I'm gonna get you after school.
Scarlett crumpled up the note which had been thrown at her by the row of girls behind and tried to concentrate on what her teacher was saying. Her eyes glanced up to the clock. Only 10 minutes left of class.
"Oi! Delaney! Don't ignore me!" She heard a hiss from behind.
She had never fit in at this school. All the other kid's parents were paying around £8000 a term to attend this fancy performing arts private school whereas Scarlett had gotten her free scholarship mostly through talent, sympathy and more than a bit of her mother's charm. Her impoverished background and flair for piano had ticked enough boxes with the school to get her an audition. Her singing and dancing skills piqued their interests. Her mother's flirtation with one of the boardmembers had managed the rest.
She felt a heavy thud in the back of her head where a dictionary had been launched at it and jolted forwards before spinning herself around to face her agitators.
"What the fuck do you want, Eleanor?" She growled, her chin jutting out threateningly behind her long mop of her wild, dark hair.
"I want you to leave Charles alone. Everyone says you were all over him at recital and it's pathetic," Eleanor flicked her hair and pouted her perfectly glossed lips, "he wouldn't look twice at council estate scum like you."
Scarlett rolled her eyes, "I don't want anything to do with Charles. He's just my dance partner. I have a boyfriend."
"Oh yeah, the other scholarship loser," Eleanor laughed cruelly, "I thought he'd abandoned you to go to university in London?"
Scarlett flushed with anger and pursed her lips before taking a deep breath and turning back round in her chair. She could not get into this with Eleanor today. She needed to make sure she was on time to pick Jack up, she'd already been late once this week and the last thing she needed was his teachers telling on her to Nosy Nina.
The clock finally struck 3:00 and Scarlett was already packed up, ready to fly out the door and make her way towards the primary school her little brother attended. But Eleanor and her band of cronies had other plans and were hot on Scarlett's heels as she jogged down the hallway.
Scarlett burst out into the carpark, feeling the girls presence behind her. She spun around to face them.
"Back off, Eleanor!" She said with force. The girls snaked their way around her until she was surrounded. Two behind and three in front, including Eleanor who folded her arms across her front and smiled ominously.
"It doesn't matter that you have a boyfriend, Delaney. Everyone knows you're a slut," Eleanor lowered her tone, "just like your whore mother. She must be expecting you to pop out a baby any day now. Wasn't she around your age when you were born?"
Scarlett's dark brown eyes flashed with anger and all thoughts of responsibility and reason left her mind as rage and bile surged through her body and she launched herself towards Eleanor.
Scarlett wasn't scared to fight. She'd been brought up that way. Whether it had been a sharp slap across the face from her mother or something more serious from one of the men her mother brought home. In fact, physical violence was as normal to her as homework or bedtime.
Scarlett's hand collided with the side of Eleanor's head and the two girls fell to the floor together in a mess of plaid skirts, white socks and wild hair. The other girls quickly circled closer, shrieking and jabbing and pulling at each other excitedly.
It wasn't long before a small crowd had gathered which got the attention of a nearby teacher who rushed forward to break it up. Scarlett who was now on top of Eleanor, pinning her shoulders to the ground with her knees, felt two strong hands reach around her waist and lift her clean off the ground. Once her feet hit the floor she felt herself directed through the crowd of jeering faces and straight to the headmasters office. She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She was going to be late to get Jack. They'd probably have to ring her mum. They'd probably ring Nosy Nina.
A few moments later she turned to see Eleanor being guided into the seat next to her. She had a bloody lip and her uniform was disheveled, her hair stuck out in all different directions. Her bottom lip was protruding as she tried to hold back tears. This wasn't going to end well for Scarlett, she could feel it.
"She started it, Mr Broomfield!" Eleanor gulped, "I just told her to stay away from my boyfriend and she attacked me! I'm really not sure people like her should be at a school like this if she can't control her anger!"
Mr Broomfield peered at her thoughtfully over his glasses before turning his gaze to Scarlett. "Very well, Miss Walden. You may leave now while I deal with Miss Delaney."
Even through her tears Scarlett could sense Eleanor's triumph as she jumped to her feet and ran out of the room, leaving Scarlett alone with her exasperated head teacher. She glanced at the clock. 3:20. She was late. She could barely concentrate on the words coming out of Mr Broomfield's mouth. She had to get out of here.
