The sun seared its way through Jim's attic room window, piercing his eyes and waking him painfully. He blinked and stretched, noting with discomfort how dry his mouth was as his hand collided with soft, warm skin. He groaned as parts of the night swam in his recollection, flickering and incomplete like the reel of an old, damaged film.
He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes, allowing the cover to fall down his body exposing the jagged red slit across his chest. He ran his finger across it, wincing. He'd started drinking far too early. He barely remembered the gig, he certainly didn't remember the name of the girl in his bed.
She began to stir next to him and as she turned over he was able to look at her face. She had long, brown hair but it was more thin and mousy than the wild, rich chestnut he was used to seeing. She seemed pretty, but it was hard to see past the glitter and fake eyelashes, remnants of her Halloween costume no doubt. As the covers shifted around her, her small breasts were exposed. She obviously had a nice figure but rather than making Jim feel hot and eager, he felt dejected and disappointed. He would have to get her out somehow, as soon as possible.
He scooted out of the bed and pulled on some jogging bottoms, quickly checking himself out in his mirror. He was a complete mess. His eyes were still blackened from the eyeliner he'd sported, most of the fake blood was gone from his mouth apart from a small amount which appeared brown and crusty, his hair was messy and matted and sticking out around his head like a dirty, black halo. He was sure as soon as last night's girl saw him this morning she would get herself out as soon as she could.
"Morning," she cooed from behind him, stretching lavishly as she woke.
"Morning," Jim coughed in return. He hated this part.
"Last night was fun," she smiled, sitting up in the bed and pulling her knees towards her, "Why are you up already? We've only been asleep a few hours. Come back to bed," she patted his side of the bed, still warm from where he had been moments earlier.
"I have a busy day," he replied curtly, his eyes scanning the room. He quickly located the girl's Harley Quinn costume on his bedroom floor as he spoke, as well as her shoes and underwear, and presented them to her, unable to meet her eyes, "I really have to...get on with some stuff."
She looked up at him, the flirty promise falling from her eyes as she accepted her clothes, "I see."
Moments later, Jim led the girl downstairs as quietly as possible, praying with every step that he wouldn't meet any of his housemates on the way. He decided to take the girl out of the front door rather than taking a chance through the kitchen.
As he opened the door for her, she turned around to gaze up at him. He noticed one of her sets of fake eyelashes was missing. "So, Jim," she said breathily, "I really did enjoy last night. Maybe you could call me or something? We could do it again?"
"Maybe," he said, guiding her out of the door with his hand.
"You don't even have my number," she frowned, finding herself on the front door step.
"See you then," Jim waved, closing the door behind her and breathing a sigh of relief.
He closed his eyes and leaned with his back against the door, letting his head fall backwards to collide with a heavy thud. When he opened his eyes, he thought for a minute that he was experiencing an angelic vision or hallucination.
She stood at the end of the corridor, bundled up in her long, dark, winter jacket, her hair roughly plaited and thrown over one shoulder, hanging down like a bronze and gold rope, loose curls tickling her chin and framing her peaches and cream face.
Her eyes were wide and probing as she stared at him, her full, pink lips slightly open in a question. His heart stopped for a moment as he imagined all the horrible things she was going to say to him, all the things he deserved to hear. But they never came. Instead, she smiled.
"Sorry to interrupt," Scarlett said serenely, "I just heard the front door open."
Could it be possible that she really didn't care about what she had just seen? It was clear that Jim was ushering out the girl he had spent the night with. He would expect Scarlett to be upset but here she was, smiling at him as if she had interrupted him brushing his teeth. He gawped back at her wordlessly.
"You were great last night," she continued, "Although that looks sore today," she pointed at the gash across his chest.
She really didn't care. And here Jim had been worrying that it would hurt her if she'd found out about his Halloween conquest. Blow his chances with her forever. When actually, he'd been right the first time. He was just a distraction. A rebound. A meaningless shag. The cruel irony wasn't lost on him.
She was suddenly walking towards him, and he couldn't drag his eyes away from hers as she approached. Her dark eyes that were so deep and full of secrets. Secrets he'd wanted to extract, mysteries he'd wanted to unfold and protect her from.
"I better go, I have work," she sighed breezily.
He near enough leapt out of her way as she passed him in the corridor, her light scent of peaches and daisies catching him and pulling him towards her. She opened the door and stopped to face him, the morning light spilling across her face, highlighting the pink dancing on her cheeks and the shine on her lips. Her eyes looked different. Puffy or dull somehow. Then he remembered she was probably hungover.
"I wanted to say to you last night..." she began, a glimmer of sadness dancing in the twitches of her brow.
She paused, examining Jim's face. He gazed back at her, cautious but hopeful, self consciousness causing him to pick absentmindedly at the dried up fake blood on his chin. He hoped he didn't have any glitter or lipstick on his face and suddenly cursed himself for not looking closer.
"I wanted to say," she carried on, something resolving itself behind her eyes, "that I don't want things to be awkward between us. We live together. Just because we shagged a couple of times doesn't mean we can't be friends. Right?"
Jim gulped. Right.
"Sure," he muttered, nodding his head.
After one last, quick smile, she was gone. The heavy front door clicked behind her with a thud.
* * * * *
Scarlett took a deep breath as she marched to work and congratulated herself on her stellar performance. Jim definitely bought it. She could tell from the confused but piercing way he looked into her eyes, as if he was trying to see past them into her brain. Presumably, he had thought she would be upset to see him waving off his bedfellow.
