Never, No More
by T. McMillan
With a sigh of frustration, Jasmyne stared at the job application, torn between right and wrong. From wanting it, to needing it. And she needed this job, deperately. How did she get here? Jasmyne wondered. How did she go from a confident young girl of 23 to a down and out woman of 31 who practically jumped at her own shadow. She'd lost so many years of her life married to a man that didn't seem to know the difference between her and a punching bag.
Jasmyne's eyes flooded with tears at the near hoplessness of it all, and she blinked hard to hold them back, taking a deep breath to regain her composure. She glanced around the office as she sat some distance from the receptionist, seemingly forgotten. Employees rushed to and fro, various papers gripped tightly in their hands, oblivious to her dilemma. Jasmyne forced herself to re-focus as she read the question again. "Does the applicant have any previous experience?" A simple question for most.
Truth be told, other than a six week secretarial course provided by the shelter, Jasmyne had no other experience. But she'd tried to be as honest as possible on every other application. Told the truth no matter the consequence. The obvious one being that even after several weeks of public transportation, walking until her feet ached, and filling out forms until her hands hurt, she was still jobless. This one question seemed to be the difference between employment and unemployment. And unemployment had taken its toll on her and the little money she'd managed to save before leaving her husband.
Jasmyne thought about the women's shelter where she currently lived and grimaced. Although it had been and continued to be a life-line, she couldn't stay there indefinately. She'd be making the same mistake she'd made with Jimmy, staying because she had no other place to go. No one who cared. No family left. Her Aunt Joyce, whom she'd thought of as a mother, her rock, died in a sudden car crash some years into Jasmyne's marriage and she'd further withdrawn into herself, into the abuse. Lost in shame and low self-esteem, she'd had no one to turn to, no friends left to confide in. Jimmy had made sure of that.
Insincere apologies long gone, he'd tell her that he'd always be there, would always find her if she dare leave. He'd said this so many times that Jasmyne could still remember the look on his face, the expression deadly calm, as if he made a declaration about the weather and not her life. And since she'd been forced to quit her job some years into the marriage, Jasmyne had no money, no plan. Only fear and it was her constant companion. But that final beating had been the last she could stand. The last she would ever take. She'd lost something that could never be reclaimed. Something that could never be replaced.
Shortly after, depression had swept her into such a state of distress that thoughts of leaving her husband almost vanished. She almost lost her sanity, almost stayed, not wanting to live. Not wanting to take another breath or wake up another day in her husband's bed. But how could she want to die, when there was so much in this world to live for. So much to live for in a world without him.
So Jasmyne waited. Waited for the right time to leave it all behind; a time to escape. It came one night when Jimmy'd left behind his wallet, rushing off to another one of his women, she guessed. Jasmyne had lifted a few hundred, packed a light bag, and was gone. New city, new name, new look, new life as Diedra Nichols. Atlanta was her home now and she wasn't going back.
Application complete, Jasmyne flipped back and check the box "yes" under experience. Under said companies, she continued her deceit, penning the names of several other companies she'd applied. She prayed they wouldn't check. Finished, she stood in her plain, loose-fitting dress, handed her application to the receptionist and walked out the door.
"Where you been?"
Jasmyne stopped in her tracks, the sight of her husband in their home nearly repulsing her. A gamut of emotions ran through her as she stood there. Fear, anger, sadness, exceptance. She'd always be in this situation as long as she allowed herself to be. And the news she'd gotten from her doctor today confirmed her worst fears. She was pregnant. A month 1/2 to be exact. In those hours spent driving and thinking she'd come to a decision. She would keep her baby and leave her husband. He'd never have a chance to do to her child what he'd done to her. He'd never even know he had a child.
"I asked you a question!" Jimmy slammed his glass onto the bar and stalked to her, forcefully grabbing her arm. Once upon a time his touch had excited her. Not now.
Jasmyne winced but met his eyes boldly, for once. "I went for a walk."
Jimmy's dark gaze narrowed, his grip tightening. "I called your phone, you never answered."
Jasmyne's eyes lowered for a moment, then met his again, her courage wavering. "I must have turned it off by accident."
Jimmy stared hard, his eyes moving up and down her shapely body until he smiled, tucking an errant strand of shoulder length hair behind her ear and loosening his grip. He turned to release her and Jasmyne breathed a sigh of relief before the unexpected impact of his back hand slamming into her face tossed her off balance. She fell to the floor with a scream, her lip split and cheek throbbing.
