Sasha could feel the white hot anger radiating from Scarlett as she settled down next to her in the booth at Swanson's. The others were at the bar getting drinks so she took the opportunity to speak to her.
"I thought you said you and Billy were friends now?" she started, giving Scarlett's arm a squeeze to get her attention. Scarlett turned to face her, her eyes wild and her nostrils flared. Whoopsie, she really was furious.
"Its early days! Its very delicate! Don't act like you don't know exactly what you're doing!"
"I honestly thought it would be good-"
"Just shut up and lets get through this. I can't believe I was looking forward to you coming. I should have known you'd do everything you can to make it as awkward as possible for me."
Scarlett's words stung but before Sasha could retort, the booth filled up with her housemates who thankfully hadn't seemed to sense the tension.
"So tell us about you, Sasha!" Tabitha seemed nice and friendly, Sasha got good vibes off her. She was relieved that Scarlett seemed to have made friends with good people. She needed people who would look out for her. Sasha hadn't made her mind up about Jim who hadn't said two words to her yet. He seemed to play the cool, aloof stereotype pretty well.
"Not much to tell. I work at Curry's, I live with my mum, all boring stuff," Sasha smiled politely, sipping her drink.
"Isn't that your friend?" Mairead nodded in the direction of the door to the bar, sure enough Billy was closing it behind him.
He was dressed smartly in a blue plaid shirt with a black denim jacket and loose blue jeans. His curly hair was a little shorter on the sides and longer on the top and his usually lean arms definitely looked more muscular in the dark denim. Scarlett couldn't help but smile at the sight of him. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea all of them hanging out tonight. They had to get back to normality at some point and at least with Sasha here he wasn't completely outnumbered by her new friends.
She shot Sasha an apologetic glance. She knew she didn't mean harm, she just had a way of going about things that wound Scarlett up. She was definitely more like an annoying sister than a friend sometimes and Scarlett was sometimes too quick to anger, she had to admit. It was a difficult combination at times.
After getting a drink at the bar, Billy greeted the table enthusiastically with hugs for the girls and a civil nod of the head for the boys, even Jim. Scarlett felt her stomach settle a little bit more. It could be okay after all.
After some niceties and a few rounds of drinks, Scarlett felt far more comfortable and was even starting to enjoy herself. She wished she hadn't been so sharp with Sasha, especially not after all the worrying she'd put her through over the last few months. If she was honest with herself it wasn't because she was worried about how she might get on with Billy - her and Billy would always be okay, they had too much history. It had far more to do with the reaction of a certain dark haired, blue eyed dreamboat who was now winking at her from across the table over the rim of his Old Fashioned. She felt her heart leap in delight.
"I'm not that stupid!" Mairead giggled in response to another exaggerated story about her air-headedness.
"Yes, you really are!" Tabitha patted her friend on the head faux-patronisingly, "You once asked our geography teacher if clouds felt like candy floss. We were 15."
The table burst into raucous laughter again. Tonight was going really well. Mairead and Tabitha were commanding the audience with their chemistry and dynamism, they were funny, friendly and glamourous, with Tabitha clad in a furry Dalmatian print jumper and Mairead in a neon pink turtle neck. They bounced off each other effortlessly after years of sharing stories at gatherings and parties. Scarlett felt a flush of gratitude towards them for welcoming her into their lives and making her and her friends feel so welcome.
"So did you guys all go to school together?" Tabitha asked, pausing to take a sip of her pornstar martini. It was an innocent question, one intended to draw the newcomers into the conversation, but it quickly wiped the smile off Scarlett's face. She had been cagey about her past but it seemed like it was all about to come out. She hoped Sasha and Billy knew where to stop.
"Definitely not," Sasha scoffed, "I went to a very rough, very boring comprehensive. I was nowhere near special enough to go to fancy pants Stannisfields like these two!"
Tabitha shrugged, confused, "What's Stannisfields?"
"You're kidding?" Sasha asked, incredulous. Scarlett really hadn't told her new friends anything about her life.
"Its the school we went to," Billy explained, "Its a private performing arts school. Full of toffs and wankers. We had to stick together to get through it, didn't we?"
Billy nudged Scarlett with his elbow and smiled conspiratorially at her. She smiled back at him, he wasn't wrong.
"Is that where you learned to play piano like that?" Drew asked, impressed.
Scarlett nodded. Her mum had taught her a little bit when she was younger too, during her manic episodes. One time, she didn't let her sleep or eat until she could play Fur Elise perfectly. She was 7 years old. It took her 3 days. Scarlett coughed into her drink, as if she was physically expelling the memory.
"Scarlett was naughty at school," she heard Billy saying on her right hand side.
"Really?!" Tabitha leaned in, enthralled.
"Yep, she was a terrible influence on me."
"Bullshit!" Scarlett exclaimed.
"Its true!" Billy continued, the smile on his face stretching even wider, "She nearly made me miss my final Music A-level exam because she had a whitey."
Scarlett's hands flew up to her cheeks in gleeful horror and she laughed hard, remembering the day well. She'd met Billy to say good luck for his exam straight after smoking a bong out of her bedroom window and ended up nearly throwing up all over him.
