Chapter 21: Breathe
The days that passed were long and torturous. Time seemed to pass much slower and every breath Jasmine took seemed to be more difficult. She understood why her grandma kept all of that tragedy a secret, still Jasmine partly hated her for not telling her the truth. Waking up every morning, feeling her heart constrict painfully in her chest, Jasmine was growing impatient. She wanted the pain to go away – was desperate for it even – but the hole in her heart stayed as big as it was the day she found out the truth.
"We're almost home," Lucas informed her, squeezing her knee with one hand while his other gripped the wheel. They'd left the airport half an hour ago and were currently driving home to the Wood mansion. As far as Jasmine knew, her parents' debt had been paid and she no longer had to worry about her life being in danger.
It should've come as a relief, but instead she felt incredibly guilty. She'd listened to Lucas and pushed away all thoughts about avenging her parents. That didn't mean, however, that she'd accepted the fact that those men would get away unharmed. It made her feel weak that she didn't fight harder to get those men in prison. Sadly, she also understood where Lucas was coming from. Going after her parents' murderers would probably put her life – and the lives of her loved ones – in danger.
Jasmine wouldn't be able to live with herself if something happened to any of her friends because she was too stubborn to let go of her hatred. That realization brought her some peace of mind, but not nearly enough to sleep at night. She still laid awake for hours, restlessly tossing and turning in bed.
"Get out of the car, princess," Lucas whispered, his fingertips touching her cheek as he watched her worriedly. Lucas had tried his best to fight her demons the past couple days, but his attempts turned out to be futile. Jasmine couldn't let go of her anger and hurt, not yet anyway.
Looking out the window, Jasmine realized they'd arrived at the Wood estate. Honestly, she'd been too far gone to notice. The past days went by in a blur, she barely remembered what she did. It was kind of scary to be honest. Nodding at Lucas, Jasmine pushed the door handle down and got out of the car. A sigh left her lips as she gazed at her home. It felt good to be back, better than she expected.
Being back in Florida, in the town she grew up had been nice, but she realized it no longer felt like home. Without her grandma nothing kept her there. It was just a house, a neighborhood she knew well. In California she had a family and friends she cared deeply about. Jasmine realized a home wasn't a house, a neighborhood or even a town. It was people, people you cared about, people that cared about you. And damn, it felt good to be home.
"Princess," Lucas whispered, his fingers sliding through hers, intertwining them. Jasmine looked up to see him smiling softly at her. "You ready?"
Smiling softly, Jasmine nodded in agreement. Lucas had been so extremely supportive and thoughtful the past few days. It made Jasmine feel warm on the inside. He obviously cared deeply about her. She didn't need to hear him say it to know he loved her. Still, Jasmine wasn't ready to utter those three little words. It made her feel vulnerable.
"Beware, my mom has been asking constantly about you. She'll probably jump you the moment you walk into the house," Lucas grinned, squeezing her hand reassuringly.
He wasn't wrong. The moment Jasmine set foot over the threshold, Gabriella appeared out of nowhere and pulled Jasmine into her arms, squeezing her so tightly Jasmine couldn't breathe. Clearly someone had missed her. "Oh darling, I'm so glad you're home," the woman sighed in relief, brushing her fingers through Jasmine's ebony locks.
Jasmine smiled against Gabriella's throat, softly patting her godmother's back. "It's good to be back," she whispered, telling the god honest truth. She never expected she'd ever feel that way, but she did. The Wood family changed her life and they changed it for the better.
"I've been so scared," Gabriella confessed as she pulled back and looked Jasmine up and down, making sure she was still in one piece. "You're safe now, though. Frank made sure of that. They got their money and they're moving on," the woman assured.
"You shouldn't have done that," Jasmine stated fiercely.
"Yes, we had to, Jazzy. We'd do anything to keep you safe. It's a tragedy what happened to your parents. If I had known…," Gabriella trailed off. "They shouldn't have had to suffer. I could've helped them."
