The honeymoon ends when Mrs Fitch finds out. She walks in on them, once, newly parted from a kiss; Emily’s got her hand unmistakably inside Naomi’s shirt when the door opens. She does not say anything at that moment, yet she shuts the door loudly after her, in a way that makes even relatively brave girls like Naomi grow pale.
Then Naomi says, “Your mum knows.”
Emily slides her hand from underneath Naomi’s shirt, as if relishing the feel of Naomi’s skin under her palm. “Yeah,” she just says, and that is the last time they speak that night.
On the way home from Emily’s that night, Naomi thinks to herself, I should have told her. About that morning when Mrs Fitch sat her down and gave her *the* talk. And that was even before the Love Ball altogether, and oh well. Naomi agrees that while she does like keeping secrets, the prospect of keeping secrets from Emily does not appeal to her at all.
When Naomi gets home, she takes out her mobile phone and tries to call Emily, but then she couldn’t find the words, not yet.
On the day Naomi tells Emily, Emily asks, expectedly: “And you told me just now because?” Truth be told, Naomi has been practicing for days, how she would not flinch, but then she flinches anyway, biting down on her lip and looking away as if she had been slapped. For all her brave girl façade, things like this – a semblance of betrayal, this breach of trust – always get to her, and they get to her harder when it’s Emily.
“Ems,” she just says, still looking away. To be honest about it, she does not want to discuss it because it means they have to face the consequences of certain actions, and all Naomi wants sometimes, despite and over all her talk about political awareness and standing up for rights – sometimes she just wants to be not held responsible. Sometimes. And this freewheeling thing with Emily, the way with which they just flow, light and inconsequential and under the radar, mostly – she wants it to last; she wanted to see how long it would, until this.
When Emily sees the look on Naomi’s face, she reaches up to touch it gently. “I’m not angry,” she’s saying, rubbing absently with the pad of her thumb, circling a patch of skin on Naomi’s cheek. “It’s just that… you should have told me earlier, is all.”
Naomi tries to breathe relief, tries to smile even, to convince herself that everything would go back to the way they were before. But then deep inside she knows how some things begin ending, and at that moment, she is very afraid.
And so the unraveling begins with, Maybe we shouldn’t see each other that often, too much. Naomi herself suggests it, actually; as expected, it doesn’t sit well with Emily.
“I don’t care what my mum thinks,” Emily insists, but Naomi only shakes her head. “I told her flat out about you, over dinner, it was *ages* ago.” Emily pauses a little, looks at Naomi who is still unconvinced. “Surely, she should have come around by now.”
At the end of that conversation, they agree on twice a week, Thursdays and Sundays, because Fridays they usually have Algebra and Emily could always sleep over as long as they have their thick math books in tow, Naomi’s mother would surely understand, and Saturday nights they were almost always out with everyone else, and Emily is insatiable when high and adorable when tipsy, Naomi wouldn’t miss it for the world.
On days when she’s not seeing Emily, Naomi thinks about the horrible consequences of dependence: One day, Emily might not be there at all, not even when Naomi needs her; may it be the fault of fate or will, it does not matter. The point is, one day, Naomi thinks – one day she will be calling out for something that would not be there in the first place.
After all this time needing nothing, Naomi thinks she does not like it, the feeling of needing something this much, especially since she now does.
Despite precautions, Mrs Fitch runs into her anyway as Naomi is on her way to Emily that morning; they’ve been walking to school clandestinely since school began.
She looks Naomi squarely in the eye as she says, “I told you to stay away from her.” And then, “You know I could take her away from you, don’t you?”
Naomi skips school altogether that day, spending most of it hunched over the toilet, retching; the acid builds at the back of her throat whenever she remembers Mrs Fitch saying, “I could take her away from you.”
There’s a lot of things that phrase could mean, from curfew to migration, though Naomi refuses to name them all, because that would mean she recognizes their possibilities and that is always step one, isn’t it.
Naomi contemplates telling Emily altogether – perhaps in school, over lunch, or when they are talking quietly in the lockers. But then, she knows the new Emily all too well – the new Emily would be prone to confrontation, and all things taken into consideration, there may be a fight, and there may be movement from one place to another.
