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Late in the Day

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It’s nice out, Effy thinks, closing her eyes, basking in little what remains of the late afternoon sun, as she stretches out lengthways on the bench. One arm rests behind her head and the other brushes vaguely close to the ground. A half smoked cigarette rests between her fingers. She brings the arm back up and takes a long drag, watching the plume of smoke rise upwards, stark against the otherwise blue, cloudless sky. It makes her feel strangely powerful.

“Interrupting some deep thoughts am I?”

She smiles, seeing Naomi, make that a rather dishevelled Naomi, standing above her,

“I was about to send out a search party,” she says, scooting back so Naomi can sit down.

“I’m here, I brought drink, what more do you want?!” Naomi reaches over, taking the cigarette from Effy’s hand. “I distinctly remember you phoning and saying,” she pauses then, taking a hard drag, “‘meet me later.’ It’s later,” she shrugs, placing a plastic bag between them both. It clinks.

Effy peers into it, immediately reaching in when she sees all-too familiar cans inside, “Drink. Excellent. I knew there was a reason why I was friends with you!” she passes one to Naomi without thinking.

There’s a stereo celebratory hiss as they open them at more or less the same time, and they knock them together out of habit, and share a brief glance, before laughing over the space where the toast would be.

“Nice sex hair,” she comments, with a smirk, sucking at the edge of the beer can as she swats at Naomi’s hair.

Typically, Naomi blushes, screeching a “Fuck off!” before patting down her telltale untidy mane.

She takes back the tiny remnant of her cigarette, and has one final drag before tossing it to the ground; stubbed with a practised heel. “Might want to sort that out, aswell,” she gestures towards Naomi’s check shirt, miss-buttoned. “I was about to ask what you’ve been doing all day, but I think that should be who.”

The blush on Naomi’s cheeks deepens.

“Fuck sake!” she exclaims, slamming down the can and hastily re-buttoning. “You know the worst thing? I’ve been in Mr Sharma’s looking like this!”

“Probably the best thrill he’s had all year!” Effy replies, taking a long swig of her drink.

“First time he’s never ID’d me!” she laughs.

It’s infectious. What begins as nothing more than a snigger grows from Effy’s side of the bench when she imagines the kindly, easily embarrassed Mr Sharma, desperately trying to look anywhere but at Naomi’s tits.

They fall into an easy silence then, drinking and people watching: their favourite pastime. She watches the birds – one particularly elegant as it carves out a path for itself in the sky holds her attention for a while – and the few people milling around, with Frisbees, footballs, dogs and kids. Naomi doesn’t say anything for a while, but it’s nice, knowing she’s there, that there’s no massive need to fill the silence with talking. They have an understanding; unspoken, of course.

***

“Honestly, Eff, if I knew you were waiting,” Naomi announces, after a while, placing her can down, suddenly serious. “I would’ve, you know …”

“Stopped being your girlfriend’s willing sex slave?” she supplies, covering her friend’s awkwardness. Naomi fights smiling, but does it anyway.

“I didn’t plan it, alright? It just sort of … happened.” Naomi glances away, a little embarrassed.

“Slag,” she replies, with a dig to Naomi’s side. “I never knew you were so easy! In the middle of the day!” she shakes her head in mock disdain.

Naomi just smiles, smugly, “Emily’s very persuasive.”

For a second or so, Effy knows she’s not on a park bench with her anymore.

“So I’ve seen,” she comments, patting her pockets to find her cigarettes. “After what I witnessed last night, I’m surprised you haven’t been arrested for public indecency!”

“We’re working on it,” Naomi shoots back, with a grin, taking two cigarettes when she’s offered. One goes in her mouth, the other behind her ear for safe keeping.

“Oi!” she yanks the box away before Naomi can steal any more.

“What? I left mine at Emily’s!” Naomi looks incredulous.

“Christened the bed then?” she asks, teasingly, passing Naomi her lighter.

“Jesus, no!” Naomi replies, says, cigarette wagging in her mouth as she lights up. “Most I’ve done in her room is kiss her,” she pauses, "on the bed, not in it."

“Mother Superior still think you corrupted her little Emily?”

Naomi sighs, “Yep.”

She smirks as a rather lurid image from last night’s house party pops into her head: Emily, in a bikini top and denim shorts, sat on Naomi’s lap – who was wearing much the same – in a garden lounger kissing her with greedy enthusiasm. There were no prying eyes; everyone else was too drunk to care.

“Good job she didn’t see her daughter last night!”

“I know! She would’ve had a heart attack!” Naomi’s eyes widen, and she clutches her beer can to her chest.

