Naomi runs. Of course she runs. She tries hard to be civil, even drops her Metro business card on the table as this Karen person witters on about the exhibition and her fabulously talented and beautiful girlfriend, all the time giving Emily little sly touches and flirty looks. She's so obvious, she might as well cock her leg and piss up Emily's jeans. Marking your territory its called. Emily looks a little embarrassed, a little uncomfortable and a little scared in equal proportion. It doesn't comfort Naomi much. She's already seen the matching plain silver bands on their ring fingers.
Life partners...what the fuck does that even mean? Are they married? Bit quick for that she thinks hopefully. By the way Emily's new girlfriend is behaving, its probably agreed and booked, but not yet actually happened. But again, Naomi finds no comfort in that. Commitment....
Not married then...but definitely moving on. Moving on far enough to be in a serious, grown up relationship. One that certainly doesn’t involve threesomes with twin sisters or bacchanalian orgies in Portuguese villas. Naomi's sure about that if nothing else...
She talks without remembering a word afterwards, they nod politely and pretend she hasn't dropped a hand grenade into their exhibition. The tears that are brimming in her eyes won't be denied much longer though, so she mutters something even more crass and then just.... runs.
She only gets to the stone steps outside, staggering and crying so much an old lady walking by gives her a concerned look. She turns away, down a convenient side alley. Puts her head against the cold wall and lets it all come out in a long continuous wail. All the grief, loneliness and despair she thought was used up this past 18 months. Apparently there's plenty left. That thought alone makes her sob harder.
"Fuck...fuck...fuck" she chokes after she recovers her breath.
Then a voice over her shoulder. That voice.
"I'm OK" she croaks improbably, scrabbling in her jacket for a tissue. A folded white handkerchief appears over her shoulder. She takes it and mops her soaked cheeks and blows her nose. She offers it back without turning round.
"No...keep it" the familiar husky voice again. She can't possibly keep it...it smells of Emily. Strawberries, vanilla...and just...well, Emily"
She chokes on her words, not trusting herself to turn yet.
"Sorry...so stupid of me...sorry Em, go back inside...I’m...OK now?"
Which is so not true its practically a comedic punch line.
Hears Emily sigh. She remembers that sigh. The post Sophia sigh.
She turns then. The look of pure sympathy on Emily's face nearly undoes her again, but she swallows the sob...just.
"Nice to see you doing well" she manages, holding out the handkerchief again. Emily ignores the gesture.
"Truth, Naomi...how are you really?" Emily presses her. It’s too much. Why couldn't she just have accepted her lies and gone back inside?
"Truth?" she answers weakly, wishing a fucking hole could swallow her up, "OK... here goes...I cried continuously for months. Lost my job, our apartment, drank a lorry load of spirits...took up smoking again...oh, and finally got locked up in a funny farm for 6 months...even my mum got fed up with me in the end....so yeah, doing great actually".
She sniffed hard, hating the shock and pity on Emily's face.
"But as you can see" she stood straight and flashed a wan smile at her ex "Right as rain now...fully recovered. Totally, completely over you...happy to see you've moved on...got a...a 'life partner' and all?....By the way, what is a life partner?...sounds like a chapter heading in a 1980's LGBT manual"
She can't help the jibe. Its still part of her personality, even in her train wrecked state...that sarcasm. Hates the wounded, slightly pissed off look on Emily's face it produces.
"It means we've committed to each other, like grown ups do...it wasn't just you who suffered you know Naomi...I did too" Emily says archly.
Emily is standing straighter too now, arms folded defensively over her chest.
Naomi gulps again, forcing down another treacherous sob.
"Great..well, would love to stay and chat about old times, but things to do, places to go...people to see...you know"
It sounds brittle, even to her. She's even more broken now and she knows she's seconds away from collapsing in a bawling heap. She can't remember if she took her antidepressants this morning. Knows it doesn't matter anyway. Seeing Emily has smashed through her flimsy confidence like a battering ram. Even Cook's magic powder would fail at beating that.
She forces another fake smile onto her face. Knows Emily sees straight through it.
"Gotta go" she chokes, but has to do it.....touch her. Reaches out and strokes Emily's face with trembling fingers When Emily flinches away, Naomi lets the tears fall properly again. She won't even let me touch her, she thinks desperately. One time it seemed she wanted nothing else...
"Don't worry Em" she manages, biting her lip, "I'll write you a nice review...before I...before uh...umm...."
Emily frowns, confused. Before what?
"Naomi...I can't let you go like this, you're really upset....come inside...we'll get you straightened up...call you a cab..."
"No!" Naomi almost shouts, making Emily start.
"Couldn't....in there....not again...don't need pity...going straight home anyway....Single malt whisky indoors...the guaranteed cure for broken hearts, yeah?"
Her smile isn't forced this time. She wipes her eyes with the back of her hands fiercely.
"Well...have a nice life Emily"
She turns to leave before spinning back once more. If this is the last time she'll ever see her, and now she knows with chilling certainty that's true, she has to say it. Even if it means nothing to Emily.
"I"ll love you for the rest of my life Emily Fitch...can't help it. Tried...but its not possible to stop. Completely ruined me for anyone else..." she grimaces rather than smiles. Knows that will hurt her ex.
Emily's eyes get even wider and she reaches for Naomi's hand. But she pushes past the outstretched arm. Holds Emily firmly by the shoulders and kisses her. Not hard, not passionately. She just needs this so that she can do what she knows she has to do now...afterwards. Soft, gentle...a farewell kiss to a precious love departed.
