Jasmine flopped down on her bed, reached for her portable MP3 player on the nearby nightstand, and put her headphones on. She escaped to the pounding rhythm of her favorite rock music. She didn’t have many other means of escape these days.
Her mother was such a nag. Always had been, always would be, no doubt. It’s just that since dad’s death, she’d been so much worse, always nagging her to do this or not to do that. Her father hadn’t been much better. He just ignored her instead of getting on her case all the time. He seemed to be home less and less in the last few years of his life. She assumed that was because he was getting sick of being around her mother.
Jasmine loved to eavesdrop on her mother’s phone conversations. Two nights ago she’d heard her tell her best friend Heidi that she suspected her father of seeing someone at the hospital before he died. She also heard her tell Heidi that she suspected he’d gotten someone committed to the hospital that had pissed her aunt Maureen off pretty bad and that she’d recently escaped with the help of one of the therapists.
Last night she’d overheard her talking to her aunt, telling her that the escaped patient wasn’t to blame for her miscarriage or for her father’s death, but Jasmine silently wondered about that. Perhaps it was true that her father wouldn’t have been there when the earthquake struck if it hadn’t been for that crazy patient he had to deal with to keep her aunt happy.
Jasmine had wished so many times that her father’s occupation could be anything other than a shrink. The kids at school constantly teased her about it, saying that the crazy nuts he worked with would not only make him crazy too, but one day they’d all break out and butcher them in their sleep. She hadn’t believed it, of course, but hearing these kinds of things year after year grew old.
She wished she could go out to a movie or perhaps to the roller-skating rink, but ever since that night a few months ago, the night that had brought both shame and embarrassment to her as well as to her parents, she’d been grounded. A very close eye had been kept on her ever since.
She rose from the bed and walked over to her full-length mirror, MP3 player in hand. Almost sixteen years old, yet still no signs of any boobs forming. Other kids dubbed them “mosquito bites.” She brushed back her long auburn hair. She was awfully scrawny, she noted. It was amazing that she had been able to kick the crap out of her classmate like she did a few months ago when that stuck-up Beverly Heinz had teased her in the bathroom about ending up just as insane as her father’s patients. She’d been suspended for a few days and then she had to do a week’s worth of detention, but it was worth it. It was even worth her mother’s lectures, which in turn, had caused her parents to argue for hours. Her father had urged her mother to ease up on her. Especially since she had only been defending herself against being bullied. Her mother, on the other hand, said violence never made sense unless you were hit first.
“The girl didn’t go to attack her!” her mother had screamed.
Jasmine couldn’t help but overhear this one.
“But Erin, if she’d done nothing to fight back, she’d have to keep on being ridiculed by this girl, year after year. Now, however, she’s not going to even think of flapping her trap,” her father had shouted back.
“Still, Jonas, she should’ve ignored her.”
“Ignoring others doesn’t always solve the problem. In fact, it can have just the opposite effect. It can make them all the more determined to get at you, and not fighting back sends a message saying that it’s ok to do so. Well, look at how things are now, Erin. Yes, she gave the girl a black eye and a bloody lip, and yes she got suspended, but has anyone hassled her in any way since? I say she should’ve knocked the sense into one of these troublemakers a long time ago.”
“She has no friends, Jonas.”
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have no friends at all, than friends who are stuck-up little bullies with nothing better to do than torment others.”
“Not all the kids are that way,” said Erin.
“She’ll make friends when she’s ready to,” Hoffritz insisted.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Made any so-called friends at the clinic lately, Jonas?”
“Oh, please. Give me a break! I bust my ass so you and Jasmine can have all that you have, and this is what I get for it?”
“Why is it that you don’t always answer my pages?”
“I told you. I have a lot of meetings to attend these days. Too many changes going on. People quitting, people being fired, people being hired.”
“But sometimes when I call your answering service, they tell me you’ve already left the building and aren’t even in any meetings.”
“Then stop calling the answering service if you don’t like what they’re telling you.”
“Oh, so that’s your solution, Jonas? Don’t bother to ask in the first place? Just play deaf, dumb and blind and hope for the best?”
“I’m not seeing anyone, Erin.”
“Then why are you becoming more and more of a stranger in this house? And why are you…”
Jasmine had heard enough. That night she climbed out her bedroom window and ran off to the local pizza joint, a popular hangout for the high school kids in that area. It was still early, so she assumed that there would be bound to be some kids in the eatery. At least the ones whose parents weren’t strict as far as them being out on school nights like hers were. However, once she walked the three blocks to the pizza place, she was surprised to find it deserted. She sat in a booth by the window, hoping someone would come in. Someone who would cheer her up. Someone she could pour her troubles out to.
Ten minutes later, two boys she recognized from school entered the place. They were both her age. One was blond and the other had sandy brown hair. She didn’t know their names because they didn’t share any of the same classes. She only knew that they were popular. Especially the blond one. Jasmine was somewhat surprised that they weren’t accompanied by some of the popular girls.
The sandy-haired boy went to the counter while the blond one glanced her way and smiled. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” Jasmine responded shyly.
Over a large mushroom pizza which the boys shared with her, they got into a discussion about school, music, sports, and then finally drugs.
