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Lay Your Burden Down

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Emily’s back. You should be happy about that, but you’re not even though your Mum and Dad have been going mental since she just vanished into thin air after breakfast yesterday, and left her phone on the kitchen table so no one knew where the fuck she was and Naomi wasn’t answering her phone either. It went straight to voicemail every time. Even though you’ve sent what feels like hundreds of texts and left God knows how many messages (absolutely rinsing your credit in the process), neither of them bothered to call back. Most of the time, Emily doesn’t answer because she’s too busy snogging Naomi’s face off or shagging for England – they seem to be at it all the time, you’ve heard muffled whispers and giggling sometimes, when you’ve phoned her to remind her to get her arse back home before Mum goes off on one – to care, but something tells you that’s not the reason why she’s been gone all day.

You woke up ten minutes ago when door rattled and she almost tripped over, scaring the shit out of you, and she’s been stood at the foot your bed since, with the bag you watched her pack yesterday chucked on the floor next to her. When she comes in late like this – and it’s been that way a lot lately – you don’t usually speak, in fact you rarely acknowledge each other. No clothes have come off and she’s made no moves to get into bed. There’s nothing. She’s just still, staring into space, watching, waiting, and you’ve no idea what for, because you’ve never seen her like this, ever. Usually you’d fire off some well-timed insults, ask if she’s had a row with Naomi, but you’d call her “lezzer bitch” instead because you know it winds Emily up. She’s easy to wind up, and it’s fun, most of the time, because you know your limits and more importantly, you know Emily’s – unlike some people you could mention – so you rarely overstep the mark, and even when you do, she forgives you, because that’s what she’s like: the total opposite of you. Not a shadow, because that makes her sound weak, and she’s not, she’s strong – fucking stronger than you, something which has been proven time and time again in these last few months.

It scares you, sometimes, how fiercely loyal and protective she is toward Naomi, how angry it makes her when you bad-mouth her, even a little bit. She used to be that loyal and protective about you. It’s like you’ve been replaced, no, you have been replaced. Things change. She’s changed. You’ve changed.

***

You sit up slowly, scared of startling her, because it looks like if you breathe a word she’ll shatter into a thousand pieces, and then you really have no fucking idea what to do. She’s been crying, loads, it’s obvious. Her mascara’s run, her eyes are all puffy, and she looks like she’s been fucking mud wrestling or something because her clothes are dirty and that’s just weird, because Emily’s always immaculate, she’s always so put together – pretty, but not a princess, not prissy, not like you are. It’s terrifying to see her so … altered.

“Ems?” you say, quietly, half statement half question, hoping to drag her from whatever sodding planet she’s on, but she doesn’t so much as blink. You hold back from adding ‘what the fuck are you just standing there for?’ because, well, it doesn’t seem right.

She says nothing, she doesn’t even acknowledge you. That happens a lot. Normally, you’d snap your fingers in her daft dreamy-looking face, throw something at her – a teddy, a pillow – or just yell something so she snaps out of it, but that doesn’t feel right either, because she’s not caught up in that sweet, dopey way, that much you can see. She just looks completely blank instead. Something’s wrong, something’s proper fucking wrong, and you really wish you were the kind of twins that had that telepathic shit going on, so she’d just look at you and you’d just know, so you could make it better in an instant.

For a minute, you seriously contemplate the fact that they’ve both come off that stupid fucking piece of shit moped that they’ve been pissing about on all summer and Naomi’s probably in Bristol Royal Infirmary or something, hooked up to God knows what in a coma or worse, because Emily looks like someone fucking died. Jesus Christ, that stupid thing. You’re afraid to ask in case she says yes.

Mum insisted Emily got a helmet because it looked like a fucking death trap, and she could only just reach to sit on it properly. It’s older than the both of you put together, fixed up by your Dad and uncle Steve in the garage, they spent ages on it, getting all the parts and all that; even longer teaching her how to ride the bloody thing. It was either get that or walk, because they couldn’t afford to run three cars, and you’ve got Sam to ferry you about in his Fiesta, so you couldn’t really give a fuck anyway, you’re hardly missing out.

