For a year after Freddie, Effy skips across continents like a leaf caught in the wind. She likes and hates each and every city she visits. Beijing is dirty and crowded, but it pulses like a hot wound and Effy loves the food and the company she finds and how small she feels, dwarfed by buildings the scale of which she never dreamt of before. Auckland is serene, in comparison, and there she nurses her heartache for a fortnight. A well-meaning boy navigates his world for her, but she forgets his name as soon as she’s on an airplane bound for the Cook Islands. She spends her days on the beach, staring at the sky, until one day she wades into the ocean and swims until she doesn’t think she’ll have the strength to head back. It means something, that when the tide starts pulling her down, she panics and flails for her life. She meets up with Cassie in New York, and though they both know about lost love, they don’t talk about it. Cassie’s Williamsburg flat is depressing, but then they’re in a disgusting underground club and it feels familiar, okay. For a wild, drunken moment, Effy considers getting a tattoo, an F for Freddie or Failure or Fake or Fuck This Life, but for once she makes the sane choice and hops a flight for London the next day. When she lands at Heathrow, Katie’s waiting for her. They hug and Effy tells her, “Take me home,” but instead they get a room at a pricey hotel Effy’s dad’s credit card will pay for and they order room service and booze, and jump on the bed, and watch shit telly, and share that enormous, soft bed. In the dead of night, they’re still awake. The lights are off in the room, but outside the window, London’s still awake, still bright. Next to her, Katie’s in half-shadow.
Effy whispers, “Tell me something, Katie.”
“I’m glad I’m here.”
Katie rolls her eyes with little conviction. “Of course. I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve worried, Ef.”
“You’re so sweet.”
“But I’m not.” Katie sounds offended. “You never called.”
“I was busy forgetting.”
“And did you?”
“No.” The sheets are crisp and cool, but closer to Katie it’s warm. Effy stays there, her hands bunched around the front of her oversized shirt, thinking of all of the ways in which the lies she tells herself fall away with Katie.
The bed sags when Katie gets up and goes to the bathroom. The tap runs for a moment. Stops. When she pops back into the bed, her face is still damp. Then she places her cold hand on the side of Effy’s throat, and Effy briefly remembers Gobbler’s End.
“I don’t do this.”
“Do what, Katie?”
“Love crazy people, yeah? I don’t like my heart broken.” She pauses, and the following whisper is a hard rattle of a sound. “Doesn’t your heart ever break?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it does,” Effy says, her voice like Katie’s, rough and slightly weary. “Can I kiss you anyway?”
Katie’s hand on Effy’s throat: it tightens. And though she parts her lips, no words come out from between them when she tilts her head in the barest of nods. It isn’t much of a kiss, but Effy feels hot all over. She feels the sun in her mouth.
“Why?” Katie asks, already dipping closer, her breath sharp with mint toothpaste. Effy licks the bow of her lip and replies, “Because.”
With that unfortunate word still floating between them, they settle against each other, the buzz of the city a distant sound.