Jasmine

by April McGowan

She survived her past…but how can she face it?

Jasmine is a survivor. She ’s lived through the abuse of her father, running away at age fourteen, and living on the streets. Now she counsels at-risk young women—giving them a second chance at life.

But when her mother dies,  can Jasmine go home again and face all she’s forced herself to forget for the last twenty years? Or will the past she has long forgotten take over her present once again?

Chapter 1

The cold from the linoleum floor cut through Jasmine’s jeans as she sat with her back braced against the hospital wall. Her eyes sagged closed as her mind whirred from exhaustion and worry. Sleep beckoned, and strange images flitted through her mind, flashing in odd synchronicity with the flickering fluorescents overhead.

Someone jiggled her shoulder, pressing down, squeezing. Survival instincts kicked in, and she reached back to draw her knife from the waist of her pants. When her fingers came up empty, her other hand came around and snatched the throat of her attacker. Her foggy mind engaged as her assailant choked out her name.

“Jazz?”

Jasmine’s eyes widened in recognition, and she released her grip. Officer Banner sank back on the floor, scooting away from her, rubbing his throat, and coughing. She ran her fingers through her hair and avoided eye contact, hoping he wouldn’t ask for an explanation. There wasn’t one—none worth giving. He should know better than to touch someone who was asleep.

“What’s going on?” Jasmine stood on shaky legs, glancing toward the hospital room door. She tucked a loose strand of black hair behind her ear and stretched.

Open mouthed, Officer Banner stared at her. “I was going to tell you she’s awake.” He continued to rub his throat.

“Good.” Avoiding his stare, she hurried toward the room. Before she could enter, his partner came out.

“Officer Gerry.” She greeted the female officer with a nod.

“Jazz. Did you see what happened?”

“No, I found Misty outside our complex. I’d just finished a late dinner when I heard her scream, and I ran out. She’d been beaten, and by the time I got out there she was unconscious. I called an ambulance, and we’ve been here since waiting for treatment. What time is it, anyway?”

Ned Banner glanced at his watch. “Zero-four-hundred.”

“Has Misty said anything about the attack?” Jasmine caught the look Gerry shot to Banner. “What?”

“She’s probably been raped. That’s what the doctor thinks. But she denies it and won’t let them test.”

Jasmine swallowed away the anguish. “I’ll see if she’ll talk to me.” As an at-risk women’s counselor, she’d faced this situation many times, but it never got any easier.

Leaving Banner and his partner outside, she walked into the room. Misty lay on the hospital bed, shivering, her arms pulled tight against her chest. She stared out the window but didn’t appear to see anything. The rails of the bed were up, reinforcing the appearance of her helplessness.

“Hi, Misty.” She moved around to the other side of the bed. At least they’d given the girl a private room. Jasmine put her hand on Misty’s shoulder, causing her to jump. “It’s okay, it’s me, Jazz.”

“Jazz.” Misty focused on Jasmine for the first time. They’d met when Jasmine visited the jail a year ago. Back then, Misty appeared older, more sure of herself. Today, without the hardened look in her eyes and gaudy makeup, she seemed much younger than her eighteen years. Tears streamed down her bruised cheeks and over her split lip.

“It’s okay, you’re safe.” Jasmine held her tight, feeling Misty’s body shake in her arms. “You’re going to be okay.”

Misty nodded and pulled away, accepting the tissue Jasmine handed to her.

“Do you know who hurt you?” Jasmine waited, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

Misty’s face paled, and she hesitated before answering. “I don’t know. One minute I was outside our building, waiting for a friend, and the next I woke up here.”

Jasmine was an expert at reading people, but this time, she couldn’t tell if Misty was giving her the full story. “If something comes back to you, let me know. You’ll stay here for now. Get some rest and I’ll check in with you in the morning. If you need me, you call.”

Misty nodded and absently stared out the window again. After dropping her business card on the bedside table, she gave Misty’s stiff form another hug and left the room.

Jasmine needed to get back to her apartment, away from there, to gain a little perspective. And a lot of sleep. As she headed out of the hospital, she heard footsteps behind her and tensed. Didn’t that guy ever quit?

“Can I walk you home?” Banner caught up to her and shot her a confident grin. He was probably in his thirties, too, but even with his difficult job as a police officer, they were years apart in life experience.

“What about Gerry?”

“Our shift is about over. She’s heading back to the department.”

“I don’t need an escort. I can handle myself. Besides, the creep that did this won’t be hanging around our building.”

“I’m going that way anyway.”

Jasmine shrugged and kept up her original hurried pace heading for Broadstreet House. The image of her cozy flat and fluffy comforter danced before her eyes even as the rain fell on them in sheets. One of these days, she’d have to actually buy an umbrella. Wasn’t that the sign of a true Portlander? Do your best not to acknowledge the rain. Liquid sunshine. Complete denial.

