"Still, I search in the woods and find nothing worse than myself, caught between the grapes and the thorns."
Naomi passes Katie the spliff and it seems, for a moment, almost like the time right before her life became a tangled, fetid mess—when even her relationship with Emily had reached a lull and things were nearly…peaceful.
It's moments like those, she thinks, that should be preserved in amber and climbed into later, when nothing about the world or life makes sense.
"Katie," Naomi says, her voice languid and soft, far-away. "It's fucking ridiculous, don't you think, expecting us not to ask about it?"
"Emily promised she wouldn't."
"Yeah, well," Naomi replies, "Emily did. I'm not Emily."
Katie turns her head to look at her sister, but Emily's gaze is fixed firmly on the sky; she looks completely oblivious, like she isn't even listening to their conversation. Katie sighs and says, "Just leave me alone, okay?"
It's a bit unexpected, Emily's hand reaching out for Katie's, covering it. Katie wonders how many times, over the span of their entire lives, they've held hands. Not so many in these last few years; maybe none at all.
"D'you think one can flounder on dry land?" Naomi asks cryptically, shifting restlessly on the blanket. "Wish I could go swimming, you know? Our lake would be fucking freezing though, wouldn't it?"
"You're incredibly high," Emily replies, leaning to her left to kiss Naomi's shoulder. She lies between them, between Naomi and Katie, as a sort of buffer. It's always been this way, and Katie's sure it'll continue for as long as Naomi and Emily stay together. The sudden thought of them breaking up makes her unexpectedly sad; must be the fucking spliff, she tells herself.
Katie remembers Naomi's first question and thinks, How stupid. Yes. Yes, of course. "Why don't you jump into the harbour, Naomi?"
"It's going to rain," Naomi mumbles, as though that were the only thing keeping her from following Katie's suggestion. "Bloody humid."
Earlier, hours after Effy'd gone, Katie came out to the garden, and lay just as she is now, staring up at a grey-blue sky. The clouds were already moving in then, and now she can see them, rolling across the full moon, which is so large Katie feels she could reach out and fucking touch it. She puts out her hand, and wriggles her fingertips against the soft, white glow, watches it dim considerably as a large, ominous cloud claims her sad little corner of the world.
Emily puts out her hand and Katie notes it with interest for a full two seconds before passing the spliff back.
"We fucked," she murmurs, after a long while, after the first drop of rain has fallen onto her face.
Neither Emily nor Naomi reacts immediately; finally, Emily sits up and stares, her eyes dark and full of wonder, as if they're looking at Katie for the first time. "What?" she asks quietly.
"Who did you fuck, Katie?" Naomi slurs her words, like maybe she's on the verge of sleep. "Cook? He's one to willy-waggle with anything that crosses his path, isn't he?"
A knot of pain appears in Katie's throat; she swallows it down, but it comes back up immediately. "It's meant to be a secret," she whispers, gazing straight at Emily. "You understand, yeah?"
"What the fuck are you on about?" Naomi says, struggling to sit up as well. She looks at Emily, then back at Katie, and then something must snap together, some missing piece inside that ridiculous brain of hers, because her eyes widen and she goes altogether silent.
Katie remains where she is, lying back; more drops of water land on her skin, cold and surprising each time they find their mark. She flinches when one lands on her cheek, and she swipes it away quickly, because she isn't crying.
She won't be crying again.
"You and--" Emily stops herself, her mouth agape.
"You can say her name," Katie answers caustically. "I won't fucking break."
Emily's shoulders slump. It's Naomi who finally says, "Effy? Effy Stonem?"
"H-how?" Emily manages to ask.
"How'd you think?"
"No, I mean--"
"I know what you fucking mean," Katie replies, her tone mordant. "It wasn't..." She shrugs and sighs noisily. Turning her attention back to the sky, she sees it's on the verge of bursting. "It was nothing," she says calmly. When she repeats the words, she almost believes them. "Nothing, right?"
Emily looks faint. "Why are you telling us this?"
"You're always in my fucking business anyhow. I thought I'd save you the trouble of picking and prying. Maybe, Christ...Maybe now you'll leave me alone." Katie bites her lip and turns her head away, feels blades of grass tickling her cheek. "It's over, so don't ask me anymore," she begs. "Please just don't make me say anything else. I don't know either, okay? Fuck's sake, I don't--"
Emily stops her by putting a hand on her arm. "Naomi?" she says. "There's a bottle of vodka under my bed, can you...?"
Naomi leaves wordlessly, and that's when Katie rolls over and buries her face in Emily's lap. "I don't know why I feel this way," she says, and it's so unbelievably pathetic, all of it, that she almost laughs. "I think it's worse than when Freddie..." She stops abruptly and shakes her head. "Fuck, I'm just... I'm high, right?"
"How long?" Emily asks quietly. She's running her fingers through Katie's hair, and all Katie can think is that they've never had this before; they've never comforted each other this way.
"Two months," Katie murmurs, surprised that it's really been that long. It's felt like a fucking whirlwind--like a bad dream.
Emily lets out a sharp breath. "Katie."
"I know," Katie says. "I fucking know, okay?" She rubs her hand roughly over her face, and tries not to say anymore. "It's raining, Ems," she murmurs.
Emily nods and stands awkwardly before holding her hand out for Katie. As they walk into the house, Emily says, "D'you want to, I don't know, talk about--"
"I thought we were going to get drunk, yeah?" Katie replies, trying to smile. She runs her fingers through her hair, damp from the rain, pushing back her too-long fringe. "Let's get pissed." She wishes she didn't sound so fucking depressed, because the look Emily's giving her is absolutely pitiful.
Naomi bounds down the stairs, so quickly Katie's sure she'll fall--almost wishes it would happen, just so she could have something to laugh about. Instead, Naomi steadies herself with an outstretched arm, the bottle of vodka tucked underneath the other. "Oh," she says, blinking when she notices Emily and Katie are already inside the house.
"It's raining," Emily says, like that explains everything--the expression on her face, the arm she's got around Katie's shoulders.
Naomi glances at Katie, then back at Emily. "Maybe I should go, then?"
"Fuck it," Katie says, reaching for the bottle. "Stay. Should be entertaining. Might even make up for all the shit I've ever given you, yeah?"
Naomi smiles thinly. "I'll go," she says to Emily, stepping closer to give her a kiss. Katie looks away and clutches the bottle to her chest, feeling tears prick her eyes for no good reason at all. She hears Naomi say, "Good fucking luck," and then the opening and shutting of the door.
After a very long, silent moment, Emily says, "Come on. Let's go upstairs."
They lie down, squeezed together on Katie's bed, Katie pressed against the wall and Emily with one of her legs dangling off the edge of the bed. The room is dark, and Katie's kept the window open. She can hear the rain pattering against the windowpanes. It lets in a slight breeze, but Katie likes it--likes the chill air because, when she closes her eyes, she feels as if she's outdoors. Back under the rain.
"So," Emily says, and Katie can hear the apprehension in her voice.
They've had what was left of Emily's bottle of vodka, and they're passing another one between them that Katie found in her old purse, hidden beneath one of her tops, the one Emily ruined so fucking long ago, when things really started to change, come apart. Or was that later? Was that weeks later in a dark club, her breath stinking just as it is now, of alcohol and spliff? Katie runs the back of her hand along her mouth, slowly, and thinks she almost remembers Effy's first kiss.
“You going to say anything?” Emily asks, her voice hushed.
“Not sure I know where to fucking start,” Katie replies honestly. “Ask me, if you want.”
“Are you gay?”
“No,” Katie says quickly, because she feels like there’s something left to defend. But there isn’t, actually, so after a bit she amends by saying, “I don’t know.”
“How can you not--”
Katie snaps, “Naomi didn’t, did she?”
Katie opens her eyes only long enough to sit up and take another long drink. It makes things only slightly better, and she thinks that maybe one day there won’t be a bottle big enough to hide behind.
"She hurt you," Emily says. "Christ's sake, she put you in hospital and fucked Freddie."
Katie doesn't respond, because, Jesus, it's not as if she doesn't know what Emily's saying. It's not as if she hasn't thought about it every day since it happened.
She takes another drink and hugs the bottle to her chest.
"Why her, Katie?"
Katie shakes her head. What's the answer to that? What's the fucking answer? "We were fucked up," she says. "At first, we were always so fucked up. And it was like, I don't know--she was there. She was there and no one knew us." She stops when a white flash illuminates their bedroom; it's followed very closely by a sharp clap of thunder. "Proper storm," she whispers.
Emily makes a sound of agreement before saying, quite solemnly, "I still don't understand."
"And you think I fucking do?" Katie answers roughly. She sits up and faces away from the window, because another flash of lightning's raised the hairs at the back of her neck. The ensuing thunder makes her flinch. "I was so angry," she says. "So fucking angry and, like, lonely, okay? I mean, why her? Why not her? Every night I was with her it was, like--yeah, okay, I get to fucking remind her how much I hate her."
Emily's face is in shadow, but Katie can still here the judgment in her voice when she replies, "That's fucked up, Katie."
"Yeah? Fuck off, Ems, you don't know anything about it."