“And then you’d never see Emily again! Star-crossed!”

“It’s not funny! You haven’t met Jenna!” Naomi shakes her head.

Naomi says ‘Jenna’ like people say Hitler or Voldermort. If she didn’t know better, Effy might think she was being overly dramatic, but it’s not anything like exaggeration. One of her steely-eyed glances across the college green – even before their disastrous camping trip – was enough. She’d been smart enough to avoid any Fitch since.

“Oh don’t lie! You love it, all that sneaking about. It’s romantic isn’t it?”

“The stuff that dreams are made of, never being able to see her, course it is!” Naomi sighs dramatically for effect, but Effy knows it’s something she fears. Dreads even.

Not that she’s ever said it out loud. It’s not how they work. Big outpourings of emotion aren’t really their forte. All they have to do is look at each other, and they just know.

“Clearly you need some more drink, because you’re in danger of taking things too seriously,” she reaches into the bag and offers Naomi another, but she shakes her head.

***

“I was surprised she let you come,” Effy admits, after Naomi doesn’t speak for a while.

Naomi turns to her, “Why? Emily knows I’m here. We don’t have any secrets.”

She snorts, “Oh, yes, I forgot, you tell each other everything and skip about hand-in-hand! And there’s rainbows and puppies and everyone has pretty bows in their hair!”

Naomi raises her middle finger in immediate reply, the faintest of smiles on her lips, before adding, “Anyway, you didn’t hit me over the head with a rock, did you?”

“Fair point,” she concedes. “But,” she pauses a moment, somewhat surprised by Naomi’s answer, because they’d never actually talked about the Katie incident.

In fact, this is the most they’ve talked since then, what with her and Cook playing Bonnie and Clyde and Naomi trading this world for Planet Emily. Effy doesn’t mind of course, because they make each other happy, and she likes Emily, but it does make things a bit complicated. It was inevitable Katie would come up sometime.

“Isn’t it awkward?” she adds, finally, and it doesn’t sound right at all.

“No, not really,” is Naomi’s typically noncommittal reply.

“I mean, she’s Katie’s sister.”

“She didn’t expect me to stop talking to you, she wouldn’t make me choose. She might be her twin, but they’re not the same. She doesn’t hold grudges.”

“So, she got all the good traits in the womb then?” she says, dryly. It slips out before she realises. It’s almost like a reflex.

Naomi tries desperately not to laugh, “Eff...”

“Sorry, it’s like, tourette’s. I can’t help it! She makes it so easy!”

Naomi just shakes her head, takes a quick drag, “Emily was angry at you. I was angry,” she looks at her pointedly, “but she’s not anymore. I talked her round.”

“Thanks.” Effy holds Naomi’s gaze, hoping she knows that she’s being genuine. “What about you?”

“I’m not angry either, OK? It’s not like you can take it back, is it?”

“No, unfortunately.”

“Not one of your best moments, Eff.” Naomi smiles weakly, elbowing her.

“Nope,” she plays with the ring pull on her can. “I was in a weird place. It wasn’t about her.”

“I know. Katie knows.” Naomi replies, swigging her drink before adding, “I wouldn’t cross paths with Jenna anytime soon though. She’s not as forgiving.”

Naomi looks like she might say something else, but then stops herself. Effy’s thankful for it. She nods and goes quiet for a minute.

“No more road trips to Gobblers End, OK?”

“And no fucking ‘shrooms!” Naomi exclaims, with a rather knowing look, that’s nothing to do with Katie at all.

She smiles again; glad they’ve got that part of the conversation out of the way. It was a relief to know that if she’d been brave enough to speak to Emily at any point; it wouldn’t have ended in a trip to Bristol Royal Infirmary.

“I’ll drink to that!” she raises her can. “What did you do in that tent, anyway?”

“Found ways to keep warm that didn’t involve lighting fires,” Naomi replies, with a smirk, sipping casually on her drink.

“Fucking hell,” she starts to laugh, and after a moment, so does Naomi, with an all too familiar blush on her face.

***

It’s almost dark now, but they’ve made no plans to move yet. They’re down to one can of beer and three cigarettes, and the park’s near empty. They’re not drunk, pleasantly buzzed, perhaps. She sits cross-legged on one end of the bench, and Naomi kneels on the other. Since her rather more interesting take on events at Gobblers End, they’ve not really spoken, but it feels alright, she feels comfortable again. It’s almost like she can forget Gobblers End even happened.

