t say psychic. She just couldn’t. Besides, the thought of a network of Tamsins, all pulling memories from the heads of unsuspecting clients, made Natalie feel slightly ill.  She realised Tamsin was holding a deck of cards. ‘Who are intuitive,’ she finished.

  If Tamsin picked up on Natalie’s hesitation, she didn’t show it. ‘There are several practitioners in the wellness industry, yes. Not all, though: one of my colleagues runs an antiques shop and another an ice cream parlour. Now, this last couple of years. I’m seeing two—three—job changes and a house move? No, two house moves and a job change.’

  ‘I was made redundant during the pandemic and decided to retrain at the local college. I work nights in a care home.’

  ‘Mm.’ Tamsin was shuffling the cards, and Natalie realised they were a tarot deck. ‘How is college going?’

  ‘I’m failing all but one of my modules and I can’t afford to switch courses and try something new next year.’

  ‘Your degree, though. Art history. You can do a lot with that.’

  ‘Not in a post-Covid world, I can’t. Not when I didn’t finish the last year. Not without lots of unpaid internships and extra courses and time I don’t really have. I’m doing an accountancy course now. Everyone needs an accountant.’

  ‘Or a hairdresser,’ Tamsin said mildly. ‘Or an undertaker.’

  Natalie wondered what Tamsin was getting at. ‘I suppose.’

  ‘But you’ve found that accountancy isn’t for you.’

  Natalie realised it wasn’t a question. ‘No. But—I’m out of time to find out what is.’

  ‘What makes you think that?’

  ‘I’m twenty-six and share a flat with four other people. My mum has to help me out with my bills. There aren’t any other options. Not without—without… changing everything.’

  ‘Is that something you feel certain of?’ Tamsin asked lightly. ‘That you would have to upend your entire life to get to where you want to be, and that doing so isn’t an option?’

  ‘Of course.’ But as she said it, Natalie felt herself hesitate.

  Tamsin finished shuffling her cards and handed them to Natalie. ‘We’re doing a short reading, today. I don’t think you need any complication. Do a little shuffle yourself. Pick, ah, three.’

  ‘What will they do?’

  ‘I’m hoping they give you some direction.’ Tamsin smiled again. Despite herself, Natalie found herself smiling back, just a tiny bit. ‘Let’s see if we can’t put you on the path to new trainers.’

  ‘Before we start—’ Natalie wasn’t sure why she was stalling, why doubt sloshed around her stomach. ‘How difficult is this path going to be? How—’ she searched for words. Tamsin waited patiently. ‘How hard is it going to be to get to where I want to go?’

  ‘Well, that’s a difficult question,’ Tamsin replied. ‘Where we want to go may not be where we need to go, as you’ll doubtless have read on a number of wooden placards. And of course, what we want changes over time.’

  ‘Not for me,’ Natalie burst out. ‘I know where I want to be.’ Tamsin didn’t say anything, so Natalie continued. ‘I want a job I enjoy going to and I want to be able to afford to live somewhere with a garden. That’s it. Maybe some nice holidays. I just—I just don’t know how to get there from here.’

  Tamsin’s smile grew. ‘It’ll be easier to focus after the reading, of course, but my instincts are that you’ve not found yourself on the wrong path so much as an adjacent one.’

  ‘Is that good?’

  ‘It’s not bad. I can’t promise that you’re going to have an easier time of things while you forge your way forward. But I don’t think it’s likely to be any harder than anything you’ve already lived through.’

  Natalie thought of the texts on her phone. She thought of the shopping list in her purse. ‘All right, then. Let’s do this.’

Five years later

  Martin didn’t know what to expect when he booked a session at the Eupraxia Centre. He was no longer sure what to expect from the people he loved most, nor from his own thoughts, so he was less surprised than some might be when he walked into the therapy centre, inhaled its clean, cream scent and realised that almost everyone who worked there was as magical as a five-year old’s trip to Disneyland.

  So he just waited for the therapist to greet him, wondering how hard it was to clean dirt off the rug in reception.

  ‘Mr Atwood? Welcome to Eupraxia. My name is Natalie, I’ll be your therapist today. How are you?’

  Martin found himself shaking Natalie’s hand, dazzled by a dainty smile and faint scent of lavender. As she released his hand, he noticed spidery, rune-like tattoos peeking from her cotton sleeve and wrapping themselves around her knuckles. When she turned to lead him down the corridor, another set of runes greeted him from the back of her neck.

  When they were seated, Martin asked, ‘So which type of magic is it that you do here?’

  Natalie raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re very perceptive. We dabble in a little bit of a lot of things. My boss, Tamsin, would say we use whatever you need.’

  ‘What would you say?’

  ‘I’d say that you, Mr Atwood, look in dire need of a detailed card reading and possibly some art therapy.’

  ‘Art therapy?’

  ‘Not quite in the realms of magic, I’m afraid, that, unless you make it so yourself. Now, let’s begin. How have you been feeling lately?’

Thank you for reading! Please consider sharing the Major Arcana series with anyone who might like it.

Did you know you can read my short stories before they’re public by joining the No. 1 Readers’ Club on Patreon? When you join, I’ll name a character after you (my newest member Natalie is in this story!). Alternately, consider buying me a coffee – same effect, less direct debits…

You can read more about what inspired the Major Arcana series on my website. Learn about where you can get my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes here.

Copyright © 2021 by Francesca Burke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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