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Collision: Breathe In, Breathe Out

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Absolution: setting free from guilt, sin, or penalty; forgiveness of an offense.

 

 


Effy's been gone for 5 months now. They always say it like that. Gone. As if she'll come back someday. There are still things that remind her of the empty space that's left, but like Cook, Naomi's good at pretending she doesn't notice. They talk about her occasionally, like she's alive. It dampens the uncomfortable silence a little bit.

 Cook doesn't do nearly as many drugs anymore. That's maybe the biggest change. She knows it's because he feels the same as her: guilty. No, he didn't give Effy any that night. She was perfectly capable of securing her own on any given day, from any given dealer. But he feels guilty being able to do them now, remembers how she used to look as the roll began, as she peaked, how happy they all were and how quickly that crumbled at their feet. As if because Effy can no longer use with them, they shouldn't either. As if it was some sort of team sport and they're missing their star player. They tend to get drunk instead, as if it's really all that different. But something about the loud music, broken dishes, and chain-smoking feels different to having her presence hanging over them as it does with pills or powder.

 They also sleep together now, in the bed he used to share (most nights) with her. But the reality is that they've only had sex twice. The first time was with Effy too, and it had taken a lot of vodka and some particularly high quality MDMA, not to mention a lot of coaxing, to get Naomi to agree to it. It hadn't been bad, and it hadn't been uncomfortable afterwards, but it was too much for Naomi to cope with. Too many new emotions, sensations, and she felt rubbed raw emotionally in the morning. Every kiss she had shared with Effy, or Cook, tasted like ghosts, like she was inhaling memories into her lungs, and they were stale and dry –-prickly even-- like everything from the past was suddenly right there, on the surface trapped in cobwebs. Everything that had been left alone in Bristol was momentarily present, tangled in their sheets and intertwined with their limbs. Effy couldn't convince her to repeat the experiment, and to be honest, she didn't really try. She supposed it was because they all had felt the same suffocating heaviness of history between them. The second time wasn't much different. It was 2 days after Effy's funeral. She and Cook both were numb, the actual act itself was like someone had hit the auto-pilot switch. It ended in tears.

 But now, Cook's lonely most of the time. And so is she. So some nights, she'll pad into his room when he hasn't got some random girl there (though they usually don't stay the night), and crawl under the blankets with him and they both feel a little less lost. It's far too familiar to when Emily left her, that feeling of merely being alone together, and she wonders if that's just their destiny because it always returns to the same place: she and him, like misery magnets with opposite charges. She sometimes thinks that without Cook she'd probably be with Effy right now. Which wouldn't be so bad, when she really considers it. He would likely be along to join them shortly too.

 It was ridiculous, when she thinks about it, how such a perpetually lost soul was the only thing keeping all three of them found. Naomi had always considered herself a leader, as did Cook, but really they were only followers in the wake of Effy's self-destruction. Or perhaps it hadn't even been self-inflicted, just a byproduct of having tragedy flowing through her veins every single moment of her life. For Effy, the darkness was like quicksand: the more she struggled against it, the deeper she sank. Floating in it for indeterminable amounts of time until help arrived was not an option. She wanted out. She had said as much to Naomi once, and completely sober at that. Naomi is fairly certain that it wasn't about having too much pride to ask for a rope, it was likely due to the that Effy was just too lost, too used to disappointment, or too accustomed to no one just noticing her, to recognise the convoluted offers of help. They were unfamiliar. When the 3 of them had moved to London, Naomi had thought things would change, and while they did to some degree, she suspected that below the surface they never had. They could run from Bristol, but they couldn't tear themselves away from the tar-like memories inside them. But they had been happier here. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe it was all Naomi's fault... If Effy was content, it meant somewhere deep down she was struggling hardest, sinking fastest.

 She was verging on happy, and then she was gone.

 Anthea's only been around once, with Mr. Stonem in tow. It had been a week after the funeral and she collected only a single box of memories. They said little to the flat's occupants and it seemed that maybe that's the way Effy would have wanted it. No false pretenses, no socializing. Same as the actual service. However, Naomi remembers very little of it. She only remembers the white of her own knuckles as she clutched tightly to Cook's hand and the look on her own mother's face the moment she stepped into the church.

