by Holly Bourne

She put her arms around Amanda and me, pulling us into her.

“One day, my little munchkins, you will realize I’m always right. Fancy him then?”

That stopped me in my tracks. “What?” I spluttered. “No!”

Lizzie nudged me in the ribs. “Only winding you up, don’t worry. Anyway…” She pointed to the crowd. “Looks like you’d have competition on your hands and I, for one, wouldn’t fancy taking on Ruth.”

I followed her finger again. It led me to Ruth, who had somehow managed to wiggle her way to the front row. She was standing directly below Noah, staring at him intently, a determined look on her face. My stomach sank and I tried to gauge why. This was standard Ruth behaviour, but tonight it bothered me.

“What’s she playing at?” I hissed at Lizzie. “She looks well desperate.”

“Never put anyone off before.”

It was true.

I turned back and watched Ruth at work. She was right under Noah’s eyeline, eye-flirting the hell outta him. For some inexplicable reason her hair hadn’t succumbed to the heat like everyone else’s, and she’d probably employed her fail-safe method of undoing another button on her top.

It all seemed incredibly unsubtle but, as Lizzie said, Ruth’s determined charm had never failed her before.

The only solace I could generate to ease my random anger was that Noah didn’t seem to have noticed her. His eyes were on his guitar and his blurring fingers. In fact, he hardly looked at the crowd at all.

The band was playing an upbeat song now and everyone was dancing and flicking sweat over each other. The lead singer – a solidly built lad, attractive, but no Noah – obviously loved the crowd’s response. He was clapping his hands over his head, trying to encourage the audience to sing along.

As the song reached its climax, Noah finally dragged his eyes away from his guitar and took in the swarming mass of people worshipping him. His face contorted into a breathtaking smile as he raised one hand in the air. The crowd went wild and all the girls started screaming. I could almost make out Ruth’s individual scream over the others. As I studied Noah’s face, I realized suddenly that he was staring back at me. My vision began to blur and the all-too-familiar feeling of faintness hit me. Bloody hell. Not again.

It happened for less than a second. For a tiny moment we just stared at each other, and my belly flip-flopped and my heart pounded. Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped.

There was a massive bang and the band came to a sudden halt. Confused silence replaced the upbeat song and the crowd searched for an explanation. They found one in the smoke pouring from Noah’s guitar amp, filling the stage with a foul-smelling fug. He ran to his amp like a mother running in front of a car to save her child. The rest of the band leaped across the stage and fought their way through the smoke to try and help.

I turned to Lizzie and Amanda and gave them a questioning look. They shrugged their shoulders.

“Drink?” I asked.

They both nodded.

I took a quick look behind me as I walked to the bar. Smoke was still rising from the amp. I had a feeling the gig was over.

“Two dark rum and Diet Cokes, and a large glass of tap water,” I asked, leaning over the bar. The water was for me. I knew drinking after a panic attack wasn’t the smartest of plans.

As I waited, the stocky singer approached the mike.

“Umm, hi, guys,” he said to the crowd. He’d lost his onstage cockiness and looked a bit nervous. “I think we’re going to have to cut the gig short. This amp is well and truly annihilated.”

The crowd groaned and booed.

“Sorry, people, but there’s nothing we can do. Thanks for coming. We’ll be back here next month. Check out our website in the meantime.”

Most of the crowd were exiting at this point and I felt sorry for him. Noah was at the side of the stage being comforted by a huge horde of girls. Ruth was at the front, touching his arm, and whispering in his ear. Again, I felt a surge of rage. I beckoned the bartender over.

“Make that three rum and Cokes.”

I grabbed the drinks off him aggressively and then tipped my drink down my throat in what I hoped was a melodramatic manner. Much as I knew jealousy was a pointless and destructive emotion, I couldn’t help but seethe with envy when it came to Ruth and her ability to talk to boys. She was like some sort of magical lust fairy, able to bewitch all mankind with a flirtatious wink or subtle innuendo. Men disintegrated into stumbling wrecks. Even the strongest-minded man couldn’t resist her charms – either of them. It didn’t bother me often, but then again, I’d never been interested in anyone before. I looked at the other two drinks, contemplating whether to drink Lizzie’s or Amanda’s. I decided against it, and turned back towards Ruth and Noah, who were now deep in conversation. I saw her whisper in his ear again before throwing her head back laughing. For just a second, I could have sworn I saw them look in my direction.

Just paranoid, Poppy, just paranoid.

It was easier to navigate my way back to my friends as the club emptied. Both Lizzie and Amanda were staring at Ruth too.

“Lucky bitch,” Lizzie said, taking her drink and draining it in an equally melodramatic fashion. I raised an eyebrow. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who suffered from occasional Ruth-envy.

Amanda nodded. “She does have a way, doesn’t she? I’ll never understand how—”

“Look,” Lizzie interrupted, “they’re coming over.”

Ruth was holding Noah’s hand, guiding him through the remaining dregs of the crowd. She had a self-satisfied grin plastered across her face. The three of us pretended not to notice them approaching. I rubbed the toe of my ballet pump across the floor and peeked out from behind my still-sweaty fringe. I couldn’t tell if it was just my wishful thinking, but Noah didn’t seem particularly happy to have his hand in Ruth’s. As they drew nearer, I became aware of my heart pounding against my ribs like a sledgehammer. Was this what really fancying someone felt like? The thought alone made me blush. As the two of them arrived, I decided it was best to keep my eyes on the floor.

“Noah,” Ruth said, in a loud obnoxious voice, “meet my best friends in the whole wide world.” She gestured to each of us individually. “This is Lizzie, Amanda, and Poppy.” My head nodded instinctively as she mentioned my name. I was still fixating on the floorboards. Nodding was friendly enough, wasn’t it?