Jasmine had no idea how long she had been driving except that she was starting to see double. Fear was all that kept her going trying to get as far away as possible before anyone would become aware that she had left. She knew that she was still three months short of her freedom and if found, she would have to return to the hell hole as she referred to the Coles household. She had been there for the past five years and long ago decided not to spend one day past her eighteenth birthday there. Her foster father Dennis Coles had entered her room two nights ago as he had done many times over the years. “We need to talk” was how he always started the conversation with a devious look on his face. “About what?” Jasmine answered trying to always sound brave. She would look at Dennis straight on. “Your future sweetheart” he replied, “like what you plan to do now that you have graduated.” She looked at him with her eyes squinted and replied, “I don’t know yet, maybe enroll in an art school” her reply came out a little nervous because of the close proximity to Dennis. Jasmine knew of Dennis’s pass and the allegations of sexual abuse. The charges had been dropped when his former foster daughter had supposedly committed suicide. His brother had been the presiding judge and without a witness the case had been closed. Dennis always got a little too close and would tuck her hair behind her ears as he spoke to her. “You’re much to pretty to leave your hair dangling and cover up those beautiful eyes” he said with a smirk on his face. She would reach back and release it from her ears and say, “I like it that way” He was always complimenting her on her art work but she knew it was all false pretence. She was sure he didn’t care one iota about her art. She would always thanked God when her foster mother would happen by her room and Dennis would leave trailing her. He always glanced back with that devilish look on his face that would make every hair on her body stand on ends. Jasmine never stayed in the house when Deidra was out and Dennis was alone, even if his own children were home. Two nights ago she decided it was time to go, sensing that Dennis was becoming more aggressive and his touching too inappropriate. He always brought up the subject of her eighteenth birthday and the big party he was planning for her. She was smart enough to figure out that if Dennis did anything to her after her birthday, he could claim that it was consensual. Everyone in their small town would believe him as one of their fine citizens and not her. They knew her as the throwaway baby left at the steps of a hospital eighteen years ago. Three months was all she had to hide for and she would be free to live life on her own.
Andre Petit loved art almost as much as he did life itself. Since he was three years old he loved to draw and look through art books. When his father died four years ago he left Andre with over twenty millions dollars and a loft in the lower east side of Manhattan. His three sibling also received an equal share and all decided to reinvest in various properties. Andre on the other hand opened up an art gallery and an import, export business buying and selling art and artifacts. At twenty four Andre had a good mind for business, it also had been an inherited trait from his father. These days Andre prayed for a new artist to showcase, someone with a new look, an unknown that he could cultivate. The pieces in his gallery were selling much to slow and his customers wanted something new to look at. Andre had placed an ad in the New York Times and the Daily News but all he got was wannabes or people who needed a lot more time to develop. The bell on the galley’s door jingled and Andre stepped out from the stock room. He stop short to observe the young woman who had entered, five foot six inches in her flat heels. She wore a pair of worn out jeans and a light blue blouse with a black scarf and black sweater with the cut off fingers attached. Purple nail polish and small hoop ear rings, light brown hair and a knitted beret leaned to the left side of her head. Andre thought of one word that described the young woman before him, adorable. He walked up to her as she viewed the paintings on the wall and asked, “Can I help you with anything?” she replied without looking at him. “Just looking” Andre nodded his head and replied; “Well if there is anything I can be of assistance with, just press the ringer on the counter over there” he pointed to the rear of the gallery. Before he could turn to walk away she asked while staring at a painting of a giant golden bell. It depicted two cracks running in the shape of an upside down V, “What does the artist call this painting?” He smiled and replied, “Double Liberty” then waited for her to reply. “Oh that’s real unique” she said as she stepped to her left and stared yet at another painting. When she spoke again she said, “This was painted by the same artist as the bell painting” Andre let out a small chuckle and replied “Was it the signature that gave it away” She shook her head and answered, “No, the texture of the canvas and the strokes” She turned and for the first time looking at him. “Beautiful eyes” he thought and the words were out of his mouth unconsciously. “I mean you have a good eye for art” he said immediately trying to regroup and cover up his blunder. He stared down at the large leather portfolio she was holding; it was well worn around the edges and old enough to be a hand me down. “So are you an artist” he asked quickly trying to refocus and gather his composure. “Yes” she replied raising her arm with the portfolio as she pause and then continued, “These are some of my sketches which I plan to put on canvas someday soon” lowering her portfolio she waited him out till he spoke again. “How old are you and do you live in the city?” He asked wanting more to know her age for personal reasons then professional ones. Jasmine didn’t answer right away thinking through her options, the pros and cons if she told the truth and the consequences if she lied. She chose the lie. “Twenty, I just arrived in the city, and I have to find a place to stay and a job.” He pointed to her portfolio, “May I see some of your drawings; see what makes your mind tick.” He felt foolish about using the word “tick” but just like the “beautiful eyes” statement, the words were out of his mouth before he could fully process his thoughts. She handed him the leather binder which he sat on the counter and opened it gently and just stared at the first drawing. The second, third and the rest left him speechless so he doubled back through the entire lot before closing the binder. He looked at Jasmine with new admiration and silently paced the floor of his gallery, then turns to her and said, “I want to hire you and for you to put your work on canvas. I have a small apartment in the back of this store with a full painter’s studio if you’re interested. I won’t pay you much but when we sell your paintings, the compensation will be well worth your while.” With more giddiness than she could control she replied “Really” Then looking at him a little skeptical she continue and asked, “And why are you so sure that I can deliver?” She stared at him waiting for an answer. “Because I been around art and talent long enough to know when I have found a diamond in the making.”
