Porter and Company

Chapter 1: Jasmine Leigh Porter

'I know there's something in the wake of your smile,

I get a notion from the look in your eyes.

You've built a love, but that love falls apart,

A little piece of heaven turns to dark.

Listen to your heart, when he's calling for you.

Listen to your heart, there's nothing else you can do.

I don't know where you're going, and I don't know why,

But listen to your heart, before you tell him goodbye.'

- DHT, "Listen To Your Heart"

"Jas! Where the hell are you?! JAS!" Jasmine swore Shelly's voice grew in intensity every day. Currently, it was penetrating her mood; it delved into the folds of her focused, driven, one-track mind.

"Jas!" Sounds registered vaguely at the back of Jasmine's mind. Doors opening. Footsteps. People moving. Shelly calling her still. Slightly quieter she heard, "Have you seen Jasmine?" Deep tenors responded, their voices muffled through the bathroom door. "Damnit, Jas! Where are you?!"

Jasmine found the whole thing rather funny. Jasmine would never admit it, unless it was obvious by the crooked look she was capable of arranging on her face, but Shelly had always been unnecessarily frantic. She stubbed her toe, she freaked out. She had to put gas in her car alone, she freaked out. She was having trouble keeping up the "C" in Bio, she freaked out. Possibly the last one was legitimate, but over the years of their friendship, the more unscrewed Shelly became over life, the more calmed Jasmine had become. It was this simple, balanced relationship that, in essence, had allowed Jasmine to master the appearance of being composed. Whatever was really going on inside her mind, was for Jasmine to know – and only Jasmine – definitely not the rest of the world.

The steady bass of a nearby stereo caught Jasmine's attention. She recalled the song from a mix a friend had given her. Track ten. "The Hardest Button to Button." Reluctantly, her mind pulled her away from music. It was such a distraction to her, a beautiful, arresting distraction, and she needed to not let her mind wander right now.

"Jasmine Leigh!" Jas sighed lightly and threw away her used paper towel, hands freshly clean. Faster footsteps. What could possibly be so important?

She sensed commotion. "Jasmine?!" No longer was Shelly's voice calling her. No longer was just one voice calling her. Blended male voices could be heard closer, closer, closer. Surrounding her, and terminating the last peaceful moment she would feel for some time. The door to the communal restrooms propelled open as Jas reached for the handle, and Shelly appeared, anxious as usual, with a phone in hand, and three other people in tow. David, Ben, Keela.

"Yes, Shelly?" Calm. Jas was always calm. Somebody had to be, for Shelly's sake.

Something in the way David, Ben, and Keela stood caused Jasmine to imagine a somber backdrop, and she felt the slightest itch of discomfort standing there in her skin, something very rare for her. It wasn't unusual the way a flustered Shelly stuttered, "I…your phone…your…he…" But David taking the phone and placing it gently in Jas's hand, while saying, "Your Dad's on the phone. He told Shelly it was important," was inexplicably unnerving to her. Her Dad didn't usually call her.

Jasmine nodded her thanks to David, while lifting the phone to her ear; her friends acting the audience. "Good evening, Dad." Jas listened, but could only detect silence for a long moment.

"Jasmine." Jas knew her father's voice to be deep and strong. This man was not speaking in the same voice her father usually did. Her mood shifted drastically, and she sensed some unknown feeling overcoming the miles of space between them as he began to speak.

Her friends watched deliberately as Jasmine stared a point on the cinderblock wall directly above their heads, painted a soft color to appear more inviting; what a false sense of security. She backed slowly into the matching one behind her, and slid heavily to the ground, sitting with her knees protectively in front of her, as if some immense pressure had just forced her into the position. A minute later, she had not uttered another word, and looking somewhat angry, she ripped the phone away from her ear, snapped it shut and tossed it away from her.

The others were shocked and confused about the cause of her display. Shelly finally managed to speak coherently, eyes wide as she sat on her knees to bring her closer to eye level with Jasmine. "Jas – what's the matter? Why was your dad calling?"

