Emily thinks about prescribed periods of grief, often; thinks about whether she’s crying enough, whether she’s taking it slow enough, whether she’s isolating herself long enough – as if heartbreaks are, in any case, viral or airborne or infectious.
The fact is, it’s the only thing in her head, in the first few weeks in such an alien place; an odd thing entirely, considering how it turns out to be the only thing that keeps Emily going at the time, this impossible ache right in the middle of her chest that she just has to keep running away from in the morning, only to come back to at night.
It’s just that she can’t help it, really; Naomi is everywhere even when she’s miles away. In one class, a professor says something objectionable, and it is Naomi’s raised brow that immediately comes to mind; in another, a familiar passage in a poem is enough to make Emily want to excuse herself, just so she can spend a few minutes waiting for her eyes to clear in the privacy of a closed cubicle. Plus it doesn’t really help either, that there are at least eight blondes in a couple of her classes, and by the time Emily gets to the end of her last class for the day, she is unbelievably tired.
Often Emily finds herself wishing Katie is there; she’s just not used to this, being alone, and most times she finds herself unable to define herself as just this single entity, when all her life she’s been a standard appendage to someone else.
So she walks around half, the first few weeks, barely making contact with anyone, save for the occasional necessary small talk and slight laughter with a few acquaintances. Twice she is approached by a couple of guys, ostensibly to flirt, and she turns them away with a wan smile and a slight shake of the head. Much to her surprise, in a bit there’s also a girl, but even then the interaction is too painful to carry on and in a while Emily excuses herself and blames the work left to do, though truth be told, there actually is none.
Instead, she sits down and writes Naomi an e-mail; tries not to sound too desperate or unable to cope with the distance while at it. She spends the first half hour of it trying to choose carefully her words, but all the while she is stuck with the beginning: “I miss you.”
When Emily puts up a calendar above her desk, she is quick to locate the date of that fateful trip to the lake; she uses a black marker to write Naomi’s name in the box underneath it, beside which she scribbles a smaller, hollow heart. Suddenly overtaken by an idea, she scrambles for a piece of paper and prepares a list of things: a fragment of poetry written behind a post card of something irrevocably cute (Perhaps a panda with its tongue sticking out. Or hot air balloons. Or something); a photo of the two of them that Emily brought with her; a pack of chocolates for good measure, just because. When she gets all of these together, she seals it and signs it with her name on the flap with green glittery pen, before shipping it to Bristol altogether, a couple of days prior to D-Day.
Via email, Emily sends a warning, “There’s something coming your way, Nae,” she says.
A few days later, there’s an email from Naomi with two attachments: a photo of her holding up the bag of chocolates in one hand and their picture in the other; and a short audio file of her reading the short passage written behind the postcard, which turns out to be one of a panda’s. (And when I touch you in each of the places we meet, in all of the lives we are, it's with hands that are dying and resurrected. When I don't touch you it's a mistake in any life, in each place and forever.)
Later, when she looks back on this gesture, Emily will think to herself: If only she knew this was going to be the last one, she would have sent something bigger.
At the time, the body of Naomi’s message itself says little else, other than, Get the fuck back here already, so I can thank you properly. She signs it with the letter N, and a smiley, and there’s really little Emily can do to keep from grinning herself.
Sometimes, Emily likes to think maybe Naomi did not break up with her altogether. But then, in moments like this, all she has to do is unfold Naomi’s note and read it again, because when she gets to the end of it – even with all that ambiguity – she still feels all too heartbroken, just the same.
She stops the habit of re-reading the note the moment she is flooded with other things to read – like course work, for instance, which by the second month start pouring in from all sides like mad, it’s almost daunting. At some point, she begins thinking, If Naomi were here. Because really, in such event, this will be easier as the half of it will be as good as done and perhaps they can move on sooner to other things, like making out in Emily’s dorm room, and then –
Emily does not even want to recognize it, but somewhere inside her, it is there, the anger – she had it all planned, Emily thinks, down to every excuse they will use with the dorm managers, should they ever be in separate rooms, and all of it, these plans for two, all but shelved, because Naomi isn’t here and is, instead, somewhere else.
That night, Emily sleeps huddled closely to the wall and pulls a pillow down beside her; suddenly, the bed is too big and inside her, there is this anger threatening to spill.
Emily forgets much about it though, by the time the “real stuff” start happening (as her mum is wont to say: This is the “real world”, as if Bristol weren’t real at all) and suddenly Emily finds her hands full, not only with course work, but somehow, with friends – something the amount of group coordination required somehow facilitated, and really, smart girls like Emily don’t normally run out of people who want to work with her.
She warns Naomi about it as if she even has to – as if this is the sort of long distance relationship that actually merits such reportage. That time, she barely gets to the end of Naomi’s message – apparently she’s in the middle of her application to some political organization on campus and people discuss things like Das Kapital fluently, their drunken states notwithstanding – and Emily doesn’t even remember what she actually sends off as a reply.
When she checks her Sent folder the following day, she finds her message is short; turns out she’d said something about Naomi looking like she’s having the time of her life, and though Emily means it to be really complimentary, somehow, that time, the anger manages to seep through it, unguarded.
Soon, Emily constantly finds herself in a state of perpetual lack of time – to read everything she has to, write everything she needs to; to think of Naomi as much as she wants to, though really, the exercise is absolutely detrimental to her efforts at academics altogether, that somewhere along the way she tells herself to stop. One time, she even hears herself say, “Focus,” loud enough to turn heads in the library over to the direction of her table, where she is sitting by herself, and that time it hits Emily rather hard, how she feels so incredibly alone.