And she was. But the night before, once her tears had dried and she had sobered up, Scarlett had laid in her bed staring at the ceiling, trying not to picture the things that were happening in the room above and instead focusing on how she could Survive Jim Moriarty. She didn't want to hurt anymore and Tabitha was right - he was trouble. She needed to protect herself.
She knew she couldn't hold it against him that she had fallen in love with him. Everyone around her had warned her what he was like. Even Jim himself had been up front about it. She had no one but herself to blame.
She also knew that even if Jim was in the wrong, their friends would always choose him. Either way, she didn't want it to come to that. She loved her new life and her new friends and she couldn't let the doomed relationship that she never had mess everything up.
She therefore resolved that she had no choice but to move on. Quickly and quietly. So that's what she did.
It still hurt. She thought she might have sensed sadness behind his bewilderment but pushed this thought to the back of her head. He just felt awkward to be caught with the used up leftovers from the night before. That's all that girl was to him and that's all Scarlett would ever be too.
Her disturbed thoughts carried her all the way to work. She entered through the pastel yellow door, hearing the familiar twinkle of the bell, and noticed Analise and Matilda in a warm, rocking embrace behind the counter, their expressions doleful.
"What's up?" she asked, unzipping her heavy jacket as she approached.
"She's leaving us!" Matilda exclaimed theatrically.
"I have booked a ticket to return home," Ana explained, "Time for me to finish studies to be a teacher. I leave December 14!"
Scarlett hugged Ana after she had hung her coat up, sad that she would soon lose one of the good friends she had made during her time in this city. She'd known that she would leave eventually but goodbyes are always hard.
"I'm going to miss you," Matilda wailed, "I'm even going to miss your thousands of pots of creams and perfumes in the bathroom! It's going to be like losing my second daughter!"
Ana had been staying with Matilda in her daughter's bedroom in her cosy flat above the café while she had lived and worked in London for a year. Scarlett watched fondly as Matilda reached for Ana and took her into her arms again. It was clear the pair had a strong bond.
As she watched the two clinging to each other, swaying gently, Scarlett felt a sharp, almost physical pain stab at her heart. She suddenly felt very cold and small and alone. She shuddered and pulled her eyes away from her work colleagues, busying herself by tying on her apron.
The shift was quick and uneventful, only six hours today. Matilda disappeared into the back to do some accounting while Ana and Scarlett easily managed the slow stream of customers. Before she knew it, she was finished and pulling her heavy jacket back on.
The sky was already bruised, despite the early hour, reminding Scarlett that soon she would be plunged into the depths of winter. She'd always hated winter. People retreated into their homes at winter. An icy wind swept through the parks and playgrounds, emptying them, leaving just Scarlett and her brother shivering and huddling against the cold, fooling themselves they were enjoying the swings and slides rather than hiding from home time.
Families would dress up warmly to brave the elements for bonfire night or the Christmas market and Scarlett would get glimpses of girls bundled up in furry jackets on their father's shoulders or mother and daughter walking arm and arm, ketchup on their smiling faces from the hotdogs they were eating. But other than that, families were safe and cosy at home during winter. Scarlett didn't know what safe and cosy felt like.
She pulled her jacket close to her as she walked but couldn't seem to shake the cold, empty feeling that had surrounded her all day. She walked alone through the streets, sadness swelling in her bosom, threatening to spill out onto her cheeks. She bit her lip and marched onwards.
When she got home, she entered through the front door and headed straight up the stairs, noting the music playing and nice smells emanating from the kitchen but deciding to ignore them. She needed to be alone right now.
"Scarl?" Tabitha's voice from the kitchen doorway called out to her as she was halfway up the stairs but she didn't stop. She pretended not to hear as she trudged the rest of the way to her room.
Once inside, she dropped her coat to the floor and kicked her shoes off, climbing into bed fully dressed, pulling the cover up to her chin. Her head ached dully, the remains of the hangover she had woken up with this morning. There was a soft knock on her door. It opened a crack to reveal Tabitha, her face friendly but apprehensive. Scarlett gestured for her to come in.
"Are you okay?" Tabitha asked, settling on the end of Scarlett's bed, pulling the cover over her lap.
"Yeah, I'm just hungover. Work was hard," Scarlett lied.
Tabitha nodded in understanding, her pale face indicating she was feeling the after effects of last night too.
"You kinda disappeared last night though," she went on, "Did you manage to speak to Jim?"
"No. I decided not to."
Fooling Jim had been easy this morning but Scarlett hadn't been looking forward to this part.
"Because you're right."
Tabitha shook her head, her expression perplexed, "Right about what?"
"We're just not right for each other. He's got shit going on, I've got shit going on, we live together. Its just a recipe for disaster. And besides I really don't think he feels like that about me. I was just coked up and emotional and projecting."
She delivered her speech nearly perfectly. She knew Tabitha would buy it because it was true and Tabitha had always known it. Scarlett wished she'd listened to her. She'd been a complete idiot and made a fool of herself in front of everyone.
"But I thought you said-"
"I was wrong." Scarlett responded sharply, hoping to shut the conversation down. She felt guilty when she saw Tabitha flinch, "Sorry Tab, I just feel like an idiot. Please don't tell anyone about the crazy stuff I was saying. Okay?"
Tabitha nodded slowly, concern turning to resignation on her face.
"I guess I'll leave you to your recovery," she said, peeling herself out of the bed, "Shout me if you need anything."
Scarlett nodded, smiling gratefully as she watched Tabitha walk out of her room and close the door gently behind her.
She wouldn't shout her because she didn't need anything and everything that she did need she would get for herself. She was born alone in this world and that's how she would die. It was time she got used to it.
She clicked her lamp off and lay in the darkness until the tears on her cheeks turned cold.