Two days in, you got tired of watching Emily play ‘Daddy’s favourite,’ and hearing the engine splutter when she went back and fucking forth down the road, weaving madly. You couldn’t stand the look on his face as he paced on the drive, biting his nails; masking the same terror he had when you were six, when he taught you both how ride your matching pink bikes down the very same stretch of road. Emily was always the fragile one, so he’d always pick her up first when you fell, carrying the both of you, one in each arm, back to the house. Just to escape it, you tagged along to the salon with Mum instead; swept the floor, answered the phone, made tea for the clients, paraded about by her to the blue rinse brigade like you were a prize show pony, but at least you got paid and enough to buy some nice tops and decent booze for once – without Danny and his credit cards, things were seriously fucking lacking – which of course resulted in some fairly decent shags, Sam included.

***

You’re sicker still of seeing Naomi’s smug face, beaming up at you from the street when she’s waiting by the gate, like she has done all bloody summer. Now you’re back at college it’s no different, she’s still there at almost the same time every morning to pick Emily up so they can go in together. It gets at you, gnaws at you, how Emily skips out to her like she’s in the middle of love’s young fucking dream. When Naomi reaches out for her and holds her tight, like she means something. When they kiss like no one’s watching – no one’s ever kissed you like they kiss each other, ever – and don’t give toss about the evil old bitch across the road, Mrs Greaves, who’s convinced Emily’s the spawn of Satan because she’s a muff muncher, and refuses to let James mow the lawn, so it looks like a jungle and Mum moans that it brings the ‘tone of the street down’ or some bollocks like that. You’ve seen the old bat watching sometimes, all frowning and narrow-eyed, so you stick your fingers up at her on Emily’s behalf, because while you might not be overjoyed that your sister’s gay, it’s no one else’s fucking business. They aren’t doing anything wrong, and Naomi makes her disgustingly happy so why couldn’t people leave them alone? The twats – boys mostly – at college were the same, eyes out on stalks like they’ve never seen two girls kiss before in their pathetic little lives. Tossers.

In truth though, it makes you want to vomit sometimes – not the gay thing, you’re past that, even if your mum isn’t – how much they adore each other, makes you angry almost, especially when they take twenty minutes to say goodbye to each other on the phone because neither of them want to end the call first; or when they sit round the kitchen table together (when mum’s at work, Naomi’s not that dense) and you know they’re holding hands, because Emily’s always has a stupid grin plastered on her face, and Naomi’s looks at her all sweet and loving, fluttering her eyelashes at her like no one else exists.

***

You climb out of the covers and scramble over to the edge of the bed to see Emily better, because it’s still fairly dark out. It’s like she disappeared, like she’s a ghost or your mind’s playing tricks, because you can’t even see her hair, and it’s so bright that it practically glows like a bastard traffic light – it makes them easy to spot when you’re out; her cherry red and Naomi’s stupid Marilyn Monroe blonde. When you reach for her hand, its freezing and she flinches at the touch, blinking a few times before she finally focuses and realises you’re there. Somehow, the fact that she hasn’t got so much as a scratch on her makes it worse.

“Ems, what happened? Is everything alright?”

She looks at you for a second, and you see the corners of her mouth curve downward, in the way she does when she’s trying desperately trying not to cry. There’s no answer, only a quick shake of her head. The panic sets in then, as you watch her come toward you with tiny shuffling steps, like she’s forgotten how to walk.

“Naomi…” she takes a huge breath, fighting back tears, and practically collapses onto the bed next to you, burying her face in the pillow.

You scoot back, lie next to her and push back the massive curtain of hair that’s in her face; not sure if you even want to hear the rest of the sentence because half of you knows what’s coming, you’ve feared it all along, and that fear’s only grown since The Love Ball.

