The week before she leaves, Emily throws a party. Everyone’s invited, in the spirit of goodbye, and in the same vein, there is an overflow of alcohol and cigarettes and spliff; Thomas and Pandora, at least, make sure of the last, while Cook surprisingly volunteers to take care of the vodka. Everybody else brings more than enough of the second item to tide everyone through the night and, possibly, into the following month, at least.
She and Naomi are at the helm of things, and to a degree, also Katie, since nobody leaves Katie out of power for long, anyway. On the surface, Emily is glad something could at least seem to bring the two girls together, even if it is in the context of a going-away party, though for the most part, Emily thinks it’s all pretend: Naomi’s pretending this wouldn’t change anything, Katie’s pretending things would be better once Emily’s out of here, and Emily, she pretends it’s just another one of those parties where everyone gets rightly smashed, each in their own right and then some.
She and Naomi don’t discuss it, the parting. They discuss the food, the booze, the spliff, but never the parting; not the week ahead, the final day, not even the setup at the airport, the not-crying at the departure bay. Emily knows discussing it would give it a name, understands the need to push it as far as way as possible. And even when they both know it’s inevitable, Emily understands, or at least, tries really hard to, how Naomi’s still too superstitious for this.
Of course, Naomi is staying; something about her mum, something about her dreams being rooted in Bristol, something about something that she couldn’t leave behind.
“We’re not leaving, Naomi,” she had tried to plead, once. “We’re just moving temporarily.”
Of course, Naomi had said no, and here they are now.
With all the violent blinking lights and the oppressive music and the sheer volume of alcohol available, it may have very well been Cook’s party, not Emily’s, but then this is exactly how Emily wants it – the music’s so loud Emily feels it on her chest and the lights are lovely when you’re on something, really.
All in all, Emily thinks, she just wants it to be fun, not depressing, as certain partings are wont to be.
They’re sitting on a couch by the corner, nursing various kinds of alcohol, when Katie comes over and asks everyone what the fuck they are doing sitting through the song. “It’s Lady Gaga, for fuck’s sake,” Katie is saying, and Emily rolls her eyes, laughs a little, tells her, “Come on, Katie, they can dance when they want to.”
Truth be told, Emily likes dancing; likes it better when she’s had a bit too much she couldn’t tell left from right. So she drains what little remains of her vodka, then gets to her feet, albeit a bit shakily.
The suddenness of the move catches Naomi, who’s huddled close to her, off-guard. “What?” asks Naomi, looking up.
Emily motions with an outstretched hand, smiling. “Come on, dance with me.”
“What?” Naomi laughs, smirking a little now with those lopsided lips. “I don’t dance, Em.”
“’Course you do,” says Emily back, sinking to her knees in front of Naomi, pleading; the sight of her makes Naomi bite down on her lip and look away, shoulders shaking lightly with held-back laughter. “Come on, everything once,” Emily’s saying, fastening her grip around Naomi’s wrist quickly, right before Naomi realizes the reference.
When they get to the dance floor, the mashup morphs into Kylie Minogue and Naomi’s laughing now at Emily’s hands seemingly raised in joy. “What?” asks Emily, brow raised.
“My ten-year-old self wants a word with you,” Naomi’s saying, and Emily drapes her arms loosely around Naomi’s neck, pulling her closer in response, laughing as well.
“It’s not that bad,” says Emily, noting how Ms Minogue is belting out, quite familiarly, how she knew they were meant to be as *one*. “I mean, it *is* quite vintage, but it’s still disco, ain’t it.”
“Never mistook you for a disco lover, Ems,” says Naomi, leaning in so close to Emily’s ear that it makes Emily visibly shiver.
Breathing in, Emily just says, “Well then, now you know.”
They dance hard and fast, with hands all over the place, none of them shy, and Emily likes it as it is; likes this Naomi who is not at all shy, not at all concerned, or at least, on the surface, she isn’t. There is sweat on Naomi’s forehead, and when Emily looks at her, she realizes she’s never seen her like this before, this fierce, and the whole thing makes her want to drag Naomi into a quiet corner and do more inappropriate things.
Emily thinks, this is how she wants to remember everything: Hard and fast and unashamed, the way it always feels electric, being this close. The way Naomi looks at her like she might as well set her on fire properly, really. Emily licks her lips, and Naomi, catching it, is unable to resist a laugh.
Emily pulls her in closer: This is exactly how she wants this goodbye. This.
Soon, Emily is saying, “Want to get out and get some air?”
To which Naomi replies, “What, and risk missing something from Gloria Estefan?”
Emily takes that as a yes.
When they get outside, Emily takes out a fag and lights it; Naomi motions for her lighter afterwards and lights up her own. Emily’s still shaking from the sheer weight of the music that she had just released herself from, and she takes a long drag to calm herself, somewhat.
“That was tiring,” Naomi says, exhaling smoke to the side. “I never thought… well, I’m not really made of dancing stuff, is all I’m trying to say.”