"Miss Delaney. I don't understand why you keep getting yourself in trouble like this. Your teachers say you are exceptionally gifted in the performing arts yet for some reason you keep getting yourself into these scrapes with the other children. I'm sure I don't have to remind you that your scholarship is dangling by a thread. One more incident like this and you'll be expelled."
Scarlett bit her lip. She had learned it was better to say nothing in situations like this. Talking always made everything worse.
"Miss Delaney? I wish you would talk to me. Is there anything I can do to help? How are things at home?"
She felt her cheeks flush. She hated it when teachers acted like this with her. Like they cared. Like they could help. She looked at the clock again.
"If you want to help me then can't you just let me go?!" Her nostrils flared.
Mr Broomfield let out a small sigh, "Very well Miss Delaney. But one more outburst like today and I'm afraid you won't be able to finish your A Levels here at Stannisfields."
Scarlett nodded her understanding and hurriedly left the room.
10 minutes later, she was sweating and panting in the reception area of her little brothers school. Jack was sat waiting for her and a huge beam appeared across his face when she'd burst through the door, "Larly!!" He'd called out. It was the name he'd learned for her when he was a baby, and even though now he was 6 years old he still called her it. He came running towards her with his arms wide open and even though she was tired from running, she picked him up and span him round, cuddling him close to her.
Just as they were about to leave to go home, a middle aged lady appeared in the doorway of the office and cleared her throat. Her face was downcast and she crossed her arm disapprovingly.
"You again Scarlett? I thought your mum would be picking Jack up this week?"
"She's still job hunting!" Scarlett said cheerfully, shooting Mrs Cranfield a smile. She was so good at lying to adults. She had to be. To protect Jack and keep them together. But she'd lied to this adult one too many times.
"Scarlett. I'm going to have to tell social services that your mum isn't sticking to Jack's child in need plan."
Scarlett's breath caught in her throat. A feeling of panic fluttered across her chest, "No no, please don't. Look I'm sorry I'm late. It won't happen again!"
Mrs Cranfield shook her head slowly, "I'm sorry Scarlett but I really don't have a-"
Scarlett rushed forward in her desperation and grabbed Mrs Cranfield's bony shoulders, "You can't! You can't do this!"
The sound of the outburst attracted the attention of a porter who ran to prise her off the shocked teacher and usher her and Jack outside. The sky above darkened and it began to rain.
Scarlett looked down at Jack. His big blue eyes stared back up at her expectantly through his mousy blond mop. He had their mum's rosebud lips but inherited his deep blue eyes from his dad. Scarlett though she must get her dark, round eyes from her dad though she had never met him.
She took her brothers hand and fixed a smile on her face, "So tell me what you learned today."
* * * * *
Scarlett knew something was wrong as soon as they reached the gate outside their house. Clothes were strewn in the front garden and the front door was ajar. She knelt down beside her brother and looked him dead in the eye.
"I need you to stay here, Jacky," she used her most serious tone, "I need you to stay here and not move. Do you understand me?"
Jack nodded enthusiastically and stood bolt upright as if he was magically fixed in place.
Scarlett made her way with trepidation through the front door to find the inside of the house was even more of a mess. There was broken glass in the front room and a lamp had been knocked off a side table. She could hear her mum crying from the kitchen and quickly made her way there.
Her mum was sat at the kitchen table, one hand clasped round a large glass full of red wine, the other wrapped up in her curly mousy hair. Black mascara tears streamed down her face as she took in laboured gulps of air in between sobs.
"He's gone!" She cried as she saw her daughter approaching, a fresh set of tears streaming down her face.
Scarlett let out the breath she was holding and ran back outside to collect Jack. She quickly set to work clearing the worst of the glass in the front room and settled Jack in front of the television to watch his favourite cartoons.
"Well....aren't you going to say anything?" Her mother drawled at her as Scarlett opened the fridge to start fixing dinner for Jack.
"What would you like me to say?" Scarlett replied blankly, piercing the celephane lid on a ready meal.
Scarlett's mum took another another slurp of her red wine. "I bet you're happy. You're always happy when I'm unhappy." She stood up from the kitchen table and began to stumble towards Scarlett, "you couldn't ever stand Dennis. You couldn't ever stand that I was actually happy for once."
