It’s a cold morning, maybe the coldest of the year, as Naomi Campbell drags her duffle bag behind her on the ground, stepping briskly. It’s her first day at boarding school, and in a typical fashion, her mum wasn’t there.
In fact, that was why she was going to this school. Her mum was so “busy” with work, or, as Naomi knew it to be, banging random guys every night. She loved her mum, of course, but there were times where she couldn’t fucking stand her. Maybe boarding school would be a new start. Maybe Naomi would make friends for once, even get a boyfriend, something all her old friends had always gushed over. She’d never wanted one, personally, never seen the appeal in guys, but maybe it was time to grow up. As her foot bumped a twig, she glanced up at the school. Big, majestic as all hell. There’s someone outside the door, which is slightly ajar, a tall woman with what looks to be a ginormous dressing gown on. As Naomi gets closer, the woman notices her and smiles merrily, beckoning.
“Come on, dear! We haven’t all day! You must be cold!”
She sounds more like an eager to please mother than a principal, so Naomi takes a guess that she’s the Dorm Mum. Which doesn’t surprise her, to be honest.
She walks up the slightly crumbling stone steps, leading to the patio, and the woman takes her bag, smiling at Naomi in what is probably supposed to be a welcoming manner, but honestly feels more like she’s about to skin her alive and boil her toes. Naomi inwardly winces at the visual, then smiles awkwardly. “Hi. I’m, uh, Naomi Campbell.” She usually greets people in a much colder and brisker way, but she can’t find it in her to act like that around this lady, who looks so desperate to be liked that it’s sad.
“Right you are!” The woman chirps, looking down at a list on a clipboard. “I’m Josie, and I’ll be your Dorm Mum! Think of me as your replacement Mum, for the time being, if you like. If you ever need anything, always come by my-“
“Alright,” Naomi interrupts, slightly annoyed now, then feels bad when Josie’s smile droops.
“Thank you, I mean. It’s lovely to meet you.” She approaches the door with Josie hot on her heels, even reaching out to tip it open further. Naomi rolls her eyes, and pushes it, entering a room that smells- for lack of a better term- like goat bollocks. She wrinkles her nose as Josie bustles through and directs her to another door, which she tells Naomi, with great excitement, is where her other dorm-mates are.
“You’ve got Pandora, Effy, Emily, Katie, and, ah…” She frowns and peers at the list again. “Oh. Right. Kellie. New one, too. Still getting used to the names ‘n all.”
“Right,” Naomi replies, waiting for Josie to stop rambling.
“Alright then, in you go! Have fun, and remember there’s your form assortment at nine.”
Naomi nods and opens the door, having to twist harder than she’d like, and then it finally pushes open…
Right onto a girl with red hair and an expensive looking dress.
“What the fuck?” The girl cries out, glaring at Naomi.
Another girl, slightly shorter and with wild pigtails, reaches and pats the girl’s shoulder. “C’mon, Katie, I’m sure she didn’t mean to.” She turns to Naomi, smiling brightly, Katie still rubbing her waist behind her.
“I’m Pandora,” the girl says, then, for good measure, “I’m useless.”
“Oh.” Naomi doesn’t know what to say to that. “Well, I’m Naomi.”
Pandora goes to shake her hand, but then Katie cuts in, pushing past Pandora and staring Naomi in the face.
“Think you’re all special then, do you, Naomi?” She sneers. “With your fucking lesbo haircut-“
Naomi freezes, then swallows hard. “Sorry, Katie, was it?” She asks, in what she hopes is a breezy tone. “Couldn’t hear you, y’know, what with your obnoxious drawl and all.”
Katie goes red immediately, clearly not used to being stood up to.
“Stay the fuck out of my way,” she mutters, darkly, pushing back past Pandora again, who is looking anxiously between the two girls.
“With pleasure,” Naomi replies, smugly, and hears a little giggle from her right. She spins, and there’s Katie on a bed- but it’s not Katie, because this girl has deeper eyes, and softer looking skin, and pink lips that look so-
Okay, no. What the fuck. Naomi dismisses the weird thoughts, and walks past Not-Katie, to the next bed, and dumps her bag there.
Katie’s head snaps up. “Oh, no. You do not waltz in here, your first day, and take MY fucking bed-“
“It’s alright, Katie,” Says Not-Katie, but her voice is so fucking soft, and gentle, and Naomi feels weak suddenly. “We don’t need to do everything together, y’know.” She says this last part shyly, lowering her head a little. She’s scared, Naomi realises. Scared of who looks to be her own twin sister.
Pandora bites her lip, then bounces back to Naomi.
