Now then mardy bum, I've seen your frown and its like looking down the barrel of a gun and it goes off.
Scarlett chewed on her lip as she stared at the ring pull on her can and let the music wash over her. Tabitha, Mairead and Sasha seemed to be getting on like a house on fire which allowed Scarlett's plummeting mood to go mostly un-noticed. The three girls were huddled together on one side of the kitchen island at Luke Street, exchanging funny stories, their voices and laughter climbing in volume with each finished and discarded can of cider.
Jim hadn't even looked at her since they got back to the house. He was sat on his corner of the island with a bottle of whiskey, topping himself up whenever he finished a glass, his gaze faraway and distracted,
"Hey, you okay?" Drew pulled his stool nearer to Scarlett who gave him a small smile in response. He smiled back at her reassuringly.
"I actually have the most embarrassing video of me and Scarlett dancing to that!" Sasha slurred as she opened another can, still immersed in her conversation with the girls.
"I wanna see!" Tabitha shrieked, Mairead nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
"No embarrassing videos, please," Scarlett interrupted.
"Oh come on, its really funny," Sasha whined, "Its the one where Jack tries to join in, its so cute!"
Scarlett's stomach dropped. She couldn't bear to see a video of Jack. She couldn't bear to see anything that reminded her so much of back home, of all the memories she'd tried so hard to push deep down inside her where no one could see. Sasha was oblivious to Scarlett's pain, already scrolling sloppily through her phone.
"Sasha...please..." Scarlett tried to protest but Sasha didn't even look up, she just dismissed her with a wave of her hand. Tabitha and Mairead were already positioning themselves around her to catch a glimpse of the life which Scarlett had tried so hard to keep them separate from.
She had already lost. It wouldn't be long before Sasha would be showing them everything. All the pictures of Scarlett in her too big or too small hand-me-downs, with a shaved head from when she'd had nits and her mum couldn't be bothered dealing with them. What if she shows them the few pictures of her with cuts and bruises on her arms and legs? She didn't even want them to see any pictures of her happy with Jack. She couldn't bear the thought of them seeing that side of her life. She knew it would change the way they looked at her forever. They'd either see her as a victim or a thug or both.
"I have to get out of here," she said, standing up sharply, her stool scratching on the tile floor, "Come with me?" she appealed to Jim and Drew desperately. Mairead and Tabitha were too deeply engrossed but there was a chance she could stop Jim and Drew from seeing. She felt sick at the thought of Jim feeling sorry for her, or even worse disgusted by her.
"I want to see the embarrassing videos," Jim smirked, clearly noticing Scarlett's discomfort and choosing to revel in it.
"I'll come," Drew already had his coat on.
Scarlett smiled gratefully and rushed out of the room, Drew right behind her. The girls didn't even notice they'd gone, they were already giggling at a video of Sasha and Scarlett aged 12 dancing to Taylor Swift, a 2 year old Jack falling onto his bottom and squealing gleefully as he tried to join in.
"Scarlett's brother is so cute!" Mairead cooed.
"He was the coolest little boy, we miss him so much," Sasha lamented, clicking off the video to scroll through a few more photos of Scarlett and Jack together.
Emotions surfaced quickly and flushed Sasha's cheeks as she felt tears prick at her eyes. Jack had felt like her little brother too, they had spent so much time together. Sasha and her family had done everything they could to help Scarlett look after him and keep him safe.
"I have no idea how she is coping being away from him like this," she said softly, pausing on a photo of Scarlett giving Jack a piggy back. They had stained blue tongues from whatever sweets they had been eating and were sticking them out triumphantly towards the camera.
"Where is he?" Tabitha asked sincerely, her brow furrowed in concern.
"Social services took him away. Scarlett's mum is an alcoholic, abusive mess. She left everything to Scarlett and it was too much for her to cope with. She did her best but she was only a kid herself. A messed up kid, to be honest. Her mum really fucked her up."
Mairead gasped, "Poor Scarlett, that is so horrible!"
"We always managed to fend off the social workers but Scarlett's mum got really bad in the last year when she started seeing that creep Dennis," Sasha went on, drunkenness loosening her lips and causing her to forget completely what Scarlett had asked of her, "And then when Billy left, it was just really hard for her. He used to help her out a lot."
Mairead and Tabitha were stunned into silence as they processed what Sasha was telling them. Jim sipped at his whiskey, his expression stony.
"That's why I just really want those guys to make up and get back together - no offence," Sasha gestured in Jim's direction with her can, some cider spilling over the side of it, "But she confided in Billy even more than me. They literally spent every day together, she told him everything. She needs him right now. Running away and distracting herself and pretending she's okay is not gonna work out for her. Trust me, I know her."