Several times she finds herself staring at an e-mail to Naomi that stays unwritten for the next fifteen minutes, and Emily thinks, Is this how it’s supposed to end, with this wordlessness, with this utter lack of anything to say, with this difficulty in remembering how it is to feel just so madly in love with Naomi, in a manner that is separate from all this heartbreak, and anger, and exhaustion, and.
In each of those times, Emily just finds herself closing the window altogether; more than anything, she is afraid, and the grip this fright has on her just leaves her with nothing to say.
Sometimes, Emily manages to send a brief message, tries to stay online to wait for the reply, but then, at the time, Naomi must be out somewhere, drunk or high or dancing; there’s usually no response until late the following day, and Naomi’s telling Emily of a hangover.
Emily misses this hard – getting fucked up in Bristol in general, and with Naomi, in particular. It’s not even that there are no new people to get fucked up with – as a matter of fact, she has found herself a relatively nice circle of people to pass the hours between class with, and at times, Emily finds herself marveling at how more functional they actually are, most times, and quite frankly, Emily likes it for a change, that people can be fun AND sober at the same time.
Still, it does not make Emily miss Naomi less; not even when time actually comes that there’s a new girl around. Certainly, Lily’s attractive and interesting, and she’s making Emily feel things, but really, when it comes down to it, Emily knows it’s mostly Naomi she’s seeing in her.
Of course, Emily knows it’s unfair, but it’s so hard to not be around her when she’s always there.
Some days, when Lily gets unbearably pretty, Emily considers falling in love. Surely it can’t be that difficult, she tells herself; some days, when Emily looks extra carefully, she sees more than just Naomi in there, something resembling a new person altogether, and the way the feeling catches her off-guard makes her look away and breathe in sharply at this sensation of something gripping her heart, too familiar to be comfortable.
“So what’s her name?” Lily asks finally, one day; they’re sitting on one of the benches waiting for their next class to begin when she springs the question upon Emily, who looks up from her book with a raised brow, for a moment distracted. “I mean, the girl.”
“What girl?” asks Emily, shifting her eyes back to the page, pretending to read, as if she’s not stuck as it is, re-reading the same passage over and over. As if the question is something ordinary and not severely premeditated altogether.
“The girl you’re still holding out for?” Lily looks away as she gets that out, lighting a fag. “Certainly she must be something.”
Emily breathes in, nods and says, “Yeah.” She closes the book and puts it to the side, brushes her hand against Lily’s bare knee when she motions for the cigarette pack.
“What,” Lily says, pressing the pack into Emily’s hand, “That’s all you have to say about her?”
Emily fixes her eyes on Lily’s fingers, at the thing between their hands, and then, realizing how she’s actually staring, Emily pulls her hand abruptly to herself. “Her name’s Naomi,” she says, as casually as she can muster after that brief breakdown. Emily lights up a fag before adding, “I really have nothing much to say about her, honest.”
“Right,” Lily just says, sounding entirely unconvinced, and for a while they turn to their respective fags and smoke in silence, looking the other way.
Lily walks Emily back to her room that afternoon after class, the entire time quiet. Emily tries to think about what else she must have told her, other than the fact that there is a girl back in Bristol, which, at the time, is only supposed to dispel rumors that the only reason she’s not going out with the blokes in her class is that she’s somehow engaged or something similarly serious.
At the door, Lily just says, “She’s lucky, you know. Not too many girls like you just wandering around, faithful and all.”
Emily bites her lip at that. “Obviously,” she begins, “That’s not really the entire story as it is, but well, some things best left unsaid, yeah?”
Lily tilts her head and looks at her, adjusting her bag on her shoulder in the process. “Perhaps,” she just says. “But well, if you want to, you know, talk? You know where to find me.”
Leaning against the door, Emily watches as Lily walks away; waits as Lily’s figure disappears as she turns at the far corner. Emily considers the offer briefly, mulling the thought over with a lit fag in hand, the whole prospect of coming clean and starting over thereafter too attractive and too frightening at the same time.
They bring Naomi up every now and then, in casual conversation between classes, but there’s never anything heavy, like how Emily’s finding it difficult these days to come up with a simple e-mail, or how Emily still cries when she re-reads Naomi’s note. She’s unbelievably stuck, Emily thinks, and sometimes it does strike her as kind of pathetic, the way she is still in love with her even when it’s pointless.
And all this while, Lily’s just listening like it’s the most interesting thing to waste a good cigarette pack over; as if she hasn’t heard of everything at some point before. Sometimes, when Emily looks at her every now and then, Lily’s eyes come off as the exact same shade of blue Naomi has that Emily has to shake her head to get the thought out of her head.
At some point halfway through their second pack in an hour, Emily says, “I don’t think I can smoke anymore, I feel I’m gonna toss, or something.”
Lily looks at her with half a smirk, then hands her a bottle of water from her bag. Emily thanks her quietly, and Lily scoots over closer to stroke her nape, and it gets comfortable for a while, until it becomes a bit too familiar that Emily chokes a little on her drink.
“You all right?” asks Lily, for a moment stilling her hand, and Emily nods mutely, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand before capping the bottle and standing up, moving away.
Emily braces a hand against the wall as she catches her breath, justifies the way her heart’s racing as simply too much nicotine. “I’m fine.” And then, “I can’t breathe.”
“There, there,” Lily’s saying, now standing beside her, a hand on Emily’s back. “We’ve had a bit too much to smoke, yeah?” Emily follows her eyes as she looks over to the space they left and how it is littered with cigarette butts.
