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midnight coward

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It’s sunny when Lily arrives; she puts her sunglasses on and shrugs her cardigan off the moment she exits the airport and hails a cab, reading from a printout for directions. The driver furrows his brow, a little, at Lily’s broken Greek, but in the end he does manage, and Lily breathes out, relieved.

She snacks on pita and chicken gyros after unpacking a little; stares out onto the shoreline until the sun lowers itself a bit toward the late afternoon.

She manages not to think of Emily until that moment she steps out of her sandals and digs her feet into the sand, where the water meets the shore. The thought fills her with a sort of longing that oddly leaves her not quite sad enough, not anymore.

*

That night, in her room, Lily curls up in a bed too big for one, a book in hand; tries not to think about Emily, and the look she gets whenever Lily mentioned Cyprus, before.

She tries to sleep, but fails for hours; when she feels the onset of sunrise, she decides to have her coffee outside, on the sand; thinks it’s probably where to best catch her first daybreak here.

The breeze is chilly in the morning, and she hugs her mug of coffee closer. She fixes her gaze at the line where the sky ends and the sea begins, looks at it blankly until her eyes hurt from the steadily growing light.

*

Lily spends most of Day 1 jumpy; she assumes it must be for the lack of sleep. In the next meal she takes, she orders lamb and takes it with couscous and random fresh fruit juice. By then, it’s already noontime and the sun is high and hot, burning right into the roof of anything Lily’s in. She puts her iPod on, shuffles to Sigur Ros and stares out into the sea, right in the cabana, where she falls asleep for the first time on the island.

*

She wakes at 4. She shrugs off her robe, puts sunblock on before heading out for a swim. She reminds herself it’s only for a few days, and that the sea won’t be near forever, so might as well. The sun’s relatively more pleasant than it was a few hours prior, and there are children running everywhere. For a moment, Lily looks around, wonders briefly where the fuck the parents of these children are, before dismissing the thought altogether and setting her things down on an available recliner.

The water is warm when she gets there, wrapping around her as she walks right into it, carefully, feet negotiating with the sand underneath. It’s been a while since she’s been to the sea, and for a moment, it scares her, being here. She stays put until it doesn’t anymore; laughs lightly, even, at the face of an unexpected wave.

She tries to swim, a little; feels her arms and legs get sore at the effort, trying all along not to succumb to the current. After a while, Lily decides she’s had enough sea for the day and gets out, dripping all over the sand, now slowly cooling with the slow descent of dusk.

Lily’s staring out into the horizon when the sun sets, watches as the sky changes from one color to another as the sun slowly disappears; she thinks about Emily toward the end of it, when the sky’s more the color of dark denim, wonders if this is what’s in Emily’s mind, whenever the thought of this place crosses it.

*

The shore comes alive at nightfall; the music comes on, and the wooden torches lining the beach are finally lit. Lily looks around, wide awake, finds the smaller children gone, only to be replaced by the slightly bigger ones. She smirks at the thought, a little, before getting up to follow the smoke to where a stall is cooking up kebabs.

She takes her dinner quietly in one corner, facing the steady stream of people jumping from one joint to the next; sits back and lights a cigarette after her meal, nursing a can of beer in her other hand. Off one dark corner, Lily spies on two girls trying too hard to keep their hands off each other, yet even their shadows suggest movement otherwise.

Lily smiles to herself as she looks away, the familiarity of it stinging, somewhat; she tries not to think of Emily, tries to be neither sad nor envious, yet the sheer stabbing pain in the middle of her chest suggests that she may be failing, a little.

Curiously, when she averts her eyes, there’s a girl at the table across her, shifting her eyes in kind from the same sight; she catches Lily catching her, just in time. Lily sees how her eyes are blue, and the faint smile she flashes Lily makes Lily turn away.

*

There’s something about the girl that draws her, Lily thinks; perhaps, she tells herself, perhaps it’s the way she stares. Really, Lily does not mean to look over every so often, but she feels the weight of the girl’s eyes upon her throughout, and it’s making her queasy, to say the least; but then again, it can be the alcohol.