“What?” you hate yourself for pushing her, even a bit, but Emily never tells things easily, and she’s even worse when she’s upset.

“Naomi cheated,” she gets out, finally before breaking down completely and grabbing onto you for dear life.

Even though you’re close, you only just hear it, because her voice is almost completely gone; so raw that it must be killing her throat to speak. They’ve argued then, and it must have been nasty, because the only person Emily usually has balls to shout at, really shout at, is you.

“What the fuck?” is all you can muster, trying to keep the noise down even though you want to scream it so loudly it could wake the bloody dead, while resisting the massive urge you have to add anything else, like the fact she’s a skank, a slag or an even bigger arsehole than you thought she was – which is something of a surprise on it’s own, because you never ever thought you’d be proven right about her. You never thought she had it in her to be this cruel, because Jesus, if this is what she does to someone she loves, then what the fuck does she do to people she hates?

Though you can’t say you’re shocked, when it finally comes out of Emily’s mouth, but you think twice before saying ‘I told you so’ because, fucking hell, there’s only one person in the entire universe who hates Naomi more than you do, and that’s your mum. She’ll do enough bitching about it for the entire population of Bristol, no England so you leave it alone. There’s questions you want to ask, a shitload of them, like ‘who,’ ‘how’ and most importantly, ‘when,’ but Emily’s in no state whatsoever to answer anything. That you do know. So instead, you put your arms around her and just hug her, stroke her hair and shush her, wrapping the duvet around you both because she’s shivering with cold.

“It’ll be alright, Ems,” you say, a few moments later, staring up at the ceiling because you can’t bear to look at her anymore. Just seeing her face is painful, so God knows how bad she’s actually feeling. If she’s feeling at all. There’s a point where you don’t, when you’re just numb to all of it, you know that well enough. “I promise,” you add, knowing that it’s stupid, knowing it’s more than a bit of a lie, but knowing she needs to hear it too. You give her a quick kiss on the top of her head, hoping it’ll comfort her a bit. It makes her take a breath, and it’s then you realise just how quiet it is without her crying. Everyone else is either in the deepest sleep known to man or just ignoring it altogether.

***

Just when you think it can’t possibly get any fucking worse, it does.

She answers you, which is a fucking relief, but the answer comes in twin speak: “It won’t.” Part of you loves the fact that you can decipher it without thought, because it means that you’re still connected, that for all the shit that’s unfolding with Emily and Naomi as well as your bloody parents – basically everything’s been a bit fucked for long time, and no one’s admitting it – there’s one thing that’s stayed the same, will always be the same. A bigger part hates that she’s reverted to it at all, because it shows just how broken she is; how Naomi’s broken her. Fucking bitch.

Emily doesn’t say anything else, she just sobs. She properly fucking cries like you haven’t seen her do, ever. She never even cried this much when Kerry Mitchell was bullying her when you were in secondary school, and that was pretty bad, until you sorted it out, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen with Naomi. You don’t care what Emily says, because Emily, your stupid, sweet, adoring sister will tell you to ‘leave it’ but you won’t. You don’t need the details right now, and to be fucking honest, you don’t want them, because she’s been with someone who’s not Emily whilst properly being with Emily, and that’s enough of a betrayal in your book. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter whether Naomi just kissed this other fucking skank – if she goes to Roundview, she’s fucked – or shagged her senseless, Emily bloody loves her so much that it’d hurt just the same.

It’s enough to set you off too, and before you know it, there’s tears brimming in your eyes, making them sting, and you’re surprised when you feel one slide down your cheek. You swipe it away, suddenly afraid Emily will see.