“So, this is Katie- well, you met Katie-“
“Too right I met her,” Naomi mutters, drawing another laugh from Not Katie, and it feels so good to have made her laugh, and what the fuck is wrong with her right now?
“And here’s Emily, her twin sister- they’re, like, identical! Isn’t that wicked?”
“Not identical,” Naomi speaks up, smirking over at Katie. “Your sister’s a lot better looking.” She turns back and sees Emily blush, smiling a little.
“Lezzer,” Katie snaps, and Naomi rolls her eyes and flops onto her front on the bed.
“This is Eff, only she isn’t always here because she sometimes sneaks out, but don’t tell Josie that,” Pandora continues, gesturing to a tall girl with long dark hair, who hasn’t spoken at all so far, and barely even glances up at the mention of her name.
Great. An emo, from the looks of things. Naomi was stuck in here with a mute emo, a weird clown, an overbearing dorm mum, a huge bitch, and… well. Emily.
Form assortments were alright, Naomi was sorted into a class with Pandora, Emily, Kellie (who rushed in, late) and some boys she hadn’t met yet- James, JJ, Thomas, along with a few others she forgot the names of. First period (English) went by just fine, even if James kept whispering to Naomi about his “tattoo” which Naomi had no desire to see.
By lunchtime, Naomi let Pandora drag her to a table, with Thomas, James, Effy, and a guy with dark hair who wouldn’t stop looking at Effy, named Freddie.
The conversation at the table was mostly typical banter, Naomi even feeling comfortable enough to make a few snarky jokes, relaxing slightly.
“What the fuck?”
Naomi spins around at the familiar voice, and sure enough, there's Katie- Emily on her trail, as Naomi suspected was usual.
“What’s the dyke doing here?” Katie spits.
“Ooh, Naomi, didn’t know you were a lezzer,” James leers.
Naomi fixes a dark look on Katie. “’M not.”
The table goes strangely quiet, save for the sound of Pandora sipping her apple juice, then Effy sighs and finally breaks her silence. “For fuck’s sake, Katie, just sit.”
“Yeah,” James grins. “There’s room on my lap, if you need a seat.”
“Not if you paid me, Cook.”
The twins sit down opposite Naomi and Pandora, Katie pulling out a salad as Emily awkwardly drums her fingernails on the table.
“Can you not?” Naomi asked, just for something to say.
Emily looks up and goes a slight rosy colour, looking embarrassed. “Sorry.”
Naomi wants to keep talking to her, start a conversation, but Katie is staring her down challengingly, so Naomi turns to James.
“James, d’you know if-“
“Wait, what?” he asks, smile fading. “’M name’s not James.”
Naomi feels her cheeks flush. “Well, that’s what the teachers called you in the assortments, so-“
“Not James,” He says, looking more intense now. “Never James. I’m fucking Cook.”
“Funny,” Katie mutters. “You’d think Effy would be the one saying that.”
Effy raises her head and shoots Katie a quick look, Freddie twisting his lip awkwardly.
“I, uh, I’m gonna go get some air. Uh, Cook, y’fancy a spliff?”
“Right on, mate,” “Fucking Cook” says, standing up and brushing off his pants, where some breadcrumbs had settled.
Once they're gone, Naomi blinks. “What the fuck was that about?”
“Oh,” Pandora says. “Well, Effy’s fucking Cook, but Freddie’s like, in love with her, but Katie has a thing for-“
“Shut up, Pandora,” Katie snaps, and Effy looks at her, irritated.
“Don’t say that.”
The table goes silent again, and eventually the bell goes, and the group separates for the next class.
The next few days see Cook, Effy, Katie and Freddie caught in a web of drama, constant insults from Katie toward Naomi, one night of Pandora (unsuccessfully) trying to learn to read the girls' palms, and Naomi and Emily dancing around each other awkwardly, and Josie constantly bringing in stale cookies.
As if this wasn't enough, the Literature class (which Cook calls Lit class because he skips it to get, well, lit) is much more difficult than Naomi expected, and she's struggling to keep up.
If they had been studying political culture, feminism, equality, something Naomi cared about, maybe she'd do better, but instead she was stuck dissecting another poem about ravens. Enter Tuesday afternoon in the girls' dorm room.
Katie and Emily were talking quietly, perched on the edge of Katie's bed, Pandora was flipping through an astrology magazine- "It says Mercury's in "retrograde," Eff! What does that mean?"- while Naomi tried to focus on her poem analysis.
This is interrupted by a sudden shout outside the window.