Emily considers for a moment her response, feels the music and vodka drain out of her, replaced instead by the nicotine-stained feeling of a heart being crumpled. “Naomi,” she’s saying now quietly, feeling unbelievably sober. “Do you think this could go on? You know. After.”
When Naomi looks at her, she almost looks positively angry, if not for her eyes, always saying something else altogether. “Ems, let’s not do this,” she’s saying, and Emily’s thinking, well this is awfully perfect timing, to be evasive now.
But then, in the interest of keeping peace, Emily just says, “Okay,” reaching out with a hand. Naomi receives it; her hands are cold, sweaty. When Emily pulls her in, Naomi drops her cigarette, pulls Emily in by her nape with her now vacant hand for a kiss.
Kissing her up against the side wall of the club, Emily thinks, this is Naomi: Headstrong at times, yet mighty afraid of plenty. Sometimes she looks like she knows what she wants, but sometimes, it’s just all that, the surface.
Emily remembers how this took a while, discovering the bits of Naomi that Emily had been wrong about, at first; how once she had said, “I’m not that girl you first wanted anymore, am I?” That time, Emily couldn’t find the words; well, what she had wanted to say was that she was and then she wasn’t—she was more. That time, in the absence of proper formulation, Emily kissed her, and that was the last time they talked of it.
And now that she’s kissing Naomi again in the absence of the right things to say, Naomi’s hand is forceful at the back of Emily’s nape, the urgency very clear. Emily thinks Naomi tastes like the fear that has been building up inside her, all these months leading to this.
“It doesn’t have to end,” Emily’s saying after; Naomi shifts her eyes.
“It’s not in our hands,” she only says.
“Well, I’m glad you’re set on doing this,” Emily’s mother told her once, a few nights later, spying from their bedroom door while Emily is packing. Emily thinks it is much more efficient to do this incrementally – not like she could fit all that there is to need in one go.
“Of course, I am,” she responds, albeit a bit dryly. “I mean, not like there’s anything else left to do but go, right?”
There’s a pause before her mother clears her throat. “What about Naomi?”
The way with which the name had been seemingly just unceremoniously *thrown* starts tripping Emily’s wrong chords all at once. “What do you mean, what about Naomi?” she asks, her voice raised slightly.
“Well,” her mother continues, matter-of-factly, “I assume it’s over, then.”
“What? Not like you expected it to last, did you?”
“Mum,” Emily just says again, more firmly this time, looking over at her mother with the most respectful version of a glare that she could muster. Surely, she’s family and Emily knows for sure how there is love all over the place, and all that, but this is just infuriating. “It’s none of your business, how we’re going to sort it.”
It shuts her mother up, briefly. When she doesn’t leave the doorway, Emily has to ask again, “Is there anything else?”
Her mother walks over to her, sits by the bed, stroking Emily’s hair. “To be honest, honey, I expected a more forceful speech. Something about love transcending boundaries and space, you know, the shit that you kids like spewing out every now and then.” Emily sees how the look on her mother’s face is so painfully soft, and then how she sighs after, like she’s almost relieved. “Well, there. You’re growing up fast, aren’t you, darling?”
When her mother pushes herself off the bed and takes off, Emily walks after her and shuts the door. She knows, she’s her mother and everything and that presumably because of that, love *is* all around and shit, but must she really walk all over her like that and leave her feeling so miserable?
Emily couldn’t quite look Naomi in the eye for days; which is shit, really, considering how little they have left. Naomi asks for a final trip to the lake before she leaves, and Emily meets her with her bike at the curb, wobbly and all, but it’s not at all from nerves, as much as it is about the guilt that has stemmed from the lack of force, as her mother had put quite clearly.
They talk little when they’re there, sipping quietly from the bottle of vodka Emily had brought for old times’ sake, sharing a brief bout of laughter once, at Emily’s suggestion of blowbacks, to which Naomi just says, “Awfully sentimental, aren’t we,” before going on ahead and letting herself be drawn in. Emily focuses better now on Naomi’s eyes; the last time, she was so nervous, the details were at best blurry. This time, she tells herself while at it, This time is for keeps.
When it’s over, the way Naomi’s staring at her doesn’t make it any less easier. When they kiss, they come upon each other’s lips hard, harder than it was that first time, and Emily notes how different this one feels, kissing Naomi and feeling, not the vast multitudes of opportunities opening, but instead, the hordes of them that are slipping away.
As they open their eyes as the kiss breaks, it is Naomi who cries first.
Later that night, when they are all cried out and calmed down, Emily breaks into their silence. “Mum thinks we’re breaking up,” she says. Naomi, who is lying with her head on Emily’s stomach, is quiet. “I told her it’s none of her business, how we sort it out.”
“Is that all you told her?”
Emily swallows at Naomi’s question; hates the fact that the consequence of this closeness is that Naomi could now read through her, and read quite accurately, even without looking. “Yeah,” she just says, “Pretty much.”
Naomi gets up at that, takes a swig from the vodka bottle she had been cradling all the while. “Well,” she begins, glancing sideways at Emily, smirking lightly. “Quite disappointing, seeing you’re the one with the penchant for, I don’t know, giant proclamations.” Naomi tempers the comment with a laugh even, but this time it’s Emily who sees right through it.
