Chapter One

"No, Jasmine. You left without it, you can damned well live without it, Lady."

The girl paced the room, cordless phone in one hand, whilst she chewed the nails of the other.

It was Tuesday morning, and Jasmine had just passed the first night, in her new bedsit, peacefully. The room was bare, apart from the bed, a chest of drawers, and a chair; there hadn't even been a curtain, when she'd arrived the day before, with her two bags of clothes, and her substitute brother, Stu. He had insisted she get one straight away, along with a duvet and some pillows; Stu worried about her like that.

Her Mother, however, was proving a different matter.

"Why should I spend money sending you things that you left behind, when you ran away?" Her voice was scathing. She'd obviously had time to dwell on things over the last couple of days.

"How am I supposed to call you without being able to charge my phone?" She sighed. "Mam, I didn't ring you to have an argument. I called to give you my address so we could sort things out."

"Jazz! I had no idea that anything needed sorting out. All I know is, I left for work on Friday, and got called back home, by your brother, hysterical, because you weren't there any more. You're the only one who needs sorting out, Jasmine."

The girl tried to be calm, shouting back was not going to get her anywhere. "I'm sorry, Mam. I really am, and yes, you're right. I do need to sort myself out, and that's what this is about, ok?"

Jasmine sat down on the chair, in the corner, and closed her eyes. "All I need is time, Mam."

David was running late. Jasmine consulted her watch, which told her it was twenty to eleven. He was supposed to have met her at ten.

She scanned the crowded tables again, making sure. Of course, it was always possible that they merely hadn't recognised each other yet. Afterall, they'd only met once, just two days ago. The experience had been very surreal, and had, seemingly, been over in the blink of her eye, but Jasmine didn't think she'd be forgetting his face, any time soon.

She shrugged, and moved forward in the queue, rubbing her stomach, as she thought about filling it up with a cheeseburger. She was caught quite off guard, a moment or two later, when there came a tap on her shoulder.

She whirled around, and her breath caught, as she jumped, upon meeting those puppy-brown eyes.

"Hi!" he grinned. "Miss me?"

Jazz nodded, stunned that he'd recognised her, from the back as well.

"Wanna go someplace really cool?"

Forgetting that she was hungry, Jazz nodded, and allowed herself to be led out of the overstuffed Maccy's, and into the warm fresh air.

'Someplace' had turned out to be lots of places, not least of which was Ottakar's, the biggest book store, that Jasmine had stepped foot in. Its two storeys were home to shelves upon shelves of books on every subject, and soft, comfortable armchairs were dotted about the place, so shoppers could just sit and read. Jasmine would have sat down there and then, had not a very distinctive smell filled her nostrils.

"Come on," David had laughed, reading her mind. He took her hand, and led her up to the first floor.

The cool air felt wonderful on her face, as she rode the escalator behind him, all the while breathing in that delicious smell. They hopped off at the top. "This is the best part," he grinned, and Jasmine felt herself wheeled around a corner.

She was standing in the middle of a hip American sitcom, where teenagers had crummy jobs but didn't care, second-hand clothes that didn't fit but were stylishly modified, and held intelligent conversation about the perils of genetics, or which Transformer was better, and all over hot king-sized mugs that brimmed with chocolate sprinkled froth.

Within seconds, it was her favourite place in the world.

"Fancy a Mochachino?"

"What's that?" she said, filled with wonder.

David just laughed.

"I know this really great place."

"Are you sure, Stu?"

Jasmine was sitting, white-knuckled, in the front passenger seat of his car, travelling down strange streets, passing beautiful houses.

"Of course, I'm sure, Sis!" he smiled.

"But, what about work?" Jasmine asked, worried that she'd taken up too much of the man's time already. "And, Jane. Won't she mind you taking me out and not her?"

"Look," he said, as they pulled up at some traffic lights. "I took the week off to help you get settled in, and make sure you were alright, ok? And, stop stressing about Jane, she's fine with this. She knows the promise I made to your Mother. Which reminds me, did you talk to her yet?" He chanced a grave look in her direction, before the lights changed.

Jasmine hung her head, "Yes. I called them yesterday."

"And?" he implored, as if he knew that she'd been trying to avoid the subject.

She sighed, "To say she wasn't very helpful would be an understatement." When he responded with silence, she went on. "She doesn't understand why I need this, the chance to live my own life. She still thinks it's just a phase, that I'll be home in a few days. I need longer than that."