"My parents would never ask anyone for help," Jasmine said as she shook her head. She might not have known them, but it was something she was certain of. Jasmine wouldn't have asked for help either if she was in their situation.
"You're right. They were incredibly stubborn, just like you. Stubborn, but stupid. If they'd come to Frank and me, they'd still be alive. They would've seen you grow up," Gabriella interrupted.
"True, but they would also have felt guilty about accepting your money. It would've eaten at them, just like it eats at me. I know I can't ever pay you back, at least not any time soon," Jasmine retorted.
"Jazzy, you're looking at this the wrong way. Frank and I don't expect you to pay back the money. It's our gift to you. We don't care about dollar bills, we care about you and your safety. We're not paying off your parents debt out of pity, but out of love," Gabriella claimed.
"Still, it doesn't take away the fact that I feel like I should pay you back," Jasmine countered.
"It's rude not to accept a gift, Jazzy," Gabriella insisted. Jasmine shook her head. "Don't let your pride keep you from being safe, honey. It's what ended your parents' lives."
Hearing Gabriella state the truth so clearly, made Jasmine gasp. It was true. Her pride kept her from accepting Gabriella and Frank's generous offer.
"Forget about the money, forget about that man, forget about the letter you found at your grandmother's house and move forward. It's what Theresa would've wanted and we both know it. She kept the truth from you for a reason. I can't say it was the right thing to do, but I admire what she tried to do nevertheless," Gabriella told Jasmine before turning to her son.
"Lucas," Gabriella whispered as she gazed at her eldest. "I can't honestly say how proud I am of you, my boy. If it hadn't been for you, dad and I would've never found out about Jazzy's situation. You took care of our girl," she uttered, still whispering as she watched her son in awe.
"No matter what has happened in the past, you're still my baby boy and I love you, honey. I know I haven't said it in way too long, but it doesn't mean I love you any less," Gabriella added, her eyes wet with unshed tears. "I'm sorry I've failed you, honey. I'm so sorry it took me this long to realize it was me who pushed you away and not the other way around." With that Lucas fell into his mother's arms and hugged her tightly.
The scene brought tears to Jasmine's eyes. The both of them were clinging to each other for dear life, their eyes filled with tears. Jasmine never expected to see mother and son reunited, certainly not this soon. Lucas changed a lot over the last couple of months, but Jasmine didn't think Gabriella had noticed.
Even though Lucas never said the words back to his mom, Jasmine knew what his hug meant and Gabriella did too.
Jasmine shifted her body closer to Lucas', her arm wrapped around his middle and her legs entangled with his as she rested her face in the crook of his neck. Lucas held her protectively in his arms, her body draped over his as they watched a movie together. "You're awfully quiet," she stated, running her finger tips across Lucas' chest.
After their talk with Gabriella they both unpacked their bags. Not even an hour later, Jasmine snuck into Lucas' room and cuddled with him on the bed. They'd fooled around a little at first, but Lucas never took it any further. He wanted to give her time, even though Jasmine hadn't asked for it.
"Just thinking," Lucas replied, squeezing her hip as he pulled her a little closer until she was lying practically on top of him. The tingle between her legs emerged as her breasts were squeezed against his chest and her bundle of nerves came into contact with his half-mast erection. Lucas always seemed to be turned on when he was around her, certainly when they were alone and in bed.
"About your mom?" Jasmine asked curiously, pushing her lust filled thoughts aside. They were having a serious conversation for Christ' sake. She shouldn't be thinking about having sex. It was weird how her libido had gone into overdrive from the moment Lucas first kissed her. She felt like an animal in heat. It was kind of embarrassing to be honest.
Lucas didn't verbally reply, but softly nodded. Jasmine almost missed the movement. It was clear he didn't feel comfortable talking about the moment he shared with his mother. Still, Jasmine believed it was important they communicate with each other. "She surprised you, didn't she? You didn't think she'd admit she's been wrong and she totally blew you away when she told you she loved you," Jasmine guessed.
