Leo had ultimately decided that regardless of whether or not he had Jasmine by his side, he needed to come clean to his father about his true ambitions, which was why he was meeting David Mathers for dinner.
When his parents had divorced, Astrid had been determined to keep David involved in Leo’s life—not that he would have lapsed on his fatherly duties, but still—and so they had made a custody agreement, dictating that Leo would spend every weekend with his father. When he was sixteen, however, he asked his parents to change the arrangement so he wouldn’t have to leave every weekend, so they had amended it to having dinner once a month. Even though the custody agreement was no longer valid, Leo still tried to uphold the monthly dinners with his father, though he had admittedly postponed this particular dinner on multiple occasions.
As David strolled into the restaurant and sat himself at the table where Leo had been waiting, he greeted his son bluntly. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
“Hi to you too, Dad,” Leo said. “I’ve been good, thanks for asking.”
“Sarcasm. Real original,” David retorted with a smile.
With a shrug, Leo said, “I learned from the best.”
The two men sat in silence as they perused their menus, but David broke the silence by asking, “How’s school?”
“It’s- well, I actually wanted to talk to you about school,” Leo said.
David furrowed his brows. “You’re not failing, are you? You know I pay a lot of money for you to attend that school and I don’t want to hear that my money is going to waste.”
“Well, Dad, I’m not failing, but-”
“That’s a relief. But what?”
“I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to drop out of medical school and-”
With a scoff, David said, “You’re not serious. You’re not dropping out. What do you plan on doing if you’re not going to be a doctor?”
Leo took a slow, deep breath before speaking. “If you’d stop interrupting me and let me speak, you’d know. I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to open up a bakery or pastry shop or something like that.”
“What in the hell gave you that idea? Baking?”
“I’ve always been interested in it, and I’m actually pretty good,” Leo said. “And, believe it or not, it was Jasmine Winters who encouraged me to start pursuing it.”
David stared for a moment as he took in that information. “Winters. You mean Richard and Helena’s girl?”
“Huh. I thought you two hated each other.”
“I’m actually in love with her,” Leo said.
David raised his eyebrows. “Really? And when did this happen?”
“About three months ago? Ish? We were dating for a little over a month but I messed up and she broke up with me,” Leo said. “I don’t know if she’ll take me back, but I hope so.”
“And you’re making this change for her?” David asked.
Leo shook his head. “No, I’m doing it for me. I’m not happy in medicine, Dad. It’s just not what I want to do with my life, and Min helped me realize that. Yeah, I’m doing well in school, but I’m not passionate about it and I don’t want to be stuck in a career I hate.”
With a deep breath, David nodded and said, “Fine. If that’s what you really want, you can drop out, but not until the end of the semester. I already paid for these classes and you are going to finish them.”
“Okay, fine. So you’re actually supporting me in this?”
“I’m willing to give it a chance, but if the baking thing doesn’t pan out in five years, you go back to medical school to get your MD. Deal?”
“Deal. So what were you thinking for dinner?”
After yet another argument with Ethan, Jasmine had decided to leave his place and spend the night at her own, hoping that a little bit of space from him would clear her mind. When she stepped off the elevator and onto her floor, however, she ran into Astrid.
“Jasmine! It’s so nice to see you, dear,” the blonde said, enveloping Jasmine in a hug. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing all right, how about you?” she asked with a smile.
“Well, actually, I’ve been great,” Astrid said. “I’ve been working on my own original art in my spare time, you know, when I’m not doing restorations. I actually wanted to show you one of my paintings, if you’d like to see it.”
Jasmine hesitated for a second but she ultimately nodded and said, “Yes, actually, I’d love to see it. Lead the way.”
Astrid took her by the hand and brought her to her apartment. “I’ve got to warn you, it’s a bit of a mess in here, but you’re here to see my art anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Jasmine said, her voice trailing off as she saw the painting in question: the dancing couple. “Astrid, it’s- it’s beautiful. That’s from the wedding, isn’t it?”
With a nod, the older woman said, “I know things are a bit muddy for you right now, but I wanted you to see this. Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t, but I hope so. Emotions are tricky, but sometimes it takes an outside perspective.”
She chuckled and said, “That seems to be all I’ve got to go on right now, is outside perspectives. I can’t really figure out what I want.”
“You’ll figure it out,” Astrid said. “And when you do, I expect I’ll receive some sort of update? Maybe you could come over for dinner one night.”
Jasmine smiled and tore her eyes away from the painting. “I’d like that.”
