Jasmine finished promptly at five o’clock, like always. She made the finishing touches on her report, sent the email off, and turned off the computer just as the clock on her desk chimed five times. She smiled slightly. She’d been practicing that for a while. With a flourish, she gathered the belongings on her desk and stood up. Other workers were already pouring past her desk, eager to escape another day’s work. As she went to join the throng, the phone in her hand buzzed once. She stopped, leaning one hand on the neat wooden desk.
‘I’m in a meeting. Can’t take you home. Get a taxi. I’ll reimburse you tonight.’ Jasmine frowned slightly, then started to text Elizabeth back.
‘No, it’s fine. I’ll pay. See you tonight : )’ It only took a few seconds for the phone to buzz in reply.
‘I’m paying.’ Jasmine chuckled. There was no use arguing with her when she got like this. She turned the phone off, and joined the dying trickle of her coworkers.
Jasmine stepped up to the door with a weary sigh. The drive back was far more boring, she realized, without Elizabeth to talk to. Seemed a lot longer, too. She had still tipped the driver fifty percent of the fare, despite her mild annoyance. The key slid into the door silently, the mahogany door swinging back almost effortlessly. Jasmine stepped inside, plush carpet poking out between her toes. She took a deep breath and smiled. It smelled of vanilla. As soon as she had off-handedly mentioned her like of vanilla, Elizabeth had gone out and bought hundreds of vanilla scented candles. Now the whole house had a soft, ever present smell of vanilla. She closed the door behind her, locked it, and trotted off down the hallway. As she walked, she brought out her phone and texted Elizabeth.
‘I’m home, do you want me to make you anything? Hope the meeting isn’t too boring : (‘ The phone didn’t buzz back, even as Jasmine stepped lightly up the stairs to her room. Elizabeth either replied straight away or not at all, so she probably was busy. Jasmine shrugged and opened the door to her room. It was one of the largest rooms in the house, at Elizabeth’s insistence. One of the walls was completely blocked by a massive bookshelf, filled with hundreds of books of all sizes and colours. She crossed the room and lay her things on the desk, and immediately began sorting them into piles. Her handbag went straight on the reading chair, folders from work were stacked up to be read later. Maybe, she thought with a wry grin. She sat on the bed and thought for a moment. They’d been to the supermarket just a couple of days ago, there should be plenty left in the cupboard and fridge. Jasmine ruffled the blankets as she thought. Something she’d like… it’d been a while since she had made risotto. That was one of Elizabeth’s favourites. Jasmine jumped off the bed, lit one of the candles at her bedside, and headed back downstairs.
Jasmine was halfway through chopping the vegetables when the doorbell rang. She looked up, startled. She wasn’t expecting anyone, no packages coming in or deliveries.
“I’m coming, just a second!” She lay the knife down on the bench and started towards the door. The doorbell rang again, and again. “Hold on, I’m coming over now!” The bells stopped for a second, then the door started rattling, almost like someone was punching it. Jasmine stopped for a second, a knot of dread settling in her stomach. It couldn’t be…
When she opened the door, her fears were confirmed. Karen stood in the doorway, one fist cocked back.
“Took you long enough.” She spat. Jasmine’s eyebrows shot up. Somehow Karen had found more room for piercings, three new studs in her nose and lips. Her hair was a spiked black mess, jutting out at random angles.
“Karen! It’s… it’s lovely to see you again, b-but… what are you doing here? Weren’t y-you staying with Abigail?”
“Yeah. Bitch kicked me out.” Karen lowered her fist and gave Jasmine a scowl. “There’s no one else around. I need to crash for a bit.”
“I’d… you know I’d l-love to have you over, but… it’s not my decision to make! This isn’t my h-house, I’m a guest… you know that.”
“Right. You’re staying with that stuck-up cow you call a friend. Must say, she’s got a pretty swanky place. Maybe even cost her a few hours worth of pay.”
“Please, she’s really s-sweet when you get to know her. Don’t be r-rude…”
“Yeah. Whatever. Anyway, let me in. It’s getting cold.” Karen began to step up to Jasmine, putting a hand on her arm and shoving it aside.
