Kissing Cook feels like suffocation. Effy was officially dead once. For two whole minutes when she was seven. She’s a drowner—always has been. And she knows that desperate feeling better than anyone else. Except for maybe Cook.
They drift off together into the tide. Eyes closed, sinking into oblivion together.
They drive without a map for two days before stopping. The car is littered with crisp packets, cigarette buds and empty bottles of vodka. She picks up two bottles of rum, a bag of popcorn and three packs of menthols at the rest stop paying in coins that she digs out from the bottom of her jean pockets. He fills up the tank with petrol. They don’t bother paying for that and instead drive away with the cashier yelling after the cloud of dust they leave behind.
He laughs his crazy laugh and she smiles before popping open the rum to take a sip. He reaches out for the bottle, but she pulls it out of his reach. “No fair peachy,” he growls as the car swivels.
“I don’t think I’d want to see a repeat performance of what happened last time.”
“Fine then.” The car pulls to a stop. “You drive.”
They stay parked on the side of the deserted road until the next morning. They drink until she cannot see straight and she wakes up tangled in his limbs in the backseats popcorn scattered across his chest. He stares at her intently and for a minute she thinks he means something by it. Until she remembers that it is Cook, so she looks away and picks at the little squished pieces of popcorn scrutinizing each piece before popping them in her mouth. He plays with her hair until the sun comes up and they sit in the silence for a while, legs still entangled.
A car zooms by. Another comes within the hour. She’s wearing her top again by that point, and they’ve finished smoking the last of the cigarettes.
They spend a couple of nights the next month in a seedy hotel. She sings in the shower sometimes. It’s a pattern he picks up on after a month of traveling. Sometimes when they’re crammed into the small cubical together he’ll hum along with her.
She thinks about childhood and innocence and the days back when she was still her father’s little girl. It’s been a long time since then, and a long time since she looked up to either of her parents, and a long, long time since Tony has called or asked or cared.
Freddie tries to call a couple of times. But she just lets the phone ring and ring and ring. Sometimes Cook picks up and screams into it. Loud and vulgar words that made her flinch. Except after he pulls her into his side and buries his face in her hair and whispers over and over, “It’s always you and me.”
There are moments when she thinks she could love him.
The lights flash as they pick up speed until they blur in her eyes. She sleeps that night with her hand intertwined in his and dreams of floating away.
“Don’t stop breathing,” she whispers dreamily. She thinks she can feel his hand grasp hers a little tighter, but in the morning she realizes she must have imagined it all. For when she wakes up her hand is clenched around the duvet and Cook has somehow ended up on the floor.
“Good morning sunshine,” He beams up at her squinting slightly as sunlight pours into the room when she pulls open the curtains.
Cook falls in love with her first. Because Effy Stonem doesn’t do love. Or else she does it horribly, in a way that ends with running away after giving his girlfriend nine stitches. But Cook doesn’t do love either, so neither of them notice it at first.
He mutters it one night accidentally while they are fucking. “What did you say?” She looks back at him, her eyes wide and uneasy.
“I said I love your tits,” he mumbles back.
“I didn’t say anything before that.”
She stares at him for a minute with her icy blue eyes. And all he can think is—fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck! But she drops it and reaches out a hand to push the hair out of his eyes.
She falls asleep eventually. He watches her for a bit. In a totally creepy stalkerish kind of way because he’s not the good guy—he doesn’t know how to be the good guy. He doesn’t stare lovingly, and he sure as hell doesn’t do love. But he’s pretty sure that what he’s feeling for her has gone beyond just sex, and he doesn’t know what to do with that.
Anthea wires money into her bank account when cash gets low. Her parents are back together now. She once thought she’d care about that, but it doesn’t faze her. Tony calls one day to say hello while she’s in a bath and ends up talking to Cook for forty minutes. When she finally hears his voice after such a long time, it’s hard not to cry.
“Your boyfriend sounds nice,” he says.
She is a little startled by his word choice. “That’s because he’s an arsehole.”
“Still picking the crazy ones?”
And she thinks about saying all the things that she’s wanted to tell someone—anyone since the woods. But she cannot find the words to explain how broken everything has become and how things never work out with the nice boys and how all her friends hate her and how she ran away from home and how mom and dad were shouting at each other—always the shouting. So she says “Yeah. Can’t resist them.” And she cries silently after she hangs up.
“I miss you, Eff.”
Cook rambles on and on about Tony’s antics in college until he realizes she hasn’t spoken a word since the phone call. He pulls her into his lap and strokes her hair and her tears make a wet spot on his shirt.
They have sex twice that night.
It happens a couple of days later when she’s leaning into him one night and he is too incoherent to notice what’s happening. “I love your tits, too.”
They walk around town holding hands. They stop by the Tesco’s to pick up supplies for the trip back. She reads off the list that’s scribbled on her palm.
“Vodka?” He holds up two bottles in answer to her question.
Effy drives for the majority of the trip home while Cook gets seriously shitfaced. She stops three times to let him empty the contents of his stomach onto the side of the road.
His hand is shaking when they reach the edge of their neighborhood. “Will you still love my tits when you see Freddie’s?” She simply laughs and shakes her head. “Hey! It’s not meant to be funny! Have you seen that guy? He has some great tits.”
He carries her books for her and kisses her hello at college. They walk down the halls hand in hand. “Ugh. Isn’t that just so sick, Ems?” Katie whispers nastily as they pass by.
Most of the gang doesn’t react well to their return. Freddie avoids them as often as possible. Pandora just looks guilty whenever she sees them. Thomas eyes Cook wearily but says hello to Effy nonetheless.
Naomi and Emily do hang out with them, but only when the other isn’t. Effy thinks they need to sort out their problems before they can deal with anyone else’s. JJ comes around a lot, but for the most part conversation is filled with awkward silences and bursts of inappropriate stories about parties that they weren’t invited to.
But she doesn’t care because whenever she’s feeling down she can hear his voice whispering softly, “It’s you and me babe. It’s always going to be you and me.”
And in her mind that’s not a bad place to be anymore.
Cook is a wild child. He has broken hearts and has been heartbroken. But he’s never been too scared of what’s coming next.
“Are you going to break my heart Effy Stonem?”
She smirks as she turns to face him. “Are you going to break mine?”
He has a pack of glow in the dark stars stashed away since his fifth birthday. They put them up spontaneously one night and watch as a galaxy glows down at them from the ceiling of his student flat.
Cook’s kisses are soft and gentle, and Effy thinks that maybe two drowners are capable of survival after all. They’ve washed up ashore, barely breathing, but still breathing nonetheless. And his hand is reaching out for hers. She lies with her head on his chest for a long time, listening to the steady beat of his heart before falling asleep.
“I could never break your heart.”