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At the end of everything, Naomi cleans her room. She puts Jeff Buckley on infinite loop while at it, sorting through the mess of it all – the nearly always unmade bed, the various notes on her dresser, books left mostly only half-read, the magazines on the floor.

She tries not to cry when she finds the small things Emily has somehow left – the random shirt, the notebook she kept for English class the previous year, which they liked to go over again and again, if only for the poetry. Upon overturning a pillow, Naomi finds one of Emily’s signature hair bows underneath. There’s a pair of knickers, even, tucked away at the corner of the bed, at which point Naomi is torn between laughing and falling apart completely; she does a little of both, biting into her hand to keep from making a sound.

Some days are more bearable than others, though no day is easier than the last, and the nights are infinitely harder.

*

On their first few weeks apart, Emily sends e-mails regularly, or the occasional package; one of them is even ridiculously in time for some sort of informal commemoration of that day at the lake. Naomi laughs extra hard that time, at the memory of Emily, the potential look on her face, her uncanny attention to the littlest details. Needless to say, some other days the laughter dies abruptly, overtaken by an all-too sudden pensiveness.

When classes open, Naomi enters a local university, tries to make friends. She fails for the most part, as she does on most of her first days. By default she’s just not friendly, and now she is all too prone to putting up walls.

Naomi remembers how she has made no promises, but every time she spies on a familiar shade of red and she can’t help but follow with her eyes, she feels a little stab in the chest.

*

When exams start rolling around, Emily’s e-mails become few and far between, albeit with fair warning. Surprisingly, Naomi finds herself in relatively stable company that she almost does not mind, the way things have changed over the course of a few months.

“Getting pretty tight around here,” writes Emily in one of her later notes, wherein she tries to explain her proposed absence from Naomi’s life.

Naomi just shrugs before she types, “Same here,” and then, “Hope it gets better soon, yeah?” Curiously, she does not know what else to say, opts to attach instead a photo of herself, taken haphazardly with her laptop’s webcam, in which she carries a hastily scribbled note that says, ‘I miss you.’ The summary of the feeling in not so many words, Naomi just thinks to herself, pressing send.

She closes her eyes, tries to imagine how Emily would look like upon receipt; these days, Naomi finds that it keeps getting harder and harder, this.

*

Three weeks after the last message, Naomi sits down to send a quick note, forces herself through the forty-five wordless minutes of it, the whole thinking about what to say, typing and erasing and typing some more.

She is just not used to this; Emily starts most, if not all, conversations. Naomi remembers how Emily had told her off, once, how she never asked about anything – it’s not just she’s not curious, Naomi likes to think of herself, it’s just that she’s more used to being in a position of response or reaction. And now, without Emily’s prodding, Naomi finds herself in one of those rare times when she does not have anything to say.

Naomi tries to think back to the time when conversation was easy – this was college, when everything was shared and Emily was here and more often than not she started with, The other day, did you see, or How’s your head after all that alcohol last night?

Naomi finds herself smiling at that, mumbles to herself, Good times, good times. It’s not that the people with her now are not at all interesting – they are, but in ways different than the people in Roundview were. Certainly, university has its own cliques and small clannish circles that look upon other small clannish circles with disgust or condescension or something else entirely, and while Naomi does not really miss Cook’s utterly insufferable portions, she does miss other things, like crashing Thomas’ sofa and getting too ridiculously high and drunk in the middle of the day to even care about getting caught.

Of course, this is not even saying that Naomi’s life after is any more sober – it isn’t, and in some circles she is even particularly notorious for her tolerance of all things illegal, it’s more damning at times, really, than her full name.

But she’s already told Emily all that – the general feel of things out here, how people generally are, and Naomi’s not really keen on going into the details, or at least, not anymore – she remembers how Emily had responded rather coldly that time, when Naomi shared particular details about a few people. That time, Emily had only said back, “Well, you look like you’re having the time of your life.”

That is the last time they speak of it, and Naomi now knows how Emily seems to dislike hearing about certain things, so in the interest of keeping it pleasant amidst all this distance, Naomi omits what she should.