After her third beer, Lily gets the tab, gets ready to leave, and on the way out, the girl approaches her by the door, a hand around Lily’s wrist, loosely; forward, yes, Lily thinks, but then, a look into those eyes, and Lily feels her heart drop, a little, a nervous gap in her stomach forming.

“Do I know you?” Lily asks, swallowing.

The girl says, “No,” letting go of Lily’s hand. “It’s Effy.” She offers a hand shake in turn that Lily takes, weakly. Lily’s hand is cold, despite the hot, humid night. “Leaving?”

“It’s late,” Lily says. She knows it’s a lie; she has neither a watch nor a curfew. For crying out loud, she’s on a vacation.

“It’s not even 10,” says Effy, smiling.

Lily looks down on Effy’s bare wrist and asks, “How do you know?”

Effy says, “I don’t,” smile growing wider. “You should stay.”

Looking at Effy one last time, bewildered, Lily finds herself sinking into a nearby chair, and Effy follows in kind. She motions to the waiter for another round of drinks, and when Lily moves to protest, Effy only says, “Let me.” She’s not really looking at Lily, but rather, at the two girls they’d both been looking at for the past hour or so.

When the beer arrives, Effy pushes one toward her. “They won’t last the night like that,” she only says, before taking a swig herself.

“Sorry?”

Effy nods her head to the direction of the girls in the corner and Lily follows with her eyes. “Those two right there,” explains Effy. Lily watches their shadows come too close; they must be talking to each other so softly. “Either something happens tonight, or one of them is leaving in the morning.”

“Do you know them?”

Effy shakes her head. “No,” she says, lighting a cigarette. “Only girls like them.”

Lily shifts her eyes back to the girls; one of them is gesturing with a hand, while the other seems to be rubbing the other girl’s static forearm lightly. Lily feels the gap in her stomach flutter a bit wider at the realization. “Girls like them, yeah?”

“I mean, don’t you?”

For a moment, Lily’s mouth is dry, half-open. She’s staring at the girls in the corner feeling this ridiculous sort of hope; someone has to have a happy ending, she just thinks, and when the girls kiss, finally, Lily draws a breath, blinking back, for a moment or two, the threat of tears.

“You alright, babe?” Effy says, and Lily’s heart skips a beat, erratically.

“I’m fine,” says Lily, coughing. When she looks Effy’s way, she has a smile on that Lily initially interprets as victorious, if not for the tinge of sadness that ghosts across it halfway through. “Are you alright?” she asks back in kind.

Effy bites her lip as she looks at her. “Tell me, why would either of us be here, alone, if we were?”

Lily means to answer, but when she opens her mouth, nothing comes out. Instead, she asks, “Where are you staying?”

Effy finishes her beer first, before, “I’ll be here tomorrow night, same time.” She settles the tab before pushing herself off her seat. “I’ll see you around, babe,” she says, before walking away.

*

Lily runs into Effy the following morning, around noontime; Lily is on her way to get brunch when she spots Effy smoking outside the restaurant.

“Lunch?” Effy asks without looking; she’s staring out at the sea.

Lily shifts to her other leg. “Brunch, actually,” she says, looking away herself. “I kind of woke up late.”

“Sorry to have kept you last night,” says Effy.

Waving a hand lightly, Lily just says, “It’s alright,” and then, “I was kind of curious where the girls were taking their situation, anyway.”

Effy smiles, looking down at the table. “Though I am willing to bet the morning after wasn’t too pleasant.”

“You seem to know a lot about these things,” says Lily, her tone light, a bit teasing even.

“As I’ve said, I know a few girls,” Effy just says.

Lily’s just not used to this – making friends with total strangers in faraway islands; much less, potentially flirting with random girls on said islands. She breathes in as she settles into the seat across Effy. “Well who’s to say – it could have been a different story,” she just says. And then, “Have you eaten?” When Effy shakes her head, Lily continues, “Well, are you going to?”

“Depends,” Effy just says.

“On what?”

“On whether you’ll make it worth my while.”