Instead of looking worried, Effy rolled it up, and in came Cook, Freddie and JJ.
"Where's Thom?" Asked Pandora, anxiously.
"Doing homework," JJ all but mumbled.
"Good thing I brought some spliff, so we don't have to," grinned Cook, emptying his pocket, revealing a LOT of weed.
"Wait, how'd you get this into school?" Naomi asked.
Cook scoffed. "Isn't exactly tough to get past Jose."
"Perhaps we should just use it later, Josie might smell it and-" JJ started anxiously, only to have Cook wave his hand and laugh.
"That's why we've got windows!"
"This is a shit idea," Katie informed Cook, but moved to the weed anyway.
"This was a great idea," Katie laughs, resting her head on Freddie's leg, to which he just stays still, awkwardly.
Naomi hasn't had any, she's still trying to study, and she barely acknowledges Effy's, "Later," as she, Cook, Katie and Freddie make their way out of the window for more drugs.
This leaves Naomi, JJ, and Emily.
"Well then," JJ says. "What've you got there, Naomi?"
"Homework," she replies flatly. "D'you think you could leave me alone for two minutes?"
"What homework?" Emily asks quietly, moving up next to Naomi, reaching for her folder.
"It's some fucking pretentious poem, alright? Now will you leave me alone, too?"
JJ starts tapping the floorboards.
Instead of leaving, Emily opens the folder, and looks over what Naomi's written. Naomi feels her face heat up.
"Look, I know it's shit, alright?"
"Not shit," Emily says softly. "Could definitely use some work, but not shit. Your ideas are good- fantastic, really- you just need to work on developing and phrasing them."
"How'd I go about doing that, then?" Naomi asks, but less sharp.
Emily looks up and meets Naomi's eyes, making something flutter inside Naomi's chest.
"I could help you."
"I don't need to cheat, thanks."
"No, I mean, I could tutor you. If you wanted? Not just with this, anything else, too, if you like?" There's a slight waver in her voice, and Naomi sees it as anxiety.
She could tell Emily to fuck off, but looking at Emily's eyes, the last thing she wants is to hurt her.
"Yeah. I mean, alright. 'S long as there's no more weed orgies."
Emily giggles, and Naomi feels it again, the flutter.
"I know a few places we could work, don't worry." She looks at Naomi again, and the gaze is so intense that Naomi can barely break it. But she does.
"Okay. I'm gonna go to sleep. Night. And JJ? Maybe head back to your dorm?"
JJ glances up in surprise, discarding a book. "Yeah. Alright. Night, ladies!"
He climbs out, though gets stuck on a twig, and eventually frees himself, stumbling into the night.
The sun melted endlessly into the trees and air like molasses, leaving a warm, but not at all unpleasant atmosphere over the college. Naomi went out to the school’s garden for the day, being that it was a saturday, and brought with her her homework, and a book, which, she promised herself, would only be read once her work was complete. Of course, after half an hour of puzzling over a French textbook, it was discarded for pages of The 48 Laws of Power, and after an hour of that, she felt a bit restless, so she gathered her things. Just as she was standing up, she heard her name.
She looks up, and sighs to herself a little. Great.
“Emily,” she says, forcing a smile. It's not that she dislikes Emily- not at all- she just feels slightly odd around the girl, and she would catch herself staring at Emily’s lips when she was talking. Easier to just stay away.
“What are you reading?” Emily asks, pointing to Naomi’s stack of papers.
“Oh, just some politics stuff. I tried to get some French done too, but I just can’t get my head around it.”
“I could help you look it over, if you like?”
Naomi looks up in surprise. “Yeah? Really? You wouldn’t mind?”
“No, not at all. Besides, already said I would, didn’t I?”
“That’d be great, then. Thanks, Em.”
The nickname slips out without her noticing, and she feels her cheeks redden, but Emily doesn't seem to mind, pushing a strand of bright red hair behind her ear and reaching for the textbook and worksheets.
“D'you- d'you wanna sit, maybe?”
Emily looks back up at Naomi, and Naomi is struck by how pretty she is, suddenly. She looks away, because, what the fuck?
“Sure,” Emily says, taking a seat, Naomi following suit. And so the French studying began- but it was easy, Naomi was surprised to find. Not the work, of course, but Emily. Sitting with her, talking with her. It felt right. At one point, Emily was reaching for Naomi’s pen, and their fingers brushed for a second, and when Emily looked at Naomi and smiled, she felt a confusing rush of happiness and shame. By the time they’d finished the worksheet, Cook , JJ and Freddie had made their way outside for a smoke. Naomi opted to ignore them, but they had different plans.