"It felt nice to know she still cares," Lucas eventually admitted, the words leaving his lips hesitantly. Jasmine smiled softly, happy he at least tried to show his emotions, knowing it was a difficult task. Lucas didn't talk about feelings, he showed them – or hid them, depending on the situation.
"It felt good to finally get some gratitude and affection. Even though you want to hate her, you still love her and you always will. She disappointed you, but you would forgive her in a heartbeat if you knew she was truly sorry for what she did," Jasmine guessed yet again.
"Stop reading my mind, princess. It's disturbing," Lucas grinned, lightening the mood. Jasmine's smile widened. He'd admitted how he really felt, even if it came out as a smart-ass remark. Progress. That was all she could ask for. Lucas was doing a damned good job at making their relationship work. She never thought he'd be able to communicate with her, but he surprised her.
"It's okay to feel confused right now. You've spent a long time hating your mom for taking your dad's side that day. It'll take some time before you're ready to completely forgive her and move on," Jasmine claimed as she intertwined her fingers with Lucas' and squeezed his hand reassuringly.
"You sound like a shrink," Lucas told her, still grinning.
"Maybe I should consider studying psychology next year," Jasmine figured.
"It wouldn't be a bad choice," Lucas agreed, winking.
"You're just playing with me, aren't you?" Jasmine questioned, raising an eyebrow, a smile still plastered across her features.
"Maybe. Although it would indeed be something you could consider."
Jasmine nodded, nestling herself comfortably against his chest and focusing her eyes back on the television screen. Honestly, she'd never really thought about going to college. She'd always been certain she'd just find a job after high school and do some online courses if she had the time. However, the Wood family had changed her views on the future.
The following morning Jasmine walked into the kitchen, her stomach grumbling with hunger. She couldn't wait to take a bite of Grace's delicious pancakes. The smell of freshly baked pancakes had been what awakened her that morning. There were worse ways to wake up. Grace was known to prepare outstanding meals, but her breakfast was always the most delicious meal of the day.
Her eyes widened at the sight of Lucas, his features twisted in rage and his hands balled into fists. When his eyes caught hers, his clear blue orbs turned into an intense color of midnight. Jasmine's steps faltered, her body turning to stone. He'd never looked at her that way, she'd never even seen that angry, malicious look in his eyes. It was scary. Goosebumps erupted on her skin, the tiny hairs on her arms standing upright.
"Lucas? What's wrong?" she asked cautiously, her voice shaking slightly, betraying her. Fear gripped her heart as she watched his lips quirk upward in a disbelieving, mocking grin. Jasmine didn't understand what was going on. Only hours before they'd still been in bed together, cuddling in nothing but their underwear and making out until they were both left breathless.
"You have some serious nerve," Lucas accused through gritted teeth, his fists still clenched and his posture stoic. Jasmine gasped at his angry tone combined with the deadly glare he sent her. Even when he was mad, Lucas still tried to stay in control of his emotions. Jasmine had only seen his control slip once and that had been when he almost strangled her.
Afraid he might do something he would regret later on, Jasmine took a step back. A humorless laugh left Lucas' lips. "You really think I'd hurt you? After everything that's happened? I thought we'd overcome this, princess. I thought you trusted me," Lucas mumbled, pained. His words were like a blade slicing through her heart.
"I do. I do trust you," Jasmine insisted, her tone soft and calm as she tried to get the situation under control. She felt powerless. She didn't know what to do or what to say. How do you solve a situation without knowing the problem at hand?
Lucas shook his head, both pain and fury twisting his features into a sullen, grim look. "Stop lying, Jasmine, it's not worth it," he spit out, using her given name for the first time since she arrived in California. Lucas always used nicknames. From day one he'd called her 'princess', something she both hated and loved at the same time. Hearing him say her name felt like a kick in the guts, a kick below the belt.
"Why would you say that? Why would you think I was lying?" Jasmine asked, dumbfounded, her eyes filled with unshed tears. She didn't understand. What was happening? Why was he being so mean to her? Hurt, she looked down at her feet, no longer able to see that malicious glare directed at her.