They walked in silence for a few blocks; the only sounds to meet her ears were their shoes hitting the rain-soaked pavement and water droplets bouncing off the awnings they dodged under. Businesses hadn’t opened, and it was too wet and early for most people to be out yet. She didn’t mind. At moments like these, she’d pretend the streets were clean and safe. That the homeless didn’t exist, and the runaways, loved and protected by their families, were fed and warm in their beds. Really, though, that didn’t make her any better than most people who chose to look the other way.

Banner finally broke the silence. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

“Scared me?” She glanced at him.

“Yeah. When you grabbed me in the hospital. I must have startled you.”

Jasmine didn’t reply right away. She had been on her own for the better part of her life, and she didn’t need anyone trying to look out for her. She hadn’t been afraid—she was on autopilot.

“It’s cool.”

Banner nodded. “I’m glad you left it at home.”

She frowned. “Left what at home?”

“Whatever it was you were reaching behind your back for. If not, I think I’d still be at the hospital.” He rubbed at his throat, trying to joke with her, but she was sure he didn’t realize how true it was. Instinct forced her to reach for a knife she’d given up carrying. She hadn’t had to use it in years, but there was a certain comfort in having it handy.

“Sorry.” The skin around her neck and face warmed, and she knew if it had been lighter out he would see her splotching. He’d probably assume she was embarrassed. Hardly.

“No apologies necessary. I should know better than to grab someone who’s asleep.”

They agreed on something.

When they arrived at the complex, Banner opened the gate to the atrium and escorted her to the stairs of her flat. The building was an early 1900s Victorian, divided into studio apartments, with a central garden. She and Brandi had made sure each unit was clean, with updated carpet and paint. Even though all the furnishings were donated, it was the nicest place Jasmine had ever lived, and she hoped to stay there a long time. After a day like today, it was heaven. When Misty returned, they’d talk about taking more precautions when out at night.

Banner moved to walk Jasmine to her apartment, but she put up a hand to stop him. “I’ve got it from here.” She never invited men into her apartment, cop or no cop.

“Get some rest.”

“Thanks.” She climbed the stairs to the second floor, closing the door behind her without bothering to say good night. She turned on the nearest lamp, lighting the room with a warm yellow glow. Going to her knees, she looked under the bed, stood and checked the closet, pushing past all the shirts and pants. Heading to the bathroom, she flicked on the light, eyeing the clear plastic shower curtain and empty shower stall. When it was apparent no one was hiding inside, she flipped the locks on her apartment door and finished by sliding the desk chair under the handle.

Jasmine kicked off her shoes and caught her reflection in the oval mirror near her bed. Her green eyes were haggard and rimmed in dark circles. Tonight was close to home. Too close. She pulled her black hair into a ponytail and slipped out of her jeans, exchanging her T-shirt for an oversized nightshirt. After brushing her teeth and washing her face, she climbed into bed and turned out the lamp. The sodium orange street light filtered through the cracks of the curtains on her window, giving the room a hazy look.

Her mind wandered, remembering the evening’s events. The thud and scream outside her window. Finding Misty in a bloodied heap. Her own screams for help. It was like reliving history, all those years ago when she was on the street. She’d been the bloodied heap, and someone else had screamed for help.

She curled into a ball, pressing the pillow against her eyes, and refused to think about it anymore. Tomorrow life would go on. It always did. Even if she didn’t want it to.

Her thoughts shifted to Misty and what might become of her. Did she know the man who had attacked her? It wouldn’t surprise Jasmine. Victims on the streets often knew their attackers. It might have been her shiftless drug-selling ex. And she’d probably leave the hospital before morning and take off with him. Unfortunately, she might not see Misty again. People like her were good at hiding their trails and erasing their existence. If you survived more than a few months out there, you got good at it. Or you were done.

An ache behind her eyes pulled her attention away. Jasmine pressed her cold fingers to her lids and held them there. The pain built ever so slowly, with a sneakiness she always associated with cat burglars. She reached inside the desk that served the dual purpose of her nightstand, and pulled out her prescription. On the street, living in back alleyways, she had to suffer through the migraines, lying underneath cardboard boxes, or hiding in dark corners that smelled of urine and garbage. She didn’t miss those days.

Jasmine popped a little white pill into her mouth and let it melt under her tongue. Getting up, she closed the blinds behind the curtains. Darkness enveloped her, easing the pain. She closed her eyes as she sat back down on the bed and willed the pill to work.

