Chapter One

After Braces and Ronan Keating

It was while in the swimming pool changing sheds at the age of sixteen, that Yasmine Marie Ellsworth realized all her friends were prettier than her.

Lollita Kaufman was of Greek decent. Along with having a nicer lunch than everybody else, she also had a smile as wide and straight as the landing lights at Heathrow. Yasmine had braces. Not large ones mind you, but visible enough for her to know her smile wasn't her best feature.

Belinda-Lee Denton had a head of sunshine. Long thick blonde hair that melted over her shoulders like liquid toffee caramel. Yasmine had the hair color: nothing. Black isn't a color. It's what people see when they peer down a deep bottomless abyss: nothing.

Corrie Harpenter was tall, shapely and elegant. Put on the planet to either be a Bond girl, a model or a beauty-care sales woman on the Living Channel. Yasmine was short, her posture horrendous and she couldn't fill in a bra to save her life.

It would have helped, she believed if she had perhaps been the funny one of the group. But no, that role went to Ginny Wellington who was as quick-witted as she was athletic.

Yasmine was neither. Jokes took longer to sink in than a penny through honey and she thought a Marathon was a large snake that only lived in the deepest jungles of Brazil.

Yasmine Marie Ellsworth of Northampton East became the forgotten one. The 'oh yeah- her' of the group. So, after a few years of watching her friends get all the attention from fellow peer's, teachers, boys and the rest of society, she decided to do something about it. Buying a notebook with a bumble bee on it specifically for the task, she went about making a plan:

Going Goth was off the list as she smiles far too much and has the habit of humming merrily as she walks down the street: She decided- Goth was not for her.

Dying her hair unearthly colors wasn't an option because her parents would have had minor strokes. Her mother cried for two hours when she saw Yasmine's long, black hair cut into a bob last month so had she showed up with it pink at sixteen, they would have keeled over right there and then.

Tattoo's hurt as do piercing and as a self-professed wimp who can't handle eyebrow tweezers let alone anything else, that also wasn't an option.

She decided, finally, that assaulting people's eyes with bounteous color was the way to go. Less painful, less distressing to her parents and she could still smile and hum to her hearts content. The Anti-Goth.

Almost ten years later, she still has the notebook she planned everything out in and even takes it out to reminisce on the decision everyone thought would be a fad. The bright clothing stuck, unlike the "Yasmine (heart) Ronan Keating 4ever" statements written in a variety of different fonts through the same book.

"It's official! Zebra print boots go with everything!"

With her forehead rested against the fridge for balance, Yasmine proceeds to zip up the brand new boots she gave into buying yesterday. She realized it meant she couldn't eat out for the next couple of weeks but decided that it was a risk she was willing to take.

Designer Debbie's head tilts to the side, her lips only half painted in hot pink.

"Is that a smiley face on your backside, Jazz?"

"Yes." Yasmine twists around to look at the bright yellow image she hand-embroidered on the back pocket of her lime green jeans. "Yes, there is a smiley face on my backside. I was going to name him but thought that might be too weird."

"Jazzy Jaffa Cake, you're wearing a floral jacket with knee high Zebra boots and getting away with it. Naming a smiley face on your backside is the least of your problems. Anyway- I'm off. Don't forget about the grandfather clock I need. The owners want the house done by the end of this week and it will take hours to get it to the third story."

"On it," she mumbles, with a mouthful of toast. "I won't be home tonight. Babysitting for Ginny."

"Are you at least getting paid this time?" Debbie asks, sliding on a polka-dotted jacket of her own. Yasmine bats her big brown eyes. She was told they're her best feature, so uses them to her full advantage wherever she can.

"Nope. Bye Deb. You look fabulous!"

"Hmm. Bye Jazz. Grandfather clock. Don't forget it."

The door closes, leaving Yasmine alone in the flat with her jam toast, English breakfast tea, and Ghana, her third cat in four months.

It's not as if Yasmine kills the cats on purpose; Yasmine just seems to choose the cats that fall out of windows, sleep under cars and find bones to choke on. None of these things were her fault but she is starting to take their deaths personally and the small garden out back can only compost at a certain rate.

Ghana, completely unaware of Yasmine's history with cats is still alive and amazingly well looked after. The only cat in England who's cat food is hand checked for bones, in fact.

With the toast eaten and the cat fed, she pops a green beret atop her dark bob cut and smiles into the mirror.

