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Variations on an Ending

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JJ likes Emily.

Emily likes JJ.


He and Emily were quite good friends, at least he assumed they were, which made the situation he was currently in just beyond the border of confounding. After all, he enjoyed shagging her, purely as friends of course, and really would not turn down the opportunity to do it again. However being in her home at this particular instant had little to do with their friendship and far more to do with her twin's rather indifferent yet somehow convincing demands.

 It smells the same. It smells the same as when he and Freddie had been sat right in the same room prior to the Love Ball. It is a curious scent; like something organic (homemade stew perhaps) mixed with peppermint handsoap and some kind of hairspray. Normally hairspray tickled his nostrils in an unpleasant way, especially the way girls at school chose to cover themselves in it. But in this house it just hangs in the air unassumingly. It actually smells distinctly like Katie Fitch. (Not like Emily, no. She doesn't use beauty products as far as JJ knew.) It all reminds him of alcohol somehow. Likely due to the fact that whenever he had spent any sort of time with Katie, her breath (hot and sweet) had been laced with the same, so much so that he often could taste it on his own lips. Power of association. He wasn't sure he liked the taste. And even more so, it's like that time camping in the woods when everything had gone to pot, and Emily had mistaken Katie's sleeping bag for her own, laid it out beside him and grinned. (He could remember it clearly. It was at him but not for him, like they were sharing a secret (He hated secrets) but he was clueless what it was. She was high on mushrooms (a risky behaviour) so it was very possible she did think they were sharing a secret.) Then Naomi had crawled in, smelling almost identical to Katie. A cloud of weed aroma following her in as she giggled and tossed her own blanket onto Emily's, the alcopops she had obviously consumed leaving their sickly scent in the confined space. JJ also remembers ho she said nothing to him at the time, even though it was his tent. Her glazed eyes had focussed (as best they could under the conditions) only on Emily.

 Something had turned in his stomach at that point. That was also a vivid memory. That was the reason for Emily's smile. She wasn't sharing a secret with him. It was with Naomi. And as Naomi rather rudely invited herself into his tent without thanks, he could swear a familiar memory surfaced and he sat silently as both girls lay staring at the roof of the tent (his tent), murmuring to each other and giggling occasionally.

 Emily was supposed to be his friend, not Naomi's, not after that night at the Roxy. He was better. Maybe he didn't start pointless arguments in Politics class like her, but he was there. Always there. Reliable old JJ. Always there. For Cook, for Freds, for Emily. And they were only ever there for him when it was convenient. Resentment had settled in towards both Emily and Naomi for taking advantage. That was, until Emily had turned to him and asked what he thought about dinosaurs. It was a strange topic for late night conversation but he wouldn't turn down an opportunity to tell Naomi (who was saying that she didn't like nor believe in dinosaurs) something she didn't already pretend to know everything about. They had both fallen asleep while he was talking but to be fair, when he looked at the digital display on his wristwatch, he had been going on for about 21 minutes straight.

 But he remembers at that point missing Cook.

 That night changed everyone, including, for some unfathomable reason, himself. He had woken up during the night, after a nightmare, by a jostling sort of movement. The air in the tent was overly warm and heavy breathing next to him was laced with alcohol still. If such things as sauna pubs existed, he was certain it would smell like that. He focussed on his thoughts and tried to stop wondering which of the girls next to him was also having a nightmare.

 In the morning, the girls were out of the his tent before him and rest had improved his mood exponentially. His mother always said he was a grouch when overtired. He followed them, made comment to which they responded similarly to the previous night, like they were sharing a secret again. It wasn't until he bent down to grab a Tic-Tac that his brain came to a startling conclusion. His tent, inside, it smelled like his room after he shagged Emily. Logic being JJ's strong point left no doubt what had occurred between she and Naomi last night. Instantly things were wrong, and the world was too bright and too loud, and his mind spun with implications. Distraction was necessary. Tic-Tacs. Wheels spun and absences were noted aloud. Thank God. For the rest of the day, despite the fear of losing Katie, searching everywhere, calling, Emily kept smiling and touching Naomi at every opportunity. No one else seemed to notice how odd that was. It wasn't normal.