Lily smirks, drops her things on the table, and Effy slides her eyes over, looking nonplussed yet smiling cryptically herself. “So, anything I could get you, then?” Lily asks, bracing her hands against the table, leaning closer. She’s grinning like she’s gone mad, and perhaps that’s what this is – some sort of temporary bout with insanity.

Effy sighs, says, “You can’t go wrong with omelettes.” Lily laughs before going in.

*

Effy is quiet throughout the meal; Lily’s known her for only a few hours, and yet she knows enough to figure out how Effy’s not a girl of too many words. Effy stares out at the sea after, a lit cigarette in hand, her feet propped up on the empty chair beside her. Lily notes how Effy’s wearing nothing but an oversized shirt over her bikini; how her legs are long.

Lily swallows before looking out in kind; reminds herself firmly that just because Effy knows girls doesn’t mean she’s into them herself. Outside, the sea is calm under the blistering sun, and the waves are gentle; it’s positively scorching and there are sweat beads forming on Lily’s skin, yet when Effy shifts, her legs brushing against each other, Lily can’t help but shiver.

*

“You look like someone I know,” Effy says, finally, stretching a little. They’ve walked from the restaurant to the shore, and are now lying back on the sand, facing the sea.

Lily just laughs and says, “I get that a lot.” The silence is actually pleasant where they’re stationed, though really, Lily doesn’t mind the interruption at all.

Effy shrugs, leans back on her elbows on the sand, looks out as the sun makes it way down into the horizon. She asks, “Does it bother you?”

“Not really,” Lily says, looking out in kind. “Though the last time someone mistook me for someone else it was kind of traumatic.”

Effy turns her head to look at her, tilting her face a little, curiously. “Tell me about it,” she says, pushing herself up, wrapping her arms around her knees as she lights a fag.

Lily’s quiet a while; she thinks about the wisdom in confiding in a complete stranger in a foreign place, yet the look Effy has on – so authentically curious – is just impossible to deny. “She was in love with someone who wasn’t there,” Lily sighs, caving in. “And I was in love with her.”

Effy takes a long drag, and Lily watches how her arms are so thin. The sun is setting and the light it casts is warm. When she exhales, Effy offers the fag Lily’s way. “Is that right,” she only says, catching Lily’s eye. Lily takes a moment to be disarmed. Effy smiles, perhaps sensing the shift. “Tell me more,” she just says, and the way the words roll off her tongue makes Lily swallow.

“Well,” Lily begins, breathing in. “Her name is Emily.”

(Effy laughs a little, covering her mouth with the back of her hand haphazardly before taking another drag. “Go on,” she says, though to Lily she looks like she knows something that Lily doesn’t.)

*

Lily finds it odd, talking about Emily, considering she’s never had to do it before; not even with her mother, her relentless questions as to why it was that Lily felt the need to fuck off alone to Cyprus, of all places, notwithstanding. Effy doesn’t say anything throughout; just looks at her while wearing out fag after fag. Half the time, Lily feels interesting; the other half, so terribly raw and open.

“You don’t really speak much, do you,” Lily says, finally, sighing as she reaches over for the last cigarette. Effy crumples the pack quickly after, shrugging as she stubs her cigarette in kind. “You’re gutting me here, to be honest,” Lily adds.

Effy laughs, looking up. “Sorry,” she just says, and then, tossing the crumpled pack aside, “We’re out of fags.”

There’s little Lily can do to help herself from laughing in kind; Effy has her way of shifting things that throws Lily completely out of focus, and it’s entirely effortless.

“If I have any more,” Lily says, clearing her throat before drawing from her cigarette. “I think my lungs are about to fall off.”

Effy smiles and says, “Suit yourself,” as she rubs her hands together before rubbing her legs. Night has fallen and Lily thinks Effy’s cold, makes a gesture with her towel. Effy shakes her head and motions for Lily’s lit fag instead, leaning in.

Lily holds her breath, watching how, as the beach torches are lit one by one, the shadows play on Effy’s face, alternating with the fire. Effy says nothing, just smiles, her lips stretching so close to Lily’s fingers, and Lily feels something positively akin to burning there; she’s always smiling, Lily thinks, though she’s never really looked like she meant it.