"Yeah, well, of course not. Of course not, because you've got Naomi, right? And it's all, like, sunshine and fucking rainbows between you two, isn't it? Meanwhile, Emily, some people have actual problems to deal with, okay?" Katie says derisively.
Emily laughs. "Don't be stupid. We have problems. We're not fucking perfect, are we? I mean--"
"Sorry, you're not perfect. Right. Tell me, then, did Naomi ever hit you over the head with a sodding rock? Oh, she didn't? Then I guess I fucking win, yeah?"
"Wasn't aware it was a bloody competition," Emily replies. "You said it's over, though."
Katie's sigh is completely inadvertent. She bites her lip. "Yeah. Yeah, it's fucking over."
"That's a good thing, isn't it? I mean..." Emily pauses. "You weren't in love with her, were you?"
Katie doesn't hesitate. She knows the answer; she's memorised it. "Don't be stupid, you twat. I hate her."
Katie frowns. "What's that meant to insinuate?"
There’s another flash of lightning, and this time there’s no pause between it and a monumentally loud clap of thunder. Katie watches Emily shiver and cross her arms at the sound of it. After a moment, she sits up and gazes directly at Katie when she says, “I’m glad it’s over. Maybe you’ll stop coming home with bruises. Maybe you’ll stop letting her fucking hurt you—“
An unexpected anger seizes Katie. She doesn’t know why it’s there, or how to defend it, but it’s what prompts her to say, firmly, “You don’t know anything about it.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that. But you don’t seem to either, Katie."
"She didn't hurt me."
Emily shakes her head. "No? You liked it, then?" she asks sarcastically.
Katie wishes she had a good answer--that she could explain that whatever Effy did, Katie did in return and ten times worse. So she shrugs and says, "You can't give me crap about this, Ems. I've helped you and Naomi, so you can't--" The flash is so blinding, she has to blink away the spots that appear before her eyes. "Christ," she says, lying down, folding into herself as she buries her face into her pillow. She cries silently, but any hope that Emily might not realise it is lost when she touches Katie's face and clucks her tongue softly against the roof of her mouth.
"Sorry," Emily says. "It's shit, isn't it?"
"I've dealt with worse," Katie says, her voice thick. "I'll get over it."
"Yeah," Emily replies, lying down again, this time wrapping her arms around Katie's waist. They both jump a bit at the next clap of thunder, but Katie feels less as if her heart is going to hammer its way out of her chest. "Yeah, you will."
The rain doesn't let up for five days.
On the fourth, Katie lets Naomi and Emily drag her to a party.
She does a bit of MDMA, but she doesn't drink much, and she dances all night long. The space is tight--there are a lot of people crammed into the house, which smells weirdly like spliff, cat food and, maybe, arthritis balm. Katie imagines whatever tosser lives here must do so with his gran or something, because there's all sorts of bric-à-brac on the fucking mantelpiece that keeps getting knocked to the ground. Someone dropped a ceramic cow and broke its sodding head off.
Naomi finds her halfway through the night, thrusts an alcopop at her with a rueful smile. "All right, Katie?" she asks. Katie nods, and Naomi tilts her head in the direction of the door, saying, "It's only spitting rain. Let's go outside, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Katie replies, taking the drink as they push their way outside. Emily's there already, smoking a fag. Her jumper's on inside-out and her hair is fucked up, which makes Katie roll her eyes; she doesn't have to ask what they've been up to. "Christ, you two are fucking ridiculous," she murmurs, taking a cigarette from Emily, who gives her a blank look. Naomi laughs and shrugs as she takes a sip of cider.
It's still drizzling, and fucking cold, but it's kind of nice to be outside for a moment, to take a breath.
"Saw Effy," Emily says cautiously. She gives Katie a sidelong glance, but Katie just takes a deep draw of the fag.
"Yeah? So what?" she asks, as mildly as she can, wondering how Bristol is so fucking small she can't go to a single bloody party without running into Effy Stonem. Jesus Christ. "Why should I care?"
Emily lets out a smoky breath and smiles a bit. "Just wanted to be sure," she answers. "You don't want to leave, then?"
"Fuck's sake," Katie mutters, annoyed. "'Course not. It's early yet."
Emily and Naomi exchange a look, and Katie experiences a flash of irritation so acute, it's almost like she's back to being her old self, back to hating Naomi and Emily for ruining everything she had. Everything she was.
Except they didn't ruin anything. It wasn't them at all.
"I'm taking a walk," Katie murmurs.
"Think you should?" Naomi asks. "It looks like it'll start pouring any fucking moment."
Katie glares at her and holds her hand out to Emily. "Give me another fag," she says. When Emily does, Katie lights it and walks away from them without another word.
Katie's gone two blocks when they sky opens up. She runs back to the house and stumbles once, falling to her knees.
She wonders if it's just a matter of luck, of waiting things out; maybe her world will never right itself.
She goes upstairs to look for the loo, tries three doors and finds them all locked. The fourth is the winner, but when she opens it, Katie finds the room is already occupied.
He’s pulling his zip up and Effy’s still sitting on the edge of the sink, her legs dangling, her skirt pushed too far up her pale thighs. Katie, stunned into breathlessness, backs up until she meets solid wood before reaching behind her, fumbling blindly for the door handle.
“It’s okay, Katie,” Effy says calmly. Katie keeps her gaze fixed on the ground and tries not to slump against the door. “Mike was just going.”
Katie steps aside as John moves to leave, and she sees the sweat that darkens his hairline, his flushed cheeks and neck. When he passes by her, he reeks of sex. Katie closes her eyes for a moment, and sways unsteadily.
As soon as the door closes behind him, Katie hears the click-click of a lighter, opens her eyes to see Effy taking her first drag from a cigarette. Her eyes are closed, and her head tips back when she exhales a stream of smoke; she looks more peaceful than she has a right to, Katie thinks.
The first thing she wants to say--and she almost does, has to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from saying the words--is, "Didn't take you long to find someone else to fuck, did it?" Instead, she tries to keep her expression as bland as possible when she walks up to the sink and says, "I need the mirror."
Effy raises her eyebrows a bit, smirks as she jumps off her perch. "Your hair is wet," she says, pushing Katie's fringe away from her face.
Katie tilts her head toward the mirror, away from Effy's hand, and examines herself briefly--fucking mascara's run--before opening her purse. "It's raining," she answers tersely.
Effy makes a vaguely disinterested sound and leans back against the wall closest to the sink, so that when Katie's looking in the mirror, her eyes can't help stray in Effy's direction.
She finds the loo roll and steals a bit of paper, dabs at her makeup. All the while Effy just stands there, smoking, like some sort of fucking creeper. "Something you wanted?"
Effy shrugs and smiles thinly. "I was here first, Katie."
Katie leans closer to the mirror, runs her finger along the edge of her lower eyelid. "How could I forget?" she says flatly. If there's a hint of bitterness in her voice, she hopes Effy doesn't hear it.
"Here," Effy says, letting out an exasperated sigh, "let me." She takes the paper from Katie's hand and runs it under the tap before cupping Katie's chin and tipping her head back. "Close your eyes," she says, and her face is so close, Katie can't imagine doing anything else.
Katie thinks she should turn away--this is fucking ridiculous--but Effy's got a tight hold on her, and whatever. If this is how it's going to be, she can pretend just as well as anyone.
"How are you?" Effy asks, and it's so conversational, so fucking casual, it sets Katie's teeth on edge.
"Fine," Katie replies tightly, squeezing her eyes together. When Effy tells her not to do that, she clenches her jaw and says, "You almost done?"
"Hm." Effy's hand drops away, and Katie almost takes a step back, relieved. As soon as she opens her eyes, though, she sees Effy's still very close, watching her intently, curiously. Katie flinches, looks away first. "Don't you want to know how I've been?"
Katie looks into the mirror. The smudged mascara is still visible, but less so. "Yeah," she replies wearily. "I think I've just seen how well you're fucking doing."
"Funny," Effy says slowly. "I've never equated the two. "
Katie shrugs. She reaches into her purse and finds her eyeliner, decides there's no fucking point in trying to reapply anything, not while Effy's less than two feet away and being a complete cunt. "Sorry," Katie says sarcastically, turning to face Effy fully. "How the fuck are you?"
Effy's smile is impish, doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Very well, thank you."
Katie nods and rolls her eyes. "Fan-fucking-tastic, then," she replies.
"I thought we were going to be friends now," Effy says dryly. "Since you don't want to fuck anymore."
"Friends," Katie says, laughing throatily, "right." Effy takes a step closer and suddenly the room is much, much too small. It's fucking closing in, and Katie feels feverish. "Sure, we'll be best friends, Eff."
"Why not?" Effy asks. "We'll help each other with makeup..." She touches Katie's cheek for a moment, smiling, then tilts her head to the side as she adds, almost viciously, "Talk about boyfriends."
Katie swallows down a surge of anger. "Am I supposed to take you seriously, or what?"
Effy's smile disappears. "It's a fucking joke, Katie."
"Yeah, well, some fucking joke."
