At thirteen years old, Jasmine had yet to hit puberty unlike the rest of the “cool” girls in her grade. In an attempt to help stem her daughter’s growing inferiority complex from lack of breasts and height, her mother bought her some training bras. When they just slid up her flat chest, Jasmine decided it was the thought that counted.
It was during a ritual destruction of said bras in the girl’s locker room, so her mother wouldn’t find the remains at home and be hurt, that brought her into the path of Sam—or rather, the smell of pot.
Jasmine had been confused as to why cigarette smoke could ever smell sweet instead of acrid. When she tracked the scent out the fire escape door of the girl’s locker room, which led outside of the school, she found herself stepping out into a huddled group of baggy-panted, wannabe-gangster boys.
They all turned to look at her. Jasmine just stared back. Then her eyes fell on the homemade white sticks in their fingers and she paled.
“Grab her,” said one.
Faster than light, Jasmine sucked back into the girl’s locker room, slammed the door closed, and heard the shutdown lock engage. For a breathless second, she listened to the clacking of the locked door handle before pivoting on the spot and bolting. Some sort of icky horror had welled up in her chest. She felt as though she had just witnessed the destruction of somebody’s childhood or the announcement of a life sentence in prison, rather than just a bunch of stupid middle school boys smoking something other than cigarettes.
Those aren’t cigarettes! Those are something else—they’re poisoning themselves! They’re going to get addicted and live a short life as society’s greatest losers! I have to do something—I have to tell someone!
She didn’t think twice before rushing into the front office and finding someone to stutter to. In a moment, several adults were out scouring the grounds and, as luck would have it, they were just in time to catch the boys with MJ smeared into the creases of their fingernails.
Jasmine breathed a sigh of relief. She felt she had done the right thing. Obviously, those guys hadn’t thought about the consequences before they tried their first joint. Now they were, probably, writhing in the abyss of addicted, brain-dead misery! She trusted that the adults would know how to throw the proverbial rope of salvation. They wouldn’t end up like all those people in the pictures of toothless, drug-abusing zombies the D.A.R.E project people always showed the student body at the annual assembly. And while zombies were awesome in games, reality was a different story.
Unfortunately for Jasmine and many other well-meaning people, those who have been ‘saved’ didn’t always want to be saved in the first place. She found this out on finding five boys waiting for her when she climbed onto the bus after school.
They passed notes to the driver from their “parents” and sat behind her until the bus reached her stop. She hoped against hope that her life wasn’t about to turn into a justice scene from The Godfather. At first she thought it was going to be okay as the boys just casually followed her. But as soon as the bus was out of sight, they ran her down behind an apartment complex and dragged her behind the garbage dumpsters.
Jasmine had never been punched in her life, let alone whaled on.
When she limped into the house, even her step-brothers couldn’t crack a laugh. Both her mother and stepfather were at work, so she settled for a dinner of ibuprofen and curled up in the sanctuary of her closet, numb, in a shell-shocked sort of way. What had happened to her didn’t happen anymore...shouldn’t happen. She shouldn’t hurt as much as she did. Doing something right, like stopping kids from doing drugs, shouldn’t make you hurt this much.
And she had only been trying to help.
She didn’t cry until her mother opened up her closet door and her step-brothers’ faces peeked in from beneath her arms. Then she couldn’t stop until she was given a light sedative in the hospital Emergency Room.
She missed school the next day in order to tend to her broken wrist, cracked rib, and various gashes. Of course, her mother threw a hissy fit, the kids were expelled, and Jasmine made another vow to shut her stupid, useless mouth more often.
Saturday morning, the day after the boys had been officially exiled, Jasmine once more fled the house via a window in order to escape her step father watching TV as though he were deaf and her brothers yelling. She pocketed some change she had found around the dryer and under the couch cushions before she left. The day was bitingly cold, and she whimpered as the air stung her bruised face.
The air was thick with car fumes from the highway, and the city had frozen down to dead trees and dirty snow. She ended up getting so caught up in crunching the elaborate, black ice sculptures in the gutters that she didn’t see him until she had tripped over his lap.
The boy’s puffy-eyed glare turned her blood cold. She knew his face all too well. How could she forget? He had been the one who had sent the first punch into her face.
“Watch it,” he snarled, before looking up. Then his expression flashed with horrifying recognition. ”You!"
Jasmine rolled off his lap, scrambled back like a crab and slipped as her casted arm hit ice. The boy yelp as he also slipped and landed with a loud ‘smack’ of his back hitting cement.
A squeaky junker car trundled past. But no one noticed them as they lay in the street like fallen soldiers.
“Get outta here while I’m feeling merciful, Tiny Tits,” he pushed out through clenched teeth.
More concerned by the sound of his pain than his threat, Jasmine forced herself upright in order to squint at him through watering eyes. He wasn’t looking at her; but he didn’t have to. It only took a quick glance for her to notice he only wore a baggy T-shirt and too-big jeans that had lost their knees and heels long ago. The scrawny bare limbs had gone red with cold.