“Won’t she wonder where you are?” she asks. Of course, she doesn’t need to qualify that the ‘she’ in question is Emily.

“She’s staying at home tonight, to get her mum off her back,” Naomi makes a face, holding up her fingers in air quotes, “because, apparently she’s not ‘spending enough time with her family’.”

“So you’re off the leash then?”

“Fuck you! We aren’t joined at the hip!”

“No, just everywhere else!” she retorts, with a smile, tossing Naomi her lighter when she clicks her fingers for it. “But she hardly went anywhere before you, unless Katie made her.”

Naomi sits forward, suddenly animated and visibly incensed at the vague mention of Mrs Fitch, “Exactly, she’s just being a bitch because she can. And she’s already fucked our plans up because she’s dragging them all off to sodding France in two weeks. I think she needs a new project to focus on now that Katie’s OK again!”

“So, she is… alright?” she ventures, barely looking at Naomi.

“Yeah, she’ll be OK. I think. But you’re asking the wrong person.”

“I have a lot of other things to sort out before I even think of that,” she looks up to the sky.

Guilt’s an ugly feeling, she realises, and despite everything, it still catches her unaware sometimes. But as quick as it came over her, it’s gone again. Naomi, of course, needs no extra information either. She shuffles closer.

“Not sorted things with Freddie or Cook then?”

She shakes her head. “Mum thinks I need to get away.”

“For once, your mum might be right.”

“I was quite happy with going up to Cardiff to see Tony …” she tails off.

“But?”

“She’s booked tickets to Italy. She thinks that by crossing a body of water bigger than the Bristol Channel, she’ll somehow fix me.”

“Oh, fantastic! So my girlfriend’s buggering off to France and now you’re leaving me for some greasy Italian on a Vespa!”

“I don’t think I have any choice. And not all Italians are greasy!”

“They are! My mum’s last boyfriend was Italian. Giuseppe,” Naomi looks disgusted at the memory. “Right perv he was. He tried it on! Twice!”

She can’t help but laugh at Naomi’s dramatics, she’d spent most of the day wondering how she’d react to the news, but she never bargained on this.

“Admit it, you’ll miss me!” Effy shoves her playfully.

Naomi responds with a quiet, “Maybe,” and continues with a louder, “When are you going?”

She stands up, stretches, and turns back to her, “Tomorrow morning. Early. Well, later on really.”

“Why didn’t you say something before?” Naomi protests.

“Oh,” she clasps her hands together, “Would you and Emily have thrown me a going away party? She could’ve made me a cake!”

“Ha-ha. Seriously, Eff, you were just going to piss off?”

“I’ve caused enough trouble, I didn’t want it to be a big thing,” she reaches for her jacket, and pulls it on. “I thought you should know, so, I told you.”

“Shouldn’t we have started the conversation with this, given that it was the point of us meeting?” Naomi asks, puzzled.

“I like to be unconventional, you should know that by now,” she deflects it, reaching down for her bag.

“So what the fuck do I tell people?” Naomi scrambles off the bench, with sudden urgency, stepping in front of her so Effy’s forced to look at her.

“Tell them I’ve joined the fucking circus for all I care!” she brushes off Naomi’s concern. “Go and see your Juliet, while you can,” she backs away, tossing Naomi what’s left of her cigarettes. “Write her a sonnet on the back of that!”

“Effy, wait!” Naomi calls after her, catching her up.

They look at each other, and for once, Naomi’s unreadable. She takes another step, and hugs Effy briefly.

“Don’t start crying on me!” she points a finger in warning. “Emily’s made you go all soft!”

She tries her best to smile, but really, she’s a little bit tearful, and she isn’t alone. It’s unexpected, because Naomi wasn’t usually the touchy-feely type, and preferred to bury her feelings, most of the time. Truth be told, this is exactly the kind of sentimental display she wanted to avoid. Though she’ll never admit it aloud, she’ll always be glad that Naomi cares, apart from Tony, and Pandora, she’s the only person who actually does.

“Sort yourself out, yeah?” Naomi says, looking her right in the eyes.

“I’ll try,” she nods, giving her a little wave before she turns away and heads off in the opposite direction. Any other time, she would’ve said that just to appease her, but she really does mean it.

She can still hear Naomi’s footsteps at first, following cautiously, and she imagines her tagging along beside her all the way home, so there will be more conversation and more teary-eyed moments. Then, her phone rings and they slow to a stop. A reprieve. Effy smiles to herself when she hears Naomi’s voice change completely. She’s excited, lighter, happy, and Effy immediately knows Emily is on the other end.

It feels like a good omen.