“Tell me something,” Lily says, after, watching Effy exhale smoke through thin lips.

“Like what?”

“Anything.”

Effy looks like she’s considering the question for a moment; the next she’s getting up and dusting herself. Lily breathes in, thinks, Fuck, now I’ve done it, before Effy extends a hand. Lily looks up, confused. “Let’s get fucked up,” Effy just says, and really, Effy does diversion really fucking well.

*

Effy doesn’t have a drink of choice, Lily notes, and it’s only because she drinks fucking anything. They begin slowly with a round of beers in one joint; when someone turns the music on, Effy stands up, dances a little, before flirting casually with the girl at the bar, looking all the while at Lily back at their table. A few moments later, she comes back with a round of vodka. Lily sits back, amused.

“On the house,” Effy beams, raising her glass. “Cheers.”

“You pretty girls get away with everything, don’t you,” Lily just says, raising her glass in kind.

Effy tosses her head back with the shot, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand after – the sight of her forces Lily to down whatever ill-advised thing is in her glass as well, just as quickly, the familiar burn of it searing past her throat to just below her stomach. Not good, she tells herself after, rubbing at her temple.

“You alright, babe?” Effy asks, leaning in closer.

Lily blinks twice, feels her face flushing hotly. “Jesus, we need fags,” she just says, laughing.

“I remember how you were oddly concerned about your lungs a while back,” Effy just says.

“Actually, now I’m more oddly concerned about keeping up with you,” Lily replies.

Effy smiles, slowly, in a way that reminds Lily of flames licking at the end of a newly lit cigarette. “Hmm,” she just says, fingertips skimming the rim of her now empty glass. Effy shifts her eyes from Lily’s, looks around momentarily before quirking her brows.

Effy takes Lily’s hand from across the table, says, “Let’s go,” a low hum at the back of her throat. Lily swallows hard at the voice, at the feel of Effy’s hand tightening around hers, at how she’s so essentially blind in the midst of things.

At how every fucking inch of her is thrilled by all of it.

*

They’re selling cigarettes two stalls down from where they were just drinking. Effy skillfully pulls at the plastic seal around it, taps the head of the pack against the back of her hand once, twice, before tearing a small opening from one corner.

Somewhere, someone seems to have changed the CD; music comes out crackling and smoky. Lily turns her head a little. “Is that Tricky?”

Effy shrugs, suckling a newly lit fag softly to life; Lily has to force herself to look away as Effy offers the pack in turn, says uncertainly, “Hooverphonic?”

Lighting her cigarette in kind, Lily just says, “Is it just me, or are they trying to get people to fuck on the beach?”

Effy laughs, closes her eyes. “Not that I would mind,” she just says, swaying slightly to the music even, and Lily’s cigarette nearly slips past her fingertips. “I’d fuck to that song, actually.”

Despite best efforts, Lily finds herself flinching at the word, fuck; thankful that at least, Effy’s got her eyes closed. Lily bites into her lip to keep the improper sounds in.

When Effy opens her eyes, she says, “A lovely color you have here,” smiling as she reaches out tentatively for Lily’s cheek. “Suits you. And your hair.”

Lily swallows, looks down, says an absent “Thanks,” before tucking her hair behind her ear, her cheek burning where Effy had touched it briefly. On the bar, someone pushes two glasses against their arms.

Effy smiles, says, “Look.”

“What is this?”

Bringing the glass closer to her face, Effy just says, “Screwdriver.”

“Why are you trying to get me drunk?” asks Lily, smirking.

Effy smirks lightly back, downs her drink in one go before saying, “You’re a very funny girl, in that you have to ask.”

Lily says nothing, sips her drink slowly; her throat is parched, and she knows it’s out of something else entirely.

*

Somewhere between leaving the bar they were just in and hopping into the one next to it, Effy starts talking about a girl. “It was an in-between,” she says, and Lily holds her breath. “Truth be told, somehow I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.”