"You think i'm stupid, don't you?" Jimmy screamed. "Who is he?"
Jasmyne opened her mouth, trying to repsond over a cut lip and the coppery taste of her own blood, but an even harder slap snapped her head back and she choked on it instead. Jimmy was out of his mind now as he ranted and raved. His paranoia over her being with another man threatened his sanity and in those fleeting moments between consciousness and unconsciousness, Jasmyne saw madness in his eyes.
"You're mine," he yelled, a kick to her side accentuating his claim. "Mine!'
Jasmyne tried in vain to protect her baby, her hands covering her stomach. She felt desperate as she writhed on the floor, her body curled in a fetal position. Hot and dizzy, she tried to tell him, tried to tell him about her baby, their baby, but no words came. He kicked her until she couldn't scream anymore, until she couldn't feel anymore, couldn't cry. She stared up at her crazed husband through tearful eyes until mercifully, the blacknees descended.
"Deidra. Deidra, wake up!"
Jasmyne sat up in bed quickly, the hand on her shoulder startling her into wakefulness. Pupils dilated, heart pounding, panic engulfed her and she blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision. She let out a shuddering breath upon recognizing Martha, one of the shelter's older assistants.
"You okay?" Martha asked, the wrinkles in her brown face even more pronounced in her concern.
Jasmyne looked around the shelter once more and released a heavy breath. No one paid attention as the other women went about their day. He wasn't here, Jasmyne assured herself. She turned back to Martha with a shaky smile, her body noticeably more relaxed.
"I'm okay," she replied.
"You sure?" Martha asked again. "You were cryin' out in your sleep."
Jasmyne knew she'd worried the older woman and sought to reassure her. "Just a bad dream," she replied.
A placated Martha smiled for the first time. "You know i worry about you.'
Tears stung Jasmyne's eyes again and she nodded. No one had worried about her in a long time. Other than Martha, Jasmyne kept to herself, not wanting to gain friendships only to lose them again. But Martha had been persistent and gradually, they'd come to an understanding and a sort of riendship. Martha reminded Jasmyne of her aunt.
"I know you have that big interview today, so I won't keep you, but you make sure you come see ol' Martha ween you get back, you here."
Jasmyne smiled. "I will," she assured, as her friend drifted away. Her expression changed as she thought back. Depsite months passed, she relived that moment every night in her dreams, the pain of loosing her baby made even worse by the constant remembrance. During the night, she'd somehow tangled herself in the sheets, her body now slick with perspiration.
When would the nightmares end? She wondered. Jasmyne placed her hand over her flat stomach but quickly removed it. As hard as that reality was, there was no baby. She had to move on. She swiped the remaining tears from her eyes and glanced at the clock. 7:30a.m. She'd better get going if she was going to make it to her 9:00 interview. Maybe lying wasn't so bad sometimes.
"Where the hell is it?" Nathan wondered aloud, the tight expression on his dark features conveying his annoyance. Piercing amber eyes visually scanned an overflowing desk, his hands conducting their own search. Sighing, Nathan ran a frustrated hand through his short curls. He need a secretary and fast. At this thought, he launced himself from the massive leather chair, intent on questioning Michelle, the department receptionist.
Standing inside the door- frame leading to the outer lounge, he noticed a dowdy looking woman dressed in a horrible brown pant- suit that did absolutely nothing for her creamy, peanut butter complexion. She sat quietly, as if any sound made would somehow disturb the already chaotic atmosphere. He turned slightly, ready to dismiss her presence entirely when stunning light- brown eyes glanced up and met his. Eyes that looked like those of a frightened deer caught in the way of bright headlights. Nathan's brows furrowed before he turned his attention to Michelle.
"Where are the Caruthers' files?" he asked brusquely.
"Caruthers?" Michelle asked lamely, staring questioningly into his eyes.
Sometimes Nathan swore Michelle gave new meaning to the phrase "young and dumb." If she thought she'd succeed on her looks alone and nothing else, she was gravely mistaken. Being niece to one of the company's partners may have landed her this internship easily, but Nathan was going to make sure she did some actual work. Even if she grated on his nerves every step of the way.
