The crowd screamed in morbid delight at the trails of blood snaking down Jim’s chest, impossibly red against his pale white skin. He looked wild. The black around his eyes had been smeared and his dark hair looked black as it stood up with sweat. He was every inch the Rockstar as he lurched towards his guitar and swung it around his neck. Drew, unperturbed by Jim’s gruesome display had already guided Tommy and Damon towards a musical crescendo which culminated in Jim joining them for one last hair raising chorus. Scarlett knew as she looked up at them that this show would go down in history.
As the last chord rang out and the sound was replaced by the screaming and cheering of a well entertained crowd, Jim and Drew clutched each other in a tight embrace on the stage. They knew it was the best gig they had ever played. They stumbled off the stage, still clinging to each other, their instruments and empty beer bottles left forgotten, and Scarlett was left with an aching in her core. Jim’s lips would taste like salt and whiskey right now if she kissed him. His skin would be hot and wet if she could touch him. Would he look at her with the same wild and intense eyes that he had had when he looked out into the abyss of the audience?
“That was amazing!” Scarlett felt a hand on her arm, Tabitha stood next to her, a huge smile plastered on her face, her jester make up still perfect in spite of the sweat on her brow from so much dancing. Scarlett grinned and nodded in return. It really was.
They stuck around for another hour, dancing and drinking rum, occasionally sneaking into the toilets for a key of coke, before Tabitha suggested they head back and set up the house party. Scarlett tried to hide her disappointment as she wondered where Jim was, obediently filing out of the Smashing Pumpkin with Tabitha. Mairead stayed behind with her new friend Casey, all of a sudden unbothered about the house party she had so painstakingly arranged, insisting that she would catch them there later.
Tabitha made calls all the way home, letting people know the party was on. When she wasn’t talking on the phone she was texting and posting furiously. Scarlett had to give it to her, the girl know how to throw a party. Her and Mairead were an unstoppable team, where one dropped the ball the other would pick it up and smash it out of the park.
Tabitha must have looked up and noticed Scarlett’s pensive expression because somewhere between Cambridge Heath and the flower market, she tugged on her red costume cloak.
“You okay?” she asked, her eyebrows visibly raised in spite of her Halloween make up.
“Yeah, I’m great! So excited about tonight!” Scarlett still hadn’t lost the skill to lie convincingly when she wanted to cover up how she was really feeling. It didn’t work in this instance.
“You thinking about Jim?”
Scarlett bit her lip. Maybe it was time to just trust someone, “I really like him, Tab. And I know what you think, but I honestly think he likes me back. I can feel it. Its special.”
“And why wouldn’t he, you’re amazing!” Tabitha smiled but her eyes looked sad, “You know I would love for you two to make it work right?”
“You would?” Scarlett had wondered, Tabitha never seemed very keen on the idea and honestly, it had hurt her feelings.
“Yes! Totally! I would totally ship you!”
“Why do I feel like there’s a but?”
Tabitha linked arms with Scarlett as they walked, slipping her phone into her pocket, “Jim is at a funny point in his life right now. What happened with his dad was so bad, I mean, he was irresponsible and slept around and drank a lot before then but afterwards, he just went crazy. He wouldn’t talk to any of us. He actually went missing for a bit, it was horrible. It was kind of the reason why we all moved in together in the first place. Originally me and M were going to get a place of our own and Drew was going to live in university halls, but then we all decided to live together to try to support Jim. Keep an eye on him sort of thing.”
Scarlett nodded, all of her attention focused on Tabitha as they walked. She didn’t want to miss a single detail.
“He’s still super fragile mentally,” Tabitha continued, the strain of the situation plain across her face, “Like he still hasn’t got a job or anything. He’s still drinking too much and being super mean all the time. He still won’t even speak to his mum or his brother. And I guess we’ve just been worried that he’s not ready to be the guy that you deserve right now and it wouldn’t even be his fault, you know?”
Scarlett understood. Jim was hurting and that’s why he was so callous and self destructive. He'd created a tough outer shell to protect the soft, tender pain in his heart and he didn't want love because somewhere deep down he didn't feel like he deserved it. She’d never loved him more than she did in that moment.
“Maybe he’s exactly what I deserve,” Scarlett sniffed, the gradual realisation pricking her eyes, “Maybe we deserve each other. I know what its like to lose someone and feel so fucking guilty...”
Scarlett and Tabitha had talked briefly about Sasha's revelations after she had left but mostly Tabitha had just held her friend close to her, stroking her hair and letting her know that she was there. Scarlett had felt spiky and defensive at first but had eventually given into the embrace, recognising Tabitha's warm intentions. She knew that if she ever needed someone to confide in, she would be there. She just wasn't ready yet. Tabitha looked at her now, her painted black and white visage heavy with understanding. She smiled at her as they walked, their faces close to each other, their steps in sync.
