Just a warning, this is quite dark and I'm trying to write about some very emotive issues which I understand can be difficult and upsetting to read about. All I can say is that I've given this my best shot. I hope that this will shed a little more light on why Charlie is so protective of Scarlett and how that forms the basis of their relationship.
"He's not your responsibility!"
"I remember saying something similar to you once."
(Darkness is Falling)
Don't interfere. That's what Nan had always told her. It was a price that they had to pay for being able to see and hear things that ordinary people couldn't. There had to be rules to protect them and to protect others. The most that you could do was perhaps, pat someone on the shoulder and kindly advise them that they should visit the doctor about that unusual pain in their stomach. Or, perhaps they should pay attention to those road safety ads. It was difficult, of course, but Nan insisted it was for the best. Just because they had a little bit of extra information didn't give them the right to decide other people's lives especially when that information could be rather unreliable.
So when Charlie saw the girl slipping away from the crowd, she knew what she was supposed to do. She was supposed to carry on walking with the others to their final destination; she was supposed to let that person make their own decisions about life and death. She wasn't supposed to interfere. Except, she found herself following the blonde through the streets, away from the bright lights of Jericho's glittering pubs and up towards the bridge which arched across the numerous railway tracks running into and out of the Oxford station. It was possible that the young woman just wanted a few minutes alone, away from the drunken screeches of her companions, to sober up so that she could gain access to the next pub or to make a private phone call. Yes, those were all possible scenarios but Charlie could see the truth. She could see the darkness and despair in Scarlett Collin's soul and despite all her Nan's warnings, she simply couldn't walk away.
Dazzling. If Charlie had to pick one word to describe Scarlett Collins, it would be dazzling. At the start of term, the blonde had swept into Winterville's common room with vivid red lipstick and a deniable air of confidence. She had continued to glitter and sparkle throughout the term, all smiles and laughter, all red lips and beautiful clothing and yet it was hallow. There were dark shadows under her eyes, an expression of haunting loneliness that appeared on her face when she thought she wasn't being observed. Charlie wondered if anyone else saw the misery that seemed to lie beneath that polished veneer. The only time Charlie had ever caught a glimpse of the real Scarlett was when she saw her with Robin Branagh, a gothic looking boy with desperately untidy hair and the sexiest smile Charlie had ever seen. Watching the two of them in the library trying to muffle their laughter, piling their history books into a semi fortress much to the consternation of the chief librarian, Charlie had felt a pang of something, not quite jealousy but close enough.
The girl climbing onto the ledge of the railway bridge wasn't sparkling now. Charlie could feel the rage and grief emanating from her, she could hear her ragged sobs on the stillness of the night air and it hurt. It hurt deep inside Charlie's heart just to witness someone in so much pain. How could she ever walk away?
"I wouldn't do that." Charlie kept her voice calm and low as she openly approached the trembling girl.
Scarlett turned around; her look of startled alarm was rapidly replaced with defiance. "Go away."
Charlie slowly walked over to the bridge. "I can't." The honesty of her statement seemed to throw the girl off guard.
"Please." Charlie's gaze snapped up from the sheer drop below the bridge to Scarlett's face. There was no mistaking the desperation in those sapphire depths or the note of begging in her voice. "Please. Just go." Scarlett looked down at the drop. "It's better this way."
"No!" The word forced itself out of Charlie, it sounded harsh, even accusatory; she struggled to explain herself as quickly as possible. She wasn't judging, she just didn't understand. "I just mean… how could you ever think that?"
The blonde was swaying slightly; it was clear that she was in a deeply intoxicated state but alcohol alone couldn't account for the conviction in her voice, or the chillingly weary manner in which she spoke. "Because it is true. This world would be better off without me. All I do is bring death and pain. I have lost everyone. All I can feel is pain and I just want it to stop." Scarlett took a shuddering breath. "I just don't want to feel anymore."