Dennis was upset with himself and with his friend in the small town police department. The man had come up with no leads on the where about of Jasmine. Three weeks and not a trace, he had everyone thinking that he was overly concern about her well being but it was jealousy and lust that motivated him. Deidra tried to convince him to let it go and forget about the young girl who clearly did not want to be found. But he always said that he was worried that some harm may come to her and he just wanted to protect her. After a month Dennis knew that in another two months Jasmine would no longer be a ward of the state of West Virginia, and the hopes of getting her back would die. Dennis contacted Larry Brickman an old friend also ex-policeman turned private detective and set a meeting. Dennis called in a few old favors and Larry was off and running in search of Jasmine.
One month and Andre could not be happier with his decision to hire Jasmine on as an artist for his gallery. She was quiet and kept the apartment clean and her work area immaculate. Her work habits were those of a season artist and her paintings were flawless. She took pride in her work and her attitude was always positive. He was impress and stunned when she had sold her car and had invested her money on fine brushes, paints and other tools she needed for her art work. She didn’t want anything given to her even when he insisted on buying her anything she needed. After closing André would buy her diner and bring it to her just to spend a little time with her before going home. He found her to be grateful and a bit shy at times. He had invited her out to dinner on several occasions but she had declined. Her excuse every time was that she still had work to complete or that she was exhausted. There was an innocence about her that attracted him but he couldn’t put his finger on it. She always seems to keep her distance whenever he was in the same room with her. In the silence of his loft lately his thoughts were back in the small apartment where Jasmine had agreed to live and work. At first she refused his offer but two days later she had returned and asked if the apartment was still available along with the job; which he was more than happy to say yes to both. He remembers spending those few days thinking of the young artist and praying she would return.
The phone rang twice, Dennis picked up and said “Hello” then sat and listen to the report from Larry Brickman. “I found her, she appears to be living in New York, and she apparently sold her car and opened a bank account. I tracked her through the use of her bank card. I had one of my contacts there looking for her and the address she used is a local art gallery. I sent him a photo but he hasn’t made an ID yet, as soon as I have confirmation I’ll be in touch with you.” Dennis waited a few seconds to make sure the man was done speaking than said, “I want her found and brought back here as soon as possible; if you don’t think you can make this happen tell me now.” He paused then continues. “I might just get on a plane tomorrow and bring her home myself.” Larry took a deep breath then asked, “What’s all the fuzz for with this girl Dennis, she turns eighteen in less than a month and will no longer be your responsibility, so why all the trouble?” Larry sounding a little turned off by the way Dennis pushed for immediate action. “Because she is my responsibility until she is of age to be on her own” Dennis replied in an angry tone. “Well this is as far as I go on this, I will send you the address to the art gallery and what other info I have and you do with it as you see fit.” Larry hung up the phone and left Dennis with a dial tone before he had a chance to argue. Dennis hung up the receiver, picked it back up after a minute and dialed the local airport and reserved a seat on the morning flight to JFK.