Lily bites her lip, reaches out and touches Effy’s arm, lightly, as if to say, I hear you well. “What happened?” she asks, lighting a fag; as if she doesn’t already know how it ends. Effy reaches for their pack, brushing against Lily’s hand, lights a fag herself.

Effy asks, “What do you think?”

“Somebody once told me I’m shit at guessing,” she says, looking down. After all this time, some things that remind her of Emily still manage to make her smile. Sometimes. “Why wasn’t it going anywhere?”

“She likes circles,” is all Effy says. She smiles in a way that’s painful, it makes Lily look away.

When Lily averts her eyes, it falls on a sign tacked above a blackboard on which a menu has been scribbled; as to which stall owns it, she’s not sure. The sign reads, Tequila. Then, below, Hall of Fame. Tugging on Effy’s arm, she’s saying, half-pointing, “Sounds mighty interesting, if you ask me.”

Effy follows her eyes, and then, “You’re getting better at diversion, too?”

Lily laughs, pulls harder. “I’m a fast learner,” she says. “Let’s go.”

*

Effy’s between her sixth and seventh shot when she pauses to kiss her, pulling her in with a hand at the back of her head. Lily lets out a soft, “Oh,” at the first brief parting, and Effy pulls back a little to grin at her, her blue eyes glistening. When Lily darts her tongue out to lick briefly at her lip, Effy pulls her back in again, her tongue snaking out this time, her teeth nibbling lightly. Lily struggles for something to hold on to, clawing against the strings of Effy’s bikini under her shirt.

“Jesus, you’re fucked up proper, aren’t you,” Lily asks when she manages to say something, finally.

Effy shakes her head, “Not yet.”

Lily’s eyelids are heavy with this sudden cloud of inexplicable desire. “Is it cheating if,” she begins, steadying herself against the bar and eyeing the seemingly endless row of shot glasses that still have to be dealt with. “If we took turns with these.”

“I don’t care,” Effy shrugs, a slow wicked smile forming. “Body shots, anyone?”

Lily licks the ready salt off her wrist, takes a shot quickly before nodding, “Sure.”

*

Later, Lily will tell herself that it’s okay to leave some things behind; reminds herself that it’s better for none of this to be remembered, much less be mentioned.

So after Effy downs the 21st shot glass amidst the roaring laughter of curious bar patrons, she kisses Lily a bit more forcefully; by then the alcohol has solidified its hold more firmly around Effy’s motor skills, Lily notes, and they sway unsteadily against the bar, Lily pinning Effy against it. There’s applause, some whistling, and Lily’s really none the better, at all, and so when Effy comes up for breath, Lily says, despite better judgment, “Let’s go.”

She tells herself, she won’t remember any of it in the morning: The way Effy pushes her inside the bathroom, the way the bamboo cubicle door shakes when Effy kisses Lily against it, the sounds they make as they try to get under each other’s clothes, under each other’s skin; the color of Effy’s eyes as they open slowly when Lily tears her mouth away from her shoulder, as her fingers slide inside of her.

In the aftermath of things, Lily holds Effy up by pinning her against the concrete wall, waits for her breathing to even out. “We should get you into bed,” Lily says, a long while after, and Effy straightens herself up against her, pulling at the hem of her shirt as if it’s bound to get longer with the gesture. In the presence of alcohol in her veins, Lily runs both her hands up Effy’s bare thighs, restraint be damned.

Effy shivers against her. “Take me home,” is all she says.

*

When they start walking toward Lily’s hotel, the crowd on the beach bar scene has considerably thinned. A few of the torches have already been extinguished, and when Lily looks up, she actually sees stars. She’s got Effy’s arm slung around her shoulder for support, another arm around Effy’s waist, and Lily marvels at how the sand is nearly impossibly difficult to tread now, cursing inwardly.

“Are we there yet?” Effy asks, grinning slightly, somewhere in the middle.

Lily looks at her, almost taken. Almost. Her heart’s a bit too drunk to even discern the feeling properly, and yet the way it’s beating is almost familiar. “Yeah,” she just says, swallowing. “Hang on.”