Which leads her to this wordlessness, actually; there are a lot of things she could say, but so little that she thinks she should. Of course, she couldn’t write about all the times she ran into Emily’s mother all over town, her lingering, disapproving stares from afar; or about Cook hovering all over despite much rejection; or how Katie seems to be more and more withdrawn these days, or at least, that’s what she hears from Effy, whom she sees every so often. Naomi finds it curious, for the most part, how the people she’s still in contact with are the people she least expects, but mostly she’s thinking of Effy.

Naomi shakes the thoughts – the thought – off. In the end, she ends up typing, A lot of shit is going down hereabouts. I wish you were here, more than anything.

*

The thing about Effy is – well. Naomi doesn’t even feel the need to explain any of it, partly because she does not know where to begin, and partly because she still thinks she does not have to.

It’s just that *she’s* there, and Emily isn’t, and sometimes, Naomi tries not to think of things that way because of all people, it’s Effy, and Naomi reckons it’s hugely just something people do, something *careless* people do.

Once, Naomi receives a quick note from Emily; she’s saying, How are things going? Naomi opens it one particularly hung-over day, and Effy’s still sleeping on the other side of the bed. She’s turned away, but her skin is nearly translucent and Naomi could see through *everything.*

Heavy party night, Naomi begins writing, looking over at Effy, her shoulder bare. Severely hung-over, but then, what’s new for a Saturday morning, yeah? She presses send, doesn’t even try to attach a photograph of herself, couldn’t risk Emily seeing what is there and isn’t. For the first time, it dawns on Naomi, how much she is actually afraid of how things are shaping up to be.

*

When December comes along, Naomi is torn between Christmas in Bristol and Christmas somewhere else. Effy’s thinking of Cyprus. “Could be fun,” Effy’s saying, thin delicate fingers rolling up a spliff. Just staring at them makes Naomi shiver, despite herself. “Tropical, isn’t it? No snow?”

Naomi’s tapping her finger on her keyboard, a blank e-mail with Emily’s address on top waiting to be filled. “I don’t know,” she just says, inattentive. “Maybe.”

From the corner of her eye, Naomi feels Effy looking at her. Of course, mostly it goes undiscussed – not like she even has to say anything by way of explanation, either. Effy’s a bright girl, and Naomi’s pretty easy to read, her eternal state of confusion notwithstanding. When Effy finishes up her spliff, she lights up, passes it onto Naomi without a word.

Naomi takes a hit, a long, slow one. She’s thinking about how this began – surely, it must have, somewhere, at some point. Which party was it, Naomi’s asking herself. Maybe it’s at the Freshman Welcome Bash, when she didn’t even know Effy was heading to university, in the first place. Effy had smiled – no, smirked – upon catching Naomi amidst the crowd, and Naomi had rolled her eyes at her in response. Naomi remembers how Effy had come over to ask if they could get the fuck out and get some real alcohol and they did.

“You’ve been staring at that for an hour,” says Effy, bringing Naomi back and blowing smoke past her. “Do you want some help or something?”

Naomi rolls her eyes as a requisite reply. “I’m fine, thank you,” she just says, but she smiles wanly anyway.

“If you say so,” Effy says, looking away, smiling to herself. Naomi tries not to think about how Effy looks like when she’s smiling like that, when she’s getting up from bed like that, when she’s putting her clothes on like *that*.

Naomi tries not to think of any of it.

*

Upon receipt of Emily’s note, Naomi’s already in Riga. Emily says, “I’m coming back to Bristol. Can’t wait to see you.” She signs it, Emily, with a small heart. There’s a picture of her in a Santa hat, and it’s all Naomi could take, really.

After a while, Effy just says, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Naomi considers her response: Talk about what? About going home, about why she’s here, about why she’s here with Effy in the first place, and not in Bristol, waiting? About the prospect of Emily finding out when she gets there, about people talking, eventually, anyway?

Naomi shakes her head, says, “No.” Effy fishes another cigarette from her pocket and lights up, walks on ahead of Naomi, wordless.