Effy drops her cigarette into the sink and reaches into her pocket for another. She takes one step, then a few more, away from Katie as she lights it, puts down the toilet lid and sits down. When she crosses her legs and looks down at the ground, whatever facade she'd been keeping up fades, and she shrinks to about half her size.
"Hey," Katie says. Effy's gaze is wary. "I'll be your friend, yeah? Just don't, like, try and talk to me about Freddie."
Effy's mouth curves, just a bit. "He's not my boyfriend."
"You know what I fucking mean."
Effy nods. "We don't have anything in common, Katie."
"Then we'll try and be nice to each other, or whatever. Or, maybe if you put some effort into it and, like, fucking talked once in a while--"
"I sort of liked not talking to you," Effy says.
Katie blushes furiously, runs her fingers through her hair. "Right," she says faintly.
"Another joke," Effy says, sounding less and less like she's joking at all. "We'll try it your way."
"I don't fucking know how Panda puts up with you."
Effy snorts softly. "Pandora's got simple needs." She pauses. "And we've never fucked, so."
Effy throws her head back and laughs. Katie stares at the sweep of her neck for a second too long, tries not to think about how nice it was, kissing it.
Effy drops her fag on the tiled floor, crushes it with the toe of her boot. She reaches into her pocket and, instead of pulling out another cigarette, holds up a baggy. She opens it carefully and retrieves a tab. "You want, Katie? Since we're friends..."
This is how it starts, Katie thinks. They get fucked up, they fuck... "Thanks, no."
Effy raises an eyebrow, puts the tab on her tongue and draws it into her mouth slowly. She closes her eyes for a moment, but when she opens them, they're fixed on Katie. She doesn't smile when she says, "Cool. I'll see you around, then."
Katie watches her leave, seized momentarily with the desire to pull her back, to kiss her. But it's only for a moment, because then she remembers what she walked in on and almost tosses.
"Jesus Christ," she murmurs, leaning heavily into the sink. She gets a flash of Effy sitting on it, her dress hitched up-- She pushes away so abruptly she almost falls back. "Okay," she whispers. "Okay. Don't be a fucking twat."
When she finds Emily downstairs, she tells her she feels ill, that she's coming down with something. Her face is still hot, and Emily frowns when she touches Katie's forehead. "We'll come with you."
"No," Katie says. "I'll go alone."
It's still raining, and by the time she gets home, she's drenched again, and shivering. The next morning she's running a fever, feels so sick it takes her two days to get out of bed.
She hallucinates. She can't call them nightmares, the things she sees, because she's pretty fucking sure she's awake; she's hot and cold at once, and she knows she isn't sleeping because her mum's hovering over her with a worried look on her face, dabbing at her face and neck with a damp towel and murmuring about hospital.
"No," Katie croaks, pulling her blanket up her body only to have her mother snatch it back, to tell her she has to keep uncovered, to cool off. Katie's fucking freezing, though, and she begs, "Please, I'm just really cold, right?"
She sleeps in short bursts, and when she does, she dreams about Gobbler's End--about Effy's wild eyes and her fucked up, shroom-fuelled ramblings. Every dream ends just as Katie pushes Effy to the ground. That's when Katie wakes up, that's when Effy materialises at the foot of her bed, smiling and silent. Her legs are crossed and she's smoking; she seems as perfect and aloof as the first day Katie laid eyes on her.
"Effy?" Katie mumbles, trying to sit up. She's so fucking dizzy she ends up falling back onto the bed. She's suddenly so overwhelmingly warm, she kicks at all her covers, turns her pillow over so that it's cool against her cheek. "Christ, how'd you get in here?"
From the other side of the room, Emily says something, but Katie ignores her because Effy's crawling up the bed, cigarette dangling from bright, red lips.
"Shouldn't be here," Katie says. "Don't fucking want you."
A cool hand settles on her forehead. "All right?" Emily asks, her worried face appearing hazily in Katie's line of sight.
"Mm." Katie turns her head and looks for Effy. Where's she gone to?
"D'you need water?"
Emily frowns. "What?"
"Oh," Katie says, blinking. A dream; somehow, a waking fucking dream. "Yeah, please. Water."
The hallucinations only grow more disturbing.
Come morning, she finds Effy straddling her hips, holding a bloody rock. It feels so real, Katie almost reaches out to touch Effy's thigh, does touch the side of her head, just to be sure. It comes back wet with sweat. "Fuck, just... Go away," she whimpers.
And Effy does.
The next time Katie's aware of anything, Effy's leaning over her. The room is dark, pitch-dark, but Katie can still make out the blue in Effy's keen eyes. Effy's mouth is hot on her skin, so hot Katie feels as though she's burning. "Effy," she whispers. "Effy, Effy."
She wakes with a start, and the room is so bright, it hurts to open her eyes.
"You've had nightmares," Emily says. "Take this."
"What is it?" Katie asks, her voice unrecognizable.
"For your fever. Mum said." Katie takes the pill and the glass of tepid orange juice Emily offers. She drinks greedily, overwhelmed by sudden thirst.
When she's finished, she hands the glass back to Emily, who eyes her curiously. "What were you dreaming about?" she asks.
"I don't know."
"You were saying--"
"Nothing," Katie replies roughly, turning over in bed.
Sleep comes quickly. She doesn't dream.
"Heard you've been sick."
Katie takes a book from her locker, doesn't bother looking up at the sound of Effy's voice. "Yeah."
"You look awful."
"Thanks," she replies curtly. She shuts the locker door and when her gaze finally meets Effy's, she's surprised to find concern there. "What'd you want?"
Effy shrugs maddeningly. "Trying to be a friend," she replies.
"All right," Katie says wearily. She's still so tired, so weak, all she can think of is pressing into Effy's arms, which must mean her fever's given her, like, mental damage or something, or she's gone absolutely fucking mental. "Yeah, thanks."
Effy gives her a long look, but Katie can't decipher the meaning behind it. "Be well, Katie," she says, before turning to walk away.
Some tosser's waiting for her at the end of the hall. Katie watches him put his arm around Effy's shoulder, watches Effy smile thinly at him as she shrugs it off. But she doesn't push away when he kisses her sloppily, doesn't seem to care that Katie's still watching, eyes burning.
Katie wants to ask Emily what it means, that she can't stop thinking about Effy.
Instead, she tells her, "I think I'm lonely." It's late, and Katie still feels run-down, and maybe Emily will blame that for this sudden burst of pathetic honesty.
They're watching telly, just the two of them. Emily's reading something for class and Katie's trying not to sound like a total loser; she's failing rather fucking miserably.
"Huh?" Emily looks up from her book.
"Nothing," Katie murmurs, glad for once that Emily's off in her own world.
But Emily's apparently heard more than she initially let on: "Did you say you're lonely?
Katie purses her lips and trains her gaze on the television. Some old film's on, but she doesn't know what it's about or who's in it; it's god awful, and she can't be arsed to pay attention. She changes the channel until she finds something else--Bizarre ER.
"Christ," she murmurs, appalled by what she sees. Some woman's sodding foot is peeling away from the bone.
"So you you don't want to talk, then?" Emily asks, unbothered. She looks up and cringes. "Fuck's sake, what is that?"
"Bizarre ER," Katie replies, momentarily distracted.
They watch, mouths agape, for a few minutes until finally Emily takes the remote back from Katie and flips to something more innocuous.
"I was watching that." Katie's tone is petulant. "You could've fucking asked before switching--"
Emily presses the remote forcefully into Katie's hands. They stare at each other for a moment; it's Katie who glances away first. She bites back a sigh and switches back to the programme. Emily snorts.
"You don't always have to win, you know?"
"What?" Katie starts. "Are you serious? When was the last time I won anything, you fucking cow?"
Emily's expression shifts immediately, like she's suddenly just realising they're not nine, and this isn't about her. "I wish things would go back to normal," she says.
Katie rolls her eyes. "No, you don't," she answers flatly. "You like that I'm fucking miserable and you're, like, in love and ecstatic about everything."
"How can you say that?"
Katie shakes her head. She tucks her legs under her body and curls up against the corner of the couch, as far away from Emily as she can get. "It doesn't matter, okay?" she says. "Sorry. I didn't mean it, obviously."
"Well, Christ," Katie snaps, "what'd you want me to say? I'm a fucking mess, yeah, and I know it's not your fault, but I don't know how to fucking fix it, and it's just... It's been too long. I can't live like this."
"What's it about, then?" Emily asks quietly. "Tell me, Katie."
Katie doesn't say anything for a long time. She stares blankly at the television until frustration threatens to overwhelm her. "She hit me with a rock," she mutters, "and I still can't..." She swallows thickly. "I'm supposed to fucking hate her, right, and I can't figure out how to stop wanting to be with her." She laughs as she swipes at her eyes, which are suddenly brimming with angry tears. "I can't sort it out. I must be mad."
Emily shifts closer and Katie has the urge to strike at her, to tell her to sod off. It won't help, so she doesn't, and maybe it means that she's finally learned some fucking restraint.
"Are you in love with her?"
Katie rubs her face roughly. "You've asked me that," she says.
"Yeah, and you lied."
"I don't love her," Katie responds tiredly. "Freddie, Cook--they love her."