“Wow, I’m getting old,” Emily says, offering a weak laugh. “I mean, what is this concept of too much?”
Lily laughs a little in kind, says, “And it’s not even 4 yet -- you’re losing your touch Fitch, fucked up this early.”
“Give me five minutes,” Emily says, pouting a little. And then, her face softening, “Hey, um. Thanks, yeah?” she says, a bit serious.
Lily furrows her brows a little. “What?”
“For putting up with me, I meant. I reckon I’m not the most fun to be around when we’re talking about, um--”
“Nah, don’t mention it,” Lily says. “I mean, I bring her up, don’t I?”
“And then I talk about the same things over and over, it must be infuriating.”
Lily smiles at that, in a way that makes Emily look away. She’s standing so close that Emily feels like she’s pinned against a row of lockers (she closes her eyes momentarily at that; how does she do this, Naomi, be fucking everywhere all the time?). “I’ve always meant to ask about that,” Lily’s saying, and Emily forces her eyes open, finds Lily looking at her curiously.
“Why you’re talking about the same things over and over.”
Emily almost says, Because there’s really nothing else left to talk about, but then she bites her tongue, says, “Because it’s the easy thing to do,” instead.
“Is it?” Lily asks, and for a split-second Emily swears she sees something spark and darken in Lily’s eyes, and Emily almost braces herself as if she is about to be kissed. But then, the moment is brief; it passes quickly, and then Lily’s blinking, and saying, “Sorry,” and moving away.
It’s all so quick that it leaves Emily, at best, flustered. “Lily, I—”
By the time it’s out, Lily’s already picking up her bag. “We have to go,” she’s just saying, and Emily’s still wondering what she’s actually apologizing for, as she picks her bag up in kind and follows.
In the nights thereafter, Emily finds herself with too much to say and no one to tell; how she manages to keep on backing herself into these wordless corners remains mostly a mystery to Emily, and after a while, it does get frustrating and Emily’s doing her best not to shove herself against a wall, head first, or, god forbid, something else not so comical altogether.
Some nights, Emily thinks about how Naomi’s the only other person who is likely to understand everything, though for the most part, she realizes that perhaps it’s because it’s all an exercise in déjà vu. Certainly, Emily can’t find it in herself, to hurt Naomi like that, her note about changes notwithstanding; though with every day she spends sitting beside Lily in class, Emily is inclined more and more to read it differently.
The first time it happens, it’s in a birthday party, and Emily’s unbelievably sober. She brushes against Lily in a narrow hallway leading to the bathroom and before Emily can stop herself, she’s already wrapping a hand around Lily’s wrist and pulling her close, and really, it’s the most proactive Emily has ever been around her, granted her state.
At parting, Lily just says, smiling slightly, “Fucked up already, are you, Fitch?” The way the corner of her lips curl up a little just so makes Emily lick her own lips, and she tastes the cherry hint of Lily’s lip gloss that’s still there.
“You’ll be surprised,” Emily just says, falling against the wall behind her, eyes shifting between Lily’s eyes and mouth, and all things taken into consideration, Emily thinks that this is actually easier than first expected, granted that Lily’s not really walking away, or at least, not yet.
The moment ends when a round of loud laughter interrupts it; just like that, the spell is broken and they’re laughing along and moving.
Later, when they’re each holding a drink – Emily her vodka, Lily her beer – Lily leans in and asks about the kiss, finally, after skirting around the issue with all that heavy eye-flirting and arm-touching. “So,” she’s saying, trying her best to not slur. “This thing a while ago.”
This thing a while ago. Emily takes a sip before saying, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” but then, off Lily’s laugh, still lovely despite the alcohol, Emily follows it up with, “No, of course I know what the fuck you’re on about,” shaking her head and laughing along. “Not gonna lie about that, not this time.”
Lily quirks a brow at the last segment, intrigued. “Not this time?”
“The first time I snogged a girl,” Emily begins, leaning even closer. “I told everyone I was on MDMA.”
“And you weren’t?” Lily asks, and then, “This is Naomi, isn’t it?”
“Well, not exactly – I mean, the MDMA,” says Emily, gesturing absently with a hand, “but then, you know how it is. Sometimes, you have to take the easy way out, and I did.” When Lily looks away, Emily feels her heart plummet, a little. She reaches over to tug at the hem of Lily’s blouse lightly. “It was very clear, this thing a while ago. Just so you know.”
Lily finishes her beer before setting the bottle down on a nearby table. “Not under the influence this time around, are we.”
“If that makes all the difference it should,” Emily just says. “I want to do it right, this time; been waiting for a do-over all this while, really.”
Lily bites down on her lip at that. “Emily,” she begins, soft as if completely sober, “It’s not that I – how do I say this exactly?” Emily forces herself to study the look on Lily’s face, even as inside her chest, her heart begins a steady, painful throb that extends further down into her stomach. “It’s not that I don’t feel anything. To be honest, I’ve felt nothing quite like it actually, as far as I’m concerned, but…”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Lils,” Emily just says, downing the rest of her vodka. “Just – please.”
Lily breathes in. “It’s not that I don’t like you, okay? God, I’m actually saying this, aren’t I,” she pauses a little, if only to laugh lightly, nervous. “But I’m just saying – I feel like I’m going to get my heart broken, yeah? And you’re in a very good place to do that, so let’s just...”
“This the part where we say let’s be friends?” Emily interrupts, her voice hoarse; she flinches despite herself at how familiar this is becoming, stops herself actively from appending, Because we say that, don’t we?