*

That night, Naomi goes out to an expected alcohol binge with Effy in one of the city’s busy bars; Riga is so alive at night that Naomi almost forgets for a split-second what she’s missing. She spots Effy dancing carelessly with a bottle in one hand in the dim blue lights of the place; Naomi’s leaning back against a wall, staying put in the same corner where Effy had left her, staring from afar. Effy starts smoking and Naomi is reminded of her own cigarette pack, untouched inside her pocket.

At some point, Effy starts chatting up people – girls, mostly, and the way Effy looks over every so often tells Naomi that for the most part, Effy’s doing this to elicit some sort of response; Naomi rolls her eyes, once. When Effy starts chatting up a particularly beautiful redhead, Naomi shakes her head, pushes herself off the wall and walks over, says, “What the fuck?” when she gets there.

Effy laughs, says, “What?” back, shouting over the music.

Naomi rolls her eyes. “Whatever, I’m out of here.”

*

She’s already turning the corner when Effy catches up with her. “Naomi,” she’s calling out, footfalls heavy on the cobbled street.

“What?”

“Listen—” Effy pauses, hanging loosely onto Naomi’s wrist; it is such an unfamiliar gesture that Naomi nearly steps back, nearly pulls away.

“I don’t fucking need any of this right now, ‘kay,” Naomi says, though her voice has lost all of its sharp edges. “So please, just quit with the fucking games, or whatever.”

“Okay,” says Effy, looking at her as if she were absolutely sober. “I’m sorry.”

Naomi looks away; right now, she’s feeling nothing else, other than the way with which she is becoming a monster amidst all of this.

*

In the days following, she and Effy resort to the nearby grocer for alcohol and stay in. Naomi unplugs her laptop and stows it away in a corner, feels her world slowly contract; she’s feeling all the more small and disconnected, but it’s not like it’s any worse from any of the other things she’s overwhelmed with at the moment. She takes out a notebook and a pen and keeps to herself at the far end of the bed.

Effy’s watching all of this, this much Naomi knows; Effy has her way of looking at things, like her eyesight has weight, and Naomi can’t help but feel it pushing against her skin. Effy’s reading a copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which she found on the bureau of the small room they are renting, apparently left by whoever had been there first.

“Ask a question,” Effy breaks into the silence of the room, one afternoon. Naomi’s sitting with her knees drawn up close to her chest, back against the wall, staring at the space across blankly. When Naomi looks over at her with a raised brow, Effy just says again, “I asked for a question.”

“A question,” Naomi repeats dryly.

“About anything,” says Effy.

“What for?”

Effy smiles, reaches past her beer on the bureau to retrieve Rilke. Off Naomi’s confused look, Effy smiles and asks, “Is that your question?”

Naomi laughs -- perhaps, for the first time in days; the gesture feels awkward, almost. “What the fuck, Effy,” she just says.

Effy breathes in momentarily before opening, proceeds to read something random off the page she’s on. “Be happy about your growth,” Effy starts reading, momentarily quirking a brow at Naomi, as if surprised, “in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind.”

Naomi is quiet for a moment, and though she knows the answer, she asks Effy anyway, “What does it mean?”

Shrugging, Effy just says, “I don’t fucking know, you figure it out.” She looks away with that trademark inward smile and Naomi shifts her eyes back down to her empty notebook and drying pen tip. Inside, Naomi feels like there is something – just something – that is changing, but somehow, she does not really want to find out exactly what.

*

On the day they leave Riga, Effy kisses her in the airport; it is unlike any of the others, considering how they’d been skirting around this nameless thing for months. This time it feels so well-defined, it makes Naomi ache; this time, it’s unlike the ones before, because Naomi pays attention, tries to differentiate: how Effy kisses and how Emily does, and Naomi tries not to cry when she finds how she’s all but nearly forgotten how Emily feels under her lips and how, if she were to think in colors and sounds, Effy would be bright red and pulsing right beside her ear, and Emily would be sort of faded both ways.

Too far, Naomi thinks, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when the distance between became unbearable. When Naomi opens her eyes after, Effy’s looking at her, and her eyes, they are heavy.