Confidently dressed in her Zebra boots, lime green smiley-faced jeans, yellow skivvy, floral jacket, houndstooth handbag and green beret, Yasmine heads out the door and into the Northampton streets.

She knows these streets inside-out. She knows where the best shops are, who has sales and when but this isn't just clothes. We're talking furniture, fabric, and art. This is why Designer Debbie chose Yasmine to go hunting for certain one-off pieces she needs for her interior design business.

Yasmine's mother and father, Linda and Branson Ellsworth own and live above an antique shop and have done for their whole married life. Neither of them wanted, nor planned for any children and were doing a brilliant job of that until, soon after her 40th, Linda fell pregnant. She didn't talk to her husband for two weeks as a result. She wouldn't even let him hold her hand without swiping him and hissing bitterly the words: "Off! You know what happened last time!"

Despite the mortified horror they felt upon finding out about the pregnancy, they were brilliant parents- though a little strange.

The Y in her name was meant to be a J and that was the error of her father, who not only gets his Y's and J's mixed up, but also his B's and P's.

Because of this, their daughter ended up sounding way more exotic than she was supposed to. And some people in the city believe Mr. Ellsworth's first name is Pranson and works in the shop on the corner of Turner and Brincess street.

From then Jasmine with a Y spent her days in amongst large pieces of furniture and art, imagining she was a princess in the 18 and 1900's, surrounded by floor to ceiling treasures.

This and the fact she was home schooled for the first five years of her school life lead to her having a rather overactive imagination. To this day, she still refuses to go anywhere near the large mahogany wardrobe in the attic in fear of it containing a lion or a witch of some description.

At eleven, she went to public school where the teachers tried to beat her J's, G's, B's and P's into their proper places and marveled at her extensive knowledge of historic Edwardian lifestyles.

Skip past the braces, the failed driving tests, and Ronan Keating, Yasmine is now the epitome of a successful city girl.

"Mr. Sanderson, we both know that this Grandfather clock is overpriced. Especially considering it's lack of history, authenticity, and age. It's agreed, it is a very good replica but that does not give you the right to try and charm me with your smiles and fool me with your Nice-Little-Old-Man act. Save that for the gullible customers."

Mr. Sanderson looks away.

"Argh! I should 'ave known I couldn't fool you. Anybody else came in, I would be holding a large wad of money right about now. Name your price."

"I'll be having forty pounds off that price AND a cup of tea made by your wife."

Half of Mr. Sanderson mouth tilts into a smile and he shakes his head again.

"Alright then." he sighs, "It just had to blimming well be you to want that clock, didn't it? Just me luck."

This is about the time Yasmine's cell phone blares out in all its glory "Slightly Mad" by Queen. A song a friend told Yasmine had her written all over it. Yasmine agreed and has had it as her ringtone for the last four years.

"Jazz speaking."

"Hey, Jazz. You have to scrap the grandfather clock. We just don't think it will fit up the stairs without damaging wallpaper and people."

"But I just beat Mr. Sanderson down to a good price…"

"Sorry. I'm just as gutted as you. It was a big part of my design."

"Well, what about a grandmother clock?"

"There's such a thing?"

"Uha. There's one at Mum and Dads. Smaller than a Grandfather but just as nice and more stairs friendly."

"Send me a photo of it will you?"

"Yup."

"Oh and…we need a flat meeting soon. I have news."

"Okey-dokey." Yasmine screws her face up in slight worry before hanging up.

News isn't something that's usually discussed at flat meetings. Flat meetings usually consist of listing what's in short supply in the liquor cabinet. Whether that weeks muesli was any better than the last and lamenting the end of Tom Ellis on East Enders.

Any actual news is usually just blurted over breakfast.

Even then it's just things like: Did you hear? Tom Ellis is leaving East Enders!

At this specific time, though, Yasmine decides to put the worry to the back of her mind and focus on things more immediate.

"Your Grandfather clock lives to be overpriced another day Mr. Sanderson but I'm still taking that cup of tea."

The bell above Ellsworth's Antiques rings as Yasmine's Zebra boots step in.

"Daddy? Ma?" she sings out merrily. Spotting the Grandmother clock, she smiles and pulls out her phone. "Arjen?" she then calls into the silence as she takes a photo of it.

At the sound of his name, Arjen Bakker's six foot three frame steps into view from behind a mass of stacked chairs. Arjen (pronounced Ar-yen) raises an eyebrow under his modern dark framed glasses. As a scruffy jeans and oversized shirt man who hides behind his long hair, he finds how Yasmine dresses slightly peculiar.

