Flora flounces across the room to the window seat. She has on a pair of fish-net stockings. Her face is flushed with excitement, eyes staring. She makes to sit down, then spins on her heel and faces the room.
"Disaster," she says. "Jonathan has gone off with that Italian girl."
It takes a few moments to digest this. "Where's Patrick?" says Pete.
Flora gasps, rolls her eyes towards the wall dividing the living room from the kitchen. "In there, talking to David." She lowers her voice to portent-of-doom level. "He has no idea."
She sits down on the window seat, squeezing in next to the Marcus geezer, who looks a bit addled by this turn of events. "How do you know they've gone off together?" I ask. "I saw them," she says, still sounding like she has had years of training at Delphi, "On the stairs."
"What were they doing, Flora?"
"They were talking." She waits while the import of this betrayal sinks in. "And then he said: 'I'll come with you. Just wait while I get my coat.' And then they just left together. He didn't even say goodbye."
Marcus, who's a bit of a baby where these Machiavellian manoeuvres are concerned, says "Are you sure he wasn't just walking her to a cab or something?"
Flora, who has no intention of letting Marcus merely catch a cab back to the girlfriend, shakes her head. "Oh, no," she says. "And she probably doesn't know about Patrick."
We sit and think for a bit. Then Flora straightens her back, flips her chin and says "I think I ought to tell him." Jules goes, "Flora, you don't even know if you've got the right end of the stick. Leave it."
"I couldn't possibly," says Flora. "I have to tell him. I feel too responsible, this happening under my own roof."
Everyone murmurs dissent. "Flora, you mustn't. Leave it for a bit and see what happens." "Really, darling, don't." Flora stands up, smooths down her skirt. "I must," she says. And when I see the look on her face, the little smile playing round the corners of her mouth, everything slots into place. Flora is loving this, every minute of it. Because she is only really happy with her friends when they're suffering. I can't believe I haven't spotted this before; I've seen it in action often enough, been subject to it more than once.
Flora is one of those people who revels in other people's griefs, who can be guaranteed to be on the spot when someone is low. Be there, that is, just long enough to get all the details, see the tears, hand out a couple of consoling shoulder pats and rush off to be the first to spread the news. If she drove, she would pull over at every road-traffic accident she happened to go past. Flora is an unhappy person, one who believes that every disaster in her own life is inflicted on her by outside forces with no contribution of her own, and she is never more content than when she can stare another person's pain in the face.
She starts across the room. "He has to know," she says. "After that last time" - she is referring to an incident of infidelity a couple of years ago, early in Jonathan and Patrick's relationship - "he has a right to know what that little beast is up to." "Fl-" says Jules, but Flora is gone.
We follow in her wake; few people are immune to the appeal of road-traffic accidents. In the kitchen, Flora crouches on her spike heels in front of Patrick, clutching him round the back of the neck and pressing her forehead against his. "He's a bastard, darling," she is saying, "He's not good enough for you. But at least you know you've got your friends." "Damn it," Patrick says, "and just when I've run out of cigarettes." David glances at me, jerks his lower lip down and to the side. "He's heard," says Flora in the voice of Vivien Leigh comforting Leslie Howard at Olivia de Havilland's deathbed. I pour myself a glass of water. "It'll be okay," says Flora, "I know it hurts. It's bound to hurt when you give your love and it gets thrown back in your face."
The doorbell rings. "Shall I go?" Marcus, who's a bit out on a limb, what with not knowing anyone involved in this little tableau, clomps down the stairs to get it. The clomp of two sets of feet return. Jonathan trots into the room, tossing a packet of Camel Lights in his right hand. "Hi, darling," he says. "I was walking Paula to the night bus when I remembered you were running out." He stops, looks around, spots the expression on Patrick's face. "Sweetheart!" he says, "Are you okay? What's happened?"