Jasmine rarely left the apartment, once a week she stacked the refrigerator and the few cupboards with enough food and occasionally she walked two doors down to the bakery for breakfast. She knew she had to be wanted by the state of West Virginia and with today’s technology, the media and she still being a minor, she didn’t want to take any unnecessary risk. She didn’t want to show how pleased she was every time Andre brought her dinner or treated her to an afternoon lunch. She always played it off, thanking him but never sounding over enthusiastic or making a big deal about his kindness. She found him attractive but guessed him to be a little too old for her, he must be in his late twenties she thought but never dared to ask. The two were starting to develop a friendship and she didn’t want to ruin it by sounding like a school girl. She was careful not to ask questions that may make her sound younger then the twenty year old she was suppose to be. She was even conscience of her laughter whenever he joked with her, the childish snorts or giggles making sure not to come out. Nights were lonely but she soon learned to cope with them. Andre had dropped off a TV and hooked it up to a roof antenna, helping a little to pass the time before going to sleep. The thought of being found out was never far from her mind and turning eighteen couldn’t get here fast enough.
The plane landed and Dennis headed for the car rental area with his carryon bag and the address to the gallery in hand. He had left that morning against his wife wishes, telling her that he was just going to make sure that Jasmine was safe. Deidra was not one to argue with her husband or stand in his way when his mind was made up about any matter. His last words were that if Jasmine didn’t want to return home with him that he would not force her. Those words were just to please her because he didn’t plan to give Jasmine an option. He had brought a one way ticket and had rented the car for a full week, willing or not, Jasmine would be returning to West Virginia with him. Dennis questioned his own obsession then looked in the rear view mirror and smiled at himself. Larry had called him after he had landed and warned him about the laws in different states. Larry had pleaded with him to go to child welfare and report her as a runaway but Dennis simply told him to stay out of his business and that his job was completed and terminated. Dennis parked across from the gallery, cut the engine and sat there watching all the activities going on around him. He had seen the young man leave, lock the door and return twenty minutes later with what appear to be food. A few people had entered and exited the place but no sign of Jasmine. He figured if he sat till closing and if she worked there, she would have to leave sooner or later. Evening came and he saw the same young man flip the sign around that read “Close” and lock the door before heading down the street. Why no sign of Jasmine was the only thought that went through Dennis’s mind. He turned over the engine and decided to go fine a room for the night and be back first thing in the morning before the place opened. At the crack of dawn Dennis was right back in the same parking spot with a hot cup of coffee and a sandwich for lunch, he had no plans to leave unless he find what he had come looking for. Around nine in the morning the same young man arrived, but an hour later there still was no sign of Jasmine.
Jasmine came out from her small apartment and was greeted by a smiling Andre who was always delighted at her appearance. “Good morning” she said returning his smile with one of her own. “Morning” he replied, “You’re up and ready to go early today, where you headed” He asked with a little curiosity in his voice. “Well since its September 11, I thought I would go and see the new monuments. I’ve never been to where the World Trade Center use to be. Since it looks like a pretty day outside I thought it would be a good day to get out.” He looks to be in deep thought for a minute and then replied, “Maybe I should close the shop and we could go together?” He asked hoping she would accept his invitation. She smiled at him and he took that as a positive note and she asked. "Can you do that? Just close up for the day.” He compressed his brows together and lightly snapped his neck back as if to say "what you talking about” and with a small laugh he replied, “I can do whatever I want; I own the place” then laughed at his own remark. “Okay than, I accept because I have no idea where to go and getting lost in this city is no fun” she replied while slapping herself on the thigh.
Dennis nearly bumped his head on the roof of the car when he straightens up at the sight of the Jasmine exiting the gallery. The young man put a sign on the inside of the door and locked it behind him. Dennis watched as the young man hailed a taxi and the two boarded. Dennis fired up the engine, eased his way into traffic and pursued the cab. The taxi turned right at the corner and Dennis had to cut across two lanes of traffic not to lose them. His adrenaline was pumping at the close call and near accident. He had come to far not get what he came for, but getting her in the car was another story in of itself. He knew that in West Virginia the town streets are quiet and one can do just about anything without eyewitnesses, but in this city this was not the case. He would have to plan when and where to apprehend Jasmine with the least resistance. The taxi came to a halt about twenty minutes later. They were about a block away from where the towers once stood and Dennis knew this was no place for a confrontation. He watch as the two crossed the street and disappeared into the crowd. A horn blasted and he snapped back to the reality of the moment. Dennis drove off to go and plan now that he knew where she would be at a later time.