He nodded, "And, you told her this?"

"Of course I did!" she snapped, becoming frustrated. "She only hears what she wants to hear. Can we change the subject, please?"

"Sure."

Something was stinging inside her, as she gazed out of the window. It was a few minutes before she realised what she'd been watching. A green-blue sea lapped gently at the carpet of sand and pebbles, whilst children played at its edges.

"Where are we going, anyway?"

Jasmine had never seen so many trees all in one place, accessible to the public, and for free. She ran ahead, twirling round and round. There was colour everywhere, and she felt like a child again. That alive. She gladly pushed aside all irksome thoughts of home, in favour of watching bees and butterflies 'to and fro'ing.

"This place is more than great, Stu," she called over her shoulder to her surrogate brother, who was walking along the twisting pathway. She inhaled deeply, making the most of the salty air which drifted up from the beach.

"Well, you'll be glad to know," he beamed. "That if you walk for about twenty minutes, in roughly that direction"- he paused to point in, what Jasmine assumed, was a north easterly fashion- "You find yourself back at your flat."

"Really?" She could hardly believe it. All this open space, and natural life practically on her new doorstep.

They spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the groves and gardens of Stanley Park, and along the beach. They laughed and talked. Jasmine collected pebbles whilst the tide slowly ate away at the shore.

"Jazz, can we talk?" David asked, suddenly.

"Sure, Davey," she said, pretending not to notice his grim tone.

They were in the middle of Cosham, catching their breath after dragging one another through almost every shop. Jasmine was sitting cross-legged on a bench, whilst David sat on a low wall opposite her.

"I'm serious, Jazz. And, you should know me well enough, to know that I'm never serious." He stopped, as if willing her to interrupt, or change the subject somehow. She didn't. He played with a thread on the hem of his shorts. A chill had set in during the course of the afternoon, his shins had begun to break out in goose bumps.

"The truth is," he continued. "I find it really hard to talk about the important stuff. I'd much rather be larking about. But, well, we've been meeting up for, what? Two weeks now?"

Jasmine nodded.

He gulped, visibly. "Yeah. And, you're great. You really are, I feel like you're my best friend already. Y'know? I could tell you anything." He shrugged, stumbling on his words. Jasmine could see this was terribly hard for him.

"Why did you move down here, Jazz? Really, why?"

"I told you already. I had to leave, anyway. Home held nothing for me anymore, I had to leave. And, seriously, would you have gone to a place where you didn't know anyone? Or to somewhere you at least had minor contacts?" She looked straight into his face, willing him to believe her.

David sighed, "I guess..."

The truth was, she'd taken the one way trip, from her, admittedly comfortable, but unbearable home in North Wales, to uncertainty, and a bare bedroom, in a maisonette in Rowner, not because she'd been thinking about it for a while. The idea had only begun to circulate in her suppressed mind three weeks ago. No, she had travelled the 250 miles to love, pure and simple. And, she so desperately longed to tell him that, but David was not ready to know. The way his hands wrung, the way his head hung and the way he couldn't sit still, told her this much.

"Look, David. I know what you're trying to say, and I want you to know, that I'm fine with that." He looked at her, his eyes wide. "As long as you tell me that it's what you want, I can handle the 'Just friends' thing."

He winced, "I'm sorry Jasmine"- she began to protest, he held up his hand to stop her. He meant to finish- "When we met in the chatroom, I'd just come out of a two year relationship. I liked you, and I don't know why, but I wanted you to like me too. It was scary.

"Then, it turns out that you're going through the same things. And, we started with the emails, the phone calls. I lived for those, they were the highlight of my day.

"Now...here you are. And, it's scary again, Jasmine.

"I'm just, not ready. What can I say," he shrugged. "I suck at commitment."

Jasmine smiled, an Oscar-winner, in her opinion, "David, that is ok. Ok? So long as I know, and you're honest with me, really, it's fine." She unfurled her legs, and sat next to him on the wall, curling an arm around his shoulder. "Friends?"

He smiled, returning the hug, quite obviously lighter, "Great friends. Now," he said, patting her hand. "We have to go in one last shop, to buy me a pair of trousers, because I am so cold, right now!"

Jasmine couldn't help but laugh, "You want to buy a brand new pair of pants because you're cold? That is such a Davey-ish thing to do, David!"

"Davey-ish?!"