As her mum got closer Scarlett spotted the mottled, purple beginnings of a bruise on her cheek.
"I think you should go and sleep it off," Scarlett replied coolly.
"He was the best thing that ever happened to me!" Her mum shrieked, falling back against the counter, "ever since you were born I've never been able to find a real man to love me. You ruined my life!"
Scarlett took a deep breath. She was used to these outbursts from mum whenever her life took a turn for the worse but now wasn't the time for her to sink into a downwards spiral. Scarlett had been trying to maintain the exterior of a functioning family while her mum's relationship fell apart but she had failed and it wouldn't be long before Nosy Nina the social worker was knocking at the door and asking more questions. She needed her mum to get it together. But if she was honest with herself then yes, she was happy Dennis was gone for now. He gave her the creeps.
"Why don't you go to bed. I'm sure Dennis will be back in the morning."
Her mother scowled. She was a good looking woman, just 33, but the years of drinking and lamenting had taken their toll. She blamed Scarlett for all of it. She had been 17 when she fell pregnant with her and was abandoned and disowned by her whole family. Back then she was beautiful and smart with the whole world at her feet but within a matter of years she was a broke single mother with nothing to offer the world or the men whose attention she so desperately craved. She span out of the room, grabbing the remnants of the wine bottle as she did.
Scarlett spent the rest of the evening tidying the mess that her mum and Dennis had made as well as playing with Jack and helping him with his homework. At 7 she put him to bed and returned downstairs, the events of the day unfolding in her head. She had changed out of her private school uniform and into a Smith's band t shirt and shorts and was lounging on the sofa texting her friend Sasha.
Sasha had been her best friend since primary school. Back then she went to a normal school with normal kids. Sasha was more like a sister than a friend and her mum was probably the only thing that kept Scarlett out of care before she was able to look after herself. She would pick her up and drop her off from school and even feed her, like she was one of her own.
As she was relaying the events of the day to Sasha, the phone rang. It was Billy. Scarlett smiled to herself as she answered.
"Hey you," she cooed
"Hey gorgeous!" Came the energetic response. Scarlett glanced at the clock - 9:30 and he was already pissed. Uni seems like a great place.
They exchanged pleasantries, Scarlett told him all about the fight and her mum. She told Billy everything and had done ever since she was 12.
He told her about something funny that happened in his halls and whatever new thing he'd learned that week in his music technology class. Scarlett stretched out on the sofa and smiled. She missed him.
"I'm actually wearing your Smith's tee right now," Scarlett told him, "still kinda smells of you even though I've washed it."
"Oh really? What else are you wearing?" Billy tried to use his sultry voice but that just made Scarlett laugh.
"Some old grey shorts," she giggled.
"I'd rip them off with my teeth if I was there. I miss you so much."
Scarlett bit her lip, "then what?" She whispered seductively.
"Then I'd kiss you from head to toe."
Scarlett felt her hand wander down her stomach under her T-shirt and into her shorts, giggling amorously, urging Billy to go on, failing to notice the front door had opened and that someone was watching her.
It wasn't until the front door slammed that she turned her face to see Dennis framed in the doorway, rainwater dripping off his sharp, flexing jaw, the look in his eyes was wild.
She sat bolt upright and let the phone fall from her hand. There was a moment of electric silence between them before Dennis stumbled forward, drunk and charged with arousal.
Scarlett tried to stand up but he was too fast and too strong. He pinned her to the sofa, his beer soaked breath sending a gruesome shiver down her spine.
"Have you been waiting up for me, you naughty girl," he growled, taking one of his hands and roughly squeezing her breast.
She tried to shout out but he covered her lips with his and pressed her further into the sofa. His wandering shovel sized hands reached the waist band of her shorts and pulled them down roughly.
Scarlett squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't fight him off. She couldn't shout for help. There was nothing she could do but pray it would be over quickly. She took a sharp breath as she felt him force his way into her. She'd always hoped it would be Billy who she would lose her virginity too. She felt a numbness wash over her as he pumped away at her lifeless body. A few strangled sobs left her lips as he convulsed into completion and rolled off her.
Shaking and in shock, Scarlett quickly moved to cover herself up. It was then that she saw him at the bottom of the stairs staring at her, confused and concerned.
Her poor baby brother, who'd had to endure enough in his short life, had seen the whole thing.