On second glance, Jasmine’s stomach clenched. The red wasn’t from cold.
The boy moved to sit up, teeth bared. One of his eyes had swollen shut. “What’re you look’n at? Like what you see? ’Cause you’re the reason I’m knee deep in shit and look’n like a dumbass! I hope you find my body when I freeze to death, you little bitch!”
Jasmine reflexively flinched at his language. “Please don’t sw—” she slapped her hands over her mouth.
She jumped to her feet, ignoring the flashes of stars in her eyes from the protest of her bruised body. She only managed to get a few steps away, however, before she jerked back, as though trying to walk after her knees had been blown out. Her fingers scratched at her winter gear. It was cold… He really might freeze to death.
He snapped his teeth like a cornered dog. “I said git! You deaf?”
As quick as she could, Jasmine threw her coat, scarf, and gloves into his face. Before he could say another word, she fled.
Jasmine told herself it would be best if she went another way home and forgot the boy entirely, having learned her lesson about her interpretation of helping people. She attracted more than a few stares when she walked into the nearby Seven Eleven blowing on her red fingers, rubbing her arms, and wincing as her pain killers started to wear off. She had to wait until her fingers thawed enough to feel the coins in her pockets before she could buy the hot chocolate for which she had come.
Halfway out the door and breathing in the delicious heat of convenient store cocoa, her stomach did another painful clench. Her eyes burned so badly she could barely see the iced-over welcome mat beneath her feet.
“Kids these days are crazy. She’s going to catch her death...” said a patron from behind her.
Jasmine closed the top of the hot chocolate, pressed her palm down on the lid, and set off at the best jog she could manage.
When she rounded the corner of the backstreet where she had left the boy, she nearly melted in relief. There he was, not only still upright, but wearing her poofy coat, gloves, and scarf, even though his wrists stuck out a good few inches from the end of the sleeves. He didn’t look up, but kept his eyes hidden beneath his dirty fringe of blond bangs.
Before she could lose her courage, Jasmine dropped beside him and shoved the hot cocoa into the hollow of his lap, then bit her lip.
“I-If y-y-you need to get...a-away, you camy house —I mean, come to my house. I-it’s lo-noisy, b-but...”
What was she saying? This boy probably thought she was trying to grovel to him after being beaten into submission.
He wrapped his hands around the hot cocoa. A shaky breath passed his lips.
“Lordie, that feels nice...” he breathed. “And I got no int’rest in your house, Titsy. I’m no charity case, and your parents would prob’ call the po-po on me. I ain’t no cute lost puppy. Oh, and thanks for the coat. You ain’t gett’n it back.”
“D-d-didn’t want it...back.”
“God, do you ever stop stuttering?”
Jasmine said nothing. She should leave before she just made it worse for him.
Yet, even as she told her legs to unfold and her guts to stop twisting, she remembered his skin, red and purpling with smeared blood and developing bruises.
How could a kid so beaten like this exist? Why hadn’t someone done something? Didn’t child abuse like this only exist in movies? He should take pictures. Go to the cops. That’s what you did when suffering from domestic abuse, because it couldn’t have been anyone other than his parents that had done this to him. Why else would he accuse Jasmine of being the cause? She had been the one who tattled—who got him expelled.
But she had only been trying to help...
Jasmine clenched her knees. The sun would set soon and pride didn’t keep you warm at night.
“It’s either come home with me or go home to whoever did that to you,” she said and was surprised at the strength in her voice, especially given the fact she was still leaking tears from the pain jogging here had caused.
The boy seemed surprised too, as he quickly turned his head enough to stare at her with his one good eye. She met it, having read somewhere that eye contact was key to gaining trust.
Jasmine knew she didn’t know enough to help him. She knew she was in no position to even think she could, and she doubted whether what she had done had even helped at all. But...
But, oh, how his crunched over, skinny figure made her long to throw her arms around him. He had to come home with her because her heart was breaking and bleeding fast.
And she had only been trying to help.
“You’re a freak,” he said.
But he got up. He followed her home and stood mutely in the doorway as Jasmine’s mother gave her one of her hard looks. He didn’t respond to her brother’s attempts to start up a conversation with him. Keeping his eyes trained to the floor, he accepted the blankets her mother handed him without a word in response. Clutching them tightly around him, he curled up in a corner on the floor and finished the hot chocolate. He refused to meet Jasmine’s gaze.
All too soon, her stepfather, Tim, came home.
“Friend of yours?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Jasmine mechanically. Her mother had told her what to say and told her to be okay with any answer she got. “He got kicked out the house. Can he stay the night?”
Tim frowned. She could see the gears ticking in his head. “You don’t know boys. You shouldn’t have interfered. They probably had good reason to kick him out, and now you’ve brought him into the house.”