*

When they roll into Bristol, it is nighttime and Naomi is thankful for the relative quiet. Naomi drops Effy off at their house, considers momentarily if she should spend the night – well, basically because she could – but decides against it at the last minute.

They say goodbye at the gate. Breathing in, Effy just asks her, “Are you ready?”

Naomi shrugs, “I don’t know,” she just says, though basically it’s only because she doesn’t have the heart to say no, outright.

“Okay for now,” Effy says, tentatively reaching over to rub something off Naomi’s left brow, before turning around altogether and entering the house.

Naomi stands there waiting for the door to close, looks up when she sees Effy has turned on the light in her room. When the curtain parts, Effy’s looking at her, smiling slighty and Naomi tries her best to smile back.

Through the whole taxi ride home, Naomi’s thinking about what to tell Emily.

*

Of course, Naomi does not sleep that night. Instead, she opens her laptop and tries to get ready for the influx of messages – random forwards, school-related updates, spam. She looks for Emily’s name in the sender’s column and finds it about twenty messages later.

Emily’s subject says, Where are you; Naomi breathes in before clicking. It is surprisingly short, yet no less heartbreaking. Emily only says, You don’t get out of Bristol with me, but you’re in Latvia with Effy, now. What the fuck is going on?

The message is from a couple of weeks back. Naomi tries not to think about what Emily has managed to piece together during the time between.

*

In the absence of outward signs, it would seem that Naomi is still out of Bristol – her phone is off, her laptop is unplugged, and so far, the only things keeping her sane are the cigarettes. She tries to keep off the alcohol out of some odd concern for her liver, but the effort bogs down on the third day; tries to write about Riga in a manner that is completely detached from Effy, but even that attempt fails miserably just as well.

Effy doesn’t call or drop by or at the very least pass by visibly on the street where Naomi lives, and Naomi thinks, maybe Effy has really just known her well, the briefness of their time together notwithstanding, and Naomi’s all about giving credit where credit is due.

Most days, though, when she’s not writing about Riga, Naomi’s thinking about Emily – about the sheer volume of change that is coming upon them in insurmountable waves, about how there is no rewinding anything, about how this has turned out to be what she had feared for all that while.

*

Effy comes by on a Friday morning. “There should be, like, fifty messages in your phone by now,” she says to Naomi over breakfast, gently. Naomi only shakes her head, ushers in a long silence; Effy looks on every now and then, says nothing ultimately throughout the meal.

When Effy finishes her coffee, she gets up and says, “If you’re ready to reconnect, or anything, I heard Katie’s throwing a party.” Naomi looks up, quirks a brow; a bash seems good for Katie, right now, but then there’s also Emily to deal with. “Tonight. If you’re up for it,” Effy says, stressing the later segment. “One of these days, you’ll have to deal with it, anyway.”

“And if I don’t,” asks Naomi quietly.

“You’ll miss her entirely,” says Effy, so matter-of-fact that Naomi flinches. Off the look on Naomi’s face, Effy sits back down, takes her tone a couple of notches lower, softer. “What, you don’t know? She’s flying back out over the weekend, last I heard.”

Naomi breathes in, stands up and collects their mugs before heading to the sink, leaving Effy at the table. Naomi’s thinking, of course she doesn’t know – not that she’s made herself anyone worth telling anything lately, anyway. Suddenly, against her better judgment, Naomi finds herself for the first time angry – at herself, mostly, though there are several corollaries to the feeling that she couldn’t exactly wade through right now.

*

Much to her surprise, Katie greets her at the door with a smile; it’s a bit too sincere even, that Naomi feels slightly uncomfortable and disconcerted. She hasn’t seen Katie in a while, but then, Naomi hasn’t seen much of anyone outside Effy, and perhaps, Katie hasn’t been circulating much herself, as well.

Naomi’s thinking about how people’s worlds get small with age sometimes when Katie opens the door wider. “For a while there,” Katie says, ushering her in, “I thought Effy wouldn’t be able to convince you, yet here you are.”

Naomi does her best to recover quickly from the mention, eyes darting momentarily around for Emily; instead, she sees JJ in the corner. He waves slightly and Naomi sighs. “Hope this is okay, then?” she asks.