"Haya Argy-Bargy!" She chirps sending the photo and venturing further into the shop. "Where's Pa?"

"Out for the morning," he replies with a strong but understandable Dutch accent. Yasmine gives a perplexed look at this as she knows better than anyone how little her father leaves this shop.

Sometimes, he'll walk over the road to get a single chocolate bar just so he can say he's been out that week. Arjen sits back down at the paper-stacked table and leans back. "Sherman's has new stock," he explains, wiping his hair away from his glasses. She nods knowingly and perches herself onto the table.

"Ah. What's he wearing this time?"

"Mustache, tweeds, walking cane and a monocle. He was going to borrow a hound especially for it. I talked him out of the shotgun."

Yasmine throws her head back and laughs at her father's continuous failure at disguises. She crosses her legs in wait for a reply from Debbie, oblivious to the intent way Arjen is looking at her. His eyes go from her brightly colored jacket down to her boots then slowly back up. Before he gets the chance to ask how many baby zebra's had to die to make the boots, Linda's voice comes from upstairs.

"Is that you Yasmine?" she asks as she comes down the stairs. The woman with glasses larger than her face smiles upon seeing her daughter and even more upon seeing her talking to Arjen.

"There's the love-birds. See there Aaron…"

"Arjen." he corrects quietly. This goes unnoticed.

"…there was no need for all that moping around this morning was there?"

Yasmine sighs at this.

"For the last time Mum…Arjen and I are not engaged!"

"What happened this time?" she sighs.

"Nothing. We have never been…"

"Just a little lovers spat then, hm? It will get sorted." she gives a smile to Arjen and taps him reassuringly on the shoulder. "Now, where's your father?"

Yasmine throws her head back as Arjen hides a smile.

"Sherman's."

"Ah yes, that would explain the mustache this morning. Right-e-o then; I'll leave you two to sort out your little issue." she gives Arjen another tap on the shoulder and smiles at Yasmine.

"We're not…" she starts.

"Thank you." Arjen cuts in as Linda walks away. Yasmine looks at her fiancé-that-isn't and gives a disapproving look. She's never been good at those. She comes across as looking suspicious rather than disapproving.

"I can't believe you encourage her," she says to him. He shrugs and folds his arms, his fringe falling over his face again.

"It's less painful than trying to convince her otherwise."

She shakes her head at him then looks at her beeping phone. From Debbie: "Measurements?"

"Arjen, tape-measure?"

He hands it to her and watches the colorful woman jump off the table and head to the grandmother clock again.

Despite her unrelenting optimism and peculiar dress sense, Arjen likes Yasmine. But for a strange reason. Sure, she's friendly and knows how to deal with the rather atypical and at times demanding Mr. and Mrs. Ellsworth but that's just an added bonus.

The real reason Arjen Bakker prefers Yasmine to most other people is because, unlike the majority of the English population, she spent a good chunk of her time learning how to pronounce his name properly.

The first of two people to do so.

Branson (or Pranson to his friends) already screws up his J's and Y's, so trying to wrap his head around the fact that Arjen is spelled with a j but pronounced like a y proved to be a struggle.

He didn't understand how this could be possible without it being a spelling error from the father or something.

In the end, Branson told him he could have the job on the one condition that he got to call him Argy Bargy. Arjen didn't like the idea but needed the job so begrudgingly agreed.

As for Linda, well she just calls him Aaron Baker.

He believes that's not even trying.

Despite not even trying to get his name right, they love Arjen and were thrilled to find out him and their daughter were engaged. Not that anybody knows where the rumor came from. It certainly didn't come from Yasmine who can't get past the eleven year age gap. Although, she does admit to having a small crush on him when they first met. She had a thing about mysterious men at the time but found out rather quickly that this doesn't necessarily mean they are artistic or sensitive. Her crush on Arjen, therefore, went no further.

Branson knows the two of them aren't engaged but after almost a year of trying to convince Linda of this, he's given up and agrees with Arjen. It's easier to just go along with it.

On the other side of the shop, tape measure in hand, Yasmine wonders how this engagement will affect any future real engagements.

This is something she really need not worry about as her history with men has been just as bad (but not as morbid) as her history with cats. This is why she has decided to throw out the 'I want one' basket in her mind and just have a 'friends' basket. At least until she's confident she can pick a man as well as she can pick out a fake grandfather clock.