“Hey, girls!” Cook calls out. “Lezzing it up, yeah?”
Naomi’s cheeks burn, and she feels her stomach drop as she jumped up and grabbed the books. She could feel Emily watching her, but some strange kind of feeling of embarrassment and fear has settled over her, and she leaves, face burning, without offering so much as a “thank you.” Later that night, she’d obsess over that fact.
The morning brings a fresh new day, and Naomi gets up early, so as to catch Emily- but she had already left. She walks over to Effy, who is applying eyeliner in her cellphone camera. “Sorry, but, d’you know where, uh, Emily went?” Feeling as though she needs to explain, she quickly adds, “I need to return this book she lent me yesterday. When we were studying.” Effy’s face remains carefully blank, as she tells Naomi that she thought she’d told Katie something about the library, and as Naomi leaves the room, she can’t help but wonder what Effy is keeping behind that mask.
The library was quiet, more quiet than Naomi thinks any room has any right to be, as though it was holding its breath, hiding secrets of the stories its books held. She finds Emily in the reference section, and tapps her on the back. “Hey.”
Emily whirls around, surprised, and suddenly Naomi feels self conscious. Was that a weird thing to do?
“Hey,” she replies, seeing that it's Naomi. She doesn't seem mad about yesterday.
“I wanted to thank you, for the studying yesterday,” Naomi says, feeling a little awkward. “And, sorry, for, you know, running off later….” She wants to explain why she’d run, but there's nothing to explain it- nothing she understands enough to explain, or feels safe teeling Emily, anyway.
“That’s fine,” Emily replies. “Cook can be a bit of a twat. But he’s alright, mostly.”
“Yeah. I, um. I’m not…” Naomi feels trapped, by her own words. “I’m not. You know.”
“Oh,” Emily says, seeming to understand what Naomi meant. “Yeah. Cook can just be a bit… you know.”
Naomi’s stomach churns as she prepared her next words, anticipating the answer. “Are… you?”
“Am I what?” Emily says, turning to put away a book, suddenly seeming quieter.
“You know. Gay.”
Emily looks at her. “No. I’m not. I’m not gay.”
Naomi’s heart sinks a little, for reasons she doesn't quite understand. “Oh. Right. She notices that Emily’s hands are trembling, and decides to change the subject. “How long have you done French?”
Emily looks relieved at the topic change. “A couple years. Only as an option for school- got me out of Bio. How about you?”
“Same, pretty much. I still have no idea how say anything except for like, two things, though.”
“What two things?”
“Bonjur. Au Revoir.”
Emily laughs, and Naomi’s heart feels a little lighter.
Maybe Emily and Naomi could be friends? Maybe things would be okay over here? Maybe-
Any thoughts Naomi had disappeared when Emily leans in and presses her lips to hers.
Naomi didn't pull away.
She kissed Emily back.
It was soft, and tender, and so... nice. Kissing Emily felt nice.
Naomi shook her head when she looked back on that realization later. What was wrong with her?
She'd pulled away eventually, properly realizing what she was doing, and then she'd bolted.
She spent the rest of the day in the dorm room, and Emily didn't come to look for her.
Naomi was straight, right? Today was an experiment, maybe, but it didn't have to mean anything. It didn't have to mean anything.
But Naomi's head and heart were at ware because of the one thing Naomi couldn't help thinking, though it made her sick- what if she wanted it to?
The rest of the week, neither of the girls talked, and Katie began to hover beside Emily even more than before.
On Friday, Josie announced that there would be an activities day. During dinner, Naomi overheard Cook talking about it.
"No one's really gonna go to that, though, are they? I'm gonna piss off to the beach for the day, I think. Eff, you in?"
Effy looked over blankly. "I might be."
"I'm in!" Pandora burst out. "Absolutely! It'll be fun! I hope my grandmother doesn't find out, though."
Naomi saw Effy smile a little, in a manner of fondness she only seemed to express towards Pandora.
"Why not," Thomas agreed, winking at Pandora. By the end of dinner, most of them had agreed to skip the activities day altogether in favor of the beach- but after Naomi said she'd go, Katie declared that she and Emily would stay behind to study. Emily didn't protest.
Monday, activities day, was spent with smuggled beer and pot, toes buried in sand, and JJ completing the most elaborate sandcastle Naomi had ever seen. It got dark, and the gang decided to stay, until later at least.
Naomi's head is spinning a little, and she couldn't help but imagine Emily curled up in bed, waiting for her roommates to return.
Naomi ditches her beer and approaches Cook, who was standing at the end of the pier, with a cigarette and a smile. Maybe this would work.