“I was gonna say, I want to do this right, too, this time, but if you want to put it that way, then…” Lily looks away as the sentence trails off, and Emily moves to touch Lily’s hand lightly, a last ditch effort to keep the night from spiraling into something unpleasant altogether.
Emily clears her throat. “Okay then,” she says, squeezing Lily’s fingers slightly, and Lily smiles, a little.
“You’ve got to figure it out, Em,” Lily just says.
Emily closes her eyes at how comfortable and familiar her name comes off Lily’s tongue; again, she’s remembering Naomi, and Emily can’t help but wonder just where and how to begin trying.
Emily likes to think that she’s figured it out by the time it happens again; this time, they’re in Lily’s room and it’s the Saturday before Christmas break. Emily comes over with gifts and a bottle of vodka and Lily answers the door obviously only half-awake and Emily tries her best not to kiss her just then.
“I can’t believe you’re even up already,” Lily says, rubbing her eyes slightly. “I mean, weren’t you here, like, six hours ago?”
Emily pouts at the gesture and reaches over with a free hand. “Don’t rub your eyes,” she says, affectionately gripping Lily’s arm. And then, “Yeah, but it’s almost noon, Christ - of course I’m up.”
“It is?” Lily squints a little, looking out briefly and shielding her eyes instead of rubbing. “Well, come on in,” she’s saying, grinning at the things in Emily has with her, finally noticing. “Drunkard,” she adds, touching the bottle Emily’s cradling. “I mean, haven’t you had more than enough alcohol last night?”
“God, I don’t even know,” Emily says, stepping in and rolling her eyes. “This party week sure is long; I think I’ll practically sleep through the holidays with a hangover.”
The moment Lily closes the door, it strikes Emily just then, how she’s never been in Lily’s room before, all these months of hanging out notwithstanding. Emily looks around and tries very little to hide it – the way her eyes are studying the corners, the pictures on Lily’s dresser, the sheets; the way she’s unmistakably breathing in, this place that distinctly smells like the heady mix of Lily’s skin, cherry, vanilla and nicotine.
“Had you called or something, like, 15 minutes ahead,” Lily’s saying, settling by a chair near the wall. “I would have had a little time to clean up, you know.”
That snaps Emily out of her somewhat touristy trance. “Sorry,” she says, blushing as she looks down. “I mean, it’s just that… Your room’s nice, you know?”
“You mean, you’re not currently getting strange urges to clean, or something?” asks Lily, and when Emily looks over, she sees how Lily is now fully awake, or at least, awake enough to manage sarcasm.
“What?” asks Emily, laughing as she sets down the bottle of vodka on one of the nearby tables, beside the ashtray. “No, of course not,” she says, and then, “I actually envy that you can smoke here.”
Lily moves to settle beside Emily before taking a pack of fags right out of a drawer. “Not technically,” she says, sliding a stick out and offering another to Emily. “But it’s not like anyone gives a shit around here, anyway.”
“Right,” Emily just says, taking the stick and lighting up in kind. The room is dim, save for the sunlight coming through Lily’s heavy curtains, and in the little light, Emily could see how the smoke comes out of Lily’s lips in thin, curly wisps. When Lily catches Emily looking, Lily throws her head back, pouts a little and exhales the smoke in tiny rings.
“Show off,” Emily says, smirking lightly and touching Lily’s arm.
It all blurs from there, despite the lack of alcohol; or perhaps, it’s all the other nights finally taking their toll, because right then, Lily just moves over and kisses her, one hand on Emily’s cheek, the other expertly crushing her fag into the ashtray to the side.
When they come up for air, Emily opens her eyes for a moment, if only to stub out her cigarette herself. “Whatever happened to ‘figure it out, Em’?”
Lily just rests her forehead against Emily’s. “Won’t you have the entire holidays to do that?”
They kiss again after, with Emily leaning in first this time. Inside, she knows this is not the best way to do this, but then again, Lily’s so close, and her lips taste faintly like cherries and cigarettes and all of it’s just making it so damn hard to not just give in.
Later, Lily says, “I think you should cut your hair.” They’re in her bed and Lily’s running her fingers through Emily’s hair in a way that makes Emily’s eyes flutter close. The telly’s on, and judging by how the light is now subdued tells Emily that it may be well into the afternoon, if not late altogether. “When’s your flight?”
Emily’s jolted by the question entirely that she pushes herself off Lily for a moment to sit. Fixing her stare at the unopened bottle of vodka on the table, Emily just says, “Wednesday.”
“So,” Lily clears her throat, “How about it? A haircut on Monday? Perhaps a different color as well?”
Emily bites her lip, tries not to say, I don’t think Naomi would like that; tries very hard not to get visibly upset at how, after all this time, Naomi still manages to weave through everything. “Maybe in Bristol,” she says instead, and that is the last time they speak of it.
Lily doesn’t see her to the airport; the fact is, no one does, and Emily is okay with that.
The first person Emily sees in Bristol is Katie, who hugs her in a way that catches her off-guard, but is not entirely unwelcome. Truth be told, Emily missed Katie rather hard, and judging by the way Katie holds on longer than normal, Emily thinks it’s rather safe to assume the feeling goes both ways.
“Stupid cow, I missed you,” Katie says after, and Emily wonders where the rough edges that usually come with that line have gone.
Emily just says, “Yeah, me too,” and Katie gives her a half-shove before rolling her eyes. “How’s things, so far?”
“Pretty quiet,” Katie just says, and Emily knows something must have gone wrong, somewhere in the middle, because Katie sounds little like the Katie she left, or maybe it’s just that she’s stopped listening long ago? Emily tries to remember that once they had been seventeen, and that now, they aren’t anymore.