 The Fitch twins didn't show up, which wasn't all that surprising. Neither did JJ. Pandora did, of course. But she's lost a spark too and it's painful to look at her for very long. Freddie seemed to be there only as a thorny reminder of Bristol, though thankfully he hadn't brought along his fiancee. There were probably others, like Effy's brother Tony, but the faces all blurred and Naomi wasn't sure if that was due to the shock, or if her eyes had just been permanently flooded with tears.

 She doesn't remember giving a eulogy. She thinks she may have, only because no one else seemed to want to and that itself was insulting to the very core of Naomi's soul. Everyone knew Effy was a trainwreck but she mattered. If you bothered to look hard enough, she had a heart that beat so furiously and futilely for everyone around her and it didn't matter what she did to herselfin the end, because she could never really disappear. She vaguely has some memory of saying all of those words, screaming them maybe, and her mother's gentle hand leading her away from the podium. Thank god for her mum.

 University had kind of gone tits up at that point, but she had returned for the second term with renewed focus. It was something to do though she felt the passion for fighting injustices slowly slipping through her fingers as life kept reminding her that struggling against it was pretty futile. There will always be something to knock you down. If it's not the government, or your parents, or your friends, it'll be something. Politics were really only a powerless metaphor, and a shit one at that.

 But she knows that it will hurt less as time passes. She's not sure however that the emptiness will ever fill up again. Before, Effy was there to drag her back, even if she hadn't been trying to. She had given her a friend when all she had was Emily. As that began to fall apart (and Naomi's pretty sure it had been for quite a while before the final blow), Effy had forced her into nights out without Emily, and lazy mornings at hers, eating beans on toast and giggling about the stupidity of everyone they knew.

 It hadn't been Effy's fault that she and Emily had grown apart. It hadn't even been Katie's. It really couldn't have been anyone's fault, regardless of how Emily had painted it. Growing apart was just something that happened.

 Like overdosing.

 

 

Cook's breathing is shallow beside her and she knows from experience that he's having a nightmare. He still won't tell her what about; he says he never remembers once he's awake. She knows they're about Effy. He never had them before it all happened. And she knows better than anyone how much he loved her. (Loves her, perhaps.) It was hard to see and she thinks that's more because neither of them really had a good role model on the subject. Effy and Cook loved each other in an odd, erratic, careless kind of way that most people couldn't grasp. It was sad in one way, but kind of beautiful and unique in another. She moves closer, filling in the space between their bodies. She's not afraid of him. (He hit her once in his sleep and the resulting black eye healed in less than a week. And it didn't even hurt, not really. She felt so little now.) She's never been afraid of him, not even when the rest of the world was scared of his irrationality, his impulsiveness, his irresponsibility, his plain idiocy. There was nothing frightening in all of that. Not to her, because she trusted herself (to a certain extent).

 All three of them had an appetite for self-destruction, it just made itself visible in different ways and that's likely why they connected.

 JJ, Freddie, Pandora... Emily. None of them had that inside themselves. They were bright. They spent their lives trying so fucking hard to run in the opposite direction, and succeeding. They never embraced the injustice of life.

 Her arm secures itself around the boy. She's not physically strong but it's enough to even out his breathing and she lets out a long sigh, burrowing her face into the folds of his cotton tee along his shoulders. This is all she gets. And without Effy, reality has become slightly clearer, if darker.

 As if on cue, the room brightens slightly with a blue tinge and the loud vibration of her mobile against the wooden endtable jars her from her cocoon. She grumbles and tries to ignore it. It's likely just a stupid text from someone she doesn't even care about. But it keeps vibrating and the noise is too irritating to ignore. It's a call. She reaches over and snatches it away, flipping it open.

 “What?”

 It's fucking half 1 in the morning. Tuesday morning, at that.

 “Naomi?”

 The voice is familiar and horrible at the same time. The husky drawl sends spikes of anxiety through her body and she wants nothing more than to close the phone and pretend it was all a bad dream.

 “It's Emily.”

 Naomi wants to laugh because honestly, as if she could forget that voice, or those final words Emily had said to her nearly a year ago, the way they were laced with contempt and maybe a little regret (but not enough to matter).

