She truly believes, even despite her faults, that she's a good mother. At least to a point. But it still takes her almost 6 days to realise that Emily isn't around anymore and that her daughter is being more contrary than usual, a feat in itself. Not to mention she's barely left her bedroom save for the night she came home at half six in the morning, completely mashed and made a right mess of the kitchen, apparently scavenging for food or drink. Her intuition should have signalled that something was happening, but it hadn't.
Naomi is lounging on the couch, watching something brainless and trite on the TV, also unlike her. Gina enter slowly as if her daughter were a wild animal, holding the mug of tea to her chest. She has visions of Naomi jumping up and knocking it from her hand in a dramatic attempt to escape the obvious impending conversation.
“Hiya, love,” she starts, “Brought you a cuppa.”
Naomi mumbles something that is hopefully thankful but she can't be sure. She places the mug down and takes a seat at Naomi's feet, patting her legs as if she was a dog.
“Everything all right?”
“Mum...” The tone is warning and Gina knows it well. It usually means something is terribly wrong but her stubborn as nails daughter either believes she won't understand or that talking about it would make her weak. She blames herself for that facet of Naomi's attitude; she had stressed inner-strength and self-power and all that bollocks, and obviously Naomi had taken it soundly to heart, regardless of the circumstance. It ended up accomplishing the exact opposite of what she had wanted: an open dialogue whenever necessary. The only thing Naomi was ever upfront and honest about was how much and in which ways Gina was pissing her off on any given day. However, she had heard via Keiran about these rare and almost mythical moments of visible weakness in her daughter. She wasn't really made of stone after all.
“Are you sure? Heard you crying last night.” It is a risky move, she knows that.
The accompanying glare is something between utter shock, loathing and humiliation. Gina doesn't think she's ever felt so cold. She continues anyway, “Is it about Emily?”
Finally Naomi shifts her stare back to the television. “None of your business, mum.” Her face hardens into anger again.
“For Christ's sake,” Gina sighs. “You need to talk about it.”
“I have done,” the younger woman states clearly, as if speaking to a deaf idiot. “With my friends.” She stresses the final word as if its some kind of insult to her mother.
“Right, and that's done so much good, hasn't it?”
Naomi has no gobshite response this time. She chooses instead to completely ignore the comment and focus on the TV programme again. It's bloody ridiculous how difficult her daughter could be. There was just not point in fighting with her.
“Just tell me, honey. Why did you do it?”
The implication is that Naomi had done it again. She had fucked everything up and knowing her daughter, it was unfortunately very likely. It wasn't that she wanted to, of course not. Naomi wasn't callous or indifferent, not like her father. It was the opposite. She cared too much and if Gina understood her own flesh and blood at all, that was precisely the problem. Emotions scared the shit out of her and she couldn't control them (or herself) so she ran as fast as possible in the opposite direction, leaving as much destruction in her wake as she could.
But the response Gina expects never comes. Naomi doesn't huff, she doesn't moan or curse; she doesn't point her eyes sharply in Gina's direction. Instead she stares straight at the flashing screen. She's worrying her bottom lip, possibly to save it from quivering. “Why do you always think it's my fault?” Her voice is as lost as Gina's ever heard it and the resulting shock is staggering. It catches her off-guard. The brutal truth is that she just assumed. Naomi's never proven her otherwise. The idea that Emily may have actually done the running had not even crossed her mind and she wasn't exactly sure if Naomi was insinuating it was the case or if she was just getting better at deflecting. That wouldn't be surprising either.
She decides to let it go. It doesn't really matter now either way, without the reasoning. But before she had a chance to ask for details, Naomi grumbles again.
“She's just like him, you know.”
There is no doubt who “he” is. It's always the same and said with the same disgust. She had tried her best to get Naomi not to hate her father to no avail. There is nothing healthy (psychologically, spiritually, or otherwise) in carrying that burden around. Naomi always denied feeling any acute anger towards her father but it always came through in her tone. Or in her fears. She had never told Naomi she knew about this fear because she wasn't sure which was worse: living life always afraid of getting close to people, in the chances that they will leave after you've become attached, or being told that your issues aren't unique. Her fear was not confined to a rare and exclusive few. For Naomi, that truth may actually be worse; she embraced her uniqueness.