"Yes," he answered, his jaw clenching in an effort to control his temper. The Caruthers were one of Biz/Tech's most wealthiest clients. Their contract would mean millions of dollars to the company and he wasn't about to let some spoiled rich girl throw the whole deal down the toilet. He watched as Michelle searched her un-organized desk for a few minutes before looking up apologetically, file un- recovered. Nathan was so upset, he felt he'd explode at any second. "Find those files," he stated slowly, calmly, before stalking to back to his own office and slamming the door, the echo reverberating throughout the entire department.
A hesitant knock sounded at his door no more than five minutes later. "Yes," Nathan called distractedly, eyes focused on the papers in front of him. He stared expectantly at Michelle as she stood in the door-way, then glanced to the right of her to the wall clock. Her eyes darted the same direction.
"Are those the files?" he asked, nodding in the direction of her hands curled around three manila folders.
Michelle nodded as Nathan went back to his work. "Good. Sit them on my desk and close the door on your way out. I've got a meeting in ten minutes." Nathan kept writing, waiting for the sound of his door closing and when he didn't hear it, looked up once more, his handsome features set with irritation.
Michelle met his eyes defiantly. "Actually, sir," she stated sweetly. "You have an interview scheduled for the secretarial position and the applicant is waiting."
Nathan glared at her. "I wasn't made aware of this. Why wasn't this on my calendar?" he nearly growled.
"It was on mine," Michelle answered in the same sugary sweet voice.
Smart ass, Nathan thought. If she wasn't Bill's niece, he'd fire--
"Mr. O' Neal?" Michelle interrupted his thoughts, her eyebrows arched in question, eyes mocking.
"Send em' in."
She left without comment.
Lord save him from spoiled brats, Nathan thought, eyes closed in exasperation.
"Good Morning, Mr. O' Neal," an unfamiliar voice greeted.
Jasmyne glanced around at the brown and tan decor of the office. Powerful, just as the man, it seemed.
Nathan opened his eyes and looked at the soft hand before him, his gaze traveling upward and instantly recognizing the woman from the lobby. He stood to take her hand, but quickly removed his at the spark of awareness traveling through his body. Nathan shook off the weird feeling.
"Good Morning, Ms. ---"
"Nichols," Jasmyne supplied, feeling dwarfed by his more taller, muscular frame.
"Deidra Nichols." Her hand still tingled and she nervously smoothed them down her pants, smiling awkwardly. She wasn't entirely immune to his good looks either and the way he looked at her made her wonder if she'd somehow gotten lipstick on her teeth.
Nathan stared at the woman with the severely coifed hair and tense demeanor, marveling even more at those amazing hazel eyes. He wondered what she'd look like with her hair down, him running his fingers through... He stopped, clearing his throat at the inappropriate thought. Eyes narrowed, Nathan's entire countenance shifted as he retreated to the leather chair behind his desk.
"Have a seat, Ms. Nichols."
Jasmyne took her seat quickly, not wanting to further upset the man. She'd felt the change in him and knew she'd have to stay on her toes with this one. Nothing could jeopardize her chances.
"Do you have any secretarial experience?" he asked straight- forwardly.
Jasmyne couldn't keep the expression from her face, half frown, half confusion, full lips pursed. She leaned forward slightly in her chair. "I-I thought you already had this information.'
Nathan reclined, his fingers steepled beneath his chin. "I'm aware of that," he informed her in a some-what exasperated tone of voice. Even in that dreadful outfit, he'd glimpsed a hint of cleavage as she'd leaned forward and it irked him to no end that he'd even noticed. "It's been like a mad house around here. Janice, my former secretary, up and quit on me, no explanation. So you can imagine just how crazy it's been." He was rambling, Nathan realized. But it was kind of hard not to when she looked at him like taht. As if she didn't want to miss a thing he had to say.
He cleared his throat and Jasmyne inanely wondered if he had a cold. It was a little chilly in here.
"Ms. Nichols?" Nathan questioned, regaining her attention.
Snap out of it, girl, Jasmyne thought to herself. Don't blow this like you've blown everything else. Sitting straighter in her seat at this thought, she answered with feigned confidence, finding no other alternative. Besides, she may not have had much experience, but she knew how to do the job. "
Yes, I do," she responded. "I've worked for companies such as Schrader Inc., Nelson, Nelson, and Farmer,...
Nathan's attention peaked at the mention of the infamous law firm. Interesting.
Jasmyne paused, taking a breath to continue her contrived list, when the phone sounded a welcome interruption. She really did hate to lie but thinking of the alternatives, she mentally shrugged off the feeling.