The sour smell of her forgotten dinner dishes wafted from the sink to her nose, swirling around her like a tightening noose. Searing pain shot through her head, visible and hot like a blast of lightning. She moved her thoughts away and tried to think of something else. Had she locked the door? The chair was there, and she never put the chair under the handle unless she’d locked it. But she’d been distracted and tired. Maybe she’d forgotten this time. Jasmine made a move to check, and nausea stole her breath away. Shuffling over to the door, she checked the lock, the latch and the dead bolt. All secure. She hated when her mind played tricks on her. She took several deep breaths to release the stress building in her body.

That was a mistake.

She rushed to the bathroom and lost her dinner and most of the pill. Strangely enough, throwing up took the pressure away from her head. Exhausted, she crept her way to bed and climbed between the cool sheets. Tomorrow she’d go and check on Misty—if she could find her.

Chapter 2

Incessant knocking woke Jasmine from a deep, dreamless sleep. The curtains blocked out most of the daylight, making it hard to tell the time. As her eyes adjusted, she focused on the clock. Eight am, which normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, but she’d only been asleep for three hours.

“Who is it?” Her voice croaked as she yelled toward the door.

“Ned Banner.”

Seriously?

Groaning, she climbed from the bed, pulling on a pair of sweats as she went. She cracked the door, leaving on the chain, staring at him through the slim opening.

“You do realize I’ve only been asleep a few hours here?”

“Sorry to wake you. I was just at the hospital. Misty snuck out sometime in the last hour.”

A growl of frustration escaped. “I’ll keep an eye out for her. If she shows up, I’ll let you know.” She began to close the door.

“So, I was thinking,” he started, and stuck his shoe into the opening of the doorway.

Irrational fear made her skin prickle. “What?” Her hand tensed on the door knob.

“One of these mornings as I’m going off shift, and you’re heading to work, we should get together and have breakfast. What do you think?”

Nonplussed, she stared at him.

“I mean, it makes sense. We make a great team out here, helping youth. We should take it to the next level.”

Next level? Team? “Listen, Officer Banner, I appreciate that you think sticking your foot in my doorway and offering a nice girl like me a good time is your way of inviting me into some sort of relationship, but you are way out of line. I have tried, in no uncertain terms, to put you off. We aren’t a team in any sense of the word, and never will be. Now, kindly remove your foot from my door before I hurt you.” The realization that she was threatening a police officer came only after she’d finished her tirade. The shocked look on his face almost made her regret her harsh tones.

She got over it when he snorted and said, “It’s not like you’re getting any younger, Jazz.”

“Good-bye.” She shoved against the door. He pulled his foot free before she smashed it. Setting the dead bolt, she climbed back into bed. As she was about to fall back asleep, there came another round of knocking on her door.

“Go away!”

“Uh, I can’t,” came an unfamiliar voice.

She got up and went once again to the door. Leaving the chain on, she peered out, seeing a delivery person. “Can I help you?”

“I’ve got a registered letter for Jasmine Reynolds.”

She hesitated. “That’s me.”

The befuddled delivery boy slipped a clipboard through the opening. “Please sign and print your name.”

She did as requested, handed back the clipboard and accepted a manila envelope before closing the door. She’d never gotten a registered letter before. Really, the only mail she ever got was bills. And they never came to “Jasmine,” they were always addressed to “Jazz.” She gave up using Jasmine as her name her first year away from home. It gave her an edge. Jasmine was a lost, abused, helpless girl. Jazz was a tough street kid no one would mess with if they were smart.

She climbed back into bed, pulled the covers up, and looked over the package. The return address belonged to Sampson and Benson, Attorneys at Law, Bright River, Oregon. Her hands went cold. She pulled the covers tighter and stared down at the envelope. She hadn’t voluntarily thought of Bright River in years. For some people, the name of their hometown would bring warm, fuzzy memories, but she had none of those. At fourteen, she’d left with Fiona and the carnival and never looked back. At least, she’d never gone back.

Her fingers lifted the clasp on the back and slid under the flap, opening the letter. She pulled out a slip of paper with the same name on the letterhead as on the envelope, scanned it, then re-read it. It slipped from her hands to the floor as she lay back against her pillows.

Her mother was dead.

Her father had died ten years ago, and now her mother was dead as well. They would have invited her to the funeral if they’d had her contact info at the time, but they only came across it in an old file her mother had. Dead and buried for a week. They requested she come for the reading of the will. It’d been her mother’s last wish. Why?

There was no way she could go there. That life didn’t matter now. She had a meaningful job and good friends. Well, she had Brandi, anyway. And her little apartment and peace. The very last thing she’d ever imagined doing was going home. The girls here needed her. She couldn’t run off and abandon them. Besides, her mother clearly had her address. If she’d really wanted her to come home, wouldn’t she have contacted her before now?