"What about the time when you dared me to eat a magic mushroom sandwich instead of my school lunch?" Scarlett retorted, warmth spreading through her as she belly laughed with her old friend.
"Oh my God, that was the best day ever," Billy clutched his side laughing as he remembered it.
"I always had to be the responsible adult with these two," Sasha added, smiling in spite of herself as she looked disapprovingly at her friends.
"You're one to talk," Billy raised his eyebrows at Sasha, "Whenever you two had been drinking cider in the park it was always my job to look after the lightweight." He gestured to Scarlett sat on his left hand side who tried to object.
Sasha cackled gleefully, "That's true, you did such a good job of it though!"
"At least you used to be good at looking after her. What happened?" The fond reminiscing was cut short by Jim who had interjected coolly from his spot across the table.
Billy turned to look at him quizzically as an awkward hush descended upon the group. "Excuse me?" he said, the humour gone from his face.
"I just mean, you used to look after her before you let her sleep on the street for weeks," Jim smirked, his eyes as cold as ice.
"I don't think you know what you're talking about," Billy was visibly shaken, the anger plain on his face.
The atmosphere at the table had quickly changed. Mairead laughed nervously while Tabitha and Drew exchanged worried glances. Sasha stared between the boys, confused, while Scarlett's mouth fell open and she found herself dumb and immobile from shock. Where was Jim going with this? Things had been going so well.
"I know the state she was in when I found her. And I know that's your fault." Jim's smirk had disappeared, replaced by something dark and ominous, "How do you have the audacity to come and sit here with us when you did that to her? When you invited her to live with you and then cheated on her?"
Billy flew to his feet, clearly enraged, his face red and his eyes wide and wild, "How fucking dare you, you haven't got a clue about me and Scarlett."
Jim was on his feet after less than a second, inches away from Billy but towering over him, his expression and demeanour calm. Drew sprung up and forced himself between the two boys, his hands on both of their chests as he pushed them apart, "What the fuck, guys," he said, his words clearly more directed towards Jim, "We're trying to have a good time here, can we just calm the fuck down?"
Billy tore his eyes away from his standoff with Jim to look at Scarlett who stared back at him from where she sat, tense from shock, her eyes wide and her hands clasped together in her lap. Billy shook his head and grabbed his coat before walking out of the door.
"Go after him!" Sasha hissed in Scarlett's ear, shoving her out of the booth. She hesitated for a second before running after him out the door. She couldn't even look at Jim.
She shouted his name and eventually caught him up, grabbing onto his arm to get him to spin around and face her. He sighed and looked at her expectantly, sadness and disappointment in his eyes.
"I-I don't think any of that. You know that, don't you?" Scarlett started, unsure of what to say, "I just want us to be friends again."
"I don't think I can be your friend, Scarlett," Billy said bitterly, "I still care about you and when I see the way you look at that prick...it hurts."
Scarlett opened and closed her mouth several times. She imagined she looked like a goldfish but she had no idea what to say.
"And the way you just let him talk to me. What the fuck?"
"He's just...being Jim. He doesn't mean-"
"Yeah well, I don't fucking like him and I don't like what he's turned you into. Call me when you've got him out of your system and maybe we can be friends again."
Scarlett's shoulders slumped in resignation as she watched her best friend turn around and walk out of her life again.
* * * * *
It was difficult to get back in the spirit of things after Billy's shock departure and so Tabitha suggested they call it a night at the fairly conservative hour of 9pm. Everyone agreed and they decided to head back to the house to hang out in the kitchen, listen to music and drink beers.
Scarlett in particular was finding it hard to shake the image of Billy from her head as he walked away from her, his hands in his pockets as he kicked the floor. For a moment there she really thought they could work things out.
She was loitering at the back of the group as they meandered through Shoreditch back in the direction of Luke Street, her gaze downturned, when she felt an arm snake round her waist.
"You're too pretty to look so sad," Jim whispered in her ear. Her legs immediately turned to jelly as she became enveloped in his smoky, zesty scent. It was that time of the night again, when they were both drunk and heading home, where Jim would indicate his desire for her and they would usually make a speedy, lust-filled getaway.
"Don't dwell on that twat," he continued, kissing her softly on the neck, "He deserved to hear that. You let him get away with it far too easily. Think about me instead and all the things I'm going to do to you when we get home."
Scarlett tensed in his arms. Was that really all he cared about? He had no idea how important Billy was to her. She couldn't just forget about him. And besides, she wasn't about to abandon the friend who had come to visit her just because Jim wants her to fall into his bed like she usually does.
"It wasn't your place to say that stuff," she started, her voice meek and weakened from her close proximity to Jim. She shrugged gently out of his touch and turned to look at him, her face sad and serious.
"What?" he looked incredulous, "You didn't look like you were about to say it. You were having a great time laughing and flirting with the guy who cheated on you."
"Is that what this is?" Scarlett felt a little braver as she crossed her arms, "You're jealous?"
Jim laughed cruelly, "In your dreams, sweetheart."
Scarlett felt like she had been sucker punched in the gut. She watched, for the second time that night, as someone who she loved chose to walk away from her, leaving her alone and shivering in the cold, Autumn night.