 “I know.” She doesn't need to ask why she's ringing at this time. Emily will tell her within the next 10 seconds. 10, 9, 8, 7...

 “I need your help.”

 The idea that Emily even considers that Naomi will help her after everything that had happened is enough to make her snort a little in disbelief. It is the middle of the night and they haven't spoken in 10 months.

 “I know what you're thinking, Naomi, but I didn't have anyone else to try. I'm in London.”

 The words set off fireworks in her head and she feels like it's suddenly too warm in the bedroom. She pushes herself away from Cook, tosses over the blankets and sits up. But she says nothing in response.

 “I'm in London and I don't know where I am, or where to go and I remembered you lived here.” She does sound scared. But Naomi's reminded that they're not kids anymore.

 “Grow up, Emily.” She wants to click off the mobile now. It's ridiculous. Emily's an adult, London's huge and it's dark and Naomi's in her pyjamas. She doesn't want to play travel director to Emily's naïve and fucking stupid big city adventure. It feels like this is either a prank or an excuse to talk to her, and both of those options are equally pathetic, even for a Fitch.

 “Please.” She doesn't say anything else. She doesn't beg, or cry, or moan on and on.

 After a long pause, Naomi sighs. She knew she'd give in the moment she didn't hang up in the first 9 seconds. “Where are you? What tube station is closest?”

 “Bethnal Green,” she states matter-of-factly, obviously relieved with Naomi's compliance.

 “Fuck sake. What are you doing there?” Naomi groans. It's really not far from where she is at all. “Nevermind. Just do as I say.”

 Getting dressed and going out to help her ex-girlfriend that broke her heart seems like the last thing she wants to do but she doesn't realise that she has no choice until she's pulling a clean t-shirt over head and notices she's already dressed. She gives Emily directions, where to go, which way to walk and what McDonald's to wait in. And who not to make eye contact with. It should only be a 15 minute wait anyway.

 

 It's colder than it should be for this time of year and Naomi walks quickly through the quiet streets, mentally checking off all the things she should and should not do the moment she sees Emily. This feels wrong somehow, like she's running in place. Almost like they're back in Bristol and meeting up for a clandestine fuck in the park after putting back a bottle of vodka. But there is no alcohol, no sex, and the park is too unsafe in this neighbourhood to even consider taking off your shoes, let alone all your clothes. Plus, it's frigid. She wonders if maybe that's just the dread seeping into her bones.

 It doesn't really matter how she had prepared herself for the meeting because it all goes out the window the moment she spots Emily idly looking over the nutritional value pamphlet. It feels like she's being stabbed somehow, shredded apart maybe, and she reminds herself to breathe. When Emily turns and meets her gaze, she feels the air squeeze out of her lungs completely and visions of Effy swim in front of her eyes. Emily is just a reminder of everything that's happened in the last year and seeing her standing there, now looking less relieved and more confused, is ripping her heart to pieces. It's not Emily. It's what she represents and suddenly Naomi feels the hot, sharp slice of hatred.

 How can Emily be standing there, so unaffected, so fucking smug? Naomi feels tears welling up and wishes it was Effy instead. Then she could have understood that smugness. A clever prank on Effy's part perhaps. A giant ruse. She could picture the laughter in her blue eyes. 'Got you, didn't I?' The voice echoes in her head.

 Suddenly she's hit with the unfairness of it all. The injustice.

 She closes her eyes, shaking her head to rid herself of the visions. When she looks up again, Emily is still there and her expression doesn't actually look smug in any sense. She merely looks concerned. Maybe Naomi imagined it.

 “Hi,” she says carefully, as if she's afraid Naomi's going to run. And that option is really bloody tempting at the moment. After all, she's pretty fucking used to doing just that. “You alright?”

 Naomi nods, but doesn't smile or welcome Emily in any way. She sighs, resisting the urge to roll her eyes and takes a longer look. The redhead is older, worn down it looks like, which shouldn't be surprising given the shitload of coursework she likely has at that posh fucking uni of hers. Her hair is shorter than Naomi remembers, and not as vibrant. She's not wearing the artificial beauty mark below her eye either. Her face seems empty without it. Otherwise, she's a spitting image of college and a time Naomi was trying to put behind her.