They try not to talk about Naomi for the meantime; Emily actively tries to stave off the urge until much later, when they’re home and it’s already after dinner, and Emily’s unpacking her things in their room.
“How long are you staying?” Katie’s asking. Emily furrows her brow sharply at that, to which Katie just sighs, “Oh come on, Ems, it’s just a question.”
Emily relaxes, rolls her eyes. “Two, three weeks,” she sighs, and Katie moves from her bed to sit on Emily’s. For a while, they’re quietly taking Emily’s things out of her suitcase and laying them on the bed, wary of wrinkles. When they’re done, Emily breathes in deep, and then, “Have you heard from Naomi?”
For some reason, the question visibly shakes Katie, in a way different than what Emily remembers; this one’s just a bit too sad, and not all too angry. “I was under the impression she told you.”
“Told me what?” Emily asks, her voice flat regardless of the alarm bells suddenly ringing in her head. “I told her I was coming to Bristol for the holidays, and she didn’t…”
“She’s not here,” Katie just says. “In Bristol, I meant.”
“Off to fucking Latvia, or something.”
“Latvia?” Emily tries to wrap her head around the word, to begin with, but there’s a strange feeling of choking on something lodged at the bottom of her throat that’s in the way. “With her mum?”
Katie looks away at that. “Last I heard, it was Effy,” she says. Emily notes the small quiver at the end, and just like that, she knows.
“Christ,” Emily gets up from the bed and rushes into the bathroom, acid at the back of her throat.
Emily’s quiet throughout the rest of the night and the silence is broken only when Katie points to Emily’s laptop on the bed. “So,” she says, “Are you checking for messages or what?”
Emily shakes her head. “I’m tired,” she says, pushing the laptop to the edge of her bed near the wall, and Katie moves over to sit beside her, a hand on Emily’s knee. All this time, Emily is still not sure how to read this Katie with her now, and seeing the look on Katie’s face, so soft and unfamiliar, Emily wonders about this way with which distance and absence just seems to change people altogether.
Later in the night, when Katie’s asleep, Emily gets up, opens the laptop and logs in. She finds herself for a moment unbelievably upset that there is still no message from Naomi, and when Emily comes around to composing a message herself, the anger breaks through, and she’s asking, Where are you?
The following morning, Katie draws the curtains and Emily is woken by the severe amount of sunlight coming into the room. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Katie,” she groans, pulling the covers over her face. “It’s too fucking early.”
“It’s 11,” Katie just says, matter-of-factly. And then, settling by the edge of Emily’s bed, she adds, “We’re going out, yeah?”
“And do what?”
“I don’t know. Shop?” Katie pauses before shaking Emily lightly through the covers. “Come on, Em. Have you got anything better to do, then?”
Emily considers the question before coming out from under the covers. She blinks slowly at the light before saying, “I think I should cut my hair.”
Katie just looks at her in disbelief for a while – finally, something familiar, Emily thinks – and in a bit, Katie pushes herself off Emily’s bed with a nonchalant, “Whatever, just get your ass out of bed now, all right?”
Somewhere at the back of her head, Emily remembers Lily, and for a while, she feels fine.
Katie comes with her to the salon. “All right,” she says, before opening the door. “I hope you’ve thought this over enough, though.” Emily just nods and Katie enters before her, removing the sunglasses from her eyes.
Throughout, Katie sits right behind her, holding a magazine. Once in a while, when Emily looks over at her on the mirror, she catches Katie looking back for a brief moment before shifting her eyes away, as if this change is hurting her.
“Are you all right?” Emily says finally, as they are trying clothes on in a dressing room, a few hours later. Katie’s putting a dress on in front of her, and when she’s done, Emily pauses as she looks at the both of them on the full-length mirror, and with her hair a tad bit shorter, the sight that greets her is as unfamiliar as it can get.
Katie shrugs and says, “Yeah,” and then, looking over Emily, “It’s just that, we’ve never looked this different from each other – just occurred to me, is all.”
“Change is good,” she just says.
Emily does not know why she holds back the hug, but she does so anyway, settling for a wan smile instead, along with a soft, “Thanks Katie,” before exiting the dressing room altogether.
Days later, Katie suggests throwing a party. “A party?” asks Emily, sighing; she’s nearing the end of her stay in Bristol and prepping for a rather uneventful return to uni when classes resume shortly after New Year’s. Thus far, the days have been relatively quiet and the nights even more so; sometimes, Katie takes Emily out for coffee or for shopping but mostly they’re in before it’s late, unless it’s a really late movie, and all this time, Emily’s still wondering why Katie has never even offered to get drunk someplace since her return, though admittedly, a part of Emily’s still somewhat scared to even ask what has changed all that.
Katie rolls her eyes. “Oh come on, like good old times, yeah? Get fucked up properly one last time for this year.” The way Katie says it so excitedly betrays how her life has been, sans Emily in Bristol, though Emily knows for a fact that Katie will never admit to that -- not even this new Katie, who seems to have grown an amazing faculty for feelings.
When Emily agrees, it’s only because she does not want to break Katie’s heart; she does not say anything when Katie tells her who’s on her guest list, because really, there is no point.
“You did break up, yeah?” Katie asks out of the blue one night, before going to bed.
“Yeah,” Emily says. It’s a few nights before Katie’s party, and Emily’s seriously considering coming down with something to just skip it altogether, seeing that there is no negotiating with Katie’s nostalgia.
“Did she tell you about Effy?”