Katie waves a hand herself, but mostly it’s a dismissive gesture. “Come on,” she says, taking Naomi’s coat off for stowage, “You know, we’re hardly the people we were.”

Naomi takes a moment to absorb that – to say that the Katie Fitch who’s standing in front of her right now is not the Katie Fitch that Emily had come to blows with a few years back would be an understatement, and a terrible one, at that. Katie’s changed much since, and even more so when Emily left; Naomi at some point found herself wondering whether it really was Katie defining herself off Emily all along, and not the other way around, as people were wont to assume back then.

“Is Effy here?” asks Naomi as she steps into the kitchen; already the party’s somewhat semi-full of people she only semi-knew as friends of friends of friends. In one corner, she sees Cook now laughing with JJ and Freddie and it looks like fucking good old times that instead of feeling revolted, as it is the default feeling she holds for Cook, Naomi feels somewhat nostalgic, even.

Katie tugs at Naomi’s wrist slightly. “She’s right in here,” she says, pulling Naomi into the living room, where she sees Effy chatting with Pandora on the couch, another picture of good old times that Naomi feels pinching somewhere. “And just so you know, Emily’s upstairs. In our room.”

Naomi bites on her lip, starts feeling how this has been a bad idea all along. “Getting ready?” she asks safely instead, breathing in. Katie shrugs. “What, she’s not avoiding the party altogether, is she?” On the couch, Effy starts laughing at Pandora’s gestures; Naomi strains to hear the sound over the music for comfort.

Katie never leaves Naomi’s side; after a while, she finally asks, “Did you break up with her before she left?” quietly, and Naomi nods, closing her eyes, the words escaping quickly. And then, another, “Did you tell her about Effy?”

“There’s nothing to tell, really,” Naomi says, the response too instant to be at least believable.

“Did you just hear yourself say that?” Katie just says. “Come on, I have eyes.”

Naomi sighs, glances over at the stairs. “Well,” she says, moving toward it, “Now’s a good time as any, yeah?” She doesn’t look back at the scene in the living room before starting the climb, couldn’t risk seeing Effy looking – if she was, at all.

*

The first thing Naomi notices about Emily is her hair; she’s cut it a bit shorter, dyed it a different shade. When Emily opens the door after the knock and sees it is Naomi on the other side, Emily goes visibly pale.

Naomi tries not to remember the several ways she had planned this precise moment, how in earlier versions of it the first move always is to kiss Emily against the door, before subsequently throwing her arms around her and gripping her close, even if it does get too tight for comfort with the eagerness Naomi has built up throughout Emily’s absence.

Now, plans have obviously changed, and while Naomi’s feeling nowhere near eager, one stray glance at Emily’s lips somewhat re-ignites an old feeling of hunger, altogether. Somewhat.

“Naomi,” says Emily, lips slightly parted now.

Naomi breathes in; really, she wants to look away, for fear of regrettable things that may or may not follow, but she couldn’t. Instead, she says, “Oh god, Ems.” The way her eyes shift erratically between Emily’s eyes and lips throughout is entirely unmistakable.

When Emily kisses her, somehow it feels different from how Naomi remembers her; Emily tastes differently now – or at least, different from what Naomi has stashed in her memory, all those months in between. When Emily slips her tongue past Naomi’s lips, Naomi feels, of all things, a sort of subdued anger. Emily runs her tongue across Naomi’s lower lip before biting down, hard, and Naomi tastes the hint of blood, but goes on anyway.

When the kiss ends, Naomi finds herself pressed against the back of Emily’s door; it feels oddly familiar but far away, like something they had done when everything was still somehow new. The memory hits Naomi squarely in the chest rather hard that it makes her want to cry.

Emily looks at her, her face hovering so close, reaching over to trace Naomi’s brow lightly with a thumb. “Where did it go wrong, Naomi,” she’s asking, and Naomi wishes that she knew, to begin with, how there actually was a way things could have gone right, in the first place.

*

In the aftermath of things, it all feels like an affair, and Naomi pulls her clothes back together quickly. She waits for Emily to say something first, watches quietly as Emily does the same, and soon Naomi finds out how difficult it is to push the words “damage control” away from her mind.