Cook was good looking, tough, the kind of guy any girl would want to shag- so why does Naomi feel a small shiver of revulsion as she leans in?
The next morning, Naomi wakes with a hangover- not from drinks, but from confusion. She and Cook hadn’t gone any further than snogging the previous night, and it hadn’t exactly been what Naomi expected, of kissing a boy. Where Emily’s lips had been soft and plush against hers, Cook’s were rough, and where Emily’s hands had settled in her hair, Cook’s roamed relentlessly over her arse- a movement that had, honestly, felt more awkward than arousing. Naomi didn’t quite know what to make of it. She’d kissed two people now, boy and girl, but it was only one boy and one girl, right? How could she be sure of something so big, so serious, based off only two hookups? And, Naomi thinks to herself, as she watched Emily turn over in her bed, how could she feel so bad about kissing Cook, after only having kissed Emily, once?
The weekend passes agonizingly slowly, Naomi staying in the dorm room or library, reading, not as much for the information or fun, but for an excuse to not talk to anyone.
Josie seems to notice, though, and offers Naomi sympathetic head pats and clucks of her tongue, even inviting Naomi to bake brownies with her instead.
Naomi's brain seems to be in overdrive, going over and over, everything she never thought of before, everything she pushed to the back of her mind, stuffed and locked in a closet.
"I'm not gay."
But Emily had certainly seemed pretty gay, when she kissed Naomi, and even now, when Naomi awkwardly caught her gaze from across the library. Naomi's never really had proper friends, so she doesn't know what's "normal" but she's pretty sure this isn't it.
It'd be a different story, of course, if everything was purely one sided- if Naomi could laugh about it, the time a lesbian had a crush on her.
But it isn't.
At least, she doesn't think it is. She wants it to be. Of course. She wants to be the normal girl. She wants to care less about Cook's sexist jokes, to not have to bite her tongue so as to not annoy her teachers, and she wants to have fucking friends like a fucking normal girl does. It's a long weekend.
Monday morning is rushed, as Pandora's alarm clock is broken, which was, of course, the girls' sole motivation for getting up in the mornings, so Naomi's breakfast is a crushed muesli bar. As she walks around to English, she sees Freddie and Effy talking, quietly, outside the classroom, in a way that is so calm you can tell something's wrong. None of her business. The class has moved on to Shakespeare, as all English classes do at least once a year, and while Kellie gushes over Romeo and Juliet, Naomi holds back a comment about the fact that Juliet was thirteen years old. Emily is in the back of the class, so there should be no real reason for her to be distracting Naomi, except that Naomi can't stop looking back at her. A couple of times, Emily turns a little, and Naomi quickly tears her eyes away, focusing instead on the window. But once Emily turns back, Naomi's eyes lay on her again- she can't help it. Maybe it's weird that Naomi hasn't thought about Cook much at all, since Friday, but that Emily can't leave her head. What Naomi fails to notice is Katie Fitch watching her, eyes boring into the back of her head.
Lunchtime, Naomi feels too awkward to sit with the usual crowd, so she makes her way to the garden area, sitting on a patch of grass. She pulls out her textbooks, meaning to read them, but the sun is so warm and the day is so long and lazy that she drifts off, textbooks still open on the ground.
Naomi frowns into the bright sun as she opens her eyes, eventually focusing on her awakener.
"You wanna get up? There's only ten minutes left," Emily says, sounding hesitant.
"How long was I asleep?"
"I don't know, only just found you. C'mon. Wakey wakey!" Emily waves her hands in Naomi's face and Naomi rolls over in the sun.
"You must've slept all weekend, though. Hardly saw you."
Naomi detects a hint of disappointment in her voice.
"I had a lot on."
"Bullshit," Emily says, but she's smiling a little. She sits down, too.
"Why'd you kiss me?" Naomi asks her, wanting to get right to it.
Emily blinks. "I, uh. I don't know. Guess I was lonely, and you were around."
"You were lonely."
Naomi nods. "That's bullshit."
"If you're gay, you can just say so, alright? I don't care."
"Okay, but I'm- I'm not. I guess I was confused."
Frustration boils up in Naomi's chest. Why won't she just fucking admit it?
Another kind of frustration, too, she realises, as she looks at Emily's lips.
"I need to get away," Naomi mutters, half to herself.
"I dunno. Away. Anywhere."
"I know a place," Emily says, quietly, but hopefully. "Can I come, too?"
Every part of Naomi is screaming at her, saying this is wrong.
That she's wrong.
What the hell. She gives in.