"Mr. Caruthers," Nathan answered upon recognizing the caller. "Yes," he responded, opening a folder. "I have it right here." He nodded distractedly as he covered the mouth- piece of the phone, his attention on Jasmyne. "You're hired," he mouthed, making a spare of the moment decision.
Jasmyne couldn't contain her excitement and the first real smile she'd had in what seemed like ages spread across her face.
Nathan merely stared, his attention long gone from the business at hand. She really was an attractive woman. Why was she trying to hide her beauty behind staid clothes and severe hairstyles? He wondered. He shook his head again, refocusing. He wouldn't let whatever this was distract him from his job. Work was his number one priority, not some silly adolescent crush. His voice stern, Nathan sought to regain some semblance of control. "On a trial basis," he added.
The smile on Jasmyne's face slowly cleared and she nodded dumbly, already dismissed as he returned his attention to the caller. A small smile reclaimed her face as she exited. His cavalier attitude wasn't going to ruin this for her. She had her first job in years and she promised herself, she'd work as hard as she could to keep it.
Jasmyne's mind was so busy planning an immediate move from the shelter that she slammed into someone as she exited Biz?Tech's revolving doors. The breath whoosed from her lungs at the surprise impact and Jasmyne immediately apologized to the person, bending to retrieve some fallen papers as they scattered to the ground.
"Jazz!?" a husky feminine voice questioned.
Jasmyne stilled. How did this woman know her name? She wondered, immediately apprehensive. No one had called her by that nick- name since her days at Washington University. She looked up, the voice familiar, but shockingly, not much more. Jasmyne stared, dazed. "Lisa?" she asked, unsure. It'd been nearly eight years but she'd never forget that voice. And the eyes were familiar.
Lisa grinned, looking like the cat who ate the canary and Jasmyne jumped up, both women exuberant as they hugged each other. "Look at you," Jasmyne beamed, as she took in Lisa's appearance. Slightly over- weight in college, Jasmyne could hardly believe this was her old room- mate. Her long hair no more, Lisa's hair was now styled in attractive curls that accentuated her pert nose and full lips. The body that was once a little too round, was now slim and curved in all the right places. Lisa looked great and Jasmyne told her as much.
"Thank you," Lisa graciously accepted the complement. "So do you."
Slowly, Jasmyne's smile faded and she shook her head. "You don't have to say that, girl," she tried to joke. She knew her years of great beauty were behind her.
Lisa stared at her old friend, at once as close as sisters, puzzlement reflected in her dark eyes.
"Why would you think i didn't mean that, Jazz?"
The sincerity reflected in her friend's eyes and the softness of the question made Jasmyne divert her stare as she tried to regain control of her emotions. She refused to cry in public. She was startled by the sudden pressure on her arm as Lisa lead her down the street.
"Come on, chica," she chirped, swiftly changing the somber mood of the conversation. "I was coming to take my man to lunch, but now there's been a change in plans. We're going to my crib to catch up, then we're going out tonight."
Lisa stared in disbelief as they lounged in her living- room. Jasmyne allowed her friend a moment to absorb all she'd told her while she walked around, trying to distract herself in the spaciousness of the condo. Lisa had done well for herself as a Marketing Analyst. Very well. In fact, it was hard for Jasmyne not to feel a twinge of jealousy. If she would've listened to her aunt and finished school instead of running off tho marry a man nearly ten years her senior, maybe this could have been her life too. But she'd been lost in a naivete, lost in a fantasy world of happily ever after that wasn't. She glanced at Lisa, afraid of what she might see. She didn't need or want anyone's sympathy or condemnation. She'd done enough of that herself.
Surprisingly, Jasmyne saw none of that in Lisa. But what she did see brought more tears to her own eyes. Understanding. The knowledge that any one of us could so easily wind up in the same situation. Searching for love only to find hate. Wanting to leave and not feeling able to. Trapped. Ashamed. As the two friends embraced, both with tears in their eyes, Jasmyne felt loved again for the first time in years and with that love came a renewal, a sudden strength that had lain dormant in the years of abuse. It was in that moment that Jasmyne knew she'd never shed another tear over Jimmy Dawson.
An image of Nathan and the undeniable attraction she'd felt earlier flitted through her mind, but she pushed it away. No, never again would she shed another tear over any man.