While Alex was in the bathroom she turned the stereo on to the local college station. As he rejoined her and sat down beside her on the couch, the deejay was rattling off a long list of performers; he sounded faintly speedy and very excited.
“What’s he talking about?”
“They’re sending him to Seattle to do interviews at a festival on the Puget Sound. He probably hasn’t slept for three days he’s so worked up.”
“Friend of yours?”
She nodded. “Kyle. We’ve known each other forever. He already has three degrees—he refuses to stop taking classes because he likes to deejay. You’d like him, he’s hilarious.”
“You know a lot of people, don’t you?”
“I suppose. I’ve never really been shy; it’s easy for me to meet people. Really, I tend to know too many people. I haven’t always been very selective in my friendships. I’ve gotten fucked over a lot, hung around some losers.”
“What’s different now?”
She shrugged. “I guess I developed some taste. And I put some thought into this.” She lay down with her head in his lap and looked up into his jade colored eyes. “I had to be sure, you know? I could have lost my job, maybe my license; I had to be totally sure it was worth the risk.”
“Yeah, well, little do you know,” he traced a finger along one of her expertly groomed eyebrows, “I actually hate you; I’ve already called your boss and had you fired.”
“Oh, I know. That’s why I put that roofie in your screwdriver. So I can rob you when you pass out. And why aren’t you sleepy, by the way?”
He laughed. “I think I’m exhausted, actually.”
Having said that, he yawned as if on cue. She smiled.
“Then let’s go to bed.”
He bit his lower lip and ran a hand through her curls. “Jasmine…”
“Do you want to hear my sophomore psych paper on body image issues after debilitating accidents?”
“Maybe tomorrow. I just don’t think I’m ready for… that, Jasmine. Not yet.”
She sat up, put her arms around him and pressed her mouth against his. They kissed and then they sat holding each other for a while before she said goodbye. He walked her to the door and kissed her again.
“Do you work tomorrow?”
“Nope. Not until Monday. You want to go get drunk again? I’ll pick you up at ten—we can have brunch. You people like to do that, don’t you?”
He shook his head, smiling. “Call me tomorrow, okay?”
She nodded then walked to her car. He stood in the doorway watching as she drove away.
At home there was the cat to feed, laundry to start and email to check. She wrote a quick note to Susan: You have the biggest mouth in the world!! He is gorgeous, though, isn’t he? I had the best time—I really love him. Call you tomorrow. It was after four when she went to bed. She was unprepared for the insistent banging on her front door at eleven the following morning. After a failed attempt at hiding from the noise under a pillow she got out of bed and went to the front door, pulling on a pair of faded pink pajama pants as she walked. Trough the peephole she saw a young girl with bright red hair fairly quivering with her eagerness to get in. Jasmine pulled open the door with a confused frown on her sleepy face. The girl burst in without an invitation and nearly knocked Jasmine down with an over-exuberant embrace.
“Jasmine, you’re such a bitch!” She squealed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
The older girl took a step back and said, “Hi, Monica. How are you?”
Monica reached behind her, closed the door and bounded over to the couch where she threw herself precariously close to the napping cat. “My brother told me this morning,” she explained. “I came home for break, you know, and nobody’s there so I go out to the guest house and he’s like, leaning over the kitchen sink puking so I got kinda concerned, you know?” She paused, fished around in her back pack for a cigarette, lit it and then sucked contentedly while she prattled. “So then he tells me it’s just that he got drunk last night, and I almost fell over. Alex got drunk last night. How the hell did you get him to go out drinking? You must be like a Siren, Jasmine. I mean it’s amazing. Do you have an ashtray?”
Wearily, Jasmine sat down cross-legged on the floor and pointed at the pink ceramic hand on the coffee table. “Use that. Is he okay?”
Monica nodded and beamed at her. “Oh, yeah. He’s been hung over like a billion times, he remembers. It’s just wonderful, Jasmine. I’m really happy.”
“That he drank too much?”
“That he’s in love.” The last statement was punctuated by a kissy face from the teenager on the couch. “He’s like the greatest guy in the whole world and I hated, absolutely hated, that bitch Carrie; you’re so much better for him. Plus he’s been so damn weird since that accident he needs to do something normal like have a girlfriend.”