 Emily sidles up beside her and it feels too close even though they're not even within accidental touching distance. “Thanks for coming.”

 Again, Naomi has no verbal response. She doesn't know what she's supposed to say, or what to do so she just stands there, waiting for Emily to take the lead like she always had done. The greasy smell of day-old McDonald's burgers hits her nose and she blames that for her sudden urge to throw up. It doesn't explain, however, the shaking in her hands. She stuffs them in the pockets of her jumper and turns quickly on her heel. Emily follows.

 It's only when they're halfway to Naomi's flat that she realises she hasn't actually said a single word to Emily, who, for her part, has stayed silent and walked a step behind Naomi the entire way. If they ever made it to the canons of romantic literature and fine art, she was certain that's what their statue would depict. One of them always one step behind the other. The only determining factor on who was in the lead would be something as arbitrary as the day of the week, or who'd squashed down the most amount of demons the previous night. She doesn't have anything to say anymore so why bother with idle chit-chat?

 Shoving the keys rather roughly into the lock, she tries to still the tremble in her fingers. Emily drops her bag loudly on the thin carpet inside the door and Naomi glares at her momentarily, her self-imposed silence breaking.

 “Cook's asleep, so watch it.” It is a warning, and a request, but it comes out somehow like an attempt to wound the other girl. It works. She sees the idea hit Emily and the confusion on her face, reminding her that they really know nothing about each other's lives now. They both simultaneously look around at the mess on the couch: Naomi's school books, various articles of clothing, a few dirtied dishes. She wants to just push it aside and tell Emily to park her ass there for the night. It is too late to put her on the tube to where she needs to be.

 Emily follows silently where Naomi leads. She debates putting Emily in Effy's twin bed. It's still in her room against the wall, sheets still on it, like it's waiting for Effy whenever she returns. It's not morbid she's told herself, just clever planning. It would be a fine guestbed but when she's faced with actually giving it over for someone else to sleep in, Naomi's not sure she can handle it yet. Her own bed is messy and obviously slept in recently, but she motions to it anyway.

 “You can have my bed,” she states plainly, and ignores Emily's curious glance in the direction of the cleaner, well-made bed against the wall. Emily knows better than to ask why, and she's smart enough to figure it out on her own. She wants to say more, to ask Emily why. She wants answers but she remains inert, silent save for the whirling of her mind. More than anything she wants to find out why it's so easy for Emily to put it behind her, act so nonchalant about the situation, how she can just forget. Instead, she hesitates and feels the hard clench of uncertainty around her chest, so fucking familiar in both its severity and its cause. She turns and heads back to Cook's room without wishing Emily a good night.

 

 

 Two days after Naomi's dropped the twin at the station, she receives a friend request on Facebook from Emily Fitch. She contemplates ignoring it. It's not like they are friends, at all. Emily merely slept in her bed and then ate some cereal at her kitchen table with she and Cook, made pleasant -if awkward- conversation with her and then was put right back on a train to Edgware, where she should have been in the first place. They hadn't done anything friendly really. She hadn't asked about Emily's personal life. It was no different than having a classmate over to work on a group presentation, except her fellow students had never shattered her heart to pieces. And they never show up in the middle of the night to take advantage of the element of surprise.

 She accepts the request and tells herself it's just because it's too exhausting being rude all the time.

 She receives a single post on her wall saying thank you for letting her kip at their flat, but nothing more. Emily never texts or calls and part of Naomi is disappointed in that. It's good, she tells herself. It was too weird with Emily in her flat, with Cook, and all the memories that would flood back with each glance. She knew Cook was the same. Emily was a symbol of what they had left behind, what they both had lost. It was like someone was snapping every fiber in her heart, tortuously slowly, one by one.

 She doesn't reply to the wall post.