The truth of the matter is that she’s been in Bristol about two weeks, and still, there is no word from Naomi. “No,” Emily just says, rubbing her forehead. “I don’t even know if they’re fucking back from, where’s that place again?” It rolls right out of Emily’s lips, and she tries to make it look as if she really doesn’t know, as if she hasn’t been thinking about it all this while, what Naomi and Effy are up to all this time that Naomi has to have her fucking phone off.
Emily closes her eyes at that, contemplates how this changes everything, the presence of people in between, like never before considered. She’s spent the past few days considerably less angry than when she first found out, though it really doesn’t make her any less heartbroken.
“Surely, you must settle things before you fly back out again,” Katie says.
Emily sighs. Apparently, if there’s something that hasn’t changed, it’s Katie’s backseat driver tendencies. “Katie, if you want to invite them to the party, go ahead.” She looks away as she says it, climbs into bed facing the wall.
“God, Emily,” Katie just says, sighing tiredly. “I’m fucking trying.”
Emily just says, “I know,” and Katie leaves it at that.
On the day of the party, Emily calls Lily – caving in finally, after trying to get through most of the break sans contact. Lily answers with an absolutely surprised, “Emily,” that warms Emily’s cheeks so brightly that she looks around to see if anybody’s around to notice.
“Hi,” Emily says, clearing her throat, waiting for her voice to come, but even moments later, still there is none. “Lily,” she just says again, trying.
Lily laughs, that gentle tinkling sound; Emily briefly wonders whether the phone call is a bad idea altogether, but then Lily goes on to tell her about the holidays so far and Emily finds herself pressing the phone closer to her ear.
“And yours?” asks Lily and Emily blinks.
“Mine?” She pauses a little before saying, “Nothing spectacular, really…”
Emily feels her mouth go dry. Trust Lily to disregard the holidays altogether and keep on throwing curve balls even when miles away. “Haven’t seen her, actually,” she says. Emily pauses, waits for Lily to change the subject, but all there is on the other end is Lily breathing. “I think she’s seeing someone else.”
“Oh,” Lily just says, suddenly muted, and Emily wonders if she’s just ruined Lily’s day with this phone call. “Are you all right?” she asks. “I mean. You know.” The concern in Lily’s voice almost feels too near and Emily closes her eyes.
“Okay, I guess,” Emily says, and then, clearing her throat, she tries to sound a bit more cheerful as she adds, “Katie’s throwing a party. Tonight.”
Lily perks up a little at that. “Well, finally something interesting. And alcohol-related.” Emily smirks a little at how the conversation seems to be taking a lighter course. “You must have been drunk throughout the two weeks there, yeah?”
“Hardly,” Emily sighs. “I’m inexplicably bored. I just wish you were here.” It’s out before she can stop herself, and so Emily just appends, quickly, “Sorry, it’s just—”
“You know,” Lily interrupts, “I miss you, actually.”
Emily thinks about how the shortest combinations of words can evoke the strangest mixtures of sensations – like this lump in her throat, the growing space in her stomach that feels like it’s eating its way outward from the middle of everything, and that prickly tingly feeling that comes about as the consequence of fine hairs standing on end everywhere.
Emily breathes in and closes her eyes; she tries to think of Lily and that way she smiles, but by the time Emily gets to her eyes, the thought morphs into Naomi altogether, and suddenly, she is jolted.
“Are you still there?” asks Lily.
Exhaling, Emily just says, “Yeah.” And then, “For what it’s worth, I miss you too – you know? But it’s just – there’s just a lot going on right now…”
“Figuring out enough, so far?”
Emily bites her lip. “To admit, I haven’t started on anything.”
“Oh come on, Em. You’ve got to call her. Or send her a message, or something,” Lily says, sighing. “Can’t leave Bristol with all that unsettled, yeah?” Emily considers the gravity of the situation, granted that it’s not only Katie that’s saying the same thing now, and Lily sounds nearly desperately involved.
Finally, Emily says, “She’s coming over tonight,” though she regrets it the moment it comes out. “I mean, Naomi. To the party. With the new girl she’s seeing perhaps. I don’t know. Katie’s all over the guest list, and I’m just, you know.” Emily pauses to breathe in deep. “I’m just a guest.”
After a few silent moments, Lily finally says, “I think you’ll be fine,” and when she doesn’t say anything more, Emily takes it upon herself to end the phone call at that.
(Five minutes after hanging up, Emily contemplates sending a text message but decides against it in the end.)
Certainly, holing herself up in their room is not the most effective way of avoiding a party that happens right in their living room, but then it will have to do, or so Emily likes to tell herself -- despite Katie, that is, and her ridiculous stamina for knocking relentlessly on their door every five minutes, if only to check if Emily’s coming out anytime soon.
Emily just says she’s fixing her make-up, over and over, until Katie nearly believes it after hearing it too much, too often. As the music gets louder, it gets easier to ignore the knocking and for a good hour, there’s actually none and finally, Emily finds herself alone with a bottle of vodka that she has smuggled from their kitchen and into the room earlier in the day.
She does not know actually what it is that makes her get up and answer that particular knock, sometime later in the night, but she gets up anyway and opens it, and it is then that she finds Naomi standing on the other side, and suddenly Emily’s torso feels like it’s missing.
Emily tries to negotiate with the growing lump on her throat. She can’t seem to be able to wrap her head around Naomi now – now, that she’s infinitely prettier than how Emily remembers; now, that her hair’s somewhat longer; now, that her eyes still haven’t lost their intense blue gleam.
In the midst of the silence between them, hanging heavily over and above the music pounding from underneath, Emily just says, “Naomi,” softly, as it is all she finds inside her.