"They're obsessed with her. There's a difference, I think."
"Maybe you should talk to her, then."
"And say what, exactly? I don't want her."
"Who are you trying to convince, Katie? Try being honest with yourself, will you?"
"What's the point?"
"The point is maybe you'll be able to get on with your life. This isn't you."
"I know." It's what Katie wants to believe, anyway. She wants to believe that all of this is, like, a phase, a bad dream, a fucking blip. If this isn't her, if this isn't what she is, then she'll get through it, she'll get over it. She just has to wait long enough. "But what if it is?" she asks Emily helplessly. "What if she fucking broke me, Ems?"
"Don't be stupid," Emily responds gently.
"Maybe I need a boyfriend." Katie sighs heavily at the thought. Another wanker like Danny. No, she's through being a fucking WAG. She thinks about all of her boyfriends, can't remember a nice thing about any of them. "At least I wouldn't be so bored."
"Yeah," Emily says, "because all of your boyfriends have been so fucking entertaining."
Katie can't argue Emily's point. Slumped over on the couch, she watches an older man rushed into casualty with a gushing head-wound. She wonders what she looked like, her skin smashed open, broken and bloody. She knows what she looked like later, when her skin had all the pallor of a ghost's.
"I don't remember being hit," she says. She keeps her gaze fixed on the television, but she can feel Emily's penetrating stare, can almost see her answering frown. "By Effy," she clarifies. "With the rock."
"That's normal, isn't it?"
"I just remember being in hospital, waking up to see you and Mum and Dad. Freddie, later." Emily nods absently. Katie sucks in a deep breath and adds, "She came, too."
"Who the fuck do you think?" Katie says. Her voice drops to a near whisper. "Effy."
"Oh. Yeah, I mean, she did show up, but I didn't think... What did she even say to you?"
"Didn't say anything. I saw her hovering by the bloody doorway and pretended I was asleep." The memory's fuzzy, but Katie's sure of its accuracy. She'd been scared and angry and woozy from the fucking drugs, but she'd been aware, keenly aware, of Effy, standing by her bed. Just standing there. "She, like, touched my shoulder. If I hadn't been fucked up, I would've scratched her eyes out."
Emily's eyes narrow, but she doesn't say anything else. They watch Bizarre ER for another few minutes, and when it's over, that's when Emily asks, "Why did she hit you?"
Katie tenses up. "Huh?"
Emily shrugs. "I imagine she didn't just find you in the dark and decide it was a good idea to smash your head open," she says. "You fought over Freddie." The last bit isn't a question, and Katie bites into her lip, so full of rage she sees red, tastes blood.
"She was tripping," she says flatly. "She hit me with a fucking rock, and then she fucked Freddie. Clear enough?"
"She just hit you," Emily says, "out of nowhere?"
"What are you trying to say, Emily?" Katie asks. "That I deserved it?"
"No, I'm just trying to understand. Effy's not--"
Katie interrupts. "What? Effy's not what?"
"Not like you," Emily says, entirely too calm. Katie curls her fingers into loose fists, only aware she's done so when Emily glances at them and raises her eyebrows. "I love you, Katie, but--"
"Shut up," Katie says quietly.
"Maybe you don't remember, then. Is that it?"
"Shut up. It wasn't my fucking fault, okay?" When her breath hitches, she stands abruptly and turns away from Emily, starts to walk away but stops when the tears start flowing. "Fucking hell," she says loudly, angrily.
"Sorry," Emily says, she stands too, but doesn't move from in front of the couch. She crosses her arms and watches Katie warily. "I didn't mean to upset you."
Katie buries her face in the crook of her elbow, swaying dangerously as she waits for the crying to stop, because she has no control over it. It feels like she doesn't have control over anything anymore, and the thought just makes her cry a bit harder.
"Katie... Please, don't cry anymore."
"Stop telling me what to do," Katie rages. "You're not in charge, yeah? You stupid fucking..." She sinks back onto the couch and buries her face into a cushion. Jesus fucking Christ, she can't stop. When she feels Emily's hand on her arm, she jerks away violently, but Emily's grip is strong.
"I'm sorry, Katie," she murmurs, stroking Katie's hair. "I know it wasn't your fault, okay?"
"It was, though," Katie says, and she gasps because she can't believe what's coming out of her fucking mouth. "I pushed her, and slapped her, and I wanted to..." She curls her fingernails into the fabric of the couch, tugs.
"Oh," Emily breathes, her hand stilling on Katie's back. After a moment she adds, slowly, "Still, she shouldn't have..."
"It doesn't matter anymore, does it?" Katie asks, twisting violently so she's looking straight at Emily--Emily, whose eyes are wide and confused. "Whose fault it was?"
"You..." Whatever Emily's about to say, it dies in her throat. Her gaze turns compassionate and Katie almost starts to cry all over again. She doesn't; she bites the inside of her cheek, distracted by the pain, and waits. Finally, Emily says, "No, I don't think it does."
For weeks, Katie only sees Effy from afar. They exchange nods, barely-there smiles. Once, Katie waves--raises her hand up to her chest and lowers it almost immediately because she isn't that big a loser--and Effy's answering smile seems so genuine, Katie's heart slams against her chest.
Freddie stops avoiding her.
Or rather, he starts making excuses to talk to her, which is fucking strange, considering. The first time he talks to her, like really tries to make conversation, she almost tells him to fuck off straightaway--but then, just as she's opening her mouth, she remembers she liked him once. And if Effy--who had Katie's actual fucking blood on her hands that night at Gobbler's End--can be (the word forgiven rattles around in Katie's head, but she can't bring herself to think of it in those terms, not really)...a friend...then there's no reason to hold onto her grievances against Freddie McLair.
The third or fourth time he talks to her, it's like nothing happened at all. (She tries not to think about that, about why it's so much easier to forgive Freddie than Effy. Maybe Freddie just doesn't matter as much; she tries not to dwell on that.)
It's only when he says, "We should, I dunno, get coffee or something," laughs and rubs the back of his neck, that she's truly startled. "Shit, I don't even like coffee. A movie, then?"
"You want me to go out with you?" she asks, totally perplexed, because apparently Freddie's even more fucking stupid than she could've imagined. "What, like on a fucking date? You are mental."
He shrugs stupidly, gives her such a nice smile she can't help feeling a bit guilty she's behaved like such a cunt. Then again, he deserves it; he deserves all her scorn. (The way Effy did, once; so maybe it's time for bygones.) "I thought it'd be nice if we could be friends, at least," he replies. "I did like you, Katie. Do like you."
"Is this because Effy's a lost cause?"
"Not everything's about Effy."
"Really?" she asks flatly. "As long as I've fucking known you, Freddie, it's been about Effy."
"That's over." He leans back into the wall, tips his head back. He looks like such a lost little boy in that moment, she wishes she could just reach over and ruffle his hair. Sometimes, when she dares to forget that night at Gobbler's End, she wishes things could've worked out with Freddie, if only because he was easy and uncomplicated... So what if he'd been in love with Effy?
It's always Effy, Katie thinks.
"Yeah, all right," she murmurs. She shakes her head. "I mean, I'll go out with you."
Freddie looks positively amazed. "Yeah? I mean, great."
They're just dates, Katie tells herself.
When Emily corners her one evening, just as she's getting ready to go out, her face says it all. "Freddie? Really, Katie?"
"Yes, Freddie," Katie snaps. "What the fuck is wrong with that?"
Emily stares at her as if she's gone crazy, and Katie has the momentary urge to slap her. She lets it pass, because she's trying to be better. "You can't be serious," Emily replies. "When you said you wanted a boyfriend, I didn't think you meant Freddie. Fuck's sake, Katie, break out of the circle."
"He asked, okay?" Katie shrugs into her dress and turns around. Emily zips it up wordlessly. "No one else has fucking asked."
"There are other boys," Emily says. "Other girls."
Katie rolls her eyes. "Ugh, don't, okay? I'm not interested. Besides," she says, "we're just going to, like the cinema. I'm not going to fuck him."
Emily responds with judgmental silence.
"Sod off," Katie murmurs, relieved when Emily finally leaves the room.
He takes her hand during the movie, squeezes it.
They go to a club, and Katie gets so smashed she forgets she doesn't want him. It's only after she's kissed him--it's nice, but doesn't feel quite right--that she notices Effy watching them. For a moment, her expression is unreadable, but then she just tilts her head, puts on a fake smile and waves.
Katie runs to the loo. She doesn't toss, but she has to splash cold water on her face to try and staunch some of the sickness rising up her throat.
"Just so we're clear," she tells Freddie, later, when he's helped her to the front porch of her house, "I don't want you. Okay?"
"Oh," he says, his hands deep in his pockets. "Right. But, um, you kissed me..."
"Freddie," she says, touching his arm. "I'm fucking drunk, yeah?" She laughs when he looks a bit hurt. "We're not fucking, ever."
"Yeah," he says, nodding. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I mean, about everything that happened. The way it happened. I know I fucked up, Katie. I know that now."
"Stop apologising," she says, half-giggling as she leans into the doorframe. "It doesn't even matter anymore." When his gaze drops to the ground, she thinks to ask, because she's been wondering for a long time, and she doesn't dare ask Effy, "What happened, when you fucked off to find Effy and Cook?"
