Carter didn’t know what it was about Jasmine Hendry but whatever it was, the presence of it took his breath away and left him dumbfounded, speechless. It was a feeling that didn’t last; in later life, the connotation of Jasmine became compromised, to the point where Carter felt embarrassed thinking back to this point in time, when he first arrived at Harvard, had finally sorted all his stuff away into his room, and had wandered into his first induction seminar to find her.
Her appearance had been innocuous enough. She was tall, taller than most of the other women Carter had been with, with plain, brown hair which was often worn in a ponytail. Jasmine tended to make her own fashion, and became something of a trend-setter in a later term. But at that moment, she and Carter and the twenty or so other people already in the room knew no-one around them, and were not really speaking. It was that awkward wait before introductions. Usually, Carter would treat this kind of situation with a forthright attitude, walk up to the nearest jock, or whatever, and tell the guy who he was. He could usually tell which sort of people would respond to this approach and which would just ignore him and stare at the ground. It came with the territory. But she had frozen him in the doorway like a waxwork. Carter was struck, and it shocked him like nothing else had done before.
Why exactly he had reacted in this way was difficult to ascertain. The feelings Carter experienced, and they truly were experienced instantly, right then and there in that doorway, were on a par with those that had dogged him several years before when Shanade was in his life. However, he had understood the origins of those feelings; they had been born out of a lust for Shanade’s dollish looks and scornful attitude. Jasmine though, she had looked… different to that. Not ordinary. Jasmine had never been ordinary. If she found she was wearing something similar to someone else in a class, she would immediately disregard the item of clothing, and not wear it again, unless it fell into sudden obscurity. The best word to describe her, Carter had decided, closing the mental dictionary, would be ‘quirky.’ When they had later dated, the description had come to him late one night as they had lain next to each other, and he had smiled.
The point is that it wasn’t tantalising appearance; the key contributor in his attraction to Shanade, Katy and the other one, Lola, it hadn’t been looks that had made Jasmine stand out and dominate his consciousness. It had been something else. There was nothing particularly suggestive in her manner that Carter could draw on from memory; in fact the only look of her’s he could clearly recall was her bored expression on that very day when he had first laid eyes on her. It had just been something. And that was why he had later proposed, when he had returned from university. Proposed! Proposed to marry her. They had broken up. He had started seeing Katy and was still in correspondence with Lucy in Scotland. He had nearly completed the first course of his training at the Cadet Academy, and would soon be flying missions; dangerous, life-threatening combat drops and raids, that could jeopardise this so-called marriage. He had proposed!
The word ‘Harvard,’ whilst making his father very proud, at least at first, of his son and his prospects, only ever brought back the one connotation for Carter, and that was Jasmine, even after their split and his reuniting with lovely Katy, even after his split with Katy and the angry phone-call from both sets of kids, even after he had given up on settling down with a woman. Perhaps she had been the one. There had to be one somewhere, and he had done plenty of searching throughout his life. Perhaps he had missed the obvious, right in front of his eyes from that doorway in the College Building at Harvard in 1990. He certainly hadn’t missed it when she had thrown a vase across the room at him ten years later, and he had caught it and hurled it straight back. It was a flash point of the marriage, and a vivid memory.
But as a teenager, with all the thoughts and fears of an apple tree, except when it came to assignments, she had become his everything, and Harvard had become a dream. He remembered in particular awakening one morning, several months into the course, the duvet strewn across him and a slumbering Jasmine to encompass them in quilted comfort. He had recalled the drinking and partying of the previous night, clutched his aching head, and turned to shake Jasmine awake. But then he had stopped. Jasmine, though possibly still under the influence of Jaeger, was totally at peace, part of the duvet clutched in the crook of her arm, and she was smiling. It had been a smile of genuine pleasure, and contentment, and was one of the most beautiful things Carter had ever seen, and would ever see, in his life. At that moment, he had been more in love with her than he ever had been with anybody. Instead, he opted to wait and watch her in silence, as his headache faded, although it later returned when Jasmine had awoken and moaned about the mess.
