That’s how it starts. We go back to your house. You check the charts and start to figure it out. And if it’s crowded all the better, because we know we’re gonna be up late.
Scarlett sang along with the words to one of her favourite songs as she skipped from one table to the other inside Matilda’s, clearing plates and saucers and wiping away crumbs. She glanced at the cuckoo clock that was hanging above the till and noted with a small smile that she only had 20 minutes left of her shift.
She had made plans to meet up with Tabitha and her sister to spend the afternoon enjoying the last of the summer sun before heading to a gig they had bought tickets for. Scarlett was finally getting to see one her favourite bands live and she was so excited she had barely slept a wink. Her and Drew had been talking about it for months, googling setlists together and hoping for their favourite b-sides. The end of her shift couldn’t come quick enough.
Just as she was doing a final wipe down of the coffee machine she felt her phone buzz in her pocket.
Okayyy soooo I’m the worst friend ever but I’m going to have to take a raincheck on our plans. Kwame turned up at my work, turns out he has tickets to the gig too so we’re gonna grab some food and I’ma pre-drink with him. Sorrysorrysorrysorry!!!! If it makes you feel better not only have I flaked on you but I’ve flaked on my own sister hahahaha. Drew said something about him, Jim and Tommy playing pool this aft. Maybe text him and I’ll catch you later at the gig? LOVE YOUUUUU DON’T HATE MEEEE xxxxxxx
Scarlett rolled her eyed but she couldn’t be cross with Tabitha, she knew how much she loved Kwame and he’d be a million miles away in Africa in a month’s time so who could blame her for spending as much time with him as she can. She shot Drew a text and put her phone back in her pocket, trying to ignore the warm glow which had spread across her cheeks at the prospect of spending an afternoon with Jim.
Ever since that night in her room, the flirtation between them had really ramped up. He seemed to be spending lots more time with Scarlett and the rest of their housemates, whether it be at the pub drinking, in the front room watching a film or at the park smoking joints. They’d also had more than a few heated moments away from prying eyes. Scarlett blushed at the memory of the lust in his eyes when she’d wrapped her hand around his hot girth. He’d growled in her ear and breathed hard against her neck before he’d completely lost control, crashing their bodies together and releasing himself all over them both.
She cleared her throat and looked around, checking to see if anyone had noticed her zoning out but Matilda was busy counting the change in the till. Scarlett moved onto clearing out the cake display.
It wasn’t just that he drove her wild with passion. The more time she spent with him the more she realised that he was actually clever. And funny. In a teasing, sarcastic, self-deprecating way. And she was sure he was kind too. Behind all of the banter, he was always looking out for his friends and was quick to defend them if they needed it.
Scarlett had also noticed, with a burst of something that was like anxiety and excitement mixed together, that he hadn’t brought a girl home for a few weeks. A small voice inside her hoped that maybe it was because he saw it going somewhere with her. After all, it wasn’t just the kissing and stuff. Now he was hanging out more with her and Drew they would listen to music together and talk about books and art. Maybe he was really starting to like her?
She daren’t speak to the girls about it, she knew exactly what they’d say. But she also knew what she felt between them and that she’d never felt like this before. More importantly, the intensity of the feelings she was starting to have for Jim and the excitement in her stomach whenever she saw him were almost enough to make her forget the nightmares that had been plaguing her for the last six months. That, is Progress.
When her shift finished, she hung up her apron and quickly checked herself in the mirror, tousling her loose curls and applying some strawberry chapstick before making her way to the bar where Drew had told her to meet them.
* * * * *
“I told you this would happen, bro.” Tommy leaned across the pool table at the Hanover Social Club, blowing his curly brown hair out of his eyes before effortlessly potting one of the balls.
“Whatever,” Drew said, appearing nonplussed, a pool cue in one hand and the dregs of a pint in the other, “Plenty more fish in the sea.”
“Fish that love Bob Dylan and smoke weed and play piano like fucking Beethoven?” Tommy stalked around the pool table, looking for another opportunity to pot something.
“Are we still talking about this?” Jim walked carefully over to their corner of the social club, balancing three fresh pints of beer in his hands before placing them on the scuffed, wooden table, “I thought you were over it, Drew lad?”
“Of course, he has to be over it. He was never under it,” Tommy laughed at his own joke causing him to miss his shot. He swore under his breath.
Drew leaned forward to survey the white balls position on the table after draining the last few sips of the pint in his hand, “We’re not talking about anything. Tommy is just saying how he knew you’d try and pull her. So did I, even after you said you wouldn’t. Even after you said she was too young for you.”
Jim shrugged, “She had a birthday.”
Tommy burst out laughing, nearly spilling his new pint down his crisp, white Fred Perry t-shirt.
“Whatever,” Drew said again, before accidentally potting the black ball. He grunted in annoyance. “Look, she’ll be here any minute so can we actually stop talking about this now? She’s a mate. That’s all.”
“A mate that you spoon?” Jim asked, his voice dripping with insincere innocence, a fake saccharine sweet smile plastered over his face.