Naomi looks at her, her eyes shifting, and it’s so familiar that Emily doesn’t stop herself when she pulls Naomi in for a kiss. Emily thinks about want, for a moment – that feeling of intense need that’s very much the only way she knows how to feel when it’s Naomi she’s thinking about, like this – but then, the thought breaks as they part the first time.
Mostly thereafter, even as she pushes Naomi against the back of the door, slides her hand inside Naomi’s shirt, runs her tongue across Naomi’s lower lip – Emily thinks about settling old scores, once and for all.
When Emily comes up for air, she even finds herself asking if Naomi knows where it all went wrong, and Emily quickly closes her eyes to keep the tears from coming.
When it’s over, Emily faces the wall as she puts her clothes back on, the weight of Naomi’s stare heavy on her back. Emily can’t bring herself to look at the massive mess she’s made, and she continues to dress slowly as she tries to piece her thoughts back together.
And then, Naomi says, “Say something,” so soft that it promptly destroys Emily’s train of thought, that Emily only manages to sputter a string of apologies in response, even when she’s not even sure whether to apologize to begin with, or what to apologize for, in the first place.
She tries not to think of Lily to simplify her sins; Emily screws her eyes shut tight at that, as if to physically block out the thought.
“This wasn’t…” Emily begins, and Naomi shifts her eyes in a way that feels like she’s stabbing Emily with a blunt weapon. “There’s just so many things, Naomi.”
They’re seated on the floor with their backs against the side of Emily’s bed, each looking the other way. Naomi brings up Riga and for a moment Emily stops breathing.
Riga. Lily. Effy. There’s just so many things, Emily counts in her head, and she shakes it a little before saying, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Downstairs, walking through the crowd of the party, Emily catches Katie’s eye for a moment; she’s standing around Cook, who’s obviously hogging all the vodka. There is a smile on her face that fades a little when she sees Emily, and even when she knows it’s not visible from where Katie’s standing, Emily lets go of Naomi’s hand anyhow, off the look on Katie’s face.
It’s surprisingly quiet, the walk around the neighborhood, then the subsequent confrontation. Even as she runs out of things to say about Riga, Naomi insists that she is not seeing Effy, which Emily doesn’t buy at all.
Truth be told, Emily thinks it’s mostly a default setting for Naomi, denial; it’s the general disposition one usually finds her in, and it’s part of the package, or so Emily has negotiated with herself for the longest time. “It’s okay. You can talk about Effy, you know,” she opens, finally, before apologizing about the e-mail. “It was fresh, yeah? I was angry.”
Naomi tells her that she understands, but then, she’s still too scared to address the issue altogether; she resumes going in circles about Latvia and she almost comes around to inviting Emily back there when Emily hits her with the question, “So are you seeing her or something?”
Emily watches as the look on Naomi’s face changes, notes how Naomi shifts on her legs and clears her throat before issuing a non-committal “Not technically” response.
Emily resists the urge to reach out and touch Naomi’s cheek briefly just then -- when she’s looking down and away like that, her head tilted and the streetlights washing over the side of her face just so. Oh Naomi, Emily thinks, recognizing this; somehow, Emily understands that sometimes Naomi feels the need to keep her cards close to her chest, as if Emily is there to take them away. But unlike before, when they had all the time in the world to go around in circles and Emily still could take her time to figure her out, it’s different now, and Emily is already running out of time.
“Come on, Naomi, honestly,” Emily says, lighting up a fag. They’re sitting on an empty curb now, and Emily turns to hand the pack over to Naomi, who takes it looking all too relieved.
Naomi smokes in silence and Emily tries not to stare, knowing very well how little time it takes to fall in love with her all over again by just watching her face. When Naomi does not say anything, Emily looks away as she asks, “Are you in love with her?”
The question flusters Naomi, who looks at her with a look that tells Emily how she’s actually scrambling for words and Emily almost feels sorry she’s pushing, but then, it’s not like there’s anything else left to discuss.
When Naomi doesn’t say anything, Emily gets up and dusts herself, thinking, So it is done. The first few moments, Emily actually succeeds in steeling herself and blocking the feeling, thinking about the vodka left in her room and how maybe she’ll call Lily in the morning, before boarding the plane.
But then, Naomi calls after her; the way it reminds Emily of that day at the lake, along with this uncanny reversal -- it sickens her, and with her stomach lurching and her heart twisting painfully out of control, Emily finds it harder to walk on without looking back. At the curb, the weight of the feeling slows Emily to a stop, and when she turns around, Naomi is saying, “Ems, come on,” her voice half-breaking, and Emily knows how Naomi rarely uses this tone of voice at all.
Emily crosses her arms in front of herself, fixes her stare on the ground between them. “I don’t have time for this,” she just says, sighing. “I don’t have time to be angry, I don’t have time to analyze anything. My flight’s tomorrow afternoon.” When Emily finally manages to look at her, she doesn’t bother to keep the anger from her eyes, to which Naomi says nothing.
Emily tells her about the note, about the time she’s spent re-reading it, about the nights she’s spent overanalyzing it, and by the time she comes to the end of the confession, Emily finds herself crying. The summary of the feeling in not so many words. Naomi looks away, biting her lip, and Emily says, “I should have expected this.”
Naomi looks like she wants to say something but she’s holding it back; Emily knows too well the look she gets in her face when she’s trying not to be too transparent and failing miserably at it. When Naomi starts crying as well, Emily takes that as her cue to start composing herself.
“Let’s rephrase this then,” Emily’s offering. “Are you still in love with me?” Naomi looks at her softly, wiping the tears from her eyes, and Emily thinks about how this night has been so full of difficult questions.