“Say something,” Naomi says, after a long while.

“I’m sorry,” is what Emily comes up with first, before, “No, I meant, this wasn’t. I mean, I was supposed to...” Emily breathes in amidst the struggle for words and Naomi shifts her eyes. “This wasn’t... There’s just so many things, Naomi.”

They’re sitting on the floor with their backs up against the side of Emily’s bed, knees drawn up to chests, and finally, Naomi’s saying, “Let’s start with Riga.”

Emily looks as if she has stopped breathing for a split-second, before saying, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

*

When they get downstairs, the crowd has significantly increased, and the music has gotten louder; for the first time that night, Naomi takes time to be amazed at how the Fitch parentals could take trips out of the country at a time like this, and without the twins. As expected, Cook is in the middle of the living room, presumably with terrible amounts of alcohol already, and around him are several people in varying levels of inebriation.

Naomi tries not to look but fails; she catches Effy looking at some point, her lips to a bottle of beer nearly done, and Naomi immediately shifts her eyes.

*

The streets they manage to walk into are awfully quiet, and Naomi runs out of things to say about Riga, as a place, as an experience entirely apart from Effy altogether, when they stroll into their third. Naomi tries to look at Emily every now and then, and at times she does see Emily looking at her, in a way that tells Naomi that Emily knows what they’re skirting around, all this while.

“You can talk about Effy, you know,” Emily says finally, quietly. “I’m sorry about... When I sent out that email about Latvia, I was – I don’t know. It was fresh, yeah? I was angry.”

“I get that,” Naomi says, exhaling; she wants to feel relieved, really, but for some reason, this – Emily being apologetic and understanding – just seems to break Naomi’s heart further into smaller pieces. “But really, Riga’s fantastic, if you’re all about grand buildings and architecture and whatever, we should come back sometime—”

“So are you seeing her or something?”

Naomi breathes in sharply; Emily’s pushing it, and when Naomi looks at her, she sees Emily looking at her too kindly, it feels like she’s digging Naomi’s heart right out with a bare hand. After a while, Naomi manages to answer anyway, “Not technically.”

Emily wraps her arms around herself, rubbing her arms absently. “Not technically? What does that mean, not technically?”

But really, where, *how* to start talking about Effy, Naomi asks herself. She runs a hand into her hair, trying to come up with an answer. “We hang out in uni, sometimes,” Naomi says. “Bump into each other in parties, that sort.”

“Sounds familiar to me,” says Emily.

“Emily.” Naomi stops walking, sits down by the curb. Emily follows suit and then conjures a pack of cigarettes. For a moment, Naomi is thankful. “It’s not – it’s nothing like that, at all,” she says.

Emily lights up before saying, “Come on, Naomi, honestly?” She turns her head, looks at Naomi as she hands the pack over. Naomi opens her mouth once, twice, to say something, only to lose the thought altogether in the end. To fill the silent gap, she slides out a cigarette and lights up herself.

When Naomi looks away to blow smoke to the side, Emily follows that up with, “Are you in love with her?”

The thing is, it’s the first time Naomi even considers the question, so it takes her completely by surprise; Naomi takes a long silent drag as she searches for a response, and Emily looks at her as if she were really trying hard not to misread any of it.

After a longer while of Naomi’s silence, Emily stands up, sighing and dusting herself.

“Emily,” Naomi says, instinctively, but then Emily has started walking; Naomi struggles to get to her feet, quick, flicking her cigarette to the opposite side. “Ems, come on.” When Emily just continues walking without saying anything, Naomi thinks maybe she should have just said no altogether; she wouldn’t have been entirely certain, but it wouldn’t have been exactly false, either. It would have been perfect for gap-filling.

As she turns the corner, Emily slows to an eventual stop. “Naomi,” she says, turning around finally, her arms crossed in front of her. Sighing, Emily hangs her head, fixes her eyes on the pavement between them. She says, “I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time to be angry, I don’t have time to analyze anything, you know? My flight’s tomorrow afternoon.”