Drew straightened up to look at Jim from across the pool table, the overhead lights casting dark shadows across their faces as they looked each other up and down. They had fought over plenty of girls in the past. They had always meant nothing to Jim, like it was just a friendly bit of sport, whereas Drew had had his heart broken a few times while trying to play the game.
“Hint of jealousy?” Drew asked, his tone meeting Jim’s.
“Why would I be jealous of cuddle time? The other night she-”
“Scarlett! Hi!” Tommy shouted, walking towards Scarlett who was silhouetted in the entrance, leaving the bright greens and blues of the summer day outside and becoming enveloped in the dull yellows and browns of the social club, “We’ve meant once before but not properly. I’m Tommy.” He pulled her into a hug and kissed her on one cheek, “How are you at pool?”
“I’m not bad!” Scarlett answered enthusiastically, making her way over to the pool table and flinging her bag down in the corner.
“Great, then you can be on my team because I am just awful,” Jim grinned, shooting a sly sideways glance at Drew, “What are you drinking?”
A few hours and several pints later, Jim was trying to show Scarlett how to land a trick shot. He stood behind her, pinning her against the table, with one hand either side of her positioned on the pool cue, “So if you hit it just like this-” he snapped the pool cue backwards and forward quickly, causing the white ball to jump over the red ball in front, potting the striped one behind it, “-ta daa!”
Scarlett giggled, her cheeks visibly rouged from the close contact, “I thought you said you were awful?”
“Yeah well, he’s a fucking liar,” Drew slurred from his position sat in the corner of the bar.
Jim walked slowly over to his friend, “Everything okay, mate? You should pace yourself, we’ve got a gig to go to.”
“I’m fine,” Drew stood up, his jaw clenched, “But please remind me why you’re even coming tonight? I thought you said Arcade Fire were boring?”
“You said what?” Scarlett scoffed, folding her arms incredulously, “I thought you said you liked them?”
Drew smiled. A cold smile that Scarlett had never seen him wear before, “Like I said. Liar.”
There was silence for a moment. A tense, awkward silence that seemed to spread to every corner of the bar as Jim and Drew stared each other out. Jim suddenly cracked up and started laughing before patting his friend hard on the shoulder.
“Why don’t you play me one on one?” He said, “I’m sure that will sober you up.”
Drew shrugged and nodded, making his way over to the pool table. Jim set the balls up while Drew moodily sipped at the remnants of his pint.
Scarlett settled in a seat next to Tommy who smiled broadly at her, raising his eyebrows as if they were in for a treat.
“What is going on?” she whispered to him as she watched her friends potting balls in stony, concentrated silence.
“I believe its a very elaborate courtship display,” he whispered back, folding his heavily tattooed arms in front of him, his face amused.
They seemed to be fairly evenly matched, one of them would get on a roll and pot a few in a row before missing one and allowing the other to catch up. Whenever a ball was missed or the white was potted, the guilty party would snarl angrily and step back from the table to observe in grumpy silence. Before long, there was only one solid and one striped ball on the table, as well as the black and the white. It was Drew’s turn.
He stepped cautiously forward towards the table and eyed up the ball from various different angles, sizing up his options, his chestnut brown hair falling over his eyes as he leaned down at each corner of the table. A few other people in the bar had turned around to watch what had become a very tense game of casual pool between friends. Scarlett held her breath as he decided on his angle and leaned forward to take the shot.
He pulled back with the cue and gently tapped the white ball which moved forward in a straight line towards his one remaining solid, red ball. It sailed straight into the pocket. He punched the air in triumph and took a quick sip of his drink before heading back to the table and deciding how to tackle the last, black ball. He took a deep breath and went for his shot.
Unfortunately, he didn’t manage it this time and the white bounced off the outer pocket, sailing over to the other side of the table.
“Bad luck!” Jim exclaimed, barely able to contain the glee on his face as he moved forward, his eyes darting over the table as he quickly assessed his options.
He spotted his chance immediately and leaned forward to take the shot, bouncing his blue, striped ball into one of the corner pockets with ease. He turned his attention to the black for a second before looking back up at Drew who watching him sullenly, leaning on his pool cue.
“What do I get if I win?” Jim said, a devious smile on his lips.
Drew shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know, what do you want?”
“I just want you to be happy for me,” Jim’s smile was wide across his face now, “When I win.”
Drew glowered back at his friend, “Whatever, Jim. You’re a fucking weirdo. Take the shot.”
Jim leaned forward, his piercing blue eyes sizing up the angles before he jerked his hand forward in a fast but fluid motion, potting the last remaining black ball.
He stood up victoriously and leaned his cue against the side of the table before reaching out to shake Drew's hand.
"Good game!" he said, flashing a wicked smile, "I've got a feeling we're going to have a lot of fun tonight."
Scarlett felt a cold but pleasurable shiver run down her spine as his eyes blazed in her direction, filled with desire, domination and destruction.