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used to be one of the rotten ones

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Thomas doesn't understand why people are so fascinated with the lights of the city. He knows they've been the subject of multitudes of poetry and novels and long-winded descriptions by famous authors, knows that young country girls are supposed to dream of the day they can see London or New York or Paris at night with the street lamps and the car headlights twinkling like stars. They're supposed to be comforting, soothing.

Thomas hates the city lights. The city lights burn into his apartment, burn right though the windows and the plaster walls and the creaky ceiling. They linger just behind his eyelids, just around his bed, just outside of him. He wishes he could reach out and grab them, crush them between his fingertips. He wishes he could ask them what, exactly, they're illuminating. The homeless men wandering the sidewalks, flicking their cigarette butts into trashcans. The supposedly disillusioned youth like himself, out there to have a good time (and if they aren't entirely fucked up by the morning, then that's not a good time). The litter and the grime and the rot of London, the speeding cars and the exhaust fumes and the pot smoke.

Thomas remembers the view from his old home out the window, remembers looking out and seeing the grass and the trees and his next-door neighbor silhouetted in her screen door. He remembers curling up in his old bed in the pitch black with the noises of his siblings wafting in from outside the door (wafting in like the smells of his mother baking, of his father's pipe).

Thomas remembers looking up, outside, and being able to see the stars. The real stars, not the artificial burning brightness of the artificial burning city.

(Thomas doesn't want to go home, but he doesn't love it here. Not like they do.)

-

"You're really not mad, Naomi?"

"Of course I'm mad, JJ, you tosser. You slept with my fucking girlfriend."

"Oh."

"Oh is right. Son of a–"

"I locked you two in there so you could work out your differences! If I hear one more swear word coming out of your lovely mouth, Naomi Campbell, you are in deep shi—I mean doggy doo!"

"Could you just let us out of the lovely closet, Emily, love? I've already told you, the JJ thing happened, I've accepted it, blah blah blah, the whole nine yards. And he understands he's never getting in your pants again, don't you, JJ, darling?"

"Yes, ma'am. Never again. Not if you were the last woman alive—"

"JJ! That is just rude. I really do not appreciate you making those sort of remarks about me. In fact, that just earned you another ten minutes in the closet!"

"Way to go. Asshole."

"I didn't mean it! I just don't want Naomi to murder me. I would certainly have sex with you if you were the last woman alive, Emily. You really are a very beautiful, very attractive woman. With very nice breasts. And a very nice—"

"If I had any room to move in here you'd have a coat hanger up your arse!"

"I'm going outside for a smoke. Have a nice time, you two!"

"EMILY!"

"Wow, that was totally in unison! Just like in the cartoons. You two are warming up to each other! I'll be back in a bit, now. Ta ta."

"Was that the door shutting? Oh, God, that was the door shutting. Oh, God."

"When I get out of this closet, JJ—"

"Well, technically you're already out of the closet, aren't you? I mean, after the Love Ball I think it'd be rather hard for anyone at college to misconstrue you as heterosexual—"

"Say goodbye to your balls, JJ."

"…help."

-

Katie just wants to see, really. Wants to see what it is Emily's on about with girls and their tits and their bottoms (and that fucking Naomi Campbell, oh Christ, don't get Katie started on that one). It's curiosity, that's all it is, and it's perfectly natural and normal for a girl her age. (See? She pays attention in her fucking sex ed class.)

When she meets the eyes of the girl in the purple mini across the club and lets her gaze linger a little bit too long on the girl's breasts, it's only curiosity. And when she lets the girl whisper her name into her ear (Charlotte, she murmurs, in a voice raspy with smoke and full of possibility) it's simple curiosity, that's all it is. And when Charlotte pulls her into the dirty stall of the public loo and slides one hand under her bra and the other inside of her panties, Katie's only thinking about Emily and how on earth Emily gets off on this shit (and she's definitely not moaning and groaning and writhing against Charlotte's fingers, and if she is, it's purely because she's trying to get into Emily's lezzie mindset; she's certainly not enjoying herself).

(And maybe, once she's finished, she presses her nose into Charlotte's neck for a moment and lets the cloud of sweat and perfume and cigarette smoke and femininity envelop her. Just for a moment. And just to get the full experience, mind you. Katie Fitch never does anything halfway.)

-

Freddie's couch smells like Cook's feet. Not a vague whiff, like something you have to press your face right up against the ratty old cushions to catch in between all of the weed and beer and piss and hairspray. No, it really smells like James fucking Cook's feet. (It occurs to Freddie that he never asked Cook his middle name. For all he knows, it is Fucking. James Fucking Cook. Well, if it suits anyone, it suits Cook. And he wouldn't put it past Cook's tosser of a dad to name him that, either.)

Now, though, Freddie's finding it hard to tell the difference between Couch Cook and Cook Cook because the real deal is lying on said couch, drooling in his sleep. And now the couch is going to smell like Cook's feet and Cook's drool. Amazing. Just amazing.

"Freddie?" Karen's shriek pierces his very important, very stimulated, very pensive, definitely not pot-induced thinking coma.

"What is it now, for Gods' sake?" he yells back. He toys with the idea of getting up and putting his cigarette out square between her eyes, then decides it's not worth the energy. Instead he simply takes another puff.

"Are you and Cook done fucking in there? I want to you rub my feet!"

Oh, Jesus. Cook's feet, Cook's drool, and now apparently Karen thinks he's got Cook's jizz all over his couch, too? He's really batting a thousand today.

"Cook. James Cook," Cook murmurs in his sleep, then snorts loudly and rolls over, pushing his feet even further into the crack between the cushions.

Freddie decides he's going to make Cook wear socks from now on.

-

Pandora wishes she had a car. It seems like the easiest way to go places. See things. Maybe then people wouldn't laugh at her, call her naïve. Look at her in that horrible way that fills their eyes with anger and their faces with sharpness, with angles.

Effy's been places. Seen things. Effy's been with lots of boys (probably even some girls, too. Panda wouldn't doubt it). She's met kinds of people Panda never even dreamed existed and tried drugs with side effects Panda could never make up. Her hair's messy and her jeans are ripped and sometimes she wears dresses that Panda swears used to be shirts. If she ever left the house looking like Effy, her mother would drag her right back in by her ear and ground her for the rest of her life.

People tell Panda she's like a little kid. But Panda remembers being a little kid and it certainly wasn't like this. When she was a kid, everything around her seemed bigger but it wasn't a threatening kind of big. It was interesting and fun and she almost felt protected when she went to bed surrounded by her giant dresser and her giant bed and her giant walls. Her parents were giants, too, and they could do no wrong. Well, they could do little kinds of wrong, like tell her she couldn't buy an ice cream or pull her hair back into barrettes when she wanted to let it hang loose.

But now Panda knows that that kind of wrong wasn't really wrong at all. Real wrong belongs to people who hurt you and don't say they're sorry. People in the government and people at school and random people on the street. And sometimes people you love, too. Sometimes those people can be wrong. Effy has been wrong. But that's what makes her Effy, Panda guesses. She's not really afraid of being wrong.

Pandora is afraid of a lot of things.