This 'I Hate Daddy' club had prompted her daughter to spend more and more time with that odd Effy Stonem and the loud boy that followed her around occasionally. They'd been to the house a handful of times and Effy had been quite blunt when Gina inquired as to her parents' well-being, echoed by a similar sentiment from the boy who was obviously already intoxicated and a bit of a lout to be honest. This was a club to which Emily was not privy. As much as she seemed to detest her own family the majority of the time, the simple fact is that she doesn't have a father who buggered off to god knows where. Gina wonders suddenly if it was the Effy girl that had something to do with Emily's absence; if somehow the obviously strong friendship that grew between Effy and Naomi was an issue.
She swallows hard, and prays that her ex-husband hasn't ruined yet another relationship, even in his own absence.
“You know that's not true, love.” She wants to know more, why Naomi would make such a bold claim. It was true in one sense: they were both gay but the difference was obvious and Gina can't believe Naomi would ignore the fact that Emily had been openly comfortable with being gay from the beginning of their relationship. (She couldn't be sure when that was but she assumed it was around the time she saw the pyjama-clad girl wander into her kitchen and inquire about Naomi's whereabouts. Even as a fairly distracted sideline observer, it had been apparent where Emily's intentions were.)
It had always worried Gina that her daughter may be under the assumption that being gay means abandonment and dishonesty, no matter how illogical that may be. She hoped Naomi would be smarter but she also had learned a long time ago that logic and intelligence didn't always come hand in hand where emotions were concerned.
Naomi's father, Brian, the stupid prick of a man, had abandoned them both when Naomi was just 11. She was old enough to be thoroughly attached, and also, to understand almost precisely what was happening. (She'd always been clever.) The arguments were loud and often hurtful, and although they never involved Naomi, she bore silent witness to them all. She was there when Gina screamed about knowing yourself, and when Brian had screamed back about living a lie, both concepts still a little convoluted to her young brain. She was there when Gina caught him him in the living room with another man, after they had been at the shops looking for his Father's Day gift (Ironic, really). She was there when Brian cursed at her and slammed the door behind him, never to return... without even saying goodbye to his only daughter. For her own coping, she threw herself into reinvention and new-age spirituality with a healthy dose of strong, almost obsessive feminist philosophy. Anything to convince herself she wasn't as useless as he had made her feel.
Since that point, she'd seen Naomi become more adamant about people being clear about themselves: their desires, truths, categorizing themselves into pockets (Something Gina was fully adverse to, and knew deep down Naomi was against as well). And she feared that Naomi had inadvertently associated being gay with ruining people. It was stupid but it seemed so ingrained in her daughter that being gay was something to be afraid of, and that it only accompanied pain. It was the main reason she had taken Naomi aside last summer, after having Emily over almost seven nights a week for two weeks straight, and explained that she was happy if Naomi was happy. She couldn't have chosen better than Emily if she had tried. The result had been 5 minutes of Naomi alternating between rolling her eyes dramatically and huffing and puffing about not being “gay”. And she had used air quotes around the word. As if it actually meant something else. As if she wasn't her father, and wasn't therefore going to turn out like him. What her daughter didn't seem to realise was that it wasn't being gay that made Brian a shit father, it had just been him as a person. His personality, his selfishness, his indifference, his cowardice, his rage, his denial. And Naomi's incessant denial was far more similar to her father than she knew. The whole thing was incredibly convoluted, self-defeating and tragically coincidental. Especially now.
Sending out another prayer to an unnamed deity of unknown and unnecessary gender, she hoped that these issues weren't the reason Naomi's only real relationship of her life so far had fallen apart. Another notch on the scoreboard of relationships ruined by her ex-husband. How many more would fall victim to that pillock? She had tried her hardest for years to reverse the damage that his infidelity and subsequent abandonment had done to their daughter. He hadn't attempted more than a birthday card, maybe, if he was lucky, in the right actual month a couple years out of them all. She knew Naomi would never completely regain her trust in people, and she'd never be free of the baggage it had placed on her shoulders. But she thought they had made it through the roughest parts. In the past year, she had seen what real happiness looked like on her daughter for the first time since she was 11. Now, they were back at square one it seemed: her faith in people shattered and Gina left to pick up the pieces, hoping she could find enough shards to glue together, lest suffer a permanently loveless daughter. She had tried so fucking, fucking hard.
She remembers the last time. She rented the DVD of 'Moulin Rouge' but by then it had already been too late. Naomi missed the point. She didn't care for the love story, or love in general. As the credits rolled, she had interrupted her mother's thinly veiled attempt to instill the wonders of love on her with a rather bitchy commentary on how she considered the film just elaborate, delusional karaoke. Which then spawned a rant about cinema and the portrayal of sex workers, and thus the legitimacy (or idiocy) of falling in love with a prostitute, all of whom should be self-empowered and not merely slaves to men, or emotion. It was a lot to hear from a 13 year old. Gina gave up trying to show Naomi the possibilities after that.
