5. Claire

Claire’s phone bleeped at her. Tricia and Margaret looked over her shoulders at the distress message from Georgia.
         “Oh god,” groaned Claire, “Not again.”
         “This seems to happen every time Jill and Lucy are together,” Tricia pointed out. Margaret agreed, “They need to keep away from each other.”
         “Come on, we have to go and help before someone starts getting really angry,” Claire said, “This won’t end well if it gets violent.” Even in her advanced state of tipsiness, Claire managed to lead Tricia and Margaret quickly over to the bar, where they found quite an unusual scene.
         Lucy was half off her stool, being held from behind by the shoulders by Neil, with a look of pure frustration tinged with what Claire recognised as the weariness that Jill always brought out in her. Jill was sat, drunk and oblivious, on her own bar stool, explaining (Claire began to pick up as she got closer) how proud she was of herself for confessing to and forgiving Lucy. Georgia had inserted herself between the girls’ stools with a hand on each girl’s leg and kept glancing worriedly at Neil, whose expression was a mixture of strained (presumably from holding Lucy back), confused and concerned. Steve stood next to Neil, closer to being in between the girls and trying to cut Jill off as she rambled while James was standing next to him, almost beside Jill but still turned towards her so as not to appear as if he was on her side. Claire hurried over, flanked by Tricia and Margaret.  She tapped James on the shoulder as none of them had noticed her approaching and he moved out of the way, a look of thanks on his face, to stand between Steve and Neil.
         “What in the heck has happened now?” she demanded. Jill looked elated at her arrival and cried out, “Yes! Claire knows what I’m talking about, you did it to her too!” Claire looked immediately at Steve, beginning to comprehend the situation. Jill continued, “You sab… sabby… mucked up her and Steve just like you did to me! Tell her, Clairey baby!” Claire winced at the unwanted nickname but said calmly to Jill, “I never said I thought Lucy was responsible for Steve and me breaking up.”
         “Yes you did,” asserted Jill (in as assertive a voice as she could manage through her slurred words), “You say it all the time when you drinky drinky drink!” Panic and anger surged through Claire’s mind. So you can remember what I say when we’re both drunk but you can’t ever remember to clear up after yourself at home. So many dirty plates everywhere but THIS is a priority in your mind. Claire realised that everyone was staring at her but didn’t understand why until she saw Lucy sit down again with a hurt look on her face. Neil’s grasp of her shoulders softened from restraint to comfort.
         “You really said that?” Lucy asked Claire dejectedly, “And to Jill?” Claire realised she had spoken out loud instead of to herself. She moved to Lucy and grabbed her hands, speaking in as apologetic a tone as she could.
         “I was drunk and she brought it up and I was suggestible because of the drinking but I never meant it, you know I would never think that!” she searched for Lucy’s eyes, which were avoiding hers. Then she heard James speak from behind her, suggesting that everybody go and look at something really interesting over on the other side of the bar, except for Claire, Jill and Lucy. Claire stayed where she was, holding Lucy’s hands and trying to catch her eye. She heard Georgia agreeing with James, but Steve and Neil stayed where they were.
         “No,” said Neil simply, “I’m staying.”
         “Me too,” agreed Steve, “I’m staying.”
         James, Georgia, Margaret and Tricia hesitated awkwardly for a moment but all silently decided it was best to let the five of them work it out between themselves. They walked away slowly, casting glances back at the unchanging situation behind them. Nobody there spoke. When they had gone, Jill piped up, “See? You all thought I was making it up and being a bitch but Claire agreed with me the whole time!”
         “No!” cried out Claire, “She’s lying!”
         “I am not!” shouted Jill, sounding genuinely hurt. Claire felt something break inside of her.
         “Of course you are!” she yelled at Jill, “You’re always lying! You're a pathological liar who gets a kick out of bitching and making up stories to get other people in trouble. We put up with it at first because it wasn’t that bad and it was only about Sue, who wasn’t very nice anyway at that  point. But then, you started taking advantage of other people as well. The things you used to say about Joe were horrible, and then you apparently decided that it should be your mission in life to try and do anything in your power to hurt Lucy, even if it meant getting other people in trouble at the same time! You’re a selfish bitch, Jill, and all you ever want is glory and attention even though nobody likes you!”
         There was a silence. Claire stood there, panting while Neil and Steve looked between her and Jill, who was sat, motionless and slightly more sober now, staring at Claire with a gobsmacked expression. Lucy had gone from staring at the floor behind Jill with her head up to hanging her head to hide her face. The silence was broken by a sob which emanated from her. Claire spun round to face her again, having turned to yell at Jill.
       “Luce?” she tried. Lucy sobbed again and stood up, shaking off Neil’s hands but keeping her head down. She ran, at first towards the toilets but swerving when she was halfway there. The group at the bar looked to where she was heading and saw Carter, talking to Joe. Lucy ran towards them and threw her arms around them both. Joe said something to her and, following her response, detached himself and started to walk determinedly towards the bar. As he walked past Georgia she grabbed his arm and spoke to him. From what Claire could see, she was trying to calm him down. She desperately wanted to ask if anyone else could tell what was going on but the awkward silence that had been engulfing the group since Lucy had run away was too much to break. That was, until Steve grunted slightly and walked over to Georgia and Joe. Neil followed him. Not wanting to be left with Jill, Claire went to the toilets to hide for a while as she wasn’t sure whether or not everyone hated her and it wasn’t in her nature to ask.

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