Naomi breathes in audibly in response, remembers how long it took for her to compose a letter barely a hundred words long. Emily’s looking at her now, and her eyes look like they’re so close to breaking.

“I don’t even know how many fucking times I’d re-read that note, you know,” Emily’s saying, and by the last word, she’s positively crying; Naomi looks away. “I should have expected this sort of thing, really.”

Naomi’s thinking, this is the time to say that she still loves her; this is the time to say, the distance and the time haven’t changed how she feels, and that it’s all still so strong. But then, Naomi finds herself biting her tongue and it is this that makes her cry.

“So let us rephrase this, then,” Emily says, composing herself. “Are you still in love with me?”

The first thing out of Naomi’s lips was, “I always will be, I guess.” And then, “In a way I’ll never be in love with anyone else again.”

Emily looks at her, says the word, “Again,” softly.

Naomi nods, says, “Yes, again,” softer even; she knows exactly what Emily means to ask, understands how with one word they have just recognized how there could be another, after.

*

They each find their way back to the Fitch house separately; Naomi waits at the far curb for Emily to get in the house first. Naomi sees Katie usher Emily in, and for a while, she thinks she saw Katie look around, perhaps looking for the girl who’s done this.

When it’s Naomi’s turn to enter the house, it is Effy who opens the door. “Oh,” Naomi just says, now acutely self-conscious of how the cryfest on some neighboring street earlier has left her face.

“You look like shit,” Effy says, but she’s smiling and holding on lightly at Naomi’s wrist that Naomi couldn’t even think of taking offense. Effy tugs her into the room. “Come on, alcohol?”

“Yes, please,” Naomi just says.

*

They come back out to the porch with two bottles of beer; Cook has hogged most, if not all, of the vodka, Effy says, but for the most part, everyone’s just so amused to even care. Effy says mostly, it could be nostalgia. She gives Naomi the rundown of the night so far, complete with gestures, even, and this is the most animated Naomi’s ever seen Effy, that she couldn’t help but laugh.

“Were you actually just laughing right now?” asks Effy, taking a swig from her bottle.

Naomi wonders briefly just how much Effy has had, and if she were actually already drunk. “Yeah, I think I was,” says Naomi. And then, “Are you drunk?”

Effy raises a brow, makes a small gesture with her beer-holding hand. “Hardly,” she only says, smiling even. “Are you?”

Naomi sighs, finishing off the remaining contents of her bottle in a single go. After, she says, “Mostly, I’m just tired.”

Finally, after a long while of going around it, Effy comes around to asking, “How’d it go with Emily?”

Naomi considers for a moment her assessment. “Difficult, but in a different way. At least, I think it was easier than I had expected.”

“Aren’t you the soldier,” Effy says, keeping the tone light, and the way with which Effy continues to surprise her with all this softness makes Naomi feel like she doesn’t know even half of her at all. “Always ready for war, aren’t we?”

“I expected more shouting, really,” says Naomi. “Instead, we were in this fucking moment of quiet epiphany and mostly, I think, it would hurt a lot more in the morning.”

“Always does,” Effy just says.

They sit silent for a while, and the quiet is broken only by the sound of shattering glass from inside the house, at which Effy stands up. “Well, that sounds like it’s time to wrap the party up, yeah?”

“Wrapping the party up,” Naomi sighs. “What have we become, this talk of wrapping up parties,” she says, and Effy laughs. “We have grown old, haven’t we?”

“Older,” Effy corrects. “Only older.” There’s that smile again, Naomi thinks, and when Effy reaches down with a hand, Naomi does not think twice and takes it.

*

It must be nearly sunrise when they leave the house, taking out the final bag of bottles to the dumpster at the curb with Katie. Katie sighs relief when they finish the task; their parents are arriving in a few hours, just in time for Emily’s flight in the afternoon.

“I can’t believe I’m even saying this,” Katie says, wiping her hands at the back of her jeans. “But that was entirely worth it.”

“You’ll never throw a party again, would you,” asks Naomi.

“Oh no,” Katie says, shaking her head. “Not until the summer, at least.” A laugh of laughter goes around the three of them, and it leaves them quite warm, considering the weather. “And I know, you’re not really going anywhere, are you, but I hope you’d be here for that, yeah?”