“Are you okay?” asks Emily, off Naomi’s dazed stare.
Naomi blinks, then shakes her head. She couldn’t even find the words to say No, but then, she couldn’t bear the thought of facilitating doomsday either.
On the day Emily tells her that they have to talk, Naomi tries to steel herself. Emily never begins anything with the We have to talk clause – it just isn’t her, and yet here she is now. Emily sits Naomi down, before saying, “Are you sure we’re all right here?”
Naomi looks away. “Ems.”
“You’ve changed, obviously. What’s the matter?”
Naomi sighs, worries her lip some more, fidgeting lightly. “I’m not sure, really.” And then, after a moment’s consideration, “It’s your mother.”
“I thought we’ve fucking settled this.”
“No, it’s different—”
“What I don’t get, really,” cuts Emily, “Is that this is my own mother we’re up against and you’re not even fighting back.”
Naomi wishes she could say she is up for a fight, that she could afford one against the woman who’s raising Emily, in the first place, but then she’s long realized the wise choose their fights.
“Ems, let’s just…” she’s saying. “I mean, your mother could…” she pauses, stranded by the images – hallways without Emily, Emily’s empty chair in class, Naomi’s wide wide bed without her. “Never mind, Ems, let’s just keep your mum happy okay?” she says instead.
To which Emily replies with an indignant, “She could very well fuck off, really.” Naomi closes her eyes at that. Now she has moved from being afraid to being terrified.
Of course, she’s not there when everything goes down. Emily tells her of a condensed version. “I’m leaving Bristol,” she’s saying after, and Naomi has foreseen this exact conversation, has replayed it in her head over and over far too often that she succeeds in suppressing tears, actually. “For university, I mean. My mum’s making me.” And then, off the look on Naomi’s face, “Of course, you have to come with me.”
The only phrase that regrettably comes to mind, Naomi thinks, is too much too soon. Naomi had plans too, before Emily got here, before this all got a bit complicated, before she started feeling things. She had it all in her head, she had it stashed in her journals, she talked about it to her mother all the time, since she was all there was for Naomi before Emily, anyway.
And at this point, Naomi is unsure she could hitch her plans onto Emily’s, or if she would want to in the first place; the feeling is excruciating. “I don’t know Ems,” she says, “Can’t we sit and think about it for a while?”
Emily takes her hand, strokes it, says yes. “Yes of course,” she’s saying, her fingers soft on Naomi’s skin. “Take your time, of course.”
(At night Naomi thinks about how it is like to plan for two all the time. Surely, Emily’s had practice, what with Katie and everything. But for Naomi, who hasn’t even shared anything with a sibling, the feeling is alien, at best.)
As graduation nears, the sense that something is closing in on Naomi begins to heighten and suffocate, to a degree. “Have you made up your mind yet?” Emily asks one day while finishing her application forms.
They are lying on Naomi’s bed, and Naomi’s staring right on the ceiling, both hands clasped on her stomach. “I don’t know Ems,” she’s saying, “Right now, I don’t really feel like going anywhere.”
Emily stops writing. “That’s ridiculous!” she says, throwing her pen down for effect even. “You’re brilliant and intelligent and any university would be stupid not to want to have you—”
“Ems, Ems,” Naomi gets up, holds Emily’s face in both her hands. “I guess what I’m trying to say,” she begins, alternating between Emily’s eyes and Emily’s lips. “What I’m trying to say is that…”
Emily kisses her anyway, cutting off the rest of her words. “I don’t care where you’re going,” Emily says in between breaths, “I don’t care.”
Looking at Emily while she is sleeping, Naomi thinks, if she does not go with her she will probably die ahead of the feeling. The realization strikes Naomi as kind of odd, actually, granted that she’s never felt like this before, and thus she has never known that she had it in her to feel this way, to begin with.
But then again, Naomi thinks, maybe it’s for the best; if it has to end, it should in a way that it doesn’t really have to look like it – like this, to walk toward opposite ends, until such a point that there is no turning back, not because they couldn’t, but because they don’t really have to, not anymore.
Thinking about it, Naomi reckons it could be sad, but then, she sees it mostly as a half-empty, half-full kind of thing, and somehow, she is okay with that. #