"Don't play dumb now. I must admit you're a damn good actress. You almost had me fooled. Who would've thought you could pull that off? Tell me, what else did you lie about?" Lucas bellowed, his voice raising a few octaves as he took a step closer to Jasmine.
Shivering, Jasmine's shoulders slumped down, her gaze still focused on her feet. "I don't understand," she whimpered, a single tear sliding down her cheek.
Lucas let out a long and torturous laugh as he shook his head. "You can drop the act, Jasmine. I'm finally seeing you for who you really are," he grunted.
Confused, Jasmine's chin tipped up as she sought Lucas' eyes. He was looking at her with disgust, his loving gaze nowhere in sight. "What do you mean?" she cried out, losing patience. "What act? What did I do wrong?" She hated being left in the dark. How was she supposed to figure out what he meant if he didn't want to tell her what she'd done wrong in the first place?
"Tell me, did you ever even care about me?" Lucas questioned with a raised eyebrow. Before she could reply, he said, "Forget it. I don't even want to know."
"Lucas," Jasmine whispered, pain clear in her voice.
"You know what? I don't even care if you leave after you've finished high school. Go back home to wallow in some more in self-pity and enjoy your lonely life," Lucas spat.
Jasmine's eyes widened as understanding dawned on her. She'd insisted on going back to Florida after she finished high school all those months ago and still hadn't told Gabriella she'd changed her mind. Her godmother still believed Jasmine was planning on going back to her hometown after she graduated.
"Lucas," Jasmine said, looking slightly guilty. She should've talked to him about it. The last thing she wanted to do was make him feel like he didn't matter to her.
"Enjoy your pitiful life, Jasmine. I hope you find whatever you're looking for," Lucas stated before turning around, picking up his keys from the cupboard and heading to the front door.
Jasmine stayed frozen behind for a moment, watching him disappear, before reality finally dawned on her and she ran after him. "Lucas!" she called out urgently. The front door slammed shut and by the time Jasmine finally arrived in the hall, she could already hear the loud roar of a motorcycle.
"Lucas!" she screamed loudly, throwing the door open and running up the drive. Tears filled her eyes as she saw his Harley disappear, the gate closing behind him. "Lucas," she whispered this time, falling to her knees. What had she done?
Jasmine was mindlessly staring at the television screen, her attention elsewhere, when Gabriella stepped into the living room after her shift at the hospital ended. She'd been sitting in that same position for what seemed like hours, her fingers playing with the fabric of her dress, her eyes blank. Lucas. He was all she could think off, how he must feel and what he might do. He'd drawn the wrong conclusions, but that didn't mean Jasmine felt any less guilty. She was still the reason he took off on his Harley, furious beyond measure.
"Honey?" Gabriella asked, trying to get Jasmine's attention as she walked into the room.
Finally looking up from the spot where her eyes had been glued to for hours, Jasmine noticed her godmother was standing beside her, a worried look in her eyes. "What's wrong, sweetie? You look like someone hit your cat and drove away."
Gabriella's comment made a small smile appear across Jasmine's features. "There," the woman smiled in satisfaction. "You look so much prettier when you're smiling, honey."
"Now, tell me, what made you look so grim in the first place?" Gabriella pushed. Stubborn as a mule. It was a trait that ran in the family.
"I rather not talk about it," Jasmine mumbled, shaking her head. How could she possibly explain what happened without informing Gabriella about her relationship with Lucas? It was simply not possible.
"Let's talk about something else then," Gabriella suggested. "Do you know why Lucas seemed to be mad when I told him you were moving back to Florida after you graduate? I thought you might've discussed your future plans with him. The two of you seemed to be good friends," the woman explained, looking confused.
Jasmine gasped inaudibly, her eyes widening. Why did Gabriella need to ask that question today of all days? It couldn't have come at a worse time.