Naomi says yes, but she talks about falling in love again, and Emily knows a thing or two about things ending when they have to, and she can’t help but think, maybe, it is time.
Emily finds her way back to their house alone, having lost Naomi somewhere along the way. Katie opens the door, and upon seeing the look on Emily’s face, Katie just breathes out an exasperated, “Fucking cunt,” before looking around, presumably for Naomi.
“She’s not with me,” Emily sighs. “It’s all right, Katie.”
Katie pulls her in, closes the door after one last look outside. The party’s still on, apparently, though the crowd has thinned considerably. Cook is still in the middle of the room, though JJ and Freddie are already noticeably absent. At the far corner, she catches Effy’s eye; she looks like she’s still unbelievably sober after all this time. When Effy raises her brow at her, as if asking about Naomi, Emily shakes her head before looking away.
“I’m tired,” Emily says, heading for the stairs. “I better take a last look at my stuff, anyway.”
“Ems,” Katie says, and all this softness really takes time to get used to. “I’ll be with you in a while, okay? Time to wrap this thing up, I guess.”
Despite everything, Emily finds herself smiling. “Who are you and what did you do to the real Katie?”
Katie shoves her, half-laughing. “People fucking change, Ems. Surely you’ve got that memorized by now?”
To which Emily just says, “Yeah,” nodding as she heads upstairs.
Emily listens to the party die down while lying on the floor between her bed and Katie’s, vodka bottle nestled on her stomach; when the music goes out, the floor grows still, bereft of this tingly humming. From afar, she hears bottles clinking against each other and the ruffle of plastic bags, feet shuffling all over. Emily wants to help, really, but the night has thoroughly worn her out, and so she looks instead on the suitcase on top of her bed, if only to remind herself where she’ll be this time the following day.
When Emily hears the front door open and close, she gets up and draws the curtains, peers out the window. By the curb, Katie is talking to Effy and Naomi, each of them holding huge black plastic bags, presumably full of the remains of the night. She can’t help but bite her lip at the sight – Katie wiping her hands at the back of her jeans, Effy laughing over something, Naomi with her arms across her chest.
“Come on, Nae,” Emily whispers against the window, as Katie waves a hand and Naomi tilts her head to the other side, tossing her hair. When Naomi looks Effy’s way, Emily’s heart aches, a little.
Emily almost doesn’t see Naomi through the heavily tinted sunglasses she has on – doesn’t, actually, until Naomi starts walking toward them. When they left that morning, Emily was under the impression that there’s no one else, and for good reason, and yet now, here she is.
“Oh,” Emily says, clearing her throat. “There’s Naomi.” She looks at Katie and Katie turns her head, and it’s curious, how Katie’s smiling but not smiling entirely, as if there’s something missing. When Naomi stands beside Emily, she adjusts her bag on her shoulder, and Emily sees through the nervousness. “I didn’t think,” Emily says, looking at her. “I didn’t think anyone was coming.”
“Sorry I’m a bit late, it was an awfully late night,” Naomi just says, looking Katie’s way immediately, and Emily shifts her eyes, amused at how Katie and Naomi are somewhat managing this kind of communication that Emily’s never even seen before. A pity, Emily just thinks, since it’s over anyway, but then, who’s stopping people from being friends, right? Right, Emily insists in her head, though it doesn’t make the realization any less sad.
“Where’s Effy?” Emily asks, finally, watching Naomi carefully as she flinches a little, shifting her eyes.
“In the car. Double parked,” Naomi explains, and Emily lets out a breath, drops her bag onto a nearby chair.
“Come on then,” Emily says, opening her arms. In her head, she’s telling herself, Live through this and never look back. When Naomi closes the space between them, it still feels so familiar and warm, and Emily does her best not to kiss her, turns her head to whisper instead into Naomi’s ear, “Don’t keep her waiting.” And then, “I may be the last girl in Bristol willing to wait that long.” Emily does not know where that’s coming from, actually; doesn’t even know if she really means to say it to Naomi, or if it’s just another one of her reminders to herself.
When the hug breaks, Naomi asks her to call sometime, and Emily takes her sunglasses off, tries to smile even as she says, “Let’s see.”
Her eyes stay unbelievably tear-free through most of the flight; Emily sleeps on the plane, anyway, and she’s never been this thankful for such a timely hangover.
Later, on her way out of the airport, still slightly groggy from the trip, lugging her suitcase lazily along, Emily spots something familiar on the far end that grows closer and closer. Emily blinks a little, rubs her eyes with the back of her free hand underneath her glasses.
When she looks up, it’s Lily. “Your flight’s delayed, like, two hours,” she says, though Emily can tell how it’s really feigned annoyance.
“It is not,” Emily says, brows furrowed.
Lily laughs a little at that, chews nervously on a fingernail slightly as she looks away, her cheeks slightly flushed. “Okay, so maybe I was early. By like, two hours,” she says. And then, “You cut your hair?”
“What, you don’t like it?”
Lily bites her lip, reaches out tentatively to run her fingers along the edge of her hair, softly. “Not at all,” she says, smirking and rolling her eyes.
Emily lets go of her suitcase and thinks about this, change, and the way she seems to be having massive amounts of it from everywhere. “Christ,” she just says, laughing and sighing and throwing her arms around Lily, pulling her close.
She kisses Lily right in the middle of the airport, and, truth be told, Emily does not know how she is standing here and laughing and kissing her, this massive heartbreak notwithstanding, but then Lily is so fucking close it almost makes Emily want to start all over again.
Emily knows how it’s not quite right, not quite yet, but then she tells herself it will have to do, for now.#