“Ever been high before?” the blond one asked. She still didn’t know their names, though they knew hers. When she asked for names, the blond boy, who did most of the talking, simply told her to call one of them Frumpy and the other Grumpy.
“No, I’ve never smoked cigarettes, used drugs, or gotten drunk before,” Jasmine told them.
“Too bad,” said Blondie. “You don’t know what you’re missing. Want to try a joint with us?”
Jasmine hesitated, then asked where they had in mind to smoke it.
“I know this place we could go to. It’s just right up the street.”
“There’s an empty house for sale on the corner just up the street. Because it’s on the corner, we can easily get into the backyard. As long as we’re quiet enough so that the people in the house next door don’t hear us, we’ll be ok there.”
Jasmine was nervous about it, but she knew that if she refused, she’d have to hear all about it at school for God knew how long, so she reluctantly agreed to go.
Although it was a lovely evening with cool yet comfortable temperatures and not much humidity, it was dark. So dark. One of the street lights was out, making it seem even darker. Jasmine shook with nervousness as she wondered if she would live to regret this night.
It’s too late now, she told herself as she followed Frumpy and Grumpy down the street to the vacant house on the corner lot. She wasn’t about to make a fool of herself by turning around and running like a little chicken.
“The way into the backyard is around the corner in the back alley,” Blondie whispered as they approached the old rambling house. “Stay by the wall so no one sees us.”
They crept along a dark red stockade fence. A few yards down the alley was a gate that led into the backyard. Blondie reached over and clicked the latch. The gate creaked open.
“Shhh,” whispered the sandy-haired boy. “Open it slowly.”
“I’m trying,” his friend told him.
With the gate now open, Jasmine followed the sandy-haired boy into the yard. She looked up at the second-floor windows next door. Although they were bathed in light, the shades were drawn.
Blondie slowly closed the gate behind him, then turned to face the others. “You got anything?” he asked his friend.
“Just a half a pack of smokes I swiped from my dad’s desk in his study,” came the reply in the darkness.
Jasmine strained to make out the outlines of the two boys. Their silhouettes were barely visible with what little light streamed out from the house next door.
A dog started barking. The trio froze.
“Is that in the next yard?” asked Jasmine.
“No, the damn beast is a couple of yards down. It’s barked like this before. Dogs are supposed to have really keen hearing,” Blondie said.
“I wish it would shut the fuck up,” his friend muttered through bared teeth.
“Chill out, dude, will you?” Blondie said. “Don’t stir it up even more.”
“Maybe we should forget about this,” Jasmine suggested.
“Nah. Just stay close to the wall where it’s more shadowy,” said Blondie, who then pulled a sandwich bag from his coat pocket.
“What’s that?” asked Jasmine.
“It’s a joint, just like I told you.” Blondie lit the joint and took a long hit off of it, sucking it in deep and holding his breath a moment or two before handing it to his friend.
His friend did the same thing Blondie had done, then he handed it to Jasmine.
Jasmine took hold of the joint and brought it to her lips.
“Just suck on it sort of as if it were a straw,” Blondie instructed.
Jasmine did as she was told, then burst into a coughing fit. This set the dog off even more.
“Shit!” his nervous friend hissed, glancing towards the neighboring house.
Another dog from another yard began to bark as well.
“Cover your mouth,” Blondie told her.
Jasmine thought she would never stop coughing, but after a few minutes, the coughing subsided. Despite the racket, it hadn’t seemed to draw anyone’s attention.
“I think we’re still ok,” Blondie’s friend said.
“Yeah, we’re ok.”
Jasmine allowed the two to finish the joint by themselves, insisting that she should head for home.
“So soon?” asked Blondie. “But the fun’s just starting.”
“I know, but I’m getting dizzy. If I get any dizzier, I’ll never be able to get home.”
“We’ll carry you.”
“No thanks,” said Jasmine, reaching for the gate.
“Hey, not so fast,” Blondie said, causing his friend to giggle as he pulled Jasmine’s hand away from the gate’s latch.
“Come on, guys, I really appreciate the pizza and the hit off the joint, but I really should be going.” Again she reached for the gate and again Blondie jerked her hand away.
“I don’t think so,” Blondie said. “Seems to me you owe us a little something in return.”
“But I have no money or anything to give you,” Jasmine told them.
“Maybe you have no money, but you’ve got something else you could give us.”
The two friends laughed, sending waves of fear throughout Jasmine. One of them she could handle. But two?
Blondie gave the remaining stub of a joint to his friend and grabbed Jasmine by the shoulders. He then pulled her against him and mashed his lips against hers, bruising them. Jasmine gasped for air when he finally let her go. She went to kick him in the crotch but missed. Instead, his friend went around behind her and held her by the arms while Blondie undressed her down to nothing but her panties.
Now wild with a desperate, wild fury, Jasmine kicked again at Blondie’s crotch. This time her aim was dead-on. Blondie doubled over in pain and howled like a wolf.
Jasmine spun around to grab her clothes, but Blondie’s friend had pitched them over the wall of the neighboring house. Mad with both rage and embarrassment, she punched him in the nose. She heard a crack and could faintly make out the blood that spurted from it through the darkness. They began to cuss her out, no longer caring who may hear them.
While both boys were incapacitated, she managed to fling open the gate. She ran screaming around the corner and to the front door of the brightly lit neighboring house, arms across her chest.