Jasmine let out a long breath. The weariness from the previous day sank down upon her. A tear slipped from her eye. She always advised her clients to get back in touch with family when it was safe to do so. It gave them closure. She hadn’t taken her own advice, and now it was too late. Jasmine turned over and hugged a second pillow to her chest. She closed her eyes, hoping exhaustion would take over and chase her thoughts away, but instead her mind clicked awake.

She leaned over the side of the bed and picked up the letter. Her eyes focused on the signature at the bottom. Tim Able. Timmy? It had to be him. She read it again for any sign of the friendship they had once shared, but found none. The letter read cold and businesslike. Considering Tim had once been her best friend, it was startling. Then again, she’d never told him what was happening at home. She couldn’t have faced him again if he’d known. Had he ever forgiven her for running away and never saying good-bye? From the tone of the letter, it didn’t appear so.

She’d always told herself that running away was the best thing she could have done. At least she had someone to run to. A second tear slipped down her cheek as she remembered Fiona. She was the first adult Jasmine had ever really trusted. Sure, she had “gypsy blood” as Fiona had called it—the urge to travel and the inability to stay in one place too long. But she was trustworthy—a new concept at the time.

Hadn’t Fiona and Brandi been her inspiration to reach out and help girls just like she’d been?

Conviction settled over her like a heavy, dirty blanket. What kind of counselor was she if she couldn’t face her own issues? She gave good advice; maybe it was time she took some of it. Brandi had been encouraging her to face her issues for years. Her parents were dead now—they couldn’t hurt her any more. She knew what she had to do. Jasmine picked up her phone and called her mentor.

“What’s up?” Brandi’s sunny voice wavered through to her ear.

“I’m going to need to leave town for a bit.” She walked to the closet and pulled down her suitcase.

“I sure hope you’re taking a vacation.”

“No.”

“I should have known better. You’ve never taken one before—might as well stick with a clean record.”

“Ha ha.” She paused, drawing in a controlling breath. “Listen, I just got word that my mother passed away.”

“Oh shoot, I’m so sorry, Jazz. Are you going to the funeral?”

“No, missed that I guess. They want me there for the will reading.” She stood in front of the open closet, befuddled by the situation, not knowing what to pack.

“Are you okay?”

“Not really.” She moved to the opposite wall, slid down, and sat on her floor, staring at her clothes.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

Did she? Part of her wanted to say yes, but the rest desired the familiar comfort of her self-imposed isolation. “No. But will you keep an eye out for Misty?”

“I heard about it.”

Jasmine sighed. “Banner.”

“Ned’s a good guy. A little in your face, but basically good.”

“Whatever you say, just keep him away from me.” She folded a cable knit sweater and a couple pairs of jeans—leaving the ones with the holes in the knees in the closet.

“Ask you out, did he?”

“How’d you know about it?” Jasmine felt her neck go hot.

“I could see it coming.”

“He said, and I quote, ‘It’s not like you’re getting any younger.’” The ire from yesterday washed over her.

“Did you deck him?” The grin was audible in Brandi’s voice.

“In my mind. You know I don’t have time for men, and even if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be Ned.”

“I know.”

Jasmine could hear Brandi’s disappointment but didn’t take the bait to go down that path of the conversation. All that needed to be said about that had been said. “Are you going to kick Misty out?”

“No, not until I know the whole story. If someone attacked her, that’s no fault of her own. If she was meeting with her ex and he beat her, then she’s broken her word to us. You know the rules. The apartments are for girls who want to really change their lives and get off the streets for good. They have to make that choice; we can’t force them into it. She signed the contract, and she knows what will happen if she breaks it. We can’t make an exception for her, because the next one will walk all over us.”

“I know. She’s got such promise. I hope she’s okay.” She started packing her toiletries case, making sure to stow her migraine prescription inside.

“Me too. I’m not in the habit of giving up on my girls.” The sentence carried a double meaning for Jasmine.

“I know. And I’ll be grateful to the end of my days.” She hoped Brandi knew how grateful she was.

“When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Call me when you get settled.”

Jasmine smiled at Brandi’s mothering tone. “As my friend, my counselor, or my boss?” She bit the side of her lip, waiting for Brandi’s classic comeback.

“Any one will do.”

Jasmine swiped her phone off. It wasn’t any good. No matter how much staring she did at her wardrobe, nothing jumped out at her to pack. Her two business suits were somber and responsible looking for court. But most of her wardrobe was composed of jeans and T-shirts. Overdressing put off people on the street. Maybe she’d go buy some new clothes.

No, like Brandi said, why break her record? She’d figure something out. Somehow.

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