 She sees notifications for Emily's changing status. “Emily is listed as in a relationship.” Then a broken heart three weeks later. “Emily is now single.” Twice. It happens twice. It doesn't bother Naomi, and it's not like she's stalking her or anything. She's had a few so-called relationships as well but doesn't feel the need to publish them to the world. Naomi doesn't like Facebook. When Effy died, she had gone and deleted all of her photos. Not a single one remained. She even changed her profile photo to something boring and impersonal. She untagged herself in every photo that Effy was also in, like she had done when she and Emily broke up. She just doesn't like how it's a giant fucking memory book, mostly full of shit and things she'd rather not remember. She contemplates, for the 42nd time, deleting it completely. Fucking uni. If it wasn't for that...

 

 

 Another two months later, she gets a text at a much more reasonable hour. She and Cook are sprawled on the couch watching some shit film about the end of the world, and the vibration makes her jump ten feet in the air. He chuckles and runs a hand through her blonde hair, to calm her apparently. Flipping it open, she sees the simple words.

 I'm in London.

 She wants to ask Cook what she's supposed to say. How does she respond? Should she even? It's tempting not to but she sighs and concedes defeat.

 Why?

 A few minutes later. I've moved. Uni here.

 It hits Naomi harder than she expected and she takes a deep, shaky breath. The boy beside her notices and shifts slightly to get a better look at her phone.

 

“Everything alright, Blondie?”

 She wants so desperately to say yes, but it's not. It's not even close to okay. “Yeah. Just Emily. She just texted me. She's living here now.” He appears to think it over for a moment, as if he can't quite wrap his mind around the concept. It doesn't make sense.

 Her curiousity is pushed too far. Where?

 I don't know. Just kipping @ a mate's for the time being. Gonna get kicked out soon tho lol

 She wants to tell Emily that it's not funny. But she can't find the strength when her heart is racing like it is because she knows what's coming next. She hasn't a clue how the fuck she's going to answer it when it does. The forewarning is of no help. “Cook...” she starts to ask him, but her phone vibrating interrupts.

 Know its a lot but could I crash @ urs for a week or sumthing? It's ok if u say no.

 There it is, in all of its black and white, backlit glory. She has a chance to say no, tell Emily that it's too much, they don't have the space, she's too busy with school for visitors. But with Effy gone, they've got more space than they can handle, and school is over for the term. It's not something that is up to her alone and she tells Emily this. She'll need time. And so will Cook. It's stupid though. She already knows how it's going to go, because she never could say no to Emily.

 

 

It takes four days to come to a final, definite decision and neither she nor Cook are entirely convinced it's the right one. She tells Emily it's only temporary and if it doesn't work, she should have a back-up plan, knowing full-well that Emily won't bother with one. She just makes things work. Well, until they don't and it all goes to hell.

 It's kind of a somber ceremony when Emily unpacks her clothes onto Effy's bed. Naomi's unsure when she'll stop thinking of it as Effy's, and Emily's instead. Cook stays strangely silent as he sits on Naomi's mattress across the room, pretending to be somewhat interested in the magazine in his lap and not the new person from the past taking over the other half of the bedroom. Emily remains purposely unaware of the impact of her actions.

 Over a less-than-delicious dinner of ramen noodles and cheesy bread, Cook suggests they all go out on the town, a kind of welcome party for the new Londoner. Warning sirens immediately ring in Naomi's ears, but she swallows hard and forces a smile. She knows exactly what kind of night it's going to turn into. Nothing was quite as strong a motivator for getting completely fucked up than spending –or being forced to spend– the entire time with an almost stranger. She takes a long swig of her lager and tries to ignore the sadness in Cook's eyes, even as he smiles at Emily.

 

 

 Sometime around 3 AM, they all stumble towards the flat, fucked out of their skulls and actually laughing. Naomi doesn't have the capacity to think about what that really means, and she can't be arsed to worry about anything other than which CD to put on when they get back. And the way Emily's eyes light up whenever she catches Naomi's gaze, it warms her up inside, in a way that is different than the MDMA fucking with her body temperature. Cook's arm is slung over her shoulder and for the first time in months, it doesn't feel heavy. It doesn't feel like they're weighing each other down. She reaches up on her toes to plant a kiss on his cheek and he laughs, louder and more honestly than he has in ages, hugging her against him. Emily trots along on her other side, grinning, and Naomi realises that she's pretty damn sure that she's actually happy.