Jasmine was now clearly angry, although over what – the others had no idea. She didn't even appear to notice them any longer. Ben crouched beside Shelly, studying Jasmine intently, but she ignored them both. David and Keela just shared a concerned look. Keela was agitated: by her apathetic co-workers, by the idiotic drivers of the world, and now this, whatever 'this' was. Although, she really was concerned; despite knowing Jas for more than six months, Keela had never actually seen her angry. In fact, she had never seen her display much emotion at all.

Jasmine's cell phone buzzed from its defeated position against the floorboard, painfully loudly. Everyone except Jasmine noticed it, but did nothing but stare until Keela took it upon herself to answer. The display informed her that "Home" was calling. 'Not your home,' Keela's mind corrected itself – Jasmine's home. Keela breathed deeply and received the call, "Hello?"

The others could only listen to her patched, one-sided conversation. Jasmine was now completely enveloped in her anger, and they were all worried. Worried and curious and extremely bewildered. "Right, I'm her friend, Keela…Yes, hello…okay…oh…uh, huh…right…I'm so sorry…" Keela closed her eyes purposely. She hoped when she opened them, she wouldn't be where she was. She wouldn't be standing in her dorm's hallway, her indifferent friend would be returned to her normal state, and she wouldn't be talking to Jasmine's father. She wouldn't be needed this way. Keela opened her eyes, and no changes like any of the ones she had hopelessly wished for had occurred.

Instead, a group of people had opened the door at the end of the hall and were making their way towards them. She ignored them and continued to listen to Jasmine's father on Jasmine's phone. "Right, of course…I'll do that…"

Keela headed towards Shauna's room. Their resident advisor was the senior advisor on the hall's staff, the most experienced, and most capable of helping Keela right now. She was still on the phone with Jasmine's father as she made her way towards the door of Shauna's room, quickly, and with such a foreboding manner that David was scared into following her. Shauna had appeared after Keela's knock, and waited patiently for Keela to finish the call. Keela nodded, said her final, "Yes, sir," into the phone, and hung it up, while a very unsettling feeling overtook the hall.

Everything was suddenly and eerily quiet. Keela still stared at the phone, David stared at her, and Shauna sensed everything was not alright, and in turn, didn't even bother asking. After another deep breath, Keela broke the spell. She glanced at Shauna, then forced herself to look at Jasmine. Even the five students who had been meandering down the hall, innocently so, stopped, as if out of respect, despite not knowing what was happening.

Saying the words was harder than Keela had imagined it would be, and her voice faltered on the last one. "Jasmine's brother died." Shauna visibly slumped, but Keela continued, not noticing. "Her dad just called. A family member – an uncle or cousin, I don't remember which – is on their way right now to take her home." Keela finally looked back to Shauna. "He said whoever it is should be here within about an hour and would call when they arrive."

Keela had spoken the message softly, but everyone in the hall had heard. "Oh, God…" Shelly had cried, pulling Jasmine into her. Ben sat, powerless, his face wracked with aggravation, distress. Jasmine was paralyzed.

The group of kids stared sadly, but moved on when Shauna motioned to them. Slowly, softly, they filed into a room just beyond Shauna's, disappearing behind the door, sensitively, unobtrusively.

Shauna touched Keela's arm, stirring both her and David out of their trances. "Try and get her to lie down or something. I'll be right back." And she hurried down the hall and through the door at the end.

The five friends gathered, lost. They were young, and inexperienced. They were untried and untested, raw and new. Their ingenuousness meant their lives were left largely unlived at that moment, and because of their inexperience, they didn't have the slightest clue what to do. They just didn't know.

And also because of this moment, in the future if a situation similar to their current one should arise, they would have a reference point. They would be more experienced then. It could be counted both fortunate or unfortunate how they didn't have that now, when reality had made a vicious attack on purity.

When another girl walked halfway down the hall and into a room, David and Ben caught each other's glances. "Let's at least get her into her room," David suggested in a low voice, his lips barely moving, as he looked sadly towards Jasmine, and Shelly, who was crying almost hysterically on her, half-holding her, half-lying across her.

"Come on, Shell," Keela said, rubbing her back as she and David gently pulled her up, and ushered her into Jasmine's room, not more than ten steps away from where they had been sitting.