Carter and Jasmine had been on the same Harvard Business Degree, in Banking and Finance, which largely involved lectures and seminars held in the vast College campus on the main site. The daughter of a merchant investment expert, Jasmine had been a keen student, and had received very high marks on her entrance exam. She had been quick and sharp when it came to arithmetic and stats, but less so when it came to theory and practice, which had been Carter’s stronger suits. He had entered the course with considerably less enthusiasm; simply as his father had wanted him to, and also because he failed to see how his writing could ever be truly successful. His lack of real interest resulted in some poor assignment grades, and more often than not, he would resort to copying Jasmine; something she tolerated, but, he could tell, secretly disliked. If it had not been for Jasmine though, it would have been highly likely that Carter would have failed his first year tests. As it was, he had scraped through, as much to remain in his adolescent fantasy world as to further his knowledge of finance. Looking back on this, Carter was rather annoyed at himself. A Harvard business degree could really have boosted his reputation, and given him better financial security and bearing, and instead he had wasted his time floundering around like a frat-boy after his chick, drinking late and waking whenever. It was a million miles from the strict discipline he had subsequently adhered to in the Michigan Flight Academy and at Edinburgh University, and had then made part of his own routine in the USAF, at NASA and even on his ranch. In that way at least, losing Jasmine had been a relief. She had brought out the worst, laziest, most disreputable side of him that there was. When they had divorced, she must have kept it as part of the settlement.
The way things turned out, though, neither Carter nor Jasmine ended up finishing the course. Despite her enthusiasm and quirky attitude, Jasmine had been fairly popular, making quite a few friends in the first year besides Carter, and one of them had been a timid girl called Hanna Avery. She had been pretty unimposing and mousy in appearance, but seemed to spend a lot of time organising parties, and talking on her mobile phone. It was odd; she could certainly have been shy, but she had somehow become something of a social hub. And she had been particularly close to Jasmine at the conclusion of the year, when something happened at an end-of-exam party in a dorm block on campus, and in highly suspicious circumstances, Hanna Avery died.
The College outcry of shock and suspicion had been intense. Not only had the girl been popular, but she had been a prominent student, always organising local events for charities and for helping the aged. However, this intensity of reaction was mainly due to the fact that nothing like this had ever happened there before. Oh, the occasional student got alcohol-poisoning, while some frat-boys would occasionally scuffle and deal out black-eyes, but the unwritten rule was that no-one ever came to serious harm. Not at this time of life, in this safest of environments. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right. The cops had sniffed about the dorm block for weeks, asking questions, going over details with those who were at the party, examining the bottles that each individual or group had brought into the room, before eventually leaving Harvard in peace. It was later decided in a post-mortem examination that serious alcohol-poisoning had claimed the life of Hanna Avery, as several coroners found nothing remotely incriminating on or in the body of the girl. However, there was a rumour, ever since the incident took place, that someone had brought a spiked bottle along with them, or that one bottle had been spiked during the party, perhaps as one individual tried to pass off the perfect crime on to another. What with such wide-ranging possibilities, nothing was ever proven by anyone, no matter how deeply they examined the evidence. The girl had had no enemies. The friends verified that, and the friends of the friends verified that their friend was indeed a friend of the late Hanna Avery. It was the kind of case that was going nowhere from the day it was opened. Carter didn’t know if it had ever been properly closed.
But it had signalled the end for him and Jasmine’s dream world at Harvard, as Jasmine announced soon after that she could not remain at the College where such a close friend had tragically lost her life, and was moving away, all the while implying that their relationship was over. There it was. The blow to end all blows. Carter reckoned he had never quite got Jasmine back for that one. The marriage and the divorce and the fighting; yes, it had all been something of an amusing ordeal, but she had never been crushed in the way he had been on that summer’s day, when she had called him at home. Knowing he would not be able to return to her absence, Carter had undergone the difficult process of persuading his dad that Harvard was ‘just not right for me, and I’d known it for some time, but had stuck it out, like you always told me to, and I still feel the same. I’m serious, Dad. I want to write.’
At a wedding that month, which had felt more like a funeral to the bereaved Carter, his parents had got talking to two of his half-uncles on his father’s side, who were both Scottish, and visiting the States from Edinburgh. Through the blur of it all, Carter had reckoned he had met them once before, when younger and small enough for Brian to bounce him bodily on his huge knee. At the ceremony, he had simply slouched there, and hadn’t paid them much attention. However, they had visited the Carter household in Greenbury Park soon after, when it transpired that Eric and Millie were taking the odd step of renewing their wedding vows, and over the course of the next few days and the forthcoming boredom of the service, Brian and Andrew Carter, along with Brian’s son Oliver, managed to persuade Carter to visit them in Edinburgh, and as soon as Andrew heard from Eric that young David was looking for an avenue into the world of literature, of course, his half-brother from across the Atlantic had had the perfect solution.
Carter decided, though, that if he ever compiled memoirs of his loved ones, he would have to include the name of Jasmine Hendry. A dreamer, an outcast, and later a drug addict, and most awfully the destroyer of his fleeting teenage happiness. The tragedy that was her life’s outcome was a great shame nonetheless.