Jasmine took in the sight and observed the looks on peoples face, their posture and demeanor. She knew it was something she would later paint. She snapped a few photos and even posed for the camera as Andre took a few snaps. They spend more than three hours reading the names on the memorials and sat at one of the small shops for lunch. By early afternoon Andre offered to take her for a trip across the Hudson River on the Staten Island ferry. Andre wanted her to see the city from the view of the water when all the lights came on. Andre loved the way Jasmine took in the view of everything around her. Jasmine on several occasions pulled out her small pad and would quickly render sketch of her surroundings. Her eye for detail seems to always surprise Andre. He was starting to appreciate and value her the more he learned about her. On the return trip across the river the two stood on the rail of the upper deck. The New York sky line to Jasmine was breathtaking. She wrapped her arm around Andre’s elbow and holding on she made him promise that he would once again bring her back on this voyage; as she called it with a smile. Andre smiled back and was more than happy to make that promise.
Dennis had driven back and was parked across the street from the gallery. He was getting angrier as the hours passed and the young couple didn’t return. By ten o’clock he decided to head back to the place he had spent the previous night and check in for one more evening. Dennis had missed Jasmine when Andre dropped her back at the gallery while he was out getting something for dinner. He left unaware that she was inside for the night and that she actually live there on a daily basis. He had decided that tomorrow he would go inside, question the young man about Jasmine, and that he better have answers if he knew what was good for him. He was so wired and angry that it wasn’t till four in the morning when he finally fell asleep sitting up in the chair watching television. Around eight-thirty he checked out and headed straight for the gallery. The minute Andre opened his doors, Dennis stepped inside. He scanned the place as he approached Andre. “Good morning may I be of some assistance?” Andre asked politely with a smile that quickly disappeared when Dennis interrupted with a question of his own. Without any pleasantries Dennis got right to the heart of the matter, “Where is the young girl name Jasmine that I saw you leave with yesterday morning?” Dennis asked with a tone that was ruder then Andre expected and raised a small level of suspension. “May I ask who you are and why you’re so interested sir?” Andre asked with a stern and sturdy tone of his own. “I’m her father and she runaway for home a few months ago, now do I have to call the authorities or are you going to tell me what I want to know?” Andre thought for a minute and something didn’t seem right about the man in front of him, so he decided to gamble. “Well why don’t we do just that, let’s call the police and see if we can’t help you find your daughter.” Dennis thought for a minute to himself and knew that bringing in the police would only complicate the situation. Jasmine would most likely end up in the custody of the state of New York until she turned eighteen and he would lose her entirely. Dennis decided that a little persuasion was needed. He was standing only three feet from Andre so he stepped forward and grabbed Andre by the hair. Dennis then threw him against the wall causing a loud bang on the wall opposite the apartment Jasmine lived in. She heard the noise and quickly came out of the room and entered the gallery from the rear of store. Andre was being picked up off the floor by a man she recognized all too well from behind. Dennis had not notice her and she took that to her advantage and retreated to the stock room and dialed 911. When the operator answered she gave her the address and said that the place was being robbed. The operator assured her that the police had been notified and they would be there in minutes. The operator advised her that she was to stay on the line until they arrived. Jasmine put down the receiver and went back to the gallery with a broom stick in her hand. She had heard a lot of commotion and when she came through the curtain she found Andre standing toe to toe with Dennis. The two were about the same height but Dennis was clearly forty pounds heavier. The weight didn’t seem to matter to Andre who had delivered two kicks to the side of Dennis’s knees so fast and hard it had him hobbling and moving slow. Jasmine walked up behind Dennis and without warning hit him on the back of his head so hard he hit the ground like a tree pulled from its roots. Andre walked up to her releasing her of the weapon as she jumped into his arms. “Who is this animal?” He was asking when the front door swung open and two policemen ran inside. “My foster father and the man I have been trying to get away from for the past few years” She replied as she started to cry on his shoulder. Dennis came to with his hands cuffed to a gurney in the back of an ambulance. Two hours later he was being escorted to jail and nothing he said change the outcome that he would be spending the next few days behind bars.