"Jazzy?" Gabriella asked, looking worried when Jasmine didn't immediately reply. "Is there something going on I don't know about?" Gabriella wasn't dumb. Jasmine was sure she could put two and two together. It wasn't like Lucas and she had been great at keeping their relationship a secret. Everyone knew they were close, they just didn't know how close they really were.
"Jazzy," Gabriella repeated, her voice high pitched. "Exactly how close are the two of you? I know there's something you're not telling me."
Done deceiving people, Jasmine explained, "Yeah, there's something I'm not telling you. Lucas and I are good friends, more than friends even. We've been growing closer for months."
Gabriella swallowed thickly and nodded, understanding dawning on her. "Lucas and you are in a relationship," the woman stated. It wasn't question. "How long?" she asked strictly, her eyes wide.
"Not that long," Jasmine assured. "We've been battling with our feelings for a while, but we only made our relationship official about two weeks ago."
"Two weeks," Gabriella repeated. "Two weeks," she whispered.
"Yes, two weeks," Jasmine agreed.
"At least tell me you've been safe? I don't want to see you carrying a baby any time soon," Gabriella said softly before mumbling a few incoherent words to herself, probably curses.
Jasmine blushed, her cheeks turning a darker color of pink. "Um," she muttered, not immediately finding the words she was looking for. "That won't be necessary," she added after a moment, her voice quaking.
"What do you mean?" Gabriella questioned with a raised eyebrow, looking confused.
"Uh," Jasmine sighed, her cheeks heating some more. "We haven't had sex yet," she admitted sheepishly. They'd fooled around plenty of times, but Lucas always stopped in time. He was still convinced it was too soon and Jasmine needed more time.
"Oh," Gabriella mumbled, clearly surprised. "Well, be safe in the future then," she added, her face pale.
"Lucas thinks I need more time," Jasmine whispered after a few minutes of silence. "I disagree," she added. It wasn't a subject she'd ever talked about with Gabriella, but Jasmine needed advice. It was beyond awkward, but maybe they'd bond some more that way. Anything was better than figuring everything out on her own.
"Have you talked about it?" Gabriella asked, trying to hide her obvious discomfort. It was clear Gabriella had never talked about sex with a teenager before. Boys obviously didn't talk about such thing with their mothers.
"I've told Lucas I was ready, but he keeps telling me to take it easy. He said he didn't want me to feel pressured because he's older and more experienced. He thinks I need more time," Jasmine explained, her cheeks cooling a little. Honestly, after their fight she didn't even know if they were still a couple in the first place.
"Do you need more time?" Gabriella questioned.
"No," Jasmine mumbled, the embarrassment back full force. "We've been fooling around long enough for me to know I'm ready," she admitted. For heaven's sake, she was almost eighteen. Most girls her age had their cherry's popped a long time ago.
Gabriella nodded and smiled softly. "I hate to admit it, but I'm surprised Lucas has been so careful with you. I know my son can be a little wild. Of course I always hoped he'd treat a girl right when he found someone worthy of him, but after seeing the way he behaves around women? I kind of lost hope. I'm glad I was wrong."
"Lucas is a handful, but deep down, he's a good person. He's always been a good person. He might like others to think otherwise, but he cares," Jasmine told Gabriella.
Her godmother nodded, not just tentatively but fiercely. She honestly believed Jasmine was telling the truth. It warmed Jasmine's heart. Too much time passed while Gabriella believed Lucas was a lost cause. The problem was no one understood Lucas never had been lost, he'd just been looking for the right path to take.
"I never thought I'd say this, but maybe you should push Lucas' limits a little? He can say 'no' to you with his pants still on, but what will he say when you really push it? Buy some fancy lingerie and let your female instincts guide you. No man can resist a woman when she's really trying to get what she wants," Gabriella winked. "Do not tell my sons I told you this, though," she added, looking mortified.
Jasmine giggled and nodded. She'd definitely lucked out when Gabriella turned out to be her godmother. Jasmine honestly didn't know what she'd do without her.