Ben and Jasmine remained in the deserted hallway, and because she made no indication that she was ready to move, Ben just slid closer and dropped his right hand on top of both of hers, still watching her face with avid attention. It seemed as if Jasmine had experienced nothing in the past five minutes. Complete stillness. Revolution stalled. Her world – so together, so organized – had shattered as she had known it, ceased in just a few words, and Jasmine could do nothing but stare, with no clue as to where the broken pieces now lain, forever marred.

Even her eyes were frozen. "Jas," Ben said softly. Only her eyebrows twitched in response, signifying that she had indeed heard him. "Jas," he repeated, removing one hand and lifting her chin gently, so that she might make eye contact. He needed something. Anything.

Finally, Jasmine's eyes locked in on Ben's blue eyes, igniting her mind, and she finally caught up to the signs her body was sending her that something was immediately wrong with her. She blinked heavily and exhaled abruptly, standing quickly and saying, "I'm going to be sick," before she turned and hurled her body into the bathroom. Ben was right behind her, still feeling ridiculously helpless. 'It doesn't matter, I just have to be here,' Ben thought, as he sat with her, while she vomited up more than Ben believed any one person could have inside them. She finally slowed after a round of dry heaving.

He rubbed her back as Keela and Shauna appeared with Devon, another resident advisor. Ben's attention went back to Jasmine, and he heard feet shuffling, making their way out the door. Finally, she seemed to have finished getting sick, and Shauna handed Ben a damp towel, which he pressed into Jas's hand. Jasmine stood, looked at Ben for a moment, still appearing angry, and pushed passed him to a locker, where she grabbed a toothbrush and toothpaste and proceeded to a sink.

"Are you okay with her?" Shauna asked Ben. He nodded, falsely, not trusting his voice to lie for him. "I'll be in her room then. Maybe the other guys can help me get some stuff together for her." Ben repeated his nod, and Shauna walked swiftly out of the bathroom.

Another girl walked in, gave him a puzzled look, but continued on and moved into a stall. It was only then Ben realized he was standing in the middle of a girl's bathroom. Even despite that minor fact, he had never felt more insufficient at that moment than at any other in his entire life.

Jasmine turned off the tap, stood up and stared directly at him, piercingly so, and wiped the side of her mouth with the back of her hand. The other girl made herself known with a flush of a toilet and a squeak of a stall door, successfully shifting Jasmine's attention. Jasmine put away her toothbrush, suddenly calm, like nothing was out of the ordinary, and led the way out of the bathroom.

Almost unconsciously, Ben put a hand on Jas's back as they were walking, and she pulled sharply away from him like she had been burned and backed into the wall next to her, breathing heavily, with her arms crossed over her chest. It was another protective position, and a stunned Ben stood frozen, unaware of what to do next. After a few seconds, Jasmine looked left, looked right, saw nothing noteworthy, and settled her gaze back on Ben. Her mouth fell open lightly, she stared at him desperately, and Ben realized she had never looked so lost and uncertain to him. He wanted only to hold onto her, and have that be enough to protect her from all the pain of the world, or at a minimum, all the gradually transcending pain of her current world.

Ben sensed someone come out of Jasmine's room and halt upon seeing the two of them, but neither of them paid that person any attention. Instead, Ben focused on Jasmine's wide eyes. Her wide, brown, imploring, and curiously dry eyes. Cautiously, he brought a hand just in front of her face, and with his thumb, he traced a path from her bottom right eyelashes down her cheek and to her jaw, then slowly down her neck to her collarbone, as if detailing where her tears should fall. Jasmine said nothing, and not one tear actually appeared, but she closed her eyes and leaned forward into his touch, and it was the only indication Ben needed from her to really touch her, to hold her; and he did so, pulling her tightly to him, wrapping his arms around her as if shielding her from a fierce, penetrating torrent. In his mind, he noted all the points at which her body was making forceful contact with his. Maybe, if he increased the number, she might feel safer.

Ben sighed into her neck, and successfully held back his own tears – for the moment. He tried hard to think of the last time he cried. He tried to think of personal sport injuries, or personal losses, but his mind came up blank. Instead, all he could think was a mantra. Jasmine, Jasmine, Jas. Jasmine, Jasmine, Jas. Normally, Ben felt nothing but love for Jasmine. Now, he felt love, as always, but it was regrettably and noticeably coupled with overwhelming sorrow.