***

You’ve always looked after each other, it’s just the way you are. The bond between you is different than other brothers and sisters. James is a little shit sometimes, but he’s still your little brother and you love him (you’d go under a bus for him, truth be told), but it’s not the same as with Emily. She means more to you than anyone else the world because she’s your twin. It makes you special. You came into the world together, you’ve always been connected, and the more you try to pull apart and break free of it, the stronger that connection becomes. It’s strange, you’ve never felt this close to her before and she’s felt so far away for, well, a long time. You can fight, and scream, and rip each other’s hair out, but if anyone else so much as breathes on Emily or looks at her the wrong way, they always end up wishing that they’ve never been born. Come Monday, Naomi won’t fucking know what’s hit her. In fact, throwing her off the balcony, like that random girl off her tits on fuck knows what at Syndicate last week, seems like a fucking fantastic idea, until you actually remember that it’d probably break Emily’s heart all over again, and she’d never ever get over that either.

It feels useless, just lying here holding her, just listening, waiting for, well, you don’t know what really, just something. It feels like Emily’s tears will never stop and it’s horrible, but you’ll see her through this, you’ll help her, you’ll have to. It’s all you can do for her. It’s what you need to do.

Emily takes a shallow little breath and sniffs, wiping her nose with back of her hand and properly looks at you for the first time. She looks so fragile, and she’s even paler than normal. It seems like she’s finally finished, for now at least, so you brush at her cheeks with your sleeve, trying to clean her up a bit. When you pull away from her – just to give her a bit of space, you see a flicker of something in her eyes, and she starts to cry all over again. How she’s got any tears left to cry at all is fucking amazing.

You wish you had some magic wand you could wave to take it away or just take that pain on yourself, shoulder it or whatever the fuck they say, because it’d be better than having to watch her go through this.

She was always sensible one, the smart one, she’s always been there for you, been the one that fixes everything, even when you were little. When Joe Perry shoved you off the climbing frame in reception it was Emily that held your hand when while the nurse cleaned what felt like the world’s worst scraped knees. When Lee Edwards dumped you in year nine for that slag Chloe Findlay – knocked up now, two kids already, none of them with the same dad – it was Emily who stayed with you, held you tight, brushed away your tears, told you everything would be OK, just like you’re doing now, except you’re very, very aware that it’s worse for Emily because she fucking loves Naomi right down to her bones and you never really loved Lee at all. You’ve never loved anyone. When that mental case Stonem cracked you one over the head with a rock, it was Emily who you saw when you opened your eyes for the first time in hospital.

Now it’s your turn. You’re going to be the one to fix her instead. You’ll be the one to pick up all the pieces and put her back together.

This is the first night of many, you know it, and eventually, you’ll learn everything, whether it comes from your sister’s mouth or the ever-reliable Roundview grapevine. It’ll be all over the place soon, and they’ll all be whispering, looking and fucking gossiping like the sad little dickheads they are, as if Emily isn’t suffering enough already. She just feels so much and thinks so much, it’s going to take a long time for her to be able to look Naomi in the face without wanting to scratch her eyes out. You’ve lost count of the times you’ve heard her cry herself to sleep over the years, and you can’t help but be reminded of the fact that it’s been Naomi fucking Campbell’s fault every single fucking time she has done.

You’ll freely admit you’ve pulled some shit in your time, that you’ve caused Emily pain and made her cry, but you’ve never done this much damage. She’s managed to outdo you at your very worst, and that’s saying something.

***

It’s properly light, officially day when Emily falls asleep, her sobs replaced by whimpers, and then nothing at all when she finally lets herself rest. She’s still clinging to you, her fist clenched tight round your pyjama top. You carefully work her fingers loose, and just hold her hand then, because it feels like the right thing to be doing. Inconsolable, that’s what she is. You’ve never fully understood what that word meant until now, you always thought it was a posh way of saying someone’s sad, but sad doesn’t even begin to cover how she’s feeling at all. It’s been exhausting just listening to her – listening to her struggling to breathe, feeling her shoulders heave when she finally does – but you’re wide awake, churning everything over, trying to sort through things, because it’s the only way you’ll be able to help her, but you’re no clearer. It still makes fuck all sense, Naomi Campbell’s the biggest twat that’s ever drawn breath and she’s going to get the battering of her life when you set eyes on her. It doesn’t matter that you’re knackered, and you’ve got pins and needles in your arm because Emily’s lying on it, she needs the sleep more than you do.