Emily stands there frozen in shock as Naomi reluctantly pulls back.
"Goodbye...my beautiful Emily...my only love..." she whispers and turns away, almost running down the alley.
Emily stands there for a moment, fingers to her lips. She can still feel the familiar warmth of Naomi's mouth on hers. It wakes up something she thought had died a year ago.
Karen finds her there minutes later, crying softly into her hands. Frowns at her girlfriends sadness, but folds her into protective arms, then ushers her back inside. Emily stops at the top of the steps and remembers something Naomi said. She mouths the words that puzzled her.
"She said before....before what?"
Karen shakes her head
"Don't know Em, doesn't really matter now, does it?...Come on, people are waiting inside. Forget Naomi...she's gone now"
Two hours later Naomi is laughing....properly laughing, not just the usual hysterical despair.
Sitting cross legged on the floor next to the coffee table. On it a half empty litre bottle of Highland Park Islay whisky, over 30 years old. Katie had bought it for them for Christmas 3 years ago.
"You can't be proper lezzers unless you have Scotch in the house" she’d chuckled "Its like strap ons and sensible shoes...fucking compulsory"
Naomi laughed again at the memory. Happy days. She was surrounded by happy days now. All the photo's, soppy notes and birthday cards they had saved from their years together were strewn around her. She'd taken the box from the top of the wardrobe as soon as she got back. The box had been sealed, hidden away for over a year. Didn't matter now. Time for one last session. One last indulgent wallow.
She slopped another absurdly large scotch into a heavy crystal tumbler. Katie had bought those too. Proper glasses for proper scotch...
It was getting dark outside, but it was light enough for what she had to do. She raised the glass to her lips, picking another shiny little pill from the pile on the table. Eight she thought would be plenty, but she'd already taken twelve, just in case. Wouldn't do to fuck it up. Proper job...right?
The scotch burned down her throat, but it was getting easier now. Not much of a chance of her becoming a connoisseur, but it wasn't totally unpleasant. Maybe she was a proper lesbian at last. The thought made her giggle stupidly. She took another two pills, the last in the blister pack...best be absolutely certain.
'Can lead to severe addiction or death...do NOT exceed the stated daily dose" she read on the box and smiled wryly at the warning.
"Too late" she slurred "Whoops!"
Scotch spilled over the side of the glass as she tried to put it down with the exaggerated care of the truly intoxicated.
She picked up her favourite photo...the one with her and Emily in Goa...on the beach at sunset. Some Australian backpacker had taken it for them. Standing in matching yellow bikini tops and flimsy local sarongs, looked tanned and happy. Emily folded into Naomi's body, looking up at her adoringly. Naomi smiled. Such a long time ago...but so special. Their time. Seemed like a hundred years ago now.
The numbness in her feet was creeping upwards slowly. The shadows on the wall twisted weirdly too as her vision gradually blurred and turned monochrome.
She didn't feel her head hit the table with a dull thud on the way down to the floor...didn't see the bottle tip and spill onto the stained wood. The photograph in her hand slipped from her fingers as she sighed and curled onto her side. Tired, she thought. So tired of all this pain and grief.
Her smile faded gradually, like a cherished sepia photograph. The clock ticked on the wall, counting down the few moments left to Naomi Campbell in this world.
"Emily" she breathed shallowly "I love you so much, my sweet Emily"
Just the clock now....tick, tick, tick.......
Two weeks later.
Emily grimaced as Karen tossed a folded Metro into her lap, almost spilling her brimming coffee.
“Jeez Kaz...you almost scalded me there..” she complained without real annoyance.
“Sorry Ems...I have to go to the printers and I think our review may be in there today at fucking last. I spoke to the Metro’s features desk last night when you were at yoga? It should have been in a week ago but the girl said they had ‘staffing problems’?...Must have been your weird ex, fucking it up for us?”
Emily frowned at her partners cold tone.
“She isn't weird” she said, automatically defending her ex but not really knowing why after all this time. Obviously she'd not heard from Naomi since that day, but the twinge of unease at how...broken... her old girlfriend had looked stayed with her nevertheless. She just hoped Naomi had got over it by now. Life goes on and all that.
The door slammed as Karen left making Emily wince again, but she stifled her sigh of irritation and thumbed through the paper. The review was on the bottom of page 6.
“Stunning new exhibition by two talented new photographers” The headline read. Emily grinned happily at that and continued to read the occasionally acerbic but largely supportive text.
In her glee at the positive contents, she almost missed the small boxed editors note underneath the review.
“Apologies for the lateness of this article, which was provided by our highly talented and much missed local reporter Naomi Campbell. For anyone who knew her, this will have to serve as a small obituary for our beloved colleague. Naomi took her own life whilst affected by severe clinical depression just after submitting this review. We’re sure you will like us, miss her amusing contributions and dry wit a great deal”
The newspaper fell from Emily's nerveless fingers.
“Before I..before I...”
The last words Naomi uttered between them echoed insistently in her head.
There was a slight pause as everything and everybody in Emily's carefully crafted post Naomi life crumbled inelegantly into barren dust.
Then there was a wail so long, so hopeless and desolate, Karen heard it from the street below as she stepped out of their shared block. She shivered at its intensity and ran back inside. Something truly terrible had just happened...
“N...No....No!... please God no...not ... NAOMI!” she heard from their apartment as she stumbled back up the stairs.
Karen didn't know it at that moment, but it wasn't only her girlfriends fragile new world that collapsed that morning. Hers had too.