The small cone-cocoon of blankets suddenly stood. “Sorry. I’ll leave.”
But Jasmine stepped in front of him.
“I-it’s m-my fault.”
Tim frowned. “Your fault?”
“T-t-that he g-got kicked out...p-please let him s-stay.”
“We are not a boarding house, Jaz; and what do you mean your fault?” Then his eyebrows rose. “Wait, he ain’t one of the kids you got expelled, is he?”
She cringed. Her fault—her fault—just trying to help—didn’t think—
But Tim’s face twisted further with displeasure. “So you brought a pot-head into the house. Nice taste in boyfriends you got there, Jaz. You’re really going places. Get him out!”
“He’ll f-f-freeze!” She protested.
“Stop being so dramatic. He’ll just scurry home and—”
The boy in question had already stepped past Tim and strode to the door with his lanky legs. She leaped after him, ducking beneath Tim’s arm.
Tim protested. “Hey! Let me finish! We could probably give him a ride home—”
But the boy had already rushed out the door, and it took all of Jasmine’s concentration to keep up on her short legs. She dragged with her whatever coats her hands grabbed off the coat rack before running after him.
In a flush of winter wind, he was down the stairs. She nearly fell on her face trying to keep up with her fractured ribs smarting every time she jumped a step.
“Wait!” she gasped.
“Leave me alone!” barked the boy over his shoulder.
“At least take this—”
“I ain’t your charity case! I can’t believe I let you talk me into that!”
So, Jasmine tried to run. But she couldn’t; and she couldn’t catch up to him, even though he was only walking. She struggled on, dragging the coats with her.
They had only gone two blocks when he started to slow. For a moment, she thought something was wrong. Then, suddenly, he turned on her, face red with anger, eyes bright as fire.
“I’m a girl!”
Jasmine halted, coats swinging past her knees. At her stupid blink, he scooped up a handful of dirty snow and chucked it at her, but his aim went amiss and the snow only grazed her ear.
“Girl! Female! I got a vagina! Hell, you thought I was a guy?” Then he said, more to himself than to Jasmine, “Guess I really am that ugly, aren’t I?”
It was like being struck with lightning. Jasmine could see it—the big brown eyes, the soft face, the thin wrists—
She dropped the coats. Crumpled to the ground.
And exploded in tears.
The boy—who was actually a girl—started. “What the —”
“I’M SORRY! Dear God, I’m SO SORRY! Please, I’m sorrysorrysorry I didn’t want to tattle, Iwasafraidyou’dbecome—waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!! Pleeease don’t become a druggie!”
Jasmine became unaware of her surroundings as she clenched her eyes shut and tipped her head back. Her brain and heart came falling out of her mouth like vomit. That last deadly accidental insult had been the last straw. She was a failure. A complete and utter waste of pathetic human being. She should have stayed back. She shouldn’t have said a word; but once more she had just made it worse.
She didn’t know how long she knelt there, bawling like a toddler, throwing up every thought she had had since she saw that group of boys smoking pot. But it all came to an abrupt halt when icy hands clapped onto either side of her face. They were so cold against her fevered cheeks she hiccupped.
“Calm down. I won’t become a —a …druggie?”
Jasmine struggled to sniff through the streams of snot running down her face. “B-B-but you—one time all it takes—y-you—you—”
“You don’t always get addicted after the first try,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Lordie, do ya even know what we were smoking? Scratch that. It don’t matter. Just chillax. You did the right thing. You’re right. I was...I was being stupid, I wasn’t thinking, and I just didn’t care. I...” The girl’s voice stopped. The cold hands left Jasmine’s face. “Get one of them coats on. You’re so tiny; I’m sure one good cold would do you in.”
Another attempt at a sniff resulted in a loud gurgling noise, like a pipe being unclogged. Jasmine rubbed feebly at her face. “Stupid nose...”
“Ain’t dat the truth. Total snotzilla right now, dude.”
“Yeah, yeah. I heard ya the first billion times.” The girl shrugged on the second coat, which turned out to be one of Jasmine’s mother’s. “At least my arms don’t poke outta this one.”
“For reals. Stop it, or I’ll change my mind ’bout punching you.”
So Jasmine went to work with the hoodie sleeves to stop the flow of disgusting snot. She dimly noted that she had grabbed one of her step-brother’s hoodies —one of a dozen of which only the most old and ratty he wore, because that made fashion sense?
When Jasmine’s hiccups proved to be stable and not threatening to tip back over into hysteria, the gangly girl stuck out her hand.
“Sam. Short for Samantha.”
Jasmine wiggled her hand through a snotty sleeve. “Jasmine.” She shook the cold hand briefly. “J-just to make sure, um...those other guys were guys, right?”
Sam pitched back her head and laughed. It had to be the most booming, unloaded laugh Jasmine had ever heard, and it was wonderful.
“By the way, you’re really pathetic, Jaz. We’ve gotta work on that.”