"She hasn't told us any of this," Tabitha choked, "We guessed things were bad but we had no idea how bad. She told us she didn't even have parents."
Jim clenched his jaw as he chewed over the realisation, once again, that Scarlett had told him nothing about herself. She hadn't even told him she had a brother, it had been Drew who filled him in on that while she had been out with Sasha that day. He thought back to the times they had been in bed together, the many opportunities she had had to confide in him but instead she'd been carrying this huge burden alone.
He realised, with a pang of spiky understanding, that this was the origins of the tragedy in her eyes, the reason for the shadow of sorrow that passed over her face intermittently, even when she was meant to be having fun.
He suddenly wished very much that he'd left with her when she'd asked him.
* * * * *
"Am I being unreasonable?" Scarlett took a sip of her pint, her eyes sad and round as she looked mournfully over at Drew. The White Hart had been winding down to close when they'd rocked up, she guessed they might only have time for one pint.
Drew shrugged, "I don't know, Scarl. I'm kind of confused about the whole thing. But I know its your life and you can feel however you want to feel, so don't worry about it."
Scarlett gazed down at the froth on her pint. If she knew Sasha, her secrets were already spilled across the kitchen island by now, mixing with the cider and cigarette ash. She looked back up at Drew who whose deep, warm eyes were surveying hers, worry curling the corners of his mouth downwards. She was lucky to have such a wonderful person in her life. She knew she could trust him, it was just hard to know where to begin with the shit show that was her life.
"Its just...I don't want to remember the person that I used to be," she began, "Before I met you guys I was so sad and angry and full of secrets. I only had a few people I could trust because whenever anyone got too close I was afraid..." she trailed off.
Drew didn't pressure her to go on, he just nodded his head and reached out to hold her hand. The warm weight of it made her feel comforted and safe.
"I'm trying so hard to be someone different," she carried on, "to get on with my life as best I can. Its not that I want to forget Jack," she gulped hard, emotion threatening to overwhelm her even at the mere mention of his name, Drew squeezed her hand reassuringly, "It's just so painful to think about him."
"Is he...okay?" Drew asked, his heart breaking at the sight of Scarlett so upset for the second time that day.
"I think so," Scarlett had considered the answer to that question so many times since they had been apart, "He's with his grandparents. I've met them a couple of times, they seemed nice and normal, more normal than mum at least. He's probably better off with them. But I know he'll be scared without me."
"Is there no way you can visit him?"
Scarlett shook her head, a tear escaping and rolling down her cheek, "Sasha's mum has spoken to the social worker. She says its best if he 'acclimatises' to his new home without me. The truth is..."
Scarlett breathed deeply, she was about to tell Drew something she wasn't even sure she was ready to admit to herself, "The truth is, social services see me as a bad influence. I tend to get in trouble a lot. And my mum...blames me for lots of things. I just get the impression they don't really want me around him."
Drew couldn't hold himself back anymore. It was too difficult to watch her go through so much pain. He reached forward and pulled her towards his chest, tucking her head under his chin and squeezing her tightly. She collapsed gratefully into his arms, wave of tears crashing over her as she clung onto him. He rocked her gently, basking in her peachy scent, his stomach swirling pleasurably when he felt her nuzzling into him, desperate to climb deeper into his touch.
They sat like this for a few minutes, Drew stroking her hair as her breathing calmed and her crying stopped. She pulled away from him slightly, not enough to be completely out of his touch but enough to look up at him, her wet eyes scanning his face. She felt a cathartic sense of calmness wash over her as she gazed into his kind, golden eyes.
She'd been holding so much in, trying to hide who she was, afraid that it would change things. She knew now that her connection with Drew had deepened as a result of what she had shared with him and his warm, empathetic reaction.
He didn't judge her, he wasn't repulsed by her. In fact, he cared about her deeply in spite of and because of her truth, and that made her feel wonderful. A wonderful feeling that right now, almost cancelled out the pain she was going through.
In a moment of affection and gratitude, she lifted her hand to touch the side of his face. His hand enveloped hers, soft and warm as he stroked her fingers. She felt the world falling around her as she lost herself in his eyes. Seconds felt like lifetimes.
The last orders bell at the bar rang out loudly, distracting them and causing Drew to jerk out of her touch. He cleared his throat and stood up quickly, his cheeks red. She found he couldn't meet her gaze.
"We better be getting back," he said, quickly throwing on his coat and nearly falling over himself to get out of the door. She nodded, pulling on her own coat and following him into the night. They walked back to the house in silence.