“JJ,” Katie's voice seems piercing and unpleasant in contrast to his quiet memories, even though in reality she was sounding much less abrasive than usual. Once he meets her eyes, shifting uncomfortably beside her, she shakes her head.

 “You're such a spaz. Where's your head at anyway?”

 She's smiling but to him it feels like more of an accusation. (He doesn't doubt she has a soft spot for him now and not just because he's not terrible at sex anymore.) He can't tell her he was thinking about her sister because as socially inept as he's told he is, he's fairly certain that is a taboo, especially if teen dramas have imparted any such knowledge. And despite her best efforts, Katie was the polar opposite of Effy Stonem – she was practically transparent.

 “Hello! JJ?” She sounds more impatient this time. He forces a timid smile.

 “Sorry, Katie.” She looks less forgiving and he decides it would be a bad time to ask if she is just using him because she's obviously lonely and it's a perfect method for revenge on her twin. Quite frankly, he doesn't care as much as he expected to. He's rather lonely too. They seem to have that in common these days, being ignored by people they care about. A twinge in his chest reminds him of Freds, and then a stronger one making him think of Cook. He wishes Cook was here as well. And for some reason, he doesn't think Katie would mind particularly either. They are odd around each other now, but not disagreeable. But he's learned not to ask these things. Experience has taught him that things he thinks are good ideas are usually not in reality.

 “God, you're as bad as Emily. Go upstairs and grab me a jumper. I'm cold.”

 It's only when he's halfway up the staircase that he realises that she was likely not asking for a jumper at all. He mutters and mentally berates himself but it's too late now. His mind is whirling with ideas how to be suave and fix this but nothing seems right. His palms begin to sweat with the enormity of his mistake and he wills (quite futilely) his heart beat to slow. What would Freddie do? No. That won't do. He'd just shag Effy and that certainly wouldn't fix things with Katie. Cook? Also not good, better perhaps but he can't channel that lazy charm yet. He's too honest and Cook is not.

 The corridor is dim, the only light coming through a crack in the door that is emblazoned with “Sexy” in cute cursive. He assumes it must be Katie's though he's never seen her bedroom. (They've shagged a few times now but never here). He pushes on the door tentatively though he's not sure why. It opens another few inches (approximately 5.08 centimetres, really).

 If his mistake with Katie had been a serious faux-pas, this one was one of monumentally epic proportions that he couldn't even begin to fathom the consequences. Oh my gid--- FUCK.

 They don't see him, although really the only one that could in their current position is Naomi and that fear is enough to root him frozen in place. He suddenly can't feel his arms; they aren't responding to stimulus. He wonders momentarily if shock can induce paralysis in an otherwise physically healthy individual. Emily's face is somewhere between Naomi's legs, her ass in the air, pink knickers still in tact. JJ feels a rush of relief (and a twinge of disappointment to be honest) that if he is caught, he can truthfully say he didn't really see anything. It was a geometric impossibility unless the laws of physics magically changed.

 He could see Naomi's face however, screwed up like she is solving a maths problem (and JJ knows she isn't very talented in that area. He has that much on her at least. Well, that and the fact he isn't a flaming arsehole 90% of the time.) She doesn't appear enthused about the situation she's in, which he finds quite odd considering the supposed obsession between females and oral sex. Or so Cook had said (“Bloody lick this and that but not like that. Now do it for an hour. Fucking ridiculous. But they gag for it more than cock, J.”) And Freddie who insisted that it was something that girls loved and was fairly enjoyable to give. JJ isn't sure exactly how true either statement is but Naomi's face certainly doesn't give that indication. If anything, she looks impatient and frustrated, if not plain bored by it all. She's upset maybe but he can't really be trusted to properly interpret social cues and body language. Bored, sad.... But mostly bored. There's a word he learned in Philosophy lessons that is bouncing around his mind, knocking against everything else. “Ennui”. It's a terrible word, he thinks. It bombards him with images of his mother, father, Cook, Freddie, Effy, and now Naomi. He bites hard on his lip to stop from screaming at all the visions and noises to stop, the echoes of impermeable unhappiness everywhere around him. The pain is shocking, bitter and tastes like metal.