"It doesn't matter anymore," he says.
She rings Effy. It takes her five minutes of staring at her phone, and when she finally presses the buttons, she feels like the biggest fucking idiot in the whole bloody world.
Effy's answer is a careful-sounding hello.
"Hi." The sounds at the other end of the line go muffled, as if Effy's put her phone to her chest, and there's a brief conversation that's only loud enough so that Katie can make out Anthea's voice, but not her words. When Effy finally speaks into the phone, she sounds a bit anxious. "What is it?"
"I, um, nothing," Katie stammers, rolling her eyes at herself, at how fucking ridiculous she's being. "I mean, what's up?"
Effy doesn't say anything for a very long time. Just when Katie thinks she's been hung up on, though, Effy responds, "Not much. Why?" She sounds tired.
Katie doesn't know why. When she woke up that morning, all she wanted was to ring Effy, but now that she has there's nothing she can think of to say that isn't completely fucking ludicrous. "I..." she starts to say, but then Effy saves her from making a fool of herself by interrupting.
"Want to come over?"
It's Anthea who opens the door, giving Katie a look that signals both mild surprise and suspicion.
"She's watching television," Anthea says, before Katie can even open her mouth. Anthea leaves the door wide open even as she walks away and heads to what Katie presumes is her room.
The house is a fucking disaster.
Effy is indeed in the sitting room. She looks like she just came in from a wild night, changed into a long t-shirt and settled onto the couch. Her makeup is smudged, her hair is a curly mess. She only affords Katie a quick glance before setting her eyes back on whatever's on telly. "Sit down," she says, her voice rough.
Turns out she's watching Top Gear with the sound down.
"Brilliant," Katie says flatly, taking a seat on the opposite end of the couch. She waits for Effy to say something, but Effy just keep staring blankly at the television, at a sleek racing car going around a track. "So."
Effy glances at her--almost glares, really, which is so disconcerting, Katie nearly forgets it was Effy who invited her over in the first place.
Katie says, "You look like shit," because Effy does and Katie feels like it's almost expected of her to point these kinds of things out sometimes. She softens it by asking, "What's going on?"
"With your house. It's disgusting."
"Mum's in one of her moods, so she can't be bothered." Effy shrugs. "I wasn't home for a few days."
"Where were you?"
Katie wants to continue the line of questioning. She wants to ask, "Who with?" but she knows what Effy will say, how she'll react.
So she says, "I can help you." When Effy frowns, she adds, "Fucking clean, okay?"
"Don't look like that. I'm not useless."
Effy regards her quietly for a moment, shakes her head once and turns her attention back to the screen, even though all that's on is some lame advert.
"Don't be stupid," Katie says, standing. "It'll be faster if we do it together, yeah?"
It's a matter of throwing out a lot of old take-away containers (Katie makes faces at everything, and she manages to make Effy laugh, twice) and newspapers; picking up more clothes than most people have in their entire wardrobes from off the floor of every room, including the bloody kitchen; washing so many dishes that Katie gets tired of standing at the sink and switches with Effy about halfway through the job.
Katie finishes sweeping the kitchen floor just as Effy's dried the last clean mug and put it away in the cupboard.
"Tea?" Effy asks wanly.
Katie shakes her head, reaches into her pocket and pulls out a spliff.
Effy's smile is slow and wide. Kind of, Katie thinks, tired. Beautiful. "Even better."
They smoke in Effy's room, sitting on the floor, their backs to the bed, which is perfectly made. Everything seems to be in its place, which makes Katie wonder just how many days it's been since Effy was actually home.
She doesn't ask, not even after her second hit.
"You and Freddie," Effy says, smiling a bit. "Interesting."
"Whatever," Katie replies. She doesn't want to talk about Freddie, and she's surprised Effy does. "There's nothing to it."
Effy passes the spliff back to Katie and lies down, exhales a thin stream of smoke. "You said the same thing about us, remember?"
"It's not the same," Katie replies.
"No. It wouldn't be."
Katie doesn't know what Effy means by that; she doesn't think she wants to know, so she leaves it alone. "He's probably still in love with you," she says. It's probably the spliff, but she laughs at the idea of Freddie pining over Effy for the rest of his fucking life. "Probably wanks off to your picture every night."
"Lovely thought," Effy murmurs languidly.
"Yeah, sure." Katie lies back, too, so that her head is very near Effy's and their shoulders are touching, their legs, stretched out, form a wide v. "So, like, the idea of me with Freddie..."
"It's amusing," Effy replies coldly.
"Amusing?" Katie pushes up onto her elbows. "Why amusing?"
Effy releases a sharp breath, a laugh that isn't quite. "Think about it, Katie."
"I have thought about it, yeah? He wants to be with me."
"Right, well, that's everybody, isn't it? It's you, definitely. Why the fuck else would you ask me to come over here?"
Effy's gaze is cutting, but she remains quiet.
Katie sits up and rubs her hands over her face. "Sorry," she says. "Maybe you were lonely." After a brief pause she adds, "I'm fucking lonely sometimes."
Effy says, softly, "I know. You called me."
Katie rolls her eyes, but smiles. She wonders how Effy can know so much, and so little. "I'll go," she says. "You should, like, take a bath or something. You're a bit ripe, babes."
Effy's smile is so real, it hurts down to Katie's bones. She's stoned enough that she lets herself reach out and touch Effy's face, her cheek, just for a moment. Then she pushes onto her feet and says, "Later, yeah?"
Effy nods. Her tone is almost wistful when she replies, simply, "Cool."
Three weeks later, Freddie stops Katie on her way to class and says, "I know what we should do."
When he says, "The woods," she almost stumbles, literally has to maintain her balance by putting her hand out on Freddie's arm.
"The fuck are you on about?"
"We should all, you know, go camping again."
"You're fucking mental."
"No, I mean it."
"And why would any of us want to go back there?"
"Well, that's the whole point, isn't it? To make things better, right? I've invited everyone," he says, so easily she can't believe he doesn't understand the fucking magnitude of what he's proposing. "Pandora won't, or Thomas, but everyone else..."
"Oh, sorry, was it traumatic for them? Did they have something bad happen to them at sodding Gobbler's End?" Katie rages. "I swear, Freddie, you're about as fucking dense as--"
"I want to fix it, Katie."
"Fix what, you stupid prick? You can't fix anything, ever."
He blinks at her, and maybe he's fucking high, it wouldn't be much of a surprise. "I thought you'd like this. Just a barbecue, the way you'd wanted it. No shrooms, obviously." He smiles crookedly, and it's enough to keep Katie from punching him in the stomach, the way she really wants. "Things are better, aren't they? Between you and Effy? She said they were."
Katie starts. "Did she? You invited her, too, then?" She isn't sure which is more disconcerting, that Freddie asked Effy first, or that he's been speaking to Effy at all, about fucking anything. About her.
"Not exactly," he says. "I just wanted to see where things stood between you two."
"Because," Freddie replies, shrugging, "I feel like it was my fault, you know, that things went down the way they did in the first place. You were friends and--"
"Christ, you're an idiot.
"Yeah, I know," he says, and she can't believe how amiable he's still being. "So?"
She rings Emily. It feels like they haven't seen each other for days, and it takes a moment for Katie to realise that it's because they really haven't. Emily's spent the better part of a week sleeping over at Naomi's.
"About time you picked up," she snaps, when Emily answers. "Have you spoken to Freddie?"
Emily doesn't answer. There's a bit of background noise--Katie thinks she can hear Naomi say something--until finally Emily responds, "Yeah, actually."
"He means well, I think."
"Bloody hell, Ems, you're not fucking going, are you?"
Another long pause, and Katie waits impatiently, taps her fingernail against the phone. "Sorry about that," Emily says a bit breathlessly.
"You're joking, right? You can't have a five minute conversation without--"
"Shut up." Katie hears Naomi's faint laughter. "We'll go if you do, okay?"
"I'm not fucking going."
"What is wrong with all of you?" She ends the call abruptly and throws herself onto her bed. It's only then, her face buried against her pillow, that she stops to think about why Freddie might've had his ridiculous idea in the first place. She redials Emily's number, has to do so twice because Emily doesn't pick up on the first try. She and Naomi can't be that busy...
"Am I that fucking obvious, then?"
"Around Effy, you twat. Can Naomi sit on her hands for five bloody seconds?"
"What the fuck are you on about, Katie?"
"Effy. Do I act weird around Effy?" She takes a breath. "If you didn't know that I'd been with her, right, could you tell?"
Emily sighs. "I think people expect you to act...not normally...around each other."
"Katie, what do you want me to say? If anything, I think Effy's nicer to you than she ever was last year. Okay?"
Katie stares up at the ceiling. "Thanks for your fucking help," she murmurs sourly, ending the call for good.
She looks for signs that Effy's behaving differently, but aside from a few smiles there's nothing, really.
Days later, a week before Freddie's supposedly having his stupid barbecue in the woods, Katie sees Effy walking down the hall at school and runs to catch up. She almost calls out her name, but stops short when she feels how familiar the scene is, how often she ran to catch up to Effy all during their first year of college.