 The idea is almost foreign to her. Sure, she's been content with Cook lately, and even before Effy left she had a good time, sometimes really fucking good. But it never felt quite like this though. She's never felt like this, of that she's completely certain. Thoughts are bouncing around haphazardly in her mind, and most fizzle before she has a chance to think hard on any particular one. But the one that doesn't takes her even more by surprise than the epiphany that she is happy.

 She feels. And not just, like, the softness of Emily's hand in hers, or the warmth of Cook's arm around her. Not just physical things (although those are wonderful at the moment too). But this whole time, since that late night call from Emily months ago, she's been feeling all sorts of things (mostly directed at the twin): anxiety, relief, annoyance, fear, confusion, and this deep burning that she can't really place at the best of times, let alone when she's high as a kite. And well, now happiness. They're all things that sadness had blocked out, only to be replaced by a numb sort of existence. And she wonders if she felt anything at all before this because it all feels so good, even the bad things. Which doesn't really make any sense. Doesn't seem to matter. She opts instead of thinking too hard, to run her fingers through Emily's hair. Just quickly. Just to see if it's as smooth and soft and lovely as she remembers.

 Jesus. It is.

 That makes her happy as well. More than happy actually. Ecstatic, really. Like, really...

 And again, ephemeral thoughts bombard her mind, cascading down until one sticks around long enough for her to grab onto. It's that something is different now and she thinks it's her. She doesn't feel like she's forcing anything for once, like she's struggling to find meaning in swirls of confusion. And then it hits her so hard that she actually sucks in a shocked breath.

 The reason it didn't work before? With Emily, that is. She didn't feel. Whether it was because she had purposely tried not to, or because she had actually been incapable of it at that point, she wasn't sure. But she had never felt like drowning, or being set on fire, or being blown away, or any number of clichéd things first true love was often compared to. She had tried to find meaning in everything, but everything was silly and hollow and pointless. Yeah, occasionally, there were flashes of anger, defensiveness, jealousy, betrayal, desire... But brief and easily forgotten. And it occurs to her that even when they broke up, it had never been about losing Emily; it had been about being alone again. Pure selfishness. She had cried because she was lonely. She had cried because she couldn't feel anything that she knew she was supposed to be feeling. It was all self-pity. Pathetic.

 And that should be a downer of a revelation but it works the opposite way because now she is sure she is full of feelings, different kinds that didn't need names, so many that she can't keep track. But she looks at Emily, touches her shoulder, arm, whatever, doesn't matter, and it burns and tickles in pleasant ways, and her fucking heart feels golden and bursting. And Cook, when he laughs, it makes her see stars almost, like the whole goddamn universe is becoming clear. Like, emotions are lingering now, always hanging off her in sheets, all woven together to keep her warm. And it doesn't matter which ones, good or bad, because it is all something and she is finally feeling it all. Effy started it when she went away; things had meaning suddenly. And then the phone call. Feelings again. It's Emily that did it. She made it happen. And god, that's something too, isn't it? It's got to be.

 She hugs Cook closer (he's so soft) and smiles as they round the corner towards the flat.

 

 

About an hour later, she can see Cook's eyelids getting heavy and he struggles to stay awake for the end of their personal party. He passes out on the couch not long after and she kisses him on the cheek again before pulling the blanket over him. Emily watches the scene curiously, grinning. She's still wide awake, her pupils large, and it suddenly makes Naomi nervous, her bliss from earlier fading substantially now as the pill is losing its effect slowly.

 “I would never have thought,” she says, pointing at Cook. Naomi narrows her eyes and screws up her mouth, trying to figure out what the implication is. “You two.” The sentence makes little sense but she thinks she understands.

 “It's not like that. We're best mates.” She's suddenly defensive, and upset that she can't really convey how important he is to her.

 Emily winks, which throws Naomi even further off-guard. “I know,” she says softly and reaches for Naomi's hand. “C'mon, get me a drink, will you.”

 It feels like burning again and Naomi yanks her hand away, marching into the kitchen quickly. Typical to Emily, she's unaffected by the rejection and follows without hesitation. There's no alcohol left, save a few ciders in the fridge and she tosses one to Emily whose reflexes are strangely intact. It fizzes and sprays all over the floor as she pops the tab. Instead of apologising, she giggles and wipes her socks through the mess as if that will do anything other than just smearing it elsewhere.

