Katie Fitch is not fucking stupid. She can tell when someone is blatantly lying to her face, likely a by-product of blatantly lying to other people's faces for so long. So, as she and Cook had sat at Big Bang (surely to make Naomi proud in spirit) poking at sausages and mash, and he told her he had been to see Effy already, she naturally didn't believe a word of it. Firstly because the tosser still couldn't bring himself to say the word “grave” and secondly, because he couldn't meet her eyes for a good 2 minutes afterward. Now, she could have chosen a better day to traipse out to bloody Bedminster Down but best just to rip the bandage off, yeah? Plus, the weather is eerily fitting, she decides as she and Cook huddle closer together under the umbrella that she had purchased specifically for this purpose. She couldn't help it if they only had bright pink left in stock. It never hurts to be fashionable, even in a cemetery.
He hasn't said a word since they got on the bus and she can tell just by his gait, the slump of his shoulders like he's carrying a ridiculously heavy burden, that she was right when she guessed he had been lying to her. She knows where she's going, almost by heart, but just in case, she has a map Panda scribbled for her in her pocket. In fact, the first time she came here, it had been Pandora's idea at a house party one night and while that hadn't been sombre particularly (mostly because Katie was half in the bag already and tripped over twice during the trek) it had been enough to make her breathe shallowly and suddenly wish to be anywhere else. Staring blearily at Effy's tombstone in the moonlight, standing beside a strangely silent and pensive Panda, was the stuff of nightmares. She had then gone back, alone, a few days later in the dim overcast afternoon, and got lost, just to rid her memory of that night. She decided two days ago to take Cook in the daytime.
It's an unassuming plot, and strangely uncharacteristic of Effy Stonem. It makes absolutely no impression whatsoever on passersby and Cook must be thinking the same because as they draw in front he hums a little and asks, “That's it?”
She nods, taking in again, the engraved title of “Elizabeth Stonem”. Not even that seems right. It seems to anger Cook more than anything. “Who the fuck is that? When has anyone ever called her that?”
“Cook,” she warns softly. She knows from Emily that he had never made it there after the service, and that was well over a year ago. Neither had Naomi. He ignores her and moves out from her fuchsia shelter, walking right up to the gravestone. The moment he's there however, any anger he had seems to dissipate immediately. He crouches down and just... stares. She's not sure how long he stays there, in the pouring rain, just gazing at the piece of rock but his new jacket is soaked through and his hair dripping. She reaches into her bag for her next gift and walks up behind him.
“It's done, ain't it, babe?” he asks and she realises he's not speaking to her at all. The knowledge seems to knock him over because he collapses backward, falling on his arse in the wet grass, and still just staring ahead. “This is real.” With a gentle tap on his shoulder, Katie hands him a bottle of Beck's which he accepts almost too eagerly, chugging back half with impressive ease. She sips on her own.
Without warning he leaps to his feet and she stumbles backward to get out of the way. Within a few more seconds he's hurled his bottle at the stone and it shatters loudly. Turning wildly on her, he grabs her own drink and does the same, drenching the grave in lager, before kicking haphazardly at the sod and flowers, before laying a few hard kicks to the stone itself like he wants to destroy it.
She's seen Cook in all sorts of conditions now. Ecstatic, broken, excited, solemn, and now, full of rage. None of it is surprising any longer.
“You stupid fucking bitch!” His voice cracks multiple times, betrayed by the weakness inside. “You stupid, stupid fucking bitch.” He's screaming at Effy now, not her. She merely watches from a safe distance, waiting. He yells out something unintelligible, before dropping to the ground again, mud covering his trousers and likely slashing his knees on broken glass. And so she calls to him.
He turns quickly, as if he forgot about her presence and his eyes reflect a kind of longing sadness. She shimmies the carrier bag onto her arm and holds out her hand for him. It's like grief turns humans into wild animals, she thinks, because the look he gives her is so utterly confused and cautious, it breaks her heart a little. It's like he doesn't even recognise her as a friend. But she never waivers, never lets her arm go limp. Eventually, he stands on shaking limbs and reaches for her offer. She's surprised to see that he isn't crying, or at least, she can't tell if he is with all the rain.
“Sorry I nicked your lager,” he says pensively almost. As if she's really all that concerned about a little bit of beer after that display.
“It's fine.” And it is.
They stand in silence, surveying the slight damage he's done and Katie reckons the broken beer bottles and mucked up earth are strangely fitting for a grave that otherwise said nothing about the Effy Stonem the world knew. She doesn't need to ask him if he's feeling better. His back is straighter, his chin held a little higher, like he's seen something new. A challenge. He reaches into his trouser pocket and fishes out his mobile. She peers over to see him punch in Naomi's number and 'u should do this 1 day' then hit 'Send'. He stuffs the phone back and stares again ahead of him.
