The wind whipped her hair, through the open window. The world whisked past, an alternating universe of amber tinted light and dark.
Under her desperate circumstances, Jasmine had decided it would be safer to disregard her 'No taking rides from strangers' rule, than to refuse the bald man's offer of a lift to Hilsea.
"You can get a bus to Pompey from there, then grab the ferry across to Gosport," he'd told her, after learning of her predicament.
Jasmine, herself, was at a complete loss to explain what had actually happened to David. She'd tried calling his mobile, which had been switched off. It was useless. She had no way of finding out where he was.
Jasmine had never felt more like breaking down.
The man let her out, next to a row of bus shelters. She thanked him for his kindness, and watched as he turned round, and headed off in the other direction. After he'd driven into the distance, the roads seemed eerily deserted; not an engine could be heard for, Jasmine suspected, miles.
She sighed. It was just before ten, which meant absolutely nothing to her when it came to deciphering the timetables posted in each of the three shelters. There were names of places that she didn't recognise, and no one around to ask for help.
It wasn't that she didn't trust buses, she just didn't trust herself enough to get on the right one, or off at the right stop. She had no sense of where she was. The dark, and silence, only served to amplify her isolation. She did, however, know where she wanted to get to: Portsmouth Harbour, and the familiar ferry. The world would work properly, once she got back to Gosport.
Hoisting her backpack onto her shoulder, she choked back a few tears of hopelessness, and looked about at the illuminated road signs. Phone in hand, so as not to miss any news of David, she set off, on foot, in, what she hoped was the direction of Portsmouth.
She'd wanted to be so angry when he eventually called her. She'd worried herself sick, over what could have possibly happened to him, and used that anguish to fuel her fury.
"How could he have put me through this?" she'd seethed, pounding the pavements, hardly aware of how far she'd walked.
She had wanted to scream at him, when he dared to try and explain, to make him suffer and see what he'd done to her. She'd answered her mobile with just that thought in mind. And, then...
"Oh, God! David, what's wrong?"
"Th-there's been an accident, Jasmine," David rasped. "I'm in hospital. They, they wouldn't let me ring you."
"Christ, Davey. What happened?"
"A bus. M'not supposed to be out. They think it's cracked ribs. Will explain tomorrow. Oh, Jazz," she could hear sobs around his harsh breathing. "I was so scared that something might happen to you."
Struggling with her own tears, Jasmine had to laugh at the irony. "You were scared for me?"
"I, I didn't mean to leave you alone, Jazz. I'm sorry."
"David, don't be. I'm fine, honestly. I'm almost home now," she lied.
"Ok. So long as you're sure. I-I have to go," he sniffed. "I just wanted to make sure you were alright."
"Sure." She fought hard to keep her tone even. "You just get well, ok? And, I'll ring you tomorrow. I promise."
The girl had stopped in her tracks, without realising. Her arms hung limply at her sides; she was barely holding her mobile. She looked up at the sky, to the legions of stars, heaved a loaded breath, and wept openly, on the side of the deserted road.
Twenty minutes later, Jasmine had pulled herself together again. Without the extra burden of wondering where David was, she was more focused on her own situation, and had realised that she had no idea what time the ferries ran until. She was striding resolutely towards her goal.
It felt like she'd been walking for hours. She was cold. There seemed to be blisters the size of pennies on the soles of her feet. She'd passed houses, shops, and the odd pub, all of which were dark, silent, and offered no hope of sanctuary.
But, she was spurred on by the signposts, which now, as well as showing the way to Portsmouth, had listings for the ferry port, too.
She almost heard the trumpets signalling a fanfare, when the signs finally pointed towards an entrance. Relief washed over her in great waves. She was going to be okay, it seemed.
Crossing the road, Jasmine allowed herself a tiny grin of triumph, and she jogged towards the brightly-lit tunnel.
Tiled walls ambled into sight. Colourful patterns were becoming clearer. She could almost smell the River Solent, when her pace began to slow. Something wasn't quite right. She'd never noticed a tunnel opening before.
"Either this place looks really different at night, or they've done a complete remodelling since last time I was here."
There was only one plausible explanation. She'd been heading towards the wrong place, all night. The sign at the mouth of the tunnel mockingly confirmed as much. It read 'Continental Ferry Port', and unless she planned to go to France, this ferry was of no use to her.