Charlie's heart hammered against her ribcage but she tried not to show her panic. "Suicide isn't the answer; we can get you help…"
Scarlett cut her off. "I don't want help!" She laughed but without her usual brightness, this sound was dark and bitter. "I've heard it all before. I've had doctors and psychiatrists and social workers… Don't you see what I am? I am a fuck-up! A massive fuck-up!" Scarlett was rolling up her sleeves now, exposing the cuts on her arms to the cold night air. "What kind of person does this to themselves? Aren't you disgusted enough now? To walk away?" Tears were pouring down Scarlett's face, black drops of mascara smearing over her pale skin.
Charlie shook her head in violent disagreement. "It's more common than you think," she replied gently. "It doesn't make you a bad person, you just need an outlet for all that pain." She pulled herself up onto the ledge into a sitting position. "Oxford has an amazing counselling service. OK, in the past maybe you didn't get the help you deserved but you have to keep trying. You have to keep fighting. I don't know you don't see it now but you have so much to live for. You have so much potential."
Scarlett began to cry harder. "No, I don't." She gratefully accepted the tissue that Charlie handed up to her. "I thought if I came to uni, I could wipe out my past, start again, all fresh and new." Charlie shifted uncomfortably at these words; they were too close to her own sentiments, her own ambitions about university. "But I've messed it all up. It's all out of control, I'm drinking too much, going out too much, there's so much pressure! I feel like I'm going to explode. It's like the world is closing in. I should never have gotten in, I'm not clever enough, I'm failing and I just keep going out and drinking…" Scarlett dissolved into tears, her sobs making any further conversation on her behalf impossible.
"You're not the only one," Charlie admitted softly, it was difficult to swallow her pride and admit that she had been finding her course difficult but this girl needed to know that she wasn't alone. "I thought that uni was supposed to be easy. I cried for two hours over my last tutorial hand out." She began to untie the ankle ribbons of her heels. "Look, it's only the first term. We just need to take to your tutors, explain what's been happening; Teverson seems like a nice woman, I'm sure she would be happy to give you the support that you need."
"She'd think that she made a mistake choosing me." Scarlett wiped away her tears and gave Charlie a curious look. "What are you doing?"
Charlie began working on the ribbons of her other heel. "Well, if you don't come down, I'm going to have to go up there," she deliberately kept her voice light and teasing. "These babies cost me sixty quid. Also, they are a bit impractical for standing on ledges." She dropped her shoes with unceremonious thud onto the grass below.
"Oh!" Scarlett watched her in horror. "But they'll be ruined now."
Charlie gracefully sprang up into a standing position; the rough stone of the bridge was freezing against the soles of her feet. "See, can't be all that bad when you still notice a pair of gorgeous shoes?" Without thinking for her own safety, she grasped Scarlett's forearms. One slip and they would both go down. It was a terrifying prospect.
Scarlett tried to move away but Charlie's grip was surprisingly strong for someone so slender and dainty. "Just leave me alone!" she half snarled the words in her frustration. "I'm not your responsibility!"
"Tough," Charlie said decisively. "You are now."
Scarlett cast a look down at the drop, the longing on her face was painful to observe. Charlie had been through some crap in her life but she had never endured the darkness that existed in this girl. It would have made some people run as fast as they could. But, right now, all Charlie wanted to do was hug Scarlett and not let go until it stopped aching inside. "It doesn't matter," a strange resignation entered Scarlett's voice as she looked back up at the medium; inwardly Charlie shuddered at the anguish on her face. "If I jumped, it wouldn't matter. I wouldn't die. I never die."
Charlie frowned with puzzlement. It was the alcohol talking now, definitely the alcohol, a litre or so of vodka tended to do that to some people, they became convinced that they were invincible. Hadn't she seen it herself with her own mother? "Well, I can," she replied briskly. "So, what do you say we get down from here?" Awkwardly, they both shuffled off the ledge, dropping onto the grassy verge below. Charlie's arm crept around Scarlett's waist to keep her upright.
"I'm so sorry." Scarlett gave Charlie a watery smile, "I am so incredibly sorry. For all of this…" she gestured weakly around her.
Charlie wrapped her arm more securely around her and decided to make light of the situation. "It's alright, they weren't that special," she gave Scarlett a warm smile; "You can make it up to me when we go shoe shopping tomorrow."