She didn't want to repeat herself again. It was a different kind of love that disappeared this time, and showing her a tragic romance likely wouldn't make things any better, or, have any noticeably different outcome from the last time.
“What happened?” She opts instead to try the communication method that had failed so many times before.
“I don't know, mum.” Naomi nearly gets to the end of her sentence before her voice breaks, and a strange relief washes over Gina hearing both the confession and the vulnerability. It's not just Naomi's fault. It's not just because of her inability to trust and her refusal to communicate; not just remnants of damage from her father's actions. She lightly tugs on her her daughter's pyjama leg and Naomi responds only half-reluctantly. She sits up and crawls into her mother's arms. If they had anything in common, they both knew too well what it was like to be the one left behind. The moment Naomi's face touches her mother's shoulder, the tears begin.
“I loved her,” she chokes out, a cold splash of honesty. Gina is momentarily shocked by the admission. “I don't know what I did or why, I don't know what happened.”
“Sometimes you never do, love.” She wants to add that loving someone is never enough but she withholds that hard fact of life for now.
“It's not fair!” Her outburst is unexpected. Again. Naomi is full of surprises when she's in pain. And she'd always had a particular obsession with fairness, but more often in the form of human rights and injustice, a philosophical difference to the concept of fairness as Gina had futilely tried to explain multiple times.
“Life's not fair,” she states simply, like it was actually a satisfactory answer. “And first love's even less so.” A painful-sounding sob reverberates through her body so that Gina can feel it. It makes her own bones ache. She pulls Naomi into a tighter hug. “The only thing it's good for is teaching you that you can survive –heartbreak, loneliness, whatever.” It isn't a very uplifting sentiment really, but Gina always prided herself on speaking the truth, something she hopes Naomi will adopt one day. At the moment, it only makes her daughter cry harder.
Two weeks later, Naomi's come around a bit. She still doesn't leave the house much, but her bedroom is miraculously tidy and all the applications for her future are filled out in crisp, careful script. Top notch organisation. All of vestiges of her relationship with Emily have disappeared, and she's not sure if they've been thrown away or merely hidden. It doesn't matter much. Naomi's stopped crying at night when she thinks everyone's asleep and that's what Gina is most thankful for. Results come in a couple days and Effy's already been around a few times. From what Gina can tell, they're planning something. The boy, James, makes an appearance once or twice at her doorstep, solo, without Effy, and Naomi greets him warmly every time. Her daughter insists (quite vehemently) that nothing is going on between herself and either him or Effy, and Gina thinks she believes her this time. It's not quite the same as Emily, but then again, it could just be maturity.
The day after results (3 As, 1 C), Effy shows up with two large suitcases and a brilliant, genuine smile on her face. Naomi bounces down the staircase to greet her, a beaming smile on her lips as well before she drags the bags back into the foyer. A few minutes later, Cook arrives, a single bag slung over his shoulder. They're leaving on the 2:30 train to London. She doesn't think either of Naomi's friends are joining her doing university, but it doesn't matter.
They all have tea together around the kitchen table and Gina sees promise in the sparkle of her daughter's eyes.
The phone never rings, not even Naomi's mobile which she's pretty sure is turned off anyway. Emily doesn't drop by to say goodbye, if she even knows. It's probably better that way. Although if Gina is honest, she misses the redhead now. But the smile on Naomi's face when she's with James and Effy is enough to push that away. She's glad when Naomi waves goodbye with a grin on her face, and her hand clasped tightly in Effy's.
Three and a half months after that day, Gina receives a phonecall. Through incoherent sobs, she learns that Effy overdosed during the night. It takes a full minute of silence --save Naomi's cries-- for the news to take full effect. She books the next train she can to London, knowing neither James nor Naomi will be in any state to take care of themselves. She debates over giving Emily a ring but decides it's not her place. Naomi will do that if she wants, though she's almost certain they no longer speak. Likely Emily will never hear the news.
On the train over, she feels the obvious dread and grief over the circumstances, but even through that she's proud. Naomi loved again, even if it wasn't Emily, even if it was just a friend. ('Just a friend' seeming somehow insulting to Effy even in her own mind.) And she lost it again, but Gina has no doubt that Naomi is learning to love. It will happen again, and again. And even through the tension and worry, Gina smiles.