She lets Effy go, watches her turn the corner, disappear into the crowd. "Fuck's sake," she mutters to herself, feeling out of sorts.
It's Effy who finds her later, sitting outside, waiting for Emily and Naomi so they can walk home together for the first time in ages. It's almost funny to think about how a few months ago, she wouldn't have been able to conceive of any such thing happening, but now she's only mildly bitter. Anyway, she's starting to think Naomi's better company than Emily...
"You're cheery," Effy says, sitting next to her on the stairs. She offers Katie a fag, but Katie shakes her head. "What's up?"
"Nothing," Katie says. Then, "Have you been talking to Freddie about me?"
Effy's reply is slow in coming. "Try sounding less accusatory, Katie."
"That's not exactly no, is it?"
"I'm not sure what you're worried about," Effy says, stopping to light her cigarette. "He only asked if you still hated me. He's got some demented idea that he can glue us all back together, our Freddie."
"And what did you fucking say, then?"
Effy frowns. "I said I didn't think you still hated me," she replies. "Not for Gobbler's End." She takes a drag, exhales. Gives Katie a long look. "Was I wrong?"
"No," Katie murmurs. "I don't hate you."
Out of the corner of her eye, she spots Emily and Naomi walking towards them, and releases a breath.
"Hi," Emily says, throwing Katie a guarded look.
Naomi is less subtle. "Effy," she says, smiling broadly, "this is a surprise. Are we all good chums, now?"
Katie takes back any good thing she might ever have thought about Naomi, ever.
"Yeah, sure," Effy replies, not quite smiling. "What the fuck, right?"
"Have you been invited to the woods as well, then?" Naomi asks, glancing briefly at Katie. "Could be fun."
"Depends on your definition of fun," Effy says.
"Right, well, fun in that awful train wreck sort of way, I suppose."
"Naomi," Emily says. If there's a warning in Emily's tone, only Naomi hears it, because she smiles diffidently at her and shrugs. Emily turns her attention to Effy and asks, tentatively, "Are you thinking of going?"
Effy shrugs. "I think about a lot of things," she says, and Katie laughs. It's so fucking absurd, all of it.
"Right," Emily says, shifting a bit nervously. "We're leaving, Katie. Should we wait for you?"
Effy answers before Katie can even open her mouth. "I've invited Katie over for tea." She smiles sweetly. "Right, Katie?"
Katie laughs again, harder than she'd meant to. "Right," she says. "Tea."
"We should go."
Katie coughs, almost fumbling her cup of tea. "Excuse me? I thought I heard you say we should fucking go." She steals a fag from Effy's pack of cigarettes. "Surely not," she mumbles as she lights it. "If you're thinking of going just to fuck with Freddie, well, he's a bit of an easy mark, isn't he?"
"Poor wanker," Effy replies. "Still, I never shy away from train wrecks."
"Christ," Katie says, laughing abruptly. "I can already picture him, like, clearing the area of rocks and mushrooms."
Effy smiles wanly. "It'll be drinks and sausages, just like you always wanted."
Katie bites back a smile of her own. "Shut up. Things would've been better if you'd all listened to me, yeah?"
Effy's smile slips completely. She picks up her spoon and stirs her tea idly; Katie can hear the clank clank of metal against porcelain. "So?" she asks.
"Will you go?"
"Fuck's sake, of course I'm not going. It's Gobbler's End, Effy."
"Yeah," Effy says, squinting into a cloud of cigarette smoke, "but things are different now." She shrugs. "Aren't they?"
The question catches Katie off-guard. All she wanted, for so fucking long, was to hold on to her anger, to clutch it tightly, because hating Effy meant there was still some hope she could get something of her old life back. She can't even pretend that's true anymore. Effy knows it, obviously, and that's maybe the worst thing of all. "Yeah," she replies, unable to avert her gaze from Effy's. "They are."
Effy's mouth quirks slightly. "You'll go?"
Katie nods and shrugs, drinks the rest of her tea in silence.
She leaves not much later, unbelievably distracted by the thought of going back to the woods, of going back to that place. She's no more than three blocks from Effy's house when she gets a text: Thanks for not hating me.
Cook sits beside him, humming a stupid tune only he knows, surprisingly subdued. He makes a few crude jokes, mostly at Naomi and Emily's expense, but they come off as strangely affectionate. He doesn't talk to Effy at all.
Katie's crammed in the back seat along with Effy, Emily, Naomi and JJ, but at least she's got a fucking window. About five minutes into the trip, she lowers it and takes several deep breaths of air so cold it stings her lungs.
Effy catches her eye, leans in close and whispers, "Okay?"
Katie nods sharply. When she looks up, she sees Freddie watching her through the rear-vision mirror, just for a moment. It's so fucked up, she thinks, all of it. She puts the window up again, presses her forehead to the glass.
"It's going to be rather cold tonight," JJ's saying. "Mum made me pack two extra jumpers and a pair of Wellies, because it might rain."
"Looks clear out to me," Naomi murmurs flatly. For the first time in ages, Katie wonders if Naomi still harbours old resentments.
"Yes, yes," JJ responds. "But, according to the Met Office, the probability of rainfall is--"
"Shut up, JJ," Emily interrupts.
"I'd like to know if it's going to fucking rain," Cook says, drumming his fingertips against the dashboard. "Continue, Jay. Fucking enlighten us."
JJ glances at Emily, ignores Naomi's obvious glare. "Right, well, the odds are in our favour, actually. Only a forty-five percent probability of rain. Mind, the Met Office is wrong from time to time..."
Naomi snorts loudly. "I sincerely hope one of you brought drugs. Fred?"
"Um, I've got spliff."
"Yeah, obviously. Eff?"
"Nothing," Effy says. Everyone in the car turns to look at her. Even Freddie manages, before setting his gaze back on the road. "What?"
"Think they're all fucking astonished, babes," Katie murmurs without thinking. Emily's head whips around so quickly, it's a wonder she doesn't hurt herself. Katie flinches, adding, "I've got MDMA."
Naomi smiles easily, but Katie notes the tight grip she has on Emily's hand. "You always come through, Katiekins."
Katie rolls her eyes, and presses against the window again. She feels a headache coming on.
It's actually kind of fucking boring, at first, until they start passing a bottle of vodka around, and then it's not boring so much as tense. It only takes one of Cook's unerringly accurate snipes to send Effy off to take a walk with a bottle of cider.
When she comes back an hour or so later, there are leaves in her hair and she looks properly buzzed. The next time Cook makes a mean joke, she laughs it off; Katie's surprised when Cook laughs as well, and soon everyone's giggling, whether it's because of the alcohol, or because some of the bloody tension's actually broken, Katie can't say.
"Not much to do, is there?" she asks when Effy settles beside her.
Effy rolls her eyes and smirks, but it's Cook who says, "Let's see that fucking MDMA, Katiekins. Effy promises not to hit you again, yeah?"
The ensuing laughter is muted, but Katie doesn't care. She produces her substantial stash of MDMA and they each take turns with it. (Katie can't help thinking that the last time she was fucked up on MDMA, she'd fucked Effy as well; her face flushes at the thought, and when Effy looks at her and smiles prettily, Katie swallows hard, feels a familiar aching between her legs she wishes would go away.)
Across the way, Emily’s gazing at them curiously. Katie raises her eyebrows and shrugs angrily, staring back until Emily finally looks away, distracted by whatever Naomi’s saying. Naomi looks bothered by something, but Katie doesn’t have much of a chance to wonder about that before Effy’s leaning towards her.
“Do you think anyone else suspects?” she whispers, and the feeling of hot breath against her ear makes Katie shiver involuntarily.
“What?” Katie asks, once she’s taken a long drink of vodka.
“That we’ve fucked.”
Katie’s in the middle of swallowing another drink when Effy’s words hit her square in the chest. She fucking chokes, coughing whilst Effy pats her on the back, keeps patting and rubbing until her hand ends up near the base of Katie’s spine for moments longer than is appropriate.
“I’m fine,” Katie murmurs brusquely, relieved when Effy finally pulls her hand away.
When she looks back up, across the fire, her gaze collides with Freddie’s, who’s looking at her through a haze of smoke, a spliff held between his thumb and index fingers. He’s staring so intently Katie can’t force herself to look away. It's Freddie who blinks first, giving her a strange sort of smile before he gets up to fiddle with the stereo he's brought.
JJ produces a pack of cards, starts showing them all some of his magic tricks, which are about ten times more entertaining when Katie's high. He's got everyone's rapt attention, save for Naomi, who sits a few feet away, looking rather sullen. It isn't until Emily notices and goes to her, kisses her, that she perks up and joins in.
Come nightfall, they're all well off their tits, sitting around the campfire, telling ludicrous ghost stories. Emily tells one about their grandparents' house in Scotland that is so hilarious, so fucking untrue Katie can't stop laughing. It isn't until Effy puts a hand on the small of her back that she chokes on her laughter. She's so keyed up that for a moment, she leans back into it, feels Effy's shoulder brush against her own, but then she remembers where they are, who they're supposed to be to each other, and abruptly stands.