You feel shit for her, you really do, and you never expected to. When you’ve thought about them breaking up before – there’s no other option for them is there? – you’ve barely been able to stop short at throwing a party, flying a flag outside the house and declaring it a national holiday; because you’d finally be free of her and her snarky little comments, her filthy disapproving looks, and best of fucking all, you’d get some peace at home, because Emily not having a girlfriend means that your mum will get off her back about having a girlfriend full stop and she can go back to thinking it’s all just a phase – even you know Emily’s never ever going to be sold on cock. Now, celebrating is the last thing you feel like doing. Now it’s happening, you hate it, you hate the fact that Emily’s waited and hoped and wished for so long and she was finally fucking happy instead of moping about miserable because she was so lonely – and you made all of it worse, with how you’ve treated her and Naomi in the past, you made it all so much harder than it needed to be.

Truth is, you’ll actually miss her being all loved-up and soppy because it was nice, and they were actually quite sweet together (though if anyone asked you that, you’d fucking die before admitting it out loud). Weirder still, you’ll actually miss having Naomi about, because when she isn’t being a stroppy cow or on one of her rants about politics and all that other saving the world shit she’s interested in, she’s actually a laugh – especially when she’s drunk, which takes fuck all, the lightweight – and makes the wickedest roll-ups you’ve ever smoked; they’re super thin, so it makes the backy and the weed last about four times as long.

It’s funny – funny strange, not funny ha-ha – during all this, you realise you’re actually acting like she is dead. You know Emily’s hurt, and it’s sort of like grief. No, she’s grieving for what she’s lost, for the Naomi she knew or thought she knew, and you’re mourning them too, because even if by some fucking miracle – and it’d need to be big miracle – they make it through this and come out the other side, they’ll never quite be the same. You doubt that Emily actually wanted Naomi to be her first everything in life. First kiss? Sure. First shag? Definitely, because it wasn’t a crush by then, it was something else, even if you didn’t want to believe it, but the first person to break your heart? No one wants that, and no one wants that on their conscience either.

If it was some other random girl and not her precious bloody Naomi, it probably would’ve been easier to deal with and it you wouldn’t be lying here wondering if your sister’s ever going to be able to function without her, and even then, she’ll probably need some serious levels of medication to do it.

***

Emily hasn’t slept in the same bed with you like this for years, and even when you did, you used to fidget and fight her for the quilt, but this time, like so many other things, it feels different and a bit strange too. Mostly, it just feels nice, feels comfortable. You’re actually gaining comfort from it, and you hope Emily is too. Though you’re sure part of that comfort is just about having someone next to her. Since she got together properly with Naomi, she’s rarely slept here, and even when she does, she hugs her pillow like it’s a person, imagining she’s still there.

You shared the same cot when you were babies, because Emily was so ill for ages after she was born – born early or ‘eager to see the world’ as Dad says – and you were nearly eight weeks old when she was well enough to come home. The doctors were convinced you’d never bond because of it. Mum told you once when she was getting all soppy over baby photos on your thirteenth birthday, that sometimes, she’d just lie you next to Emily, even if you were awake because she’d never settle without you there. It was the same during nap time at nursery, no matter how you started off, you’d always end up with her.

The night Emily stayed out with Naomi at the lake – their lake as she called it, whenever she’d tell you she was going to meet her there during the summer – you didn’t sleep at all.

***

Hours later, when your dad comes in quietly with some tea and toast – that’s now going cold because you we’re terrified of waking her up if you reach for it – he looks at you like you’re the best daughter and sister in the universe for just being there for Emily. You’re still holding her tight when he whispers a ‘thank you’ at you, and leans over to kiss you and Emily both on the cheek before going out again, just as quietly. No matter what happens, you’re not going anywhere until she’s ready to be left, no matter how long it takes for her to get there.