“A lot could happen in the months between, are you sure you’re letting out invitations this early?” Naomi says, narrowing her eyes even for effect. Effy only laughs and says nothing.

Katie waves a hand dismissively, but just the same, she’s laughing. Naomi’s wondering how and when this all started happening; how they stopped being the bickering seventeen-year-olds they all originally were.

“You sure are an interesting couple, the two of you,” Katie says instead, looking at Effy and then at Naomi, then back to Effy again. When there is no response, Katie clears her throat, and just says, “So I’ll see you at the airport later?”

Naomi shifts her eyes, then she hears Effy say, “We’ll see.”

*

Effy drives her to the airport that afternoon, tries to manage through the hangover and the lack of sleep, but begs to be spared from the long walk to the departure bay when they get there.

“Are you sure?” Naomi asks, genuinely worried, her general distrust of open public spaces taking over. “I mean, I’d half-carry you, if I could, but.”

Effy manages a laugh at that, though it sounds a bit tired. “Come on, do you want to see her off, or not?” And then, glancing over at the dashboard clock, she says, “Clock’s ticking.”

Rolling her eyes, Naomi opens the car door. “Okay then,” she says, “Lock the doors, please, just--”

“I’ll be here,” Effy just says, looking at Naomi with those half-lidded eyes. “When it’s done, I’ll be right where you left me; right where you’re leaving me now.”

Naomi bites her lip and turns away, walks on while she still has the strength for it. She tries not to think of the way with which Effy has strung those words together, nor the words she has chosen to string together, in the first place.

*

Naomi remembers how, only a few months ago, she was also here, only now there’s only Katie with their parents and though Emily has shades on, it does nothing to conceal the surprise on her face when she catches Naomi walking briskly to their group.

“Oh, there’s Naomi,” she says, and Katie looks Naomi’s way; she’s smiling, but the look on her face is also asking about Effy. Naomi adjusts her bag strap; nervous habit, mostly. “I didn’t think... I didn’t think anyone was coming,” says Emily.

“Sorry I’m a bit late,” Naomi says, heart breaking guiltily at Emily’s last comment. “It was an awfully late night.” When Naomi looks over at Katie, Katie flashes Naomi a warning under her smile, and Naomi just nods as if to say she does remember they are in the midst of people who don’t know what happened the previous night.

“Where’s Effy?” Emily asks softly.

Naomi hesitates a little, before saying finally, “She’s in the car.” And then, “We’re double-parked.”

“Oh,” Emily just says. And then, dropping her bag on one of the nearby airport chairs, she comes up to Naomi and says, “Come on then,” opening her arms to take Naomi into a hug.

It’s the first one, Naomi assumes, since it’s probably too early for goodbyes and her flight is still about an hour away. Naomi nearly retracts the lie, but then, Emily’s whispering into her ear, “Don’t keep her waiting too long, will you, because you never know, I may be the last girl in Bristol willing to wait that long.”

When the hug breaks, Naomi says, “Thank you,” softly, and then, “Call me sometime.”

Emily tilts her head a little, takes her sunglasses off to look Naomi in the eye, even attempts a smile while at it. “I’ll see,” she just says.

*

When she gets back to Effy, she’s standing outside the car, leaning against the side, drinking from a steaming cup. “Well, that was quick,” she just says, offering the cup to Naomi; when Naomi gets close enough, she finds that it’s coffee. Naomi does not say anything, just takes the cup and sips from it gingerly. Effy pats the space beside her and Naomi takes it.

“What did she say?” Effy tries asking and Naomi just shakes her head, hogs the coffee throughout the wordless while, just staring at the sky ahead. When she finishes the cup, she drops it on the pavement; she leans her head on Effy’s shoulder and proceeds to cry, in quiet, intermittent sobs punctuated by her erratic shoulders.

Effy puts a hand around her, turning her head to hum randomly into Naomi’s hair.

After, Effy asks, “Are you done?”

Naomi just says, “I don’t know,” and Effy just nods and holds her hand.#