"Need to stretch my legs," she mutters, stalking off without looking back at anyone, certainly not Effy.
She's near the edge of the clearing when Freddie says, "I'll go with you." Cook has the fucking gall to wolf-whistle at them, but Katie keeps on walking, managing to stay a few steps ahead of Freddie for a bit.
"You all right?" he asks, when they're out of earshot of the camp, surrounded only by the dark wood. "You seem--"
"I'm just high," Katie replies. She sighs and stops walking entirely, leans back against a tree. "Is this going the way you fucking planned, then?"
He smiles. "Yeah, actually. It's kind of nice, don't you think?"
She almost laughs at him. "Sure, Freddie."
They keep smiling at each other, until Freddie steps closer, so close she has to tilt her head back to look at his face. "You're blushing," he says.
"Tosser," Katie murmurs. "It's too fucking dark to see me blushing."
He touches her cheek, and she stiffens for a bit, relaxing only when his smile broadens and he says, "Do you remember our first date?"
"No," she says, laughing. "We didn't have a first date, did we? Fuck's sake, maybe it was the sodding Love Ball?"
"That would've been an interesting first date," he replies, giggling stupidly. "Want some spliff?"
He nods, goes a bit serious as he puts a hand out, bracing himself on the tree as he leans closer. "Katie," he says, so close all she can see are his lips forming her name.
He kisses her, and it's not exactly what she wants. It's not even all that close, really, but it's nice enough that she lets it happen.
They snog for a bit; Katie’s high and she can almost pretend she’s kissing someone else. When she feels Freddie’s hand on her breast, big and insistent, she has to drag herself away.
Freddie is dazed. “Oh,” he says. “What?”
“I can’t, okay?” She shakes her head. “You love Effy.”
“But I don’t,” he replies. “Not anymore.”
“Yeah, well, I...” She stops, too fucked up to trust her own tongue. "I need to get back," she says, half-running back to the camp.
He catches up just as the clearing becomes visible, the spark of the campfire nearly blinding, it's so intensely bright. On the other side of it she spots Effy, smoking. As soon as their eyes meet, Katie looks away.
"Oi," Cook says, his grin lecherous. "You two were gone a good, long while."
Katie ignores him. Ignores Emily's glare, as well. When she sits down by the fire, as close to Effy as she can get without being next to her, she's breathless and out of sorts.
It gets worse when Effy looks at her and says, "Your lipstick's smudged."
Katie reflexively brings the back of her hand to her mouth, watches the instant Effy's eyes narrow, her suspicions confirmed.
Katie has no idea what time it is when people start crawling into their tents. Not surprisingly, Naomi and Emily disappear first. Cook passes out in front of the fire, and Freddie has to rouse him and half-carry, half-push him into a tent. JJ's the only one who seems vaguely alert, and it's he who asks, "Where's Effy?"
Katie blinks. She'd fallen asleep after drinking another two shots of vodka. She feels slow and queasy, but still manages to stand and say, "I'll find her."
Katie doesn't have to wander for very long. She stumbles across Effy in a small clearing not far from the camp; she's lying on the ground and her eyes closed, though Katie doesn't think she's sleeping.
Effy’s eyes open slowly, and she stares back at Katie with startlingly clear eyes. "Has no one told you it's dangerous walking alone in the woods at night?"
Katie bristles. “Can we, like, talk?”
Effy shrugs. “About what?”
Katie crosses her arms, sways forwards and backwards until Effy sighs softly and pats the ground. An invitation.
Katie sits down, and they're not more than a few inches apart, when she says, "Freddie and I, we're not, like, back together, yeah? I mean, I just wanted that to be clear.”
“Why?” Effy asks quietly. She shakes her head. “Why does it matter?”
“Fuck’s sake, because we're not, and you seem to think we are.”
Effy looks up for a moment, up at the sky, and murmurs, "I think JJ's right." She gives Katie a rueful smile. "I think it'll rain."
"What's that got to do..." Katie pauses, biting her tongue because sometimes she wants to shake Effy into making sense, and others she wonders if Effy's making perfect sense, and she just doesn't understand. "Eff--"
"I didn't say you were with Freddie, Katie." Effy runs her fingers along the ground. There are patterns there already, patterns Effy must've shaped before Katie found her. The tips of her fingers are dirty, and there is grit beneath her nails. "I said, why does it matter?"
Katie is dumbstruck. Somehow she was supposed to think up something meaningful, something that would make, like, a difference. But as she sits here, in these woods, nothing seems all that important. When she opens her mouth, she can't quite push out the right words. Instead, she says what she hadn't meant to say, not fucking ever: "I've missed you, okay?"
Maybe it's worth saying, then, just to see Effy surprised by something. She lets out a slow breath and narrows her eyes, digs her nails more forcefully into the dirt beneath her hands. Katie looks away and rubs her forehead, amazed at herself--amazed at how fucking stupid she can be.
"Oh?" Effy replies carefully. “Interesting.” She glances at Katie, then looks back down at the ground. The smile that twists her face is mean as she slowly draws a crooked heart with her thumb.
Katie snorts angrily and swipes her hand through it, erasing it. “Cunt,” she mutters, on the verge of getting up and running away. Then she remembers Cook's words, about mistakes, about making the same ones again and again. Katie thinks about her mistakes, and how many times she’s wondered if Effy was one of them, and whether Effy thinks of her that way as well. "Sorry. Look, I'm fucking drunk, and I'm tired. Let's go back, yeah?"
Effy's face softens; she nods.
They walk slowly. Katie drags her feet, wishing she could wrap an arm around Effy's waist and lean into her for support.
When they return, everyone's disappeared. Only JJ's waited for them. When he sees them, his entire demeanour brightens. "I was a bit worried," he explains. Effy smiles at him and tells him to go to sleep, it's, "Fine, JJ. It's all fine."
"They must think it's so fucking weird," Katie says, once they're in their tent and she's untying her shoelaces.
Effy looks at her and shrugs, an unlit cigarette dangling from her mouth. She's done her hair in two messy braids, and Katie has to remind herself that telling Effy she looks pretty would probably make her look like a sodding idiot.
"What do you think?" Katie rolls her eyes. "That we're here at all and, like, sharing a fucking tent, right?"
"That was the entire point of the trip--fixing what's been broken." Effy says the last bit almost snidely, but then smiles as she digs into her pocket for her lighter. "They think we're friends again."
"Again?" Katie scoffs. "We weren't ever friends."
It isn't until after she's lit the fag and taken a deep draw that Effy responds. "No."
"No, of course not," Katie says, a bit hurt, stupidly because that isn't where they're at anymore. It's all so entirely different, and that first year of college feels like ages and ages ago. "You didn't like me at all, and you were a total cunt about it."
Effy's smile is only the slight quirk of her lips. She reaches out, touches Katie's face with two fingers and says, "I hardly like you now." She stubs out the cigarette and moves a bit closer. "Come on," she says, leaning across Katie's lap as she reaches for her sleeping bag, "we'll zip them together." She glances at Katie, and shrugs. "It's freezing."
Katie doesn't really have any objections. It is fucking cold. She lets Effy do all the work, because she's too unsteady. All she wants to do is lie down and close her eyes. When Effy's finally done, they get in together, instinctively pressing closer. Effy's fingers brush against Katie's hand, and Katie takes them in her grip.
She wonders if it was this cold that other night. She almost asks Effy, almost says, "This is my first real night in the woods. I can't remember the other."
Instead she rubs her fingers against Effy's hands, trying to warm them, trying to warm herself while she's at it. "Why do people think camping is such fucking fun?" she mutters sleepily.
"Maybe certain things are worth a bit of discomfort," Effy replies. "I don't actually know."
Katie snorts softly, closes her eyes and turns onto her side, facing away from Effy. For a moment, she waits, wondering whether Effy will shift closer, whether she'll wrap her arms around Katie's waist.
She doesn't. She says, "Good night," and turns in the opposite direction so that their backs are against each other. Katie wraps her arms around herself and waits for sleep, but soon she feels Effy begin to tremble.
"Christ's sake, Eff," Katie whispers, awkwardly turning again, so she's hugging herself to Effy's back, pressing her face into the curve of her neck. She runs her fingers up and down Effy's arms and says, "You need a bloody jumper. I've got one in my pack if you--"
Effy shakes her head. "No," she says, "this is okay."
Katie isn't sure it is, entirely, but she doesn't move. She presses her mouth to the back of Effy's neck--once, very lightly--and hugs her tightly, squeezing until Effy says, "I can't quite breathe."
"Oh," Katie says. "Fuck, sorry." She loosens her hold, but when she starts to let go entirely, Effy stops her.
"Don't. Just stay, Katie. Squeeze if you'd like, just stay."
Katie falls asleep like that, holding onto Effy, waiting for her trembling to subside.
The sound of birds chirping wakes her.
Jesus, they're loud. They're so bloody loud.
She hears them first in whatever dream she was having--Katie can't remember now--and the incessant noise keeps on even as she blinks her eyes open slowly. The world is still a fuzzy blur, a haze.