The thing about Effy is that she’s unbelievably light, and somewhere along the way, Lily’s almost tempted to just carry her outright in both arms. (Effy protests twice, pushing Lily’s arms away. “Not a fucking baby,” she slurs.)

Collapsing into the bed with her a long while after, Effy just says, “You have her eyes,” touches Lily’s cheek gently before kissing her again, the taste of tequila still bitter in her mouth.

For the first time since being first relentlessly compared to this unknown girl, Lily feels a bit slighted, a brief sharp stab in her chest.

*

When she wakes up, she finds Effy curled into herself on her side of the bed, turned away. In a brief flashback, she remembers Emily in the exact same place, and just like that, Lily is unable to stop herself from crying.

Outside, morning starts coming, a soft slow glow coming in through the curtains.

*

Of course, Effy is gone when Lily wakes a second time; foolishly, her eyes dart around for a note – just something. She’s left nothing behind, Lily realizes soon after, and after a while she manages to make peace with the fact that some girls just don’t.

*

The following day, Lily has brunch in the restaurant where she found Effy the day before; orders tika with pita, sits back with her fresh mango juice, looking out into the sea, again. She doesn’t like to admit to herself, how she’s actually waiting for Effy to come by, though after the fourth hour of her wait, she comes to her senses and gets the fuck out.

She takes a dip in the sea, a little after noon; the sand is painful where there is no shade, and Lily has to run into the sea to keep her bare soles from burning. The sea is warm around her, and she keeps herself submerged up to the chin mostly, for fear of sunburn, of all things. The sun is high and hot, and on skin it feels a lot like flaying.

Lily doesn’t swim now; just keeps in time with the rolling of the waves, gentle in the middle of the nearly still afternoon breeze. Once or twice, she thinks she sees Effy somewhere on the shore, only to have to blink once or twice to disprove herself.

When she gets out of the water, she’s been in so long that her skin is slightly wrinkled, and she looks at her fingertips in awe, smiling inwardly even as she starts her walk back to her room for a brief nap.

Much to Lily’s surprise, Effy’s there at the lobby when she gets there. “You were at the beach?” she asks, an amused look crossing her face. “It’s noon.”

Lily shrugs, says, “I like the water.” And then, “Where were you?”

Effy gets up from the lobby couch, stretches. She’s wearing shorts this time, though truth be told, her shirt does a better job of covering more of her thighs. “Walking around,” she just says. After a quiet while of shifting from one leg to the other, she asks, finally, “Any plans for tonight?”

Lily blinks. Did she actually want a repeat? she asks herself before remembering a solemn throbbing at the back of her head. “Last night was…” she begins.

Effy reaches out, wraps a hand around Lily’s wrist gingerly. “I promise we won’t remember anything this time,” she just says, and the way she says it is almost sad, like she regrets having any memory of the night before. Like the events of the previous night actually hurt her.

Lily finds herself flinching at the thought, pulls her arm away. “Maybe not tonight, Ef,” she says.

Effy visibly shrinks into herself, her arms crossed in front of her, as if in a self-hug. “It’s alright,” she shrugs, feigning nonchalance, though the way it comes off is totally deflated, and the lie shines through, anyhow.

*

Lily tries to spend the night indoors, only to fail a few hours after having dinner, and soon, she finds herself sitting by the shore, armed with a pack of cigarettes. It’s a fairly isolated spot a few meters away from the center of the beach life, where all the people are, dancing around lit torches and laughing.

Lily looks and wonders if Effy is among them; if she’s doing shots now with another girl, altogether, and unexpectedly, the thought hits her with a sharp pain somewhere in her chest. She breathes out, smoke coming out of her lips shakily, before quickly taking in a fresh drag; her thoughts are alternating between Emily and Effy and it’s quite maddening, to be honest.

She’s on her fourth cigarette when something slender slides in next to her; the bare skin of arms and legs brushing against Lily’s tell her who it is, exactly, and Lily finds herself closing her eyes.