While they had been having a difficult few weeks, when Ethan came over for dinner that night, things were surprisingly good. He had brought over some flowers and a bottle of wine, he had insisted on washing all the dishes and actually did them all properly, and he had insisted that she pick the movie that they watched afterwards, though they paid little attention to it.
Once the credits rolled, Jasmine pulled away from their kiss and whispered, “Go look in my top right drawer and pick something for me to wear.”
Ethan was all too eager to comply with her request, and Jasmine was expecting him to emerge with her skimpiest lingerie. However, he was taking entirely too long and eventually she felt the need to investigate. When she stepped into her bedroom, the first thing she noticed was Ethan sitting on her bed holding the CD, and the second thing was that the wrong drawer was hanging open.
“What the fuck is this, Jas?” he asked, his voice low and his eyes glaring as he looked over at her.
“Why do you have that?” she countered. “I told you to look in the top right drawer, not the left.”
He threw the CD case onto the floor and stood up. “That doesn’t answer my question. What the fuck is that?”
Jasmine backed up and said, “It’s a CD.”
“I realize that. But what is it?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Ethan.”
“Oh really?” he asked, taking a step forward. “I’m your boyfriend, and you’re hiding a love CD from that- that idiot from the hall!”
She scoffed and crossed her arms. “If you ever paid attention to anything other than yourself, you’d remember that you met him at the grocery store before that. You seriously don’t care about anything except for yourself, do you?”
“I told you I loved you!”
“Right. In a text message, as an acronym, a week ago. You never said it out loud and you never even spelled out the words,” she said.
Ethan shook his head. “This isn’t about me. This is about the fact that you’re hiding stuff from me. How the hell am I supposed to trust you?”
Jasmine shrugged. “I don’t know! I was hiding it because I was confused, but I told him that I was with you. I wasn’t cheating and I wasn’t planning on cheating.”
“How do I even know if that’s true?” he asked, taking another step forward.
“Why can’t you just trust me when I say I haven’t cheated?” she asked. “I would never do that.”
“I don’t know if I can believe you,” Ethan said. “You hid this, so what else could you be hiding?”
“Nothing! I swear, I don’t have anything else to hide,” Jasmine said as she took another step back.
“Stop moving away from me, you bitch.”
“Excuse me?” Jasmine’s eyes widened and she crossed her arms, more angry than scared now. “What the hell gives you the right to talk to me like that?”
Ethan took another step forward as she held her ground. “I’ll talk to cheaters any way I want. You think you’re all tough just because you cross your damn arms?”
“No, but at least I’m not calling you a bitch for no goddamn reason,” she said just before he slapped her and knocked her to the ground. Her hand flew up to her face and she stared up at him in shock. When she was finally able to speak, she said, “Well, I was having a hard time making this decision, but you just made it for me. Get the hell out of my apartment.”
“Are you fucking serious?” he asked.
Jasmine took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes. Get the fuck out. We’re done.”
Ethan stormed out and slammed the door behind him, leaving Jasmine still laying on the floor and finally feeling free to cry. Her face stung and her body ached from the impact of the fall.
When she caught her breath, she eased herself up and slowly walked to where her phone laid on the floor.
>>> Jasmine: Can you come over? I need help
>>> Leo: I’ll be right over. Are you okay???
>>> Jasmine: No, Ethan and I got into a bad fight
>>> Leo: I’m on my way right now
While she waited for Leo to arrive, she lay on the couch and turned on her television, but her vision was too blurred by tears for her to really watch anything. She figured that he had to have been speeding because there was a knock at her door in less than ten minutes.
“It’s open,” she called out.
Leo opened the door and rushed to her side when he saw that she was crying. When he saw the bruise that was already beginning to form on her cheek, he cupped her face gently and stroked it with his thumb. His voice was soft as he asked, “What did he do to you, Min?”
Jasmine’s breathing was shaky and she said, “He found the CD and freaked out, and we were yelling, and then he called me a bitch, which pissed me off, but then he hit me. I- I was just so confused before, but then he hit me and- and I knew I had to break up with him.”
“You did the right thing,” he said and moved up onto the couch with her. “Not that I’m complaining, but why did you text me and not Alex or your mom or someone?”
She thought about it for a moment before she said, “I wanted to be safe. I feel safe with you.”
“You are. I promise,” he said, then pulled her into his arms.
“I know.” Jasmine snuggled into his body and wrapped her arms around his torso. “Thank you for coming, Leo.”
He nodded and kissed the top of her head. “Of course.”
Jasmine never understood why seventh grade was hell for everyone she ever talked to, but it was, and her seventh grade year was no exception. Much of her time was spent trying to avoid a posse of girls who, for some reason unknown to her, were intent on making her life miserable. The ringleader’s name was Amanda, and her loyal crew included three other girls: Jessica, Haylee, and Miranda.