“Wait! Look, I’ll g-give her a call, okay? T-this is her house, it’s… it’s her rules, I don’t want to upset her…” Jasmine yelped as Kare squeezed past her and began tramping down the corridor. “Oh… oh, could you t-take your boots off? You’re getting mud all over the carpet…” She fumbled through her pockets until she dug out her phone. Jasmine followed the trail of mud as she hurriedly typed out Elizabeth’s number.
“Come on… pick up…” Her face fell as the phone blared the prerecorded message into her ear.
“This is Elizabeth King. I am unavailable right now. Leave a name and number and I’ll get back to you soon.” Jasmine winced at an extra loud stomp, then whispered hurriedly into the phone.
“Hi… it’s J-Jasmine… sorry to bother y-you, but there’s something I need to talk to you about… could you call me back? T-thanks, bye…” She hung up and almost sprinted down the corridor. Karen was sprawled over one the couches, her muddy boots resting on the polished coffee table. One leather-clad arm was flung lazily over the back of the couch, the other dug through the once neat pile of remotes on the table.
“I’m… glad to see you’re m-making yourself comfortable, but…”
“Hey, which one of these is for the TV?” Karen interrupted, waving one of the remotes. She pressed a button on it and groaned. “Not that one.” She flung it to the floor and picked up another one. Jasmine winced as the process was repeated.
“…Look, I’ve m-missed you, but this really isn’t my call to make… tell you what, I’ll g-give you some money, and you can go stay at a hotel, okay? F-for as long as you need, until y-you can get back on your feet.”
“Come on, sis.” Karen had stopped digging through the remotes and turned to Jasmine. “Do you think I want to stay in her place either? I’d rather keep a good distance away from the bitch, but you’re my last shred of friends or family. Are you really going to turn me away? …Besides, there isn’t a hotel in town I’m not banned from.”
Jasmine turned her head slightly, fighting away tears. “I… I c-can’t promise you anything… I’ll t-talk to her, okay? When she gets back… s-she’s in a meeting now. Until then… you can stay. I’ll s-set up the guest bed for you, and I was just making d-dinner… no, it’s not that remote, it’s the one with the b-big red button on top.”
“You’re the best, you know that, right?”Karen gave a rare smile, then turned straight back to the television. She immediately began channel flipping. Jasmine took a deep breath, then started to walk past.
“If… if you need anything, j-just give me a shout… also, could you… p-please get your feet off the table? She hates it when things get dirty…”
“Maybe. Later.” Karen yawned and stretched out further, tapping her boots on the once pristine wood. Jasmine winced, but continued back into the kitchen.
Jasmine was only interrupted three times from making dinner. The first was to get her sister a drink, specifically orange juice. They didn’t have any packaged, so Jasmine dug out the juicer, dusted it off and squeezed two oranges for her. She carried the glass out carefully, making sure not to spill any of the precariously balanced ice or mint garnishes. Karen had taken her feet off the table, but had strewn her boots, and the mud on them, all across the floor. Her spiked leather jacket was draped over the back of the couch. Karen took the glass with a grunt, and almost immediately drained half the glass.
The second was for some kind of snack. Again, there was nothing packaged. They both preferred fresh food in general. Jasmine cut off a few pieces of the sourdough loaf and spread it with some of the herb butter she’d made last week. She took a minute or two arranging it on one of the porcelain platters, then once again brought it out and laid it on the table.
The third request was simpler, just for the wifi password. It took Jasmine a few times to hear her, however. Karen had turned up the TV so loud that they both had to yell, something Jasmine hadn’t done for a long time.
Eventually, she was able to finish the cooking. She heaped two servings into bowls, and shoved the rest back on the stovetop. She put the lid back on and hoped Elizabeth would get back soon so it wouldn’t be too cold for her. Really, she hoped that Elizabeth would call her back soon. She grated some more cheese on top, then stepped back into the lounge. Karen was lying on her back now, bare feet back on the table.
“Hey… dinner’s done. L-let’s go into the dining room, okay?” Jasmine bent down, turned off the TV and gathered up the platter and glass. Karen groaned and rolled off the couch.
“Yeah, thanks. What’s for dinner?”
“Oh… n-nothing that exciting… just some sweet corn risotto. It’s one of her favourites.”
“Whatever. When’s she getting back, anyway?” Karen got up slowly, stretching. Jasmine put the dirty dishes back in the kitchen, then led Karen into the dining room.