 “You broke my heart,” Naomi announces, quite surprised at herself. It needs to be said but she didn't think it would be now. Fucking drugs. She'd managed to keep her truths mostly to herself tonight. Until now.

 Emily shrugs, as if the declaration is meaningless. “Yeah, well, you broke mine first.” For the first time that night, the smile fades from her ex-girlfriend's face. It's like having a bucket of ice cold water being dumped on the two of them; painfully sobering. “As if I could ever leave you otherwise.” She says it with so much resentment that Naomi physically recoils against the wall. She's at a loss. Apologies are hollow now, empty words that belong to something in the past. There doesn't seem to be anything else to say. Emily obviously agrees. She merely takes a gulp of cider before placing it on the table.

 She turns away and disappears into the bedroom and Naomi's left alone in the all too bright kitchen, cursing herself for even considering this as being a good idea. She squints down at the spill. It'll be sticky tomorrow morning but that's Emily's mess to clean up. She stomps towards her room, thinking twice about going to Cook's empty bed instead. She can't. Not without him. She's only ever shared it with one other person and the idea of cuddling with Effy's ghost is too frightening and a little too real at the moment. Her own bedroom is dark and quiet though she can still make out the outline of Emily's body in the opposite bed.

 “You-you just showed up,” Naomi starts but thinks twice then backtracks. “I was over you.” She is fucking pissed off that her mouth just can't seem to keep shut and that frustration must come out in her tone. Emily rolls over and Naomi, even if she can't see her clearly, knows exactly what she looks like.

 “I was never over you.”

 The words knock the wind out of her and she takes a seat on the edge of her own mattress. Emily continues and Naomi wishes she could just lash out and smash her mouth shut. She doesn't want to hear these things. But she's frozen.

 “You haven't changed at all. You're still full of it, and you're still lonely as fuck. And I'm not leaving and you're not kicking me out tomorrow morning so stop thinking about it.” She sounds so sure, like she can see right through whatever feeble walls Naomi's rebuilt over the years.

 Naomi can't form words. She can't make a sound. She feels like she's slipped and there's nothing to grab hold of. She briefly contemplates running into the living room and jumping into Cook's arms, as if they had some invisible shield from Emily's truths, her almost Effy-like ability to read her thoughts. Too much like Effy.

 “And I'm lonely too.”

 The final sentence is so full of sadness that Naomi actually feels guilty, though she's not sure what for. She shouldn't, she knows this. She shouldn't feel guilty and she shouldn't move from her position. But she does, and damn the fucking MDMA and the alcohol and the overwhelming loneliness and the part of her brain screaming to stop.

 

It's rough the way she grabs Emily's t-shirt and pulls her up. Too rough maybe because Emily makes a weak sound of protest before she blindly crashes their mouths together. It's the most un-fucking-romantic thing she's ever done and she hates herself just a little bit for this impulsiveness. But Emily's hands are grabbing at her hair, threading closer and she tastes like cider and spliff, and that bloody disgusting lipgloss she always wears. Still. But her nipples are hard and her knickers incredibly uncomfortable suddenly. It's erratic and clumsy and unpracticed but she kisses harder anyway, as if pressure will solve the problem. Emily pushes against her, her laboured breath loud in the silence of the bedroom.

 “Naomi.”

 It's gruff and low and sounds so fucking good, it vibrates straight through Naomi's body; she moves against the redhead. Emily stumbles back, unsteady on her feet and falls backwards onto the bed, her head smacking against the wall in the process. She whimpers.

 Suddenly, she's not sure anymore. Emily's rubbing the back of her head, as Naomi stands dumbly above her. Silent, her hands shaking uncontrollably at her sides. After a moment, she closes her eyes only to have them snap open at the feeling of two warms hands pushing her tee shirt up, a wet mouth kissing up her abdomen. She feels like she wants to cry, or laugh, and she's not sure which so she chooses to just breathe. That's a difficult enough task on its own.

