Tabitha scrubbed at a stubborn stain on the worktop counter, her grubby sponge making a squeaking noise that made Drew cringe.
“What are you doing?” he asked, lifting his cereal bowl up so Tabitha could wipe the counter top underneath it.
“What does it look like, Andrew? I’m cleaning,” Tabitha threw the used sponge in the sink before quickly moving her attention to the mop and bucket.
“Yeah but, why?”
“What do you mean why? Why does anyone clean?” Tabitha looked up momentarily from her mopping to see Drew raise his eyebrows at her, “We have a guest coming today,” she acquiesced.
“Oh yeah, Scarlett’s mate.”
“Her name is Sasha,” Tabitha corrected, “And not just any mate, this is her best mate. They grew up together.”
Drew shrugged, shovelling another spoonful of cornflakes into his mouth.
“Aren’t you intrigued?” Tabitha abandoned her mop and hopped onto the stool next to Drew, “We might get to find out who Scarlett really is this weekend.”
“I know who Scarlett is, I don’t need to go snooping into her past to find out,” Drew slurped the last bit of milk out of his bowl and looked at Tabitha disapprovingly, “Don’t go into full detective mode soon as you meet this girl. No one likes a busybody.”
Tabitha gasped dramatically, as if the very thought was entirely abhorrent, “Me? Busybody?”
“I’m just saying. It’s Scarlett’s story to tell when she’s ready.”
Tabitha barely had a moment to dwell on Drew’s words before the door to the kitchen squeaked open and Scarlett appeared in the door way. She smiled nervously as she stepped into the kitchen.
“Hi guys. So I’m off to get Sasha then,” she leaned against the breakfast island next to where Tabitha was sat. Now she was closer Tabitha could see the worry lines on her face and black bags from where she hadn’t slept well.
“You okay, Scarl?” she asked, rubbing a hand on her back.
Scarlett took a deep breath. She hadn’t put any make up on and her hair was thrown up into a bun with a scrunchie. She didn’t look as happy or excited as Tabitha would have expected.
“Yeah I just...I need to tell you something.”
Drew turned the tap off after washing his bowl and turned round slowly, making eye contact with Tabitha for a fraction of a second and exchanging curious, questioning looks.
“I know I haven’t exactly been...forthcoming with my past,” she paused, Tabitha held her breath, “I don’t know why I haven’t felt like I could say it but...”
Scarlett seemed to be struggling to get the words out. Her bottom lip was trembling and her hands were gripping onto the edge of the counter for dear life. Tabitha rubbed her back comfortingly but didn’t dare speak for fear of scaring her off, this had been the closest in eight months she had come to speaking about her past.
“I have a little brother,” she eventually blurted out. Her cheeks instantly darkened in colour and Tabitha could see water pooling in her eyes, “I know you both asked me a hundred times if I had any siblings. I don’t know why I couldn’t tell you. It just...hurts to say it.”
Tabitha and Drew exchanged confused looks for a split second before they both instinctively reached forward to comfort Scarlett, whose eyes were now freely spilling tears despite her best efforts to control them.
After a few moments, Scarlett took a deep breath. Her friends remained silence as she regained her composure. After months of waiting for her to open up, they were more than ready to listen.
“He’s six,” she said eventually, wiping her eyes on her sleeve, “I haven’t seen him since I came to London. Actually its a big reason why I came here in the first place. He had to go and live with his grandparents. I don’t know where. I don’t know if I’ll ever...”
She trailed off, a fresh wave of tears streaming down her cheeks. Tabitha hadn’t ever seen Scarlett express emotion like this before. She was usually pretty closed off and reserved. She avoided emotional topics and when she accidentally stumbled onto the subject of families, she quickly steered away from it. Tabitha had always known Scarlett had come from a difficult home life, but not because she had told her. More because it was clear from her behaviour. Now with this extra piece of the puzzle it became even clearer that Scarlett came from a traumatic and broken home, perhaps even abusive if her little brother had been sent away.
Tabitha’s heart went out to her. She couldn’t imagine being parted from one of her siblings. She was desperate to ask more questions but knew in her heart that Drew was right - it was up to Scarlett when she wanted to reveal those details about her life.
Scarlett took another deep breath and dried her face, “I’m just telling you because he was a huge part of my life and I know Sasha will talk about him when she gets here. I didn’t want you to think I’d lied to you.”
“We don’t think that,” Drew said gently, stroking the back of her arm.
“She’s probably gonna say a whole load of crazy stuff,” worry furrowed Scarlett’s brow as she spoke, “Just take her with a pinch of salt. She’s a drama queen.”
Tabitha and Drew nodded their agreement, their eyes meeting each others again when Scarlett stopped to check her face in her mirror. It was looking more and more likely that Tabitha was right about this weekend. Maybe the mysterious past of Scarlett Delaney would at last be revealed.
* * * * *
Sasha’s screeching could be heard from Platform 12 as she ran towards her friend who she hadn’t seen for eight months. The girls met in a flying embrace that nearly knocked Scarlett off her feet.
“You look so different!” Sasha exclaimed, taking a step back to survey her friend.
Scarlett noticed that Sasha looked the same. Her brown and blonde afro framed her round, freckled face perfectly and she was beaming at her with that same show-stopping smile she had had since they were kids. Sasha had always been the more popular and outgoing of the two growing up. Her laugh was big and infectious and her personality vibrant and funny. Scarlett had always felt comfortable in her shadow, it stopped people from looking at her too closely.