Inhaling deeply, she groans, stretches. She's up against something warm, alive. Soft and breathing. A hand is wrapped around her wrist loosely. It takes an astoundingly long time for Katie to remember where she is, who she's with. When she does, she tenses up for a moment, doesn't quite relax until she realises Effy's still asleep and everything's okay.
Katie feels like a creeper, raising up on her elbow and watching Effy sleep. It feels almost intrusive, really, but she does it anyway, mostly because she can get away with it. Watching Effy is a feat; she's always looking back.
When Effy stirs, Katie lies back down, crossing her arms as she settles onto her back. She stares at the top of the tent. It can't be too far past dawn. The light is very dim, and the air is redolent of damp earth.
Effy reaches back blindly, and Katie takes her hand. They don't say anything. Katie thinks she might fall asleep again, until she feels Effy twist around. Turning her head, Katie sees Effy's heavy-lidded gaze pointed directly at her.
Then Effy smiles and Katie exhales, a strange relief crowding her chest.
"Like old times," Effy murmurs, and Katie thinks, No, not at all.
Katie tells herself it's because her skin is still sleep-warm, because Effy's gaze is so fucking unrelenting, because it's been so fucking long... Because, because, because...
Maybe Katie doesn't need a better excuse than she's awake, and Effy's body is near--her lips are parted, and she looks almost vulnerable in this light. Maybe it's good enough to want without reason.
All it takes is a slight tilt forward, a shift in angles, and Effy's instant reciprocation. It's a soft kiss that grows deeper by degrees, and Katie feels at once like she's home and completely fucking adrift. Lost and found and lost again.
The sounds Effy makes echo in Katie's ear, settle in her chest and low in her belly. There's a dull, familiar ache between her legs that grows more acute with each swipe of Effy's tongue, with each moan that trips from her lips. When Effy's cool fingers slip between Katie's jumper and trail along her skin, Katie feels every cell in her body respond: More. Beg if you fucking have to. Tell her, tell her...
"Effy," Katie murmurs heatedly, when Effy kisses a wet path along her jaw to her ear. "Christ, don't--"
She knows what she was going to say. Don't stop. Don't fucking stop. But the words never come; they don't have a chance.
She hears him a good deal before her brain processes just what his words are, just what they mean.
It's only after Freddie unzips the tent, and sticks his head inside--"Morning," he says, a half-second before he's able to understand what he's seeing--that Katie jerks back and gasps.
Effy reacts by sinking to the ground and murmuring angrily, "Freddie, Freddie get out. Fucking--"
Freddie doesn't, not immediately. His eyes are round and his hands clench into fists. "Jesus," he says. "Jesus, what the fuck... What the fuck."
Effy hauls onto her feet and pushes ineffectually at his shoulders while Katie stares and brings her shaking hand to her temple.
"This," Freddie is saying. "This was why? All of this time, or what? Tell me, because I don't fucking understand what this is. You cunt," he spits, and Katie doesn't know which one of them he's talking to.
The commotion draws a crowd, and soon Emily is tugging at Freddie's arm, too, trying to get him to back away from the front of the tent, to let her through. Freddie sneers at her. "Is it fucking catching, then?" he asks. "Is that it?"
"Freddie," JJ says. "You need to calm down, okay? It's, it's none of our business, I don't think, and you're, well, you're getting locked on."
It's Cook that finally pulls him away. "Come on, mate," he tells him, almost gently. "She's not fucking yours."
Freddie stumbles backwards, and Katie's sure he's done raging because now he looks like he's about to cry, or something. He doesn't. He walks away; JJ and Cook follow.
"Fucking hell," Katie says. "Shit."
"Don't start," Effy warns. She gets up and starts unzipping the sleeping bags.
"What are you doing?"
Effy glares at her before resuming her task. "Did you want to stay?"
Katie shakes her head, but it takes her another moment, a few more unsteady breaths, to get her shit together and help pack their stuff.
They're in the middle of that when Naomi and Emily open the tent flap. "Jesus, what--?" Naomi begins to ask, but Effy interrupts with a flat, "He caught us kissing."
Emily's response is a simple, pained, "Fuck."
"What are you doing?" Naomi asks.
"Leaving how, exactly? Christ, Freddie drove."
It isn't until then that Katie finds her voice. "We'll, like, fucking hitchhike or something." She glances at Effy. "Right?"
"It's going to rain," Emily replies.
Effy shakes her head. "It's already raining."
Cook tries to stop them. "Don't be fucking mental, yeah? It's too fucking far for you to walk, carrying your shit--"
"Thanks, Cook," Effy responds, "but I'd rather ride in a car full of snakes."
"He didn't mean it, you know? He's just fucking hurt." He adds, a touch of bitterness in his voice, "You can understand that, can't you, Eff?"
"Yeah, sure," she says, staring straight ahead. "And we just want to go home."
"Let us take your bloody sleeping bags, at least?" Naomi pleads. Beside her, Emily stands with her arms crossed, staring sadly at Katie, looking like she wants to say something but can't.
"Yeah," Katie says. "Yeah, thanks."
They don't say another word, any of them. Effy starts walking towards the road, and Katie follows.
They're nearly out of the woods when the argument begins.
Words come out of Effy, words Katie never thought she'd hear. "I don't owe you for that night, Katie. I don't owe him, either. Okay? It's everyone's fucking fault."
Katie shivers, pulling her jacket more tightly around her body. They've stopped walking long enough to yell at each other. "Is this supposed to make things, like, better or something? Let me clue you in, babes--"
"Shut up," Effy interrupts wearily. "I was tripping and scared and confused, okay? And I did probably the most fucked up thing I've ever done in my life. But you're not blameless, Katie."
Katie turns away, takes a few steps in the direction of the camp and stops. She remembers how angry she was that night, how fucking sad that Effy could make everything her own without even trying. "Yeah," she says. "Right."
Effy looks completely startled for a few moments. Finally, after what seems like forever, her shoulders slump and she says, "So, maybe we don't have to keep punishing each other for what happened here. Maybe we can just...be?"
Katie paces aimlessly, kicks a rock she happens upon. She hazards a look at Effy, who just rolls her eyes.
Katie says, "Be what?"
Effy shakes her head. "I don't--"
"You said just be. Be what exactly?"
Effy shrugs and shakes her head, her expression one of total helplessness. Katie curls her fingers into fists when she feels her chest tighten at the sight of it. "I don't know," she whispers. "I just know it isn't what it was when we started."
"What is it?" Katie asks quietly. She walks up to Effy, right up to her, tilts her head back. "Any fucking idea?"
Effy opens her mouth, looking lost, but then she just grabs the collar of Katie's jacket and pulls her in, kisses her. It feels like an answer, anyway.
Somewhere along the way they start holding each other; Katie’s arms are wrapped tightly around Effy waist, Effy’s arms are around her shoulders. When they pull away from the kiss, Effy makes a sniffing sound and buries her face against Katie’s throat.
Katie tips her head back when she feels Effy’s lips begin an aimless wandering along her neck. The sky is dark with heavy clouds, and she hopes it’s not, like, a fucking sign from above. “Any moment," she murmurs. A cold drop of water falls onto her neck, and then her cheek, proving her right.
“Lovely weekend for a barbecue,” Effy responds dryly, and Katie almost laughs.
Katie throws her pack to the floor and stares at it for a moment. She doesn't think she's ever been this cold in her entire, miserable life. She can feel it down to her bones.
"Christ," she murmurs tiredly, dropping down onto Effy's bed with a sigh. "I'm...going to stay, yeah?" she says.
Effy nods slowly, moves to the foot of the bed and starts undoing Katie's shoelaces. "Sure," she says quietly, once Katie's kicked off her canvas trainers. She doesn't even have the energy to reach down to peel off her sopping socks, just watches as Effy does that for her as well, laughs when Effy holds one up and makes a face.
"Didn't ask you to do that, you cow."
"Yeah, well, I didn't want to be responsible for your pneumonia, as well."
Effy sits on the bed and takes off her boots, so slowly it takes her a good two minutes before she's sliding up next to Katie. "Are you asleep?" she asks, because Katie's facing away from her.
Katie shakes her head. "Almost." She'll sleep for days, she thinks, and it won't even matter that she's doing it in Effy's bed.
"You should take your jacket off."
Katie makes an acquiescing sound when she feels Effy start to help her pull her arms out of the sleeves of her jacket. It's only a bit of a struggle, getting it off, and soon Effy's dropping it over the edge of the bed.
"Yeah, thanks," Katie says, her voice muffled as she turns into the pillow.
Her eyes are closed and she's nearly asleep when she hears Effy say, "Under the blanket?" and it makes sense, but Katie's so fucking tired and can only nod. It's a bigger struggle, trying to pull the sodding thing back over their bodies, but eventually they manage.
And it's better, still very cold but getting warmer. It helps when Effy presses closer. Katie doesn't think much about it, just turns around and puts her arm around Effy's waist, her head against Effy's shoulder. "Maybe we should, like, take our clothes off," Katie mumbles. Effy nods, but neither moves. It's too much trouble.
The last thing she feels before she falls asleep are Effy's lips, warm, so warm, on her temple, near her scar.