“I’m n-not sure. Normally we head back home together, but she’s in a m-meeting.” Jasmine set down the steaming bowls, and arranged the cutlery neatly. “I’ll… h-head back in a minute. I’ll just make up the guest bed for you.”
“That’d be good. I’m feeling pretty tired. Had a rough day.”
“I hope you’ll be feeling b-better soon.” Jasmine hurried to the laundry and pulled out a few extra blankets and sheets. Even with the heaters, it was starting to get pretty cold at nights. Jasmine had to smuggle an extra blanket upstairs to her room so Elizabeth wouldn’t freak out about her getting cold. She bundled them all up in her arms and jogged to the guest bedroom. It wasn’t too big, definitely not compared to her room. Not much more than a bed and a wardrobe, and a few books left on the bedside table. She stripped all the covers and put the new ones on. They hadn’t had a guest in ages, and Jasmine couldn’t remember if they were clean. They probably were, given Elizabeth was a massive neat freak, but she did it anyway. Just in case. She lay the old blankets, and all the new ones neatly on the bed, tucking them into the bed frame tightly. After she threw all the old sheets in the laundry hamper, Jasmine rushed back into the dining room. Karen was leaning on one of the walls, shoveling the risotto into her mouth without pause. When she saw Jasmine, she lowered the bowl.
“This is really good,” she said, mouth half full, “you should cook more.”
“I’m glad you like it.” Jasmine said, blushing. “I tend to cook if Elizabeth is coming home late… or a l-lot of the time, really. She’s normally quite tired when she gets home… and it’s the least I can do.” She pulled out one of the wooden chairs and slid onto it, delicately taking a mouthful of risotto. It did turn out well. Karen had gone back to inhaling her dinner, and after a few moments she slammed the bowl back on the table. Jasmine winced, but the bowl didn’t crack.
“Seriously, it was great. Hope you don’t mind that I had seconds.”
“Uh… h-how much did you leave?” Jasmine put down her fork and looked at Spite worriedly.
“Eh, not much. I was really hungry. Abby kicked me out before I could get lunch.”
Jasmine swallowed, then looked down at her bowl. She pushed it away slightly and leant forward. “I don’t mean to pry… but what d-did happen between you two? You’d been… staying there for a while, right?”
“Long story. An argument got a bit heated up, lots of swearing, a few punches thrown.” Karen grinned wryly. “I won, of course. She started calling the police, though. Told me to fuck off, and I did. Didn’t want to hang around much longer. She’s still got most of my stuff.”
“I noticed… y-you weren’t carrying anything. Do you n-need spare clothes? You could borrow some of mine… we’re about the same size.”
“I’ll be right. Your stuff isn’t exactly my style. No offense. It’s no problem, I’ll bang on her door tomorrow and tell her to give me my stuff back. Unless she’s already pawned it off.” Karen yawned and stretched again.
“Do you… need to go to bed? You look exhausted.”
Karen grunted and looked around. “What’s the time… twenty to eight. I never go to bed this early. But you’re right. It’s been a long day. I’ve been knocking on people’s doors since I got kicked out. Just glad I found somewhere to crash.”
“You… could’ve given me a call, y-you know… but it’s fine. You can sleep here… for tonight at least. Protectiveness should be home soon, and I’ll talk t-to her. I can’t promise if she’ll let you… but I’ll try, okay?” She got up and beckoned Karen. Karen followed her, treading heavily despite her bare feet.
“If you need it, t-the downstairs bathroom is just there…” Jasmine said, pointing as they passed.
“Of course she has two…” Karen muttered. Jasmine ignored the jab and gently pushed the door open.
“I’ll keep the noise down for you… I h-hope you get a good night’s rest. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Yeah. If she doesn’t throw me out first.” Karen walked in, and slammed the door. Jasmine took a deep breath, then headed back into the dining room.
She took both the bowls back into the kitchen and peered at the cooktop. The pan was empty, save for a few stray grains of rice or corn kernels. She scraped her bowl back into the pan and put the lid back on top, then turned the heat on the lowest setting. Hopefully that’d keep it warm. She put the empty bowls into the dishwasher. Next, she headed over to the fridge and dug around. Eventually she decided on an apple and bit into it, the sweet juice running down her chin. That should keep her going for a while. She headed back into the lounge, taking care to step lightly.