 There's the briefest of moments where Emily seems unsure. She stalls and Naomi feels only the wisp of breath across her skin. Her nerves tingle and fizz at every puff. But she doesn't want this, not at all, not here and not now. Something is her body is not listening to the message and she's honestly shocked to find herself again pressing the redhead into the mattress, lips attacking, using the weight and height advantage wisely as she twists her fingers past elastic barriers and inside Emily.

 It's still messy and uncoordinated but she can't help but do it, especially as she feels the bruising in her lips and Emily's hips buck up to meet her thigh, crushing her wrist, and unexpectedly it's Naomi who moans, feeling herself thrust deeper.

 She's so fucking angry, and frustrated, and just ...desperately lonely. She shouldn't be here, they shouldn't be here. She shouldn't be enjoying the feeling of Emily's nails tearing small trails into the skin of her shoulders and she certainly shouldn't be soaking her pants right through to the other side. Emily's fervid grunts in her ear shouldn't be spurring her on, pulsing in time with her blood.

 There is a bright moment of clarity in the midst of it all. She shouldn't be hating Emily for being here while Effy's not, because it's Effy who brought her here. No one could have saved Effy. She was doomed from the beginning... but Naomi? She's not. And now Effy's given her a second chance to prove that.

 At that moment, Emily comes hard around her slick fingers, and she feels the waves of muscles contracting. There's some satisfaction in that.

 She pushes up and looks down at Emily whose chest is heaving seemingly with the mere effort of breathing. Her lips are swollen, and her hair a right mess. But her hands, they're gentle, so unlike Naomi's. She brushes some of Naomi's fringe back, her fingertips sliding over the contours of her cheekbones and down her jawline. And, then she fucking smiles at her.

 It's not just the drugs. Naomi knows she sees it. And it's not just that dopey kind of post-orgasm grin either. She feels the sting of tears in her eyes but they don't fall. After absolutely everything, Emily is still smiling. Naomi wonders how that's possible because things are still so majorly fucked up, and she's fairly certain that Emily has always been the better person for her ability to ignore the fear and hurt and just keep going. So the blonde does the only thing she can think to do under the circumstances; she lowers down to kiss her properly, this time not just like she's a random, nameless, drug-induced fuck. It works so much better this way. It's not forced, sloppy. They fit so much better when they take their time. Emily tugs softly and she acquiesces, lying beside her, but with one hand still firmly in her hair. It's lazy now, their kisses, even though she's certain Emily is still just as aroused as she is. She'd recognise the scent anywhere. It's tied to the few memories she wants to hold onto. Their legs intertwine somehow and Emily shivers. Breaking only for a moment, Naomi pulls the duvet over them. She settles again, laying kisses along Emily's collarbone and up her neck, behind her ear and Emily shudders a second time for a different reason.

 “I lied,” Naomi whispers, before putting her head down on the pillow. Emily's staring at the ceiling and doesn't say anything. It's really not a surprise to either of them. If Naomi has a special talent, it is lying about anything and everything, all the time.

 “Doesn't matter,” Emily finally sighs. “I knew anyway.” She pauses and giggles. “Katie says no one can ever get over a Fitch girl.” She laughs then, louder, and turns to face Naomi who is obviously trying to figure out what kind of reaction to have to the joke.

 She just agrees quietly. “Yeah.”

 Emily moves closer, holding the blonde tighter and Naomi wonders when this feeling of relief, of ghosts slipping away and dissolving, actually set in.

 

 When it's official, as in when Naomi actually hesitates accepting Cook's offer to sleep in his bed for the night, Emily changes her status on Facebook, and includes Naomi's name with it, which Naomi accepts. (It comes with a rather profane response thanks to Emily's twin, and two new friend requests: one predictably from Katie and one from JJ). They end up working out a sleeping arrangement compromise with Cook and a silly kind of schedule that they'll never stick to. He's more than happy to include Emily in it as well, claiming again that they all come to the Cookie Monster in the end, especially two hot lezzas at the same time, which earns him little more than a cheeky smile from the girls. He says nothing could be better, even though they all know it's not the case, not really. The girls may have changed, but he's the same, left behind in Effy's wake. And so Naomi's still there in emergencies, or real moments of sadness, when the darkness is just a little too black for them both because that doesn't just evaporate overnight. It's in everything, always will be. But things are just a little bit easier now. A little bit brighter.