Though she was smart, it was unclear why the girls had targeted her since Jasmine had a habit of keeping to herself, even before they started bullying her. She had just shown up to school one day in October and they surrounded her.
“Look at what she’s wearing, Amanda. She hella copied your outfit from last week,” Jessica said. “How pathetic is that?”
Jasmine furrowed her brows and looked down at her shirt. “What? No, my aunt bought this shirt for me.”
Miranda laughed. “And lying about it! How sad.”
“No, I’m not lying. Why would I-”
Haylee pushed Jasmine in the shoulder. “You should just admit it. You’re trying to be exactly like Amanda, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not. I-”
Amanda started laughing and said, “You’re so pathetic. What, do you have a crush on me or something? Are you gay?”
Jasmine shook her head. “No, I’m not. I like boys.”
“Really?” Amanda asked. “Because I know I’ve seen you staring at me.”
With a nod, Amanda said, “Yeah, in class.”
Before she could stop herself, Jasmine laughed. “Oh, my god. Are you stupid? If it was during class, I was looking at you because you were talking.”
At the word ‘stupid,’ the girls stopped laughing and started closing in on her while Jessica asked, “Did you just call Amanda ‘stupid’? You must really want to get your ass kicked.”
“No, I didn’t mean it! I swear, I didn’t,” Jasmine said, backing away from Jessica, only to bump into Haylee. “Please, I didn’t mean it.”
The girls started pushing her back and forth, pulling on her hair and clothes, and hitting any body part they could reach until the campus security guards pulled them off of Jasmine and led her into the nurse while the other girls were escorted into the principal’s office.
After that day, Amanda and the others were more discreet. Rather than physical altercations during school, they simply taunted her during the school day and then would gang up on her after school. As the months passed, her grades began to suffer and Jasmine would, more often than not, hide in various girls’ bathrooms and hope that they didn’t find her. During class, she spoke up less and would spend the class periods with her eyes focused on her desk, too afraid to look up and accidentally instigate something.
By the time March came around, Jasmine had been suffering through the torment in silence for five months and had come to accept it as ‘normal.’ When asked about it by teachers, her parents, or even Alex, who saw it on a daily basis, she would just brush it off and pretend like it wasn’t as bad as it was.
Just before spring break, Jasmine had taken her usual residence in a stall of one of the bathrooms and she heard the girls entering. “Oh, Jazzy, come out. We know you’re here.”
She closed her eyes, lifted her feet, and breathed as quietly as she could, waiting for them to bang on the stall doors, throw something over the walls, or leave. They didn’t look very hard, because when they didn’t see any feet underneath the stall doors, they started checking their reflections in the mirror. She was almost in the clear when she felt the need to sneeze. “Ah-choo!”
The chatter stopped and Jasmine heard Amanda whisper, “Someone’s in here.”
There were quiet footsteps moving towards her and she got the idea to slam the door open and burst out of the stall, running past them and out of the bathroom before they could process what was happening. The best part of the plan was that it actually worked, and she rounded the corner of the building before they had emerged from the bathroom in pursuit.
As she ran, she passed Leo, Alex, and a few of their other friends. While the rest of the group quickly dismissed the sight, Leo’s eyes followed Jasmine until she had turned around another corner. When she was out of sight, he heard the stampeding steps of the other girls, and he quickly got in front of them.
The gangly blonde smiled. “Hi, Leo, what’s up?”
He quickly glanced at the other girls behind her before turning his attention back to her. “What are you doing?”
“Just having fun,” Amanda said, attempting to be flirtatious.
“Well, your definition of fun is kinda lame,” he said, causing the smile to slip off her face. “I don’t know what’s so fun about stalking someone in the bathrooms and chasing them around.”
“We aren’t stalking anyone,” Miranda said from behind Amanda.
Amanda shushed behind her and then turned back to Leo. “Why do you care anyway?”
He shrugged. “I don’t. But you’re being hella lame and who’s gonna want to ask you to the dance if you’re acting like my fourth grade cousin?”
All four girls clammed up and walked to a nearby table, radiating shame. When Leo returned over to his friends, he had a smile on his face, although he wasn’t entirely sure why.
“Dude, what was that about?” Alex asked.
“They were acting stupid,” he said. “Enough is enough, you know?”
Alex shrugged and turned his attention back to his previous conversation while Leo stared over towards where Jasmine had disappeared, wondering if she’d be doing the same thing the next day. Luckily for her, she went unbothered for the rest of the year, and just like she didn’t know why it had started, she was just as clueless as to why the bullying had ended.