“Something mellow tonight then,” Effy says quietly, taking a cigarette from the pack Lily’s holding, her hand lingering a bit longer than warranted. When Lily still doesn’t say anything, she asks, “Was it something I said? I’m sorry I was really fucking smashed, and—”

“You said I had her eyes,” Lily says, sighing.

Effy mutters, “Shit,” softly, after Lily trails off; rubs her face with her non-cigarette holding hand in mild frustration. “I’m sorry.”

“No worries,” Lily smiles, though it’s too thin to be genuine. “I’m always a semblance of someone else; takes time to get used to, is all.”

They spend a good while quiet, after, wearing down their own fags, one after the other, extinguishing butt after butt against the sand beneath.

After a while, Effy says, “It’s all gap-filling, this. It’s too brief to mean anything, don’t you think.”

Lily shrugs, flicks off what remains of her cigarette to the side. “I don’t know,” she just says. She gets up after that, starts peeling off her clothes and dropping them on the space on the sand she left. The night around her is cold.

“What in the world,” Effy says, laughing lightly. “You’ll get hypothermia, or something.”

“The sea should be warmer at night after being under the sun for so long,” Lily just says. And then, looking down at Effy, she extends a hand. “Come on.”

Effy shakes her head. “I don’t swim well,” she says, though even in the dark, the lie is obvious.

Lily humors her. “Come on then, just this once. With me,” she says, tugging upwards at the hem of Effy’s shirt, and Effy has no other choice but to raise her hands and let her. Lily tries not to gasp at the things she finds underneath, tries to glide her hands over Effy’s bare stomach as clinically as possible. She discards Effy’s shirt along with her own on the sand, pulls her by the hand playfully, then breaking out into a half-run toward the sea.

The sea stills around them as they stand there, unmoving. Effy begins saying, “I remember one time…”

Lily shakes her head, hooking both hands behind Effy’s neck, and pulls her in, kissing her softly.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Lily says after, and Effy clears her throat. “What about you?”

“My flight leaves in the afternoon,” Effy says, and Lily feels Effy’s hand tightening around her waist, as if pulling her closer.

“Where to after?”

“Bristol.”

Lily feels herself stiffen; wonders how the world can be so fucking small at times. She remembers Emily and the word ‘distance’ as she lowers her face into the crook of Effy’s neck, sniffing slightly. She smells of salt water and things Lily will likely never encounter again.

“And you?” asks Effy, after a while.

Lily clears her throat. “Some place else, I guess. But definitely not home – not just yet.”

“You should come with me to Bristol,” Effy says, and under the scarce light of the moon, Lily actually sees her smile like she means to. Like the thought excites her.

Lily smiles in kind. “Maybe I should,” she says. “Someday, perhaps?”

Effy laughs a little, an actual giggle punctuated with the sound of water splashing, and Lily lets out a small yelp in surprise.

When Lily’s eyes come to focus, after, Effy’s kissing her again, licking the salt off the corner of her mouth; she tells herself this is the way it is – doesn’t matter if it takes all of three months or three days, the point is, things end.

Lily holds her breath throughout the kiss, until her lungs ache and it all feels like drowning.

*

At the edge of daybreak, later, Lily will look out into the sea, saying, “I don’t think I’ve even mentioned my name.”

Effy laughs weakly, extending a hand. “A do over, then,” she says. “Effy Stonem.”

“Stonem,” Lily repeats, smiling. “Hi. I’m Lily.” She feels like she’s been up way too long, and yet she’s too wide awake for sleep.

Effy just says, “Lily,” a sleepy hum to it at the end. “Sounds lovely.”

They sit side-by-side, legs outstretched on the sand, shoulders touching. Lily checks their pack, and is surprised to find one more stick untouched. Effy looks on amusedly herself.

“For the road,” Effy says, lighting it. Lily leans in, takes a drag, and closes her eyes.

*

It’s already dark when Lily leaves the following day, and the lights on the runway as the plane takes off remind her of beach torches. Leaving almost always reminds her of Emily, but this time, looking out the window, she’s thinking of Effy, smiles at the memory of her silhouette when they parted around sunrise.#