Jasmine screamed at her own stupidity, and it echoed up and down the fraudulent tunnel. She was desperate, and it looked as if she would never get home.
She bit down hard on her tongue, and kicked her sense of dumb pride. There was a bus stop just opposite, and, looking in the direction that she'd walked from, she saw a brightly lit vehicle approaching it.
She sprinted blindly across the road, knowing that if she could just ask the driver where she was, she might be able make it in time for the last crossing. She reached the other side just as the bus pulled up to the stop.
The doors opened with a jerky one-two-three movement, giving her time to snatch a few breaths.
The driver regarded her, expectantly.
"Does this bus go to the ferry port that runs to Gosport?"
He nodded, curtly.
She daren't smile, for fear there was bad news looming. "How long will it take to get there?"
"Yes. Really. You getting on or not?"
She paid for her ticket, and walked down the isle of the empty bus, to the back seat. The bus pulled off, once more, but she was still unwilling to relax. Too much could go wrong before the night was over.
Her phone rang. Jasmine jumped, she hadn't been expecting David to call again tonight. She rummaged in her bag for it, her face plummeting when she saw the display. It was 'Home'.
She cancelled the call without hesitation. A fight with her Mother, now, was the last thing she needed. Seconds later, a tone signalled that she had a voice mail.
She got off the bus, thanking the driver, as was her custom, and looked about.
Thiswas were Jasmine had wanted to be. The lapping water, the bus lanes and taxi ranks, phones boxes. A place she knew. She even welcomed the hulking sight of the Portsmouth Harbour train station. She had, guiltily, avoided looking at it since leaving her entire life behind, mere weeks before.
All these things gave her the strength of will to listen to her voicemail.
"Jasmine. Remember me? Your Mother? Well, remember that man I'm married to, the one who brought you up? Well, he went into hospital tonight. He had a heart attack. I do hope you're happy."
Shit. She was too stunned to think anything else. Shit.
She bought a ferry ticket, barely noticing that she had just made it in time for the last crossing. She walked, numbly, down the gangway, to wait, with the rest of the late night stragglers, at the end of the jetty.
As she boarded the craft, and made her way to the upper deck, the events of the night began to play back, in her mind. For a day, which started off so wonderfully, to go so horribly, shockingly wrong. It was too much for one lone girl to take in.
She took stock of her detestable situation.
David was in hospital, with cracked ribs, and she couldn't help him because she didn't know which one he'd been admitted to. Her father was in hospital, practically dying, for all her dear Mother had told her, and Jasmine couldn't help him, because she'd put two hundred miles between herself and her family. To top it off, she was worn out, cold, and unlikely to reach home before the next day set in.
She'd never felt so hyper-extended. The guilt was tearing her in half. She'd come here to help people, and now, she couldn't help anyone. She began to sob, and then to wail, her tears lost over the side of the boat, joining the sea. She watched them fall, longing. How easy it would be to join them...
"Hello. We're not in at the moment. But if you leave your name and number, we'll get back to you."
It was Stuart's answering machine. Jasmine hadn't even noticed herself calling him. She sobbed, as she waited for the beep. It was too late for her to simply hang up, as she normally would; he and Jane would only worry about her.
She tried her best not to sound too upset, but her breath hitched just the same, as she blurted her message into the unfeeling machine.
"Hey Stu. I'm really sorry to call you so late. I barely realised I what I was doing, to be honest"- she laughed, nervously- "I'm sorry. I've just had the night from hell. I'll call you tomorrow."
She hung up, and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket. She steadied herself, against the jerk of the ferry, as it bumped into the harbour on the Gosport side, of the Solent. The main Gosport bus station was just outside, but she already knew it would be hopeless trying to catch one at this time of night. She walked on past it, the final leg of her gruelling journey home beginning.
Her phone rang.
"Shit," thought Jasmine, again. "What now?"
She was about to cancel the third call she'd had that evening, when she noticed that the caller was Stu. She owed him an explanation for dragging out of bed.
"Jasmine, what's wrong? You sounded awful just now."
"Where are you?" He'd obviously heard some background noise.
"I've just got off the ferry, at Gosport. I-"
"Wait there. Don't you dare move, I coming to get you."