“Naomi,” Emily just says, painfully aware now.
Naomi looks at her all too kindly, and Emily nearly flinches. “But it’s all incredibly grown-up, actually. I thought you’d be all, ‘let’s go to civil war mum.’”
“It’s not that I didn’t want to fight for you, Naomi, if that’s what it looks like--”
“No, it’s not really,” says Naomi, reaching over for the lighter. “As I’ve said, it’s incredibly grown-up.”
“Not everything about growing up is bright, as you see,” Naomi says back, taking in a long, deep drag. Emily tries not to stare at her lips, puckered and lovely; tries hard to not let this night spiral into that, or at least, not yet. “The whole disappointed thing, that’s just me though; perhaps not quite grown-up to the point of being, I don’t know, not disappointed. Yet.”
Naomi hands over the cigarette and Emily takes in a deep one herself before speaking. “So you mean,” she’s saying, “There’s wisdom in this, soon?”
“Thereabouts, yes,” Naomi just says, shrugging, and Emily just says, “Oh,” in response.
When the cigarette fades out after being passed to and fro, Emily crushes it against the ground beside her. “So,” she’s saying, clearing her throat; night has fallen and the cold has begun making her voice hoarse.
“So,” Naomi says back.
“Are we or are we not?” Emily asks, and off Naomi’s quizzical look, she appends, “Breaking up, I meant.”
Naomi considers the question for a good while, and then lights up another cigarette. “I don’t know,” Naomi says finally, studying the flame at the tip of her fag intently; Emily finds herself flinching anyway. “I mean, don’t get me wrong Ems, it all seems fucking romantic, you and me against the odds, yeah? Your mother included.” Emily’s nearly ready to cry at the speed with which this conversation is going wrong, but Naomi continues anyway. “But really, Ems. When you said yes to getting out of here for Uni, did you consider…”
“Are you saying I had completely disregarded you, this, when I made the decision?”
“Emily,” Naomi puts a hand on Emily’s chest, as if she’s trying to find a heartbeat; Emily’s breathing is ragged and erratic. “I’m just saying, you’ve already chosen. You’re leaving in a few days, aren’t you?”
“I asked you to leave with me.”
“Then I also made a choice.” By now, Emily’s wiping the steady onslaught of tears with the back of her hand, and Naomi’s looking up and trying to force hers back in. “It’s not just you, you know. It’s not entirely your fault.”
Emily processes the last portion of Naomi’s sentence, the one where she says it’s nobody’s fault, as if this entire afternoon had been an exercise in determining that; she’s wondering when and how they got to surrender so quickly, from that place where they had wanted none of it to end. “Are you trying to say we are ending this?”
“I thought when you asked that was what you wanted,” says Naomi.
“Why the fuck would I want that?”
It takes a while for Naomi to say something in response; when Emily tries to look at her, Naomi’s shakily trying to take a hit from her cigarette. The sight of her struggling crushes Emily’s heart promptly. “Because it’s the proper grown-up thing to do, that’s why,” Naomi just says.
Emily looks away, wincing as if she had been slapped.
The night before her flight, Emily asks her if she wants to get together one last time.
“And what,” says Naomi, “Cry while at it?”
Emily nods, just holds Naomi’s hand. “Okay,” she says, stroking Naomi’s palm. “No crying, none of that, then.”
On the day itself, Naomi makes herself scarce, though she does see Emily off at the airport, side by side with JJ and Katie, of all people. Emily couldn’t help but smile slightly at the curious mix of people in her going-away entourage.
“So,” Emily says. “I’ll see you in a few months?” The question is actually for everyone there, but then she’s mostly only looking at Naomi. Everybody hugs her after; her parents go twice each even.
Naomi, of course, goes last, and Emily hugs her the longest. When the hug breaks, they’re so close that Emily almost suggests that they kiss, if not for Naomi’s, “I have something for you.”
Naomi nods slightly, pushes an envelope into Emily’s hand. “It’s nothing long, I doubt you’d be even through a *tenth* of the flight when you get to the end of this.”
Emily holds the thing closely, nearly crumples it with the effort, says, “Thanks,” before sniffing slightly and adding, “Fuck it, I want to kiss you.”
And she does, slowly, until her flight gets called, and the last thing Emily remembers about that moment is the feeling of Naomi’s lips slipping away, from between her teeth, the air rushing right back into her lungs.
When Emily opens the note, she finds Naomi’s unmistakable handwriting: “I will make no promises about how things would be when you get back, no promises about things not changing, no promises about myself even, and neither should you, really. I have no promises for you, other than the fact that we both know well: I love you, and always, in a way that I would never be able to love anyone else again. –N.”
Emily sinks further into her seat, folds the note up and keeps it. She is sure she will re-read it, albeit much, much later. For now, she is letting it sink in and until it has, Emily realizes, there is nothing much else left to contemplate, other than the long flight, and the much longer year ahead.#