“Did he say he was in love?” Jasmine smiled slightly as she inquired.
Monica nodded. “But he didn’t have to, really. He’s been talking about you for a long time. I just didn’t know you liked him, too. I guess I should have figured it out—you’re cool enough to see how awesome he is. Mom’s gonna…”
“Let’s not get into that this early in the day, Monica, please,” Jasmine winced.
Monica coked her head and exhaled a smoke ring. “Oh. Are we having some kind of secret love affair? That’s so corny, Jasmine. Are you serious?”
“Do you know how unprofessional this whole thing is? Your mother’s going to have a fit.”
“Alex says you’ll be scared of Janey ‘cause you don’t have a lot of money.”
“Well, isn’t he just a wellspring of intuition?”
“I don’t think that really happens anymore, Jasmine. I think you’ve seen Pretty in Pink too many times. I mean, our mom’s got her lame moments, but she likes you; and all she ever really wanted was for Alex to be happy.”
“Then why was she so upset when he wouldn’t go to law school?”
“Because she didn’t understand how much he loved writing and stuff. She figured it out, and then she was cool.” Monica leaned forward to put out her cigarette. “So we should go do something today—me and you and Alex.”
Jasmine rubbed her eyes and asked, “Monica? How do you know where I live?”
“Your card from the salon is on the refrigerator—it has your last name on it. So I got your address from the white pages online and then got directions. I’m a cyber-stalker.”
With some difficulty, Jasmine persuaded Alex’s little sister to go home just before noon. She ran a bath and settled in with her phone at her ear. Alex answered on the fourth ring, just before she gave up.
“What have you been feeding your little sister? Crystal meth in her fruit loops?”
“I have no explanation for her. I don’t even know why she’s here. Doesn’t she go to school somewhere? These children today just roam around as they please. It’s disgraceful. What are you doing?”
“Taking a bath. What are you doing? Forcibly expelling gin?”
“No, actually I’d moved on to attempting to consume solid food. Are you touching yourself in there?”
She laughed loudly. “Of course. What else would I be doing calling from the bathtub?”
“I thought so. You’re a dirty little girl. When are you coming over here?”
“After I finish...”
“Among other things. Maybe around one thirty, two. Is that okay?”
“Hmmm; no, I think my calendar is full today. How about next Tuesday?”
“Fine. You can stay in that house with Monica for the next week and a half.”
“I’ll see you at two, then. Just come back when you get here; I’ll probably be hovering close to the sink cursing your name.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then.”
“Jazz—I love you.”
She smiled around her words; “I love you, Alex.”
Jasmine parked beside Monica’s flame colored Cobra—smiling at the “Boys Suck, Throw Rocks at Them” sticker on the back windshield-- and let herself in through Alex’s front door. He was sitting on the couch with a book open on his lap. He didn’t look up at her until she was standing in front of him.
“A little early for Fitzgerald, isn’t it?” She sat down beside him with a hand on his knee.
He leaned in to kiss her. “It is never too early for Fitzgerald. And since my sister apparently doesn’t know that, I have to do her homework for her.”
“Is that why she’s here?”
“No; she’s here to suck all the energy from my very soul, the fact that she has a term paper due in two weeks is beside the point.”
Much to the satisfaction of Mrs. Prescott, her nineteen year old daughter had no interest in the arts whatsoever. She was a nursing student who had finished high school a full year ahead of schedule. She won a full scholarship to a school in Louisiana, allowing her to escape the watchful eye of her parents. Most school breaks were spent alternately studying and roaming around the Southeast with her vet-student girlfriend. Before she’d left earlier, Monica had offered to tell her mother she was a lesbian in order to take some of the pressure off Alex and Jasmine. She worshipped her older brother; she decided to go into nursing after his accident when she was wildly displeased with most of the nursing staff at the hospital.
Alex closed his book and balanced it on the arm of the couch. He put his arms around the girl beside him and squeezed her hard; she squeezed him back as he sighed and rested his cheek against the top of her head. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said.
They had a brief period of peace, sitting close to each other and talking about dinner the previous evening. Then Monica burst in and threw herself onto the over-stuffed chair in the corner beside the couch. She was intensely involved with her cell phone and paid no attention to either of the room’s occupants. The older two looked at each other, shook heads and watched her make herself comfortable, kicking off her converse and swinging her legs over the arm of the chair.