 Suddenly, like something has snapped, his hearing returns and like he's stepped into a hurricane, he hears the pulse of heavy breathing around him. Surrounding. It's too much like that night in the tent. It even smells the same.

 It's too much. Too much, too much. But he needs to get Katie her jumper. Shit, shit. A tingling returns to his extremities and he flexes his fingers, testing. Yes, they move. Taking a careful step backwards he pulls the door closed to a crack. He can still hear them and when he's quite sure his legs are not going to turn to jelly, the panic sets in. He needs a jumper. Fuck. A jumper. But his mind reels with what he just witnesses and his above average problem solving skills are muted and lost. He's locked on, standing dumbly in the Fitch hall, staring at a mostly closed door.

 An unexpected burst of logic graces him with a plan. There's another room with a poster of Britney Spears on it. Inside is a mess reminiscent of his own bedroom. There's a black jumper on the floor and black is said by the Hair & Beauty girls at college to match anything. He takes it.

 He hands it to Katie with a shaky hand and prays she can't see what he saw on his face. He was transparent too. The fact is she doesn't seem to care. She gives him only a quick glance and snatches the offered garment. Her nose twitches (in a way he would normally find adorable if he didn't feel like he was going to explode at any minute).

 “This isn't mine,” she states. “Christ, JJ. It's tiny! Are you blind or something?” Somehow her voice is small and lacks the venom the words should accompany. She sighs. He's just noticed the skateboard on it. It was a boy's jumper.

 “I thought it would fit you,” he stutters, caught off-guard. Then she does look at him, a mixture of confusion and appreciation.

 “Sit down, Jay.” He does. She sounds so much like Emily at that moment he forgets what happened upstairs. “Thanks.”

He realises she's flattered for some reason he can't comprehend. It's odd. Usually he can't figure out how he's gone wrong but right now he's not sure what he did correctly. She tosses the hoodie aside and pulls her bare feet up underneath her body.

 “If you're still cold,” JJ states unsurely, “I produce body heat approximately 1 degree Celcius above normal average for a boy of my age, weight and height. My mother thinks it's possibly an undiagnosed thyroid condition...” He trails off, realising how he's rambling and twists his fingers together.

 It's the closest he's ever come to chatting up a girl. Maybe it's because he's positive she'll accept the offer, but he's glad it's with Katie, not Emily who would likely just look at him in that pitying way of hers: Poor, hopeless Jay. Katie, by contrast, smiles surprisingly genuinely and takes his arm, looping it over her own shoulders and settles against him as she presses play on the DVD remote.


In exactly 12 minutes 32 seconds from that moment, Emily appears with Naomi on her heels. JJ feels his face flush red. The girls just stare at the couple on the couch.

 “Got a fucking problem, Campbell?” Katie's voice has lost its previous softness as she chooses to ignore her sister almost entirely, focusing on the other object of her resentment. Naomi sneers and Emily rolls her eyes. It's so perfectly choreographed that JJ forgets what the last hour has entailed. Katie's hand is smoothing over his thigh soothingly. A twinge of guilt creeps up on him as he is reminded of all the times he considered Katie a horrible person. He gets it now. When she's actually on your side (or more like you're on hers) she gives off a sense of power. It's intoxicating.

 The girls move towards the kitchen and JJ watches with interest, defiantly avoiding Naomi's eyes. (She would read it on his face for sure). He watches. They don't touch or smile at each other. The contrast to that day in the woods is curious. They don't even speak and JJ, even as messed up as he thinks he is, can tell that something is very wrong. This isn't normal.


(Philosophy class haunts him. “Ennui is the echo in us of time tearing itself apart.”)