"I know you do," she said softly, "And honestly, Jim has been nearly back to his normal self these last few months so maybe you're right. You should tell him how you feel."
Scarlett laughed nervously, blinking back the tears that had formed. She thought of Jim as they walked the remainder of the way home in silence.
She thought of him alone and angry at the world but with an aching desire for love in his keen touch. She thought of him on stage tonight, in his element amongst the reverence of the crowd, basking in their admiration, the validation he so desperately craved. She thought of him as a little boy, sad and confused and wondering why his dad was different to all the other dads. They needed each other, she'd never been more sure of it.
There was already a small crowd of people waiting outside Luke Street when they got back, Scarlett knew a few of them from previous parties and gave them a small smile while Tabitha greeted them like old friends, ushering them in once she had opened the door. Within the hour the house was full, the walls shaking with the bass from the speakers.
Scarlett wandered from room to room getting gradually more and more drunk, her eyes scanning the painted faces for her rockstar vampire. The lines of cocaine she had sniffed made her mouth dry but her speech easy. She already knew everything she would say to him. She didn't care if she got hurt, he had to know what she was feeling.
She bowled into the front room, stepping over some people sat in front of the sofa, her heart quickening as she spotted Drew. They must be back. He waved her over to where he was sat with Tommy the drummer, and a girl dressed like Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction. She slotted into the seat next to Drew on the crowded sofa, greeting him with a warm hug.
"You guys were completely insane tonight," she gushed, adjusting her red gingham skirt, "Like one of the best shows I've ever seen."
"Thanks love," Drew grinned, Scarlett could tell he was drunk from his warm but lop sided smile. He rested his arm on the back of the sofa behind her and their knees bumped together, squashed up against each other on the crowded couch. His taut, olive skin peeked out between the rips in his plaid shirt and he smelled like pine and cider, "It really felt like a turning point. So many people were posting about us afterwards. I've had a load of DM's from industry types."
"You're gonna make it for sure," Scarlett was certain. They had star quality. "Mad what Jim did with the whole cutting his chest thing though."
Drew laughed. A happy, easy laugh that made Scarlett smile, "Yeah that was well extra but the crowd loved it. Think he fancies himself as a bit of a Richie Manic type."
"Where is he?" Scarlett applauded herself for her subtlety but Drew couldn't contain his knowing sigh, his smile dropping slightly.
"He's around. He's in a weird mood," Jim took a deep swig from his bottle of cider.
"What do you mean?" Scarlett pressed.
Drew shrugged, "I dunno, could be the high from the gig or something else. He's just lovey dovey one minute then aggressive as fuck the next. Me and Tom ditched him a bit ago, we couldn't keep up."
Drew noted Scarlett's worried expression and put his arm around her, "He's alright though, you don't have to worry. Its Jim. He's a maniac but he's alright."
"I think I need to find him," Scarlett bit her lip, resting her head on Drew's shoulder, the rum and cocaine she'd consumed swirling around in her stomach and making her feel dizzy.
"I'm not sure tonight's the night, Scarl," Drew hummed, his breath warm on the top of her head, "He's on one."
"What if that's my fault?"
"You can't take responsibility for his weirdness. He was like that long before you came along," Drew laughed again, his chest gently jostling Scarlett where she leaned, "Seriously though, I know there's something going on between you two and I agree you need to sort it out at some point. He was edgy as fuck before we went on tonight."
Scarlett sat up quickly, turning to look at Drew, her face close to his, "Really? Did he say something?"
Drew sat up awkwardly, mussing his chestnut hair and biting his lip, "He didn't exactly say anything. It was just obvious that he's pissed off about something and I guessed it was to do with the fact that you've been ignoring him."
"He thinks I've been ignoring him?" Scarlett's heart sank, it was worse than she thought.
"Haven't you?" Drew's big, golden eyes, usually creased with laughter looked at her seriously now.
"I need to find him," Scarlett stood up quickly and dashed off into the party.
She needed to speak to him, explain to him that they were the same. That the only reason she couldn't open up to him was because she had built walls around her heart, just like he had. But that she was ready to knock them down for him. To tell him everything and to let him tell her everything.
She raced from room to room but couldn't see him. She stepped over chattering groups on the stairwell and interrupted entangled lovers in the bathroom, eventually making her way up the stairs towards Jim's attic room.
Hazy from the drink and drugs and desperate to look into those steel blue eyes, she reached for the door handle to his bedroom and wrenched it open.
Her heart stopped and she gasped audibly as her eyes fell on the sight of Jim's hands entangled in another girl's dark brown hair as she straddled him on his bed. The sound of the door opening prompted the couple to fall out of their passionate kiss and gaze groggily towards the door, befuddled by lust and booze.
But Scarlett was already gone, running down those stairs for the second time in as many weeks, her heart resembling the plastic cups she crushed with her feet on her descent.