The following day a social worker from the department of Children and Family Services arrived at the gallery and asked to speak with Jasmine. After an hour Jasmine was ordered to pack her belongings. She was then taken into custody and told that she would be returning to the state of West Virginia Foster Care Department. That night Jasmine found herself in a Juvenal Detention Center and paper work was being prepared to transport her back to her state’s care. After a sleepless night Jasmine was allowed to bath and change into clean cloths; being told that she had a meeting with a family judge. She was then transported to a court house in upper Manhattan and escorted to a court room on the second floor. She entered the room which was furnished with a large Mahogany table surrounded by tall back leather chairs. At the head of the table sat a pleasant looking woman who smiled when she walked in. At the center sat Andre and a man who was dressed in an expensive suit with an open briefcase in front of him. Andre got up and walked up to Jasmine and asked, “Are you okay, did they treat you good? I was worried about you all night.” She stared at him and replied “I’m fine and I’m sorry I lied about my age.” Then she bowed her head being a little ashamed of herself. “That’s okay I never thought you were that old” He said with a little chuckle. They sat and Judge Rosa Blackburn stared for a minute at her paperwork and then at Jasmine and asked, “Do you have any idea why we are all here?” Shaking her head and at the same time “Yes” was all she manages to answer and sat there staring at her hands. “Is there anything else you would like to add as to why you ran away from you foster home?” Judge Rosa asked in a soft and compassionate voice. “Because Dennis always gave me the creeps, the way he looks at me and the way his hands touch my arms and my hair. I don’t trust him so I decided that since I’m going to turn eighteen soon, no one would come looking for me. I really don’t want to return to West Virginia or to the Coles home. Deidra was always nice to me but him I don’t care for one bit.” Judge Rosa looked at her and again spoke softly but decisive, “Jasmine I had one of my investigators look into Dennis Coles past and I don’t like what I see. Even though there have not been any charges that have proved him to be guilty, I believe that the charges were not false. As far as my authority allows me, I will make sure that Mr. Coles stays in lock up for at least the next ten days. I am also going to release you to the custody of Andre Petit whom I have known most of his life. It is him you must thank for my interceding in your behalf. I will also have one of my assistances locate and have all of your paper work transferred to our state agency. In ten days when you come back to see me, I will make sure that you are a free young woman. Jasmine couldn’t stop crying from the joy she was feeling. She got up from her seat and ran around the table and hugged the judge who couldn’t help but to show the same affection.
Six months had gone by since Jasmine had turned eighteen and her first showcase of drawings was going on display. She was still a little apprehensive at times when she stepped outside the gallery or her apartment alone. She knew that after thirteen days in jail Dennis Coles was ordered to return to the state of West Virginia and to a probation officer. He also received a restraining order to keep him away from Jasmine. His wife was divorcing him for spousal abuse and adultery. His foster parenting license was revoked and he was placed in the list of sex offenders. Still Jasmine couldn’t help but to constantly look over her shoulder. She had been attending church for the past three month with Andre; Sunday service and one night a week bible study. Jasmine had even accepted Christ as her savior but still couldn’t get past her fears. One Wednesday after a bible study while being escorted home by Andre they stopped in the middle of a crowded street. Andre jumped on top of a mailbox and called for every ones attention. “People of this great city of ours, may I have your attention and a minute of your time please” When every curious person had giving their undivided attention Andre did a three sixty twice on the mailbox and then pointed down to Jasmine. With his voice as loud as he could muster he said, “People of New York this beautiful and intelligent young woman you see before you is one of the greatest artist you will ever meet. I own the gallery up the street and I welcome all of you to stop by and experience the creations of such talent. But that is not my sole reason for standing here today” He paused and looked down at Jasmine with the biggest smile showing off his pearly whites and then continued. “I want more than anything to announce to the world that I’m in love with her.” Jasmine was now staring at him and frozen in place and time. She had like André almost from the minute she had met him; even more as time went by and the more time she spent with him. She had long found out that he was just a few years older. Still she felt and saw herself to young to even dream of any romance with him. Andre jumped down from the mailbox and knelt before her, opened a small box with a ring and said, “Would you please be my fiancé?” Jasmine ran her fingers through his hair to straighten it out from all the movement. Then she knelt down in front of him and half the city mind you, and replied, “There would be no better way to start a new season in my life, than with a man who has the heart of Jesus, the courage of a lion, and the wisdom to know when to kneel down.”
“The applause, whistles and shouts were heard in Central Park South”
And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien— Because they do not fear Me,” Says the Lord of hosts.