After a few more moments of this contemplative silence, he glances at her. “Why won't you be with me?”
“What?” She's honestly bewildered by the question, especially after what just happened. “I am with you.”
He shakes his head, letting a disbelieving chortle escape. “No, I mean, with me, yeah? I thought...” He trails off and resorts to gesturing between their bodies instead, obviously clueless at how to form the words.
She sighs and gazes at Effy's grave. “I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get Effy Stonem's sloppy seconds for the rest of my life.” She gives him a pointed glare and studies the way the realisation stretches across his face and he too turns his attention back to the gravestone.
“It's closure, but I'll probably always love her,” he states without apology and Katie understands that what she really thought would happen today can never happen. It's simply not possible. She bows her head and stares at the blades of grass around her once-white trainers. “I'll always love Naomi too, you know. 'Cos, it's like, that's just what people do. Different kinds of love or some bollocks. But it's not like there's no room left over. It's pretty fucking empty. Pregnant with potential,” he says with a grin, like he's just figured something out. “So gonna let me slip you a length now?”
“No, babes, delightful as that sounds, I don't want to shag you now.”
She watches the rejection sink in and feels like a clarification is necessary. “It's fucking pissing down, and I don't want, like, glass up my fanny.”
He laughs, a large boisterous sound that she had almost forgotten about. “Right on.” He takes the umbrella from her and gentlemanly holds it over them both. “It's not possible for you to be second best, Katiekins. She took things apart. You fixed them.” His voice is weird and thick and Katie is scared that he really, truly means it, and that this is turning into something heavier. She looks down again and fiddles with the shopping bag handles, hoping he'll say something stupid to lighten the mood. Nothing comes out of his mouth.
For the entirety of college, she so badly wanted to be Effy fucking Stonem. She wanted that walk, that air of magnetism, that fucking secretive smile, like she knew everything everyone thought before they did. She wanted the attention and the sex and the boyfriends and the power. But standing at the grave occupied by the shattered shadow of a girl, she wouldn't trade a rock to the skull and years of boredom and listlessness for that. She realises what a mistake it was to believe that Effy was invincible, so magnificently untouchable. There was nothing to be jealous of anymore. She knows she's better than Effy now, because well, she's alive, letting go of years of secret grudges and undue blame towards her. (She'll save some for Campbell though.)
When Cook kisses her again, the skies don't magically clear up and the sun doesn't shine down on them with rainbows and birds singing happy songs. It's still raining, it's getting darker by the minute and any birds probably sought shelter a long time ago. She can feel the cold dampness of his clothes soaking through hers. His hand is equally cool cupping her face. And she's all too aware that they're standing at the foot of a grave of someone that brought them both so much pain in the end. But his lips are warm and sure, and a little bit relentless, like he never wants to stop. When he breathes in, he takes her breath with him until she's dizzy and her mind is foggy. She can feel the shiver pass through his body right to his fingertips so she pulls back, trying to focus.
He looks worried as his eyes dart back and forth, across her face. “I'm crap at commitment, at any of that shit.”
She blinks slowly as a smile curves through her lips. “Good thing I'm brilliant at it then.”
Taking his free hand in hers, she turns her back to Effy and breathes out carefully and slowly, hoping that everything she had held onto for so long flows free. Her hot breath mixes with the cold English air and it's pummeled down by rain drops. She imagines Effy inhaling deeply, taking in what is hers now, a knowing smile on her face.
Katie smiles as she tries, and fails, to hold back a sprinkling tears that had been dormant for so long. Gripping Cook's hand tighter as he leads the way out of the cemetery, she thanks Effy once, silently in her mind.
When she catches Cook's eye as they board the bus back home and her heartbeat surges, she quickly looks away only to catch her own reflection in the glass. She pauses. For once, even despite running mascara and moisture-frizzed hair, she can't see anything wrong. No fatigue, no failure. A sort of contentment digs its roots through her skin and into her chest. As they sit down, he puts and arm over her, laying a soft kiss in her hair and she's sure that there isn't a better feeling in the world. She understands why Naomi and Emily fight so hard for it, and why they never really give up.
And she thinks that Cook got it wrong:
It hadn't been Effy's fault. They had all torn themselves apart. She, Cook, Emily, Naomi. And Effy, in her own misunderstood and mysterious way, had laced them carefully back together. So now she accepts Effy's endless presence as pleasantly inevitable.
Because, after all, the stars can't shine without the darkness.