“You look fatter,” Scarlett said, her expression deadpan, earning her an outraged shriek of laughter and a punch in the gut. Both girls knew Sasha was beautiful but banter had been a huge part of their bond since childhood.
“So catch me up, what the hell has been going on! I’ve been hearing some crazy stuff!” The girls headed away from Kings Cross station arm in arm in the direction of Camden Town. The plan was to grab some lunch and catch up before heading back to the house to meet the others.
“Who have you been hearing crazy stuff from?” Scarlett asked, deflecting. She knew that Sasha and Billy had been talking about her.
“Don’t give me that, you know me and Bill have been in bits since you did your disappearing act! He was trying to track you down like crazy. Then he tells me you’ve been homeless or something? W-T-F, Delaney?”
Scarlett didn’t expect the hard talk to start as soon as Sasha got off the train but that was Sasha for you. Never one to beat around the bush. Scarlett was glad to hear that Billy apparently hadn’t told Sasha absolutely everything.
“Does it matter now? I’m sorry I was out of it for a bit, I was going through some stuff. But I’m better now. I have a job and friends and a house and a life. Can’t we focus on the good stuff?” Scarlett shot her friend a pleading smile but Sasha didn’t look convinced.
“We both thought you’d come back at some point. Your mum has been in bits since you left, basically living in the pub and getting into all sorts of trouble. My mum went round to see if she was okay and she threatened her with a knife.”
Scarlett stopped and tensed, her arm dropping from Sasha’s, “That’s another thing,” she said, her teeth gritting as she turned around to face her, “Can we cool it on the news-from-home front? My new friends don’t really know anything about my mum and I want to keep it that way. You’re here for a fun weekend, right? That shit is depressing.”
Sasha frowned and crossed her arms, “How can you call them your friends when they don’t know anything about you? You can’t run from your past forever, Scarlett. You can move to a new city and buy new clothes but you’ll always be who you are and one day you’ll have to come back and face the music.”
The girls stood in silence for a minute, both stony faced and bristling.
“Are you done?” Scarlett asked, “Is it out of your system? Because I didn’t invite you here to lecture me.”
Sasha’s expression softened and she stepped forward, “I’m not trying to lecture you. I’m just saying, you’re going through all of this on your own and you don’t have to. I know how hard it must be for you to be away from Jack. I feel like you need to talk about it rather than cutting people out and pretending everything is normal.”
Scarlett felt a hot surge of emotion rise in the back of her throat. She didn’t know if she wanted to cry or scream. She involuntarily balled her hands into a fist and bit down hard on her lip. Why was Sasha like this? Always poking and prodding and trying to get a reaction out of her. Scarlett didn’t know if she meant well or if she just enjoyed seeing her squirm. She didn’t want to fall out with her as soon as she got off the train but it wasn’t fair for her to show up here and just start calling the shots and telling her what she ‘needs’. How could she possibly know what needs? She doesn’t even know what happened to her the last night she stayed at her mother’s. Unless Billy had spilled the beans on that secret too. The thought of it made Scarlett’s stomach drop.
“Noted,” Scarlett responded, her jaw clenched and her temple throbbed, she had to try and keep the peace for the sake of a nice weekend, “Either way, its my life and I’d really appreciate it if we could keep it light hearted for this weekend.”
Concern clouded Sasha’s eyes but she recognised this attitude from Scarlett and knew if she pushed anymore she would completely close herself off and the whole weekend would be ruined. So she sighed and nodded, reaching forward to take Scarlett’s arm.
“So, you’ll never guess who’s pregnant,” she said, changing the subject.
* * * * *
Pre-drinks at Luke Street were already in full swing by the time Scarlett and Sasha returned from their late lunch, where tensions had been eased and squabbles solved. Jim, Drew, Tabitha and Mairead were assembled around the kitchen island, clutching beer cans and munching on the crisps Tabitha had poured out into colourful bowls in an attempt to be welcoming and civilised.
“They’re here!” she declared, jumping off her stool to welcome the girls.
Tabitha greeted Sasha with a warm hug as Scarlett introduced each of her new friends to her old, one by one.
“And this is Jim,” Scarlett said finally, hoping to God that Sasha wouldn’t do anything humiliating.
Sasha twirled to look at Jim, her brown eyes sweeping up and down his body. They widened in surprise as a knowing smile spread across her full lips. Scarlett gulped back her embarrassment as to her horror, Sasha spun round and winked. “I get it, sis,” she whispered unsubtly.
“W-we need to go and get ready,” Scarlett stammered, grabbing Sasha’s elbow, desperate to get away from this situation. She couldn't even look at Jim who she knew would be smirking intolerably.
“Yes, fab!” Sasha agreed, smiling innocently, “Where are we going tonight?”
“Cool bar called Swanson’s!” Tabitha answered, “Good music, pretty chill. Don't need ID!” She nodded her head in 17 year old Scarlett's direction. Sasha, being the oldest in their school year was already l8.
“Amazing! I hope you don’t mind but I’ve invited a friend to join us so I’ll just let him know.” Sasha pulled out her phone.
Scarlett froze, a confused expression creeping across her face. Who the hell did Sasha know who lived in London?
“You might know him?” Sasha continued, “His name is Billy.”