When she saw the mess her sister had left behind, she almost fainted. Karen’s mud encrusted boots were still lying on the floor, and a clear trail led up to the couch. She bit back a curse and hurried into the laundry. After a minute or two of furious sorting, she piled up the carpet cleaner, a bottle of liquid soap, and various brushes and cloths.
Jasmine started with the hallway first. The mud had already started to dry, and each patch took a few minutes to get out of the carpet completely. Some bits still looked slightly discoloured, despite her best efforts. Eventually she worked her way back up into the lounge, and had started on the coffee table when she heard the key in the latch. Jasmine jerked up, then gathered up Karen’s boots and hurled them into the laundry. By the time she had rushed back into the lounge, Elizabeth was stepping in. She was tall and lithe where Jasmine was short and, admittedly, a bit stocky. She had both of her hands behind her head, untying the hair bun she had so delicately placed this morning. When she got it free, Elizabeth shook out the long, brown curls. She sighed, then saw Jasmine at the coffee table. Her stern face softened.
“Good evening, darling… you’re cleaning? Did you spill something? It’s fine, don’t trouble yourself with that.”
“Hello!” Jasmine blurted, beads of sweat forming on her forehead, “no, no I d-didn’t…. did you get my message?”
“Which one? If you sent one after my most recent, I’m afraid not. I had to turn my phone off.” Elizabeth shrugged off her black suit jacket and folded it delicately over a leather armchair.
“I g-gave you a call… that’s fine, that’s fine… t-there’s something I need to ask you, though. It’s… important.”
“Anything.” Elizabeth settled into the armchair, and affixed Jasmine with her piercing blue gaze. There was real warmth in those eyes though, a warmth few ever saw.
“…There’s n-no easy way to put this… you know my s-sister, right?”
“Karen? Yes, you’ve told me about her. Do you need to bail her out of jail? Again?”
“No… she w-was living with Abigail, for a while… b-but she got… got kicked out. And she didn’t… have an-anywhere else to go… I told her this isn’t my h-house, but she’s… well, she’s asleep on the guest bed now…” Jasmine’s mouth had long gone dry, and felt her words trail off. Elizabeth had leant forward in the chair, hands on her knees.
“She’s here. Now.”
“I t-tried to call you, I did… but she’s my sister. I l-let her in… I know she’s not… not t-the best person in the world, but she’s family. She d-doesn’t have anywhere else to go, and I don’t… don’t want her to end up on the street. She’ll… probably get into in a fight. She’d w-win, but I don’t like the idea of h-her getting hurt. Please… I k-know it’s your decision to make, but can you at least… give her a chance? I’ll tell her to be on h-her best behaviour, I promise…” Jasmine had folded her arms across her chest, clutching onto her upper arms tightly. One of many of her nervous tics. Elizabeth sat in silence for a minute or two, eyes fixed on the table. There was still a thin crust of mud on the edge, where Karen had been tapping her feet. Jasmine started cleaning the table as soon as she noticed where Elizabeth was staring, occasionally looking up and meeting her frosty gaze.
“Alright.” She said, breaking the silence.
“You… thank you so much… I’ll talk to her in the morning, I p-promise, I’ll make sure she doesn’t get in any trouble…”
“I’ll… ensure she is fully aware of the ground rules in the morning.” She gave a long sigh, sinking back into the chair. “Have you had something to eat yet, sweetness? It’s getting quite late.”
“No… I m-made dinner, for the three of us, she turned up w-while I was in the middle of cooking… but Karen was really hungry and ate two thirds of it. I p-put mine back, so you could have it…”
“What? No, you have it. I wouldn’t want you to go hungry for my sake. I can just get myself something from the kitchen.”
“…But… it’s the r-risotto you really like, I made it for you…”
“I insist. You have it.” Elizabeth’s stare drifted to the couch behind Jasmine. “I imagine that’s her jacket. Your sister certainly has… an interesting taste in fashion.”
“Yeah… she’s always been one of those g-goth people. She’s l-lovely when you get to know her though… even if she is a bit rough around the edges.”
“I’m sure that I’ll… see in the morning.” She stood up and crossed into the kitchen, Jasmine hurriedly following behind her.
“So, an-anyway… how was your day?”
“Incredibly dull. That meeting went for at least two hours longer than it should have. Some people just don’t know how to be quiet. How about you, darling? How was your day? Apart from your… unexpected guest.”
“Oh… just more of the usual… I’m really sorry about all this, you know… I s-shouldn’t have let her in without your permission in the f-first place.”
“It’s fine. This is your home, too. I’ll be able to see if she lives up to your stories as well.” Elizabeth took out the loaf of sourdough and began cutting off thin slices. Jasmine scooped the risotto back into her bowl. It was still pleasantly warm. She stepped up to Elizabeth’s shoulder and offered the bowl.
“Are you s-sure you don’t want it? I don’t mind, I really don’t…”
“I told you, sweetness. You can have it. You should.”
“…If you insist…”
“I do.” Elizabeth strolled over to the fridge and examined its contents. Jasmine picked up the discarded fork and headed to the dining room. She was only alone for a few minutes, Elizabeth soon followed with two small sandwiches.
“So,” she said, pulling out a chair, “how long will Karen be staying with us?”
“I’m not sure… I imagine until she can find someone else to stay with. I offered to p-pay for a hotel room for her, but apparently she’s gotten herself banned from every hotel around.” Jasmine took small mouthfuls as Elizabeth chewed thoughtfully.
“Based on what you’ve told me, I’m not entirely surprised. She’s gotten herself arrested… twice now?”
“…Yes. She got off on s-self defence, for one. The other, she had to do a few months of community service. She’s really started to clean up her act though… I think.”
“I certainly hope so. My hospitality has its limits.”
“I’ll… have a long chat to her in the m-morning. I didn’t want to harass her when she was still half asleep…” Jasmine yawned, cupping a hand to her mouth. “Excuse me…”
“Speaking of sleep, you look exhausted. Do you need to rest?”
“Probably.” Jasmine was vaguely aware of her eyelids fluttering. “I was running around a bit… trying to keep her comfortable, and cook dinner and everything… and fix her mess.”
“Don’t let me keep you, darling. Sleep whenever you need.” Elizabeth smiled patiently. Jasmine finished off the last forkful of risotto, then scooped up the bowl to take it to the kitchen. Elizabeth caught her wrist gently.
“No, no. I’ll take care of the dishes. You just go get some rest, alright?”
“If you say so…” Jasmine replaced the dish and headed out of the room. “Good night,” she said over her shoulder.
“Sleep well.” Elizabeth nodded once, then turned back to her dinner. Jasmine passed through the hallway. As she walked by the guest bedroom, she heard heavy snoring coming from inside. She smiled, some things never changed. Jasmine hurried up the staircase, one hand on the winding rail. It only took a few minutes for her to brush her teeth and hair, and get changed into her pyjamas. She flopped onto the soft bed, burrowing under the many layers of blankets. Her eyes fluttered closed, and sleep followed only a few moments after.