“I know,” she said into the phone as she motioned to her brother that she required a cigarette.
Alex threw her his pack and she greedily took one out, winking appreciation as she lit it. He whispered to Jasmine, “She has impeccable manners. Thousands of dollars in poise classes, you know.”
Monica shrieked suddenly and jumped up. “Are you serious? No! Oh, my god—go she what she wants and then call me back, okay? Okay. Love you, too.” She blew a kiss into the phone before she clicked the end button. Now free to direct her attention at those present, Monica looked told her brother she’d given Mary the day off and would, therefore, have to clean the kitchen before they went out. Mary cleaned the house on Saturdays and Wednesdays. She also made dinner four nights a week and ran various errands that Mrs. Prescott was too busy to attend to. She had an affinity for overhearing Monica’s conversations and sharing them with her employer; clearly, Monica had no time for such nonsense this weekend.
“Are we going somewhere?” Alex inquired, making a face that showed no enthusiasm at all.
“I want to go get something to eat. Everything in this house is dead flesh, I swear. I’m starving.”
“She’s a vegetarian now,” Alex explained to Jasmine. “Last month she saw a corpse’s colon.”
His sister shuddered. “Don’t talk about that, I’ll puke, I swear. I want to go down to Southside. I want Japanese, I think. Sushi. Ok?”
“You have my full permission to go wherever you please,” he said accommodatingly. “Do you want my credit card?”
“Alex, if you’re going to start behaving like a human again you can’t let her have all the fun. You haven’t taken me out since I was in high school.” With that she rose from the chair, put out the cigarette she’d barely touched and went to kneel in front of Alex. She put her hands on his knees and said, “Please? Please?”
“The burden of popularity,” Jasmine said, trying not to laugh at Monica’s wide-eyed, over-acted pleading.
Alex shifted uncomfortably. “Do you know how fucking crowded it is down there on Saturday afternoon?”
“Do you know how many people with disabilities leave their houses on a daily basis?” little sister countered. “It’s true, I’ve seen them. My friend Jeremy has MS, he’s quadriplegic and he takes like 20 hours a semester. Sometimes when people stare at him he pretends to have a seizure—you could do that, it’s really funny.”
Alex put a hand to his forehead. “I’m sure it’s hilarious. Fine. Whatever’s good enough for Jeremy is good for me, too. Go clean the kitchen. Scullery Maid.”
Monica, delighted, jumped up smiling and left the guest house. As soon as the door was closed behind her they heard her cell phone ring. Alex put his hand on Jasmine’s and said with all sincerity, “Let’s never ever have children.”
She would have responded by reminding him that they wouldn’t have to worry about it as long as he refused to sleep with her, but she saw that the limits of his tolerance were already being pushed. Instead she asked if he wanted to take a shower before they left. He nodded, reached for his crutches and stood up, locked the knee brace and then looked at her.
“Are you coming?”
She followed him into the bathroom grinning widely. There was a plastic stool in the bathtub and a steel grab-bar mounted to the wall beside it. He sat on the stool with his legs outside the tub and removed his t-shirt. Then, as she slipped out of her tank top and jeans, he removed the left brace, then the right. He laid them on the ground a foot or so from where he sat, in easy reach when he needed them again. Without looking at her, he then pushed himself up slightly with his left leg so that he could slide off his khaki pants. When the left leg was bared, he pulled the pants down around his right ankle and then lifted that foot with one hand while he pulled it from the pile of fabric. When she gave him massages he wore a t-shirt and running pants that buttoned up the sides; she’d never seen him without them on. There were thick scars on both legs and on his chest from the chest tube; his right leg was thinner than the left down to the top of where his left calf muscle should have been.
She walked over to him and saw that his hands were shaking. She took his face in her hands and turned it up toward her; she leaned down and kissed his forehead. He pulled her against him and lay with his head against her flat belly. Slowly she began to feel the dampness of tears on her stomach and sank down to her knees in front of him. He leaned his head back and sighed as she took his penis into her mouth, running her tongue from the base to the head and around in circles. It had been a very long time since a woman had touched him like that and it didn’t take him very long; he came in her mouth and she licked the last drop off the head of his penis, smiling.
“I told you—you’re a dirty girl,” he murmured.